(Click on the title to read the entire chapter)
A warm breeze caressed Aileen’s cheek as she and Caleb sat next to each other atop the worn wooden picnic table. They faced the crisp undulating blue of the Detroit River and the short strip of Canadian skyline.
“I’m glad you called,” he said, “I’ve been thinking a lot about you lately.”
“It’s the hormones. Maybe they’re making me nostalgic.”
“Good for the hormones then,” he grinned. Aileen laughed and swatted at his thigh.
“So, what’s with this guy anyway? He seems pretty possessive. You getting married?”
“Yeah, sometimes he seems that way, but no. I’m really not into that whole marriage thing,” Aileen said shaking her head.
“Oh?” Caleb sounded doubtful.
“You know me,” her nonchalance a reaction to his tone, “I’ve always liked my space even when I really like someone.”
“I know,” he said, “but this is different. This isn’t just about you, and you’re older now than you were then.”
“No, you didn’t just call me old!” she raised her hand to swat him again, but he jumped off the table and out of range.
With his hands raised to indicate a truce, he added, “I said older meaning finer, more wonderful, like a great Bordeaux.”
She shook her head and said, “You just called me old.”
“Never,” he moved to stand in front of her. “Never,” he repeated and taking her hands in his, he leaned in and kissed her cheek. “To me you are always Aileen, one whom I cherish.”
“Smooth talker,” she smiled and pushed him away. “It’s true, I am older. That’s why I decided that it was now or never, and I’m frightened and happy all at once. I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite like this,” she said.
“A new adventure,” Caleb said still standing close, “That’s my Aileen, always seeking new adventure.”
“I like that you see me that way. Most of the people in my life don’t see me like that. They see the hard-working, dependable Aileen, the one that doesn’t test boundaries or break rules. And I guess that’s who I’ve been for a long time.”
“Then it’s a good thing I’ve come back into your life,” Caleb said taking her hands again.
“Maybe it is,” she placed her hand on his shoulder indicating that she wanted to get down from the table.
He took her hand and helped her climb down and then they walked the few yards down to the shoreline.
“I want to take this journey with you,” his words were so close to her ear that they felt like a caress.
She looked up smiling, “You were always so intense.”
“No, I mean, I want to sketch you at each stage, observe the changes in your body,” his hand arced through the air to illustrate his thoughts, “to watch the lines as they curve and expand.”
She laughed and shook her head. “It’s always about the work to you.”
“Not always,” his voice was a fervent whisper. “Maybe we can do something larger, more permanent. Maybe oil on canvas when you’re at your ripest.”
“We’ll see,” she said allowing him to slip his arm around her as they walked along the river’s edge.
“Who better to chronicle such an event than one who adores you?”
“Who better?” she said laughing to let him know she understood that this was all playful banter and then she allowed herself to lean in to him, to absorb his warmth. “See, that’s why I called you. You always improve my mood, make me feel stronger.”
“Anytime,” he said and kissed the top of her head.
Vesta sat with her blue jean clad knees up, her sneakered feet balanced on the edge of the chair, and a cup of tea cradled in her hands as Stem leaned forward, his steepled hands pointed at her. He looked serious; she took a sip of tea.
“The point is,” Stem was saying, “you need to be examined, physically.”
“Why?” she asked, “I’ve already described the changes in my body.”
“There may be things that you haven’t noticed, things that you can’t see.”
“Nodules on your back, on your head . . .”
“Nodules?” she cried as she set the mug down on the table and began running her fingers through her hair.
“Small ones, you might not even notice them.”
“What are they for?” she asked pressing her fingers deeper into her hair.
“For?” he repeated, “They are just a part of you, but they would be indicators of how far you are into your transition. They would help us understand what to expect in the coming months. That’s why my mother wants to meet you so that she can examine you.”
“I don’t . . . I mean, why does she have to. Why can’t you examine me? You seem to know what to look for.”
“I don’t know if that would be appropriate. Besides, she’s much more experienced in this whole thing and she’s female.”
“I’m not ready to meet . . . others, Stem. And I’m certainly not ready to meet your mother.”
“She’s O.K.,” he grinned, “Really.”
“Yeah, my mother’s OK too, but . . .”
“But?” he asked.
“I just started to get comfortable with you. I’m not ready to start over with a whole new person.”
“Really, she’s OK. She’s seen a number of male and females through. Ask your mother, my mom was her mentor. And even if you did agree to meet with my mother, I would never abandon you. I would still be there for you.”
“Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much,” Vesta said as she sat back down and raised her mug to her lips.
“Oh, but he’ll keep his word,” Stem said with a grin.
“Quoting from Hamlet is probably not a good idea. I don’t think anybody in it survived,” she laughed and sipped her tea.
“But I meant it,” he said, “I’d still be here for you.”
She shook her head as she slid her mug onto the table. After a moment, she lowered her feet to the floor, and gripping the rim of her seat cushion, she refused to look at him.
He let the silence reign giving her time to consider his offer.
“I need more time. You can do it, you can examine me,” she said as she stood and kicked her sneakers off. Then she pulled her T-shirt over her head and began unbuttoning her jeans.