Verse 22: ROLL TO ME
Lex still heard the applause reverberating in his head as he neatly folded his performance gear and replaced it in his purse. It made him positively giddy. Never had an audience treated him with such adulation. In his experience, such accolades were generally reserved for Guild elders, Minstrels of such renown that Noble houses and great convocations competed for their appearances at special occasions. Those of his Rank sang in taverns, bathhouses, and waystations for patrons who were more concerned with achieving a certain degree of mellowness than with musical technique.
"I must devise all new material for tomorrow's show," he told himself as he re-donned his everyday traveler's garb. He paused midway through pulling up his trousers when he remembered that, if all went as planned, there would be no second show at Gilda's. In a matter of hours, he would try to leave this world and its audiences far behind. His conviction wavered. Suddenly, leaving no longer seemed the only worthwhile option.
He thought of Gloria; perhaps he ought to share his misgivings with her before making any rash decisions. After all, he did not wish to leave her without a performer for the following evening.
Opening the office door, he heard the happy chatter of folk still reliving the show. "A good showman always leaves them wanting more," Master Roberlein had instructed. "A great showman leaves them feeling like they've already had more." Lex felt a rush of pride.
"Hey, it's Lex!" a woman called as he entered, and in seconds he found himself hemmed in on all sides by people throwing compliments and questions at him faster than he could field them.
Yes, it had indeed been a wonderful show. Thank you for being so kind. No, he really could not sing one more note. Yes, he would be happy to sign his name. No, he did not have any CD's available for purchase. Yes, he did like Mystic very much. No, he had no plans to return later this summer. Yes, he would appreciate being bought a drink. No, he might be carefree and good-natured, but he did not consider himself gay. Yes, he would be happy to sign his name and make it out to Sasha. Yes, he had representation through the New Traditionalist Guild. No, he did not have a recording contract. Yes, he thought that was a very attractive tattoo. No, he could not possibly accept the young lady's room key. No, he had never appeared on television. No, he did not think he was available to play at the Kappa Delt's pledge mixer. Yes, he would be happy to write "To Phyllis, my biggest fan, Lex Machallo" but did not think there was sufficient room for that on the woman in question's chest.
Lex found himself wishing for familiar faces to anchor him to reality. He looked for Tully and the children, but they were nowhere to be found. He assumed that Tully had taken them home, since Gloria clearly had not had the opportunity to do so. She was still very much in evidence, working behind the bar, busily mixing and pouring and serving. Lex was taken by a sudden urge to be by her side, and if the glances Gloria kept sending his way were any indication of her thoughts, she wanted to talk to him as badly as he with her.
Somehow, with great difficulty, he extricated himself and took refuge behind the bar, putting a solid span of polished wood between him and his adoring public. No stranger to post-performance propositions, Lex had typically had them delivered in private, not en masse.
The Minstrel eased over to Gloria, offering to help with the bartending chores. Before she could speak, Zoot interjected that she and Harpo could handle the crush on their own, and things would probably calm down immeasurably if Gloria got Lex out of there before the Barbie Brigade turned the place into Hormone Central. Gloria's protests were calmly overridden, and soon enough Lex and Gloria were forcing their way through the crush of femininity.
Neither noticed the young blonde woman using her cell phone who watched them as they headed out the service door.
"Daddy? It's Michelle. No, nothing's wrong! Why do you always ask if there's something wrong every time I call? No, I'm in Mystic. Yes, I know what time it is. Would you please listen to me? I'm sorry if I woke you, but I just saw the most amazing singer. His name is Lex Machallo, and he's extremely talented and very good looking, and I think you should do a story about him. Daddy, don't shout at me like that. I wouldn't have called if I didn't think it was really newsworthy. I honestly believe he could be the next big thing, and you should get in on the story before everyone has it. Yes, he is that good. No, I am not drunk. Swear to God. Want me to put it in terms you could understand? Think Springsteen. Yes, he's playing here again tomorrow night and I'm going to see him again. You're always saying how Saturdays are such slow news days, so I thought you might want to send someone to do a live remote. You keep telling me you want me to be more serious, and this is serious. Yes. A place called Gilda's. Yes. Lex Machallo. No, I can't spell it. No. That's up to you. Yes, I’ll call mother… promise. Tell what's-her-name I'm sorry if I woke her. I know her name is Tyler; we were in cheer together. I know. I know. Love you too."
Once Lex and Gloria got outside, however, Lex found he had to struggle to frame his doubts in actual words. He waited for Gloria to say something, but she was oddly pensive. Had he merely projected his own wishes onto her? They did not exchange more than a dozen words before mounting her motorcycle, and those were passing comments on the audience's reaction to his music. Gloria put on her helmet and nothing more was said as she wove her way through the late night traffic snarl and out of town.
Soon enough, she parked the motorcycle under the trees in the front yard, but instead of entering the house, she took his hand and led him up the ramp to the deck on the seaward side. She turned on some lights which did little to illuminate the night, then took a seat on the deck and indicated he should sit beside her. They sat in continued silence, hearing the faint susurrus of waves on the beach below. She leaned against his arm. Finally she spoke. "Some night."
Another long pause followed.
"You were wonderful. They all loved you."
"They were wonderful. Being there inspired me. If I was good, it was because they deserved no less."
Another longer pause.
"Every woman in the place wanted you, you know."
"I think you exaggerate."
"No, I don't. I could see it in their faces. Every woman in the place saw you and imagined herself with you. Beside you. Beneath you. Every one of them." She touched the back of his neck and he turned to her.
"Gloria, I –"
She pressed a finger to his lips. "Every. Woman. There." Her eyes sparkled and there was no mistaking her intent. Lex kissed the fingertip, then took her hand in his and kissed the palm. Gloria trembled. He reached for her and she sailed into the harbor of his embrace. They kissed, breathing each other's exhalations. Lex's hand wandered through the hair on the back of her neck and she held him tightly.
By mutual consent their lips parted. Gloria stood and faced him. She eased his knees apart with her own, put her hands on his shoulders and moved in close. Starting at the top button of her sleeveless blouse, he eased it out of its hole, then moved to the next. She stood there, patient, only an occasional sharp intake of breath belying her outward serenity. When the last button came free, he spread the wings of her jersey. The night breeze played across the already taut tips of her breasts, and Lex leaned forward to graze one with the lightest of kisses. The warmth of his breath chased away the chill of the air, yet she still shivered. Her fingers pressed against his shoulders, urging his head forward. The tip of his tongue protruded a fraction and teased her, then traced a long, lazy line down one slope and up the other. His mouth opened to claim the peak and bit, ever so gently, his teeth separated by the width of her nipple, and his hands reached beneath the fluttering fabric to trace the curvature of her lower back. He held her rear firmly with both hands, and took as much of her left breast into his mouth as he could manage. Gloria arched, throwing her head back like a coyote baying at the moon. Her cry was softer, but no less haunting. Her fingers tightened on him, running down his shoulder blades, encouraging him. Gloria had already begun her ascent and Lex sensed he would have to pick up the pace or risk being left behind.
His hands snagged the waistband of her tight black trousers, tugging downward with no success. With one hand he found the catch, released it, and pulled the two flaps of cloth apart. He returned his hands to her waist and tried again. This time the vee of her zipper incrementally widened as her pants slid over her hips and thighs, until they were bunched around her shins. Gloria kicked off her shoes, then stepped out of the tangled denim. She moved her feet apart to grant him unlimited access. Lex's fingers smoothed the flesh of her inner thigh, plucked at the wisp of cloth between them, and eased the sheer fabric to one side. He found the center of her sexuality and caressed it, tracing, probing, unfolding. The merest pressure on her already moistened lips loosed a flow from within, and when he touched her most sensitive spot, the sensations sent her reeling.
Gloria's legs buckled. She called his name, digging her fingernails into his back through his shirt, willing herself not to fall. Her hips leapt and jerked, and then passion and gravity took their toll. She sank to the ground, seeking him, finding him but unable to free his rigid shaft. She let out a gasp of frustration and yanked frantically at the cord which held his trousers in place. The knot defied her efforts and she pleaded for his help.
He obliged, stood, and pushed his trousers to his knees. She seized her prize, mapping its latitude and longitude with hungry hands and then with her even more voracious mouth. By then, however, his readiness had matched hers. He joined her on the grass, found the proper orientation, and tore the last silken barrier between them apart with an ease that thrilled her. Mounting her, he felt heat and wetness envelop him, and then they were one, orbiting each other like binary suns, defying entropy by increasing their mutual heat. They rolled on the ground, conjoined, flattening the blades of grass beneath their tumbling bodies, never losing contact with each other as they lost touch with everything else. There was no sea, no earth, no sky, nothing but the two of them, searching for the ultimate destination, speaking the language that only lovers know and never share. Without leaving the ground, together they found the stars.
Afterward, she clung to him, still vibrating with tiny aftershocks. She tensed, unwilling to release him, loath to give way to the inevitable separation. Miraculously, his desires took a parallel course. There was no sign that he required even the briefest hiatus. If he could choose one moment to experience for all eternity, this would be it, she knew: wrapped in the wellspring of their mutual need. His loins beat a steady tattoo against her own, finding the exact contrapuntal rhythm, sending a message that echoed and echoed back. Soon no listener could have told where one beat ended and the next began. Again, he emptied himself into her welcoming depths. Gloria came over and over with each sweet salvo. They fought to recapture their ragged, fleeting breaths, until calm settled and all was silent again but for the buzzing of nightborne insects and the slow rasp of the waves.
Gloria recovered first. She propped herself up on one elbow. "Say something," she demanded, lightly slapping his face.
"Ooooohhhhh," Lex moaned.
"Say something that's not 'Ooooohhhhh'," she insisted.
"I cannot," he sighed. "My mind has been wiped clean of all coherent thought."
"Liar!" she laughed, kissing him hard. Her laughter tightened the velvet prison's hold on its cherished prisoner and he groaned again.
"Peace, woman!" he cried. "What are you trying to do to me?"
"I would be your muse, Minstrel. I wish nothing but to inspire you to further performance." She punctuated the last with another tender spasm. "Surely there are other offerings in your repertoire. Don't you know a cry of 'encore!' when you hear it?"
"Greedy witch," he whispered, cupping her derriere with both hands. She pressed her pelvis against him. "I have never known a tavern owner who was satisfied with just one encore. You would exhaust all my reserves, given the opportunity."
But he rolled over, once again placing her beneath him, then gazed into her eyes. He pushed, registering her reaction as she gave up a tiny gasp. He repeated the process, earning another louder groan as she planted her feet and rose to meet his thrust. Her mouths sought him in equal measure. This time, their lovemaking was languid, achingly gradual, but with its own unyielding momentum. It took a long time, but when they arrived, both deemed the extra effort ever so worthwhile.
Finally, satiated to the point of exhaustion, she pushed at his chest and they became individuals again. They lay on their backs, gazing at the vast sky.
"Tell me about your world, Lex," Gloria murmured. "Tell me about the night sky on Kal."
"A fair wonder to behold it is, almost as wondrous as yourself. The first thing you would see is the War Moon, Valispi, blood red and menacing, dominant night and day. So huge is it that your sun could hide behind it for hours. Next, you would surely notice Meep, the Swift Moon, as it streaks past, a white blur that circles nineteen times a day, trailing fire. Brightest of all is Manerit, the aptly titled Light Moon. My favorite, though, is Thanes, dark green because of its forests. It is the only moon I have visited."
"How many moons are there?" she asked sleepily, lulled by the slow warm tone of his voice.
"Eight, all told. Those, plus Dero, Egroma, Nesseris, and finally Jal, the Moon of Magic, hardest to see, not only because it is the darkest but also due to its pole to pole orbit. And then there are the stars, Gloria, billions of them. No traveler with any sense of astrology can lose his way on Kal, because the night sky, no matter how cloudy, is almost always bathed in light. Night is my favorite time to go walking. The fields stretch out forever, and you feel like just another dot of light in the firmament. If we were there now, we would lay beneath the bowl of sky and behold its splendor until sleep overtook us. Would you care to see that?" There came no response. "Gloria?"
He raised himself to a seated position and looked at her. He could tell from the nearly imperceptible rise and fall of her breasts that she had succumbed to the beckoning arms of the night. He touched her face, then brushed his lips one last time against hers and sang softly to her unhearing ears:
"Last night she slept on a goose-feather bed,
With silken sheets for her cover.
Tonight she'll sleep on the cold, hard ground,
Beside her gypsy lover."
Lex lay back beside her, their bodies touching, and pulled her sleeping form against him until her head rested on his chest. She stirred, but did not waken. He closed his eyes and pictured the grand display he had described to her. He longed for home. In fact, he had been yearning for home for a long, long time, and yet, on this alien world, with the woman sleeping beside him, home felt nearer than it had in years. Sleep did not take him; nevertheless his mind filled with dreams.