Nothing had changed in the thirty years that Sofia had been on the other side of the world. The weather in the Northern Hemisphere hovered between Autumn and Winter, and every time she inhaled, another layer of frost coated her throat and lungs.
She hadn’t changed either, Sofia thought, as she stopped in front of the wide glass window that gave a view into the restaurant. There were several definitive perks to being immortal- Sofia had spent the last decade looking like she was twenty-five, instead of her true age of eighty-years-old.
Sofia had allowed herself to look her true age several times over the past five decades, but the world had changed, and she needed to be young again.
The restaurant, Murphy and Sons, was only a few older than she was, and the street it was on looked the same as it always had. She wasn’t sure that it would ever change.
The person she was meeting sat in a corner booth at the very back of the restaurant, and she saw that he hadn’t changed either.
The restaurant was empty and dim, the only light coming from flickering candles that stood on each table and lined the bar.
Sofia had thought it would be difficult to see him- James- again after all this time. It had been almost thirty years since he had walked away from her in this very place. But it was as though she had been transported into the past, and felt the years fall away from her as she strode across the room towards him.
He glanced up when she slid into the seat opposite his and pushed the half-empty bottle of whiskey towards her. Sofia lifted the empty tumbler on her side of the table, filling three quarters of the glass.
James was silent, looking at his own empty glass, swilling the dregs around before swallowing it.
He had a heavy gold ring on his left ring finger. She bit her lip, inhaling sharply, trying not to let decades of pain flood through her body.
“How have you been?” James broke the silence first. He was looking up, but not really looking at her, avoiding her eyes. He had let himself age slightly, but looked only a few years older than Sofia did, when in reality he was almost ninety-years-old.
“I’ve been fine.” Sofia answered truthfully. She had been fine. She hadn’t been thinking about James. She had moved on.
“Why did you ask me to come here? After all this time?” Dispensing with the niceties would move the conversation along more quickly, which is what she needed. She didn’t think she could stand another moment sitting across from James, like they had done for almost fifty years, before it all disappeared again.
He sighed heavily, putting his glass down on the wooden table. He was gripping the glass, his knuckles white, and the sound of glass meeting the wooden table echoed around the small space.
“The world is ending,’ he looked at her then, unwillingly. The whites of his eyes were bloodshot, and it was clear that he hadn’t shaved in days.
‘And I think it’s our fault.”
“You’ll be helping me paint this living room when I’m eighty.” Sofia glanced over at James, who was covered in splashes of white paint.
“Wouldn’t that be nice.” His face was almost indulgent as he handed her the brush.
The memory was burned into Sofia’s mind. It was the one thing she had allowed herself to remember clearly, banishing all else from her mind.
But that one memory, of James helping her paint the walls of her apartment, was the one she held fiercely to her chest. It was the memory she had turned to most in the thirty years that she hadn’t seen him.
She had kept the apartment, even after leaving Ireland and going back to South Africa. Sofia wasn’t entirely sure what it would be like, walking back into the home she had shared with James.
It was only two streets away from the restaurant, which was why they had spent most of their time at the place. It was the only eatery that served edible food, and there hadn’t been any delivery services available thirty years ago.
“I thought it’d be dustier.” Sofia said, throwing open the front door and stepping into the hallway. It was perfectly clean, as though they had never left.
“Yeah,’ James took off his coat. ‘I kept my key, and I cleaned it up after I called you.”
“Oh.” She walked through each room, opening blinds and windows.
“Thank you.’ Nothing had changed in the place, except for the living room. The last room they had been working on before James left.
It had been half painted, and empty, the only furniture a ladder and futon. The fireplace hadn’t been functional, and they had relied on one erratic dangling light bulb.
‘You finished painting it.” She breathed the words, speaking softly, saying the words more to herself than to him.
He had finished painting the room, had furnished it, fixed the fireplace and had replaced the lights.
James shrugged. “It was the least I could do after I left.”
She turned to face him.
“Why won’t you look at me?’ her voice was hard, something that surprised her, when she had spent so much time trying to soften herself.
‘You called me. You asked me to come here. You haven’t looked at me at all yet!”
“Because it isn’t worth it,’ his voice was gruff, hoarse, and he shook his head before turning away from her. ‘I didn’t want to talk to you Sofia. I didn’t want to see you again.
But I didn’t have a choice. I just want this over as quickly as possible.”
She could feel every hope she might have had deflating swiftly. The ring on his left hand glinted in the glowing light of the room.
Her throat was suddenly dry, and Sofia swallowed several times before she could speak.
“So, speak. Tell me why the world is ending and what it has to do with me.”
“We both left our sides, left the war, to come here. To be together.’ James was speaking at the wall, his back still turned to her.
‘And we were the best. You were the best. You almost had us. Your side could have won.
But you left. And they were weak, but they wanted to win. And they had to resort to other methods.
They planted dirty bombs- bombs that were radioactive and infected with dying magic- all over the Earth.’ She heard when James swallowed. His voice was raspy, raspy in a way that Sofia was intimately familiar with.
‘But I left. To help. I couldn’t just let the war go on without me. And I thought we had gotten every bomb, I thought we had killed every one of your side.
But I didn’t. We didn’t. And some of the bombs have started going off all over the place. In Botswana, Greece, Canada.
And I don’t know how to make them stop. I don’t have that kind of magic. I need your help.”
“Why can’t you ask your side? The people you left me for?’ Sofia didn’t try hiding the bitterness, the malice, in her voice.
‘Why don’t you ask your wife? I’m sure she can take care of you.”
“I CAN’T!’ James’s face was red, and the words burst from in a roar that startled even Sofia.
“I can’t ask them,’ he spoke more quietly. ‘Because you are the only one, unfortunately, that can get through this with me. I can’t use any magic without you because I never went to the Fates to get the threads cut- the threads that sewed us together.
I can do rudimentary magic on my own. But I can’t do much more than that without you. I haven’t used any magic for thirty years.
Like I said, I didn’t have a choice.”
“Then just go to the Fates. I’ll come with you. We’ll request a severance. Atropos always did like you. I’m sure you can charm her.”
“There isn’t any time, Sofia. Please don’t fight me on this. I just want to get this done as quickly as possible and leave. I need to get back home.”
Sofia bit her bottom lip hard enough to draw blood, and let the metallic, salty fluid fill her mouth, before stepping away from James, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Fine.’ She said eventually. ‘But I don’t need your help on this.’ James actually looked at her then, his eyebrows raised quizzically.
‘I didn’t lose any magic. I can do magic without you. We aren’t bound by the same rules James. We never have been.
Just tell me the locations of the bombs and I’ll sort them out. It would be better for me to do this on my own- you’d just be a liability anyway.”
Had he flinched at her words, or was it only her imagination?
“You want to do this on your own?” He mumbled the words, and Sofia saw then how really tired he was. He must have been using some kind of spell to smooth out the lines of his face, but he let it slip in a moment of weakness.
“I don’t need you, and this is only going to turn into a fighting match. You and I have proven that we cannot be civil. And I don’t want to hurt you again.”
James did flinch then, taking a big step away.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” He said after a long, quiet moment.
“Text me the details. I’ll get started first thing tomorrow.”
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