Her presence was warm breath in his ear. Lily was here somewhere. Jack was sure of it. He hadn't gotten naked yet, but somehow she had found him.
He became aware of her as he was chalking sketches to illustrate various theories of the Moon's origin to the people in the Zilker Clubhouse. He didn't see her, but he felt a puff of air from her wings, and then her breath. It distracted him, and as he lost his train of thought, he turned away from the chalkboard to face his audience.
They looked at him dully. He didn't know most of them, so he was glad that a few of his friends had shown up. Stephen and Halle were in the back row, and Katy was coming in from the patio with Halle's children in tow. Jack didn't see Carolyn or her boyfriend anywhere, but that didn't surprise him. Carolyn was probably still mad at him for not calling her first when he was arrested.
"Um, where was I?" he asked.
The audience shifted in their seats. No one answered him.
Jack's face began itching. In jail a month ago, he had decided to grow a beard again. It was still looking pretty scraggly, and patches on both sides of his chin were coming in gray. He hoped that Lily liked beards, particularly beards with gray in them. If not, he had his rechargeable electric razor out in the car.
"Well then," he said, scratching his jaw, "stop me if I repeat myself too much." He turned back to the chalkboard, which he had found in the clubhouse's storage room. He would have preferred to use a slide projector with some nifty illustrations, but he hadn't gotten the necessary materials together in time. In fact, he had forgotten that he was supposed to do this at all until an hour ago.
He had left a note for Lily on the refrigerator, but he was still surprised that she had been able to find him without the usual moonlight-on-naked-flesh requirement. Now that he knew she was here, though, he felt much better. He knew she would wait for him until he was finished with his presentation. She would like the fact that he was teaching people about her home.
He took a deep breath and plunged ahead.
"What I've sketched out here are three old attempts to explain how the Earth and the Moon came to be together," he said. "First there's the simultaneous creation idea, which is a load of crap because the Moon is iron poor and the Earth is iron rich, mainly in its core. The Earth also has a lot of volatiles, like water, and the Moon has none. If they'd formed from the same cloud of primordial glop, they'd be more similar in composition.
"Next there's the mitosis notion, which suggests that a goopy Earth spun faster and faster until a blob broke off to become the Moon. This hypothesis is also a load of crap, because if it were true, the Earth would still be spinning fast enough to fling us all through the ceiling."
A few people in the audience chuckled at this, which startled Jack and made him pause for a few seconds. What in holy hell, he wondered, would be funny about being flung through the ceiling?
"Third," he said then, shaking off the disruption, "is the capture hypothesis, which claims that the Moon was just wandering through space and happened to be grabbed by the Earth's gravitational field. This idea isn't entirely crap, but the odds against it are incredible. It's far more likely that such a big stray chunk would either escape the field or plow right into the planet."
Jack took a chalkboard eraser from the tray and wiped out his three sketches. Then he looked back at the audience and grinned. This was going to be the best part. Lily would really like this.
"So," he said, "how, then, did the Moon come into being? Anybody?"
The audience was silent. Most of them looked pretty bored. Even his friends. He guessed that almost everyone was here for extra credit of some kind. They didn't really give a shit about the Moon at all.
But he would make them see the error of their attitudes.
"The true solution to the problem," he said, facing the chalkboard, "is obvious. Think about it: The Moon can be thought of as the child of the Earth, right? And where do children come from? The answer, of course, is--"
In huge letters, with the chalk squealing, he wrote:
He heard a collective gasp behind him.
"That's right," he said as he started to sketch a diagram beside SEX. "Coitus. Congress. Boinking. Schtupping, romping, thumping, banging, whanging, porking. In other words, aardvarking. Coming together in a mindless, passionate embrace and--" He dropped the chalk, snatched up another eraser, and slapped it against the first, creating a huge cloud of white dust. "Blammo! Changing your life forever with one momentary intoxicated act of all-consuming lust."
He paused and coughed, then wiped his forehead with the back of his hand before turning to face his audience again.
"Whew!" he said. "Anybody else getting tumescent?"
The audience stared. His friends looked pale.
"Oh, come on," Jack said, exasperated. "We're all adults here." As he spoke, he caught sight of Halle's kids in the back of the room. "Well, most of us are, anyway. And those of us who aren't will be growing up soon enough."
He turned back to the board. "See, what we've got here is the Earth, which I will henceforth refer to as Mom. Whizzing through space over here is a randy, maybe Mars-sized planetoid we can call Dad." He drew a series of arrows from Dad to Mom. "Now, what happens when you get a randy guy wandering through the cosmos, and he comes across this buxom, fertile, and--this is crucial--lonely
babe doing nothing but spending her life going around and around in the same tired circle? Why, he zeroes in on her, seduces her, and--"
Jack threw his head back and gave an imitation of some of the sounds he himself often made while achieving orgasm. Then he glanced at his audience again and saw that a few people had left their chairs and were going outside. No doubt they wanted to take a good look at the Moon as he spoke. He began shouting so that they could still hear him.
"But Dad makes a fatal mistake!" Jack bellowed, taking up the chalk again and drawing a cluster of rays emanating from the point of Dad's impact with Mom. "Rather than just using Mom for his own hedonistic pleasure and then moving on, he falls in love
with her. But, alas, Mom doesn't love him,
and he's devastated. In fact, he blows up into a zillion pieces, with the heat of his tragic death boiling away all of the volatiles from his remains. And Mom, realizing once it's too late that she did
love the jerk, a little, loses some of her own outer crust in that same hot mingling of sex and self-destruction. But her core, her true heart of iron, remains unviolated and strong. You see, she's a survivor."
He began tapping the chalk around Mom in a circular pattern, leaving a ring of jumbled dots. "So what Mom winds up with," he said, "is a spread-out embryo consisting of bits of herself mingled with bits of Dad, a diffuse zygote of sorts, circling around and around her. Eventually most of these bits come together, and they grow into a beautiful daughter."
He left the chalkboard and walked across to the tall windows on the east side of the room. The full Moon was high over the city now, and its pure light made him shiver in anticipation. "And there she is. Her mother named her Luna. She goes through phases, and she jerks us around a lot--but you shouldn't blame either her or her mother for the way she was raised. Remember how tough it is to be a single parent, or the child of one."
He admired the daughter's beauty for a long moment, then sighed and turned to his audience. A significant number of people seemed to have left. But his friends were still there.
As he winked at them, a whisper told him that Lily was waiting in a shaft of moonlight in the grove of trees north of the clubhouse.
"Any questions?" he asked his audience.
There didn't seem to be any, so he thanked them for coming, pushed open a window, and jumped outside. Once on the patio, he headed for the trees. As he walked, he stripped off his sweater and started to work on the buttons of his shirt.
Then someone grasped his arm from behind and stopped him. He turned and saw that it was Stephen. Stephen's eyes looked big and worried behind the thick lenses of his glasses.
Jack was concerned. "Hey, man, what's the matter?" he asked, putting a hand on Stephen's shoulder. "You look like you've just lost your best friend."
Stephen took a breath as if he were about to speak, but then let it out and shook his head.
Katy came up beside Stephen, looked at Jack, and gasped. "Jack, button your shirt! You're going to freeze."
Jack smiled. His friends were sweet, but there were things that they just didn't get.
"No, I'm fine," he said, "but Steve seems to be upset about something. Would you take care of him, please? I'll come back later to make sure he's okay, but right now I really have to go. I have an urgent appointment that I can't miss. See, I had to miss it last month because of being arrested and all, and if I miss it again--well, she might think I'm blowing her off." His throat tightened as he thought of that awful possibility. "And I can't let that happen. So if you'll look after Steve for now--"
"I don't need looking after," Stephen said. His voice quavered. "But you do, Jack. Something's gone wrong, and your friends want to help you make it right again."
Jack was discombobulated. What, had his friends all become so static and dull that they didn't understand the concept of a hot date?
"Here," Katy said, reaching for him. "Let's button up your shirt and--"
A high-pitched scream interrupted Katy, and Jack looked past her and saw that Halle's children were racing around the patio throwing punches at each other while Halle tried to catch them. Stephen and Katy both turned toward the commotion, and Stephen's hand fell away from Jack's arm.
Jack took two steps backward, then turned and ran into the grove.
He pulled off his shirt and dropped it, zigzagged around several trees, and searched for a shaft of moonlight. He heard Katy shout his name, but he didn't stop. He would explain things to his friends later. Right now he didn't have the time. Right now he had priorities...
And there she was, caught in a moonbeam, standing beside the trunk of a live oak. She was wearing a long blue cloak, and as Jack ran up to her, she opened it and let it fall to the ground.
Jack stumbled at the sight of her smooth, pale skin, and he dropped to his knees at her feet. His chest was thundering, and he was out of breath. Lily touched his forehead with a fingertip, and an electric shiver rippled over his skin.
"Nice speech back there," Lily said. "You left out a lot of things, though."
Jack caught her hand in both of his and kissed it. He loved her hands. They were strong. "I was in a hurry," he said into her palm. "I wanted to see you."
Lily looked past him, toward the clubhouse. "Your friend Stephen is heading this way. We can't stay here."
Jack looked over his shoulder. He didn't see Stephen, but he knew that Lily had terrific night vision, so he took her word for it.
"Where can we go?" he asked, looking back up at her.
She smiled. "Do you trust me?"
Jack rolled his eyes. "Does a fish trust water?"
"Then take hold of my ankles," Lily said, "and don't let go."
Jack did as she said, grasping her where her claws ended and the white flesh of her calves began.
Then Lily spread her wings, and they rose into the sky.
As Lily picked up speed, the cold air rushed past and stung Jack's face and chest. He didn't mind. They flew high above the trees, high above the stream of red and white lights on MoPac, and high above the downtown buildings outlined in red, blue, and gold.
"By the way," Lily called down to him, "I like the beard."
Jack's heart leapt.
As Lily turned south and they crossed the Colorado River, Jack looked down and saw the face of the full Moon shining up from the rippled water. The Earth's beautiful daughter was laughing in delight, so Jack laughed with her.
Excerpted from Lunatics by Bradley Denton. Copyright © 1997 by Bradley Denton. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.