Her straight blond hair in its tight ponytail was almost the exact color of Jason’s; he was more petite, though her dancer’s body honed down to bone and muscle made her seem more delicate, and his bulkier, more weight-lifting body gave him more physical presence, so he seemed bigger, even though she was so much taller.
He sat her down, and she landed with her feet in their flat shoes, in a near–dance position, as if she did it without thinking, the way that I used a gun, so that practice and body memory were always there, waiting to happen. She was dressed as comfy as the brown loafer-style shoes, in soft brown slacks and short tan jacket, over one of those silk sweater-shirts that always seemed too warm to me. She even had a gold-and-tan patterned scarf artfully swirled around her neck and shoulders. It looked great, like a real outfit. I didn’t honestly understand accessories once you left shoes and jewelry behind; scarves seriously confused me.
Which is why Nathaniel had dressed me: black skinny jeans tucked into knee-high black boots with a three-inch heel, and a black scoop-neck top tucked into the jeans with a belt that Nathaniel had found in a high-end thrift shop. The belt had a crescent moon for a buckle, and he’d had me throw a tailored leather suit jacket over it all so that it pretty much hid the gun at my back. I didn’t go much of anywhere unarmed.
Jason was wearing a baby blue T-shirt tucked into dark blue jeans, with a black belt that matched the boots that peeked out from underneath the jeans. The colors made his eyes even bluer and just looked great on him. Nathaniel was in his own black skinny jeans tucked into knee-high boots that had more buckles and a platform heel, so they looked more science fiction than the sleeker leather of mine or Jason’s. Nathaniel had gone for a black T-shirt tucked in, showing his silvery belt buckle that was shaped like a crescent moon/sun. I hadn’t noticed that he’d managed to match even the belt buckles until we’d arrived at the airport. We looked like we were going to a Goth nightclub, or to be extras in some futuristic but unrealistic movie where all the dangerous people wore black and looked cool. I would have protested, but honestly most of our dressy-casual clothes were black with a little red, purple, and blue mixed in here and there.
Nathaniel was holding the black leather suit jacket that Jason had worn over his baby blue shirt, because it was really too hot for leather yet, and he’d wanted his hands free to greet his girl. That’s what she was; J.J. was Jason’s girl. It was there in their faces, how they touched, and in the nearly identical blue of their eyes. They did look eerily alike, and we’d come to find out they shared a great-great-great-grandfather, as did a lot of people from a certain section of Asheville, North Carolina. Legally, most of the blond, blue-eyed women I’d met on my one trip home to see Jason’s family weren’t related to him, or to each other, but their shared ancestor had been a very busy and immoral preacher, and apparently he’d been at least as charming as Jason, which was pretty damn charming, or maybe more so, which was frighteningly charming.
They turned toward Nathaniel and me, and they were just so darn happy that suddenly I didn’t feel awkward or stupid. I just wanted Jason not to lose this, not to lose her.
“You both look great,” J.J. said, hugging Nathaniel and planting a light kiss on his cheek. She turned to me and we hugged. She was five inches taller than me, but she was so tiny through the waist and ribs that she hit my radar as dainty. We pressed cheeks together more than kissed, because though she was wearing her usual neutral lip gloss, I was wearing my usual deep red lipstick and I’d learned that it overwhelmed or looked odd intermingled with other women’s lipsticks.
“Nathaniel picked the clothes, so if we look good it’s his fault,” I said, with a smile.
She smiled a little broader. “Trust me, Anita, it isn’t all Nathaniel’s clothes choice that makes you look amazing in the outfit.”
It took me a moment to think it through and realize that J.J. was saying my body looked good in the clothes, and that was from working out in the gym.
“Thanks,” I said.
“I wish I could have your curves and be in shape enough to dance.”
Jason hugged her. “I like your curves.”
She laughed. “I know you do, but mine are like a drive in the country; Anita’s are like a roller coaster.”
Jason’s eyes sparkled as he looked at me, his face alight with some thought, and just like that I knew that whatever was about to come out of his mouth was something I wasn’t going to like, or would be at least teasing.
“Would it piss you off if I said it’s a hell of a ride?”
“Yes,” I said, and gave him very serious eye contact out of my dark brown eyes. Brown eyes may not look as cold as blue or gray can, but I find that a mean look works just fine.
“Then I won’t say it,” he said; then he laughed, J.J. joined him, and finally Nathaniel did, too.
I rolled my eyes at all of them.
J.J. didn’t have any other luggage. It was a quick two-day trip, and apparently everything she needed was tucked into the huge purse on her shoulder. It was impressively light packing, and I said so.
“After you’ve been on enough dance tours, you learn to pack light,” she said.
It made sense, and she talked about the current production she was practicing for, and the season so far for the dance company. She asked how Nathaniel’s and my work was going in the car. I drove, Nathaniel had shotgun, and the two lovebirds got the backseat of my SUV. It was very ordinary small talk except for our jobs being sort of cool, or unusual—a ballerina, a U.S. Marshal with the preternatural branch, a dancer and assistant manager of a strip club, and an exotic dancer at that club.
It felt a little like we were talking around the elephant in the living room. I wanted to point at it and say, “Look, look, an elephant!” I both wanted to talk about the sex and the issues surrounding it, and desperately wanted to ignore it. I think everyone else was actually just talking like friends. I always wanted to either sort of pretend sex and kink issues didn’t exist, or take them so head-on that it was jarring to everyone else involved. I seemed to have only two speeds on problems that hit me emotionally, either putting my fingers in my ears and going la-la-la, or picking up an axe and attacking the issue. It wasn’t actually a comforting approach for me or the people I loved, but it was what I had for coping mechanisms. I hoped someday to have more middle ground, but right now, I didn’t. I was horribly torn between wanting to never bring up the subject of why we were all dressed up to greet J.J. at the airport, and wanting to yell, Is anyone else nervous, or is it just me?
Nathaniel reached over and started to rub lightly on my neck as I drove. “You okay?”
I nodded, not trusting myself to speak without being rude or too abrupt. A lot of people take too much directness as rudeness, especially from a woman. I’d like to say it’s not sexist, but it is; people expect a woman to have a softer approach to life than most men do. I was so far in the guy camp on my approach to most things that I often came off as harsh even for a man. I didn’t mean to, but it happened a lot. I wasn’t trying for harsh, I just wanted to say something, or do something, and I wanted to act, not wait until I had to react. Even if by pushing I made the situation worse. It was almost a compulsion that made me want resolution to all uncertainty even if the resolution was negative, rather than wait patiently for a more positive outcome. My therapist and I were working on it, but right at that moment I gripped the steering wheel and just kept my mouth shut; it was the best I had.
J.J. chimed in from the backseat. “Is it just me, or is anyone else nervous about this?”
“Thank God,” I said, “yes, me, I am.”
“What are you nervous about, honey?” Jason asked, and I knew he was talking to J.J., since he’d never called me honey, ever.
“I’m in love with you, Jason. It means this is more important than just some kinky group sex. You know I’m game, always have been, but never with important relationships. That’s always been more straightlaced.”
“Maybe that’s why they didn’t work out,” Nathaniel said, turning in the seat so he could look at her.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“If a person is kinky, and nonstandard sex makes them happy, but they keep putting away the sex they like best every time they’re in a serious relationship, then the relationship is doomed, because no matter how much you love your vanilla, you need the other flavors.”