Two Turtle Doves

This is the third installment of the series, “The 12 Days of the Tilley-Blandin Coronavirus Christmas.” More stories about the Tilley-Blandin family universe can be found here.

On the day before Thanksgiving, while on their daily stroll through a section of Washington, DC that this nauseatingly cute, white hipster couple had dubbed the “Death Zone,” Silver Tilley-Blandin turned to her boyfriend Louis Guidry and said, “Your name came up again on the internet.” She practiced the new art of making herself understood while wearing a mask by placing heaving emphasis on the first letter of each word.

Their neighborhood, Logan Circle, was not an outlier for its mortality rate during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the sheer volume of young patriotic policy nerds traveling to their family homes in other states for Thanksgiving presaged a suboptimal outcome in the District of Columbia and those other states from the puncturing of so many protective bubbles at thousands of family gatherings.

The Washington Post proclaimed “Friendsgiving is an epidemiologist’s nightmare. But its absence hits some young people hard.”

“Do tell,” Louis whispered in his best imitation of Blanche DuBois. Women considered Louis a traditionally handsome, rugged man, but he had no inhibitions about displaying his feminine side.

“It’s the Ted Nugent thing again,” Silver replied in her best Edward R. Murrow voice. “Old Uncle Ted finally got wind of you saving that boy’s life last spring [see “Louis Guidry Prevents Death by Nugent”] and recorded some words in a YouTube [see “A Partridge in a Pear Tree”] that’s now a permanent part of the collective human consciousness.”

“And I should care because?” he sighed.

“Exactly,” she chuckled, as her Shinba Inu, named Fiona Apple after her mother’s friend the singer, tugged on its leash and nearly sent Silver stumbling into the Barbie Pond on Avenue Q. Silver was raised in a family of attractive people. She was pretty, but not glamorous. Men felt very comfortable around her. Even though her best friend was Daphne Zimbalist, whom she called Daffy, the vast majority of her friends were men.

“I’m more concerned about parking around here again becoming a challenge,” Louis said.

“You don’t have a car,” Silver added. “Neither do I.”

“And your point is?”

“My point is…fuck you, I guess I don’t have a point.”

Silver could tell that he was laughing behind his Biden-Harris campaign face mask.

“That’s the lawyer-in-training coming out,” she said. “Always concerned about what’s going on in other people’s lives, never your own.”

After a winter and spring that they described, respectively, as “hinky” and “squirrelly” for their relationship, Silver and Louis had suddenly and surprisingly settled into loving and symbiotic cohabitation in the duplex her parents had purchased for her when she moved to the city after graduating from college in Oregon. Not quite the white-hot romance of a new relationship, not quite the quiet comfort of people growing old together. They seemed to actually like each other. However, Silver had to work to take another person into consideration. It had been a while.

Silver’s responsibilities at the Washington Post [see “Silver and Her Stimulus Check”] were expanding as more reporting staff were leaving town/getting sick/passing away. She was not a staff reporter (yet), but editors were asking her to provide first-person accounts every time she left the duplex, like life at the local dog run, random people walking around on the streets with protest signs, and interesting masks people wore while shopping at Whole Foods and Kazanchis. Some of her observations appeared in stories written by real reporters that credited her as a contributor.

Louis’ studies at the George Washington University Law School, his clerkship with District Judge Tanya Sue Chutkan, his love of music, his brief notoriety in saving that man’s life, and his [former all-Southern Athletic Conference] devotion to running outside while wearing PPE ensured that no day held a moment of boredom for him. And, for both of them, there was their unexpected romance.

Silver and Louis had begun dating before the pandemic, even though their dating was so different than that of their friends. Slower and more deliberate, like the peacock spider mating dance. Every Sunday afternoon beginning in the spring of 2019, Louis called Silver on the phone (“Have I reached Miss Tilley-Blandin?”) and asked after her availability during the upcoming week. They picked out times, places, and activities in advance. For most dates, Louis dressed in an expensive, tailored suit, which hung well on his athlete’s body. With her mother’s help Silver bought several dresses from Nordstrom’s to meet Louis’ standard. Louis held the door for Silver. He always insisted on paying and acquiesced when Silver pulled out her credit card. He listened to her stories – even the bad ones — without interrupting. He asked for Silver’s opinions, even on subjects where he was had expertise. He took instructions in bed and learned how to, um, address Silver’s needs. Louis was from established, but not old, New Orleans money.

Silver had to get used to being courted by an old-fashioned gentleman. She had to get used to the idea of being courted, period. Since moving to the nation’s capital, she has grown used to being alone, doing things for herself, entertaining herself, and to the unreliability and self-absorption of most men whose lives intersected with hers. She knew her share of sexual betrayal. She was weary of the idealistic young men drawn to the nation’s capital who have no game as well as the sexual ratio that always seemed to favor them. However, in spite of her nerdy tendencies, her family’s genes and child-rearing techniques had equipped her in ways that proved to be catnip for men: physical charm, confidence, grace, intelligence, and a sensitivity to the world’s balances and imbalances. Silver was from New York; her parents were successful and wealthy. Her mother was a writer, her father a painter. They were “artist wealthy,” but not “publisher wealthy” or “dealer wealthy.”

Silver and Louis challenged each other’s comfort zones. Louis took Silver on a 50-mile bike ride on the WO&D trail in northern Virginia (“My ass hurts so much that I will never give birth,” she said). Next week, Silver took Louis rappelling at New River Gorge in West Virginia (“I may have shit myself just a little,” he said). They ate sweetbreads, scrapple, Rocky Mountain oysters, duck’s blood, and escargot for the first time in each other’s presence (“My, that was unexpected” and “They was not entirely disgusting”). They competed with each other. Both recorded victories. Losses spurred further competition.

The pandemic changed the trajectory of their dating, as they initially turned inward for protection, like turtles retreating into their shells. Louis’ bubble coalesced around his law school roommates, Jeremiah and Duane, in their apartment at the Watergate. Silver resisted her family’s entreaty to join them at the “Tilley-Blandin Fortress,” their vacation home/estate/family compound in the Poconos. She formed a one-woman, one dog bubble. She was so comfortable being by herself that she initially refused Louis’ entreaties to form their own protective bubble. Instead, she and Louis became proficient at Zoom while she held him a bay. She even referred to Louis as “my friend, Louis,” leaving out any reference to their intimate relationship (“Yeah, that one stung,” he said). Then, in a comedy of errors which Silver still cannot explain or even rationalize, she finally agreed to Louis moving into her duplex — just as her brother Hopper arrived on the doorstep after being exiled from the Tilley-Blandin Fortress.

Old family tensions soon surfaced (“It’s like an episode of ‘Arrested Development’ being broadcast on loop in my head,” said Hopper. “Except that I can’t figure out which characters represent you and me, even though we’re in there”), and after three days Hopper decamped to the apartment across town occupied by his sister Olympia’s recently dumped boyfriend, Huey.  Huey had also been invited to leave the Tilley-Blandin Fortress. [See “The Life of Huey Newton Wallace Matters, or What Really Happened on the Fourth of July 2020”]

Louis, perhaps more used to structure, took over shopping and most cooking duties. It gave them both the illusion of control over their situation while the presidential election and the pandemic sewed agitation and low-grade hysteria around them. Silver, whose body had been battered by the terrible trio of solitude, stress, and lack of steady, proper nutrition, improved physically to the point that her mother told her that she looked “radiant” during a family Zoom. Her mother also asked her if she was pregnant (Silver was not pregnant).

Louis played a daily concert of Preservation Hall jazz standards on his electric keyboard, as well as Mozart, Beethoven, Broadway show tunes, and original compositions. Silver could feel her facial muscles relax when he played; she emerged out of her self-designed and -maintained panic zone and seemingly thrived. She began to recite the poetry of e.e. cummings, Mary Oliver, and Langston Hughes aloud in the duplex. Louis would stop what he was doing, listen, and kiss her on top of her head when she finished. When they woke in the morning, they lay still in bed, held hands without opening eyes, and uttered not a word for 10 minutes.

“I never understood how important music, poetry, and hand-holding could be until Louis moved in,” Silver told her sister Olympia.

Olympia had complained that her ex-boyfriend, the aforementioned Huey, was practical. “He’s probably never read a poem in his life,” she said. “He was great at after-dinner board games.”

“There is that,” Silver said.

“Hmmm,” Olympia snorted.

Over breakfast, while Louis cooked, Silver read the news on her Twitter feed and Louis asked questions. “I wonder,” he would begin, signaling that Silver would probably have to switch to Google to answer his questions.

“In how many films has Charlize Theron starred? At least 59.

“I wonder how many shades of white are available in paints?” Benjamin Moore states 150 shades.

“I wonder who’s older: Mick Jagger, Roger Daltrey, or Robert Plant?” Mick Jagger.

“I wonder if the average daytime temperature in Tucson in February is warmer than Los Angeles? It’s close, but as March approaches, Tucson gets warmer.

After dinner, while Silver cleaned up, they discussed their evening plans, meaning after Louis finished studying and Silver finished working, when they would sprawl out on the living room sofa (an extravagant purchase from Arhaus) and cast Netflix on the TV screen. Lately, it had been “Queen’s Gambit” and “Emily in Paris” – they loved the former (“She’s a boss lady, fucked up, but a boss lady,” said Louis) and gave up on the latter after three episodes (“A stereotype wrapped inside a cliché tucked inside a bromide,” Silver concluded). They would start an episode and slowly fall asleep, Silver’s head resting on Louis’ shoulder. Like couples of all ages trapped in their homes whose bodies were fending off stress.

On November 26, Louis woke up, turned to Silver, shook her, and hissed with a hint of panic in his voice, “Silver, today’s Thanksgiving.”

“Oops,” she said. “I wonder if this is a thing?”

Sixteen hours later, as they slipped into bed, Silver turned to Louis and said with a hint of satisfaction in her voice, “I think we fooled everyone. Thank you, Zoom fake backgrounds.”

“It’s too late to worry about whether or not our families realize that we forgot to plan for Thanksgiving,” Louis responded. “What’s important is that we are locked and loaded for Christmas.”

“A real Christmas breakfast!” Silver pronounced. “And Christmas cookies. We must have more Christmas cookies than is humanly possible to consume.”

“We’re still young,” Louis said. “We can eat as much sugar and carbs as we want!

“And movies!” Silver announced. “We must have a Christmas movie marathon.”

 “Watch whatever you want,” Louis said, “as long as we watch ‘Die Hard.’”

“’Why ‘Die Hard?’”

“’Die Hard’ is a Christmas movie,” Louis stated emphatically, slamming his fist on the IKEA bed side table. “None of this ‘Love Actually’ nonsense. My parents like ‘Love Actually.” Gross.”

“We can watch ‘Die Hard’ as long as we also watch the ‘White Christmas’ episode from ‘Black Mirror,’” Silver said. “None of this ‘Bad Santa’ nonsense. My parents like ‘Bad Santa.’ Gross.”

“You are so twisted,” Louis said. “I think I love you.”

“You told me that yesterday,” she said, smiling. “A girl could get used to hearing it.”

“And in honor of my roots in the bayou, I will make the perfect Frozen Bourbon Milk Punch,” Louis said. “It is the perfect Christmas brunch or dessert drink. We can sip it all day and emerge from our turtle shells. I will send the recipe to everyone on our Zooms so that we can imbibe together.”

“We’re not turtles, Louis. We’re more like two turtle doves,” Silver whispered into Louis’ ear. “Coo.”

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