When Celeste Williams arrived at the apartment Hadriel Alighieri once shared with Uncle Mauricio Maravilla-Fuentes, there was sadness in her eyes.
Hadriel Alighieri sat beside her and listened. Destiny had pulled back the curtain to reveal the disloyalty she did not deserve. He contemplated divulging his role in maintaining that deception. Would she forgive Hadriel for his role in enabling Nathan’s behavior?
Truth was, Hadriel Alighieri knew he deserved no absolution for his part in that play, and decided he would not hope for a pardon that he had no right to ask for. No longer inhibited by some twisted sense of loyalty, he held Celeste Williams when she shared what she had witnessed.
When the moon lingered highest in the sky, Celeste arrived in Nathan Moore’s apartment, and floated through the halls like a ghost. Celeste Williams entered Nathan’s room and stood at the foot of the bed. The light from the lamp revealed her presence to Nathan when he awakened and looked at her still half asleep. He dismissed her as an apparition of his dreams and turned to a stranger named Abigail, lying beside him, her nakedness exposed to them both.
When Nathan failed to acknowledge her ubiquity—now being privy to not only what she witnessed, but also seemingly having been present during the agonizing copulation that occurred prior to her arrival—her anguished imagination provided her with the heart wrenching details.
Celeste Williams climbed onto the bed, and settled herself between them until Nathan woke with a start. The visit had been brief, and though Nathan later accused Celeste of indecently prying, searching for an answer to a question she didn't know she wanted to ask, her fears met her pain when she met Abigail in Nathan's bed.
Celeste asked Hadriel Alighieri why Nathan had cheated. She could not believe what her first love had become. Hadriel Alighieri, however possessed no insight, but rather confessed the truth of his own actions, and revealed that he too did not deserve her trust. He had decided that the guilt would no longer consume his thoughts, and despite the conflict that tore at the core of his being, he exposed his role in the consuming flames of infidelity. Should anything burn, better it be the lies, and deceit, because by then Hadriel Alighieri knew his fate would be to burn when he died.
Hadriel heard the door to the apartment slam shut with the heaviness of his heart. Celeste Williams fled into the night, taking her tears, and her heartbreak, but leaving Hadriel’s apology behind.
Celeste Williams forgave Nathan Moore, though she was not aware that he dismissed the encounter with laughter, gloating triumphantly about the conquest, and about being caught.
When Hadriel Alighieri asked Nathan how he found a way to keep Celeste Williams in his life, Nathan provided insight into the realities of relationships he had not known.
"I was her first. Plain and simple, and that will give me more leeway than anyone else will ever get. I lied that I passed out during a get-together I hosted, and didn't know Abigail was in the bed with me, because she must have come into my room to pass out drunk when I was asleep."
"And she believed you?" Hadriel asked dumbfounded.
"Of course!" Nathan said with a smirk. He explained that when women are lied to, they want to believe the lie if it appeases their concerns.
On the edge of reason, on the verge of losing the girl that endured his harshest habits, and remorseless deceptions. In the midst of his bouts with controlled chaos, and damage control, Nathan decided to propose to Celeste Williams. It was the only way he could think of to make up for his most recent betrayal.
Rather than accept losing her with humility as punishment for the gravity of his transgressions, Nathan grew determined to keep her despite her disenchantment, and her initial request for him not to propose. Celeste Williams said she had once asked them in advance not to grant his request if that day ever came. But faced with the eagerness of their daughter's first love, it was only fair to say—in their defense— that they did not want to be the bearers of bad news, and obliged his request.
Nathan raced across town hurriedly making last minute preparations. Celeste Williams received a call from her mother that she needed to return home, and be ready to go out to dinner with Nathan. Celeste Williams demanded to know what it was, despite her intuition screaming the obvious.
"Tell me you did not give him permission?" She pled, but her mother divulged nothing.
Nathan, on the other hand, didn't possess the resolve to face losing her, despite the many chances he gambled for cheap thrills, and stolen moments. He waged the blessing bestowed upon him that he should have cherished eternally. Instead of dismissing her virginity as a reason to brag, he waged forever, and her affections, love, loyalty, patience, and not only his happiness, but Celeste Williams' happiness too.
He threw it all on the table of treacherous intrigue, and shouted, "double or nothing!" and walked away having it all.
Foolishly however, he squandered it all, and mortgaged his future to recapture the past, for the sake of appearances in the present, but not out of love, because being in love permits no betrayal. No. He did that only to keep her, and maintain possession of the innocence he stole.
The engagement ring eventually proved to be the heirloom of a curse, dooming the commitment that would not last, preventing the marriage that would not be. And the taste of love Hadriel Alighieri longed for remained impossible, except for a whisper that split the seconds, and squeezed a special moment inside of a tiny break in time, a moment that remained a few months away.
Hadriel could hardly bear the intense longing he felt, even then. He needed to share with her the secrets of his soul, and be with her as lovers love, and as stars fall from the sky.
Nathan did not deserve her. Of that he felt absolutely certain. But how would she have felt about being with Hadriel Alighieri? Would she have been capable of surrendering herself to the call of his heart, or did she prefer to adhere to the unwritten rule that forbade love with the friend of an ex? Even if she did choose to disregard a notion that prevented true love from shining, had Hadriel Alighieri ever crossed her mind? Questions abounded across the landscape of love, unimpeded by the mountains of restriction. And when he least expected it, the answers arrived.
Nathan’s behavior leading up to the final break up was poignant, but on that night he proved graceless, and cruel. Hadriel arrived at a reception, fashionably late, and located the table where Celeste Williams sat, silent, alone. He approached, and sat beside her, but before she could speak of the sadness evident in her eyes, Nathan tapped him on the shoulder, and requested that he join him for a drink.
"Don't talk to her right now." Nathan said without meeting his eyes.
"What happened?" Hadriel asked.
"She's on lock-down for behaving like an idiot!" Nathan Moore glared at her.
Hadriel Alighieri watched her heartbreaking beauty. A statue. A Nubian princess shunned from the kingdom that belonged to her. He found it difficult to turn away from her. Celeste Williams was lovely in her reddish-orange dress, her soft shoulders and slender neck calling for a kiss; her hair pulled away from her face, and fell to the small of her back. He traced the contours of her face, statuesque as her gentle eyes scanned the reception hall, perhaps looking for a reason to be happy, but she didn't move an inch, until finally she ran away.
"Just don't talk to her right now. She's not permitted to speak to anyone for the rest of the night." Nathan insisted.
And she didn't.
She sat there whilst her friends stood meters away, huddled together, talking animatedly amongst themselves, but occasionally casting Celeste Williams a compassionate glance.
Hadriel Alighieri circled through the crowds, greeting people he knew, and introducing himself to those that he didn't. Occasionally, he glanced at the table where Celeste Williams remained; trapped within her body, a free spirit forbidden to live.
Within the hour he grew bored with the uninspired conversations, and decided to leave. He turned to look at Celeste Williams once again, but she had vanished. He searched the crowds within the ballroom for her, but only saw nameless faces. He raced out to the corridors; the east wing, the west wing, the north wing, and the south wing, but she remained absent. A phantom lost to an opera that never was. After an hour of searching for her, and Nathan, he relented, and made to return home.
In the cab, he noticed that he had three missed calls from Nathan. When he called him back, however there was no answer. He instructed the cab driver to take him to a different address and upon arriving at Nathan’s apartment, the door stood ajar. When he entered, his eyes fell upon a collection of trash bags filled with clothes. Celeste Williams raced out of the bedroom carrying another one, and plopped it next to the others. Her silence thundered against Nathan's obscenities that echoed through the halls from the living room.
When Hadriel Alighieri asked what happened, she shook her head, rolled her eyes, and returned to the bedroom. Hadriel raced through the kitchen, and stood in the dinning room. Nathan Moore sat on the leather sectional, channel surfing with a drink in his hand. He shouted without looking up, and Hadriel Alighieri knew that he had finally lost it.
"Hey, what's going on?"
"I've had it with this worthless bitch!" Nathan Moore declared. "I'm done dealing with her shit. Fuck her! Hey, by the way, you worthless bitch, don't forget to leave the ring on your way out, because you don't deserve it!"
Nathan’s cell phone rang and he answered it. Silence fell on the apartment, save for the soft thud of Celeste Williams' steps, and the ruffle of garbage bags near the door. Nathan talked on his phone when Hadriel Alighieri turned on his heels and headed straight for Celeste Williams.
She threw down another bag, and turned to walk back into the bedroom when Hadriel Alighieri took hold of her hand. She looked at it then met his gaze, but she didn't pull away.
"What happened?" He asked softly.
She shook her head, and looked away. He paused for a moment, but when she didn't look back, he relented his grasp. Celeste Williams disappeared into the room again. He heard Nathan's voice when he talked on the phone, but didn't listen to what was said.
She emerged from the bedroom one last time holding the clock Hadriel gave her for Christmas two years before. It carried the inscription: I’ll remember you forever. He offered to help her take the bags of clothes to her car.
"No thank you," she said. "I should really do this alone."