The late-April day has turned warm when I pull into the lot and park. Jared is nowhere to be seen. I eye the market next-door as my thoughts drift to buying cold drinks for our hike. The idea wins and I am walking toward the store when I spy Jared through a window. He is standing with his back to me radiating pure strength and raw male beauty. I freeze, helpless but to watch through the window.
He is talking to a pretty woman and though I can’t hear what is being said, it is obvious that something is going on between them. I take in her athletic form, the swell of her breasts and the cinch of her waist in the tight, blue dress she's paired with matching heels and my heart hardens. He says something that makes her smile and blush, head dipping, hand going to smooth the twist of her hair in its stylish up-do. I go ridged, breath catching, as a bolt of pure rage flashes through me. I watch wide-eyed as she reaches to hand him a pen. He bends to sign once, then twice and when she leans toward him to move the pages, I am quaking. What is he doing and who is she? A small voice in my head begins to squeak, How dare she smile at him like that! I should go in there, right now, and smack that grin right off of her face. It is then, in that moment, that I hear the absurdity of the whispers and I blink and come awake to the ludicrousness of my fierce, unwarranted reaction.
Why am I feeling these feelings? I blink again, still watching as he reaches to shake her hand. He turns toward the window, papers in hand. My frozen feet break free of the cement and I dash past the window before he can fully turn and see me.
I am gasping when I reach the market. I steal the moment to compose myself and stand in the shadows, back to the wall. I squeeze my eyes closed and in that moment I am convinced that Anna is right and that none of these feeling are mine to feel. There is no reason for me to feel anything let alone this ridiculous jealousy that has my heart racing. I force out a loud exhalation as the knowledge strikes me that something is clearly wrong. Then I am filled with thankfulness knowing that tonight Anna is going to help set it right because I don't want to feel like this anymore. I don't want to be a slave to my emotions.
I draw a deep calming breath and I am just getting control again when Jared calls to me, “There you are. It’s warming up. What do you think about picking up a couple bottles of water for our hike?”
“Good idea.” I reply and I follow him into the market. He grabs a handbasket as we walk through the door which he carries in the crook of his arm.
“So what are we looking for?” I ask.
He turns to me, eyes sparkling, full luscious lips quirking in a grin. He is so beautiful I can’t help but stare. “Everything and nothing,”
I shiver. “That has the ring of Alice in Wonderland.”
He plays along, standing there, looking down into my face, lips still twitching. “If that makes you Alice then who does that make me?” His voice so low and husky that it calls to me like a siren's song and I feel myself rising, as I lift my head, tilt my chin up and stretch up toward the beckoning of his perfect lips.
He straightens. “Uh, Rachel?”
I open my eyes and set my heels back on the floor.
What is happening to me? Every nerve in my body is raw and it feels as though there is a fiery snake in my lower belly that has uncoiled and is beginning to sway. My voice is gravelly when I answer, “Shouldn’t that be whom?”
He chuckles and turns away. “I don't know. I never could keep those straight.”
I squash down my emotions before I glance up to see the amusement shining in his eyes. I think he knows how he is affecting me and he's pleased by it. I take a calming breath and play it off with a shrug, “Me either, but back to the question, I see you more as a big bad wolf.”
“Aw, that hurts.” He gives me a pout. “Aren't you crossing plotlines?”
“Yeah, but that's okay because in reality I am more like Dorothy.”
I start down the aisle. “'Cause I'm always floating off in the ether.”
He turns his attention to shopping and suddenly my thoughts are my own again. I watch as he selects two sticks of string cheese and two sticks of cheddar. He tosses them into the basket. Then we are in produce and he chooses two apples. Next we peruse the snack row where he finds a box of animal crackers. I choose a box of arrowroot cookies.
“Why do you want those?”
I turn to see that he is frowning and I shrug. I don't know why but I really do want them.
“But I've already got some.” He fishes the box of animal crackers from his basket and holds them up for me to see.
I give him a steady look as I shrug again. I'm surprised by his sudden frown but I really do want the cookies so instead of tossing them into his basket, I keep a tight hold on them.
We come to the front and I grab two waters from the case. There is only one cashier open at our end of the store and the line has grown long. We step into line and wait. “Have you been to ruins before?”
The intensity of my feelings crest and break like a wave on the ocean and I feel like me again. I draw a breath. “Sure, a longtime ago,” I confide with a sheepish grin, “on a school fieldtrip.”
Another woman comes to the front but she ignores the line as she begins to arrange the candy in the lane next to ours.
“Hmm.” I turn to Jared. “Do you think she sees us?”
A moment later another woman comes up to question the woman arranging the candy. Soon they are locked in a discussion which is quite irritating as our line seems to have stopped moving.
“Seriously, I think we may have become invisible.”
I glance up to catch the smile turning his mouth and I confide, “Sometimes when I drive I get the impression that my car is.”
Jared ignores my attempt at humor and only glances back at the two women. “This is ridiculous.”
My emotions again begin to swell and I am filled with reckless abandon. “Here let me try something.” I close my eyes. Then I pause to peek at him with one eye open. “It’s like meditating and I have to concentrate so don't try to talk to me for a moment. Okay?” When he nods, I close both of my eyes, quiet my mind and find my focus. Then I draw it up into my eyes and focus on the women. I push my intent with all my force at them, See meeeee…help meeee…see meee Now! As I focus, the woman organizing the display looks up and I can't help but smile when her eyes lock on mine. I continue broadcasting… See meeeee…help meeee…see meee Now!
“Hey you, Miss,” she says, motioning to me.
I point at myself like there might be a question about who she is addressing
“Yeah you. Come on over. I can ring you up here.”
Jared is quiet throughout the transaction. He waits until we are out on the sidewalk to ask, “What was that?”
I cast him a smile. “Just a small magick.”
“But you do it quite well. Where did you learn it?”
For some reason I feel compelled not to tell him anything about Anna so instead of answering I head to the car.
“Rachel?” He catches my arm and brings me up short.
The words spring from my lips, “From Anna.”
“The girl I met this morning?” I nod and his voice takes on an angry edge, “She practices witchcraft?”
I turn away from him.
“And you really don't see a problem with that?”
The anger in his voice surprises me and I laugh. “Jared, she's my coworker. It’s not like I have a say in what religious practice she keeps.”
He grabs my arm, rougher this time, as he turns me to face him. “Rachel when you have the ability to raise power and you are unschooled, playing with magick can be like.” He looks at me and the set of his features scare me a little. “Well, it can be like playing with fire.”
I try to tug away but his grip only tightens. “Jared, let go of me!” Suddenly I'm angry and he must sense it because he instantly releases my arm. My steps are clipped as I walk to the car.
“Rachel,” he calls. I hear it when he lets out a noisy, anguished breath. “I'm sorry. I'm tired and I'm overreacting.”
Overreacting. The word is a sharp reminder. It stalls my retreat and I wonder if it is him, or if maybe I am the one who is overreacting. He catches up. I turn to see his eyes are again sparkling, “Forgive me. I didn't mean to be so melodramatic. It’s just that I find your kind spirit and your compassionate heart refreshing...” I'm still frowning at him when he adds. “I'd hate to see some awful experience jade you. Please don't be angry.” Then he grins, his charming grin. I stand ridged watching as he reaches into the grocery bag. My emotions are a thunder cloud building inside me and I am working to clamp them down. He pulls out the box animal crackers. “Here, I have a gift.” He opens the box and takes out a cracker. Then with a comically exaggerated expression he gazes down at the cracker before he offers it to me. “Here have a buffalo.”
I take it and I bite off its head.
My anger cools as I get to the car so when he asks, “I'm getting in, right? I mean, the hike is still on?”
“It’s not much of a hike, but yeah, we're still on,” I reply grumpily as I open the door.
He takes a dramatic breath and slides in. Suspicions roll through my thoughts as I realize his stories just weren't adding up… He just flew into town to see his sister, but he's spending the day hiking with me. He said she just left today on business. Didn't he talk to her before he flew out? He said things were not working as he'd planned and now he has to make other arrangements…Suddenly I realize it might be the spell again working its magick on me, making me crazy, making me put too much emphasis on little things that needed none, but before I can stop myself from acting like a Diva, I turn to him as he is fastening his seatbelt and demand, “Tell me why you lied to Anna.”
He shoots me a sideways glance. “What are you talking about?”
I spy the box of arrowroot cookies and I grab them up. A frown turns his mouth when I rip into the package. I ignore it and pop two of the small cookies into my mouth. “Today when we saw you at Circle-K you told her you were from Massachusetts.” I take another cookie and devour it as I watch his expression but the only thing I register is his amusement. “Born and bred you said. Or was it me you were lying to when you said that you grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula?”
“Rachel, I was just keeping it simple. I was in a hurry and didn't want to engage her in a conversation.”
I consider his explanation as I pop another cookie into my mouth and chew it up. “So tell me again. Why are you here?”
“Can I have one of those?”
I hand him a cookie as I eat two more. He holds the cookie under his nose and gives it a sniff before he takes a small bite.
“So?” I ask.
He fixes me with a puzzled expression.
“Why are you here?” I demand.
“Really?” He gives a soft snort but when he realizes I'm deadly serious he begins to explain, “Well, let's see, I guess because you are young and beautiful and because I find you interesting, I mean you're smart, you're well-read and you have a great job…”
He says more but my thoughts snag on beautiful. I freeze as the concept unfurls in my head. Beautiful? He thinks I’m beautiful?… I cast a veiled glance at him before I glance into the rear-view mirror and back the car out of the lot. “Uh, I meant here in Arizona,” I say softly.
“I told you, I wanted to get away from the cold, to try something new, to see my sister.”
My thoughts are spinning as I turn the car south onto Miller. “So you just left everything?”
“Rachel, I've been away at school. When that ended, it became time for something new.”
I let my line of questioning fall as his words beat their way through to my ego. He thinks I'm beautiful… he thinks I'm beautiful and interesting too! A quiet moment stretches between us before I yield. “I'm not really interesting,” my voice is soft but I can't keep the smile from tugging at my mouth.
“Oh, yes you are,” his low voice is so soft it shivers across my skin like velvet. I lift my eyes from the road to run them over him. My eyes catch his big blue ones full-on and my stomach flutters. It’s all I can do to pull away to watch the road. “Even more interesting than I know.”
I smirk. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I bet you're keeping the most fascinating things about you all to yourself.”
The idea makes me smile. “Like what?”
“Like what,” he echoes playfully. “I don't know, you tell me.”
My voice is small when I offer, “Like I can see ghost?”
He laughs. “You can see ghost. You’re joking.” I shake my head and he adds, “Really? Like right now?”
“No,… only sometimes.”
“Hmm, well I supposed that could be, uh, a bit awkward.”
I am surprised he gets it and I turn to look at him. “You have no idea…luckily I've had some training.”
“Training? Then it must have manifested early...”
I am surprised he is talking about this so rationally and when we catch a red light, I turn and give him a nod. “Mom realized that I had a gift, that's what she calls it, 'my gift'.” He is quiet as the story of my grandmother's passing pours from me, “when I was four. I was not allowed to go to the funeral but instead stayed home with a babysitter. I never got to say goodbye, but that was fine because Grandma kept on visiting.
“I told mom about it but she didn't pay any attention to my stories, not at first anyway. It wasn't until I mentioned the pretty dress Grandma always wore when she visited and it turned out that I was describing her burial gown, an elaborate dress I'd never seen, that mom began to take notice.
“Then one day when I mention that I'd talked to Grandma again, Mom asked what we talked about and something I said frightened her, which in turn, frightened me. So the next time I saw my grandma, I told her I didn't want to talk anymore.” The memory looms up fresh to fill my eyes with tears. I brush them away with the back of my hand before they can spill. “And she left and has never come back… It’s something I really regret.”
I glance at Jared. His head is titled so that a curtain of hair hides his eyes. “I'm beginning to understand the role of the bookshop.”
The light changes and I urge the car forward. “Mom is super sensitive when it comes to me. She reached out to the psychic community and that's how Liminal Landscapes, a portal for dimensional living, our metaphysical bookstore, was born.” I take a deep breath and smile as I wipe the corners of my eyes again. “So that's it. I am a medium, though not a very good one, but I am studying. I spend the summers at the College of Psychic Studies in London.”
“Ah, a magical school. I didn't know they really existed.” I slide my eyes to find him watching, brows pressed high with amusement, “Sounds like Harry Potter.”
I look out through the windshield and laugh. “Yes, there really are schools that specialize in metaphysics, and no, it is nothing like Harry Potter.”
The silence grows in the car again. I glance to see him looking out the side window. We're going south on Miller and as we pass my street I point it out. “I live down that one.”
“Nice neighborhood. Is your house Southwestern?”
“Yep, complete with red tile and blue trim.”
“Seems pretty popular.”
“It’s an old custom.”
“Custom, tradition, ritual, call it what you will. They say a blue threshold has the power to keep evil away, as ghosts and witches cannot cross it. Mom loves that folklore stuff.”
“They say that about arrowroot too.” Amusement is thick in his voice and I sneak a glance at him. He is looking forward out the window and his good looks strike me all over again. He turns and catches me looking and I grin hard and shift my eyes back to the road.
“You lived there long?”
“Pretty much my whole life.”
“You and your mom are pretty close, I take it.”
“We are. She's pretty awesome for a mom. I mean she's always going out of her way to try to understand me, to make my life better.”
“She sounds like a saint.”
I laugh. “You're kidding right? I mean she has her own life with the shop and she works all the time. Oh, and she's away a lot at conferences. In fact, she's going to one next weekend.”
I feel his eyes shift to me. “Are you going?”
“No, it’s a spiritual retreat. I'd be into it if it were a comic-con or a sci-fi conference. Those are way more fun.” I pull into the almost empty lot and park. It is pretty spectacular that the ruins of a1500 year-old Hohokam village are hidden in the middle of the modern-day city. Well, it’s not really 'hidden', but more like tucked obscurely out of the way, off the corner of one of the busiest intersection of city. It’s kind of funny that so many of the city's inhabitants drive right by never knowing this 102 acre park even exists.
We get out of the car and decide to walk through the archaeological site first and we take the path the winds through the ruins. The desert has a magic all its own and today is a glorious golden afternoon with a sky of deep endless blue as the sun casts the perfect light to warm our skins and light the day creating what Mom always calls the perfect Kodak moment. Life swells around us as we explore the park. The air is filled with birdsong and the desert around us is abundant with creatures as lizards, roadrunners and rabbits skirt our path. As we come to some of the last remaining intact Hohokam irrigation canals, a covey of quail bursts from the underbrush to scamper across the trail.
We come to the platform mound believed to be the center of Hohokam community life and the path gets steeper. Jared turns to take my hand and as our palms come together and our fingers interlace, it’s like I suddenly grow a thousand nerves for never have I been so aware of the nearness of another person as he tugs me up the walk.
“It’s amazing,” he says.
I grin as I look at him. “Yep, it’s pretty amazing.”
Then some noise or something distracts him and he lets my hand drop as he whips around to scan the hillside below us. I shade my eyes and try to discern what has caught his attention but there is only an old saguaro, a couple of palos verdes, and a bunch of sagebrushes where he is looking. “What?” I ask. “What is it?”
I reach out and touch his arm. “Jared?”
After a long moment, he gives up looking but when he turns back to me I can tell his mood has shifted, and for the rest of the walk, his thoughts are somewhere else and the energy that had been growing between us is gone.
When we reach the beginning, we enter the museum. I find it more beautiful than I remembered. I don't know if it has been updated, or that the fact that I am no longer ten gives me a better appreciation of the treasures here, but I am awed by what we find. Pottery, tools and jewelry made from shells and stone depict what life in the Hohokam village might have been like.
We come to an exhibit filled with examples of petroglyphs taken from South Mountain Park. I read the plaque, 'In the valleys surrounding the South Mountains we find animal and geometric images that were pecked into stone outcrops and boulders at least 600 years ago. The meaning of this art is unknown although they may represent trail markings, be a form of storytelling, or a record of events. The Pima Indians consider Hohokam rock art to have important spiritual significance. Here are a few excellent examples of those petroglyphs.'
Jared perks up as we study the images of mountain sheep, snakes, lizards, circles, spirals, and human-like figures and I am floored when I see several depicting six-fingered hand and footprints. My thoughts return to our Sci-Fi event and the author’s discussion of polydactyl beings. I turn to Jared and ask what he thinks.
“Uh, well it is interesting.” He pauses and I am intrigued by his expression because it seemed that he is weighing his thoughts before he adds, “I'm not sure what these drawing represent but I believe that the Sumerians depicted their gods with six fingers and the ancient Hebrews considered polydactylism to be a mark of the Rephaim.”
He gives me a nod. “An ancient race of giants that occupied the neighboring lands.”
“Wow, and you just happen to know this because?”
“Uh, because I just spent four years acquiring a history degree with a minor in religious studies?”
“Oh.” I file the name away to look up later.