Grunting with frustration, I pushed the statue over as hard as I could and watched with satisfaction when it fell and shattered. “Why can’t I get it? It feels like I’m so close!” I kicked at the pieces of stone scattered at my feet, then fell to the ground holding my foot.
“I think you’re trying too hard. Just relax,” Luke said, struggling not to laugh. He held his hand out to me and pulled me up.
Through gritted teeth, I said, “Do not tell me to relax. Do you know anything about talking to women?” My hair snakes lifted around my head to hiss at Luke. Even they knew he was stressing me out: okay, so failing to partially shift body after body was what was stressing me out. At this rate, there wouldn’t be any criminals left in the state.
“Maybe we should take a break for a while? I’ve still got some pizza left from the other night. Let’s go eat, and then we’ll come back and finish.”
I grunted something that must have sounded enough like agreement because Luke threw his arm around my shoulders and turned us towards the door.
An hour and too much pizza later, I was still upset and frustrated. “Have you seen what some of the other goddesses can do?” I asked.
Luke looked like he wanted to say something, but stayed quiet.
“Just say it,” I sighed, “it’s probably something I need to hear.”
“You can’t compare yourself to anyone else. They have all been around a very, very long time. Time you were cheated out of. You’ve come so far since you’ve been back. You’ve been able to completely control your gorgon form. That’s huge, isn’t it?” He smiled at me, and I couldn’t bring myself to be upset with him.
“Yeah, I know you’re right.”
“Remember, when I first met you? I had to keep my eyes closed almost all the time.”
I laughed, remembering how he was always covered in bruises from bumping into things because his eyes were closed. “Yeah, I thought you must have had a death wish. You were never scared I’d turn you into a statue. You said it wouldn’t happen if you never looked at me.”
He pointed to the hand I was holding by my ear and the snake that was coiling around my finger. “And now you have so much control that I don’t even think you realize when you’re doing a partial shift. Just a few months ago, you never would have been able to do that.”
I was surprised to notice that I was playing with my snakes as we talked, and he was right. I didn’t realize I was doing it until he pointed it out. “I still think I’m close to being able to do so much more.” Frustrated, I got up and started pacing. The past had been on my mind a lot lately. I finally voiced the thought that had been keeping me awake at night, “I wonder who I’d be today if I hadn’t lost so much time. I wonder what I would have been capable of.” I had been wondering a lot lately what would have happened to me if I hadn’t lost my head so many years ago. Would I have mastered the curse? Or what would have happened if I had never been cursed in the first place, would I have lived and died a normal mortal life? Would I have even been happy with that? I honestly didn’t know. I kind of liked who I was becoming. I even liked my snakes. Whoever was responsible for bringing me back, gave me such a gift with the return of my human form.
Luke kept his eyes on me as I walked back and forth, then he finally said, “I think you’re exactly who you’re supposed to be. Maybe that just wasn’t your time, and you were brought here now because this is where you belong. Try not to get so caught up on the time you lost that you don’t enjoy the time you have.”
“I know, live for the present, leave the past behind. I’m trying. Maybe I do need a vacation.” Sighing, I sat back down and finished my soda. “Are you ready to go? I want to try those last two bodies.”
Luke stood up, grabbed my hand, and pulled me up. “You’ll get it. I have faith in you.”
“As long as one of us does,” I muttered as I headed for the door.
Luke turned the music up as he drove us back to where we had the bodies stashed. I shook my head at the sound. Luke always had to turn it up loud enough to drown out his thoughts. I wish that worked for me.
I failed three more times, and we stood looking down at the last two bodies. “Are you sure there aren’t any others?” I was a little disappointed. I wasn’t ready to give up just yet.
“They aren’t exactly lining up to volunteer,” Luke said with a smirk.
I rolled my eyes. “I know that, but I was hoping you might have had a few more.” Only two left. I can do this. I knelt and took a deep breath.
Kneeling next to me, Luke put his hand on my arm and said, “Just try to relax. Take a couple of deep breaths. I know you can do this.” He squeezed my arm and stood up. Crouching near the head, he held the eyes of the corpse open and turned his face away.
I took another deep breath to steady myself. My snakes were hissing softly at my shoulders. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought they were nervous for me.
Okay…I’m ready. I can do this, I said to myself as I put my hand on the arm of the body. I released the hold on my gorgon form and shifted fully. I pictured the man’s arm turning slowly to granite. This time, instead of trying to force it, I took Luke’s advice and tried to stay relaxed. I kept the idea of a stone arm firmly in my mind and let power trickle through me. I was startled when I heard Luke’s yell and fell backward on my ass.
“You did it!” Luke yelled again, and then he pulled me up and swung me into a hug.
I was laughing when he set me back on my feet, and was careful to keep my gaze down. “You’re lucky you had your eyes closed when I looked at you! You startled me!”
“You worry too much. Look, you did it!” He pointed to the body.
The arm was stone all the way up to just under his shoulder. “I did. I did it.” I was never going to tell Luke how much his advice had helped. It was like something clicked within me, and for once, I felt like I had complete control over the stone.
I rushed over to the next body, being careful not to look at Luke, and knelt next to it. I kept my eyes lowered while he got into position and held the eyes open. “Keep your eyes closed until I say to open them this time. You’re starting to get a little too careless.” Then softening my voice, I said, “I don’t want you to get hurt.” This time, I put my hand on the body’s leg and pictured it as stone. Almost instantaneously, the stone obeyed, stopping just under his knee.
I wasn’t ready to stop, though. I had one more thing I wanted to try. With my hand still on the leg, I pictured the rough granite softening to become flesh and bone. The stone slowly fell away until there was nothing left but a mildly fresh body. I did it. I was actually able to call the stone back. That had been my goal from the beginning, but I wasn’t sure if I ever really believed I’d be able to do it.
When I was trapped in my gorgon form, I wanted nothing more than to be able to call back the stone. Back then, I was filled with so much pain that I was never able to manage any kind of control whatsoever. The guilt at what I had done washed over me, and I blinked away tears, not wanting Luke to see. I pushed the old pain and hurt away, trying to focus on my success today.
“Did you just reverse the stone back to flesh and bone?” Luke asked, amazed. “I didn’t even know that was possible.”
“I didn’t either, at least not for sure. I had always hoped, though.” It had to be based on emotions. The more control I had over my emotions, the more control I had over the stone.
“Well, we need to celebrate! Hurry up and dust them so we can go.”
“Alright, as long as we can open that bottle you have hidden.” I definitely felt like celebrating.