felt a little like I’d been slapped and looked down at the thin photo book and my tiny bundle of clothes, most of what I owned. “Yes,” I agreed, “they do.”
“It’s all about Original Sin and free will . There’s a dark side to humanity, but they can choose to live above it. If Eryx were in control, he wouldn’t care how a person lived their life – they’d be doomed to Hell from birth. No one would try, and the world would self-destruct.”
She was so passionate and righteous and completely sure of what she was saying, I admired her enormously, even though I didn’t agree. I raised my head. “Maybe everyone has a dark side, but I don’t think they rise above it to escape Hell. Some people are compassionate and selfless because they love others, and it has nothing to do with some spiritual race for Heaven.” Her frustration with me was clear, but I needed to say this. “Even if they know Hell is waiting, they’ll love others just the same, and when they get to Hell, they’ll still love others. Maybe they’ll make Hell obsolete. Maybe that would be the silver lining if Eryx were to win his war.”
She gave up trying not to cry. With fat tears spilling over, she said in a surprisingly strong voice, “Who are you talking about, Mariah? Who are these selfless people? Because everyone I know, even the kindest, warmest , most generous people, have their moments of rage and vengeance and jealousy.” Turning away, she said to the silk draperies covering the window, “You believe what you believe because you see the world through the filter of who you are. You think others are like you, but they’re not.”
“I’m human. I have a dark side. And there’s a chance I’ll be heading south on the day I die, but that doesn’t make me want to give up on humanity.”
Viorica swiped at her tears and said softly, “I love you, Mariah. I will never be angry with you, never doubt you, never let anything bad happen to you. Do you believe me?”
I stood and went to her and pulled her close. “I’m the big sister, remember?”
She squeezed me tight around the waist and mumbled into my shoulder, “Let me be that for you, just for a while.”
I petted her hair and said, “Only if you stop crying. You’re getting snot all over my best work blouse.”
She leaned back and smiled at me . “I’ll see you tonight.” Then she stepped away and disappeared.
Mathilda reached for my bundle I’d left on the bed and undid the belt holding it together. “I hope ye brought more unmentionables, Miss Mariah. Ah, I see ye did. Gracious, child, these have holes.”
I almost made a joke about Holy Panties, but decided not to when I realized Mathilda was also crying.
There was some subtext here that I couldn’t read and didn’t understand. I was just going to have to pay closer attention.
~~ Phoenix ~~
I needed to think. My mind worked better when my hands were occupied, but going home to the shop to work on a bike wasn’t an option. I popped to Harrods in London, bought clothes and a leather bag, mostly for appearances, then checked into a Mayfair suite at Claridge’s. After an enormous room service meal of everything English that I liked and missed, I showered, then sat in long boxers at the desk by the window and started a list of the things Mariah needed to fix her life.
Money was at the top. She’d no doubt argue and say she couldn’t take our money, but she would. Eventually. Second on the list was a decent place to live. I wrote Bucharest with a question mark. Maybe she’d like to live somewhere else for school. Maybe London. I’d buy her a townhouse and hire household help to cook and clean and drive her to school. Next on the list was learn English .
Then, clothes . Sasha could take her shopping and buy what she needed for school. Maybe some party clothes. I wondered if she ever went to parties. Unlikely. She probably didn’t know people who had parties, and had no time for them even if she