The table cloths are white linen in this restaurant. Most of the guests are well dressed and speak in hushed tones accompanied by the tinkling of silver against china. Light from chandeliers spills onto the patrons and ricochets from diamonds and gold watches as if they were all embedded in silk in a Tiffany's display case.
And I am sitting, staring at the way her hair glistens with a translucent sheen that follows the side of her face. Her tight black dress dives from her shoulders to her hips and rounds her breasts like the hand of an artist, caressing her, transforming her from flesh to something ethereal and organic. A sweet, floral scent drifts toward me from her neck's slender curve. I have never been more aware than I am now that she is not my wife.
I find myself coughing against an uncontrollable tickle in the back of my throat. Even a gulp of ice water from a lead crystal goblet doesn't make it go away.
"Are you okay?" she asks me, and I tell her I am. I can't tell her I'm decomposing. If we stay much longer I won't be me anymore.
"There's something wrong with my kids," I say, trying to smile. I've got to get the conversation, and so my mind, onto something that anchors me to earth.
"This morning Bina was having breakfast. I walked in and she was holding a piece of cantaloupe, staring at it like it was a part from a broken airplane. She asked me how they made melon. Then I realized that Charlene buys melon in these little clear plastic containers. It's all pre-cut. The damn kid has never seen a whole melon."
Kat grins and the ridge of her teeth becomes a thin white line under her lips. I know how sharp they can be. An image of fangs and talons crosses the front of my mind and my chest contracts. Something between a burp and a hiccough. I have to drink water again.
"That's ridiculous. Of course they've seen a melon. Come on. You mean to say they've never had watermelon in the summertime?"
"No," I say, shaking my head at the same time. "They get these little red seedless cubes."
"That's inhuman," she says. "And you told Bina..."
I say, "I told her the truth. I told her that all canteloupe is made in a factory in Muncie, Indiana. And all red melon comes from Detroit."
Kat laughs a little so the water she's drinking nearly runs up her nose.
She says, "You're a monster," and signals for a waiter. They've been staring at her so one comes almost immediately.
"Call child protective services and turn this man in," she says when an eager young man arrives. He's got a plastic smile and a white towel over his forearm and we haven't even ordered wine. Yet.
Kat says, "He's polluting the minds of our fine American youth. We need to get him chemically sedated and into a straight jacket as soon as possible. Tell them they must take his children to decent homes where they'll grow up to become Presidents or spies. Hurry my good man. Before the bodies of more innocent victims litter the backyards of America."
The waiter looks at her as if she's turned to margarine.
"She's not well," I tell him. "Only strong drink will return her sensibilities. Bring this woman a cosmopolitan and a double Grey Goose martini for me. Hurry, before she forces me to sire her children right here on your clean table cloth."
He furrows his brow, then goes back to smiling like a mannequin. He says, "You guys are insane. That's what this is, right?"
Kat stares at me for a second and bursts into a convulsive giggle. It's contagious. The waiter is laughing. I laugh and press my forehead to the table cloth for a second.
When I can speak again I look up at him and say, "I wasn't kidding about the drinks. Run, young man. Fetch us alcohol and your rewards will be handsome."
He leaves and Kat is still smiling. It's not something localized, the way someone smiles at the word "cheese" in a snapshot. This is a full-body smile. It's radiation.
"So, what are we doing here, darlin'?" I ask her. Then, "Are you trying to seduce me again?"
"Is it working?"
Suddenly, gravity loses hold of my stomach and it travels up toward my throat. Feelings pour into the vacancy it leaves behind. Fear. Lust. Guilt. Pride.
"Aww," I say. I purse my lips and feel my eyes narrowing. If I look hard enough I may be able to see through her to Babylon beyond. I don't want to hurt her. Can't let this go on but I so don't want it to end. "Goddamn. You know how I feel. I love my family. I can't hurt them. Not ever."
"I know," she says, and the waiter puts our drinks in front of us. "That's what makes you so attractive. You're so loyal. Like a puppy going to the vet. If you weren't that way I wouldn't love you."
She picks up her martini glass and holds the pinkish red liquid toward me. "Congratulations are in order," she says.
I raise my martini automatically and touch the rim of the glass to hers.
"I made it to the next level of testing in the NASA program. Two more to go. Scientific American picked up the article and I'm negotiating with Scribner's for the book. Whether I go into space or not, they want the story. It's financial independence, Billy. Finally."
"That is great," I say, emphasizing each word. I sip my drink and for a moment I'm relieved we can move the subject onto something less dangerous.
"How come you're not out here celebrating with Jarrett?" I ask after I eat my martini olive.
"He's in Asia on business. The apartment is totally empty. I was alone when the news came and I had to be with someone. I'm so happy."
"Well I'm happy for you, too," I say. "You really need to come by and talk to my girls. You could be an inspiration for them. You could show them how hard work and persistence pays off and gets you your dreams."
Kat leans forward and puts her arm on the table, palm upward. Instinctively I reach forward and touch her fingers.
Little red lights flash in my mind, and like a pilot intentionally putting the plane into a dive, I silence each alarm, wondering what the hell I'm doing.
She lowers her chin, squares her shoulders, and looks toward me from under her brow.
She says, "I want you to take me home," and the words penetrate like gasoline on dry pavement.
"Aww, shit, Kat. Don't do this."
"I'm not playing anymore, Billy. It's what I want, and if you ask yourself hard enough you know it's what you want, too. Nobody has to know. Jarrett and Charlene are both at work. They'll never find out. Nobody ever needs to know except you and me."
My mind is dizzy, spinning. All my life I'd fantasized about a scenario like this. In my dreams I always take the bet. Always. Now it feels like I'm standing in a screaming jet engine blast. It ablates my skin and muscle. Carbonizes my bones. Eventually there is nothing left but an idea of the man I was.
"And then what about us? What do we do then, sweetie? We just go back to life as if nothing happened? Do you think you can do that--because I know I can't. If we fall in love we'll wreck five other people and as much as I want to be with you, it feels heartless to me. I don't think I--I don't think we have the right to do that. We'd never be able to be friends again and I don't want a life without you in it."
Kat pulls her hand away and leans back. She takes a sip of her cosmo and I can see her planning, regrouping. The first salvo didn't have it's intended effect.
"What are you thinking, perfidious wench?" I say in a half whisper, hoping to reclaim some innocence.
"I'm wondering what you're thinking," she says, eyes sparkling. "Where did you think this would go? This isn't a movie or a television show, this is real life. In real life people like us can't just be friends. We fall in love. Maybe we don't plan it, or maybe we do on a subsconsious level but whatever the reason it happens. Then you have to figure out what to do about it because love ruins everything. Don't you watch the chick flicks Charlene brings home? Love isn't candle lit dinners with harmless necking afters by the fire. That's not love. Love is a plane crash where everybody dies. Love is a hurricane. There's already one happening and if you can't feel it you're crazy. I guarantee you Charlene feels it. I know Jarrett does."
The pit in my stomach fills with something electric and the hair stands up on the back of my neck. What could Charlene know? I hadn't done anything. I don't think. I'm not thinking.
"Are you saying..."
"I'm saying we're already in love, Billy-boy. Don't be afraid of falling in love because you're way past that point. You're on the ground bleeding. I'm right next to you. We have a choice now. We can keep going or we can walk away. I don't want to walk away from you. You mean too much to me."
I put my elbows on the table and rub my eyes and face as if it can make the feeling inside me go away. All this time I'd thought I'd been good. I'm not the person who hurts people he loves--in fact I'm the guy who judges those people. Calls them adulterers. Pigs. Harlots. Men and women beneath me who deserve to be trodden upon for succumbing to lust when innocent hearts were at stake. Had I become one and I didn't even know it? Was I one of those I'd held in contempt?
"Kat...," I start, thinking to deny I loved her that way, but the words jumbled and crossed each other. "You do mean a lot to me. If I have to lose you..." and I'm going to say that if I had to lose her I would. I'd let it all go for Charlene and the kids to be happy.
She stands and tosses a twenty onto the table. Then next to me holds out her hand.
"Do I even have a choice in this?" I say, looking up at her.
"You always have a choice. Nobody can make you do anything."
The palm of her hand is warm next to my cheek. I feel strange. No answer is right. Lose Kat, keep my family. Take Kat, lose my family. Lose everything take everything, no matter what nobody wins. Everybody loses. Why am I always losing?
"The lady or the tiger," I say to her, knowing no matter what I do nothing will be the same. Twenty seconds from now, no matter what he decides, Will Hoobler dies and someone stands in his place. I don't know if I'm going to like that guy.
"The lady is a tiger," she replies.
the next episode is How vampires feel
the last episode is in Kat, floating in midair