The next day was Tuesday, the day before Rann's departure, and it came all too soon. I was glad I'd made plans for us, to help keep my mind occupied. Practically dragging him out of bed, I herded him through the process of dressing and down to breakfast, his eyes still bleary with sleep.
"What have you done to this poor boy?" my mother demanded, seeing Rann's half comatose state.
"We're heading up into Utah today, remember?" I said, giving her a wink so she wouldn't give things away prematurely. She nodded knowingly.
"Some of our country's best scenery is on our route," I assured Rann, who was finally starting to wake up. "Zion, Cedar Breaks. Neat stuff." He yawned.
"Just be careful, Hal," my mother said. "You haven't been driving all that long, you know." It was true; I'd only gotten my license when I turned sixteen last September.* I'd put a lot of mileage on my car since then, though, and this wouldn't be my first time through the Utah parks.
I finally managed to get us out of the house and on our way. "So what's this all about?" Rann asked curiously, as we headed northeast out of town. "You're up to something. I know you too well."
"All right," I confessed. "You might as well know. We're going to see a play. A Shakespeare play. Have you heard of Shakespeare on Deshtiris?"
"Well, I know he's one of your playwrights. But we didn't cover a lot of Earth literature in school. The Qozernan schools do, and ours used to before the Brizali trashed them. They're starting to again, but I kind of fell into the crack in between. His plays are written in some kind of ancient English, aren't they?" he added skeptically.
"Elizabethan," I corrected him. "Don't worry, you won't have any trouble with your command of English."
He looked dubious. "My everyday English is pretty good, but not that good."
"Trust me on this, okay?" I persisted. He shrugged his shoulders good-naturedly, and we settled down to enjoy the drive. The scenery directly out of Las Vegas is pretty dull, but once you hit the little corner of Arizona between Nevada and Utah things get pretty spectacular for a while.
After St. George we took the exit for Hurricane, and before long were approaching the awesome rock formations of Zion National Park. Our play was at two that afternoon, and I'd wanted to take our time here, which is why I'd dragged him away from his bed so ruthlessly. The summer tourist season was in full swing, and we had to fight our way through roads clogged with long lines of cars and the ever-present motor homes, but we had a wonderful time nonetheless. He was especially impressed with the dramatic climb through the long switchbacks to the summit tunnel, though how much of that was awe and how much was half-suppressed terror at my driving I'd rather not know.
Once through Zion we headed on north through seemingly endless pastures and meadows, garnished by the headwaters of the Virgin River as it meandered its way south. Eventually we turned west, crossing the ridge of land that culminates in Cedar Breaks and reaching Cedar City shortly after one in the afternoon.
We arrived in plenty of time to park and wander around the town a bit. Although he'd been to Earth a number of times, I found that this was his first exposure to small-town America. At one point he commented that it reminded him of the town where he and his parents had lived, before the Brizali had temporarily scattered them to the four winds.
The play itself was Shakespeare's Winter's Tale. Not one of his more famous ones, but one of my favorites, it dealt with a jealous king and his wronged wife, thought to be dead for most of the play. (It's also notable for one of the characters being eaten by a bear.) In the final climax the king is presented with a statue of his lost wife, for whom he has long grieved, and then--
In spite of my reassurances, it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I watched Rann's reactions as the play began. I had visions of him squirming restlessly, listening to two hours of unintelligible gibberish and desperately trying to maintain a facade of interest.
I should have known better. There's a kind of "white magic" that happens with Shakespeare that I can't explain. Of course I've suffered through the usual classroom dissections of the major plays, where every fourth word is footnoted and the meanings of each of the Elizabethan expressions carefully analyzed. The result is like trying to watch a movie one frame at a time: something more akin to an autopsy.
But most of the Shakespeare I've seen in the theater has been the lesser-known plays, which I've never studied, or even read in advance. At best I've looked at a brief synopsis of the plot. The actors make their entrances, begin declaiming their lines. Half of the words are unfamiliar, or used in an unexpected context. And somehow after a few minutes you no longer notice, as it all starts to magically come to life. You know what the players are saying, even if you don't literally understand the words. It's as though you've somehow learned a foreign language without realizing it, or someone has switched on a "universal translator" behind the scenes.
At the climactic moment, when the statue of the long-lost wife suddenly comes to life, and the errant husband realizes that she's been alive all these years and that she forgives him, I turned to Rann and saw tears unashamedly rolling down his cheeks. I think that's when I knew once and for all that I loved him.
After the play we had a nice dinner at one of the many modest restaurants that litter the area. Rann raised a few eyebrows with his soup and salad meal; this was after all a region where "real men" ate steak, but then the festival did attract a lot of "city folk," so I suppose they were used to it by now. During the meal he was even quieter than usual. What I did get from him made it evident that he was still overwhelmed by what he'd just experienced. Rather than drive straight home afterwards, I headed back up into the mountains just to the east and finally pulled off at a relatively deserted overlook.
We could see the town far below us, and the valley stretching out into the distance beyond. Off against the horizon was another low mountain range, into which the sun was just beginning to disappear in a gorgeous flaming sunset, with golds and pastel greens indiscriminately mingled with bright oranges and yellows, all set against the light blue dome of the sky. For a while we just sat there, not saying anything, as the light slowly faded.
"So you're really leaving tomorrow?" I said finally, voicing what I knew was on both our minds.
"Yeah," he said reluctantly. "I have to go home."
"Will you ever come back?" I asked, not sure if I really wanted an answer.
"That depends on you, I guess," he said, turning back to face the last vestiges of the sunset. I found myself again admiring his profile. His may have still been a boy's face, but there was a set to the jaw that told of the man already there within. I suddenly found my heart pounding again.
"Rann," I began awkwardly. To my discomfiture the word unexpectedly emerged half-strangled. He turned to me in surprise.
I didn't do it consciously. I don't think I even thought about it. At least I don't remember thinking about it. I just put my arms on his shoulders and put my lips against his. Not that I knew what I was doing, mind you; I'd kissed a boy once or twice before, but apart from Melanie's well-intentioned advice long ago to remember to breathe through my nose, I hadn't a clue as to what to do next.
Fortunately, Rann did. I don't really know how long that kiss lasted, or what exactly either of us did. I only remember his arms around me as I floated off somewhere into la-la land, hoping I'd never have to come back.
When we did finally disentangle ourselves I became aware that we were staring wide-eyed at each other, and felt myself blushing furiously. Even in the reddening sunlight I saw that Rann was too. For several seconds we remained frozen that way, neither of us sure what to do next. For a moment the coward in me contemplated a hasty retreat. ("Oh, my goodness, it's getting late, isn't it? We really ought to be going home now.")
He's leaving tomorrow, Hal. You may never see him again.
The hell with it, I decided, and replastered myself onto his face.
By the time we finally headed south for Las Vegas, I knew for certain that tomorrow was going to be the worst day of my life.
* Up until October 1, 2001, Nevada teenagers could obtain a full (unrestricted) drivers' license at age sixteen. - Ed.
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|