30 Nights and Tomorrow On

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So when the world goes down, will God go down with it? (Fall Out Boy – What a Catch, Donnie)

The girl thought, maybe she had lived a good life after all.

Elizabeth couldn’t believe today was the last day she’s ever doing this—thanks to Yuriko’s initiative to retire her early—stepping inside a hospital, passing through a crowd of people in the corridor, either acting like a legal guardian or an insurance marketing staff to trespass one or more room in a day. One of these days, she grew better into her con persona more than the past 4 years of her career. If that wasn’t her proudest achievement, she didn’t know what else.

Perhaps the fact that she could date her longtime knight in shining armor could be added to the list, then again all these things could only happen as the effect of a particular event. Would Gilbert still push his way to ask her out, if she weren’t dying?

Thank you for trying, the word echoed loud in her ears. That you think I’m worth enough to try for.

Uh, Miss?”

Elizabeth returned her focus to the pale thin man sitting on the bed in front of her; her hand’s still touching his shoulder for who knew how long.

“Ah, right. Sorry.” She pulled her hand back, hiding the nervous wring of her fingers under her agenda book. “Therefore, Mr. Cadwell, I wish you good recovery for your upcoming project. Contact me later if you’re interested to have us by your side.”

She left him a number, not bothering to make her own name card. The funny thing was, none of these guys she gave her number to ever dialed her back, possibly because they’re never interested in the first place, or they just died too fast to realize they might need her insurance offer.

Mr. Cadwell, however, even in his deathbed he listened through all Elizabeth’s bullshit about why his young start-up business might need her aid; baggy eyes gleamed at her stammering explanation about her nonexistent company.

He reminded her of Gilbert. Just thinner and slightly older than him, probably more brainy too.

“Sure enough. I’ll call you back,” Mr. Cadwell said, pressing his mouth into a curvy thin line as he saved Elizabeth’s number to his phone, fingers hovering weakly on the keypad before locking it away. “That’s odd, though, Miss Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth looked up, putting off her plan to say her farewell and left, now that she had stamped him.

“What’s wrong, sir? Do you have any questions?”

He laughed, leaning to the stacked pillow behind. “Like you actually came to discuss an insurance offer with the CEO of an unknown start-up when he’s sick in the hospital. Not that I mind or anything, but I wonder if your side is too desperate to do the most unlikely.”

Elizabeth returned the laugh, nervously. “I—My boss told me to consider it like customer care, well, even though you’re not our customer—yet!” She gestured at the bouquet that she put on his bedside table earlier. “It’s from him. Get well soon, Mr. Cadwell.”

“Oh my god. I might actually tear up because of you guys!”

“Oh, save it for the victory later!”

They were talking about the global economy for a good ten minutes, in which Elizabeth used the remaining of her bullshitting talent in order to survive, until the gleam from his left ring finger came to her attention.

“Sir, you are engaged?” she blurted, in the midst of their heated conversation about inflation.

Mr. Cadwell, taken aback from being cut mid sentence, looked down to his finger where the ring had fit in perfectly. He lifted it up until Elizabeth could see it clearer, though it’s just plain silver and nothing flashy, she could see how much he treasured it from the genuine smile of his pale lips.

“I’m planning to marry Diana next month. Well, that’s the original plan.”

“Your fiancé?”

He unlocked his phone again, rushing to scroll through his gallery. It didn’t take him too long to find a picture of both of them together, since it’s literally plastered all over the gallery section. Diana was charming. She had ginger hair that waved just past her shoulder, round-rimmed glasses framed the sparkling brown eyes behind, her perfect cupid bow painted rose gold as she smiled so endearingly to the camera, and freckles scattering over the bridge of her nose like a night sky in one autumn. She’s probably the same age as Elizabeth, and her engagement ring glimmered the same way Mr. Cadwell’s did earlier.

“She’s lovely.” Elizabeth clasped her hands together, biting back jealousy. “I can see why you’re so smitten.”

“I met her back at middle school. Started dating during college.” He still had his eyes on the screen, words flying away without looking at Elizabeth. “We were so sure that everything will work out just fine as how it went so far. I’m not the chief of a big company or something, but she said she’s ready to build everything with me from the beginning. And for once, I thought… this might be it.”

“This will be it,” Elizabeth corrected. “You’re going to marry her after all.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” The screen went black from being idle too long. Mr. Cadwell looked up, meeting Elizabeth’s eyes. They’re watering. “I’m going to win this battle and celebrate it with her. The marriage can wait, we can always do it once I’m well again. I’ll work harder to step up my business, that way I can make Diana the happiest woman in the world! One day we’ll look back at this moment and laugh, because how stupidly believable this thing is at dragging us down. Ha!”

He inhaled a sob, and aggressively grabbed the tissue box Elizabeth handed him.

If anything, Elizabeth admired him for his direct positivism. She didn’t want to pretend that Mr. Cadwell had not heard his final diagnosis, or perhaps he’s just consoling himself because no one’s able to anymore. Even if it’s true, Elizabeth still wanted to steal a grain of his courage. For herself. And Gilbert, maybe. It pained her so much that she couldn’t tell him that she’s on the same boat with him, that she understood how he felt, instead of sympathizing like an outsider she was.

“That’s the spirit,” she said, bitterness tasted more and more ordinary behind her teeth when she tried to run her tongue onto it. “You’ll make it. Even when you don’t, you know you still make it.”

Perhaps it was a little too harsh for the young man; perhaps it’s just the voice of Elizabeth consoling herself. But what could they do in this situation, if not trying to smile?

Elizabeth stepped out of the hospital, heart’s full on her throat. She took a look at the local hospital building that she had visited for hundreds of times in her life—this time for the last time—still couldn’t believe she wouldn’t be going there anymore. And she looked down at her attire too, her agenda book, her high heels that she learnt how to walk on it like her life depended on it, everything, even herself.

It’s only four years, but for god’s sake, it was right at this moment she finally felt what it was like to be dying.

To leave everything behind.

To not actually want to leave.

Her phone vibrated in her pocket, a message unraveled when she clicked on it. The name ‘Gilbert’ popped out like any other day in her life, only she realized that she only got a few chances left of receiving it by now.

“How’s your last day? Enjoying it?”

Elizabeth did really fight back a sob right now. But she couldn’t be crying in the middle of a hospital parking lot when she didn’t have anyone to mourn.

At least, if herself didn’t count.

***

I’m going to miss being a con.”

The phone screen burnt against his eyes, flaring through the dark alley Gilbert’s leaning to. He smiled for a while, to hear something from Elizabeth though it wasn’t enough to chase away the knot forming in his stomach.

It’d been 14 hours since he had received the envelope, yet it felt like a week had passed already with every step he took burnt like a steady flame into the sole of his shoes. The day might as well get longer and longer without Elizabeth by his side to keep track of the time. Speaking about her, it’s been 14 hours too since her last name couldn’t stop chiming in her ears, like a spell he couldn’t undo so it wouldn’t curse him later.

It’s a curse, indeed. He didn’t know he fucked up when he wanted to be the reaper who sent her off. It all started as an impulse; Gilbert couldn’t think of better words to reply when Elizabeth told him about the stamp. It could be formality, too. Well, they were friends, right? It’s normal if he wanted that obligation for the sake of summing up their relationships, so the epilogue would at least taste less bitter and more sweet to both parties.

Then it escalated as a running joke between them, which one of them could make the most creative insult to be thrown before the send off. In the end, it’s all just a costume to mask his desire to be the one seeing her for the last time. At this point, Gilbert started thinking. If anyone deserved to see Elizabeth in her last seconds, it should be only him.

And there were Caleb’s and Daphne’s tragedy to witness, bringing everything Gilbert believed so far, thus turned into a dust. Because in the end, it didn’t matter at all how perfect and touching Gilbert had imagined the whole parting thing to be—reality is ugly, and it’s now here to haunt him. To crush him.

It would probably work, if none of them were in too deep with each other. But with their current feelings, so big to contain, yet so fragile against time and fate, perhaps Yuriko was right all along when she tried to force her sense into him that night.

And if Gilbert and Elizabeth decided to continue whatever pathway left for them to walk—even Gilbert was scared of what would happen from now on. Hell, he’s most scared of what he himself was going to do when the time came.

The worst part was they’re already happening. When he decided to walk off his apartment, down to the back alley at 10 PM, nothing but a thin sweatshirt and sweatpants and the flashlight from his phone, Gilbert knew he couldn’t go back.

It was a tough choice, really, for the past few days every time he passed the backyard of his apartment building, to where the dumpster silenced. He’s truly about to let it slide until this afternoon, when his mind wandered back to the same box of thoughts he tried to shove off since the morning. But it’s no use, now that Gilbert could no longer unsee how perfectly in line all the clues at coming together. The serial murder case. Mr. Ho’s vision. The envelope.

Gilbert could no longer close his eyes, when he deducted that Elizabeth was going to die here.

In the same hand of those murderers looking for its prey with unknown motives, the same hand that dumped the body in the abandoned yard of his apartment. They probably didn’t want to kill her at first, according to Mr. Ho, but they’re—

Gilbert put a hand to his stomach when he felt puke rising to his throat, nails digging to his skin as back’s sliding down the wall until he hit the ground, nauseated and unwell of the thought that Elizabeth, of all the rather peaceful deaths she could be having, had to die protecting a scum like him.

If only he could find a better way for her— if only there’s a way without breaking the law—if only he could make her not have to go through all of this nonsense, then he—!

All of a sudden, the pain from earlier went numb and Gilbert’s overloading emotion drained, as if all his senses had decided to shut down altogether. He got up, found himself walking an auto-pilot to where the abandoned yard was, to where the dumpster’s still untouched from the last time he had come to check. The temperature had slightly increased since the past days, and the smell began to travel—far enough for Gilbert to flinch when he’s only standing at the entrance. At this point, it was bound to find out anytime soon by the nearby neighbors or passing pedestrians.

But when? Tomorrow? The day after? A week later when it became apparent enough for anyone to see that anything shoved into that dumpster was more than a big deal?! Could Gilbert wait… until then?

It never occurred to him that taking out his phone and dialing the police was, utterly, a crime. Only now, the urge came naturally, like that’s what he’s supposed to do without doubting in the first place. What was he even afraid all this time? The murderer? The people at the headquarter? Azrael? God…?

He shouldn’t be fearing them. He should be in fear with himself.

The other line picked up, the phone on his hold jerked slightly.

“Hello, police. Um, I was wondering about something weird-smelling behind my apartment. Could you please come here and check it out? It’s bugging me, and possibly the rest of the complex too.”

He didn’t commit crime to the society, but to the divine beholders.

And the worst part? It’s only the start for him.

***

When Elizabeth had come back to her place that night, the escaping light from the crack of her door gave too many clues of what happened inside, even when she’s still out in the corridor. Sighing, she reluctantly turned the key on the knob and pushed the door open, putting on her best face to be surprised when she found Yuriko curled on her bed, work clothes getting crumpled to the constant rubbing against the sheet, eyes fixed on drama’s conversation going on the TV.

They swept over when Elizabeth entered her room; her hands on her hips as she analyzed bottles of beer on her floor desk, one of them were empty, the other one was half-empty, and the rest were full. Liquor glimmered faintly under her bedroom’s light, tinted green thanks to the color of the glass bottle.

“Welcome home, Liz!” Yuriko had yelled, before burping embarrassingly, stumbling her up when she tried to straighten her back. She’s looking not less tipsy after managing to sit on the bed, glasses stood askew on the bridge of her nose. “I mean! Sorry?”

Elizabeth put her heavy agenda book she wouldn’t need anymore on top of the desk, next to the beer bottles she’d be joining to savor later, and later tossed her bag to the empty space of her bed. “Sure. Make yourself at home.”

That’s what she also said when Gilbert came barely alive to her place yesterday night. He still hadn’t replied to her last message though it was written ‘read’ around an hour ago when she accidentally opened it.

Yuriko’s dazed eyes didn’t leave Elizabeth when she stripped off her outer layers, leaving trails of them on her way to the kitchen where she went to grab two beer glasses.

“Congratulations on your retirement,” her friend said, a bit slurred. The buzzing from the TV filled the pause between. “I don’t think you may want to be retired this young, but still. Consider this as a holiday before you get promoted.”

“Strange,” Elizabeth drawled on her tongue, returning to her bedroom and settling the two glasses on the floor table. Now it looked crowded, just the way she wanted it. “I forgot what holiday means until you mention it. Is it… something grand?”

Yuriko burst out laughing, joining Elizabeth to sit on the floor. “They really do break our brain that far for us to become foreign with the idea of taking days off.”

“They do. I wonder if it’ll continue to happen later. Also don’t be chugging the whole beer to your mouth! At least pour it to the glass!”

“Oh my god, why are you like this?” Yuriko chuckled loud, letting it sit between them as she flicked the half-empty bottle open and recklessly poured it to both glasses, making sure each of them were full enough for the foam to start spilling out, the bubble fizzed to the very end level of the glasses’ mouth and created the sense of ‘unsettling’ and ‘concerning’. Elizabeth did nothing to ease the feelings out, instead just returned Yuriko’s cheers by clinking their glasses together and chugged half of them in a go, the same way they did it when they first turned legal. She burped again, and this time Elizabeth laughed for real.

“So… this is my retirement party?” Elizabeth said after a while, previously too occupied with the confession scene happening on the drama show before them. Too unrealistic, she thought, the two protagonists had only met for about three hours and those three words slipped out as easy as a ‘good morning’. For her, it took her almost her life to get it out.

Yuriko hummed, cutting Elizabeth’s thought. “Yeah, I’m supposed to say the narrative to you but I’m too drunk for that so nah.”

“What narrative?”

“The…” She cleared her throat and dropped her octaves. “Elizabeth Almássy, you are released from your work starting now. Thank you for the contribution, and good workkind of thing.”

“You did it!”

“That’s not the real script.” Yuriko gulped her glass down and poured for another one, casually grabbing a new unopened bottle. “You’re not disappointed, right?”

“I…” She stared at her dim reflection from the bottles and shook away the drowning dizziness that overlooked her like a cast of clouds. “I’ll be crying if you actually do that, you know?”

“Aw, don’t be. We’re here to be happy!” Yuriko slung her arm across Elizabeth’s shoulders, hooking her hand right above where the number tainted her skin. “Just the two of us. Forgetting shits and stuff. This is our holiday.”

She leaned more to her embrace, resting her head on Yuriko’s shoulders, her hair tickling Elizabeth’s cheeks and she giggled. “Thanks, even though this is like the most modest party a ‘Yuriko’ has ever thrown. After your lavish, awe-inspiring, upscale birthday party a few days ago, I expect more from you, you know.”

“Now shut up.” Yuriko was warm: her shoulder, her neck, her arm, her breath. It’s probably the beer, but the contrast had reminded Elizabeth of how cold she used to be, right after she started working with the government, as if she had thrown a piece of herself away in order to achieve what she had now. “I expect you to come home with Gilbert, actually. So, uh, he could join too. If he wants.”

“Oh.Elizabeth raised her back, dislodging herself from Yuriko’s arm after she felt blush creeping up her neck. “I didn’t… you went here unnoticed so…”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.” She waved it off, tearing her eyes away so it’s locked on the TV again. “It would be awful to catch you guys in the act!” Her laugh roared, but then stopped abruptly when Elizabeth didn’t respond. “Also, what he needs now is rest. Like a ton of it.”

“And bottles of ointment, apparently. Bandage, too.” Elizabeth narrowed her eyes when Yuriko glanced at her once, twitching with nervousness. “Thanks for taking care of him in the hospital. I would be there too if I knew.”

“The driver’s sleepy when he hit him.” The short-haired girl exhaled, blowing empty fumes to the air. “He should just get away from his client seconds before the accident happened. He successfully did that for his whole life, how could he mess up this one?”

“He’s talking to the client?”

Yuriko fixed her glasses, pushing it by scrunching her nose. “I don’t know. He refused to tell me the whole thing too.”

“What about the scars on his neck?” Elizabeth pushed forward, nudging on Yuriko until she earned her eyes back, this time genuinely baffled. “Surely a truck couldn’t just suddenly strangle him on its way to run him, right?”

“That’s—” Yuriko seemed to be disoriented for a few seconds, frozen still while looking at Elizabeth with these expressions of wide eyes and agape mouth despite several emotions managing to cross her face on behalf of her loud silence. To Elizabeth, they either spoke too much or too little for Elizabeth to grasp everything together. At the end of the day, she knew that it was something they agreed not to tell her, meaning it was bad enough for Elizabeth to know.

“I don’t mean to dig secrets or anything. I put on respect if you two don’t want to tell me. Just…” Elizabeth leaned on her bed frame, for a second she closed her eyes and her mind flew back to when Gilbert had sat next to her, in the exact mirror of what she and Yuriko did now, only that he’s looking less conscious and could be slipping out at any moment. Foggy eyes only turned clear the next morning, yet Elizabeth was too hazy to put it all together. She opened her eyes again and found no Gilbert, but a frowning Yuriko. “Just tell me he’s going to be okay.”

Yuriko’s brows smashed together, peering over Elizabeth through the brim of her glasses. She looked like she’s about to drop something out of her tongue, before deciding it’s a bad idea and closed her mouth again, sucking her lower lips. It had to be the beer effect, or Elizabeth might think the flush on Yuriko’s cheeks indicated signs of infatuation, for a reason Elizabeth’s afraid she couldn’t fathom.

Whatever was on the tip of her tongue, Yuriko decided to slosh it down and seal it with the next shot of drink she took.

“He’s a tough one,” she said, voice hoarse from the beer. Clearing her throat, Yuriko grabbed the remote and changed the channel into a comedy TV show. Laughter whirred throughout the room, replacing the previous wail of cries brought by the drama’s actress who for some reasons got her heart broken fifteen minutes after she confessed. It got lost between her and Yuriko’s conversation, Elizabeth might not follow the story well but she knew damn well how realistic it was.

“I guess so.” Now her reflection was swimming in the wavering flow of liquid, mocking her face in the process. She felt cold now, thanks to the lack of clothing, but the heater had been running full-blow and she was just fine until earlier, not to mention she’s supposed to be warmer after a few shots of beer. “I hope so.”

“But even the toughest guy on the planet has their own limit.” When Elizabeth looked at her again, the frown hadn’t left Yuriko’s and she still had the same wonder of expression. Only this time, her eyes dropped serious and they pierced Elizabeth’s like the sharp edge of a knife, slicing through the crack of Elizabeth’s ego. It was a face she reserved when talking to her subordinates, but never at Elizabeth for they were friends before anything. Right now, it felt like Yuriko wasn’t talking to Elizabeth as her best friend throwing a retirement party.

She was either commanding her, like how a superior was supposed to do. Or protecting her, like how a stamper was supposed to do.

“Take me for granted, Liz, but I’ll tell you.” Elizabeth felt her face hardened, a hammer crushed the ribs protecting the poundings of her heart. “Get away from Gilbert. As possible as you can. At least, not until you die.”

***

Yuriko pretended nothing had ever happened during the night they drank themselves to death. They woke up, after a night of movie marathon, empty bottles of beers rolling around the floor of Elizabeth’s bathroom like a landmine she’s careful not to step in when she navigated her way to the bathroom the next morning. Yuriko’s still whining on the other side of the bed, asking for five more minutes.

Elizabeth put on a pair of comfortable sweatpants and an oversized shirt to block the chilling morning air, splashed her face with some cold water in the washstand. The mirror was fogged up so she went to grab a sheet to wipe it down, revealing a blurry reflection of her. Even so, she could make out how horrible she looked that morning. The unkempt hair that probably needed its own ten minutes to untangle, the growing pimples, chapped lips whose color almost matched with her skin color, the bags under her eyes—she looked like a living ghost.

The only thing that convinced her she’s not dead yet was the tattoo below her collarbone that said ‘5’. The realization was both uplifting and upsetting, in a way her stomach twirled in a weird sensation, swinging left and right because its inability to decide whether it wanted to puke or eat.

After a few failed attempts of crouching down in front of her toilet, forcing her stomach and throat to do the deed and not getting anything, Elizabeth got up to her kitchen and made herself and Yuriko each a bowl of cereal. Maybe she’s just hungry, no need for a reason to beat herself out of it. Upon stumbling to get herself a fresh milk from the fridge, she noticed how many food stocks she had inside, which definitely would last longer than her remaining five days (not that she enjoyed cooking home made in the first place). Now that she thought about it, she had a lot of belongings that she didn’t know how to dispose after her death. It’s not like she wanted to sell it and earned some money. Hell, she still had her deposit somewhere in the bank and a few other saving sources. She couldn’t bring any of those to heaven, could she?

“Yuriko!” Elizabeth called out across the room, drawing another grumble from Yuriko who slept on her stomach now, her chin was smashed against the pillow they had shared, eyes blinking open and close to the radiant light that breached through the window. “You want to stock some butter at your place? Bring home mine.”

“Why?” She groaned, closing her eyes again. “It’s near expired, isn’t it?”

Elizabeth felt her forehead twitch upon the accusation, she almost spilled the milk all over the kitchen table. “For someone who has a lifespan of a microscopic marine worm, I bought too many of them.”

“Nerd!” Yuriko pushed herself to sit, before stepping her feet on the floor and tiptoed her way to the kitchen, joining Elizabeth. “I can help you clear out your fridge if you want. I mean—not for me alone, but like donating it. Or something similar.”

Elizabeth’s eyes gleamed upon the suggestion. “Help me arrange one, then. Should I talk to a church?”

Yuriko shrugged, pulling a chair for herself to sit and grabbed a ready bowl of cereal, plunging her spoon aggressively into the pool of milk. “I was thinking of an orphanage, but go on I guess.”

“Well, let’s split it then. It’s not like I only have unlimited stock of food. There were clothes and furniture and savings.”

“Woah, talk about flexing! Liz, calm down!”

Elizabeth laughed, taking a taste on her cereal. It’s fine, not bad or great, just enough to ease away the knot of uneasiness from earlier. Her comfort food, she called it.

She looked out of the window, where a few potted plants had sat on the sill, one of them was about to full bloom. Elizabeth wouldn’t know if she’d live long enough to see it bloom, then. She might as well give them to other people soon.

Yuriko left an hour later, around 8 in the morning because of an urgent meeting in the headquarter. Once Elizabeth’s alone again inside the room, she suddenly felt so small in such a large space filled with her stuff. Now that she’s been released from her duty, she got nothing else to do other than dwelling in that space of hers, making the most of it in a way she couldn’t do when she’s still a full-time worker. So she began taking a mop and a used sheet, pouring floor cleaners and brushing the slightest dust of them, even the most hidden spot she’s too lazy to touch back then, like the underside of her carpet. She also sorted out her bookshelves, categorizing them box by box whether it was her novels, comics non-fiction works, magazines, her mind scrambled meanwhile to think of any available places that wanted to accept her books donation.

She’s in the middle of sorting out her clothes when her phone buzzed on the floor table behind her, covered by the leftover beer bottles Elizabeth had yet to discard. Immediately thinking of Gilbert who hadn’t replied since yesterday, she rushed to grab it and found an unknown number on the caller ID.

Elizabeth was hesitant to pick it up at first, noting she had not bought any package in recent time. But it could be someone she knew from the headquarter, trying to fill her retirement paperwork. Or a client she had handed out her number so they would believe her imaginary insurance company. It could be anything, and honestly Elizabeth saw no reason why she should let it ring until it drained out.

So she picked up. And felt her stomach turned upside down upon the foreign, yet familiar rough voice calling out from the other side of the line. It got worse, when the caller had said her name in a relief exhale that didn’t give Elizabeth the same effect.

Because she’s literally holding her breath, suffocating herself through the whole process.

“Is this really you?” the voice of a man reached out, as husky as Elizabeth had vaguely remembered from her early days, back when she’s still in a house where she spent the first ten years of her life believing she was an important part of the community before they sent her away for the name of God.

Elizabeth fell to the floor, knees knocking on the carpet below, her phone almost slipped away from her grip. “D-Dad?”

“Oh, it was you, Elizabeth! You’re all grown-up now with the lady-like voice!” Her father rejoiced, and once again, Elizabeth didn’t share the same feelings as him. “I was skeptical at first but they really did provide your latest number. I can’t be more thankful—”

“Who?” Instead, her grip tightened around the phone as her most buried memories started to flood, as well as the emotion that went along them. “Who gave you my number?”

“The church I sent you to! I was thinking, maybe they keep track of their graduate so I went to call them and asked for your number. And you are… here, talking to me. God is really real, now that I have experienced His miracle myself.”

Elizabeth noticed she was shaking, sucking her teeth as several options of replies popped out her mind. She couldn’t choose between the church is no one, yet they keep track of me unlike my dad, or it’s not a miracle if you drag it until twelve years, dad, when you could just make the effort earlier, or don’t mention God if all you do is to use His name to fucking abandon me again.

She chose none of it and went with the safest—the sanest—one. “Why are you calling me now?”

“I was wondering ,uh, if you can come home? Spring break is okay, first of April or somewhere in May. Well, the event is on April so I hope you—”

“What event?”

She hated the way her father spoke to her casually like they’d been keeping in touch almost every other week when there was zero interaction and effort made in between the span of their last encounter. Truly obnoxious.

“Ah, you didn’t know, right. I should tell you now then.” He took a deep breath and Elizabeth couldn’t help but to glare at the nonexistent image of her current father in her mind, upon registering the answer words by words. “Your mom and I… we have a son now. This year, he’s 5 years old. We are throwing a party for him this April.”

“Five years old?” And you’re telling me this just now? Elizabeth swallowed that down, maintaining a rather calm and curious tone for now.

“Yeah. Your younger brother.” He chuckled, pulling back a nauseated feeling Elizabeth tried to suppress this morning. “He looks a lot like your mother. And now that I think about it, you also look like your mother. At least when you were still a kid. Do you want to see him? We can exchange pictures after this. You must be really surprised to see him—”

“Dad.” Elizabeth gulped, a lump sat heavy in her throat. “You do realize we haven’t talked with each other for years, right?”

There was a long pause from the other line; she could hear only the sound of her own panting breath. She didn’t know why she got so worked up about this when the other person didn’t even care about her feelings, just went straight to call her and told her about the good things that were happening to the family—where the fuck all of those good things went anyway when she’s still there?

Her father inhaled again, this time the sigh buzzed into Elizabeth’s eardrum. “Elizabeth, hear me out. This is—”

“Not the kind of refusing to speak with each other, but zero attempt at contacting me when you can. I thought you were dead! I thought… you are all dead!” Elizabeth felt stupid right now, sickeningly disgusted with how bad she’s trembling upon facing her greatest trauma. “You don’t even know what my face looks like now. And neither I am to you, but you know what? I don’t really care! After all those years I spent, trying to get rid of you from my memories!”

“Eliza—”

“Stop fucking saying my name, you don’t deserve a piece of it.” Her head throbbed again, hot blood rushing all over her body as her heartbeat deafened her from the surrounding. “You literally cut me off the family tree branches. What do you expect, Dad? Me, welcoming you with warm hands, congratulating you and Mom with sweet words about your new son?! You think sending me to learn at church will make me a good, holy churchy girl that can forgive every criminal she meets? Oh, I wished so!”

It’s a dread silence afterward. No feedback from the other line, so Elizabeth continued. She couldn’t stop, now that it poured like a heavy rain on early spring, thunderous above the barely bloomed flowers beneath. “What’s the point of telling me this now? Inviting me to your son’s birthday party where he won’t even recognize me. I don’t think Mom will love to see me anyway—I don’t even know why you dare to call me after all these years! I don’t—I hate this. Being toyed.”

“We have been to church these days.” The voice was small coming from the phone, and Elizabeth hadn’t realized how loud she was—screaming like her life’s in danger. “The fathers told us to reach out for you. That if we are humble enough, you’ll forgive us. Because we believe you’re a good kid after all these years.”

There the word went again. After all these years. It sounded easy and fast, when it carried a ton of obscure memories and emotions, the good and ugly mixed together creating the current Elizabeth everyone except her biological family knew. And they threw the words around like nobody’s business, like all time does is to heal wounds and shits while it can as well kill anything in between if it has to. The fathers at their church might have forgotten to include that last bit.

“So we are thinking of taking the first step. This year… is a good start.”

Elizabeth wanted to laugh, if only her stomach didn’t hurt so much. “What happened to the previous years, then? A bad start? Consequently? When you’re stable enough with Mom that you two made a new child?” It came out as a chuckle, Elizabeth thought it was the saddest chuckle she ever let out. “Whatever, Dad. Just… if he turns out to be gifted, don’t just send him away and cut him off. It’s scary. For a good time of his life, it scars.” His father sighed, and Elizabeth beat him to it. “If he’s just a normal boy, then you better take care of him like your life depends on it. Since you didn’t really get it back then, let me tell you now. That’s your job, as his parents.”

She gritted her teeth.

“So act like one and do it properly.”

“C-Can you spare us a time then? Anytime! It doesn’t have to be this fast. Maybe summer? Or the following months? We’ll welcome you anytime, you know.”

It’s too late, Dad. Elizabeth felt the harsh line of her face softened. Her eyes stung, and she wanted to do nothing but to vomit right away. “I’m all booked lately. Why didn’t you ask me the last couple years? I might have time for you all.”

“We will wait! Anytime when you’re ready—”

“Bye, Dad.” She forced a smile, even knowing it wouldn’t get delivered to her father. “Don’t contact me again.”

She hung up, blocked his number, tossed her phone until it rolled along the empty bottles of last night’s feast, and ran toward her bathroom—this time vomiting for real.


Time remaining: 5 days.

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