Sunday, June 23, 2013

Chapter 58 - Curse of the Ambioren men

Owen had gotten on the plane and was now at the Allentown airport just before midnight.  Ryan had the task of picking him up. As soon as Ryan saw Owen he handed him his cell phone and said, “I’ve already pressed send, tell her you’re here.”

“Owen?  Owen?”


“Yes, Mom. I’m here. I’m safe. Ryan’s taking me to the cabin.”


“No he’s not. He’s bringing you here. I want to see you for myself.”


“Ok Mom.” And he hung up.


“Damn that was easy. I expected a fight.”


“Nola told me to be nice to mom.”


Ryan just raised his eyebrows. He couldn’t remember ever seeing his brother so miserable.


“Where is Nola? Why didn’t you bring her with you?”


“Believe me, I tried.”


 


Ryan grabbed his brother’s bag and they started to the car.  Owen was like so many other evacuees. He was just going through the motions. Once he showed his mom he was ok. He would be done. He would just be watching and waiting until it was over.


 


Ryan watched as Owen walked in silence with him to the car. He tossed the bag in the back seat and Owen tossed his carryon in from the other side. He started the car as Owen slumped back in the passenger seat and closed his eyes. He knew that once Owen showed his face at the house that his mom would relax and his dad’s irritation would abate. But seeing Owen now made him question forcing him to come home. He looked like someone who had been removed from life support.  He decided to just drive in silence. He knew that his mom would ask all the questions once he got Owen home.


 


Ryan pulled into the driveway and got out of the car. The front door opened and his mom stood in the doorway with his dad behind her. Owen sat in the passenger seat and then slowly began to move to get out. From the driver’s side of the car Ryan put his hand out to his mom. He felt a big brother need to protect Owen and the action was so unexpected that his mom actually stopped in her tracks. Owen got out of the car, looked up to see his family standing there waiting for him and started walking.  His mom looked up at her husband. This was not what they expected. They had expected him to stride into the house and plop down in an irritated huff. They didn’t recognize this despondent person.


 


Owen walked to the front door and his mom finally broke and rushed to give him a hug. He hugged her back as she said, “Thank you. Thank you for coming” and she caught herself before she said home, “back.”   


“I’m sorry I worried you, Mom.” And he looked to his dad who had softened quiet a bit and said, “Dad threatened to send Ryan and Simon to haul me back in chains and, well, Simon has a new baby and Eric would have been upset about not being allowed to come along for the fun so here I am.”


 


“Come in for just a minute before you go to the cabin.”


And he followed her in to the kitchen table.


His dad stopped at the liquor cabinet and got the bottle of JD and 3 glasses. He put the bottle on the table and started to pour. Ryan said “None for me dad.” and went to get a glass of water before he sat down at the other end of the table.


His mom asked the first question, “How long are you staying?” and his dad slid the glass to him with a twinkle in his eye because he knew his son and he knew his wife son and there was something humorous about the immovable object meeting the irresistible force. 


“Until I can go home.” And Owen took a sip of his JD.


“Owen, that’s no answer.”


“Well, it kind of is, mom.  It’s a hurricane. They don’t have set schedules. They speed up. They slow down. They change directions.  I’m assuming that this will be over in a week.  But honestly, I don’t really know. They’ve closed the city.  Even after the storm passes only certain recovery teams will be allowed back in to check the roadways are clear and determine how to repair power lines and begin to check for other damage to flood protection systems, sewerage and the like. There will be National Guard and local cops stopping people from going back into the city. Now that I’ve left, I have to wait to know when I can go home.” And he took another sip.


“Oh.” 


Owen actually smiled at his stunned-into-silence mother. His dad raised his glass in salute and Ryan lowered his head as he smiled. His mom moved and put her hand on his hand. And he covered it with his. “It will be Ok, mom. It’s just highly irritating, stressful and difficult to be so far away from the action.” And, he didn’t say it but thought, Nola.


His mom nodded, “Why didn’t you bring Nola with you?”


And he said the same thing he had said to Ryan, “Believe me, I tried.”


“Is she safe? Where did you leave her?”


“Mom, I’m going to tell you what she said to tell you. She had to stay close because of her job. She’s safe outside of the city on the NorthShore of Lake Pontchartrain.  You have her to thank for me being here. She insisted.”  Tears worked on him at least as well as they did any other man. Although, he’d never seen a woman look at her own tears in disbelief before.


“Thank God for Nola.”


And Owen put his head in his hands. And his family looked at him confused. “That woman… That woman.”


Then his dad chuckled as it all fell into place for him. “I know that feeling.”


Owen looked up at his dad with ‘What?’ written all over his face. And Ryan smiled too. His mom wasn’t so sure about the joke.  Jack said, “Abby, Your middle son is finally in love.”


Owen heard Papa Eric chuckle.


Abby said, “Thank God for Nola.”


And Owen put his head back in his hands.


 


His mom brushed his hair back to comfort him and then said, “Make time to get a haircut while you’re here.”


And his dad chuckled again.


Ryan said, “Eric is assuming that you will pick him up tomorrow in the morning and take him off to the cabin.  It’s the Labor Day holiday and the cabin is already stocked.  I’ll join you Saturday evening. We can get some fishing in while you’re here. Simon may even join us for a few hours. But he has to go back home to Lisa and Rebecca. Stella and Mom won’t be back until Monday afternoon.”


Owen looked up at his mom.  “Where are you going?”


And his dad grinned and took the last sip of his JD.


New York, we are doing some early Christmas shopping, seeing Wicked on Saturday, and a Momma Mia matinee on Sunday and coming back home Monday.”


Now it was Owen’s turn to be speechless but he finally got out. “You…. You… You needed me to be here so you could go to New York!?”


“Oh yes, Owen.”


Ryan chuckled and said, “Stella’s been looking forward to this for a long time. She wanted to get out before ski season locks her into her hotel duties. Thanks brother. You have no idea how stressful it’s been in my house.”


 


Owen crashed at the cabin and slept later because he was on Central Time. His dad drove up to the cabin so Owen could have the car.  Owen left to pick up Eric and Jack stayed to cook dinner for his sons and grandson. Eric was a great distraction. They spent the rest of the day hiking on the ridgeline. Eric had spent a good part of the hike venting about the girls at his school and how they were so shallow and silly.  They giggled too much. They plotted and schemed too much. They said one thing and thought another. There was a whole posse who were trying to figure out which one would ‘get him’. And he wasn’t really interested in any of them.  Sometimes he felt like he was a deer being hunted from a tree stand. And at that Owen had laughed right out loud.  Which bothered Eric until Owen explained about his own experiences and recounted Nola’s description of him and his comment about being a Human Male Venus Fly Trap.  And Eric had to laugh at that one. Owen had sprinkled some words of wisdom in his responses to Eric’s rant. “It’s natural kid...  At this point in your life my recommendation is don’t take it too seriously… Have fun. But don’t be stupid… Try to wait to have sex until you are at least 17… Sex is a big deal… But sometimes sex is just sex, the physical act… and sometimes it is more.  It helps to know that there is a difference. ….  If they say No, it means No. If they say yes, make sure that you’ve thought it through with more than one head and that you trust her and she trusts you. And for Godsake use a condom.  There are diseases out there that can kill you and you don’t want to make a baby before you’re ready....”  By the time they got back to the cabin for dinner Eric felt wiser and more grown up and relaxed about the whole girl thing than he had in a long time.


 


Ryan joined them at the cabin for dinner on Saturday. He and Jack had originally planned to take Eric up to the cabin together right after school on Friday.  But Owen’s evacuation had adjusted their plans. They both knew that Eric would want to hang out with his uncle and they also figured it would be good for Owen.  Jack was pleased to see that Owen looked more relaxed; until he started watching the weather channel on the satellite TV his boys insisted the cabin had to have. What was a hangout without the ability to watch football?  Ryan had to remind Jack that Owen would have probably gone completely insane if he had been unable to get any news on the storm.  Gustav had done exactly what Nola had said, gotten stronger in the warmer water around Cuba and was a category 4 storm. Cuba wasn’t even a speed bump.


 


Nola and James were executing ‘Ark to Aryan Nation’. Both vehicles had full tanks of gas and an extra container of gas. They would be taking both vehicles.  There was no question of leaving one behind to drown in the driveway. James had the house boarded up and anything that could fly away locked up.


 


Nola had all she need on a flash drive with minimal backup paperwork, passports and the like.  Her jewelry was packed up in a giant ziplock bag.


She had gone through and thoroughly cleaned the house. Some people would say that she was crazy. But cleaning helped her make sure that she had everything she needed and that coming home, provided they had a home to come home to, would be less stressful. Plus physical activity of cleaning calmed her down.


 


Each of them had packed a suitcase with clothes for at least a week. The clothes included their coolest clothing, they had to prepare for life without A/C and the toughest clothing, they had to prepare for cleanup activities.  There was some variety thrown in because you never really knew what to expect. Nola had her hardhat, steel toes and Nomex jumpsuit in the truck. She also had an extra suitcase packed with birthday presents for Jamie. Another birthday affected by a Hurricane.


 


The snake was staying in Jamie’s room. It had eaten 2 mice yesterday, had her cage cleaned today and would get another 2 mice right before they walked out of the door.  The gerbil cages had been cleaned and stocked with food and the water bottles filled. They were staying in Jamie’s room too. They wouldn’t need anything for more than a week. The fish had been fed and would be on their own. But considering one of them was a Katrina survivor and the other Katrina survivors had died of old age just this year, Nola wasn’t worried about the fish.  A large plastic bin with supplies for the animals was packed including extra kitty litter.  Their cats were inside/outside cats, with the emphasis on the outside in place of a litter box. But cats evacuated to a new place had to be kept locked up and that meant a litter box.  Crates for the cats were upstairs waiting to be loaded with cats that were already irritated from not being allowed out of the house. Crates for the dog and a new puppy leaving his mom a week early because of the storm were downstairs.  The birds and their stand would go out all at one time.


 


Human dry good supplies, foodstuffs, TP, Flashlights, weather gear, camp stove and the like were packed in a separate plastic bin. Right before they left, 2 ice chests would be loaded with everything worth while in their freezer and fridge. The rest of the fridge perishables not worth keeping had gone out with the trash that morning.  They had their last meal and had cleaned it up and were resting in front of the TV flipping between the weather channel and the local news. Mayor Nagin had issued a mandatory evacuation order. Jamie was sleeping. They were waiting until 3AM to cross Lake Pontchartrain. Trying to get out during the day would have been impossible. A night crossing stood less chance of being a parking lot experience.  


 


They would be staying at the NorthShore home of James’ best friend since grade school. His friend had moved his family from New Orleans to the NorthShore almost a decade ago.  The decision had been driven by the ability to get more house for less money, better public schools, less crime.  But one of the reasons that Nola loved James’ best and longest friend was for his wry wit and honesty.  There was a bit of white flight in those who moved to the NorthShore. It was James’ friend who had dubbed it the Aryan Nation.  The NorthShore was beautiful but this aspect of life there made it hard for Nola to take.


 


This would be her first real evacuation in advance of a storm.  She didn’t count Katrina, they had only left during the flooded aftermath. She didn’t count Besty. She had only been 5 but her family had stayed in their lower 9th Ward home and lived locked on essentially an island without electricity for a few weeks.  She might count Camille, because they had packed up her grandparents and taken them out of their Gulf Coast home, saving their lives. But that hadn’t been her home. Life is so tenuous.  People here knew that.  Nola was convinced that this was part of what gave life here it vibrancy.


 


The crossing went well. The NorthShore house would be theirs for the duration. The family that lived there was evacuating farther north to Shreveport with an ailing mother-in-law who was being picked up from Lake Charles just in case Gustav went farther west than was being projected. James’ friend, who traveled for his job, would still be working from the road in Mississippi and Alabama.   All there was left to do now was wait.  Nola sent Owen a rare text message letting him know she was now on the NorthShore. Texting seemed safer than talking to him.


 


Back in Pennsylvania, Ryan and Jack rousted Owen and Eric from bed at the crack of dawn, cooked breakfast and spent the day and hiking and fishing. Simon showed up for Sunday dinner of fresh fish and venison taken out of freezer on Saturday. Owen could tell that his little brother was really happy. Simon had always been a little bit restless and wild. Now he looked content and peaceful and happier than Owen had ever seen him.  And Owen thought of how he and his brothers had always been described: Ryan the rock, Owen the stubborn, Simon the wild. They were finishing up dinner when Jack pushed away from the table and said, “Owen gets to clean up if only to keep him from watching that damn TV.  Eric, get the JD and the glasses.”


 


Owen smiled and cleared the table, dumping dishes in the kitchen. He dad had doled out duties and privileges all their lives. But he had managed to do it in such a fashion that they had rarely felt unfairly treated.  Owen had always wondered how his dad always seemed to be able to keep track of what was going on and manage the balance.  Eric handed each of them a glass and poured out JD.


 


“And get yourself a small sip too. But do NOT tell you mother or grandmother. Some things have to be just among us men.”


Jack was sitting around the fireplace with Simon and Ryan.  Owen and Eric joined them for the toast. Jack lifted his glass and said, “To Papa Eric for building this fabulous cabin” and they clinked glasses and took a sip. “Small sips Eric. I have more toasts.”


“To my grandson for working so hard this summer and making the basketball team.” and they clinked glasses again.


“To Ryan for taking the driver's seat away from me at the hotels, hallelujah!” and they clinked glasses.


“To Simon for my beautiful new granddaughter,” and they clinked glasses.


“And to Owen for finally managing to fall in love.” And Ryan and Jack laughed and clinked glasses vigorously.


 


Simon looked at his middle brother. “Dad, are you sure?”


Jack laughed again, “Oh yes Simon. I am sure. You should have seen what he looked like when he got here. Tell him Ryan.  I have a feeling that he just recently figured it out.”


Simon looked at Ryan who said, “He did look pretty miserable, but I didn’t know it was because he was in love.  Dad figured it out.”


“Just like he did with me and Lisa.”


“Oh no son, I take absolutely no credit for that.  That was your Papa Eric. I was just the messenger.”


“Really?”


“Oh yes, your grandfather had a gift for knowing what was really going on inside people’s heads. It's part of what made him such an effective manager of hotels and, well, our fortunes.  But he had a special talent for reading his family. It was hell to have that turned on me as a kid.  He figured out that you were in love with Lisa before you did.  He also knew from the get go that Lisa and Owen weren’t in love.  My understanding from him was that he had told them both they weren’t in love but they were too stubborn to I believe him or take his advice.”


And Owen said, “He told you that?”


“Well son, not in so many words, but he made it clear to me what he thought and what he had suggested to you and Lisa. And he made it very clear that he thought you and Lisa were too stubborn for your own good.” 


 


Eric chimed in, “Granddad why would Papa Eric care who was in love with who?  I thought that’s what girls talked about.”


And the guys all laughed.  Then Jack said in a very conspiratorial tone, “Eric, I need to tell you a story about the curse of the Ambioren men. I know Ryan heard the story from Papa Eric before he married. And I told it to Simon before he married Lisa.  But I don’t think that Owen has ever heard it.”


Owen looked at his dad and then Ryan and Simon.  They nodded a bit sheepishly.  He dad continued,


“It seems the Ambioren men have always had a special talent for attracting women. They like us. We don’t have to go to them. They come to us. We like them back. We are all quite charming you know?” And he winked at his grandson who said, “Like Human Male Venus Fly Traps for Women” and he looked up at his Uncle Owen and smiled.


Jack said, “hmmm yes, that’s probably not a bad description of the effect. The point is Ambioren men don’t have to chase women. The problem is that the ones we catch so easily tend not to be the ones we actually really want or need.”


And Eric looked around at dad and uncles who shrugged and then nodded, yep.


“According to legend this goes all the way back to Ambiorix.  If we are to believe my dad, the reason why Ambiorix disappeared after all those glorious battles never to be seen again was because he had finally met the love of his life and he disappeared to live happily ever after. But that sucks as an ending to a Celtic warrior’s story so only the males of the family are allowed to know it and must keep it in strictest confidence.”


“Cool.”


“I let you have whiskey. You have to promise not to tell this to the women folk.”


“I promise.” He said seriously. Then added, “Uncle Owen doesn’t look any different to me.  How can you tell he’s in love and why would it make him look bad?"


"Hello, I'm in the room." 


 


But his dad ignored Owen and continued, “Well son, here’s why it’s the curse of the Ambioren men.  While we can float fairly peacefully from woman to woman or be content for a while with the wrong one or none, we really aren’t fully happy and alive until we’ve found the right woman. And the right one always makes us work hard before they finally give in.”


And Eric looked around at dad and uncles who nodded, yep.


“Well having the girls come to me and being happy doesn’t sound like it sucks granddad. I still don’t get why it is called a curse.”


“Because Eric when you want something it pokes and pricks at you. When you want something, and you don’t even know what it is, it can make you restless and a little bit crazy.  We Ambioren men tend to be like that until we find the right woman. We don’t make the people around us miserable, but inside we know something is missing. We just don’t know what it is. And I wasn't kidding about having to work hard once you find the right one. I’m pretty sure that's the stage your Uncle Owen is in now."


“Oh.”


“There is no guarantee that any of us will find the one we typically don't even know we're looking for. But once we Ambioren men fall in love, that’s it. We’re done. There is nothing else in the world that makes us as happy as making them happy and believe me Eric, that can suck.”


And Eric looked around at dad and uncles nodded at bit more vigorously this time, yep.


 


On Tuesday Owen was finally able to talk to Nola on the phone and he now really believed she was safe. She had been avoiding his calls and intentionally sending him eMail updates or text messaging.  Nola had left her family on the NorthShore and used her refinery credentials, no doubt in combination with her witchy wiles, to get into the city before it was officially open. She had checked out her neighborhood, rode around with another neighborhood activist to check on pumps and levees and even given him a report on his house. According to Nola there was a lot of leaf litter in the pool and with the exception of the right side of the garage roof things looked ok.  He smiled at himself as he realized that she didn't need him to take care of her. She had been taking care of herself, her family for a long time and, since Katrina, her neighborhood and her city too.  Now she was even looking out for him.  


 


When Owen came in from talking to Nola on the phone, Jack chided, "Well I see you've talked to your woman."


"Dad..." Owen said in a 'don't give me grief' tone.


"You look a lot more relaxed. I swear I saw a smile on your face."


And Owen had to laugh at himself because he knew it was true. 


"You’ll get home to her son."  And Owen nodded knowing his dad understood. He had lived with the curse a lot longer. 


 


Wednesday Owen was at his parents in order to use the internet. He was also on the phone with the airline, again. They wouldn’t book his open ended return because they didn’t know for sure when Louis Armstrong would be open. It sounded like New Orleans was going to be open by Thursday but they weren't sure. They said if he wanted to show up at the airport on Friday they would try to get him on a flight but there was no guarantee. He needed to call back once they had word that New Orleans was officially open, but they had no idea when that would be. "We're sorry Mr. Ambioren but there are unfortunately a lot of people like you in the same situation. And left over hurricane weather across the middle of the country continues to delay flights." He politely hung up and screamed to the universe, "ARGH!"


 


Jack and Abby were finishing late morning coffee and talking about their middle son.


"Jack you have to stop grinning like that about Owen."


"What? You have to admit that after all this time, seeing ‘Mr. Cool about every woman he's ever had in his life’ so worked up is a little humorous."


And Abby smiled, "Ok I admit it. But if he doesn't get back to her soon I think he is going to loose his mind.  When he heard the New Orleans airport wasn't open yet and would probably not be open until the 5th I thought he was going to break something."


And Jack grinned and then had to laugh, "You women do that to us. You make us crazy sometimes." And he leaned in and gave the woman he loved a kiss.


 


On Wednesday afternoon when he dratted and fumed about not being able to get back, Nola had reminded him that the power systems all the way to Baton Rouge were pretty trashed and it would probably be the end of the week maybe next before it was all the way back up.  Neither of their houses had power yet. Plus the stupid government officials were also treating all of them like children and were still doing their best to keeping people out of the city. So don't rush because there was no guarantee that the idiots would let him into his own house.  He thought she was mighty cute when she got worked up.  She was doing her best to stay away from him. That was easier with him in Pennsylvania.


 


On Thursday it looked like the New Orleans Airport would finally be open.  He had talked to Nola and there was still no power at their houses. Although half her neighborhood had power so she was hopeful. The city, under pressure from residents, had finally decided to reopen the city and let the folks who weren’t as brazen as Nola back in.  She asked about Latasha and Bryant, Maurice, Joe, Roger and his crew and he let her know that they were all ok.  She could tell that he wanted to come home but she wasn’t ready for that yet. So she encouraged him to stay and take in the opening of the NFL season with his family, rather than trying to fight his way through airports and coming home to a hot house with no electricity.   Papa Eric had said, “Stay, son. Tago knows she’s not ready for you to come home yet and there’s nothing you can do about it. Watch the game with Jack. It will make him happy to have you here.”


 


He told his dad that he was going to stay until the flight schedule at the airport settled back to normal. 


Jack nodded and asked, "Sounds smart. Unless you want to get that haircut, let's head up to the cabin. On the way out we should pick up supplies for the season starting game tonight. Simon’s been reprieved and will join us for the game. Ryan and Eric will come up after Eric's basketball practice." And he smiled thinking maybe the TV in the cabin wasn’t such a bad idea after all.


 


Owen talked to Roger Thursday during halftime. Roger sounded just like Nola.  Stay in Pennsylvania.  Power was still sporadically available and not at any of their job sites yet.  It was hot and miserable without air conditioning.  When Roger joked that now there was another Category 4 storm headed for the Gulf and that he might need to stay another week, Owen thought he was kidding. But Roger had said, “No man, the storm’s for real.  You need to check the Weather Channel. There are actually 2 of them, one coming up the east coast and another that looks like it’s headed to the Gulf.”


Owen found the remote and flipped the channel and ignored the moans of his brothers, dad and Eric. When the Tropical Update flashed on, they looked at each other and there was a collective if silent ‘Holy Shit’. Owen watched long enough to be miserable and then flipped back to the game channel and went outside to the porch. It was a cool and pleasant world away from where he was in his head. 


 


Jack called Abby and told her he was going to stay up at the cabin with Owen.  He didn’t tell her about the hurricanes.  She already knew.  When Jack explained that Owen had just found out she asked, “How’s he doing?”


“He’s on the porch, lost in his thoughts. Not even watching the game. You know how he gets.”


“Yes. Has he talked to Nola about this hurricane?”


“No. He talked to his buddy Roger, not Nola. He talks to Nola in the morning not at night.”


“That’s interesting. I wonder what’s up.”


“He’ll tell us when he’s ready.”


“And not a minute before. He is my stubborn son.  Take care of him Jack.”


“I will. I love you Abby.”


“I love you too Jack.”


 


Ryan had taken Eric home a little earlier because there was a basketball game tomorrow. Owen had been talked into staying to see the game. Simon was just leaving.  "Ready Dad?"


"Simon you go. I told Abby that I wanted to stay here at the cabin tonight.  I thought that Owen and I could take a long walk along the ridgeline tomorrow."


Simon nodded. 


Jack asked, "Will we see you at Eric's basketball game tomorrow night?"


Simon chuckled, "I don't think so. I've had 2 free nights so far this week. My girls want me home."


And Owen thought I wish mine did.  And his grandfather said, "In time. Patience, son." 


"Night Owen."


"Night Simon. I’ll take care of the old man."


 


Owen flipped the television back to the Weather Channel. Jack sat on the sofa.  After the tropical update he said, "Are you worried about Nola?"


"All the time. Not that she needs me to worry. She's the most self-sufficient person I've ever met."


Jack laughed.  "So what did Nola say about the other hurricane?"


"Nothing. She didn't say a word about it. She probably avoided talking about it because she knew it would only make me crazy. Damn stubborn self-sufficient woman."


"Well son, since you are the most stubborn person in the family it only makes sense that your woman would have to be stubborn just to put up with you."


And Owen managed to laugh at himself.


Jack asked, "What time do you want to get started in the morning?"


"How does 9:30 sound? I want to talk to Nola around 7:30 or 8 and she's on Central Time."


"Ok, son. I'll cook breakfast. You talk to Nola. Then we'll hit the ridgeline. I haven't been up there with you in a long time. Don't stay up all night watching the hurricane on that damn TV."


Owen clicked off the TV "The 10PM report is already in. There won't be another until the wee hours of the morning. And, there's nothing I can do about it anyway." And he walked toward the bedroom he was using, "Night dad."


"Night son."


 


Jack was up before Owen and made coffee and biscuits. The smell work Owen up and he wandered into the kitchen. “That smells good.”


“The coffee is ready now, the biscuits need a few more minutes.”


Owen checked the clock. 8AM. 7 Central. At least 30 minutes before he could call Nola.  “I’m going to get showered and dressed.”


Jack just nodded.


 


Owen was dressed and back in the kitchen.


“Great biscuits Dad.”


“Thanks son. What should we take on the trail?”


“Biscuits?”


Jack laughed. “There’s plenty. We could make venison biscuit sandwiches.”


“It’s not everyday you can have one of those.”


Jack laughed.  “I’ll make the sandwiches. You’re going to call Nola before we get on the trail, right?”


Owen looked at his dad. “Yes, in a few minutes.”


“7:45 Central Time.”


Owen looked at his dad again wondering what was up.


Jack said, “You call Nola in the morning or midday, not usually at night.”


Owen just looked at his dad again.


“He wants to know why, son.”


“Really, pop I hadn’t figured that out.”


“Don’t sass me boy.  You should talk to him.”


As he made the sandwiches Jack watched his son who seemed lost in thought again. Owen had always been his deep thinker.  Everyone assumed he was the easy going one and up to a point he was but he was also the one who wanted to know about everything and had a tendency to ponder usually trying to solve some problem or figure out how to make the world a better place.


 


Owen got the packs out and filled their water bottles with some flavored Gatorade mix.  At 8:45 he stepped out on the porch to call Nola.  She was halfway to work.


“Hello.” And as she answered saw the number was Owen.


“Hello Nola.”


“Hello Owen. I just passed your house. You have electricity today.”


“Great!”


“Did you enjoy the game?”


“Until half time.”


“What happened at halftime?”


“I talked to Roger.”


“What’s wrong?” and he heard the concern in her voice.


“Ike.”


“Oh.  Well Ike is still in the Atlantic Ocean.”


“It’s a category 4.”


“There’s plenty of time for it to fizzle out.”


“Is that what you think it is going to do?”


“Well…”


“You haven’t looked at the isobars and divined your fate?”


Did he sound irritated? “Ike is a long way away. I’d love for Ike to go north in the Atlantic and become one of those Weather Channel fish storms and leave everyone alone.”


Owen managed a chuckle and to lighten up about the fact that she hadn’t said anything about the storm. “Is that what you think will happen?”


“I don’t know.” 


And he could tell that she had thought about it, "Tell me what you think.”


“I think that Ike is going to Texas.”


Texas?”


“Yes. I want Ike to go to Texas. We’ve been watching hurricanes for weeks and I’m tired of watching hurricanes. Florida had Fay. We got Gustav. The East Coast is going to get Hanna. Texas needs Ike.”


“I’m sure the Texans won’t agree.”


Texas, and Houston in particular, is too damn cocky about hurricanes and how safe they are.  Even after Rita, my Houston based managers seemed down right ignorant as well as arrogant about hurricanes. I don’t wish harm on the people of Texas but there are times when I think that a good blow would do them good.  You better watch out for Hanna. She’s headed to New York.”


New York?”


New York City.  Not far from where you are actually. You’d better stay and make sure your family is Ok.”


“Stay? It sounds like you don’t want me to come home.”


She paused. No, that’s not it. It’s just you can’t tempt me there the way you do when you are here. But she couldn’t say that. And she had to find something to say that wouldn’t hurt his feelings.


“Nola?”


 “Don’t worry about Hanna. She’ll stay small in the cold Atlantic.” Maybe a question was best, “When are you coming back?”


And the fact that she asked relaxed him a little, “Saturday evening. I promised to stay and see Eric play basketball tonight.”


“He’ll like that.” And she turned the corner. “I’m sorry Owen but I’m going to turn into the refinery soon. I’m not allowed to drive and be on the cell phone on refinery property.  Provided Ike goes to Texas, I’ll see you next Thursday.”


“Thursday! But…”


“Sorry Owen. We’ll have to talk later. Give my best to your family and good luck to Eric.”


and he heard “I need to see your ID.” And she hung up.


 


Jack heard Owen raise his voice.  Owen knew that it would take time for her to get to her office.  He also knew his dad was waiting for him. So he decided to hike with Jack now and to call her again at midday. Thursday. It was as if he was back on the weekly ration schedule that he had managed to break just before Gustav.  “Son, relax. She’s not rationing you. She’s rationing herself.” And Owen smiled briefly.


 


“Well I think that’s a smile.  Did you talk to Nola?”


“Yes.”


“And?”


Owen thought about what he could tell his dad. “The electricity is back on at my house.”


“How do you know that?”


“Nola told me to leave the porch light on.  When she passed by the house today on her way to work, it was on.”


Jack nodded. “That’s smart.”


Owen nodded.


“Is Nola worried about the hurricane?”


“Yes, she said Hanna is going to New York.”


New York?”


“I said the same thing and she said New York City but that Hanna will stay small in the cold Atlantic waters.”


“Really?” and Jack thought about that before he asked, “What about the other one? Ike. Is Nola worried about Ike?”


“Nola says Ike is going to Texas.”


“Really, Nola says?”


“Dad she’s been watching hurricanes her whole life.” And she’s a witch and I know she’s twitching for the weather to spare New Orleans. “She’s a scientist and looks at the isobars and the Gulf temperatures and could explain how the Hurricane models work if you wanted her to. Gustav did just what Nola said she it would do, move slightly west away from New Orleans and loose strength off the coast.”  He was beginning to believe that if she had been in New Orleans watching Katrina’s approach, things might have been different.


“Well, then I’m glad your mom isn’t going back to New York anytime soon.  I’m not sure that your mother will be happy until Ike isn’t a hurricane any more. But she knows enough now not to insist that you stay. When are you leaving?”


“Saturday.”


Jack nodded, “Well then we better get that hike in while we can.”


Owen smiled and took the pack his dad was handing him.


 


They hiked in silence, Jack wanting to talk to Owen, Owen wanting to talk to Jack, neither one knowing how to start the conversation.  They made their way to Papa Eric’s favorite spot, which was as a result a favorite of all the Ambioren men. Jack shrugged off his pack and sat down on the wide flat rock.  Owen did the same. 


 


Jack finally said, “I miss your grandfather.”


Owen thought about how lucky he was to still have Papa Eric in his life.


Jack said, “He’d always bring me up here when he thought I needed it.”


Owen smiled, “So do you think I need it?”


Jack smiled, “Maybe.  Maybe I do.”


Owen waited and his dad said, “When did you figure out you were in love with Nola?”


Owen thought, that wasn’t the question I expected. But answered honestly, “August 7th.”


“Oh boy. How do you remember the exact day?”


Owen sighed, “I took her out for her birthday and…. I was listening to her describe how much she liked San Francisco and I thought it sounded like she was in love with a city and then it came to me that I was probably in love with Nola.”


“Probably?  You remember the exact day and you say probably?”


“Well, Dad I’ve never been in love before. How do you know for sure?”


Jack smiled, “I’ll tell you what my father told me. When you feel like a part of you is missing when she’s not with you. When it seems you are happiest when you make her happy.”

Owen smiled remembering Papa Eric had told him the exact same thing.  Jack said, “From what I can tell. You are definitely in love with her.” Then he joked, “I’m sorry son.”

Owen laughed, “Curse of the Ambioren men.”

Jack laughed too. “It gets better once you marry them.”

 

And Jack watched Owen’s face change. “Ok, son. What’s wrong? Talk to me. What is said in the woods among Ambioren men, stays in the woods.”

“Tell him, son.  It will make you feel better and it will make him feel better for you to talk to him. Really talk to him.”

“Nola is already married.”

Jack let that sink in and thought about what to say next. “Well that complicates things. Does she love him?”

Owen thought about how to answer that question. “Yes. She loves him the way you and mom love me. She loves him, wants the best for him, provides for him, takes care of him, puts up with him…”

“Is he sick?”

Owen laughed, “No. Healthy as a horse but when it comes to taking care of Nola’s heart he’s as dumb as that stump over there. He’s left her twice breaking her heart both times. But she is not in love with him any more.”

“In love.”

“Yes Dad there is a huge difference between love and in love.”

“Oh yes. There is. And…”

“And I’m in love with Nola and she’s in love with me.”

“She’s told you that? She’s actually said it out loud.”

“No. She’s scared of being in love with me.”

“I think you need to elaborate.  You’ve never been particularly scary son. Intense sometimes, broody, but not scary.”

Owen laughed. “She’s had her heart broken. She’s wary. She’s responsible for her family. She’s the one who makes the money, pays the bills, does what it takes to make their life livable. She’s worried that if she lets herself be in love with me that I will trash her life and leave her with a mess to clean up. The night I realized I was in love with her she told me to find another woman, get married and have babies.”

“Well that’s an interesting way to say I love you, son.”

Owen laughed again. Jack laughed with him and said, “Our women usually make Ambioren men work for their hearts but this is a first. I can’t believe you told her you are in love with her and she said to find someone else.”

 

And Jack watched Owen’s face and said, “Now what?”

“I haven’t told her I’m in love with her.”

“Well why the hell not!?!  I knew you were hooked when we were there in May. You say you finally figured it out weeks ago. Why haven’t you told her? Maybe that would make all the difference?”

 

Owen sighed and tried to imagine explaining and started to shake his head when Papa Eric said, “Go ahead and tell him son. He can take it. He leans in the same pagan direction you do. He just didn’t need it as bad as you do.” 

Owen sighed and then started. “Dad, it’s complicated.”

“I can see that. Wait how much more complicated can it be? Does she have kids?”

“One, a daughter.”

“Oh and this daughter doesn’t like you?”

“No, Jamie is a great kid and I think she likes me just fine.”

“Jezz Owen… married woman… with a kid… and a dead beat husband… Are you sure she’s not playing you for your money?”

Now Owen was angry, “Dad she doesn’t know a thing about how much money I have. She’s taken care of herself her whole life. She paid her way through college waiting tables at the Café du Monde and taught college lab courses as an undergraduate. She’s worked for the same company for more than 20 years. She’s added landscaping to my business and worked to make it successful and hasn’t taken one thin dime from me. She is the most principled and trustworthy person I know. When Nola makes a promise she keeps it. Every time.”

Jack said, “I’m sorry. I deserved that.  I know your instincts have always been good. And I liked Nola the instant we met. But I don’t understand. Why haven’t you told her you’re in love with her? What’s holding you back?”

Owen sighed know this was going to sound ridiculous, “Papa Eric.”

“What?”

“Papa Eric is holding me back.”

 

And Owen let his dad try to wrap his brain around the idea. Jack worked on it for a little while and then said, “Son, I really hate to say this but I’m worried about you.”

Owen laughed. “Papa Eric says that you have always leaned a little in the pagan direction.”

“Now I’m really worried about you.”

Owen smiled and said, remembering Nola saying it to him, “Work with me here.  Papa Eric loved the outdoors, nature, Mother Nature, Father Sky. He was wise and grounded. He only went to church for show.  You are the same way. You know exactly what I am talking about.”

Jack thought about that and finally said, “Yes. Ok I admit it. And remember what Ambioren men say in the woods, stays in the woods. But what does that have to do with you and Nola?”

“Nola is pagan. Italian pagan. It’s called Stregheria. She’s been teaching me since we met on the plane.”

“Italian… like…”
“Yes like my great, great grandmother.”

“Is Nola Italian?”

Owen laughed, “No, just trained in Italian paganism.”

“She’s a scientist who can tell you where hurricanes are going, she works in a refinery, and she’s a witch.”

“Strega.”

“What?”

“Strega, Italian witch. But we’re getting off track.”

Jack said in exasperation, “By all means please get this conversation on track. I have no idea where you’re going.”

 

Owen smiled, “One of the first things Nola taught me about was the Lare Shrine.  It’s a shrine to allow us to connect with our ancestors and also to the wider universe.  When Nola asked if I had any ancestors on the other side who might be aligned with my pagan interests and what she was teaching me it was only natural to think of Papa Eric. He’s had a connection with me since the February.”

Jack let that soak in then asked, “What kind of connection?”

“Well… he talks to me. Guides me. Encourages me and sometimes bugs me with his comments that are right but irritating.”

“Well that sure sounds like Dad.”

“He’s the one who encouraged me to take Nola to dinner when you came in May.”

Jack perked up. “He did?”

“Yes and he was the one who helped me realize that I was in love with Nola.”

“Well then…”

“And he is the one who has insisted that I not tell her I love her.”

“He did? Why?”

“Because he insists that I can’t tell her until she’s ready to hear it.  I’ve started to tell her a number of times only to have Papa Eric in my head telling me to stop. It’s more than a little irritating.”

And Jack laughed. “It was bad enough to have that insight turned on you when he needed to be next to you to say it. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have him in your head.”

“Kind of like this, son.”

And Owen smiled and then he saw his dad’s face. “Dad are you ok?”

Jack grabbed Owen’s arm. “Did you hear that?”

“What?” and Owen looked around.

“Yes, he heard that.”

And Owen said out loud, “Papa Eric, are you talking to Dad too?”

“Yes.”

Jack said, “You heard that?”

Owen smiled and said, “Yes.”

“Holy Shit.”

“Jack.” Papa Eric chided and then chuckled and so did Owen.

“Oh my god.”

 

“It’s Ok Dad.  You get used to it. You have to learn not to talk back to him when other people are around or they’ll worry about you.” And Owen chuckled. And Papa Eric let Jack come to terms. Jack finally said, “Can I talk to him?”

“Hello, I’m right here.”

“I’d take that as a yes, Dad.”

“Oh my god Owen. He’s been talking to you like this since February?”

“Yes.”

“And he was the one who said you should take Nola to dinner when we came to visit?”

“Yes.”

“And he told you not to tell Nola you loved her?”

“Yes.”

“Well then Dad, when will she be ready?”

“Well that’s better. At least you’re talking to me rather than about me.”

“How long did it take you to get used to this?”

“A while.” And Owen chuckled. “After the first time he talked to me he was silent for more than a week. Nola helped me figure out how to relax and listen.”

And Papa Eric said, “And I learned how to talk to him without startling him and then he got used to me.”

“Do you talk to Nola too?”

“Good one. Owen never asked me that question.”

“Well?” and Owen said, “Yeah, well?”

“No I don’t son.  Sometimes the Grigori speak to her. But she’s a stubborn one. Just as bad as Owen.”

Owen said, “Worse.”

“Sometimes.”

“Wow, she really is worse than Owen? That’s impressive.  Wait. Who are the Grigori?”

Owen sighed and tried to figure out how to explain but Papa Eric beat him to it. “They are non-corporeal beings who have been around for a long, long time. Nola learned about them and to connect with them through her Italian pagan training. I met them when Owen connected with me through the Lare Shrine. They are trustworthy and they care about Nola, and Owen.”

Jack sighed and looked out into the distance. “My son is a pagan, talks to his dead grandfather and now has me talking to his dead grandfather who talks with non-corporeal beings and who gives advice on my son’s love life with a married woman. Not at all what I expected to be thinking about today.”

Owen and Papa Eric chuckled.

“Abby would never believe it.”

“What Ambioren men say in the woods, stays in the woods, Dad.”

“Oh absolutely. I wouldn’t even try to explain it to your mother. I was just commenting that there is no way your mother could accept this. But she’s worried about you son. And she’s going to want to know if I think you’re alright.”

“He’s fine, Jack.”

“Well, strange as it seems, I believe you Pop. But what do I tell Abby? And what does Owen do about Nola?”

“You tell Abby that you and Owen had a good long talk today and that he’ll be fine. He’s just got a few things to work out. Remind her that he’s in love and that he can be broody. She’ll be reassured.”

“I am not broody.”

“Ok. Jack will say broody, we know you’re just thoughtful.”

And Papa Eric said to just Jack, “Kids.”

 

“Well then what does the kid do about Nola?”

“He has to decide he is serious and fully committed to doing whatever it takes to get her to give him her heart.  And when she resists, because she will resist, he has to be gentle and stubborn and strong.”

“Pop, that doesn’t sound any different than what I have been doing.”

“Well it isn’t really. But now that you’ve talked to your dad it’s real to you in a way that it wasn’t before. You needed that.  And now that Nola knows what it’s like not to have you around, she’s just as scared that you will walk out of her life as she is that you won’t. The scales are ready to tip in your favor.”

“Well I like the way that sounds and you also know that I am already serious and fully committed to doing whatever it takes.”

“Even if she makes you wait?”

“Wait? How long?”

“Months.”

“How many months?”

“A few, less than a year.”

“A year!?”

And Papa Eric chuckled, “Will you wait if she makes you wait?”

“If she says yes in the end, then yes I will wait.”

“Patiently?”

“No, not patiently but I will wait.”

 

Papa Eric chuckled again. And Jack tried talking to his father without saying the words out loud. “Dad?”

“Yes I hear you.”

“Does Owen?”

“No, he’s brooding.”

“You’re sure this is the right thing?”

“As sure as I was about any of you boys.”

“And Nola…”

“Jack, Nola is one of a kind. If I were alive I’d give Owen a run for his money. She loves him, Jack.  She’ll never hurt him. She’ll help him grow up and be a better man. She already has.”

“She’s married. Abby won’t like that.”

“Any more than she’d like knowing about your pagan tendencies.”

“Right but she doesn’t have to know about that.  We can’t hide the fact that Nola’s married.”

“Nor should we have to. And she doesn’t need to know it right now.  Abby needs to know that Owen is happy and safe and that he has your support.  The rest will work itself out. Abby won’t hurt Owen.”

“Will she hurt Nola?”

“Not if she doesn’t want to hurt Owen.  Make sure she understands that.  Owen’s not the only one with a stubborn woman. We Ambioren men tend to like ‘em strong.”
“Ok, Dad.  When Owen leaves will you still be able to talk to me?”

“If you need me, son, I’ll be here.”

“Thanks dad. I love you.”
“I love you too, son.”

 

“Owen, we need to get moving if we are going to get back in time for Eric’s game.”

“Ok dad.” And Owen picked up his pack and said, “Papa Eric was right. I did need to talk to you. Thanks. Thanks for listening. Thanks for believing me. Thanks for everything.”

“No problem, son.  You had some pretty good backup.”

And they both heard Papa Eric chuckle and say, “Backup. Boy you die and then you become backup.”

“Powerful backup.”

“Get moving boys, your women are waiting.”

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