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Katie had never been to a fortune teller before, but she knew what to expect. Too much black eyeliner on a hard, wrinkled face; lots of cheap jewelery; an abrupt, seen-it-all-before manner; and a hand upturned for cash. Oh yes, and one other thing. Fortune tellers were definitely women.
A soft voice behind her said: "Katie? You wanted your palm read?"
She turned round to see a young man in his late twenties with calm dark eyes and long black hair pulled back into a ponytail. Like all the other barmen, he was dressed in black.
"Yes, that's me," she said, slipping down off the bar stool. She met Michael's eyes, and he smiled at her encouragingly as she followed the barman over to the quietest corner of the bar, behind a couple of pillars. Her heart was pounding. She had never had her fortune read before. And she had particular reasons, tonight, for wanting it to turn out wonderfully.
The young man led her over to a small table and indicated a chair. She sat down, and he did the same, facing her at the table. It was only then she realized that this unflamboyant, quiet young man was actually the psychic with whom, on a wild impulse, she had booked a session.
Taken aback as she was, Katie was determined not to lose face. She had only been in New York for a couple of weeks, but she had learned almost immediately that New Yorkers prided themselves on their ability not to show surprise at anything. She wasn't going to come across as some dozy British chick, too traditional to imagine that a man could tell fortunes too. Actually, she should have expected that a psychic in this particular bar wouldn't fit the usual stereotype. Earlier, she and Michael had seen a very fat man go into the women's toilets and emerge, half an hour later, in a flouncy dress and blond wig. He was over at the bar now, handing out bingo cards and announcing himself in a loud campy voice as the "Bingo Bitch." The weirdest thing was that she could have sworn he went into the loos a black man and came out white at least his hands and face, which were all the dress revealed.
Katie focused on the young man. His face was smooth and round, his serene dark eyes the only feature that caught attention. That, and his air of tranquillity. She found herself relaxing, and warned herself to be on her guard. These people always elicited as much personal information from you as they could, to help them along. You were supposed to stay quiet, not to react too much, giving them as little help as possible.
"My name's Armando," the young man said. "And I know you're Katie. So, what are you here for? A general reading?"
Not knowing what the other alternatives were, Katie nodded. The table was covered in a black cloth. A pack of cards was placed on the far side, close to Armando, but that was all the paraphernalia she could see. No crystal ball, no incense, nothing. Perversely, she found herself being rather disappointed.
Armando reached for the cards and slid the pack across the table to her.
"Cut them three times with your left hand and put them back together however you want," he said.
Katie obeyed. Her hand shook with nerves as she stacked the cards back on top of each other. Behind her she could hear the Bingo Bitch hoisting himself onto the stool he had placed in a small cleared area of the bar, and saying into the microphone: "All right, boys and boys and of course our fag hag friends bingo time is here again! Let's hear it for me, the Bingo Bitch!"
Armando took the pack again and dealt several cards off the top, laying them out on the table in a pattern. Two in the center, on top of each other at ninety degrees a cross four surrounding the cross and then a vertical line of three to each side.
"Wow," he said, pointing to the cross. "The Lovers, with the Tower on top. Not only love, but great sex too! The Tower is very explosive. It can mean premature ejaculation in other contexts, but in this one I'd say it was very positive. Right?"
Katie couldn't help grinning smugly.
"And the Two of Cups on top. Everything is going really well for you. As if we didn't know that already!" He slid his finger to point out a card below the cross. "The World. Travel. This is your job it's connected with traveling. Either that, or you travel a lot for work. Then there's the Sun. You are very happy right now. No surprises there! Hmn..." He indicated the card above the Sun. "This is your friends, your home, your environment...the High Priestess. Some kind of secret there. Maybe you know it already?"
Katie shook her head.
"A secret to be revealed, then. And above this, the King of Wands. The only man in the spread. He's charming...maybe a little unfocused. Look. He's sitting on the throne, holding his staff, as if he's ready to stand up. And do you see the little lizard at his feet? He doesn't even notice it. He's looking away from it, onto the next thing."
That was Michael all over, Katie thought. Always keen to have the next experience, always wanting to try new things, new bars to go to, new people to meet. She loved that about him. It felt as if life with Michael would never get stale.
"From the position," Armando continued, smiling at her, "I'm assuming this must be the boyfriend."
Katie couldn't repress a surge of excitement at the word "boyfriend." She and Michael had only met a week before, and though they'd been inseparable ever since, it was much too early for words like that to be introduced. It was the first time someone had said "boyfriend" in relation to Michael. She felt as warm as if she'd just drunk a double shot of bourbon.
"But these are a little more confusing." Armando touched the two cards on either side of the cross. "Past and future. Hmn." He reached for his glass of water and took a sip. "The Queen of Pentacles in the past. A brunette, well-groomed, very elegant. And then in the future, the Queen of Swords. An angry woman, dark too is that you, I wonder...?" He glanced at Katie's dark hair. "And then below this, the Wheel of Fortune. Reversed. Which suggests a circularity, obviously, looping round. Do you have sisters, perhaps?"
"No," Katie said.
"Cousins? Friends, even? It's quite a strong pattern I thought it might be, what's the word, familial? Because there's a resemblance between the Queen of Swords and the Queen of Pentacles..."
"Not really," Katie said. "Well, my mum."
"Is she often angry?"
"She can be."
And she wouldn't like me getting off with some strange bloke I met in a bar in New York, Katie thought, let alone moving into his hotel room the night afterward. Plus she's elegant and well-groomed...She pulled a face.
"I think I know who that might be," she admitted.
Armando still looked a little puzzled.
"Past and future," he said. "These dark women...the resemblance...I really thought you had sisters. Ah well." He smiled at her. "Do you have any questions?"
Katie blushed. "Will it " she started. He was a tarot reader, she reminded herself, he must be asked this sort of thing all the time. "This love affair you're seeing will it last?"
Armando studied the cards again. "I would have to do a much bigger spread for that," he said. "Right now all I can tell you is that you are both equally in love. The central cards, the pairing of the Lovers and the Tower...it's completely mutual."
Mutual, Katie thought, the warmth still flooding through her. She'd never known a man who loved intimacy as much as Michael did, who didn't pull away for space after they'd have sex. Michael had happily hung out with her practically all day and night since they'd met. And he was so interested in her; he'd asked her a million questions about herself. It wasn't just a holiday thing. She'd known that after a couple of days, when she'd been waiting for him to get that twitchy, strained look men get when they're desperate to get away from the closeness they have with you, even just for a while. But Michael hadn't withdrawn. He hadn't kissed her goodbye the morning after they'd had sex for the first time, saying he'd phone her. Instead he'd reached for the phone to order room-service breakfast, and then they'd had sex again. Katie's face cracked into a huge smile.
Katie paid Armando twenty dollars and practically danced back to the bar. She wanted to cover Michael with kisses, hang herself around him as if she were a cloak round his shoulders. Catching sight of herself in the bar mirror, she knew she had never looked better; she was positively glowing with happiness, cheeks flushed, eyes bright. If she remembered an article she had read in a magazine on the plane coming over, about the symptoms of love being very similar to a drug high over-stimulation, poor control of emotions, and of course, addiction she banished it from her mind immediately.
"Hey!" she said, wrapping her arms around Michael's wide back and planting a kiss between his shoulder blades, the highest she could reach.
"How was it?" he said abstractedly.
Climbing onto the stool next to him, Katie realized that he was doing bingo.
"It was great," she bubbled happily. "He's really good. You should try it."
"Bingo!" Michael shouted.
"Ooh, we have a winner," the Bingo Bitch cooed. "Come up here, sweetie, and show me your...tally. Oooh," she added, taking in Michael. "Look, girls, he's a big one! Maybe a little straight round the edges, but I'm sure someone could bend you up or over a little, darling!"
The rest of the bingo players whooped in appreciation while she cast an eye over Michael's bingo sheet.
"Yes, it's a bingo! Collect your five bucks or two free drinks at the bar...mine's a Cosmo, since you ask...oooh, look at this great big head!" She stroked Michael's shaved scalp, which, Katie had to admit, was unusually large. It gleamed in the lights. The Bingo Bitch had a hard time taking her hand off it.
"I love a big head," she cooed. "Well, don't we all? Right, enough dirty talk, back to our balls..."
Michael came back to Katie, laughing. He was so cool, she thought proudly. How many straight men would be OK with entering a gay bar in the first place, let alone not blinking an eye when a Bingo Bitch stroked their head and teased them about bending over?
"Five dollars or two free drinks," he said. "The drinks are a better deal, but I've suddenly been swept by an urge to demonstrate my heterosexuality..."
Outside the bar Michael kissed her, properly, long and deep and wet, their whole bodies pressing hard into each other. His big waxed coat hung around them like a cloak, as if he were a magician making Katie disappear into its folds. Katie had always liked big men; they made her feel small and dainty by contrast. She ran her tongue down his throat and licked into the hollow of his collarbone, pulling aside his T-shirt and sweater, sliding her hands around his strong, thick neck. He was so warm, like a furnace under her palms.
I love you, she thought. This is mad, but I really think I love you. And you love me too, that's what Armando said, so maybe this isn't so mad after all...
Michael raised one arm and a cab screeched to a halt. He bundled her in. She climbed onto his lap immediately and started pulling up his T-shirt.
"Well, that's confirmed. I'm definitely heterosexual," Michael said, taking one of her hands and placing it firmly between his legs. Katie thrust her palm down and stroked hard. Michael moaned in her ear and started sliding his hand up her skirt.
Suddenly the taxi screeched to a halt. The driver had tried to run a red light and lost his nerve at the last minute. Katie crashed back into the partition, bumping her head.
"Ow!" she yelled.
Thrashing around trying to get her balance, she accidentally kicked Michael's crotch with her boot.
"I didn't mean to "
"Aaah...No, no, it's OK here "
He pulled her back onto the seat again.
"How's your head?"
"Sore. How's your willy?"
They looked at each other and burst out laughing.
"Come here," Michael said, slipping his arm round her shoulders and pulling her into his chest. With his other hand, he stroked her hair. "So tell me what the fortune teller said."
"He warned me off you," Katie said happily. "Said you were a serial killer with a freezer full of body parts."
"Right so far. What else? Are you going to make a trip across the ocean and meet a tall, dark, handsome stranger? No, wait, you just did that, didn't you..."
Katie pulled his hand down so she could kiss it. "It was very good," she said. "He got lots of things spot on. But there was one thing..."
She told Michael about Armando's thinking that she had sisters. Or cousins.
"Because they all looked like me. You know, brunettes. They were surrounding me, and there was this card saying it was a sort of pattern...We couldn't work out what it was. I thought maybe it was my mum..."
If Katie hadn't had her head resting on Michael's chest, she would have seen a very strange expression come across his face. And if the taxi hadn't hit a pothole at that moment, she would have noticed that the arm around her tensed up in shock. But because she was in love, she attributed the tightening of his arm to an atavistic male impulse to steady her against the bump in the road. And ironically it made her love him all the more.
Copyright © 2003 by Lauren Milne Henderson