It was the clearest day in recent memory. For three days, rain had gotten the best of me, but a day of pure blue sky had risen like a toddler on Christmas morning... just in time to salvage this old, broken bike of a body. Christmas has never been about presents to me, but presence. The presence of God, Christ, of love, and loved ones. I was tidying up around the house when my phone rang. It was 1:29 pm. The music of my Merry Christmas. Josh's ring tone. A reminder of his presence.
I rushed over to the place the music came and swept up the little pink phone.
"Mary Magdalene." His voice glided into my ear.
Crap, he is not going to let the Mary thing die with Halloween, I am so screwed.
I don't turn on easily. When Josh calls me Mary, you might as well place those vibrating novelty dolphins over every erogenous zone on my body.
"Joshua, I was wondering when I would be hearing from you." I began in steady protocol.
"I'm still down in Daytona. Done with the testing for this round, I'm going to head back to Atlanta tonight, but I have to come back after Christmas. I want to see you again. I'll try to give you more warning next time." He narrated.
He'd been in Daytona for over two weeks, testing an experimental drug for cystic fibrosis. Unbeknownst to him, this was just another angelic sign to me. A childhood friend of mine had cystic fibrosis and died after ongoing complications from the disease back in March. A friend who soon became another dream buddy, and had been appearing to me regularly since his physical death. I refrain from telling Josh about my deceased friend. He doesn't know the real reason he's participating in the study yet. I giggle like a five-year old watching Barney and tell him I am happy he called and happier he's is okay and has finally resurfaced.
"You know I don't need much warning, I always love to see you." I enthused.
"Marry me Mary." He echoed the sentiment I had heard repeatedly like clock work every morning via the telepath channel. I only heard it because it was the first thing he thought of when he woke up--- woke up to morning wood, sans tenacious redhead to roll over and kiss every inch of him pleasantly awake.
"Josh don't joke about that." I ordered. "I might take you seriously and have to marry you." I so would. I would marry you tomorrow, pledge an oath of truth before God to love you endlessly in way I have never loved another human being in my life. I tried to blot my thoughts into his brain, Aquarius Morse code style. He must have heard it somehow.
"Marry me Mary." He repeated, tugging on my happy-ever after stings again!! Is he serious? Now he is just starting to sound like a kid at a slumber party, chanting bloody Mary in a dark bathroom. I've never been treated to a man who would even playfully say it to me, let alone flirt on meaning it. I want him to be serious. I am seriously in love with him.
"I don't know what to say when you say that." I stammered. "I want to scream yes, but I think you know I would mean yes and I don't know if you mean the question." My vocal chords plodded and strained, attempting to take up arms in a different language---a language only understood by those gifted in squealing fast jibber jabber. Air, I know it's in the room somewhere. I was totally calm until he called me. How is any man capable of having so much influence over the pathetic pitch of my underdeveloped voice? I pull the phone away from my mouth so he won't hear me refill my lungs with oxygen.
Hold the phone. Don't start that countdown yet Dick Clark. Did Josh tell me that he's coming back after Christmas? Dare I speculate? Does that mean he might be around for New Years? Am I allowed to ask about the dreaded ball-dropping night or no? No. Mary Jessica, don't you dare utter a word how you've been aching to ring in New Year's in the presence of all of his blond glory and honey confected kisses. Do the motherly thing and keep your mouth away from New Years. I instruct myself.
"I'm just thankful you're in one piece. I didn't know if something had happened to you." I said innocently.
"I have 14 needle holes all up and down my arm from where they drew blood." I knew he was eyeing the track marks on his arms.
I winced before mentally ogling his endearing cuteness. I should be grossed out, I should be freaked out. I saw the needles in a dream. Duh. That's where the precursor to real life goes down. I don't want to tell him. I just want to do the "awwww poor baby" thing and emotionally lick his wounds in any way he'll let me.
At least he doesn't have needle holes from other drug-related activities. I retorted silently as the other impossible necromantic infatuation charred my skull and then vanished in a single second. The outworn, overplayed Layne intrigue is way more harmless than death by Joshua. The living ghosts are the real killers. I shivered in coats of dreams and unknown memories. As untainted as it all remains, Josh's realism, the physicality-- belligerently haunts me. And yet, I was all too grateful to reclaim sanity in the living when Joshua arrived, oozing organic chemistry into just about every vein of my life. He broke my dork train of thought.
"Besides, I think you'd be the first to know if something happened to me."
I wanted to be there with him so nothing tragic ever would happen--not without me anyway. I wished I could lean my head onto his chest, but there were no traces of him or his clean smell---just the tone of speech coruscating over the phone.
"Wow, you finally found some kind of faith in this angel gift of mine." My face lit up. I felt like I'd willed myself back to being 16 again. I tried not to obsessively twirl my hair as I paced back and fourth in front of the Christmas tree.
"Never faithless, always believing." He assured. I envisioned his blond hair pulled neatly back as he nodded at me.
"That sounds like something Jesus would say." I cooed.
"That's the idea Mary."
I think I need to go wash a few loads of panties. He is not playing fair. The Mary card. God gave him the Mary card, which equals fork holes all over my cooked body. Usually Jesus is the only one endowed with the gift of being able to work me like this. The fondness for Josh has grown to such proportions that the lightheartedness he evokes could fill a thousand balloons and carry me to kingdom come. I have the outlet in my writing, I have all the fiction, the crossbred dreams that extirpate the envelope--- but without having his blond hair to stroke and his lips to kiss, all I really have...is loneliness.
"I've been writing about you." I said slyly.
"Oh God, don't write about me." He groused flippantly. Even through cellular transmission, I could sense the way his cheeks reddened and the way his blue eyes glinted and rolled when he said it.
"Why not? I love writing about you." I tried not to sound too hyper and overbearing. I thought he would be happy I was writing about him at all.
"Sometimes i think you confuse the line between fantasy and reality." He accused.
"Where in God's name would you get a crazy idea like that?" He was not the first man to say this to me and I was certain he would not be the last. I knew he was right but the shock of hearing it come out of his mouth made me rashly defensive. If anyone stood a chance of calling me out on my vase of mirages and living to tell about it--- it was a fellow Aquarius.
Wait a second. He's suggesting that I'm the one who doesn't have my feet planted on the ground? He ran away from Atlanta in the middle of the night with nothing more than bottle of excuses and wishful prayers that there would be helpings of free food and good Samaritans along the road. He used a medical study as an excuse to be able to swing back by my house and see me again. Me--some random chick he met at the world's largest outdoor cocktail party. No, this was never about me. He was only running away from his past in Atlanta. What in the hell is he running from anyway? Why am I the only field hand working the fantastical illusions here? I thought he was plowing away with me. Why else would he call me Mary?
The lurid brat throwing silent tantrum in my tiny ego, wanted to hang up on him. I thought of slamming down the phone, running up stairs and stuffing a weeks worth of laundered clothes into my red suitcase. Then I would jump into the car and drive away from having to ever think about Josh. I would drive away from knowing he is a real human being, a human being fully loaded with that fucking voice of peace. A voice so peacefully surreal, it makes me want to burst into fireworks of euphoria every time I hear it. Since I met him, most of my days have been devoted to trying not to think about him, trying to silence his voice ricocheting off the walls of my brain. It does not gladden me to confess this. I try so hard not to remember the way it feels when I'm kissing him. I could kiss him for days without coming up for air. I could have myself committed in the reality of kissing him like it's the only fantasy God ever graced my sick head with.
"You are a real person Joshua, it's not like I dreamed you up and planted all the marriage ideas in your pretty blond head." I continued blithely, trying to squeeze away the sound of sadness waiting to yelp from my soul.
"Sometimes I think you get too lost in your own fiction to the point you think it's real." His voice didn't drift from the fluidity of satin, even though the words were so damn harsh. The more they sunk in, the more the words began to hurt me. My expression went from amused delight to smugness in less than half a second. The weight of my shoulders became too much for my spine to carry. I plopped down on the pink parlor couch. The goofy hair twirling finally stopped. He was only fooling himself now. It was easier for him to go after my cheap writing than come clean about everything. His feelings-- to name one sullied area. I hastily decided right then and there, that I'd rather be a dreamer and wake up and admit to everyone that I use dreaming to cope and connect spiritually, than live in a psychics closet for the rest of my life. I'm too Jesus sharp to deny sacred gifts or my feelings--especially love.
"That's not fair Joshua. I have to write so I can create a safe place, so I have something constructive to do with all these fucking dreams. Otherwise it's just a waste of experiences." I argued.
"Maybe you're right to merge the two places then. I guess I never considered it like that." He quickly corrected himself. Good. I would have tore him a new nostril if he hadn't.
I regretted telling him I was writing about him. Sometimes when he's here, I still feel like there's a chance I am hallucinating. I had been dreaming of someone who'd been dead to the world for seven years. When I spotted Josh, I ran up and hugged him just as I would have hugged Layne if he'd come back to life. Josh never once flinched or shoved me away. Maybe somehow, Josh needed the hug, the affection, just as much as Layne had needed that when he was barricading himself away from all human interaction. I doubt the drug dealers were hugging him when they stopped by to furnish refills.
I ran my hand along the wooden arm rest of the parlor couch but even my sense of touch was growing dull. All the sensing. When is the sensing too much? My heart surged and twitched like I'd been fried in a tub of grease. The boiling inward conflict evaporated and became one with the chilly December air. Then the coldness set in and began freezing over my body tissue. I thought my bones would snap if I made any sudden movements. All the fourth dimensional sensing collects into moments such as these and renders the cardboard reality-- senseless. Joshua had been a short hour away from my house for weeks, keeping me at an arms length. All the translucent stiff arms hurt more than anything he had said. As accurate as the assessment had been, it wasn't the observations that drew blood--- it was the gap between our heads, between our mouths, that was a deadly arrow. Cupid specializes in aiming and striking, but I am quite certain he never attended medical school and is not trained in spear removal. Any spell is easier to cast than un-cast and sometimes, even people who have been shot by arrows have to go on living with the metal still inside. The moment I looked into Josh's blue eyes, I became intrinsically woven into the mercurious coven of two adrift, Aquarius lovers.
I wondered incurably. Why doesn't Josh just forget about me? And more importantly, why does he mention the "Marry me Mary" line every time we converse? He doesn't owe me anything, not even the teasing phone call. That just makes forgetting him all the more grievous. I don't confuse reality and fantasy. The only thing that I confuse are the gray lines that exist between he and I because I don't know why the lines are there at all. Usually I enforce every stupid dating boundary one can draw, but the rough, self-protection mannerisms melt away anytime I come within nine feet of Josh. From my romanticized window of roses, it's all so Romeo and Juliet that it makes me want to curdle in my own body fluid and puke. The scariest part is that nothing about it feels wrong, forbidden, or lined with walls love must climb. It's more like we met in an open field of middle ground and everything just worked. The only conflict is in my manically analytical mind.
"So if you don't know where our reality begins and my dreams end, why don't you just climb onto the magic dream carpet with me Joshua?" I provoke. Silence. I keep pulling invites from my cosmic cabinet.
"We can do telepathic dream experiments together. I've been praying to find someone who wants to do it with me. We can try to meet up in the dreams and compare notes." I offered. Yeah, good luck finding anyone as astrally ambitious as you are Jessica.
He thought about it. While he thought, I thought deeper. All of our stories, real or fiction, somehow intersect through God. I don't choose the people or entities who visit me or the stories that come about in turn, but neither can I deny the experiences just to cater to the censorship that is implied and glazed over this world of dishonest, carnal convenience. I suspect Josh has been censoring chapters of his life from me. Even being as sophisticated, quintessentially gracious, and deviously intelligent as he is, let's be honest---he's still a 23 year-old guy with a very scurrilous libido. That libido might be prioritized far ahead of the prudence of my feelings.
He was very still on the other end of the line, breathing steadily and softly. It made me think of how delicately he breathes when he's sleeping. Snare-like snores never thunder from his face, just quiet, sleep surrendering breaths. He's like a newborn baby, you have to watch the rise and fall of his chest to be certain he's still alive.
Nevertheless, beyond the baby breaths coming from the ear piece, I could hear his smile span three whole miles. I pictured his damn goatee again, the way the copper shade of it nearly matches the color of my own hair-- like God dyed his chin to match me. Our colors melt together when we are kissing. I'd stared at that picture of us kissing until I thought my eyes would roll out of my head from trying to process how beautiful we are together. I can't get over the way he looks at me. I don't suppose I ever will.
His grinning silence finally sliced my patience to bits. No cutesy dream carpet response. "Fine, be that way. The fictitious Joshua and I will just run off and get married, go on the perfect honeymoon in Greece, build a house on an exotic island somewhere, have earth shaking sex nines times a day, and make beautiful blond babies together." I taunted.
I was sadistically pleased with myself. I really just wanted to say something to make him laugh though. His laugh grants me so much conspicuous joy. It was selfish to try to make him laugh at all. The laugh never arrived. Maybe it wasn't humorous to him because he didn't want to lose me to the fictitious Joshua. My spirit unhinged and flew away when he didn't laugh.
"So what do you want for Christmas little girl?" He shifted gears to seasonal small talk.
The cheesy, hallmark answer would have been to admit that HE was all I wanted each and every Christmas from here to eternity. Instead, I found something heavenly sleek to say.
"I just want God's will to manifest through all the people I love." Whatever spirit was in me now, was totally sincere. For weeks I'd been praying for God's will to manifest through Joshua. My only Christmas present was getting to say it out loud.
Or so I thought. An hour after we'd said what was intended to be our goodbye for the week, Josh called back.
"Um Mary, would you like to have some company tonight?" He asked so suavely, he could have been wearing a tuxedo for all I knew.
"If the company is you, then yes." I wanted to jump up and down and cheer like a cheerleader who'd just found out she wasn't pregnant. Or I just wanted to launch into glee because the man I love was returning to me.
I dashed upstairs and put on a green shirt--- because I knew he would be wearing a green shirt. I lightly sprayed on Escada perfume. The expensive perfume I save for very select nights in life. He knocked on the front door around 9pm. He breezed inside, exuding manliness. He was wearing a green shirt. Not much in my life is dependable, but the psychic gift rarely fails me. We talked about everything under the universe. Nothing was off limits. Almost nothing. The word "coincidence" came up and was dissected by he and I respectively. Life is just some kind of scientific consequence to him. A consequence with stories of Jeshua and Einstein interlaced in all the unknown threads of what the hell any of us are doing here trying to sew life. But I feel that science sustains life, life is not a consequence of science. He reminds me of myself with the desire to preserve the freedom to have any kind of experience at any moment, free of guilt or consequences.
He'll figure it out for himself just like I did.
We sat on the tan leather couch, decked in matching green shirts. I told him why I had gone green.
"I closed my eyes and felt you were wearing green, so I put on a green shirt too."
He called it a coincidence, but I don't believe in any such word. I do believe in the evident cosmogony anytime he is with me. I do believe the God inside of him is conjunctive to me somehow.
"You don't have to pretend to be psychic to make it seem like you know more about me and my life than you really do." He said glibly.
"I'm not pretending about anything. I'm a very genuine woman. I think I have a fair view of who you are. You are very persuasive but sometimes you dodge obligations and can't balance what others may want out of you with what you decide to extract from them. So you don't always trust or value the legitimacy of your own feelings because you don't even like answering to your own heart. You overcompensate by becoming melancholic or withdrawn. You act hardcore and tough to pretend you're not as sensitive as you really are. I do think you make a very loyal long-term friend though. I know you act all causal with me because you actually give a fuck. You can't understand how some girl in Jacksonville could ever get to you the way I get to you."
"Oh. You can see all that huh?" He gulped lugubriously.
Yeah, now I'm onto you.
His face faltered from its forceful charm. He looked like a lost little boy. Then his mouth firmed and rolled back as if he knew how to manipulate the conversation. He did.
"So what's with all the tyke toys and plastic three-wheelers in your drive way?" He asked half sarcastically. "You have kids or what?"
My belly tightened up but I didn't let my eyes dot out any kind of sudden reaction. The question elicited a painless outward nod at first but my insides stung like hell. I waffled in how much to say and imaginarily clinked my fingernails on the maximum security mommy gate... the gate that opens up my love for Aurora. The place no man has ever entered.
"I have one child. A daughter." I said shortly.
"How come you never told me?" His stance became more alert, his spine extended.
"I don't like to use her as my opening line Josh. I'm really protective of my relationship with her and some guys act funny about the single mom gig." The simmering openess my energy bore upon his arrival, cooled off when he started digging into my baby's toy box.
My face turned from bleak to coy as I tried to turn the table back.
"Besides, I'm sure there are plenty of things you have neglected to tell me."
His expression offered gentle stipulation. The blue eyes appeared softer somehow... like he was appreciative to find the weak spot in me.
"You can talk about her." He pressed. "I mean how old is she, her name? You know?"
"Her name is Aurora. She just turned six. She's a Scorpio so I have my work cut out for me."
"What does that entail?" For the first time, his voice grinded in flawed curiosity. I didn't know why he wanted to go there. Probably just so I wouldn't keep narrowing in on how sensitive he is. Hesitation barbed my brain in thinking he really didn't care either way about my child, he was just trying to be polite. He's always so lithely polite. I wish he'd be a total dick just once so I could call him an asshole and kick him out of my house. That way I wouldn't have to wake up beside him and be left with his perfect taste in my mouth when he leaves again.
"You don't have to humor me, we don't have to talk about her." I tried to be dismissive.
"I'm not humoring you, I want to know." He reached over and put his hand on my thigh. His hands are so slender and beautiful. He hates it when I tell him he's beautiful or pretty. He never tells me I'm beautiful or pretty. That's why I let him come over though. He doesn't have to flatter in excess just to work his way into my pants. He's never done that with me. The kissing speaks enough. I don't need the verbal reassurance anyway. When men load on the "beautiful" or "sexy" remarks it just makes me think they don't have anything else to say. They divert the discussion to my smile or something else in the hopes I won't notice if they lack education, or universal diversity. The standard guy comes at me with the "Hi, this is my identity, this is my job, can I buy you a few drinks and get you drunk enough to have sex?" spiel. I hate that progression. Because it doesn't factor into divine progress. It's just scanty bullshit.
Josh isn't like that at all. Not even in the same mold making factory. He would rather tell me that fortune cookies were invented in Brooklyn or some other useless jeopardy fact that you could live without knowing, yet are shockingly surprised anyone would know such a pointless truth. He'd be great to have around on the nights I play trivia. He could live without knowing the rainbow of my Aurora, but I opt to pull back the custodial curtain just enough.
"Well, she's very determined, very passionate, and sensitive at the same time. Has the pinchers and the stinger and uses them to say bold, poisonous things. Overdramatic things. Sometimes she treats me like an enemy rather than her mother because she's so armed all the time. But she is very loving and hands on. Maybe you'd have to see her in action to have any clue what I mean by that. She thinks she knows everything. Has to be the center of attention. I don't know where she gets that from though." I said, modestly joking.
"I just don't know why you never mentioned her before." He didn't seem upset, but slightly suspicious.
"What did you expect me to say? Hi, I'm Jessi, I'm trying to raise a baby by myself. She doesn't have a father, would you like the job?" I rapidly shake my head. "I am comfortable doing this alone. I didn't think it would matter to you either way. I wasn't going to ask you to try to be a part of her life, I'm just thankful you have become a tiny part of mine. You always stop by in the middle of the night when she's sleeping. There was never a need for me to explain her to you. I didn't want to connect my interest in you to the fact that she does not have a dad."
Before I had Aurora, I was exactly like Josh. Drifting gluttonously, acting casual with everyone, never making promises or staying in one place for very long. At 18, I began modeling and was jetting to hammocks in paradise all over world. Free vacations were readily available so long as I was willing to couch surf or abide by whatever kooky conditions that came with a free plane ticket and a place to sleep. I spent months at a time in Las Vegas and Southern California and wouldn't call anyone back home for weeks. Just because I didn't have to answer to a soul.
The time to confront myself and my lack of stability, finally hunted me down when I found out I was pregnant. It was a weight off of my ripe chest to talk about Aurora with Joshua. Yet I couldn't properly convey the double life I'd lead before I had her. I tried to compare my old self to his current self, but he shot that notion down faster than Dick Cheney shot that poor lawyer. Probably because I am a woman and he was so stuck on his manhood that he didn't want to be likened to a girl. I was just glad to be around him. He might never see it my way or relate on the right terms and that's fine.
The air was far too serious. I remember a point of boredom I had three days prior and feel the need to share my unique discovery.
"I figured out that if you combine Jessi and Joshua that it makes Jeshua." I loosened up and nudged my shoulder into his chest.
"Wow, I like that." He smiled agreeably and wrapped his arms around me.
We stayed up until 5 am. For no reason other than to be in each other's company and pamper each other, we stayed up. The loquacious exchanges never seem to run dry when we're together. The only drug we took was the stimulant of constant kissing. Josh had me lay on the floor and he popped my back in 12 different places. We laid our heads on each other's bodies in 12 different places. Did a couple of other things in 12 different places. I have never felt this close to a man in my entire life. Jesus is the only other. The single intimate topic that I failed to get Josh to open up about, was how he truly feels about me.
"I don't want to tell you that." Was all he would say. But after combing through the pictures of us looking at each other, I knew without words.
Before we went to bed, we took a long shower. The kind of shower you dream of taking with your spouse. I had a premonition we would. It was so much sweeter in reality. He sang to me, through the sound of the running faucet washing over us, he sang to me in a way I have never heard a man sing before. He sang some more as we were snuggled up in bed together. He must have sung to me for an hour solid. His voice is like the sunshine. In a moment of much-needed understanding, I finally see that part of why I've been so disengaged and depressed is because I have been listening to Layne's music for a very black year. Josh exposed me to his bluegrass tunes and some of the most beautiful compositions on the piano I've ever had the privilege of hearing. It was like someone finally released me from the cremation chamber. Then he played one of those book-audio tapes. Normally I would be annoyed if guy put on a recorded book and expected me to be able to fall asleep, but I have to admit--- I was absolutely memorized. The book was about the various elements and compounds, among other things. One of the pieces I recall was the narrator talking about how there used to be water on Venus and how Venus was a sister to the earth and was once a hospitable place to grow life. I used my fantasy fiction to conclude that I had a really beautiful life on Venus long before I ever got sucked into this place.
We slept eventually. He was down for the dream long before I was. I stayed up to gaze at his profile, to record every detail of the evening to memory-- so I could store it properly in my music box and waste nothing. As my arms were draped over him, I dreamt about him. When I was dreaming, I knew he was next to me and I wanted to wake up. Usually waking up is the worst part of my day. Waking up is like returning to empty hell. Not on this occasion. This time, my head was begging me to open up my eyes again, to just stop dreaming. I finally did. I woke up next to the dream and realized the fantasy had at long last become a warm place in reality. I want to live in that place forever.