Like the days before, she set out to follow the wind. Delilah needed all the help she could get with this so anything that helped her along was just fine. The wind was blowing crisply away from the shopping district so she followed it, enjoying the feel of its strength on her back as she let it push her along, an unseen hand.
She had been walking for almost fifteen minutes, smelling only the normal street smells, and feeling nothing extraordinary, when the hair on the back of her neck stood up. She reached up and brushed a hand across the nape of her neck quickly, hoping to shake whatever was giving her a wary feeling. But it didn't work - the hair continued to prickle beneath the hem of her woolen cap.
She turned in a circle, wondering what, if any, intuit significance this had. Maybe it was just something normal, she mused, like someone staring at the back of her head or a chill finding its way underneath her clothes and against her skin. But the minute she moved her hand it stood up again, a veritable forest of sensations demanding her attention.
She stopped and turned, completely unprepared for what she might find there. Madge had somehow missed this, amongst the many other things she said she’d fill her in on later; she had gotten no briefing on what this was supposed to mean. She needed an anatomy book to understand what was happening to her body, felt like a prepubescent girl standing in front of a mirror and wondering what all the changes were supposed to mean. She had already been there done that. It had been a hard enough time in her life to live before; she dreaded going through it again now, alone.
So she turned, still unsure if it was danger or delirium that she would find there, and was caught completely off guard at what turned out to be standing there.
"Don’t I know you?" Jensen asked with a quarter smile, really just a twist of his mouth, that reminded her of how truly good looking he was, not that she needed much of a reminder. Had her nose led her here, really?
"Hi," she answered. She had to turn into the wind to face him and was doing her best to keep her hair from reaching out to him in the wind. At the rate it was growing it would probably succeed if they stayed talking longer than just a few minutes.
It took just a moment before that flirtatiously distracting version of herself was able to take a breath and move forward. "You forgot me already. Haven’t you been waiting by the phone for me to call you?" she asked with an amusing light in her eyes.
"No. Gentleman that I was, I was waiting patiently for you to be cured."
"You didn't want to be forced to make-out with a petri dish of germs?"
"Is that what I get to look forward to?" he asked, his own eyes lighting up and giving her lips a look just a second longer than needed so that she felt the urge to cover them up, her cheeks starting to redden at his scrutiny. "I thought the point of foisting you off on Stephen was because you wanted me looking at you," he said, leaning in close, almost seductively so, to whisper in her ear, against the wind.
"Was it?" she asked, meeting his eyes, already so close to her own that she couldn't manage to look away even if she had wanted to. Leaning so close, she could smell sandalwood and dark chocolate. The back of her mind was trying to decipher it, reconcile those two things but they wouldn't fit. Which one was real and which one was just in her mind? Frankly she didn’t care – rolling together they smelled delicious.
"So," he said, interrupting the electrically charged moment with a shake of his head, bringing them both back down to reality, "what are you doing over here, out in this horrible wind with that cold of yours?"
"Um, I'm all cured," she said, appearing anything but as she hugged herself tightly, trying desperately to stop her hands from getting away from her. They seemed to want nothing more than to reach out to him and pull him back, close enough for her to embrace and breathe in his scent again. Maybe she couldn't understand what it was supposed to mean but she understood that it was intoxicating, making her woozy standing so close to him.
"Are you?" he asked. "Well then I changed my mind. No more gentlemen from me. I think I might want my number back if you’re not going to use it."
She looked at him sheepishly. "Maybe I lost it," she said, all evasiveness, trying to appear both coy and ashamed at the same time in an attempt to steer him away from the truth.
"Maybe you should learn to keep better track of your things."
"Well maybe if you give it to me again I'll remember where I put it." Her hand made a break for it and reached out to rest softly against the rough suede of his jacket.
"Maybe you'll learn that sometimes you have to work for things you want."
She huffed and snatched her hand back. "Who says I want it?"
He just laughed, stepping a little away from her and under the eaves of the building. The wind howled towards them at that moment, a huge gusty sweeping of leaves that threatened to overturn them both. He was quick, like a panther, and grabbed her arm, pulling her under the eaves as well and out of the way of the debris rollicking along the street.
His hand was warm, strong, and his smell, of sandalwood and dark chocolate assaulted her again. She stared into his eyes and was reminded of the way his voiced had tripped across every one of her nerves last week, the way his fingertips had lightly caressed her back and the things she'd wanted to do to him because of it. She licked her lips and it was almost as if she could taste his heartbeat speeding up on the air. She was suddenly finding it hard to breathe again.
He must have been feeling something too since he didn't let her go immediately, his breath unsteady as their eyes met, as the wind howled around them, as she felt him move just ever so slightly closer to her, bending against the wind and into her.
A horn honked, kids in a passing car whistling and laughing, and it cracked the moment open wide. They stepped away quickly and his half-cocked smile was back in place. "You know Stephen warned me to be careful of you," he commented as they both watched the car speed away.
She turned back to him, part surprised, part intrigued. "Really? And what did he say?"
"That you break hearts faster than I could mend them," he said, looking at her a bit pensively as if trying to decide if it should be believed.
"That's a gross over exaggeration," she murmured. "I always give plenty of time for mending."
He shook his head and laughed a bit self-deprecatingly, shaking his finger at her. "I'm not sure what to make of you, miss,” he replied after a pregnant pause.
"If you're lucky maybe you'll find out," she said, backing away from him and the smell that was serving to slowly drive her insane.
He raised his hand in farewell as they both kept on backing away, two warriors calling a truce, neither one wanting to turn their back on the other. By the time she rounded the corner, Delilah was no longer letting her nose do the leading. She knew exactly where she wanted to go but needed to create a wide arc around the downtown district so as not to run back into the Pouty Practitioner that she just couldn't seem to keep her hands off of. If she'd indulged in letting her body do everything it wanted to do the kids in that car definitely would have had something to honk at.
It took her a half an hour before she reached Madge and her orange shop, her cheeks full of color from all of the activity. Anyone looking at her now never would have recognized her as that same sickly girl from a week ago, worn out from the buzzing and sneezing and symptoms she just couldn't shake. Magical Wasabi, it turned out, was not only cleansing but one of the best energy supplements not on the market. It gave her a jolt of oomph that it was hard to come down off of. She didn't know whether she could, but she desperately hoped that she wasn’t about to become addicted to a Chinese root – it sounded positively flower power flighty – but her body was starting to crave it just as much as Jensen's touch it seemed.
Delilah pushed the door open, feeling the clang of the bell in every cell in her body. It caught her off guard and she froze for a moment in mid-stride through it, closing her eyes to try to catch her breath and steady her soul.
"Hey there! Do what do I owe this pleasure?" Madge called across the shop. Delilah opened her eyes to find the place almost empty, just Madge and a broad shouldered man standing at the counter, looking every inch a straight-laced marine and seeming drastically out of place in such an unzipped store as Colin All Alternatives was.
"I . . ." she began, her eyes shifting restlessly to the brooding man with the buzz cut, leaning against the counter but still seeming to have perfect posture until she wondered if he required a ruler to get that way.
"Oh, Delilah! You haven't met yet, silly me. This is my cousin Brody. He works over at the Lift It! gym over on Cypress."
"Personal trainer by necessity, bounty hunter by desire. Nice to meet you," he said, coming across the store to shake her hand (and present himself for inspection it almost seemed). Even through his clothes she could tell that he was ripped, a very fine male specimen, from his broad shoulders all the way down his tapered waist and muscular legs. His eyes, while not the vibrant shade of an Intuit, held something different in their dusky brown depths, some small sparkle of the gypsy that bound him and Madge together. His lips stayed pursed together in a straight line, not much of a talker it seemed.
"Oh, well, nice to meet you," she said, finally able to move. She caught another whiff of dark chocolate as he escorted her over to the counter. So the sandalwood had been all Jensen, she thought with a tiny smile.
"What’s up?" Madge inquired again as she wiped down the display case in front of her. Delilah cast her eyes at Brody and looked away quickly. Madge spoke up before she had even finished the sweep.
"Brody, why don't you go and remind the kids of that reward of the pet shop now. I think that they've spent enough time pretending to clean their rooms."
"Sure cuz," he said. "Pleasure to meet you." He turned and gave a stiff little bow to Delilah, clicking his heels together as he did so, before bounding up the stairs three at a time, a commanding voice preceding his long stride.
"So, what's so bad you can't say it in front of Brody?" Madge started, setting down the window cleaner and cutting right to the chase.
"How did you know that I didn't want to talk in front of him?"
"Your eyes. Plus you're just exuding discomfort so quickly it had to have been seeping out of your pores. And hello, it’s my business to know what the people around me want so give me a little credit, huh. What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong," she said, running her finger along a groove in the counter and avoiding her eyes, "it's just . . . okay, there's this guy -"
"I knew it!" Madge whooped, clapping her hands in mid-air. "Hooo, I knew it."
“It's nothing to be so broken up about," Delilah mocked, giving her an amused eye-roll. “I’m just getting these weird feelings when I’m around him.”
“What kind of weird feelings? You’re getting a lot of those now you know.”
“I know,” she murmured, crossing behind the counter and dropping down into an easy chair hidden in the corner and out of sight of customers. “But, I . . . okay, maybe it’s nothing but the first time I saw him was right after I saw you the first time and when I was with him I just . . .”
“Just what?” Madge laughed at her inability to articulate.
"It's just that I feel Everything."
"Everything. Intimately. Everywhere. I feel his smell, I feel his eyes, I think I might even be able to feel his heartbeat and it's freaking me out. Oh and what emotion smells like dark chocolate?"
Madge just smiled, chuckling a bit to herself. "What?" Delilah asked in exasperation, just resisting the urge to slam something to show how serious she was being.
"Honey, you're just horny," Madge said simply.
"I . . . that . . . come on," she replied in disbelief.
"Your senses are heightened now, you know that. Dark chocolate is attraction, lust. You must just spark when you're together."
“Spark?" she asked quizzically, "Is that a good thing?"
Madge laughed out loud and patted her knee in comfort. "That’s a Very good thing."
"Oh stop it," Delilah said, waving her hand in the air to try and wave her attitude away as she stood. "I'm serious. I don't know what to do. I can't control myself when I'm around him. I can't control myself ever anymore it seems. I don't want this any longer. I don’t like being an Intuit and I just want it to go away."
"Tsk, tsk, you don't mean that," Madge said with a slight narrowing of her eyes. "And you should be careful what you wish for. You know that was almost the truth, right?"
"What do you mean?" she asked, sinking back down into the chair at the serious look on Madge's face.
"Remember when you came in here that first night and I told you that you were close to the deadline. I meant it, literally. If an intuit doesn't put on the necklace before their 25th year is over, it's gone. I thought, well we all thought that you had decided that you didn't want any part of this stuff which is why we'd never heard from you. If you had unpacked those boxes one day later you wouldn't be able to do any of it. You're very lucky."
"I don't feel lucky," she murmured, dropping her forehead into her hands.
"Yes, well, it's because you don't like to be unsure. You're new at this and it kills you to not be perfect at something."
"How do you know that?" Delilah asked, wondering if people's pores really did leak their secrets out all day long.
“Because you're so much like your mother," she mused with a forlorn little smile.
“Tell me about her," Delilah asked, drawing her legs up off of the floor and under her chin. It was the question that had been on the tip of her tongue for the last week.
"Oh,” Madge began, "your mother was a firecracker. She had a personality that would just light up any room. She was always getting us into wild schemes and pushing us to do crazy things. We went cliff-diving once near Gilded Hill, that almost killed us. And she used to have this hugely infectious laughter that just, well, you couldn't not smile when Genevieve was around.
"She got it into her head one summer that we could find the Sacred Dais, supposedly the birthplace of the Intuit and the keeper of all our secrets, and had us searching from hell and back looking for it. That was an interesting time I'll tell you that." Madge shook her head. "And when it was over, that's when she came back with you."
"What was my father like?" Delilah asked before she even realized that she had wanted to know. Her mother had never talked about him. Whenever Delilah asked about him her mother would just tell her the story of a girl being left in a cabbage patch, even when she was well into puberty and had been schooled in the ways of the birds and the bees.
Madge looked sad. "I don't know honey. I asked of course, we all did, but she always said that it was her business and everyone else didn't need anyone to know. She said it didn't matter anyway because she'd gotten what she wanted and she wanted nothing else but you."
Delilah sighed. She had no father. She had known nothing real about her mother. It felt like her life really had been a lie, a house of cards that was going to come tumbling down around her, just a bunch of trick mirrors throwing her off balance. What was the truth? Would she ever know?
"Your mother's letter didn't clear any of this stuff up?" Madge asked from the main floor of the store as she rearranged items and restacked books in the proper order.
"I didn't open it yet," she confessed with a sigh, wiggling her toes in her shoes and trying to be preoccupied with them.
"Why ever not?" Madge asked, looking startled but only for a moment. "Ahh," she said with a knowing look, "still scared of change and full of indecision."
"Is there any way I can block my emotions from you?" Delilah asked a bit crossly, wishing there was some part of her that wasn't an open book that everyone around her could delight in reading, something that was only hers to know.
'Well you can't tell what I'm feeling can you?" was her evasive response.
"That's not an answer," she said, "because I couldn't tell the difference anyway. But is -”
Whatever else Delilah was going to ask was cut off by a stampede of people barreling in from the back room.
“Soldiers,” Brody yelled in an authoritative voice, “ten hut!” The children snapped into a straight line in front of their mother, grins on their faces.
“Ahh, so we’re being presented for inspection are we?” Madge asked with a grin. “Well, let’s see. Have our rooms been cleaned.”
“Even under your beds and the toy box in your closet?”
“And you didn’t leave anymore surprises for Daddy in his office did you?”
The children giggled at the memory but replied again. “Yes Mommy!"
“Okay,” she said, turning the sign on the door from opened to closed in a flourish, “then let’s go get that ferret.”
“Ferret?” Delilah asked out of the corner of her mouth as the kids were corralled towards the door.
“Yes, well, ferrets are pretty susceptible to Intuit eye tricks so I figure if the kids won’t listen to me at least I can have one thing in the house that will.”