– The Garden of Nemo. The Work of the Magister Templi.1 –
“Why can’t Human Beings learn their lesson, like all the other creatures of the Earth?
And the cycles repeat themselves, day after day, year after year, life after life....
In truth we can only perceive the treasure that we held when, too late, we see it sink in eternal seas of life.
And then all that’s left is pain, sorrow and silence...”
The next day I woke up at dawn, freezing and stiff from having fallen asleep sitting at the kitchen table. I looked around, rubbing the icy skin of my arms. I remembered I’d come downstairs to make dinner, thinking how much Lea would like to have something to eat waiting for him when he returned, and had sat there to wait ... to wait for him ... to wait for them. The food remained untouched on the pan left over the oven, the plates I’d set around the table clean. I stumbled towards the living room, still shivering from the morning cold but no one was there, either. Not even silent, empty eyed Jonathan that always seemed to be left behind, obediently sitting wherever Alexander chose to leave him.
With I sigh I knew I was alone but, even so, went upstairs to search the bedrooms, ending up back in the kitchen.
I decided to clear the table and put the pan in the fridge, since it was already freezing cold. I grabbed an apple as I closed the fridge and nibbled at it, absorbed in my own thoughts.
So much had happened all of the sudden ... ! Still I knew that I should be used to it, by now. Since Gabriel and Lea had arrived, my life had became a roller coaster, constantly going up and down. And I had the feeling that the wave brought upon by Alexander’s presence was even bigger than all the previous ones. At least, this time around, I hadn’t been the only one feeling her world shaking to the ground ... Gabriel had also felt it, and the words we’d exchanged, the day before, were a clear proof of that.
I felt my cheeks blush and dropped the half eaten apple in the garbage before going up to my room.
If I could believe his words ... I’d have to believe he had changed plans, yet again. I’d have to believe that, right now, all he wanted was to remain by my side and to live that human-like life for as long as possible, something that only I could offer him. If I believed that I could almost understand him, I thought. After all, compared to his life of loneliness, silence and darkness, life in the human world was much more colorful, warm, and filled with new things every day. It was only natural that he’d wish to stay for as long as possible ... I knew I’d wish that to, if our roles were reversed. And the only way to make this possible was to keep living as Gabriel, Mari’s cousin. In the end I was like a bridge, connecting him to the human world, while at the same time allowing him some moments of peace when he could freely be himself. If this was so, then what he’d told me also made every sense. He wanted the Contract, but didn’t want it to be fulfilled. Since fulfilling it would mean the end of his time here.
I put on my pajamas and slid under my quilt. Closing my eyes, I commanded my mind to fall asleep, but spent all morning wide awake, words and expressions dancing beneath my shut eyelids, refusing to let me rest.
If I could ... If I could see him as I Lea did, to answer his wish as he’d answer Lea’s, maybe he’d set me free ...
I got up, giving up on the idea of sleeping, and decided to take a shower in hopes of figuring out how I should face him the next time I saw him. After all we’d said to one another I just didn’t how I how to react around him.
However, he didn’t return.
Neither him, nor Lea, nor Alexander or Jonathan. And the weekend slowly went by.
After almost two days home alone the silence around me started to become so heavy and oppressing as the air that surrounded him when he was angry. I did my best to keep busy, cleaning and tidying the house, focusing my attention in the fact that my mom would be arriving soon. Even so, I started to often find myself just standing there, my mind completely blank, as if my brain had simply shut down. At night I’d woke up frequently, certain I’d heard footsteps coming from below. I’d jump to my feet and run downstairs straight to the living room. And then to the kitchen. But no one was there. It was almost as if they’d completely vanished ...
To my relief, and although I’d doubted it possible up to the last minute, Rachel arrived Monday afternoon, just as planned.
The yearning I’d felt for her bright smile and familiar face seemed to double as soon as I saw her standing in the doorway, and I ran to hug her, fearing I might be seeing an illusion.
Her arms wrapped around me instantly and her perfume filled the air around me, leaving a content smile in my lips.
“Hi, dear! How have you been? Let me look at you!” she asked, holding me by the shoulders, pushing me back just enough to look at me from head to toe, and that familiar smile was back. “New clothes, I see!” she noticed immediately, and I hugged her again.
“Really! Only you to pay attention to that sort of thing! I missed you!” I confessed and she laughed lightly.
“Me too, dear. But let me get in, okay? We’ll have more than enough time to catch up.”
I nodded but even so refused to release her, which made it rather difficult walking through the door and down the corridor. We both collapsed on the couch, her laughter filling the room, and my eyes fell immediately on the empty armchair, Gabriel’s usual place.
“I know that Gabriel has already returned home for the holidays,” she told me, practically reading my mind, and I looked up at her in disbelief.
“You know? How?” I demanded urgently and she tried to straighten my hair, which we both knew to be useless.
“He sent me a message last week, to let me know when he’d be leaving and to wish me a pleasant trip.”
“Last week?!” I repeated, completely taken aback. How? If he himself had told me it was best if my mom didn’t come visit? If he’d really sent that message, then his absence had been planed! And if that was how it was, why not tell me? And did that mean he wasn’t returning till the end of the holidays ... ?
“How have you two been getting along, here, all by yourselves?” she asked, sounding worried, and I was forced back to reality.
“Oh, everything’s been fine. Did he tell you when he’s coming back?” I asked.
“Hum ... I don’t believe he did. But it sounded as if he was only going away for a few days. To be with his family, I suppose. I remember his message said that we’d see each other soon, before I have to return to Paris. But why? Didn’t he tell you?” she asked, now sounding suspicious, and I made myself smile, shaking my head.
“He didn’t tell me exactly when he’s returning. That’s why I asked,” I half lied and Rachel put an arm around my shoulders and pulled me against her soft, warm body. Before she would had certainly noticed my lack of honesty, but by now I was so used to making up lies and stories to justify his presence that they dropped out of my mouth with the same conviction as the purest of truths.
“Boys!” she snorted. “You know how they are. He’s probably playing around with his friends,” she justified the lack of information and took a deep breath. “But what about you? What have you been doing? Tell me everything!” I laughed and snuggled against her chest.
“How can I possibly have anything new to tell you when we write each other almost every day? Besides, my life here is pretty much the same - home, school, school, home, too much study and the occasional stroll down the park. You’re the one with all the news!” I protested and she placed a warm kiss on my head, stretching towards her small travel bag so she wouldn’t have to release me.
“I guess you’re right. And I brought you a bunch of things, too,” she announced excitedly, and I raised my head curious about the gifts that my scatterbrained of a mother had managed to by for me.
Between dozes of pictures, postcards, small decorative objects and some pieces of clothing, the living room was plunged into chaos in just a couple of hours. Rachel spent the rest of the afternoon telling me about her life in Paris, and the way she did it almost made it sound like some fantastic adventure, her eyes glowing with enthusiasm as she described all the places she’d been to and all the people she’d met. As it got dark outside I went to the kitchen, to turn on the stove and make some last minute improvements on the dinner I’d prepared to welcome her home. She seemed pleasantly impressed, complimenting me all through the meal, almost as much as Lea would have, and I asked her about the project she was developing.
We talked and laughed the whole night long, until we were both practically asleep on the couch. We made plans to go out together the next day, and she kissed me good night by my bedroom’s door.
I stood there for a moment, watching her until she closed her own door, and got in my room still smiling. It was really good having her home, I thought, and better yet not being alone anymore.
Nevertheless I still woke up in the middle of the night, my hair glued against my damp forehead, my stomach completely turned upside down. I stood up, still gasping, and opened the window to breathe in the cold air of the night. The wind made me shiver, freezing my sweaty skin and helping me calm down. The sky was unusually clear, the stars shinning coldly above my head.
I tried to recall my nightmare but the memory of what had probably been a truly fighting dream was completely gone.
With a sigh I closed the window and went back to bed. But, just like it’d happen the night before, I couldn’t go back to sleep. Instead, my mind was filled with questions about Gabriel and where he could possibly be. And I just couldn’t stop thinking about the way he’d left, as if something serious had happened.
The next couple of days, Rachel and I did all the things anyone would expect a mother and daughter to do together. We went shopping, had tea and scones somewhere nice and sunny, took a stroll on the nearest park and cooked all our favorite dishes. Somehow I managed to keep our dates limited to the areas around our house, preferably as close as possible. I still remembered all too well what Gabriel had told me about the red mark on my wrist, how it was imbued with his energy which made it dangerous leaving that area. I wasn’t sure where his barrier started or where it ended, and I just didn’t want to take the chance of being attacked and killed by some Deiwos looking for him, much less while in my mother’s company.
Wednesday night our evening was suddenly interrupted by a phone call. Rachel, that had stood up to pick up the phone, returned not long after, a suspicious smile stretching her carefully painted lips.
“Mari. It’s for you. And it’s a boy,” she added significantly, laughing as I jumped to my feet and ran out the door.
“Hello?!” I asked urgently, only breathing afterwards.
“Mari? It’s me, Michael.” His voice reached my ears, warm and enveloping as always, but I could hardly hear it. It was almost as if my life had been left suspended, somewhere, and it took me a while to take it back. “Hello?”
“Yes! Yes, Michael. Hi,” I answered, making myself sound as enthusiastic as I knew I should be. I felt puzzled with my own reaction. Who had I been expecting to find on the other side of that line?
“Did anything happen?” he asked, perceptive as always, and I smiled. I could easily imagine his worried expression and the intent way he’d be looking at me if he was there.
“No, I’m sorry. My mom and I were watching TV. What about you? How have you been?” I inquired, quickly changing the subject, and his tone became more trivial.
“Everything’s fine. I’ve been loitering around the house. And I’m starting to get bored of all this procrastination. And so I was thinking if you’d like to go somewhere, tomorrow afternoon.” My first impulse was to refuse, the perfect excuse coming immediately into my mind, but I stopped myself just before uttering yet another lie. I’d never noticed it before, just how conditioned I was to Gabriel’s presence. In truth, it wasn’t as if I didn’t want to go out with Michael. Quite the opposite. I missed the times we used to spend all by ourselves. Before the holidays I’d been refusing him constantly because of our agreement. But now that he wasn’t there, I didn’t need to refuse his invitations anymore.
I smiled, telling myself I was free like I haven’t been in a long time, and took a deep breath.
“Where do we meet?” I asked and it was his turn to stay silent for a moment.
“You mean you really want to meet me?” he asked, sounding incredulous, and I laughed lightly at his insecurity.
“Of course I want, Michael. Why wouldn’t I? Besides, we’d already promised to see each other during the holidays, remember?”
“Yeah, but ... well, never mind,” he replied and I could hear his smile in his voice. “Where do you want to go?”
“Nowhere special. Ah, but if possible I’d like to stay around town,” I added, recalling my only present condition.
“Sure. Meet you at school, then? We’ll go from there.”
“Perfect. I’ll be there.”
I smiled again. Even through the telephone his voice made my heart beat faster, making me feel as if I’d just been hugged by something soft and warm; like a sunny day in the beginning of Summer.
It was with reluctance that I put down the phone and went back to the living room. Rachel looked at me intently as I sat down beside her, unable to hide my smile.