Muriel couldn’t remember how many days it had been. As she packed up her clothes, it felt as if she was putting away the pieces of another life – one that had never belong to her – and she hated all the beige and cream colored blouses that made up her wardrobe. To her, it seemed as if she had always existed in that hotel room, and closing the door behind them felt like saying goodbye to a major piece of her, and it was heartbreaking to go. She couldn’t even remember what she had done while she was there, or what the room looked like beyond that locked door, and that was too much to bear.
Once again her backpack was hanging from her shoulders, pulling her back to a familiar scene that had happened in another time. “It’s just like when I died,” she commented dazedly to Aion, following him as they walked through the hallway, heading towards the parking lot. She was floating somewhere above her head, and everything around her reflected an odd gleam. She didn’t know what was real anymore. “Did I dream you, or are you an angel?” she asked, staring at Aion, and trying hard to process what she saw about him. He slipped out of her mind just as easily as everything else.
“Neither,” he answered.
The freshly fallen snow reflected the morning sunlight, blinding Muriel, for a moment, when they stepped outside. Her breath formed a cloud in front of her face, and a sudden pang shot through her heart as she watched the water vapor swirl in the air. She quietly breathed, “I don’t want to be dead.”
Aion spoke from somewhere far away, “You’ll live again.”
“What does living even mean?” Muriel looked down at her hands, and somehow couldn’t recognize them. Were they too small, or too large, to belong to her? She couldn’t remember what she was supposed to look like. “Am I in someone else’s body?”
“You aren’t grounded.”
“You say the weirdest things.” Muriel paused, as a feeling swelled up in her stomach. It was a sort of longing or sickness that quickly consumed her, and it was all that she could think about. “Can I go home?” she asked.
Aion abruptly stopped. “What?”
“Can I go home?” she repeated.
His face took on a strange expression. “What’s my name?” he asked.
“Where is your home?”
“I don’t know.” Muriel shrugged. “I just really want to go home. I’m tired.”
Slowly Aion put his arms around her and pulled her against his chest, embracing her much harder than he had ever done so before. Putting his mouth against her forehead, Aion whispered, “Your home is right here.”
Muriel closed her eyes and felt the strength in Aion’s arms. His muscles were hard underneath his dark wool coat, and Muriel wondered why he didn’t hug her more often. She wanted to sink into him, to shed her body and meld into his intoxicating smell, to become a part of him forever. Something in her heart stirred, and a tiny part of her wanted more than just an embrace.
But the sensation of different arms took over, squeezing the air out of her. She was suffocating, choking on a nauseating stench that terrified her, as a heavy pressure pushed against her body, making her feel exposed and vulnerable. Her eyes opened wide and she struggled to breathe in, as she pushed against Aion, struggling to get him away. He was too heavy. She couldn’t … stop … him …
“Muriel!” Aion took her face in his hands. “Snap out of it.”
Her eyes focused on his face, and the long blonde hair that caught the sun and shined like a halo. He was an angel. Even if he denied it, Muriel realized that he was an angel who had come to watch over her. He was too beautiful to be human, and focusing on his brilliant blue eyes calmed down the storm that had so completely seized her mind. She slowly stepped back into the present, following Aion, as he instructed, “Take a deep breath. Good. Now another one.” They stood for a moment, their eyes locked, as Muriel breathed in and out. She was still shaky, but she had regained enough of herself to ask, “What happened?”
“You experienced a body memory.”
Muriel wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. She still felt too exposed, and wished that she could disappear inside of a cocoon where no one could ever find her. “I felt like I was being crushed,” she murmured.
“I know.” Aion kissed her forehead. “You’re safe with me.” As if he could read her thoughts, he lightly took her hand, and led her at arms length to his car, where he held open the door for her to climb in. Once she was secure inside, the muscles in her shoulders suddenly sagged, releasing tension that she hadn’t realized was there. She still wanted to keep her arms folded, as if that would somehow protect her from the unknown and invisible threat that surrounded her.
“I felt him,” Muriel whispered, as Aion sat in the driver’s seat, and he remained silent. His hands rested on the steering wheel, his face inscrutable. It upset her that he never responded to her, that he wasn’t saying anything to encourage her to talk about what had just happened. Perhaps he wasn’t an angel after all. Perhaps he was just a man. “What if you’re like him?” she said, “What if all men are? I mean, you’re always so cryptic and you won’t tell me what’s going on. Who are you? Why are you here?” At some point she had started crying, but it felt more real than the world that surrounded her and she didn’t want to stop.
Then he spoke, with words that were quiet, but clear, and pierced through what was left of her soul, “I have loved you since before time existed. I’m here because I belong to you.”
Whatever strength had been holding Muriel broke, and she collapsed forward like a rag doll, sobbing. “Then why weren’t you there?”
He was quiet again. Muriel looked up and realized that his cheeks were wet, and she felt guilty for putting him in that state, for pushing him so far. She felt guilty that she hadn’t considered that his silences contained his own emotions, and perhaps he hid them for her benefit, because he knew that she was a mess.
“I’m sorry. I … I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry,” she whispered.
Aion kissed her. It was unexpected, fierce and passionate, and the way he tasted was delicious. It was even more real than the crying had been, and Muriel’s heart clung to it – a moment of warmth in a world filled with cold. She felt a pure love pouring out from deep inside of him, soothing away the turmoil that had been tearing at her heart, filling her with a sense of strength and peace that she had never experienced before.
“I will protect you,” he said. “You’re safe, now that I’m with you. Forever.”