“Hold still,” instructed Odera. “Look straight ahead, please.”
“One more nick and you’re fired,” I cautioned while sitting on the edge of the bathtub. “The spirit of Brinkman’s instructions did not include you shaving me unless you plan to change vocations.”
“You’ll have less spirit if you keep moving. I’ve always wanted to do this.” She turned sideways. Her nipple poked me in the eye. “When I was a little girl, I used to watch Daddy shave. Until I was five, I’d climb up on the counter and we’d chat. He worked six days a week to build the company up from that dusty old trailer. I hardly ever got to spend time with him.”
“Must you wave those in my face? Go with the grain on my lip. Even pressure.”
When she leaned her boob back in my face, I slapped her ass.
“Owie! Are you sure you didn’t spank Aliesha when she ― Ouch!”
Odera jumped when I slapped her backside. My hand stayed poised for another salvo.
“Is there anything else you want to say?”
“Aren’t you forgetting that I’m holding a razor? I could slip and shave off an eyebrow,” she giggled.
“With the grain on my lip.”
Odera looked at the shaving foam on her breasts.
“Would you wipe them? Be gentle.” She handed me a wet washcloth. “They aren’t used to all this contact.”
“Add more shaving cream before you start again.” I blotted foam while she lathered up my cheeks and neck. “Go against the grain on my cheeks.”
“Like this?” and pressed her nipple into my ear. “Ouch! Bruce Alexander, if you slap my bum once more, I’ll…I’ll shave your legs the next time you sleep!”
Odera ran shrieking out of the bathroom when I grabbed the can of shaving cream. “Come back here Mansbridge. You own a hair garden that needs some tending,” I threatened as she ran around to the far side of the bed.
“You wouldn’t dare.”
Rather than respond, I feinted left. When Odera shrieked and jumped onto the bed, I pounced on her, pinning her struggling and kicking body beneath my weight.
“Hold still. You’ll avoid razor burn.”
“Bruce. No. Please, not there,” Odera pleaded as I covered her pubic mound in a mountain of shaving cream. “You’re scaring me.”
“What? Sorry. I forgot.” I had begun to get off her when she burst out laughing. “So that’s the way it is.”
“Wait! No. Please!” Odera sputtered while laughing, kicking and squirming. “I take it back. You’re frightening me again. Stop. Help. Bruce!”
“Give me the razor,” I ordered in a serious voice. “You’re long overdue.”
“You wouldn’t. Tell me you wouldn’t be so mean.” She raised her head. “Kiss me.” When I relented, she bit my bottom lip and would not let go. “Promise me,” she mumbled around my lip between her teeth.
I snatched the razor out of her hand and held it below her navel.
“Careful, I might slip if you bite too hard,” I muttered back.
Mexican lip standoff.
When I tried to stand up, Odera’s arms went around me. She pulled me to her seeking my mouth with hers, not caring that shaving lotion smeared her face.
“Hmm, we seem to need another shower.”
“Isn’t your grandmother expecting us?”
“She’ll understand if we’re late. C’mon, I want to be washed thoroughly. If you do a good job, I’ll consider proving two hands are not always better.”
“One should never debate a reasonable woman.”
“Can I still finish shaving you?” She stepped from the bed and into my arms. “You look funny with whiskers coating half your face.”
“Do you promise to behave?”
“Sure, I do, so long as you don’t hold me to it.”
I tugged her forward.
“Better let you finish shaving me in the shower; it will save us showering a third time.”
“Way to go Donatello. It didn’t take you more than half the morning to catch on.”
“You could have just said that you wanted to shower again.”
“Where’s the joy in that? Besides, you’re finally starting to loosen up. In another year, with proper coaching, you might actually be fun to be around.”
“That’s because I have the gross misfortune to be dating a grown child.”
“Did you want to rephrase that?”
She squeezed my manhood in her fist.
“Only how lucky I am to have you for a friend.” As her hold tightened, I amended, “Girlfriend.” Because exerting control triggered her fear, it was my duty to grant unrestricted freedom. We should have begun therapy long ago. “Your wish is nearly my command.”
“Much better. Start the shower. Men, the things you’ll say and do for physical pleasure. No shame at all. Mere putty in our hands.” The shaving cream’s slippery texture sent a shiver up my spine. “Were you going to say something? No? That’s what I thought.”
“After you, milady,” I pledged with an arm sweep and held the curtain wide.
“Better, though your bow could be deeper.”
“I’ll see what I can do about it in the future.”
I stepped into the shower embracing serfdom while resisting the urge to turn her backside deeper red. Some acts of kindness were harder to show than others were.
* * * * * * *
“How much of my past is she privy to?” I asked as we approached her grandmother’s front door.
Repositioning an armful of planters, I said, “Do the women of your family have an affinity for hard cases?”
“Cultural weakness for lost causes.”
Odera rang the doorbell.
“Coming.” Claire Fraser, garbed in a terminally stained gardening apron, opened the screen door. “Hello, dear one. Young man.”
“Hi, Grams. This is Bruce Garland.”
“Pleased to meet you, lad. Use the side gate. I’ll nowt have you tromping muck through ma hoose.”
“The pleasure’s mine,” I told her shaking her hand.
“We’ll see you around back, Grams.” She planted a kiss on her grandmother’s cheek and caught up with me. “Wait till you see this. One of these days I’m going to send Home and Garden an email with pics.”
Terraced garden beds waited at the end of an interlocked stone walkway. Little info flags mounted upon wire holders stuck into the earth introduced each bed’s tenant. Funnel-shaped blue morning glories sporting white racing stripes neighboured urn-shaped heather flowers. Next to them, hibiscus plants flaunted their juicy red antlers; buttery carpels sprouted soft quills seeking to rub against bees or visitors. In the corner, a waterfall cascaded over three canted stone plateaus. Gurgling water music pervaded the yard. Eight feet in diameter, a recently delivered mound of dark earth sat in the center of the yard. Damp and musky earthy scents filled the air. A gasoline-powered sod cutter waited beside the earth mound. Several yards behind the mound, connected to the house, a stone patio was home to a wrought-iron table and four wooden Adirondack lounge chairs. Two wide-backed wicker chairs flanked a matching wicker table.
“Put the planters on the patio, Bruce,” Claire instructed, trilling the ‘r’ in my name as she exited the bungalow’s back door.
Old and sun-damaged paint curled up at the edges on the chairs.
“Did you order crushed lime, Grams?”
“Yes, dear one.” Claire ran a hand over the planter’s embossed pattern. “Och, you need nowt have gone to such expense, lass. These porcelain planters are very fine. Plain old clay would have done tolerably well.”
“The patterns coincide with the colours in your garden. Plain old brown wouldn’t have looked half as nice. We can exchange them for a simpler variety if you’re convinced that we wasted money.”
“Certain I am that you dragged poor Bruce from store to store to find these wee baubles. I’d no want his misery to be for naught. Do nowt fash, I have just the home for them. Did you have trouble locating slate?”
“Bruce thought granite would be better suited to your needs. I’ll let him explain.”
I said, “Slate is slippery, it scratches easily and must be sealed annually. Textured granite has none of those shortcomings and the matte black finish is nearly identical. Granite fulfills all of the slate’s promises but has none of its weaknesses if you don’t mind a little extra labour during installation and pay a bit more at the counter.”
“Can I score the granite then use ma hammer to fracture it?”
“Not easily. I brought a wet saw to cut stone and drill attachments to strip paint.”
“Very well. You made a fine choice.” Turning to Odera, Claire instructed, “Be a dear and fetch the patterns from the kitchen. We’ll leave the granite cutting and shaping to Bruce, as well as the running of the sod stripper. You dinna mind being useful?” she said looking at me wearing the same quirky smile that Odera often wore.
“Is that a multiple-choice question? Or do you have an additional task in mind?”
Claire laughed kindly.
“If you want to be fed and watered at ma table, you have to earn your keep. No loafers here. Bothersome thistles only.”
“In that case, we’re burning daylight.”
I turned for the car.
When Odera exited the house, she asked, “Where do you want these Grams? Where’s Bruce?”
“He went to fetch stone. If you’re going to paint, you’ll need a narrow brush. Ask Bruce to set up the drill with those wheelie things.”
“You ken very well ma meaning,” Odera responded, hands on her hips.
“Aye. That I do.” Claire laughed at her granddaughter’s playful reproach, reminded of the little girl she had taught to garden. “What did you do to bring about his change of heart?”
“I went to his place and told him everything. He reacted just the way you said he would. Yesterday we attended therapy together. We haven’t been apart since. Dr. Brinkman said we had to stay naked in each other’s company. You should have seen Bruce’s face. It feels like anything is possible again.”
“You look very happy, dear one. That’s all that matters. If your man brings out the best in you, I can no help but adore him. Have you overcome your fears?”
“We’re working through them. We have another session tomorrow.” Her grandmother’s eyes sparkled curious wonder. “I want to stay for supper, Bruce as well, so I hope you don’t mind if we take a raincheck. Maybe the three of us can do lunch tomorrow?”
When I entered the backyard, Odera and Claire were huddled-up. At my appearance, their voices faded. I set granite pieces beside the table and spun around for another load.
“Don’t let me interrupt,” I called out.
Odera chirped, “That’s all right. We were talking about you, not to you. It would not be half as fun if you were within earshot.”
“Fine. Shall I call out before I return?”
“Could you walk slower? Stomp your feet a little.”
“Maybe I could wear a cowbell?”
I rounded the corner out of sight.
Claire put a hand on Odera’s arm.
“Tell me, lass, do you regret any of it?”
“No,” Odera responded clasping Claire’s hand. “Sharing my attack brought us closer. Rather than shock or disgust him, Bruce nearly exploded with grief. There was so much empathy in his expression it was as if the pain and sadness I endured somehow united us as if he took part of my hurt into himself.”
“And you dinna think of Michael?”
“Only how different they are.”
“Bruce is sure of himself. That much I can tell. There’s comfort in that. Michael did no have sufficient strength of will. We’ll see how young Bruce measures up,” Claire announced, a glint in her eye.
“Behave Grams. At least until we return tomorrow.”
“Och, you need not worry yourself, lass. If he’s the man you’ve said he is, he’ll no fluster under ma fleshing. It’s high time I tested the mettle of the man who’s been pursuing ma youngest granddaughter’s hand this last year and some.”
“Grams! We’ve only just gone official. We plan to sit down with Dad Monday morning and then tell Mom over supper. You won’t dare mention anything of the sort. That’s nowhere in sight, for either of us.”
“I love you to death, child, but you dinna have one ounce of wisdom about men and what drives them.” One glance at the lad’s expression when he beheld Odera and Claire could tell he was smitten unto death do us part. “Do not fash. I have a wee notion that your man will hold steadfast in a storm.”Claire retreated to the gardening shed wondering how her granddaughter could be so daft. That particular gene had to have come from her father’s side. Oh, well, that’s why she was here, to pass along her knowledge and to see Odera happy before she departed this world for the next. First impressions were important and she liked Bruce, but experience had also taught her that a new broom sweeps well.