A Brief Respite
Briar expected to become lost in another memory, either hers or someone else’s. Instead, she found herself sitting at a little round table outside of a small café. Across the road from where she sat, pavement turned to grass, grass then turned to rock, rock to sand and large waves rushed in wetting the black sand. The water was murky with sediment, large pieces of driftwood floating among the waves, slowly making their way to shore. A sure sign there had been a storm here recently.
Briar recognised the west coast beach and the rustic little café. She had been here before.
It had been about a year after she had gotten clean, she had been doing well with the physical training, but her mind was still a mess. She had come so close to relapsing. So, she had been shipped abroad to this little piece of paradise and spent three weeks here.
Here in this sleepy beachside community, she was safe from temptation, and here she was meant to stay for at least six months. But it had not worked out as intended. This quiet spot was so quiet and peaceful and that led Briar to very noisy thoughts. It had been meant to help heal the emotional wounds the way her physical ones had healed but instead, it had made it all worse.
After three weeks, two days and about six hours, Briar had fled back to the Northern Hemisphere and found new ways to quiet her thoughts. No more drugs, no more drinking until she blacked out, Briar found a new vice; crime had never been more fun.
Sitting back here now in the sunshine amidst the sounds of waves and the scent of coffee, Briar almost wished she had never fled. How different would her life have been if she had found the courage to stay and to heal? How much suffering could she have avoided if she had taken the time to face her past and her demons? What would have been different?
“You still would have met him, if that’s what you were wondering.”
Briar turned her gaze from the ocean to look across the table to find Nathaniel seated across from her. “I maintain that it’s rude as hell to keep reading my thoughts without asking, Nathaniel.”
“This is all your thoughts, Briar. Even I am part of them, technically. My true self is woven into your mind.”
“Your true self. The angel gig?”
“The angel gig,” Nathaniel replied with a nod of his head.
“How did you come by this angel gig for yourself? I got the impression Imelda was made. And Lorelei said demons are born and made. What about you?”
“Ang’El are made not born. Usually. Birth and parentage do not guarantee goodness in the soul. So, we are made, usually at the point of death so we can make a clean break from our lives.”
“Because angels can’t have families and shit.”
“We are meant to love all and not one. Just as you learned from Imelda. Because she truly loved one she became Fallen. She retained parts of her Ang’El nature and power but became mortal.”
“Wasn’t she already mortal? You know, because she could die when she was an Ang’El.”
Nathaniel shook his head again. “As an Ang’El she could have lived forever.”
Briar considered what Nathaniel was saying. Immortality was not that you were unkillable, just that you were capable of eternal life. It made sense, especially since the immortal bloodsuckers she knew were all able to be killed. “So, all fallen angels are mortal?”
Briar looked surprised. “No?”
“No,” Nathaniel repeated. “Each is a different case.”
“So, no real consistency then. Is that why Lorelei’s angel could love her, knock her up and yet still get to stay all angel-like?”
Nathaniel laughed. “You have such a charming eloquence at times, Briar. And he is a very special case. He is far too useful to be cast from the ranks.”
“You mean, God forgave him his sins but wouldn’t for Imelda?”
“Not God, simply our superiors. We are not as your Christian doctrine suggests.”
“Are you saying there is no God?”
“That depends entirely on what your definition is.”
“That only leads to so many extra questions but you’re not going to distract me even more. What’s the deal with this? I thought I was going into the next memory scene and instead I’m here and I really can’t recall anything interesting that happened here while I was visiting.” Briar tried to think of something she might be required to recall from this time but all she remembered was how loud her mind had been. The sound of the ocean was relaxing and all, but it did nothing to drown out the voices in her head at four in the morning reminding her of the past.
“Your mind needed a moment of reprieve before we continued. Your soul is strong, but your physical form is far more delicate,” Nathaniel explained.
“Gotcha. This is the quarter time break. Do we get orange slices and plastic cups of juice that’s barely more than water?”
“No, as appealing as that sounds. But, if you go inside and look at the board behind the counter you might find a treat.”
Nathaniel gestured inside the café and Briar followed his hand to look inside. She recalled there was a large corkboard hanging on the wall behind the back counter. It was covered in photos of staff and visitors, and clippings of stories about the café and the local area.
Briar got up from the table and headed inside, Nathaniel following her. Inside, the café was very much the same as it had been. Briar ducked around the counter and started inspecting the photos and news stories. She thought maybe she would find a photo of herself that she had forgotten was taken. Instead, what she found was a travel article about the area. The by-line went to one Alistair Rosenthorn.
Briar ran her fingers over the paper. It felt so real under her fingertips. This had to be what Nathaniel had wanted her to see. She turned back to him. “He was here? Alistair was here?”
“Five weeks after you left.”
Briar let out a loud growl and turned sweeping out her arm across the countertop. Espresso cups and matching saucers went flying, smashing loudly on to the tiled floor. They might not have been real but there was something very satisfying about watching them break. She was so mad, and all that anger was directed right at herself. “Great, so if I had not been such a shittastic moron, and I’d actually stayed here like I was meant to, we would have met again.”
“The fates have been known to reward advancement.”
“Only I didn’t advance, I sidestepped. I replaced one crutch with another.” Briar wanted to scream knowing how close she had been to Alistair and a better life. She had been so close, and she had screwed it up, yet again. She had a gift for doing it and constantly worried she would do it again to ruin everything.
A series of not very angelic curses left Briar’s lips and more coffee cups hit the floor.
Nathaniel looked a little surprised by Briar’s overreaction. He stepped in around the broken cups and rested his hand on Briar’s back. “Briar, I showed you this to show you that your meeting Alistair again was destiny, and not just due to my manipulation the day you did meet again.”
“What?” Briar spun around to face Nathaniel, who quickly dropped his hand away from her body. “You weren’t showing me what a screw up I can be?”
Nathaniel laughed and shook his head. “Not at all. And, I must say, you are most definitely the child of your ancestors. They are both excellent at flying off the handle even when circumstances do not require it.”
“It feels like they required it. I could have had Alistair and not endured, well, not endured everything that came after leaving here through to finding him again. I think I’m allowed to be angry and pissed off at myself.”
“Because that guilt and anger aid your journey, do they?”
Briar glared at Nathaniel and huffed. “Feel free to shut up and not be all wise and truthful to leave me looking bad.”
“You do that all by yourself,” Nathaniel replied, his lips curling up into a cheeky grin.
Briar had to resist the urge to throw a cup at that smile. “Are all angels this sassy and sarcastic?”
“A surprising number of them, actually,” Nathaniel said as he moved around the counter, stepping over the mess before he took a seat at a small table by the tills. “I’ll let you have a moment to digest what you have learned and calm yourself down. You need to be calm as you enter the next phase of your transformative journey.”
Briar nodded and leaned back against the counter. It took a few deep breaths, but she regained her composure after her little tantrum. She had a feeling that the easy part of her spell was over, and she was heading for the trials. Trials that she still knew nothing about. All she really knew was that her mind and body might not survive the process. She did not want to enter the trials agitated and end up putting herself at an immediate disadvantage. She was more invested in her survival now than she had been when she began.
“It is not just your survival that is at stake,” Nathaniel said, interrupting her thoughts, yet again.
Briar felt like her heart stopped as Nathaniel spoke. Lorelei had made sure that Briar knew the risks she faced doing this magic, but she had not once mentioned that anyone else would be in danger. “Is it Lorelei? Is her life at risk due to her involvement? It would be just like her to not tell me that she was in danger too. I didn’t sign on for risking anyone else.”
Nathaniel shook his head, no. Before he could speak Briar was continuing.
“Is it you? Because you’re all tied up in my brain? Is it like those sci-fi movies where our brains are still melded and when I die I take you with me? Why the hell are you even still here if that is the case?”
“Briar, enough! It is not Lorelei, it is not me. It is not Alistair or any of your other friends who are still waiting for you to wake up.”
“But who else is there?” Briar asked. Who else could possibly be hurt or killed by her in this magical meditation?
“You see so much and yet fail to see the obvious.” Nathaniel waved his hand and the café vanished leaving them standing in a bright emptiness. He stepped forward and placed his hand on Briar’s lower abdomen.
Briar was certain that her heart did stop this time. Or maybe it had at least gone to live in her throat.
“What?” Briar let out the strangled sounding word but Nathaniel stepped aside as a scene began to play out and Briar was lost inside it before she could even process Nathaniel’s shocking announcement.