Wise men say; only fools rush in (Elvis Presley – Can’t Help Falling in Love)
Gilbert couldn’t believe either, that 1) he actually accepted the contract, even after a night had passed and he’d been asleep thinking whether he made the wrong decision; and now 2) he dared himself to step a foot inside a so-called sacred building he’d been avoiding ever since he graduated.
Right. The church.
The reason why he harbored such resentment toward it wasn’t even that deep. He grew up there, at least within the community, ate dirt and tasted shits during those years, being told everyday why he’s born different and hence should fulfill his only purpose in this world—which was none other than to reap souls.
“Sister, can I go to the game center once in a while? I heard they have Taken consoles there and I’ve been thinking to go try it—”
“Foolish. That’s not why you are here. You are prepared to be the holy servant of the Lord. Separate yourself from worldliness, He’ll favor you.”
It took him awhile to realize that another reason he hated going to church was because he disliked the idea of having to talk with the one behind all his suffering; the one who took everything he ever desired away; the one who planned out that Gilbert Bernhagen would be living his life miserably like this; his evermore archenemies: God.
This time, though. Only this time. Another day off and another nothing-to-do day. What a morning to be in somewhere he didn’t want to. If only he didn’t make any promises with Mrs. Lee the day before—he swore—this wouldn’t happen for sure.
Anyway, it wasn’t the same church he used to live and study. The front garden was nice despite being covered in bland snow. The main building was small and low; tiny cobble paths connected the church with smaller community buildings in the backyard. The sisters he met were polite and mostly young, probably still in their study. Other than that, he didn’t see any signs of students or quarantine school nearby. Perhaps this church was so small that no one bothered to provide additional service there.
It’s not that bad, Gilbert kept telling himself that, wishing time would go faster.
“Our church looks so small that people often underestimate the community. In reality, we’re quite crowded with events. Charity after visitation, once in a month. Thanks to less, yet hard working committees, everything goes much easier and quicker to be done. You see, I’m a part of them, too!” Mrs. Lee laughed as she flexed her name tag, her arm pushed Gilbert further down to the backyard where several nuns were doing some watering. They greeted Gilbert with a light bow, probably recognizing him and realized he wasn’t just a random bored young man passing a church in his idle times.
“I didn’t even know there’s a small church around here. No one from work ever states anything either. Did the sisters here teach? How’s the graduates?”
“You mean the ‘holy servant’ service? Ah, you see. The diocese hasn’t entrusted us with such matters since we’re considered still short in resources and manpower. But it’s okay! We’ll be there soon! Once the community gets bigger, they will bat an eye and set everything up for us.”
“So that’s how it’s established, huh?” Gilbert sighed, curling his fist underneath the fabric of his coat pocket. “Suppose you have years ahead, are you going to be one of the teaching sisters too, Mrs. Lee? I mean, you like teaching and children…”
The road of tracing the remaining paths stopped abruptly. Mrs. Lee’s flashy smiles dropped, as well as her stern footsteps. She slowly lifted her gaze and laid it on Gilbert; his mouth’s falling agape while wondering if he offended her in some ways.
Just when he’s about to apologize, the woman shook her head and returned her teeth-full smiles. “Do you think I don’t know? I heard everything from Liz, including how hellish your study was. I get it why are you such a rebel now. You were suffocated for so long.”
Gilbert didn’t reply. Inside, he’s nodding.
“You’re right. I love teaching. Based on my work, I’ll probably get recruited soon even without applying first. But you know…” Mrs. Lee took a deep breath, reaching for another step. “If not for this timestamp, I’m going to do it. Not for me, but for you and Liz. And everyone who suffered from the practice. I’m going to do it right. So none of my children suffocates anymore. That’s the least of what I can do.” She chuckled ironically, blowing cold steam back to the sky. “I may not look like it, but I’m certified at my job, you know.”
Gilbert sneered, following her through smaller lanes. “God saw you are certified at your job and decided to take you first. At this point, I’m afraid I don’t understand anything about Him at all, despite years of learning.”
“Oh, Gilbert. Don’t phrase it that way. Look at the brighter side, maybe heaven is short for teachers. If that’s the case, then I’ll be glad to lend a hand.”
Well, judging from what happened with Elizabeth, that could be seriously the case. Who knew really.
One of the nuns called Mrs. Lee out of her conversation. She rushed forward and explained in whispers, something that made Mrs. Lee shrieked and had to excuse herself for a while. “I’ll be back. Feel free to walk around more if you want to,” she said fast before leaving Gilbert in the lane to catch up with the nun. Well, what a day.
Now that he’s out of Mrs. Lee’s care , Gilbert had no reason to be obligated anymore on this church tour. He had paid his visit, now he could go home. Not like he’d be going to see Mrs. Lee anymore, she looked hella busy being the wisest in the district.
But curiosity led him inside the church. Gilbert couldn’t believe it either. The rebel decided to step in and stared directly through the empty rows of wooden seats—a cross at the center of the altar.
This felt familiar after all these years. A wave of memories flashed. He saw the younger him bowed to the cross and knelt before it, hands clasped and eyes shut, mouthing chants he memorized the night before. Once he proceeded with personal wishes, the name of his parents were mentioned several times. Every time he did so, his hands clenched even tighter, shaking and falling. That was the last time he prayed in church, probably because he never got it granted.
This time, Gilbert didn’t bother to pay respect to the cross. He stood there, eyeing the altar sideways with furrowed brows. Hands in his pocket, he cleared his throat after making sure no one else was around except him—and hopefully God himself.
“Hey,” he said, still clearing his throat to adjust. “It’s me. Are You even there?”
Silence. The wind blew outside.
“Been years, isn’t it? Since last time I asked You something. Ah, the irony. Not like I want to ask You again now. Could You at least understand that I’m doing this not for me solely?”
Gilbert chuckled. The sharp gaze melted into soft edges when a certain person came to his mind.
“Elizabeth is in danger. I don’t know what the heck is happening, but I don’t like it. Keep her out of it and protect her. I hate to admit that I can’t always be there for her. But I do hear that You can. Well, only if You agree at the moment. You’re going to take her away, anyway. At least be responsible until the due time.”
Gilbert would laugh later when he got home from bossing The Almighty God in His house.
“And don’t be too harsh on her once she becomes your subordinates. The Bible taught me that You are nice and kind, please live up to that.”
This is stupid, he muttered. Mrs. Lee would soon be back and he didn’t want her to catch him red-handed like this. He better left first and hoped God didn’t disappoint him again like last time.
He glanced at the cross for the last time and couldn’t help but to hold back a clench. Since he had gone far for this place, and since it didn’t hurt to have a little hope—he shut his eyes like how he did years ago and prayed.
“You know what I’ve been struggling too,” Gilbert whispered through the unwanted shivering. He hated that he could look this weak upon a certain subject as opposed to the cost of not wanting to lose something. “Deliver her safely, I neither care what it takes nor what will happen to us. Just make the rest of the path smooth for the sake of her. And… crush whatever feeling I have for her. Things like those seem to complicate matters. I’m fine being the way we are, so please hear me out. Please.”
It was a short day when he received a call from Tae Hee. That boy probably called to ask if Gilbert wanted to buy a cheap sandwich for his lunch. He’d still say yes regardless of all the scolding. Stepping out of the old building, Gilbert picked the call up with a string of smiles tugged—already preparing a punchline to tease his junior when...
“Sir! Emergency! Please locate the map I have sent to you and go there immediately. Miss Elizabeth—she could be in danger!”
The man ran like there’s no other day to practice marathon.
Was it an ambush? Was she being held hostage? How could Tae Hee even know?! Where the hell the maps would lead him to?
Gilbert expected the back of a container or a dead district; an abandoned landfill or underground tunnels, but the journey ended up in a nice, antique café where salary men were queuing long for a free espresso. Tae Hee sat at the corner of the room, waving his hands frantically at Gilbert. The person sitting before him tore her gaze away once she caught Gilbert’s presence, hands visibly fidgeting next to the cold coffee.
“What the heck,” Gilbert said, glaring at both of them. “I thought this was an emergency?!”
“Yeah, it is!” Tae Hee replied with butterflies on his face, still couldn’t read the atmosphere. “That’s why I’m calling you here.”
“None of this setting looks dangerous to me? Tell me the fuck is going on or I’m just going to assume you guys are trolling me.”
“Sir, but that man is—”
“I-It’s not that urgent, cut it out!” Elizabeth barked, refusing to meet any of her seat mates’ eyes. “I told Tae Hee not to call you and asked him only to escort me until the end of the road. If Adam decides to show his face, at least I have a reason to avoid him. Well, that’ll be enough for today.”
Gilbert felt his heart drop. “Wait, what? That guy is here?!”
“I know you’re going to act like this. That’s why I don’t want you to come unless we really need drastic measures. For now, let’s calm down. I’m fine.”
Tae Hee sighed. And this was the first time—Gilbert swore—that punk ever mocked him in such a gesture. Well, he deserved it anyway for jumping into conclusion.
“He’s right there. Somewhere behind the bush.” Tae Hee pointed out the blurry view of outside through the foggy window. “Miss Elizabeth felt he’s been tailing her since the time she left her flat. Even after watching her working for three clients so far, he still hasn’t given up. I’m afraid he will strike once everyone is off guard. That’s why, sir, we need to make our move now. Should we go with diplomacy, by law, or our setup?”
“What setup?” Gilbert retorted.
“The fake dating thingy from yesterday.”
He’s still expected to play boyfriend for a time being. Probably the only reason why he was called here.
Elizabeth pushed away her cup and tapped her finger to the table, carrying the attention back to her. “The thing is, reporting to the higher-ups will take some time since we don’t really have evidence to go. For shortcut, I usually dial Yuriko to quicken the process, but this time I’m sorry for not being able to tell her. You see, she got a fat crush on Adam and I don’t want to ruin it for her until we get the whole truth. I do think diplomacy by talking it out with him is the best way, but all my effort went to vain. He’ll dodge the core while repeating that he cares about my choice of men and that he only wants to protect me. I’ve been planning to catch him on his act, but Adam is one hell of a runner and hider. This is going difficult.”
Gilbert nodded on the last remark. He watched how he left no trails but the slight breeze yesterday night as if the man was trained to be a spy or something.
Realization hit him before anything could come up again.
“So are we going to finally play dating in front of him, then?! Is that what are you trying to say?!”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “Oh, we had this kind talk yesterday! And I thought you have agreed fully to our terms and agreements! Why are you looking so displeased again?”
“I didn’t think we will be going straight away!”
“Gilbert, I swear to…” Elizabeth palmed her face. “I’ll pay for your food and transportation. We don’t do more than slight skin contact and talking to convince people we are not currently going through an arranged marriage. I’ll comb my hair and add some make up after this so at least you don’t have to feel embarrassed going out with me! Do you mind anything from what I stated before?!”
“Of course no way in hell—” Gilbert swallowed. The shift on Tae Hee’s face, all firm yet hard behind the curl of his mouth, successfully turned him off. Then again, he didn’t want to lose a face to his junior.
This was a matter of his face as a gentleman in front of the woman he swore to protect. Were they all just honeyed words? Elizabeth probably wondered in the background. The emotion was clear, swimming in the cut of her gaze.
God damn it, he guessed.
“You don’t have to pay. I’m alright with additional expenses,” Gilbert said, averting his eyes out to the window. Throbs started to vine his temples as he continued, “I’ll put on a good show. You better follow well.”
Tae Hee whistled. Elizabeth blew her nose, a smirk was visible between the slurps.
Gilbert realized something.
Was this how God would answer his prayer?
Because damn, He went too far.
Elizabeth blanked at the sight of giant rotating wheels in front of her, evening sky blinding and bleeding red. The rush of wind from nearby attractions added new sensation to the initial breeze. Screaming of excitement and fear mixed in the distance as the others took turns giving the swing. Adding more to the headache, conversation flew by like several broken tapes being played together as random people passed by feet, talking everything they could mention at given moment; how’s the roasted corn, what do you want to ride next, are you tired yet, you didn’t hold me tight enough; I might lose you, babe.
“Target has arrived. Seven meters to the west, hiding before an electricity pole. Get moving, Miss and Sir!”
Gilbert slid off his phone after pressing it grimly to his ear. Elizabeth didn’t need to ask to know what his nod meant.
“Act natural,” Gilbert mouthed, probably catching how nervous and fidgety Elizabeth was. “Tae Hee will be somewhere watching both us and that jerk. You couldn’t be the one who messed this up.”
The slight pat over the shoulder woke Elizabeth from her fever. It’s not like she hated being at the amusement park. Hell yeah, she rode the heck out of those adrenaline-junkies. If anyone’s scared here, it should be that coward Gilbert. Elizabeth didn’t have to go as far as exposing him as he pissed his pants back when they were still fifteen trying out a new rafting site—but she did. To prove a point that she’s ready.
The problem was… not that.
She was on an arranged date. Wearing her favorite flowery coat and skirts as short as her brain. If it wasn’t for years of training, her knees would just ask to die in every step she took on those seven-centimeters boots. And fuck Gilbert for wearing nothing more than his usual working suit.
“Shut up, dummy. I know what to do,” she hissed, eyes tracing the length of Gilbert’s arm, down to the calloused palms.
This was where it got difficult. Easy for her to say that she’s an experienced (and certified) con whose job was to trick people on a daily basis. Easy for her to convince Gilbert that everything’s going to be okay once she carried most of the operation. Easy for her to plan, rather than thinking of the consequences.
But this? This was new. She never got physical upon conning someone, especially if the opposite actor was her damn crush.
Maybe not. Elizabeth shook her head and withdrew the idea, continued trailing the rest of the path. She could see Gilbert sighing behind and jogged to match her steps. They got faster eventually as Elizabeth got more nervous.
“Can you even ride something? We have to look convincing.”
“Said the one who left her date behind and refused to look him in the eyes!”
“I’m not—!” She rolled her eyes, for the first time since earlier they managed to meet Gilbert’s cold ones. “Okay, sorry. Let’s not get too ahead. There’s nothing natural about us and we have to work it out!”
“Well, yeah. But I’m not going to kiss you.”
She almost choked herself “—NEITHER I AM!”
Gilbert jolted once the phone in his pocket vibrated: one new message from Tae Hee.
‘What the hell was that, sir? Have a softer face! Walk closer! Mr. Stalker ain’t getting any broken heart tonight!’
Damn brat, Gilbert beat Elizabeth to mutter it.
“That’s a fair warning, though.” Gilbert closed his phone, this time sliding it off for good. “I know we just can’t get lovely-buddy all of sudden. For now, let’s… chat normally.”
Elizabeth nodded. “Yeah, right.”
“And walk closer to me.”
So they did. And it was surprisingly successful for the first ten minutes. They continued the little stroll to the carnival area where they bought cotton candy and took turns plucking it out until all left was a rod. Someone could at least feed the other but they did not. Once in a while Elizabeth would point out a booth and asked Gilbert to win her a doll or something. Gilbert, in all of his awkward whimsies, refused to play anything and proceeded to scold Elizabeth for encouraging such a wasting money activity. During the rotary cup, where most couples who took the ride attempted to do a selfie while the rotation was still slow, Gilbert left Elizabeth fucking alone at her cup and jumped to the other cup to straighten his legs, mocking the speed for being such a baby’s play.
At the end of the ride, he ran to the exit, wobbling and stumbling, all the way to the toilet to puke.
Yet, he’s still the one who suggested trying out the new coaster.
Elizabeth dragged him into the souvenir shop instead.
Pulling him deeper to the corner, far away from both Tae Hee’s and Adam’s reach, she inhaled and spat it out.
“You’re like the most unromantic person I’ve ever met.”
Gilbert did look offended, though. “H-How?!”
“There is this saying about being a lover not a fighter, but how can you be neither? I’m signaling you the whole time, Gilbert! Why don’t you just follow, knowing you’re suck at this?!”
“I—You—No!” He shook his head, words pouring out messily from his mouth. “Actually, yes! I’m suck at this whole dating shit, that’s why I do whatever I like even when you call it unromantic! Because to me, what matters the most for this mission to success is to act natural. And this is the most natural I can do for you!” He randomly picked a hat from the counter—the rabbit ears-shaped-like-hat—and put it down Elizabeth’s head. The force said how frustrated he was at her. “Because I hate faking things like this to you. It makes me even more nervous and guilty.”
Before Elizabeth could say anything, Gilbert took out his phone and went to the other corner, leaving her there with that stupid hat on. There was a mirror right behind her and Elizabeth thought she looked so dumb right now.
Not only because of the hat. But the decision she made.
He thought he was the only one who felt nervous and guilty over this?! What’s Elizabeth, then? A bitch who took advantage of her best friend? Did Gilbert even know how thoughtful Elizabeth was every time she led Gilbert somewhere into the park, paying attention to every little detail of gestures she made so it’d look plausible while still on their comfort tolerance?!
Did he know how hard it was not to get Elizabeth’s hope rose every time their knuckles brushed as tiny sparks of both excitement and shiver stole a few beats from her heart—only for her to suppress the joy by reminding herself that it wasn’t that real and they’re only here to pretend.
She’s high on her lovesick and no medicine could cure her now.
Gilbert was there, leaning on one of the pillars, probably having watched Elizabeth dazed off for like five minutes. Great, now even he would think that she’s sick.
“Did someone call you?”
“Tae Hee, uh, scolds us again. He…” He reached the back of his head, eyes twitching in annoyance as his tongue struggled to let out coherent sentences. “Listen, it somehow looks impossible and I know I don’t make it easier by doing what I did earlier. Sorry for that.”
Elizabeth raised a brow. “Yeah. You finally get it.”
Gilbert nibbled his bottom lips, a part of Elizabeth’s mind flew to the cotton candy they shared before. It’s sweet. “Tae Hee told us to hold hands. That’s like our last resort if we want to make this succe—”
“Wait, what do you—”
“—I declined, of course. Our contract said no physical contact as further than necessary.”
Elizabeth couldn’t believe she exhaled so long in relief as if her life had been spared by God himself. Just a slight rush of bare skin was enough to make her jolt the whole day, what about an hour long of constant contact?!
“He did have another plan, though. We are asked to ride the Ferris wheel now.”
How could the wheel be so terrifying? No one knew really what would happen inside, especially if you’re going in with your crush.
The sky was already dark when they hopped into one of the slots. As Gilbert dialed Tae Hee back, Elizabeth took her time inspecting the whole interior of the chamber; how warm it was inside since it’s the cloistered type, how dewy the windows were and they could barely see the town’s landscape but blurry lights of polka dots, how high they would go, and how long until they reached bottom again.
It’d be a nice and short ride, Elizabeth thought as she dumped herself to the opposite side of Gilbert’s seat. Nothing could go more wrong.
“We’re in,” Gilbert whispered, turning on the speaker of his phone once Tae Hee picked up. “What now?”
“Oh no, I missed my slot! Sorry I couldn’t join you guys,” Tae Hee said from the other side, voices were a little intermittent as their chamber went higher. “Hey, good news. Look behind and try not to be surprised. Don’t make it obvious either.”
Elizabeth was the first one to notice the horror.
Not even a whole second she paid a glance over the chamber before them, the tip of the passenger’s hair had already scared her, no matter how heavy his disguise was.
“What the fuck are y—”
“Don’t look back!”
Gilbert jumped from Elizabeth’s loud warning. He froze and gripped his phone even tighter. “Okay. I finally understand how dire the current situation is.”
Tae Hee huffed to the mic, making the phone buzz in high vibration. Though they were far above, Elizabeth could catch a glint of irritation from his face down there, leaning on the queue rail as kids jostling around him.
“Mr. Stalker beat me to my slot, as you can see. But when I thought about it, that’s good! Now he can get a closer, intimate look on you guys—meaning it’s time for you to go all out!”
“What the hell do you mean by all out?! Is this what you called a plan B?!”
“Sir, you have to look at the bright side! His eyes are all onto you. You get to make it worth it!”
“Shut up, brat. You don’t help us at all.”
His phone went slammed to the wall. Now still on his seat, Gilbert rubbed both sides of his temples and groaned. Elizabeth wished she could join him; grunting her whole life and contemplating her life choices, but somebody gotta be the sane one here.
“Stop sulking, Gilbert. None of you fix the problem at all. Adam’s still watching us and if he really does come this far to have his heart broken, then we’ll just need to give what he wants.”
“What? You have a plan now, too?”
“Let’s pretend to kiss.”
Okay, she took back the part where she tried to convince herself to be sane. No one was trying anymore. It was past her bedtime, or at least she should be at her room applying skin care and face mask, not going on a fake paid date with her childhood friend. If there’s a way not to prolong the whole situation, as if it’s not bad enough, she’d do it. Looking past Gilbert and his idiot face, there lied Adam and his bored face. If this would be their last show, Elizabeth had to be… gravely all-out.
“Are you fucking cra—”
“Yes!” She dared herself to sit on the same bench with Gilbert, completely cornered him by stealing half of his personal space. “We just gotta make it believable enough from his point of view. Imagine you’re in a romantic photo shoot or something! Imagine you’re modelling for a one million dollar worth of pay! If that doesn’t motivate you, then honestly I don’t know what else.”
“One million dollar in exchange of my pride?! No way in hell!”
“You think I’m the only one sacrificing my pride here? From the moment I begged you to help me, I already felt like the worst scumbag ever alive. If only I wasn’t chased by some crazy lunatic guy I met randomly because you were drunk that certain night, then you think I want to be in this position? No, thanks! So let’s just get this over!”
“Okay. That excuse is getting old now. Stop mentioning it.”
“I don’t know! I don’t want to care anymore who’s at fault here or whose to blame.” Elizabeth tore her gaze away, instead watching as the wheel brought them higher and higher, to the endless pit of sky full of stars, breeze caressing their exposed skin as it craved warmth. It could have been romantic. It could have turned into the best first-date ever. Yet it didn’t. Because two people were still stuck on their egos. She sighed, feeling stupid for ever thinking it would work out just fine.
Higher, higher, they passed through the peak in silence, feet facing the opposite direction despite sitting on the same side. The rest was just a cat fight of whose brick wall was the thickest. And by the end of the ride, none would be resolved, they’d probably continue on a mundane fight, Tae Hee fell disappointed, and Adam… he’d be him. What a waste of effort. What a waste of night. Then again, Elizabeth still got two weeks to fix things. She just needed to pretend that it’s enough.
Croaky voice pierced through the heavy air. Someone decided to drop their egos, finally.
“I don’t want you to be uncomfortable. Tonight is already bad enough after all.”
Elizabeth looked up, returning Gilbert’s stilled eyes on her. They were tired, red and tender at the edges. He never looked at her that soft before.
“Only if you insist,” he said, stuttering a little. “But don’t put too much expectation. I’m no good at acting.”
They shifted into facing each other. Elizabeth had watched countless dramas before, even having zero experiences on this she could recite the steps of ‘kissing’ as if it’s on the back of her hand. It’s different, nonetheless. When it put into action, everything seemed to blur under the loud beat of the caged beast in her chest. She caught his attention. They were setting into the mood. But what should she do now? Who’s going to make the first move? Was it better to close her eyes? Wouldn’t it be scarier to wait in uncertainty? But it’d be awkward as hell if she just watched him getting closer to her.
“H-Hey. You should be closer to me,” Elizabeth mouthed. “And use your back to cover his sight. Probably push me a little so I’ll be out of his view.”
That was a tensed voice. Even Gilbert was having a slight tremor upon cupping her face with his cold palms, shoving her down as he turned his back on the rear window. Elizabeth made sure Adam was watching them every second before Gilbert’s whole face took all of her vision. There was certainly a glint on them, she’s going to make his jaw drop to beyond.
“Is it good enough?”
His breath tickled the bridge of her nose. Okay, to be honest, this wasn’t good. Elizabeth could pass out from the tension. “I-I don’t think this is a good kissing… stance? I’m very uncomfortable right now. My back hurts.”
He let go one of his cupped palms to slide into Elizabeth’s back, supporting her overall position. The worst thing was Gilbert didn’t have quite a long arm to keep the distance between, so instead he drew her even closer to him now. She couldn’t move, his arm locked her from behind.
Elizabeth didn’t get any time to complain whether her back still hurt or what not.
“Do we look tensed?”
“Gilbert, well.” She sighed, and hated the thought of anything she breathed out now would be breathed in by Gilbert—vice versa. “I don’t know how to improve mine but you... you straighten your back too much. Loosen up.”
Come down here, bastard. She bit her tongue before the words could escape.
And he did that. He loosened his back, half of their bottom torso were pressed onto each other; Gilbert was literally leaning on her with one of his leg was bent between Elizabeth’s, closing the remaining distance between as she could feel their nose touching, lips were prying onto each other; and exchanging breaths never became this intense before. Hell, she’s not even sure what they’re exchanging when the two of them were pretty much out of breath now.
At this point, they were too scared to ask how long they should be doing this.
Should she cut it out? The evidence was clear enough, right? Adam was definitely shocked by now, holding back manly tears upon being slapped by the reality that he would never get a piece of her. She had enough of observing how many freckles Gilbert hid around his nose now that she got a closer look, or the mixed smell of sandalwood and mint invading her smell bud, the growing warmth of the once cold touch now sprawled across the side of her neck, fingers playing absently with the sensitive skin behind her ears, the sound of rustling machine racing with her (or his?) heartbeat—and more importantly, as she trailed her eyes down, she wondered if Gilbert’s chapped-looking lips actually tasted soft or that’s just how it looked during cold weather.
She wondered if Gilbert thought the same when she caught him staring at her lips too.
Perhaps they should just wake up and pay attention more to time. Because it surely passed quickly in the meantime when they thought it had stopped for them.
Elizabeth wanted to scream when she noticed the door of their chamber was opened which meant they had reached the bottom of the wheel again—but instead of getting words of ‘hope you enjoy the ride!’, they were being frowned by the gatekeeper.
Gilbert beat her up in terms of shouting ‘SORRY!’ while stumbling on the floor, clearly forgetting how to walk as he pulled Elizabeth’s wrist out from the chamber. Even Elizabeth was having hard time processing things, letting Gilbert drag her useless feet far far away from the ferris wheel, Adam, the crowd, or anyone who might witness what happened inside that tiny chamber and left with an impression that both of them were enjoying it.
Later on when they finally caught their first breath, Gilbert soon came to realize that he had left his phone in the chamber after slamming it to the wall. Elizabeth couldn’t believe herself for almost kissing that stupid fucking idiot.
“What do you mean it’s gone?! I just left it less than fifteen minutes ago?!”
Okay, that fixed it. Gilbert boiled his blood to egg there, talking to the park guard about losing his goddamn phone. Apparently they couldn’t find anything in the chamber and subtly suggested the next person riding their chamber might have stolen it.
“Then do something about it!! You guys are the one responsible for security on this place and what’s with that attitude you’re throwing at me?!”
“We have to look at the CCTV footage then. Sadly no one can really access it unless by the order of the owner and to be able to get it you have to blah blah blah blah blah—it usually takes two or three weeks to grant the permission. We can help you if you insist to—”
“Suck your own ass!”
Gilbert could care less about his phone, honestly. Just a few clicks on PC to shut down all of his accounts on that particular device, then he’d be okay. Not like he’s too broke to afford another phone, perhaps it’s time to buy a new one too. He wasn’t going to spend his three weeks waiting for an old-fashioned phone to come back. That’s a hell long of a time.
Especially with this whole thing about Elizabeth.
Still, though. Fuck the security of this place.
It was two hours before midnight and the park was preparing for its shut down. Most visitors have left the site already; the usually crowded path now felt too spacious for just him and a few janitors. Gilbert was about to return to the bench he left Elizabeth to seek for his phone’s justice when he noticed another living being other than him and janitors sitting in a park not far from the wheel. He had his palms covering his face, back was bent forward as his elbows supporting the weight of his head. Even when he couldn’t see the face, Gilbert knew who the hell was that.
“Get the fuck up, asshole.”
The man looked up from his miserable position, eyes warily meeting Gilbert’s fiery ones. There was a flash of surprise for the first second before he gave him a squint. “You.”
This guy, Adam, had a face of a block of concrete. After everything that happened before his eyes, he’s still here waiting for… no one knows! Why didn’t he go home and cry his pretty face to death?! Did he seriously think Elizabeth would come and assure him some comfort?! Or did he stay to challenge a fight to Gilbert?! Heck yeah. How coincidence! Now it’s a good time to fight, Gilbert’s frustration from earlier had morphed into adrenaline in a way he’s more pumped up now to beat the shit out of this annoying bitch.
He lifted him up by collar. Surprisingly, for someone as muscular as him, Gilbert didn’t feel much strain on his muscles. Thanks, adrenaline, it did work. “Now what?! You satisfied yet, dumbass pervert?! You still think stalking women is cool?”
Adam groaned, yet insisted to hold a lasting eye contact with Gilbert. “…you really her boyfriend, huh?”
“Yeah.” The grip went tighter. “What about that?”
Gilbert was seriously thinking to drag this guy to Azrael’s feet until Adam circled his fingers around Gilbert’s wrist and clutched it—
—damn, that hurt.
“Cut it off, you prick.” The sudden power overthrew Gilbert as Adam yanked himself out from the child play. That muscle arm could actually do something, huh. “I’m not here to mess around. Break up with her.”
“Why?!” Gilbert snorted, carefully hiding the strain on his wrist. “Because some guy like you is jealous?!”
“Staff 146 from District 8, Gilbert Bernhagen.” Adam’s voice pierced sharper, the sound of Gilbert’s official identity being declared by the mouth of a mere reaper sent chill down to his spine. Unless, Adam was… “It was a foolish action, really, when you know you shouldn’t be doing this. I was only trying to help you realize.”
“What do you mean I shouldn’t be doing what?”
“The thing you developed for Miss. Elizabeth. Why would you let it continue when in the end it will make your work harder than it’s supposed to?”
Gilbert shouldn’t really ignore this guy. “Who the hell are you and what’s your problem?!”
“I’m Adam Huber, as you probably already know.” Adam straightened his tie, cold eyes prying on every Gilbert’s twitch. “One of Azrael’s right hand, or secret agent, if I may say. I was tasked to keep an eye on Miss Elizabeth as a matter to protect her until her day arrived. Azrael even told me to be her contact lover so that I can keep her from going anywhere. Right now I see you as a threat both to Miss Elizabeth and us.”
The name echoed in his eardrum. “Azrael… ordered you such things?”
Even someone as high as The Angel of Death himself tried to put his hands on Elizabeth?
Adam sighed, leaving a temporary trail of smoke. “I wasn’t supposed to be telling you these as it is supposed to be confidential information. But I’ve been friends with Miss Yuriko too and I know you three were close. Look, Gilbert, like I said before I’m here to help you. If Azrael knows what’s going on between you two, not even I can predict what he will do to you. Before that happened, do consider this.”
Gilbert wanted to spit on him. To just laugh it off and call him a horrible liar. Secret agent, my ass! Did he expect him to be scared after such words?! Adam was only making things up to achieve what he wanted—don’t be fooled by it.
…that’s what Gilbert usually did and said.
Yet he didn’t know why he was shaking now after completely absorbing the situation he was in.
Elizabeth stared dumbfounded at her phone. The park was about to close and she was there left alone sitting on a bench under a lamp full of flying termites. Gilbert went back to the ferris wheel to get his phone and Tae Hee abruptly left in the midst of accompanying her. Apparently the higher-ups called him to the headquarter for some unspeakable reason. And now it’s been approximately thirty minutes since she dozed off, waiting to be surprised by anything but nothing ever happened.
What on earth she had gotten herself to do. Gilbert was kind enough the whole time not to bring up anything from the chamber, but could they really go without talking about it once? This wasn’t the first time a similar situation happened either. Could it be mutual? Or maybe Elizabeth was just too high thinking the impossible. Right, she’s in no position to be selfish.
Maybe I should just drop it.
The look on Gilbert’s face when he returned was neutral, but stern at certain parts. He didn’t say anything other than urging Elizabeth to leave soon and that he would take her home.
“What about your phone?”
“Your phone.” She nudged him as they passed the exit gate, chuckling nervously in an attempt to melt the atmosphere. “How can you forget if that’s not the reason you left me waiting for almost an hour?”
“Oh, sure.” He bit his bottom lips, forcing out a smile. “It’s gone. Screw those guards.”
“Woah. Sure. Screw them.” Elizabeth pat his shoulders. They were tense. “I’ll buy you a new one. It’s my fault anyway for asking you to be here, doing these sort of things.”
“Don’t. I have my pride as a man, you know.”
“And here I thought you’re in because of free lunch?”
“Liz, god, shut it. I’m trying to think!”
“The bus route! What bus should we take again?!”
Gilbert was bad at bus routes. He survived by either asking someone at a stop or taking Elizabeth with him. Even after years and years living in the same town, he’d just continue being a shameless, helpless adult. Then again, she loved it every time he relied something on her. He didn’t really trust anyone after all.
She laughed and for the million times, showing Gilbert the map displayed at the stop, teaching him how to read it. He would never get it anyway, it became concerning sometimes.
“We have four stops before we arrive at the closest stop to my house. These dots indicate the stops. If you’re confused, just trace the path with your finger until it reaches any of the desired destinations. Come on! Don’t be a dumbass!”
“I’m trying!” He aggressively traced the route Elizabeth had shown earlier, but still managed to mess up by following a whole different line. At this point, his finger was heading toward the outer part of the town instead of Elizabeth’s downtown apartment and she couldn’t help but to burst out laughing.
“What a lost cause.” She placed her hand on his and forcefully dragged his finger back to the stop they’re at, patiently moved it by following the correct line. Gilbert’s hand was shaking underneath hers, and it was unusually cold. Perhaps she had made him uncomfortable. “Here. We arrive.” She made him knock at a certain dot. “That’s the route. You got it?”
Instead of replying by words, Gilbert just shook his head and immediately slipped his hand away from Elizabeth’s, shoving it to the pocket of his jacket. Elizabeth eyed him with a worried look, but chose not to tease him. It used to be a friendly manner between them. She wondered what else would change after this.
The bus came and they hopped to the back seats. There were not many passengers at the moment; just a few salary men looking down their phones and a couple right in front of them, having their fingers locked onto each other. They were giggling non-stop during the whole ride and couldn’t seem to set their volumes right as they flirted really really loudly; they’d replace the bus speaker soon with lewd comments.
The couple dove into a passionate kiss, creating their own bubbles by the minute they decided to make the decision. Everything else seemed to melt away from their perspective as they completely ignored Elizabeth’s sudden uncontrollable coughs behind. This for sure, the worst ride she ever took. Normally she expected Gilbert to explode and start shouting swear words at them, but he surprisingly was calm or rather ignorant toward the whole situation for he dozed off at the sight of passing buildings.
They got off after the stop the couple made and continued to walk wordlessly to Elizabeth’s apartment, strolling through lanes by lanes. Probably the most painful walk-home ever, Elizabeth wasn’t sure if something she did earlier bothered Gilbert. Was it the fake kiss? Or the hands-on-hands at the bus stop? Or her body odor getting worse over time?
“I’m fine here. You can go home.”
Gilbert was startled when Elizabeth stopped him at the lobby of her apartment. He usually followed her until the front of her door. “Well, if you said so.”
“Yeah.” She rubbed the back of her nape. “Uh, thanks for today. You really saved me a lot of unnecessary work.”
Gilbert hummed. “Don’t mention it.”
“Hmm, ’kay. Good night.”
She halted, pulling back the building doorknob. When she turned around, Gilbert was already staring into her. Hands still on his pocket, shoulders tensed as ever, upper teeth chewing his bottom lips. The idiot finally got something to say, Elizabeth thought he’s going to bring everything to his grave.
“You never date, don’t you?”
“I—W-What about that?”
Gilbert was pulling a dead-meat stare into Elizabeth’s soul when he said it—almost too ridiculous for all she understood.
The second Elizabeth pushed the door to her room, she was surprised by lights clicking by themselves as tons of confetti falling onto her. Well, did she miss her own birthday, or what?
Switching to hoodie and baggy pants, Yuriko came out from her hiding, hands in the air as she dropped a party popper to the floor, she jumped and hugged Elizabeth tight. She didn’t reek of alcohol, hard to believe she did this in a sober state.
“Okay, cool.” Elizabeth returned her hug. “What’s up?”
She pulled off and shook Elizabeth while shrieking. “You won’t believe this. I have two good news!”
Elizabeth chuckled. What is happening, she muttered. “How good are they, that you feel the need to pop out a confetti? At my room, on top of that!”
“Come on, I’m going to help clean up!”
Yuriko dragged her to the couch as she showed Elizabeth something from her phone screen. Something about Adam texting ‘yes’ to Yuriko. Elizabeth didn’t bother to read the previous chat, she shrugged and frowned at her best friend. “Yes to what?”
“God, Liz. You never pay attention, don’t you? Ah, well, okay. I mean, you are excused this year. But still!”
“Speak clearly to me, please?”
Yuriko exhaled. Elizabeth surely deserved that. “My birthday is in the next four days, darling! As usual, I’m throwing a party!”
Oh, that! Surely enough, Elizabeth remembered… She faked a regretful face and pat Yuriko’s back, nodding in understanding. “Good luck with that. Is there anything I can do to help you?”
Yuriko rolled her eyes, probably swearing under her breath. “No. But your presence is very much appreciated.”
“I won’t be coming again if it turns out to be an office-drinking-party like how it went last year! Tell everyone to dress nicely instead of going straight from work to your house!”
“Yeah, yeah. I don’t understand why you got so worked up over that, but okay. I’ll try.” She flashed the phone screen again to Elizabeth and grinned. “Even Adam said yes! He’s no party person, many said he always refused any invitation. You know, all I did was to push my luck and—boom! Oh. My. Jesus.”
“Yeah, Jesus must be proud.” Elizabeth didn’t feel good once she heard that name. After all the things she went through today, that jerk Adam now moved his objection to Yuriko. She really wished her intuition was wrong this time because there’s no way she’s letting that guy lay a hand on Yuriko.
“Can you at least sound excited if not your face? Let your friend taste love for one day, can she?”
“What’s the other good news?”
“Ah, actually.” Yuriko slumped herself down to the couch, hugging the pillow tight. “I asked the higher-ups if I could grant you early retirement.”
“What?” Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. She didn’t expect that. “But I don’t ask for such a thing?”
“Because you don’t think it’s possible! Everyone in our position would like to have that, just so you know. The original contract said you gotta work until your last day, but if you speak nicely to them—like me, for example—you can have up to five days prior vacation! How cool is that?”
“Five days? Yuriko, I would rather literally work to death than spending my last five days doing nothing but contemplating my entire life.”
“No, no! I can visit you over time! We can have 5 days straight of girls-out night and eat pizza like no one cares!”
“Yeah, but only after you get off work! What am I supposed to do during the day?”
Yuriko gasped. “You can ask Gilbert to come over—”
“No, he’s working too.”
“I’ll clear up some of his schedule—”
“Oh, come on, Yuriko! I know you’re my best friend and as a best friend of someone with power, I don’t think I can abuse my privilege like this. Just let me live my last days normally, please?”
“Liz…” Yuriko pleaded. “There’s nothing normal about spending your last days stamping people to death. You want to know how people usually do when in your position? They resign from their job, host a party, be with their loved ones. That’s the essence of living. And that’s how you should do it, too!”
“But they’re different. They are normal. I can’t be living the same way as them.”
Yuriko eyed her for a minute, something about those sharp, dismayed looks told Elizabeth that she just got pitied by her friend. “I’m sorry,” Yuriko said, “if I disappointed you with the choices I made for you. But I already submitted the whole thing to the higher-ups and I don’t think I can take it back. So you have to accept your early retirement, no matter what.”
“Thank you.” Elizabeth wanted to hit her head with the nearest wall. “Thanks for the effort. I appreciate you.”
“I actually have some bad news that I want to tell you. But you’re looking rather upset now. I’m afraid to continue.”
Elizabeth groaned. “What is it? Just tell me!”
“No, no. Ask Gilbert. He’ll know.”
“Woah, you two are hiding something from me?”
Yuriko’s eyes widened as she proceeded to point her finger at Elizabeth. “I feel like you two are the ones hiding something from me. You and Gilbert go out more often these days and never told me anything!”
“Not that often, I mean—”
“I’m surprised you didn’t bring Gilbert in when he made the effort of walking you home. I was waiting in anticipation for sure!”
Now was the time for Elizabeth to gasp. “You knew?”
“Tae Hee told me.”
Ah, true. Tae Hee left them early to meet the headquarters’ call. He probably crossed paths with Yuriko and blabbered everything. What a mouth. “What did he say?”
“That you three went to the park together? Even when you know I won’t be able to come, at least text me up for formality. You know how hurtful I am to be left out like this?”
Nice. He didn’t get to the real part of the event. For once she’s thankful that Tae Hee was a little bit stupid yet clever at the same time. “Right, I’m sorry. I make sure I ask you next.”
“You better be!” She wiped off fake tears from her eyes. “For revenge, I have another bad news for you.”
“This won’t end easily, will it?”
“Liz. Can I stay overnight?”
The key clicked and Gilbert pushed his door, revealing the scene behind. There’s the usual dim room with curtains waving slightly at his comeback, except there were no more unwashed plates on the wash bin or scattered cup noodles everywhere on the floor. Somebody’d been cleaning, he thought.
“I thought you are an intern, not a maid,” he muttered, loud enough to be heard by the boy across the room.
Tae Hee turned his back and smiled wide upon seeing Gilbert. He was folding his shirts—and Gilbert’s too—casually doing it like it’s his job for the past 18 years of his life. “Sir, you’re home! How’s the rest of the date?”
“Shut up.” Gilbert slumped himself into the couch, finding himself smiling very fondly. He wondered why. “Where did you go, brat? Leaving us alone like that?”
“The headquarter. I have to, uh, fix some things before tomorrow.”
“Even a kid like you is busier than me, huh? Let me tell you something. If you are called a lot by the people there, there is a high chance they like you and want you to transfer to the headquarter. You may get promoted soon once the internship over.” Gilbert chuckled, feeling like an old man reminiscing the good old days with a booze on his bedpost. “I was slacking a lot during the internship. No wonder I can’t be anything now. Hey, don’t be like that. At some point you just have to accept the fact that you’re never going to live normally.”
Tae Hee hummed, this time without turning his back he continued folding piles by piles. “But they still trust you to handle an intern? Perhaps you’re not as bad as you think?”
“Honestly, kid. I imagined you had to be problematic enough to be placed under me. Well, good for you. You have the greatest achievement for surviving the worst mentor and still come out great. The higher-ups must be both very disappointed and proud.”
“To be honest, you’re not bad, sir. Just a little too harsh at some point.”
Flickering lights blinding the man lying underneath it, as if they’re trying to give him a sign. “You’re saying this like you’re about to leave or something.”
“Mr. Gilbert.” Tae Hee swallowed a lump on his throat. “There’s a letter on the table.”
Tae Hee made it sound like he just received another credit card bill, nevertheless Gilbert’s sure he didn’t mistake his eyes when he saw a white envelope with red stamp on the dining table. He’s definitely an idiot for trying to think optimistic while reading the rest of the letter.
The room fell silent. Sometimes it’s just the sound of Gilbert’s rushing breath and the rustling of Tae Hee’s furious shirt folding. It took Gilbert quite a time too, to realize that all the shirts he’s been folding ended up placed in a suitcase next to him.
“Okay.” Gilbert took a deep breath, trying to process the emotion that savored his mind now. “This letter arrived yesterday and you’re just telling me now?”
“I can’t help it. You two were caught up in such a storm that I couldn’t even bring up the whole subject.”
“Said fucking who?” Gilbert slammed the paper on the table, approaching Tae Hee through his heavy steps. “Well, if the letter said you’ll be moved to Auckland a month later from yesterday, perhaps I don’t be as mad as now but NO! It’s tomorrow! You are leaving tomorrow! What the actual shit?!”
“Sir, calm down!” Tae Hee said, voice cracking. “It’s for the best too! They are in need of fresh graduates and I was selected. You said you’re proud if I can show my competency and… here I am! I can’t just stay in this city forever, you know, as much as I want to.”
“They said the same thing too about heaven lacking angels, that’s why they took Liz away from us! And now you are… dang it.” Gilbert grabbed his key and coat, walking out with anger flaring all over his face.
“Where the fuck is Auckland anyway?! A new planet?” was his famous last words before he banged the door too hard, they might need to look at the hinges later.
“I know it’s a silent agreement between us, but I messed up and told Tae Hee that you’re going to leave.”
Elizabeth responded faster than he thought.
“Please tell me you’re joking.”
“I couldn’t help it!” Gilbert typed, the night breeze he felt when sitting at the rooftop of a skyscraper was certainly different than just above the lands. He tapped lightly on his laptop—damn, he still needed to buy a new phone—before sending another message. “It looked like he was assigned to a new place. Duckland, if I’m not mistaken. Where the hell is that?”
The view was different too. It used to be him looking up to the row of street lamps throughout the street, but right now he’s looking down at them. The silent gleam of nightlife sprawled before him, even went beyond the landscape his eyes could see. He had to trespass a few security guards on the way up here, but thanks to the invisible coat he wore for work, doing illegal things became much easier.
New message was in. He could hear Elizabeth mocking from far. “It’s Auckland! New Zealand! Come on, idiot!”
“That’s hella far!”
“It’s pretty common, I would say. You also can be assigned to a new place too, if they said so.”
“But he’s still an intern?! And it’s too sudden?”
“Tbh, at this point I’m not sure whether you’re just purely worried over him or you just don’t want to admit that you’re not ready to be alone again.”
That’s it. Gilbert texted Elizabeth for validation and reassurance, but instead he got slapped by the truth. He knew he’s exaggerating things. For his sake, they’ve only been partners for like a week or so, it’s not like Gilbert had spent half of his life with Tae Hee, that idiot. If anything, they’re not meant to create a bond so strong in such a short time that one was afraid to lose the other, but they did anyway. Gilbert hated strong attachment, for all it brought was painful goodbyes.
In the end he brought it upon himself.
“I just asked Yuriko. She’s surprised he didn’t tell you earlier. He came to the headquarter today to finish the administration.”
“Is Yuriko with you?”
“Yeah-_- She’s already in my room when I’m back. Thank god I didn’t take you in.”
Ah, he was about to call her straight, but with Yuriko’s around it wouldn’t be a wise choice. “You’re coming tomorrow?”
“Sure. I have a lot to say to Tae Hee, especially about the thing you spoiled at him earlier -,-”
“Okay okay, sorry.” Gilbert could imagine Elizabeth pouting behind the phone screen she desperately hid from Yuriko. For some reasons, his belly felt warm and something was fluttering merrily inside his rib cages. “Well since he’ll be leaving, you should come clear for all.”
“Aren’t you too? You’re always so stone-sweet with him, it’s hard to tell whether you’re falling for him or what :p”
“Jk. Are you more relaxed now? Haha, idiot. Dummy :)”
The warmth got more intense the more he received her texts. The feeling was always there, but tonight confirmed it. This girl would be the death of him.
“Chill, Gilbert. It’s not like he’s going to die or anything. Call him once in a while. Tell him you missed him.”
“There you go, you and your ego. Good luck suffering from it.”
It looked like Yuriko busted her or sort of, because his next ‘good night’ text went unread. Gilbert dropped his back on the concrete, the view of endless skies washed over anything else. The city light corrupted everything, but once in a certain distance he could see a dot of white shining faintly. It could be the most distant thing he ever tried to reach within the grasp of his palm, but did anyone ever know what was the most distant yet closest thing in this world?
The line between life and death. The angels may walk among you, little did you know how far both your world are separated apart by the deity.
“You never date, don’t you?”
Gilbert didn’t know what was happening in his mind when he blurted that. Perhaps he was drugged on the way home since he didn’t feel like joking around.
He’s just tired. And wanted to change something.
Elizabeth froze, amber eyes widened at the sight of him staring back at her with so much courage after such a saying. He expected her to laugh and pushed him away. This night was a joke already and it’d be natural if she also took this one as a joke. Gilbert was fine with that. There’s something heavy in his chest that was lifted after all, whether the woman gave him an answer or not.
But she didn’t. And if Gilbert didn’t do anything, they’d spend the entire night eating each other through curious gazes.
“I don’t force you. Only offering options.”
“What options?” Elizabeth finally said a word. “How—why—I don’t understand.”
“I’m being kind to you,” said Gilbert, keeping his tone steady unlike his heartbeat. “You’re probably lonely and if you need someone to be there, well, I’m offering myself.”
It seemed like Gilbert broke her. In the end her voice went flat and all Gilbert heard was the ringing inside his ears. “I still don’t understand.”
Alright, Gilbert shoved the ball of impatience down his throat and if he had to spell it out for her, he’d do it. Right now, he hoped the language he spoke was humane enough for fellow humans to understand. “I may not be six feet tall with tanned skins, black hair and blue eyes, owned a penthouse and a private beach in Maldives, but be honest with me. Am I that ugly that you have the heart not to consider me even once? Or is it the ‘childhood friends’ barrier that make you think it’s not going to work? Do tell me, Liz. Say something.”
“No—I mean!” She ripped her gaze apart, sticking it to somewhere past his shoulder. It’s cute to see her losing her composure, wringing her fingers and nibbling her lips, doing all sorts of things that screamed how nervous she was. Nonetheless Gilbert couldn’t say he’s winning the situation, since the way his body acted was definitely no better than her. “Whether you really have feelings for me or not—which I’m going to put aside for later—I don’t understand what’s the point of trying to form a relationship with someone that will die in a few days? Won’t it hurt yourself in the end?”
Gilbert blinked at the question. “I never think about that. I mean it’s not about me. It’s about you.”
“Relationships don’t work like that, Gilbert. It’s supposed to be a two-way road.”
“That’s—” he gulped “—a different case! Well, think about it the other way. You can’t keep that kind of mindset forever. How are you not allowed to date someone because you’re afraid one of you is going to pass away? Everyone will die, and what’s wrong with that?”
“Not when a system called ‘timestamp’ exists in this world! It’s a whole different circumstance now!”
“Well, fuck that system! I ain’t submitting myself to rules!”
Elizabeth cussed under her breath. He couldn’t just say that when they were literally the workers of said system.
Gilbert didn’t give up either. Nevertheless, the fire in him roared. “Liz, just say it to my face. You want it, or no? If yeah, let’s work on it. If no, call it off now. You want a trial class? Fine, let’s do that too.”
It’s a dirty play for Gilbert to say that. Elizabeth really wanted to believe Gilbert was just too exhausted to ever think straight (did he ever?) or still grieving about his lost phone that he felt so lonely and therefore asking her out. Somehow she had to find a way to get out from there—from being held captive by those stares.
Then again, Elizabeth had lied a lot these past few weeks; that she’s okay, that she’s doing great, that she’s happy with a choice someone else made for her. How low she could be, if she lied to herself about this too?
Was she really undeserving of love she never had?
That was a painful stretch of silence. At this point, they both were surprised at how neither of them was willing to leave. There weren’t even dramatic snows falling in the background, boosting the mood whatsoever. All that could be heard were their rushing breaths against each other—and the passing sound of ambulance’s siren from faraway traffic; the flashing light caressing the line of Elizabeth’s cheekbones and reminding Gilbert of how grim life could be.
Her voice cut the absence of words, shaky yet careful. “Do you really, though?”
Do you really love me? Or is it something you’ll try to find out after I say yes?
Gilbert took his gaze away for the first time, slamming it down to the ground as he played with the knock of his foot. He wondered why it’s so easy to say, ‘let’s date,’ but when it came to ‘I love you’ the weight increased and suddenly he found himself re-thinking about everything? Didn’t he conclude it long ago?
He wasn’t sure at first. Blurry memories melted with the vivid one, his days became more apparent after Elizabeth joined in one of his episodes. Gilbert remembered spending his days looking at girls and tried to figure out his ideal type, perhaps encouraging himself to talk with one of them and even flirting a few lines. The weirdest thing was, he never got any. Or more like, he lost motivation to keep in touch with them. He went to Elizabeth instead and vented how bored he was and she’d always laugh at him like he’s a trending meme or something—not that he’s mad but he sure liked the way she laughed because of him.
In the end, he’s drawn back to her. Again. And again.
“Well, let’s save it for later,” Elizabeth interrupted his train of thoughts, bringing him back to the present days. “Okay, fine. Let’s do a trial.”
Gilbert swallowed down a choke. He swore he didn’t expect that one. “Wait—it’s not supposed to be an option—”
“Well, you said I’m the one deciding!” Elizabeth huffed, crossing both her arms. “Let’s do demo-dating or something. I mean, I can’t speak of myself either. As much as I despise you for not figuring it all out yet, it turns out I’m still as confused as you. So why not give it a try? We can both learn from each other.”
She actually made sense. Gilbert didn’t realize he was grinning like an idiot now. “If you said so. I can take that as an answer.”
“Besides, I feel bad about your phone. Let me make it up for you with something else.”
“No, no, not the damn phone. You’re pitying me now.”
“But, hey. Seriously.” She tiptoed and cupped Gilbert’s face with her palms; this way Gilbert would not spill his attention anywhere but her. He held his breath, letting the touch freeze him in a good way. “Thank you. Thank you for tonight.”
There’s no way this is a dream, right? As if it’s taken straight from a fairy tale whereas everything is too good to be true.
He flinched, slipping himself away from the intoxicating contact. There were days back then when they would do that to each other and it’d be considered normal. Now that things were escalating for them, suddenly almost every gesture had meanings.
“Y-Yeah, sure! Don’t mention that!” He rubbed the back of his head. Goddamn it, what a mess he was. “So, uh, catch you later? I’ll text you when I get home.”
“Yeah, be in touch.” Elizabeth forced herself to smile, hating the realization that he had to leave. “Good night.”
Gilbert unknowingly faked a smile too, returning their first good night as a couple.
Well, a demo-couple, to be precise.
Time remaining: 15 days.