Monday, June 3, 2013
The creak on the floorboard had to be deliberate. I know how he operates, you see, and he's made an entire career--if you want to call his macabre diversions a "career"--out of slinking into people's lives and upending everything in ways and at times they least expect. Managing to get into a bedroom undetected wouldn't be above him.
I looked up from the nearly full suitcase and swore.
"What? What? What the hell are you doing here?"
The smile Fate gave me in response was surprisingly complacent given that the last time we encountered one another, two years ago, I'd pushed him from a third-story window.
"What does it look like I'm doing?" he asked with infuriating calm. He folded a woolen garment and dropped it into the open trunk. "I'm helping you pack."
I cursed again.
"I should have known you were behind this. I should have known. You're always trying to pull this kind of stuff."
"As always, a pleasure to see you, too," he deadpanned, his English aristocrat's voice going drier than should have been possible. "And it's not as if I tried to orchestrate some grand scheme to keep you in the dark or anything. I mean, really, it's my city. My name is in the title. Did you ever think there was a reason it was called the City of Fate as opposed to say, maybe, the City of Zucchini?"
"You know what, don't," I snapped. "And while we're talking about things that should make sense, how is it that the City of Fate is here but that you have that ridiculous British accent?"
His hands momentarily stopped assaulting my favorite sweater.
"I mean, other than to sound mysterious or something?"
He rolled his eyes and readjusted his professorial paunch.
"You see me as you are conditioned to see me," he lectured. "Which means that the accent is more your doing than mine."
"Sure it is."
My grandmother's humming drifted in from the next room, prompting me to adopt a fierce whisper. "And keep your voice down."
His mouth opened and shut.
"You hurled me from a window fifty feet in the air and I floated off. I promise you, I'm quite capable of ensuring we're not overheard through the door or something equally melodramatic."
"Because you're never melodramatic," I shot, then barreled through before he could reply. "So, what are you here for? Car accident, train crash? Asteroid, maybe?"
"No," he smiled and chomped on an almond bar, which I noted with irritation he'd somehow managed to nick from my grandmother's pantry. "Just a part of your journey, and one I care to observe."
"Like, what, are you taking the train with me?"
"You don't have to see me for me to see you, BB."
"The fact that you just said that makes you creepier than you were before. And that's saying something. Have you morphed into a supernatural peeping tom since I tried to turn you into roadkill?"
"I like to think of myself as more of an engineer," he waxed philosophical. "Or perhaps, I don't know, the HR person of the universe."
"Awesome. Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but I'm only going up for a week."
He grinned in a way that made my stomach sink.
"Look, I'm coming back after five days and staying back, and you just need to accept that," I declared.
"I just need to accept it?" he threw his head of thin grey curls back and had the indecency to laugh. "It's the City of Fate. It's my city. You think I don't know what goes on in it? Or what will go on? You're tied to that place, and, what's more, complicit in the tying. No one made you choose the career path you did."
I glared at him.
"I can find a way around this."
"Like hell you can," he dismissed with a wave of his hand. "Your life will always be inextricably tied with that city, whether you want it to be or not, and the sooner you accept it the better off you'll be."
I crossed my arms over my chest.
"I'm not conceding that."
"You don't have to," he countered with a nod of his head before he strode across the room. "Looking forward to your visit."
Then he propped himself up into the window--"for old time's sake," he noted with a cheerful wiggle of his eyebrows--and was out into the morning sunshine before I could object any further.
I spent the next few days enjoying crab cakes and too much coffee, trying to pretend the encounter in the bedroom hadn't bothered me. But of course it had. And the long train ride up the eastern seaboard was not made any better by the knowledge that each mile of countryside flying by put me a little bit closer to that charlatan's cave.
The sun itself seemed to gloat when I finally stepped off the platform that Monday morning.
"Damn it, New York," I grumbled. "Damn it."