I was sweaty and shaky by the time I stumbled to my bedroom. I flopped onto my grand four-poster bed and forced myself to dial the phone. My head was slowly starting to lose some of the ache but I was still in pain. Seriously, if this was what it meant to be a goddess then I was perfectly happy being my plain human self.
“Hello Lyra-Rose,” Michael answered. The smooth sound of his voice helped calm me down a little. “I was beginning to worry about you.”
“Well there may have been a good reason for that,” I muttered, but of course he heard me.
“Why? What is the matter?” he asked instantly worried.
“Relax,” I said quickly. “But, uh, do you remember that you were telling me about that empathy thing? I just found out that it’s the type of gift that you’d want to give back.”
I could hear the near panic that laced his voice. “You are becoming an Empath? That power is not supposed to develop until long after you are a goddess.”
“Well don’t tell me that. I’d be just fine if it didn’t develop at all,” I mumbled dejectedly.
“I am on my way,” he said.
“No!” I protested quickly. I was finally feeling better and I didn’t want to feel anyone else’s emotions but my own. “I’ll be fine. I just thought that I needed to tell you.”
“Lyra, do not argue with me. I will be at your house soon. Just try to relax until I get there.”
There really was no use in arguing. I mean, I could probably try to just lock the door but he’d be able to get through with no problem if he was so inclined. Part of me was actually kind of glad that I didn’t have to go through this freaky change alone but the other part was terrified about what I’d feel with Michael around if complete strangers were making my head explode.
I’d never really believed that incense could calm your nerves but I decided to give it a try while I waited from Michael’s unwanted visit. It couldn’t hurt; I’d never believed in gods and immortals but that had been beyond proven wrong so I was hoping the incense thing was true, too. I lit a ton of incense sticks ranging from the smell of lavender to pine to strawberry and waited until the room actually got a little hazy. But as luck would have it, instead of clearing my head the smoky incense succeeded only in making me sneeze. I blew out all of the incense but I was still sneezing every two seconds when I went to answer the door.
A calm wave much better than anything the incense sticks could provide washed over me the second I laid eyes on Michael’s striking form. He wore a grey button-up shirt that stopped at the third button from the top, an open blazer, and black Calvin Klein khakis. God, he looked amazing.
“Hey,” I muttered when I finally stopped staring at him.
“Hello.” He smiled at me and I didn’t like the way that my heart suddenly started staggering in my chest. “May I come in?”
“What? Oh! Right! Sorry about that. Uh, yeah, come on in,” I sputtered stupidly as I took a step back from the doorway so that he could enter.
I turned my back on him to shut the door and I took that moment to force myself to calm down around him. I was definitely getting hit with a giant wave of emotions but I couldn’t figure out if they were mine or his. They had to be mine because he seemed completely relaxed while everything inside of me was going totally nuts.
His grey gaze immediately found mine when I worked up the courage to turn back and face him. “I do not understand how your empathy is returning so quickly,” he mumbled as he searched my eyes. His were full of concern, a look that I was quickly getting used to coming from him.
I shrugged. “Cassiopeia said that it was supposed to be like the last power that returned if I ever became a goddess again because it was the last power I got when I was immortal. She said that because I’m getting my Gifts back that I’m transitioning from human and back into a goddess. Is that true?”
“Perhaps,” Michael answered diplomatically. “This has never happened to anyone from the City. I guess that it depends on how rapidly your powers are returning.”
I nodded and tried not to let myself show how really freaked I was. I was terrified to find out what other Gifts I might soon get if my godly essence was growing as strong as everyone was making me believe. I didn’t want to think about that but I had to find out more. “She also said something that really confuses me. Cassi said that my empathy was that thing that made me human but it sounds like that empathy is also what’s triggering the transition thing. That’s kind of an oxymoron, isn’t it?” I was grasping for straws but I was determined to stay human.
Michael frowned and I could almost see the gears in his head turning as he tried to figure out how to explain that concept to me. “You did not develop empathy until after the creation of humans. Empathy links you to them, lets you feel what they do.”
“Right, Cassi was saying that. So how does it also make me a goddess?”
He sighed and I knew I wasn’t going to like the answer. “Most humans have some sort of empathy that lets them feel sympathetic towards each other. With you there is a part of your godly essence that lets you absorb and release the emotions. Without being a goddess you would not be able to feel emotions so literally.”
I groaned. “So not only does it mean I won’t stay human but that little lesson in Gifts confused the crap out of me just when my head had stopped hurting.”
One side of his mouth pulled up in amusement. “I apologize, Lyra-Rose. I really do not know how to better clarify what is happening to you.”
“Don’t sweat it. But I do have one more question.”
I pursed my lips. “Has this ever happened to me before? I know that you’ve been watching out for me in all of my lives so you would know if I’ve ever gotten this close to returning to the City.”
His answering smile was touched with misery. “Once. Several centuries ago you had your memories and you were considering giving up your humanity.”
“I was? What changed my mind?”
He stood from the couch and walked over to examine the long line of pictures of Randall and me along the wall. He continued to stare at one of the photos as he told his story. “The last time Vega found you, you were a young lady in England and she killed you before you were even old enough to be courted. In your next reincarnation, I was careful to keep my distance in case Vega was still nearby.
“Decades passed without her returning and soon you were an old woman. You were a scholar and had spent many years researching religions. It was an accident that you met me back then but somehow you were able to realize the truth about me and about yourself. I told you about the City and about how you were back then and you contemplated what it would be like to return and be one of the goddesses that you had so long read about.
“Then you took sick. I tried to convince you to return but you would not hear of it. You said to me that your old age had taught you that even with the promise of death any single life was more fulfilling than an eternity as an immortal. I believe you lived two more hours after you said this to me.”
I swallowed back a lump that had formed in my throat. “Then what?” I choked.
He started as if he’d forgotten I was still there. “I spoke to Cassiopeia and Randall and they watched you for me in the next life. They have been helping me guard you since then.”
I was silent for a long while. “Do you think I should go back?” I finally asked.
“I think that you should do what you believe is best. No one can make that decision for you although I have tried for eons to convince you to return home.
With that helpful bit of advice I flipped on the TV to escape the thoughtful silence that had settled over us.
I couldn’t control my empathy so simply going outside gave me a headache. I wasn’t looking forward to work but I was already on thin ice and I couldn’t afford to miss any days. I quickly changed into a navy pencil skirt and white blouse. My strawberry locks were loosely tied back and I only wore enough makeup to hide the bags under my eyes and wrinkles that were quickly beginning to mar my usually flawless skin.
From the moment I closed the car door behind me until I finally stumbled into my office I felt like I was an inch from insanity. I was shaky and my hair was slightly disheveled from me running my fingers through it so much. I tried to focus my energy on blocking out everyone’s emotions like Michael had told me but it didn’t seem to be working.
I started at the sound of a knock and Delia’s gentle voice. “Y-yeah?”
Pity radiated from her. Delia was nice and a great editor but I didn’t want her to feel sorry for me. I didn’t like it that her pity was directed at me and I hated that I could feel how worried she was. But, I guess if I couldn’t feel her emotions I wouldn’t be going psycho to begin with. “That new tutor center on Main is going to be opening up tomorrow morning. I want you the article for it. It’s at ten so have some questions ready for interviews.”
I gulped. “You want me to do an interview? With people?”
“Well, yes. Is there a problem with that?”
Uh, yes! I was going to be absolutely surrounded by people. “Well, it’s just that I think the tutor center is a fantastic idea and I wouldn’t want to ruin its reputation with a mediocre article before its even begun to run. Don’t you think a more experienced journalist would do a better job?”
She smiled brightly at me. “Lyra, that passion you have for education and the center is exactly why I want you on this article. Randall will be accompanying you so that he can take the photographs. You two will be fine.”
My jaw clenched and my breathing came faster. “Crap, crap, crap,” I muttered after she’d gone. I would die if I had to be surrounded by people and actually talking to them would make my emotions flare up like crazy. Seriously, I was worse than a hormonal pregnant woman when it came to all of this feelings crap.
I snatched my phone and dialed the number to Randall’s office two doors down from mine. He answered quickly with the standard company response for a phone call. I didn’t have to patience to listen to his formalities so I interrupted him before he could even get his name in. “Hey, you’re taking pictures for the tutor center’s opening tomorrow?”
“Yeah. Why, what’s up?”
“Delia just told me that she wants me to go to that. There’s going to be a ton of people and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”
“Call in sick,” he answered easily.
I felt like I wanted to cry. “I can’t. I like my job and I don’t want to lose it. I can’t afford to screw up anymore, Randall.”
There was silence on his end for a long moment before he started to answer. “You know that you’re going to have to talk to Michael, right? Maybe he can help you.”
“I have talked to him a bit and apparently only a goddess can control her Gifts.”
“So?” Sometimes he wasn’t exactly the brightest bulb but he did mean well. “What’s wrong with being a god- oh. If you transition you won’t be human. But, Lyra, would that be worse than letting this stuff eat at you for the rest of your life?”
“At least I’d have a life,” I snapped way more harshly than I meant to. “Sorry, Randall. It’s just that I don’t know what I want at the moment and I feel like I’m running out of time to decide. I’m scared that I’ll lose who I really am if things keep going like they are.”
“Hey, Ly, I’d never let that happen,” he promised softly and I could hear the honesty in his voice.
I let out a breath and leaned against my headrest, letting my best friend’s steady breathing over the phone comfort me. My eyes slipped closed and I pressed my fingertips against my aching temples and my headache slowly faded. “Okay,” I finally agreed. “Okay, I can do this.”
“Atta, girl,” he laughed. “You’ll do just fine. And besides, I’ll be there if you need anything.”
I nodded feeling much better about this arrangement with Randall at my side. “Right, you can make sure that my head doesn’t explode.”
“Or I’ll clean up the mess when it does,” he teased.
I wanted to punch him for that one but his snide little comments did always find a way to make me feel better. Unfortunately my good mood only lasted until I hung up and was once again assaulted by everyone else’s emotions flying through my door at hyper speed. I groaned and my head dropped in defeat. If I wanted all of this pain to stop then I was going to have to become a goddess but I wasn’t sure if the sacrifice was worth the reward.
I was stuck. I had to believe that there was a reason I’d run away from the City so long ago and giving up my humanity just to avoid my empathy made me feel like I’d failed. Trying to reason out whether or not to accept my godly essence felt like I was trying to figure out the chicken and the egg paradox and just gave me a bigger migraine. I gave up after a long minute and quickly got up to close the door so that I could have solitude in my cozy little office.
I used to be a social butterfly, a debutant, but now I was finding solace being alone in front of a computer and I was actually dreading having to be around people. I wanted to just lock my door and stare at the screen for the rest of forever but I knew that wasn’t a possibility. I had to suck it up even if it hurt. For the moment I was just going to worry about my writing rather than stress about Gifts and goddesses.