“What happened last night?” Seth asked in a kind voice.
“You’re good like that,” Dale said. “You see everything but know just where to keep be involved.”
“I’ve screwed up a lot,” Seth said.
Dale gave a sad nod. Seth let him think for a while.
“I thought maybe I was over it,” Dale’s voice came out like a whisper. “You know, Beth.”
Seth gave him an understanding nod.
“I … She …” Dale shook his head. “I started screaming.”
“No,” Dale said. “At least I don’t think so. God, that would be awful. Did she say I did?”
“No,” Seth said. “I was making sure you remembered correctly. Sometimes, when I’m very upset, I remember things as much, much worse than they actually are.”
“Is that true?” Dale asked.
“Sadly, yes,” Seth said. “Ivan said that you and Melinda have spent a lot of time together while you’ve been here in New York.”
“She’s very beautiful,” Dale said. “Fit, strong. So different from Beth.”
Dale swallowed hard.
“Not that Beth wasn’t perfect in every way,” Dale said. “Beth was perfect … ly Beth. Brilliant, beautiful… everything.”
“We had dinner,” Dale said. “I took her to that place that Otis owns. I wanted to go someplace that if I had trouble, someone I knew would be there to help, you know. Plus, Beth hated sushi, so it’s not like I could remember her and I eating sushi. Anyway, Otis was there and he practically force-fed us everything like we were somebody famous. Then he wouldn’t let me pay.”
“He’s like that,” Seth said.
“It was nice. Just what I needed, really,” Dale nodded. “We laughed and ate. It was … nice.”
“She has to go to work early, so we left about ten,” Dale said. “I took her back to her place with the idea that I would just drop her off. She invited me in and …”
Dale fell silent. Feeling like he needed to push a bit, Seth leaned forward.
“What happened?” Seth asked.
“Oh, between us?” Dale asked. “Nothing. We kissed and … I thought maybe I could stay, you know. We agreed not to have sex. That was off the table because it was a first date and stuff. But I was going to stay the night …”
Dale cleared his throat.
“I don’t know what happened,” Dale said. “She was taking off her clothing. I watched and … She’s so beautiful, I was … aroused. Then bam! I was standing over Beth in the condo kitchen.”
“You remembered,” Seth said. “You haven’t remembered the actual experience of finding Beth.”
“I did last night,” Dale said. He flushed red. “She had her back turned to me and I started screaming … Horror. Fear.”
Dale started visibly shaking.
“It was like Beth knew that I wanted, you know, Melinda and she …” Dale said.
Shaking with emotion, tears fell down Dale’s face.
“I realized how much I’d failed her,” Dale said. “Beth, I mean. She only has me and Ava to remember her and I go and … She wanted me to remember that I’d killed her.”
“You didn’t kill Beth,” Seth said.
“No, I did!” Dale said. “I wasn’t there. If I had been there, he would have killed me and not her. I should be dead, not her. Not her. Not her. Not her. Not her. Not her. I should be dead!”
A sob escaped Dale’s guarded lips.
“Not her,” Dale said as a whisper. “And she knew it. That’s why she was there and …”
Dale fell silent. Seth watched the guilt and sorrow work its way across Dale’s face.
“I should be dead,” Dale said. He sighed. “Me, not Beth. I just ran. Out. And …”
Seth pushed open the door to the second bedroom in his Greenwich Village apartment. He silently slipped into the darkened room. Seeing him, his housekeeper, Claire, got up from where she’d been reading. She touched Seth’s arm in greeting and left the room.
“Dale,” Seth said in a low voice.
“Seth?” The young man’s voice was leaden and slow.
“I wondered if you’d like to eat,” Seth said.
Dale grunted and rolled over. Seth set the tray he was carrying on the bedside table and sat down in the chair Claire had vacated. When Dale didn’t respond, he lifted the plate set on the soup bowl to keep it warm. Dale’s eyes opened. Seth fanned the steam in Dale’s direction and waited.
Dale sat up, and then looked like he regretted the simple action.
“Charlie?” Dale asked.
Seth pushed the tray toward Dale. He leaned over to take a long smell of Claire’s chicken noodle soup.
“Just left to get pizza,” Seth said.
“Those people?” Dale asked.
Seth gave Dale a warm, sourdough rolls.
“Janet and her grandkids?” Seth asked. “Turns out there’s an apartment open here in the building. She’s going to spend the summer there.”
“Summer?” Dale asked, holding the roll to his nose.
“They will probably move out of the city in the fall,” Seth said. “Janet’s daughter will be done with school. She wants to work in a more rural setting or a smaller city like Denver.”
“And Janet?” Dale asked as a way of avoiding talking about himself.
“It looks like she and Malik might have something,” Seth said with a grin.
“What does Claire say?” Dale asked with a grin.
“Claire thinks they were made for each other,” Seth said. “After all, she stopped her car for him.”
“I thought that was for you,” Dale said.
“She says that she saw Malik with a sick white kid — you — hanging onto him,” Seth said. “The oldest says that Janet said something like, ‘That brother is going to get himself dead’ before she stopped.”
“Nothing to do with me,” Seth said.
Shaking his head, Dale smiled at Seth and gestured to the food.
“Go ahead,” Seth said.
Seth waited while Dale took a spoonful of soup, smiled, and eat the entire bowl. Seth went to get another bowl. When he returned Dale was eating a roll and leaning back on the bed. Dale sat up and took the bowl. He ate another bowl of soup before setting the bowl down. He looked at Seth and nodded.
“I’ve botched it this time,” Dale said.
“Botched what?” Seth asked. “According to the doctor, you felt strong emotions which pushed you into shock. Kind of like what the used to call ‘shell shocked.’”
“Sort of,” Seth said with a nod. “Do you remember what happened?”
“I think so,” the young man said.
“Would you like to talk about it?” Seth asked.
Dale looked at Seth for a moment before looking off into space. He shook his head and then looked back at Seth.
“Melinda’s been coming over to the apartment,” Dale said. Picking at his fingers, he continued, “She’s been helping Charlie and Ivan stretch. She does some weird ballet thing with Sissy. I don’t know what it’s called, but with Charlie and Ivan, and me, I guess, it’s just stretching.”
“Have you met her?” Dale asked.
His eyes flicked to Seth. Seth nodded.
“Did you …?” Dale asked.
Seth shook his head.
“In general, ballerinas aren’t my favorite,” Seth said. He pointed at Dale, “Ever repeat that and we’ll have trouble.”
Grinning, Dale nodded.
“That’s what Ivan says, but he and she hooked up for a while,” Dale said. “She’s had a lot of those, I guess. She says that ballet is her one and true love, so the men don’t matter much. I thought …”
He put his long fingered hand on his chest. Seth understood what he was saying.
“Ivan’s been with a lot of women,” Seth said.
“He likes women and women like him,” Dale said. “That’s what Melinda says anyway. I suppose that’s over.”
“Now that Ivan is with Sissy,” Seth said. “Probably. They have to work things out between them without our interference.”
Dale nodded and fell silent.
“What happened last night?” Seth asked in a kind voice.
“I have this …” Tanesha said. She looked him up and down. “Where are the wings?”
Suddenly, the room lit up with such bright light that Tanesha fell to her knees.
“Now, none of that,” he said and helped her up.
“Uriel,” Tanesha said. “I’ve talked to you, prayed to you since …”
“You were born,” he said with a smile. “You saw me at your birth. We became connected.”
“Your feast is my birthday,” Tanesha said.
“Some things are not a coincidence,” he said.
“How?” Tanesha asked.
“It’s not so very complicated. Quite by accident, I fell for the daughter of the ones you call Fin and Abi,” Uriel said. “She was so compelling that she captivated my very mind and soul. Still does for that matter. We didn’t realize that she might have a child until she was pregnant. Then she had your Gran to care for and … well, you know the rest.”
“I know that you were tricked by the serpent,” Uriel said. “Let me show you something. Give me your arm.”
Tanesha held up both.
“Either one,” he said.
She gave him her right arm. He turned it over so that it was palm up.
“We are marked, you and I,” he said.
He ran his hand over his wrist and hers. A small yellow star shown from her wrist, and a similar one lay on his.
“Ne Ne has one as well,” he said. “It marks you as a familiar of mine. It has caused you great pain in the form of people being jealous of you, and drawn to you lifelong friends.”
“That’s all well and good, but I can’t do that,” Tanesha said.
“Are you sure?” he asked with a smile. “Try it.”
Tanesha turned over his wrist. As he had done, she slowly waved her hand over his wrist. The star shown through on his skin.
“You’ll never be tricked again,” he said. “At least not by this.”
“Uriel,” Tanesha said in a soft voice. “Thank you for seeing me through.”
“Yes, well, it is my pleasure, my beautiful girl,” he said. “Now, you are necessary to help our Abi see her way to having this baby.”
“What’s the hold up?” Tanesha asked.
“A fairy Queen named Fand,” Uriel said.
“That woman is a nightmare,” Tanesha said. “You know her?”
“I’ve known she, Abi, Gilfand for almost all the years of this planet,” Uriel said. He leaned forward. “She’s always been a nightmare. Gets it from her father.”
“How can I possibly help with that?”
“I’m not sure,” Uriel said. “I only know that you can.”
Tanesha nodded. She raised her tea cup to her lips.
“It’s probably best that you don’t drink that magic reducing tea,” he said.
“Green tea,” she said with a smile.
“In that case, drink it down,” Uriel said, which she did.
He wrapped his wings around her and the next thing she knew, she was standing in the birthing room in the medical offices. All of Abi’s attendants were taking a break. Camilla was talking to Jill in a worried tone. Drinking water out of a Dixie Cup, Blane leaned against the wall.
“Tanesha,” Abi said in a soft whisper. “I need your help. I need your light.”
Smiling to herself, Tanesha went to Abi’s bedside. Leaning down, Tanesha grabbed Abi’s hand and held it to her heart.
Screaming, Abi arched her back, and sat partially up. Her daughter was born.
Talking all at once, Camilla and Abi’s attendants rushed back into the room. In the ebb and flow all that followed, Abi never moved her hand from over Tanesha’s heart.
“I was looking for you,” the man said, “Not the bathroom.”
His voice was familiar, like that of a famous announcer’s voice or possibly Casey Cassum’s. Tanesha looked up to assess him again. Sure, she’d never seen him before she returned to making tea.
“Would you like some tea?” Tanesha asked.
“No, thank you,” the man said. “You go ahead.”
He came in the room and closed the door.
“I was looking for you,” he repeated.
“Why?” She took a green tea bag out of the package and set it in the cup.
He seemed to think for a minute, and then laughed.
“I don’t know why,” he said. “You?”
“I didn’t go looking for you,” Tanesha said with an irritated sniff.
“Who are you?” Tanesha asked as she poured water over the tea bag in the cup.
“Technically, I’m your mother’s father,” the man said.
“Ne Ne’s man,” Tanesha spit out the loathsome woman’s name.
“Serpents,” the man said under his breath. “Yes, I remember.”
Tanesha was so surprised that her full attention jerked to look at him.
“How did you …?” Tanesha started.
“The way you said it,” he said. “Plus, I was there.”
“You were not,” Tanesha said. She shook her head and dunked her teabag in the hot water.
“I was,” he said. “Or I should say a part of me was there.”
“What are you talking about?” Tanesha didn’t bother to cover her annoyance.
“You honestly don’t recognize me?” he asked.
Tanesha looked up from her tea cup.
“Should I?” Tanesha asked.
“I’ve been with you for every moment of your entire life,” he said. He gave her a kind smile.
“Fairies,” Tanesha said under her breath.
“I am no fairy,” the man said in a deep and resonating voice. “Look at me.”
His voice had the tenor of a command. Tanesha couldn’t keep herself from turning to look at him.
“What’s your name?” Tanesha asked.
“You know my name,” he said.
Tanesha looked him up and down before shrugging.
“You’re not white Jesus,” Tanesha said.
“White Jesus?” The man burst out laughing. “What’s a White Jesus?”
The man’s voice held a tenor of authority. Tanesha felt compelled to respond.
“White Jesus is the white guy who hangs on the cross of most churches in North America,” Tanesha said. “You know the white guy who was born and raised in Israel and spent all of his time outside in the hot sun.”
The man laughed.
“Why is that funny?” Tanesha asked.
“I never thought of it that way, I guess,” he said. “I can assure you that the man you call Jesus was not ‘white’ of skin, only of soul.”
“What’s your name?” Tanesha asked. “Because I don’t need the drama of you being Judas or Lucifer or whatever else.”
“You know my name,” the man said.
Tanesha sighed. The man smiled and the room lit up. Used to this affect, Tanesha shrugged.
“Parlor tricks,” Tanesha said.
“You are in a mood,” the man said.
“I’m just tired,” Tanesha said. “I wanted some peace and quiet to get a chance to talk to …”
Tanesha sighed and spun her empty tea cup along the bottom edge of the cup. They’d come straight from brunch at Yvonne’s house to the Castle. The party like atmosphere continued at the Castle as everyone was involved in one way or another with the birth of Abi’s baby. Blane stepped right in to do acupuncture and brought Tanesha along. Within minutes of arriving, Tanesha was in the middle of it all. The last few births and a year of medical school gave Tanesha the confident to lead.
Until Ne Ne had arrived.
Even though she knew she had not met the real Ne Ne, but rather a serpent pretending to be her grandmother, the mere sight of the woman put Tanesha’s teeth on edge. At her first opportunity, she excused herself and slipped away. Luckily, she’d been in Castle so many times that she easily found a quiet place where she could drink her tea in peace.
Tanesha had spent most of her life alone in one quiet place or another. Not so long ago, her Gran was her only real family. Her mother was lost to her and her father was in prison. Her husband was off following his penis to his next misadventure. She didn’t have a child.
For most of her life, Tanesha’s family consisted of: Tanesha, crazy Aunt Phy, and Gran.
Then she met her father and he got out of prison. Then her mother was free. Then these fairies arrived with their secrets and stories. Jeraine came home and she discovered she had a child via in-vitro with one of Jeraine’s crazy ex-girlfriends. That’s not to mention the fact that she was now the granddaughter of a fairy Prince and, according to the Navajos, the first woman.
She wasn’t used to all of this family. She didn’t know how to respond to them all. On days like today, she came face to face with her own inability to connect.
Tanesha spun her cup again before getting up to turn on the pot. She was sitting in the basement “yoga” room, which was really a some mats and cushions in a lavender painted closet. Tanesha loved this room. Plus, her girls were the only people who knew that she loved this room. They would never disturb her when, in Sandy’s words, she was in one of her “moods.” She could languish in the still, cool, silence for as long as she wanted.
There was a tap at the door, and Tanesha groaned. She waited silently in case the person went away. There was another knock.
“Yes?” Tanesha asked.
The door opened slightly and the pot clicked off. Tanesha got up to make her tea. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw a man look in on here.
“Yes?” Tanesha asked again.
The man stepped into the tiny room. He was tall and fit. He looked young but she could sense that he was very, very old. He had sandy blonde hair, which was cut short, and stark blue eyes. His skin was sun-kissed brown. He wore a slight beard — somewhere between television cool and having been up all night. He was striking, model handsome without the cold distance carried by most beautiful people. He felt warm and kind.
“The bathroom is one door over,” Tanesha said.
“I was looking for you,” the man said, “Not the bathroom.”