The fine grains kept on falling and falling.
They drew a trail of blue as they made a soundless descent.
And there were her red eyes, watching the cobalt sand in motion.
She sat on the rug, her head laid on folded arms and her thick fall of hair a makeshift pillow as she leant against the coffee table. The girl was so absorbed in her staring, gaze keen and undistracted. And when her finger slid down the side of the transparent bulbs, the book he was reading became mere decoration in his lap. For a second, Garry was jealous of the inanimate object.
To be the subject of her meticulous study…
“If you’d like, you can take it home,” he offered from his seat on the couch, the gesture not going unrewarded as she lifted her head from the cradle of her arms and set her curious gaze on him.
“…You don’t like it anymore?”
“Ah, well.” He fell silent and turned the page of his book, having trouble recalling what he was reading. Such a perceptive girl. “I do. But I think you like it more. Don’t you?”
“I don’t know…”
There she went again with her shy nature. He couldn’t help smiling whenever he thought about what a challenge it had been to get her to accept his gifts in the beginning, and how far their relationship had come since then. Now she received things from him without reservation, of course, save for the occasional backslides that he found endearing.
“It’s yours, hon.” Garry might not have much, but what his was hers.
“…Thanks, Garry.” She returned to the hourglass and waited for it to finish the cycle, only to flip it around and let time run its course again.
Unease was welling up inside him.
His little girl had been coming over a lot these summer days, and he had that brat to thank, albeit grudgingly. Half of the time that Ib was with him during these past months had been under the guise of hanging out with the brat. While the increase in time spent with her was a welcomed feat, during moments like this, he found himself reevaluating said ‘feat.’
Movies had been a great pastime, until they went through his entire collection in the first few weeks. Ib was a picky viewer. And then there was a limit to how much macarons and cocoa Garry was willing to feed her when they hung out so often. He wanted to suggest they go outside more, but she was such an indoor kid, so comfortable with staying still and doing nothing.
It was getting harder to find things to do with her. His usual fallback, which was asking her about the week, also hit a wall because they were together for the most of it.
And when conversations had been exhausted and silence dictated the room, there was little else to do but…muse.
Whenever Ib was deep in her observation, she would wear a thoughtful, faraway look that seemed so mature, her hair framing her face in the most immaculate manner. A painful squeeze of his heart marked each moment he was caught off guard by the way she glanced at him.
She told him she loved his eyes, her careless comment sowing the seed of hope that she’d someday come to love the rest of him. When she sidled up to his side, head on his shoulder and small thumb tracing the scar on his hand, it was the highest form of flattery. The space where she occupied was peaceful, like the surface of a lake without ripples, or forest after a rain, so quiet that his quickening pulse sounded like thunder.
She would keep growing, every day more beautiful than the last. Until one day the gullible sheen in her eyes would be replaced with shrewd understanding, and she’d see just how transparent he was. She’d realize how disgusting it was to have a grown man’s stare on her and leave his side.
And then this heart would no longer beat.
But until then…
That black watch on her wrist, he didn’t like one bit. It just wasn’t her. It was angular and boyish, and the thing stuck out like a sore thumb against her fair skin. The fact that it was responsible for the irritating beeping that marked the end of their time together didn’t help Garry like the abomination any better.
Territorial was one way to describe it. Garry was the only one she was supposed to rely on. He couldn’t get over the fact that she still wanted the brat’s help even though her parents had already allowed her to see him. But, he guessed, for her there was no qualm about receiving favors from the opposite sex. Not yet, anyway. She should learn that soon.
Sometimes Garry wondered if she felt like she had to be with him. Ib always avoided his eyes when she clung to him. Was she trying to compensate because some part of her still feared him? The thought was a punch to his chest. He’d rather—
“I’ll leave it here,” she said out of the blue, and he noticed her eyes were back on him.
“A-ah…?” He blinked, not quite catching on.
“The sandglass,” she smiled, chin in her palm, “so that we both get to see it.”
Oh, she thought he was staring at the…
“Right. Thank you, Ib.” Garry really couldn’t win against her.
“Is the book you’re reading very hard, Garry?”
“U-um, hard? I don’t think so. Why do you ask?”
“Oh… Because you’ve been reading the first page for a few days now.”
Garry’s smile was frozen on his lips. “…Ah yes, these first few pages…I just find them quite fascinating.”
And Garry made a mental note to get a different book next time.
It was after that day the she understood how flimsy of a grasp she had on his attention.
She’d thought that being through hell together meant that he would be her friend, but that wasn’t the case. He’d been in no hurry to find her after their promise, and it only took a couple of years for him to start slipping from her hands.
So when he pulled her into that feverish embrace that was raw with pain and need, she thought the guilt she’d seen in his expression would finally keep him by her side forever. But it seemed that wasn’t the case either.
He hadn’t waited for her.
That lady, the one with the strange white hair and the same red eyes as Ma and her, from time to time Ib would catch glimpses of the woman in his life. On his unmade bed were stray strands of silver, stark against his choice of dark sheets. Wrinkled articles of clothing were sometimes conspicuous, while other times hidden poorly in haste. And too many times when Ib rung the bell, the lady would be behind the door, in a shirt that was clearly too big for her and smelling like Garry.
“What’s wrong, sweetie?” Garry reached over the table to brush his fingers through her bangs, a gentle look on his face. The sunlight that punctured the motley dome of leaves overhead shone off his tousled hair, combing it more vibrant and lively. “You’re awfully quiet.”
Ib shook her head no and tucked back a wind-swept lock, leaning in to make it easier for him to stroke her cheek. Though, the length of his arm rendered her gesture unneeded. She was acutely aware of the way his sleeveless jacket showed off each bony edge of his shoulder.
Garry was so very different from her. Everything about him was larger than she, hard lines making up his strong build, and there was a certain degree of roughness to his hands. He knew many things and articulated himself so well.
He gave the goofiest reaction to the smallest things, and when she called his name, he always had a smile for her. It was during those moments that she felt she could be closer to him.
But on some days when his mind was elsewhere, his voice as he spoke to her would slip from the usual falsetto and into an unfamiliar timber. Looking at his distracted expression, she would again be reminded of the paper thin distance between them she could never seem to cross.
He was like a wispy moonlit night, filled with the unknown and slightly intimidating, but altogether comforting. By his side, there were no prying eyes, no judgments. He never pressed for any answers, yet still managed to understand her every thought.
“Is it too hot? Sorry I dragged you out here.” His fingers were with a hint of sweat, mildly cool on her skin.
She just shook her head again, not wanting to dwell on her disgruntlement. He chuckled, most likely seeing through her ruse.
His irises were so blue, and she’d never realized how much she liked it when they addressed only her. Until recently…
It was on a Saturday evening that Ib hadn’t responded to his voice, pretending to be asleep so that she didn’t have to go home. The mattress surrounding her had caved as he bent down and hovered over her for the longest time. There was a nervous rap in her chest. She could feel his gaze on her and imagined his beautiful orbs studying her. And in the quietness of it all, his breath wafting against her ear warned her of their increasing proximity.
Ib had thought her heart couldn’t be any louder when he whispered into her ear, exposing her ploy and causing her to jump involuntarily. As he left the room chuckling, she had all but forgotten about her foiled little plan and only wished that he’d kept on watching her a little longer.
“Garry…” she called even though she didn’t really have anything to say.
“Hmm?” His smile never failed to sooth her. But she understood that those cerulean eyes, no matter how intensely they held hers, were fully capable of wandering.
Garry’s life did not revolve around her like she’d come to assume so egoistically. There were others in his life. Adults like him. Peers of equal standing. People he could talk to and confide in with matters he knew a kid didn’t comprehend and therefore would never tell her. But that was fine, because Ib really was just a kid. What wasn’t fine was how much of that lady she was seeing in his life.
She felt uncomfortable in the older girl’s presence. Ib was especially cautious with the way Scarlet kept trying to strike up conversations with her. And she was sure Garry knew how she felt.
“I’m ba~ck.” At the sound of the voice, Garry withdrew his hand, much to her disappointment, and sat back in his bench. They both turned to the blonde who came up to them with cold drinks from the vending machine. “You sure you only want water, Ib?”
“Yes…thank you.” She received the bottle with both hands, the cool object a pleasure to hold in the sultry heat.
“Just tell me if you want anything else, mmkay?” Scarlet cracked open her can of juice and took her seat next to Garry.
Ib pressed her lips together.
“Where’s my coke?”
“There wasn’t any.”
“I’m sorry but, there’s no coke?“Garry drawled with one unconvinced brow quirked.
The lady took a gulp of her drink and shrugged. “Fine. I ran out of changes.”
“…Give me some of yours then, Ib.”
“No,” Scarlet swatted his hand away. “Get your own, Wolfe. I bought that for her.”
“Get off my back. It’s so hot out there.” Garry was tugging at the collar of his tank top for extra ventilation.
“Why yes. By the way, thanks for offering to go buy drinks in my stead. Such chivalry.”
“Oh, but, dear, I remember hearing you rant about how chivalry is sexist.”
And they bickered and bickered, just as usual.
Ib sat on her side of the table, feeling envious of the verbal tennis that went on so naturally, so unlike the silence when she was alone with Garry. She’d asked, but Garry was adamant he didn’t enjoy Scarlet’s gibes, after which statement he had to explain to her what ‘gibes’ meant, and then pleaded that she never become anything like Scarlet. However, she couldn’t help wondering if being a little more like that would make spending time with her less of a chore for him.
If she was just a little better at talking, maybe he wouldn’t feel the need to have Scarlet around.
Ib pushed the water to Garry, pressing the cold bottle to his arm and successfully gaining his attention. “We can share.”
His expression, though had been hard from annoyance, immediately melted into a grin. “Aw, thank you, sweetheart.” To the side, she could hear Scarlet smacking her tongue as Garry took the bottle and opened it with one sharp twist. To think she’d been trying to get the cap to turn without success. “Here, you can drink first,” he offered, handing the drink back to her.
“Perv,” Scarlet commented for some reason, and they started arguing again.
Ib sighed, sipping at her water.
“I’m going to the restroom,” she informed and stood up.
“Oh?” Garry acknowledged before flopping her sunhat onto her head.
“I also—” Scarlet made a motion to stand up, but then settled back down in a strange manner.
“Be careful, all right Ib? Don’t talk to strangers,” Garry smiled, waving her off.
Ib nodded and took off into the sunny park. Having left the shades, the heat of the day showered down on her without mercy. She crossed the wide spread of grass, passing by other park-goers, her pace slowing until she came to a vehement stop. They treated her like a clueless child. She could put two and two together. Garry and Scarlet were somehow that, a couple. What she didn’t understand was why they bothered to at all.
Ib kept a firm hand on her hat. As a strong gust plastered the fabric of her dress to her body, she turned around to spy on the two sitting in the same bench, looking like they wanted nothing to do with each other.
“You can let go of me now,” the girl said with folded arms, and Garry released the fistful of her blouse from his hold. “How rough.” She complained, pouting as she reached back to straighten her clothes. “Why can’t you be more like when we’re in bed?”
“We agreed not to mention that,” his voice was void of any humor. “And you should stop these antics. She’s uncomfortable around you.”
“All thanks to you, jackass! Every time she sees me, I bet she thinks, ‘oh, it’s the person I met after Garry shoved his’—”
“Shut. Up.” He cut her off, each word came through clenched teeth as white knuckles jutted out from the back of his hands.
Scarlet closed her mouth with a huff. “…Sorry,” she turned away from him. “Hurry up and fix that face before you scare your little girl away for good.”
The muscle on his face twitched at the reminder. Garry took a deep breath and unclenched his palms, trying to relax whatever hideous scowl he was wearing.
“I took her home before, Garry. I promise I don’t mean her any harm.”
Garry regarded her pleading eyes with apathy. “If you don’t mean her any harm, what’s stopping you from telling me what you want with her? You’re related to Garland, honey. I had no choice before, but I will not leave Ib alone with you until I know what’s going on.”
She tried not to show it, but he could see the frown in the slant of her mouth. “You still owe me at least this much. And so help me, I will give you a longer lasting bruise if you ever suggest I share any blood with that sociopath again.”
“Semantics,” he rolled his eyes, taking a large gulp from the water bottle, admittedly conscious about the childish notion of an indirect kiss. Scarlet’s accusation of perversion was right on the mark he supposed. “I owe you, Scarl, and that’s why you’re seeing her at all. This is as far as I’ll allow it without any information. She’s too important.”
Scarlet snorted. “Please, Garbear, your big talk sounds like bullshite knowing what you did to her. I’m done listening. But if you’re that hell-bent on protecting her, you should think about what you’re gonna do when that man finds out,” she smirked, pleased with whatever look she saw on his face. “I’m telling you he will sooner or later, and not by me, I assure. That is if he hasn’t already found out. As someone who’s been dealing with Leonard for years, I think you’d want me on your side.”
Before Garry could express his disbelief in her words, Scarlet had already gotten to her feet. “Now, when you’re ready to leave Ib alone with me, just offer, okay honey?” As soon as she finished, the girl headed out into the sun to meet Ib halfway.
And then, she finagled him into buying them ice cream.
By the time he was back at his apartment, Garry was spent and still mulling over Scarlet’s words.
He’d ruled it impossible that that Mr. Garland already knew about the incident. If the man did, he would have been confronted by now. And if neither he, nor Ib, nor Scarlet talked then they could take this to the grave.
Garry reassured himself with that thought as he crashed onto his bed. Everything was going to be fine. He buried into the pillow and emptied his mind.
His eyes snapped open to the darkness of his room, anxiety roiling into life in the pit of his stomach as a different thought occurred to him. Who was responsible for that anonymous note he’d received the morning after the incident?
Nicholas slouched in his seat and started a large yawn as he wiped a torpid hand over his face. The glaring sun outside the window made his eyes hurt. He was used to pulling an unhealthy amount of all-nighters, yet jet lags from travelling across the globe were always awful for him.
Pushing the heavy glasses up the bridge of his nose, he glanced across the heavy mahogany desk to where his friend was going over the terms of their contract, and then to the side where his little sister stood in witness. She had a sickly quality to her with that pale albino skin, so it was hard to tell if she was fine. He thought about commenting on the sunlight, but decided not to voice his concern. The girl disliked being called out on her condition, and he was sure she knew her limits.
“All right, fair enough.” Leonard’s voice brought his gaze back in front, just as the other man flipped open a laptop and typed in the changes. It didn’t take long before a new piece of paper, warm from the printer, was presented before him together with a pen. “Here you go.”
A groan was stuck in his throat as Nicholas leant forward to grab the pen and sign the document. “Anything else?” he inquired with bloodshot eyes, sliding the paper back to Leonard.
“That’s all.” His friend smiled without the usual playful attitude, and it was disconcerting to say the least. But he supposed with something like this…
The pen clacked against the glass surface when he stood up and set it down with more force than intended. “Get me the jet then. I still got work to do back home.” And maybe get it done before his daughter comes back and the arguing starts again.
To the request, Leonard shrugged an okay and got to his feet also. Nicholas glanced at his sister, nodding goodbye, before heading to the door with Leonard.
They stood in silence as they waited for the elevator to arrive. When the metal doors opened, he received a loud slap in the back as a parting gift.
“Well then, doctor, I’ll leave Garry in your care.”