“Hush! You’ll wake them up.”
“Them. The sleeping ones.”
The three little creatures stopped. They were small and thin, made of light, flickering like the flame of a candle or like the tail of a shooting star. They wandered in the forest, dancing under the trees on their tiny feet, listening to the music of the night.
“Don’t they hear the stars singing?”
“They’re are not like us.” The first one said.
“Why not? What are they?”
“We are Wishes, they were human beings.”
“Were? What are they now?”
“Dead. Just souls.”
“Shouldn’t they go in the light? That’s what human do when they die, don’t they?”
The first Wish looked at the sleeping souls and his light dimmed a little.
“Not when they are too sad or desperate. There was no light left in them, how could they pass on the other side?”
“No light!” The others exclaimed in horror, shining even brighter to dispel that horrible image.
“How is it possible?!”
The smaller of the three Wishes floated near one of the sleeping souls to look at him: in death they had kept the same appearance they had when they were alive, and they were curled on their sides, under a tree of the forest, huddled close to each other. This one looked like a tall human, with long, dark hair, falling in curly waves on his face. His face was white, shadowed only by a light stubble, and he was completely still, lost in a centuries-long, deep sleep.
The little creature get closer to him, staring at his face.
“No light? No light at all?” He asked, dejectedly. “Poor thing.”
The first Wish reached the little one, enfolding him in his comforting arms.
“Maybe a sparkle.”
“But no more?”
“That’s why they sleep?”
“Maybe. In sleep they find some peace.”
The little Wish sighed.
“I feel sad for them. I wish I could comfort them.”
The other two creatures cried in alarm and the little one looked at them.
“He’s awake! He’s awake!”
The little wish turned to look at the sleeping soul, and he met his gaze: deep blue eyes staring at him. The soul wasn’t asleep anymore.
He looked confused, afraid.
“Who are you?” He asked, and his voice was deep, but not without some softness in it. “Are you angels?”
The Wishes fluttered away from him, afraid, except for the smallest one, who instead stood there, looking at the dead man.
“If you are angels,” the soul continued, “you came to the wrong person. I think you were searching for them.”
The man nodded at the other sleeping souls: a man and a woman, sleeping in a tight embrace.
“We are not angels.”
“Are you demons, then?!” The man asked, alarmed.
“Do we look like demons to you?! Are we scary?”
The man blinked.
“No. Actually you don’t. Not at all.”
The other two Wishes came closer, reaching their brother.
The man was still staring at them, and the shadow of a smile stirred the corner of his mouth.
“Fairies?” He said tentatively. “When I was a child my mother used to tell me stories about them.”
“Closer, but you are not there yet.” One of the creature said, and the other two giggled. “We are Wishes.”
“Have you ever wished upon a star? Or did you ever throw a coin into a well to ask for something you really desired? We are the sparkle of that star, the glimmer of that coin, the fourth leaf of a lucky clover, we are the ones who listen to the true desires of human’s hearts.”
“Oh. You are worse than demons, then.” The man said, with rage. “You listen to our wishes, but you never grant them. And in the rare cases when you do, there is always a terrible price to pay.”
The little Wish looked at him, saddened by his words.
“We don’t choose which wishes are to be granted, the decision is not up to us. Sometimes it happens, and that is a day of joy for us.”
“And not every wish is good,” another one of the little creatures intervened, “some of them, if granted, would bring more sorrow than solace.”
The man calmed down a little, but his expression was still grim.
The little creatures went closer to him, sympathetic in feeling his bitter sadness.
“What did you wish for when you were alive?” The third one asked.
The man looked at the sleeping woman.
“I wanted her love.”
He moved is gaze to the other man.
“And I wanted everything he owned: his house, his wealth, his woman...”
The three Wishes said nothing, but they kept looking at him: they could easily guess that the story of those souls ended in tragedy and that the man was still suffering because of it.
The smallest Wish climbed in the lap of the soul and lifted a hand to caress his face. The man looked startled, but he didn’t move, letting the little glowing fingers to touch his pale skin.
He stirred his lips in a little surprised smile.
“You’re warm.” He said.
“Do you still want those things?” The Wish asked.
The other two Wishes came to sit in the man’s lap. They didn’t fear him anymore, and they were drawn to him by his sadness. He was lonely and cold, and they all wanted to warm him with their light, to offer some comfort.
The man lifted a hand, uncertain, then he touched one of them, gently, stroking his back as if the little creature had been a kitten or a puppy. The other two Wishes giggled, waiting for their turn to get the man’s attention.
“What would you wish for, now?” The little Wish asked, curious.
The man rested his hand on the creature’s back, while the three Wishes looked at him.
“For another chance. I wish I could live my life again, without hurting anyone. I’d just want a normal life, a peaceful one, to have friends and a family. I can’t help wishing for her love,” he said, glancing at the woman, “but I know that she isn’t mine. I’d rather give up my love than destroying her again.”
The Wishes nodded in approval.
“Your first wishes weren’t good. This one is.” One of them said, while the others huddled closer to the man, to comfort him with their warmth.
The man gave them a bitter smile.
“It doesn’t matter. Bad or good, they are just useless, unheeded wishes.”
He sighed, stroking again the back of the smaller creature, but he took back his hand in fear when the little Wish began to shine much brighter.
“What’s going on?!” He asked, half closing his eyes to shield them from the light, as bright as a little sun.
The three wishes cried in excitement and cheered.
“This means that your wish is being granted!”
“What?!” The man gasped.
“Have a good life!”
Guy turned in bed with a moan, and he searched the alarm clock with his hand to stop the annoying buzz. He sat up in bed, yawning and he glared at his sister, who was peeking from the door.
She was already dressed, even if her clothes were covered in flour and she was wielding a wooden spoon.
“What are you doing?” Guy asked, glancing at her, and Isabella pointed the spoon at him.
“I made breakfast. For you.”
“You made breakfast?”
Isabella rolled her eyes with an annoyed snort.
“Is it so strange?”
Her brother grinned.
“Of course it is! You cooking?!”
Isabella threw the spoon at him, and Guy caught it just before it hit his nose.
“I just wanted to do something nice for you! Ungrateful idiot!”
He got up from bed, and he reached his sister, grabbing her wrist before she could flee.
“Isabella, wait!” He sighed, seeing that her eyes were bright with tears. “I’m sorry. You’re right, I was rude. It’s just that it is unusual to see you cooking.”
He held the spoon to her, like a peace offering, and she snatched it from his hand.
“Serves me right for trying to cheer you up.”
“You wanted to cheer me up?”
Isabella’s gaze softened, and she used the spoon to give a little tap on her brother’s chest.
“I’m your sister, you can’t hide your poor broken heart from me. You loved her since we were in school, but she is going to marry Robin today. I know how you feel, brother.”
“She never returned my feelings, I understood that a long time ago. They are meant to be together, I think.”
“We have breakfast at least,” he said, stooping to give a little kiss on Isabella’s cheek. “Thank you.”
“That’s what family is for.”
“So, what did you cook?”
“Pancakes and hot chocolate.”
Guy looked at her, deadly serious.
“With whipped cream?”
“Lots of cream.” She answered, in the same tone, then they both grinned at each other.
“Hey, Giz! Hello, Iz!” Allan dropped on the bench at Guy’s side and he cheekily smiled at Isabella. “So today is the big day… Look at Much, he’s so anxious that he looks like the one who has to get married. I bet that he’ll cry before the ceremony ends.”
Guy found himself grinning at Allan’s words. His friend could be extremely annoying sometimes, but he could always avert him from his darkest thoughts.
“He’ll cheer up when he gets to the banquet.”
“Oh, you two are so mean!” Isabella said, stifling a laughter. “You sound like a pair of old gossips!”
“Come on, Iz! I bet that you are going to comment about Marian’s dress.”
“We’ll be a trio of old gossips, then.” Guy concluded.
“By the way, where is that half-brother of yours? Lost in some far away part of the world as usual?”
“He should be on a taxi headed here by now. His plane was due to land a couple of hours ago.” Guy answered, looking at his watch.
“He’ll better be here in time or mom will flay him alive.” Isabella said. A little concerned. “She put a lot of effort in organizing this wedding.”
“Archer will come,” Guy said. “He flew home from the other side of the world for your birthday and he came to the hospital when I had that accident last year.”
Isabella rolled her eyes.
“We were all worried sick! Couldn’t you just teach and write about History instead of going to those stupid re-enactments? Seriously, Guy! Whoever gets almost killed in a medieval tournament nowadays?!”
“I like it! You have no idea how exciting it is to fight with a sword or to ride a horse trying to get the ring with your spear! And it’s not so dangerous as you think, accidents can happen in any sport. I just broke my arm, after all...”
“And you cracked a few ribs and you’ve been unconscious for two days! I thought that you were going to die!”
“Oh, don’t worry too much,” Allan intervened, “he’s not that easy too kill. You know how they say… Only the good die young.”
“You were worried too! You wept even.” Isabella retorted.
“Oh, Archer is here!” Guy said as he waved at his brother, happy to see him and to change the subject of the conversation as well.
“There’s a girl with him!” Isabella said, in a whisper, and Guy and Allan looked at the stranger: she was a good looking young woman, but she looked tired and a little disheveled, with her hair ruffled and her clothes, too casual for a wedding ceremony, a little wrinkled. She was talking to Archer with an annoyed look on her face and the young man pointed at Guy and Isabella, waving at them from afar before going to meet and hug Ghislaine and Malcolm.
The stranger glared at him, then she walked towards Guy and Isabella, and held her hand to them with a sigh.
“I suppose you are his siblings.”
Guy nodded, while Isabella stared at her, curious.
“And you are...”
“Not his fiancee if that’s what you think,” the woman said, rolling her eyes. “I’m Archer’s colleague at the newspaper, and it’s already enough having to work with him. Have you seen the amazingly good pictures that are printed together with his articles? Well, I’m the photographer who shoots them.”
“So you are C. P. Appleton?” Guy asked and the woman sighed again.
“Cassandra Persephone Appleton. My parents loved Greek mythology and that’s why I just use my initials at work. Funny that you have noticed and remember my name from your brother’s articles.”
“I always wondered who could be so foolish to follow Archer in his travels in the most unknown places of Earth.”
“Foolish? Said the one who likes to dress like a medieval knight and play with a sword...” The woman retorted with a grin, and Allan burst out in a laugh.
“So we just found out that Archer likes to gossip too,” he said, still chuckling. “So, did he say anything about me or Iz?”
“You must be Allan, Guy’s best friend, the one who constantly gets in trouble with some foolish idea, aren’t you? And Isabella, the pretty sister who’s always too serious. Arch says that you could be the perfect couple or the worst one ever, can’t decide which one.”
“We’re not a couple! Not ever!” Isabella said, horrified, while Allan’s grin became wider.
“Why not, Iz? Don’t you feel my charm?”
“Oh, shut up!” Isabella said, then she turned at Cassandra. “You didn’t tell us why Archer took you here if you are not his girlfriend. Do you know Robin or Marian?”
“Nope. The plane was late and he couldn’t find a taxi, so he begged me to take him here with my car. I just wanted to go home, take a shower and sleep, but he said that it was a matter of life or death and that there would be a good free meal and nice company as a reward for my kindness. The truth is that I had a lot of fun in seeing him plead, and he’ll still owe me a big favor. It will be useful next time we’ll have to work together again.”
Allan moved closer to Isabella to make space for her on the bench and the girl dropped herself on it, between him and Guy, stifling a yawn.
“I wonder how Arch can look so rested after such a long flight. We were on the same plane and he kept writing on his laptop almost all the time. I tried to sleep a little, but I’m still a wreck.”
“If you fall asleep during the wedding, nobody will notice,” Guy whispered to her, “Allan will surely snore much louder than you, they’ll all stare at him.”
“Hey!” Allan protested.
“You slept through Will and Djaq’s wedding, and even during the Christmas play of John’s son.”
“That was boring. You can’t deny it. He was playing a sheep!”
“Oh, shut up, Allan!” Isabella said in a whisper. “Here comes the bride!”
Guy turned his head to look at Marian: she was beautiful, all dressed in white, and for a moment he bitterly envied Robin because he had dreamed for years to be at his place.
He stared at Marian, and he saw her expression: happy, overjoyed to see Robin waiting for her at the altar, her smile brighter than ever.
Suddenly, Guy had a flash of the weird dream he had that night and that he didn’t remember when Isabella woke him up in the morning: it was like the memory of a past life. In that dream, he had tried to force Marian to love him, he had deluded himself with false hopes and he gave himself up to a mad, unrequited love that ended in tragedy for all of them.
Guy shuddered at the thought: he could never hurt Marian or Robin, no matter what, but somehow that dream looked real, possible maybe, and it scared him.
No, it was better to forget his love for Marian, to bury it in the depths of his heart and enjoy all the rest of his life. If he put aside his jealousy, he could be happy for them: Robin was still his stepbrother and Marian a dear friend.
I have my family and my friends, I can live without her love and I will. Someday I’ll find someone who looks at me like Marian is looking at Robin.
He felt someone touching his arm and he glanced at his side: Archer’s colleague, Cassandra Persephone Appleton, had actually fallen asleep and she was leaning her head on his shoulder, snoring softly. He smiled, amused, and he shifted his arm a little so that she might be more comfortable.
He met Isabella’s gaze and they had to stifle a laughter: his sister was in his same situation, with Allan sleeping soundly at her side, an arm wrapping her shoulders and his face pressed against her neck.
“I was right,” Guy mouthed, “Allan snores louder.”