When I arrived at Amazon House, I was surprised to see Matt in the living room helping Lily roll up a banner. From what Diana had said about the strike, I'd assumed it would be an all-female affair.
Everyone greeted me with wide smiles. "Welcome home, stranger!" Lily said, laughing. "Diana said you would be coming."
"So how was it out there in the wide world?" Matt asked, giving the banner to Lily and giving me a hug which was a bit too close to be platonic.
"Nowhere near as exciting as back home," I said, extricating myself from Matt's embrace.
"Right. Exciting," Lily said, the smile temporarily vanishing from her face. I couldn't remember ever having seen her so serious. Usually even when she was depressed her smile was wide and her laugh loud.
"I heard," I said lamely. "I'm sorry."
Lily shrugged. "I hardly knew the girl. It was just such a shock. It's all so senseless. But at least now we're doing something about it." Despite the aggressive note, Lily's voice was a little shaky. Matt draped a comforting arm around her shoulder.
Feeling dismissed, I wandered over to Myrine, who gave me a hug too. "Let me look at you, girl," she said, holding me at arm's length. "You're skinny."
"You should talk. Is Mercy here too?"
"She's coming directly to the rally with Bruce and Bennie. She doesn't know how long they'll hold out."
Diana joined us, her arms loaded with signs sporting slogans like "Women Unite! Take Back the Night!", "Declare WAR! Women Against Rape" and "Careful! I kick!" "I like that one," I said, pointing to the last.
"That's mine," Myrine said.
"I should have known," I said laughing, relieved to be out of the melodrama and back to the comedy, however hard it might be to maintain.
"Why don't you two help me load up the car?" Diana asked, impatience creeping into her voice.
"What? You guys aren't riding there on your bikes?"
"Times they are a changin'," Myrine drawled as Diana dumped a load of signs into my arms. "We all have cars now. Except Diana. And jobs. Except Matt and Adam. Matt never will, and Adam can't tear himself away from the university."
"Yeah, but when he does tear himself away, with that physics degree he'll be better off than any of you," I predicted.
"If he can bear to leave Oregon," Myrine added.
"All too true." I followed Myrine to the door, bumbling my way as well as I could behind the signs, and when she stopped, I nearly bumped into her.
"Hi guys," a familiar voice came from somewhere in front of us. "Anything I can do to help?"
I peered past my political armful to see Gareth in the doorway, uncommonly big and slightly bearded, a sheepish smile on his thick lips. I had forgotten how tall he was. Since I had seen him last, he had taken to wearing glasses, which gave his broad, childish face an incongruously intellectual touch. But otherwise he didn't look like he'd changed much at all. Sure enough, when he saw me, he stumbled the rest of the way through the door, bumped into my load of signs, and held out his arms just in time to catch half of what he had made me lose. He'd always been a bit of a klutz.
"Yeah," I said. "But you've already relieved me of most of these."
The sheepish smile left Gareth's face and his eyes went wide. "It's... it's... you!" he said. "What are you doing here?"
"Carrying signs," I replied. I enjoyed his discomfiture immensely. I would have thought a name like mine wouldn't be easy to forget, but Gareth forgot it. I was charmed. A sudden memory grabbed me in the region of my crotch, how we had once made love in a deserted corner of the U of O library, next to Gottfried von Strassbourg and Walther von der Vogelweide. Gareth had always been fond of crazy encounters like that--he revelled in the extra excitement of possibly being discovered. One Halloween at Animal House he had dressed up in a trench coat, dark glasses, and flesh-colored tights and T-shirt, which he had displayed with dramatic flair to anyone who dared look at him. Masquerades draw out true characters and hidden desires. At the same party, Myrine had chosen the prophetic attire of an amazon.
"I thought you were in China or somewhere?"
"It's a little difficult to get into China." Finally someone was interested in my travels, and I exaggerated for him shamelessly. "But I've been almost everywhere else."
"Can't you two find somewhere else to flirt than right in front of the door?" Diana scolded. "You always manage to get in the way, don't you Gareth?"
Gareth's sheepish grin reappeared and we followed Diana out to Myrine's pickup. One of the most endearing things about Gareth was the way he let himself be abused. He was a sucker for punishment and jokes of all kinds at his expense, and whenever he was victimized, he would respond with timid laugh and shy grin. Gareth was simply a woman's man (which is not to be confused with a lady's man), a man who appealed to women without running after them. So was Adam. So was Matt even, in his own more sleazy way.
"Hero!" Gareth said triumphantly, his expression that of a child who has mastered a difficult problem.
"Glad you could finally remember me."
"Well, shit, Hero, I wasn't exactly expecting you to be here. And it's been a long time."
It certainly had. And to judge by Gareth's reaction to my appearance on the scene, celibacy might be a little more difficult than I had first imagined.