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.”
“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.