About Music and Determinism


3 PM could not come fast enough and he didn't care if he seemed desperate, he dialed at 2h59.


"Bonjour, could I speak to Maria Elena please?"

"Speaking. It's good to hear your voice Matthew. Is it OK to tell you I slept badly yesterday and the work shift today is killing me?"

"I'm sorry, I just woke up from my old fart afternoon nap. Ditto concerning last night though. So, I suppose your break is short. What do you think of a diner and movie for our first date?"

"I'm jealous about the nap. OK for the movie, but I have a better idea, since you're free and all rested: why don't you go to my place and cook me something? You CAN cook? Besides, isn't this our second date?"

"Ho Boy! No pressure!!! What would you like?"

"In the spirit of sharing responsibilities, I leave the meal up to you. No food allergies on my end either." He could feel her smile at the end of the line and kissed her through the phone. The logistics were discussed for the rest of the call, ending with promises of the upcoming date and good times to come. Matthew looked at the clock and went into full domestic mode, like he did on all those Sunday afternoons after waking up from his security night shift and planning the family meal with wife, kids and, on occasion, boyfriends. It was tight, but he figured his plan and went at it with all due haste and attention.

He was glad to find the spare key to Mea's studio where it was promised and went straight to the kitchen, barely looking at the rest of the place. He was relieved by the absence of pets, not because he hated or feared them - he had a fish, cat and dog at home - but right now he wanted no distractions and wished everything to be perfect.

Ninety minutes later, he heard oncoming steps in front of the door and wondered what kind of greeting he should give his princess. It was a useless worry as she instantly melted his heart.

"Hi Honey!!! I'm hoooome!" And, before he had time to give her a welcome kiss, shed added seamlessly "What, pray tell, is that beautiful aroma?"

"I hope you'll like it... given the time constraint and the importance of the event, I went to my cooking strengths instead of experimenting, so how does a Spaghettini Arrabiata with garlic bread and Caesar salad sound?"

"If it smells that good, I'm going to lov... you brought me flowers? How sweet! And they look and smell wonderful!" He thought he had seen Mea smile yesterday... now... wow!

"Have a seat please, Mea. I will put the pasta in the water so that will leave you 10 minutes to relax. I noticed you had beer in the fridge so would you like a cold one now? I frosted a glass just in case." He kissed her softly before making his way back to the kitchen.

"Ho, honey, I will so get used to this! You should worry!" She sat on her small couch and kicked off her shoes lazily. With the pasta boiling and everything under control in the kitchen, Matthew went to bring Mea her beer and sensed what to take care of next. He kneeled before her and started to massage her feet. Upon hearing her cooing in satisfaction, he instantly felt like a million dollars and 35 years younger. "Baby, that feels soooo goood... are you a professional masseur too?" She asked, sinking contentedly in the couch.

"I took lessons in Swedish massage, foot massage and manual lymphatic drainage, after Lupe stated experiencing chronic pain due to poor blood circulation, and I would mostly work on her feet and legs. But no, I am not a pro... this is all tender loving care and just for your personal use."

Nothing. Silence. Matthew even shortly wondered if she had fallen asleep. He could not guess the furiousness of the inside struggle in Mea's mind. Finally, she relented, with closed eyes and a lazy smile. "Baby, this is not a proper strategy to get me to leave the house."

Matthew was saved by the bell, more precisely the cooking timer. He excused himself, went back to the kitchen, tapping his IPod on the way. He then proceeded to serve the plates and asked should he uncork some red wine. Mea acquiesced but could not find it in herself to propose a toast... in fact Matthew noticed she looked more nervous than he was. So he filled in. "To a magnificent evening together and may it be the first of many more."

Matthew looked, apprehensively, for Mea's reaction to the meal and the wine. "Hmmm... did you make this sauce from scratch? Is there no limit to your talents?"

"You're sweet, Mea. And the answer is yes, but I cheated. Normally, an Arrabiata sauce is just spicy tomato sauce, while I add some grounded beef and vegetables. But, trust me, if you keep on asking me to cook, take me dancing or ask me to fix broken appliances, you will discover the very real limits to my talents! I was also worried you might find the sauce too spicy, as I prefer to cook with Sriracha sauce rather than Tabasco."

"Are you kidding me, this tastes great!!! If anything, you should crank it up just a notch on the spice scale next time!"

Matthew softly repeated "next time..." smiled shyly and replied "you don't know how happy you make me, just letting me be here with you Mea. Thank you." But right then, his stomach unromantically growled, Mea laughed warmly and they both dedicated themselves to the food, at all times simultaneously smiling and chewing.

"What is that music?" Mea asked, suddenly realizing a complex arpeggio in an unusual 9/8 time signature in the background.

"As it happens, the song is called Supper's Ready. It is from Genesis, my very favorite band."

"The song has been playing since you served the meal?"

"Yes. It is a 23 minutes opus. Such long pieces were not uncommon in progressive rock."

"Hmmm. Fascinating." Matthew swore she was going for a Spock imitation but he also felt she didn't like the song.

"I'll put on something else..."

"No no! Please, let it play!" She listened to Peter Gabriel beginning the final anthem. "Remember honey, the world will be a better place if we open ourselves up to change."

Moments later, Mea looked up and gazed at Matthew, seemingly for the first time. "Shame on me, baby! You've been such a great host - in my place no less - and I didn't even notice how hot you look! Grrrr..." Mea flashed a husky, hungry smile, that Matthew was seeing for the first time.

"Now who's laying on thick, Mea? Come on, I'm no prize, never was and never will be!". Matthew fought to keep his smile and the mood light but Mea sensed the hurt... such familiar hurt... in his voice.

"Baby, first of all, male models are prizes, you are beautiful. Second, you're not looking at yourself from the right perspective... I'll take a bite right out of your butt if you're not careful in those black jeans". And the hungry smile again. "No wonder you always walk so fast!!!"

"I love you, Mea". It was simple. It was heartfelt. It was true.

"I believe you. You really do love me. Tell me, please, how can that be? What do you see in me? I've had nothing but a chip on my shoulder since yesterday... how I can I be more than a kid or a toy to you? And how can this feeling be so strong so soon?"

"Are you kidding me? You've been, are and will remain out of my league in astronomical proportions!!! You're the one who has been nothing but kind, trusting and accepting of me since yesterday. I keep fearing I will fumble something, hurt you and lose you forever. The latter maybe I could survive, the former I could never, ever forgive myself. You deserve so much more than my poor old self but I can't help it... the heart wants what the heart wants and mine screams for you. So I keep on aiming for the fairy tale. Mea, I would be blessed just to see you smile that pure, worriless smile everyday like you did choking on the salad moments ago..." Matthew stopped. He had no more voice, no more words, and tears were welling up his cheeks.

And Mea healed all with a kiss. "You really are a romantic wreck, aren't you? Lucky for you, the Outer Banks is THE place for wrecks, present company included". The smile that followed burst out reassurance as she gently wiped and caressed his face. "We will have things to talk about Matthew, and I'm ready to talk about them now... just not this very minute, because I need to go get ready for our date. Feel free to take the owner's tour..." she laughed as her arm swept through the entire span of the studio "... I'll be ready shortly". Another kiss, and she went to her closet, then to the bathroom and softly closed the door, as if not to disturb a sleeping baby.

Matthew, for the first time, closely examined the small studio that was decorated in a very cozy and feminine manner, befitting its lovely tenant. Not much walking room between the dining table, the bed, the couch and the TV cabinet, but Mea's apartment was well-lit by a large, strategically placed window, it was decorated in a nice palette of pastel hues and looked comfortable and welcoming.

This brief inspection did not prepare Matthew for the devastating apparition that walked out the bathroom mere minutes later. Mea stepped out in a black satin short-sleeve cocktail dress that cut very high above the knee, showing her legs to stunning advantage. Her hair was drawn back in a ponytail and she had completed her preparation with 4-inch stiletto heels, blood-red lipstick, a two-shade royal blue and light turquoise eyeliner, light brown blush to accentuate her cheeks and, last but not least, a set of pearls mounted on earrings and a long necklace. Matthew went seemingly blind.


"Mea, you are the most ravishingly beautiful woman I have ever met. Ever. End of discussion." Mea saw Matthew quickly flashing his eyes upwards while saying this and she correctly guessed he was silently apologizing to Lupe. Then he continued "Maybe we could stop by the Inn again, I feel wholly underdressed now and I did purchase more classy outfits."

"Nonsense" Mea replied "We're going to be late and I'm glad and proud to be all girly-girly for you... like your princess should be." As she walked towards him, he was so mesmerized he barely felt the kiss and was surprised by her grabbing firmly his buttock. "Besides, in lieu of a shield, I'm happy my knight has buns of steel". And the hungry smile again. "Let's go."

**** Duke's Travel ****

"Let's please take my car... save you the gas" Matthew suggested as he held the studio door open for her.

"Funny, I figured an environment guy like yourself would have a hybrid or electrical car... though I admit this is a comfortable ride". Mea was sitting down as Matthew, again, held the door.

When he seated himself at the driver's seat, he finally replied "Don't scoff at my Sentra. It has a CVT transmission and, in economy mode, I frequently drive at less than 6 l/100km even in city boulevards, not to mention highways, obviously". But Mea was puzzled and it took him a second to figure out why "Ho! hmm..." he calculated, while plugging his IPod in the USB slot "... better than 40 mpg." She laughed and looked at him, her stare both admiring and annoyed at the same time. "What?".

"Drive, good sir".

"Show me the way". She was obviously too young to catch the Peter Frampton reference.

"What is that music?" she asked, while they were making good time towards the Cineplex.

"It's another Genesis long piece, it's called Duke's Travel. That one was recorded right about the time Phil Collins started his parallel solo career, and after his first divorce if I recall."

"Ah... is there singing in it?"

"As a matter of fact, Collins is about to start a small verse, it's a reprise of an earlier..."

"Shht! I want to listen" Mea cut him softly and placed her hand on his shoulder.

- I am the one who guided you this far.

- All you know and all you feel.

- Nobody must know my name,

- For nobody would understand.

- And you kill what you fear

- And you fear what you don't understand.

- I call you for I must leave.

- You're on your own until the end.

- There was a choice but now it's gone,

- I said you wouldn't understand...

- Take what's yours and be damned...

"I like this song" Mea said while slouching in the passenger seat, suddenly looking forlorn and saddened. Matthew was baffled. Obviously, these lyrics about an alien visitor held significance to her, but why? He realized he still barely knew her and, for the first time, was slightly worried for the future of his fairy tale. Mea caught the vibe and forwarded her head to whisper, as he parked the car "Sorry, honey... and don't worry, it will all be perfect."

**** Take Me Home ****

"Great movie!" Mea said, leaving the Cineplex after watching Jason Bourne. Both of them had vetoed Suicide Squad, Matthew even arguing to the point of saying the entire DC universe is useless with Batman and Superman around. Then they did his classic cinema routine, sharing unevenly a popcorn and soft drink while leaving all of the candy for Mea. Given the choice between chocolates and Skittles, she chose the latter, the sour ones in the green bag.

(Jeez... just like Emily... come on Matt, let it go and just enjoy this...)

"I suppose you saw the first ones with Lupe?" She asked without a trace of envy.

"Yes... all three of them came out right around our wedding anniversary, so it was a weird, action-packed part of the festivities." Matthew felt lucky being able to link both of his lives, as he now saw it.

"Say, what was all that excitement about that preview... what was it called, Arrival?" Mathew was surprised she picked up on it and answered earnestly.

"Remember those SF readings I told you about? I have read the novel on which that movie will be based on. It's called the Story of your Life and, in fact, I read it on a regular basis. I hope the movie version will be good, because I think this story is very difficult to adapt for the screen. I guess we'll know in November..." he said in a hopeful tone.

"You read the same books on a regular basis?"

"Yes. Mostly History ones, so I never forget. Every year, I read the Guns of August, the Killer Angels, Kennedy and In Retrospect, for instance. Also, some SF authors are not just about escapism, they also try to pass along a philosophical message... and, whether I agree or not, I always like to challenge myself. Starship Troopers and The Story of your Life are way up there on of my hit list of frequent-reading SF novels. I read Story of your Life when I want to ponder Determinism."


"The philosophy of specified causes having a predetermined result. It is the basis of scientific method and should not be confused with fatalism, mind you. In broader terms, it's the concept of free will and choice versus certainty. Like us, for instance... beautiful case in point." Matthew smiled and Mea felt he was really into it now, whether she chimed in or not.

"How so?"

"If you knew in advance about the something-in-the-air-between-us, as you called it yesterday, would you have changed your schedule? Would you have let me go back on the ferry? Because, looking back, I really think everything that happened between us afterwards was pretty much inevitable... and yet I remain terrified of the unknown that awaits us..."

"Is it that bad?" Mea sounded worried now.

"Well, yes, of course... I worked 30 years in a planning department. Planning, Mea. I was making recommendations to City Council whose consequences could very well outlive me. I drive with cruise control whenever I can. I always signed long-term mortgages to avoid gambling on interest rates. I kept on my job when my career started to decline for the security of the pension fund. Even after I had two mortgages on the house, Lupe and I accepted that 3 of our godsons live in the house rent-free to help them study locally because we knew what was at stake two years down the road. Not a night went by that I did not forecast upcoming expenditures, especially the ones for house maintenance. Well, that all changed yesterday, Mea... I don't know what's going to happen in the next hour, and I don't care, because I'm near you. And I don't want it to stop! Ever! I'm thrilled, I'm even happy, yes... but I'm terrified. Please don't hold it against me."

"You did it again..." she was now mollified in her seat.

"Did what?"

"Heart flutter..."

"Good flutter I hope?"

"Take me home, you big goof, and we will discuss our determinism more deeply". And the husky, hungry smile came on again. Matthew was fighting trepidation at the wheel and, having an idea, tapped the radio control for a new song.

"What is that music? ..."

"You've never heard Take me Home from Phil Collins?"

She gently punched him on the bicep, laughing warmly. "Hush and let me listen".

Once home, as soon as her studio door was closed, Mea lunged on Matthew, unabashedly kissing him with primal urge. Teeth clicked and tongues nervously dueled, as if fighting for the authorization of the next step. Their hands were similarly busy, caressing, scaling, discovering, groping and tentatively undressing. By the time the coupling evolved to the point of Mea feeling a warmth in her loins that was passing the point of no return, she fought and won a battle of will to pull back, gasping and breathing heavily. "Matthew baby," (kiss) "We need..." (kiss) "to talk..." (kiss) "about sex."

That stopped Matthew cold. "Wow... I didn't think I was THAT old-fashioned." Seeing her anxiety, he yielded. "All right Mea, please know that I've had a vasectomy when I was 26 years old, my blood is tested every week and it's healthy and I'm really not crazy about condoms, but I have some with me. Also, even though my doctor thinks it's only performance anxiety, I have a prescription for Viag..."

"Once a week?" Mea interrupted.

"Yes... I didn't tell you yesterday. When a new donation center opened in Gatineau, I switched from giving blood to giving plasma. Since it is allowed once every 6 days, I have a weekly appointment. If I ever wear my coat out here, you will see the 100 donations pin on it. Anyway, plasma donations are closely monitored, including a weighing and blood testing. It's even what spurred me to try to lose weight... well anyway that's how I know."

"Well, I was tested 3 weeks ago and I was similarly declared disease-free ... Matthew, why are you laughing? He was... nervously in fact.

"Sorry Mia ... it's just so surreal... we both sound exactly like a donation interview." He described the risk management interview process in place, since the scandal in the late 80s, even reciting with derision some of the questions asked by either nurse or computer survey. "Did you have sex with a new partner since your last donation?" "Have you ever had sex with a man, even once?" "Did you ever have sex with someone who accepted money or drugs for sex?" "Did you ever have sex with someone who tested positive for HIV or hepatitis C?" "Did you..."

(Damn you, Matthew Carmichael! Must you have an anecdote even for this!)

Matthew stopped, snapped back to reality by the fact that Mea was not getting into the fun but, quite the opposite, was looking more and more mortified.

"Mea, my angel... what's wrong?"

"Matthew, forgive me... but if we keep on going, you will have to answer yes to several of these so-silly questions." And now she fought tears and awaited her Judgment...

"Well, I DO hope so, sweetheart, so it's quite all right."

No. It obviously wasn't.

"Oh you mean..." and then Matthew thought about her carefully worded response about Vegas. "Well, Mea, you can tell me more about your past if and when you feel up to it. I hope you know I'm not giving you up for plasma donations". He gave his best smile, so deep his dimple caved in and touched his jaw. "Besides, you confirmed you were healthy, so..."

Still not better. In fact, she looked worse now. Matthew's mind raced: what could still be ...

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