I recognized him on sight. Not that I’d ever seen him before. I knew him in a past-life sort of way, like we’d been in some great battle together, or had died of the plague in neighboring beds. Or maybe we’d been married, had lived on our farm with our eight kids and I’d made fresh bread over a fire every morning while he milked the cows. Either way, I knew him, and could tell by his double-take that he felt it, too.
Even when he came up to me, weaving through the horde of holiday shoppers fighting for gourmet provisions, I knew what he was going to say before he opened his mouth. Knew his eyes would have that little crinkle around them, that he’d rest most of his weight on his left leg, that he’d manage to tilt his head down to look up at me despite the fact that he was nearly a foot taller than me.
“You look so familiar,” he said. “Like someone I used to know.”
I nodded, holding back a smile. He was attractive, no doubt. Alluringly tall and lanky, strong-jawed and thick-haired, with soft brown eyes to take the edge off. But that’s a risky bond, that past-life connection. It can mean the return of a trusted ally, an old familiar to help you get through the next stretch of this life. It can also mean karma has come back around, and somebody owes someone something.
Usually karma feels like fireworks, like irresistible heat and magnetism, like you’re going to do this, whether it’s good for you or not. I hadn’t developed a reliable test for this connection yet, but I was working on it.
“Not this life. Maybe the middle ages,” I said.
He laughed, deep and coarse, and I felt the resonance of his bass in my abdomen. “Really? I was thinking Renaissance.”
A small spark flared, and I backed up a step, but it was too late.
“Silas,” he said.
It was all hard uphill climbs and cresting to beautiful views after that. He had a girlfriend to get rid of, and I needed to get out of my mother’s house before he found out I lived there. I crashed with my sister for two nights, an old college friend for a week, then lucked into a sub-let of a professor on sabbatical in Europe. I had to water his vast expanse of flowers and shrubs, care for his decrepit old cat, including administering daily meds, but the place was fully furnished, with spectacular bay views, and rent was cheap. What were a few cat bites compared to such bounty?
The first time Silas came over he took the place in with slow skepticism, lingered before the Golden Gate Bridge framed in the dining room window, then settled into the hard wing chair of red silk and gold brocade.
“Nice place,” he said. “Whose is it?”
He gestured toward the Tiffany lamps, the worn Persian rugs, the landscape paintings of Italian villages. The cat slinked by, leering at me with distrust. I bent down and wiggled my fingers at him, making sweet kissing noises. He bolted.
I sat across from Silas and watched his hands, his most familiar feature. They were broad and strong, but delicate, meaty little butterflies that didn’t know where to land.
“Doesn’t suit you,” he said, narrowing his eyes at the furnishings. I laughed, because it was only our third meeting, so how could he know what suited me? But of course, he knew, just as I knew the scruff of beard on his chin was from laziness or morning lateness and not because he fancied himself a disheveled kind of handsome. Silas had always been clean-shaven. That much my soul remembered.
When I next saw Jake, the blonde, hunky psychic who’d handed me the description of karmic relationships, I asked for a refresher. He warned me that the trouble with karmic romances is that you usually can’t see the karma until afterward, when you’re looking back on the dead relationship and asking yourself: “What was I thinking?” Once you’re out clean, the karma’s paid off, and you’re free to move on.
“So, if you can’t spot the karma until you’re looking in your rear-view mirror, what about spotting non-karmic connections? How do they feel?”
“Like coming home. Calm, soothing. Like you look at him and say, ‘Oh, there you are. I’ve been waiting for you.’” Jake leaned back, oozing his GQ charm, and gestured between us, as if we had any such connection.
“That doesn’t mean there’s no attraction, or no spark,” he explained. “It’s just not all flash and fire.” He tilted his head, waited me out. Jake was unnaturally beautiful, ageless, blue-eyed and bronze-skinned, and a perfect example of what I wasn’t looking for. I was mildly in love with him, but it was all flash and fire.
I tried to keep my head in the game on dates with Silas, to live in the moment, as Jake had advised me, to let our relationship unfold naturally and not worry so much. But worrying came easier than making small talk, so mostly I studied Silas for signs of the apocalypse while he did the talking.
On a rainy day we met at a charming Italian café, shared tiramisu and sipped rich coffee and people-watched. Silas wore a charcoal sweater that held beads of water like glittering jewels. He was broad and handsome and drew the attention of more than one other woman in the café. He smelled like spice and musk and Downy fabric softener. He smelled like home.
“Tell me more about yourself,” I said.
Silas sipped his coffee and watched the rain against the window. He turned to me, raised his eyebrows. “I hate cats.”
“Me, too.” I held up my left hand, to show the recent punctures from forcing pills into the jagged jaws of Professor White’s little demon.
“And I have a son.”
A beam of headlights cut through the gloom outside, illuminated Silas’ head, passed across my eyes, temporarily blinding me.
“I didn’t see that coming. What’s his name?”
“Caden. He’s two.”
“The apple of your eye?”
“He lives in Seattle with his mom. I don’t see him much.” Silas cupped his mug, dropped his eyes. “I need to see him more.”
The weight of his silence made breathing difficult. His sadness filled the space between us. I rested my hand on his forearm, felt his tears spring to my eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Why are you crying?”
I shook my head, pulled my hand back. Silas caught it before it snaked across the table. He brought it to his smooth cheek, kissed my palm, and held on tight.
“Do you believe in karma?” I asked.
“I believe in living life and not worrying about all the what-ifs.”
“Right. Me, too.” I laughed, wanting, willing, it to be true.