Thursday, April 25, 2013

Chapter 53 – Bayona


Nola had decided that is was ok to have fun for her birthday.  She was going out to something other than a planning or neighborhood meeting or something for her daughter. Out!, with another adult. Between their out of sync lives and schedules, finances and James natural tendency to be a homebody she hadn't been out to a fancy dinner with another adult in, well, years. Excluding of course the Galatoire’s show she had put on for Owen’s family in May.  She had decided on her red dress. It had a sweetheart neckline, tiny cap sleeves a narrow and slightly ruched waist and a full skirt. She had packed up her clothes last night and showered at the gym after work.  She took one last look in the mirror and realized that she had forgotten her jewelry. Oh well, the simple silver earrings and rings she wore everyday worked well with the red dress. She was going Out and she was surprised that it actually felt fun already.

 

Meana looked at Settrano. Cornucopia had been a turning point but the Grigori had still had to work on Nola all week.  She kept trying to run away. Papa Eric had said, “And I thought Owen was stubborn.”

 

Owen was a bit easier.  Just like Settrano had helped Owen down the stairs. Bellaria had ensured that Nola had left her nightgown behind in Owen’s bathroom door. Papa Eric was pleased that, with Meana’s influence, Owen left it exactly where she had left it and he was even more pleased that it bothered Owen just a little bit more every night when he went to bed that she wasn’t in it.

 

She pulled into Owen's driveway a little before 6:30PM.  He opened the front door as soon as he heard the gate.  He met her in the driveway and said,

"Wow."

She smiled and spun around so the dress would flare out. "You said come dressed for a fancy dinner."

"And you did. I like it."

"You clean up pretty good too, Big Man."

He smiled hooked her arm and said, "I like to think so.", and was pleased that she seemed so relaxed and happy.  He had worried that she would try to cancel. He opened the side door to the kitchen and she saw the glasses and said, "Prosecco?"

"How did you guess?"

"Well it is for celebrating and I am celebrating. It seems appropriate."

He poured and handed her a glass, clinked, sipped and kissed.

"Happy Birthday."

"Thank you."

"I am so glad that you are here and happy. You resisted just enough that I wasn't sure what to expect tonight."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. I... I... I'm just not used to... to..." what was the word? "special treatment.  I'm pretty self-sufficient. You spoil me. But I've decided that you are definitely one of the things that I’m grateful to have had in my life." And she added playfully, "Did I say, Thank you?"

 

Meana looked at Bellaria. They had heard the way Nola used the past tense.

Tago nodded they were right. Nola had said it purposefully.

 

Owen was trying to keep up. "Why was she apologizing?  Self-sufficient, hah, that was an understatement. Damn woman didn't seem to need anyone. Then smiled as he realized that she had said that she was glad to have him in her life.  Spoil her…Special treatment… and he remembered the necklace. Perfect! He had a birthday present. What he managed to say was, "Yes you did thank me and you're welcome.  Sit down for a minute while I get my coat and we can head to the restaurant."

"But Owen… your coat is on the barstool."

Busted.  "Oh, ok" and he lifted the coat from the stool and slipped it on, "but I left my wallet in my office. I'll be right back."

She nodded ok and waited with her glass of Prosecco.

He took the small box out of the bag and tucked it into the inner left pocket of his jacket and adjusted the coat to make sure it wasn’t noticeable.

 

“Ok, woman. Let’s go.”

She smiled and got off of the stool.

He drove to the restaurant quite pleased with himself.  As they headed into the Quarter, he said, “Aren’t you curious about where we are going?”

“Well, a little. But it really doesn’t matter. I’m sure it will be fun no matter which restaurant we end up in. I didn’t have to think about it or make any plans. You can’t imagine what a treat that is for me. The hardest thing I had the do was dress up.”

“Dressing up was hard?”

“Well I don’t do it very often. I’m out of practice."

“And it’s a treat not to be in control of where you’re going?”

She shrugged, “Yes. It is a pleasure to be able to trust that someone else will take care of things.”

He smiled and thought what a strange and wonderful woman.

Papa Eric said, “One of a kind, son. One of a kind.”

 

They pulled into the parking garage and Owen gave the attendant his truck keys and took the ticket. Then he walked around to Nola’s door and opened it.  She had intentionally waited.  He liked opening doors for her and she was beginning to appreciate it and like it too. 
As she held his hand and stepped out of the truck he said quietly, “I can’t believe you waited for me to open the door for you!”

She smiled and said, “I’m learning. Besides it you like to do it. It seemed only fair since you are taking me out to dinner.”

He held out his arm making sure that he kept her on his right side so she didn’t feel the box.  He crossed the street so that he was on the street side and she was on the inside. She smiled as she realized that he had intentionally done this whenever they’d been out together.  She realized that they were on Dauphine and before she knew it he turned her into Bayona’s courtyard. She stopped and he thought something was wrong.

“Bayona… You picked Bayona.”

“Yes… Would you rather go somewhere else?”

“Oh, no.  I love this restaurant. I actually think it is the perfect combination of food and atmosphere.” and she squeezed his arm and looked at him with deep appreciation. “Thank you so much.”

He was more than a little pleased with himself but managed to say “Thank me later.  I’m hungry.”

“Well then come on Big Man. Let’s eat.”

 

He had specifically asked for a table in a corner. He had gone to the restaurant on Tuesday and chosen the table himself. He wanted to make sure that Nola’s night was special and the feel of the restaurant was right. The Maitre d’ came up to him and said, Mr. Ambioren, Owen, your table is ready.” Owen shook his hand.

Nola followed along silently and then let the Maitre d’ put her in her chair. “I’ll be back with your menus.”

“He knows you by name. How often do you come here?”

“Actually Tuesday was my first time. I knew Bayona is one of the top restaurants in New Orleans, but I’ve never been here.  When you said I had to choose, I asked around and Bayona came up more than once. I made the reservations last week. But I wanted to check it out for myself. I had a drink with the Maitre d’ before it got busy on Tuesday.  He’s from Pennsylvania too.  We bonded.” 

The Maitre ‘d returned with the menus.  “Enjoy Owen. You waiter will be with you shortly to take your drink orders.”

Nola opened the menu.

The waiter came and asked what they wanted to drink.  Nola waited to see what Owen was going to do. It was kind of interesting to let the man lead. The only time she had ever let the man lead by default was when dancing.  Owen looked at her and then said, “Bourbon, JD, neat.” Nola smiled and asked for a Grey Goose martini straight up and a glass of still water.

 

“Grey goose martini.”

She smiled. “My drink used to be gin and tonic or vodka and grapefruit juice. But the October after Katrina I was in the Saki Café and met three offshore deep water divers. They insisted I try Grey Goose and bought me a martini. When I tried it, I discovered I liked it. It’s amazingly smooth and clean.”

“So…” he teased, “You were picking up guys in a bar in the middle of a devastated city.”

“No”, she teased right back, “they were picking me up.”

He raised his eyebrows.  And she said, “I’m kidding.   We were waiting for a table and the place was packed. There weren’t that many places open in early October. And the guys took pity on us and asked us to join them at their small table in the bar area. In October of 2005 everyone in the city was family.”

He nodded and understood from hearing his friends talk that this was true. But it also seemed that Nola didn’t realize just how appealing she was to the opposite sex.

The drinks arrived and the waiter told them about the specials, then said he would be back to take their orders. 

 

Nola lifted her glass and took a sip. Owen sipped his drink and watched as Nola ran her fingers down the stem of the glass and around the base before smiling and studying the menu.

“What is it about this woman that makes her so appealing to you, son?”
“I don’t know, pop. But she is more intoxicating than any drink.”

Nola looked up from the menu and Owen smiled at her. She lifted her glass and Owen lifted his. She touched her glass to his glass of bourbon and said. “To Papa Eric.”

How did she know? Then he realized that she was just acknowledging the bourbon.

 

The waiter returned and asked if they would like more time with the menu or if they were ready to order. Owen looked to Nola and he and the waiter both waited for her.  Nola smiled at the waiter and pointed to the menu and said, “I’d like to try the Seared Sea Scallops, Mirliton Slaw on White Corn Tostada, Avocado and Chipotle, the Merguez-stuffed Artichokes with Arugula, Pecorino and Charmoula Sauce and the Goat Cheese Crouton with Mushrooms.”  

The waiter nodded and said, “All appetizers, no entrée?”

Nola nodded and smiled, “Yes. It all looks so good. I thought that it would be best to try small bite appetizers rather than have to choose just one main course.”

“Do you have a preference on which one you get first?”

Nola looked at Owen and then the waiter and smiled, “Surprise me.”

Owen ordered the Oyster & Italian Sausage Gratin with Spinach, Fennel & Parmesan Breadcrumbs, the Crispy Smoked Quail Salad with Pears and Bourbon Molasses Dressing and Pan Roasted Flounder with Smoked Tomato Butter, Dirty Rice and Smothered Crispy Greens.

“Very good. I’ll leave the wine list for you.”

 

Owen picked up the list and opened it so they could both look at it. The menu was extensive. Nola leaned in and teased, “Do they have Prosecco on that list?  You’ve spoiled me.”

Owen smiled at the thought of even trying to spoil her.

“As a matter of fact they do.”

A small gasp of surprise escaped her, “I didn’t expect that.”

Owen smiled, and closed the wine list. “Prosecco it is then.” 

The waiter noticed Owen close the wine list and came back to the table.

“Have you decided on a wine?”

“We’d like the Prosecco.”


Nola was people watching and Owen was watching Nola. They made small talk.  Nola asked about the Maitre d’ and if he and Owen were from the same area of Pennsylvania.

“No, but he’s been to my family’s hotels.”

“Hotels, as in more than one?”

“Yes we have ski resorts. They’re actually fairly well known if you’re a skier, especially in the northeast.” And he left out the fact that the ski resorts were only part of a vast collection of property his family owned.

“I’ve only been downhill skiing once. Ski Resort sounds a lot nicer than hotel.”

“Well it is the hotel industry and my family has been doing it for quite a while.”

“I guess if your family is in the ski resort business that you’re a good skier.”

“I’m OK.  My little brother Simon is the dare devil downhill skier.  Ryan and I are more evenly matched.  It’s fun. But I’m not a fanatic.”

“I like the quiet of the snow… especially when it is falling. It seems to block out and take up the whole world.”

 “You’re a native New Orleanian. You can’t get much snow here.”

“No, rarely and then not much of it. Although I do have a picture of me when I was 4 standing in our front yard in what looks like a snow suit with light snow on the ground.”

“So where did you experience snow 'that blocks out and takes up the whole world'?”

“In the mountains, in Colorado, in December, in a cabin deep in the woods.” She said thoughtfully.

“What were you doing in Colorado, in December, in a cabin deep in the woods?
“Listening to the snow fall... It was the most amazing peaceful experience. I went outside to watch the snow come down and it was so soft and gentle as it fell. Don’t you love the way that snow rests so miraculously on the edges of the branches of the evergreen trees? It snowed all day and most of the night. Once the snow stopped the sky was so clear and the stars so bright. The light of the moon bounced off of every surface and the snow made everything look soft and crisp at the same time and it was so incredibly quiet.”

And he thought there she goes again, lost in appreciating the smallest of things.  I love that about her.   

And in the back of his mind he heard, “Love, huh son?”

And he thought, “Yes… love.”

And the waiter brought the Prosecco to the table.

 

“You said you only been downhill skiing once. Where were you?”

“Oh Colorado, it was the same trip.” And she smiled remembering her down hill experience.

“Did you take lessons?”

“No.  We just got fitted for skis and I got a few verbal instructions and then we got on the ski lift.”

“With no lessons?”

“Well my friend said he would teach me. He grew up in Colorado, so I figured he knew what he was doing.  Riding in the ski lift was the scariest part. I had no idea that when we got to the top that they wouldn’t stop the lift and let us out. When my friend jumped out of the lift I didn’t know what to do. My friend yelled, ‘Jump.’ I could see the ground getting closer and that was reassuring. The guy running the lift yelled, ‘Jump or you ride down.’ The last thing I wanted to do was ride the lift down alone. So I jumped out, landed perfectly on my skis and was actually skiing, until I realized I was skiing and fell down on my butt because I had no idea how to stop.”

Owen laughed, “You didn’t know you had to jump out of the lift?”

“Nope.” She chuckled.

“And you just jumped anyway?”

“Oh sure. Jumping out seemed like the lesser of 2 evils.  I don’t like Ferris wheels. Ski lift seats are too much like Ferris wheel seats. All that open air under me was scary, especially if I was going to have to ride back down alone. We had taken the lift to the highest point. So it was going to be a long way down. I waited until it looked like the lift was going to make the turn to go back down, the ground was close and so I jumped.  It actually worked out a lot better than I thought it would.”

“You are a very good sport.”

“Well, I was really surprised. Not as surprised as my friend was that I managed to jump and stay up on my skis for a while. When I asked him if he was crazy and he said that he figured it was better if I didn’t know and just did it. And… he was right.”

“So you are a natural.”

“Well, not really. I kind of got the hang of leaning and swishing from side to side, but I would get myself going too fast and then get freaked out. It took about a 4th of the way down understand fully that stopping required executing a U turn.  I never really got all that good at it. I thought we would never get down. We started on the green run, but it was taking so long. So we moved to blue, which was a little stepper and so I went faster, got freaked out faster and fell down more often. We reached a place where there was a map and I saw that if we took the black run that we would cut the distance I would have to ski significantly. My friend wasn’t sure it was a good idea, apparently black runs are the hardest.”

“You went on a black run your first time on skis?!”

She laughed, “I figured that I would be falling onto my butt to stop whether I was on a green, blue or black run so my preference was to take the shorter black run. I insisted.” And he thought yes I know about you being insistent. She continued, “It was steep and a little scary. But there were these kids, I swear they couldn’t have been more than 9 or 10, flying down the mountain on a single ski boogie board. It was embarrassing.”

He smiled. “Those kids had probably been skiing since they were 5.”

“Probably.  Even taking the black run it looked like it was going to take me a ridiculous amount of time to get down.  He had taken me literally to the top of the mountain. At the next map I calculated that we could take the green run and then hit another shorter black run which would get me almost to the bottom.  The hardest part of the whole process was realizing that I had made it down but still had to ski the wide open part where everyone would see that I sucked at stopping and didn’t like going fast. Once I got down, I went to the bar, parked myself and said ‘I’ll wait right here and watch as you come back down as many times as you want. But I am not going up there again’.” She laughed.

“What did your friend say to that?”

“Oh he sat with me for a while and took the grief the bartender gave him for not telling me I had to jump off the lift and for taking me all the way up on my first run ever. But I wasn’t angry. I was just tired and realized that while it looked fun, I like other outdoor activities better. After a drink I talked him into going on another run alone.  It took him no time to get down. He was able to do 3 or 4 more short runs before we went back to the cabin. I got him back the next day. I took him cross country skiing and wore him out.”

Owen was laughing as their first course arrived.

 

Nola cut into the artichoke and took a bite.  He watched as she appreciated it. “Wow, that’s really good. A bit spicy but good.” She cut him a bite and said, “Owen, taste this.”  And she held out her fork with her hand underneath and fed him a bite.

After he swallowed he said, “The sausage is a bit spicy, but it is good.”

“hhmm, hhmm but I like the way the flavors blend together.”

“What is it about you New Orleanians and sharing? In other parts of the country folks usually don’t share their dinner, unless they move it to a separate plate.  Here in New Orleans I see people feed each other bites all the time.”

“I’m sorry…”

“Oh no…” and he put his hand on hers. “It’s just one more thing I love about this place and its people.  You all are so open and easy going that you share the food from your forks.”

She smiled. “Want another bite?”

“No, thanks. This salad is really good. Want some?” and he lifted some arugula on his fork and held it out to her.

And smiled as she took his fork and the taste he offered. “mmmm."

 

They worked on the first course.

Owen asked, “How long had you been friends with this guy who took you skiing?”

“Oh… I had known him a little more than 3 months.”

“You go off into the mountains deep in the woods, in a snow storm with someone you only knew for 3 months?”

“Well… yes, but I didn’t know there was going to be a snow storm.”

“Were you living in Colorado?”

“No. I was living and working in New Orleans.”

“So he lived here?”

“No, he lived in Denver.”

“Well then how….?”

“Oh, you want the rest of the story?”

“Yes, I think I do.”

“I had recently switched from working in the geology group, building databases and teaching other geologists how to make computer maps, to the computer support group. I was training to be a system administrator and had to take a lot of classes, none of them were offered in New Orleans. Traveling, visiting other places, always makes me happy. So I took the opportunity to take the required classes in places I thought would be fun and interesting and a change of pace: Denver, San Francisco, Chicago, Albuquerque… I met a guy in my class in Denver about 3 months after James had dumped me for the first time...”

 

Owen had been thinking about traveling with Nola.  Then thought, The first time!?  James is an idiot. Who would dump this woman?... much less twice?! 

 

Nola was still telling the story in a straight forward, factual way, “The first day of our week long class he asked me out to lunch and then we had drinks and then he came to the hotel pool and well we had more than a little physical fun together.  We stayed in touch.  We went to the same conference in Los Angles and he arranged to take me, in a limousine, out to dinner on the Pacific Coast at sunset. So when he asked me to come back to Colorado in December I said yes.  He was nice to me when my heart was broken. We had fun. He made me smile."

 

The waiter came by to fill their glasses. Nola was finishing up her artichoke.

"And what happened to this guy?"

She replied more introspectively, "I was here in New Orleans. He was in Denver. Over time and distance we drifted apart. It was never serious. I've always parted from my lovers as friends. It’s easier if you start that way too."

 

The waiter arrived with the next course while Owen was trying to figure out why he felt uneasy.  Tago looked at Meana and Papa Eric.  Nola was doing her best to drop hints to Owen that she assumed he would eventually be part of her past.

 

Nola cut into the goat cheese and mushroom crouton took a bite and then closed her eyes as she appreciated it. When she opened them she saw Owen staring at her. “You have got to taste this. It is amazing.” And she cut a large bite making sure to get all the various ingredients, then leaned into Owen, held out her fork with her hand underneath and fed him a bite.  Owen took a bite and then lit up, it was pretty amazing. He teased, “Want to switch?”

She laughed, “Oh no, I’ll share but I’m keeping this. Simple ingredients but rich with flavor that blends and builds and satisfies. If I had just this it would be enough.”

Papa Eric had been looking for an opening. “Remind you of anything, son?”

“Nola, is not simple.”

“Well, substitute grounded and practical and …”

Owen smiled, “Ok, pop. You win.”

Papa Eric said, “If I had just this…

Owen finished, “it would be enough.”

“Think about why.”

And Tago actually smiled at Papa Eric.

 

Nola teased, “Are you going to sit there lusting after what’s on my plate or are you going to try your quail & pear salad?”

Owen smiled at her teasing and started in on his own plate but was preoccupied.  He took a bite a bite of rich dark quail making sure he got some pear with it.

“Well, how is it?” she said expectantly.

“Oh, it’s good. The quail is perfect. Want some?”

“No thanks… Here have another bite of mine.” And he realized that she already had her fork ready and he leaned into her and took the bite off of her fork.

They finished the second course and the waiter cleared their plates.

 

Nola relaxed and sipped some water. “Owen, you seem a million miles away. Where are you?”

Owen’s mind returned to the table and he realized that he wasn’t sure where he was. But it was definitely a different place than he had ever been before.  He found a way to shift the conversation smoothly and said,

 “You said traveling always makes you happy.”

Nola switched back to the Prosecco to clear her palate for the next course and said, “It definitely does.”

“What’s your favorite city? Other than New Orleans of course.”

San Francisco.”

“You didn’t even hesitate.”

“Nope.  San Francisco.” She sighed lightly with the pleasure of remembering something wonderful. “The Pacific Coast is beautiful. I love the sunsets. Northern California is not as dry as southern California and so it’s greener and has more large trees, including those amazing redwoods.  But San Francisco is not like either Northern or Southern California. It sits on those amazing hills in that bay bounded by a large estuary. It has a unique microclimate.  The summer is cold and damp.  Fall is… perfection. It is a port city with all the blending of cultures that brings. Along with cultural blending comes an acceptance of diversity.  It has beautiful, unique, defining architecture. In many ways it is a lot like New Orleans. In others, it’s as different as being on another planet. The first time I was in San Francisco it felt like home.”

Owen thought, “It sounds like she’s in love with a city…..” And then…a question came to him, “Am I in love with Nola? …. Pop, am I in love with Nola?”

“It would surprise me if you weren’t, son.”

 

The waiter brought the last course. Owen had practically platter of fish and greens and rice. Nola had a small plate of 2 scallops on an interesting collection of vegetable and sauce. 

Nola looked at her plate, smiled and said, “I know that my favorite seafood should be something local but I love scallops.”

And Owen thought, “Is this what being in love feels like?”

Papa Eric said, “Finally, the right questions. You feel like a part of you is missing when she’s not with you? It seems you are happiest when you make her happy?”

“Yes.”

“Sounds like you’re in love, son.”

“But Pop, I think that I’ve felt like this since practically the day I met this woman. How do I know for sure?”

 

“Owen, is something wrong with your food? You’re not eating?”

He looked down at his plate and without thinking took a bite of the flounder. And the taste grounded him. It was flaky and delicious. 

Nola created a bite of her scallop dish for him with as many of the ingredients as she could get on the fork. She held it up to him and said, “Flounder and Drum are my favorite Gulf Fish. I’ll trade you a bite.”

He smiled and took the bite from her fork and then created a bite of fish for her.

She put her hand over his on the fork to secure the bite and then said, “Thank you. It’s as delicious as I thought it would be.”

Nola served Owen one more bite of her dish and then slowly finished her small plate. Owen was still eating and thinking. She found her purse and excused herself with, “I’ll be right back.”

 

“Breathe, son.”

“Pop… I’m in love?”

“Breathe, son.  You’ll live. Try to enjoy it.” Then Papa Eric added, “Eat.”, knowing the food would ground him. And Owen listened to his grandfather and ate.  He was close to finishing up when Nola returned to the table. Nola sipped her water while Owen finished his meal. The waiter poured the last of the Prosecco and took Owen’s plate. 

Nola picked up her glass in a toast and said, “Thank you for a lovely birthday dinner.”

 

Owen remembered the necklace and instead of picking up his glass reached into his jacket pocket.  Nola put her glass down with out taking a sip. Owen pulled the box into view and said, “Happy Birthday.” as he set it on the table between them.

Nola didn’t like the size of the box. It looked like jewelry. He shouldn’t be buying her jewelry. Bellaria said, “Why not?” Meana said, “It is a gift of the heart. You have to accept it.”  She just sat there looking at the box.

Owen said gently, “Open it, woman.”

She looked at him and then opened the box and lifted the charm and the chain from the box and just above a whisper said, “NOLA”.

“Yes. Nola.  Let me put it on.” And he got up from the chair, took the chain from her hand and put the chain around her neck and sat back down. And just as he had wanted, she was able to lift the charm and look at it.

“I know the local artist meant the city of New Orleans. But you are the only Nola to me. One minute I saw it in the window of the store the next it was in the box for you. I bought it before I knew about your birthday.”

What else could she say but, “Thank you.” And then with the charm between her fingers she looked it and said thoughtfully, “I’ve used Nola as a teaching name for a long time. But I’ve become Nola with you.” And she paused and fingered the charm. “It’s a perfect and lovely gift.” And without thinking about it they leaned into each other for a kiss.   2 tables actually clapped. And Nola blushed and thought this is ridiculous for someone my age and then chuckled silently at the irony of it being her birthday dinner.

 

“I love seeing you happy, woman.” And he sat back in his chair.

The waiter gave them a moment and came to the table and said, “I’ll leave you 2 the desert menu.”

 

Owen lifted his glass and waited for Nola to lift hers. They toasted and Nola said, “Thank you, Owen. Thank you very much.”

“Don’t scare her off, son.”

“My pleasure, woman.”  He said laughing lightly at his grandfather.

 

The waiter returned. “Would you like desert?”

Owen wasn’t ready to leave so he opened the menu and found something chocolate and pointed to it.  Nola shook her head no and sipped her water.

Nola sat there thinking about the saying, all blessings are mixed.

 

“Nola, I’ll be right back.”

She smiled and nodded not realizing that she was fingering the charm as she thought. Owen was a smart, capable, charming, generous, good looking man who seemed to enjoy spending time with her. She was happy when she was with him. She was grateful to have a ritual partner. But the time she spent with Owen made her life with James more difficult.  She hadn’t had felt emotionally, mentally or physically at ease with James in a long time, years. Owen on the other hand was too damn easy to be with. And she closed her eyes and sighed as she realized that she had 2 more months until Shadowfest.  She wanted to run again. She got up and went to the ladies room thinking that moving would help her clear her head.

 

Settrano said, “One down. One to go.”

Papa Eric said, “That is one stubborn woman.”

Tago said, “She does not make commitments lightly.”

Meana said, “She needs to think of herself rather than always putting her commitments to others first.”

Bellaria said, “She knows. She just refuses to acknowledge it.”

 

Owen stopped at the men’s room then chatted with the Maitre d’ as he validated the parking ticket before he returned to the table. He stopped in his tracks when he saw the empty table, then walked slowly toward it. She wouldn’t just leave, would she? The waiter came up behind him just as he got to the chair.

“She’s in the ladies room.”

Owen nodded and sat down with relief.

Papa Eric said, “Where’s your confidence, son?”

Owen thought, “Pop, I know she likes being with me and that she’s fully committed to teaching me. But I swear it feels like she’s going to bolt or disappear if I’m not careful.”

“Your instincts are good, son.  I think you’re just going to have to be patient, consistent and take it slowly.”

 

The waiter arrived with desert and placed it on the table with 2 spoons just as Nola returned. He helped her into her seat. “Coffee?”

They both said no.

She looked at the plate and said, “What is that?”

“I don’t know, I just pointed to the desert with chocolate in the list of ingredients.”

She laughed lightly, picked up a spoon and handed it to him, “I think you should try it.”

He took the spoon and broke into flaky crust of the desert and scooped a spoonful of filling and crust.  She watched.  He looked like he liked it but that he wasn’t sure what he was tasting.

“Well?”

“It’s good, but it’s not just chocolate.”

She picked up her spoon and scooped a tiny bit of the filling. He watched while she ate it and saw as she realized she knew what it was, “It’s hazelnut and it’s delicious.”

He scooped another bite.  It was good. “Are you sure?”

She scooped another small bite of filling and then said, “Oh yes, I love chocolate and hazelnut. That’s hazelnut.”   She scooped a bit of ice cream.

“Hmmm pear.”

He scooped some ice cream. “Ok, that is definitely pear.”

She pulled a small bit of crust off with her fingers, dipped it in the spicy caramel sauce then, with the spoon, loaded a small bit of filling onto the crust.  She then scooped a bit of ice cream. He watched as she put the caramel crust in her mouth then ate the ice cream off of the spoon curved side down, closed her eyes and waited for all the tastes to come together.  He thought it was one of the sexiest things he had seen a woman do in a restaurant.  The waiter thought so too. Nola was oblivious. She just thought it was the best way to get all the flavors all at once. She opened her eyes and said, “Well that’s quite a party of flavors. You need to try them all together.”

And she did the same thing again only this time she leaned in and held the spoon out to him with one hand and the crust in the other. What was he going to do with this woman? He leaned in ate the crust from her hand and guided the spoon into his mouth.  He finished the bite and she said, “Complex, spicy, smooth and sweet.” 

 

“Interesting how the food and the woman go together. Isn’t it, son.”

“Boy, I’ll say.”

 

Nola put the spoon down, sat back in her chair and took a sip of her water.  He just sat there looking at her. 

“Well go ahead and finish up, Big Man. Or are you waiting for me to feed you another bite?”  She teased.

Yes, he thought, yes I want more of everything and anything you have to offer.

“Settle down, son. Finish desert.”

He picked up the spoon and slowly finished desert.

 

The waiter brought the check.  As they walked slowly back to the parking garage Owen was trying to figure out how to get her to stay the night. Nola said, “Thank you again, for a lovely birthday dinner and the beautiful necklace.”

“It was my pleasure. I never realized how much fun it could be to eat out with a native New Orleanian.”

And she was confused, “I don’t understand.”

“It’s communal, it’s sensual, it’s playful.”

“You are such a Taurus.”

“You are a closet hedonist.”

“I know, but I’m trying to keep it a secret.”

“I’m on to you.”

She nodded and said with mock seriousness, “Yes, I’m afraid you are.”

And they laughed together.

 

As they waited for the truck to come down from the parking garage Owen watched as she fingered the new charm.  She had let it go and it nestled just above her cleavage. Owen reached for the charm and she smiled as he lifted it with one hand and then pulled her close to him with the other.  “Nola…” and she waited wondering what he was going to say but the truck pulled up and the attendant opened the door and Owen released her.

The attendance opened the door for her and Nola got in.  Owen tipped him and went around to the driver’s side.

 

They drove home in silence; Nola fingering the charm and then letting it drop. Owen said playfully, “That chain is the perfect length. I wanted you to be able to see the charm but I didn’t realize how it would tease me to watch you wear it.”

And she looked down and the charm and her cleavage and smiled.  “I guess I should be flattered to be this old and still be able to tease.”

He laughed with her.

 

Owen pulled into the driveway and went around to open the door for her. She waited and let him hand her out of the truck. But he didn’t just hand her out. He pulled her into a kiss and when he released her he said, “Please stay.”

She didn’t say anything. She was old enough to know that this particular please stay meant please stay and have sex with me. She was tempted. Oh so very tempted. But she was his teacher and he was her student. That had to be their essential relationship. She had worked very hard to stay inside the lines. May Day and Cornucopia had been bad enough. She wasn’t going to slip tonight.  He hugged her to him and she felt his pull and he said again, “Please stay.”

She hugged him back and said softly in his ear, “Owen, I  …”

“Please.”

“I do want to.”

“Then stay.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?” and he pulled her to him again and as she held on she said, “Because… I have to go home. I have responsibilities and I have to go home.”

“Please.”

And she took a deep breath and moved away from him slightly and said, “Owen, I need you to do something for me.”

“Anything.”

“I need you to find someone you can make a whole life with, settle down, pour yourself and your energy into her. Make babies. You would make beautiful babies and be a wonderful father.  Please, please, just let me be your teacher.” And she left him standing there in shock as she quickly turned so he couldn’t see her tears, got quickly into her truck, locked the doors and left.

 

“Son?.... Son?..... Owen!”

“What?  Yes! I hear you.”

“Go into the house, son. She’s gone.”

Owen walked to the door and unlocked it and went in.

“Close the door, son.”

Owen closed and locked the door and walked like a zombie up the stairs.

He took off his coat and tossed it over the chair and then sat down on his bed.

“She did not just tell me find another woman.”

“Actually, she did, son. She told you to find another woman, settle down and make babies.”

“Pop, Babies are Ok. But I’ve never really wanted to have children the way some guys do.”

“I know son.”

“Then why…”

“She wants you to be fully engaged and she knows that children are fully engaging.”

“But I am already fully engaged!”

“I know son.”

“Am I in love with her?”

“I think you might be, son. But if you want her to stay, really stay, heart and soul, you are going to have to know for sure.”

“You… you think she was right to leave!”

Papa Eric looked at Meana. “I know that this is harder for her than it is for you.”

“What does that mean?!”

“It means it is harder for her than it is for you.  She has a kid. She is the breadwinner for her family. She has her own set of principles and she doesn’t want to violate them. She also doesn’t want you to make a fool of her and change your mind and dump her, leaving her with a mess to clean up when you’re not around.”

“I wouldn’t do that!”

“How do you know? You’re 44 years old. You don’t even know for sure if you are in love. How can she know she is safe with you?”

“Safe with me. What a ridiculous thing to say. Of course she is safe with me.”

“Is her heart safe, Owen?”

“You’re saying she’s scared?”

“To death, son.”

“Of me?”

“Of what the thought of you means to her life.”

Owen kicked off his shoes and flopped flat on to the bed.

“Well what the hell can I do about that?!”

“Nothing tonight, son. Nothing tonight.”

 

He just lay there looking at the ceiling.

“Will she come back?”

Papa Eric looked at the Grigori.

“Papa Eric?...”

“Papa Eric!...”

 They nodded. 

“Papa Eric!? Will she come back?”

“Yes, yes son, she will come back.”

 

Owen lay back despondent in the bed.  This didn’t make sense. Dinner had been a lot of fun.  They had had a good time.  He sat back up.

“Damn it, Papa Eric. I know I didn’t do anything wrong. I’ve been a perfect gentleman. What that hell is going on? Women don’t usually run away from me!”

“Well now son, that may be part of the problem.”

“What the hell does that mean?!”

“Son calm down.  It means that you are not used to having to work for a woman’s trust or appreciation.  You usually just get it. What did you say when Nola described you, pretty well I might add? … Ah, Human Male Venus Fly Trap.”

“Yeah well, this one is getting away.”

“Only if you let her, son.  Only if you let her.  You need to decide what you want.”

“What I want!?  I told her what I wanted. I wanted her to stay. I wanted bring her to this bed and make love to her.”

“I’m pretty sure she knew that and if I recall properly she said she wanted to stay.”

“But she didn’t…. because… she’s scared I’m going to treat her like James. I am NOT James!”

And Papa Eric looked to Meana and Bellaria and sighed. “No son you’re not. But you’re also not her husband.  You’ve been treating her like a friend, like a girl friend but she’s already got a husband.  She’s done her best to be true to her promise to teach you but she’s also trying to do her best to be true to her commitment to her husband…” And Meana added,  “… and she is scared Owen. She is scared of her own heart.”

 

Owen stared at the ceiling. His thoughts were all jumbled together. He was still shocked that she would tell him to find another woman settle down and have babies! He had known all along that she was married. It had mattered only until that first teaching session when she had walked him through what Aradia’s Words on love, sex, marriage and freedom meant in her life. Then for him James had disappeared. Nola was his friend and teacher. Nola wasn’t married to James.  That woman had another name.

“That necklace makes a bit more sense now, son.”

“It does. She is my Nola. She said tonight that she had become Nola with me.”

“Yep, with that necklace you named her and claimed her as yours.”

“But only the Nola who comes here, as my teacher.  Not the woman who is married to James. I only have part of her and … I want all of her. I want the whole woman.  I want her here all the time. It actually hurts that she is not here.”

“Oh boy.”

“This must be love. Aradia was right it can lift you up or drag you down.” And he crossed his arms over his eyes.

“So if you are in love with Nola, then what do you do?”

“Pop, I don’t know.” And he thought about it. “I know she is happy when she’s with me.  But it’s like she is a half tamed wild thing. There is always the risk that she is going to bolt and run away…”

“Just like she did tonight.”

“Just like that, like a wild thing afraid that she will be caught, caged and harmed in some way.  I do not want her to be afraid of me.  She is so strong and capable I never thought about how vulnerable she might feel.  … Oh God, I’ve been an idiot.  Dragging her around like she is my girlfriend…. Wait a minute! You encouraged that. Why?!” and he sat up in he bed again.

“Well, son…” and Owen waited and Tago smiled and nodded. “We thought that it was one way to get you 2 headed in the right direction.”

“We?”

“Well. Yes. We. Nola showed you how to open the portal so that I could come through and Nola introduced you to the Grigori. So we’ve… met.”

Owen wasn’t sure he wanted to think about his grandfather talking to the Grigori.  But then he remembered something Nola said about the Grigori and personal development and soul development. And something that he was supposed to teach Nola and a kitten… who was Meana.

“So if you and the Grigori supported Nola as my pretend girlfriend, is it safe for me to assume that you support us being together?”

Tago nodded again.

“Yep, son. We do.”

“Well then why didn’t you make her stay!?”

“It doesn’t work like that son. She has to want to stay…”

“But she did want to stay…”

“But she didn’t feel safe enough to stay. Only you can fix that. The Grigori won’t push her where she doesn’t want to go, any more than I would tell you that you are in love with Nola before you realize it yourself.”

 

Owen sighed and got off of the bed and out of his clothes. This was too hard. He walked to the shower and turned on the water and let it beat on him. It helped but his thoughts stayed jumbled.  He ended up back in the bed, head propped against the pillows. He closed his eyes and tried to go far away to the ridgeline in Pennsylvania. He didn’t make it because he ended up worrying about when Nola would return.

“Pop…”

“I’m here son.”

“When will she come back? …. Ask the Grigori when she will come back.”

Papa Eric smiled because Bellaria and Meana had already told him that Nola wouldn’t be back until the Full Moon.

“Full Moon, next Saturday.”

Owen groaned.  “That’s 9 days.  Why not next Thursday? What can I do to get her back here next Thursday?”

Tago shook his head.  “Sorry, son. She’ll come back for ritual. But she won’t come back before then.  You need to figure out how to tame the rest of her. If you love her, you need to figure out what it will take for her to give you her heart.”