Part I: The Awakening
Chapter 12: The girl next door
At midday, I was having a little siesta, after our apple-pie fiesta, when suddenly a knock on the door woke me up. “Strange”, I though, because I’d told Alice that I’d sleep for a while before we went for a walk through town. “She can’t be it, she’d let me sleep.” She was not it. It was another her, in fact. As I opened the door, I saw that which made me mad a while back that day: Maria. Not that she had a name-tag stuck to her dress or anything of the sort, but it must’ve been her, it had to be her. With my ‘luck‘ I’d never have imagined such a creature to have willingly wanted to stay by my side as I slept. But there she was, a medium blond, blue-towards-green-eyed, thin little creature, dressed in a simple blue dress, as simple as it went, but so…so unbelievably nice. It looked nice on her, it was perfect in tandem with her blue eyes. And I never used to examine clothing…never!
“Hi,” I said, in a low voice, so that I’d not disturb her somehow…as if she came by because she was afraid of being disturbed. “Dummy, you were criticizing her a while ago and now you’re petrified. What kind of a man are you?” a voice told me…or I told myself, I couldn’t make out which was it. In any case, it felt like I had lost all control of my senses, as if she was some vampire out on the hunt not for human blood, but for someone’s senses. My senses.
“Hi, I’m Maria,” she said while standing on the porch with a lovable smile. Then, changing her attitude and facial composition, looking upset all of a sudden, she added: “I hear you hated it, having me watch you the other day?!?”
Oh damn, “why Martha, why, why did you have to tell her that? Why did you have to do it? You hate me so much?” I thought, embarrassed and desperately trying to go for some intelligent excuse who’d wash everything clean. “You don’t do that to a shy person, you just don’t,” my brains were telling me. “What am I to do now? She thinks me either awkward or a wussy, for being afraid of a girl. What am I to say?” So I said the worst possible thing, what else:
“I was only joking” —- hell,”what was that, why did I say that, what did I hope it would bring?” I thought, wanting to bang my head on a wall. Which would’ve looked even more stupid. So I abstained myself.
Maria looked at me in a curios way, like she did not expect me to say that. Anything but, probably. “You were not joking. Martha told me that and she was not joking either, I know her too well for that. Why would you fear me and why would you lie? I was only trying to be nice. Can’t a girl do something nice for a boy, ’cause all hell brakes loose…I was not stalking you, you know?” she said.
I felt completely disarmed. A naked knight, no armor, no helmet, no shield…and no sword. Nothing seemed to be able to defend me anymore, and I was the one who attacked. Not that I had the right ‘tool’ to attack…I attacked like a madman.
“Come on, say something. Ok then, I’ll say something: I was the one joking, when I asked you if you hated me. I realize you did not hate it (or me), you’re a guy, after all, you’re all probably dreaming of fair maidens leaving you flowers around…”, she said, but probably while really thinking: “dreaming of you know what, not flowers…”
Her tone changed. I felt like a jerk, but she was right, even if she may have not realized it. I, for one, was always dreaming of such maidens. And not only while I slept. Anytime, actually. And stupidly, when one such maiden came and did just that, stuff brought out of romantic novels, I felt stalked. What was wrong with me? Gay was I not, that much was sure.
“I reacted hastily. I should’ve let Martha finish her ‘story’ about you. I’m sorry. You can come back anytime and watch me sleep, if you wish.” I was telling her that, oh my, what had happened to me? Soo geeky!
“Maybe you should watch me sleep so that we’re quits. I hear I’m charming when I’m sleeping, my father used to tell me that. I want you to know that Martha did not ‘betray’ you, I sort of interrogated her and it slipped her mouth, but she sure did convince me that you’ve only reacted like that ’cause you didn’t let her finish what she intended to say. You’re forgiven and all that,” she said, bringing some confidence back into my body.
She was so nice, she knew how to relax the person she was speaking with, she seemed to take an interest in me…oh, she was very beautiful…and what was I doing, but feeling overwhelmed by the situation? I’d always wanted something like this, I’d always complained that most girls were nowhere near feminine enough, sweet and innocent, but with open minds…and when one such creature seemed to fall upon me, I acted like an idiot. “I deserve to be forever alone,” I thought. For a long time I said nothing, instead of thanking her for her carnation or something like that, anything, just not the lack of any reaction at all.
“You’re intimidated by me, I can see that. I can come back later, when you’ll act all manly again,” she said, mocking me. And I sure deserved it.
My tongue felt ready then: “Oh no, don’t leave. Please don’t. I’m a lot of things, but not a jerk. Even if sometimes I act like one, I do so not of my own volition. I don’t know who’s volition that is, but it’s not mine. Believe me. I loved your little present…and the way you left it. And I admire you for being so curious about me. I would be just as curious if we were to change places, but I’d most likely not act on it. I don’t think I’d have the guts to ask to watch a stranger, and a girl like you…You’re braver than me, and a woman, so that’s like two times braver than brave.” I said, wanting to make it all right.
She smiled and said that she was not mad or anything. She understood…of course she understood, she’d probably seen it all before…half-witted guys who could not help but break into pieces in front of her. ⇒⇓
There was a tension between us, which felt both good and awkward. It was difficult not to like Maria for her glee, piece of mind and general openness. She was a little odd, I had to give her that, but in that peculiarity of her resided a lot of wonderful qualities, part of which anyone could see, part which needed to be discovered. It was exactly those parts of her which needed quite some work in order to be discovered that made me so curious about her. A creature stood before me, which was hard to decipher, but charmingly so. Invitingly so.
Maria was not afraid of what the ‘world‘ thought of her. She could care less about the opinions of people who were not tied to her in any way. I came to understand that soon after meeting her. She could walk around town dressed like some country girl from a couple of centuries back and not give a damn about it. She rarely imagined herself as a princess and dressed accordingly. She’d rather she was the initial Cinderella, with some hand-made, worn from all that work gown, than the Cinderella who lost her shoes at the end of the ball. In fact, she’d rather she wore no shoes at all, if she could help it.
If she admired a dress, then it did not matter whether or not that said dress was in fact meant to be worn just during a certain ceremony, a ball or something like that. Or if it was meant for the daughter of the blacksmith in some play. And that applied to everything else concerning her, not just dresses. She looked great in almost everything, so she played with that as much as she could. And she felt confident, so she played with everyone.
She was thin, almost too thin, but the thin which is made wonderful by well-chosen clothing. “She’d not look all that great naked,” I thought, “her charm is in her very good taste coupled with some excellent providers of clothing and accessories”. I was not the man to think about women like that, so it did not matter to me in the least, I’m just saying. “But I had thought about it, even if for a brief moment,”I thought. She was perfect just the way she was. I hated those who kept saying that women should have curves. They should have a lot of things before having those. If they don’t have what’s needed to make them feminine, delicate, charming, etc. then no curves could save them, I thought. And I think.
We talked for a bit that afternoon, but most of what I’m saying now about Maria comes from a more general understanding of her based on multiple days spent at least partially together and quite a lot of info about her coming from Martha.
I wished to be as rakish as she was, I wanted to wear some pirate’s garb while walking around town and not give a damn about it. I still wish it,though I’ve not come around, in spite of all that wishing. It all pointed towards the fact that she was in a different league than me, with some common ground, yeah, but still a different league. I kept wondering for weeks and months to come why she seemed attracted by me. What did she see that I did not realize myself? It must’ve been something pretty great, no doubt about it. I thought that I did not posses what it takes to be ‘worthy’ of her. But she thought otherwise, it seemed.
She broke the ice after all that silence which followed our little ‘introduction’ of sorts. “How come you ended up with Alice and Mark?” Maria asked, at some point, curiously.
“I wanted to come to Britain one way or another. I did not know how else, so I did it this way. I spent a lot of time with my sister when she was little so it’s not like kids are something new for me. I found an ad of Alice’s on some au-pair site and I contacted her…or she contacted me, I forgot how the whole thing actually took place,” I said.
“That’s nice. You’re from Romania, right?” she asked. I nodded. “I’ve never been abroad. I’d wish that I did, but I had no opportunity. At least I live in London, and that is the closest one can be to the real thing, to crossing borders.”
“Yeah, I know. So multicultural, it’s true. It feels like the world is moving to London, in an attempt to make it the capital of multiculturalism or something. Not that it’s the only city like that. But still… Glad to hear you’re from there. Where exactly is it that you live?” I asked, feeling great for having someone to talk to about London. Alice only had briefly visited it, so she was not much help.
“I’m not from London, I just live there. I moved there ten years ago or such. I’m actually from Stoke-on-Trent, some ways north of London. I live in Harrow, Harrow on the Hill, to be more precise. I moved there when my father died,” she explained to me, a thin tear falling down along her right cheek.
“I’m sorry, so sorry. You shouldn’t have mentioned that. I know it’s awful to say it out loud, especially when it’s about parents gone too soon,” I said. I never progressed further past the usual words one says when one hears someone’s died. Therefore I did not know what to say to her. “No, no, I have to get used to it sometime. For ten years I pitied myself…or rather daddy, I don’t know whom, in fact.” She sighed. I said: “He must’ve been a great dad, for you to think of him this way even after ten years…”
I was right, not that it was a hard guess. It was only natural that she’d shed tears for him after so much time precisely because he was great. She leaned on my shoulder and started crying. It was sad, but cute all the same. I don’t want to seem insensible, but that’s how it went. “Great, just what I need, a charming blond muse crying on my shoulder.” I should’ve realized that it was something good, but I interpreted it as a bad omen. Like it was bad that I somehow made her sad. I found her cute when sad, crying and all that, but I saw it as a bad omen. What kind of brilliant thinking was that? Pick: sad or cute?
When she realized that I was not sleeping any more, Alice called me, wanting to go for a walk with Mark and James. I excused myself, telling Maria that we’d have time to talk some other time. “Of course we’ll have, I live next door,” she said, snapping out of her sadness. We left it at that. “Probably for the best, I thought.”
Imagine that, she even lived next door. It felt like too much, like the stupidest Hollywood cliché, but hey, nobody says no to such a type of too much! If it actually happens!