When Max arrived, I tried not to look at him. I felt so awkward when he was in his Max-skin. I worried that our close friends would wonder why I wasn’t more affectionate, and, if I was affectionate, our acquaintances, who didn’t know he was Sept, would think I was cheating. Those who knew both of us, as Mallory and Max, knew we were close friends and he used to be my boss and would wonder at our distance, and everyone else would simply wonder why I acted so clumsily. It was a mess.
People’s energy bodies turn towards each other when they’re romantically and sexually involved. That’s how, when you see two lovers walking down the street, even if there’s space between them, you can tell they’re lovers. I worried that people would see with their third eyes my energy body lean into his and think I was a cheater. It mattered a lot to me, back then, what people thought. Whenever possible, I avoided being in the same room as the Max-skin, and when that wasn’t possible, I kept as much distance as I could.
I explained it to Sept, and I think he understood, though I don’t think he agreed.
When Max arrived at Culpepper, Elui sat listening to music, across from Don.
“Nice to meet you,” Max said. “I don’t think I’ve seen you around here before. I’m Max.”
“Elui,” Elui replied.
“Eruli,” Max said. “Byu dastaliyu.”
“And I am the Don,” said Don. “Byu, too, dude.”
But Max and Elui had stopped talking aloud. I felt the intensity that follows inside-talk.
“Many people come through here,” Max said aloud, “and not all of them are from here.”
“I’m not from here,” said Don. “Neither is Caleb. We work at the fishery. Seasonal. It’s a good job. Hard labor. Pays well. Smelly.”
Max and Elui focused on each other intently. Not all they said was spoken.
“The coffee’s good,” Elui said. “I’m getting another cup. Can I get you one?”
“No, thanks,” said Max. “But would you order yours to-go? I was thinking maybe you’d come somewhere with me.”
Elui returned with his cappuccino in a recycled-paper cup.
When the chair next to Max was empty, I sat there, inching it away. Mitchell sat near us on the sofa with the look of someone listening intently while pretending not to.
Max was talking about music, following chords, chasing the dominant fifth to find the seventh, patterns that shift and stay the same, and Elui closed his eyes.
This was not a conversation about music.
“Don’t let the anti-node fool you,” Max said. “The harmonics tell more than the rate of change. They also divulge position.”
“I got a guitar,” Don said. “Been playing a couple a years. I know all about harmonics. Main, them things are cool. Hold down the string. Let it vibrate. Trippy.”
I tracked positions. Caleb sat behind us. Diego and Nina stood at the counter. Anya worked the espresso bar. Ritu had left. Mitchell sat on the sofa behind Elui.
I felt exposed, as I sat upright, keeping my eyes ahead while the conversation ranged around us, expressing layers that remained hidden to all but Elui, number sixty, and Eruli, number seventy-seven.