Stella had stupid parents. “Stella’s stupid, stupid parents” was Ray Kowalski’s refrain from the time he turned eleven until long after the ink on his divorce decree was dry. Well, that and “Call me Ray. No, really, it’s Ray, not Stanley,” which was his refrain from the time he was nine until he went undercover as a man whose name really was Ray.
But of course Ray never thought Stella herself was stupid. Well, breaking up with him had not been a smart move, but he’d showed her. He went to the track where he met a beautiful girl. Who then took him for all he had. But that was cool, that was the kind of thing that happened to guys like Ray: brunettes with soulful eyes scamming them out of seventy-two dollars, a two-for-one Piggly Wiggly coupon for canned three bean salad and a swizzle stick from the Flame Club he’d snagged when they’d served him a Mai Tai on his sixteenth birthday thanks to his awesome fake ID.
She’d also taken the fake ID.
But guys named Stanley missed out on those kinds of experiences. Guys like Ray didn’t. They learned from the tough cookies and the wiseguys and became stronger and better for it. Or so Ray told himself when his mother picked him up at the track in Aunt Julie’s wood-paneled station wagon. If Ray’s father hadn’t been out of town for a funeral, Ray knew he would’ve picked him up in their cool GTO.
Anyway, once he became a man who’d known serious pain and loss, adult pain and loss, Stella took him back. To celebrate their reunion, she had him over for dinner with her parents. Well, at least she said it was to celebrate their reunion. Ray was pretty sure she was punishing him, for having taken up with that “tramp from the track,” and also punishing her parents, for being, well, Stella’s stupid parents.
Stella’s parents had talked about their upcoming trip to Australia, which Ray might have been interested in hearing about, but just as Stella’s dad was about to tell Ray when they were going, Stella’s mom muttered something to her husband. Something French that made Stella blush. Ray could guess why. He was no expert, but he knew about “Pas devant les enfants,” from his own mother’s English costume dramas. It meant “not in front of the children” and Lady Chumley would say it to Lord Chumley before he could ask her if she’d blow him after lunch. Or whatever it was Lady Chumley didn’t want the kids to hear.
Stella’s mom didn’t say “Pas devant les enfants.” She said something like “Pas devant le zahnahr,” which Stella refused to translate. A couple of weeks later, Ray cornered the shy French second-year-abroad student and asked her nicely for a translation. He was real polite, but she still looked a little spooked. Spooked but game. Once Solange had figured out his pronunciation, she looked even more freaked out though.
“It is,” she said softly in her sweet little accent, “ah, I think it is like…weirdo? Maybe…freak?” Ray watched as she scampered away for the relative safety of the campus union. Stella’s stupid parents thought he was a freak and a weirdo? Thought they couldn’t trust him with the information of when they’d be out of town? Thought he was the guy equivalent of the tramp from the track?
Well, Ray decided he’d show them. Show them by waving his freak flag high. He started calling everyone a freak, and the people who really got him didn’t take it as an insult. They knew what he meant by it.
Stella liked his new endearment, but he didn’t use it on her much. He preferred to give her nicknames that were unique to her, to use codes that were special to their relationship. One time, they were holding hands at the bus stop and eyeing each other like maybe they’d like to make out a little until the 84 came along and some old guy yelled at them about exact change. Before any of those things could happen, though, some other old guy driving past in a Cadillac (well, riding past in a Cadillac his bouffant haired wife was driving) yelled, “Freaks!” at them.
“We weren’t even tongue-kissing,” Ray said to Stella indignantly.
“Well, I guess they’re just NOKD,” Stella said, and then leaned against his face and slipped him the tongue. Ray knew what that meant. And not just what Stella’s tongue meant when it made promises he knew she’d keep. He knew what NOKD was: Not Our Kind, Dear. It was code, like “Pas devant le zonard” (he’d looked up the spelling, eventually). It was American code. Stella’s parents’ code, maybe, for when French was too much of a hassle. For “boy, these people are really lacking in couth, aren’t they?”
But for him and Stella, it meant something else. It meant the people who were mean to them, rude to them, just because they were young and in love and he had a tattoo and she didn’t usually dress like the kind of girl who had an add-a-pearl necklace at home. They were all so very NOKD.
It came up again, years later, after Stella’s parents started having to mutter “Pas devant le flic,” because he’d graduated from the police academy and now had a beat and a badge. It came up about six hours after they got to start using “Pas devant le gendre” because he just straight-up married their daughter and it still hadn’t occurred to them that a meat-packer’s son (however disowned) might have picked up enough French to figure their little game out. They should’ve picked something weird, like Korean or something. But Ray was pretty sure that Koreans who couldn’t speak English were probably NOKD to Stella’s parents. Not Our Koreans, Dear.
It came in another, unexpected way, though. “I did something special for our wedding night, Ray,” Stella said, being both playful and seductive at the same time, which never failed to make Ray hot. He tried not to pant at her.
“You finally gonna let me….” Ray couldn’t think of a classy way to say fuck you up the ass. Ray figured Stella had to be saving something for their wedding night. He was pretty sure there was other stuff they hadn’t done, but he was also pretty sure they needed special equipment to do it.
“Not that, silly,” Stella said lightly in a way that told Ray that, oh, yeah, he was very much gonna be getting some backdoor action for a wedding present. “Hot damn,” he muttered as Stella turned around and lifted up her fancy white nightgown so he could see his wife’s ass.
And right there, on her left cheek, in saucy script, were the letters NOKD inked right into her skin, where they would stay forever. Ray wasn’t ever gonna tell anyone about that, but years and years later he couldn’t stop himself from pouring out the whole thing: Stella’s stupid, stupid parents, the old guy in the Cadillac, the learning experience at the track, “Pas devant le zonard” and NOKD…it was all mixed up in Ray’s brain as part of the same story, the Ray and Stella story. Well, at least when he told it out loud, he left out the part about what made his wedding night special aside from Stella’s new ink.
“Hmm,” said Fraser in a very Fraserish way when Ray was done telling him the story. “I don’t understand what the woman at the track would do with false identification that was clearly meant for a man.”
“Pretty sure she gave it to her boyfriend,” Ray said disgustedly.
“And ASA Kowalski has a tattoo on her backside,” Fraser said thoughtfully.
“Yeah,” Ray grinned at the memory.
“I’m finding that difficult to imagine,” Fraser said.
“Well, don’t go mentioning it to her,” Ray said. “She’ll try to play it cool, but her neck will turn red and you’ll know it’s the truth.”
“I wouldn’t dream of mentioning it,” Fraser said, and it was the kind of promise Fraser kept. He never did mention Stella’s tattoo to anyone, including the lady herself.
Although one time, Ray was having a really bad day and Stella was making it infinitely worse and Fraser noticed that Ray was going to unload some pretty crude language on his ex-wife. Fraser put a hand on Ray’s arm. Ray thought it was supposed to calm him, which it didn’t. But, “Pas devant l’avocat,” he told Ray soothingly. “Today, she’s really being quite NOKD,” he added. Ray laughed.
And Stella’s neck turned red and Fraser knew Ray had told him the truth.
“Zonard,” he told Fraser affectionately. And to their surprise, Stella started laughing, too.