– 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 ...”
Just like the before, the same dream tortured me that night. Those hands touching me, robbing me of strength and sense alike, leaving me in complete surrender before his touch. My body burned and melted with his every move. His skin was smooth and cool, his daring mouth ripping shameful moans from my forcibly sealed lips.
As always the sound of the alarm clock dragged me from his caressing arms, and I buried my face on the pillow trying to regain my lost breath. It was the tenth consecutive night and I couldn’t help asking myself how many more nights I’d be tortured by those indecent scenes.
The last time I’d been plagued by recurring dreams my parents had announced their divorce a few days later. In that dream I was always trying to escape something or someone unseen, always alone, running through London’s cold and deserted streets. I was desperately looking for something I couldn’t find. And the loneliness made my chest hurt. There was no one else in that dream, just me.
The dreams only stopped when my mom had decided to tell me what was going on. And I understood then that I’d been reacting like a child, filled with fears of abandonment. The difference was I’d reacted a bit too soon. And now this.
To make things even worse my unexpected meeting with Michael floated back into my mind. And I couldn’t help wondering if that dream wasn’t a mirror of my desire and, like the ones before, a sign that my wish would eventually come true. Michael and I ... in a scene like that! Pulling at my own hair I forced myself to return to reality and turned around to take a deep breath.
“I’m such an idiot!”
As if something like that would ever happen. It was only a dream, probably brought upon by my complete lack of contact with the opposite sex, beyond some brief ‘Good mornings’ and ‘See you tomorrows.’
Rachel’s voice warned me about the time and I got dressed as fast as I could, unwilling to be late again.
“Mari, I have another meeting today. But I’ll probably be home earlier,” she explained while checking the documents she’d placed inside her briefcase. Her flowery perfume overlapped the smell of fresh coffee. Like always, that morning my mother was the perfect image of a modern woman. “If you get hungry there are some steaks in the fridge ready to grill. Or make some eggs if you prefer,” she instructed. She drank the rest of her coffee as I munched on the yogurt with cereal that filled my mouth.
“It’s OK. Today I’m going out with the guys. Steph invited me to go shopping with them,” I told her, knowing she’d be excited about my plans and, as if not to disappoint me, a smile stretched her carefully painted lips.
“Oh! That’s wonderful. I always tell you you should go out more! But please be careful, OK? And don’t come back too late.”
“Don’t worry. I still have my homework to do and tomorrow is school day again,” I answered, trying to reassure her, and she kissed me on the cheek.
“Have fun then. And try to buy something new to wear. I swear, you’ve been wearing the same clothes for the last ten years!” she teased, to which I stuck my tongue out, aware that she’d been referring to my small-sized clothes. As bad as it was I was rather confident about looking at least older than a seven-year-old. “If you need something, call me. I’ll have the cell on at all times.”
“I’ll be fine. Just go already and have a nice day!” I responded, knowing she’d end up being late, and Rachel left the kitchen, taking her briefcase with her.
The first class in the morning was English, which Steph and Joanne also attended. However, unlike Mr. Frederich, Mrs. Turner seemed to be rather deaf, or simply couldn’t care less if we were paying attention. After all, we were all big boys and girls, old enough to know what was really important in life. And so the most pressing subject at the moment was our plans for that afternoon, at least until the topic changed.
“But tell me! Yesterday you went to see him again, right? You didn’t tell me anything after that. Did you finally talk to him?” Steph asked, lowering her voice, and I nodded, blushing noticeably. “You did!” she contested in a louder tone, her eyes wide in disbelief as if she’d never expected it to even be possible. “Oh my God!”
“Sh!” I hushed her, looking around, making sure no one was listening. “Not so loud!”
“Just spit it! Tell me everything!” she demanded, ignoring my complaint, and I shrugged.
“There’s nothing to tell, really,” which was far from the truth. Those fleeting minutes had been engraved in my mind in all detail. But how could I ever tell her that? That I could still feel the warmth of his hand on mine? It was just too embarrassing. “I told him my name,” I added to satisfy her curiosity. Steph’s smile was warm and honest.
“That’s great, Mari! Finally! And what about today? Have you talked to him yet?” she asked as if it were the most natural thing in the world, and I flinched reflexively as if she’d just threatened me with some sharp object.
“Of course not! Why? Do I have to?”
“Come on, Mari! You can’t let things cool down!” she went on, her greenish eyes sparkling bright, almost frighteningly. “Now that you finally broke the ice, there’s no need to hesitate. At least go and tell him hello!”
I lowered my gaze, knowing I’d never have the courage to do something that bold. I pictured it in my mind. My insignificant self walking towards him ... his warm smile, his green eyes looking straight at me. My heart jumped as if he were really there and I swallowed dry. I still couldn’t, for the life of me, understand how I’d been able to talk to him in the first place, even as briefly as it had been.
“You have to talk to him again! And then again, and again!” Steph insisted as if it were something of the utmost importance and I nodded, every bit sure that I’d never be able to do as she told me.
The rest of the morning went on as usual, with the exception that I was too aware of Michael’s presence in a classroom, somewhere on the floor above. My stomach was in knots, my hands too hot and moist. In truth I couldn’t remember ever feeling so nervous, not even when taking an exam. Steph’s words tumbled around in my mind and, surprisingly, by the end of the morning my panicky self had been defeated and I’d begun to accept that talking with him again was inevitable.
As soon as the bell rang most of our classmates made their way to the cafeteria. We, on the other hand, met Kevin outside our classroom and went towards the main gate. Any other day we would have joined everyone else, but since we were going out it had been decided we’d get something to eat in town. Like the day before, the sky was heavy and dark gray and the air smelled of rain.
Joe was the first to arrive, jumping up and down like some elementary school kid, and promptly made a rather unpleasant comment about Joanne’s skirt, which she’d clearly chosen with some care. Joanne, however, wasn’t one to feel down over her friend’s idiocy and replied in kind. Soon they were bickering loud and clear and everyone who walked by us smiled amused.
“We’re missing Albert and Sarah,” Steph noted, looking around, completely immune to their usual quarreling.
“There they are,” Kevin said, signaling the couple approaching us hand in hand, but my attention was diverted somewhere else.
Just like the day before, Michael was laughing with his friends, but my eyes wandered to the two girls walking with them. They were both popular enough to be well known throughout the entire school. I, for once, had already seen them around and, although their styles were far from agreeing with my taste, I couldn’t deny that they were beautiful, always exuding self-confidence, as if the world were theirs for the taking.
“Go talk to him!” Steph whispered in my ear as Albert and Sarah patiently listened to Joanne’s complaints. “Just go already! Go tell him hello and see you tomorrow. What does it matter as long as you speak with him?” Steph insisted but I hesitated, squeezing my sweaty hands together while desperately looking for an excuse to get out of there. Her friendly arm over my shoulders made me jump, her smiling face right next to mine. “Be brave, Mari! If you don’t take this step now no one will take it for you. Sure he’s cute and all, but in the end he’s just a guy like so many others around.”
I sighed. What use would it be trying to explain he was far from being like the others? It was almost as if we were living in two completely different worlds.
The soft push she gave me forced my petrified legs to move and stumble forward. And as crazy as it was that same movement repeated itself, almost as if I were some kind of robot, taking my stiff body and paralyzed mind towards Michael.
My heart was beating so hard I was practically deaf to the world surrounding me. I had the strange feeling of hearing his warm and marvelous laughter amongst the soft and delicate voices of the two girls. Another boy was telling them something apparently funny. And then, suddenly, everyone grew quiet; and, horrified, I understood why. My presence had been noticed and they were all looking at me with intrigued expressions.
Now that I could see them right there, right in front of me, standing side by side, I wondered if I wasn't actually looking at some kind of work of art. The four of them together were simply perfect ... like a painting. A painting where I could never belong. The knot in my stomach grew even tighter and I lowered my gaze, remembering how my eyes always looked kind of eerie when I looked directly at someone. From then on four pairs of shoes were all I could see and, when I realized, my feet weren’t moving anymore and I was standing right there, in front of them. I swallowed hard, not sure I was still breathing, and Steph’s words were the only thing I could think of.
“Um ... Hello,” I somehow managed to mutter and was immediately certain no one had been able to hear me. I felt so stupid! And then what? The silence around me told me they were waiting for something else, some kind of purpose for my presence there, maybe an excuse for my interruption. “Ah!” I suddenly exclaimed as something else crawled into my numb brain and, forgetting myself, I raised my head to look at him. “I never had the chance to thank you ... for yesterday,” I spat all in one breath and only then noticed his surprised expression. Looking away once more, I escaped those green eyes that had the ability to make my heart stop and fervently wished I could simply disappear or, at the very least, run away from that embarrassing situation. Above all, I couldn’t, much less wanted, to imagine what he might be thinking about the strange, incoherent girl standing before him. “So ... hum ... thank you,” I added, trying to make sure my voice didn’t tremble.
“Oh. You’re welcome,” he replied, sounding somewhat unsure. But none of that mattered. All I could think about was that he had answered. My cheeks caught on fire and a shy smile stretched across my lips as my heart jumped in pure bliss.
“Well, that’s it then,” I said, not knowing what else to say, aware that my courage was already beyond spent, and fell back on Steph’s words of support. “Hum ... See you tomorrow.”
“Right. See ya.”
My smile took over my entire face as I turned around wishing to return to Steph’s side as fast as possible, my footsteps still shaky as I walked in a complete state of disbelief. My heart was beating like crazy, but I was overjoyed and proud of myself. I wished I could run, or jump, and so I tried my best to keep walking as normally as possible. Finally! I’d been able to take the initiative and talk to him. And he had answered me! He had talked and looked at me!
“That girl. Who was she, Michael?” I heard one of the girls ask and my attention was immediately focused on them.
“Hum ... To tell you the truth, I don’t really know.” All air left my chest and a dark hole opened beneath my feet. The voice I loved so much saying words that could break my entire being. “Her face isn’t completely strange, though.”
I wondered if I was still breathing and noticed I wasn’t. Taking a deep breath, I filled my lungs as pain filled my heart. My eyes burned and I wished I could cry, but had no tears to shed. And so I raised my head and kept walking towards Steph, who was watching me from a distance. The truth was I could never cry when I felt like it or had reasons to do it.
“Isn’t she the girl we met yesterday, at lunchtime? The one from the stairs?” the other boy asked, still wondering.
“She’s weird,” one of the girls stated critically. So I was deeply grateful when the distance between us wouldn’t allow me to hear anymore, and even more relieved when Steph’s voice filled my ears.
“How did it go? Did you talk to him?” she asked me excitedly, putting an arm around my shoulders, and I simply nodded. My body was there, I could feel her warmth and hear her voice, but the world around me didn’t seem real at all.
“Hey, Mari! How do you know Michael Heaton?” Joanne asked me curiously. I raised my head drawing a smile on my face, not knowing if it would be enough to fool them. Were there tears in my eyes? My sight was a bit blurry, making everything deformed and distorted like in a nightmare.
“I don’t. I just went to thank him for his help, yesterday. That’s all,” I answered and the pain in my chest became even sharper.
He hadn’t had the slightest idea who I was! He didn’t remember me! My own insignificance hit me hard. How could I’ve been so stupid! I should’ve known better and known my own place.
To my relief the subject of ‘Michael Heaton’ was quickly forgotten. Steph, who seemed rather pleased with my progress, dragged me by the arm and we finally left the school grounds towards the bus stop.