by Maxine Mayer 9/4/99
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I shift a bit on my cot as I work on making the dreamcatcher.
And I smile fondly, thinking about my new partner and friend, Ray Kowalski.
In the few weeks since Ray Kowalski exploded into my life as an undercover "replacement" for my former partner and always-friend Ray Vecchio - who is himself working undercover far away - I've gotten to know this remarkable new Ray fairly well. Superficially, at least. Sufficient for me to realize that he's a much better potential recipient for a dreamcatcher than Ray Veccio would have been.
Not that I hadn't thought about giving Ray Vecchio a dreamcatcher, once upon a time. But I'd dismissed the thought immediately. No matter that it's a lovely thing, a beautiful physical expression of a spiritual intention - to help someone overcome their… emotional difficulties as they reveal themselves in their dreams. No matter that it's a subtle way of staying close to someone, even while they sleep…. No matter that it's a symbol of caring and intimacy. Nor that it's my favorite kind of present, one I've only given to one other person in my life, my first and only male lover.
But no. Ray Vecchio wouldn't have appreciated the time and industry it takes to obtain an eagle feather nor would the fact that I'd made the gift myself have carried a great deal of weight with him. He would have perceived this as simply another instance of my impracticality.
Besides, Ray Vecchio doesn't suffer overly much from emotional difficulties. Not enough to affect his dreams….
Which is a good thing, of course, but not a good opening for a gift such as a dreamcatcher.
Ray Kowalski, on the other hand, is a complex person who seems to have overcome a great deal to reach his current state of mental and professional… equilibrium. He's tremendously emotional and I believe he has difficulty working around his feelings in everyday life. Somehow, I sense that when he sleeps - as little as he must sleep - his dreams take the brunt of whatever troubles his waking spirit…. His behavior on the job is unexceptional, if unorthodox, but it appears to me to require constant effort on his part to maintain his balance.
I'd like to ease that burden for him, if I can.
Perhaps the dreamcatcher will help, I consider, as I affix the eagle feather to the circle with a tight knot and carefully add other final touches to my gift.
Insofar as I can anticipate his reactions, I think Ray will be pleased to learn that I made this myself. That alone might help him. I sense that Ray Kowalski could use a bit of caring - the "personal touch" - from someone….
Of course, an occasion to give Ray this gift didn't offer itself until I remembered Ray Vecchio's upcoming birthday.
I'm pleased with the ploy I've devised. It's a clever one, even if I do say so myself….
Later that morning I spend as much time as I dare in Ray Kowalski's apartment, taking a bit more of the measure of the man as revealed by his choices of furniture, accessories, photographs, books and music.
I'm grateful that Lieutenant Welsh honored me with this assignment - the first request he has made of me personally - to bring Ray in.
And I'm more grateful still for this opportunity to see Ray's home. I'm unlikely to get another glimpse any time soon.
When I discover what I believe to be a clue to Ray's whereabouts I leave. Reluctantly. There's so much more I'd like to see, to learn about Ray….
Duty calls. I respond.
Not that spending time with Ray Kowalski is a "duty" in any sense of the word. For me, it is a pleasure, one to which I've become addicted in the short time since we met. I'm no longer frightened of the temptation he presents to me. I think I'm in too deeply to be afraid.
I've fallen in love with him.
Knowing that - admitting it to myself - has eased things for me somewhat.
All I must do is hide it.
Feel it, revel in it….
And hide it.
Eased things for me. I smile at the ludicrous thought.
You'd think hiding my feelings for this man would be easy for me, wouldn't you? Uptight, controlled Mountie that I am?
If you do, then you've never met Ray Kowalski….
I find Ray where I expected to find him. As they say, we Mounties always get our man….
But I can't bring him in because he won't come.
He's not a criminal, so I cannot arrest him.
Without his cooperation, I'm helpless to bring him in.
And he won't come.
Refuses to come.
I'm terrified when he makes it clear that he'd abandon his duty as a police officer to chase this… chimera from his past.
If he loses his shield, I will lose him.
That is totally, utterly unacceptable.
I reason that if I offer my assistance perhaps there's a chance Ray can resolve this - whatever it is - that's eating him up alive and salvage his shield as well.
I abandon my stern stance. Tell him that we still have time. Join him in his enterprise.
I really have no choice, feeling as I do about him.
He leaves me no choice.
I must try.
That evening we leave the precinct while the birthday party I've organized for Ray Vecchio is still in lively progress.
Ray Kowalski appears to be happy now. At least, he verbalizes happiness. I still don't feel I know him well enough to be certain whether that is what's actually fueling his good mood.
I'm relieved and pleased, too, with the outcome of our day.
Ray has done his duty towards the other members of his department - brilliantly, I note - despite his adamant refusal to abandon his own quest for the "Holy Grill" - my God! - until he'd completed what he felt he needed to do for himself.
I admire his determination as well as his improvisational skills. I admire virtually everything about him.
A marvelous, complex person, is… yes, *my* Ray. He, too, is "my Ray," now.
Such a capable man. Capable of feats of courage I'm not sure I'd attempt.
And inventive, as well. A line-up, of course! Simple, once you think of it! But to think of it takes a special sort of man with a very special mind….
As we walk I find myself smiling at the memory of that clever ruse. Reveling, as usual, in the delight of loving Ray.
He notices my smile and returns it.
My heart swells with the joy I feel whenever he chances to look at me. Because Ray never simply "looks." He smolders, as if he wishes to burn his way into my soul with his eyes, as the focused rays of the sun burn whatever they touch.
Even the rays of the sun can be dangerous, in the right circumstances.
So it is that his glance precipitates a dual effect. Instantly, I'm both lighthearted and wary.
With a careful, already automatic little tug, I adjust my mental uniform and prepare for combat.
The full Ray, focused on me, in close proximity - his car, a restaurant, or simply during a long walk - and with no one else around, requires full emotional battle dress in response to his "friendly fire."
By this time I'm confident that I'm equal to another skirmish in this unending "war" we wage.
Of course, with Ray, one never really knows….
But that's why I love him.
A soupcon of fear is a fine thing for a soldier to feel, I've discovered….
Ray's still clutching the dreamcatcher when we arrive at the diner where we've decided to eat supper. To my delight, he's held onto it since we left the graveyard, didn't put it away even while he drove.
I was right. My gift means something to him, something good.
I surf from happiness to happiness, riding the ever-higher waves, marginally keeping my balance…. Alive with the freshness of my feelings for Ray and the challenge of his presence.
Oh how I love this man!
"Thanks for stickin' wid me today, Frase. I appreciate it," Ray tells me as he relaxes in the booth after the waitress brings the sandwiches and drinks we've ordered.
"It was no hardship, Ray, once I realized how important that… stakeout was to you."
"Not everybody woulda done it. I know you're a by-the-book kinda cop. So it wasn' easy for ya. I get that."
"All's well that ends well, as they say."
"Yeah, that's what they say!" He grins. "It did end well, didn' it? I'm glad I could do that for Welsh. He's a standup guy."
"Yes, he is."
"An' another thing -" He stops speaking and I watch his expression become serious. Concern grips me. What now, I wonder.
"Yes, Ray?" I ask as calmly as I can.
"I didn' get a chance to really thank ya for this." He lifts the dreamcatcher which he's still holding. "I know ya made it for Vecchio but it's nice a ya to give it ta me, anyway."
"Ya didn' what?"
"I didn't make it for Ray Vecchio."
"Ya hadta of made it for Vecchio - what with all the time it takes to get the ingredients and stuff."
"Nevertheless, I didn't make it for Ray Vecchio. I made it for you," I insist manfully. It's important that he believes this much. Otherwise, I will have given him the gift in vain.
"While it's true that ordinarily it might take months to obtain an eagle feather, this time it only took one week," I explain.
"I - I pulled some strings," I admit.
"Didya really?" he asks, apparently amazed that I'd do something which he must imagine is somehow illegal.
"So - but there couldn' a been enough time fer ya ta make it, anyway," he speculates, clearly determined not to believe me.
"I started working on the dreamcatcher the same day we met. That very night. It helped me… adjust to the loss of my apartment in the fire - and to living at the Consulate - to do something with my hands."
"But ya meant it for Vecchio, anyway, right? Fer his birthday?"
"No. It was always for you."
"I don' get it. Ya jus' met me. Why wouldya wanna give me a present? Especially somethin' special like this -" Again he waves the dreamcatcher in my face. I wonder whether he'll put it down while he eats. "Why, when we jus' met?" he repeats.
"I don't know why. I just - did."
"You really are a freak, Fraser," he says with a smile, giving in at last.
"Yes, you've certainly hit on something valuable in the way of insights there, Ray," I reply with a grin.
"Takes one to know one," he remarks, since I don't.
It is thus that he effectively removes the curse from the epithet. "I always been a freak, myself," he adds, just to reinforce what he's trying to tell me. Clearly, he wants to be certain I know he likes the fact that I'm a freak.
I wonder what he'd think if he knew how happy his teasing makes me.
He takes a sip of water. "Anyway, thanks."
"You're welcome, Ray. I only hope my gift performs its reputed function. That it ensnares your bad dreams, letting only the good dreams come through."
"Already done that, bigtime, today. Don' think I'm gonna dream about any a that stuff again."
We eat in companionable silence. Ray gives an occasional tidbit from our plates to Dief, who apparently shares my love for Ray, if Dief's unflagging attention to my new partner is anything to judge by.
Only as he pushes his plate to the side and moves his coffee front and center does Ray speak again.
His expression is serious, full of insecurity or perhaps worry, so I'm concerned.
He runs a hand through his hair saying, "Ya ain' insulted by what I asked ya back there, in the crypt, are ya?" When I don't answer immediately, he rushes on. "I mean, I was really high, goin' on adrenaline and stuff. A little crazy, ya know? I mean, how nuts is it ta ask ya if ya find me attractive?" He emits a small self-deprecating laugh. "Crazy, huh? You, the perfect Mountie! What would you know about whether a guy's attractive or not? An' I really dumped on that old lady and them two low-lifes! Wouldn' let 'em say a word! How weird is that? Like - which of us is the freak, here - you or me?"
I find myself breathless because Ray didn't stop to draw breath through that entire speech. I swallow and inhale as much air as possible, trying not to be obvious about it. I don't want Ray to believe he's caused me distress. No more than he already believes he's done.
"Ray, I do find you attractive. I am not a woman. Nevertheless, it's clear to me - to anyone with eyes - that you're an attractive, appealing person. I don't find the question insulting. Merely - unnecessary. Why would you imagine you're not attractive?"
"Come on, Frase, you seen it that first day, in the bullpen! I hit on everything in skirts and didn' get even one nibble! It's like that. It's always like that, wid women, fer me."
"Perhaps Elaine and the other women you asked out found reason to doubt your sincerity."
"I have virtually no personal experience 'hitting on' women, Ray, but even I could tell you were not completely serious. That your heart wasn't really in it. You didn't appear to be particularly disappointed with the responses you received, either."
"Yeah, well, yer right about that. I couldn' a cared less, Frase. That's the truth."
"You didn't care?"
"Nope. After all, I had you, didn' I? More 'n enough fer me to be carin' about."
"I don't understand. Why did you ask Elaine and the others to go out on a date with you, then? If it wasn't something you really wished to do?"
"I was jus' on a roll. Been doin' that - askin' women out - since I hit the precinct. Kinda an automatic thing, somethin' to say, while I was adjustin' to my new life."
"I see -"
"While I was waitin' fer you ta come home. I mean, ta get back from yer vacation," he adds in an oddly strained, low tone.
"Why were you waiting for me to come back?" I ask. "You didn't know me. Couldn't have… missed me. So, why?"
"Dunno. Nervous, I guess. Just -" He sips his coffee. Fiddles with the dreamcatcher again. "Just, everyone got this funny look on their face when they talked about you and Vecchio. About you. Like ya were some kinda… phenomenon, I guess. Seemed like that, anyways. I was scared."
"Of what, Ray? Surely, it was your call whether we'd work together as I did with Ray Vecchio, not mine. We're on 'your turf,' as they say. You're the police officer here. I'm merely a… hanger-on in Chicago."
"Looks dat way, don' it?" he replies cryptically.
"It is that way, Ray. Truly, I don't know what I'd have done if you'd… cut me loose. I'd probably go out of my mind with boredom, Consulate action being what it is."
"Well, it didn' look that way ta me," Ray asserts. "Ta me, it looked like you and Vecchio had greatness goin' and everybody at the precinct - from Welsh on down to the lowliest flatfoot at the front desk - thought you were the cat's whiskers! That I'd be lucky if ya let me partner wid ya. Took me unner yer wing."
"You didn't appear to be concerned -"
"Best defense is a good offense," he tells me bluntly. "Yer reaction didn' exactly fill me wid self-confidence, neither."
"I did adopt a kind of 'accept no substitutes' stance, didn't I?" I remark with a rueful smile.
"Ya sure did," he quickly responds, but he laughs softly, so it's all right.
"I'm sorry, Ray," I tell him seriously. "You - you startled me, as well. Frightened me. Ray and I were very good friends, true partners. I'd missed him while we were apart."
"Only natural," Ray says quietly.
"And I was happy to hear his voice when he called me in Canada. But I had my suspicions that something was… amiss before I saw you standing at Ray's desk. I began to be concerned simply because he called me long distance - ostensibly just to let me know he might not meet my plane…. It seemed so unlike Ray. His voice on the phone, the… deliberate phrasing of his remarks. I was sure he wasn't telling me everything. Or so I believed."
"Ya guessed somethin' was queer," Ray remarks.
"By the time I arrived at the precinct I was truly looking forward to seeing Ray in the flesh and quieting my fears."
"I get it. Musta been a big shock fer ya, Frase. A double whammy. First, the fire thing. On top a ya already worryin' about Vecchio. Then not knowin' about the whole undercover gig - jus' findin' me there, makin' like I was him, pretendin' to be yer best friend. If the shoe was on the other foot, I probably woulda freaked out, too. Maybe, popped ya one!" He grins.
"That response isn't an option for me, Ray. Given my nature."
"Oh, I dunno…. " he says slowly, thoughtfully.
"What do you mean?" I ask. Clearly, I'm not the only person who ponders the temperament and personality of his partner. I ought to have known that Ray Kowalski would be likely to do that, too. His insecurities alone would drive him to try to understand "the opposition," so to speak.
"I think there's more to you den meets the eye, is all," he says with a little shrug.
"A whole shi…. A whole bunch a violence, fer example." He shrugs again. "I dunno. Passion, maybe. Anger. Pride. Oh, yeah, pride. Bigtime."
"It ain' an insult, Frase. Yer a freak, sure. But yer human. Look how ya backed down when I got in yer face today, about the stakeout. Look how ya blushed when I asked ya whether ya thought I was attractive. Yer human. That's a good thing. Great. Greatness."
He smiles, then, a gift of unalloyed sunshine. As if he's finally decided something he's been unsure about for a long time. My heart jumps, thumps hard, and a lump rises in my throat. My terror is also unalloyed, unremitting, unmerciful. He must not speak, must say nothing more, nothing!
I don't know how to communicate this to Ray without "speaking" myself. So I remain silent.
He waits for a full minute before shrugging a third time. His eyes narrow for a moment, then he deliberately sets the dreamcatcher off to the side, reaches for a bit of his leftover sandwich, feeds it to Dief, and grabs the check.
Without standing up he executes a practiced wiggle to extricate a twenty dollar bill from his trouser pocket. He places the money on top of our check. He orders, "You leave the tip, this time, Fraser. Okay?" I nod. So far he's never permitted me to pay for a meal. Possibly he believes I'm a volunteer at the Consulate - perhaps that I work there merely to earn my room and board.
Anticipating that we'll be leaving immediately I pick up my Stetson from the seat beside me, but Ray makes no move to get out of the booth.
The relief I'd felt when he dropped the subject of my "humanity" doesn't last very long in the face of Ray Kowalski's incredible store of moods, intuitions and behaviors.
I watch him warily, wondering what he'll say or do now.
The last thing I expect is for him to return yet again to the subject of his question to me in the crypt. Incredibly, that's just where he goes next.
"Yeah, human." He glances at me with… intent. I hold my breath. What now? "I appreciate what ya tol' me about Vecchio - how ya felt when ya came home."
"I wanted you to understand why I acted as I did that day."
"I know. It's okay. I understan'."
"I'm glad," I tell him, then wait for the rest.
Finally he says, "Ya learned a lot about me today, Frase."
"Yes, I suppose I did, Ray -" I begin but he interrupts.
Somehow, his bluntness makes me respond with monosyllables, as well. "What?"
"I'm human, too."
I assume he's trying to tell me that he's "flawed," just as I am.
I can't think of anything to say except, "Yes?"
I'm well beyond imagining what additional human aspects of himself Ray will unearth to reveal to me, after his reminiscences in the crypt today about his humiliating experience as a youth during a bank robbery.
When he speaks again I realize I've been thinking in a box, which is not a viable modus operandi for understanding Ray Kowalski.
"What I asked ya - about whether ya find me attractive - it wasn' jus' a… theoretical question. I really wanted ta know."
"I answered you."
"Yeah. Yeah, ya did. So I think yer entitled to some answers, too."
"I'm not entitled to anything more than your loyal partnership as an officer of the law, Ray, if that."
"Yeah, ya are," he says decisively, brooking no further contradiction, pressing on. "I swing both ways, Fraser. Ya know what dat means?"
"I - yes, I do." I breathe deeply, now, not caring any longer what reaction Ray might have to my quite uncontrollable expression of dismay, distress and fear.
"Ya sure? It means I like 'em all - men and women. Ya knew dat?" His incredulity borders on being an insult, in and of itself, but I know he doesn't mean to imply that I'm an ignorant yokel. Even if it is what he's actually implying.
"Yes, I'm sure, Ray," I tell him, my tone sharper than I'd like it to be. "I'm reasonably knowledgeable about many… disciplines, including human sexuality, even if my practical experience of some things is less than world-class."
He catches the tiny edge in my voice and immediately asks, "Ya ain' mad, are ya? I mean, that I tol' ya? 'Course, ya didn' need ta know, but I thought fair's fair. If we're gonna be partners, ya oughta know."
"I'm not angry. Not at all."
"Well. Well, that's good, if yer not."
"I'm not angry. I'm simply… puzzled about something."
"Earlier today I got the impression - correct me if I'm wrong - that your ex-wife -"
"Yes, Stella. That Stella was your one true love."
"She was. She is."
"And you've been in love with her since… puberty?"
"Then… you were unfaithful to her during your marriage?" I can't believe I've asked such a personal question, but Ray doesn't seem bothered by it.
"Never with another woman. But yeah, once in a while, especially when things started to get rocky between us, the last coupla years we was together, I fooled around. Wid guys. Nothin' serious. I never loved nobody but Stella. But I got eyes. An' I don' always got standards. So -"
"Ya don' need to worry, Fraser. Ya can rest easy -"
"I'm not worried, Ray -" I start to say but he interrupts.
"I mean, jus 'cause I find you attractive, doesn' mean ya gotta worry. I won' be hittin' on ya or nothin' - ya don' need to worry about dat."
"Straight's straight. I don' make converts. Just - I wanted ya to know. That it wasn' a theoretical question. But I understan' that ya ain' really qualified to answer it."
I'm disturbed by what Ray has said. So much so that I know I'll become hysterical if I speak. So I don't speak.
Instead, I try my best to think.
I can't decide what bothers me most about this conversation. Aside from the irony, of course.
Is it the fact that now all my choices are gone? That now I cannot - will not - tell Ray the truth about my own sexuality - that I too "swing both ways?"
Or is it the fact that he has made assumptions about me which are wrong, despite his professed insight into my "humanity?"
Or is it simply the fact that Ray Kowalski was talking about sex? His sexual orientation and his sexual attraction to me? Only that.
While I've gone so far beyond sex, feel something so much greater than sexual attraction, for him….
I love him.
I love him.
If I didn't, if all I felt for him was sexual attraction, I think I'd be capable of telling him that much.
Not to speak of falling upon him like an animal and devouring him without hesitation.
But in the face of his minimal - albeit wonderful - revelation of his attraction to men and to me, I must remain mute about all of it. The sex, the love. Everything.
I can do nothing else but remain silent.
Because I could no more embark upon a purely sexual liaison with this man than I could fly.
All else aside, he'd know the truth about what I feel for him the moment I touched him intimately….
It's not something I could hide.
Love is not something I'd wish to hide from a lover….
Love is not something I'm ashamed of.
It's simply… too complicated for Ray Kowalski and me. Far too complicated.
Unrequited love is even worse.
I'm suddenly reminded of the dreamcatcher.
I'm so very glad I gave it to him when I did because now I wouldn't dare reveal my feelings so blatantly.
I will consider myself fortunate if he doesn't guess anyway.
Ray gets out of the booth. "So you're okay wid this, Frase?" he asks anxiously once more, framing his question differently, but it's the same question.
I'd forgotten how this must feel, from his side. I know I must reassure him. Quickly.
I stand and face him and tell him the truth. "Yes, I'm fine with it, Ray. Just fine."
"Good." He still appears doubtful.
"I'm really okay with it, Ray," I repeat.
Now he begins to make light of what he's revealed, teasing me to cover his relief. "I kinda figured a freak who tastes stuff off the ground and sticks his tongue in electric sockets won' be squeaked if he finds out I'm into a little AC-DC action, but I wasn' sure."
"You can be sure, Ray. I'm not 'squeaked,' not at all."
"All kiddin' aside, Frase, yer even better than yer rep," he tells me as we get into his car.
"Yer polite *and* free-thinkin'! What more can a man ask fer in a partner?" he jokes.
"Someone who shares his sexual preferences, I imagine," I reply in the same vein. "But I thank you kindly, nevertheless," I say with a smile.
"Yeah, well, two outta three ain' bad, Frase," Ray quips, clearly not expecting anything more from me.
I wonder whether he's actually disappointed with my response but hiding it, or whether his attraction to me, as it was to Elaine and the other women at the precinct, is so superficial that he doesn't care whether it's returned.
Or whether he's simply biding his time….
I don't let my doubts take hold. I've known Ray Kowalski long enough to be certain he wouldn't purposely do anything to hurt me. I needn't fear that. He may be calculating but I know beyond question that he is neither cold nor unfeeling.
I know, too, that my instincts were right when I immediately trusted him with my self. With my soul.
And that the fears which made me try to resist his pull were wrong.
He tempts me even more than Victoria did but he'd never hurt me - never break my heart - not with malicious intent as she wished to do. As she did.
Ray Kowalski is many things and resembles Victoria in many ways. But not in coldness. Never that.
As I expected him to, Ray thanks me yet again for the dreamcatcher when he drops me off at the Consulate.
I reassure him again. "I made it for you, Ray. I'm glad you like it."
"It's a treasure, Frase," he tells me solemnly. "Like you."
I smile. "So are you, Ray. So are you."
He grins, begins to reply then changes his mind. Instead, he hunkers down and nuzzles Dief's neck. "Goodnight, hound," he whispers in Dief's ear. Then, to me, "Goodnight, Frase." He gets up and opens his car door.
"Same time tomorrow, Ray? Seven?"
"Same time, same station. Breakfast. Long as ya'll have me."
He waves, gets into his car and drives away.
I continue to wave long after his car has disappeared.
I'm filled with joy because I know what my future holds.
It holds Ray Kowalski, heart and soul, if not body.
I agree with him. Two out of three isn't bad.
Not bad at all.
"Yes, Ray, same time, same station," I murmur with a smile. "I'll be here. As long as you'll have me, I'll be here."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ F i n i s ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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