The girl stared up at him, waiting for his response with her enchanting green eyes, but what to tell her?
“Perfect?” After all he had put her through this morning he knew he at least owed her some partial truths. “I am a dangerous man, not to be trifled with, of that you can be sure and if you are as innocent as you claim, I am not for the likes of you.”
“Do you mean dangerous, as in an exciting, un-scary sort of way?” Cat said, staring unblinkingly into his eyes, unfazed by his initial rebuttal. Translation: He didn’t think this felt as strangely ‘right’ as she did, for whatever reason, because of what he believed himself to be. She could work around that. “I’m not afraid of you.”
That much was an unqualified truth.
He sighed heavily behind his mask and looked down at her with worried tilt of his head. “You should be.”
“What can I say, but I’m a different…”
“Sort of girl.” He finished for her. “I remember.” He forced himself to release the tender grip he had on her hair, only to tuck a stray strand behind her ear. His hand moved as if acting with a mind of it’s own.
At the butterfly soft caress to her ear, his hand trembled.
Never, in his whole life, had he felt anything quite like this.
It was singular.
It was powerful.
It was earth shattering.
It was terrifying.
It was life changing.
And because it was those very things, he knew it was why he had to let her go. “You really are an innocent, are you not? I can see it all so clearly now. I do not know how I missed it before. How I could have ever assumed otherwise?”
“What?” Cat smiled at him softly, her eyes steady on the cover of his face, silently begging for that hand back with eyes that stared deeply up to his. She desperately wanted him to stay, but even with only inches between them, she felt him begin to mentally pull away, putting space between them. “I looked like a killer to you before?”
“I was looking for something specific.” He shook his head, as if trying to break the hold her magical eyes held on him. It couldn’t be done. Her eyes drew him in. They danced with the joy of life and the joy she found in him. To say having her look at him thusly was a unique experience was an understatement. “And out in the store front, I thought I saw it within you.”
Not knowing how else to explain it, he shrugged, “A darkness.”
Was all Cat could think, remembering how she left the Studio.
Hadn’t her Dad always warned her to be careful with her, uh, talents?
But did she listen?
That would be too easy and would make her life just so much less complicated.
Can’t have that, Cat thought and immediately felt like slapping herself in her forehead.
Frantically, Cat’s mind scrambled for an excuse. Had he seen her dematerializing, combining with the shadows, as was her way?
When she was showing off?
Damn, if he had, and she had to explain her surreal abilities and skills along with the fact that she could probably most easily kick his butt? Well, that would not be a good way to start a relationship.
Boys were always so sensitive about stuff like that.
Oh yeah, she could just see it now, “Oh, what – That? Yeah, uh, my Dad taught me the way of the stealthy Asian arts and all…No big deal really. It’s all good! So what if I can kill you a hundred ways with my pinkie-toe, alone? Doesn’t mean we can’t date, right? Hello?” Cat imagined him running off from her as fast as humanely possible, his cloaks flapping in the wind behind him.
Yeah, Cat mentally shook off that explanation.
It just never worked out.
So instead she decided to go with tactical avoidance first, but she must scout the terrain in order to see what it was he really saw. Or thought he did. “That store front you were talking about is my Dad’s place. He teaches martial arts.”
He nodded. Now the knife made a little more sense. “He is a master?”
“Master?” Pfft “No, he’s just my dad.” Cat shrugged, lowering her eyes. “Do you mind me asking, uh, what exactly is it that you think you saw?” Cat asked him hesitantly, back on point.
Only then did she raise her eyes.
It was so hard to find boys that weren’t scared to death of her thanks to her knowledge in the way of the Arts, even without their understanding of what most would deem as her otherworldly gifts of dissipation or manipulating matter.
This guy actually seemed to not be terrified of her, even though she was currently holding a knife on him and that just gave him a big shiny star in the plus column.
Although Cat wasn’t sure what this fact said about her that she found this trait so attractive. It definitely said a lot about him however and at the end of the day that was what really mattered.
He was indeed a rare find, even in The Fare.
“I thought you were possibly a bad person of an unintentional nature.” He tilted his head down at her. His eyes appeared to have lost a bit of their fierce glow. “But now I can easily see I was mistaken.”
The clouds rolled silently overhead, allowing only quick snapshots of sunlight to shine through. The weather was comforting.
The way the boy before her was framed by flashes of hypnotic light?
Her father had taught her the defensive arts and she was able to use that to defend herself. It didn’t mean she had any extraordinary abilities, quite the opposite he reasoned. She was not gifted in way of the Spark. What she was capable of was learned, not hereditary, so at least in this regard, she was safe.
“Could you be any more ambiguously vague?” Cat asked. “A bad person of an unintentional nature? I’m not sure what that even means?”
“It means exactly what it says.” He murmured under his breath. “Nothing more, nothing less.”
And a bad person of an ‘unintentional nature’ means what? That I might have been bad but not on purpose?
Or out of my control?
OK. That made no sense. “And you drew this conclusion, how? Was it my thrifty backpack, my scuffed jacket or my awesome new boots that threw you off and had you instantly thinking ‘Bad. Must attack’?”
“It seemed to me that you appeared suddenly out of the shadows by the storefront in a nefarious, unnatural fashion. I knew nothing good could come of that, if you did indeed appear in such a manner. The sight unsettled me and had me questioning your connections with such assumed abilities, so I sought to investigate, vowing to take whatever action would then be needed to a finalizing conclusion if you were indeed an operator of malicious intent.”
“Hmm.” OK. Processing. That was a mouth full. Well, she’d asked. When her brain finally caught up with the bulk of his explanation, and properly defined all the big words, putting them into context, Cat jumped on his first statement and just…
Cat grimaced. She had appeared in an unnatural fashion?
Well, he wasn’t wrong.
He had seen her.
Her Dad was going to kill her if he found out!
All this keeping the secret martial arts mojo on the downlow stuff, just wasn’t working out for her. “Unnatural fashion, huh?” Cat fought to put plenty of convincing derision in her tone, a skill she learned from her bestie, BJ. She scoffed, “That’s crazy! How did you phrase it, that I ‘appeared suddenly out of the shadows’? I mean, come on – Who does that? It’s ridiculous really.” Cat outwardly laughed to sell her explanation, but inside she flinched.
Please buy it, Cat inwardly pleaded – Please!
It would be way to hard to explain otherwise and darn it, she would lose her chance at finally getting a boy to like despite the fact she could kick his butt.
Her cheeks hurt with the efforts of her forced smile and she pushed the air out of her lungs to resemble a laugh as best she could, but fear of discovery held her in its grasp making it sound hallow to her own ears.
After what seemed like an eternity, as he studied her, he nodded slowly, saying, “Quite right.” The hand he held in her hair, against her cheek, dropped to his side. “Ridiculous.”
Cat closed her eyes and wanted to grit her teeth and scream in frustration.
Smooth, now she made him feel stupid. She knew it, she could hear it in his voice. Very, very smooth Catherine, she admonished herself.
Make him feel better, Cat told herself in a rush. Quick! “Look it was commendable for you to want to confront a person you thought was a shadow creeper and all, but–”
“A creeper?” He shook his head. The girl before talked so weird at times, it was hard to keep up. “I do not know this term.”
“Yes. Sorry. In American teen-speak, I guess you could say that means a bad person of an intentional nature.”
“Aha,” He nodded. “I see. Please go on.”
Cat waved distractedly. “But anyway, it was very brave of you to want to confront a bad someone and all but–”
“Not someone.” Once again he calmly interrupted her, “Something.” It wasn’t just a statement. But a warning. He seemed compelled to make it just as he seemed compelled to register her reaction. He stared at her with unblinking eyes.
“Pardon?” Cat had no idea what he was talking about. Seemingly a status quo with him she was beginning to realize. “No idea what that means. Care to explain?”
He chuckled, but it wasn’t a happy sound.
Resigned was more like it.
He looked up to the storm tossed sky overhead as if thinking, weighing something, then back down to her as if at once a silent decision had been made. He shrugged, “Evil.”
The answer was plain, succinct.
Well. Alrighty then. “OK, evil. I know evil.” Cat smacked her lips. “Yet surprisingly, it clears nothing up for me. Care to elaborate?”
“I thought you were actually something dark and evil and I meant to call it out, name it, then accept what the ramifications of what hath then begun by force if necessary.”
“So we’re what talking about Evil-evil, right?” Cat grappled mentally as she tried to understand him for he used words she normally only read on books, not used in everyday life. He seemed so very intent. He obviously believed every word he spoke, so much so that it was hard not to take him seriously even despite the subject. I mean, come on, we are talking ‘evil’ here. “You mean ‘evil’ as in supernatural mojo and perpetual badness of the demonic kind, right?”
“Is there any other variety?”
“Variety? No, no. Just want to be sure I was understanding you correctly.” Cat took a deep breath. “Being from The Fare, I am a firm believer in the supernatural mojo and all. I mean anyone who lives here and doesn’t believe in ghosts needs their head checked, but come on…Evil-evil? That exists and just wonders around unchecked by happenstance?”
“It has been known to on occasion, yes. That is what makes evil so dangerous, the way it loiters about waiting for the opportunity to strike.” Her instantaneous disbelief of such dark powers made him want her to go get her head examined. How could anyone be that naive? Her instantaneous doubt in the existence of evil reaffirmed his stance that she could not possibly be a Divine Spark. As one of the most hunted creatures in this realm by the Chata, the worst form of evil known to man or god, in no way did he believe she could be a Spark. No way could her parents have been so remiss and not inform her of such dark forces, if for no other reason than for the sake of preservation and self preparation of their offspring. “And why do you insist on saying it twice.”
“I don’t know. Seems to make it worse that way, doesn’t it, or is it just me? You know, like double the trouble, double the fun.”
“There is no fun in evil.”
“Only because you aren’t doing it right.” At his bland stare, Cat rolled her eyes. “Sorry. Sorry. Evil-evil is a big deal to you, I get it. I’m not making fun, really of it or you, just trying to understand.”
“It is a matter that should be taken with the utmost sincerity.”
“Absolutely. I get that. I’ll work on it.” Cat offer with a smile, but something that he said, aside from the whole evil thing was bothering her. “And you thought to call it out, by naming it, this evil? That’s what you said, right?” OK. He went from unbalanced, to cute, to sexy, and now we’re back to unbalanced again. Nice little circle, that. “That works, does it? Um, exactly how does that work, I just have to know?”
“It has been written that in naming evil, it looses a bit of its power because you recognize it for what it is.”
“Good to know – I’ll file that in useful information to know and learn.” Cat was trying really hard to be opened minded, for this obviously was a cultural thing, but all this talk of evil was making it a little hard. Not that she didn’t believe in evil, she did, she saw it every time she turned on the news, but she had a feeling he was talking about something a little different than some whack-job who shot up a convenience store or the father of three that killed his children because he didn’t want to pay child support.
There was the day-to-day evil that existed in the world, then there was Evil-evil, which was much bigger in Cat’s mind and operated on a much broader scope. You know, like in hell. “And after you named it…You planed to what?” Cat asked.
“I planned on confronting the evil scurrying about to prove that even though I do know it, I do not fear it. I never will.”
“Evil ‘scurrying about’ and you planned on confronting it? Does this happen to you often in your world?” Cat held up her hand. “No, no. Sorry again. Bad question. Not saying it’s a bad thing, in fact I think it’s very precious, really I do, but unfortunately I’m still a lot lost. Calling it names enables you to kick its butt…This Evil -evil?”
“Precious?” That one stuck in his craw.
Cat sighed. “Figures you would hone in on that one word. Did I affront your manly sensibilities?”
“Accept it and move on, pal. I have.” Cat patted his chest. “Now back to the matter at hand. I know you are speaking English because I can understand every word coming out of your mouth, but I just can’t seem to comprehend them when they are strung together in the form of your sentences. It’s like we are communicating through this huge cultural divide of misunderstanding. You were trying to do something heroic. Check. I get that. It was really very gallant of you. So yay, points for you. You thought you were confronting what you assumed was Evil …” Cat paused, with a cock of her eyebrow and a wave of her hand.
He didn’t disappoint.
“Evil.” He nodded, finishing for her. The double moniker now making a bit of sense. It just seemed bigger when it was said twice. He smiled, pleased with her, as well as with himself, “I suppose you could say so, yes.”
“Just go with me, OK, we’re getting somewhere.” Cat pushed on, desperately trying to grasp onto his lines of rational, because she liked him, she really did and didn’t want him to be crazy. “But this thing, this Evil-evil that you mistook me for, made me what? Maybe a bad crazy person or just to take it deeply into the realm of the Twilight Zone, since we are talking Evil-evil here, you simply thought I was, what…? Like possessed?”
“OK.” He seemed to consider his choices for a moment, before he answered simply, “Yes.”
“That was an either/or not a yes/no question.”
“Yet amazingly, still not really an answer.” Cat pinched her lips at his silent, stubborn shrug. “ Moving on…You jumped me, pulled me into the alleyway and held me at knife-point, in order to confront the Evil-evil? Because you were just in the neighborhood and thought it was the thing to do?”
“Not exactly, but OK.”
“You do realize you just answered a yes/no question with two opposing answers, right?”
“I suppose so, nevertheless it was an accurate answer nonetheless.”
Cat sniffed, they were getting nowhere, “How exactly?”
“How is it accurate—No, you know what? Forget it. I probably won’t understand anyway and I’m already getting a headache. Let’s just keep moving forward.” Cat waved a frustrated hand at him. “So, once you confronted this Evil-evil you assumed I was, you planned on doing what? What was your next step?”
“I planned to do battle with it.”
“With just a knife, really? Wow, they don’t make Evil-evil like they used to.” Cat frowned. “So what, evil, if that was what you actually assumed I was, and still unsure of what the word ‘evil’ entails to you. I’m skipping it for now. So if evil can be battled, I’m guessing it can be defeated, right? And you think that can be done with a knife?”
“It cannot,” He slowly, almost sadly, shook his head, “No.”
“And yet you still made the attempt.” Cat sucked in air through her pinched lips in frustration as she raised her eyebrows at him silently, when he said nothing else, “You see where I might have a problem with this?”
“Possibly, yes.” Now it was his turn to shrug. “Nevertheless it does not make it any less true. Some battles are never meant to be won, just fought.”
Well that was just stupid, Cat thought frowning at him. “If you can’t win, you lose, so why fight?”
So that others might live.
He kept that much taught statement to himself. If she had to ask, there was no way he could explain it to her.
Others, like you, he ruminated with a tender smile behind his mask looking down at her.
Somewhere outside the alleyway, a horn honked, quickly yanking him back to the present and ending their perceived isolation from the rest of the world, which even now, lay in wait…
For what is, what was to come and whatever shall be.
He stopped himself before he answered too honestly, amending his response immediately, for if she had to ask, she would never really understand. “Why indeed?”
Cat waited for more, but it wasn’t offered. “That’s your answer?”
“It is not, no, but it is all I am willing to offer you at the moment.”
At the moment?
Cat liked the sound of that. It opened up the prospect of future possibilities.
“Under threat of pain, think maybe I could get a little more out of you?”
“Your huge stature does terrify me so, of that you should be sure, but upon closer inspection I am afraid you do not look like a wanting woman with dark, dangerous intent. With that said, I am afraid I will have to deny you that in which you seek, secure in the fact that there will be no retribution. Even from you.”
Had he just called her a woman?
“Really? So, what gives?” Cat really liked the sound of that. She fairly purred, channeling her inner BJ, “I’m not found wanting, dark or dangerous enough to suit you? You have different tastes?”
“Are you beautifully dark of color? Yes, indeed you are. Do I find you wanting? I find you more wanting than you, or even I, could possibly imagine.” He stressed his words by running a gentle finger down the side of her face. “But as for the dangerous moniker goes, my Lady, I would have to say that now, after all that I have discovered this morn, most likely not.”
“You know, sometimes you use like a dozen more words than you need too, only to have them give nothing away by means of comprehension. I just have two words for you pal – Happy medium. Practice it, please. As for the dangerous remark, I take exception to that.” Cat just had to point out, as she tapped her own blade casually to his chest. “Still holding the knife on you, pal.”
“Indeed you are.” He chuckled, tapping his blade against her collar bone, thoroughly enjoying himself for what seemed to him like the first time in his young life…Ever. “As am I.”
“Don’t we make quite the pair?” Cat chuckled up at him. “So, if I’m not the Evil-evil you assumed I was, but won’t expound on and not one that needs to be destroyed in a way you won’t tell me about, does that mean we’re pals?”
This time when he chuckled, there was a lightness to it as well as a rusty sound of unaccustomed newness, so much so that Cat had a feeling he didn’t laugh all that much. Her heart thrilled like the beat of a humming birds wings in her chest that she had given him that.
That she could.
She had such a way with words – They left him dazzled. The casual way she brushed aside the battling of evil boggled his mind and left him not a few shades envious of her for her unflappability, as well as her innocence. “I suppose it could mean that, yes.”
“OK. Now that we have established were pals, haven’t we got past all this holding-each-other-at-knife-point business?”
“Quite right.” Flipping the knife up and away from her throat he re-sheathed his own, slipping it deep in the folds of the dark shirt-thing he was wearing, with a skill that gave Cat momentary pause in thinking she might have underestimated his abilities just a tad.
And he let her.
Very, very slick.
All thoughts of that were brushed quickly aside however as he stepped back and gave her a deep-waisted bow, done with both style and flourish, sweeping back his cloak in the way of deep reverence.
One hand extended out in front of him, while the other was folded back across his back. One leg was straight, extended out in front of him, while the other supported him, bending at the knee.
His movements were fluid, an amazing grace born of skilled execution, and obviously lots of practice.
Her stomach fluttered at the sight.
The picture he made to her, bowing to her as the sunlight glimmered down on him from on high while a growing swirling fog floated around him calf deep to his legs now, was both exotically mysterious and wildly romantic.
Even if it was done in an alleyway.
What a picture he made.
No boy had ever bowed to her before. She had seen guys do it in movies, towards their fair ladies and had always thought it kind of hokey, but up close and personal it was enough to make her heart go all giddy.
“You have my utmost apologies, Catherine, on my misstep.” He said gallantly, as he stood up to his full height, his hands on his hips. Then with a touch to his forehead, his lips, then his heart, with his right hand, he offer it out to her before he quickly stepped back into the shadows cast by the hotel’s brick wall behind him.
Only his eyes were discernible in the darkness now.
They glowed there. “It was a mistake and one that will not happen again, I assure you.”
The wind kicked up in a sudden gust that sent her hair whipping across her eyes, which instinctively shut against the lashing assault.
Cat threw up her arm.
By the time she pulled the hair down from her face, the alleyway was filled with blinding whiteness of an impenetrable fog that seemed to grow, expand from the street in which it spilled out on.
But it was too late.
He was gone.
“Catherine? Did you say Catherine?” Spinning on the balls of her feet, she looked all around her but saw nothing but churning clouds that had descended from the very heavens. Where had he gone? “Wait, how do you know my name?”
He couldn’t just leave, could he?
Without a sound?
“Don’t go.” Lightening raced over head, followed by a crashing boom of thunder from the clouds above. Cat’s eyes raced through the merging of the white mist and black shadows, in a desperate search for her mysterious stranger. “You never told me your name.”
“You are correct,” He said from the shadows as the deep fog began to seemingly be poured out from the alleyway, like someone had turned on a faucet, filling the street beyond with the white gossamer cover. “I did not.”
She could hear his voice, but to Cat’s eyes he was all but lost as she spun in the direction she thought she had heard his voice, beside her, behind her, all around her, but to no avail.
Dang and blast!
“You can’t just hold a girl at knife-point and then not tell her your name.” Cat harrumphed, tossing her head back, she shouted upwards, stomping her foot in frustration. “That’s just rude!”
His diminishing laughter resonated all around her, and after one last powerful blast of wind, his laughter-echoed remnants blew out just as the storm rolled in overhead.
And when the alleyway was fog free, Cat could easily see her worst fears had been realized…
He was indeed gone without a trace.
“Who the heck was that?” Cat whispered, collapsing back against the brick wall behind her, for a second she went limp, allowing herself the moment. She touched her hand to her lips where his finger had brushed her so very tenderly.
They still tingled.
That was when she noticed the Lady in Gray, the one that haunted the forth floor of The Bell Hotel, the building just behind her, standing in the shadows on the far end of the alleyway.
Cat had never seen her anywhere else, but on the forth floor before. Didn’t know, in fact she could go anywhere else.
Slowly Cat pushed away from the wall, and was almost immediately assailed with a chill on the air and one that racked her to the very depths of her bones. A chill so deep it made her body ache.
“So what do you think?” Cat asked, staring at the ghostly woman before her, whose skin was just as pale as her dress. So unnaturally perfect, so surreal and beautifully, yet so eternally sad. “Will I even see him again?”
Cat felt the words more than heard them, as the sound resonated out of sync from the movements of the flawless, ghostly mouth before her from the Lady in Gray, “Do not get too comfortable, else…”
“I should never leave this place.” Cat nodded shivering, finishing for her. “I know the drill. Me and BJ used to chase you up and down the Bell Hotel’s hallway when we were in elementary school, remember? We did it just to see how many times you would say those words? But don’t you ever get tired of saying the same old thing? Haven’t you ever wanted to say something else? Like about the boy that was just here? I mean, seriously, you come all the way out here to haunt me and all you can say is the same old, same old? Come on, one time, try something else.”
“Beware Catherine, or else he will be the death of you.” The Gray Lady said on a whisper soft breath of menace.
“Points for newness.” Cat nodded, backing slowly out of the alleyway. The ghostly specter stared at her out of dead, unblinking eyes as if waiting for something. “You said something else, that’s good. Not really what I was going for, but it’s different for you, so that’s a plus.” Kicking her thumb out, Cat jerked it in the direction out over her shoulder towards the exit of the alleyway and her escape to a creeperless freedom. “I was kind of hoping to know if he was like going to come back and ask me out, since I’m sure your are all up to date on the supernatural skinny, but knowing that he will lead to my death is not a bad thing either.”
“You didn’t hear me.” The Lady in Gray hissed.
“Oh, but I did.” Cat said. “Mysterious guy will be the death of me…Check.” Cat made a showing of cocking her left wrist and clicked her cheek as a sound effect to punctuate the point. “And as much as I would love to stay and have an un-dead convo with you, I really have to be going. But I heard you, I swear, and will keep it firmly in mind.”
Cat turned and bolted.
“You heard me,” The Lady in Gray said sadly, with a shake of her head and a slow glance up to the raging storm clouds overhead. “But like so many, you did not listen. By the time you remember my warning, dearest Catherine, it will be too late.”
Collapsing down into an explosion of cascading mist, The Lady in Gray vanished. Her form fell to the ground, disappearing, much like the memory of her words into nothing more than a watery stain that marred the earth for a time, only to fade away as the day came and went.