Dream? Garry couldn’t bring himself to believe last night was all a dream. The warmth, the softness, the moans… the sinful pleasure. He wiped his mouth with a sweaty palm. That kind of realism had been a dream? He remembered kissing her breathless, the feel of her smooth skin as he held her near. Her shaky fingers grabbing onto him, her hold tightening with each thrust. Pulling the blanket over her small, trembling shoulder, he had watched as she slowly gave into exhaustion.
The girl should still be here with him, but she wasn’t. It must have been a dream, then.
He swallowed, eyes searching the room. Something was amiss. Thump. His heart steadily pounded. Thump. Thump.
Did he want it to be a dream?
A snort escaped his throat. That was a dumb question. Of course he was glad it had been a dream. Thank God.
What is this… disappointment?
A shrill ring of the doorbell startled him out of his trance, and the pressure inside his chest worsened. His eyes warily flickered to the open bedroom door, staring out the narrow corridor outside. A soft glow was pouring in from the living room.
He waited for another ring, but it didn’t come. The silence that returned somehow seemed more intense than it had been – almost ominous. Had he even heard anything? Outside, the garden lamps hadn’t dimmed, and leaves were still glimmering wet with dew. Dawn had yet to come, leaving the sky a cold murky blue. The idea of a visitor at this ungodly hour was silly. He must have imagined it, as he had with many other things. He shouldn’t trust himself too much these days.
Another ring resounded through the apartment, proving him wrong— or right.
He dropped back down onto the bed and buried himself under the blanket over his head, opting to disregard the uninvited guest. It was damn cold and he didn’t want to leave the bed.
Yet another ring. And another.
Well, the light outside needed to be turned off anyway. He exhaled in exasperation and kicked the blanket off, his whole torso shuddering uncontrollably as it once again came into contact with the chilly air. His breaths stuttered as he blindly groped around him, trying to locate his shirt. It might have fallen off the bed for all he knew.
Yawning, he attempted a stretch.
He winced when the skin along his ribs suddenly stung, his hand shooting across his chest to tend to the pain. Thump. What? He blinked, keeping his gaze strictly forward.Thump. He moved his hand, albeit slowly.
Scratches. He glanced at his other side. Swelling red scratches… scrawled all over his skin.
In a single moment, the carnal memory became dreadfully vivid. The heat, the tightness, the screams… the raging lust. He continued to stare in disbelief at the telltale marring on his body – disbelief that he actually managed to pass last night as a dream at all. His stomach made an ugly churn and his heart twisted. His mind was empty, his breathing shallow. Not a dream. The doorbell chimed. He shakily got to his feet, eyes searching his surroundings. Something was amiss, all right. She was supposed to be sleeping next to him still. So where was she now?
Garry took unstable steps towards the doorway, frantically looking around as he did even though he knew well there was nothing to find. The biting cold all but forgotten, he darted into the living room. “Ib?” The tall floor lamp had been left on all night; the shirt that he had discarded lay wrinkled on the rug. His teeth ground together. It wasn’t a fucking dream. “Hey, where are you?”
He’d done it now. Stabbing hands through his hair, he turned left and right. He’d fucked up.
The clothes that he had stripped from her weren’t there. She couldn’t have left. Not when it was barely morning. Not in only those… Could she? No way. It was far too cold.
He crouched down and grabbed his shirt. Something fell from its layers as he lifted it from the floor, creating a small clack against the wood. The accursed hourglass was rolling near his foot. At the sight of the ornament, a sudden rush of anger flared inside him. Inexplicable, unreasonable. He was just mad. At the hourglass, at the fact that he hadn’t thrown it away, at himself, at the cold— at her absence.
Bang! He violently slapped the hourglass out of his sight, his hand ramming straight into the table’s edge, causing the tea set to rattle dangerously. Garry bit back a curse, glaring at his knuckles to check on the damage.
The fresh bruise was seeping blood, and also… there was a fading white scar.
“Are you okay, Ib? The glass shattered, after all.”
The little girl shielded under his towering frame absently nodded, gaze fixated on the pile of ash that once was a friend. He couldn’t tell what was going on in her head, but her lethargic look disturbed him. Mary was dead. He should be glad, should feel triumph, but looking at her, nothing but guilt arose. She only burnt a picture. That was all she did. Yet looking at her, it felt like they had killed a person.
Garry gently pried the ‘murder weapon’ from her tight, trembling grip and pulled her into a comforting hug, letting her snuggle against him. He looked to the smoldering ash. Honestly, he didn’t hold too many sentiments for that painting, and with the adrenaline from wrestling with it, nearly getting killed by it, still flooding his system, he cared even less.
A soft touch on his hand. “Garry…”
“… Hm?” He glanced down to see Ib had detached herself from him and was carefully wiping blood from the back of his hand. “My hand?” It took a second for it to register in his mind. “Oh, you’re right, I cut it… I didn’t even notice… It must have just happened.” Or Mary had successfully landed a hit on him. He didn’t know, but he’d like to believe it was an honorable wound from shielding Ib. Her face changed to one of a subtle frown at his words. “… Well, it’s just minor.” He curled and uncurled his hand to demonstrate his words. “See?”
But she still offered him her handkerchief, and even tied it up for him.
Her small hands were shaking as she tried ever so hard not to hurt him.
She was just that gentle of a child.
Garry blinked out of the reminiscence. He needed to find her.
Suddenly, several loud bangs hammered on the apartment door, nearly scaring him into a shriek. He turned towards the sound, a hand over his prancing heart.
Yet several more impatient bangs. Whoever that was, they were going to get socked.
With the scare fueling his ire, Garry vehemently stormed straight to the entrance, not bothering to put on his shirt, unlocked and yanked the door open.
And he was greeted with nothing but the freezing air that splashed against his naked skin.
“Dammit,” he muttered under his breath, hastily shoving his arms into his shirt, his teeth almost clattering. The dry scratches on his ribs were burning against the fabric. Now, where was his soi-disant visitor? If this was a prank, sworn to god, he would— His eyes fell onto a piece of paper taped to the wall in front of him. And he froze.
Garland’s coming at 10 was scribbled in large, black letters.
It took him a whole second to even understand what he was looking at. His chest once again ridden with unpleasant throbs, he took cautious steps towards the note and yanked it from the sliver of tape that kept it to the wall.
He snorted in derision. Here, a piece a paper from unknown sender was telling him something and he was supposed to believe it? The smirk soon slid from his face and he nervously rubbed his mouth, looking to both sides of the empty hallway. There was no one— not that he was expecting otherwise. He looked back to the note, turning it over to see if there was anything else. Nothing. It was true Mr. Garland hadn’t shown up all this time even though his secretary had said that he would. With what little Garry grasped about the man’s character, it wasn’t impossible that Mr. Garland would show up without notifying him first.
It wasn’t impossible.
Questions of all kinds swirled through his mind at a dizzying speed. The credibility of this informant, the reason for informing him at all; how he should deal with his benefactor coming over knowing that—
The note was scrunched up in his grip as he headed back inside, slamming the door behind him without meaning to.
“Ib!” he called out for her and covered his mouth as soon as the name started echoing through the apartment. His voice had come out harsher than he intended. The last thing he wanted was to further frighten her. “Ib… look, I know you’re hiding somewhere. Please come out,” he said loudly, yet as gently as he could manage. “It’s okay. I promise I’m not gonna…” he bit his lower lip, unable to form the words that came up in his mind.
“… Please come out,” he tried again, but only silence answered him.
He stifled a sigh. This obviously wasn’t going to be easy. He was sure she was still here as her sneakers were still on the shoe rack. Ib was just hiding… from him… His jaw hardened. That wasn’t right. Ib did not hide from him. Not from him.
Garry tried to take a deep breath. He needed to calm down first. Panicked as he was, he would only make the situation worse. The ticking of an imaginary clock in his mind, however, made him restless. He patted himself down while looking around the room. His phone was lying there on the table – the sight of the furniture reminded him of the aching cut on his hand. The damaged skin was turning a deeper shade than before, and the underlying scar was stark against the red bruise. He placed his other hand over it and closed his eyes in another sigh.
Five thirty. Garry pocketed the phone, tossing the crumpled note at the table, and marched to the study in large strides. His study was the warmest place in the apartment, and he hoped he would find her inside. There were only so many places that could be relatively called a hiding spot, and leaving out the bedroom – where she had clearly fled from – and the locked closet, only the study and the bathroom were left.
“Ib?” He took care to open the door as slowly as possible despite his hurry. If she was on the other side, he wouldn’t want to scare her.
The light went on with a press of his fingers, but he didn’t see her. His study was small, with only his desk and the musty bookshelves packing the space. It was impossible to stay hidden, so clearly she wasn’t there.
He switched the light off with a soft curse and headed for the bathroom. Upon arriving in front of it, he clicked his tongue. Why hadn’t he noticed earlier? The door was closed. The fucking thing was closed. He never left the bathroom door closed.
Garry slowly let go of the doorknob as the beating inside his chest became unbearably louder. She was on the other side… and she had the door locked. Yes, why wouldn’t she? Yes, yes; there was a lock after all. Having lived alone all this time, he forgot there was such a thing called a lock on his bathroom door. Not that it was something worthy of concerns right now. Staring at the wooden barricade in front of him, he just didn’t know what to do. His throat felt dry as he tried to come up with the appropriate words – and he feared there wasn’t any. What were the right things to say? Should he even say anything at all?
“… Ib,” he spoke in a shaky tone. “You’re in there, right? Please open the door.” He placed his arm onto the door and leant in closer. “… I’m-I’m-I’m not gonna do anything. Promise. I only want to check o-on you.”
Garry was beginning to hate this silence. It was so eerie and unsettling. A part of him was afraid she was unconscious. And that part was growing by the seconds as he impatiently waited. “God damn it, Ib…” he muttered to himself, pressing his forehead to the door.
He had to get her out of there.
In the darkness that her eyes had gotten used to, the little girl tensed up as she heard thumping footsteps hurried past her on the other side of the wall. He hadn’t figured out where she was… not yet anyway. She knew it was only a matter of time before she is found. There just wasn’t anywhere to hide.
She curled up tighter in the corner, burying her face into her arms. Her eyes were burning, threatening to spill, but her tears had long dried out. She brought a hand up and rubbed her eyes. Ma had told her she shouldn’t rub her eyes because it was bad for them, but a few more times couldn’t hurt. Her fingers, so cold that they were hurting, were a kind of relief for her swollen lids. She hated this. She felt so miserable.
The wooden walls were thin. Though boggled, her mind was still able to vaguely register his voice as he assured her it was okay; but as much as she wanted to respond— as much as she wanted to trust him, her voice wouldn’t come out, nor would her body move. That place between her legs was still sore, and she still couldn’t understand why things had turned out this way.
The sound of the doorknob turning made her stomach drop.
He was outside. Right outside that door. And he told her to open it. However…
The memory from last night haunted her. She had spent all night replaying them, wondering if she had done something wrong that he had to punish her like that, or if she was just stuck in a bad dream. They had been so happy together, she had been so happy. So… what had gone wrong? It all felt so surreal, yet, at the same time… real. His touch was still palpable on her body and the unfamiliar low hum of his voice still rang her eardrums. Don’t open it. Even if I tell you to. Don’t open it. Don’t open it.
Letting out a choked whimper, she pulled her legs closer to her chest and sank further into the corner. That closed door, it was the only way she knew to protect herself from him. She would not open it.
The metal jingled between his fingers as he exited his bedroom. He held back yet another sigh, feeling as though he was on a death march. It was probably better to wait until she felt secured enough to come out or unlock the door on her own, but he couldn’t bear to just let her be inside that… that freezer. Dressed as she was, there was no way she was fine. He hoped she had made use of the towels he left inside. Though used, at least they would be providing her with a little of the much needed warmth.
As he approached the door, he looked through the keys on the chain and singled out the one labeled bathroom. He never thought the day he finally had a use for these would be for something like this. The key inserted, he slowly turned it inside the doorknob. He tried to do it as quietly as possible, and his heart tightened when a damnable loud chakresounded, announcing that the door was no longer locked.
Suddenly, he wasn’t all too eager to enter.
Garry gripped at the front of his T-shirt, willing his heart to stop. “I-Ib,” he called, his voice shaking still, and waited for the expected silence. He was afraid of what he would find on the other side. “I’m coming in… I’m just coming in, so please don’t be alarmed.”
He grabbed the ice-cold knob and carefully twisted. The door made a cringing creak as he stepped into the darkness inside. The room was freezing. Marble tiles were numbing against his feet and the raw air made his throat hurt. And she had been in here for what could possibly have been the whole night. He wasn’t sure what he was feeling. Worry? Anger? Guilt? Fear? Nausea?
As his eyes adjusted to the lack of light, he could make out a small figure hastily scuttling away from him and into the far corner. His first instinct was to immediately run to her and see if she was all right, but he managed to stop himself. She wasn’t going anywhere. He must not fuck up any more than he already had.
“… Honey, are you all right?” Of course not. She couldn’t be; but what else could he say? “… I’m going to turn on the lights, okay?”
There was no answer. It was most likely a no anyway.
A deep breath.
Garry carefully flicked the switch.
A golden light illuminated the room, and there in the corner across from the shower, she stood looking at him warily. “Ib…” In spite of his better judgment, he found himself striding across the room to get to her. It wasn’t like any more harm could have come to her, seeing as he was the only threat around, but he was still so glad to see and know that she was fine… relatively. He hadn’t missed the way she flinched when he took the first step towards her. She looked like she wanted nothing more than to flee from the spot, her red eyes just begging him not to come near. But he did, and he had never seen her more frightened than now. The look on her face made him stop in his track.
He opened his mouth to speak, but the words died in his throat. He was at a loss of what to say, of what to do, of what to even think.
A clear of hoarse throat. A strained smile. “H-hey… are you cold, sweetie?” Another two steps and she was already in arm length. The girl tried to back further up against the corner. He knew he shouldn’t but he ignored it. Bending his tall frame, he tried to keep his hand from shaking as he offered it to her. “You must be freezing.” Silence. “Come. Let’s… get you changed… and I’ll fix you something hot afterwards.” Silence. “… C-cocoa sounds nice, don’t you think?” His smile was faltering. It didn’t look like she had any intention to take his hand, and her eyes were full of fear. God, he’d really fucked up.
He got down on his knees, right hand still extended. “… Please, Ib,” his voice was but a whisper, choked and beseeching. “Everything’s okay, I promise.”
She was so close. He just wanted to pull her into his embrace right now.
But her hands remained clenched behind her back. Chapped lips pressed into a thin line, she averted her gaze.
It hurt. His chest hurt.
He just wanted her to take his hand. Was that so much to ask?
His hand dropped to his side. His smile was gone now, replaced by a wry look. “I guess it’s too much to ask… eh…” Not good. His voice was breaking. “Gosh…”
Trying to hide his eyes behind his bang, he got to his feet and reached for the towel he had hung on the shower’s door handle. It wasn’t much, but it was better than her current attire. He threw in onto her, frowning as he noticed the way she seemed to shrink away as though she was going to get hit. “Please, just… at least cover yourself up,” he muttered without any strength in his voice and turned on his heel.
He couldn’t remember how he had managed to drag himself out of the bathroom, or how he had come to sit here, knees bent, next to its closed door. What should he do? What should be done? He should get her warmer clothes at least, but would she want anything from him right now? She was supposed to have taken his hand. So irritating. He couldn’t concentrate. So sickening. In his head was a mishmash of images from last night and just now. He remembered how beautiful she had been underneath him, and he remembered the pitiful mess she was now.
Garry wiped his face with his left hand. He didn’t want to use his right hand, leaving it limp next to his thigh. It felt heavy. It was a hand that she didn’t take.
She. Was supposed. To have taken. His. Hand. But she hadn’t.
She looked like she hadn’t gotten a blink of sleep. Her hair seemed to have lost its lovely luster, matte and disheveled; her skin was pasty pale and there were unsightly bags under her swollen eyes. Her eyes, the exquisite red that had always held nothing but admiration for him, now only reflected fear and terror. It was as if she was looking at a monster. In his baggy shirt, her small body only seemed that much more vulnerable as it shook. Yes, she was shaking. Visibly shaking, either from the cold or from his presence – and how he prayed it wasn’t the latter. The corners of his eyes were burning again. If only he could just gather her into his arms and give her all the warmth that he had. If only he could run his fingers through her soft fall and untangle any knots hindering its flow. Anything to ease this gnawing guilt.
She was clearly traumatized. So frangible, so innocent still.
He had hurt this girl he loved so much, and to think a sick, sick part of him had found her pain-filled moans absolutely delightful. To think he had actually felt proud he was making her ‘feel’ for the first time. He couldn’t breathe. This guilt was crushing him. Something. He had to do something. He should just go back inside, grab her and make sure she was okay. There was nothing wrong. He knew what was best, after all. In the first place, things had gotten to this point because she hadn’t listened to him.
He could keep telling himself that, or he could come to terms with the fact that he’d screwed up. Not only his life, but hers as well. Garry torpidly combed his hair back, hugging his head.
The seconds oozed by in dead silence. He kept staring out in front. This was no time to stay idle, he knew, but he couldn’t seem to give a damn. Screw his benefactor. Everything was over anyway. The man could withdraw all the benefits and kick him out for all he cared. She was the only reason he’d been forcing himself to stay here. His only concern now was taking care of her, but she didn’t even want him near.
Then again, it didn’t have to be him now, did it? Since when had he started to think so highly of himself? Surely, it was ever since he managed to comfort her whereas her parents failed to. Well, time to wake up. Let alone being the only one, he wasn’t even fit to be caring for her.
With much reluctance, Garry took out his phone and dialed.