Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Chapter 38 – Passing

Owen was dressed and ready and had the Prosecco cooling fridge. He was wearing the suit that had been retailored for his mom’s birthday celebration and he had to admit he looked good. His family had spent the day hanging out at his new pool but he had taken them back to their French Quarter hotel to dress for dinner. He and Nola were meeting them in the Quarter for 7PM. He smiled again as he thought back to Nola's initial response to his dinner invitation and the idea of being presented so his family would assume she was his girlfriend. Few people could even begin to fathom their actual relationship. The Grigori knew that neither Nola nor Owen fully understood it themselves. She was right when she said that walking this path had opened him up to himself. He felt he'd learned more about what made him happy and how to be comfortable in his own skin in the last 6 months than he had in the previous 40+ years. And Settrano smiled at Tago who nodded in acknowledgment that not everyone needed the same guide.

Owen knew that Nola still wasn't sure about the idea and was going to do everything he could to keep it as light and as comfortable as possible for her. He thought back on the conversation that he'd had with Dad & Ryan and Eric as they were shooting hoops in the back yard the day before.
"Ok, I need to let you on a little secret, just for us guys. You can NOT tell Mom or Stella. They'll find out tomorrow at dinner."
Eric's eyebrows shot up. Jack looked at Ryan and they both thought 'uh oh'.
"Ah come on. This is a good. It's going to make mom" and he threw the ball to Eric "your grandmom happy."
Jack said, "Ok I'll bite. You know part of the reason for the visit is that your mom's been worried about you. So what kind of secret do you have that will make her happy?"
Ryan said, "You're getting married."
"What!? No." And Jack grabbed his chest in mock horror and amazement.
Eric laughed at them as Owen said. "I'm bringing a date with me to dinner tomorrow, a woman I've been seeing regularly for about 6 months. This basketball court was her idea."
"Damn." said Ryan and then looked at Eric as if to say don't tell your mother.
"Well, that's some secret, son."

Nola was irritated and stressed. The hazard assessment on the unit had run late. She was a part of the field team to work follow ups and today was the day for those follow ups. She was walking back to her truck in a hard hat, steel toe shoes and a fire retardant jumpsuit. She was going to be cutting it really close. She should be getting ready for dinner with Owen’s family. She shook her head and wondered again how she had let herself get talked in this. She still wasn’t sure it was a good idea. She had her clothes and backpack in the truck. Her plan had been to use the shower facilities at work and save herself the hour it would take to run home, shower and change. She was due at Owen’s in 15 minutes dressed and ready. She could probably make it there in 15 minutes. The ByWater was closer than her Carrollton home. But dressed and ready would take about 20 more minutes as long as ‘ready’ excluded dry hair. She tossed her hard hat into the back seat and grabbed her cell phone off the charger. She had to wait until she was off refinery grounds to use it. So she cued up Owen’s number before starting the engine and swiped out of the facility. As soon as she hit the public street she pushed the button to call him

He answered on the first ring. “Hello, babe.”
Nola pulled the phone away from her ear, raised her eyebrows and then put it back, “Babe?”
“Just practicing.”
He heard her sigh, “Owen I’m calling to let you know I’m running a little late. I’ll be there in about 15 minutes, maybe 10 as long as I don’t catch the bridge.”
“Ok, I’ll see you then. You should see how good I clean up.”
She hated to talk on the phone and drive in city traffic, especially since she was speeding just a bit, and he seemed like he was in a playful mood, so she decided to cut it short. “See you very soon.”
“Ok babe, see ya.” and she could hear him grin.
She said, still irritated but smiling despite herself, “Bye…, babe.”
Settrano smiled at Bellaria and Meana, completely pleased with the plan that Tago had agreed to allow to play out.

Babe. What have I gotten myself into? Why did I let him talk me into this? But while she had only met his mom once at the airport her intuition told her he was right. If he had a woman on his arm, his mom would be happier and more relaxed about his being in New Orleans. Owen had promised that it would be Ok because his brother Ryan and his wife Stella and Eric were in town with his mom Abby and his dad Jack. Simon and Lisa had stayed at home because Lisa was very pregnant. Nola mentally practiced the all the names again. Owen had promised that he would ensure that he sat on one side of her and Eric sat on the other. He said Ryan and his dad and Eric were in on keeping Abby at bay. The men knew Owen was bringing a date but they were going to surprise Abby. That way Abby wouldn't have time to work up a series of questions for her. What a comforting thought. The guys weren’t in on the whole story. They really thought Owen had a girlfriend. But they knew how Abby could pepper them with questions and understood exactly what Owen wanted and why. He said they were comrades in arms. She sure hoped so.

Nola pulled into the driveway in 9 minutes. She was out of the truck in a flash and getting out of her steel toes when Owen came out of the kitchen door.
“What the…..”
“I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t have any control over the schedule. I swear I can be ready in 20 minutes.” She tossed the steel toes into the back seat and unzipped the jumpsuit,
His eyebrows went up not knowing what was underneath. She stepped out of the jumpsuit wearing a simple camisole and light pants. She tossed the jumpsuit in with the rest and grabbed her dress and backpack and bolted for the door in her sock feet.
Owen just shook his head and followed her in and closed the door she had left open when she dashed in. There was no way any woman on the planet was going to be ready for dinner in 20 minutes, especially not one who had just pulled off steel toed shoes. She was already in the downstairs bathroom and he heard the shower turn on. He checked the clock in the kitchen. It was 6:15PM. Owen called Ryan and let him know that they would meet them at the restaurant instead of the hotel, then poured a glass of Prosecco for the wait.

Nola was out of her clothes in a flash. She hung the dress on the back of the door and turned on the water in the shower. She dumped the contents of the backpack into a heap on the floor and made sure there were 2 towels available on the rack. She grabbed the larger zip lock bag and dumped its contents onto the floor of the shower, quickly grabbing her toothbrush and toothpaste out of the pile and then she stepped into the shower. She took a quick deep breath as the cold water hit her and then adjusted the temperature. She brushed her teeth while standing under shower letting the water beat down on the top of her head to get her hair and body wet. She finished brushing her teeth and grabbed the shampoo from the floor of the tub, squeezed some in her hand, dropped the bottle to the floor and lathered up her hair. She shampooed and rinsed quickly. She scooped up the conditioner, squirted some in her hand and worked it over the ends and then rinsed it. She grabbed the body scrub squirted in some grapefruit scented bath soap and lathered up to get the grit of the refinery off of her. She grabbed her razor off of the floor and while she was all soapy ran it quickly over her legs and underarms. She made sure that all the conditioner was out of her hair and then she grabbed the presoaped face cloth and washed her face. She took a deep breath and stood letting the shower beat on her for a minute, mentally asking for the Old Ones to help her bend time and for Umbrea goddess of shadows and enchantment to give her the ability to enchant and hide in the shadows, before she grabbed the removable shower head and made sure that all the soap was gone. She turned off the shower and grabbed one of the towels and wrapped it around her head to let it soak the water out of her hair. She reached into the shower and scooped out the toiletries and dumped them onto the bathroom rug to dry. She dried off with the other towel, well mostly and found a smaller zip lock that acted as her makeup bag. She grabbed the Oil of Olay smoothed it on her face. She used the natural deodorant stone on her still wet underarms until the salts dried them. She did a few light strategically placed spritz of Jill Sander no. 4 parfum. She took the towel off her head and rewrapped it putting the drier part against her head and twisting the now wet part up and flipping it back over her head. She put a few dabs of makeup under her eyes and around her face and smoothed it around on her freshly moisturized face. She barely swiped some pale purple shimmer over her eyes and then lightly powdered her face with a small brush. She grabbed the toiletries from the bathroom rug and shoved them back into the large zip lock bag and tossed it toward her backpack. She took the towel off her head and worked at getting her hair as dry as she could. She flipped her hair back and grabbed her comb and combed her hair into place. She squirted some foam mouse into her palm and then with her other hand worked it in strategically around her temples and made sure the swoop of hair on the right side of her face would stay in place, she worked the rest of the stuff from her palm into the back of her hair to help keep those curls in place. She swiped over her hair with a comb again. Her hair was still wet but she knew that it would dry well. She never used a blow dryer. She took another look at her makeup, dabbed here and there, decided to lightly line her eyes and then went over her face once more with the makeup brush.
From the floor near the backpack she grabbed fresh underwear and put it on and then dropped the deep purple dress over her head. She made sure the loose ruched waistline was straight on her and adjusted the v-neck crossover neckline and straightened the shoulders. She put on her mascara last, then some lip moisturizer, realizing she had left her purse in her truck. The lipstick would have to wait. She swept the makeup into the small zip lock and returned both zip locks to the backpack and shoved in her dirty clothes on top. She grabbed the half slip from the floor and slipped it on under her dress. Then she slid into her shoes, turned to ensure the back of the dress was flowing Ok and that the slip was properly in place, fingered her hair a bit to loosen up the mouse and checked the pearl earrings she had put in that morning. The last thing she did was pull a multistrand of pearls, with a large quartz tear drop clipped on to them, out of the front zipper pocket of the backpack. She put the necklace on and then took another deep breath, called on Umbrea again before she opened the bathroom door with the backpack in her hand.

Owen turned the barstool around and looked up thinking there is no way that could be the bathroom door. Nola dropped her backpack outside the bathroom door and walked into the kitchen and said “I need about 15 more minutes before my hair is dry enough to look like I didn’t just step out of a shower but once I grab my purse from my truck and put on some lipstick I’m ready.” Owen’s jaw dropped open as he saw the clock. It said 6:33. She had done it in 18 minutes. “Damn woman! 18 minutes! How did you do that!?”
“When pushed I can bend time.” And she mentally thanked the Grigori.
Then he really looked at her and said, “Wow and I thought I cleaned up good. You look fabulous. Even with your not quite dry hair.”
“Thanks.”
He handed her his glass of Prosecco and she gratefully took a sip before realizing it was Prosecco. Owen was smiling and moving in for a kiss. It was after all tradition. He grabbed her waist and pulled her close and kissed her like a new girlfriend should be kissed. As he pulled away slightly he said, “You smell good too.”
“Thanks” and then she said, “Are you really sure this is a good idea?” And he kissed her again. “Owen stop. You’re making my head spin.”
He smiled and said, “Isn’t that what a boyfriend is supposed to do? Then he noticed the necklace. "Well that's quite a rock."
"It's just quartz, with a bit of amethyst wash in it and some purple rutile crystals."
"Geology lesson, huh?" and he grinned at her before he said, "Pearls can be so conservative. That quartz is not. The combination is perfect for you and this evening.
Then seeing that she was having second thoughts said, “Let’s go, we’re meeting them at the restaurant instead of the hotel. At this point we might even beat them there.”

As he pulled out of the driveway, Nola asked, “Owen, if asked, what did I get you for your birthday? Since we can’t really tell the truth about that, can we? And if I were to try and think of a present for you I have no idea what I’d get you. Shame on me but it’s true."
He smiled and acknowledged that she had a point. “Hmmm, hadn’t thought about that. For my birthday, I asked you to paint a picture for my bedroom and you’re still working on it.”
“Oh, no pressure.”
And he laughed. “But it sounds good.”
Then he said, “Oh I've been meaning to tell you that I didn’t tell my dad that he already met you at the Allentown airport back in November.”
She sighed, and said, “OK, Anything else I should know?”
“Hmmm, Oh Eric’s birthday is the same day as mine. He just turned 14.”
She nodded, “Anything else?”
“Nope, that’s pretty much it. We’re all just winging the rest. I’m hoping that pulling this off is something else you can do without thinking about it.”
She smiled, laughed lightly and sighed, “Well, I’ll see what I can do.”

As they drove downtown Nola thought about her necklace. The pearls had once belonged to her friend Dana who became Polly. And she thought about how she had become Nola to Owen. The one thing Polly had not been was conservative. Polly was a serious Norse Witch and they had shared the same birthday one year apart. She missed DanaPolly. The last time they had spoken was when Polly called to say she was leaving to go to the Czech Republic and that had been 4 years ago. The quartz was a piece she had picked up in the Denver Airport. James had broken her heart and she had met a guy while at a training class in Denver. They had such a good time together during the week of the class that they had stayed in touch and he had flown her back for a week of skiing and sex in a cabin in the woods. She smiled remembering it. The quartz piece was something she had purchased for herself, because it made her happy and because she couldn't walk away from it and leave it there in the Denver Airport.

In 15 minutes Owen was parked in the garage around the corner from the restaurant. Nola checked her makeup in the truck mirror as Owen grabbed his jacket from the backseat then walked around to open her door. Nola fluffed her still not quite dry hair one last time. She had been so rushed and keyed up that she really hadn’t looked at him. When he opened the door, like the gentleman he always was, and she took his hand to step down out of the truck she caught the fit of his pants and the way the shirt stretched across his chest and the jacket accentuated his shoulders. She looked up at him and smiled, bushed her other hand slowly down his tie, leaned into him, brushed his ear with her lips and said and in smoky smiling voice, “You look really good in that suit…. Babe.”
He reached around her waist, nuzzled her neck and said, “Keep that up and we’ll miss dinner.”
At that she pressed herself closer against him bared more of her neck as she said softly in his ear, “What ever you say.”
He pulled her even closer and kissed her like he was going to haul her off to bed, and she gave totally into it. Tago finally nudged him and he realized they were in a parking garage. He said wistfully, “That was not fair. But it’s too late to get out of this. And you promised.”
She sighed, “You can’t blame a girl for trying.”
He laughed and hooked her arm and headed to the restaurant.

Eric was walking down the sidewalk slightly ahead of everyone else so he saw his Uncle Owen round the corner with a lady in a purple dress. He stopped and looked to his dad, nodded toward Owen and did a low whistle. Ryan nudged his dad, whose eyebrows raised in appreciation before he said, “Owen could always pick ‘em and he’s always preferred shapely over skinny. It’s cute how she fits under his arm.” Abby & Stella were walking more slowly behind them, window shopping and chatting. They caught up with the men wondering what had stopped them. Jack nodded toward Owen who was smiling and talking to Nola. And the whole family smiled collectively.

Owen looked away from Nola and spotted his family down the street. He squeezed her against his side and said, “Here we go.”
She squeezed her hand against arm and said, “It was a good thing I was busy today and late. I haven’t had time to be scared, until now.”
He said, “I’ll protect you.” And then they both laughed.

They meet at the door of the restaurant and went in together. They had to wait at the bar for a few minutes and Owen took this time to officially introduce Nola to everyone in the group, starting with his parents. “Nola, these are my parents, Jack and Abby.” Nola, used to the corporate world, put her hand out to shake Jack’s hand. Jack caught on and put his hand out and said, as he smiled Owen’s smile at her, “Hello Nola.
“Hello again Jack. I don’t know if you remember or not but we met at the Allentown airport back in November.”
And that was when Abby said, “Hello Nola. I’m glad to see I was right.”
“Hello Abby.” And then, as if it were girl talk, Nola said, “What were you right about?”
“Oh I can tell when my son has a twinkle in his eye. I knew something was in the air in November.” Then turning to Owen she said, “So that’s why you changed your flight.”
“Mom you’re amazing. I can’t keep anything from you. You know things before I do.” Then turning to his brother and family said, “Nola and I met on the flight I took home for Mom’s birthday party last year and we also returned to New Orleans on the same flight." Then he smoothly segued into, “Nola this is my brother Ryan, his wife Stella and their son Eric.”
Nola thinking that this was going to be a very interesting evening nodded to the group of 3 saying, “Hello, I hope you're having a good time in New Orleans.” And she put out her hand to Eric, “Happy Birthday, a few days late.” And he shook her hand and his mom and dad smiled.

They were quickly moved to their table. Jack moved Abby to one side of the table and pulled out her chair and sat down at one end. Owen moved Nola to the opposite side of the table pulled out her chair and sat her down in the middle seat and then took the seat next to his father and across from his mom. On cue Eric slid into the seat next to Nola. Ryan pulled out the chair next to Abby for Stella and then took a seat at the other end of the table. And Nola smiled as she thought, Nicely done. I’m on one side and the women who will grill me are on the other.

As Eric sat down he noticed that Nola’s hair was still a little wet and being a kid commented. “Nola, your hair is wet.”
Nola took it stride, “Yes it is. I was at work until around 6PM. But I managed to clean up before dinner.”
The waiter came and handed out the menus, told them about the specials and took their drink orders.
Abby then asked, “Where do you work?”
“A refinery, a few minutes outside of town in St. Bernard Parish. Then seeing that the whole table looked a little incredulous added, “It’s only a few minutes from Owen’s house, so it didn’t take me long to get there.”
The rest of the family was wrapping their brain around that fact that she worked at a refinery when Abby said, “I’m pretty sure you didn’t go to work at a refinery looking like that.”
And Nola wondered if there was something wrong with her dress and did a mental comparison between her dress and Stella’s before she relaxed.
And Owen jumped in. “No, she didn’t. When she pulled into my driveway around 6:15PM she was wearing a protective jumpsuit and steel toe shoes.”
Now the family looked even more incredulous and Ryan said, “No way.”
Owen countered with, “I wouldn’t believe it either if I hadn’t seen it for myself. It was amazing. I think Nola’s turned the downstairs bathroom into a time machine.”
Abby and Stella glanced at each with looks that said, ‘Not possible.’ And the men silently wondered why it wasn’t possible all the time for their women.
Eric, trying to do his best in the adult conversation asked, “What do you do in a jumpsuit at a refinery?”
“Well I don’t wear a jumpsuit every day, most of the time I work in an office on site. I’m responsible for a team of people who manage the technical engineering documentation the refinery is required to maintain to run the plant safely and keep OSHA and EPA happy. I rarely have to go in the field. It was a bit of bad timing to have to today. I’m glad we didn’t keep you all waiting.”
Jack asked, “Oh so you’re an engineer?”
Nola answered, “No, a geologist by training.” And to satisfy their quizzical looks gave them the short story about the arch her career had taken so she could stay in New Orleans.
Stella commented, “So you’re as committed to New Orleans as Owen.”
“Well I’m a native. This is my home. Before Katrina, New Orleans had the largest population people in the US who were still living in the city where they were born.”
Abby said, “Really?
“Yes. It was part of what made the PostKatrina experience so horrible. Large families and extended families were impacted making it harder for family and friends to help each other. In some ways the same thing that caused me to adjust my career to stay in New Orleans is what cushioned some of those affected by the aftermath of the storm. People who had moved to cities in other states because of their jobs were able to take in family and friends. But it was still devastating.”
The waiter returned to take their orders. After he left Ryan said, “Owen took us on a tour of the city.”
Stella said, “I really had no idea how large an area was impacted until I saw it myself.” And everyone around the table nodded in agreement.
Nola said seriously, “It can be hard to fathom even for those of us who lived through it.”
Ryan nodded and said, “In some places you can’t tell that anything was ever wrong. In others it looks almost like it happened yesterday and then there are areas where you can see recovery in action but it’s incomplete.”
Nola laughed and said, “Yes and the recovery now seems like it has every major street under construction.” And wanting to move the talk away from the chance that she’d be asked to tell her Katrina story said, “What have you done on your visit, other than the Devastation Tour?”
Eric piped in with, “We went to the Aquarium. The big tank is my favorite. The otters are fun and the penguins are messier than I imagined.” And Abby smiled at her grandson as the salads and appetizers were served.
In an attempt to keep the conversation light while feeding his mom tidbits about ‘his girlfriend’ Owen commented to the table but mostly to Eric and Ryan, “Nola is a big Star Trek fan.”
Eric said, “Really? Cool. Who’s your favorite character?”
Nola thought for a minute and then answered him seriously. “Well in ‘The Original Series’, Spock. In ‘The Next Generation’, definitely Guinan. In ‘Deep Space Nine’ it’s a bit harder to choose so I have to pick, Kira and followed by Jadzia Dax, and you’ve got to love Quark. I do wish that Kai Opaka had lasted longer. She was a lot like Guinan. In Voyager it’s close, but I’d have to say Janeway followed closely by Seven. In Enterprise, definitely Trip.”
Eric was impressed that she had responded with someone from every series. He figured he’d like anyone who would think to put in a basketball court. But now he really liked Nola. Ryan was impressed too and said, “Wow you are a fan.”
He knew everyone in his family knew a little about the Star Trek universe because of his and especially because of Eric’s fascination. But he caught himself thinking out loud “Interesting…” and commenting for the rest of them but especially his mom, “Mom you’ll find this very interesting. If I were to translate the characters Nola choose into something about her personality I’d say that she loves logic and science: Spock, Dax, Seven, Janeway. Is philosophical and a bit mysterious, Guinan, Opaka. Is tough and a fighter and a leader with hidden strong emotions: Kira and Janeway. Appreciates fun and a man who can fix things – Trip and I guess even Quark. She’s perfect for Owen.”
Nola knew that she’d be on display but she hadn’t expected this. As Owen listened to Ryan and watched his mom he was amazed at how well Nola was described. He wasn’t sure he could have done a better job of it himself. The waiter interrupted to refill their wine and water glasses and after Nola took a sip of wine she smiled and excused herself from the table.
Owen rose slightly to get her chair and she said, “I’ll be right back.”
After she left Jack said, “Well Owen, how well does that describe Nola?”
And Owen said, “to a T. Very good Ryan.”
Ryan smiled, winked at Eric and said “Star Trek has the answer to almost every question.”
Stella rolled her eyes and smiled at both of her men.
Abby asked, “So Owen, is she perfect for you?”
Owen responded, “Pretty close mom, pretty close.”

Nola was in the ladies room, asking herself again why she let herself be talked into this. She needed a minute and also figured it was as good a time as any to give the family time to talk about her with out her being in the room. As she re-fluffed her now almost dry hair, straightened her dress and touched up her lipstick she looked at herself in the mirror and told herself mentally, Too late to back out now, and did her best to be calm and centered and sent a silent plead to Umbrea again before she returned to the table.

The rest of the dinner went well. The conversation flowed. Nola asked about the hotel business. Jack indicated that May was kind of an in between time for them, not the busy winter season or the height of summer and therefore a good time to take a break. Nola asked what he thought about climate change and the potential impact on the business, not realizing that this was one of Jack’s favorite topics. Nola was asked where she lived and talked about her neighborhood and her PostKatrina recovery activist activities. When Nola mentioned that New Orleans had lost 50% of its urban tree canopy and that one of the things her neighborhood was doing was planting trees, Stella mentally noted the Hike for KaTREEna organization that provided the trees so that she could make a donation when they got back. Owen knowing that both Abby and Stella were avid gardeners mentioned that his new permaculture landscaping was Nola’s design and the girls talked gardening. By the time the dessert was done and evening was over they were relaxed and realizing just how much they had enjoyed each other’s company.

The ladies excused themselves to the rest room. Stella commented that Eric had worn himself out in the pool and that they should get back to the hotel. Abby agreed. Before they let the restroom, Stella, touched Nola’s arm and said, “Nola it was a real pleasure to meet you.” and gave her a hug, before nodding to Abby and opening the door so Abby could walk out, leaving Nola speechless.

The 2 groups parted ways outside the restaurant, Owen promising to pick them up for breakfast at his house. As they rounded the corner Owen said, “Well that’s one more thing you can do without thinking about it. Jack was the first to fall. Well after Ryan and Eric and your list of Star Trek characters. I know that Stella likes you. And you even impressed Abby. I was so smart to keep you a secret until dinner. Mom was caught off guard and less prepared to question you. I think that Eric and Ryan and Dad did a nice job of deflecting Abby and keeping it light. But you managed to keep the conversation flowing so that she didn’t have to question you much. Very nicely done.”
And as he ran on, Nola realized just how pent up he had been and smiled at him as he released his energy. “You're welcome.”
After he opened the door of the truck for her and but before she sat down, he made sure her gave her a proper girlfriend kiss. “Thank you, very, very much.”

As Abby and Jack walked arm in arm behind Ryan and his family, Jack said, “Well?”
“He’s happy Jack. For the first time in his life he is content and really happy. You know that’s all I’ve ever really wanted.”
And he squeezed her arm and said lovingly, “Yes, I do know that.”

Owen drove them home lost in his own thoughts. Nola was glad it was over and looking forward to escaping home. She didn't even need to go back into Owen's house because she had dropped her backpack in her truck when she grabbed her purse. He tried to talk her to coming in but she wiggled out of it saying she had to go to work tomorrow. As he watched her drive away his grandfather said, "Well you two are definitely naturals. Too bad it's not real."
"But it is real."
"Yes, son and no."

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