“Is that it?” you ask, turning in your saddle while pointing to the ditch. From my view I can’t see what you’re pointing at. I try to follow the line of your arm and see a small convex hump of snow in the otherwise concave shaped ditch.

“I….well….I think so?” I laugh at the ridiculousness. When I left the car I felt sure that the crash was quite tame, as far as crashes into a remote ditch in the dead of winter could be. As we come closer to the bump of snow it is apparent that it is at least a vehicle. The only piece of car that’s visible is the antenna popping out as a periscope above the rest of the drifted snow. “Wow did it really snow that much since I arrived?”

“No….actually no it didn’t.” you state dryly, “Looks like the snow drifted a little bit, but mostly you wedged yourself really deep inside. Come on, let’s be quick about this, it’s getting cold for Thunder and Lightning.” with the grace and perfection of years of practice you easily hope off Lightning and stand waiting for me. Swinging my leg over the side I lay my belly across the saddle and slowly ease myself down in an embarrassingly slow manner. If I was to be seeing this from your perspective no doubt it would be amusing. Eventually my toes made contact with the ground and I released the saddle. Thunder snorted and shook his back as if pleased to be rid of me. Standing up straight and fixing my pants I turn to you and see you desperately holding in a laugh. “that,” you say with mock tenderness, “was impressive.”

I shake my head and laugh at myself, “Shut up smart ass, lets go and see if there’s any car left there.” I finally have the opportunity to take the lead as you take the reins of both horses while walking behind me. The snow goes from a shallow three inches where the drift meets the shoulder, but one foot further and it drops to two feet deep. This I find out quickly as after my third step towards the antenna the snow is as deep as my legs. Turning to you I shrug and continue on, looking more like I’m swimming through the pillowy whiteness than stepping through it. After a few more slugging steps I reached the edge of my car and begin to dig it out with my hands. Five minutes later I’ve exposed the side of the vehicle confirming it’s definitely my car. I turn to you and give the thumbs up sign. You smile and nod but point to your wrist to indicate time is becoming short. Following the edge of the car around to the back I expose the trunk. Fishing through my pockets I find my keys and open the trunk to retrieve my single suitcase. After I retrieve it I slam the trunk closed and turn back to you, following my path back up to the side of the road. “Well,” I say momentarily out of breath from pushing through all the snow, “on the positive side, no one is going to steal it.”

You laugh at me and then motioned me over, “Come on, we’ve got to get going, they’re getting cold.” I watch you expertly mount Lightning and then I jump onto Thunder. I feel the process went smoother this time, but from the look on your face that judgement may have been misinformed clearly holding back another chuckle or two. “We’ve got to ride them a little quicker this time, we’re losing the light and the temperature is dipping.”

“Oh….ok” is all I can respond with. Quicker always looked so easy in the old spaghetti westerns I had grown up watching. The actors looked so smooth as their horses galloped below them. I hear you click your tongue and Lightning quickens her pace from a slow walk to a trot. Thunder soon follows without my encouragement. It’s in that moment I realize that a trot is far less comfortable than a walk, finding myself bouncing up and down uncontrollably with each pace of the large beast’s steps. “Jesus.” I happen to exclaim without thinking.

You turn in your saddle and then show me what I’m doing wrong. “No, you don’t want to just sit there.” you say directly, “feel how he’s moving below you?” I nod “Now instead of just sitting there, try to stand every second beat.” you show me by over emphasizing the sitting and standing motions. Taking your directions to heart I repeat the motion, bounce for one beat, up for the next. Down, bump, up, down, bump, up, down, bump, up. “Exactly!” you shout excitedly, “Keep doing that.”

“So” down, “Then” bump, “What else” up, “Happened” down, “in Par” bump, “Paris?” up…I manage to blurt out as I follow the rhythm of Thunder below me.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The day seemed to come too quickly as you woke in the morning in Celine’s bedroom. The sun was beaming through the frost covered window creating wonderful patterns of shadow and light much like the charcoal drawings that adorned Celine’s walls. You slowly opened your eyes and enjoyed the heat of a sunray that happened to fall across your eyeline. Without thinking you tightened your arms together and squeezed Celine in a bear like hug. “Shit” Celine yawned abruptly, “are you trying to kill me Al?” turning to face you while still within your hold. In your dazed state you nearly forget that you are both naked, that is until the unfamiliar but very pleasant feeling of her nipples hard against your own breasts re-acquainted you with your current state of dress. Celine, with sleep heavy on her eyelids smiles at you and then gives you a sweet kiss on the cheek, “Good morning my love. Shall we get up yet or should we sleep in longer?” The promise of further rest seems quite desirable but you are acutely aware of how little time you have this visit.

“No.” you respond curtly to Celine, “No I don’t want to waste my days in bed.” Celine raises her eyebrow and you adjust your statement, “Though this is quite nice to be honest.” and squeezing Celine once more in your arms.

“It’s ok, I know what you meant. We’re by ourselves right now though.” Celine explains

“Oh?” you reply, “where’s Leon?”

“He’s probably still on his jog.”

“Jog?”

“Something he took up after his assistant lover Jeanne left.”

“Assistant lover?”

“Well she was both now wasn’t she?” Celine chuckled. “An awkward arrangement for sure. It could be a problem if you photograph women 90% of the time, and your lover is the one getting them coffee.”

“Oh, that is awkward.” you wince sitting up in bed and watching Celine slowly get dressed while holding the duvet modestly over your own nakedness.

“Well it seemed to work fine I think. Both of them had a good understanding you know?” Celine stops for a moment to slip on an oversized sweatshirt. “She was comfortable with him working with the models because she was always there when the models were here. She always knew what was going on.”

“So what made her leave then? If there was such a good understanding how did it fall apart?”

“It was the Michelle situation.” Celine admitted morosely. “Those stupid cops and their stupid insinuations.” she shook her head with disdain, then slipped on a pair of underwear from the recycled chest of drawers.

“What do you mean?” you inquired further, curious as to how the situation played out.

“Well, you see they didn’t really have any evidence to speak of. All they had was the one picture and that wasn’t enough to prove that Leon had done something wrong. Though he had taken a picture of a naked minor, she wasn’t in any overtly sexual pose or confirmed to be in a situation where she had been forced to do something she didn’t want to do. He was in hot water, but a decent lawyer would have had no problem in getting the charges dismissed. They were trying to push to get Jeanne to give evidence saying that Leon was taking advantage of Michelle.”

“Oh,” is all you manage to squeak out. Now sitting cross legged you were leaning forward, intent on every word of Celine’s story.

“So even though Michelle told them that nothing happened, and that she was laughing in the picture, they heard none of it. They kept on Jeanne. Pushed and pushed her. Kept trying to get her to say Leon was a bad guy. That Leon was always touching and taking advantage of his models. They even said how the models were better looking then Jeanne and how that Leon was a man, how could he not want them more than her.”

“Wow.”

“I know!? How mean of them to say this? They kept on and on. This detective kept calling Jeanne at all hours. He would say that he had evidence of Leon being with other girls. Saying he was cheating on her all the time. How she was stupid and incompetent and that she let Leon get away with all of this. He’d call and say how it was her fault this all happened and that she needed to make it right by God.” Celine rolled her eyes and pointed to the sky in exasperation.

“So she left?”

“Of course she left. What else could she do? It broke Leon’s heart you see?” Celine shook her head while rummaging through her drawers again. She picked up another sweater and held it up to herself before tossing it to you. “Here, try this.” she said gently.

“Oh I have my own clothes Celine.” you replied politely.

“Yes I know, but you’d look cute in this.” she winked and you found yourself blushing as you looked the sweater over.

“Why not,” you thought and slipped the sweater over your head, and as you did asked, “So does she talk to Leon still?”

“At first they talked a little but it was hard.” Celine said, rummaging through her drawers before picking out a skirt and tossing it to you. Without arguing you slipped it on under the covers, you modesty more of a habit than out of concern for being exposed. “You of all people know how hard distance can be.” and you nodded in understanding. “At first it works, you can talk everyday. You can take some satisfaction in hearing their voice. You can think of their face, their smell, their touch, but memory starts to fade, and you get busy.” You nod again, thinking to yourself trying to keep in contact with Celine, Leon, and Michelle. At first it was easy but after the first month of university it became strained and difficult to keep up.

“Ya, it definitely gets hard….” you trail off in thought, realizing that you were in for the same painful process when you left for home in a few weeks.

“Yes so they didn’t talk as much and he began to get…oh what is it..” she paused for a moment staring at the ceiling for the word that escaped her briefly, “snippy?” you nod in approval and she continues. “Snippy yes this is it. He was snippy.” she says, a look on her face that indicated her annoyance with the memory. “He began to yell more, get frustrated more easily, he was a mess….and you know me.” Celine shrugged and you knew at once what she meant.

There was a reason that you had never met Celine’s parents. Her father was a brute and an alcoholic. Celine spent her formative years doing what no daughter should have to, taking care of her mom’s wounds. When her mom was too broken up to take another blow, Celine would deliberately provoke her father so as to make herself a target instead of her mom. It was a noble act, but it gave her a few marks of her own. When she was 16yrs old Celine arranged for her mom and her to get out of the house and take refuge with her friend from school. It was difficult for her to admit to her situation, but after years of having to explain away the bruises and missed classes Celine was thankful to accept his help. When the day came to take her mom away, however, she couldn’t get her mom to leave the house. Celine tried everything she could think of to coax her away, but her mom wouldn’t budge. In the end her mom stayed with her father and the two disowned her. She spent the next year with her friend and his parents before moving out on her own. It was this upbringing that developed the strong sense of self that you were so enamored by. It was this upbringing that did not allow for any abuse to be laid her way. So when Leon became snippy, you could only imagine Celine’s response, but it was certain that she would not remain quiet.

“I told him he was being an ass.” Celine laughed, slipping on a pair of combat boots. She looked adorable. You felt jealous of her lack of concern for appearances. She stood with her oversized sweatshirt, a pair of panties, and combat boots on and all you could think about how you could never have the guts to wear something so outlandish. “What?” Celine asked abruptly catching you staring. “You like?” she giggles bending over and putting her hand to her lips as if to mime “Ooops”.

The sweatshirt raised up and exposed her cute behind and you shook your head laughing. “Oh Celine you’re a riot.” Celine straightened up and raised her hands as if celebrating, again the sweatshirt exposed her panties and you continued to laugh. Slipping off the bed you found your suitcase and bent over to open it and pull out a pair of underwear. You were all for trying new things and new outfits, but you were not at the stage yet that you felt comfortable being free as a bird down below. As you bent to pick out a pair of panties Celine quickly came up behind you and slapped your exposed ass, “Ah!” you shouted in surprise more than in pain. The smack was louder than the sting would have suggested, “Celine!” you stood up quickly, your eyes wide and you attempted to maintain a straight face. You wagged your finger at her and bent over again to find your underwear. The moment you did, smack, another wild spank from Celine. This time you did not stand, you deepened your resolve to find the underwear you were searching for. Another spank, and another, “God damn it Celine you’re going to knock me over!” you laugh surprised at how the silly spanking was making other parts of your body buzz. Finally finding the pair of panties you were seeking you quickly stepped into them and stood abruptly. “I should tell you, Celine, you’re being an ass.” you chuckle and then rub your rear end briefly trying to ease the slight discomfort.

“Yes, I’m being an ass.” she replies, “but yours is better.”

“I…..well….I don’t know what to say about that.” you retort honestly.

“Well it’s true. Anyways let us get some breakfast. J’ai faim.” With that Celine turned and led you down the hall and down the stairs to the kitchen.

Once you reached the kitchen Celine found a note attached to the fridge.

“Je suis en courant. Prenez le petit déjeuner. Je vous verrai plus tard.”

“See. He’s running and will be back later. We’re on our own for breakfast.” Celine said waving the note at you. “Pain, confiture, café et son bien?” automatically switching to french.

“Jam and bread sounds just right.” you reply in english, a smile on your face.

Celine retrieved the appropriate tools for a small breakfast, pulling out a couple of plates, a couple of knives, some bread and a selection of jams. In between trips to the fridge she turned on the coffee machine and set it up to brew a few cups worth. She continued her story as if never interrupted, “After I told him he was being an ass, things changed.”

You stopped spreading raspberry jam on your bread for a moment to look up, “How so?” you ask then looked back to your bread and resumed the task at hand.

“See he forgot.” Celine said before taking a bite of her bread and nodding her head back and forth as if to say, “Not bad, not bad.”

“He forgot what?”

“He forgot that he wasn’t the only one that lost someone.” Celine said with a more reserved voice. “I….I lost Michelle, and he neglected to remember that.”

“Oh shit…he probably felt like an ass after that didn’t he.”

“He did.” Celine nodded in agreement, “Of course he loved Jeanne too, but he forgot about me and that’s why he felt so bad. You see,” Celine continued to explain, “because of her age, I was barred from contacting Michelle until either her parents said it was ok, or she was eighteen and could make her own judgements as an adult.” Celine stopped, and sighed. “You think her parents were going to let me talk to her? Of course not. The stupid people thought I made her leave them. They thought I tricked her into running away. They thought it was all my fault.” she shook her head in anger and frustration. “Fucking people! Don’t they know anything?” she yelled abruptly, startling you slightly. “Kid’s don’t run away from a perfect life, they run away from a shitty life!” she threw her bread down to her plate in disgust.

“So….” you begin softly, “….so why did she runway then?”

“Oh Al, it’s not good.” Celine shook her head, “I don’t know if she would want me to tell you.” in the corner of her eye a tear was beginning to develop, but before it could be released Celine wiped her eyes as if to scratch an itch. “But when they say, you can’t contact someone….they mean….anything. You know? Nothing! I couldn’t call, I couldn’t text, I couldn’t message, or even send a letter. If they found out I drove by and waved at her through the window I could go to jail. It was that bad.” Celine blinked and turned her head to grab the coffee, rubbing her eyes again as she turned so that you didn’t see her tears.

“You know what though Celine?” you say cooly and with a mischevious grin.

“What?” she replied, openingly sniffling now while holding her coffee in both hands, raising the mug up to her mouth for a small hesitant sip.

“The didn’t bar me from contacting her now did they?” you wink at Celine as the thought begins to translate. “I could write her a letter from me, and I could tell her all of the things you want to say to her. She could then reply to me, and I could send you a letter telling you all the things she wants to say to you.”

“Oh shit…..oh shit Al….oh my god Alcina that is brilliant!” she laughed, and you were somewhat shocked at her use of your full name. “Oh if you could do that then I would be in your debt forever my love.” Celine sniffled again, placing down the coffee mug and walking over to hug you as you sat.

“If we write her today, maybe it will even get there in time for Christmas?”

“Non….no…merd….non it’s too late for Christmas, but maybe before the New Year yes?” Celine’s eyes lit up as she thought of all the thing she wanted to say. To date she could only receive Michelle’s art, but she could never respond. She couldn’t even say a simple thank you. The torture of knowing Michelle was all alone with her parents, stuck in her old life, was nearly unbearable for Celine. “Ok, we write then tonight and we’ll send tomorrow morning ok?”

“That’s ok with me Celine, I’m happy to help.” you reply with a big smile on your face. There was no greater joy, you felt, than bringing happiness to those that need it. As strong and as brave as Celine outwardly appeared, she was just as any other person barred from expressing her love to her partner. She was imprisoned and powerless. You had now given her the opportunity to release all of the tension from her mind. You sipped on your coffee and marveled at the change in Celine. It was such a simple gesture that you were doing, but it meant the world to her. In truth you felt like you would do anything for her. Maybe this is why Michelle’s parents thought Celine was to blame. Maybe they saw in her what you saw, this incredible attraction and charisma that drew people to her. “You know, she was lucky to find you.” you say quietly to your french friend.

“You think so?” Celine replies, worry and doubt creeping into her voice and causing it to waver.

“I know so Celine. You make people around you better. You find the lost and you let them feel important. You make them feel wanted and needed. You did that for me.”

“I did?”

“More than you know…hun…more than you know.” as your words trail off you take Celine into your arms. Her petite frame disappearing into yours. A quiet sob escapes her mouth and she wraps her arms around you as well and there you both stood for a moment. In the quiet calm that only can come from love.

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