It was 2:15. In fifteen minutes her life would be changed forever. Handing a twenty to the driver and slipping her bag over her shoulder she stepped out of the cab into the heat of the day. Blinking, she shadowed her eyes with her palm. Beverly eyed a small bistro on the patio of the coffee shop and slung her tote onto the chair closest to the wall. The shop was quaint. It was the perfect spot to connect. The wind rustled the leaves on the elm that canopied the patio. A cool breeze caused bumps to rise up on her back where sweat pooled and her shirt clung.
A man and woman sat across from her. She watched his eyes as he glanced from the woman's lips to her chest. She wondered how the man and the woman might be connected. The woman's purse, she noted, was pushed tightly against her stomach by the edge of the table and the woman sat rigid. She was poised as if ready to run. She wore a red skirt and white blouse. Her hair was twisted in a tight bun at the nape of her neck. Her makeup was simple. Their voices were barely above a whisper. When the man looked up and saw they were being watched he blew a kiss in Beverly's direction and refocused his attention on his date. Beverly recoiled in disgust as she caught the forlorn glance of the woman. Then, in one deft movement the woman swung her hand across the man's face, her ring catching his lip causing a steady stream of blood to drip onto his white shirt.
Beverly covered her mouth with a napkin to stifle her laugh as the seat across the bistro became occupied. "What's funny?"
"Nothing," she lied.
"Have you been waiting long?" Beverly watched his mouth move and remembered that was what had caught her attention the day they met. His lips were perfect as if they had been drawn on his face. It was alluring. "I'm sorry I'm late."
She glanced at her watch. She hadn't noticed the time. "Thank you for meeting me here. The office makes me nervous."
He smiled and placed his hand on top of hers and shook his head, "I understand. Have you thought about what we talked over?"
Beverly pulled her hands back and folded them in her lap. She tried not to think at all since they last talked. It was uncomfortable. If she could, she would have forced herself to vanish and float away on the ocean breeze that lifted her bedroom curtain in a billowing farewell. "No." Her voice was sharp and she immediately regretted her tone. He was nothing more than the messenger, she reasoned. "I can't," she said more gently. "Thinking is killing me."
"The window of opportunity is closing quickly. If you make no choice, there will be no choice to be made."
Beverly winced. She knew he was right. She wanted to be an adult about the whole thing but she felt childish. Her concerns only magnified when she thought of the many repercussions of any choice she might make. Her nervousness shown as she pulled at the curls at the back of her neck. "Do I have to decide now?"
"The door closes today, with or without you." He stood up and walked away from the table without glancing back her way.
Beverly thought about her life before she arrived here. She was lonely and frustrated. She never felt like she belonged and this place made her feel purposed. Leaving would mean much more than starting over; it would mean being resolved to her old life. If she were ready for that the Keeper had made promises but what would those promises mean? What if it was too much for her, would he be obliged to return her to this status, alone in a coffee shop watching him walk away? Even with purpose would she never feel loved?
She looked back at the couple. The man held a napkin to his mouth hiding his words and catching his blood. His eyes bore holes in the woman's soul. Beverly could feel the woman shudder and the heat of her fear turned her ears and nose crimson. He will try to kill her tonight. The thought made Beverly rise to her feet scraping the legs of the chair loudly against the cobblestone floor. The noise caught the attention of the couple.
Even in a world where perfection was the norm she was unhappy but this new unhappiness had fatal consequences. At home she worried about nothing. The Azraat took care of needs. She came from a world without fear. Being here engulfed her in it but there was so much more involved in living that she was drawn to it despite negative reprecussions.
The man stood and grabbed the woman by her arm. Beverly could feel his fingertips digging into the woman's delicate flesh. In that instant Beverly made her decision. The woman stumbled over her feet trying to keep up with the man who had begun to drag her from the coffee shop. Before they reached the door, Beverly closed her eyes and bowed her head. She made no sound as her spirit was lifted, this time with a companion into the clouds. Together they rose through the heavens, their feet gently finding their place among women, the Azraat closing the threshold behind them.