Max called as the sun rose the next morning.
“Are you up, sunshine?” he asked.
I was. “I couldn’t sleep last night,” I said.
“Me, neither,” he replied. “Will you come over? I need to show you something.”
Of course I would.
“Come to my house,” he said, “not the flat.” He gave me the address. It was near the beach overlooking the lighthouse.
He asked me to come in a few hours. He wanted to bake a loaf of bread, he’d said, and he’d just be taking it out of the oven around ten. “We’ll have toast and tea,” he said. I could hear the smile in his voice.
I was too excited to sit in my apartment. I figured if I walked along the creek, I’d day-dream my way along for a few hours, imagining I was retracing the migration routes of woolly mammoths, and I might take even longer if I sat on a log to listen to the vireos sing from willow branches or watch dragonflies dance over water.
I was too excited for any of those things, and I arrived while the morning shadows still stretched across the road. I checked and rechecked the address. It could not be right. This was the house where Septemus Sevens lived, with the windows in the back that I stood under that night when I spied him writing his blog.
Perhaps Septemus had moved out, and Max had taken over the lease.
But no, I discovered as I climbed the steps. Septemus Sevens himself stood on the front porch.
“You’re early,” Septemus said.
“I’m here to see Max,” I replied, trying not to blush.
“You’re here to see me,” said Sept, pulling me towards him.
I could have resisted.
I could have said no.
He would have stopped.
I was shocked. But I wasn’t so shocked that I was unable to resist. Septemus Sevens was pulling me towards him.
Septemus Sevens was bending me over his knee and leaning towards me.
Septemus Sevens was kissing me, and the word “No,” exited from my life for then and for good.
Only. I knew these lips.
That thing he did with his tongue. Someone else does that.
It wasn’t the type of trick that two men would know.
And that warm scent of cinnamon and roses. That was Max’s soap.
And this feeling of ecstasy and bliss. Only one person I knew exuded those emotions.
“Max,” I said, woozy from the kiss.
He gazed at me with galaxy eyes.
“You are Max,” I said.
Then it hit me full force.
“What the fuck? You’re Max?”
“You arrived early,” he said.
“When were going to tell me? What is this?” My dream crashed with the full impact of the moment. I came so close to turning, running, escaping this end-of-the-world town, and racing home to my bigoted dad and controlling mother. At least I could deflect their manipulation and deceit.
“You’re here early,” Sept said. “This wasn’t how I planned it. I was going to be the Max you know, the Max you kissed yesterday. And we were going to have a nice day, and maybe make-out a little, if you wanted, and then, if the time seemed right, and if you trusted me and were ready to be open-minded, I was going to explain that I had a true form, and then, not until you were ready, I was going to ask you if you wanted to see it. But you came early.”
His voice. It’s always done something to me. I cannot object to anything when I hear his voice, not back then, on that first day he spoke to me in his true voice for any length of time, nor any day since.
I closed my eyes and imagined how it would have been. “Tell me again what you’d planned?” I asked, and he told me again, slowly, in detail, describing the cinnamon toast and Darjeeling tea.
“I’m not sure I can pretend it was like that,” I said at last. “But at least I can give us a chance to make it through this way.”
“This way is kind of a shock,” he said, “especially when we’re both high on love.”
“I wanted to surprise you!” I said. “That’s why I came early! Plus I was too excited to see you.”
“I never lied, you know,” he said. “When you asked if ‘Sept’ was panromantic or pansexual, I told you that I was both.”
He was right. Still, he’d presented so many surprises.
“This was the reason I wanted you to read ‘The First Truth’,” he said. “I hoped it would prepare you for this.”
“Wait,” I objected. “You mean you didn’t have me read it so that I would have an awesome, life-changing, spiritual awakening?”
“No,” he said, bashfully. “I meant it literally. I’m not my body–not in this form nor in Max’s form. And I wanted you to be ready to look past that to see who I really am.”
“I thought you were trying to teach me something,” I confessed.
“Not hardly,” he chuckled. “I don’t want to be your spiritual teacher. I want to be your boyfriend.
It didn’t make sense to me. What could Septemus Sevens possibly see in me? I had a hard enough time accepting someone as cool and hip as Max Culper might like me, but Septemus? An Enlightened Being? I didn’t get it.
“But I’m so prejudiced,” I said. “I said horrible things about extraterrestrials to you. You should hate me, not want to be close to me.”
“Now I’m glad you kept reading 77 Truths,” he replied. “You remember Number Four, right? ‘I am not my conditioning.’ Everybody has prejudices, byu” he continued. “There’s not an exception. It’s part of being someone with a mind. What I love is that you look at yours. You don’t let them fester. When you become aware of them, you start unpacking them.”
I looked up at him on his pedestal. I had no interest, at the time, in taking him down from it. It took a few decades for me to learn that a deeper love awaits when the pedestal is removed. But back then, I was happy to have him high up, for he reached down his hand, and he offered to pull me up beside him.
If I had a chance to be something more, he was offering it.
“I’ve been watching you, byu,” he said. “You are doing the remarkable. When you work, and you focus your attention on your task, the wormtail shrivels, and you shine.”
“You see me like no one else has,” I said, blowing him a kiss.
“So what do you think?” he asked. “I know I don’t have floppy hair, and I don’t have dark brown squinty eyes or an awesome skinny bod, but like this? Can you at least stand to look at me?”
I took him in. He was beautiful. He wasn’t human, but he was gorgeous: elegant, graceful, expressive, and endearingly goofy.
“I think you’ll do,” I said. “In a pinch.”
We talked nonsense until our voices hurt and the sun moved behind the house and the porch fell in shadows. I recall that the bread in the oven burned and we didn’t even notice until we were so hungry that we made our way indoors.
Our world contracted to include only the two of us and expanded to include every impulse of creation in every galaxy in the multiverse.
When he spoke, space echoed through him.
“Happy, byu?” he asked.
Happy didn’t come close. It was the end of the world and I’d found the source here at the center of the universe, on the front porch of a little blue house on the bluff above the beach overlooking the lighthouse. Bliss!