One windy September morning Jessie Deards and her mother, Rosemary, walked out of their front door, up the crooked cobbled path, through the garden gate, and turned right. They walked a short distance along the road, down a short flight of stairs, and entered the local shop. Mother and Daughter had repeated this routine every school day since Jessie was five years old but today was the day Jessie started "Big School" as her mother embarrassingly insisted on telling everyone they had met for the past three months.
From Jessie's point of view, moving classes from the Primary School building to the somewhat larger Secondary School building wasn't any different than the start of any other school year but her mother certainly seemed to think it was a rather large milestone.
"Morning, Rose," said the elderly lady who owned the shop "Morning, Kath" replied Jessie's mother as she walked over to pick up a newspaper "New term starting already, where does the time go?" mused Kath "Tell me about it. I can't believe my baby girl is starting Big School today!" said Jessie's mum with embarrassing glee "Big School, you say? Seems like just last week you were off to your first day of Primary School, Jessie. You were such a tiny little dot" replied Kath. Jessie tried to smile but only managed a pained grimace.
"How's your mother doing, Rose? I can remember her first day at Senior school too, beautiful little thing she was and sharp as a tack, too" asked Kath "Oh she's doing fine, we spent two weeks with her over the summer" replied Jessie's mum "Where is she living now?" asked the shopkeeper "California. Oakland, California, to be precise"
"Hard to believe it. Little Isla Deards, a big movie writer in America. But then, as I said, she always was a bright girl. That will be three pound fifty" said Katherine placing the Newspaper into a brown paper bag along with a few other items. Jessie's mother handed over the money and said "Goodbye, Kath. See you tomorrow" "Bye Rose, have a good first day at Big School, Jessie" said Katherine with a wave. Jessie didn't even manage a grimace this time but simply said "Thanks"
Jessie and her mum walked out of the shop, back up the stairs, and continued along the road, past a small church, and then turned right again through the high kissing gate at the entrance to the cemetery. They followed the winding path that led along the side of the church, down a hill towards a large pond. Jessie said "Hi Nana" and gave a little wave as they passed her great-grandmother's headstone just before walking through another kissing gate at the other end of the cemetery. The path turned sharply left and then right as it snaked between tall oak trees before they emerged by the pond on to a busy thoroughfare, mothers, and fathers walking alongside varying numbers of children.
Jessie and her mum often played a game that involved one of the pair pointing to a random stranger and asking "Who are they?" to which the other then had to invent an elaborate backstory for the person. On this particular morning, it was Rosemary who pointed to the shaggy old man who sat on a bench facing the pond. He had long wavy silver hair and a bushy salt and pepper beard, wore a body length suede jacket and dirty hobnailed boots. Now that her mother had pointed the man out, Jessie remembered that she had seen him sat on that bench virtually every day of her life and based her story upon that.
"That's Max Verillion, he bought stock in Apple way back when and has been living off the profits ever since. He doesn't like material things, he just likes to sit and watch the ducks..." she continued, weaving a story worthy of Rowling or Tolkien for several minutes as they continued their trek to St Michael's academy. When they arrived at the school gates Jessie's mother stopped walking but Jessie was so enthusiastically telling her story that it took her several moments to notice "Mum?" she said as she looked around. Jessie ran back the ten metres or so to her mother and asked "What's up?" "You don't want me cramping your style on your first day of Big School. You're old enough now that you don't need me to walk you to and from school, so this afternoon you can walk home alone if you like" replied her mother.
"Okay, I'll probably just walk with Marley and her mum," said Jessie as she hugged her mother goodbye "Have a great first day of school," said Jessie's mum as she squeezed Jessie tightly "Thanks" replied Jessie as she hurried back through the school gates, waving at her best friend Marley, who was waiting by the bicycle rack. Jessie and Marley hugged and then ran inside the main school building doors and out of sight of their parents "You'll never guess what" said Jessie.
"Erm, you met Ariana Grande while you were in LA???" replied Marley "No" "Your great-grandmother rose out of her grave and ate the Priest's brain?" "No" "I give up then" "My mum is letting me walk home alone!" "Mine too! I bet they planned this together" "Probably. Does your mum keep calling this place Big School, too?" "Oh my god, she does! She's so embarrassing!" "Tell me about it. I'm eleven years old, why does she have to talk as if I'm like eight or something?"
By the time Jessie finished her first day of Secondary school, she wished she really was eight years old again. She had imagined "Big School" as being just like "Little school" but with larger chairs, she couldn't have been more wrong. Until this point, her school day was spent in a single room with the same teacher, all day, every day. Now she had a complex timetable and had to navigate about the school from class to class, each with its own teacher. The work was considerably harder too, although Jessie enjoyed the challenge. Jessie and Marley left the school at three o'clock feeling exhausted both physically and mentally, their earlier enthusiasm long since petering out.
Jessie retraced her steps from the morning, noticing the shaggy old man once more, still sat on the bench, watching the ducks. Neither Jessie nor Marley said much as they walked, or more accurately stumbled along the path by the pond, laden down by their new textbooks which both had shoved hastily into their now overstuffed satchels. Hunched over, with their eyes on the ground, neither noticed the large group of third-year girls blocking their way until they crashed into them.
Jessie hit the ground in a heap and her books spilt out of her satchel. The older girls didn't take too kindly to being headbutted by a pair of first-years, Marley had managed to stay on her feet but had also dropped her satchel. One of the older girls said, "Oi, watch where you're going midgets" and shoved Marley backwards where she fell over her satchel and joined Jessie on the floor "Say sorry Firsties" said another girl as the others laughed at Marley.
"Get lost," said Marley angrily "Ooh, likkle Firstie has an attitude. Come here you little squit!" said the girl as she lunged at Marley, who scrambled to her feet and ran away. The group of third years chased off after Marley, leaving Jessie alone. As she started to stand up she noticed the shaggy old man standing over her "Are you okay?" he asked "I'm fine, thanks Ma... I mean, thanks, Mister." replied Jessie as she stood up and brushed herself down "Let me help you gather up your things," said the old man "Thanks," said Jessie.
What seemed to be only a second later, the old man was handing Jessie her satchel, now with her textbooks neatly packed and sorted alphabetically "How did you...?" said Jessie as she frowned down at the perfectly organised bag "How did I what?" asked the old man "I must have hit my head" said Jessie "Come and sit down for a moment, I'm sure your friend will be back for her bag any minute now" said the man, gesturing toward the bench by the pond with his cane.
"I'm not supposed to talk to strangers," said Jessie "A good policy in general. Well, I shall leave you in peace and go back to watching the ducks" said the old man, who then walked back to the bench and sat back down. After standing on the spot for a few moments, Jessie followed him to the bench and sat down "Hello again" said the man "Hello" replied Jessie "I'm Aurelius, by the way" said the man "I'm Jessie" replied Jessie "Nice to meet you, Jessie. Good first day at Secondary school?" asked the man "I suppose so. Good day watching the ducks?" asked Jessie "Oh yes. Very interesting creatures, Ducks" "If you say so"
Jessie heard laughter coming from the direction of the thicket of Oak trees, the third-year girls were back "Quick for a midget, that one" said one of the girls "It's good being a third-year" said another girl "Ooh look, it's the other midget and she's befriended the tramp" said the girl who had earlier pushed Marley. Jessie acted like she hadn't noticed the girls and just continued watching the ducks, Aurelius simply whistled a happy tune as though he hadn't a care in the world "Oi, Firstie! Tell your friend to watch her mouth in the future!" shouted one of the girls as they turned away and continued along the edge of the pond "Yeah! And watch you don't get eaten by the Tramp, you wouldn't be the first Firstie he's gobbled up!" shouted another girl.
Jessie stoically ignored the girls and then quietly said "Sorry about that" "Oh I'm far too old and far too wise to let such childish insults affect me" replied Aurelius "plus, I will have the last laugh" he continued as he waved his cane in the direction of the girls. A moment later one of the ducks took to flight "People like that always get what's coming to them" he said with a smile. A few seconds later there was a scream from the group of girls, Jessie turned to see one of the girls wiping a large splotch of bird droppings from the back of her head. Jessie laughed loudly, as did Aurelius.
Another minute passed before Marley re-emerged. She ran over to the bench and said "Good, you grabbed my bag" as she picked up the satchel which now sat beside the bench. Jessie didn't remember picking it up, nor had she seen Aurelius move it, confused once more she said "Erm, no worries. Shall we get going then?" "Yeah, let's" replied Marley. Jessie got to her feet, said "Goodbye Aurelius" and started toward the graveyard before stopping and then walking back to the bench.
"How did you pack my bag so quickly?" she asked "I've no idea what you mean" replied Aurelius "I mean, one second my books were all over the path, the next they were all neatly in the satchel, in Alphabetical order," said Jessie "In Alphabetical order you say? Just a coincidence, I'm sure" said Aurelius "Now you really ought to be getting home, your mother will worry if you're late" he continued and then turned back to watch the ducks. Not completely satisfied with his answer, Jessie hurried back to where Marley waited for her and they walked back to Jessie's house.
The next morning Jessie walked to school alone for the first time in her life. Save for visiting the shop, Jessie took the same route she usually took with her mother. She was hoping to speak with Aurelius again, something about him didn't sit right with her. She was sure that her books being packed in Alphabetical order was no coincidence and she wanted answers. It was like he had known the duck was going to poop on the third year girl before it had even taken off, then there was Marley's bag, which she was quite sure neither of them had moved from the spot on which Marley had fallen over it.
Jessie said "Hi Nana" as she passed her great-grandmother's grave and exited the cemetery. She wasn't surprised to see Aurelius sat on the bench once more "Do you sleep here?" she asked as she sat down on the bench "Good morning to you too, Jessie" replied Aurelius "Good morning" said Jessie, adding "So, do you?" "I suppose it would seem natural for a tramp to sleep on a bench but no. I do not sleep here" answered Aurelius "I never said you were a tramp" "I never said that you did. I was making a joke, my dear" the pair sat in silence for a few moments.
Jessie opened her mouth to speak several times but stopped each time, unsure of what exactly she wanted to ask him "You're not still thinking about your books are you?" asked Aurelius, as if reading her mind "Yes, actually and not just that. The duck, Marley's bag, how...?" she said, her voice trailing off "Most people don't even notice me, you know" said Aurelius "I sit here every day, I notice them all but they don't notice me" he continued "I noticed you" said Jessie "Ah yes, to you I'm Max Verillion, millionaire tramp" said Aurelius with a chuckle, Jessie couldn't help but laugh.
It took a few seconds for her brain to register what Aurelius had said and then she exclaimed "How could you know about that?" "I have ears, rather large ones at that," he said as he reached up and flicked his ears. Something about this scruffy old man really didn't add up, Jessie thought "You knew that duck was going to poop on that girl" she said "just a coincidence" replied Aurelius "well coincidences seem to happen around you a lot" "Do they? Perhaps it's you whom the coincidences happen around a lot" "Hmm, maybe" said Jessie, sceptically.
"But there's still the matter of Marley's bag, I definitely didn't move it and I didn't see you move it either" she continued "Just because you didn't see it, doesn't mean I didn't move it," said Aurelius. Before Jessie could interrogate him more Marley came bounding along the path and shouted "Hi Jessie! Come on, if we don't hurry we'll be late!" Jessie pulled her satchel over her shoulder with a "huff!" and gave Aurelius a searching look before saying "Saved by the bell. This isn't over" to which Aurelius smiled and said "I would expect nothing less from you, young lady. Have a good day at school" as Jessie hopped to her feet and took off after Marley shouting "Hey, wait up!"
That afternoon Jessie walked home alone, hoping to continue her interrogation of Aurelius but the old man was nowhere to be found. Jessie couldn't help but suspect that he was avoiding her. After sitting at the bench for over an hour, Jessie was forced to go home so as not to worry her mother. She waved and said "Lovely day today, Nana" as she passed her great-grandmother's grave, half walked, half skipped along the path through the cemetery playing a game of 'avoid the cracks' that had always amused her greatly. She liked to imagine that if she touched one of the cracks she would fall to a fiery death in a pit of lava and would often gasp and freeze if a toe got too close to a crack.
Jessie's mother was in the kitchen, seemingly completely unconcerned that her eleven-year-old daughter hadn't arrived home from school on time. Jessie slid across the smoothly tiled kitchen floor in her socks and came to a stop at her mother's side "Hi mum, sorry I'm late" "That's okay dear. Been chatting away with Marley, no doubt" replied her mother "Yup" lied Jessie "Dinner will be ready in ten minutes. Why don't you go play a video game or something while you wait?" suggested her mother "Nah. Can I use your laptop? I want to look something up" asked Jessie "Okay, it's in the living room" "Thanks"
Jessie took two large steps and slid back out of the kitchen, much as she had entered. She almost fell over as she crossed into the hall and her feet snagged on the carpet but she managed to right herself and jumped into the living room in a mock ballerina's leap. She grabbed the laptop and opened the internet browser, typed in 'Aurelius' and hit the enter key. When the search results loaded she clicked on the first link and began to read. By the time her mother called her for dinner, she was already five links deep, reading about Marcus Aurelius, a Roman Philosopher who had lived and died some two thousand years before even her great-grandmother had been born.
Jessie took the laptop with her to the kitchen, careful to resist the temptation to slide across the kitchen once more, her mother would never let her use the laptop again if she dropped it trying to perform a silly stunt, and continued to read about Marcus Aurelius as she ate. Her mother looked over her shoulder at the screen and then asked "Homework?" "Not exactly" answered Jessie "That name is familiar, I think your grandmother might have made a film about him. Aurelius, Aurelius, yes, I'm almost certain she did" said her mother. Jessie opened another tab and immediately typed 'Marcus Aurelius Isla Deards movie' into the search box and a new list of results appeared. She clicked on the first link and read an article in which her grandmother had given an interview about a movie called The Philosopher and the Muse.
From what Jessie could gather from the cryptic answers her grandmother gave to the questions from the journalist, the movie revolved around Marcus Aurelius and a peasant woman called Verity who was more than what she seemed. Jessie guessed this interview must have been conducted either before or during the movie's theatre run. She closed the page and clicked on the next search result, a review of the movie. She scanned the first few paragraphs and decided that while interesting, she was getting sidetracked and returned to her original search. Jessie spent the rest of the evening going down internet rabbit hole after internet rabbit hole until the laptop eventually ran out of charge, she considered plugging the laptop into the mains but decided to go to bed instead.
Aurelius didn't reappear for almost two weeks, autumn had now arrived in full, the leaves on the Oak trees had turned a plethora of pleasant oranges and browns and were rapidly falling to the ground, covering the path. Jessie kicked at the leaves as she walked and almost walked right past the bench without noticing that Aurelius was sat upon it "You're back!" she said in excitement as she sat down beside him "Did I go somewhere?" asked Aurelius "Well you weren't here..." replied Jessie, raising one eyebrow and staring at the old man "That is true, I wasn't here" "So where were you?" "I was chasing down a dragon. Tricksy beasts, dragons"
Jessie laughed out loud "What were you really doing?" she asked "I really was chasing down a dragon" replied Aurelius with a smirk "But dragons don't exist..." "Who says they don't?" "Everybody, duh," said Jessie, rolling her eyes "And just because everybody says it, that makes it true?" asked Aurelius. Jessie thought for a moment before responding "Well, no. But I mean, dragons are just in fairy tales and books and stuff. They aren't real. If they were people would have seen them, wouldn't they?" Aurelius threw a chunk of bread to one of the ducks and then turned to face Jessie "I've seen them" he said "And just because you say that, makes it true? Does it?" replied Jessie.
"Touché!" said the old man with a laugh "People used to think Gorillas were a myth too, you know" he continued "Yes, but that was just because Europeans were cotton-headed ignoramuses who thought that the 'savages' they encountered were stupid and just making stuff up," said Jessie "Once they got deep enough into the jungle, they found them pretty quick" she continued. Aurelius smiled and looked impressed "And have you explored every nook and cranny of the planet for dragons? Has anyone?" he asked "They would be pretty hard to miss. Great big reptiles with wings shouldn't be too hard to spot" replied Jessie before stopping herself and saying "You're deliberately trying to distract me so I don't ask you more questions about how Marley's bag moved all by itself or how you organised my books so fast"
"Still thinking about that, are you? Things don't just move all by themselves, you were just too distracted to see what was right in front of your face" said Aurelius as he threw another chunk of bread to the ducks. Jessie was mulling over his words when Marley came speeding along the path "Let's go Slowpoke!" she shouted as she whizzed straight past the bench "Will you be here later or will you be off chasing Unicorns?" asked Jessie as she jumped to her feet "Unicorns don't exist" replied Aurelius "Actually they do. Rhinoceros Unicornis, the one-horned Rhino" retorted Jessie as she turned to follow Marley.
That afternoon Jessie marched as fast as her legs would carry her until she reached the bench before collapsing on to it with a "huff" as she deposited her school bag at her feet. Aurelius was humming to himself, Jessie thought she recognised the tune but couldn't remember from where. She was about to ask Aurelius what the song was called when he stopped humming and spoke "Learn much at school today?" he asked "Not really, I've already read all my textbooks from front to back and the teachers mostly just read them aloud and expect us to take notes. I spend most of my lessons drawing cartoons" replied Jessie "What subjects did you have today?" asked Aurelius "Maths, English, Physics, and French" "quel est douze minus cinqant?" "negative three" "tres bien, mon petit amie!" "merci" "you're welcome. And what is the equation to calculate force?" "Force equals Mass multiplied by Acceleration" "Quite the brain box, little miss" finished Aurelius with a smile.
"So where were you really? I know you weren't chasing dragons" asked Jessie "Not dragons, just a dragon. A beautiful bright blue one, to be precise" replied Aurelius. Jessie was starting to suspect that Aurelius was "Nutty as squirrel poop" as Marley had put it earlier that day "Did you get any pictures?" Jessie asked, "Why would I take pictures?" "If I saw a dragon, I would take pictures so I could show them to people," said Jessie "Pictures can be faked very easily these days. You could probably whip up a convincing photo of a dragon in a few minutes on your phone" retorted Aurelius "and besides, I don't take photos. Photographs are just memories that we keep outside our brains and I prefer my memories to be in my brain, where they belong"
"Where was this dragon then?" asked Jessie "Dagenham" answered Aurelius simply. This wasn't anything like the answer Jessie had expected "Dagenham?!" she exclaimed "Yes. Dagenham" said Aurelius "Now I know you're lying," said Jessie. Aurelius laughed and threw a chunk of bread to a duck that had swum nearby "Think what you will" he said "That's about as likely as my bag packing itself and Marley's bag magically moving twenty feet" said Jessie "And yet, all three happened" said Aurelius. Jessie was about to speak again but stopped as her brain caught up with what Aurelius had said. Was Aurelius saying her bag magically packed itself? She shrugged off this thought immediately, magic wasn't real, and even if it were, Aurelius was no wizard, he lacked the pointy hat for one thing.
It took several moments for Jessie to wrestle her thoughts into coherence once more and then she asked "Why do you come here virtually every day? It can't be just for the ducks" Aurelius thought for a while before speaking "You wouldn't understand. Let's just say, I'm waiting" "Waiting for what?" asked Jessie but Aurelius didn't answer, he sat in thoughtful silence and tossed a few chunks of bread into the water. Once it became clear to Jessie that she would get no meaningful answers today she hauled her bag back on to her shoulder and stood up "I will figure you out..." she said as she walked away "Of that, I have no doubt" replied Aurelius.
Jessie spent most of the evening researching the name Aurelius once more, taking a few detours looking at renderings of blue dragons, most of which were different artists takes on the dragon bonded to Eragon in the Inheritance books. When she finally became bored, she asked her mother for permission to watch the film The Philosopher and the Muse which was a 15 rated movie, when her mother assented she pulled the case off the shelf and placed the disk in the DVD drive of her mother's laptop.
The movie started as a fairly standard boy meets girl tale, a gifted young man from a well to do family falls in love with a peasant girl, he asks her to marry him and upon announcing his intentions to his parents, assuming he has been enchanted or tricked in some way they forbid it and send him away to study with the greatest philosophers of the day in Rome. Before he leaves he promises to return for his love but circumstances prevail against him and he never returns home, the movie ended with an aged Marcus Aurelius in bed speaking the word "Verity" with his final breath before his eyes closed. Jessie enjoyed the movie, she wasn't a fan of 'Hollywood' endings where everything works out and they all live happily ever after. She wondered what had happened to Verity, did she ever fall in love again? Did she die waiting for her love to return? Perhaps she would ask her grandmother next time they spoke.
The following month proceeded much as the previous week had done, she attempted to wrangle information out of Aurelius whenever he was sat on the bench, which was almost every day, and slowly but surely she pieced together a picture of an extremely gifted man who seemed to have spent most of his life in this little town doing absolutely nothing of note except become known as the tramp who feeds the ducks. She asked leading questions about who or what he was waiting for, to little success. She tried to get explanations about the first day they had met but Aurelius insisted she simply couldn't see what was obvious, that he had packed her bag and then moved Marley's bag. It was with growing frustration and curiosity that Jessie trudged to and from school each day.
The daylight hours were becoming very short by the time she next spoke with her Grandmother, she sat in the living room with her mother's laptop, which had now become Jessie's de-facto laptop as she spent so much time using it, as they conversed via a video call. Jessie complimented her Grandmother on the excellent writing of The Philosopher and the Muse and asked what had happened to Verity "Well, what do you think happened to her?" asked her Grandmother "I assume she eventually met someone else and moved on" said Jessie "Yes, that's what I assumed to" "You don't need to assume Nan, you wrote it..." said Jessie "That doesn't mean I know what happened to her" her Grandmother replied. Jessie was a little confused by this answer but who was she to question it, her Grandmother had won several awards for that one movie alone.
"When will I see you again?" asked Jessie "I'm not sure darling, perhaps you can come for Easter. I will speak to your mother about it next week" "Why can't you come here? I don't really like flying, it's boring" replied Jessie with a grimace, her Grandmother laughed "Neither do I, why do you think I never came home again after coming here?" "You must have come home when Nana and Grandpa died" "I haven't been home since I was seventeen, your Nana and I didn't get along and well..." her grandmother paused for a moment, a tear in her eye "Let's just say, I felt bad about not attending their funerals but I just couldn't bring myself to return to that place"
Jessie was stunned by this revelation, she knew her mother had been raised by her Nana and Grandpa but she had assumed her Grandmother had visited often. The sound of a phone vibrating came across the speakers of Jessie's laptop "I have to go, darling, I will speak to your mother about Easter, Okay?" "Okay..." said Jessie, sounding dejected "Speak to you soon honey, love you!" said her Grandmother "Love you too" replied Jessie and the call ended. Jessie closed the laptop and slouched off to her bedroom to sleep.
Jessie didn't see Aurelius again until it was nearly Christmas, when he reappeared her first question was "I suppose you were off hunting fairies this time?" to which Aurelius responded with a booming laugh "nothing so exciting I'm afraid. I have been rather unwell, I am after all, quite old, and not as resilient as I once was" "Well I'm glad you are feeling better, I thought you might have died" said Jessie with a small smile, this elicited another booming laugh from Aurelius "I can't go dying yet, I'm still waiting..." he said "but, for what?" asked Jessie "Destiny, my dear" Aurelius said cryptically.
The two sat in silence for a while until a new question popped into Jessie's head, she briefly wondered why she hadn't thought to ask it before now and then did "How long have you been waiting?" "Years, decades. And I will continue to wait for as long as it takes" Jessie heard Marley running down the path and she stood up "Will you be here this afternoon?" she said "Oh I expect so" replied Aurelius "See you then, then" said Jessie as she greeted Marley with a wave.
However, when the bench came in to view that afternoon Aurelius was nowhere to be found. Jessie walked home and sat down in the living room, opening the laptop as she did. She opened the internet browser but didn't know what to type, she sat with her hands poised over the keyboard for nearly ten minutes without typing a single letter. Her mother entered the room and observed Jessie for a long while before speaking "Are you okay, sausage?" she said which gave Jessie a start, her head whipped around and then she shook it back and forth, attempting to clear the cobwebs in her mind.
"I just can't put it all together" she finally answered "Put what all together?" asked her mother "You wouldn't understand," said Jessie "Oh, we've got to that phase have we?" said her mother with a rye smile "What phase?" asked Jessie "The boy trouble phase," said her mother "Ewww, no. Boys are icky, smelly things" said Jessie "Okay, not boy troubles!" said her mother putting up her hands and leaning backwards.
"Well, I'm here if you want to talk," said Jessie's mother as she left the room. Jessie turned back to the laptop but still didn't know what to type. She sat for another half hour before closing the laptop and turning on her gaming console and spent the rest of the evening playing her favourite multiplayer first-person shooter, periodically shouting insults at her opponents. After dinner her mother suggested watching a film together, which Jessie agreed to, they watched The Timeless Child. The story of a young girl who is raised by her grandparents which resonated with her mother greatly.
Aurelius was periodically absent over the next few weeks but seemed much more amenable to Jessie's questions than before, she began to glean insights into his life and she thought she was beginning to have an idea about just what it was he was waiting for. She also started to notice the strange occurrences that often happened when Aurelius waved his cane about and was starting to convince herself that he was, in fact, a Wizard, despite her entire being screaming to her that this was, of course, nonsense.
Christmas came and went and school started once more. One Friday in January Jessie was late for school and running as fast as her legs would allow when she slipped on a patch of ice. Her feet slid in opposite directions and she was about to fall when she noticed Aurelius stood with his cane pointed at another man, who seemed to be pointing a long wooden branch back at Aurelius. Before she could take in any more of the unusual scene, she fell and hit her head.
When she awoke, Aurelius was stood over her, his cane pointing at her face and he was muttering strange words, Jessie knocked the cane aside and sat up "No more!" she shouted "No more what?" asked Aurelius "No more lies, no more cryptic answers. Can you do magic?" "Of course I can" replied Aurelius which stunned Jessie to her core. She had expected him to dismiss her question as childish nonsense "which means you really were chasing a dragon?" she asked "I really was" "And you used your cane to pack my bag and move Marley's bag on the day we met?" "I did" "And you didn't just tell me that from the start, why?" "Would you have believed me?" "Probably... not" "Exactly, you needed to figure it out for yourself" "I needed to see what was right in front of my face..." said Jessie with a glance at Aurelius's cane. Aurelius laughed and twirled the cane "Precisely"
Aurelius offered his hand and Jessie took it. Aurelius pulled her to her feet and waved his cane, causing her bag to repack itself and then float up and hang itself over her shoulder "So cool" said Jessie in amazement "Can you do magic without the cane or is that where the magic comes from?" "What you call a cane, I call a wand and while useful it is not necessary to perform magic" "I thought wands were little pointy things like in Harry Potter or that conjurers use as a prop in a magic show," said Jessie.
"Wand is an old word that has been corrupted over the centuries, to someone like me, a wand is whatever you use to aid your magic" explained Aurelius "Like that other man! He was holding a big branch or something" exclaimed Jessie "Ah, you saw that did you?" "Yes, who was he?" "Someone, who I hope I will never see again" "Were you fighting?" "Shouldn't you be getting to school? You are very late" "Only if you promise that you will be here when I get back this afternoon," said Jessie. Aurelius promised he would be waiting for her when she finished school and sent Jessie on her way.
Jessie nearly fell over again several times on the way back to the bench that afternoon. When she sat down she repeated her earlier question "So, were you fighting that man?" "It wasn't much of a fight but I suppose the answer to your question is yes" replied Aurelius "Why were you fighting?" asked Jessie "He was attempting to steal my wand," said Aurelius "Why? He had his own wand" said Jessie with a frown "Well, all wands are not created equally. Mine is a particularly well crafted and powerful wand, a desirable object for many a sorcerer, especially young ambitious ones" explained Aurelius. Jessie's head was so full of questions she didn't know where to start, she opened her mouth to speak and stopped herself several times as new questions entered her mind, eventually, she asked: "Where did you get your wand?" "a good question," said Aurelius "It has been in my family for several generations, handed down from father to son, mother to daughter or in my case, Grandmother to Grandson" he continued.
As Jessie asked questions and received answers things came into sharper focus. Until now, it had been like trying to finish a jigsaw puzzle without knowing what picture she was supposed to be piecing together. After about an hour, Jessie jumped up and said "I have to go. Will I see you tomorrow?" "You can count on it," said Aurelius as he waved goodbye. Jessie ran toward home, sliding across the patch of ice that had earlier caused her fall. She slammed the front door behind her and ran into the living room, straight past her mother, and grabbed the laptop.
She frantically opened the video calling app and placed a call to her Grandmother, a few seconds later she said "Hi Nan, we need to talk, face to face. You need to get on the first plane to England and come home" her Grandmother was surprised by the forceful nature of her Granddaughter "I can't, for one I am very busy at the moment" she said "If you don't come, I won't ever speak to you again" said Jessie "Don't be silly darling. I spoke with your mother and you are coming to see me at Easter" replied her Grandmother "No I'm not. At least not unless you get on the next plane to England and come home" said Jessie "I'm sorry dear, that's just not possible"
Jessie threw the laptop across the room to which her mother shouted "Jessica Isla Deards, what do you think you are doing?!" but Jessie ignored her and stormed to her room. Later that evening Jessie's mother knocked on her bedroom door and said "We need to talk" "I'm not talking to you until you get Nan on a plane to England. Go away!" shouted Jessie "Really Jessica, you are being extremely unreasonable. What has happened?" asked her mother but Jessie didn't say another word. Jessie's mother seemed to accept that Jessie was not going to talk to her and went back downstairs, twenty minutes later she shouted up the stairs "Dinner is ready, I assume you aren't going on hunger strike..." which Jessie thought sounded like a good idea. If she refused to eat, her Grandmother would have to come.
Jessie laid on her bed in silence until she fell asleep. In the morning she got dressed and left the house without eating breakfast and went straight to meet Aurelius, she asked more questions and got more answers, Aurelius even let her use his wand, she wasn't able to make much happen but she did levitate an empty packet of crisps for a few moments, or perhaps it was just a gust of wind. She didn't mention anything about her hunger strike or her Grandmother to Aurelius, she just asked questions and attempted to use magic until after lunchtime, when she thought it was about time she got home so her mother wouldn't worry. When she arrived her mother said "Would you like some lunch?" to which Jessie replied with stoic silence, walking right past her mother and back up to her room.
Sunday proceeded much as Saturday, Jessie didn't say a word to her mother or eat even a single crisp, by Monday morning Jessie was hungry, irritable and not at all ready for school. She had decided that not going to school in addition to giving her mother the silent treatment and not eating would force the situation so far that her Grandmother would have no choice but to come home. She stayed in bed, refusing to move, all day. On Tuesday, Jessie's resolve was tested by the smell of freshly baked cookies wafting under her door, after three days of not eating the smell was intoxicating but Jessie pulled her bed covers over her head and blocked out most of the smell.
When she awoke on Wednesday morning, her Grandmother was asleep in the chair next to her bed. Jessie first thought she was dreaming, pinched herself, the pain confirming she was definitely awake, she then thought she might be hallucinating from lack of food and so stretched out her arms and touched her Grandmother, she felt solid enough to the touch. Jessie then threw herself on to her Grandmother's lap and hugged her, startling her to awareness "You came!" Jessie screamed "I came," said her Grandmother squeezing Jessie tightly "You are just as stubborn as me it seems," said her Grandmother "More so if anything," said Jessie's mother who was now stood in the doorway holding a tray with thickly buttered, piping hot toast on a plate and a glass of milk. Her mother placed the tray on Jessie's bed and Jessie leapt over and devoured the toast in a matter of seconds.
After draining the glass of milk, Jessie threw on some clothes and said "Follow me!" She slid down the bannister feet first and alighted on the ground floor, opened the front door, and ran outside. She sprinted through the graveyard shouting "Hi Nana!" as she passed her Greatgrandmother's headstone and skidded to a halt the moment the bench came in to view and she had confirmed that Aurelius was sat upon it. She then turned around and sprinted back to her mother and grandmother, who were now just entering the graveyard "What is this about?" asked her Grandmother "Destiny!" replied Jessie taking her grandmother by the hand and dragging her through the graveyard. As they reached her Nana's grave Jessie said "Wait here. Maybe say hello to your mum while you are at it" and ran off.
Jessie reached the bench with a growing sense of pride and excitement, she sat on the bench next to Aurelius who said: "Hello, what are you looking so pleased about?" "I worked out what you have been waiting for" replied Jessie "Really? Do tell..." said Aurelius. Jessie's smile widened as she said "Me. Well, not exactly me, but well, come with me and you'll see" Jessie took Aurelius by the hand and lead him toward the graveyard "Have you ever seen The Philosopher and the Muse?" she asked "I have" replied Aurelius "It's about you" said Jessie "Except the genders are reversed, you are the muse and the Philosopher is..." Jessie gestured to her Grandmother "My Nan, the love of your life, who promised she would return"
"Aurelius?" said Jessie's Grandmother in amazement, Aurelius simply stood on the spot, completely stunned. Jessie's grandmother walked over to Aurelius as if in a daze before throwing her arms around him "You said you would return, one day. And here you are" said Aurelius. A minute later Jessie's mother spoke "Can someone please explain what the hell is going on?" "It's only right that Jessie explains it, she evidently worked it all out," said Jessie's Grandmother
"Aurelius and Nan fell in love when they were really young, Nan got pregnant and fearing that she would throw away her life, settle down and get married to a penniless ne'er-do-well, Nana and Grandpa sent her away. Aurelius is your dad and he's been watching and waiting, all this time" explained Jessie "My dad? My dad died before I was born" said Jessie's mother "That's what my Mum and Dad told you and I didn't have the heart to tell you the truth. They didn't even know who your father was and I didn't think Aurelius would stick around once I was gone, he didn't even know I was pregnant" said Jessie's grandmother. "I think we should probably continue this discussion somewhere a bit warmer" suggested Aurelius.
Several weeks later Jessie awoke to see Aurelius's cane propped against her writing desk. A note lay atop a thick leather-bound book, Jessie picked up the note and read it 'Dear Jessie, your Grandmother and I have decided to elope, by the time you read this we will be halfway to Las Vegas. I can not express how proud I am of you, I have watched you grow up into a wonderful young woman and I will enjoy watching you grow to adulthood with your Grandmother by my side. You were right about who I was waiting for, it was you. I had long ago given up hope that Isla would return, I had assumed she had either moved on or forgotten about me long ago. Since then I have been waiting for someone to pass my wand on to, your mother never really noticed me but you did, you see many things others do not. The book will teach you everything you need to know, I would be no better than one of your school teachers simply quoting from a textbook. I am sure you will put the wand to better use than this old man can and so it is yours. Use it well'