Saturday, June 8, 2013

Chapter 56 – Small Moves


Friday…  Nola had decided to pick Jamie up from school.  They headed home.  Thursday had been the first day of school. Next week would be the first full week. Jamie talked and Nola drove.  Nola managed to confirm that there was nothing big going on this weekend.  No sleepovers. No movies.  No chauffer duties. No homework. But there were a few school supplies that Jamie needed. 


“How do you feel about taking care of that right now?  We could drive out to Elmwood hit Inka’s and Office Depot and maybe stop for a treat at La Madeleine?”


“Ok. But can we stop for a treat first?”


Nola smiled. “Ok.” Then said, “Give dad a call and let him know what we’re up to.”


“Mom…”


“You know I don’t like to drive and talk on the phone.  And you know he’s going to call and check on us if we don’t.”


Jamie smiled and called her dad. 


 


They made sure they brought James home something sweet from La Madeleine. They had a fun Girl’s Night. Jamie swore she had everything she needed for school.  She was sure she didn’t want to pick a date for her birthday party until after Labor Day. After they ate a little of what James cooked for dinner, they spent the evening watching Star Trek and chatting.  When she took Sweet Pea out during a Star Trek intermission she called Owen.


 


It rang once and he answered.


“There you are. It’s 9 o’clock.”


She just looked at the phone, God. Now there were 2 of them. Then she calmly said, “Is it?”


“Yes, you said you’d call and let me know about your weekend plans.”


“Owen, I said I’d call when I understood the layout of my weekend and next week. Jeezz.  Maybe it would be easier of you told me about whatever schedule I need to fit into.” And then he thought he heard her mumble about cell phones making humans less patient. “I keep telling you that you need to get out more.”


And he heard his Papa Eric chuckle.


He breathed deeply and then said, “Well then I guess that you know about your weekend and next week.”


And she sighed, “I know about my weekend. House cleaning and groceries are going to be the big events. Next week is up in the air. It’s the first full week of school for Jamie and the schedule hasn’t settled yet.”


He wanted details.  “How about some details?”


“Details?”


“Yes details.  What specifically are you doing this weekend? Is there a time when we could get together?”


And he heard her sigh. “Owen I’m the one with the boring life. Tonight after work I picked Jamie up from school, got the last of her school supplies, confirmed there was nothing that Jamie was doing this weekend, had dinner, then Jamie and I started a Star Trek marathon we’ll finish later tonight.  Right now I’m walking the dog so she can pee. Sometime this weekend I need to clean house and get groceries. Jamie is going to sleep until noon tomorrow or later if I let her.  James will be leaving for work at noon on Saturday and won’t be home until after 8PM. Sunday no one has plans to do anything, so I’ll probably pester the kid to help me clean the house, which she is supposed to do in order to get her allowance. Next week, literally, who knows?  I have to be at work every day. Thankfully, I don’t have any neighborhood meetings scheduled next week, Night Out against Crime is behind us and all the blight complaints are in and we’re just waiting on hearing dates.  James is only working on Saturdays and some Sundays so I’m assuming he can get Jamie from school most weeknights. I still have to pick her up from Japanese at UNO on Wednesday.  I will be at your house on Thursday. But, well, if you can figure out where in all that there is time for us to get together, I’m all yours.”


And he thought, No you’re not. Not yet. What he said was, “Wow… boring but busy.”


“Thanks.” And he heard… “Come on Sweet Pea.”


He was used to clients talking out loud and trying to figure out when they could meet with him so he adjusted her schedule and made a plan.  He figured he’d start with Saturday and break the rest to her over time. “Why don’t you pester the kid to help you clean on Saturday and as a treat I’ll take the 2 of you out to Japanese for dinner?”


“Sweet Pea!”


“Nola?”


“Sorry.”


“I’ll pick you and Jamie up for dinner at 5PM tomorrow.  I’ll get you home before 8PM.”


“Why don’t you get together with Roger instead? It would probably be more fun.”


“Roger’s going out with Debi on Saturday.  I’d be a 3rd wheel.”


“Not for long.”


“Nola,” and she knew she was being chastised, “I’ll see you for 5PM tomorrow.  I know you won’t turn down sushi for Jamie.”


“You know… Damn it Owen.”


“Which means I’m right.” 


“Ok…” and she sighed, “I’ll see you at 5. It will be easier to get Jamie to help with the house work with sushi as a bribe.”


“Great, I’ll be at your house at 5 tomorrow. Get Jamie to pick the sushi restaurant.”  And he hung up before she could change her mind.


 


James had a new script for a play he’d start working on in September. He’d have all the lines memorized before rehearsals started. He worked on it downstairs while they finished the Star Trek marathon.  Before the last episode of the night Nola told Jamie about sushi and being able to pick the restaurant if, and only if, she helped clean house tomorrow.  Sure mom, no problem and Sake Café were the responses.


 


Owen was at the house for exactly 5PM.  Nola was downstairs flipping laundry and making sure Sweet Pea went out one more time before they left.   Jamie opened the door for him. 


“Hi, Jamie.”


“Hi. Mom’s downstairs flipping laundry.” He nodded.


“So which restaurant are we going to?”


“Sake Cafe.”


“The one on Magazine?”


“Well, you’ll have to ask Mom. I’m not sure how to get there.”


Nola heard part of the conversation as she was coming up the stairs and said as she hit the top and turned the corner into the long hall said, “Yes the one on Magazine.” 


“Poor Nola, have you been working hard all day.”


She smiled, “I actually slept in until around 8:30.” And she pulled the door to the living room closed. “But the laundry’s almost done. The house is clean. We’ve worked hard enough for a break.” and she turned to ask, “Jamie did Queenie get a mouse?
“No.” And Jamie moved to the kitchen.


“Queenie?”


“The California King Snake.”


“Your daughter has a snake?”


“It wasn’t my idea.  Jamie wanted one.  So I indulged her. Queenie is black and white and quite pretty. Would you like to see?”


“Sure.”


Jamie went in her door and Nola followed. Owen barely managed to squeeze into the half open French door with “Ah, Miaygi Pink.” And Jamie and Nola both smiled.  Nola motioned to the tank in the corner. Queenie was nosing toward the top of the tank because Jamie had just put the mouse in the bowl to defrost. Owen took a closer look “Well she is bigger than I expected and she is pretty.”


Sweet Pea started barking at the back door.  Nola said, “I’m going to lock up downstairs and then take one last look for cats hiding in the living room.  Owen, if I let Sweet Pea in she’s going to bark at you. I’d rather not rile her up too much before we leave. Would you mind going with Jamie to the truck? Then I can let Sweet Pea in and I’ll meet you outside so we can go.”


 


He was still looking at the snake and said “Ok.” And Nola turned so she could make one final sweep of the house and ensure that everything was locked and the animals where they were supposed to be.


Jamie watched while Owen looked at the snake.


“How often do you feed her?”


“About once a week.”


“What made you want a snake?”


“I don’t know. When I was little we would go to the zoo and I would pet the snakes. I thought it would be fun to have my own.”


 


He nodded and watched the snake but took in the room as well. There was a bench seat by the door that had a book bag and purses and jackets on the hooks. What used to be a coal burning fireplace was closed in with no mantle. In front of this there was what looked like a small altar on a painted stool. Was that a statue of Bast? Next to this was a built-in desk with shelves up to the ceiling that were mostly filled with stuffed animals. Between the 2 windows and across from the bed as a large book case with 2 gerbil cages on top, one with pink bedding, one with blue. There was a large basket of books and a nook under the other window filled with pillows. This area was obviously used for reading. There were 2 filled bookcases on the other wall, then a doorway to a small alcove area, which could be separated by a curtain, that served as closet and dressing space outside of the small full bath. It was a very effective use of the space. It looked like they had worked with California Closets. The snake was on the other side of the alcove doorway and there was a large kimono on the wall over the snake tank and a few other bits of Japanese art. In front of the snake tank there were 3 large dolls set up with various bits of doll furniture. On the wall across from the window and next to the snake and dolls there was a queen sized bed set long side against the wall with more shelves on the long side instead of the typical short side headboard. He wondered how many girls in America had gerbils and snakes in the same room with Japanese Art and how many played with their dolls in front of a snake cage and slept next to their snake. 


 


“Well we better get going. Ready?” And he motioned for her to go to the door. And they went out.  Jamie waited for Owen to squeeze out and then flipped the lock on her door to keep the cat from harassing the gerbils and the snake while they were gone. Nola had just dumped a large, long limbed, ragdoll of a pale yellow tabby out the front door. “Sam was curled up on the chair. He’s not happy about being put out. Tell him you love him on your way out.


Jamie said, “Saaaaaammmm.” and went out on to the porch. Owen pushed the door closed enough to be able to hug Nola quickly before he slipped out. She shook her head and went to let the dog in and locked up. Jamie was sitting in the front seat and Nola slipped in the back and they went off to sushi.


 


And Nola had a good time and so did Jamie.  As Owen finished paying the bill he asked, “Jamie, would it be ok with you if your mom came to my house tomorrow in the morning while you sleep in?”


“Sure, no problem.”                                               


Nola just looked at him. 


“You said that sleeping in for you was 8:30AM. So how does 9-9:30 sound for you?”


“Well… I… need to get groceries and finish the laundry.”


“You can do that after you take a look at my yard. I’ve decided that I’d like to add vegetables to the garden.”


And Jamie said, “Oh. Mom and gardening.” in a ‘parents are so weird’ tone.


Owen smirked and said, “You noticed.”


Jamie laughed. “Yeah.”


“So, I’ll see you tomorrow morning, Ok Nola?” And what could she say.  “You can get groceries on the way home.”


She sighed. “Ok.”


 


He got them home before 8 just like he promised. The next day Nola was up before 8 and left for Owen’s before 8:30AM.  She had let Sweet Pea out and then put her back in the bed with Jamie. James was still asleep.  Her family wouldn’t miss her. She had left a note for James saying: ‘Morning. Remember I’m gardening at Owen’s. Then I’m going to the grocery store. I’ll be home to make sure Jamie doesn’t sleep all day.’ She shook her head as she drove.  Owen had even gotten Jamie’s permission. Damn exasperating man.


 


She pulled into his driveway just before 9AM.  Owen had gotten up at his normal 6AM.  He’d lounged at bit, exercised in his weight room and taken a shower and had breakfast.  He was in the kitchen and heard the gate and her truck.  He pulled the door open just as she had decided to open the door of the truck. 


“Couldn’t wait, huh?”


She shook her head and it wasn’t a no I couldn’t wait shake. “Very sneaky… getting Jamie’s permission.”


And he walked toward her. “Not sneaky, straight forward. I figured it would be easier for you to say yes or harder for you to say no, if Jamie ok’d it.”


“Well, I’m here.” And she put her arms out and shrugged her shoulders and said, “Now what?”


He smiled and bear hugged her and said as he lifted her slightly off her feet, “I have some ideas.” 


“Oh, no. I’m here for the garden.”


He laughed.  “Ok, then let’s get that out of the way.” and moved to the side garden. “This is where you said a vegetable garden would go, right?”


“Yes. But this is really the wrong time to start vegetables. It’s too hot and the days are too long.  Late September is best. These cosmos will need to be pulled up. For now they could stand a trim.  Do you have a scissors I could use?”


And he smiled because he had known that getting her thinking about gardening would relax her. “Sure. In the kitchen. I’ll be right back.”


 


She trimmed back the cosmos and dumped the seed head filled flower tops along the back of the garden. He watched her work as she stood in the middle of the tall flowers. She asked, “So what kind of vegetables would you like to grow?”


“Woman, I don’t care. What ever you want is what I want in that garden and any where else.”


She rolled her eyes at him, “Ok then… what kind of vegetables do you like?”


“All of them.”


“Gosh Owen, that’s really helpful.”


And he laughed and so did she. Finally she said, “Do you really want a vegetable garden?”


“Yes.”


“Then… for winter I’d put artichoke along the back, maybe some broccoli in perpendicular rows. If it were summer, I’d put tomatoes and basil.  If you get some tomato cages then you could grow snow and sugar snap peas. They need something to climb on.  Parsley likes our cooler winters, dill too. Carrots, radishes arugula and other lettuces all grow easily from seed.”



“I’m hungry already.”


“You’re always hungry. But we can’t put any of that in until after Autumn Equinox.” And she wiped her brow. “It’s hot in this sun.  This really is the perfect place for a vegetable garden.  I wish I had sun like this at my house.  I should trim the other cosmos and cut some zinnias for you to take inside.”  And she wandered off to do just that.  He smiled and watched her.


“Son, It’s ridiculous how happy you are just to have her working in your garden.”


“Yes. It is. But gardening makes her happy. You can see her relax the minute she starts thinking about the plants.”


 


She made her way through the cosmos and tossed the seed heads to the back of the garden, hoping they would self seed next year.  Then she started in the zinnias, clipping back the old flowers and choosing the widest variety of colors and textures and the strongest stems for a bouquet. She had completely forgotten about Owen until she reached the limit of the number zinnias she could hold in her hand and said. “Owen, Would you please hold these for me?”


“Sure.”


And she came to him and gave him the bouquet.  “Would you mind if I pulled up those cosmos closest to the gardenias?  The cosmos season is almost up and, since you insisted on the largest gardenias, they might bloom again in the fall. It would be nice to see them.”


“Ok.” And she tucked the scissors in her back pocket then went into the far right corner of the garden in front of the house and pulled the cosmos up by their roots and laid them down in front of the gardenias.


“You’re just going to leave them there?”


“Sure. They’ll break down and feed the soil.” She stepped on the plants to start the decomposition process. “So it’s a shame to throw them away. Plus this way they may self seed next year. Is it too messy looking? Do you want to throw them away?”


“No. I don’t care. I’ve just never seen anyone garden so…”


“Haphazardly?”


“Well, I was going to say, wildly. I guess it’s natural and wild.”


“Exactly.  Gardening is best when done in alignment with nature.  I really should have trimmed back this oregano earlier in the summer, but it was so new and doing so well. And she started trimming the oregano and tossing the trimmings into the garden as mulch as she made her way to the fish and sat on the edge of the fountain. Owen joined her.


 


“Your home is really beautiful.”


“Thanks to you.”


“Ok, the garden definitely has my influence. But your home is beautiful: the wonderful old house with those galley porches, the large lot, the old look of the iron fencing. It’s warm and welcoming.” He just smiled. She said, “Speaking of warm, we should get those in some water.”


He got up and held out his hand. She was already up but took it and squeezed it and said, “Such a gentleman.” Before she let it go.


 


Owen didn’t have any vases. So they ended up with all the zinnias in a tall glass pasta container.  When Nola was finished arranging them, Owen said, “No one would know it wasn’t a vase.”  Nola smiled and he said, “Let’s go for a swim.”


“But I didn’t bring my suit.”


“I think we’ve proven we don’t need suits.  Plus one of the best things about having your own pool is skinny dipping.”


She still looked hesitant. Then said, “Ok.”, and headed to the bathroom. “Remember to bring towels. Meet you at the pool.”


 


Owen went outside and took off his t-shirt and jeans and dove in.  He was swimming a lap when Nola came out. She waded in and then just watched.


His strokes were long, slow and strong. She sighed. He was a beautiful man. He had done a side turn at the shallower end of the pool then a flip turn at the deep end of the pool and headed back but he had seen her get into the pool so he cut his stroke and went to her, lifting her gently instead of pulling her under.


“Oh thank you.”


“For what?” He held on to her and pulled her into the deeper water and she was forced to hold on.


“For not dunking me.”


“What were you thinking?”


“When?”


“While I was swimming. What were you thinking?”


She smiled. “Not that you need to hear it from me, but I was thinking that you are a beautiful man.”


“But I do need to hear it.  Everyone needs to hear nice things…


 


“Son!”


“Oh shit, pop. I was going to say, from the people they love.”


“It’s not the right time, son.”


 


Nola said, “That’s true.” And pushed off from him and went to the side of the pool to flutter kick and look at the trees they had planted.


 


“Damn it, pop.”


“Sorry, son.  Tago says, Patience.  I’ve been hearing it for months. You’ve heard it for a less than a week.” 


Owen sighed. “Patience? I’m 44 years old. How long does Tago want me to wait?”


“Until the time is right.”


“And when will that be?”


“Don’t know son.”


Owen pushed to the side of the pool.


She smiled at him, “The trees look great.”


 


“Nola?”


“Hmmm?”


“Why don’t you swim instead of just flutter kick on the side?”


“Because… I never really learned to swim.”


“Really?”
“Really. My mom swims like a fish.  But I never learned. I was taking swimming lessons, not far from here actually, but I got the measles and never finished. I might have been 5 or 6.  As a kid I waded in the Mississippi Sound. You can’t swim there; the water never really gets deep enough. We occasionally went to Lake Pontchartrain and played in the water there. But… then it they said it was too polluted and there really wasn’t any place for us to swim.” she shrugged.  “I had to take swimming lessons for PE in High School. I know the basics and can do it if under duress, like for a grade, but I’m not a swimmer.” And she closed her eyes in appreciation as she moved her hand through the water, “Although I do like the way the water feels when we skinny dip. And I like the gentle resistance it gives for exercise.” She opened her eyes. “If I had a pool I’d probably be in it every day in the summer.  It’s a wonderful addition to your wonderful house.”


 


She did what looked like push ups while she flutter kicked and then turned around to kick.  “Where did you learn to swim?”


“At the local Y. I took lessons or helped teach every summer from 5 until I was 13. I also swam in the pools at the hotels when I worked there during high school in the summers.  I was on the swim team in high school, but not one of the stars.”


“So that’s where you learned those turns?”


“Yes. But I preferred basketball… and baseball.”


She smiled.  “Not football?”


And he laughed, “No. I was tall, but not beefy enough for football in my high school.”


And she looked at him as if she didn’t believe him.


“I see what you are thinking.  It doesn’t fit given my current form, right?”


“Well I know that boys mature more slowly than girls and that they often shoot up before they fill out. But I can’t imagine you small. And I say that in the best of all possible ways.”


He laughed and put his hands around her waist and pulled her into the center of the pool with him and she just held on and went with it.


 


“I played volleyball, basketball and softball in high school. I love volleyball. But I only played basketball because our school was so small that they needed players to just be on the court while the players that could make points rested.  It was a great way to stay in shape for softball season.”


“You don’t like basketball?” He said with mock seriousness.


“Well, I’m not good at it. I’m really not good at getting the ball through the hoop and that’s pretty critical to the game. It’s hard to like something you can’t do.”


He chuckled.  “I see.”


“I’m a good defensive player and, for being short, a really good rebounder.  Basketball is one of the reasons my nose is crooked.”


And he ran his finger down her nose. “So you nose has been broken. I wondered about that.”


“I was actually out rebounding one of the best rebounders in the league. It pissed her off.  She decided she needed to be a bit more aggressive and we went up for a rebound and she broke my nose with her elbow. They didn’t even call time out. I swear she did it on purpose.”


“They didn’t call time out?”


“Well they did when my teammates on the bench told the coach to swap me out.”


“Where was the ref?”


“Oh it was girls’ basketball. The good refs worked boys’ basketball. So as a result it was pretty rough out there.  It got better by the time I was a senior.  We actually went to state and won our division with only 8 people on the team.”


“8 people?!”


“Yes, 5 really excellent players, 2 really, really good players and me.”


“But 8 total players?”


“We won because our coach ran our asses off. Literally. We would spend at least an hour every day running wind sprints and we practiced for 3 hours a day.  We made up in endurance and speed what we didn’t have in people, or for me skills.  We could run every defense under the sun and we were great at one on one and could switch from one defense to another on command. We made loads of points on fast break. That and 3 of the players on our team were amazing shots. I played defense when these players were resting. I rarely made points.  The only time I did was because the other team stopped guarding me since I rarely took a shot or because I managed to make a free throw or get my own rebound and get it in. As a reasonably good defensive player, I got fouled, a lot.” She laughed and then said, “So were you the center?”
“Yes. So you did play.”


“You doubted me?” and then she laughed and asked, “You were good weren’t you?”


“Yes. In high school.”


“Did you play in college?”


“Some but I wasn’t one of the stars or starters.  I was reserve. I only played my sophomore and junior years in college. It helped me stay in shape. Why did you play if you didn’t really like the game?”


She shrugged, “It was a small school. They needed me.  Most of the people on the basketball team were also on the volleyball and softball teams.  Since I didn’t suck at those sports the coach asked me to join the basketball team, begged actually. Remember there were only 8 of us.” He had been slowly walking around the pool pulling her along behind him. He thought, how like Nola to do something because she was needed. And when he stopped walking she pushed off gently and went to the side of the pool.


 


He asked “So what position did you play in softball?”


“3rd base mostly, catcher when they needed me too.”


“Well.” And he was impressed.


“And I batted clean up and finished out my high school career with a 500 batting average.”


“Wow, really?”


“Yep, and my senior year we lost nearly every game.” She laughed.


“What?”


“Really small school.  We had only 8 people on our basketball team. Imagine what it took to field 9 for softball.”


And she let him think about that before she said, “We did ok in volleyball.  You only need 6. We went to state twice and won our division once.  I played intramural volleyball in college and then I found mixed sand volleyball and fell in love.  I played for years, only stopping after Jamie was born.”


“What is mixed-sand volleyball?”


“Well for starters since 1996 an Olympic sport! Tall as you are… you’ve never played?”


“No.”


“Mixed means, men and women. The team has to have at least 2 women on the court at all times. A team can have up to 6 players but we typically played with only 5, minimum before you forfeit is 4. Sand meaning we played barefoot in the sand.  The rules for how to set changed from when I was playing in high school so I had to learn all over again, but being able to set for a 6 foot plus guy and then watch him spike…” and she paused for effect, “Heaven.  I also like digging those spikes, especially when the guys on the other team intentionally picked on the girls thinking we couldn’t take it.”


“Defense again.” And he pulled her back toward the center of the pool and thought, Nola and defense: basketball, volleyball, wielding a poker because she thinks I’m in trouble, protecting herself from me, in the game but playing defense.


“Well yes, but I had a killer serve.”


 


He remembered volleyball defense meant a lot of diving and rolling and assumed, “So you stopped when you were pregnant with Jamie?”


“Oh I played even when I was pregnant with Jamie.  That was interesting. It was the only time our team played on Court One and I was pregnant.” She shook her head in a ‘and the fates conspired’ fashion.


“Court One?”


“Oh… Essentially top seed in the league. Some of the Court One players were semi-pro.  We typically played on Court Two but we had been winning that court so of course they moved us up the year I was pregnant. It wasn’t so bad in the beginning of the season but by the end I was almost 6 months pregnant and you could tell.  In the last few games the head of the league tried to tell me I couldn’t play. It seems the semi-pro players were irritated to be playing a pregnant woman and I think he was actually concerned for me.  But I insisted or we would have had to forfeit games.  And one SOB still tried to jam it down my very pregnant throat every time he hit the ball.  After I dug him all night, we still lost, he came up to me and shook my hand. You’re not the only gentleman on the planet.”


“So you stopped playing after you had Jamie?”


“No… well I stopped for a few months… but what really did me in is I played 2 man, well one woman, one man, in a tournament for Children’s Hospital. It was July or August or some ridiculously hot time of year. We started early in the morning. We kept winning. So we had to keep playing in the heat.  We came in 3rd. But by the end of the day I was exhausted. I think I had heat exhaustion and it took a while for me to recover. Ever since then the heat does me in more quickly than it used to. So I stopped playing in the summer league and then tapered off, until I was playing just the winter league and then the team broke up because we all had young kids.”


And her stomach rumbled so loud that he heard it and, because he was still holding on to her, felt it. And he teased “Nola are you hungry?” sounding a bit surprised.


“A little. I didn’t have breakfast.”


And he smiled, “So am I.”


 


And they heard, “Owen!!! …. Owen!!!!…. Don’t you answer your damn phone?!”


Owen looked at Nola and said, “Roger.” And climbed out of the pool and grabbed a towel. He went to the gate and said, “Hold on.” And he heard Roger say, “See I told you he was here.”


Nola got out, wrapped herself in a towel and went inside. Owen dried off and pulled on his pants and went to let Roger in as he pulled on his shirt.


“Didn’t you momma teach you any manners?” jokingly repeating what he’d heard Maurice say often enough.


“No.”


Owen opened the gate and said, “Hello Debi.”


“Hey Owen. I tried to tell him if you weren’t answering that he should leave you alone, but you know how he gets.”


Owen laughed, “Yes, I know.”


Roger saw Nola’s truck. “Here again, huh? So when is she moving in?”


Owen laughed, ignored him and opened the kitchen door so they could both go in.


 


Roger said, “Debi and I were in the Quarter. I called earlier to ask if you wanted to come along. You didn’t answer. Now I know why.” And he lifted his eyebrows and winked. “We decided we wanted Port of Call burgers and since we had to move the truck so we didn’t get a ticket, I decided to swing by and ask you if you wanted to come along.”


Nola walked in. Roger could see that her hair was up and the ends were still wet. “Hey Nola.  You 2 were swimming in the pool I see. How do you feel about Port of Call for lunch?”


Owen watched as Nola looked at the clock. It was 11:15AM. She had said Jamie would sleep until at least noon.  So he took a chance and said, “We had just decided to get something for lunch. Port of Call burgers sound ok to me. Nola?”


They were all looking at her and she didn’t want to be a spoil sport so she said, “Ok, I am hungry.”


“Great. We can all go in my truck. It’s right outside.”


Nola said, “Actually, I need to take my truck. I have to get going right after lunch.”


Roger looked at Owen and then said, “Ok man. We’ll meet you there.” And he nodded to Debi and she said, “We’ll grab a table.  See you soon.”


 


Owen opened the door and then let them out the front gate. Nola had moved toward her truck.  Owen closed the gate behind them.


He went up to her hugged her and said, “Do you really have to go right after lunch?”


“Yes, If I wasn’t so hungry I’d probably leave now. I still have to get groceries. But it’s a bad idea to grocery shop when you’re hungry and I didn’t want to be a spoil sport.”


“Ok, but only if you agree to come to dinner.”


“Owen….”


“Please… just you and me and early dinner right after work.”


“Ok. Dammit.  Why is it so hard to tell you no?”


“Because you like me.”


“I do, but then I like a lot of people.”


And he kissed her before he said, “Not as much as you like me.”


After the kiss she was barely able to think to herself that what he said was unfortunately true. What she said was, “Get in the truck, Big Man. This time I’m hungry.”


 


While they were waiting for their orders to be delivered Roger asked, “Did you all hear about the new tropical depression?” Nola and Owen both looked at him.  “Oh I see you all have been preoccupied.”


And Nola and Owen both rolled their eyes. Debi said, “It’s true.  They’re saying it looks like it can come our way.  It’s creepy, being so close to the anniversary date.” Nola nodded.


Owen said, “…Anniversary?...”


Roger leaned in and said, “Of Katrina. It’s a big deal for anyone who lived through it. Kind of like Memorial Day and Veterans Day all rolled into one.”


“Oh.”


Debi asked, “So Nola where will you go if it comes this way?”


“I….Probably to the NorthShore.”


Roger asked, “Is that were you went last time?”


Owen answered, “No, last time she stayed.”


“Stayed!”


“I won’t do it again, for anything over a 3, maybe a 2 depending on path.”


“A over a 3?!”


Owen laughed, “Native New Orleanians…”


Debi laughed but said, “Well I didn’t stay last time and we’re not staying this time. We’ll head to stay with friends of mine in Jackson. Where will you go Owen?”


“I don’t know. Back to Pennsylvania or maybe if it’s small enough I’ll stay and see what a real hurricane is like.”


And the waiter delivered their orders. 


 


Nola managed to eat most of her burger and none of the baked potato.  She excused herself to the ladies room and didn’t sit when she returned to the table, “I’m really sorry to eat and run but I have to go.  Roger can you please take Owen back home?”


“Sure… but…”


Owen stood up and Roger nodded to Debi, and finished his sentence, “…I don’t think he’ll agree to that.”


She smiled at him and started walking out, “Bye Debi. See ya Roger.” Owen had her by the elbow and followed her out the door.


 


“Nola… just give me a minute and I’ll come with you.”


“No, hang with Roger and Debi.  They came to your house to see you. I’m sorry but it’s getting late. I have to get the groceries and now maybe some hurricane supplies and get back to Jamie.” And she hugged him and let him hug her back. She wrapped her hand around his neck knowing full well how it would affect him and then whispered in his ear, “I’ll see you on Tuesday after work for dinner. Now get back in there before they think you skipped without paying the bill.”


He was still hugging her as he laughed. “Ok, woman. You win. This time. I’ll walk you to your truck.”


‘Owen, it’s right across the street and it’s broad daylight! Get back in there. I’ll see you Tuesday.” And she hugged him again. “Now let me go.”


“You can do it, son. Let her go.”


He released her and she headed across the street before he could change his mind.  He waited until she was in the truck and pulled off before he went back inside. His grandfather said, “Small moves, son.  She came to your house and it wasn't for a lesson. She was naked in your pool. You had lunch together. She needs time. You’re giving it to her.”


 


“Debi and I were taking bets on whether or not you had left us with the bill.”


He laughed, “So who won?”


“I did.  She said you’d go with your woman.  I said you’d do whatever Nola wanted.”


 


On Tuesday Gustav continued to make its way northwest.  The models were predicting anything from Florida to Texas which meant that New Orleans was right the center of the cone of uncertainty. Owen handed her a glass of wine and they had ended up in the library watching the weather channel. Nola didn’t like what she saw.  Owen didn’t like that she looked worried.


 


“I hope Abby isn’t watching the weather channel.  All she’ll do is worry.”


“Abby won’t be the only one.  Can’t you feel the tension building? It’s too close to the anniversary.  Folks are already talking about what they’ll do and the hurricane’s a week away. My mom will be in Florida next weekend for the Labor Day holiday. She says she’s going hurricane or no hurricane. They can run from Florida just as well as they can run from Louisiana. It’s hard keeping up with her. I love that crazy woman.”


And the gate bell rang and Owen said, “Dinner. Timed perfectly because you let me know when you were leaving your office.”


 


Nola followed him and watched from inside the door as he took the bags from the delivery guy. She closed the door behind him as he came through. “Gracious Owen, how many people are you feeding?”


“Just us.” and he headed back to the kitchen. He unpacked the food and Nola realized it was Mona’s.


“Mona’s! Yum.” He smiled and she stood back.  He pulled out dishes and bowls and scooped and handed them to her. She started taking the filled bowls and plates into the dining room, smiling at his aversion to styrofoam.  When he looked done and all the wrappings were in the garbage, she took their wine glasses and the bottle to the table. Owen grabbed forks and spoons and napkins.


She smiled and said, “Hummus, kibbe my favorite, a lovely salad with those yummy black olives, tabouli.  Thank you.” And she lifted her glass to him.  “Do you know what I like best about Middle Eastern food?”


And he smiled and waited. “You get to use your hands and lick your fingers. It’s relaxed and informal instead of stuffy.” And she tore some pita bread and dipped it into the hummus.  They had a quiet dinner, enjoying the food and the wine and each other. 


 


Nola had stacked the dishes as they finished and moved them to the side. When Owen commented she said, “Habit, but it keeps my waitressing skills up in case I need to fall back on them.”


“You don’t really worry about loosing your job?”


“I may have worked for the same corporation for a long time but I’ve been through 2 downsizings, one of the largest corporate mergers in US history, a layoff and 4 major office relocations. So what I know is that anything is possible.”


He thought about Latasha’s comments about him and playing Monopoly.


 


The sun was setting as they took the bottle of wine with them to the library.  The Weather Channel was still on.


Nola asked, “Could you put it on mute while we wait for the real data?”


“Sure.”


“So much hype.  I know they have to make sure that people properly prepare. But…”


“Are you worried?”


“Yes. I don’t like the look of the isobars. I think we’re going to get it.”


“Isobars…?”


“You know areas of high and low pressure.”


“I know what an isobar is. But what do you mean, you don’t like the way they look?”


“At a really basic level, high pressure systems push hurricanes away.  Low pressure systems pull them toward us.  There is a high over the tip of Florida… Gustav is not going north to Florida.  There is a high pushing its way across the west to southern Texas. Brownsville is off the hook.” She could see he wasn’t quite getting it.  “Watch for H’s and L’s on the map the next time they show the whole US. Or better yet get me your laptop and we can take a look at University of Urbana’s weather website.  They have the best isobars.”


“Urbana-Champaign in Illinois?”


“Yes.”


“Let me get my laptop.” Every TV station was predicting the storm’s path and she was going to look at a website in Illinois and tell him where Gustav was heading.  He had to see this.


 


He returned with the laptop and sat next to her on the sofa.


Nola said, “I need a browser window and Google.”


He pulled up the Google search page. She said, “Don’t you love Google, so clean, no nonsense, just what you want and no more. Type in University Urbana Weather.”   He did and she said, “Yep there it is. Click on the 1st link.” He did. “Ok, click on Weather.” He did. “Now scroll down, see that small map?” and she pointed to the screen and he hovered over the picture and it said Sea Level Pressure. “Click there.” He did and a separate window came up with isobars for the whole country. “Ok, now click the animate button. Choose 96 frames.  Now you have to wait for it to load. It won’t take long.” It didn’t. “Ok now press, play.” And she pointed to the screen. And he watched it.  “This gives you a chance to see how the pressure systems have been moving across the country. Watch and you’ll see larger and smaller systems merge and change. You can also tell how fast they are moving which is often an indication of strength. Use the slower turtle setting and you to get a better feel for how the frames are passing.”


And she let him watch the frames cycle through twice before she said anything. Then, “The weak high that protected us from Faye is moving over Florida and this will nudge the storm west toward us. Our best chance is that it moves very slowly east or stalls and sits over us.” And she paused, “Now watch the high pressure system coming across the west to south Texas.” And she paused, “We’re in between them. And Faye’s remnant low is in the middle of the US. Not good for us.”


“How did you learn this?”


“Nash Roberts and his grease pencil when I was a kid.”


“What?!”


“Nash Roberts was THE weather man for New Orleans. Whenever there was a hurricane he would get out the maps and a grease pencil and talk about highs and lows and draw on the maps.  I was fascinated. And I’m a visual learner so I guess I learned.  The technology is so cool today that sometimes I wonder if we aren’t just letting the computers and a few geeks who are smart enough to write the algorithms think for us.  I like to watch the isobars and look at how fast they are moving. The water temperature in the Gulf affects hurricanes too.  Rutgers has a great website for Gulf temperatures. See this area right here?” And she pointed to an area just of the north of Cuba and just west of Florida.  “Fay just crawled over this area so the Gulf temperatures here are cooler. That’s good. For Florida. See this area here?” And she pointed to an area just west of Cuba.  “It tends to be hotter. Hurricanes like hot water. Gustav is going to blossom when it gets there. Just watch. Then it will pick up speed and sometimes when they do that momentum takes over and well… It doesn’t look good. What is good is that Edouard just crawled over this area of the Gulf south of us a few weeks ago and so this area is cooler and should lessen Gustav’s affect as it gets closer to shore.”


 


He was still absorbing everything she had said and she could see him thinking about it.  “You weren’t worried about Edouard or Fay. Why are you worried about Gustav?”


“Edouard and Fay were just rain storms. Big rain storms but not big enough to move too fast or do much damage. Although if we had gotten Fay it would not have been pretty. She dumped a lot of rain. But these are the kinds of storms we want to see because they are kind of like the Gulf sweating.  They cool us off and cooler stops the next hurricane from getting really big. Gustav is already big and has momentum.  Momentum, the speed and intensity of a hurricane, is one of the key factors in those spaghetti models you see on the Weather Channel. Isobars are another.  Water Temperature got kicked up a notch in the models after Katrina. If you want I can show you the websites I looked at to learn about the models.”


He laughed, “That’s ok.  I trust your research.” And he laughed as he thought, Urbana-Champaign and Rutgers. “And I thought I was boring and nerdy.”


“I like to think of it as informed independent thinking, with just a touch of nerdy.”


 


He laughed and then said, “So are you going to twitch your nose on Gustav?”


“Already am.”


“What?”


“Well, what I want is for Gustav to take a turn to the west, pick up speed and keep going that way. And I want that high pressure to slow down and stall over us and push Gustav west and I am hoping that the water in the Gulf is cool enough to soften the blow when it does get close to shore.”


“Yeah but that’s not magic.”


“It is when I twitch my nose and ask the powers to stall the high pressure and cool the waters. Maybe it does not good at all. But the way I look at it, it can’t hurt. And it makes me feel better. I understand why the Christians pray.”


 


Owen sat back as the Weather Channel’s Tropical Update blazed across the screen and said, “When Abby sees the Weather Channel she is going to freak out.” And just as he said that his cell phone rang in his pocket. It looked like he intended to ignore it.


 


“Owen you should answer it.”


He gave her a look that clearly said, I don’t want to.


“It’s your mom and you know it. She’s on east coast time and probably just saw the news.”


He looked at his phone and it was Abby. He gave her a how did you know look and answered the phone knowing it was only the beginning. 


 


“Hello Mom.”


“Owen, thank god. Have you seen the news?


“You mean the weather?  Yes, I’m sitting here with Nola, watching the news and getting an education on hurricane tracking.”


“When are you coming home?”


“I wasn’t planning on going back anytime soon.”


“What?!  But that nasty hurricane on its way to New Orleans.”


“Mom, New Orleans is only one of the possible places the hurricane could go.”


“Well New Orleans is right in the center of where they are saying it can go. And I don’t want you in a hurricane.”


“It will be a week before the hurricane makes landfall. So I have time.”


“Owen you can’t wait until the last minute to get out. That’s why all those people died in Katrina.”


“Mom, I’m not going to die.” 


 


And Nola mouthed and barely whispered, “Be nice. She’s worried.”, squeezed his hand in support then got up to go to give him some privacy.


He heard a huge sigh on the other end of the phone, “Owen… I’m worried and I want you to come home.”


“Mom, I know you are worried and I understand that you want me to come home.  But I can’t fly back every time the wind blows hard.  You weren’t worried for the last 2 storms that scraped by us.”


“Well… no… But they weren’t making as big a deal about them on the news. And you don’t live in Florida.”


“I understand. But sensationalism sells Mom, especially because it’s so close to the anniversary of Katrina. Don’t let them get to you.”


“Do you really think that they are sensationalizing the hurricane?”


“Sure.” Then he thought about the fact that Nola was worried and said, “Of course the storm threat is real and I’ll be smart and keep watching the news. But right now I’m not planning on coming back.”


“Owen, I’m still worried and I still want you to come home.”


“Mom, I hear you and I love you, but there is no reason for me to come back right now.”


“You promise you’ll watch the storm and if it looks bad that you will come home.”


Owen didn’t want to make that promise. “Mom…”


“Owen, it’s not an unreasonable request.”


“No, it’s not.”


“So promise if it looks bad that you will fly home.”


“Mom, I promise to watch and if it looks really bad then I will fly back.”


“Thank you, Owen.  Tell Nola hello for all of us.”


“Good night, Mom.”


“Good night, Owen.  I love you.”


“I love you too, mom.”


 


And he got up and found Nola on the porch.  She waited until he sat down next to her on the swing before she asked, “How did it go?”


“For Abby? Not bad really.”


“So are you going to make plans to go to Pennsylvania?”


“No.”


“You should at least look into flight availability.  We’ve already confirmed our escape to the NorthShore.”


“What are you talking about?”


“We’ve contacted friends on the NorthShore and made sure that we are still welcome should Gustav come our way.  I’m suggesting that you at least look into flight availability.  As the storm gets closer your options for flights out will get smaller, because you won’t be the only one trying to use the airlines as an escape hatch.”


She let that soak in.  Owen was trying to wrap his brain around leaving her here while he went back to Pennsylvania. He wasn’t sure he could do it.


She could see that whatever he was thinking was something he found distasteful. She waited as he worked it out.  When it didn’t look like he was getting anywhere she asked, “Owen…?”


“Hmmmm?”


“Do you consider New Orleans your home?”


“Sure, of course.”


“Well then what we learned in Katrina was that everyone who calls this place their home has to have an escape hatch when it comes to hurricanes.  My family thought the one we had, stay in a strong raised bungalow, have neighbors with a boat, was good enough. It wasn’t. We had to execute an improvised Plan B and then some. If this is your home, you need to know where you’ll go when a big one is coming.  You are lucky.  It’s just you. You have means. And you have a location to go to.  Even if you don’t need to execute this time; plan, practice. It’s part of what it means to live here. In some ways it’s not much different than making sure you have snow tires and blizzard supplies in Pennsylvania.”


And she waited while that sunk in and then said, “I’m going to get some more water.” and got up off the porch swing leaving him lost in his thoughts.


 


Owen’s thoughts were churning. Leave.  Leave when he was happy. Leave what he had built. Leave.  Leave Nola.  Worse leave Nola behind on the edge of a hurricane.  And he realized she wasn’t with him on the porch and got up.  She wasn’t in the kitchen either. But her filled glass was on the counter.   Already his anxiety was increasing.  Is this what the city was beginning to feel like?   Nola returned from the bathroom to the kitchen for her glass.


 


“You ok, Big Man?”


“You really think I need an escape plan?”


“Yes.”


“You really think that Gustav is coming?”


“Unfortunately, yes. But there is time.  Hurricanes can speed up, slow down and completely change direction. I don’t see this one doing anything other then speeding up. But I’m no meteorologist. And I’m twitching that is scrapes by us and we’re all ok.”


He pulled her into a hug. She hugged him back thinking that it was one thing to come after Katrina and work to rebuild and restore. It was another thing completely to think you might just have to run for your life. It was good he was beginning to understand the difference. 


 


Owen was still holding on to her when he finally said, “I don’t want to go back to Pennsylvania and leave you behind.”


She chuckled.


He was surprised by that “Why are you laughing, woman?”


“Well at least you are thinking about what it will take to leave. Trust me Owen. I’ll be fine. Hurricanes don’t scare me. They are nothing to play with, but they don’t scare me. We have time to watch and wait.  Just check into flights so you know what your options are.”


 


“She’s still got you at arms length, son.”


“I know pop.  And she’s still trying to take care of me.”


 


“You know I think it’s a good time for me to leave.  I’ll be back on Thursday and I promise I’ll try to come early.  Thank you so much for dinner. It was a lovely treat.”


 


“And now she’s running. And probably doesn’t even realize she’s doing it.”


“Why?”


“Probably because you scared her by saying you didn’t want to leave her behind.”


“But I don’t want to leave her behind.”


 


She hugged him because he was deep in thought and hadn’t let her go. “You’re thinking… which is good.  So I’ll see you Thursday.” And she did her best to push gently out of the hug and managed to get most of the way out but he was still holding onto her arms. She smiled at how he could get lost in his own head, “Big Man… you’ve got to let me go so I can leave.”


“I don’t want to let you go and I don’t want you to leave.”


And she thought, Oh God. This is slipping into ridiculous. I hope this is just about him realizing the he needs a hurricane plan. Instead of confronting him she kissed him on his cheek.  “That’s sweet Big Man. But I’m going home. I want to make sure I can put my hands on passports a few other things. I have to prepare for the possibility of Gustav too. I’ll be back on Thursday.” And since he hadn’t let go she tried another tack and took his arm and said, “Please walk me out?” and started walking and he followed and slipped deeper in thought as she pulled out of the driveway.


 


Owen was lying in bed late Wednesday night.  Gustav was still well south of Cuba and wandering.  He wanted it to go away.  He was glad Abby hadn’t called again.  He was interested to hear what Nola would say about it tomorrow. Roger, Maurice and Joe had talked about hurricane plans and how to safely lock the jobs up and probably ending up with a longer than they wanted Labor Day holiday.  Owen was getting his first real taste of hurricane anxiety.  He recalled his conversation this afternoon with the guys.


“That damn storm is just fooling around. I wish it would make up its mind and get moving.  The waitin’ is what’s hard.”  Then Joe turned to Maurice and asked, “Where do you think Gustav is going to go?”


“I don’t know.  But I have a bad feeling about this one.”


Roger added, “Your not the only one Debi is on edge too.  And I heard our Lakeview clients worrying. They wanted to know how we locked down the site and what would happen if the storm blew away the work that we’ve done.” He shook his head. “Owen man it’s as if they don’t they read the contract you make ‘em sign.  They’re paying for builders insurance.”


Maurice had added gently, “It’s natural to be worried. Most of the folks we’re building for have been through the worst Katrina could throw at them.  My Anna is nervous too.  And the weathermen don’t help. They keep talking about Katrina and the anniversary. It’s almost as if they are glad the models look like it could come right at us.”


Owen had just let them talk until Joe said, “You’re awfully quiet boss. What do you think?”


“I don’t know.  Gustav would be my first hurricane. Nola gave me a lesson in hurricane tracking and prediction on Tuesday.” And he managed a laugh, “She said she didn’t like the way the isobars looked.”


Roger said, “What?”


“That’s what I said.”


Joe added, “What isobars?”


Maurice said, “High and Low pressure systems. Damn weathermen hardly ever put the isobars up any more like Nash Roberts used to.”


Owen laughed again, “That’s the same thing Nola said. Then she showed me a university website in Illinois and explained how high pressure systems push hurricanes and lows pull. Then she showed me the Rutgers site and Gulf water temperatures and said that Gustav was probably going to speed up if it hit the waters off of western Cuba and that the isobars indicated it probably wasn’t going to Florida or Texas.”


Maurice said, “She looked at the isobars.  I really like Nola.”


“Yep, she said she learned from watching Nash Roberts as a kid. Then she offered to show me some sites that explain how today’s spaghetti models are derived.”


Roger looked at Joe and mouthed “Spaghetti models?” Then when the light came on, “Oh you mean all the lines they put up predicting where the hurricane will go.”


Owen nodded, “She went all scientific on me, talking about key factors in the models: pressure, water temperature, speed, momentum.  Then later she told me that if I was going to be a real New Orleanian that I needed an evacuation plan just like I’d need snow tires in Pennsylvania.”


Maurice laughed, “Well, she’s right. You do. So what will you do if Gustav comes? Go back to Pennsylvania?”


“Probably.”


Joe asked, “Will you take Nola with you?”


“I’ll sure try, Joe.”


And Owen drifted off to sleep.


 


Thursday Gustav spent all day crawling along the south coast of Jamaica. Abby had been watching the weather channel. The pictures of Jamaica were doing nothing to allay her fears. 


 


Nola had called to say that she was coming straight from work, but wouldn’t be there until after well after 6PM and to eat dinner without her. She would be sitting in a hurricane meeting for her boss.  Not that she needed to be there. The department her boss was responsible for wasn’t critical for startup or shutdown activities. Nola’s previous jobs in site computer support required that she or a member of her staff attend every hurricane meeting. She written the book on hurricane preparation for IT years before Katrina had hit.  But it was an obligation and interesting to hear what the state emergency response teams were saying. It wasn’t good. The refinery had already started topping off tanks, ensuring the last shipment of crude was taken in and that the supply ships would either have safe harbor upriver or wait behind the storm. Scaffolding had been coming down all day and the teams would finish tomorrow. They had set up hotel rooms for critical management and recovery staff. They had outlined and begun executing the preparations needed to shut down everything.  This was something that they avoided if at all possible.  Taking down the units put the infrastructure and therefore people at risk. Loss of production was costly.  But lessons learned in Katrina meant that the refinery had to come down early and allow staff to evacuate.  No one would stay behind this time. The forecasters were sounding more and more like a hit in the central Gulf was inevitable.


 


Owen’s anxiety was increasing along with everyone else’s in the city. Abby had called again asking when he was coming back.  Roger had called Owen to confirm that the crews would be available to secure the job sites tomorrow.  Everyone needed time to prepare their own houses and get their families to safety. He and Owen had agreed that everyone that once the job sites were secure they were cleared to leave and that Owen was paying them the full 8 hours. Roger had also reminded them all week how Owen felt about messy job sites so they better make sure that, hurricane or no hurricane, the job sites were spotless.  If they were lucky all Gustav meant was a longer than usually Labor Day Holiday. 


 


Owen had done his best to work logically through his concerns. He wasn’t worried about the house. It was 200 years old and would either make it through or not.  He wasn’t worried about his business. He could build another one if he had to.  He wasn’t really worried about his friends or his crews. They would take care of themselves and they would all have each other to lean on after the storm.  He had resigned himself like every other New Orleanian to the fact that the levees would hold and the city would be here after the storm or it wouldn’t.  There was nothing anyone could do about it now.  His real problem was that he wanted Nola with him. He was prepared to lock her in his truck and haul her away tonight.


 


“Son, as Nola says, Don’t get ridiculous.”


“Pop, I’m really supposed to just walk away and leave her in the storm?  I can’t imagine you doing that…


“Owen, I was never in a situation like this.  And your grandmother did not have Nola’s iron will, nor was she married to someone else. Do you really think that you could haul Nola off and leave her daughter here? Didn’t she tell you that she flew into Katrina to come home to her family?”


“Then I haul Jamie away with her. The hell with James.”


Papa Eric looked at Meana and Tago. He completely understood his grandson’s tendencies.  But the view from the other side was different. “Owen, if you push her and do something stupid and ridiculous, then you will push her away. Tago says and I say, Bide your time.”


“It’s a damn hurricane pop. The last one through here killed people.”


“Yes, but not Nola. And she won’t be here in the city this time. She’s already told you that. She may have an iron will but she is not stupid.”


 


He heard the gate open.  She was getting out of the truck and seemed preoccupied and a little drained.  He didn’t realize he looked the same way.  She turned from closing the door to say, “Hi, Owen… sorry I’m…” and she didn’t get to finish her sentence with ‘late’ before he scooped her into a hug. She held on to ensure that she didn’t fall down when he let her go.  He released her slightly and then brushed back her hair and hugged her to him again.  She was tired. She’d spent much of her day ensuring that things were appropriately buttoned up at the office.  Critical documents had been returned to the Iron Mountain offsite storage facility, plastic bins had been provided to pack up working documents, and arrangements had been made to ensure the technical library shelves would be shut tight and covered with visqueen on Friday in case the roof leaked. The final backup to the recovery server was being made tonight. She had also talked with members of her staff to ensure that they were focused at work and cleared them if they needed to leave to prepare extended family or family for the storm.  She lived her own life prepared and since her extended family now all lived on the NorthShore there was less to worry about.  She had spent Wednesday outlining her in-laws’ trip to Texas. All that had been topped off by a necessary, but for her tedious and anxiety building, hour and a half meeting. It felt so good to let someone else hold her up.  When Owen felt her sigh, let her defenses down and lean on him, he smiled for the first time that day. And Meana smiled to Papa Eric. 


 


Nola managed a smile too and said, “Big Man, You give fabulous hugs. I didn’t realize how much I needed one.”


“There’s more where those came from.  Let’s go inside.”


“Ok.” And he held on to her hand as he led the way to the kitchen.  She hung her purse on the back of the barstool and then watched as he poured her a glass of Brunello and topped his off.  Then he handed her the bottle and said, “Why don’t you take that into the library? I’ll be there in just a minute.”


She was tired enough to just say, “Ok.”


 


She slipped into her corner of the sofa, appreciating the way the evening sunlight angled through the French doors. She breathed in the scent of the wine then took sip and said to herself, “Oh my god that’s good.”


Owen chuckled and put down the tray. “Well then let’s see what you think about this.”


She had relaxed into the sofa, but sat up and looked over the offerings: cold meats, hard boiled eggs, a variety of cheese, sliced red pepper, cherry tomatoes, pickles, radishes, fruit and a basket of artisan seeded wheat bread. “Oh… a European cold plate.  It’s been a long time. Thank you Owen.”


“You’re welcome.” and he sat down next to her and the ottoman.  And you know what’s great about this, other than the fact that I didn’t have to make it just have it delivered?”


She smiled, “What?”


He handed her a small plate and a napkin, “You get to use your hands and lick your fingers. It’s relaxed and informal instead of stuffy.”


And she laughed remembering that was just what she had said about their dinner earlier in the week then teased back, “Don’t you just love that?”


And he thought not as much as I love you woman.


And he heard his grandfather caution him in a long and low voice, “Owen.” 


So he kissed her gently on her cheek, then said, “Let’s eat.”


 


Nola had nibbled on the cold plate. Owen had done more than nibble. He finally leaned back to fill his wine glass and then said, “You look more relaxed now than you did when you arrived.”


“I am, thanks to you. You spoil me.”


“Yep and will continue to every chance I get.”


She laughed and he leaned back into the sofa next to her. And his cell phone rang.  Nola pushed her way into her corner of the sofa so he could reach into his pocket for the phone but he didn’t move.


 


“Aren’t you going to answer it?” and the phone rang again.


“Nope.”


“Owen, it’s kind of crazy right now. How do you know it’s not Roger or Maurice or ….” And the phone rang again.


He sighed and pulled the phone out looked at it, shook his head and showed it to her. She looked at the phone and it looked like it might be his parents. She said, “Abby?”


He nodded. The phone rang for the 4th time.


“You really should answer it.”


He did. “Hello Abby.”


“Owen, I didn’t think you were going to answer.”


“I was eating dinner with Nola.”


“Oh…” and she actually paused, “Owen, when are you coming home?”


“Mom, the hurricane isn’t even in the Gulf yet.”


“Owen, have you seen the pictures from Jamaica?”


“No, I’m not watching TV.”


“Well I have been and I don’t like what I see.  I want you to please come home.  You can go back when the hurricane has past. There is no reason you have to stay there.”


“Mom, there is no reason right now for me to leave.”


Nola got up and turned on the TV and made sure it was muted. It was already on the Weather Channel. 


“Owen…”


And he stood up in exasperation but managed to say nicely, “Mom, Nola and I are going to watch the Weather Channel now.  Please don’t worry about something that is a thousand miles away. I’ll call you tomorrow. I promise.”  And he hung up and started pacing.  Nola stood back slightly from the TV and tried to stay out of his way. 


 


“Son, take a look at your woman.” Owen looked up and saw Nola holding onto the remote and backing up so he could pace.  “Do you want to scare her away?”


He turned and flopped into his corner of the sofa in an exasperated huff.


Nola managed a smile then picked up his glass, walked over and sat next to him. “Here I think you need this.”


He took the glass and took a sip and then set the glass on the table.  She took a sip and then reached to the table behind him to put her glass and the remote down next to him. He pulled her into a hug. She hugged him back doing her best to say it will be ok with out words. They ended up face to face with Nola almost lying across his lap.  She had learned that when it came to Owen’s hugs sometimes you just had to hold on. She had her hand around his neck and her cheek next to his cheek. She said very quietly, “It seems such an easy choice for you to go back and visit while Gustav blows over.”


He pulled her away from him but held on to her, “Easy! Easy?”


“Ok. Maybe it’s not easy. Why don’t you tell me why you are resisting?”


“Did it ever occur to you that I don’t want to run off and leave you here?”


“If Gustav comes here we’re all going to be running.”


“Argh.” And he pulled her to him again.  “Woman it’s not about leaving it’s about not taking you with me.”


“Owen, I’m going to be fine. It’s a hurricane, they can be big and scary but they blow over. We have a plan to…”


“Yes. Yes, I know go to the NorthShore.”


“Exactly.  Did you call about a flight back to Pennsylvania?”


“Yes, and there are still tickets available.”


“Still tickets?  What does that mean exactly still tickets?”
“It means that if I leave I have to probably have to leave tomorrow. There are no tickets available for Saturday and the airline wasn’t even sure planes would be flying on Sunday.”


“All the more reason to buy the ticket now and fly out tomorrow.”


“When are you leaving?”


“Well… we’re going to wait until it’s a little closer. It’s nice to have friends to stay with but we have to take our pets. Cats are a pain in the neck to move so we’ll…”


“Wait until the last minute.”


“No, we’ll wait until we can cross the Causeway without crazy traffic, probably at night, but we’ll cross before the winds get too high.”


“The winds… don’t you think that’s cutting it a little close?”


She looked at him sympathetically, “Ok. I get it. This is your first hurricane.  But it’s not my first hurricane. I know how to watch the weather. I know how to watch the traffic. We know exactly where we’re going and how long it takes to get there. It’s not easy when you have to travel with a damn zoo.”


“Nola I want you to come with me.”


“Owen you have to know that’s impossible. James can’t move the zoo by himself and I will not leave Jamie.” and she tried to push away from him and get up of the sofa but she wasn’t in a very good position. 


“Told you, son.”


He hugged her and sighed and said out loud to the both of them, “I know.”


 


She sighed and said, “Well now that that is all cleared up. Jeez Owen you must have made your poor mama crazy with your stubborn streak.”


“My stubborn streak?! My stubborn streak. Woman, I’ve got nothing you.”


Nola laughed and then said calmly and slowly, “I’m not stubborn.  I’m right.”


And he heard his Papa Eric laugh and say quietly, “She kinda is, son.”


And Owen laughed and pulled her into a gentle kiss.  He was so close and he felt so good that she let herself enjoy it. As he felt her resistance lower the kiss slipped from gentle to insistent and she kissed him back and was lost in a fog of pleasure and almost ready to go wherever he wanted to take her.


“Nola…”


“NO! son.” And he startled slightly. And Nola remembered who she was and managed to disentangle herself and said, “I have to go.”


He pulled her back, “Why?”


“I think it’s best.”


“Why?”


And she looked in his sincere blue eyes and thought, because I like how you hold me. I love how you kiss and if you keep it up I’ll want to stay and I can not stay.


“Oh son… you are so very close.”


He repeated “Why?”


“Because… because there’s a hurricane on its way.  Because you need to make reservations. Because I’ve spent too much time with you this week and I need to go.”  And because it is too damn easy to be with you.


And he heard his grandfather chuckle, "So very close."


And with that he relaxed and said, “Don’t leave.  Watch the weather with me and tell me if you agree with what they say, that way I’ll be more informed when I call Abby back.”


She sighed, “What time is it?”


He smiled and said, “9:50.”


“Ok. 10 minutes on the Weather Channel then we switch to local news.”


“Ok. Can I kiss you during the commercials for stress relief?”


“Incorrigible. Not if you want me to stay.” and she found the remote and took the TV off of mute and managed to make her way into more upright position.


 


The tropical update started. The pictures from Jamaica weren’t pretty. The storm was just as strong after bouncing along the Jamaican coast all day as it had been in the early morning hours. At 10 PM Nola started flipped back and forth between the local stations.  After an hour of watching weather they were both somber.


“They said exactly what you said 2 days ago.”


“I’d rather be wrong.” And she stood up. “I really have to go now.”


He stood up too. “Come on, I’ll walk you out.”


 


As he was standing next to her truck he said, “I’ll call you tomorrow morning.”


“Ok.”


“Night Nola.”


“Night Owen.”

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