Jared couldn’t decide if it was stranger to live inside of Cecilia or to have her living inside of him. It amazed him how tuned in to what she felt, or what she was thinking, her heartbeat made him. He could feel the different stages of her sleep and knew what she was experiencing, even if he couldn’t actually see inside of her dreams. When they fucked it became a confusing mess of sensations and flailing limbs. Their systems were wired to each other, external stimuli made hearts race, triggering a loop of biological feedback, elevating the lightest touch to an excruciating intensity. Jared could feel her excitement blooming, feeding on his own as her hands, her fingers, her mouth, played around, into, along his body, and that made his heart thunder. Jared assumed that they would have to get used to this eventually, but for the time being their every heartbeat was linked to the other’s, and every throb bled into the last, and when she finally came, like a force of nature, he had no choice but to howl his own agony.
The sensation, the connection, spilled over into the rest of their lives. He could feel hear heart flutter when she watched a bird fly, could feel it race when she smelled fresh coffee, labor when she took a shit, and he knew she could feel all of those things from him.
“Put some pants on, you bum.” Cecilia came back from the bathroom holding a skirt. “We’re going out.” She shook the skirt and held it up. “Does this look too wrinkled to you?”
“Out?” It had been a while; he’d been outside maybe two or three times since the operation. “Where is there to go?”
“It’s a surprise. You’ll have a good time.”
“I suppose I’m open to that.”
Out could be an exciting place and Jared quickly found that he was looking forward to getting back into the world. He’d been trying to take it easy during recovery and he’d gotten caught up in the impetus of unemployment.
“Where the hell are you taking me? This doesn’t really look like your kind of place.” The line was short, though, and the bouncer looked friendly, waving everyone in with his giant ham-hand, barely glancing at the few IDs he bothered to ask for.
“You ladies enjoy the show,” he told the girls in front of Jared and Cecilia. “Ask the bartenders about drink specials. I think tonight it’s ‘sex on the beach’.”
“That’s my favorite!” One of the girls chimed. She had on a dark, slinky dress that matched her bag. They were both made of the same sheer fabric; Jared could see her purse’s contents, cellphone, wallet, gum, tampons, dangling obscenely in plain sight.
“How did I know that?” The bouncer rolled his eyes as she walked away through the door into the bad lighting and loud music. He smiled again when he saw Cecilia. “How are you doing? It’s been too long!”
“I’d come around more if you guys would put up a decent band once in a while. When do you play next?”
“Oh, I don’t know. The owner won’t let us play here any more. Last show I fell off the stage and broke two tables. On top of that, we’ve been out of it for a bit. I hurt my leg pretty badly and few months ago.”
“Oh yeah? How did you hurt it?” Cecilia always seemed to know people, wherever they went. Jared still found it a little hard to rectify that with the strange, quiet girl he knew.
The bouncer looked a little embarrassed by this line of questioning. “I fell off a stage and got trampled on the dance floor. You guys head inside. I’ll go find you later.”
“Later, then.” She grabbed Jared’s arm. He could feel his own heart quicken as she swept him into the pandemonium of the club. It had been a long time since Jared had left the apartment, but it had been much longer since he had been to a bar.
“Go find a drink, I’m going to say hi to someone.” Alone, but not alone. His discomfort faded quickly, it had been a while, but he was far from lost in this environment, the stains and the smells, the people, the same familiar strangers you find at every watering hole. He elbowed his way toward the bar, lost in the smelly, deaf anonymity of a crowded club. He had to wait while the girl in front of him commanded the bartender’s attention. Her back was mostly bare and she had a new looking, colorful tattoo at her belt line. It was an octopus, rendered in rich shades of purple and blue. Its tentacles reached down around her buttock, and two reached down into the cleavage of her ass cheeks, exposed by her sagging pants. Jared looked at his own arm, wondering if octopus suckers tattooed there would be interesting or ridiculous. He weighed that against another design he’d been considering, the scales and diamond pattern of the back of a cobra down his arm. Maybe he could even combine the two somehow.
“What the Hell, man!” Jared’s introspection was interrupted when someone shouted in his ear and pressed a shot-glass into his hand. “You’re the last person I expected to come out of hiding!” James’ voice was boozy. “Thanks, though.”
“Cec brought me, I didn’t even know you’d be here. Are you playing tonight? I didn’t know your band was back together.” Jared squirmed away from James’ friendly presence, uncomfortably close to his tender incisions.
“Nah. I gave up on those assholes ever getting along months ago. This is a whole new combo.” He paused to drink the twin to the shot he’d given Jared. “You’ve got to see this new singer, man, she’s something. I’ve got to get back stage. It’s so awesome that you came! This is going to be like the old days when you were out here all the time!”
Jared left his empty glass on the bar and ordered another drink. He felt too close to closed chapters of his life, any comfort he’d felt in old patterns was blown. He saw the bar through different eyes; sallow strangers draped weirdly over tables, hanging over stools and floating by like jerky stop-motion puppets. Everybody was empty and wasted, just like him.
Disoriented, he bumped into someone. The girl with the cephalopod tattoo looked up at him, smiling coyly.
“You’ve got an implant.” She grabbed his hand to get a better look at his forearm. “Did it hurt?”
“Hurt? No. I was unconscious.”
She laughed and slapped his shoulder. “Unconscious? I thought Johnnies were supposed to be tough.”
“I hadn’t heard of that. I guess if you were doing something really simple you wouldn’t have to use anesthetic. It’d hurt then, like a tattoo.”
“I didn’t use anything when I had this done,” she pulled the thin fabric of her top taut across her breast, plainly outlining the ring. “It hurt like fucking crazy.”
“Damn. Sounds like you’re ready for the real thing.”
“Hell yeah, I am. Have you ever heard this band before? I heard them last month. They’re amazing.”
“Oh yeah? James, the guitar, he used to be my room mate.”
“Oh my God! That’s so cool! Maybe I’ll have you introduce me later.” She pulled a little bound notebook out of her pocket and tapped it, a little suggestively, with a pen. “I’m secretly a music journalist, you see.”
“A reporter? That’s way cooler than having a pothead for a room mate.”
“No way! Potheads make the best room mates. They don’t get mad if you play loud music, they always buy lots of snacks, they don’t care when you walk around naked, and they never bug you to do the dishes. Let me tell you, though,” She leaned in close to him, he could smell wine on her breath and dance floor sweat in her hair, “the whole reporter thing isn’t that great. Music is a thing outside of language, its own language. The only meaningful thing that you can say about it that a layperson will understand is to compare it to some other music, something they’ve heard. So the easier it is to describe, and thus write about, the less likely it is that it’s worth listening to. Too often I find myself sitting down to write up a good show and just filling a page with bullshit so I have something to send in. It’s all bullshit, Johnny. I’m just here to drink and party and pretend I’m a journalist.”
“He uses adjectives too! Be still my heart! It is what it is. You’re easy to talk to, Johnny. Are you doing anything after the show?”
“Oh, I’m here with somebody. I’m sorry.”
“Really? That’s a shame. Oh well, can’t hit one if you don’t swing. You’d be surprised how hard it is to meet people at these things. Everybody’s either a poser, a creep, or a teenager. Well, here,” She grabbed his hand and pulled him toward her, twisting his arm so she could reach the screen on his forearm. “This is so cool. Here’s my blog,” she told him, pulling up a web browser, “so if you change your mind about that someday, you can look me up. Also, so you can check out my blog.”
She shot him a smirk before abruptly walking away, her motion lending the illusion of animation to the octopus reaching down her pants.
He separated himself from the bar area and the uncomfortable flirting and drifted through the crowd, toward the stage. The band had started, already a few songs into the set and, sure enough, Jared found himself at a loss when he tried to come up with anything coherent to say about them that wasn’t bullshit.
Cecilia wasn’t there. Jared scanned the crowd as they pulsed and flowed with the music, but he couldn’t make out Cecilia's head among the dancers, couldn’t pick out her delicate frame among the wallflowers. He knew she was nearby, though, because her heart kept something like time with the somnambulant beat of the music. He’d always thought that James’ band had a good sound, but Cecilia’s heart beating with his along to the music drew him deeper into it than ever before; he felt a little intoxicated, and confused.
Jared weaved among the mesmerized bodies on the dance floor like static pillars with elbows, flipping hair and ecstatic faces. Never much of a dancer, he wandered aimlessly, lost in the music in his own way, but cut off from the collective experience, the orgy of the crowd, the sweat and breathing, the grinding and flailing limbs. He looked upon the passing faces, some leering or screaming, some shut away in open mouthed agony or docile in silent prayer, but he didn’t see Cecilia in any of them. He felt his own heartbeat quicken a little in frustration; he could feel her right there next to him, but he couldn’t find her.When the set was over and the band was replaced with some generic, uninspiring canned dance music, Cecilia’s heartbeat lost track of the beat, but it didn’t slow down. With nowhere else to look Jared pushed through the crowd to the back stage door. He’d expected to get stopped by security, but he wasn’t. There seemed to be nearly as many people back stage as there had been out front. James was there, he waved dreamily as he exhaled a gout of smoke while the flirty reporter shouted something in his ear. Cecilia’s heart pounded in Jared’s throat like a tympani as he scanned the little room for her.
She had her back to him, there across the room, as she listened raptly to the band’s singer, whose arm snaked around her thin, bony shoulders. Her heart still beat and beat and beat, even as Jared's sank lower and lower into his stomach until he couldn’t feel it beating next to hers any more.
Carefully avoiding eye contact with James, and even more studiously avoiding the journalist, Jared slipped away, back out to the anonymous pandemonium of the dance hall.
It ate away at him.
It followed him everywhere, never left him alone, the window to her mind, her heart, that shone a bright, painful ray on his. The omnipresent connection was inescapable. He got used to the idea of being under constant scrutiny, but he found himself being constantly worn away by the unending onslaught of information without context, half truths their bodies told each other without justification or context.
The incident at the show hadn’t been the first time he’d felt Cecilia’s heart broadcasting something he didn’t understand, and it happened again the very next day. They had been out late, hadn't made it back out to the world until later in the morning. Jared hadn’t even wanted to go out again.
“Come on,” she insisted, throwing the covers off of them, onto the floor. “Last night was only a start. The world doesn’t stop while you sleep, you’ve got to keep up with it.”
With that, they found themselves clothes and made their way out into the deceptive chill of a sunny autumn morning. The air was sharp with drying leaves and cold cement. Jared put on the sunglasses he hadn’t worn in so long and let the residual bitterness from the previous night, both from the show and the ensuing sleeplessness, slide off of him, left it behind like an old sweater. Jealousy was a heavy thing to carry, it felt better to let it go.
“We should get some tacos or something. What do you feel like?”
“Whatever, let’s get some coffee and then we can decide. I’m just happy you’re outside again.” Cecilia practically skipped down the street. “Is there anything you’ve wanted to do? We should spend the whole day out.”
Jared just smiled and shrugged, followed her around town. She had a few errands, stopped into shops to talk to people. Jared recognized a few of the passing faces as Johnnies he’d met, but he couldn’t remember anyone’s name. It didn’t matter, though. The coffee chased his malaise away, and he felt more normal, he thought, than he’d felt in a long time, maybe since before he’d lost his job. Not interested in the shelves of off-brand computer hardware, he saw something through the window, across the street.
“Hey, Cec.” She was animatedly discussing something technical with the uninterested looking middle aged man behind the counter. “I’m going across the street. There’s a help wanted sign in the window.”
“Good for you,” she answered. “I might be in the bike shop next door. Meet you there.”
Jared decided to ride his momentum and fill out the application on the spot, much to the annoyance of the clerk. He went straight to the bike shop when he was finished. Before he crossed the street he noticed something different about Cecilia’s heartbeat. It was quicker, lighter, fluttering a little. He didn’t think anything of it until he opened the door and saw her.
The singer from James’ band was there. She was wearing an apron with grease smeared on it and was looking at some papers. Cecilia stood in front of her, pointing things on the sheets out and talking. Jared’s own heart sank again, like it had when he felt the same thing last night, and went back out into the street to wait. His mind reeled as he looked inward, searching for some way to deal with this, anything to say.
“There you are.” It hadn’t taken her much longer to finish what she was doing and find him outside. “You want another cup of coffee?”
“What was that?”
“In there. I can,” Jared paused when he felt his own finger jabbing himself hard in the chest. He put his hands deliberately to his sides and fought to control his own heart, it thundered and tried to run away without him. “I can feel everything, Cecilia. You know that.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Jared. I was just dropping off something I’d talked about with her last night.”
“Last night. Right.” Jared turned and walked away before she could say anything else.