“Elle, is this okay?” Louis asked his wife a bit breathlessly.
Elle looked up languidly from her copy of VOGUE. “Is what okay, darling?”
“The campsite,” he said, gesturing with a hand to the scene behind him.
She lowered her reading glasses and glanced at the campsite. “I think I need to inspect it, but first could you do me one favor?” she said. “Look at this feature. Do you think I’d look good in one of these outfits?” She proffered the page, a magazine spread with the headline, IS TARTAN THE NEW HOUNDSTOOTH? The picture showed a towering sticklike blonde model pouting prettily in a belted checked greatcoat with attached cloak and 4-inch checked ankle boots. It looked like very hot soft-core porn for the Sherlock Holmes-fetish subculture.
Louis had only been married a few years, but he had learned one of life’s most important lessons—to wit, that even if his wife were not a powerful hypnotist and dominant, her question “Would I look good in this?” had only two survivable answers—“Oh, yes, you’d look great!” or (as he said now)—“You’d look great—but you might want a different color—”
She fixed him with a half-amused, half-fond glance. “Louis, my love, you are a terrible liar. If I were to put on this outfit, I’d need a lighted bubble on my head saying TAXI.” She put the magazine aside, stood, and gave her husband a small kiss on the cheek. “Shall we inspect the campsite?”
Louis was wondering why Elle was bothering looking at any other outfit when her clothes at the moment would fulfill any sane paramilitary fantasy—form-fitting grey cotton hiking trousers bloused into brown ankle-height hiking boots and secured with a web belt that emphasized her slender waist, a loose-fitting olive-green poplin shirt with epaulets and pockets over both breasts, unbuttoned down the front just enough to show off the compass dangling around her neck and the black sports bra underneath it, and a battered olive baseball cap bearing the legend, KEEP CALM AND LOOK INTO MY EYES. Now she completed the look by slipping on a pair of wire-rimmed aviator sunglasses. Louis didn’t know whether to come to attention and salute or kneel, raise his hands, and surrender. The idea of kneeling, in particular, distracted him pleasantly. After a moment of silence, Elle raised a quizzical eyebrow; he shook his head quickly and said, “Oh, yes, of course.”
Carefully she examined Louis’s efforts: the red domed tent with its high mesh door, a shelter tarp slung above the tent entrance, the small gas grill, camp stove, and food cooler on the picnic table, the backpacks lined up neatly by the tent.
After a moment’s thought she said, “It seems fine, Louis, but could I get you to just move the tent over about 2 ? feet to the left? I think it will be better Feng Shui.”
Louis struggled not to show dismay t the idea of taking down the tent, pulling up the stakes, and re-pitching it a few feet over. He was unsuccessful; his wife burst into laughter and tousled his hair. “Oh, Louis, you are so darling, you thought I was serious?” she said. “You’ve done a great job. Shall we head out for the falls now?”
Louis could have been forgiven for feeling a bit disoriented—only 12 hours before, he’d been blissfully asleep next to his wife in their house in the East Hills of the Tri-County Area. Sometime after midnight, he’d been woken from a peaceful dream. “Louis,” Elle had said. “Wake up! Louis, I need you to get up and pack the car. We’re going camping.”
Convinced he was still dreaming, Louis had snuggled closer and brushed her neck with his lips. “Stop it!” Elle said. “I have to have mountains today!”
For all the joys of living in the East Hills, mountains were in short supply. The hill their house sat on was, at 770 feet above sea level, the highest point in more than a hundred miles in any direction. Louis had never thought of Elle as much concerned with altitude. She saw his puzzled look and said, “Oh, come on, Louis, do you never go a little crazy looking at prairie all the time? I want to show you a place I know. We can be there in four hours—five maybe—anyway in time for breakfast and a hike. Look in the garage—there are two tubs marked ‘camping’—everything we need: backpacks, tent, cooking equipment, hiking poles, et cetera.”
“You’ve had all this stuff all along?”
“Oh, sure, Louis—I have a lot of things out there that come in handy from time to time. I am going to shower and get dressed. You pack up the car—obey, NOW!” She snapped her fingers and the next thing he was aware of was gazing the car’s trunk, neatly packed with ballistic bags, backpacks, walking poles, coolers, and cooking equipment. As he was preparing to close the trunk, Elle emerged from the house in her woman warrior outfit and said, “I’m ready, Louis—are you?”
“I have to get a few things.”
“I’ve got everything you need,” she said. But he dashed back into the house, to emerge a few minutes later carrying a shoulder bag. She glanced at it curiously, but then shrugged and handed him a road map with a route marked in red ink. “Here you are, darling,” she said. “Second star to the right and straight on till morning. You DO feel wide awake—” she snapped her fingers and he jolted as if he’d just mainlined a Red Bull—“so I’m going to grab my beauty sleep. Wake me when we come to Trilby’s Diner—it’s on the north side of State Highway 61 just after Monkey Village.” She slipped into the passenger seat and was sound asleep by the time Louis pulled the car out of the driveway.
Five hours later, still wide awake and alert, Louis pulled the car off the road and stopped in front of TRILBY’S, a brightly lit 24-hour eatery. A roadside sign said “Puységur Peak Campground, 12 mi.” He reached over to poke Elle awake but found her looking at him like a peaceful cat. “Nicely done, dear,” she said. “I hope you’re hungry!”
They entered the diner and grabbed a booth back near the jukebox. A dark, plump waitress rushed over with two cups of coffee. Elle grabbed hers and nodded at the server. “Hello, Joan,” Elle said coolly. “Ellie!” the server burbled. “Do you want—”
“Yes,” Elle said. “All of it. Times two.” She nodded at Louis. “Joan, this is Louis. We got married a few years ago.”
The waitress turned her dark eyes on Louis. “Did you now?” she said, looking at Louis with a skepticism that was not unfriendly. “Hon, you must really be quite a guy.” She wiped her hand on her apron and extended it. “I’m Joan, Ellie’s cousin.”
Louis’s head was swimming. “Elle’s cousin—? Elle—you never said—”
She silenced him with a wave of her hand. “It’s a long story, isn’t it, Joan?”
The waitress nodded.
“You’re headed up to Puységur?” Joan said.
“Yes—it’s been a while since I saw the falls.”
“Good time for it. Lemme put this order in,” she said and walked to the kitchen, her generous hips swaying gracefully.
“Wait—” Louis called after her. “I need a menu.” Joan didn’t look back.
“Don’t worry, darling,” Elle said. “Whatever you like for breakfast, it’s on the way.”
For the next hour, Louis had watched in amazement as his wife, who ordinarily watched her calories carefully, inhaled enough breakfast for four people—a Dutch Baby pancake, scrambled eggs, sausage links, home fries, grits smothered in gravy, all washed down with strong black coffee. “What?” Elle said at his disbelieving look. “You’d better eat up too. For one thing you’ll need the calories and for another this is easily the best breakfast between Cincinnati and Kansas City.”
She waved Joan over. “Can you bring us some boxes?” Then as if impulsively, she added, “How is the … gang?”
Joan shrugged. “Ellen found Jesus,” she said.
“That takes her out of the club,” Elle said.
“No duh,” Joan answered. “Bobbie Jo got married.”
“Seriously? To a man?”
“Yup. Two kids. They moved away somewhere to some kind of gated community.”
“I did not see that one coming.”
Joan shrugged again. “Neither me.”
“What about … Tamsin?” Elle’s voice lowered slightly.
Joan glanced around her, then shrugged. “We still don’t know where she is. There were some rumors she’d show up for the wedding, which would have been… interesting. But nothing.”
“We should talk about that at some point,” Elle said.
Louis studied Joan with fascination. At first, his interest was simply in a woman who knew so much about his wife that he had not hitherto suspected. But after a while he began to see a family resemblance between Elle, trim though she was, and her bigger cousin—who, though brunette where Elle was blonde and invitingly plump where Elle was taut, had some of the same Cersei Lannister look in her arched eyebrows and full, sardonic mouth.
As if noticing his distraction, Elle jabbed her fork toward his Dutch pancake. “Finish up, cowboy,” she said.
“I’m done,” Louis said, and gestured toward Joan for the check. The waitress shook her head and walked away.
“No need for that, Louis,” Elle said. “Family eats free.” In a moment, Joan brought back to-go boxes, and Elle loaded them up. “This will be handy at the campground,” she said.
The rich breakfast and the long drive almost caught up to Louis during the 20-minute trip from Trilby’s to the campground. They were, he saw, almost the only party there. Elle pointed him to space 14 (near the showers, she said, but not so near as to be disturbed by partiers). Once they had parked, she’d snapped her fingers at Louis to set up camp, then pulled out a folding chair and settled in to read her VOGUE.
Now, having inspected the result, she nodded in satisfaction and said, “Saddle up, Louis, we’re going to see the Falls.” She handed him one of her hiking poles and a backpack with a water bottle attached. Without looking behind her, she set off to a sign reading “Puységur Trail.”
“Give me a second,” Louis called. He ran back to the car and came back with the shoulder bag he’d grabbed from the house. “Some old hiking stuff of mine,” he explained.
The walk to the falls was three miles, mostly uphill, beside something called Coué Creek. Louis was feeling the effects of his long night’s drive, but his energy recovered as he walked behind Elle in her skin-tight hiking outfit, her hips swinging enchantingly. The hiking pole helped, and the walk to the falls was finished more quickly than he’d expected.
The falls, it turned out, were worth the walk. They were easily 100 feet high, and the flow of water was impressive. A steep trail led up beside the falls toward the top. Though Louis was tired, he steeled himself for the climb.
Elle, however, stopped at the foot of the falls and wiped her face with a bandana. “How do you like it, Louis?” she said.
“Pretty damned impressive,” he said, craning his neck up.
“No, silly, not up there,” she said. “Look over there.” She pointed to the foot of the falls and all at once Louis saw it—a small opening to the side, just big enough for one person, stooping, to pass through.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Follow me,” Elle said. She moved into the opening and passed out of sight as if by magic. Louis followed, and stepped out of the bright morning into what appeared at first to be another planet—a dim, cool room behind the muffled sound of falling waters. Facing the water was a small outcropping of rock, just big enough for two people to side sit by side. Elle had spread a blanket, and now was perched prettily on it; she patted the space next to her and said, “Come here, Louis. You can rest for a while.”
He shrugged off the backpack and set down the shoulder bag. Settling beside Elle, he gave a contented sigh and circled her waist with his arm.
“You like it?” she asked.
“Louis,” she said in a somber tone. “Can I tell you a secret?”
“Of course, sweetheart.”
“It’s about this place and about—me.”
He wondered whether she’d had some adventure here, perhaps lost her virginity on this uncomfortable stone platform. That sexual reminiscence might be vaguely nettlesome, but Elle was an object of fascination to him, and he would put up with hearing about her and another man if it would supply more pieces of the complex puzzle that was his wife, and his mistress, and his best friend. “If it’s about this place, it must be pretty mysterious.”
“Oh, it is, darling. Very. It’s—well, okay, here goes. I’m a witch.”
He smiled fondly. “Of course you are, Elle. You put a spell on me a long time ago.”
“Louis Wentworth!” she said. “I am not flirting or joking. I mean it. I. Am. A. Witch.”
He had been listening drowsily, but now he felt wide awake. “What—what do you mean?”
“Joan who you met—well, my mother had two sisters. One raised me after Mom—disappeared. The other was named Trilby. She married a guy form around here and ran the diner. Joan is her daughter. She’s my cousin. I used to come here for summers; and we had—Joan and I—we had a—a coven here. We would meet here, behind the falls.”
“Really? A teenaged witch coven—like THE CRAFT?”
She ever-so-lightly slapped his face. “Don’t make fun, Louis. It was serious and some serious . . . stuff happened. You heard me asking about Tamsin?”
“We still don’t know what happened to her.”
“Happened to her? You think she was hurt or…?”
“We don’t know, Louis. You remember me talking about Bobbie Jo?”
“The one who got married?”
“Yes. She and Tamsin had been . . . together. Tamsin got jealous of her and a boy—one night right here—and ran out. We never saw her again.”
“Was there a search?”
“Oh, yes, her family got the police and rescue services involved. They never found a body. She just … vanished into thin air.”
“But you guys really were witches? With spells and everything?”
“Yes, darling. We went a good deal farther than ‘light as a feather, stiff as a board.’”
“Wow, that’s amazing. And kinda sexy. Though—” he looked at his wife with a newly suspicious expression. “Do you still cast spells? Did you—cast one on, say, me?”
Elle gave a laugh that echoed the music of the falling water. “You mean like Kim Novak in BELL BOOK AND CANDLE? No, Louis. There was no need for that—I just had to point a finger at you and you were mine, if you recall.”
“Yes, I do recall.” The tone of his voice was both rueful and proud. “It happened fast—which is why I wondered—”
“Well, Louis, let me be clear. I don’t do spells anymore, and even when I did I never wasted my power on a man. There are plenty of them around, and they usually enchant themselves.”
For a moment there was only the sound of the waterfall, a rushing cloak that drowned out any sound from outside. “So—this was your witch clubhouse?” Louis finally asked.
“Yep. The first glamour we learned to cast was on this place. When one of us is in here, no one on the outside can find it.”
“Yes. As long as any of us is in it, we’re as safe as if we had guards around it. Hikers who look for it can’t find it. If they keep looking pretty soon they don’t remember what they are looking for, and if they check the guide book they won’t be able to understand the words in it. When we leave, though, it goes back to normal.”
“Well,” he said now. “That’s handy.” He leaned closer to her and kissed her ear. “We can get away with being naughty here, yes?”
“Correction,” she said. “I can get away with being naughty. You can obey.” She held up a forefinger with a deep red polished nail. “You can listen to the falling water, you can let it fill your mind, you can let other thoughts drift away, you can hear my voice in the falling water, you can hear the falling water in my voice, you can feel how tired and sleepy you are after driving all night, you can feel how much stronger my will is than yours, you can feel that my will is your will, you can let go and sleep … sleep …. sleep ….”
Louis slumped backwards on the rock bench, his face blank and his breathing slow. “Now… now you will be naughty,” she said softly. She snapped her fingers next to his ear. “OBEY! Clothes off now!”
Since she’d introduced Louis to this command a few months ago, he’d become impressively skilled in attaining total nakedness in almost no time flat. Soon he was standing bare in front of her, his eyes closed and head slumped, clearly unaware of where he was or what exactly he was doing.
In other words, just the way Elle liked him for naughty moments.
She stretched languidly on the stone bench, and then said, “Louis, listen carefully. When I snap my fingers, you are going to be my maid. You will undress me carefully, do you understand?”
He nodded, his eyes fluttering behind closed lids.
Elle snapped. The ladies’ maid command had become a favorite of hers. It was so luxurious to lie back and allow Louis to tend to her, slowly helping her out of her boots, then her shirt and bra, then her hiking pants and panties. He carefully folded each garment and laid it nearly on the bench, with her boots and socks on the cave floor next to it. The exquisite care and unwavering focus he displayed was sexy—clearly at that moment he had no other thought than caring for her and her clothes—but even sexier was the knowledge that she could change his focus at any moment with a word and a gesture.
“Now kneel,” she whispered. He got to his knees, eyes closed, lost in the imaginary world she had created. “Now listen,” she said. “Louis, your purpose in life, the meaning of your life, the only thing you care about is pleasing me, isn’t it?” He nodded. “Good boy, and you are going to please me now. So . . . come here!” She reached over behind his head and brought him between her legs. He was well programmed: at once she felt his tongue giving a slow, sensuous pass from bottom to top, probing her for the sensitive spots he had learned. She closed her eyes and leaned back. “That’s . . . good,” she said. “No need to … hurry.”
One advantage of a hypnotized lover is his infinite patience. Over the past few years, Louis had slowed down, smoothed out, and given up any interest in his own pleasure until he had seen to hers. His lovemaking was altogether agreeable.Elle relaxed for what seemed a long time before his tongue took on new urgency and her breath quickened. “Oh, God, that’s good, Louis,” she said, gripping the back of his head even more firmly. “Keep it up, Louis, and remember, this is your place in life, this is your purpose, this is what you live for, this is … Louis … this … Louis, oh, yes, LOUIS!” She came in a series of long deep shudders, like powerful swells in deep ocean water.
There followed a period of peace, with nothing to mark the time but the sound of the falling water. Finally Elle stretched languidly and looked down at Louis, kneeling entranced and aroused at her feet. “Louis,” she said. “I’m afraid I’m going to leave you in the pre-orgasmic state for a while. Will that be okay?”
“Yes, Elle,” Louis without stirring.
“It’s a very useful state,” she said. “It makes you so attentive and compliant. Don’t you enjoy it?”
“You’d rather not cum, am I right?”
“You are a wonderful man, Louis. Now you can return to being Louise the maid and dress me while I relax.”
Still naked, Louis rose and began to carefully unfold her clothes item by item and help her into them, naked but with the dispassionate skill of a ladies’ maid. Elle enjoyed Louise; she was not only obedient but highly skilled. When Elle was finally dressed, she touched Louis’s forehead and said, “Now you’ll put your own clothes, and then wake up and remember everything that’s happened.” She snapped her fingers and Louis dressed himself at the same stately pace, finally lacing his shoes and then, quite suddenly, asking, “Wait—Elle, that was all real?”
“So you—you are a witch?”
“And the waterfall is magic?”
“Not exactly. It’s enchanted when one of us is inside it.”
“And nobody can see it?”
“Not until we leave.”
“Elle—Milagro is a witch.” Milagro was a character in Louis’s successful supernatural mystery series.
“So she is.”
“Is that because you told me to make her one?” Elle’s hypnosis sessions were a big part of Louis’s literary productivity—though Elle insisted she did not tell him what to write, or even to write. Instead, she said she just let Louis “get out of his own way” and bring out the stories that were already hiding inside his imagination.
“No, Louis. You must have sensed it on your own.”
He looked pleased with himself. “But you don’t go through mirrors like her?”
“Of course not, Louis! Let’s not be silly. You’ve been married to me for nearly four years and you know what I am capable of. Now let’s head back to camp—I’m hungry.”
Louis swung the backpack behind him, then shrugged on his shoulder bag. He picked up his hiking pole and led the way out the narrow door beside the waterfall.
He was surprised at how bright the world was once they passed out of the cave. He stared down the path back to the campground.
Then a voice shouted, “Hey, sir! Sir, wait a moment!”
He turned back to see four teenaged boys looking confused. “What is it?” he said.
“Sir, we heard there was a door you can go through to get behind the falls but we can’t find it—do you know where it is?”
Before he could answer, Elle appeared from inside the cave. “It’s right here, boys,” she said, pointing behind her.
“What the hell?” the lead boy said as his eyes lit on the door. “It’s there? How did we miss it?”
“No idea,” Elle said. “Enjoy! Louis, let’s roll.” The boys were disappearing into the cave as the lovers started back for camp.
After a few yards, Elle found herself in the lead again. Louis had no objection to walking behind his wife. She was a pleasant sight as she swayed down the path—not just pleasant but relaxing, and as he walked he found himself imagining her as Milagro, the sexy witch in his novels—or imagining Milagro as Elle, the sexy witch he had, without quite realizing it, married. It had been hours since Elle woke him back in the East Hills, and his imaginings began to edge into dreams. Several times he stumbled and had to stop and wake himself up while Elle waited. It may be that she was sleepy as well—but for whatever reason, when they were still half a mile from the campground, his wife tripped over a root and fell on one knee, while her leg folded at an ominous angle under her.
“Ow!” she cried. “Damn it!”
Louis was at her side in an instant. He helped her to a sitting position. “Don’t get up,” he said. “Let me check it out.”
She felt his hands on her ankle. They were as dispassionate as Louise’s when she undressed Elle; but it was a different kind of dispassion—expert and calming, as if Louis were secretly a doctor. It was not sexy, but it was reassuring. “Tell me if this hurts,” he said, gently pressing her ankle directly over the bone.
“It’s uncomfortable, but not painful,” she said.
He moved on to a place beside the bone, and gently pressed.
“Holy Hecate!” she yelped. “That hurts like hell, Louis.”
He repeated the process a few other places; whenever he probed her muscles, she had to stifle a scream.
“Well, there’s good news and bad news,” he said at last. “The good news is that there’s no fracture.”
“Oh—that’s good! What’s the bad news?”
“Well, the bad news is it’s sprained and you’re not going to be able to walk back to the tent. We need to keep you off it, and we need to get you back to where I can strap it up.”
She looked down the trail. The campground was just visible at the bottom of the hill. “How do I get there, then? Do we need a stretcher?” she said. “There’s a ranger station back at the park entrance. I doubt there’s anybody there, but maybe there’s an emergency phone—”
“Oh,” Louis said, “we won’t bother Smokey this time.” Again with that clinical air, Louis reached down and put one arm behind her knees and the other behind her shoulders and scooped her up gently. “Just relax, sweetheart. Enjoy the in-flight movie.”
Elle was startled. Held in her husband’s arms, she suddenly felt young and small and—feminine. She leaned her head on Louis’s shoulder.
It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling, she thought. She closed her eyes as he carried her at a relaxed pace the remaining half-mile to the tent, then deposited her in front of the tent like an infinitely precious gift.
Feeling infinitely precious wasn’t unpleasant either, she thought sleepily.
“Now let’s get this strapped up,” he said.
“There’s a first-aid kit in the backpack,” she said.
“No offense, Elle, but we need a real first aid kit,” he said. He reached into his shoulder bag and produced a battered ballistic package with a zipper around three sides. He opened it up and produced a plastic envelope and a roll of elastic bandage. “We will get some cold on this and tie it up to prevent swelling,” he said. Holding the ice pack in one hand, he smacked it sharply with his other fist, then squeezed it to mix the contents. “Oh, nice and cold,” he said to himself. He applied it carefully to her ankle, then tied it on tightly with the bandage, rolling it until the pack was completely covered and held motionless against the ankle. She drew in her breath sharply at the cold touch, but soon got used to it. “Let’s leave it for 20 minutes or so, shall we?” he said. “Now, what can I get you? Coffee? Something stronger?”
“Wow, Louis, your bedside manner is quite impressive,” she said.
“So I’ve been told,” he said.
“Really? By whom exactly?”
“I was the designated medic of my Explorer troop,” he said.
“You were an Explorer Scout?”
“Yes—almost an Eagle but I never got my Personal Management merit badge.”
“I never knew any of this, Louis!”
“Well, you never asked.”
“I don’t suppose,” she said with studied casualness, “there were any … Girl Explorer Scouts in your—band or troop or whatever it’s called?”
“No such luck,” he said. “but I have to admit I had a few Girls Scout fantasies over the years.”
“Did you now? I haven’t heard about them.”
“I hadn’t thought about them for years,” he said. “Until—until I saw you in your hiking outfit, to be honest.” His face, which usually betrayed him when he felt embarrassed, turned fiery red.
“That’s sweet,” she said, patting his cheek. “If it’s any consolation, your first aid manner reminds me of some thoughts I had about Doctor McDreamy.”
He blushed even more furiously. “I love flirting with you, Elle, but right now you need to rest that ankle.”
“I can rest and flirt,” she said. “And also chew gum in a pinch.”
“Well, I mean really rest so your ankle can heal,” he said. “Here, let me settle you in.” He maneuvered the backpack behind so she could recline comfortably. “Now just close your eyes and feel how good that bandage feels on your ankle.”
His McDreamy manner was masterful; she found herself closing her eyes and when she did so the fatigue she’d been ignoring came rushing in. “Yes,” she said, not sure what she meant.
“That’s good, Elle. Now let go of all the tension—you’ve been breathing fast ever since you fell; let your breathing slow as your muscles relax.”
Yes, she thought but lacked the energy to say aloud.
“Picture your ankle in your mind,” he said. “See the painful parts, maybe they look red, can you see them?”
“Now as you breathe, let the red slowly change to green, from tense and painful to relaxed and easy, just feel the pain and let it go as you breathe normally, nice and slow and sleepy and . . . “
Sometime later, Elle opened her eyes to find Louis unwinding the elastic bandage. “No need to worry,” he said. “I’m just taking out the ice pack. I’ll rewrap it and get you something to eat.”
“How long was I out?”
“Oh, twenty minutes—maybe half an hour.”
“That’s all?” It seemed longer. She felt much different. Her ankle barely throbbed; but all her limbs felt heavy and warm and her head felt floaty and clear. “What happened while I was sleeping?”
“I had a discussion with you about healing,” he said.
“You hypnotized me, Louis?”
“Well, it’s like the Big Lebowski,” he said. “You’re the hypnotist. I’m the Dude.”
He really had learned a lot from her, she thought with a mixture of admiration and alarm. He’d put her to sleep with a few words and God only knew what suggestions he’d implanted. “Louis,” she said in a warning tone. “I better not find myself thinking I’m Daisy Duke or something.”
He gave her a very McDreamy smile—kind, sexy, and ever so slightly condescending. “Not this time, sweetheart—just a few thoughts about healing sore muscles.” He finished winding the bandage and pinned it in place. “So,” he said, “what if I were Dr. McDreamy? What would I do now?”
“Well, I suppose you would—I don’t know, you’d stroke my cheek and look into my eyes and say something seductive, I guess.”
“Done,” said Louis, stroking her cheek as ordered. “I feel I must tell you that taking care of you like this is about the sexiest thing that’s happened to me in weeks.”
“Oh, really? And here I thought our romp at the waterfall offered some … pleasant moments.”
“It was lovely, darling, and you can use me any time you like. But first aid is something I really know about, and it’s very sexy to be able to offer you my skill—the way you offer me your skills as a hypnotist and as—a, well, as a muse.”
“Am I your muse, then, Louis?”
“Well—with you in my life, Elle, I can’t stop writing. I think that qualifies you as a genuine muse.”
“You know, you’re right, Louis. That is sexy.”
“Let’s raise your leg a little bit,” he said, putting a small food cooler under it. “I will get you some of the leftovers from breakfast.”
By the time he came back, she was asleep again. After a time he carried her into the tent and laid her carefully in her sleeping bag, then lay down beside her and dozed as well.
When he woke it was full dark. He heard Elle moving around. “What’s going on?” he asked.
“My ankle feels a lot better,” she said. “I think the McDreamy treatment worked.”
She came back to where he lay and then draped herself over him. “Do you remember that son, ‘I’m Your Man,’ where he says, ‘If you ant a doctor I’ll examine every inch of you?”
“I haven’t heard it but I get the idea.”
“Well, McDreamy, I think I need a thorough physical.”
As if on their own, his hands began exploring her curves and folds and hollows. “Tell me if I’m hurting you,” he said.
“So far quite the reverse,” she said, and wrapped herself more tightly around him.
“Well, let’s not take a chance,” he said. “You can imagine I’m being very thorough—picture it now, I have to undress you and then carefully trace your muscles—let’s say the muscles of your thighs, imagine my hands exploring those you can feel it—”
At this point Elle began to moan softly. “That’s it, sweetheart, let yourself feel it, I’m all over you, you didn’t know doctors can have four hands or six hands and I am stroking your breasts and reaching between your legs and now I reach behind—”
“Oh, my GOD!!” Elle said, her eyes rolling back. After a moment she fell silent and breathing slowed. As she fell asleep, she slurred, “Lou… is.. how did you do that?”
“You did it, darling,” he said. “I am just the instrument.”
She put away that thought for further review, and dozed again.
Hours later he woke once more. She was moving around. “Louis,” she said. “I just had a dream and when I woke up I realized something.”
“Louis, I know where Tamsin is—I mean, I know how to find her. All these years we’ve wondered and the answer was right in front of us all the time.”
“Elle, do you feel ok? Let me feel your forehead.”
“I’m not having a break with reality, if that’s what you’re worried about,” she said. “But being back here stirred some memories—and some witchy feelings. Some things are falling into place. I just need to talk to Joan and maybe Bobbie Jo.” She looked at him, sprawled half asleep on the tent floor. “Louis, we need to get up and head back to Trilby’s.”
He continued to look at her in confusion. “What about your ankle, Elle?”
“You’re a good doctor, Louis. It aches a little but it’s basically fine.”
He stared up at her, still half asleep., Finally, almost reluctantly, she turned to him, snapped her fingers, and said, “Louis, OBEY! Pack car! Now!”
Fifteen minutes later he became aware himself of himself again as he was getting behind the wheel. Elle was draped in the back seat, her ankle raised on the seat next to her, leafing through a copy of VANITY FAIR. “Trilby’s, Louis,” Elle said. “Step on it.”
He was sorry that Elle had hurt herself, he thought as he headed for the road. On the other hand, there were worse ways to pass the time than being McDreamy.