With the horses returned to the barn, the saddles on their hooks, and every other piece of tack in it’s place we made our way back to the house.
“This isn’t fair.” you state dryly. “You’ve kept me talking about myself and yet you’re the stranger in my home.”
It was a valid point. The intriguing backstory of your life had completely enveloped my mind and I had not thought about myself at all. It was a relief though. The long drive through the rural roads crisscrossing these sparsely populated prairies was a purposeful choice to give me more time to think. To contemplate my next move in life. But after three hours of spiteful introspection, over analyzing every mistake, every miscue, every missed opportunity, I had become wrapped up in a depressive state. I wholly detested the feeling. It is an incredible waste of energy to feel sorry for oneself.
“Well,” I finally reply, “What would you like to know?”
“Tell me something…..” you pause for a moment then stop walking. Looking right at me, deep into my eyes, “…..tell me something about you that normally you’d never say.” A confused expression crosses my face so you explain. “Tell me something about yourself that you’re scared to reveal.” Your serene dispassionate stare slowly morphs into a sly grin, then an all out smile. You seem to revel in making me squirm. Honesty. Brutal, bold, unabashed honesty. Is there anything more frightening to reveal to someone you’re just getting to know?
I look back at you, my brow furrowed and I begin to unconsciously bite my lip. “Hmmmm” is all I manage to reply. Not sure what to say yet. There are a number of things I fear to reveal, but I find myself trying to choose among them the least scary, but still frightening enough to convince you I’m keeping my end of the bargain. There’s nothing more irritating than asking a person what’s the craziest thing they’ve done, only to hear them reveal some petty paudry truth like stealing a candy from the bulk box at a grocery store.
“That either means you’ve got a lot of secrets, or the few you have are pretty damaging.” you assess, as would a detective.
“….you don’t want to embarrass yourself?”
“That’s part of it.”
“You’re afraid I’ll look at you differently? That I will no longer be interested in you?”
It’s true. That is exactly what I’m worried about. But in your query you have just revealed to me one snippet of truth that I was seeking. You could only become disinterested in me if you were at first interested. “Yes.”
“Because…..I like you Alcina.” I admit sheepishly. “I think you’re a very interesting, intelligent, and beautiful woman.”
“But you barely know me.” you reply, playing the role of devil’s advocate.
“True. But what I do know, and what I sense, is promising.”
“So tell me then, Zale, if you find me interesting, intelligent, and attractive, why is your first reaction to keep secrets from me?” You’re turning the screws on me now and the smirk on your face tells me you’re finding it quite amusing.
“Honestly I’m not sure. It’s instinctual.” I answer without thinking.
“Your instincts tell you to keep secrets? That seems a tad bizarre don’t you think?”
“Maybe? It feels like self preservation. I do like you and I part of my brain wants to only show you what is good about me.”
“But how do you know what is good? What if what you think is good, I actually detest?”
“I guess I just….assume?”
“You can stop that right now then. I’m not the naive girl that I was. Every decent person has dark moments in their life. Every honest person has moments of dishonesty. I accept that. I don’t judge it.” you smile again, disarming me once more. “Come on, let’s get back inside and warm up. You can tell me all your dirty dark secrets while we eat dinner.” You laugh to yourself and continue up the path. I walk behind you, unsure of what’s to come.
Like any man I am the combination of the way I was raised, the events of my youth, the influence of my friends, and the personality I was born with. My demeanor has been carefully crafted over time. It has been molded to suit what society expects of me. I am the master of the hearty handshake. I am gifted with the glib tongue of petty conversation. The welcoming smile. The master of small talk. All tools I use to fit in, to be accepted. That is how I got my job. That is how I got my wife. And that is why I got divorced. Perhaps this was the moment for a change. The moment in which for the first time I can be truly honest with someone. Full, unabashed, unwavering honesty. My word how that scares me.
“I’m going to have a shower.” you tell me once we’re inside. “Take a look inside the kitchen and see what you’d like to make for dinner.”
“Alright.” is all I manage to reply before you’ve sauntered down the hall and into the bathroom. Moments later I hear the water gushing from the tap, the switching to the distinctive and soothing white noise of a warm shower. “I wish I could join you.” I mutter to myself. “That’s a truth I’m scared to admit.” I then shake my head at my own words, trying to clear my mind before heading to the kitchen and looking what was available for dinner.
Fifteen minutes or so later I hear the door to the bathroom creek open followed by your distinctively light, feminine foot falls trailing off as you walk down the hall. I sigh to myself once more. How lucky Celine was to share a shower with you. My momentary jealousy quickly replaced with a smile as I draw up a image in my mind of what that would look like. For a few minutes I entertain the thought, allowing my imagination to fill in the gaps and create a small sensuous scene. Letting the small imaginary movie progress in my mind, I continue to collect ingredients for dinner. Once I’m done I’ve collected some potatoes, a couple of chicken breasts, some broccoli, tomatoes, and onions. Laying out the ingredients on the counter I stop for a moment to consider what I’m going to construct. At that moment, however I hear you come up behind me, “Your turn for the shower. I think I left you at least a little hot water.” you chuckle and then nod your head in the direction of the bathroom.
“Alright. I’ll be right back to help with dinner.”
“Sounds good.” you reply nonchalantly looking me over as I walk away. I’m still a relative mystery to you and you can feel yourself getting excited at the prospect of discovering what hidden secrets lurk beneath my calm exterior.
I stop in the living room to pick up my suitcase, taking it with me into the bathroom. I feel unkempt and in need of a shave as well as a shower. Being able to wear my own clothes instead of your father’s would be a welcomed change as well. While in the shower I feel my mind racing. As much as I would like to simply relax and enjoy the therapeutic effects of a hot shower, I am instead fixated on what to reveal to you. The motions of washing begin feel foreign. I feel the absurdness of standing in this strangers shower and the excited anticipation of meeting someone on a blind date simultaneously.
As the temperature of the shower begins to alter from soothing heat to undesirably tepid I realize it’s time to dry off and face you. I quickly run the fluffy towel over my dripping body enjoying the refreshing feeling of the air cooling my skin. After I’ve dried off enough I rummage through my suitcase and pull out a nice pair of jeans, a belt, and a t-shirt that, though tight, fits just well enough to show off the strong shoulders I was lucky enough to be blessed with. Setting the clothes to the side I retrieve my straight razor and go through the practiced motions of a close shave.
A long time ago I abandoned the multi blade disposable razors that fill most drugstores. There was a sense of danger with a straight razor. Your hand had to be steady. Your movement slow and precise. Dragged across the skin properly, there was no closer shave. Dragged across the skin improperly, and you may need stitches. Shaving, that male-centric act, was so very meditative in it’s process. After thoroughly cleaning your body you must examined yourself in a mirror, planning the course of action. Preparing your face for the task, preparing your mind for the day. Shaving was self improvement at it’s most basic level. Discarding the unwanted pieces of yourself to display the truer honed visage of your innerself.
With the last swipe of the razor I looked back into the mirror at my refined reflection. Checking for any missing stray hairs or knicks. Satisfied with my performance I reach into my suitcase again, retrieve a small bottle of aftershave and lightly rub it into my skin. The initial sting of it’s application giving way to a cool icy feeling. Now that I’m cleaned up, I swiftly slip into a pair of underwear, then my jeans. Finally sliding the t-shirt over my head I adjust my hair and close up the suitcase. I smile at myself in the mirror. I’m not an overly conceited man, but there are those times when you see your reflection, or yourself in a picture, and you know that in that moment you look as good as you possibly can. It makes your stride longer and your back straighter. Something I’ve relished in the time since my badly timed divorce.
The door to the bathroom opens with a prolonged creek that gives away the age of the house. I can hear you moving about in the kitchen and before I can take a step from the bathroom to the hallway I hear you shout, “All done?” Instead of answering I stride into the kitchen with a cocky confidence. You turn from the stove and smile, your eyes looking me over from head to toe as you smirk. “Well don’t you clean up nicely.” you say with a laugh, turning back to the stove and tending to dinner.
Without a second thought I walk up behind you and put my hand on your back. You jump slightly at my touch but do not shift away. Small shivers course up your spine and it feels as if your hair must be standing on end. You can feel a flutter in your stomach that comes with the familiar anxiousness of anticipation. “How about I handle that.” I suggest my voice soothing and yet commanding in your ear. You turn to me and smile our faces much closer than they’ve been since I crashed through your door. I’m no longer the weekend zombie I was. Instead you see the pride and strength eminating through my gaze. Without a word you slip away from my touch and away from the stove watching as I expertly tend to the pan fried chicken breast and smirking to yourself. It has been a very long time since a man was at that stove. The last one was likely your brother before he moved out. It was a nice change of pace and to have such an adept handsome man in your brothers place. Well now, how could you complain.
I continue to cook the rest of the meal as you fetch dishes, cutlery and glasses to set the table with. Such a bizarre feeling this is. It has the air of being a date but its not. It has the familiarity of a relationship but it can’t be. You feel there is a closeness between us already. An unseen magnetism pulling us together. Something you hadn’t felt since you first met Celine.
As you adjusted the spacing of the cutlery absentmindedly I walked into the dining room with the completed meal. There was something about a man that can cook that really got to you. It was confusing as to why. You didn’t need a man to cook, after all. You could do it yourself if you wanted. But seeing a man in the kitchen working the ingredients like a master painter with brush and oils, it struck a chord with you. “Smells fantastic” you praise immediately.
“Wait until you taste it. Then you’ll really be impressed. ” comes my chuckling reply. Granted it sounds a little boastful, but I knew it would be delicious.
You simply smile and shake your head. I motion you to take your seat at the table and you comply still smiling. “So you asked me before,” I start “about the sort of secrets I keep and why I would keep them.”
I stand with my hands on the back of my chair, leaning over and smirking at you I say “well some things are better left as a mystery” you groan but laugh as well.
“You certainly are mysterious Mr Zale.” You reply. “Even your name is unusual. What sort of name is Zale?”
“What sort of a name is Alcina?”
“It was my great grandmas name. Who are you named for?
“I’m named for no one. Zale is my chosen name.”
“Chosen? You mean you used to have a different name?”
“Ooooh now that’s interesting. Why did you change it. Clearly it wasn’t for religious reasons.” You chuckle to yourself as your brain simultaneously races to figure out what would possess a man to change his name.
“No. Not really. I changed it because my given name didn’t suit me.” I tell you with raw sincerity that scares me. “Geez, that sounded vane.” I groan.
“I see.” You reply. Caught again in the web of confusion and unsure how to proceed. “But of all names….you chose…..Zale?”
I nod as a reply. “It’s from a story my father used to tell me. It seemed far more appropriate than the name they gave me, which was, in the end a name I truly despised.”
You furrow your brow in continued confusion. “Let’s drop it for now but I want to hear that story eventually.” Your eyes twinkle as you smirk at me disarming my defensive posture. “Let’s eat this delicious meal while its still warm.”
I nod in wholehearted agreement still in disbelief of my partial revelation. I had never told anyone why I had needed to change my name. Not even my ex wife. Yet here you were and without very much provocation or interrogation and without the use of waterboarding or truth serum I had simply relaxed enough to begin to share one of my darkest secrets. To open the door a crack and allow you to glimpse the skeletons behind. How confusing. How exhilarating.