The Bay department store was a multi-storey affair that encompassed a full city block. Hand in hand we walked out of the gardening department. The Bay had been our fifth stop. Odera had yet to find suitable planters. Planters were the last item on her list. Gargling burnt tooth pulp, as the dentist’s drill punched into a raw nerve, would be a treat compared to shopping for planters not too tall, nor too short, whose throats were not too narrow, whose lips flared thus, dipped so, and whose surfaces were painted soft pastel shades, preferably in an embossed flower motif that was not too busy with stems and leaves. Where was that milk-heavy porcupine hiding?
She asked, “Wanna grab a sit-down bite before Costco?”
“What’s a Costco?”
“It’s a membership only discount store where you pay an annual fee that entitles members to purchase bulk items.”
“Let me get this straight. Shoppers pay the store for the privilege to shop there and for the store to earn a profit from their expenditures?”
“Yup. That sounds about right.”
“Okay, I get it. Costco; aka Cost Company. They better serve lunch, pack all purchases, load the car, and maybe check tire pressure as well.”
“Well, they offer tons of taste testers, but you pay for cloth bags and pack everything yourself. But they do supply old cardboard boxes.”
“So, I not only pay them to shop at their store, but I do their recycling as well?”
“Pretty much. All this shopping isn’t boring you, is it?”
Honesty or diplomacy? The gallows or the chain gang. Was there a difference? Well, there were benefits attached to serving on the chain gang. Now I knew why guys shopped with wives. And why guys did not shop with wives. Being in a relationship made sense out of life.
“Your grandmother deserves the best. Let’s swing by West Hill nursery.”
That comment earned a warm smile. I had no idea why she smiled. I returned her smile because shopping for planters all morning must equate to a decent down payment toward another round of benefits. Whatever joy Odera took from shopping was more than enough for both of us. No point in hogging it all for myself.
“Would you join me at my next session with Dr. Brinkman?”
“Your shrink? Me? What? Run that by me again.”
I would rather buy front row seats to a fingernails-dragged-down-a-chalkboard concert than attend rape therapy. There had to be an escape clause in the Psychiatric Charter that prohibited parolees from attending. I had to locate it, fast, because The Bay department store was only three storeys high. Not nearly high enough to satisfy my immediate suicidal thoughts. If I only landed a paraplegic, I would never learn to navigate these conversations. An arm tug redirected me toward the elevator, pulled me back from the window ledge where I contemplated Harry Cary.
“He asked that I bring you after we tackled ― well, after last night. Last session I told him that I intended to try the exercise. He preferred to speak with you beforehand, but I didn’t think you would have agreed.”
When our joined hands lifted to push the elevator button, Odera smiled, and I ruminated on guy-girl friendships. We could have been doing this months ago was my next thought.
“And your shrink knows everything?” I asked. My head said, that can’t be good.
“Of course. Client/patient confidentiality prohibits Dr. Brinkman from disclosing anything I do not want him to. Are you upset with me?”
“No, just concerned. Brinkman’s not a psychotherapist, is he?”
“Why would that matter?” queried Odera.
“You’re kidding, right? Sound it out ― psycho-the-rapist. This is the guy you’ve been seeing? Seriously! I don’t even want to ask after his credentials. Having avoided the psycho-ass-rape shower crew for so many years, I am not crazy about renewing my exposure.”
“You won’t be exposing yourself in that way, you ninny.” Odera squeezed my hand. “The only ass around here is you. Dr. Brinkman’s a trauma specialist. Any other lame objections?”
Well, yeah, I needed additional time to come up with a convincing reason that would let me bounce out of rape therapy. Jumping out of a third-storey window would only put me in a body cast. She would just bring Dr. Brinkman to the critical care room for the session. No way in hell did I want psycho-the-rapist in the same room while I was laid up in a body cast.
“No worries. Let’s go meet the doc, but I warn you, the first time he asks me to lie down, I’m outta there quicker than a bar of soap is snatched from a prison shower floor.”
“Then you forgive me?”
“Nothing to forgive. You weren’t ready to tell me. Now you are.” She pecked my cheek and I reminded myself that Odera’s session was not about me. “What day and time were you thinking of?”
“Oh,” Odera temporized looking at her watch. “Today. This afternoon. At three-thirty. His office just happens to be around the corner. Some coincidence, eh?”
“Schemer! Treacherous, double-dealing, swindling…” Soft, warm lips latched onto mine. As the tips of our tongues collided, Odera pressed herself close. We stepped back from each other before elevator fantasies became a forum submission to an adult magazine. Blue eyes swimming with adoration and contentment swallowed me whole. I laughed. “You planned last night to coincide with today, knowing that I need not request time off work. I never had a chance. Did I?”
“Well, I know you’re worried about what Daddy’s reaction might be about us, but you needn’t be.” Odera wore a look that said she acted only with my interests at heart. It bothered me that I believed her. “You should have seen this coming, Bruce. Like, really. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, or breakfast. You said so yourself. Your gullibility is so adorable. I’m going to grow a complex if you don’t start seeing these things coming.”
“But I cooked breakfast this morning, not you. How does that work?”
“I’m not referring to the food. Kinda new at this, aren’t you? You and Daddy share the sweetest streak of naivety. So trusting once you’re on the inside.”
“I’m sure all fathers would love to discover an ex-convict, who also happens to be a dishonourably discharged rifleman, dating their daughter,” I mused, unable to suppress a grin at her ploy to bind us tighter.
The elevator bell dinged.
“Daddy’s actually all warm and mushy on the inside. Pure marshmallow. Fathers want their daughters to be happy. He’ll warm up to the idea after he allows himself to know you like I do.”
“It’s safe to say that we won’t be showering together. You said Brinkman asked for my attendance, what about you?”
“Of course. I want you to know everything, for you to understand that it’s not you preventing me from caring, I mean, well, you know, um, from having you completely.”
“Right. That’s a worthy goal.” When did talking about this stuff make her nervous? Had I missed something? “We’re talking about sex, right? About how the attack still affects your life?”
“That’s part of it.”
“What’s the other part?”
“Seriously, do I really need to tell you? You cannot be that shallow.”
“Don’t underestimate me, Odera. Weren’t we talking about sex without limitations? Sex on tap? Sex without second thoughts?”
“You are. That’s for sure,” Odera told me, her voice short. “I wasn’t. This morning had very little to do with just sex.”
Little to do with sex? That seemed improbable. It took a moment before I realised that Odera put us first, and everything else second. This morning had been about new beginnings.
“Got it. We come first. Sex second, fourth and sixth.”
“Honestly, a turtle catches on quicker. You seem so normal at times; I forget that you’re anything but.”
Fine, as long as it freed me from the oestrogen paradox that had risen chin high.
I told her, “That’s it, no more home-cooking for you. Never insult the chef and expect to keep your favourite table.”
“Are you sure? Cuz I was thinking we might drop by my condo after Brinkman,” Odera said and nipped an earlobe.
“But not just for sex,” I clarified, tiptoeing across the oestrogen ice field.
“Our relationship always comes beforehand, and afterward.”
“Goes without saying,” I told her.
“Just as long as you remember that, Donatello.”
“A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.”
“Did you just call me an adolescent mutant?”
“No. A turtle. Cuz you catch on so quickly.”
“That’s a relief. I’m not sure if I could have sex with a mutant lover.”
“Now you’re catching on,” she told me.I am? To what?