The little girl ignored the words of the woman following her and walked on.
She refused to accept it, because they had a bond.
But when she stood in front of his door and the hideous silence continued to stretch, she became slower and slower. So slow that reality caught up to her with a vicious tackle. Her vision blurred, she tried the bell again, as though pressing it enough times would somehow make him appear. And he would welcome her with open arms like he always did. But it was impossible. “Please…” Her voice cracked. She pressed her forehead to the cold door as hot drops spilled.
The girl was in pain. When he’d left, the man had torn out a part of her and took it with him.
Because the misshapen pair of handcuffs never had a key…
The metal railing was cold when she leant against it and gathered her legs near her chest. The pleated skirt and thick knee-high socks provided by the school’s winter uniform had never been enough to keep her warm. She shrank into her sweater and pulled her muffler up past her nose to warm the freezing tip, sniffling from a sneeze that had fallen short.
Winter break had ended and the weather was supposed to be good enough for schools to start again.
From under the shelter of moldy red shingles, she watched the rain water down the garden. The plip and plop of raindrops into small puddles that had formed somewhere out of sight made for a pleasant acoustic on top of the monotonous drizzling. She eyed the wet ground before her and thought longingly about the time of late spring, coming onto summer, when she would be able to stretch her legs on the grassy green and enjoy the warm sunlight filtering through thick foliage.
She also thought about how she was still spending recess alone. Things hardly changed, yet it felt different.
The girl let out a slow breath through her lips for some fleeting warmth inside her muffler and closed her eyes. The quietude relaxed her. She rested her face into the fold of her arms.
A distant round of laughter was carried by the wind to her. She had never liked her peers’ rowdiness, but from afar, it was a white noise hum that she appreciated. She could be at ease alone, knowing that she was not truly so.
The languid mood embraced her and colored her mind in darkness.
“Ib…” She cringed, swallowing with difficulty as her heart clambered in its pace. A chilling breeze stroked her into huddling up tighter. She felt exposed. Her clothes were doing a bad job at shielding her. She hugged her legs closer, making sure they were closed.
The voice that broke the silence startled her. It came from above. She looked up to see green eyes and a somewhat defeated smile.
The boy had himself propped up behind the balusters, arms folded on the top railing to support his chin. “You’re out here again, huh?”
“Hi.” Ib greeted with little enthusiasm, but she doubted Ray noticed.
Ray climbed the railing and dropped down next to her. He took his seat by her side, commenting on how cold it was, before flashing a bright smile that was somehow jarring for her current thoughts. She appreciated him coming, as she would have been too reserved to approach him on her own, but right now talking with him was…off.
“Man, you were so quick to disappear. I was gonna come talk to you but when I turned around you were—” he made an exploding gesture, “poof.”
“Naw, you already showed me this hideout so finding you was easy-peasy.”
She watched him grin and felt it tug at the corners of her lips. It was one of the things she liked about Ray. His smile was infectious, and he always seemed to radiate with a positivity and confidence that she didn’t have.
Her gaze drifted, any mirth that might have been inspired in her vanishing without a trace.
The past few weeks had been…off…but Ib couldn’t pinpoint what she wanted to complain about. She came to Garry’s apartment more times than she had the past few months. His rejections were no longer a concern, and she got to spend time with him to her heart’s content. They did the things they had always done.
The macarons outings and afternoon walks…
Simple lunches and hot cocoas…
The occasional sleepovers….
He did everything she wanted, though with scant hesitation. Reading her to sleep, long hugs whenever she was comfortable. She was being spoiled rotten.
But then…there was the silence.
She didn’t use to mind when Garry was silent, but now it was the scariest thing he could do. Even as she curled up next to his sleeping form and tug him near, he still didn’t feel as close as she’d like him to.
There was a line that hadn’t been there before. Though he kept smiling, his face so dear, assuring her nothing was wrong, she found herself wondering if there was something he wasn’t telling her. Being with Garry was becoming something short of an addiction— No, it had always been such. She just never realized until it was threatened to be taken away.
“And we had to end the ski trip early.” Ray finished his story of colorful gesticulation. It was nice how he could go on and on so naturally. “Anyways, I talked too much about myself. Hey, how’s it going with that guy we talked about?”
Ib stared at the look of interest on the boy’s face.
“…We made up. Thanks to you.”
She wasn’t lying.
Ray didn’t hide his smug grin as he boasted about how ‘awesome’ he was, and that she could talk to him anytime she needed help. Ib nodded along, grateful for his company. She noticed that his eyes were on the green grass, and his legs were dangling at a fast pace. She could already hear the sloshing of his flats, and see the telltale mud-framed prints that would be trailing behind him later on.
Ib felt her smile return.
Sunday had arrived at the speed of dripping molasses, and Ib couldn’t be any more impatient as she watched the numbers light up one after the other, until the metal doors parted and let her in. She rode the elevator to the second floor and got out into the quiet hallway. It was early in the morning, but her cold bed hadn’t been any comfort when she awoke with a sweaty pillow. Her parents were sound asleep, tired from another late business dinner; so after telling Mrs. Turner about where she was heading, she’d bolted out before the middle-age woman could have had the chance to stop her.
Ib knew she was going to get scolded for this, but for the moment she didn’t care. Garry was all that was on her mind. She missed him terribly, and their daily phone calls had been of little satisfaction.
As she walked down the long corridor, she could hear chatters echoing off the walls. Her strides slowed as her ears strained. There was laughter in their whispered tones that made it hard to understand what was being said. By the time she got into a better hearing range, the conversation had already ceased.
“Why, hello,” an older girl emerged around the corner as Ib neared it, with a small purse tuck under her arm. There was a familiar smell wafting somewhere.
Not one to speak to strangers, Ib returned the greeting with a small bow and carried on.
Stopping in front of his door, she rang the bell.
“Did you— Ib?” he appeared concerned on top of his surprised expression, bending down to her level. “What’s wrong? Why are you here so early?”
Garry brushed her cheek, his touch feathery light, and she leaned into his large palm until he withdrew it to run his fingers through her bangs. He was so gentle and kind. She still had trouble understanding how he could have been so cruel that night.
He must’ve sensed that something was wrong from her silence, because he asked, almost cautiously, “Do your parents know you’re here?”
Ib pressed her lips into a thin line, and Garry stifled a sigh. He got back up to his towering height and had a hand behind her back. “Let’s just get inside first, hon. You must be cold.”
She complied, but clung to him as she did so. She could feel him stiffen in reaction to the contact, but paid it no mind and immersed herself in his scent.
Oh, it was the smell of lavender.
His breath was stuck in his windpipe as he watched the haunting red of her eyes through hooded lids. With both hands she cupped his chin. She was exploring; her fingers curious and smelling of candy, tracing his mouth with tantalizing caresses. For one moment, he was afraid to move, to even let the air escape his lungs lest he frighten her back into her shell. But the next, he wanted to encourage her—let her know she could do no wrong.
He took her wrist in a tender grip and pressed her palm more readily to his lips, a gratifying breath drawn between small fingers.
Closer, he wanted to be.
Running his hand up the length of her slender leg, past her soft curve and dipped down to the small of her back, he secretly wished the skimpy layer of clothes wasn’t there. Everything was slow as he gauged her reaction. When her eyes spoke of wonderment, it fanned the flame gnawing away at his restraints. He pulled her hip to his, until her arms struggled to move, and their breaths mingled as one.
He invaded the last of the distance between them and nuzzled her frail column, feeling her voice vibrate against his nose. He kissed her jaw, her cheek, whispered love into her ear, and felt her skin. And finally, he tasted her lips. Briefly, but painfully sweet.
“Garry,” she called his name when they parted, and he listened. Anything for her.
Her eyes were impassive, neither inviting nor rejecting. He felt like leaning in for another.
“You promised you wouldn’t do this anymore,” she muttered.
Garry opened his eyes to the bright interior of the living room, recounting to himself that he’d fallen asleep sitting at the couch. Last night hadn’t given him much rest. He lowered his knuckles from his face and sat up straight to exercise his stiff shoulders. The rattling of his joints was much welcomed.
He brought his hand across his chest to rest over where his heart resided and was pulsing with anxiety. Sunday mornings were so peaceful that it curried unease, and the quietness only made the noise all the more apparent.
He got up for a drink of water before returning to his room, where it was still dark thanks to the heavy curtain. Making sure to avoid the pile of old bed sheet dumped on the floor, he came up to the child snoozing away on his pillow. Ib hadn’t gotten much sleep either, it seemed. Though he was happy to have her over and trust him enough to fall into sound slumber, her timing left much to be desired.
Their relationship would soon crumble one day; he could feel it sneaking up to them. Ib, too, was growing more restless and demanding. It hurt too much to think about the end, but he was becoming an expert at distracting himself.
He set his glass down on the nightstand and joined her on the bed, careful not to wake her with the mattress shifting. As though sensing his presence, she stirred and snuggled up to him. The way she did so, he thought, was absolutely adorable. He brushed a few strands of hair away from her face and played with the shell of her ear. He swallowed and bit his bottom lip. Thinking about blue dolls for a bit, he then bent down to kiss her forehead.
I promised, didn’t I?
He would have to tell her parents soon. But for the time being, Garry would savor each moment they were allowed together.
- blue dolls = Garry’s newest de-boning tactic. lol