The cell phone rang. "Jon, are you going to be at your apartment for the next couple of hours?"
"Um, yeah, Lin.....why?"
"Do you have anything important planned?"
"Not really, just chores."
"May I invite myself over?"
"Uh......sure, I guess so."
A few minutes later Jon Smith opened the door to admit the blonde, elfin woman carrying a full shopping bag. Puzzled, he watched her begin unloading the bag's contents on his small table.
"What's going on, Lin?" he asked, eyeing the neatly folded towels, the small items he couldn't quite make out.
"Indulge me, Jon," she replied, picking up a towel and something else in her other hand. She walked across the tiny room to where he stood. "Raise your arm," she ordered.
He did so, still baffled. She placed what he now could see were safety pins between her lips, used both hands to begin winding the towel around his upper arm.
"Uh.....Lin...." he said, a hot flush beginning to creep from his chest to his hairline.
"Just a second...." she mouthed around the pins, still working at smoothing the terry cloth, using first one pin and then another to fasten it in place as she worked.
"....Lin.....look, I can tell what you're trying to do...." His embarrassment grew.
"Good, then I don't have to explain," she replied, still working on the fabric.
Satisfied at last, she stood back to check her handiwork.
"Lin...." He reached up to grab the fabric.
"Stop right there, mister," she snapped, then grinned as he froze.
"Lin....." he pleaded. "Don't...."
She laughed merrily. "It's all right, Jon, just a few minutes of embarrassment, I promise you. I have a point to make, to myself, to you. You can afford to indulge me a little bit. Besides, you want to make a point, too, that there is no hope, right? Well, here's your chance. Just stand there and wait......and we'll see if there is hope for you after all."
"Lin, I don't want to do this...."
"You say that you can't hug someone, you fear that you would hurt them if you tried. All right.....let's see if you are right. And then I won't bother you about it after this."
"Lin, this won't solve anything...."
"We'll see....now, hold still, I don't want to stick either of us with these pins..."
She picked up another towel, began winding it around his forearm. A few minutes later, both of his arms were wound in pinned terry cloth. She picked up an elastic bandage, began unrolling it around the towels, working from shoulder to wrist, moved to his other arm and repeated the action.
She tugged on a bandage, a dissatisfied look on her face. "Hmmm....not very secure, but I think it will hold for a couple of minutes. More than enough time...." she decided.
She walked close to him, looked up into his face. "All right, Jon.....put your arms around me."
She grinned. "Am I that ugly?"
"What?! No, Lin....what.....I...."
She laughed. "Put your arms around me, Jon. Don't worry, it won't hurt you a bit."
"Never turn down a chance to hug a pretty girl, Jon, you never know when you might get another," she laughed. "Do you want me to put my arms around you first?"
"No...I....it....you..." He found he was breathing hard, tried to control it, failed miserably.
She stepped closer, allowing her body to touch his. "Just do it, Jon. It'll be over in a second."
Seeing no way out, he swallowed, reached his bandaged arms out, slowly, curled them in front of himself, and finally cupped them gingerly around the small woman's shoulders.
She nodded. "Quite comfortable, actually," she commented. "Now stop acting as if you were afraid of me, and give me a real hug."
He sighed deeply. Resigned, he opened his arms again, slowly, wrapped them across her back, flushing a deep crimson.
She rested her head against his chest, slid her arms around his waist and across his back. "Okay, Jon? Are you comfortable?"
"Yes....." he said in a strangled voice.
"Good." She tilted her head up to look into his face. "Very comfortable. No pinching at all."
"Uh.....can I let go now....?"
She laughed. "Yes, Jon, you're off the hook.....for now."
He dropped his arms, stepped quickly back as soon as she released her grip, started to reach up to tug at one of the bandages.
"Not so fast..." she told him.
"Lin....." he whined.
"You're not in pain, are you?"
"No, of course not."
"Then you can tolerate leaving it for a few minutes, can't you?"
"Lin, this is....it's....it's so....embarrassing...."
She laughed, thoroughly enjoying his discomfiture. "You'll live." She turned and seated herself on the edge of the neatly made bed.
He stood in the middle of the room, looking for all the world like a small boy expecting a scolding.
"It's all right, Jon, come and sit down." She patted the bed next to her.
"Uh....Lin...I'd rather not...."
"I promise you, I'm not going to bite you. I won't rape you, either." She grinned wickedly, an expression he couldn't recall ever seeing on the elfin woman's face. She patted the mattress again.
He stumbled across the couple of feet of floor space, sat on the very edge of the mattress as if ready for flight.
Linuial suddenly sobered. "Jon....I did this to make a point. You know that. You've convinced yourself that you are too ugly for anyone to care about. Well, Jon, they can always close their eyes. You have a point that you have some problems.....but problems can be overcome. The only problem that cannot be surmounted, is the decision not to try.
"But you can always change that decision, too."
He dropped his head, started to clasp his hands in front of himself, stopped, tucked them behind his back instead. "Lin....no one is going to accept this. I'm a freak....and there's no changing that."
"You are *different*, Jon, yes. And you are quite right about many things. Many, if not most, human beings are obsessed with appearance. It's quite true. And those people will not give you a second glance...or a first chance. But there are always the exceptions. And those exceptions are special people, Jon.
"I invited you into Starfire for a reason, Jon..."
"....pity fuck...." he interrupted, bitterly.
She paused, looking at him quietly. "No, Jon....it wasn't pity. I invited you for the same reason that I invited every other member of Starfire."
After a long moment, he rose to the bait. "Why, then?"
"All of the people in Starfire are special people, Jon. Not special in a negative way, special in a positive way.
"All of them are gentle people. Some of them may be fighters, and fierce ones at that, but they all share a common gentility of the soul. All of them are also open-minded people. Some of them have adversity to overcome, and some of them have always had an easy way through life, but they are all kind, and willing to accept others for who and what they are. I wouldn't have any other kind of person in my group, Jon. And you fit right in with the rest of them. They like you. Honestly, not in pity."
He continued staring at the floor.
"Do you like them?"
He looked up, startled. "Yes, of course....I mean.....everybody's great. Everybody's been great....."
"So you see? You do fit in." She smiled. "Starfire is a family, Jon. If any of my real family are alive, if I ever even had a family, I can't remember. Starfire is the family I've created. And you are now a part of it....if you want to be. As much as you want to be."
He hung his head, pursed his lips.
"Do you want to be a part of that family, Jon?" she said, quietly.
"Huh?" he looked up. "Yeah, of course, I do...."
"Good." She smiled. "You can take as much, or as little, away with you as you want....but I have no doubt that you will always give back more than you take away."
"And you'll succeed." She turned on the edge of the mattress to face him directly.
"Jon, have you ever had a backrub?"
"Huh...?" He looked up, totally confused by the sudden change of subject.
"Have you ever had a backrub?"
"Lin, what the f.....what are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about backrubs, of course." She laughed. "A wonderful human phenomenon. A magnificent institution in which two people make physical contact, for the pleasure of both, with no committment, and no strings attached. Have you ever had a backrub?"
"......no....." he finally managed.
"I've been to many a party where people simply sat down and gave each other backrubs. When done by someone who knows what they are doing, a backrub is one of the most pleasurable sensations one human being can give to another, possibly second only to making love. With your hands, I don't think that you could give backrubs, but you could certainly let it be known that you would *accept* them. You might be surprised just how many girls would be willing to give you one, knowing full well that it didn't commit them to anything more intimate."
"Don't sell pity short, Jon. It is the source of some of the finest of human behaviors. For one human being to take pity on another, to be moved to an act of kindness, with no thought of payment or reward....the human race is prone to violence and selfishness. Pity should be encouraged far more than it is today. At the very least, it helps those that need help, and creates nobility in those that give it."
"Turn your back to me, Jon."
"Turn your back to me. I'm going to give you a backrub. If you've never had one, it'll be your first. I think it's about time you had the experience."
Reluctantly, he did so.
She moved toward him on the edge of the mattress, reached out her hands. Beginning to work, first lightly, then more firmly, she continued speaking. "You should ask Stray to give you a backrub, too. In her Nova form."
He started, his eye going wide. An image of the Kheldian Peacebringer in her Nova phase, naturally hovering in mid-air, vaguely squid like, tentacles moving gently, tail curling as she hovered, filled his mind.
"....quite an experience, you're right. Even better than a human backrub." She concentrated on his neck. "You're so tense.....relax, Jon. Drop your head." She pushed on the back of his head, gently, to provoke compliance, began kneeding his shoulders.
Breathing shallowly, he allowed his eye to droop closed, beginning to surrender to the experience, the feelings it invoked.
"I'm a healer, Jon," she continued, her voice taking on a new, softer tone. "It's what I do. It's what I've done for as many centuries as I can remember. There are many kinds of distress....and many kinds of healing. I've tried my hand at all of them, wherever and whenever I found them, whenever and wherever I found someone in need."
She laughed. "Chris says I do too much. But I've never seen him turn down a backrub."
Jon couldn't stop the sudden laugh that bubbled up inside himself. He could just imagine the rough, powerful scrapper turning into pudding under the skillful hands that were ministering to him now.
She sighed. "Jon....you think that you are ugly. Many people would agree with you. But to me, you are beautiful."
"What...?" He twisted suddenly, trying to look at the elfin woman.
She pushed him back into position, began working on his back again. "Jon, please understand me.
"I lived through the Black Plague. I saw the streets of Paris choked with decaying bodies, when there weren't enough people left alive to pick them up....."
"You...." he tried to twist again, she pushed him back, continued.
"Yes, I was there. I didn't stay long, it was an awful place, and there was nothing I could do to help. I spent most of that time moving from one city to another. There wasn't any place better to be. People died, Jon, they died in the thousands, whole families wiped out, with none left to bury the dead, or even carry them out of their houses, they rotted in their beds.
"And so much of it was preventable. It was the fleas, they carried the plague, and the rats carried the fleas. People had gone mad. They decided that cats were witches' familiars, and they killed them. They killed all the cats they could find....and the rat population soared, and the fleas with them.....and when the Plague broke out, nothing could be done to stop it, because the cats, the rats' only natural enemies in the cities, were almost all gone.
"If you want to know more about the Plague, I can introduce you to someone.....she's called Bubastis, she's the result of a proscribed experiment....."
"Proscribed?" he interrupted.
"Paragon City officials don't like anyone to talk about it, but it happens more often than most people know. She was a multiple feline/human DNA experiment......she's made a special study of feline history since they are literally her ancestors, she's knows more about feline history, and the Plague, than I do.
"I saw the leper colonies, Jon, in the Middle East," she continued. "I lived in one for a short while, trying to help. You don't see the lion-face of leprosy in modern cases of Hansen's disease, with modern antibiotics it's quite easy to cure now, and if it's cured early enough, the truly horrendous aspects of the disease can be avoided. But I saw the worst of it, back about two thousand years ago.
"I lived with those people, Jon. They were ordinary people, they had all the same needs, wants, desires, that anyone has. They were forced into colonies and prevented from leaving, under pain of death, usually by stoning, which is a very painful way to die. Some of them lived very long lives, imprisoned for decades in the most abject poverty imaginable, dependent on the charity....on the pity....of those who would throw food to them from a distance, because most of them were too sick to work or grow food, and the land set aside for the colonies was too poor to grow anything.
"They loved, Jon. They needed. Their bodies were rotting around them, still alive. Their noses and lips rotted away, and it smelled, Jon, it smelled like rotting garbage. Their fingers, toes, rotted away, even their hands and feet. And they still needed. They still needed love."
She paused, sighed deeply, continued working his back. "Jon, I've seen true ugliness. I've seen the ugliness that rots the outside, and I've pitied it, yes. I've seen the ugliness that rots the soul from the inside, and it is far worse. I'd rather live in a leper colony than in Berlin in the 1940s. Or Sarajevo in the 1990s.
"I look at you.....and you are beautiful to me. Your eye, your mouth, your nose.....delicate, sensitive, beautiful to look at. Your hair is the most beautiful color of gold.....I love that you wear it long, it moves beautifully. Yes, Jon....you are beautiful. You were handsome before.....but you are no less handsome now. It's just a lot harder to see it, for most people.
"But I still see it, Jon. Don't you ever doubt that for a moment. And what I see is not an illusion. It's the hardware that is the illusion...it's an illusion that it is any part of you."
He found that he was trembling under her hands.
"I'm not unique, Jon. Whether or not all of the members of Starfire see you as beautiful, none of them thinks of you as being ugly." She laughed. "Look at Stray in her Nova form, and ask yourself what is beautiful to a squid.
"There will always be people who will see something in you other than surface ugliness. And those are the people that you should look to for companionship, for love. I do not believe that you will not know love, Jon.....as long as you do not cut yourself off from the possibility."
"How does that feel?"
Regretfully, fearing that it was over, he answered. "It feels wonderful."
"Good." She continued working, silently.
"It just all seems so hopeless...."
"Seeming and being are two separate things." They sat in mutual silence for a while longer.
She was working his lower back, allowed her hands to slow, come to a halt, resting over his hips.
He let out a huge sigh. "Yes....?"
Very slowly, softly: "May I touch you?"
He froze, paralyzed by the implication of her words, by the impossible sensation of streams of electricity shooting across his body, anchored where her hands rested. He found himself gasping for breath, unable to answer.
She bowed her head, rested her forehead against his back.
"Lin....." he managed to whisper.
"I'm here, Jon."
"I.....I don't want your pity....."
"Don't turn me down too quickly, Jon," she said softly. "I'm a healer, you know that. Don't think for one moment that you are the first person I've met who was aching inside.....nor the first that I've shared affection with merely because I wanted to help them, heal them."
"I don't....it's not enough....not for me....."
She laughed, softly. "And don't be too proud, either." She sighed. "Do you imagine that I have been a healer for all these centuries without getting something out of it for myself? It's what I am, Jon, not just what I do. I can no more turn down someone who is truly in pain than.....than you could."
"Chris tells me that I pick up too many 'stray cats', but he's wrong. I never try to help the ungrateful, the unrepentant, the cruel.....I won't waste my time with them, there are too many people in honest pain for me to be wasting my time and energy on those who will gain nothing from me."
He began to tremble again.
"People of today go to bars, pick each other up, go home, make love, and never see each other again. And it's not necessarily a bad thing, Jon, they both get something they need, when maybe they don't have the time, or the initiative, to seek anything more. You're quite right.....there's no point in you trying to go to a pickup bar, they are entirely appearance oriented, you'd never stand a chance.
"If you say 'no', Jon, I will honor that.
"Be absolutely certain that is what you want."
She lifted her head, brushed her lips lightly across his skin.
He moaned, closed his one good eye.
She slid her hands around his sides to rest lightly over his belly......
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012