Victor poofed into my house and onto my couch next to me.
"Great balls of fire!" I was channeling my inner Scarlet O'Hara again. "Why can't you just ring the doorbell like a normal person?"
"Because we aren't normal people. Besides, it's more fun to "poof in" as you call it."
I sighed. Victor was here and that meant I had a new assignment. Being the sorrow eater seriously sucked. The gig was forced on me by powers unknown. I didn't ask for this and I didn't like it.
The first time Victor poofed into my life I thought I had lost my mind. This somewhat emo looking guy with raven black hair and pale skin had suddenly appeared across my dining room table from me while I was having breakfast. He had snatched a piece of bacon from my plate and proceeded to tell me the powers that be had bestowed me with the "gift" of being the next sorrow eater. I had sat frozen in terror. I hadn't known what a sorrow eater was, but it did not sound pleasant. It was not a gift I wanted. Turns out it's not the kind of gift you can return.
I had tried everything to get rid of this so-called gift. I had begged, pleaded, cried, refused to cooperate and finally, I had offered to buy my way out. I'm rich, like obnoxiously rich thanks to old family money I had done nothing to deserve other than being my grandfather’s only surviving heir.
I'd bought my way out of jams before. Like that time I’d been pulled over driving exceedingly fast; so fast I should have had my license revoked, car impounded, and my butt hauled to jail. I'd been racing Michael Green because he said women couldn't drive. I had proven him wrong; then I'd bribed officer Bland to cut both Michael and I a break. I was younger and reckless then. I don't do stupid irresponsible things like that anymore, I’m thirty-three, not seventeen.
Unfortunately, the powers that be don't give a crap about money.
As much as I resent Victor’s sudden intrusion on my life and the unwanted news he brought, he is starting to grow on me. Victor is the one who makes the judgment calls about who deserves to be relieved of their sorrow. He can sense sorrow for miles; that probably explains his emo-ish manor. When he finds a worthy candidate, he presents them with the choice of having their sorrow taken away. Most readily accept, some do not. Some choose to keep their sorrow and pick at it like a scab, never letting it heal; maybe they think they deserve it.
Victor also servs as my guide. He coached me, taught me what I needed to know. He even poofed me to and from my assignments. The first time I got poofed, I nearly crapped my pants. Victor didn’t warn me, he simply grabbed my hand and quick as a wink we had poofed into the home of my first assignment.
My first assignment was Belinda Flores, and I will never forget her. Belinda’s four-year-old daughter Rosa had somehow managed to unlock the gate in front of their home and wander out into the street. The driver never had a chance at stopping in time, Rosa had popped out in front of him from behind a parked car. In the year since Rosa’s death, Belinda’s life had gone downhill. Her husband blamed her for not watching Rosa closely enough and he left her; she began drinking heavily, she lost her job. Belinda was on the brink when Victor went to her.
“Belinda, this is Grace; she’s going to help you.” Victor assured the haggard looking woman. She looked at me, her eyes were empty, almost lifeless.
“I won't forget her, will I? I want to remember my Rosa. I just can’t go on this way.”
“You will not forget her.” Victor promised.
Victor coached me through the process. I was amazed by the fact I could visualize this woman's sorrow. To me it looked like blue and black gnarled tentacles running between her brain and her heart. They were massively invasive. With my mind I carefully untangled the tentacles and pulled them out of Belinda. They writhed and wiggled angrily in my hands.
“Now what?” I asked Victor as I held the wriggling mass of sorrow.
“You have to take it into your own body.”
“Excuse me?” Victor had not forewarned me about this.
“Hello, your title is sorrow EATER, what did you think you were supposed to do with it?”
“I am NOT putting that in my mouth.” I had then clamped my lips together as tight as possible. Victor rolled his eyes.
“There are easier ways.” He pressed my hands with the mass of sorrow in them against my chest. The sorrow melted into me. I felt it take hold with violent crushing force; it coiled around my insides and squeezed. I screamed in agony and dropped to my knees. I heard Belinda say “Thank you” just before I blacked out.
When I came to, I was in my own bed. Victor had poofed me home and was seated on the edge of my bed pressing a cold cloth to my forehead. I groaned and pushed his hands away.
“Next time, I will show you how to block the sorrow from taking you over and it won't hurt so much.”
“WHAT did you just say?” With a sudden surge of energy, I’d sat up and scooted as far away from Victor as I could on my bed. “Are you telling me that was avoidable?” He nodded. “I’m going to kill you!” I lunged at him; he caught me by the wrists and looked me in the eyes. Victor’s eyes were black, devoid of any color.
“I’m sorry Grace, I truly am but, every sorrow eater needs to experience that at least once. It helps you to understand what you are doing for these people. It won't be like that next time, I promise. Do you understand now, how important you are?”
My adrenaline waned and I felt weak again. I began to cry like a baby in front of this emo freak who was probably half my age. I hate crying. Crying is weakness. Victor was still clutching my wrists. “Please let go, you’re hurting me.” He released me at once. He looked sincerely remorseful.
“I can help you recover more quickly, if you’ll let me.”
I eyed him suspiciously. “How?”
“I can give you some of my energy. It doesn’t hurt. I just have to um—hold you in my arms.”
“Are you freaking kidding me right now?” I was still trying to stop crying, my body felt like I had been hit by a truck and Victor wanted to...cuddle?
“Just trust me.” Victor laid down on my bed and opened his arms to me. I don’t know why but, I did trust him. I laid down with my back to him and let him wrap his arms around me. I fell asleep almost instantly.
I slept through the night and when I woke, Victor was still with me, one arm draped over my side. I carefully slid out from under his arm and went to freshen up. When I came back, Victor was still asleep. I tried to wake him, but he wouldn’t rouse. I checked his breathing, he was still alive, just out cold. I wondered if I had somehow taken too much of his energy. I felt great, no aftereffects from my ordeal. I went downstairs and made breakfast. The smell of bacon did the trick and Victor soon drifted down the stairs.
On my second assignment, Victor taught me how to block the sorrow from taking me over when I took it on. It was still uncomfortable and exhausting, but it was manageable.
We’ve been at this for a year now. Me yanking sorrow with surgical precision from those who accepted Victor’s offer of relief; him poofing me to and fro. Victor always insists on staying with me through my recovery. Sometimes it’s necessary but most times it’s not; still, he always stays. He stays so often I’ve considered charging him rent, but I don’t because, we are partners and in a strange way, I’ve come to find his presence comforting. We’ve settled into a routine. I eat some sorrow, he stays, we sleep in my bed together, fully clothed and if I need any energy to help in my recovery, he gives it to me. In the mornings I get up, shower and go downstairs to make our breakfast while he showers. It is a strange arrangement, but it works for us.
I worry constantly that Victor will poof in while I have company and scare the life out of someone. I’ve managed to hide him from my friends entirely until now.
It’s Saturday morning. Victor stayed unnecessarily again last night after my assignment. I woke up with his arms around me even though I hadn’t needed any help with my recovery. That is happening more and more lately, but I think we’ve simply both become accustomed to having someone near while we sleep. I slid out of his arms, took a shower, started the coffee and was about to start cooking breakfast when someone knocked on the door. It was my friend Sasha with a batch of homemade blueberry muffins. She shoved the plate into my hands and invited herself inside.
“Surprise! I hope you haven’t had breakfast yet.” She plopped down in a chair at the table. “Got coffee?” I nodded and poured a cup for each of us. “The girls and I have hardly seen you lately, so I am ambushing you with muffins and a demand that you go to dinner with us on Tuesday.”
“Sorry, I’ve just been busy. Dinner Tuesday sounds great. I’ll be there, I promise.” I was speaking unusually loudly in hopes Victor would hear that I had company and remain hidden upstairs.
No such luck. I was refilling Sasha’s coffee when Victor came bounding down the stairs clearly fresh out of the shower. His hair was wet, and he was just pulling his t-shirt over his head which gave both Sasha and I a glimpse of his chiseled abs. I froze like a deer in headlights. Victor paused at the bottom of the stairs for just a moment when he noticed Sasha sitting at the table.
“Ooops, I didn’t know we had company dear.” He walked into the kitchen, wrapped his arms around me from behind and gave me a squeeze. “Just go with it.” He whispered in my ear. I stayed frozen in place. Victor pried Sasha’s coffee cup from my hand and delivered it to her. “Good morning, I’m Victor. Oooo! Muffins!” He helped himself to one and came back to the kitchen to get his own coffee. He motioned for me to follow him to the table. Sasha was sitting in stunned silence with her jaw on the floor, figuratively speaking. I knew what she must be thinking, and I felt the heat crawl up my neck and burn my cheeks and ears.
“Victor, this is my good friend Sasha. Sasha this is Victor.” I shoved a huge bite of muffin in my mouth to avoid sticking my foot in it.
“Pleasure to meet you, Sasha. These muffins are delicious, did you make them?” He grabbed another.
“Nice to meet you too Victor and thank you, I did make them.” Sasha had recovered from her initial shock, but I was going to have some serious explaining to do.
“I wish I could stay and chat ladies, but I have an appointment. Walk me to the door love?” I told Sasha I’d be right back and followed Victor to the door where we could have a hushed conversation out of earshot of my stunned guest.
“What were you thinking?” I hissed at him.
“That this is a better explanation than the truth, sorrow eater.” He shrugged. “Smile, she can’t hear us, but she can still see us from there.” I tried to smile but my face wouldn’t cooperate. He laughed and then he leaned down and laid a kiss on me that curled my toes. He could have given me a peck on the cheek or even the lips but no, he went with the fully involved tongue probing my mouth, breath stealing kiss. He looked just as surprised as I felt when he let me go. “I’ll see you tonight sweetheart.” He said, loud enough for Sasha to hear as he walked out the door. At least he didn’t poof.
I walked back to the table and sat down across from Sasha, my face was flushed, lips swollen from Victor’s kiss.
“Sooooo, I guess you HAVE been busy.” Sasha laughed. “How long have you been hiding that one?”
“I um, it’s not what you think.”
“Oh, it obviously is. Good for you I say. Bring him to dinner Tuesday. There’s no reason to hide him from your friends. You'll get no judgement from us.”
Maybe my friends won’t judge me, but I was doing a pretty good job of judging myself when Victor poofed in next to me on the couch.
“We got an assignment?” I asked, mentally preparing myself to eat some sorrow.
“No. I thought we should probably talk.”
“We could just pretend that didn’t happen. Everything can go back to the way it was before this morning.” I held my breath.
“No Grace, we can’t.”
My heart fell. “So, what now? Do they send me a new guide? Do you get a new sorrow eater?” I tried to hide my disappointment but failed.
“Why would you think that?” Victor asked.
“You said we can’t go back.”
“We can’t go back because we’re going forward. I should thank your friend Sasha for showing up uninvited. Otherwise, I may have never gotten up the nerve to kiss you.”
“Why do you think I stay when you don’t really need me to?”
“You like my breakfasts?” Victor shook his head indicating that wasn’t it.
“We’ve been together for a long time now Grace. We share our work and I love watching you relieve people of their sorrow with such skill and compassion; I love being able to help you heal. We understand each other like no one else ever could. I’ve pretty much moved in with you, in case you haven’t noticed. We sleep in the same bed, night after night. We’re a couple in every sense of the word but one. Until today, I didn’t think you could possibly feel the same about me as I feel about you but now....”
Victor took my hand and poofed us into the bedroom where he held me like he always did except this time there was delightful toe-curling kissing. Being a sorrow eater might suck but it sucked a lot less with Victor by my side.