Meredith watched Tyler out of the corner of her eye as they strolled home from Fool’s Tower. He walked slowly, his brow furrowed, his mind clearly elsewhere. Meredith, for her part, was content to walk in silence beside him if it hadn’t been for their pace, which was pretty much killing her with its lack thereof.
She tried to rein it in, but her restlessness wasn’t something she could restrain, and when her foot connected with a discarded Coke can, sending the can rattling down the street with unintended force, he looked up and smiled apologetically, if somewhat distractedly.
“Sorry. I’ve been slowing us down. I’ll pick up the pace.”
Meredith had already decided she wouldn’t question or probe. But she couldn’t help the words spilling out of her mouth. “The blood-curse, that’s what you wanted to see Aunt Belinda about, wasn’t it? You thought she might have a cure for it.”
Tyler looked away. “It was a chance in a million. If anyone could have found a cure, it would have been her.”
But Belinda didn’t have the cure. And it was unlikely there would ever be a cure, other than ultimate death, that is.
“Even if there was a cure, we couldn’t be together,” she said gently. “There’s no cure for being a Wild One.”
“Or for being a magician.” Tyler turned back and smiled at her. It was his smile that did it. Meredith stepped up and put her arms around him. Felt his own arms loop around her waist and pull her close as he kissed her hair. For a few moments, everything was forgotten, blood-curses and magicians and Wild Ones and the world.
But such moments never last. When Tyler spoke next, it was with an air of studied casualness. “I guess there’s nothing left but to pursue my next course of action.”
Meredith frowned into his shoulder. “You still think you can achieve point of negation? Even Belinda says that’s near impossible.”
“We have to stay optimistic. Keep trying.” Tyler hesitated, then said gently, “I’m leaving tomorrow.”
Meredith drew back. The sudden announcement – she had been trying to get him to go, and now here he was leaving of his own volition. And leaving her feeling suddenly bereft.
“Tomorrow?” she said, her voice sounding strange even to her ears.
Tyler nodded. “Like you said, it’s too dangerous for me to keep hanging around any longer. And I ought to keep moving. Searching for the point of negation. There’s so much more I need to learn – to understand about magic and the world.”
Meredith stepped back, her arms sliding away from his neck. And, of course, she couldn’t be around him when he was doing magic. It was out of the question. She had been trying to spell this out to him for so long, it was ridiculous that she would suddenly feel abandoned and upset now that he was finally leaving.
Tyler stayed her, tightening his grip on her. “Wait for me, Meredith.”
Her hands paused against his shoulders, long, callused, brown fingers.
“I’ll come back. I promise. I’ll come back as soon as I can, as often as I can. And I hope I will find you here when I return. Otherwise …” he smiled his old smile. “You know I can find you wherever you are.”
Meredith took a deep breath. She nodded. Tyler kissed her once, a long kiss which took her breath away and made her feel lightheaded and unbalanced. She leaned into him and lifted her face, and he obliged with another kiss. And a third.
“I’ll come back,” he murmured between kisses. “Wait for me.”
She could only nod and kiss him back, hard. But before long, even in spite of the kisses, he could feel her quivering with a certain restlessness, born of the proximity of magic and some other emotion. Reluctantly, he released her and took a step back.
“You’re restless,” he said, and traced the line of her face with his hand.
“We’ll walk,” Meredith said briskly. “Walking helps.”
“As does partying?” Tyler murmured, as they began to stride hand in hand through the night. “We could party tonight, if you wish, to keep the Wildness down.”
Meredith cast him a sly look. “You wouldn’t be able to keep up with me.”
“Wanna bet?” He slowed to a stop and quirked an eyebrow at her. “Try me.”
She raised her own eyebrows; a challenge. “Come on then.”
They stepped off the curb and hailed a taxi. They drove into the heart of Gasoline Centre where the clubs, the bars, and the late-night restaurants were located. They went to bar after bar, downed drink after drink, shot after shot. They went off on long discourses of philosophy and the Theology of Alcohol with bartenders. They danced wildly in mosh pits. They walked the streets arm-in-arm briskly, almost running. They stopped to chat with a bunch of teenagers out way later than they should be, loitering at a bus stop. They gave all their change to a couple of dreadlocked buskers who then allowed Meredith to beat their drums and Tyler to strum their guitar. A small crowd gathered to watch the impromptu duet. They walked into a late-night shisha bar and ordered apple and cinnamon flavoured tobacco and a selection of Middle Eastern pickles, some baklava. They danced some more, drank some more.
When they finally stumbled into a diner to order tea and doughnuts, dawn was breaking over town.
“I think I’m still drunk,” Tyler declared as he stifled a huge yawn. “I don’t think I even remember what’s happened in the last hour.”
“We were at the Bar Zona,” Meredith said. “You got into a fight with a couple of guys.”
“Did I? I vaguely remember throwing a punch at some guy in a Rob Zombie T-shirt. What were we fighting about?”
“He and his friend made a comment about your face. You offered to show them how to get a face like yours and started throwing punches.”
“Meredith, sweetheart, I hope the fight didn’t upset you.”
“S’okay. I was having chilli-lychee martinis with Rob Zombie T-shirt’s girlfriend while you two were fighting. Then, I’m not sure, I think you guys came to some sort of agreement and they bought us a round of shots, and after that we went behind the restrooms and tried to steal cigarettes from a vending machine.”
“Did we succeed?”
“No, the bouncers kicked us out. Then we went to Plasstic Mass and danced until the club closed at dawn and now here we are, having doughnuts and tea.”
“Here we are,” Tyler mumbled. “These are really good doughnuts, by the way.”
“Try the peach jam one,” Meredith offered. “Or the caramel chocolate with hazelnut icing. That’s really good, if a little hard on the cholesterol levels.”
Half an hour later, they emerged from the diner to find vendors had taken over the entire street. “Market Street,” Meredith explained. “Every Sunday morning, this place turns into a huge open-air market.”
They walked slowly down the long road, pausing to look at the various wares on sale. There were huge chunks of bloody meat at butcher stalls, glassy-eyed fish on ice, and live lobsters and crabs in pails at the fisheries. Farmers hawked their fruits and vegetables. There were vendors selling imitation goods and miscellaneous knick-knacks like miniature chess and domino sets, home-made candles, handcrafted jewellery, second-hand clothing and Magic 8 balls. An old man sat in his stall, dexterously playing cat’s cradle while surrounded by cages full of squawking, singing birds – canaries, nightingales, parrots, cockatoos, even an owl. “I wish I could buy all those birds and set them free,” Meredith said. “It must be such a horrible feeling to be shut up in cramped cages like that, all day long.”
One whole section of Market Street was devoted solely to florists. Their fragrant, brilliantly-hued blossoms filled the road like an orchard magically sprung to life. There were sprays of cherry blossom and pussy willow branches, pails of water filled with tulips, roses, pansies, violets, dahlias, baby’s breath, gardenias, begonias, and carnations. Meredith told Tyler that the flowers were grown in hothouses and nurseries out in the countryside and transported by the truckload into the city to Market Street every Sunday, which explained the wide variety of seasonal blooms available.
“So there are some things progress and technology are good for after all,” Tyler remarked, and bought Meredith a bunch of wet pansies, all deep mauves and velvety creams, vivid scarlets and flirty pinks.
In the midst of all the flowers was a stall run by an old Chinese woman who was all knees and elbows and sharp angles. Her stall was piled high with bamboo steamers filled with dim sum, the aroma of fresh dumplings mingling with the sweet fragrance of her fellow vendors’ wares. Several customers gathered around her, munching dumplings piled high on little plastic plates, with more still waiting in line.
“Madame Kwan,” Meredith told Tyler. “She caters to the flower vendors every Sunday morning and makes the best dim sum in town. She’s Market Street’s best-kept secret. Do you want to try some?”
“Sure,” he said. “It smells delicious.”
They waited in line for fifteen minutes and ate their dumplings standing up by the side of the street like everyone else at Madame Kwan’s stall who wasn’t a vendor grabbing a plate to take back to their respective stalls. Tyler took one bite and fully agreed with Meredith that this was the best dim sum he had ever tasted in his life. He noticed Madame Kwan wore a sprig of heather and gorse pinned to her sky-blue jacket.
Meredith felt it as they were finishing off the last of the dim sum. The small surge of power within her like a tiny bolt of lightning. She moved involuntarily, a little twinge-jerk, and took a deep breath. The moment the twinge quietened, she hastily swallowed her last dumpling and said to Tyler, “Let’s go.”
She led the way, walking fast through the streets, cutting across alleys and small parks. The moment they reached the apartment, Meredith pulled on her sneakers and announced she was going on a run. Tyler, who was exhausted, did not know how she could summon the energy, but he knew she needed the space and the activity and did not argue. He crashed out on the bed the moment he got his shoes off, not bothering to remove the rest of his clothes.
He slept for five hours before his alarm went off. Meredith still had not returned. Bleary-eyed, he stumbled into the shower. When Meredith finally came in some forty-five minutes later, dressed in jeans and a tank top, having showered and changed at her place, she found him packing.
“Are you leaving now?” she asked. A mix of emotions swept through her, relief and disappointment and regret.
“Yep.” He smiled at her. “Gotta keep searching for that point of negation.”
She nodded slowly. “Do you need help packing?”
“I’ve got a couple of books in the lounge. Could you get them for me?”
She went into the living room and found the books, a slim magical volume and a travel guide. She opened the travel guide and flipped through a couple of pages, searching for a clue as to where Tyler might head to next. A photograph fell out and landed on the floor, picture-side down.
She picked the photo up. It was battered and worn, as if it had been handled countless times. She flipped it over to look at the picture, and her fingers trembled, then stilled.
It was a picture of her. It was one of those pictures Tyler had taken along the trek to the waterfall. An unsmiling dark-eyed girl surrounded by a cornucopia of bright flowers. He must have secretly ordered a double print the afternoon he had taken her camera down to the printing shop. Meredith had always preferred printed photos; she liked the idea of physically handling whatever it was she was looking at.
Slowly, she tucked the photo back into the travel guide before returning to the bedroom and handing the books to Tyler. “Thanks,” he said, and placed the books carefully in his saddlebag, tucked among T-shirts and jeans and numerous other magical volumes.
She sat on the bed and watched him finish his packing. It didn’t take long. In another ten minutes he was buckling the straps. “Okay, all done.”
“Are you taking the bus or train?”
“Neither. I’ve got my bike parked in the basement. Walk me out?”
She nodded. He picked up his saddlebag and they took the lift down to the basement parking lot where a gleaming black and chrome Harley Davidson Softail Springer stood waiting.
“Nice bike,” she commented.
He winked at her. “Someday, I’ll take you for a ride on it, babe.”
She rolled her eyes and he laughed. He strapped on the saddlebag, then pushed the bike through the basement and up the ramp onto East Angel Square.
He stopped on the street and turned to her. “Wait for me, won’t you?”
Meredith took a deep breath and nodded.
He smiled at her. “Even if you leave, I’ll know where to find you. Remember that.”
“I’ll make a note of it,” she said. “Remember Tyler. Can’t shake that tail off your ass.”
He laughed again and threw his leg over the bike. He paused for a moment, his face growing serious. “I will find a way to negate what’s between us, Meredith. The bad stuff, I mean. Not the good stuff.”
“There was good stuff?”
“I like the way you pretend you’re immune to your feelings for me.”
“I dislike your overblown confidence.” She was being bitchy, trying to hide her distress at seeing him leave.
He smiled. “I’ll be back soon, Meredith. In two, maybe three months, depending on how long it’s going to take me to do what needs to be done. I’ll be back by the end of autumn, at least.”
“Do you think you’ll – succeed – by then?”
He sobered again. “I don’t know, Meredith. Logic and reason say I won’t be able to. There’s still a way to go yet. Even I know that. But even if I don’t succeed by then, I will come back because … I’ll miss you.”
There was a lump in her throat. She swallowed hard, unable to look away from those sea-green eyes.
He touched her face gently. “I’ll be back soon. Remember that.”
She didn’t say anything, just went on gazing at his face, the face she’d destroyed.
Tyler leaned forward and Meredith bent her head and let him kiss her. It was a brief kiss, but it seared her lips with its tenderness.
He smiled at her. “See you soon, Meredith.” He gunned the engine and started down the road, and soon he was gone.
Go on to: Chapter Seventeen
Go back to: Chapter Fifteen
New to A Reason for Being? Start from: Chapter One.