Alli met Jeff on a bustling, hot, sticky night in New York, at the Blue Fin restaurant in Times Square. She was eating a few bar peanuts before Jeff arrived. Jeff was a djinn, specifically an afrit.
No one would have been able to tell, unless they were looking for the signs: the deep, ruddy color of Jeff’s tawny hair, the slight, maroon shade in his otherwise brown eyes. On closer inspection, his fingernails tapered into sharper points, than normal, and his teeth, beyond the front ones, seemed to be all canines.
Alli knew these details already and rose up to hug him, when he appeared, like a whirlwind coming through the door, all swirling overcoat and long, dark blue scarf.
“You look just like Aro said you would,” Alli exclaimed, “You look great!”
“So do you,” Jeff, the afrit, answered humbly, “It’s an honor to be able to meet the new Sky Avatar.”
Embarrassed, Alli waved the compliment off, “What are you having?”
They ordered a large set of California rolls to share, and a couple of glasses of Chablis.
“Where have you been recently?” Alli asked, before using the chopsticks to pop a sushi piece, with avocado, into her mouth.
“I am staying in the Yale Club, not too far from here,” Jeff mused, dipping his roll, in a minute dish of soy sauce, “You are right: I do look windswept. I have been jumping all over the Near East – Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Dubai, the Empty Quarter – what one might call ‘the Bible Lands.’ Old World deserts.”
“Your passport must have a ton of stamps on it,” Alli observed, as she dipped her roll in the smidgeon dash of wasabi, on her plate.
“Yes, I am originally from Bristol,” Jeff explained, “but I’ve bounced around for most of my life: India, Tanzania, you name it.”
“‘Jeff’ isn’t your real name, is it?” Alli commiserated, in a lower voice.
“No,” he confided, picking up a delicate sliver of sashimi, “The moment before a djinn is born, The One whispers his or her true name into one ear.”
“No one else can know that name, except trusted folks, because that name, can be used to bind you, correct?” Alli whispered.
Jeff nodded, eating another roll. He chewed thoughtfully and then continued, “Humans don’t know their true name, which, to me, is rather dangerous. Someone could call you and you would come hither, and you wouldn’t even know that you were being called.”
“It’s quite odd, indeed,” Alli agreed, “Aro says now that I know I am an Atevar, my true name will come back to me.”
“Yes, it will,” Jeff seconded, “and when it does – I can’t be too dramatic on this – guard it with your life.”
“Naming takes on a whole new importance, doesn’t it?” Alli looked up.
“Djinn have half a dozen different names at any given time. For example, ‘Jeff’ is the name only you will call me by, the moniker only you will know me by,” Jeff further explicated, “This is not a slight; it can happen even with long-running relationships. Did Aro tell you the real reason I am moving around so much?”
“No,” Alli shook her head.
“My ‘Reginald’ up and left, late last year. Just left,” Jeff growled, “The engagement didn’t matter or anything.”
“I’m sorry,” Alli murmured, taken aback. She set her chopsticks down.
“Don’t be, don’t be,” Jeff squeezed her shoulder, “‘Reginald,’ huh? Not ‘Reggie,’ just ‘Reginald.’ Very stiff, isn’t it? I should have known from the start.” He smiled, despite himself.
Alli turned around, on her stool, facing him front-on, “I recently broke up with someone too, someone who reminded me of an old flame, who was never coming back. I have grieved and mourned on my own, tried to not let my new girlfriend, Page, see.”
Jeff gave a rueful smirk, “We’re not too different, you and me? Aren’t you glad Aro introduced us?”
They raised their glasses and clinked them. Beyond the crowded restaurant and the storefront glass, taxi cabs whizzed by in the blue evening, throwing up jets of water, torn from puddles, left by the afternoon rain.