It took a few minutes for the doctors and nurses to allow Horacio to leave. They all wanted a moment of his time. Actually they wanted his undivided attention. Who wouldn’t? He was stunning and kind. He carried himself in a way that you couldn’t help but noticed. Strong, self-assured, dominant, yet kindness was on his face always. He didn’t hesitate to greet each professional with respect and patience.
“Thank you all for what you are doing for these amazing children. They are the future and you are granting them that. I apologize, but I have promised this lovely woman,” Horacio said while reaching for Destiny’s hand, “a good cup of coffee. So, if you will all excuse us we will be on our way.” He gave a quick wave to the children and escorted Destiny to the elevators.
“What’s it like to be you?”
Horacio looked at Destiny, “What do you mean?”
Destiny looked at their joined hands, “To be the center of attention all the time, it must be unbelievable.”
The elevator door slid open to reveal no visitors to the children’s ward. It was sad to see. Horacio sighed as he guided Destiny into the empty elevator and pressed the button for the ground floor, “I wish these children were the center of attention. As for me, it’s not as unbelievable as you may think, and I am not always the sole draw of attention. You, my dear, must garner plenty of attention.”
“Nope,” Destiny shrugged. “Well, not at least that I am aware of.”
“You have my attention,” Horacio said as he raised her hand to his lips. She gasped as his kiss ghosted across her knuckles and sighed as he pulled away. The door slid open to reveal the golden beams of light dancing around the lobby of the hospital. It was almost a cheerful sight if it weren’t for the fact that it was a hospital full of illness and mourning.
“Would you still like to hear my story about butterflies?”
“Yes, I would.”
Horacio tugged her out of the elevator and through the front doors of the facility, “Good. Let’s walk a bit and I will tell you.”
They wandered the grounds of the hospital as he shared his fascination with butterflies.
“Depending on your own personal beliefs or your culture you will find a belief or superstition surrounding the butterfly. Let me show you,” he said as he led her around the hospital grounds to the maternity wing. “Some believe that butterflies carry souls between worlds. They will carry the soul of someone who has passed to the other side and upon returning they carry a new soul.” They stopped near a small flower garden under the windows of the wing. Butterflies danced from flower to flower. “See there, it is believed that the new souls the butterflies bring back are in search of their mother’s. They come here to link one soul to another.” Destiny watched as a beautiful blue butterfly danced closer and closer to one window. It never drifted to another. It settled on the sill for a few moments until it flew away. It wasn’t long before the telltale wail of a newborn could be heard.
Destiny shivered at the sound. “Wow,” she whispered, “that was beautiful.” She continued to watch the rainbow of wings dance among the flowers hoping to see another wonder performed.
“This way,” Horacio pointed further along the sidewalk, “I’ll show you more.”
Destiny gladly followed along beside him until they came upon a single butterfly resting on a window sill of the Intensive Care Unit. The deep orange Monarch butterfly sat still. It didn’t flutter its wings. After a few minutes it spread its wings wide and leapt from the sill and glided away.
“Sadly, I believe that lovely creature just left carrying a soul with it.”
“So you think someone died in that room?”
Horacio looked up at the window, “I do. The Aztec’s believed that the last breathe of a dying soul became a butterfly and would then fly away into the afterlife. It would be a beautiful way to leave this world.”
“That’s why you told that little girl to be nice to them, right, because you don’t know if they are coming into the world to be born or leaving to go into the afterlife?”
Horacio smiled and looked at the wonder on Destiny’s face, “It doesn’t hurt that they are beautiful.” Destiny’s smile widened as a giggle escaped, “How about that coffee, Destiny?”
“Lead the way.”
“I would love to, but,” he leaned in to whisper, “I don’t know where a coffee shop is.”
Destiny burst out laughing at his admission. “Well, come on then. I will lead the way.”
As they strolled along the sidewalk to the café, they chatted more about butterflies and beliefs. Destiny admitted that she found the tales of souls traveling via bugs was sweet. To take something so life shattering and turning it into something awe inspiring was a kindness to those left behind. Not to say it would always work, but she could see a child grasping on to the stories in absolute belief. She knew she would have if someone had told her this superstition when she lost her mother as a child. To visualize her mother riding a butterfly into the afterlife would have been an easy image to conjure at 9 years old. It might have even made the mourning process a bit easier.
There was one butterfly he didn’t tell Destiny about. It was a butterfly he used for his own bidding. The Papilio Caster, or the common raven butterfly of India was Horacio’s favored species. The raven itself carries much in symbolism and Horacio likes to ring true in his choices. The bird is linked to eternal life, the connection between Heaven and Hell. It was acclaimed to be the messenger of the god Apollo and carries the curse of being the symbol of impending death. So with all those linked to a bird why then wouldn’t it hold true for the butterfly named after the creature. If not, well, Horacio didn’t really care. It was as he wanted and that was that. Horacio used these beautifully dark creatures to collect the souls he had all but drained. Even those poor excuses for humanity deserved a proper ride to the other side.
The bell over the door chimed as Horacio opened it holding it for Destiny. She was quiet. She was still tossing around the idea and image of a fairy sized version of her mother flying away on a Blue Morpho. She wanted it to be true.
“What, may I ask has pulled your attention away from me?” asked Horacio as he pulled out a chair for her at a small bistro table.
“You’ll think it’s silly.”
“I like silly.”
Destiny looked around to ensure no one was within earshot of her childish fantasy. “I was imagining my mom flying away on a butterfly.”
Horacio reaches across the small table and took her hand, “I’m sorry. I wasn’t aware you had lost your mother.”
“How could you? She died when I was 9. My dad when I was 21. I was still in school when he left me. I guess that’s why your gift touched me in such a way. He didn’t see me graduate. To succeed in my dream,” she said as she wiped a touch of moisture from her eye.
Horacio tapped her hand, “Silly girl, what makes you think he didn’t see? Maybe he was riding a butterfly with your mom at the graduation ceremony. Draw that image in your beautiful head.” He smiled as he watched her do just that. A truly glorious smile took over her face as the fantasy took over the ugliness she held too close.
“Maybe they were.”
A waitress with a quick smile dropped off menus and gave Horacio an additional smile as she sauntered away. Destiny just shook her head and opened the greasy menu. They both skimmed it briefly before making their selections. Horacio raised his hand to draw the waitress’s attention, but she hadn’t gone far. They placed their orders and she made it very clear that if there was anything, and she meant anything, else that he needed just let her know. How transparent could she get?
Horacio gave a soft smile, “Tell me, how does someone gets the name Destiny? It is a very powerful word to saddle a child with.”
Destiny snorted her amusement, “Simple, I am a second date baby. Dad said I was meant to be or they were meant to be, or something equally as sappy and that is how he chose my name.” She looked down at her chipping nail polish for an answer to an unasked question, “I don’t believe it, ya know. The whole meant to be thing about them. They fought so much when I was little that it was normal to me, but when I got sick…it became so…quiet. Almost like I was already dead,” she whispered as she picked at the rapidly disappearing tint on her nails.
AS Destiny prepared herself for his reaction to her story the waitress came with their coffees. Once again offering Horacio ‘anything he needs’. Destiny shook her head as she added cream to her coffee. She wondered around in her memory longer than she intended when she finally looked up at Horacio who was leaning a bit closer than he had been, “Oh, sorry. I was telling you the tale of Destiny wasn’t I,” she chuckled, “Yeah, so they thought I had a brain tumor when I was eight. I went through nearly a year of chemo and treatments before they were able to remove it and that’s when they realized it was one of those ‘I ate my twin in the womb’ things,” she chuckled, “You know, a teratoma, where they find hair, bone, teeth, and general creepy shit inside a mass. Turned out that I was meant to be, but my twin wasn’t.”
Horacio reached out and took Destiny’s fidgeting hands in his own. He softly stroked his thumbs over her dry knuckles, “I am so sorry you had to go through all of that. Am I to assume you are well now?” Destiny gave a single nod as she stared at their connected hands. “And were your parents still destined to be together forever?”
“No. My mother died a week after my surgery.”
Horacio’s hands stilled, “One week,” he gasped.
She leaned away from Horacio taking her hands out of his reach, “Yeah, it was the day before they were going to let me go home. She died in a strange way. Most people don’t believe or are too freaked out to believe that it’s possible.”
The small hairs on the back of Horatio’s neck tingled, “I’ll believe you.” How could he not? He could have had something to do with it.
Destiny looked at him, really looked. “She was killed by a swarm of bees.” She waited for a snide remark or doubt to ring in her ears, but was met by none.
Horatio stiffened as a small gasp slipped from his lips. It seemed like over kill to him. One bee, maybe two, yes, he would have done that, but a swarm? No, he would have done that a couple hundred years ago when he was bored, but current day? With social media, cell phones, and news outlets looking for bizarre events to report on would have raised far too much attention.
She shrugged it off as if it were nothing more than a skinned knee in her past, “It’s a weird story, but not uncommon if you research it. I found a couple cases in the UK and in the mid-west.” Destiny looked back into her memories to pull out the event that changed her life forever, “She had gone to the store to pick up a cake for my homecoming. They said that when she loaded the cake into the car she, more than likely, trapped the Queen of a hive in with it. The bees swarmed the car and followed her home where she was repeatedly stung when she ran for the house.” Destiny absentmindedly swept a tear from her cheek.
Horatio reached out and took her hands again, “I am so sorry, Destiny.”
“If she had just stayed in the car she would have survived, you know, or driven to the police station. They would have gotten her help. I guess she must have freaked out and thought she could make it into the house.” Destiny stared at their connected hands as he stroked her knuckles with his thumbs. “It was a long time ago.”
“Time doesn’t heal everything. You may see things a bit brighter, but a piece of you left this world that day,” he whispered.
She looked up to meet his tender eyes, “No one has ever said that to me. They just expect me to be over the loss and think they can joke about it.”
“People are stupid.”
Destiny chuckled and nodded her head, “Yes, they are.” She sniffled and then realized that she had been crying more then she thought while telling Horacio about her mom, “Please excuse me for a moment while I go to the restroom to freshen up.” She slid the chair back and stood as did he.
He stood and closed the distance between them quickly. He slid his hand down her arm, “Take your time. I will get us fresh coffee.”
“Sure,” she mumbled as she turned to find the restroom and her dignity.
Horacio waved his hand over their coffee mugs and settled back down into his chair. The waitress was at his side within seconds. “Are you wanting a refill?”
“Yes, both mugs, please,” he clarified and pulled his cell from his pocket to check for messages.
“Sure thing,” she said and leaned closer, “Is there anything, really, anything else I can do for you?”
Horacio looked up from his phone at the young woman and stated clearly, “Yes, you can get some self-respect. You clearly have seen that I am here with a woman. I have made no attempts to get your attention for anything more than coffee and have no intention of doing anything else with you. You are lovely, but need to see your own value before someone else ever will.” Horacio picked up his mug and took a sip.
The waitress stood in a stupor. Her mouth opened and closed like a fish pulled ashore gasping for breath. “I…well…” she stumbled before she spun around and walked away. Horacio had prepared himself for a tirade or verbal slap. He was almost impressed that she was able to contain herself.
Destiny had found her way back to the table and took her seat. “Thank you for listening, Horacio,” she said as she reached for the sugar packets. “Most people don’t know how to respond to my story.”
“Most people don’t realize that you don’t always have to respond. There are other ways to show support. Sometimes just being there for their friend is enough,” he offered and then blew across the edge of his coffee mug.
Destiny smiled brightly at Horacio’s words. She tipped her head to the side and studied him briefly before adding, “As you are for me now.”