She laughed and snorted. Adorable. He was reminded that she wasn’t entirely comfortable with the conversation either. Maybe that was the reason for the sudden change of subject.
“Um, Jack, can I ask how old you are?”
“Just turned forty-three. Why?”
“Um, well, I’m thirty-one and I’ve been a little nervous about our age difference.”
“Kim, relationships aren’t about age. Huge differences or no differences, in either direction, for either sex.” He was adamant. “No matter what you think is lined up — age or income, religion or politics — it doesn’t matter. It comes down to whether two people can provide what the other needs and make each other happy.”
There was a long silence on the other end. Finally, she asked, “What do you need, Jack?”
Her patient silence gave him the chance to think. “I need to be respected,” he said. “And trusted. And appreciated for mostly who I am as a man, and secondarily for what I’ve accomplished.” He paused and again she waited contently. This must be what Raul was talking about; how she really listens. I could get used to this.
He continued, “I need sex. Not merely the act. The connection. The giving and receiving.” In the silence that followed, he looked deeper and was surprised at what he found. Should I say it? Nothing but goodness and opportunity has come of telling her the truth thus far ….
“And I think I need to be your hero.”
Kimberlee gasped. After a long moment, he asked gently, “Kim? You alright?”
She sniffled and replied softly, “That’s the most amazing thing anyone has ever said to me.”
Jack felt his chest swell and thought, Good.
“See you Saturday night, then? Pick you up at six?”
She replied, “Should I be ready for dinner?”
“You should be ready to come over to my house. And we’ll find out what Jump Starts you.”
“B-b-but,” she stuttered, “I thought you had to wait a week or ten days for the results.”
Jack was grinning even though she couldn’t see it. “I paid extra to get them by Friday,” he responded. “I’ll have flight clearance.”
Kimberlee giggled nervously and Jack was reminded that, for all her fascinating knowledge and astonishing honesty, this was still an area in which she needed his help.
“Don’t worry, Kim. We’ll take this as slow as you need it to be.”
BURT scratched his cheek. “The doctor didn’t find anything?”
Claudia shook her head and squeezed the back of his other hand. “All the regular tests did not show a significant decline since last time. In fact, as you know, the
arthritis has improved; the swelling’s down. She is looking deeper into the source of my exhaustion. They took a lot of blood and we will get some results next week.”
Burt pulled Claudia into his arms and held her, his chest tight with fear. “Will you at least cancel Wednesday night’s session? I think this twice-a-week schedule may have something to do with your fatigue.”
He felt Claudia nod against him and he felt a little bit relieved. “That will probably work better for Karen and Kimberlee anyway. They both have big weeks already,” she said.
KAREN waived goodbye to the last student and began packing the materials on her desk. After a while, she noticed she’d been humming. I’m happy, she thought and wondered why. It was the last day before a break in the school year and she should be completely wiped out. But she wasn’t.
It worked! She thought, ecstatic. I love deal-making!
What Mike had said, about being able to heat things up and microwave, had proved to be the key. On several occasions, Karen had visited her folks in Chicago and left behind a whole refrigerator and freezer full of home-cooked meals. But it had never occurred to her to do it for herself. Funny how we always take better care of others, she thought.
Mike had liked her idea and wanted to participate. When she returned from the grocery store on Sunday, he’d sat at the kitchen counter and chopped to her heart’s content. They’d made bean soup and egg salad, a huge green salad, lasagna and enchilada casserole, and a whole grain blend she could heat up or eat cold. Then he’d helped her parcel things out into meal-sized containers. Some went in the refrigerator and the rest in the freezer.
All week, he’d been in charge of dinner. She’d told him honestly that she’d be happy with anything and each night he picked what to reheat. He’d set the table, served the food and cleaned up afterward. Every day she’d found her lunched packed and ready to go. She felt like a princess. No, a Queen.
And the handsome knight was well rewarded, she thought. When have I ever wanted to make love this time of year? But he’d saved her from hell week and she was catching on that his favorite form of appreciation was her warm body under his.
How nice, she thought, smiling as she finished packing up her personal effects. She recalled their conversation the night before, when she’d finally gotten up the courage to ask Mike the big, scary question. She could never have anticipated his answer.
“The only thing I’ve given up on getting is lingerie,” he replied. She’d hoped he was kidding, but when she examined his face, it was clear he was serious.
“Really?” she asked, still disbelieving.
“You always say you’re too old or too fat for lingerie. But that’s crazy. I love your body and this cowboy likes for you to dress up.”
She had suppressed her usual reaction of defending her position. Instead, she’d thought about what she needed to give Mike what he needed. “Okay, cowboy,” she’d
replied and he’d instantly perked up. “I’ll do it; on one condition. You have to come with me and pick out something you love me in.”
He’d grinned. “If I had it all my way, I’d come with you and we’d pick out something we both loved you in. Imagine if you turned you on too?”
She smiled again and thought, And I was afraid of that question!
CLAUDIA thought about how to introduce today’s Hero Language; two of the most difficult words and concepts for a contemporary woman to grasp. She also felt compelled to address what had happened between Kimberlee and Melissa. She could not let it go; there was too much at stake.
Burt was watching her, monitoring her from behind his newspaper, while trying to conceal his attentiveness. Ever the provider, her well-being was paramount to him. I will have to take it easy today, she thought, and make sure I do not expend too much energy. Then she had an idea and brightened, Perfect.
“My love?” she said softly, testing how difficult it would be to get his attention.
“Yes, Sweetheart?” Burt responded promptly, looking up from the newspaper he was only pretending to read.
“Could you help me today?”
She watched as he instantly straightened. “Yes, of course. What do you need?”
“I need help with today’s topics. I think your perspective and way of articulating things would help Karen and Kimberlee understand better. And, at the same time, save me a lot of energy.”
“Shall I join you from the beginning?” he asked.
She shook her head. “No, I have to address another issue first. Could I signal you somehow when I need you?”
“Sure. I’ll be in the shop. Wave when you’re ready.”
“But how can I be sure that you will be watching?”
He looked at her over his reading glasses, eyes crinkling with amusement. “Oh, I’m pretty sure you always know when I’m watching. Otherwise, you would not have interrupted me ‘reading’ the newspaper.”
She laughed, caught. His smile echoed her delight.
KIMBERLEE tried not to squirm in her seat. I deserve this, she thought.
Claudia began her story. “The Covenant prohibiting us from teaching anyone other than our own daughters, or a granddaughter we raised, has been in place for nine generations. That means this took place about two centuries ago.” She paused for a sip of her tea.
“One of my great-grandmothers, Elizabeth, had been teaching Faith, a neighbor she thought would use the information well in her partnership with her husband.
Unbeknownst to her, Faith had been relaying the lessons to her own daughter who had a troubled marriage. During that time, Elizabeth, Faith and her daughter were holding a meeting after church services to plan a potluck dinner. They needed to circle some chairs for each of the women to sit. Faith saw her son-in-law nearby and said, “Harold, we need chairs. Would you please provide them for us?”
Kimberlee noted how Faith used the two words in the Hero Language together.
Claudia continued, “Harold responded as most men would. He was glad to provide, counted the women standing and collected the right number of chairs. When he had circled them around and stood looking at the arrangement proudly, the daughter said loudly, “Harold, you imbecile, my mother completely manipulated you with those ridiculous hero words.”
Kimberlee felt sick to her stomach as she imagined a crestfallen Harold. From victory to shame in one cruel sentence. Tears escaped her eyes and she reached for a tissue.
Claudia concluded, “Elizabeth was horrified and became one of the biggest proponents of the Covenant. She was stricken by the damage the information could cause in the hands of someone with an adversarial relationship to men.”
“I’m terribly sorry, Grandmother,” Kimberlee said. “By breaking my promise, I betrayed your Covenant as well. I caused exactly what you were afraid would happen. Melissa asked me for help and I gave in.”
Karen said, looking panicked. “Does this mean you won’t allow us to teach others, Claudia?”
Claudia sipped her tea then closed her eyes, lips pursed. Is she praying? Kimberlee wondered. She held her breath, not so much for herself as for Karen, to whom she knew this meant the world.
After what seemed an eternity, Claudia looked earnestly at each of them. “During Karen’s lessons last year, I began to believe that there are thousands, perhaps millions, of women who are ready for this information. Women who are tired of being angry, hurt and frustrated in their relationships with men. Women who would be willing to lay down their sword if only they could see its damage. Women who would use the Language of Heroes as it was intended, to bring out the best in men and women both.”
Claudia paused and Kimberlee held still as she searched their faces. “But,” Claudia resumed, “we cannot assume that because a woman says she wants help, that she is ready to accept it. You must promise me that you won’t teach the Hero Language to anyone who has not yet given up the right to emasculate men, forever.”
Karen let out her breath and Kimberlee gulped. That was my mistake, she thought. Melissa rejected all my attempts to point out emasculation as a cause of her troubles. She wouldn’t accept any responsibility. That should have been my clue.
“Would a woman’s willingness to consider that a man might be responding to her, or have a good reason for what he does, be good signs that she’s ready for this information?”
“It is not a guarantee, but I think it may herald that possibility,” Claudia replied and Kimberlee was reminded of Claudia’s advanced age by the archaic terms in her