I sat facing that now familiar fire, used to its arbitrary crackles, having visited the group so often. They were my second family. I held a cup of chicken and vegetable soup in my wool-covered hands. We all held one, apart from Gabriel. His was empty, replaced to that now infamous blue backpack.
"We should call you Mary Poppins," Gabriel joked, as he reached for the backpack, "How much do you have in here?" I was still laughing from his reference to this fictional character, so it took me a while to reply,
"I pack very tightly," before snatching it from him and setting it down beside me in fake irritation. I scowled at him and he pulled a silly face; I was soon laughing again. My whole body was laughing, every limb twitched and spasmed and tingled, each with a mind of its own. Unable to control myself, I flopped into Gabriel. I looked up into his face, his eyes still that deepest blue that I could not comprehend. Then, to my horrific delight, I found I couldn't stop looking. The image of his face burned into my memory, striking and unforgettable. My heart leapt as I realised something else.
He hadn't stopped looking either.
I sat up a little straighter, still looking into his eyes. The world around us seemed to have blurred into oranges and blacks and greys. He put his arm around me and smiled, then pushed a lost lock of hair back to its place. He still kept his hand there, stroking my head. Something within me was being filled, a hole that had formed as metal crunched and flesh was pierced. I leant in towards him, my hands on his shoulders, his now moving to the back of my head. Our lips were about to brush when a sudden bolt of pain coursed through my veins.
"Ayla, I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have rushed-"
"It's not your fault, Gabriel," I began quietly, "I was kicked in the head two weeks ago."
Gabriel held me closer.
"Why can people not accept others for who they are? Why is there always a code, certain criteria, for deserving respect?" His voice had angry tones.
"I don't know." I whimpered, tears tumbling down my cheek. Gabriel wiped them away.
"I think I know why," he said.
"I think they're jealous."
"Jealous? Of me?"
"Yes, jealous of your intellect, compassion and ambition."
I looked up again, the tears gone, and we began the journey to our healing together with a kiss that made me tremble and yet more tears fall out of my eyes. They were tears of joy. A fanfare of whistles soon emanated from the others, but they were well meaning.
Gabriel had become my guardian. Now I had to find a way to be near him at school.
A chat with my headmaster was next on the agenda. That is, after a long sleep filled with wonderful dreams.