The Word of Jeb — Chapter 03. Lattermath §

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Chapter III
Lattermath

 

Darren’s hair had grown. On their last video chat, Bettina had mentioned the length was in need of attention. An invitation had been offered to visit Haus Ambiguous, as Hans had named the place. She accepted for some weekend to come, but they had yet to set a date; work schedule at the hospital kept her at long hours.

 

She rushed out the words nervously, “Finally, it’s come. Next week, I can arrange to be free. See to that raggy hair of yours. Would that work? I didn’t want to come for just a short stay. We need more time than that.”

What had only prior been a game of innuendo between them now had the promise of consummation.

He visibly caught his breath. “I would like that very much, Bettina.”

She had played through so many possible responses. His simple reaction was unexpected. It brought a wave of relief. The suspense was over.

“Settled. The weather is forecast to be warmer. I thought to moto over on the bike. Take a slight detour through the hills along the way. Two day ride. Would Monday work for you?”

“Monday? Next week?”

“Oh. Is that too soon? Are you busy? Sorry. With my crazy schedule I didn’t know earlier. Colleagues have been on vacation. But now that school is back in, routine is returning.” She took a breath, suddenly nervous, almost pleading, “I didn’t know until just now. I called soon as the possibility arose.”

He had been watching her sparkling eyes, and open lips exposing white teeth, “Bettina, of course it’s OK. I am happy.”

 

 

The rumble of a motorcycle grew in the distance. Darren was alone at the house, reclining on the patio. The last of the morning sun played across him. He had fidgeted through breakfast attending to Jillian.

 

After a thermos was filled with coffee, Jillian took it under an arm and said, “Today will be a local haul. Ron is in town. You remember him, from the ferry? He wants to hang out. If he’s a good boy, I’ll stay over: give you and Bettina space. I would be back after tomorrow’s run. We can catch up then. Suits?”

“Really? You don’t need to stay away.”

“Hey, Darren. No heroics here. Ron has been trying to get Sis in the sack since we got off the ferry. He’s found these tough chick sisters really turn him on. We have been teasing, playing coy—kinda like you and Miss Bettina, but much more graphically stereo. The compersion I’m feeling about her finally paying a visit has got my juices going. You know how I get. Needing to take it out on someone, Ron seemed the likely victim.”

“Offered himself willingly for the sacrifice? You are going to give him 100% Sis for the first time?”

“Nah. An all-Sis encounter would probably break him. It will just be me. Start slow, then turn up the volume.”

“I am very happy.”

“We know you are. Your happiness bounces right back to us. Show Bettina that; she will respond.” Coming around the counter, they embraced, pressing hips. The kiss continued deeply.

Jillian leaned back and said, “How can she not, with such a cute guy?”

“Hmm…”

“You taste of strawberries, by the way. Gotta run!”

Darren put the thermos into the tote. Zipping it shut, she took it from him.

“Have fun, gorgeous,” she said, looking at him closely before giving a parting kiss.

He followed her to the door, where she paused and turned back, throwing herself into his arms. Her lips found his ear, “I love you, Darren. We all do.”

With that said, her body, which had been pressing deeply against him, stepped back and crossed the threshold. The door closed softly behind.

The nervousness from Bettina’s impending arrival had melted away: Jillian’s parting gift. She had spoken the exact right words—words he needed to hear.

 

The coffee was finished. Drip was not his drink. That brew was for the sisters, who called it: the beverage of choice for the truckers they were. While he washed up, the coffee machine cycled off. It was taken apart and cleaned. The rituals of the morning provided continuity of purpose. It was a pleasure to contribute to the family—each did as they could.

For him this morning herbal tea was what he craved. Something flowery. A steaming cupful was brought along to the patio. He reclined on the lounge chair and attended the bird performance. They were noisy today, flying back and forth. A humming bird arrived at the feeder, punctuating the performance. Another came along, alighting by the first. Their stillness was but a moment’s pause to us, forever to them. With a squeak they were back in the air, chasing each other across the yard. Their piercing little calls faded into the distance, replaced by the barely audible rumble of a motorcycle. As the sound approached, Darren’s pulse increased.

 

The garage door had been left open after Jillian’s departure. Darren stood in the shadow, just inside. The motorcycle made its way along the gravel road trailing behind a cloud of dust. It slowed. A hand came off the bar to wave in reply. Rolling into the garage, the rider switched off the motor and pushed the side-stand down. She leaned back. Opening the dark visor revealed a smiling face.

“Darren!”

“Hi, Bettina.”

She pulled off the helmet. A rope of red hair was braided tightly down her back. It swung behind like a tail.

They moved to each other automatically. He leaned in to kiss her cheeks, but she would have none of that. She directed his lips to hers before hugging him tightly against stiff leathers.

“Wow!” she said, leaning back. “I’m here! Can you believe it!”

“I am so happy to see you.”

“Me too! You weren’t kidding about this place being off the beaten path. It is way out here. The GPS had warned me when I left the pavement that beyond this point there be dragons.”

“Just past the black stump, turn right—”

“Yes. By Farmer John’s shed, the one that burned down back in ‘86.”

“And yet, you found the way.”

She stood before him, having removed the bags from the bike. “I did! Technology can be such a wonderful thing.”

“Let’s go in.”

“Please. Without air flow, these leathers get hot. I am already sweaty.”

“You good with the bags?”

“Sure. Lead on.”

“I can’t believe you are here!”

He led into the house. “Your room’s ready. Back here.”

“Nice kitchen. Marble counter tops? Spotless too.”

“I clean when I am nervous.”

“Nervous? About me? Aah, that’s so sweet. I don’t bite.”

Darren expected her to follow with, “Unless you ask me nicely,” but the words didn’t come.

“This is it,” he said, panning his hand across the room.

“Sweet. Is this the bathroom? A steam shower? How fun!” She turned back to him. “This is a great room, Darren.”

“I’ll be in Claudia and Hans’. They are away on a long-haul. Not sure when they’ll be back. Maybe next week.”

She looked at him, her head tilted slightly, “I am so totally melting in this suit.” She pulled the zipper long and stepped out of it. A thin white cotton shirt hung from her shoulders; the leggings were painted on. “See? Sweaty.”

His tongue didn’t work.

“Are we alone?”

“Yes.”

“Good.” She smiled at him knowing what her look was doing to his brain, and elsewhere. “What’s for lunch? Only had a piece of burned toast this morning at the motel. Got on the road early. I am like totally starving.”

He snapped out of it. “Ah, egg salad sandwiches. Fruit salad. I can toast the bread burned, if that’s what you like.”

“Would you? That is so sweet. Raw bread is so boring.”

“I’m on it,” he said, leaving the room, unsure if she had been joking.

There were words on her lips, but he had departed too quickly. She didn’t utter them to his back. The sight of him wiggling away drew her attention. She said to herself, “OK, Bettina. Way to cover it, saying you were hot rather than explaining the nervous sweat to him. He’s nervous too. Calm down. You are gonna say something goofy. Try to relax.”

There was a moment’s thought before coming to a conclusion. She took the leggings off and pulled on shorts—no underwear in between. The thin shirt was left as it was, braless underneath.

“Feels good being naughty,” she said.

 

Placing the sandwiches on a tray with the drinks, he looked up to see her enter the kitchen. “Va–voom!” he thought.

“Good!” she thought back.

After clearing his throat, he said, “Let’s sit outside. Is that OK?”

“Suits,” she said, stepping out the open door. Crossing to the glider bench, she sat.

He looked at the table, then at her.

She asked, “Is this OK? More comfy floating.”

“That’s fine,” he said, and pulled over a side table.

Taking a sandwich, a pouty frown crossed her face, “Ah, you didn’t burn the bread.”

He was taken aback, “I thought you were kidding! You were, weren’t you?”

After letting him suffer a moment, she turned the frown upside-down, “Of course! Silly. I am a redhead, you know. I’ve a reputation to keep, among other things.” She pointed to the word printed on the shirt below the cleavage, between the mounds of her breasts.

He stared.

She looked down, the smile now becoming a mischievous grin. “Oh, it’s all bunched up. You can’t read it.” She pulled the loose shirt tight against her definition.

“Better?”

When an immediate answer wasn’t returned, the pout was back. “It says, ‘Brat.’ You aren’t gonna have a heart attack, are you? Just having a little fun.”

Continuing to eye him, she took a sip of the drink. “Look at you. Can’t talk, but the communication is clear: you are enjoying this too.”

She sat back. “OK, alright, alright. So I am a little excited. Can you blame me? I will tone it down. Let’s finish our lunch. I did tell you I was starving, right?”

“Yes. You did.”

“He speaks. Great! Reward!” She leaned in and gave him a quick kiss before taking a bite of sandwich. Over the mouthful she said, “Let me tell you a story.”

“I like stories. Will this be a good one?”

“Leads us to here.”

“Then it is a good one. Please, carry on.”

 

 

“I had been at Eastlands Hospital only a short while before Dr. Ramos and Nurse Crawford started. Dr. Joel and Nurse Judy, as you know them. They had been at University Hospital before then. He’s well known in the brain field. A bit famous actually, academia-wise. Eastlands had heard the rumor he had wanted to get out into the real world. They made an offer and snatched him up quick. The esteem was flattering, but it didn’t turn Joel’s head. Judy keeps him honest.”

“They are really good together, like they complete each other.”

“Yes. That’s a nice way to put their relationship. I liked them immediately. They became very important in my life. Especially through all the turmoil when the Catholic Church took over Eastlands Hospital. They renamed it Saint Louisa. The reformation was really hard, on me in particular. I wouldn’t have made it through emotionally were it not for Joel and Judy, and my guys.”

“He and Judy have been by here, you know?”

“Yes.”

“‘Checking up on me. See how I am making out,’ he had said. They stayed in the guest house.”

“Ah–huh.”

“Their first night we were up late, sitting here like this by the pool—chit-chatting like teenagers. There was a lot of energy. But eventually I got tired and excused myself for bed. The sound of them going on drifted in through the open window while I drifted off to dreamland, punctuated occasionally by Hans’ laughter.

“The next morning Joel confided that they had accepted positions back with University. Hans insisted they stay with us as long as they needed, while the relocation was being settled.”

“Amazing coincidence, huh?”

“Life can be like that: happens all the time around us, if we have open eyes and hearts.”

“Well spoken. I’d like to carry on with my story, if I may.”

“Oh yes, please. Sorry.”

She picked up his hand and laced their fingers together. Observing this new apparatus, she said, “But first, a digression. Did Joel explain why they were leaving St. Louisa?”

“Something about wanting to refocus on research.”

“Yeah. Something like that. But really, he was bored with having to continuously navigate the profit and loss politics between the hospital and the insurance board who dictated treatment parameters.”

“Death panels run by insurance suits.”

“Exactly. Health care is a for-profit business, thus the church’s interest.”

“When you said, ‘reformation,’ what did you mean?”

“When the hospital’s name was changed, it wasn’t just a rebranding. They brought in their edict on what care meant.”

“Like women’s care?”

“For instance. Any care that was at odds with church doctrine was heresy—forbidden.”

“And the community?”

“Could go to another hospital.”

“Was there another hospital in the area?”

“No. Only a doc-in-a-box, out-patient surgery.”

“Nasty business against patients.”

“Not just patients, but staff too.”

“Wasn’t there protest?”

“Of course.”

“But it didn’t help?”

“The purple suits had it all worked out before. They knew exactly how to manipulate the situation to neuter dissent.”

“Couldn’t you join together to complain to the state, or something?”

“We did. The union got the state involved. They came in strong, offering protection. That there would be an investigation.”

“What came of that?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?! Really?”

“It was all a show. The government representatives were stooges, actors. They showed up already paid off. My colleagues that were the leaders, or were involved in the protest, were fired. Every single one of them. The entire gynecology group was sacked. Can you imagine?”

“Horrible.”

“One, a woman who was the chief nurse of the cardiovascular department, didn’t accept the termination. She fought it.”

“Good for her.”

“No. Not really. The purple frock show continued to turn the crank. In the end, she was blacklisted. Ruined her. She works now as a cocktail waitress at a silly dance club.”

“That is terrible. But can’t she move somewhere else?”

“Eastlands is where she is from—lived there her whole life. All her family is there. Even if she could leave, try a start somewhere else, the hospital saw to that. They got her license revoked with prejudice. Tainted credentials means her medical career is over.”

“Argh. Poor woman.”

“Linda.”

“Is that her name?”

“Yes. She is very nice. A sister in the redhead tribe. We’ve stayed in touch; we take coffee together sometimes. I’ve been out with her, met her family, and been to the bar where she now works—though I’m not much for the social thing. I didn’t care for the bar: the place was such a pick-up joint.”

“Aahh.”

“I did like talking to her family. They were really nice, but probably found me dull.”

“Dull? You? I can’t believe that.”

“I was different then.”

“I can’t imagine you as introverted. It takes no imagination to know what a tease you are, flashing your goods.”

“You’re sweet. I’m not really flirty. The Brat, that’s for you, Darren. You perceive the world around you. I enjoy your attention.”

“It’s on you a lot.”

“Yeah,” she said, holding the smile. “I know what that does for you, and it’s right back at me. We got a feedback loop thing going on. It’s fun.”

He slid over against her and rested his head on her shoulder. He said quietly, “It is.”

“A last thing about Linda and her family. They are poly.”

“OK. How did you feel when she told you that?”

“I was confused. It was still Eastlands Hospital then. We had finished our shift together and were chatting in the parking lot. I get really wired after work. She was hungry and wanted to keep our talk going too. The sun was going down. There’s a nice restaurant with a patio on a cliff above the river that runs through town. We went there. I don’t think before that night we had talked much personal. She asked me if I knew what polyamory was. I said I hadn’t realized she was a Mormon. After a laugh, she explained the basics, and then sat back. She’s a good listener. That’s good, as the words, the questions, kept bubbling out of me. The short of it was, for her, being poly was having multiple intimate loves simultaneously in her life.”

“Yeah, that’s essentially it.”

Her hand found his cheek. “I told her I understood. That there were three men in my life. They were everything to me: Manny, Moe, and Jack.”

“Oh–ho! You are doing it with The Pep Boys?”

She nudged him playfully off her shoulder, “Oh–ho yourself, Darren. The Boys are my horses. Between work and them, I haven’t had the time for any others.”

“OK. Peace. I was just teasing you back, Miss Cleavage.”

“I know you didn’t put your head on my shoulder just because you were sleepy.”

“Well…”

“Come on. Put it back. I like your head here.”

“How is it you came to have horses named for an auto parts store?”

“They aren’t actually. Just another one of those random things. Manny came into my life when I was in my preteens. My best friend, Sabé, introduced us. She had invited me over for the weekend. They kept horses on a big pasture at her house. We were both having a hard time of it. Our parents didn’t understand. It wasn’t school. Our grades were OK—that was all parents seemed to care about. It was our bodies that were difficult, changing. Sabé and I were going through that together. Getting curves where before there were none. Boys. They can be so stupid. And girls, they can be worse. So mean. She and I would run away and hide from the world. That meant hanging out at the barn, being with her horses.”

“I like horses.”

“That’s nice,” she said, squeezing at his fingers between hers. “Still OK? Not fallen asleep?”

“My fingers? No. I like the contact. Keep going with the story.”

“Before I had met Sabé, the thought of horses, these huge animals, had intimidated me. But her horses were nice. I liked them from when we were first introduced. I wasn’t scared at all. Being near them felt natural. Sabé showed me how to care for them—feeding and brushing. They responded and were gentle, calm. But oh man! The first time they took off across the pasture running, playing with each other, I saw how fast and agile they were. Sabé said they were happy and were showing off for me.

“Right away I learned to ride. Sabé taught me. She said I was, ‘A natural.’ That was it. Hooked me deeply. I was over frequently after that. Sabé’s parents would have me for dinners and sleep overs. Like, I became their adopted daughter. I think they were glad to have me there. Their only child was not a dour mopey teenager when I was around.”

“Lovely friend.”

“My best girlfriend.”

“Are you still in touch?”

“Yes. Perhaps you will meet her.”

“I would enjoy learning to ride. Have always wanted to, but there was never the time, or opportunity.”

“Perhaps that can be arranged. My first horse was arranged by Sabé.”

“Manny?”

“Yes. He had a few years on him, but he had a disposition excellent for the eager novice I was. He took care of me as I took care him, like Sabé showed me. We did trail riding. And when my seat was better—”

“Your seat?”

“My balance and confidence. Anticipating Manny, and he anticipating me.”

“Riding sounds complicated. I thought you just sit there and the horse goes clip, clop.”

“Ah, no. A bit more to it than that. Later, when we were in our teens, Sabé invited me to attend a competition she was in. It was a state level event, held in the north. She and her parents would be gone for a week. As it was summer break, the trip was OK with my parents. They were happy to have a holiday from their dour teenager. I was so happy to be invited—proud, actually of my friend, Sabé: horsewoman athlete. I had no idea what was going on.”

“What was the competition?”

“Three Day Eventing.”

“And that is?”

“Eventing is like an equestrian triathlon, over three days. Dressage, cross-country, and show jumping. Totally grueling. She had involved me in her training. We really got into cross-country. Unfortunately, the coursework proved to be too much for Manny. He wanted to keep up, but afterwards was so sore for it. Age had brought arthritis to his legs. We just stayed with trail riding for him after that. Then, Moe came into my life. He is a big and bold thoroughbred. We trained side by side with Sabé, but for when I did set-ups for her.”

“Roadie?”

“Something like that.”

“How was the competition?”

“Oh–my–god! Amazing! Horses everywhere. I was so high on the energy. That was it. Totally hooked, in love with horses—thoroughbreds in particular.”

“And Sabé?”

“Totally in love with her too.”

“Oh. No, I meant, how did she do?”

“She did excellent. Tops for the cross-country and jumping. Her horse had a fifth leg when some jumps got a bit sticky. The dressage, though. That caught her out. We knew that discipline was going to be weak for them. ‘Prissy dance contest,’ she called it. Operating a robo-horsie was not their thing. She’s an action girl, so was her horse. I learned from her that I was one too.”

“Dressage? I’ve no idea what you are talking about.”

She laughed. He sat up. Turning on the bench to face each other, a curious look crossed her face.

“What?” he asked.

After a moment, she composed herself. “You don’t get it, do you? Sabé was my girlfriend.”

“You said that, girl friend.”

“No, girlfriend, as in lover. We were intimate.”

“Oh. You are right. I didn’t get that. Guys are dense. This one in particular.”

“In more ways than one. Come here. Put your head back. I want to tell you another story, and then I’ll want a shower—wash off this sticky road grime sweat.”

He slid back into place. “I’m ready.”

 

“You were admitted at St. Louisa with great fanfare. The doctors met the helicopter on the roof, bringing you in. The administrators lurked behind, rubbing their greedy little hands together. They salivated at the fame you would bring their hospital: the husband of Karissa Dechinta. Oh, but they were excited. On the way in, your status had been forwarded to Dr. Ramos. All was at the ready.”

“Kara never found peace from the attention.”

“Huh? What do you mean? The newspaper said she gave of herself selflessly.”

“It was just her job, she had said. No heroics. Her co-worker. He was the one who went into the chamber. He was the one who sacrificed himself.”

“But she remained at the controls and was poisoned for it. What happened to the co-worker?”

“He was already a walking dead man before entering the chamber. He knew it, as did she.”

“How?”

“Their exposure badges. His was at lethal. Hers was less. It was the logical choice, he insisted. She watched his progress on the monitor. He fell several times, but each time got back up. The valve lever was there before him. Feeling the way along the wall, he crossed straight to it. The override was pulled to open. And then he fell, crumpled into a fetal position. He did not get up. His face, Kara said, was burned black. That was it. He did not move again. She went back to the controls and completed the procedure, each step calmly, and then the next. After the critical shutdown initiated, she left. Made her way along the hallway and into the gallery. The sled was there, waiting to take her out. She climbed in. Sealed the hatch and was pressed heavily into the seat from the sharp acceleration. The g-force blacked her out. She was next conscious at the facility hospital. Zuni and I were there, sitting with her.”

“I didn’t know anything of this story.”

“It was suppressed.”

“The co-worker?”

“Jeb. His body remained in the chamber. A robot was sent in. His form fell apart into ashes when they tried to retrieve it. There was nothing more that could be done. His remains were entombed within the chamber when it was encased. Sealed within the obscurity of forever.”

There was silence between them.

Darren’s mind was still. Bettina’s was not, but words would not come.

After a while, he broke the silence. “It is nice out here. I enjoy sharing this time with you. Birds know not our trivial worries.”

“The hummingbirds are amazing. They love that butterfly bush.”

“As do the butterflies.”

“Yes.” She drew in a deep breath and let it out. A second was drawn, and then she said, “I am sorry about where we went just now. This was not the conversation I wanted.”

“Don’t apologize, Bettina. That was all on me. I needed to tell someone. I’m glad it was you.”

“I appreciate your trust.”

He sobbed softly, pulling into her.

She took a breath and blurted out, “Let me tell you something silly OK? Change of mood. Something about this silly girl.”

Mopping at his face, “I would like to hear your words.”

“It’s about the story of Mr. Woody. Have you heard it?”

“Ah, no.”

“Judy didn’t mention?”

“’fraid not.”

“Good! This will be new to you. Something fun.”

“You have my attention.”

“As you will learn how you first got mine. You really did. Still do. This attention grabbing originally came about, so to speak, while you were in a coma. I was the physiotherapist for the ward. Protocol for patients in your state is to assist in keeping joints and muscles flexible. This was Dr. Ramos’, Joel’s, philosophy of care: we give our patients attention as they require.

“Generally it’s a routine of quiet on the floor. We like to make a bit of humor to lighten the dreary mood. Some fun backstories are invented. With the ones that strike us as clever, perhaps we elaborate at bit more. Judy explained when you were brought in who you were.”

“What did you think of me?”

“Dutiful of my role. Your condition was stable. A nice man. Pleasant looking. Having a lovely sleep. That’s what was going through my head when we were first getting acquainted. Dr. Ramos had instructed the course I was to follow. Judy helped me with the initial manipulations; with the latter part, I didn’t require her. I’m a pretty fit chick.”

“I’ve noticed. Check out these arms and shoulders. Totally buff.”

“Aww, shucks, mister. ‘Tweren’t nothin’,” she said, and playfully punched him on the arm. “I was cooling down, finishing with your feet. Joel thinks the feet talk directly to the deepest part of the brain. I agree. You were the last patient left on the shift for me. As it was our first session, I was happy to spend extra time getting to know you, so to speak.”

“I feel you are leading this story, building up for something?”

“Yes. I had become aware you had a little performance going on.”

“I did? In a coma?”

“Ah–huh. I hadn’t noticed at first, until you made a small groan. Could hardly hear it over the whirling noise of the equipment in the room. I was sitting below, working a foot. You were prone before me. Hearing you groan again, I lifted my head up to see. You had a towel across your waist, but were otherwise nude. And there it was.”

“What was?”

“Your cock, of course. It was hugely erect and had pushed itself out from under the towel.”

She looked at Darren, who didn’t say anything.

“So there I was. Professional medical staff, staring at this erection. It was moving too, quivering. I was stunned, or so I thought. I told myself: be relaxed, stay composed. But what happened next…”

“What?”

“The quivering increased. Your whole body stiffened, and you ejaculated.”

“Oh. I take it that was not normal for patients in my state?”

“Ah, no. There was quite a bit of volume too.”

“I can be productive.”

She wrinkled her brow, and said, “Yeah. The third shock followed immediately. Just after you finished off your selfie, in walks Judy. She saw the prodigious fluids spattered across your chest. And then she looked at me standing at your feet, my face aghast.”

“Hah! What did she do?”

“She was instantly sympathetic. Closing the door behind her, she said, mischievously, ‘Bettina, I see you have met Mr. Woody.’

“No idea what I said—certainly nothing coherent. Without a pause, she was all business. A warm towel cleaned you up, while I continued to mumble, trying to explain my terror. If this event was found out, I’d lose my job, or worse.

“The priest administrators running the hospital were severe prudish. Remember I told you about Linda? The real reason she was treated so harshly wasn’t just because of her protest—they had weathered more effective dissent. It was that they disapproved of her multiple partner lifestyle.”

“Judy shushed me to calm down. ‘Not to worry,’ she said, ‘you are in the club now.’

“After you were cleaned up, she explained: In the short time since your arrival, this was not the first episode. Indeed, you had Joel rather intrigued. There had been some investigation into your ability. It was thought, by remaining in a lucid dreaming state, your mind experienced a world of its own crafting. The reality of interacting with it could stimulate nocturnal emissions.”

“Huh. Welcome to the show that never ends. We’re so glad you could attend. Come inside, come inside. Club Darren.”

“So to speak. On the way home I picked up Chinese. Opened a bottle of wine that had been in the refrigerator for way too long. I was still so out of it that night. The next days were off. Anyway, I needed the down time. Reclined on the couch and vegged. Ate out of the take-away box with chopsticks. Drank wine from a big glass. Watched a movie. A romantic French comedy, Les deux Heureux (Two are Happy).”

“You speak French?”

“I do. Isn’t that cool? Still leave the subtitles on for the difficult dialect, but for the most part I don’t need them.”

“What was the film about?”

“The classic setup. Two people, a man and a woman, who don’t know each other. Each booked a suite at a spa hotel in the French Alps. They had been given a gift certificate for the booking as birthday gifts. The hotel was way up in the mountains. The drive up with the view was stunning. They arrived at the same time. The woman had followed the man—stuck behind him—on the curvy road; she complained all the way about his slow driving. He complained about the crazy person tailgating. When they turned into the hotel parking, he didn’t recognize that she pulled in as well. The lot was really full causing them to park in different sections. It took a while to get the luggage out of the car. But finally, he made his way up, just in time to hold the door for the woman entering the hotel: she had finally passed him. He did not recognize her as the tailgating driver. When they came to the front desk, the clerk talked to them as though they were together. They paused, actually seeing each other for the first time. Both tried to talk at the same moment. One excused for the other to talk; this went round several times. The clerk’s attention went back and forth like a tennis match chair umpire. Finally, finishing the other’s sentence, each admitted nervously that they were not together. A second clerk came over to service the man. Straining to overhear the other’s conversation, they learned neither was with a partner. The first clerk, an attractive woman who was the chief, motioned for the man to come over. She said there was a problem: the rooms they had booked were not available. A water pipe had burst the night before. The whole floor was closed. Sorry. The woman was verbally upset. The man got quietly depressed. Continuing in a calm voice, the chief said she understood that they both had such a long drive to the hotel. And rather than turn them away, there was another possibility, if it was agreeable. Because of a cancellation, a room had become available. She had just gotten off the phone with the Sheikh that had booked it. He had apologized for the late notice and had asked that they please bill him for the full stay and all the arranged amenities. This was a unique opportunity. To overcome any inconvenience, she would be happy to put them in that suite, if they wouldn’t mind sharing. It had two bedrooms, by the way.”

“I think I might have seen that one. There was some embarrassing accidental nudity concerning the bathroom. The woman walked in while the guy was taking a shower. He had shampoo in his eyes and didn’t see her. She turned to leave and walked into the back of the closed door.”

“Yes! Then later the woman accidentally exposes herself in the kitchen while making an espresso—that silk robe of hers just kept coming untied.

“It was hilarious when they later went to the spa together. It was the first time either of them had been there. They walked out onto the terrace in white terrycloth robes—”

“Wearing bathing suits underneath.”

“Exactly. All the other guests were nude. Laying in the sun. Swimming. Strolling around.”

“So of course, they had to disrobe as well.”

“Of course. The conversation after was a scream: unintentional innuendo, and such. Trying not to stare, but embarrassingly being caught doing just that. The man having to cross his legs rather severely, and hide himself with a drink tray he took from a waiter. I was rolling on the floor from laughing so hard,”

“The wet mark on the woman’s towel where she had been sitting.”

“Oh yeah! I forgot that. She had actually spilled a drink on it earlier.”

“But it worked out for them in the end, didn’t it? The panorama view through the window. The sunrise on the mountain peaks…”

“The couple cuddled in bed together.”

“Beautiful.”

“And when they got back to the city, wasn’t that a big surprise waiting for them!”

Bettina, “I really enjoyed that movie. Rolling on the floor laughing was exactly what I needed. The wine had gotten me a little drunk, but not enough. So I opened a second bottle. It wasn’t that late, and I felt like being a night owl. I was back on the couch blanking out to scenes from the movie; unbeknownst, the next show had begun. The opening credits were almost through when I recognized. It was a series episode. Finding Comfort. You know it?”

“Finding Comfort? Sure! That’s from a few years back. Kara was totally into the series. She got Zuni and I hooked as well.”

Bettina took a breath, thinking quick to avoid this turn back to Kara. “Could I have more tea? I am getting a bit parched from all my yammering on.”

“Well, certainly, Miss Scarlett. Won’t be but a minute.” He stood to gather up the plates and glasses.

“Thank you most kindly, sir,” she said, and pushed off, rocking the glider bench. She began to hum. The sound was distracting; it followed him inside the house.

 

Usually by this time of the day Darren would be feeling a bit tired, and would want to lay down for a while. This energy cycle had limited tagging along with Jillian in the truck. She had thought to get him involved in the profession, and had started him as a trucker-in-training. But the tiredness would come on, and then it was back to the navigator seat for him—staring out the window until he would conk off. She would wake him, and he would crawl back to the sleeper compartment.

Today however, he was feeling energetic, wide awake.

 

In the meanwhile, Bettina had become hypnotized by the activity around the butterfly bush. Two hummingbirds were working the flowers edging ever closer to each other.

Coming out through the slider door, a huge smile was across Darren’s face; a glass was in each hand.

She turned as he sat. “There you are. I’ve missed you!” She leaned forward and kissed him. This went on for a while until they each leaned back for air.

“Firsties!” she said.

“Hmm…” came the response, his head had nestled atop her shoulder.

“Passion kiss,” she explained. “I like being here with you.”

“Your visit was overdue.”

“I know, wasn’t it? I am here now!”

“Yes!”

“Hey so, I am feeling a bit sore and sticky from sweating in the leathers. I’d like to”—nudging shoulders—“shower. Would you join me?”

Raising his head to find her lips in answer, “Yes.”

She stood, and pulled him up. “Come on then. Show me how those fancy fixtures operate. I want steam!”

“You can have that.”

 

The glasses of tea were left abandoned on the side table. The ice occasionally clinked as it melted in the ambient heat of the day. Some giggling and oohing came into the yard through the open bedroom window, mixing with the hum of the steam generator. The water ran on and on, until it didn’t.

 

Bettina lifted up on an elbow. She had been playing thoughtlessly with a lock of Darren’s hair, twirling it around a finger. “Should cut this.”

“So you said.”

“Meant it! I had every intention of doing so. Gave you a nice shampoo scalp massage, didn’t I?”

“You certainly did. And I gave one back in return.”

“Yes. But then you got distracted.”

“I believe it was you that took us there.”

“Hmm… Yes. Understandable, don’t you think?”

“The teasing you used to give me at the hospital, leaning over; your smock would fall open strategically.”

“You liked that?”

“I looked forward to time with you very much.”

“I’m glad. I did too. You were my special guy in the ward.”

“The entertaining talent of Mr. Woody?”

“Yeah, OK. I’ll admit it. Had me thinking, Guy-wise. It had just been my equines for a long time. Work, training, horse-keeping, repeat. Time goes by.”

“Yes, it does.”

“Mr. Woody, in my imagination. Yeah, we had fun. But it was the guy attached that pushed me over. I organized it so we would have more session time.”

“Had me wondering how you got through the day if you spent as much time with the others as you spent with me—”

“My special guy. As for the others, they were taken care of. Judy knew what was going on. She helped facilitate the time.”

“Dr. Ramos?”

“Joel was fascinated objectively by what was going on in your brain. I was as well, by the way, but from a more subjective perspective.”

“Oh?”

“More secret telling time.”

Sitting up, he said, “Do tell, do!”

She moved against him, wiggling to embrace his chest. “There was this birthday gift, from a friend.”

“Sabé?”

“Yes!” she said, squeezing him. “It was a prank gift, really. My face turned bright red when I opened it. She had her fun teasing me. Though she had suggestions, I was shy. They were left unexplored. The gift ended up in the back of a drawer.

“At our next meetup, she asked all innocent like, ‘How’s it going?’”

“You lost me there.”

“It was a sex toy, OK? A big rabbit vibrator.”

“Ah…”

“Yes, ‘ah.’ Because of my guyless-ness—”

“Right. Got it.”

“That was just the setup. Now begins the secret part. Imagine: Me at home. It’s late. Finding Comfort series comes on. Gets a girl ta thinkin’—”

“Mr. Woody?”

“—about a nice guy.”

“The drawer where Sabé’s thoughtful gift resided?”

“Back of the underwear drawer.”

“Naturally. However, I am confused. You wear underwear?”

She squeezed.

“Ouch! No, wait. You can keep your hand there.”

“You like that?”

“Yeah.”

“OK. Like I was saying. Found the big ol’ rabbit. Had a hell of a time finding batteries though. Had to scavenge them from a flashlight.”

“I see.”

“The flashlight was in the car.”

“Right. Good place for a flashlight.”

“The car was parked in the driveway.”

“A–huh.”

“I hadn’t been wearing any clothes.”

“So?”

“I’m a bit body shy.”

“That, I don’t believe. You?!”

“Well, I was. That is why the tease show for you was so…”

“Stimulating?”

“Yes. Doing exhibitionist things was not in my comfort zone.”

“Your blush gave you away. Knew you were into it.”

“Judy knew too. She thought those little teases were harmless, and were helping to draw me out of my shell. That’s why she helped: to encourage me. As for you, it was clear to us both that you were enjoying the show.”

“There was, after all, a lot to enjoy.”

More movement.

“Ahmm,” he tried to carry on, “So you went out nude to your car for batteries for your vibrator?”

“No! Of course not, silly. I put on a nightie first.”

“That’s good. Was it silk? Heard those can be tricky to tie-up reliably.”

She ignored him, but carried on, “I didn’t realize until after that the material didn’t cover my bottom-side. There was a wee bit of a draft when I bent over to reach into the trunk.”

“Ha–ha!”

“It gets better. After I found the flashlight and closed the trunk lid, I saw there was this old neighbor guy out walking his dog.”

Darren didn’t say anything for his part in the banter.

Realizing she had gotten involved in the story telling and hadn’t been paying attention to the increased attention she had been providing him, she asked, “You still OK? Want me to go on with the story?”

“Ah, yeah. Walk and chew bubblegum.”

“Right. I can manage both for you.

“So the neighbor just kept walking by, casually greeting me a good evening.”

“And you?”

“After I picked my jaw up from the ground, I replied with a good evening to him. Then I went back inside the house.”

“Distracted?”

“At first, yes. But the episode was on pause at a rather explicit scene—”

“And the batteries were found. So?”

“Unpaused! Learned more about myself that night. More than just grooming tips to pick up from the series.”

“I liked your story, but would further detail be forthcoming concerning the big ending?”

“Yeah. I know you would like to hear about those details. I can count your pulse. Wanna give mine a try? Hum me a tune, will ya, love?”

 


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