Sunday Afternoon: That’s what this place does

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I tried to guess Lizard’s age, which might have ranged anywhere from mature-seventeen to baby-faced-twenty-four. A foot taller than me, his solid, alert posture brought to mind a boxer, shoulders lean but broad. The way he carried himself telegraphed that you’d better mean business if you wanted to mess with him. I caught a whiff of his self confidence, clear as a scent, or maybe a pheromone. I wondered about his story.

“So where’re we headed, Mouse?” he asked.

“Christine,” I corrected. Lizard smirked.

“Right, lessee how that goes for ya.” His laugh mocked me in a friendly way.

I meant to ask him to take me to the stage equipment, but I suddenly remembered Jamie’s intriguing comment about Mr. Strat – he helps keep the calm in the bunkers. On a whim I said instead,

“How about these bunkers I’ve heard so much about? ”

Lizard’s eyes widened in surprise, then he shrugged.

“Really? Come on, then.”

I felt for a second like I’d gotten away with something, accomplished a jedi mind trick. I followed him down the hallway past the closed office doors, both of us studiously ignoring Trix’s muffled agitation. Lizard said nothing, so I asked him the first thing that came into my head.

“How did you get here, to Timeless?”

Over his shoulder, Lizard’s glance could have been contemptuous or amused. He responded in a singsong, like the answer was so obvious it didn’t matter.

“Dad left. Step dad beat me, so I beat him, then I was outta there. Stumbled wrong then stumbled right, I guess. You?”

“Um, forgot my dreams…left my boyfriend…ran away to the city…met Trix at a bar?”

He snickered.

“Complicated woman, huh.”

As we walked, I became aware that Timeless encompassed more than one of the connected buildings on this city block, extending back and sideways through a labyrinth of carelessly-hewn passageways. I had two simultaneous thoughts: one, that the place couldn’t possibly be up to code, and two, that I was starting to lose my sense of direction. We entered a dimly-lit hallway that seemed more like a secret passage, with rough walls and uneven floorboards. Still curious, I asked,

“Um, so, do you like it here?”

At the exact same moment, Lizard suddenly stopped dead in front of me, and I stumbled right into his solid back, flying backwards from the impact while he barely seemed to notice. I tripped on a floor board and landed hard. He turned to see what happened, but also, I thought, to obscure my view into the next room. I thought I saw movement behind him before he blocked me.

“Sorry, you okay?”

“Yeah. I’m just going to sit here until I can collect my dignity, if that’s okay.”

Lizard laughed. He seemed relieved.

“Sure. Lessit. Good idea.”

He sat down across from me, feet flat and knees up, his long fingers lazing top-pinnacle, like he’d planned to rest here all along. Still, I caught him glancing into the room beyond, waiting for whoever was there to go. I felt him stalling me.

“So…do I like it here? Mouse, I can tell you honestly that here is the only place I can breathe right.” Lizard’s velvet voice vibrated nicely in my ears.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Out there, you can’t trust anyone but your mother.”

“Sometimes you can’t even trust her.” I earned a sideways smile.

“Here’s not perfect. Trix can be…and Trace…well, they’re strong personalities. And the other guys – some of ’em think they get it but they don’t. The rest of us don’t get it but we want to, we’re trying. You know?”

“Not really.”

“Look, I’ll fight if I have to. I know how to scrap and protect what’s mine.”

His expression hardened, skin stretched tight over high cheekbones. I could see his fierce fighter. Lizard turned and looked into the room again, but met my eyes before going on.

“I been there beside my brothers and I stood up for my sisters, I had the shit kicked outta me and gave twice back. But I don’t like it, I don’t want to always have to watch my back. Here it’s…like…I don’t have to worry so much about guardin’gainst other people ’cause I know they got better things to do than mess with me. I can pay attention, more guard against…me – or, against what gets in the way of…bein’ how I wanna be.”

“Wow, you’ve really thought this through.” I felt impressed with his insight.

“Almost two years, I sure hope I thought it through!” he half-joked. Lizard looked away, suddenly uncomfortable. I wanted to soothe that for him.

“I think I know what you mean – you’re with people you can trust. Me, I haven’t really found any yet. ” Our eyes met and held again. Gorgeous grainy oak blinked twice at me before softening.

“Well, welcome to Timeless, little sister.” He held out a strong hand, and we pulled each other up from the dusty planks. I brushed at the seat of my pants and a shot of pain pierced my finger.

“Oh, shit! Ow! Shit! I have a sliver.”

Lizard bent over me and before I could blink, his fingers zipped in, pinched and pulled. I didn’t know how he could see with so little light.

“Got it!” He crowed, holding the tiny wood-shard up like he just caught a fly ball. His teeth flashed white, and I noticed one missing top right. He quickly pulled his lips down to cover. “But, ah, Mouse…we don’t swear here.”

“We don’t swear? Are we in kindergarten?” I joked.

“Respect myself, respect each other, respect this place. So no swearing. It’s hard but you get used to it.”

I felt a little chastised, and I didn’t much like it.

“Um, okay, thanks.”

I resisted the urge to put my finger in my mouth as Lizard produced a bashed-up little bottle of hand sanitizer from his front pocket. He took my hand in his, and squeezed a drop onto the red hole in my finger. It stung, but I didn’t complain. He kept my hand until we emerged from the passageway into a wide, high-ceilinged space the size of my apartment. Not surprisingly, no one was there. At one end of the space, huge wooden double-doors beckoned. Each door sported a lions-head knocker above plate-sized spiral doorknobs. I could hear and feel bass reverberate behind the doors, shaking the walls around us as we approached. Lizard stopped just outside, and turned to me seriously.

“Listen, that stuff with Trix back there, don’t let it scare you off. I was pissed ’cause she went and made a big show of it, which she always does, but that’s just me getting pissed. She made a show so then, I know how serious she is, an’ you see how she works, or something. She always has a reason, I’ve learned to just know that.” He smiled his grudging admiration.

“She was really…abrupt. Telling you to go? That’s harsh.”

“I gotta say, when it comes to me, she’s right. After this show, me an’ two-a-th’other guys, we’re starting work together, contract renovations. We learned that here, from real pros who came and worked with us on some of the big projects, for free. They say they’ll feed us overflow work to start us off. Bash has a lead on maybe some government money, for guys like us tryin’ to break out. Trace called some friends and now we have a big shot business suit sayin’ he’ll help with advice an’ stuff.”

I knew from his earnest expression that Lizard was sharing something important to him.

“We might make it go, ya know? Three guys who were gonna end up dead or in jail, again. We might get a good life. At least, I can hope that right now, and I never had hope before. That’s what this place does. You’ll be glad you came here, Mouse.”

I felt embarrassed to find him treating me as a new resident when I was actually a tourist. I fumbled for clarification, but he had already turned away.

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