# What Follows

## 4.2: A Riddle For Two

we’ll break our own hearts so that someone else can’t

It has been almost half an hour since Tobias took the paper from me, and an hour since the clock hanging above the mantel is stuck on nine-thirty am (the time my parents and Aiden left for my ‘funeral’).

Basically, time seems to have stopped as I sit on the couch opposite to a lost-in-thought Tobias. And I wonder if it has really stopped or if the clock is simply malfunctioning.

Tobias suddenly looks up at me, and my heart halts for a second. “The ink is smudged around the word ‘three’-” He says soberly. “Your ma was crying writing this.”

I push my head back against the couch and wearily rub my face. “You’ve said this an hour ago-”

“What I’m tryna say is-” He shakes his head. ”This-” He lifts the piece of paper. “-isn’t something funny. It’s something that made your ma cry. Which means that it’s something personal. Which means that you have to try to figure it out with me.”

I sigh loudly.

Tobias looks back into the paper. “I mean. It says a mother for three, and a mom for two. What the hell does that mean? The whole riddle is in those two lines.”

“Well, the three are obviously Aiden, Jacob, and me.”

Tobias nods. “Well, that sounds just about right. But then-” Tobias looks away from the paper and leans toward me. “She uses the word ‘mom’ for two-”

“That’s what we call her. We call her ‘Mom’-” I add, hoping it’ll somehow open his mind. “But we all call her that. I mean-” I shake my head. “-sometimes Jake calls her Mamacita, but-” I smile. “-I don’t think that’s relevant.”

Tobias looks confused. “Mamacita?” He then shakes his head. “I don’t think she meant it literally-” Tobias then tilts his head. “In fact, I believe that the term ‘mom’ is more affectionate than ‘mother’-”

“A mom for two-”

Tobias narrows his eyes before straightening up and grinning. “It’s quite simple really. I just think that she was affectionate to two of you, and just a mother for one.”

My heart falters in my ‘spiritual’ chest. ”You’re-” I lock Tobias’ wide eyes. “You’re right. She always favoured the boys over me.”

Tobias nods, pursing his lips. “Are you sure though?” He blinks. “I mean, the rest of the riddle-”

“No, I’m sure-” I get up, and stand behind the couch he sat on so I can look at the paper. “She then says she’s lost in this game-”

“Of motherhood-” Tobias smiles. “Yes, because she was bad for you-”

“Yes, and she wonders who the hell killed me!” I say the last part excitedly, forgetting the riddle’s dark theme for a second.

Tobias turns his head to me, where I can see one of my black hairbands pushed up against his hair. “Your ma blames herself for your death.”

I look up at the clock, and the second hand immediately starts to move.

“We’ve solved it,” I say.

Tobias stands up so he’s facing me with the couch in between. “I suppose.” He then tilts his head and looks at me like he wants to know something.

I sigh and click my tongue. “My mom was awful to me. Dad too. They -uh- didn’t care about me. They thought I was their black sheep. The dumbest. Shit like that. But I -uh- I got over it long back-”

“You got over it-” Tobias repeats what I said. “Then why did you kill yourself-”

“Look, them being awful to me wasn’t why I killed myself-” He looked in my eyes. “It’s just that- it’s just the idea that they could’ve been there for me during my weakest...and only my weakest. I wanted nothing much from them. And yet they failed at that too. It kinda was my breaking point...one of my breaking points.”

Tobias’ eyes look at me like they’re sad. And, “I’m sorry-“, is all he says.

I wave my hand dismissively and look away. “I suppose we’ll be at my funeral in no time now. We should hold on to each other.”

Tobias puts his arm forward and opens his hand. With a small sigh, I put my hand in his. The whole living room twirls around us with the clock in the middle.

And I don’t fail to see how its time reverses.

Tobias and I stand in the centre of an empty church, on a crimson carpet, hands linked, and eyes wide.

The church is small, and plain, a nightmare, with high walls, old wooden benches, and translucent, coloured windows. My black casket is raised on some platform with red roses, and orchids emerging from around it.

It looks repulsive. I absolutely hate it. Absolutely mundane. I remove my hand from Tobias’.

Tobias looks down then up at my face. “You look disturbed.”

“Why are we here?” I say, looking behind me where the church’s door is wide open, and the greenery is glistening under the high sun.

I want to tell him how this is wrong. How we’re unholy, and how this is supposedly a sacred place. How we stain this place, and how that seems okay.

Tobias is so intrigued by what’s inside the casket, he doesn’t answer me. I roll my eyes and walk to him before peering inside the casket where I lay, looking pretty dead.

“You look beautiful-” Tobias whispers wide-eyed, and I lift my brows. Tobias glances at me and is surprised when he realizes we’re too close before his head gets caught in a nod-shake fight. “I mean- you’re not like any -uh- dead peopl-person I’ve seen before-”

“Relax. They just put in some effort in applying makeup on a corpse-” I deadpan.

Tobias exhales, relieved, as his eyes roam around the place. He then absently drums his fingers against my casket, and I shake my head, then chuckle at how he won’t meet my eyes. He looks at me, slightly amused and embarrassed.

“My corpse makes you nervous?” I ask and despite being all mighty with a supposedly wise, thirty-seven-year-old brain, he seems lost looking at me.

“No-” He breathes out with a nervous, hesitant smile. “I just hope not to be misunderstood-”

“You’re not-” I smile and frown at the same time. “I mean, we’re spirits trapped in a dimension that’s made to forget us. I don’t think it’s possible to love or flirt or be ‘misunderstood’-”

Tobias nods vigorously. “I agree-”

“Yes-” I narrow my eyes at him and smile. “Now let’s get the hell outta here-”

“How?”

“Look, the doors are open, and I honestly don’t want to attend a funeral where I know I’ll find a fake-sad Sierra, an ashamed Mason, a wistful William, and a non-existent ex-boyfriend. Besides my favourite person won’t attend it-” I refer to Jacob. “So what’s the point?”

“If that’s what you want-” Tobias shrugs, his stare lingering on me.

“Yeah, but let’s hold hands throughout because I wouldn’t wanna lose you in another dimension-” I tell him, opening my hand.

Tobias holds my hand with a lifted brow. “I think we’re way past ‘forced acquaintance’-”

“Keep mentioning it, and we’ll fall way back to step one-”

Tobias shakes his head. “I’d rather not-”

And then we walk right out of that ugly-ass church, and it’s surprising we don’t get sucked into the darkness.

It must be around ten in the morning because the sun is bright and high in the pale blue, clear sky. There’s barely anyone walking around, so it’s quiet too. Today is basically irritably perfect.

I, of course, cannot comment on the weather cause I can’t feel it, but based on the people’s choice of clothes, it must be warm. And it’s not the sticky, awful warm, it’s the breezy warm.

How do I know that? Well, my hair has been all over my face, making it tempting to take my headband that Tobias is wearing (he apparently stole it from my room, and I do find myself wondering if people can see a floating headband or it if has disappeared on him too.)

There are lots of massive trees with wide trunks all around the ‘could-not-be-plainer’ church with their leafy branches poking the huge blanket we call ‘sky’. It is beautiful- hell, the leaves are a vivid, glistening green, full of life and the huge, tick roots dig into the ground, so strong and mighty. Nature here is basically everything I’m not; thus is essentially annoying. And also because, everything, everything is perfect and beautiful except for my sorry funeral.

“It’s lovely here-” Tobias comments proudly.

I pout and walk down the clean pavement, ignoring the indeed exquisite plants that are on my sides.

“You really can’t see the beauty in things, huh?” Tobias remarks, and I can hear the smile in his voice.

“It’s all annoying-” I reply bluntly, momentarily shutting Tobias up.

“It’s beautiful, but you insist on seeing things according to your feelings and thoughts-” He counters. ”Which are mostly negative according to a survey I’ve mentally made-” He says, and I look up at him.

“A survey?”

“Yep, it’s about how many hours you spend scowling, sulking or crying in the few hours we’ve been together-”

I lift my eyebrows. “I’m not that negative. I just love judging things and people. I mean, what’s the point of things if we can’t judge them?” I ask him and myself.

There’s definitely no point. There’s no point for the existence of Nutella if I can’t say how much I love it, and there’s no point for the existence of Milkyway if I can’t describe how much I detest it. Things exist for us to love or hate. They exist under the mercy of our preferences. Things don’t just ‘stop’ being made. They just fall out of our favour.

“And I wonder why you killed yourself-” Tobias trails off with a head shake, and I roll my eyes.

"Really? I think giving advice in this particular area shouldn’t be your thing, you know. Given how we all belong to the same ‘society’-” I tell him, and he smiles.

“I’m not advising you. I’m telling you. You’re wired to hate everything around you and somehow making it all about yourself-” He retorts with a smirk, and I stop in my tracks.

“Well, if you’re so holy and mighty, why did you kill yourself, huh?” I ask him with a lifted brow and pursed lips.

“I told you before-” He looks down at me, his eyes distant, and memory-full. “I loved my life.”

"So what? You killed yourself for some kind of experiment?” I scoff as a young boy run right through me while laughing. Little does he know that he has some ghost cells on him now.

“I’ll tell you when you earn it-” He smirks again, and I try not to roll my eyes.

“Yes, okay, whatever, let’s just sit on this bench-” I suggest, pointing at a wooden bench that sits on the side of the pavement, a few meters from the church, and facing lots of vegetation. I seriously don’t want random strangers to go through me. Watching it happen to you is weird and not feeing anything after it is even weirder.

Tobias pulls me toward it, and we both sit down (more like bending our knees and hoping that our butts are really touching the bench and that we’re not just tricked by our lack of sensation). Tobias crosses his right ankle over his left knee as I stare at my wrists. The wrists that I killed.

“You know-” He starts. “I hope we’ll stay here until sunset-”

"Sunset?” I repeat in fascination. “I certainly would rather be damned-”

Tobias chuckles oddly, and I squint at him. “I don’t think you’ve seen lots of beautiful things. You haven’t really touched upon beauty-”

“You’re weird-”

Tobias smiles at that. “I simply think I haven’t seen enough sunsets and sunrises. They’re really mysterious things you know. The sun just deciding to go up and down at all the right times, every day, for millennials. Ever thought of that?”

“The sun doesn’t move, you know that, right?”

“Well, you get me, you know? How the earth rotates at precise, must-be calculated angles for us to capture those breathtaking moments of sunrises and sunsets-” Tobias explains, moving his hands around. “It’s a brilliant system!”

I look at him on fascination and can’t help but smile. “The way you talk about life makes me really wonder why you’ve killed yourself,” I say. “It’s crazy that a person like you with such an appetite for life and wonder to do that-”

"Well, I wish life was all about sunrises and sets-”

I glance at him and his expressionless face. “I’ve never really quite watched the sun rise or set-” I confess with a sigh. “I find it very poetic, romantic, and mainly boring-”

Tobias tsks, then smiles. “See, your problem is that you’re always seeing things through some standards you’ve allotted. Biased standards mostly-” He gives me a sidelong glance. “If you think sunsets are boring because poets and books overuse them, then they’ll be.”

“What’s the point of watching the sun rise? The ‘magnificent, breath-taking’ colours, for example?” I ask incredulously like I can’t actually believe we’re having this discussion. “It’s ridiculous-”

“Well, yes. Partly. Look, it isn’t just about the ‘sun rising’-” Tobias shakes his head and grins at the bird-pee-stained ground. “It’s about how the whole world rises. How the birds start chirping, how if you really let yourself into it, you’ll feel the plants breathe after a beautiful, colourful ‘pause’. It’s the most refreshing thing ever-”

“A nature fanatic, eh?”

“Nah,” Tobias says. “You don’t get it. Look, you’ve associated sunsets and sunrises with poetry and failed romances. You haven’t looked at it from another perspective. You haven’t let yourself feel how the world seems to rise with it!”

I look at him with a smirk. He just seems to be very intrigued and moved by this whole conversation. His hair is wild, his eyes are teary, and his cheeks are flushed against their freckles.

You can clearly see a life lover, not a suicide case.

“I’m sorry,” Tobias then says, waving a dismissive hand. “I don’t want to scare you-”

“You’re not scaring me-” I tell him, locking his eyes. “You’re making me so very curious about what let you kill yourself. Because really, you’re such a...loss-”

Tobias draws his eyebrows like he’s taken aback. “Are you complimenting me?”

I blink at him and sigh. “That’s really what you care about?” I shake my head. “I mean, you’re out here, talking with a person with half a brain, instead of changing the world with your stupid life philosophy-”

“Well, I can’t change the world if I couldn’t get the power-” Tobias says, and I almost think that there’s a double meaning.

“Sure, sure,” I tell him, watching a mother pull her three kids toward the church.

“Probably one of your aunts-” Tobias points out.

“One of my ‘just-blood-related’ people whom I never met-” I correct him as I watch her scold her youngest daughter from pulling on her skirt.

I glance at Tobias who’s smiling at them. I shake my head.

“Lemme guess,” I start. “You wanted to have kids and really just about wish you were alive-”

“Well, I wanted to have sex really,” Tobias says as matter-of-factly, and I lift my brows. “And yes, I wanted to be a father one day, and I certainly wouldn’t hate it if I magically got resurrected-”

“There’s nothing such as magic-”

“Well, sometimes, to stay sane, we have to believe in some things. Even if it’s magic-”

“You’re something-”

“No-” He shakes his head. “Look, it’s way too early to have this kinda conversation with you when you still can’t see how wrong you were to have taken this step and killed yourself-” He shrugs. “I mean, you won’t understand my lust for the most ordinary things that living people don’t look forward to-”

“We have eternity-” I tell him bitterly. “It’s okay. Share with me your woes that I mightn’t, but probably will understand-”

Tobias chuckles lightly. “It’s so mundane. I miss having coffee, reading a newspaper, I miss-” He looks at me like he’s overwhelmed. “I miss the feel of things, you know?” He licks his lips. “The wind against my skin. I miss feeling itchy. I miss pissing. And it’s absurd-”

I blink at him and end up shrugging. “Well, I do miss feeling stuff on my skin-”

“It’s one of the most human aspects, you know? Touching-” He whispers the last word. “It’s almost divine how the feel of anything can give us so much comfort or displeasure-” He shakes his head. “And really, touching is so underrated because it occurs so naturally. No-one really thought of how it would feel without it. The warmth of one’s own skin or it’s dryness-”

“I mean, I’m glad I can’t feel the heat...or the cold anymore. Global warming, you know-” I say with a shrug.

Tobias looks at me disbelievingly and inches toward me. “Glad? Are you? Really? This iciness we feel that replaces a major missing sense is fine by you? It isn’t just a sense. It’s another dimension of reality-”

"Hey,” I say lazily. “Easy on me. This is my second or third day here. I really haven’t thought this through. I don’t even know what I’m feeling half of the time-” Which is true. I just feel like a bulky thing. Volume and no mass. Just existing and I’m not sure if the absence of the feel of how heavy my body is, totally sucks.

I mean sometimes, when I was alive, I feel too heavy to move about.

Tobias blinks at me, then leans away from me. “Sorry-” He says. “I must have scared you-”

“No-” I frown jokingly. “You’re just...too intense. Too passionate. And...uh... very not dead-”

“I suppose-” Tobias replies, pauses, then shakes his head. “This conversation is losing its direction-”

“I think not. You’ve basically sat me here to tell me how beautiful life is in your eyes,” I scoff. “I mean maybe God agreed on this ‘outgoing’ cause it kinda is like a punishment-”

“Yeah, I get it, I bore you-”

“Look, that’s beside the point. We literally cannot seem to relate to one thing-” I say. “I’m just very dull. I’m not the partner who’ll applaud your life ‘literature’-”

Tobias is nodding at the ground with a small smile before he freezes and his lips frown.

“Who’s that-?” He starts, and I furrow my brows.

“Who’s who?”

"That-” He whispers, pointing at a huge tree in front of us.

“I can’t see anyone-” I sigh.

Tobias then gets up, pulling me by my hand. I slowly stand, and curiously tilt my head in the direction of the trees before Tobias drags me to the right, exposing their backs.

I narrow my eyes at the scene and try not to think about it. I try to just swallow it whole, and not analyse it.

And without any warning, I whisper, “Sierra?”

She looks toward me.