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Chapter Twenty

I was the second to arrive in the small room which had been booked out in the library. Adam was already sat down waiting and shook my hand firmly when I entered. When I looked at his size I realised that he could overpower me with ease, but his handshake was surprisingly gentle.

We made small talk for a while and I asked him different questions about his relationship with the University. He told me that he was in fact the president of the Theology society and in his spare time volunteered as a counsellor. He seemed to have a perfect blend of confidence and awareness of others, which made him a fitting candidate for both positions. Once the conversation turned back onto me I felt almost boring in comparison, but he listened with enthusiasm all the same.

“I don’t regret taking two years out before going back into education,” Adam said, his voice was deep and resonated across the room. “I’ve had chance to travel and try out different jobs in the process. Even apple-picking in New Zealand was great fun. You read so much, I think you’d love to see more of the world.”

“I have considered teaching abroad, or volunteering as a mediator in the East, but I don’t know if I’ll ever get round to it,” I said. My mind was still dwelling on last night’s events and a part of me didn’t believe that I’d ever be free to go where I wanted again.

“Mediation, you say?” Adam said, his eyes lighting up with interest. “A great career path, and growing all the time, too. There are some people I work with who might be able to get you in touch with some professionals. It wouldn’t hurt to get another perspective on it.”

“I’d be very keen to do that if you wouldn’t mind,” I said. Antoine had told me that I was a born peacemaker and suddenly an opportunity had presented itself. I couldn’t help but think that this too wasn’t a complete coincidence. “What made you study Theology in the first place?”

“I don’t know exactly, I felt like I should do it and that was that. It’s very interesting, no matter where you stand on it, especially as it’s not just about religion. It’s more about existence as a whole, and I think more people should ask the big questions sometimes.”

I was about to ask another question when we were interrupted by Anna coming through the door. She wore a summery dress despite it only being April and looked flushed from the cold outside.

“Sorry for being late,” she said, taking a seat next to me and scrambling to put all her carrier bags on the floor. She swept her hair back over her shoulders and was still as beautiful as I remembered. “Something I’m notorious for, I’m afraid!”

“No worries, we were just getting started,” Adam said. He took some sheets out of his bag and looked through his notes. We started to discuss how we were going to stage the presentation and agreed that we would split the speaking between the three of us, while specialising in three different areas. When we thought about what we could do to stand out from the crowd, Anna suggested that we do a timeline of the biggest philosophers on the subject of free will and talk about their discoveries.

I sat and listened and nodded as if it was the greatest idea I’d ever heard. She was smart, too, which made it even harder to pretend that I wasn’t interested. There was something extremely alluring about her, and whenever I was in the same room, I couldn’t help but focus on her all the time, without taking in anything else that was happening. Every time she spoke, I found it almost impossible to reel away from the sound of her voice, as if I was drawn to her like a magnet.

“Out of interest, what are your thoughts on the freedom of the will?” Adam asked conversationally.

“I think what’s important is how we react to the challenges life gives us. We all have good and bad points in our personalities, but it’s what we choose to focus on that matters,” Anna said thoughtfully. There was silence for a moment and then she said: “Wow. A little deep for a Friday afternoon, so sorry about that!”

“There are some points in our lives I don’t think we have any control over, if it’s on our life path for a reason. I agree with Anna though about the power over our own thoughts, at least.” I said.

“Interesting,” Adam said. He was leaning forward now and seemed eager to have his say. “I don’t think there’s such a thing as fate, myself. To me it’s like a domino effect in which all of our actions affects another, but only because of free will. It’s too much of a stretch to suggest there’s a design to it all.”

His viewpoint was reasonable and I thought many people might agree with it, but I didn’t think that was the way of it in the end. I could definitely see the part free will played in our lives but I was almost certain that there was something else involved prior to our stepping into the world. I wasn’t sure if everything went according to plan, but after everything I’d been told by Antoine, I found it very hard to believe that there weren’t some influences at work.

We volunteered Anna to be our main writer because her handwriting was so much better than ours. She wrote our own opinions gracefully while Adam had a look into the historiography on the subject. I felt a little bit useless and tried to find something interesting from our seminar notes, though I hadn’t written down anything in detail. I had found these conversations very educational but easily forgotten, as if a meeting of minds could be so quickly glazed over by the passage of time.

The next hour went fast and I enjoyed the discussions we brought up, especially as I hadn’t spoken like this with anyone else on the course. For the first time I felt like I was connecting with people my age and that was a good feeling. We transferred everything we’d talked about into a PowerPoint presentation and then wandered off the subject. By this point conversation came naturally and I felt at ease in their company.

“Jack, you should come along to our society night next weekend,” Anna said encouragingly. It was the first time that she had spoken to me directly and I blushed slightly as if I was still a schoolboy. “You’ll meet more of us on the course, and we’d be able to celebrate or commiserate about our presentation.”

I nodded and said that I’d be interested in going. Her eyes seemed to sparkle for a minute before she was once again composed and hard to read. Adam shared her sentiments and told me what the plan was. I noticed they seemed to think I wasn’t a big drinker, which was true, but I quite liked the idea of meeting new people after having had a few beers. There was no better way to calm the nerves down.

Adam and Anna spoke among themselves for a while about people they knew while I ruminated over everything I’d found out in the past week. I was enjoying feeling like a normal student for once but I didn’t think it would last very long. Suddenly it hit me that I had a long albatross wrapped around my neck with the news that I was one of the Zodiac, so I doubted I’d ever be free from the weight of that responsibility.

I was lost in thought when Anna caught my attention again and looked to be in a state of panic. Then I saw Adam convulsing in his chair and ran over to him before he could cause himself any harm. He carried on squirming and I had to try and pin him down, while Anna stood behind me and calmed him down. There wasn’t much time for thoughts but I hoped that he’d soon stop as I was no match for his strength.

Anna was just about to run outside and get help when Adam finally stopped his violent spasms. His arms fell limply at his sides while he rested weakly in his chair. I kneeled next to him and asked if he was okay but he found it difficult to speak. All of the colour in his face seemed to wash away and I was frightened by how quickly he had fallen into ill health.

“Adam, what’s wrong?!” Anna said with concern written all over her face. She came over to his other side and grabbed his hand gently. His eyes were not fully focused and seemed somehow distant.

“I don’t know,” he said, looking lost. “Something just came over me, I don’t know what it was.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Anna said. “You’ll have to see a doctor and get yourself sorted. Can you walk?”

“No, no, that’s okay. Please. Don’t make a fuss. I’ll be alright in a second.”

“You look like it’s taken the life out of you, Adam!” Anna said. He shook his head and lurched forwards, while using the table as a support for his hands. I stood beside him and helped raise him up but he seemed to find his strength from somewhere as he rose from his chair. Anna and I looked at each other and were clearly worried about him, but Adam shrugged it off as if it was nothing.

“I think I’ll be better to go home and get some sleep, now,” Adam said, still dazed by the suddenness of the attack. I didn’t like the idea of him walking home by himself, and Anna was adamantly against it, but Adam waved his hands dismissively and said: “Honestly, I’m okay now. I’ve probably overdone it the last few days, that’s all. We’ll just need to do a quick prep before the presentation.”

“Adam, you can’t just brush this off…” Anna began to say but the words were lost on Adam who was already walking towards the door. He seemed to struggle a little, his legs now lacking their usual strength, and I watched after him with a feeling that foreshadowed worse things were to come. I didn’t know why I thought this, but the knowledge of it was unshakable, and suddenly I was certain that everything was going to take place.

It was hard to know what to say after Adam had left and Anna mainly talked about her worries. She had known him since the first year and said that he’d always been a temple of health. I said that it was likely nothing and tried to put her mind at ease, though I didn’t believe my own words.

She didn’t seem to either and by the look in her eyes I could tell she knew I was holding something back. We packed our books away and then we left the room. We were about to call it a day as we reached the main entrance to the library when suddenly, without stopping to think about it or have time to listen to reason I asked if she would like to go for a meal.

Her face was expressionless at first and I feared that I’d already said too much, but then she said that she’d love to go and I thought that it might’ve just been shock. I wasn’t usually the type to make the first move but I had been taken in by the moment, and now I had no choice but to go along with my own idea. I confessed that I didn’t know much about the city and Anna said that she’d show me around a few of the restaurants.

Time passed quickly and it wasn’t long before we found an Italian place hidden away from the centre of the city. We were both keen to get inside and away from the cold, and I don’t think either of us were too interested about dining in style. I just couldn’t believe my own luck.

We were greeted by a very bubbly, well-meaning older woman whose hair was made up of dark curls and her eyes were bright and warm. She looked between the two of us and seemed to cotton on to the giddy awkwardness we both felt, though she simply smiled knowingly and found us a table towards the back of the restaurant. She gave us our menus and then walked away, though not without winking in my direction when Anna wasn’t looking.

I tried to keep the conversation casual and occasionally we both brought the subject back to Adam, especially as what had happened still loomed very largely in our minds. Anna had sent him a text message during the walk and he had told us that he was now home safe, but it was still difficult to shift it out of my thoughts. After ordering our drinks the night became more light-hearted and it wasn’t long before we were both in a fit of giggles.

Every so often I searched the room with my eyes, perhaps feeling slightly guilty about my loudness, but once we began drinking wine I started to care less. At the back of my mind I reminded myself that I was driving later and couldn’t drink too much. It was just as well because Anna had already gotten through her first glass in no time and was making quick work of the second one. She was composed the whole time, though, and I was glad that she was so comfortable in my company.

When explaining the theory of relativity Einstein had once said that an hour sitting with a pretty girl passes by in a minute – now, more than ever, I could appreciate what he’d meant. I lost track of time but as I looked around I saw that other people’s tables had cleared and been used again, while Anna and I simply wiled away the hours. We sat through a three course meal and ordered drinks well into the evening.

We talked about everything under the sun and I enjoyed gazing into her eyes while she told me about her career aims. I listened more than I talked, but I spoke enough about myself to keep her interest. I didn’t talk much about my time with the mariners, as though I was ashamed of it, though I knew I couldn’t keep it secret forever. I had never thought of it before, but I guess I was scared of losing those closest to me after what had happened.

Sometimes, when I looked into her eyes for too long, I could feel the backs of my ears burning up and my throat tightening – it’s funny, really, the amount of sensations you can have while talking to someone you really like. I hadn’t met anyone quite like her and I didn’t expect I would again. It was a feeling that I found difficult to understand as in truth I’d never really felt so drawn to another person, and now I wanted nothing more than to be close to her.

Suddenly there were rows of colours throbbing around her and glimmering in the candlelight. She stared at me enquiringly as I failed to hide my surprise and saw different hues of blue and green, though no one else in the room stopped to look. The colours seemed to be getting larger and some were moving in my direction, but Anna didn’t show any sign of anything being amiss. Somehow, I was seeing something that was completely invisible to the naked eye.

“Is everything alright, Jack?” Anna asked, concerned. She had drunk enough to be tipsy at this point but there was no disguising the panic in her face. I guessed Tom was still on her mind.

“Oh, yeah.” I said, trying not to sound too startled. I looked at my watch and, regrettably, she took it as a sign to leave.

“It must be getting late, I totally lost track of time!” Anna said with a polite laugh. Her smile didn’t meet her eyes, however, and I felt sure that she didn’t want to go. I wanted to tell her to take her coat back off but I knew I had already lost the moment. We stood up to leave and as my eyes met hers again I felt grateful that I had managed to spend so much time with her.

There was not much else to say once we had walked outside, especially as Anna lived in the city and showed no sign of needing to be walked home. I stood next to her with my hands in my pockets and seemed to have lost my newfound confidence, while she attempted to make small talk. She once again brought up the society event and then said her goodbyes. She moved in closer and kissed me on the cheek.

It was then that I must’ve found my courage, because I leaned in for a longer kiss. I felt her hands wrap around me while we kissed and I was sure that I could stay like this forever. We didn’t, though, and Anna eventually pulled away, though our eyes lingered on one another for a little longer afterwards.

“I’ll see you soon,” I said, still stunned by what I’d just experienced. She smiled and said that we would, before moving off into the other direction. For a while I simply stood there motionless until she turned the corner and then finally I perked up a bit.

I walked back to my car with a grin on my face the whole time, though I wasn’t always aware of it. I had always believed that somehow I was born to be alone, and that happiness was something that belonged to someone else. Relationships had simply happened to other people. Now, though, I wondered how I’d ever done without it, and hoped that I’d never lose what I was feeling at this very moment. There were some experiences which were just too good to forget.

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