“When did the sale’s rep say the computer was coming?” Odera started the dishwasher. “I want you to be here.”
“Sunday. Early afternoon.”
“Sunday’s an odd delivery day.”
“I bet he called for components so he wouldn’t be left with incomplete demos come Monday and forfeit his commission had he not agreed. That you managed to obtain so much in so little time, and have it delivered, in addition to borrowing his access number was remarkable.”
“You’re not too shabby yourself. Lunch was delish. Where did you learn to whip that up?”
“I bussed tables in a French dining room in high school for extra cash. Caesar salads and Crêpes Suzette are my specialties.”
“Wait a minute! You bussed a formal dining room?” At my nod and while I remembered Odera teaching me the use for each piece of cutlery on a full table and twenty other lessons, she said, “Bruce Alexander Garland, shame on you!”
“You looked so happy civilizing the uncouth barbarian that I couldn’t deny you your joy. If it’s any consolation, you’re a brilliant sensei.”
“It’s not. What about Stratford’s Art Festival?”
“What about it?”
“Oh, no, you don’t. That innocent look won’t work. You know exactly what I’m saying,” she scolded, shaking her head at me, the corners of her mouth turned up.
“Now that you mention it, I may have gone there in grade nine and I seem to recall a piano concert in Massey Hall.”
“You’re really asking for it. I feel silly. Do you know the number of times I tried not to laugh as you blundered? You were trying to make a spectacle of yourself to embarrass me.”
“Just because I spent three years in the forces and over a decade in prison should not automatically define me as an ignoramus,” I admonished lightly, languishing in her jocular tirade. “Is your grandmother expecting us soon?”
I took a moment to watch her pad across the kitchen.
“Tomorrow afternoon. Dad has me all morning.” Catching my roving eye, she floated over to stand in front of me. “Care to share?”
She brushed the backs of her fingers over my stomach, causing it to quiver.
“I was thinking about an alternative use for the kitchen table.” A sensuous flush coloured her scarlet. “Does it make you uncomfortable when I look at you like that?”
“For years I dressed down and buttoned up. Scads of times I felt your eyes. Seldom did your look feel carnal. Interested, but not invasive. Often you appeared uncomfortable. Given our daily battles, our constant verbal fencing, back then it was hard to think of us romantically. You cannot fight one minute and then imagine being intimate the next.” At my growing grin, Odera said, “Don’t tell me. No. You did not! You couldn’t. Even though we fought and fought? Men. Shameless creatures all.”
“I’ve admired you,” and moved my hands to her hips, “from the first day. None of our fights lessened my attraction. Hell, many of them intensified it. What about now, now that you realize that I want you in every way?”
“Now that we’re battling this monster together. Now that we trust each other as we’ve never trusted anyone. Need I answer that? Do you think women do not desire just as deeply?”
“Got it. Dumb question.”
“No, not dumb. You live in your head. If you lived more in your gut, you’d feel these things; feel the trust we’re building; feel our desire pacing our trust. If you do not have reason to go out, there’s homework to do.”
A lopsided grin pulled my mouth sideways.
“I’ll race you upstairs.”
“And lose to watch me from behind. Not that I’d mind.”
“Admiration wouldn’t be the only reason.”
At my intent expression, Odera locked her blue eyes onto mine. It did not take her long before she shook her head.
“You’d let me win so I’d feel joy. That’s why you let me civilize you, so we could laugh together, so I’d experience happiness.”
“Any reason to spend our days together were good days. I did it to be with you because I didn’t know another way, which should tell you it was for selfish reasons. I used to think of you as the sunset secretary.”
“Your hair. It reminds me of a sunset. I welcomed your arrival and mourned your departure.”
“Now it’s my turn to feel dumb. Just when I was beginning to think I understood you, I find that I do not know half of what I thought I did. That’s twice today that you surprised me. What else are you keeping from me?”
“Maybe one or two other little things, but you’re going to have to ferret them loose on your own.”
“That sounds dangerously close to a commitment.”
“With a body like yours! Now that the twins and I are on touching terms.” I ran my hands up to cup her breasts. “Do you know how many desserts I’ve fed you to get these girls just perfect?”
“You are so...not to be trusted, Bruce Alexander Garland. And stop talking to my breasts as if they were people,” chortled Odera, shaking her head. “Bottle-fed men. Oh my God. Find me a soother. I have equal energy invested in you too, honey. Have you ever considered how unlikely a pair we are? Who would have thought our backgrounds would mesh?”
“Who says they do? Who says they have to? What if successful relationships are no more than two people recognizing similar pain and suffering in another? What if it’s the healing we bring each other that matters most? And what if it’s the combination of backgrounds, of pain and suffering, contrasted with joy and contentment that matters most of all? Or perhaps meshing is nothing more complicated than two people dedicated to putting the other person first.”
“Those might be the sexiest words you’ve ever spoken. You remembered everything I’ve said, and then gave it new meaning. That’s terribly humbling. How long have you been mulling over these things?”
“Weren’t you the one who said not to think, just to feel? By the way, you feel soft and sexy.”
I slid my hands down her sides to rest at her waist. The hip-high kitchen table exploded back into focus.
“They say men think about sex once a minute. I believe it.”
“Only once?” I took her hand and headed across the kitchen. Her breasts swayed appealingly, and her hips showed a pronounced feminine stride. “Definitely more often.”
“I’m not being pushy? All this touchy-feely talk? I can back off.”
As we crested the landing, I told her in earnest, “Before meeting you, I spent years pretending-normal. It’s a relief to stop. Perhaps the strongest relationships are built when people know the very worst in another and accept them for it anyway. Given our combined pasts, we may be in for one helluva sunset ride.”Absorbing my words, she lapsed into silence, dwelling within herself. A determined look replaced her thoughtful expression. We stopped at the foot of the bed, appraising the battleground of growth like gladiators who study the terrain of the arena. Odera hugged herself to me. Slowly, as though she snuck up behind a butterfly surfing a curved petal, she wriggled closer. Tighter. The hills and valleys of our bodies joined like jigsaw puzzle pieces. The line separating where one person ended and where the other began, blurred. Gradually thinning like fog vanishing from lake waters, I become conscious of our connection, of its intangible quality that I would only diminish if I tried to further define it or to speak of it.