The rabbit hopped over and sat at her feet.
“I’m fucked up,” Gillian told him.
She curled up on the couch and wept, but even that didn’t scare the rabbit away. Buddy had spent a great deal of time at the children’s ward at the hospital over on the Turnpike. Every Saturday, during Ben’s magic act, he was pulled out of a hat that was old and smelled of alfalfa and sweat. Buddy was used to bright lights and people crying, and he was always well behaved. He had never once bitten a child, not even when he’d been poked or teased. Now, he rose onto his back legs and balanced carefully, just as he’d been taught.
“Don’t try to cheer me up,” Gillian said, but all the same he did. By the time Ben came out of the bedroom, Gillian was sitting on the floor with Buddy, feeding him some seedless grapes.
“This is one smart character,” Gillian said. The sheet she’d taken from the bed was wrapped around her carelessly and her hair was sticking out like a halo. She felt calmer now, and lighter than she had for quite a while. “Why, he can put on the floor lamp by jumping on the switch. He can hold this bottle of water between his paws and drink some without spilling a drop. No one who hadn’t seen it would believe it. Next thing I know, you’ll tell me he’s litter-trained like a cat.”
Ben was standing by the window, and in the pale new light he looked as if he’d slept the deep sleep of angels; no one would guess how he had panicked when he awoke to find Gillian gone from his bed. He’d been ready to run down the street, to call the police and demand a search party. In those moments when he’d climbed from his bed he’d guessed he had somehow managed to lose her, as he’d lost everything else in his life, but here she was, wrapped up in the sheet from his bed. If he was honest with himself, he’d have to admit that he had a real fear of people disappearing on him, which is why he turned to magic in the first place. In Ben Frye’s act, what vanished always reappeared, whether it was a ring or a quarter or Buddy himself. In spite of all this, Ben had gone and fallen in love with the most unpredictable woman he’d ever met. And he couldn’t fight it; he didn’t even want to try. He wished he could tie her up in his room, with ropes made of silk; he wished he never had to let her go. He crouched down beside Gillian with the full knowledge that he was the one tied in knots. He wanted to ask her to marry him, to never leave him; instead he reached beneath the couch pillow, then waved his arm around and pulled a carrot out of thin air. For the first time ever, Buddy ignored food; he edged closer to Gillian.
“I see I have a rival,” Ben said. “I may have to cook him.”
Gillian scooped the rabbit into her arms. All the while Ben had been sleeping, she’d been dissecting her past. Now, she was through with it. She was not going to let that little girl sitting on the dusty back steps of the aunts’ kitchen control her. She was not going to let that idiot who’d gotten herself entangled with Jimmy rule her life. “Buddy is probably the most intelligent bunny in the entire country. He’s so smart that he’ll probably ask me over for dinner tomorrow night.”
It was clear to Ben that he owed the rabbit a debt of gratitude. If not for Buddy, perhaps Gillian would have left without saying good-bye; instead she stayed, and wept, and reconsidered. And so, in honor of Buddy, Ben fixed carrot soup the next evening, a salad of leaf lettuce, and a pot of Welsh rabbit, which Gillian was extremely relieved to hear was nothing more than melted cheese served with bread. A plate of salad and a small bowl of soup had been placed on the floor for Buddy. The rabbit was petted and thanked, but after dinner he was taken to his carrying crate for the night. They didn’t want him scratching at the bedroom door; they didn’t want to be disturbed, not by Buddy or anyone else.
Since then, they have been together every night. Just about the time when Gillian gets off from work, Buddy heads for the front door, and he paces, agitated, until Gillian arrives, smelling of french fries and herbal soap. The teenage boys from the Hamburger Shack follow her halfway down the Turnpike, but they stop when she turns onto Ben’s street. In the fall, these boys will sign up for Ben Frye’s biology course, even the lazy and stupid ones who have always failed science before. They figure that Mr. Frye knows something, and that they’d better learn whatever it is, and learn fast. But these boys can study all semester, they can be on time for every single lab, they still won’t learn what Ben knows until they fall head over heels in love. When they don’t care if they make fools of themselves, when taking a risk seems the safest thing to do, and walking a tightrope or throwing themselves into white-water rapids feels like child’s play compared with a single kiss, then they’ll understand.