A Place Without a Witch — Chapter Forty


“He can leave a message,” Gemmy thought as she turned off the phone. I’m not ready to talk to him yet.

“What I am ready for is a very long, very hot shower and about an hour of serious yoga. Dale’s futon was a goddessend, but I’m not in college anymore and I’m stiff all over. And I need some time with Minerva, I think.”

Hours later, a refreshed and centered Gemmy was out in her tiny back yard, weeding her pots of tomato plants, marigolds, beans, and mint when she heard someone knocking loudly on her front door. “Just a minute,” she called; I’m coming.” Brushing her dirty hands off on her denim shorts, Gemmy went through the house and opened her door to see a frazzled Paris.

“Gemmy; thank goodness you’re OK,” he said, visibly sagging with relief. “Where have you been? You weren’t here last night and you won’t answer your phone. There was a terrible thunderstorm after you walked off. You had me worried!”

Gemmy stood for a moment looking at Paris, unshaven, with dark circles under his eyes. She stepped back and said, “Come on in. You look like a man in desperate need of a glass of sweet tea.”

“After you left, I called and called,” Paris said, following her into her kitchen and sinking down into one of the spindle chairs at her table. “When it got to be ten and you still wouldn’t answer, I drove over through the thunder and lightening to make sure you were OK. But you weren’t here and I didn’t know where to look. I’ve been calling ever since this morning, too. Gemmy, I know you were mad, but why wouldn’t you answer? Even just text me and say, ‘I’m OK,’ or something? I left you a voicemail asking you to do at least that. You’re not usually deliberately cruel,” Paris said, hiccuping back what sounded suspiciously like the beginning of a sob.

“Paris, I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to be cruel,” Gemmy said, pouring tea into two glasses full of ice. “I spent the night on Dale’s futon and I wanted to get my own feelings sorted out before I talked to you, is all. I didn’t realize you’d be so worried.

“I got home this morning and needed a shower and some time to meditate and then I got busy working in the garden. If I’d listened to your message, I would have texted you. I wasn’t trying to worry you and I’m sorry that I did.

“On the other hand, while we’re on the subject of phone calls, it would have been nice if you could have called me before I walked into the store last night and found Susan there, busily taking full possession of her domain.”

“Look, Gemmy,” Paris said, gulping the tea she placed on the table and grabbing her hand, “the only reason I didn’t run after you last night was because I had to be honest with Susan, explain to her that we’re never going to be anything more than old friends.

“I told her not to come to the store, not to drop by anymore. I guess that, ever since her marriage broke up, I could see where she thought things were heading and I should have been more direct with her. I felt bad for her, but that’s no excuse. I think that, well, when she showed up and kind of invited herself out with us, I thought if she saw us together, saw you and me together, how happy we are, even just going out for burgers after closing and simple stuff, I figured she’d understand and I wouldn’t have to play the bad guy. I should have warned you and I should have been blunter with her earlier.

“When I thought maybe you’d been hurt or something . . . . Gem, I was beside myself.”

“Paris, I wish you’d been more, let’s say ‘proactive,’ too. But I understand. I wish that I’d asked you to step into the office and talked to you before just storming off, told you how I felt, heard what you had to say. But the whole thing felt so, I don’t know . . . . You two ‘NoVa natives,’ happily working together in your family store, Susan gloating over it, I just . . . . I think it reminded me too much of how Timmy and I broke up, but you didn’t know that and it’s not your fault. Dale helped me sort things out.”

“Look, Germaine Marron, I’m crazy about you. You’re smart; you’re brave; you’re a grown-up; you’re gorgeous; you’re full of mysterious surprises; I’d rather make love to you than do anything, ever, except maybe watch you laugh, and I really, really, really don’t want anyone or anything to come between us. Can we add this to our ‘lessons learned’ file and go on from here? I know we’ll probably have other fights, but can we agree that we’ll at least text each other and say we’re OK? Because I really never want to spend another night wondering whether, if I start calling hospital emergency rooms, I’m being sensible or stalky. Ever.”

“OK,” Gemmy laughed, “It’s a deal. And you know, I like to watch you laugh, too.

“Paris, seriously, I never wanted to drag you through the whole, sad story of my breakup with Timmy. But, talking with Dale last night, I realized I probably should tell you more about what happened. We’re both working so hard right now; I hate to spend the time that we do have dredging up old history. But we probably both need to learn more about each other.”

Paris got up and brought the pitcher of iced tea over to the table. He poured himself another glassful and topped off Gemmy’s glass.

“You make mighty fine sweet tea for a Yankee, Miss Marron,” he joked, reminding her of the time he’d taught her how to make the Southern concoction — in his kitchen, naked. There had been, Gemmy remembered, a Full Moon.

“Gemmy, I love the store, but one of the problems with it is that it’s really hard to get away. To get a real vacation. And what I’m going to say will sound like a bit of a busman’s holiday, too. But you’ve got a ton of unused leave. And in two weeks, I’m off for a 4-day weekend to that trade show in Virginia Beach. You know, the one I mentioned?”

“Native plants and pollinators?” Gemmy asked, dredging up a memory of something Paris had mentioned a few weeks ago.

“Yes. There are supposed to be some good sessions on selling native plants that will encourage pollinators. Also supposed to be some suppliers there whose stock of native plants isn’t sprayed with the very chemicals that kill pollinators. I do think there’s money to be made here, doing the right thing. So I jerry-rigged help for the store and got my accountant — you remember Gus — to find the funds for me to go.

“Look, Gemmy, I will have to work part of the time, but you could drive down with me, hang out on the beach while I work, maybe even go to some sessions if they interest you, and we’d finally have some time to really be together and talk. I want to hear more about your mom dying, your dad, your aunt, your thing with the chestnut trees, you and Timmy, your coven up there, your bonsai, you know, everything. Why don’t you put in for the time? Dale would come over and feed Peschecat, I bet. Come with me to Virginia Beach.”

Monday morning dawned muggy and hot. Despite her morning shower and freshly-pressed cotton blouse, Gemmy arrived at Interior frizzy, sticky, and hot. But the arctic air conditioning in her wing of the building soon had her shivering and dry. She spent an hour answering emails. She wrote up her final report on the Zodiac Fountain. She submitted her request to use a bit of her accrued leave for the six days down to, at, and back from the Virginia Beach conference.

“This is going to be good for us,” she thought, imagining the drive down and long walks on the beach at sunset as she and Paris told each other their deepest secrets, their silly stories, and their hopes for the future. She made a mental note to buy a new bathing suit and some sunscreen. “Maybe I’ll sit in on that session on pollinators and trees that conflicts with Paris’ time with suppliers,” Gemmy thought, imagining the two of them later selecting saplings for Paris to sell at the store.

At noon, Gemmy grabbed a pad and headed to a scheduled all-hands meeting. Her boss was sitting on the stage and opened the meeting with a series of slides that showed yet-another impending reorganization of the various departments. “And I’m sure you’ll all join me in welcoming Susan, who will now head up all of these previously disparate departments,” Gemmy’s boss announced.

Susan walked onstage and smiled, “I’m looking forward to working with each of you. I think this is going to be great. We can work together to make our departments the most productive in the federal system. There’s a lot to be done, but one of the first things I’m going to work on is our scheduling. Effective this morning, as of nine a.m., all leave requests come through me and must be fully justified,” she said. “Fully,” she emphasized, looking directly into Gemmy’s eyes. “Now, let me explain a few changes that I’m going to make . . . .”

Picture found here.

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