30 Nights and Tomorrow On

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Cause I’m a supernova, and you’re my four-leaf clover (All Time Low – Glitter and Crimson)

Yuriko had been eyeing her since they ordered their lunch at this small noodle stall. Elizabeth couldn’t care less about what her beloved friend had in her mind, but one thing for sure that it wasn’t about her smell.

Hell, she only got to shower less than five minutes at Gilbert’s room before rushing out to her first, early in the morning client. If Yuriko really planned to comment on that, she should have done it earlier.

“What?” She finally returned her gaze, putting down her chopsticks harshly. “Are you falling in love with me?”

“Oh, no. Don’t get the wrong idea,” Yuriko answered, slurping her soup. “Been waiting for some stories or anything.”

“What stories? Is a story about me stamping the whole family that’s about to die together in a car accident a month prior not interesting enough for you? Imagine having to make contact with everyone without getting any suspicion.”

“Not that story, Liz! You know what I’m talking about!”

Elizabeth made sure she wouldn’t overwork her brain trying to figure out this nonsense. “Is it the Vasquez one?”

“Yeah! You got it!” Yuriko clasped her palms together, resting her chin on it. “Now tell me.”

“She got exorcised. Haven’t you already heard from the report?”

“Oh, girl.” Elizabeth earned a solid facepalm. “You gotta be the most clueless person I’ve ever met! Especially for your age. Let me tell you that we, women at your age, all talked about lovebirds and cupids and fantasies… And you should be! Peak gossips!”

“Alright, you’re drunk.” Elizabeth shook her head and continued finishing her noodles. “We were on near-death experience and all you wanted to hear from me is all the boys I met during the exorcism?”

Yuriko was about to comment on the drunk part, but quickly shoved the idea off and pulled her chair closer, as well as her face, hoping her questions would travel faster to Elizabeth. “How was it? Meeting your late prince from the school era? He does get finer, don’t you think?”

Elizabeth swallowed a huge lump. If Yuriko happened to know the whole story, she might straight up slit Roderich on his throat and that… was no better than having Gilbert dealt with the matter. Yuriko was a friend to death, but Elizabeth would go through hell and back just to keep it forever a secret. Speaking about Roderich, he did get finer.

“He was never a prince, you know. I just adore him like a brother. It’s been like that since the start. Stop rubbing it on me.”

There had to be something funny on her statement because it looked like Yuriko couldn’t stop choking herself with her laughs. “Yeah. He is no match anymore, now that you got a real knight in shining armor, waiting for you on his white horse.”

Apparently choking was contagious since Elizabeth had just caught that. She grabbed her drink and sheets of tissue to wipe all the mess she made; Yuriko’s laughter still mocking in the background. She knew this would come, yet she couldn’t help but to feel her face burned. It felt like she’s in middle school again, embarrassing herself in a conversation with her gang about their current crush—except Elizabeth never acted that way when she’s in those ages.

In the end Yuriko was right. Elizabeth needed to get a hold of herself to be able to fucking act on her age.

“Yuriko, please. We are eating.”

“I know!” She still couldn’t contain her snort even during her next bite. “You might be the most clueless person, but you are undeniably the most obvious person ever. Which is funny.”

One more thing Elizabeth would go to hell and back just to conceal the truth; that she. ACTUALLY. HAD. A. CRUSH. ON THAT SHITHEAD—of all people—and of all the most embarrassing things she ever did. This surpassed beyond everything.

How could she like a guy who screamed at 2 AM and woke up the whole hospital just because he ‘got scared over ghosts on the corridor’ when his every day job involved seeing and interacting with them?!

Yuriko cut herself off upon realizing her bowl was empty, which hopefully meant the whole slapstick comedy show was over too. She put down both her chopsticks in a respectful manner, as well as her elbows on the table and laced the fingers together, bringing them to her lips as she blew a long, retreat sigh.

“Listen, Liz. It’s not like I told you to date him or anything. A proper talk is enough. You know, you’re going to leave us, the people who have spent half of their life with you, well, maybe not always in harmony. But just make Gilbert say something nice to you for the last time. You deserve it.”

“I don’t think that’s necessary. We’re fine the way we are.” … but it’s okay since it is special that way, she remembered him saying that a while ago. “Besides, I always know he never means any words he ever said. And I’ll probably be disgusted with his sugar coated words. So, a no.”

“How can you know? Have you two tried it?”

Nah, Elizabeth’s eager to say. The first time she told him about the numbers, he wished her a quicker death. Then again, he never meant it that way. “No. But I’m totally okay with it.”

“Try it once. I bet my whole deposit, you’re going to feel good.” She chuckled when Elizabeth’s eyebrows disapproved. “I mean, who doesn’t like open and honest affection? Being out once in a while without your masks really does you good and lighter.”

As for someone who had to mutter comforting words to dying clients ten times a day, Elizabeth confirmed that to be true. Not all stampers really went on their ways to console their clients, she only happened to be truly sympathetic and guilty on a daily basis of her job. Being able to be openly kind and gentle to them made everything much easier, as the clients felt much calmer too.

However, as for someone who used to read angsty teenage romance novels, Elizabeth could also confirm that doing the same thing to Gilbert and vice versa would take another 200k words of slow-pace slow-burn enemy to lovers path with small possibility of happy ending.

It always seemed like she had the privilege to do that, but what’s the point? What could a dead man wish? She only wished she didn’t have to burden anyone during her remaining time and afterward. Though she took interest with the idea, actualizing it seemed pointless.

“I do the talk with him. Just wait on your seat and watch the miracle.”

“He’s still hospitalized. Don’t make him think too hard.”

“As if he has brains to use.” Yuriko pulled out her purse and left enough money for two bowls, stopping Elizabeth from counting her portion. “My treat today. This shows how much I will go for you and our dumbass friend.”

***

When she unwillingly agreed to whatever Yuriko planned through, she really expected nothing. There’s no way this was going to work. Like what? Would Gilbert come to her and said, ‘ah, you’re a kind, generous, selfless human being, thank you for being with me in this cruel world,’ and smiled so bright that Elizabeth had to kill the sun because there could only be one sun?

At second thought, Gilbert would totally do that—most likely out of spite or when he needed extra pocket money.

She loved Gilbert as friends—and beyond that—but that wouldn’t be it.

Evening hit quicker than she anticipated and now she’s damn worried for Yuriko’s well being since they lost contact hours ago. For once she hoped Yuriko was just joking around because that woman’s supposed to have shitload piles of work on her desk to do rather than gushing over Elizabeth’s incompetence.

Technically, it was Gilbert’s incompetence. Elizabeth just followed along.

So when an (un)expected occurrence happened during her last stamping, Elizabeth took a deep breath before screaming internally.

“Mrs. Rosso, it’s nice to visit your family and spend time with them after a while. Surround yourself with warmth and joy, take a vacation and enjoy yourself.”

The thing in her pocket buzzed.

“Do you like the beach? I heard Fiji is great and privately isolated for a quiet holiday. I could book a resort for you and your children. Do you have a grandchild already?”

The ring didn’t stop, even after Elizabeth made a huge effort of hiding it.

“I also heard you are a good cook, Mrs. Rosso! You can make food for a picnic and I’m sure everyone will like it! It’s just one way or another to make you feel glad and as long as you are happy, I’m sure everyone will feel the same too! So for now and on, don’t ever let yourself feel down for too long. Life is short and once it’s over, you will be on your own. Cheer up, okay?”

“Uh, Miss? Your—”

“Just saying we’re always at our post to make your family happy and you can count on us to ensure everything! It may seem like a great deal, but once you take the first step, you’ll realize how important—”

“—your phone is ringing!”

“—FAMILY INSURANCE IS!” It rang louder and louder that no one in Mrs. Rosso’s office room could ignore it anymore. Elizabeth sighed, paid an apologetic smile to everyone and excused herself to take her business. Thankfully she had stamped Mrs. Rosso just before she started the whole insurance speech, now she could just run away without having to continue seeing Mrs. Rosso’s annoyed face.

Surely the speech would come handy once the office lady realized the whole situation she’s in.

Yuriko’s name was in the caller ID. But it wasn’t her voice who greeted Elizabeth from the other line.

“Who is this?!” Elizabeth barked, alerted with all the worst possibilities she could think of.

“Miss… Liz? Ah, sorry. You are this lady’s emergency number. I have no choice but to bother you.”

“Is something happening to Yuriko? Where is she?”

The question got cut off when a loud, distracting laughter burst in the background, mocking whoever in front of them. “DRINK THE WHOLE TOWER, YOU COWARD!”

That was Yuriko. Judging by how slurred her speech, Elizabeth knew well where she could have been. Another slurs snapped, and that one had Elizabeth widened her eyes in horror.

“UNLESS YOU PAY FOR IT? HELL YEAH, WHY NOT?!”

“I’ll be there quick.”

She slipped her phone back and hopped into a taxi, not bothering to watch the increasing meter anymore. She used to do that when she’s sane enough, just because she knew well how broke she was. But this? This was an emergency. How could it be? One, Yuriko was wasted. She was a maniac drunkard who destroyed everything in her way once alcohol took over her brain. Once she let Yuriko drink to her death on her finally-legal day and they got banned from the bar because Yuriko suddenly tried to choke a random waiter who happened to look like her ex.

Two, someone who wasn’t supposed to be there was there. And this guy was a no better drunkard who once challenged a whole bar into a several round of capsa and managed to lose all of them. As expected, but that was so embarrassing Elizabeth had to borrow his hoodie to disappear.

Once she got there, it was a chaotic mess. There was a tower of champagne at the end of their table, all empty from top to bottom. Yuriko was giggling as she sipped her remaining liquor, her glasses were on the floor and somehow her hair was slightly ragged as if someone had grabbed a handful of it. Sitting in front of her, there was an escaped convict. Half-passed out, eyes staring absently at the empty glass, frowning to no end like he’s confused why no one came by to refill it.

The waiter bowed his head to Elizabeth as a permission to approach them; the poor guy looked rather desperate than anything. When Elizabeth drew near, Yuriko caught her and called her out loud, waking the other guy from his daydreaming and confusion.

“YOU ARE HERE~ YA KNOW, I DID THIS FOR YOU! DON’T GET MAD AT ME, OKAY?”

“Okay, first of all—” Elizabeth breathed in “—How in the world this guy is here when he’s supposed to be lying on his bed, resting and taking his medicine?!”

She threw a quick glare to Gilbert, who’s now staring at her with that stupid grin and half-lidded, unfocused eyes. Before he could say a word, Elizabeth returned her attention to Yuriko who definitely was preparing herself to play victim.

“Ah! the doc let him out today, so I suggest we take a celebration drink somewhere while I do my job? We do talk, ya know? So the mission is—” she made an okay sign with her fingers “—successful!”

“No, you dimwit!” Gilbert retorted, drawling his tongue until everyone in the room knew he’s drunk. “Ya broke me out! From da window! And ya called ya boys to handle the administrablah and make it legal! Doncha think I forgot!!!”

“Oh? Dat happen? Oops, sorry!”

“Alright, stop it, you two.”

Elizabeth was too caught up with the headache that she forgot another guy was literally grinning beside Gilbert with his head laid on the table, still wearing his hospital gown, shamelessly waving at Elizabeth. “Hellow?”

“HOW THE HECK YOU GOT RODERICH OUT TOO—okay. You know what? I’m going to leave your phone number here so once you are sober enough, you can come back to pay the hell out of this satanic expense. For now, I’m out.”

In the series of unfortunate events, the waiter didn’t let Elizabeth out without bringing at least one of these useless people home. She sighed, turning around and prayed to the void for wisdom and fortune. Okay, she could call some of her fellow workers to take Roderich home while she carried Yuriko to her apartment. All that left was Gilbert, the heaviest of them all.

“Sorry for bothering. Are you busy? I’m sending an address to you, please pick Gilbert home from there.”

Tae Hee hummed from the other side, traffic noises drowned most of his voice. “I was called to the headquarter the whole day, am I missing something? Wait, isn’t Mr. Gilbert still in the hospital?!”

She exhaled. “Long story. Can you get him now?”

“Ah, well. If you say so.” A pause of thoughtful consideration before Elizabeth’s heart shattered. “But, it looks like my errand won’t be over until later? I-I don’t know, Miss. I try to speak to the higher-ups. Hold on.”

“Wait, you know what.” Elizabeth eyed several new customers (or not) barging into the bar, they stopped to wave at her once they found her and the rest of the drunkards. One of them was someone from the government, possibly Roderich’s colleague—while the other one was a tall man in designer suit; black hair slicked back with expensive product, a compliment to his perfect undercut; fine jawline framing the his visible dimples that showed every time he quirked his lips—what’s with his pointy nose anyway? And no men in her life ever rocked a waistcoat underneath a coat until him. This guy was the embodiment of God’s greatest creation and for once Elizabeth thought of His unfairness. She knew him, though. Yuriko talked about him a couple times and there’s no way she didn’t recognize him despite never having met him in person. “Uh, it’s fine. I got extra hands here. See you at home.”

“What happened—”

Slipping her phone back to the pocket, Elizabeth tucked strands of her hair behind her ear and walked toward the new guests. Roderich’s friend didn’t waste his time to start carrying Roderich to the entrance, while the other guy seemed to be, uh, startled with the situation. His blue eyes caught Elizabeth and smiled. “Hello, there. I heard from Roy there’s an emergency and thought of helping.”

“Is this not what you expected?” Elizabeth returned a glee giggle. “Thank you for coming, though. I really need one more person to carry—” She flew a quick glance at Yuriko, who was now sleeping soundly with her head on the table, and once again flashed her most genuine and apologetic smile. “Her. You know her. She’s my best friend, please take care of her.”

“H-Her?” The handsome man blinked. “I thought I’m more capable of carrying the other person. I mean, unless you have one more person to carry—”

“Ah! It’s fine!” Elizabeth muttered a curse to Gilbert’s name before coming up for a lie. “You’re right! I still have one more companion. But for now… Yuriko first, okay? Look, she’s shivering from the night!”

The man looked profoundly confused at what kind of thing he had gotten himself into, but proceeded to nod and awkwardly tug Yuriko’s arm around his shoulders and lifted her up while she complained about how heavy she was as if it’s one of those nights of her sleep-talk-ranting series. His other hand was wrapped around Yuriko’s waist in a gentle and respectful manner, helping her balance herself as he led her to the exit.

Elizabeth found herself smiling. She’s not going to fuck this up. All those nights of hours and hours calling and ranting, talking about the very same guy in her league whom Yuriko couldn’t quite admit her feelings (at least for now), Elizabeth made sure none of those would go to waste by placing the first step tonight. She just wished Yuriko would do it herself rather than guilt-tripping her unconsciously like this.

Sweet dream, I guess, she sighed at the very last second just before he opened the exit door.

The man, however, noticed and turned back, fixing his gaze at Elizabeth with this frowned expression. “Are you sure you’re going to be alright?”

“Uh? Y-Yes! I’m waiting for my companion. Then I’ll head home. Tehee.”

Companion, my ass.

Thankfully he’s stupid enough to buy it. Well, he got a girl to bring home safely after all. “Okay, then. Be careful on your way home.”

Elizabeth waved him a goodbye, but he still didn’t move from the doorstep. Instead, he’s fidgeting with his eyes and lips. Honestly, that was adorable, but not with Yuriko hanging over him like that. He threw another shy glance at Elizabeth that made her question how could a man this cute and sexy exist. “You know, I’ve seen you a lot in the streets and headquarters. The worst thing to be ashamed is, I know nothing about you.” He nibbled his bottom lips, Elizabeth’s attention hopelessly followed the motion. “So, may I know your name?”

The awe and affirmation turned into a sickening, heart-dropping feeling. Elizabeth kicked back the urge to gasp in panic. No, no, no. This couldn’t turn to it. She’s pretty popular with the community and having one or two guys hit on her in a week wasn’t new—but not this. This was literally how it always started and every time she encountered this, she knew it wouldn’t end good

Or perhaps she was overthinking. Perhaps he’s just genuinely curious with her as they probably should have bumped into each other often without noticing. And it’s just her name. And perhaps he only wanted to know Yuriko’s best friend so it’d be easy for him to connect with her later. That one actually made sense. Yeah, she should just act natural so she wouldn’t scare him away.

“Elizabeth. Liz, for short.”

“Liz?” Elizabeth flinched at the taste of her small name in his tongue. That didn’t feel right. “I’m Adam. Nice to meet you.”

After several, repeated exchanges of both goodbye and good night, Adam (and Yuriko) finally left for good. Elizabeth exhaled in exhaustion, swallowing down the bad feeling she got earlier. God, that was so uncomfortable. She would rather carry Gilbert home than having to experience that again.

Speaking about Gilbert, she really had to carry him home.

“Wake up, shithead.” She gently smacked his head before resting her palm on it. Gilbert was sleeping while sitting, he only hummed when Elizabeth landed another soft slap. At this point, she’s not sure ‘carry’ was the best word. Because she’s going to drag him home for sure. “You get up now or I’m calling the ambulance.”

Is dhere no bedder option…?”

“I’m calling the police, if you want to.”

He hurled his head up and yawned, rubbing both his eyes aggressively. The first thing he checked was the wallet on his pocket as he sighed in relief. Okay, maybe he’s not that drunk. Or maybe he just really loved his money. “Ain’t payin’ this. Where’s Yuriko?”

“Off to a party.” Elizabeth held Gilbert from behind with her arms and lifted him up until he stood with his own feet. Without being told to, Gilbert already had one of his arms flung to Elizabeth and the sudden addition of weight immediately caused Elizabeth to hold his waist. He was surely heavy and demanding, but Elizabeth didn’t mind at all, much to her surprise either. It was warm inside the bar, but once they stepped outside, the shared body heat did help them through the night.

The walk to the nearest bus stop wasn’t that far, but it felt so long. People passing them always had these mischievous stares toward them, judging and assuming as they wanted when Elizabeth knew this wouldn’t happen if they didn’t walk like that at 11 PM in an area that’s filled with love hotels. It’d be much easier if she had taken the taxi, but Elizabeth didn’t want to lose any unnecessary expense during that time of the month where every salaryman suffered from crisis, both financially and emotionally.

They hoped into the last bus of the night and sat at the very back of the empty rows. Elizabeth stretched her arms free after dumping Gilbert off, feeling like she’s never this young before. Of course Gilbert had to grunt on that, childishly pushed Elizabeth on the side as he gathered more space of his seat portion. Instead of fighting back her right, Elizabeth just laughed. She knew better to differentiate between how to act around the high and the sane.

They watched the road moving from the window, as well as the pedestrians on the sideways, streetlights became more blurry as the bus went faster. Gilbert was surprisingly silent during the short trip. Staring rather blank to the window, shoulders slumped down frontward instead of leaning to the upholstery, mouth’s agape at something imaginary. Elizabeth wasn’t used to this kind of Gilbert, she wished he would start mocking somebody or just complaining in general rather than being an inanimate object. So she jokingly nudged him to the wall which resulted in Gilbert’s glaring at her—much to her liking.

“So what did you guys talk about in the bar? I mean, before everyone is wasted.”

“Yes, but nah.” Gilbert rolled his eyes. “Dunno, really. We talk much until I don’t know anymore. All I remember is Roderich suddenly coming with us and I have to calm my blood from boiling.”

“Oh. How could he go with you? Did he… tell Yuriko about it?”

“It is intended to be, uh, small reunion, I guess? Yuriko said that. Old buddies finally old enough to be drinkin’ together, ya know?” He chuckled, loose shoulders falling back to the chairs. “Ah, and yes. He told her. And yo, she’s mad big, dude! She almost murdered him on the spot. Jesus.” He shook his head, trying to wash away the memory. “That’s when I suggested a tower of champagne and other alcohol to calm the heck of that. Yuriko stopped rampaging afterward, not sure ’bout tomorrow since she’s so pissed at that.”

“This is foolish.” Elizabeth both regretted her action of asking and actually was thankful she asked, otherwise they’d be hearing news about dead bodies tomorrow. She needed to patch it with her soon, once everyone got a clearer head. “And what else? I’m ready for some more headache.”

“She also said before the tower, uh, I guess, something about writing down my feelings in a form of a letter? Yeah, no one gets it either.”

So this was where the initial plan went, huh? Not bad. But still, Elizabeth didn’t like that. “Feelings about what? To whom the letter is directed?”

“I don’t know, Liz! Don’t ask me such hard questions! I’m drunk, ya remember?!”

“Why are you getting so defensive over that?” Elizabeth nudged him again, this time harder until he was shoved to the wall. “It’s not like you’re going to write a love letter, right?”

She intended that as a tease, but got her gut punched upon the immediate response.

“It can be! That’s why I’m so fuckin’ stressed right now! Gah!’”

At this point, Elizabeth was sure she misunderstood something. Because if her assumption was true, then she’s doomed. She hoped it wasn’t the latter, that Gilbert was just fooling around like normal drunk people would spit whatever came to their mind first. Yeah, right. Elizabeth could go playing dumb the whole night and never brought it up again, assuring herself there’s really nothing going on between the two of them—again and again—until she became tired of it.

The problem was, this wasn’t the first time Elizabeth ever took care of the drunk man. From her lifetime experience, she knew one important thing;

Drunk Gilbert was an honest mad lad.

“I could not stop thinking about it and now I feel like bursting out. I hate this bubbly feeling. Do you happen to know the cure maybe?”

Elizabeth could probably take the advantage to satisfy her curiosity, then again she just wasn’t that type to rummage what was called ‘someone’s personal life’. This was one of them, and she swore to respect the boundary. She had enough of being scolded by Gilbert for cleaning his room; interrogating him when he’s not awake enough to give consent would definitely result in the world ending.

So she shut her mouth. For the rest of the trip. Gilbert took the turn of being the loud and noisy he was, now that he had let part of his heart out before. Whining about the rolling twist in his stomach. Grumbling on the leftover bruises that still smeared his body. Making a fuss on Elizabeth’s weary shoes she wore since the first day of work. Sober Gilbert wouldn’t talk this much either, she sighed in exhaustion.

They got off ten minutes later, in a familiar neighborhood Elizabeth’s been visiting for the last four years. She knew well all the lanes and alleys, shortcuts and delicious noodle stalls, even some of the housewives and their children who shared the same building as Gilbert. She took the fastest road to his apartment while still having him hanging reluctantly around her shoulder, occasionally scolding him for not holding her tight. Elizabeth spent a good amount of time leading Gilbert upstairs, one step at a time, to the highest level of the building. It almost took forever, Elizabeth lost count on how much time had passed. If only she’s strong enough to just bridal-carry him up…

Even arriving in front of his door still created a problem. Tae Hee wasn’t home yet and Gilbert didn’t want to let her know where he saved his key. It’s certainly not in his wallet. And he didn’t save a spare underneath the mat either. Had to be in one of his pockets.

Wachhout, lady! Where are you touching?!”

Elizabeth lifted her hands by reflex, not sure if she had to defend herself first or asked him to turn his voice down. Such a provocative and accusing statement, screamed in the middle of an apartment corridor at 12 AM. Elizabeth sighed in retreat, she never had a choice but to sacrifice her dignity anyway.

“Perhaps, if you don’t want me to touch you in inappropriate places, then tell me where you place your key. Just so you know, I’m kind enough tonight not to let you spend the night in the corridor and shiver to death.”

“Woah, woah. Not dat easy, I guess!”

“Gilbert. Please.”

This guy is hopeless. It was such a stupid move to think she could bring him safely into his room. Elizabeth should have known that the moment she saw alcohol swimming in his eyes. Was it, like, too late to call the police?

Gilbert was leaning against the outside wall of his room, looking dazed and 100% not awoke. He started grumbling non-stop and he’s not even looking directly at Elizabeth. It could be a ghost behind Elizabeth he’s talking to, no one knows. “GAWD, it’s damnly hot here! What the fuck? It’s like what? Summer? Someday in July? Wait, what, did I miss my birthday?! Geez, time sure flies, huh...”

“Yeah, it’s hot here. Now please tell me—”

“Y’ know, it’s not about the heat! My belly is LITERALLY twisting like a swingin’ boat we take on that park. Except that it swings mad crazy. The world, too, is SPINNING! Like that spinning cup we take on that park. The steak from the nurse is UP HERE, in the throat. Gosh, I feel like a lion is trying to enter my body. What do I do?”

“You…” She couldn’t help but to let out a laugh. “You need to hand me the key in exchange of me fighting the lion.”

“Nooo! You’re going to die at this point!”

“You can also hand me the key in exchange of me not fighting the lion, meaning I don’t die.”

“Oh! I know what the fuck is this. Liz, I think I know what’s happening to me!” He dragged his entire weight down, now slumped in the floor with his knees folded. For the first time, he actually stared straight into Elizabeth. “I think I’m dying.”

Elizabeth snorted.

“No way.”

“It’S TRUE! NOTHING CAN EXPLAIN THIS SITUATION!” He returned to the frantically-screaming state again. “SOMEBODY STAMPED ME ON THE WAY! I THINK IT’S YURIKO?! MUST BE HER, RIGHT? I MEAN, SHE ASKED ME OUT FOR A DRINK! IT MUST BE IT!” As if embarrassing himself wasn’t enough, Gilbert proceeded to take off his coat and then shirt, tossing both to Elizabeth’s face, and got extremely sad once he found nothing on his left collarbone. “WHAT. THE. FUCK.”

“The only one dying here is me, Gilbert.” Elizabeth put aside all his clothes in disappointment once she couldn’t find any keys on them. She’s now sitting in front of Gilbert, on the same piles of floor as if they’re about to play charades, except one was drunk and the other one was close to raiding the drunk’s pants— for a key. It was considered a genius thought before, since Gilbert would probably forget this, until someone walked up to them and reported Elizabeth for being a sex offender. “No one stamped you. And you’re not dying.”

“MAYBE I GOTTA LOOK HARDER? Is it possible if the numbers don’t spawn in the collarbone?! What if I got stamped in the face?! Can you look it up for me?!”

The stamp she saw on him was a word sprawled across his face, it said: idiot. “If I do, then will you hand me the key?”

“Uh, ’f course.

Elizabeth could play this one right. Just pretending to be dumb and let Gilbert hear what he wanted to hear. She made a step closer until her knees touched Gilbert’s and began to fake a squint as if she’s trying to find something on him. She ran her eyes across his upper body, praying inside not to be distracted by the sight itself, only to be concerned with all the bruises she caught along the way. It wasn’t as bad as yesterday, some of the purplish had turned into green and most of the big cuts were clotted already. Yet, it still looked painful. He shouldn’t even be here right now, got himself high and locked outside his bed, tampering with the healing process. Gilbert was supposed to refuse Yuriko’s offer, as he swore not to drink around people anymore. That guy… probably agreed to go drinking just to distract himself from the pain.

And it was partially Elizabeth’s fault. She hated that she, again, blamed herself for it.

Elizabeth dropped her gaze, unable to trace more bruises that disappeared into the line of his jeans. It was too much, and she didn’t make it any better.

“Liz?”

“I’m sorry, I’m just—” she rubbed her eyes, embracing herself to continue her role. “One second, I’ll search them for you—”

But when she looked up, she found a pair of dazed eyes staring at her as a grip pulled her closer. Their nose almost bumped; they were literally breathing in the same bubble of air now, and Elizabeth didn’t have times to think how close her agape mouth and his chapped lips were. Sandalwood. Mint. Booze. Champagne. Slight tobacco and smoke from the road. The mix was supposed to smell unpleasant, but Elizabeth didn’t draw away. Instead, she clung tight to the untaken skin contact around her arm and stayed still.

Gilbert didn’t once take his gaze away, either.

Just the two of them. On the cold floor of an old apartment corridor. At midnight. Under the flickering lights. Feeling like they’re about to conquer the world by themselves.

“What happened to ‘I can’t find my numbers and now I’m in panic’?” she whispered. The fume went straight to him.

“Huh?” He tilted his head, slightly. “Surprisingly I don’t remember being in panic?”

Elizabeth would never admit she liked it when his voice dropped to almost a desperate breath. For once, his speech didn’t sound slurred. “Haha. That’s funny.”

“Has anyone ever told you that you are… exquisitely bewitching?”

“Hmm? I don’t remember someone ever told me something that specific.”

“There you have it.” She would never miss that sly smirk. “Your first one.”

Lava pooling in her stomach.

They dove in for a kiss.

Started as nibbles.

Immediately turned into a passionate tongue play.

Each heat pressed against each other.

As each hand running on each back, in need of something to wrap into.

They pulled away just to mutter the forbidden words before locking it with another rushed, wet kiss.

.

.

.

.

…that’s how romance drama usually went, right?

Instead, Elizabeth froze. She froze, like an old bamboo stick, upon the compliment, didn’t say anything, didn’t even continue breathing—just stopped doing anything possible—until she heard a scream from the end of the corridor and eventually screamed back at the familiar figure approaching them.

“Tae Hee?!”

That’s the second she knew she had to pull away, maybe ran as fast as she could and never showed up in front of him or Gilbert again, burying her body somewhere deep in a forest or just begged NASA to launch her into a black hole or something. Her? Looking like pushing a shirtless Gilbert down to the wall as they were too busy staring at each other lips?!

Hell, damn. What kind of imagination she forced Tae Hee to project just now?!

“I-I CAN EXPLAIN H-HERE! L-LOOK, IT’S NOT WHAT IT LOOKED LIKE—WE JUST—I WAS JUST—”

Tae Hee was red top to the bottom, and Elizabeth wondered if she could go any redder than that. He stepped back, looking horrified with that shaking chin, eyes widened as he’s desperately trying to cover him up. “N-No, Miss! You got it wrong. Y-You see, I didn’t mean to disturb! I was just… late, you know? Running errands from the seniors… tired and sleepy and all… and then thinking to go home and… s-sleep? B-But it’s not like I know this will happen and I deliberately tried to ruin it—”

“I SAID IT’S NOT LIKE THAT!”

She heard Gilbert chuckling in the background before dozing off in an attempt to wash his hands off. So she decided to, just, fuck it.

At least she didn’t have to search for the key anymore.

***

Gilbert was fucked.

Not literally. But if he had to describe it in one word, he would have to go with that.

Who would know that agreeing to Yuriko’s stupid escape plan would lead him into waking up shirtless in his bed, not having any memories from last night.

Tae Hee didn’t help anything better, either. He’s been freaking out every time Gilbert bombarded him with questions, for some reason his face got really red as if he was a part of whatever scheme he’s playing into. The only thing he said the whole morning was, “p-please do eat this hangover soup…” before running with a hysterical screech to the toilet.

Gilbert scanned himself in the mirror, lowkey searching for any signs (e.g. hickeys) when it was just past bruises from days ago. That’s good news because no women were scammed by him, but even if one almost did, she’d probably run away once she saw scars scattering his body, thinking he’s in a violent gang or something. Right, he’s running out of ointments and the hospital left him with nothing but bills.

Well, the higher ups would be the one to cover the expense. Still, imagine if he’s not working in a divine-like department like this, without all the privileges and general insurance. He’s dead now, by 22.

He dressed himself in a comfy sweatshirt and savored the hangover soup, letting it warm the raging waves in his head. It’s much more bitter and sour than what he usually bought from the bar near his neighborhood. But, hey, at least it did prove to be effective. He wondered from where Tae Hee learned the recipe. Did that kid just search it up online this morning.

“Ah, that.” His face looked more in color once he got out of the shower, which was a good sign. He walked up to the front door to retrieve some mails and returned to the table, casually handing Gilbert envelopes with his names on them. Gilbert knew he’s on temporary leave for the next couple days, but damn, what’s with the schedule already? As if they’re telling him, ‘well your leave includes studying the next cases and arranging your agenda so you can straight pick up your work once you’re done healing your ass,’ or something along those lines. Tae Hee didn’t even bother to ask, he probably knew better not to rub salts to the wound. “Miss Elizabeth fetched it this morning before she went off to work. Apparently she made it herself. I already told her that I could just buy it from the bar next to our complex. Geez, she’s so worried, sir!”

The spoon dropped back to the bowl and the clang was deadly deafening in the midst of quiet morning. “Liz?”

“Yeah, she was—” Tae Hee took an abrupt pause. His eyes widened. “I mean, she knows… that you’re wasted.”

“How? Was she on the scene? Or did Yuriko tell her? Wait, how did Yuriko tell her when she’s also drunk?!”

Tae Hee’s face was flushed again all of a sudden. He seemed so conflicted inside with his brows furrowed and lips bitten. He put down the rest of the envelopes and stared at Gilbert, eyes so determined yet so scared; he looked pretty much constipated.

She told me to shut my mouth, but the truth is, last night you two—”

***

Yuriko: ‘i cant believe you also happen to know about that! why dont you guys tell me anything about it? Why am I has to be the last one who knowsss??? ’

Gilbert: ’the first thing you text me today isn’t apology, but another RANT?!’

Yuriko: ’ok but how can you not be mad when you are usually the first one whos losing your minds about Liz getting hurt.’

Yuriko: ’oh right. you knew already.’

Yuriko: ’but like?? thats it? you’re not going to do anything?’

Gilbert: ’Liz told me let this one go or else she wont show up in my face again.’

Yuriko: ’thats suck!!! she deserves better! will persuade Azrael to fire Rodershit soon.’

Gilbert: ’good idea. but dont tell Liz im involved. and dont whine to me if she dont want to talk to you again.’

Yuriko: ’WHAT’

Yuriko: ‘oh yeah, but did she bring you home last night? not the intern?? like… a small girl carrying a grown ass man deadweight alone???’

Gilbert: ’shut up’

Yuriko: ’good lord. gilbert, you dont just do that to innocent girl. what monster are you.’

Gilbert: ’its NOT my fault okayyy. idk how she did it but thats something i didnt ask!!!’

Gilbert slid his phone down to the jeans pocket once the bus he took dropped him right in front of a convenience store. He’s out to buy a new ointment, but his mind was elsewhere in the flashback of Tae Hee’s conversation.

So apparently, not only Elizabeth single-handedly dragged him home, he also ripped off his shirt in front of her and proceeded to… what? What did that brat say again? Almost kissed her, he said?!

And what did that cursed website say?

‘why my stomach feels strange whenever i’m around this person and my heart is beating faster than usual and my face is getting hotter the longer said person smiles at me…’

“10 SIGNS YOU’RE FALLING IN LOVE.”

After years of using google, Gilbert finally could call out the whole company as fake and demoralizing, therefore should be banned and closed for good. So it’s true, what the adults said about not going to google for life advice. Because there’s no way—in the name of love—he developed such embarrassing things to Elizabeth.

Of all the hot women he met, why would he be falling for Elizabeth.

Wait, why wasn’t he falling for any of them in the first place.

In his late years of school, when most of his classmates were sneaking out to the back building to meet their so secret lovers (the sisters didn’t allow any relationship), Gilbert just laughed at them. Calling them all useless and air-headed. He didn’t understand back then, why would all these people give themselves such strong attachment and sentimentality toward another, that they felt like they had to date the others even when it meant to break the rules. It’s not like he’s obedient that he’s afraid of breaking them. Gilbert couldn’t just relate. He didn’t understand.

Once a supposed crazy-hot celebrity bumped into him and somehow managed to hit on him out of nowhere and what did Gilbert do? Ah, sorry. I’m free tonight but I already promised myself to do the laundry once I got back. I might consider if we could meet up for lunch. Actually, I just really hate going out at night. I’m the sleepy type. He earned a choir of exasperated sighs from fellow coworkers who happened to walk with him.

’Dude! What the fuck? She asked you for a free hookup and you freaking turned her down?! Don’t you know her?! You saw her a lot on the magazine cover—’

Whom the fuck is she and why should I care?’

‘No offense, but you must be a virgin to say that.’

The truth was, he didn’t understand himself either. But what could he do with that? Consult a doctor? Ask the internet? Go to a lot of one night stands? What was it that he’s trying to prove? That he’s The Invincible Gilbert who didn’t fall to any women? What’s the merit and again, why should he care.

So he kind of accepted the whole circumstances he’s in and went along with it. As long as he’s not negatively affected by it.

But he had to admit, though. About this girl. A childhood friend of him; whom he cared so much that he’d literally cross the oceans for her; who sometimes made him lose his common sense and broke his self-composure over the tiniest thing; who filled up most of his worry quotum just because he couldn’t bear the ideas of her going on a strict diet; whose touch could spark thousands of foreign emotion in him; whom Gilbert got overly jealous every time she’s being nice to some mere commoners who clearly harbored feelings to her.

Whom apparently she only had less than three weeks here before moving to a different realm where not even Azrael could reach anymore.

That’s not falling in love, according to Gilbert’s dictionary. He thought of her as friends, therefore they’re friends. Perhaps more to family. Right, he loved her as a family. There’s no more possible, acceptable, and better explanation other than that.

Ah, fuck. Here came a new problem.

“I’m sorry, sir. But the product you’re looking for is no longer imported here.”

“Say what?!” Gilbert snapped to the cashier lady, who happened to be the store’s manager. “Since when?! I’ve been using that good shit since I was a baby and now you’re telling me to kiss a goodbye to that?!”

“No one really bought that anymore. So we canceled the next distribution and requested for the new in-demand ones.”

“What do you mean no one bought that anymore?!”

“We suggest you’re moving to this new ointment who has been scientifically certified and proven to be effective.”

The lady showed him a counter filled with the said products. Gilbert was about to shrug and take one until he checked for the price and died a little bit inside.

“THIRTY BUCKS for a cream this small?! My ointment used to cost less than ten bucks and it was simply the greatest thing science ever invented!”

“Son, please. Take it or leave.”

In a mission of saving both his dignity and last month’s remaining salary, Gilbert chose to leave. Looked like somebody would have to live in pain for a longer period of time. Not to mention the stinging and disturbing black eye that always got his first attention every time he’s before a mirror.

Yuriko: ‘ah, if you happen to visit Liz, tell her im both sorry and thankful for the opportunity ;)’

Yuriko: ’dont ask, but deliver.’

Gilbert found himself standing in front of Elizabeth’s apartment, which was just a few steps away from the cursed convenience store. When it came to her, something called coincidence could happen again and again, until it couldn’t be called coincidence anymore. This, for example. Why did he go to the one that’s close to where she lived?!

Gilbert didn’t have any intention to meet with her other than saying thanks and delivering Yuriko’s vague message (maybe if he remembered). Perhaps he’d drop by later when she’s home since it was still sunset by the time he stood there—and no stampers’ schedules were laid back enough to enable them going home at these hours. He’s not sure he had the face to meet her this fast either, considering how it almost went down last time. He could just phone her. He didn’t have to wait.

So he turned around.

And saw her.

That split of seconds of eyes flickering before reverting to her usual startled one. Gilbert thought the way her hair color blended to the sunset hue behind was beautiful.

“W-Woah, hello.” She waved her hand awkwardly. “Fancy meeting you here.”

Gilbert shook the thought and faked an irritated tone. “How can you be so early today? Who gave you the right?!”

“I don’t know either. It sort of happened that way. They didn’t give me many clients today.” Elizabeth darted her eyes to Gilbert’s lazy attire, an unreadable expression studied him head to toe before adding a remark. “Why are you staring at my building, anyway?”

See? There’s no way a coincidence could be this repetitive, right?

“I-I w-was, uh, passing by! Looking for… ointment! And damn, I didn’t get it.”

“Ointment for your bruises?” She raised her eyebrows. “What happened to the one I left in your room last time?”

Gilbert didn’t have the nerves to say he forgot where he put it. “A-Ah, I think I used everything…”

“Seriously?” Elizabeth didn’t take a long time to decide as she sighed shortly afterward and gestured to him to follow her in. “I think I have a spare one in my room. Come in and I’ll help you with it.”

Gilbert would normally refuse and excused himself out at this kind of situation (he really didn’t want to talk or see her eye to eye), but it would be rude to just reject her when she’s already inviting him in (even offering her ointment!), so Gilbert took a deep breath to brace himself before surrendering to his luck. Thankfully Elizabeth didn’t make the long way stretched in painful quietness as she filled in with idle conversation like, ‘how’s the morning soup?’ but never once she got dangerously close to the ‘topic’ as she seemed to act like nothing happened.

That’s weird. Gilbert expected her to immediately jump into teasing. It never came, and now they’re talking about the new movie in the cinema during the whole lift ride.

“Ah, by the way. Yuriko apologized to you for the troubles yesterday. She also happened to say thanks to you. Not sure why.”

The bell rang and the door opened, revealing another long, narrow walk to the end of the corridor where her room was located. Elizabeth chuckled light beside him and stepped out, leading him in front. “Well, there’s this hot guy she’s been crushing on since day one and I handed her to him to bring her home. Did she tell you what happened next?”

“Woah. She seemed grateful. Something good must have happened.”

Elizabeth prepared her keys once they arrived at her door. Her face was unreadable under a few strands of her hair, but she looked like smiling a bit. “She should be. I went to hell for that to happen.”

“What kind of hell?”

The key got stuck. No matter how hard Elizabeth’s pulling it out of the knob or rotating it to different directions, it wouldn’t open the door or even come off. Had to be for the freezing temperature outside that the lock inside the knob became messed up. Elizabeth exhaled, drawing her hands away from it. “Like being stuck in the corridor during a chilly night? At least my building had heaters in its corridors!”

A blurry memory flashed on his mind, and it surprisingly matched Tae Hee’s story this morning. He was sitting in his corridor and a long haired woman was leaning too close to his face. He didn’t quite make out her face, because all he was staring was… her lips.

Goddamn it, Gilbert really didn’t want to bring it up. But if this continued, things might get even more awkward between them. Especially after what he read on that quick browsing. If this had happened back when nothing had shifted between them, they would have teased each other about it already and laughed it off in the end. But because something had shifted, for some reasons Gilbert always found himself going for second thoughts in everything related to Elizabeth and he didn’t know whether it’s a good thing or bad.

This time, though, he’s going for the first thought.

“Aha! For a second, I thought you’re avoiding the topic here. I was worried.”

Elizabeth backed away when Gilbert took the charge of the key and fiddled it, now with more force. She folded her arms and threw judgmental squints at his back. He could tell even without looking back, because 1) it’d be her normal reaction; 2) his back stung like hell as if hell itself had decided to press a paw on it.

“I wasn’t avoiding the topic. You ARE the one who seemingly wants to get away from it.”

“I was waiting for you to talk first!” The key took off, but the door’s still locked. So he plugged it in again, harder this time, until the poor door creaked out of fear of being destroyed. “I thought you’re pretending nothing happened. I mean, I’m fine with that, but I actually want to come clear with you.”

That’s why I’m here, I guess, he shoved down the rest of the remarks.

“Watch out. You’re tearing my door apart.” She huffed, darting her glares away. “You didn’t say anything, too, when I mentioned the hangover soup. I thought you’re avoiding it, so I went along with that. What is it you want to come clear with me? Did you even remember what happened?”

The door creaked loud for the last time before the lock clicked and opened. Gilbert pulled out the key, the same energy he used to clog it in, handing it to Elizabeth before making his way in as if it’s his own room. Elizabeth couldn’t say she’s disappointed, but thanks would be overrated at this point.

“No, not all.” He reached for the switch to turn the lights on, a view of a clean and neat room came to his view. “But I do remember making you uncomfortable. So I—” he turned around to her who’s still busy taking off her heels “—I come here to apologize as well. For the troubles. And for the harassment. I know I wasn’t in the right state of mind, but I won’t use that as an excuse. I was wrong for going too far and I swear I’ll teach myself better where and when to draw a line so that similar things won’t ever happen next time.”

Elizabeth looked up, big eyes met his before she shook her head and muttered something under her breath. When asked what’s wrong, she replied, “if that was the case, then I would like to apologize too.”

“For what?”

“I—” she tore her gaze away, cheeks went pink as her voice went lower. “— touched your—”

***

“BUT WHY?!”

“Don’t move too much! Just stay still! The ointment is going to get smeared all over you!”

“It’s so ticklish the way you applied it!”

Gilbert couldn’t help but to squeak and writhe every time Elizabeth’s cold and sticky finger rubbed the bruises on his belly and hips. So unmanly. He’s so weak for that spot. Perhaps he should have just applied it himself rather than letting her help, especially after knowing that she TOUCHED HIM INAPPROPRIATELY LAST NIGHT.

“I needed your key, okay? I thought it’s in your breast pocket!” She sighed, withdrawing from Gilbert to give him a break. “Turned out you didn’t have it anywhere because you simply didn’t take it with you! Good thing Tae Hee came home with his spare key not long afterward, or else I really intended to leave you cold in that corridor!”

“You could just—ugh!” Gilbert’s so deep in his unfortunate fate right now, he’s half holding up his shirt, half gripping tight to Elizabeth’s couch arm, while Elizabeth drew for another rub. “Leave that part alone! For now, just do my back and parts where I can’t reach!”

Elizabeth huffed, dragging her legs behind Gilbert so she could reach his back and apply the rest of the ointment. She’s surprisingly gentle with how she treated his scars, probably because it looked painful enough to get rough with. Rub, massage, rub, massage, Gilbert could go forever like this if it didn’t burden Elizabeth. Okay, he’s thinking off track again. He should just start organizing his thoughts more often, especially when Elizabeth was around.

Speaking of ‘organizing his thoughts more’, the conversation with Yuriko really hit home yesterday, Gilbert was just not ready to admit it yet.

“After spending so much time with her, did you really intend to make your last word, ‘good bye, bitch,’ to her just because you have bad social skills? You can’t make that as an excuse! Disguising your affection with mocks and banters for too long, especially in the wrong time, is not healthy! She only got a few weeks left. At least make her happy for a while. What’s so hard about that?”

Gilbert was too caught up with his beers that time. He didn’t truly ingest Yuriko’s burning speech and just shrugged it off, even when the woman already had her heels on top of the table, fist knocking at his direction repeatedly.

“Listen. If it’s that hard for you to start, then put it into words! Write a letter and hand it to her. Maybe two or three days before the due time. Remember to pour the most sincerity into it instead of other mocks and rude jokes. Make her feel loved! Say a proper farewell!”

He chugged another glass and let the rest of the lecture go to the landfills inside his mind as he drowned his excitatory neurotransmitter more and more in alcohol euphoria. But now that he brought the words again to the surface, Gilbert was thinking to reconsider it. He’s been nothing but rude and mean to Elizabeth and if anything he could do to fix it before he couldn’t anymore, he’d gladly take it.

Slowly. One step at a time. Until he’s there.

“Hey.” He cleared his throat, breaking the silence. “It may not seem like it, huh, but I’m on my way to forgive Roderich.”

The tip of her fingers twitched, pausing abruptly on his spines “Because I told you so?”

“Well, he’s still a dick no matter what. But if someone like him is a dick, then I am, too. Therefore, I should at least share the fault together with him.”

She hummed, continuing circling the ointment upwards. “How can you be a dick? What did you do?”

“I was being a hopeless coward that time.” The fist on his laps clenched, he shut his eyes and a portrait of the seventeen years old him floated hazy. “I knew the whole story. I should have barged in and defended you. Or if that didn’t work, I could just break you out by force. And punched Roderich while doing so. Instead of doing those, however, I stood quiet and waited like an idiot, watching you suffer behind that door, being accused of something you would never do and I—” All of sudden, his eyes got heavy and the next time he blinked, it was blurry and his cheeks were wet. “—I’m sorry for everything—I really am—I—”

He didn’t realize Elizabeth had stopped treating his wounds and moved to his side, offering a stack of tissue. Aware that he’s not going to take the tissue sooner or later (for the sake of looking tough) even with those snorts flowing down, Elizabeth took the initiative of wiping his face, careful on her toes not to press too hard around Gilbert’s black eye. Once again, Gilbert thought, she’s really gentle with all of these.

“Now, now, don’t scare me like that. Why do you get emotional again?” She chuckled, cupping Gilbert’s reddish cheeks with warm palms. “I’m not a damsel in distress, Gilbert. I did try to defend myself in that hellish detention, it just didn’t work out well. And to be honest, I prayed that you didn’t do anything you mentioned before. You already had too many detention records. Breaking me out would only add another one and I didn’t want to forsake you for that. God heard me, thankfully.”

Maybe it’s because his sight was blurry, but he saw her smile wobbling a little. Something inside him tightened, and it felt exactly like those ‘fake’ websites described—only more vivid and real.

“It was hard at first to accept being the unheard victim. Upsetting, to know someone out there did that to get rid of me. I thought I would never recover from being betrayed, until I saw you and Yuriko calling my name at the end of the corridor, waiting for me to walk up again, defending me every time someone insulted me, even staying with me until today. I can’t be more thankful than this. Please don’t blame everything on yourself again, for you were—” she gulped, swallowing the last words with broken laughs “—you are enough this way. Didn’t I say that already?”

Gilbert had a deep secret: he’s lachrymose. Everything personal could trigger the fuse, and he hated if people found out about this part of him. That’s why, as easy as he could tear up, he’d do anything to hide it from everyone, including lying or burying his feelings down or running into a closed space and locking himself there. And blocking himself out with those huge brick walls he built around the fragile heart.

Today, nonetheless, he couldn’t block or run. Because Elizabeth was there. Staring right into his eyes, holding his soul tight that he couldn’t hide anymore. He hated it. Hated that he had to show his vulnerability to the person he wanted the most to be relied on.

So he pulled away, taking the tissues and wiped his welling up tears by himself, muttering ‘sorry for the mess’ and dragged his ass away from Elizabeth’s gaze of affection. Because apparently, it heavily affected the speeding up beats behind his throbbing rib cages.

Gilbert had not known how powerful it was.

Elizabeth seemed to understand and drew away too, giving him a space to blow off his snorts. Pushing herself to her feet, she fetched the whole box of tissue to Gilbert.

“Now you heard me,” she said, tapping his shoulders slightly, “shall we have dinner?”

***

Gilbert never cried in front of anyone.

Things got personal today, so he let this one pass.

But next time—no, there’s no next time.

“But I’m still at fault for not trying! Don’t you even have faith in me?”

“Ssshh!!! Shut up and eat!”

“I’m sincerely sorry for everything—”

“Eat the dumpling, puffy eyes. It’s not good if it gets colder!”

“Well, at least admit that I apologize then decide if you’re going to accept it or no—”

“Do you want me to feed you?!”

“Hmm, you’re really—”

A spoonful of soup went straight to Gilbert’s throat, almost choking him in the process. Elizabeth clicked her tongue, giving him a side squint before returning to her bowl. “Decide if you’re going to eat my hotpot or not!”

Gilbert grabbed his drink and drained it down. “I was about to say that you’re really good at cooking.”

Gilbert got caught by surprise, watching Elizabeth’s face beamed up a little upon the compliment. She quickly shoved a huge portion of dumpling into her mouth and savored it furiously. Well, that’s cute.

Geez, what’s gotten into you today? Did you really come here to apologize for everything? What day is today? My due day?! Are you being nice to me, finally?” Elizabeth pointed her spoon sharp at him, eyes watching in suspicion. “Do you want to borrow my money?”

He almost spat his food. “You’ve been thinking of me that lowly, huh?”

“The idea of you, suddenly opening up to me without ulterior motives, scares me! What’s up with that? I mean, not like I’m against it or something. It’s just confusing.”

Gilbert didn’t know for sure, too. He kind of decided it last minute, after reminiscing Yuriko’s advice and considering it, thinking he could at least apologize to Elizabeth for what had bothered him the most lately as the first step to say a proper farewell to her. The next time he knew, he was crying so embarrassingly in front of her and right now he’d do anything to erase that memory from both him and Elizabeth.

Like hell he’s going to say that.

“Maybe you’re still under the alcohol effect?”

“That’s like twenty hours ago.” Gilbert exhaled, trying to release the knot in his chest but failed again. “I just feel like I have to share it with you. It’s been burdening me. Help me this time, will you?”

She hummed. “Glad to ease you, then.”

“And don’t tell anyone that I cry today!”

“Yes, yes. I won’t tell anyone that you cry today, in my apartment, while getting treated by me on the floor, especially the part when your whole face was as red as tomato and when you couldn’t stop hiccupping and when your eyes became so puffy like—”

“Alright, now you shut up.”

Elizabeth laughed, pouring another bowl for Gilbert as if she knew that Gilbert would love for another round. He’s supposed to hate that, when someone made fun of his crying face—but he’s surprised this time, since he laughed at it too. Was it that bad? God, what an awful day. He’d be doomed if Elizabeth betrayed him.

“You know, it’s fine to cry sometimes. As long as you come back strong, it’s a nice way to release some pent-up emotion. Especially for boys who love to suppress their feelings. You guys are weird.”

“Well, aren’t some girls too?” Gilbert raised his eyebrows, slurping whatever on the spoon he’s lifting. “Did you even cry when you found out you’ve been stamped? Or did you laugh?”

“I didn’t. But it was a different case! If it’s only for the sake of pitying myself, I don’t want that.” Elizabeth put her bowl down, wiping her mouth afterward. “I better cry at some dying dogs rather than me.”

“Well, I don’t want to cry too because it will look like I’m pitying myself.”

“Nope. I don’t think so.” Her voice cut sharp through the air. “You’re suppressing. All the time. Pushing the limit further and further each day until it can’t.”

“I—” Gilbert shook his head. One day or another, he had to admit this. “Whatever. Suit as you like.”

“Now you’re back at being stubborn. Amazing. Thank you for those beautiful minutes while being short.” She stood up, collecting empty utensils on a tray and swept to the washbasin. “Tell me if you’re done. I’ll pack some for Tae Hee so don’t forget to bring it home with you. Ah, are you staying the night?”

“No way.” Gilbert carefully calmed himself not to feel things on that seemingly normal question. “As you said earlier, I have a kid to take care back at home.”

“Take my ointment too. Don’t be an idiot. Ask Tae Hee to apply it for you.”

Her phone she left on the table buzzed, Gilbert peeked a second look from it before shaking his head at Elizabeth, mouthful and dizzy. “Unknown numbers.”

“Oh my, is it a call?” Elizabeth immediately returned to the table.

“Don’t take it. Might turn into a voice phishing.”

“Then I won’t fall for it. I have a package to be delivered, it might be it.” She excused herself and ran toward the window, pressing the phone to her ear as she waited in full anticipation. The potted plants on the sill wavered in the breeze as she pushed open the window.

Gilbert didn’t really care about anything involving the mysterious caller, he’s just sitting there and casually chewing the leftover dumplings, until Elizabeth’s wary tone shifted into the lighter and cheery ones, a sense of familiarity had washed off her overall polite speech.

“Ah, you’re from before!” she said from the other room, excitement showed in between the up-and-down rolls of her intonation. “H-Hello again! How did you get my number?”

Okay, Gilbert swallowed that lump of meat. The mysterious caller was apparently not supposed to have her numbers and when they did, they immediately called her. It also sounded like they had just met Elizabeth recently.

“Yuriko gave you? I see, well, I mean... Did you get along afterward? Haha, she’s a funny and cool girl, don’t you think so?”

So they were friends with Yuriko. Someone from the headquarter? Superior? Well, at least it wasn’t voice phishing or some other kind of cons.

“Thanks for taking care of her last time. I’m sorry for the trouble. You don’t suffer from back pain, do you?”

She chuckled for a good minute, Gilbert couldn’t help but to be skeptical. She did mention some hot guy took Yuriko home the night they’re drunk. So the mysterious caller might be that guy, right? Elizabeth also said that she’s attempting to pair them together. In conclusion, there’s nothing going on between him and Elizabeth, right? If anything, Elizabeth would only want to help hook those two, right?? And it wasn’t really necessary to ask Yuriko for her numbers and even went as far as calling her, right???

“I’m fine since! Yeah, I’m home early today. Looked like they’ve been going easy on me lately. Dinner? Yup, I just finished it. I’m in my flat now, why?”

Shouldn’t that guy talk to Yuriko in the first place?! What the fuck was he planning to get by talking to Elizabeth?! It’s not like he asked for her advice—he literally kept asking about Elizabeth to Elizabeth herself—wasn’t it too obvious that he’s into her?!

Alright, disclaimer. Gilbert didn’t mean to eavesdrop. He just wanted to make sure Elizabeth was safe from all those scammers out there. They came in many ways, you know? Even those guys running in the headquarter could be one of them! He wasn’t a fussy guy or anything, and Elizabeth wasn’t even his sister or girlfriend; he just knew her as clumsy and dense, she could fall to any types of traps and wouldn’t even realize it until she’s right at the end of the pit.

But, this. This. This made Gilbert mad furious. He found himself sneaking behind the wall she’s leaning, sticking his ears to the wall while eyes hawking at Elizabeth’s silhouettes over the corner. They talked too long to be called ‘casual conversation between just-met acquaintances’ and honestly? Nothing had irked Gilbert so much as this—even Roderich wasn’t that annoying on the phone.

And the other thing that made Gilbert infuriated was that he didn’t understand why he’s infuriated. The impulse came all of a sudden and told him to do something as uneasiness in the form of heat started to settle down his body.

After several minutes more of holding the urge of screaming to whoever spoke from the other line, the call finally ended. Elizabeth was frowning when she walked back to the kitchen, fists hanging half curled and shoulders tensed. Gilbert drew a breath of relief, knowing Elizabeth was bothered by it, too.

Wait, what. Why was he happy?

“What the fuck is that guy’s deal? Did you even know him?”

Elizabeth hissed, distracting herself with all those dirty plates and bowls. The sound of rushing water clouded the room, plates and spoons clashing into repetitive clinks. “Don’t call him ‘that guy’. His name is Adam.”

“Hell if I care. He’s clearly attracted to you. Poor Yuriko.”

“First of all, how dare you listen to us. Second of all—” she sighed, closing back the tap and turned around until she faced Gilbert, eyes lowered down “—you’re right. What am I supposed to say to Yuriko now. What a dick, you’re an asshole, she would say if she knew.”

“Did he straight up ask you for dinner together next time?! What a thick face, he’s acting all tough and winning since he thinks he has a nice face and reputation.”

“Don’t trash him! I don’t think he’s a bad guy, it’s just… crushes. You know, it happens sometimes.” She paused, eyes widened for a split of second before shaking her head and went to collect Gilbert’s empty bowl. “I’ll just say I have a boyfriend so he’ll stop crushing deeper on me and move on.”

“Yeah, at this point even lying sounds like a very good idea.”

“You make me look like a bad guy.”

“Aren’t you though, Miss Insurance whose work is to con her clients?”

He’s getting kicked out tonight. But it was worth it. At least Elizabeth made it clear that she’s not interested in whoever guy named Adam. He still didn’t know why he’s upset before, perhaps it’s just him wanting to protect her as he promised. So Gilbert left with a smile, grabbed Elizabeth’s ointment and Tae Hee’s dumpling soup she had set aside for him, tripping out of happiness over his own shoes—even Elizabeth was severely confused on what’s going on.

“Call me later if you got an update on that guy,” Gilbert said on the doorstep. “I’m very ready.”

“Ready for what?” Elizabeth folded her arms, leaning lightly on the wall. “And what are you so fussy about?! You’re not Yuriko, you don’t usually get intrigued over romantic issues.”

“Well, if he turned out to be a bad guy, you can call me to punch him. I’m sure I’ll deal more damage than you.”

“That’s not what I expect it to be. Oh, dear Lord. Just go back to your place.”

Gilbert sprang his way to the elevator, unreasonably happy after that roller coaster emotion at Elizabeth’s room. He’s just glad. That’s it. And he knew how stupid it was—he just couldn’t help it. The moment the elevator door opened on the ground floor, a middle-aged woman was waiting on the other side, hands were full with plastic bags. Gilbert bowed modestly, almost passed through her until he saw bunches of bananas in one of those transparent bags. He turned around and recognized the face.

“Mrs. Bana—no, Mrs. Lee?!”

The woman was also startled upon seeing Gilbert’s whole face. Gilbert immediately held the door from closing and joined in another elevator ride with her, taking some of the bags to help carry them until they arrived at her room.

“Mrs. Lee, is that really you? You haven’t aged that much!”

“Gilbert! You must be blind to say that!” He got a hard nudge around the bruises on his side, almost let out a gasp of terror if he hadn’t been on guard. “I’m an oldie now, see? There are wrinkles everywhere! If anything, I should have been the one who’s surprised how big you have grown! Look at this big boy now, are you like… two meters tall?”

“Ma’am, if I am, then I won’t even fit in this box.” He sighed, couldn’t help to draw a smile at the end of his pain.

Mrs. Lee seemed happy too. She was all beaming and glowing beneath those nonexistent wrinkles. As always, she’s one hell of a humble being. “The last time I saw you, it was on the street! I think eight to nine months ago? You didn’t even see me! I was already shocked to see you grow from a boy to a man. You were so small before, always whining about getting americano instead of latte—now you look like you have black coffee in every breakfast! Gosh, I’m really getting old.”

“It’s… I’m not…” Gilbert cringed at his early memories, he remembered spitting out his first americano in front of Elizabeth and Yuriko, he had to buy a new shirt at the nearby store since the one he wore was covered in all his spit.

Mrs. Lee didn’t stop getting amazed during the whole ride. She pinched Gilbert’s sore arm and gasped. “Oh, my! Look at these muscles! Have you been working out? Women are going to go crazy over you! You must be popular among them, don’t you? Have you and Liz started going out yet?”

“Wait, wha—”

“Plus with that nice, handsome face of yours. Ah, what happened to your eye? Did you get into a fight? Did someone try to hurt Liz so you go out of your way to protect her? Hmmm, love’s surely in the air~”

The bell rang and Gilbert hopped out of the elevator once the door opened. Even so, Mrs. Lee continued her bashing throughout the whole corridor, saying how grateful she was to have him by Elizabeth’s side, somehow ending up telling Gilbert a whole list of her favorite honeymoon spots. Gilbert kept his head up, straight and believable smiles stretched across his face, his mind focused on solely unlocking Mrs. Lee’s door so he could put down her whole luggage. He wouldn’t even dare imagining the slightest idea of him and Elizabeth going somewhere far together for vacation, let alone honeymoon.

“You can put it on the terrace. It’s fine from here. Thank you for your help, sweetie.”

Gilbert shook his head, putting his best effort not to look like he just went home from war. “It’s nothing much. I’m glad to be able to assist you.”

“Sorry for making you come all the way up here again. I know that you just visited your girlfriend a while ago. She must be in a good mood now.”

“Uh, Mrs. Lee. I’m afraid I’ll disappoint you but we are not—”

“I know, I know!” She cackled, grabbing both of Gilbert’s hands and wrapped them warm with hers. “I’m just joking! But I meant it when I said I’m really proud of you and Liz. I heard a lot from her about you, especially during her venting session. She really does become passionate when it comes to you! Honestly, you two have a weird way to convey your affection—but that’s okay! Just take your time and learn along the way.”

She opened the bag with bananas and handed four bunches to Gilbert. Gilbert was too shocked to accept them by hand, so she threw them into his arms instead. “Liz said you have an intern to feed at your home now. I give you one bonus bunch. Please share them with him.”

“But I can’t accept this much! I didn’t do anything to deserve this!”

“You liar boy. Everyone knows how much you love those.” She tapped him easy in the shoulder, Gilbert held his breath once the pain kicked in. “If Liz is the one who hands them to you, you’ll definitely accept it, won’t you? Should I call her first, then?”

“No, it’s fine!” Gilbert did admit he’s quite a liar when it came to this. There’s no way he ever said no to Mrs. Lee’s sweet bananas. Still, it’d be more polite to reject the offer at first to see if the other party was sincere enough rather than getting ahead by himself and snatching the whole present shamelessly. “Thank you for all the bananas. They’re delicious.”

“Of course! They’re grown delicately with love at my church’s garden. You should go visit sometimes. We have so many activities there, besides mass of course!”

“S-Sure! Would love to!” As long as it’s not a mass, Gilbert could probably tackle it, or whatever. He used to hate that place for taking away his childhood. But now that he’s out and hadn’t been in since, he kind of missed going into one just because some of them had nice gothic architecture. “I’ll get going, then. Take care, Mrs. Lee. Remember not to overwork yourself.”

“Wasn’t that supposed to be my words to you?”

The door closed. And Gilbert’s alone again in the corridor, about to take a ride down for the second time that day. On the contrary of his thoughts, he found himself standing there, one step away from Elizabeth’s door. The light was bright from the gap and he could hear faint television noises from inside. At this hour, she probably went to take a bath or something. She also probably did that while humming her favorite morning drama soundtrack, or reading cheesy YA novels she bought last holiday.

Elizabeth was a classic type of woman. Kind of old fashioned, but never got rusty. She’s glowing among the others, captivating every eye-owner whether strangers or not.

And Gilbert stupidly fell for her again and again—until he decided to admit it—then it’d happen again and again until forever said it’s enough.


Time remaining: 17 days.

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