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by Antheros
© 2006 - All rights reserved

Amanda entered the room slowly. The decoration of Clifford's Tea House was unlike any other she had ever seen; the walls had dozens of unusual trinkets hanging from them. Colorful masks, swords of all kinds---even a scimitar---, old guns that were probably fake, wooden sculptures of different parts of the world, small animals made of wood, plastic and metal (culminating into one of those classic big plastic pink flamingos that nobody understands why were so successful, which dominated one of the walls), and much more. Her head moved from trinket to trinket, trying to recognize some, to appreciate others, to loathe a few.

"This way please," said the hostess.

Mark was already there. She expected so, even being right on time. He was the advisor for her PhD thesis, and was always a gentleman. In his late thirties, Mark was not married, and soon after she arrived she heard the rumors about his customary seduction of students. She vowed not to fall for that one. She had had enough bad relationships in her life to find herself into another one that was doomed to have problems.

Things had not happened that way, however. She quickly became the favorite of his tutees, thanks to her culture, desire to learn and intelligence. Amanda thought her looks had little to do with it. But, while she was really competent, Mark enjoyed her appearance. Her dark hair was always pulled tight into a bun, and her light glasses gave her a distinguished look that pleased Mark.

"Hello, Amanda, dear. You look very nice," Mark said, when she arrived to the table. He stood up for her. Against her wish, Amanda felt herself blush. She was liking Mark, too much. She knew that she was falling for him, that she shouldn't fall for him, and that she should have said that it was not necessary to meet him at the Tea House to discuss her thesis.

Yet here she was.

"Interesting place," she said, to start conversation. She paid attention to his brown hair, soft. His jaw was attractive, delineating a masculine face that she couldn't help but stare at.

"Isn't it? One wouldn't suppose that a college town would have such an odd place. The old deans probably enjoy their teas, but the decoration isn't what one would expect."

Amanda looked around for old deans. There were none; the place was almost empty, in the middle of the afternoon. "They don't seem to be here," she said, smiling.

"It is not five o'clock yet," he replied, grinning. Amanda giggled, feeling a little childlike. She had been prone to giggles around him; anytime he made a remark slightly amusing, she would burst into a delightful giggle.

The conversation flowed easily between them. It had since the first time they met, and nowadays anyone would have taken them for friends, and not professor and student, even though the age difference was considerable---a little more than ten years.

The waitress arrived with a big wooden cart, having the widest selection of teas Amanda had ever seen, all stored in tiny china pots. She didn't know which one she wanted, and accepted the waitress suggestion, based on a few questions about Amanda's tastes. The resulting combination of orange, cinnamon, ginger and green tea was strong, but delicious. Mark went for something more classic---a blend of two dark tea leaves.

Amanda thought Mark full of contrasts. He dressed lightly, often with a polo shirt and sport trousers. He enjoyed trash movies and Greek poetry. His English had an Oxbridge accent, but the words he chose didn't fit the accent. Every time Amanda noticed another of these contrasts, she liked him even more.

"Tell me, how's your thesis going?" he asked at last, after the waitress was gone. Amanda had worried---and also hoped---that he had invited her with second intentions, and was disappointed, to her surprised, that he had moved the conversation into that direction.

"I'm still stuck. I can't seem to move forward and get myself unentangled from that messy discussion."

Amanda's thesis was thriving to survive. She had moved into an uncharted territory, looking for an original discussion, and now she didn't quite know how to proceed. They were soon discussing the same issues they had went through over and over again. To Amanda it wasn't boring at all; Mark never seemed to be boring. He always had a light comment or a joke ready.

To Amanda, the tea was over too soon. They said good bye at the door of the Tea House.

And, Amanda thought, as Mark walked back to his office, he didn't seem to have second intentions. Those rumors were probably just that, rumors. All she knew is she was feeling horny, and would have to take care of that.

* * *

A few days later, in another discussion that seemed to go nowhere, Mark suddenly thought of a book that could help her. " I'll get it from the Library," Amanda said, noting down its title.

"It will be difficult. I'm reading the only copy. But I'll bring it to you tomorrow," Mark offered.

"Thanks. I want to take this weekend off to write, it would be wonderful to have the book tomorrow. I'm running behind the schedule."

The next afternoon, Amanda arrived at Mark's office. "Shit," he said, when she opened the door. "I forgot your book." Amanda saw that Helen was inside, grinning at her with schadenfreude. Amanda didn't like Helen. To put it bluntly, she thought Helen was a brain-dead slut trying to fuck her way to a nice place, possibly nothing more than a marriage.

"It's all right," Amanda replied, disappointed. "I'll come back next week."

"No, no. Helen was just about to leave, please come in." Helen looked at him, surprised; it was Amanda's turn to grin. "Well Helen, see you later," Mark continued. Helen had no resort but to walk out.

"Thanks, Mandy," Mark said, when Helen was gone. That was the first time she called Amanda Mandy. "I know she's my student and all, but she's a pain in the ass. Don't worry about your book, I'll give you a ride home and we'll drop by my place first. Where do you live?"

Amanda smiled, grinned, blushed and felt a shiver at the same time.

* * *

"Just come in," Mark said. "Don't mind the mess. I'm a bachelor, my house is supposed to be messy."

Helen entered his house quietly. It was filled with books. There were books everywhere, but she didn't see much of a mess---her own apartment was messier. The books were all lined up in shelves, only the shelves were everywhere. Every wall seemed covered with books.

"Come into my office."

His office had only a big table, a wooden chair and an arm chair---aside from the shelves, of course. The table had piles and piles of books on it.

"Sit. I have to find the book." She sat and waited, browsing the shelves with her eyes. The only place in the shelves that wasn't covered with books had a strange looking object. She was trying to understand what it was, and why it was there, when she felt Mark by her side.

"It's an oracle."


"An oracle. Do you believe in oracles?"

She laughed, but he seemed serious.

"Why, do you?" she asked.

"Well, I didn't. But this one seems to work. Every time. It's spooky, almost. Here, hold the book. Let me show you."

Mark took the oracle from the shelves, and place it over his desk, at the only empty spot there. The oracle seemed very old. It was made of silver and brass, in the format of a bowl. It had two holders, with intricate ornaments, by which Mark had carried it. The body was covered with many symbols on the outside; the inside had a irregular but smooth shape except for the symbols and a few small holes.

"You see, to put it simply, this thing works like a roulette." He picked a small silver ball from the side. "The idea is to throw the ball inside the bowl, where it's going to roll until it falls into one of the holes. I could never find out who made this thing. I bought it at a flea market, being sold to serve soup. It's certainly not Roman, as it is not much like the sort of metal work they did then. It wouldn't have survived in such a good shape either. It may be from the sixteenth century, but I think it's actually from the nineteenth. Nobody I showed it has seen anything similar. It was probably made for a rich fortune-teller. A sort of impressive version of the Tarot. The symbols are the same."

Amanda examined it carefully.

"Do you want to try it?"

Amanda hesitated.

"I thought you didn't believe in oracles. Funny thing how our mind works, uh?"

She picked the ball from his hand.

"Just think of a question, and throw the ball inside."

Amanda did.

The ball started to roll around, making a remarkably loud noise. It rolled around many times, making strange convolutions thanks to the irregular shape of the bowl, until it finally stopped in one of the holes.

"The Lovers," Mark smiled. "You--"

Amanda kissed him. It was an unconscious, primitive action that surprised her as much as it surprised Mark. She was raw, animal, pulling him to her, feeling her body against hers. She wrapped one of her legs around him, and her tongue sought his, eagerly. She wanted him.

He didn't fight. A minute later they were rolling, naked, over his bed, Mark feeling her body, warm and inviting, their breathing shallow and ragged; he delved into her body, feeling the delicate skin, hearing her moans. Amanda just felt inside a dream, dazed, enjoying the unique sensations.

* * *

It was close to ten when they finally quieted down. Mark had his third orgasm, and was completely spent. He fell asleep, holding Amanda in his arms. She wasn't sleepy. She was happy and satisfied. There was a feeling of completeness that filled her. All was right. Why did they wait for so long? It wasn't wrong. She wasn't guilty.

Then, she had an epiphany.

Like all epiphanies, it hit her out of nowhere, and it almost knocked her out. She felt stupid, a naive girl taken advantage of, used and seduced with the simplest trick. She was played.

She stood up, watching Mark to avoid waking him up. She walked downstairs, still naked. Her hair was free, falling behind her shoulders. Her body was still glinting from sweat. Her round breasts, which Mark had held just minutes before, fitting them perfectly into his large hands, juggled lightly from her steps.

She entered the office in a daze. The oracle was still there, and she felt even more stupid. The ball was still in the hole it had fell into; the symbol of the lovers was easily seen. She noted a few other symbols she recognized; the Hanging Man, the Death. She studied the bowl for a while, trying to see if it was obviously rigged.

"Easier," she thought, picking up the ball again. Just as she was about to throw it, she saw Mark, watching her from the door.

"You think I tricked you," he said. He looked hurt.

"Did you?"

"You never let me explain what the Lovers meant. You kissed me before I could."

Amanda didn't move.

"Do you believe in oracles, Mandy? Have you ever had you fortune told? Do you read horoscopes, and half believe in them? Even non-believers are afraid of a bad prediction."

She was still silent.

"What would you do if the ball fell into the Lovers again? Would you think it's the confirmation of a prophecy, that the bowl is really magic, or would you think it's rigged and hate me? Isn't it funny? The same outcome, again, would make you act in a very different way.

"What if I told you know that the meaning of the Lovers is another one? Because it's obvious what you asked to the oracle. Ironic. You asked a question to it, but I got the answer. Anyway, in the Tarot, the Lovers isn't only about love and sex. It also means that you have to struggle with temptation, make a choice, be true to yourself. It means you have to make a decision. Choose between right and wrong.

"You see, you didn't wait for the rest of the instructions. The oracle says you have to throw the ball three times. The first throw is the present. The second, the past. It helps you to understand the present and to see what you should do. It's pretty much like now. You know the past: you hit the Lovers. Now you're trying to see if the oracle is rigged. Your choice is based on what happened before.

"The third throw is the future. It's not what your decision will be, or even what will happen. It's what will come of your decision. The consequences. Things you didn't foresee.

"Mandy, you have a choice, right now. You can throw this ball, or not. Before you do, I'll say one thing to you. I like you. I liked you from the moment I saw you. You were different. We could talk, we shared interests. I know there are rumors about me and students. You decide if they are true or not. You decide everything. You have many, many choices. You can trust me, just that. You can roll the ball and see if the Lovers comes out again. You can throw the ball twice and use the oracle's answer. You can just leave.

"The problem of an oracle, Mandy, is that it gives you an answer. And you have to find what exactly the question is. I know mine. I'll be waiting for you, in the kitchen."

Mark turned around. But, before disappearing through the door, he said, "Please, stay with me."

* * *

Amanda walked into the kitchen. Mark was sitting, his head low.

"Just never tease me about it," Amanda whispered, "and swear you love me. That's all I need, except for one other thing."

Mark looked at her, waiting.

"Sell that thing. Throw it away. Give to a museum. I don't care, as long as I never see it again."

"It will be gone, first thing tomorrow."

They stared at each other, steadily, for some time.

"May I sleep here tonight?"

Mark smiled.

"I think you won't be sleeping anywhere else, anymore."

-- Antheros [antheros A T gmail.com]

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