by Ogiwara Saki (荻原咲)
illustrated by olukemi
Four days after the photo of the chupacabra turned out to be nothing more than a rabid coyote with mange, Felix began talking about UFOs.
Lysandros was by nature a scientist, and so he was tempted to chart all of Felix’s whimsies and find the correlation between them, the hypothetical equation that would take into factor variable A, which was whatever new crackpot theory Felix was buying into so earnestly, variable B, which was time of year and temporal distance to what Felix casually called R-Day, and variables XYZ, which included Felix’s last meal, his most recent conversation with his mother, and his most up-to-date WoW stats. Graph variable A against variable B, and take into consideration variables XYZ, and surely — surely then Lysandros would understand just what prompted Felix into dropping by his couch on a Saturday morning alight with extraterrestrial wonder.
“Everyone knows about Roswell, of course, but we have to be more creative than that,” Felix said, feet hanging off the edge of Lysandros’ afghan. “People can write a whole book about the cover-up at Roswell and the so-called Project Mogul that was used to explain it all, but just last August Chinese pilots near Shanghai saw this huge glowing disc at an altitude of 10,700 metres. They said it was larger than the moon! And it lasted for twenty minutes!”
“Was it… the sun?” Lysandros asked.
“Your face,” Felix said good-naturedly.
“I’m just pointing out all the reasonable explanations,” Lysandros said. “I know we go through this every time, so we might as well have a script. First I say ‘but Felix! You are tolerably well-educated for an anthropology major, why do you believe in this junk’? And you say ‘because life’s too boring not to!’ And we go round and round in circles.”
Felix wriggled his sock-clad toes. “Do you know what’s your problem?” he asked. His voice had a quality to it that made it sound slightly hoarse, which could translate to husky on a good day and depending on how much you were attracted to him.
“Yes,” Lysandros replied. “It’s this horrible photo they’ve taken of me for my access card to the Women’s College Hospital.”
“What even, that is such a first world problem, let me see — oh ew, that is terrible, definitely not your best side.” Felix examined the card from left to right, and then grinned. “Fluorescent lighting brings out your soulless eyes.”
“Whatever. Your sister put out for these eyes.”
“Yeah, in the same way some animals lie down in the middle of the road and play dead,” Felix said. “Hey! Hey! Stop stealing all the cinnamon rolls! I didn’t bring them over so you could eat them all. I haven’t had breakfast either!” He made a play for the cardboard box, but Lysandros had the tactical advantage of an swively chair on wheels, and he was across the living room and at his desk before Felix could lunge for him. Not that Felix didn’t try, and ended up getting tangled in the afghan, struggling like a particularly dim-witted moth.
It was Saturday morning and Lysandros had finished jogging and showering. The sweetness of the cinnamon rolls made him lick his teeth to get every last bit of the taste. He tossed Felix a roll, and Felix missed, of course, making Lysandros wince because that was his couch that was getting icing sugar all over it. But otherwise the day was off to a near perfect start. He felt fit and clean and full, he had his best buddy over for an impromptu visit, and he had the rest of his Saturday schedule clear to do some shopping and catch up on his reading. Free time had become a precious resource since starting med school at the University of Toronto; managing to find a day where he didn’t have to work on a report or put in a shift at one of his rotations was like finding truffles in a tundra.
“Thanks for the cinnamon rolls,” he finally said. “What’s up with you and bringing me all this food lately?” Cinnamon rolls, bibimbap, freshly baked pumpernickel bread, leftovers from Casa Vieja, the Puerto Rican restaurant where Felix was a waiter…. It was odd, because even though Lysandros was absurdly busy, he never had a problem with feeding himself. Lysandros liked to cook. It used to be, when they were undergrad students living in the same suite at Innis, that he would scrounge up food for Felix rather than the other way around.
“Oh, that,” Felix said cheerfully. “That’s me wooing you.”
“No, I mean seriously.”
“Who said I’m not serious?” Felix asked. Lysandros looked at him askance, wondering what he was up to and if it was related to alien conspiracies. He decided not to worry. Felix Olvera and subtlety had never found a street wide enough they could both drive down on.
“Okay,” he said peaceably. “Want to watch ESPN?”
“Only if there’s gymnastics on,” Felix said.
“Fuck no,” said Lysandros.
“You say that, but I know you ache for those days when you and the balance beam were heart and soul!” Felix cackled. “One day I will find footage of you in your adorable leotard. I promise. My friend the child gymnast! Oooh, did you do one of those floor routines with ribbons?”
“No,” said Lysandros.
He had, in fact, done a floor routine with ribbons once. Like most over-achieving children of immigrant parents, Lysandros had done a great many things on his road to the ultimate destination, the ultimate destination having three forks: doctor, lawyer, engineer. He had taken gymnastics lessons as a child because his father believed in coordinating the body as well as the mind — no pasty geek his son would be — but gymnastics were only the Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays of his youth. Tuesday was violin lessons. Thursday was piano. Saturday was Greek school. Sunday was church, and after that, private math tutoring. It’d come as a slight disappointment that when he finally did grow up and get into med school, the experience was rather mundane. He was one student among many, when his parents believed his education should have trained him to be the Supreme Leader of the Future Doctors of North America.
“Not even Harvard,” his mother had said mournfully.
Lysandros didn’t tell anyone, but he had gotten into Harvard Medical School. He’d turned the acceptance letter over and over for weeks, holding agonizingly veiled conversations with his parents about costs and visas and the sheer fact of leaving home. There was a reason why he’d chosen to do his undergrad in the same city he’d gown up in. There were his parents to consider, his father’s questionable health and his mother’s anxious moods. He didn’t have any siblings. His closest blood relatives were his aunt and her family, and they were in Calgary. His parents’ well-being was therefore his responsibility and he’d been taught from a very young age that if he wanted to be a real man, he wouldn’t ignore his responsibilities.
So here he was, still in Toronto, and he was happy, and so it was okay.
He was in his third year of med school, and two weeks into the clerkship rotation that he’d been looking forward to the most: surgery. The surgery rotation took place at the Women’s College Hospital on Grenville Street, and Lysandros was relishing the opportunities it gave for him to sit in on multiple surgeries per day and observe the procedure. He’d seen a fair amount of what would be classified as general surgery, as well as a few breast reconstruction surgeries, and then just today he had gotten to see his first complete thyroidectomy on a 28-year-old female with papillary thyroid cancer.
It wasn’t quite Grey’s Anatomy, and Lysandros had yet to have sex in an on-call room or talk to the ghosts of dead lovers, but it was pretty fucking fantastic and perfectly in line for his own aspirations to specialize in surgical oncology.
Felix texted him on his way into the TTC. did u know that ufos have been sighted as early as 1561!! nuremberg, check it.
Lysandros texted back quickly. Did you know that I really don't care?
u would if u loved me. : (
Lysandros snorted and adjusted the strap of his grey messenger bag over his scrubs. It would take more than love to convince me. A brain aneurysm, maybe, he wrote before he descended into the subway tunnels and reception was lost.
His apartment was a block down from Bloor West and St. George, within walking distance of campus, which was why he’d chosen it even though a single apartment in the Annex was exorbitantly expensive. Lysandros had given up Harvard Med, however, so he had scholarship and bursaries to spare, and he was fiercely protective of his privacy. Just because he stayed in Toronto to be within arm’s reach of his parents didn’t mean he actually wanted to live with them, or anyone else for that matter.
On his way out of the St. George station he swung over and grabbed a loaf of garlic bread from G’s Fine Foods. He had leftover quinoa in the fridge and plenty of homemade bruschetta to match the bread with.
He had just changed out of his scrubs and was sliding the garlic bread into his oven to toast it golden when a tweet from Felix swam onto his phone screen.
@digitalspartan go read my latest blog post!!
Some people, after traumatic life-changing events, discovered God. Some discovered football. Felix had discovered the Eye of Hera mailing list. If you asked Lysandros, that had been the precise catalyst for Felix’s interest in the supernatural and the absurd, that moment when innocent lamb-like Felix had clicked on a link, joined a mailing list, and made friends who filled his head with stories about government hush jobs and werewolves and flying saucers. Felix was essentially a human milk jug: you could pour him up with anything and he would retain it. Back in grade eleven, Lysandros had gotten Felix to believe that their English teacher was a mafia don, and that the comments on their Macbeth papers were a secret code for a planned assassination of the principal. Mr. Morelli had never understood why Felix, normally such a pleasant student, had gotten all twitchy towards the end of the semester.
On the Eye of Hera mailing list, Felix chattered about nonsense to his heart’s content. He shared photos. He uploaded links. He’d started a blog, which Lysandros tried to avoid as much as possible because his tolerance for illogical arguments and New Age propaganda was precisely zero, though sometimes Felix managed to con him into editing a post or two.
This was the real problem with Felix. Not the gullibility, not the liberal arts degree, not the lack of awareness in realizing people were laughing at him and not with him, but his smile. Felix had a smile like a hydrogen bomb: brilliant, blinding, destruction at two thousand feet, no survivors.
“How are you feeling?” Lysandros asked.
Felix tilted his head over his grilled tilapia. “Hungry. A bit envious at how your hair looks so GQ. Oh! And a bit worried because I think I might have forgotten my keys and locked myself out of my apartment, which sucks because Enrique and Isabel are working late tonight.”
“I know what you meant,” Felix said. “And hey, hey, Fleur-de-Lys, I’m fine. You don’t need to be my mama bear. I already have one.”
“She’s thousands of miles away in Puerto Rico,” Lysandros pointed out, which was true, because last year Mrs. Olvera had given in to homesickness and moved back with her second husband. “And don’t call me Fleur-de-Lys.”
“I’d call you something else, like San or Xander, but no, you have to be allergic to nicknames.” Felix stuffed his fish in his mouth and, chewing, looked around the diner. They had a tradition that at least once a month they’d try to grab dinner together, and this month it was Felix’s turn to choose, which meant they had gone somewhere cheap and forgettable, a place that didn’t even take Interac. Felix knew all the good bakeries and shwarma shops and frozen yogurt stands within a ten kilometer radius, but when it came to fork-and-knife dining out, he wasn’t particularly creative. I work in a restaurant, was his explanation. I don’t want to go somewhere that’s super restauranty and reminds me of work. Lysandros could respect that. Just because he was the type of guy who could blow a couple hundred dollars at Lee Lounge when he was flush in the pocket didn’t mean that Felix, who lived on minimum wage plus tips, wanted to.
“Did you read my post?” Felix asked him brightly.
“Um,” said Lysandros.
“It’s five hundred words,” Felix said. “That’s, like, three shampoo bottles. You can totally read three shampoo bottles while standing in the shower.”
“One, I’m not going to read about you obsessing over UFOs, and two, most of the word count on shampoo bottles is the ingredients, and reading them would be nearly as boring as your masturbatory Kal-El fantasies.”
“I don’t have masturbatory fantasies over alien lifeforms,” Felix said, laughing. “God, you make it sound so creepy.”
“Dude, you tried to probe me the other day.”
“Well, you were talking about being lazy and taking a vacation! The real Lysandros would never be lazy if he could go off and read a million medical journals and then adopt ten kittens instead,” Felix said. “I don’t know why you don’t try online dating. You’re the sort of person who’s disgustingly perfect on paper.”
“I don’t have time to date,” Lysandros said. “Unless our date can be an appointment for observational surgery, in which case, yeah, it’s BYOS — Bring Your Own Scalpel.”
Felix talked over him in a high singsong voice. “Hi, ladies! I’m Lysandros Apostolakis, your local Greek god! I’m going to be a doctor! I have a 4.0 GPA! I’m a great son! I’m fit and fashionable and I can cook and I have maternal instincts! Things I like: recycling! Lint rollers! Sciiiiience!”
“Fuck off, you douchebag,” Lysandros said, but he was laughing too.
After dinner, they walked through High Park on their way to Felix’s place. The sky had been grey-blue when they’d arrived at the diner. Now it was bruised above them with the chill that marked the residues of recent sunset. It was fall, and the days were growing shorter by the shadow. Felix heaved a breath as he wound his scarf around his neck. He sounded satisfied and full. Lysandros was just glad to see that he’d remembered to bring a scarf and a jacket at all. Felix could be frustratingly oblivious to Toronto weather, despite having moved here from San Juan when he was ten years old.
Moments like these reminded Lysandros just how well he knew his friend, though if he were to be honest, he’d say that he’d made an extracurricular hobby out of watching after Felix. He’d known Felix for eleven years counting now, but if you’d asked him during any of the first four years, he wouldn’t have had much of an opinion on Felix at all. Friendship with Felix happened later, and abruptly, like falling down an open manhole. One moment Lysandros was moving into his first university residence and thinking weird, the guy next door to me is someone I already know, and the next moment Felix was bursting into their kitchen with a box full of candy and no one to share it with.
It occasionally occurred to Lysandros that this wasn’t really what guys typically thought about their guy friends, that in the laws of the bro code he was an abnormality. It wasn’t as if he spent any significant portion of time wondering what his buddy Adam was up to, or whether Yeong had remembered to do his laundry or was wandering around in that ratty old shirt of his again. But Felix occupied a different stratosphere in his life than anyone else.
Isabel had once told him that he was just after someone to save. Yet Felix’s sister had been angry when she’d said it, and they’d been in the midst of breaking up, so Lysandros had tucked that accusation away and tried not to look at it too much.
They had just begun to pick through the grassy, darkening expanse of High Park when they saw it, the bright light. It rocketed across the sky like the tail end of a comet, so quick that Lysandros wasn’t sure his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him. He blinked and the light was gone. He might have dismissed it entirely to his own imagination if Felix hadn’t made a sound like a little kid with his first allowance and broke into a sprint deeper into the park.
“What the hell are you doing?” Lysandros shouted after him.
Felix’s scarf unraveled and flapped behind him. “It ended over there!” he said, pointing northeast. “The light! I saw it! It — it landed.”
“You’re kidding me. You think this is–”
But Felix was already down the path and then twisting right through a shortcut in a thicket of bushes. Lysandros started chasing him. He caught up with Felix easily, possessing more athleticism in one leg than Felix had in his entire body. As he kept pace, he noticed how deserted the park seemed. True, it was past sunset and the temperature was rapidly falling, but he was used to seeing a few more evening strollers around. Tonight High Park was eerily empty, the trees and the playground structures their only company. Felix turned left, and then right in a mind-bogglingly random pattern. They passed the gardens, and then were running across the central plain with the oak savannah, dashing through the shadows of Colborne Lodge and the closed-off zoo.
Felix was panting heavily by the time they reached the eastern ravine. He stopped at the zoo entrance and bent in pain. “Slow down,” Lysandros told him, but Felix shook his head sharply.
“It’s got to be here somewhere,” he said. “Can feel it.”
“What has to be here?” Lysandros said. “If you say your fucking intuition is telling you UFO, God help me, I am going to pick you up and carry you home right this minute. You’re completely winded.”
“I’m fine,” Felix said, his gasps for air evidence to the contrary. Lysandros reached for him, but Felix shook him off. “No, no, seriously, five minutes, all right? Give me five minutes to go down the ravine. Please?”
“This is fucking stupid,” Lysandros said, but Felix gave him a weak, grateful smile that made Lysandros hate himself, sort of. “Watch your step at least. If you break your neck, I’m not attending your goddamn funeral.” When Lysandros was flustered, he couldn’t stop swearing. It probably wasn’t the best habit to have in his future career — I have accidentally cut a vital artery, sir, so what the shit kind of motherfucking situation is this? Great.
They went down the ravine together, towards the stream. Dead leaves in smoky colours went crisp-crunch underneath their shoes. It was almost wholly dark now, and the moon was a vague shiver in the sky. Lysandros squinted at the damp, sloppy soil. “There’s nothing here,” he said, but Felix made a sound halfway between a snort and a sigh. He got on his hands and knees so he could sift through the foliage. Lysandros hated it, wanted to drag him back up and tell him that they were going home right now, but Felix when he got into these mindsets couldn’t be budged, stubborn motherfucker.
“It was just some kind of solar flare, all right?” Lysandros said. “Or, more likely, food poisoning from our dinner.”
“Really?” Felix asked him in sardonic tones that such a sunny person shouldn’t have been capable of. “You think it makes sense that we had some kind of shared hallucination at the exact same time? Because of food poisoning?”
“It makes a fuckton more sense than aliens!”
“Not so loud!” Felix said. “They might be listening!”
Lysandros was not, despite his professional interest in cutting people up and sewing their flesh, a violent person, but he definitely experienced the urge to start banging his head against a rock until he was blissfully unconscious and the world made sense again. “I am officially taking away your Twilight Zone DVD set,” he hissed. “This is ridiculous. You’re way smarter than this, and it’s fucking cold and we’re fucking wet and we’re probably going to fucking die of pneumonia tomorrow, thanks a lot, asshole.”
Felix ignored him as he buried his hands beneath piles of leaves, rooting around like a drug hound. Lysandros was honestly debating the relative merits of knocking him out cold and sweeping him back to civilization when Felix made an muffled sound of pleasure and lifted up what looked like a plain grey notebook. “Oh great,” Lysandros said. “Some teenage girl dropped her diary, and now you can return it to her.”
“There was a crash here,” Felix said. He looked around at the trees, at the water. He lowered his voice. “There are all these tiny broken metal pieces, see?” He spread his fingers over the ground but Lysandros was too far away and couldn’t see, nor was he interested in doing so. “Something crashed, and then by the time we got here, something was cleaned up. Except for this.” He held up the notebook. “And this.” He opened his palm and showed Lysandros a thick metal ring.
“My teeth are beginning to chatter,” Lysandros said. “I think my nose is running.”
“You’re such a baby,” Felix said, standing up. He tucked the ring in his coat pocket and hugged the notebook to his chest. “Okay, I’m done here. Want to drop by Second Cup and get hot chocolate on the way back?”
“How was your night?” asked Dr. Wong, one of the oncologists at the Women’s College Hospital, as she watched Lysandros study a patient’s biopsy results.
“Awful,” Lysandros said. “My friend Felix went lizard brain and started running around High Park like a doped-up fairy.” He shuffled the biopsy results around. “You might know him. He’s a regular patient here.”
“In this department?” Dr. Wong asked. Lysandros nodded, watching her squint and try to sort through the hospital’s almost overwhelming flow of patients. He wouldn’t have even mentioned it, except in a women’s hospital men were considerably rarer than in a general facility. If a man went through oncology at WCH, it was usually because he had one of the cancers that typically targeted women and that the hospital specialized in. “Wait,” Dr. Wong finally said, lighting up. “Wait a sec, wait a sec. Do you mean Felix Olvera? Latino Felix? Adorable Felix? Still-believes-in-Santa-Claus Felix?”
“He doesn’t actually believe in Santa Claus,” Lysandros said weakly.
Dr. Wong pinned him with a skeptical gaze. “If it’s Felix Olvera we’re talking about, you can never be too sure. So Felix, eh? I haven’t seen him for months, which when we’re talking about cancer, is an awesome thing. How’s he doing?”
“He still works at that Puerto Rican restaurant,” Lysandros informed her. “Still rides his bike everywhere. Still forgets which is way is down and which way is up sometimes. Still cries when that blood drive commercial comes on TV and he realizes he can’t donate.”
“He’s a gem, that one,” agreed Dr. Wong. “I mean, his medical history is between him and me, but you seem to be close, so confidentially, doctor to doctor? I’m so relieved we finally got him into remission. A patient of his age, thyroid cancer should be easily treatable, but his was probably the most aggressive case I’ve ever seen. It kept metastasising like crazy.” She shook her head. “Anyway, not saying anything more about it, nope! Tell me what you see on the biopsy.”
She didn’t need to say more. Lysandros knew the details of Felix’s health the way he knew his own Social Insurance Number. Felix had never been shy about sharing with friends, and so when his cancer started to spread to his lungs and bones, he’d told Lysandros. Because Lysandros had lived in the res room next door. Because Lysandros had picked up assignments and talked to professors for him when he was in the hospital. Because Lysandros had sat with him in the bathroom when most university students vomited because of a wild night out, but Felix had vomited because of the aftereffects of chemotherapy that had left him nauseated. Felix’s family had never wanted him to live on campus, not when they had their apartment within subway lines, but Felix had insisted on this one independence.
I can’t be their invalid forever, he told Lysandros once with a crooked smile. So I guess I’ll be yours instead.
Too many ways to interpret that sentence, and Lysandros had studied science, not literary theory.
The next time he saw Felix, it was in Felix’s apartment off the edge of High Park, the one he shared with his older brother and sister: Enrique, who was a mechanic, and Isabel, a chemistry grad student. Felix’s desire for independence during undergrad had eventually been pressed to the wall against his desire not to have an empty bank account, and so he’d moved back home after graduation. It wasn’t so bad, he’d confessed to Lysandros, now that his mother and his stepfather were living in Puerto Rico again. It was easier to feel like an adult when your parents weren’t underfoot, and Enrique and Isabel had their own lives. They were too busy to constantly fuss over their little brother even if they wanted to.
Lysandros normally didn’t go inside Felix’s place. He would walk Felix through the lobby sometimes and then part ways there, because there was still that lingering awkwardness of going up the elevator and facing his ex. But Isabel had a new boyfriend, one she was even considering marrying. That seemed like a decent armistice sign.
She frowned when she saw him, but then she rolled her eyes and let him inside. “Felix is in the kitchen,” she said. “And how do you get your hair to stay like that?”
“Glue!” Felix called.
“Mister Sister hair gel,” Lysandros said. “My secret weapon.”
“Oh, and here I thought your secret weapon was your ability to forget the existence of your girlfriend whenever convenient,” Isabel said.
Felix shouldered his way to the front door. “Come on, Isa, it’s been years. You can stop torturing him now. I’m sure he lies awake at night and thinks about how much he regrets giving up your creamy shoulders and delightful smile.” Isabel retorted something in Spanish that only made Felix grin. “You’re staying for dinner, right?” he asked Lysandros. “You don’t have a rotation?”
“Dinner would be fantastic,” Lysandros said. “If Isabel doesn’t mind.”
“Isabel minds,” she said, wiping her hands on her apron. “But Isabel remembers how great a cook you are, and so she’s willing to let you stay if you help finish cooking and whip up dessert.” Lysandros agreed easily; he knew from experience that none of the Olvera siblings were gifted cooks by any stretch of the imagination. If left on her own, Isabel would subsist on nothing more than graham crackers and energy drinks, and Felix on leftovers from Casa Vieja.
The grey notebook and the ring were lying on the kitchen island when Lysandros entered. Felix flopped back over them, and Lysandros knew that this was what he had interrupted him from. He arched an eyebrow, but Felix just smiled. “It’s a logbook, I think. It seems structured like one, but I don’t recognize the language of what’s written inside,” he said.
“If it’s an alien language…” Isabel said in tones of deep boredom. She and Lysandros exchanged commiserating glances, reluctantly.
“It’s not an alien language, I don’t think,” Felix replied. “It uses Earth alphabets. It looks like Latin, but whenever I try to run it through an online translator, it doesn’t work. So it’s like Latin, but if Latin was written by someone who was drunk and didn’t actually know Latin very well.”
“I think you’ve hit upon your answer right there,” Lysandros said, reaching for the ginger and the black pepper. “A first-year Latin student visits the park, drops her workbook.” He started rubbing the mixture over the pork chops that Isabel had thawing on a cutting board.
“Look at it this way,” Isabel said. “If it’s a Latin cognate, then it can’t be from aliens, can it? How would aliens know anything of Latin?”
She and Lysandros exchanged under the counter high-fives.
“Please, give me some credit,” said Felix. “The reason the logbook’s written in bad Latin is because whoever was piloting the crashed vehicle wanted to communicate with humans, to leave some kind of black box behind. And for whatever reason, they think Latin is the best language to do it. Faulty research, maybe? Intel several hundred years out of date?”
“Ladies and gentlemen, my brother the sci-fi nerd,” Isabel said.
“It’s a possibility!” Felix said. “So-called scientific discourse has bred genuine imagination from us in place of almighty ‘logic.’ We’re afraid to think differently. We’re too cowed by institutional methods of meaning-making to acknowledge that sometimes the fantastical answers are the real answers.”
“Did you understand a word of that?” Lysandros turned to Isabel, who smirked. “Because I’m not sure it was even in English.”
“No, no, not English, you idiot, he must have been speaking in an alien Latinate language,” Isabel mouthed dramatically.
“You guys are the worst,” complained Felix.
“Hello, hello, hello!” Felix said on Saturday afternoon when Lysandros answered his door. “I brought crepes! And knowledge, but more importantly, fresh savory crepes.” He shoved a warm plastic bag at Lysandros and stepped inside.
“Are these from Crepes a Go Go?” Lysandros asked, pleased.
“They totally are,” Felix said. “I went to the Reference Library today, so I thought I’d swing by and get some crepes before visiting you, my poor bachelor friend all alone in his tower.” He unbuttoned his coat and tossed it over a chair. “I’m not interrupting you, am I? Were you studying?”
“No, I was just watching the evening news,” Lysandros said, padding barefoot to his kitchen where he took two ceramic plates from his cupboard. He unwrapped the crepes from the bag and plated them. Then he rummaged in his fridge for two bottles of Stella Artois. “Cheers,” he said, handing a plate and bottle to Felix, who had settled on the couch in front of the TV. Felix took huge, greedy bites as he watched the remaining minutes of the news and the final segment on the upcoming provincial election.
“Do you ever think the world is going to end soon?” he asked between chewing.
“You’ve met my mother,” Lysandros said plainly.
“She’s awesome. She has imagination,” Felix said.
“And I don’t?”
Felix laughed and licked a smear of mushroom sauce off his lips. “That’s kind of a loaded question. Do you want me to be nice or do you want me to be honest? Because honestly? Your imagination sucks.”
“Oh yeah?” Lysandros asked, rolling his bottle of beer between his palms before it could get warm. “And what did you do with your fantastic imagination at the library today?”
“Looked up everything I could on Latin translation,” Felix said. “I grabbed a bunch of dictionaries and grammar books, found a carrel, and worked on the logbook for hours. It’s coming together! A lot of the words are spelled weird or missing letters, but if you figure out what they’re supposed to be, the notes inside the logbook actually make sense.” He reached into his bag and pulled out the grey notebook. “I got five pages done! Want to see?”
Not really, thought Lysandros, but he took the logbook anyway and gave it a cursory lookthrough. It was his first time handling it, and he paid attention to the heavy Gothic script in neat little rows. It was handwriting, not print, though he wouldn’t have bet his life on it; the writing was extremely neat and uniform. The first section of the logbook seemed fragmented, a series of patterned block text and lists. Then came diagrams of repeating circles with arrows leading to notes. The final part of the book resembled an appendix with charts and graphs and numbers. Felix was right, in a sense. It did look like it was written in Latin. The logbook felt like an unholy cross between medieval manuscript and a doctoral research paper.
Felix had written in the margins lightly, with pencil. “Those are my translations,” he said helpfully.
To the people and [???] republic of the Earth, greetings from the Great Mother Ship [???], Lysandros read. If you are reading this, it is because we have no other way of communicating with you, so we have prepared this [???] book ahead of time, for better prosperity and peace.
“It really translates to this?” he asked.
“More or less,” Felix said. “Obviously I took some liberties, but that’s the gist of it, yep.”
“Have you considered,” Lysandros began gently, “that this could be someone trying to write an experimental novel? I mean, say in the future an anthropologist who knows nothing of our culture finds a copy of Harry Potter lying around. Are they going to think that we believed in witchcraft and magical boarding schools? It’s just escapist fiction.”
“Do you know that there’s this thing called Hynek’s Scale?” Felix said, as if he hadn’t been listening. “That movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, references it. The first kind of close encounter is just if you see a UFO. The second is observe some of its effects, like heat or crop circles or scared animals. The third is if you see ‘animate’ beings with the UFO. Other people went and added new parts to Hyneck’s Scale, and now there’s six parts total. Like, if you get abducted by a UFO or if the UFO causes injury or death, or if humans and aliens interbred.” He paused, flicking his eyes upwards. “You’ve heard of the ancient astronaut theory, right? Of course you have. You’ve watched Battlestar Galactica.”
“If people can believe in gods they can’t see or hear, then why can’t people believe in aliens?” Felix said. “Statistically speaking, the chances of another planet in the universe supporting life is a hell of a lot higher.”
Lysandros recoiled, an entire lifetime of religious indoctrination making him automatically defensive. “Belief in God is a lot more meaningful than belief in little green men from outer space.”
“Not for me,” Felix said. “I know you probably think it’s strange, because I’ll believe in a lot of other things you can’t prove, but when I think of some supposedly benevolent and loving divinity who is all-powerful and all-knowing, and choses anyway to let people suffer, I just get angry.”
Lysandros opened his mouth, but Felix ploughed on. “Maybe God or gods do exist,” he acknowledged. “But I’d rather think about space. Space is vast and gorgeous and breathtaking. Space makes me feel small in a good way. Thinking about God makes me feel tiny in the worst way possible.”
“It’s way more complicated than you’re making it sound,” Lysandros said. “Suffering happens because we have free will. It’s the price that we pay for being an intelligent species.”
Felix made a frustrated sound. “I just don’t think there should be any price,” he said. “This is what I don’t get about religion, all this emphasis on sacrifice. Sacrifice your goat, sacrifice your son, sacrifice your desires. Why? Because a god designed the world? An architect designed my apartment; I don’t offer prayers to them every time I walk through the door. It’s–” He broke into a ragged cough. “Sorry,” he said, hands flying up to his mouth. “Tickle in my throat.” Except he started coughing again, harder, and Lysandros leaped to his feet.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, going to Felix’s side.
Felix brushed him off. “It’s just a cold. From that night in High Park.” He smiled weakly. “See, even when I wore a jacket and a scarf, I still got sick. Your doctor’s orders weren’t infallible after all.”
But Lysandros saw that he was pressing his palms flat against his thighs. “Let me see your palms,” he directed. When Felix shook his head, Lysandros tugged at them. Felix attempted to wriggle deeper into the couch to escape, but Lysandros was insistent and so finally Felix gave in. He turned his palms upwards, and Lysandros sighed in relief to see they were clean.
“What, did you think I was coughing up blood?” Felix asked, bright-eyed. “I told you, I’m fine. I don’t have cancer again.”
“You don’t want to have cancer again,” Lysandros said ruthlessly. “That doesn’t mean you’re not going to.”
“I hope that’s not your bedside manner with all your patients,” Felix joked. He looked down and noticed that Lysandros was still grabbing his hands. He slid them apart, delicately. “Because, ah, I’d work on it if I were you.”
“That’s my name,” Felix said lightly. “25 cents per use, please.”
“I prayed for you,” Lysandros said. “Even if it doesn’t mean anything to you, I don’t want you to think… I don’t want you to think that God never heard your name, because He did. He heard it every single fucking day.”
Felix closed his eyes. “Okay,” he said, and his voice was hoarser than usual, a rough scratch followed by a residue of unexpected tenderness. He opened his eyes again and reached over, patting Lysandros on the shoulder. “But you should know, the night before you wrote your MCAT, I spent a hundred dollars on crystal therapy for you and I put a box of good fortune cookie fortunes under your bed. So, you know. Someone heard you too.”
CASA VIEJA, said the sign above the restaurant on Keele. LUNCH SPECIALS, said the sign propped out on front. ALMOJÁBANAS, SANCOCHO DE PATITAS, MOFONGO — WITH YOUR CHOICE OF SIDE.
“Oh, you’re looking for Felix?” said the waitress who seated him. “Are you his boyfriend?” she asked after she handed him the menu and poured him a glass of ice water.
“No,” Lysandros said. Truth was, compared to everything else, Felix’s love life was a complete blank to him, mostly in that he didn’t have one. Lysandros had never seen Felix on a date before, or express interest in a date. And while he’d seen Felix engage in activity that could arguably be described as flirting, with people of both genders, Felix did have a natural flirtiness to begin with, so Lysandros wasn’t sure if that could be taken as proof of anything. He’d once asked Felix if he was asexual, just plain out asked it, but Felix had blinked at him and said no. It wasn’t until he’d mentioned it to Isabel that she gave him a long, bitter look and said, He’s half convinced he’s going to die. It’s not exactly conducive to romance.
So the question surprised him, and then made him tense up. Did Felix have a boyfriend in the past? And he didn’t tell Lysandros? Actually, forget past. Did Felix have a boyfriend right now?
“I said, have you decided what you want yet?” The waitress’ voice broke through his haze. Lysandros quickly ran down the menu and picked out the mofongo. He gazed around Casa Vieja after she left with his order, in an attempt to settle his wild thoughts. It was a decent-sized establishment with both an indoor dining area and an outdoor patio, as well as a bar with soccer matches playing non-stop on overhanging TV set. Puerto Rican music piped softly over the sound system.
“Hey,” Felix said, showing up with his mofongo. “So, I hear there’s this guy. Cute, preppy clothes, very bendy, really interested in stalking me.”
“I was in the neighbourhood,” Lysandros lied.
“Your sister,” Lysandros said, but Felix just laughed at the tired old quip, because they both knew that Isabel had better sense than to ever take Lysandros back. Felix set the plate of mofongo down in front of him, and despite having had a large homemade brunch, Lysandros’ stomach stirred at the sight of the fried green plantains with juicy, crisp pork cracklings. There was a chicken broth soup that accompanied it, and Felix had brought him a bit extra as well: empanadillas, beautifully golden.
Lysandros studied the dish, and then when he thought he could get away with it, he studied Felix. He looked for blood, for tired eyes, for strange bruises, anything. But the worst he got was Felix turning his head slightly away for a sniffle. “I bet you’re wondering where my cough went,” he remarked when he caught on. “There’s this wonderful invention. It’s called cough syrup.”
“What is this new-fangled drug of which you speak,” Lysandros said.
“What are those books you’ve got with you?” Felix asked, changing the subject.
“Old textbooks,” Lysandros replied. He wasn’t so willing to drop the issue of Felix’s cough, but he didn’t want to argue right now either. “I want to brush up on surgical techniques because they’re going to let me assist tomorrow. Which means I’ll probably just stand around and pass scalpels, but still.”
“What kind of surgery?” Felix asked.
“Cardiothoracic,” Lysandros said, and smiled. He couldn’t help it. Medicine got him excited.
“Sounds sweet. I’m sure you’ll be awesome,” Felix said, giving him an enthusiastic thumb’s up like Lysandros’ happiness was enough to make him happy too. He glanced towards the kitchen to check if he was going to be scolded for chatting, and then said, “So I got a weird call last night.”
“I don’t know. It was like… okay, you are going to make fun of me for this, but it sounded like a distress call. Sort of. It was all metallic and pinging, and I couldn’t understand a word of what they were saying.” Felix paused. “Then I realized, it sounded like Italian. No, not Italian. It sounded like Latin.”
“So E.T phoned home, literally?” Lysandros said.
“I knew you were going to laugh!” Felix said, but a smile played peekaboo at the corner of his mouth. Then it spread, because a smile on Felix could never stay small if it could be huge and devastating instead. “Even Isabel had to admit that there might be some connection between that phone call and the logbook.” He glanced back at the kitchen, and then at the waitress who had seated Lysandros. She was trying not to stare at them but failing spectacularly at it. “Uh, I should get back to work. Enjoy your food, and don’t tip me. I don’t want to take your money. Leave it for Christine instead.”
Lysandros watched him go, unable to rid himself of the niggling worry that had brought him here in the first place. He saw Felix swing by Christine’s direction, saw her say something to him and then look pointedly at Lysandros. Felix laughed and shook his head. Lysandros decided that wondering was just another word for agonizing, so he dug into his mofongo while opening one of his surgical texts. There might have once been a time when he’d found it off-putting to read about dissection and bodily functions while eating, but those days seemed very long ago.
The Greek Orthodox Church of the Mother of God of Proussa was a mouthful of a name, but it was the church that Lysandros’ parents had attended since he was a kid, and so it was where he met with them every Sunday for the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. The pattern was as familiar to him as the nucleotide structure of DNA: singing, praying, more singing, more praying, antiphons, beatitudes of Matthew, reciting the Nicene Creed, consecrating the Gifts, receiving Communion, and kissing the cross. Lysandros stood between his mother in her plain black skirt and his father in his crisp white shirt, and afterwards, he followed them to the coffee hour where they socialized with other church members, and his mother, as per usual, hinted not very subtly at all the single young women of the congregation.
“You see Elene over there? Home from teaching English overseas,” his mother said, and then lowered her voice. “She’s much prettier now that she’s had her teeth straightened. Why don’t you go ask her on a date?”
“I don’t know if that would be a good idea,” Lysandros said diplomatically.
“Your standards are too high!” his mother said, and Lysandros tried not to say anything about how her standards for him were even higher. He knew from painful experience that even if he did ask Elene of the lovely straight teeth out on a date, his mother would be pleased for about a week, and then she would start criticizing Elene’s faults, declaring her to be unworthy of potentially carrying the offspring of her only beloved son.
“Ah, my son is going to be twenty-five in the spring, and that is almost thirty,” his mother opined. “It’s time for him to settle down and find a wife.”
Lysandros kissed his mother’s cheek, and then slipped over to the safety of his father, who was over by the bulletin board reading the announcements in his typically solemn, single-minded way. “Hello Baba,” Lysandros said.
His father peered at him. “You were almost late for church.”
“Subway delay,” Lysandros said.
“Some things even God cannot fix,” his father said philosophically. He looked over at his wife, and then at Lysandros. “It seems like your mother is going to be here for a while. I need some fresh air. Let’s go on a walk around the neighbourhood.”
“Make sure you bring your cane,” Lysandros said.
“My cane? I’m not an old man who needs–”
“Baba, you are an old man,” Lysandros said. His parents had had him very late in life, and had thought for a long while that they would never have him at all. That his mother had wanted a large family was never a secret; that it’d played no small part in the obsessively ambitious way she’d raised her only child was obvious. Lysandros had never begrudged it, understanding from a young age that his parents were different from his classmates’ and friends’: older, frailer, more prone to bad health, heavier with regrets and sharper with desire. He took his father’s arm and led him out of the church into the cool sunshine.
“Do you think,” Lysandros mused as they moved through the sidewalk, dodging passers-by, “that if I show no interest in ever getting married, Mama would just arrange it for me?”
“Very likely,” his father said seriously. “But I think she has a point. Married or not, you haven’t seen anyone seriously in years. You can’t always have your head buried in medical school. It’s not good for you.”
“I thought having my head buried in med school was exactly what you wanted for me,” Lysandros pointed out, but his father huffed a breath that made it clear he didn’t care for this line of reasoning.
“You are a… what is that word in English… a catch, that’s right,” his father said, and then switched back to Greek. “You are a catch. That is why your mother worries. You should be breaking hearts left and right, but you aren’t. She thinks maybe something is wrong with you. She remembers what you told her that one time.”
Lysandros sighed. “Maybe I shouldn’t have told her.”
“Maybe not, but maybe it is better to have shocked her then rather than now. Her heart is much weaker these days,” his father said. “You know what she thinks. She thinks she can ignore it. If you say you like boys as well as girls… well, make sure to bring home only girls, and she will rejoice.”
“I do mostly like girls,” Lysandros said quietly. “It’s just… sometimes, with some people, it’s different. I don’t want to bring grief to you or Mama. That’s the last thing that I want.” They were far away enough from the church that he felt more comfortable speaking about this, especially to his father, who, while full of Old World values, was difficult to anger. It was an essential quality in a man who had spent decades teaching civil engineering to undergraduates. “What about you?” he finally asked. “Would you rejoice if I married a woman tomorrow?”
“If you married a woman tomorrow, I would smack you on the head because you would hardly know her, and marriage is sacred,” his father said. “But yes, I would prefer it if you settled down with a woman and had grandchildren. It would make your mother so happy, and it would make your life easier.”
Lysandros was silent.
“But,” his father said, “sometimes I wonder. God made it very difficult for me to have children, and they say these problems pass from father to son. You might not be able to have children either. You might never be able to make your mother happy.” A weary weight settled on his brow. “You know, I never said…” His throat worked and his hand tightened over his cane. Lysandros moved instinctively closer, to catch him if he should stumble. “Back in Greece, when I was still in school, there was this boy. Older than me. Our mothers were friends. He had curly hair and clever fingers, such clever fingers. I–” He couldn’t finish the sentence.
Lysandros took his father’s free hand and held it, feeling the papery skin with the enlarged veins. “What was his name?” he asked.
“So long ago,” his father murmured. “I was so young.” He fell, brooding, in his memories, and refused to say anything more, not even with Lysandros’ coaxing, not even after they returned to the church and found Lysandros’ mother waiting for them on the steps.
Her face softened when she saw her husband. “Ah, my love, don’t be sad,” she said. “We’ll go home and I’ll cook a nice large lunch for the three of us. Won’t that be nice?” Lysandros watched his parents together with a ball in his throat that felt much too large to contain.
“So let me get this straight,” Layla said. “You two went to high school together and ended up as roommates during undergrad?”
“Suitemates,” Lysandros corrected. “We had our own rooms.”
“Same difference,” she said.
“Not if you’ve ever heard Lysandros snore,” Felix said. He made a flappy motion with his hand. “Deviated septum. It’s very sad.”
Layla was Yeong’s new girlfriend, and the four of them were sitting by the windows at Snakes and Lattes on Bloor, playing board games while finishing off the last of their hot drinks. Yeong looked halfway between amused and annoyed, the typical expression of a guy navigating the tricky waters of introducing his girlfriend to his friends for the first time. He shouldn’t have been worried. Hank, their other former suitemate who was still in Toronto, couldn’t make it tonight because of work, and Hank didn’t have one-tenth the manners that Lysandros and Felix possessed.
“Yeah, these two are a regular set of Bobbsey Twins,” Yeong drawled. “You should have seen them back at school. Inseparable.”
“Actually, the Bobbsey Twins were two sets of twins, not one,” Felix said without looking up from their current game of Risk.
“Fuck, Felix, no one cares,” Yeong replied, while Lysandros, who hated to leave any miscommunication afloat, explained his and Felix’ precise history.
“We went to the same high school,” he said. “But we didn’t really know each other that well. We didn’t share the same friends, and Felix ended up skipping a lot of class because of his, well…”
“Cancer,” Felix supplied helpfully. “I was Cancer Kid.”
“Oh,” Layla said, awkwardly and sympathetically. Her lack of surprise meant Yeong had briefed her beforehand. Felix flashed her a smile to show that he didn’t care if people knew, which had been his general attitude about it for as long as Lysandros had known him.
“No one called you Cancer Kid,” Lysandros said. It was his turn at the game, and he took over Australia.
“Yeah, but that’s what they all thought,” Felix said, shrugging as he eyed Central America. “It doesn’t bother me. I get it, I do. People didn’t know how to treat me normally, and I made them feel uncomfortable. It happens.”
Lysandros felt the familiar twinge of guilt. He tried to remember if he’d been one of the classmates who’d deliberately ignored Felix, hoping not to be drawn into an uncomfortable conversation. He didn’t think he did, but he couldn’t deny that he hadn’t made an effort to befriend Felix either. His mind threw up a faint memory of Felix sitting alone at a cafeteria table, and he winced.
Felix grinned. “Even if I wasn’t Cancer Kid, I doubt Lysandros and I would have been buddies in high school anyway. He was like, popular. Mr. Valedictorian. President of every single club you could think of. Half the girls in our homeroom class wanted in his pants. We only became friends during university, when, you know, I could stalk him properly because I had keys to where he lived.” He fiddled with his yellow tokens and laughed. “I sort of conned him into being my friend.”
“This is the gayest bro story of all time,” Yeong said.
“And I haven’t even gotten to how you and I became friends,” Felix said to him, batting his eyelashes. “Layla, I think you should know this story. It involves your boyfriend and a candle-lit romantic dinner.”
“The girl he was dating back then stood him up,” Lysandros mock-whispered to Layla. “He was crying into his macaroni. Felix had to cuddle him until it was better.”
“Remind me why I’m friends with you two losers,” Yeong said.
“I’d like to think it’s because of my girlish figure,” Felix said promptly, “and Lysandros’ lemon souffle pancakes with crème anglaise.”
“You guys should come over for brunch sometime,” Lysandros agreed. “Just make a list of what you want to eat beforehand. As long as it doesn’t involve caviar or foie gras, I’ll try to make it for you.”
“That is an offer we cannot refuse,” Layla said. “Sometimes in the middle of the night Yeong will start muttering, and at least three times he’s definitely been saying something about you and your cooking. He probably thinks about it when we have sex,” she added frankly, and Yeong turned bright red while Felix burst out laughing.
“Don’t worry,” Felix assured a smirking Layla. “Lysandros’ girlfriends are probably thinking about his cooking when they’re having sex with him too. It’s the only way they keep interested. Lysandros probably only thinks about science.”
“Thanks,” Lysandros said.
“Hey guys, weren’t we playing Risk?” Yeong said desperately. “I’d really like to get back to playing Risk now. Look! I’m attacking Northern Europe?” Layla, who was not about to let Yeong ruin her plans for world domination, no matter their romantic status, rushed to defense. Soon enough they were back in the swing of the game, ordering new drinks and chatting idly. Lysandros brought up some details of his surgeries, which no one but Felix was interested in; Felix and Layla started talking about zombie movies; Yeong asked them for advice on buying a new car.
It was near the end of the game when Felix’s cell phone started playing Whitney Houston. “Huh, I don’t recognize this number,” he said. He answered it. “Hello?” There was a pause, and then Felix stood up and wandered away.
“What’s that about?” Yeong asked.
“No idea,” Lysandros said, and proceeded to win the game neatly because he was the only player who had some sense of strategy. Layla had never played Risk before, and Yeong didn’t understand it, and Felix could strategize except his strategies were whimsical, mostly based on conquering parts of the world he liked best in real life. He could never play a game without aiming for the Canadian territories or Central America, no matter how irrelevant they were to his map.
When Felix returned, he had a weird expression. “I think that was CSIS,” he said.
“C-what?” Yeong asked.
“Do you know nothing about your own country?” Lysandros said. “The Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Canada’s version of the CIA.”
“The fact that you could name it off the top of your head frightens me,” Yeong said. “And dude, Felix, that was not CSIS, or whatever it’s called. Why would a bunch of spies be calling you?” Lysandros shook his head ever so slightly, signalling you do not want to get him started, but Yeong was as oblivious as he’d ever been. “Unless this is about the UFO thing,” he said. He turned to Layla. “Felix is really into UFOs.”
“Is he?” Layla asked politely.
“You bet,” Felix said, dropping back into his seat. “Lysandros said I shouldn’t talk about it tonight because apparently it’ll make you think Yeong’s friends are freaks and break up with him, but Yeong’s friends are freaks, and you should break up with him because you’re way too good for him. Anyway, I totally discovered this crash site in High Park and… hey, you’re leaving so soon?” He watched Yeong pull Layla to her feet and start ushering out of the door. “Who’s going to clean up the game?” he asked.
“I hate you, Felix!” Yeong yelled on his way out the door. “I’ll see you at brunch! Try not to elope with Lysandros in the meantime! You would make a terrible Spanish bride!”
“Well, that’s rude,” Felix said, while Lysandros started picking up the tokens. “I would be an excellent Spanish bride.”
However, brunch turned out to be a failure. Layla called at nine in the morning, apologetic because Yeong had come down with a stomach bug and was currently throwing up all over his floor. “It’s not a problem,” Lysandros told her. “We can bring some of the food over to him, and I’ll be sure to bring some medicine too, in case he doesn’t have any.” So now he and Felix were on their way to the harbourside where Yeong lived in one of the posh new condos that he could afford, having sold his soul to the corporate machine. Or so Felix said anyway.
What Felix also said: “I am absolutely one hundred percent serious. I think CSIS is tracking me.”
“If you think CSIS is tracking you, which they’re not, then we shouldn’t be having this conversation in a taxi,” Lysandros said.
“Good point,” said Felix, so he waited until after the cab driver had dropped them off and they were buzzing Yeong’s intercom. “So,” he said, rocking on his heels as if they hadn’t just put the conversation on pause. “I got another one of the CSIS phone calls. They didn’t say they were CSIS, obviously. They were pretending to be an insurance company, warning me about sudden fatal accidents and things like that. But I got Hank to do his techno mojo and he traced the number back to the CSIS headquarters in Ottawa.”
Lysandros pressed the buzzer harder.
“…It seems pretty obvious to me that they know about the crash,” Felix said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they were the ones who got to the site before us and cleaned it up. The more I think about it, the more I realize: that crash must have really been a crash. That is, accidental. Otherwise why would they leave the logbook and the ring behind? My theory is that the ship crashed, CSIS monitors picked it up, and their agents got there fast. Now they’re holding the ship captive.”
Lysandros pushed the buzzer so hard his bones ached.
“You’re not taking this seriously,” Felix observed.
Lysandros would have thrown his hands up if he hadn’t been carrying a bag of food and medicine. “I’m sorry, I just don’t know what to say,” he said. “I don’t think what we saw in High Park was a UFO, I don’t think that was a distress call you got earlier, I don’t think CSIS is keeping tabs on you, or that they tried to cover up a UFO landing! This is Canada, for God’s sake. Nothing exciting happens in Canada.”
“We have polar bears and Pamela Anderson, therefore your point is invalid,” Felix said. He smiled his home run grin at Lysandros as if the sheer force of his charisma would be enough to break down Lysandros’ grim rein on his own rationality. “It doesn’t alarm you at all? Say it wasn’t CSIS, which it was, because Hank is never wrong. But say if it wasn’t. Someone still called me up and basically said that I should keep my head down or watch out.”
Lysandros hesitated. “All right, that’s not good,” he admitted, biting down on the surprisingly primitive desire to destroy anyone who might even entertain the thought of frightening Felix. Some things just should not happen. Felix unhappy was at the top of that list. An excess of lint and unsorted laundry were close seconds. “I don’t see why anyone would have a grudge against you because you are the original Mr. Nice Guy, but you’ve got to be more careful. Call me if anything suspicious happens.”
“I’d classify our country’s secret service harassing me as being suspicious.”
“Why the fuck isn’t Yeong answering the buzzer?” Lysandros said instead. “He better be fucking dead, or else.”
“He’s probably lurching around, puking his guts out. For a med student, you sure don’t have a lot of sympathy for people being sick,” Felix said. He leaned against the glass partition, sounding entertained. “Also, if I did call you in the middle of a damsel in distress moment, what would you do, exactly? Vault in to save me? Uneven bar the situation for maximum justice?”
“The uneven bar is for women,” Lysandros said. “The men do rings. And what is with your creepy obsession with me doing gymnastics? I told you, I stopped when I was fifteen. It was ages ago. I don’t notice you being so fascinated with my violin or piano lessons.”
“I think gymnasts are cool, that’s all,” Felix said, still with that heart-stopping grin. “There’s just something incredibly sexy about a guy who knows how to push his body into gravity-defying positions. Plus, muscles, yay.”
“Wait, you think I’m–”
“I’m dying,” Yeong interrupted over the intercom. “Guys, I’m dying. Say goodbye to Layla for me. I’m not long for this world.”
After he had buzzed them in, Lysandros led the way inside the lobby. As they were waiting for the elevator, and Lysandros was wondering how warm the gyros were keeping inside the bag, Felix said, “Come on, don’t play coy. You know you’re smoking hot.”
“Now if only you were a stacked redhead saying that,” Lysandros said, and for a second he thought he saw hurt on Felix’s face, that smile wavering. Which made his gut clench with the urge to take it back, to say it was a joke, you understand it was a joke. But Felix lifted his eyes to the floor symbols above the elevator, effectively ending the conversation.
Yeong crawled all over them in gratitude when they arrived at his door. “Lysandros, man, I love you,” he said. “I don’t care what anybody else says. You are totally going to be someone’s bangin’ mom one day.”
“I brought you food too!” Felix said.
“No one cares about your store-bought processed food,” Yeong said, and so Felix took a samosa out of his bag and chucked it at him. Yeong responded by pretending to cough all over Felix, but it looked real enough that Lysandros got worried. He stepped in and pulled the two roughhousing friends apart.
“What was that for?” Felix said.
“Eh,” Yeong said. “The prince has spoken. Let’s eat. I’m starving.”
Mighty Sight was the name of Felix’ blog, the one he used to keep in touch with his Eye of Hera mailing net friends outside of said mailing list. Lysandros, despite his better judgement, had it on RSS feed, and so he read Felix’s latest blog post on his phone while exiting the Women’s College Hospital after a long surgical shift. It was a simple blog post, written in Felix’s chatspeak style, which consisted of as many exclamation marks and smilies as he could cram into a single passage. The post said:
toronto friends, oct 15, 9:30 pm, high park eastern ravines
email me and i’ll send you the exact coordinates!!! cookies and snacks will be provided, nom nom 😀 : : D LET’S SHAKE THINGS UP ^___^
“What do you mean, you’ll shake things up?” Lysandros asked, calling Felix immediately. “Don’t tell me this is some sort of cult gathering, because if it is, pretend I never called. I don’t want to know.”
“So you read it,” Felix said, sounding inordinately pleased. “Hold on. I’m just in the middle of getting ready for work.” There was the sound of rustling, followed by Felix speaking in Spanish to someone in the room, possibly Isabel. Then he said, “So October 15th in the park is going to be when we signal the mothership.”
“I decoded the logbook completely,” Felix said. “Turns out I was right. It’s a message left for Earthlings in case the satellite ship, the one that crashed, should be discovered. There’s this whole section in the middle on how, in case of an emergency that leaves none of the satellite ship members able to contact the mothership, this is how to use the communicator ring to do just that. That ring we found with the logbook, it sends radio signals. Oi,” he said, “are you even listening anymore?”
“I’m listening,” Lysandros said. “I’m just — I don’t know how to — I’m actually –” He ducked off the main sidewalk to stand under an awning, where he pinched his nose with his fingers, a gesture he had often see his father do and never thought he would one day grow up to imitate, but apparently Apostolakis men were naturally drawn to people who drove them mad. “All right, I’ll play along. Why would you even want to signal the mothership? Isn’t that a sign of danger and alien invasion?”
“You wouldn’t say that if you read the rest of the logbook. It’s really beautiful and moving, full of messages of friendship,” Felix said. “I don’t think these aliens were coming to Earth to do us harm. I think they just wanted to meet the only other living planet in the galaxy.”
“And no one else can signal the mothership? It has to be you?”
“It doesn’t have to be me,” Felix corrected. “I’m not that arrogant, jeez. But CSIS has the satellite ship and its crew in their hold, and I’m the one with the ring, so I should be the one to do it. I have to help these people get back to their mothership. It’s a big responsibility, but aren’t you always talking about how we should be responsible adults?”
“I didn’t mean that it should involve aliens,” Lysandros said. “Fucking hell.”
He expected it to roll off Felix’s shoulders as most of his comments did, but every now and then he aimed true and pressed against the fences of Felix’s patience. The problem was always that he couldn’t predict it beforehand, what would be laughed off and what would be grabbed and flung back. “Well, that’s really very narrow-minded of you, isn’t it?” Felix said, tone changing from amiable to irritated. “I know you don’t believe in any of this. Fine. Join 95% of the general population. But you’re my friend and I thought you would at least try to be supportive.”
“I’m trying,” Lysandros said.
“Really? That’s not the impression I’m getting,” Felix said. “The impression I’m getting is that you think I’m stupid and illogical and you only spend time with me because you feel sorry for me. And you know what, if that’s true, then just say so. I have better things to do than be the comic relief in the Lysandros Apostalakis Show.”
Eleven years, Lysandros thought. Eleven years they’d known each other, and now when they were finally having this conversation, Lysandros was in public and Felix was due to work. God really didn’t smile down on either of them. “I don’t think any of that,” Lysandros said, “except maybe right now, because you’re definitely being irrational. Being your friend doesn’t mean I’m your fucking yes man. If you want to go signal the mothership, do it. But don’t drag me along with you, because I’m not spending a night in the park shivering again with a cereal box toy, staring up at the sky at nothing.”
“I didn’t ask you to come,” Felix gritted.
“You just did.”
“I asked you to support me. That’s a completely different thing,” Felix said. “You’re so high-and-mighty sometimes. You know why Isabel broke up with you?”
Lysandros gripped the phone.
“It’s because you couldn’t ever admit you were wrong,” Felix said loudly. “You couldn’t ever unbend a little, change your mind, try to understand her way of thinking. You always had to be lecturing her on something that you didn’t like. You–”
“I just don’t want you to waste your life chasing fucking butterflies!” Lysandros snapped. Felix needed to stop talking. And this was the only way he could think to do it.
Silence, during which Lysandros could hear his own heartbeat playing xylophone on his ribs. Crowds were walking past his line of vision, eager in the rush hour commute to get home. There was heavy traffic on Yonge Street; a light changed from red to green as he stared.
“Why?” Felix finally asked. “Because my life expectancy is so short?”
“The hell,” Lysandros said. “You’re always twisting my words. I just think… look, you’ve fought so hard to be healthy, it’s pointless to throw away your time and energy on useless shit like this. Astrology? Chupacabras? Aliens? Let’s make a checklist of what you had to go through. Surgery. Radiation iodine therapy. Chemotherapy. Multiple rounds of all of the above. Having to depend on hormone replacement drugs for the rest of your life. All of that, for this?”
“What do you mean, ‘this?'” Felix asked. “Does ‘this’ mean my beliefs? My minimum wage job? My general lack of social prestige? Help me out here.”
“I don’t know, all of it,” Lysandros groaned. He hated being pinned down like this. He knew it was the wrong thing to say; only, he couldn’t take it back.
“So you’re saying I should have rather died,” Felix said coldly. “I think that’s the worst thing you’ve ever said to me.”
“That’s not what I fucking meant!” But Lysandros was floundering, floundering when he had once composed brilliant, erudite essays for Harvard admissions, when he had once dazzled medical school interviewers with the force of his thoughtfulness and maturity. All that and he couldn’t even tell Felix the real reason why Isabel had broken up with him. This isn’t working, she’d said, and those were words he was never going to put on an entrance essay. There are so many reasons why we’re not good together, the least of which is that you’re in love with my brother. And Lysandros hadn’t even been able to gather the nerve to deny it, because it was true, it’d been true for the longest time. Loving Felix was like breathing in mountain air: you needed it to survive, and after a while you might even learn to live with it, but go high enough and you were nothing but an ache. It had frightened him and changed him, made him a better person, but clearly not good enough, because Felix was exhaling raggedly over the phone, and all Lysandros could think was you’re why my mother will never have grandchildren.
“I have to leave for work,” Felix said, because even when he was angry, he wasn’t the type of person to hang up and make dramatic exits. “I dropped by your apartment earlier. I left something for you hanging at your door. I need to go,” he said. “Bye.”
Lysandros’ hands belied his aspirations as a surgeon when he slipped his cell phone back into his messenger bag. It took him two tries to fit the phone into the lining pocket; his coordination was shot plain through. He stood on the sidewalk listlessly, and some people gave him strange looks, which he ignored. Screw those looks, he thought. Stranger and more pathetic was the man who wanted to save others’ bodies, but couldn’t even save his own skin.
When he returned to his apartment, he found a tied-up grocery bag with Chinese lettering hanging off his doorknob. Inside were six Chinatown buns stuffed with beef and mustard filling.
It wasn’t as if he and Felix had never argued before. They’d argued plenty of times over stupider reasons. One of the longest fights they’d had, in their first year of university, was over Felix’s accidentally serving him cat food. The basis of other arguments had included Lysandros’ neat freak tendencies, a suspiciously missing porn mag, and Felix’s not taking proper care of himself and keeping information from his doctors. Yeong might have been fond of calling theirs the perfect codependent friendship, but they were only human, and humans occasionally got on each other’s nerves.
This time, however, he had really hurt Felix, and that sent Lysandros into a tailspin of regret, because he had his own private version of the Hippocratic Oath, and it was: do no harm, and never be the cause of Felix’s frown.
It was so stupid, he thought as he banged around his kitchen, scrubbing pots and pans to give his hands something to do. So stupid. He didn’t really care about Felix having a minimum wage job or being socially embarrassing sometimes. What the fuck did any of that matter? What the fuck did aliens matter, really? He was never going to agree with Felix’s belief in the supernatural and conspiracy theories, but was it worth straining their friendship over? Hell no. Felix was alive, and happy, and he wanted to spend time with Lysandros. Once, Lysandros might have had higher aspirations than that, but the person he’d been then was probably a person he wouldn’t have liked very much.
And it wasn’t that Felix was frail or vulnerable, or any of the things Isabel had once accused Lysandros of gravitating towards him for. Lysandros was three years in med school, and met frail, vulnerable people on a regular basis. It turned out he was fully capable of resisting their charms. Felix’s magnetism was that he was good in a way that was a punch to Lysandros’ solar plexus. Good in that he cried sometimes because he couldn’t donate blood, good in that he brought Lysandros food when everybody else expected Lysandros to do the cooking, good in that he could imagine a UFO crash and want to help people who weren’t even of his world. Sure, at times he was passive-aggressive and short-sighted and recklessly impulsive, but those were just coats he put on and took off. What mattered was the skin they were meant to protect.
So he went to apologize later that night. He expected to find Felix at home, but when he knocked at the door, Isabel answered it instead. She said to him, “You really are a grade-A asshole. I hope you’re under no illusions that you’re not.”
“I’m not–” Lysandros stopped under the force of Isabel’s withering look. He remembered what a careless boyfriend he had been. He had hurt her, and embarrassed her by not being able to say look, I have feelings for someone else, someone you’re very close to, so I don’t think we should date. “I try not to be,” he said at last.
“That’s what makes you all the more dangerous,” Isabel said. “No one expects it. It’s all oh hi Isabel, no Felix isn’t around, that dress looks great on you, and bam, we’re having hot sex on the couch and bam we’re dating, and then bam, wow there’s a knife in my chest.” She shook her head. “Felix thinks you hung the sun and moon. You don’t realize how much he cares about what you think of him.”
“You know what I think of him.”
“But he doesn’t,” Isabel said. “So maybe you should do something about that, yeah?”
“You were the one who told me he wasn’t interested in relationships,” Lysandros said. “Not until he got better.”
“Where have you been for the last two years, Dr. Clueless? He is better,” Isabel said. Then she shut the door in his face and bolted the deadlock, but not before he could hear her shout, “He’s at High Park!” as if it pained her to help him in any way.
At High Park, tree branches angled over his head like kite tails. It was worryingly dark, worrying in the sense that he was fairly certain Felix needed glasses, and this wasn’t going to help. At first Lysandros was struck by the enormity of the park, and how insensible it would be to wander its entire length calling out Felix’s name like some wounded heroine on the moors, not to mention embarrassing. But then he thought, October 15th, signaling the mothership, and it wasn’t even a question of searching. He knew exactly where Felix was going to be.
“Hey,” he said, and the figure standing at the slope of eastern ravines stirred at the touch of Lysandros’ hand on his forearm. “You shouldn’t be here. It’s cold and not that safe. Weren’t you saying CSIS is watching you?”
“They’re CSIS,” Felix said hollowly. “I think they have cameras in my apartment. I’m pretty sure they have my phone and my computer tapped. So, what’s the point of hiding?”
“Okay,” Lysandros said, not sure what to make of that. Better to just delve into the meat of the matter. “I’m sorry,” he quickly continued. “About what I said to you earlier. I shouldn’t tell you how to live your life, and I definitely wasn’t trying to say it wasn’t worth living just because you have some hobbies that I think are weird. Fuck, how can you even think that? I–”
“I know that’s not what you meant,” Felix said, but he wasn’t quite looking at Lysandros. His gaze was fixed on the grassy, dirty roll of the ravine, at the precise place where he had discovered the logbook and ring. “I overreacted. I was having a bad day.”
“Really, what happened? You sounded fine.”
Felix laughed, and it was such a mournful sound. It made Lysandros break out in goosebumps. “It’s the anniversary of a bad memory.” He continued staring at the ravine intensely, and Lysandros wanted to grab his chin and force him to look at him, but he didn’t dare touch Felix further.
“You know what you’re not going to like?” Felix remarked. “Freud.”
“Yeah, because it’s Freud.”
“Freud had this theory on the origin of religion and superstition,” Felix said, and he was capable of some masterful non sequiters, but this one was a doozy. “He said that in the beginning of human society, society was organized into these groups where you had an alpha male, and then a bunch of females. And the other men in the band weren’t allowed to have sex with the females, and so they got jealous of the alpha male, the father figure. They got together and killed him so they could have sex with the females, but then you know what happened?” He paused. “They knew they did a bad thing. Freud says all of religion is the attempt to recreate the father figure and atone for primordial murder. Religion, superstition, belief in things we can’t see… he says it’s all a manifestation of guilt.”
“I have no idea what you’re trying to say,” Lysandros said. “You think I feel guilty about something? That’s why I go to church?”
“No,” Felix said. “You go to church because your parents go to church. It’s how you were raised. You don’t really know a life without it. I’m talking about me.” He took a deep, shaky breath. “I’m saying this is maybe why I believe.”
“That makes even less sense,” Lysandros said. “You don’t have anything to feel guilty about. You don’t even step on ants on the sidewalk. Are you going to tell me that this was all an act? That you have a body stuffed in your closet? Because I’m not buying it.”
Felix’s shoulders stiffened, and he finally turned to Lysandros, who saw that his eyes were puffy. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “I know I didn’t do anything wrong. But why do I feel so awful? My friend Joanna, she died three years ago today. My friend Nalini, she died a year ago last month. My friend Philip, he died five years ago around the same time as Nalini. They’re dead, Lysandros.” Felix’s voice wavered. “Most of my friends are. That’s what you get when you’re Cancer Kid, and the only people who understand you are other Cancer Kids. I had friends in high school, just not the kind you knew, and now they’re almost all dead, and I don’t know what to do.”
Lysandros couldn’t speak, but Felix spoke enough for both of them, a rush of words breaking out of his broken tongue. “I’m like, I’m like a living ghost. I’m the survivor. I’m the lucky one, the one who got the most curable tumour, and I feel like crap for winning for the cancer lottery. Joanna, she was amazing. She had this voice like you couldn’t believe, and she would draw on my arms when we were in the hospital together, and she would invite me over to meet her boyfriend, and now she’s in the ground. She’s dead, ding dong dead, and so are the others.” Felix clenched his fists. “I’m supposed to be grateful for being cured, I’m supposed to be turning cartwheels and living life to the fullest, but living hurts worse than the dying sometimes. I can’t tell anybody because it’s so selfish. Poor healthy Felix. Why am I so selfish?” His voice, already slightly raspy from being damaged during his thyroidectomy surgery, became a shade scratchier, a husk. “I am two parts laughter to one part grief,” he said, like it was a secret pulled out of him by scalpel.
“Felix,” Lysandros said. He reached out and touched Felix for real now, gripped him by the shoulder. The force of it made them stumble. Felix slid to the grass, where Lysandros joined him. “If you tell me you don’t want to live, I’m going to kick your goddamn ass.”
“I want to live more than anything,” Felix confessed. “I just don’t understand why I got to and not her.”
“It doesn’t work like that,” Lysandros said harshly. “It’s not a matter of deserving. You lived because your cells responded to the treatment, and your body repaired itself, and Joanna’s didn’t. That’s nothing negative on her. It’s just how it happened. There’s no value judgment assigned to it.”
“It’s just science, huh?” Felix said, face wet, and Lysandros wanted to kiss him, kiss him, take him home and marry him.
“It’s just science,” Lysandros said, and Felix started laughing, this hiccupy crying laughing sound that echoed throughout the darkened field. Lysandros wrapped his arms around Felix for real now, feeling the avian-delicate bones of Felix’s alarmingly skinny shoulder. Felix leaned into the embrace, sniffling and giggling at the same time. “It really wasn’t that funny,” Lysandros said, but Felix just shook some more, running snot over Lysandros’ neck.
“Your boner for science is pretty damn funny,” Felix said.
“I’m honoured you find my sex life so hilarious,” Lysandros said. “And why are we talking about this instead? It’s giving me conversation whiplash.”
“Confused and awkward is a good look on you,” Felix said. He leaned away from Lysandros and stared into the ravine. “Thanks for being here,” he said after a while. “I tend to have these anniversary breakdowns. I don’t want you to see them, not really, but… I’m glad.” He smiled slightly. “I’m glad you’ve got my back.”
“We have a pretty epic bromance, don’t we?” Lysandros said.
But Felix said, “Lysandros, there’s nothing bro about it.”
There were a hundred things Lysandros wanted to say to that, and ten more possibilities he could read in Felix’s expression; read them and hope that he wasn’t being delusional about it, because if he was, he was going to go home, crawl into bed, and never come out. But this wasn’t the right time, he thought. Felix was already beginning to shiver with the cold, and he was coughing again, and still quite obviously miserable. Two years ago and Lysandros would have felt rushed to take this chance, but the beauty of remission was that it gave shape to the ephemeral idea known as the future. So Lysandros simply pulled Felix to his feet and walked him home.
His surgical rotation ended, and the next part of his clerkship took him to emergency medicine, where he switched from the Women’s College Hospital to St. Michael’s. Before he left the WCH, he brought Dr. Wong a potted orchid, which she eyed and said, “Well, that’s going to die in a few weeks, isn’t it?” and Lysandros said, “I’ll bring you another one if it does”, and she laughed and told him not to mess anything up or get anyone killed. For someone who was interested in surgery, emergency medicine wasn’t all that daunting; it had the same requirements for a steady head, cool nerves, and fast thinking, though Lysandros did have to get over his fastidious aversion to gross rashes and pus-filled infections. It was fine when it was internal, when it belonged to an anesthetized patient lying demurely on the surgical table. Less so when the owner of said affliction kept moving around and squirming as Lysandros tried to take a closer look.
One patient with an autoimmune disease also accidentally hacked blood into Lysandros’ face, and specks of it into Lysandros’ open mouth. So he had to go get tested, which ended up being an agonizing twenty-four hours before the labs pronounced his bloodwork clean.
During the next week, he also managed to 1) meet with a professor to discuss his future career path, 2) clean his apartment, 3) go to the gym three times, 4) help his mother rearrange the furniture in their family’s basement, and 4) make a trip to Kensington Market to pick up fresh groceries. He was in the process of browsing a selection of artisan cheeses when he got the call.
The number on his call ID was blocked, so he answered it hesitantly while standing in line for the cashier. “Hello?” Lysandros asked, balancing the shifting weight of his basket. He was greeted by a smooth, cool female voice.
“Is this Lysandros Apostalakis?”
“My name is Agent Diana Wurts,” she said. “I’m calling on behalf of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
Steady head, cool nerves, and fast thinking. Lysandros stepped deftly out of line and put his basket on the edge of the counter. “I’ll be back in a minute for these,” he mouthed to the busy cashier. “I’ve just got to take this call.” She nodded, and Lysandros stepped out of the store and to a secluded little area.
“I’m listening,” he said into the phone.
“Are you familiar with an individual named Felix Olvera?” Agent Wurts asked.
“I know him,” Lysandros said cagily.
“Records indicate that the two of you both attended Weston Collegiate Institute for high school, and then you shared a suite at Innis College during your undergraduate years at the University of Toronto. Is this correct?” she said.
“Sounds about right,” Lysandros said. “May I ask what this is about?”
“Mr. Apostolakis, we have reason to believe that Mr. Olvera might be involved in domestic terrorist activity,” Agent Wurts said smoothly. “We also have reason to believe that you are one of his closest friends. Therefore you are in a prime position to help us investigate this matter more fully. Has Mr. Olvera displayed any strange, erratic behaviour recently? Has he expressed strong political opinions?”
“Agent Wurts,” Lysandros said. “If you knew Felix, you wouldn’t be asking if he displayed any strange, erratic behaviour. The proper question would be if he displayed any socially normative behaviour. That’s when you should start worrying.”
“Funny,” she said in a wintry voice.
“Felix is not a terrorist,” Lysandros said. He couldn’t believe he was having this conversation; he stared up at the sunlight until his eyes prickled, and still he didn’t wake up from the dream. “I would personally bet my life on it. Felix has absolutely no violent tendencies whatsoever, so any reasons you have for thinking he might be involved in terrorism, they’re wrong.”
“I realize that you don’t wish to think badly of your friend,” Agent Wurts said. “And maybe you’re right. This is only an investigation, after all. If you really believe that Mr. Olvera is innocent, then please cooperate with us fully, and we’ll have him cleared off our list in no time.”
“Cooperate, how?” Lysandros demanded. “What is it exactly that you want to know?”
“Has Mr. Olvera been making regular visits to High Park?” she said.
“He lives near High Park,” Lysandros said. “Of course he makes regular visits. That’s not even a valid question.”
“Does he show any aptitude towards chemicals and explosives?” she asked.
“Absolutely not,” Lysandros said. “He has an anthropology degree. Need someone to write a paper on ritualization theory or whatever? He’s your man. Ask him to whip up even a cocktail? Complete disaster.” He pressed his hand against the side of the building for balance and said, sharply, “Look, who else are you asking these questions? Are you calling his family? Yeong? Our old teachers?”
“I can’t answer that,” Agent Wurts said. “We’re not finished yet. I have a few more questions, and then we can discuss–”
“No. This is ridiculous. I have nothing more to say to you, not without a lawyer present.” He hung up, and then immediately he hit number one on the speed dial. Felix picked up after the third ring. “Did you just have someone prank call me?” Lysandros demanded.
“No?” Felix said, confused.
“Shit,” Lysandros said. “Yeong and Hank are aren’t creative enough to pull anything like this off, and nobody else knows about what happened in High Park. I think CSIS may actually be investigating you.”
“That’s what I’ve been saying,” Felix said. “What, did they call you up?”
“Pretty much,” Lysandros replied. He rubbed his forehead with his index and middle fingers, as if it could ward off the oncoming headache. “I’m not going to say this is about a UFO crashing in High Park, because I still don’t believe that. But you’re right. Something fucked up is going on. We’re lucky that the provisions in the Anti-Terrorism Act expired in 2007 and weren’t renewed, so they can’t haul either of us in without a warrant. But then again, this is CSIS. Maybe I’ve watched too many spy movies, but I can’t help but think secret ops might not care so much for rules.”
Felix listened to him work out the situation, and then he said, “Wow. You actually know the Anti-Terrorism Act. How do you manage to score dates again?”
“I pay attention to the news, okay,” Lysandros snapped. “Focus here. This is serious.”
“I’m glad you think so too,” Felix said. “I’m on break at work, and then I’m going to pull the evening shift, so I won’t be home until late. But come over then? We can talk about this face to face.”
“They’re probably tapping this line,” Lysandros warned.
“If I were a pettier person, this would be the ultimate ‘I told you so’ moment,” Felix said. “Yeah, they might be tapping this line. But there’s nothing much we can do about it, other than become hermetic Luddites in Siberia.” He raised his voice. “Hey, eavesdroppers! No plotting terrorist cells here! Go take a break. Read a book or something.” He heard Lysandros’ grumble of disapproval, so he quickly said, “Right, right, serious game face on. Be safe, Fleur-de-Lys.”
“Don’t call me that,” Lysandros said. “And I’ll see you tonight.”
The realization that he was no longer completely, perfectly respectable gave Lysandros a thrill even as it made him stare at his neatly arranged fridge until it was remarkable that he had yet to develop grocery-moving telepathic abilities. He put his cheese beside his eggs, and then changed his mind and moved it down beside the rhubarb. He looked up at the his wall clock. 8:30 p.m. Felix should be getting off work soon.
His doorbell rang. Lysandros didn’t do anything so undignified as jump, but it was a near thing. He moved towards his door in a series of loping steps and looked through the peephole. There were two people standing on the other side, blurry and indistinguishable, but he saw that they were dressed starkly. There was a man in a black overcoat and a woman carrying a briefcase. This, he decided, couldn’t be anything good, and so he backed away from the door silently as the woman raised her voice. “Lysandros Apostolakis?” she called, and Lysandros was good with voices. He remembered hers.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,” he said under his breath as he turned around and thought rapidly. There were, as he could see it, only two options. The first was to answer the door and engage with the CSIS agents. The second was to make a run for it, and Lysandros had always been too level-headed to have wild fantasies of being a cowboy outlaw, but this here, at age twenty-four, was apparently time to start. My parents are going to yell at me until they’re hoarse, he thought, and then was struck by the fear that if he dodged the agents, they’d go to his parents instead. He paused, uncertain.
“Mr. Apostolakis?” Agent Wurts said again.
God and all His angels protect me, Lysandros thought. He made the sign of the cross before he grabbed his wallet and dashed for the fire escape.
Crank open the window, one foot out, followed by the rest of his body. His feet on the escape, his gaze forward. Down, down, but don’t make too much noise. Get out before the agents break in, warrant or not — maybe they did have a warrant. Maybe they had the entire apartment building surrounded, and Lysandros had a moment of hysterical amusement then. He imagined police cruisers and choppers and camera crew, broadcasting this live because he was clearly a dangerous criminal. Down, down, further, finally street level. Run, and this part was easy because Lysandros could fucking backflip down the alley and then do a 1½ twisting Yurchenko vault with a back handspring entry. Running, compared to that, was not a problem.
He got on Bloor, noisy and busy on a Saturday night. “Excuse me, excuse me,” he said, brushing past the passers-by as he tried to put as much distance between him and CSIS as possible. He tried to stick to shadows, difficult when the stores and bars were all brightly lit. He saw a taxi approaching the intersection of Bloor and Spadina, and he hailed it aggressively, practically shoving the person it was meant for out of the way. “Sorry!” he told him. “Emergency!”
“Take me to Nathan Phillips Square,” he told the taxi driver, because his first thought was to lose any tail that might be after him. At Nathan Phillips Square, he got another taxi and headed for the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. After the Four Seasons, he got on the subway at Osgoode and rode the TTC to Kipling, and then back again. There was a good chance that all this was overkill, but he thought of the size of the male CSIS agent’s shoulders, and the hoarfrost tone to Agent Wurts’ voice, like she could kill him with her bare hands, and he decided caution was best after all.
He called his parents at a pay phone. “Hello Mama,” he said. “This may sound strange, but don’t let anyone in the house tonight. If someone pays you a visit, pretend you’re not home.”
“What’s going on?” she asked, sounding panicky. “What have you gotten yourself into?”
“I’ll explain later,” Lysandros said. “No, no, it’s not drugs. You know I don’t do drugs. I’ve got to go, kiss Baba for me, will you?”
That he would eventually make his way to Felix’s was inevitable, but Lysandros tried to randomize his arrival time as much as he could, hoping to throw off anyone who might be waiting for him. Isabel came down to fetch him from the lobby, explaining that the buzzer was broken and Felix was sleeping. “Sleeping?” Lysandros asked, checking his watch. It was late, but still before eleven, and Felix could be a night owl when he was entranced by something on his laptop.
“He’s not feeling well. Evening shift took a lot out of him.” She regarded him, unimpressed. “What’s happened to you? You look terrible.”
“Would you believe that CSIS is after me?” Lysandros said, running his hand through his sweaty, spiky hair.
“I don’t know what to believe anymore,” she said, and she led him upstairs into the apartment. Lysandros looked at Felix’s closed bedroom door reluctantly. If he was sleeping, then it might be better to just wait until morning. Isabel must have read his thoughts, because she said, “He told me to send you in when you arrived, so go ahead. Just don’t keep him up all night. Ugh, I can’t believe I just said that. Brain bleach please.”
Felix’s room was movie-theatre dark, all the lines yanked into stretching by the moonlight filtered through the slightly parted blinds. Books and magazines staggered a canyon path through the carpet, and Felix’s laptop sat on his desk humming softly. Lysandros crossed over and opened the blinds a bit more for illumination, and even though he tried to be discreet about it, Felix was a restless sleeper. He stirred, and threw one hand over his face. “Lys?” he croaked. “I was wondering when you’d arrive.” He tried to sit up, but Lysandros shook his head and pushed him back down.
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Mmm, all right,” Felix said. “I think I was just exhausted. Been staying up late on Eye of Hera these days.” He slurred his words sleepily. “What happened? Why are you so late?” Lysandros sat down on the edge of the bed and explained. Felix listened in between yawns, and then he nodded. “Sounds scary,” he said, sympathetic but not particularly perturbed. Illness had been walking through a burning house for Felix; he didn’t fear people as much as he feared his own body. “Are you okay? They didn’t hurt you?”
“No,” Lysandros said.
“Good,” Felix said. “Because I might have to write a viciously worded letter to our MP, or worse.” He smiled at Lysandros, and Lysandros privately thought it was the sort of smile that could make a prime minister falter in the middle of an inaugural speech. “You can sleep over. The bed’s big enough for two if we squeeze.”
“I can take the couch,” Lysandros offered, but Felix just laughed.
“And force Isabel to look at you first thing in the morning? Nah. I don’t have cooties,” he said, and his smile turned softer, sweeter. Lysandros wasn’t going to argue that point, so he took off his socks and stripped to his boxers. After a bit of consideration, he took off his shirt as well. Felix watched him, not objecting, and moved over to make room for Lysandros on the mattress. When Lysandros slipped in, Felix pulled the blanket over both of them, and then sighed happily. “Good night,” he said, and he fell back asleep again, his hair tickling Lysandros’ cheek, smelling like the orange zest of his shampoo.
They woke up tangled in each other, with Felix lying half on top of Lysandros, one leg slung over Lysandros’ hip. “Is it morning already?” he mumbled when he felt Lysandros move underneath him. “Let me sleep some more, please?” And because Lysandros’ shift at St. Michael’s didn’t start until noon, there was nowhere he had to be. So he was content to lie there listening to Felix’s snuffles, until finally Felix opened his eyes and said, “I guess it’s time to wake up now”, rolling out of Lysandros’ way with a disappointed groan.
“There’s a spare toothbrush in the bathroom,” Felix yawned. “Towels too. Some of Enrique’s clothes should fit you if you want to change. Go take your shower. I’m going to check my mailing list.”
The shower was lukewarm, the rusty pipes in Felix’s apartment straining against the effort. Lysandros squeezed a dollop of the shampoo into his palm, and when he sniffed it, he was hit with a physical reaction, a Felix-inspired sensory memory. He shivered, and then showered quickly before the water could turn completely cold. This was why Felix was a night showerer, he thought. In the mornings, after Isabel and Enrique had already waltzed through the bathroom, there was little left. The perils of being the youngest child.
Lysandros got out of the shower and wrapped a towel around his waist. He found the spare toothbrush and was in the middle of brushing his teeth when Felix barged in. Without any respect for his guest’s privacy, he reached over for his own toothbrush and started his morning routine standing beside Lysandros. The steam of Lysandros’ shower fogged the mirror they were sharing. Felix finished brushing and spit; Lysandros followed him. “Mouthwash?” Felix offered.
“Sure,” Lysandros said, and then afterwards Felix offered his razor as well, and they took turns shaving. There was a bottle of thyroid hormone replacement pills in the medicine cabinet. Felix counted out his daily dose and took the drugs dry with the ease of long practice. Lysandros watched him intently, observing the curve of Felix’s eyelashes over his brown skin, the way his throat muscles worked when he swallowed. Felix turned towards him, realizing he was being stared at, but instead of telling Lysandros to back off and stop being creepy, he had a stare all of his own. Their eyes met. It was like the silence before the origin of the universe, and Lysandros wondered why he wasn’t hearing the violent thudding of his heart, except that his ears filled with a muffled hush that drowned everything else out, even fear. Then he was moving towards Felix, clumsy in the cramped space, while Felix moved towards him. Their bodies met, Lysandros’ elbow jabbed into Felix’s forearm, Felix’s heel stepped on Lysandros’ toes; and they were kissing.
It was wet and awkward at first. They couldn’t get into the right rhythm, but nothing on Earth could compel them to stop either, and then finally Lysandros reached up to lightly grasp Felix’s jaw. Felix groaned, low and helpless, and that was it. The angle was working, the circuits were finally connecting, and they clicked together as simple as anything. The kiss turned deep, raw. Lysandros felt his control quickly spiraling out of his grasp, and what he wanted most at the moment was to fuck Felix right on the floor of the bathroom, to push him against the tiles and make him shake for it, to hear that raspy voice break on a high note because Lysandros was giving it to him so good.
Felix leaned forward and slid his tongue sweetly inside Lysandros’ mouth as his arms pushed Lysandros against the wall, pinning him there with kisses while Lysandros kissed back fiercely, tasting the spearmint on Felix’s tongue. He caught the mercury glimmer of Felix’s smile before Felix’s fingers were at his waist, tugging at the towel, reminding Lysandros that he was practically naked.
“I want to see you,” Felix said, shy boy and confident rock star both and no contradiction between them. Lysandros went hot and tight. He stood there as Felix unhooked the towel’s knot and let it drop, and then Felix was taking a step back, looking at Lysandros’ bare body with a quirked half smile and raised eyebrows. “Wow,” he finally said, appreciative. “I’m considering becoming a gym bunny just for this.” He kissed Lysandros’ collarbone, running his tongue over Lysandros’ burning skin. His mouth moved left, downward, over Lysandros’ pectorals, and Lysandros might have said a number of highly blasphemous things he would later deny.
Felix looked up at Lysandros and seemed thoughtful for a moment, and then he kissed Lysandros full on the mouth again, making out with him messily until he pulled away and, God, slid to his knees on the bathroom floor tile. “Tell me if you don’t like this,” he said, and his hands fitted around the curve of Lysandros’ hips as his lips touched the tip of Lysandros’ cock.
Was there anyone in existence who didn’t like having their cock sucked? And furthermore, was there anyone, here or in alien civilizations, who could resist the sight of Felix Olvera on his knees, sleep-tousled hair sticking up in needles as he hummed in pleasure, like being able to suck Lysandros’ cock was an itch he’d been dying to scratch. His mouth was slick and hot, his technique bumpy, but what he lacked in finesse he made up for in enthusiasm, stroking the flat of his tongue over Lysandros’ slit, and then trailing down in a line of saliva and obscene moaning to lick at his balls.
“Fuck,” Lysandros said, shaky. “Is the door even locked?”
“Mmm,” Felix said, and mouthed the underside of Lysandros’ balls. “Who cares.” And Lysandros had to actually force his eyes to look elsewhere, because it was too tempting to stare at Felix, so fucking beautiful, but if he stared then he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from coming embarrassingly soon. He was supposed to be the one with more experience here, the one who’d had a golden adolescence with dates and fumbling in the backseats of cars while Felix had traveled in and out of hospitals. But the balance between them, as always, shifted on a hairpin, and it was Felix who made Lysandros’ knees shake like he was sixteen again. He twisted his fingers in Felix’s hair, just because he had to touch him somehow, couldn’t bear not to.
“I’m going to come,” Lysandros choked, fair warning, but instead of letting go, Felix sucked on him even more hungrily, and that was mind-blowing enough — seeing how much he wanted it — that Lysandros came in thick, heavy jolts, creaming Felix’s mouth. Felix made a little choking sound at first, and Lysandros barely had the presence of mind to pull out and give him room, but Felix wouldn’t budge. His fingers tightened around Lysandros’ grip, his nose stayed buried in Lysandros’ pubes, and he drank in all in like it was a right he’d earned, no way was Lysandros going to take it from him.
Lysandros had never been a fan of the taste of come, but when Felix kissed him, resisting wasn’t even a consideration. He wrapped his hand around the back of Felix’s head and kissed him back deeply, until Felix’s mouth was shining and bruised, and Felix was smiling with a sort of dazed happiness that Lysandros understood all too well.
He stripped Felix out of his pyjamas. Then he lifted him onto the sink, which was unfortunately all too easy when Felix was so thin. That needed to change one day, he thought. But for now, when all he could think was yesyesyes, he wrapped his hand around Felix’s cock and listened to Felix’s delicious moans as he started up a steady rhythm. Felix closed his eyes, his forehead coming to rest on Lysandros’ shoulder as his body responded to the taste and touch of sex. Lysandros tilted him up in for another kiss, long and open-mouthed. Felix’s erratic pulse throbbed against his thumb.
“Can I… can I finger you?” he asked, light-headed, and Felix opened his eyes to stare at him in genuine shock. Then he burst out laughing. Lysandros pulled away, hurt. “Never mind,” he said. “Forget it. It’s a bad idea.”
“No, no, it’s just the way you said it,” Felix said, giggling. “I had this sudden image of you talking to your patients like that. Those would be some seriously awkward prostrate exams.” He laughed harder, uncontrollably. “Am I killing the mood? I bet I’m killing the mood. I always do it. I can’t help it. It’s just–” He grinned up at Lysandros. “Yeah, you can finger me. If you’re still interested.”
“So sexy,” Lysandros complained, but he was already helping Felix down from the sink, turning him around and positioning him for the best angle.
Felix went along with it compliantly. He looked into the mirror and caught Lysandros’ eyes. “It’s good thing you’re sexy enough for the both of us then,” he said, and he didn’t even try to make it sound sensual or coaxing; he said it like it was a plain fact, obvious as hydrogen, and Lysandros wondered how it was possible to want someone this much. He reached for the soap and slicked his fingers. Felix shuddered in anticipation, face flushed, eyes bright.
“Tell me if this hurts,” Lysandros said, and then he was sliding one finger inside Felix. This was one of his favourite fantasies, and he felt his cock get half-hard again at the sight of it, Felix opening up and taking him in.
“A bit,” Felix said honestly. “But don’t stop. I like it.” He pushed back, earning a strangled sound from Lysandros because there was hot and then there was this, Felix not just willing to be fingered but actively enjoying it, working through the initial discomfort until he gasped when Lysandros hit the right angle. Gasped and shook, his elbows losing some of their strength where they braced him against the sink. But Lysandros held him up easily, pushing his finger in and out in a lazy tempo. “Okay, yeah, I definitely like that,” Felix said. “Better than my vibrator.”
“If you think this is good, wait until I’m fucking you on my cock,” Lysandros said without thinking, and then went dark and shocked at his own dirtiness, because Felix was everything bright and it didn’t seem right to talk to him like a back alley slut. But Felix’s eyes widened, and he looked at Lysandros in the mirror. In that one look Lysandros could see everything, every possibility willingly given: tender sex on the sheets, slow love-making on the floor, rough sex against a door, sex where they bit and scratched each other, sex where one or both of them cried, raw fucking where they smirked and got to the bottom of their most intimate kinks. Felix would give that to him.
“I love you,” Lysandros confessed, because he couldn’t keep the words inside anymore when he could breathe them against Felix’s skin. “I’m so fucking gone over for you. You’re the centre of me.”
Felix’s smile was quick, bright, rapturous. Lysandros pushed in a second finger, and Felix arched his back, greedy. Lysandros stroked him, deft and sure, while his other hand returned to Felix’s cock so that he was working both rhythms at the same time, the thrust of his fingers and the pull of his hand. Felix pushed into the hand, and then pushed back onto the fingers, making soft, desperate noises as he tumbled closer to orgasm., his body strung out between twin pleasures.
“I…” He swallowed hard as Lysandros rubbed his prostate, his hips jerking. “There’s no condoms here. I wish there was.”
“It’s okay,” Lysandros said. “I’m going to make you come just like this.” He pressed a kiss to the corner of Felix’s mouth. “We can buy condoms later. We can go through a box of them.”
“Oh,” Felix breathed, and then he was coming, a breathless choked sound clawing out of his throat, his knees giving out, but trusting Lysandros to be there to catch him, and Lysandros did. He kissed the freckles on Felix’s bare back over and over again while Felix shuddered. Then Felix turned around quickly and kissed Lysandros, rough, their bodies riding sticky against each other, but Felix showed no intention of letting go.
They were never going to recover from this, Lysandros thought.
Then he heard Isabel’s voice through the door. “Felix! My class ended early! What are you taking so long in the bathroom for? Did Lysandros go home?” A pause. “Wait. Don’t tell me. Is he in there with you? Are you two having sex? Felix, you little shit.”
“Yeah,” Felix said. “So Isabel told me to tell you that you are officially banned from our home.”
Lysandros winced and let Felix inside his apartment. “Sorry about that. I guess it’s pretty awkward, you and her ex-boyfriend.”
“It’s a pride thing,” Felix said. “She’s totally over you, by the way, so don’t let that inflate your ego. She just doesn’t want to see her little brother win.”
“She could always get back at you. Break up with Estevan and date one of your exes,” Lysandros said.
“Not possible,” Felix said. “I only have one ex, and he’s dead.” Then, as if he hadn’t said anything devastating at all, he held up the bag he was carrying. “I brought brownies! I thought we could have a snack before we go to the park.”
I am two parts laughter to one part grief. “I still can’t believe I agreed to do this,” Lysandros said. “Signal the mothership? Even with CSIS after us, I can’t wrap my head around it. I think you might have actually sucked my brains out of my dick.”
“If only evangelism worked like that,” Felix said sadly. He opened the box of brownies and shoved one at Lysandros’ face. “Eat up. We have to be at High Park by 9:30. Ideally we should get there even earlier.” He shuffled around the kitchen with excess energy, so Lysandros was helpless but to kiss him, holding him still for a few minutes as they tasted each other, still new and exhilarating.
“You’re in a good mood,” he said when he let go.
“Didn’t I tell you?” Felix said. “I had my appointment with Dr. Wong this morning.”
Lysandros froze. “And?”
“No sign of cancer. So that’s two years remission now.” Felix squirmed as Lysandros swung him into another kiss, twirling him around by the waist. “Two years,” he mumbled. “I told myself, make it two years and I can be brave enough. To do anything.” He pressed his mouth against Lysandros’ jaw meaningfully, and then danced away. “Eat your brownie! We need to get there on time!”
“I’m going to take you out to celebrate,” Lysandros promised.
“This is the celebration,” Felix said, and Lysandros made a face of not-so-polite disagreement, but he did as Felix said. He finished one brownie, then ate another, and then shrugged on the jacket Felix passed him on their way to the door. Felix bent down to tie his shoelaces, straightened, and hooked his arm through Lysandros’. “Ready?” he asked, and he was laughing at a joke only he knew, beautiful and healthy, everything Lysandros could ever want even at the height of his ambition. Becoming a surgeon would pay its own debt in work, he thought, if it meant he could save all the Felixes of the world.
“Ready,” Lysandros said, and they went to High Park.
It was nine o’clock according to his watch, and the park was as oddly empty as it’d been the night this whole business began. There was a good chance that CSIS was monitoring them, made even larger by Felix’s less than subtle announcement on his blog. The thought was almost enough to make Lysandros turn back and drag Felix with him. This wasn’t safe, no matter what Felix’s desires were. But when he mentioned his worry, Felix just shook his head and said, “I have a plan to neutralize CSIS.”
“What sort of plan?” Lysandros wanted to know.
“You’ll see,” Felix said, and when he got no reply, he turned around and faced him. They were halfway to the eastern ravines, standing in the middle of the oak savannah while shadowed overhead by a brace of bare-branched trees. “Do you trust me?”
“Do I trust you to take care of CSIS?” Lysandros asked. “When you can’t even come up with a good strategy in Risk?” He shook his head. “Sad part is, yeah. Yeah, I do. But you’re not a superhero, so don’t pull anything outrageously stupid, okay?”
“I can’t promise about the outrageous part,” Felix said, grinning, and in spite of it all, Lysandros felt lighter. Felix’s enthusiasm was infectious, as it turned out, and there were some moments in life that were so surreal that consequences seemed faraway and imaginary. Going into a park after dark and using a decoder ring to signal an alien mothership read like a sci-fi pulp, like a Spielberg film that Lysandros might have watched as a child. High Park stood perfectly still in the absence of wind, and it was a clear night — the reason Felix had chosen October 15th, he’d explained, by watching the weather channel — with the moon a waxy blot in the sky.
Thinking about what they were doing as a story made it easier for Lysandros to follow along, unquestioning. Story logic didn’t protest when they arrive at the ravines, and Felix scrambled up an oak tree for the best signal, displaying previously unknown climbing skills. Lysandros hovered underneath, prepared to catch him if he were to fall, but Felix found his grip and stayed steady. “What time is it now?” he called down.
“9:25,” Lysandros said. “Five more minutes.”
“Five more minutes isn’t going to make much of a difference. I’m going to do it now. Hold onto your hats, folks.” Felix rustled in his pocket for the ring, and Lysandros had a moment of thinking do you even know how to operate it, but it turned out Felix did. The instructions must have been in the logbook, or Felix must have been part alien himself, because he aimed the ring at the sky and it lit up with electronic beeps.
Morse Code? Lysandros wondered, but he knew a bit of Morse Code from his Boy Scouts days, and this didn’t sound like it at all. It was just a jumbled series of tiny, shrill sounds that continued for about two minutes until it abruptly siphoned off. Lysandros held his breath, waiting. Waiting for CSIS to appear, waiting for them to be caught and arrested as terrorists, waiting for aliens, waiting for Felix to climb down the tree and be on solid ground again.
One out of four — Felix landed on his feet with only a slight stumble. “Ow,” he said mildly, grabbing onto Lysandros for balance.
“Is that it?” Lysandros asked. “Why is nothing happening?”
“Signals take time to travel, especially into outer space,” Felix said.
“Do you really think something is going to happen?” Lysandros asked quietly. “I mean, really really. This isn’t going to be an elaborate practical joke where I’m on TV and you say ‘gotcha’?”
“Think about it this way,” Felix replied. “If the universe is large enough to contain your God, then I’m sure one other planet isn’t too much to ask for. ‘The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.'” Lysandros remembered that quote from high school English, when Felix used to sit in the desk behind him, the weird sick boy who believed it when Lysandros said their teacher was a mafia don, who always laughed a bit too loudly, who doodled stick figures on the edges of his notebooks, who got up and performed King Duncan in Macbeth like his heart was breaking, who had circles under his eyes sometimes, who kept to himself because nobody knew what to say to him. Lysandros at that age would have never, ever thought that his life would be entwined with that boy’s. You have no imagination, Felix had said to him.
Lysandros inhaled, and then exhaled.
“Freeze!” said a voice from the ravines, and both Lysandros and Felix did freeze, not so much out of obedience but out of surprise. Agent Diana Wurts appeared, followed by the broad-shouldered man who’d accompanied her at Lysandros’ apartment. “I gave the two of you fair warning,” Agent Wurts said as she approached. “Not my fault if you chose not to listen.”
“You shouldn’t have captured a peaceful vessel,” Felix retorted. “Tell me, is the government running experiments on it? Are you keeping the crew as hostages? They never did anything to harm you.”
“Do you even know how naive you sound?” Agent Wurts marveled. “Even presuming we’re talking about the same thing. But who are you that anyone is even going to believe you? Alien conspiracies? UFO landings? Government cover-ups? You’ll sound like a nutjob.”
“You need a reasonable suspicion of crime to arrest us,” Lysandros told her. “We’re just strolling through the park.”
“Hmm, right,” she said. “But there’s no one here to corroborate that story, unfortunately.” Her smile was precise and needle-point sharp. She said something to her partner, who made a gesture with two fingers, and suddenly Lysandros could see other figures all around them, dark and shadowy, none of them friendly. Nervous sweat beaded his palms, made him sick with anticipatory fear, like the first time he had sat in on a surgery and had seen the human heart, red and pulsing among so much bone and blood. Nothing so vulnerable should be so vital, he thought. He glanced over at Felix, who was calm by contrast, even challenging as he stared Agent Wurts down.
“Lysandros,” he said, “what time is it?”
“9:30 exactly,” was the tense reply.
“Then we’re not alone,” Felix said, and he stepped in front of Lysandros, shielding him. “If you hurt him, I will end you. I’m not afraid of anything you can do to me,” he told the agents before he turned to to his left and let out a shout. “Over here! Over here!” And within a blink the CSIS agents had their guns out, and Agent Wurts was yelling, and oh fuck, oh fuck. Lysandros pushed Felix aside, prepared to grab him and run like hell because there was no way they were staying here. Then again, there was no way they could outrun bullets either. God have mercy, but they shouldn’t haven’t come here in the first place, why did he listen to Felix, why did he let his sentimental side get the better of him, they were both going to end up in jail or dead, all because of a story—
He heard shouting. Not from Felix, nor from the CSIS agents, but shouting that grew progressively louder from the semi-circle of trees facing opposite the ravine. “What is that sound?” Lysandros heard Agent Wurts demand. “The park’s supposed to be closed off!” But she was wrong, because those were definitely human voices, like a crowd of people were trampling through the thicket towards them. They burst onto the scene, a loud, mismatched parade of at least thirty people. Lysandros didn’t know who any of them were; they were men and women, young and old, small and large, some shabbily dressed, some looking like they’d just stepped off a Bay Street bank. They were shouting, yelling, waving their arms, cheering, and more than one was holding a camcorder, hollering smile, you’re on livestream! at the stunned CSIS agents, while someone else said, this is so going on Youtube.
A woman fronted the raucous pack. She bellowed, “Felix! That you over there?”
“Angie!” Felix waved.
“Never fear, the internet is here!” she said, and privately Lysandros took back every mean thing he had ever said about the Eye of Hera mailing list, who swarmed the CSIS agents, laughing and hooting and holding their cameras higher up for clearer photos. The agents seemed frozen, unsure of how to sweep up this new chaos, and Agent Wurts was growing red with fury, and Lysandros was sure that somewhere on Twitter, there was a new hashtag exploding about this. He laughed, surprised and relieved, while Felix smiled his supernova smile, moving closer so that their shoulders bumped. He reached out and took Lysandros’ hand, weaving their fingers together.
And then there was a flash in the sky — a green light that cut through the darkness, like a butcher knife, an aurora.