“Come on, Gwynne!”
“But you promised! I bought the fucking tickets!” He shook the envelope at her.
“Damnit, Adam! I can’t just drop everything I have and come with you. I have a life here. A career.”
“What career? The crap work you do every day that you hate, just in case you might have a chance to do something better—which, might I add, isn’t even guaranteed?!”
She closed her eyes and her voice was still. “Yes. That’s what normal people do. That’s what adults do. They put in the time doing things they hate so they can do what they love some day. Everyone seems to understand that but you.”
“What do you mean by that?” He didn’t want to look at her anymore. A white rage was building in his chest.
“You’re serious about dropping your job. Dropping your life here. And what? Just jetting off to India because a dart—a FUCKING dart— told you to?”
“But…we made a vow. You promised.”
“I never promised.”
He punched the wall nearby, ignoring the pain in his hand. “Fuck you! You planned this with me. You saved with me! And now…you’re just throwing it all away?”
“Throwing what away? I’m building a career. You’re the one throwing everything away for some stupid fucking dream.”
“Oh, so now I’m stupid.”
“I never said that,” she shot back.
“Before, you said it was romantic. You loved that I was a dreamer.”
“Yes. But I always figured you would settle down one day, let dreams be dreams, and provide for us! What are you going to do when you get back and you have no job?”
“I don’t know what I’m going to do. What are you going to do when you wake up and you’re forty, alone, and have nothing to show for it but a lifetime of working a job you hate that never turned in to anything else? Huh?”
He stormed out of the apartment, tickets in hand. He would find someone else to come with him. Gwynne could just go fuck herself.
How could she just back out of something as huge as this?
He went back to the apartment, threw open the door. She was standing where he left her.
“What?” she asked.
“I should have known you would back out of this. God forbid you commit to something.”
She pointed a finger at him. “Don’t you even fucking dare.”
“You did it with Todd. You’re doing it with me.”
“God damnit, Adam! You know that’s not what happened!”
“You can’t fucking commit to anything! Not a trip. Not a husband! I don’t know why I’m even wasting my time with you!”
“Fuck you!” she screamed, running to the door and tearing it open.
She fled down the hallway, leaving the door open. He listened to her descending the stairs, hearing the door to the street open through his open window. And then there was silence.
Adam was shaking. He looked around his apartment at all of Gwynne’s things. God. She would have to come back. He would have to face her, face the things they both said. The trip was in two weeks. What the fuck was he going to do? He couldn’t go alone. Could he? Jesus. What a mess. Why couldn’t everything just go accordingly to plans for once?
“Merci,” Petros said, taking the white paper bag and the cup caddy from Clara, the barista he saw most afternoons at his favorite petit cafe.
She just smiled at him. He knew that look, the one that said, “You can take me out of here any time, Mr. White Horse.” It always filled him with a mixture of shame and pride. They could never have him, but how nice to know you are wanted. From behind him, a brash voice broke the moment in half and tossed it aside. “He’s mine, Clara. Besides, he doesn’t even like women.”
Petros knew Juliette’s voice without turning. Of course she would find him here when he was eager to get back to his house guest. “Down, Juliette. Please.”
She smiled at him, a little lipstick on her front teeth. “Hello, my Pet. Fancy seeing you here. And later than usual, too. Going out late tonight?” She winked.
Juliette was his most deeply rooted friend. She wasn’t much to look at, sort of dumpy with red hair that fell more on the side of brown piled on her head like a distraction, but she knew him better than anyone else in this city. “I think I’m staying in,” he replied, trying to sound like nothing at all was going on.
Her eyes narrowed. “You’re putting one over on me, aren’t you, Pet. What’s going on? You plotting another?”
“Shhh,” he hissed. “Jesus. Do you want to visit me in jail?”
“Lots of men desperate for a bit of fun there. I can think of worse places.” She spaced out for a moment, no doubt picking out the most out-of-her-league inmate.
“I’ve got to be getting back.”
“Got guests?” Her hands flew to her face. “Oh! I see. Having a post coital drink and snack, then?”
He started for the street, the bell on the door tinkling behind him. Juliette huffed after. “He must be quite a catch for you to be in such a hurry. Fancying a round two?”
“No. No. It’s not like that.” Petros explained the situation to Juliette.
“So you pulled some foreigner off the street and into your bath tub, and you don’t plan to…”
“No. He’s not…I mean…at least…I think he’s not…”
“Gay. The word is gay. You can say it. It’s okay. I’ve known since three years before you did. Really. I wonder how you could be so repressed all the time, and then I remember that you grew up in America. For a free nation, they’re really uptight.”
“Can we not do this?” They were nearing his flat and he wasn’t intending on inviting her up.
“Well, do I get to meet him? Maybe I can sniff him out, like.” She reached into her cleavage and pulled out a small black bag with a drawstring. “Maybe we should ask the cards!”
“Oh, God. Please. Not the cards. I barely know this guy, and I don’t need you scaring him away before—“
They both stopped in front of his building. Before what? He couldn’t answer that question. Even he didn’t know what was going to come out of this. Maybe Adam would be gone before he got back up there, and that would be that, just a good deed for a lost stranger and nothing more. That would be nice. But then why did the thought of it fill Petros up with an autumnal melancholy?
“You love him!” Juliette spouted, breaking into hideous laughter.
“No! I do not love him. For Christ’s sake, I just met him.”
“Oh, I’ve got to see this one, then. Come on. Let’s go up and have a look.”
He grounded her with a glare.
“Come off it. You’ve got to share your toys. Don’t worry. I’ll be good.”
“No cards. No innuendo. Nothing.”
She drew a cross on her chest.
“Hope to die?”
“Hope to die.”
Against his better judgment, he let her follow him up the stairs to his flat, pregretting the decision every step of the way. Juliette tried to go in first, but he held her back. “No. Fucking. Way.”
“What are you hiding in there?”
He stepped inside. He couldn’t hear any movement. She barged in behind him. “Hellloooo-oooo!”
Petros cringed. Adam stepped out of the bathroom, towel wrapped around his waist. “Oh, I’m sorry.”
Juliette fell back against the wall, clutching her large chest. “Bloody hell. He’s immaculate.”
Petros blushed again. “Adam. This is Juliette. She doesn’t take no for an answer.”
He approached them. Juliette collected herself and stood up. Adam smiled at her, although all she could do was stare at his chest. She took his hand as it was offered.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Adam.”
“You’re damn right you are. Juliette.”
Petros intervened. “Juliette is my closest friend. I ran into her at the coffee shop, and she followed me home.”
“We’d have been back a lot sooner if I’d have known what was waiting here,” Juliette cooed.
“I’m sorry. She has no filter.”
Adam just smiled. “It’s fine. It’s actually nice to be appreciated.”
Adam took the paper sack and a cup of coffee from Petros and sat down at the kitchen table. The chairs were a beautifully carved dark wood that matched the table, although Adam didn’t notice, as he was face-deep in a croissant like he hadn’t eaten in weeks. Juliette and Petros watched him for a moment before realizing in the silence what they were doing.
“I’ll be right back. Excuse me.” Petros walked to the bathroom, mostly checking on the mess.
Juliette took a chair across from Adam, smiling at him. He looked up, face crammed with croissant, and nodded. He swallowed. “Sorry. I haven’t had a good meal in a while.”
“You should let me cook for you sometime. I’m a whiz in the kitchen.”
A silence descended once more. Juliette pulled the little black bag out of her cleavage again, took the cards from inside of it, and began to shuffle. Adam looked up. He was too polite to ask what she was doing, so she told him.
“Tarot cards. I’m a fortune teller. You ever had your Tarot read?”
Adam shook his head, swallowed the last of the croissant, and watched as she shuffled the colorful deck.
“Well, there’s a first time for everything, right?” When she had finished shuffling, she lay the deck between them on the table. “Give me your hands.”
“Come on. Give me your hands. We have to form a bond.”
Adam raised his arms from his lap. She looked at his newly bandaged stump, and her face filled with horror. “Oh my God. I’m so, so sorry. You must think I’m some kind of an idiot. I didn’t even notice. I was too busy staring at your perfect body, I guess.”
Adam chuckled. “It’s okay.”
“What the sweet hell happened to you?” She reached her hands out. “Can I touch it?”
“Be my guest.”
She reached out and touched the bandages, which were mostly free from any fluids. It felt strange to Adam, not touching her with his hand. He felt a twitch in his fingers, which were somewhere in Pakistan.
When she’d taken her hands back, he said, “I got it cut off for stealing a camel.”
Juliette looked around the apartment in a way Adam couldn’t place. “Stealing a camel, huh? Where did you find a camel around here.”
“That’s exactly what I said!” Petros returned from the bathroom, a towel draped over his shoulder. “Oh, God. Not the cards! Juliette! You promised.”
“I never promised anything.”
Adam felt a twinge of pain. “It’s okay. I’m curious about how it works.”
“See? He’s curious.” She winked at Petros.
Feeling uncomfortable, Adam explained about his run in with the rural tribe once again.
“Soup, you say?”
“I don’t know what it was. It had chunks of something in a reddish broth. Knocked me on my ass.”
“Like that guy in the square?” Petros asked, smiling.
Juliette looked from Petros to Adam and back. “Guy in the square?”
Adam pointed to the corners of his eyes, which were beginning to darken. “I got socked in the face about an hour ago. He sucker punched me.”
“Adam,” Petros explained, “was accosting a young woman for not speaking English, and I stepped in and saved him.”
“You?” Juliette said, eyeing him up and down. “Saved him?”
“‘Saved’ is a sort of amorphous term. He picked me up after Andre the Giant flattened my ass.”
“Saved, then?” asked Juliette.
“Well, he’s not out there getting pummeled anymore, is he?” Petros spread his arms wide.
“I suppose not.”
They were all silent for a moment. Petros looked at Adam in his towel, which had opened to show a bit more thigh than Petros felt right to look at. Adam was thinking about the crazy ride that brought him here. Juliette was looking at the cards on the table and wondering just exactly what they would tell her about this dark stranger from across the seas.
“Well, shall we get started?” She picked up the cards and shuffled them once again. “Give me your hand.”
Adam offered his hand to her, which she took. Her hands were sweaty and warm. After a few uncomfortable moments, she let him go. “Okay.”
She shuffled the cards and cut them into three piles, which she set in front of him. “Pick up the piles and put them on top of each other in the order you want.”
Adam took the pile to Juliette’s right and placed it on the left pile. Then he put the stack on the center pile. “Like that?”
“Perfect. Now. I’m going to deal three cards. Past. Present. Future.” She took the deck and laid out three cards from the top. “The Queen of Wands. The Four of Pentacles, reversed. The Page of Cups.”
Adam looked at the cards. A woman with a cat holding a stick? A guy holding some kind of satanic symbols? Some girl in a dress with a fish in a cup? He didn’t see how any of that could apply to him in any way. “What do they say?”
Juliette held up a hand. “Hold on a minute. I’m studying them.” She stared at the cards for a moment and then began. “Okay. The past card.”
“The lady with the cat?”
“Yes. The Queen of Pentacles refers to a fiery woman, independent, proud, and bright. She is angry.”
Adam’s stomach dropped out. Holy shit. It was Gwynne. “What about the middle one?”
Juliette looked up. She knew she’d hit a nerve. She couldn’t believe it. Had she actually gotten something real from the cards? “This middle card, the present, is the Four of Pentacles. It’s about saving money, guarding yourself with the possessions you have around you.”
Adam didn’t feel very connected to that card.
“But, it’s reversed.” Juliette smiled over the cards at him. “That means you’ve been giving all you had, spending what you’ve earned and opening yourself up to whatever is around you.”
“Oh my God. I’m a little freaked out right now.”
“Me, too,” said Juliette.
Adam looked up at her. “Really?”
She nodded. “Yes. I haven’t read for actual people in a while, and this is spookily accurate.”
Petros yawned. “Go on, Juliette. Tell him what the last card means.”
She pierced him with a finger. “You be quiet. Pooper.”
Adam looked at the card with the fish. His future.
Juliette cleared her throat. “This is the future. The Page of Cups. It suggests new love, perhaps from an unexpected place.” She glanced at Petros. “Or inspiration coming from somewhere you weren’t thinking about. It is a promise of new emotional beginnings, of following your dreams.”
“Wow,” said Adam, dumbstruck. He looked around the room, expecting something to jump out unexpectedly to inspire him. Nothing moved.
Petros slow clapped. “Very nice. Now, can we all get back to real life?”
“You’re just bitter because the cards hate you.”
Adam raised his eyebrows. “What did they tell you?”
Petros gave Juliette a take-it-away gesture. She smiled. “They tell him he needs to drop his burdens, that’s the Ten of Wands. And in almost every reading that occurs, he gets the Seven of Swords.”
“What does that mean?”
“Secrets. Sneaking. Stealing.”
Adam looked at Petros. What was he hiding? He looked at Juliette. She snickered. “Just mind your wallet.”
“I don’t have one. It got stolen in India. Or Pakistan. Or wherever. I’m still not even sure what happened to it, to be honest. I woke up and it was gone, along with the rest of my stuff.”
Juliette tapped the middle card. “See what happens when you don’t guard your valuables?” She paused. “Why were you even there, if you don’t mind me asking.”
“I was incredibly unhappy at home.”
Petros scoffed. “Who isn’t?”
Adam shook his head. “I’m still not sure what was wrong with me. I went to college, got a degree, and then. Nothing. I got a job doing something innocuous. My friends were traveling around the country, the world. Pictures on the Internet were all smiles and grand plans that actually happened. I’d never made anything happen, really. I just kept thinking that here I am, thirty years old, with nothing to show for it. An apartment that my parents helped me pay for. No really close friends. Most of my old friends were starting families or careers and moving away. And there I still was.”
Juliette sighed. “But we’ve all been there. It’s that quarter-life crisis deal. After college, the real world seems very permanent, and…”
“Right. And terrible,” added Petros.
“Then I met her.”
Juliette stiffened. “Her?”
“She sound like a bitch,” Juliette said.
“He hasn’t told you anything about her yet!”
“But that name. Gwynne. Like some pretty blonde thing with perfect curves and a great head on her shoulders.”
Adam picked up the Queen of Wands. “Yeah. Independent, fierce, passionate. And angry. At least now. At me.”
Petros walked off and busied himself in the kitchen.
“What. Because you went on an adventure?” Juliette asked.
“Not exactly. She was supposed to come with me, but two weeks before the trip, she backed out. We got in a huge fight—”
“And I threw some stuff in her face…and she left. And her stuff is in storage right next to mine.”
“In storage?” Juliette asked.
“Yeah. I left when my lease ended. Packed up my stuff. Quit my job. Cut off my cell plan.”
“Wow. You’re bonkers. Most people leave something to come back to when they take a vacation.”
“This was supposed to be a life-changing trip. Something to give me a dose of perspective, to jump start me into a real life.”
“But real life isn’t a cigarette ad. Alive with pleasure, jet setting across Europe and Asia with no trace of cancer, wrinkles, or bad teeth. It’s a fantasy. In reality, you just catch a disease from the plane, lose a hand to rural Indians, and end up in Paris with a fag and his hag.”
Petros dropped a plate in the kitchen, shattering it.
Juliette started. “Jesus, Pet. Watch what you’re doing in there. Scared me half out of my wits.”
Adam stood and joined Petros in the kitchen. “It’s okay. I knew. It’s not like it’s a secret. The naked dudes on the wall. The way you looked at me in the tub.”
“You got to see him in the tub? You didn’t tell me that!” Juliette joined them.
Petros was exactly thirty shades of red as he deposited the chunks of plate into the trash can.
Adam threw and arm around his shoulders. “Please. It’s nothing special.”
“Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like a look. If it’s anything like the rest of you, I’m sure it’s perfect.” She snatched at his towel.
He ducked away from her sticky hands and darted off to the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.
“Don’t be sore, Pet. He’s a beautiful man. He’s in your apartment. Just enjoy it while it lasts and let it go.”
“Why’d you have to tell him?”
“Oh, please. You heard him. Blind women passing by know you’re gay, Pet. Since when is it a secret?”
“Sorry. Yes. That’s true. I just…I don’t know. I really thought maybe this would be something. You know, it’s a great story.”
“And what? You fancied yourself telling it to your children some day?”
“God, you’re bonkers. I don’t know why I put up with you men.”