Delilah wasn’t sure she wanted to go back. “I’ll go get it later,” she told Amelia for the third time in the last twenty minutes as they made their way back to her apartment. “Really, I will.”
“I could go pick it up for you if you want?”
“I’m a big girl, I can do it myself,” she laughed, pocketing the prescription and trying to appear unaffected.
“All I know is you better do it soon because the sooner you get better the sooner you can go out with Hot Doc and the sooner I can get all the details,” said Amelia with a salacious smile. Delilah grinned along but it didn’t really reach her eyes. What had gotten into her? She wasn’t one to come on so strong, or even at all – she’d always been much more passive when it came to matters of the heart. She had started acting so out of character, so strange that she just wanted to scream the question and demand an answer: What was happening to her? Instinctively she reached up and stroked the necklace around her neck, feeling better almost instantly, a calm seeming to descend over her just at the touch.
“I know, I know. And don’t worry it’ll get done faster than Bubblegum Peterson can say ‘tacky’ with fringe.”
“Ugh, did you have to bring her up. Well I better go – have lots of shopping to do – but only if you feel better.” She bit her lip in worry.
“I’m fine – now shoo!” Delilah cried, ushering her away from the apartment building with a wide, amused smile that sat tremulously upon her face. She walked up the stairs biting the corner of her lip in contemplation. She sneezed up the stairs as well, having to stop every three steps so she wouldn’t fall up or down them, neither direction would do.
“Maybe I should just go and get those herbs,” she murmured to herself in exasperation after standing at her apartment door for ten minutes, prevented from entering by a coughing spell probably triggered by a fly on the wall or the fact that it was late afternoon. She took the prescription out of her pocket and stuck it to the middle of the fridge with a bright pink magnet. She pushed everything else out of the way, creating a magnet pile-up on the edges of her refrigerator with all the brightly colored shapes. Taking a step back and leaning against her kitchen counter, she nibbled her nail in thought, not able to take her eyes off of the crumpled, illegible scrap of paper in the great white expanse she had made. What to do, what to do . . . ?
“Later,” she finally commanded in a loudly surprising voice. The longer she stared the less sense it made; she was going to get no revelation trying to decipher Stephen’s handwriting, uncover not one hidden message there. She sat down on her sofa, since it conveniently faced away from the kitchen, and drummed her fingers against her leg in thinly veiled agitation. Her eyes, roaming around the room at light speed to find something that would hold her attention, spotted a book of her mother’s across the room and in little more than a second the journal was in her lap.
The cover was unintelligible, a long title sitting deep into the leather that could have been written in some long dead language for all the sense it made to her. She fingered the pages reverently, treating them ever so gently, as if it was in fact a piece of her mother she had laid out before her and not a vaguely haphazard set of words and pictures that she couldn’t quite understand. Delilah had simply moved from one puzzle to the next, applying not only a loving eye but a critical one to the heavy pages and gilded words.
Delilah couldn’t decide if her mother’s penmanship was simply atrocious or if she was writing in some kind of shorthand that she didn’t understand. Something was tugging at her; that vaguely familiar feeling rustling the leaves of her consciousness again like little children jumping into well raked piles in the street and throwing it all into disarray. She flipped aimlessly, doing more wishing that it made sense than anything else, running her fingers down the length of the page, lightly tracing over the places her mother’s pen had touched. She bent down at times, so close her nose has almost pressed into the spine, trying to peer directly into its meaning, wondering if maybe just a knock would send a greeter out to open the door and spill all the secrets inside.
Pictures were stuck at random between pages, probably just a rushed hiding place but Delilah was excited to uncover them, greedily taking in everything that they had to say. Her family had never really been big on photographs; it hadn’t seemed like a big thing when she was eight but she still couldn’t shake that well of sadness that she didn’t have nearly enough snapshots of her and her mother, some physical reminder of memories she was sure to have forgotten. Every picture she came across was another smile on her mother’s face, another sparkle of her eyes, another thing to look on fondly and keep safe.
It was the last picture, stuck between the final chicken-scratched page and the back cover, that fell into her lap and caught her completely by surprise. It was a group shot; not of their family but of what must have been a gathering of her mother’s friends. It was taken from above, looking down onto a circle of people sitting on a patch of grass somewhere. Five or six faces were laughing up at the camera along with her mother’s, all of them looking happy and content whatever they were up to. And they had to have been up to something, the hint of mischief hanging about not only them but the scene as well.
Her mother, with her short mop of brown curls looked exactly as Delilah’s memory of her. None of the other faces in the picture looked familiar at first. She turned it over in curiosity, searching out a date or list of names on the back but there was nothing there. It was as she flipped it back over that another face caught her eye. In the bottom left there was only about half a face, really just a profile of someone looking over their shoulder and not prepared for the camera.
The longer she stared at it the more she was sure that she knew who that was until she finally gasped in surprise and dropped the photo like it was burning her skin. That woman in the corner with the short, wavy blond hair bobbed just under her chin, she had seen her before. Seen those vividly violet eyes and felt them boring through her. It was that woman at the shop, the one that seemed too familiar to be real; she was in the photograph, laughing with her mother and looking exactly the same.
Before she even realized that she was doing it, that a decision had been made in the back of her mind as the front had been preoccupied with the gasp and the shock and the disbelief, Delilah was halfway through the door. With one backward grab at the prescription on the fridge, she was hopping down the stairs and flying down the street, the book and photo clutched to her chest though whether out of safety or fear she wasn’t even sure.
It had taken what seemed like only a smattering of moments before she was suddenly out in front of the shop, almost as if instead of her rushing towards it, it had rushed towards her and she’d arrived here just by standing still. It was an unnerving thought but it had been the day for them so she just stacked it on the pile with the rest and continued fidgeting outside, the desire to enter and the desire to stay put fighting an equally matched battle inside of her. Her hand reached up to stroke the necklace and it suddenly became clear what she had to do next.
She didn’t even have to reach for the handle; the door opened up before her and she stepped inside with only a slightly hesitant backwards glance. After what had happened earlier, Delilah was suddenly much too aware that no one knew where she was at this very moment and a small trickle of nervousness dripped down her spine.
But the gypsy woman wasn’t waiting to devour her at the door and there didn’t seem to be anything else inherently scary waiting in the wings for her. For the first time she noticed the rich colors of her surroundings, deep orange walls here, deep purple walls there, serving as a vibrant backdrop for the eclectic things that had been strewn about. Glass bottles and figurines, most in translucent green and iridescent blue, set the whole place up to sparkle like a true diamond in the rough. It was as if the whole store was twinkling at her. The old books were still there where she could barely see them from the door, beckoning her over to the back.
Delilah was the only soul in the store so it should have been eerily quiet but it wasn’t; the place, the very walls and every object between them, seemed to pulse with its own energy, its own story. She felt the energy humming against her skin, running along the seams of her clothes and the tips of her shoes, but ignored it with little else than a buzzing white noise crinkling in her mind.
She was standing right in front of the long front counter, mindlessly running her fingers across the glass top when a rattling sound startled her. She jumped in fright as the gypsy came out from behind lines of beads and metal that separated the back and front parts of the quirky little place. She tried not to meet her eyes but the urge was too strong to see what would happen.
But nothing did. “Well, it’s about time I should say.” The woman smiled brightly at her and crossed behind to set her tray of interesting things down on the counter before leaning conspiratorially over on her elbows towards her. “How long have I been waiting for you now? Years, years I think. Ten if I’m not mistaken. Oh it must be ten, ten if it’s even one I think. Lots has happened since then, lots.
“What took you so long? I swear.” She shook her head in a bit of exasperation before looking closely at her face, like she was trying to read something off of the curve of Delilah’s eyebrows and the apples of her cheeks. “Well, I should say that you squeaked in just in the nick of time I think. Let’s be happy you’re not as bad as my kids. Then you would have tried to arrive ten minutes late, swearing you were actually here the whole time and that never would have done. Not at all. Lost forever then.”
She paused for a moment, for Delilah to say something probably but she was so struck by what was happening that she couldn’t manage to get anything out, didn’t know what she wanted to get out. She’d expected some kind of confrontation or some lying disguise. If she was such a friend of her mother’s than why didn’t Delilah know her, of her, about her? If she was expected and this close to her apartment then why had she been waiting on her just a few miles away?
“You don’t have anything to say?” the lady laughed as she straightened, the very color of her violet eyes seeming to crinkle with humor. “I do remember you being a tad bit more chatty miss.”
“I . . . when I came in here earlier and you . . .”
“Yeah, sorry about that,” she apologized with her fingers now drumming rhythmically against the counter, “but you caught me off guard. I know I said that I’ve been waiting on you for ten years but I’d written you off as not interested. Well, I hadn’t seen you before your birthday so I’d written you off in permanent black marker to be sure. And then you walk in here and, well, I was just so surprised I lost control. That happens to me sometimes.”
Delilah just continued to gape. “So what happened earlier – the wind and the hillside? You did that to me?” She nodded her head in agreement, looking only slightly chagrined as if for pretense’s sake. “How? Why? Who are you?!”
The gypsy tilted her head to the side and seemed to stare right through Delilah before her eyes appeared to lighten considerably, the dawn of a realization breaking across them. “My stars, you don’t know anything, do you?”
“About what’s going on and why you’ve been waiting ten years for me? Yeah, no clue.” Even though she felt so close, tiptoeing along the edge of a mountain ridge, she couldn’t bring herself to jump, to find out what was at the bottom because she knew, somewhere in mid-air, that everything would change. Delilah didn’t run towards change – she ran away from it.
“You know,” she said, closing her eyes for a moment to clear her head, “I don’t care. This is ridiculous. Nothing happened and you’re just agreeing with me, who knows why. I’m just sick, and it’s making me crazy. That’s it.” She took the prescription out of her pocket and handed it across to her. “Could you just sell me this so I can get rid of this damn cold and get on with my life.”
The old friend grabbed the piece of paper and a faintly knowing smile settled on her face. “I could sell you these but I have something even better for you. Guaranteed to work.” She turned and grabbed a small clay jar from a shelf above her head, just within her reach, and removed the lid.
“Here, take a whiff. It will clear you right up.” Delilah was uncertain but she leaned forward just the same. She couldn’t smell anything anyway so it didn’t much matter if it was something rotten – it wasn’t about to offend her stymied senses. “Take a deep breath Delilah,” the gypsy ordered. And she listened. And it changed everything.