Chapter 9 – The Storm Rises

I start taking down the fall decorations and decide where I will put up the winter ones.  Zeke and I have managed to pull ourselves far enough apart that he is upstairs on the computer when John Robert walks in.  I find it very hard not to turn and run.  I stand near the register and watch him approach, feeling like a small bird that is mesmerized by a snake.  It’s not an inappropriate description.  As he gets closer, I become aware of the feeling that there is a wall between us and he does indeed stop a little further away than I thought he would.  I am peripherally aware that Vader is not with me but before I can panic, he is at my side and Zeke is coming down the stairs.

“Hello, John Robert.  What can we do for you?” He is polite but I can tell that there is absolutely no thought of customer service in his voice as he walks up to stand beside me.

“I’m sorry to hear that you were—indisposed the other night.  I was hoping to talk to you about buying some supplies that I will need for our Yule ritual.”  John Robert is apparently going to completely ignore the fact that Zeke has just announced he will protect me with that action.

I take a deep breath and pick up paper and pen to make a list.  “What do you need?”

“Rhyssa told me that you would need to order mistletoe oil and I especially want to be sure that it will be here in time for the Sabbat.  I have – special – plans for the ritual.”  He looks at me and his eyes dip down to my breasts.  The implication is clear that he intends to have the Great Rite at his Yule ritual and I brace myself not to shudder, but only by sheer force of will.  I do not want Zeke to have to hurt this … snake … and I know he will if I just barely indicate that I am less than happy with Lord Kiss My Ass.

My knight in shining armor reaches over and takes the pen from me.  As he pulls the pad of paper out of my other hand, he makes a point of eye contact.  “Mattie, I forgot that I left the teapot on upstairs.  Would you please take care of it?”

I don’t argue with him but turn and make my exit, stage left.  I figure Vader will let me know if they end up killing each other.  As I put my foot on the first step, I hear John Robert.

“Got her well trained, don’t you, son?”

Dear gods, he does have a death wish.  I move a little faster so that I can’t be called as an eyewitness witness against my lover when the case goes to trial.

I am standing at the back window, watching the waterfall when I see Zeke come storming out of the house like his ass is on fire.  I glance down to see Vader looking up at me like, “Well?” and I take the hint.  I go down to the garden.  By the time I can get outside, Zeke has seated himself in full lotus at the side of the pond.

Normally I would leave him alone at meditation but since I can feel the anger pouring off of him in waves, I step around him and face him.  He yanks me down into his lap and even as he lifts his head to me, I am kissing him.  I hold his head between my hands and pour all of my love into the act of merging our mouths together.

Time stands still for us as we almost get into each other’s skin.  I can feel his anger abating, to be replaced with another strong emotion.  I can also feel his rising between my legs where I am sitting on him.  We break apart to gasp in breath.

“Damn.  He’s done it again.  Gods, Mattie.  I want to be inside of you so bad.”  He mumbles against my cheek as we clutch and hold onto the other.

“I know.  I want you there, too—but the shop is open and I should be inside…”  I say it, but I make no move to go back to my duties.  “So where is the body?”

He chuckles, a sound that has no mirth.  “Lord Kiss My Ass is still alive, but I will shake the hand of whoever does him in.  He managed to skirt actual insult, but still gave the impression that we are so far beneath him we should be glad he condescends to do business with us.  I fixed his little red wagon, though.”  He looks thoughtful.

When he doesn’t go on, I poke him.  “How?”

“Oh, I told him that it didn’t matter what he needed, or how much he was willing to pay for it, that we would never sell him a damned thing.  He tried to threaten me with telling the rest of his flunkeys not to shop here, but I just blew him off.  Told him it didn’t matter if they shopped here or not, since they do not represent that much income.  I think that surprised him.  Does he think that we’re as successful as we are with just his ten or twelve people shopping here once in a blue moon?  I didn’t bother to tell him that his own daughter spends most of her allowance here.”  He snorts.

I am enjoying the picture of a thwarted John Robert—once again, thanks to Zeke when a cloud covers the sun and the chill that goes through me is not all temperature change.  I let go of him and stand up.  He rises and looks at me.

“What is it?”

“Oh god, Zeke.  I am so afraid.  He will do something, he will have to get back his pride.  He can’t let this go, you have thwarted him more than once.  Not that he has ever had any power over us, but I could tell Rhyssa, who will then tell the rest of the group…  No, he won’t let this end here.  And I couldn’t take it if anything happened to you…”

He hugs me tight against his body.  “Nothing is going to happen.  The spell is working.  I could feel the wall around us.  You’d have like to see him try to step closer, but each time he did, it was like walking into a brick wall.  He just could not get any closer.  Baffled him, I could tell.”

I let him comfort me but privately decide I want to research some boosters for his ritual.  I will not take any chances with that man…that snake, who is so sure of his own power and the rightness of his actions that no one and nothing else matters.  We go into the shop to find Vader guarding the front door.  I praise him and find a liver treat for him.  Once he’s crunched it down, he lays down at the register, beside me again.

I’m a little surprised that we don’t have a visit from Rhyssa, but the rest of the week goes by without any sign of her—or the others from the group.  The only one I worry about is Laurie but I acknowledge that she is not my responsibility.  I can only hope that she will attend to her * ahem* delicate problem before it gets too late to do anything about it.  Zeke is discreet about it, but I realize that he is pushing off computer work until the evenings so that he can be in the shop with me during the day.

I decide to take the bull by the horns by moving things in the living room and tightening up the display area enough that I can put a desk and a chair in one corner.  It just happens to be the corner opposite from the door, so we will be able to keep an eye on each other.  I drag out a three-fold Japanese screen I had stashed away in the basement and use it to mark out the area a bit.  I am standing there, admiring the set up when he walks up behind me.

“Making an office, m’dear?”  He wraps those strong arms around me and I lean back onto him.

“Yes, I am.  Would you like to use it?  There’s an outlet right here.”  I point at the wall plate.

“Am I that obvious?”

“Only to those who love you.  I don’t want you to fall so far behind in the digital side of things that we lose our shirts.”

“Oh, that’s not going to happen, but I will be happy to put my computer down here.  I’ve been thinking that we should have done this a long time ago.  You get just enough traffic through here that you are frazzled trying to help them all.  It’s in fits and starts so there’s no point in paying someone to work with you when they’re getting paid for a lot of sitting around time.  This way, I can help when you need it and I can get the paperwork done when it’s slow.”

“I just want you here where I can see you.”  I see no point in trying to get around the truth.  I love this man and I count on him more than I thought possible and not just in business matters.  I just need to figure out a way to say it out loud.

He nuzzles me.  “I love you, too.”

He moves all the computer stuff down within the hour.  He brings down a statue of Horus to put on the corner of the desk, looking out over the room.  I feel well protected—the dog, the man, and the warrior god.  Nothing is going to get to me.

The days pass without incident.  The first snows fall and we take Vader out back to watch him try to catch the flakes.  We have begun talking about plans for a handfasting ceremony but he hasn’t said a word about a legal license.  I don’t know why or if he even wants to make it binding in the eyes of the law, but since I have spent years avoiding the whole question of marriage, I figure he’s entitled to some leeway so I don’t bring it up.  I am looking through a wholesaler’s catalog when the door chimes tinkle and I lift my head to see Lilith walk in.  She comes up to the register and stares off somewhere over my left shoulder.  I am used to this odd manner; I think she has some eye problem that makes her always seem to be looking somewhere other than at you.

“Ummmm.  Mattie?”

“Yes, Lilith?  What can I do for you?”

“I need some more herbs.  And do you have some black wax?”

I lead her to the kitchen and begin to pull out drawers.  I hadn’t paid that much attention to her purchases before, but as I measure out what she wants to buy, I become conscious of the fact that these are all the herbs we have just reordered—the ones that Zeke used up making protection incense.  I wonder what she’s up to, but don’t feel that I can ask her point blank if she’s doing a protection spell.  And why.

We gather up all that she wants and I get her a block of wax and the black dye for it.  She pays for it with cash and I remember Zeke’s comment that she’s using her allowance.  She takes her bag and heads out.  As the door shuts behind her, I catch a glimpse of a golden haired boy putting his arm around her.  He apparently was out on the porch while she was shopping.  I step up to the window to look out in time to see Eric, also known as Apollo GoldenHawk, help her into his car and they drive off.

Zeke steps up next to me.  “Still seeing him?  I wonder how Lord Kiss My Ass feels about that?  His most obvious rival, dating his daughter?  Wonder how true Eric’s feelings are for her and how much of that devotion is a backhanded way to get at her father.”

I’m a little surprised that my darling generous man has managed to sound about as cynical as I usually am.  I glance over at him, but he is still looking out the window, with a thoughtful expression on his face.

We work companionably through the afternoon.  There is a slow but steady stream of customers that keep me just busy enough until it’s time to lock the door for the night.  I am actually at the point of turning the deadbolt when a woman comes up on the porch and opens the storm door.  I open the inner door and my jaw drops.  It’s Dorie Schmidt and her eyes are red and puffy, like she’s been crying.  I step back and let her in.

“Mattie, I know it’s closing time, but I really need to get a boline.  Do you carry one that looks like a leaf but when you open it, you can see the blade?”  Her voice is barely a whisper but I catch the terror in it.

“Yes, we do.  Follow me, it’s in the kitchen.”  I glance over at Zeke who is standing in the living room doorway watching us.  He grimaces and gestures his willingness to take her.  I shake my head and we go down the hall.

I take the boline she has asked for out of the drawer and show it to her.  “Is this what you want?”

“Oh god, yes, yes!  That’s exactly right.  I’ll take it.”  She is almost audible in what is obvious relief.  I can’t imagine why this small ritual knife is so important and while I’m trying to come up with a reason, she supplies it.  “I have lost John Robert’s.  I don’t know where it is, but he will be so furious if he can’t find it.  I just have to get this one.”

I make no comment, but put it in the box and walk to the register.  She follows me and after paying for it, I let her out of the house.  I lock the door and turn off the outside light.  When I turn, Zeke is standing at the bottom of the steps, ready to go back to our part of the house.  He waits for me as I power down the register, and carrying the money, we head up.

“So what was that all about?  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a human being in that much fear.”

I tell him what she told me and he frowns.  “Do you suppose that son of a bitch hits her?”

“Oh no.  I suspect it’s much worse.  Don’t you?”

He looks at me.  “You mean mental abuse?  He hits her with words?”

I nod.  This is a very sore spot for me.  My ex-husband had never laid a hand on me.  He had just used words and his entire body language to erode any self-confidence I had.  He had belittled me, had made me doubt every thought I had, every ability, even my own sanity.  He had managed to convince me that all of the rudeness, all the shouting was my fault, that I deserved to be treated as nothing because I was nothing.  I thanked the God and the Goddess every day that I was away from him.  Zeke knows this.  He has been very patient with me as I worked out of these issues.

That I can function as well as I do is in no small measure due to his consistent love and tenderness.  I reach over and pull his face to mine.  He is startled, but only for a moment and then returns the kiss with gusto.  Vader tries to get in the middle of it, but not for kisses.  He wants to be fed.  Poor animal, slave to his stomach.  Poor me, slave to my addiction to this man.  Don’t bother rescuing me.

I am helping customers when Rhyssa comes in the next day, all a-flutter with news.  She can hardly contain herself until they are out of the room to tell me all the dirt.

“Mattie, you wouldn’t believe it!  Lord Candeur has been threatened!  His business partner found out that he’s a Pagan and he hit the roof.  Apparently Barry Tisdale is very devout in his Christian beliefs and he had no idea that he’s been doing business with a High Priest for years.  He told Lord Candeur that he would have to buy him out, since he was not going to have his good name smeared with some Satanist bullshit.  He just kept going on and on about Lord Candeur going to Hell and how bad things were going to happen to him.”

Zeke has left his desk to come hear all of this.  Rhyssa takes a breath.  “And not only that!  Lord Candeur caught Sara in bed with Apollo!”  Her eyes are like saucers.  “Sara tried to tell him that they are in love, that Apollo wants to marry her, but Lord Candeur has banished him from the group!”

Oh boy.  Eric is hot-headed enough already.  I have to wonder what will happen if he is so completely thwarted in his desire to be HP.  I have to wonder if this was sort of planned, to push the father’s hand…only he didn’t think that it would go this way.  I am also fascinated by the fact that John Robert has managed to keep so vital a fact as his religious preference from someone as intimate as a business partner for years.  Where did Barry Tisdale think he went on Sundays?  Maybe John Robert has been attending Christian church as well, but since I don’t…  I can’t imagine trying to lead a double life.  I have enough problems with the drama of one.

Zeke raises that question.  “Did John Robert attend Christian church, that his partner didn’t know he was Pagan?”

“I don’t know.”  Rhyssa shrugs.  “I don’t think so.  I guess the question never came up before.”

“So how did it come up now?”  I ask.

“Apparently there was a letter on Barry’s desk yesterday morning, saying how Lord Candeur is a High Priest but he’s not that high and mighty and that he had better look out or he might find himself without a coven to bully around.  I think it was supposed to be on Lord Candeur’s desk but whoever put it there didn’t know which was which.  They share an office.”  She explains.  “So of course, Barry opened this envelope up, read it and flipped out!”

I can certainly understand that.  I would be horribly surprised to find out that my business partner had a secret life with people that I considered to be evil.  I want to know how Rhyssa manages to have such up to date news, so I ask her.

“Oh, I had lunch yesterday with Jane.  That’s his secretary, Jane Harris.  She and I went to college together.  She’s been working for Lord Candeur for about a year now.  I was so glad when she found this job.  She’s had such a tough time.  Her husband left her for another woman, but I told her that should have expected it.”

I raise my eyebrows at her.  “Oh?”

“Well, because he was married when they met.  I have always believed that a man who will cheat on his wife with you will also cheat on you.”

I have to agree with her but I wonder how Jane can fend off the octopus advances of John Robert who is notorious for those cozy “lunches” with his secretary.  I don’t pursue the topic since she is Rhyssa’s friend, and Rhyssa might not take nicely to my asking if Jane is boffing the boss.

“Sounds like John Robert has a plateful of trouble.”  Zeke says.  “Does the rest of the coven know what’s happened?  Will it make a change for them?”

“I’m sure they do.  Apollo is good friend with the Johnsons and Artemis was at the office anyways and saw the whole thing.”  We are both startled to hear that.

“Why was Laurie at John Robert’s office?” questions Zeke.

“I don’t know.  Maybe looking for a part time job?  I heard she was fired from her other one for calling out too often.”  Rhyssa dismisses Laurie, but Zeke and I exchange looks.  I’m about to ask Rhyssa more about Lilith when the door opens and Laurie walks in.  Talk about invoking someone by mentioning their name…  She blanches to see Rhyssa—apparently knowing, as we do, that she is the voice of the coven and her appearance will be talked about.  Out of some sense of preventing talk, I rescue her.

“Oh, Laurie, thanks for coming in so quickly.  Those herbs you wanted are just in, if you’ll come with me, we can measure out what you need.”  I take her arm and gently but firmly move her into the kitchen with me.

When we get in the room, she starts to open her mouth and I can tell that she’s about to say something that she doesn’t want the world to know.  I interrupt her loudly.

“This will work perfectly for Yule incense.  Here, do you think an ounce is enough?”

She takes the hint and closes her mouth again.  She then answers me, almost too loud.

“Sure.  By the time I mix it up with the other herbs, I’ll have enough to give everyone some.”

I open random drawers and rattle the scale.  She walks around the room, ostentatiously talking about this item or that.  After a couple of minutes of this, Zeke walks in the room.

“You all can stop that, she’s gone.  She says to tell you she’ll call later.”  This is said to me and then he turns to Laurie.  “She was all agog that you were here until you began this charade about the incense.  She bought it.”  He grins at us.

We turn and smile at each other.  Then her face grows serious again.

“I suppose she told you about Apollo and Lilith.”

I go right to the point.  “Yes, and about the scene at John Robert’s office.  She mentioned that you were there for that as well.”

“Yes, it was dreadful.  I had stopped by to deliver some of Shelly’s apple pie to Lord Candeur.  He liked it so much at Samhain that she gives him about half of the pie each time she makes it now.”  She gives a little shrug.  “Mr. Tisdale was screaming at him, saying he was the Devil’s minion and that they would lose their business because of his dealing with Satan.  I almost laughed, because we’re Pagans, not Satanists!”

I know what she means.  To most of the Mundanes, Pagans are the same thing as Satan worshippers.  It really makes their eyes bulge most delightfully to educate them about Satanism being a Christian-based religion.  You have to believe in God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit to believe in Satan.  Pagans do not believe in any of them—or in all of them as various aspects of the Divine.  We certainly do not believe in them as the only form of deity in the Universe.  But I digress…

“So what is going to happen with Apollo and Lilith?”  Zeke asks her.

“Oh that was even more dreadful.”  Her eyes are huge blue flowers in her face.  “He has banned Apollo from any coven event.  He grounded Lilith for like, the rest of her life.  I heard that he actually found them…you know, having sex.  Naked.  In her bed.  Everyone was supposed to be out of the house but Lord Candeur had come back for his medicine.  He takes something for his heart, I think.”

My, my.  I’ll bet he needs something for his heart.  Black and vile as it is, I’ll bet he needs lots of medicine.  Poor Lilith.

Zeke pulls me back to the conversation.  “So what can we do for you today, Laurie?”

“Oh.”  She gulps.  “I was wondering if your offer still stood.”

“To go to Planned Parenthood?  Of course.  When?”

She looks immensely relieved.  “I know that you all are closed on Mondays.  I hate to ask you to give up your day off, but can we go this next one?”

He looks at me and I nod.  “Of course.  What time?”

“I was thinking I would tell my dad that you all are giving a special class on incense and so I’d come over about ten o’clock.  Is that okay?”

Again I nod.  “Sure, we can do that.”

Her head droops down and I can see the tears flowing.  I step over to her and hold her against me.  She wraps her arms around me like a drowning person.  Zeke comes over and we stand there, group hugging.  She manages to get control again and looks at each of us.

“Thank you both so much.  You don’t know how much this means to me.  I don’t know what I would have done without you all.”

“Laurie, anything we can do to help, we will.”

She hugs us both and then heads out.  I watch her go and envy the resilience of youth.

The weekend comes and we’re busy as usual.  I’m glad that Zeke has moved down to where he can help me when the customers get overwhelming.  Several members of the coven show up to purchase various things but he manages to take care of them before I can, so I have no contact with them.  I am not so stupid that I don’t know that he’s doing it purposefully.  I am also not so stupid that I forget to thank him in the best way possible…

Saturday lasts forever, it seems.  We have a continual flow; just steady enough to have almost no time for a break.  When it’s finally time to shut the door, the amount of money in the register is a good compensation for the hours on my feet.  Neither of us particularly wants to cook, but neither do we want to go out.  Zeke ends up ordering Chinese delivery.  While we are waiting for it, I take a bath.

I am soaking the weariness out of my bones when he comes in with a tray of food and a couple of glasses of wine.  He sets all of this next to me on a low tray and then drops his pants to climb in with me.  I reach for the food but he just pushes me back and proceeds to feed me like a child.  I would object to this but I’m too tired to fuss.  I lean against the tub and happily consume Hunan beef and steamed dumplings.  Eventually my stomach is full and I am allowed to hold my own wine glass…sipping on the merlot and feeling mellow.  He is sitting across from me, also leaning back and drinking his wine.

“Helluva day.  I think we may have set a new record for income today.”  He takes a mouthful of his favorite chardonnay.  “Mattie, I was thinking about us taking a couple of days off and going to see my sister for Thanksgiving.  She called while you were showing that couple ren clothes and invited us to come.  I had already been thinking about going away, so…What do you think?”

Zeke’s sister is his twin, and she’s a doll.  Her family has always welcomed me as if I was one of them—I like the energy they give off.  Thanksgiving with them would be a blast, and I’m ready for a vacation.  “Sure, let’s go.  What days do you want to be there?”

“I was thinking if we flew out of here on Tuesday night, we could be there from Wednesday through Monday, coming home that afternoon.  And she’s extended the invitation to Vader since they’ve moved to the house.  He could run in the yard and she doesn’t care about him being inside.  She never did, it was their damn landlord that wouldn’t let him come to the apartment.”

“I know.  That’s good, since I don’t think Rhyssa is staying in town for the holiday anyways.  I would have had to kennel him at the vet’s and he hates that so bad, it really stresses him out.”

“Right.  So you want to go?”

“Yes, I do.  And Wednesday through Monday sounds like a good amount of time.  Shall I make up some candles for the dinner table?  What do you want to take to them?”

“Candles sound good.  Evie mentioned that she’s looking for a new bodice for Rhiannon.  Seems she’s gotten a little umm bustier since we saw her last. And Siobhan is almost as tall as Evie at eleven years old. ”

“Well, darling…we haven’t seen them in a couple of years, and Rhiannon is now fifteen years old.  I would hope she has boobs!  Did Evie mention a size?  I have a really nice purple one that I’ll bet Rhiannon would like.  And I’m not surprised that Siobhan is as tall as her mother since Evie is one of the Little People.”

“Don’t be mean.  She was complaining that her daughter has larger bosoms than she does and she did say that she’s buying 38C bras.  Does that give you an idea of size?”

“Do we want her to look regal or like she’s selling it?”  I laugh at the look of horror on Zeke’s face as he tries not to picture his niece as having breasts that he would admire on any other woman who was not related to him.

“Good god, not selling it!  She’s just a child!”

“Hate to tell you this, old man.  She’s a nubile, sexy young woman and you’re going to think she’s hot and then be all disgusted with yourself for lusting after her.”  I can’t say anything else because my face is now full of water.  He splashes me again and I put down my wine glass to retaliate.  Vader joins in, barking and leaping at the side of the tub while we paddle water at each other.  Zeke finally wins the war by grabbing my hands and pulling me up to him so that he can plant his mouth on mine.  I forget about throwing water at him and begin to touch and tease him.  Did I mention that I like baths?   So does Zeke…

We wake to a steel gray sky and before we are done with the Sunday paper and our tea, the snow flakes are swirling down.  I watch them, like soft puffs of cotton float slowly and surely to the ground to cover it with a blanket of white.  By opening time, there is a good inch already down and I know that there will be almost no business today.

It is quiet enough that the door chimes startle me.  When I look up to see who has come in, my heart drops.  John Robert is casually brushing snow off his shoulders and he moves towards me.  I can feel myself backing up like a cornered animal when Vader shoots out of the living room where he has been with Zeke.  He runs straight at the large man and bares his teeth, growling and cursing at him in doggy language.

Zeke is right behind him.  “What the hell do you want?”

“I want to know why you sold my wife a boline.”  He glares at us.  He doesn’t seem to realize that there is a furious Schipperke at his ankles but I am watching Vader closely.  I don’t want to have to take him to get shots if he bites this nasty man.  There’s no telling what kind of disease he can pick up…

“We sold it because she wanted to buy it.  It’s a free world; she can certainly purchase things here if she wants.”

“No she can’t.”  The sheer arrogance of the man is amazing.  “Especially if she tries to pass it off as a sanctified ritual tool.”

“You know what, how she uses it is between you all.  I just sold it to her.  I am not responsible for cleansing it, consecrating it, or anything else she chooses to do with it.”

“You knew that she was replacing mine.  How do I know what kind of shit you have put on it, knowing that I will be the one using it?”  I spare a moment’s regret for not thinking of that…putting a curse on his knife seems like such a good idea.  He might slip and cut off his…Bad Mattie.  I will meditate an extra five minutes to apologize to the Universe for being so thrilled at the thought of bad things happening to this…snake.

Zeke just laughs at him.  John Robert’s face is turning a lovely shade of red…the one that he seems to have more often with us than not.  He steps towards us and Vader sinks his teeth into his ankle.

“AUGH!  Damn dog!”  He screams and takes a kick at said damn dog…who moves way too fast to be caught with that foot.  John Robert starts towards where Vader has fled, which is right behind me.  Bad mistake.

Zeke grabs him by the arm and begins to frog march him to the door, his voice getting louder with each word.  “Get your ass out of our store.  Do not come back in this store or I will have you arrested for trespassing.  Do not EVER COME BACK IN HERE!!”  He pushes John Robert’s protesting but still leaving body out the doorway and screams after him.  “STAY OUT OF OUR HOUSE!  STAY OUT OF OUR LIFE!  LEAVE US ALONE, YOU SON OF A BITCH!!”

John Robert turns around to shake his fist at the house and Zeke holds up both hands, middle fingers pointing straight up in a classic gesture of taunting and domination.  It’s so…male that I just have to laugh.  John Robert stares at him and then turns to stalk off.

Zeke and I spend the rest of the afternoon watching the snow continue to build.  We don’t talk too much about what has just happened.  I have a sense of finality and I am hoping that he will leave us alone now.  I still have that niggling thought in the back of my head that he will not give up this easily.  I take Vader out for his potty break and he goes crazy, chasing the flakes and snuffling through what’s landed.  He refuses to come in when I am ready to return to the warmth of the house, so I make sure that the doggy door is unlocked and leave him out to his snow dance.  I pick up a couple of mugs and make us each some hot tea as I come through the conservatory.  Back in the entryway, I hand one to Zeke and we sit on the stairs.  He goes up one more than I do, so that I can sit between his knees and lean back on his chest.

“If this keeps falling through tomorrow, I wonder if Laurie will come into town.  Her father may not let her drive in snow.”  He takes a sip of his tea.

“True.  I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.”

“Are you okay with all of this?  If she’s comfortable with it, I can take her by myself.  You don’t have to go.”

“Somehow, I don’t think she’ll agree to that.  No, Zeke, I can do this.”

I am touched that he wants to spare me going to a clinic where Laurie is going to end the life of what would have been her baby.  He knows that I have to deal with strong emotions for this situation—jealousy that she is pregnant, horror that she wants to end it, grief that I can’t even make this choice.  I want to give this man that I love so much a child of his own.  He would be such a good father and I would love the joy of sharing a baby with him.  But I can’t do it.  The doctors did a total hysterectomy when I was 23 because of fibroid tumors and a family history of uterine cancer.

It was one more thing that the ex threw in my face—that because of the surgery, I was not a “real woman”.  Zeke certainly doesn’t seem to think so and that has helped a great deal.  I usually don’t mind being barren but I do have to face my feelings when I come up against a situation like Laurie and her pregnancy.  I just figure that “that which does not kill us, makes us stronger”. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Zeke loves me just as I am.  The unpleasant thought hits me that maybe not having a child together is why he hasn’t asked about getting the marriage license.  I push that thought away.


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