Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Chapter 21 - Lupercus

The Lupercus ritual was one of the shorter rituals. Its power was in changing awareness and linking with the deep past. When built on other rituals and with an understanding of how we are all connected to the web of life, it lingered and left behind a primal power.

Owen had changed into dark jeans and a loosely woven brown & black sweater. The sweater enhanced his bulk. He looked formidable. Nola was dressed in black jeans a lightweight but form fitting grey turtleneck and a long red jacket. As he made his way down the stairs and looked down on her he said, “Hello there Red Riding Hood.” She smiled at him and said in her smokiest voice, “Hello there, Wolf.” And they grinned at each other. Settrano smiled at their fun. Even Tago grinned a little.

He grabbed her hand as he reached the bottom of the stairs and said “Ready?” and she said “Ready.”

He already had the bike out. It was the biggest “scooter” she’d ever seen. She’d smiled when she saw it and had thought to herself, of course he’d have the largest scooter possible. He probably didn’t even realize how large it was, because it still looked small next to him. He grabbed a helmet and handed her one. He got on the bike and reached back and patted the seat. She got on and wrapped her arms around him. He opened the gate automatically and they were off as it closed behind them. She did her best to hold on.

As they sped through the Marigny, Nola decided that a little pre-Quarter howl was in order. So she howled, “Ahh,,OOoooooooo” and Owen responded and they laughed.

They were able to park on the edge of the Quarter along Esplanade between Royal & Dauphine. Nola wanted to stop and get a Monsoon at Port of Call. So they did. The weather was perfect. The day had started off in the 30s but had warmed up to the mid 60s degrees at midday. The temperature was dropping slightly but not rapidly. It was cool and just right for walking and howling in the Quarter. They made their way down Esplanade to Bourbon. There were a lot of people making their way down Esplanade. Owen was ready to turn up Bourbon but Nola kept them on Esplanade until Decatur, by putting her hand on Owen’s elbow and tugging, shaking her head when she saw there were no people in the first block or the second. “Let’s stick with the pack.” She said. “It’s safer.” Owen raised his eyebrows looking around for trouble. Nola said, “Don’t worry, we’re fine, I’ve just learned that the rules of the jungle, or forest, work in cities too. To pay for college I worked off and on in Quarter for years as a waitress at the CafĂ© Du Monde. I’ve learned to keep an eye out for potential trouble.” Owen tucked that away to think about later as they took the long way around, down Decatur to Jackson Square. Nola howled a few times and laughed when others howled back in typical New Orleans Call and Response fashion. They were walking one behind the other, letting couples pass them by on the sidewalk when a working girl came up to Owen. Nola just smiled as Owen fidgeted and fretted trying to be polite and get away at the same time. Nola, only a few steps behind him and just slid up, hooked her arm in his and said, “Sorry sweetheart, he’s mine tonight, get your own.” She smiled as Owen’s mouth dropped open as they continued down the street. Then he asked, “How do you do that so easily?”
“Be so aware of what is around you, move so seamlessly from one reality to another? One minute you’re guiding me away from a dangerous street then you let me break trail, then you slide up to me and claim me like a prize.”
“Sorry did I do the wrong thing? You looked like you wanted to get away.”
“Oh I definitely did want to get away I just didn’t expect you to come to my rescue.”
“Well, I figured that she was more likely to back off if she thought she saw another entrepreneur in action.” And she smiled and winked at him and started to drop her hand from his arm.
He raised his head and howled and held Nola close, his hand over her hand on his arm. He smiled at her and she howled back, causing a chorus of howls from other folks to make its way up and down the street. They made their way around Jackson Square and onto Royal and up to the Canal Street parade route. It was crazy crowded so they stood at the back of the crowd and got glimpses of the top deck of the superfloats as they turned on to St. Charles. They worked their way down Royal and zigzagged to Bourbon enjoying the celebrating crowd. Owen was acutely aware of how close Nola was to him and realized how naturally good it felt. If Grigori can be giddy Meana and Settrano were. Nola was happy, relaxed, open and was reveling in the energy, enjoying being with someone who could enjoy the energies with her and go with the flow. It had been a long time since she had been out ‘playing’. Owen was completely enjoying how relaxed and free and fun this felt. It was like being out with the guys, but better.

They ended up in new bar on Bourbon. Nola said the sister of one of the folks who worked for her owned it. They got to use the private bathroom upstairs when she mentioned this, dropping his name, to the bartender. Owen, always the gentlemen, let Nola and another female guest go first.

The bar, being new, was quieter but on a night like tonight this quiet was relative. There were still a lot of people there. Rather than waiting in the upstairs hall for Owen, Nola made her way back down to the bar. As she hit the top of the stairs she made eye contact with one of the guys on the dance floor. He and his buddy were dancing with a group of girls that were probably too young for them, but hell it was Mardi Gras. When she looked him straight in the eye he decided that she was coming on to him so when she hit the bottom of the stairs he swooped over and started to dance with her. Nola just took it in stride and joined in on the dance. She figured he’d get bored with her soon enough and move back to the younger females. As she danced with him she noticed that he had a nice smile and good dance moves. Then she noticed that the group of young girls had a group of younger guys with them and but that they weren’t quite lubricated enough to be dancing. Her dancer was nodding in approval and decided that he needed to put his hands on her. He started out on her hips which worked ok, but then he started getting a little too ambitious so she took his hands in hers and kept dancing but with a smile and eyebrow that indicated, 'Not so fast fella.' He smiled back at her, hooked the fingers of his left hand in her right and then moved his hand with hers behind her back and pulled her closer to him and turned around on the dance floor so that Owen got to see her long red coat flutter around her and her face go cold as the dancer slid his right hand up her side and his face to her neck.

Nola was a bit surprised by his strength but took it in stride. She leaned into him which caused him to loosen his grip on her fingers. She slitted her eyes and lifted her chin exposing more of her neck hoping he would try to take advantage of it. He bent down to her and slid his hand from hers and moved it up her back. This was just what she needed to open up from his embrace. It looked like a dance move. She spun to her right grabbing his left wrist with her left hand and lifted it up to stop him from using it again. As she lifted his arm she spun herself under it. This caused him to have to turn around and as he did she smiled at him and began to bow slightly as if to say thank you for the dance, when she did she bounced off of Owen. It took her a second to figure out what was going on.

Her dancer was smiling knowing he had pushed the line and acknowledging how well she had played the dance and hoping for more, when his face went flat. Now he was upset. He wasn’t sure who the big guy was but he had just slammed into someone who felt like she might be fun. He watched her turn to the big guy and take a step back and catch her balance. He put his hands on her because it looked like she might fall and this was when Nola saw Owen, standing there like a brick wall, clench his fists. And thought ‘Oh Gods, No, not a bar fight’. She stepped back into her dancer, put her hands over his and them removed them from her hips. She turned sideways so she could keep an eye on both of them and then brushed her lips on the dancer’s hand and said, “Thanks for the dance.”, which caused her dancer to smile and Owen to stiffen. Then she walked straight up to Owen and kissed him, hard. Without thinking, he responded to her kiss by wrapping her up in his arms and pulling her close. The bar erupted in clapping and whistles. Owen was so taken off guard that when she took his hand and led him to the bar he just followed.

The dancer nodded at her and smiled. The bouncer sat back down on his barstool. She moved Owen to side of the bar. The bartender was looking at her with approval. He knew that she had prevented the incident from escalating. “We weren’t letting anyone on the balcony just yet, but considering what almost just happened, take this key,” and he slid it onto the bar, “go up the stairs and use it to get your friend some fresh air and let things cool off a little bit.”

She looked at the key and then at Owen and then at the bartender and nodded, grabbed the key in one hand and Owen in the other and started up the stairs. The bartender nodded OK to the bouncer and they watched as Nola & Owen made it up the stairs. The bouncer kept his eyes on the dancer who just shrugged and turned back to the dance floor.

Owen was having an out of body experience. Where was he? What the hell just happened? They were making their way up the stairs and he came somewhat back to reality when Nola put a key in his hands and said, “Owen, please open the door, I’m terrible with keys.” He opened the doorway and stepped out on to the balcony and into the cool air. Nola followed, grabbing the key and closing the door before she leaned against it and breathed deeply.

“Well that was different. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to fend off octopus hands on the dance floor.” Owen had found a chair on the balcony and slipped into it, still not completely back to reality. “Owen, are you alright?”
“Huh?” he looked up at her, “I don’t know. What happened?”
“Well…. Perhaps I was giving off a bit too much primal energy.” He just looked up at her. “Owen, I think I’m going to go downstairs and get you a shot of whiskey. You don’t look too good.”
At this he reached up and pulled her on to his lap and said, “No. No, you are not going down those stairs without me.”
She smiled at him, got off of his lap, brushed her hand across his wrinkled forehead, then stood next to the balcony railing and said: “OK, we’ll just stay up here a little while and enjoy the crowd from above.”
Owen was still sitting in the chair. He had managed to hold onto her wrist even as she got up.
“Owen, you can let go now. I’m not going anywhere.”
She sat in the chair next to him and said, “My hand, my wrist actually. You can let go.”
He didn’t let go.
“Hey, you kissed me!”
She sat up and smiled at him and said, “Well, yes I did, it seemed better than the alternative which was looking like it might just be a bar fight. I hate those. So messy.”
“That guy had his hands all over you.”
“Well, not really, but he was trying.”
“You didn’t look like you liked it. It looked like he was going to bite your neck!”
“Owen, don’t be ridiculous. I bared my neck to make myself seem vulnerable. He fell for it and loosened his grip. I was working my way out of it when I bounced off of you.”
“I was ready to flatten him.”
She leaned into him and said, “I know. I saw. That would not have been good. A little too much primal energy.”
“And then you kissed me.”
“Yes, the other end of the primal energy spectrum. It seemed to work long enough to get you out of trouble.”
“Me out of trouble?! Me!? Out of trouble?! I come down the stairs to find you bent over backwards with your hand behind your back and a stranger’s hands all over you and you got me out of trouble?”
And she laughed out loud, “OK, I admit it probably looked worse than it was…” then she quieted and said “or maybe it was worse than I thought, but I wasn’t afraid until I saw you ball up your fists. I didn’t want anyone to get hurt. We’ve messed with primal energies. I haven’t been out for a long while. Perhaps the combination was more powerful than I thought.” And then she thought about the fact that perhaps she hadn’t been the best of teachers.
Owen said, “Primal Energies” and pulled Nola back into his lap and kissed her.
She stopped thinking and they just kissed, feeling each other’s breath, responding to each other’s bodies as the drums from the band blocks away and crowd noise washed over them.

Owen eventually realized that they were on a balcony over Bourbon Street when he heard the cat call from below. He released her from their kiss but held her close to his chest and said, “Primal energies, indeed.” Now Owen seemed a bit more grounded and Nola’s mind was blank and whirling. He smiled at her and she put her hand on his chest and pushed weakly away. “You are very good at that.”
“Thank you.”
“Now my head is spinning.”
“Good.” and he kissed her again.
“OK. Ok Big Man, I need to catch my breath. I think we’ve worked off the initial adrenaline rush.”

And he smiled and sighed contentedly. Nola wasn’t quite sure what to do next. She was the teacher here, wasn’t she? Bellaria smiled and nodded to Meana and Settrano. Tago, who was pleased at how Nola had avoided a potentially bad situation downstairs, shook his head at them. Then Nola said, “Owen, let’s go home, the crowds are breaking up and we need to get back to the bike before they fade completely.”
Owen smiled at her and took her hand. He locked up the door to the balcony and gave the key to Nola, then walked her down the stairs. The dancer was on the floor again and smiled at them both as Nola handed the key to the bartender with her thanks. The bartender noted the smile on Owen’s face and smiled back. Owen didn’t let Nola take her hand off of his arm until it was time to get on the bike. As they walked Nola’s primal attention was focused externally, keeping an eye out for potential trouble. There wasn’t any, at least not on the street. She held on tightly as Owen sped home. He enjoyed her closeness. As her drove them home, she tried to figure out what she needed to do next. All she wanted to do was run all the way home and she hated running.

Primal energies indeed. Howling like wolves. Roaming through the French Quarter. Dancing with a stranger. Kissing Owen. What was she thinking? Then she realized. She hadn’t been. She had just flowed with the raw primal energies. The experience shouldn’t really be all that surprising. The question was now what to do with it. She knew that the ritual raised primal energy and that sex could be a part of it. But Owen was so new. Was he ready? Oh he had seemed ready. But was he ‘ritually ready’? For that matter was she? She had never really ‘fully participated’ in her own city. She had always been somewhere else geographically for rituals with a sexual aspect. Somehow it felt different in her own backyard. Weird. Who was the student here?

Owen pulled into the driveway. The ride home in the cool air had cleared both their heads. But he found he felt a little out of sorts.

Tago watched over them. He shook his head at Settrano and Meana nodded slowly to him.

Owen held the bike stable while Nola dismounted. Then he got off the bike. They both removed their helmets and Nola shook out her hair. She dug around in her pocket and found her keys. Owen watched as she took them out. As usual, he didn’t want her to leave. But he didn’t know how to make her stay. Owen smiled at her and she smiled back. Settrano looked hopefully at Meana who looked at Tago who shook his head again ever so slightly.
Owen said, “That was fun.”
“Yes, it was.”
“You’re leaving aren’t you?”
“Yes, I think I am.”
“Can I change your mind?” and he moved in closer.
“You probably can, but I think it best to end tonight’s lesson. I don’t think I’m ready to move on to the next lesson just yet.”
He leaned in and kissed her very gently and thought, ‘You’ll stay one day.’ What he said was, “Too much thinking.”
She smiled and said, “See you Thursday?”
And he hooked her arm in his and as he walked her to her truck said, “Of course.”

Tago guided her home safely despite the fact that she was so much in her own thoughts that she couldn’t even remember getting home. Meana took care of Owen. She sent him to sleep quickly, feeling warm in the embrace. He dreamed of kissing Nola on a balcony and walking with his grandfather on their ridge in Pennsylvania. Papa Eric kept trying to tell him something. But Owen was too busy floating over the trail and back to the balcony. Meana made sure he made is safely back to his bed before morning.

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