(Click on the title to read the whole chapter)
Cen stood at the kitchen island crumbling feta into a small bowl and separating spinach leaves from the bunch that filled the colander. Meanwhile Va leaned against a nearby counter sipping a cup of black tea.
“I’m really glad you’re back,” she said as she stirred a dollop of milk into the bowl of eggs and then added salt and pepper.
“Yeah, me too. Just being near you is soothing,” he said with no artifice as he took a deep breath.
She smiled at him as she stirred the eggs and rounded the island to confront the sizzling skillet.
“I miss the transformation; I miss running free,” she said.
“Your choice,” he accused.
“Maybe,” she said placing spinach leaves on the circle of eggs. “Sometimes there is no choice.”
He drank more tea. It was still quite hot, but he tolerated it.
They were silent as she sprinkled feta onto the leaves and then began to test and lift the edges of the egg.
“Voila,” Cen announced as she slid the perfect omelet on to a plate. “Sit, sit,” she urged Va toward the sunny breakfast nook. He sat and she placed the plate on the placemat between the neatly spaced knife, fork and napkin.
“You seem to be spending a lot of time with Aileen,” she said as she took the seat across from him.
He filled his mouth with omelet.
“She seems . . . nice,” Cen coaxed hoping he would speak freely. She couldn’t help but be curious about the girl. Va seemed to have some real affection for her.
He nodded blowing lightly as he negotiated hot egg and cheese in his mouth.
“This is really good,” he complimented her.
“It’s just an omelet,” she said fanning her hand at the compliment, but secretly happy that she could do something for him, something that pleased him.
“Well, it’s hitting the spot. Work has been very demanding. I didn’t have time for breakfast or lunch and I wanted to come when Gavin was away.”
“Yes, that’s probably best.”
“So, how is Vesta adjusting?” he asked.
“Good. I mean as good as something like that can be. I introduced her to Deena’s son and he’s been teaching her, helping her through the process.”
“Stem? Are you sure about that? I mean she has only, what? seventeen human years and he’s lived Reveler years?”
“She wanted to meet someone near her age. He was the best I could do. As you know, I’ve been outside of the circuit for a while. Finding him was lucky. I went looking for Deena at that warehouse with the lofts that she keeps on Gratiot and found Stem.”
Va nodded his understanding of her plight.
“It seems to be working for her. At least she’s no longer hysterical. She seems to be almost accepting.”
“I guess that’s something,” he chewed.
“So, you and Aileen, how’s that going?” she asked trying to sound nonchalant.
“Good,” he took another bite of omelet.
“Really? How good?” she asked pressing for more.
“She’s fun to be with . . . but, well, she’s not you,” he spoke slowly, thinking as he spoke. He wasn’t ready to talk about Aileen, even to Cen, and he knew that the only way to get Cen to stop probing was to put her mind at ease, to let her know that she still reigned his heart.
“Be careful,” she warned, “They can be fragile.”
Nodding and sipping his tea, he suddenly felt uncomfortable. He wasn’t lying exactly, or was he? If so, to whom was he lying, himself or Cen or Aileen? He had never felt this kind of discomfort in Cen’s company. She was his center, his peace, her scent soothed him, but right now he felt the need to leave. She was talking again about Vesta, how her meetings with Stem seemed to be easing her fears, and how she was concerned about Jon. Whether or not he would become Reveler. Va listened politely, murmured when expected, and with effort he finished the omelet, and drained his cup. When she offered to refill it, he stood, and made his apologies, giving the demands of work as an excuse. She saw him to the door and he leaned in, brushed his lips against her forehead taking in a last bit of her scent before he left.
Stem and Vesta sat next to each other on a leather-cushioned bench in front of Van Gogh’s Self Portrait. Except for the museum guard, who stood in a far corner, they were alone in the room.
“What do you think?” he asked in a near whisper.
“Hmm,” she said. “It’s OK.”
He waited knowing that if he remained silent, she would feel the need to say more.
“The colors are nice. Paints kind of thick, like he was angry or something,” she said.
Stem laughed, “Or something.”
She swatted his arm. “Stop laughing at me. This whole museum thing was your idea.”
“Watch this,” he said.
She waited, looking at him.
“No, don’t look at me. Look at the painting,” he urged.
She turned back to the painting just as the yellow straw hat turned bright red, as did the man in the painting’s beard.
“How’d you do that?” she asked looking around to see if anyone noticed before she leaned in to take a closer look.
“Don’t worry. Only you can see it.”
“What? Are you controlling my mind?”
“No. It’s nothing like that. Well, a little, I guess. I’m influencing what you see,” he said cautiously.
“How do you do that?” she asked.
“We all have the ability. It’s an aspect of the telepathy, and like all the other talents, one becomes more adept with experience.”
As she continued to look at the painting, the blue of the shirt rose, filling the whole canvas, while creating shades and shadows that allowed the face of the man to remain visible.
Vesta turned to Stem. “Do you think I can do that?”
“Maybe. With practice,” he said.
“Is it just with colors?”
He grinned and a winged Cupid, who had been struggling with Venus, escaped her clutches and flew fitfully overhead while glancing over his shoulder at his porcelain captor.
Vesta’s mouth fell open as her eyes followed the little creature.
Stem stood up. “Hungry?” he asked drawing her attention away for the cherub.
When Vesta looked up again, it had vanished and Cupid was once again splayed across Venus’ lap, her still arm raised in mid pluck, her fist filled with feathers.
“Wow,” Vesta said shaking her head, “That was so cool.”
“Come on,” Stem said taking her hand, “The cafeteria closes in half an hour.”