ONE MORE KISS
Sometimes you see something, but it's not real. It's only what you want to see. This I saw, however, clear as day, and just as real. Ray stepped through the door, took one look at Denny Scarpa in my red long johns, and... was jealous.
If he had only seen us a moment earlier, I thought, her hands digging into the muscles of my back. That would have given him something to be truly jealous of.
For a moment mischief bubbles up inside of me, and I imagine myself imitating Turnbull... “Welcome to Canada.” Indeed... My inner Canada, where I can clothe the objects of my desire as I like. Denny Scarpa dressed in red. Ray dressed in...
My breath hitches for a painful moment, but I contain myself. I always do.
He's jealous. It shouldn't make me glad, but it does. Yes, I'm jealous too. We both are. He tries to hide it, but I hear it in his voice, despite himself. It comes out as he speaks, unbidden.
“Don't you feel a little naked,” he asks me, “without the long johns?” I was not even remotely naked. Utterly clothed. He was the one undressing me.
Smoothly I reply: “I have several pair.” He changes the subject, and we slide back from it, from the topic we're both dancing around, both trying to avoid. We slide back from it, and bury ourselves in work.
But it haunts me, all day long it haunts me, as I assume it's haunting him. All night. It's almost laughable, really. He's trying to teach me to play poker, they all are... and not one of them realises just how good my poker face is, always has been. “You can't be bluffing when you're not bluffing.” I internalise my smile. Not one of them has any idea just how damned good I am at this game.
Hide your smile.
Later, when the whole thing is over, when the Feds have swooped in, done their business, as they do, tidied away the witnesses, claimed credit, both where it was and was not due, I am sitting at the table with Ray. My Ray. And we're not in Canada, we're not even at the Consulate. I can't clothe him, or unclothe him. I can only sit and play.
And... I allow my mind to wander.
Back to Canada. My inner Canada, where I can dress him as I like, where I can hold him, as I like, be him, with him, as I like.
And I remember... strange waters. Unclear boundaries, territories uncharted. Remember us drowning. Suspended weightless in the last moment of my life.
And his breath breaks out, bursting in bubbles all around him. His next breath in will be his last, and I realise I have the air to save him.
There were other ways I could have shared my air. Other ways I could have shared my breath. I've been trained, after all. I should have covered his mouth with my hand, breathed through his nostrils, so that in his desperation he would not snatch all the air out of me. That is how you're supposed to do it after all.
But I turned, and I saw him, eyes wide, mouth opening, about to desperately hitch in water, flood his lungs...
And before I knew it, before conscious thought, I was with him, mouth to mouth, lip to lip, pouring my air out into him. Knowing it was suicide, knowing that he couldn't help himself, that he would suck all breath out of me. My eyes were open, flooded with the brightness of him, my last sight before dying. And it was worth it, it was worth it, it was worth it, for just one kiss. He opened his eyes, and we stared into each other and...
He caught himself. Despite the hunger for oxygen, the terror of dying, he caught himself. Stopped himself from drinking in my last breath. His lips broke from mine, and... oh Lord. Even despite the burning in my chest, how I did long for that kiss to continue.
So. I did the right thing. I always do the right thing. I grabbed him, and kicked out, and we swam. The world was blotching out into spots, dissolving round the edges, and my whole body was strangled, desperate and hard. We broke, hit the surface, and I breathed. Breathed again. New breath, in a world I'd never thought to see. A world in which I had the touch of his kiss upon my lips.
So. The truth is, I think about it every day. I have lost count of how many breaths I have taken since that kiss. Regretted my poker face, ever since. Regretted my automatic lie. “What was that...” “Buddy breathing...”
Good Lord. And they think I always tell the truth... Ray could never have believed that. He is many things, but a fool was never one of them. He knows exactly what that kiss meant.
As my Grandfather might have said, had he been sure my Grandmother wasn't listening, “buddy breathing my arse.”
A kiss. I damned near killed myself, for just one kiss. Would do it again, in a heartbeat.
And here we are. Another case done, wrapped up, nothing to keep us here... and neither one of us can leave. We are 'tired and wired', as Ray puts it. He claims to be hyped up on chocolate, and caffeine... I am painfully aware that I'm hyped up on him. I keep thinking of a kiss. And it's not just me. It can't be just me. It's on his mind too. He touches his mouth, licks his lips, and thinks that I don't see. His poker face is not nearly so good as mine.
Besides which, he's the one who first tips his hand.
“What's the ante,” I ask, as casually as possible.
“I don't know.” He's flustered. “We'll, er... we'll play for air.”
Ah, you're thinking of air, Ray? I remember my air being drawn from my lungs, his mouth opening to mine, tongue, wet, teeth...
His fierce restraint, when he realised the danger I was in. Even untrained, without any technique, he was able to control himself, for my sake.
And now I hear myself, and I'm the one talking nonsense. Good Lord. Talking about Denny Scarpa, as though she was the one on my heart, as though she was the one on my mind. Talking about a delightful kiss. The wrong kiss.
“I'll take that air now, Ray.” I say it lightly, hopeful, terrified. If he understands, if he does not understand... each possibility is as fraught with hope and terror as the other.
I'll take that air...
“I'm tapped out,” he jokes.
My heart is clenched, around the memory of my breath in his lungs. He'll have to owe me. I can wait, I tell myself. I can wait a long time. I'll have to wait for him to be the one to kiss me.
Perhaps he never will.
“I'll accept an IOU,” I tell him, poker-faced, keeping all my cards to my chest.
He smiles, tells me I'm being silly.
I want to kiss him. So much, so much it hurts. Win or lose, I'd give my last breath.
I'd die for one more kiss.
ONE MORE KISS, REDUX
Lady Shoes – Denny Scarpa -- got into Fraser’s long johns…
I mean, she was wearing Fraser’s long johns.
And just the thought of getting into Fraser’s long johns
was enough to make me feel jealous and talk stupid.
I asked him, “Don’t you feel a little naked without the long johns?”
And for a second I saw some kinda hot look in his eyes.
Then the bland Mountie Mask went on
and he said something about “having several pair”.
And then Tommy the sketch artist had to start admiring
the Consulate’s wood paneling.
He was saying “This is nice. Really nice. Real wood.”
Not helpful, there, Tommy…gettin’ me thinkin’ about my wood.
Bad enough before the buddy breathing.
First moment I ever saw Fraser I felt like I had to hug him.
First day I was with him
I was ready to take a bullet for him.
But it wasn’t unexpected, a cop taking a bullet.
Drowning though…not one of your more expected cop deaths.
And getting hard for your partner when you’re drowning…
yeah, not expected.
We’ve all heard shit about “your life passes before your eyes”
when you’re near death…and maybe for some people it does.
Not for me, though…
the cold and pressure and not breathing just made my mind blank.
And in that place of blank panic
I was about to give up the last air
that I would ever hold in my lungs,
take in the first and last water.
But then another unexpected thing,
Fraser’s mouth on mine
-- a kiss before dying, I thought --
and I went rock hard for him.
He was kissing me and my panic subsided.
If I’d had any air left for laughing I would have fuckin’ laughed.
It was like the universe almost but not quite granting a dying guy’s last wish…
and then I realized that I did have air.
That air? Fraser was breathing into me!
He might’ve had enough air to get himself out of there and live,
but he was gonna give it up for me…
he was ready to die like that and I wasn’t gonna let him.
Myself, it woulda been worth it to me to die then
if kissing him for the rest of my about-to-end life was part of the deal,
but I wasn’t having Fraser die if he had a chance to live…
so I broke the contact.
I broke the contact and then we broke the surface of the water
and then it broke my heart when he decided to act like nothing had changed.
I asked him, “What was that, Fraser? That thing you were doing with your mouth?”
He said, “That’s buddy breathing. Standard procedure.”
Standard procedure buddy breathing my ass.
The way he did it was much more than buddies.
I gave him another chance; I prompted “Nothing’s, like, changed or anything…?”
And he said no! -- Mr. I-Never-Tell-A-Lie -- he did what he would call “dissemble”.
Weeks later, the night we closed the Denny Scarpa case, he was still “dissembling,”
repeating back to me what I told him about playing poker :
“As you instructed me, Ray,
there are certain cards that are better left hidden until they are absolutely needed.”
So what did he mean to hide and what did he mean to show
when we played poker that night,
with the talk about Lady Shoes kissing him,
with the talk about our poker ante being air?
When he said, “I’ll take that air now, Ray,” I wanted to just go for it.
Wanted to kiss him…but that look in his eyes…
thought I saw some kinda hope but also thought I saw some kinda terror…
thought maybe it’s not the right time for him yet, so I said “I’m tapped out”.
Fraser didn’t let it go at that, kept the pace of our duet,
said “I'll accept an I.O.U.”
And I’m thinkin’ we were both ready to die for one more kiss…
after that, the wins have gotta outweigh the losses.