The two children were inseparable since early childhood, those few months of difference did not make them only cousins, or as they called themselves "best friends" but rather, more than anything else, the affection and devotion they felt for each other was similar to a brotherly one, purely and totally platonic, the warmth and sweet love of the family was always present in their hearts.
The villagers watched them everyday hand in hand coming along the path, their little fingers intersected with those of the other, the difference in complexion that every citizen or passer-by in those known streets could slightly notice, but this was not enough to make some people believe that they were not really siblings, their similarities in the face, which were not limited only to freckles, even led some to mistake that they were twins.
From the lips of the two children came laughter and speeches, chatter that animated those afternoons who went down to play outdoors as their sisters and parents were worried and interested in other matters, the two cousins played together with or without other children of their age, sometimes even slightly older.
Even in those days Camilo was jealous of the attention they gave to his cousin.
It happened several times that during the past games and matches made with the participation and presence of other young people around their age he could never let go of her hand. The palm tightened the child's one so much that it was unable to leave him, penalized most of the time their possible victory during some team games that included more than two components for each group (for the individual ones instead he was very competitive and always tried to win).
It was not an emotion that he could totally control: the presence of other people touching her, talking to her freely as if they were part of the family too and were best friends like him... it bothered him, he didn't want to share Mirabel with anyone, although less with strangers, regardless of gender, who would be momentarily in the group with them since the next match they would play again they would be in another group so that everyone can play and talk to different and new people.
But all this bothered him and only years later, when mental maturity began to make its way in his mind, did he remembered those little moments and days of childhood that, thinking about it with a clear mind, gave him discomfort, not only for his way of behaving but also for the thoughts he had (which didn't change much).
His father Felix did not raise him that way, his figure and his teachings always said and showed the opposite.
Not even his mother Pepa taught him that behavior, in the slightly anxious and paranoid figure of her malice or possessiveness was always absent.
The family did not grow him that way, with that heavy and disgusting sense of ownership towards those who are not truly his because they are human beings with their own conscience that can decide their life and actions, but his thoughts and feelings towards Mirabel were not addressed, at first, to a bodily jealousy but rather to an emotional one and although he did not want to think and admit it because it was wrong, they are cousins, even romantic one.
The separation, even if momentary from the figure of the cousin, brought him panic in every moment and instant of his childhood, ever since he could remember Abuela telling him that once he received his door and his gift he would be alone with it, showing more and more to the soul anxiety and terror that he repeatedly tried to alleviate with the hope and the image that Mirabel could still be close to him, show him that he's not alone in that fantasy reality, and why not, suggested his mind, they could even sleep in the same bed, sharing pillows and blankets, changing the room to stay for the night every day.
That childish illusion lasted until the day of the ceremony dedicated to Mirabel's non-existent gift.
In front of the door the little hands of the little girl touched the candle held by Abuela, the anxiety and agitation did not flow only in her veins but also in her cousin's ones who looked at her from a distance keeping his fingers crossed behind his back hoping that the miracle gifted her a mythical talent like his, if not even one more awesome one.
She wiped the sweaty palms on her dress, the agitation made them wet and shivering. She bravely placed a hand on the gold knob of the magic door with her initial on it and nervously turned it hoping for the so famous and benevolent miracle given by the Abuelo Pedro ... but nothing came.
The look of terror and disappointment in Abuela's eyes was shameful, the panic that was created in the little girl's small body worsened looking at the old woman, searching a minimum of comfort in those eyes fixed on the door that slowly disappeared, words that could tell her that despite not having a special gift she will always be useful for the family, she will always make her proud in her eyes and soul, but none of those words reached Mirabel's ears or Alma's mouth and her little heart could only ache.
Camilo's arms fell to the sides of his body, he watched the golden and magical door disappear in front of the little and frightened cousin's figure, his breath held until the door vanished completely leaving the entire house illuminated only from the candle held by Alma's hands and from the lights outside that lit up that painful night.
His body seemed to feel worse than Mirabel's, a pain hit him in the head as he saw the little girl seek comfort from Abuela without receiving it, and continuing to watch her back he hoped with all his heart that she would turn and seek comfort in his eyes instead, in the cousin who was always close and there for her everytime she wanted and needed.
When all the guest from the village and spectators of Mirabel's tragedy left, Camilo found himself looking for her throughout Casita and finding her in her room crying on the bed with the figure of the tio Bruno next to her, a fragile and large hand was placed around the small body on her back to offer her with that slightest gesture and with words of comfort what would have helped her to move forward for that moment,but increasing however in Camilo's mind the panic that, if for a moment went away from the child's body on seeing the child again in front of him and a short distance away, she was still next to that man, seven feet tall in his eyes, and whom he considered a terrifying and evil figure given the fact that he only gave more attention to Mirabel and not the other nephews too (including himself).
The small body of her cousin came even closer to her uncle's body and her arms wrapped around his neck, hugging him tightly and wetting his poncho-covered shoulder with tears of disappointment and anger.
The child's body near the door was frozen in front of them, the cousin continued to cry non-stop, Bruno tried to return the hug by putting his arms around his niece as well, reciprocate the hug, however, making it not too tight to not let her breathe, nor too large to make her think it was unwanted. The man still tried to give her, despite how awkward he was, comfort and warmth.
He did not know how long he remained in place to look at them, both people's gazes were low, those of the child tightly closed, and those of Bruno full of sadness, empathic as if he too felt the same emotions and the same pain as his niece that he held in his arms.
His gaze, fixed until that moment on an indistinct point while the mind tried to reason why the niece did not receive any gift, after a while it slowly moved towards the half-open door from which a little yellowish artificial light came out and saw the other little nephew with clenched fists and a troubled expression to which the child himself could not understand if it because he was seeing his crying cousin or because she was in the arms of another man even if their uncle.
An arm moved away from its place around the shoulder of the little girl and with a gesture of the hand he signed him to come closer to them, the sobs still present in the room began to decrease as time passed and with Camilo's footsteps on the parquet, approaching the bed where his two family members sat.
"Mirabel?" Bruno said softly, putting his arm around her shoulder again but this time putting his hand on her back, moving it clockwise with the intention of giving her even more calm. Camilo found himself in no time given the short distance between the door and the bed in front of them but not yet next to them, he was still petrified and scared to get close completely to Mirabel, worried that something could happen if he made too rash moves.
The little girl did not answer in words, a sniff of her nose was her answer and a way to tell him that she was listening, while also trying to stop the sobs and tears that continued to come out of her eyes wetting her chubby cheeks.
"Tu primo Camilo esta aqui" he announced in a low voice unable to raise the tone, his hand was momentarily replaced by his fingers that continued to make small circles on her back, if not even more slowly, as soon as he felt that she was starting to calm down, while the other arm rested on the side of his niece.
"Would you like to talk to him?" the action of the hand stopped and the question was almost inaudible even from the distance in which Camilo found himself, "Shall I leave you a little alone?" he asked further but as the last words came out of his mouth Mirabel's arms tightened even more around his uncle's neck unwilling to let him go.
Camilo felt more sidelined, the fear of being replaced, left alone and the jealousy that continued to take place in his mind and emotions in seeing her closer to his uncle made him act on impulse, forgetting what he tried to do until then (don't scare her) and started remembering what always made her laugh since the night he received his special gift: shapeshifting into Mirabel.
His acts always made her laugh.
They often went down the stairs playing and confusing not only their family but also the citizens of the village with their games and their jokes.
Each of them (with the exception of Bruno who recognized every time who the real Mirabel was) fell into their trap and at the end of the day Camilo returned to his room full and composed only of mirrors and a large bed and instead of sleeping he trained to imitate better Mirabel to keep her laughing and having fun.
His hair became darker and his hairstyle changed slightly along with his face shape and complexion.
A pair of green glasses, components of thick lenses, settled on the nose with fewer freckles than his and the clothes he wore, a white and comfortable poncho and equally white trousers worn for the occasion, they turned into an elegant and suitable for her age, a white dress and at her feet there was a new, equally white pair of shoes never used before and bought especially for the ceremony and the day that went bad.
A part of his mind screamed at him that this was a wrong moment to transform and the look that Bruno gave him was further proof, but he was still a child and children do not think with their own minds but with their hearts and hearts. he asked nothing more than to see her laugh again and make her remove her arms from the figure of that monster and indeed fall into the arms of her cousin and embrace him, and if she must also continue to cry on his shoulder and not of his uncle's one.
A melancholy smile that tried in every way to become a cheerful one formed on the lips of Mirabel (Camilo) and with all the possible effort he called her back by imitating her voice in the best possible way, hoping for a good result and seeing again her smiling face.
The sound reached the little girl's ears, causing her to sniff at her again and stop the sobbing.
Her eyes opened and her face lifted from her seat, now totally wet, onto Bruno's shoulder and slowly turned towards the source of her voice that he called her.
Camilo hoped until the last seconds that on the sweet face of his cousin there was a smile on her lips and the eyes were only slightly red, but the reality was very different and the truthful sight of the girl still in Bruno's arms made him squeeze even more the little heart.
Mirabel's eyes were totally red, a pain just looking at them and her glasses were misted and dirty from her own tears.
Her neat curls, arranged and styled by her mamá Julieta and tia Pepa, were totally ruined due to a first breakdown without the figure of her uncle near her to comfort her, the few tufts that fell on her face were many more due to having them previously pulled, they were even more damaged.
Camilo's gaze tried to descend along the wrinkled white dress but he could not move it from her still sad face, from the red cheeks with some tears still on them and from the small mouth that instead of a big smile (like the one she gave him that morning) there was a pout, her lower lip trembling.
"Mirabel" called his cousin, his tone slightly higher than her and tried to be more sure of himself, reaching out to the little girl still in Bruno's arms.
The niece's arms clasped his uncle's neck as soon as her hand (Camilo's one) came too close to them, and the cousin could only stop in his place, too unable to move away or become close.
"Mirabel, look at me soy-"
The sudden scream and reproach of the girl not only took Camilo by surprise still in her clothes and appearance but also her uncle who when she screamed his body could not help but jump on his place involuntarily.
The effect that the child wanted to receive was totally the opposite of what he obtained, the sad face became angry, her slightly thick eyebrows frowned and more tears began to come out again of her eyes along with the other words that are now impossible to stop, they kept coming out of the mouth.
"Stop fooling me! Are you happy? Now you are the only one with an awesome power!" Mirabel exclaimed between sobs, squeezing Bruno's neck tighter and tighter, who as his only answer and method to calm her was to put his hand back on her back and start marking circles again.
Camilo's little heart and body felt heavier and heavier during the outburst, his plan did not go at all as hoped and desired.
The child did not want to turn into his cousin to make fun of her, or to worse her emotions, but rather to make her feel good as he did the previous days and every time she laughed, enjoyed herself, hugged him, kissed him, he had to feel those emotions again because he likes her and doesn't want to see her sad, doesn't want to see her sad in the arms of another man and doesn't want her to be sad because of him.
But he is always a child, and children not only think with their hearts but are instinctive, anger pervades them when they are taken to the extreme and it all brought him to the brink.
Different emotions changed and showed themselves on his face: courage to talk to her and shapeshifting himself, comfort and discomfort in trying to help the little girl and the anger that was his last emotion to be seen on the face.
His head hurt more and the words came out before they could be reasoned.
"Fooling you? It's not my fault that you're defective!" he screamed with clenched fists, his nose still itching, a feeling he had from the moment he walked into the room but that became more and more unbearable as he vented to the girl.
The surprised look on Bruno's face did not make him understand the gravity of what he said but rather made him realize was what Mirabel did.
Her eyes widened, feeling and hearing twice in the same night and only a few hours apart that she was not suitable and, as Camilo called her,"defective", made her feel even worse.
The tears fell even more violently and the trembling lower lip was tightened and bitten between the small teeth of Mirabel who tried in vain to stop that flow of negative emotions but unable, her head found its place on Bruno's shoulder sinking and squeezing even more, now also with her whole body, attached to the figure of him.
Bruno felt uncomfortable, between two children, his nephews, arguing.
Mirabel's sobs and whines became louder, uncontrollable than not even the hand on her back, or even the movement that her uncle just made, similar to the movement of the body that is done to make babies calm and fall asleep, did much to improve the situation.
Camilo still in the role of Mirabel stood there watching, he was ready to continue if not for one last sentence said by his cousin, her tone muffled and almost inaudible:
"No te amo más!"
The world collapsed on little Camilo.
Harsh words that made their uncle widen his eyes as well, who quickly looked at the little girl in his arms and tried to make her think or apologize.
"Mirabel don't say these things, el es tu primo!" he said trying to make her lift her face pressed on his shoulder to look into her eyes but without success, the little girl actually shook her head to say, without using her words, that she would neither apologize nor anything.
The result was more than normal for a child of her age, even more so in the emotional state she found herself in.
Her words weren't too harsh or strong either, but for her little cousin they were and his heart broke into a thousand bits as he heard them uttered.
She did not tell him that she hated him, hate is a strong feeling, an emotion that not even adults really live and feel, but rather that she no longer loved him, the love he received until then seemed like going up in smoke and disappear in front of the lenses of the glasses.
Her body suddenly became tired and shapeshifted into himself again, his face low and expression shocked, his mouth open with with his eyes from which tears began to flow.
Mirabel no longer loved Camilo, her little cousin, the person she had promised to always be together and marry him when they grew up.
"Camilo, forgive her" apologized a voice that seemed distant to him, a voice that belonged to the man still sitting on the bed who continued to carry the child on him "she is ... she is tired ... actually we are all" he continued with a dry and awkward laugh, uncomfortable even for himself and made only to remove the discomfort he continued to feel on his skin and soul "what about if you go to bed too? Tomorrow will be another day and everything will be fine ...".
The child lost understanding of the last phrases and words, now too far away and the mind too tired to think and make the ears work well.
His body turned slowly towards the door and with the same slowness approached it to get out, however before exiting he gave a last look at the two figures, at the seven foot frame holding the little girl who stole from Camilo.
A real monster, he was not surprised that such a person could end up living with rats.