– Path of Teth.
The Vision of the Fruit of the Great Work of the Beast - 666. The Lion.1 –
“Because I’m not a sun, like you, I wish I were a mirror as clear as crystal,
so that I could reflect your incandescent light ...
However, not even a dull mirror I’m able to be ...
My existence has been marked by a growing dark shadow that devours my being ... and in my pain I know I can never be close to the iridescent sun that you are.”
He disappeared and didn’t return, not even to sleep.
The dinner I left in the oven, like usual, was still there Sunday morning, and the same from Sunday to Monday.
I spent the weekend alone, with Lea, and took the chance to put my studies in order. I replied my mom’s e-mails, making up trivial things that would fill my everyday life and cleaned the house.
Saturday night Steph called to know how I was doing but mainly to tell me that Mark had officially asked her out, directly and with all the letters. She hadn’t known what to say, asking him to let her think about it. The most amusing thing was how shocked she sounded, not because of his proposition per se, but because apparently there were still people in the world able to make love declarations like the one she’d just received.
Monday arrived cold and rainy.
I stared into my wardrobe for at least fifteen minutes, trying to figure out what to wear. Before I wouldn’t have had any doubts, putting on my comfortable wool pants.
I got dressed and went downstairs, expecting to find him in the kitchen, but he wasn’t there. I had breakfast oppressed by a foreboding feeling until I realized I’d never had breakfast alone before. Rachel had always woken up earlier to make it for me, even when we still lived with my dad. And since she was gone Gabriel had always been there.
I was angry at myself for feeling lonely enough to wish his terrible company and, after feeding Lea, left the house diving into the cold outside.
When I arrived at school I’d already told myself that he probably wouldn’t show up and wished he could simply disappear just like that, as if everything had been nothing but a nightmare. My wishful thoughts broke into pieces as soon as I entered our classroom. And there he was, sitting in his place, talking with Steph who had miraculously arrived before the first bell.
That aside the morning went by like every other Monday morning. In Philosophy Kevin greeted me with his usual silent presence and, when the bell rang once again, we met the others and went down to the cafeteria. Gabriel joined us not long after and handed Joe a CD that left him so excited he wouldn’t stop jumping up and down on his chair.
“Stop it! You’re just like a monkey!” Joanne scolded him, tired of looking at him, making us all smile in anticipation, but Joe didn’t even seem to hear her, repeatedly kissing the CD’s casing.
“I still can’t believe it! You can’t possible imagine how I’ve looked for this! In all the stores!” he told Gabriel with a smile from ear to ear and he laughed lightly.
“I have a big collection. All you have to do is ask,” he replied, leaving Joe in a complete state of adoration, and I focused my attention on the menus. Collection? Where? I could only hope he hadn’t stolen all the things he made magically appear out of nowhere.
“Hey Mari! Look! Over there...” Steph whispered and I followed the direction she discretely pointed. “What is he doing here?”
I felt my cheeks warm up and my heart jump a beat. Michael stood by the door and seemed to be looking for someone. Then, as if something had called him, his clear green eyes turned towards me and a bright smile touched his lips.
“Ah ... he’s coming this way!” Steph observed, containing the excitement that already burned in her eyes, but I didn’t need her to tell me, no one did.
Girls everywhere stepped out of his way, allowing him passage and following him with longing gazes and sighs, or simple curious looks. In my group everyone was staring in disbelief and even Joe grew quieter, hugging his new CD.
Michael stopped right in front of me, brightening my day, and I couldn’t help noticing the deadly silence all around us. Everyone’s attention was on him, trying to figure out what had made one of the school’s idols visit the place where we, the commoners, ate.
“Morning, Mari,” he greeted me tranquilly, completely indifferent to all the gazes staring at him, and I asked myself if he was too absent-minded to notice the sudden tension around us when he spoke my name, or if he simply didn’t care. “Hey, Gabriel!” he greeted him too and Gabriel smiled at him, although only his lips had moved.
“Michael ... what are you doing here?” I asked, still stunned, and he laughed as if I’d just made a silly question.
“I came to meet you, of course,” he replied and I was sure my naturally wide eyes opened even wider.
“Uh, hi Michael,” Steph said with a smile, standing beside me, and reached out her hand. “I’m Stephanie but everyone calls me Steph,” she introduced herself and Michael shook her hand.
“Nice to meet you.”
“Want to join us?” she invited with a confidence that only she could manage and he nodded. “Oh, right, the rest of the guys,” she went on, completely controlling the conversation, and I couldn’t help feel relieved with the casual tone she had quickly managed to give that embarrassing situation.
Steph introduced everyone, making them react and erase that expression of ‘what the hell is he doing here?’ from their faces. And so, when we walked to our usual table after buying lunch, Joe had already gone back to being his usual self, bragging about his new CD to Joanne, hoping to make her envious. Joanne, however, obviously couldn’t care less about some stupid CD, her attentive expression showing she intended to listen to every word we might exchange.
Michael sat on the chair next to mine and took out his sandwich and a juice carton, which he shook before piercing with a straw.
“You always eat like that?” Steph asked, completely at ease as if Michael were just a some guy she’d just met, and I envied her ability to talk to him so naturally.
“Normally yeah,” he replied with the same simplicity and the others seemed as surprised as I’d been in our first conversations. Since he was one of the most popular guys in school, the general idea people had about him was far from corresponding to the truth. “To tell you the truth, I don’t have all that much money ... or I should say, almost none,” he added, laughing. “Father Jorge is the one taking care of all my expenses and so I try to spend as little as possible. If only this school would allow students to have a part-time job ...” He sighed and everyone was quiet, since Michael’s situation was widely well known. “Oh yeah, Mari. Wanted to return this,” he told me with a bright smile while searching inside his bag, and took out a book I immediately recognized as mine. “Loved it! To tell you the truth, read it twice!” he said with enthusiasm and I took back my book feeling embarrassed and closely observed by the others. On the table in front of us, heads constantly turned our way, and I guessed the same was happening on every other table around us.
“Ah ... I’m glad ...” I muttered, not knowing what else to say, but he looked happy with only that, sitting there, just staring as if I were something out of the ordinary. My cheeks burned and, to mask it, I filled my mouth with food.
“But tell me, Michael, what brings you here?” Steph asked and I almost jumped. A question like that...! Steph smiled innocently before my alarmed expression and I noticed Gabriel, beside her, kept his eyes on his plate, eating in silence as if he couldn’t even hear us. “Not that we mind sharing our table with you. But, if I recall correctly, I’ve never seen you around.”
“Steph ... !” I pleaded under my breath, mentally asking that she would shut up, but Michael smiled, facing her unperturbed.
“That’s right,” he admitted without a problem. “In the beginning of the year I did try coming here once or twice. But it was always quite the chaotic experience. They were always asking me questions about the accident, and that’s a subject I’m not particularly comfortable with. So I stopped coming altogether and started eating outside. Besides, my friends also bring lunch from home and so we normally eat together,” he explained. “To tell you the truth, I came here today just to meet you guys.” Except for Gabriel, they all stopped eating to stare at him in disbelief. ”It’s nothing, really. Nothing to worry about.”
“What do you mean?” Steph insisted and he smiled again.
“Because I rarely interact with others outside my usual group. Sure they’re all good friends and I know they worry about me. But in worrying no one seems to be able to get close to me before being carefully scrutinized and filtered. And I never really minded that,” he confessed. “Honestly speaking, their protection has always been welcome, since it spared me from all those ... unpleasant questions. But then we met Mari and Gabriel, and they started to hang out with us without having to pass any filters. I’ve always felt that those who came from outside the wall built around me would come to ... hurt me. But that wasn’t the case.” Now even I looked at him completely stunned. He’d never opened up like that, and doing it right there, before people he hardly knew ... I just couldn’t understand. It was clear in his persistent smile that he didn’t feel like smiling at all, that those words were hard for him to say, but still he went on. “Mari talks a lot about you. I just felt like meeting you,” he concluded with a simplicity that was far from being real and everyone was quiet for a moment.
“What the hell?!” Joe blurted out frowning. He looked deeply annoyed, something I’d never seen before. We’d all seen him being irritating and implicative, even seen him fight fiercely with Joanne. But that was different. “What do you think people are? Better yet, who do you think you are? Why in hell would everyone in the world exist just to hurt you, and why does your excellency needs being protected? If you don’t like what other people ask, just say it clearly! This is ridiculous!” he spate, facing Michael.
“Joe ...” Joanne muttered, surprised, and Kevin smiled trying to appease the moment, since Michael looked completely speechless.
“Michael, what I think Joe means is that you’re not the center of the world,” Kevin told him, his voice surprisingly calm and mature, as if he were an adult trying to explain something hard to understand to a child. “Isn’t it great? Of course your situation raises questions, just like Gabriel’s, that still has people piling over his desk every time the bell rings. But that’s only that. I understand your case may be a bit more delicate. But independently of all the questions they may ask you, the answers are something that belong exclusively to you. And a few words are enough to make people understand until where it’s okay to go. You don’t need a wall surrounding you, to protect you and decide for you.”
Michael sat quietly for a few moments making me worry. Joe was still upset. Gabriel put down his fork finishing his lunch.
Suddenly the sound of laughter echoed all around us and Michael covered his green eyes with a hand. My chest clenched as I asked myself if he was really laughing or crying.
“You guys ... are really something ...” he said under his breath and raised his head, going back to being the bright and friendly Michael that I knew. “Everything Mari told me about you was true.”
I blushed when the others looked at me and Joe’s annoyance seemed to melt away.
“She talked about me?” he asked, sounding excited by the idea. “What did she say? That I’m great and simply amazing? That I’m a hunk of a man? That must be it, right?”
“Joe!” I scolded, louder than I’d usually do, and my face burned turning red. They all laughed at my embarrassment.
“And to think Mari talks about us ...” Albert commented with a dreamy look.
“And to think Mari talks at all!” Sarah added, sitting beside him, and I understood that, without knowing exactly why, I’d become their target.
“Come on, guys, don’t be like this.” Joanne pleaded but the smile on her lips denounced her true intentions. “Mari is just selective with who she speaks to.”
“Well, she talks to me,” Steph informed with a superior look while Albert and Sarah made faces.
“And with me,” Michael added, looking at me with that dazzling smile, and I hid my face between my hands, knowing that it couldn’t get any redder.
“Enough already!” I pleaded.
“This is punishment, Mari. Who told you to go around talking about others behind their backs?” Joe asked, still laughing, and although I’d probably never felt more embarrassed in my entire life, I was still happy.
To my relief, the conversation ended up turning towards more trivial matters. As expected, Michael ended up having to answer a lot of questions, but never anything related to his past. They were all common questions, the type one would ask when trying to know the other person better. And so our lunch time went by, while we laughed and played.
I didn’t even notice the moment Gabriel left. When I realized he was already gone, not even his tray had remained. I still looked around, trying to catch a glimpse of him, but he wasn’t anywhere to be seen. I doubted he’d simply disappear in front of all those people, but couldn’t be sure. In truth, no one else seemed to notice his absence, not even Steph now sitting beside an empty chair, and who, just moments before Michael’s arrival, had been happily chatting with him. I felt slightly sad at the fact that someone could just vanish without anyone even noticing and recalled his words. He’d told me that once the Contract was fulfilled everyone would forget he’d even existed. At the time I'd thought it impossible. How could he possibly erase all the memories from all the people with whom he’d crossed paths with? However, sitting at that table, I couldn’t help thinking that maybe it would be actually easier than I’d thought. Maybe he wouldn’t even need to use Magic. Michael’s light was simply too strong and now I clearly saw that I wasn’t the only one being absorbed by it.
I repressed my unusual feelings of compassion making sure I reminded myself that Gabriel wasn’t even Human. He didn’t belong there! And turned my attention towards what Albert was saying, making sure that I too forgot everything about him.