Major Arcana: sex, love, and Tarot

By FionnaGuillaume All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Erotica

Chapter 3: The Hanged Man

As the week went on Rosemary realized two things. First, picking one Tarot card a day was way too ambitious; she didn’t have the consistency for that. It was already Friday and she’d only managed to draw one more card. (The problem was she had to do it in the morning, in order to keep the card in her head all day. And, not being a morning person, she just forgot most of the time.) Given her pattern of flakiness, Rosemary figured this 22-card meditation would take closer to three or four months, instead of one.

Second – Fabricio was totally serious about wanting to hang out again. He’d sent several texts inviting her to various artsy events, and Rosemary had been both bummed and relieved that they were during work hours. However, when he suggested that they go to the new exhibit at the SAM on Saturday – Impressionist masterpieces on loan from New York – she couldn’t say no.

“Let’s get lunch afterwards?” he texted.

“Sure.” It was a lame response, but she didn’t want to encourage him. Except, she kind of did… this whole thing with Fabricio was confusing. Especially since Josh was also expressing interest. He’d messaged her a couple times, just letting her know he was looking forward to their date. When she checked her phone at work that day, he’d messaged: “Can’t wait for tonight. See you at Black Velvet, 6pm. I’ll be there early, waiting impatiently for you…”

Meanwhile, Rosemary had received several other messages from guys on the dating website. Thyme had been right – this was definitely a way to meet people! Josh had come right out and said he’d like to meet in person, which made sense to Rosemary. Most of the other guys were content to message back and forth. Only one had gone so far as to suggest they meet, and Rosemary told him she’d think about it. After all, she’d only been single for a week and already she had one date and one sort-of-date lined up; that was plenty.

At 4:50 Latysha came in, her replacement for the evening. Rosemary was just finishing a kid’s diaper. She tossed the dirty one in the garbage, washed her hands, and smiled ruefully.

“Man, sometimes I think we should get hazard pay. That was a stinker!”

“Damn right,” Latysha said. “Oops – pardon my French.”

Rosemary giggled. “That’s the good thing about the toddler room. They don’t understand swearing yet! Just watch out when you’re with those 2’s and preschoolers. Seems like the first words they memorize are the dirty ones.”

Latysha laughed too, signed in, and started organizing a bucketful of toys.

“You got plans for tonight?”

“Actually, yeah. Got a date.”

“A date? Girl, why didn’t you tell me about it? Who’s the guy?”

“His name’s Josh. We met online, so this is our first, like, actual meeting.”

“Um hm. Well, you be careful, y’hear? Have a good time, though!”

“I will, Latysha. Thanks.”

“He try anything ungentlemanlike, you give me a call, ’kay?”

“Oh, if I tell him you’re coming, he’ll run for the hills! Your stink-eye is like nobody else’s. Wish I had that talent.”

“I know it. Okay, bye Rosemary. Have fun. See ya Monday.”

“You too. Have a good weekend!”

After clocking out, Rosemary stopped by the bathroom to change. She left her jeans on, but stripped off her boring work shirt – a simple tee with the daycare’s name and logo printed on it. In her purse she’d packed a pretty black top, scoop neck with flirty, fluttery sleeves and a keyhole cutout in the back. It wasn’t sexy, necessarily, but it was flattering, and obviously made for a night on the town. Not that we’re even really going out, she thought. It’s just a drink.

It was a nice, clear evening, bright and cloudless for a Seattle spring. Though she could have bused, Rosemary decided to walk to 3rd and Pine, where Black Velvet was. She’d rechecked the directions on her phone, so she knew the route. As she walked, she drew out the Tarot card from her purse and looked at it. This one confused the hell out of her. The Hanged Man. It showed a man hanging upside down, a rope around one foot. The other leg was bent at an angle, like the number 4. His arms were behind his back, but impossible to tell if they were tied, or if he was just holding them that way. Although the image should have shocked or frightened her, it didn’t, because the man was smiling. He looked perfectly happy to be swinging there from one foot. It was certainly a weird card. She’d had it in her pocket since Thursday, and could make neither heads nor tails of it. What is this hanged man trying to tell me?

Black Velvet was a hip-looking place, lots of glass and chrome. Sure enough, inside it felt dark and luxurious – velvety, is how she would describe it. Shrugging off her sweater and draping it over her arm, she looked around, feeling nervous. Would he be waiting for her at the bar? That’s what he had implied. Will I recognize him? God, how embarrassing, if I don’t! Or if he doesn’t show up… Butterflies careened around her belly. She definitely had the first-date jitters. More like first meet-up jitters!

She made her way shyly over to the bar, scanning the crowd for a face that looked similar to Josh’s profile photo. In fact, she was so intent on finding him it was a shock to feel someone’s hand on her elbow.

“Rose?” said a slow, sexy voice. She squeaked, spun around, and found herself staring at a remarkably handsome face. Blond, smiling, all-American-looking… just like his picture. Unable to speak, she nodded.

“It’s Josh.” He let go of her elbow and held out his hand to shake. His grip was forceful, but brief. He captivated her with that blazing smile.

“Thanks so much for agreeing to meet me,” he said. “I know a lot of girls would rather chat and stuff online, but I feel like that’s a waste of time. I mean, we’re only online so we can meet people in real life, right? So why not cut to the chase?”

“Oh, for sure,” she said, having recovered somewhat.

“Anyway, I appreciate you trusting me enough to come get a drink. I’m buying.”

“No, really, I’d like to pay my share!”

“I insist, though,” he said, turning up the charm even more. As if that were possible. “I invited you, so it’s my treat. Plus, isn’t every night I get to have drinks with such a pretty lady.”

He put one hand in the small of her back, guiding her toward a pair of barstools. Rosemary practically felt his eyes sliding over her body, assessing her. She got the distinct feeling that he liked what he saw.

“Your profile picture doesn’t do you justice,” he added, holding out the chair for her.

“Thanks.”

Josh leaped up onto his barstool and beckoned for the bartender.

“Cocktail menus,” he said, and the waiter brought them over. Rosemary used the time to gather her thoughts. Josh, apparently, was using his to check her out, in the guise of looking over his menu.

“What’re you having?” the bartender asked, coming over to them again.

“An Old Fashioned, for me. And for the lady…?”

“I’ll have a gin and tonic, thanks.”

The waiter collected their menus and went off, leaving them alone. Well, Rosemary amended, as alone as we can be in a crowded bar. Their drinks arrived and they clicked them together. Josh kept smiling at her over the rim of his glass. That smile could sell ice to Eskimos, she thought, borrowing her grandparents’ old phrase.

“So, Rose, tell me more about yourself. What do you do?”

That launched them into typical first-date conversation. Rosemary talked about her job at the daycare, revealed that she was a Seattleite born and raised, and shared a little about her love of art. Josh revealed that he was a techie, worked for Amazon, and had moved to Seattle two years ago from Illinois. Sending out feelers, getting to know one another. By the end of it, Rosemary felt much more comfortable with him. Of course, two gin and tonics helped.

“You are quite a lady!” he exclaimed, as she wrapped up another hilarious work story of crazy toddlers. “Those kids are a handful.”

“Yeah, but I like it. There’s an innocence about them, a sense of endless possibility. Keeps me sane when everything else is nuts.”

“So what does an art lover like you do for fun?”

“You mean, art fun?”

“Yeah. Do you paint? Draw? Whatever?”

“Both, when I have the time. And the inspiration.”

He leaned in conspiratorially, fixing her with those bold baby blues. “Ever do, like, naked people? Nudes?”

Rosemary felt herself blush. “Sometimes. But I do my art at home, and for nudes you need to take the studio course. I haven’t done figure drawing in a long time.”

He leaned back with a lazy smile. “Well I’d totally model for you. Anytime. Just say the word.”

Now Rosemary saw where he was going, so she laughed with relief. Just a fun flirtation, not kinky misunderstanding. That had happened before, when people learned she was a artist. They didn’t realize that when she looked at a nude, she saw a work of art – not a sexualized human body. Still, the thought of him naked was stirring… the image came of him, lounging on her bed, pinning her with that bright smile. From what she could deduce through his work clothes, Josh had a nice body. Lean, but fairly muscular. He’d make a good model, but Rosemary wasn’t interested in him for the art. Her pulse quickened as her mind slipped off into erotic imaginings. His chuckle brought her back to reality, and she hurried to give him a cool smile.

“Thanks, Josh. I’ll keep that in mind.”

Her second drink was done, it was nearly 7:30, and Rosemary needed to get home. She had a late dinner of leftover pizza to heat up. Sensing her hurry, Josh threw back the rest of his cocktail, stood, and held out her sweater for her.

“Can I offer you a ride home?” he asked.

Rosemary was tempted. She almost said yes, but a scrap of caution reminded her that wasn’t a good idea. Not yet.

“No thanks. My bus stop is really close. Appreciate the offer, though.”

As they walked toward the bar entrance, Josh laid his hand lightly on her lower back. He paused outside the door, looking down at her. Rosemary felt a momentary panic. He isn’t going to try and kiss me, is he?! To her relief, he just smiled.

“I really had a great time tonight with you, Rose. Would you go out with me again?”

“Sure. I had a good time too.”

“Would it be too bold of me to ask for your number?”

Rosemary gave it, reflecting on how she’d never given her number to two guys in the same week before. With men, it seemed to be either flood or famine. She watched Josh carefully type the name Rose into his phone, and felt momentarily guilty for not telling him her real name. Still, for some reason she liked that distance. For now.

“So I’ll text you later? Maybe we can do dinner sometime midweek?”

“That would be nice.”

There was a somewhat awkward pause. Josh was looking at her like a cat watching a bird through the window. Rosemary could practically see the gears turning in his head. This is getting tense. Like, sexually charged. Time to go, before I do something stupid.

“I really want to kiss you,” Josh said at last. “I know it’s too soon, but I really do. You are so gorgeous.”

Flattery had always worked on Rosemary. She knew it was silly, but she liked it. Josh’s confession brought out her confidence. And her flirtatious side.

“On the cheek,” she said, leaning in, glancing at him over her little closed-mouthed smile like Scarlett O’Hara with one of her beaus.

His hands went around her arms, holding her firmly as he leaned in. She closed her eyes as his lips pressed against her cheek. Of course you couldn’t tell if a guy was a good kisser or not, just from a peck on the cheek. But Josh’s intensity seemed to burn through her skin, leaving searing heat in his wake. Rosemary would put money on him being a damn good kisser.

“See you soon,” he murmured, just as he pulled away.

“Bye.”

She felt his eyes following as she walked away. Rosemary made sure to give her hips an extra swish, knowing he was watching. As first meet-ups go, that was pretty successful, she thought. I mean, he is definitely hot. And seems to think I’m pretty, so there’s one thing going for him. Got to get to know him better, though, before figuring out anything of substance. I’m going to broach it early, this time. Don’t want to end up in the same situation as with Jason. But Josh is pretty damn cute… maybe just a little making out before I start getting serious…


Rosemary was happily snuggled in bed, her hand between her legs, indulging in one of her favorite little fantasies: a crew of sex-crazed pirates, all totally focused on bringing her to orgasm, since the captain – himself a tall, dark, bedroom-eyed cavalier – was waiting impatiently for her to come before stuffing his rock-hard erection inside… but right as she was getting to the good part, her phone alarm started blaring.

“What?” she mumbled, groggy and frustrated, as she picked up the phone. Ten o’clock. “Shit! The SAM! I told Fabricio we’d meet at ten. Shit…”

Leaping out of bed, she struggled into a pair of pants and threw on her cleanest sweatshirt, even as she fumbled with her phone to dial Fabricio’s number. It didn’t even register that she’d never called him before; until now they’d communicated exclusively by text.

“Hey,” he answered, his voice smooth and rich through the phone.

“Fabricio! I’m so sorry! I’m running late. Be leaving my house in ten minutes, but probably I’ll just make the 10:23 bus. I’m sorry!” she gasped, befuddled by the strange combination of embarrassment, shame at forgetting their morning plan, and the aftereffects of her almost-orgasm.

“It’s okay,” Fabricio said. His words were cradled in a laugh. “I can wait. No problem. I’ll just grab a coffee or something.”

“Thank you. See you soon!”

As she hung up Rosemary realized that had been her first time actually initiating conversation with Fabricio. That made her feel kind of bad. He was a nice guy; she shouldn’t be making him do all the work. On the other hand, this wasn’t really a date, was it?

The bus came seven minutes late, exacerbating her distress. When she finally got to the SAM it was almost eleven. She texted Fabricio to let him know she’d made it – finally – and stood at the foot of the museum steps, waiting. Nearby stood the famous moving sculpture: a Seattle icon, the Hammering Man. His huge black silhouette took over her view, and she smiled as she watched his arm raise the hammer, then lower it, slowly and rhythmically as ever. She’d always loved this sculpture. It meant she was about to enter her favorite museum.

“Hey,” came a voice beside her. Rosemary turned, glanced down, and there was Fabricio. He was holding a Starbucks cup and smiling.

“Hi,” she said. A pang of guilt overcame her then, thinking of him waiting for her here, then going off to get a coffee, just to kill time. “Wow, I’m really sorry I was late.”

“No worries, really,” he waved the coffee cup emphatically. “I got a latte, I got my Kindle with some new books, so I’m good.”

He took a final sip, wheeled over to a nearby trash can, and chucked the cup inside. Rosemary watched him, finding herself wondering how it would be to do everything seated in a chair. I’m so used to just going wherever I want, anytime. It would be so different, to have to worry about whether there are stairs, or if there’ll be an elevator. How must that change your worldview?

“So, Impressionists?” he said. She nodded. Fabricio jerked his head to the side. “Accessible entrance’s over here.”

“Oh, of course.” Idiot! Why didn’t you wait by the wheelchair entrance, instead of the freaking staircase? Smiling to cover up her faux pas, Rosemary followed his lead around the side of the building to the ramp. It took them round to a different set of doors, and only after some convoluted turnings of the ramp. Determined to be more thoughtful, Rosemary rushed forward to hold open the door for him, only to have them swoosh open on their own. Automatic doors. Duh. Seeing her intention, though, Fabricio gave her a crooked smile.

“Thanks,” he said.

Rosemary felt so embarrassed she couldn’t say anything. She hated feeling this way, hated that she was treating him differently – thinking about him differently – just because he was in a wheelchair. She didn’t want that to make a difference. But it did. And she detested herself for that.

Both being members, they entered the museum, checked in, and had free access to all the exhibits. Fabricio led her over to the elevators which, Rosemary realized, she’d never known were there. She’d always just gone straight to the escalator.

“How can I have come to this museum so many times, and never found the elevator?” she said, surprised.

Fabricio chuckled. She glanced down, still feeling shy, to find his eyes sparkling at her.

“Just one of the many wonders you’ll discover while hanging out with me,” he drawled, and it was such a goofy way to say it, she couldn’t help laughing. He’s a funny guy, she thought, as the elevator dinged and they maneuvered their way inside.

The “Masters of Impressionism” exhibit was on the second floor, and already crowded with visitors. It wasn’t often that the good citizens of Seattle got a chance to see Monet, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Degas, Renoir, and company, all in the same room. Rosemary usually found her appreciation of art limited when she had to fight for elbow room. Today, however, she noticed people giving her a wider berth. It took a while to figure out why, but at last it dawned on her that people weren’t giving her more space, but rather giving it to Fabricio. He wasn’t pushy about it, but in wheeling his way closer to each painting, other people automatically backed off. Rosemary knew how they felt: nervous about doing the wrong thing, wanting to be sensitive and respectful, but not obvious about it. An uncomfortable feeling she’d been intimate with lately.

They didn’t talk much at the exhibit, except about the art. Rosemary never ceased to be amazed at the French masters’ use of color: the slightest change in tone could transform a mess of pastel pinks into a sunset shy. Fabricio commented on Van Gogh’s use of texture, how he admired the hidden technique in his work. As they wound their way through the collection, Rosemary found him a thoughtful and interesting companion. An art historian through and through, he often interjected a little snippet of story – where the artist was living at the time; what was going on socially when he painted a certain piece; who commissioned it – that enriched her own appreciation. At the end of the visit, Rosemary realized she’d rarely enjoyed a special exhibit so much. It was like having her own private museum guide.

“You’re an expert on art history, you know,” she said in admiration. They had left the gallery and were heading back to the elevator.

“Well I hope so. That’s what I’m paying the UW for!” Fabricio said with a grin. After a pause, he added, “I’m looking into doctoral programs for next year. My dream is to become a professor. So, you know, I’ve got a good five years ahead of me working on a PhD, then a Post-Doc or assistant professorship somewhere, and maybe, if I’m lucky, by age 40 I can finally be: Dr. Fabricio James Pablo O’Conner, PhD, Doctor of Art History!”

His tone of voice was so funny, Rosemary giggled. She had to admit, he had a great sense of humor. And knew tons about art. And was interesting. And, well, handsome…

“Fabricio James Pablo O’Conner? Really?”

“Yeah. Mom’s Mexican; Dad’s, like, super-Irish. It was a compromise.”

“Any brothers or sisters?” she asked.

“Are you kidding? Catholic family like mine? There’s six of us: Juan, Henry, Mary, me, Patrick, and Sofia.”

“They took turns naming you guys, huh?”

Fabricio’s laugh was contagious. “Yeah, more or less. But when Mom’s mad she uses all our names, so it pretty much evens out. They all live in Yakima still, except for Juan. He’s the only one who left the state for work. Plus, Pat and Sofia are still in high school.”

“You grew up in Yakima?”

“Yup. The Palm Springs of Washington,” he said, with a wry chuckle.

The elevator took them back down to the ground floor, where they headed for the museum café. It was lunchtime, and busy, but the helpful waiter found them a corner table right away. He discreetly removed one of the chairs and set it aside so Fabricio could bring his wheelchair up to the table.

“How about you?” Fabricio asked. “Any siblings?”

“We’re four. My oldest sister, Parsley, works here in Seattle still, though they live in Shoreline. Sage is a corporate lawyer in New York. Thyme and I are twins. He lives in Capitol Hill, so we get together a lot.”

“Wait…”

Rosemary could practically see his brain working, putting all the pieces together.

“Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme… like,” and here he started to sing the tune, showing off a surprisingly good voice, “Are you going to Scarborough fair?”

“Yeah,” Rosemary said, smiling again. “Mom loves that song.”

“Did she plan to have four kids, just to name them that?”

“I don’t think Mom planned anything in her life, ever,” Rosemary said with a snort of laughter. “She’s just a character, that’s all.”

The waiter brought their sandwiches, refilled their waters, and left.

“Wow,” Fabricio said, grinning. “Now I have to hear more. Tell me about them.”

“Well, Parsley works as an assistant herbalist at Triple Goddess. Making tinctures, mixing teas, ordering fresh herbs, that kind of thing. She’s, like, totally New Age and stuff. Sage went way the other direction: law school, highly motivated, moved to New York, has tons of money, and doesn’t ever want to hear the song ‘Kumbaya’ again.”

Fabricio burst out laughing. “Can’t say I blame her.”

“Thyme works in the gay entertainment industry, whatever that means. Seems to change day by day. Sometimes he’s bartending, sometimes event planning, and God knows what else. Probably I don’t want to know.”

“And you?”

“I work at a daycare. Pays the bills.” She shrugged. “I do my art, too, when I find the time. Not as consistently as I’d like, though.”

Fabricio nodded as if he understood.

“It’s hard to stay on top of projects, with so much life going on,” he said. “But it’s important. That’s your soul’s work, and you shouldn’t neglect it.”

She nodded, impressed at his wisdom. Art was her soul’s work, though she’d never thought of it that way. Daycare work put food on the table, but it didn’t satisfy her yearning for creation. Only art did that.

“What about your family?” she said. “Are they all art historians, like you?”

“Hardly,” he said, laughing again. Rosemary liked the way he laughed, and how often he did. Fabricio had the unique quality of laughter even while remaining serious. I could get used to that.

He launched into a hilarious description of his family. The younger siblings, Patrick and Sofia, were junior and sophomore in high school. Mary was married, working as a hair stylist. Henry had taken on the unspoken role of their dad’s replacement in the family business, an auto repair shop. And the oldest, Juan, had moved to California, where he worked in construction management. Though he didn’t say it, Fabricio was clearly the intellectual one of the bunch. Rosemary wondered if it was due, in part, to his disability keeping him out of typical boyish pursuits like sports and shop classes.

“Yeah, they’re all great, in their way,” he concluded. “I kind of ended up the black sheep, but every family has one of those. They don’t really get what I love so much about art, but they support me in it. And that’s okay.”

“Will the youngest two go to college, like you?”

“Sofia might. She’s the smartest one of us all. 4.0 GPA, can you believe it?”

“Wow. That’s impressive! I don’t think I got an A in any class, ever.”

“Even your art classes?”

“Well, might have gotten one or two there. I forget. School was never my strong point, unfortunately.”

“Is that why you never went back to get your fine art degree?”

“I guess so. I dunno. Probably it was because of the money. I took a look at the cost of a four-year degree and chickened out.”

“Yeah, student loans are scary. I see it as an investment, though. They’ll get paid off when I get where I mean to go. The good part is, the loans I’ve got don’t get called in until after I graduate. And since I plan to stay in academia forever, maybe I can just eternally defer them.”

Rosemary smiled at that. He had a point; if only the government worked that way.

“Good luck with that,” she said wryly.

The waiter brought their bill, and though Fabricio reached for it Rosemary quickly snatched it up.

“Oh, no,” she said. “I’m getting lunch. I kept you waiting for an hour this morning, remember?”

“Yeah, but I don’t mind. Come on, hand me the bill.”

“No way. Plus, you’re a poor college student.”

“Not as poor as all that,” he retorted. But, with a sigh, he opened his hands in a gesture of resignation. “Still, I suppose you can get this one. Next time I’ll take you out somewhere really nice.”

That gave Rosemary pause. Had he thought this was an actual date? Well, wasn’t it? She didn’t know, and distraction made her clumsy. When digging through her purse for her wallet, she lost her grip and the thing escaped, landing upside-down on the floor.

“Oh!” she cried.

“I’ve got it,” Fabricio said quickly. Before she could protest, he was leaning down, scooping up her bag and dumping the contents back inside. He found her wallet and handed it over. The waiter came by, casting a dirty look in Rosemary’s direction. She flushed, embarrassed that the waiter saw the guy in the wheelchair doing all the work, while she just sat there watching. She slid her credit card onto the bill and handed it over, hoping the judgmental server would disappear. Maybe he’s not being judgmental, she thought then. Maybe I’m just putting my own inner feelings onto him. That’s some weird psychological shit.

Fabricio had most of her bag on his lap now. Bending again, he picked up the last piece and held it up, looking at it curiously. Rosemary gasped when she realized it was the Tarot card.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“It’s, um, a card.”

“Well, yeah, I can see that. A Tarot card, right?”

“The Hanged Man.”

“Do you just carry Tarot cards around in your bag? Or just this one in particular? And why this one?”

Violently embarrassed, Rosemary decided she might as well spill it.

“It’s this thing Parsley convinced me to do. Like, a daily meditation with the Tarot. A ‘journey of self discovery,’ she called it. I’m supposed to choose a card each morning and let its energy guide me through the day, then reflect on it each night, see what it taught me. I haven’t been doing a very good job keeping up with it, though.”

Fabricio turned the card over in his hand, looking at it upright and upside-down, forward and backward. He laid it on the table in front of him.

“So, what’s this one supposed to tell you?”

“I have no idea. It’s totally confusing me. Like, he’s hanging from his foot, right? So he should be really upset about it. This should be a dark, scary card. But it’s not. See – he’s smiling.”

Fabricio tapped the card thoughtfully. The waiter returned with Rosemary’s bill. She signed the receipt and slipped the debit card back into her wallet. Fabricio didn’t say anything for a while. He seemed lost in thought.

“I know how he feels,” he said abruptly.

“Really?”

“Yeah. He’s tied to this branch, sure, so he can’t walk or move his feet. But his arms are free, his torso is strong. He’s smiling. He’s okay with hanging there, because he’s not thinking about how he’s limited – he’s thinking about how he’s capable. Probably even enjoying his unique perspective, seeing things other people don’t. Maybe he even chose to be there.”

He looked up, and their eyes met. Rosemary knew her mouth must be hanging open. Somehow, with no background in Tarot whatsoever, he’d captured the essence of the card. He held her gaze as he extended the card to her across the table. It was a long, intimate look, and for a moment she felt herself falling into his dark and soulful eyes. Then she reached for the card, took it, and gave The Hanged Man a good look-over. Now that he’d mentioned it, she definitely saw what Fabricio was saying.

“Wow,” she breathed. “I think you’re right.”

“Well, I should be. This hanged man and me, we’re kindred spirits.” Fabricio’s mouth twitched into a grin. “I mean, neither of us are getting any use out of our legs. They’re just for decoration. But I guarantee, if he wanted out of that rope, he could just haul himself up and untie it.”

“Could you do that?” she asked, amazed that someone could have that amount of strength in their core and arms. She’d barely been able to manage a chin-up in high school.

“Sure. Have done plenty similar stuff at the gym.” Seeing her surprise, he added, “I’m pretty lucky, as paraplegics go. I’ve got what they call incomplete SCI. Basically that means things work more or less the way they should, except for the legs. Just luck of the draw. My buddy, Ian, he’s got complete SCI, so things are a lot more complicated for him.”

“Wow. I guess I never knew any of that.”

He shrugged. “You wouldn’t, unless you’d gone out of your way to learn about it.”

His look was frank, totally unselfconscious, holding her eyes with an easy, steady gaze. Rosemary had to admire that, his comfort in talking about his disability. As he’d said at their last meeting, it got the elephant out of the room. Leaving space for other jungle animals … and currently the tiger in the room was on Rosemary’s mind. So when he says things work more or less the way they should, is he implying what I think he is…? She was desperately curious, but too shy to come out and ask. Plus, if she were to inquire about his sex life that would definitely translate as a come-on. Rosemary wasn’t sure if she wanted to go there yet, or at all. Girl, you need to remember, this guy is WAY too young for you, everything else aside. If only he wasn’t so damn attractive.

“It was great hanging out with you today,” he said, pulling her sharply out of her thoughts.

“Oh, uh, me too. Thanks for inviting me to the Impressionists.”

“Thursday’s the museum’s late night. I know you work, but would you consider maybe joining me for a little art and dinner after work?”

“Um, oh, well…” she didn’t know how to tell him that, sometime this week, she had a dinner planned with Josh. Not that theirs was an exclusive dating relationship. Or, for that matter, any kind of relationship. Gathering her courage, she decided to clear it up, right now, before she chickened out again. “Listen, Fabricio, you’re a really cool guy. But is this, like, a date?”

His smile deflated just a little bit, but seemed to recover as he shrugged.

“If you want it to be, I guess. No pressure. I mean, I’d love to go on a date with you. You’re smart, you’re funny, you’ve got this amazing spirit, you love art… you’re pretty much my dream woman, okay?” He laughed, cutting the intensity of the moment with humor. “But I get it if you don’t want to date right now. Can we just call it hanging out? With a fellow art geek?”

Rosemary felt her pulse quicken as he complimented her. The way he spoke, and the expression on his face, told her it was sincere. At that moment she realized the distinct difference between the first-date conversations she’d had with Josh, and now with Fabricio. Josh had only exchanged surface information with her, while she’d really spilled intimate information to Fabricio. He knew about her family, and her passion for art. She knew about his, too. The difference was that he’d asked. And then, listened.

Of course, now the ball was in her court. Damn. What should I say? Do I want to date this guy? Do I want to tell him I’m dating kind-of-dating somebody else, too? This is way too complicated, all of a sudden. On the other hand, he’s given me the perfect out.

“Sure, Fabricio. That sounds great. I’m down for art geek hangout time.”

If he was disappointed, he didn’t show it. All he said was, “Awesome.”

Safe – at least until I figure out what’s happening between us. Or, rather, decide if I want anything to happen…

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