“You are really are from another planet, you know that, Benny,” Ray groused as he drove a wet and shivering Fraser back to West Racine Street. He’d insisted on the Mountie removing as much of his soaked clothing as was allowable by law in order to safeguard the upholstery of the Riv. Fraser was wearing only his boxers under the blanket that Ray always kept in the trunk for just such happenstances as a Mountie taking literally someone’s admonition to go jump in the lake.
The blanket only came down to the Mountie’s knees and his naked shins and feet rested exposed to Ray’s view. Ray glanced at them while he was stopped at a red light. He’d only seen Fraser’s bare feet once before and that was while they were drowning in that vault. At that time he hadn’t been interested in examining these appendages too closely, having other things, such as imminent death, on his mind at the time.
But Ray looked at them now and it struck him how small and soft and pink Fraser’s feet were. Almost as though they hardly got any wear and tear. He chuckled to himself thinking that if Fraser really were from another planet, it must have a much lower gravity and that would be why he had such apparently underused tootsies. It would explain a lot about his behaviour too, he mused as he drove off again.
At the next light, Ray turned to his friend again, towards his face this time, intending remind him that he would have to change quickly so they could get back to Ray’s house by six, the time decreed by Ma for dinner. He was taken by surprise at the expression on Fraser’s face. He was not wearing the usual bland look that accompanied his listening to some recitation by Ray of his defects. He seemed pensive, his brows furrowed in concentration.
“Something wrong, Fraser?” Obviously there was, but Ray wondered what his chances were of getting his friend to tell him what it was.
“I . . . it’s . . .,” Fraser began, then turned his head away to look out the window.
“Look at me, not the scenery, man,” Ray insisted. “What gives?”
Fraser turned back and Ray noticed tears in his eyes. “You’ve saved my life again, Ray. At the risk of your own. I never thought I’d ever have a friend for who cares for me as much as you do.”
“Aw, don’t start getting mushy on me,” Ray protested although inside he felt all warm and fuzzy.
“And you know I’d do anything for you, don’t you, Ray?”
Ray’s eyes began to leak bits of wetness, not quite tears yet but threatening to grow into tears if the conversation went on much more in this direction.
“There’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you, Ray. But I haven’t dared.”
Something significant was coming, that’s for sure. Ray, embarrassed, wasn’t sure he was ready to hear anything heavy but steeled himself. “Spill it, buddy.”
Let’s wait until we get back to my apartment, Ray.”
They spoke no more until they reached Fraser’s place.
Once home, Fraser seemed to forget that he was intending to impart anything important and Ray didn’t push the issue. Fraser hung his wet clothes and Ray’s blanket over the radiators in his hallway and living room, then retreated to his bedroom.
Ray poked about in Fraser’s refrigerator for something to drink while the Mountie was changing. “Don’t you have anything in here but milk?” he called towards the bedroom.
Fraser emerged in his usual off-duty apparel: lumberjack shirt and jeans. In his hand Fraser held his bathroom water glass, half filled with water.
“If I wanted water, I could have got it from the kitchen sink,” Ray observed. “And can’t you afford to fill the . . .”
But Fraser’s expression was so serious that Ray stopped mid-gripe.
“Sit down, please, Ray. There’s something important I have to discuss with you.”
Ray dropped onto a kitchen chair and waited. Fraser drew another chair beside his and sat down near, very near. He held the glass of water as though it were a precious thing.
Ray had a sudden wild thought. What if Fraser was going to tell him he really was an alien? Well, why not? We made contact with the Martians two years ago, after all. Who knows what other kind of aliens there might be? Wait 'til Frannie hears, she’ll freak!
Fraser cleared his throat, and then began. “Ray, when you were saying in the car that I was from another planet, it made me think that the time had come for me to tell you . . .”
“That you’re a Martian, right?”
“No, Ray, I’m not a Martian, not genetically at any rate. But I was raised on Mars. My name really isn’t Benton Fraser. It’s Valentine Michael Smith.”
“The Man from Mars!” Ray gasped.
Everybody knew about the human who had been brought back from the second Mars expedition two years ago. The first expedition had been thirty-two years before and contact had been lost before anyone knew if they had even reached Mars. But the second expedition later had landed and made contact with the Martians, a sentient species with a civilization that dated back hundreds of thousands of their years.
The Martians shared with these newer visitors certain facts about the earlier expedition. They seemed to be holding back something, according to the expedition’s leader, but he wasn’t about to go insisting that they explore it at that juncture. The Martians described the crash of the earlier craft and finding only one person alive, a newborn baby. This baby they raised as one of themselves, but were more than happy to turn the child, now a grown man, over to the newly arrived humans. Records found in the remnants of the smashed craft revealed that the scientists who had been his parents, Doctor and Doctor Smith, had named their son “Valentine Michael”.
A great deal of media coverage greeted the newly arrived “Man from Mars” when he got back to Earth. But after only a few weeks the press reported that he had gone to live in the Andes, in a climate more like the one in which he had been raised. Ray, when he ever thought about it, had figured that probably was hogwash, but there was very little chance of the public ever learning the truth anyway. Ray never had any reason to make a connection between the disappearance of The Man from Mars and the arrival of Benton Fraser in Chicago on the trail of the killers of his father.
“You’re a Martian.”
“No, Ray. I’m human. I was just raised on Mars. And you’ve helped me learn human customs and been my friend.”
It was a lot to take in. Knowing there were aliens on the planet next door was one thing, but it seemed now his best friend had actually been raised with them
“Ray, I’d like you to perform a ritual with me. It’s a Martian thing. Its called ‘sharing water’ and it is the deepest kind of bonding we know. It’s something like being adopted and something like getting baptized and something like getting married. It means that I am yours and you are mine, forever.
“Martians are gay?” This was an aspect of Martian life that Ray didn’t want to know about, if this were so, and he wasn’t sure he could go along with this, for all that he loved Fraser as a brother.
“Martians don’t have sex in the human sense. They reproduce differently. But here among humans I’ve learned sex is also for growing closer. It’s usually between males and females but I’ve learned not exclusively so. If you wanted to grow closer in that way I’d be willing to do it to make you happy. But that’s not what being water brothers is about.” Fraser said this as blandly as if he were discussing the difference between human and Martian footwear.
“It’s about being brothers,” Ray fought to grasp all the new concepts being thrown at him.
“Much more than that. I wish I could explain it to you in Martian, neither English nor Italian have a word for this kind of one-ness.”
Ray swallowed hard. “What do we have to do?”
“We share the water of life,” Fraser said. Very slowly and deliberately he raised the water to his lips and took a tiny sip, all the while keeping his eyes fixed on Ray’s face. Then, with great solemnity he extended the glass to Ray. “I offer you water, my brother. May you never thirst.”
Ray hesitated. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for Fraser, no, Smith, but he was confused. He met Fraser’s eyes and there he saw an expression that transcended all of friendship or lust. Fraser was dry-eyed and intent, focusing all of his being on Ray. Ray sat entranced in the gaze until he tapped into a familiar comparison. Take the way Ma looked at him sometimes and multiply it by ten. Ray’s own eyes let fall the tears that he had held back in the car.
It was all connected. Water from getting dunked in the lake, water from his eyes, water from Benny’s glass. The water of life.
Ray reached out and took the glass from Fraser’s hand. Their fingers touched in the act and Ray let his hand rest against his friend’s for an instant. “Never thirst, my brother,” he intoned, as though saying a prayer. He drank. Then he put the glass on the table. “Let’s get going, my brother. Our mother’s got dinner waiting.”