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When the Sun Rises in the West

Summary

Words are wind. One kept saying forever, and now he disappeared.
This one, like a medicine, healed my broken soul. But how could I trust this would mean forever?

 

Loire is a young woman who quit her job to follow her dream but that meant the instability of finance and career but she feels fortunate to have a man like Billie, her long-time boyfriend and the source of encouragement and inspiration, with her. However, one day, she found out that her world twists. Billie is not a man she knows anymore and her only source of energy ghosts from her life. At that time, she put all her effort to make the revolution and to survive. Luck departs like forever and it nearly cost her life when a Lamborghini crash the bridge where she stands, causing the collision and she fell into the cold river. Loire is almost dead but a hand rescued her. Gale, the rescuer, saved her life and kindly offered to send her home. Loire begins to perceive the strangeness of this world. In horror, someone like her already backs home. Gale asked if she was her twin. But Loire has no twin.

 

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Chapter 1

Both of my hands lingered above the keyboard; idea blocked again. It was impossible to write a story when the stress consumed all over my body. I could sense Ashley’s eyes, her worry; her insecurity about my future, all of them.

“Loire, we’re going.” My mother came towards me, gave a soft hug, and she got in the car and sat on the driver’s seat with my father sitting next to her. I watched the old silver Toyota aged ten disappeared from my view. Even I was there, far from them, I could hear what they were talking about me in the car.

I closed the door and stopped to ponder for a while. The cold wind of the first day of December did not bother me. Fortunately, we lived in the south where the sun shone brightly and just the cold wind took a visit in winter, not storms and snow. It was easier for me to take care of my babies…I mean the plants and had tended. Could you guess what was I thinking now? No, you could because my mind was empty. I only stared blankly at the plant nursery that I had built before quitting my job. It was that big, a size of a small studio apartment like a tiny fairly elf’ realm where my babies looked great, strong and beautiful. Those roses proudly presented its elegant red color. The sweet camellias were a little bit shy so they hid their intense pink behind the blue wisteria and white lily. They were for home garden decoration because I did not have enough space to grow them in a large number.

I protected them well like a mother.

It was a year that I worked at home, growing the plant and writing for sale. To be correct, I earned from the first one more than the second one. Ashley always worried about me. I was twenty-five now and still lived under their protection like a five-year-old child. I was one-hundred percent aware of my own financial instability. I meant I could hang out with friends and buy my own stuff but not too much. As the oldest child and the only one who could make good grades, Ashley put all her hope and dream on me. But it was not easy not to be myself so I quit my job as a chairman assistant to be a wanna-be writer and a garden plant seller. She was the best mother and I loved her so much. But like other parents, although she did not force me to do anything not even reshape my dream, she wanted to see me fly up high. Sadly, this girl was a penguin.

Looked back at the screen, I decided to delete all stupid sentences. Last week, a printing house rejected my manuscript with a comment that it could not be sold. Sometimes I wanted to know how to write the story that could be sold. Not everybody loved my fantasy. To make the dream come true sounded impossible to me which contradicted to what I had imagined myself when I was a little girl. Human has a limit lifetime and my time was running out every day.

The notification on my phone beeped. There only two senders, sales promotion or Billie, my boyfriend. And tada…Billie. He said he missed me and confirmed the date in this evening. Such a sweet guy. Seven years of relationship, he became my lover and best friend. While my parents had no faith in me, he had. Even though we had different tastes in movies, music, and some social ideals, we tried to find the balance. During the fourth year of our relationship, I had felt he was not the right man but I put all my effort to fix this thought and now I knew my effort granted me the best man of the world. Why had I thought like that?... I don’t know either. At that time, he did not do anything wrong, perhaps because of our difference or lack of chemistry but I made my mind that if I continued to think like this, any new relationship would not help. It was my though that tried to kill our love. ‘Believe in what we choose’ was my anthem so instead of letting the boredom consumed me; I revolved the way of my thinking. This was the secret Billie had never known. He was too good and I must change myself to be the best girl for him. You can’t be a good lover if you don’t know how to give. If we lacked sugar, I filled it. 

“I-love-you-see-you-to-night,” I mumbled while typing. He was the only water that freshened up my spirit. I wanted to meet him now and kissed him but the problem still existed. Even I felt lucky to have him as my lover but when we met and we kissed, I did not feel like going further.

Perhaps because ‘we’ needed longer times to spend with each other when these days, we still had a date like fourteen-year-old couples, it was a little embarrassing and my friends kept telling jokes about this issue.

And Adrien had not got up yet. What a sleeping prince! My younger brother enrolled in a graduate school because our mother hoped to see one of us obtaining a master degree. As I said she did not force us but she had the ability to convey that she was right.  Ashley was an Asian-American and she had been raised by very strict conservative parents who now became my grandparents. Even though she did not force us as same as the way she had been through, Ashley had secretly set our life goals.

The bell rang. I dashed towards the front gate that made of pine woods, slid the door, and saw the only one loyal customer, Mrs. Lodge. She revealed her bright smile once seeing my face.

“Good morning, my dear.”

“Good morning, madam.” I invited her inside. Mrs. Lodge was one and only loyal customer I had. She loved trees and every time she came she spent a lot. I crossed my fingers every day just to have more five customers that were exactly like her. Guiding this lady to my baby’s territory, no surprise, she was fascinated by many new blooming flowers. “I know who imprisons the spring now” complimented she. Of course, as I mentioned before, It was winter but my babies were fresh and strong as if I could cage spring and summer in my nursery. She talked about her son who would get married next month with a young smart lawyer.

“…I can’t wait for that day. Time flies so fast. My baby boy will become a groom and a husband to a girl I admire. They’re the happiness couples and rely on my taste. They want me to decorate their dream garden. And who said about stony sculptures? No! These children are the best decorations. Look how they grow! Oh, your roses…” She drew her hands around like a fairy god mother in Cinderella animation but I loved listening to her, especially when she complimented my flowers. “Thanks God, we both live in the place where winter can’t stop these children grow.”

“She loves the violet color, my dear Loire.”

“I had some blue wisteria that is almost purple and…” I guided her to the orchid areas. There were a few groups of beautiful orchids hanging. “Here all my Vanda. Some are blue and some are violet but I think it can give the perception of violet if they are together.”

Mrs. Lodge mumbled to herself, walking around, arranging her imaginative terrace while her hands were drawing in the air. She was the real tree lovers. All good plants that defined to good meanings she must have it. A few minutes, the old lady snapped her fingers and said, “I take them all,” bright beam. Mrs. Lodge had never failed me. “This is because your plants are stronger than the others. My husband always forgets to water it, and they’re still fine. None of your plant's withers. Don’t worry I will find another. I’ll be your customer forever.” She touched my chin and walked to see the white cattleya.

I always appreciated her sportsmanship in shopping but none of this could be compared to the compliment she gave. My babies are strong. This was counted as one of my life achievement. Mrs. Lodge had not bought only Wisteria and Vanda but also fertilizers and hormones. Just one day with my favorite customer, I earned double from the previous month.

A good month, isn’t it?

I said goodbye to Mrs. Lodge with the wide smile trapped on my face.

A sudden roar of vicious wind gave the warning that there would be a rainy storm. I looked upon the sky and saw dark thick clouds. Adrien! I stamped my feet on the ground, upset, of course. “Adrien!” shouted and shouted his name. A few minutes later, hard footsteps resounded from the upper floor, meaning the always-being-late prince woke up.

My brother went down, messy hair, unwashed face, brushing his teeth in the pajamas. He searched for something to eat in the fridge. I opened the cabinet and offered him bread and jam. He cried like an injured cat. “Cruel sister! Did mom leave me anything?”

I stretched my evil smile. “She cooked Khao Thom*, hot and tasty.” He groaned. “I’m kidding. They left the house early. Eat bread, big boy.”

Adrien groaned again. He was twenty-three but still acted like a little boy. As aforementioned, Ashley or our mother was half-Asian. She learnt Thai cooking from my grandma and she loved to cook it. Ashley was a talented chef without the need to go to the cooking school. Sometimes she created her own menu and it was heaven to us.

When I thought about food, it seemed like my stress was calmed. Food therapy is always the best choice. Therefore, I grabbed some chocolate bar and eliminated that ugly thought out of my mind.

“I know you have school today. Don’t be late.”

“Yep,” Adrien said, focusing on the toaster. “At least, she should leave me some food.”

“And hurry, I think it’s going to rain soon,” I looked outside, hearing the storm. 

“I know,” he responded roughly. Adrien hated when I and Ashley were bossy. On the contrary, he always made himself need a bossy sister or a mother. He moved as fast as a snail. How could a boy take a shower longer than a girl? Even though he said he knew, but I watched all of his motion and it was like I watch a slow-motion scene. Whatever…it’s your life! I concentrated on my old laptop as the tips of my fingers touched the keyboard; the letters had not shown up on the screen. “Hey!” I scowled at it. “Don’t do this to me!”

“Don’t yell!” Adrien yelled. “I just wake up.” He massaged his ears.

Who’s care? “Shit!” I had to use the desktop keyboard. I am broke, remember? This laptop served me for five years. I needed a new one but my bank account did not say so. It was like my head was full of questionmarks about how to earn more money and I might end up selling one of my kidneys.

“Do you think about going out to work?” Adrien’s instant question surprised me and also pained me. Did he intend to jab my inner wound?

“Well…I’m working.” I bared both of my hands like, Can’t you see?

Adrien gave me an annoyed shrug. “You know why I continue studying when I hate it. I don’t like sitting in the class, do thesis, researching, because you quit the job. And mom turns to me, hoped I will make her a proud mom.”

I was stunned. Why was he abruptly upset? “You know if you don’t know what you really want to do, try to search for it. She did not force you at all. I told you if you’re not ready, don’t. And you didn’t listen. So don’t blame me. Don’t blame mom. Yes, she has that hope but she never forces us.

“But your dream is cheap.” He looked at my plants. “No customers…Okay…few.” Then his eyes turned to my laptop. “And your stories…no one buys it.”

“What do you want?” The heat rose from feet to head. My brother shrugged again and went upstairs to change his clothes. The question was if he really doubted it or he just wanted to change my decision? One definite truth, it was painful to hear, his words. I was about to cry but I resisted my tears. What the hell with him?

 

That evening, Billie took me to the dining near my home. I had never demanded luxury dinner. As I decided to love him, I wanted him longer and longer. But the question Adrien had asked me this morning was stuck in my head. So instead of giving an order, I stared blankly at the menu.

“What happened?” asked he.

“Sorry,” I replied and made a quick order. “Fish and chips. Thank you.”

The waitress repeated our order and went away. I glanced at my boyfriend and sighed. “Adrien questioned what I am doing.”

He smiled like a saint. I loved those brown behind the square glasses; they gave my heart warm. “I think he was upset.”

“Actually, I did nothing. Just woke him up…” Bit my lips. “…And he found that mom left him nothing to eat.”

He shook his head chuckling. “So he was really upset.” Our dishes were served. I could smell the delicious aroma of the food. It was an ordinary diner but a rare gem. “Don’t pay attention to it. You’re working…at home, follow your dream. That’s the spirit.”

I laughed.

“What?” He turned to his dish and cut the sausage. “Why you’re laughing at me?”

“No…” I swallowed the chips. “I know you would say that.”

“But it’s true.” He ate the chips.

 I smiled to myself before eating the fish. “How is your work?”

Billie shrugged. He was an engineer who encountered super workload like hell. Unlike me, he loved his job but sometimes the incapability of having free time pressured people around him and that pressure force reversed to him. His mother wanted him to build his own business (or she built it and gave it to him) rather than serving the others. However, Billie insisted to work in the company with the reason that he needed to learn first.

“I’m thinking about quitting.”

What? I threw the fork and the knife on the dish. “Why? I usually try to change your mind and then you…change.”

He stretched the corner of his mouth. Billie scratched his dark hair and sighed. “I need to rest and I know I need to change. I don’t have the problem with the job but I think it’s too much and consume my energy. Sometimes we need balance. And I want to go somewhere with you…somewhere far from here.”

The reason why my friends joked about our relationship was here. Seven years and we rarely spent private time. The farthest we went was traveling to the sea, the southern town beneath mine. That trip cost three days and two nights and it was the only trip we had been alone. Those words, like an elixir, vitalized my boring love life.

“Really?”

He nodded.

“Not kidding?”

“Certainly not” He pondered for a second. “Going aboard, what do you thing?”

I laughed merrily. “Wonderful. I mean this is the greatest news, Billie!” His eyes smiled when looking at me like a man deeply in love. “Before your new job?”

“Absolutely.”

It seemed like the texture of fish and chips became more crisp and moist and the flavor of freshness and fine cooking glowed in my mouth. He told me the best news ever!

In place of driving me home, Billie stopped the car in the private lane where darkness and trees covered us from the view. I knew what he wanted to do and my heart beat like mad. I had been ready before meeting him but here, where we were now, I did not think it was the right time. The first time we did it was a year ago and the second was when we went to the sea. Two times but I still felt awkward about it and… “Billie, we’re still in public.”

“No.” He bit his own lips. “No one’s here. I really miss you.” And he attacked me with the kiss. I always felt like jumped on him but still, I could not fix this problem. The kiss almost went well. I slid my hands on his neck and back and kissed him back. The heat out of his hands and breath started to warm me.  But when my hands went under his shirt, suddenly, he shoved them out of it and pushed me to the seat then moved the seat down. “Bille?”

“No one will see us.”

Yes, it was so dark and he turned off the light in the car. I tried to reach him but he wanted me to stay still.  So I leaned down like a corpse hearing he tore the protection package. When he was on me, I felt the weight like a big stone and I could not move. His tongue swirled and he breathed harder. The excitement rapidly calmed down and I felt uncomfortable more and more. “Billie.” I reminded him that I was there but he enjoyed my body until the end.

I was in his embrace and I loved being there. However, the previous activity left me only a question rather than pleasure. “I love you.” I felt the kiss on my cheek. Deep down, I wondered if the other couples felt like me. I thought it would be exiting, energetic, sexy, and…I was not sure. We just began to do it and we did not do it frequently so I thought it was not hard to fix. “We need to talk,” said I.

He kissed my forehead and just hugged me. 

I changed my mind and clung to his arms. It was like home but…I wanted to feel more. Anyway, “I love you too,” replied I.

Chapter 2

“Okay. Alright. I’m okay. I know you’re working. I understand but you must promise me we’ll spend all day together next Saturday and I mean All DAY. Alright? Thank you. Bye.”

I gently threw my three-year-old smartphone on my bed and then myself. My eyes stared upon the ceiling thinking of Billie. The more he insisted that he would quit, the more he worked overload. Perhaps, it required him to clear everything before he was gone. Stop messing with people’s business. I told myself, jumped out of the bed, leaped to the chair. “Come on Loire. Write the words you can sell!” Then, the corner of my eyes spotted our photo on the right hand side of my desk and it recalled the last intimacy which made me feel…awkward. Right, even he was not here. The guilt started to whine in my head again. Next time it would be better, I kept repeating. 

“I’m twenty-five!” The confidence battled with that guilt. Ashley always thought I was fifteen and now I was the worst kisser ever, which did not relate at all but I had to blame someone.

How would I feel good about it? The last time which was our third time did not make me feel better. I felt like a doll and Billie just enjoyed my body without sharing his with me. I loved his embrace but…

Picking up my smartphone again, he still sent me a love emoji when running out of sweet words. Sometimes I wondered if he thought about us in the future. I meant apart from I was going to be his wife and the mother of his children, did he think of me as a lover? Yeah, we were. He loved me—no doubt. But other things, our future adventure, travel, exploration, and better sensual intimacy, I wondered about that.

But he promised to travel with me next year. Snapping those bad ideas out of my head, it was the computer that needed my concentration.

A few days ago, I joined in a short-story-writers group. The members were nice and kind. Most of them were women, aged around thirty and forty. Every member had to submit a short story in every quarter of the year and if our stories had been selected, they would be published, another way to put my name on the writing path. Usually, I avoided writing the topic that people commanded me to do but sometimes we needed to try a new thing. Every word I wrote would be my experiences and I needed it so bad. A printing house told me I needed the experience and the skill to make the story went on naturally—it required gift and learning. Since childhood, I never found my own gift unless my effort. So if I wanted to accomplish my dream, the greater effort was needed.

A few second ago, this empty cup had been plenty of tick hot chocolate and now it was abandoned on the sink. The water flew through my fingers but I did nothing as same as my brain. The topic was ‘Love, Time, and Space’ and I did not know what I wanted to write.

And it must be a short story indeed!

How about a time traveler? I noted my idea but it might be cliché…but cliché can be sold. Damn it. I hated my inner conflict.

I put on the headphone and selected M83 playlists. Their songs gave me eargasm and sometimes good ideas. Suddenly, a roar of thunder invaded through the metal device. I heard Ashley’s short scream from the other room. She feared thunder but father loved it because he could show her a manly side. Approaching the window, several giant drops of rain water violently attacked the glass giving the impression of the-end-of-the-world. The storm was here…in winter. I did not know which one to prefer—storm or snow.

 

On Saturday, I selected heat-tech jeans, t-shirt, and cold-resistant jacket without forgetting the ankle boots. What was good in the cold weather was my make-up can stay on my face longer. Too unfortunate for a woman like me who had oily skin, I checked my appearance then stepped out of my little palace.

It was four in the evening and I waiting for him at the same diner. There was a small festival nearby and we would spend the evening date there. I ordered a small set of chips to prepare my stomach during waiting. Yeah…he promised to visit me in the morning but he could not.

“Hi, Loire!”

“Hi, Ella. Nice day?”

“Boring day,” replied she. “Where’s Billie?” Ella was the waitress here but I counted her as a friend. I and Billie were their loyal customers and we talked with her a lot.

“On the road.” I looked out of the window; the smoke of campfire began to float in the sky. “I heard there are some good bands. Do you know them?”

She fanned her head from side to side. “Donno. I have the night shift today so I try to keep my focus on my job.” She made a crying face.

“Nah, you can hear they sing.” I comforted her. “And it’s not that huge. Remember last year? Everyone complained.”

Ella smiled a large smile, “So what you want today?”

“A small size of chips. Thanks.”

“Five minutes,” said she before going back to the kitchen.

I checked my watch. Even I tried not to be upset with my boyfriend, it was a difficult job. Do you understand me? He broke the promise but his excuse was absolutely reasonable. It was about the job and how could I be mad about that?

The chips were served before five minutes due. I consumed most of it. Four-thirty…four-forty…five…five-fifteen…five-thirty…then. “Hey!”

Billie rushed to the seat before wiping his glasses with the sleeves of his shirt under the coat. When he saw the empty basket of chips, “I thought we will eat something at the fest.”

“Yeah…just…snack.”

His eyes observed me and those thick brows ducked in question. “You gain weight?”

I glared at him. “Excuse me?”

He grabbed my butts. “See?”

“Billie!” I cried. “We’re in the diner.” I wanted to say I hated he did this. “Don’t do it again!” 

He shrugged. “I’m sorry and we’re sitting.” He said then stole my water. “I like the butts but you really gain weight.”

I touched my waist. “Do I look fat? You always say this since we studied in the college.”

He thought for a while. “No…not at all. I mean you can do some exercise. You know, healthy and firm.”

“Stop it. She’s so skinny.” Ella returned with a glass of tap water for Billie. My boyfriend laughed and touched my cheeks. “Yeah I know but look at these full cheeks.”

“She’s pretty,” Ella ordered before she left.

“You always win a fan.”

“Because I am loved!”  

We said goodbye to Ella before going inside the fest. The winter festival was arranged during the beginning of December every year and this was the second and the last week. The ached entrance was built of glass to imitate ice. As I said, it was extremely cold in winter but we lived in the south, not far and not close to the equator. It was impossible to demonstrate the ice architecture when the temperature was not low enough. What I loved here were food, games, music, and lightings. At least I might have a new profile picture.

 We both headed to the Ferris wheel because the line was still short and we did not want to queue up for an hour. I normally feared of height but not phobia so if the machine was secured enough, that was fine for me.

I leant on his shoulder while we were in the line. His messy dark hair showed me that the owner rarely brushed it. He smelled like a clean soap and that was a good trait for a man. However, his eyes seemed to look out for somewhere. As we went inside the cabin and remained nearly at the top; he seemed to have zero interest in the view. We sat facing each other and I did the talk while he listened but I was not sure if he was really listening.

“Are you okay? Did anything happen?”

Billie shook his head immediately. “No…why?”

“Your body here but your mind is somewhere.” He arched his brow thinking my observation was funny. “It’s true. I can feel it.”

So he gestured me if he could move the seat. I shook my head. “Make it balance. Please.”

“The other couples sit together.” So he moved so the cabin weighted on my side making it unbalanced. I grabbed him tightly in fear of height and falling. He hugged me. “Don’t worry. It won’t” I felt his hand patting my head and brushing my blonde hair.

The soap and his sweat went through my nose when he covered me with his coat. The warmth of his skin usually made me feel at home. I was about to say something sweet because he loved that but his phone rang. I waited until we had to move out of the cabin; he was still on the phone.

And then I got a glimpse of the idea for the short story ‘Love, Time, Space’ which would demonstrate the mysterious bitterness of the relationship that I perceived now but had no idea what it truly was.

There was something in Billie that I felt he was my home but not the right one at the same time. However, my love for him was real. It was impossible to see myself without him.

Love,

Time,

And Space,

I looked at the dark night sky. Thankfully, the weather was clear enough so the stars shone visibly. I let my boyfriend dealing with his phone while I spent the time survey the stalls—most were foods and bakery. Up to the time of my nose catching up the pleasant aroma of fine coffee, my feet followed my heart and stopped me before a small lovely stall decorated simply but earthly modern. The dark-hair girl behind the coffee machine and the blender messed with something and she did not perceive my presence. I read the menu and decided to order a hot chocolate with hazelnut. I knew it was funny. The smell of coffee attracted me every time but I did not drink coffee.

“Excuse me?”

The girl aged around eighteen I thought, raised her head and smiled the most sincere one I have ever seen. “Hi! I—I am sorry. The bartender is…ah.” She pointed her finger to where the toilet was located. I laughed softly because her gesture represented her innocence and clumsy nature.

“That’s alright. How long?”

“Ah…” She seemed not to be able to predict it.

And Billie interrupted us, collecting his smartphone inside his pocket. “Hey! We should find some food.”

“Just a drink.”

He sighed. “Hot chocolate? You drink hot chocolate with food?” Then wrapping his arms around my neck, “Go see the Chinese noodles over there,” he commanded.

I groaned. “They have a very good scent and it’s winter! Hot chocolate is tastier in the cold weather.”

He smiled at the girl and dragged me away from that stall. “Come on. I know where the fat comes from.” He squeezed my cheeks. “And here…” Then gently slapped on my stomach.

“Are you crazy? Do I look fat? Really?”

“No, my duckling.” He failed to defect my bad mood. I brushed his hands away. “Come on.”

“You make me nervous. Am I fat?”

“No!” And kissed on my lips. I stood still. After he withdrew from me, Billie showed the triumphant smile on his lips. “Only way to shut you up. Come. Let’s find some food.”

I did not say anything. Yeah, the kiss shut me up but it did not stop my worry. Tears brimmed at my eyes and I tried to resist it. Honestly, I had no idea why I felt like crying. And because of my mood, Billie kept silence too. He started to be aware of my feeling but did not know how to fix it so he preferred silence.

All night, we sank in the sea of discomfort, uneasiness, silence, I caused it.

I never saw myself more than a too skinny woman. Not tall, not slender, no perfect boobs, no perfect butts, I had a shape of number one. My worry towards my body existed all the time and now Billie added one more worry which was fat. It was hard to accept the body I owned.

And we forgot to celebrate the winter festival.

In the next day, Billie still sent lovely messages and love emoji but I replied indifferently. Until the night, I still sat on my desk in front of the empty page for my short story and when the message notification popped up on the right bottom of the display, I pretended to ignore. As I started writing the first sentence, my curiosity won me so I opened the message box and my world was destroyed by just one question.

 

Can we be friend?

 

I turned numbed for minutes.

 

Why? Then pressed send.

 

We grow apart. We’re different. It’s better to stop here before going further. We should have the chance to meet someone’s new.

“Before going further?” I laughed to myself like crazy when thinking of our intercourse. “Not at all…”

So I typed: my false? Because I acted cold to you?

No, my false. It’s my own false. Billie told me that.

I tried to recall what happened the previous day. Yes, we did have a strange speechless fight but…breaking-up? Really? Apart from that, everything seemed to be fine…between me and him.

What happens? Tell me the truth.

He was online so it did not take a long time to wait for the answer.

I’m sorry but I don’t feel the same.

That was the key! I got up and walked back and forth then grabbed my phone and threw away then picked it up and made a call. As soon as he received it, I said, “Do you want to break-up with me? Why? You don’t love me anymore?”

He kept silent but I heard the sobbing and this action lit me the hope. “Yes. I still love you but not the same.”

“Why? Not the same?” It seemed like I could control my voice well but no. I was still shocked and felt nothing. Emptiness might be the right word to describe what was inside my head.

“Not the same.”

“Do you love someone else?”

He paused for a while. “Hmm…I mean no. I don’t open to anyone. Loire, we’re different and I think it’s better…for us to stop and give us a chance…a new one.”

But you said you don’t open to anyone. I could catch the conflict in his words. “Do you really want to break-up?”

“Yes.”

Teas came finally. “I mean really? We won’t see each other again. We won’t talk again? This is what you want?”

“You will disappear?”

I was speechless. How could we keep talking when we were not lovers? “I can’t be friend with you, Billie.”

Silence again.

“Do you still want to go?”

“Hmm…Yes.”  

I hanged up.

Chapter 3

“He owns you a big apology. Not nice at all. What a disappointment! I’d never thought he’s such a coward.” Finishing her sentence, Molly sipped her cup of hot latte. Her fine brows arched elegantly even in her anger mood. “His way to say goodbye for the woman he declared love for seven years is for a coward.” And wrinkled her nose in disgust.

I survived the night of flash shock thanks to Adrien. Billie’s decision thundered me instantly and I became deafly insane. I had never known my brother was a very good listener. We fought a lot but we cared for each other. This is how siblings are. He let me speak everything and that was better.

“Does he really meet someone else?” Jayda still half believed which was not surprising at all because the Billie we had known could never do that. He was against cheating in any all kinds due to his father left him and his mother since childhood for the other woman.

I nodded in confirmation. It was on the third day of our break-up. I called him just to ask for a chance and he confessed that he wanted to give this chance to the other one. And that was enough for me. Actually, he should split it out earlier. The truth surely hurt me but at least I had the closure to move on instead of clumsily trying reaching him. I wasted three days calling him, for waiting for his answer, for thinking…nonsense, for being mad, blaming myself. Totally waste of my time.

“Asshole.” Jayda cursed. She was the one in our group that never had a relationship with anyone and would never. She was a kind of woman who had never dreamed of love. “It’s unbelievable. You know…I thought Billie was the right one…the most right one. And you were lucky to find this man.”

“I know,” said I. “Like a dream.”

Only Elise did not say anything. Might be because, previously, she spoke a lot. She was the first friend I called for advice and as she had encountered this kind of situation before, Elise pointed out that he must have another woman and it must be for a while. Of course, I defended Billie but when he insisted as though we had never loved to each other, I asked him. The answer was no different from Elise’s prediction; I was totally a fool.

Sometimes I blamed myself for the reason that I quitted my job. Because I had no bright future, because I continued to search for treasure on my dream, my world was in my house and Billie and I became a wretched girlfriend who he found no charms and far from his dream (Thought he used to say that he loved the way I was.) Meanwhile, Billie made new friends; he had a stable job, his world was bigger and he saw the new opportunity for his life, also a new woman. Perhaps it was not the main reason but still took major parts of it.

“Do I look fat?”

This question silenced all of them. Molly stared at me in disbelief and then roared her laughter. “What?”

I shrugged. “Seriously.”

“Are you crazy?” It was Jayda who answered me. “Yeah, you’re fat if comparing to a skeleton. Don’t say that you think he left you because he thinks you’re less skinny.”

“No…I mean yes. I’m not that pretty, not prettier enough to stop him to look for someone else.”

All my three friends rolled their eyes, “Please, even beautiful actresses got cheated. Time changes, people changes. There are many reasons, Loire. And don’t blame yourself.”

Elise nodded. “Molly’s right, Loire. When his love for you is not that strong, there are many excuses for him to go. Ask yourself. Have you tried your best?”

I pondered for minutes. The old memories reminded me that my relationship with Billie was good but when I thought of how he cut the line with me, the pain consumed. I tried not to cry again. “I think I’m not that perfect girlfriend, you know. But I think I tried my best. I change many attitudes just to blend with him. I don’t deserve this shit.”

“Yes,” Molly snapped her fingers. “You don’t deserve it. It’s him but we can’t do anything. It’s you who can. It’s your heart. I know it takes time, right?” She turned to Elise. The dark-hair girl nodded in agreement. “But you’ll be stronger. We know you’ll be.”

I smiled at them. You know? Friend therapy is the best remedy for a broken heart. Sometimes you think the world ends when our love one left; friends slap your face and shakes silliness out of your head. True friends always are with you, hug you, embrace you, and heal you. You are loved than you can imagine.

My eyes observed my three friends. Jayda and Elise were my besties since nursery. We both went to the same school and parted when we enrolled in college. Jayda had short pixie hair and worked in as a graphic designer in an advertisement company. Elise was a doctoral student studying science. For Molly, we met at college. Now she was married to a good man from Canada and she opened her own restaurant there. Molly did not live here but she visited her home. And as Christmas was coming, she returned home to celebrate.

Then, Elise asked, “And what are you gonna do next?”

I shook my head, losing of thought. “Do the same. No, I will be more diligent.” I chuckled but no one with me. “What? Don’t do girls agree?”

Molly tightened her brows, “You should find a job. I mean a stable job. You can.”

“But she loved what she’s doing.” Jayda protested. “Don’t end up like me. I hate every single minute in that office. But blame my passion, I am not strong enough to walk out.”

“No.” Molly insisted. “I don’t mean she quits her dream but I want her to find a new environment. Meet new people….new man.” Then ducked one of her brows like don’t-you-see-my-point?

Elise suggested, “How about travel?”

She saved me from the others’ stare. “I’m not ready but I consider this option.” I smiled at them. Travel was in my blood. I longed for it every day and since Billie did not want to be with me, I had to travel alone again.

“Do you need more chocolate?” I turned to Molly and showed her my cup of hot chocolate. We were in a café in the center of the town.

“Eat more. You’ll feel better. Lupin said.”

We all laughed.

“Do you feel better?” Elise asked for certainty.

“Of course,” I insisted. “But I did not call you girls out just to listen to my problem.”

Their eyes sparkled when hearing this. It sounded fun. I knew. “I want to dye my hair and buy new stuff.”

“Cut your hair like me?” Jayda made a cool pose.

“I think it’s too short for me but yeah I need it shorter. This is nothing about Billie. Trust me. I want to do it all the time but because he seemed not to like short hair…I mean he loved the very long hair and natural blonde color. And thanks to him, I lost some weight and now I am single. I can wear and do what I want. Just focus on me and me.”

Molly demanded, “No stripper.”

“Of course not, I trust your sense of fashion, Molly.” I grabbed her knee. She smiled proudly. “And because I threw away a lot of old stuff.”

He bought me a dress and some eye palette set and now they were in the junk. I also burned his cards, the flowers he gave, movie tickets, and anything I could think of. Oh, I also tore the cards before burning them.

“You should spoil yourself sometimes.” Jayda approved of my plan. “You know how to spend money and this is the right time to fulfill yourself.”

“Yeah,” I reassured her. “No more budget for dating.” We looked at each other with the knowing smile on our faces. “So…shall we begin?”

“Let’s shopping!” All shouted.

 

Ashley and Mathew slowly watched me from head to toes. On the top of my hair, it was platinum blonde and I dyed the trim of it pink. The length of it stopped at my shoulder. The hairdresser gave the compliment that I appeared younger and cooler (perhaps, punker). My friends helped me select dresses and tops. We did not forget new cosmetics. Do not get me and him wrong. I loved dress myself beautiful. I loved this stuff, beauty products, skin cares products, fashion clothes but due to the fact that I was a good financial planner, maybe too good, who focused on collecting money, I rarely spent the time to spoil myself because of the saving for our dates, travel, and life-saving. And Billie had never forced me to remain long hair. I just chose to please him. As a boyfriend without regarding the last encounter, he was good to me and treated me well. But because when my life changed, I wanted to change most of everything. Love colorized my boring life and when I lost it I needed to paint it myself.

“You look great.” My mother told me but her tone declared the disapproval. “Adrien told us everything.”

I kept my mouth shut and gave them a shrug. “Don’t worry. I cried enough and no more.” Sometimes with my parents, I felt like a teenager.

Ashley smiled a comfort smiled. “We all know you’ll be alright. Our girl is a strong woman.” Her hand squeezed my hair. I hugged her and turned to father’s embrace too.

“I know you two never approve of my decision to chase my dream. But I promise; I won’t let you down. I will show you my decision give me a happy life and not struggle too.”

They nodded. Anyway, the way their stare at me still demonstrated the hesitation. So I added, “Tomorrow, there will be a truck come to our house and they will carry half of my plants.”

Ashley widened her eyes and repeated my sentence, “Half of them?”

“Yes,” I stretched my mouth wider and wider. “Half of them. They come from an organization for kids. They arrange a small festival in their area…and they need colorful decorations. It’s Elise who told me and gave me the contact so I called them and offered a good discount. At first, they politely refused but I knew the theme of their festival is saving-the-world, so I recommended them to save the world—grow my plants after using it. They bought my ideas saying it was amazing.” 

My father clapped. “Smart girl.”

Ashley hesitated, “they haven’t planned it before. You must offer a very shock discount.”

She worked in the financial division and her knowledge did not fail her. “Yes,” I admitted. “Still earn a slight profit. Not big but better than waiting.”

“Okay, I approve.”

“Mom! I don’t need it.!” I sighed and tried to calm down. “I should do this for a long time.” Looked out of the window to the plant nursery house as if I could communicate with them, everything was going to be fine. “I waited for them to come. I should know before that it’s me who must reach them.”

Ashley resumed her position on the table. They were eating snacks and watched TV program but their attention was still with me. “This is what I didn’t see for such a long time. My girl, the Loire I know is the one in front of me. She is full of energy and ideas. You know? We did not see this side of yours since you quit the job.”

I swallowed my saliva. She was right again. I was using to stay in my comfort zone.

“We respect your choice but what we always a concern is the fire in you.”

I looked back through time and hated to admit the fact. After working at home, I became a slow and inactive person. My work offered me a lot of free times for living leisurely and even I complained about money, I was still not alert. How much time did I lose for waiting? No more. And Billie might see me like this: mentally depending to him, to his encouragement.

My focus returned to my parents. To reassure them, I said, “Don’t worry. It’s already lit up.”

I looked at the sky again. The thick dark clouds remained there. The storm was coming. I kept my fingers crossed to have faith in myself.

Chapter 4

The plant nursery widened and I needed more baby plants to fill the empty space. I checked the temperature and relocated the pots of daffodils to the proper area. I decided to delay the plan to grow more of them because the winter trend was on demand more than the spring. It was winter and no snow here, so a lot of artificial ices and snows were made. But the main reason was I was to reconsider the choice I had made. The fact was I was ready to continue the writing career which still remained abstract but it was the path I would regret all of my life if I abandoned it. For these plants, I loved them with all of my heart but it required costs so I had to plan a new strategy.

While thinking of my own future, I cleaned the floor and checked the temperature again to make sure the other plants would be fine. It was five in the evening but the sky was completely dark already and I had to go out to buy meat to prepare the dinner. “Stay strong children.” I locked the door.

Adrien just returned home. His eyes fixed at my bike and then my outfits. “Hey…you’re going out?” I readjusted the scarf on my neck. The weather was colder every day even though there were no snow and never be as same as my life would never find a love that means forever…Oh please, stop the lamentation.

“Yeah, I’m going to cook katsu curry but no meat in the fridge.” It was a Japanese recipe that I and Adrien were very fancy of it. For this kind of weather, the hot curry was the best choice. No intention of boasting, I did inherit the cooking talent from my mother.

My brother ducked his brow. “Pork or chicken?” He asked because I loved eating chicken and fish; I avoided red meat.

“Chicken and pork.”

He smiled broadly. “Great! And…” He showed me two boxes of chocolate donuts. “Buy one get one. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Our favorite shops will close so let’s celebrate today.”

“Let’s celebrate every day. Start from today,” I added. “Hey. Are they for me? Oh, you’re the loveliest brother.” I squeezed his hair to tease him. My brother brushed my hands out of his head.

“Noooo. Because of the promotion.”

“Okay. I try to buy it.” I laughed knowing well he bought it to comfort me, the sister with a broken heart. Yesterday, he also bought a chocolate cake. I would gain weight faster because of his generosity.

I pulled the bike and opened the door. “I’ll go now. Help me clean the dish, okay?”

Adrien nodded with a groan.

 

The supermarket was located near the train station. I bought chicken’s breast and tenderloin. Ashley and Mathew would return home a little bit late and I would have time to prepare the dinner. I collected the meat inside the bag and walked pulling my bike beside me. Red, white, and green colors were popular these days. And those snowman and Papa Christmas dolls were everywhere. I loved the Christmas’s decoration and loved to visit the city where the snow flex fell. Despite that Molly always complained that the snow was not as magical as we saw in the movies or the animations, I died to experience the moment anyway. I passed the restaurant where I and Billie had visited last month. Sighed. The air filled the empty space in my chest and I felt lonelier than ever.

Be strong! I told myself million times.

It seemed like he ghosted to the world. No more call, no more chat, no more message, he even disappeared from his peers. Elise checked his Facebook and Instagram and she found no clue of his new girl but he rarely updated photo and posts anyway. Even though I tried to ignore, I still wanted to see the face of the new one. Blamed it on woman’s curious nature. Sometimes I wondered that if he really meant he still loved me but not the same, how could he distance me so easily? We always talked and he seemed not to care at all.

Who cares about the one who left? I need a disk of katsu curry. Encouraging myself with food, I accelerated my pace. Suddenly, the thunder sound of heavy machine crashing vibrated the ground. I yelled, shocking.

Turning back to see what happened I saw a white Lamborghini crashed the bridge’s wall. The car gradually slid through the gab it made and people around gasped in shock. Some tried to reach the driver. Unfortunately, the car did fall and dragged more victims into the water. A cracking noise gave the warning but not fast enough. Before I could manage myself out of the way, the whole concrete shook violently and a few second, the bridge collided. People screamed including me. My body and my bike sank down into the cold water. The weight of clothes would drown me so I took the scarf and my coat off. My legs kicked the water to go up. I could swim and since nothing knocked my head, my eyes focused on the surface. However, someone grabbed my shoulders and weighed on me so they could swim upward. I tried to shove those hands off. No luck for today and might be forever, an electric current shocked me. All parts of my body turned numb as well as my brain. Before the darkness, the last thing I saw was my family.

 

“She hasn’t come back home…it’s too long, Matt.” Ashley wandered around the living room. Adrien sat on the sofa uneasily and Mathew made a phone call.

“No, the line was busy.”

“I will go out. She might linger along the way.” Adrien stood up.

I’m here! I called them. But no one seemed to see me. Am I dead?

 

“Miss! Hey!”

I coughed heavily. A vast of air went through my throat and I coughed and coughed again and again. My mouth shuddered. No, it was my whole body that was shaking. The coldness absorbed through the bones and I felt like I could not move.

“You’re alright. You’re alright.” Someone embraced me. Though his clothes were wet, the warm of his arms calmed me a little bit. “Come on.” I looked around. People helped each other. The police and the ambulances arrived at the scene. This man, my rescuer, walked me to one of the ambulances. He kept saying, “You’re alright now.”

“Thanks.” My voice cracked but he heard as his hand patted on my shoulder softly.

“My bike…”

“Forget it now. Come on. We need to warm up ourselves.”

I looked at him. He was a young man around my age. The dark hair and the brown eyes reminded me of Billie but the fact was his facial appearance had no similarity with my ex. The beautiful almond shape hid under the thick dark brows. His nose and jawlines made a good composition and those lips had the perfect shape, not too thin, not to thick, not to wide but they were purple. He smiled a little when I stared at him. “I—tha—thank you.”

He grabbed my shoulders firmly to reassure me that he already heard. 

He was tall, taller than Billie. More than six feet, I guessed. His body was firm and well-built. When we reached the paramedic team, he also facilitated me by handing me a towel and a cup of hot water.

“No one hurt?” I asked him. “I mean I hope.”

His eyes gazed at the river in the sad look. “I hope too.”

There were approximately fifty people who fell for the reason that the bridge collapsed. Half were fine, and I was lucky enough to survive without any serious wounds. I touched my pocket and remembered that everything remained in the water including my purse. “Damn it.” My hands picked inside every pocket I had but I had not left any bank or coins in there.

“Where’s your house? I’ll call the cab.” The kind man might saw what I was doing and offer a generous hand.

I smiled gently. “Thank you so much but it’s alright. I can walk home.”

He shook his head in disapproval, the gesture that made me feel like a little girl. “No, I can’t let a young girl walk home like this and this officer too.” He ducked his head to call for agreement. The paramedic rescuer nodded affirming, “Girl, you’re still shaking. You should call a cab unless you want to get a cold.”

Girl…I hid my annoying face. They thought I was a teenager. “But I don’t…”

“I’ll send you home.” The kind man offered. “No protest,” he insisted and I nodded obediently without knowing why. We both warmed ourselves with the large dry towel. The hot water soothed my numbed parts. He called the taxi and acted gentleman-like letting me get on first. I told the driver my address and then the number on the LED display surprised me because they were backwards.

I swiftly glanced at the kind man who just came inside but he seemed not to notice the strange of those numbers. My eyes observed the registration number and the profile of the driver and all letters were printed backwards.

“I’m Gale.” He showed me a hand. I just realized that we had never known each other’s names. “Sorry. I forgot. I’m Loire. Nice to meet you…Gale.” Our hands shook and separated. His wallet remained with him, a lucky man. At least, I did not have a lot of cash but tomorrow would be a crazy day because I had to deal with those lost cards. “And I’m twenty-five.”

He stared at me for a few seconds and released a short laugh. “Sorry, I thought you…”

“Never mind. It means I look young.”

He gave me soft smile again. If the pain Billie had no effect in me, I might fall for this charming man for sure.

I erased that silly thought out of my head and watched the view outside the window. Again, the buildings were familiar but weird too. I felt like everything showed the contradictory to what I had believed. Like the bank over there, it should be located on the left side but now it was on the right. And the letters too, all were written backwards.

“Is it a joke? Or a new theme for Christmas?” I turned to my companion. His brows tied together implying he did not understand what I said so I pointed to those strange letters. “They’re backwards.”

“Really?” He did not interest in those letters at all but his eyes kept staring at me skeptically. “I…don’t think so.”

“Really?” I almost cried but did not. I moved up and stamped my fingers on the announcement behind the driver seat. “Here…they’re backwards. Don’t you see it?”

“No.” He moved closer. “Are you alright?”

I nodded but deep down, I was not sure. Is it because of the water? The cold? I don’t feel any strange with myself except the cold that kept affecting me. Gale still watched me as if I might go mad any second. In consequence, I leaned on the seat and eyed at the window to avoid more questions. We both sat quietly until the car arrived at my house. Gale asked the driver to wait for him.

“It’s okay. Don’t waste your money. This is too much. I feel really thankful…” He got out of the car before I could finish the sentence. I thanked the driver too and stepped out of the car. Weird, my house was on the right side now was on the left. I started to fear something wrong with my brain.

“Wow, your twin is exactly like you.” He said staring at the window of my living room. My eyes followed his sight and I immediately covered my mouth to prevent myself from screaming in horror.

“No…No.”

“What?”

Gale noticed my nervousness. “This is your home.”

“No.” I stared at the woman inside the house. Ashley hugged her. She wore the same dress as I but the watch was on her left hand. Her hairs got wet like me. And her physical appearance was exactly like me. One idea popped up and it was unpleasant. I began to realize what the situation I encountered now.

“You two always wear the same dress?” Gale still questioned. I stopped him to touch the bell. “Why don’t you go inside?” Ashley and that woman left the window. We both heard them speaking but could not catch the words. My heart beat like crazy. I fanned my head to him and said, “It’s not my house.”

He sniggered through his nose. “Your family is there. You’re alright now.”

I shook my head. “No…I don’t have a twin..never have one.”

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Chapter 5

“Are you serious?” Gale repeated his question the third time.

“Yes, definitely serious. I don’t have a twin. I have only one brother and…I should realize it sooner. Everything here…the building, the letters, everything is opposite to MY WORLD.”

The taxi drivers lowered the window and asked Gale if he still needed the ride. Before he could speak, I pushed him inside and followed. I urged him to tell his address. The driver glanced at us but did not ask why I did not go inside the house. He just waited for the command. I begged Gale again. “Please.”

He responded to my plea.

“But…”

I made the hand stop him questioning. “Don’t you think it’s too weird? She has the same hair color as mine, the same dress, the same height and we all got wet from head to toes. And if we’re twins, why did she leave me there alone? And I didn’t mention anything about her before, right?”

His seemed to be half convinced but told the driver’s his address. My heart still beat fast. I was not sure if I wanted my brain got malfunctioned or I really crossed the world…or the universe. NASA must hire me if I could go back. 

The car stopped at a coffee shop which was located ten blocks away from my house. We both hugged ourselves under the giant towel which was unable to protect us from the wind anymore. Gale hurriedly unlocked the door. The corner of my eyes could catch the sign declaring the closing time during the long holidays. As I stepped inside, the aroma of coffee, (though the machine did not work, it still diffused in the air), penetrated to my nose and it gave the pleasant smell of fine coffee blend. All of his machines were maintained with good care regarding the polish silver surface that was clear enough to reflect my reflection. He did not turn on the light but as I observed, his style was earthly modern in regards to the furniture and the decorations. He opened the back door, let me pass, and locked it. So now I stood in front of the elegant modern house I yearned to own one for my life.

“What?” asked he.

“What?...what?”

“Your eyes, glistening.”

I pointed to his house. “It’s beautiful, to be honest.”

He nodded with satisfaction but as he opened it, inside was dark as though nobody was here. Did he stay here alone?

When the light illuminated the place, it was the time for the eyes to survey this dream house. The short entrance led to the medium size living room. The ceiling was open up high and every detail of interiors had been designed well. I was no architect but a little bit fancy of it, this man had a good sense of style and also a little wealthy too.

At once my rationality returned, I was just aware that I came to a man’s house…alone.

Silly thought, this is an undesirable accident, unless you want to sleep like a homeless, Loire.

My mental investigation or my imagination talking to myself was interrupted by Gale, the house’s owner whose gaze made me uneasy. “You’re sure you didn’t get hit?”

“One hundred percent of certainty!”

He handed me a dry towel and some clothes. “I don’t have any woman’s clothes but…my t-shirt might fit you. Leave your clothes in the basket, I will put it in the washer and the dryer.”

He’s single. I shook my head. Why I had to think of something unrelated to the situation? “Thanks but…you help me more than…”

“And if you stay wet any longer, you will burden me more.”

How could I not obey? Nodding my head, I followed him to the bathroom which was in his bedroom. If Ashley knew, she would kill me. But I wished she knew because it meant I could return to them, my family. This time, I tried to reserve my eyes to myself. The bedroom is a private space and it would be very rude to observe his personal stuff. I went to the bathroom which smaller than my bedroom just a few square meters. I, reluctantly, took off my clothes because it was not my house, not my room, and I had only one big-size t-shirt to put on after I finished washing. Instead of using the bathtub, I preferred the shower and the cold water nearly killed me. “Come on, where is the warm one?” I murmured trying to change the water temperature but I could not so I showered myself shivering. It did not take long, about fifteen minutes, I wore his t-shirt but still felt naked and severely cold so I wrapped the towel outside the t-shirt. One advantage of being a petite woman was it was difficult to be sexy when your breast and butts did not make you any curvy.

Gale looked at me with amusing eyes. Who wouldn’t? I looked like a spring roll. “All?” His brows arched in question after seeing only my shirt, my sweater, and my jeans in the basket. Yes, I still wore my underwear.

“Take all of your clothes.”

“I don’t feel…You know.”

“Okay,” he cut me shot and opened a drawer before handing me a blanket. “Trust me more than yourself. I take a woman who claims that she comes from the other world. Get back and take it off unless you want to get a cold. Now, you’re shaking like…puppy.”

“It’s because I don’t know how to change the temperature.”

He stared at me forcefully. “Okay,” I surrendered and returned to the bathroom to undress again. After I returned to him, I still looked like a spring roll but bigger due to three layers of clothes. “Take me to your washer.” He did not refuse that was really thankful. How could I let a man wash my personal clothes?

While waiting for my clothes to be dry and Gale in the bathroom, I sat quietly on the sofa at downstairs, eyeing around the house. There were no family pictures but I saw some friends photos in his bedroom. (Swear! I did not spy on him. There were situated at the easily visible spot.) This man, surely, lived on his own. Outside, the rain fell. I approached the window and looked outside. The backward title of the shop transited an eccentric but magical feeling at the same time.

“Hey.”

I breathed out in relief. Gale dressed almost the same except that the clothes were dry. He seemed to be unaffected to the weather as he wore just white t-shirt and casual pants. The heater worked perfectly but I still felt like standing on the Everest.

“Do you believe me, right?”

He did not answer. “I don’t know. It sounds like a movie. You said the girl…the woman in that house is not your twin?”

I nodded. “I have only one brother. My family does look like the one you see in that house but in this world, there is me…another me.” I didn’t know how to explain. “And in my world, we don’t write that way.”

“Which way?”

I put my finger on the foggy window and wrote my name, Loire. “This is how we write.”

Gale bent his head, amazing. “It’s hard to believe…”

“I know.” Who would not agree? I, myself, still doubted if I was in the dream stage. Anyway, the question was not only how could I return home but also what I had to do next? In this world, I knew only him, Gale, who was my rescuer and also my stranger. Do I return to that house and tell everyone about me? About this accident? The answer was no. I knew myself well and I might fear to death and my mother (Well…that Loire’s mother) would get a heart attack.

Gale gestured me to sit with him. I preferred standing facing him. “I remembered that when I was in the water, there was an electricity shock me. I thought I was going to die and then you saved me.”

His brown eyes stared into mines as if he wanted to check if I lied to him or not. “That moment right?”

“Yes.” The vision of my family flashed through my head, “AND!” I yelled. “Sorry. When I thought I’m going to die, I saw myself at my house. My family was waiting and worried…Perhaps, in my world, they’re searching for me.”

This time, he did not believe it I could tell. What in his mind conveyed the way he gazed at me. “I don’t know how to make you believe but maybe, I have to go back…to the river.”

“The area is closed.” He said. “It’s not an accident. The car fell down and the bridge collapsed. Some died. They won’t let anyone go near the scene.”

“And…What I’m going to do?” My eyes brimmed with tears. I just lost Billie and now I was going to lose everything? “I can’t live like this…like nobody.”

“You’re not nobody,” he objected. “We can figure everything out tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” I yelled. “Tomorrow?”

“Hey!” He warned. “Honestly. It’s hard to believe. I saw that woman and she looks exactly like you. Yes. You probably confused because of the shock. Don’t…I try to believe you but another thought tells me to take you to the hospital, right now,” he confessed. “Right now,” and also insisted.

“Please don’t,” I begged bowing my head in distress. If I were Gale, I would think the same. He still doubted that I had a twin but it was I that became insane due to the accident. I wished I was! This sounded better, was it? No, any brain damaged did not sound good but, seriously? In this PARALLEL WORLD?

“Are you alright?” He approached.

I instantly shook my head. “I’m fine.”

“You’re shaking, still shaking.” He stood up. “I’ll go get you hot water…”

Gale rushed to the kitchen. I started to get some mild headache. Possibly because of the stress. I leaned down and closed my eyes. My head was blank. I had no idea what I should do next and everything turned dark as if someone opened the time portal. No dream, no illusion, just darkness and the feeling of discomfort, when I opened my eyes, the sun lighted.

“H0ly shit!” I cried and looked at the clock. “Ten hours! Gosh!” But once I sat, the abruptness of movement caused me dizziness.

I could not remember how I could sleep while I was in the stranger’s house and in the other world.

The silence in the house scared me. Gladly, the large window allowed the sun calmed my over-imagination. His house was designed to utilize the natural light perfectly but because it was winter, the influence of the sun slightly benefited the building. I still wore his t-shirt, his towel, and his blanket. The sweat bathed me all over my body. There was an empty glass, a hot water pot, a Paracetamol tablet, and a note written, Dear Loire, I think you get a cold (hope not a fever). The pad of cooling relief fell on the floor near my feet; he must put it on while I slept. I continued reading. I prepared your breakfast in the kitchen and left your clothes in the bathroom. Feel free to use the toothbrush in front of the mirror. It’s for you. I will return home around ten.

What a man! I massaged my front head. Such a lucky lady I was. If I met someone who was a serial killer…, at least, God or something above did not abuse my life as much.

 I looked at the clock. It was seven. I just realized how much I was starving. The last meal I got was lunchtime or about sixteen hours. I skipped the dinner because of this mess and I slept too early because of this mess too. But…Gale must be an angel in disguise or my tooth-fairy if he confessed this to me; I would totally be convinced.

As I stood up, the room rotated. Not a good sign. It took a few second to balance myself. It was because of my illness but at least, the cold in my bone disappeared. Rushing to the bathroom, seeing his note direct me to set the temperature, as I finished cleaning, I was so happy to have my clothes back. “Holy shit!” I cursed again after wearing the jeans. “He touched them?”

Definitely, yes. He must know my size and be pity me. The heat ran to my face as though someone lit the fire under my skin. It was absolutely embarrassing. Because I’d been sleeping, he must do it himself. After I’d brushed my teeth, I went down to finish the meal. He cooked an easy breakfast. The perfect fried eggs and toasts with savory sausages, fresh tomatoes, and a bowl of fresh fruits. I cleaned the plates like I could swallow them altogether. And Gale returned around nine. He found me in the same old place, the white sofa. The house owner bought many things. I hoped it was not for me. As he saw me waiting, those lips stretched out an amusing smile but I did not understand what I did amuse him.

“Do you feel better?”

I nodded shyly; noticed the pot of soft pink roses. “You visited my house? No, another Loire’s house?”

“Yes,” he admitted and placed the pot on the coffee table. “What’s the name?”

“Our Lady of Guadalupe rose,” I said while touching the petals. He sat beside me, watching the roses. “Correct.” And looked at me with the concerning stare. “That Loire has no twin.”

“Please tell me what you found.”

He shrugged. “Not much. Just make me…more insane like you.” He chortled. “I returned to that house and you, no, the other you asked me if I wanted to buy a plant. I wanted to know about you so I lied to her and she took me to the nursery plant. Your flowers are beautiful…you take care of them well and that’s not the point.” He scratched his head. “I used this chance asking her if she had a twin. She said no. She had only a brother and I saw that you two are too similar even the tip of your hairs…” His eyes lingered at the pink color part. “I thought I was talking with you. And you know? She fell into the river yesterday. Someone saved her and took her home. I don’t know if she returned home later than us…if it was you who entered the house first…”

“And?”

Gale breathed in. “So I bought this rose and went to the river. Like I guessed, the area is closed. The police block everyone to get closer to the scene. They were trying to salvage the car, And…I bought you clothes.”

I poked my head to see those bags behind him. “Oh…Oh. This is too much…You help me more than I can thank you.”

“No, not a big deal.” He brushed his hands, did not care. “You can’t wear the same clothes every day. We had to think of how to do next…and.”

“And?”

Those brown eyes met mines. “And to make sure that you really came from the other world not…I don’t know how to explain…doppelgänger, cloning…something like that.” His remark made me laugh and the silence took control of the atmosphere. It was hard to explain how I felt now. Upset, certainly, unfortunately, absolutely, but also lucky to meet this man. “Gale.”

“Hmm?”

I looked at the clothes he bought for me. “I know I already said it but I must thank you again. You did not only save my life but…” I picked up the Paracetamol tablet. “…I am a stranger to you and a weird one…I don’t know how to return this kindness.”

“Shhh.” He touched my shoulder gently and withdrew the hand away as if it burned his fingers but I knew he was a true gentleman and a generous kind of people who the world needed more. He was the type of man who could not leave the unfortunate people behind. “You don’t have to thank me.” He said. “Come on. Collect these clothes. I’ll take you to your room.”

“My room?”

He nodded in assurance. “Yes. Do you want to sleep on my sofa?”

“I don’t mind.” I was honest. “Really.”

He rolled his eyes and laughed. “Well. I mind. Follow me, stranger.”

Chapter 6

“My girl.”

Someone was mourning.

Weightless, I perceived but was insensible. Ashley kissed my forehead and I did not even know if her kiss was soft or not. In my blurry vision, despite my insensitivity, she seemed to be real. The beautiful melody that was slow and ballad and the intense lyrics reminded me of my uncle’s funeral last year. Am I a dead girl? In my world, I wondered if I died due to that accident and what was this body in which I was possessing? Or I was dreaming, dreaming of the parallel world and the death of me. Every time I opened my eyes, it seemed real but this breathing was no joke. Ashley and Mathew cried and then the darkness, the sobbing, and someone burying me. And I felt like floating in a mysterious river. The water surrounded me turned into a soft texture of the good quality bed linen. My sensation had been turned on like a switch and the light touch of mother’s kiss became a touch from a hand of a man who was mostly a stranger to me.

With those beautiful hazel eyes, he watched me worrying. “Don’t cry.” The tenderness of his voice warmed my heart. 

“I fell asleep again? I don’t know.”

Sometimes I did not know if I was dreaming or I lost the ability to separate the reality from the imagination or to recognize who I was.

“You took the medicine and you slept. This is…the second morning of this world.” He seemed real to me. “You’re not dreaming or else we’re both dreaming.” And he knew what I was thinking.

“Are you alright? Can you get up?”

Struggling but I tried to get up. “I’m sorry I don’t know why I feel so sick.” It was not just the flu but the fever that tortured me cruelly. “I hardly get ill. Is it because of the accident?” Yeah, I felt so weak. As if that situation consumed all my strength, I, however, could get on my butt eventually.

Gale shook his head. “I think you probably got it before that but whatever, are you better? No headache? Dizziness? Coughing? Running nose?”

I smiled at the man who I hardly knew him but his kindness would impress me for the rest of my life. “No…a little bit dizzy but I’m okay. I just…”

“Weak.” He sat on the bed beside me. “You have to eat more. You have just one meal and return to your hibernation.” His sharp eyes scrutinized my face. “What did you see in your dream?”

“My family…in the funeral…my funeral.” Teas dropped on my face. “I don’t know.” I’m scared. “I heard the funeral songs and my mother kissed my forehead then the soil covered my face. If I died in my world, and what is this body? I breathe and…”

“It’s dream.”

I shook my head. “But there is another me in this world and I have no familiarity with this paradox. Anything can be possible.” Then I shut my mouth to glare at the man’s eyes. “Are you…real?”

The laughter transmitted through his eyes. When my consciousness had fully awakened, the heat diffused on my face and I was sure I was blushing. “Sorry…I don’t know what I’m whining.”

“Come on. Get out of the bed. You have to eat.”

Two days I lost in the world that everything contradicted my world. To be honest, apart from letters and another me, this world confused me not. Most importantly, I felt ashamed that Gale had to take care of me all the time. Sometimes I wondered if he was an angel in disguise. I meant I was probably dead and this was the heaven. Possible? Gale was an angel who tried to make me accept the truth. Like in Lost TV series…oops. Did I spoil anything? No! Don’t blame me. The series finished several years ago. You can’t complain those who mentioned the death of Jack in Titanic too, right?

Gale made me a cup of noodle chicken soup. “Are you a chef?” Ashley had a real rival now. “The appearance is perfect and the taste is heaven.”

The smile appeared on his face demonstrated the satisfaction towards my sincere compliment. “No, I’m just a man who loves cooking.”

“It’s yours?” I jerked my head to the coffee shop. “I mean you’re the owner, no need to be wondered, right? And you’re the barista?”

“A man who loves making coffee.”

He avoided the word ‘barista’. “Which school?”

He fanned his head from side to side. “A short barista course but I actually am a freelance interior designer.”

“Oh.” Looking around, I said, “Your design too?”

“Yes.”

“God!” I cried. “Lovely, very lovely. It’s kind of my dream house, you know? The space for natural light, the earth-tone colors, and this nice kitchen.”

He was a good listener because every time I made the speech, he carefully listened to what I was saying and looked into my eyes attentively. “I see you have a good taste in arts.”

I blushed. “No need a taste. Your house is obviously beautiful.”

“Aha, you’re writing a book, are you?”

“Yes…Hey, how do you know?”

Gale put his new smartphone on the table. “I just become a Facebook friend with another Loire. I tried to read all her post just to know the lost girl I brought home.” He sighed. “It’s hard to call her another you but…this is mad.” His fingers scrolled up and down, “The way she talked with her friends was just like you.”

“I know.” She is me anyway.

I finished the soup within a short time. His coffee shop was still closed because all the staffs returned home for Christmas and New Year Celebrations. I just realized that the Christmas day passed already. Gale was totally alone. He let me walk around the house, watching a TV program or listening to his music playlists and he himself spending time researching. I wanted to help but as he sent me the papers, I was done. The letters blocked me to understand. Anyway, Gale decided to cease this process because he was no scientist and my case was something the science could not give the right answer. It was beyond human’s capability. I tried to return his generosity by doing the cleaning but every time he saw me doing it, he asked me to stop. “You’re a house-elf, are you?”

“But I can’t sit and do nothing all day,” I explained and continued mobbed the floor. Gale walked towards me and shoved it away. “Forget it.”

“No!”

“Do you want to go out with me?”

“What?”

“You’re bored, aren’t you?”

I replied at once. “Yes. Okay…Do I have to change?”

“No.”

And then, it sounded like I just accept a date. Gale had not expressed anything specific or conveying to flirtation so I thought it was not a date but because he tried to eliminate my annoyance or his annoyance towards this Dobbie-wanna-be guest.

“Where?”

“Where you want to go?” He played the car’s key inside his pocket. “How about surveying the outskirt of the town? I don’t like a lot of people in the downtown.”

I nodded. “I don’t like crowds too.”

“Deal.” My rescuer smiled charmingly and led me to his car. It was a hybrid-function car, the same style of Leonardo Dicarprio. He took care of it well and he seemed to maintain everything in a good condition. The silver color also looked polished and inside was perfectly cleaned. I envied him, seriously, totally, envied of his competency. He must be a self-made man and achieved his goal at the young age while I was struggling and now lost.

Gale was twenty-seven, too young and too good. My effort not to observe him failed. His physical structure attracted my eyes and it was more than the first day we met. Or because he was the one I could talk to and trust?

Two days. I reminded myself.

While Gale was driving, my eyes penetrated through the window, trying to ignore the dead air. Thanks to the songs he played and most of them I could sing along. Sometimes I felt his eyes on me. Despite his kindness, he showed me the side of insanity. Why? Not only taking care of me, he took me out as if I was one of his family members, not a stranger. He bought me clothes and prepared the meal for me. And we just met. This made me think I was in a dream or in the dead stage which I hardly accepted my death.

The sun was shining today but I knew it would take that long.

“Are you alone?” I decided to destroy the silence.

“Yes. A loner.”

The dead air again.

“If there was no accident, what would you do during the holidays?”

Gale kept his mouth shut with his brows upwards as though he had to exploit a lot of energy to give me the answer. “Nothing special. I do the same. I love traveling but not during the high season. My real holidays are after the others’ holidays.”

“Where’re you planning to go?”

“Japan.”

I swallowed my saliva when this country took me back the promise Billie had unkindly broken without a single hesitation.

“But there’re always a lot of tourists in Japan…throughout the year.” I used to go there once, alone, when Billie could not be my companion. “And you can travel anywhere every season.” 

“Yeah, I know the quantity but not like in the Sakura and red-leaves seasons, you may stamp on someone’s feet.”

“True,” I laughed. Thinking of Billy made me feel bad. He was like a reminder of a bad decision, the dream that would never come true. Thinking of him cause a slight pain in my chest, I continued talking with Gale. “Don’t you feel alone?”

“I’m using to it.”

No regret mixed in his voice but it was me who felt lonely instead of the speaker. He was warm, too kind and I felt like he deserved someone kind too to be with him.

I did not know where he would take me to. I hardly spent time at the outskirt of the town. The warm of the sunlight calmed the thought and then he stopped the car. I looked around and saw nothing except that the green of trees and glasses and the hill.

The cool winds blew mildly. Gale urged me to accelerate my pace as he walked ahead of me about several meters. I almost ran to follow him. The way was slope but not to edgy. It was a small hill that took some minutes, then we stood at the top. There I saw the whole city. If this was summer, the view must be majestic. Gale offered his hands as he saw I hardly balanced myself due to the wind and the rocks scattering on the ground. We jumped from big rock to another big rock. He told me that it was not an ordinary rock but the ruins of the ancient wall.

“I haven’t known that.”

“It’s too small to catch the eyes of archeologists. The wall was built during the Roman intrusion. They were everywhere in this country…Do you feel alright?”

“Of course.”

His face expressed the concern for my health. “It’s the wind. I give you a few minutes to breathe in the ozone here.”

I inhaled deeply. “Ah…nature. Why I’ve never known this place? I was born here, in this town. You?”

“No, I just moved in, a couple of years ago.” His eyes scanned the view like the eagle’s eyes. “We used to come here together, to share our dreams.” As if he saw someone invisible to the eyes. I assumed that he was looking for that person in his memory. That kind of expression reflected my gesture when thinking of Billy. In that instant of time, my eyes scrutinized his face and those lips stimulated the desire in me.

No!

You can’t kiss a man you just met for two days!

I looked away, felt ashamed of myself. What happened to my thought? Gale was a good-looking man. Just physical attraction, just that! I hoped. My attempt to erase that idea out of my head made my mouth split a rude question, “Who is she?...Oh…” I covered my mouth but it was too late. You can’t take your word back once they are released out of your mouth. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t ask.”

He gave a chilling shrugged with eyes still watched the view. “My ex. How about you?”

“Me?”

“Who made you post sad songs recently?”

“How do you know?” I almost yelled at him. Those lips stretched in the shape of a mocking smile. “And heart-breaking quote?”

My cheeks blushed and probably were hot than the sun.

“People nowadays express everything on social media, don’t you think?” This man needs a kick. Anyway, I restrained myself from doing such thing. He was my rescuer.

Gale sighed and signaled for me to return to the car.

“Can we stay a little bit longer?” I begged through my eyes. “We just come here.”

“You don’t want to recover? Don’t worry. I won’t take you home. Let’s go.” He offered a hand again. I hesitated. But it was true, the wind would kill me if I continued being stubborn. Instead of touching his hand, I grabbed the tip of his jacket. Still wondering if he was real; if this place was heaven or whatever that associated with the spirit realm, I was sure he was not an ordinary ghost but one of the guardians for sure.

Gale did not intend to take me to any special place. In contrary, he went to the supermarket and bought many ingredients. At this time, I felt certain that I was dead but lost in the parallel world or I was dead and reborn in the parallel world. Everything was so real. I took a long time examining fruits until Gale had to drag me from there. I watched everyone. “What are you doing?” Finally, he noticed my strange behavior.

“I try to make sure that it’s real.”

He laughed through his nose. “You…” Fanning his head from side to side, “You’re a funny little girl.”

“I’m not a girl!”

The young man ducked his head to annoy her. I changed my tone to be more serious. “Gale.”

“Hmm?”

“If I can’t go back to my world…or not now and I have to stay with you more than a day, a week…a month…”

“Get to the point,” the man urged.

“Can you hire me?”

His removed his sight from the salmon to me. “Hire you?”

I bobbed my head up and down. “I need to live on my own and in this world, I can’t read but I can do service…serving, cleaning…” Again, my eyes brimmed with tears, why was I so fragile? Resisted those tears inside and continued, “I can’t be your burden all the time.”

He turned his back to the salmon and asked me, “how about grilled salmon tonight?”

I completely did not understand this man. He did neither answer me nor giving an opinion about it. On the contrary, he ignored it. Moreover, every time he met any accustomed people and they asked me what we were. He just smiled at them. I told him that his smile implied the wrong way and he just shrugged. “Why? Do you want me to tell them you came from another world?”

And who could counter him?

What made me feel worse? His tender-heartedness. It reminded me of Billy. The first two years of our relationship, I saw Billy like a hero out of my favorite young adult fictions in my teenage year, even though the way he treated me was totally different from Billy’s. My ex was funny, childish, and naughty but Gale was a kind of a good uncle. He was calmer and more mature than Billy. Every time I protested him, he would have better reasons to defeat my stubbornness. And that made me feel safer with him, which was not a good sign at all.

As I helped him prepare the dinner, I asked if he had friends. My question amused him and he laughed as if I was a comedian. “Of course! But they’re with their families now. I had no family, nor parents, nor girlfriend, so I live here alone, completely alone. Any question?”

I bowed my head arranging the table.

“I thought you were younger because of the way you tried to make a decision of buying the chocolate bar.”

I raised my head. He turned his back towards me. The smell of grilled salmon attacked my nose and my stomach silently cried inside. “Actually, I mean another Loire…”

But I did spend a long time to buy the chocolate bars, well, when I was in my world.

“You brows frowned as if it was the hardest decision for you to choose between the discounted Lindt and the discounted Maltesers.”

Damn, I agreed now why he had regarded me as a schoolgirl. My body size had never growth since aged fifteen (except fat) and I thought of buying one of them or both of them for about ten or fifteen minutes. “Oh!” I remembered that he also bought that chocolate for me. I looked at the shelf of snacks. “That’s why you spoiled me to buy those things.” 

The grilled salmon with lemon and asparagus were served on the table alongside with marinated tomatoes salad with herbs and the left-over chicken soup (specifically for me). I noticed that he preferred healthy menu while if I cooked for myself, I would switch between healthy foods and mouth-watering ones in every meal.

During the dinner, he demanded me to tell him my story. This time, I did not hesitate. First reason, I was in his home under his care that led to the second reason; I began trusting him. At least, I had the luck to meet this guy who had never harmed me just once. There were many possibilities that I would have met someone who might abandon me or, worse, take the chance to harass me. On the other hand, Gale saved me and took care of me until my illness was gone. And then, one idea came into my view. If the one he rescued was not me but another Loire and I did not lose in this world, does Gale in my world will save me?

And why did I want Gale in my world to save me?