Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?--
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.--
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?--
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.--
The early morning mist still clung to the city, obscuring the world beyond a dozen paces and leaving Edward with the impression that he was entirely alone as he walked along aimlessly, thinking about the task that has been placed before him as well as the strange assigner of this task. But as he walked, those thoughts receded with the fog, and after a time they were replaced by his anticipation and curiosity about the ‘first woman he’ll encounter.’ By the time he'd come to a stop, those thoughts were replaced by a realization: He was lost.
“Where the hell am I?”
He looked around but did not recognize anything. He hadn’t really been paying attention to where he was walking, but he didn’t think he’d strayed that far from the Mall. Even the closest street sign offered no assistance. Shaking his head, and feeling thankful he hadn’t wandered out into to traffic without noticing it, he headed towards a coffee house on the other side of the street. He'd never heard of the place but assumed it would be a decent ‘mom-and-pop’ style operation. Judging from the number of early commuters starting to pile in, he figured it for a local favorite. Inside it was already crowded. The line went to the door. Edward looked at his watch: It was half past six.
‘Well, if it’s already packed this early, it must be pretty good,’ Edward thought to himself. It was fairly quiet given the crowd, as if heavy aroma of roasting java had an almost calming effect on the waiting patrons. Edward noticed one these, a small girl wearing large glasses with a page-boy hair cut that mostly hung over her face, trying to make her way from the register to the door, her hands full with what looked like her entire office’s coffee order. Her slouching posture made her appear even smaller and several other customers could be seen behind her. He expected them to appear impatient with this timid creature who appeared to be swimming against the current of the incoming morning crush but everyone seemed to be in the same boat; as if this was just a typical morning.
‘The line going out is as tough as the line going in!’ Edward thought humorously to himself. ‘This place must make a killing!’
As the line started moving forward, it came time for Edward to take a step forward just at this shy mouse of girl was passing him. As his eyes were towards the registers and hers were cast downward into the bundle she tentatively clung to, neither noticed as their feet hooked around one another just as each was stepping forward.
“Whoa!” Edward called out as he tripped and lunged forward, plowing into another patron and knocking her coffee to the floor.
“I’m so sorry!” the mousy girl called out as she ran towards the door. Miraculously, though she had stumbled, she managed not to drop a single item from her burgeoning bundle. The same could not be said of the patron who had saved Edward from a nasty fall.
“I’m so sorry,” he said calmly and sincerely as he finally looked up at the now coffee-less person who had caught him.
She was about his height, with a lithe figure and a closely-cropped, almost pixie-like hairstyle with a strand each of pink and green worked into the chocolate brown hue that comprised the rest. Her skin was a shade darker than Edwards, but not quite what one would call an olive complexion. Her eyes, though green, had a shape which revealed at least a partially Asian ancestry. Edward could tell from both her grip and the amount of his weight she was supporting that she was fairly athletic and strong for a woman of her size.
“It’s alright,” she said with a smile. “Great way to start the day, huh?”
“Yeah.” Edward smiled back. “Sorry about your coffee. Buy you a replacement?”
“Sure, I’ve got time. Taking the day off today, but I still can’t manage without my coffee!” She smiled.
By the time they had reached the register to place their order, Edward had learned three things about her: Her name was Epiphany Wolport; she worked in IS Tech Support, currently on a contract to one of the many lobby groups that D.C. was host to; and she not only had a fiercely independent streak, but was the type of person that made sure you found that out about her as soon as humanly possible. Edward found himself drawn to her almost immediately.
“You… uh… want to take a stroll? Find a nice quiet place to drink our coffee, hopefully not trip over anyone?”
“Are you hitting on me?” She asked, teasingly
“Oh, surely not!” Edward answered, badly feigning innocence and feeling like he was in middle school again, trying to summon up the courage to ask his crush to a movie.
“Eh, what the hell? Sure, why not? I’ve got the day off anyway and no plans anyway. What’s your story?”
Edward chuckled. “Called in sick.”
“Aaaaaah… One of the those days! The usual bullshit, or is there a story behind that?”
“Oh, there’s a story behind it! But maybe we should save that for after the ‘getting to know you stuff.’ It’s pretty… crazy.”
“Ooo! I can hardly wait!” She answered as the barista handed them their order.
“So… Shall we go find a nice place to sit and drink our coffee?” Edward smiled at her.
“Yes, let’s do that.” She nodded in reply.
They spent the rest of the morning walking around the city, and getting to know each other. Epiphany’s parents died in a plane crash when she was a little girl. Consequently, she was raised by her Grandmother, who juggled several jobs to keep food on the table. They never went hungry, but it was always a struggle and growing up it seemed as though something was always broken, or some other financial crisis was always testing them. Edward found this in sharp contrast to his own relatively easy middle-class upbringing. He wasn’t a ‘rich kid’ by any stretch, but neither could he remember a time when his own family’s finances ever felt stretched. And while both benefited from Virginia’s low, in-state tuition rates, she had still graduated with tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt while Edward had his education paid for in full. The biggest similarity in their backgrounds was that Edward had also lost his parents in an accident – to a drunk driver – but even so, it happened shortly after he graduated from college.
“Your grandmother sounds like an incredible woman.”
“She was something all right; my absolute hero, actually. No education, but worked round the clock to provide for me. She’s the one who taught me that no one was going to give me anything for free, and that whatever I wanted, I was going to have to work hard and fight for. She was old-fashioned... but she was old-school strong.”
“I’m sorry... She passed away?”
“What? Oh, no, I’m sorry! No, she’s still alive. But she’s been suffering from dementia for a few years now, so she’s in a home… Which sucks, but… I don’t have the medical training to care for her, or the resources to hire them.” Epiphany gave a nervous laugh. “Hey, I can barely fit myself into my crappy, one-bedroom apartment!”
“I don’t judge you.” Edward said reassuringly. “It must have been hard.”
“It was. Still is, in fact. And health care in this country is just so fucked up…”
“Yeah. She's a ward of the State, then?”
“Uh-huh. And they took pretty much everything to accomplish that. Not that she had much, but she bought a small house about twenty-some years ago for next to nothing that was worth quite a bit by the time she went in. That was lost just because we could never afford the lawyer to write up the trust properly. By the time I was out of school, she was in the home, and I had none to go back to.”
“Wow. That does suck.”
Epiphany sighed. “You know… It’s not even that I mind that they did it? But it really burns me that some people lose their homes, while others get around it with legal wrangling, assuming they can afford it. I mean… why not put something like that to a vote and just treat everyone equally? Either everyone has to risk having their assets seized in the case of something like that, or no one does and we’ll just all split the larger tax bill accordingly. I mean… it sucks either way, but why should some people just get to buy a ‘get out of jail free’ card? THAT’S what bugs me. The inequity of it.”
“Yeah. I understand completely.”
With their personal stories now revealed, they moved on to discussing politics, something it turned out they both shared a passion for. It turned out that they were both bloggers at one point, and while neither had ever been a regular reader of the other, they had at least heard of the other’s blog, and each had even read the other's at some point.
“I never subscribed, but I do remember ‘Feminist’s Rag’ when it started up. Loved the tough-talking, hard-love posts.”
“Yeah… Believe it or not, those got me in trouble with a lot of feminists!”
“Oh yeah. I’m pretty much banned from Jezebel, you know.”
Edward had to laugh at that. “No kidding. For what?”
“Blaming the victim.”
Edward shrugged, not following.
“Basically my philosophy is this: The first time a guy hits a woman, cheats on a woman, is controlling of woman, sexually assaults a woman… whatever... That’s his fault. He’s just a piece of shit, plain and simple. The second time? And every time after that? That this same guy does the same thing to the same woman? That’s her fault. She’s a dumb-ass. And I have no patience for that kind of stupidity.”
“That's a bit harsh, isn't it? Not that I condone that kind of behavior or anything, but seriously – there’s NO possibility that a relationship could still be worth saving?”
She eyed him sharply for a moment, then let her gaze soften a bit, sighing before she answered. “Yeah, OK, fine. Forgive him? Move on? Sure, I guess you could do that. But? From that moment on? You’re taking your chances. And I don’t want to hear about how you didn’t see it coming. There was precedent. How are we supposed to condemn that kinf of behavior if we then go on and tolerate it?”
“Makes sense to me.”
“Well… Some people get it, but some are SO concerned about blaming the victim, or not, that it’s like we’re not supposed to even be careful at all when we get into a relationship! Well, I was raised to take care of myself. Could I still be a victim? Yeah, absolutely. I might not like having to keep an eye out like that, but that doesn’t change the fact that I have to. There are a lot of pieces of shit out there, you know?”
“There certainly are,” Edward had to agree.
Before they knew it they had been walking around, talking politics (mostly ranting about how infuriatingly stupid they found most of the Right to be) for several hours and, after making their way away from the monuments, found a small Thai restaurant to duck into for lunch. It was rare that Edward felt so comfortable wearing his politics on his sleeve like this. He got the impression that Epiphany generally spoke her mind all the time – which he viewed as a positive – but he tended to be more diplomatic, especially around his co-workers, who, at best, leaned moderately to the Right, and more often leaned heavily.
“I hope you didn’t pick this place for my benefit.” She asked, in a tone that made Edward felt as though he had missed something.
“You know… ‘Cause I’m half-Thai? I’m sorry. Bad joke I guess.”
“Oh, I’m sorry! No… actually, I hadn’t really given that much of a thought. I mean I figured you had some Asian ancestry but… no, I just like Curry Noodles! So half-Thai and half…?”
“American… well, Welsh, actually before that. Welsh and Scotch-Irish, on my dad’s side. And Thai on my Mom’s.”
“So… your grandmother was Thai?”
“Yep. Immigrated with Mom when she was little. I never knew my Grandfather, he died when my mother was still very young.”
“Wow. So she raised both your mom and you as a single parent without an education and still managed to own a house all those years. She’s gaining more respect the more I hear about her!”
“Yeah. She was like a force of nature.”
Their food came and for the first time since their early morning run-in they sat in silence for a few minutes. Edward finally decided to break the silence by telling her about Luci, and the night before, but was careful to tell the story as if he really thought they were just putting him on. He didn’t like being deceptive about it, since he had felt so comfortable being so open with before, but it was an unbelievable story as it was, so he didn’t want her to think he was crazy. So he told her what Luci had said, but left out the various demonstrations she had given.
“Wow, what a nut-bag!” Epiphany responded to the strange tale.
“Yeah, well, that’s what I thought too, right? But…”
“What? Oh, come on! You’re not…?”
“No, but… there were a few things that happened that were kind of a mind-fuck, you know?”
“Well, she had me pull up this kind of a face-book kind of page? For this guy? And it turns out the guy was there at the bar. And it had this counter that she said would tell when the guy was going to die. And it did… to the very second. I mean the dude died right there at the bar when it hit zero.”
“OK, yeah, but that could have been staged.”
“Yeah, I wasn’t buying it at first either,” that was a lie, but in Edward’s defense he was halfway drunk at the time, “but the police and paramedics came in and everything. Pretty elaborate for a hoax, no?”
Epiphany’s smirk never lessened. “Elaborate, yeah, but not impossible. Maybe you’ll be on some whacky TV show or something.”
“There was something else…”
She sighed. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. She had me pull up my own page.”
“You’re on Facebook?”
He laughed. “No. Well, yes, but no: It wasn’t actually Facebook, it was just like it. Similar to it. Anyway, I looked at my own counter? And it said I have an hour to live.”
Another sigh. “And yet here you are. So…?”
“Well, check this out: I asked her why, and she said it was probably because I was planning to drive home from the train station after drinking so much.”
“You were drinking, huh? That might explain a few things.”
“Yeah, yeah, ha-ha. But seriously... She offered to call me a cab, and I did a little experiment: Without saying a word, I made a conscious decision to accept her offer and take the cab no matter what. After doing that, when I looked back at the timer? 30-some years. It changed when I decided to take a cab… in my mind.”
“It still could just be a bluff. Knowing that you’d most likely think that, having just been shown and told what you were. I mean… what are the chances that you would have gone the other way and though, 'No, fuck it, I’m driving'? Only to then see it change anyway? And, uh… why did you think of it like an experiment anyway? You always that cognizant when you’re out drinking?”
Edward chuckled. “I’m an engineer, babe. We never turn it off!”
She just rolled her eyes. “Well, if your experiment proves the existence of a magical lap-top, I think you need a better experiment.”
He considered telling her about the Tears, and his transformation, but figured she would just think he was putting her on. And if she suspected that he had a wallet full of fake ID’s and (therefore) stolen credit cards, she’d definitely bolt. So he kept quiet about that for now.
When the bill came Edward took it and threw his debit card down over it.
“Halfsies?” Epiphany offered.
“Oh, no. Don’t worry about it.”
“I’m afraid I’ll have to insist.” She answered.
“What? Why? Women’s equality or something?”
“And if it was?” she asked, raising an eyebrow, almost as if it were a challenge.
Edward laughed. “Look… I had a great time and I really enjoyed your company and I’m happy to treat you to lunch so we could keep talking. Seriously, it’s not like you owe me anything.”
But she seemed unconvinced.
“OK, look. If you’re that insistent on holding up your end or whatever, I’ll let you treat me to lunch tomorrow.”
Now it was her tuen to look confused. “Wait, what?”
“I said: I’ll let you buy me lunch tomorrow.”
“And who said we we’re meeting for lunch tomorrow?”
“Hey: You owe me a lunch!” Edward saind jokingly, pointing to the waitress who had just taken up the bill. “It’s too late now. For the sake of the equality of women everywhere, you are now compelled by your principles to have lunch with me tomorrow!” From his overly dramatic tone she knew he was kidding, but he did really want to see her again.
“You’re such a clown.” She laughed, shaking her head. “OK, fine. But I have to work. Can you meet me somewhere at twelve?”
“Just name the place.”
“Or… We could do dinner?”
“Tonight? Sorry, can’t. Have plans.”
“Meeting someone?” Edward swore she sounded the slightest bit disappointed.
“Yeah, but it’s probably not what you think. It’s the uh… what did you call her…? Nutbag? From last night.”
“No, I promise. She says she’s going to clear everything up tonight. Answer all my questions.”
“And you think she’s going to… WHAT, exactly?”
“I don’t know. Hey, I’m half expecting Bam Margera to jump out and tell me I’ve been 'Punk’d', but whatever. Until now I didn’t have any plans, so if it is some kind of prank, I figure I might as well play it out, no?” The lies were starting to pile up. Edward had to be careful not to go too far in his effort to not tell her too much.
“First of all, you’re thinking of Ashton Kutcher. Second of all that show’s been off the air for years. And third of all, if this is a prank it’s actually a pretty lame one; at least based on the reactions they’re getting from you. And besides… I mean… She could be… dangerous, you know?”
‘You have no idea,’ Edward thought to himself.
“Well, whatever. Have a good time. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Look, I’m telling you, it’s not like that.”
“Oh, I know. Believe me. I want to hear all about it!”
They spent a short time together after lunch, exchanging numbers, figuring out where they’d meet up the next day, and while she didn’t seem angry about the situation, Edward left feeling that it could have ended better.
And he had no doubt at all that he wanted to see her again.