I should have known Brian would leave me. I should have felt his restlessness and uncertainty. Instead, I woke up four Mondays ago with only a tattered note for a companion. I was abandoned, surprised, and angry. What good were my powers if I couldn’t predict my own life?
I lifted the braids from my neck and fanned myself with the latest Psychic Research Bulletin. I watched the guys from the halfway house scuffling on the sidewalk. Usually I kept my office closed and locked. But with the heat so fierce and my air conditioning so non-existent, I had propped the door open with a smoky quartz cluster. Which meant you didn’t have to knock three times, then ring twice.
Right away, I knew he was in insurance. Anyone wearing a sports jacket, and pants pressed as if they were trying to make a point, had to be selling something. I rearranged my skirts, and whipped out my old crystal ball, the glass one. For salesmen, I didn’t bother getting out the good crystal.
I stared into the ball.
He cleared his throat. “Cassie Parnor?”
I figured he was new. On our street, you were lucky if people were covered by clothes, much less insurance.
“Yes.” I used the voice that signaled mystic interruption.
“I’m here to see you about a matter of some importance.” He sat on the wooden chair next to mine.
“I have too little time.” I looked into the crystal and spoke as if I could see someone trudging to my door. Actually, I saw my appointment book, and my next client was not due for more than an hour.
“I know you must be very busy.” He settled into the chair and took a paper from his attache case. “But I have something that will interest you.”
I pulled up the sleeves of my peasant blouse to cover my shoulders. I didn’t want to listen to a salesman in a navy blue tie.
“I have no money, so I can’t possibly buy anything.”
“Oh,” he seemed embarrassed, “it’s not that. It’s about my dream. I’m hoping you can help me.”
Now I was embarrassed. I should have known this guy had nothing to sell. I should have understood his waves of emotional uncertainty, backed by the vague worry that his tan pants would get dirty.
I handed him my fee sheet. He raised his eyebrows.
“This is extremely professional.”
I nodded. After I graduated from college, I worked as an accountant. I had tried to fill my mind with itemized deductions, carry forwards, and tax shelters. But psychic powers kept interfering.
“I’ll have a dream interpretation. Do you take Mastercard?” He pulled out his wallet.
“Cash or personal check.”
He handed me fifteen dollars and moved his chair closer. “My friends think I’m crazy. But this is the third time I’ve had the dream. I have to do something.”
“Tell me your name. Then tell me your dream.”
“Jason Kimber.” He smoothed the sheet of paper from his attache case and began to read. “I’m wearing only jogging shorts. I’m running, and I’m very sweaty. Normally,” he took a handkerchief from his coat pocket, and dabbed at his forehead, “I never sweat. Not even playing tennis. Anyway, Missy, my fiancee, is chasing me. Every time I look around there’s another one of her, and they’re all gaining on me. I can feel long red fingernails tearing into my back, and then I wake up.” He loosened his tie.
“What do you think of the dream?”
“Maybe we should have a smaller wedding.” He stared over my shoulder.
“Do you want to get married?”
“I love Missy. I’ve loved her for two years.” He pulled a slim leather wallet from his coat pocket. Even in the worn picture, Missy’s beauty was overwhelming.
I remembered showing Brian’s pictures to Grandmother.
“Doesn’t he have a face of beauty and character?” I had asked.
“Why don’t you treat yourself to a handsome man, and forget character. Why do you pick these introverted, serious men, who make love to you by describing the passage of neutrinos, or plotting the orbit of Jupiter’s moons?” Grandmother had waved a copy of Scientific American as she lectured. “You need fun, Cassie.” Her thin hands shook as she poked the word at me. “Fun.”
“It’s no fun, having a dream like this,” Jason said.
“Remember, the dream is a manifestation of a subconscious desire,” I said. “It may simply mean you’re afraid of being trapped by your emotions.” I toned down my feeling that he wanted to get away from Missy and start a new life.
“What should I do?” Jason adjusted the knot on his tie.
“Only you can decide. If you want to know more, I can give you a reading.”
Jason ran his finger down the fee sheet. I could feel him wondering whether this reading was worth the price of an excellent dinner. “How soon can I have one?” he asked.
I looked at my appointment book. “Six o’clock tonight.”
“I’ll be here.” Jason picked up his attache case, and left. I could feel his relief.
I was relieved, too. Evenings were the time I missed Brian the most. I missed the comforting sound of his “Om”s. I missed the almond rice he cooked for dinner. I missed the ratty-looking dissertation papers scattered over the kitchen and living room. I would make the reading last. By the time I got home, maybe I would be tired enough to sleep. By the time I got home, maybe I would be over Brian.
I moved the fan closer and raised my skirts above my knees. I had planned to take July off, but Brian’s unexpected departure had upset me and my financial balance. I had to work or find a cheaper apartment.
So I was working, instead of meditating in the Rockies.
I slipped off my sandals and closed my eyes.
“Sleeping on the job?”
I hadn’t heard Brian’s voice in a month. I let it sink into my mind, slow and sweet, like the first drops of honey in jasmine tea. I wanted to jump out of my chair and throw myself into his arms.
Instead, I turned around warily. Brian looked like he had been riding a Greyhound for two days. His long brown hair was uncombed. His beard was ragged. His jean jacket was patched with dust.
He smiled, but didn’t come to hug me.
“You owe me rent money,” I said. I, too, could pretend we hadn’t spent a year of our lives together.
He eased his backpack onto the table.
“I’m flat broke, Cass.” He sat down. “You got anything to drink?”
“Water.” I wasn’t about to offer sparkling apple cider to someone who ran out on me, and then wouldn’t even hug and kiss me to get me over it.
Brian came back from the bathroom with a glass of tap water. “I’ve been wandering for three weeks, trying to figure out what I’m doing with my life. I want to be with you, Cass. I’ve decided to finish my dissertation. I’ll pay you back as soon as I get my degree.”
I scraped the last glint of blue polish from my thumbnail. We’d had this conversation before. Brian’s idea of a dissertation was sitting in the apartment drawing concentric circles on lined paper.
Grandmother was right. I should be living with some handsome high-tech realist, instead of mooning over a misfit like Brian.
I wanted to say, “Stay out of my life.” But I could tell Brian’s feet ached and his shoulders needed rubbing. Behind the cracked lens in his glasses, Brian’s eyes looked tired and sad.
“My eleven o’clock is due any minute,” I said. I put on my shoes.
“When can I come back?”
Instead of screaming, “NEVER,” I said, “After seven. Do you need money for lunch?”
“I’m fasting today.” He kissed my forehead, my cheek, my chin, and the very edge of my lips. Then he took his backpack and left.
I sat still, the kisses dancing on my face, trying to decide what I should do. Five nights ago I dreamed Brian appeared, just like today, and almost smothered me with a surprise kiss. I couldn’t breathe, my energy was sapped, my powers were useless. I’d had the dream only once, but I knew what it meant.
“When you understand the future, you can act in positive ways to change it.” I planned to say this to Jason tonight. He needed to feel in control. Jason would not like the idea of being caught in destiny.
I drank some apple cider and wiped the sweat from my neck. I wished I were in the Rockies, storing my energies instead of selling them.
After my three o’clock I took a walk, holding my long skirts away from the dust.
I stopped at the grocer’s to get an ice cream sandwich.
“How’s that grandmother of yours?” Mr. Krun asked.
“She’s redesigning the world. How’s business?” I asked.
“You tell me.” He laughed, as though it were a big joke. I laughed along with him. Mr. Krun thought I was strange, a looney, lucky I could count out the fifty-three cents for ice cream. He patted Grandmother’s hand in sympathy whenever my name came up.
The pavement felt good underneath my feet. Vanilla ice cream dribbled onto my toe. I ate fast. As I walked back to my office, I saw Jason standing at the door.
“I’m early, I know. But I was too nervous to wait. I want to know what I should do.”
The same feeling had gnawed at me all afternoon. Would I allow Brian back into my life? What I should do and what I would do might be two separate matters.
“Come in and get comfortable,” I said.
I washed my hands in the sink and splashed cold water on my face. I dried my face with the towel Brian made before he gave up weaving.
Jason fidgeted in his chair. I knew he hoped to hear “happily ever after.”
“You’re welcome to tape record or take notes. I probably won’t remember what I say.” I spread my hands flat on the table, took a deep breath, and looked at Jason.
His silver pen was poised. His back was rigid, his tie impeccable. He seemed ready to devour every word, but I knew he couldn’t really listen. His mind was made up in a way that left no room for psychic interference. I knew what he would do. Just as I knew that, by seven-fifteen, Brian would be following me home.