The sound of footsteps left us silent and I couldn't help feeling restless before the gleam in his eyes. I waited to see who approached us and my heart jumped a beat when Michael turned the corner.
He had his hands tucked inside the pockets of a dark-blue and white jacket; his face lightly flushed, probably from being outside. The same boy from before accompanied him, and I wished I could simply run away. I would have done it too, if not for the short distance between us that would make running even worse.
To my surprise he saw me and seemed to recognize me. For an instant thought he would just simply walk by me. He didn't, though. Michael stopped a few steps from where I stood and his smile inflamed my cheeks, which I tried to hide behind strands of hair by lowering my head.
"You ... you're the girl from yesterday," he noted and I simply nodded, but, to my horror, the shadow standing on the other side of the corridor came to life.
"Her name is Mariane," he stated with a commanding tone and I froze, unable to breathe.
I watched as he walked towards Michael, standing at least one head taller than him, and wanted with all my heart to stop him, but just stood there, unable to move. He raised an arm, his long white finger pointing at Michael, who was staring at him completely perplexed, and I recalled with a shudder the pain his touch could inflict.
"See that you'll never forget it again," he added, sticking his finger on Michael's chest, and then walked away, disappearing around the corner.
I looked at Michael in fear. For a moment I thought he would faint, or something worse. But Michael smiled, looking embarrassed, and rubbed the place where Gabriel had poked him.
"He's right. I have the worst memory for names," he confessed, scratching behind his neck. "Mariane!" I jumped at the sound of my name and couldn't help blush.
"Yes!" I answered reflexively and immediately felt like a fool.
"I hadn't had the chance to properly thank you for saving me, yesterday" he told me, his warm voice erasing in an instant all the dark and terrifying things that had happened in the last few days.
"It was nothing," I replied in a shy voice. "Besides, you were the one who saved me first."
"Ah, yes, in the stairway," he recalled and I lost myself. When he smiled his whole face seemed to smile as well. "I'm really sorry for not remembering you the other day. Steven was the one who told me who you were. The day you fell on the stairs we had an exam next, and we were already late. All that stress," he said in an apologetic tone and I shook my head vehemently.
"It's okay." And in truth, right then, everything was okay. His words had completely erased the pain his indifference had caused; that same pain that led me to open that damn book in the first place.
"That guy." He looked towards the direction Gabriel had taken. "Is he in your class? I don't recall seeing him around." I wished I could deny it, tell him that I didn't know him, but immediately changed my mind. Gabriel stood out too much and Michael was bound to end up hearing rumors about him, which meant learning the truth, including that we were supposedly related.
"He just transferred," I explained. "His name is ... Gabriel ... and he's my cousin." I had to force out the words.
"Strange. Never heard of student transfers in the middle of the year," Steven opined and Michael nodded. I wished I was able to make up a better story, like Steph would have certainly have done.
"True," Michael agreed. "But now I see why he sounded so defensive. He clearly didn't like the fact that I forgot your name," he told me condescendingly and I was stunned for a moment. However, I instantly recalled the ease with which Gabriel deceived everyone else, and my surprise quickly turned into anger. Even Michael had bought his little act. "I guess he's right, though," he conceded. "And I swear it won't happen again."
Ah! I could die right there and then. Nothing else mattered. Nothing but the softness of that green gaze, the sweetness of that smile, the warmth of that voice. That it was all for me, even if only during that small period of time, was beyond anything I had ever dreamed possible. Michael looked, smiled and talked to me, and nothing else mattered.
Steven reminded him they still had to prep the Chemistry laboratory for the next class and it was with a heavy disappointment that I returned his farewell. I stood there, watching him as he climbed the stairs and long after he was gone. His image was printed on my memory. Right then Michael was all I could see.