The following events never happened in my novel, Without Wings, and unfortunately it can’t happen. This is an alternate universe in which Lasca and Gianni get to be a couple in San Francisco for several months.
When attempting to observe the Gianni in his natural habitat, stealth is paramount. And timing. Timing is a biggie. Luck is with me tonight as the previous evening’s we-so-shouldn’t-because-it’s-almost-bedtime indulgence in a nice, big cup of coffee takes effect.
I doze, curled up on my side, and wait for the telltale dip in the mattress as my lover rolls out of bed to answer the call of nature. Then, I wait until his tip-toeing footsteps carry him out into the hallway and onward to the bathroom. I wait until the bathroom door softly squeaks closed on hinges that absolutely refuse to submit to oil and then I slither out from under the covers, collect my camera from under the bed where I’d stashed it the afternoon before, and soundlessly creep over to the open door.
I brace myself against the doorjamb, adjust the lens’ aperture in anticipation, and then I wait some more.
It turns out there’s quite a lot of waiting involved with Gianni-watching.
I listen for the flush of the toilet – there it goes! – and then, yup, that’s the gush of the tap in the sink and finally—!
The bathroom door squeals open. Gianni – hair mussed, chin and cheeks scruffy with Italian-man-beard, sleep pants skewed to the side and T-shirt twisted – reaches for the light switch. I act quickly.
I scurry back to bed, stowing the camera in its hiding place and snuggling myself back under the covers. I close my eyes.
And instant later, Gianni pauses on the threshold of the room.
“Lasca?” he checks softly and with apparent wariness.
Oh yes, the Gianni is highly intelligent and suspicious of unexpected behavior from those around him. One must never underestimate the Gianni’s acute senses or enviable intellect.
“Hm?” I hum belatedly, nuzzling against the edge of the quilt in a classic sleepy reflex.
I can feel him studying me in the gloom of pre-dawn. The moment drags and stretches. I let my breathing even out and deepen as if I’m in the midst of falling back asleep.
“Nothing,” he eventually replies in a quiet – but still suspicious – tone.
I swallow back my smirk and keep my lips slack and ready for drooling.
Operation Bedhead status: mission complete.
One down, four more to go.
Remember when I mentioned the Gianni’s undisputable intelligence? Well, that just so happens to be the next focus of our little study.
Under the pretense of taking a nine-hundred and sixth inventory of my photos awaiting transport out of the gallery, I watch my subject’s interaction with another male in his territory. Although, technically, I suppose we’re in Paul’s territory at the moment as this is his gallery, but it amuses me to think that Gianni’s territory is wherever I am. The thought isn’t bad for my ego, either. Oh, yeah. Likin’ that.
“Van Gogh wasn’t brilliant,” Gianni quietly counters Paul’s most recent and pompous opinion. “You’re oversimplifying his contributions to modern art in leaving out the matter of his mental condition.”
“I hardly think his masterpieces can be attributed to his self-perceived madness.”
Gianni’s eyes flash. I hide a grin. Where is my camera? I need to document this moment. Gianni in the midst of kicking the daylights out of someone’s intellect is a Must for the scrapbook.
I nonchalantly lean the framed photos against the wall, abandoning them in mid inventory and somehow managing to disregard my obsessive need to keep tabs on my photos at all Lasca-conscious times. (Perhaps they do require constant supervision; that’s certainly the case with my keychain. Luckily, Gianni is holding onto that for me. Giannis are very useful, you know.)
Gianni corrects Paul’s rose-tinted view of van Gogh, “He was desperate to be rid of the voices and whispers in his mind.”
“I’m not disputing that. The man cut off his own ear, after all,” Paul contributes self-importantly.
One corner of Gianni’s mouth lifts in a sexily wry grin. I know this grin well. I’ve succumbed to its sheer hormone-rioting-appeal on numerous occasions. (And at moments like this, I’m perfectly happy that math is not my strong suit. It’s probably better for all involved that I not be aware of precisely how many times I’ve fallen under the thrall of that particular almost-leer, might-be-smirk, is-definitely-lickable smile.) And yet, somehow, Gianni seems to be utterly unaware of its power, which is probably just as well. If I were to catch Paul – perfectly straight and very-much-engaged-to-a-woman Paul – eying up the Gianni with a lascivious leer, I might have to lock someone up for the remainder of my natural life. I’ll give you three guesses on who that someone is… and I’ll tell you right now, he’s not a gallery owner.
“And the fact that he did sever his own left earlobe doesn’t make you think that something of his suffering influenced his painting style?” Gianni challenges softly but unignoreably.
I wander over to the gallery door beside which sits my backpack, a huge roll of mega-bubble wrap (for transporting framed photos, of course), and my camera case. The latter of which, I commence with emptying as if I’m looking for my keys (which are actually in Gianni’s jacket pocket, but I have my share of ditsy moments, so I’m pretty sure I can pull this off if he asks me what I’m doing).
I snap off the camera’s lens cap and, using my years of experience with handling photography equipment, set the depth of field on the lens and guestimate the focus.
“The art and the madness both came from his consciousness,” Gianni further argues. “And his application of excessive amounts of paint in his later works could very well be a response to the dementia.”
I can tell it irks Paul to feel unbalanced by this theory, which is probably correct. Gianni has a point of view on humanity that’s hard to argue with. “I’m not following you.”
I am, I think as I continue rummaging in my case, holding the camera up as if keeping it and its shadow out of my way so that I can peer into the depths of the bag.
“Van Gogh’s tormenting hallucinations were interspersed with visionary outpourings. Were those your choices, which would you rather prolong?” Gianni cocks a brow before delivering his conclusion, “It’s no wonder he piled on as much paint as he could.”
Gianni smiles with only a little smugness.
The sound of the camera shutter exposing a frame of film echoes in the charged silence. I glance at the camera in my hand, then up at the startled men across the room, then back at the camera.
“Whoops! Sorry about that,” I say with the perfect amount of shock. “I just wasn’t paying attention. Carry on! Let me know if you need someone to referee your duel.”
Paul rolls his eyes, uncrosses his arms and mutters, “I doubt that’ll be necessary.”
Gianni gives Paul a friendly smile. “I apologize. Van Gogh’s career is an interest of mine.”
“We all have our obsessions,” Paul allows and wisely doesn’t volunteer his own. As he gets back to work wrapping and packing up my photos for transport, Gianni eyes me with an increasingly-familiar suspicious look.
He glances at my emptied camera bag and then wonders aloud, “Did you find what you were looking for?”
“Keys,” I blurt mindlessly. Those dreamily dark, infinite and depthless eyes of his always manage to clear the slate.
Smiling with amusement, he wordlessly reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out my keychain.
“My hero,” I breathe with a grin.
I try not to think too hard about the fact that, if he’s the hero, then that must make me the villain with the secret weapon. Oh, how true. And I’m now two objectives into my mission.
Getting a picture of the Gianni in one of his elusive, heroic moments is going to be a challenge. I can tell already. Ooh, I’ve got goose bumps . This is gonna be fun.
Cue: Idiot Lasca.
Now, normally, I wouldn’t welcome her silly airhead into my precious Gianni-time, but in order for the Gianni to show his heroic side, he’s gotta have someone to rescue and, as it just so happens, I’m well acquainted with the one person on the planet he’d do pretty much anything to save.
But let’s not get carried away here. I’m not going to, like, tie myself to a railroad track, dial him up on my cell phone with my nose and beg him to find me before the next Amtrack. Which is really too bad, because that sounds really epic. No, I’m going to have to settle for something far more mundane.
Although I don’t like to admit to it, I can do mundane stupidity.
I dump my backpack on the puke-orange sofa in my office and rummage around for my cell phone. I listen to the sounds of life (or, more likely, blind panic) in the photo lab across the hall. There’s always someone printing up until the very last minute. Well, the student portfolios are due at 2:00 p.m. today, so may the photo gods be with that hapless soul…
I select Gianni’s number from the phone’s menu. He answers on the second ring.
“Hey, ‘Anni…” I begin in a rushed tone that’s trying to sound contrite.
“You forgot your portfolio case,” he anticipates in a warm, indulgent tone. Truly, I don’t deserve him. “I’m bringing it to the college as we speak.”
“Wow. I am officially impressed,” I tell him truthfully. “How did you know I needed it today?”
“You’re kidding right? You’ve been telling me that today is the big day.”
Ah, right. The quick-and-dirty history of photography lecture that I’m supposed to deliver. I guess he’d been paying attention to all my disjointed rambling after all. My heart melts. “What’s your ETA?”
“Walking up to the college doors now.”
“Seriously?” I squeak, scrambling for my camera. He must have taken a cab right after I’d gotten on the bus. The man is going to turn Bay Bridge Taxi into a Fortune 500 Company single-handedly. Or, rather, single-wallet-edly. Well, if that’s how he wants to spend his money, who am I to criticize?
“Would I joke about something this important?” he replies, sounding a tiny bit miffed.
“Knowing how dangerous I can be when enraged? You’d have to be suicidal.”
He chuckles at the thought of a marshmallow like me being the least bit threatening to someone like him. Yeah, well, he hasn’t gotten a whiff of my shoes yet. When I beat him over the head with one of them, he’ll know the meaning of terror. Oh yes, he will.
But, that’s for later. At the moment, I’m busy being impressed and grateful. And juggling a camera and a cell phone.
“I’m gonna owe you for this, aren’t I?” I guess as the lens cap pops off and clatters mutinously behind the sofa. Dang it.
“You bet you will.”
“Will a free photo sitting square us up?” I try.
His chuckle this time is dark. “Not a chance.”
I hear footsteps echoing down the art building hallway, approaching. “Ah, the sound of my doom,” I grumble. I hang up on his bark of laughter which rebounds off the student-artwork-lined walls. Clutching the camera, I climb onto the sofa, and brace myself for The Shot. I’m only going to get one chance here, so I’d better take it.
A moment later, Gianni steps into my office, portfolio case in hand, looking all manly and heroic with a strong chin and the glint of purpose in his eyes. Perfect.
He turns at the sound and gives me a speculative look. “Lasca?” he asks, his tone seeming to form an entire question from the single word.
I grin. “Thanks for the rush delivery,” I tell him, picking the camera up off of the sofa arm where I’d braced it for stability and rolling off the cushions (upon which I’d been lying on my stomach… but seriously, how else was I supposed to get the magical Majestic angle right? No way was I gonna lie down on that carpet. The last time it saw a vacuum cleaner was… well, no one knows, actually, which is pretty scary).
“Was that a propaganda shot?” he demands, referring to the angle at which I’d snapped his photo. Many a tyrannical dictator has taken advantage of the low-angle shot to make them look scarier, stronger… taller.
“You,” I inform him as I reclaim my portfolio case, “do not need propaganda that makes you look good.” There is not a thing in the world that could make him look “better,” not in my opinion. He is dangerously tall, dark and handsome.
He nods toward the camera still clutched in my grasp. “So what was that all about?”
I give him a sweet smile, open my mouth as if to confess All, and then I glance past his shoulder at the clock. “Oh, holy cow pattie. Is that the time? Gotta run!” I inform him in a rush. “Slide projectors don’t set themselves up. Thanks for the portfolio case. You’re a lifesaver!”
I skedaddle. If I’m very lucky, later tonight I’ll be able to distract Gianni from the question I hadn’t answered with a little help from Victoria’s Secret.
I cackle to myself. Only two more items on my To Photograph List.
I am a very happy woman.
When I arrive home from work that evening, earlier than promised, I hear a weird howl coming through the front door. For a moment, I can’t comprehend the sound that’s assaulting my eardrums. The howl glissandos into a screech that sounds vaguely harmonic.
No, not harmonic – harmonica!
I just about do a happy dance in the hallway outside my apartment. I probably would have (the neighbors wouldn’t have minded – they know better than to Ask Questions by now) but I can’t bring myself to waste precious time. I grab my always-and-forever-present camera, unlock the door, shoulder it open as quietly as I can, aim and—!
Gianni doesn’t even hear the sound of it over the harmonica pressed to his lips. He’d claimed that he could play the device ages ago. This is the first proof he’s given me that he hadn’t been trying to ingratiate himself with me via geeky goodness.
And yes, playing the harmonica is wonderfully geeky. My toes tingle with the thrill.
His cupped hand waves, breaking up the note, warbling it with the kind of ease that comes from a whole lot of practice. He then lowers the instrument and, opening his eyes, arches a brow at me.
“’Oh, Canada’?” I guess, kicking the door shut behind me.
“’Temptation’,” he corrects me.
“I’m still working on it.”
“Well, you’re making progress!”
“So are you.”
“Sure am. One foot in front of the other. That’s how I get through day after day of proto-photographers,” I reply, kicking off my loafers and heading for the refrigerator.
“I meant with the photographs.”
“Well, I am a photographer,” I say, prying open the fridge door and grinning at the boxes of film sitting on the too-short middle shelf, awaiting use. I’m pretty sure fridge engineers are closet photographers; there’s always a too-short shelf in a fridge.
“The photos of me,” he counters, upping the ante.
“Oh?” I try out the wide-eyed Innocent Lasca look, wondering if I can summon enough genuine shock to sell it. Gianni doesn’t buy.
“Is that why you didn’t tell me your department meeting had been canceled?”
Actually, it hadn’t been canceled. It hadn’t even been scheduled. I’d lied about that. Kind of. Time to distract him. I decide to use the truth. That often has the effect of distracting subjects like the Gianni from the scent of a lie. “And here I thought it would be a nice surprise!” And it was. For me, anyway. “I told you playing that the harmonica was cute in a geeky way.”
He reaches out and closes the refrigerator door, crowding me back against the kitchen counter and caging me there with his longer arms. He stares at me with his dark eyes as if he has the power to read my mind. He doesn’t, thank the founders of photography, but I let myself get distracted by the sexy way his dark, wavy hair tumbles over his forehead.
Just that quickly, the only thought in my head is “yum…” and the only emotion in my body is delightful, hormone-produced, garden variety Lust (and a highly robust specimen at that).
Sensing this, Gianni lets out a long breath and informs me, “You’re hopeless.”
“On the contrary!” I reply as he leans in and presses a kiss to my neck. “I’m very hopeful…”
And I do not hope in vain. Who knew my apartment’s tiny kitchen had enough space for, um, well. You get the idea. Whoo boy.
The victory at snagging photo number four makes it just that much better, too.
The Gianni is amazingly cooperative when it comes to responding to challenges. Camera prepped, poised and ready, I use this to my advantage.
“Once upon a time, you claimed not to be worthy of my tights,” I kid him. Oh, yes. Once upon a trip to meet my parents, he’d lumped ruffled collars, pantaloons, and tights together in the category of Good Things That Have Come To An End. Along with the widespread use of the word “ergo.”
He evaluates the costume I’d picked up for him. Too bad I can’t take him to a Renaissance Festival. We’ll have to settle for the college’s Photo Club Halloween Party. “Is this supposed to be a Shakespearian costume?”
“Unfortunately, yes,” I reply, anticipating his criticism of it. “I borrowed it from the drama department. Along with this lovely item.” I flash the pirate wench garb which is guaranteed to turn me into a busty, buxom bar maid. Or Silvia, the drama department chair, is going to have a lot to answer for. “You’ll be King Lear and you’ll be saving those leers for me, your Highness.”
He chuckles and picks up his costume.
Wow, if I’d known that getting Gianni into a pair of tights had been this easy, I’d have scheduled a random masquerade party ages ago. Fifteen minutes later, I’m in the process of wiggling into my leather boots when Gianni emerges from the bathroom.
“Hold up!” I command as he reaches for his rain coat. San Francisco is a foggy, drizzly mess, of course. I guess it’s just as well that no one on the street will get to ogle his manly man legs. The students at the party, however… Well, my shoes are at the ready.
“I need a photo of this,” I inform him. My boobs just about jump out of my bodice when I lean over to grab my camera from the end table. “Whew, glad I tested this costume first,” I tell him as I perform a shimmy to get all my tabs back into their respective slots.
I glance up and… Why yes, that is a leer on King Lear’s face.
Grinning, I hoist the camera and command, “Say ‘sexy’!”
He complies. “Sexy,” he rumbles, sending shivers down my spine.
I set the camera down as he considers the rain jacket draped over one of the kitchen chairs. Glancing at me out of the corner of his eye, he asks, “How determined are you that we go to this party?”
“One hundred percent,” I inform him, trying my best to resist the promise of wonderful, messy sex that I see in his expression.
“So there actually is a party, not like the never-was department meeting?”
Crud. How had he found out about that?
He grins broadly at my brief (but incriminating) frown. He then poses a different question entirely. “How determined are you to be on time?”
Clasping my hands behind my back (which has the lovely effect of thrusting my bosom forward), I sway-saunter over to him. “I was hoping for fashionably late, your Highness.” I give him a long, slow, come hither-let’s-tither look. “If you have a moment, why don’t we step into my room and check the fit of those pantaloons?”
That’s not all we check the fit of, and the happy result of those thorough investigations is that we are very, very fashionably late for the student party.
Well, this doesn’t just suck; this inhales vigorously.
I stare at the photographs laid out before me on my desk and I just can’t get past it. They all, each and every one of them, lack something, something vital and inspiring and Gianni. I look from the bedhead photo to the impressive intellect photo, then from the hero photo to the geek photo to the should-be-grand-finale photo of him dressed in cheesy Shakespearian-wanna-be duds and I sigh.
Five photos of my lover. That’s not too much to ask for, is it? I mean, I guess they look all right. I can identify Gianni clearly but there’s something… missing.
I glance up. I don’t even try to hide the photos at the sound of his voice. I’ve failed to document him accurately. In these images, he’s just a guy. In these images, there’s no trace of his soul, which I see so clearly whenever I look at him. Even now.
He frowns at me worriedly. I guess he has every right to be worried. He’d knocked on my office door and I hadn’t leapt out of my seat to race him to the cab. Tonight is Pizza Night at my favorite pizzeria. It is generally a blissfully orgasmic experience for my taste buds. My lack of enthusiasm is probably making him think I’ve been abducted by aliens and replaced by a vegan lookalike.
“What is this?” he asks, not sounding the least bit surprised to see images of himself scattered across my mountain of a messy desk.
“A failed documentary,” I answer, coming clean. “They’re you, but not the you that I see.”
He reaches out and, grasping the arms of my rickety office chair, swivels me squeakily around to face him. “Maybe because you forgot something?”
He smiles slowly, one corner of his mouth lifting and stretching. “Like the fact that there’s no me without you.”
They’re not just empty words. I know this, but I still don’t get what it is he’s trying to tell me.
“Come on,” he urges. “I’ll show you.”
Thirty minutes later, I regard the tiny structure sitting in the shadows of Fisherman’s Wharf with considerable doubt. “A photo booth?”
“You see a photo booth. I see—” He glances at me over his shoulder as he feeds quarters into the thing. “—a potential documentary.”
The booth light clicks on just as my own light bulb blinks to life. When Gianni drags me inside, I let him. Ten minutes, some giggling and a bruised knee later, I’m holding five photos, arranged in a strip, in my hands. I stare at them in utter and unabashed fascination. These. These are the photos I’d wanted of Gianni.
I glance at the first of the series, during which Gianni has sat me on his lap (causing the bruised knee when I’d banged it into the side of the booth). I’m grinning maniacally and Gianni looks totally flummoxed as I ruffle his hair with my fingers.
In the next, I’ve just finished asking him where I can find the undomesticated ungulate district. He looks as if he’s seriously considering the question.
The third shows him holding my hand, pressing his lips against my knuckles. (I’d grinned so wide I think I’ve permanently lost the ability to frown.) No doubt he thinks he’s softening the blow when he confesses that he has no idea where I can find wild horses in this town, but that’s okay.
He kisses me in the next shot, his hands framing my face and my fingers gripping the lapels of his jacket. And then, in the final frame, he presses his forehead to mine. His eyes are closed and mine are half-lidded with lust and love and a million other things that, in combination, are making him glow.
Yes, these are the photos I’d wanted. This is the man I see. And Gianni had been right: when I’d taken myself out of the equation, he’d simply looked… normal and ordinary when I know he isn’t. In short, I cannot hope to make an accurate documentary of my lover if it does not include us.
“Thank you,” I whisper, tears stinging my eyes.
He presses a kiss to my temple and whispers, “You create me.”
And really, there is no better gift in the entire universe. I lean into his warmth, sighing, heart melting, stomach growling.
Oh, right. Pizza.
Gianni laughs and then he ushers me back into the waiting taxi. There’s a pizza out there that’s calling to me. Gianni knows this and he knows me; he knows us.
I gaze at the strip of five photos as I reach for his hand. Us. Now that’s a project I could work up some enthusiasm for. I wonder how many rolls of film I’ll need to document it properly. With any luck, a lifetime’s worth.