“Ib~,” sweet as honey was the voice that sang her name. “Oh, I~b.”
Cold. The cloudy winter afternoon gave birth to chilly breezes that prickled her cheeks pink. She shuddered, sinking her face into the warmth of her red muffler as she passed by a few students flocking together in joyous banter. A trace of flowing gold from the corner of her vision captured her attention; she turned around, eyes immediately locking onto a short figure in the middle of the small crowd. Cladded in the dark green blazer intended for the upperclassmen, the sight of the blonde girl roused a great anxiety inside Ib. She trained her eyes on the girl, growing increasingly wary. Her heart did a violent flip as the blonde suddenly spun around to face with her friend in the group, but as soon as she registered the older girl’s unfamiliar face, she relaxed. There was no way it was possible. She mentally scolded herself for being so on edge.
Ib resumed her aimless stroll on the school ground, her calm demeanour never betraying the abnormal heart rate still booming in her ears. She tried to slow her erratic breathing as she walked, swiftly closing her eyes in discomfort. The rim of her lids stung as she stifled a yawn; the fatigue only grew. Ib wanted so much a place where she could doze off inconspicuously. Bringing her gaze to the old corridor leading to the back of the academy, she came to a stop. Despite its unsightly entrance, the garden behind the school was actually a very nice place with a beautiful carpet of green grass, innumerable vines crawling along the wall, coiling around the pillars and lush bushes of jasmine. She loved wandering there during breaks, just passing time in that little sanctuary, wondering if she could ever show Garry the peaceful sight. People barely came to the back garden, which suited her just fine; she could be free with her daydream and not be bothered by another’s presence. However, that pleasant solitude now seemed so intimidating.
Wooden frames dragging across the worn carpet, plastic hands smearing windows with messy red, metal edge screeching against the hard cement wall. Shaking and tearful, she squeezed further into the corner behind the dusty shelf as though it would erase her existence.
“Come on out Ib,” the girl crooned, tone so mellifluous it sounded insane.
A sudden nudge at her shoulder shook her back to the present and she quickly addressed the perpetrator, her mind steeled for the possibility of it being another one of her bullies. However, it was only a random upperclassman who swiftly apologized and hurried away. Before she could fully comprehend the situation, she was once again pushed from behind; this time the force sent her wobbling forward. As soon as she regained balance, she whipped around to a halfhearted sorry from a boy who then immediately darted away to continue in whatever game he was playing. Still disorientated, she took a step back, but could never complete the motion as her back had collided with another’s. The other girl shot her a glare and walked on.
Maybe she shouldn’t have dazed off in the middle of the school ground.
Ib let out a short breath and paced towards a large tree where traffic wasn’t as hectic. To her misery, however, the air beneath the leaf canopy was considerably colder. It would have to do, she couldn’t go to the back garden now that she was so spooked.
The nightmares were back, haunting her sleep. Night after night, she was jolted awake by vivid horror that gripped at her weary mind. Her parents had started giving her worried looks again, asking her what was wrong, but she only shook her head. They didn’t know about the nightmares, she had never told them, and she had never screamt. She wished she did. It would be so much better to be held, to have someone to cling onto in the darkness of the night upon waking from those frightening visions.
“Say Ib,” the blonde said quietly, seated right in front of her. Gleaming azure eyes stared back at her as the other girl tilted her head in a smile. “Why him?”
Ib went around the tree and slumped down behind it, pulling her knees to her chest. She felt so lost and helpless; as if she was nine again, memories of the terror in the gallery were fresh in her mind. No one could ever understand what she was going through, what she had gone through. Only him. He wasn’t here.
These past days, she couldn’t meet up with Garry at all; their afternoon outings a distant memory. “Sorry… I can’t.” he’d said, and that was it. No explanations, no excuses. To say it was wrong would be an understatement. He was the talkative one, he was supposed to tell her something more. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to hear from him, she just wanted to hear him. She missed his voice, his laughter. She missed being with him, missed their time together, missed their proximity.
Garry felt like a stranger now; his gaze faraway, his smiles strained. It was as if a huge transparent wall had slowly built itself between them. She didn’t even dare call out to him if she happened to see him on the street anymore, too afraid of being rejected again.
“He’s abandoned you, don’t you see? He’s tired of you.” words were grated through gritted teeth, nails digging into her arms. “Should’ve chosen me. I promised we’d be together forever.”
She placed a hand over the nonexistent crescent marks on her arm, fighting a melancholic frown that wouldn’t have shown on her stoic face.
Garry wouldn’t do that… would he? She knew him, she told herself, Garry wouldn’t do that. Still, a corner of her mind was plagued with doubts. She thought back to the nightmares…
“Ib!” a voice pierced through her thoughts and the world came back into focus as she lifted her head to meet with striking green eyes. She blinked, jerking her head back in a fraction of an inch. “Finally. Sheesh, you have any idea how many times I called you?”
“… Ray,” she addressed the boy stooping in front of her, stuttering as she tried to adjust to reality. “H-hi… Sorry…?”
“No biggie.” he waved it off with a bright smile. “So, what’s up? You seem down.”
“Uhm…” Ib pressed her lips together, swallowing. She urged herself to speak something, anything, but she only drew a blank. Her gaze started to drift as she twiddled her fingers; her mind a jumbled up mess in spite of her collected mien.
“You’re sitting alone again,” Ray stated with a curious look. “Do you not like being around others?”
Her mouth opened slightly, taking in a short breath, but then closed. She wondered where she should start, or if she should even start at all.
“Oh geez, speak up would you?” he stood up straight, clasping his hands behind his head and looked away, frowning.
“S-sorry.” Ib hastily muttered, but her voice was drowned out by the noisy vicinity, never heard by the boy.
She hung her head, subconsciously tightened the hug around her legs. Once again, she had lost the chance to speak, just like many times before. Tongue-tied, then silence, and the other party lost interest in her.
She had forgotten that no one would wait for her.
“Hey, Ray. You coming?” a call from afar pulled at her attention. It was a boy whom she didn’t recognize, but Ray seemed to do. Together with the thought was a pang of envy. Ray made friends so easily, even with people outside of their class. Before, Ib never cared to have friends, but being with Garry had changed that. She realized she didn’t mind another’s company that much, appreciated it actually. Meeting Mary in that twisted gallery, speaking with her were surprisingly refreshing experiences, even when things had soon turned sour.
The other boy quickly glanced over his shoulder and motioned for Ray to come. “Hurry up dude, it’s about to start!”
Ib glanced at him as he cupped hands around his mouth. He was going to leave, she knew. Yet, a sense of disappointment still roiled within her. It was fine, she was used to it. No one would wait for her, only Garry…
“Nah, you guys go!” her head perked up at the replying shout, wide ruby orbs stared up at the boy before her.
“… You’re not going?” she asked, albeit hesitantly.
Ray raised a brow at her, scratching his cheek. “Er, yeah… we’re still talking, right? ‘sides, they just want a rematch,” he shrugged nonchalantly and added. “Talking to you is way more fun.”
Ib could only look, stupefied.
“You wanna go to a quieter place?” the blond offered, pivoting his head to look around. “Or can we just sit here and talk about what’s troubling you?”
Squatting down closely beside her, he rustled her hair. “You can tell me anything, y’know. I’ll be sure to listen.”
“You don’t have to rush, hon.” he had patted her head. “I’m not going anywhere.”
A sense of familiarity.
“Just tell me something.” A kind smile, a calm soothing voice. “I’m listening.”
“… Why?” she asked in a daze; memories were being overlapped without her realizing it.
“My, because I want to hear you lovely little voice, and well…”
“Eh, cuz you barely ever speak, but…”
Absentmindedly, yet tentatively, she listened.
“I want to know more about you.”
The world seemingly forgotten, all she could see was his bright smile. Inside her chest, a pleasant rhythm became palpable; the heavy weight suddenly vanished, replaced with a comforting rapt. Her mind was nigh empty, her lips stretched into the faintest hint of a smile and she lifted her hand from its rest on her knee. Catching his gentle green gaze, her stomach fluttered. Undeniably, she liked him.
“… There.” She pointed at the old corridor.
- Ib’s nightmares often consist of Mary, while Garry’s usually concern dolls