‘till the zombies come, and the earth is done, I’m gonna love someone (Scott Helman – 21 Days)
“Please tell me you’re alive.”
Gilbert blinked himself to the cast of morning sun invading his room. His alarm cried for god-knows-how-long because apparently he had been sleeping through it for quite a time. His head was heavy and the smell of alcohol was the first thing that greeted him today. Stomach’s turning up and down, flopping and erasing his massive breakfast appetite, bones cracking as a complaint when he forced himself to sit and turn off the alarm. Rubbing his eyes to get a better focus, he looked down to see that he’s still wearing yesterday’s clothes—definitely had not taken the shower—and he fell asleep next to his phone which somehow could talk now.
Or not. Someone’s leaving a voicemail, apparently. He soon recognized it by the voice.
“Are you even okay? Return my call and give me words!”
The voicemail ended and Gilbert found himself chuckling despite the bad hangover. He’s even more laughing when he opened the notification to see 10 missed calls from Elizabeth and 36 unread texts that had been going on since yesterday’s night. He should, probably, stop laughing and call her back if he didn’t want to get beheaded on their next meeting.
Right, they were… dating now? He couldn’t just spit out, ’ssup, what the fuck,’ as his first words when she picked up. Well, he should be more affectionate, if not to make up for his real shitty personality.
Elizabeth choked on whatever she drank by the time she answered the call. Gilbert didn’t even have to wait for two rings.
“What the heck.” Gilbert could say he was at least disappointed at the response, but rather relieved to know that something hadn’t changed. “Where were you last night? Did you just wake up?!”
Gilbert tasted eerie cold when his feet touched the floor. The sun was a deadly laser, he thought as he spread open the curtain, letting warm bathe his slumped body now. “Well, sorry about that. Went drinking with an old friend.”
Elizabeth clicked her tongue and Gilbert could picture perfectly what kind of annoyed face she made right now. “An old friend so important that it’s hard to just text a word to me?”
“I was too drunk to even know where my phone was.” Gilbert located his jacket that ended up on the floor from last night’s hazy memories and threw it somewhere close to the cupboard before his door, making it visible to his eyes by the time he’s off to work. The bathroom he’s facing right now, somehow looked straight taken from a horror movie but without the actual ghost. It’s dark, water’s dripping slowly from the tap, Gilbert shivered while he tried to imagine how cold that water would be against his fragile body. “I was drinking with Yuriko, by the way.”
“Yuriko? That’s weird. I just went to have lunch with her yesterday.”
“Yeah, and I called her for a drink at night. Talked about stuffs.”
Elizabeth hummed. By the lack of context, she decided not to press the matters anymore. “You know, you two are the most precious things I ever have. So get along. Now and then.”
Gilbert tasted bile at the back of his tongue. He shook his head and went ahead to chug on a glass of mineral water that he found on the table, probably a leftover from yesterday. “Got it, Ma’am,” he said, wiping the water that was flowing down his jaw. “We’ll get along just fine.”
“Okay, okay! Sorry for disturbing your morning, dipshit. You should get going already!”
The clock was blinking at him in the distance, somehow telling him to get ready and stopped fucking around. Gilbert let out an exhausted sigh as he forced himself to walk onto his bathroom, turning the light so it’d look less terrifying than what he projected in his mind. His voice echoed throughout the small room, Elizabeth probably noticed that too. “Please continue disturbing my morning, Ma’am.”
“Don’t bring your phone to the toilet! And hurry up! I’ll be hurt if you’re damn late into reaping my soul later.”
“Eager to leave already, huh?” Gilbert switched his call on speaker mode and put the phone on the cabinet on top of the sink, stripping himself out of the smelly shirt. “Don’t worry, I’ll be there on time.”
There are like 200 reapers in the district, you know, Yuriko’s voice rang a bell all of a sudden; a few pieces of memories he remembered from last night.
“You’re just plain stupid.” Her voice echoed in return, and Gilbert chuckled onto that, not sure what it meant. He’s always wishing to be the one sending Elizabeth off as a way to steal any remaining time available with her. Even if it’s just an additional five minutes of seeing her already in a different form, muttering the magic words and going to bless her head or something—for those five minutes would become their everything in the future.
He tossed the shirt to the basket, returned to the sink and splashed some good ‘holy’ water from the tap to his face; water dripping from the line of his chin and tickled the side of his cheeks. As he inspected his face in front of the mirror, now clearer and more sober than before, he noticed patches of hair growing over the lower part of his face and began to wonder when was the last time he shaved.
He really was considering shaving after a prophecy whispered to him that he would be thankful of it later.
“By the way,” he continued, ignoring the odd sense he felt earlier and grabbed the shaving kit next to where he placed his phone. “What is your last name again? Don’t get me wrong, I tried to memorize it but it’s always somehow… short-lived, I guess.”
He hated himself for saying that. Elizabeth, on the other hand, snorted. “Nice try. It’s not even that hard, you’re barely making any effort.” She huffed, the sound of ruffling traveled far to Gilbert’s bathroom, probably from her flipping her schedule books. “It’s Almássy.”
“Don’t bother with the pronunciation. I can’t be grimacing more than this.”
He applied the shaving cream and laughed, butterflies flying merrily inside.
Gilbert strolled his way downtown; happiness squirming in his chest despite his next task was to wait for someone to fall down on a sidewalk because of a heart attack. He knew he shouldn’t be all smiley when sending his client off, but sometimes he just couldn’t contain it.
Apparently they arranged a date tonight at the city’s theme park like a freaking highschooler they were. Gilbert was never this excited for a theme park (he always thought it was mundane and a waste of money) and it had never occurred to him until just before that he could just bring someone he enjoyed to go with and made it worth all the money and time.
The city was the most alive at these hours, with the usual traffic and people passing by the pedestrian, chatters and rustling shoes slowly lured him to blend in. It might take a while until a body dropped because Gilbert was surprisingly twenty minutes early to arrive at the scene from the estimated times, so he pretended to sit at the nearest bus stop, stretching his sore arms and legs as he breathed in the air of late winter. It’s getting warmer, he could feel it.
He looked up to find a man peering down at him. He wore a similar attire to Gilbert, black hair combed back with product, boyish grin ate the size of his eyes. A fellow reaper he occasionally met on the street, Gilbert recognized him.
“Caleb?” he called him to test if he got it correct.
“Yeah, dude!” He clasped both of his palms together, eyes glimmering to the call of his name. He’s way too excited for this, Gilbert thought, but shrugged it off anyway. “I haven’t seen you in like, what? A month? Two? Man, have you been working out?! You’re losing weight!”
“What—” okay, that didn’t matter the most now. Gilbert pulled his lips tight, a bit overwhelmed by the sudden exposure level of energy. He didn’t sign up for this, but it wouldn’t hurt to do a small talk with him. He’s just that bored. “How are you doing?”
“Great, I guess. Just doing my usual stuff! You know!” His wide grin faded into a normal smile and Gilbert could finally see his eyes. There’s something unsettling about those stares though he couldn’t make out what that was. “Are you doing the usual stuff too?”
“Yeah, waiting.” Gilbert flinched, focusing on the crowd instead. “What about you? There’s another one in this area too or…?”
“Ah, no. I’m not working right now. Just… thinking to grab a coffee.” He chuckled, and it came out dry. “It’s always a good day to grab a coffee! I wished I realized it sooner.”
This guy’s weird, was Gilbert’s last thought before he shifted back to meet Caleb’s gaze—a blue realization hit him like a brick as he felt his heart dropped to the bottom of his senses, the alarm blared too late when it should have notified him earlier as soon as he was approached.
And those stares people on the street were giving didn’t make it better either; they’re whispering and giving him looks of disgust and pity because to them, Gilbert was literally talking to the air.
“You—!” Gilbert snapped, pushing himself to his feet. Caleb didn’t move though, he knew this was going to happen. His eyes, his gazes, it finally registered into Gilbert that they were empty. “You are dead?!”
Before Caleb could say anything, a shout was clear in the distance, cutting their attention to where it drew. A woman in her formal attire was running toward them and even in cool weather, her face was flushed from the rushing blood. She crossed the street hurriedly, eyeing on them alone as no one beside Gilbert and Caleb could see her under the spell of her hood.
She was shouting at Caleb. Incoherent and desperate, as she should be.
“Yep, I am.” At this point, Caleb’s smile was completely dropped. Boyish features turned mature, pale skins became more apparent under the shift of clouds above. He averted his gaze back to Gilbert, who still couldn’t believe what just happened. “The number hit zero today. My gut told me it’ll happen during the evening. I didn’t expect it to be sooner when I went off to grab my last coffee.”
To add to the disaster, he stripped away all the luster on his voice. He sounded pretty much lifeless.
“Daphne was late today!” he pointed at the woman, still trying to navigate her way through the crowds. “She was supposed to send me off on the next street where I died. It took her so long, I decided to take a walk. Here I am, bumping into you.”
“You’re troubling her.” Gilbert pat Caleb’s back; a soul’s texture always felt foreign to him no matter how many souls he had put his hands over already.
Caleb chuckled lightly. “I know.”
The woman, whose name was Daphne, eventually reached them. She was panting all the way here, puffing clouds out while trying to balance herself upon halting her steps. She stumbled at the end, to Caleb’s clutch.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered to her ears, like it would return everything to normal.
Daphne pushed him off, eyes were watering in disbelief as she couldn’t get anything out of her tongue. Her short dyed blue hair was sticking out from the tip of her hood. She and Caleb looked so young, Gilbert never really asked about that sort of thing but judging from the looks, they’re probably juniors who just finished their internship.
She let out a cry; a dragged, yelping sob—aggressively wiping her tears off even though it started to stream a river again, not even a few seconds later.
“O-Okay, okay!” Caleb retreated with a sigh. He’s bargaining what he should do before placing his hands on Daphne’s shoulders, eyes met in a straight line. “I’m sorry. I really meant to tell you about the numbers and stuff. But ever since that day when you told me that what you’re afraid the most is to lose me, I… I can’t bring myself to let you know.”
“Then what?! Are you just going to disappear from me when the time comes?!” Daphne fired back, voice’s bitten back by sobs. “You decided it will be the best for me not to know? Do you think what I feel right now is the best? Caleb, you burnt my envelopes, knowing well one of them has your full name written in it!”
“What happened if I wasn’t the one assigned to get your soul? Will yesterday be the last time we talk? Will I hop around the city thinking of all the promises you made for me, believing it will come true someday, and blind to the fact that you’re at the other side of the street turning into fragments of nothing?!”
“Yeah! That’s exactly what I want!” Caleb said, mouth’s running loosely before he knew it. “I want you to live like nothing has changed, for you to be happy without me, to have you move on. I want yesterday to be the last memories of us, with you being the happiest at the arch of my door and me smiling in peace at you. Not this kind of encounter where we have to shout at each other!”
“Live like nothing has changed?” Daphne wiped her tears for the last time, her jaw clenched, emotions crossed her face a few times before settling to her resolution. “How could I do that—after you walked into my life and took away the remaining possibility of it happening?”
Caleb had yet to notice, that he was also crying.
“Tell me, what will happen to our promises now?”
The boy was shaking when he let go of his hold, slowly sinking to his knees, his crying became louder and louder as her words bled onto him. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Daphne, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m—”
Daphne bent down, her touch wobbled in his shoulders. Rushing to brush away the stream in his eyes, even though she couldn’t afford to do the same to herself, she bit her lips from wailing alongside him. She called his name instead, in between the grit of her teeth and her façade masking the hurt within.
“Truth to be told, there’s nothing we can do even if I know.” She smiled in sincere despair. “I’ll probably just end up in the same spot like this. Because the thought of losing you for real will never give me less damage than it has already been.”
“Don’t say that… Please tell me you’ll live well, tell me you’ll carry out this last promise. ”
She shuddered, hitching for air. “I’ll try, Caleb. I promise.”
Daphne placed her hand on Caleb’s head, it was unsteady and quivering with hesitation but enough to do the deed. Slowly, roughly, she stared at the life that was about to slip away under her palm. “M-Mr. Lirette, you di-died on March, 5th at 1:56 PM for the cause of meningitis. You have lived a good life. You may relish everything and move to the next stage of life. I—”
She stopped, eyes breaking into tears once again as she withdrew her hand. Caleb pulled her back before she got too far, to where it’s supposed to be.
“Just send me away, Daphne,” he begged. “You have to do it. It is our fate. We can’t escape this.”
“I love you.” Daphne clenched her palms, making sure Caleb felt her emotion through it. “I just want you to know that before we part.”
“I know,” he replied softly, his other hand moved to tuck her falling hair behind her ear. Slightly caressing her wet cheeks, Caleb wore his heart on his sleeves one last time when he whispered, “I love you too.”
“May your soul rest in peace.”
Gilbert watched with a tight knot in his chest, the aching didn’t go slightly away when Caleb turned into colorful fragments and faded as they reached the skies. People were moving on in the background, unaware of what just happened. Daphne took off her hood, blue hair’s falling once again to hide the grieving underneath. Her hand still trembled in the air, in the spot where Caleb had just been earlier, now replaced with nothing but void.
Gilbert approached her, crouching down next to her. He’s bad at these consoling things—but he tried his best to be there. Even when he couldn’t get a single thing out of his throat, even when it’s just a simple pat on her back. Because he understood her pain. Because next time, he would be the one on her shoes.
Would they be?
Would he and Elizabeth turn out the same as them?
Gilbert was scared.
He’s never been this scared before.
By the time he finished sending off the heart-attack man, he returned to the bus stop and found no Daphne. She’s gone without trails, probably off to the next client. Poor her, she still had to deal with the leftover memories when she’s filing the daily report.
Gilbert stared at the spot where Caleb had vanished. The young boy, who barely understood anything, was sent off this early in his life, probably for the same reason as Elizabeth. Gilbert was suddenly reminded by how bright that boy was. Similar to Elizabeth, except that she’s more reserved in terms of energy and excitement.
Perhaps some people weren’t meant to be born under Azrael’s wings?
He recalled his odd encounter in front of his mother’s grave yesterday. The highest Archangel, Michael, had managed to descend to the earth, somehow found him blubbering about his girlfriend, and asked him to forgive Heaven for being such a klutz. Even if he went to tell Elizabeth about that, she wouldn’t believe him so.
He still resented the Angel for taking away his loved ones, but at the end of the day, after so many deaths he witnessed throughout his career, perhaps heaven—as peaceful as the bible told him—was the best place for them all along.
Elizabeth had waited for him first in front of the entrance where the queue was less longer. Since it’s weekdays and late afternoon, they’re mostly filled with highschoolers who were probably not engaged in any after-class activities. Why would Gilbert know such things, well, that’s what he would do if he’s not stuck cleaning the church benches every other afternoon to evening back then.
Elizabeth waved her hands sheepishly toward him, foreheads drawn together as her nose scrunched up, definitely disappointed that Gilbert didn’t even change into some casual attire. Hell, he went off straight from work to the park, it’s already a miracle itself he hadn’t made Elizabeth wait for another hour.
She, instead, had changed into a grayish winter dress that fell a few centimeters above her knees, stockings wrapped her legs all the way to her boots, loose collars sticking out of her wool denim jacket. Her hair was tied up into a high ponytail, fringe was brushed back all the way to the knot. It’s been a while since she did that hairstyle; he used to help her tie it back when they still had PE class, which was only a scheme to make all the students run around the area for the rest of the hours and no actual sports. Because they just didn’t have the facility to begin with.
Elizabeth, now and then, still looked excited—whether about running around the church for the rest of the hours, or about riding her favorite coaster. There’s no difference.
“You looked pretty bored,” she said, when they were waiting in line for the coaster. Gilbert’s mind snapped back to reality, he himself didn’t realize he’s been dozing off. Well, perhaps he did look a little too bored with all the blanks stares and passing out, less talk and enthusiasm—that’s weird since all he remembered was that he looked forward to this the entire day. Well, if not for a certain incident that flashed before his eyes today, cold like ice poking his nervous system. “I know we just went here a week ago to fool Adam, but that time we’re just faking. This time, we’re back for real to have fun. Be more excited, please.”
It’s just last week?! God, that felt like forever.
Gilbert rubbed his face, trying to shake away unnecessary thoughts, stashing them at the back of his mind. “My bad, the hangover still gets into me.”
The queue moved, little by little they advanced forward. Elizabeth’s face gleamed despite looking upset earlier, knowing this time they’d definitely get the turn to slip into one of the coasters. “Serves you right for drinking that much!. You must be having so much fun last night!”
“I bet I did.” That earned a glare from Elizabeth. “I just can’t remember.”
“What did you even talk about—” Elizabeth shook her head, eyes returned to the queue ahead. “Is it about Yuriko worrying?”
Gilbert was in a tight line between shrugging it off and acting like he didn’t know what she meant, or let the plug on his mouth go loose and blabber everything that had been going on since the last three days. There was a saying for couples not to keep any secrets; but some things were just better off kept shut forever.
Neither of them wanted to make Elizabeth worry, and making her choose between him and Yuriko was the last thing Gilbert ever wanted to do.
(Though he’s so sure Elizabeth would have chosen Yuriko, he’d be lying if he didn’t get jealous of it.)
“She’s giving me quite a blessing, like a doting mother she is.” Gilbert forced a dry cackle, carefully polishing the tip of his not-really-lies. “She talked to me like I was about to ask your hand in marriage, except that she’s just glaring at me the whole conversation, casually throwing threats in between the blessings.”
Elizabeth made a surprised face, mouth going ‘O’ as her eyes blinked dramatically. She leaned in too close, like she wanted to dig more, to know more, invading Gilbert’s personal space while she tiptoed to seal their eyes, hands desperately searching for support in Gilbert’s shoulders. Gilbert knew he shouldn’t stare at the evening constellation in her eyes if he didn’t want for his lies to be dug out, but he’s already falling deep all over her; he didn’t think there’s a way out.
Elizabeth was just that irresistible.
“Is that so?” Her breath blew onto the skin just below his chin and the spot burnt. Gilbert winced, still unable to look away. “Nothing bad happened between you two, right?”
He’s doomed to sound breathless if he ever said a word, but he did, tongue pressed to the roof of his mouth—gritting. And it still came out like a gasp of air because she’s just that fucking close; all the light his eyes received was her and all the stimulus his brain could translate was her, too. A complete short circuit of doom.
The line was moving quicker and it’s about time they realized they’ve been making the queue behind wait too long. Gilbert put his arm around her waist and spun her forward, until she saw the gap between them and the person before. Gilbert watching the color bloomed all the way down to her neck in amusement.
Before she could ever say anything, Gilbert brought his arm to rest on her back and pushed her lightly. Apologetic smile was thrown politely at the people behind his back as he continued dragging Elizabeth forward.
Elizabeth rid the ride in silence, mouths pulled into a scoff and the color didn’t die out until half of the ride. Gilbert, meanwhile, tried to drown himself into excitement, all cheering and full of anticipation—even though his mind wandered back to something as near as elsewhere.
The sun settled down late but quick today. Just a while ago the hue barely turned into orange. Now it was mostly purple, with a few hints of stars scattered on the north space. Elizabeth had returned to her usual self, loud and childish when it came to the rest of the rides, but more reserved and restrained when it came to making contact with Gilbert. It was peaceful at first, but he soon realized something was wrong.
Not like he had the right to judge, either. He was spending his mind somewhere far from the park, as if he left it at the bus stop in the downtown—the memories of fragments flying up into the sky and a blue hair woman crying in her knees stuck in a never ending loop—or maybe he left a smaller bit of it at his mother’s grave—the chill air from the hills and the shadow of an angel whose wings were hidden as he talked some senses onto him.
Instead of treasuring what he had in the moment like a once-in-a-lifetime dream, Gilbert went off to worry about things he couldn’t control. Elizabeth would have disappeared by the time he had another chance to visit this park, and he couldn’t imagine if he would ever regain the courage to visit this place again with someone else who wasn’t her.
Let alone going to the same place they used to visit, Gilbert wasn’t sure if he could pass through the idea of seeing Elizabeth’s body lying dead somewhere, with her soul standing right next to it, waving to him like she did at the entrance a while ago. He wasn’t sure if he still wanted to be the one sending her off; to be the one to hurry those magic words along his own tongue like a spell to have her gone forever, hands pressed shakily against the texture of her soul’s head. Seeing what happened to Caleb and Daphne today was traumatizing enough, and it’s barely the prologue of his premise.
They hopped into a slot in the ferris wheel, sitting face-to-face in such a small chamber. Last time Gilbert had baked himself from having to bump his knees with hers, but this time Elizabeth was the one making the effort to take the smallest space as possible by cramping herself to the corner so that their knees wouldn’t even bump in the slightest.
She’s still talking to the dozing-off Gilbert who wasn’t even aware they’re on the wheel now, about wanting to take a picture of the whole park with her phone now that there’s nothing pressuring them anymore to act, unlike last time. Another few comments about how beautiful the blinking light underneath them, twinkling as if trying to give them any signals. If only her camera phone quality was good enough to picture what her eyes saw, she mumbled while she took more shots instead.
“Huh,” she muttered in pure awe. “Lights are turning off below, like a wave.”
It didn’t strike Gilbert what she had meant until a rough bump within the chamber woke Gilbert up, his balance was wavering and almost planted his whole body on Elizabeth if he hadn’t found the side pole for support. He groaned, scratching his neck, a little bit irritated by the unpleasant experience, sputtering inaudible curses before he found Elizabeth staring at him—face fell flat.
“What?” He looked around, looked below. The glimmering park underneath was black. “What happened?”
She shrugged, pocketing back her phone. “Power failure?”
“Are you kidding me?!” Gilbert pressed his hand to the window bars, eyeing the pit below them. The wheels had stopped, and they’re stuck at the highest turn with nowhere to go. Great. “A damn park who earns billions per month can’t even afford for a better power system?”
“Shut up. You’re barely listening to me until earlier. What are you getting so mad now?” She huffed, sinking herself to the seat. “They’ll back up the electricity soon. Just wait for it. Unless you’re afraid of the height, there’s nothing I can do, really.”
“I don’t—” Gilbert gave up, pushing himself to the seat too. His breath was heavy, emotion knocking loudly at the door of his heart, words tangled up on the way to his throat. Suddenly he felt his chest too tight, his rib cage felt like it’s going to combust from over pressure. You were going on a date, for fuck’s sake, he snarled at himself before clearing his throat, bringing his attention back to Elizabeth. The whole of it, this time.
“For continuously being somewhere else when I’m here with you.” He wanted to hit himself for lightly admitting that. The weight of Elizabeth’s judgement stares already started to send chills to his spine.
“You sound so excited on the phone. About going to the park, I mean.” She sighed, averting her gaze sooner than he expected. “I thought you’re going to like it as much as I do.”
“No, it’s not that.” Gilbert swallowed, unaware of how tight his fists were just behind the fold of his arms. “I did! I was looking forward to this. But—” he sucked his lower lips, unsure which stories would sound more believable at this point. “So many things happened afterward. I can’t stop thinking about it.”
“Yeah, your face said it all. You looked like shit.”
Gilbert exhaled in retreat. He was pretty sure his look today was over the notch, with just how much younger he looked after shaving. One tragedy happened, and he was back to being a hot mess.
“I guess I can’t always be your remedy to everything, huh?” Elizabeth looked up, expression’s ague from being cast away by part of the darkness that had been wrapping them up. “Just stop worrying, whatever that is. It doesn’t make anything better either.”
To Gilbert, she’s never a remedy. Elizabeth was always his double-edged medicine; one that could solve his sleep problem, or one that could ruin him to the roots. It got addictive over a while, but maybe it’s too late to rehab now. He’s literally killing himself to be always with her.
His mouth went off on its own, not even giving Gilbert a heads up. “I met Michael the other day.”
Elizabeth’s face was still shadowed, but he could feel the intensity of those deep eyes snapping back at him. “Michael… from heaven?”
“Who else?” he scoffed. “They really got their eyes on you. I feel like even now we’re being watched by them.”
“Creepy.” She chuckled, easing the previous tense out of the window. A gust of wind circling softly into the chamber, Elizabeth shivered and pulled the hem of her denim jacket closer to her body. “I guess they’re really looking forward to the day my number hit zero, huh?”
The thing was, Michael wasn’t even the foremost to bother his mind right now. Until her due date, heaven couldn’t lay their fingers at least a bit on Elizabeth since she’s still under Azrael’s authority. So whatever they had on their minds right now, they wouldn’t be able to do anything to her, even when they had to watch her doing crazy shits with Gilbert.
Gilbert just wanted to use that one to cover up what really clouded his head right now. It didn’t make his worry disappear, but it did lessen his tensed muscles a lot, as well as his head.
“How does he look?” She shivered again to the soft blow of night breeze and that’s enough to make Gilbert take off his reaper jacket.
“He’s pretty,” he said, putting an exaggerated emphasis until he’s delighted to see Elizabeth scowled. “Like an angel supposed to be.”
“What does that mean—” she shut up as soon as Gilbert moved to her side, shoulders pressing all the way to the thighs. With Elizabeth having nowhere else to squeeze away from the touch, Gilbert shrouded his jacket to cover her front. He was supposed to be cold from losing his outer layer, but for some reasons, he’s warmer than ever.
Elizabeth’s face went to various shades of red again, not really visible by the lack of lighting, but it’s there; the same tint as her lip balm. He wondered, what flavor of lip balm she’s using right now, before catching himself staring at said lips.
He tore his gaze away for it’s enough to know she had stopped from running away from his touch. So they sat there, on a bench that wasn’t meant to be sat by two grown adults, stuck at the top of a ferris wheel with no certainty when they would hit the bottom.
“You’re back at being touchy-feely again, huh?” Elizabeth poked at his cheek, the tip of her finger sent electricity that somehow turned into a lava which settled at his stomach. “You’re all stiff today that I thought I was too disgusting for you to touch, anyway.”
“What?!” Did he really give that impression? “You’re showing unnecessary public affection, I’m only putting you into place to save both of our faces!”
“It’s not that bad! We don’t really do anything today, don’t you realize?” She’s pouting at him now, and god dang, what a lucky man Gilbert was. “We don’t hold hands, or have a productive conversation, or eat cotton candy together, or even having fun!”
Elizabeth was playing absently at the zipper of his jacket, fingers digging weakly to the warm material of it. He imagined how she looked wearing that reaper jacket before shoving off the thought and burnt it alive. She’s better off as a stamper—or even an angel anyway. It’s funny, that after his whole attention was back to Elizabeth again, he’s been feeling better than ever.
Today Medicine Elizabeth did a great job at solving his headache problem, though somehow she was also the reason that caused his headache problem.
“Sorry, sorry.” He caught her hand and slipped his fingers onto hers, lacing them together. Calloused hands met the warm and delicate, fit like it was meant to be. “I’ll make it up for the rest of the night.”
She stared down at their hands, pinning fiercely like she’s using her eyes to feel him. “How?”
When she looked up, she received a puff of kiss that was barely reaching her lips. It landed weak at the side of her mouth.
“Ah, totally missed.” In contrary to what he said, Gilbert smirked triumphantly.
“That’s unfair!” Elizabeth claimed, before diving to his space to steal another kiss—yet somehow still landed at the side of Gilbert’s mouth.
Gilbert didn’t wait for her to pull away and catch a long breath. He fetched her himself, drawing her back to his reach, tilted his head and kissed her tenderly—this time correctly on the lips—the hand gripping Elizabeth’s tightened while his other hand rested firm on the side of her neck, before making its way up to cup Elizabeth’s cheeks.
Elizabeth kissed him back, returning the passion as she squeezed back Gilbert’s hands, her other hand was pressed to Gilbert’s thigh, nails slightly digging and teasing the line of his trousers—up and closer to where it’s swelling hot in Gilbert’s stomach, like a pool of lava about to erupt.
Another loud bump jerked their eyes opened, their noses clashed roughly and the first thing that greeted them (other than the other’s flushed face) was the blinking bulb from the ceiling. The sound of the machine grumbled below them and they could feel the chamber move again, bringing them down slowly to the ground. Elizabeth pulled away to stick her head out of the window bar; the city light beneath came back to life.
“The electricity is back!” she said, completely dismissing what just happened between them.
Gilbert sighed, tasting peach at the back of his tongue.
Being in love was never something weak people did. It’s painful, unbearable, time-consuming, energy-wasting. Made you do something you couldn’t control, made you lower your wall and soften your thorns, made you be self-conscious over everything, made you feel naked all the time with the feelings the other brought bare into the surface. One moment it was as calm as the Christmas Eve flakes falling to your hair, the next time you knew the night had turned into a blizzard. It wrecked you up; made your stomach turn upside down; unrecognized coil of heat boiling in your veins; heart’s hammering into your rib cage at the single mention of a certain name, impulses going crazy and got mistranslated along the way—you ended up wanting something you shouldn’t be.
Gilbert didn’t know at all that he would end up tangled in whatever misery he’s about to throw himself into. It’s not like Yuriko had not reminded him over and over, not like Elizabeth had no idea what she’s signing up for. Not like Gilbert was completely blind to what he’s doing. He’s just wondering—shakily wondering—to where this rainy season river was bringing them to.
It’s the ocean, of course. He just wished someone didn’t hop out of the boat midway, leaving Gilbert rowing by himself until he made it alone to the ocean.
Elizabeth had not let go the hold of his hand since they exited the amusement park, it was almost 10 and they were 3 hours late into dinner. Nobody really had their restaurant opened at 10 in March, except a few adult bars, in which they both refused in their silent agreement. So they crashed at the nearest 7-11, grabbing whatever left at the instant food counter and paid their meals out of the commotion. No seats left for them in the front, all taken by a group of youngsters, smoking and slamming beer glasses into each other as they screamed out their gang name or whatever.
“What a brat,” Gilbert loudly exhaled. One of the men turned at him and glared, probably overheard his small cuss. Elizabeth elbowed him before Gilbert could do anything about those guys, being pulled by the gentle force into the direction she’s taking him to.
“Stop picking a fight with anyone on the street.” Elizabeth had let go of him, eyes peering him down straight to the inside like a roaring pitch that landed perfectly on the mitt. “Honestly I’m all worried about your reckless behavior, knowing someday you can end up in jail or worse.”
Gilbert clicked his tongue, deliberately loud enough for Elizabeth to crunch her eyebrows in annoyance. “Those are what the police called public disturbance.”
“You raising your fist against them is what they called public disturbance and also attempted murder.” She exhaled harshly, lips pressed in a thin line as they continued walking down the sidewalk.
Gilbert blinked away, hiding the mischievous curl under the cast of dim moonlight. The river shimmered in the distance, benches were filled with either couples or unemployed men. The dead trees leading to the intersection were growing new leaves, fresh little green waving as they passed by. Spring did come early this year, despite the cruel winter.
“I think this place may become one of my favorites, too,” said Elizabeth out of blue, blowing misty breath to her palms. “It’s a nice change of air to be here.”
“I told you.” Gilbert grabbed her right hand and put it inside his jacket pocket, not breaking the firm hold all the way into. The pocket was too small for both of their hands, Gilbert could feel the shudder every time Elizabeth brushed the side of his fingers in a motion, returning the favor back by squeezing even tighter. He whistled, swinging the 7-11 plastic bag merrily with his other hand. “Though maybe I’ll visit less in the future.”
“Why?” She wiggled under his hold. “Because of me? Don’t.”
“I’ll just find a new place where I don’t always see you in every corner.” Damn, that was bitter in his mouth. “I should be getting a new schedule soon. Sometimes it comes late on the day the new one begins, I have to wake up at 4 AM to get the cursed envelope and make sure not to miss the first one.”
“That’s why some of us live near the headquarter so they can just pick it up themselves rather than having it delivered. Also, don’t just change the topic!”
Her cheeks puffed out red as she scowled. Gilbert thought it’s cute and wanted to poke on it, to feel how warm this gentle force was to him. For a second, he wanted to forget all the awaiting doom at the end of their path.
If only one could cling to the present time without worrying what the future had to fail them.
“Does it even matter to you?” Elizabeth was trailing the tip of her fingers to the railing bar that separated the track and the bank, and it stopped abruptly upon Gilbert’s drop of tone. She gripped the bar where she stopped, way too tight and their steps came to halt. “About what will happen to me after you leave?”
They gleamed in bronze, putting Gilbert’s favorite river view into shame. Elizabeth was leering at him in an offended manner, yanking her hand out of his pocket. Gilbert glared back at the warmth being taken away from him. “You know they’re right when they tell those souls to move to the next stage of life. It means death is never the end, that life will just continue for the one who died. It’s just a phase of change, which includes dimension separation or whatever the sister taught you back then.”
Gilbert hummed, he remembered ever hearing that sentence in one of his class, in between his heavy eyelids and insufferable yawns trying to escape his mouth. Yet he understood anyway. Death is just a phase one has to pass through, was oddly comforting words to be delivered to the one left behind.
He arched his brows. “And?”
“Meaning it’s never over between the one’s leaving and the one’s staying. That I’ll always be here to watch you around even though we won’t be seeing each other as easy as this anymore!” She gulped, running fingers onto her hair and getting it tangled. “So you matter to me. You always do.” She tore away her eyes, focusing on the modest flow of the river below. “Don’t do anything so disappointing or you’ll make me feel less at ease.”
Words caught on the way up to his tongue. He ended up swallowing the weight back until it settled strange in his chest, thinking to make sense about it later. Right now, he only wanted to sink in the moment and not let anything ruin what they had left.
He always found a way to tiptoe around the problem. Gilbert should probably fix himself before he’s hurting everyone even more.
“It’s never over, you said?” He stifled an ugly laugh. “So what happened to a marriage where one of the spouses died? If it’s never over, it shouldn’t be okay for the living spouse to remarry, should they?”
“Don’t twist what I said just for the sake of your—”
“Paul in Romans said: if the husband dies, the wife is released from the law that binds her to him—which means death is the separating line.”
“You’re—!” She huffed, taking a long step while leaving Gilbert laughing to his death behind. “How can you be so good at these verses anyway?! If only you can use that part of ability to make better choices in your life, then I won’t be so worried.”
A few longer steps, Gilbert was able to catch Elizabeth ahead. “How morbid to think of me that low.”
“It’s not that I want to keep you single forever—” she coughed, Gilbert eyed her carefully “—whether you find a new one or not, I hope you’re happy whatever choice you make. Because for me, you being happy is the best thing you can do to put me at ease.” Elizabeth punched him softly on his forearm, her fist lingered and turned into a weak tug around the sleeves of his jacket. “That’s my point in case you’re totally missing it, dumbass.”
“You sound disappointed though. About the potential of me seeing other people.” Elizabeth scoffed, tugging his sleeves harder. Gilbert deliberately made himself easier to be pulled, stumbling his way into Elizabeth’s space as he laughed. “What the hell? How about you? There’s also possibilities of you seeing other angels.”
“I don’t even think that’s allowed! Not like we have emotional capabilities of doing that.”
“Yet, here we are.”
“We are humans!”
“Were guardian angels not?”
“I hate you.”
“Yuriko told me that she heard you said you want me!”
Elizabeth put her hands onto her face and literally screamed into them. The creeping blush was even visible through the cracks of her fingers, expressing her utmost regret. Frankly enough, Gilbert liked how she didn’t retort that.
He grabbed her wrist and slid warmth through Elizabeth’s cold palm as he locked their fingers together, pulling them back into Gilbert’s pocket—reclaiming what they had before. Elizabeth scoffed, squirming her hand in a fake struggle, as if she’s testing Gilbert if he ever let her go again.
“But do you remember what the bible said the other day?”
Their eyes met for a second. Gilbert made sure not to let go of this one, too. “That what God has joined together, let no man pull apart.”
He squeezed their hands tighter, until Elizabeth confirmed herself and finally surrendered to the warmth—except for her thumb which somehow managed to find a way to pick a fight with Gilbert’s thumb, resorting both of them into a childish chicken fight beneath Gilbert’s suffering pocket.
Somehow it soothed both of them who were now giggling under their breath.
They crashed at Gilbert’s place—on his floor table—hands moving quickly to strip the food package, still a bit warm from the 7-11 microwave. Two plates of chicken fillet with rice, completed with over-seasoned BBQ sauce and pepper. Regardless, the taste was never the problem as long as you got to eat it together with someone you’ve been craving with.
Gilbert stretched his body to reach the fridge handler, pulling it open and ransacking anything he could find inside for their drink. There was leftover apple juice, and though Elizabeth dismayed when she traced for a sign of expired dates on the cartoon box, she chugged it anyway.
The light that accompanied them was dim, blinking on top of the table. The master light was no better when Gilbert tested it last time. It was working until Tae Hee left, and since then he didn’t bother to fix it. A person living alone in a studio room didn’t need that much light.
Gilbert kind of regretted it now. He didn’t know he’d be bringing Elizabeth home this fast after last time.
“It’s almost 12,” Elizabeth said, putting down her plastic fork onto her empty plate. Gilbert jolted, not realizing how much time had passed—and how they just ate their meals in silence meanwhile. He swallowed, looking down to his plate which probably needed another 10 minutes to finish. “Do you know how much the taxi cost from your flat to mine? Never tried that before.”
“Probably more expensive,” said Gilbert, taking a larger bite to catch up with her as he eyed Elizabeth drinking the remnants of her juice and later wiped her mouth with a tissue from her bag. She doesn’t have to take the taxi, he thought. “Not like you’ll find it at these hours.”
Her lips were chapped from the wipe, Gilbert watched as Elizabeth licked them wet again. They glimmered tauntingly under the stupid broken bulb he blamed for his off-track thoughts.
“How ancient.” She got up, striding across the table to reach the sink. The sound of rush filled the room as she washed her hand, surely taking her time doing all of those. “Don’t you ever hear of Uber?”
She could just stay the night, he thought, abruptly shoving a big chunk of chicken and rice into his mouth, chewing it roughly as he cleaned up the table. Elizabeth obviously knew she crashed for more than a couple times here, for the same reason too! Was she testing him?
“Whatever,” he said, throat’s throbbing after swallowing that monstrous portion. “Use that if you like. I wouldn’t recommend it though.”
“Why are you mad again?” She turned off the tap, cutting the fizzing sound. When Gilbert looked back, Elizabeth had her hands on her hips, eyes glinting like a clockwork to analyze whatever she found at his face. He averted his eyes and continued cleaning the table, not wanting Elizabeth to find any sign of desire.
“I may not be the best gentleman but I won’t let a lady go back alone at 12, especially without a trustful escort.”
Gilbert stood up and faced her, Elizabeth was still looking at him with all her puzzled looks. “Then accommodate me.”
“I have, right?” He frowned, wondering if Elizabeth was thinking the same thing with him. He dropped their plates in the sink, not bothering to throw away the plastic forks. Crossing his arms, body leaned heavily to the kitchen counter, he searched for the slightest sign in Elizabeth’s face, finger nervously tapping the muscles of his forearm. “Should I spell it out for you? Come stay over at my place, Miss, it’s midnight already!”
Elizabeth’s eyes darkened and the atmosphere shifted. Gilbert couldn’t avoid the pooling heat in him, his heart drumming even louder in a room filled with silence. Why? He wondered. Elizabeth too, probably, if she was conscious enough at reading the whole situation. He didn’t want to get it wrong, or do something she didn’t want, and made any mistake just for the spur of the moment. Didn’t want to hurt Elizabeth, didn’t want to drive her away, didn’t want to be the one steering the wheel of their ship alone—the list could go on and on and after all that happened Gilbert was just straight away too stupid for this kind of thing.
“I want to kiss you,” was what blurted from his mouth, to which he regretted a while later. He tried his best to keep his eyes and mind on behaved after all, even though they all went short-circuited in the end.
Elizabeth frowned, but took some steps closer to him and closed their distance. Her hand reached to smooth what Gilbert thought was wrinkles around his tired eyes, before settling down to cup his cheeks. “Okay,” she replied, wobbly and unreasonably heavy. The kiss itself was barely a peck on his lips, the hand holding his face trembled as she tiptoed to reach him. She drew away, gazing at him in wonder. Gilbert tried to make out of her face the next time the bulb flickered only to find her cheeks were flushed deep cherry, parted lips that left a taste of convenience store apple juice when Gilbert nibbled his dry ones, several emotion crossed her face in just a blink of eye—to which Gilbert couldn’t translate at all.
And he felt her hands slipping away from him—warmth retreating agonizingly slow as Elizabeth sighed, eyes already sweeping away from him. Gilbert was left wanting more, more than what his mind told him not to, more than what Yuriko warned him, more than what the world deemed them to be.
He rested firm hands on her shoulders, catching the focus of those dying light back to him, licking his lips beforehand that got Elizabeth’s eyes trailing down at him before he dived into her. Eyes shut, chapped lips met another of their kinds; kissing the seam of his lips, her side of mouth, his jaw; tongues slid to invade the unexplored boundaries between them; tasting her apple juice, his apple juice—
Elizabeth bit his lower lips, leaving Gilbert gasping as she pushed him to the nearest wall and pressed their body onto each other, one hand on Gilbert’s nape while the other playing with the tip of his shirt collar while she continued stealing his breath; Elizabeth herself was panting in between her rash action. Gilbert ran his hand on her hair, tongue stroking the roof of Elizabeth’s mouth that he knew would earn a reaction from her while trying to make more of her—to get more of her—the scent of cherry blossom perfume was never this addicting to his liking. She’s pulling him down so she could fit more of her work into him, and Gilbert stupidly surrendered to the warmth below him. He wondered if it’s possible to conceal the loud beating in his chest through the material of his shirt so Elizabeth couldn’t be aware of how both nervous and excited he was.
(Or perhaps he wished Elizabeth would think the same too. Little did he know that Elizabeth’s breathing his peppermint and sandalwood the same way he breathed her in—like their fucking lifeline.)
They parted for a second, to look the others in the eyes, to grin at each other’s swollen lips, to register the heat that sunk deep in their stomach, to realize how far from stopping they were right now, before realizing it’s a highway ride to hell from now on, with no brakes could stop them and where the speed limit was a myth.
(Gilbert also wished he wasn’t that readable with the growing friction in between the area where Elizabeth’s thigh was pressed onto him.)
So without a second thought, he pulled his shirt up that got Elizabeth’s eyes growled with desire, the intensity peered the muscles on Gilbert’s bare torso so fierce—it stung Gilbert until he shuddered even without being touched.
“You saw me shirtless before,” Gilbert murmured, voice hoarse and low in a way he didn’t even recognize himself. “What’s new?”
“Did I?” As if her voice was any better, breathless and embarrassingly cracked. Her finger unconsciously went to to caress his collarbone, before tracing down to his chest, his abdomen, to the upper pelvis where the hem of his pant stopped her—leaving nothing but tingling burn within the area she touched or even not. Her eyes flew back to meet Gilbert, his heart jumped when he saw her smirk, not even retreating her touch beforehand. “Are you always this disgustingly hot?”
He lied if he didn’t admit the alarming shiver running down his veins. “How fucking shameless of you to admit that.”
You’re going to regret saying it in the morning, Gilbert was about to say, but swallowed it back nonetheless and chose to overthrow her by grabbing her waist and reversed their position so fast—Elizabeth couldn’t help but to gape at the shift and whine when Gilbert lifted her by the back of her thighs, pinning her to the wall just like that as he supported her weight with his arms. He claimed her lips again, and she wrapped her arms around him, kissing him back like the world was ending, like there’s no tomorrow to be waited for. She breathed to the sensitive skin behind his ear while he left a mark on her neck, stretching her collar wider so he could leave more on the way down there. Nails were digging to his sweaty back, gentle ruffles on his hair became rough tugs as they tested each other more. They knew well they’ve crossed the boundary when Elizabeth’s back no longer slamming on the wall, but the soft material of Gilbert’s bed sheet—as articles of clothing started dropping on the floor: scattered, stepped, kicked—as breathing got heavier and the fuel of heat bubbling into arousal could no longer be ignored.
Draining and savoring, timid calls dressed in a dangerous play, said selflessness spitting back at the obvious selfishness. Even the entire world opposed them, yet sinful humans could only be sinful until death knocked on their doors, couldn’t they for the very least?
Bulb winking dimly above them; a sworn silent witness throughout the night.
Moonlight bled into the room, piercing sharp between the waving curtains. Even breathing blew next to him, the rhythm kept track of what Gilbert had lost along the way. Elizabeth had long gone into her dreams, curled in a fetal position on a bed that was purposely made for one adult, legs tangled comfortably with Gilbert’s under a blanket that was thin yet warm enough for both of them. Her eyelashes fluttered to the dream, lips parted just enough to show the soft edges of them, tangled hair looked soft against the color of Gilbert’s pillow.
She was beautiful, and it took her her lifetime for Gilbert to admit it loud.
He reached out to caress the part where the intruding light guided him—to where the string of her camisole had loosened up and fell to her shoulder—revealing the black print on her right collarbone.
His hand trembled against the soft skin. Not even a prayer could stop the ticking bomb chasing after them, no matter how hard he fell to his knees for God to listen to him. Because he would take anything, for time to stop a second longer, for them to have this moment a little longer than they were supposed to be.
How odd it was, certainly, dreaming the word ‘forever’ in a world that had an ending.
Then again, what God has joined together let no man pull apart. But the man trying to pull them apart was no mere man. It’s God himself, and none of His plan was made to join them in the first place.
Time remaining: 7 days.