This is the fourth installment in TMN staff writer Allison Maschhoff’s serialized fiction series, The Curse of Briar Michaels. You can read part three here.
When Dushan opened the front door of his apartment to find Briar Michaels standing outside it for the first time in three years, he wasn’t sure what to do. He could have slammed the door in his face. He could have invited him in for coffee like an old friend. But all he could think to say was, “She isn’t here.”
Outwardly, Briar appeared unfazed. Inwardly, he was relieved. “Can I come in?”
Dushan turned around, leaving the door open. Briar walked in behind him. They sat down in the living room. Asuka was already there, fidgeting with her camera. When Dushan and Briar sat down, they were almost in the same seating arrangement they had been in when Briar learned about their abilities.
Aislinn’s absence was painfully noticeable.
The emotions the three of them had been pushing aside for the last three years were like a weight slowly pressing down from the ceiling. The room was shrinking with every passing second of silence and they each knew that these emotions would demand attention if someone didn’t introduce a different topic soon. Asuka was about to ask Briar how he had been, but he broke the silence before she could
“I need to know where Aislinn is. I need to talk to her.”
Dushan looked at Asuka. The concern in his eyes was mirrored in hers. They both knew Aislinn would not agree to a meeting with Briar. She hadn’t reached that point yet. She hadn’t even been back to Chicago.
Thinking it would help the situation, Briar offered up new information. “It’s not because I’m still in love with her. I’ve moved on. I just need her help.”
Dushan was still staring at Asuka, but she broke eye contact, glared at Briar and said, “She thinks she’s already helping you. She’s made unbelievable sacrifices for you. What makes you believe you have any right to ask her for anything more?”
“You don’t understand — ”
“No, you don’t understand. We lost her, too. She lost her home. She left everything and everyone she loved just so you would have a chance to avoid the curse she’s been stuck with her entire life. Everything for you, all this pain for you and you have the nerve to come back and ask for more? I’ve got to say, Briar, I didn’t remember you being so disgustingly selfish.”
Three years before, Briar Michaels would have been deeply wounded by these words. But after all this time, he had no energy left to care what Asuka thought of him. He was desperate, too desperate to think about the perspective of the people who had once been his family. He didn’t have it in him to care if he hurt Aislinn.
Finally, he revealed the truth: “The woman I love is dying.”
Asuka’s eyes got wide and then she closed them. She did not shout. She did not show the slightest sign of emotion when she whispered, “I think that is the worst thing you could’ve said.” Then she got up and went to her room, leaving Dushan to stare at the wall.
Briar whispered, “It’s not selfish to want to save a person. It’s not selfish to want to use a gift I’ve been given.”
Dushan was quiet for a couple minutes. He was starting — or at least he thought he was — to understand Briar’s plan. And it was crazy. But there is something tempting in believing your faults, your bad parts and your curses. There is something tempting in wanting to believe they can be gifts. We all want to believe what makes us different makes us strong. Dushan had never been granted the luxury of considering that his “sixth sense” could be used for good before that moment. Briar was strange that way. He thought these abilities were something to embrace.
“I will write Aislinn about your request,” he said, still not looking at Briar. “I’ll tell her Asuka is against it, that there is another woman involved and that I think it is wrong of you to ask her for anything. And then I’m going to let her make her own decision and you’re going to have to accept what she decides.”
Dushan’s face was the same in that moment as it had been three years before when he told Briar that Aislinn was gone. Briar had always interpreted it as a kind of hatred. He believed they blamed him for Aislinn leaving. What he couldn’t understand was that Dushan and Asuka didn’t blame Briar for a decision Aislinn had made. How could they? No, they blamed him for giving up. They blamed him for not doing everything in his power to stop her, even if it meant following her across state lines.
Briar thanked Dushan and left.
Dushan listened to the door click shut. He knew if Aislinn did come back, Briar would probably want his help and Asuka’s as well, but it wasn’t time for those questions yet. He grabbed a piece of paper and began to write.
A couple days later, hundreds of miles away, Aislinn received a letter. Recognizing Dushan’s handwriting on the envelope, she ripped it open. He apologized for not writing more often — this was how Dushan started all of his letters — and Aislinn’s eyes anxiously skipped across the page, hungry for news of her family.
Her excitement sunk into the pit of her stomach and formed a rock when she saw Briar’s name. Dushan explained that Briar needed help. He didn’t give many details.
At the end, he wrote, “I don’t know if you love him anymore, but I do know two things. One, you don’t owe him anything. You only do this if you want to. And two, we miss you. If you don’t come visit us, we’ll come visit you (Me and Asuka, that is. Don’t worry, Briar wouldn’t be invited).”
Then she was left with his signature and a decision to make.