Chapter 60: Avalon, S.C.

George’s description of Beltane as basically an orgy with religious overtones was—typical of George—understated.  Comparing Beltane with Easter, Christianity’s most sacred holiday, it’s hard to see how the new religion ever replaced the old.  I mean, which would you rather do: get up at sunrise to sing Christ the Lord is Risen Today and watch your kids hunt colored eggs, or cast all inhibitions aside with some of the priestesses’ special brew, dance with abandon, pick a partner other than your spouse, and slip off into the woods for some church-sanctioned adultery?  And then come back to the fire and do it all over again.

The only children present were Nimue’s two daughters, and they left before the festivities got going good.  George’s speculation that Nimue had brought her daughter eight years earlier to discourage lustful behavior was totally in error: she was in attendance because she had already been marked by the goddess as the next Lady of the Lake.  Niniane at ten was poised and serious, as befitted her lofty station in life.  She curiously looked a lot like Adeline although they shared no genes—undoubtedly because her father Merlin so closely resembled Adeline’s father.

Nyla, a six-year-old spitting image of her older sister, wanted nothing to do with the strangers that had invaded her little world from who knows where.  Or perhaps the concept of “sister” the same age as “mother” was too confusing.  Only when Niniane gently led her over would she consent to meet her half-sister, and even then kept a safe distance.  Well, there would be other visits, and her shyness was probably just a phase.  Bribery couldn’t hurt either.  A doll, picture books, plastic hair clips with flowers and ladybugs on them—something would be sure to delight her and begin to win her over.

Beltane Punch was decidedly different.  On Imbolc, its chief characteristic had been to induce visions.  Or at least that’s what I speculated about the hallucinogenic qualities.  Beltane’s version had some of that but, more than anything else, it enflamed the passions while destroying the inhibitions.  Couples moved off into the forest to satisfy the gods and themselves, but they didn’t necessarily go very far, and stumbling over a two-backed beast in the undergrowth—or being stumbled over—didn’t deter anyone’s quest for carnal self-actualization.

My own Beltane experience didn’t quite parallel that of the villagers.  There were more than twice as many here as had attended Imbolc.  The throb of the drums, heard for the first time in its sensual intensity, was undeniable.  As dancers began to pair up, the dance became both more frenzied and more sensual.  Couples disappeared, only to stagger back into the circle of the firelight five or fifteen minutes later, leaves in their hair and clothing awry, to begin the cycle again.  Nimue contributed to the unreal sense of barbarity by voicing an atonal chant featuring long, held notes in loud, clear tones that rose and fell with the drums.  One of the men began dancing with Adeline, and soon they disappeared.  Hmm.

And then Sabrina sashayed her way over to where I was sort of swaying along in my urban white boy version of dancing, caught up in my fascination of observing people behaving in a manner I’d never before imagined.  “OK, Rick Whittaker.  Are you planning on fucking me tonight, or were you thinking about waiting until next year?  Because the competition is looking better by the minute, and I’m about thirty seconds from heading off into the forest with one of them.”

“Oh, I dunno.  Tonight sounds pretty good to me.”

Despite our growing urgency I took time to grab my pack, which had a blanket.   Good thing, because I ended up on my back with Sabrina devouring my lips and nipping at my neck.  Holding me down with one hand, she peeled off her top in one smooth motion with the other.  Then she unhooked her bra with that most deliciously feminine of movements, flinging it to the side.  Her body shone like ivory in the moonlight as she rubbed her fingers over her breasts, pinching her own nipples, head thrown back to the heavens.

“Don’t go anywhere,” she growled.  Then she slid down my legs, pulled off my shoes without unlacing them, tugged my jeans and briefs off.  She had a little trouble getting them over my erection, which felt about as long as my forearm and hard enough to drive nails with.

“I brought condoms,” I managed to choke out.

“You can’t use condoms on Beltane.   The old gods would smite you impotent for the rest of your life at such a sacrilege.”

Sabrina hiked up her long skirt and settled herself down on top of me, sliding along my hardness.  She was so wet, and her movements so slow, that there was barely any friction.  She positioned herself for womankind’s ultimate down stroke, and then hovered there, motionless.  Head thrown back again, eyes closed, chords showing on the sides of her neck, sucking in deep breaths and holding them before releasing each one with a loud sigh.  Running the length of her middle fingers back and forth along her nipples, flicking them as the fingertips passed.  Hips totally still, suspended in time and space.

Despite my determination not to be the first to give in, a groan escaped my lips.

And then in that sacred motion more ancient than humanity, she took me deeply and savagely into herself.

With two months of foreplay, enhanced by the intoxicants and the dancing and driven by the urgency of Sabrina’s thrusts, it should have been over quickly.  But astonishingly, it wasn’t.  With a perversity born from who knows where my body decided, Hey!  This is cosmic!  Don’t stop yet.  Sabrina found her own tempo and her own pleasures.   Stopping to savor and linger over each orgasm, and then back into the rhythm.

And then she opened her throat wide and out came a long sustained note, just as Nimue had done.  Perhaps not quite as unwavering, considering the relentless pounding she was inflicting on herself.  But unwavering enough.  My soul and my voice rose with hers and we exploded and collapsed with a finality that probably caused a supernova or a black hole out there somewhere.

We lay there in a heap for a long while, gasping.  I could feel her heart gradually beginning to slow, as mine was doing.

After a bit, Sabrina kissed my eyelids, tugged at my bottom lip with her teeth, nipped my earlobe.  And slowly began the tiniest of movements with her hips.

“So, big boy.  You want to wander on back to the fire, get another drink of that home brew, dance a little, and pick out a new partner?”

“Think I’ve got a shot at the golden-haired high priestess?  That’d be pretty hard to turn down.”

“If you can only get laid once a year, I don’t imagine you’d be sharing with your guests, no matter how hospitable you were feeling.”

“Well, in that case, I think I’ll just stick with the one I’ve got.  Seemed to work out OK the first time.”

“OK?!  OK?!!”  She nipped me again.  “I’ll show you OK.”  Her hips increased their movements a little and began to rotate.

“I like what you’re doing a lot.  But you’re not controlling the show this time.  You’ve had your fun, woman.  My turn to be on top.”

“Yes sir.  Think we can roll over without disconnecting?”

“Probably.  But I’ve got something else in mind.”


Chapter 59: Avalon, S.C.

The sun sank lower and lower in the sky, finally disappearing altogether.  Over on the mainland, if you were outside at this time of day, you’d better have on a liberal application of insect repellant.  But mosquitoes were just another of those species of wildlife that didn’t live on Avalon.  The thought crossed my mind: I wonder if the island is for sale?  How cool would it be to have a home here?  Knowing as soon as I thought it that a 21st century McMansion would surely destroy the link between here and wherever.

The wine was gone, as well as the grapes and cheese I’d brought.  Sabrina left to walk the wheel.   It was getting darker by the minute.  Adeline and I sat in a comfortable near silence.  JD was silent as well; I guess he took Sabrina’s threat seriously.  I sure as hell would have.

Then a tiny flame appeared over where the fire would be, catching a handful of kindling and flaring up.  In the sudden light I could see the stacked logs of the laid bonfire where a moment before there had been nothing.

Apparently the lighting of the fire triggered the passageway, for as its illumination grew I could see the seven tending it or bending over the cauldron.  And the stones, now catching the light, now dancing in flickering shadows.

The fire grew rapidly, the flames now twice my height.  I felt the heat on my face, less welcome than it would have been in February.  Confirming what George had written in his journal: on Beltane, we were not to be detached observers.

One of the women noticed us and pointed us out to the others.  Nimue stopped supervising the brew and glided over to us.  I noted again how gracefully she moved, how totally in harmony with the spirit of the place.

She took both my hands in hers and spoke in a clear, melodic voice in a language so full of consonants that only she could make it pleasant.

“It is good for us to be here.”  It sounded pretty lame, but I didn’t figure it mattered all that much what I said.  “Thank you for hosting us, Nimue.”   She reacted slightly at my use of her name, narrowing her eyes just a touch and staring at me.

Nimue repeated her greeting to Adeline, who responded with a simple, “Thank you.”

Sabrina was coming back from the wheel.  With her long skirt and light top, in the firelight she looked a lot like the seven did.  I wondered if that had been intentional.  I also noted that she had some of the same flowing grace that Nimue did.  Could that merely be from years of waiting tables, or had she perhaps taken dance lessons as a girl?  Even after the preceding months of investigative chastity, I still had much to learn.

Nimue greeted Sabrina, then slipped her arms around her and hugged her long enough that there had to be something more there than mere womanly friendship.  Then they held hands and walked over to where JD was sitting, talking as though they could understand each other.

“Looks like we’re not going to need those writing pads tonight.”

“My God, you’re right.  Sometime in the not too distant future, I’m going to be able to ask him right to his face, ‘Why the hell did you run off and leave me.”  She must have seen the . . . what, dismay?  Disapproval? . . . in my face, because she added, “No, you’re right.  What would that gain me?  A cheap thrill at best.  The kind of daughter who would ask that after all these years is exactly the kind of daughter he should leave.”

“Seems I’m not the only one who’s changed since we first met.  Would you like to go walk the wheel while we’re waiting?”

“I’ve only done it that one time at your place.  Do you think I’m ready for this?  What the hell, let’s do it.”

And so we did.  I moved slowly and mindfully, but still finished quite a bit before she did.  Afterwards we just stood there in the center, gazing at the altar and the stones standing guard behind it.


We turned and there he was, standing right behind us.

“Addy?  Praise the goddess, it is you!”  George threw his arms around his daughter.

“Daddy.”  With Adeline’s face buried in her father’s neck, it was a little hard to make out her words.  “Daddy, I’ve missed you so.”  Words much more precious than recriminations.

“I love you, Addy.”

I left them there and walked back to the fire.

Two of the priestesses, as I now assumed the seven to be, were picking through a basket of mushrooms, one sorting them into two piles, the other slicing one of the piles into the cauldron.  Aha.  ‘Shrooms.  There was the little psychoactive culprit, or at least one of them.  One of the women offered me a slice, but I took the prudent path for once and declined.

The prep work was completed and the brew bubbling away long before the five of us got back together.  Nimue tasted the spoon and nodded before leading us to a spot away from the fire, gesturing for us to sit in a little circle.  Adeline and George sat holding hands, making no attempt to hide that they’d both been crying.  Whatever else happened tonight, Adeline would be leaving with her catharsis.

Nimue spoke to George, who in turn spoke to us.  “Let us introduce ourselves.  As you’ve obviously figured out, I’m George Foster, Adeline’s long-lost father.  This is my mate Nimue, the present day Lady of the Lake.”  Nimue began to speak, pausing between sentences while George translated.  “I welcome you to Avalon for the holy feast of Beltane.  Here we renew the fertility of the land, the plants, and the creatures that live on it, fly above it, or swim in the seas that surround it.  We do not get many visitors from other times.”  George changed his voice to indicate that he wasn’t translating and told us that he had been the first in recorded times, and that we were only the second.

I blurted out the question most burning in my mind.  “Is this then the Avalon of legend?  Does Arthur still reign?”

George didn’t wait for Nimue to answer.  “Arthur is indeed the High King of Wales, Cornwall, and the western portions of England as far as the Salisbury plains.  But troubled times are upon us, the very same strife that has survived the intervening centuries in stories.  There is open warfare between Arthur and his nephew Mordred.  Arthur offered Mordred rule over all the lands east of Wales, but he spurned the offer and demanded Guinevere as his queen.  She is dead by her own hand, and the land mourns her passing.  There is drought and blight; calves are born dead, and the people are hungry.”

He turned to Nimue and spoke to her, probably recapping what he’d told us.  They exchanged some words before he turned back to us.  “The old gods have demanded the blood of the king to restore the land.  But it is a fool’s bargain, for if the king is dead, the land will be torn apart by war.”

Nimue spoke again, and George again translated.  “But that is our problem for another time.  Perhaps we can appease the gods for a little while longer with our rituals and our sacrifices.  You didn’t finish the introductions.”

Adeline spoke.  “I am George’s daughter, Adeline Foster.  This is Rick Whittaker, the clever young journalist who tracked you down.”

“Ah.”  George acknowledged the accomplishment with a bow of his head before translating for Nimue.  “You have my deepest appreciation, Mr. Whittaker.  Once I discovered that I was indeed alive in a different time and place, I had no way of getting word back to my daughter that I’d arrived safely.”

“You left plenty of clues, although we might have gotten here quicker had you been a little less cryptic.  All in all, however, I suppose I didn’t start looking soon enough to get here last Samhain.  So we got here as quickly as we could.  This woman is Sabrina Jenkins, a dear friend from White Sands, who came out with me on Imbolc.”

George spoke with Nimue, and then turned to us again.  “We have only a few more minutes before the villagers start to arrive.  I know you have hours’ worth of questions to cram into those few minutes.  We will answer whatever we can.”

A few minutes?  I could have easily spent the entire month of May asking questions before my curiosity was satisfied.  What did I want to know most?

“Is the little girl in the picture Merlin’s daughter?  Doesn’t seem to fit with the Nimue from the stories that have survived.”

George spoke briefly with Nimue and they both laughed.  “Yes, Merlin was Nimue’s mate before me.  The Lady of the Lake must remain chaste except on Beltane, and is free to decide whether or not to conceive from her sacred coupling.  Once Nimue discovered that Merlin was dying, probably of cancer from the sounds of it, she chose to bear his daughter, even though the timing required that she stretch her vows to do so.  She also attempted to save him by holding his essence is stasis, but even sharing his knowledge, she was not powerful enough to defeat the disease.”  George looked a little embarrassed.  “Since the Lady of the Lake must stay celibate the rest of the year, this is kind of a big day for us.  I know you’ve come a long way to see us, but you’re going to have to give us a little time to ourselves.”

Adeline looked down, and then back at her father with a big smile.  “You got it, Daddy.”

I was deciding what to ask next when Adeline spoke back up.  “Here’s what I want to know.  That passage from your journal, where you saw each other the first time.  It was such a life changing experience for both of you.  Do you know what happened?  Was it magic?”

Nimue and George shared some words and a little laugh.  “As you say, I was clearly smitten and my life was never the same afterward.  Of course, there’s always magic when love is involved.  What else can explain it?  As for the Lady of the Lake, it is said that her consorts are summoned by the old gods and paraded for her to choose.  But the other explanation is a little more mundane.”  He ran his fingers through his hair.  “It seems that I happen to look a lot like Merlin.”

The babble of voices moving toward the clearing intruded on our conversation.  “Ah, they have arrived.  Adeline, come meet your sister.”


Sleeping with the “Wrong Woman”

I’m about 34,000 words into the new novel that I’m working on.  The hero, Sir Kay of Arthurian fame, just got laid.  By the wrong woman.

I probably didn’t have to add that last sentence.  It seems to be a rather common feature in my novels, although I didn’t realize quite how common.

My male readers are puzzled.  “Wrong woman?  What does that mean?” (I should say, ‘my male readers and Denise,’ who is atypical of my other female readers in her approach to this topic).

But my female readers have a clear gut understanding.  The “right woman” is the one to whom they first become emotionally attached in the novel.  Everybody else is the “wrong woman.”  Comments consistently note a sense of betrayal.  I have come to realize that they feel betrayed, not by the hero, but by me.  SusanH, my writing partner, is due to erupt in an explosion of purple ink at any moment.

Let’s see how typical this pattern is.

Rick Whittaker, our current hero, slept with Chai Fox 34,000 words into a 105,000 word novel, about a third of the way in.  Almost exactly at the same point in the novel as Sir Kay.  Perhaps the fictional pressure builds up to a breaking point after so many words (sort of like real horniness).  Incidentally, unless something really drastic happens, he and Sabrina are finally going to do it in the next chapter or two, after the book is around 95% complete.

Arnie Penders in Return from Avalon (and Points West) slept with the wrong woman, Marta, after only 26,000 words.  It wasn’t really his fault: she wrangled her way into his hotel room and by the time he woke up, he was already doing it.  He slept with the next wrong woman, the fun-loving Moonglow (who is a lot like Chai Fox in many ways), after another 25,000 words or so.  At the end of the book, we can only speculate whether or not he ever gets together with the “right woman,” Annie.  This book causes a lot of secondary confusion, as most women mistakenly latch onto Arnie’s ex-wife Jen as the “right woman.”

Bradley Schuster in Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail begins the book in a sexual relationship with “the wrong woman,” Judy Blue Eyes, although readers are pretty slow to figure out that she is and are a little pissed at his behavior.  It’s the sexually permissive mid-70’s, and the two of them are shamelessly using each other but clearly not in love.  He finally makes it with the right woman—another Annie, totally by coincidence, who crawls into his sleeping out in the Sinai desert—134,000 words in (book is currently a whopping 146,000 words).

Walter is the exception.  In Strange Bedfellows, he finally sleeps with the right woman 80% of the way through the book (he begins the story married to the wrong woman, but that’s another story line altogether), but also with the “wrong woman” who is co-occupying Amy’s body.  It’s only after Aunt Morgan jumps to another woman that the difficulties begin.

Kay’s “wrong woman” is none other than Morgan Le Fay, operating out of her “Valley of No Return.”  It’s really not his fault here either; she’s an enchanter, and totally ensnares him with her magical arts.  It’s the same Morgan as in Strange Bedfellows, just 1500 years before and in her original body.

Morgan unquestionably qualifies as a femme fatale.  Wikipedia defines femme fatale as “a mysterious and seductive woman whose charms ensnare her lovers in bonds of irresistible desire, often leading them into compromising, dangerous, and deadly situations.”  I’m not sure any of the other wrong women qualify.  Chai probably comes the closest, but in the end she lets Rick go with too much dignity and class to be a true femme fatale.

Wikipedia further notes that the femme fatale is “an archetype of literature and art.”  I say when you encounter a real live archetype (well, live if you live the novel the way that I do), you have to give her a little respect, even if you hate what she’s doing.

forbidden fruit2

Chapter 58: Avalon, S.C.

Adeline called and said she was running late and would meet us at the boat ramp.  Which suited me just fine, since it would put off a lot of questions that I didn’t really want to answer right then.

We fixed JD up with a hood, then tied a rope around his neck and another one between his feet so he could walk taking little baby steps.  As soon as I cut the duct tape on his legs, he started kicking.

Sabrina whipped the Taser right up next to his neck and pulled the trigger.  When his groaning let us know he’d regained some of his faculties, she got right up next to where his ear was under the hood.  “You remember that wallop you gave me last time I saw you?  I had a shiner for two weeks, and my face swole up and turned all purple and yellow, and my teeth were so loose and sore I could hardly chew.  I got 11 reloads for this puppy, and each reload has three shots.  So in case you can’t do the math, I can do that 34 more times.  I figure we’ll be about even at that point.  So why don’t you keep making a fuss and give me some more excuses.  You pissed your pants, by the way.”

I didn’t see how JD could have suspected we didn’t have any reloads, and that exactly one more shot was all we had left.  I made a note never to play poker with Sabrina.  Except maybe strip poker, where there are no losers.

When the time came we led him over to the boat by the rope, leaned him over the gunwale, picked up his feet and sort of dumped him in.  Gentle as we could manage.  He was as meek as a lamb.  I tied the other end of the rope around his neck to a cleat, covered him up with a tarp, threw our stuff in, and off we went.

Adeline didn’t even notice him until we’d pulled away from the ramp and I helped him up onto a seat.

“Who the hell is that?”

“That’s my ex-boyfriend.  The guy that put Rick in the hospital last Christmas.  He dropped by today and attacked him with a tire iron.  Can’t seem to learn to leave well enough alone.  We’re taking him along so he doesn’t get into any more trouble.”

“So what are you planning to do to him?”

I fielded that one.  “Sabrina has a plan that she hatched up with Nimue.  I decided I didn’t really want to know.  Plausible deniability and all that.  I suggest you consider doing the same thing.”

Adeline narrowed her eyes and looked long and hard at Sabrina before shrugging.  “None of my business, I guess.  As long as you don’t throw him in the ocean while I’m watching, I can live with it.”

I eased the throttle forward, and the motor noise made further discussion impossible.

When we got to Avalon I dropped the ignition key into my pocket—better safe than sorry; if JD somehow managed to get loose, where could he go?  Then I pushed and lifted and eventually got him out of the boat, although both of us ended up with our shoes soaked in the process.  He kept making noises under the tape like he wanted to say something, but really, what could he possibly say that would make any difference?  “Praise the Lord, I found Jesus, if you just set me free I promise I’ll go and sin no more?”  Can’t imagine anybody buying that enough to take the tape and ropes off.  I didn’t even remove the hood until we’d made our way up the path to the hilltop and I’d secured him to a tree.

“So how are you doing?”  It was the first chance I’d had to talk to Adeline, so preoccupied had I been with my nemesis.  “Are you excited?  Nervous?  Scared?  Want some wine?  I brought a bottle.”

“You know, Rick, I am excited.  And a little nervous, too.  But really, what is there to be nervous about?  I came to get closure, and I’m leaving with closure no matter what else happens.  And yes, I think I will have some wine.”

After I’d poured the three of us a cup, she continued.  “I mean, what is he going to say?  ‘I fell in love and decided she was worth leaving you and everything else behind for.’  I already know that.  And it hurts a little, but as distant as we were, whose fault was it?  Maybe the real secret is, I’d like to find a love like that someday.”

A tear leaked out of one eye.  I started to say something, but Sabrina got up and knelt down in front of her and wrapped her up in a big hug.  And just held her.  They stayed that way for a while.  When Sabrina finally let go, Adeline’s face was a little red but she was smiling.

“So, I never asked.  What came of your evening with Chai?  You can tell me it’s none of my business, by the way.”

Adeline laughed.  “She was shamelessly trying to take advantage of my intoxication to get me to agree to invite her along tonight as my guest.  There was some kissing involved but nothing more, at least that I remember.  I probably did agree, under such gentle duress, but I didn’t remember anything about it the next morning.  And when she tried to get me to keep my word, I told her that vows given when inebriated only were good until the booze wore off.  And that it wouldn’t be fair to you, or especially to Sabrina.”

“Thank you for thinking about me, even though you hadn’t even met me yet.”  Sabrina’s voice was soft and low.

“No, I hadn’t met you yet.  But I’ve seen a lot of changes in Rick from that brash boy he was when I first interviewed him.  And some of those had to be your doing.”

I poured a little of my wine out on the ground before taking a sip.  Adeline watched me with a puzzled expression.  She didn’t ask what I was doing, but copied my moves before drinking again.

“But the truth is, I liked her, Rick.  And she was certainly good natured about the whole thing.”

“I like her too, Adeline.  And we shared some deep, life-altering experiences that neither of us will ever forget.”  No pun intended, of course.

“I’m glad you feel that way.  Because I did say we’d bring her another time if at all possible.”

“I can live with that,” Sabrina answered before I could open my mouth.  “There’s another one of these feasts in three more months.  If in three months she can take Rick away, then she deserves him.  Or they deserve each other, rather.”

I’d only brought two bottles of wine.  If we were partaking from the cauldron tonight, I didn’t want to get too buzzed before the festivities started.  When I opened the second bottle, Sabrina poured her cup full and took it over to where JD was sitting.  She stood there talking to him, and after awhile he was nodding his head yes and shaking it no to her questions.  In a bit she set the cup down and started working on the tape.  I wouldn’t have risked it, but she was a grown woman capable of making her own choices.  He might get his teeth into her, but with his hands taped and his neck tied to the tree, I didn’t see that he would do all that much damage before I could get there.  But apparently he was done fighting.  Or else whatever she’d promised if he bit her scared the fight out of him.  After witnessing how cold she could be back at my place, I sure as hell didn’t want her mad at me.

Eventually she got the tape loose enough so he could drink and held the cup up for him to finish.  She didn’t even try to get the mess out of his hair, just left the tape dangling there.

“I think our boy is a mite concerned,” Sabrina said when she got back to where we were sitting.  “But he sure is happy to have that tape off his mouth.  I told him I’d leave it off unless he started yelling, in which case I’d have to Taze him again, in the crotch this time, and put it back on.  But all he could say was to keep asking me what I was going to do with him.”

“What are you going to do with him?”  This from Adeline; I was sticking with the commitment I’d made not to ask, no matter what.

“I’m going to give him to Nimue.”


Beltane on the Island of Avalon, S.C.

We’re almost at the end of Avalon, S.C.  Only five chapters to go (and four of them happen on Beltane)!  By next Friday (Oct 4th), I’ll have posted it all.

You’ve by and large stopped commenting, which I’m going to assume is because you are so caught up in the story that you can’t think of anything else to add.

So . . . you going to a Beltane party.  As George put it in his journal, Beltane is basically an orgy with religious overtones.  You definitely don’t want to get out to the island and realize that you’ve forgotten something critical.  Maybe we should prepare a checklist of what to take.

___  Girlfriend

___  Girlfriend’s panties (apparently don’t need those)

___  Boss, but DON’T confuse with girlfriend

___  Paper and pencil to be able to talk to boss’s dad, if needed

___  Sexy new age consultant (sorry, Chai.  Maybe next year)

___  Girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend.  Seems like a strange thing to take to the party, but apparently “we” have a plan.  Maybe he’s a gift, since he’s so nicely wrapped up in duct tape.

___  Taser, in case of emergency with duct tape.

___  Thermos of Martinis (nope, we’re going to risk the Beltane punch, although that might turn out to be a really, really bad idea.  Particularly considering how Mr. Lust still has a thing for the boss)

___  Alarm clock?  Don’t want to oversleep and end up staying on the island!

___  Camera?  Apparently no reason to take a camera; the pictures somehow refuse to turn out.  I guess what happens on the island stays on the island.

___  Camping essentials: flashlight, matches (although it’s hard to believe we’ll need those), toothbrush, blanket.

Anything I’ve forgotten?

___  Condoms.  Like I said, don’t want to forget something critical.

Beltane2 (I was very tasteful and discrete in selecting an image for this post.  However, if you’re feeling daring and indiscrete, turn off “safe search” and do a Google image search for “Beltane Celebration”)

Chapter 57: Avalon, S.C.

The sunlight intruding through the uncurtained French door was not a welcome visitor.  I’d slept poorly and didn’t feel at all rested or ready for the big day.  I’d been far too excited to fall asleep, and when I finally drifted off my slumber had been haunted by dreams.  Wild dreams, with a cornucopia of naked women dancing around the fire, led by the pirouetting Sabrina, the howling Chai Fox, and Nimue going through a sexual pantomime that would have made a stripper blush.  Mr. Lust getting his two cents worth in, I’m sure.

I finally got Beltane jump started with a second pot of coffee.  Tried to work on my novel to keep my mind distracted, but instead my distraction kept me from working on my novel.  And besides, I’d probably have to revise the whole thing after tonight, so what was the point?  But I made it through the morning somehow, with the help of some heavy-duty meditation and a double lap around the wheel.

Sabrina came over straight from work, getting there around two.  A welcome interruption if I ever saw one.

“Sabrina!  What are you doing here?  What’s today?  Did we have a date I forgot to put on my calendar?”

“A date with you?  In the middle of a Wednesday afternoon?  What the heck would I want to do that for?  No, a little birdie told me you were shacked up with your voodoo honey, and I felt obliged to come warn her what a bad deal she was getting.  Where is she?”

“A little birdie my ass.  Must have been a seagull, to be spreading chum that old on the water.  Jonathan Livingston, perhaps.  Help yourself, look around and see if either one of them’s here.”

“Help myself?  Why thank you kindly, mister.  I think I’ll help myself to a kiss, if you really don’t mind.”

“Mind?  It’s Beltane, woman.  Adeline’s not due for a couple of hours.  How about a quick romp in the sack?”

“The next time I get in the sack with you, bud, there’s going to be nothing quick about it.  I’ve taken off work tomorrow and Mama’s got the kids.  Hope you got a good night’s sleep.”

“How the hell could I sleep?  I kept dreaming about you dancing around the bonfire naked while Chai Fox howled at the moon.”

“I think it’s you howling at the moon, Silly.”

“You sound just like Samantha.”

“Out of the mouths of babes, like it says in the good book.”

“So, Sabrina, what are your plans for the next couple of hours, if you’re totally eschewing anything carnal?”

“Well, Rick, truth is, I’ve about had all the foreplay I can stand.  And the other truth is, I’m a little bit nervous about tonight.  So I’m going to take a bath, change clothes, and then go out and walk the wheel.”

“Sounds like a great plan.  Can I come?”

“I really need a little alone time if you can stand it.”

“You bet I can stand it.  I don’t really like you all that much anyway.”

“Well, the feeling is mutual, bud.”

We kissed again and off she went.

I fixed a shaker of martinis, poured myself a healthy drink, and took it out on the patio.  Along with a book, which must have been totally fascinating, considering I read the same three paragraphs about forty times.

When Sabrina stepped back out on the patio, she was wearing a long skirt.  Startling, since she wasn’t much of a dress person.  I had an instant flashback to Chai showing up in a similar garb the day we’d built the wheel.  Except that Sabrina’s skirt, while cut full, was simple and khaki colored with a darker brown thread woven in.  She’d set it off with a cream top, a brown and gold shawl, and a simple leather headband.  Whatever result she was shooting for, the net effect was drop dead gorgeous.  The only slightly incongruous effect was from a pair of practical Nikes rather than some dainty leather sandals.

“Good God, woman.  Who are you and what are you doing here?  Or perhaps you’re not a woman at all, but a goddess.  And what did you do with Sabrina?  She’d never wear a skirt out to the island.”

“Ah, puny mortal.  Little do you know the mind of a woman.  She is devious beyond comprehension, unpredictable as the March wind, capricious as fate.  Are you going to stand there with your mouth open, or did you plan to kiss me before I headed out to the wheel?”

I never turn down an invitation like that, lingering over the moment to make sure that my admiration was appreciated.  Hopefully stopping just before we crossed the line into foreplay.

“So, goddess posing as a mortal, what do you have on under that outfit?” I asked as she turned to head toward the woods.

“Well, I’m not sure.  Let’s take a look.”

She pulled the hem of her skirt up to mid-thigh, then flashed me a quick peek of Sabrina au natural.  “Oh, my.  It seems I’ve forgotten my panties.”  She dropped her skirt and shrugged.  “Truthfully, I decided that on purpose.  I wouldn’t want to forget them and leave them out on the island and have Nimue accuse me of littering.”

Well, I sure as hell couldn’t argue with that logic.

So Sabrina headed down the path toward the wheel, and I fetched the rest of the martinis.  Slid down low in my chair, with my head resting on the back of the seat.  Watching the wind in the oaks, with an occasional sip of gin to mark the passage of the clouds.

“Well, well.  What do we have here?”

The words jerked me awake.  And there was JD, standing about eight feet away, holding a tire iron that he kept tapping into his palm.

I leapt up, but couldn’t think of what to do after that.  Lucas’ words when he gave me the Taser echoed in my head.  “It won’t do you a damned bit of good if you run into JD and don’t have it.  So you need to carry it pretty much all the time when you’re not in a crowd.  I know that’s going to be a pain in the ass, and after awhile you’re going to get careless.”  And I had.  Didn’t think that meant on my own back porch, although why the hell not?  Home is where JD had beaten me up last time.  I tried to remember where I’d left the damned thing.  Sitting beside my recliner, probably.  For all the good it would do, it might as well have been in the back of Lucas’ truck.

“I can’t tell you how often I’ve dreamed of this moment.  All those days with a fucking broken hand in a cast.  But I’ve learned that lesson, city boy.  Not gonna hit you with my hand this time, no sir.”

“The best thing you can do is get back in your car and get the hell out of here.  The sheriff’s department is looking for you, and they come by here all the time.  Only thing you can accomplish by hitting me with that is get locked up for ten years for assault with a deadly weapon.”  As I talked I looked around for anything I might use as a weapon of my own, but didn’t see a thing.  I would have given a lot for a nice, sturdy length of oak firewood, but the pinyon pine chunks were about five inches long and totally useless.  Martini shaker, glass, paperback book, and my wit.  I was just about as unarmed as a man can be.

“You know, you’re right about that.  If they’re gonna put me away for ten years for assault, might as well be 25-to-life for murder, don’t you think?  ‘Cause there’s no way I’m leaving without a piece of your hide.  You and your slick-talking college boy ways, horning in on my woman.  MY woman, asshole.”

He took a step toward me and I quickly moved to put the chair between us.  Decided my best bet was to flip the chair at him when he got a little closer and take off running toward the front door.  Might get enough of a head start to make it inside.  Grab something, anything.  Didn’t sound like much of a plan, but it was all I had.

“Scared, college boy?”  He took another step, swinging the tire iron back and forth a couple of times.  “This here tire iron’s battle tested.  I hit a nigger with it one time, broke his arm.  Greatest feeling in the world, way better than fucking.  I’ve hung onto it ever since, hoping I’d get a chance to use it again.”

I tensed.  One more step and I was going for it.

“JD, you’re a mouthy asshole and that’s my man you’re threatening.”

Sabrina stepped out the back door and just stood there, shaking her head.  Cool as ice, unlike me at the moment.  Incongruously holding a roll of duct tape.

“You shut the fuck up, bitch.  I’m your man, not this jackwad.  You’re getting yours next.  Once I’ve taken care of your boyfriend, I’m going to fuck you so long and hard you won’t be able to walk for a week.  Nothing like some good hard lovin’ to get your head straightened back out.”

“But John David.  If everybody gets what’s coming to them, when do you get yours?”  He glanced back at her cold tone of voice, just as she pulled the Taser from behind her back and pulled the trigger.

JD went down like he’d been poleaxed.

“Quick, this doesn’t last forever.”  Sabrina straddled JD, laying the Taser down within easy reach.  “Hold his hands behind his back.”

In about twenty seconds we had his hands and feet securely taped up.  That’s about how long it took before he starting stirring around.  “You bitch!” he screamed, when he finally regained a little of his nastiness.

“Here, tape his mouth too.  Don’t want to be listening to that crap all day.”  She grabbed a handful of his hair and jerked his head up off the porch.  Didn’t see any clean way to do it, so I just wrapped him up, hair and mouth and all.  Was going to be a bitch to get that tape off his hair.  At least he wasn’t yelling anymore.

“JD, if you give me any more shit, I’m going to Taze you again.  You just lie there and be quiet.”  Sabrina patted him on the shoulder.

“I’m calling the sheriff.”

“Rick, don’t.”  The chill in Sabrina’s voice sounded like something from a horror movie.

“What do you mean?”

“Do you think that will end this?  They’ll book him and put him in jail, he’ll be out in a couple of days on bond.  Think he’ll decide to stay away next time?  Of maybe they’ll deny him bond as a threat to flee, try him and convict him and give him a year or two for assault.  He’ll be out on good behavior by fall, and we can do this all over again.”

“So it never stops.”

“It stops today.  We have a plan.”

I started to ask who “we” was, but my adrenaline was plummeting back toward normal and I got a good case of the shakes.  Thought for a minute I was going to pass out, but I sat down with my head between my knees and it went away.  Then, when I’d actually recovered enough to think, I realized that none of what had happened—her slipping back from the wheel and showing up with the Taser and the duct tape—had been spontaneous.

“You knew he was coming.  How?”

“She told me.  Nimue.  Came to me in a vision last night.  While you were busy dreaming about naked women.”

“Well, you saved my ass.  And I didn’t notice you having any second thoughts about it.”

“JD is a loud-mouthed, ignorant asshole who doesn’t give a shit about anybody but himself.  What I ever saw in him is beyond me.  You, on the other hand, are caring, sensitive, and the man I love.  When it came down to it, it didn’t seem like much of a decision after all.”


Chapter 56: Avalon, S. C.

And thus began the most leisurely romance between two thirty-somethings in the 21st century.  I don’t think I’d dated a woman in seven or eight years where we hadn’t slept together by the fourth date.  Most didn’t wait nearly that long.  But Sabrina had set the ground rules and I was living by them.

Here’s the funny thing: it wasn’t all that bad.  Mr. Lust bitched constantly, but then that’s his job.

It’s amazing how much you can find out about a woman when you’re not spending all of your time and effort trying to get into her pants.

For example, Sabrina was a rabid reader.  She would get hooked on some genre—fantasy and thrillers and science fiction had all had their turn as obsessions—and read two or three books a week for months until something else caught her eye.  And she remembered what she’d read.  She took one look at George’s King Arthur collection and her eyes lit up.  When she found out I’d read a bunch of them, she wanted to start in right away.  And I don’t mean pick one out and read it when she got home, I mean, let’s cuddle up on the couch under a blanket and get started.

So I gave her the one about Nimue being a novice priestess who became the Lady of the Lake and that definitely poured gasoline on the fire.  For a couple of days, her nose was hardly ever out of the book, even when we were together.  After that, Nimue was all she wanted to talk about.

“I think our Nimue is a high priestess too.  She sure acted like she was in charge during the ceremony.  And the other priestesses or witches or pagan nuns or whatever they were all asked ‘how high’ whenever she said jump.  But high priestess of what, do you think?”

“If she’s the Nimue of the King Arthur stories, then the “Otherworld” we can see on the sabbats could actually be Avalon.  That might make her high priestess of the last pagan cult in Britain.”

“Nimue can’t be that common a name, wouldn’t you think?”

“Who knows?  It might be the 5th Century equivalent of Jennifer or Brittany.  Wait, I just thought of another possibility.  Suppose the Otherworld isn’t a real place as we know it, but rather a fictional alternate universe and King Arthur actually lives there?”

“Stop, you’re making my head hurt.”

Another example.  Sabrina had been a scrappy shooting forward on her high school basket ball team, and fifteen years later she could still put the rock in the hole.  She and I played horse in the back yard and after a couple of games she was spotting me an H-O-R but I still didn’t stand a chance.

About the 4th game, I managed to get an S on her with a lucky backward shot.  Her son Davy was watching from a safe distance—he wasn’t too sure about me, yet.  So I went over to him and enlisted his help, which he agreed to after some bribery involving a dollar.

“OK, hot shot.  Let’s see you make this one.”  I hoisted Davy, squealing all the way, high enough so he could dunk.

“Piece of cake.  Just give me a little boost like you did my boy there.  C’mon, I don’t weigh much more than he does.”

“No, you have to do the boosting.  That’s part of the shot.”

“Lord, I haven’t been able to lift him over my head since he was six.”

I was mildly gracious—or at least less than obnoxious—in my victory dance.

I spent a fair amount of time with her kids.  Davy was pretty reserved in the beginning.  During my first invitation to dinner at Sabrina’s house, I tried to get him to talk about what he liked—the Falcons, school, everything I could think of—but his answers were pretty much limited to one or two words; he finished up and asked to be excused as quickly as possible.

But our first fishing trip changed all that.  There’s nothing like a few hours out on the salt water to establish some guy bonding, especially when he actually caught a few.  Out there I learned he loved CSI and Law and Order and thought he’d become a detective when he grew up.  Except he was really good at math, and his teacher said he was a regular young Albert Einstein who didn’t do as well in school as Davy was.  And he wasn’t sure what a physicist did but maybe he could be a math teacher.

“Math?  You love math?  Davy, there’s nothing in the world I’m worse at than math, unless it’s women.  If I went back to school, you’d have to help me with my homework.”

“You don’t seem too bad with Mom.”  Smart little fart.

“Yeah, well.  She’s just taking it easy on me, I think.”

“Hope that butthead JD doesn’t ever come back.  Don’t tell Mom I said butthead, though.”

“Me either.  And I can’t think of a better way to describe that butthead either, except maybe mongo butthead.   Don‘t tell your mom I said that.”

By contrast, when her daughter Samantha first saw me she disappeared, only to return a minute later with a stack of books for me to read.  Sitting in my lap, of course—beside me on the couch was out of the question.  Her favorite thing in the whole wide world was horses, and we read books about rainbow-colored ponies and wild horses that lived on an island and a horse that saved a boy’s life and a Native American boy’s first horse.

“Can I call you Sam?”

“No, silly.  It’s Samantha.  Sam is a boy’s name.  I’m a girl.”

“You’re a girl?  I didn’t know that.”

“You’re silly.”

“Are you named after the witch?”

She didn’t know anything about Samantha the witch.  So I ordered a DVD of the old TV show from Amazon—the much-newer movie was pretty cute, but for a six-year-old the TV show would be way better—and brought it for us to watch the next time I came over.  With Samantha cuddled in on my lap, of course.

“You could probably cast your own spells if you could wiggle your nose like that.”  So we spent a hilarious fifteen minutes trying.  Even Davy, although this was before our fishing trip.

Of course everybody at Peckerwoods’ knew we were “seeing each other” the morning after our dinner date, which meant the whole damn town was talking about it by Sunday.  Who needs the Internet when you live in White Sands?  Mrs. Ellis, the white-haired lady for whom I’d reduced the repair bill from $50 to $10, stopped by my table to tell me what a lovely couple we made, then leaned over and whispered that the man Sabrina had been dating was “just a bum, a horrible bum,” and she was real happy for us. (I was surprised she didn’t call him a butthead).

Wanda wasn’t so trusting.  The next time I ate at Peckerwoods’ when Sabrina wasn’t working, she came over to my table and read me the riot act about what would happen if I “hurt that little girl.”

“You don’t have to worry about that, Wanda.  But what if that little girl hurts me?”

“You’re a man.  Y’all don’t hurt as much.”

“Really?  Maybe you’ve been hanging around the wrong men.”

“Besides, Sabrina’s not the hurting kind.”

“Not even if JD comes back?”

Wanda glanced around like mentioning JD’s name might make him reappear.  “I been praying about that.  Maybe he’s dead.”

“As in, that’s the only way he’ll stay away and she won’t hurt me?”

She crossed herself before patting me on the arm and heading back to the kitchen.

I also discovered that Sabrina had a tattoo in almost exactly the same place that Chai did, a gecko.  I almost spouted out some smart remark about what was it with women having animals tattooed on their breasts, but caught myself just in time.

Well, she’d said that she didn’t mean a platonic relationship.  I hadn’t ventured to speculate what she did mean, knowing that guessing the implications and insinuations behind what a woman was saying was a lost cause.  So I was prepared for platonic.

Sabrina was an old-fashioned girl: unlike the Bill Clinton school of thought, not sleeping together included no oral sex.  Given or received.  But a couple of weeks in, those were pretty much the only limits.  I’d thought at first, “This is a really, really bad idea,” and Mr. Lust agreed.  But it became something of a game for me, and then more than a game.  Get Sabrina to change her mind, and then be the strong one and hold out.

That milestone was accomplished before Ostara, halfway between Imbolc and Beltane.  One of those things you can learn a lot about when you’re not spending all of your time and effort trying to get into a woman’s pants is the intricacies of her desires and sexual rhythms.  “Oh God oh God oh God, Rick, you’re driving me out of my mind, would you PLEASE just fuck me right now!”

“Sorry, Sabrina.  I’d love to, but a deal’s a deal.  We can’t even discuss revising our agreement with our clothes off.  You want to get up and get dressed and talk about it?”

“Does that mean you’re going to stop what you’re doing, Oh God don’t stop like that.  We’ll talk about it later.”

Sabrina was a lot more religious in bed that she was out of it.

We did talk about it later.  The truth was, things were good for now.  Nothing like a little enforced chastity to draw you closer.  The family that doesn’t lay together stays together, something like that.  But our relationship couldn’t remain hostage to JD forever.  So we signed a pact, sealed in saliva, that we would wait until JD showed back up or Beltane, whichever came first.  Every time I went to Peckerwoods’ for breakfast, there was a little folded place card marking my reserved table, with my name on one side and the number of days left until Beltane on the other.

March exploded into spring, the season when a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love, according to Tennyson.  Except that my fancy was already there, and not all that lightly.  The official start of spring, Ostara, was a warm, magnificent afternoon that faded into a crystal clear evening as we stood holding hands on top of the hill, watching the sun go down through the trees.  Afterward we saw the ghostly shapes hover around the altar hole like they’d done on Midwinter eve, and then later the shade of George Foster as he walked the wheel.  Of course you couldn’t tell it was George.  Hell, it might have been Mordred for all I knew.  But I’m pretty sure it was him.

It sounds like I spent every waking moment with Sabrina, but that’s nowhere close to accurate.  Besides working, she still had her own life, not to mention a family that didn’t need me hanging around all the time.

My writing project had fizzled during the middle of January while Sabrina had been retreating in the mountains.  Originally I’d averaged almost an hour a day writing up a summary of what I’d learned about Nimue during my reading or research.  Pretty soon I had forty solid pages on who she was in the various literary traditions and fictional treatments.  But the next two weeks and half a dozen books didn’t add anything significant to the picture.  I was probably the world’s foremost expert on Nimue.  Particularly now that I’d read George’s journal entries on the golden-haired woman.  Not to mention drinking a cup of coven punch that she’d brewed.

But seeing her in person had breathed new life into my fiction writing.  None of the novels I’d read treated Nimue as her own person, independent of her sometimes role as the Lady of the Lake.  Her biggest claim to notoriety was her cruel imprisonment of Merlin.  Nothing even hinted that she’d borne Merlin’s child, if that had indeed been what she was trying to tell George.

It seems as though I’d found my muse.  And if she had been George’s muse before becoming mine, what of it?  I couldn’t render her image in paints as he had done, but I could tell her story, as I imagined it, in words.

* * *

Sabrina still dreamed about JD occasionally.  She described one of them to me.

“I’m walking up the path to my front door and there’s JD, sitting in a double rocker out on the porch, smiling and smoking.  It’s definitely my front porch, although as you know I don’t have a chair like that out there.  He curls up his lip in that crazy-making smile of his and says, ‘Come here, babe, it’s been too long.’”

Sabrina was talking in a flat, emotionless tone of voice, looking down rather than at me.  “I try not to go, but I can’t stop myself although it’s like walking through Jell-o.  He pulls me down beside him and starts kissing me and pulls up my skirt and starts teasing my crotch through my panties and then I notice how quiet it is.  So I ask him where the kids are, and he answers, ‘Oh, I killed them so we could have plenty of time alone.’”

It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  Not just the nightmare, but her submissiveness as she related it.  I held her for a long time, rocking back and forth.

After that, we started going out to the island more often.  It was a good excuse to be together doing something we both liked, but mostly so she could walk the wheel and get a vaccine booster.

Sheriff Tate dropped in about once a month to give me an update on JD, which was that there was still no trace of him.  They were keeping the case open, but there wasn’t any urgency.  He reminded me that I should keep my guard up.  Lucas did the same.

I’d just finished doing my taxes —I’d never had my own business before; it was kind of interesting how it worked—when the sheriff came by again.  This time he wasn’t wearing his usual mask of bland cheerfulness.

“One of my boys went by JD’s hunting cottage yesterday and discovered he’s been there since the last time we checked.  Joey hung around all night, but he didn’t show back up.”

“Could he tell how long it had been?”

“Not really.  He thought maybe there were some tire marks since the last rain, but he wasn’t sure.  I thought I’d run up there myself, see if I could learn anything else.”

“OK, keeping my eyes open and my Taser handy.  And maybe a baseball bat as a backup.  Anything else I should do?”

“Not that I can think of.  Take a vacation, maybe?  I’m going to have one of my boys hang around White Sands so if something happens he’ll only be a few minutes away.  Can’t keep that up forever, but at least for the next couple of weeks.”

So I looked over my shoulder everywhere I went and made damned sure I was never out of reach of the Taser.  Shitty way to live, but if ‘not live’ was the alternative, guess it wasn’t too bad.  Sabrina was a lot more nervous than I was, but did her best to put her game face on.

Meanwhile, day by day, chapter by chapter, kiss by kiss, we moved relentlessly toward Beltane.

Farewell, Chai Fox

And so the earthy, complex Chai Fox, having fulfilled her role in the adventure, gracefully exits our story.

Most of my female readers have had a difficult relationship with Chai.  Regardless of all her positive attributes, you ultimately saw her as an obstacle to Rick’s relationship with Sabrina, who’d already won you over to her side.  You wished Chai would find a man of her own and leave Rick alone.

I didn’t get any comments like that from male readers.  Most of you were more like Mr. Lust, lobbying for a goodbye fuck at the very least.

But now that she’s gone, what do you think of Chai?

As a character, Chai absolutely insisted on being her own person.  Every time I tried to draw a box for her to stay in, she grew too big.  She didn’t want to be a foil, or a sidekick, or a romantic place holder until Sabrina got her shit together.  And so after a brief struggle, I just let her be who she wanted to be.  Made for a much better relationship in the long run.  Wrestling with characters (you’re thinking, really, how bad can wrestling with Chai be?) is not the best activity if you want your novel writing to proceed smoothly.

high-priestess-gilded-tarot1And Chai turned out to be much more than a romantic place-holder.  In many ways she was the high priestess of the story, not Nimue.  Rick would have never made the transition from who he was to who he would become without her.  Nor would he have so readily opened his mind to the possibilities that were unfolding.

Not to mention that he would have gotten laid a lot less.

One other truly endearing trait was how Chai handled it when Rick chose Sabrina over her.  I expected her to put up more of a fight–and when Chai fights, it can get ugly.  But she was so . . . gracious.  Surprised me a lot.

So I raise a martini in a toast (I can’t do gin, so it will have to be a figurative martini): here’s to you, Chai Fox.  You’ve made the writing of this novel more of a delight that it could ever have been without you.  I wish you all the best.


Chapter 55: Avalon, S.C.

If I’d been a woman, I probably would have changed outfits half dozen times on Friday afternoon.  Fortunately, guys don’t have that gene.  Dress jeans—still seems like something of an oxymoron to me, but it is the Twenty-teens—with a collared shirt, sports coat, loafers, good to go.

Thought it interesting that Sabrina opted for dress jeans as well.  Great minds, maybe?  Subliminal message about not making too big a deal about it?  I’d likely never know.  Subliminal message about protecting her crotch?  Do women think like that?  Maybe I could bring it up on our 25th anniversary.  “Darling, you remember what you were wearing that first night we went out?”

Fortunately, I had the perfect icebreaker: an update on what I’d discovered in George’s journal.  That conversation lasted all the way to Bluffton—I’d opted for a restaurant there, possibly subconsciously avoiding Beaufort although I had no conscious reason to do so.

Sabrina declined a cocktail or a glass of wine.  “I’m not really on the wagon, but the last time I had something to drink I woke up with a powerful thirst and a granddaddy of a hangover in a strange place in the arms of a strange man.  So I’m being a little cautious.”

“Hey, I’m not a stranger.”

“I didn’t say a stranger, I said a strange man.  Rick Whittaker, you’re the strangest man I’ve met in a long time, possibly ever.  That’s not a bad thing, mind you.  Just a fact.”

“That’s funny, because I’ve never been strange before.  Just your average, moderately geeky, liberal arts type guy, trying to make his way in a technological world.”  As I spoke those words, it hit me.  “Actually, I think that pretty much explains what you’re experiencing as strangeness.  Discovering that there are things that science can’t explain and technology can’t control has changed the way I see the world.”

“Boy, you just said a mouthful, mister.  Before I met you, ‘bout the only things I believed in that you couldn’t touch were God and microwaves.  And I wasn’t all that sure about God.  Microwaves are still a miracle, but now I’ve also seen a woman I couldn’t touch who gave me a kickass drink that she brewed up on a fire without heat so she could hold a ceremony in the middle of a circle of rocks I couldn’t feel.”

“And that same woman gives me advice while I’m walking the sacred wheel.  You want to talk about a changed person?  I meditate while walking around a bunch of rocks in my back yard pretty much every day of my life.  And I don’t even have a TV that works.”

“So, Rick, how do you feel about this new you?”

It was a pretty intense conversation, but her question provided some nice comic relief.  I put my hand over my heart and looked up with my best saintly expression.  “How do I feel about it?  Oh, Sabrina, I confess that I occasionally still experience moments of sadness over the loss of a guy I’ve lived with for all of those years, but despite those grey clouds I delight in the warmth of hope breaking through and I feel like my chakras have finally aligned and it makes me feel . . .”  I poked around with my hand like I was trying to find my heart, “feel . . . feel, I don’t know.  Being a man I’m not sure how to describe it.  Feely?”

By this time Sabrina was cracking up and I couldn’t keep a straight face any longer either.

“OK, OK.  I get it.”

“Once we’re married, we’ll have to come to some understanding about how often you can ask me how I feel about something.  How about, once a month?”

“Once we’re married I’ll just tell you how you feel about things, silly.”

“Hey, that works for me.  So, Sabrina, how do I feel about this new me?”

“Maybe I’d better have that drink after all.  As I recall, we were going to have champagne.  Can’t let a little thing like waking up with a hangover get between me and my celebration.”

I signaled for the waiter and ordered a bottle of Mumms.  By the time I’d finished, Sabrina’s wicked smile was back.

“OK, let me put this in simple language even a guy can understand.  You don’t want to admit it, being a guy and all, but you like yourself better now.  How’d I do?”

Hearing it put that way set me back just a little.  Being a guy, I hadn’t actually thought about it.  But her answer seemed clear enough.  “Actually, I do.  I can’t imagine going back to not meditating.  Seems slovenly and undisciplined.  I can imagine owning a television, but it wouldn’t rule my life.  That’s slovenly and undisciplined as well.”

About that time the waiter returned with our bubbly.  Once he’d finished pouring, I raised my glass.  “Here’s to us.  To the liberated you and the new Rick Whittaker, unslovenly and disciplined.”

“Here, here.”  We clinked glasses, reminding me of Chai’s toast to men drinking outside of the box the night before.  So I shared with Sabrina the highlights of how the evening had gone.

“So, did you take your boss as a chaperone?”

“Maybe.  How do you ‘feel’ about that?”

And so dinner went, a feast of witty conversation without effort.  Right up until the coffee came.

“Rick, this has been a wonderful evening.  The best date I’ve been on since way before I got married.  And I don’t want to spoil it by talking about us.  But I feel like we need to.  Right now it’s just a lil’ mouse over in the corner, but it won’t be long before it’s the elephant in the room.  OK?”

“Well, we guys don’t normally talk about their relationships if it can be avoided.  But in this case, I’ve been repressing my curiosity for the sake of politeness.  So, by all means, have at it.”

“OK.”  Sabrina took a deep breath and then looked me directly in the eyes.  “I might be over JD, or at least on the road to being totally over him.  I haven’t dreamed about him ever since I walked the wheel out on the island.  Not even once.  Night dreams or day dreams, either one.  It’s been absolutely wonderful.  And for your part in making that happen, I am truly grateful.”

She reached over, took my arm with both hands, and squeezed hard.  I acknowledged her thanks with a soft nod, not intruding on her train of thought.  Taking joy in what she was saying, although I sensed a ‘but’ coming.

Sure enough.  “But here’s the thing.  I probably won’t know for sure until I see him again.  So I wonder if maybe it would be OK if we didn’t sleep together until after that.”

That wasn’t the ‘but’ I’d feared, certainly not what I’d expected her to say next.  Possibly wasn’t the moment for levity but in my relief, I couldn’t help myself.  “Oh, wow.  In nearly twenty years of dating, no woman has ever gotten in a preemptive strike before.  Usually I get there first with a bunch of begging and whining, and they’re too busy trying to think of polite ways of saying no.”

Sabrina shook her head, the corners of her lips turning up a smidgeon.  Probably smiling despite her best efforts at how hopeless I was at staying serious.

“But to answer your question formally.  Sabrina, I would be most delighted to engage in a platonic dating relationship of uncertain duration with you.”

“Well, I didn’t exactly mean platonic.  But thanks.  I know it’s a lot to ask.  I wouldn’t mind if you slept with your voodoo lady occasionally.”

“Sure you would.”

“You’re right.  I would.”


Those Mystical Magical Moments

NB: this is a repost of the guest blog I did yesterday for Melissa’s blog, EatReadRate.

Last April, at the Houston Writers’ Guild Spring Workshop, I had the pleasure of hearing an uplifting speech by Nikki Loftin.  Nikki is a delightful young writer who spoke about offsetting the disappointments—and there are many, believe it or not—of a writing life by celebrating the victories, large or small.

We all know about the large victories.  The big one, when you get that first email that somebody actually wants to publish a book you wrote.  And there are others.  Or I hear there are; I’m just not thinking of any right now.  Ah ha.  When you get your first 6-figure royalty check.  Sorry, temporarily slipped my mind.

Smaller victories are more common, fortunately.  You get a 5-star review from somebody you don’t know—I opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate the first time that happened.  Your Aunt Myrtle, who hasn’t read anything deeper than Soap Opera Digest since high school, brings your novel to Thanksgiving dinner for you to autograph and then discusses the nuances of the ending.  Stella chooses you for an interview.  Celebrate every single one of those, my friends.  Savor them all.

But I want to talk about a different sort of victory in today’s blog.  One that takes place, not in the business world or in the publishing world, but in the writing process itself.  Because for me, those are why I write.  The magical moments that keep me coming back to the page.

WARNING: the opinions expressed below are strictly mine.  Writing is an intensely personal and individualized process, and I wouldn’t be totally astonished if there are a dozen comments that are variants of, “What the hell are you talking about?  Are you serious?  Writing isn’t like that.”

Writing at its best is a right-brained process, not a logical plan.  Images burble up from the deep, dark swamp of your subconscious, coalesce, and dance together around a bonfire in some deep oak grove.  Only then does your logic, your writing skills that you’ve worked so hard to hone during countless workshops, your hard-earned knowledge about deep point of view and telling-not-showing get to work to shape those images into clean, tight prose.  But it’s the subconscious magic that makes it special.

I love it when I sit down to write, having a pretty good idea where I’m going in this chapter, and an hour later I stop and ask, “What just happened?”

I love it when my characters don’t behave.  When I put them in a situation and they do something totally unexpected.  Ha.  And you thought you were in charge.

Here’s one favorite example of mine.  In Return from Avalon (and Points West), the hero Arnie Penders touches a ghost on a Civil War battlefield and sets it free.  When I wrote that scene, I had no idea how he did it or what part it would play in the novel.  He was moved by the anguish on the face of the young soldier, so I guess I was as well.

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT.  If you haven’t read Return from Avalon (and Points West)—and why haven’t you, I want to know?—this is going to reveal a really dramatic piece of the book.

35,000 words later, Arnie is in a misty valley in North Wales, experiencing a vision about the death of King Arthur (“vision” seems like a totally inadequate word; Arnie’s visions are uber intense).  When the vision ends, as he is walking toward the spot where Arthur was mortally wounded, he sees a ghost.  The implications totally blow him away.  Has he really gone through all of this to set the spirit of King Arthur free from 1500 years of being trapped on the spot of his death?

But it’s not the ghost of King Arthur.  It’s Mordred.

I can still clearly remember the day I wrote that, although it was more than five years ago.  I was still working as an engineer, writing over lunch every day.  When lunch hour was supposed to be over, I was still just sitting there, stunned by something I had just created.  Didn’t get squat done the rest of the day.

A mystical, magical moment.  One of many.

That’s why I write.