– Exordium of the Equinox of the Gods. 1 –
“Ah, to be able to love, to be able to suffer, to be able to feel ... That which all Humans have for granted, for me are nothing but fleeting rays of light amongst the dark clouds that constantly overcast the sky of my life ...”
I’d enrolled the Christ the King College in the beginning of the year.
Since I’d completed the eleventh grade at a Catholic school, my mother had wanted me to continue my studies at a Catholic institution, and Christ the King had been her choice. I didn’t mind it either way.
The sound of the bell made me run once again. The first class of the morning was English Literature and the teacher was particularly demanding with regard to punctuality.
“Morning, Mari!” I followed the voice that had called me and made sure I smiled.
“Morning, Steph. Late as always, I see,” I remarked, fully aware that that morning I could hardly criticize her, but she shrugged unconcerned.
“I hate English Literature. Especially early in the morning,” she replied, running to catch up to me, before I opened the classroom door just in time for the second bell.
Our teacher, Mr. Frederich, raised his narrowed eyes from the class enrollment list and gave us a cold, unpleasant look.
“Late as always, Miss Stephanie Waters! And it would seem your bad influence is starting to rub off on your friends as well. Miss Mariane Mellis! I should warn you that if you are going to start following your friend’s bad example you’ll end up seeing your grades plunge until they are also the same!”
“I’m terribly sorry. It won’t happen again,” I quickly apologized, and with an unpleasant frown he had no choice but to let us in.
“Hurry up and take your seats! Quietly!” he grumbled and we obeyed as fast as humanly possible.
“Stupid annoying old man. I hate him as much as he hates me!” Steph said under her breath as she pulled the chair beside me and I smiled wryly praying he hadn’t heard her just now. Joanne Baits however, sitting right in front of Steph, was an entirely different matter, and she smiled amusingly as she turned back in her chair.
“And then? What was it this morning? The cat? Your brother? The bus?” she asked, trying to guess the excuse Steph had prepared.
Steph shrugged. “Fell asleep. I was watching this movie until late last night and didn’t hear the alarm go off,” she answered while opening her book and Joanne laughed lightly.
“Oh my, Steph being honest,” she teased and turned to the front before she could be scolded as well. I smiled as Steph sighed, bored to death, and opened my book to page forty-seven to follow the text being read.
Stephanie Waters was the only girl in school I’d dare call a friend. In truth it was almost as if she’d somehow adopted me. Stephanie, Joanne and Joe Rider were all childhood friends, attending the same schools since forever, and Steph had been the first person to talk to me in the beginning of the year, when I‘d been completely alone, being the new girl and all.
The complete opposite of me, Steph had wavy dark hair, which fell softly around her delicate face. Her olive-colored eyes changed shades according to the light. And her skin was smooth and pinkish. Much taller than me, her body was the envy of many girls our age and everything she wore fit her perfectly, almost as if she were some magazine model. She was funny, outgoing and generally well liked, and there was no one who didn’t know her. Steph had pulled me into her group of friends and was my daily savior, filling up the space I couldn’t fill due to my usual lack of appropriate words or knowledge, as far as interesting conversation subjects were concerned. Thanks to Steph my otherwise nonexistent social life always managed to have some color.
The morning went by the same as usual.
After English Literature came Philosophy. Neither Joanne nor Steph were in that class, so I shared my desk with Kevin London, another boy from our group.
Kevin was the quietest of them, no one knowing exactly what he thought about the rest of the world. Together we were the absurd of the lack of subject, since the words we exchanged were always so few. But I still couldn’t help feel at ease near him, and his company was much more pleasant than that of the other boys from school.
When lunchtime finally came we met Steph and Joanne again, in the cafeteria, where we took our places at our group’s usual table. The conversation became immediately livelier and, as always, I followed Steph while she told us about the movie that had kept her awake the previous night.
Like always, Joe immediately started picking on Joanne, making her give him her full attention instead of listening to what Steph was saying. Albert Clayton was whispering something apparently funny in Sarah Trent’s, his new girlfriend, ear. She laughed softly, her cheeks pink and her eyes bright blue. Kevin had his nose stuck in a book, which quickly became Steph’s target since Joanne wasn’t paying her attention. I just made sure I kept on smiling.
Again that feeling ...
It was as if I was there but wasn’t. As if I was one of them, but in truth something completely different. As if that was my reality, but at the same time I was a mere spectator of some strange movie. As if, for a moment, my world had stopped turning while theirs went on, slowly leaving me behind.
“Mari!” Steph’s voice woke me from my digressions. “We were talking about going to Oxford Street tomorrow, after school. Want to come? Anyway, you always spend your afternoons home alone, right? Why don’t you leave your books behind for a change?” she asked with her typical liveliness. Although we’d only met a few months ago, I had to concede that Steph knew me all too well. Her arguments left me no way to politely refuse her invitation, which, to top it all, had made me uncomfortably the center of everyone’s attention.
“Ok,” I just answered, forcing a smile, and the talk immediately became all about the shops we absolutely had to go to. The boys offered to accompany us, making Sarah happy and Joanne frown in disapproval, since that meant Joe was coming too, to torment her all afternoon. They talked about our impending afternoon all throughout lunch, but my mind had been elsewhere ever since I’d sat down with my food tray. I focused on eating everything I’d bought as fast as I could and it only took me the whole of ten minutes to be done with it, soup and desert included.
Standing up, I hopped no one would notice my absence, but Steph didn’t allow me to leave that easily.
“Going already?” she asked, knowing all too well where I was headed, and I blushed, nodding. “Good luck then!” she added, winking, and I walked away with my empty tray before anyone else could question me about my destination.
After placing the tray on its rightful place, I ran from the cafeteria towards the north building and out into the cold, pale day. The wind that cut through my clothes made me shiver and hold my breath for an instant. But a second later none of that mattered anymore. Because there he was — Michael Heaton.
His smile froze me instantly in place and all I could do was watch him from where I stood. As always, Michael was surrounded by his usual group. At the time they seemed to be talking about something amusing and, even though I was too far away to hear them, I noticed his sandwich had been forgotten, his attention completely focused on what one of the other boys was saying.
Forcing myself to take a few steps as the glass door to the cafeteria building closed behind me, I sat down in the middle of the small stairway just to merely look at him.
Michael was simply ... perfect.
His blond hair was soft and shiny. His green eyes seemed to glow. And his warm and purely wonderful smile made my heart beat like crazy, so much so that I wondered if those who walked by me were able to hear it. At about six-feet tall, he had long, well-built legs and his movements were incredibly smooth. Just watching him, even from a distance, brought a new light into my day, making me positively certain that it was really good to be alive after all.
Michael was one grade above mine, even though he was two years older. He’d also enrolled in Christ the King at the beginning of the year and it had been during the opening ceremony that I’d laid my eyes on him for the first time. He’d instantly become one of the most popular guys in school but he still didn’t seem to take any pride in that.
From what I’d heard, Michael had been in some kind of accident and had been hospitalized for almost a year. And even though he seemed completely recovered, he’d apparently lost his memory. For a long time the police had looked for someone who could recognize him, someone from his family, a home to where he could return to. But no one had come forth. Around that time Father Jorge, who was visiting a family member in the same hospital, learned about his case and decided to become Michael’s guardian, enrolling him in Christ the King.
Despite his unfortunate situation however, Michael always had a bright smile on his face, and was cheery and friendly towards everyone. Besides attending classes, he assisted Father Jorge at Friday mass, which led me to visit the school’s chapel quite regularly.
It was impossible to deny that I was completely in love with him. I knew his routines by heart, the classes he took, his schedule and habits. He usually brought lunch from home trying to save up some money, probably not wanting to weigh too heavily on Father Jorge who now looked after him. He always ate lunch outside, under the trees. And although bringing your own lunch from home could definitely be seen as uncool for anyone else, no one seemed to think the first thing about that where Michael was concerned. Everyone had naturally accepted it.
Luckily, most of my classes took place in the same building as his, although his classroom was on another floor.
Even so, lunch period was the only time I dared take a few moments to simply stare at him, hoping my freaky behavior might go unnoticed. As to be expected from someone shy and introverted like me, my low self-esteem would never allow me to even speak to someone as popular as him, much less confess my feelings, no matter how much Steph insisted on it.
As I sat on those stairs, dazedly watching his every move, time quickly went by. And so I was startled by the sound of the bell that forced me out of my waking dream and made me quickly jump to my feet. Usually I’d be gone before the bell rang, so that no one would notice my unwanted presence. This time, however, when I looked up Michael and his friends were already walking in my direction, making me panic.
I spun around before he could take a real look at my face and hastily ran up the stairs. But, in my clumsiness, my boot slipped on the last step. The only thing I recall is the feeling of time being stopped, and of me slowly falling on my back. A shout rang in my ears and something warm cushioned my fall. At first I was too dizzy and confused to understand what had happened, but the sound of voices soon became clear in my mind and started to make sense again.
“Michael! You’re all right?”
Panicking once again I noticed the arms firmly closed around me, that I was sitting on the ground, and that I wasn’t alone!
“I’m OK. Don’t worry.” A soft warm voice answered so close to my ear that my heart skipped a beat, leaving me petrified. “Hi! Are you all right?” His arms released me and when I turned towards his voice I saw him kneeling right beside me, his perfect face painfully close to mine. Michael was worried about me. “Did you get hurt?” he asked once again and I shook my head, mesmerized by his gaze. Still stupefied, I watched him stand up and offer his hand to help me.
Still shaky, I tried my best to accept his help, since I was sure I’d never be able to move again. And his big, warm hand surrounded mine, swiftly pulling me back to my feet.
“You sure you’re all right? Maybe I should take you to the infirmary just in case,” he suggested and I wished I could lower my gaze and hide my blushed cheeks, but I simply wasn’t able to turn away from his green eyes.
“No ... I’m fine, thank you,” I answered in a low voice, wondering how I’d been able to speak without stammering, and he smiled, breaking my heart into several tiny pieces.
“Good. That could’ve been a serious fall,” he noted, measuring the stairs with a critical look. “Hmm, were you lost? Looking for someone?” he asked me again in a helpful tone and I shook my head, commanding my voice to be heard.
“Was going to class ... History.”
As expected he didn’t even know I existed. And going by his question he’d probably thought I belonged to some other school and had gone there looking for my older brother or something like that. And to think I’d been so worried about him noticing me, sitting daily on those stairs.
To confirm my suspicions his expression was one of surprise, but a friendly smile immediately took over his face.
“Ah, a year below ours. My name is Michael,” he introduced himself as if there was anyone in school that didn’t know him.
“Mariane,” I replied in kind and the second bell rang, dragging us both back to reality.
“Damn! We’re late!” one of the other boys said rushing inside and the rest followed him, leaving me still dazed.
“Come!” His voice rang in my ears as if it were a dream and the hand that still held mine pulled me along, making me run as well. When I realized we were already on the first floor, and his hand released mine leaving me temporarily lost and cold. “Your classroom is here, right?” he asked and all I could do was nod. “Mine is upstairs. See you around,” he added, blinding me once more with his smile, and, releasing my hand, turned around and climbed the stairs leading to the next floor.
I hardly listened to anything said in History class. There was the slight remembrance of Steph’s inquisitive look due to my tardiness. I know she asked me about it, but I can’t recall my answer. My head was somewhere else. And, by the time class was over, I could still feel the warmth of his hand on mine and the scent of his skin where he’d touched me, the same scent that had surrounded me when he’d put his arms around me to break my fall.
The sound of his voice rang in my ears and I prayed that those memories would remain engraved in my mind for all eternity.
It was in that near-sleepwalking state that I said goodbye to my friends and returned home. From our group, I was the only one who lived at a walking distance from school, which thankfully allowed me to enjoy a few moments of peace and quiet when commuting to and from school.
As expected, no one was home to greet me, but for the first time since we’d moved in I didn’t miss the sound of the operas my father often played in the house.
I went up to my room and dropped my bag on the desk, lying on the bed with a sigh. I could hardly believe my day.