The next day she awakened groggily. Her dreams were full of guilt and self-recrimination. But I haven’t done anything!
She got up and put her coffee machine to boil while she took a bath. She didn’t even look at what she was wearing today and left her hair down. It was a hassle to put it up anyway. She was finishing her coffee. A knock on the door distracted her. She opened it and was surprised to find a slightly disheveled Michael at the door. His grey eyes were sleep-dazed.
“Sorry am I too early?”
She looked at the clock. There was a whole two hours before they met. She nodded and let him in finishing her coffee and doing the dishes.
“Sit on the couch. I’ll be done in a few,” she said as she picked up her lip gloss from her dresser and applied it before doing her eyes. What the hell is he doing here so early! Did he have bad dreams too? Jeremiah did say everything would change after yesterday.
Finishing she went back to the living room to find Michael asleep. She left him to sleep and tidied her kitchen some more. Then she went and sat on the reclining brown chair and took her sketchbook out and began to sketch Michael sleeping. He looks so cute. Like a baby cherub almost. He has a beautiful bone structure too and his lips...don’t...stop thinking about that. He’s Shayla’s….But maybe just one?
She put her sketchbook aside for a minute and thought seriously about kissing the man in front of her, before shaking her head and picking the sketchbook again. An hour and a half passed before he awoke.
Michael woke up to the sounds of sketching. He knew the sound by heart as he loved to sketch building models, and looked up to find Aisha drawing away in her notebook. He yawned, gaining her attention. She smiled and set her book down. “That was some nap. Did you not sleep last night or something?”
“Or something,” he muttered. The truth was that all his dreams had been of her and him doing things he’d rather not think about. He was still confused at what urged him to come to her so early in the morning.
He should have been running the other way but something inside him didn’t want to and he was both intrigued and scared by that. He wanted to be by her side constantly. More so than they already were. That’s what scared him. This insatiable longing for the wrong person.
“Ready to go then?” She asked standing and grabbing her coat.
“You really need a new coat,” he muttered, taking in the leather wind jacket she had picked out.
“This one is better than the wind jacket I had yesterday.”
“You still need a better coat.”
“Well, my funds are tight right now and with my need for a desk now…”
“A desk is more important than your health?” He asked, raising an eyebrow.
She sighed. “No, I guess not. I’ll buy one at the store today. They’re on sale for the season.”
“Let’s go.” He stood from the couch and headed out her door. She followed behind him locking up and descending the stairs to her apartment to where his car was parked. She got in and they drove to the big mall center for their small town. Further out was the city of Boston.
It was a large mall for their size town and was where most of the entertainment for the teens and twenties crowd was found. There were a theatre and a large food court on the third level. The other two levels were filled with stores. There were three jewelry stores inside. All at opposite ends of each other.
They walked to the stairwell and walked down two flights of stairs before entering a tunnel that led to the East entrance and Aisha’s favorite fountain. It was decorated like a fairy wonderland and the water came from a large tree in the center, falling to pool into the leaves. The fairies looked to be splashing in delight. Her favorite fairy was the one on the toadstool with one finger in the water, her head in her hand, and a sleepy or dreamy look in her eyes.
“The store is to the north so is Pem’s Jewelry,” Michael said as they passed past the fairy fountain. She was tempted to sit and stare at that fairy, maybe sketch her but their time was limited and she wanted to find that perfect ring for her sister and be done with Michael she hoped. She didn’t want her nightmare to become a reality. So far so good. She turned to Michael who seemed to be avoiding her eyes. “Yeah. Let’s go,” she said.
They walked past several clothing stores and one toy store before reaching the North section and having to ride the escalator to the second floor for the store. They entered through the mall entrance and walked by displays of female apparel. Michael and Aisha walked straight to the winter coat section and Aisha began trying on a few heavier coats.
He watched as she found one she loved, that went to her knees, was water and wind-resistant, and was insulated with a bunch of pockets; but when she looked at the price tag she put it down and kept looking. Michael looked at the price tag. It wasn’t out of his range and she was helping him with the ring search. He wasn’t buying it because he wanted to right? Right. It was a simple thank you gift. Nothing wrong there.
“I’ll buy it for you,” he said, picking up the coat. She poked her head out of the racks and shook her head.
“Your money is for my sister not for me. Concentrate on the ring.”
“You’re important too,” he mumbled.
“It’ll be your congratulatory gift. I was planning on getting you something for helping me out anyway,” he said.
She blushed. “Well, I really don’t think…”
“It’s sixty-three dollars.”
“Eh? You missed the gigantic two before the sixty-three?”
“It’s small, almost negligent but it’s there. That’s how they get you to buy things that are way overpriced. I found the same jacket by another maker and it’s a hundred bucks. Still pricey but not two hundred at least.”
“Great. I’ll buy that then.”
She shook her head and pointed her finger at the escalator. “We’ve got a ring to find and who knows how expensive it will be. I’ll buy the coat. You focus on the ring.”
Michael sighed but nodded, wiping his sweaty hands on his jeans. He had been clutching them so hard they hurt. Why did he want to buy her something so badly? He followed her to the counter and looked at the rings but like she said nothing called to him.
She paid for the coat and they left through the bottom mall entrance and walked to Pem’s Jewelry Store. They found a few eye-catching pieces but not an engagement ring. Pem’s store took up more time than they thought and by the time they were out their bellies were grumbling.
“Come on. You can buy me lunch,” she said as she stepped onto the escalator. She saw a flash of blond hair and emerald eyes before a woman carrying several large packages shoved against her.
“Hey!” yelled Aisha as she tumbled off her step.
Michael caught her before she tumbled into someone else and tucked her into his side protectively. Aisha blushed as she felt his arms around her waist. Shayla! Think of Shayla!
She tried to move from her spot beside him but he wasn’t letting go. They rode the escalator to the third floor with her tucked to his side. He let her go when they reached the top and she began to search for a seat. The only seats available were two seats in the far back covered by fronds. They seemed exclusive. Aisha walked over to them and pulled out a chair.
“What do you want?” he asked gazing at her.
She fidgeted. “I’ll have Taco Bell. Five tacos hold the guacamole and a wrap. Shayla loves the green stuff.”
Michael smiled. “And you?”
“Depends. I’ll have it on my nachos but not on my tacos. What are you eating?”
“Okay then. Get to work, stooge.”
“I think it fits you. You aren’t my boyfriend or related to me so you are my stooge. Off you go. You have your orders,” she said waving him away with a grin.
“As my lady wishes,” he said, smirking and disappearing into the crowd.
“You were flirting, Aisha.”
Aisha jumped. “Quit that!” She turned to find Jeremiah rolling his eyes at her.
“Jeremiah, what are you doing here?”
“Making sure you don’t screw things up and it looks like I came just in time too.”
“Nothing has happened.”
“Look over there,” he said pointing behind him. She looked and gasped. Shayla was there talking and eating lunch with a friend.
“Shit! She’ll know about the ring!”
“You’re not worried she’ll think something is going on between her boyfriend and sister then?”
Aisha shook her head. “She knows we’re just friends but if she sees us together she’ll wonder why and she might guess right.” She turned to Jeremiah. “Pull up a chair and sit with us. You can be our smoke screen!”
Jeremiah sighed and pulled up a chair and sat down. “We haven’t hung in a group in a century, Aisha”
“So? She knows you are my friend and Michael isn’t around right now.”
“Fine, we can practice your string abilities. Take my hand. What do you see?”
Aisha placed her hand in his and the world was covered in strings. She looked around the room. She watched as strings emerged from people while others snapped in two. Some grew longer and changed colors.
“It’s a tapestry of threads.”
“Each thread represents a relationship and within that relationship lays the individual strings for decisions. Those strings that are snapping are decisions made and relationships breaking. Those strings that are growing are healthy relationship threads and those changing colors mean the relationship is changing.”
He pointed to an old man who was sitting alone and drinking tea. “Also the more strings one has the more life one has lived. It’s a virtual weight that gets heavier as time goes by. Life weighs you down and each decision made liberates you to make new ones.”
“So the strings weigh us down?”
“What about grey strings?” she pointed to a small string that seemed tied to the pinkies.
“Those are life-changing threads. Something will happen to change your life.”
“And black? There are two black strings?”
“There are also two white. The ones on the ankle represent soulbonds. The ones tied around the torso represent life or death choices. A white string represents rebirth usually spiritual.”
And blue?” she pointed to the blue thread wrapped around the cranium.
“Intellectual. Green has to do with nature and yellow has to do with emotions.” He said picking at a near yellow string that was growing rapidly.
“Is that why the yellow strings are constantly breaking? Because our emotions change as rapidly as the wind?”
“Pretty much. Orange strings are family bonds and violet strings are friends. Red are amorous relationships. Take a look at the ankles and tell me what you see?”
She did. What she found astounded her. Shayla’s golden string stretched across the room and met with another man’s gold string across the room. From how he was dressed he was either a doctor or a nurse. Just as her string connected to Michael’s, Shayla’s connected to this man’s string. A stranger.
Jeremiah smirked and snapped his fingers. Shayla stopped talking to her friend and excused herself stepping from her table to go to the bathroom. At the same time, the man stood and excused himself walking in the opposite direction and towards Shayla.
“Watch,” Jeremiah said and Aisha did a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach building. It was exactly like what had happened to her and Michael, no less intense, even as the man didn’t know her sister. Their eyes met and the string twirled them closer for a few minutes but it was enough to see red strings grow, from her sister to him and back.
While a few red threads that were encased in the back began to thread and break. Aisha could feel the twang each time one snapped and another grew in its place. This happened for the several minutes the bond had Shayla and the man in place. Then they were free and asking each other’s names.
Aisha felt hollow as she watched her sister’s eyes burn bright. Not shine, burn.
“Enough, Jeremiah. Separate them,” she said watching the interactions.
Jeremiah smiled sadly and shook his head. “This is my job A. Like it or not, that man and your sister are like you and Michael and I’m not only talking about the bond. Don’t you want her to have someone who truly gets her, who can actually love everything about her as she is? I know you made a promise but think about that for a minute.
Watch how she literally lights up the room around him? Does she do the same for Michael?” Jeremiah faced her and sighed. “Think about your own happiness for once. I can guarantee you that the future’s not set in stone and that happiness is a moment gained. You can’t assure happiness for anyone.” He blinked out as Shayla left the man, a huge smile on her face and her blue eyes smoldering.