And my lungs can’t just take it, but I keep breathing you in (Clinton Kane – Drown)
Elizabeth woke up, feeling oddly cold underneath her blanket. She got up, jolted by the cold tingle on her feet once they touched the floor. Ah, she might have forgotten to turn on the heater last night. Regardless, it was a good sleep for once.
Half-functioning body moved forward to the kitchen, finding anything she could eat for breakfast. A bowl of cereal and a glass of water. It’d be sufficient until lunch, she thought as she turned on the television and switched the channel to her favorite morning drama. Fingers idly playing with the spoon, stirring the cereal before making its first dive into her mouth. The drama started, Elizabeth’s attention immediately shifted from the blandness on her tongue to the handsome boys talking on the silver screen
Gilbert used to mock her for always falling for this kind of cliché drama. If you’re using drama as your escape from reality, then you’re fucked—he said—once you’re back to reality, you’ll be disappointed by how different it is compared to what the drama has depicted. Elizabeth knew, these ‘boys and girls finding loves’ stories weren’t as beautiful if she were to picture it in reality, but she couldn’t help but to dream. Sometimes she’d close her eyes and imagine if such things happened to her and how cool it would be.
How cool it’d be… if she were that princess being confessed by a knight in shining armor riding his white horse.
You know what, Gilbert was right. This drama was fake. After all, there’s a reason why it’s called fantasy. Wishing for fantasy to come alive was futile, unless she wanted to waste her times. If anything, her condition right now made everything even worse. She had no time to be dealing with her romantic life; she’s been living her whole life without touching that aspect, why would she bother now?
“Min Jee, wait! I can explain! Don’t run just yet!”
“There’s nothing left between us anymore, Oppa! Let me go!”
“You don’t understand! I did all of these because…”
“Because of what?! What is your excuse this time?!”
Setting aside what she said before, Elizabeth found herself melting again and again over this supposedly overused scene. Many men had confessed to her, none really made it to her heart. She wondered why, until she saw that man and suddenly wanted to kick herself from falling too hard. Then it came to her mind, what if she spent her remaining times doing the things she avoided the most: finding love?
It could be rushed and not as pretty as those cinematographic flashes in the drama she watched—but after all the fuss it created, perhaps it’s worth it?
The spoon fell to the bowl and the milk splashed all over Elizabeth’s shirt. She sighed, grabbing some tissues and wiped the mess. No, that wouldn’t do it. She should just shut up and continue what she’s doing until the end. There’s no need for a change and it’s not like she’d take the experience to her grave. She’d end up annoying people if she went to propose that idea.
Once again, she pushed down the flower in her throat and buried it deep on top of yesterday’s piles. It’s not like Gilbert harbored the same feelings to her, and it’s not like they had a possible future ahead—she didn’t need to worsen their already bad relationship.
This is fine.
The spoon clang against the bowl, Elizabeth had lost her appetite.
“May you have sweet dreams.”
Elizabeth held her breath as she tiptoed her way out of a room she trespassed earlier. If the breaching part didn’t count, this last case would be relatively easy. A small house with no securities and hidden cameras, a closed room filled with equipment and tools, all plugged to an old body lying unconsciously on a single bed; they were the one who had been working hard to keep the man breathing.
They wouldn’t be needed for too long, apparently, the numbers would now take over their jobs to determine when.
Another day passed by like uncertain wind. Sixteen days had passed since. Tomorrow would be the fifteenth and that meant Elizabeth was halfway through the process. She heard she’d be receiving a few days off just before the due time—she would rather consider it as early retirement as a way to undress her superiors’ sugar coated words.
The sun was setting early in the winter and Elizabeth traced her path alone under the dim streetlight. She’s never the type to drink after work, but during these days when she couldn’t help but to let the lament settle in, she would like to have drink buddies. Gilbert was out of option, like hell she’d let him out after what happened last time. The best was to go with Yuriko, though the chance would be fifty-fifty since she always had an odd schedule at odd times. Pulling out her phone, her finger almost tapped Yuriko’s numbers if not someone’s calling her from behind.
She turned around to find Adam chasing after her through the long alley.
“Woah! Adam? Hello, nice to see you… again.”
“I saw you on my way crossing the road and thought I should greet you or something.” He chuckled between panting and gasping for air. “Yeah, hello again, Liz. You’re done for today?”
“Looked like it.” Adam’s right hand was placed behind his back all the time and that very noticeable action made Elizabeth irritated underneath her genuine smiles. What a pretty liar, she thought. “Are you over too?”
“Yes. How coincidence! I never think we’ll meet this fast. Uh, have you eaten dinner? We can go together!”
If only Elizabeth was falling for him instead of Gilbert, things would be much easier. Then again, she couldn’t quite picture herself falling for strangers (especially her best friend’s crush) so definitely a big no.
She’s only hungry and craving for drinks, going out as friends with him wouldn’t cause problems, right?
“Sure. I know a delicious ramen bar nearby.”
The mention of said ramen bar already reminded her of Gilbert—it was their favorite bar after all.
Adam didn’t have much appetite, unlike Gilbert. He hated spices and eggs, and would rather have his ramen served bland and flat. He didn’t hold his beer well, he said, so he ordered water instead. Adam didn’t like additional fried for his ramen because it caused him extra charge and that’s against his modest living policy.
This guy, in all of his dissimilarity with Elizabeth, was certainly the perfect guy for Yuriko.
He talked about wanting to go fishing in a beach house someday, owning a big aquarium with its own ecosystem, and went on a cruise trip to Alaska. He wanted to go with a girlfriend who shared the same liking as him, so they could enjoy the vacation together. Elizabeth giggled, thinking how happy Yuriko could be upon the mention of ‘vacation’.
“By the way, what’s up with that bucket of rose you’ve been holding? Are you planning to give it to your girlfriend?”
Adam’s cheeks went red once Elizabeth pointed to the bucket placed on the next seat, he quickly grabbed it into his arms and stared into it for a moment before smiling. “Maybe it’s too early for her. I’m not sure.”
“Why? Is there anything holding you back?”
“It looks like she’s not considering me yet.” Elizabeth almost jumped from her seat when he handed her the bucket. “You can take it instead. The flowers are fresh and you can place it on water to prolong their lives.”
“I-I don’t deserve this, though?” Woah, this looked straight coming from a drama, even if she was receiving something that’s not supposed to be for her. Elizabeth shook her head and hesitantly accepted the bucket. At least they smelled really good. “Thanks. Good luck with her.”
“Yeah.” He chuckled. “Hopefully you do consider me after this.”
Adam didn’t reply. He put out his wallet and left the amount of money stated in the total bill, only spared Elizabeth a second glance before hopping off his chair.
“Are you paying for me too?”
“It’s normal for the man to pay on the first date, isn’t it?”
Elizabeth still couldn’t believe she’s hearing this. Of all those men she rejected, none of them rushed their way and made her this uncomfortable. Adam surely was something. “Why am I not informed this is a date?”
“I mean, you accept going out with me for dinner? Tell me that’s not a green light?”
“Adam, let’s talk about this. First of all, I’m agreeing for dinner together, not a date! Second of all, we’re splitting the bill! I don’t want to owe you anything other than bringing my friend home.”
Adam blinked, watching Elizabeth returning his money as she added her amount on the table. “So it’s a false alarm? Is that what you’ve been saying?”
“I’m sorry if I ever give you the slightest hope. But right now...” She sighed, tearing her heavy eyes away. “… right now I don’t want any of that to happen in my life. I just kind of decided it for myself. Will you understand me?”
“I heard from Yuriko, you know. That you’ll be leaving.” Elizabeth held back from glaring. She kept her eyes on the ground, wishing this conversation to last sooner. “I know that’s an absurd idea. But I do pray for happiness for you and therefore, want you to have everything in this world before you’re leaving. If there’s a thing you want to do and never have the chance before, let’s do it together. So that’s why, please accept my sincere feelings first, Liz.”
“Why should I accept your feelings to do the things I never have the chance to do? Do you even know what I want?”
“Yuriko also said you never dated before.”
Good, now she wanted to cut some slacks on Yuriko. Such confidential information she shared, not knowing how it could be used against Elizabeth someday.
Elizabeth took a step back, shaking her head for the countless times of the day. “No, Adam. I don’t want to.”
“Let’s date, Liz. I’ll help cherish your life until the end. I’m fine being left behind by you, as long as you leave happy. Even if you don’t feel the same, we can go slow as you try to figure it out along the way. If there’s a thing you want me to change, I’ll do it for you—so please—” he grabbed her wrist and drew her closer, those blue eyes Elizabeth once thought were beautiful scared her now “—please say yes and stop being so hard to get—”
“—I CAN’T! I HAVE A BOYFRIEND ALREADY!”
Elizabeth yanked him away, a little too hard that the force hurt her too. Adam’s eyes widened at her, his hand was trembling as he found something to help balance himself. “Y-You have?”
“Y-Yeah!” The her inside Elizabeth’s mind facepalmed so hard right now. She was joking when she said to Gilbert that she’d use this excuse to drive Adam away; deep down she knew how consequential this lie could be. Elizabeth just didn’t expect that she’d be in a position where she had no choice but to use it. “Yuriko didn’t tell you because she didn’t know too! Knowing my situation right now, I have yet to find the opportunity to tell her. But my b-boyfriend and I are going strong for now, please don’t make it difficult for us.”
“I…” He rubbed the back of his head, eyes glued down. “I’m sorry. I jumped into my own conclusion. If that’s how it is, then I’ll be happy for you too. It’s just… I need to make sure your boyfriend is a good man all and all.” Adam raised his head and stared right into Elizabeth, she swore she could catch a glimpse of smirk. “May I see how he looks? You must have a photo of him, right? I can tell from the first sight—”
“Why? You don’t have to! He’s a good man all and all and without the need of your inspection.”
“I just need to make sure, okay? I’m worried for you making the wrong choice. The fact that you’re acting really defensive on him makes me even more anxious that you’re dating a bad guy.”
Elizabeth fucked up. She really did. Now she’s tasting her own dirt with no way out. Adam’s on his high ground right now, pushing Elizabeth to her defeat. There’s no use going through her phone album now. Of course she didn’t have one! Or even prepared one! Elizabeth wasn’t the type to take selfies with men for it only evoked false hopes between them. If only she knew this would come, she’d probably go and take a quick shot with some close-to-her-age men in her neighborhood, or just dialed Gilbert for a shortcut.
Elizabeth pulled out her phone, frantically skimming through her albums from top to the very bottom. It’s not even a photo from this year. She remembered though, she took a photo of Gilbert on his 22th birthday last year, half of his upper body was covered with whipped cream from a cake tossed at him. It wasn’t really representative and convincing, but as long as it’s a photo of a man close to her age, at least Adam would reconsider to shut up for now.
“Here! My boyfriend!” She flashed him her phone screen once she found it. As she expected, Adam had to squint to make out Gilbert’s overall annoyed face. “I-It was from his birthday. We celebrated it together.”
Adam hummed, a little surprised for Elizabeth to pull it through. “I think I know him. Wasn’t he another wasted guy from the other day? The one we left you with?”
“Yeah! Good to know you remembered!” She chuckled nervously as she slipped back her phone, wishing Adam didn’t notice that blatant cold sweats. “Now you know what I’ve been up to, please leave us alone!”
Adam drew away, slipping his hands into his pocket. He was smiling, but it wasn’t genuine. And when he opened his eyes, they darkened. “Ah, sorry. I must have made you uncomfortable. I’m really happy for you two, you know. I wish you all the love I can send. Thanks for the recommended place, the ramen sure is tasty. You can go home safely now.”
“No. You go first.”
“After you, Miss.”
Elizabeth glanced at her watch and rolled her eyes. It wouldn’t be going anywhere. She said good night at him and went ahead by herself, back to the long alley when Adam first met her. Unlike before, the alley was dark now that the sun had fully set. The only thing that lit her way home was the moonlight shower that pierced through the slight gaps of fractured roofs.
Elizabeth’s pace quickened when she felt movement behind her. She turned around once in a while only to find nothing, then proceeded to add her speed. She walked, walked fast, walked faster, ran, and stormed her way out to the main road when she saw a shadow lurking at the rear.
Her first instinct was to find a safe place. There weren’t many near here, except for a cheap building not too far from the crossroad that had no elevators to climb which resulted in her running through the stairs on her high heels like a madman. The room at the end of the corridor was lit up, meaning somebody was already home. It didn’t take too many maniac knocks for anyone to open the door for her; Elizabeth never felt this relieved and safe to see Gilbert’s face.
“Surprise,” she said, breathless from all the running, “you’re my boyfriend now.”
“So to summarize, this Adam guy whom you tried so hard to match with Yuriko turned out to be into you and after a single quick date—or whatever you called it—he’s forcing himself onto you, so you lied to him and said you got a boyfriend that is… me?!”
Elizabeth nodded a little, the fists on her laps tightened. “I have no other photos in my phone.”
“What. The. F—heck.” Gilbert almost swung his arms across the passing Tae Hee with a tray of teacups on his grip. Good thing he was used to Gilbert’s sudden crash of tantrum, the boy dodged it gracefully. “Okay, I did mention I’ll save you from him, but it’s only for the fights! I didn’t sign up for the boyfriend thing and you should just come clear with him that you’re not interested. Done! Just as how straightforward you are with the others.”
“Guys, calm down! Let’s drink some tea, shall we?” Tae Hee said, but got cut off.
“Some people just don’t understand what no means, okay?! And as far as I remember, you totally supported the idea of lying just before! What made you take back your words?!”
“I—” Gilbert licked his lips, cold sweats running down his shirt. “Maybe if you didn’t butt into others’ business in the first place, you wouldn’t find yourself in troubles like this.”
“Oh, yeah. Sure.” She rolled her eyes. “I shouldn’t be out that night. If I didn’t—kindly and sincerely—offer help to some hopeless and irresponsible drunkards in that one bar, I wouldn’t have to meet Adam and get myself into trouble like this. Fair enough. My mistake.”
“G-Guys, while you’re at it, p-please drink some tea…”
“You were staring at him, I called it!”
“Boy, I didn’t know that staring at a face for like three seconds means I’m romantically attracted to whoever that is!”
“Three seconds are enough to give desperate people wrong ideas!
“T-The tea will go cold… uhh… please?”
“How am I supposed to know that he is desperate to begin with? Can I read his mind?! You expect me to be an esper now?!”
“People have been hitting on you for almost your life and you still don’t understand the signs?! Just because Yuriko’s into him doesn’t mean he’s into her back! I’m more surprised you guys haven’t got caught up in a love triangle fight or something.”
“What?! This goes off topic!”
“Because the real topic itself is stupid and I don’t want to be engaged in a relationship with you, even if it’s fake.”
Elizabeth’s next cannonballs were cut up with the harsh sound of tray slammed into the table in front of them, the tea was swimming left and right in the cups and only a few drops made it out. Tae Hee, still had his hands on the tray, blowing hot air through his nose and seemed to be sweating a lot.
“Guys,” he said. “I just made some tea. Please appreciate me and drink it.”
His pupils were blaring. The baby face was all gone. The tone dropped, as well as the temperature. All of a sudden, Elizabeth and Gilbert felt like they had picked a fight with a thug.
Drinking a few sips in silence, Gilbert regained his thoughts. A little glance at Elizabeth, he swallowed the giant lump down and shook his head. Yes, he’d protect her with all he got, even if it meant he had to beat this Adam guy down in a solicited alley or sewer or something. But no, he wouldn’t go on a fake date with her, not even a minute. To Elizabeth, it was fine since it’s fake. To him, however, it’s fake—that’s why it’s not fine.
With this weird feeling blooming between them, Gilbert didn’t want to make it worse. He didn’t want to take advantage of Elizabeth. He’s afraid of… losing himself.
They said a fire happened because someone’s been playing with it.
Well, he’s not wrong though. He lost it once and almost kissed her on the corridor in front of his room.
“Do I get a say on this?” Tae Hee said, once the air went back to normal and both Gilbert and Elizabeth were too caught up with their tea.
“Go on,” Elizabeth answered.
“I think Miss Elizabeth is still wrong for lying and dragging Mr. Gilbert into the mess by framing him as the third party. But in my opinion—” his eyes swiped to Gilbert, making him almost choke on his drink. “Since it has come to this, Mr. Gilbert should just help. Consider this as a payment for all the help Miss Elizabeth had given you in the past.”
Gilbert felt slightly irritated by how sparkling Elizabeth’s eyes now. “Yeah, I planned to! But this task is too much and for all I know, we still have to deal with the rest of the lies even after the contract is over! So it will never be worth it.”
Elizabeth put down her cup, already preparing for an objection. “We’ll stay low profile. Only showing off whenever he’s around. And if there’s any additional witnesses, we’ll silence them. And we won’t be doing anything further than holding hands and eating lunch at a café. Ah! Also, I’ll cover both of our expenses during the date.” She crossed her arms, side-eyeing Gilbert in a grin. “How’s that? Still too difficult for you? Just a reminder, I have dragged you here by myself when you’re drunk—while you helped nothing but to cause me so much trouble along the way. I even cooked dinner for you last night and lent my ointment for free.”
Tae Hee gasped. “Wait, what? Sir, that was Miss Elizabeth’s ointment?! I thought you bought a new one since you lost the old one a while ago! Miss, you are truly forgiving and generous! I would have been mad if I were—”
“—shh! Tae Hee, shut up! I didn’t lose it—I just—” When he returned his gaze to Elizabeth, all he saw was a figure resembling medusa. “I-I just—I—lost it… somewhere… I can explain!”
The clock ticked. He expected slaps at any moment from now.
But she just exhaled and waved it off. “Well, even more reason why you should help me. Supposedly, I didn’t mean to revert into manipulative action by reminding of how many debts you owe me. I don’t mind if you don’t pay me back at all. It’s just…” She sighed again, this time sounded more tired and desperate that Gilbert felt a tug on the string in his heart. “I can’t really trust anyone other than you. So please. Just this once. I won’t ask anything out of you ever again.”
Gilbert never saw her this helpless before. Elizabeth was always strong, an independent woman who didn’t rely on men (except for changing the bulbs in her room). She rarely begged or pleaded, any problems she had involving help from other people would be kept down or solved in her own ways. Perhaps she didn’t trust people that much. Perhaps she just hated being in debts with someone. Or perhaps, she disliked bothering people with her needs.
“You think too highly on the wrong guy.”
Gilbert watched her as she grabbed her bag and walked toward the door. She smiled a little when she turned around for the last time, eyes were anything but unreadable beneath her loose fringe. “Sorry for wasting your time,” she said before leaving.
Now Gilbert felt horrible. He had good reason why he shouldn’t agree to help her, but he had good reason as well why he should just consider it through instead of thinking of himself all the time.
What a coward.
“Sir, I think despite any reasons you have on your mind that resulted in rejecting her, maybe you should at least walk Miss Elizabeth home.”
Tae Hee popped up behind his back like a ghost attempting to refill his tea. Gilbert almost jumped from his cushion, couldn’t stop stroking his chest in panic. “Eh? She’s fine? I don’t want to also give her the wrong idea.”
“You see, I’m actually still in contact with my classmate whose internship is around our district somewhere. She said she often bumped into this good-looking senior who’s really kind and caring to her that she’s drawn to him immediately. After a while of texting and short meet-up, he asked her out. My friend, thinking that she’s too young and inexperienced to be in a relationship with a higher-up, politely declined him. He’s been persistent for a while, persuading her all night through texting to the point it got tiring, so she decided to ignore him. The next morning and onward, she felt like she’s being followed all day. One day she gathered courage to bait the stalker into her and to find out their identity. Turned out it was that senior. He almost harassed her in an alley, but thankfully she found an opening to run away and hid in the headquarter. The stalking stopped after she moved to work in the headquarter and I haven’t heard if she decided to file a report regarding her harassment. I hope she did…”
“What a creepy guy.”
“My point is, sir, although I still haven’t asked her about the name of that creepy senior or how he looks, there’s a pretty fair chance of him being this… Mr. Adam… which means Miss Elizabeth could be in danger right now if it’s true.”
Gilbert was about to take a finishing sip when realization hit him. His eyes widened, arms moving fast to put down his cup back to the tray. “What did you say?!”
“She’s probably rushing here because she felt like being stalked. I mean, she did say he was forcing himself on her. That could be an early sign.”
“Say WHAT.” The pool boiled in his stomach, already spurting out magma balls to his throat. Guys hitting on Elizabeth? How annoying, but ok. GUYS FORCING A RELATIONSHIP ON ELIZABETH AND EVEN STALKED HER TO THE POINT SHE’S UNCOMFORTABLE?! DO THEY HAVE DEAD WISH?
“I don’t know, sir! It was a speculation. But she came here because she trusted you to help her. Imagine if she came to Mr. Roderich instead of you—well, that could happen too since you rejected her. I mean, Miss Elizabeth—”
The door was slammed before Tae Hee could wake him more. Gilbert left like a winter breeze, a slight trail of smoke and cold aura behind the door. Even so, Tae Hee smiled lightly. It worked too, he muttered to himself.
A late night glance over a piece of folded paper he had originally prepared on the table. He was about to show it to Gilbert if Elizabeth had not barged in before. Well, her case was completely dire and hence should be put on priority.
The letter, however, could wait.
Gilbert saw the wave of her hair, glistering under the streetlights. An empty lane, walked a lone woman back to her home, not knowing what could come next. He should catch up to her and explain that he didn’t mean to reject her. So he quickened his pace, slowly getting closer to her.
For some reason, she also happened to quicken her steps.
Gilbert should probably call her out. It’s getting tiring, especially with how fast he had to keep up with her now. If anyone saw them without context, he’d look like a sexual offender trying to chase another victim. So he took a deep breath and shouted her little name, the single syllable one he usually used to call her.
She finally decided to break the pattern and ran.
What. Gilbert hissed and switched his long step to sprint. To the depth of the district, blinking lights in the distance, pitch black all over the sky; he chased her. He called her out again, but she only moved faster. Gilbert shook his head to the thought of her hurting her feet from running on those heels. That has to scar, what is she doing…
Helped by his strong foothold, Gilbert hopped into the nearest wall and launched himself forward, closing the distance between them. Knowing she’s cornered, Elizabeth dropped to her knees and covered her head and face with her arms, screaming to the quietude for help.
“Jesus. It’s me! Calm down, Liz!”
The gentle wrap around her wrist was enough to shake her awake. She took a peek between her fingers and quickly lowered her arms. Even so, she’s still trembling from all the shock and running, not to mention the chilly night breeze. “It’s you…”
“Yeah. Me. Gilbert. Your annoying mate.” Gilbert sighed, helping her stand. “Why are you suddenly running? You think I’m a bad guy? Didn’t you recognize my voice? Did your feet hurt? Can you walk?”
Elizabeth’s agape, blank eyes staring to the ground. Still shook and out of breath. It took her awhile to give a little head shake.
“You really are followed, huh?”
She nodded, way too weak for Gilbert not to flinch.
“I’ll take you home. Are your feet really okay, though?”
How could she say that when the visible tremor had yet to go away, and distress clearly drained all the color from her face?
Gilbert didn’t let go the hand on her wrist for the rest of the walk. He’s there, leading Elizabeth slowly to her apartment, a pair of cautious eyes taking notes of the surroundings. The snow on the roadside to Elizabeth’s apartment melted into nothing. That’s weird, considering it’s always packed heavily within the season.
Come to think of it, it’s been a while since the last snow.
“Yeah. Spring is coming after all.”
“Huh?” Did he just say that out loud?! “O-Oh, of course! I guess there’ll be less snow onward.”
Elizabeth started to chuckle, Gilbert had never been that relieved to hear that. She’s more relaxed now and could even match Gilbert’s long draw of steps. “Do you like snow that much? You looked disappointed just before.”
“Hmm? Did I? I’m always neutral.”
“Neutralism has nothing to do with your favorite season.” She pinched him once, earning a squeak from him. “It’s a personal preference. You’re allowed to be vocal about it. Mine is winter, actually. Although it’s hecking freezing and slippery. I just love the snow parts.”
“What’s up with snow anyway? It’s a pain in the ass.”
“Well, sometimes it reminded me of you.”
Gilbert blushed. What does that mean. “Because I’m a pain in the ass?”
“No, it’s your hair! Your hair color!” She ran a hand through her hair. “Though your guess is kinda valid too. Somehow.”
Oh. Gilbert wasn’t sure what to reply. So he laughed it off and drew even longer steps, wishing her apartment could just pick them up instead of them walking to it. What a bizarre night.
They stayed silent until then. Arriving in front of her door, the time had finally come for him to let go of her wrist. Gilbert felt painfully heavy with the loss of hold, but did it anyway. Like it said, he didn’t have the right to hold her any longer.
“Do you wanna come in for a sec?”
“Uh, I think I’ll pass.”
Elizabeth’s warm smiles dropped into a pout. “Well, I guess that’s it for today. Thanks for walking me home, though I’m not sure why you did that.”
Why did he do this again? Oh, right. “I want to tell you something actually.”
Her eyes flared in curiosity. “What is it?”
“I’m sorry for losing your ointment.”
Now that face was what you called anger. Elizabeth forced a terrifying smile, the fists she cracked told him to run away. “It’s fine, it’s fine!” she sang-song. “But what you should be apologizing is the fact that you lied to me.”
“Ah, that.” Gilbert averted his gaze, feeling suddenly weak on knees once he met those glares. “I’m sorry, too. For lying about it.”
“Dummy.” She smacked him soft on the shoulders, Gilbert didn’t even avoid the attack. The next time he returned his stares, Elizabeth was frowning and looking concerned over him. “You better use my ointment well. Don’t lose it again! As you can see, it’s limited edition.”
“Got it, Ma’am.”
Even though he’s so sure that he saw the convenience stores stocked it regularly at a cheaper price. Well, whatever worked for her and his bruises.
She smiled and waved him a good night. As the sight of her became more and more distant, and the door between them became more and more hindering, Gilbert thought it’d be the last time she ever let him in if he didn’t act. He had to make up his mind. Now.
“I’ll help you,” he blurted, just a second before Elizabeth completely shut the door. “Being whatever boyfriend you’re asking me to.”
The door was held open. Elizabeth peeked from behind, eyes piercing in disbelief. “Are you being serious?”
“Why would I joke about this kind of thing?!”
“W-Well, I mean—” she pushed the door wider “—you’re completely against it before. Were you forced or blackmailed by someone?”
“No, I’m here on my free will!” Gilbert couldn’t believe he got to face this. He’s probably still in disbelief even after ten years. “I just thought how serious your problem is and therefore, considered your request. And it’s not like you have a way out now that Adam knows my face and probably follows you to confirm—if it turned out to be the truth—or bust you—if it turned out to be a lie. In other words, the only solution other than telling him the truth is to match our relationship with your story. Hopefully he’ll be convinced and leave you alone.”
She’s looking at him with these beaming love gazes, Gilbert really didn’t know what to expect. “I know you’re going to help me! I’m glad you finally get the bigger picture!”
“That’s because you’re such a trouble-magnet all the time!”
“Oh? You’re starting the protective boyfriend act now? We just barely started! At least give me a heads-up!”
“And you’re straight picking up the annoying, needy girlfriend act of all the things you can be!”
“Yeah, except that you can’t complain now that you’re stuck with me!” Elizabeth reached out a hand, offering it to Gilbert. “Deal, boyfriend?”
Gilbert stared at it, all the doubts and wavering bubbling up to his nerves. Was he really going to do this? He’s not in the league to play dating with Elizabeth, not like he wanted a piece of her, but all and all misfortune—Elizabeth was in danger. He’d protect her, just as he promised. But was this the right way?
This will go just fine, the devil spoke. Just hold back when needed. What could go wrong?
He took the handshake, shoving the negative feelings to the back of his mind. “Deal, girlfriend in contract.”
Later on once the door shut, Gilbert ran as fast as he could back to the lane before Elizabeth’s apartment. A pitch dark spot whereas neither moon nor streetlight could reach. He climbed the rusty bars and hopped to the other side, ignoring the loud wrecking beats pumping through his veins. Pretty sure he realized something on the way here with Elizabeth a while ago. An existence lurking around by its shadow, jumping from one scene to another, probably to take a closer picture of Elizabeth.
He caught a glimpse of it. He heard the dashing steps. Gilbert felt it.
Nonetheless he reached the end of the alley and found nothing.
Time remaining: 16 days.