I didn't want her the way I wanted Claire; nor was I drawn to her sexually. There was something else - something different - that had me gravitating to Amie. But I couldn't figure out what.
She threw her keys onto a TV dinner stand set up beside the entry. They clattered against a glass pot, containing geraniums. "Mi casa es su casa," she declared, waving her hand around the room.
I sat down at a little booth, resting my hands on the table and watching Amie as she pulled open cupboards and plugged in her percolator.
"So you enjoy RVing?" I asked her.
"My parents do," she said.
"Ah," I nodded.
Amie was scooping coffee out of a bag now. "Do you? RV, I mean."
"Nah," I answered. "Not 'cos I wouldn't like it, but more because - well, it's not much different than touring, really, because we use tour buses, you know? So that's basically an RV. Just a big one."
She filled the percolator with water. "That must be weird. Do you ever get to go home?" she asked.
"Sometimes," I answered.
"And where is home?"
"I live in Florida. And LA." I'd always used the term 'I live in...' because it had been decades since I felt a real connection anymore to any place except wherever Claire was. My true home would always be beside her. I am homeless now, the thought flashed through my mind, disconcerting and horrible.
Amie flipped the switch on the percolator and turned to look at me. She nodded. "Do you like it there?"
"I like the ocean," I said. It was true, I'd always loved the ocean. No matter when it was that I was near it.
She sat down at the booth and stared at me. Her eyes were hazel, I noticed now for the first time. Her hair long, blonde and softly wavy. She had a long face and the lightest smattering of freckles ever. They probably weren't even visible at all when she wasn't tanned.
"So, where are you from?" he asked, "The lovely granite state?"
"No," she answered. "I hate it here actually."
"How could you? Its a state nicknamed after a countertop surface," I joked.
She smiled. "There aren't enough people."
I thought of the sparse crowd at the show in comparison to larger state venues that we'd played. We'd tried the Gilford pavilion more out of a desire to be centralized and fair to the fans in Vermont and Maine, as well as New Hampshire and Massachusetts, than anything else. But it had been extremely sparse. AJ and I had joked that half the crowd couldn't find the place. Even with the GPS system on the bus Chris, our driver, had difficulty navigating the way there.
"How long have you lived in Florida?" she asked, changing the subject back, "And LA?"
"Florida, since I was 13. LA's more recent."
"Where were you before that?"
Living a completely different life, I thought.
"Upstate New York," I said, going with the story I'd always told the public.
"Do you have a family?"
It felt like an inquisition.
"What is this? An interview?" I laughed and leaned back. "Yes. I do. Where are you from? You never answered me."
"New York," she said flatly.
"Well see, then, we have something in common."
"Mmm." She stood up and took a sponge out of the sink, swiping the counter with it, cleaning invisible dirt away.
I suddenly wished I hadn't come. Despite her lack of numbers, despite the strange attraction I felt. It was so disjointed, this talking, this feeling like neither of us was telling the other everything. I glanced at the window. The silver moonlight had lit up row after row of RVs in the park, some cramped much closer together than Amie's was to the next one. The park was still, though, as the early hours of the morning stole by.
The percolator gurgled, signifying the coffee was ready, and Amie opened a cupboard door and withdrew two heavy white mugs. She poured the coffee and placed a sugar bowl on the table. "Do you want cream?"
"I drink it black," I answered.
"So do I." She put the sugar back on the counter before she sat down across from me again. She ran her fingers across the smooth glass of the mug. I gulped coffee into my mouth, burning my tongue and making it go all fuzzy feeling. Amie seemed to hesitate. "I'm sorry," she said finally.
"Sthorry?" My tongue was still fuzzy.
"Burn your mouth?" she asked. I nodded. She smiled.
"Wud ah you sthorry for?" I asked, holding the tip of my tongue between my forefinger and thumb.
"I'm being kind of a jerk to you," she admitted. "I just..." her eyes met mine and searched them. "I find you... interesting."
"Indarestink?" I asked.
"Yeah," she nodded. "Interesting."
"Wud for?" I asked.
She scrutinized me a moment, considering, then said, leaning in, "You're not what I expected you to be, all the times Abigail talked about you. I mean I've seen you on TV and stuff, but it's different than in person."
"Ah you come-bing ober to the dahk sthide?" I asked, smirking around my tongue.
She shook her head and leaned back again. "Your music still sucks, sorry."
I didn't answer. I couldn't really apologize, or accept the comment gracefully. I mean she'd just dissed something I worked extraordinarily hard on - something I'd poured myself into in a way that I never had prior in my 'other lives'.
I released my tongue.
"So what's your family like?" she asked.
"Crazy," I answered, finally able to talk normal. "The fellas are my real family."
The question made me stumble. "I-" I thought of Jane and Robert, the two people who I called, publically at least, my parents. Robert, I could easily discard, easily say that he was just another man, forget what little we’d shared. But Jane… worse than any abandoned child, I ached for Jane to love me. But she hadn’t wanted me. She didn’t know…why would she want me?
Amie was waiting for an answer, her head tilted ever so slightly to one side.
"I have a brother and three sisters," I said finally. Aaron, BJ, Leslie and Angel were the only good parts that had come out of the relationship with Robert and Jane. It was just strange how much like me Aaron was. As he aged more, though, he became more and more like Robert. I'd been afraid for him more often than the other three. More than once I'd had to save Aaron. Especially recently. The drug bust in Texas was a scary time - I was in Japan and when I heard about it, all I could wonder was what his numbers were like.
"Are you close?" Amie asked.
I hadn't seen any of them in almost six months. We'd done the House of Carter's reality show - something I'd done just to be closer to them, to watch over them - and since then I'd only heard from them a couple times. "I was," I answered. "We've sort of drifted apart."
That was probably the way it should be anyway. I thought painstakingly of what the fellas were going to go through...
Amie nodded. "And your parents?"
I looked at her squarely. "Are named Jane and Robert."
"You don't get along?"
"What's with the interrogation?"
"I'm sorry, too much?" she asked. She sipped her coffee innocently.
Our banter continued on like this, each of us trying to soak information out of the other, trying to solve that question that was lingering just below the surface, the one neither of us wanted to ask.
Somehow around 11pm, our talk became the exchange of war stories - battle wounds inflicted by our respective careers. I told her about crazy fans with rabid eyes and enough desperation to do things like climb barbed wire fences. She, meanwhile, detailed the humorous happenings of working at a retail store in Manhattan. "I only work to stay busy," she confessed, "I don't have to work."
"Not into relaxing much?" I asked.
"Not into wasting time," she replied, looking at me meaningfully.
By 1:30, we'd made the coffee Irish. For once, I was okay with it. I didn't feel the odd sense of control slipping away with Amie because I had no control to begin with. My being unable to see her numbers freed me from responsibility, and so we drank a bottle of Bailey's and about twelve cups of coffee apiece and talked.
As the hours got smaller, I felt guilt for having abandoned AJ at the yacht with nothing but the knowledge that I'd gone to see about a girl and an a-light-a-gator to get home with. But it had been a long time since I'd felt free from time like this that I didn't even consider going back to check on him.
"So, besides being a Backstreet Boy," she said, "What do you do?"
Save lives, I thought.
"I travel," I answered outloud, "You know? See new places, try new things." With so much time, why the hell not? "What do you do? Besides sell marked down merchandise to rude customers for a company of pricks, I mean?"
"I read," she said. "Do you read?"
Now, many people - Backstreet fans in particular - think I'm not much of one for reading. And the fact is that in this particular life I am not. I would much rather play a video game than read a book, it's true, but there is a reason for that. Playstation was not around all the other times I've been through this whole life thing. It's still new and novel to me. Books, however, well. I have read, over time, every single book worth reading. The only books I haven't read, I would dare to venture, are new releases, which I attempt to keep up with, just because it is an impressive accomplishment. One that, although I am the only one beside Claire who knows of it, I am still quite proud of.
"I have," I finally answered Amie.
"What's your favorite book?" she asked.
It was probably the Bailey's in the coffee that made the words spring from my mouth. "A book of poetry by Claire Elizabeth Lawson-Brunner," I told her. Once the sentence was out of me, I blinked, stunned by how easily the truth had slipped out and how smoothly Claire's name had rolled from my tongue, like honey.
"I've never heard of her," Amie said, her voice slow. "Is the book new?"
"I own the only copy," I admitted.
"Girlfriend?" Amie ventured a guess.
"She's dead," I said blankly.
Amie's response was slow coming. I watched as her eyes glazed over and focused away from me, on a ficus in the corner. She was gnawing her lip the way she had on the pier hours before. Finally, after a pause that had me snapping the rubber band against my wrist, she said, "Were you close?"
"Very," I answered, my voice tightening in my throat.
"I'm sorry," Amie said, her voice remorseful.
She reached out her hand and laid it gently around mine, squeezing it. Or intending to, anyway, I'm sure. However, the moment that our fingers touched, a strange surge travelled throughout my body, a cold that crept through the layers of tissue to my bones. Amie looked up at me, our eyes met, and a look of comprehension crossed Amie's face.
Impossible, I thought, It's impossible.
I'd only felt that surge once before, but I knew it. I could feel it, recognize it.
"Lately I've really liked science fiction," I said, pulling my hand out from under hers and returning to the last safe topic we'd been on. "Not like the cheap crap kind but the stuff that makes you think."
"I've never understood the glory of sci-fi myself," Amie said, also leaning away from me. She was staring at the place on the table where our hands had touched. I chanced a glance, feeling almost certain there would be a mark on the table top, but there was nothing there.
"Why's that?" I asked.
"Because it expects you to believe in something that will never be true," she said, "It asks you to believe with blind faith in the impossible."
"How do you know it's impossible."
She paused, clearly trying to figure out how to cross this bridge without offending me, the sci-fi reader. "Well, somethings," she said, "Just ARE impossible...Aren't they?"
I knew right then.
I don't know how I knew, nor if I full comprehended. But I knew. And I knew Amie knew I knew. But I didn't know if she knew I knew she knew or not, so I kept my mouth shut. My blood was making my brain throb inside my head, like it was growing, expanding right to the scalp. I had never felt so strange in my entire existence.
"We're a lot alike," she whispered, "Us." She paused, reading me. "Aren't we?"
Some part of me refused to tell Amie, even though I was sure she didn't need telling. Claire was the only person I had ever told, the only one that I had forged that bond with. Telling another person felt like a violation of the only thing that still connected me to her so strongly.
So, instead of replying to Amie's question, I looked at the clock. "I need to get back to AJ," I said.
She nodded. "I need to get back to Abigail."
We sat still, staring at each other.