They had seen each other on several occasions, Nathan Moore and the women with whom he trotted around behind a veil of secrecy that Hadriel had helped maintain. For Hadriel Alighieri played the part of wingman, as Nathan Moore was the only friend he had. He grew to understand that Nathan’s self-destructive behavior threatened to compromise his happiness, and he needed Hadriel Alighieri just the same.
Coming from money, he didn't appreciate the simpler things in life. Too often he took things for granted. It had been common knowledge that for him, enough was never enough.
His father had gifted him a car on his sixteenth birthday when the rest of the neighborhood relied on their parents or the school bus. A year later he had somehow coaxed his dad into buying him a brand new sport coupe. Over the next decade, Nathan had fallen into the habit of annually trading in his car for a newer model; compounding auto loans to maintain an image while burying himself in debt.
When he completed his studies, he made a good living as an investment banker, but too often he lived beyond his means: amassing extensive credit card debt on new clothes, and home and auto entertainment systems, because he believed, "that's what credit is for."
He epitomized the fiscal equivalent of: "I don't eat to live, I live to eat." Given his level of success, Hadriel Alighieri marveled at how expertly Nathan Moore handled his client's money in contrast to his own.
He was a man who played for high stakes, so it came as no surprise that even in matters of love he gambled with careless frivolity. With regard to Celeste Williams, the unique love that swirled within her heart could have circumnavigated Nathan’s life, and anchored him in her arms. He, however, threw that onto the tables of chance for double or nothing.
Despite the manner in which she stirred Hadriel’s heart, she was Nathan’s girl, and if her ideal life was to only know one man, then Hadriel Alighieri knew that beside her, he would never stand. Given his romantic disposition, he made it his duty to save Nathan from himself. Hadriel Alighieri had been determined to help Nathan appreciate that he had the kind of girl other men dreamed of loving.
Hadriel sought to keep them together long enough for Nathan to realize what he had before he lost her, because deep down, he knew Nathan was a decent guy. And if Nathan simply allowed himself to be his best for Celeste Williams, they would have truly been happy together.
Regardless of his budgeting ineptitude, Nathan was a good friend to those he let into his inner circle. It wasn't until months later, however, that Hadriel Alighieri learned the source of Nathan’s cynicism. The bitterness he harbored had prevented him from seeing that he could have been more than Celeste Williams’ first, but that he could have been her one, and only.
Unable to foreshadow what followed, the task would prove to be more difficult than he had ever imagined.
Quiet dinners, or group outings for drinks, and almost always, the secret rendezvous at one of their homes. To support Nathan’s deception of Celeste Williams, Hadriel Alighieri went along, and waited in the car. Nathan’s clandestine encounters went undisturbed, because as long as Celeste Williams was concerned Hadriel was with him, and whatever fib he fed her about the evening plans remained plausible.
Hadriel Alighieri hated the experience, and despised the ease with which Nathan cast a net of fabrications to indulge in such frivolous affairs, when he had a sweet and innocent love waiting for him at home. Hadriel sat in a parking lot, or a driveway, or on a darkened street for nearly an hour on several occasions.
He looked the part of suspicious subject to whomever glanced in his direction from the dark windows of their homes, or as they walked past to their apartment buildings.
Those moments of seclusion provided him with ample time to think, and to formulate new prose, but seldom did he ever have someone to converse with, and whilst Nathan enjoyed exclusive company, Hadriel Alighieri was alone.
The only company he kept for the better part of those two years had been the fantasies of his heart, and the occasional stolen moment to satisfy his loneliness. Even then he realized that moments lost to a meaningless fling only made matters worse.
He feared that if he merely hopped in, and out of bed with different women, using sex to find love, then he would become so confused in lust he’d forget what he had been looking for in the first place.
What was he looking for? Naturally, he understood that everyone had an ideal mate that starred in his or her fantasies. Humans lose themselves to that moment in the privacy of their minds, away from the mockery. They revel in it, but too often let it go before reaching for it, and sometimes live their lives regretful that they didn't wait a little bit longer for The One.
Without so much as a whisper, Hadriel Alighieri had found his one many years before in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountain. She had inspired in him what he didn’t fully understand. He wrote her sentimental poetry that was merely a flicker of the passion that burned for years to come. Sophia Paula, however, never knew how often she inspired his prose.
When he shared his poems with Celeste Williams and Nathan Moore, he hadn't divulged the inspiration behind his words. He knew Nathan's dense nature with matters of the heart wouldn't recognize it, and wondered if Celeste Williams had been left with an impression she dared not ever share.
As it was, she too was the girl that belonged to someone else.
Celeste Williams was patient with Nathan, of that there remained no doubt. Whether it was out of love, or merely a byproduct of her kind-hearted nature he couldn't say, because despite Nathan’s foul temper, his overbearing despotic disposition, and unrelenting jealousy, she remained at his side. She forgave him more often than could be counted, and definitively more than he deserved.
Baffled by his fortune, Hadriel Alighieri watched with wonder at her unwavering loyalty to him, undeterred by her own sadness.
She waltzed through life elegantly, her steps as gentle as if she walked on clouds. When she sat, she never slouched, but rather held great posture that accentuated the curves of her hips. Her long hair cascaded over her shoulders, and along her back, styled like a curtain of thin braids hiding secrets in a magic shop.
Hadriel Alighieri especially loved the way her silver eyes, circles of enchanted waters, darted around a room observing everything, and divulging nothing. When she laughed, she laughed jovially, clapping her hands as she fell over before quickly raising her hand over her lips.
When Hadriel looked at her then however, he saw sadness without knowing her thoughts. Something was missing, but she never said. She seldom spoke-up for herself, in fact, she hardly said anything at all in those days. When she did speak, her voice lingered like a whisper.
Perhaps that silence emboldened Nathan to take precipitous chances with other women, and Hadriel Alighieri believed that such carelessness would one day cost Nathan his happiness.
The first time Hadriel recognized that potential reality came when he paid Nathan Moore a visit at work. They discussed plans for later that evening when an unexpected visit revealed that his fortunes were subject to change.
DRK_N_LVLY_81 walked into the office, accompanied by an older woman. One would have thought they were sisters if they hadn’t known them, with their petite frames and short-cropped dark brown hair. Dark brown eyes accentuated their lovely smiles and round lips. Long charcoal colored wool coats hugged their womanly curves. Hadriel Alighieri could see what had led Nathan Moore to succumb to temptation.
"Now look what you've done," Hadriel muttered.
"I know, right?" Nathan whispered back. "Shush." He stepped forward to greet them.
Hadriel Alighieri shook his head, and left, but before he exited the office, he heard the girl introduce Nathan to her mother.
When Hadriel turned a corner, he heard her mother say, "I'm sorry we're barging in on you like this, but Brianna kept insisting I meet you. She says you're making her very happy."
"Yeah, well, I try." Nathan replied.
Hadriel Alighieri raced home, and poured himself a drink, hoping the Rum would numb his heart before it dulled his senses. He wanted to forget what he knew of Nathan’s behavior, and his role in perpetuating it. He wanted to forget that Nathan neglected the girl that loved him. He wanted to forget that he was alone. But he couldn't absolve himself of the guilt; he hadn't earned that right.
The more he assisted Nathan in his endeavors, the more he continued to drown his self-pity in countless glasses of Rum. Hadriel Alighieri searched for forgiveness at the bottom of a bottle, because their actions went against everything he believed in.
Rather than stand his ground like a man, he cowardly stood by, and enabled Nathan’s conduct. Guided by some twisted sense of loyalty that compromised his integrity, Hadriel Alighieri protected Nathan. He, who didn't need protection; he, who needed to appreciate the treasure that loved him in a manner Hadriel Alighieri could have only ever dream of.
Oh, and she loved him, despite what she may have said in the years of reflection. Only love offered forgiveness at the depths that his unfaithfulness ran when she learned of his infidelities, and remained by his side. It had a detrimental effect on them both that they wouldn’t realize for years to come.
Evidence of that destructive dance to love came one summer night when Nathan made plans with Cassandra Jones for the evening. He invited Hadriel Alighieri to his apartment that night, for he was in danger of being caught in a lie. After he left Hadriel Alighieri and Cassandra Jones alone in the living room, she noted that his phone had been ranging frequently and he continuously stepped into the bathroom to talk privately with the unknown caller.
Hadriel Alighieri knew the unknown caller, but did not divulge her name to Cassandra Jones, for he felt that it wasn’t his place. He caught a glimpse of Nathan down the hall. Nathan motioned for Hadriel to act as if he hadn't seen him, and to convene with him privately. Hadriel excused himself, followed Nathan into his bedroom, and closed the door behind them.
"I need your help." He said in a hushed, and panicked tone.
"Yeah, I gathered that much. What happened?"
Nathan explained that Celeste Williams saw Cassandra in his car. He had concocted a story about picking up Cassandra as a favor to Hadriel Alighieri. Nathan then told Cassandra that the calls were from Hadriel’s ex-girlfriend who had been calling him to find Hadriel Alighieri. He had added that she was stalking Hadriel, because she was crazy.
Hadriel shook his head. Despite his dissatisfaction with being used to evade culpability, Hadriel Alighieri went along with Nathan’s plan because he didn't want Celeste Williams to be hurt by the truth.
Nathan arranged for Hadriel Alighieri to take Cassandra home, and she agreed because she knew the truth, and didn’t want to deal with Nathan’s dishonesty at the moment. Given that Hadriel Alighieri didn’t have a car, Nathan handed him the keys to his luxury sedan and told him to let himself in when he returned.
During the thirty-minute drive, she asked him about his songwriting. He relayed that it had primarily been an emotional process. "Imagine being in love with someone you can't have. I suppose longing is the fuel that feeds many passions, and inspires many songs."
"I know that's right!" She said cheerfully.
"You're a good friend, Hadriel, to Nathan; and I can tell that you're a really great guy."
"I suppose." He said indifferently.
"What I mean to say is that I can tell you don't like covering for him like this, because it isn't you."
Hadriel listened without revealing anything.
"He thinks I don't know what's going on, but I do; and it's kind of bogus that he would use you to manipulate girls like this. I understand that you're just doing your part as his friend, because if it were one of my girls, I'd be covering for her too, so I'm not mad at you for this. I'll have that conversation with him when he isn't busy with whomever else he's messing around. I appreciate that you're driving me home instead of making me take a cab."
When they arrived at her house Hadriel waited until she went inside. He returned to Nathan Moore’s high-rise apartment half an hour later. When he stepped into the living room, he concluded that Nathan and Celeste Williams were alone in his room. The sounds that echoed through the walls revealed that Nathan had gotten what he wanted.
Hadriel Alighieri left the keys on the coffee table and let himself out. During his walk home he felt the cynicism stir in his soul. When he passed a convenient store, the door opened and Professor Abdul-Karim Aziz bumped into Hadriel Alighieri.
The professor greeted his former pupil and noted the sadness in his eyes when it began to rain.
“What is wrong, my boy?” The professor put his arm around his shoulder.
“There is no place in the world for a romantic.” Hadriel Alighieri replied.
“Nonsense.” Professor Aziz dismissed Hadriel’s statement. He led him back into the shop and introduced Hadriel to his cousin, Syed Ebrahim Ansari. “The boy has lost all hope in love!”
“Only those who have truly loved understand the loss.” Syed Ebrahim Ansari said from behind the counter. He was dressed in western garb, but his thick black beard fell to his chest. His dark brown eyes glistened, like onyx orbs.
Professor Aziz studied Hadriel Alighieri momentarily. The look in his eyes was different. The reflection of the goddess had vanished and was replaced by confusion. The professor and his cousin listened carefully and nodded when Hadriel Alighieri explained his dilemma.
“Khalil Gibran once wrote on the subject of reason and passion: Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield upon which your reason and your judgment wage war against your passion and your appetite. For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.” Syed Ebrahim Ansari remarked.
Hadriel Alighieri felt the shift within his heart. He was not the boy he once was, nor did he recognize the man he had become. He convinced himself that love was an illusion. A ghost that haunted the gullible, and deceived them into believing in numinous notions to comfort their lonely souls, while the wicked indulged in the sweet nectar of innocent hearts.
Hadriel Alighieri finally shed the robe of deception after he covered for Nathan Moore when he ran into Amanda in the lobby of his high-rise. When Amanda threatened to take Nathan to court over money he owed her, Hadriel Alighieri offered to pay her the money in his stead.
She refused his offer, because she sought to expose him for what he was after he had continuously avoided her calls. Hadriel Alighieri however, wanted to protect Celeste Williams from discovering the truth. Amanda eventually agreed, for she knew Celeste and conceded that it wouldn’t be fair to her, either.
"You don't have to do this Hadriel."
"I know, but I want to.” Hadriel felt it was the least he could do for his role in the deception.
"He doesn't deserve you as a friend."
Hadriel’s eyes fell to the floor. He refused the compliment.
Over the course of six weeks, Amanda met Hadriel Alighieri at the university to receive her payments until the entire debt had been repaid. After the final payment, they had never seen each other again. He had helped Nathan avert disaster without telling him, but his attempt to keep the secret failed when Amanda left a message on Nathan’s voicemail upon receiving the final payment from Hadriel.
When Nathan asked him about it, Hadriel Alighieri explained that he did it to protect him, but Nathan’s cold reply cut at the link that bonded their friendship.
"She played you man. You dropped three grand like a fool, because I didn't owe that bitch any money." His mockery bothered Hadriel Alighieri, especially in the presence of others. At that moment Hadriel Alighieri knew that things between them would never be the same.