Thursday, September 4, 2014

Chapter 60 – Big Surprise

Owen woke up a before 7AM. Nola was still curled up.  He got up and went downstairs and made coffee.  He gave Roger a call while he waited for it to brew.

“Roger, Unless you really need me I’m planning on taking the day off.”
“After your Gustav break? What gives? You’re never away from work this long. Oh wait. I know.”
And they both said at the same time. “Nola.”
“You haven’t seen Nola in weeks.”
“Am I really that transparent?”
“Well yes and no. It’s more like you are that consistent.  Until you met Nola I knew exactly what to expect from you.  Since you met Nola your priorities are different.  She’s the number one priority. I’m just damned glad that she is such a low maintenance woman and that you still have enough time on your hands to drum up and layout the work for us.”
“Damn, the curse of the Ambioren men.”
“What? What the hell are you talking about?”
“Oh it’s just a story my dad told while I was in Pennsylvania. Remind me to tell it to you some other time.  Do you need me for anything today?”
Roger chuckled, “No, go take care of your woman.”

He decided to make her a cup of coffee and take it up. If she was still sleeping it could just get cold.   As he walked up the stairs he heard her go into the bathroom. He sat down and waited for her to come out. 

“Good Morning, again.” 
“Oh…..  Good morning.” 
“I have coffee for you. Come and sit with me.” And he held up the coffee and patted the ottoman. She didn’t move. “Come on. I won’t bite.”
No, she thought, I’ve already been bitten. But she moved to the ottoman and sat down.  He was still holding out the coffee. 
She sat down on the ottoman cross legged, took the cup from him and held it with both hands and let the warmth seep in. Then she closed her eyes and breathed in the aroma and took a sip.   She was sleepy and disoriented and adorable.   She probably didn’t even realize that she had tried to run off wearing his shirt and was still wearing it. 

He didn’t talk. He just sat there and drank his coffee while she drank hers.  Nola kept waiting for the next shoe to fall.  He waited too.  

As she drank her coffee she thought, it’s too late to go to work without people noticing I’m wearing the same clothes and I don’t want to go home. I need to call in and let them know I’m not coming.  I should probably call James as well. What am I going to tell him? Hello honey, last night I had sex with Owen. But this time it was different. It wasn’t ritual sex or Armageddon sex or even birthday sex. This time I did it because I’m in love with him. If I’m honest with myself I’ve probably been in love with him for months now. Oh that would go over so well.   

He could see that her brain was beginning to buzz. But he still waited.  She looked at him and he smiled at her. And still she said nothing.  She thought, well what is he waiting for?  He looks, what was the right word? Satisfied, comfortable?   I have to call into work and she started to get up off of the ottoman.  

"Where are you going?"
"Well not out of your gate." She walked to her purse and pulled out her phone and pressed the button to dial work and turned her back on him. 
"Ok. I can see that locking you in here may not have been the best choice. But it did allow me to sleep more soundly than I have in weeks. And you were going to leave again with out saying goodbye."
"Owen I...." But work answered the line and she told someone on her staff that she wasn't feeling well which was the truth and said that she'd see them on Monday then asked to check her calendar and let folks know she'd be out. She didn't think she had any meetings.  

"Well that was professionally done."
"Professional. Ha! That's the real problem isn't it? I haven't been professional enough."
"What do you mean by that?
"Owen I came here yesterday to try and straighten out our Gustav Armageddon sex problem.  I crossed a professional line as your teacher. We've... "
"Bull,” he said quietly but emphatically, “All acts of love and pleasure are rituals to the Gods."
"Oh!!! Do NOT quote the teachings to me."
"Why not?  You have the teachings so integrated into your life it's hard to tell where they stop and you start. Except when it comes to your own heart, then you resist. Why?" He sat straight up in the chair.

And Tago said, "Yes Nola, tell us all why?"
And Nola thought Tago?  Tago? You are supposed to be the practical restrained energy. Whose side are you on?
And the answer came back, "Yours."

"Are you going to answer me?"
Oh my god I'm losing my mind. And she started to slowly pace.
Owen said, "Are you going to answer me?  Why do you resist your own heart?"

And she was able to answer him, "I am strega, the ways are important to me and being able to have you as a student and to share rituals has been a blessing."
"Don't you dare. Don't you dare use the past tense."
"Ok, O K!  Is a blessing. But I have responsibilities as your teacher. I'm not supposed to fall in love with my student."
"Really there are rules about that? I haven't read those anywhere. Isn't Raven married to one of his former students?"
"Damn it, Owen! This isn't about Raven."
"Answer the question." He managed not to smile but given the Damn it Owen, knew that he would win this one. He relaxed into the chair with his coffee.
"Well?"
"Well what? I am not Raven. I am married."
"So."
"So? That doesn't matter to you. Ok. Fine. It matters to me.  I feel like I am being split in 2 between who I am when I am here with you and who I am when I am with Jamie and James in my own home.  Maybe it's Ok for you but it's making me a crazy person."
"Then stay here with me."
"Oh yes, great, just don't go home. Decide to stay here and everything is fine. Now who's the crazy person?"
"Nola..." 
And her cell phone rang. It was James. She opened the French doors and stepped out onto the balcony to take it.  She told him she was better and that she was working, which was true she had to work this out and that she'd be able to get Jamie from school on her way home.  

And Papa Eric and Tago together said to Owen, "This is about more than just what you want. Find out what she really wants and you both win."

She stepped back into the room and closed the door behind her and feeling raw and conflicted said, “I'm sorry." 
"I know that was James.  You have to get Jamie home from school this afternoon. I understand. I know I'm not the only one who cares about you. I know you have responsibilities.  I actually love the way you handle your responsibilities."
And she shook her head at him and thought what the hell do you do with someone like this?  And Bellaria thought to her, "You appreciate his capacity."  And Nola thought, Tago and Bellaria. Not at all what I would have expected to be on Owen’ side. And she felt Bellaria smile. "Knowledge is power." 

Owen broke through her mental musings with, "Nola... Are you in love with me?"
And she turned her back to him but because she hated lying said, "Yes."
"Do you trust me with your heart?”
And she turned to him and said, "No. No, I don't trust anyone with my heart."
And Meana said, "And that is the problem. You must. You must trust Owen."
And Owen said as he crossed the room to her and took her by both arms, "You must trust me with your heart. I've never been in love with anyone until I met you."
And she brushed his cheek and thought, and Meana is on your side too. Then she said gently, ”If you've never been in love before, then how can you be so sure? And even if you really are in love with me, how can you know that it will last? How can you be so sure that you won't change your mind?  It happens. I know it happens."
"Not to Ambioren men."
And she smiled at that, "Oh Really? And exactly why are Ambioren men not like all other men?"
"I don't know. We just are.  Don't believe me.  Believe my history.  My brothers, my father, his brothers, my grandfather, his grandfather and according to Papa Eric this goes all the way back to our ancestor Ambiorix." And he saw her smile and tilt her head in condescending and unbelieving way.  "Don't look at me like that. I'm not making this up. You believe the mythos have value and truth. This is truth.  We, Ambioren men, are like you described: Human Venus Fly Trap males."
"Yes I know and I'm caught right now but you'll catch another. My family needs me."
"No, woman. I need you.  You are right we Ambioren men can catch women easily. But the ones that we need, the ones that we fall in love with make us work like crazy. I haven't even thought about another woman since I met you. The fact that you won't just say yes and stay with me is one of the reasons I know I'm in love with you and that I will stay in love with you."
And she shook her head at him, "That's ridiculous."
"Yes, yes it is. It is ridiculous that I have waited my whole life to find you, to find someone who makes me feel whole and settled. It is ridiculous to have you say you are in love with me but that you don't trust me with your heart. It is ridiculous that you keep talking about leaving when all I want to do is whatever it takes to make you happy."
And she sighed. "We've just spent too much time together..."
"No! We have NOT spent enough time together!  Do you know how many days we've spent together since I met you?"
And she was taken aback by the question and his intensity. 
"Do you?" he asked again.
"No... no... I don't."
"I do."  
And she thought, how is that possible? And she shook her head slowly in disbelief.  
“Do not shake your head at me like that. I do. I counted when I was away from you in Pennsylvania not knowing what the hell that storm would do to you. 2 days if you count that first plane trip. 9 Full moons. 6 Treguenda. 25 teaching sessions.  3 days to work on my yard. The pool party. 11 trips to clients.  Dinner with my family. Your Birthday.  3 days before Gustav. The day I left because of Gustav. 61 days over 10 months. Cut that in half because no one of those days were whole days or nights. And each time you left it was harder to let you go. I am an idiot for not realizing I was in love with you sooner."

And this time he turned from her in exasperation. And she didn't know what to do with all that and she ended up sitting on the bed. This was worse than she imagined. She was in love with him and that was bad enough but essentially her problem and she would handle her problems.  But it now she was beginning to believe he was really in love with her and she had no idea what to do with that.  And Settrano finally chimed in, "You take the passion and the love and you live happy lives with each other."
And she put her head in her hands and thought, all of you?  All of you? And she hear the 4 of them say, "Yes."

Owen knelt next to her.  "Please, tell me what I have to do to make you believe that I will love you for the rest of my life and find you in the next one and every one after that?"
And as the full force of his feelings hit her she couldn't control the tears that slipped down her cheeks.  "I… I want to believe you...”
And he stood up and lifted her into a kiss and then he just held on to her. 

But she was still thinking, What have I done. What do I do?
And she heard Meana say, "You have fallen in love with each other. Love each other." And Bellaria said, "Use your love to find a solution."

Owen released her and sat down on the bed.  
"Oh please Owen, Please don't. My heart can't take this."
And he kissed her very gently.  "Do I want to make love to you? Yes. Am I going to make love to you? No.  You will not be happy until you work out the complicated details of what to do next.” And he put the pillows against the head board and leaned back into them and said, "We have all day, well until 3PM when you have to get Jamie.  So let's figure out what we, and I do mean we, not you by yourself, do next."

And she ran her fingers through her hair and said, "I have absolutely no idea.  My plan was to make you realize that you were just infatuated and comfortable with me and for me to find a way to continue to live the lie that is my marriage and to fall out of love with you."
He smiled and said, "Well that was a bad plan on 2 fronts. One, I am in love with you and will stay that way.  Two, you are not going to fall out of love with me. So now what?"
"I have no idea. I have to take care of my family. The selfish part of me would love to stay here and never go home. But that is not an option."
"Why not?"
And she sighed, "For one because my daughter deserves to understand what has happened to her mother and why. I need time to figure out what to tell her because I don't know what to tell myself.  I've spent years, being just close enough to her father for the family to function and just far enough away from him not to get hurt. I have no idea if I should even tell her I'm in love with someone who is not her father, much less how I would do it."

"Ok, taking care of Jamie is a priority in the plan."
"Just like that, you're making a list?" The exasperation in her voice was beyond obvious.  He let it slide.
"Well we have to start somewhere.  I want the long term solution to be that you and your daughter live with me.  I know that you will not be happy without your daughter where you are.  And I want you with me."
And she put her head in her hands and started to cry silently then got up off of the bed, wiping her eyes.  . 
“You have to let her cry, son.”
Nola laughed inside at how ridiculous it was that now she would find someone who actually wanted… her.   But her life her responsibilities wouldn’t allow it. She finally managed to say. "I can't do this. I can't take Jamie away from James. It would break his heart."

He watched and waited, but it was too hard to watch her be so sad and he ended moving her back to the bed, holding her and saying nothing, until he felt her breath deeply. Then he asked, "What about your daughter? How will she feel?"
And she took another deep breath and said, "My daughter is a practical double Virgo. Sometimes I think she is more grounded than I am.  She loves me. We're close. We talk about things most mothers and 13 year olds don’t. We always have.  I know that her dad makes her just as crazy as he can make me. She loves him. He's her dad. But she has no delusions. 
I only recently told her, because she asked a question that it was impossible to answer without telling her the truth, that I was married before her father."
"You mean before that she didn't know?"
And she nodded her head yes.  
"What question did she ask?"
"She asked why her dad never went to any of my family's gatherings."
"And the answer to that was that you were married before?"
"Well, she said her dad had indicated to her something in the past was the reason, but that he didn't want to say. So she finally asked me and I told her that I was married before I met her father, but that while I loved the man I was married to and he was a good man and loads of fun I wasn't ever really in love with him and I wanted to be in love and that’s when I met her father and fell in love."
"But why would that be a reason for James not to want to be around your family?"
"Well when my mom first met him I was still married to my first husband and James was a bit of a shock and she wasn't sure I was doing the right thing."
"Oh.” And for a split second he wondered how that might portent for his future with Nola’s mom. What he said was, “But you've been married to James for a long time."
"Yes but while Jamie was smart enough to know that her grandmother loves James, James has never let it go.  I think he's always been a bit embarrassed by the fact that I was married before him. We never talked about it with or in front of Jamie because of that.  To this day James doesn't know that I've told Jamie."
"Wow, then it seems your daughter is better prepared for this than James."
And she sniffed and smiled, "You're probably right. Maybe, based on the many conversations we've had, if I were to explain that, while I love her father I haven't been able to be in love with him for a long time, she will understand."
"Could she be happy living between you here and James at your house?”
"I... I... don't know.  I'm not sure that she would be happy living with James if I wasn't in the house. They don't butt heads when I'm in the house. But from what Jamie tells me they do when I'm not there. I... I don't know. I do know I will not run the risk of loosing Jamie because I technically abandon her by letting her stay with her dad all the time. Where ever I am she will have to come with me to prove I am not abandoning her."
“Nola you will not loose Jamie.”
“Owen it can happen. I watched it happen to a friend of mine. She left her marriage. She let her children stay with her husband because he had all the money. He used this to say she had abandoned her children. That will not happen to me. James is not a bad man. James is not someone to lawyer up, but, well, I don’t want to leave something this important to me to chance.”
"Well we'll figure it out. Jamie is a priority in the plan. You will not loose Jamie.”

"Owen, let's say just for argument sake that I were to come and live with you."
"No."
"No? ... but I thought you wanted..."
"No, not just for argument sake, you WILL come and live with me."
And she sighed at how amazingly stubborn he could be.  "I'm not sure that's possible. I have essentially been taking care of James financially our entire marriage. We have the tax returns to prove it.  If he wanted to he could make me pay serious alimony for the rest of his life. Since I am being unfaithful and he knows I'm a witch, if he wanted to he could try and take Jamie away from me."
"He would NOT do that?! He would not try to take Jamie away from you." And he sounded much larger than she had ever heard him sound. So she put her hand on his, "I don't want to think that he would try to take Jamie away from me. It would depend on how hurt and angry he really is. But I don't know so I have to admit the possibilities. I don't want to think he is capable of that."
"But do you know for sure?"
"I... no, I don't know for sure."
"Are you asking me to let you continue to live as James wife and not live here with me?"  And he steeled himself and thought if that is what it takes to make her happy then that is what I will do.  But that is not what I want.

And she didn't know what to say because it wasn't what she wanted to do either but she wasn't sure if she was ready to take the leap he was taking.  And when she didn't respond he asked again, "Is that what you want to do?"
And she answered honestly, "No. It's not what I want to do. But I have to figure out how to take care of my family, both their emotional states and the roof over their heads.  I don't have enough money to provide for James separately from Jamie and myself.  I literally can't afford a fight and I don't want to hurt anyone. But know that I will. If I stay with you I hurt James. If I stay with James I hurt you.  And who knows what the right thing is to do for Jamie."
"What about you?  You’ve thought about everyone but yourself. You are already hurt. You've been hurt. You've lived with it a long time. I won't have you hurt anymore."
"But this is my doing.  This is mine to fix."

"No, this is our doing.  We are going to fix it.  I need you to imagine your best outcome for all of this and tell me what it is."
"I don't know. It's all so overwhelming. I don’t know if I even want to think about it.”   And she did but she didn’t. She had thought about leaving many times.  When things seemed overwhelmingly unhappy she had allowed herself a vision of a small house either in town or somewhere in the woods far, far away.  She knew that financially she couldn’t make it real and still be true to her principles. Jamie should be close to her dad. Like it or not James needed her and would take time to get up on his own feet...  Her mind swirled.  She wanted to shut down, reboot so she could have the strength to go back to where she had been.

While Owen was pretty sure he had the answers he could see from her point of view that it would be completely overwhelming. He finally said, “Try.... Think of it as a puzzle of someone else's life and try." And he paused and she just sat there and he added, "Oh and the only option for this exercise is a happily ever after ending. Go ahead. Close your eyes and imagine a happily ever after solution."
And she sighed and closed her eyes.  He said, "Nola, don't you turn opossum on me.  I need you to tell me what your happily ever after looks like."
"Can I change the past?"
"No," and he chuckled, "you can not change the past we only go forward from here."
And she sighed, knowing he was waiting.  She allowed herself a fantasy, "Ok, I'm living with you and Jamie is living with us, most of the time." And she opened one eye and looked at him and closed it again as he said,
"Don't just tell me what you think I want to hear."
And she opened both eyes and moved into his arms and said, "I am crazy for saying this but it’s true, I would like it for me too." 
He just held her for a minute before he said. "I believe you. But that's only part of the picture and you know it.  I know you are thinking a million things. Say them out loud." Because what he was thinking was I can't make them happen if I don't know what they are. And he released her so she could sit back up against the pillows. "Well what about the rest?”
And she sat back into the pillows and sighed and said, "I tell James the truth and he is sad and his family is angry with me..."
"Wait. This is the happily ever after version. Close your eyes and start again."
"I tell James the truth... and he realizes that we are where we are because it took both of us to get here and that some of this is his fault too. He knows that he can't change the past and that we've not been able to create a better future. He knows I love him and care for him but he accepts that I am not in love, really haven’t been in a long time. He accepts that I am in love with you and want to live with you."
"Much better.  And Jamie?"
"Jamie and her dad become real friends. Jamie loves you and loves living with us. Jamie and I stay close. She is not angry with me for leaving and hurting her dad. She respects me for telling her the truth.  She loves her dad even as she recognizes that neither he nor her mother is perfect. ... And I have to find a way make ends meet, I afraid I’ll be paying to keep a roof over James head the rest of his life, which means it will be harder to pay for Jamie’s school and provide for us separately… Oh this is impossible.”

"No it’s not. Let's talk about finances." And he smiled knowing that what ever she was worrying about could be fixed.  
"Please no, let's not.  I know I'm going to have to figure that out but I am really scared about it and not ready to think about it."
"Remember this is the happily ever after version.  Close your eyes and tell me how it all works out."
And she sighed and closed her eyes and sighed again and then… smiled. "I win the lottery.  I pay off the house and all the bills. I set James up with automatic bill pay for his living expenses and there is always money to pay the household expenses.  He continues to live in the house and Jamie gets to keep her room so that whenever she is with him it is the same as it has always been.  I set up a fund so that there is enough money to pay for her school and college.  I set up a separate fund so that you, Jamie and I can travel whenever and where ever we want to go when we are not living happily right here."
"Done."

And she opened her eyes and looked at him like he was crazy. "What do you mean, done?!  I just solved my financial problems by winning the lottery. This is not how sane people plan their future."
And he thought that it might be best to work up to his solution gradually. 
"Ok, fine, then tell me how much to you owe on your house?"
"What? What the hell kind of question is that?"
"It's a sane practical question. How much do you own on your house?"
She sighed and said, "Around $80,000."
"That's all?"
"Yes, that's all. It means I'll be working for a little less than 2 decades to pay it off, but that's all."
"How much is your house worth?"
"$250,000 give or take."
"How much do you pay a month for your house note?" 
"Why?" 
"We are working out the financials and I can't do that without details."
She sighed, "I don't even talk to James about the bills. It feels strange talking to you about my bills."
And using her own words against her said, "Just work with me here. How much do you pay a month for your house note?
She sighed, "$500.00".
"For that large house?" Damn, she's good.
"Yes, I refinanced and used some money from my retirement fund to pay down the note right before 9/11."
"Does that $500 cover insurance?"
"No, insurance and taxes are another…” and she did the math… “$8000 a year."
"Home owners sucks down here."
"Yes, it does. It's not fair because homeowners has never paid me a penny for hurricane damage. I only got flood. Those...
"Nola we'll tackle the insurance industry after you win the lottery."
And she laughed lightly, "Ok."
"So $1200 a month covers house and insurance and another, what $1000 covers basic utilities electric, gas, water, phone? So to set James up so that he doesn't have to pay for even groceries you need $2500 maybe $3000 a month maybe a little more for extras."
"Yes. But that's..."
"That's no problem."
"For who?! That's..."
"That's no problem for you because that's no problem for me."
"I'm sorry. I don't follow."
"How much do you think it will cost you to live with me?"
"I... I... don't know I wasn't thinking about living with you… until... well, until now."
"How much do you think it will cost you to live with me?"
"I... I... don't know? What ever it costs I can't afford it and to take care of my currently household responsibilities at the same time."
"Nola. Shame on you.”
She looked at him and crossed her arms. “I know I'm not stupid but I still don’t follow."
"It won't cost you a dime to live with me.  Everything you need will be provided. Everything Jamie needs will be provided."
"That's very generous and I can see from how you live that you are doing well and I try not to need much but...."
"But what?  The roof is already here.  You don't eat that much. The utilities can't possibly increase much with 2 more people in the house. I'm good for it. I want to take care of you."
"You... You... No....no man, other than my father, has ever taken care of me.  I... I wouldn't know how to act."
"True, you obviously don’t know how to act. We'll need to work on that."
"I'm confused. Are you telling me that it's your assumption that I just continue to pay for James and Jamie to live in my house and I move here expense free?"
"Well that's one option."
"I.... Well… … …” and she allowed that thought to swirl around her brain, “well…. that could work. I guess. I'm making ends meet now so whether I live there are not I could still make the same ends meet. But I don't know if I could just live here and let you take care of everything."
"Why the hell not?"
"Because I'm not used to it!"
"You can work on getting used to it."

She dug her heels in.  "Owen I was a barely a teenager when my dad died and I had to watch my mom figure out how to take care of herself and us.  I promised myself that I would always be able to take care of myself and my family. If something were to change between us I would have nowhere to go. I’d end up sending Jamie back to her dad and trying to live in my office and take showers at the gym at work!”  

"Damn it!"
And she jumped.  
"I'm sorry. I scared you." And he gathered her into a hug and could feel how fast her heart was beating.  "I'm sorry but you don't seem to understand that I am in love with you forever. You are safe. I want to take care of you. I can take care of you. You are going to have to learn to let me take care of you." And he could feel that she wasn't relaxing.  Maybe he had been louder than he intended.  "Nola?"
"Yes."
"I'm sorry."
"Ok."
"Then why aren't you relaxing."
"Because I'm scared."
"Of what?'
"Of being out of control. You tell me you will take care of me and then yell at me because I want to take care of myself. I’m in love with one man and am married to another who can’t put a roof over his own head. I am falling off the side of a cliff and I know I'm going to hit bottom and I have no control. And that makes me scared."
And he held her close.  "I'm sorry."
"You said that.  I believe you. It's not you. It's me."

"Ok I can see that you need another option."
"Other than winning the lottery? Yes." And as she sighed, she didn’t say it out loud but thought again that this whole thing was a house of cards and it was going to fall in on itself and she needed to be practical. Owen would find someone else. She could learn how to live without him.  She’d lived without on more than one occasion.  
Owen contained his smile and said quietly, "You've already won the lottery. You have me."
And she sighed again and relaxed a little allowing him that. She kissed him gently, "Yes I have. You are wonderful. I am sorry I’m such a high maintenance woman."  And knowing it would only make him mad allowed only her internal voice to say to him, you will find another.
Owen laughed out loud. And she was confused again.
"You are the lowest maintenance woman I've ever met.  Roger commented on that just today. The hardest thing about you is trying to get you to let someone else take care of you."
"Roger?..." confused, she shook her head,.  He didn’t bother to elaborate.

He focused on the practical, knowing this was the way to reach her. "Nola what if you paid off the house and signed it over to James completely. That's essentially a quarter of a million dollar settlement."
She looked at him with raised eyebrows and a wrinkled forehead, "What? I can't afford to do that. It's not possible."
"Yes. Yes, it is." 
"Well may be I could take the money out of my retirement account. But then I've decimated my financial future."
"No."
"Yes, yes it would."
"No, Nola I am your financial future."
"Owen, you are too generous a man. Just giving James the house wouldn’t work. Even if I paid off the house there are still living expenses for them. James doesn’t make enough to cover those. He’d have a house but he probably couldn’t afford to take care of it or pay all the utilities. And he doesn’t really know how to handle things like insurance and consistently paying bills or doing taxes. If he sold it I have no idea where Jamie would live when she was with her father. I remember what his apartments looked like” and her nose crinkled as she remembered the dirt & funk, “and I already told you I take care of myself. I'm not asking you to take care of me. I...."
"Shut up woman" and he kissed her and she was too shocked to respond so he stopped and took her face lightly in his hand and kissed her more softly.

"Enough.  I like your happily ever after version just fine. I can see that this is going to take hard proof that everything will be ok.  Come with me."
And he stood up and held out his hand and she let him pull her up off the bed.  He took her hand and started walking to the bedroom door and she had to follow him.  
"Owen.... please...?"
And he turned to her. 
"Please could I go to the bathroom and wash my face and meet you where ever you are going downstairs?"
And he smiled at her.  "Yes. Go to the bathroom. I will bring the laptop up here. It's all I need."

He went downstairs opened up the laptop then logged in and on to his online banking accounts. His own, the business and his trust fund. He set them up so that he could switch between accounts with one click. He took the laptop upstairs and set it down on the small shelf desk outside of the bathroom.

She was still in there. He could hear the water running but it didn't sound like the shower.   He waited and the water turned off and she opened the door.  

"Ready?"
"No."
"That's probably true. Here." and he got out of the chair so she could sit. She sat down because she didn't know what else to do.
"Let me show you some things."
And she looked at him as he pointed and clicked with the mouse. 
"This is my personal bank account."
"Owen I don't care about your money. That's not what this is about.  I just need some time to figure out how to take care of my family. I would love to live with you. I want to believe there can be a happy ending.  But...."
"But nothing, woman, just look at the screen."
So she did.  There was $200,000 in account.
Well…. Wow… that's… impressive. But Owen....”
"Shhhh... That is my checking account.”  
"Oh…"
"This”, and he clicked “is the business account".
"Owen I...."
"Shhhh.... Look at the screen.” He turned her back toward the laptop. “This is payroll and working capital.”
She looked at the screen and then looked more closely. "Does that? .... no?!  Owen you… you have 1 million dollars in that account."
"Yes.  And after payroll and expenses I clear about $70,000 a year on this business which is really pocket change but I like what I do and the people I do it for and with. It makes me happy and it’s growing.”
And she thought to herself…. Well running a business takes capital … so she settled down and said, "Ok, so you have some money in the bank, clear about $70,000 a year doing what you love and are probably mortgaged to the hilt on the house."
"No. This house and everything in it, including the new pool, is paid for."
"Oh." And her inside voice said, that is not possible. How in the world could that be possible?
"I'm not done.  And this is my retirement account." And he clicked.
"Owen I'm uncomfortable looking..."
"Shhh.... Look at the screen."
"I don't want..."
"Look at the screen."
And so she did. But it took a minute for it to register, "No!" And then she looked at him and he was smiling and nodding his head yes. And she looked again.  "That's... that's.... that's not possible." And she stood up and she moved away from him like he was contagious.  
"Where are you going?"
"I... I... I... don't know.  You... You... You don't seem... Your family... This... I...." 
and he caught her arm.  "Nola." 
And she looked at his hand and then his face like he was a stranger and said very slowly, "Who are you?"
"What? You know who I am."
"Why are you here?  Why are you here with me? You... You... could be anywhere, with anyone, doing whatever you want."
"I am here because I love this town. I am with you because I am in love with you. I want to be with you, woman!"
"Why?" She was beyond incredulous.
"Why?! You are the strangest woman. You just told me a few minutes ago that you had won the lottery because you had me and that I was wonderful. Now you act like you don't know who I am."
"I... I... I... have to sit down. I can't breathe. It's all too much."

And he had to smile because she had a point. It was all a bit much. In love with a multi-millionaire who was in love with her. So he took her by the arm and put his other hand behind her back and ushered her to the chair.  
She sat down and then she stood back up.  "Please I think I need to splash some water on my face. I feel... I feel... my head is spinning."

"Come on then" and he ushered her into the bathroom. She was practically in a state of shock. She sat on the edge of the tub. He turned on the shower and then started taking off her shirt. She looked up at him like she wasn't quite sure who he was. But then she stood up and took off the shirt and stepped into the shower.
He got out of his pants. "I'm coming in. I wanted a shower this morning anyway."  
She was just standing there with her head on her hands against the wall letting the water beat on her. He smiled.  He hadn't told many women about his fortune and never the way he had just told Nola. Not a single one of them had ever reacted the way Nola had.  But then that really wasn't all that surprising.  He found the soap and squirted some in one hand. Then he took her by the arm and moved her upper body from the shower spray and started rubbing her with his soapy hands.  She closed her eyes and tried not to think about the computer screen.  But she couldn't do it.  "I’m not…"
"Shhh... Please don't talk."
"I...." and he ran his hands up her back and down and around her waist and over her breasts and he kissed her and she closed her eyes.  
"Here have some soap." And he lifted her hand and squirted some soap in it. She just looked at it and then him and then ran her hand in his chest hair and then around to his back and down to his buttocks. He smiled and jokingly said, “See how easy and natural that is?"
And while she enjoyed the sensation of his soapy body under her hands, she was still having an out of body experience. They enjoyed the smooth slipperiness of their bodies in the soap, until he couldn't take it any more.  Then he kissed her and pulled them both under the water to rinse off. He turned off the shower and wrapped the towel around his waist and held one out for her and said. "Better. I thought you were going to go into shock."
"I am in shock."
So he wrapped her up in the towel. Then he handed her another towel knowing she would wrap her hair up in it.  Then he pointed her in the direction of the door and they went out to the bedroom.  She wasn’t moving so he scooped her up and carried her to the bed.  As he put her down he said, "I need you to understand something. What ever it takes to get you to live here with me I will do.  But you are going to live here with me."
She didn't say anything.  She still wasn't sure what was going on. It wasn't possible.  Would he lie?  Why would he bother with such an elaborate lie? She was already having sex with him. She was sure that, even without a thin dime that other women would line up to have sex with him. What in the world was in this for him?  He wouldn't lie? Would he?  Why was she so afraid? Her heart was pounding and she felt like a rabbit caught in a snare. She rubbed her wrists as if they were tied.

Papa Eric was confused and looked at Meana and Bellaria who said, “1500s. Servant in a rich house.”
And Papa Eric said, “Damn, he’s fighting more than one lifetime.”

Owen could see her thinking.  "Nola? Did you hear me?"
"Yes... no..."
Ok this was definitely not the response he expected.  "Which is it?"
"I don't know. If" and she pointed to the laptop in disbelief, "all that is true. I ..."
"IF it's true?!  You mean you don't believe me?!"
"I don't know.  It doesn't seem possible." And she stood up and started to pace.
And he thought again this is definitely not the response he expected.  Was she actually pulling away from him because he had money?  What woman did that? "Nola, Do you believe me or not?"
"I don't know.  I am totally out of my league. I've never.... I don't know."
"What will it take for you to believe what I just showed you? What will it take for you to believe that whatever you need I can make happen?"
And she looked at him like she wasn't sure who he was and said, "I don't know."

And he heard Papa Eric say, "Owen, listen very carefully. Do you remember Nola telling you about her past life?"
“What?!”
“Her past life.”
“In San Francisco? What does that have to do…”
“No… 1500s… servant…”
“in a rich household… controlled… abused? … Oh shit.”
“Owen she probably doesn’t even fully realize why she is afraid and reacting the way she is. She’s not thinking clearly.  I’m not even sure she’s fully here with you right now.”

He walked toward and her and picked her up and put her over his shoulder and took her back to the shower.
"No! Please! No."
He didn't say anything as put her down and closed the door and turned the cold water on her.
She did a quick inhale as the water hit her. He did too because he was holding her under it. She tried to wiggle out from the cold water. “Oh!!! Oh my god!"  The cold water was on her back and she went rigid from cold and looked up at him. She panted with the shock and the pain of the cold water and said, "Owen Please... let me out!"  
"Who?" and he held her under the water and pulled the towel off of her head.
And she looked at him, "Owen please it's too cold!"
"Who?"  and he could see that she was shivering but needed to break her out of her where ever she had gone.
"Owen! DAMN IT!!  Let me out! Please!"
There she was.  He shut off the water and left her in the shower shivering and angry.
"WWwhat the hell is wrong with yy-you?!"
"Well that's better."
She was still breathing funny from the cold.  "Better? Bbbetter than what!?  You must have money if you think you can get away with that and not have me fffuuu.. fff... furious with you! Damn it! I'm cold. Ppp..Please... get me a dry towel." And she dropped the cold wet towel she had been wrapped in to the shower floor and tried to get out. He grabbed her into a hug.
"No. ... You can't..."
"Yes I can. I can be in love with you. I can take care of you. I can make you realize that you know exactly who I am."
And she heard the 4 Grigori say, "You are safe."
He could feel her shaking.  He left her standing in the shower and grabbed another towel and started to rub her down. She was still shaking. He wrapped her in the towel and she stepped out onto the rug.  He grabbed one of his winter flannel shirts from the attached walk-in closet. "Here put this on." 
"Tt..that was a mm..mean thing to do." And she took the shirt from him, slipped it on and started buttoning it. 
He managed to dry off and slipped into his pants, took her by the shoulders and said, "No it was necessary. Are you here with me?"
"Yes."
"“Ok, what year is it?”
“What?!”
“Tell me what year it is.”
“2008.”
Who am I?"
"Owen. Owen who is insane because he says he is in love with a married woman and all the problems that brings when he could be doing anything anywhere with anyone."
"Well that's better.
"I'm not sure how."
"One, you seem to know who I am. Two, you admit that I am in love with you. We can work the rest out from there."
And she looked at him and wrapped a new towel around her wet again head. 

He hugged her and could feel her shivering. “You’re still cold.” 
“Gee I can’t imagine why.”
He laughed and pulled the small afghan from the chair and wrapped her in it.  “What happened to you?”

She wasn’t quite sure what to say but finally managed, “You shocked me.” and she pointed to the laptop, “Is all that really true?”
“Yes.  Why is it so scary?”
She started rubbing her wrists again. “I’m not sure. But it is.”
He had no idea what to say. This was a first.
Nola stopped rubbing her wrists. “That’s not my world. Have you always had that kind of money?”
He sighed, knowing it was the wrong answer. “Yes.”

And she nodded, “I figured you came from a family that had some money or you would not have ended up at Tulane, or so easily taken the whole family to Galatoire’s. But, to your credit and your family’s credit, I would have never guessed” and she pointed to the laptop again, “that.”
“Gee thanks.”
“I’m sorry, that sounded terrible. I … I… I really don’t know what to say…”
And she looked down more than a little ashamed of herself.  “I told you when I first met you that I was a reverse snob.  I told you that I was uncomfortable when you asked me to meet with the Garden District clients.  I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever had a bad experience with rich people but…  but… I don’t know, I guess by default, I don’t trust them. It’s not right or fair but it’s true.”  She rubbed her wrists.
“You’ve never had a bad experience in this lifetime.”
She looked up at him and started thinking.
“Why do you think that you were rubbing your wrists?”
“I wasn’t rubbing my wrists.”
“Yes, you were.”
She shook her head, “But I don’t…”
“No, you don’t, usually. But you’ve done it a few times today when you were anxious, and you were more than a little anxious, about me having money."  
"Tell her to rub her wrists, son.  It may trigger her memory."
Owen said, "Rub your wrists.” She looked confused. “Close your eyes and rub your wrists.” She didn’t so he took her hands in his and said, “Please just try it and tell me what you feel, what you think.” And then he released them.
She sighed but did what he asked and closed her eyes then rubbed her wrists and she had an intense out of body experience. 

Grey stone walls… wrists clamped in iron attached a chain bolted to the wall… and an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness… Her mind spun the past and the present together. James in another life: Money to take care of her. Money to do whatever he wanted. Selfish. Spoiled. Mean. Controlling.  Both lifetimes: Haughty and arrogant. Disconnected. Aloof. Intellectual. But so comfortable in moneyed society and interested in the finer things. This lifetime: James with little or no money. James not really interested in money. Opinionated about how society should work, but never making enough money himself to really worry about paying the taxes that made it work. While his wife took care of all the financial details of his life. Tables turned but not all the way. And she had always, always given him so much freedom to do whatever he wanted. Even when that was quitting a job or taking acting work that didn’t pay. Freedom she had not been given in that other lifetime. Struggling for freedom that had cost her and her child their lives.

Papa Eric said “Owen you better catch her.”
“What?”
“You better CATCH HER!”

She blacked out as the grey dark past closed in on the present and Owen managed to catch her before she hit the floor.

“Gods!” And he got her to the bed. “Papa Eric is she ok?” 
And the Grigori nodded so Eric said, “Yes.”
“But she’s out cold.” And he felt the pulse in her throat and saw her breathing.
“Probably not the reception you expected to your big surprise, but she’s ok. Just give her a minute and she’ll come around.”
“What the hell happened? How did you know she was going to pass out?”
“She had a past life flashback that warped into a twisted mirror image of her life with James. It was pretty intense and it wasn’t good.”
“1500 Europe, cold, wet, grey. A servant controlled….”
“Yes, by a wealthy, privileged, arrogant son who used his father’s maid as a plaything, turning on her once she trusted him and then manipulating her and making her into little more than a slave who served his whims or whom he ignored and abandoned and picked up again as he saw fit.”
“James?”
“James.”
“And she knows this?”
“Yes, she didn’t when they met. She was drawn to him. The past life regression hinted at it and she closed the door on it rather than dwell on the past. But the guesses she made based on her reading and regression were right. She’s been drawn to him repeatedly. And they’ve had some tumultuous lifetimes. This lifetime he has no money, but the same haughtiness and sense of privilege. This lifetime she has all the financial power. And she’s given him nothing but freedom to do what he wants. And he’s been less than a full partner to her.”
“And broken her heart twice.”
“She’s stronger than you or James give her credit for being.”
“What does that mean?
“Her soul wants right and fair and hope and happiness. She’s been struggling for balance in her relationships with James.”

 “Great. So she has to keep struggling and returning to a fight where she is battered? And I can do nothing?”
“No. This time she has to be the one who leaves. There have been times in past lives where she has let go and, because the power balance was so skewed against her, in leaving she died. This time she has to be the one who lets go and lives.”
“Good God, Papa Eric. Is her life at risk?”
“No. No. Not this lifetime. But her happiness is.”

“I can make her happy.”
“You have made her happy.”
“I can give her what she needs to ‘let go and live’.”
“Suffice it to say that power and money haven’t always been positive influence in her lives.”
“Is the family fortune, are, as she says, ‘rich people’, really that scary to her?”
“It seems so, son. But I know that you’ll figure out a way to use it for good. You’ve been working on that your whole life.”

Nola’s breathing changed and she stirred slightly, slowly coming solidly back into her body and this life. The memories swirled and began to coalesce into awareness and understanding. Before she fully opened her eyes, deep in her subconscious she realized that she had to find away to separate herself from James.  She had done enough.

She opened her eyes to a worried face. He could tell her mind was still spinning. 
"Son, She's going to be ok. She knows it wasn't you. She just took a step further away from James and closer to you.

“That was weird. Did I really faint?”
He smiled, “Yes you did.” and pulled her into a warm hug and held her as he said, “I won’t hurt you. My money won’t hurt you. My money will only help in this situation. Please trust me.” And he released her from the hug so he could look at her.
“How in the world could you...?”
“Papa Eric explained while you were out.”
“Oh…” And she looked at herself from the ceiling again and was surprised that she did feel safe. “Curiouser and curiouser.”
He brushed her hair back and gently held her to him. “I am not James.”
“No. No you are not.”
He felt her sigh and he relaxed a little and just held on to her.

He finally said, "I'm hungry."
"Jezzz... you're hungry?”
"Yes, I'm hungry. I’m going to cook us Eggs Benedict for brunch.”
She just stood there looking at him in disbelief. “Eggs Benedict.  Complete with the sauce? You’re going to cook.”
“Yes. I’m not letting you near the stove.”
She held up both her hands in submission. “Ok, fine with me.  But I’m not a complete incompetent.”
“Doesn’t matter. I don’t want my stove on fire.”
“Ok….”
He took her hand and said. "Come on." I'm not letting you out of my sight. You are not going to leave or faint or turn into an opossum."

She sat on the kitchen stool and he started putting brunch together.  She got up and started walking to the library. 
"Where are you going?"
"I'm still cold. I'm going to get the blanket from the library. If that's OK with you?"
He laughed. "Well considering the only thing you have on is my flannel shirt and you can't get out of my gate, guess so."
She gave him a withering look and turned to get the blanket. 

He was almost completely engrossed by the process of cooking breakfast, only occasionally watching her out of the corner of his eye. She had come back with the blanket wrapped around her and sat back down to watch him cook. She had dried her hair a bit more and finger combed it. She must have left the towel in the downstairs bathroom.  

Her mind was churning. All those memories and fears and bad feelings that she had had over the years with James were the past and the present infected by past. She had tried so hard for so many years. Lifetimes. It needed to be past. She had to find a way to walk away with fairness and balance. She had to find a way to be able to walk away not just in this lifetime but forever.

And then there was Owen. It was one thing to acknowledge that she was in love with this man. It was another to acknowledge that he was in love with her. But Owen was right about one thing.  There was no way to put this genie back in the bottle. She was in love with him. It didn’t matter whether he loved her for a day or a decade or a dozen lifetimes.  She needed an escape plan, one that would get her out of her existing marriage and in case Owen changed his mind. Thank god she had always had a job that had allowed her to take care of herself. She pushed his financial situation to the background, refusing to think about it fully. Some of what she had said upstairs when asked for the happily ever after version could work.  And she closed her eyes in the full realization that telling James how she really felt about their relationship was going to be hard and asking Jamie to understand and be patient was not something she was looking forward to. She was still trying to figure out who to tell first when Owen put a lovely plate of Egg Benedict in front of her.  She looked at the plate and then at him and then back at the plate. He held up a knife and fork and a napkin. "Wow, that actually looks good." And she took the utensils from him.

He kept cooking.  "Go ahead. Eat. I'll be finished with mine in a minute."
She looked at her plate again. Was she hungry? She wasn't sure. But he had cooked and it only seemed fair to try it.  So she cut a bite. Wow, well done. And he saw her smile.  
"Well?"
"This is really good. Just the right amount of lemon in the sauce. The eggs just runny enough but not too.  The ham has some caramelization. Wonderful."
He poured the sauce over his eggs sat down across the corner of the kitchen counter from her with his plate.
"Good. So when are you moving in?"
She sighed. 
"I'm serious."
And she put down her fork and knife. 
"No eat.  You're going to need your strength."
She sighed and took another bite. He was eating and waiting while she chewed.
"So when are you moving in?"
"This is really so easy for you, isn’t it?"
And he realized that it wasn't for her and said, "Yes, it is for me. I want you here and whatever you need I can make happen. But I understand completely that it is not easy for you.  What do you want me to do?"
And for the first time in her life she said, "Give me a minute to catch up to where you are."

And he nodded Ok as if that was a reasonable request and kept eating.
She sighed, "You've been keeping some pretty big things from me. I understand why you wouldn't talk about... about your finances. But you act as if you've been in love with me for a while. And while I have feelings for you I was working on keeping them properly in check and trying to figure out a way to escape not ... not ... move in with you."
He smiled.  "I really only fully admitted to myself that I was in love with you the full moon after your birthday. But I knew that I loved you, beyond friend, beyond teacher, on your birthday.  I should have started realizing that something was different about my relationship when I wanted to kill the client who was hitting on you at the pool party. But I think that I probably was hooked on that first plane ride. I can be a slow learner."
And he heard Papa Eric say, "Even with help from the other side!" But he just smiled and kept eating. 
And she thought about that.  Had she been so numb for so long?  And Meana said "Yes." Then she thought about it and realized, "Oh my... you... that was a hint of jealous before we talked about the Words of Aradia that first lesson... You... you... you have been pushing the line between teacher and friend and ..." and she said it more slowly. "and lover.  I didn't want to see it. I tried to explain it away as exuberance and natural charm and..."
And between bites he said, "Hey, I have that!"
And she laughed at him. "and I kept trying to keep you at arm’s length, in the proper place as student and ritual partner and ... you kept... you really were... crossing the line... Maybe I am the slow learner."
He put his fork down and said, "So given that this is much harder for you, when are you moving in?"
She looked at him.  "You are serious."
"Yes, Yes I will say it again. I am serious. I want you to move in with me."
She sighed. She had no idea how to make all this work out and he was such an exuberant puppy.
She finally said, “Owen, I am so grateful for you.”
His fork stopped in mid-air, “I don’t like the way that sounds.”
“I’m sorry. Against my will and better judgement I am in love with you.”
“Better, much better.”
She smiled. “But I am married and have responsibilities to my child and this is complicated.  Complicated not just logistically, because I believe that were it just logistics you and I could make it work out, but also for me ethically. I have to figure out a way to be true to my love for you and the commitments I already have to James and most importantly Jamie. This is not as simple as moving all my stuff to your house.”
He shook his head. “It could be.”
She smiled at him, “If I were someone else maybe. But…”
He finished her sentence, “you are Nola.”
She shrugged and pushed the food around on her plate.
He said, “Eat.”
She managed another bite.

Papa Eric said, “I told you that you were going to have to wait. Be there as her safe landing but don’t push her. This is one skittish filly.”

Owen ask, “Ok then how do you want to handle this?”
Nola said, “Slowly and on 3 fronts: emotionally, ethically, logistically.”
Owen raised his eyebrows, “That’s intense.”
“You bet it is.” And she managed to smile at him. “Let’s take emotionally first. I love you and I would like nothing better than to spend every spare minute I have being with you.  I want more than anything for you to be happy.”
“I am happy.”
She smiled at him thinking, yes puppy you are, “But I am going to worry that you are not because I am married and a mom and I can’t just break away and be your girlfriend.”
He looked at her all serious now. “I’m a big boy. I know that you are married. I am in love with you but I fully understand the situation.  I am going to do everything possible, provided you let me, to make this as easy as possible on you.”
“I know. But this is going to, I am going to, test your patience. I need sometime to know I am doing the right thing for James, for Jamie, for my own karma. And Owen, I am going to be scared to death every step of the way.”
He covered her hand with his and she felt his love without him saying a word.
She sighed and continued, “I have to be able to make it through the process of explaining what has happened to Jamie and to James. I think I may have to tell Jamie first. To explain to her why her father may act different."
"Ok. Really Jamie first?"
"I think it might be best. I want her to be prepared for whatever happens when I tell James."
"What do you think will happen when you tell him?"
"He'll be hurt. He'll be angry. He'll be embarrassed."
"When will you tell him?"
She waited and thought about that, “Not before November.”
And despite his best intensions he blurted out, “November! No! You will not make me wait 2 months. I will not sleep at night knowing you are with him.”
“Owen.  Shhhh…. I have not been with him in a very long time.”
“Right. I am supposed to believe that he sleeps next to you every night and doesn’t touch you.”
“You’ve seen how I sleep in the bed.”
“Yes… all plastered on the edge…. like you are going to fall off…..”
“Yes. James sleeps in the bed with me. Sleeps. That’s all he does.”
“You swear?”
“I swear and promise as a Strega that for a long time all he has done is sleep with me.”
She let that sink in.  

Papa Eric said, “Son you are either in this for the long haul or you’re not. She has never lied to you.  Buck up.”
He asked more calmly, “Ok, But why wait until November?"
“James is working on a play right now.  I don’t want to impact his preparation or performance in the play.”
“You are kidding me."
"No. His art is important to him.  I won't be responsible for messing that up. I’ve learned a few things living with an artist all these years. I also need to prepare Jamie and give her time to come to grips with what will happen. Once I tell James she loses the family she has always known.”
At that he softened, and she saw it and it made her heart happy.
“Jamie needs time to get to know you. She likes you because you like sushi and took her to dinner a few times. But she doesn’t really know you. She needs to. It will help.”
And he thought, Dad was right this part does suck, “OK. I’m not happy about waiting but Ok.”
“Thank you."
“You will still come here every week and you will stay over for Full Moons and Treguenda.” He didn’t ask.
“Yes.” And she paused. "Do you really understand that if you are serious..."
"If?  What is it going to take to make that doubt go away?"
"Time."
"Time..." And he sighed, “OK.”
"Are you serious about it being OK for Jamie to come with me if she wants?"
"Yes, absolutely there is plenty of room here."
"Yes, but you've pretty much always lived alone. Now you get, not one woman, but, 2 women and the second one is a teenager."
"I have a nephew."
And she smiled at him.  "Eric is not a girl."
And he smiled in agreement.  "She is your daughter.  I trust it will be alright."
Nola just sat there.  She had managed to eat less than half of what Owen had given her.  He was working on finishing off his third egg and muffin.  

He pushed at her plate and said, "Eat."
She cut another bite and did just that.  She finished chewing the bite and just sat there again.  He pushed the plate again and said, "Eat."
She cut another bite and thought well perhaps I should see just how serious he is. 
"Jamie's birthday was during the Gustav evacuation. Bless the child she knows better than to plan a birthday party during the last weeks of August or the first weeks of September."
He finished off the third egg and was working on his fourth. He was trying to figure out where this bit of conversation was going. It didn't seem to fit in with the rest.
She continued. "I need to set a date and place for Jamie's birthday party."
He was still working on finishing off his plate and noticing that she wasn't eating, when she said, "Would you be willing to host a 13 year old girl's, all girl, pool party, sleepover?"
He swallowed and looked at her.  "What?  Where did that come from?"
"Well you have a lovely pool. A pool party is always fun and Jamie's birthdays usually involve movies and sleepovers.  I think it’s fair to say that you’re my friend. So if I were to ask if Jamie could have her birthday pool party here, at my friend’s house, would you say yes?"
He tried to follow all that but ended up saying. "I will say yes to whatever it takes to make you happy and for you to stay with me."
"That's not an answer."
"Yes, it was. It was a yes answer."
"If I asked you if you would host my daughter's 13th birthday pool party and told you that would mean at least 5 other 13 year olds in your pool and your house for hours, would you say yes?"
"Well… Yes, provided you are here.
"Of course I would be here. If I asked you if they could have a sleep over after the pool party and that meant that a batch of 13 year old girls would take over your library for the rest of the night, would you say yes?"
"Yes, provided you are here as well. I will not be alone with a batch of 13 year old girls!"
"Why too tempting for you?" she kidded.
"No, too damn scary. I have no idea how to handle 13 year old girls!"
"Yet you want mine to come and live with me in your house?"
And he saw that she was trying to get him to change his mind and shook his head saying, "Nice try.  You think that you can get me to change my mind. It isn't going to work."
"But you just said...."
"I just said that a batch of 13 year old girls is scary.  Every male on the planet will agree with that statement.  That does not mean that I am changing my mind."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes.  I had 2 solid weeks to think about just this. I know you.  I know that having you live with me means having Jamie live here too.  I didn't expect all of her friends to sleepover next week. But if that's what it takes, fine.  Bring on the challenges woman. I'm not changing my mind."

And he moved his barstool around the corner of the counter and turned her barstool toward him.  "I think we should seal the fact that I love you enough to host your daughter's birthday party and wait until November for you to move in with more than a kiss."
All 4 Grigori said, “You are safe”.
And she looked at him for moment, there was no doubt that she loved this man, who ever he was, and then said. "Ok." 
And they went upstairs and did just that.  


They were standing in the driveway, Owen at her open truck door, Nola inside. "When are you coming back? And do not tell me I have to wait until next Thursday.  I want you to come back as soon as you can and as often as you can."
Her sigh was unsteady as she said, “Monday is the Full Moon."
He smiled at that and said, "So you'll come here straight from work on Monday as early as possible and stay until you have to leave on work Tuesday morning."
"Maybe."
"No, promise you'll stay."
"I promise that unless there is something my daughter needs, I will stay."
"OK." And he kissed her and let her get into the truck.  She waited. 
"What are you waiting for?"
"I can't open the gate."
"Oh" and he turned quickly and unlocked his truck and took out the device. "Here."
And she took it from him and then looked up at him.   
"I promise never to lock you in again." And he kissed her on her cheek through the truck window.
"Ok." She smiled, “See you Monday.”
And he smiled as she began to back the truck out of the driveway. “Nola.” 
She stopped the truck and he walked up to it, “Can you come back tomorrow?”
“I… don’t know.  I…” 
And he put his hand over hers. “I understand. Think about it.”
She nodded.
“I know you’re not crazy about the phone… But if I can’t have you here until November... I’m going to call you at work and on your cell phone. Throw me a bone and answer.”
She laughed lightly, “OK… I promise I’ll call you on my way to work and on my way home.”
“This is your home.”
And she smiled at him and squeezed his hand and said honestly, “If home is where my heart is then I have 2, one where Jamie is and one where you are.”  Then she lifted his hand and kissed it, “Now, I have to leave or I’ll be late picking up Jamie.”  But she was still holding his hand, so he waited, then she said, “I am in love with you, Owen.” and she backed out of the driveway.

“You there Pop?”

“Yep.”
“Thanks for the help.  I did it.”
“It’s a beginning.”
“A beginning?!”
And Settrano looked at Papa Eric and asked him to give the kid a break.
“Yes son a beginning.  There is no doubt, Nola is in love with you.”
“But you are still going to have to be patient and insistent with her, before she will relax and let you take care of her… and her daughter.”

“Pop, I have time.  This life, the next, the one after that…”

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