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Chapter 4: Part Four
Their bikes lay abandoned. They had hidden them beneath the rust-orange leaves at the edge of the foot path. The sleeping metal beasts quickly grew warm in the mid-afternoon haze, entirely forgotten by the feet that spun them to life, the feet that had wandered off through the tall grass and onto greater things.
“Xeno!” A shout, off in the distance. “Xeno, catch me!”
The gentle swoosh of fabric played against the backdrop of birdsong and sticky humidity. A smile glinted across the sparkling air. Eyes flashed their joy to a near identical pair, and there was the jolt of something kindling deep within. Bodies moved, running about, barefoot in the grass, here and then there.
They grew slower as time spurred forward. The heat attached itself to their clothing; it weighed upon them, dragging them ever closer to the earth, until finally, their bodies were at rest.
Exhausted, Xenophilius stopped to wipe his sweaty brow with the back of his hand. He plopped down onto the grass, breaths coming unevenly between peals of laughter. Capria flung herself beside him, clinging to her dress with child-like fingers. The grass tickled their exposed skin and, when they lay back together, hid them from the rest of the world.
The minutes ticked by and their breathing steadied. He lay still, content, watching Capria brush through the tangles in her long, leaf-strewn hair.
And then, out of the blue, “Is your girlfriend angry that we’re spending so much time together?”
“Is your girlfriend angry? We’ve been spending almost every day together now… she’s bound to be upset with me for stealing you away. I mean… for taking up all your time.” Capria turned away, a sly smile on her lips.
Eyes half-closed and dreamy, Xenophilius whispered, “We broke up.”
A hiss of air was Capria’s only response.
The grass beside him rustled as she turned on her side to face him, propped on her elbow. Xeno allowed his eyelids to droop carelessly but he could sense her watching him, waiting for a reaction.
“I’m fine,” he responded. And he was; in her presence, he was.
In their own little sphere, ensconced by the walls of swaying green, Capria placed a delicate hand on Xeno’s shoulder. His skin warmed at her touch. He smiled.
“I want to take you somewhere.”
Xeno’s eyes opened and he furrowed his brow.
“Okay,” was all he said.
Her hand found its way down his arm, trailing warmth in its wake. Her fingers wrapped around his wrist and she pulled him up. Xeno laughed to himself as she carefully dusted the stray blades of grass from his clothing, her bottom lip caught in between her teeth. And then, suddenly, without warning, her fingers slipped through his and she hurried off into the trees.
They ran for a while, through the sugary summer air. A permanent smile had settled itself onto Xeno’s face. It was thoughtless. He couldn’t remember its beginning and he couldn’t fathom its end. It was all he knew; she was all he knew.
The trees broke and Xenophilius found himself in a lush clearing. It was bathed in golden sunlight and littered with tombstones. There were dozens of them – some marble, some stone, some cracked, some polished – all encircled by an old, wooden fence.
Wild flowers grew in patches, grouped by color and by shape. Xeno smiled, wondering which variety would look best tucked against Capria’s flaxen locks, before turning to her and asking, “Why a cemetery?”
Capria’s eyes flashed some shadowed emotion, tucked away beneath her rosy cheeks and blinding smile. Wordlessly, she danced smoothly to the far reaches of the clearing, balancing on her muddy toes. She motioned for him to join her; so he did.
At her side, Xeno’s eyes immediately fell upon a small, cracked tombstone, its smooth surface glowing with reflected light.
Died October 28, 1967
Together in life, and in death.
A perfumed gust blew Capria’s hair into disordered fancy. The tendrils brushed demurely against Xeno’s cheek, bringing a faint rush of color to his skin.
“Your parents,” he breathed.
She nodded, eyes lost in shades of nostalgia.
“They died on the same day?”
Capria moved closer to him, her fingers playing lightly against his. He thought for a moment that she was going to take his hand, but instead, he felt the sharp corner of a photograph scratch his palm as she pulled away, distracted.
Xeno looked down at the photograph now resting in his palm. Three rosy, smiling faces were peering up at him. Two were older, a mother and father. And the third… Xeno held his breath as an unmistakably familiar pair of eyes – younger, but of the same sparkling granite – batted playfully up at him. To him, they conveyed laughter, and love, and absolute faith in the arms that held on so tightly.
Xenophilius felt a sudden pang of sorrow for the girl kneeling beside him, the girl now placing a paper boat atop her parents’ cold, marble tombstone. But at the same time, he felt special, included.
“Thank you,” was all he could bring himself to say.
Capria cocked her head to the side and looked up at him in a way she never had before. Her eyes were thoughtful and her mouth gaped open wordlessly. After a moment of charged silence, in which Xenophilius’s heart beat uncomfortably against his throat, Capria shook her head, lips twisted into a half-smile.
“No, don’t be sorry for me,” she said, standing up and taking the picture from his outstretched hand.
“Eyes say a lot, Xeno,” she replied simply.
Xenophilius looked away as Capria pressed the picture to her chest. Her bright smile did not fade, and soon, as Xeno turned back to look at her, he felt his lips tugging upwards, too. Her fire had kindled something akin to flames within his own chest.
“My dad taught me how to make these,” she laughed, pointing to the paper boat sitting atop the tombstone, a newspaper crown.
Xeno’s smile widened. He moved an inch to his right, feeling Capria’s warmth at his side.
“When he was teaching me, we would sit awake all night in his office. It was the only time he’d let me inside, and it felt like our secret place. Off limits. Mysterious,” she continued, her eyes closed as the memory, no doubt, played against her eyelids. “I can still hear his laughter whenever I make them. I’m getting rusty, I always fumble with the folds. And his laugh is there.”
Without missing a beat, Xenophilius interlaced his fingers with hers. She squeezed his hand briefly in response, her eyes still closed.
“And my mom… She used to wear this perfume. It smelled like heaven. I used to beg her to let me wear it, but she would always say no, you’re still a princess. This is for queens.” Capria sighed. “Then I turned seven. That morning, I found my wrapped present on the kitchen table. The shape was so familiar.”
“The perfume,” Xenophilius breathed.
She nodded. “That night… as I lay in my bed… I felt so safe and comfortable in a cocoon of my mother’s scent.”
Capria’s eyes fluttered open and then, in an instant, she was gazing up at him with the most pure emotion he had ever seen grace her features. She pressed her free hand into his, turned to face him. And then, without warning, she raised herself on tiptoes, the gap between them shrinking until their lips were touching, so softly, so delicately, yet with such warmth, that Xenophilius stumbled backwards, out of breath.
“That was warm,” he exhaled, touching his lips in awe.
Capria giggled and pressed a hand gently against his chest. What she meant by it, he could not tell, for she quickly removed her hand and twirled away, her skirt kicking up as she moved in dizzying patterns.
Xenophilius watched her through a thick daze. His heart was pounding unnaturally.
“That was warm,” he repeated, smiling distantly.
He wasn’t used to warm.
October had arrived and the leaves were turning colors. They were bright, vibrant, beautiful. As Xenophilius sat among them, entirely ensconced by Autumn’s glory, he couldn’t help but wonder how something that was dying could look so alive.
It was his brother’s voice.
His thoughts unexpectedly disturbed, Xeno looked about, feeling slightly off kilter.
There it was again.
Rapidly regaining cognizance, Xenophilius leaned his chair back onto two legs and peered in through the back door. A light breeze had blown it open just minutes before, and inside he caught a brief glimpse of his brother as he crossed the length of the kitchen.
“Xeno, can you come in here?”
He continued watching as his brother flitted around the kitchen, almost like a moth searching frantically for light. Xeno laughed under his breath and quickly padded through the grass, entering the house with a bemused smile on his face.
“You okay?” he asked, stopping awkwardly to stand in the center of the tiled floor.
“Hmm?” Astrelius paused to look up, wide-eyed, at his brother. After a brief moment, the look of confusion passed, he muttered, “Oh, yes, I’m fine,” and he was off again.
“Do you need something?” Xenophilius offered, feeling helpless.
“Oh, no, no. I was just wondering if you’d asked your girlfriend if she would accompany you to the reception.” Astrelius began shuffling haphazardly through a pile of papers on the counter. “There’s a spot next to you at the head table,” he continued. “And Daphne wanted me to make sure it’s filled.”
Xeno scratched the back of his head. “Well…”
Astrelius shot him a sudden, intense look, accidentally dropping several papers from his stack in the process. Xeno looked away, feeling uncomfortable.
“What are you waiting for, Xeno? I’m sure she’d love to go with you,” Astrelius responded, setting down the papers and hurrying to the kitchen table to sort through an intimidating stack of inky note cards. He was mumbling something under his breath, looking quite frazzled.
From his position at the center of the kitchen, Xeno shrugged. He had to be honest, there was nothing else to it.
“We broke up,” he said, his tone definite.
This barely seemed to register with Astrelius. In fact, Xeno imagined that, for a second, his brother’s eyes had lit up with something resembling joy. Surely he hadn’t been listening.
Xenophilius prepared himself to repeat the unfortunate sentence when Astrelius unexpectedly replied, “That’s too bad, Xeno,” with a smile entirely unfitting for the circumstance.
Shaking his head in confusion, Xeno crossed his arms across his chest and muttered, “Yeah, so…”
There was a moment of silence in which Astrelius continued fussing with his papers, apparently looking for something that was good and lost. Xenophilius was considering returning to his post outside when his Astrelius seemed to remember his presence.
“Is there anyone else you’d like to invite? A friend from Hogwarts, perhaps?” he asked, his expression neutral.
Xenophilius dragged his toe against the tile distractedly. And that’s when it hit him.
She was a mermaid. The way she dove under the rippling surface and emerged, sometimes minutes later, with a fistful of glimmering rocks, it was hypnotizing. In his mind, he envisioned her with a tail of green. Sometimes the sun would hit his imagining, glinting off of her scales, and color it so vividly that he would lose grip on reality.
She was a mermaid.
“Xeno, jump in!”
He was hesitant to join, at first. Capria swam with such ease, had such control over each stroke; he felt vaguely like an intruder.
But, in the end, he gave in to her expectant eyes, as he knew he would. He quickly stripped off his clothing until he was down to his boxers and slipped under the surface of the pond.
Pleased, Capria splashed him playfully. Her laughter seemed to explode in the air around them. It echoed off the water, brushing past the leafy boughs and ricocheting off the perfect, cottony clouds overhead. Xeno splashed her in return, hesitantly at first, and then with more and more enthusiasm.
Capria let out an excited squeal and disappeared beneath the glassy surface. A family of bubbles was left in her wake. Impatient, Xenophilius took a deep breath and joined her in the murky land of spotted fish and algae, cautiously blinking his eyes open.
Together, they explored the unknown. Her fluidness made his sporadic strokes appear almost comical as they plunged and surfaced, plunged and surfaced.
The sun sank in the sky, and the arrival of wind found them lying on the bank, shivering and exhausted. They huddled together underneath a red, wet blanket. It was thrown over them like a tent, where their world was composed of chattering teeth and gooseflesh. The light pouring through the fabric left amber stains on their skin.
Xeno’s eyes were closed, the image of Capria’s hair splayed about her face in watery suspension, when he felt a warm exhale in his ear. “Sing.”
Her cold fingers found his lips. She coaxingly traced their outline.
When Xenophilius remained silent, she began to hum a familiar tune. It pervaded the tent and almost seemed to warm the air. Their pile of collected rocks rattled, caught in the buoyancy of her song.
Without deciding to, Xenophilius began to sing. Her humming became louder, encouraging, and it carried him along. His voice cracked, he was out of pitch, but he sang. The melody connected them, arching and twisting until finally, the air no longer rang with sound.
Capria pressed her palm to his cheek. “You’re terrible,” she whispered.
Her laughter was breathy as she moved over him, her hands at his chest now, hair hanging down to frame his face. She pressed her lips to the tip of his nose and his stomach dissolved to air.
“I am,” he agreed.
As she laid her head against his bare chest, he felt certain she would feel his heart thumping against her cold cheek.
The air settled around them. Their tent had been transformed by the song; it was now warm, cozy. Xenophilius felt the edges of his world grow fuzzy. He was drifting off. And in his half-asleep state, he felt fearless.
“Capria?” he whispered.
Fidgeting, she breathed, “Hmm?”
“Would you come to my brother’s wedding with me?”
Capria stiffened slightly, then sat up. This motion seemed to puncture the tent, its buoyancy slowly deflating.
“Your brother’s getting married?” was her cold response.
Xenophilius sat up, too. He tried to take her hands in his, but she pulled away.
“Y-yes,” he stammered.
Capria traced a finger undecidedly along the seam of their blanket, her eyes downcast. Xenophilius felt the world shrink around them in waiting.
She fidgeted. And then, her pink lips distinctly formed the words “I’m sorry.”
The tent was hurriedly yanked up. Capria twirled it around her arm, shot him one last forlorn glance, and started running. Xeno felt his muscles lunge towards her. He fell awkwardly, splayed out on the ground, tangled in his own limbs as Capria dove nimbly behind the protective sheet of greenery.
“W-w-w-wait!” he cried. But she was gone.
Xenophilius walked hurriedly, his fingers grazing the cold metal of the omnipresent chain-link fence. He imagined the grooves as holes in a sieve, leaking water as he fought to keep it contained. The cold drops fell on his face, slowly at first, cackling as he grew more and more frantic. As the rain picked up speed, so did he, until finally he broke out into a run, hurtling himself forward.
When he arrived at her tree, the rain was pouring from the heavens. He was out of breath and painfully aware of the mud stains on his trousers and the way his shoelace hung untied and frayed from the loop in his trainer. His hands moved self-consciously to tuck in the back of his matted shirt. He sensed her laughter at his sorry state, but it was much too far away. Before he had even looked up at her branch, he knew she would not be there.
In an uncharacteristic bout of temper, Xenophilius kicked blindly at the fence, sending a ripple down its endless metal net. The clang was almost musical; the pain was hot. Unwilling to remain in her tangible absence, Xeno spun on his heel and limped away. He had no destination in mind but distance.
In his head, he placed an angry, red check mark in the final box. It was the last place he would check. He’d saved the most obvious spot for last, just so he could keep hoping.
But now his hope had run dry.
He blinked the water from his eyes blearily and wondered aloud why he had never sought after her address. “It would have been simple,” he declared to the withered stalks of the now-dead summer flowers. Yet neither she nor he had taken that important leap. They had never entirely fused their worlds, and he felt now as though their closeness was only a carbon copy of true understanding.
His thoughts were angry and racing. Inevitably, they led to the tonic, and he wondered what would happen when his bottle ran dry. He had a strange, sweeping certainty that she would be back to replenish his supply. But why?
He glanced angrily at the fence, which sent him a silvery glare in return, making him feel oddly like a caged animal on display.
Author’s Note: Yes, I’m alive. I know I’ve apologized a million and one times for being so slow. I guess I’m just not as fast of a writer as I used to be.
Well, at any rate, I hope you enjoyed this chapter. And thank you for not giving up on me! Reviews are greatly appreciated, so please, scroll down to the little box below and leave me your thoughts. I respond to all my reviewers. :)