The room was dark, dimly lit by the late afternoon sunlight that leaked in through the gaps between the large curtains covering the window wall. He sat on the edge of his bed with the thick blanket loosely draped over his naked waist, staring at the unfamiliar phone in his hand. His thumb swiftly traced over the keypad, then went to pin at the power button, so hard he could feel the material caving in under the force. Soon, the screen turned black and he chucked the device onto the nightstand.
With a muffled grunt, he stabbed a hand through his shaggy mop.
He brought his gaze up, away from the dull wooden floor beneath his feet, and tried to observe the garden through the crack between the two curtains, seeking the peace of mind it always offered. A lost cause. He couldn’t seem to calm down, feeling irritated for no reason. The AC whirred, breathing the chilliness onto his bare skin, making his skin crawl uncomfortably. He disliked the cold, but turning on the AC seemed like a good idea before.
Garry felt the bed shift. Fighting a frown, he turned his head slightly to look over his shoulder as two slender arms snaked around his torso and warm skin pressed against his cold back. The girl rested her chin into the crook of his neck, snuggling her head against his jaw.
“Who was that?” she crooned. “You seem serious.”
“I’m done, Scarl.” he said in a sigh, gently prying her hands from his chest.
“Well gee, I just thought you looked cold.” she persisted, tightening her embrace and chuckling. “You are cold,” her voice purred. “I like cold.”
“Alright, alright.” the girl pulled away from him and slid back under the blanket.
Garry, relieved, stood up and walked around the bed to pick up his clothes left lying on the floor. He threw his shirt onto the bed and hastily thrust his legs though the pair of black boxers. There was an uncanny urge to quickly get dressed and do something, he just wasn’t sure what. Regardless, he grabbed his dark jeans and started to put them on.
“Ib,” he froze in mid action as a velvety voice he knew all too well said from behind. “Was that the little girl you were always talking about? You sounded really frantic.”
He turned around and met with an inquisitive red gaze. Scarlet was lying on her side in his bed; her hand supporting her chin up from the pillow. Her long fall of dyed silver blond hair was offering a fair view of her bosom, blending nicely with her pale complexion. She wore a playful look that made her vermillion eyes glitter impishly.
Garry proceeded to put on the jeans, stifling another sigh. “You eavesdropped.” he accused.
“You woke me up.” she quipped.
“… I thought you left already.” Garry said as he buttoned his jeans, not looking at her.
“Well~ normally I would,” she trailed off cutely. “But you were sooo good today I just naturally fell asleep.”
He narrowed his eyes at her, at a loss for words.
The girl raised her brows at him in a smug smile as she pushed the blanket past her legs and climbed off the bed in a quick motion. Garry immediately averted his gaze from her as she remained completely unashamed about baring her curves. At this, Scarlet giggled, sauntering towards him with hands knitted behind her back.
“Quit getting embarrassed, it’s not like you haven’t seen all of me already.” she said as she pinched his cheek. “How cute.”
Garry jerked his head away from her hand. He kept his eyes strictly on his wrinkled white shirt as he continued to put it on. “A girl should be mindful and cover herself when there’s a man around.”
“Oh?” She placed her hands onto her hips and huffed. “A man should just be grateful and stare when there’s a beautiful naked girl around.”
His face fell. “Don’t you have practice this evening?” Garry glanced at her only for a moment as he fixed his shirt so that it fit him better. “Wouldn’t wanna keep you.”
“Boo, shooing me as soon as you’re done. Meanie.” Scarlet stuck her tongue out at him as she bounced pass. “Fine, I’m using the bathroom.”
He heard the sound of the door open and his body relaxed. Dealing with Scarlet always tired him out.
Garry hung his head and rubbed the back of his neck as he walked up to the bed. He gathered the blanket into a messy black lump at the foot of the bed to straighten the sheet underneath. He could still feel the lingering warmth as he wiped his hand over the smooth surface.
I feel sick.
“You know,” her voice startled him. Knowing Scarlet would never speak unless she got the listener’s full attention, Garry turned to face her, without much zeal. She was poking her head through the threshold with a serious expression on her face. “You like this is hot, but I like my cheery friend better.” The girl wagged a finger at him. “Turn back soon, Garbear.”
Once again left alone, Garry heaved yet another sigh and folded his arms, looking down at the still wrinkled surface of his dark bed sheet. He bit at the inside of his lips as the memories of mere hours ago replayed in his mind: the soft skin against his, the slender body in his embrace, the warmth that wrapped around him, the sweet moans grazing his earlobes… the orbs of crimson hazed with passion looking back at him.
He put a hand to his face.
I feel sick.
The phone on his desk started ringing, pulling his attention away from the book he was holding. He shifted the book into one hand and reached for the device. As soon as he saw the screen, he dropped the phone and leant back against his chair to resume his reading.
Garry pressed his lips together, suppressing a groan.
The phone continued to ring, and with every second it did, he became more and more taut. He began tapping his finger at the hard cover; his favourite melody was turning into a source of annoyance. He refused to pay it any heed, doing his best to block out the only sound in his quiet study. At last, the persistent ringing stopped. His body relaxed and he finally turned the page.
He clicked his tongue and began stripping the bed sheet with unneeded haste.
He found himself staring at the phone that now sat in silence on his desk, as though expecting something. He swallowed, closing the book, and took the phone into his hand.
Taking long strides towards the washing machine, Garry quickly stuffed the large bed cloth inside and closed the lid.
He ended the call; disappointment clogging his mind. His jaw hardened. The phone was thrown to the ground.
“Oh wow, geez.” a feminine voice exclaimed from behind just as he pressed the start button on the washing machine. Garry turned around, acknowledging the blonde standing right behind him with a mixture of surprise and confusion on his face.
Scarlet was wearing his dark green tank top together with black shorts, which was also his. Her hair was damp from the shower; a sweet fragrance of his lavender shampoo softly emanating from her. The girl crossed her arms and shifted her weight onto one leg, her other foot tapping on the wooden floor. “Is this a new way of bullying, Garbear?” She asked with an undecipherable smile, looking down at the bed cloth being washed through the semi-transparent lid.
“Bullying?” Garry raised one eyebrow and placed a hand onto his hip as he followed her gaze, then looking back at her. “What?”
Her lips stretching into a mischievous smirk, she looked up at him with observant red eyes. “You’re not washing the sheet because I was on it, are you? You were always so lazy to wash it before.”
Does it show?
“Of course not,” he laughed, patting her silvery head. “It’s been a while since I washed it. Such a chore it is.” He lowered his gaze away from her, busying himself with rolling up his long sleeve. “I gotta head out soon so I thought I’d do it now.”
“Really,” she daintily rubbed her chin. “You’ve been acting weird. I wouldn’t put it past you. Maybe you secretly hate me now.”
“I’m sorry you’re friends with a two-faced douche.” Garry said with mock anger, inducing a soft giggle from the girl as she trotted away.
“I’m late. See ya.”
“Please remember to return my clothes, hon.”
Scarlet stopped just outside the room and turned back to him, catching his gaze. “I was gone for barely half a year, and you’re different.” She said quietly, her following words completely catching him off guard. “Is it because of Ib?”
Garry just stared back at her, eyes wide, unable to voice an answer, if he could come up with any at all.
Does it show?
The girl smiled and tilted her head in a cutesy manner. “I liked your smell when you were still smoking. Shame you quit for your little dear.”
“O-oh…” he barely kept himself from stuttering, scratching his cheek. “Well, it’s not exactly proper to smoke around a child.”
“Nyeh, it was the only thing manly about you.” Scarlet shrugged. “I’ll return your clothes when you finally let me meet the little dear. Bye~” She winked and blew him a kiss before disappearing from the threshold.
“Remind me who’s the mean one again!” he shouted after her.
Garry continued to wait beside the washing machine. Although Scarlet liked to act laid-back in front of everyone, himself included, she was actually very serious. He knew she would even ruin her schedule to keep up with her charade, so he just stood and listened to the sound of footsteps hurrying across the floor until he heard the front door being slammed shut. It was then that he finally left the room.
He scanned his eyes around the spacious living room, holding in a sigh. The dead silence was back, and along with it was the emptiness. Seeing Scarlet again had been a nice distraction from this tenacious feeling he’d been having as of late, but he couldn’t fully ignore it in the end. Something was missing, and he was afraid to address the matter.
He was different? Being next to Ib had undoubtedly changed him, but for better or worse, he wasn’t sure. Caring for her had brought him many beautiful emotions he hadn’t thought was possible for him, but it also gave birth to ugly ponders. Since when had his smiles ceased to be sincere? Since when had he stopped seeing her as a child? It wasn’t like this before. Things were simpler, just staying by her side was enough.
Just what do I want?
Garry flopped down on the sofa in a torpid manner, ensconcing himself. He felt… scared.
He eyed the hourglass still perching atop of the television; the cobalt sand was draining from the upper bulb again despite him having tipped the ornament over. Scarlet must have put it up. Anyone would have. Because time was supposed to flow.
If only it would stop…
“Anything else? How about trying out the new flavour?” Lucy said from behind the counter with a bright business smile as she handed him a bag of macarons.
“No thanks, what kind of candy has curry flavour?” Garry answered weakly, accepting the sweets. He was still amazed by how the stylish Lucifer of the fashion department had turned in to a dull ordinary shopkeeper just because she wanted to avoid getting recognised by their friends. Girls changed so easily it was scary.
Ib… was also a girl.
He hadn’t seen her for barely a week, but it felt like an eternity. He felt like an empty shell. He missed talking with her, missed her silent company. He still remembered the disappointment that had seeped from her voice over the phone as he’d turned her down time and time again.
In a small corner of his mind was a hope that she would eventually give up, but he knew it was unlikely. He knew she cared, he knew she would persist and let his rejection eat her up for days and days on, but still he did it anyways. He was just scared to meet her, to see and hear her changes. The little girl was growing up, but he found it hard to accept the fact. Garry hated himself for that. He was never the bravest of men, but this kind of cowardice was inexcusable.
Exiting the café, Garry pulled his muffler a little higher up his face to battle the cold wind. It was getting dark. Tomorrow would soon come, and it’d be another meaningless day without her.
“Garry.” an unmistakable voice called out to him just as he was about to leave, freezing him to the very core. He slowly turned around to see her standing just a few feet away; her small form so adorable in her white dress-coat. Her long chocolate fall swayed in the wind, her cheeks slightly flushed from the cold. Her face was vacant as usual, but he could see the delight glimmering in her eyes as she approached him.
He wanted to run away.
“Oh, hi Ib. How are you?” he greeted, slightly bending down to her level. “Are you running errands for Ma again?”
“Yeah.” she answered simply.
“Isn’t that nice?” Garry stroked her hair, albeit reluctantly. It had always been the most natural thing for him to do, petting her small head, but somehow the action felt wrong now. Swallowing, he mindfully retracted his hand and straightened his stance.
“…” Ib stared up at him; calm burgundy irises boring into his blue ones. He could sense the hesitation hidden behind her expressionless mask. “Garry…”
“Well, now. You should hurry along.” he beamed at her, taking a step back as he prepared to leave. “Get home soon so Ma wouldn’t worry, kay?”
Her hand shot out and grabbed on to his; her small grasp barely encasing his fingers. The warmth from her palm sent a sudden chill along his arm, and he stopped short of snatching his hand away. His eyes wide, he looked down at her, finding himself unable to look away from her.
Garry willed his gaze to move and ended up staring at her hand. There, he noticed something white peeking from under her sleeve.
“Aaaah!” He half-screamed, startling the little girl as he stooped down and shoved the obstructing sleeve up her arm to reveal a large bandage plastered against her pale skin. Half wanting to touch it, half not lest he hurt her, Garry settled with frantically glancing from her to the bandage and back at her. “W-what happened? Ib, how did you get this? Is it painful? How long have you got this? Who did this to you?”
“I’m okay.” Ib answered. “It doesn’t hurt anymore.”
Garry exhaled, gently brushing his fingers over the bandage. “That’s good to know.” He smiled at her.
“Thanks, Garry.” she replied. He could see the smile hidden behind her calm eyes, it made his heart quickened and he was reminded of the dilemma momentarily forgotten. His body fell stiff as he let go of her and slowly rose to his full height. Pretending not to notice her pleading gaze, he shook his hand free from her grip as subtly as possible. He wished he didn’t have to pretend, he wished he wasn’t so good at reading her emotions. She might not show it, but he could see how much his callousness was affecting her.
“That’s good.” he reiterated, not knowing much more to say. He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his coat… just in case. “You should go now.”
“Can’t I come to your place today?” her words came unexpectedly. It was the same question she’d always asked, why was it so different now?
“… Sorry, not today, hon.” He strained a smile at her, trying to salvage any fibre of her feelings. It didn’t work. Ib looked so devastated that he couldn’t bear to face her anymore. His smile faltered and he lowered his gaze to the ground beside him. “Not today.”
“Oh, right. I’ll give you these. Just don’t tell Ma or eat them before dinner, or she will get mad at me, kay?” Garry pressed the bag of macarons into her arms, putting a finger to his lips. However, the little girl hesitated to accept the candies, only looking back at him with glazed eyes. The sight gripped at his heart.
He swallowed and brought his other hand over hers; she was so warm. Firmly wrapping her fingers around the bag, he made sure she held it to her chest.
“I gotta go now. Bye, sweetie.”
He strode away, not daring to look back. The image of her hurt and confused face hovered at the front of his mind, and his determined pace falter. He wanted so much to just turn back and remedy this situation. She probably just wanted his company for a bit, and the café where they usually met up was right there. A few minutes wouldn’t hurt…
He slowed to a stop, on the verge of turning around. He’d noticed, there were unbefitting dark rings under her eyes, telltale of her sleepless nights. She was having nightmares again, just like him. Ib still needed him, as he did her. However, it just wasn’t the same anymore.
Don’t make me turn back.
Garry balled his hands into fists and walked on.
- Scarlet’s hair is dyed white
- Garry had known Scarlet for a while through others, but they only got to be close barely 1 year back