30 Nights and Tomorrow On

All Rights Reserved ©

It’s a selfish desire for a soul mate who; it’s a selfish desire for a soul untamed (Gang of Youths – What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out?)

The rest of the trip was easy. High buildings drifted further and further, leaving nothing but a faint line in the horizon when they looked behind. The road was smooth, quiet highway above the sea leading them into a different terrain from the one they used to see. As the sun peaked, temperature raised, unraveling coast kissing goodbye while arching pine trees came to say welcome, Bobby Brown turned Snow Patrol turned Johnny Cash—certainly a never ending story to the two’s American dream.

When only the sound of their old engine droning in the empty roads and wheels following the bumpy orange lines toward their destination, it’s easy to get lost and forget everything in the while. Sometimes Elizabeth would roll down her window and whistle to the breeze along; her hand’s out to catch the air, wet hair had dried and swaying, mouth’s screaming incoherent words that got Gilbert laughing behind the wheel. Sometimes their hands would accidentally touch when Gilbert went to reach the gear lever. So he put her hand on the lever and his on top of hers, moving hers instead to shift the manual gear as he sneakily slid their fingers together. Sometimes they’d fight about the radio; Gilbert liked it punk and Elizabeth liked it country; it turned to a hand fight real soon as whoever got their hand first on the button to switch channels. Almost crashed into a tree, worth it.

Once they stopped to fill the gas tank, rolling hills surrounding the deserted 24h dine-in where they ordered a quick microwave mac and cheese to fill their stomach. The taste was so-so as he expected, but perhaps it’s always about whoever you ate with in the first place.

Mouth’s chewing the mac, lips gleaming in cheese, Elizabeth’s eyes wandered distantly through the window—through their lonely mustang parked in an empty lot, probably to what lied on the other side of the hills they’re at right now. She tied her hair into a messy low tail, some of the fringe escaped and they hung long down to the table, much to her annoyance as she repeatedly tucked it behind her ear. Gilbert sipped his soda and not even once looked down to his half-finished meals, for he wanted to never lose sight of her.

Until his phone vibrated again and Gilbert slid it out, in case Campbell wanted to give him an update, but another name came up on the caller ID that made Gilbert immediately race in both uneasiness and fear.

“Someone helpful, again?” Elizabeth flicked her attention back to him, her hand’s holding a spoon full of mac that she carelessly shoved into her mouth, making a mess all over her lips.

Gilbert swallowed, hated the way his hand trembled visibly. Pressing the red icon, he put the phone back in his pocket, his hand reached out for the spoon. But he didn’t scoop his meal, the spoon hit the base of his bowl and nothing more, feeding him with air.

“It’s Yuriko,” he said, hoping Elizabeth didn’t catch the uneven tone of his voice.

“Oh?” Elizabeth tilted her head. “Pick it up! Why did you turn it off?”

Elizabeth mentioned the two going out to a VIP bar last night, that’s why she woke up late this dawn. Gilbert figured out she might have told her also about their trip today. Let’s say she knew about Gilbert’s intention, Yuriko was probably too drunk last night—given by her nature—to immediately make a call and even planned a devastating plot to stop them. That’s why the call came late, and by ‘late’ Gilbert meant so late that she would have known it already when she received a total rejection from the other side.

“She’s just worried if we have arrived or not. I’ve messaged her already so I don’t have to listen to her bossing me this early.”

“Really? Is that so?” That didn’t soothe the wrinkle on her nose at all, of course. “Are you sure? She sounded a bit off when I told her about our plan yesterday. I thought she’s only jealous that I got to spend more time with you, so I promised to meet her again after we return.”

“Yeah, haha. She can be that petty.”

Elizabeth didn’t buy anything in the end, but as the silent agreement went, they dropped the conversation and continued finishing their meals with lighter topics floating across the table: about the weather, the picnic, the cheese—anything else that could skitter away the bitterness from the back of their tongues.

The dine-in and the place marked in Gilbert’s google maps wasn’t far. Just behind the mountains they saw from the overlook near the dine-in place, surrounded by even more hills of green hiding the full picture of the rocky mountains beyond; its snowy peaks melting to the color of the skies and piercing through the dying mist—a lake rested like a hidden oasis in the middle. Around ten hectares, the azure blue gleamed by the refraction of light off the rock flour, the calm swash against the pebbles in the shores smiling blindingly from the daylight. Near the wooden planks built as a dock into the lake, parked a red canoe with a pair of paddles.

Gilbert stopped his car just before a two-story white cottage with green roof at the other side of the lake, the garage was big enough to fit the mustang. The lights inside were off when they went to knock on the door, so Gilbert figured out the owner who lent the area to him was already out.

Turning the spare key he had received a day earlier, the smell of old wood immediately washed over them the moment they stepped in. Once the front light was turned on, followed by the lights leading deeper to the living room surrounded by windows and couches with a brick fireplace, Gilbert dropped his and Elizabeth’s belongings there, relieving his muscles. The wooden floor creaked the more Elizabeth stepped into the house, her eyes widened in disbelief.

“Is this really ours?” she said, peeking from one of the windows that led to the empty yard beside the house. She squinted her eyes to battle the sunbeam from outside, a few dusts came to light around her while they danced to their fall.

Gilbert leaned to the wall, inhaling the satisfaction that dwelt warm in his gut. “Technically, yes. Until tonight.”

“Do you really rent this for us? We’re not even spending a night here!”

“There’s a bedroom upstairs if you want to rest.” He gestured to the stairs just before the corridor of the entrance. “It comes in a package with the lake and the canoe, so don’t worry about it.”

“But still…”

Elizabeth’s body jolted in surprise when Gilbert wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her back closer to his chest until they’re pressed warm from shoulders to thighs. “Do we even have time to worry about anything?” he muttered, right on her ears. From the corner of her face, he could see her blushing. “We’re here now, after all.”

Elizabeth’s warm under him, as she squirmed under his hold. Her hand reached to hold his arms, yanking them away from her for a while so she could pull them forward to make Gilbert press closer to her, tighter than before. Gilbert’s chin bumped at her head where their heights fit perfectly for Gilbert to rest his on top. Her hair, washed from the showers a few hours ago, smelled familiar like how he always remembered, in a way it made him think of spring flowers.

“Okay,” she breathed out.

The clouds were moving away when they stepped outside again, mists opened a way for the lake to reflect the color of the skies. Elizabeth’s life jacket was too big for her body, but she didn’t back down when Gilbert playfully commented on it, climbing straight to the canoe and almost lost her balance down to the water if Gilbert wasn’t quick to hold the boat stable. It was another quiet ride of the afternoon; two persons paddling into the eye of the lake, above the calm water they argued to coordinate their swing. Because one person wanted to be there as quickly as possible, and the other wanted to enjoy the moment as long as they could.

“I might as well carry the ride for both of us if you’re that weak.” Elizabeth scoffed, sitting in front of Gilbert with her paddle on their left side. Her hold on the top of the stick tightened as she pushed more force against the water, gliding the canoe to the left instead of forward. “Move yours!”

“You just have too much energy!” Gilbert yelled, nature muffled it for him. “It is meant to be a slow-paced activity, why are you so rushing?”

“I’m not rushing.” Elizabeth’s fringe fell, covering the corner of her eye. Her cheeks were sun-kissed red, lips nibbling like she’s considering the after taste of her words. She shook her head and turned forward, repositioning her grip on the paddle. “I’ll steer it back straight, so do your part over there, will you?”

“Yeah.” Gilbert swept his paddle the same moment Elizabeth swept her stroke, steering them back straight and forward. The sun was on its highest, adding more extortion to Gilbert’s twitching muscles arms, but he did his best matching Elizabeth’s swift pace even after she said she had slowed it down for him. “We still have to row back to the dock, so don’t tire yourself too fast.”

“I know,” she snorted. “Speak that to yourself.”

Once they arrived at the middle of the lake where the view of the mountains didn’t seem that far away anymore, at least compared to the view they saw from the window of their cottage, they put their paddles down and flat against the water flow and brought the canoe into a halt. Their cottage was just a tiny plank behind, the marching pine trees surrounded them like some sort of fort protecting the peace inside. And it’s pouring to them—the view, the moment, the realization—freezing them on their seat like no other moments they had ever gone through together.

“If this is my last view before leaving—” Elizabeth unexpectedly stood up and threw her hands to the air, inhaling the fresh air they were blessed with “—then I’ll be glad to take it! I can rest peacefully even right now!”

“Hey!”

Her movement caused the canoe to shake from the sudden weight distributed unevenly, Gilbert shot a horror look when Elizabeth almost lost her foothold due to the turbulence. As she tried to find her balance again, the boat quaked a few times before settling to lean on their right side, ready to topple both of them to the water.

Elizabeth’s scream upon realizing their situation didn’t give any help, neither Gilbert’s constant cuss of stupid, stupid, why did you do that?! but he tried his best to weigh either side of the boat down again with his arms, instructing Elizabeth to spread both her arms and feet once he’s able to throw the boat back to the center of balance again.

“It’s scary up here! Can I sit down now?”

“Are you kidding me?! You brought this upon yourself!” Gilbert let out a shaky sigh once the boat was under control. He could see Elizabeth’s legs trembling in front of him, throbbing from the fear in her head. He stifled a laugh, pushing down the idea to just shake the boat and let it throw them into the water—if only they brought spare clothes earlier. “Place your hands on the sidelines and bend slowly.”

Elizabeth glared at him in annoyance but followed his words in the end, carefully maintaining her center of weight while doing so. Gilbert helped her by pushing his hands on top of hers to fill in her uneven force as she tried to sit back, her mouth’s chanting inaudible prayers that finally made Gilbert laugh, only to end the Amen with fuck. The water splashed quite a bit into the boat, dampening their shoes, their sleeves, and their hands, enough wet to make them shiver for the rest of the ride.

“We’ll return to the dock!” Gilbert claimed, jolly tones accompanying Elizabeth’s pale and gloomy face. “Switch sides! I’m paddling left.”

“I swear to God you enjoyed that so much, didn’t you?”

“What could I do?” Gilbert fixed his hold, slowly dipping his paddle back to the left side where Elizabeth hadn’t adjusted hers yet. “Joining you in the screaming pit too? Someone has to be rational here to save our ass.”

He ended up getting a headlock when they reached the shore. Elizabeth chased him all the way down through flat stones and pebbles, splashing water to worsen Gilbert’s already wet jeans, her boots left taken off near the dock. Bickers flitted back and forth, heart’s pounding under the stinging ray of light like an instrument to Elizabeth’s euphoric yells behind him; Gilbert might have scratched his bare toes with some stones but he couldn’t care less about it now that he’s pumping with warm and affection.

They set up a mat near the dock, red-white tiles spread out above the yellowish grass. Waiting for Elizabeth to get stuff from the cottage, Gilbert rolled the loose cuff of his pants and squeezed it until water dripped mercilessly down to the ground, flowing through the cracks of the pebbles. He probably should have brought a change, knowing how bad Elizabeth could get with ‘water’, but the thought of being fool-for-a-day to please her sounded more right; something Gilbert couldn’t foresee himself doing it a month before.

Elizabeth returned with her picnic basket, putting it in front of them and showcasing what she had prepared. They were just simple ingredients for a quick lunch sandwich: a loaf of crusty bread, a box of freshly washed lettuce, some cooked hams, slices of cheese and onion and tomato, Gilbert’s favorite mustard and thousand islands. She also took out two half-pint milk cartoons: one for her was strawberry flavored and the rest was Gilbert’s coffee flavored.

“Sorry for the lack of egg.” Elizabeth chuckled bitterly, tapping the lettuce on both of their breads. “This won’t look like a sandwich at all, don’t be disappointed.”

“What do you mean?” Gilbert took his turn to place the cheese, his hand shaking cautiously in fear of tearing the thin slices. “Every sandwich is valid.”

“Oh, God. Let’s not get into this discussion.”

“Don’t disregard sandwiches like that! Especially the one you took trouble to prepare.”

“Alright, alright.” She laughed, almost dropped the hams down the dirt-stained mat.

As expected, Gilbert spread too much mustard and mayonnaise on his sandwich, making them bleed out of the formation when he pressed the last bread on top. Regardless Gilbert took a huge bite of it with pride on his face, completely misinterpreting Elizabeth’s dirty look. On the other hand, Elizabeth’s sandwich was neat and proportional, something that came from a commercial or something.

The sun was past ahead of them, slowly sinking instead of rising, still cloudless and brought the light down for the lake to carry it. It’s already half an hour since they got off the canoe, but Gilbert could still feel the sensation of water tossing him left and right, sore arms from all the paddling marking good memories from those short times.

“I must be the happiest woman right now—in this very second,” Elizabeth said, in between her chewing. A sauce stuck on the edge of her lips, seemed out of notice from her tongue. “Last night my best friend told me she loved me. And now you. You keep adding the list.”

“I didn’t do anything really.” Gilbert swallowed the last bite of his sandwich, wiping his hands off from the crumbs and reached for his milk. Overly sweet coffee flooded his taste bud. “But I’m glad you said that.”

“Even if you can’t take me to the mountains or lakes… just you being with me is everything I want. We can be chilling in the usual ramen bar right now and I’ll say the same thing to you.”

“You’re saying it won’t make any difference? God, what am I doing?!”

Elizabeth let out a short laugh and swallowed her last bite of sandwich too. The sauce, now with crumbs, stuck altogether on her mouth. Gilbert pressed the urge down to just wipe it off himself. “Stingy bastard.”

“You gotta admit this is way more exciting than eating in that bar.”

“It is, it is! Stop pouting!”

The wind blew past through them, whistling softly in their ears as sparrows started chirping and flying above their head. The clear sky turned shady as a vast tide of clouds started surrounding the area, masking the sun and its ray. The lake lost some of its gleaming, pale blue moving silently to the shores where it scraped away the rocks array. Gilbert felt chills on the area of his exposed neck, also the wet part of his clothes clinging to his skin.

“But, aren’t we gonna be like… a star-crossed lover or something, after all of this?”

“Huh?”

Elizabeth’s still slurping her strawberry milk when Gilbert’s grip on his poor milk cartoon hardened, driving the remaining milk to shoot up through the chewed straw. It tasted less sweet abruptly.

“I mean—” her voice trailed off like a spike “—we can’t be together again tomorrow. The universe forbids us to be in the same world together, and though there’s a chance we can bump in the street once in a while, still it can only happen if they’ll place me in the same town. I don’t even know if they’re going to listen to my wish. There’s so much uncertainty, and there’s so little time.”

“Why are you thinking about these, anyway? There’s no answer to that.”

“I know, it’s just…” She sighed, a gentler wind followed by behind. “I know I won’t be, but I can’t help but to wonder if I’m going to be fine there. Without anyone I know to help me, will I be lonely after a while?”

The truth was, Gilbert didn’t want Elizabeth to go. And if you think it was an understatement, he meant it literally. He wanted to keep her here, with him, as long as possible. Because the thought of waking up to the city’s moving on without the presence of her numbed him to death. He spent half of his life clutching the spring sun by his side, how else was he supposed to live without the warmth for the rest of his life?

Of course he’d be lonely too. And if he ever had a reason not to let her go, he’d hold onto it with his lifeline. If it meant to save her—save them—from the crippling loneliness, Gilbert would go beyond miles for it.

“But I believe, if we are meant to be together, then we’ll definitely find our way back to each other. So like you said, I’ll try my best not to dwell with that thought.”

When Gilbert looked over his shoulder, Elizabeth’s eyes were already on him, digging for any spark of conviction in him, because everything would be meaningless if it’s only one-sided.

“Do you believe that too?”

Elizabeth had no idea how much Gilbert hated giving up and losing. He made too many mistakes on that behalf, he wouldn’t be doing the same thing anymore where it counted. He’d prove it; the thick line between fate and determination; he’d erase it.

“Yeah.”

The cartoon went crumpled in his clasp, Gilbert unclenched his fist and let it fall to his side.

***

Natural light ran over the dim kitchen as the graying heat went up like a fume. The water boiled, a sound of a plastic sachet being ripped led Gilbert into the house, their leftover picnic ingredients and basket on his hand placed carefully on top of the low wooden table near the fireplace. The heat flooded throughout the room, blinded eyes landed on the two glasses sitting on the kitchen counter; Elizabeth pouring each of the tea sachet into both of them, stirring the powder with fuming water.

She looked over to Gilbert who was sitting on the couch arm—stilled gazes totally whipped for her—and casted a mysterious smile like she had deduced the inside of his head. “It’s green tea.”

“Must be one of your precious bucket lists, huh.” Gilbert sneered, arms-crossed to her blatant statement. “Too perfect.”

Elizabeth giggled, and it’s butterflies again in his stomach. “I know.” She moved her spoon to the other glass, stirring it as gentle as before. “And you’re going to like it.”

“Looking forward to that.”

Elizabeth startled when she sensed something on the counter was vibrating and hurriedly grabbed her phone, the screen was on and a caller ID was shown. Her eyes widened to whoever that was, and Gilbert took a silent deep breath, his mind boggled whether it was Yuriko trying to wreck him and how he should play it out without Elizabeth realizing.

“It’s Tae Hee.”

Gilbert’s head snapped back from wondering further to his feet. “How—why?”

She shrugged, dropping the spoon completely to the glass, clanging against the metal. “I take it.”

Gilbert hovered to her side, his chin rested on her shoulder as he peered from behind, all curious and wary. Elizabeth picked up the call and set the speaker on, as well as the front camera. The screen briefly showed both of their faces—cheeks pressed together, frowning—before switching to Tae Hee’s nonexistent one.

“Hello,” the younger boy with a cheery tone said. Then he gasped in awareness on what he saw through Elizabeth’s phone camera, a long exasperating noise dragged to the bottom until Elizabeth broke it with a giggle and Gilbert with his scoff.

“What business do you have with her?” Gilbert asked in a fake, menacing voice that made Tae Hee gulped. “Open your camera, coward.”

“H-Huh, I didn’t—anything—I mean—” another sound of shuffling feet and ruffled things, the black screen came into light with a familiar boy behind the camera “—I only want to know if everything’s okay over there!”

Tae Hee was still the same. His black, split in the middle fringe, shy eyes and small nose, wearing his training suit on a room that looked like a study room of a college or something. His face was clearer, probably because of the temperature change, but Gilbert lied if it didn’t shake his heart a little bit to know he’s doing fine.

Elizabeth laughed, pushing Gilbert off her shoulder. “What do you mean by that? Of course everything’s fine! How can you be worrying about your seniors?”

“Really? I’m glad!” the boy barked, smiling to his eyes. “Did I disturb something there? Mr. Gilbert is right next to you, so uh?”

Uh, what?” Gilbert pushed himself back in, this time on a respectful distance with Elizabeth. One hand on his hip, he snatched the phone from Elizabeth’s clutch while she’s still laughing hard beside him. “How dare you sneak up on her, thinking you won’t be getting lessons from me now that I’m not near you, huh? Are you going to keep doing this, then? Without me knowing and without actually calling me for once? Is this somewhat of your wicked plan, brat?!”

“No, no, no! How could I—” coughing, they could see him sweating buckets “—I was planning to call you after this, sir, this is totally uncalled for! I don’t know that you two are in the same room, uh, now this is getting awkward. Hahaha…”

“He’s just joking!” Elizabeth snatched her phone back, getting rid of Gilbert completely from the camera. “But seriously, I’m fine. Gilbert’s too. Thanks for asking about us. How about you? How’s work over there? Is Auckland any good for you?”

“Oh, woah, it kind of is!” Tae Hee was frowning when the video got blurry from Gilbert’s and Elizabeth’s little fighting game. “The people are nice and sometimes they let me stroll on a scooter down the harbor on weekends! It’s lively here.”

The two spent another ten minutes chatting about the changes in their work environment (even though Elizabeth wasn’t even working anymore) while she tried to push Gilbert away from joining their conversation. Feeling tired, and lonely from the ‘exile’, he went back to the kitchen and eyed the cooling tea, inhaling the fragrance of it while he still could. He picked up one of the two glasses and sipped it, a mild taste of warmth flowing down his tongue and throat. Elizabeth, two meters away, gave him a disapproving look while her mouth’s still busy chattering with Tae Hee.

“Can’t help it,” Gilbert mouthed back. “You’re the one playing dirty.”

“So you two are on day-off too? In a cottage near a lakeshore? Are you kidding me?!”

“Gilbert rented it for us,” she said, throwing herself to the couch. “Isn’t he cool?”

Tae Hee scoffed. “He never did half the effort for me.”

Gilbert hissed, suddenly the tea was hot in his mouth.

“I’m sorry for his dumb ass. Want him to show you around? We just went canoeing a few hours ago when the sun’s up. It’s a little cloudy here right now, but you still can see how blue the lake is!”

“Really? Man, that sounds cool! Let me see it!”

What a kid, Gilbert thought, sipping another chance he could get before Elizabeth approached him and tossed her phone at him.

“Oh, now you’re letting me talk!”

“Tae Hee wants you to show him around.”

“You’re the one who’s giving him that option—” he sighed, putting down his glass and taking her phone. “Okay, I’m in the mood of teaching someone a huge lesson.”

She shot him a defining glare. “Please, today is my peaceful day. Don’t kill anyone over the phone.”

Gilbert ended up taking another lap around the lake, this time with Elizabeth’s rear camera flashing the view of it. The wind got chillier as clock’s ticking, evening was about to set down and absorb the light it shared with the lake a while ago. It’s not as fascinating as they saw before, but Tae Hee couldn’t stop moaning ooh, aah, woah, damn on every frame Gilbert took for him and it made him uncomfortable.

“I’m heading back, it’s getting colder.”

“You’ve been only out for ten minutes!”

Gilbert strode back to the porch of the cottage, the front light flickering as he reluctantly unlaced his shoes. Switching back to the front camera, Gilbert caught a glimpse of Tae Hee flouting, still demanding another tour.

“Shouldn’t you go back to work already? I’ll report you to your superior if you slack off.”

“I still have time!” he whined, eyes blinking to the brand new watch on his wrist. “I haven’t seen you guys in ages so another 5 minutes won’t hurt.”

That tickled Gilbert into a cackle. “Sounds like a mid-war family crisis dialogue. We’re not that close, kid.”

It’s not visible enough for Gilbert to point it out blatantly, but there was certainly a rush of blood to Tae Hee’s cheeks. He shook his head, adjusting the slight vibration to his phone and when the camera returned to focus on his face, his clenched jaw was firm with determination. “I think of you all like my family, though.”

“Cut that out.” Gilbert exhaled a shaky breath as he got up, kicking his shoes to the side of the veranda. He didn’t bother to put on socks when he went out earlier, and now he had to deal with the consequences of having his bare feet touching the cold ceramics for the rest of their conversation. He wished to go inside and handed the phone back, but the little thought at the back of his mind wouldn’t stop bothering him into asking. So he dared and lowered his voice, after peeking through the slight gap of the door to check whether Elizabeth was out of earshot. “You called because tomorrow, right?”

Tae Hee seemed surprised, though not to the extent of being alarmingly shocked. He tore his eyes away for the first time, fingers brought together to wrestle against each other. “I was worried.”

“How nice of you keeping a calendar.”

“Not as long as you, though.” Gilbert’s lips went dry, and before he could retaliate anything to fight off Tae Hee’s retort, he was cut off by another punch. “Sir, you don’t look as okay as you said.”

“I was just tired from work,” Gilbert said, in one of his many other attempts of bluffing. “Yeah, this thing does take a toll on me, but overall I’m… just fine.”

For the wise man said, fine is fine. Not good nor bad. Rather empty, rather numb. That was what Gilbert felt right now, as honest as he could be.

“As long as she’s happy, then I suppose—I’m okay with anything too.”

Tae Hee bit his lower lips, something he often did when he’s nervous. Someone called his name afar which jolted him into his usual train of apology and reasoning where he had to flee the scene. Gilbert smiled from the memories, his finger hovering above the ‘end call’ button, not wanting to take anymore of his ex-subordinate’s precious time of work, until Tae Hee came back and stopped him.

“Sir, it’s been a good moment to have a conversation with you and Miss Elizabeth, but I’m afraid I have to leave soon for an urgent matter I have with my new supe—”

“Yeah, yeah, I got it! I hang up now, okay?”

“—don’t always cut me off!” Gilbert was taken aback from the biting tone. Tae Hee blew his nose off and bowed, his head knocking the camera hard and all Gilbert saw on the screen was the black dots of his hair. “What am I trying to say is, I’m sorry for not being of any help for you two right now and my deepest condolences goes to you. I know you love her the most.”

It stung. To receive a condolence this early. Gilbert’s eyes burnt, and he tried not to dwell on that phrase too much. He’s not ready, yet. And while he wanted to laugh at the last sentence, it scarred him even more to be the one knowing the truth about it. “Idiot. None of us could really do anything about it. Don’t apologize.”

“Right. That’s why…” He raised his head again, and this time his eyes were the one overflowing with emotion. “Be strong, Mr. Gilbert.”

When Gilbert stepped back into the cottage, Elizabeth was nowhere to be seen on the first floor. Only one cup of tea left in the kitchen counter, still fragrant and lukewarm enough to drink. He took one sip and let it wash over his worries; the short conversation he had with Tae Hee simmered at the back of his head. The clock on the wall showed ten minutes after six, the pendulum rocking left and right like it’s mocking him. Another day passed, and Gilbert’s still not okay unlike what he thought he’d be in the beginning when he went to pick Elizabeth up.

The stairs creaked when he tiptoed his way upstairs, to where the bedroom was. He was about to call Elizabeth out when the view struck him in awe. By the wide-open window, the wind blew subtly into the room as the golden light soaked the colorless room, a hand pressing the white dress down so it only fluttered mildly. She was sitting there on the sill, holding her teacup, eyes completely captivated by the chirping birds on a spreading branch just outside their cottage. Her skins glowed, the same color with the skies, and though Gilbert couldn’t make out her whole expression because of the falling hair, he could feel the serenity burying the atmosphere around. For once, he thought this was the most peaceful Gilbert ever saw Elizabeth since their last thirty days together.

And for a while it erased the last bit of storms in Gilbert’s head and filled his heart until it’s full, like anything else outside of the moment didn’t matter anymore. The sun was setting but what he could think was another day with Elizabeth, just without the fear of letting go, without those stupid numbers chasing them like a damn time bomb. Just a normal day that turned into weeks and years and decades; everlasting spring and not the cold winter they went through right now.

Elizabeth was as magical as that. And if one thing Gilbert was grateful in his seemingly cursed life, it would be her existence alone.

His phone buzzed, pulling him up from leaning deeper into the arch. Before Elizabeth could realize his presence, he silently retreated downstairs, eyes twitching to the caller ID. He answered it once he reached the living room, in a voice that was too low to be heard by the next floor.

“Gilbert, it’s me,” Campbell said from the other side. He sounded breathless, words rushing out in a manner that stirring back the earlier anxious feeling in his gut. “About the culprit. We followed him down since morning—we planned to ambush him, and—”

Bad news, Gilbert felt his heart drop to the bottom pit.

“I’m sorry, we tried. We lost track of him suddenly.”

Campbell tried to explain what caused their failed ambush, but all Gilbert could hear was the sound of his heart drumming in his ears, louder and louder until the world felt like shrinking away from him, so small under his feet and he didn’t know what to do about it. It’s dark, and the building-up emotion never reached his throat. He swallowed it back and it pooled into emptiness where he swam alone there.

His grip loosened up and the phone dropped to the floor. Gilbert, short of air himself, frantically picked it up, the device was too hot when he pressed it to his ear.

“I’m not in the town,” was what he replied, voices draining in tones. “How long until you can find him again?”

“We try for tomorrow. The tracking team is—”

“Tomorrow?” The pendulum struck again, the ticking repeating itself like a shadow to Gilbert’s pounding heart. “You promised me today. You didn’t promise me failure.”

“Look, I know—it’s out of hands, okay? With very little clues we have come this far, one thing slipping out is not surprising as long as we get back to it. And it takes time, of course! We’re not a superhuman like you.”

Even laughing was too painful for Gilbert, his lungs were so amused that it punched out the remaining air, now his chest ached along with his stomach—his life crumbling apart before his eyes.

“Superhuman? Right, I’m a superhuman who provides you with only little clues to get you this far. I throw my life and integrity in line for you to get one thing right for me, but you can’t even do it after all of that. My bad for trusting you. Should have—should have done everything myself.”

“Gilbert, I only—”

“Do you want more clues from this fucking superhuman?! Fine, I’ll give it to you, since it doesn’t matter anymore.” Nothing else matters, only her, he inhaled, and it came out like a shaky gasp. “He’ll pass by district 8 tomorrow at 7 in the evening. He has a knife.” Mr. Ho’s words resurfaced clear and loud, as if Gilbert had just heard it yesterday. Ever since then he couldn’t stop replaying the scenarios in his head like a broken cassette of a horror film. “He’s going to murder someone there. Feel free to wait until that time, I won’t be waiting for your updates anymore.”

Before Campbell could say another word, and before the sound of someone walking down the stairs caught up to him, Gilbert ended the call and slammed his phone to the brick that framed the fireplace, barely missing the fire or the woods. His head was heavy and the world continued to spin around him, vision’s blurry and thoughts streaming briskly to fill his previously empty mind.

Is this how God is going to overlap me? Can one thing be on my side for one second? Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck—

He didn’t realize his whole body was shaking with his hand covering his wet eyes until a gentle touch squeezed his shoulder, the warmth traveled through his jacket and undershirt and connected him back to reality. They led him to the couch, tapping him down to sit on it until he relaxed enough and melted with the cushion.

“What happened?” Elizabeth asked, the concern in her eyes and her equally trembling hand stilled on his shoulder, fragile and afraid—Gilbert wasn’t ready to see her yet. “I heard you shouting earlier…”

It seemed hypocritical to call it nothing after letting her see him breaking down in just a matter of seconds, but Gilbert couldn’t think of better excuses. And if there’s any, it wouldn’t convince her anyway.

“Sorry,” he said, so small like a gust of wind passing by.

“Are you sick? You must be exhausted, right?” Elizabeth’s hand still rested on his shoulder and it was the only thing that kept him from slipping away from reality once again. “I—I’ll call any nearby chauffeur service to drive us home. After all, we also need to return before night. And you’re in no way condition to drive—”

“No!” When he met her gaze again, they were puffy red around the edges. “No, please, I’m fine. It… It was the car! They—the engine is, uh, broken when I went to check it with Tae Hee earlier on the phone!” What am I even doing, Gilbert cursed to himself as he continued lying. “I kinda busted it on the way here and now it seems like a real deal. Hahaha…”

Elizabeth frowned, pursuing her lips like she begged him not to convince him with half-ass excuses. Before the scrutiny killed him, Gilbert raised to his feet and walked into the kitchen, where he opened every drawer to find any toolkit box. There’s one red box in the bottom drawer, dusty and rusty, probably aged a decade more or so but did it matter though?

Sighing, collecting himself once again before turning around to face Elizabeth, his smiles weighed almost the whole of him and the sin he was about to commit. It took him everything not to collapse again.

“Can you give me some time to fix it? It shouldn’t be long, meanwhile you can take a nap upstairs until I’m done.”

He shook the box to her, the metal inside clank against each other. Elizabeth, still wary, carefully examined his face again, jaw clenched and gaze sharpened. She held him for a good minute before softening back and shrugged. Whatever arrived at the tip of her tongue was swept away by her foolish attempt in trusting him.

“Sure, if you say so.” Her smile was sad, and Gilbert just couldn’t take it anymore. “Wake me up until then.”

She turned back to the stairs, as Gilbert’s watching her climbing up slowly, and before she could vanish into the bedroom, a strong yet frail voice called him again. They thrust into his heart and left a gouging deep scar that didn’t disappear.

“Don’t push yourself too much, Gilbert.” She gulped. “I’m here too, you know?”

He made sure she’s deep into her sleep when he went back to skim on his files— his schedules—flipping pages and pages until he found the one he had been very scared to open since the first time he read it. The date, time, place, and cause of death didn’t change, as vivid as he remembered before. He had no knowledge whether a change of event could happen or how it would be informed to the reaper if such things did happen. But if so far nothing had changed, then he should be able to push it a bit more.

Push it until they make it, the barrier between fate and determination; it’s closer to them right now than it was yesterday.

At that point, Gilbert knew he couldn’t turn back anymore. It was neither a whim nor a fictional scenario he planned on his head a while back then when he was convinced none of it would happen. Right now he knew what he was doing, when he watched the sun fade to the horizon and the way it no longer shed any form of anxiety in him because he knew: he’d be watching that sunset again with her tomorrow, and the day after, and so on.

He realized it was never about him not wanting to see Elizabeth die in such a way. It’s always about him—never wanting her to go.

***

Elizabeth woke up—cold’s feet from the pulled up blanket. It was raining heavily, the sound of droplets hitting the roof and the ground, and the thunder clattered behind the thin layer of curtain. Strangely enough her upper body was warm from the press against her back, a hand wrapped around her waist and a murmuring mouth brushing the back of her forearm. Gilbert slept soundly behind her, in the bedroom of a lakeside cottage he rented for them, his hair mashed against the brown pillow and for once, his sleeping face looked more peaceful than any other day she saw him this week. Shoulder’s raising up and fall, he stayed still when Elizabeth gently removed his hand from her waist as she pushed herself to sit, eyes blinking in an attempt to adjust with the new light until she realized the lack of sunlight showering the room unlike how it supposed to be in the afternoon.

Right, because it’s no longer afternoon.

Elizabeth’s eyes snapped open when the window didn’t radiate bright sunset light anymore, or when she found her phone on the bed drawer and saw 3 AM on the lock screen. Frantic, she ran downstairs, locked herself in the bathroom, and pushed down the left strap of her dress. The number revealed ‘zero’ on her collarbone and she knew she wasn’t dreaming. She looked at herself in the mirror, touched her face, felt the heat of her blood rushing beneath her skin, and knew well she was damn alive right now, this second and this very time.

Gilbert was supposed to take them home before night fell. Did he forget to wake her up after fixing the car engines and overslept himself? Did he manage to fix the car? Was the car even… broken?

She needed to ask Gilbert.

Elizabeth, still dizzy from the sudden wake up, stepped out to the living room where most of their stuff was, the picnic ingredients still scattered on the desk and the fireplace almost burnt itself out. Turning on the lamp, she tidied up their belongings and moved it near the entryway so it would be easier to pick up into their car later. Their picnic basket, Gilbert’s duffel and her sling bag, all were lined neatly. Elizabeth even used her sweat to clean up the table, making sure they’d leave a good last impression to the owner. Wiping her hands off, she shoved the collected dust and their leftover food packaging to the trash bin next to the fireplace.

Her eyes landed on a piece of paper, crumpled and alone at the bottom of the bin.

At first she couldn’t care less about what was that, but as she bent down and got a closer look on the paper, her curiosity won and her hand carefully reached out to pick it up, softening the folding lines as well as the crumples, the content inside unraveled itself.

A reaper’s schedule.

With her name on it.

You are supposed to die today.

Elizabeth was never more terrified than she was right now. Her pulse picked up, realizing what kind of secret she had known by now. Shaking hands let go of the paper as it fell to her lap, a crawling sense of dread itched and stung her nerves, she wanted to scream to make sure one last time everything was real. As much as she hated it, she wished she’d never move on from her denial state.

The light flickered. Elizabeth watched the stairs on full alert as she struggled to scroll on her phone’s contact info, looking for a particular name. Trembling, cold, shocked, her conversation yesterday came into a replay inside her head. She wanted to kick herself for being too stupid. They clicked now, finally, just a little too late for her to do something about it.

“Liz?!” A distant voice from the end of the line picking up her call. “Oh my god, how—where are you?! Tell me you’re in the town right now because—”

“Y-Yuriko…” She bit her tongue, trying to feel anything other than fear and the urge to break down. She failed, her next inhale became a shaky sob. “I think—did you know about this…? That Gilbert—he, oh Lord, planned to kidnap me—”

“Liz, calm down first, ’kay?” Yuriko was no better, her tone was too wary and alarming, rushing breath muffled by the sound of downpour outside. It took Elizabeth everything not to drop her phone as she trembled so bad. “Just—listen and follow me. Where are you right now?”

“In a cottage… near a lake… It’s a private property, I think, I don’t know the exact address…” She gulped, swallowing back a choke. “Gilbert still sleeps upstairs. I can’t make too much commotion or else he’ll find me…”

“Don’t worry about it. First of all—” she could hear Yuriko opening her laptop tab, typing sounds rattling in the background “—we need you to get out of that place as soon as possible. Grab the key and use the car you drove to that place.”

“Yuriko, I can’t drive!”

“Snap.” Yuriko clicked her tongue. “Just walk, then. Do you happen to know any stopover place nearby?”

Her mind immediately traveled back to the conversation she and Gilbert had on the way to the lake; Gilbert intended to take her to a small town on their way back, about 3 miles away from the lake. It was supposed to be a promise, and Elizabeth remembered looking forward so much to it.

“I know.” She already got up, heading toward the door and grabbed her jacket and boots. It’d be a long dawn, a shivering one. “Meet me there?”

“Turn on your phone location so we can track you.” More rattling sounds, her typing intensified. “We’ll bring you back to town in time.”

“O-Okay…” Her pulse quickened, the doorknob was bitingly cold in her hold. “Yuriko, thank you—I…” She licked her lips, they were chapped. “Tell me, I’m doing the right thing, right? This—I’m following what needs to be done, right? I’m not deceiving anybody, right…?”

“Idiot. Don’t waste your time thinking about that!” Yuriko exhaled harshly, her glare was visible through her tones. “Gilbert is on the wrong here. That guy is no good for you right now, so don’t ever be sorry for him.”

That dawn, Elizabeth left the cottage with only her jacket and her phone. The dark skies led down her rocky path into nowhere she could imagine. The woman continued to strive through; embracing the storming wind and the roaring pours—the thunder laughed from afar.


Time remaining: 0 day.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.