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What is it they mean when they talk of people being in "love"?
At once the sweetest and the bitterest thing, my child.
Moments like these were one of the few pleasures I still enjoyed. To me, the calming whisper of the waves rolling onto the beach was a metronome, encouraging me to develop the notes I'd compose later.
The sound of hushed footsteps put me on alert; the narrow trail along the sea was no longer my quiet refuge.
It was before sunrise on a winter day; it certainly wasn't the proper time for a young woman to wander around alone. She was trying to keep herself unnoticed: slumped shoulders, eyes fixed to the ground, face veiled by the mass of her dark hair.
It didn't seem possible that I could detect no other sound. Because of my mind-reading abilities, I was used to hearing a hum, a buzzing of voices, whenever someone was nearby. But this time no thought was reaching me, even when I tried to focus on the girl's mind.
I made the mistake of inhaling deeply: she smelled like the sea, as if a wave had crashed over me, leaving me drenched and lost. If I hadn't had centuries to learn to control my instincts and my bloodlust, her life would have ended immediately.
But, for the moment, the mystery she represented was more appealing than the desire to drain her. She stared at the horizon caressing the landscape with her gaze. Although she appeared to be on the verge of tears, as the minutes slowly tickled away, it seemed that she was finding peace.
I always felt like a stranger among humans. I drank from them, but certainly I never bonded with my prey before feeding. Truth to be told, I never bonded with anyone and my lonely days were often spent just trying to distance myself from people's thoughts, as much as that was possible. So why did I suddenly bother to know the thoughts of a human girl?
"What are you thinking?"
I became aware of my words when they had already left my mouth.
I saw she was puzzled, and for a brief moment her eyes met mine.
"Cosa?" What? she asked me in Italian.
I drew an unnecessary breath of relief. If she wasn't able to understand my language, she didn't understand what I'd just said, and so my imprudence didn't do any damage. I mumbled an excuse, this time in Italian.
I thought she was going to go away immediately; she'd probably already sensed that she stood before an abnormal creature.
Instead, something kept her there. She was facing the world's top predator, but she didn't show any sign of fear; on the contrary, she even wanted to communicate. Alone, talking with a vampire; she had no sense of self-preservation at all.
"English?" she asked.
"American," I answered.
Even while we were so close and she was talking, I still couldn't detect any thought coming from her mind.
"I studied English at school. Sorry I didn't understand what you said before."
She articulated those words slowly. She even blushed; perhaps it was the first time she tried to speak the foreign language she had studied at school.
My personal bubble had been invaded, but I wasn't disturbed by her sudden presence. She was so cute that she made me smile. An actual smile. I was curious to stay with her and I had to acknowledge that it was far beyond the attraction of her wonderful smell. She was my first oasis of silence in all these centuries, the first time I'd been able to find some peace without the need to be alone for it. It could be a pleasant novelty in my monotonous days.
"What are you doing here, sir?" she asked.
"Just travelling," I answered. It was my default answer. With nothing but time on my hands, I'd travelled all over the world. In an ironic way – since I was frozen in my twenties – it was my grand tour, and a very long one as well. "But please," I continued, "It's not sir. I'm Edward."
"I'm Isabella. Nice to meet you, Edward." She said softly.
I could finally voice my curiosity about her presence: "And you? What are you doing here, Isabella?"
She told me this was her town, but that it wasn't her home anymore. She was sad, again, and again she seemed to close up. I didn't want her to go away and I had to find something to keep the conversation going. But she was faster.
"Is it your first time here?" she asked.
It was. Then, indicating the path we were on, "Viaeu de l'Amùu," she said, leaving me puzzled again. It was a language I didn't know.
When I asked her what it meant, she smiled for the first time. "It's a secret," she answered. "You'll see."
Her smile was slight, but it was enough for me to desire with all my strength to make her smile a thousand times again. After centuries of selfishness, I wanted something good for another person and not just for me.
She started to walk on the trail and I silently went with her. She didn't seem to mind it, although I noticed that she was careful to avoid to be too close to me.
If I had been able to sleep, I would have thought that I was dreaming. But while dreams fade away in the morning, this one didn't: the light peaked over the horizon, signaling dawn – a grey winter day, to my advantage – and the trail was all for us.
I finally could enjoy a moment of that humanity that I thought had been taken from me for good since my change. For the first time in my vampire life, I could talk to another person without relying on my mind-reading abilities; I could listen to her words without knowing in advance what she had been thinking.
She told me about the fishermen life of that little town. She showed me the spot on the beach where fishermen docked their boats; at twilight, they sailed to go fishing for anchovies. When she was a child, among those men there was also her grandfather; while she shared with me her memories, it was easy to imagine her as a little girl, joining her grandmother on the narrow beach, waiting for her grandfather's return.
She recalled the smell of freshly baked bread, that she associated to her childhood and to her grandparents.
"What does it taste like?" I asked.
She had a hint of mirth in her eyes.
"Don't you know what freshly baked bread taste like?"
Actually, I couldn't remember it anymore. Human food was disgusting to me, but discovering the world through her perspective and her words was so fascinating that I was eager to know every detail, even about the food references.
"I don't know what does it taste for you." I said.
"It tastes... it tasted good. Good as my grandmother's hugs and her voice when she taught me to cook. When my grandpa came back from fishing, the home smelled of it."
I want to feel this. I thought. I want to find the destination of my wandering, I want to finally feel at home after being away far too long.
I savored every word she spoke. She told me that she left the town after her grandparents' death and went to live in a big city. She was back here only for a day and I didn't understand what she meant when she said she didn't want anyone to notice her. But clearly she was uncomfortable with this topic and I didn't push her. She was opening to me so slowly, like the first flower of spring, and I didn't want our conversation to make her sad, so I tried to smile at her, to soften my gaze.
She was flustered by many feelings: I could perceive the tenderness and the longing that these fond memories were causing in her, and I wanted to look in her face, to get to read her better.
For my prey, my eyes were the last thing they glanced upon in life; I was used to seeing terror, pain and desperation in theirs. When I looked in her eyes, instead, I read all her emotions.
She was shy, but she seemed to trust me and, against my better judgment, I didn't want her to be afraid of me. She asked me to tell her about my travels, and I tried to answer without lying; I didn't want to spoil with lies my only chance of a normal conversation.
Every new question I got from her was a signal that she was enjoying our time together and she was still staying for a bit more with me.
Neither in my human life, nor in my vampire one I had a moment like this: every time she looked at me I beamed. I want to be accepted by her.
I often detected lust in other women's eyes and in their thoughts; they often stared at me, simply attracted by my handsome features. Instead, this beautiful girl was kind and delicate even with her gaze.
Nevertheless, I was nervous. I was used to turning down both human and vampire women without a second thought; and now it seemed it was my turn to be afraid of rejection.
Is this the way a human man feels when a wonderful woman looks at him?
The power to make me feel suddenly exposed and defenseless was held by this frail and small girl.
I chuckled at my inner turmoil and I got distracted. Although the trail wasn't difficult at all, even for a human, she slipped while we were walking. I immediately caught her, without worrying that my cold skin would be repellent to her. Instead, it was the first time I heard her laugh, embarrassed by her own clumsiness. Was I still capable of laughing? Could a human believe that I had actually spent years without a reason to laugh?
Gone was the distance we had kept so far between our bodies.
"Are you cold?" she asked, touching my icy hand.
"No...sorry...my cold hands...bad circulation." It was just another of the default answers I used to maintain my human façade, but I was so shocked that I stuttered when she took my hand and held it. She'd been the first human girl who touched me willingly. Her caress was a rose petal on my marble skin.
I wasn't sure anymore about the invulnerability of my strong body. Her attitude was almost maternal, although she was so young, and I felt as if, after spending a lot of time outside in a chilly day, I was finally at home, in front of a fireplace, longing for more warmth. Out of the blue, I'd found everything I hadn't realized I'd always been looking for: her smile, her caress, her company.
She seemed even concerned for me. Come on! Is the Beauty concerned for the Beast?
I pulled my hand back and she blushed, almost apologetically.
I must be the one to apologize. I hated the thought of her reaction to my stone skin. She was soft and warm and what could I offer her?
In my rare interactions with humans, I was used to feel superior to them; I had probably got everything a man could dream of – I was rich, I was educated, I was considered handsome.
In front of her, instead, I was just a stray cat: angry and ready to fight, one that for the first time had met someone who was looking at it with a caring attitude. She had let down her defenses with me and I wanted to finally let mine down with her.
We were at the end of the path and the time she was going to spend here was coming to an end, since she said she had to take a train back to the city. She was sad again; I thought it was because of the longing for this cherished town of her childhood.
"There's so much beauty in the world," she mumbled.
The skyline was gorgeous: the tumultuous sea, the narrow and lonely beach, the rocks, and nothing else. With her, thanks to her, I could see the beauty in it all.
I wrote a fairy tale for her. I imagined her as the fair maiden with whom the king falls in love; I gave him our colors: the white of my skin and the red of her lips. He doesn't need a crown or a court, because she makes him the happiest and most powerful king of the world:
There was the sun and you had beautiful eyes,
I kissed your lips and your hair;
there was the moon and you had tired eyes,
I put my hand on your hips;
there were kisses and there were smiles,
then there were only the cornflowers,
that saw, through the star's eyes,
how kisses and wind made your skin tremble
I asked if I could escort her to the station; I wanted to treasure every moment we still had together.
Don't dare to stop her. I screamed in my mind. I was too ashamed of my nature and of my life to contemplate keeping her at my side.
She was going back to the full, human life she deserved, toward all the good things I hoped for her and letting her go away was the best thing I could do to take care of her.
There was just a last question I had:
"Viaeu de l'Amùu...What does it mean?" I asked.
She was surprised that I still remembered it. She beamed with the purest and sweetest smile I've ever seen. "It is Love Path" she said. And then, almost whispering, "Edward...thank you. For everything." Tentatively, she leaned a hand towards my jaw and brushed her fingertips against it.
I was still lost in my reverie, enchanted by her soft touch, her beauty, her gentle attitude. Then, in a matter of seconds, the train was ready to leave and she was gone.
And the tumult began.
She was warm, tender and caring and I couldn't bear to go back to the darkness; I didn't want any more to feel so cold. I felt suddenly banned from Heaven and I was ready to beg her to rescue me, to take home with her the stray cat that I was.
I tried to feed more often, but I was disgusted by myself. You don't belong to Heaven. I was a filthy leech and dreaming otherwise meant just deluding myself.
I continued my travels, but nothing could satisfy me anymore. If I couldn't come back to the haven she represented for me, I needed at least to see her again, to love her from afar.
She must have a family. I thought. Maybe a father or a boyfriend who's going to kick your immortal ass if you get close to her.
But, eventually, after some weeks I came back to the path where I'd met her. In the little town of her childhood, I looked for her in the thoughts of every person who could have known her, but every answer I collected was vague and evasive.
Soon it became clear that the people who knew of her were trying to hid something from me. I kept skimming through their thoughts. People didn't trust me; of course, I couldn't blame them, but I couldn't figure out why almost nobody in the little town would even think about her. What was her secret?
Then I followed any trace of her into the big city where she was supposed to live, grasping at every fragment I knew or could discover.
I searched the city inch by inch, but the few hints I collected pointed at its slums. They were my favorite hunting territory: the place where I could play God, slaughtering every sort of criminals. But I couldn't figure out how could she end up there.
It was almost spring when my quest came to an end.
The woman who finally told me about my beloved said she'd been found in the river, many days after she had disappeared. The woman was sorry, maybe more for herself than for her, thinking that, with her lifestyle, she was going to have the same fate, sooner or later.
Who would bother to look for a missing whore? she thought.
I don't know if it was out of fear or out of pity, but she didn't dare to say that word in front of me and she limited herself to think it.
I could have destroyed everything around me.
I could have killed everyone I'd met since then.
I could and I would have done it if it would have been enough to purge me of my rage and my sorrow. But it wasn't enough to neither ease my pain nor to bring her back to me.
I was going to go crazy, but my angel came to rescue me.
I stopped feeding on humans. Hearing their thoughts, I could have killed every rapist, killer, monster I met, but it would have meant devoting my existence to hate and revenge and I didn't want that. She showed me acceptance and love and I didn't want to disappoint her. Every single time I was tempted by my bloodlust I thought of her and the peace she gave me. I spoke with her, hoping she could hear me, wherever she was. I wanted to be a better person for her, not similar in any way to the monster who stole her life.
In the past I had fed from animals, when I was in the wilderness and there were no suitable humans nearby. I knew I could survive on it, so that was what I did.
It took me years to be able to compose music about my angel. Eventually, I even started to share my music. I could not perform in public, because my appearance and lack of aging would have raised too many suspicions. But I shared my compositions with other musicians who would spread it all over the world.
That single day I spent with my beautiful one was enough to change me forever. I never could have believed that a young human woman could make me feel like a man again. And I couldn't resigned to the fact that somebody broke her wings.
I couldn't accept that she was along the river because the monster who was going to take her life brought her there.
She must have been there because of her habit of wandering around alone at nighttime, without any sense of self-preservation. She must have slipped and fell – after all, she was rather clumsy – and the wind, suddenly infatuated by her beauty, brought her away from this world. I liked to believe that the wind brought her to a star, where she could finally forget every sorrow.
I came back to this Italian region so many times that I explored it in every detail, as a way to know her better, to continue to love her through the places she cherished. Even now, every time I come along our path, I remember it as sun drenched. It was cloudy, when we met here but since then, she has been my sun.
It was during one of my visits here that I met a young Ligurian musician. I had already shared my music with many artists all over the world but, until I met Faber, I had never met a poet and a true dreamer to whom I could give her story.
In this world where I'm caged without her, if it's possible for an angel to die, it's also possible for dreams to vanish. Faber was losing his dreams. When I read his thoughts, I saw that, at the end, he was going to study and work according to his family's wishes, to earn a living, to give up on his music and...to die. I was sure that in the precise moment he had abandoned his dreams, he would have been still alive, but dead inside.
I haven't saved my angel, but I tried to do something to help him to keep his dreams.
I spent so much time on this Earth and I never had a friend. I talked with him, insofar I could reveal myself to him. He was a brilliant musician and a talented songwriter. We talked about music, about his and my songs, about the poetry that made him still feel alive in this world full of mud and rot.
So many years passed since I told him her tale, and he never disappointed me. He sang about her with love and for love, even if he had never met her.
I didn't keep in touch with him, but I heard him sing live many times, in all these years. I even thought about paying him a visit for a last goodbye; but maybe, if he would have believed in it, he would have thought to be in front of a fallen angel that once gave him his first success and now was going to collect the prize of his soul at the end of the ride.
He had one of the most sensitive and compassionate minds I've ever met and he took to his grave my angel's real name. Now he will be able to meet my beloved in the afterlife.
Is there any afterlife? Even after so much time, the only way I have to feel that she's still alive somewhere are the words I wrote for her, after she made me live them that one day. And now, for me it remains the only possible truth:
This is your song, Isabella,
who flew into the sky to reach a star
And, as all the most beautiful things,
You lived but a day, like roses do.
Thank you for reading. Reviewers get a little gift!
Thanks to Camilla10, solareclipses, DeeDreamer and Batgirl8968: they are far beyond the best betas and prereaders I could ever desire.
Thanks to Project Team Beta!
The inspiration for this story came from the enchanting Sins of the Piano Man, by solareclipses.
Fabrizio "Faber" De Andrè (1940-1999) was an Italian songwriter. La canzone di Marinella (Marinella's song), dated 1964, was his first great success, when he was actually going to give up on his musical career. Marinella's song was inspired by the real story of a prostitute who was killed and abandoned in a river. The verses of La canzone di Marinella have been translated by Camilla10.
"Viaeu de l'Amùu" means "Love path" in the Ligurian dialect (it's an Italian local dialect).
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