Disclaimer: "Beauty and the Beast" and the character Pascal and all the rest belong to Republic Pictures. No infringement is intended. Max and her ilk belong to me. That and all the rest of the legal stuff. 'Nuff said.
by Kayla Rigney
The pipemaster took advantage of the momentary lull in traffic to grab a cup of tea. He leaned back against the cold rock wall and let the few messages that were coming down the line pass through his small body and on to their destination. The sensation made him feel uncomfortable, like he was missing out on something. Lately, he felt that way most of the time.
"I'm lonely," he said to no one at all.
Pascal reached into his vest and pulled out a well-worn paperback copy of The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis. It was one of the few books he actually owned. He closed his eyes and flipped the pages under his nose, trying to catch her scent. Sometimes he did &emdash; or he imagined he could. At the moment, however, all he could smell was dust. It served only to remind him that all his were friends gathered in Father's Library listening to Vincent read fairy tales. Vincent only read stories with happy endings. He never read The Red Shoes, which was the one fairy tale to which Pascal could actually relate.
He tapped his pipe against his thigh nervously. He wished he could join his friends. He wished he could read aloud from The Man Who Fell to Earth and have somebody &emdash; anybody &emdash; Get It. Pascal imagined all the people spilling into Father's library like a bunch of jumbled together puppies. He pushed the image far from his consciousness and once again flipped the pages beneath his nose.
As of late, Pascal's friends (especially Vincent) and been absorbed in not-so-subtle attempts to pair him off with Rebecca. The candlemaker was pretty and she was kind, but she didn't code and had the annoying habit of looking at him blankly whenever he talked about something she didn't want to hear. She liked everything in her life to be calm and quiet. She hated public displays of affection. If spontaneity managed to creep in, she quashed it with a withering look. Pascal learned early on that unless he played by her rules, Rebecca could and did make his life miserable.
He turned his attention back to the book. He opened it and turned to the cover page. The inscription read: "Falling to earth is easy. Finding the right place to land is the hard part &emdash; M.L.S."
When Pascal fell, he landed in a storage locker full of books. He was trying to catch Mouse before he went Above on a midnight foraging run. Pascal needed some copper wire to shore up a couple of lead pipes, and he hoped that Mouse could "find" some. Mouse, however, knew the upper tunnels better than he did. One wrong turn, and Pascal went crashing headfirst into the light.
Once the dust cleared and his eyes adjusted, the pipemaster realized he was in a storage locker of some sort. Luckily, the boxes were piled up to the top of the wire fencing. Nobody could see him. He was about to scramble back out the way he came, when a box caught his eye. It said: "Scifi&endash;RARE."
"Series fiction &emdash; legit" was stacked on top of "Fanfic &emdash; eyes only." The next stack had boxes labeled with tags like: "Polio, Post-polio, TB, Spanish flu," "Mind control" and "UFO's/Conspiracy /asst. brain candy." In fact, all the boxes were neatly labeled as to content and covered with a thick layer of dust. Nobody could possibly have touched anything in this room for a long, long time. Pascal thought he'd died and gone to weird book heaven.
He knew it was dangerous, but he returned to the little cubicle time and again. There were just so many boxes of titles he'd heard of but never read. The floor was hard and the light bad, so he brought an old cushion and battery-operated lantern. Every night, after his last shift, the pipemaster disappeared into the room he named Paradise. As the weeks passed, it became easier and easier to convince himself that this little archive had been forgotten by its owner. Pascal told no one of his secret place &emdash; not Vincent and certainly not Rebecca. For the first time in his life, he felt understood.
Of course, Paradise doesn't last.
Pascal was so absorbed in "A Martian Odyssey" that he didn't hear the lock click open.
"Look," she said, in a strong, even voice. "I'm not going to call the cops or anything. I just need to know why the hell a bald hobbit is sitting in the middle of my storage unit reading The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum."
"Because the bald hobbit can't afford to purchase his own copy," he replied softly, without looking up. He didn't look up because he suspected he'd be staring into the barrel of a loaded gun. This was, after all, New York.
"Far be it from me to deprive you of my pulp science fiction." Her voice definitely was not smiling.
"Thank you," said Pascal.
"You're welcome," she replied. She muttered something about at least he didn't break the binding. Then: "Does the bald hobbit have a name? Mine is Maxine Seaton."
Only then did Pascal dare to look up from the book. He was stunned by what he saw. Silhouetted in the doorway, this Maxine person was drop dead gorgeous. Backlit and wearing jeans and a tee shirt, she was drop dead gorgeous. She was just his type, too &emdash; tall, slim, auburn hair. From Pascal's vantage point, her legs seemed to go on forever; by the time he'd worked his way up to her face, which was lovely, he was having trouble containing his arousal. "I'm Pascal," he said, forcing his voice to remain steady. "My friends call me Pascal."
She raised her perfectly-shaped left eyebrow. "Just Pascal?"
"Yes, Maxine?" She has violet eyes, he thought. In real life, people do not have violet eyes.
"Would you perhaps like to read someplace more comfortable?"
"Where would you suggest?"
"The bookshop upstairs has the most remarkable things," she replied. "They're called chairs."
Pascal didn't move. He kept his eyes on the book. "I'll take that under advisement." He pretended to read.
Maxine cleared her throat.
"Yes?" For the first time in a long time, Pascal was having fun without knowing the rules.
"I really need to get into that stack of boxes behind you," she said. "If you don't mind. Besides, I'm thirty-five years old and at my age, I really don't have time to hurry up and wait."
Pascal twisted around and looked at the stack. It was at least eight feet tall and the boxes were labeled HOLOCAUST STUDIES. When he returned to his original position, Max was sitting in front of him, nearly knee to knee.
"You're from Below, aren't you?" she asked, quietly. Although her expression revealed nothing, her violet eyes smiled at him.
Pascal was caught completely off guard. He nodded.
Max made a soft clicking sound with her tongue. "I'm sorry I called you a bald hobbit. " She extended her hand to him. He took it and shook it once lightly. He noticed it was very cold.
"Apology accepted," he said, although he didn't really mind her calling him that. He silently wondered how she knew about Below.
"How did you end up in my storage?" she asked.
"I fell, actually." He pointed the hole in the pasteboard wall. Pascal put aside the book and drew his knees up to his chin. He wanted to tell her how lovely he thought she was &emdash; and ask her what she was doing with a subterranean archive. "I'll leave if you like," he told her.
"No," Maxine said, shaking her head. "No, that isn't necessary."
They continued to eye each other. Once she found out where he was from, she was totally accepting and perfectly calm. Maxine was behaving like it was absolutely normal to find a strange man sitting in the middle of her storage unit.
'Which story are you reading?" she asked, finally.
Pascal reached over and picked up the book. "I just finished Martian Odyssey." When he looked into her eyes, he felt a warm familiarity as if he'd known her all his life.
Maxine leaned back and rested on the palms of her hands. She looked at him curiously, as if she was trying to decide what to think of him. "You like it in Weinbaum land?" she asked.
"Pascal, you're welcome to stay, but I seriously need to access my archive," Maxine said. "A friend is waiting for me to call with a quote from Hugh Gregory Gallagher. And the book I want is in the second box from the top. At least, "I think that's where it is."
The second box from the top had T-4 scribbled on it in big angry black letters.
'Would you like some help?" Pascal asked. Knee to knee, Max was nearly as small as he was. She didn't look like she could possibly lift a box of Kleenex let alone heft a box of books. He reminded himself that looks can be deceptive.
"I'd like that," Max replied. "Very much."
Pascal jumped to his feet and offered her his hand. Max took it but didn't stand immediately. Instead she held on lightly as she spoke. "It's a yellow book with red lettering. I can't remember the exact title -- Something Betrayed. I think" She looked up at him, expectantly, he thought.
"Don't look at me," Pascal replied, shrugging. "Now, if you wanted Circus Fire, then I can definitely say it's sepia-toned and in the box marked Our Lady of Angels, et al."
Maxine gave him a frank, warm smile. Rebecca never smiled at him that unless she wanted something.
"You can sit in my storeroom any time you damn well please, Just Pascal," Maxine said, laughing. She let him pull her to her feet, and then she was serious again. "Now, I really must needs find that dear ole polio's snooty view on the disabled Passing for Normal." She wiped the palms of her hands on her jeans.
Pascal lowered the desired box and placed it on the floor between them. He stepped back and waited. Maxine seemed to forget he was in the room and become one with the contents of the box. It was a fascinating process.
As she searched, she spoke each book tenderly, as though it was a living, breathing thing. "Freidlander, how are you my old friend? And Burliegh. I hate you. No offense. Porter! Way too much information " She turned each book over in her hands and gently stacked it on top of its companions on the floor beside her.
Title after title came out of the box. Finally, she found what she was looking for: By Trust Betrayed. She tapped the book against the heel of her hand. "I knew you were yellow!" she said. Then Maxine turned to Pascal. "This is the single most frightening book I've ever read. Gives me nightmares to this day, let me tell you."
"Then why do you own it?" Pascal asked.
Maxine looked amused. "Nobody's ever asked me that before," she replied. I'll have to think about it."
As she left, she paused and looked over her shoulder. "My friends call me Max," she said. The door to the outside world slammed shut and she was gone.
"Good-bye, Max," he whispered under his breath.
Pascal did not return to Paradise for nearly a week. When he did, he found it magically transformed. A futon had been added to his old cushion to form a makeshift couch, and his lantern was neatly placed on a small table next to a stack of books. A note inside the first book read:
"Resident Hobbit &emdash; please take good care of us. Share us with all your friends We've been lonely too long. Signed: The Books. PS&endash;Okay, I've thought about it. The answer to your question is: I accept the nightmares because if I don't, who will? &emdash; Max."
Pascal sat down on the futon and picked up the first book in the pile. It was The Man Who Fell to Earth. He read it in one sitting. When he was finished, he pocketed it along with the other books. He was unsure what to do. He felt very much that he should leave something for Max in return.
Before he left for Below, Pascal reread her note. He rummaged around in his vest pocket until found a pencil stub. Almost without thinking, he wrote: "I'll buy that. But do you accept dreams as easily? Pascal."
He propped his reply against the lantern, where she'd be sure to see it. Then, the pipemaster quickly slipped through the hole in the wall and was gone.
The next day inched by in quiet torture. Pascal wondered if Max would reply to his note, and if she did, what she would say. Perhaps he shouldn't have written what he had; he didn't even thank her for the books. What if he went back and the hole was plastered over? He didn't have any way of knowing the answer (if there was one) until after story hour. If he could slip away. If Vincent didn't stop by. If Rebecca didn't want something Somewhere between lunch and dinner, Pascal came to the clear and rather ugly realization that he couldn't imagine life without Paradise. It kept him sane in his apartness.
The pipemaster sipped his tea. By this time, it was cold and bitter. The line was coming back to life. Story hour had ended. He went back to the pipes and locked into his steady dance. Pascal relayed by instinct. He no longer even heard the words that he so effortlessly passed on. It was familiar and very comforting and it numbed his mind. He was almost disappointed when Kipper came to relieve him.
"It's late, Pascal," the boy said. "Go get some rest."
"Thank you," the pipemaster replied, automatically.
Pascal walked out of the chamber and did not look back. As he turned the corner, he heard his assistant tap: He didn't say two words. That said it all. He knew that his friends had been gossiping about him again tonight. He'd heard it on the pipes for the past couple of weeks. Pascal is in one of his moods. Pascal isn't much on talking today, is he?
Well, Pascal knew how to disappear. He could be invisible in a room full of people, if he wanted to. Vincent once said: "My friend, you have a great capacity for blending in." Pascal silently scurried through the catacombs beyond Mouse's lair, and climbed up and up towards the surface.
Paradise was still there. It was warm and well lit and now there was soft Cajun music seeping out around the edges. The pipemaster paused at the portal and looked inside.
Max was sitting on the futon, her body swaying in time to the music. "Are you always so damned serious?" she asked.
"Most of the time," Pascal replied, shrugging. He wondered how long she'd been there, waiting.
Allons danser, Colinda, danser collés, Colinda, said the music.
"Well, most of the time, I'm not," Max said.
"I can handle that," he said.
Pascal climbed into the Paradise and sat beside her on the futon. Every act, every breath seemed to be in slow motion. He drew his knees up under his chin. "Thank you for the books, " he heard himself say.
She smiled that smile. "You're welcome, Just Pascal," she said. "Did you like them?"
"I've only read The Man Who Fell to Earth," he replied. "And yes, I did like it."
Max nodded. "Good." She leaned back and looked at him. She seemed to be part of the song. Pascal noticed that she had a scattering of freckles across her nose. "There's more where that came from."
For a moment, he wasn't sure whether she was talking about freckles or books. "Thank you," he said. And he meant it.
"Everything, I guess," he said. He wanted to reach out and touch her, but he didn't. Not yet, he told himself. "For the books, letting me come here."
Max laughed softly. "You're welcome," she said.
Allons danser. Allons danser.
Pascal didn't know what to say, so he sat quietly. He did this so often that people usually assumed he was shy, (He wasn't.) At first it was strange to him that Max would be content to sit in silence, too. After a while, though, Pascal was completely at ease, and the music was nice.
C'est pas tout le monde qui connait
Les valses a deux temps
"Pascal, I can't stay long," Max said.
"I understand," he replied.
She smiled at him again. "Your note really ticked me off at first," she told him.
Pascal winced. "I was afraid of that." He looked away, suddenly worried that he'd committed an unforgivable offence.
Max's voice had a gentle lilt to it. "Oh, it's no biggie," she said, touching his cheek lightly. "I'm just not used to people calling me on anything."
"No?" When does the shoe drop? He wondered.
"Pascal, I kind of like it." When Max smiled at him this time, he knew what it meant.
Now, he thought. Now. Pascal leaned into the kiss almost without realizing. Max softly stroked his cheek, but he did not touch her. Instead, he caressed her with only his lips and his tongue and his voice. He drew her to him that way, instinctively deepening the kiss slowly, responding to Max's every nuance as if he were relaying code. He thought, while he could still think, I've never known anything like this. The pleasure was so intense. He wanted to take her in his arms, but he didn't. He was completely aroused. Rebecca pushed him away when she felt his arousal. He knew from the way Max kissed that her inner rhythm complemented his own. He still did not take her in his arms. He knew that if he didn't stop now, he wouldn't be able to stop.
Pascal broke the kiss.
Max smiled at him with her eyes and her mouth and even her fingertips on his cheek. Her smile was frank and warm.
Rebecca never smiled at him unless she wanted something.
Max smiled because What did it mean when she smiled at him like that? It was so open and inviting. What did it mean? What did she want?
Pascal's breathing was uneven. "What do you want?" he asked.
Max ran her fingers through the hair above his ears. "Nothing," she said, smiling.
Pascal felt like he was on fire wherever she touched him. Say it, he thought. I need you to tell me.
Max was content to sit in silence, driving him nuts with her gentle touch.
"What do you want?" he asked again. His voice was jagged, broken.
"Nothing," Max replied, still smiling. Still touching him. "What do you want?"
God, isn't it obvious? Pascal felt like he was free-falling without a parachute. "You," he whispered. " I want you."
Max looked at him with those violet eyes and smiled that warm, frank smile. "So that's what it means," she said.
"When you smile like that," she replied.
"Like that," she said. And she kissed him. Smiling, she kissed him.
Pascal felt any and all control slip away. No longer able to speak aloud, he whispered, "What do you want, Max?"
She shook her head a little. "Nothing, Pascal," Her voice was very low and very soft, controlled. She traced his lips with her index finger. "Just you."
Pascal took her in his arms. He was strong from years of working the pipes. It was easy to pull her down on top of him. It felt good holding her like that. Max did not pull away. Instead she smiled &emdash; and she kissed him the same way he'd kissed her. Her tongue danced with his, moving to a shared song. He moved into it, toward her. He did not hold back. Max didn't want him to hold back. She wanted him to dance with her. She told him so. Begged him.
"Dance with me, Pascal." Her voice was desperate and full of longing. "Please."
The pipemaster soothed her with the rhythm of his body. It was so natural with Max, so right. It built with every kiss, every touch. Clothes slipped away and skin brushed against skin; brushing deepened into connection. No awareness except pleasure. Desperation replaced by joy. It was only part of the dance when Pascal rolled on top of her, held her down with his weight, asked her. Her answer was physical and surprisingly tender.
For the first time in his adult life, Pascal truly smiled.
Rebecca looked at him blankly when he broke up with her. He wasn't playing by her rules. Pascal knew she would never speak of their relationship again. In her world, it would cease to exist. She would erase it for all time. His friends, on the other hand, acted as if they were walking on eggshells around him. They all thought something great and sad had happened; and all Pascal felt was relief.
When Vincent cornered him outside the pipe chamber and asked what was going on, Pascal shrugged it off.
He said, "It's really okay, Vincent."
"Whatever you say, my friend," Vincent replied, his sea-blue eyes full of concern. Behind his lionine façade was infinite compassion for those he loved, and Pascal knew it. "If you need anything, you know I'm here."
"I'm fine," Pascal assured him. " I'm used to being on my own.
Vincent accepted that explanation readily.
Pascal knew that was the way most people saw him&emdash; a loner, a confirmed bachelor, pipemaster for life. Deep down, they expected him to remain alone. And deep down, Pascal had expected that, too.
"I just want you to be happy," Vincent said.
"I know," Pascal replied.
That same night, Max gave him beautifully wrapped present. "Just for you," she said, smiling. "I know you like music."
Pascal opened it carefully. Inside the box were a personal CD player and a few CDs. He tried to hand the package back to her. "It's too expensive, Max," he said. "I can't accept this."
"You can and you will," she told him fiercely. "Don't make me go through the wall and give them to you!" Max gave him a look like thunder.
Of course, he relented and accepted the gifts. He was a little unsure how to handle the situation. Rebecca had never given him anything so precious. And normally, gifts were exchanged.
"I have nothing to give you," Pascal said. "You know that, right?"
Max just smiled.
They talked late into the night about books and music and simple things. When they made love, Pascal knew Max would never ask him to play by any rules but his own.
Later, back in his own chamber, Pascal took the time to really look at his gifts. Her choice in CDs was dead on right: Perlman and Previn playing Scott Joplin's rags, BB King's Take It Home, Kurt Weill. There was a title he didn't recognize called Bayou Boogie by a group named Beausoleil. He decided to play that one.
He followed the lyrics in English:
Let's go dance, Colinda. Let's dance close. Colinda
So close we make the old ladies mad
It's not just everybody who knows
How to waltz in two tempos.
The pipemaster leaned back against the cold rock wall and let the few messages that came down the line pass through his small body and on to their destination. Pascal reached up and rested his hand against a lead pipe. The line was quiet tonight. Everybody was gathered in the library listening to Vincent read fairy tales. Pascal was content to sit alone in silence, sipping tea. He didn't like fairy tales, anyway. He preferred books. He took one last look at The Man Who Fell To Earth and tucked it safely away inside his vest pocket.
Almost like clockwork, a new message came down the line. It was blatantly and obviously for him -- Beausoleil. Pascal laughed aloud.
You know I love you
I want you to love me, too
Let's get together
Like the old folks used to do
I'm going to have to teach you to code, he thought. He stood and faced the pipes and tapped back between the rolling beat of the song. He had a very distinct "style." Max had a very distinct taste in music. It was only a matter of time until people figured out what was going on. Pascal smiled. He just didn't care. In fact, he wanted them to know.
We'll get married
Go to Paris
Come here, kiss me
It's you I love
Pascal locked into that familiar rhythm. It felt wonderful. He swayed with the fiddles; he rocked with the piano. He danced with Max. He could almost feel her body pressed against his. He could almost taste her smile. Soon, he thought. Soon. The pipes rang with the sound of Zydeco.
No matter what the people say
We'll do things our way
Even when you're blue
I'll be there with you
Viens me voir, embrasse-moi
C'est toi que j'aime bébé
"I think I finally landed in the right place," he said to nobody at all.
Somewhere high Above in Paradise, Max smiled.