Commentary: Two People-Puddles

Stay Awhile
Chapter: Shouldn't People Want Proximity in Love?    
Commentary Part Two (Part One)

      My whole face was runny with perspiration, including my lips. I was pretty sure if I put my mouth against his cheek my face would just slide off of his. But I did so anyway. Sweaty lips. Urgh.   
      “Whoa! Thank goodness this is only the fourth weirdest thing I’ve seen in the last minute.” Monty swung under a pipe and stood close against me in the cramped space. “Face-kissing inside a boiler.” “Face-kissing” was, I believe, a fill-in until I could come up with a better Montyism. But each time I reread it it struck me as odd. Like, we don't say “lip-kissing,” or I don't, as least. And things I find odd have a way of staying in the books, more often than not.
      “What are the other three?” I wiped my forehead. Fair is buying time here to collect herself, because she had just had her sweaty face near Gomery's sweaty face. So her thoughts are all bew, bew, bew.
      “In descending order? Face-kissing inside a boiler, number four,” he repeated. “Number three. Vinessa Rainey-Palomo teaching Sutton how to reinstall a boiler’s ignition, which made my pretty head hurt. Number two. Sutton’s doing it on her own, uh, three minutes into her lesson. And number one. Valencia Rainey-Palomo just pulled me aside and said Fair Finley might play matchmaker with my cousin. That is by far the weirdest thing that has happened tonight, ceiling shag rug included, second fake scary Redwoodian outside included, tiny castles through the bottom of a cup included, because I’m now inside this boiler and there is face-kissing and I’m wondering why one of the face-kissers is matchmaking the other face-kisser with someone who is currently not on either end of the face-kissing. Does anyone want to explain any of this? Talk slow, because my brain aches from that ignition lesson.” There's a lot of talking here, which is so Monty to me. He does a little recap of the story so far, or high points, which I like doing so often, in brief. He also refers to his head as “pretty,” which it is. Also, he keeps saying face-kissing and face-kisser over and over, I think to disarm the face-kissers a bit.
      “Fair thinks I’ll resent her when she buys the motel.” Gomery doesn't pussyfoot around.
      “If she buys the motel,” Monty corrected. Monty's a little delusional about the things that don't dovetail neatly into his life plan, but he'd probably be the first to amen that fact.
      “What?” This is, by far, the crabbiest “what?” in all three books.
       “Monty. You hate that place.” Steam rose around Gomery’s head. “Hate” is a powerful word, and I consider when and where and how it is used, because I desire a generally positive twinkle to the books. Gomery says it the least in all three books. But he pulls it out here because he is really trying to shake Monty's grip a little, on the motel.  
      “I can’t want something I hate?” This gives me a little sad throat lump every time I read it. Because all people, probably everywhere, have had this experience at some point, and why we desire something that isn't good for us or we don't really want, or want for hard reasons, is complicated and tangled.
      “You always say it takes up all your time and doesn’t give back. A bad relationship, you call it.” Not much ink is given in the books to conversations the Overbove cousins have had outside of the story, but this is one reference. I picture them talking across the motel's front desk: Gomery standing behind it, usually, and Monty on the teal vinyl couch, legs stretched out, hands with interlaced fingers behind his head. If Gomery says Monty “always” says the motel doesn't give back, I'm guessing this is an oft-repeated cousin conversation. Held out of their mothers' earshot, of course.
      “It’s all we have, Gomery!” Monty’s voice rose. I flinched. It was the rare time Monty hadn’t called his cousin the sweeter, shorter “Mer.” The equivalent of a parent using a child's first, middle, and last name.
      “It’s all we have right now. You’re not going to be there forever and neither am I.” Another peek into the cousins' conversations. I bet they talk a lot about when they'll move out of the motel. They're nearly 21, so I expect they'll leave Motel Fairwil in a couple of years, though Gomery often doubts they can, for various familial and financial reasons. And they want to leave and they don't, so, yeah, conflicting concepts and so forth.
      Monty tried to cross his arms in the tight space and failed. “It’s apparently got some sort of cosmic stairway. You’re just going to give away our special crouton cosmic stairway?” People who try and cross their arms and then change their mind halfway through tickle my funny bone. It's an awkward move.
      “So said an angry man who took my glasses. Let’s get more information. But if it turns out a stairway to the World’s Basement is hidden somewhere, maybe the motel’s new owner will hire me to guard it.” He beamed at me. Gomery truly believes, for an instant, he's got everything figured out. But that's about to change in three, two, one...
     “And then you’ll work for me.” I dabbed my chin.
     Gomery’s smile faded. And then I saw he saw what I saw: If he sold me the motel and left, we’d be free to see if boiler-based face-kissing could develop into something more. If he sold me the motel and stayed, the better to protect the cosmic staircase, he’d be my employee, the last person I could see in a personal capacity.
      Monty grabbed a nearby pipe. “It galls me to think The Wilfair wins in the end. That the one place that has done nothing but take our business and keep us down all these years gets my home. And this pipe I’m holding is ferociously hot.” He let go and blew on his hand. “I’m sorry, Fair. But I don’t want you to win. I do and I don’t. I want you as a person to win, because I might be all kinds of crazy about you, except all the parts of you I want to change, starting with your twee little ways. I want you to win, but not everything you represent.” Monty is very I-do-and-I-don't about a lot of things. He'd ultimately opt for Fair winning, of course, but he's going to crab about it the whole time, crabbily.
      “Can two conflicting concepts—”
      “—hold on. That’s improvement one. These thought cycles looping in your head have to stop. Yes, yes, two conflicting concepts can occupy the same space.” Monty grabbed the pipe again, in anger, and again let go, in pain. “And I’m not picking on what you always do because you said I joke too much. I do joke too much, but only because my jokes must be spoken, for the good of humanity.” Characters, and people for that matter, owning up to their quirks delights me. Especially when they turn what could be an annoying trait around and sell it as a plus.
      “We’re responsible for our struggles,” said Gomery, shaking his funk. “The motel could be better. We could have updated the rooms. And if the angry man was right, those weren’t even guests checking in all these years. Or most of them.”
      “That’s almost worst. Some secret super-generous billionaire interested in our cosmic stairway is paying for people to stay at our motel. I hate secret super-generous billionaires with cosmic stairway obsessions. Always have. They hurt my delicate self-esteem.” Monty's self-esteem is rather delicate. I'm not really sure if he's joking here or owning up to that fact. Also, I like when people are described in a handful of seemingly disparate words. Fair, for instance, might be described as a fancy-dress heiress who craves dip day and night.
      “Monty,” I said. “All I want from this is that everyone wins and no one has to be sad. And, yes, that’s another one of my thought cycles, so go ahead and make fun.” Fair acknowledging that she gets caught in thought cycles is a step forward.
       But he didn’t. He stared into the middle distance for several seconds. “I’m sad and I’m losing. I’m sad and I’m losing.” In the steamy, shadowy boiler, Monty’s eyes reddened.
      “Why do you support me being, uh, friends with him, then?” I pointed at Gomery.
      “I said I wanted you to win,” said Monty. “Separate from your hotel. I like you. A lot. Does it kill me to think The Wilfair might worm its way into our hearts? Yes. But moral shading has been complicating things since the dawn of time.” Monty says that a few times. It's another spin on the “conflicting concepts” line that comes up again and again.
      “And am I tired of seeing this fine specimen of a man here working the front desk every Friday night? Am I sick of the world thinking of him as this pathetic working stiff who has no life?” Monty Overbove is a master at the kind-hearted but cutting compliment.
      “Hey,” said Gomery. Gomery's forehead pi sign is very deep here.
      “And there you are, Fair Finley, right there, right across the way. And, no, you’re not perfect, far from it—”          
      “Hey,” I said. I think Fair rather likes Monty saying this, given the fact that she's grown up in a lofty tower surrounded by people her parents pay, which hasn't exactly created a world where others are fully honest with her. Except Ned, at The Wilfair front desk. He's mouthy.
      “But you’ve got a thousand charms that go a long way toward making up for your social deficiencies.”
      “Was that a compliment?” I asked.
      “She’s smart, too,” added Gomery. Gomery has been wanting to tell Fair he likes her brain, and while this isn't the ideal moment, he took it.
      “And just when my plotting and scheming seems to have taken root Fair Finley goes and plays matchmaker with my cousin and someone he just met. What?” Monty's “huh?” face is very, very judge-y. Let's call it comically judge-y, with overly raised eyebrows and a scrunched forehead.
       “Don’t engineer this because of my proximity,” I warned Monty. “I mean, not my proximity right now, which is obviously extremely close to your cousin’s, um, chest area, but, like, the hotel’s proximity to the motel.” I hope, when you read this bit, you picture Fair with her hand out, actually measuring the distance between herself and the young man next to her. It's about a foot. Does she fully place her fingertips on Gomery's chest? That, dear reader, is between you and your imagination.
       “You wanna talk proximity? How about your proximity to his temperament? You’re both easygoing and way too mild, if you ask me. Bordering on dull. Said with love.”
      “Hey,” Gomery and I protested in unison. Monty's line, and Fomery's reaction, is a bit I treasure. They are a little too easygoing, at first glance, and this is an affront to the non-easygoing person in the room (boiler). Urf. Did I type Fomery? Let's not reuse that too often!
      “How about your proximity to his interests? He uses bumper stickers to teleport, and you’re the world’s first heiress metaphysicist. Every time you go on some loopy train of thought or ask some ‘do ghosts have muscles?’ question, all of his interior Gomery-switches flick on. How about your proximity to his kindness? You both make people happy for a living and cater to their whims, like me, so I’m gonna guess there wouldn’t be a crapload of one-sided selfishness going down with you two.” Every potential love affair is different, with its own distinct elements, but I gotta be direct: a crapload of one-sided selfishness is going to take 'em all down. Obvious, hello, yes. The characters don't always speak for me -- often, but not always -- but Monty and I stand firm on this opinion. 
      Also, I love the idea of two people who make other people happy being made happy by each other. One of the bases of the books.
      “I’m selfish. I want your pool so I don’t have to sell my hotel to Thurs Mathers.” Is there a lot of owning up to faults in the books? This is just dawning on me. I mean, I know there is, but. But.
      “That’s business. This is love, or maybe will be, one day if you don’t talk yourself out of it, which you probably will, judging by the fact that this airy little soap bubble is just gaining lift off and you’re already matchmaking him to someone else. Burst, poof, and there goes your soap bubble.” When I started writing the books, I had no idea that a number of characters would talk about the twosome falling in love in the books right in front of them, in details that might make them blush or squirm, given that they're in each others' presence, as often as they do. But clearly it is something I can't get enough of, because it makes me laugh and it makes me happy and I personally am not down with various groups or factions splitting off to talk about each other. Why doesn't that all happen in one place?
      “You’re calling this relationship a soap bubble?” I backtracked. “Uh. I mean, this friendship?”
      “Breaking my stride here, Fair.”
      “Continue,” I encouraged. I always picture Fair doing a “continue” gesture here, with a wave of her hand, which may or may not brush against Gomery's chest. Again, dear reader, that is between you and your imagination.
      “People should want proximity in love. This whole ‘opposites attract’ B.S. is B.S. People need someone with proximity to all the things that are important to them. I’ve known women who knew nothing about movies, and I’m telling you, it didn’t work out. Opposites attract? Please. This isn’t some book, Fair.” Actually it is, Monty.
     Also, I'm not wholly against the notion of opposite attraction but is it my favorite thing? Not really. Also, B.S. is probably the hardest swear in the books. Or crap? I'm no judge of swearing (which I'm not particularly against, but it doesn't feel quite right for this fusty, evening glove-wearing, airy, soap bubble world).   
      Valencia stuck her head under a pipe. “Friends! We’ve got to move that second lodge.”
      Monty beckoned. “Now. Where’s my face-kiss? Or knock-knock joke? I don’t speechify without a parting gift.”
      My face was a river, but so was his. I pressed my sweaty mouth against his cheek. His face was stubbly, in the way a nearly 21-year-old man’s face often is in the middle of the night. There's nothing not to like about stubble.
     “That was completely vile, but I’ll take it.” Monty ducked out of the boiler. Fair and Monty have a first kiss, after two decades as neighbors, and it is immediately deemed “vile” by one of the participants. I smile here, because if younger Fair, say, 17-year-old Fair, had known she'd kiss Monty Overbove one day, even on the cheek, she would have A) passed out or B) fainted, one or the other. If the crystal ball had told her that Monty would immediately review it, and his review would be unfavorable, she would have A) passed out or B) fainted, one or the other.
     But Fair knows it was a vile, sweaty kiss. So she doesn't take offense.
     Also, going back to the lack of jealousy in the books. Gomery's potential sweetheart just face-smooched his cousin and he is a-ok about it. If he'd been all manlied-out and like "hey, you two, stop that, that's my girl!" or something, well. Clearly he would have been body-switched with the anti-Gomery, because that crap isn't going to stand in the Wilfairverse.
     “What just happened?”
      “Monty happened,” laughed Gomery. “He’s been pushing me onto the dance floor our whole lives.”
      “And he just stole my dance card and wrote your name on every line.” I like old-fashioned dance cards and ball etiquette.
      “Does this mean the diving board is back on?” Gomery is determined to lock in the diving board, come hell or high pool water.
      “Hmm. Are you going to cover my pool in green shag carpeting?” I asked.
      “You just said ‘my pool.’”
      “Did I?” Whoops.       
      “Let’s see where the positive sisters take us and we’ll talk about it when we get home.”
      “Fair? I donut want to go back.”
      “I donut either. But we have to, right? It’s where we live. It’s our home.” The word “our” is just about the nicest, coziest word ever invented.
      “I don’t want to go back to how things were. I can’t. I can’t have you in my lobby, complaining about something the motel is doing, with me pretending I’m okay with not being up against you, like this, all sweaty. I had to say it. We may not find ourselves inside another boiler ever again.” He's flashing back to the countless times Fair Finley stood in the motel lobby, nervous and unsettled, and how sort of unsettled he felt inside. Reenacting those moments, after all they've experienced together, would slay him flat.
      I found breath to speak. “Don’t you feel that at this point we’ll always be standing inside some invisible boiler together, wherever we are? And our invisible needle will be deep in the red? And there’ll be, like. Unseen steam everywhere, clouding around us, nearly sizzling us into two people-puddles?” Lovers always walk through clouds of unseen steam.
     “You talking that twisty metaphysicist talk isn’t helping things,” sighed Gomery. He ducked under a pipe to join the others back in the room, and I followed. Gomery Overbove always carried a posey in his pocket for Fair Finley. He thought his neighbor was cute and kind, even with the pool nonsense, or maybe in spite of it, and he knew she had a sense of humor, too.
      But hanging out with her, nearly constantly, over a few days showed him she's a bit of a weirdo who asks the most random questions and gets tangled up in her head and makes great choices and iffy choices and is inclined toward metaphysical flights of fancy and wanting everyone to win. None of that is “helping things” in terms of them figuring out the pool business in a level-headed manner. Because all of those things, from the random question-asking to wanting everyone to win, is showing Gomery his cute and kind neighbor has it all going on, at least for him and what he would like in a Very Special Friend.
      Also, on the list of things that Gomery Has Found Out About Fair? He discovered she has very soft arms when he removed her wet gloves in Redwoodian. 
     Not helping things at all. Nope.

cr: J. Sutt


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