But his father, eyes bright and alert, had said, "No, now if George wants to bring one of these, ah, Venusians home with him, that's his privilege. I think it would be very interesting."
George knew what his father meant by interesting.
Exposing Gistla to his family would result in deliberate sarcasm and eye-squinting and barely hidden smiles. There would be pointed remarks and direct insults. And when it was over, George knew, he would be expected to see the error of his ways. He would then be expected to forget about this odd creature and find himself a nice ignorant little Colony girl, whose father was a member of the Governing circle.
"And to hell with that, too," George said.
"What?" George heard Gistla say. He turned quickly. She was standing at the edge of the clearing, her round green eyes looking soft and serious. She wore the usual gray cape that reached her ankles. Her voice was a deep round sound, and there was hardly any accent in the words she had learned so quickly since the Colony had begun.
"Talking to myself," George grinned. The old excitement was inside of him. There was a kind of exotic quality in meeting Gistla that never disappeared.
She crossed the clearing, not too gracefully, and touched her fingers against his hand. This had been the extent of their physical expression of love.
"It is nice to see you, George."
He noticed his feeling of pleasure when he heard her speak his name. There was something about his own name being spoken by Gistla that had always seemed even more strange than anything else.
She sat down beside him, and they looked at each other while the leaves whispered around them and the birds fluttered and chirped. He discovered again the feeling of rightness, sitting beside Gistla. There was a solidity about her, a quiet maturity that he seemed able to feel in himself only when he was with her. And that too was strange, because in American terms of age, she was much younger than he.
Sitting, as they were doing, silent, watching each other, had been most of their activity. You did not need to entertain Gistla with foolish small-talk or exaggerated praising.
But right now he wanted to tell her quickly, to make sure that she would feel the enthusiasm he had felt.
"Listen, Gistla," he said, while she watched him with her soft-looking round eyes. "I want you to come with me today to meet my family."
His words seemed to have an odd ring to them, and George waited tensely until he was sure that she was not shocked or angry about what he had just said.
She sat silently for a moment and then she said, "Do you think that is right for me to do, George?"
"Sure it is! Why not? They know about you and me. They know we're in love."
"Love--" She spoke the word as though it were an indefinite, elusive thing that you could not offer as reason for doing anything.
Gistla was very wise, George realized, but this was a time for enthusiasm, a time to strengthen their own relationship in this world.
"Say you will!" George said.
"Do you want me to?"
"Well, sure I do. What did you think?"
She held her hands in her lap quietly. They were not unlike his own, George observed, except for the extreme smallness and the color.
"I do not think it will be nice for you or them," she said.
"Ah, listen, Gistla. Don't talk that way. It'll be fine!" But he knew that he was not deceiving her with the lightness he tried to put into his voice.
Then, although she had never done it before, she reached out and touched his cheek. George had grown used to the emotions that reflected on her face, and he knew she was suddenly very sad. "Yes, George," she said. "I will go with you to meet your family." And she said it as though she were telling him good-by.
It was no better than he had expected. It was worse. Much worse. And he was growing angrier by the moment. They were all seated in the rock-walled patio behind the large white house. Gistla sat beside him, looking very small and frightened and very different. And it was that obvious difference that George had hoped everyone might ignore. But instead, each of them, his father, his mother, his sister, appeared to be trying to make it even more obvious.
The first strain, when everyone had sat there staring at Gistla as though she were something behind a cage, had passed. But now his parents and sister were moving in a new direction. They had relaxed, having found control of the situation, and they were cutting her to pieces.
"Tell me," his sister was saying, her eyes dancing slyly, "don't you people have some very strange tricks you can do?"
George tightened his fingers against his palms. He heard Gistla answer, "Tricks?"
"Yes." His sister's white smile shined. "You know, like making things disappear, things like that."
"My father," Gistla said seriously, "can do very wonderful things. He is a musician."
George's father leaned forward, blinking amusedly. "Really? What does he play?"
"Play?" asked Gistla.
"Yes. He's a musician. He must play something, some kind of instrument."
Gistla looked at George, but George did not know what to say. He wished he had never tried to do this. He wished he had just ignored his family and gone on loving Gistla in the privacy of his own emotions.
"Well, now," Mr. Kenington was saying rather impatiently. "Does he play something like our violin or clarinet or oboe, or what?" His father, George had noticed, was becoming impatient more frequently since he had become Secretary. The Secretarial post was very important.
"He does not play anything," Gistla said carefully. "He just ... makes the music and I hear it."
"But how?" Mr. Kenington insisted. "What does he play the music on? He certainly can't make the music without using something to make it on."
Gistla glanced again at George and he said quickly, "It's pretty hard to understand, Father. I don't think--"
"No, now don't interrupt just now, son. This is very interesting. We'd like to know what she's talking about."
Mrs. Kenington spoke for the first time. "Are you just making this up?"
It was like a whip coming through the air. His mother sat there, blinking, the suspicion and distrust she felt for this creature showing in her eyes and upon her mouth and even in the way she was sitting.
"Now, Lois," Mr. Kenington said, as though he really sympathized with what she had said, believing that not only Gistla was making it up, but that all of her race made everything up. But he was stubborn. "Come now, tell us. Tell us what you mean."
Gistla's smooth head turned this way and that. "Sometimes," she said slowly, "my father journeys to other places, and if he cannot return soon, he sends me music. When the light has gone from the day and I am alone, I hear it."
"You mean he sends it by wires or by radio?" Mr. Kenington asked with surprise.
"Now, wait a minute," George's sister leaned forward, smiling. "You just hear this music, is that right? Up here." She tapped her forehead.
"Yes," said Gistla.
"My God," George's sister said. She looked at her parents, arching her eyebrows.
"You shouldn't make things up," George's mother said.
"Mother," George said, his face coloring. "She's not making things up!"
"Just a moment, son," Mr. Kenington said crisply. "You don't want to talk to your mother in that tone."
"No, but, my God," George's sister went on. "Imagine. No wires, no loudspeakers, just ... up here." She tapped her forehead again.
"I'm not talking to my mother in any tone at all," George said, disregarding his sister.
"Well, she shouldn't lie," said Mrs. Kenington with conviction.
George stood up. "She is not lying, Mother."
"I forbid you to argue with your mother that way, George," said Mr. Kenington.
"I mean, my God," said George's sister happily. "This is an innovation! Can you imagine? Gistla, or whatever your name is, could your father make his music sometime when we have a dance?"
Gistla's eyes were hurt and she was, George knew, confused. She shook her head.
Mrs. Kenington was blinking accusingly. "Do they teach you to make these things up? Is that what they teach you at home?"
"Mother, will you please?" George said. "Why must you talk to her that way?"
Mr. Kenington stood up quickly. "I did not raise my son to show an attitude like that to his mother."
"But she isn't making this up," George said. "You asked her to tell you and she--"
George's sister had jumped out of her chair and she was waltzing over the patio. She began humming as she danced. "Can't you just see it? Everyone dancing around, listening to music in their heads? No orchestra or records or anything?"
Mr. Kenington stood very tall. "Are you taking the word of your mother, or this ... this ..." He motioned curtly at Gistla.
George licked his lips, looking defensively at each one of his family. "It isn't a matter of taking anyone's word at all. It's just something we don't understand."
George's sister whirled and then suddenly she stopped, putting her hand against her mouth. "My God, what if everyone got the music different? I mean, does everyone hear the same music, dear? Because if they didn't, what a mess!" She began dancing again, her skirt swirling over the bricks of the patio.
Mr. Kenington's voice was louder. "I think we understand, all right, George. There isn't anything about this we don't understand!"
George's lips were paling.
His sister dipped and turned. "We could call it a Music In The Head dance. Everybody brings his own head!" She laughed merrily. "My God!"
George noticed then that Gistla was disappearing out of the rear gate. He stood, clenching his fists and glaring at his family. His sister had stopped dancing but she was still laughing.
"I didn't think, George," his mother said resolutely, "that you were going to invite someone who lied."
George turned and ran after Gistla.
They sat again in the clearing. George could still feel the anger churning inside him, and he held his hands together so tightly that his fingers began to ache. "I hate them for that," he said.
Gistla touched his arm. "No, George. It is all right. It is the way things are."
"But they don't need to be! My family did that on purpose."
"They just don't understand. My race is very different from yours and it seems strange."
"So does mine," George said, standing and beginning to pace back and forth.
It had been what he really had expected. But still he had hoped, somehow, that his family might have understood. He looked at Gistla, sitting quietly, her large eyes watching him. He knew he loved her very much just then, more in fact than he ever had before, because she had been refused by his family.
"Listen, Gistla," he said, kneeling on the grass in front of her. "It won't make any difference what anyone thinks or does or says. I love you, and I'll go on loving you. We'll build our own life the way we want it."
She shook her head slowly. "No, George. It does make a difference. You cannot forget your family or your people. That is important to you. I would only hurt you."
"Do you love me?"
"Then that's all that's important to me. Not what anyone thinks. Not what my sister thinks or my father or my mother."
"We are different, you and I." She sat unmoving, her smooth face unchanging. "My people seem strange to yours because we can do things your people do not understand. We seem strange because we look differently, we act differently, we value things differently."
"My values are the same as yours," George pleaded. "I love you because of what you are, not because of some kind of stupid chart for physical beauty, not because ..."
"George," she said. "Look at me."
George met her eyes suddenly, caught by the urgency in her voice. And slowly, in front of his eyes, she changed. Her features shifted, until George saw a beautiful young girl with pink white skin and red lips. He saw shining blue eyes and shimmering golden hair that fell over her shoulders. Gistla's body had changed to a lithe, smooth figure that revealed its contours beneath the gray cape.
He caught his breath and wiped a hand at his eyes.
"What you see," said Gistla softly, "is an illusion. You see what would be in your values, a beautiful girl."
George opened his mouth but was unable to find his voice.
"Do not be afraid, George. Beneath the illusion of your senses, I am still Gistla. I am still a Venusian."
George reached out and touched his fingers against a white arm and a white shoulder bared by the cape. He touched the golden hair. "Gistla," he said, amazed. "You're beautiful."
"Yes," she said sadly.
"But--you really are! Your hair and your eyes and your mouth. How did you do it?"
She shook her head to show its unimportance. "It is something--like your hypnotism."
George raised himself from his knees and sat beside her. "But I can't believe it!"
"You can see, you can feel."