"It may sound superstitious," said the first man, "but every year, in the exact same period, something terrible happens. I'm telling you, I have seen it far too many times to fall for it again".
His name was Mark and he was sitting in the far end of the white sofa, in a luminous cafe, filled with yellow warm light and low humming tones playing in the background, that would make the wooden walls vibrate with their low tone. Mark was a tall, lanky guy, with exceptionally large arms like a spider and a comely face and he was standing in full contrast to his friend Andrew who was rather puny in comparison.
He had taken the request to meet him, with a strong dreadfulness, one that wouldn't suit his usual convivial manners. Mark was a man of an unprecedented extraverted life, one that he would barely have time to return home if at all, and he would gladly spend every minute of his day in some bar or restaurant with the company of some of the many good friends he had, or together with his girlfriend Martha who had been seeing now for the last 6 months.
That was a characteristic he was rather born with and that would often cause trouble in his adolescent years when he would sneak out of the window just to convene with his pals, under the drowsy nose of his parents on the floor below. Or that would taper his options, cajoling him into a life of procrastination where he would always postpone the slightest task, finding a way to shun away from his responsibilities for a little bit of a walk-through into the light air, or a night expedition into the tracks of the bars and the niteries, or the spontaneous carouse with friends when he ought to reserve his energy for work.
Andrew who was his trusting companion since the early school years had always been the save-the-day man, the faithful friend that was dependable enough to get Mark out of the difficult situations when the need for it would come and the only man for which their affinity lasted through all the hardships of time. Yes, Andrew was his only true friend and the person he really depended on even though he would rarely find the courage to admit it openly.
"Are you really telling me that you are willing to ditch the opportunity for the most amazing weekend just for the assuming theory that something is wrong with that particular date?", said Andrew in wonder.
"If only it was merely an assumption," replied Mark, "It has happened way too many times to let it happen again. Every year, every time the fifth of May is around the corner, the worst things just happen. It's as if they are waiting for this particular period to discharge."
"You can’t possibly believe that. Do you?"
Mark scoffed and leaned forward as if sharing a secret. "Do you want me to remind you what happened the last time we neglected the rule? When we marched into your parent’s cottage last year?"
"That was barely an accident," objected Andrew who folded his hands in defense. "That could happen to anyone."
"It could," said Mark in a caustic calmness. "But it happened to us. Josh almost lost his hand in that accident. Lilly stayed in the hospital for almost a full month."
"Because that’s what happens when people collide their cars together driving drunk on a highway."
"Because that’s what happens when people violate their own rules", said Mark curtly. "Can’t you see that this pattern continues on year after year?"
Andrew darted his eyes downwards in indignation and Mark continued in an incensed tone.
"And the year before that? I almost lost my job for missing out the submission deadline for a day. For the first time only". "And the one before? My father got sick out of blue sky. Heart disease appeared out of nowhere without having any sign prior to it. Do you want me to continue on?" He asked.
"Mark, look. I know bad things have happened during this time. It’s natural to develop this sort of obsession. I understand. But what are you going to do? Lock yourself up for a week? Stay home on your own and live in fear of what is going to happen?"
"That pretty much sums it up."
"You can’t deal with the issue like that," exclaimed Andrew in a provocative manner. "That’s not the Mark, I know of. Not the way he is dealing with issues at least."
"Something I’m planning of changing"
"Plus," continued Andrew paying no attention to the comments, "if this is meant to be as you describe here, locking yourself up is not gonna change anything. It will probably sneak in and find you in some other way you do not expect. Right?". "You might as well pump it and live it out to the fullest as well. And if anything happens, at least you had some fun along the way".
Mark said nothing to the comment other than casting his standard 'give-up' grin. The sign that always meant, he had adamantly made up his mind and nothing was ever going to change it no matter what he was about to hear.
He slanted his head glancing up and conjured the image in his head withdrawn from the reality in front of him. He saw another one of the weekend escapes starting off with the usual four-people gang, visting the outdoors. A journey that commenced heavenly inside the rich meadows with the Azalea flowers and the purple lavender, only to end up into some disaster that was going to wake them up from the living dream, with a blow out of nowhere that was destined to demolish their little endeavor with a torpedo.
Maybe the car would fail and they would end up stuck in the place for days before getting it back together. Or one of them would have an accident and they would have to cut the trip short abandoning all hope for the little escape trip, they had crafted so carefully. Or worse yet, something even harsher, an inexplicable event that was bound to propagate the existing pattern even further in time and that was about to solidify his fate to experience something terrible every year into that period. No, that would be too much to handle, he thought crafting a smirk in his face after locking his mind into a decision and relived once again he sipped through his coffee.
"I never thought that I would live the day that I would see you, shying away from a trip for such a reason," exclaimed Andrew shaking his head. "I bet people do change with time after all."
"Maybe they do", said Mark.
"I, on the other hand, remain the same I've always been, and that's where you should get your example from," Andrew said teasingly. "But now that you landed that new job of being the creative designer behind one of the biggest firms, I guess it will help you gain some better perspective about stuff, isn't it?"
"Well about that," said Mark, morosely and dappled with the straw in his drink.
"I actually turned the offer down," he said in a remorseful way.
"You mean you turned down the job you were always dreaming to get and was always rambling about how great it would be if you had it? And all you have to say is that you just, turned it down?"
"I wish it was that easy," he said in a soft tone. "This job would require regular trips all over the country. I would have to abandon everything and embark on some crazy department in the edge of the world for days or weeks without having a real schedule for me."
"Wait a minute," said Andrew leaning forward. "I thought that was a good thing. You actually doted that idea."
"Maybe I did back some time ago". Mark adopted his sullen expression once again. "But now I realize that this is not what I need. At least not at the moment."
Andrew squinted his eyes as if penetrating into Mark's mind with an invisible laser and reading his thoughts. In the end, he scoffed and with a contemptuous expression he said,
"It's Alice isn't it?"
"Alice? No of course not," said Mark solemnly.
"She probably doesn't like you to skirt away every now and then and she inculcated the idea into your mind that it wouldn't be so good for you after all."
"Andrew, can you just not be an asshole for once? Please?"
"I'm afraid I can't guarantee you that, my friend," he exclaimed curtly. "but let me ask you this. Would she have done the same thing in your case, if this was her career we were talking about? Just think about that for a second"
Mark stirred the ice in his drink dawdling his response and letting the remark dry out on its own and allowed a good few seconds to pass before speaking up. "Well if I were you I wouldn't let any of this come up because she is about to come here and I doubt she would appreciate any of these comments," he said.
"But someone needs to tell you all this," said Andrew fiercely. "It's something you need to hear and as a good friend of yours I have the responsibility to bring it to your attention."
Mark stood in silence.
"In the last few months for example," Andrew continued, "how many times have you spend time with us and the guys, without her presence like we used to do back in the day? It's not really that many, are they. And I'm willing to bet she keeps much of her social life intact just like she used to be before she met you."
"Andrew it's not like that. I think you are blaming the wrong person."
"And then the way she carries herself around," continued Andrew.
"What's wrong with that?"
"She clothes herself with all these expensive outfits and the shimmering jewelry like she is a damn princess. She must be loading you with a hell of a debt to get all this. Not to mention her taste for expensive restaurants."
"Andrew everyone likes a good restaurant and a bunch of nice clothes. Alice is not a pioneer in this."
"Maybe not," said Andrew. "But I'm quite sure that people usually get out of this phase after a while of having it. But she seems to be quite rapt up with this extravagant way of living."
Mark scoffed and lowered his eyes to the side.
"And then there are times that you observe her ways around other people and how she treats certain individuals and one cannot help but think..."
"Think what?" Mark erupted.
"Think that she has this air of superiority. That she dangles in the borders of haughtiness and arrogance and that she has been deluded into the belief that she belongs in the high-class. Into a world full of disdain and vanity."
"Andrew I think you exaggerate the facts here. Alice may be a little bit careless or pompous at times but I doubt that she deserves to be called deluded in the way you describe. Or that she feels this way at all really. Maybe you just got off to the wrong foot that's all. I think that if you were to spend more time with her, like for example on that trip you mentioned, you would shape a much different opinion of her that you have now. Trust me, pal. I think you just got a bit off track with this one."
"Is that what you think?" asked Andrew. "You remember how she treated that waiter in that bar in Medisson square a few weeks back. Or how many times she has reproached people in public for not doing their job well?"
At that moment Mark gritted his teeth in terror and gestured to him to stop with a curt, sharp movement of the hand, as he turned his head towards the front door.
"She is here," he muttered and kept a radiant countenance smiling at the upcoming figure. "Just wait till you know her better," he said. "Then observe how fast your opinion is going to change."
Alice stood stoutly on top of the table with her thumb pressuring against the brown leather strap of her compact bag luring on her side, wearing a ruddy satin dress dappled with black blotches. She was a woman of fair appearance, big radiant smile, shadowed in its center with two curt dimbles, canceling her otherwise puffy cheeks and with ferret eyes that stood flared with vigor. Mixed up somewhere in her expression, there was a tone of haughtiness and scorn, that although many men would object to, they all find it to be rejuvenating and intriguing.
"Finally, I thought you would never come," exclaimed Mark relieved to see her. Andrew acknowledged her presence with a light nod keeping his fingers crossed on top of the table while Alice erupted almost immediately.
"Don't even talk about it. I had the most terrible day, today. First I was tortured by Kathryn who wouldn't stop talking about her new job and how much she hated it. Then I had to work overtime to cover for Ashley who suddenly decided she couldn't attend her job and then I also got a speeding ticket on my way here for passing the limit again. Will anything else happen to me today?" she asked in indignation.
"That's just terrible, honey," remarked Mark glancing over to Andrew who shaped an ineligible smirk on his face.
"I know. It's another one of those days again I guess". She darted her eyes back and forth between the two men and the drinks occupying the table. "What's up with you anyway? Let me guess. You have been sitting here drinking the whole day having another one of the stock discussions of yours?"
"The whole day? No, no, that would be an over exaggeration." chuckled Mark. "We barely closed an hour here. But as a matter of fact, we were discussing about the weekend and how nice it would be to pay a visit to Andrew's cottage. I actually tend to think this is not such a bad idea at all. What do you think?"
Andrew's countenance changed completely from a nonchalant smile to a quizzical astonishment as he stared over to Mark with a challenging expression. Mark dogged the implied question by keeping a firm, resolute attitude confirming what Andrew suspected already in his mind. Yes, his implications were intriguing enough to Mark to make him accept the dare and after their discussion a few minutes ago, he was willing to spice things up with this trip forgetting all about his initial opposition.
"A trip to the countryside? Hmm, that doesn't sound like a bad idea actually. As a matter of fact, I think it could be just what I need" said Alice and with a little sudden swirl that forced her dress to dance along with her, she took her seat next to Mark while raising her hand softly to get her order while her fingers curved blithely in the air.
When the four of them rode the azure, Cabrio car, in the snake-like, folded, mountain road, it was already sunset, with the passengers basking in the warm touch of the afternoon sun, caressing their skin, while a breathtaking landscape revealed in front of them. They had reached already the peak point of the uphill and the hollow landscape underneath them would unveil like a deficit, chewing over the richness of the environment and creating an emptiness in the otherwise blossom land. On top of them, there was a clear blue sky and a wooshing wind jostling their hair that dandled erratically like little children. And in the far end of the horizon where the abyss would meet the red reflection of the sun among the mountain tops, there was a blotch of ash grey cloud looming in the far end of the road, waiting, and smudging the cheerful landscape with its sorrowful tone.