He's the words, the flowery phrases, the clever slip of the tongue that isn't, because slips are never clever unless they are not slips, but traps, fake fumbles in the communication.
She's the punctuation, the exclamation mark, the full stop, accept your history and start again, or turn back and go no further and let it all end here and now.
(Together, they're a perfect story, ending, beginning and middle.)
"She blew up the toaster," Bloom said, and when he'll talk about this later, he won't mention the toaster. Bloom's stories don't include exploding toasters.
"Coffee machine would have been worse," Stephen said, and he will never talk about this later, because Stephen's stories don't include things that really happened. "Hi, I'm Stephen. Please don't blow up our coffee machine."
"Did you know about this? Did you know someone was going to come in this morning and blow up our toaster?"
(Bang Bang will tell this story like it happened, but not in English. To Penelope. Over tea, or maybe the kind of drinks they serve in those cute, little glasses with umbrellas in them.)
Stephen shrugged. "I asked a guy if maybe he knew someone who might help us with that thing. He promised he'd think about it. Clearly, he kept that promise, which is nice, but not entirely unexpected. You want some coffee?"
The coffee machine exploded. ("It made very bad coffee," she will say, and Penelope will nod, even if Penelope has only very rarely tasted bad coffee in her life.)
"What is wrong with you?" Bloom asked.
"I guess she doesn't like coffee." Stephen stood and grabbed his hat, his jacket. "Come on, we'll eat out for breakfast."
"What if she doesn't like the restaurant you pick out?"
"Easy. I'll let her pick."
He's the carefully laid out plot, the chapter index, the dramatis personae, all written out in the front of the book: names and positions and characteristics.
(This is Bang Bang, he's written. She doesn't talk much and she makes stuff blow up. My love interest.)
She's the unexpected twist, the hole in the plot, the epilogue that explains nothing and only leaves you with more questions, because how could things have gone so wrong so quickly that you've ended up here, with nothing and everything left to lose?
(This is Stephen Bloom, she's decided. He's kind of cute and not as clever as he thinks he is, but I like him.)
"What happened to our rule of never working with the same person twice?" Bloom asked. They were in a car, the three of them, Stephen driving, Bloom next to him, Bang Bang in the backseat, going nowhere in particular, very quickly.
"Nothing," Stephen said. He radiated an aura of un-concern for an audience of one on whom it would never work.
"Then what is she doing here?"
"Nothing," Stephen said. "I hope."
"You hope." Bloom slumped. Bloom fretted. Bloom needed one of Stephen's stories to snap him out of this self-imposed role of the one who always worried too much, and about the wrong things, the wrong people.
Stephen shrugged. His gaze met hers in a tiny, tiny mirror, briefly.
"Is she - no." Bloom shook his head. "No. Do you like her? I mean, really like her?"
"Maybe I do," Stephen said, and the windshield exploded.
He says, "You can't simply blow something up every time someone does or say something you disagree with."
He says, "Well, obviously you can, it's just kind of hard on the things around you. I mean, what's that vase ever done to you, hm?"
He says, "I don't get you at all," and it's a perfect lie and an irrefutable truth all in one, because that's how it always is, when you're using words.
She grabs him and presses her lips to his - she throws away his hat (just to the nearby table) while he takes off his shirt - she locks the door and opens a window in the early morning, when he's still sleeping.
(She can talk without explosions, too, is what she's telling him. It's just not as much fun, often.)
"We've used pyrotechnics before," Stephen said. "They're good. People tend to pay attention when something's on fire - it makes it easier to distract them from the stuff we don't want them to think about. You set something on fire, you force people to make quick decisions."
"Bad decisions," Bloom said, and sat down on an empty crate. "People on fire make bad decisions, Stephen."
Stephen shrugged. "Bad for them, good for us. I don't understand why you're being so difficult about this all of a sudden."
"You're - " Bloom said. "She's - "
"She?" Stephen asked. "Is this about Bang Bang again?"
"How do you even know that's her name? She never talks to you that I can hear."
"She doesn't make my stuff blow up when I call her that," Stephen said. "So, you know."
"No, Stephen. I don't know. That's what I've been trying to tell you. I don't know what's going on with you, I don't know what's going on with her, and I certainly don't know what's going on with me."
"Oh." Stephen sat down on the same crate, put a hand on Bloom's shoulder. "Well, I love you and I like her."
"Wow," Bloom said. "That's really something."
"You think that's good, wait till I show you my card trick."
Stephen's the casual flirtation, the easily tossed out compliment, not so much insincere as it is meaningless, empty, too casual to be of value or take entirely seriously and yet still welcome, preferable to the alternative of no praise at all. He's not nice to people because he likes everyone; he's nice to people because he likes it when people like him.
Bang Bang's the clean break, the parting shot that's spoken, not shouted in anger (this is irony), the calling it as you see it that is sometimes harsh and cruel and cold. She doesn't blow things up because she's angry; she blows things up because she likes blowing things up.
Bloom is the in-between, the moment of doubt, stretched out for too long. He's always on the brink of something, on the cusp of leaving the nest, leaving Stephen, but she knows and he knows and Stephen knows that unlike her, he never will.