– 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...”
Just as we'd agreed, and at the set time, Michael was waiting for me by the now closed school gates. His smile greeted me at a distance and, when I walked up to him, he looked at me with an awkward expression.
“Sorry I called you so late, last night. I didn’t know your mother had returned.”
“It was a last minute decision,” I clarified. “She arrived Monday. But no worries. I’d say you left a good impression on her.”
“Really?” he asked intrigued.
“Well, you were the first boy to call me at home, after all.”
He looked surprised before averting his gaze.
“You must be thrilled to have her back.”
“Yeah. Very much so.” He smiled and stretched out his hand to me.
“Shall we go?”
“Does it matter?”
I was at a loss for words for a moment. Something had change in the way he looked at me. The constant uncertainty I’d got used to see in his eyes was gone. And his decided and self-confidant expression left me apprehensive and embarrassed. Still, I place my hand on his, his warm fingers automatically flexing over mine, enveloping my hand completely, before he softly pull me for a walk.
“I missed being with you like this,” he confessed making my heart jump. The hand that held mine was big, and soft, his strong fingers drawing small circles over my skin.
I laughed nervously, unable to face him.
“As if we didn’t meet every day, at school,” I criticized, trying to minimize the serious tone of his voice.
“Yes, but only so briefly and we’re never alone,” he answered and I didn’t know what to say, once again. I was starting to regret having agreed to go out with him. Maybe I should have kept trying to avoid him. I made myself smile once again and took a deep breath.
“You know, I’m quite sure I’m one of the most hated girls in school, nowadays,” I stated, trying once more to change the subject. “They all think I stole you away. After all, an idol belongs to everyone. And he’s not supposed to show preferences by hanging out with the same person all the time. It’s really silly, though.”
“I told you before. I couldn’t care less about what others think. Though I am sorry that you have to go through this because of me. They don’t even know you. If I could do anything to change that ...” he added, sorrowfully, and I shrugged.
“It’s fine. My friends still treat me the same. Even after Steph stopped talking to me.”
“She’s still not talking to you?”
“Yeah ...” I confirmed, feeling depressed. I couldn’t help feeling sick every time I recalled Steph’s cold and hateful expression when she looked at me.
Michael sighed deeply and I dared take a peek at him. The way the sun touched his face made him look even more beautiful, I thought, and I felt even more depressed as I pictured how I would look standing there, right beside him. Suddenly all the time I’d spent that morning, trying to decide what to wear and fighting against my hair’s constant tantrums seemed utterly pointless. No matter what I did, I’d never be good looking enough to stand beside him.
“You know, I even talked to her,” he told me and I looked at him in disbelief.
“Yeah. Just to try and make her understand that there was no way you were romantically involved with your cousin,” he explained and a sharp pain pierced my chest. “But she just wouldn’t believe me. She just told me that there were things I didn’t understand. And then I also started thinking that Stephanie’s suspicious aren’t all that baseless.”
“What do you mean?” I questioned, slightly raising my voice, all defense mode, and he smiled appeasing, raising my hand to his lips, placing a soft kiss on my skin. My anger evaporated immediately and I stared at him completely stunned, my heart racing like crazy.
“I’m not talking about you,” he clarified. “But, ever since that day, when you came to my house and wouldn’t tell me what happened, I started to pay closer attention to Gabriel. I know you don’t feel at ease around him, almost as if you’re afraid of him, and so I know that you’d never have those kinds of feelings for him. But maybe Stephanie’s hostility towards you is based, not on you, but on him. At least that was the feeling I got, after talking with her. Stephanie doesn’t act like she does for fear you may steal him from her, because that has already happened. She’s just afraid of what you'll do, once you’ve noticed how he feels about you.”
I felt my heart stop and my feet followed suit.
“What are ... you talking about ...” I managed to murmur and Michael turned to face me, his expression all too serious, the wind softly brushing his golden hair, his eyes filled with anxiety.
“That he has feelings for you,” he openly declared and the pain from before returned twice as stronger, making me frown.
“That is ridiculous! You don’t even know him!” I attacked since I didn’t know how else to defend myself and he nodded.
“That may be true. But I do know what I’m talking about. I’ve been watching him since that day. The way he looks at you, how he’s always searching for you in the crowd, the way his gaze follows you around ... it’s impossible not to recognize it. Because, not knowing who I am, I watch and observe myself more than anyone else. And he acts the same why I do.”
I pulled my hand from his and squeezed it hard against my chest, stepping backwards. Suddenly his implications regarding Gabriel’s supposed feelings weren’t all that important anymore. I squeezed my wrist so hard that blood stop flowing to my fingers, and panicking tried to figure out a way to run away from there as fast as possible. I told myself I wasn’t sure what his words meant, and simply wished he’d just shut up! If he went on, what next? If he said he was in love with me right there, what would happen? I shut my eyes hard as my heart threatened to implode. Would Gabriel appear out of nowhere to claim his prize? Or would I magically disappear and be taken to him? Above all my wandering thoughts I could clearly hear his voice. ‘… without it I’d have no place in your life.’
Michael’s hand on my shoulder made me jump and I felt dizzy.
“Mari ...” I brushed his hand away and gave another step back. I could feel my skin too hot and damp, almost as if I was running a fever.
“How can you possible even dare to guess what he’s feeling?” I demanded, aggressively, and his surprised expression made me lower my gaze. “You don’t even know what you’re feeling! How can you? If you don’t remember anything!” I went on, perfectly aware of how hurtful my words were, knowing he was not to blame for the mess I was in, but not knowing how else to put a stop to all that. “You can only know the strength of your feelings by comparing them to other experienced feelings. If you don’t have a past, how can you tell if what you’re feeling now is important or not?”
“I can’t,” he immediately answered and his hands framed my face, startling me, making me raise my head to face him. His soft gaze bore into mine, frightened and anxious, and even after all the terrible things I’d just told him, he smiled gently. “I already know all of that. You think I never thought about it? Because I didn’t know what to do ... Because it’s not like someone can come into my heart and explain to me what I’m feeling, the same way they can explain a path that I’ve forgotten. But then I realized that, even when you do have a past, there’s always a first time for everything. And that when it happens we’re always left confused and unsure. And so I stopped worrying about that. I told myself that, as long as I’m honest with myself and with those around me, I’ll probably be able to go through life without making too many mistakes.” Michael took a deep breath and his fingers caressed my skin, making me wobbly. “When I tell you I have feelings for you it’s because I do. I may not be able to properly name them yet, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel them. I like being around you and I miss you every time you’re gone. Your smile makes me smile. Your voice grants me peace. I surprise myself looking for you even when I know all too well you’re not around. Steven says with all certainty that I’m...” I placed my hand over his lips, the warm, soft skin under my palm making me shiver, and took a deep breath, since I’d forgotten how to do it. I wished I could cry and get rid of all the sorrow inside me, but now I knew that would never happen. I took another deep breath and faced him with all my strength, with all my determination.
“I don’t want to know,” I declared. “And I need you to promise me you’ll never speak of this again!”
“But ...” he tried to mumble from under my hand and I pressed it even harder, silencing him once again.
“Michael! I’m serious! And no questions either! If you can’t do this ... then I’ll never see you again!” He seemed to understand I wasn’t joking and slowly nodded, which made me release him from his gag. “I know you don’t understand ... and that it’s really unfair ... but right now, I just can’t worry about any of that ... I’m really sorry ...” I added, holding his hands, still on my face, and pulled them away.
He just stood there, motionless, and I didn’t dare face him again. The sound of bells marking the hour brought me back to life, and I turned around and walked away.
“Mari!” The sound of his voice stopped me in place. I’d been sure he wouldn’t follow me, that I’d hurt him beyond repair. “I don’t understand, you’re right! But there are many things I don’t understand ... and I guess that, for now, I can live with one more, hoping one day you’ll be able to explain it to me.” I turned back, completely speechless, and he smiled, quickly covering the space between us. “I won’t talk about this anymore, if it disturbs you so much,” he guaranteed, placing a hand on my head like he usually did and, for the first time, I didn’t resent that treatment that always made me feel like a child being comforted by an adult. “However, I want you to keep in mind that, no matter the name you want to give it, Gabriel feels the same way I do, about you,” he stated without the shadow of a doubt, and I turned away once again. “Where are you going?” he asked after me, as I walked up the street.
“Church,” I replied dryly and I heard him run to catch up once more.
“Are you mad at me?” he asked, easily accompanying my furious footsteps and I shook my head.
“No. And enough of this talk.”
I heard him sigh and, as we went around the corner, there it was, the House of God. The main door was open and, at the top of the tower, raising well above ground, were the dark bronze bells that had called me there.
I stopped by the door, peering inside. Michael laughed and walked by me, holding my hand and towing me behind him.
“What are you doing? Standing there by the door! You know, it’s not like someone is going to hit you for going inside,” he joked and I couldn’t help smile sarcastically. Who, in my shoes, could be sure of such a thing?
We walked hand in hand through the main aisle and my gaze fell upon the ceiling paintings, portraying small child-like cherubs, smiling down at us from between white fluffy clouds. The walls were filled with paintings representing passages from the Bible and, behind the Altar covered in white linen, a huge golden cross oversaw the whole church. Surrounding it there were two statues both much bigger than any Human Being and, at their feet , two intricate flower arrangements, mainly made of dark-red roses like Alexander’s eyes, and white lilies like Gabriel’s marble-like skin.
I looked around, going over the carved columns and long, worn off, wooden benches. The silence filled the air around us. There was no one there, in that sacred place.
“What are you looking for?” Michael asked, standing beside me, his voice echoing through the emptiness, and I sighed taking a seat.
“An angel,” I answered and he looked curiously at me. Because he’d told me that angels used to meet in places like that, I recalled ... and maybe it was true. And I just couldn’t see them ...
“An angel?!” Michael joked sitting beside me. What other hope was there? I was at my limit ... Him leaving had postponed my fall, but for how long? The precipice before me was still there, darkly waiting for me. “What do you want an angel for?” he asked and I raised my head towards the colorful paintings covering the ceiling.
“So that he will help me wake up my Guardian Angel. Because he fell asleep ... and left me alone ...” The pain in my chest became even harder to bear. He too ... had left, leaving me behind without a single word. Michael wrapped an arm around my shoulders and pulled me against his body, surrounding me with his warmth.
“I’m here, you know. I can always be you Guardian Angel, if you want,” he suggested lightly and I smiled, noticing that, behind his half-joking smile, he was actually being serious.
“It wouldn’t be easy, you know? It would probably be even dangerous. And you’d probably have to fight some demons, too.”
“Come on ... What are a dozen demons or so? Let them come!” he challenged and we laughed together, which made me feel better. I could only imagine Gabriel’s expression if he heard him say something like that.