It was almost five o'clock when Jasper parked his car in front of All Things Christian. He was nervous but he knew this was something he had to do – "closure" as they say in the therapy business. Mussie was surprised when she saw Jasper enter the store.
"Are you making a return?" She asked, looking to see if he was carrying the crucifix with him.
"No, no, nothing like that," Jasper assured her. "I was hoping I could talk to you, though."
"Oh." He could see that she was uncertain. "Let me close up," Mussie said after a pause. "We can go upstairs if you'd like."
"Sure," he agreed, feeling like a patient waiting to get his tooth drilled.
He watched her go through the routine of closing the store for the night and once all her chores were done, the door was locked and the lights were off, Mussie led Jasper up into the back of the store, through a door and up a flight of stairs to an apartment on the second floor. Not surprisingly, the apartment featured several religious artifacts, art work and other decorations.
"I didn't change much of my grandmother's décor when I move in," Mussie explained. "It reminds me of her."
"It's a nice place," Jasper said.
"Would you like something to drink?" Mussie asked. "Soda? Bottled water? A beer?"
The mention of bottled water made him think of that day when she probably would have thrown her water bottle at his head had she had more time to react. "I'm fine," he said.
Mussie motioned for him to take a seat on the couch. "What did you want to talk about?" She asked once they were both seated on the sofa.
"How come you didn't rat me out?" Jasper asked.
Mussie knew right away what he was talking about. She sat back on the couch and sighed. "What was I going to say?"
He shrugged. "Anyway, you were gracious enough to apologize the other day for your failings. I realized I owed you the same courtesy. What I did that day was abusively wrong and I hope you will forgive me."
"I deserved it," Mussie readily admitted, shocking Jasper.
"Of course you didn't," he insisted.
"What kind of messed up loser makes fun of somebody's grandmother who just died?" Mussie wanted to know. She made a gesture to the room they were sitting in. "I loved my Grandmother. I used to come here on weekends when I was little. We'd make brownies and fudge together. When I got older, I'd come and help out at the store. My parents weren't happy in their marriage. They overcompensated by spoiling the crap out of me and letting me be the bitch I was but I could be the real me when I was with my grandmother who never took any of my shit. I can't imagine how I would have felt if someone made such cruel remarks about her when she died like I did about your grandmother."
"It was still wrong of me," Jasper replied. "And I'm truly sorry for what I did."
"I know you are," Mussie smiled. "Thank you. I never held it against you, truthfully. It hurt and I was humiliated and I couldn't believe you did it but it got me thinking real for the first time in my life."
Tears started to flow down her cheeks. Jasper placed his hand on her knee and gave her a gentle reassuring squeeze.
"I cried for hours that day," Mussie revealed. "I let everything out and cried for my soul and all the pain I felt." She looked at him. "Not the physical pain you caused, but for all the emotional hurt and sadness I caused for other people and for all the loneliness and sorrow I had been going through for years. For all the horrible things I had said and done. My entire miserable life had been building to that moment and all that crying and sobbing was the beginning of the release of all that misery, tension, stress, fear, self-loathing and shame I had been suffering through."
"I never knew," Jasper said quietly.
"I didn't change overnight, of course," she said. "The Fantastic Five still had a few pathetic years left in them, but you planted the seed within me and I was eventually able to change my behaviors and attitudes by not taking my hate and anger out on other people. I struggled for a long time to rid myself of such demons but you caused the first breakthrough that day and I'm grateful for that."
"I've felt terrible about it for years," Jasper confessed.
"I barely remember the actual spanking although I was incredibly bruised from it," Mussie said. "But it was a day of revelation. You were right. I didn't care about other people. I didn't care about anything else except myself." She fell against him in sort of an exhausted surrender and she half cuddled/half hugged him. "I never told a soul about that day," she whispered.
"Me either," Jasper said. "I was ashamed for what I did to you. It scared the hell out of me that I lost control and crossed such boundaries. I really could have hurt you."
"Well, you did break some blood vessels," Mussie revealed. "I told my mother I fell down the stairs on my ass. I had to have sclerosis vein injections and laser treatment on my butt."
"Oh, Mussie, I'm so sorry," Jasper groaned. "Now I feel extra horrible. I was way too mean."
"Kiss me and I'll forgive you," she said softly.
Jasper looked at her with surprise. "Kiss you?"
"As soon as you walked into the store I realized how distinctly different I've felt towards you all this time," she admitted with some embarrassment. "My marriage didn't work out because I was still stuck on myself instead of meeting my husband half way," Mussie revealed. "After the divorce, I spent a lot of time working on myself to change how I approached and saw life. That's when I moved in with my grandmother and focused on Christian virtues and Christian ethics and Christian forgiveness. I forgave myself for all my mistakes and I've been alone for a long time and now that you're here I see that as a sign from The Lord that maybe we're meant to be together. I know that sounds crazy but it's a feeling I have in my gut."
"Wow," Jasper said, truly knocked for a loop. "Who would have thought?"
"Of course, if I'm being too presumptuous or forward, just tell me," she said with worry. "I don't mean to assume anything."
He held his hand up to reveal his naked ring finger. "I don't have much of a romantic past," he said.
"Would you like to have a romantic future?" Mussie asked hopefully.
"I won't know unless we try," Jasper smiled.
"That would be the most wonderful thing," she replied.
That's when he kissed her as she had asked.The moment felt right and when it was finished, they both felt adolescently shy yet tender and happy.
"That was nice," Mussie said happily as they stared into each other's eyes.
"It was," Jasper agreed, feeling surprisingly euphoric and almost light-headed, wanting to laugh at the very thought of kissing the person he once hated so intensely.
Mussie made him dinner in her grandmother's apartment and she said she was convinced that her Grandmother was watching over them with approval. They talked about their regrets and their dreams and when it grew late Jasper said he should go.
"Stay," Mussie said. "I want you to stay."
They ended up in the bedroom where they both undressed. Mussie lay naked on the bed on her stomach and she allowed Jasper to inspect her bare bottom to see if he could find any hints of the damage he had caused or the repair that had been performed.
"Looks perfect to me," he said as he sat on the bed next to her and softly rubbed his hand across her buttock.
She giggled and it was nice that she was laughing into her pillow now instead of sobbing into it like she did on that terrible day.
Then Jasper leaned over and softly and affectionately kissed her all over her buns while apologizing for his strikes with each pucker.
"What are you going to tell your sister?" Mussie asked later, after they had made love.
"I will tell Ally that I forgave you and she should too," Jasper replied, giving Mussie a kiss as they cuddled under the sheets.
In the morning, Mussie went downstairs to the store and returned with a crucifix which Jasper hung over the headboard of the bed.