The name of the shop was Tell Me More, which I thought was cute. It had more security than an airport, which was not so cute.
I had good timing; the show’s Web site had indicated they were about to finish filming a season’s worth of episodes. I’d never had aspirations to be on TV, but I felt like I needed the excuse of trying to get on the show as a reason to go to the store. It seemed like such a good idea until I got on the subway and was on my way downtown. That was when nerves and butterflies colonized my stomach.
Coincidentally, the day after I’d decided to go on the show, Julie found a music box in a crate of tchotchkes someone had put out on the sidewalk. Before I left for the store, I’d wrapped the box up in Bubble Wrap and put it in a cardboard box because I was worried I’d get jostled on the subway and drop it. When I got to Tell Me More, the security guard made me unwrap it, and while he inspected it closely, another guy came over and waved a metal-detecting wand over me and then made me sign a waiver. After that, some producer came over and started quizzing me about the music box. My anxiety rose steadily through the whole ordeal as I kept wondering if I’d even get to meet Malcolm Tell, if I’d be on the show, if I’d choke, if I’d make a fool of myself in front of him, if the music box was actually some crappy made-in-China dealie that someone purchased for five bucks, if nothing would come from this, if everything would come from this.
And then I was in the store. It was smaller inside than it looked on TV. It had a homey vibe, with walls painted a warm gray and dark wood accents everywhere. It was also jam-packed with stuff for sale: furniture, art, knickknacks, toys, jewelry, you name it. The more valuable pieces were in glass display cases near the register, and I recognized that section of the store as being the place where most of the episodes were filmed. The producer told me to wait for his cue and then to walk forward to where an almost invisible bit of black tape was placed on the floor. A man with a camera moved in behind him.
“All right, Mr. Chewy.”
“That’s Cheau,” I said. My last named sounded like show. “It’s French.”
“Whatever. Say your name and why you’re here.”
I’d seen the show enough times that I knew how this part went. I looked right at the camera and said, “I’m Dan. I’m here to get a music box appraised.”
The producer nodded. “That’s fine. Now walk over to the mark near the counter. Malcolm will meet you there.”
I held my breath and looked around.
He appeared at the back of the store. I recognized him, of course, and I saw also that he was even better looking in person, perhaps because he was before me in the flesh instead of an image on a screen. He ran a hand over his messy, curly hair and said something to one of the production assistants. Then he started to walk forward. Toward me. Malcolm Tell was walking toward me. The man of my dreams, the object of my fantasies, that man was walking, and then the producer was nudging me forward and I was going to meet Malcolm Tell.
I put one foot in front of the other, shaking with nerves the whole time. I was aware of everything: of Malcolm, of the cameras, of all the people milling about. But mostly I was aware of Malcolm, who didn’t seem to have noticed me yet, as he was still engaged in conversation with the PA. Then someone—a director maybe—shouted for quiet on the set. Malcolm got to his spot, turned toward the showroom, and grinned. He looked over at me, finally.
Our eyes met.
The world stopped.
I told myself that this was foolish, that the tidal wave of emotion I felt when Malcolm Tell looked into my eyes was nothing more than some crazy manifestation of my long-held crush on this man I’d never actually met before. Looking at him was familiar, but of course it was; I’d watched hours upon hours of his show on TV. And yet this went beyond that. It was like looking at someone I knew well, that kind of easy recognition where you don’t even have to say hello because you can convey what you need to with a glance and a pat on the shoulder. But more than that, my stomach started to churn, and looking at Malcolm made me feel everything: love, pain, longing, hope, fear.
Malcolm frowned. He whispered something that sounded like, “Jesus.”
By some miracle—or perhaps because I was inexorably drawn to him—I made my way forward until I got to the counter, and the two of us looked at each other across it, about two feet of space separating us.
“Do I know you?” he whispered.
“No, we’ve never met.”
“Are you sure?”
“Action!” shouted the director.
Malcolm smiled. “Well, hello. What can I do for you today?”
Somehow, I found the voice to say, “I have a music box I found.” The words tumbled out in a blur of syllables.
He raised an eyebrow at me and leaned forward.
There was just Malcolm. He was all I could see. Everything else—the crew, the assistants, the cameras, even the store—all of it receded to the background of my awareness. What replaced it was Malcolm, his lovely skin—smooth and unblemished—his light brown eyes that looked almost golden under the TV lights, the width of his shoulders, his height, his presence. I was a tall guy, a fraction of an inch over six feet, but he had an inch or two on me. And still he wasn’t a large man as such; he wasn’t especially muscular or imposing. But he just had this presence that filled all the space around me. He was so beautiful I couldn’t stop staring.
He motioned for me to place the music box on the counter. Remembering I had a purpose there beyond staring at Malcolm, I wrapped both hands around the box and placed it on the table. He moved to take it from me before I let go, and then I left my hands there, wondering if he’d touch me, thinking that just the briefest brush of his fingers against mine would be so wonderful.
He placed the tips of his fingers on the box.
Light exploded in front of my eyes. Everything was white, and then I felt suddenly overcome. Pain ripped through my abdomen, maybe the worst pain I’d ever felt. I could hear a woman wailing, and then a man shouting at her, and then there was a crash and everything went silent. Images flashed before me: blonde hair, a blue dress, blood everywhere. Then the pain became overwhelming, and I took a step back and doubled over.
I let go of the music box. The second I did so, I was back in the store.
“What the hell was that?” asked Malcolm.
I started coughing. The pain had stopped just as abruptly as the images had, but I was shaky from the memory of it.
“Wait, wait, stop the cameras,” Malcolm said. He leaned over the counter. “Hey there. Hey. Are you all right?”
I straightened myself back up. “Yeah, I think so.”
“What kind of trick are you pulling? Was this thing rigged with something? How did it get past security?”
One of the security guys rushed forward. He had a broom in his hand, and he used it to poke at the music box. He managed to push it hard enough that it tipped onto its side, and the box fell open. Tinkly bells started to play a Beethoven sonata.
“It’s a music box,” I said. “It’s not rigged with anything. That’s never happened before. Besides, if I had it rigged with something, why wouldn’t the security guys have noticed when I came in?”
Malcolm furrowed his brow and looked irritated. He took a step back and ran a hand through his hair. “What the fuck is going on?”
“I don’t know, I swear!”
The security guard pulled on a pair of black gloves and then stepped forward and nudged at the music box with his finger. When nothing happened, he picked it up. He turned it over in his hands and examined it closely. “Uh, Boss. It ain’t rigged.”
“Static electricity?” I tried, although I knew that wasn’t true.
Malcolm frowned. “Well, okay. That was fucking weird. Let’s try this again. I’ll pick up the music box, and we’ll start filming.” He turned to me. “Don’t touch me this time.”
I held up my hands.
He took the music box from the security guy as if it were on fire. When he didn’t get burned, he exhaled and held it up. He nodded his head.
“Action!” said the director.
“So what have you brought me?” Malcolm asked.
“It’s a music box that my sister found. I wondered if it was valuable.”
Malcolm looked at it closely. He turned it over. “Well, you can tell by the mark here that it was made in Switzerland, probably in the nineteenth century.” He turned it back over again.
Usually on the show when he did this particular song and dance, his face became a model of concentration—furrowed brows, pursed lips, nose crinkled up. But he kept shooting me looks, seeming to study me as closely as he did the music box, and I found that unnerving. I knew he didn’t trust me. I couldn’t blame him. Even though there was no logic to it, I blamed myself for what happened. I had brought this apparently accursed object to his shop.
He opened the box, and tinny tinkles emanated from it again. “Ah,” he said. “This one has a removable cylinder. That means it must have been manufactured after 1862, when those were invented.” He hummed to himself for a moment. “Based on the artistic style of the box, I’d date it as being made somewhere in the 1880s. There’s some value, but these are so common that it’s hardly like you would make a fortune.”
“I mean, as an artistic piece, it’s nice.” He lifted the lid again. “Oh, hey, there’s an inscription here.” He lifted it to the light. “Did you notice this before?”
“‘For Emmeline. From your Sarah.’ That mean anything to you?”
“No. Like I said, my sister found it.”
I could almost see the gears in Malcolm’s head turning. He worried his lip between his teeth.
He gave an almost imperceptible nod toward the cameraman. “Okay, well, like I said, it’s interesting. It’s certainly a beautiful piece. I think you might be able to get a few hundred dollars if you were to sell it, but this is a family heirloom, isn’t it?”
It wasn’t, obviously, but he seemed to want me to say it was. “I…yes.”
“Great. Keep it. Put it on your mantel. Tell your kids about it.”
He put the music box down on the counter. I moved to pick it up again.
“Cut!” said the director. “Not a great segment, but it’s fine.”
I picked up the box and tucked it under my arm. I turned around and started to make for the door. There was a shuffle behind me, but I plowed forward, hoping to get this whole embarrassing incident behind me. I was so mortified and disappointed. Going in, it had felt like my life was about to change, but now it felt like…nothing.
Then he was next to me. “Hey, wait a second.”
“What?” I asked.
Malcolm looked around and then lowered his voice. “So I’m not mistaken, right? You totally felt that too? Whatever it was?”
“Yeah, I did.”
“And you didn’t do anything to cause it. I believe that. But I’ve never felt anything like that before. I mean, it was really painful. I thought at first I was being electrocuted, but that’s not really right, is it?”
“No. It wasn’t really like being electrocuted at all. I mean, not that I’ve ever been electrocuted, but…”
“It wasn’t just physical pain, either. It was kind of emotional. Like, I was really sad. Did you feel that too?”
“Hmm.” He nodded. “Pretty freaky. I’ve gotten haunted objects in the shop before, but nothing like this.”
“Hey, whoa, you think it’s haunted?” It was a strange, otherworldly thing that had happened, but even though I was mystified, I still assumed there was a logical explanation. I shook my head. “No way. How does that make more sense than an electrical charge?”
“Have you ever gotten a shock that felt like that?”
He grimaced. He reached over to me and very lightly let his fingers brush against my arm. It wasn’t a caress, really. He wasn’t doing anything to be sweet or emotional. I thought it was more of a test to see if I was rigged up the same way the box was. But nothing happened. He let his hand slide down my arm, and then he curled it around my wrist. He tugged a little and pulled me into the corner of the store.
The next person with an object was waiting in the wings. That guy was a man who had a big painting that even I could tell was a forgery. For one thing, I’d seen that painting a dozen times, probably, hanging in the European Paintings wing at the Met, right near a Renoir masterpiece.
“I’m kind of curious,” Malcolm said, seemingly oblivious to his next customer. “Something seemed to happen when we were both touching the music box. I wonder what would happen if we did it again.”
“That seems like a terrible idea,” I said. “I mean, probably nothing will happen, but why risk it? That was really awful.”
“But it ended when you let go, right? It’s not permanent or anything.”
I tried to see the logic in what he was saying. “I don’t…not with all these people around.”
He nodded. “All right, tell you what. Let me take you to dinner tomorrow night. Then afterward, bring the music box over to my place. Somewhere safe, right?”
Did I just get an invitation to Malcolm Tell’s apartment? Did that really just happen? I must have stood there with my mouth hanging open for a good minute. This was all surreal and thrilling, except for the part where he didn’t want to have sex with me so much as to play with the music box.
“Your apartment is safe?” I asked.
He winked at me. “Well, you are pretty cute. You might not be that safe. But let’s see how dinner goes first, huh? I don’t even know your name.”
“Dan. My name is Dan.”
“And I’m Malcolm, but you already knew that.” He chuckled. “Okay, Dan, it’s a date. I want to know what’s up with this music box. Meet me at the Puccini Trattoria on Seventeenth. You know it? It’s kinda near Sixth Ave.”
I knew it. I nodded.
“Great. Tomorrow. Seven. Be there. Okay?”
He turned and went back behind the counter. I just stood there like an idiot while the director ordered everyone to be quiet. Malcolm quickly went back to business as if nothing had happened, as if his life hadn’t changed just as surely as mine had.