Immediately, my gut takes a dive. I don’t have any idea what it is he is going to say next. I only know I’m not going to like it. In fact, I’m going to hate it. It’s good we are in the farthest corner table, out of earshot of anyone here unless a waiter comes over, which none have so far. Maybe Michael told them to leave us alone. But why? And why does it feels so dire all of a sudden? Already I feel tears starting to form behind my eyes, which is just so ridiculous.
“You’re leaving,” I blurt out, having no idea where it came from. Just one of those things I know before I really know it.
Michael nods. “Saturday night.”
“Why?” I say. Plead is more like it, more like how it sounds coming out of my choked up throat. I can’t help it, there are actually tears in my eyes. Me, who cries like…never before this bunch entered my life. At least I am facing the wall, and he the crowd. No one will see but him.
“They aren’t teaching me” he says, reaching out to hold my hand. “They are teaching you.” I notice there is no bitterness in his voice, not even anger. Just sadness. This has been killing him, and I knew that. I guess he’s not going to put up with it anymore.
I look at his hand, holding mine, and feel that strong pull and racing energy between us, but don’t take it away. It feels good, and it might be gone soon.
“I need to go where I will be taught, even if it is a different tradition,” he explains further.
Little teardrops keep falling from my bent head, one after another. Why? Why does it mean so much to me to have him here? To have him learning with me, even if second hand.
“Haven’t I passed on the teachings well enough?” I ask.
“Yes, sure you have. But it’s second hand. There’s hardly any real power in it that way. You know that. And Bea makes me wear that bag that kills all my power when I am anywhere near her. It’s all like reading a book, instead of doing it. I need to be doing it. And now there is someone who is willing to teach me. Up in Maine, for the last few weeks I have off before heading back to Europe for school.”
I wonder what his Aunt Helene will think of him leaving soccer camp early, and going off to Maine, but I imagine he doesn’t care much what she thinks. Either that, or he has found a way around her.
“Who is he?” I ask. I don’t know how I know it’s a he, but I’d put money on it.
“A shaman. Native American born, though he travels the world now. He’s here for a month. Someone told me about him, and I called, and he said he’d take me on. He said he knew about me and that I would be calling, but I don’t know how he could have known. So I guess he tunes in one way or another.”
I recall Anna telling me about the chandelier, and all the different forms of magic. But it doesn’t seem right he should leave the family and learn another way. I look up at him and have to grab hold of my heart which actually, physically hurts in my chest, in an attempt to get my tears to stop falling. It isn’t easy.
I keep looking around for some sign this isn’t real, but there is no slowly ticking clock, nothing to alert me to this being Magic’s doing. In fact, if I had to bet on it, I’d say Magic is not pleased about it at all.
“Say something,” he pleads.
“What will you say to Bea?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” he replies, sounding worried about it. “If the shaman has real powers—and trust me, I’m not assuming he does until he proves it—and he really has seen me coming, then she probably already knows.”
“How can you?” I burst out. I feel the betrayal, the way I imagine Bea and Anna will, and Jake for that matter. “How can you just leave your tradition, your family, when they are doing their best to keep the line going?”
“They don’t need me to keep the line going. They have you. And Jake.” This time, bitterness does creep into his voice.
“What does Jake have to do with it?” I ask, though once again, I already know. How is it I keep knowing things, right before I’m going to see them, or hear about them? Crazy making, that’s what Magic is.
“He loves you. Fell in love the minute he saw you,” he says looking down at his place, then look up to send his eyes straight into mine, “just like I did.”
Now there is no protecting my heart. It feels like it’s being crushed, like it’s been thrown in a huge trash truck and someone turned on the smasher. Why does this feel like it’s happened to me so many times, not just now, but over and over again? I’ve never been in love, never had a boyfriend even. How can it hurt this bad when I didn’t even know I loved him already?
“Then how can you leave?” I beg to know. Screw the tears, I can’t help it. He can’t leave. He just can’t. Not to go to some stranger to teach him ways that are not our ways. And how can a man teach the feminine Magic anyway? Why is he doing this to all of us? To me?
“If I stay,” Michael says, “Jake will fight for you, and he will win.”
“This is crazy,” I say, finally removing my hand to catch the falling tears, until it is useless. “We don’t even know what is going on. We don’t know what love has to do with this. Or choosing you or Jake, or any of that.”
“Seems you know something about it.”
“Well, they told me, but… how do we know? Why can’t we all just learn together? And leave all that other love stuff for some other time? It’s all happening too fast, and there’s too many holes in it all, and….”
“Sometimes you just know things, right?” he asks.
“Yea but, how do you know that you know them? I mean, you could be wrong, and I could be wrong, and they change things on us all the time anyway, so…how can you know?”
Michael looks at his plate again, sighs, then looks up at me once more. He stands and comes around to me, taking my hands and getting me to stand with him. Just like that, as if we were alone and not in a pubic restaurant, he pulls me close to him and kisses me.
A part of me is thinking, this is it. This is the first time I’ve really been kissed, and my face is wet with tears, and people are probably looking, and… At the same time, another part of me is weak behind the knees, falling into him, feeling his arm strong against my back, and then feeling, something like… something like a no, like somehow, this is wrong…
He stops and pulls away, looking at me.
“You love me,” he says, not asks.
“But not like I love you. Like a brother, right?”
I look into his eyes, and I can tell this is killing him.
But what can I do? He’s hit it on the head: I do love him. Like a brother.
I nod, cringing as I look into his hurt eyes.
“So Jake’s the one for you,” he says, guiding me back to sit in my chair.
“But I don’t love Jake at all,” I say.
“You just don’t know him yet,” Michael says, not sitting. “Listen, I’m here till Saturday night. If you want to plan that party, Saturday afternoon would be the time. It just so happens—if you think anything just so happens—that Aunt Helene will be back in town for the weekend. I’ll play along with whatever you cook up, but then I’m going. And if you don’t mind, I’m going to go now. I see that someone is waiting to talk to you anyway.”
“Wait, someone, who? Why leave now? We have to…”
“I’ll send her in,” he says, making a getaway without ever having taken his seat.
I’m left in mine, stunned, unable to comprehend all I’ve just learned. Things are happening so fast. Too fast. I want to turn and look at who is coming, but my face is a wreck.
“Is this seat taken?” a voice asks from behind me. The voice is a woman’s–strange, smooth, and with a slight lisp. I get a chill up my spine, and am both afraid and strangely comforted.
She comes around the table to within my view even before I can turn. She moves lightning quick, but is elegant and agile. I look into her face as she sits. Her hair is black, her small eyes darker but with a tint of red in them. Strangest eyes I’ve ever seen.
I’m trying to speak, to say “have a seat,” but words just won’t come.
“You look like you just got a bomb dropped on you,” she says sympathetically.
I nod taking my napkin to dry my face. I try not to think about the fact that Michael just kissed me and then left me here, and will leave me for good soon. It’s not so easy to put it to the back of my mind, though.
“I’m sure you are wondering who I am,” she says, smiling through the thinnest lips I’ve ever seen.
Again I nod, and again I look around, listen for a clock ticking at half time, or a vision of Anna over the next table over. Everything feels weird, but different weird than when Magic comes and changes things.
It’s her, I realize, the woman across the table. She’s what feels weird.
“I should introduce myself, then,” she says, smiling warmly. “Though we have already met.”
“We have?” I finally choke out.
“At Bea’s house in the woods.”
So she is part of this magical gang. I thought so. “I don’t remember meeting anyone.”
“Okay,” she laughs, sounding a bit nervous, “so brace yourself, because this is the part that is going to be a little hard to take.”
Again my gut plummets. How much insanity do they expect me to live with?
“My name is Python. I was on the porch when we met. Bea nearly ran me over with her rocking chair, and you were kind enough to ask her to watch out.”
It takes a moment to let it compute, which, thankfully, this woman gives me.
This woman Python, who is… the snake on Bea’s porch?
“You’re a shapeshifter,” I ask, though I’m not sure how the words come out of me. There seems to be no air in my lungs to make it happen.
“And you shapeshift into a snake,” I add for confirmation.
“Well, not exactly. More like… Well, close enough.”
“No, not close enough,” I say, surprising myself with my sharp, insistent tone. “Let’s get exact, here, okay?”
“Okay,” she says, upbeat, trying to sound friendly, not like a snake. “You know how Bea shapeshifts into an animal every so often?”
“Yes,” I say, wary.
“Well, I go the other way,” she says, laughing, again a bit nervously. “I’m a snake, and I shapeshift into a person… occasionally.”
Her words give new meaning to the idea that someone can blow your mind. Because my mind, right now, seems to be in little bits all around the room, stuck on every corner, unable to comprehend anything in any cohesive manor.
“Very similar,” she attempts to assure me, “but different.”
“Ya think?” I say, half bewildered, half sarcastic.
She laughs, and smiles that warm smile again, and looking into those tiny snake eyes, I begin to feel the parts of me start to reel in, slowly as she waits, until finally I feel I am back in my seat.
“Why are you here?” I ask.
“We snakes are great at change. At shedding our skins and starting over. We know what it is to feel raw, sort of like you are feeling these days, huh?”
“A little,” I say, sarcastic again.
“Well, things are going to heat up a bit, go a little faster than you thought. Michael leaving, all that.”
“You know about that? So Bea does, too?”
“Oh yes, we all know,” she assures me, though I don’t get the sense she’s too comfortable with the idea.
“I find it hard to imagine things going faster,” I say. “It’s all pretty fast already.”
“Right, yes, it is,” she says. “But it will go faster. You’ll need my help. So I’m here.”
“And I have no choice about this, going fast I mean?”
“Uh, no, not really,” she says.
“And what will you help me with?” I ask, though I hear my voice trailing off, like I’m not really here in the room anymore. At least not all of me. It’s not just my mind that’s blown, either. It’s like this time, I’m floating off in a thousand bits and pieces, my whole body coming apart.
“Shapeshifting,” she says.
I hear her, but it is as if I’m off in the distance. Like instead of Magic coming and changing everything, I’m going to Magic this time.
“We probably shouldn’t teach you here,” Python says.
I look around, thinking I agree and I should take note of how many people are watching and listening to us, but there is no one to see.
In fact, there is nothing to see.
“Think of this as the in-between place,” Python says as she reveals herself to me from out of darkness, half woman, half snake.
I begin to look around in the darkness, see my hands, or feet, or anything…
“Don’t try to look at yourself here,” she says, her snaky lisp even stronger.
“Why not?” I ask.
“Because,” she says, kindly but firmly, “there’s nothing to see.”