– Kether. The Hierophant prepares the Candidate.
The Vision of the Ineluctable Destiny.1 –
“Unavoidably, subtly, almost unnoticed, the chains that bind me grow ever stronger,
heavier and certainly unbreakable.
The promise that I may one day return to what I used to be slowly fades away,
and my new me is molded step by step, pain by pain, smile by smile ...”
When I became aware of my own surroundings I was outside, a cold wind blowing in my hair and quickly cooling my face. Unexpectedly, even before my tired brain could identify him, Michael was already striding towards me.
“Mari! It’s so good to see you! I thought we would end up missing each other again,” he told me with a bright smile, but his expression quickly became more serious and preoccupied. “What happened?”
“Michael,” I mumbled, waking up from my thoughts which made my pain ever so much more unbearable. “Why? Why can’t I cry? I wanted to cry.” His arms immediately surrounded me, but not even his calming warmth was enough to comfort me. Why something like that? Why Steph?
“I see you crying, Mari,” I heard his soft whisper and remembered where we were. I pushed him away, too embarrassed to face him, and looked around hoping no one else had seen that. Of course that was too much to ask, and heads everywhere were turned our way, some expressions quite antagonized, like Lauren’s and Maggie’s, standing a few steps from where we stood.
“I’m sorry,” I muttered and tried to smile for his benefit. “I don’t even know why I came here. I didn’t think.” And especially after having decided that I would keep a distance from him!
“You have no classes this afternoon, right?” I looked at him, confused by that sudden change of subject, but he didn’t wait for my answer. “Let’s go,” he said firmly, pushing me towards the glass door leading inside.
“Let’s go?” I questioned while I allowed his warm hands to guide me. “Where?”
“Somewhere where we can talk.”
“No buts!” I didn’t argue any further. I didn’t have enough strength to do it. “Have you eaten?” he casually asked me and I just shook my head. “Great. I know the perfect place.”
Michael towed me out of school and down the street, and I followed him in silence, too immersed in my own thoughts to even notice where we were going. I jumped, startled, when a door was opened right in front of me and looked up at him, understanding his silent invitation. Once inside, I couldn’t help feel kind of mystified, since I had no idea how I’d gotten there. The small diner was simple and shadowy, with no more than a dozen tables and a long counter with tall stools.
“This place is great! The food is good, the people are nice and, above all, it’s really cheap,” he stated, stepping in behind me and the door closed with a soft squeak.
The man behind the counter smiled as we walked by, but he was the only one to take the time to acknowledge our presence.
“Oh, hi, Michael,” greeted a girl with a pink frilly apron as she walked up to us, and I was immediately caught by her beautiful face and honey-like, almond-shaped eyes that seemed to smile more than her lips.
“Hi. Can we get a table, Tina?” Michael asked with a friendly smile and Tina seemed to notice my presence for the first time.
My inferiority complex hit me hard. Tina was taller, much prettier and definitely much more attractive than I could ever dream to be. And I could easily imagine how good they would look together, which would never happen with me. Her confident and superior smile told me she’d just reached the same conclusion, and, as she turn around to lead us to our table, she didn’t seemed the least bit concerned with my presence.
We sat on hard, wooden chairs at a wooden table covered with a plastic table cloth. Tina returned a few minutes later with a menu that she made sure she delivered to Michael, while using the full power of her long eyelashes to wink at him. He smiled, as he always did, accepting the sheet folded in half, and his attention turned towards me.
“So? What would you like to have?”
I quickly scanned the short list of lunch selections. In truth I'd started thinking that I’d rather be somewhere else. That I’d rather have gone straight home. Besides, we were basically alone once more, something I’d decided that wasn’t supposed to happen again.
“Don’t know,” I ended up answering with a depressed sigh, regretting it immediately as a worried expression took over his face.
“Two calamari, please,” he decided for me. Tina gave him a flirty smile and took note of his request.
“And to drink?” she asked in a purred tone. I closed the menu, answering before Michael could, in an attempt to redeem myself.
“For me, too,” he added and she took note once again.
“No, that’s all. Thank you,” Michael answered and she smiled, fluttering her long eyelashes again, before strolling back to the counter.
I looked away, questioning my good sense and why I’d allowed myself to get caught up in such an embarrassing situation.
“So? How was your weekend?” he casually asked and I felt lost for a split second. I was so focused on my present worries that it was difficult trying to access the past. “Was everything all right with your aunt?” he inquired and I recalled the lie I’d told him.
“Ah, yes. It was great,” I answered, trying to make my smile look as real as possible. “She left yesterday.”
“Mari!” His hand was across the table and over mine in less than a second and I looked at him, startled and apprehensive at the urgency with which his warm fingers grabbed mine. “What’s wrong? Did anything happen?”
I stared at him wordlessly and then looked away trying to sound as casual as possible.
“You expect me to believe that? When we parted, Wednesday, everything was great. And then I didn’t even see you Thursday!”
“I told you ...”
“Yes, when we talked on the phone,” he went on. “But today, something’s clearly not right!”
Tina came back with our water bottles and, before her angry expression, I pulled my hand away from Michael’s, looking away embarrassed. She opened the bottles, pouring some of their contents in our glasses and, while she did it, our conversation was momentarily halted. As soon as she walked away, Michael leaned towards me, watching me with concern.
“Is it something you can’t tell me? If that’s the case, I understand.”
“It’s nothing like that.” I lied.
“So? Maybe I’ll be able to help you,” he offered, hopefully, and once more I couldn’t help feel guilty. I was making him worry and for what? There was nothing he, or anyone else for that matter, could do for me.
I took a deep breath and decided to give him the only answer I could, without having to lie any further.
“Stephanie and I, we had a fight,” I told him and he sat silent for a moment.
“You argued?” he finally asked and I sighed.
“I guess it’s a bit more complicated than that. I just don’t know how to fix this or even if it’s something that can be fixed.” Admitting it made me feel a little better, since at least that problem I was allowed to share with someone else.
“But aren’t, weren’t you guys like inseparable friends?” I grinned bitterly, noticing he’d wondered which tense to use, and made my finger slide over the cup rim.
“What happened?” he insisted once more after a brief silence and I took a deep breath.
“She, she...” I stopped. I couldn’t say it, I noticed in alarm. I couldn’t accept it! Her words echoed in my mind and anger burnt my chest. How could he have allowed things to reach this point? “She and Gabriel, they’re ...” My voice broke again and I stared baffled at my clenched fists that shook uncontrollably. What was wrong with me?
“I see,” Michael conceded in his soft voice, reminding me that I wasn’t alone. “And? What’s so wrong about that?”
“It just can’t be!” I exclaimed, raising my voice, and my cheeks flushed as I noticed his startled expression.
Tina came back at that precise moment, condemning our talk to another embarrassing silence, and placed two plates with calamari, rice and salad on the table. She asked if we wanted anything else and, after Michael thanked her, she walked away once more.
I allowed myself to take a deep breath and calm down. Michael didn’t know anything. He couldn’t possibly understand. That being said, it was hardly fair of me to sit there and pour all my frustrations out on him.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that. You don’t understand. You don’t know Gabriel the way I do,” I justified and this time he sighed.
“You’re worried about her.” I nodded. “And have you tried talking with her?”
“That’s why we fought,” I replied, feeling truthfully miserable. “She accused me of ... being interested in him.”
“And are you?” His question was almost casual, if not for the harsh tone hidden under his soft voice.
“Michael!” I reprimanded, outraged.
“Why? It’s a question like any other,” he stated defensively and I frowned, displeased with the implications of his tone.
“No, I’m not!” I replied, dryly. “How could I? He is a … my cousin!” I corrected in time and the smile that touched his lips immediately lightened his expression. I sighed. That day couldn’t possibly get any worse.
“But why worry so much?” he asked me, now looking determined to take my problem seriously, and I picked up my fork playing with the fried rings on my plate. “True, I don’t know him all that well, and that he can be a bit strange at times. But generally speaking, he doesn’t look like a bad guy.”
“That’s right. You don’t know him. I’m sure this will end badly. Steph is going to get hurt and I don’t know if she’ll ever recover,” I insisted and felt even more depressed. “She’s my friend and I don’t want to see her get hurt, much less because of him. I feel so responsible for all of this!”
“Mari! That’s not true at all!”
“But it is! After all is said and done, I’m the one who brought him into our lives. It was through me that he reached her!” The truth of my own words hurt even more.
“You can’t go around feeling responsible for what people choose to do,” he softly retorted, but still it wasn’t enough to make me feel better.
“How come there’s nothing I can do?”
“Hmm, if you’ve already tried talking with her and it didn’t work out, why not talk with him?” he suggested and I hung on his words. He smiled gently and rested his chin on his hands. “After all, in your opinion, he’s the real problem, right? Like you said, he’s your cousin. Maybe he’ll hear you out. It’s like I’ve told you. He doesn’t strike me as the bad boy type. If he was like that, he’d already shown his true colors, with all the girls throwing themselves at him on a daily basis. He’s not the type to go around taking advantage of girls. Maybe he’s really interested in Stephanie, who knows? And if he’s not, maybe you’ll be able to talk him into doing something about it. Ask him honestly not to hurt your friend. I don’t believe he’ll do it on purpose.”
I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Michael was right. I could do that. Hell! I could do more than that! The terms of our Contract clearly stated that he wasn’t allowed to hurt those around me, which wasn’t necessarily limited to physical pain. Besides, if there was something I’d learned during this past month, was that it was useless crying over spilled milk. What was done was done. Now all I had to worry about was trying to fix the situation as best as I could. And so I decided that I wouldn’t allow Steph to get hurt because of him, even if that meant the end of our friendship.
“Thank you, Michael,” I told him in all honesty and he looked relieved.
“What?” I asked unable to understand what he meant.
“You finally smiled,” he simply stated and I averted my gaze, giving my undivided attention to the calamari on my plate.
“Mmm, this tastes good,” I commented, trying to keep our conversation as casual as possible. I couldn’t help think of Lea, and how much he’d enjoy trying out some of those golden rings. Michael laughed lightly, filling my ears with that amazing sound that made my heart jump happily.
Tina returned to our table, completely ignoring my presence, and smiled at him from under her long eyelashes.
“Is everything all right?” she asked in a sweet, dragged tone, and he looked up at her with his usual smiling expression.
“Everything’s fine, thank you.”
“Call me if you need anything else,” she added and he nodded, which meant she’d run out of excuses to linger over our table any longer.
“That girl, she likes you,” I stated once she was out of ear’s reach, feeling more than a little bit jealous of the smile he had just given her.
“What? What are you talking about?” His caught-off-guard tone made me laugh.
“Come on! It’s written all over her face!” I replied. “And she’s not the only one.” I only noticed what I’d just said after I’d said it and the silence that fell between us made me blush profusely. “I mean!” I immediately tried to clarify. “At school there are a lot of girls who like you!” I tried, but the way his green eyes were watching me so closely only made things worse. “Which is normal, right? After all, you’re kind of like an idol!”
“An idol,” he repeated with an annoyed tone. “None of those girls interests me in the least. The idol you say they like doesn’t exist. In the end none of them really likes me. All they like is the image of me they’ve built in their own minds, and that’s not me.” I stared at my calamari once again. What was I doing? Sitting there, alone with him! When I knew perfectly well that the right thing to do was to stand up and get out of there. Do it! Stand up and leave, I ordered myself and put down the fork. “And? Did you manage to read the book we bought together the other day?” he suddenly asked me and his casual tone caught me completely off guard,
“Ah, not yet. Sorry,” I replied, remembering our promise to exchange them, and he smiled, his usual warm smile.
“No problem. I still haven’t finished mine, yet. But I’m almost done. It’s very interesting. I think you’ll like it.”
I smiled as Michael vaguely told me what it was about, careful not to spoil the suspense, and we spent the rest of our lunch talking about one of our favorite topics — books.
It was almost four o’clock when we decided to ask for the check and I had to fight my way through his stubbornness in order for him to allow me to pay for my share. When we went back outside I noticed we weren’t that far away from my house, and I promised myself I'd return to that diner with Lea, so he could try the calamari.
“Thank you for everything, Michael,” I told him, pulling up the collar of my coat to defend my neck from the cold wind and he smiled, shrugging happily.
“It was nothing. I’m glad I could help, and that I was able to cheer you up a little bit.”
I smiled awkwardly. It was true. I felt much better now, which naturally happened every time I was with him.
“See you tomorrow?”
He nodded and, before I could react, kissed the top of my head.
“See you tomorrow, Mari,” he whispered softly, making my heart jump, and smiled victoriously before walking away.