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Book 1 – Chapter 4 – Still Receive Your Kiss – Part 6

Elory suggested we meet at the Arnold Arboretum, a public garden close to her house. It made more sense than coming to my place. I had a quiet path that ran between the Davis and Alewife subway stops, but some weekends, it was packed.

According to a map on-line, the Arboretum was a wasteland, a cleared birthmark in the suburbs. I found it easily at the top of a steep off-ramp. It wasn’t much to look at: a thick grove of trees behind a rock wall about my height next to the little highway. I was woozy from the last stages of my cold, and the snowy trees hurt my eyes. Every parking spot had a Jeep, an SUV or a Hummer in it, with at least one wheel a foot higher than the others over packed ice. I tried not to step on the paw prints or the yellow streaks.

She was standing under the open gate to the park, with a thick mushroom hat made from the same wool as her coat. She brushed snow from the wall with her leather gloves. The gloss on her lips spilled over the edges and a red band ran across her face. Her eyelids fluttered when she detected me.

“Here you are,” I said.

“Here you are,” she said.

She stepped through the gate and waited for me.

We kept to the side of the park’s road, which had tracks showing it was still in use in the winter. All the trees were covered for the season. I shuffled beside her and kicked the tracks to collapse them.

“Did you have any trouble getting here?” she said.

“No.” A few of my hairs tickled my face, so I stuffed them into my hat.

She pointed to her forehead. “That’s one of my tells in Sneaky River,” she said. “I can shake down a lock if I have a card under seven, and brush it away if it’s under four.”

“Ah,” I said.

A couple with their arms locked together scooted around us. I didn’t think I was so slow.

“I’m sorry I didn’t talk more at the party,” she said. “I didn’t want to seem like I was hanging onto you. I appreciate that you introduced me.”

“That’s not the point,” I said. “I’m not a pagan, and that’s what I would have said if you asked me.”

“So Kristen told you,” she said.

“Yes.”

“One question and you’re going to hold it over me for all eternity.”

“That’s the plan.”

“And what am I supposed to learn from this?”

“Come to me for questions about me.”

“And you haven’t been checking up on me either.”

“Only on-line.”

“You asked Nova.”

“That was on-line.”

Children screamed as a snowball turf war started in a field. The dust from their snowballs flew in our direction.

“How much did you read?” she said.

“I had you kicked off Kristen’s guest list,” I said. “But I got you back on. I’m sorry.”

She released a smoky sigh. “Thank you,” she said. “You didn’t have to. I don’t think I was going back, anyway.”

“Because of Heidi?”

“Not really my crowd. Everyone was pretty young, too.”

“Heidi and Bess aren’t.”

“Heidi and Bess remember the drama when I posted the Ritual of Ama on the internet.”

“I read about that. Something about Aam, too.”

“Entirely different,” she said. “There wasn’t a lot of talk about life beyond circle-casting for the newer members of the church. I posted The Ritual of Ama to help explain some of the finer points. Of course, my church asked me not to and made a stink about it, but the older cliques didn’t exactly make the newcomers comfortable to come to them for help. I knew a dozen members who broke off to join the Church of Elder Faiths after I left. My church was already falling apart. Heidi’s mad because her friends were mad about it. That was five years ago, and she hasn’t let it go. What does that say?”

“I don’t know.”

The wind beat our faces while we hung the edge around a corner. I dug my nose into my scarf, while she had hers in her elbow. My tail tried to creep under my coat until we were in the clear.

“So I overreacted last week,” she said. “I’m sorry, too. What can I say? I’ve been out of the loop a while, and work’s been killing me.”

“It does that,” I said.

“And then suddenly you show up wearing a tail, and put me through the strongest spiritual event I’ve ever had,” she said. “It’s shaken me up. That’s the best way I can put it. And it’s good. What’s puzzling me is what you’re getting out of this. I’m trying to understand what I can offer you. You’re not making it easy.”

“I don’t mean to,” I said. “I’ve had a lot of my mind.”

“No kidding. Maybe I can help.”

In my peripheral vision, a black branch appeared to give me the finger. A girl in runner’s sweats jogged by us, speaking without an earpiece or phone I could see.

“What do you know about herpes?” I said.

“It comes from screwing,” she said. “And it doesn’t go away.”

“My girlfriend called me after we broke up,” I said. “Actually, no. She didn’t tell me herself. She was there, but she had her girlfriend call me, and apparently some other girls, too.”

“This was recent?”

“The day before I met you. The doctor’s testing me. His office said they’ll have results in two weeks. I don’t know if I believe them.”

“Ah,” she said, “Schrödinger’s herpes.”

“Pretty much.”

“I had a girlfriend who slept with a man in my bed without my knowledge,” she said. “They left the condom in the sheet, filled with evidence. I stuck my toe into it.”

“Oh dear,” I said.

“It took a month to get her out of my apartment,” she said. “She swore she was looking for a place, but every one rejected her because she was too much of a feminist. And she was still screwing him while I was at work. I came home every day to a new set of clean sheets. I told her, ‘We have to talk.’”

“That’s messed up,” I said.

“But it’s easier for them to cheat,” she said. “They learn to be stupid in high school.”

“Della said I was becoming too weird for her,” I said. “I bet she had been hunting for a reason. She didn’t even have one before she saw my tail.”

“She let ‘furry’ slide before?” she said.

“It made her uncomfortable,” I said. “She didn’t want to deal with it, and it was easier to hide it away from her. Maybe she couldn’t admit she liked my artwork.”

Elory snorted. “I love emotional blackmail. Really, I do,” she said. “Look, about herpes. Whatever comes back, you’re going to do all right. I used to go to fetish conventions across the country, and a good portion of the people had something. I was lucky. And people are a lot less fussy than you think they are.”

“I know,” I said. “But I’m not comfortable bringing it up. Yet.”

“What’s the rush?” she said. “You were dumped.”

I tried to flick snow off a bush with my tail, and I impressed myself when it worked.

“I still have a lump in me, like I did something wrong,” I said. “And it moves. Sometimes it’s in my gut or my brain or my hips. It squishes around, and I don’t think I’ll let it go until Della lets me.”

“I don’t think you did anything wrong,” she said. “And you’re not a fool.”

She stretched out her hand and flexed out her fingers. I clasped it. We pressed palms like the first night we met.

“Everyone’s slipping away,” I said. “I don’t like it.”

“Tell me about it,” she said. “You can’t fight it, but you can ride it out.”

I could tell her anything.

Categories: Book 1 - How Cheryl Got Her Tail, Chapter 4 - Still Receive Your Kiss.

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