FanPost

Knicktion: Never the Twain

Hello, Posters and Toasters. Y'all won't recognize my screen name, but that's okay--I don't plan on being around for any more than this FanPost here, and before too long, you'll probably be pretty happy for that fact. What is this FanPost, you wonder? In summary, it's an excessively long story, designed to be a tribute to the 2012 offseasons of both the Knicks and P&T.

I have tried to make this story a gift to all who make P&T the wonderful, enjoyable corner of the internet that it is. That was my intention, anyway. Now, as is the way with all gifts, it could be hit or miss. Some gifts are worth keeping around, while some are best tossed into the bottom of a cardboard box and buried under a mountain of other discarded crap in the garage, never to be used or looked upon. However this FanPost turns out for you, please know that it is offered in a spirit of friendship and community, without any other agenda or motive.

As you can probably tell just from this intro, this FanPost is looooooong (full disclosure: it was originally planned to be four separate, more bearable FanPosts). It is beyond even Chillsap long. I don't know how long it will take for you to read, but it could very well be more of your life than you are prepared to devote to it. If you start reading and suspect that it isn't for you, then I urge you to cease reading immediately--it doesn't get any different, better or surprising after the first few paragraphs (which is somewhat amazing, considering that it's not possible to get any worse either), so it's better for you to quit before you're too far behind.

For any who do stick with it: do not read too much into the metaphor. I'm sure it falls in a crumbling heap if it's subjected to any rigorous analysis, and it isn't necessarily an accurate representation of what I think about Amar'e, Melo, or the Knicks, either. It's just a tale that organically grew from a basic conceptual seed to become what it is, and it probably no longer resembles anyone's version of (metaphorical) reality. However you may interpret the metaphor, and however robust it may or may not be, though, it is absolutely intended to be a story of hope for the coming season, so I hope that message comes across.

Anyway, I think I've said the most important things I had to say up here. I hope you enjoy this story, or as much of it as you choose to read. And if you don't enjoy it, I hope you don't waste too much time reading it.

Thanks to all of you; I hope you all enjoy the coming season and this great community, whatever each may bring us,
A.S.M.

P.S. Specific acknowledgment must go to fuhry, whose own excellent, original offseason Knicktion went up just as I was finishing up writing this one (props also to Joe and Chillsap and every other FanPoster, naturally, for keeping the offseason lively). I'm definitely not trying to get into another Joe-Chillsap feud here. Trust me-after this FanPost, I'm done.

***

Never the Twain

Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,

When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

~Rudyard Kipling, "The Ballad of East and West"

Part I: Inbounds

Westminster Quarters rang throughout the marble palace, imbuing every luxurious room with the reverberation of artificial chimes, courtesy of the palace's incongruously cheap doorbell and its unfathomable instruction manual. Even at the most convenient of times, the noise would have been offensive, but at the present hour of 2AM, the ululations of invading barbarians would have been more welcome. They definitely would have been more indicative of what was waiting outside the mansion's grand entrance door.

The house's butler, D'Antoine, shuffled swiftly through the expanses of hallways and atria as he rushed to meet the nocturnal visitor. The delicate red silk of his housecoat billowed and flapped behind him as his hands drew its front closed and efficiently tied its belt, while the soft swish-swish of his slippers on the marble floor handily cloaked the less delicate - albeit sweetly French-accented - utterances he whispered under his breath and through his mustache. The benefit of this concealment was rendered moot, of course, by the incessant din of Westminster Quarters, which was repeating insistently, courtesy of the impatient caller.

Having navigated the house's vast oceans of marble and rugs and arrived at his destination, D'Antoine donned the complaisant façade that was de rigueur for his profession, and with a flourish he placed a hand on each of the oversized, ornate handles adorning each leaf of the grandiose door. Clearing his mind and soul of his Gallic pique at having been wakened, he pulled the doors back to reveal the identity of the offender.

"'Sup, Michel?" the caller greeted the butler, his casual use of the D'Antoine's first name echoing the casualness with which he was leaning against the doorframe.

"Bonsoir, Monsieur Anthony. It is an unexpected pleasure to have your company tonight," D'Antoine replied, valiantly maintaining a professional demeanor even as the cool night air infiltrated his housecoat and caused his outside bits to contract their way nearer his insides. "And for what reason do you grace us with your presence, if I may ask?"

"It's a thing, man. It really is a thing. You wanna let me in? I'm gonna be here awhile."

"Certainly, Monsieur Anthony. Please make yourself comfortable in the drawing room. I shall rouse the master of the house." D'Antoine stepped backwards and raised an arm towards the interior of the house to admit the guest, who peeled his frame from that of the door and sauntered across the threshold, the damp soles of his sneakers squeaking on the polished stone floors to announce his presence, as if the doorbell's brutal rendition of Westminster Quarters had not been notice enough. Monsieur Anthony made his way to the drawing room unguided, knowing the house as well as his own, while D'Antoine swish-swished his way back towards the depths of the expansive mansion, to stir his master.

After a few minutes, Monsieur Anthony, who had already made himself quite comfortable, was joined in the drawing room by the house's master, who was attired in a gold robe and brown leather slip-ons. He could have been Solomon, although it is doubtful that even a notable sinner like Solomon would have worn such a large blue waistband by choice.

"Melo, ‘sup?" the host greeted his guest in subdued tones as he rubbed the sleep from his half-closed eyes, which were reluctant to face the brilliance of the room's chandelier, which was compounded by the reflectance of the room's golden full-height curtains and of his own robe.

Before Melo could answer, D'Antoine, ever-hospitable, stepped to the doorway and enquired of him, "Is there anything I can get for you, sir?"

"Got chocolate milk?" Melo asked.

"Yes, sir. I believe we do. I shall bring some presently." D'Antoine turned towards his master and with a direct tone asked, "And for you, sir?" He already knew what his master would request and did not need to ask, however his master's gradually-drooping head indicated that some provocation was necessary, in order to retrieve his master from the arms of sleep.

"Coconut water please, D'Antoine. With a side of mango puree and a paper umbrella, thank you." D'Antoine left the room and bustled his way to the nether regions of the mansion, leaving the other two to their business, while he got on with his.

"What's goin' on, Melo? I need my sleep, man. I trained six hours today and I got a topless jogging session in Jersey in the morning."

"I know, Amar'e. I got your tweets and texts and calls, man. I know more about what you've been hitting and pumping than I know about what JR's been hitting and pumping. Hell, man, I've seen more topless photos on your feed than his, too." Melo had indeed been kept well-apprised of Amar'e's comings and goings over the past few months, although Melo had been keeping himself busy with his own pursuits, too.

"So what's up?" Amar'e asked again.

At this point, a lot of people would have hesitated. But Melo was not wanting for confidence, nor did he feel any compunction about claiming what he wanted. "I'm gonna need to move in here. You know, just set up here for a while." He could just as well have been describing his plans for cutting his fingernails or buying lunch, such was the nonchalance with which he spoke.

Amar'e, still not quite fully awake or functional, didn't grasp exactly what Melo had just said. It actually wouldn't have mattered if he had been fully awake and functional--under any circumstances, being told that you're about to have to share your own house with someone else requires a moment or two for comprehension to arrive.

"You're moving in here? Why? I thought you were doing well enough in your own house."

"Well, my house isn't really working for me so well right now." This was, in fact, an understatement. The truth is that Melo had fallen into a trap that ensnares many rich, celebrated people, and the results had been more than dire: Melo had become complacent with the luxuries of his life, and karma had delivered a message. Only time would reveal whether Melo understood the full import of this message, but it had certainly instigated change, as Amar'e was presently discovering.

Melo continued, "See, I was lying on one of my couches, licking the filling out of Nutter Butters and then putting the cookies in my paper shredder, just to see what would happen."

"And what happened?" Amar'e didn't have to be fully awake or functional to know that the answer would be something bad.

"It's a hell of a thing, man. Those things must have just gummed up that shredder or something, ‘cause all of a sudden it just, like, spazzed out and stopped."

"So what'd you do?"

"Well, I figured it was more a problem for Carlos, so I left it for him. I was out of Nutter Butters anyway, so I went to see what else was up in the kitchen. Next thing I know, shit's on fire and I had to bail."

"What about the house?" Amar'e got the sense that Melo didn't quite grasp the gravity of the situation or his role in it.

"It's gonna be a while until it's all back together again. I left Carlos back there, though. I bring in the money, he can clean up the mess."

Just then, as if summoned by the very mention of servitude, the ever-dutiful D'Antoine returned with the men's drinks. "Is there anything else I can get for you, gentlemen?" he asked.

Melo, insouciant as ever, spoke up, "Yeah, D'Antoine. Prepare a room for me, man. I'm stayin' over awhile."

***

Part II: Broken Play

"D'Antoine is getting towards his wit's end, sir," Woodhouse called from the dressing room as he laid out Amar'e's short shorts and spandex a-shirt for the morning's workout.

Woodhouse, as Amar'e's personal valet, was, strictly-speaking, only responsible for tending to his employer's attire and grooming, while D'Antoine as the house's butler was responsible for the smooth functioning of the household, and therefore D'Antoine was Woodhouse's superior in the hierarchy. Although Woodhouse had only been in Amar'e's employ for a short time, he had sensed early in his tenure that D'Antoine's position within the house was precarious, and that in time - likely sooner rather than later - D'Antoine would either resign or be dismissed. Consequently, Woodhouse had been sure to give the occasional, subtle indication that he was concerned with the overall state of the household, laying the groundwork for what he saw as his eventual, inevitable promotion from valet to butler. He couldn't and wouldn't work to actively bring about D'Antoine's departure - that would be improper, unprofessional and borderline traitorous - but if he should benefit from such an eventuality, well, you've got to seize opportunity when it's there for the taking, don't you?

Amar'e, naked and dry after his shower, padded his way with feline grace from the bathroom, over the bedroom's plush rugs, and into the dressing room, where Woodhouse was going about his morning duties and craftily insinuating his way deeper into the affairs of the household.

"Look at me," said the naked Amar'e. Woodhouse paused.

"I beg your pardon, sir?" asked Woodhouse as he turned around, expertly maintaining his genial visage even as he was confronted with the impressive sight of his disrobed employer.

"I think it's bulging again. I felt a little tightness down there, so I tried looking in the mirror but I couldn't get the right angles. Can you check it out for me?" This development evidently perturbed Amar'e, and Woodhouse was keenly aware that it was in his interests to maintain the happiness of his employer, so he switched gears from ‘dresser' to ‘doctor' and approached Amar'e to conduct his examination, stooping as he did so, to better inspect the area of concern on Amar'e's lower torso.

Woodhouse pressed down on Amar'e's tender region, gingerly at first but then with more force as it became apparent that there was no medical problem. "I think your disc's fine, sir. It doesn't appear to be bulging again."

"Phenomenal. We're working on post moves today and there's gonna be a lot of banging down there. Don't wanna hurt my back again." Woodhouse gave a small smile of reassurance and set about returning to his prior business of dressing Amar'e while also hooking another finger around the next rung of the house's ladder.

"I do not wish to speak out of place, sir, but I do worry about D'Antoine. Mister Anthony's presence appears to be causing him not a little inconvenience." Woodhouse tried to step out onto the tightrope again, then added hastily, "Although our guest is unquestionably a fine gentleman, sir."

"Shit's messed up, Woodhouse, no doubt," Amar'e concurred, not needing to display the restraint that his valet was obligated to, "I mean the other day, I found the dude's bacon bits mixed in with my matzah granola. That's just not kosher, man, and besides that, how did he get bacon in there anyhow?"

"You have my sympathies, sir. You may not be aware, but I also found him using your commode yesterday. He was seated, sir, if you take my meaning."

Amar'e let out a lengthy, "Sheeeeeit, Woodhouse."

"Just as you say, sir. Shall we get you dressed, now?" Accustomed as he was to being in the presence of his naked employer, Woodhouse did still feel more comfortable when he was clad, even if those short shorts were marginal on coverage.

*

After dressing, Amar'e went downstairs, heading for the kitchen, to pick up his bagged lunch before leaving for the morning's training session. Before he had even reached the bottom of the curved staircase, he could hear that D'Antoine and Melo were already in the kitchen, engaged in the latest of many quarrels that had flared since the new guest had arrived.

"It's ricotta or nothing, man. Plain Béchamel, that's got no power," Melo was calling to D'Antoine with his face buried in the refrigerator, while combing through shelf upon shelf of the house's food stocks, knocking containers over on their shelves and allowing many of them to fall onto the floor, in his haphazard search for his desired ingredient.

"But we do not ‘ave any ricotta, Monsieur Anthony," D'Antoine tried to explain, although he had been through this process enough times to know that no explanation or argument - not that D'Antoine was permitted to argue - would dissuade Melo from trying to obtain what he wanted.

"It's lasagna, man, and my lasagna needs ricotta," Melo stated his case, although his usage of the word ‘need' did little to convince D'Antoine that lasagna could not be cooked without ricotta. "You know this, right? I told you like a million times."

"Oui, sir, you did, and we are always ‘appy to accommodate you," D'Antoine lied through his teeth, while trying his best to keep his strained temper from turning his normally genteel French accent into something more resembling a drunken Scotsman's rendition of Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau. "We did purchase some ricotta as you wish, ‘owever it was all used in yesterday's lasagna. Or lasagnas, per‘aps I should say, sir."

"Lasagna again, Melo?" Amar'e asked as he entered, feeling more than a little like a visitor in his own kitchen. Even if he hadn't overheard the reverberating ricotta debate, he would have been able to guess with a reasonable degree of certitude what Melo was after, given that he seemed to be interested in only two things: lasagna, and Ice Sensation.

Lasagna - the layered, baked pasta dish which is popular the world over - was especially popular with Melo on Mondays, when, it seemed, he was often in a foul mood, the reasons for which were apparent to no-one in the house. One particularly rough Monday, Melo stayed in bed all day, ringing his ‘Frenchie bell' to summon D'Antoine and a fresh-baked lasagna on no fewer than four occasions, emerging from under the bed sheets only to snatch the hot dish and to hiss at D'Antoine like a cantankerous cat.

Ice Sensation, despite its frosty-sounding name, did not consist of ice at all. It was, rather, a bottled refrigerated drink, which consisted of water, sugar, an exotic blue food coloring which was currently under investigation by the Food and Drug Administration, and the gimmicky ingredient for which Ice Sensation had been given its name: minute particles of platinum leaf, which were held in suspension by the viscosity of the syrupy liquid, and which gave the impression of icy blue points of brilliance radiating from the bottle when it was viewed under strong light. Ice Sensation was therefore highly alluring to the more superficial breed of consumer, however it had its downfalls in that it was very expensive, unable to satisfy any but the most basic of nutritional requirements, and it was potentially toxic. Melo loved Ice Sensation, and seemingly could have lived - or died - on that alone.

Amar'e, on the other hand, thrived on his ‘pickle rolls': kosher dill pickle, sliced and laid in a bagel, which could incorporate a variety of fillings to suit Amar'e's many moods. Amar'e was a true renaissance man, with more faces than a pair of percentile dice, and at any given time his preferred pickle roll could be garnished with anything from hummus to gefilte fish. As a result of this whimsicality, Amar'e required that his fridge be stocked with many filling ingredients, and equally many ready-made pickle rolls for him to grab as he left the house, which was precisely what he had come to the kitchen for on this occasion.

Unfortunately for Amar'e, though, Melo's requisites - many of which were now lying discarded on the kitchen floor, innocent victims of his quest to unearth the elusive ricotta - had taken up residence in Amar'e's fridge to an even greater extent than Melo had taken up residence in Amar'e's house. Melo's Ice Sensations left precious little room for Amar'e's pickle rolls. Amar'e should have, and indeed had, expected that this would make it unlikely for him to get his desired pickle roll on this morning, but that didn't preclude him from making a request of D'Antoine, at least.

"Yo, D'Antoine, can I get a lox pickle roll for today? I'm feelin' the pink today, you know what I'm saying?"

In truth, no-one would have known precisely what Amar'e was saying, but nevertheless D'Antoine did his best to humor his employer, his temper subsiding by habit more than any acceptance of Melo's ways, "If I were inclined to gamble, sir, I would venture to say that you were feeling phen-"

"Phenomenal. Most definitely, D'Antoine. Most definitely." Amar'e finished D'Antoine's sentence, unable to contain exactly how phenomenal he was feeling.

"I shall see what we have in the refrigerator, sir, but if I were inclined to gamble once again, I would venture that we-" began D'Antoine, but Amar'e knew how his sentence would finish.

"You'd venture that we got none in there, right?"

"I fear it may be so, sir. Perhaps if Monsieur Anthony would be so accommodating as to vacate the area for but a moment, I would be able to see for you, sir."

Melo had continued rummaging for his ricotta throughout Amar'e and D'Antoine's exchange, seemingly indifferent to what was happening outside the sphere of his personal concerns. Running short on ideas, however, he had finally abandoned his whey-based mission, opting instead for his regular, default option: Ice Sensation.

"I'm going Ice Sensation, D'Antoine. The fridge is all yours, man. I'm hitting the pool. Bring me down another Ice Sensation when I'm done, will you?" And with that final instruction, Melo turned and left the kitchen, opening the bottle of Ice Sensation and greedily sucking it down as he walked, leaving Amar'e and D'Antoine to scavenge what they could from the fridge, which was barren of all but Melo's Ice Sensation and miscellaneous flotsam.

Such was life these days, in what only weeks earlier had been Amar'e and D'Antoine's house.

***

Part III: Isolation

As the weeks passed since Melo's uninvited arrival, it had become more and more obvious to D'Antoine that Melo had the run of the house, and that it was unlikely to be any other way while he was there. For D'Antoine, whose job it was to maintain order in the house and keep all of its occupants happy, his situation therefore appeared impossible; there was an insurmountable obstacle obstructing his path to success, and either it, or he, had to be removed. Only one of the two seemed inclined to move. And so D'Antoine did.

When he had made his decision to resign - which ultimately came to him while driving back to the house after running some errands on a Wednesday morning - D'Antoine concluded his term as the house butler swiftly. By the end of the day, he had left the house for good - or possibly bad - and Woodhouse was the house's new butler; at least on an interim basis, not that Woodhouse had any intention of relinquishing his newly acquired but long-anticipated position.

Although cleaning was not one of the house butler's duties, it seemed for a while that Woodhouse was a new broom sweeping the house clean, as a spirit of harmony and bonhomie pervaded the house, even if Melo's Ice Sensation continued to occupy the majority of the fridge's volume and Amar'e's pickle rolls remained comparatively scarce.

Had someone asked Melo what the difference was since D'Antoine's departure, he might have said that when change happens, it almost forces everybody to come together as one, as a group, and really lock up, really stick together. It was certainly true that D'Antoine's resignation had caused Melo to focus on having an energy that he hadn't previously had, although this focus had so far extended mostly to having a less prescriptive attitude towards lasagna ingredients, and no longer allowing complete strangers free entry inside the house whenever they appeared and unleashed the doorbell's less-than-enchanting rendition of Westminster Quarters--he now asked their names first.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But also, it is a foolish man who builds his house upon the sand.

As the calendar continued its inexorable turnover of leaves, and spring gave way to summer, the smooth and harmonious functioning of the house became more fitful, as old habits resurfaced. However, harmony was restored in bursts, as the occupants went transatlantic for separate enterprises. Musical pedants would point out, though, that it is unusual for an unaccompanied instrument to harmonize with itself.

First, taking a rather large gamble, Amar'e traveled to Paris, leaving the house under the custodianship of Woodhouse, but still occupied by Melo. At first blush, there would seem to be little risk in Amar'e taking a leave of absence, given Woodhouse's presence, however Woodhouse had seemed to be rather tolerant of some of Melo's tendencies, which did have the benefit of improving Melo's mood - and consequently the mood of the house as a whole - but which also carried with it the potential for calamity.

Anticipating the potential for misadventure - a la the Nutter Butters incident - during his absence, Amar'e took some precautions. Given that Melo had already burned down one house with his indulgent recklessness, it seemed a prudent move for Amar'e to safeguard his own house. Accordingly, Amar'e had fire extinguishers installed in a few at-risk areas of the house, although identifying which areas were ‘at-risk' was an exercise in lateral thinking worthy of de Bono himself. In an improbable twist of irony, however, the fire extinguishers caused a minor disaster of their own.

*

On one particularly clement spring day, shortly before Amar'e was scheduled to leave for Paris, Melo had left the formal dining room's panoramic glass doors open to the rear garden after he had ventured outside. This was not especially careless, as the day was one of the finest since the bleakness of winter had yielded to the vitality of spring, and the open doors were admitting a refreshing light breeze, which drifted easily throughout the halls and chambers of the house. This accessibility was not exclusive to the pleasant breeze, however; either by chance or barely-controlled design, a bee had managed to navigate its way from the perfumed patchwork tapestry of the garden's flowers, through the intricate veil of the dining room's lace window dressings, and into the sumptuous habitat beyond.

The incessant buzz of the insect's wings droned throughout the house, the frequencies bouncing effortlessly off of the marble floors and filling up the cavernous spaces of the rooms, until the sound reached Amar'e, who was occupying himself upstairs with general studies at the time. Finding the noise distracting, Amar'e arose from his comfortable leather chesterfield and sought the source of the sound, stalking from room to room to locate the latest of his uninvited houseguests, until he tracked it to the exposed dining room.

Slipping softly across the room's threshold, Amar'e's eyes scanned the room, searching for the errant visitor, which he espied circling nearby the red fire extinguisher case mounted on the wall. It was - much to Amar'e's distaste - the most colorful object in the room and therefore, by the bee's reckoning, the most likely to contain nectar. Amar'e stepped swiftly towards the bee and its presumed spring of sweetness, raising a hand as he went, ready to swing when the chance presented itself.

When he was within an arm's distance of the glass-fronted fire extinguisher case, Amar'e stopped and waited, scrutinizing the bee's circuits, all the while holding his arm in a state of tension, cocked like the hammer of a Smith & Wesson, poised to strike. The bee circled and spiraled, inching closer to the fire extinguisher case with every cycle, while Amar'e synchronized himself with its rhythm as it passed before his eyes. Sensing that the time was nigh, Amar'e swatted viscously, releasing the tensed arm in a backhanded arc towards the insect with as much force as he could muster.

In an instant, the noise of the buzzing was interrupted by a violent smash, which then gave way to the clatter of shards spilling across the marble floor, and finally to a pained groan from Amar'e. After the initial shock had passed, he surveyed the damage he had just wrought.

The fire extinguisher case, with its fragile glass-fronted door, was perfectly intact and unharmed.

Turning to look behind him, Amar'e saw that the priceless Ming vase which, only a few moments earlier, had been standing on a plinth nearby the fire extinguisher case, was now anything but intact and unharmed. It was now, in fact, lying on the floor in many more pieces than it should have been, the innocent victim of Amar'e's arm, which had been swung with such velocity that it had continued on its trajectory past the bee, past the fire extinguisher case, even past Amar'e's field of vision, and into the unsighted, priceless, Ming vase.

"Damn, my Ming vase. Thing was priceless," Amar'e lamented to nobody but the walls and the now empty plinth. "Coulda been worse, I guess. At least it wasn't from the Tang dynasty. That was my favorite dynasty."

While Amar'e swept the pieces of the formerly priceless vase into one valueless pile, the unscathed bee resumed its search for nectar, eventually achieving a measure of success when it alit upon a bright blue and impossibly sweet puddle of Ice Sensation, which had spilled when a half-empty bottle, which had been left on the floor, was knocked over by the languidly billowing drapes.

*

Shortly after the Ming vase incident, Amar'e took his planned vacation in Paris. More accurately, the vacation was not just planned, it was coordinated and executed with precision, which is a necessity when springing a surprise marriage proposal replete with private dinner and million-dollar ring.

While Amar'e was busy canoodling overseas, Melo and Woodhouse were alone together - aside from the occasional interloper - and were getting on like a house on fire, although not literally, in this instance. With Amar'e out of the house, there was no need to balance the fridge's capacity to accommodate both pickle rolls and Ice Sensation, and with no-one else to be disturbed, Woodhouse was able to let Melo have the run of the house, which, with Melo's relatively simple needs, allowed Woodhouse to lollygag to a certain extent. During this time, life for the two was simple, life was easy. Life was a permanent Sunday morning in the summertime.

When Amar'e returned from his successful engagement in Paris, life once again became more complicated for all; the honeymoon period that often had been enjoyed only a couple of weeks earlier, had seemingly been entirely displaced when Amar'e returned with the promise of a different honeymoon on the horizon. Ice Sensation and pickle rolls again vied for limited resources, Amar'e and Melo frequently wanted to do their respective ‘things' in the same place at the same time, and at the end of each day, there was always some kind of mess - either literal or figurative - for Woodhouse to clean up. To Woodhouse, it seemed that he was again thrust into the role of a circus performer-come-orchestra conductor: juggling egos, moods and supposed ‘needs,' and conducting affairs in an unceasing effort to elicit domestic harmony from discordant instruments.

Mercifully for all - but especially for Woodhouse, who was generally responsible for resolving every drama - the complications of the house's present reality were again suspended when it was Melo's turn to venture across the Atlantic, spending a ‘fortnight' in London, as the locals would say. As though Melo had been carried overseas by a passing storm front, Woodhouse found that once again his hands were on the helm of a steady ship sailing serenely on calm waters during that golden period of the summer, in much the same way as he had when Amar'e was in Paris.

Life was also better for Amar'e while Melo was absent: he was always able to get whatever variety of pickle roll he desired, every room seemed to have more space, and most significantly, the house once again was indisputably his, as it was prior to Melo's arrival.

For Amar'e and Woodhouse, this golden period while Melo was in London lasted only two weeks, however all hope for future happiness was not lost.

Biologists hold that the most successful parasites are the ones that cause the least harm to their host; mothers the world over hold it as a truism that "if you feed them, they'll never leave"; and dogs know not to bite the hand that feeds them. These aphorisms are not mutually exclusive, and indeed often go laboratory-gloved hand-in-dishwashing-gloved hand-in-paw, enabling different species to live together peacefully at least, and in many instances, happily.

There would be a way for all to live happily under the same roof. Each of the house's remaining occupants had experienced their own fleeting versions of such happiness, and within themselves, each knew that, somehow, there would be a way for it to become more enduring.

Biologists, mothers and dogs couldn't all be wrong, surely.

***

Part IV: Inside-Outside

Melo was returning from London. The household prepared itself for the inevitable whirlwind of self-involvement; windows had been boarded up, hatches had been battened down, and selves had been braced.

Only: no such whirlwind came. Nor a gust. Nor even a stiff breeze.

Melo unfurled himself from the back seat of the limousine, stood up straight and stretched his back and legs under the warmth of the late summer sun. He had just been through two weeks of hard work, followed by a joyful but unavoidably cramped journey home, and his body was feeling it.

Woodhouse went to the front of the house to greet Melo and to retrieve his bags from the limousine. He carried with him a silver tray, on which he expertly balanced a fresh, chilled bottle of Ice Sensation as he walked down the front steps of the house and across the immaculately tended quartz-chip driveway. The azure drink's platinum particles glinted tantalizingly in the sunlight.

"Welcome back, sir. It is a pleasure to have your company once again," Woodhouse greeted Melo. "May I offer you a refreshment after your long journey, sir?"

"Nah, Woodhouse, I'm cool, man," Melo declined the offered drink, much to Woodhouse's surprise, "I been trying to cut back on the Ice Sensation. See, I learned a thing or two in London, found a different way to do things."

This was promising news to Woodhouse, although - despite the expertise he had acquired after years of carrying tray-borne beverages - having to return to the house with the bottle was going to cause him some unexpected difficulty in removing Melo's bags from the car and wheeling them inside. But never mind--he would find some way to juggle Ice Sensation and Melo's baggage. It was part of his job, after all.

"Damn, Woodhouse! What happened to the house? Thing looks like it should be on the cover of a magazine or something," Melo exclaimed as he turned towards the house and took in what he saw.

"Mister Stoudemire commissioned some redecoration in your absence, sir," Woodhouse explained. After allowing a moment for Melo to digest this information and to choose his next words with a little care, he continued, "He reasoned that the presence of the laborers might cause some inconvenience to you, so he arranged for the works to be undertaken while you were abroad, sir."

While this was true, it was not the entire truth, which is why Woodhouse had paused. The more complete truth was that Amar'e had had something of an epiphany during the summer, and that not only did the house look different, it was going to function differently, too. Woodhouse knew that this information needed to be presented to Melo delicately, and that accosting him in the driveway when he had only just arrived back from his long flight was not the best way to do it.

The complete truth of Amar'e's epiphany went like this.

*

Before Melo had left for London, life in the household was trying and stressful for all. Amar'e was having difficulty sleeping--an ailment whose distress was compounded by the fact that it was disrupting his performance during training. Woodhouse, of course, knew this, and he also knew that it was his responsibility to alleviate Amar'e's distress. Thankfully for all concerned, he was worldly enough to know what to do.

One evening, as Amar'e was making his preparations to retire to bed for another sleepless night, Woodhouse approached him and told the story that would ultimately lead to drastic changes in the house.

"When I was a much younger man than I am today, I lived in Houston for a short while," Woodhouse began, recalling a life that had been long-buried beneath years of servitude, his voice seeming to gain extra raspiness and his eyes gaining a certain watery glaze as he spoke.

"Life was very different, then. I was very different then. You may not believe it to look at me now, sir, but I was once young, fit and adventurous, and by the time my travels had taken me to Houston, despite being only a little older than you are now, I was something of a journeyman.

"From Houston, it was relatively easy for me to travel to Mexico. Occasionally, I would ride my motorcycle south, across the border, for no reason other than to see what there was to see."

Amar'e, who was starting to become convinced that Woodhouse was succumbing to the rigors of his advanced age, interjected, "Woodhouse, this is interesting and all, and you know I live to learn, but I'm really tired, and I got training in the morning. Can this wait until then?"

"I must ask you to trust in me, sir. What I propose, I believe you will consider somewhat...unconventional, if you will. Some context is necessary, if you will be so generous as to indulge me for but a few minutes."

"All right, Woodhouse. Let's hear what you got."

"Thank you, sir. I promise to you that this will be worth your while."

Woodhouse continued his story, "As I was saying, sir, I frequented Mexico while I was resident in Houston, occasionally venturing hundreds of miles south on my motorcycle, experiencing the sights, sounds, stories and sins that our colorful neighbor has to offer along the way.

"On one particularly extended journey, I made it as far as Oaxaca, which is well over one thousand miles from Houston. While there, I met some of the Chontal people, and I resided with them for a few nights before returning northward. Even though I was young and fit, sir, my posterior required some recovery time before making the long ride home again!

"The Chontal introduced me to what they call thle-pela-kano, which means the ‘Leaf of God.' But it is also called the ‘Dream Herb,' because it allows those who ingest it in the proper manner to see visions in their dreams, and to recollect these visions once they awaken."

With talk like this, Amar'e became skeptical, just as Woodhouse had expected. "Woodhouse, man, are you sure you're not on anything right now?" he asked.

"I swear to you on all that is good and sacred that I am not, sir. Everything I say is the truth. My point shall become clear to you soon, sir, if you'll bear with me for just a moment longer."

Although Woodhouse's tale itself was beginning to feel like a thousand-mile motorcycle journey, only with a slightly smaller pain in the ass, Amar'e allowed him to go on. "Go on," said Amar'e.

"The thing I discovered about the Dream Herb, sir, is that not only does it live up to its reputation of allowing the user to remember visions in their dreams, but-"

Amar'e interjected once more, curiosity getting the better of him, "What did you see, Woodhouse? Come on, man, you can tell me."

"I must confess that it is rather embarrassing, sir, but I actually discovered that I was still capable of having the most detailed dreams of Pam Grier, sir. It was like being a teenager again. I assure you that every curve of her figure, the exact tone of her skin, the glint of light from every bead of sweat dripping down her bountiful boso-"

"All right, all right, Woodhouse. I got the idea," Amar'e cut Woodhouse short. So far, this conversation was not doing much to reduce Amar'e's stress levels; if he wasn't worrying about Woodhouse's mental health, he was worrying that the old fellow would give himself some kind of heart attack through being overexcited. Amar'e tried to steer the conversation back on course, although he didn't entirely regret gaining the unexpected insight into Woodhouse's younger years. "So, this Dream Herb. You were saying it also does something else other than make you dream?"

"Indeed, sir, and thank you for allowing me to continue," Woodhouse continued, "I also found that it made me exceptionally tranquil and drowsy, sir, in a way I never had been before. I might even venture to say ‘phenomenally' tranquil and drowsy, sir."

At long last, Amar'e was seeing how Woodhouse's story related to the current predicament. "So you think I should take some of this Dream Herb to help me sleep, yeah?"

"You are correct, sir. But, naturally, only if you are comfortable with the proposition, sir."

"You know I never did anything like this before, Woodhouse."

"There is no pressure, sir. I thought it worth a try, to improve your performance and the household relations. However if you are not comfortable, then-"

"No, no. I think it's worth a shot," Amar'e acquiesced fairly easily, despite having some reservations. "How do I get hold of the Dream Herb?"

"As fortune would have it, sir, after my visit to Oaxaca all those years ago, I managed to smuggle some across the border, and have been cultivating it in Texas ever since. Without wishing to seem too presumptuous, sir, I took the liberty of having some delivered from the ranch already. I have it secreted downstairs, if you wish for me to retrieve it."

"You brought in some Dream Herb from a ranch in Texas, huh? Well, there ain't no time like the present, they say. Let's do it."

And do it they did, with unexpected results.

*

After Melo had had a chance to unwind and settle back into the house after his flight, Amar'e and Woodhouse convened with him that evening in the recently redecorated downstairs sitting room, to discuss the house's recent changes, and those that were planned.

"Damn, Amar'e, it sure is...white...in here. Looks like Minnesota in the winter, you know what I mean?" Melo exclaimed, still adjusting to his new surrounds.

"The decorator said all this would be fresh and vibrant, inside and out," Amar'e explained. He was thankful for Melo's mention of the house's redecoration, as it made it easier to broach the topic du jour with him.

"Sure makes it feel like there's a lot of space in here," Melo observed. "If that's what the decorators were shooting for, it's job done, I reckon."

Amar'e segued seamlessly and got the conversation proper started, "And how are your decorators coming along, Melo? Any updates on how your rebuilding project is going?"

"What they tell me, there are people all over my joint. I got builders, I got drywallers, I got plumbers, electricians. You name it, they're there."

Amar'e asked what might have seemed to be the multi-million-dollar question, although he already knew what the answer would be, "Any idea when you can move in to your new house?"

Melo replied as casually, almost cheekily, as ever, "Naw, man. When the trades get done, the trades get done. Till then, I'ma stay right here with you and Woodhouse."

This was no surprise to either Amar'e or Woodhouse. In fact, if Melo's response had been any different, not only would it have been surprising, it would have represented a lot of wasted expense, too.

"Come over here and check out the back garden, Melo," Amar'e said as he stood up from the luxurious couch, Woodhouse opening the rear window's equally luxurious drapes simultaneously, as though the pair's routine had been choreographed.

Amar'e continued, as the opened drapes revealed the most significant element of the house's summer makeover. "Look out there, Melo. What do you think?"

Melo approached the window, looking upon the vista in the same way that a Kansas farmer might look upon a mysterious, smoking crater in his crop field.

What he saw was a new annex to the house, one which could accurately be called a mini-mansion; a scaled-back, self-contained likeness of the existing mansion, constructed to be every bit as splendid as the structure from which it sprouted, and sized to accommodate at least one person in just as much comfort. Although it was ‘only' an annex, it could by itself easily have outsized, outgunned and outclassed any apartment or house put up against it, and it could even have put some ‘mansions' to shame, too.

Melo was dumbfounded, "You built this in two weeks? How? Why?"

Amar'e explained, "How? Well, I drafted in a bunch of gnarly old guys who knew what they were doing, some who had even worked on this house before, and who were willing to work hard on the cheap to build something now, and they got it done. No great secret there."

Melo accepted this - how could he not? The building was standing before his very eyes - and returned to the second of his questions, "And why, Amar'e?"

Amar'e thought for a moment, trying to figure the best way to explain it, but he determined that there was no way to say it without sounding crazy, "This is gonna sound pretty trippy, man, but I got the idea from the Dream Herb."

"The Dream Herb?" Melo asked, eyebrows understandably raised.

"Yeah. Woodhouse put me onto it. You know, I really think it could help you, too. You should try it some time."

"You gotta explain this, man. I am so lost right now."

"See, you know how we've been having trouble living together here, always butting heads and tripping all over each other?"

"Yeah, I know. But what are you gonna do?" Although this was a rhetorical, contrite question from Melo, had D'Antoine been present, he would certainly have been able to offer an answer, along with a few colorful suggestions for exotic activities Melo might like to try, or objects he might like to put in himself. Amar'e - enlightened, renaissance man Amar'e - had no need or inclination to resort to spite, however.

"Well, I took a course of the Dream Herb, at Woodhouse's suggestion, just to try to help me sleep, get my head in a better place, so I could get along with both of us in the house. But the Dream Herb, it also showed me something, something that was so obvious that we should have figured it out ourselves." Amar'e paused, before delivering his revelation, "I dreamed of space, Melo."

"So, like what? Astronoids and cosmets and shit?"

"No, man. Space. White space. I just dreamed that I was awash in white space. Every direction I looked, nothing but white space. Nothing but nothingness. And nothingness was happiness. Space will bring you happiness. The Dream Herb showed me this."

From the way he was speaking, anyone would have expected Amar'e to have a crazy glint in his eyes and a slowly decomposing prostitute in the back of his ice cream van, but on both of these counts, he did not. Speaking about the Dream Herb certainly did have a way of making people wonder about the speaker's sanity.

"You sure you're all right, Amar'e? I got no idea what you're talking about."

"Definitely. I mean, think about it, Melo--when was life in the house at its best this summer? Be honest, man, it's all right." Amar'e asked.

Melo hesitated, but he could see that Amar'e was driving at something, "Well, uh, apart from just after D'Antoine left, I'd say that was probably when you were away in Paris, Amar'e. I mean, you are phenomenal, and I'm grateful to you for letting me move in here and all, but without you around, I had so much space, and I could just do my thing, you know? No complications." Melo felt unburdened already.

This was precisely the answer that Amar'e had anticipated, and now that the Dream Herb had helped him recognize what the problem had been, he couldn't imagine a time when it hadn't been plainly obvious to him. Amar'e helped Melo to see the rationale behind the new construction at which they were both gazing. "And so, if we're going to be living together in this house, how can we make it smooth for us?"

Melo, looking at the freshly-constructed mansion-beside-a-mansion, understood. In simple terms, at least, "Just..." he searched for the right words, "Don't be in the same place at the same time, I guess."

Amar'e, probably unnecessarily, helped Melo to conclude the thought process, "So, why did I get all this renovation work done, you reckon?"

"Well, in here, you really seem to like a lot of blank whiteness, because, like, whiteness is happiness. Or something."

Melo couldn't really be blamed for being a bit vague on Amar'e's newly-developed penchant for whiteness, but he did seem to understand the purpose of the grand-yet-comparatively-modest new construction at least, "And the new building out there, I can live out there, while you can live in here. So, there'll be space for both of us."

Amar'e presented the equally valid alternative, "Or, I can live out there and you can live in here. We can change it up, you know. Inside-outside."

"Inside-outside, yeah," Melo concurred.

Woodhouse chimed in, for good measure, "Inside-outside, good sirs."

And as the three gentlemen looked out of the window at the house's promising new wing, billions of photons from millions of stars concluded their journeys of thousands of years by shining down upon them, providing a visible reminder of how beautiful space could be, in the form of the dazzling brilliance of the night sky beyond.

Amar'e started to speak, "You know, guys, I have a feeling that our future together is going to be-"

Said all three in perfect, harmonious unison, "Phenomenal!"

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