Containing a happy ending, a little scuffle, and a sort of truce.

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It was the end of April in Oregon and it wasn't raining. Portland was having a Peace Party in the Park, the strike was being called off, and the action was going down with a bang, or at least a lot of noise. Slight of Hand hadn't started playing yet, but Rick's band had. A band with a token male would follow a band with a token female, a good omen for true equality of the sexes, on stage at any rate. In a true spirit of peace and forgiveness, Reilly's band was even scheduled to follow Diana's band in the festivities.

The omens in front of the stage didn't seem to be quite as favorable, however. The old Animal House gang was gathered there and, in spite of the proposed peace, there was a minor disagreement underway.

"Are you guys trying to provide us with a happy ending or something?" Myrine asked disparagingly.

Lily laughed her compulsive laugh. "Happy ending? Now comes the hard part!" She felt a tiny twinge of misgiving that Myrine might be taking this personally, but decided to assume she wasn't. (I was still blissfully unaware of complications possibly tainting the conversation and much more aware of Gareth's thumb hooked into the waistband of my jeans and his fingers straying toward my ass.)

"Thanks a lot," Adam said.

"There's no such thing as a happy ending," I threw in, unable to resist the temptation to utter philosophical nonentities at appropriate moments. "If something has ended, it's ended, and what's so happy about that?"

"Wrong, Hero," Mercy protested. "My marriage is over, which makes me the one with the happy ending, not Lily and Adam."

Lily laughed. "That's one way of seeing it, I guess. But won't you guys pretend at least a little to be happy for us? Just to make us happy?" Lily pleaded with playful tone and serious intent.

"Marriage is a conventional cop-out," I insisted. "Whatever happened to the renegade spirit? The outlaw mentality of the Dirty Dozen?"

"Aw, come on, Hero," Adam said. "None of us are real rebels anymore, if we ever were. We've all compromised long ago."

"Well, can't we at least try to resist convention?"

"Look who's talking," Myrine reminded me dryly. "People in glass houses."

"Okay, okay, so I shouldn't talk."

"Everyone has to make the mistake of marriage at least once," Mercy said.

"Or almost make it," I added. Before my trot around the globe, I almost had, but I was lucky; Lee disappeared and stayed disappeared. We got engaged and he stood me up, left me high and dry, far from the swamp of domesticity. I didn't even get my feet wet. Yes, I was depressed, desperate even, but I took off and shook it off and learned distraction isn't that hard after all.

"Hero, you're just a romantic at heart," Adam said.

"Me!"

"We'll never live up to your expectations, you know." There was a hint of a smile in Adam's low voice, lurking playfully behind the words. "Lily and I will probably even have a house in the suburbs in a couple of years."

"Aw, shit," I complained. "Well, as long as it isn't split level," I added, trying to be conciliatory.

I looked at the two, who for some bizarre reason had always been the ideal couple of the old Animal House gang. Maybe we were being a little unfair. What they were getting into wasn't for me, but they had gone through so much together that maybe they would finally be able to reach a compromise. By now they'd learned not to look to love for relief from the daily struggle all the time, and to admit that it's part of the struggle too; a part with more comforts, perhaps, but way short of a cure-all. If more people saw it that way it might help diminish resentments, maybe even help end the war.

And anyway, comedies are supposed to end with a marriage, so I assume it's unavoidable.

I dredged up all the charitable impulses at my command and stuck out my hand. Lily took it. "Good luck," I said.

Lily laughed. "I guess reluctant is better than not at all."

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