30 Nights and Tomorrow On

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Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars (Frank Sinatra – Fly Me To The Moon)

When he woke up, the first thing he saw was the beaming light of someone’s face, blurry but bright enough to make him look away from the sheer reality of it.

“Good morning,” she said, voice as soft as clouds, flying around in one evening sky. Elizabeth, swimming in the golden ray of sunrise from across his window, was ethereal. Her hair glowed, with movement as delicate as a goddess she tucked a few strands behind her ears, revealing the sideline of her neck. And what would make her more magical was the fact that she’s still lying on the elbow in the same bed as him, staring at him with a thousand years of constellation in her eyes.

It took Gilbert a second to reply back, and another second to realize his alarm had been ringing the whole time on the bed drawer next to him. Clumsily, he grappled his phone and turned off the annoying rapid beats from blaring even louder.

“You can still sleep after I go home. It’s still too early in the morning,” Elizabeth said when Gilbert pushed himself to his feet, lightly tapping on the light switch.

The room came to light, Gilbert used his gathered energy to walk into the kitchen, grabbing two glasses and filling each with leftover warm water from yesterday’s kettle. “It’s fine. I have an early appointment today.”

Elizabeth joined him in the kitchen counter, sipping the water that cleared her throat. “Appointment?”

“With one of the detectives from this district.” Gilbert refilled his already empty glass, this time with tap water, and went to the window where he set Elizabeth’s potted plants to grow, watering them in a circular motion with the water he had. “Remember when I told you about the body in the backyard? I decided to tell the police too.”

“Oh, dear. Yeah, I remember.” She followed him to the window, sitting on the edge of the bed with a leg crossed onto another; she was sipping her cup with her eyes fixed on the dripping water of Gilbert’s cup.

“Yeah. I’m going to give my statement as the witness.”

“Is there a reason why you’re suddenly telling them? I mean, you’re not the type to butt on a business like that.”

Gilbert looked up once his cup went empty, the last drip fell to the soil under. His stomach twisted, and he’d blame it on hunger for now. “I—well, you’re right. But it’s a serial murder happening in my neighborhood. How can you expect me not to be anxious about it?”

“You can be anxious too, huh?” Elizabeth laughed at his roll of eyes. “Good for you, then. But won’t it be difficult to provide your background? Even as a witness, I bet they’ll snoop around your life and find out something missing like—”

“I’ll take care of it. Don’t worry.” Gilbert made a lopsided grin and hoped it’d convincing enough to mask his nervous energy. “Let’s get going.”

“Wait! You’re not done watering!”

“Huh?”

Elizabeth stood up and snatched his cup from his grip, filling it with tap water and went to water the plants again. This time, she spent more water on one pot before moving to the others. “The water has to spill all the way to the bottom of the pot, or until it drips from the bottom holes, then you know they’re getting enough water. You were pouring them so little earlier like you thought they could water by themselves!”

Once the cup was drained, Elizabeth rushed her way back to the kitchen and grabbed more water, returned to the window and continued watering until all the pots were considered wet enough. Gilbert stared at her in disbelief, jaw’s falling as he watched her walking back and forth across his room.

“I don’t know that. You’re not putting it on the notes!”

“Because that is general knowledge, Gilbert. Everyone knows that.” She scoffed, shaking the cup until the last drop. “Except dumbasses like you, apparently.”

“It’s your fault for giving them to a dumbass guy like me in the first place.”

“That’s because—” Elizabeth’s eyes flickered with something strong, burning in the deafening silence between them. She dropped her gaze to her bare feet before dragging them back to the kitchen, putting both her and his cup gently at the sink. The light clang against the metal broke the air. “You’re the most oblivious, unromantic, unmindful, ignorant, and insensitive guy I’ve ever met!”

“That’s a lot.” Gilbert stared at the plants, leaves waving into nothing but the weary light from outside. “I’m sorry to tell you but these plants are bound to die within a week in my room.”

“See? That’s what I told you!” Elizabeth pointed sharp at him. “Be a little sensible to what people gave you, please?”

“I’m not the attached-kind-of-guy, remember?”

Gilbert’s brow arched in a playful manner, watching the clearly upset Elizabeth drop down to her knees in front of where she put her bag last night, lunging for a new shirt and towel as well as a toothbrush. She clutched the clothes in her arm, eyes scanning the dark bathroom before landing back at Gilbert. “I may borrow your soap, shampoo, and mouthwash, if that isn’t too much trouble.”

“I see that you clearly got here with so much preparation beforehand.”

He didn’t know how to respond to the creeping blush reaching her puffy cheeks.

She darted her eyes, pushed to her feet and walked to the bathroom, flicking the light switch on. “Well, excuse me for a sec.”

It was the moment she’s about to close the door, Gilbert stopped her. Using his arm to hold the door slightly to make a room in the step, enough for them to see eye to eye, earnest eyes met the frowning ones; the humidity stung the cold exposed skin.

“What…?” Elizabeth’s blush darkened, her towel almost slipped out of her arm.

“I…” Gilbert bit his lower lips, putting together the words on his throat into a more coherent sentence. He was thinking about a thing and suddenly his body mauled him into the bathroom door, knocking himself to the situation he was in. Even worse when he saw Elizabeth’s attention was settling low on his lips. Taking a deep breath, he let his arm fall to his sides and offered her his best smug grin, his insides almost breaking from ignoring the thumping from his heart. “I’m trying to make my effort here, so you better listen to me.”

Her head tilted, frown deepened. “Alright.”

“I’m thinking of arranging our last date.” He nibbled his lips again, and Elizabeth fell to that movement for the countless times. “So tell me, how do you like it to be?”

Elizabeth pressed a thin line to her mouth, jerking her eyes away from his face to stare at the floor. She looked like it took her everything not to show any surprise as she shuffled her feet nervously on the warm tiles of Gilbert’s bathroom. After a moment of uncertainty—Gilbert thought she’s going to reject him—Elizabeth raised her stare again, a mocking grin’s ready to send Gilbert back.

“That’s what you want to talk about? And it can’t wait until I finish showering?”

“It’s…” He didn’t have the answer for that.

Elizabeth laughed, the fairy trail echoed throughout the room. It’d probably still be ringing there for the next few months, and Gilbert wouldn’t want to imagine how bad it could be. “I’ll think about it. I appreciate your very little effort, though. What a major development.”

“I know, right? Save the best for the last!”

“You’re barging the door with a face so serious, I thought something was going to happen! Like a sexy one-liner, or sort of.”

“Huh?”

Her chuckle stopped, and it was enough to intrigue Gilbert further. “Nah, forget it. Now please do excuse me, let me close the do—”

“—no, seriously.” Gilbert pushed the door with his arm again, Elizabeth used her brute strength to make it close. “What did you mean earlier? Sexy one-liner?!”

“No! I didn’t say that—”

“What are you even thinking about?!”

“It—It’s nothing!”

The door hinge shrilled in protest as they pressed more forces from both sides.

“You’re breaking my door!”

“Then you should just give it up!”

Elizabeth slammed the last force so hard until the door closed in a bang in front of Gilbert’s face, the last shriek left hanging between them. It’s a dead silence afterward, and Gilbert felt so stupid for arguing over silly things he didn’t even understand. So he stepped back to get his clothes for today until the door behind him shrieked again and he could see Elizabeth peeking out over the small gap she created.

“What again? You win!”

“I thought—” she cleared her throat, her lips twitched a couple times. From this distance and light and the lack of gap, it’s hard to make out of her expression, but those eyes were surely watching him sheepishly. “I thought when you stopped me earlier, you wanted to…”

“…I wanted to?”

Her voice crashed even lower, mumbled by the bathroom wall, mouth movement blocked by the door. Gilbert frowned, putting his hand on the ear.

“Ha?! I can’t hear you!”

Elizabeth let out an exasperated grunt before stepping out of the bathroom and grabbed Gilbert’s wrist, his new shirt fell to the floor.

“I THOUGHT YOU WANT TO SHOWER WITH ME!”

Gilbert thought he might have a fever dream with how hot the temperature had abruptly risen. Elizabeth’s grip around his wrist coiled a ring of fire that was enough to create a pool of lava in his stomach. And as much as he wanted it to be a fever dream, the woman in front of him felt so real with a blush so dark, probably mirroring his own right now.

“I… never think it that way?”

“Yeah, I know.” The grip loosened, and Elizabeth stepped back. “Of course. It’s just my imagination.”

“Do you want to, though?”

Another silence filled in the room, the same kind of silence that happened a few nights ago in the same place, except instead of the city’s outside going asleep as they stared into each other, this time they’re waking up to the golden ray striking a line in the horizon. The kind of silence before Gilbert blurted he wanted to kiss her and she let him in, just like any other occasion when he asked.

Gilbert laughed, giving in to be pulled by Elizabeth into the bathroom, the rattling sound of the lock sealed away what happened afterward inside.

***

Ross Campbell was already waiting for him at the gate of his house, twenty minutes away from Gilbert’s when he came exactly an hour before his work started. It was a small house, with an open garden and a dog barking at Gilbert when Campbell tried to unlock the gate. He’s still wearing an old windbreaker and a pair of sweatpants, face a little mantled with sweats rolling down the side of his chin, probably just got home after a morning jog.

“Pleasure to have you here, sir.”

Gilbert shot him a friendly look, his mouth was too dry to reply something else.

He led him through the living room filled with antique stuffs, wooden furniture seemed to decorate the whole theme, a woman—presumably his wife—sat near the fireplace, a practical smile met Gilbert’s when he passed through, green striped wallpaper painted their way into another room just before the bedroom with bookshelves were used as the divider to hide the within. It was dimly lit, a stack of drawers half opened, piles of paper on every possible corner with a purposely empty table with two chairs on the opposite side. The temperature dropped and Gilbert felt the metal rail of the chair he sat stung into his spine.

Campbell joined him soon to sit on the other chair, after dumping a thick file of maps onto the table, and gently set down his laptop next to it.

He offered him an eye that told him to start, but Gilbert couldn’t feel any ease with the deed he was about to commit. Even in a solicited room at a stranger’s house, a good part of his brain still tried to tell him this was wrong.

“Before I start—” he cleared his throat “—can I ask you how are you going to exclude me out of this mess once we’re over?”

Campbell looked up from his laptop, forehead’s drawn together. “Sorry?”

“We’re doing this illegally. The way you pull out the information from me, and the way I just spill it on you like an unreliable source I am that you’re just going to believe, not to mention the gathering suspicion on me—how are you going to deal with this, Mr. Campbell, without having to drag me down again?”

“Oh, that.” Campbell leaned back to his chair, his hand reaching out to the thick files and brought it closer to him so he could flip the papers inside. “That depends on how accurate, detailed, and logical your information is. The better it is, the easier for me to connect the dot, the more credible it is when I present it to the department, and the quicker we get the job done. After all, it is our objective.”

“Well, logical.” Gilbert snickered. “I don’t think the way I get this information is logical enough as what I’m about to spit, but thanks for believing me.”

Something in Campbell’s tired eyes flickered, but he swallowed it down and put down the files, this time it opened on an article that was too familiar for Gilbert. “Shall we start, then?”

“Do you want to hear about their physical appearance or the death chronology first?”

“Oh, woah. You got a long list to say, don’t you?”

“Keep in mind this is second-hand information, too. I wasn’t present when things happened.”

“I know.” Campbell put up a smirk, cracking his knuckles before laying his fingers on top of the laptop keyboard. “I would like you to start with the physical appearance.”

The recounting took them almost an hour, with Gilbert having to make it quick with the limited time he had. The night before, long after Elizabeth had fallen asleep, Gilbert closed his eyes and tried to collect the scattering pieces of memories on what the soul he sent off that day said to him. He mapped it out in his mind, sorted them into words, memorizing it so he didn’t spend another hour trying to remember one part he might have missed or forgotten.

Another slot in the files was filled, and Campbell’s fingers were probably aching in soreness from the constant typing. He led Gilbert back to the gate to send him off, thanking him for the cooperation.

“Please have the culprit at your hand by tomorrow,” Gilbert said, when they reached the gate. “Check all the CCTV too from different cases and match with this one. You’ll track them.”

“Of course, but—” the same flicker appeared in his eyes again, bile rising to Gilbert’s throat “—is there a reason I should know why you are so in a hurry? I know this sounds hypocritical for a police like me to say it, but you are literally giving me deadlines and making it such a big deal, to the point I begin to think this is not a matter of public interest anymore.”

“What? Why?” And it struck Gilbert before he could even let out a laugh. Had he been behaving so strange that it showed through all his concealing effort? “No—okay, maybe I’m just one of your clients who have a bad case of paranoia. Can you blame me? I can’t sleep thinking about it!”

“But you are not just us. You know things.” Campbell unlocked the gate, the dog ran toward them and sniffed on Gilbert’s jeans. “What is your paranoia for?”

The gate shrilled as Campbell pushed it forward, offering a way out for Gilbert. He bent down for the last time to pat the dog’s head before stepping out of the house and bowed to Campbell for the last time.

“Nothing,” he lied. “I don’t have any reason to have it and I think that’s valid.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” Campbell held the dog from chasing after Gilbert with his feet, eyes glued to Gilbert suspiciously. “It’s just—when you thank me for believing you, I want to snap and thank you instead for believing in me. You could just not care and dismiss it, but you actually went to press it on me. I’m really glad that you’re willing to go this far to help us, even when it’s solely an act out of desperation.”

I’m not desperate, Gilbert wanted to tell him that, but the gate was already being closed and he didn’t have time to argue further, so he let it sit hanging between them.

At least until their next encounter.

***

It was a little after 8, Elizabeth pushed open the door into a foreign nightclub she didn’t know existed just down the stairs from her favorite Chinese restaurant upstairs, thanks to Yuriko. Maybe because of how isolated the place was, without a huge lit banner or social media marketing, the club was strangely less crowded when Elizabeth scanned briefly the inside from where she had to wait in the front desk.

She mentioned Yuriko’s name and the staff finally let her in, the smell of alcohol immediately disembarked once they opened her another door into the main room. She expected flashlights and loud music beating the shit of her senses, but none of them were really present. A small stage with people playing instruments, jazz poured into a room filled with people in suits and nightgowns dancing in pairs at the center, blinking lanterns and bulbs hanging by rope on top of the bar and the dining area added life to what perceived as an underground elite pub.

Between the seats, she easily spotted Yuriko sitting at the corner of the room, an hourglass on her side, still wearing her work outfit. Elizabeth tried to sneak behind and surprised her, but was surprised herself when Yuriko didn’t seem to budge from the shock.

“Hello, princess!” she said, pulling Elizabeth to slide into the seat in front of her, voice’s a little bit slurred. Her face sloshed from the half-drunk gin she ordered, and Elizabeth wondered if she got the time wrong because she certainly arrived in time based on her watch. Unless Yuriko got here first and had been drinking by herself for quite a while. She waved a hand to one of the bartenders behind the bar and pointed shakily to Elizabeth. “Another gin for this winning girl!” she yelled, loud enough to catch the attention of those who were dancing.

“You’re drunk,” Elizabeth said, smiling awkwardly to the bemused bartender. Taking another look on the room, Elizabeth began noticing additional detail: a collection of retro disc decorating the side walls where they’re at right now, fake flowers and leaves draping pretty across the main venue, pillars, and even the ceiling, wooden barrels laid out neat across the room as standing tables. It was probably the coziest club Elizabeth had ever entered. A shame to only know a hidden gem like this at the end of her breathing span. “What is this place, anyway?”

Yuriko sipped her drink again. “An executive club, or should I say, a VIP? I used to come here with the other seniors from the headquarter, apparently this is their night hideout every now and then. You can’t come here without a member.”

So that answered the demeaning look Elizabeth received from the staff when she asked for permission to get in—until Yuriko’s name came up accidentally. “And it’s okay for me to enter now? I’m not one of you guys.”

“It’s fine, it’s fine!” She smacked Elizabeth’s arm repeatedly, a little too excited than she should be. “Just think of us as a normal customer, having a night out after not seeing each other for so long! And not that it matters anyway. I have made sure none of them are coming tonight to bust our party. So just loosen up, Liz.”

“Oh, that’s your bargaining chip?” Elizabeth chuckled, pulling back her arm because Yuriko showed no intention to stop smacking her. “I can’t believe you and your guys can have a secret drinking place this lavish while I spent the majority of my dinner on the nearest ramen bar. And were you all drinking to death too? Is it even allowed?!”

“Of course, it is!” Yuriko gave her a look of dismay. “What are we? Children? Does the bible say something about forbidding alcohol? Jesus turned water into wine for more wine at a party!”

“That’s not what I mean, but you got my point!”

“Who cares about that, anyway? Come on, stop making it about other people! This is your party. Be merry for yourself tonight!”

“Oh, God. How am I going to survive this.”

Elizabeth watched, as one of the waitress set down her gin and tonic, the same glass Yuriko had with a slice of lime floating alongside small pack of blueberries. The waitress excused herself and left their tables, returning with the other bar crews. Elizabeth watched in awe the soaring ice cubes and the shimmering liquid—Yuriko’s stare collapsed warm on her.

“So, do you like it?” she asked, fixing her glasses up to her nose bridge.

“It’s a pleasant place. Nice, cozy, alive.” Elizabeth stole a glance between her dubious sips to the grinning Yuriko in front of her. Sour drowned her tongue, and Elizabeth flinched as she hurried to swallow the rest down. “The gin? Not so much. Never a fan.”

“Oh, I was about to say I’m glad. Now you ruin it!” Without warning, Yuriko snatched Elizabeth’s glass and gulped a half amount of it, totally ignoring Elizabeth’s protest. She cleared her throat and put the glass down, still licking the seam of her lips. “It’s not that bad. It’s… rather good!”

“Hey! That’s my drink!”

“You forgot to toss it with mine, that’s why it tasted suck on you.”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes to Yuriko’s rattling chuckle. The black-haired woman lifted her half-empty glass, the liquid quivering from the swirl for an offer of toss was made. Elizabeth raised hers too, and stopped midway in the air before it could bump into Yuriko’s glass mouth.

“What are we cheering for?” she asked.

Yuriko sneaked her a sly smirk. “Cheers to Him who made all of these possible.”

Elizabeth moved from her seat, pushing herself closer to Yuriko across the table. “You mean the good things or the bad things?”

“This is your farewell party! Make it only about the good things, shall we?”

“In that case—” they tossed their glasses, a weak clink pierced through the corner of the room “—this is such a lonely party.”

Yuriko laughed, this time swallowing her drink for good. Hoarse, she knocked the glass back. “Cheers for our friendship too, that’s why I don’t invite anyone.”

“Possessive.” Elizabeth chugged hers, despite her complaint earlier. It really didn’t sit tight with her throat, no matter how hard she convinced herself. “The taste still sucks!”

The jazz music came to end, and the hustle from the stage immediately halted when they came with new songs to play. All the dancers in the center, still holding their pair’s hand, giggling to each other’s face in anticipation of the new tempo. And the grip only tightened once the beat of waltz started to play; every step fell perfectly to match with the pounding heart beneath.

Fly me to the moon,

let me play among the stars.

And Elizabeth, her hand’s loose on her glass, eyes beaming to the sight before her. Perhaps it’s not about their delicate move at all, or how seamlessly perfect the song was tonight (than any other night she spent her time listening to it), because her gaze fixated on those eyes looking on each other, locking and pulling in, wordlessly leading and following so the waltz could happen.

Let me see what spring is like

on Jupiter and Mars.

“Hey, you want to join them?” Elizabeth’s attention jolted back to Yuriko, her fingers gestured to the center. “I can be your pair if you want.”

“No, why?” Elizabeth scoffed. “I have zero knowledge on how to dance.”

“Good.” Yuriko smirked, already pushing to her feet and pulled Elizabeth’s arm. “Because, same.”

“Wait, what? Then how are we supposed to do that?”

In other words,

hold my hand.

“They’re professionals, Liz. We don’t have to be as good as them.” Her grip moved up to pull her forearm, causing Elizabeth to stumble out of her seat, mouth’s agape and eyes glaring in disbelief. “Besides, is there a sign telling amateurs can’t join? Once we get to the dance floor, no one will be bothered enough to correct our moves.”

“Yeah, but they’ll probably laugh.”

“In their head.”

In other words,

baby, kiss me.

The heat was rising once they arrived at the center of the room where the lights were the most blazing than any other corner they’d been. They managed to swift their way in and blended with the crowd, careful enough not to bump anyone with their swinging arms. The music was louder too, jabbing to their eardrums until they could feel their heartbeats harmonizing with it.

Yuriko’s hold didn’t leave her arm, instead she slid down to her fingers and wrapped hers around Elizabeth’s side of hand, thumbs pressed up together as she swung both of them into the air.

“Are you going to lead?” Elizabeth whispered, already felt someone bumping to her back. They should start soon, otherwise people could throw a fit for them to steal their space by standing up motionlessly.

“Well, someone has to.” Yuriko adjusted her glasses again with her left hand before sliding it to rest just on Elizabeth’s shoulder blade, pulling the natural reaction for Elizabeth to rest her idle hand on Yuriko’s shoulder. At least she knew that much. “Once a man told me that you can’t just be bad at dancing. All you have to do is to go out and… do it!”

“That man clearly doesn’t understand anything about dancing.”

“Shall we start?” Elizabeth looked up, after spending so many times adjusting her stance. And it took her less than a second to be mesmerized by her pair’s face from this close, like the rest of the dancers surrounding them. “Trust me and follow my lead.”

She gulped, and nodded.

It was a rough start. They kept bumping to one another, and Elizabeth couldn’t seem to predict Yuriko’s next steps. It’d be just her losing their rhythm, sneakers tripping into black heels, countless sorry yet to be spoken, all while her arm started to wear off and shoulders too sore. Her frame might be crumbling apart so bad right now, and Elizabeth had been signaling Yuriko to stop with her eyes, yet the other girl seemed to be enjoying a lot more than she should be.

Who said she couldn’t dance? She looked like she knew what she’s doing.

Fill my heart with song,

let me sing for ever more.

Knew that she was torturing her, apparently.

“Loosen up!” Yuriko snarled, earning Elizabeth’s flying attention back to her as she tightened her hold. “Too tense!”

“Sorry!” Elizabeth muttered harshly, seeing a faint reflection of hers in Yuriko’s glasses. They’re sliding down.

“Feel more the song. You’ll get into it.” Yuriko leaned closer, breaking down her frame a bit. “Right feet, back.”

Elizabeth bit her lower lips, her hands sweaty under Yuriko and probably trembling too. She did her best to follow the instructions, though.

“Back to start.” Yuriko didn’t let her waver. “Left feet, forward.”

You are all I long,

for all I worship and adore.

“Good. You got it.”

Elizabeth smiled, though her mind boggling with the anticipation of the next step. It was just a basic rectangular move, not as fancy as the couple behind them who almost took the entire floor for themselves. But to be able to match Yuriko, to follow her lead, mirroring her moves, being her shadows, was another hell of an astounding achievement Elizabeth could get. As they stepped forward and back, left, and right, even diagonal, it later became apparent to Elizabeth how good it felt when they actually synchronized.

In other words,

please be true.

And between their laughs and giggles, Elizabeth—for all she could see was Yuriko’s face—noticed things she should have noticed throughout her life. Like how Yuriko seemed to grow her hair longer to her shoulders, instead of cutting it when they started to tickle the curve of her neck. And the color black caught red at the outer strands, blinking dimly in regards of the hanging bulbs behind. And the warm hue that shadowed her exhausted face, giving color to the already sloshed skin beneath. How Yuriko was slightly taller than her and Elizabeth had to lift her head a little, thanks to her heels mostly—they’re knocking to the shining floor in unison with the ongoing shift. How Yuriko didn’t stop smiling not even a second during their dance, how warm her hands supporting her, how she wished it could go like this a little longer even when she knew the song’s coming to an end, how everything was normal and perfect—

In other words,

I love you.

She let her go, twirling Elizabeth’s body to the corner of the floor, as she bowed with her hand still in the air like a professional dancer after giving a performance. When she looked up again and found her, the glasses were askew at the tip of her nose. Yuriko clumsily pushed them back, half-fogged, but her eyes gleamed through it.

Elizabeth, still dizzy from the swing, the alcohol made her tipsy a little bit (or was it because of the sudden loss of a certain warmth?) laughed at her friend—her best friend—a roar that definitely deserved a raise of stares from the other dancers.

“Excellent footwork,” Yuriko said. The jazz band from the stage shuffled on their seats; another song bound to start. So she offered a hand to Elizabeth, an inevitable smirk made Elizabeth’s heart thump with excitement. “Another heat?”

They danced again for another round, adding more variation to the steps—all were sly and challenging. The woman in suit and her hoodie friend danced until their legs gave up, arms wobbly, eyes gone wet from the flaring lights. They crashed again on their seat, ordering a bourbon cocktail for an encore to their night, only to order more rum, followed by a beer, and many more.

In the end, Yuriko drank more than Elizabeth. She had to carry her out of the bar around 10, after she began flirting seductively with a random waiter on his task to serve their drinks.

“Farewell party, my ass,” Elizabeth said once they’re outside, panting as the weight of Yuriko added more salt to her soreness. “It’s just a gig for you to drink all night.”

“Should we—” Yuriko burped. “Should we go to 7/11? See if we can find some beer—”

“Jesus ain’t making miracles for your shit, Yuriko.”

She led her through the busier street, where cars and traffic were as crowded as noon, nightlife coming alive while the rest went to bed, down to a quieter alley just before the housing district. The shops were all closed, doors locked and the second floor’s light flickering behind the curtains. Streetlights brought the long empty sidewalk into a light as Elizabeth put Yuriko down on one of the verge facing a closed grocery shop, no pedestrian in sight to worry why these women were stranded in the middle of the street, drunk and spitting garbage. Just the two of them, like how it started.

Elizabeth inhaled the air around and crouched to sit right next to Yuriko, their knees bumped several times before Elizabeth decided to hug them and rested her head on top of them. Yuriko was about to do the same until Elizabeth reminded her that she’s still wearing a tight skirt. So instead she stretched them out to the asphalt, her heels knocked off from her feet half a meter away, revealing the swelling red on her heel bones.

The sky was unusually clear tonight, moonless but starry. Was it time for the spring constellation already?

“Thanks for the night. I have fun,” she said, not sure if Yuriko was sober enough to remember it the next morning. “With you, I always have fun.”

“Stupid, that’s what friends are for.” Yuriko elbowed her softly, her upper body’s swinging right and left as if she still couldn’t move on from dancing. “It could have been better, I thought. Like taking you for a cruise trip, maybe?”

“Oh, no. That sounds rather tempting.” Elizabeth let out a chuckle. It disappeared into the hush. “You guys need to stop treating me like I’ll disappear into the force of black hole or something. I’m just going to… move dimension, I guess? And you can still see me, sometimes. I will still be here with you. I’m not leaving anyone.”

Yuriko scowled. “You speak dimension like it’s a few blocks away from the city! It’s not, Liz, there will be huge changes! We can’t hang out anymore because of our schedules, and I’ll have no way contacting you to go out for a drink because you won’t be carrying a damn phone around anymore! Hell, can we even touch each other? I’ll be accused of dancing with a ghost, they will say!”

“Surely, there will be gaps.” Elizabeth sighed, now the air felt a little heavier than before, it ached her lungs. “I’m just saying, it’s not that bad. I hope that assures you like it assures me.”

“So this is a party of us being equal as the same being for the last time, huh?” Yuriko turned to look at her, and Elizabeth felt the urge to return the stares even when the stars above were beautiful. “Is that what you want it to be?”

“I hate to call it that way, but it’s true.”

Yuriko was a mopping drunk, Elizabeth knew that. She should have expected a direct blow to her gut when Yuriko hugged her, tight and unyielding. It was warm at first, and Elizabeth’s throbbing body softened under her hold. So she returned the hug and laid her cheeks on her shoulder.

“This is sweet—”

The shoulder under her started shaking, and Elizabeth’s eyes snapped open when she could hear a faint sob that stabbed right through her ear. She tried to pull back and asked what’s wrong, but Yuriko only toughened her hug, the same way she did it back when they’re still on the dance floor, preparing to change to quickstep and managed to step on each other’s foot at least five times in one song. But this time, there was no laughter.

Elizabeth never saw Yuriko crying before. Perhaps Yuriko wanted it to stay that way until the end.

“Thank you for these years—” she muffled into Elizabeth’s layers, cracked and shrilling in a way it alarmingly pained Elizabeth “—for being my friends. When we’re still kids and stupid, past the hell they put us through. For still being friends with me even after I got promoted. When—you took it seriously when I said it’s lonely up there. And answering all my drunk calls, listening to my men problems, carrying my drunk ass home for who knows how many times. And for not holding a grudge after I stamped you, for understanding me when no one could seem to. For being here, for letting me into your life, I—” she tried to inhale, but it came out as a choke “—thank you—thank you so much for everything!”

A moment like this, Elizabeth thought, was the only thing holding her back into moving on. To know someone cared enough for her to stay, even went as far as breaking down in front of her; the tiny shred of light that made Elizabeth waver and think she’d be happier just like this, living with them. Perhaps a little too late, but she had seen countless scenarios of similar things happening in her work, and she understood too well to complain about it.

After all, she wouldn’t go and bare herself like this too if she weren’t dying in the first place.

“Who’s the idiot now?” Elizabeth tapped Yuriko’s back, hands sliding up and down her spine in a comforting motion. “I love you, Yuriko.”

“Yeah.” Yuriko dropped her glasses, using her arm to aggressively wipe away her tears. When they pulled back, Yuriko’s hair was messy and sticky to her side face, flush cheeks glimmered from the tears, her eyes puffed swollen as she tried to inhale something that didn’t cause her to sob louder. “Yeah, I love you too.”

Yuriko didn’t stop crying until another ten minutes, her head’s warm on Elizabeth’s shoulder as they looked up, pointing into stars they didn’t even know the name. A couple pedestrians passed by a few times through the empty lane filled with drunk laughter, batting them a worrying look but decided to leave them be. Elizabeth thought it’d be safer to get Yuriko home before they could get assaulted anytime. Yuriko, however, showed no intention to let her go.

“We should go,” she said, patting her knee. “It’s harder to get a taxi late at night like this.”

“Are we in a hurry?” Speech’s slurred, she shifted her head so she could directly look into Elizabeth’s eyes, her other hand slid out to hook around her neck. “Five minutes more, please?”

“You have to work tomorrow.” Elizabeth dislodged herself from the wrap before she could melt into it. “And I have to go somewhere with Gilbert in the early morning.”

“What? Gilbert?” The name sounded strange coming from Yuriko, Elizabeth flinched to ease herself. “What are you guys doing? Another farewell party—oh, your last date, huh?”

“Oh my god. Stop.” Elizabeth could feel molten lava raising up to her neck. “Don’t phrase it that way. We’re just going out.”

“Where? Downtown? Suburbs? Theme park?”

“The mountains, apparently.” Elizabeth didn’t notice how abruptly Yuriko’s swimming eyes sharpened upon that. “He asked me if I wanted to go somewhere. I said mountains jokingly, but he took it seriously that he actually went to rent a car and a lodge for tomorrow. Before you can rebut—I know, I know! I reminded him about work but he said he still has unused days off. And he seemed so happy about it so I didn’t have the heart to tell him—”

“Will you stay the night there, then?” Yuriko’s tone dropped, and she sounded ten times more sober than the last two hours they spent together. “It’s too short to be a one day trip.”

“No, no.” Elizabeth shook her head, her hand unconsciously reached out for the number underneath her hoodie. “I—he said he’ll take me back before the due day. So it’ll be just a day trip. Don’t worry, I’ll be back here for that day. I’ll be in contact with you too, in case you’re lonely.”

Yuriko took her head off her shoulder, cracking the neck joints and wore her glasses again. Something in her demeanor changed, and Elizabeth wasn’t quite sure what it was, but it’s definitely pressing enough to make Elizabeth uneasy.

“Why…?” She dared herself to ask. Because as much as she didn’t want to believe it, there’s a huge possibility her hunch was right. “You’re looking so wary right now.”

“If anything ever happens, if it’s something bad, you gotta contact me. Immediately. Do it behind him, if you can.”

“But w—”

“Gilbert is unreliable right now.” Yuriko tried to force a smile, and Elizabeth saw right through it. “Don’t get me wrong, I trust him. And I understand him too. That’s why I’m warning you now.”

“For what? What do you mean?”

That Yuriko and Gilbert knew something. That they hid whatever disastrous it was from her.

“It doesn’t really...” A hold to Elizabeth’s arm, stiff and burning. Elizabeth wouldn’t forget the keenness of Yuriko’s eyes grazing its way inside her mind and made a place there—for Elizabeth to remember her words when the time came. “Liz, can you just… not go? You know, you don’t have to accept every single of his stupid ideas. You don’t have the obligation, nor he has the right to push you. Just be here with everyone, with me, we can go like this again tomorrow and talk until midnight and I—”

“What’s wrong with you, Yuriko?”

Elizabeth blamed it for her drunkenness—she really wanted to. But her eyes said differently, she was trembling and not from the cries, but from what it looked like to be fear. And Yuriko, she never begged.

“Choose me—” her nails digging through Elizabeth’s clothing “—for god’s sake, just choose me.”

***

Gilbert rubbed his unusually sweaty palms to his denim jacket, his back leaning to the pale blue vintage mustang he rented for their trip today, the trunk had already opened to be filled with Elizabeth’s stuff. Nervousness sank deeply onto him, and it’s as hot as emerging lava inside him no matter how often the chilly breeze of the dawn stung his skins. The sun peeked shyly from across the skyline of Elizabeth’s quiet neighborhood, casting yellowish light that clashed with the clouds silver lining.

He had messaged Elizabeth that he had arrived to pick her up fifteen minutes ago, yet the woman—assuming still fighting with her wet hair and the fact she gave away her hair dryer a while ago—managed to make Gilbert feel anxious all the way to the core whether she actually wanted to go or not.

Nonetheless she looked too excited yesterday when she proposed the idea of her dreamy lake-side mountain picnic that Gilbert couldn’t help but to arrange the entire trip inside his head in less than an hour, already looking for a place and a route, renting what he thought they should. They’d be away until evening, in which Gilbert would drive her back to her apartment, and that’s the deal.

Or at least, that’s what he originally thought.

The phone in his hand vibrated into what Gilbert recognized as a phone call, and the name Campbell once again popped out. He gulped, taking a cautious glance over Elizabeth’s building door: still closed shut with no shadows of someone possibly exiting in a short time. His finger pressed on the ‘pick-up’ icon.

“Good morning, Gilbert.” Campbell’s voice was heavy and raspy, probably the effect of overdosed caffeine. “Did I disturb you?”

“What is it?” Gilbert lowered his voice, he could feel his entire face hardened in anticipation. “Make it quick.”

“My team spent the entire night tracking the perpetrator and I can say we came close enough to catch him. At least this afternoon.”

“Really?” Now he busted himself with such a loud voice, Gilbert immediately covered his mouth in embarrassment. “You’ll put him in the cell, right?”

“Yeah, of course. Right now we’re on our way to locate him. I’ll give you an update after we finish the job.”

So it could change after all; fate wasn’t just something that was doomed to happen. We could change it, shape it, bend it into something more favorable, and Gilbert wasted his time enough worrying about it. He swallowed a laugh, instead letting out a relieved sigh that meant a lot more things than Campbell probably knew. “Please do so.”

“By the way, are you sure you’re fine on your side? I can help you much here, but truthfully it’s on your own afterward.”

The door was pushed open from inside the building, and Gilbert blinked to the sight of his girlfriend wearing a long white dress that draped to her knees, brown heeled boots that slightly made her taller, a beige knitted cardigan covering her arms and shoulders. Her brown hair turned ginger under the morning light, let loose to rest just above her waist, a bit tangled and wet at the end. It’s the same dress she wore to the fake café date four weeks ago, minus the makeup and braided hair, but never once Gilbert thought she was less captivating than that.

Elizabeth scanned her surroundings with her sleepy eyes before finding Gilbert across the lane, her smiles beamed as she hopped her way to him. She looked just like his favorite sunrise.

“I’m fine. Don’t worry about me,” he said and ended the call, tucking the phone back to his pocket.

“Who’s that?” Elizabeth tried to lift her little wicker picnic basket into the trunk, and soon was helped by Gilbert who wondered what she put inside. “Too early to receive a call, ain’tcha?”

“Just someone helpful.” Shutting the trunk closed, he opened the front door of the passenger seat, politely bowing his head as his other hand gestured to her to enter. “Well, Miss?”

Elizabeth laughed, tapping on Gilbert’s shoulder softly before getting in. Gilbert closed the door and joined her in the driver seat, turning the key for the engine to start and put on his safety belt. Elizabeth, on the other hand, was too busy dropping her jaw as she ran her eyes all around the car interior, admiring even the slightest scratch of the wooden frame and glint of the pale blue paint. Gilbert had to remind her to put on her belt before showing her even more awesome features like the old radio speaker and its muffling buzzing.

“I like it,” she said, her hand spamming the button for the radio to continuously switch channels. She settled on an old music channel, dancing on her seat to Bobby Brown’s voice blasting through the entire car. “I like it better now.”

“So I’m on the right track to win your heart, huh?” Gilbert knocked his left knuckles on the steering wheel, trying his best not to fly his eyes away from the road when Elizabeth’s being ridiculously dazzling next to him.

“It’s not that hard! You just have to… take me into living my American dream!” She laughed, hips and arms swinging to the beat. “Besides, you already won me once before this.”

Gilbert grinned. “Glad for the confirmation.”


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