People tend to ask a lot of questions. Most of them are simple, harmless, factual. For example, child might wonder why the sky is blue. All he has to do is ask and someone can explain the science behind it. Then there are the questions that are harmless, complicated, philosophical. Those are the questions that keep people up at night, wondering what they might be. For example, someone might ask what their purpose is on this world. It's the kind of question question that has no clear answer. There's a third breed of questions as well, the kinds better left unasked and unanswered. Yet, sometimes our curiosity gets the better of us. For example, there was a girl who asked one of these questions. She asked what it was like to have dinner with a devil. So I showed her.
* * *
I remember Lilly quite well. She was a pretty girl, a smart girl, a shy girl. She was only nineteen at the time, and those years had not been kind to her. Lilly’s mother died giving birth to her, and her father blamed her for it. Then only things Lilly’s dad ever gave to her were harsh words and lashes from a belt. He was the only family she had, and he hated her for it. Yet, even through all his cruelty, she never resented him for it.
In her classes she excelled beyond all of her peers. The boys soon grew jealous of her smarts, and the girls jealous of her looks. When she avoided talking to them, they mistook her shyness for snobbishness. They resented her for her achievements. The boys bullied her, and the girls spread nasty rumors about things she had never done. Yet, even through all their hate, she never resented them for it.
Despite all adversity, she did manage to make a friend when she was young. I remember him quite well too. His name was Jake. He wasn't the brightest or the most handsome man ever, but he was a good person. The other boys harassed him for hanging out with her while the girls tried to seduce him away, but they never got through to him. His heart was pure, and his will was strong. Jake stood by her through it all.
The last day of school had just ended, and everyone seemed so happy to be done for the year. The other students hadn't even picked on either of them that day, they were too distracted making plans for later that day. A lot of them wanted to go party and celebrate, but not Lilly and Jake. They wanted nothing to do with the other students, they just wanted to spend the afternoon together.
Through much begging and pleading with her father earlier in the day, Lilly had received permission to stay out that afternoon with Jake. Neither Lilly or Jake knew if they'd see each other after that day, so they wanted to cherish what could be the last time they saw each other.
Right after school let out, the two of them went to the near by lake. There was a tall old tree that they had played under when they were kids. They set out a blanket at the base of the tree and lay there together. Neither of them said a word for the longest time, but Jake had something he wanted to tell her. I could feel him struggling with it, so I gave him the strength he needed to say it.
“Lilly I have something I need to tell you.” I could feel his anxiety and his quivering nerves when she looked at him, so gave him the little push he needed to finally spit it out, “I love you, Lilly.”
I couldn't help but feel a bit of satisfaction when her heart started racing as she heard those words. I knew she had never been told that before, and perhaps that was what made it so sweet. It was love in it's purest form. The words she had never said before came so easily. “I love you too, Jake.”
There were tears in their eyes, both of joy and sorrow as Jake pulled her into his arms. There was the joy of having found someone they could truly love and be loved by, but the sorrow of the uncertain future. It was such a pure feeling that I felt myself moved by their feelings as they watched the sun set.
It was dark by the time they decided to go home. It was a cool, quiet night. They held hands as they walked back towards Lilly's home. Neither of them said anything, they just listened to the soft chirp of the crickets. There was no need for them to say anything, their hearts and minds were in tune. The day had been perfect for both of them, now they knew what it was like to be cared for so deeply.
They said good night when they reached the neighborhood they lived in. Each of them turned to go their separate ways. Lilly was crossing the street towards her house when Jake knocked her out of the path of a speeding car. The driver didn't have their headlights on. If Jake been any slower that car would have killed the girl he loved. Thanks to his heroics, Lilly escaped uninjured. Jake wasn't so lucky. He was dead before he hit the ground.
As the car sped away, Lilly stared at Jake's body in shock. After everything that happened that day, after how good she had just felt, she couldn't believe this was really happening. When the reality of it sank in, her scream woke up the entire neighborhood. Lights came on, people came out to investigate, but Lilly didn't see any of them. She just held Jake's broken body in her arms and cried like she'd never cried before.
The ambulance and police arrived a few minutes later to take Jake's body away and ask Lilly some questions. She didn't answer them, she couldn't answer them. Her heart, which had earlier been so full of joy, was broken. She watched as the ambulance Jake's body was in drove away. She followed silently as the police asked someone to walk her home.
Her dad had been the only person not to go investigate. He was sitting on the couch watching a soap opera with a bottle of beer in one hand and a bag of chips in the other. At first he didn't notice her, but when he did he turned towards here. “What took you so long?” He looked like he was going to say something else, but he stopped when he saw the look on her face. He knew that look she had. It was the same look he had when her mother died.
She cut him off before he could say anything else, “After all this time putting up with you and everyone else being cruel and hateful to me, I have to wonder something. What's the difference between everything I’ve been through and a meal with the devil? He probably has more manners than you.” She walked towards the stairs to head up towards her room, but she paused to say one last thing before she went away from him. “Jake's dead.”
Her dad didn't say anything else to her as she went into her room and slammed the door shut. After she locked the door, she threw herself face first onto her bed. For the second time that night she cried, and she kept crying till she fell asleep. This worked for me, because it was only when she was asleep that I could introduce myself.
Even in her dreams, she was still sobbing and crying out Jake's name. It was such a sad sight, I couldn't help but try to sooth her wounded heart. I went over to the poor girl and put an arm around her. She seemed understandably startled by my presence, but she didn't pull away. I pulled her against me and stroked her hair, “Just let it out.”
I could tell this wasn't something she was accustomed to from most people, the kindness I was showing her. Yet, she took to it rather quickly. She pressed her head against me and wailed with all the pain of her broken heart, and she didn't stop till her voice gave out. It was only after her voice gave out that she finally looked at me with her puffy red eyes. “Who are you? Where am I?”
“Lets just say I'm an angel, here to guide you through this troubled time.” She seemed content with that answer for now. “As for where we are, I suppose you could say we're in your head. You fell asleep, so I came to visit your dreams. It's the only way I could talk to you.” Considering everything around us was the black stain of her pain, she seemed skeptical at first. I decided a change of scenery would give her a better understanding of things.
With a wave of my hands I turned the darkness into a grand dining hall fit with gold torches and a crystal chandler hovering over the only table in the room. She seemed to be in awe of that simple task, and I couldn't help but smile as I pointed her to the seat at the little table. Her meal was already waiting for her. I'd picked out the classic combination of juicy steak and some seasoned red potatoes, and I must admit it smelled good even to myself. Yet, this meal wasn't meant for me.
“Now, would you care to tell me what it is that weighs so heavy on your heart?” I asked her after she sat down. I could feel she was a bit hesitant to open herself to me, but that was perfectly acceptable. I wasn't in a hurry. I knew she would start talking when she was ready, all I had to do was wait.
“Love, and the lack there of.” That was all she said before she took her first bite of steak. Her eyes went wide as she chewed, then she asked me a question, “This is the best steak i've ever had, but why is it cold?”
“It's just the way that dish is meant to be served.” I answered her question honestly without any more details than necessary. After all, I couldn't really give her the secrets of my cooking. At least, not yet.
Lilly took another bite before she started talking again. “My mother died giving birth do me, and my dad seemed to blame me for it. He hated me ever since the day I was born. I never had a birthday party, he never gave me any presents. The only real gifts he gave me were the days when he didn't whip me with his belt.” She stopped to take a bite of the potatoes, and almost immediately drained her cup of water. “Why are those so hot?” She gasped as I poured her another glass of water.
“Sorry, I guess they were just left to boil for too long.” I gave her another honest answer as she chugged yet another glass of water.
“That's alright, they still taste good.” She waited for me to finish refilling her water before she continued speaking. “I thought I was going to have a break from being despised when I went to school, but I was wrong about that too. The other students were jealous of the grades I got, then of my looks when I got older. They did whatever they could to make my life a living hell, but there was one person who didn't.”
“You mean Jake?” I asked her when her eyes started to water. All she could manage to respond with was a weak nod, but the next bite of potato she took seemed to help perk her up again.
“Yes, he was good to me. No matter what anyone did or said to him, he didn't abandon me.. It wasn't till today that I realized that I'd come to love him. It was only today that he told me he loved me too.” I could tell that she wanted to start crying, but she didn't. She took another bite of her potatoes before she started to talk again. “The same day I finally know what it's like to be loved, he was taken from me.” Her eyes darkened with barely contained anger as she took another bite of the potatoes. “Some stupid drunk almost hit me, Jake knocked me out of the way. He saved my life.”
I could feel hear heart starting to race as her emotions built up, and she stared out into space as she took another bite from the steak. The cold meat brought her back, and she glared down at the plate. It was only then that she said the three magic words. “I hate them.” I started to ask her a question, but she started talking again before I could. “They've all been so horrible towards me, ever since the day I was born. I show them compassion and tolerance, and they show me nothing but hate in return. When I finally found someone who didn't hate me, they took him from me. I wish I could make them pay for all of it.”
I raised my hand this time to let her know I was going to talk before I bothered to try, and even in her heated state she had the manners to let me talk. “I could make them pay, I could make them know all the hurt they've caused.” She seemed surprised by my offer, and at first I thought she was going to take me up on my offer. Yet, when she took a sip of water, she settled enough to realize something wasn't right.
“That doesn't sound like an offer an angel would make. So who are you, really?” All the anger that had been in her heart had been banished yet again, just like the spice of the food that had been in her mouth. I have to hand it to her, she's quite the strong willed person.
“My dear, you know just who I am. After all, you asked what it would be like to have dinner with me.” As the meaning of those words sank in she went to talk, but I silenced her with a wave of my hand. “I'm not here to hurt you, I’m not your enemy. As I said, i'm simply here to guide you. There are many ways I could do this, but I chose to use food in this case.” I could tell she didn't understand what I meant, so I explained things to her. “I brought nothing here other than myself. Everything you ate was already here. I made the potatoes from all the anger you've shoved down inside yourself, the steak is your desire for revenge, but the water is something different. The water is your patience, your hope, your love. As you can tell, it has no flavor. Yet, it still has the power to wash away the others.”
“I'm here to present you with a choice,” I paused as I pointed towards the steak and potatoes. “You can finish this meal, and I'll satisfy every dark desire in your heart. They'll know every bit of misery that they've caused you. Yet on the other hand.” I pointed towards the pitcher of water as I gave her the alternative, “If you drink all of the water in there, I'll do nothing. You'll wake up, and things will go back to the way they were before we met.”
She sat in silence for a minute, her eyes moving between the water and the food. It felt like an eternity passed before she made up her mind. “It's what Jake would want me to do.”
I have to hand it to her, she's a strong girl. Even with my generous offer, she swallowed every last drop.