Owen was waiting in the driveway as she pulled up. He looked like he was excited about something and couldn’t wait to tell her.
“Hello Big Man. You look like the cat that ate the canary. What’s up?”
He took her arm and they headed for the door, “My parents, brother Ryan, his wife Stella and their son Eric are coming to visit in May.”
“Well that sounds like fun.”
He opened the door and let her go through and they headed back to the kitchen.
“It will be. I'm glad they are coming to see New Orleans. It will be good for my mom to see me in my home and happy. She needs to be reassured that the decision to come down here was a good one and that I am doing OK. I’m also hoping that once Ryan and Stella see New Orleans for themselves rather than only on the news or what they assume it is like that they will consider letting Eric come down to spend some time with me in the summers. He’s been asking. But they’re not sure. This visit is a good sign that they could be convinced to say yes. And once Eric sees the pool and the basketball court he is not going to shut up about wanting to visit. They’ll be here May 3rd through the 10th.”
“Are they planning on going to Jazzfest?”
“Yep. I got them tickets for Sunday. Stella & Mom will probably shop and my dad is a big Blues fan. And I’m sure Eric and Ryan will find something they like.”
“Sounds they'll have a good time. Since you’ll be busy with company we’ll just skip that Thursday’s lesson.”
“Oh, no. We’re all going out to dinner at Galatoire’s on Thursday. I’ve already made the reservations.”
“What do you mean ‘WE"re are all going out to dinner’?" Shaking her head to indicate that she thought this was a bad idea, "You want me, your pagan priestess teacher, to go to dinner with your family?
“Yeah sure, why not?”
“Well… why?” And she thought eww that didn’t come out right at all.
“Well why not, woman? I spend hours with you every week. I know you better than any other woman in the city. Why not go out to dinner with me and my family? It’s Galatoire’s for crying out loud. Besides you’ll look good on my arm as my girlfriend.”
“Wait I’m sorry…. What… Your girl friend…. Your girlfriend?”
“Sure, We’re naturals. Remember? The people at Banting's thought we were married.”
She looked at him with her eyes wide and shaking her head, "Owen, What in the world makes you think that is a good idea?! Isn't it bad enough your crew thinks I'm your landscape specialist girlfriend?"
And he heard Papa Eric say, "Ace in the hole, son. You charged in. No time to fool around now. Go ahead and use your Ace in the Hole." And he nodded to Tago. "I hear she can be really stubborn."
Owen said, "Papa Eric says it's a good idea."
Now she was even more incredulous, "Papa Eric… Papa Eric..? Papa Eric said this was a good plan?" And she tilted her head and rolled her eyes at him as if to say 'Sure right, good one. I deserved that.’
"Nope. It's HIS plan."
"His plan? Papa Eric's plan....?" and she slowed down as she realized, Oh my gods he's serious.
He heard Papa Eric said, "Ok son the hook is set but only very lightly; let her run with it for a little while before you try to reel her in." Owen just smiled and nodded.
She laughed lightly at him, "Papa Eric's plan. Argh, I must be doing something wrong. How can someone who I know is grounded and practical end up where you are? What have I done to you? This is not where I thought your working with the Lare Shrine would get you. I did not expect to get cockamamie plans from the dead."
"Why not? If I recall properly you were the one who helped me figure out how to talk to the dead."
And she sat down on the barstool because this was just too weird to deal with and stand up at the same time. She decided to try a different tack.
"Ok Owen let's say, just for argument's sake, that I agree to do this."
And Papa Eric said, "Watch it son she is going to run in the opposite direction. Not too fast, reel her in gently."
And he sat down on the barstool and then rolled her barstool so that she had her back to the kitchen counter and then rolled his stool next to hers so that she was between him and the counter. "Ok, just for argument's sake."
She looked up at him and asked, "Why is it a good idea? Why do you need to 'present girlfriend' to your mother? How old are you?" She thought back to his astrological chart and calculated, "44? No 43 right now. Oh my, it's your birthday next month."
"Yep, why don't you do it for me as a birthday present?
She raised her eyebrows and wrinkled her brow and said, "Wha...?" then sighed and said more firmly, "You still haven't told me why it's a good idea."
And he said slowly, "Because it would make my mom happy, because she worries about me here in New Orleans so far away from her, because I will feel better with you sitting there next to me at dinner. My mom and Dad will be sitting there. Ryan and Stella will be sitting there. If mom sees me there in that context without a woman on my arm she will worry and not be happy. I AM Happy. I want her to think I am happy. And I there is no one else I’d rather have with me than you."
And Settrano and Meana nodded to Papa Eric to indicate the hook had set.
And she shook her head and rubbed her temples and said sighed, "I don't know."
And Papa Eric said, "The hook is set now son. Reel her in."
"I know you can do it. We know each other. We've probably spent more time together really getting to know each other than most dating people."
"But Owen it's not true and besides, I'm too old for you."
"Too old for me! That's ridiculous. How old are you any way?"
"47, fixing to be 48."
And he said, "4 years? 4 years is nothing. Besides we are timeless together and you know it."
"Now Owen that's not fair. And it's not the same thing." And she thought but sometimes it's just a little to close... which why this is not a good idea.
"Son, she's going to try and run again."
"What, you've never been with a younger man? And smiling and putting his hands out wide he said confidently, "Other than me of course."
And he saw her think about that and smile as she answered defiantly, "Yes, I have been with a younger man, other than you."
"How many years younger?"
"5." And she sighed knowing full well this was now a point in his favor.
"5 huh? 4 is less than 5. Did you have a good time with this younger man?"
"Yes, actually I had a very good time with this younger man." And she had to allow a small smile.
"Well, there you go."
"She can't get away now. She's tiring, son."
"Owen, why can't I just go as your female friend? Why do I have to go as your girlfriend. It's not true; I'm married."
"Because if I take a married woman as a date, it will only make my mom worry more, not less. You have to go as my girlfriend."
"You can't really think that it's a good idea to introduce me as who I really am, with my real name. You don't even use my real name. That's not who I am to you. What if they google me and somehow discover the truth?"
"Well I was planning on introducing you as Nola. You're right, Nola is who you are to me. I only think of you as Nola."
And Tago said, "Suggest she use her first married name."
And Owen wrinkled his brow and wondered where that came from. It didn't feel like Papa Eric's influence. But he said, "What if you use your first married name?"
"You mean my first husband's name.... Metoyer?"
"Sure, why not: Nola Metoyer. Sounds good."
"Well..." and she sighed as she thought about it out loud, "When I teach I am Nola. So that is not a lie. And Metoyer is, albeit mistakenly, one of the names listed on a single piece of critical official paperwork I'm currently stuck with in my life....So that's not a complete lie either..... I don't know....."
"It's time to get her into the boat son."
"Just be who you are every time that you are here with me and it will be Ok." And he let that sink in before he said, "I won't specifically name you as my girlfriend. I'll just introduce you as Nola, use Metoyer if asked for a last name and we'll just let them assume what they want to assume and leave them happy in their own world. I heard somewhere that this can be a very effective way to deal with delicate issues."
Leaving Nola to roll her eyes and close them remembering that on that first plane ride she had said essentially this to him about how she dealt with being pagan, in the closet but honest about her personal philosophies. Damn the man for being such a good listener.
And he reached around and picked up the glass of Prosecco he had poured just before he heard her pull into the driveway and handed it to her. She took it and still deep in thought took a sip and then put down the glass. There had to be a way out of this. As she looked up Owen did his best to give her a proper girlfriend kiss to seal the deal.
She was still spinning from the idea and didn’t immediately resist. When she tried to swivel the chair around she realized she was pretty well pinned so she tried to stand up while he was still kissing her which only made it easier for him to get his arms around her. Finally he broke the kiss grinning at her as she said, “What are you doing?!”
And she sighed heavily, “You are incorrigible.”
“Yes, but you do like me and it only seems fair to seal the deal with a kiss.” And he moved in to try to give her a proper kiss again.
“Owen stop it. I’m supposed to be your teacher. Or at least that's what I thought I was doing here." And she put he hands to her temple and said, "I feel like… I feel like…. I don’t know what I feel like.”
And Meana and Tago looked at each other as if to say: “Ah, the first real step.” Then Meana said to Nola’s subconscious, “It’s OK. Just go with it. You are safe.”
And Owen said, “You feel like you’re not in control of the situation. You feel scared.”
And she looked at him and realized he was right, “I’m …. Wow. You’re right I'm scared. I haven’t been scared in a really long time.” And she asked herself softly but out loud, “Why am I scared?”
“You’re the one who is usually in control. You don’t mind a little speed or danger but you like to have your hands on the wheel and be in control. You didn’t see my idea coming. You couldn’t find the controls. You got scared.”
And the small puff of a sigh escaped her as she realized again, “You’re right.”
“Yes I am. I know you as well as any boyfriend should. You are going to be ok. And he pulled her gently toward him and said, “Now, close your eyes and let me work my Taurian pleasure senses on you.”
She gave him a light smile.
“Close your eyes.”
And she closed her eyes. And he kissed her softly and slowly, with out any urgency or insistency until he felt her begin to relax. Then he nuzzled her neck and she sighed and leaned into him and relaxed a little bit more. He felt her let go so he kissed gently but deeply and she kissed him back. As Meana whispered again, “It’s OK. Just go with it. You are safe.”
Tago nodded to Meana and shook his head at Settrano.
As Owen pulled away from the kiss Nola put her forehead on his chest as if defeated. He rolled the chair back and stood up and then he leaned over and picked her up. And she stiffened, “Owen…”
“Shhhh, just go with it. You are safe.”
As he carried her into the library she put her arms around his neck and leaned into him. He sat down on the couch still holding her.
Nola said, “You were so right. I was scared. I had one hell of an adrenaline rush. Now I am disoriented. I feel like I just ran for my life. This is really weird.”
“Well now son, the plan was to catch her off guard, set the hook, let her wear herself out and get her into the boat. It probably wasn’t very fun for her.”
Tago nodded to Meana and said, “It was unfortunately the only way she would agree and move into a state open to other possibilities.”
“I’m sorry for surprising you and unsettling you like that. I guess I could have waited to ask you until you at least had sip of wine.”
And then he realized that she really was shocked. “Oh Nola it really is ok.” And he held her close and kissed her softly again. “I’m sorry.”
She talked almost as if she was talking to herself, “I’m still trying to figure out why I was scared. I know you. I even like you. I’ve had sex with you. It’s not like we’re strangers. I trust you. Why do I feel so mentally blocked?”
Bellaria looked to Meana who said, “Because if I let you really feel everything now, you will resist the lessons you need to learn. Right now we are the teachers and Owen is our secret weapon."
And Tago nodded to Meana and Bellaria who said, "Owen, Tell her about your life and your relationships."
He leaned back and held her reassuringly close to him and said, "It will pass."
"You know I've never been particularly good at asking girls out."
And at that she laughed and relaxed a little, "I'm finding that very hard to believe. You are quite an appealing male."
"Well thanks. But I'm not good at doing the asking. I tend to hang back and wait until you girls come on to me... except with you."
And she laughed again, "I have a picture of that. This large, good looking, charming, intelligent male hangs back and let's all the females look him over and then waits until the interest signals are such that she comes to you. I see how that would work for you. It's very primal in its own way."
"Wow, you make me sound like a Human Male Venus Flytrap."
And she thought about that then said, "Yep. That's it exactly."
"Woman, I think you just complimented me" and he listed, "good looking, charming, intelligent. But I can't help feel that there is a dig in there somewhere. I'm beginning to think that you don't know who I really am at all. You think I'm some sort of playboy Casanova."
And she thought about that a minute as she heard just a hint of hurt in his voice. "Well you are a charming man. I'm sure the women do fall over you. There is nothing wrong with that. You obviously are financially able to do pretty much what you want when you want. You don't really need for anything. You enjoy your pleasures and why shouldn't you."
"Yes but that makes me sounds so superficial."
"ooo ouch. I'm sorry. I know that you are a deep thinker. I know you care about people. I know that you have a large heart and that you commit yourself fully when you are doing anything. I know that you are not superficial."
"Ok that's better. Then why do I feel like, while you might know these things, you resist letting yourself interact fully with me."
"Well Owen, I'm your teacher...."
"Yes but I believe that you are also my friend."
"Well I believe that we are friends too,” and she joked, “friends with occasional ritual benefits."
"And we're back to sounding superficial."
"Now Owen... "
"Well perhaps some of that is fair. I had lots of girl friends and lots of fun sex when I was in college. I had a really good time in my 20s. I worked in New Orleans and throughout the south in various architectural, project management and construction jobs. I've literally dated around the country. Right after I turned 30 I went back to Pennsylvania to manage some pretty major upgrades on my family's hotels. I did it because I wasn't fully committed to any one or any other place and because it was what my family always wanted and expected. Back home I'm considered a great local catch. I've never been without female company. But I never really clicked with anyone. Even when I was with the same woman for years, the one my little brother was destined for, I was restless and not in love. I know now, because I now understand the difference you make between love and in love. We were comfortable with each other. We were doing just enough of what our families expected of us without ever really committing, to each other, to each others dreams, even fully to ourselves."
And he sat up as he thought about it. "But I am not like that now. I feel like I am finally in the right place. I am rooted. Look at my business and this house and the pool and landscaping based on something called, of all things, PERMAculture. And he stood up. "You've help me find a path a philosophy that is right for me. Why does it feel like we're friends but you are always ready to step away and out of the picture? Why is there this distance? We're friends but I feel you're always holding me at arms length."
As she listened she heard the yearning in his voice for feeling like he belonged. As if he wanted to be wanted for who he really was and not what someone else expected him to be. Then suddenly he had turned all that sincerity on to her. Asking her why she held people at arms length. Why she held him at arms length.
And she looked at him knowing that after all he had said he deserved an answer. "I.... I....." and she sighed "Give me a minute Owen; I didn't expect you to tack that way. I feel like the boom hit me. You really can be quite intense you know." And she thought, kind of like a charging bull.
And he knew. "I know. People always assume that I'm just happy go lucky Owen."
And she said, "And they don't see the whole you."
And he nodded as he said, "Or know what to do with the whole me." And he turned to pace between the sofa and the fireplace which took not quite 2 steps before he hand to turn around again.
"Yes, I think I really do. What we do together, this path, this process of learning, the walking between the worlds that we do, it opens us up to more than just the great wide universe. It opens us up to ourselves. You and I have spent time talking about and doing things most people don't. You're right. We are connected. We are friends. What we do is different from how we interact with most others. I understand the yearning to have that kind of relationship with more people. I wish we could go back to the days when we lived closer to the earth and when who people are at their core was what really mattered instead of all the other stuff that passes for value these days. I do treasure the time we spend together."
And he smiled very lightly before his brow wrinkled again. "Then why do I feel like you are close and then you move away."
"Ok, see… now…. I thought I was going to get out of answering that question."
And that made him smile again.
"Alright I'll try to answer you but I think the answer to your question has 2 parts. Sit down Owen." And she patted the sofa.
"It is no fun when you are close to people, when you trust them or count on them being there and it doesn't work out, something goes wrong or they let you down or hurt you. As a kid I trusted my family and they let me down on some pretty important stuff.” And she paused and thought about how to get him to understand her reluctance. “My father was my world, the one person on the planet I felt really got me for who I was. I loved him. Just being around him made me happy, and then he got sick and died. I learned to play it safe with my feelings by not really allowing any deep feelings, by retaining some emotional distance, by being an observer, by holding something back for me. Then I fell in love with James only, over a 10 year period, to have him break my heart twice and bend it pretty good a few other times. Since then I think I've figured out how to make being there, fully in each moment, work for me and allow me to really experience life. I am committed to my relationships and to my responsibilities. But you are right I do hold a bit of my heart back. I have to have something to start with again should it get trampled on by life's complexities. I'm only so strong."
And as he listened it came to him, "Nola I know why you were so scared."
"You are scared all the time. I just pulled the curtain back far enough for you to see it."
And she sat there thinking and realizing that there just might be some truth to that before she finally said, "Maybe I should make 'Feel the fear and do it anyway' my new motto." Then she jumped to the next reason and she caught herself thinking that there could be a bit of self defense in this action too.
Meana said again," It's ok. You're safe."
"But there are other more practical reasons. I've worked in what was, when I started, a man's industry for 25 years. I am very often still the only woman in a room full of men. To thrive in this world as a woman, it has helped to be able to be more analytical, to be able to step back. To be able to hold myself as a female and all that means, apart from what I do as a professional. Also as a supervisor in corporate America, you have to maintain some distance with the people you supervise. I like to think of myself as a good supervisor, one who is fair, who explains what needs to be accomplished but doesn’t over supervise, as someone who has her staff's back. But as a supervisor I also have responsibilities to management and the corporation as a whole. This requires that some of me stay separate from the people who work for me, or, because I’ve always been a part of a support organization, from the people my team and I serve. I can't be just their colleague or fully their friend. I have to hold something back to be able to supervise and serve. With you I am your friend but I am you teacher too. There are similarities. I have students start on this path and then change their mind. I had groups, Clans, Boschettos come together only to fall apart. Sometimes a little distance is healthy."
And as he listened he realized that there was wisdom in what she was saying. She was scared and strong and wise. To Nola it looked like she had managed to answer his question and that he seemed satisfied with her answer.
Meana said, "Gently Owen, Gently.
What he said was, "Ok, I think I get it."
And Nola sighed and thought, and said out loud playfully, “Whew.”
Then Owen said as he started to get up, “Ok dinner Thursday May 8th, Galatoire's 7PM. You should meet me here and we'll go together in my truck. My family is staying in the Quarter because I haven't finished the upstairs guest bedrooms and bathroom. I'm going to take some grief for that."
She just sat there speechless until she was finally able to say, "You still want me to come to dinner with your family? As your girlfriend?"
"Sure. It took me until after Papa Eric died, but I've learned not to argue with his suggestions." And he walked of to the kitchen for the wine.
And as he did she said, “Totally exasperating man.”
And he called back from the hall, “Yes, but you like me.”
And she said to the room, “Yes, damn it, I do like you.”
“I heard that.”
She just sat there.
He returned with glasses and the wine. He handed her a full glass and sat down next to her. She said, “OK consider it your birthday present.”
He clinked her glass and said, “Deal.” And they each took a sip and Nola was prepared for him as he sealed it with a kiss.
“I’m assuming that I go as “just” your girlfriend and not your pagan teacher.”
“Check, pagan teacher would not make mom happy.”
And we’ve been seeing each other since we met on the plane to Pennsylvania.”
“Yep, 5 months.”
“And what do we do together? Other than what we actually do together which we can’t really talk about.”
“Nola. Be nice. We can talk about what we do together. We hang out. We watch movies, occasionally Star Trek which will go over well with Eric & Ryan. We discuss books. Dad will love that.” And he waved his hand around the room. “My family knows I’m a book worm. We’ve designed and built the garden. Abby and Stella love to garden. They aren’t crack addicts like you but they like it. It’s a dinner. It’s one night toward the end of their visit. I have enough to keep them busy with Jazzfest and the required Disaster Tour and the French Quarter and the pool and the zoo and the aquarium. Mom will want to shop for furniture for the guest rooms. That will keep her and Stella busy. We’ll break in the basketball court. You know enough about me to pass as my girlfriend.”
“Ok fine. And, if asked, have I been married once or twice or not at all?”
“Well, you’ve been married twice. But you don’t have to mention it unless specifically asked. Isn’t that how your formula for dealing with delicate issues works?”
“Owen…. That is not fair. I never said I intentionally lied. I just…”
“Who said you were lying? You are a girl. You are my friend. You’re a professional for a large corporation and you work for a refinery. You’re a native New Orleanian from the 9th Ward. You’re a PostKatrina neighborhood activist. You shouldn’t be left alone in the kitchen. You landscape as you drive. You paint and sketch. Damn it Nola, you’re one of the most interesting women I’ve ever met. There is a lot to talk about without wading into territory they won’t understand. We’ve spent a lot of time hanging out together since we met on the plane. I like you. What more is there that they need to know? “
She sighed, “Do you know about my daughter?”
“Yes, But you don’t have to mention her…
“unless specifically asked. Ok, I get it.”
“I want them to see 2 people who like each other, who look like they have a relationship and then let them think what they want to think and then go home happy. It will be OK.”
And she sighed and gave up the fight. “Ok…… Ok… Ok.”
“You like me.”
“Yes. I like you.”
And he kissed her again.
And by the time she typically went home she had relaxed into thinking that it would be Ok and it might even be fun and on the drive home she couldn’t even remember what she had originally planed for that evening’s lesson.
And Settrano and Bellaria grinned at Meana and Tago. And Papa Eric was pleased.