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I showered fast and pulled on boxers and a blue cashmere sweater. Blue for Pam. I sat at my desk and sifted through e-mails until I found the last story installment.
Oh, right ... Lana and Cal were camping by a river ... bathing together.
I reread my last paragraphs, then Hannah\s last paragraphs. Cal was washing Lana\s skin. I described the water cold and silver like mercury and sidestepped much description of Cal\s body. I noted a tattoo along the tops of his shoulders. I wrote that his hair was long and corn yellow, his eyes shining and orange. Cal: a strange creature from the borderlands of reality.
Hannah, too, shied away from the details of Lana\s body. Cal captivated Lana, she wrote. She barely breathed as he rinsed the soap from her skin.
The scene was suspended before intimacy.
And I, who wrote Night Owl and se* scene after se* scene, felt suddenly anxious about writing se* with Hannah. What the hell?
I typed a few sentences. I deleted them. I couldn\ access Cal\s mind.
Defeated, I moved Cal out of the river. He dried himself and lay na**d on his bedroll. Summer wind washed through the field. I felt that night as if I were lying in it I saw the starry darkness Cal saw and then the words came.
He called to Lana with his hundred voices.
I e-mailed the paragraph to Hannah. My phone began to ring. It was Pam.
’’Where are you?’’ she said.
I checked the time. F*k. It was 7:45 and I was sitting at my desk in a sweater and boxers, my hair dripping wet.
’’Traffic!’’ I said. ’’Be there in five.’’
I ended the call. I used one of Hannah\s old hair dryers on high. My black hair stood in every direction. Shit shit shit. I yanked on dress slacks and grabbed my index cards.
’’C-commodity. My privacy is not a consumable commodity.’’ I rehearsed lines as I sprinted to my car. ’’The woods ... to live deliberately. F*k.’’
I gunned it to the studio.
A team of staff met me at the door. A man with a headset said, ’’He\s here, on in ten.’’
They ushered me into a wardrobe room and began combing my hair and powdering my face. I blinked and twitched. How weird, all these hands picking at me.
My cell rang again. It was Pam again.
The wardrobe people kept fussing as I took the call.
’’Matthew, did you miss the rundown with staff? What the hell?’’
’’Traffic, remember?’’ Someone turned on a bright lamp and I winced.
Last Friday, the studio was quiet and still. This morning, it was chaos. People everywhere, screens and cameras, wires, endless chatter.
’’Okay, it doesn\ matter.’’ Pam sighed in my ear. ’’Remember, Gail is going to go off script;that\s how talk shows work. Breezy, casual then bam, a really probing question. Keep it light. Laugh. You aren\ stressed. You have nothing to apologize for. Are you stressed?’’
’’Nothing to apologize for,’’ I mumbled. I dropped my index cards. They went in every direction. Hannah\s cute handwriting all over the floor. I dove after them. One of the wardrobe people continued messing with my hair. I flailed. ’’Enough! Get the f**k off me!’’
When I got back up, I saw Hannah.
She wore a short spring green dress and heels ... and the silver owl bracelet I gave her at the cabin. My mouth dropped open. She laughed.
God, she looked so cool, so calm and lovely.
Pam was in my ear. ’’Matthew! What happened? Matthew!’’
I covered the receiver and walked to Hannah.
’’It\s Pam,’’ I said. ’’She\s going DEFCON one.’’
Hannah slipped the phone from my hand. ’’I\m here,’’ she said to Pam. ’’Yes. I know. Yes. We have to go. Thanks, Pam. We will. I will.’’ She ended the call.
I raised a brow. ’’Please teach me that skill.’’
’’We have to go. We have two minutes.’’
Hannah took my shoulder and guided me through the studio. People hurried past us. The air seemed to vibrate with energy.
’’Yes, I\m going on with you,’’ Hannah said.
’’Does Gail know? Does Pam know?’’
Hannah smoothed back my hair. Her face was tranquil and kind.
’’They know,’’ she said. ’’It was very last-minute. Don\ worry, I\ll stick to our story about everything. Trust me.’’ She smiled. ’’I got index cards, too.’’
I held Hannah\s face and focused on her eyes. The manic vibe of the studio was getting under my skin, and I couldn\ lose it here, now. I drank in Hannah\s calm.
’’You forgive me?’’ I said. ’’Come home. Please come back.’’
’’I will, Matt.’’
’’Today. Say today.’’
’’All right, today.’’ She touched my cheek. ’’Do we have room for all my animal friends?’’
I laughed and kissed her warm brow. I wanted to pick her up and spin her around.
’’I have another stipulation,’’ she said.
’’Keep writing with me...’’
’’Of course.’’ I brushed my thumb over her bottom lip. ’’Always.’’
’’On in two,’’ a man called.
I peered around the corner at the set. White light illuminated everything: the dark wood floor, the colored panels along the back wall, and a cream-colored couch and armchair. Because of the light, I think, and because of the darkness and chaos backstage, the set looked like heaven. Gail sat forward in the armchair. Her red-brown curls shone.
The light flooded over the audience mostly women.
’’And we\ e live in three ’’ A voice sounded through the studio. ’’Two ’’
The canned intro for Denver Buzz played from speakers I couldn\ see. Cameras panned over the audience. The people clapped and smiled, and Gail stood and strolled across the set. She gave the crowd a confident nod.
Then the crowd quieted and she began to speak.
’’Today\s guest is a very talented young man who\s created a sensation here in Denver and around the nation with his shocking disappearance and, now, his reappearance.’’
My heart boomed in my ears. Hannah rose to her tiptoes and whispered in my ear. ’’And one more stipulation, Matt.’’
’’This is his first-ever television appearance,’’ Gail said. ’’He\s agreed to talk openly with me about his life, work, and recent decisions that have stunned many fans.’’
I mouthed a word at Hannah. What?
’’Marry me,’’ she said.
Her cool voice, her hot breath, transported me right out of the studio.
I stood there staring at her, holding on to her, breathless and motionless. Marry me.
Gail\s voice grew louder. She circled back toward her chair. ’’Please welcome Matthew Sky and Hannah Catalano.’’
The crowd clapped.
Cameras swiveled on the set.
Hannah took my hand, and we walked out into that light.