What Follows

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11.1: Carotene

'haven't you heard of what becomes of curious minds'

I wonder if there'll be days when I'll miss some things. Things that aren't people.

If I'll miss the sunshine, the warmth of hugs, the pitter-patter of the rain, the feeling of a heart skip, the stars and the smiles people used to abundantly give each other, reminding themselves of the promise of hope.

I wonder as I try stopping my eyes from gazing and gazing around the darkness that engulfs me. I wonder as my chest tightens and tightens.

I also wonder if those are the first steps to madness. I wonder if too much wondering, too much gazing, too much lip licking, too less heart beating and too less breathing, maddens a person, maddens a soul.

And sometimes I think, I won't make it out of this sane if I ever make it out.

And realizing that I'm losing control so fast, just over my first cycle, makes me think of Tobias. Of how much he has been stuck in this continuous, non-ending cycle of agony for decades.


Where has he been? How is he? Why isn't he here to cheer me up? Why isn't he here to hear about the disaster that is my brother and the catastrophe that is my ex-best-friend?

I sniff to myself in the darkness, knowing very well that if I cried my eyeballs out, shrieked my soul to dust, it'll be okay. Everyone here must've done the same at some point. Everyone here didn't lose their sanity by mere occurrence. They lost it in hell.

Yet, I suffocate my screams that would very well sound like terror if terror had a sound. Because as much as I try convincing myself that I'll get used to it, it's all a lie. Because standing or lying or crouching or whatever the hell this body of mine, that I can't see or feel, is doing in this vast, vast darkness, amidst my hurricanous thoughts, is petrifying.

It's like those two seconds when you wake up from a horrible nightmare into the darkness of your squeezed shut eyes and the inability to breathe; thus tricking yourself that you're still entrapped with your demons.

And really, it's pain. It's so much pain from everywhere. So much agony, so much 'ouches', so much fear, so much heartache. It's like every breathing pore of my being hurts for existing.

And despite Tobias' warnings to not go looking for him, that's all I find myself doing when I'm all alone. I'd wander aimlessly, cautiously, hoping I'd bump into him just to give him a piece of my mind before being 'friends' again.

I will tell him that he was being a complete asshole and that he hurt me. I will tell him that I need him. And somehow thinking about what I'll tell him when I see him, makes me feel better, makes me feel hopeful that I will get to see him again.

I am sitting/standing by myself after a fair share of wandering and searching for Tobias, staring into the darkness dejectedly, boredly and a little too hopefully, when I hear my name.

I thought it was my imagination, my whisperous thoughts disguised in Tobias' voice because I'm simply and slowly losing it. But it wasn't. Because looking behind me felt like getting dipped in ice after a hot, hot day when I see Benjamin leaping toward me with Tobias following closely behind, eyes wide and unblinking.

His eyes are following (me?) Benjamin's sudden actions and glowing as if genuinely surprised by my presence (because you know, unlike me, he wasn't looking for me; because you know that's how things work out for me. Because people don't look for me and find me. They stumble on me.)

The distance between Benjamin and I tells me that I'm standing so I simply walk toward Tobias who seems to not have it together. Who seems very fazed and disoriented.

And I wonder if I'm the reason why. If his association with me and my problems deprive him of his hope. If it breaks him a little more. Because his proud posture is long gone and his hair that was once held back by a hairband (my hairband) is now held in a small bun at the back of his head.

So, "I'm so sorry-" is the first thing that tumbles out of my mouth because I suppose if I'm so very repulsive to him, I can at least be apologetic about it.

Tobias looks confused. His eyes roam around my face and his red lips might be looking for words to kiss out. His hand tightens its hold around Benjamin's leash and I'm not sure if I can keep standing any longer.

He just doesn't want to talk to me and I realize I have one of two options. Either I can run away and ignore the fact that this hurt me and will keep hurting me- or, or I can stand my ground this one, dead time. One more, last time.

So I walk toward him more determinedly, the hollow for a heart in my chest, expanding and expanding with pain and defeat.

"You seriously don't want to talk?" I whisper slowly.

Tobias' chest falls with a heavy exhale because maybe his lungs are half full of water- my bad, viscous darkness, and he's silently drowning in it (?).

"After all we've been through?" I lift my index finger and point between us.

Tobias draws his eyebrows as his lips set themselves into a straight, unassuming line. His eyes aren't the open books they used to be. Because even when I used to fail to understand him (his hyperactivity and joy in this meek existence), I sought his eyes for answers; his eyes that are now no different than his sealed lips.

If I had tears in my pockets, they'd be raining on us.

"Well-" I say with a sniff. "I-I trusted you. I trusted you-" I sniff. "More than an acq-acquaintance."

Tobias' shoulders drop and he approaches me as Benji barks at something we both ignore.

Tobias closes his eyes like it hurts to reply and I really wonder what has happened. What cut his tongue and stole his words.

"Rose-" He breathes out when he opens his eyes. "I'm sorry about last time-" He says, his throat bobbing. "-but I really have nothing to say to make you feel better-"

I look at him like what he said is the stupidest thing ever.

I mean, essentially, it is.

"I mean, I really am in a bad place-" He pauses to gulp hard. "Mentally-" He says, fidgeting with his fingers. "I thought you understood-" He looks up.

"I'm trying-" I point out, my voice breaking pathetically. "I'm trying to understand even though you know how hard it is when I'm barely coping with understanding myself. Besides- besides, I don't expect you to do that. All I want is your presence. I don't want you to make me 'feel better'-"

Tobias shuffles, sighs softly, raggedly. "Sometimes, there'll be days-" He says. "-when I can't be myself. Sometimes things just don't-" He squeezes his eyes, blinks abundantly. "They don't go the way we want them to. I-I want to be with you...too-" He's gulping. "I want to help you out but maybe sometimes I want to help myself. And I thought you understood that-"

I blink at him, at his slouched shoulders and his clenched fists and wonder what messed him up so much in the little amount of time I left him in.

"Let me in-" I tell him bare, my eyes looking into his. "Maybe I can help a little-"

"Help yourself Rose-" He says, his eyes taking a skinny dip in the tears that I wish I could talk to and understand their point, their pain.

My lips are slightly parted at his despondency as he starts backtracking away from me with an 'apologetic' look on his face and with a whining Benji at his heels.

I suppose he isn't sorry enough to stay.

And since the dead have no ego (cause what's the bloody point?), I reach out for his arm to stop him. Tobias looks surprised at my audacity and my persistence.

His lips are saying words that I fail to hear because I realize that something is pulling down my navel. My eyes widen and Tobias shuts up, seemingly as surprised as I am.

And together, surprised and messed up, we're taken to another dimension.

It takes me some time to open my eyes and I wonder how many flowers bloomed, how many babies were born and how many eggs hatched in the seconds my eyelids took to bid their goodbyes and peel my eyes naked to the world.

And I'm standing in a room. In a room in a hospital, judging by the amounts of dull baby blues and greys used to paint the place and by the antiseptic smell lingering in the air.

My eyes are unfocused and wandering around the ceiling and blinding white LED lights until they fall onto a figure lying on a hospital bed, covered by more baby blue and grey.

Benji struts to the bed's footing and sniffs the squeaky clean white tiles as I blink and furrow my brows, trying to make sense of the scene in front of me. I'm about to approach the bed when Tobias' unsteady voice blocks all my thoughts.

"Roseline, please-" is what he says and I turn quickly to look at his ashen face, his teary golden eyes and his sad, sad lips.

And I suppose his gloomy features are telling the story his mouth failed to put in words. I glance behind my shoulder at the bed that's hugging a person who means nothing to me but seemingly means the world to him.

And now I understand.

I look back at him and know, with immense shock, that I'm in his world. And he's looking at me like he's begging for mercy, and for a moment, my problems seize to exist.

"I'd never hurt you-" I say softly. His eyes flutter close, then open. "Who's she?" I whisper the question like it's a secret.

Tobias knows he can't escape me or my questions now. He gulps, glances behind my shoulder before muttering something inaudibly.

I catch his eyes and get closer to him as his eyebrows dip down slightly and his lips get pried open to let out a whisper of a word that seemingly weighs down his heart.

"Mum-" His eyes well up.

I lift my eyebrows unamusedly. Because, of course, pain. Pain. Pain is the reason behind this remarkable attitude change. Pain in the human form of his mother who's apparently, who's, you know-

"She's dying-" Tobias says like it's so difficult to even bear its idea. Quite ironic if you ask me.

"I'm sorry-" I say and he shakes his head.

"No- no-" He shakes his head, sniffs and wipes his hand across his nose. "It's just-" Before he could finish his sentence, a beeping sound bounces off of the corners of the room, taking us by surprise.

Tobias leaves me and in four to five quick, wide strides he reaches his Mom's bed. He looks around, stares at the machines beeping with life around her in confusion before he helplessly stares at the door. He stares at the door like his death depends on it.

I quickly walk to him, my heart in my skull because I feel like my head's pounding, like it's trying to dance away all its pain and utter confusion. And failing. And failing-

"A nurse should be here any time-" I try telling Tobias who's all over the place, checking equipment he most probably doesn't understand and urgently asking himself questions that all seem to have terrible answers. Questions like, 'oh no, what's happening?', like 'mum, can you hear me?' and like, 'can you please hold on?'.

And I watch him and his face got through many phases. I watch him try to focus so hard on the machines, with puckered eyebrows, only to have his face fall when he glances at his mother's unresponsive face (and, oh, have I mentioned that he takes after his mother? That they might as well have the same amount of carotene in their hair?).

I back away so that I won't get in his way of panicking and watch him curiously.

Why would he care so much about someone he chose to leave almost three decades ago?

I watch him as he leaves his mother's side reluctantly to rush to the room's door and yank it open, only to scream words that can't be heard. He's calling a doctor, anyone to come and help him out. He is too serious, too carried away, I wonder if he might have forgotten that he's dead and unheard.

Soon enough a couple of nurses and a doctor make a noisy entrance with their medical jargon, right through Tobias who's wearing the face of a phantom (ironically, yes).

Tobias doesn't leave the doctors but stands by them as they rush about. Tobias knows he can do nothing but wait hopefully and painfully for the doctor's conclusive diagnosis. But things seem to escalate and I can tell by Tobias' face that he knows that that can't be good.

Well, a nurse rips off his mother's hospital gown and another pulls the defibrillator trolly closer as the doctor holds the electrodes and starts counting.

They count 1, 2, 3 a couple of times, but it doesn't help because the golden boy's mother dies.

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