Tuesday 24th July
After the stress of worrying about my sister so much, I needed to get out of the house. The discontinuation of Joel’s family’s interference had lifted some weight from the shoulders of both my sister and me, and I was keen to enjoy the sunny weather while I wasn’t in a black mood. So, a little after breakfast, I set out, making my way casually to the town square at the end of the high street.
I sat down on one of the stone, backless benches around the fountain in the centre of the square and gazed through the clear, glistening water to the bottom which was decorated with people’s pennies.
“Do you think they got good luck?”
Startled, I looked up to see a boy sitting next to me on the bench. I figured I must have been too absorbed in my mindless gazing to notice him joining me but I was still unnerved. He had raven black hair, quite pale skin and eyes that were such a dark blue they were almost purple: the last gazed at me intently - almost searchingly. I found myself unable to look away.
“Who?” I asked, feeling stupid.
“The people who tossed those pennies in the fountain.”
Surprised that he should want to talk to me about pennies in a fountain and good luck, I hesitantly answered “Maybe. If Luck exists, perhaps they did.”
“Do you think it does?”
Internally I was confused and suspicious at the depth of the conversation topic the stranger had introduced but I decided to humour him and answer.
“I don’t know. Everyone experiences a mixture of good and bad points during their lifetime but I couldn’t say whether there was an external force behind them. I’ve never wanted to believe in predestination; as much as that meant that something orchestrated the brilliant things that happen, it would mean that it also orchestrated the bad things. I prefer the idea that tragedies are random and that /no one/ can help them.”
The boy looked wryly amused, as though he knew something I didn’t.
“You don’t like the idea that maybe bad things happen for a reason?”
“Not really... It would almost spoil the good things that had arisen from them.”
“Interesting...” The boy looked to the water feature, his expression pensive.
“Do you prefer the idea that bad things happen for a reason?” I wondered.
“When I want to think positively, yeah. Sometimes I suppose I would rather it worked your way.”
I didn’t really know what to say in response to that so I looked at the water feature as well. I vaguely wished the boy would move away so that I could stop feeling awkward.
“...Jennifer,” he said hesitantly. I looked up, startled. How did he know my name? I didn’t have a chance to ask, though, because he was continuing. “Your sister... does she know what she’s doing?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said nervously, though a part of me thought he might be talking about her relationship with Joel. But why should a stranger come up to me and start talking about her and Joel? Then again, why would a complete stranger even know my name? I thought about Kylie’s visit to my house and found myself asking “Are you another of Joel’s relatives? I thought you’d had enough of trying to split them up.”
The boy looked at me.
“No, I’m not family.” His expression became serious. “But they should’ve listened. No one knows what’s going to happen and that’s something no one likes.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m sorry, Jennifer, but uncertainty is something we just can’t allow to continue.” Before I could react to such a strange and strangely threatening statement, he had taken my hand and slipped a ring over my index finger. He twisted it a little and despite myself I felt my shock, fear and confusion dissipating to be replaced by an unnatural tranquillity which told me to simply accept whatever the boy told me.
The boy sighed, looking as if doing what he had just done - whatever that had been - shamed him. He dug into the satchel he wore and pulled out a small notepad to which was attached a narrow pouch containing a pen. He handed this to me and said “I’d like you to write down the details of when and where your sister is next going to hang out with Joel - when you know, that is.”
I took the notepad and pocketed it.
“Okay,” I said simply.
The boy nodded slightly.
“I’ll also use it to contact you when I’d like to meet up with you. It’ll sort of vibrate in your pocket and when you open it there’ll be a message - kind of like a text. By the way, don’t let your sister or Joel - or actually anyone - see the notepad. They’ll get suspicious, and I can’t have that.”
“Also, don’t tell anyone you met me,” the boy added.
“I won’t,” I promised.
“You’re good for what to say if anyone asks what happened today?”
“I can just say I went for a walk and sat watching the water feature for a while,” I replied.
“And that won’t make anyone suspicious?” the boy checked.
I shook my head.
“I like that sort of thing.”
The boy looked wistful.
“Wish I could enjoy the simple pleasures in life like that.”
I said nothing: it didn’t seem like a response was required.
The boy laid a hand on mine and I looked into his face. His expression was apologetic.
“Listen, Jennifer, I’m sorry about this. I’m sorry you had to be involved. It won’t mean anything to you, but I still feel like it’s important to say. I don’t like the fact I’ve put the Ring of Subjugation on you; I don’t even like the fact that I’m interfering with your sister’s love life. But there are some things in the world that are bigger than a human’s happiness. It’s a hard truth, but I live by it, and ... not many other people understand it but that can’t be helped. So I’m going to try to carry out my mission with as few people as possible getting hurt, and then leave you alone. You shouldn’t have had to suffer this.”
He was right: what he was saying didn’t mean anything to me. The words sort of passed through my head and I searched for a request or a question but neither came up and so there was no point in my attention to it. I remembered the sentiments of his words after he had finished speaking but couldn’t process them. There was a block in my mind preventing me from thinking or feeling, other than in relation to the boy’s wishes.
“You’ll think clearly around everyone else,” he promised, as though reading my mind. He rose to his feet. “That’s my business here done,” he said to himself. “I’ll see you around, Jennifer. The name, by the way, is Kenny. Not that you’re interested.”
Kenny walked off without another glance at me. I watched him for a while, watched him stroll across the town square, hands in his pockets. Then I looked back at the water feature and felt my unnatural serenity being replaced by the calm contentment elicited from the water feature. I might as well not have met Kenny: it was like nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I glanced at my finger and saw that the ring had gone. Had I been dreaming, I wondered vaguely. But wait, I was a little dazed, I noticed, upon further analysis of my state of mind. And I felt a sort of neutrality towards Kenny that didn’t seem normal: it was hard to explain but it was like an indifference that was so strong that to contemplate him for a long time seemed pointless and like a waste of my time. I let myself stop thinking about him and watched the water feature until I felt ready to go home where when asked if I had had a nice walk I assented, where I barely thought about Kenny or the notepad in my pocket, where my behaviour was normal and didn’t arouse suspicion, even in my sister who knew me better than anyone else.