30 Nights and Tomorrow On

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If I lose everything in the fire, sending all my love to you (Green Day – Last Night On Earth)

Nowadays it felt weird to wake up in his own literal bed, it felt like he had been sleeping on the couch for eternity. Stumbling his way to the bathroom, he splashed some water to his face, as if he’s getting baptized again—this time with the unholy water of the town. Barely dried his face, Gilbert navigated his steps toward the door. As expected, an envelope had already waited for him inside the mailbox.

He quickly scanned the letter inside, another schedule for another week. It also marked the first work assigned to him today, which was rather odd than his usual hospital visits.

Mr. Demetrius Agnor, 44, Southwest Hills, died because of fire.

Just when Gilbert thought he needed some warmth for the coldest first day of March.

***

On his way to the soon-to-be crime scene, Gilbert had to stop himself in the middle of a crowded intersection to pick up a phone call from his brand new iPhone. Nobody’s really calling him these days, except for this woman.

“Where are you now? Did you go home last night?”

Gilbert sighed, continuing his steps across. Well, thanks to this woman also, he was able to get a new phone this fast. “Work. Yes.”

Elizabeth, on the other side, exhaled in relief. “You didn’t reply to my texts. I‌ thought you took a… different route or something.”

“What do you mean?” He chuckled lightly. “I’m fine.”

“Yeah, yeah, I buy that.”

“Are you only calling me for this?”

“I don’t want to hear that from someone who made me worry the whole night!” Gilbert could imagine the visible scowl her face made right now. He missed her already. If not for this send-off mission he’s ought to do now, he would just crash at her place and—uh—hugged her or something.

“My turn, then.” He cleared his throat, still managed to stroll the city like a normal salary man going to his 9-5 office. “About yesterday, I’m sorry for snapping at you.”‌

Elizabeth hummed, took her a few seconds to end the hanging silence. “It’s fine. I’m partly at fault too. I guess I just don’t know you well enough for me to be so entitled.”

“I‌ swear it’s not the usual me. You know me enough to know that.

“No, no, you got it wrong.”‌ She laughed. “How am I supposed to know thoroughly a person who always bottles up his emotion and chains it deep so nobody can take a sneak on it?”

“I—” Biting his lips, the words finally sank onto him. Gilbert, the man with layers of brick walls, who said attachment is a disadvantage while still clutching his past wherever he went. The man who proposed the idea of dating his crush, but felt burdened to tell her his actual feelings. What a mess, the inside of these brick walls. “Liz, I—”

An explosion can be heard in the distance. People across the main street screamed in terror, as they turned their way back from where they’re supposed to head. Except for Gilbert, though, who ran to the next open space intersection to get a sight of what happened.

A modern office building, taller than all its neighbors, crying out smoke with incandescent tears flying through the surroundings. It’s just a few blocks away from where Gilbert stood, exactly on the Southwest Hills ward, the place he’s about to visit.

Perfect, he didn’t have to search for the building now it had made itself stand out.

“What is that?”

“Call you later.” He pocketed his phone and ran toward the burning building.

***

If the schedule was right (which was a must), he should have met with whoever guy named Agnor—or rather his soul—since his body was supposed to turn into ashes. Probably one of the most brutal cases Gilbert ever put his hand in, hopefully he didn’t have to step over Agnor’s dead body once he got into the scene.

The air was suffocating, probably a little bit more than he anticipated. Several people tried to free themselves from the building, a lot of employees covered in ashes running with no direction out of the area. It might take less than 10 minutes until the first police car or a firetruck arrived to intervene, Gilbert better made it quick if he didn’t want to be questioned for voluntary suicide.

Hood’s on, he covered half of his face with a wet mask he had prepared at home before striding into a literal hell; burning woods almost falling onto him greeted his way in. From what he read through the letter, it was written that Mr. Agnor was the head of the corporation. His office was located right at the end of the first floor, the biggest one, yet the first one to be burnt down. He should be able to navigate him quickly, if not for these falling pillars blocking his way. Constant coughing and sweats running marathon over his—

Fear came true, Gilbert just stepped over what believed to be Mr. Agnor’s leftover body parts. Scorched. Baked alive.

He looked horrendous, Gilbert had to flinch in respect.

Well, at least he knew that his target wasn’t far from him. Through the corner of the flames, stood a man in his work suit—seemed expensive as hell—he was agape at the whole view, screeches came out instead of loud screaming, yet eyes were dead as a roasted pork roll.

Those eyes turned even wider when Gilbert approached him, half-coughing and terrified but certainly he was making his way to him. Gilbert flashed him a solid nod, hoping he could see the quirk of his lips under his mask.

“Good morning, Mr. Agnor. I’m Gilbert, your assistance—”

“No way!‌ You’re the reaper!”

What. Gilbert cussed under his breath. He’d been easily recognized these days. “Yes,‌ I am. Now excuse me to help you ascend to—”

“What do you mean ‘ascend’?” Mr.‌ Agnor yelled. His soul was shaking as he pointed at Gilbert menacingly. “You’re going to reap my soul, aren’t you? Making me leave this place? I refused!”

The fact that he was aware of the state he was in right now made the situation even more ridiculous. What did he mean by refusing to leave the mundane world? It’s not like he had anywhere else to go.

Unless he wanted to be a stray. That’s it. In no way Gilbert wanted to add another bullet to the headquarter’s top wanted list.

“It is mandatory to have you leave after you no longer belong to this place. I’m here to assist you to the right path. Don’t be astray, Mr. Agnor.”

“N-No, no! This can’t be it!” He shook his head, containing the cries he’s about to spill. “I can’t be dead. N-no, this isn’t the time!‌ I-I still have my investment project coming tomorrow, a-and… my house… the s-safe… my father’s legacy… the corporation… m-my property…”

“There’s nothing we can do for your wealth at this point. You better leave them be for you don’t take it with you once you leave.”‌

Sirens were getting closer. It’s about time Gilbert had to send him away—

“Who said I’m leaving?”

Gilbert was shocked when Mr. Agnor took the dare and ran to the nearest window. Though a little bit of a stout, he was able to fit into the hole and hopped through it. The fire was raging more and more, but he didn’t seem to get affected by it. Damn the power these souls possessed.

The younger man ran to the window and tried to do the same maneuver, only to get himself stuck between the broken glass. By the time he finally hopped to the other side, Mr. Agnor was nowhere to be seen. He took a quick detour around the backyard of the building, but all he found was another bush fire. Yet in the middle of chaos, he couldn’t sense his existence at all.

God fucking damn it.

If only the problem stopped there. Gilbert was greeted by a group of cops, frowning at him to what was his purpose here. Took him a second to realize his hood was blown down, and he was covered in ashes and smoke; everything about his looks deserved all those curious and confused glances toward him when he arrived at the front area of the building.

Gilbert took off his mask, revealing his most awkward grin. The medics immediately dragged him to the ambulance.

***

They believed all the novel-worthy stories Gilbert spilled to them. Yeah, he was a delivery agent doing his work, some package to be placed at the front office. The staff were running out of stamps so they had to refill it before they could do the handover. Gilbert had waited for like 20 minutes but they were yet to return. It was until something exploded around 9 o’clock and all of sudden there was fire everywhere!‌‌ People were rushing out in panic as fire breathed them scorched!‌ Gilbert was about to leave, but then he remembered about the package. He returned to the front office to save it, but he realized he wouldn’t make it to the exit with such heavy luggage. So he put it back and ran toward whatever window he found. But he was trapped within the falling logs, that’s why he came out late and covered in ashes.

The police nodded, writing everything he said. They served him a cup of hot tea while seating him on the cozy couch of their office, so the wasted time might be worth a little bit, he guessed.

“Alright, Mr. Bernhagen. Thank you for your cooperation. You might need to revisit the hospital just in case you were hurt—”

“They said I’m fine.” Gilbert yawned, waving his hand off. “I‌ have to, uh, return to my office. Everyone is worrying about me.”

“We might make a call to your office to tell the whole situation if that is the case. You deserve to get compensation.”‌

“No, totally fine! I don’t want anything out of somebody’s misfortune! I’m fine, sir. I swear!”‌

They exchanged blinks for a minute before one of them gave up and bowed to him. “Thank you again, then.”

Gilbert chuckled lightly before getting up and shook their hands. He was guided to the exit by this friendly guard who couldn’t stop telling him to get some rest and drink enough water once he got back to ease the shock. Perhaps Gilbert acted too convincingly calm, they thought he went into some post-traumatic episodes. Well, this wasn’t the first time Gilbert ran into a fire, there were many worse cases than this.

But the fact that his client had run away making it the first time he actually failed a case.

“Uh, sir?”‌ He turned around once they had arrived at the door. The guard finally stopped his tongue from spitting out more. “I just remember. Have you perhaps collected the information of all the victims? I‌ need to search for someone.”‌

“Who? What for?”

“Uh, I think it’s the… CEO? The person I’m delivering the package for. Now that he has passed away and the package has perished, our agency has to take responsibility to compensate the loss of it to the person closest to him. So I figured out I‌ might need his family address.”

“Is the package really that important? I’m sure the family will understand if it’s burnt or—”

“It’s not about what the package contains, sir.”‌ Gilbert turned to face him fully, putting his most serious face as he shot the guard with sharp gazes. Looked rather threatening than begging, to be honest. “It’s about our agency’s policy. It’s about my integrity and dignity. How could I fail to deliver such important work? The CEO‌ is our gold star member, he’s our loyal customer. Do you expect me to betray him after he passed away?”

“N-No, I-I mean…”

“I just have to. So, please.”

If words somehow went out and Elizabeth heard about his gig playing as a delivery agent, that insurance-con would surely laugh at him until night.

***

Mr. Demetrius Agnor was one of the influencing people in the city, according to last year’s review magazine. He knew he heard that name somewhere before this case turned up. Apparently, Agnor was a billionaire with a total of 3.1 billion dollars net worth. Handling his father’s corporation and several other businesses, this guy was surely in love with his wealth, for he didn’t want to leave them behind.

Even his mansion was located somewhere in the most prestigious area in the city. Gilbert shivered as he walked into the complex, following the address that was given to him in the police office. He never visited heaven, but surely it was the closest thing to see such luxury flashed before his eyes.

The front garden was as wide as his office’s back garden, he expected some other guards stopped him midway and asked him questions, but it was eerily empty toward the main door. The news had traveled here, huh?

Gilbert pulled up his hood, searching for an open window to get in. There’s one connected to the kitchen, and once he stepped inside, he was more amazed to see the interior design. Everything’s gleaming with either gold or its kind. What the hell was this… He couldn’t even afford a proper studio room with his monthly salary.

Faint, hazy, a little bit cold, Gilbert sensed a presence. He approached his instinct through unfamiliar territory of the billionaire’s house. Corridors and open rooms, Gilbert lost count on how many different living rooms he had encountered on his way there. The presence grew stronger as Gilbert found a small zen garden at the end of the main corridor, roses and orchards were spreading through the vines attached at the entrance gate.

And he saw Mr.‌‌ Agnor there, kneeling in front of a shining statue of a person Gilbert recognized as… Mr. Agnor himself.

Mr. Agnor turned around to see Gilbert shocked himself from disbelief. He was actually surprised to see how the reaper caught up with him.

“You can’t even touch it with your own hand. What’s the point of guarding it?” Gilbert asked, stepping into the garden.

Mr. Agnor stood up, stretching his arm sideways as if he’s protecting the statue. “This is my secret project. I won’t leave if I can’t bring it with me.”

“Well, you can’t. Even if you go to hell, you still can’t.”‌

“So hell exists?” He forced a laugh. “Good God, then! Might as well sell my statue to the devil, see how much he’ll pay me for!”

“Not recommending that, however.” Gilbert tucked his hands into the pocket as the cold breeze started to take a toll on him. He looked up, tracing the height of the mansion behind him until the very end of it that was the spire. This small garden was built because it was the best spot to view the mansion in a close distance—to remind the Agnor family who’s in charge of the whole household. “Do you know why humans were advised not to pile up their wealth? Because when times like this come, everything becomes in vain—meaning no matter how much effort you pour to build yourself a kingdom, there will be greater kingdoms above to judge you.”

“Silly, I know that!” Mr. Agnor’s breath grew heavier as Gilbert took another step forward. “That’s why just let me live in my kingdom peacefully. Someone needs to take care of this inheritance, if not me myself!”

“It’s useless, sir! You can’t use it for your own good, or for your family, your company, anyone. What’s the use of protecting something you’re not capable of anymore?”‌

“What do you know about me?!” He growled, malicious intent stung Gilbert’s sixth senses. If this continued, Mr. Agnor might turn into a vengeful ghost in any second. “What do you know about my father? Just what business you have here?! I can’t die!‌ I can’t leave my father’s legacy to anyone but me!”

“And why is that?”

A shout, followed by a loud clang came from inside the mansion. Somebody’s home, finally. Gilbert tried to brush off the distraction and intended to place his palm over Mr. Agnor’s head as fast as he could, even if it meant he had to use force. To his surprise, Mr. Agnor sighed and asked him to follow him inside.

“Sir, I don’t have time for—”

“If you’re going to send me away, you have to understand.”

Gilbert ended up following him back to the corridor, to where the source of the noise came. The hood kept him invisible, along with Mr. Agnor, as they watched a man and a woman cursing at each other, fists looking like knives with glares that were as fierce as a sword.

“He left no wills, no testaments, nothing whatsoever about our legacy!‌ Don’t you think you have the right to inherit all of these shits when I was born earlier than you!”

“Well, fuck! Just because there’s no wills, doesn’t mean it instantly falls to your disgusting lap! I have talked with his advocate, he promised to hand me everything.”

“I just have to bribe that old man to fucking win over you, then!”

“I’ll fucking kill you right away then have you be buried the same hole with your beloved father.”

“No way I’ll let you win after so long I‌ have waited for this moment!”

Revolting, Gilbert’s stomach literally revolted in protest to the drama happening in front of him. He might not come from the most perfect family, but this? This was beyond sickening. Imagine the first thing you said to your siblings after your father died was about who’s going to inherit his wealth.

No wonder Mr. Agnor didn’t let go of his property that easily. He might be dead but someone had to pay respect to what his father left. And what both of his children did was far from respect.

“Who is that in the doorway?!”

Gilbert looked up, finding the woman’s eyes peering all over him and Mr. Agnor next to him.

No, what?

“What, sis?”

“Father? IS‌ THAT‌ YOU?!”

The hood’s still on and there’s no possible way someone could see a soul,unless—

“Crap! You should have told me your daughter is gifted!”

“H-Huh?” Mr. Agnor was having quite a tremor after being caught in such a terrible way. He looked at Gilbert and all Gilbert saw was how small the man was. “She is?”

“FATHER, WAIT!‌ IS‌ THAT‌ REALLY‌ YOU? YOU‌ DON’T‌ HEAR‌ ANYTHING, DO‌ YOU?!”

“A-Ah—uh—AH!”

Gilbert didn’t even realize when Mr. Agnor burst out of the room, using another secret exit located at the back of the garden. His daughter was about to chase him even further down to the exit, if only Gilbert wasn’t quick enough to block her way by flipping off tables and furniture around them—he owed Mr. Agnor an apology for dropping one of his expensive ceramic collections along the way.

But now, he got to find him first.

***‌

Once he got an ultimate backup from the headquarter, it settled then. Perhaps he had to bear Yuriko’s scold later for failing a case, but her help was worth it. Soon after he finished dialing her number, all the reapers and stampers on duty would be notified to inform the headquarter as soon as possible if they happened to see a person matched with Mr. Agnor’s characteristic on the street. All of these to prevent any more stray ghost cases, whose numbers had already taken almost the whole archive room. He got a clean record so far, why tainted his career work just because a billionaire refused to do what he said.

The sun was burning down at the end of the city skyline when he got a return call from Yuriko, along with a complete address and its timestamp. “Don’t make me work overtime again,” she said, hanging up.

The area he’s looking for was far from prestigious than the previous two. He recognized the dark alley that was leading him deeper to the uglier side of the downtown. Crows were spying on him as Gilbert followed wherever the muddy path brought him to. It was dimly lit and narrow, anyone with phobia wouldn’t like this place. Gilbert shivered from the foreign blow, gave up and turned his phone’s flashlight on.

The searching light stopped at a figure crouching down at the end of the alley; he squinted upon being flashed out of blue.

“Hey there, again,” Gilbert greeted him, “Mr. Agnor.”

“You got me.” Mr.‌ Agnor sighed, pushing his feet up as the flashlight still followed him. “You really can’t just leave a poor soul like me roaming for comfort, huh?”

“There’s no comfort as long as you’re still here. Do cooperate with me.” Gilbert dropped the light when he heard a few steps moving a lane away from where they stood now. There were sounds of trash can being ransacked and low murmurs of men.

I’m sleeping here today. I got my breakfast leftover for tonight and next morning. I think I should find a public shower soon. I only earned pennies today, I hope it’s enough to buy some hygiene products.

“I’ve been here for hours, thinking this is the most unbelievable place to hide. The first time I‌ saw those neighboring people in this lane, I couldn’t convince myself yet that I am here.”‌

“You don’t know this place? This is the downtown’s underground,” Gilbert whispered, wishing they had yet to catch his presence. “Well, a billionaire like you would probably care less about those who live under poverty. But this place is where homeless are welcomed. And yes, they do exist.”

“I know, it’s just amusing that I unconsciously ran back here.” Mr. Agnor didn’t seem to be as resistant as before, his shoulders relaxed and he even raised both his hands upon being scrutinized by Gilbert. “I surrender. Send me away.”

“Gladly, Mr. Agnor.‌” Gilbert slipped his phone back to his pocket. He took a deep breath before stepping closer and reciting the famous lines. “You died on March, 1st at 9:04 AM for the cause of fire. You have lived a good life. You may relish everything and move to the next stage of life.”‌

He was about to place his hand on top of him when he noticed Mr. Agnor’s uneasy expression. Was there something else he had not let go?

“Sir, do you have any last wish?”

Mr. Agnor looked up. A glint of gratitude flared across his empty eyes. “Yes, actually. I was doubting whether you’ll be generous enough to grant it.”

Now that sounded like a challenge. “And what if I‌ am?”

“Help me donate all my fortune to every charity.”‌

Gilbert didn’t expect that. “I’m sorry?”

“Well, I can’t take it with me. So what’s the point arguing even further?” He chuckled with his last breath. “Besides, rather than having my children inherit them with their dirty hands, I prefer them to have none of it. You saw it yourself how bad the situation is.”‌

Certainly, one of the worst family conditions Gilbert ever encountered.

“And I think this is what my father wanted me to do, after all. Cheers to him always, from when we were still anything but squatters. Sorry for losing who I am and forgetting my root.”

Gilbert felt warmth accumulating inside him. He’s not quite sure how to process it, but he’s glad. He’s glad this one didn’t go as a stray ghost.

“We’ll help you with that,”‌ he said, his lips twitched. “Anything else?”

“That’s it.”

“Well then,‌ Mr. Agnor. May your soul rest in peace.”‌

***‌

“It’s hectic!” yelled Yuriko across the line. Her voice was intermittent, people were all talking behind wherever she was now. “Both the children were shouting dead threats at us. I think the older one, the daughter, is gifted? Why is she not with us now? Seriously…”

She clicked her tongue in blatant annoyance and Gilbert stifled a mocking laugh. He could imagine her hissing in stress inside that cursed mansion. “Yeah. Thanks for the help. How’s the recovery going?”

“We held them tight with police.”‌ Yuriko sighed, ruffling something in the background. “You’re sure he wanted all his fortune to be donated? All of these cost like my life.”

“To the homeless shelters. And also for the statue in the backyard, sell it.”

“Yes, I’m looking at it. Gosh, Mr.‌ Agnor must be such a narcissist when he’s alive.”

“I thought so, too.” Gilbert nibbled his lips, something caught on his throat. “I don’t think it’s his statue though. The face is similar, but he certainly didn’t make himself a statue.”

“Then who is this mysteriously bold golden figure?”

“His father, perhaps.”

She hummed. “That made sense too. Well, you met them. You know what you are talking about.”

“I expect results next morning, Miss.”

“Shut up. You owe me. A lot.”‌

Gilbert felt grimness bestowed upon him afar, chills running through his spine.‌ This had to be the coldest night ever during the time of his life, he swore as he shivered thinking about the consequences if Azrael knew about his catch-and-fail with Mr. Agnor earlier. Not to mention the showering flakes like it’s still the 25th of December. For god’s sake, it’s March already.

He quickly changed the topic to her birthday the day after tomorrow, asking details and joked about giving her a cage of spiders (aka the thing she despised until the very take of her breath), earning himself another god wrath.

They hung up, and soon the noise came to sleep, leaving Gilbert with the sound of nature tinkling below him. He watched as people sat on the riverbank, spending their evening with their loved ones, some were out fishing on the river, the others were just scrolling on their phone while being less than a meter apart from each other.

This had to be his favorite spot of the town. Perhaps the stars were giving in to the flaring city light, hiding themselves out of protest and unfairness, but this was the closest thing to serenity. The same thing happened when he skipped his class to throw rocks at the church’s river. This time, no one went out their way to scold him anymore.

Gilbert looked up between the dead bushes that’s shading him, not surprised when he didn’t find any star or the moon. Hell, the skies looked rather orange than deep blue, a result of light pollution from a stadium near him. The falling snow didn’t help too, it’s just too bland for him.

“Humans’ eyes are supposedly able to see the stars, Gilbert. But stars are, well, cocky. They don’t want to come out unless we turn off all the light on earth because they want to show us who is the most beautiful one here!”

He remembered his mom put that doctrine in his vein. They were out for a night picnic in their city forest; Gilbert was so excited to see the galaxy but nothing ever showed up in the sky, except for some passing airplanes with their beeping light, to which Gilbert often mistook them. He was so disappointed that he started throwing rage at everyone, his mother—his biological mother—had to hug him and put him on hold while whispering honeyed tales to him.

And then his father would laugh next to him, chugging his tea with ketchup stuck on his mustache.

It took Gilbert years to learn that’s not the case and he just had to find some isolated place to see the skies. Well, that lie lasted sweet as long as he recalled.

Gilbert turned around his heels when he heard his name faintly. He couldn’t help but feeling his lips unfurled behind his ego. He should probably decide and say something along the way, considering he’s been dragging the matter too long and avoiding it too much—he might lose her at any minute if he made her wait any longer.

“Gilbert! Are you ignoring me?!” Elizabeth stomped heavy at her steps as she half-running toward where Gilbert had waited for her. Snows snagged both on her hair and shoulders, and he still found her beautiful now and then. She’s panting when she finally closed their distance, holding her knees between the soreness of her feet. “I’ve been calling you for like five minutes!”

“Five minutes?” Gilbert set his hands on his hip, smirk couldn’t seem to fade away. “I was on the phone, didn’t you see? How was I‌ supposed to hear you?!”‌

“I’m pretty sure I‌ called loud enough!” She straightened her body, breaths turned into fume as she exhaled. “Anyway, what are you doing here? Lamenting?”

Usually Gilbert would bark his answer as soon after her words trailed off. This time, he just laughed it off. He couldn’t really explain how or why, but until a few seconds ago he was cold as hell forbid—now he’s warm as heaven allowed him to.

“I like it here,” he said, gesturing to the riverbank next to them. “It makes my way home longer but I guess after all the fuss, everything is worth it.”

He continued walking through wherever the path led him to. Elizabeth jogged slowly until she matched him, an irritated pout was visible as she shot him another question. “So you’re on your way home? You’re not the type to admire nature on your way home. What the hell happened today?”

He coughed, offended. “How dare you assume that?! ‌I’m a man of culture, I can enjoy things too!”

“I’m not saying you can’t enjoy things!” She nudged him on the elbow, pout softened into smiles. “But your face said you have a rough day today.‌ Who was on the phone with you just now?”

“Yuriko. I‌ asked her for a favor to sort some things for me.”

She hummed. “Sounds like a forbidden kind of favor.”

“It was, actually.”‌ Elizabeth peered at him a surprised look. Gilbert squirmed jokingly, waving it off like it didn’t cost him any trouble. “Can’t be helped. Today’s client was just too troublesome.”

“Don’t tell me it’s your client that Yuriko announced to catch if in sight.”‌

“Oh?‌ So you got it too?”

“Dear Lord.” She chuckled, shaky shoulder bumping into his arm again. Gilbert hadn’t realized how taller he had grown since last time he noticed the height difference between then. Back when they were seventeen, Elizabeth was about his temple. Now, she’s just as tall as his neck. “How embarrassing! You can’t just do that in a normal situation. Asking everyone’s help to catch a stray is supposed to be your task!”

“I know! Don’t rub it on me.” Gilbert smeared a sulky look, war flashback crossed his mind again. “It was tough already.‌ How’s your day, huh?”

“I’m totally fine. Everyone was kindly cooperative today, somehow. Oh, and I‌ heard it’s a big catch? Agnor, wasn’t it? He’s a billionaire, he was featured in last year’s magazine—”

“Ugh, why you gotta change the topic!” He ruffled his already messy hair from the wind, fringe falling miserably to his eyes. Gilbert really wanted to escalate their conversation, but the sheer curiosity gleaming in Elizabeth’s eyes paralyzed him, as if urging him to do the way she wanted. He exhaled in retreat, another smoke went up to the sky. “He didn’t want his children to inherit his wealth so he thought he could keep it with him until, well, even if it meant he stayed.”‌

“Why? What’s wrong with his children?”

“Don’t bother to ask. They’re all fucked up.”

“Okay.” Elizabeth licked her chapped lips, she looked pale beneath the plain night sky. Gilbert wanted her. “Well, such a mundane deed. It’s not like he could bring anything with him to the afterlife.”‌

“He didn’t listen at first.” Gilbert totally tried to ignore the sound a couple made on the riverbank below him when they passed them. Gross, they totally lost it. It’s cutting over Gilbert’s train of thought, nevertheless. “You don’t get to continue what you have achieved here once you die. You leave everything behind.”‌

God, he felt like those last couple words didn’t come out of him; it was flowing heavy as if he shouldn’t just say it in front of Elizabeth of all people.

Elizabeth, however, was probably too sharp to miss those subtle hints of bitterness. She shrugged, now hopping her way alongside Gilbert’s effortless long steps. “You do bring your memories though. Not everything is left behind.”‌

Gilbert tilted his head, eyebrows raised in question. “Really?”

“Seriously? You just found out now? Then how do you explain guardian angels who have to protect their clients? They act based on their love and choices, not by instinct programmed by God.”

“Well, yeah. Sorry for sleeping over that one class.”‌ Gilbert rubbed the back of his neck, feeling hot swelling over him. Either because what he’s about to say or because he just realized how dumb he might be all this time.

“It’s not in the class! It’s general knowledge!”

“Well if that’s the case, let’s date for real.”‌

“Yeah, dumbass, I—” Elizabeth paused. She didn’t realize Gilbert had stopped walking alongside her since steps away. When she turned to look at him, expecting a goofy grin or a sarcastic retort, she got none but a worried frown and parted lips, flushed cheeks and soft, messy, white hair blowing in the wind. “…what?”

“You said the memories of a dead person stay.” He clenched his palm, they were shaking under the firm steel of his expression. “Then let’s date. I’ll make you the happiest woman for the rest of your days so you can leave while carrying your happiest memory.”‌

He reached out his hand, palm opened as wide as an easy invitation. Elizabeth once thought it was stupid to propose the ‘trial class’ or whatever kind of dating she said at first. Hell, it was even stupider to consider the possibility. She had given up on these a while ago, so why bother trying?

Why bother thinking she deserved it?

Why…

“I love you, Elizabeth.”

It’s never too late to taste some love.

The river was glimmering behind her, people were playing chase as they splashed each other with both water and laughter. Something about them, she wasn’t sure, was blinking strongly toward her—like trying to give her a code.

“It’s a relationship,” Elizabeth repeated, slowly and thoughtfully. She raised her gaze until it met his. “Relationships go both ways. I don’t want anything that’s only specifically for me to enjoy. I‌ want you to enjoy things too, to let me do the same to you, and to tell me things. Just like this part of you I don’t know, that you like this side of town, I want the rest of it.”‌

“You’re the first one questioning me about that.”‌

“I’m just surprised. I‌ didn’t mean to mock you.”‌

When the stiff muscles softened into wrinkles of smiles, Elizabeth let out a relieved laugh as she accepted his hand, linking their fingers together. Foreign feelings filled up her stomach, she wondered if Gilbert felt the same.

“Me too, stupid. I love you.”

It was, by far, the warmest snowfall ever during Elizabeth’s short life.


Time remaining: 12 days.

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