11. NO WINGS ATTACHED
The small orbit of light started to wander around several locations of the room. Even if it was already neat and tidy, a stack of empty boxes was cornered beside the full-length mirror by the window. It was right in front of it that the orbit stopped. It hovered in the air for a few seconds and suddenly began to grow and expand until reaching the ground. Its glow was enough to light up the entire room like a sunny day, causing Marianne to start squeezing her eyes. The cluster of light started to take shape in a human silhouette while the glow waned, and just as the figure took form in more detail, it abruptly leaned forward with a wheeze that interfered with the peaceful silence of the last hours.
Marianne opened her eyes after hearing the weird sound, and noticed the brightness. There was a shining figure at the other side, hunched in front of the mirror. At first, she discarded it as a dream, but once her misty eyes began to clear up, she realized it was real, so she immediately sat up with eyes wide open. She wanted to scream, but her voice didn’t respond, her vocal cords were paralyzed. The luminous figure fell down on its side and tumbled on the empty boxes, falling on top of it and burying it.
She stood still, with her hands nailed to the mattress and chest pounding hard. Then she looked around alarmed and quickly took the statuette that remained seated on her nightstand. She had no idea if she could hit someone with it, but having an intruder in her bedroom in the early hours of the morning seemed enough reason. She cautiously approached the pile of boxes, holding the figurine.
She didn’t know what she would find there, but not an ordinary intruder for sure, after all, how many times she had seen someone shining like a light bulb? The ordinary for her were demons who could regenerate like lizards and shadows who once were humans . . . Thinking about the latter made her shiver at the thought of Ashelow. She had transformed his residual energy into a sphere of light. Could it be that luminous being . . . ? No, it couldn’t be. She had freed him. There was nothing left to tie him to this world, she thought to herself. However, the seed of intrigue was already sown inside her. She grasped the statue harder and looked over at the stack of boxes scattered around. The glowing silhouette was leaning on the floor, its brightness slowly decreasing.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?” Marianne asked, lifting up the statuette in a threatening way, though the entity didn’t seem to have the strength to do anything.
“Ma . . . rianne . . . ” the figure pronounced as if its throat were closed and it couldn’t breathe. She winced upon hearing her name.
“How do you know my name? Who are you?” she repeated with growing unease. The entity whispered something unintelligible, but she didn’t dare to come any closer. “What did you just say? Repeat it!”
“Sa . . . mael,” the figure gasped and she took a few steps back in utter confusion. Her arms hung on the sides and the statue fell to the floor with a clonk. While the shimmer decreased, she noticed it more clearly: a slim figure with frail appearance, and it wasn’t wearing any clothes either.
She immediately went back to her bed, pulled her quilt, and returned to the pile of boxes as if she were in a relay race, and finally dropped it over the even less shiny and well-defined entity’s body.
“Cover up with that,” she ordered and could see the figure was wrapping up below the quilt while the wheezing was already waning. She waited until the entity settled down, while trying to figure out why it mentioned Samael and what was it doing there. The angel wasn’t answering and she started to fear he had decided to leave her after her words.
“I’m not gone,” said the entity under the quilt, getting up a little and sitting on the floor, wrapped in the blanket. The gasps were gone and its breathing became regular, though slow and arrhythmic at times.
“I haven’t said anything.”
“No, but you thought about it.”
His voice was starting to sound more clear and familiar, but she still refused to acknowledge it.
“How is it that . . . ? How can you hear my thoughts?”
“The same way I always have,” he said, holding the quilt in the front, revealing his snowy hand that still had a glowing halo surrounding it.
Marianne could no longer deny knowing that voice. She pushed the boxes aside with some caution and knelt before him, watching that body wrapped in the quilt, only his hand sticking out of it, still gleaming.
“ . . . Samael?” she said at last, and he raised his face slightly below the blanket that had formed some sort of hood over his head.
She leaned back, perplexed, until she was sitting on the floor. Then she put her hands over her mouth to stifle any sound that could come out of her and tried to calm down.
“I can’t believe it . . . Is it really you?”
“I thought about what you said, and you are right, I can be more useful this way,” he explained, mildly shivering under the quilt. “ . . . Although I wasn’t sure what would happen once I took physical form. I still have to get used to . . . these body functions.”
After coughing a bit, he stretched out his hand in front of him, moving his fingers and the quilt hood slipped down, exposing his fair head. His skin was pale and immaculate, his eyes as blue as a crystal lake, his features so delicate he seemed almost androgynous, and his platinum blond hair looked so soft it seemed to float at the slightest movement. And on top of that, the luminescent halo still surrounding him gave him an ethereal quality.
“You don’t seem real,” Marianne expressed, still unable to snap out of her surprise.
“Really? I don’t look human enough?” he asked, opening the quilt to look underneath it, but she stopped him.
“Stop! Just . . . wait here a minute, I’ll be right back.” She hurried up to the door. “And don’t move from there!”
He stood still as a statue while Marianne left the room stealthily. She knew her father had stayed at the hospital all night, but Loui was home and could wake up at the slightest noise. It was a miracle that he hadn’t yet after the boxes collapsed. She had to act quickly before drawing his attention, so she went to the empty middle room and found her father’s luggage. She carefully opened it and began to look over his compartments.
Her father had a similar built and seemed to be the same height as Samael. She assumed any of his clothing would fit him, but was concerned that her father would end up noticing its disappearance. But if that happened, she would come out with something later, after all, lying had become as natural for her as blinking.
She chose a blue cotton shirt, a white T-shirt and some jeans, she also took out a pair of a little worn-out tennis shoes. Those were his adventure shoes. She put them with the rest and watched the pile of clothes, wondering if something was missing. An idea crossed her mind: maybe she could say her school had organized a collect for charity and seeing those worn out clothes in his luggage she had decided to donate them. So, she started to close the compartments again, but when she introduced her hand on one of them, her fingers felt the roughness of a stack of papers.
She puckered her lips. If it was already wrong for her to look through her father’s belongings, it would be even worse to check on his personal documents, but her action was faster than her thinking, and soon realized she already had the papers in her hands. Most of them were sales contracts and other boring documents, so she kept turning the pages until finding a picture of his father with a group of teenagers. Probably a photo from his student years. She just glossed it over and kept turning the pages until she found some documents that seemed to be insurance policies under his name. She shouldn’t be surprised, most adults were concerned about ensuring their stuff for any eventuality. But then she saw something that attracted her attention: an envelope that only had Noah’s name on the back.
She took it and watched the neat calligraphy in which his name was written. It was so delicate she could only assume it came from a woman’s hand. An unpleasant thought crossed her mind and the only way she could confirm it was by checking the content. She carefully opened it and pulled out a simple blank page without any letterhead. She sensed a soft lavender scent that she seemed to recognize from somewhere. The only words on it were: “Time’s up. You need to make a choice. No more postponing it. You have to leave or you can’t come back.”
It didn’t say anything else. It wasn’t even signed. She double-checked the envelope thinking maybe there was something else inside, but found nothing. She finally dropped her hands on her lap and stared at the page. A sudden surge of rage boiled her blood. How long had he been living this double life? But above all, she thought of her mother, who in spite of everything was just letting time pass to try again.
Marianne took the files again and searched for another envelope, but there were only more sales contracts and some sort of deeds under her mother’s name. Anger didn’t allow her to continue digging through them, she just put the envelope back into the pile of papers and returned them to the compartment where she had found them. She then closed the luggage with a push and sat down beside the clothes she had taken, trying to dispel her anger. She took the pile, but she barely came out the door and her heart skipped a beat when she saw Loui outside his room.
“What are you doing awake? Go back to sleep!” she murmured, hiding the clothes behind her back. Loui rubbed his eyes and kept them narrowed.
“I heard something dropping on the floor followed by other noises . . . Why did you get out from that door?”
“I heard it too! It came from this room. Someone left the window open and a cat got in, pushing down several boxes, but I already closed it. Now go back to bed.”
Loui looked at her suspiciously, but felt so tired he returned to his room, letting out a big yawn. Marianne sighed with relief and immediately went back to her room, approaching the wrapped-up quilt that was still on the floor.
“I’m back. I brought you this.” As she approached, she noticed he was still immobilized in the same position she had left him. “ . . . Why don’t you move?”
“You told me not to,” Samael replied and she repressed a laugh.
“It’s a saying, I wasn’t literal,” she said, handing him the clothes. “Now put this on. It’s from my dad, it must fit you.”
He held the clothes with a confused expression and started to check them out, unsure of how to wear them, putting his arms inside the legs of the jeans, while Marianne facepalmed herself out of frustration.
She tried to explain to him how to put on basically each garment and gave him a few minutes to get dressed while she turned around, trying to think clearly. The initial shock began to fade and uncertainty had made its way, making her worry about what she would do now with Samael.
One thing was living daily with a voice inside her mind that knew her every thought and advise her as a conscience —as annoying as it was at times—, but quite another was to have this kind of family-sized Jiminy Cricket following her everywhere. Where would she put him? She didn’t know if her mother would come back home in the immediate future and her brother was a first-class nosy kid. Even if she could possibly trick him for a while, she didn’t know yet what her father had planned to do, after all, they were still minors in need for a guardian in their mother’s absence. Suddenly the echo of the words from the letter took over her mind, and the idea that her father was there only to say goodbye and choose his ‘other life’ crossed her mind. An upsetting thought. She wondered if that other life included another family.
“Is this okay?” Samael took her out of her reverie.
She turned and saw him standing on his feet with the clothes on, a little sloppy, but he had followed her instructions fairly well.
“It fits you perfectly,” she admitted, noticing as well that the brightness of his skin was already minimal. “At least you’re not glowing that much. I guess you can pose as a normal person more easily now.”
He suddenly rushed towards her and she jumped back, hitting the bed’s footboard. Then opened her eyes and found him kneeling inches away, looking thoroughly at her.
“Is that how you look?” he asked with his eyes fixed on her, as if examining every single detail of her face with the help of the dim morning light coming through the window. She stayed glued to the footboard, not knowing what to say or how to react.
“You’ve never seen a human being before?” she finally said, clenching her face.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen you. Up until now I had only heard your thoughts. It’s amazing,” he explained, staring fascinated at her, like a child just discovering colors and shapes. But to her, it was all but comfortable. She jumped up and pushed him back towards the full-length mirror so he could take a look.
“Well, look at you. Now you’re human too,” she said, pointing at the mirror, and Samael got closer to his reflection in awe, wanting to touch the glass, but stepping back after feeling its flatness. He just kept watching his reflected image, pressing his skin with his fingertips.
“It feels weird,” he remarked, examining his features. “That’s how I look?”
“Shocking, right?” she said, taking a seat on her bed and admiring his sense of wonder. “Why did you do it? Why did you take physical form?”
“I told you. I want to be more useful. I’m the one who should have protected you, not that demon. That’s my duty,” he said, moving his limbs to ensure he controlled their movements.
“That demon was also human once,” she replied, feeling indebted to Ashelow.
“That doesn’t change the fact that he became a demon,” he insisted, in such a way she could glimpse a hint of intransigence towards everything related to the Legion of Darkness.
“We have to find you a place to stay.”
“I can’t stay here?” he asked, confused.
She immediately thought of how difficult it would be hiding some angel-turned-human boy in her room, and needless to say she didn’t want to think of the moment he would start to be curious about their physical differences.
“What do you mean by physical differences?”
“ . . . Stop reading my mind!” she claimed, embarrassed.
“Sorry, it’s habit. I’ll try not to do it again.”
The sound of a door outside and footsteps heading to the room made them quiet.
“Hey, what’s all that noise? I can’t sleep,” Loui said, turning the knob and Marianne immediately ran to block it.
“Don’t come in!” she yelled, springing to her feet, but the door opened anyway and the kid got inside with squinty eyes.
“Seriously, don’t you ever sleep? If you’re not sneaking around the house, you spend your time in your room talking to yourself, don’t you have anything better to do?” Loui complained as she waited for the moment he’d notice Samael and start screaming, but he stood in the same position and contrarily seemed puzzled at her unquiet reaction. “What’s wrong with you? Did you see a ghost or something?”
“Don’t you . . . see it?”
“What are you talking about?” he asked wearily, and she looked behind, realizing no one was there. “Seriously, I think you really need to get some sleep.”
He turned and went back to his room, closing the door as Marianne stood there looking around, baffled. She wondered if it had all been in her imagination and Samael had actually never been there, maybe she had even dreamed it.
“Samael?” she called in a whisper.
“I’m here,” he said in her ear and she turned with a wince, but still couldn’t see him. Perhaps he had returned to her mind. Then she felt someone grab her arm and saw a hand becoming visible. The effect spread throughout his whole body until he reappeared in front of her.
“What was that?”
“I became invisible, I didn’t know I could do that,” he said, reaching out to show his fingers disappearing and materializing again. “Awesome, right?”
“Well, I guess that solves the mystery of how to stay here without getting noticed.”
“You’ll let me stay, then?” he asked with a big smile , but she kept thinking of the complications of keeping him in her room, it would still be uncomfortable.
Suddenly she felt embarrassed to realize she was thinking of him like a pet instead of a person —or something like that— and wished he wasn’t reading her thoughts at that moment. She then remembered the attic. Nobody used to go up there and she recalled having seen a mattress among the discarded furniture.
She asked him to follow her quietly, and after checking the hallway was clear, they headed to the enclosed stairs that led to the attic. Once in there, her eyes landed on a black spot right in the place where Ashelow had disintegrated. A twinge ran through her body and Samael tried to distract her by standing in front of her, blocking her view of the stain.
“Well, what do you think?” she asked, focusing her attention around them. She approached the mattress at the back and tapped it lightly, raising some dust, so she covered her nose and mouth. “It’s a little . . . dusty and unkempt, but it can be useful for a while.”
“If you think so, it’s fine by me then,” he accepted, watching the place. She felt a little remorse for sending him to the attic as if he were some piece of furniture, even if he didn’t seem to take it that way. He was in that early state of adaptation in which everything was fascinating to him.
“I’ll help you clean, okay? And I’ll try to get you more clothes. Maybe the girls could help us when I tell them . . . ”
“You can’t tell them what I am!” he interrupted her with an urgent tone.
“Why not?” she asked, confused by his reaction.
“I just . . . I wasn’t supposed to do this. If it gets known beyond us…”
Marianne was confounded by his secrecy, but considering she had kept the communication between the two of them a secret, she decided to give heed to his request, strange as it seemed.
“Okay, I won’t tell them. But if you’re going to be hanging out with me, we should at least think of a reason, a back story. Maybe . . . you’re a distant cousin who came after what happened to my mom. As simple as that.”
Samael just nodded, though she still felt uneasy about the kind of trickery she would have to resort in order to hide him from her family and keep his identity a secret. She would have to raise the bar for lying now.
She found herself staring at the stain on the floor again, recalling Ashelow’s words before vanishing, wondering what was he talking about and if Samael knew any of it, but just as she was about to ask him, he began to drag the mattress and placed it exactly above the spot. It was like he had heard her thoughts and didn’t want to talk about it.
They heard the door downstairs. Apparently, her father had returned.
“I’ll get back in a minute. Stay here and just in case anything happens, you know, just become invisible and don’t let them see you.”
It was already six in the morning and through the kitchen’s open door she could see her father having a cup of coffee with a thoughtful gesture.
Even though she had heard worries made people look older, her father looked younger from afar. Her mind kept returning to the envelope and couldn’t help thinking that his concern was probably because her mother’s sudden deterioration had ruined his plans.
His engrossment was suddenly broken when he saw her standing across the kitchen. And then he smiled in that ‘nothing bothers me’ kind of way.
“I’m sorry, did I wake you up? I tried to make as little noise as possible.”
“Doesn’t matter. How’s mom?” she asked, going to the fridge.
“She’s still under observation, they don’t know what it is,” he replied as she checked the cooler to avoid his gaze. “Did something happen before we came back yesterday?”
“Nothing, she was just . . . cleaning all day. And then just fainted.”
“She’ll be at the hospital until they find out the reason for her condition,” he said, swirling his cup of coffee. “I know I said that I would only stay this weekend, but . . . given the situation . . . I’ll stay as long as necessary.”
Marianne closed the fridge and tried to keep the envelope out of her mind.
“I’m so sorry we have ruined your plans . . . Whatever they might be,” she muttered, with a hand clasped like a claw around the fridge handle. She didn’t even want to look at him, so when she heard the sound of the chair, she thought he was about to get out of there, but to her surprise, he held her by the shoulders.
“I promise you everything will be fine,” he said as she stood motionless, without even turning to him or answering. “She’ll be back home soon. They’ll allow us to see her today.”
Marianne tensed her mouth and pulled away from him.
“I’ll go change for the hospital,” she said, leaving her father behind with a hurt expression.
A part of her felt remorse for being so harsh to him, but the other one couldn’t stop thinking of the letter, which completely undermined any guilt she may have.
At the hospital, even if she was pleased to see her mother in a good mood after all, she couldn’t bear to be so long in that room full of equipment and medicinal smell, so she went out to get some fresh air, finding her father sitting in a couch at the corridor.
“Wanna go home? I know you hate hospitals.”
“I’ll walk, you two better stay close,” Marianne replied, in a hurry to get out.
She thought it might be finally the time. He would probably give her some fatherly advice or a late excuse for his absence, but all she received was a laminated object in her hands. Marianne looked at her palm and saw a credit card.
“Anything you need, just charge it to me.”
She watched the credit card, wondering if he was doing it out of remorse, but only managed to nod and left. They weren’t rich, not even close, but never lacked anything, in part for her father’s job and the paintings her mother had sold in galleries. The sudden thought of draining the card as revenge crossed her mind, but she felt incapable of doing that despite everything, so she kept it in her pocket and headed out of the hospital.
Going through the entrance hall, the last person she envisioned meeting was Demian, but there he was, sitting in one of the front couches, looking sickly pale, squeezed into a heavy jacket and his arms folded.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
He looked up with eyes like slits and saw Marianne a few feet from him.
“Oh, it’s you. You had another ‘accident’?”
She grimaced, but he looked so ill that she thought it wasn’t worth arguing.
“Ha, ha, very funny. At least I don’t look like fresh out of a cryogenic freezer,” she replied, and he laughed shortly.
“Yeah, well . . . it seems that I got sick after all. I wanted to stay home, but my father dragged me all the way to the hospital.”
“The flu?” she asked as he rubbed his eyes.
“Fever. It’s been high since yesterday,” he answered, leaning on the back of the couch. His forehead was pearly, probably due to the fever.
“How long have you been waiting?”
“I just got here. My father’s in reception trying to contact our doctor,” he said, pointing to the front and Marianne got to see the back of the man, arguing with the receptionist. He was dressed too formally for an early morning Sunday. “He lost a flight just to stay with me.”
“He takes a simple flu a little too seriously, huh?”
“I told him not to worry, but he didn’t listen. He always gets so paranoid when it comes to my health,” Demian said, crossing his arms again to maintain his warmth.
“Well, maybe an occasional virus would do no harm just to get him used to the idea that you’re not immortal,” she suggested, and he laughed more relaxed.
“I’ll take that into account. What are you doing here, anyway?” he asked, trying to divert his attention from his sickness and she looked at the hallway she just had gone through.
“My mother. She fainted and got admitted yesterday.”
“Oh. Sorry,” he said sincerely, wiping the smile off his face.
“Thank you. I . . . was just going home, so . . . bye,” she finished, wishing to leave.
“Hey!” he called her before she walked away. “Come back to the coffee shop whenever you want. Whoever is able to control you-know-who is more than welcome.”
“I won’t be your bodyguard, get your own!” she retorted before leaving.
According to her watch, it was ten in the morning. She felt like the days passed really slow lately, and she still had so many things to do. She wondered what to do with Samael when she had to go to school. The thought of leaving him at home by himself for so long made her uneasy, especially if he intended to explore the house at some point. And suddenly it dawned on her how she could use the card her father had just given her.
“Samael? Are you still there? Hello?” she said once she arrived home, aware that there was no one else. As she received no response, she ran up to the attic, fearing he had gone out looking for her. “Samael!
Inside the attic was a whole new world, everything was clean and tidy with the boxes at the back. She stepped in, feeling like she had entered another dimension, and he appeared behind her.
“What do you think?”
“I’m impressed,” she accepted, pleasantly surprised, and now that the sun lit the place, she noticed his appearance looked more natural, albeit with some glow that could well be attributed to the lightness of his skin. “Listen, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I was going out. Dad took us to the hospital and I couldn’t come back until now.”
He kept his candid smile while watching her intently, which made her extremely uncomfortable.
“Could you please stop looking at me like that?”
“Sorry, it’s just that now I see everything more clearly and I find it incredible. I can’t wait to learn more about the human world,” Samael said and suddenly his stomach growled. They both fell silent for several seconds until he ended up laughing. “It’s weird. It’s being doing that all morning.”
“But you haven’t eaten anything!”
“It’s okay, I’m an angel. I don’t need food to survive,” he said with a smile and next thing they knew, another growl escaped from his stomach.
“Come with me, let’s find something to eat.”
In the kitchen, Samael sat at the table, watching every detail of the place, while Marianne checked the fridge. There were just some sausages and milk left. With all the fuss, she had forgotten Sunday was the day her mother supplied the pantry, and with her in the hospital there was no one else to take care of that task, except for her. Suddenly she found a reason for her father giving her a credit card. He had foreseen the kind of responsibilities she would have now.
“We have a problem. There’s no food,” she told Samael grimly, closing the fridge. “We’ll have to go out and buy it.”
“We’ll go out?” Samael asked with an enthusiastic expression.
“Let’s go. The less we wait, the sooner we can eat.”
As soon as they hit the streets, Samael covered his eyes from the intense sunlight despite doing his best to face it.
“Don’t look directly at the sun! Your eyes will burn!” she advised, forcing him to look down while he began to blink quickly, squeezing his eyes to restore his normal vision and trying to keep up with her.
All the way he was distracted by watching the sidewalk, the houses, cars and people walking past them. At the same time, he inadvertently caught everyone’s attention with his eerie appearance, like a walking mirage of a boy.
At the supermarket, Samael kept admiring every item they came across, constantly questioning Marianne about what this or that was, starting to get her riled up.
“What´s this?” he asked once, taking a box of cereal and shaking it just to hear the sound it made.
“It’s cereal. Everything is packaged to keep it for a long time. Choose one that catches your eye and we’ll take it,” she explained, while pushing the shopping cart through the aisles, stopping at times to select bread, milk and fruit.
Samael took her advice and checked the cereal shelf to choose one, and suddenly heard a strange giggle behind him, so he turned and found a baby inside a shopping cart basket. The baby raised his little hands and moved his feet toward him with cheerful giggles.
The angel approached him with curiosity and began to poke his cheeks as if checking his functionality. The baby didn’t stop laughing, so he also smiled and immediately turn around to look for Marianne. She was now an aisle ahead at the cold cuts area, choosing packages of ham, cheese and burgers for the fridge.
Given that she wasn’t used to shopping, she found it difficult to make decisions about brands and prices, but was convinced she shouldn’t worry as long as she had his father’s card. She then felt someone tapping her shoulder.
“Look, look!” Samael called her and she found him holding a baby. “A tiny human!”
“What the . . . !” The baby kept laughing as she looked sideways like a bundle of nerves. “Where did you take that baby from?”
Behind him was a shopping cart near the cereal aisle and another woman was leaning on the back groceries. She immediately took the baby from his hands and walked quickly to the cart, being careful not to trip on her way, and left the baby, returning as fast as she could to her own cart, right when the baby started to cry.
“Are you insane? You can’t go around taking other people’s babies just like that! Next time don’t stray away from me, okay? We don’t need a charge for kidnapping.”
“I’m sorry,” he answered without fully understanding what he’d done wrong.
They left the supermarket, carrying several bags, and Marianne saw a clothing store across the street.
“Let’s go to another place before going back home,” she said, gesturing him to follow her to the next shop.
“What are we doing here?” Samael looked at the mannequins, touching them cautiously as if expecting them to move.
“Getting you a new wardrobe. You can’t wear my dad’s clothes forever, it’s just a temporary thing,” she replied while looking through a rack of shirts, drawing a pair and handing them to him. “Go to the changing room and try on these. We’re not taking anything that doesn’t fit you.”
He followed her instructions and headed to the cubicles in the back of the section as she continued checking the racks and choosing jeans and sweaters that could fit him. That was when she felt a pat on her shoulder.
“Did you try on the shirts?”
“I don’t know what shirts you’re talking about, but I’ll try on everything you want.”
She turned at the sound of that voice and made a wry face when she saw Mitchell behind her.
“Oh. It’s you,” she said unenthusiastically.
“What are you doing here? I don’t see you wearing men clothes, although I admit it would be quite a sexy sight,” Mitchell said, while she just winced, and looked behind him in case Samael appeared. “Well, then . . . when are we going on that date you owe me?”
“I don’t owe you anything!”
“I beg to differ. You looked at me first and opened the doors to my heart, you can’t just leave them like that unless you lock them from the inside,” he said wiggling his eyebrows with a self-confident smile.
“God, I can’t believe your guts!” she grumbled, shaking her head and pressing her temples to keep herself from losing what little patience she had left.
“Is this okay?” Samael interrupted, returning from the fitting room with one of the shirts on. Mitchell gave him a suspicious look right away.
“It looks good to me, did you try the other? If it fits you, we’ll take both.”
“I’ll do it right now!” he responded with a smile, getting back to the changing room under Mitchell’s scrutiny.
“Who’s the towhead? Why is he so familiar with you?” he began to question her sternly. “Is he related to you? He is, right? He has to be, he’s definitely not your type. What you need is someone like me: handsome, charming, interesting and manly-looking, even in the remote case that I dress as a woman, you know what I mean? Not that I will do it, of course, but if you ask me to, I could think about it. I have no identity problem.”
Marianne gritted her teeth and clenched her fists in exasperation. She’d had enough.
“Well, you know what? It doesn’t matter, because that won’t change the fact that I’m not available and never will be for you!” she snapped and Mitchell clutched his chest with a rueful gesture.
“Don’t say that, babe. You’re breaking my heart,” he said melodramatically.
“Is everything okay?” Samael came back, holding the two shirts. Mitchell glared at him from head to toe, evaluating him.
“What’s your name, pal?”
“Me? My name is Sa—”
“Samuel! His name is Samuel!” Marianne interfered again, following another impulse. “Now, if you’ll excuse us, we still have things to do. Goodbye!” She wrapped Samael’s arm around hers and pulled him as far as possible. “What a pain he is!”
“What was that?” Samael asked in confusion.
“That was just Mitchell, the guy who’s been stalking me lately,” she explained, trying to regain her composure. “Hopefully he will stop now.”
“Why did you say my name is Samuel?”
“Well, Samael isn’t exactly a common name here among us,” she tried to explain. “So I thought maybe you could be called a more . . . human name. After all, it already sounds very similar to your own name.”
“If you think so, that’s okay. I trust you,” he agreed easily.
They went back home and since no one else had returned yet, she asked Samael to take the bags to the kitchen while she took the new clothes to the attic.
During the time the angel emptied the bags on the table, someone knocked on the front door. He stood still for a few seconds, waiting for Marianne to answer, but heard the knocking again. He left the kitchen and looked up the stairs.
“Marianne?” he called, but she didn’t answer and the knocking continued, so he approached the front window and pulled the curtain just a little to see who it was.
Belgina was standing at the door, waiting patiently for someone to open it, and at the glimpse of movement, she instantly turned to the window and caught a peek of his fair head right before the curtain closed again.
Samael stood glued to the space between the door and the window, not knowing what to do until Marianne came down the stairs.
“What’s up?” she asked.
“I think she saw me,” he whispered and Marianne walked to the window to find Belgina outside, looking puzzled.
“It’s Belgina. How did you let her see you? Do you know what she might be thinking?” she muttered in the quietest tone she could muster.
“I don’t know. Didn’t you say you were going to introduce me anyway?” he said, and she breathed deep to stay calm.
“Go back to the kitchen, I got this,” she instructed and he obeyed as she opened the door, trying to feign surprise. “Hi! What are you doing here?”
“I’m sorry if I interrupted something,” the bespectacled girl said, looking inside.
“Don’t worry, you didn’t,” said Marianne inviting her in.
“I . . . wanted to talk to you about yesterday. Apologize for not showing up when you needed it the most.”
“Oh, it’s about the meeting in the cafeteria? Don’t worry about it,” she replied, watching for Samael not to peep from the kitchen.
“That and when you were in trouble. I sensed some kind of calling, I think . . . you were under attack, and I still didn’t come,” Belgina revealed, averting her gaze and rubbing her arm sling. “I feel ashamed.”
“I told you not to worry . . . ”
“But I do,” she interrupted again. “I do, and that’s the main problem. I worry too much. Before all of this . . . Angel Warrior thing, my only concerns were school and my mother’s attention. Now it’s all about not being discovered and the danger. Still, the chance to get hurt seemed unreal, but then this happened . . . ” she pointed at her cast. “Not only am I now unable to do anything . . . but I also fear something worse could happen. Sorry, I know I must sound like a coward, but—”
“No, it’s a reasonable fear. Believe me, I’ve had it all along.”
“And yet you haven’t given up once,” Belgina said, looking away with shame. “See? I’m such a weakling.”
Marianne didn’t know what to say. Samael, meanwhile, remained in the kitchen, walking around the table where he had emptied the food bags, feeling idle. He was touching the packages and cans with his fingertip, and when he reached the apples, one slide off the table and went rolling to the door. He awkwardly tried to pick it up, but ended up slipping and crashing the door open, falling with half his body sticking out.
Marianne and Belgina turned at the noise and saw Samael on the floor jutting out from the kitchen door. He sat up quickly with the apple in his hands and stared at them in silence while Marianne remained equally mute.
“Who is he?”
“H-He is . . . my cousin Samuel. He’s visiting for a few days,” she resolved, and beckoned Samael to get closer.
“Cousin? I thought that apart from Lucianne and your family you didn’t have any relatives.”
“Well, it’s not that we’re related by blood . . . but our parents were very close and we grew up together,” she made up. Belgina didn’t say anything, but kept staring at them skeptically.
“You must be Belgina, right?” Samael said finally.
“Yes, how do you know my name?”
“Marianne talks about you all the time,” he answered with a smile and Belgina only nodded. The three of them stayed in silence for the next several seconds.
“Uhm . . . we were about to eat, would you join us?” Marianne invited her.
“I don’t want to bother.”
“Not at all! Come on, just don’t freak out when you see the kitchen, we just bought groceries.”
Belgina followed them to the kitchen where, after cleaning the table, they sat down and Marianne prepared burgers for all three of them.
“Why is no one else home?” Belgina asked, noticing they were the only ones there.
“They’re at the hospital . . . Something happened yesterday,” she replied while Samael was spinning his burger, unsure of what to do with it.
“What happened? Was that why I . . . heard the call?” said Belgina, careful not to reveal anything in front of him.
“Something like that,” Marianne confirmed and beckoning Samael with a glance to follow her lead while she took a bite of her burger. He imitated her and once he felt that juicy taste in his mouth, he sped up and ate like there was no tomorrow. “Hey! Calm down! Nobody’s going to take it away from you.”
“Can I have more?” he asked, after devouring the burger in a moment.
“You can take mine if you want, I’m not hungry anyway,” Belgina said, pushing her plate towards him.
“Really? Thanks!” He took the burger and proceeded to gobble it up.
“You’re acting like a child,” Marianne said disapprovingly and turning her attention to Belgina. “As I was saying . . . it’s my mom who is in the hospital right now. She’ll be there until they find out what’s wrong with her.”
“But why? Did it have anything to do with . . . what happened yesterday?” asked Belgina again with caution and Marianne nodded, which caused her to flinch in remorse. “I’m really sorry.”
“I guess things happen for a reason,” Marianne concluded, trying not to make her feel bad. Suddenly Samael jumped up, leaving the rest of the burger on the plate and standing still as if hearing a distant sound. “What is it?”
In a matter of seconds, he pounced at Marianne and pushed away Belgina’s seat at the exact moment the table was cut in half from the spot Marianne was sitting on.
“Did you think I would not be coming back for you . . . Angel Warrior?” Umber appeared in the middle of the halved table and looked at the room with crazy eyes, stopping on Marianne. “Ha, yes, you! Don’t think I don’t know who you are! Show yourself to me! You have nothing to hide anymore!”
She grimaced and willfully pushed Samael away while the armor covered her, prompting Umber’s hysterical laughter, thrilled to know he was right.
“Yes, there you are. I knew it!”
“Now what? Are you going to kill me?” she asked, her hand flexed to make her sword appear at any moment.
The demon let out a guffaw with eyes wide open like plates.
“We’ll get to that part eventually, but first . . . I’ll make you pay for what you did to me!” he warned, showing the cauterized stump that was his right arm while stretching the other one in a sharp blade.
Marianne held her breath, trying to get ready for what was to come, but to her surprise, Samael got in front of her.
“What are you doing?”
“What does it look like? I’m protecting you,” he said, standing firm.
“I don’t care who else I have to kill as long as you’re included in the mix!” Umber shouted raising his arm-blade, but right before he could do anything, a windblast hit him sideways and threw him against the stove, making a dent in it.
“No! First the table and now the stove!” Marianne groaned.
“Sorry, I’m not well balanced with my arm like this,” Belgina apologized, already with her armor on.
“Forget it. Doesn’t matter right now.”
The sword sprang from Marianne’s hand and she ran towards him —who was practically stamped on the stove— brandishing the blade to make the demon meet his final fate, but just as she approached, she felt some dense energy above her and lifted her gaze. A black hole was forming in the upper area just below the ceiling, and a pair of red eyes peered from it.
“What . . . ?” Umber leapt at that instant, his guillotine arm on guard, taking her aback and scrapping her just below the ribs. She stepped back with her hands holding her side. It was starting to bleed. She looked up again and the hole was gone.
“Marianne!” Samael yelled after seeing her wounded, and realizing Umber was about to lash out again, he stood in the way, crossing his arms in front of him. The blade crashed into an invisible barrier that had formed between the two of them. The demon watched him, amazed, just like Belgina.
“Who the hell are you? Another Angel Warrior?!”
Samael seemed to flinch at the question. Something inside him seemed to accept the idea, as far-fetched as it was. And then a spark ignited in his mind, as much as he tried to contain it. After all, he had only been a presence inside someone else’s mind so far. But the spark that had kindled inside suddenly became a blaze that swept his physical form. Something higher than himself trying to convey that this was the way it was contemplated from the beginning. It was meant to be.
“Samael,” Marianne whispered, and he turned momentarily towards her, noticing her astonished face. “Your arms.”
He looked down and noticed his arms were starting to cover in that flexible material that formed the armor, spreading throughout his body.
He lifted his face right away, breathing hard. Part of him couldn’t conceive it yet. He closed his eyes to focus his mind and opened them again to discover his transformation had been completed. There was no time to be struck by it, with a quick motion he unfolded his arms and pushed his body towards Umber, ramming him so hard, it knocked the air out of him and threw him to the floor.
“Do it now! Right in the chest!” Samael yelled, restraining him with his own weight despite his feathery appearance. Marianne then wielded her sword and buried it right into the demon’s chest, twisting it with fierceness.
Umber’s face contorted in a wince of pain, a deafening roar, his last breath. She moved away, leaving the sword thrust into his body and he started to fall apart in a corrosive material. Samael stepped back and stood beside Marianne.
Belgina joined them and the three of them watched his body disintegrating and evaporating on the ground.
“What about the gifts?” Belgina asked and Marianne reacted to that.
“The gifts! What will happen to them?” she cried anxiously, and as the body dissolved, suddenly three vessels were expelled from it.
“Those are . . . ” Belgina murmured. Marianne smiled, realizing those were the gifts. She just had to take a few steps and take them, but a black hole opened above and a hand came from it, taking the vessels. And then it closed from one second to another, leaving the trio befuddled.
“What was that? The gifts just . . . ” Marianne uttered in disbelief.
“Could it have been . . . that another demon took them?” Belgina suggested and the three remained in a deathly hush, looking at Umber’s body dissolving completely, leaving just a black stain on the floor.
They tried to calm down and Samael approached Marianne to check on her wound.
“I’ll heal you,” he said, placing his hands over the wound while Belgina watched in awe how it closed, leaving just a subtle mark.
“You’re not only like us . . . you can also heal! How do you know so much?” she asked, and Samael fell silent, looking at Marianne for help.
“Well . . . there’s something you need to know about him,” she started, getting an alarmed reaction from him, assuming she would reveal his origin. “He was the one who told me who I was . . . back in Palmenia . . . before coming to this city. That’s why he seems to know so much . . . He’s the original Angel Warrior.”
“So he’s the one who actually knows everything about us?” Belgina asked and Samael looked from one to another, not sure how to answer that.
“Your arm!” Marianne interrupted like she had just reached enlightenment. “You can heal Belgina’s arm, right?”
“Oh . . . well, I can try,” he agreed, approaching cautiously to Belgina and putting his hands on her cast as she just watched cautiously. His hands began to glow and the brightness surrounded the cast. Belgina’s face changed from distrust to skepticism after feeling a wave of heat through her arm. “I think that’s it.”
Marianne took a butcher knife from a drawer and Belgina looked momentarily horrified, but then slightly lifted her arm, allowing her to cut the cast. A few minutes later, her arm was out, and to her surprise, she could freely move it without any pain.
“Incredible. It’s like my arm was never broken.”
“I’m glad it worked,” Samael said with relief.
Marianne looked around and realized the kitchen was a mess. Ironically, this made her panic more than the recent attack. She had no idea how could she get out of this problem.
“I’ll call my mom’s assistant. He could get an exact replica for the table and the stove,” Belgina offered, pulling out her cell. “I promise your family won’t even notice it.”
Marianne nodded gratefully, and her gaze stopped at the stain on the floor while Samael tried to clear the kitchen. They may be able to replace the table and the stove, but that burn mark would stay permanently in the floor, just like the one in the attic.
Now there were two spots that reminded her of the dangers they had to face. And furthermore, there was that pair of red eyes staring from above. The red eyes that apparently had taken the gifts and now posed as a new threat for them from now on.