Never Look Back

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Chapter 33

Writing came easily.

Ringing swords, war cries, screams of agony, of glory, the scraping of leather, trumpeting horns and clashing metal pervaded my senses. I became a conductor, my keyboard the baton with which to orchestrate the movement. Hordes of early Highlanders and tribal Celts, accompanied by Pictish warriors wearing blue face paint, screamed furiously as they charged across the battlefield, naked, but for war paint and weapons, to throw themselves upon the Seventh Legion’s heavy shields. Cameron’s early Scots were losing to Rome’s professional soldiers, had not yet learned to overcome the phalanx formation they had adopted from the Greeks. Eventually, the Scott’s would win the day, but not until Cameron accepted his Druidic calling and stepped forward to fulfill his destiny. Underdogs have forever rallied to my banner.

“Supper’s ready!”

Into Britannia’s warfare, savoury aromas infiltrated my occupied quarters. My stomach rumbled traitorously. After saving and encrypting my work ― rebelliously happy part of my life remained exclusively mine ― I entered the kitchen to witness the intruder spooning rich, creamy sauce over a heaping plate of Angel Hair pasta. Chunks of Alaskan King crab bobbed like half-submerged icebergs in tangy Swiss cheese sauce. Breaching emotional chaos crept comfort, small and growing. The last of my determination to reclaim my endangered bachelorhood rescinded, shoved into the aromatic background as I regarded the mouth-watering dish.

The food looked appealing as well.

“Would you open the wine, please?”

My cook showed not the smallest iota of culinary satisfaction, which rendered her request a declaration of domestication and by complying I inadvertently hoisted the white flag.

“You know I don’t drink,” I said, confused at conflicting thoughts that waged patriotic warfare against a rumbling stomach and starved emotions.

I reached for a juicy crab cube. The sharp crack of a heavy wooden spoon, as it fell across my wrist, catapulted me out of my seafood-intoxicated stupor. Looted crabmeat splatted on the counter.

“Are you mad?”

I rubbed my wrist, fearing the Venusian home-invader would strike twice. Issuing tsuki, I snatched the dropped cube and consumed it.

“Wash your hands before you maul the food, please” she chastised, spoon poised, lest I entertained another tactical crabmeat assault.

A bottle of sparkling Rosé waited on the counter. Parole prohibited drinking. I mourned the loss of wine and chose not to stock wine glasses, whose existence would only mock my spirit-loss. I filled a water glass with sparkling Rose` and contented myself with grape juice to blend in. Odera hummed an old Scottish tune, filled with rising and falling cadences. It was a well-known Scottish dirge sung during Sowen to assist those who had passed beyond this world and journeyed to reach the next. I could not tell if she mocked me. Odera had perfected the art of understatement.

She eyed the fullness of her glass.

“Are you trying to get me drunk?”

“I become more handsome with each glass. I’ll be irresistible in short order.”

“Bruce, one bottle isn’t nearly enough.”

A quirky half-smile tugged at her lips. Upon seating ourselves, her next words relieved me of the awkwardness I felt around Christians at mealtimes.

“Shall I say grace, or do you want to?” I gestured for her to proceed. “May the Lord bless this first home-cooked meal as a couple and bring many more of equal bounty. Amen.”

“He will if you don’t return my keys.”

An expression acknowledging my polar dysfunction surfaced to offer friendly tribute. I frowned back in pariah protest. Twirling her fork in the middle of her plate, she wound a mouthful of pasta into a tight spool. After delicately reducing half of her fork’s bounty to make room for crab, and then spinning the collection in sauce, she chewed slowly before rinsing her palate. Amidst the sound of forks scraping and the ring of knives tapping on china edges, an awkward silence fell between us. Several times Odera looked up and her mouth formed shapes, but no sound came forth. Rather than rush her, I let the air thicken.

When we had emptied our plates, when it was clear that she waited for me to open conversation lanes, I said, “Care to share what’s on your mind?”

“Promise you won’t freak out.”

“Fine. I may not freak out, much.”

“Um. I sorta asked Ms. Wilson if she’d consider changing your lease to dual occupancy if you asked her to and that she could maybe expect to see a lot more of me as we took things beyond, well, to the next level.”

“You did not declare us a couple to Ms. Wilson. Tell me you did not do that!”

“We practically spend every weekend together. Dad and Mike would have to accept us if we went official. Even you have to admit we’re well beyond friendship.”

“You need to stop talking.”

“Is what we’ve built so fragile you can’t hear me out? I knew you’d react poorly, but I also thought you’d be somewhat approachable.”

“I’m not ready to have Beck further restrict my freedom. If he knew about you, he’d be calling you at the drop of the hat and asking all manner of questions. Never mind what his reaction would be if he learned that I intentionally concealed a girlfriend from him. You know full well that he visits here regularly to check up on me. What in the hell were you thinking?”

“And I wouldn’t tell him anything he didn’t need to know if he grilled me, and I’d certainly have no problem telling him to mind his own business. Give me some credit.”

“You’re insane if you think Beck won’t overreact.”

“Let’s talk about insanity. Insanity is pretending to live life to the fullest while denying your true nature all the while seeking a higher purpose. Insanity is beguiling ourselves into believing that we can live today while refusing to admit yesterday has us by the throats.” As I fought to remain silent, for if I had spoken, it would have been to wound, she said, “Tell me you’ve never thought of us this way, that I’m only future hooker sex. Tell me all of the battles we’ve waged were simply to earn friends with benefits status and you’ll never hear another peep out of me.”

Without a word, I rose from the table. No words came to me. Complications paralyzed coherent thought until I was unable to embrace her and unable to reject her. When I walked by her, she stood.

“I just put everything on the line. Say something. Rant and rave if you must. But don’t just turn your back on me. Don’t pretend I’m invisible. I can deal with anything but that.”

Those last words stopped me. Odera stood in the middle of the kitchen. Words, my craft, failed me. Prison’s beast had leached my soul, had paralyzed kind thought and warm emotion. I desired Odera and I hated her. I wanted her to stay and I never wanted to see her again.

“All of this has been for a reason,” I said at last. She came to stand before me. With each step closer, her confidence faded. “Odera, what’s behind this subterfuge? You went to great lengths today to put yourself exactly where you are right now. Why?”

“I want to stay the night, to be held, to feel connected. But no sex. I haven’t been held like that since…since before that night,” she whispered.

“You spent the evening teasing me, putting yourself on display and picking fights. Now you want to climb into bed, but not have sex. Do you know how crazy that sounds?”

“I can see how it might to some.” She fidgeted with the tails of her shirt, unable to look at me. “I needed to be sure…that you…so I could trust you completely. Sorry, but I had to be certain…you wouldn’t.”

“Rape you?”

“No, of course not…that you wouldn’t insist, but that you could.” She let go of the material and looked up. “Please, Bruce, if I talk about it, I won’t be able to go through with this. You don’t know how difficult it was to come here.” Unpalatable defeat wed her words. “I’m so sorry. This was a huge mistake. It’s not your fault. I’ll go.”

She turned to leave.

“Odera, wait.” When she looked back, I said, “See if you can keep quiet long enough for me to sift through what you haven’t said and figure out what you are trying to accomplish but cannot explain.”

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