“I-Ib…?” his lips shakily parted to form the choked word- no, name.
For two months, her name had been occupying his mind day and night, but never really spoken. It felt… good, now that the name finally rang his vocal cord.
Was this really her? Not just some illusion his weary mind conjured up to appease his yearning? Garry held his breath as he absentmindedly raised a hand to her small face, testing the smooth texture of her cheek with the back of his gaunt fingers – cautiously, as though she would disappear into thin air with one wrong move. He brushed her long locks behind her ear to get a better view of her adorable face, his eyes never leaving hers.
The streetlamps slowly became brighter to compensate for the late evening’s lack of light, revealing more of her refined features. Small lips, cute little nose; long lashes that failed to hide her exquisite burgundy gaze. Her slightly raised brows gave way to a vulnerable expression, a fragility he knew she hid well, or tried to. As cliché as it may sound, it felt like an eternity they spent just staring at each other, observing, gauging one another – believing what they were seeing.
“Ib!” a womanly voice called, breaking him from his trance. He snatched his hand back and perked up in the direction of the voice, picking out a familiar woman in a brownish shirtdress amongst crowded street. Her face was a picture of concern dashed with relief. “Thank goodness, there you are. What are you bothering that young man for?” she asked with a hint of frustration as she approached them.
His eyes still on the older woman, Garry was suddenly tackled by the waist.
“Ah…! Ib!” she exclaimed in shocked, quickly crossing the remaining distance to him. “W-what are you doing!”
He looked down.
Ib had her face buried in his taut stomach, clinging onto him; her petite frame trembling against his. Garry placed a hand onto the small of her back, blankly registering the embrace, the way her frail arms wrapped around him so tightly.
It was just like back in the gallery.
“I-Ib, let go of him!” her mother was greatly troubled, seemingly at a loss of what to do. “I’m so sorry about this, young man,” she said; her words, however, were barely heard.
“… N-no, it’s… it’s quite alright…” Garry replied, his voice cracking as he tried to keep himself coherent. Noticing the questioning look on the young mother’s face, he met her gaze with a weak smile. “It’s no trouble I-” his voice was stuck in his throat, and he realized his emotions were stagnating also. His facial muscles were failing. Feeling the sorry excuse of a smile on his face falter, he quickly broke his unfocused stare from the older woman’s.
His vision glazed over; he bit his bottom lip, but it wasn’t enough to stop a lone droplet from escaping the corner of his eye and trickling down along his nose. The hand that wasn’t busy pressing against Ib’s back shot up to wipe the tear away.
Another fell, and yet another, and yet another. Soon, the tears were unstoppable, rolling down his cheeks in abundance, completely unrestraint.
It wasn’t in his nature to cry. He was one to easily show his emotions, but crying he absolutely wouldn’t do. Crying was for kids – helpless creatures that he was glad to have grown from. There was no reason to cry. Ib was here. They met. His only wish for the past two months came true; there was nothing to cry about.
There was nothing wrong with crying either.
Garry stopped trying to hide his tears and lowered his head, bending his tall frame over Ib as he carefully enveloped her in his arms.
He probably should say something to the parent most likely stunned just before him. He probably should be conscious about the curious gazes around them, probably shouldn’t have hugged her back or started crying. There was probably no need to get this emotional and probably a dozen more problems he should be aware of, but he really couldn’t care less. He was just so glad, so relieved. Ib was here. Right here. He’d finally found his little companion in a twisted dimension that didn’t exist to the rest of the world.
“… I’m sorry,” he finally managed to croak. “I’m so sorry, Ib… I’m sorry…”
He kept muttering his apologies like a broken record, with sniffs and sobs in between. He was unsure whether Ib heard him or not, but he went on anyway.
At last, they were able to meet.
“Um, would you like to come to our house for some tea?” was the hesitant invitation Alysha had given the strange youth whom her daughter simply refused to let go off.
She gave her driver a few words and promptly exited the car, her eyes immediately training on the mauve-haired young man standing at the side, Ib cradled his arms. Her little girl was fast asleep, having dozed off during their ride home, yet still stubbornly held on to the boy’s coat.
This whole chain of events was still boggling her mind. She had only taken Ib to city center in hope it would cheer the child up. Suddenly, Ib had sprinted away and, when she’d finally caught up to the girl, tackled a random stranger on the street. Her child, who always shied from any form of contact with anyone not closely acquainted, was hugging some scruffy, shady-looking teenager. As if that hadn’t been shocking enough, the boy had then burst into tears and enfolded her like a long lost sister.
Her car slowly pulled off and sped down the family’s private driveway.
“Sorry to trouble you,” she smiled, her shrewd eyes assessing the boy. It seemed he had calmed down, although still a tad shaken for some unknown reason. She hadn’t gotten to ask anything during the ride, but soon she would make sense of this.
“O-oh no, I don’t mind at all, ma’am,” the boy tilted his head and replied in a… cutesy… effeminate… kind of way. Because he had stayed quiet the entire time, except for the few whispers exchanged with her daughter, she had never realized his… peculiar… characteristic. The surprised must have shown on her face, as the boy then coughed awkwardly. “I- er, ahem, I mean… I’m sorry,” he managed with a normal tone.
“… No, I’m sorry,” Alysha amended, pulling the straps of her handbag up her arm. She then motioned to a narrow set of stairs that curved through the greenery, leading up the hill behind him, “Shall we head inside?”
Garry watched the older woman ascend the lamp-lit stone steps, his face burning. He didn’t recall being this embarrassed about his own conduct when he first started… ‘being a sissy,’ in his friends’ words. In the past two months, he had occasionally thought about how to present himself in front of Ib’s parents. Surely, acting like a weirdo would not score him points with adults, especially when it concerned their nine year old daughter. He’d screwed up from the very beginning.
One mistake after another. Garry hoped he hadn’t completely destroyed any chance of getting accepted by her parents.
Glancing down at Ib, he felt something inside him melt. She seemed so small and delicate in her loose fitting shirt and shorts. A small smile crept up his face as he tucked Ib closer to him. Somehow, it felt like everything would be okay.
As the cobbles grated under his feet, he observed the intricate lamps placed along the large steps. The late evening was quiet and he could hear the crickets sing vividly. Staring down at where the car had dropped them off, he thought him reuniting with Ib was something short of a miracle. This place was so secluded from the neighborhood he was convinced he wouldn’t be able to find it even with the address.
Had Ib not caught up to him… He shook his head, not wanting to dwell on pointless what-ifs. Ib found him, that was all that mattered.
Upon seeing the Lowell’s mansion, Garry had to do his best not to fall backward. He was stunned by its sheer size and expensive design of wood, marble and glass. The mansion was so grand that it might just be possible to get lost inside. Despite that, it seemed to make a lovely home. The light from inside the house leaked out through the ivory shreds of curtain, warm and inviting. All around the property was a lush garden illuminated by the same lamps that were placed along the stone stairway, and he could hear the sound of a fountain somewhere amongst the trees. He had expected Ib to be of a rich household, and everything was predictable, from the slick car to the chauffeur, until he laid eyes on this building that screamed money louder than a lottery jackpot.
He meekly followed the woman on the gravel path that cut through the neatly cut grass bed, feeling as though he was marching to death’s door. Garry had never really considered how serious the situation could be when meeting Ib’s parent. He had planned to prepare for this meeting, and goddamn he would have had that bastard Evan not thrown Ib’s address away. He had no idea what to do now. There was really nothing he could say to explain his relationship with Ib, and he was damn sure her mother wanted to know every detail. The same should go for her father. If he slipped up, there might be no hope of seeing Ib in the future.
Before they reached the glassed front door, he could see a blurry figure right behind it and only became more uneasy. The door opened inward and a man dressed in a formal suit, whom he vaguely recognized as Ib’s father, stepped out.
“Lysh? Aren’t you back early,” Nathan said as he fixed the button on his cuff. His eyes then fell onto the foreign figure standing just behind his wife, quickly noticing the nine year old snoozing in said figure’s arms. “Oh, and who’s this?” he asked with a smile as the queer young man with the purple hair visibly stiffened under his gaze.
“Well, this is…” his wife’s voice trailed, and she turned to the boy. “That’s right, how careless of me. I never caught your name.”
“I’m G-Garry, ma’am… sir,” the boy quickly added, slightly bowing his head at him.
“Garry, is it? I’m Alysha, and this is my husband Nathan Lowell,” tilting her head in a polite gesture, Alysha turned back to him, “We happened to meet on the streets and Garry here seems to know Ib. I thought it’d be nice for us to get to know each other, so I invited him over for tea.”
“I… Ib and I met at the Guertena exhibition… few months back,” Garry hastily explained; however, as soon as he saw Mrs. Lowell’s incredulous look, he inwardly winced. Because meeting at some estrange artist’s exhibition totally begged for a tearful reunion.
“I see,” the man nodded, eyes still on him.
Being scrutinized was never pleasant, especially when he knew he was being sized up. Garry’s smile was rigid on his face now, and the corners of his mouth were starting to hurt. He felt immensely pressured as he tried to read the man’s expression, wondering if it was because of him carrying Ib. Obviously he couldn’t let her mother carry her, but he had a feeling he shouldn’t be doing it either. Papa was probably determining whether or not this suspicious fellow should be touching Papa’s little girl at all.
Before he could say anything more, Ib stirred a little in his arms and snuggled closer to him.
He gulped, cold sweats gathering on the back of his neck.
Papa took out his phone, a very expensive-looking model, if Garry might add. “Excuse me a moment,” he said and tapped onto the touchscreen before bringing the device to his ear. There was a short pause before he started, “Hey, Sid. … Ah, it’s most unfortunate but I don’t think I can make it to your party tonight. … My sincere apologies, maybe we could have dinner sometimes in the future. … That is a great idea! Well now, if you’d excuse me. … You too, friend. Give my best regards to your wife.”
The man gave a hearty laugh before disconnecting the call.
“Is that alright?” Ib’s mother asked.
“Oh, it’s fine.”
Garry squirmed in place when the man drew near.
“Garry, was it? Thank you very much for carrying Ib,” Mr. Lowell said as he held out his arms. “You must be tired, let me help.”
“Y-yes sir,” Garry fumbled, carefully shifting Ib to her father before letting go.
Both men froze, wide-eyed as they stared at the little girl between them.
“Oh dear,” Alysha cupped a hand to her cheek.
Ib’s grip on his coat and shirt remained firm, making it impossible for her father to take her away. Silence ensued, and by no means was it comfortable. Garry tried to pull his clothes from Ib’s small hand, but it proved to be futile. It didn’t seem like she was going to let go at all, unless they woke her. And he knew for a fact no one would have the heart to rouse her from such a peaceful state.
“… I-I’m sorry, sir,” he apologized, his voice weaker than he’d intended it to be.
“No, no. I should apologize for troubling you, young man,” Mr. Lowell gave Garry a smile and handed his daughter back. He then stepped to a side and placed a hand onto the teen’s back, the other gestured to the opened front door. “How rude of me to keep a guest standing, let us all head inside and sit down.”
“It’s alright, sir…” Garry said feebly.
Ah, he wanted to cry.
- Garry was searching in the right neighbourhood, but the Lowells private driveway kept him from even coming close to their mansion house