The leaves swirled in the air and landed on the surface of the lake. Mary slowly, deliberately counted them from her seat on a park bench near the edge of the lake. Mary finished counting the leaves she could see and nodded slightly, frowningly to herself. Would she show? Mary thought not, but decided to wait a little longer. After all this bench in the shade beneath the tall oak was nice. She could see out over the lake; could even see figures walking along the path between trees on the other side. No, the silly girl wouldn’t show, not at this point. Mary sighed and tried to continue enjoying the fine weather and the beauty of the park; tried to keep the well of anxiety inside her from surging up. But her thoughts could not stray far from the girl. It had been—what?—almost a week since she’d seen her? Yes, that’s right, they’d gotten coffee at that new place on 14th. Had the girl seemed worried? Had she given any sign that she was getting cold feet? Marry always referred to her partner in these endeavours as "the girl". In fact, Mary didn’t know this girl’s name nor the girl hers. She arranged things that way; it was safer. Neither had each other’s phone numbers either. Nor, heaven forbid, their addresses. No, Mary had set things up so that the only way they could contact each other was by leaving notes in a locker in the metro station to which they both had a key. They both tried to check it daily if possible. That’s how they’d set this meeting. Mary had asked, and the girl had replied the next day: Yes. I’ll be there. But here she was almost 40 minutes late, if she was indeed coming at all. Mary checked her phone once more. I’ll give her a full hour.
An older couple walked slowly past, arm in arm. Mary flashed a distant smile at them which the woman returned; the man was distracted with a story he was telling her. She checked her phone again. Ten minutes more and then Mary would leave. Perhaps she’d go and check the box in the metro once more. Maybe the girl had left a note. No, no time. Mary needed to get home and begin preparing things for dinner. Her and Paul were having guests that evening; his friends, not hers, but she had promised to help him with the cooking. Five more minutes. Mary nervously gathered herself, preparing to leave. Finally it had been a full hour and the girl hadn’t shown. With a sigh Mary rose from the park bench. Perhaps it’s better this way. They’d been getting into strange waters. In fact it might have been better had they turned back a while ago. But the girl’s knowledge of the Kabbalistic matters, as well as her enthusiasm, had surpassed even Mary’s own. Their progress had been too exiting for either to heed the warnings they’d repeatedly glimpsed. It was almost as if a real spell had enveloped Mary, preventing her from seeing things clearly; and the girl’s not showing this afternoon had punctured the spell. Suddenly Mary was filled with a sense of horror at just how far they’d gone, at the risks they’d taken. She’d never been so reckless in her life, even in her early, wild days. Had the girl been egging her on? Mary had always felt that she herself was leading things, just as always. But now reflecting back, she was suddenly assailed by doubts. Yes, this was for the best, whatever the case. A blessing, certainly. A divine benediction even. Mary made a certain gesture, covertly, and hurried homeward, mumbling slightly to herself. Unseen, and at a discreet distance, the girl followed.