Mia had thirty-two minutes before she needed to peel herself off the comfortable leather couch at Brentwood’s Starbucks and drive back to the Southern California Dance Troupe’s home base, their rehearsal space in Santa Monica. Thirty-two minutes wasn’t much, barely enough time to wipe off the tears. Then again, it was better to be quick about it. She wouldn’t have time to linger on heartache.
Mia reached across the steel surface of the coffee table, careful not to knock over the tall Chai Latte Gad had bought for breakfast. She took his delicate-boned hand in hers, her elbows hard on the table’s steel. She was still wearing the sweat-stained leotard underneath a marine blue zippered hoodie. The sweater’s velvet was soft on her skin, comforting if there could be any comfort at all. “I can’t see you anymore.” Her watery-blue eyes moistened as she watched his dear face shift from gleeful anticipation to shock.
“What?” Gad said. The corners of his mouth turned into an agonized frown, just as she had feared. He was clean-shaven, there was no trace of blond stubble on his cheeks, and he smelled of Palmolive soap. He wore a neatly pressed brown hipster shirt with a blue and white triangle print, the collar unbuttoned just at the base of his neck. “Why?”
Mia lowered her pale eyelashes, tracing the steel-scratched patterns on the table with a chewed-up fingernail, swirl after swirl in nauseating rounds. She knew her words betrayed the affectionate intimacy they had shared. It had only been two months, but every moment with him had lightened her heavy heart. “You are not what I was looking for.” Her bare feet shifted in and out of her cowhide clogs underneath the table. She wished she had worn a dress and applied make-up to bid Gad good-bye, but the troupe’s tight schedule hadn’t allowed for it.
“You can’t be serious.” Gad squeezed her hand gently the way he did. “I was under the impression that things are going exceptionally well between us. You said so yourself.”
“That’s true.” Doubt caused her to feel physically weak and bone-skin fragile, not robust nor muscular enough for a future principal dancer. She couldn’t argue his point. Their relationship had been going exceptionally well. But he wasn’t Gabriel. She thought he might be; his name, Gadiel, was cunningly similar. How did one recognize the love of one’s life if he reincarnated in a new body after being shot? It wasn’t precisely an every-day task.
“Is it your performance tonight?” Gad’s honey-smooth voice gained volume as he grasped at a reasonable explanation. “I know it’s a big night. There’s a lot at stake for you.”
“I understand if stage fright rattles you.” He tilted his head, his gray eyes fixating on hers to gauge her reaction. “You said you need to prove yourself to the troupe’s manager. What was his name, Mr. Wright?”
“Mr. Witherspoon.” Mia tucked her pale blond hair behind one ear. It was pitifully fine and clung to her head like a shiny cap, then snaked down to her mid-back. The troupe’s make-up artist Tilda would tease it up into an elegant chignon tonight.
“Are you overreacting, perhaps?” Gad turned his paper cup between nimble fingers, a double mocha with cocoa powder sprinkled on top. “You’re prepared. You’re a good dancer. You’ll make it just fine.”
“I don’t know,” Mia said warily. Her stomach growled. She would have to grab a bite to eat before she went on stage, but Starbucks sandwiches didn’t offer the right ratio of protein and complex carbohydrates. She wanted her stomach flat for her comeback performance, not bloated from too much bread. She knew to eat for maximum performance, not for fun. “Good is not good enough. I need to be outstandingly excellent. I need to morph into something that’s more exquisite than anything I’ve done before. Witherspoon believed in me. He gave me a second chance. I can’t let him down.” She bit the bottom of her lip and lowered her head. “I don’t know if I have it in me.”
“See? That’s what I thought.” Gad moved the paper cups from the center of the table to his right, then he leaned across, his hands closing reassuringly around her forearms. Mia couldn’t help but smile. “You are worried that he placed his trust in you, and you will disappoint him.” A wheat-colored strand of hair came loose and fell onto his forehead. Mia blinked. For a moment, his looks were as similar to Gabriel’s as his name.
“I did it before.” The air-conditioning blew onto her exposed neck. She zipped up the hooded sweater, mindful of protecting her muscles from getting too cold. A cold muscle was more susceptible to strain. “My mind went blank when I walked onto the stage for my first opening performance. It was an episode of amnesia. I blew the performance, and my understudy had to take over. That’s after seven years of performing. I wasn’t a newbie to the stage. I trained since I was five years old.”
“And then you quit,” Gad said, gently kneading her forearm muscles and working his way up to her biceps. His touch could melt a rock. “You’re too hard on yourself.”
“I had to,” Mia said. “I couldn’t take the risk of jeopardizing the season. The troupe needs strong principal dancers. Our budget isn’t large. We depend on subscriptions, and we need to sell every ticket in the house to keep our audience coming back. I wasn’t fit to perform.”
“You are now,” he said, massaging his way up to her shoulders. Her body told her to give in and surrender. “You’ll see. You’ll soar tonight. You’ll prove it to Witherspoon that you were worthy of his trust, and you’ll have your spot as a prima ballerina for the summer season and beyond.” He winked at her, smiling. “You’ll have the career you worked so hard for, and it’s starting tonight. I’ll be waiting for you in the foyer with dozens of roses. I’ve already ordered them. I’ll pick them up in Santa Monica this afternoon.”
A single tear dripped from her eyes, running slowly across her round, childlike cheeks. She leaned back into the squishy leather, away from Gad’s reach. “I’m sorry.”
“You don’t want me to come?” His eyes widened.
“I’m sorry you bought flowers. I didn’t know. I should have told you earlier.” She wanted to kick herself for putting it off, but it was so hard. She couldn’t go on stage preoccupied with a relationship. She had done it before, with Alex, and it backfired. She needed a clean cut and her head clear. “I need to end the relationship,” Mia heard herself say.
“So, you are serious?” Gad’s hands dropped lifelessly on the unforgiving steel top. “You’re making a mistake.”
Maybe she was. Unfortunately, there was no way of collecting evidence whether she did the right thing or not. The task at hand exceeded most people’s capabilities. She couldn’t tell anyone, not even her best friend, Cathryn. She couldn’t have a casual chat about searching for her reincarnated boyfriend who happened to be a member of an undercover unit of the semi-angelic bodhisattva. She couldn’t drop a line at a party that her boyfriend rehabilitated Nephilim for a living if he had to earn a living, which he didn’t. He followed his dharma and dharmas were tax-free ventures. She hadn’t believed it either, and who would? She thought he was brainwashed by a cult. She learned the hard way that she should have considered the unbelievable and trusted his love.
“I don’t understand you,” Gad said. “I thought I did.”
“You can’t.” Mia hid her balled fists in her lap underneath the table. She couldn’t soften, couldn’t yield. It had to be done, no matter how much it hurt. Gad was everything a girl could ask for in a supportive boyfriend; kind, patient, generous. His communication skills rivaled Carl Rogers, the father of humanistic psychology. He was even-tempered like a Zen Buddhist, and his cheerful confidence in his web development start-up matched the founder of Amazon. He was content, settled, financially established, and ready to commit. “I barely understand it myself.”
“Explain it to me,” Gad challenged her. “What’s missing?”
“I can’t tell you.” What was missing in their relationship escaped the rational mind. It didn’t lend itself to description without sounding foolish at best. Gad was a regular man. Missing were uncanny skills, such as the ability to open locks by the sheer power of intention, for example. Or, the ability to download skills from the collective human unconscious when needed, convenient when abducting self-harming Nephilim and avoiding getting caught by the law. A bodhisattva in need of a law degree directly downloaded the knowledge required for the bar exam from the collective unconscious and fooled the judge. Gabriel didn’t need internet access. A high-speed wireless connection was snail-mail in comparison to telepathy. A cell phone was a clumsy way of communicating when one could conveniently project their thoughts through imagery and tap into the collective consciousness of his unit for a response.
“It’s hard to describe.” Sweat pearled down Mia’s back.
“Try it,” Gad said. “Tell me.”
Mia shook her head.
Among other perks missing, was the ability to heal wounds by channeling a highly-qualified medical team and expediting recovery. Gabriel’s unit, the bodhisattva, had restored Mia’s disfigured face after a motorcycle accident. She couldn’t have returned to the stage without their miraculous intervention. Cathryn was still resentful that Mia hadn’t shared the contact of the affordable, but genius plastic surgeon Mia supposedly visited. Any attempt to tell Cathryn had led to less-than-friendly reminders to see a very empathic psychotherapist who practiced in walking distance to Mia’s home in Topanga Canyon. And, to come clean on the truth.
“New-Age qualities,” Mia said.
“You don’t like New-Age.”
“True,” Mia said. It used to irritate her like a flea bite. Bodhisattva tended to come across New-Age, so there was nothing she could do. It was her pet peeve of boyfriend flaws. The real Gabriel could intuit unspoken intentions, psychological needs and fitting growth opportunities to further one’s karma, as well as uncover secret checking account passwords and pin-point winning stock portfolios. How did a bodhisattva predict the stock market? The failing stocks dimmed into the background when glancing at a newspaper or TV headline. The winning stocks stood out in bold print. Simple and convenient. Unbeatable. Why earn a living when you could manifest anything you needed?
She would destroy Gad’s self-esteem if she told him.
“You want to split up with me because I don’t do yoga?”
Mia almost smiled. But his agony of finding flaws with himself when there weren’t any was too painful to watch. She had to cut him loose before she did any more damage.
“I need to go,” she said.
“The last time I saw you, you curled up in my arms.” Gad pushed his chair back so hard it tumbled over with a clatter. A few heads raised from their laptops, coyishly looking in their direction. “You don’t mean it. You are nervous, and you have stage fright.”
Her eyes met his, but there was nothing left to say. Mia’s lip trembled when he waited for her response. She hid her face in her hands.
“Call me when you changed your mind. We are great together.”
“Yes, we are,” Mia said quietly, peeking through her fingers for final view of his muscular build and surprisingly lithe gait as he walked out. She could have loved him.
She had been searching for Gabriel for eight months. Supposedly, he was in her vicinity in his new body, but she didn’t know how to recognize him. What if she never found him? What if Gabriel had reincarnated as a regular man, he turned out to be Gadiel, and she was making an unforgivable mistake? How would she know with certainty whether she did the right thing or not? There was no certainty.
She wasn’t psychic, after all. It sure would come in handy.