“…so I thought I would take Meredith and Iana on a tour of New York. Adam has been saying that I’ve been working too hard. He would encourage my taking a Saturday off.”
Mrs. Silverton nodded absently as she took a sip of her iced tea.
It was clear that the car accident earlier had disturbed her. She had been distracted all throughout lunch.
“I’m sure that would be fine, Finn.” She said.
I stared down at my pizza for a moment, then lifted my head to look out the window at my left.
I saw a woman walk buy, seven angels all around her, talking to one another. I thought maybe even two of them were singing.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard Crystal sing…
I continued to stare out the window, lost as to what the others spoke of.
I tried to piece together the bits of heavenly music I had heard before.
But…it was like…I could not sing what the angels sang, could not even think it…because…I was physically unable to.
Perhaps it was humanly impossible to sing what the angels sang.
The woman I had spotted outside was seated near us.
Yes. Her angels were singing.
It was a different kind of song than I had heard.
A song made from celestial words, celestial rhythms and beats.
A serenity overcame me of a sudden.
I had a feeling of completeness wash over me.
Their song was just so…wonderful…
I blinked, jarred awake by Iana’s voice saying my name.
She turned to look at me, as she was sitting beside me, across from Mrs. Silverton.
Finn sat across from me.
All three stared at me.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” I said, a bit lamely. “What did you say?” I wasn’t sure who had been speaking or even what the topic had been, so I addressed the question to all of them.
“Finn was just saying that he’ll pick you and Iana up tomorrow around nine in order to give you a tour of New York City.” Mrs. Silverton filled in for me.
“Oh…” I looked down at my hands, a bit embarrassed to have been caught not paying attention.
“Will that…suit you, Meredith?”
I shifted my gaze to his shoulder, his face.
He captured my eyes. And though he was not smiling, I felt a bemused sort of laughter in his stare.
My cheeks went all hot. I clenched my hands in my lap and stared at my plate.
My goodness, why does he make me feel this way? No one had ever made me feel like this.
What was it that was behind his voice when he spoke with me? He didn’t have it there when he spoke to everyone else.
It was almost a different tone of voice he used when he spoke to me.
A tone of…
I shook my head, bit my lip, raised my eyes to meet his once more and feigned nonchalance with a slight shrug and neutral expression. “If Iana wants to go I will as well.”
That one sentence seemed to amuse him, for I could see laughter spilling out of his eyes, which were turning bluer with the effort to contain it.
He cleared his throat and said. “Tomorrow at nine it will be, then.”
That night, for the life of me, I could not sleep.
So many thoughts ran in rapid circles through my mind. So many memories pushed to the surface. Like they always did in the night time. When all else was at rest.
But a lot of the time too bitterly sad for me to bear.
I always pushed them away. Never faced them.
Finally, I got up and walked over to the window. I sat on the window seat and pressed my forehead against the glass. “I’m so glad Iana is happy, Lord,” I whispered in thankfulness. “I’m so glad that I’m safe here. I’m so thankful for everything You’ve done. Bless the pastor and his wife for their kindness.” I sighed and turned my eyes to the heavens. “And please, Jesus…help me to figure this…Aurelius Finn out.”
Suddenly desperate for fresh air, I opened the window and leaned slightly out, deeply inhaling.
A soft knock sounded at my door.
I turned around, in slight surprise.
It had to be past midnight…
Iana entered my room, clutching her stomach. “M—Meredith?”
“Iana, what’s the matter?”
I rushed to her side.
She moaned and leaned against the door. “I just threw up and my stomach still hurts. I must have caught a stomach virus or something. Could you get some water for me?”
Mrs. Silverton was up getting a drink herself. When she found out about Iana, she shooed me to my room insisting she could take care of it.
I let her do it, making sure to wash my hands as thoroughly as possible before going to bed once more.
Once I tried to sleep again, it was much more successful.
It was deep and it was pure.
And there were many dreams of I knew not what.
But one thing was constant among them.
A voice, husky and smooth, calling my name.
And me trying to find the man who was saying it.
I awoke early the next morning, refreshed and ready for the day.
“Good morning, Mrs. Silverton.” I greeted as I entered the kitchen, the aroma of freshly made pancakes wafting through the breeze blowing through the open window above the kitchen sink.
“Good morning, dear,” She returned.
Edison, who sat at the table already with a stack of syrup-soaked pancakes, looked up at me with a gap-toothed grin. He wore blue pajamas with tiny violins and pianos scattered across the blue. His unbrushed red curls bounced against his head as he stuffed a bite in his mouth and began to talk as quickly as he could around the food. I sat down and shook my head. “Can’t understand that, Edison.” I said.
Mrs. Silverton set a plate of pancakes in front of me.
I mouthed thank you over Edison’s indistinguishable rambling words.
“Edison, chew and swallow before you say another word.” His mother scolded lightly.
He obeyed—though barely.
He stared at me, as if at a loss of what to say next.
“Begin again.” I prompted patiently as I poured syrup over my pancakes and bowed my head briefly to give thanks.
“Finn said that he would take both of us to Central Park today so I could play my violin and see how much money I could get to give to the orphans so that they can eat and not get unhydrated.”
I nodded, then paused. “Is Finn…here?”
“No. He texted me!” Edison said. “Through Mom’s cell. And I texted back.”
“I suppose Iana isn’t feeling up to going.” I said, taking a bite of pancake.
“No,” Mrs. Silverton replied. “She’s still getting sick, poor girl. And it’s dehydrated, Edison.”
Edison shoveled another bite into his mouth in reply.
The doorbell rang.
Edison cried out a name that resembled Finn’s before flying out the kitchen and toward the front door.
“Pancakes, huh? I’ll have to snatch a few.” Finn said as he entered the kitchen a moment later.
Edison bounced back to his seat. “Is Adam going to come with us?” He asked.
“Maybe. Depends on his mood today.”
“What kind of mood does he need ?” I said. I had to turn around to see the man, since the entrance was right behind where I was seated. I gaped at him when I saw him. His white business shirt was rolled up at the sleeves and wrinkled beyond anything an iron could do to help it. His white-gold hair was thoroughly mussed, falling across his forehead. His presence was nearly a tangible thing.
Seriously? Even when he looks like that he is scandalously handsome.
I stared at him, a bit in shock that he could still be so beautiful when it was apparent that he had slept in his clothes.
“Finn, did you go home last night?” Mrs. Silverton asked.
He lifted one shoulder in what constituted for a shrug before walking over to her, bussing her cheek, and steeling a pancake from a plate near the stove.
She sighed and mumbled something about him being a workaholic before leaving the room.
He sat down next to Edison with a sigh and took a bite of the pancake in his hand.
“How can you eat it without syrup?” Edison asked, eying him.
“Syrup is too sweet for me.” Finn answered.
“Well…” Finn’s brow furrowed. His eyes dimmed, as if some past sad memory were sucking him back into its grip.
Finn started slightly and turned to the boy.
He reached out to ruffle the red curls. “I’ve eaten so many bitter things that my taste buds just can’t take something so sweet. That why, Edison.”
“Oh. Well I don’t have that problem.” Edison said before stuffing the last bite into his mouth, leaping from his chair, and throwing some garbled words over his shoulder about getting socks and shoes in order to be ready to leave.
I cut a bite of my pancakes and chewed and swallowed before daring to look up.
His cerulean eyes were fixated on me, fascination and even—though I’m sure I must have been mistaken—a little bit of wonder were swirling through his gaze.
I ducked my head, hiding my reddening cheeks, searching for something suitable to say. “You surely must have eaten many bitter things to be so averse to something like syrup.”
“Well, I don’t dislike every sweet thing.”
I looked up, met his eyes once more. I tried to search for the meaning of what he had said in the cadence of the words, the color of his eyes.
A strange yet lovely sort of warmth overcame me as I stared at him, though my cheeks didn’t redden this time.
And it was a feeling I had never experienced before.
Edison found a place in Central Park that he proclaimed “perfect”. He got out his violin, rosined his bow, tuned up the strings, and gave Finn and me a gigantic grin. “Do you see my sign?” He asked, pointing to a large piece of cardboard resting against his open violin case.
Am playing for orfans, not for myself.
Pleez donate so they can eat good and not
B hungrie and starve and die.
I bit my tongue to keep from laughing. “I guess your mother didn’t see it, hm?”
“She said she’s going to come see how many people I attract in an hour or so. I wanted her to get the full effect of it, so I didn’t show her my sign. I made it all by myself.” He said proudly. He looked around and said, “Do you have any special requests, Meredith? Every time Finn’s let me do this he has chosen the same song for the first one.”
“And what song is that?” I asked curious.
“The Lark Ascending.” Finn replied.
“And…how many times have you done this?” I asked.
Edison considered for a moment, staring intensely at the ground, as if it were the most important question in the world. One thing I noticed about him that I hadn’t seen in other children was his intensity. He was alwaysintense. “I think two—no, wait—three times.”
“Ah.” I said, for lack of something better.
“If you don’t count Polanco.” Finn said softly.
Edison peered up at the man, blue eyes focused. “I don’t.” He said.
Finn nodded. “I didn’t think you would.”
A silent world of memories passed between them while I was wondering what “Polanco” was.
Edison finally straightened his little shoulders and placed the chinrest of his instrument where it belonged. “So tell me what your request is, Meredith?”
“Ummm…what’s your favorite song, Edison?”
“You want me to play my favorite song? All right! It’s called Set Fire to the Rain.”
He lifted his violin to his chin, set his bow upon the strings and began to play.
I don’t think I had another coherent thought until he stopped a few minutes later. I was barely aware of a few people who had stepped up to listen and watch him.
“What’d you think?”
“I think you’re a prodigy.” I replied.
“That’s what everyone says.” He shrugged. “So I guess that’s what I am.”
Somebody requested another song of him and dropped a few dollars into his open violin case.
The boy took up his violin once more and began to play with all the vigor of youth, the passion of talent, and the skill his gift afforded him. After each song, one person or another would request something of him. On and on the boy went, tirelessly playing away.
After one song ended, I spotted Edison’s mother in the crowd.
It was obvious she had just arrived for I saw her notice the sign, read it, and bury her face in her hands.
When she looked up I saw both humor and resignation on her face and settle into the set of her shoulders. Edison spotted her, waved excitedly, and said, “All right. I’ll take one more request. After that, I’m taking a break.”
After his last song, the people began to disperse.
Edison’s mother walked up to him, a glass jar in her hands with some bills and change already in it.
Edison scooped the money in his case into the jar before packing away his violin.
Finn’s hand found my elbow. “Amazing, isn’t he?”
I nodded. “There’s something so…deep in him. There’s something…almost adult when he plays. But it’s strange. It’s almost sadly adult.” I scrunched my nose slightly. “If that even makes any sense.”
He let out a breath.
I turned toward him, and found surprise in his eyes. His grip tightened on my elbow and something like suspicion darkened his gaze.
My own eyes widened. “What—”
“How did you see that quality in him when this is only the first time you have ever seen him play?”
“Am I…not supposed to be that observant?”
His grip slackened. I shook him off with a slight movement and whirled to see him face to face.
My jaw tensed as I demanded the answer with both my body language and expression.
His brow furrowed in confusion. He studied me carefully and answered just as carefully. “It is just that that part of the boy is so very, very subtle. His playing it—it changed after… Polanco. But I did not see it myself until I watched a video of him before and after. I don’t even think his parents see it.”
“But you do.” I said, my curiosity heightened to the extreme.
“Have you been told anything of Polanco?” Finn whispered fiercely.
“No.” I said, bewildered.
“How is it,” He began, voice lowering as the ferocity of his words swelled. “That you can see something like this when you have known him barely three days?”
“I told you,” I said, though doubting my answer to his question even as I said it. “That I have a certain unique gift.”
He cocked his head, considered, nodded once. “Perhaps. Perhaps that is it.” He conceded.
But I could see something in his gaze that had not been there before: Doubt.
I was licking my moose-tracks ice cream cone, beside Aurelius Finn after Mrs. Silverton had gasped and said that she had forgotten that Edison had a swimming appointment in fifteen minutes and took off. Beside me, Finn ate his own cone. I waved at Edison as he and his mother drove away.
He waved back enthusiastically.
I barely felt warm fingers brush my hand before dropping away. It was almost as if a warm breeze had swept across it. I turned to Finn, question on my face.
“Come with me, Meredith. I will show you my favorites of the sculptures of Central Park.”
I happily fell into step beside him and licked my cone. “Thank you for the ice cream.” I said. “What kind did you get?”
He glanced at me. “I like to call it bittersweet.”
I stopped chewing and looked at him, but he was studying his cone.
“Is bittersweet a…theme in your life or something.”
He looked up, smiled slowly and said. “You could say that.”
That smile was doing something weird to my stomach.
Or at least I hoped it was his smile. I fervently hoped that I hadn’t caught Iana’s stomach virus.
I was suddenly vastly curious about the taste of his ice cream.
He chuckled and held it out. “Here. Taste. I don’t mind.”
I took a small lick and was surprised. “It tastes like coffee.”
He winked. “And chocolate. They balance each other remarkably. But one should not overpower the other. If there is too much chocolate then it will be too syrupy. If too much coffee, too bitter.”
He looked up at the sky for a moment, gave a sigh. “Sometimes a soul has to taste a lot of bitter, Meredith. But it has to remain sweet no matter how much bitter it takes in. Or else the combination will not work. You see, bitter and bitter only create more bitter. However, bitter and sweet combined…are a delightful combination. Which is why my favorite chocolate happens to be the bittersweet kind.”
“And your favorite ice cream the chocolate and coffee kind.” I said softly.
He nodded quietly and said, “Yes…well…” His eyes flicking to my cone he smiled a bit and said. “Your ice cream is melting.”
The moment he said that a large stream of melted sugar goodness ran over my fingers. I gasped and licked it up.
He laughed. “You could have used a napkin, you know.”
I was tempted to blush but didn’t want him to get the better of me so I said, “It’s much more fun this way.”
His eyes met mine, darkened a shade. The doubt I saw earlier crept back into his eyes.
“Indeed.” Was all he said.
The Bethesda Fountain turned out to be Aurelius Finn’s favorite place in the whole of Central Park.
As I stared up at the angel presiding over the fountain, Finn said, “This is the heart of Central Park.”
“It certainly is grand enough…” I murmured, glancing behind us at the Bethesda Terrace.
“Hey, Finn!” A man yelled. He walked up to Finn and held out his hand. “How are you? I’m surprised to see you about, even on a Saturday.”
Finn smiled politely. “Well, Tom, even a workaholic like me needs a breather every now and then.”
Tom grinned and, apparently ignoring or not seeing me, went off on a long, long story of how many fish he caught last weekend with his father-in-law in the Hudson River .
After enduring a few minutes of this I walked away to further examine the fountain, wondering if Finn would be able to get away anywhere within the next hour. I brushed my fingertips across the surface of the water, creating slight ripples. I looked up at the little cherubs beneath the angel and smiled at their sweet faces. Closing my eyes, I breathed in a slow, sweet breath, listening to the water falling from the fountain. A gust of wind from behind stirred my long black hair from my shoulders. It was gentle and caressing at first. But then it grew strong. So strong that my hair whipped across my face and around my head.
Then, abruptly, it just…stopped. And in its place I heard a strange and eerie rendition of Ring Around the Rosie.
Then that stopped as well.
I heard breathing behind me. Opening my eyes I looked behind me and nearly screamed at the proximity of the person behind me.
I stumbled away, falling onto my hip in the process.
The man looked down at me, eyes were an unfathomable color, as shadowed as they were by the black above him.
I looked around and realized…he and I were surrounded by nothing but black. It was as though it were midnight and there was no light.
No light at all.
But still I could see him and he me.
I stood up. What was this? What… “Who are you?” I asked. Those three words echoed and echoed it seemed forever after I said them.
The man began to step closer to me. I stepped back for every step he took. But he never stopped moving closer…closer…
I ran into something solid, something unmovable.
Glancing behind me I found obsidian stone. It was cold. Freezing cold. I lifted one hand to make sure that my fingers had not turned to ice. I gasped when my fingers came away tinged in black.
I looked up at the man, back down at my fingers.
He had stopped walking.
I had stopped breathing.
“What—what is this? What’s happening?”
“I wonder…” The man said, his voice dark, sinister. He reached out, drew a finger down my cheek. I shuddered and drew back as far as I could. His touch was unnaturally cold. Then he grabbed my hand. The one with the black on it.
The black on the tips of my fingers began to grow, to spread.
“Could you be his weakness?”
A hand landed on my shoulder.
As if waking from a living dream, the black abruptly faded out of my vision and the Bethesda fountain flooded back into my sight, becoming my reality once more.
I trembled and stumbled backwards a bit, running into the solid body behind me.
“M—Meredith.” I realized that it was Finn’s hand on my shoulder.
It was Finn behind me.
I whirled around and looked up into his eyes so blue that they overwhelmed the memory of the blackness I had just been surrounded with. He stared at me, the concern in his gaze nearly palpable.
“I’m…fine.” I whispered.
His eyes narrowed, unconvinced. “What happened?”
I reached for the rock ledge of the fountain’s pool behind me and sat down. “I don’t know. I’ve never had anything like that happen to me before.”
He peered down at me, looked around, and finally sat down beside me.
He let out a breath. “I just can’t decide about you, Meredith Windsor.”
He glanced sideways at me, then fully. He seemed to consider my countenance for a moment. Then, ever so slowly, he reached out a hand and touched my cheek.
His shoulders gave a slight shudder as his hand dropped away. “You’re just so…real.” He said, eyes darkening. “For so long you’ve been…”
“Been what?” I whispered.
He opened his mouth as if to respond, looked beyond me, and froze.
His jaw tightened, his eyes became a dark, dark navy.
I glanced behind me and gasped.
There was the man who had just been in that strange vision I had had.
Just a couple feet away, hands in his pockets, smiling a strange, spine-tingling smile at Finn.