Of Time: Chapter 2
Paul sipped coffee out of his Wet Whiskers mug and looked out his huge office windows at the ferryboats crossing Elliott Bay. He was quite pleased with himself. After eight years at Zylcon, Uncle Stephen had successfully wooed him to Marbanks, Inc. Paul kept running into him at various relatives’ weddings. His uncle would drop large hints but never offer anything definite, probably because of their conversation at Paul's sister's wedding in Connecticut in December of '73. While going through the receiving line, his uncle had cleared his throat and asked him:
"So, Paul, why'd
you go to the competition?
You knew you could have
come to work for me."
His uncle didn't look at
him, but stared straight
ahead, as the line moved
towards the bride and groom.
They didn't talk again until last September, when Uncle Stephen's youngest daughter Diane was married on Whidbey Island. Afterwards, Paul walked up to his uncle on at the reception hall's deck, overlooking Puget Sound.
"Beautiful place, isn't it, Paul?" his uncle remarked. "Can't see mountains like those in D.C.." He nodded towards the majestic range rising above the clouds.
"Yes, beautiful," Paul replied, "Are those the Rockies?"
"No, no -- those are the Cascades, and those behind us to the west are the Olympics. And if you look up north there," he gestured up the waterway towards a snow-covered mountain in the distance, "that's Mount Baker. And down that way...” He nodded southwards towards another snowcapped mountain "you can see Mount Rainier, and ... well, it's a bit too far to see Saint Helens." He squinted, shielding his eyes with his hand. "How'd you like to live around here?" he asked, with studied indifference.
"God," Paul, exclaimed, rolling his eyes dramatically, "I'd love it. It would be like I'd died and gone to summer camp," he joked. In truth, the tall evergreens and snow-dusted mountains did slightly remind him of summers in New England when he was a child. He glanced sideways at his uncle -- they never seemed to have a conversation looking at each other. "You have something in mind?"
"Hm. Maybe." His uncle thrust his hands in his pockets and rocked back and forth on his heels. "Seattle is quite an up and coming city, you know, Paul. Quite a few buildings are under construction. That Selig fella has been buying up real estate and has some major plans ... the Board of Directors and I think that Seattle would be an optimum place for us to open a new branch. We have a capable administrator picked out to handle the office management, but he's just an MBA. We need someone with design experience, a senior level professional. We need a lead architect, someone young, enthusiastic, energetic, that can take on this project and really spearhead the operation ... quite an opportunity, my lad." He glanced at his nephew. "What do you think?"
Less than three months later, here Paul stood at his premium office window, heading up his own branch, with architects older than him as employees and earning more than he could have dreamed of. Yes, thought Paul as he sipped his coffee, today, April 28th, 1980, was a date of personal historical significance.
At that moment, an strange
feeling ran through him.
He looked out the window
down toward the street below.
Straining, he could just
see the sidewalk in front
of the building. A yellow-helmeted
bike messenger got off her
bicycle and entered the
building. A few moments
later, two kids rode up
on a moped -- one jumped
off as it was still moving,
hopped onto her bike, and
both kids sped away.
"Oh, goodness, Mr. Marbanks, are you sure?" his secretary exclaimed. "Does she know? -- She’s right over there at the reception desk."
Paul looked across the room of cubicles and could just see the yellow helmet at the 14th floor receptionist's desk. She was obviously delivering the Southcenter plans to Saunders.
Paul strode across the room towards the figure in the yellow helmet, wearing a baggy yellow jacket and matching shorts. "Hey, hey--!" he called. "Your bike's been stolen!"
"What!?!" cried the girl, and she dashed out into the hallway.
Paul followed after her, but the hallway was empty -- the elevators had yet to reach the floor. She must have used the stairs. The elevator door opened and Paul got in, figuring to meet her in the lobby. When he got out, she was already there, sobbing to the security guard.
"My bike," she
cried, "I still had
deliveries -- they stole
all my deliveries! What
am I going to do?"
The girl described the bike and the contents that had been stolen; and Paul gave his account to them as well.
Paul hung up the phone and turned to the girl, who was facing away from him. She blew her nose in the security guard’s handkerchief.
"Thank you," she said, returning the hankie. "I'd better go back to my work and tell them what happened."
“What direction are you going? Can I call you a cab?” The security guard asked.
“It’s in the
University District. It’s
okay, I was going to walk
over to Third Avenue and
take the bus.”
He pulled his silver Honda Prelude up to the front door, and she got in.
"Where to?" he asked, as she buckled her seatbelt. She still wore the bulky bike helmet that covered most of her head and prevented him from getting a clear look at her face.
"Oh, 45th and Roosevelt," she said in a resigned voice, her chin drooped to her chest. "I guess. They're going to fire me anyway."
"Well, maybe I can talk to them." He looked over at her and added wryly, "You know, it's not necessary to wear a helmet inside an automobile."
"What? Oh, silly me." She wrestled with the strap, and the helmet came off. From underneath it, tumbled a mane of shimmering, golden hair.
Paul almost ran a red
light. "Oh my God.
It's you, Moira!" He
turned to look directly
"Moira, don't you remember D.C., in '72? It's me, Paul." His hands gripped the steering wheel as he used all his concentration to stay on the road.
"Oh, yes, ... Paul," she said vaguely, "it's so nice to see you ... again."
Dammit! He pulled over to the side of the road to avoid having an accident. "Are you living in Seattle? Of course, what a question, you're working here. But I thought you worked for the Red Cross ... oh that doesn't matter now. It's just that I'm ... I'm so..." Words failed him, so he pulled her to him and kissed her.
She felt just the same ... almost electrifying to the touch. Her lips were soft and warm, a little hesitant at first, he'd surprised her, but then she relaxed and began to kiss back. He could not believe she was really there, in his arms.
"Hmmmm, nice," she said dreamily, her eyes closed. "That was nice..."
He caressed her hair. "Oh, Moira, you said we'd meet again, but I didn't think it would take so long."
Her eyes popped open. "I did? I said that?" She regained her composure; Paul could almost see the millions of thoughts racing through her head. She seemed to search for the right thing to say. "Um, I would love to catch up on old times," she said as if rehearsing a speech. "Let me just settle this business about my stolen bike and we can go somewhere for coffee."
"Great, great, wonderful!" Paul exclaimed.
They lapsed into silence for most of the drive to the U District. Paul's mind raced. She didn't remember him. Did his newly grown beard really change his appearance so much? Even so, their weekend together had obviously meant more to him than to her. He wondered if his memory of that time was even accurate. Had he romanticized it over the years? She had been more experienced than he, so perhaps it hadn't been that great for her. Maybe it had been just "lust at first sight", as she had teased him then. Maybe he hadn't the faintest idea what love was.
They pulled up to the address she had given him. AAA messengers occupied an old storefront and he could see her through the window talking with her boss. He could also see the conversation was not going very well. Her boss stood with his arms folded across his chest as she became more and emotional. Ten minutes later she came out.
Her eyes were red as she got into the car, but she didn't say anything.
"Should I go talk to them?" he offered, wanting to put his hand out, to touch her and comfort her.
She looked out the window, and shook her head. "No. I didn't like that job, anyway." She sniffled. She leaned her head back against the headrest and closed her eyes. "Would you mind just dropping me off at my place? I don't feel very much like coffee."
Yes, I would mind ... very much. I've waited eight years to see you again; I don't want to lose this opportunity to be together! Paul thought, but instead he said, "Sure, whatever you'd like. Where do you live?"
“Ballard. I’m house sitting for two weeks. You can let me off at 8th and 60th.” she said, her eyes still closed.
Paul’s heart leapt, realizing that he lived near there! He headed west towards Ballard. Just as they crossed over Interstate 5, she reached out and touched his arm. He jumped as if he'd had an electrical shock.
"Wait, I've changed my mind -- there's a great coffee place just past of my place. It's called The Quicherie and it's got the best pastries and this Italian coffee -- "
"Espresso. I've heard of it," Paul interrupted, smiling at the memory of their first espresso together.
"Really? Nobody else has here. It's the best! I really like their lattes -- they make them with half and half." she went on enthusiastically, "There's only a couple places around here that you can get espresso, but this is the only place you can get lattes without the foam!"
Paul smiled broadly. It occurred to him that she probably had said more words to him just then than she had during the entire weekend they spent together. “And where is this wonderful place?”
“On 85th.” As she said it, Paul instantly had a picture in his head of where it was. He must have driven by it many times without noticing.
“Well, my lady, your wish is my command, my silver steed and I shall escort you to The Quicherie!” he announced, pleased to see he’d made her smile. Then he remembered a very important question he had to ask her.
"You know, I tried to get back in touch with you after we met in D.C., but I never learned your last name."
"Really?" she said, looking distracted, "Look, it’s over there, and there's a parking space right up that side street!"
Paul swerved left without signaling and narrowly avoided getting plowed into by a metro bus.. He pulled into the parking space, but wasn't going to let the question drop.
"So, what is your last name, by the way?" he asked.
She looked at him for a long time, revealing nothing in her face. "Gottsdotter," she said abruptly, "it's Scandinavian."
Of course, Paul thought, with that hair, those eyes, her height. She could be a Viking princess - but an Irish first name?
"Moira was from my mother's side of the family," she said.
The cafe was light and cozy, decorated in burgundy tile and blue floral print drapes. Besides pastry, they served about a dozen different kinds of quiche and several fancy salads. Paul realized he hadn't had lunch.
"Would you like to have something more substantial than just pastry?" Say yes, a meal would mean we could talk longer, he thought.
"Sure." To the woman behind the counter she said, "I'll have one of those spinach and feta things in filo dough,” she pointed through the glass pastry case. "Could you warm it up? Thanks. Oh, and a single tall decaf breve with no foam."
Paul blinked at her. A what?
The woman behind the counter grinned, "Oh, I remember you! You want a tall latte, with a single shot of decaf espresso, with half and half and no milk foam. Got it. And for you, sir?"
"Uh, the quiche over there -- broccoli and cheddar with bacon? And, um, just a regular latte for me, thanks." Paul watched Moira, as she seemed to float across the room to a little table by the window. He hastily paid for the food and joined her.
"Feel better now?" he asked as he watched ecstatic bliss sweep across her face as she sipped the latte. He'd seen that expression on her before, but they hadn't been in a restaurant. He squirmed in his chair and tried to think of something else to say. Fortunately, she began talking.
"Much better, thanks. And thank you for being so kind to me. I don't know what I would have done today if you hadn't been there to help me." She smiled at him and it was as if the sun had come out.
"Oh, it's nothing, nothing, really," he mumbled. "But are you going to be all right? Do you need help finding another job?" He didn't know how he could help in that direction; he just wanted to do something to keep the conversation going, to keep her near him, to see her again.
Moira blinked at him, “Another job? No, I’ll be fine.”
"Can I lend you any money to tide you over? You can pay it back when you’re able." He found himself reaching into his jacket pocket.
"No, no, I can't do that," she reached out to stop him, and her hand touched his. Again that pleasant, electrifying feeling ran between them. They looked at each other. She feels it, too, he thought.
"No, just a ride home will be fine,” she said.
“Great, great!" he babbled, pleased to be able to help in any way. He jumped up, and then realized that they hadn't even begun to eat yet. “Uh, after we’re done!” Paul abruptly sat down and felt his face flush. What an idiot he thought.
Moira shook with laughter, desperately trying to hold it in. She took a sip of her latte, and looked out the window.
"I'm sorry," they both said at the same time. Then they both laughed.
"I'm sorry for laughing at you," Moira said, "but you're ... such a funny man!" She beamed at him.
Paul felt warmth pass through him and his heart soared. "I'm sorry, too ... I mean, if it seems like I'm coming on too strong, it's just that..." he paused, wondering how honest he should be. Oh, well, he thought. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. He took a deep breath and continued, "You made a very big impression on me eight years ago, and I've never forgotten you." He stopped there and stared intensely at her, hoping that she would understand beyond his words.
Moira swallowed, "I see." She looking down at her plate, "Eight years ago..." She toyed idly with her food, moving the flaky pastry around the plate with her fork.
remember me at all, do you?”
Paul said quietly, beginning
to doubt his own recollection.
“Well, yes, I’m older...” Paul paused, looking at her. “You seem just the same, only different, somehow... ” Before he could fully formulate what he meant, Moira quickly stood up.
“Yes, exactly. Could you take me home now?” She seemed ready to sprint out of the cafe.
“Oh, sure, of course.” He stuffed a final savory bite into his mouth and washed it down with the remainder of his latte, and followed Moira outside.
He drove her to 8th and 60th, and let her off. “Please, if you need anything, anything at all, please call me.” He handed her his business card.
“Okay, sure, thanks. No, I mean, really, thank you, you’ve been very, very kind.” Moira looked deeply into his eyes. Paul leaned over to kiss her again but she slipped out the door. “Good-bye!” She said, and hurried away.
He watched her go with a sinking heart. So close, and so far away, and now she'd disappeared somewhere into his own neighborhood. A dream he had held onto for nine years, slipping away. To distract himself, he went up to Safeway for a gallon of milk. Driving home, fighting the depression rising in him, he saw Moira ahead, walking towards his house. For an instant he thought she had turned into his driveway, but saw she was actually entering the house next to his. He remembered his neighbor’s saying something about going to Europe. She was house sitting right next door!
She’d disappeared inside by the time he pulled up, and he resisted the urge to bound towards her house. Give it time, he said to himself, much against all his instincts, and he turned the key to his own front door.
Inside, Paul nervously puttered around, straightening up and viewing his abode through critical eyes. Not exactly a bachelor pad, nor quite a cozy home. The indoor plants were badly in need of water, the azaleas in the planters on the front porch were dead, and spiders had pretty decent residences in every ceiling corner. In the midst of these thoughts, he looked out the kitchen window and realized for the first time he could see directly into his neighbor’s living room. The phone rang and he picked up the wall phone in the kitchen.
"Paul, dear, how are you doing?" His mother's voice came strong and clear across the lines, as if she were in the other room and not in Connecticut. "You're never home -- you really should get one of those new answering machines. I hear they do a very good job taking messages. Are you working too hard?"
His mother! "Ah, hi, Mom - I'm fine. Yes, I should get an answering machine and no, I'm not working too hard; I'm just trying to run a company and I've never done it before." Paul caught a glimpse of Moira coming out of a room wearing nothing but a towel and disappearing into the bathroom. He almost dropped the phone. He barely heard the drone of his mother's voice as he flashed back to the last time he'd seen Moira in the shower. "Ahhh, what's that, Mom?" he asked slightly choking on the words.
"I said do you need anything? Is there anything I can send you?" His mother had yet to visit him in Seattle. Paul was sure she had visions of him sleeping on the floor and eating take-out food from cartons with plastic forks.
Without waiting for an answer his mother continued telling him about his younger sister, Susan's accomplishments -- she was completing the law degree he should have gone for. His father had never forgiven Paul for not going to law school, but becoming some "bum building drawer" like his father's punk kid brother. That "punk kid" was CEO of a multi-million dollar design corporation, while his father recovered from his second heart attack and retired from the Public Defender's office in Hartford on a government salary. And Joan was married to the nicest dentist and giving her a second granD.C.hild already (due the week after her Bar exam -- they planned it that way). No direct comments to Paul, but between the lines Paul could hear his mother saying, why aren't you married? Why have you never been in a relationship longer than a few dates? What are you doing on the West Coast, instead of someplace normal (closer to her)?
Paul couldn't explain to her why he'd stayed in the same studio apartment of his college days for the entire time he was in D.C., through each salary raise. He had kept hoping Moira would show up on his doorstep; reappear in his life as unexpectedly as she had vanished. He couldn't explain his habit of catching a glimpse of blonde hair in a crowd and following it for blocks only to have the head turn and not have it be the face he was looking for. How he only dated people that friends and coworkers set up for him and, as much as he tried, he couldn't really commit to staying with any of them. How even promising relationships ended because he accidentally called them "Moira" at the wrong moment, or they caught him following blondes with his eyes. There was one woman, Hannah, in D.C., that his mother had especially liked. Paul had worked very hard on staying involved with her. He finally confessed to Hannah about his weekend with Moira and his desperate need to see her again.
"Paul, your obsession is unhealthy," Hannah diagnosed after he had told her everything. She was getting her Ph.D. in psychology at Georgetown. "You had what amounted to an extended one-night stand with a complete stranger almost a decade ago. You have to let go of the past," she brushed her mousy brown hair out of her eyes, “and accept reality."
Instead, Paul accepted
the job offer from his uncle,
and left behind his studio,
sub-leased to a student,
not fully letting go of
the hope of Moira looking
him up there. His mother
had cried for days.
"Oh, hi, Percy I wondered where you were." Paul absently scratched behind the feline's ear. Percy had come with the house. The previous owners had been unable to take him to their new place, and unable to catch him to take him to the animal shelter. So Paul had inherited the feline, who had adopted him when it realized that Paul didn't know about dry cat food and only fed him the choice canned stuff. Percy (what a ridiculous name for a cat) was Paul's first cat, his family being dog people. Percy had been training him in the art of caring for a descendant of the Gods of Egypt. The specific list of rules went like this: One, cats may come and go as they please. Two, cats must sleep wherever they please, especially on newly changed pillowcases and on baskets of freshly folded laundry. Three, cats come before newspapers (or will crush them as they leap onto your lap while you're reading). The list grew longer every day.
Paul opened the refrigerator to get a can of Shrimp Delight Dinner for the cat. The doorbell rang, and Paul left the pacing feline to see who it was.
Moira stared at him in consternation when Paul opened it. “You live here?!” Her newly washed hair cascaded down her bare shoulders like spun gold, creating a deepening wet stain on her T-shirt over her left breast.
“Yes,” said Paul, wanting to say more, and having a hard time not focusing on her T-shirt. Percy gave a muarow in the kitchen.
"Is there a baby in there?" Moira asked.
"Just a big, fat, hairy one," Paul replied. Felines of the Siamese persuasion didn't really meow; they yowled like an infant.
Moira looked briefly past his shoulder and Paul was about to ask her in when she fixed her blue eyes on him, “I’m sorry to bother you, but I need help with fuses.”
“What?” Paul wasn’t sure he’d heard correctly.
Moira gave a little exasperated sigh, “I blew all the fuses in house, and I only have two replacements. Your house looks identical to mine, but I don’t know if you have the same old fashioned wiring...”
“Oh, fuses. You know, I just updated to circuit breakers but I think I saw some old boxes in the laundry room. Come in while I find them.” Paul stepped aside and went off through the kitchen to the laundry room, down the back stairs.
When he returned, a dusty
box of glass fuses in hand,
he found Moira in the kitchen
"Oh, really?" Moira murmured to it, and purred to it again. "You don't say?" She looked up at Paul. "So are you going to feed him?" she asked matter-of-factly, as if that's what Percy had been telling her.
"Dr. Doolittle, I presume?" quipped Paul, heading for the refrigerator and pulling out the can of Shrimp Delight.
"He likes it room temperature ... perhaps you could open a new can for him now, and let that sit out for tonight," Moira said, not understanding Paul's remark.
"Oh, his Highness
has requested room temperature
vittles, has he?" Paul
said, putting on a snobbish
accent, "Well, Sire,
I shall comply." He
left the cold can on the
counter and reached for
a new one in the cupboard.
He studiously avoided looking
at Moira while he did so,
requiring every ounce of
self-control he had not
to throw the cat food aside,
stride over to her, and
have her right there on
“Oh, yes!” Moira said, and he followed her next door.
The house next door had the same layout as Paul’s, except the laundry room was not connected by an indoor stairway. To reach the fuse box one had to go outside the kitchen door and down the stairs off the back porch.
“Must be fun doing your laundry in the rain.” Paul commented, as they went into the dark, cobwebbed basement of the house.
“Oh, I don’t know yet. I just started house-sitting.” Moira said ambiguously. “Here’s the fuse box.”
Paul could barely see with only the light from the doorway. “Do you have a flashlight?”
“Um, no.” Moira said. “Candles.” She handed him a lit candle and Paul only vaguely wondered why he hadn’t noticed it before as he used it to illuminate the box.
He whistled as he looked inside. “You must have had some power surge -- how did you manage to blow all the fuses at once? Couldn’t have been something in the neighborhood – my lights didn’t even flicker!”
Moira didn’t answer his question. “I appreciate your changing them. I’m, er, all thumbs around electrical things.”
“It’s pretty simple. Paul said kindly, “Here, you want to try?”
“Oh, no, no, no!” Moira stepped away, “no thanks!”
“Suit yourself,” Paul turned back to the box. He screwed the last glass fuse into the box, and the laundry room lights went on.
“Oh, great!” Moira clapped her hands in childlike glee. Paul instantly wanted to hug her.
“If you need anything else, or any help around this place -- you know where I am.” Paul hesitated before returning to his house. Do it now a little voice in his head said.
“Do you have any
plans for dinner?”
he found himself asking.
Am I rushing things? He
Paul considered the Chinese restaurant within walking distance from his house. Home cooking was not his forte.
“I don’t mind cooking.” Moira said, “But the stove is on the fritz.”
“Then we could use my kitchen,” Paul offered, knowing his gas stove worked because he boiled water on it.
"Right then," she said, tugging his arm, "let's go shopping."
Walking through the aisles of Safeway, pushing the cart while Moira loaded it with something from practically every shelf, Paul felt like one of those old men, shuffling through the store with the cart while their blue-haired wives fetched boxes of dried prunes and tubes of denture cream. Grocery shopping was not one of his favorite pastimes. Then Moira squeezed his arm.
"This is so much fun!" she said. "I love grocery shopping."
Paul sensed a rush of adrenaline surge through his body. He suddenly loved grocery shopping, too. Now he felt like they were newlyweds, back from their honeymoon, stocking their first kitchen. Let's buy the whole store! he thought.
They came to the vegetable section and Moira began to pick out various things for inclusion in their cart. Not a one of them would have been found in a Safeway in D.C. or Connecticut.
"What are those?" Paul asked.
"This is bok choy, and that's jicama, and these are bean sprouts," she said. "Really, next time we should go to PCC. They've got a much better veggie section. Organic, too."
"PCC?" Paul echoed.
"Down by Greenlake. A Co-op grocery store, all organic, health food -- you know." She gravitated from the greens to the fruits. "I try to be careful what I eat. I mean, I can have a latte and a pastry sometimes, but in general I don't overload myself on food that's not natural."
Oh, that's where she's been all these years, Paul thought to himself, on some vegetarian commune that doesn't have phones or postal service. Then he noticed the wine section.
"How about a nice Chablis or Riesling?" he asked, pushing the cart in that direction.
Moira followed him with a final bag of something called star fruit in it. "I don't know, what is it?" she asked, staring at the bottles as if they were from the moon.
"Wine, you don't know wine? That's okay, I'll educate you." He chose a nice light Chablis that could be chilled for dinner. "Where's the meat?" he asked, looking in the cart.
Moira looked in the cart, too, frowning. "I hadn't thought of meat." Then she muttered, "Go with the flow." Looking up she said, "I don't usually cook with meat. What goes good in stir fry?"
They compromised on jumbo prawns. Filet Mignon, not stir fried, would have been Paul's choice; he'd wanted something fancy. Moira wanted something practical and simple. Jumbo prawns weren't exactly simple, but would do in a stir-fry, and she was the one doing the cooking.
Back in his kitchen, as they were unloading the groceries, Paul asked Moira, “so, how do you do this stir fry stuff, anyway?"
"Oh, it's really easy. First you start the rice." Rice and a bouillon cube went into a pot with boiling water. "Then take a fry pan and some light oil," she pulled out the items she mentioned, "chop up some onion and fry it. Oh, spices - have you any spices? Never mind, I bought some garlic and ginger." Her hands flew as she moved around the kitchen, producing a large sharp knife he'd never used before (a Christmas gift from his mother), a cutting board (from the same source), even a garlic press and a grater (he'd have sworn he didn't have those items). All the vegetables went in at different times, creating a medley of scents and colors. Lastly the jumbo prawns. Then she covered it and while it steamed in its own juices and discovered his stash of soy sauce packets left over from numerous take-out meals. "Perfect," she said, waving the handful at him.
Soon they were sitting
down to one of the most
delicious meals he'd ever
had. Certainly the best
ever created in this kitchen.
Paul had pulled the wine
out of the freezer where
he'd put it to speed up
pour vous, mademoiselle?"
he asked, standing like
a waiter beside her.
She speaks French, yet she doesn’t know about wine. Yet another piece of her to puzzle about. Paul sat down and watched her take her first sip. He opened his mouth to ask her, but instead guffawed at the grimace on her face. "Wine is something that grows on you. The first sip can be a surprise, but you soon grow to enjoy it very much." He said, as her wide blue eyes stared at him while she tried to swallow.
He still meant to ask her about herself, but found himself going on about his work and regaling her with various anecdotes. He noticed her glass was half empty. "Would you like a refill?" he asked, leaning back towards the ‘fridge to grab the bottle. When she didn't answer he looked over at her. Her head had dropped to her chest and her gentle breathing told him she was fast asleep.
He chuckled to himself, "Well, I've never known anyone quite so unable to handle a drink." He went over to her and gently scooped her up in his arms. She seemed as light as a feather, which he found hard to believe given the way she'd packed away dinner before she'd had the wine. He considered carrying her next door. A spring downpour had started up outside, and Paul decided to let her sleep it off in his house. Fighting the urge to deposit her in his own bed, carried her out into the living room and laid her on the couch with a throw pillow under her head. Looking at her sleeping frame, he noticed she seemed more slender and angular than he remembered, although it was hard to tell with her clothes on. She definitely was more muscular -- probably from riding a bike all day. Her manner was different this time, as far as he could recall. She talked more, and offered her opinions more, but still revealed nothing about her background. He wondered what to do to make her more comfortable. His gallant side won out and he merely removed her Birkenstocks before covering her up with a quilt. She smiled, murmured something unintelligible, and curled up into a ball. Paul quietly tiptoed out of the room.
Percy had already devoured the prawns left on their plates and most of the rice. He fastidiously ignored the vegetables. Paul shooed him away and cleared the table. He looked at the wine bottle and the partial glasses and considered whether to finish the bottle himself. Nah, he had to tomorrow. So he corked the bottle, dumped her glass in the sink, and went to the bedroom to finish his glass in front of Johnny Carson.
He woke with a start to the sound of a garbage truck rumbling down the street. Shaking off sleep he dashed to the kitchen, grabbed the trash bag without tying it, and raced outside. He was just in time to haul his metal barrel out to the curb before the truck pulled up to his house. Paul waved to the guys hanging off the back and stumbled back into the house. Then he smelled coffee. Like a bloodhound he followed the aroma into the kitchen, where Moira sat at the table grinning at him over a cup of java.
"You came barging through here for the trash and you didn't even see me!" She laughed at him. She still wore the sweatshirt and jeans from last night. Her feet were bare, and her hair sleep-tousled. She looked scrumptious.
Paul self-consciously realized he stood there in nothing but a pair of gray, stained, GWU gym shorts, badly in need of a shower. How much had he changed in ten years? He wondered. He was still in good shape from jogging around Greenlake. Maybe even in better shape now that the puppy fat was replaced by lean muscle. His hair was much shorter. No more muttonchops or walrus mustache; instead a neatly trimmed beard covered his face. She sipped her coffee and looked at him, but her eyes gave no indication of her thoughts.
"Today is trash day. I usually put it out the night before but I forgot." Paul grabbed a mug from the dish rack and poured himself a cup. He sat down on the other side of the kitchen table, glad that it covered up the part of him responding in rising interest to being close to Moira so early in the morning. Paul wondered how to walk past her to get to the shower without it being noticed. Abruptly, she stood up and, turning away from him, went to put her coffee mug in the sink.
“Sorry about conking
out on you last night,”
Moira said, rinsing her
mug. “I’m not
used to wine....”
“You need to get ready for work,” Moira said, “I’d better get back to my place.”
“You’re welcome to hang out here for as long as you want. I just need to take a shower.” Paul said, glancing at the wall clock. He had to be at work by 8:30, but all he wanted to do was spend a leisurely morning with Moira.
“Oh, that’s okay, I need to take a shower, too.” Moira said. Paul suddenly recalled the shower they’d taken together in D.C.. Moira’s mouth dropped open and she sputtered, “At my house!” In a flash, she was out of the kitchen heading to the front door.
“Wait, Moira!” Paul caught up with her just as she got there.
Moira looked at him, her hand on the doorknob.
“I just wanted to thank you for dinner. Let me take you out next time, okay?” Paul rested his arm on the doorframe, wondering if he could kiss her good-bye -- and why not? She had certainly enjoyed the kiss he'd given her in the car yesterday. So he leaned over to her. At first their lips met awkwardly… but then Moira melted into him, much like their kisses of long ago.
When they finally broke apart he asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to stay for breakfast?”
She gazed innocently up at him. He could see her nipples erect even beneath her sweatshirt. Oh god, he wanted breakfast -- and it wasn't cornflakes he wanted to eat.
Moira’s cheeks reddened slightly, “Um, no, thanks -- you’re going to be late for work as it is,” she said, beginning to open the door.
“Well, I’ll call you for dinner then?” Paul said, this time helping her push the door open.
“Yes, dinner would be nice,” Moira smiled, a dazed look on her face as she stumbled out Paul’s front door.
“I’ll call you,” Paul said, watching her walk across the lawn to her house. He shut the door and headed to the shower. Fully soaped up under hot, streaming water, he realized he didn’t have her phone number. Damn! Then he grinned. A good excuse to show up on her front porch when he got home this evening. Paul began singing as he rinsed himself off and prepared for his day.
He managed to get to his staff meeting minutes before it started. Louann had been having a heart attack because there were innumerable details she'd wanted to go over with him. It pleased Paul to see that his secretary had abundantly supplied the group with coffee and donuts. This meeting would be gruelingly long and they’d need all the caffeine and sugar they could get. A new shopping center was going up south of town spurring additional building in the surrounding area. His firm seemed to be handling most of the accounts.
For the next several days Paul practically lived at the office. He was amazed at how much work he was able to accomplish while thinking of Moira. While going over blueprints or dictating letters, part of his mind imagined their next meeting, whenever he could manage a moment to ask her out. He’d been leaving before sunrise every morning and returning late at night when all the lights were out in the house next door. Someone on staff brought in steamed vegetables from Pike Place Market for lunch one day and the aroma sparked the memory of the dinner she’d made him. On Friday evening Paul was the last to leave the office. Turning off the lights and locking the door Paul suddenly had a vivid memory of pressing his face into her soft hair. The aching loneliness welling up in him was almost too much.
Driving home in the evening drizzle, he wondered if it would be too late to ask her to dinner tonight. He’d never felt this way towards anyone else. It had been the same in D.C., the instant attraction and then never wanting to be separated from her. With other women it took time to get to know them, to decide if he really wanted to be with them. With Moira, whom he knew little about, he instantly wanted to be with her. He needed to be with her. Why was that? A flash of insight hit him as he turned onto his street. With other women he’d thought they didn’t really understand him, or know who he was. Half the time they seemed to be relating to someone else -- a previous boyfriend, their father -- instead of Paul. With Moira, he felt instantly accepted and understood. From the first moment they’d met in D.C., he’d sensed it, a recognition, and an acknowledgment of who he really was inside.
Paul’s stomach grumbled as he pulled his Prelude into the driveway. He realized he was starving. Over at Moira’s house, the lights were on. He looked at his dark house, where Percy no doubt waited to be fed. Instead of walking towards his own home, however, he found himself going up the steps of Moira’s front porch. He immediately felt incredibly foolish. What if she’d already eaten? What if she had guests? He lifted up his hand to press the buzzer when the door opened.
“Muoruow?” Percy gazed up at Paul with Moira standing behind him.
“Oh! Paul, I was just letting Percy out -- he heard you drive up.” Moira wore a Mariners baseball shirt and jeans. She seemed a little flustered to see him.
Paul was momentarily tongue-tied. Then the most delicious aroma of Italian spices greeted him. “My god, that smells wonderful!” he exclaimed.
Moira’s puzzled look dissolved into a broad smile, “It’s my lasagna -- have you eaten?”
He shook his head.
“Would you like some? I just finished eating, but I have plenty left.”
Paul nodded. She stepped aside and he practically floated into the room. Paul found himself sitting at her kitchen table being served a large slice of lasagna, a hunk of garlic bread, and milk. He raised an eyebrow at the milk, but didn’t say anything. He still had the wine from the other night at his place, but wanted Moira awake for this evening’s conversation.
With his first exquisite bite, he decided that Moira’s lasagna was now the second best meal he'd ever had in his life. He could definitely get used to this home-cooking stuff.
“I’m glad you like it,” Moira said, sitting across from him. “It was fun to make.”
Paul looked at her. Had he said anything?
“You know, Paul, cooking is a lot like building. Take this lasagna, for instance,” Moira picked up his unused knife and gestured at his plate. “It’s a construction of different building materials -- the pasta, the cheese, the red sauce, the spinach,” she pointed out the different layers, “and the spices and specific ingredients are what makes this lasagna building different from another lasagna.”
Paul stared at his meal. Cooking now held a new attraction for him. He glanced over at the pan on the counter. He could see the thing in his mind as a three dimensional plan for a subterranean parking lot.
Moira grinned, “Now, there are basic specifications that go into making lasagna, certain amounts for the pasta, etc. for the size pan you have, for instance. And then there are the temperature and time requirements for cooking it properly.”
Paul glanced up from his food. “You sound like an architect.”
“I’m teasing you.” Moira smiled.
“Is that what I sound like?” Paul asked, embarrassed, “Maybe it wasn’t the wine the other night, maybe I bored you to sleep!”
“Oh, no! No, you’re not boring at all! I find you very ... interesting.” Moira reached out and touched his hand for emphasis, then hastily pulled back. Paul felt a mild tingly sensation where her fingers had grazed his skin.
“No, I was just trying to use words that you’d understand.” Moira leaned back and crossed her arms. She tilted her head and continued thoughtfully, “I like to cook because it’s a fun way to manifest something to eat.”
“What? Oh, you mean instead of sticking a TV dinner in the oven or getting take-out?” Paul asked, referring to his usual method of manifesting food.
Moira looked like she was about to say something, then shrugged her shoulders. “Something like that. Do you want some more?”
Paul calculated the calories in his head and decided he could since he’d skipped lunch that day. Maybe he’d take a run on the waterfront instead of lunch tomorrow as well. “Sure.” He handed the plate to her. “So have you been looking for a new job?” he asked as she gave him another generous portion.
Moira shook her head. “No, I’m just waiting to see what I’m supposed to be doing.”
“You mean, like for inspiration?” Paul dug gleefully into his second helping.
“Something like that,” Moira said vaguely.
“Why were you working as a bike messenger anyway? The last time I saw you, you said you worked for the Red Cross.”
Moira looked startled, “I did? I said that?”
“Well, not the Red Cross, it’s an organization like the Red Cross.” Paul wanted to ask her what the organization’s name was, when Percy leapt on the table.
“No, no Percy! Off.” Moira lifted the hefty feline up and placed him on her floor. “You’ll get dinner soon, Paul’s almost finished.”
The sky outside the kitchen
window had become a deep
purple and stars were appearing.
Paul regretfully knew he’d
have to leave soon. They’d
now shared two dinners together.
Paul wanted more.
Paul thought quickly. Something that would take some time. Something that they could spend the whole day doing together. It was too early in the year for hiking. “We could try cross-country skiing," he said, “I know some great places off I-90.”
Moira’s brow wrinkled. “I’ve never gone skiing before; I’m usually in cities.”
She must have just moved here, Paul thought. “Well, cross-country is fairly easy and I’m a good teacher. How about it?”
Moira’s face brightened. “I’d love to. That sounds fun.”
Paul took Percy back to his place and gave him a plate of room temperature canned cat food. Tomorrow couldn’t come soon enough for him.
Early Saturday morning they took off, with borrowed skis sticking out of the back of Paul’s car. The world gleamed with sunlight and flowers were beginning to blossom. Paul wondered if they shouldn’t be hiking instead. Half an hour out of Seattle, the Cascade Mountains still had enough snow on the ground for Paul to feel better about his idea. He exited off I-90 and onto a small side road. When it turned from pavement to gravel, Paul pulled over.
“This looks like a good spot.” he said.
Moira had been very quiet on the ride up. Paul figured she just wasn’t a morning person, or that perhaps she was nervous about cross-country skiing for the first time.
“It’s really quite easy.” Paul explained, helping her strap on her skis. He showed her how to walk-glide and some turning maneuvers. Whenever he looked over at her to see if she were following his instructions, she was always staring at him with her fathomless blue eyes. “Do you think you’ve got it?”
“Is this okay, what we’re doing I mean?” Paul asked.
“Yes, oh, yes,” Moira finally said, “I’m just ... a little distracted.” She glanced off beyond Paul’s shoulder. Paul turned around to see where she was looking. He could see Mount Rainier looming directly behind them, and beyond in the distance he could just make out the snowy peak of Mount St. Helens.
“Those are both great places for skiing and hiking, we could cross country there, too.” Paul said, wondering if she had that thing for mountains that some people did.
Moira looked alarmed. “No! I’m too close already!”
Paul stared at her, “Too close?” Did she have some kind of mountain-phobia?
Instead of answering, Moira gripped her poles and took off into the trees. Paul took off after her, surprised at her speed and agility considering it was her first time on skis. It took him a few minutes to catch up with her as she glided into a clearing.
“Wait up!” Paul cried out, his breath rising up in little white wisps.
Moira stopped and turned around.
It was completely still. Paul’s skis made a crunch-crunch sound as he came up to her. His cheeks were ice-cold, but the rest of his body steamed inside layers of wool and silk. “Are you sure you’ve never done this before?” he gasped.
Moira’s face broke out into a wide grin. “No! It’s wonderful!” she said ecstatically. She wasn’t even breathing heavily.
“I’m glad you like it -- I thought you’d taken off because the mountains freaked you out or something.” Paul wished he could figure this woman out.
Moira shook her head. “I love this place!” She looked up at the Douglas fir and the clear blue sky then back at Paul, “I love the mountains, I just shouldn’t be here too long.”
“What, are you allergic to snow?” Paul joked, now close enough to reach out and touch her, which he desperately wanted to do. All the skis and poles and layers of clothes were in the way. He should have suggested a walk along a Puget Sound beach.
Moira grinned again. “Where are we going?” she asked, gripping her poles.
“How about that way?” Paul suggested, pointing to a snowy trail into the woods.
“Betcha can’t catch me!” Moira cried, zooming off ahead.
Paul groaned, she made him feel like an old man! He flexed his legs and pushed off after her.
This time it took him several minutes following her trail to find her. He came upon her sitting on the snowy front porch of an empty weekend cabin. She’d cleared a little area and taken off her skis. The sunlight glistened in her hair and her cheeks were lightly pink. She had unzipped her jacket and he could see her breasts lightly rise and fall inside her sweater as she breathed. Her eyes were closed and she smiled into the sun.
“Move over,” Paul said, and flopped down next to her. “Are you sure you’ve never done this before?” Paul fumbled with his skis.
“There’s lots of things I haven’t done before that I’m capable of doing.” Moira said. “Here, want some water?” She unclipped the canteen hanging from Paul’s belt and offered it to him.
Paul took a long drink and handed it to her. “You must need some too.”
Moira accepted it and
took a modest sip. Paul
watched her, feeling tiny
muscles in his legs spasm
from the recent exertion.
Her stamina amazed him.
Perhaps he should quit sitting
at a desk designing buildings
and try delivering packages
by bicycle for a while.
Sitting beside her, their
shoulders almost touching,
he noticed how comfortable
and relaxed he was. He thought
of how he’d felt coming
up to her in the clearing,
how he wanted her when he
couldn’t reach her.
The closer he was to her
physically, the calmer he
became. He still wanted
her, he was just less anxious
about it. His mind drifted
off to their time together
in D.C., how he felt lying
beside her just after making
“Water -- went down the wrong way,” Moira sputtered, her face a brilliant shade of red. She stood up. “Where should we go now?”
Paul thought about suggesting they try the door to the cabin to see if it were unlocked, but thought better of it. “Whereever we go, can we take it at a little slower pace?” he asked.
Moira laughed merrily, “okay. You can lead off this time.”
They spent the better part of the day exploring the woods, stopping by a frozen creek for the small picnic lunch Paul had brought in his daypack. Paul found himself talking more and more about himself, and any answers she gave to questions he asked her always brought more questions to his mind.
In the car on the way back to Seattle, Paul asked her, “How long are you house-sitting for?”
“That’s a good question.” Moira said. “Only another week. I’m expecting to hear from the owners sometime soon.”
“Where will you go when they return?”
Moira shrugged her shoulders. “Something will come up. It always does. I just ... go with the flow.”
Paul smiled, remembering when he’d heard the phrase for the first time. “If you need it, I have a spare room,” Paul offered, and then wondered if he’d been too forward.
Moira didn’t respond at first, then said quietly, “Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.”
When they got to Ballard it was early evening, and the streetlights were just coming on. Every muscle in Paul’s body ached from the twelve-hour workout. As they pulled up to his house, he turned to Moira to ask her in for a nightcap. He opened his mouth to speak and gave an enormous yawn instead.
Moira grinned, “I think you’d better get some sleep. Thanks for today. I had a lot of fun.” She was out the door before Paul could respond.
Sunday morning Paul had just pulled on jeans and a tee shirt when a car screeched to a halt in the street in front of the house.
"Percy!" He heard Moira cry from next store. He bolted out the door to see Percy, limp on the neighbor's lawn, flung there by the impact of the car. Moira knelt beside him.
"I'm so sorry, mister," the teenage driver said tearfully, "I didn't see your cat, oh, did I k-kill it?"
A crowd had gathered around Moira and various neighbors were expressing their opinions. "Yep, it's dead, poor thing." "No hope, it's not breathing." But Moira's voice rose clear and strong above them. "Paul, call the vet. We have to get Percy there now."
Paul reassured the teenager that he wasn't angry with him and wouldn't call his parents, and went in to look up the home number of the vet. Percy had looked pretty dead to him, too. But he didn't want to upset Moira, and figured she'd take it better if the vet told her. She'd grown quite attached to the old pharaoh.
Someone had given her a towel, which she'd wrapped Percy in. They got in the car and drove to the Ballard Animal Hospital. When they arrived, the vet and his assistants were waiting for them.
"He was hit pretty bad," Paul began, as Moira took the toweled bundle into the examining room and lay it on the table. Then he stopped in astonishment as the bundle shook loose and Percy's head poked out. "Muurrow?" he asked.
"Well, not so bad, apparently," said the doctor kindly as he probed Percy's head and body. "He doesn't even seem to be in shock. No apparent broken bones. Still, I'd like to keep him overnight, to check for internal injuries."
Paul realized he was gaping in stunned silence. He snapped his jaw shut and nodded mechanically, got through the paperwork, then let Moira lead him out to the car.
"Give us a call in the morning, and we'll let you know when you can take him home," the nurse told them as they left.
"You know, I've always disliked the name Percy," Paul commented on the drive home, once he'd regained his faculties, "Perhaps I should rename him Lazarus."
Monday began another workweek as intense as the previous one. Paul felt glued to his desk. No sooner had he finished one insurmountable task than his secretary brought in another, even more demanding one. By midweek, Paul seriously considered trading in the leather sofa in his office for a sofa bed. Why bother going home when you needed to be back at work again before the engine had cooled on your car?
Just when he felt ready to implode, LouAnn appeared at his desk. “No, LouAnn, I’m not done with this report. Whatever you’ve got, it can wait until tomorrow.” Paul said, not looking up.
“Mr. Marbanks, tomorrow is Saturday. And the client you’re doing the report for just phoned in a whole new set of requirements. I told him you’d already gone home and would get him the revised statistics later next week.” She gave a timid smile. “I hope I didn’t overstep my authority.”
Paul joyfully scooped up the papers on his desk and stuffed them in his in-box. “No, LouAnn, I am eternally grateful for your brilliant handling of the situation. What time is it?”
“Five-forty-five. I’m just leaving, and you should, too.”
Paul looked up to see she had her coat on, and most of the office was dark. “Yes. I think I’ll get an early start on the weekend -- for me.”
As Paul drove home, he felt unusually excited. He hadn’t had a chance to talk with Moira all week, but somehow he felt certain he’d have a chance to be with her tonight. As he pulled up to his house, he saw her sitting on his doorstep.
“Were you serious
about your offer?”
she asked him the moment
he stepped out of the car.
Everything came out, one word tumbling after another. “Because it’s them, they’re back. I didn’t expect them until Sunday. They said they’ve been trying to call me, but I haven’t been home and their answering machine wasn’t working. I didn’t know how to work it, so I didn’t reset it when the power went off. Anyway, I could stay there tonight, but I’m really not comfortable about it -- and so, well, if your spare room is available, can I bring my stuff over?” She paused for breath.
Paul was elated! The gods had answered his most fervent prayers! “Of course. Do you need help carrying anything?”
all right here.” Moira
stepped aside to reveal
a rolled up futon, a backpack,
and a box.
She disappeared into his spare room for about twenty minutes, and then emerged, looking bright but worried.
“You can stay here for as long as you like, you know,” Paul said, “it’s no trouble.”
“Oh, that’s not it.” Moira said, “It’s just not knowing what I’m supposed to be doing that’s confusing. Usually I have a pretty clear idea but right now ... it’s a blank.”
Paul walked over to where she stood, “Then consider your time here as R and R.”
She looked puzzled.
“Rest and relaxation -- a rest stop until you become clear again.” Paul smiled at her. He felt blissfully happy just being beside her. To have her in his home filled him with joy.
She smiled up at him, and then her expression changed, but she lowered her face before he could read it. Without thinking, he put his arms around her, and she rested her face on his shoulder. "Are you okay?" he asked softly.
She sighed deeply. "I don't know. I -- I just ... like being here, I'm worried I'm liking it too much." She rubbed her face against his beard.
The radio softly played one of Heart’s new hits, and Paul swayed her to the music.
"There's no such thing as liking too much," he whispered in her ear, and lightly kissing her.
She made a little noise in her throat and slid her arms around him, squeezing him tighter as he worked his way down her neck. Their long weekend together was as clear in his mind as if it were yesterday, and he remembered everything he did to every inch of her body. He intended to do it all again, beginning now.
"Let's finish dancing in my room," he suggested, as he swayed her out of the kitchen.
"Uh -- okay," Moira stuttered weakly, and allowed him to lead her to his bedroom.
Paul gently lay her on the water bed and undid the buttons of her flannel shirt. Her jeans slid off easily. He enjoyed the fact that she let him take his time -- their past lovemaking he remembered as frenzied and immediate. Maybe she knew then they only had a weekend, and now they had ... for as long as he could make it last. She wore a pink lace bra and matching panties.
"Started wearing underwear, I see," he observed wryly, as he began to undo the front of her bra. Her milky white breasts with light pink nipples tumbled out.
She gasped as he began to caress her nipples, making them harden into little pink bumps. He leaned over and placed his mouth on one, playing with it with his tongue. Her hands slid through his hair and held his head; he could hear her take a sharp breath with each flick of his tongue. No activity yet from the lower regions, which he decided to remedy right away. He gently ran his hand over her firm, flat -- almost concave -- stomach, and then down between her thighs. Careful to tease, rather than touch, he slowly stroked the inside of her thighs just shy of touching her panties and then away again. She writhed and moaned. He released her breast and began a series of little kisses down the center of her body, lightly tickling her with his beard as he went. She was putty in his hands. In one swift motion he pulled her panties down below her knees and began nuzzling her curly-haired mound with his mouth. She cried out as he probed with tongue between her lips down there and began flicking her little bud rhythmically back and forth. Her tangy taste and smell reached him at once, making him aware how achingly hard he was.
He looked up at her and asked, "Are you ready?" He pulled off his shirt and pants as she weakly nodded yes. Her eyes widened as he pulled down his jockey shorts.
Paul grinned, "I'm very glad to see you." He lay on her, gently opened her legs and probed her wetness for an opening. He found it and squeezed himself in. Jeez she was tight! She made a little whimper.
"Are you all right?" he asked, and could feel her head nodding under his chin. So he slowly began to move in and out, feeling her tense and relax as he moved. Her knees came up and her pelvis rose to him, and soon they moved together; and the waterbed beneath them rocked in harmony as if they were swimming in an ocean of ecstasy. Her face lifted up and pressed into his neck and her hands gripped his shoulders. He couldn't hold off any longer, and plunged deeply into her, a low strangling noise emerging from his throat.
"Oh M-Moira!" He cried as he released himself into her. A little corner of his brain registered that he’d finally said the right name to the right woman, so he joyfully repeated it over and over until he finished. Afterwards he lay on top of her, staying in her, as she had always wanted before. He kissed her lightly on the cheek. "Oh, Moira, it's been so long, I've missed you so much." Then he noticed her shivering. "Are you cold? We can get under the quilt."
"Mmm-mm." she nodded, as he withdrew and peeled himself off her.
It amused him how jelly-like they both were, fumbling with the sheets, their awkwardness compounded by the motion of the waterbed. Finally, they were both under the covers, snuggled up together. Her body felt leaner than he remembered, and somehow smaller. She definitely hadn't been so tight a fit. He missed the curve of her belly, but hoped that perhaps it would emerge in a few weeks of eating the kinds of meals they'd been having. He only hoped his own belly wouldn't get larger at the same time! He reached behind himself and turned on the bedside lamp.
"What are you doing?"
she asked as he lifted up
the sheets and directed
the lamp's light beneath.
"What lines?" she asked, puzzled.
"Oh, never mind," he said, leaning over to kiss her, "I probably just imagined them.
They spent the night together, nuzzling, kissing, and, when he was up to it, making the waterbed rock and roll. The first couple times Moira seemed hesitant and unsure, but by the third time she had gained confidence. During this third time, she gripped him with her thighs, dug her nails into his back and cried out so loudly he thought the neighbors might call the police. His own climax washed away that thought and he moaned almost as loudly as she had. Then, well and truly spent, he collapsed his full weight on her. He was glad she liked it, for he was unable to move.
"Let's stay this way forever," he said groggily. No response. He opened one eye and tried to focus on her. She stared at the ceiling, lips slightly parted, eyes brimming with tears.
"Hey, hey there, what's the matter? What's wrong?" He pulled himself up on his elbows and looked down at her.
She sniffled and hiccupped, "Nu-nothing's wrong, I - I don't know why I'm cry-crying, I j-just haven't ever felt this way before, I - I mean, that was won-wonderful, I ju-just never felt this way before."
"There, there," Paul said soothingly, reaching for a tissue from the box by the bed. He didn't have the faintest idea what she was talking about. It couldn't have been the orgasm; the last time they were together she'd come every time, and probably a few more times than he had. One thing he did know, however, was when women cried, they appreciated being handed a tissue and at least having you listen to them. Oh, and act like you understood. So Paul rolled off her, propped his head up with one hand, and waited attentively. Moira blew her nose and looked at him.
"What?" she asked, wiping her nose.
"Go on, talk," said Paul. "I can be at least as good a listener as you, you know. Anything you want to tell me, I'd be happy to hear it."
"Well, there really isn't anything else to say." Moira curled up into a ball and pulled the quilt under her chin. "I'm better now, thanks for the tissue." She stifled a yawn.
Well, that was easy, thought Paul. He leaned over to kiss her forehead.
"Maybe you just need some sleep," he said, glancing at his digital clock. "It's nearly 3:00 a.m."
"Hmmmn, yes," Moira said, closing her eyes and smiling slightly. She was almost out.
Paul reached out and stroked her hair, and started to croon the Heart song from the radio, modifying the words, "You're just an angel of the evening, baby." He saw her jaw go slack, her eyelids flutter and she was fast asleep. He turned off the light, but stayed awake for a long while, gazing at her sleeping figure bathed in moonlight. She was really here, in bed, beside him. Nine years of loneliness washed away from him. He should have been exhausted, considering the full day of exercise and an equally full night’s workout. But being beside her energized him. Finally, as the birds began to chirrup the approaching dawn outside his window, his head sunk into his pillow and he began to snore deeply.
That weekend they went hiking in the Olympics and found some natural hot springs to soak in. They spent a delicious afternoon making love on the grass, then rolling into the steaming water until they were limp, then dragging themselves out into the chilly air and starting the routine over again. They seem to fit together in perfect harmony, being able to be together without overwhelming each other. They cooked a lot of meals together; Paul discovered his "inner chef". He loved just being near her, or knowing she was in the house, or puttering outside in the garden. He could go over his Architectural Records and product specifications in the living room, feeling comforted by the fact she was in the other room, meditating. She seemed to do a lot of meditating, but they never managed to talk about it.
The next week was like a honeymoon, except that Paul had to work. Unusual things happened during the seven days. Once, Paul noticed all his plants thriving, even the azaleas on the porch, which he could have sworn were dead. He decided Moira must be watering them regularly, and that she probably used fertilizer, although he hadn't seen any in the house.
Paul also found himself needing less and less sleep, but he dismissed it because being with Moira exhilarated him. He did go to his doctor on Friday to see why he kept losing his equilibrium -- he kept getting dizzy, and bumping into things.
"Probably not enough sleep," his doctor concluded. "And your blood pressure is lower than it ever has been, although your heart rate is slightly elevated." He prescribed a mild sedative, but Paul avoided taking it.
By mid-May; the sun shone more but Paul noticed Moira seemed to be getting paler and more drawn. Her mood, usually cheerful, seemed pensive and worried, but she wouldn't talk about it. One evening, they were sitting together on the five pieces of board that constituted his kitchen porch, watching the sunset. He looked at her and marveled once again how much her hair looked just like sunlight. She faced into the sun, looking like some Scandinavian statue. Paul reflected on their three weeks together, and his heart welled up in his chest. He had never been so happy; he never wanted this to end. He reached his hand out and stroked her hair.
"I love you," he said simply.
She turned and looked
at him for a long, long
time. In a soft voice, tinged
with sadness, she responded,
"I love you, too,"
and leaned over and gently
kissed him on the lips.
They embraced and stayed
that way, holding each other,
until the sun set and it
grew too cold to stay outside
"Hungry, eh, fella? The mistress not fed you in the past ten minutes?" he chided as he opened the door. "Moira, I'm home," he called. No answer. Paul walked through the living room, glancing in the kitchen and then the bedroom. Mildly alarmed, he went back out to the living room, and then realized he hadn't checked the spare room. They had stored her futon and few belongings there when she'd first moved in, but Moira had shared his bedroom from her first night in his house. Opening the door, he saw Moira sitting in the corner on a folding chair. She was deathly pale.
"Moira, Moira, are you all right?" Paul raced over to her. She didn't react at first, so he gently shook her. Moira's eyelids fluttered, and her head jerked back as she came out of trance. "Should I call a doctor?"
Moira shook her head, and stumbled over to the futon. "I just need to lie down," she said weakly. She curled up into the fetal position on the plain cotton mattress.
"What's wrong?" Paul asked, kneeling beside her. He felt her forehead, expecting a temperature. Instead, he found her to be icy cold. "Let me get you a blanket," Paul said, and retrieved one from their bedroom. He covered her with it and she gave him a faint smile as thanks.
"Oh, Paul, I feel so tired. So terribly, terribly tired." Moira's eyes brimmed with tears.
"Shh, shh," Paul crooned, stroking her forehead. "Just rest, I'll take care of everything." He sat with her a while until she fell asleep. Once her breathing deepened, Moira's face relaxed and her color returned somewhat. Paul got up and went out of the room.
With a heavy heart, Paul called the restaurant and canceled their reservations. Moira couldn't go out in her condition. He puttered around the kitchen but had no appetite for dinner. Finally, he sat in front of the television with a glass of wine, some humus and pita bread. Paul stared at the screen until bedtime. He checked on Moira in the spare room, but decided not to disturb her. For the first time in three weeks, Paul went to sleep in alone.
The next morning a thunderous boom rattling his windows jolted him awake. He leapt out of bed and ran outside. He could see no evidence of a storm, nor any sign of an explosion nearby. He went back into the house.
"Moira? Honey? Did you hear that sound?" He walked back into the bedroom and found the waterbed empty. Oh, that's right, she's sleeping in the spare room, Paul realized. He glanced at his bedside clock; it read 8:35 AM. Too early to get up on a Sunday morning, he thought. He had probably been dreaming, anyway. Paul went back to sleep for two hours.
A nightmare woke him up. The details of it faded quickly, leaving him with only a sick, fearful sensation in the pit of his stomach. Paul rose and took a hot shower, which restored his spirits. He padded out to the living room, still dripping and with a towel wrapped around him. He automatically turned on the television as he passed it on his way to the kitchen for some coffee. When he came back out a short time later, he found the regular program interrupted by a Special Bulletin.
"... May 18th, 1980... Mount Saint Helens erupted at 8:32 AM PDT this morning ... we are bringing you live coverage from our News-copter..."
He pulled away from the TV. "Moira, honey, have you seen the news? My god, the volcano really erupted!" He stuck his head in the bedroom, and remembered again she was in the spare room. Paul opened the door and found the room empty. Completely empty. No futon, no boxes, no Moira. Just the blanket that he had covered her with the night before. The entire house turned out to be void of any trace of her. She had completely vanished from his life. Again.
Paul stumbled out to the living room and sunk into a chair. He buried his head into his hands and began to sob.
Paul fell into a deep depression. The only reminders of Moira's existence were the thriving plants and fully stocked kitchen. He tried calling the Bike Messenger service to try to get some information on a Moira Gottsdotter, but they had never heard of her. Had she been working under an assumed name? The only thing that kept him going was work. He threw himself into his job, assigning himself projects that he normally would have delegated to others. When he wasn't working, he slept. This was partly due to the fact he began to take his doctor's prescription and partly because he didn't want to do anything else. To be conscious was to miss Moira.
At work, Louann clucked and fussed around him like a mother hen. He plowed through the backlog of paperwork from his three weeks with Moira. He answered phone calls and looked at plans. Even though he kept himself busy, the week still passed with agonizing slowness and the weekend loomed ahead of him, a vast chasm of loneliness.
He got through the weekends by working. The firm had been considering a new project in Tacoma, so Paul took the half hour drive south to look at the site. On the way back home, a loud woomf! hit the car, making him swerve. He pulled over into the breakdown lane of Interstate 5 and looked behind him. In the distance he could see a giant black plume of ash shooting up into the air. The volcano had erupted a second time. He looked up into the sky and it appeared to be snowing. But the flakes didn't land on his windshield like wet snow. Soft, tiny gray flakes wafted down from the sky. It was ash from Mount Saint Helens. When the volcano erupted the first time, Portland and then east of the mountains were covered in a thick coat of ash. This second eruption, a week later, brought a gentle dusting to Seattle.
Seeing the ash triggered something in him. When he got home, he went to the phone and called his buddy Michael Takatsuka, an architect from another Seattle firm. Michael and he were fast friends at GWU, but parted upon graduation. Paul wound up staying in D.C. with Zylcon, and Michael returned here to his hometown of Seattle. Paul looked him up when he first arrived in Seattle, and Michael and his wife Coral had taken him under their wing.
"Paul, old pal, how's it hangin'?" Michael's voice came cheerfully over the phone line. "Haven't heard from you in a month. Thought you'd dropped off the face of the earth. Hey, man, did you hear the mountain blew again?"
It suddenly occurred to Paul that, except for work, he had spent the past three weeks completely alone with Moira. Other than the first day, she hadn't even come to his office. None of his friends had met her. Had she been real, or a bizarre figment of his imagination?
"Sure did. I was driving back from Tacoma when it happened. Yeah, man, it kind of blows your mind, doesn't it? I have ash all over my car," Paul said. "Sorry I haven't kept in touch, I've been, well ... " Paul paused, he didn't really want to go into it on the phone. "Mike, are you free for lunch? I've really got to talk to someone."
"Uh, Paul, it's the afternoon. We already ate lunch." Michael said chuckled. "Why don't you come to dinner at our house tonight? Coral would love to see you, and Michelle's been asking where Uncle Paul is."
Michelle was Michael's daughter. Paul smiled thinking of the pudgy toddler, who had looked like a baby Buddha to him at first, complete with potbelly. The three year old had such an extensive vocabulary; Paul suspected she was extremely intelligent. Her parents knew she was a genius, of course, and enrolled her at the exclusive Japanese preschool recently written up in The Seattle Times, as well as having her take violin lessons. Paul was glad he was never at Michael's when it was time for Michelle to practice her music homework.
"I'd love it, man. What time do you eat?" A night with good and caring friends was just the thing Paul needed.
"Early. Coral has Michelle on this schedule, and we have to have our family dinner at 6 o'clock. I really have to bust my butt to get home on time during the week." Michael chuckled, because he really loved his family, was not so hot on his job, and liked having an excuse to leave work early. It did mean, though, that he started his day at the office at 7:00 AM or earlier. "Hey, man, gotta go. I'll let Coral know you'll be there. She'll be real pleased to see you and to hear all you've been up to -- 'later, man."
"SIX o'clock. I'll be there." Paul hung up the phone. Yes, Coral would be real pleased to see him and hear all about Moira. Coral was kind of an Asian yenta, and had been his primary matchmaker since coming to Seattle. She was almost more concerned about his marital status than his mother.
The Takatsukas lived in a modest Craftsman style bungalow two blocks from Greenlake. The garden was immaculate, thanks to Coral's constant attention. Paul didn't know anything about gardening and marveled how Coral could fit so many plants into such a tiny yard, and yet still make it feel so spacious. Every time he visited she took him on a tour, pointing out new plants she had recently put in, which blended in so well with everything else that Paul really couldn't tell the difference. The ornamental plum tree was the centerpiece, and now in May it was full of delicate pink flowers. The grass surrounding it and filling the main part of the garden never seemed to be more than a couple inches tall; Paul suspected it was really some new kind of Astroturf. Rocks and shrubbery and flowers were all exactly placed with some inner meaning perhaps only Coral understood.
The inside of the house was as precise and as orderly as the outside. Mirrors and plants strategically placed throughout the house, and a large fish tank of puffy cheeked goldfish glowed in the living room. Paul was relieved whenever he discovered one of Michelle's toys in the seat cushions or under the sofa; the place was usually so immaculate he wasn't sure they really lived there.
They met him at the front door with a greeting fit for an emperor. Everyone gathered around and treated him with such loving concern that Paul felt better than he had in days. Little Michelle immediately commandeered him and took him to her room to see her collection of designer Barbie Dolls. Coral thanked him profusely; it was a lot easier to get dinner ready without the assistance of a three year old.
The dinner, of course, was superb. Grilled salmon in a light Teriyaki, lime scented rice, and snow peas, all arranged on the plate with an artistic flair. Looking down at it, Paul's heart contracted in pain. He hadn't missed Moira for almost half an hour, but this home cooked dinner brought the waves of loneliness back to him.
"This dinner is delicious, Coral." Paul said, trying to distract himself. "Did you marinate the salmon first?"
Coral eyed him suspiciously, "Thank you, yes I did. When did you become so knowledgeable about cooking?" Coral didn't miss a thing. Paul's disinterest in the kitchen was legendary; previously he would have briefly complemented the dinner and then asked Michael about work. "Has someone been teaching you a thing or two?" she asked casually as she deboned Michelle's fish for her.
Paul looked down at the table for a long time. Then he took a deep breath, looked up and told them everything. Everything about Moira the first time he'd been with her, and the last three weeks. Well, almost everything -- Michelle was present, but he wouldn't have gone into the romantic details with Coral, either. Michael, maybe; they'd been thick as thieves in college. He did talk about his confusion and depression, and asked them for their advice.
"Wow, Paul, you got it pretty bad," said Michael when Paul finished. Then he turned to his wife. "How about the name of your friend, honey -- the one that helped you after Michelle was born?" He looked back at Paul. "You guys got Group Health, right? So do we. Coral knows someone over there who’s a real good therapist. Got Coral back on track after her postpartum thing."
Coral had been watching Paul the whole time with a sort of half-smile on her face. It was as if he had supplied her with the missing piece to the puzzle of his social life.
"Oh, yes, Paul. Sonya
Morgenstein. You should
go see her." Coral
got up and began looking
in her purse for the woman's
business card. She found
it and handed it to him.
"This woman is great,
she saved my life! Or maybe
my husband's life!"
She looked over at Michael
and squeezed his hand.
Paul stuck the business card in his breast pocket, promising them he'd call in the morning. The rest of the conversation turned to more general topics, and the evening was mostly a pleasant and nurturing one for Paul. Every once in a while, Michael and Coral's interaction would stingingly remind him of Moira and himself. There was one moment where he drifted off into a fantasy that he and Moira were living happily ever after, with a pudgy little toddler named Paula. But Coral whisked Michelle off to bed, and Michael broke him out of it, by pulling his attention to Michael's new toy: a Tandy computer. He told Paul that by the end of the decade everybody would have one, and no desk in any office would be without one. Paul listened absently, calculating how much Michael had spent on this toy times the Marbank Architects operating budget and decided the idea was rather far-fetched. At last it was time to go, and Paul politely thanked them again for their hospitality. He received warm hugs from the both of them and returned to his starving cat and very empty house.
He called Sonya Morgenstein the next day and got an appointment for the following week. It turned out that she was indeed a lifesaver, and got directly down to the business of saving his. He saw her once a week for about six months, and slowly his heart and spirit healed.
Under her guidance, he was able to return his main focus back to his work, and find solace in it. He led the company into a major period of growth and economic gain. Sonya encouraged him to become a Big Brother again, something he'd found rewarding in college. Toward the end of his time seeing her, he started dating again. No blondes, though; he'd sworn off them forever. Finally the day came for their last session. He reaffirmed some agreements he'd made to take care of himself, and promised to call her if he needed to. Then he went out to continue rebuilding his life on his own.
My first solo assignment has not gone as effortlessly as I'd hoped. I made several mistakes that I plan to work on with the Teachers. I know my main action is to be reaction, and my main responsibility is to respond. However, I am not sure that my reactions and responses were appropriate. Looking back at the assignment, I have two major concerns: have I negatively impacted Nature and Mankind? If so, perhaps I should consider terminating this vehicle and retrain for one less challenging. Advise, please.
All has proceeded according to the Infinite plan. Have you made mistakes, or have you created marvelous learning experiences? What have you learned, my child? What is negativity but the opposite of positivity? There is no right or wrong, just what has occurred. Do not judge yourself so harshly! In your attempt to be neutral, you have avoided seeing your most important life's lessons. Do not consider termination; it impacts two vehicles. You will shortly understand our meaning. Work with the Teachers regarding neutrality and affinity. Your next assignment awaits you.