Episode Thirty Seven - Love's Lost
Night settles in the sky. The day is finally ending over a wonderful dinner with her boyfriend, Chris Park.
“Sandwich is good, right?” he asks.
Rachel nods with one hand modestly covering her smile as she chews. She is having a sandwich for dinner, but this isn’t any ordinary sandwich—this is a large deluxe breakfast sandwich.
The egg is scrambled and topped with strips of bacon and melted mozzarella cheese placed between two softly toasted buns. Little chopped bits of peppered onions crunch with a spicy tingle in every bite.
A sandwich like this should not be restricted to breakfast.
The waiter refills their glasses and Chris skims through the menu. “Let’s get some dessert. How about a slice of ice cream cake?”
He is ever so generous.
Rachel hurries to swallow the food in her mouth, and asks, “Are you sure? Don’t you eat enough sweets?”
“Well, we’re out and everything.” He turns to the waiter, “We’ll have a slice of the strawberry ice cream cake, please.”
The waiter nods, gently takes the menu, and moves on to refill another table’s glasses.
“So, have you thought about it?” Chris places his warm hand on hers and smiles.
Rachel is going to say yes. She thought it’d be easy, a simple yes, but it wasn’t easy. Moving in with Chris felt more conflicting than she expected. A troubling, seemingly forgotten conflict reemerged in her mind. Only after much deliberation did she finally collect her thoughts into a decision.
“Yeah, I have. Let’s do it, let’s move in together.”
Chris’s face glows and his eyes gleam with joy, “Really? Great!”
Rachel reflects his smile and they lean toward each other for a kiss. Just in time to celebrate the moment, the slice of ice cream cake arrives.
She gently cuts through the tip of the cake with her fork, and takes the first frosty bite.
It’s delicious. Of course it is. Chris always knows best.
They’ve known each other for three years now, and have been together intimately for one. He’s handsome, clever, and ambitious. Rachel trusts no one else in the world more than him, and he loves her more than anyone in the world. She knows this, and he is willing to prove it with every opportunity.
Chris is everything Leon wasn’t, everything Leon isn’t…but even then, her decision to move in together was not so easily decided. The faint idea of Leon sat at the corner of her mind.
After dinner, the couple heads back to Rachel’s apartment. Her neighborhood is elegant, sophisticated, and by most standards, upper middle class. There is hardly any tolerance for lesser rabble that wanders over, and even then, those lower class would be socially pressured to leave of their own accord.
“Your neighborhood is so nice,” Chris says, looking around the well-lit street as he walks. “Maybe we should move into your apartment.”
Having stayed at his upscale loft before, Rachel is unsure if he’s joking or not. “Yours is nicer than my dump by a long shot.”
“Well,” his hand reaches around her waist, “I don’t care where we live as long as we’re together.” Chris kisses her on the cheek and she laughs adoringly.
Rachel has lived in the same apartment for years now. Initially paid for by her well-off parents, her condominium is just as luxurious as the high granite stone buildings adjacent. Layer after layer is marked by balconies and clear glass pane windows for every apartment on each floor.
Even the lobby is equipped with a doorman who greets, “Welcome back, Ms. Loreto.”
She waves with a smile, “Good evening!” and the couple walks across the floor to the elevator.
Her apartment is on the eighth floor. It’s definitely high, and moving furniture was always a hassle. Luckily in the past, she had Leon to help with her mattress and sofa.
As for the neighbors, well, what about them? Though Rachel isn’t a shy person, she’s never gone beyond a ‘Hello’ or a polite nod with the other tenants. Maybe a lot of them seemed stuck up.
Rachel swings open her apartment door and drops her bag on the manila sofa while Chris pours a cold glass of water by the kitchen counter.
The living room is a spacious square shape with the kitchen situated at one corner beside the entrance. There aren’t many personalized decorations around the apartment aside from a few framed photos and potted plants. Rachel makes herself at home by using one of her smaller couches as a closet and the coffee table for half-read novels and untouched magazines.
On the opposite side of the room from the entrance is the glass door to her balcony. Though the sky grows dark, Rachel’s gentrified neighborhood exhibits a wonderful view. From the balcony, she can see all the lower-class residents evicted or bought out, and all the new stores opened to replace them. How clean.
“You think you’d like it here, Chris?” Rachel joins him by the kitchen and pours herself a glass of orange juice. She heard his suggestion and she’s clinging to it. Rachel wouldn’t want to move out if she doesn’t have to.
“Oh, yeah sure. If you want to, I don’t mind. It’s just…I want to make sure you’re actually okay with this…moving in together. I know it was kind of sudden and you seemed so hesitant.”
“I know. I just wanted to be sure I was over Leon already…”
Her dead boyfriend, Leon, is no secret. She talked about Leon numerous times after his death, and Chris was always supportive. He never pushed her to get over him and he never complained. Chris wanted her to move on at her own pace.
Perhaps this is why she fell for him. Chris is a genuinely compassionate, wonderful, caring man.
Of course, Rachel never told Chris that she saw Leon…alive, eight months ago. He wouldn’t have believed her anyway.
“Well, are you?” Chris leans closer, hovering beside her. “Are you over him?”
Rachel takes his hand and gently runs her fingers along his palm, “Yes, I’m sure now.”
*THUMP* THUMP *THUMP*
A loud knocking comes from the door and a male voice shouts, “Is Rachel here?”
Chris turns to Rachel but she shrugs. The impatient knocking grows louder and Chris curiously goes to answer.
As soon as he turns the knob, the door slams open and a hard kick throws Chris toward the sofa.
“Where’s Rachel?” A man in a brown leather jacket holding a cricket bat steps into the room and scans the apartment. Eyes immediately falling onto Rachel, he points the bat and asks, “You’re Rachel?”
A chill rushes through her entire body and the hairs of her skin stand straight at the question. What did they want? How do they know her? She contemplates denying an answer and remains silent, gradually creeping closer to the counter under the guise of fear, and reaches for a knife.
The man steps closer, but is shortly interrupted by a sudden tackle from Chris, pinning the man against the refrigerator.
“Run!” he shouts, but the man elbows him across the chest and pushes him aside.
“Stop!” Rachel yells, pointing the knife at the man.
He scoffs and reaches for her, but Rachel quickly slashes his arm. The man recoils and cries out in pain, “Gah!”
Emerging at the doorway and obstructing Rachel’s escape is a woman wearing a tight slip-on hoodie, eyes carefully glancing to every person in the room.
“Come on, Migs. You’re taking too long,” she says to the man. The woman spots Rachel and prepares to move, until the balcony door swings open.
The night is filled with surprises. A chilling breeze rushes into the living room with the image of a familiar man. He dashes across the apartment in a blur and closes with a quick upward swing. The gleaming silver rod strikes Migs’ chin and slams him against the kitchen counter, noisily banging against the cabinet doors.
Another stranger races from the balcony. She vaults over the sofa and hastily kicks the other woman out of the apartment doorway, throwing her against the wall outside.
Rachel carefully eyes the new violent guests in her home, but eventually squints and gasps, “Leon?”
Even after eight months, his dirtied white hair and posture is immediately recognizable the moment he appeared from the balcony. She’s gone through a rollercoaster of tense emotions in these past few minutes, but seeing his face causes her heart to stop.
Zylo reaches for Migs’ collar, but is immediately shoved away. He skillfully dodges the retaliating cricket bat and it smashes through a cabinet door instead. Stepping in low, Zylo sends a whack of steel across each of Migs’ shins, instantly collapsing him to the floor.
Migs frantically reaches out, struggling to grasp the counter but fails as Zylo’s heel kicks him against the refrigerator.
Rachel watches everything, mesmerized by her dead boyfriend’s actions. Leon’s changed. There is something different about him. His eyes aren’t burning with hate or rage, but with purpose. He is motivated, skilled now. Leon’s presence is overwhelming, and the difference from how he used to be is intoxicating.
Chris carefully pulls her away from the fighting to the far end of the room, and fumbles for his phone. With trembling fingers, he hurries to dial the emergency number and concentrates to keep his voice from quivering.
“Concrete Brawlers,” Juniper says, pushing the woman, Bonita, back into the apartment.
Zylo grips Migs by the collar, “What are you doing here?!”
The hunter tries to catch his breath, throat dry and pained as he talks, “We have a contract for that woman, Rachel…” He glances to the couple standing in the corner of the room. “King Kuro wants her dead.”
Still holding Migs close, Zylo turns to Rachel and smiles sweetly, sweeter than he intended.
Her face warms and blushes.
Turning back to Migs, Zylo asks, “Why are you following these contracts? You know these are innocent people.”
“King Kuro was going to kill us! You wouldn’t believe how quickly he killed the other hunters who wouldn’t obey.” Migs gulps from the stressful situation. “There was nothing we could do but follow his orders.”
Releasing a heavy sigh, Zylo releases his grip and the hunter falls back against the counter, his arm hitting the coffee pot.
“What are you doing here, Leon? Who are these people?” Rachel asks.
Though reluctant to answer, Zylo awkwardly scratches his head and replies, “They were sent here to kill you…to get back at me, I think.” He turns back toward Migs and pulls him up again, “You’re not going to do that now, are you?”
Migs eagerly shakes his head, no.
Zylo continues, “Good, because we’re going to need you to help us fight King Kuro, okay?”
“Sure, of course.” Migs brushes off the creases of his jacket and adjusts his collar. His words sound truthful and willing, though maybe forced from fear.
Juniper pins Bonita to the wall, “You too, right? Otherwise, you’re going out that balcony in style.”
Bonita throws up her palms, “Yeah, we swear.”
The pleasant conversation is interrupted by the sudden howl of police sirens from the street below. Juniper and Zylo exchange anxious glances and mutter, “Shit.”
“Sorry…I called the police,” Chris holds up his phone and admits. Even the police in this neighborhood arrive abnormally prompt.
“It’s fine.” Zylo escorts Migs to the balcony. “We just can’t use the main door.”
Juniper follows, taking Bonita across the living room and following Zylo’s lead. “Okay, you two go down first. We’ll be right behind you.”
Looking over the balcony, the purple and red police lights flash alarmingly through the darkened street, no doubt instilling fear into the complacent neighbors.
The Concrete Brawlers carefully climb down balcony after balcony, hoping the lights of the police fail to reveal them.
Zylo steps back into the living room for one last look at Rachel before he leaves. “Sorry Rachel, Dr. Park…about all this. We’ll be going.”
He doesn’t know Chris’s name.
Before Zylo leaves, Rachel steps closer and tightly wraps her arms around his chest. For the first second, he isn’t sure what to do aside from gracelessly placing his hands at her sides.
‘Her sweet smell, her soft touch. It’s all coming back to me. How could I have forgotten our experiences together? Our memories? My love for Rachel burned so vivid once. How did the fire die so suddenly?
Her warmth is familiar, immediately recognizable and yet…so foreign. It’s been too long.’
Zylo embraces her and hugs tighter, closer, welcoming her affections.
“Leon…” she sobs beside his ear, “I’ve missed you…” Her voice is intimate and rousing, reaching deep into the depths of his heart, and grasping tight.
“Rachel…I’ve missed you too…” Zylo struggles to say through his trembling lips. His moistened eyes close shut to suppress the tears.
All their dates, their dinners, and their lazy days at home revive clear in his mind. There was the good and the bad with the most vibrant being the night he proposed to her, a night he still treasures. Three years’ worth of memories is not so easily forgotten, or abandoned.
He misses their conversations, their jokes, the joys of being in each other’s company, and wonders how everything went downhill so quickly. He flaunted the fact that he could talk about anything with her and not have to worry about being funny enough. Their love was truly unconditional, or so he believed.
‘Once, my love for Rachel pulsed everlasting, steady and natural like my own heartbeat. I’m not sure when the heart stopped and my passion died. Maybe it was when I died.’
The last time Rachel truly loved him was on that roof, the roof he fell off trying to save her. From that point after, their relationship was doomed. Leon died, and so would their love.
But this was out of their control.
“I wish…I wish things could be the way they were…” he mutters softly. “I wanted to be with you, forever. Honest. But…”
“I know…” she sobs.
Zylo recalls the incredible loneliness he felt after becoming a hunter, and his overwhelming desire to reunite with her those many months ago. How ambitious that dream was—how naïve.
His eyes nearly flood with tears.
Rachel continues, “I wanted the same thing. Even after I saw you that day—that day you killed that man. I missed you so much that I was willing to forgive everything just to be with you again. But I knew that even if I did, things could never be the same. You died, and we both needed to move on.”
Their tight hold loosens and each of them takes a small step back from one another, though hands remain lightly clasped.
“A lot has changed,” Zylo’s voice is cleared.
“Yeah, especially you.” Rachel chuckles amid her red cheeks and abundant tears. She gazes into Zylo’s eyes, searching, seeking, peering into his renewed soul. He is definitely different, but for the better.
“I won’t ever forget you.” Zylo has to let them go, but the thought is painful. All this time, the idea of returning at some point sat at the back of his mind, a gleaming hope against the inevitable.
But pointless. His life is changed, and they are no more.
Zylo leans forward and kisses her one last time. Their lips touch for only a second, enough to brand a lasting memento of their once great love.
Their entrancing gaze continues for a moment, and their hands finally let go.
“Goodbye, Leon.” Rachel slowly and reluctantly steps away from Leon, and clings lovingly to Chris’s arm for comfort.
‘Rachel’s safe. Leon saved her and she’ll live on. Now it’s time for me to live on. Goodbye, Rachel, and goodbye, Leon.’
The Pirates step out to the balcony but Zylo glances back, “My name is Zylo now, by the way.” He is solemn, but smiling, “Maybe I’ll see you around.”
The door closes.
Eyes still red, Rachel throws herself onto the manila sofa, releasing all her stresses and emotional turmoil into the soft cushions.
Chris sits down beside her, unsure of what to say. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m good. That was intense,” she chuckles. Her heart is still beating fast, and her face burned red.
“So…that was Leon?”
Rachel smiles and leans her head against his shoulder, “No, Leon is gone...that was Zylo.”She closes her drenched eyes and finally exhales a long awaited breath.