To make reading easier, I’ll only be posting the latest chapter on this page – if you would like to read the entire draft – it can be found on my other blog: https://ravenwest.wordpress.com/vashtis-daughter/
Because they were going to meet Fred at the office in a few minutes, Anna decided to take the more direct route on the freeway instead of Sepulveda. One of the reasons she had bought a condominium in Santa Monica after her divorce was that it was only a fifteen minute drive to her office on Wilshire Boulevard taking side streets.
Two miles after turning onto the southbound exit, Anna saw flashing red lights in the distance. She cursed under her breath as the traffic in front of them was beginning to slow to a crawl. The last thing Anna wanted at the moment was to be alone for a long period of time with the author of the book she was about to complete, or have to explain to him how she had come up with the ending without sounding like a complete lunatic. Anna realized it was too late to exit off the freeway to avoid the traffic jam and much too late to avoid answering the awkward questions she knew he was going to ask. In hopes of delaying the inevitable, Anna reached out to turn on the radio, but Nate’s hand intercepted hers before her fingers landed on their destination sending a static electricity jolt through both their bodies.
“Ouch,” Nate cried out. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to shock us, but I really think we need to talk about what’s been going on with your dizzy spells and the book. This happened at your office, and now again at the museum when you touched the parchment. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.”
I could say the same thing about this insufferable traffic jam, Anna thought. They really hadn’t had much opportunity to discuss the details of Nate’s inspiration for writing Vashti’s Daughter, or the strange circumstances of Anna’s dreams or illusions, or whatever they were. If Anna had any thoughts that Nate would bolt as soon as she admitted what was happening to her, there was nowhere for him to run at the moment. She clenched the steering wheel for courage and recited the Cliff note version of everything that she had experienced since Elaine’s Purim party.
“That’s the entire story so far,” she signed. “The last episode at the museum the book Vashti gave to Esther was your manuscript. Darius tossed it into the river just after Esther died. I know it all sounds completely illogical, but it is a plausible explanation to why the story never made it into the original Magillah text.”
“Or, since you read my book, it would make sense you would see it a dream.” Nate’s analytical brain immediately tried to come up with a more logical explanation even though it had failed him to explain that mysterious voice he’d heard when he was in Hamadan that led to his writing the manuscript in the first place.
As soon as the cars passed the site of the accident they picked up speed and Anna was able to exit the freeway. There was a great deal more to the conversation then they had time for at the moment. Anna replied the only way she knew that would postpone the discussion even though she didn’t believe a single word.
“That makes sense.”
When Anna and Nate arrived at Steine and Steine they met Fred in his office. The editor had the printed copy of the manuscript on one side of the desk, the file open and ready for final chapter to be written on his computer.”
“I read the manuscript yesterday and made the edits, so the first draft is finished and ready to send to the printer,” Fred placed his finger just above the keyboard. “Waiting for your final chapter, boss.”
Fred was a lighting fast typist, adding the text to the final document as quickly as Anna spoke the words. He transcribed the banquet, the new alliance, Esther’s death and the disappearance of the book. Anna intentionally left out the part about Darius’s curse.
“I didn’t really know that much about the book of Esther, so I just did my normal copywriting edits,” Fred stated when he’d finished. “After I decided to read the story of Esther in the Writings section of my bible and was very surprised that there really wasn’t anything written about Vashti except for a few paragraphs and nothing at all about her having a daughter. I tried an internet search, but all I could find was reference to Vashti having a son named Lemuel. I think we really should put this out as a work of fiction.”
Nate and Anna exchanged disapproving glances before Anna replied,
“I appreciate your opinion, Fred, however it has been my experience not to trust everything you read on-line. I’m the publisher and my decision on this matter is final. We’re going to put this out as non-fiction and preview the book at the Festival this weekend. If you would, please send the files to our printer and have them put a rush on it.”
Fred’s shoulders sunk a bit as he did complied with Anna’s orders.
“Okay, Boss. It’s done. Can I go home now? I want to catch the last half of the Lakers game.” Knowing his boss was a huge basketball fan, he added the last part of his reply in order to get back on her good side, even though her totally disagreed with her. The ploy worked.
Her tone was softer when she replied, “Of course and thank you for coming in on your day off.”
As soon as Fred left, Anna gathered the pages of the finalized manuscript trying to maintain a professional demeanor in light of the confrontation that just occurred in front of Nate. As a woman, even as the owner of a major company she found herself having to constantly walk a fine line between being assertive and being aggressive or running the risk of crossing into the “bitch” area. Under normal circumstances that line was not anything she was concerned with, but with Nate in the room, she was slightly more than a bit concerned that his opinion of her mattered.
“Thank you for supporting the book,” his statement alleviated her trepidation.
“Not a problem. You’re the expert. Your name will on the cover and if you say it’s non-fiction, then that’s the category under which it will be published.”
Anna hoped she sounded more confident than she felt about her decision. Fred was an experienced editor whose opinions on the books they published were usually spot on. If his initial assessment after reading the manuscript was in opposition to their publication category, she wondered if other readers would share the same opinion. Anna knew it was a risk she had to take no matter the consequences. Whether or not she believed in the events of the past several weeks, or Nate’s story on how he came to write the book, Anna felt an inexplicable compulsion to publish Vashti’s Daughter as a factual account of events and not a fictional story. She also felt an inexplicable compulsion to spend the rest of the day with the author, but didn’t have a clue how to make that happen. She really didn’t know that much about the man behind those gorgeous brown eyes, long lashes and disarming grin that took her breath away whenever he smiled her way, which was exactly what he did with his next statement.
“I’m not sure I’d call myself an expert,” Nate shyly replied. “I still have my own questions about what happened in Hamadan as well as what you think has been happening to you from what you told me on the drive here.”
Nate didn’t realize he had just given Anna the opening she needed to invite him back to her place.
“I have some data back at my place I think you’ll find interesting. It’s a short drive and since I’ve not eaten anything since before I went to the museum, we can order lunch if you’d like.”
“I’m hungry as well,” Nate agreed. “Just as long as we don’t order Pizza. You can’t find a decent New York pizza anywhere in California and I’ve tried.” He joked.
On the drive to her place, this time it was Nate who turned on the radio. It was very strange, he thought. Even though he’d only just met Anna, there was an odd familiarity about her he found to be both attractive and a bit unnerving at the same time. His scientific curiosity was propelling him to discover more about this woman with the alluring blue eyes and delightful smile that caused his heart to beat a little bit faster whenever she smiled his way.
When they arrived at her condo, Anna immediately removed her shoes and tossed her purse on the couch just before picking the phone to order lunch.
“There’s a great deli that delivers,” Anna said. “How does a corn beef on rye with a potato knish on the side sound? I have beer in the fridge if you want.”
“Sounds perfect, “ Nate headed for the kitchen. “How’s their chopped liver?”
“Not as good as my mom’s. No one makes chopped liver like my mom. It’s the only reason I drive to Palm Springs, just don’t tell her that, she’ll be cooking every weekend!”
Nate had to laugh when he saw the contents of Anna’s refrigerator. Judging by all the take-out containers it was obvious the woman wasn’t a great cook. In addition to the beer, the only other contents was a half empty bottle of Chardonnay and an unopened bottle of champagne with a post-it note attached. After opening the beer and getting a bottle for Anna, he joined her at the kitchen table which was covered by pages of charts and notes.
“This is a really nice place,” he said after he sat down. “What’s with the note on the champagne?”
“That was a gift from the previous owner, Melanie Tyler. She was a voice-over actress who moved back to her hometown in Minnesota to work for her uncle. She told me her number one rule was to always have a bottle of champagne in the refrigerator in case there was a reason to celebrate, you never want to be without champagne. It’s been in chilling there since 2015.”
“That must have been one hell of a job for her to leave this place and move to the sub-zero weather in the mid-west.”
“She didn’t really say. I was just thrilled to be able to afford it after the divorce settlement.”
Hearing the entrance buzzer, Anna walked to the intercom to let the delivery man enter. After checking the video before opening the door, Anna took the bags of food to the kitchen counter. With all the many times she ate alone, she was pleased to have someone to share lunch with for a change. For a flitting second, Anna thought how easy it would be to get used to splitting her order with another person, if that other person happened to be Nathaniel Braverman.
“I have paper plates and some plastic utensils. I guess you already figured out I’m not much of a cook.”
Although Nate had never been in Anna’s place before, he felt very much at home as he transferred the sandwich and knish from the cartons to a plate. The last thing on his list of attractive traits in a woman was the skill of cooking. Since he was away from home most of the time conducting seminars, researching projects and teaching at Brandeis University, his cooking method consisted of microwaving whatever was in the freezer.
After Anna cleared a space on the kitchen table the two sat down to eat. Nate’s attention was focused on the delectable Anna more than the deli on his plate. He glanced at the collage of book covers that were in a framed photo on the wall and illustrations of foreign locals. The landscapes were breathtaking, but not only of them had any people. In fact, except for a small photo of a couple Nate guessed were her parents, her college diploma and several publishing awards, the entire condo was void of any photos of people.
“Are those places you visited?” Nate asked gesturing to the photos.
“No. When I have a manuscript to read that takes place at a certain place, I like to have a visual of the location. It helps with the process.”
Having traveled to many of the locations that were on her walls, Nate felt a bit sad.
“Would you rather read stories about having adventures all over the world, or experience them for yourself?” his tone was almost patronizing.
“I’m only twenty-nine. I’m way too busy building a company to travel the world for pleasure,” She countered. “I already told you I’ll be in Jerusalem in July for the International Book fair and we have a booth at the Quebec International Book Fair in Canada, but I don’t really have any time for adventures as you put it.”
“I see. Did you ever think about writing your own book, fiction or non-fiction?”
“You know what they say, those that can, do. Those that can’t publish those that do.” Anna joked.fter
“No, I hadn’t heard that line in quite that way before. I have no idea what any of these mean,” He told Anna as he scanned the papers.
Anna tried to explain as much as she could from the notes she’d written after her meeting with Shifra, but it was becoming more difficult to concentrate with Nate sitting so close to her. When he reached over to pick up a chart, his hand brush over her own sending waves of desire Anna hadn’t felt in a very long time.
As if reading her mind, Nate moved his hand from the table to her cheek, caressing it softly. He was about to move toward a kiss when he was interrupted by his phone’s text message notification. The text told Nate that he was finished setting up the exhibit and asked for directions to where he wanted to meet. Nate sent the text message reply, put the phone down and went to the refrigerator for another beer.
“That was Bibi. He’s on his way over.” Nate tried not to sound as disappointed as he felt. Beer in hand, Nate walked over to the table and straighten out the papers. “I think you should show him your research, he knows more about this stuff than I do. Since we both seem to be connected to this cosmic conundrum, he might be able to interrupt these charts and give us much needed answers.”
One of the questions I like him to answer, Anna thought, is why he couldn’t have waited another hour or two before deciding to infringe on what could have been a very delightful afternoon.
Anna collected the trash and put it into the garbage container under the sink just as the intercom buzzed announcing Bibi’s request to be admitted into the building. Once he arrived, Nate directed him to the items on the kitchen table. As Nate predicted, Bibi clearly understood the astrological charts, but needed to double check the data what he was seeing to be sure of the exact interpretation. Bibi opened his laptop next to the charts on the kitchen table.
“If this is your astrological birth chart Anna, can you tell me the exact date, time and place you were born?” Bibi entered the information into his program. He then asked Nate the same question and entered the data. Bibi scribbled some notes on Anna’s pad on the table. Checking his results several times before making an ominous statement.
“If these results are accurate and I’m about 85% sure they are.”
“I’ll be happy with 85%. What does this all mean?”
Pointing to the images on the screen, Bibi continued. “As you can see, the conjunction, sextile, square, trine and opposition lines intersect at key points, on a specific date that will occur over a specific period, which is about four months during which the planets and stars begin to align toward that point. The program also checks to see if there are any similarities with other individuals and didn’t find a single one in the past ten years, which isn’t unusual. Then I did a search for similar charts that go back many decades. As you can see what is unusual about yours is that I found exact matches on the same date every thirty years, or every generation, dating as far back as 500 B.C.E.”
“Your program got those results in under a minute?” Nate was astonished.
“I wrote it,” Bibi bragged. “It’s in the beta testing phase, but yes it does. And what’s even stranger, is that your chart Nate, intersects Anna’s at several significant aspects. Here, let me show you.”
Bibi split the screen and pointed to areas on Anna’s printed chart and the one on Bibi’s and compared the two. They were exact.
Every 30 years? Anna thought. Once in a generation, just like Vashti told her. As much as Anna didn’t want to know the answer to her next question, she had no other choice but to ask.
“Can you tell by that chart exactly when the next event will happen?”
“According to my analysis, the next time the planets and stars will align will be July 18, 2017 at exactly 2:18pm.”
“That’s my 30th birthday,” Anna exclaimed.
“I’m not surprised. Anna, we found these parchments in the last crate. See if you can tell me what they say.”
Bibi hit another key on his laptop and the items he mentioned appeared on the screen. Although they were very faded, Anna recognized them immediately as she had seen both parchments at the banquet.
“The first one is a list of names, I believe it’s a guest list. The second is a menu.”
Bibi stared at her with astonishment as Anna read off the names and the items.
“I think you should tell Bibi what you told me in the car, Anna. He might be able to help figure out what’s been going on with you better than I can.”
“If you have the time, Bibi, that would be great.”
“I’ll get another beer,” Nate went to the kitchen as Bibi and Anna moved to the living room.
For the next several hours, Anna relayed her experiences to Bibi while Nate typed her story onto Bibi’s laptop. While he was grateful for Bibi’s participation, he was beginning to feel illogical pangs of jealously seeing the attention Anna was paying to Bibi even though he knew his friend’s interest in her was strictly professional.
“That’s some story,” Bibi said when Anna was finished. “I believe there is much more going on here then some astrological chart coincidences, Anna. Nate’s manuscript about Vashti’s supposed daughter he mysteriously wrote after visiting Queen Esther’s shrine. Your recent dizzy spells and the fact you can read these artifacts are all evidence that the two of you were somehow connected centuries ago.”
Anna let out a long sign. “I believe you may be right, Bibi. Although I’m not sure what it all means. I thought they were dreams, now I’m not so sure exactly what these visions of the past are, but I’m open to any interruption you might have.”
“Now that I’ve heard your story, and have the charts and your notes, let me do some more research and I’ll get back to you. I have an early class tomorrow and it’s a 45 minute drive to Simi Valley, so we’d better get going. You ready, Nate?”
Nate was more than happy to get his friend away from Anna. With all his other relationships, some a lot more serious than this very new one, Nate was never jealous, nor did he ever have a reason to be. There was just something about Anna that brought out a bit of the green monster in him and he didn’t like it one bit.
“Nate, before you go. I want to give you the schedule for the Festival of Books next weekend.” Anna took a brochure from her pile of papers and handed it to Nate.
“We’ve arranged a table for you to sign the preview copies of Vashti’s Daughter. We’ll also be printing flyers for the newsletter that’s handed out to the public and a press release for the media. Unless there is some emergency with the book, we probably won’t be needing to meet until Saturday morning at the festival. It’s at U.S.C. the map is on the back.”
It amazed Nate how easily Anna was able to switch her persona from personal to professional in a matter of seconds. It was as if she had tossed a bucket of ice water over the heat he was certain she was also feeling before Bibi’s arrival. He decided the best way to proceed was to do the same.
“I have a full schedule of classes and a seminar this week, so this will work out fine for me as well. Thanks for lunch and the beer.” Nate resisted the urge to kiss her good-bye, choosing instead to offer a more impersonal handshake, which she returned. After taking photos of Anna’s charts, Bibi picked up his laptop and walked behind Nate out the apartment to his car.
“That was some story, buddy,” Bibi said. “What’s going on with you two? The sexual tension in that place was stifling. A few more minutes, and I would have had to take a cold shower.”
Nate wasn’t usually embarrassed by his actions, but the fact his friend noticed the obvious definitely made him uncomfortable.
“To be totally honest, I’ve never met anyone quite like Anna. She’s not only beautiful, but she’s also intelligent and she makes me laugh. I think I’m falling in love with her.”
“I’m totally shocked,” Bibi teased. “Love em and leave em Nathaniel Braverman thinks he’s in love? You’ve only known her for a few weeks!”
“According to you, I’ve known her for a lot longer than a few weeks, Mr. Astrology!”
“Well as a much better writer than you once wrote: there are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
“You may be right. I just know I can’t wait until I see her again, even though it will only be in a professional capacity at the festival, I’m hoping it will lead to a much more personal one once the book is published.”
As Bibi and Nate turned off the 405 to the 118 exit, back at her place Anna was on the phone to Elaine relating everything that happened from the museum visit, to her and Nate’s interrupted lunch to Bibi’s contribution to her dilemma. The part she had intentionally kept from the men she now revealed to her girlfriend.
“There was an actual curse?”
“Yes, there most definitely was a curse. I didn’t tell Nate about it because, well because I didn’t want to perpetuate the curse. You know my history of horrible relationships with men. Brad in high school, Roger and Mark in college, and of course the bastard I divorced, just to name a few.”
“I do remember long nights of tears and beers, but I always had faith you’d find someone who you could really love who would feel the same about you. You deserve to be happy. What about Nathaniel?”
“I felt as if there was something starting between us, but then his friend showed up and we got talking about my dreams and the books and astrology and got distracted, I guess.”
“If you want my opinion, curse or no, Nate sounds like a really great guy. I believe we make our own destinies, curses be damned. I’ve got to finish this brief before court tomorrow. Call me if anything else happens.”
After Elaine ended the call, Anna was tempted to dial Nate to perhaps try to make “something else happen” but decided against it. Although she agreed with her friend, if Darius’s curse was real, she needed to figure out how to break it before it ruined any chance of a relationship with Dr. Braverman.
Anna set her alarm for six a.m. She had a great deal of work to do to get ready for the book festival starting very early Monday morning. Planning Steine and Steine’s booth at the event and the preparation for her panel discussion with her despicable ex would be a welcome distraction. Or so she hoped.