Hunter and I stumble upon a diner tucked away in an alley several blocks from the funeral parlour. The booths looks small, private — a good place to stop and decide what to do next. I order broccoli and cheddar soup with a club sandwich. Hunter orders some kind of creamy pasta. I’m jealous when his meal arrives. I always wish I’d ordered the pasta.
Though still shaken by mother, I try to reminisce about my happier childhood memories as we eat. The food is good, and I begin to recall all the restaurants I used to love as a kid. The pizza places Brie and I would visit over lunch break. The little take-out place where I first fell in love with Thai food.
“Lovitt’s” I suddenly remember.
“What?” Hunter laughs at my outburst.
“It’s an ice cream and dessert parlour. Lovitt’s. I used to go all the time with my friends in high school. It’s amazing. I have to take you. As a thank you for coming with me.”
“You realize it’s freezing out,” he laughs as we pay the bill.
“So what!? Brie and I used to go there all winter.” I make a mental note to invite Brie back here when she gets home. Now that my father is gone it’s like a dark cloud has finally drifted away from this place. Guilt steals through my heart as I realize it.
I lead Hunter further into the city core, but when we turn the corner onto MacNab Street my hopes are dashed. The parlour has been replaced by a posh little cafe overflowing with fashionable-looking people. I’m disappointed, but we go in anyway and order some warm drinks. I order a peppermint hot chocolate and, maybe because my childish reminiscence is rubbing off on him, Hunter orders the same. The tables are all taken inside so we run across the street to sit on the crumbling stone steps of the old library building.
“Damn. I really wish I could have taken you to Lovitt’s,” I say, blowing away the steam billowing over my drink, “You should have seen the stuff they served. Triple chocolate brownies warm from the oven and topped with ice cream and caramel. Pretty much every flavour sundae you can imagine.”
He chuckles and wraps his hands around his paper cup to keep them warm. He sounds distracted when he asks, “It was really that amazing, huh?”
“Yeah,” I sigh.
“What was the best thing you ever ate there?” he asks, and there’s a strange intensity to his voice.
It takes me a couple of minutes to decide. “If I absolutely had to choose, I’d say this insane chocolate, caramel cheesecake sundae thing that Brie and I ordered once.”
He takes one of his hands off of his cup and reaches it out to me, stopping a few inches short of my own hand. It takes me a moment of staring to comprehend what this gesture means. What he’s offering.
“You don’t have to. I understand why you wouldn’t want to.” His voice is almost a whisper.
I hesitate a little longer and his hand begins to drop. My adrenaline spikes as I reach out and snatch his hand at the last second.
Like my first visions with Mirena, this memory is slightly choppy:
I’m seated on a high stool in front of an old fashioned, sparkling countertop. In front of us is a towering sundae, almost a foot tall. It is crowned with whip cream, drizzled with chocolate and caramel, and topped with the iconic cherry. The ice cream is studded with chunks of cheesecake and I’m pretty sure there’s some peanut butter sauce mixed in there too. Brie and I are fighting over who is going to take the first bite.
“You do it,” I say, “Otherwise people might think this was my idea.”
“It was your idea,” she quips, “and I shouldn’t even look at this thing. I’m trying to lose weight you know.”
“Oh shut up and we’ll take a bite at the same time.”
We giggle so hard trying to synchronize our spoons that the ice cream starts to melt before we’ve even tasted it. In the end, I take the first bite. The ice cream is cold and creamy on my tongue. It’s so sweet that it almost burns my throat on the way down. But it is completely worth it.
The return to reality is sudden. I feel intensely dizzy and nauseous for a few seconds. Hunter grabs my shoulders to steady me. He’s laughing, “That was obscene.”
After I recover, I laugh too. “You mean delicious.”
He continues to laugh as he wraps his hands around his drink once more.
“What about you?” I ask.
“What do you mean?”
“What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever eaten?” I feel bad for asking when his smile evaporates. I remember what he said about not using his magic on himself, “Would you be able to show me? Or can you not see your own memories the way you see mine?”
“I can’t view my memories the way I do yours,” he says thoughtfully, “Unless I’m showing them to someone else. So yes, I can show you, but I’m not sure you want to see.”
“Why not?” I don’t want to press him to do something he doesn’t want to do, but the thought of catching a glimpse of Hunter’s life is incredibly tempting.
“Most of my life I lived with Freyja House and when I wasn’t there I was training with Solomon House. The people I grew up around…”
“Johannes,” I say, “and Mirena.”
He nods and I look away for a minute, thinking about these people who tried to hurt me, who hurt my friends. What were their lives like when they were young? Had Hunter not had his own brush with violence and destruction?
A mother and child walking across the street catch my attention. The little boy points to a store excitedly and smiles as his mother increases her stride to match his eagerness. Who will that child be when he grows older? Will his mistakes somehow cancel out these peaceful moments of happiness he shared with the people he loved?
When I turn back to Hunter he’s looking in the opposite direction. I can see him nervously chewing his lip. I regret letting our happy moment fade so quickly.
“Show me,” I say, drawing his attention back to me, “Please.”
He stares down at his hands for a moment, as if weighing the possibilities, then slowly raises his left hand out to me. When I take it this time I’m more aware of the physical contact between us. I hope he doesn’t see the blood rushing to my face as I am pulled under.
I’m sitting at a long table lined with people. The room is large and rustic with a hint of luxury. There are signs of spring everywhere – the windows are open to the warm night air, flowers hang on wreaths around the blood red walls, and there are centrepieces featuring lambs and eggs spread across the wooden table. Everyone looks elegant in alluring cotton dresses or white shirts with embroidered vests. At the head of the table is a wrinkled woman adorned in golden necklaces and rings – somehow I know this is Ethel Kirios and that she is the matriarch of Freyja House. As I look at her I feel a mingling sense of respect and fear.
I am seated with a bunch of children ranging from a small toddler to a couple of teenagers. Though I don’t personally recognize him, an alien voice in my head tells me that one of them is Johannes Trent. Again I’m overcome with someone else’s emotions towards him – annoyance and frustration. Beside me is a tiny, fragile looking girl with bleach blonde hair. Mirena. She looks dreamy and far away. I feel a strange sort of pity for her and a fear similar to the kind Madame Kirios instills. It is disorienting to know that in this moment I am Hunter and, judging by the ages of the others, I can’t be much more than nine.
On the table in front of me there are a number of dishes piled high with lavish desserts. There are scoops of what look to be different flavours of ice cream in a silver bowl in front of me. To my right is a plate filled with baklava. There are toffees and candies in an intricate glass dish just behind it. There’s also a bowl of whipped cream next to a chocolate-looking sort of pie. Aside from that there are dishes piled high with fresh and preserved fruits. Looking down at my plate, I’m surprised to see a slice of pie already there and a slender hand tipping a spoonful of whipped cream over the top of it. I turn to watch Mirena pile ice cream beside it, which she tops with basically one of everything. On her own plate she places a few pieces of fresh fruit.
“Mirena… what are you doing?” I ask in Hunter’s voice. I can feel his confusion regarding her actions.
She shrugs nonchalantly and picks up a grape, studying it intently. “Losing your parents has been hard on you and training begins next week. You should really indulge while you have the opportunity.” Her tone is not kind, nor is it cruel — she states it as an obvious fact. She pops the grape into her mouth and chews in a way that seems almost calculated.
Her words strike a painful chord with Hunter and I can feel the rawness of his parents’ loss. Hunter stares at his plate and, though he has little appetite, he forces the first few bites of pie into his mouth. The taste is the perfect balance of bitter and sweet; soon he is eating with enthusiasm and enjoying the experience of the sugars on his tongue. He eats quickly, trying not to let his mind wander to the pain he desperately wants to forget. Trying to let himself act like the child he knows he will soon be forced to abandon.
When I return to myself I feel sick again, though the sensation is less intense. A small tear trickles down my cheek, stinging as the cold air touches its wet trail. I feel the warmth of Hunter’s skin against my fingers and when I look from his hand – still holding mine – to his face, there are tears there as well.
“Hunter, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have made you show me,” I begin, but he quickly retains his composure, pulling his hand away from me.
“No, no don’t be. It’s just… remembering things and reliving them… I had forgotten what it was like. How real it feels,” he still seems dazed and oblivious to the stubborn tear on his cheekbone. When he speaks again, I can see the clarity slowly returning to his eyes and he rubs the heel of a hand against his cheek. “It’s really hard to remember anything about my parents and even what it felt like to lose them. I’m… I’m glad I could be in that moment again.”
“Can I ask what happened to them?”
“Of course,” he says, and as usual his deep voice feels so warm and open that I quickly dismiss the nervous guilt my prying elicits, “It isn’t anything exciting. It was just a car accident. A drunk driver.”
“That’s terrible,” I say because sorry seems too insensitive.
He nods and laughs cynically, “All this magic and we still fall prey to other people’s stupidity. Death comes for us too, no matter how hard we try to tell ourselves otherwise.”
“You must think I’m very callous for the way I’ve been acting today.” Feeling his pain at losing his parents – really feeling it – makes me very aware of my own coldness.
“You mean about your father?” he asks and I nod, “Selene I was a child. My parents were my entire world. Maybe if I’d had a chance to grow up with them I would have seen things differently. Maybe once I’d really gotten to know them we would have grown apart. I know I haven’t known you long, but I’ve never once thought of you as being cold.”
I stare at my feet. He’s right. If I had lost my father when I was a child, I would have felt much differently. I can almost remember a time when I was oblivious to the way my father treated my mother. When I didn’t understand the things he was saying about me.
“Wait, I just thought of something,” Hunter’s voice interrupts my thoughts and when I lift my head he’s staring at me with a huge, mischievous grin.
“There were these amazing crepes I had in Japan. I think they even top that Spring banquet,” he reaches his hand out to me for a third time.
I can’t help but laugh and I eagerly reach my hand towards his, caring less about lavish desserts than the strange, elusive trust I’ve earned as his skin brushes against mine.