I returned to college a few days later while Clair, applying for resident alien status, got a new job at a pharmacy a short walk from my house.
We got off work on American Thanksgiving -- our joke. And it was now useless keeping our status as cohabitants secret from my relatives. She toned down her usual abruptness and was a perfect host -- though a few older relatives were not pleased with either her going braless and even more so by her violet hair. A twelve year old cousin who was taking French in school started talking to her in French. Later, she said she was trying to speak proper Continental French as she'd heard that American French language teachers often did not view the Quebec version as real French, "a vulgar corruption," they would remark, with a appropriately faux-Parisian sneer.
I made the turkey while Clair made the gravy and several relatives brought all the traditional side dishes. I never liked sweet potatoes but the mashed potatoes, stuffing, and canned cranberry sauce were all good. I got complimented for the bird, which was gratifying. They stayed to around five and the sunset, even showing an acceptance of Clair.
"So it's the Holiday Season," Clair said. "Can't wait to start Christmas shopping." Yes, I realized Clair did not need to work, but seemed to have nervous energy that always needed channeling. Besides, a pharmacy is a great place for picking up small, secondary gifts.
Thanksgiving proved her wealth was never a concern to me, something she found as a pleasant surprise. Among our Thanksgiving guests were a wide range of people, from a well-off factory owner to a few barely getting by on public assistance. Most were very casual, laid back ones and only a couple of the older relatives who were fussier.. But it was rarely a class thing. We viewed and treated each other respectfully -- even the one cousin who could quote from his copy of Chairman Mao's "little red book" to one who had a copy of the John Birch Society's "Blue Book" in his desk drawer.
Every so often, I'd notice Clair in a mischievous mood, especially after coming home from work. She smiled when I asked about it. "Did you hear about the church up the street got broken into?"
"No," I said, shaking my head.
"Not a lot stolen, just a few candles and few small Bibles. Today the pastor was in the store and bought a padlock," she said reaching into her pocket, pulling out a key. "And I have the spare. Need to get it back in the morning when the pastor notices."
"Where?" I asked, figuring out her intentions.
The padlocked door was on the side, conveniently unlit for the would-be thieves. That led to the altar boy's changing room. "Ooh," I like this, "Clair said, changing into a lacy vestment, meant for a shorter wearer. On her, it reached just slightly below her butt. I led my busty altar boy to an old fashioned confessional.
"So, anything to confess to?" I asked, opening the center gate.
"In a while," she replied, smiling.
"So this is sacrilege?" I asked, her religious education lasting several years longer than mine.
"Oh god, yes!" she replied, maybe a bit more enraptured than she actually was. It did not matter. It happened, and it was great.
We dressed and returned home. The priest came to the store the next day asking if the padlock didn't come with two keys, thinking he'd dropped it when opening the package. Meanwhile, I checked out a liturgical clothing website for the vestment which was called a surplice, and that would be one of the things waiting for Clair under the tree come Christmas morning.
On Christmas Eve, we walked down to the church for midnight mass, at the Pastor's invitation. The organist was playing some religious Christmas songs. And when the mass started, both Clair and I looked at that confessional and then up at the priest. However, during the sermon (or Homily) he pointed to Clair and motioned for her to stand up. "And I'd like to thank Slate Drugs, and their employee Miss Forsche for the padlock and finding the lost key. We will be installing an alarm system and outdoor lighting early next year. We were considering leaving the doors unlocked, but one of the altar boys complained that his vestment had been stretched out andx..." he stopped and shook his head. "Such reports do not make me come off looking very good."
As we walked out, I looked up at the pipe organ playing "Joy To The World".
"Intimidated?" Clair asked. "Those thirty-two foot pipes really get to you."
"Is that what they are?" I asked, always amazed by her vast knowledge. I maybe book smart, but did not have her range of experiences.
"That's how wind instruments work," she said. "The longer the pipe, the lower the tone. I can probably reach a lower note than you, due to being taller. But as you never studied musicx..."
"Musician," I said, making a list of her various professions, "model, actress, stunts, body double, porn star, waitress, pharmacy worker. Any I've missed?"
"Painter," she said, trying to remember, "Oils mostly. Sold weed for a few months. Stripper -- hated it Sex toy store -- loved it." Then she smiled. "Oh, and worked in a hair removal salon. Learned a few tricks of the trade there."
"Any thoughts of a career?"
"I can afford to be lazy for a decade or two. Maybe travel. Of course," she said, rubbing my shoulders, "I'd need a travel companion."
"Where to?" I asked, answering her.
"Complicated time. The holidays are upon us. I'll need to recharge my hair soon. Maybe a cruise. Stay in our room all day, have room service bring our meals."
"You're that self-concious about people seeing you with a bald head?" I asked, surprised by her sudden concern over her appearance.
"A tourist is supposed to blend in with the locals," she replied. I will wear a wig going out, but avoid crowds looking like an alien princess. When I shave my head, I do a good job -- no stubble. Smooth and shiny."
"Can I buff?" I asked, remembering the laborious paste wax shine my grandfather insisted on for his car.
Christmas Day was a quiet, pleasant day. In addition to the surplice, I got her a small hydroponic garden for growing tea herbs. She got me a wooden alto recorder and a digital SLR camera. "Intend on a little modeling?" I asked, smiling.
"I'm trying to help bring out more of your creative side," she said, chopping potatoes into French fries. After a non-traditional (or new traditional) meal of poutine, we settled down for coffee and bakeries, petit fours and pumpkin pie.
As the sun was setting, she came down from the bedroom wearing the surplice and a pair of red leggings. "Let's go look at lights," she said, grabbing her jacket. So we drove around from street to street looking at the displays of colored lights. And while the elaborate displays were the more impressive, I realized for the first time that even a simple, single row of lights was the product of a lot of work. And so much love.
I thought about my first marriage. We were two kids far too young to marry and ended in a subtly vindictive divorce. Then I looked at Clair, so entirely different than me but so very much like me. Early in her forties and still energetic and adventuresome -- and able to bring out those traits in me. Yes, some things do improve with age.
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