She jumped down off the bed and walked slowly towards the bathroom, pulling her white cotton nightgown over her head and casually dropping it to the floor. Deliberately she put a saucy little swing into her hips as sauntered into the bathroom wearing only her flowered cotton panties.
Just as she swung the door to the bathroom closed she caught a brief glimpse of David’s face reflected in the mirror watching her little show. He had one eyebrow arched and a broad smile on his face. Monica was vibrating with nervous energy, her eyes bright and her face flushed. She ran her hairbrush through her hair and looked at her nearly nude body in the mirror. She forced herself to look past the tracery of scars and see the girl underneath. She frowned at her tiny breasts, barely ‘A’ cup. The only reason she wore a bra was convention. There was no need for support. Her nipples were small and the lightest pink.
She turned and looked at her waist and butt; before she lost so much weight she had had a cute little hourglass figure but now she could see her ribs and her hip bones stuck out a little. She had gained back a few pounds under Junie’s watchful eye, but the last couple of days it had been easy to slip back into her old pattern of ignoring her body. She gave herself a firm look in the mirror, resolving to eat more. She grinned as she felt her stomach gurgle as if in agreement with the idea.
For a second she debated wrapping a towel around her body to go out and find some clothes, but she shook her head and whispered to the girl in the mirror, “You took off that nightgown for a reason. Don’t you chicken out on me now.” Taking a deep breath, she put on a braver smile than she felt inside and pulled the door open and walked out into the bedroom. David was standing by the bed, wearing jeans and a clean white undershirt. He was holding her nightgown, gently running it through his fingers.
Monica froze, her brazen smile faltered and slipped from her face. Their eyes met and for an instant their eyes met and the world stood still. David spoke first, he held up the nightgown, “You dropped something.” And when Monica just stood and stared at him, he spoke more softly, “You are so beautiful.”
A prickle of goose bumps spread down her skin and Monica gave an involuntary little shiver. She glanced down at her body and mumbled, “Still am pretty skinny.”
Suddenly feeling awkward, Monica moved to her suitcase and pulled out some clean clothes and quickly pulled them on, “Well, I want to gain some weight. And I am starving. You said you would teach me how to cook grits.”
In the small kitchen he put his arms around her and whispered, “Thank you.”
“For letting me see you. For listening. For loving me anyway. For being so beautiful. For being my wife.”
At that moment Monica’s stomach made a very loud growly gurgle. She giggled, “You are welcome. Here you are being all sweet and romantic and all I can think about is eating breakfast.”
He gave her a little tickle, “Okay, I hear you. Get that image of my sexy wife out of my head and think about feeding her.” He handed her a box, “These are quick grits, as opposed to instant or regular. Regular grits take a long time to cook, instant are… well, instant. I usually buy these kind, they take just few minutes. Read the directions. It is not rocket science. Just keep stirring and don’t get the heat too high. Don’t burn them and lumpy grits are bad grits.”
The little kitchenette was cramped and they found they were frequently in each other’s way, but instead of being irritated, they found that they took advantage of the proximity to touch and lean against each other. David quickly fried some bacon and then used the grease in the pan to cook the eggs. Monica focused on stirring the slowly bubbling white grits. “These look just like cream of wheat. My mom used to cook cream of wheat for breakfast for me sometimes, when I was little.”
“Well grits are made from corn but they don’t really taste all that different.”
The grits tasted a little bland and privately she thought that she would have preferred hash browns. She grinned a little when she watched David put hot sauce on his eggs and the grits. “Do you put hot sauce on everything?”
He took a generous bite of his breakfast and grinned and nodded, “Most everything.”
Monica forced herself to eat a few more bites than she really wanted and drank a tall glass of whole milk. She felt uncomfortably full. “That was good.” She looked out the window. The wind was still blowing but the rain had stopped, blue sky showing between the ragged clouds chasing each other across the sky. “Let’s go for another walk before it starts raining. It will help me digest.” She rubbed her stomach, “I feel like a snake that has swallowed something a little too big.”
David chuckled, “You can’t gain all that weight back in a day, Pretty Girl.” He stood up and picked up their plates and put them in the sink. “Don’t worry about it so much. I would love you, skinny or fat.”
Hand in hand they spent all afternoon walking for miles down the beach, watching the waves for whales, sea birds, and seals. When their legs got tired they would find a quiet lee from the constant wind, Monica huddling close in the warmth of his arms. There were a few moments when the sun actually came out between the clouds and shown down hard enough that Monica could feel its warmth on her cheeks.
After the intensity of their morning, they naturally fell into simpler, lighter talk. David told her stories from his childhood in Louisiana, spending time on his grandparent’s horse ranch. She learned he was the oldest of five children. His father had worked oil fields in Texas, and they had moved frequently. There had been many times that David and his brothers and sisters had been sent back home to Louisiana to stay with their grandparents while his mom worked to find a new place for them to live. Monica could tell that in David’s mind, his grandparent’s horse ranch had been his anchor and he always called it home. His grandfather had been a local sheriff’s deputy and a deacon in the church. His mother had been a school teacher but had given up many jobs as she made a real effort to keep her family together, pulling them up and moving them to follow his father as he moved from one oil field to the next. And then when David had been only eighteen his father had died unexpectedly of a heart attack and they moved back to Louisiana for the last time.
He had known Irene his whole life. She had actually been a remote third or fourth cousin, and they had gone to the same church. Shortly after being married, David had joined the army and had been trained to become a military policeman. After being an MP it seemed natural to continue his education in law enforcement after he was discharged. He worked part time as a deputy in the local sheriff’s department and took night classes. He was recruited to join the FBI while he was still finishing his degree.
Monica drank in the stories of his large and closely knit family. It was an unfamiliar world filled with Aunts and Uncles, dozens of cousins, and innumerable more distant relatives. Somehow the loss of his father, while obviously a significant tragedy in his life, was buffered by the large and loving family that came together and naturally took care of their own. She had been an only child, the accidental result of an anonymous one night stand. Her mother had been a foster child and there had never been any relatives and few friends.
Monica had filled her pockets with treasures by the time they had made it back to the long stair that led up to their hotel. She sat down on the lowest step and hugged her knees up to her chest. She pulled out a handful of rocks and was looking at them, “I never had any family. I will never remember all those names.”
“It will be fine. They will be a little surprised at our age differences, but I know they will accept you just fine. I will get a lot of teasing from my cousins about this, but they will be sweet with you. To tell you the truth, I always got the ‘when are you going to find a good woman and get married again’ lecture from my sisters. They were constantly inviting ‘really nice ladies’ over for dinner when I was in town. This certainly has shut them up. I imagine that the whole family is buzzing with questions at the moment.”
Monica froze, “You told them?”
“Of course, it’s a family kind of thing to do, Pretty Girl. I called my sister, Susan, the day we were married. She is the second oldest after me and has kind of taken over as matriarch. She gave me hell about ‘eloping’ as she calls it.”
“What did you tell her about me?”
“I told her I had met a beautiful woman named Monica and fallen in love. I said that we had gotten married and that we were on our honeymoon and that we would come visit once we figured out exactly when that would be. I told her I was retiring from the FBI and that we did not have any specific plans beyond taking our time and having a wonderful honeymoon.”
“She didn’t ask about me?”
“Of course, she tried to find out everything about you, but I just told her she would have to wait and ask you those kind of questions. I did tell her that you had not been married before and that you didn’t have any children. She was most interested to find out if you were a good Catholic girl and came from a good family.”
David laughed and put his arm around her, “You are not the first non-Catholic girl a guy has brought home to the family. I have kind of stopped worrying about what religion it is. It seemed to me that god was there no matter where I looked for him. I got into the habit of going to lots of different churches as I traveled with the agency. Speaking of which, it will be Sunday day after tomorrow so we should look around and find a local church.”
Monica looked a little shy, “Um… okay.” She and David had spoken many times about her beliefs. He had never pushed her to change but had seemed interested in hearing what her thoughts and feelings on the subject were. Her mother had sent her to Sunday School when she was little and had made her say her prayers at bedtime but after she had gotten to be a teenager she had stopped attending church. She believed in God but beyond that she was confused and had a lot of questions. The idea of going to a church filled with strangers seemed a little intimidating.
“You don’t have to come if you don’t want to, but it is a habit I plan to continue. It would make me happy if you would come with me.”
“Could I buy a dress to wear?”
“Of course, but you will find that most churches are open to anyone and will welcome you.” He chuckled, “But you are right, I usually put on my work suit to attend. It just felt respectful.” David shaded his eyes and looked at the sky, stood up, and held out his hand, “Looks like the rain is coming back. Let’s head inside before we get soaked again.”