Continuing Chapter 37 a bit further. Sometimes it’s just nice to have some fun…
Storm Clouds 210
Time passed ever so slowly in the room. Someone who concentrated might be able to follow the dust motes as they floated here and there among the bookcases, tables, and chairs. Someone not so inclined to watch them might be held by the image of a woman straddling a man on one of the chairs, her fingers laced into his hair and their lips crushed together in a deep kiss.
One might also notice that neither of them were moving. But there was one other in the room who was. She was stalking back and forth, her long, red, heart-tipped tail swaying pensively as she walked, her eyes scanning intently from the carpet below her to the two intertwined and then back again as she paced.
Out of what some might mistake for frustration or impatience, she would tuck a wayward lock of hair back behind one of her ears from time to time. In fact, it was neither of those emotions, but rather her pondering over what she knew and understood …
… and when Tera, the Queen of the Succubi, put a puzzle together and the pieces fit? That spelt issues for someone.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a familiar presence entering the apartment building, so her pacing came to a stop and a warm smile played upon her lips. She had been wondering when he was going to appear, and it seemed that this moment was the one that mattered.
His timing, as always, was impeccable. But then, he was especially attuned to her.
Counting to twelve, Tera walked over to the apartment door and then waited another three beats before opening the door and looking out into the hallway. The elevator dinged, the doors opened and she waved to the one standing there, his hands quite full. “Coming! Just a moment, my heart!”
The man in the elevator, who Thomas would recognize as the pastor from the funeral he attended not so long ago, nodded his head in lieu of a wave: “All fine, Dear One. I’ll manage.”
Quickly making her way down the hall, Tera replied: “Manners will not allow that, you know. At least allow me to be of some use?”
He chuckled: “We’ve talked about this before, Dear One. You sell yourself short. You are more than useful and, one of these days, you’ll see that.”
She scrunched up her nose as she took a small bag from under his arm: “Family trait, you know.”
He nodded once: “Yes … quite so.”
Moving to walk beside him, she slipped her arm with his and they moved towards John’s apartment. As they walked, they slipped into the banter they always shared.
“I’m sorry for being late.”
“Not late. You are exactly on time, as always.”
“How are you managing, Dear One?”
“Oh … managing, my heart.” Of course, she didn’t want to worry him.
“I see.” Of course, he saw right through that.
The next words that passed between them were ones that each knew didn’t need to be said, for they had known each other, it seemed, forever. Tera’s heart would always be so, as would she for him as his Dear One. That was just how things were, and nothing in the universes could change that fact. After they entered John’s apartment, he handed her one of the styrofoam cups he held. As he closed the door he asked: “And where is your Eternal, Dear One?”
Tera smiled as she traced a fingertip around the rim of the styrofoam cup: “Oh, he’s off and about looking after something.” She looked at him and nodded once: “But he is with me and I am with him.”
The look he gave her was somewhere between understanding and trepidation: “Of course. That was not my concern.”
Her finger stopped moving as she tilted her head to the left: “But you are concerned.”
He nodded, taking the lid off his tea: “I am worried about you, Dear One. You are troubled, have been for some time. I can see it in your eyes … your Eternal and I are the only ones that possibly could have seen it, of course, but it is there.”
Tera was silent for a time, then admitted: “I think the Dark has been messing with things it should not. So I am … hoping … to fix that damage.”
“I see. And the two over there?”
“They are the thing that needs to be made right once more.”
He took a sip of his tea: “Playing matchmaker, Dear One?”
She took the lid off her own tea: “Oh those two are matched, my heart. I’m just trying to set things right once more.”
“Dear One, are you sure you are doing the right thing, or are you possibly … inadvertently … just maybe … doing the Dark’s own work for it?”
Tera paused, her tea almost to her lips: “Memories have been changed, my heart. The reason for that I do not know. Yet the Dark has altered the memories of some of the succubi. It has also changed the memories of innocents. It is trying to set something up to Its benefit. Jane is one of them. John, the dear man she is with at the moment, is the other.”
“Are you sure?”
Tera’s tail moved slowly behind her: “I know Eternals when I see them, my heart. In that I am sure. What happens after that is in their hands.”
“Which means we wait.”
“You need not have to, my heart. I’ll wait.”
He winked: “And have you talking to yourself? I shudder to think what your dear Tail will have to say about that.”
Tera smiled a warm, knowing smile: “You are, of course, quite right, my heart.”
He walked over to the couch and settled in: “What would you like to talk about while we wait?”
Tera took a spot on the other end of the couch, curling her legs underneath her as she did: “I have a theory … more of a thought, perhaps.”
He looked at his tea: “Why do I have the feeling, Dear One, that we’ll need more tea?”
She laughed: “Because that is how it always works when we chat, my heart. And, next time, I will bring the pie to share.”
He tipped his cup towards her: “So. Tell me what’s bothering you.”
She tilted her head to the right: “There is quite a lot that is bothering me. To be truthful, there has been for some time. I think that the time which the Dark has spent in trying to get into the Realm has made it desperate for some kind of success.”
He furrowed his brow: “It is a persistent entity; that much is obvious. And yes, your … resistance … has been a thorn in Its side.” The innocent look she gave in reply just made him chuckle as he sipped his tea, waiting for her to continue.
She considered the cup she held, then continued: “To be honest, it’s been a bother to me as well, in more ways than one, but we won’t dwell on that part of the story, as we’ll come back to that a bit later to try and tie the threads together.”
“Which means we start with … ?”
“We start with the question of what, exactly, is It intending to do with the tail that is missing.”
“You assume she is being held?”
“I know she is being held. I am just not sure exactly where she is at this moment. I know that she is nearby … somewhere … but otherwise I am not sure where. I sense she is trapped or bound in some way. That means It must have a plan for her. Whether by influencing her, forcing something upon her, or other means, It has but one goal, and having a Tail would give It something It never had before.”
He nodded: “A key.”
“Yes. There are only a few entries into the Realm for those not …” She paused here, considering her next words, worrying that “like us” would sound more than a bit conceited, but he finished the thought for her.
“… like you, Dear One. I know better—we know better—and you need to keep that in mind.”
She nodded in reply: “Of course. Like us, my heart. There are some with that key. Some others, like you, are offered a pass to the Realm, at the right time for the right reason. But all of us, even myself, have to pass by the gates, all of them, before stepping foot in the Realm.”
He smiled: “And, of course, that final gate, the one that none shall pass without permission, is the last bastion.”
She sighed, wistfully: “Yes. But we won’t dwell on that point, my heart. Let’s try and keep focus on our missing tail for the moment.”
He gave a sidelong look at the pair on the chair as he wondered: “Can I assume that they are both part of the story?”
“Quite so. She is the sister of the one whose tail is held, obviously. He is, I am sure, her Eternal. When we had the funeral, it struck me that she was there, but he was not. The question then was … “Why?” Speaking with her afterwards, it was clear that the Dark did something to her, and, I think, vice versa.”
“So, you have two souls no longer connected together.”
“Yes, but that’s just where it begins. She, our dear Jane, is impulsive, quick to anger, and more importantly, would do anything to have revenge for her sister’s passing. What would she do if she believed that her only family, the only one she loved, was gone?”
He shook his head: “Oh, I have a good idea. There was something wrong about her; I had chalked it up to grief and did not push her. I should have.”
She set her cup down on a small side table, some worry in her eyes as she looked at him: “No guilt, my heart—not for either of us. There was enough grief to go around for everyone. We both missed it, but we are both now aware.”
He allowed those words but replied: “Then I expect you not to have guilt, either. It is not becoming of you. Queen or not, it is not becoming of you or your soul, and I will not allow it.”
She laced her fingers together, placing them in her lap: “The guilt I think I have dealt with. It was slowly turning into anger … or it was until Jane came back and I saw she had a problem. That problem made it clear that there was a … discrepancy that needed to be repaired.”
He considered his tea: “Now that your anger is gone, Dear One, you need to keep it away … the Dark is counting on using it against you.”
She looked towards Jane and John: “Something happened in the two weeks that she was out of touch. When she came back, she claimed to have been overseas for some time, but that made little sense, as they were inseparable. There was something missing in Jane. Again, it seemed like the loss of her sister was the answer, but it goes further than that. He was missing. They were missing.”
“So, that’s when you put Tom and Camilla onto things?”
She nodded and picked up her tea again, taking a sip: “There was something that happened in the world here, driven by forces bound to rules that apply here. Something else happened outside of this world, where other rules apply. Having the two of them dealing with this will give me a new perspective on what It wants.”
He chuckled: “There’s something more, Dear One.”
She smiled over the rim of her cup: “Perhaps … perhaps not. We shall see.”
He raised his cup in reply: “Yes. We shall. But the story isn’t over yet. You are holding back a few things. I can tell.”
She paused, just before taking a sip: “Two things: All four of them are connected to what happened. Two of them are what It has focused upon.”
He frowned: “So they are all at risk. But which two are the ones It has focused on?”
Tera’s tail pointed at Jane: “She is one, obviously. I believe that Thomas is the other. They both have suffered great losses. They can both be influenced by It making an appeal to their darker emotions.”
“What happens when one … or the other … or both … is freed?”
“That, my heart, is what I am intending to find out with Jane.”
She sighed: “I am trusting that his belief in doing good is strong. Camilla will help in that. So will Nina … assuming that Thomas will let them in to help.”
He considered her words, then asked: “But what about our missing tail? How does she fit into this?”
Tera looked into her cup as if reading tea leaves, though there were none: “What would one do if one could bring a lost love back? What would one give up? What would happen when the truth was revealed?”
“That, I think, would depend on the truth, would it not?”
She looked up: “Yes. Yes it would.” Then she looked back down at her cup once more.
He sighed: “Dear One, it does you no good to keep things bottled up inside you, nor can you get them past me without me noticing.”
“There are two problems with sharing the truth in this case, my heart. One is that the truth will not set anyone free. The harm in the truth being known would only play into It’s hands. The truth I speak of is meant for one soul only and it is one that I do not have the right to share.”
“If not you, then who?”
Tera looked at him: “The one that cannot speak.”
She stood and began to walk around the room, still holding the cup in her hands: “The second reason for not sharing is that I may—and yes, I know this sounds impossible—I may be completely wrong about what I believe the truth to be.”
He leaned back in his chair, a small twinkle in his eye: “You, Dear One? Wrong? If so, I do believe I will have to check on whether the laws of the universe have been changed recently.”
Tera laughed softly: “I’ve been wrong many times, my heart. The thing is that I hide those mistakes well enough that they are not seen for the mistakes they are.”
“You are avoiding the point, Dear One. It isn’t that you are wrong nearly as often as you believe … except when you think you are hiding these things from your Eternal or me. It is that you are far too hard on yourself when those around you are hurt. You make it your focus to deal with that, to take it upon yourself. Sometimes, you do have to allow others to stumble.”
A sigh, quite a long one: “Cannot do that, my heart. Call it … a very deep fault. Perhaps it is the one that the Dark has figured on to be how it wins the war.”
He placed his cup on the table and then walked over to her. Resting a hand on Tera’s shoulder he explained: “It is not a fault to care. We have talked about this many times before. It is a fault to take on too many things, to not share with others who can help with the burdens. And I would bet my socks that this is exactly what the Dark will use to defeat you.”
Tera patted his hand lightly: “As you know, that sharing is something not easily done.”
He smiled: “True … for both of us. Now, there are plans to be made, and in this case, Dear One, your heart is going to help.”
She began to shake her head, to refuse. She couldn’t possibly allow him to do so.
“Ah! I am sorry, but no, Dear One. There is no getting out of this. You need more help than what you have now, and if you don’t let me help you, then I will go on my own. So please, tell me what you have in mind next.”
“You really will not like it my heart; not at all.”
“I’ll be the judge of that, Dear One.”
Ten minutes later found Tera sitting on the couch, rolling her cup between her hands and looking at him as he paced back and forth as she had been before he arrived. She had explained her plans, what she intended to do and what the cost would be.
He finally stopped pacing and looked at her: “I do not like this at all, Dear One.”
“I did warn you.”
“So you did. It is a dangerous plan. It can go wrong at any of a dozen turns. Worse, if it does go wrong, then the Realm is lost. However …”
He furrowed his brow: “However, misquoting Einstein, ‘I, at any rate, am convinced that you do not throw dice.’”
She was puzzled; the twist in her tail, which he knew well, spoke to her thoughts as much as any words would: “Meaning what, exactly?”
“Meaning that, though your plans appear to be risky, somehow you have a fairly good idea that it will turn out well.”
She traced a finger against her lips, as if sealing them, a thin smile there as she did so.
“But what is missing from this equation is that you are not going in alone. I won’t have it. You would risk yourself to save the Realm. Someone needs to be there who will risk the universe to save you.”
She looked him in the eye: “I worry that I may have to do something of which you do not approve, something that would disappoint you.”
He didn’t waver: “You could never disappoint me, Dear One. Never. And I will stand beside you no matter what … including no matter if you tell me not to.”
She opened her mouth to speak … but then closed it, smiling.
He smiled back and nodded once: “Did you ever meet Einstein in your travels, Dear One?”
“Yes. I was fortunate to hear him play the violin once. His connection with music was … breathtaking. Even if he didn’t see his talents for all that they were.”
He chuckled as he took the other end of the couch once more: “Your words remind me of a certain red tail that I know who has the same problem. She needs to see that in herself every now and again.”
She tilted her head to the right: “I have no idea what you mean, my heart.”
He shook his head: “Yes, Dear One. Of course you do.”
Billy wasn’t sure if Donna actually had to go and visit every single person in the building. Actually he wasn’t sure if they actually did visit them all or not, but there were a lot of people that she had introduced him to, and he knew there was no possible way he was going to remember all of their names. Funny thing was, the only name that he wanted to remember was Donna’s. He wasn’t sure why it mattered so much, but he was bound and determined not to forget.
He always hated going around with his father and meeting with people that mattered to their business, or to his father. They always treated him as if he was being tolerated, and they were always formal and cold, seeming like they only did so in order to not offend his father.
Donna’s co-workers weren’t like that. He wasn’t sure if they were always that interested in other people, or if they were now only because he was with Donna, or because he was helping deliver the coffee and donuts. Whatever the reason, there wasn’t one person that he met who didn’t greet him warmly. The hugs from the women were embarrassing, but Billy managed to get through that without making a fool of himself. Even the men weren’t trying to break his hand during the many handshakes, which is what normally happened to Billy. They treated him as an equal—which, again, was something that didn’t usually happen for him.
Billy, being overwhelmed as he was by what was happening, didn’t notice the look that Donna gave each person that he was introduced to. The look was, if one was paying attention, almost pleading for approval.
By the time the tour ended, he figured that he certainly must have met everyone in the building. As they passed by an office on the upper floor, he noticed Donna frown, just a little, and that bothered him. “What’s up?”
“Oh. I was hoping you might meet my …” The pause was very noticeable, even for Billy, and he was about to ask about that when Donna continued: “… boss. Her name’s Tera.”
Billy was still bothered about the pause: “Don’t like her?”
Donna shook her head, her short platinum blond hair moving in an odd wave, which Billy found very interesting: “Oh gosh no! I love her bunches!”
Her answer brought Billy up short. She didn’t seem like the kind of lady that would use the words “gosh” and “bunches.” For some reason, he felt she was putting on a show or something. “Really?”
Donna stopped and turned to look at Billy. She placed her right hand on his chest and explained: “She’s wonderful, Billy. She’s done so much for me. I owe her a lot, and I’ll never be able to repay her.”
He looked at her hand, then into her eyes: “Lots of people tell me that, but they do it ‘cause they fear the people they work for.”
Donna scrunched up her nose, which Billy thought made her look awfully cute: “Not me. I love Tera like a sister. We’re all …” Again she paused, which was odd, but then she continued: “… a family. I know that sounds weird, but that’s the only way I can explain it.”
Billy had come to the conclusion that there was something odd about the place where Donna worked. There was something odd, but what it was, in the end, didn’t seem to matter as much as meeting Donna did, so Billy nodded: “’kay. I can see that. This place is kinda’ weird, but if that’s how you think about things, then … ‘kay.”
Donna smiled, and Billy thought that it was a good thing to see her smiling.
After going down a flight of stairs that took them past the Receptionist—and Billy still found himself not wanting to make her mad—Donna led him down a hallway that he was sure they hadn’t been through before. He actually wasn’t even sure if the hallway had been there when they had entered the place and first met the Receptionist. This place was built weirdly, and he had been turned around so many times that he wasn’t sure what direction he was facing. Not that it mattered that much: he was fine with walking with Donna and talking to her, anyway. But he had expected to arrive in what Donna had called the “Lounge,’ and, as they walked, he worried about making a mess there. This building was amazingly well kept and clean, and he just knew that he would drop something somehow and make a mess somewhere. Luckily, he thought, that hadn’t happened so far. So it was a surprise when she opened a door and he found that that the Lounge wasn’t their destination.
Instead, the opened door revealed what looked like a neatly kept lunch room, large enough for a dozen or more diners, with a big picture window to one side that looked out over what seemed to be the backyard of the place. Though Billy wasn’t exactly sure how it was that so many trees would be there.
“After you, Billy.”
He shook his head: “Sorry. Manners say that it’s ladies first.”
Donna smiled: “How about together? You’ve been following me around, me leading the way. I’d much rather have you walking with me. You don’t have to hold hands if you don’t want to.”
Billy blushed, but managed: “That’s kind of forward, isn’t it?”
Donna smiled: “A little bit … maybe.”
With a flick of her shoe she held the door open for them: “Now you don’t have to hold the door, and we can go and find a place to sit and share my coffee and bagel.”
Billy held up the bag that he had been carting around with him: “Bagel? Not a donut?”
A short walk across the room and they were both sitting at a table over by the window, Donna facing Billy: “Bagels are a good thing to have when you want to think about something.”
“I don’t get it. Sorry.”
She opened the bag and took the bagel out, placing it on top, then opening the coffee and sitting it beside the bagel: “You have to work at eating a bagel. It’s a bit of a struggle to tear it into pieces to nibble on. It’s a bit of work to chew on. Because it takes a while, you get a change to think about things.”
The look on Billy’s face made it clear that stuff like what Donna was talking about was a little over his head: “Like what?”
She picked up the bagel and tore it into four pieces. Taking one of those, she broke it in half and then gave Billy one of them: “Oh, all sorts of stuff.”
He looked at the bagel in his hand: “Like?”
Donna held her piece a bit away from her lips as she answered: “Like if you might like me as much as I like you. Like what you like to do for fun. Like if you might ask me out to dinner.” As the last word left her lips, she popped the bagel in her mouth and started to chew on it.
Billy was brought up short and stuffed his piece into his month to occupy himself while he thought. She was really classy, and that meant that she’d want to go out somewhere expensive. That wouldn’t be a problem: Dad had always paid Billy well for the work he did, and he had saved a lot over the years. But he didn’t have a suit, didn’t run around in those sort of places. After finally swallowing the bagel he explained: “Do like you. But you’re so classy. I don’t know what you like to do for fun, and the place I like to go for dinner is the burger joint on 11th and Main—not exactly the sort of place you’d want to be in.”
Donna stood up, and Billy didn’t have any other choice but to look at her standing there in a classy blue dress. When she didn’t say anything, he closed his eyes and really tried to remember what she looked like, knowing that he’d never see her again—that little sweep in her hair, the twinkle in her eyes, that chunk of bagel that she was chewing on that pushed out her cheek and gave her a dimple. Darn him for being honest. He opened his eyes and watched her chew. She had that bagel in her mouth. Then it hit him that she wasn’t mad, she just had her mouth full.
Donna picked up the coffee and took a sip, swallowed, then said: “Billy, I don’t always dress like this. This is what I wear to work. It’s like your overalls or uniform or whatever you wear where you work. I look classy because that’s how it is appropriate to look here.”
She put the coffee down and walked around the table, taking a seat right beside Billy: “I’m just as happy to wear an old T-shirt and jeans and running shoes.”
Billy gave her a look: “Can’t imagine that.”
She laughed: “I clean up good. Like you do, okay?”
Billy shrugged: “Okay.”
She folded her hands onto her lap and looked at them: “You know, a lot of the people here think that I’m shy.”
He looked at the tabletop: “Dunno about shy. Think yer cute though.”
“Could say the same about you, too.”
“Not cute. Cute isn’t a guy thing.”
Donna pursed her lips and blew out a long breath: “Billy, if a gal says you’re cute, don’t argue.”
He looked at her: “How am I supposed to talk? Usually no one sees me or stuff. Haveta’ be honest, Donna. Don’t talk to a lot of cute girls that I … like.”
“Because you’re shy?”
She smiled, which made Billy happy: “Maybe, between the two of us … maybe … we can work on that.”
“Wadda ya’ have in mind?”
The next part Billy didn’t expect: “I like walking, looking at the ships as they come into the harbour. I like movies—old ones, not the new stuff, the more B-grade the better. And what I like most of all is watching those sorts of movies with a greasy burger and fries from Ben’s at the corner of 11th and Main. But only when Jack is cooking; Adam burns the buns and I can’t stand that.”
Billy was shocked to put it mildly: “You eat there?”
“Yup. Never do dinner, but I do lunch, and, sometimes, midnight snacks.”
Billy mulled that over as he took another piece of the bagel, tore it in two and handed Donna half: “Always thought that Jack was kind of an ass. Never went in when he was there. And you are going to be mad at me.”
Donna looked confused: “Why?”
He had a lopsided grin as he started to chew on the bagel: “I like the burned buns.”
Donna slapped his shoulder lightly: “Oh! You! How could you possibly!”
Billy just continued to chew on the bagel and chuckle to himself as Donna ranted over that, liking her more and more by the moment and feeling a lot better about himself as he did so.