A Balanced Choice
Some say she dances too close to Hades, controlling life and death. She laughs at those fools. Why dance with a god of the Underworld when it’s her power that determines when humans pass?
Her sisters call her morbid, again she laughs. Two of her sisters are called artists--a weaver and a mixer. That's what they are. Her third sister left them all hanging.
No. Atropos believes it is she who is the true artist. The knowledge of life and death gives humans their ultimate passion and ultimate drive. Therefore, with her shears she breathes passion, hope, sadness, sorrow, drive, and determination, all that and more, she breathes into the human with the snip of her shears.
But, what if she miscalculates a life? What if a time is cut too short?
A Phaze Books ReleaseContains sexual language and explicit sexual situations intended for the enjoyment of adult readers.
Kally Jo Surbeck is a multi-award-winning best-selling author of several genres. She has over thirteen books, including participation in several anthologies.
A few of her accomplishments are Colorado Author of The Year, the EPPIE (Excellence in electronic publishing) Action category. Ms Surbeck, was, at that time, the first woman to have written and won in said category.
She is also the winner of the Daphne duMaurier in thriller/suspense. Her poetry was her first writing sale at the tender age of twelve. Her works are in several different anthologies, commemorative additions, and one is even in the Holocaust Museum.
The sky had long ago faded from the brilliant peach of an unseasonably late Seattle, Washington, fall sunset to the dark, star-spattered tapestry of night. Even though chilled drizzle fell from the sprawling heavens coating the roads, the buildings, and the earth, there were no clouds cluttering the sky. Not a single one marred the grand expanse. The stars shone brightly in the heavens, twinkling with hope and promise. It seemed like such a contradiction to Atropos as she stood high on the metal fire escape in Downtown, gazing upward.
No matter how many times she looked to the sky, its glory still made her breath catch. It was beautiful and awe inspiring. A shooting star raced southbound, first brilliant gold, then faded from sight. Only its memory lingered. Attie shivered. One more angel fallen. One more life consumed by the elements surrounding it. She sighed softly.
The sparkling stars that remained anchored in the dark heavens shone down enticingly on those innocent enough to still believe in their ancient power. People, en masse, made wishes upon stars every night of the year, yet they had lost faith in the gods. It didn’t make sense to her.
She shook her head at the functioning of the complex and complicated human mind. She was one of the lingering but generally unseen forces that to this very day touched human lives, affected them. She and her sisters crafted life, yet it seemed the only time the Moirai were remembered these days was in some ancient philosophy or mythology class at university. Perhaps a rare child with a still open mind who had the mystery of the ancestral herald pulsing through his veins tossed a coin into the waters of a pool, praying to the sisters, pleading for luck, or life, or mercy without even knowing exactly what they were doing, who they were calling to. Even then, in the most rare occurrence, when a child had heard the lore and had remembered, called out with knowledge, the child didn’t really understand to whom he spoke, or knew that one of the sisters stood beside him to hear his uttered prayer.
The general populace still, at times, uttered their names. Occasionally, in blame. Fair enough accusation, Attie conceded. Often enough they were to blame.
It was all incredibly sad. The way of things. People forgot. Memories faded as the generations slipped quickly passed. The stories of the gods, the teachings of the ancients stopped being repeated, or the tone in which they were told shifted from reverence and awe to that of some fable and flight of fancy. Once, years ago, she had sat in on a mythology class in England. The professor, snooty nose jutted high in the air, spieled on and on about the truth of the gods. His version was so twisted and polluted Attie cried. She’d walked out of that class and never returned to another. That was over two centuries ago. She could only image what time and now done to the tales.
Mortals forgot. Gods remembered.
Indeed, it was the way of things. She’d seen the pattern run its cycle time and time again. But to what end? This? Her gaze scanned the horizon, taking in the honking horns of quickly moving automobiles, the absent-minded chatter of people having their inane conversations about nothing as they hurried from one busy work task to another. It was slow tonight, here, in the city. Most people were indoors or encased in vehicles, or on public transits hurrying to get back to their private little boxes they called home. People were just inches away, yet whole worlds apart. Totally unaware of each other, they worried their worries and carried on with their plights thinking their lives, their concerns, were unique among the masses. Perhaps that was one reason she liked to be among mortals. Her aloneness seemed…universal.
Attie walked among them, had since she had been banned from Olympus, yet mortals never saw her unless she purposely showed herself to them. The gods, herself no exception, remained veiled, watching the creatures they loved and protected throw their lives away, yet not truly being of affect any longer. Effect, indeed. Affect, no.
Or more so, as the case was nowadays, the gods gave up faith and turned their backs, knowing that humans’ time was so much shorter than their own. Even she had been tempted to look away, to run from her decree. Time, so fleeting, slipped for those in despair. Generations could pass in the blink of an eye. If she blinked right. But mortals’ lives were lives, too. Any life demanded respect, no matter how fleeting. And over the centuries, millennia, much to her amazement Attie had witnessed those mortal lives do wonderful things. Greater things than even those endowed with the power of Olympus. And humans, while shrouded with incredible, unfounded egos, still worked for an end result of significance. They worked for a cause and with purpose. The gods had simply believed things should be handed to them. At least, that’s how it was the last time she was there, Attie amended.
All of that to contend with, people and their egos, gods and their superiority complexes. Then there were the Fates. Cursed to duty, bound to honor a code long forgotten to humans of an age long passed, that was how the Fates existed.
Though they were many a time badmouthed and often noted only for the sadder results of their calling, most missed the beauty of the Fates. She and her three sisters were the centurions of hope. They gave life and love. They made certain there was happiness and equity. They maintained the balance and justice of the ages from generation to generation. Yet, who stood on the battlefield for them, defending them? Who cared about their wants, needs, and desires? What happened when the Fates lost hope? Those were questions that weighed heavily on Attie’s mind and soul. They had always, but each day now seemed to compound the pain, the pressure, the sadness more so than it had in the past.
In succession, her sisters’ faces flashed before her. Instantly, Attie’s heart warmed. The sisters. The sisters stood together and helped each other. They always had. They were all they had. There was solace in her sisters and their solidarity. And they had managed. Pretty damn well, in fact. Just look at them now. Chloe and Chesis had found love. And not just heart beating, twitter-paited lust, but full in head over heels love. Once again, the mountain fairly sizzled with their zest for life. That was good. That was enough. Maybe Lu and she were the balance of not having love. Maybe that was how the scales equalized life beyond the Fates. Half ‘n half. If that were the case she would accept it, sadly, of course, but she’d do it just the same.
Her sisters had noted her recent melancholy and tried to help where they could. That meant a lot of Attie. She didn’t always know how to tell them or thank them. She knew they each fought this same battle, just on different fields. They all had their own crosses to bear, but they each certainly dealt with it just as varied a manner as her duties called for. Miraculously Chloe and Chesis had made it work. They had tilted the scale, accepted love, and continued to perform their duties. That had not seemed possible to Attie. She thought it had to be one or the other.
She shook her shoulders slightly, watching the water slough off the waterproof material. It wasn’t that she didn’t want love. Actually, she craved it, but was scared of it as well. As the death dealer, she witnessed death and loss every day. How many people would understand her occupation or the struggles she dealt with on a regular basis? It was a hard, solitary life she led. Being a god was difficult enough for mortals to accept, to comprehend, but the fact that she was Death, Attie figured might be a little much. Attie tried not to complain. As a matter of fact, she generally kept to herself. There were a few demis she spoke with on occasion. Mortals she had befriended over the years. And, of course, the sisters. She had all of that, but for safety—hers and theirs—she kept a defined distance and not sought out love or accepted even a faint foreshadowing of possibility.
At times like this, when she stood in the world but not of the world, she acknowledged she had created the reality she lived in. She was alone by choice, not force. She had always been attractive. Whenever she didn’t like her eye color, or hair, or weight, she modified it. With the snap of her fingers, she could change her voice and her height, but what she could not change was who she was on a core level. The Attie of old. Daughter of Zeus. Sister of the famed Moirai. It meant nothing. She was, after all was said and done, just Attie.
Her life, excluding the fancy little spin ball thrown her by Zeus when he condemned her to be an orphan and a Fate forever, was shaped by her choice alone. The Fates were above reproach, their decisions not allowed to be questioned. That had always meant a great deal to Attie. Even if people had forgotten about the gods and their ways, she had not. She knew her job. She knew how important her role was to the world and therefore she held herself to a high standard.
It was the fall of the year. Time for the old to pass away, regenerate, and start anew. In that vein, she felt she had to be truthful. Alone, in the alley, she solemnly acknowledged how she had pushed away almost every single immortal and mortal alike because of a single truth. It hurt too much to lose.
Attie sighed. With the exhalation, she sent her sisters a burst of love, wishing them happiness for as long as it was theirs to experience. She also sent a special little prayer for Lu, wherever she was.
They thought she had lost her ability to care, her sisters had. The cruel irony was they were wrong. It was not that she no longer cared, but that there was so much out there in the universe to care about—she’d gone numb. She had spent so long distancing herself, stepping back from connections, lying to herself that she didn’t need or want those bonds—so very long. For the majority of her life she’d justified her lonely existence and actions. She’d justified herself right into her current despised state of numbness.
Her curse, her plague, was to determine the length of time each mortal was allotted. It was a power she had neither wanted nor craved. There was a time, long ago in her youth, she had hoped for no more than a playful existence. But with Zeus’ decree she become a Moirai, that hope had vanished like a puff of smoke on a windy day—gone before it could even be fully conceptualized. Her job was cruel, but life was cruel. She had for centuries performed the best she could, showing no partiality not for the elderly, the kind, the wicked, the young or the strong. Never once had she played favorites. Everyone was allotted a period of life. It was up to them how they lived it.
Thunder rumbled in the distance, bringing Attie’s attention front and center. A storm was fast approaching. She had probably a half hour. No more. Despite the relative shelter of the apartment’s sculpted overhanging eave, a steady drizzle trickled down, wetting the whole of the city, blanketing the whole city. Water clinked on the metal of the fire escape. It pattered on the ceramic tiled roof. The rain then made it to her in tiny beads, which in turn ran in thin rivulets off her tan London Fog trencher. Soft drops of the moisture splattered around her three-inch heeled suede boots. It would stain them, yet she paid it little heed. She’d known it a possibility when she dressed. Like many things, she accepted the truth of the situation. She liked the boots, wanted height…hence she wore them. It’s not like she couldn’t get another pair, or clean these later.
Nature and fashion rarely mixed.
Her sisters loved that saying. A smile tugged at Attie’s lips. She didn’t resist this one. She even chuckled quietly, thinking about her sisters and what they would have to say about this evening. Chloe would tell her to work a little magic and clean those boots right up, this instant. It could all be tidied, straightened up, just like that! No sense in wasting a perfectly stitched boot, she would say. Lu would laugh at her for wearing suede in the rain. Chesis...Ches would give Attie that sad smile she had been wearing so much of late and wonder at her sister’s lack of respect for a finely crafted, mortal-made object. Attie would just laugh at them all because while she wore the boots and the trench coat, she wore nothing else. Surely, that little detail would evoke a response from her sisters.
Feeling as though she were compromising, giving a little for her sisters who gave her so much, Attie took another step in under the overhang. “Happy now?” she asked, mostly to herself.
A lone gargoyle perched atop the roof of the apartment complex smiled down on her with compassion, he—as she—a forgotten relic. She pulled her trench coat more tightly about her, tugging on the cinch. She didn’t experience the cold night air like most people, but the action brought comfort nonetheless. The soft satin lining of the coat brushed over her skin with the gentleness of a child’s blanket. It soothed and calmed her. The coat was thinly insulated, offering a reassuring weight on her shoulders and around her body. It reminded her of the new sheets on her bed. In just a bit she could crawl under her sheets, warm, dry, comfortable, and be assured she was doing everything possible to be the best at her job. Soon she could have that comfort, but not just yet.
Her breath steamed out in front of her in small puffs that quickly dispersed. The weather was not exactly a discomfort, but Attie was aware of the temperature changes around her, how her environment changed and how she changed it. Carefully she regulated her breathing, going more slowly so no condensation fogged the window into which she peered. She wanted to see every last detail tonight. No cheating herself on this.
Inside the dimly lit, cozy top-floor apartment, the current objects of Attie’s fascination dreamily arose from their seats at the dining room table. The young couple was celebrating their third anniversary. Their succulent dinner of roast chicken and jambalaya scented the chilled night air. To her heightened senses, it smelled wonderful, pungent with as much expectation of delight as the satin sheets covering the king-sized bed. Both called out for fulfillment. The burgundy of the Merlot that stained their half-filled glasses matched the deep hue of the sheets on the bed. The woman had been wise in her purchase that very morning, knowing that a drop or two of the rich ambrosia could end up on the sheets.
The wife and husband stood together, naked, yet clothed by each other’s adoring embrace. Their lips hesitated, almost touching, hovering the barest of inches from each other. They breathed life from one to the other—tasting, smelling, experiencing. The energy of love pulsed from one to the other with static electricity. It was fascinating. Attie wished she could still see the auras like her sisters. The display would be incredible. Yet, over time the colors of her perception had dimmed. She didn’t remember when she lost sight of the brilliant hues human souls radiated, but she had. Now she saw the basics and felt a sense of profound loss at that fact. The emotions warred within her. The basics made life simple. Made her job acceptable. Easier to understand, to complete. Yet, she missed so much now…
Attie licked her lips, which suddenly seemed parched beyond reason. They yearned not for a balm but the healing touch of a lover’s kiss. How long had it been? Years. Centuries. Sex was simple. Love was complicated. This slow build to the culmination of lovemaking confused and at the same time compelled her. She had to watch them, this couple. It was a soul compulsion. She could not turn away. Their passion for one another seemed to paint the air, color the scenery. It was times like these when she felt she could get it all back. She felt as though she were perched on the very cliff of a high mountain. Her stomach flipped and felt ready to plunge, kicking her system full of the godlike equivalent to adrenaline.
She wanted what they had, yet at the same time knew it was not hers to take. Still, it beckoned her, pleading. How could it be so wrong to witness open and profound love, deep and intoxicating love? It was beautiful, natural, and so incredibly awesome. Not everyone had it. Surely not everyone experienced it in his or her brief existence. Yet, these two people had it. They embraced it.
Attie did not reveal herself to them. She did not speak. She stood silently, watching and appreciating. Attie thought that maybe if she watched in these times of heightened emotion, perhaps some of what they had would bleed through to her, show her what to care about, how much to give, where to look.
Love by proxy.
She thought that something would jump-start her system, give her back the passion and zeal for existence that had so long been missing. If these mortals could find so much joy, so much passion from a look, or touch, maybe, just maybe, she could, too. She blinked slowly. Intrigued, she savored how everything appeared more real, more vivid, because of the love this couple shared. She sensed how they felt those same emotions, how they knew them to be true because they were together. It was as if they were to be separated, the world would no longer be whole.
Attie sighed in union with the couple. She reminded herself that all things healed…in time. Her hands grasped the windowsill unconsciously. Her fingers gripped the wood, mimicking the way the wife’s small hands grasped the husband’s shoulders. Small chips of paint flaked under the pressure Attie exerted, some abrading the sensitive skin on her fingers, but she paid them little mind, her attention resting wholly on the couple.
They had no idea.
The husband reached up and pulled two red oriental painted sticks free from his wife’s silky, long, black hair, taking it from a well-styled twist to thick, cascading locks that brushed down the length of the woman’s slender back. The sheen of the woman’s hair in the candlelight reminded Attie of the Indian Ocean at midnight. The hair sticks dropped unceremoniously to the floor. The average mortal would have heard nothing, but to Attie’s hyper yet selectively focused hearing, the sticks clattered on the carpeted floor loudly. The noise shook her enough that she frowned. At least, she told herself it was because of the sound. Sticking with the resolution of honesty, she admitted she frowned at the husband’s gentle touch. He experienced his wife’s skin with every sensory receptor on his fingertips. He tasted her with his tongue. He loved her with all his heart. The truth of that shone bright in his onyx eyes. All of that was what she really frowned at, how completely and utterly in love the man was with his wife.
Languidly, the man bent his head and trailed shameless kisses down the expanse of his wife’s exposed throat, teasing the gentle swell of her small breasts with his lips, with his tongue. A throaty laugh of appreciation and delight came from the wife and she whispered his name.
Seconds and a whole lifetime passed.
Attie cocked her head to the side, listened to the wife’s contented sighs. She tuned into them as if they were the only sound in the city, studied them. For it has been said that in the sighs of a woman lies the secrets to happiness. Attie listened closely. She desperately wanted to hear the secret—sense it, feel it. Instead of a revelation, the woman’s delight evoked sadness from the oldest Fate.
Another flake of paint drifted away from the windowsill. Attie lowered her gaze and watched it float past the slats in the fire escape, drifting on the unsettled air all the way to the alley far below, where it disappeared into a murky puddle on the ground. Thunder rumbled, the fire escape shook, and gusts of wind whipped her hair. Rain pelted her cheeks, mixing with tears that had escaped when Attie had least expected them. She didn’t bother to brush at the moisture on her cheeks.
Why had her sisters questioned her? Why now? Millennia later they finally wondered at her procedure, her tact? She shook her head. Had they not brought doubts to her mind she would have continued her existence, her job, her duty in blissful numbness as she had done for centuries. She was sure of it. She could have gone on forever the way she was. Now, though, questions raced through her mind. So quickly, in fact, not even she could put the questions to word. They jumbled around into incoherent confusion and doubt. If she could not return her thoughts to a linear order, she could not pass from this stage. That troubled her. The fact that she was unsure of her current course troubled her even more.
Oh, the ugliness of conscience.
The couple cried out in pleasure. Attie raised her gaze to them.
They had no idea what was about to happen, but she did. Therein lay her pain. Pain because even though she knew and she felt for them, she had no choice. Nothing could change the course of the evening. Nothing could alter Fate. She stuck her hand in her pocket and felt the thin thread safely stored therein. She traced her fingers over the material. There was no need to pull it out to see it. She had every hitch in the weave memorized. Her fingers brushed over the enchanted shears. The scissors were cold, metallic. She needn’t pull them out either. They were as much a part of her as her sisters. Making sure she had nothing in her hands that the string was not caught on her nail or skin, Attie slipped her hand free and returned it to the rough windowpane.
How oddly precarious life was. The lives of mortals were so fragile, so delicate. Their fate in the hands of the uncertain.
The fire escape shook again. This time not from the weather. She wasn’t alone.
“Hot, isn’t it?” A deep voice sounded behind her. “Well, cold out here, hot in there.”
She didn’t need to turn, to look. She knew him. It seemed as if she’d known him forever. Whether it was the sound of his voice or the vibrating stir when he materialized it didn’t matter, both throbbed with strength. “Fuck off, Narcissus.”
The youngest son of Cephissus and Liriope stepped close to Attie. He invaded her personal space with both his body and spirit. The entire alley was open for his presence, but instead of keeping his distance, he came right up to her, standing close on the fire escape. Only he would dare act so presumptuously. Only he had never appeared contrite or intimidated of the Fates. For that reason, if no other, Narcissus was her friend.
His body heat seeped through her coat. The chill of the night seemed more pronounced now that she felt his comforting warmth near. She smelled his cologne and wondered when he had decided to start wearing a new brand. The subtle notes lingered in the damp air, making her want to lean closer to him, to sniff again and again. Then she wondered why it mattered to her. She straightened her shoulders, feigning indifference. He could wear what he wanted. He didn’t need to run it past her. A small shift in the breeze washed another wave over her and her façade cracked. He was close, as if he were reaching out to her, but hesitating, not touching. A shiver raced up her spine.
“It’s raining. Shouldn’t you be somewhere else all sunshine and flowers?”
“Hmmm.” It sounded more like a purr when it came from him. Despite herself, she liked it. His voice rumbled, having a faint gravely sound to it. “And yet, you’re out in it. What gives? You working or just being creepy?”
She bit gently on her bottom lip. She’d known someone approached. She’d felt them, somewhere just beyond, but it mattered little. Gods came and went. She didn’t, however; expect one of them to come on up and to interrupt her ponderings. She was a Fate. Her presence was above reproach. Anywhere. Yet, now that he was there, she was kind of glad he had.
He stepped closer still. “You’ve been here a while now, Attie.”
She could be wherever she wanted to be. If anyone else, even her sisters pushed in on her space like this, she’d land blast them, shove them away, or at least verbally let them know how uncomfortable it made it. She needed space. She needed her own area. Yet, she found herself leaning in toward him. She couldn’t stop herself. She needed to, but she couldn’t.
She thought to protect others, so much so she cut threads on a precise, posted schedule so her sisters knew exactly what to expect when they entered her workroom. That way they never unexpectedly saw the errant thread of a child, a grandparent, a parent to be. They never had to see the limp thread of a child not yet of maturity whose life was stopped all too young by her enchanted shears. She had always felt she had to be alone to do her job. It was hard. No one else should have to be a part of that. They shouldn’t have to endure the sadness, not by choice. It was too much to ask. But was she wrong? Maybe she needed to not be alone. The idea surprised her.
She blinked. What’s up? She was working. Just like almost any other time he came to her. When she wasn’t snipping a thread, she was worrying over how many or where or when she must.
That cannot be healthy, Attie-girl. You need a hobby.
She had a hobby, actually. Experimentation. It was a fairly new fascination. It worked in line with her preoccupation with humans, mortals of all sort. Attie recognized she was different. However, just because her sisters and the other terra-forma-condemned-semi-precious gods didn’t like to run around amongst the mortals they so deftly manipulated was no reason to look at her funny because she did. As Atropos, the Fate who cut the thread of life, she felt it a necessity to be among those whom she sentenced to death. Only fair. Besides, she genuinely liked mortals. They looked at everything differently. The majority possessed zeal. They looked for joy.
Laughter radiated from the small apartment and Attie focused her attention on her night’s mission. She dragged it away from the beautiful Narcissus and his tempting warmth, back to the hollow space where she stood, outside in the cold, watching and waiting. Now, since her sisters had questioned her disassociation, it was more imperative she look, see, and know in the depths of her brittle soul that she was proceeding down the right path. That she acted always in an uninfluenced manner. That she did her job. That she did it well.
It felt so good to be near someone. For someone to recognize she was alive, that she existed. She wanted to touch him, to cling to him, to simply hold onto the sensation of togetherness. That scared her. She suddenly felt uncomfortable in her own skill. She had never needed this before. At least, she’d never recognized the need. Yes, she had begun questioning her abilities and her skills, but she had never thought of Narcissus as a possibility of comfort. Embarrassed heat leaped to her cheeks and she was thankful that she was not facing him. Narc knew too much about her. If not understood her, at least he acknowledged her ways. He’d know something was different and wrong with her. She couldn’t afford to have him questioning her, too.
Her frown deepened. She had every right to be here. He didn’t. He was a lesser god. He was a god because of his parents. He was a legend for his looks. It didn’t matter what he was or what she thought about him and his bulging biceps. He had no business questioning her and she didn’t like it. Something about his doubting her made her gut clench and churn. It was not that she liked anyone questioning her, but the fact that Narc had joined rank and file with her sisters…their doubts suddenly seemed too much weight to bear. She shoved him a little way away from her with her shoulder.
“Talk to me. Why are you bothering these people?” he asked. His voice sounded rough, manly, testosterone laced. But he spoke more softly than normal, the words lilting down at the end. He sounded concerned. It was a wistful note she thought she heard in his voice that softened her heart a little. “This couple is obviously celebrating something and here you are, standing out in the dark, the rain, in one hell of an approaching storm acting like some freaky Peeping Tom.”
When she touched him she felt the thick leather of his jacket, heard the clasps clink with the movement. She really wanted to look. Narc was rather persistent when he wanted something and, apparently, he wanted something. She waited, hoping for and dreading his words. Maybe he would stand there in silence with her, too, enjoy the evening and what it had to offer.
“You’re normally so...” He paused. “I don’t know. You’re normally so concerned about privacy.”
Nope. Silence was asking too much. “Yes. I like my privacy.”
“Little note, sweetie. So do most humans. It’s built into them or something. They close doors. Most pull their blinds. Obviously not this couple, but most do. Huh? Who knew this was what you were into? It would have saved me so much time.” He added the last as a murmured afterthought.
“What the fuck?”
“Nothin’. Hey, Attie, look at me not them.”
“You’d rather I was staring at you?” She could not stop herself. She had to look at his reflection in the window. He was tall and broad and blond and so close. She couldn’t have not looked if Zeus himself decreed it.
He grinned. “See? I’m not so bad!”
No, he wasn’t bad at all. That was part of the problem. “Don’t you get enough of that shit?” In the window, she saw his eyebrow rise. A small muscle in his clenched jaw twitched, but he didn’t so much as blink, his smile did not waiver though for the first time she thought it seemed less a smile of charm or of confidence and one more of sadness. What an odd request from him. “Haven’t you worn yourself out yet? Everyone staring. Everyone gawking. You’re hot. You know it. Shit, it’s legendary. We all know it.”
“You buy into that crap?”
“I’ve heard stories.”
“So you do believe that that’s me. The guy of the stories?”
Her tone was rough. “I’m working.”
Narcissus towered over her. From the weak reflection of their images in the window, the whole of his body could be seen behind hers. He did have on his heavy leathers. A white T-shirt showed just under his jacket. The rain soaked it, making it cling to the fine muscles of his chest. He was firm and fit. His body screamed out to be fondled, caressed, enjoyed—every last inch of it. Handsome could not even describe him. Vain, now she supposed that could. She felt what might have been misconstrued as guilt make her waiver. She was judging him harshly and for no reason other than her own state of confusion. There was nothing he could do about his looks. It was a blessing of birth. He’d been her friend, put up with her melancholy and her life. That counted for something. It counted for a lot.
He watched her for a moment, then lifted his gaze. “You gonna answer me? What gives with the intrusion?”
Annoying as it was, he had a valid point. Well, two of them. He wasn’t so bad, not to look at, not to be with, and, in essence, she was intruding on the couple, but what the mortals didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. This night was the most special of their lives. It was the last night they would spend together on earth. She stubbornly refused to look away. “I could have watched them from anywhere. You know that. I don’t have to be here. They don’t know I’m here. So I really don’t see what the problem is.”
Making a display, he rubbed his arms as if from the chill of the evening. The action brushed the front of his right arm against her back. Not much, but enough to make her notice the firmness of his sculpted muscles. Enough for her to want more. His warm breath breezed over her scalp, sending goosebumps to her arms as well. “Yeah, you can watch from anywhere, Att, like that nice dreary room of yours in the bat cave, or how about a sports bar? Beer and pretzels mix well with doling out death sentences, right? Sit there in the din of revelers. Not really crying in your drink, but watching the evening unfold on the nice, smooth, head of a Guinness. You’d mix right in. So why stand out here in this drizzle? It’s depressing. And it’s cold.”
“No one knows I’m here.”
He laughed a deep rich laugh. “I know.”
She pursed her lips and bit back the retort, no one important knows. Friends, she wanted to keep it that way. He helped her out, a lot. He was never averse to her sisters or their work. Narc was even a pretty good source of Olympian gossip. Besides, when he wasn’t lipping off, he was a hell of a sight. Attie might not have much of a life, but she still had a fantastic libido. Everything still worked, she assumed, but the problem was she thought too much. Thinking too much led to questions. Questions led to confusion and she did not like confusion. She was baiting him and she knew it, but the words were out of her mouth before she could stop herself. “No mortal knows.”
It was long and drawn out. She expected to see him turn away or make some move to accept her rejection. She deserved it. It was what she expected. Much to her delight, he did not. He stayed right there with her. She released her grip on the sill, noting with bemused detachment her knuckles were white. Her fingers ached from the strength of her hold. Attie flexed them twice. She reflected for a quick moment, wondering if it was the pressure of the night or Narc’s presence that was getting to her so. Gesturing at the couple, she expounded, “They don’t know.”
He backed away from her a little, but only enough to turn so he could glance over the edge of the railing of the fire escape, his gaze immediately locked on a couple far below huddled beneath a large umbrella walking along at a leisurely pace. Despite the weather, perhaps empowered by the weather they pressed tight to each other and strolled. “Someone might notice you.”
Why was he trying so hard? Had he always been this persistent? Why had she never noticed? Who cared if she was seen by someone else? People for the most part kept to themselves. They minded their own business, unlike him. “You know how this works. No one sees me unless I wish it.”
He did frown then. His even, white teeth disappeared as did his charming dimple. “And you don’t wish it?”
“No.” She couldn’t remember seeing his face contorted in a serious frown before. Narc kept things light, pleasant. He was always goading her into a smile. Attie pressed her memory. Maybe a time or two she’d seen him deep in thought, but this look appeared to be one of pain. Like the fact that she was not seen upset him somehow. “Worst case? The couple in there? They possibly get a bit of a funny feeling in the pit of their stomachs. Maybe they think someone was watching them, but they never know for sure what or who it was. They just see a rain spattered window.”
“Kinda a cold description, don’t you think?”
She conceded that maybe it was, but that was how she’d been able to keep it in perspective. “Fine. They don’t know that I’m here. They don’t know and they don’t care. Look at them. They’re so in love. So oblivious to life, what’s going on around them. They don’t know how short their time on this earth really is. It’s fascinating to me.”
“Oh, no. You didn’t, Attie.”
There was no point in responding. Of course she had. It was her job, her calling.
Solemn now, Narcissus asked, “Which one?”
Her gaze stayed fixated on the couple. The husband deftly lifted his small wife. He cradled her in his loving arms as though she weighed no more than a feather. Muscles ripped from his forearm to neck, yet he smiled down at her. A beautiful, glorious smile full of love and affection. The long lines of his thighs roiled as he carried her to their bed. Still holding her, he sank onto the side. The mattress cushioned under his weight, dipping slightly. His lips brushed hers. Slowly, back and forth, he seemed to nibble at her lips, her feigned resistance. All of this time of marriage and he still seduced her with a kiss.
Attie noted the wife’s delight. The scarlet of the woman’s lips, stained with the evening’s wine, full with passion and desire curled into a smile of appreciation. Attie’s heart tugged.
Narcissus pressed, “Which one, Attie?”
They’re just threads, her mind kept repeating. Mortals are not supposed to live forever. That is not how or why they were created. We all have our purpose. I make sure the population stays balanced. I aid pestilence and disease. I keep things in order. If I fail, Mother Nature and Time would fall out of balance. It is allotted all mortals shall die.
She did not want to answer. She shifted slightly. Her head shook and her hands held a slight tremor. Her long cornrows spilled down over her shoulder. The tiny bells and beads adorning them jingled at the movement. Without thinking about it, she reached up and caught several braids, silencing the joyous noise. Her finger traced the intricate lines of the braid, the thick, rich strands of hair soft under her touch. Suddenly, she wished she could see The Tapestry. See if it would turn out all right in the end. The Big Picture. She wanted to gaze at the brilliant colors Chesis chose, the genius ripples of Lu’s masterful touch, and the majesty of the completed tapestry that Chloe wove. She urgently needed to see it. Proof. The compulsion to know it was all right stole her breath. It hurt to gain air. It lodged in her throat and in her chest. She shook off the uncomfortable feelings. What was she thinking? Of course, it would turn out well. Everything worked to the appropriate end. New loves would be found, in time. Mortals had such fickle memories. It made them resilient. She admired that.
Narcissus laid one large hand on her shoulder and she jumped.
“It really doesn’t matter which one. Does it?” Her voice was flat, totally devoid of the emotion hammering painfully in her chest. By looking, no one would know she had doubts about her cavalier use of her enchanted shears. They never needed to know that there were times she desperately wanted to be partial, to extend time if only for a minute. No one knew or needed to know how with each snip of someone else’s life, hers grew more empty. No one knew, and even if they guessed, so what? What could they do? What good did it do to have them know when nothing could ever change? “They’re all the same.”
“Time flows, Narcissus. You and I, we play our parts. The ones our parents picked for us.”
“Careful, Attie,” he warned. “You saw what happened to me.”
She denied his claim. “It’s not the same thing.”
His voice gentled, but the pressure of his hand on her shoulder remained firm. “Sure it is.”
“No. It’s not. Sure, you got booted out of the hierarchy, and, yes, I know. It sucks. But Zeus didn’t curse you to this bullshit assignment. You can come and go back as you please. People leave you alone.”
“Zeus,” she interrupted him, “let some nasty ass bit of slash lead him around by his dick and for that every single one of his daughters got the shaft.” She silently dared him to contradict her.
Narcissus pulled her away from the window, looking around him as if people might overhear their conversation. Big, strong Narcissus looked…scared.
She tugged away. “What are you doing?”
He plopped down on the railing. His hands braced him on either side, the veins raised. “I know no one can hear us, but dammit, Attie.” He shook his head. “This generation may not have as much reverence for Zeus and Olympus, but your father is still powerful and so is Hera. Whether people know their power or not, they still have the power. You don’t need to be shouting out your anger. Not here. Not in the middle of an apartment complex. You just never know who is listening.”
“Who cares? They cursed us. We do our bidding. Life goes on. We should be able to say whatever we want. Fuck ‘em.”
His blue eyes shone with amazement. “You are in a mood. What’s wrong with you?”
She crossed her arms over her chest. “Why are you here?”
He smiled, and the dimple she now realized she really missed reappeared in his left cheek. “I asked you first.”
She never wanted him to frown again. “Please don’t.”
“Try to be cute. Don’t. I’m not in the mood, Arce.” She used their playful name, softening the bite in her tone. “I’m busy.”
“You’re in a mood, all right. Come on. The sooner you tell me what’s going on, the sooner you can get your jollies watching the couple. You screw around long enough, they’ll be done and you’ll have missed it.”
He meant it. He’d never leave if she didn’t talk to him. She considered him her friend. She enjoyed his company. She trusted him. Maybe, just maybe, if she told him he wouldn’t laugh. “That’s just wrong!”
“Maybe, but it’s the truth.”
“Unnatural,” she muttered. “Okay. I’ll talk to you. Lords know why, but I’ll talk to you, but you’re just gonna laugh. Or tell your friends.” She rolled her eyes. “Or tell my sisters.”
“Fine. That. In there. I have a problem with it, I guess.”
He looked over her shoulder to where she gestured with her hooked thumb. She knew exactly what he saw. The couple was now deep in the throes of passion. The wife’s cries of pleasure were clear through the thin glass of the window. Everyone in the complex could hear what a good celebration it was. Narcissus shook his head. “What’s wrong with it?”
“It isn’t the problem. I guess it’s me.”
“You?” He stood up, impressing her again with his height and size.
“Yeah. I don’t remember…that. I don’t know that I ever knew it.” She turned back toward the couple. She watched the smooth movements of the husband’s hands tracing the line of his wife’s jaw, the goosebumps rise on the wife’s skin. The way her nipples budded with excitement. Attie watched and felt a yearning for that same experience. Her body responded. Her nipples constricted. They rubbed against the soft satin lining of her trench and she felt herself warm noticeably.
“So.” Narcissus stepped up behind her, his hands slipping around her waist causing the hairs on her skin to tingle. “Wanna give it a try? See if we can spark a memory?”