THE EMERGENT LAYER
Poking above the canopy
arise the strongest of trees,
as the emergent layer, my dear,
is not for the doubtful or weak.
If you make it to the very top
you’ll reach the most sun and see,
how far the world stretches,
so fly high darling, and live.
23RD OF JULY
The past eighteen to twenty hours are a blur of motions and words I barely remember saying. After mine and Tane’s return to the observatory, we tried to explain to Emma everything that happened, but we were exhausted, and I’m not even sure what we told her. Tane was so drained of energy, he could barely walk, so we headed straight back to our rental. Em drove us all to the cabin, made us hot potato and leek soup, and after we ate a little, we all crashed for the night.
I slept curled up by Tane’s side, my head resting over his chest the whole night, listening to his subtle heartbeat and wondering if it was all real, or if I was trapped in a dream. I kept waking up in the middle of the night, too scared he was going to be gone; but every single time, his steady breathing calmed me until I fell asleep again.
Thankfully for all of us, Emma drove us all the way back to Christchurch in the morning, while me and Tane slept again for most of the drive. I guess saving the world does take a toll on you.
When I woke up, we were entering the city center, and Em and Tane were talking in hushed whispers not to wake me up.
It felt weird to be so mundane as I went into the lawyer’s office later on that morning, making it in just in time for my appointment. I had dreaded that moment for the whole trip, but sitting in the office with Emma by my side, and Tane waiting in the reception, I felt calm. I signed a few papers and committed to come back to New Zealand within the next year to figure everything out with the properties and decide what I’d want to do with each of them. Sell them, rent them, live in one of them? I didn’t really know what I wanted to do yet, but the lawyer explained everything to me, and promised to stay in contact and let me know once everything was released to my name, which would still take a few months.
It’s just past midday now, and I’m finally in the place I’ve been meaning to visit since the day our plane arrived in New Zealand.
“Hi dad,” I say in a whisper, feeling a bit weird talking with a slab of stone. I kneel down and rest a single flower on top of his grave. Emma and Tane are standing a few steps behind me, giving me space to talk to him.
Since the day mum told me about him, I’ve been trying to understand why he would run away with me the way he did, how he could hurt mum so badly. The same way I’ve been trying to understand how mum could keep him away from me for so long, deny me my heritage. During this whole trip, I’ve had so many mixed feelings about it, from anger to sadness while I considered why the person I love most in the world could have lied to me for so many years.
But after everything that happened last night, I realized something: It doesn’t matter.
I don’t need reasons, I don’t need to understand, as long as I can truthfully forgive them and let go of the pain they might have caused me. We all have our reasons for the things we do, and even if we don’t always make the best choices, we do them thinking it’s the best for those we love. Life could end any minute, we never know how long we have left, and I can’t live holding onto that anger, or pain, or guilt. I might never find answers to some questions, and that’s okay, perhaps not every question needs to be answered. I can accept that now.
“I forgive you, dad,” I say the words in a soft voice as I recall the blurred face I saw last night. “Even if I never really met you, seeing a glimpse of you in Uru’s realm made me realize that no matter what happened, no matter how much I missed out on, you will always be a part of me, and I am grateful for the heritage you gifted me. I hope you now rest in peace.”
Feeling lighter than I have in a long time, I turn around to my friends. “We can go now,” I say with a smile. “And thank you.”
“What for?” Em asks, a little smile on her lips.
“For being,” I reply, “Just for being here.”
“Always, bitch! You’re stuck with me!” Em wraps an arm around my waist as she ushers me back towards the car, while Tane simply plants a kiss on top of my head.
I swear, my heart is about to burst out of my chest.
As I kiss her hair, I can’t stop myself from inhaling deeply. Her hair smells like lavender and something else, something fresh but sweet… just like her.
How long will we have? Eighty years? Seventy? Fifty? She’s so resilient, I’d like to believe she will live until she’s a hundred years old, maybe more. It seems like so little when I’ve lived for millennia, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt as alive as I do now. Every second with her, is worth a thousand years without her, and I wish I could tell her that. I wish I could make her understand how much my heart aches when she’s not around. It’s as if I lived my whole life blinded, in the shadows, and only now that she’s in my life, I can see the world with all of its colors.
I wrap an arm around her shoulders as we walk back to the car, and Sam looks up at me, and then at Emma on her other side, and the smile that spreads on her face is so beautiful, it warms every inch of my body.
I have to admit, it’s scary to feel this vulnerable. Almost all of my power was drained when I closed the portals and locked us in this realm, and a part of me is terrified of not having power to defend Sam if anything ever happens. But I guess this is the beauty of humanity… The vulnerability of never knowing what might happen, but accepting all of the consequences of our actions regardless. If feeling this vulnerable is the price I have to pay to be by Sam’s side, to feel this alive, then I welcome it with my arms opened.
As we’re getting out of the car back at the city center, my phone rings, and I’m surprised to see it’s mum calling.
“Hey,” I say, trying to sound casual as I pick up. There’s so much I haven’t told mum about this trip, so much I don’t even know if I’ll ever be able to share.
“Hello, my darling! How are you? How has today been so far?”
“Not bad mum, not bad.”
“You don’t sound too sure about that,” I can almost see my mum frowning as she says the words. “Are you sure everything’s okay?”
“Yes, mum, it’s fine, sorry, I’m just a little tired, that’s all.” I take a deep breath, I hate lying to my mum, so I decide to tell her about the part I can easily talk about right now. “I finally went to visit dad today,” I say in a small voice.
I hear a little sound on the other side of the line, and I cover my free ear to listen in better. “Mum, are you crying?”
“No, I’m not… I’m… Yes, I’m so sorry, it’s just all so much, and I miss you so badly! You haven’t been away for this long since… since… ever.”
“Aw, mum, I miss you too.” I realize as I say the words that it’s true, I do miss my mum, and I wished I could tell her everything that’s happened in the last two weeks. “I will see you soon though, and we can talk about all the adventures I had while I was here.”
I don’t think that’s entirely true, but I’m hoping I will find a way to explain most of it, to let her know how much this place has changed me.
“Yes! I can not wait to see you again darling! Oh well, I better let you enjoy the rest of your trip, tell Emma I say hi, will you?”
“Of course mum, I will.”
“I love you, Sam.”
“Love you too, mum.”
I hang up as we reach the market we chose for lunch.
“How’s your mum?” Em asks me.
“She’s fine, she was mopping a little, and I think she really does miss me.”
“I’m sure she does.” Em laces her arm around my elbow as we walk into the complex, and all three of us start looking around the shops.
The place is called Riverside market, and it’s -not surprisingly- right next to the river; and it’s buzzing with people and tourists from all over the world. After a little walk around, I decide to have battered fish with organic kumara ribbons and a beetroot salad I choose from an organic little shop, while Em goes for a huge burger full of bacon and dripping cheddar.
“Talking about parents, have you talked with your dad?” I ask Em reproachingly as we look for a table inside.
“Actually, I have, I called him last night.”
“Did you?” I look up at her surprised, not being able to believe Emma went as far as to make a phone call; she hates phone calls.
“I think it was due, we talked for less than a minute, but it was okay. I think… I think I might make a bit of an effort once we’re back. You know, facing the end of the world does change the way you see shit.”
“Tell me about it girl, tell me about it…”
We finally decide to sit outside despite the cold, as the place is too full inside. Tane claimed he wasn’t hungry, but then bought a bowl of fancy porridge with berry coulis when I insisted he needed to eat something.
I’m grinning at him, and he shrugs as he speaks. “What? I have a very sweet tooth.”
“Oh, you and Sam are meant for each other, then,” Emma quips from across the table, the corner of her mouth stained with mayonnaise.
“Do you like sweets?” Tane rests an elbow on the table, and pops his head on a fisted hand as he looks at me.
“I love sweets,” I admit.
“How come?” I turn to him as I finish a bite of my fish, which is incredibly fresh and delicious.
“Well, you’re sweet, and I’m sure you therefore attract sweetness.” I feel my face going red, and Tane laughs brightly as I look down.
“You’re silly.” I say, a little ashamed and self conscious that people might be looking at me.
“Agh, I can’t handle this kind of sweetness,” Em says pointing at us. “I better go for a quick stroll.” She stands up, finishing the last bite of her burger in record time, and walks away while dialing on her phone, and then popping the device against her ear. I wonder if she’s calling her dad again.
I turn to Tane as he speaks my name softly, and find myself trapped in his eyes like the very first time I looked at him. I can’t believe it’s been only two weeks, and we’ve been through so much in that time. We only have tomorrow left, and then our plane leaves for Buenos Aires. We talked about it this morning, and Tane will join us there in a few weeks, maybe months. He said he had loose ends to tie, but there’s all the practical issues to think about as well. Does he even own a passport? Can he get out of the country? What if he doesn’t manage to get the needed paper? As if noticing my spiraling mind, Tane holds my hands in his.
“Hey, it’s going to be okay, don’t overthink it.”
“I’m just a little scared… I mean, what should we do now?” It’s not like I can just turn off my spiraling mind, even if I’d felt more calm today than I have in years, there’s still so many doubts clouding my mind every now and then.
“Now, we live, Sam. We let life take us wherever it wishes to, and we live every second as if it was our last. Now, we eat, and we enjoy this delicious meal in front of us. I’ve spent so long watching... I want to live now, I want to be a part of what goes on around me.”
I can’t lie to myself, I’m still full of doubts, but I can tell he’s right. It’s time for us to live. I’ve been watching life go by from the sidelines for too long, and maybe in that sense, we are the same. He can understand that in a way I never knew anybody else could.
“Now, we live.” I smile shyly as I lean forward, and rest my forehead against Tane’s, our noses touching as I take a deep breath, and let my fears go as I ask the only question that matters, needing to hear his answer one more time. “Are you really willing to come to Argentina with me?”
Tane breathes in, and I forget about the world surrounding us. The people walking all around us, the couples having lunch and kids running around, everything just blurs as I stop worrying about it; about what people might see when they look at me. I let all the noise be just that, noise, and I listen to Tane’s breathing as he exhales slowly, and the scent of pine is everything that is right in this world.
“For this, for you, I will travel across the globe a thousand times if need be.”
He presses a kiss against my forehead, and when he looks back into my eyes, my lips find his, and I believe that somehow, we will make this work.