Sunday, September 14, 2014

Chapter 63 - Autumn Equinox Lessons

It was close to impossible to put Owen off until Thursday, but she managed.  She knew what she wanted.  She absolutely knew what Owen wanted.  But she still wasn’t sure what the right thing to do really was.
Leave Owen?  Gods that made her heart hurt.  And she wasn’t sure that she was up to it emotionally. Leave James?  She shook her head. The amount of work it would take to pull that off was enormous. Most importantly what was the right to do for Jamie and what would she think?

She had left one husband; one who had been good to her and who she had loved but never been head over heels in love with and that had been hard enough.  The fact that he had been 1000 miles away on the east coast for months had made is easier. It had simply been a matter of paying off bills and planning to walk away.  She had just paid off all their debts, except the house, when her first husband’s radar went off and he came home.  When he realized that she was leaving he had literally dumped all her clothes out into their yard.  It hurt her to hurt him.  He didn’t really deserve it.  She wasn’t sure she could do it again.  Even without the burden of a child and knowing it was the right thing to do, it had been unbelievably emotionally difficult; but not technically difficult.  He didn’t believe she would just leave him with the house and its equity.  He didn’t believe she would ask for literally nothing and still pay for his medical insurance. But she did. It took her 2 years to recover financially from starting completely over but she managed.

Leaving James was orders of magnitude more difficult.  There was Jamie. There was the fact that they had been together much longer and that she had provided for him.  She was still working toward postKatrina debt free.  If she understood the law she would also have to legally split her pension benefits with him and probably pay alimony.  There had been times when she wondered if James stayed with her for the financial and practical safety net she provided. She had loved James. There was no doubt that she had been in love with James. She had worked to rebuild and save their relationship but she was worn out. She loved him, but when she was honest with herself, she knew she wasn’t in love with him anymore and she couldn’t go back to how she used to feel about him. She was staying because it was more work to leave and the only real benefit would have been not having him in the house and there were times when having a partner was really nice, even when you knew you were no longer in love with him.  There were times that she wished he would just walk out the door like he had twice before, but he seemed settled and happy. There had been a moment when she had wondered if he would stay in Austin after Katrina. He didn’t seem like he wanted to come home.  And for her moving to Austin was not an option. And Jamie had made it perfectly clear that she wanted to come home. When Nola had told him, “My job is here, the house is here, Jamie’s school is here. You can stay in Austin if you want but Jamie is coming home”, she had been dead serious.  She wondered how hard he had really thought about just staying in Texas.  She could have made that work.  If he had stayed in Austin the leaving would have been all on him. With all the good will toward Katrina victims, he would have landed on his feet. It was an alternate reality.   In this reality, she did the heavy lifting. If she were to leave James, she would have to do it.  And before Owen had stolen her heart, it had simply been too much trouble to think about breaking up her family. 

Part of her wondered if it was really fair to leave James because of Owen. If she couldn’t do her herself, then perhaps she shouldn’t do it at all? Would she really be able to make it if she didn’t have Owen as a bridge? Was it fair to him? Emotionally it felt right; there was no doubt she loved Owen.  Intellectually she knew she could do the logistical work of leaving as arduous as it would be.  But dammit she was still scared.  

When she left her first marriage it was because she had realized that nothing is gained without risk.  It was the same situation now. Except that she was older, 20 years older.  

And last time it had really been all her. Now there was Jamie to think about. ….. And Owen. And James. And last time she had worried more about what other people would think.  This time… she really didn’t care; except that if she did this it was going to be so much work.  

She dumped the boxes of things she was giving away into the truck.  It was harvest season.  She was wading through her life and the stuff associated with her life and trying to have less to deal with.  4 boxes in the back seat of the truck didn’t really lighten the load all that much. Tomorrow she was absolutely committed to getting through the Autumn Equinox and, with any luck at all, the Shadowfest rituals.  Owen was going to insist that she stay.  She wasn’t sure she could or should or…. She told herself, “Don’t think about it. Just put one foot in front of the other and the solution will eventually present itself.”

Papa Eric was frustrated and sad. Meana wanted to be able to reassure him.  
“I can’t tell if she will go through with it or not.”
Meana understood and said nothing.
“Why does she think that she has to do this all alone!?”
“Because she doesn’t know any other way.”
“But Owen can help.” Then he chuckled.  “She’s going to have a hard time stopping him.”
Meana smiled.  “We can hope. But he can not push too hard.  Nola still struggles with believing she can accept help and not take on too much risk.”
Papa Eric nodded, “She can be as stubborn as Owen.”

Late Thursday afternoon Owen met her in the driveway, smiling.
She couldn’t help herself, she smiled back. 
She managed to get out of the truck and say, “Hello Big Man.” before she was engulfed in a hug.
She smiled.  He looked in the back seat.  “Oh good! The first boxes!”
She was confused then realized, “No those are going to the Salvation Army.”
His forehead wrinkled and she answered his unasked question.
“I’m wading through my life and getting rid of things I don’t need. I’ve done this intermittently since Katrina made me realize how little we really need.”
He wanted to be hopeful. “So you are going through your things and deciding what you will bring with you when you leave, Right?”
She brushed him off with a joke and a smile, “Is there an echo?  I thought I just said I’m wading through my life.” then immediately segued into, “Ready for tonight’s lesson?”
He hooked her arm and said, “Dinner first.”
She thought, irresistible force, and smiled and said, “Of course, priorities.”

He ushered her through the door and said, “Sit.”
She slipped on the bar stool.
“Maurice went fishing this morning and I have fresh fillets.” And he paused, “Drum fillets.”
“I know your favorite.” And he slid the plate of fish from the fridge.
“Everything else is ready. I was just waiting for you to get her before I cooked them.”  
“Wow, those are beautiful fillets. Where did Maurice go fishing?”
“The Rigolets.  He has family in from Hammond and so he took a few days off. They caught so much that he called on his way in and asked if I was still interested.”
“Still interested?”
“Yep, since I now know that drum is your favorite fish, I put in a standing order whenever he goes out.”
She smiled and shook her head. He was…. 
And Meana finished her thought, “Wonderful.”
She smiled to herself and thought back, “I was thinking ridiculous.”
“No you weren’t.”

Owen was busy with the fish and getting things ready.  Nola snapped out of it and slid off her seat.
“What are we drinking? Let me get that ready.”
He lifted his beer to her, “There’s ice tea on the porch and prosecco in the fridge or Brunello or…”
“Tea is fine. Can I help with anything else?”
“Nope. The fish needs a few more minutes and” he turned and grabbed the plates with fresh sliced tomatoes, mozzarella and basil leaves between them from the fridge, slid them on to the counter, “we’ll be ready to eat. Why don’t you get your clothes out of the truck.”
Nola’s breath caught slightly.  She didn’t have clothes in the truck. She had decided she wasn’t staying. Papa Eric made a sound like clearing his thoat and Owen looked up with a slightly furrowed brow.  Nola was at the end of the counter. She ran her fingers around the plate… “Wow those are good looking tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. What a treat.”
He smiled and lifted the fish slightly from the pan.  She said, “I know it makes high end chefs crazy but I like my fish cooked all the way through.”
“Ok then, maybe a minute more.”
“Thank you Owen. Thank you for being so thoughtful about the fish and for making dinner, I really appreciate it.”
“My pleasure woman, don’t make it sound like such a big deal.”
She smiled glad to have sidestepped the sleeping over conversation and thinking that it seemed men liked to feed her.  James did. So did Owen. She appreciated food and the work that went into preparing it but didn’t live to cook. 
“Why are you grinning?”
“Oh I’m thinking about you feeding me.  Left to my own defenses I’d have salad, or cheese and apple or canned beets for dinner.”
He smiled and said, “The fish is ready.”
She passed him a plate. He served her first. Then took the rest himself and they went to the screened porch.

He watched as she took her first bite. There was the pause to take in the smell, then the knife created the perfect forkful and then, yep, the closed eyes and … now the smile and the assessment.
“Ummm, perfectly cooked, for me any way, and buttery and a great balance of lemon and dill. Simple, wonderful. Thank you and Thank Maurice.”

Owen grinned and kept eating.  He was simply glad she was here. Monday seemed like a long time ago.  Nola enjoyed her fish and the porch and hated how much she loved it here with Owen.  She was sitting back in her chair sipping tea when Owen came back from the kitchen with a beer.
He slipped back into his chair, “Want to sit in the Jacuzzi?”
She looked up. “Sure, if you want. We had that small cool snap. I think the gods were letting us know that hurricane season is over for us. But it’s warm again today.”
He took a swig of his beer.  “You really think that the gods speak to us using the weather?”
She smiled, “Well the Etruscans and the Romans and lots of others looked to ‘portends’ so, sure, I say the weather said, no more hurricanes this year.”
“I’ll drink to that. The next time a hurricane chases me out of this city, you woman are coming with me!”
She just smiled at him.
“You’re awfully quiet today.”
“Am I?  I’m thinking about the Autumn Equinox and Shadowfest and the lessons we need to have so you are ready.”
He snorted a laugh.

She looked at him with slightly raised eyebrow before she said slowly, “These are the last 2 Treguenda in the year.” And she paused, “and the only ones you have not done.” Another pause, “They are pretty serious God rituals.”
“I know I’ve read through them a few times.”
She looked like she didn’t believe him. 
“Don’t look at me like that woman. You haven’t been here. Other than work, which I don’t do 24 hours a day, I’ve been reading through the rituals. I know how committed you are to completing my training.”
She nodded.  He continued “If I am reading correctly between the lines, I’m pretty sure that there are aspects of these rituals that I will like.”
She smirked.  “Yes, I think that’s fair.  But remember the God dies at Autumn Equinox.”
“Yes… one symbolic ‘little death’ as the Italians say; one symbolic death when we put the ritual blade through the sacred loaf of bread. I’m glad these rituals don’t call for actually killing the priest.”
She smiled. “Me too. You really read through both rituals.”
Now it was his turn to raise an eyebrow. “Yes woman. Both. Multiple times. Stay here I’ll get the book and we’ll get this over with. I can see there is no relaxing you until you’ve accomplished what you want.” And in one fluid motion, he got up, kissed the top of her head and went to get the books.

She just sat there. A jumble of confusion and uncertainty and overwhelmed with anxiety just below the level of blood buzzing attack.
She looked at her tea glass and decided she needed something stronger.
Just as she was getting up, Owen came through with the manual and a glass of Brunello.
He sat down and handed her the glass.
She looked surprised but managed to say, “You read my mind.”
He flipped to the rituals in the book and said, “Just like I read the rituals.”
She sipped and smiled and relaxed just a little.  He handed her the book, “Ok… let’s have the lesson.  Autumn Equinox.  How soon can get here on Sunday?”
“Ummmm, well I’ll need to bake the sacred loaf.” She was stalling. 
“Good come here early and we’ll do that together.”
“Well I actually start the night before. I do a rustic loaf and it has to rise for 12 to 18 hours.”
“Perfect. I’m sure we can find something to do.” and she hated it that she loved that suggestive grin.
“Owen, I think that it would be better for me to bake the loaf at home and then come here after.”
“Well… I know my oven and it’s bread and …”
“You’re afraid to spend too much time here.”
She decided to go with his accusation as a tease and keep it light. “Yes… you need to be primed and ready for ritual and if I’m here before you may be too tired.”
With that he broke into a smile, “Ok woman… you win. Bake the bread at your house, then come here.”
She smiled with relief.  

Meana and Papa Eric were watching.  Bellaria and Settrano were too. Bellaria grinned at Nola’s maneuverings. Settrano enjoyed the playfulness of the intellectual and emotional bantering. Bellaria’s money was on Owen. Papa Eric finally said, “I’m worried for that boy. He doesn’t realize how close she is to bolting. Again!”
Meana said, “Time and patience.”
Tago popped in and said, “If he rushes her, Eric, you will not get the results you are looking for.”
Papa Eric took that with a simple serious nod.

Nola was talking through the practicalities of the ritual. “I’ll take care of the bread.”
“You know I have the wine. You have everything else you need in the Harry Potter box.”
“Except oak leaves and rue.  I can get some oak leaves from the park or my back yard.  The squirrels are cutting off the tips of the branches, just like they do every year, in perfect timing for the rituals. We put the fresh oak leaves in the caldron at Autumn Equinox, we burn them at Shadowfest.”
“Really? I don’t think I read that.”
“Well it’s not explicitly stated.”
He nodded, “Do you really have to kill one of those beautiful rue plants?”
She tilted her head slightly and nodded. “Afraid so.”
“I begin to understand the term ‘rue the day’.”
“Yes, another symbolic death.  I’ve not been taught anything specifically regarding the use of rue. Nor have I been able to find anything online, but I think that at one time rue was used as in a mixture to immobilize and prepare the priest for sacrifice.”
“Ugh, really?”
“It’s just a guess, an extrapolation on my part. We ‘rue the day’. We kill the rue plant symbolically at the equinox. We dip the rue in the wine at Shadowfest and everyone takes a taste as sacrament and remembrance. We have the slain god as oak leaves and rue plant and sacred loaf.”
He was nodding, then smiled, “and in the little death.”
She smiled back, “Yes, fertility rituals. Acknowledgement of the contribution of the God, males. The cycle of life and death.”
“Heady stuff.” And his eyes twinkled at the double entendre.
And she grinned back. “Serious stuff. I am so glad that the God dies only a symbolic death. We Moderns too easily forget that harvest means the plant or the animal has to die.  The rituals acknowledge this and the cycle of life. It keeps our feet on the ground and our awareness up.”
“Your feet are always solidly on the ground.  And I can’t keep up with your awareness woman.”
She smiled at him “Good thing you have the rituals then, huh?”
He smiled back at her, “You know what part I like best about the Autumn Equinox?”
It was her turn to tease, “I think I can guess.”
He chuckled, “Other than that.”
She smiled, “Ok tell me.”
“May I?” and he took the book from her, “Here it is.
The Goddess says ‘I have come in search of Thee, is this where I begin?
And the God responds ‘Begin to seek me out, and I shall become as small as a seed, so you may pass me by.
Grove says, ‘Then we shall split the rind, crack the grain and break the pod.
And the God says ‘But I shall hide beneath the earth, and lay so still that you may but pass me by.
And the Goddess responds, ‘Then I shall raise you up in praise, upon a mantle of green.
God replies, ‘But I shall hide within the green and cover myself that you may but pass me by.
The Grove says, ‘Then we shall tear the husk, and pull the rook and thresh the chaff.
God, ‘But I shall scatter, and divide and be so many that you may pass me by.
Grove again, ‘Then we shall gather you in, and bind you whole and make you One again.’

His reading was pointed and serious and it actually raised hairs on the back of her neck.  She swallowed before she finally said, “Your priest voice is impressive.” And she swallowed again, “I’m… I’m interested in your thoughts.”
Owen said carefully, “Well I like the pattern and the rhythm and the relentlessness of the piece.  I also like how it speaks to our lives.” He put a heavy emphasis on our.
He let that sit for a minute and she waited before she said, “You identify with the God?”
“No, with the Grove.  The relentless Grove that insists that they will find a way to make what they want, the cycle of rebirth, happen. Even if the God hides and is resistant.” He let that sink in.  “You are the Goddess, my Goddess.”
She smiled. “And who is the God?”

Bellaria smiled at Papa Eric. Tago nodded. 

Nola said slowly, “James.”
Owen leaned in, “Yes, James.  He is hiding. He has been hiding.  He has been your male, your God.  I am the Grove. I know what I want. I want a new cycle, for me, for you.  I will do whatever it takes to find a way to help you make James whole. So that the Goddess can find what she is looking for and we can start that new cycle.”

Nola looked into Owen’s intense blue eyes until they disappeared under a film of tears and then she got up from the chair and went through the kitchen and out the driveway.  Her throat was constricting. She thought of running, escape. She paced up and down the driveway, gate to truck and back again and again, then finally turned toward the fountain.

Papa Eric said very loudly in Owen’s head, “Daayum Son! I didn’t think you had it in you!”
Owen just smiled. “Where is she?”
“Pacing down the driveway.”
Owen got up and went through the house to the front door.
Nola had just made it to the fountain and was turning around. She stopped and he made his way to her and the shade.  He handed her the wine glass.
“Take a sip.”
She was shaken enough to just follow the suggestion.
“Go head, sit.”
And Owen sat on the fountain’s edge and she followed again as he took her hand. He just let her sit. She took another sip and looked up at him. He put his thumb on her bottom lip and then licked the wine that had stained her lip from his fingers.
Nola said, “You don’t need me any more.”
Owen smiled, “Yes I do and I want you too.”
“It’s not fair when you use the teachings like that.”
“Yes it is.  I know that it’s the one way to breakdown your formidable defenses and get you to listen to me.”
Nola said nothing.  
Owen waited.  “I know you. You will try to figure out how to do this all by yourself.  It is too much for one person.  I want to help.  You need to let me help. James can be made whole. You will be safe.  This time, I promise.”
He tipped her chin to him so she was forced to look at him. And “Why?”
slipped out and once it did she kept going, “Why me Owen, Why? I am not beautiful or overly smart, I have baggage in a kid and a marriage. Why?” 
She got up from the fountain ledge and started to walk and then turned to him hand in the air, arms spread wide emphasizing what she said. “You have so many options and possibilities in your life.  Why take this on?”

He shook his head got up and walked toward her.  “Where do I start?” He took the wine glass from her and took a sip hooked her arm and walked her to the front door and let her go through it. Then motioned to the love seat and handed her the glass.  Not knowing what else to do, she sat.
He kneeled down next to her and took her chin in his hand. 

“You are beautiful. I love your deep, dark, soulful eyes.  I love the way your hair curls and is rarely fixed or controlled. I love that you don’t cover your face with makeup. I like the way your lower lip pouts just a bit when you are concerned or thinking. It makes me want to kiss you.” So he did. “I love your shoulders where you carry the weight of your world. They are square, strong” and he put his hands on her shoulders. “And your neckline…. this collarbone” and he ran his fingers over her collarbone and kissed her neck. “And the way you respond to me when I kiss your neck.”
She had closed her eyes but managed to open them, “Owen, that’s not fair…” He kissed her neck again.  
“Yes it is and I’m not finished.” He took the wine glass out of her hand and set it on the table, then he pulled her up into a gentle hug. “I love your curves, and he ran one hands around her side and up to her breast and his thumb over the nipple he knew his kiss to her neck had raised. “I love the way your waist dips in and your hips flair out and he moved his other hand to her backside, “and the way your thighs are so long that they make you look taller than you really are.” And he pulled her into a gentle kiss and finished by moving his hands up her arms and taking her hands in his. “I love how expressive your hands are and I love that you love getting them dirty in the garden.” And he kissed her hands and her fingers just below the knuckles and started to say that one day he would put a ring on that finger but he heard his grandfather say, “Son….”

She was speechless.  He smiled and said, “But I’m not done.” And he pulled her back onto the loveseat.  “I love that you are so independent and self sufficient. I love that you listen and see people as they really are and find ways to work with who they really are rather then bending them to what others may think best. I love how you can be forceful and flexible at the same time. Warm and tough. I love that you care and think about so many things and how they interconnect: the environment, politics, your neighborhood, your daughter, the Ways, teaching me, landscaping, your friends, my friends, Joe, Bryant, family, even James.  Nola you are good.  You are worth any effort that you might think is trouble.”

He was watching her. She was looking at his hands as he held hers so he brought them to his lips so she was forced to look him in the eyes. But she couldn’t see him clearly so she blinked and a tear slipped down her cheek. He brushed it off with his thumb.  “It’s ok. You Nola, you are the one who’s opened me up to a world of possibilities. That is why I want you to share them with me.”  And he kissed her lips gently then moved down to her neck and felt her melt into him. “Let’s go upstairs.” And he got up and held out his hand and she took it.

She was lying in bed wrapped in Owen and the sheets thinking, “Oh my god, I have been seduced.  This is, that was, seduction.”
Meana whispered, “and it was good. But it was love that made it so wonderful.”

She sighed and Owen turned on his side and leaned on his arm looking at her and her mussed up hair and swollen kissed lips.  “What was that sigh?”
She smiled at him, “You are quite good at seduction. I don’t think anyone has ever done it better.”
He grinned, “Thank you! You bring out the best in me woman.”
Papa Eric said, “That’s true.” Owen grinned some more and slid out of bed and into the bathroom. When he came back he handed her the green nightgown and robe.  “Put these on. I’m hungry. Let’s go down and get some desert.”
“Irresistible Force.”
With a smile he said, “Yep.” and went down the stairs.

He went straight to the front porch and grabbed the smallest potted rue plant and brought it outside to the table next to the Jacuzzi. Then he went inside to get, lemon cake from a local bakery and lemon ice. He was dishing it out when she came into the kitchen.
She was still glowing and floating from Owen’s seduction. When she saw the portion size she smiled and put her arm around his waist and ran her hands up his chest from behind.  “Big Guy, I don’t want all that much. Can I just nibble from your serving.”
He turned and said, “You can have anything you want.” And sat down on the bar stool and pulled her between his legs.  She let him.  He scooped a bite of lemon cake.  She put her finger in the icing. He chewed and waited for what he had come to think of as ‘the taste’. She put her finger in her mouth. He watched. There it was, eyes slightly closed, he grinned as she said,. “ummm… where did you get this?”
“Guy around the corner has a commercial kitchen he rents out.  OA did some work there.  Thursday is baking day.  I know you like lemon so…”
“This is really good, natural tart, sweet.  What does the cake taste like?”
He put some on the spoon and held it out to her. She smiled and guided the fork into her mouth and waited. 
“Well that’s amazing.”
“I thought so. Glad you approve.”
She watched him eat, asked for a scoop of lemon ice, and kissed his neck with cool lips. Not even thinking when she sighed “I love you Owen.” into his neck and shoulder.
At that he put the spoon down and said, “I love you too.” And gently kissed her.

He finished desert and suggested they go out to the Jacuzzi.  She agreed and they stepped outside. She was untying her robe when he said, “I think we need to finish one thing before tonight’s lesson is over.”
She turned and looked at him as he gestured to the rue plant he had moved to the back patio. Her face got scared and serious as he said, “We should harvest this.”
She didn’t say anything for a minute.  Then she retied the robe and said, “Ok.” paused and picked up the pot and began making it around to the other side of the pool.
“Where are you going?”
“Just to the other side of the pool near the flower bed, I want to make sure that we don’t end up with mud all over your patio;.”
He followed. She set the pot down in the flower bed and began to work the plant gently from the pot, tipping it over and allowing it to come out roots and all. She shook the roots and worked the bulk of the dirt off with her hands and then sighed and looked up at Owen as she handed him the plant. “Hold this for me please while I get the mud back in the pot.”
She stood with the pot in her hand and looked solemnly at him.  They both understood the magical symbology of this act.  “We should rinse the roots clean and let them dry a bit. We can keep some to be used in the Shadowfest ritual.  We can cut the green parts and place some in a vase so we have what we need for Equinox ritual. I’ll mix a very small bit into the loaf.  We can put the rest in the bottle of Everclear.  We can also add what is left of the root to the Everclear as well.”
He took the pot from her and handed her the rue plant. They walked back to the kitchen.  He set the pot on the table outside and opened the kitchen door.  As she rinsed the plant roots in the sink she asked “Do you have a scissors and something we can use as a vase?” 
“I’ll get the scissors and find something for a vase.”
“I’ll go upstairs and get the Everclear from the box.”
He nodded as she set the plant on the counter.
She returned with the Everclear. Owen had the scissors and a cut glass tumbler to be used a vase.  Their eyes met for a minute before she asked, “Do you have a plate I can use lay the roots out to dry?”
He brought her one from the cabinet.
She picked up the plant and cut the root portion from the stem and set it on the plate. Then she cut some of the rue branches from the stem and slipped them into a small jar she had filled with Everclear.  She left a small portion of the stem with leaves in the tumbler. He watched in silence.  She looked up and asked, “Do you think that we could put this vase on the mantle? Would Papa Eric mind?  It’s only for a few days.”
Owen heard, “It’s fine, Son.” And Owen said “Sure.” and took the vase to the mantle.  

“That was a very hard thing for her to do, son.”
“I know.”
“But it was the right thing.”
“It was. You’re pretty good at this symbolic magic stuff, son.”
“Thanks, Pop.”
“Get back to her. She needs you.”

When he returned to the kitchen, Nola had wiped the counter and was looking at the roots on the plate.  They were pale yellow and small. She looked up and said, “Do you have a napkin or paper towel?”
He got her one.  She blotted the still damp roots and then the folded the towel and put it under the roots. “Can you put this in the pantry where it will be safe until we need it for Shadowfest?”
He nodded and took the plate and put it away. She was holding the jar with the fresh rue leaves. “This too I guess.” He took it from her and put it with the root. Then took her hand and headed to the Jacuzzi.  She was silent and directionless.  He untied her robe and she looked at him and he got a small smile.  She took off her robe and nightgown. He got out of his jeans and they slipped wordlessly into the water.

They sat side by side and soaked in the luxury of the warm flowing water. Nola finally turned her head and said. “Owen…”
She didn’t get to finish because he covered her mouth with a kiss, then pulled gently away as he said, “I know that was hard.”
“hmmmm, you seem to have understood some of the magic lessons we’ve had.”
He smiled, thinking about Papa Eric, “Yes, I’m teachable.”
“Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.  I am here for you. Anything you need.”
“Thank you.”

They ended up back in bed. It was still early, just past hard nightfall.  Death and life and sex without ritual. Nola had not really rested for days and she was sexually sated and dozing, curled on her side, pillow under her head, wrapped in the sheet. Owen had slipped downstairs and was in the library when he saw lights in the driveway.  Was that Roger? 

He got up and went to the front door and opened it before Roger could ring the gate bell.
“Hey Man! Good radar. Let me in.”
Owen shook his head and went to the gate and opened it so Roger could pull in.  Roger stepped out of the truck and handed him some paperwork, addresses, names, a map with some red dots on it. “Let’s get a beer and let me show you what fell in our lap today.”
Owen walked with Roger to the kitchen and handed him a beer as he spread the paperwork out on the counter.
Roger was explaining that another large property owner had noticed LeBlanc’s properties and wanted to get the same services.  The properties are in MidCity and Uptown. The guy is way nicer that that jerk LeBlanc…”

Nola eventually roused and reached across the bed and realized that Owen wasn’t there. She slipped into the bathroom, put her nightgown back on and smiled as she caught glimpse of herself in the mirror, thinking, Thank the Gods Owen liked her for who and what she really was.  

As she came down the stairs and rounded the corner into the kitchen, she was still wrapped in a blissful sexual haze. Owen had managed to get all the protections that she usually wrapped around herself to fall away. She was her raw, naked self.  She saw Owen’s broad back leaning over the counter and the way his jeans grazed the top of his backside and was smiling as she barely heard the very low whistle, “Whooooooo.  Wouut!” followed by an under the breath, “Damn Man, you should have said you were busy.”

Nola was still dazed as Owen wrapped his arm around her waist and she looked up at him and then to Roger and shrugged.
Owen smiled and whispered in her ear, “It’s just the rest of him….” And Nola smiled back.

“Hello Roger.”
He swallowed managing to be just a little bit embarrassed.  “Hello Nola. I didn’t realize you’d moved in.”
“I haven’t.”
“Nola, Roger couldn’t wait to show me these. We have a request to do more renovations and No lawnmower landscaping work for a new client.  10 properties in MidCity and Uptown.”
“Oh that’s wonderful.” And she leaned over the counter to take a look at the map.
Roger was still looking over Nola in her cocktail dress like nightgown and appreciating it as much as Papa Eric. While the nightgown covered her completely there was also no denying that Nola was oozing sex appeal and she didn’t even realize it.
Owen just smiled and watched.  Nola ran her hands over the map, looking over the locations.  “How bad are the properties?”
Roger managed to answer, “Uh, not too bad, a little worse than Leblanc’s; so more room for us to make some money. The layouts for landscaping are pretty standard. “
Nola said, “And they are close enough together to make maintenance runs easy.”  And she moved to the fridge and turned her back to them as she grabbed the San Pellegrino water. “This is good news, right?” 
Roger said, “Damn straight!”
She poured some into a glass and took a sip and said, “Let me know if you want me to take a look at the properties. Or you could let Joe have these as his first solo run.” 
Owen had moved closer to her and was still watching Roger. Nola looked up to him, put her hand around his waist and leaned into him. Owen hugged her close as Roger watched the way the nightgown moved around her curves.  Nola noticed the clock and realized that she had plenty of time to get home before midnight.
Nola said, “Well I’ll leave you guys to it. ‘Night Roger.” And she rounded the corner and Roger heard her as she went up the stairs.

He waited before he said, “Shit Owen…. I mean…. I’m sorry man….. I had no idea.”
Owen chuckled. 
Roger took a long pull on his beer and then said quietly, for Roger, “But damn, how do you get anything done with that around?!”
Owen chuckled again and said, “Oh I manage.”
Roger laughed and in a hushed conspiratorial tone said, “If you bottled what she was giving off when she came around the corner you’d make another million dollars!” 
Owen chuckled again.  “She doesn’t see it.”
Roger’s eyebrows shot up, “What?!!” 
Owen put his finger to his lips, “She has no idea.  She doesn’t think of herself as beautiful or sexy. She was too busy looking at the map and thinking about those possibilities” and he waved his hand over the paperwork, “to see your tongue hanging out.”
“My tongue was not hanging out.”
Owen chuckled again.  “Only metaphorically.”
Roger took another pull on his beer and was, for Roger, thoughtful, “I think I get it.  Nola isn’t what anyone would call a knock out on first glance. She’s warm and serious and… damn man, but I never really appreciated the curves before…”
“Careful.” Owen grinned. 
Roger smiled, “You know I go for the skinny ones.” And he took another sip of beer. “But I knew the first time I saw you dance with her that she was the one for you.” And he took one last sip of beer. “Now I understand why. She really is a knockout. She’s just really good at hiding it.”
Owen smiled and said, “Yep.”

Nola found her clothes and got dressed as Owen and Roger finished up downstairs.   She hung the nightgown and robe in Owen’s bathroom and then made her way downstairs.  Owen had just let Roger out and was walking through the dining room when he saw Nola on the stairs.
She kept walking. 
“No woman.  Get back up there. You are not leaving.”
She kept walking down the stairs. He blocked her at that bottom. “You are staying.”
“Owen, I’m not. Not tonight.”
“Yes, yes you are.”
“Ok, I know that you are impossibly stubborn but I am not staying tonight.”
He couldn’t believe it.  She continued.  “If you want me to stay overnight on Sunday I can not stay tonight. I need to get Jamie to school tomorrow. James is starting rehearsals and will be sleeping in tomorrow. I need to get home.  And I didn’t bring any clothes for work tomorrow.”  She hadn’t made it down the last step and was essentially eye level. She could see how irritated and upset he was.  “I’ll make a deal.”
“A deal?! Don’t insult me woman.”
She sighed.  “Ok, I deserved that.  But what if I didn’t go to work on Monday?”
He softened.  “I’m listening.” 
“Well I have vacation that I have not used and I could come for ritual and not go to work the next day.”
“You planned this?”
“Actually, no. But I can’t stand that 10 year old’s look on your face saying,  ‘how can you do this to me’ and so…”
“you’re throwing me a bone.”
“well, yes.”
She smiled and threw her arms around him and let him pull her into a kiss.

“You win this time.”
“No Owen, every time I’m with you I win. Thank you.” And she moved to toward the kitchen and her keys and the door.  
“Will you come before Sunday?”
“I don’t think I can. James is starting rehearsals and need to be home for Jamie.”
“Think about how you can.  Try.  Even if it is only stopping by for a few minutes.”

She smiled at him and said, “Irresistible Force, I’ll do what I can.”

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