Saturday, May 25, 2013

A good dog's last morning and the comforting power of nature: Oliver Houck

A good dog's last morning and the comforting power of nature: Oliver Houck
published in The Times Picayune

"My dog died Thursday morning. We'd found her 17 years ago on the side of a dirt road, coming out of the Atchafalaya swamp. The vet said that she was 5 or 6 weeks old. She was the size of a squirrel and all scab and mange.

I tucked her in my lap behind the steering wheel figuring I'd give her to one of my students, who were waiting at another landing. But in the period of that short drive, maybe 20 minutes, I became aware that I wasn't going to give her to anyone at all.
 
We'd since done many things together, roaming the batture, me looking for berries and she the sign of rabbit. Once paddling out of the Pearl, Ms. Bear up in the bow like a hood ornament, we passed a fisherman who looked over at us and asked, absolutely straight faced, "don' he paddle?" There is a lot to remember.
 
Thursday morning was something of a miracle, indeed two of them. They say that a dog will tell you when it's time to go, and we had been getting signals through the week. At this point she'd lost motion at the rear end, and her eyes were vague.
Still, I held out hope. But her last night was turbulent. The dog who never complained whined for hours, nothing was comfortable, so around 4:30 we got up, and I took her out onto the grass. Miracle No. 1, she quieted right down, and I held her, and we saw the dawn together in peace.

The first cardinal, a crow flew over, a mockingbird started up, my neighbor David dragged his trash container to the street, a junker car chugged right through the stop sign, the driver drinking coffee at the wheel.

Looking back on it, Ms. Bear had told me it was time to go. And we found the perfect place to wait it out, under the morning sky. What she was thinking out there I cannot say, but I'd say she felt wired to something huge and beautiful and that was enough. It is also enough for kids in trouble, for adults in pain, for all those folks walking along Bayou St. John and the oval at Audubon Park. There doesn't have to be much nature. But it can do so much.

The vet came later in the morning, and we put her down. It was the kindest thing we could do.

Then the second miracle happened. Lisa and I went back inside to gather ourselves for the day. Neither of us had gotten much sleep. Lisa was still on the porch when I heard her calling to me. When I arrived, she was pointing to the neighboring yard where a tall white egret was stalking the grass. It went very carefully, a slow ballet, cocking the head, leaning the long neck down, zapping something, a quick swallow and then on.
It is still out there, as I write. I have never seen a white egret hunting in this neighborhood, ever, and it's been nearly 30 years. It came this one morning.

My mother died a few years ago. She was 101, and it was her time too. We took her ashes to a field she had loved as a girl and stood in a line, facing the trees, while a minister said a prayer. As the minister was finishing, behind his back, a large falcon darted out from the woods and flew the entire tree line, wheeled, flew it the other way, and then was gone. I saw my mother leaving.

I am not a spiritualist. I do not worship birds and trees. But there is a connection between the peace Ms. Bear and I found early Thursday morning outside in the dawn, and the egret, and the falcon. I do not know exactly what it is, but it is."

Oliver A. Houck is a professor of law at Tulane University. He is the author of "Down on the Batture."

Chapter 55 – Ganging up


Thursday… It was easier to go straight from work to Owen’s. This was more than simple map geography.  During the rest of the week the practical requirements of her job, cleaning house, juggling bills and making sure the pets were taken care of, the expectations of the neighborhood organization and the thrill of figuring out how to address problems along with the simple joy of being a mom were the glue that held her life together.  James had his expectations: coffee together in the morning, dinner at night, with appropriate pleasantries sprinkled in their interactions.  But for the most part the easiest way for them to be together was for Nola to keep moving until she slept. Sometimes she almost felt like a cool breeze in James life.  She was there. He could feel the effect. It was pleasant. But while there wasn’t any real comfort or joy for the breeze. It was just passing through.


 


In many ways who Nola was depended on geography, location. When she was at work, she was the boss corporate professional. When she was with Jamie, she was mom. When she was with neighborhood activists, she was the small neighborhood president with a talent for strategy and seeing through bullshit. When she was at home she was bill payer, maid, laundress, zookeeper, goods supplier.  Of course the various aspects blended together but geography was the primary influence.  Only when she was with Owen did she feel whole.  She had thought about this and wanted to believe that it was because with Owen the last piece of who she was clicked into place. With Owen she could be a strega was well as all those other things.  But she knew that wasn’t really true.  James knew she was a witch, a strega, but when she was at home she still felt fragmented.


 


It was easier to leave home, go to work and then not have to shift back into whatever component part was needed but to go straight to Owen’s and be whole.  Then she could go home, sleep and start the cycle for the week again. 


 


It didn’t seem fair to Owen. He shouldn’t be balm for a wound that wouldn’t heal.  She had meant it when she said she wanted him to just let her be his teacher.  She had asked the Gods for a student like Owen.  She felt a deep obligation to teach him. She always finished what she started. Because of his practical earthy nature she had known the best way to teach him was through the rituals.  He absorbed what she said so he could apply it in the rituals. When he participated on the ritual, physical level the lessons solidified.  Now that the August full moon was past, she only had 2 Treguenda and 2 Full Moons to go.  She could handle these sessions because the rituals themselves provided structure and form.  She didn’t have to be any one thing for any one person or group she only had to let everything else go and be priestess for the Gods and she could do that. She could leave everything else behind and do that.  Because of how she had taught Owen she felt that he could do that too.  She felt safe inside the ritual space. It was only when they were outside of ritual that the edges blurred together. She was doing her best to keep her edges clean and he kept blurring it all together.  After the way her birthday dinner ended she wasn’t sure he would want her to come back. But he had. And their full moon ritual had been… successful. She sighed. Each ritual she promised herself that she wouldn’t respond to him so fully and completely and each time she did.  She could only hope that they could get back on track and that she could find a way to spend time with Owen and still keep her fading edges clean.


 


Owen had been doing a good bit of thinking himself. He remembered asking himself very early on if it was the woman or the ways that had drawn him in.  He now knew it was both.  The Ways were a part of what had caused him to be interested and they had provided a path, a process, a reason to keep her coming back.  But the woman was definitely part of what drew him. The woman and The Ways together were irresistible.  But what he now fully realized it was the woman he wanted. The Ways were a part of him no one could take them away. But Nola could and did leave. Unless he changed something one day she would leave and not come back and he was certain that he did not want this to happen.


 


When Nola pulled into his driveway at 6PM, Owen was standing at the fountain.  He didn't move from the fountain.  He stood and waited for her to come to him.  That's what you did with scared wild animals. You waited. You were patient.


 


Nola expected him to meet her at the truck door or in the driveway. When she didn't see him she took a deep breath and walked to the fountain.


"Evening, Owen."


"Evening, Nola."


He was still waiting at the fountain. So she walked to him.  He waited until she got all the way to him and then he fed the fish.  Red Dot came to the surface and opened his mouth and Owen dropped the pellets in.


She whispered quietly, "Oh, how fabulous." And she sat carefully on the edge of the fountain.


Owen fed the other fish and then smiled at her. "Yes, Eric worked on Red Dot while he was here.  Now No Dot and Red Dot both open their mouths for the food."


"You've named them."


"Eric did."


She nodded but didn't know what to say next.  Rituals had structure and form and even the sex had parameters.  This formlessness, was.... was... intolerable. Maybe she should arrange to do just one more class for Autumn Equinox and one more class for Shadowfest. Then do the 2 full moons and the 2 rituals and then take him to 3rd. 5 more lessons and the final act and she could back off and start her heart healing without the balm that Owen provided.


 


Owen waited too.  He was planning on confronting her about her comments to find another woman and make babies. But she was like a horse that needed to be broken to the saddle and he wanted to ease into it. It would be rough enough. She out waited him.


"Shall we go in and get something to drink?"


"Ok." 


 


He went in through the French doors, stored the fish food and kept walking to the kitchen. She was forced to follow.  It was not like him. Usually he opened the door for her and offered to let her go first.  She sighed assumed that the change she had asked for was taking place and found it made her sad.  He heard the sigh and allowed a small smile. 


He opened the refrigerator and took out a beer. He knew full well that she didn't drink beer.  He filled his glass took a sip and asked, "What would you like?"


"Oh water will be fine." She had moved to the end of the counter closest to the kitchen door, thinking he was upset but that it would be better if he told her what was wrong that way she could avoid assuming incorrectly and be left digging out of a hole. 


 


He saw she was still standing with her purse over her shoulder and close to the kitchen door. He thought she probably doesn't even realize that she's positioned herself for escape.  Now all I've done is make her more skittish.


 


"Nola..." 


He looked at his glass and said, "I think I have some San Pellegrino in the frigde.  Let me get you some." And he pulled a goblet off of the rack hanging about the counter and filled her glass with ice and San Pellegrino and handed it to her.  He watched her take it and saw the wariness in her smile. 


"Thank you."


"Let's go into the living room."  He figured it couldn't hurt to be closer to Lare Shrine.


"Ok."


She started to walk with her purse on her arm. "You can leave that in the kitchen."


She looked at her purse, took it off and hung it over the barstool. He waited and indicated that she should go first.


 


She decided to sit on the chair assuming that would leave the larger loveseat for him. But he sat on the ottoman right in front of her chair. Their typical arrangement, Owen in the chair, Nola on the ottoman, was now reversed. Without even thinking about it, she had slipped out of her shoes so she could fold her legs underneath her.  He pulled the ottoman right in front of the chair and as close as he could get it and still leave room for his legs and set his beer on the table and put his palms on his thighs and ran them down to his knees and back.


 


"I think we need to talk about your recommendation."


She looked confused, which was his intent. "I'm sorry, What recommendation?"


"Your recommendation that I should find another woman, get married and have babies."


She barely said, "Oh."


He waited. "Well are you going to elaborate?"


"I... I... I understand that you might be angry about that. It's really not my place as your teacher to tell you how to live your life.  It's...."


"You're right it's not.  I get to choose who I want to be with and how I want to live my life."


"Yes, of course you do. I'm sure you don't need me bossing you around about your personal life. I'm sorry."


"You should be."


She raised herself up slightly thinking that she just needed to say she was sorry again and leave.  Maybe...


"Where do you think you're going?"


"I'm sorry. I see you're upset. Maybe it would be better for me to leave and..."


"No.  We're going to talk about this."


"I… I don't know what else to say except, I am very, very sorry for telling you how to manage your life.  It's not my place as your teacher and I won't do it again."


He waited. And she tried an end run around him, "Perhaps it would be best if we just arrange for a lesson before Autumn Equinox and a lesson before Shadowfest and then we can...."


And he cut her off "No. This isn't about you as my teacher."


 


She pushed herself up in the chair again subconsciously trying to get further away from him. She shook her head as if she didn't want to understand. "But that is who I am..."


"No, woman you are not just my teacher. I want more from you than that." And he lifted the chain because he could see that Nola was wearing the charm despite the fact that it was hidden by her shirt.  "Why are you wearing this?"


She reached for it, surprised.  "Because.... because... it was a gift... a lovely gift and it..." and her eyes started to water and then she took a deep breath and pushed herself back in the chair and said, "Because it reminds me of the time that we've had together and that is precious to me and so the charm is precious to me." And she started to take it off, "But if..."


"What are you doing?" and he took her hands in his to stop her from taking it off.


"I... I... Owen I don't know what's going on.  I don't understand. I'm sorry I upset you. I thought that... that after the Full Moon that we... we... were back on track..."


"Back on track?  What does that mean?"


 


She sighed and he could feel her shaking and heard the shaking in her sigh before she said, "It means that we can do the rituals and that the rituals can be separate from the rest of our lives.  It means that I can teach you and that I can be priestess inside the ritual and your friend outside but that I... I... shouldn't tell you how to live your life or be more than is appropriate."


"Ah, more than is appropriate, that's telling.   Who decides what is appropriate?"  and he watched her think before she framed her answer.


"I do. You do."


"We do."


"Yes, Ok. We do."


 


He heard Meana say, “Be gentle. But don’t tell her you love her.  She’s not ready.”


 


"Well then I'm going to tell you what I think is appropriate.  It is appropriate that you are my teacher.  It is appropriate that we do the rituals together. It is appropriate that the rituals have a sexual component and it is appropriate and amazing that we do them so well. Do you agree?"


She nodded and said quietly, "Yes."


He nodded and said, "Good.  It is also appropriate for me to care about you and to want you to be happy and to want to protect you from hurt and harm.  And for you to want the same for me.  Do you agree with that?"


 


She nodded and said, "Yes, when you say it like that it sounds reasonable."


He shook his head and said, "I hear the unspoken but in that statement. There is no but. It is reasonable."


"Well, only up to a point.  I know that you are happy and that the ways have been go for you. You're a natural. You're also a young, unattached guy and so your life is free and easy and me coming and going isn't a big deal in your life. But...."


"What?"


She shook her head thinking he was correcting her on the use of but, "Fine Ok then, AND one day... you will..."


"I thought you weren't going to tell me how to live my life."


"Oh..." He was right but she was taken aback by his forceful directness. She didn’t realize that she had pushed herself straight up and back in the chair again.  But she couldn't get any further back in the chair, so she went slightly on the attack. "Ok, then it's about my life.  I get to have a say about that.  When I am here it's because you've let me into your life.  When I leave your life doesn't seem to change substantially but my life does.  I have to return home and compartmentalize who I am and... and... it..."


"It makes you sad and it makes you crazy."


And her breath caught before she was able to say, "Yes, it does. I need to have boundaries and you seem to prefer no boundaries.  You prefer when it all blurs together. But I need to be able to function. I need to be able to go home and pay the bills and clean the house and be mom and..."


"And pretend that you are happy with a husband you love but who you are not in love with."


 


And she just looked at him, hurt and confused and why was he doing this. She shook her head and said defiantly, "If I don't get to tell you how to live your life then you don't get to tell me how to live mine. I believe that we can only teach what we know and I know my life so I used the details of my life to teach.”  Then she closed her eyes and said, “I believed that I could trust you...."


"And you can trust me." And he put his hands on her arms. "Nola open your eyes."


"No. If I open my eyes I'm going to cry and I am doing my best not to embarrass myself more than is absolutely necessary. You may be stubborn, Taurus. But a Leo has her pride. Please leave me some."


And he chuckled lightly and she opened her eyes in defiance of the chuckle.  He smiled at her. And she smiled back ever so lightly. And he wondered how it was possible for her to be defiant and vulnerable, sad and scared all at the same time. She sniffed and then breathed more deeply than she had been, causing her to catch her breath again.


 


She lowered her eyes and took a sip of her water moved to unfold her legs.  "I think that I..."


"You think too much."


She sat back down in the chair.  "Oh really?  Well it's worked for me so far."


He chuckled again.  "Yes, yes it has. You are a capable woman. A capable woman who takes care of everyone but herself."


She slumped and shook her head at him questioningly as if to say, what does that mean? and then launched again. "I'm doing OK. I have a good job, I put a roof over my family's head, I provide a quality education for my daughter and I think I've raised her well, I contribute to society with my neighborhood activities, I have a rich spiritual life and know enough to teach you..."


"See your list includes everyone but yourself."


She thought about what she had said. "The roof is over my head too. My spiritual life is my own.  I do what I want to do. What is your point?"


"My point... " And he paused as he heard Meana say, "Tell her she has everything she needs to be happy but that her heart is hurt and she doesn't know how to heal it."


"My point is that you have everything you need to be happy but your heart is hurt and you don't know how to heal it."


She looked as if she had seen a ghost, realizing that this was exactly what she had heard Meana say in ritual.


He watched her and thanked Meana.


She swallowed and acknowledged, "There is truth in that.  I don't know how to heal my heart. But I've learned to live with it as it is.  I function."


"And that's enough?"


And she looked at him clearly thinking, who are you to ask that question?


He continued, "You told me that one day I would want more. You told me that everything grows and changes and decays and changes. And yet you tell me that you've learned to live with it and you make it sound like it is good enough. I care about you and it's not good enough."


"Well Owen I care about you too. And I appreciate that you want me to be happy. But you can't fix the things that are broken in my life…"


And he thought, neither can you.  You can only walk away from them and you can't bring yourself to do that any more than you will walk away from teaching me.


"…only I can.  What I was trying to tell you, admittedly no so graciously, is that you have your whole life ahead of you. You can go on and be happy. I need to take care of myself."


"I am already happy, happier and more content than I have ever been in my life.  So I have time to worry about you."


 


She sighed in exasperation, "That’s ridiculous. You make me sound like some non-functional basket case.  I'm ok."


"You're sad and scared and you want to be happy and I know it."


And she balled her fists and bumped them on the arms of the chair. "See that's what I get for being open and thinking that I could share…. I get.... I get... OH!...  No one wants to be shown a scar. I know it's there. But I function.  What do you want me to do about it?  How does this affect your life?  You don't have to take care of me.  I can..."


"But I do want to take care of you. I want you to be happy.  When you are not happy it does affect my life."


"Stop it. Stop it.  I will not be roped into living my life on someone's terms.  I need you to..."


"No." he said firmly.


"No?!"


"I won't stop it.  And I won't simply agree to do anything you say. I made the mistake once of agreeing to do whatever you wanted. And I will not make another promise I can not and will not keep. I have absolutely no intention of finding another woman and getting married and having babies."


"Oh!  You... You... are twisting my words."


"What?! You absolutely said those things."


She sighed again in anger and exasperation, "Yes, Yes I did but what I meant was that you needed someone other than me to worry about. You need some one else to pour your energy into."


"Why?"


"Why?"


"Yes, why?  I am happy. I'm living in a city I love. I’ve created a successful business I enjoy. I have friends. I am fine.  I'm not the one with the damaged heart."


"So rub it in, already.   Stop worrying about me.  I'll be fine. I'll figure it out or make due and I'll be fine.  Damn, maybe it's better you don't have children you'd probably just pester them to death worrying about them anyway."


And he laughed out loud.


 


And she looked at him like he was crazy. And she couldn’t sit in the chair anymore and literally started to climb over the arm and out of the side.
“What are you doing?” And he grabbed her arm.


And she lost her balance, “ohhhhhh…..”


He was laughing as he caught her and put her back in the chair.


She crossed her legs Indian style and crossed her arms over her chest and stared at him.


 


Nola saw him sit down completely on the ottoman and she thought it was a good time to try to get up again and started to uncross her legs. “Sit down, woman. We’re not done.”


And she inhaled and started in, half defense half offense. “We aren’t? I think I get the picture quite clearly. You are happy.  You think I am not happy. You are worried about me and you want me to… what?” and she uncrossed her arms and flipped them both into the air, “I don’t know, fix it? So… So… you can be even happier and stop worrying about me.” And she brought her balled fists back to the chair arms, “Uh!  I am a grown woman I’ve been taking care of myself and others for decades.  I was probably running for my life before you were born. You don’t have to take care of me.  You don’t have to feel sorry for me. And you don’t need to rub it in that it would be nice if parts of my life were better. I’m living it, I know.  I think we need to leave me alone and decide how we complete your training on the rituals. And that you need to back the hell off!”


He thought, running for her life… what does that mean and then chucked and said, "Nola, we're having out first fight.”


“And you have no idea how lightly you are getting off.”


 


He smiled at her, but remembered Meana’s words. “See here’s the thing. You don’t scare me.  I know that you are just pushing me away because it scares the hell out of you that I know who you really are and that I care about you for who you really are. I know how deeply you care about everything. I know how deeply you appreciate everything. I know that a part of you likes having me worry about you, at least a little.  I plan on continuing to care about you and worry about you.”


 


Gods, what the hell was she going to do with this stubborn man?! 


And he took a sip of his beer and out waited her.


 


“Fine. It’s a free country.  Worry away.”


“Fine. I also get to be nice to you.” And he waited, “OK?”


“OK, but don’t get ridiculous.”


He smiled, “I am also permitted to want to spend more time with you.”


“Well I can’t stop you wanting.”


And he thought damn stubborn woman. “Will you please try to spend more time with me?”


“Why?”


“Because I want you to spend more time with me. I think it makes you happy and I know it makes me happy.”


She looked at him, unsure.


“I know you don’t like to lie. So you can’t lie to me and tell me that being here with me doesn’t make you happy. Will you please try and spend more time with me?”


And she couldn’t say no because that would be a lie and he would call her on it. “OK, I’ll try.”


He narrowed his eyes at her knowing she was equivocating and then tilted his head also knowing that if she didn’t try he could still call her on it.


Then he chuckled lightly as he grandfather said, “The most stubborn principled woman.”


“You have got to promise me that you won’t wish me off on another woman.”


“Why not? You seem to have plenty of free time on your hands you want me to help you fill.”


“The horse is still bucking, son.”


“You are intentionally missing the point.  Promise me you won’t wish me off on another woman.”


“I… I… can’t promise that. You could meet the most amazing woman. She will be smart and sexy and fun and free from other responsibilities.  Why shouldn’t I want that for you?”


“Listen to me very carefully woman, as a witch; you do not have my permission to wish me off on another woman.”


“Oh…” she swallowed and then said sincerely. “OK, I promise not to wish you off on another woman.”


“That’s better.  Besides I have already met the most amazing, smart, sexy, funny, thoughtful, loving woman.”


And she sighed, “Thank goodness. Then why do you want to spend more time with me? Your training…”


“Shut up, woman.  I was talking about you.” And he took another sip of his beer.  While Meana said to Papa Eric, “That was close.”


 


And Nola was speechless. 


And Owen sipped his beer.


And Nola just sat there.


“You have absolutely no idea what to do with that do you?’


And Nola just sat there.


“Owen, That’s very kind of you to say and I am flattered. But…”


“You’re married.”


And she raised her eyebrows, “Right and I have responsibilities to my family.”


“I don’t care that you are married.  And I know that no matter what else happens that you will take care of your responsibilities.  It’s one of the things that make you so amazing.”


 


Nola just sat there until she finally said, “Owen…”


He leaned forward slightly.


“What do you want from me?”  And he could hear the anxiety and confusion and pain in her voice.


That gave him pause.  “Now can I tell her I’m in love with her?”


There was a deep resounding, “No.” and it sounded like more than one voice.


It was his turn to be speechless before he told the voices.  “Then everything but that.”


 


“I want you here with me as often as you can be here. I want you to watch DVDs with me and talk to me about books you’ve read so that we can reread them together and talk about them some more. I want to take you to dinner, just because I’m hungry. I want to work with you on the landscaping business. I want to swim in the pool with you and lounge in the Jacuzzi. I want you to stay the night for more than one or 2 rituals a year. I want to take care of you and I want you to be happy. I want to travel with you and watch you see and appreciate new things. I want however much of yourself you can give to me.”


She closed her eyes and he watched as a tear rolled down her cheek.  And he reached for it and caught it on his finger and she leaned into his hand and cupped his hand with hers.


 


“Please, please don’t cry.” And he reached for her but she pulled her knees to her and put her head on them. After a minute she lifted her head and laughed through her tears.  “You are the most exasperating man.  How is any of that fair to you?”


“I decide what to do with my life.  I’ve decided it’s fair. You need to remember that we decide what is appropriate.  No one else makes the rules for us.  We are free.”


 


And he scooped her up out of the chair, managing to keep her in the ball position she was in and her heard her sharp intake of breath and she said, “Please Owen I scared. Please put me down.”


So he did, gently moving one arm so she could unfold and stand up. But she was unsteady so he wrapped her up in a hug. 


“You have nothing to be scared of.  I will not hurt you.”


And she held on to him but only lightly.


 


“Owen, don’t push her any more tonight.”


“I won’t push her. Tell her she is safe with me.”


And he picked her up again.


Meana whispered, “You are safe with Owen.”


This time she was able to put her hands around his neck and hold on and did feel safer.   He took her to the library and put her in her spot on the sofa. It was getting dark now so he turned on a lamp and then sat down next to her.


“I think it’s a teaching movie night.  I’m going to grab one at random and we are going to watch it.”


She looked at him and finally nodded, “OK.”


 


He stood up and grabbed a DVD from the stack and said, “The Secret” and set up the DVD. “Now I’m going to get us something to drink and something to snack on.”


She nodded and said, “OK.”


He went back to the living room picked up their glasses and refreshed them.  He grabbed an apple, grapes and cheese from the fridge and crackers. He heard her and stepped into the hall, “Where are you going, woman?”


“To use your bathroom?”


He laughed, “OK.” He put the crackers in a bowl and sliced the apple. When he heard the door, he peeked into the hall and smiled as she turned back the library.


She heard something behind her and turned, “Oh, I thought you had gone back to the library.”


“Call me crazy but I wanted to make sure you didn’t slip out on me.”


She sighed, “I had actually considered it.”


“Hmmm ummm, Back to the library, woman.”


And she managed a smile and slipped into her spot on the sofa. He handed her the glass. “Thank you.”


“You’re welcome.” He put the food on the ottoman for them and picked up the remote. “Now get over here.”


She took a sip of the water.


“Come on I won’t bite.” He was sitting back in the other corner of the sofa and had the beer in his right hand and the remote in the left. “Come on.”


She moved down to him and he pressed the button on the remote to start the DVD and dropped the remote on the high table behind the sofa and put his arm around her. As the DVD started she took another sip of her water and then gave in and snuggled in next to him.


 


“That is one skittish filly, son.”


“Yes but look at her, she did finally come to me.” And he leaned back and and she relaxed closer to him.


“Why can’t I tell her I’m in love with her?  I am in love with her.”


“I know, son. But we want you to be successful and she’s not ready.”


He sighed and said, “OK, pop. I trust you… and the Grigori.” And it felt like that small kitten was back curled up in his lap.


 


The DVD ended.  They had stopped it a few times to talk about the concepts. Nola had not been very talkative. Owen had been making most of the points. It was almost 10PM.  Owen had gone to the kitchen to refill their glasses.  Nola met him there after she stopped in the downstairs bathroom.  She went to the barstool with her purse on it.  Owen handed her a glass.


“You’re not leaving.”


“It’s 10PM and…”


“That wasn’t a question. You’re not leaving. It’s only 10PM. We’re going back to the library.”


She looked at him almost sternly.  But he insisted.


“I realize now what you have been doing. You started shortening the time you spent with me with since my 1st degree initiation. I’ve let you get away with it.  I’m on to you now. And on top of that, you said that you would try to spend more time with me. If you leave now you’re not even trying. And I know how you feel about promises.”


“Owen, that is practically blackmail.”


“Well if that’s what it takes.” And he lifted his arm to indicate that she should go first. 


 


She settled into her corner of the sofa.  He let her and settled into the other corner and put his feet up on the ottoman.  She sipped her water and waited.  Perhaps if she just sat there he’d get bored or drift off. For the life of her she couldn’t understand why this charming, available man wanted to spend more time with her.  It wouldn’t surprise her if he had women lined up around the block.  For all she knew he did and what he liked was variety.  She silently and slightly shook her head and sighed without realizing she had. 


“Go ahead.”


She looked at him confused. 


“Go ahead and ask the question you want to ask.”


“I promised not to interfere in your life.”


“I’m temporarily giving you permission.”


She sighed and tried to figure out how to ask the question without insulting him or making him mad.  “I’m sitting here trying to figure out why a smart, charming, talented, warm and gracious, good looking guy who probably could have women lined up around the block waiting to spend time with him wants to spend more time with me.”


“Thanks, at least I know you like me. But that’s not a question.”


She rolled her eyes at him.  “OK.  Aren’t there other women in you life that you want to spend time with?”


“Well at least that’s a question.”


She waited, “Well are you going to answer me?”


“No.”


“No, you’re not going to answer me?”


“No is the answer to your question.”


“What? Why not?”


He sent a mental plea to be granted permission to answer her truthfully, but didn’t get it. So he shrugged and “Because I’m not one of those guys who has to have women dripping off of him or a different woman every night.  You don’t seem to know who I really am. You seem to think that I’m some kind of player. In point of fact I’m boring.”


She smirked and laughed. “Right.”


“I am. I like reading and other cerebral things like listening to NPR or WWOZ or watching DVDs on quantum physics and talking about metaphysics. I don’t need wild parties or to go out drinking. I’m happiest working on a project or hanging out with friends.  I like good company but I can be happy alone.”


And she thought, I’m happiest when working on projects… so this training is a project and he is absorbed in it.  And she nodded without realizing it. This meant that once he settled in, once they had done all the rituals and started a new cycle that there was the possibility that she could wean him off what seemed a strange addiction.  Then she smiled, I’ve had a good time being part of his project. I’ve enjoyed it too much actually. If I’m honest I’m going to miss it when he finds a new one.


He was watching her but trying not so show how closely. It looked like his answer had satisfied her. But strangely it didn’t give him any comfort. 


“She’s still assuming she needs an escape plan, son.”


“From her marriage?”


“No, from you.  She’s assuming that her teaching you is just a project that you’ll finish and then you’ll move on to another one and your interest in her will fade. But she admits to herself that she’ll miss you when you’re gone.”


He sighed. If he couldn’t tell her he loved her, he decided to use what he did know.  “Nola.”


“Hmmmm??” and she took a sip of her water to cover her thoughts.


“You are not part of a project that I’m going to finish.  You are someone I want to work with on my projects.”


She put her water glass down on the table behind the sofa, stunned.


“How….?” But she didn’t know how to even ask the question.


“How did I know that you were thinking that learning The Ways is just a project and that you are just a means to an end and that I’ll loose interest in you once I’ve learned all you think you can teach me?”


She could only nod.


“Papa Eric has 4 friends on the other side. Every once in a while he shares what they know with me.”


 


Her eyes got wide. She pulled her knees to her chest and folded her arms over them. Then she put her head on her arms. It wasn’t possible. The Grigori are behind you? But it was possible. When she finally looked up and he said, “So does it make any difference that I have these powerful allies?”


Papa Eric chuckled, “Oh it matters. It definitely matters. You are charming but the Grigori are overwhelming.”


She didn’t know what to say.


“Speechless is a start. Do you believe me?”


He waited until she answered and all she said was, “Yes.”


He chuckled. “Much better.”


She still didn’t know what to say and wasn’t at all sure what to think.


“So if I ask you to have dinner with me after work, you’ll come?”


She sighed, “Yes, if Jamie doesn’t need me or I don’t have another obligation.”


He nodded. “I’m not kidding.”


She wrinkled her forehead but managed a very small smile, “I know. I don’t fully comprehend it but I know.”


 


She watched him as he got up and turned on WWOZ. The Grigori supported this? Was that possible? She remembered the number of times that Meana had said she was safe and conceded it was possible.  He sat back down in his corner of the sofa. “Please come over here and sit with me.”


“Sit with you?”


“Yes. Just sit with me. Please.”


Because she trying to unravel what was going on, she got up and sat down next to him. He put his arm around her and pulled her back in to the corner of the sofa with him and then put his feet up on the ottoman.


She laughed lightly and said, “Owen you are like a big puppy who wants to snuggle.”


“Exactly, I want to snuggle and listen to music and talk or not talk. I’m boring, remember?”


“Ok, Big Man. Ok.” And she turned from under his arm grabbed the pillow that was in the middle of the sofa, put it against the arm of the sofa and then turned to lay slightly across him and her chest slightly facing his chest.  “How’s this?”  If they weren’t going to watch TV, she didn’t like sitting side by side. She felt trapped under his arm and silly looking at the wall when he was right next to her. She preferred to be able to talk face to face.


He shifted her slightly, kissed her lightly on the forehead and said, “Perfect.”


 


“Damn, son.  I would have never expected that. Tago was right, patience is the key.”


Owen smiled and thought over the evening. It was pretty cute how she could go from scared and so backed into the chair that she crawled out of it, to banging her fists on the arms of the chair. Then he remembered something that had confused him.  “Nola…”


“Hmmm?”


“What did you mean that you were running for your life before I was born? Who runs for their life at 4 years old?” 


He felt her stiffen slightly before she said, “Oh… I was just irritated with you and… exaggerating.”


“Uh huh.  Ok.  You can tell me some other time.”


And she thought, only if you remember to ask.  And Van Morrison’s Moondance came on the radio and she recognized it after the first 2 notes.  “This is one of my favorite songs.”


He smiled.  “Are you just changing the subject?”


And she answered honestly, “No, shhhhh, just listen.” and closed her eyes to listen.


And he listened and during the instrumental leaned in and kissed her softly but insistently and with the help of the song she let herself enjoy it.


When the song ended she sighed and he said, “OK, magic and we definitely know how to dance in the moonlight.  It’s officially our song.”


She smiled, thinking it was only appropriate… it seemed to be her song for the Taurus men that passed through her life.


 


Papa Eric sent an exasperated look to Tago and then Meana.  It seemed it was going to take some extraordinary force of nature to get her to let go of her past and reach out completely to Owen.  Tago just said, “Patience.”


 


They listened to the radio and just snuggled for a long time. Nola relaxed and he realized that she could actually fall asleep in his arms.  Just as he thought that she stirred and said, “Big Man… I’m not going to lie, I like sitting here with you… but I have to get some sleep in a real bed before I go to work tomorrow.”


He smiled. “All we have to do is go upstairs.”


She smiled and shook her head. “I’m going home.”


“Ok, I won’t fight you. But you have to come back here before next Thursday.”


She smiled and held out her hand to him so he would get up.  He did and she started walking to the kitchen. “Ok, I’ll try.  Call me and let me know what day works for you.”


“Tomorrow, Saturday, Sunday, Mon….”


“Owen, Grigori or no Grigori, I said you couldn’t get ridiculous. Remember?”  And she lifted her purse from the chair.


He chuckled. “I’ll call you.”


“Ok.  Good Night, Big Man.”


“Good Night, Nola.” 


 


He called her midmorning on Friday.


“Good Morning Owen.”


“Good Morning.  I’m calling to check on something.”


“Oh, Ok what do you need?”


“I need to know your favorite kind of food. I know your daughter’s favorite is Japanese.  What’s yours?”


“Hmmmm… fresh? Local?  I would like to be a locavore.”


“A locavore? What is that?”


“It’s someone who eats food grown locally, not shipped in from Chile or New Zealand. It’s one more way to live lightly on the earth.”
“Oh… Ok… I see permaculture… locavore… But what type of cuisine is your favorite?”


“Hmmmm,  If I have to pick I’d said, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern. Salads, hummus, tabuli, kibbe with cucumber dipping sauce…” and she trailed off.


“Ok… can you come to dinner tonight?”


“I… don’t know.  I don’t think so. My problem is I got home so late last night that I don’t know what Jamie’s plans are for tonight or the weekend.”


“Oh that’s smooth. Because you stayed late last night you don’t know what’s up this weekend.”


And he heard the click of annoyance and surprise “Tha… Owen, that’s not fair. It’s true. I barely saw Jamie this morning before I left for work.”


And he laughed.  “Ok… Find out about your weekend plans and call me back.”


Silence.


“Nola…. You can and will call me back, right?”


“Yes, but not until I get home and talk to Jamie and find out what’s going on. As mom, sometimes my life is not my own.”


“Ok. I get it. But call me ok?”


“Jezz Ok.  I’ll call you as soon as understand the layout of my weekend and next week.”


“Bye Nola.”


“Bye Owen.”