Chapter 8 – Part 1

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Chapter 8 – Part 1

 

Chapter 8

 

TOR

– The Kerubim of Earth and Air
- Minor officers in the Initiation to 8x = 3{square x}.
The Vision of the Interplay And Identity of Earth and Air.1

 

“The dream I walk in is clear and filled with light.
In it I am Star, and my cold fire loves your blazing one. The world is perfect.
But, if dreaming raises me above the clouds, waking up is an inevitable and abysmal fall.
And I can’t help ask... why dream if all that’s left are the bitter ashes of a reality that can never be?”

 

 

Part 1

I woke up with the feeling I hadn’t slept like that in a long time. Stretching my arms I looked around, remembering I wasn’t at home. I was still on the floor, I noticed, and immediately remembered last night’s embarrassment.

Just like a child, I scolded myself as I stood up, and the smell of fresh toast made my stomach grumble.

Opening the curtains I blinked, blinded for a moment. All that light! What time was it?

I ran to the kitchen, bare-feet against the old wooden floor, and stopped by the door.

“What time is it?” I asked urgently and Michael turned to look at me, smiling gently.

“Good morning to you too,” he replied, reminding me I’d just failed at one of the most basic rules of etiquette, and I couldn’t help feeling ashamed first thing in the morning.

“Morning,” I replied, my urgency washing away before his bewildering calm, and he smiled again looking pleased with my answer.

“It’s almost noon.”

“Noon? What about school?”

He laughed, taking the toasts out of the toaster and placing the slices on a plate. “It would seem we’ve missed it.”

“But Michael!”

“Everything’s fine. I called first thing in the morning to let them know you weren’t feeling too well and that I had a medical appointment.”

“You called!” I was stunned, but he simply opened the cupboard and took out two jars of jam.

“Don’t worry. I made two different calls, at different times,” he calmly explained. “If it’d been one single call there would be strange colorful rumors all throughout school when we came back.” My thoughts exactly, I thought with a sigh of relief. “Not that I mind what others think. But I’m well aware of the number of eyes following me around everywhere I go. Don’t want to make your life even harder.” I smiled in pure bliss. He was too good to be true. “Help carry this stuff?” I woke up from my temporary state of bewilderment and rushed to help him.

When we finished setting the table, a simple breakfast turned out to be quite a feast, reminding me of the breakfast Rachel had prepared to impress Gabriel. We sat down and I found out I was truly famished. Even so, I controlled my appetite, recalling the house’s rules and, as expected, Michael put his hands together over the empty plate for a moment of silence. After his prayer he looked up at me and smiled, offering me the pan with scrambled eggs.

“Slept well?”

“Yes, thank you. And I’m sorry for waking you up.”

“It’s fine. I wasn’t asleep. I’m sorry I didn’t wake you up in time for school. But you were sleeping so well. I thought you needed the rest.” I smiled, stealing a piece of toast, and bit it voraciously.

“It’s okay. It’s just that, I guess I never missed school before,” I noted, mentally revising my academic records.

He laughed and filled my glass with orange juice, adding in a rebellious tone, “Oh, well, then this is a good experience for you.”

“You mean you cut class?”

“Sometimes ... sometimes I just want a little bit of peace and quiet for a change,” he admitted and it was my turn to laugh.

“Really? I mean, what kind of alien are you? Cutting class to be left alone instead of playing around! For an instant I almost believed you were one of those bad boy types.”

He opened his beautiful green eyes wide and released an ‘Ah!’ of disbelief. “Don’t know what shocks me the most! If you thinking I’m some goody-goody choir boy or finding out you’re not that shy after all!”

I covered my mouth, suddenly aware of what I’d just unthinkingly said, and my cheeks caught up on fire. He laughed, amused by my reaction, and once more I couldn’t help feel happy for being the reason behind that amazing sound.

“I know, I rarely speak my mind,” I admitted. “Maybe that’s why I’m not used to censoring my thoughts. I didn’t mean it like that.”

He rested his head on one hand, watching me disturbingly. “No. I’m glad you said it. I like knowing what you’re thinking. And I’m even happier to know you feel at ease near me, enough to say it.” I just stuffed my mouth with bread and jam and he smiled, noticing my escape strategy. “Mari, how about it? Since we’re already cutting class anyway, why not just go somewhere?”

Momentarily stunned, I hurriedly swallowed my bread and almost chocked. Was he asking me out like … on a date?

“Go somewhere?”

“Yeah. Why not? We could take a walk in Hyde Park, feed the squirrels,” he suggested and I’m sure my expression came alight. He was asking me out! “It’s as you said. If we’re cutting class, we might as well do something fun.” He gave me a mischievous expression and I had to give my full attention to the scrambled eggs coloring my plate to hide my excitement. If my life seemed to be enveloped in an ever-growing chaos, it was also true I’d never been happier in my life.

“Yeah. Why not?” I simply agreed and went back to my toast.

After finishing breakfast I went to the bathroom to get dressed. In despair I was faced with the sorry figure that, unknowingly, I’d made all through breakfast, my hair standing everywhere, making me look like a crazy witch. After finally managing to acceptably tie it up, I went back to the living room where Michael awaited me.

Outside the day was cold, but here and there we could see openings of blue sky and, occasionally, a few rays of sun.

We walked to the bus station and waited for the ‘108.’ On the bus we sat side by side, and I locked my gaze outside, feeling a bit awkward to be sitting so close to him. Suddenly, and without warning, Michael held my hand, startling me, and I looked at him surprised. His fingers traced the blue ribbon around my wrist and his inquisitive look told me that was what had caught his attention.

“This ribbon, you never take it off?” he asked and I noticed the velvet was becoming seedy, which meant I had to change it soon.

“Um, I guess I like it,” I answered, avoiding pulling my hand away from him, which would look even stranger, and he ended up holding it, making me blush. Had he used the ribbon just as an excuse? My heart jumped at the thought. No, I couldn’t allow my thoughts to wander that way! Last time I’d allowed it, he’d ended up not even remembering my name the following day. Besides, although I wished his feelings would turn towards me, I still wasn’t ready to face the consequences. I might as well stop filling my head with dreams and fantasies.

The subway travel was even longer and we talked very little. Even so, Michael’s hand never left mine, as he gently pulled me in and out of metro cars. It was past three o’clock when we finally arrived at Hyde Park Corner.

The sun touched my face and I smiled as I felt its soft warmth.

“Ah, missed these sunny days,” I sighed without thinking and looked up at him, hoping he hadn’t heard me, but Michael was watching me attentively. “What?” I asked, defensively.

“Nothing.”

“What, nothing?” I insisted as we slowly walked, allowing me to accompany him with ease.

“Nothing, really. I was just thinking you looked very beautiful.”

“You know, sometimes this seems really unfair,” I complained in a low voice and he looked intrigued. “Me, being here, with you.”

“Why?”

“Because ... because I’ve been watching you for so long,” I confessed, staring at the path before us. And then I was suddenly aware of the many possible meanings of what I’d just said, which led me to quickly clarify it. “I mean, I guess I felt curious about you, just like everyone else.” I smiled awkwardly. “Maybe not curious about your past. But every time I saw you outside with Steven and the others, I couldn’t help wonder what you were thinking or feeling. Because you’re always smiling, and your smile is so bright. And I always thought that, in this world, there was no way anyone could smile like that, every single day. I mean, this world isn’t all that nice, right?”

Michael took a deep breath. “Because everyone’s always worrying about me.” He surprised me. I hadn’t expected an answer. “Because all I recall are worried expressions and people feeling sorry for me. I’m happy when everyone around me is happy. It’s like a chain reaction. If I smile people around me won’t worry so much and are happy that I look all right. Watching them play, laugh, talk, makes me happy, and I don’t have to fake smiles anymore. Then, real smiles make others even happier, and so on.”

“Even so. That’s only then, right? But once the moment is gone, the reasons to feel happy will also disappear. I wondered if you always smiled like that, even when you’re alone.” Michael looked away and I felt a heavy weight on my chest. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to talk about unpleasant things.”

“No, it’s true,” he asserted. “I guess that, in that, I’m just like everybody else, right?” I nodded, wanting to put that subject behind my back and he gave me another of my recently discovered mischievous smiles. “And then? Is that the reason why you were spying on me?”

“Spy ... ing? No!” I answered, panicking, and he laughed. “No! I mean, yes. But just a little, during lunch break. It’s not like I followed you everywhere you go or anything!” I tried to explain, but he wouldn’t stop laughing. “Besides, you never even noticed me, not even once,” I added and his laughter faded away.

“Mari, I normally don’t pay all that much attention to the world around me. I ...”

“Oh, I know,” I interrupted him not wanting him to feel guilty since he had nothing to feel guilty about. “I’ve already understood that escape mechanism of yours. I’m not complaining. It’s just that it’s ironic. It was something I chose to do, watching you from afar. But now that we’re here, together, I can’t help asking myself why couldn’t I’ve just been brave enough to talk to you sooner. Why was I such an idiot and just sat there, day after day, looking at you from afar. If I’d had the courage to talk with you sooner ...” I stopped myself, even though I knew he was hanging on my every single word.

If I’d just talked with him sooner instead of being such a coward, I wouldn’t be in this situation. After all, it was such a simple and normal thing, right? Something people could easily do — talk to the person they like. Why only I had to be shy to the point of stupidity?

I noticed an old woman with a vending cart and took that chance to change the subject.

“Look. Food for our little friends,” I pointed out and, with some regret, let go of his hand, running towards the vending cart.

As things stood, I couldn’t allow that date to become more than a simple meeting between two friends. It made me feel really depressed, but still I smiled when he reached me a few moments later. I’d finally been able to go out with the guy I liked since the beginning of the year and it had to be me to put a break on things.

We fed the squirrels that unceremoniously climbed on Michael’s hands, making those who passed us smile in admiration. Then we sat on the grass, under a tree, and talked about trivial and common things. I told him a lot about by childhood and about my parents. Michael seemed particularly interested in my family history and I painfully understood the light that touched his eyes every time I told him about a Christmas night or a birthday party. Those were all memories he didn’t have.

Michael told me about how Father Jorge helped him during his recovery, at the hospital, and how he’d became his guardian after endless searches had turned out nothing.

“It’s like if, somehow, I didn’t exist before the accident,” he told me following the path of a cloud. “There’s nothing left of who I was. Now I’m someone entirely new. But either way, it’s fine. I don’t care about any of that anymore. All I want is for things to stay as they are. I hope the past that I so looked for never catches up with me. I like my life here, now,” he added, his voice almost a whisper, and he raised a hand to touch my face. His fingers softly caressed my cheek, and I forgot how to breathe when he leaned over me. In panic and in complete ecstasy, I knew what was about to happen. He was going to kiss me! And I couldn’t allow it. I commanded my mind to be stronger than my heart and clenched my teeth hard, strengthening my decision.

However, without quite understanding what had happened, Michael suddenly pulled back, his hand quickly releasing me as if he’d been burned, and I noticed his pained expression as he clenched his chest. Frightened, not knowing what to do, I held him by his shoulders when he bent forward, gasping for air.

“Michael! What’s wrong? Are you okay? Are you in pain?” I asked in one breath, trying to keep him straight, and he smiled weakly.

“It’s ... nothing,” he answered between heavy breaths as he seemed to slowly recover, but still I wasn’t convinced.

“How come it’s nothing? We better get you to a doctor!” I decided and he straightened his back to take a deep breath, even though he was still clutching his sweater over his chest.

“It’s nothing. Don’t worry. See? I’m fine,” he assured me with a new smile and I made a face. “Besides, I hate doctors and hospitals.”

I watched him apprehensively. True, he looked better. But still, he’d felt a chest pain, right? And that was usually dangerous.

“You sure?”

“Absolutely!” he reaffirmed. “I’m sorry if I scared you,” he answered in that soft tone I was unable to resist, and I took a deep breath, completely defeated. “Are you hungry? Let’s go get something to eat.”

I chose ice cream for our early dinner, which would perfectly agree with our late breakfast, and rejoiced in the feeling of, once more, having shocked him with my suggestion. We ended up sitting in an ice cream shop where I chose the biggest bowl there was; one with four flavors, fruits, little pieces of cookies and nuts dipped in honey. When my enormous order arrived, Michael looked even more surprised by its impressive size.

“Are you really going to eat all of that?” he asked in disbelief and I nodded full of conviction.

“I eat a lot.”

“Ah, I see,” he muttered, still looking at my bowl at least twice the size of his. “And to think you’re so little.” He was clearly teasing me and I filled my mouth with ice cream.

“That’s exactly why I eat a lot. To see if I can grow a little sideways, since up is rather improbable at this stage. Want a bite?” I offered and he picked his spoon, stealing a bit of pink and green ice cream.

“Really don’t see why you have to worry about that. Not bad. Here. Try mine.”

I didn’t hesitate to take my revenge on his ice cream.

“You can’t see it 'cause you’re a guy. Tastes good, but I like my pistachio better.”

“What difference does it make if I’m a guy or a girl? Aesthetics are aesthetics,” he insisted. “And as far as I’m concerned, you’re fine the way you are. Besides, don’t you feel guilty wishing the opposite of all the other girls? I mean, most girls want to be slim and you want to gain weight?” He was clearly amused.

“Enough of this!” I grumbled. What girl could easily discuss such embarrassing things, like diets, with the guy she liked? When I noticed it, he’d already stolen another spoon from my ice cream. “Hey!” I protested but was completely ignored.

“I like the lemon one.”

“Stealing is bad!” I scolded him and he bit his spoon.

“Someone needs to help you eat all that. It will end up melting.”

“Thanks, but no thanks!” I retorted and devoted myself to eating my ice cream before he could use that excuse to rob me again.

When we finished with our ice creams it was already getting dark outside, and the thought that our day together was almost over made me feel depressed. Soon we’d have to go our separate ways and I'd have to return home and face the reality of my chaotic life.

As if he’d read my thoughts, Michael took me to a bookshop. We spent more than two hours surrounded by titles and synopses, and ended up buying one book each, promising to exchange them as soon as we’ve read them.

It was nearly eight o’clock when we went down to the subway and time began counting down.

In my selfishness I held his hand once more, looking for the comfort of his touch, aware that I’d been avoiding him all afternoon. He seemed like he didn’t even notice it, gently squeezing my hand back.

“Mari, won’t you spend tonight with us again?” he asked me softly and all I wanted was to say yes. One more night surrounded by peace and quiet, safe in his embrace. One more night near Michael, near the one my heart had chosen. How could I not want it?

I lowered my head and took a deep breath. I’d already decided to stop running from my problems. What was the use? He’d remain there, waiting for me, and the symbol of our Contract would still be marked on my skin. Besides, I could feel Michael’s emotions wavering, even though he probably hadn't noticed himself, like Steph had guessed. I didn’t want to … I couldn’t lead him on, not yet, not before preparing myself for what would inevitably follow.

“Thanks,” I answered and the tight knot around my throat force me to smile so I’d be able to deceive him. “But I really have to go back. There are things I have to take care of, and I have Lea to feed. Besides, all my school things are there. I can’t just spend another night out.” His hand squeezed mine again.

“We could stop by your house, you can get what you need, and come with me,” he suggested and I knew my arguments hadn’t been strong enough to convince him.

“Really, Michael. Everything’s fine. What happened before, I was just being stupid. I’d just had a nightmare and then ... Gabriel looked so angry, and the way he spoke to me, I got scared. I guess I can be too childish sometimes. That’s all.” He looked like he hadn’t believed a single word I’d said. “It’s my home. It’s not like I can move indefinitely to yours,” I added forcing myself to laugh.

“No, really?” he asked me with such a serious expression that my smile withered away immediately. He wasn’t joking.

“No,” I answered, trying to sound as serious as he’d sound, and he sighed.

“Fine, then. But this time I’m taking you home,” he decided so vehemently that I didn’t try to dissuade him. “And you’re keeping my number. If anything happens, if you need anything, you call me immediately. Agreed?” I nodded obediently, smiling even though he looked unusually serious. I definitely didn’t want to be one more weight in his life. “Promise me!

“I promise,” I replied and he seemed content.

We spent the rest of the ride mostly in silence, but the absence of words between us wasn’t awkward at all. I only noticed how close we were to my home when we passed the school’s bus stop. We got off on the next stop and walked hand in hand across the dark and, at that hour, almost deserted streets. Our footsteps were the only sounds we could hear and I couldn’t help feel sad when we finally turned to my street.

We stopped in front of my door and I smiled awkwardly, trying not to face him.

“This is it,” I stated and he looked at the building behind me for a moment.

“It’s close. I could probably walk from my house here.”

“I walk to school every day. But your house is a bit farther.”

“True,” he agreed and we were left in silence. Although I knew I had to say goodbye, I couldn’t quite figure out how to do it. My hand was still in his and I decided to start from there.

“Well, I better get going,” I said, pulling my hand away, and he released me reluctantly.

“Mari. You’re sure?”

“Yeah. I’ll be fine. See you tomorrow?”

“Sure. The goody-goody me can’t cut classes two days in a row,” he said, joking, and I laughed while looking for my key.

“Till tomorrow, then. And thanks for everything. It was really fun.” We stood there in another awkward moment until I decided the best thing to do was to go inside as quickly as possible, before I regretted my decision and accept his tempting invitation.

However, as soon as I turned my back on him he held my arm, his hand surrounding it completely, and pulled me back against his chest. My heart jumped as a wave of heat flooded my body, leaving my mind completely blank. I felt him take a deep breath, his chest slowly rising, and tried to make sense of what had just happened.

“Thank you ... for everything,” he whispered softly and my cheeks caught on fire. I was the one who should be thankful! His lips touched the top of my head in a gentle kiss that warmed my entire body, and his arms released me so that my puzzled look could see his wonderful smile. “See you tomorrow.”

I nodded, still half stunned, and when his hands released me, I turned towards my front door, unsure if I still knew how to walk. I missed the keyhole twice before I could open it, and turned back to look at him one last time. He smiled, waving, his golden hair shining palely under the street lamp’s light, and I went in, closing the door behind me. I stood there for a moment, unsure if I was really myself, if that was really my body, or if that was really my life, and took a hand to my head to where he’d kissed me and where I could still feel his warm touch.

I looked around. I was home. And that thought immediately dragged me away from my golden dream.

And Gabriel? Was he home as well?

I silently walked towards the living room and took a peek inside. No one. I went on towards the kitchen. Everything remained as I’d left it. It almost seemed like no one had lived there since last Tuesday.

I took a deep breath and went up to my room, looking for Lea. I called him and looked for him in every room, but the small kitten had also disappeared. I was completely alone.

I dropped my things and the book I’d bought on the desk and fell on my bed.

Coldly reviewing what had happened, I couldn’t deny that I’d done everything humanly possible to boycott our Contract. Not that my feelings had changed, but how could I think, much less accept, having to fulfill my part? My wish might as well never come true! But, on the other hand, that would mean that Gabriel would never leave. Would he end up giving up? How could I expect to live my life if he were to always stay beside me?

I hid my face between my hands and took a deep breath trying not to despair. I couldn’t start worrying about things so far in the future. It was useless! For all I knew, he could change his mind tomorrow and decide to kill me instead. If he did so, he’d get rid of that Contract and could look for another Human to torment. He’d told me I was special, but surely I wasn’t the only special person in the entire world. Not to mention that I was yet to understand what could possibly be so special about me.

So all I could do was focus my mind on tomorrow, one day at a time. And, as far as tomorrow was concerned, I had to keep my distance from Michael, no matter how much my heart was opposed to it. I decided I wouldn’t look for him during lunch break.

I felt my throat tighten and thought I’d end up crying, but the tears never came. Sadly, I recalled Michael’s words. The ‘see you tomorrow’ we’d exchanged would never happen. Not tomorrow, nor the day after. Friday and Monday were holidays, which meant five days without Michael. I felt as if there wasn’t enough air to breathe and my heart assured me that I couldn’t possibly survive. Stubbornly, I paid it no attention and commanded my mind to hurry up and fall asleep.

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