My face looked ethereal and painfully young and innocent in the foggy glass of the bathroom mirror, and I angrily wiped it away. I was neither young nor innocent, and illusion or not it still bothered me. I ran my hands through my damp hair then cinched my robe tighter at the waist and padded softly into the living room. A stack of newspapers, maps, and assorted tabloids lay scattered on the table beside the worn armchair, and I flopped into it with a weary sigh.
A parade of images flashed behind my closed lids: my long-dead husband, the poppies with their audacious red hue in the fields where I used to play as a girl, a slash of light more precious than gold as it pierced the darkness in which I had lain captive for weeks, my hands soaked in blood as I screamed in anguish over the loss of my humanity, the kind yet achingly familiar eyes of Andrew Crossman when I had introduced myself this morning….
I stopped. Now why would this image strike such a chord with me? He certainly was not the first man I’d encountered over the centuries, albeit he was one of the few who had ever made me feel as if I were not a monster, but human almost.
I shook my head before letting it flop back. It had been a long day to say the least.
When I had come home a few hours before, I had stopped by Wendell’s place to chat and to go over the finer specifications of how Crossman Estates would handle his property when the time came. I still couldn’t accept the fact that Wendell was truly dying, but I had known the risks when he and I had become friends nearly eight years before. We sat at his kitchen table under the glare of a single yellow bulb and drank coffee while calmly discussing his passing as if it were the most normal thing in the world. As we talked I kept finding my thoughts continually straying back to Andrew and the uncanny coincidence involving the previous night’s encounter. Apparently Wendell knew me too well and picked up on my distractedness.
“Katrina? You still with me?”
I shook myself. “Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.”
He gave me a pointed look. “Repeat what I just said, then.”
“‘Katrina, are you still with me?’” I offered lamely.
“Don’t be cute. I know something’s bothering you, so spill.”
I sighed. “Am I really that transparent?”
“I know you better than most people—or any people for that matter. I know when something is bothering you because you get that faraway look in your eye. Tell me.”
The gentle tone of his voice made it nearly impossible to resist, so I told him everything, beginning with my first assessment of Crossman Estates, my initial encounter with Andrew—which as it turns out was actually my second encounter—our subsequent outing after accepting the job, and ending with the discovery that Andrew had been at the diner the previous night.
When I finished he flashed me a knowing smile. “You’re in love.”
I nearly choked on a mouthful of coffee. “What? That’s ridiculous—I barely know him!”
“Doesn’t matter. The first time I met Helen I knew that she was the one and nothing or no one could ever convince me of it otherwise. You should go out with him, see where it leads.”
“You know why I can’t do that. My story has only one ending and no matter how badly I do want things to work out between Andrew and me, I can’t risk hurting him.”
Wendell nodded and blew on his coffee to cool it. “So you do like him.”
Exasperated, I set the cup back down in the saucer with a loud clink and buried my face in my hands. This was crazy. Moments before we had been discussing the liquidation of his worldly possessions after his passing and the next we were discussing my love life. Or lack thereof.
“I think I’m getting a headache.”
“Aw, cheer up kiddo.” That made me smile. Imagine Wendell calling me ‘kiddo’ when I was nearly five times his age. “Look, I won’t press the matter anymore regarding this Andrew fella—even though I do think that he would be good for you.” He said this last part with a wry grin. “I just want you to be happy.”
“I am happy, or at least as happy as something like me can possibly get. I’ll be fine. This Andrew thing…it will pass just like anything else I’ve ever had to deal with. Besides, the job will give me something to do and it seems interesting.” This was more or less the truth and Wendell seemed to accept my answer, albeit he had to work to hide the look of disapproval on his face. He hated it whenever I referred to myself as a thing rather than a person, which he felt dehumanized me. I didn’t bother pointing out the apparent irony in that statement and let it go.
We spent the next hour or so making small talk and then Wendell announced that he was getting tired and I set about helping him up from the kitchen table. As I pulled the covers up and over him I attempted to keep the conversation light and offered to pick up some groceries for him after work tomorrow. He accepted this with a grateful smile and within minutes his breathing grew deep and measured and he slept.
I lightly kissed the top of his head and clicked off the bedside lamp and then made my way towards the living room. Benita snuffed sleepily at my approach and offered me a halfhearted tail wag before once again snuggling back down into her bed by the window. What a pair I thought, and then grabbed my purse and keys off of the kitchen table. I gently closed the door behind me and double checked it to make sure that it was locked and secure, and then I made my way across the hall towards my own modest apartment.
I didn’t even bother turning on any lights as I made my way down the hall towards my bedroom. The bed with its brocade coverlet in shades of rose, gold and sable looked warm and inviting and I sank down into its softness with a grateful sigh. It had been a long day, but an interesting one nonetheless. There was no telling what tomorrow would bring given the relatively high bar today’s events had set, but what I did know was that Andrew would be there. Despite my earlier protests some part of me felt a tiny thrill at that possibility, and for the first time in centuries I felt like I was a teenager experiencing the agony and ecstasy of their first crush.
I was getting old, I chided myself. But more importantly, I was old enough to know better than to pursue this—whatever this was.