“The sun’s gonna rise tomorrow.”
The days had crawled by, slowly as they could. Issie was softer than she usually was. Quieter too. It was quite unnerving for him. She only crawled out of the bed to eat, sometimes barely for that either.
Raphael didn’t know how to help her. He didn’t know how else to tell her that everything was going to be okay. Mostly, because he didn’t if everything would be okay. He couldn’t lie to her. He couldn’t reveal the truth that he was actually as petrified as she was.
There he stood, by the window, counting the stars before they could twinkle away from his sight. She was curled up into the same ball that she’d been in for the last twelve hours. Five stars. She rarely spoke. The most he ever heard were the sad muffles of her trying to fit herself under the covers. He usually stayed with her until she fell asleep, then he’d collapse on the sofa, barely touching his dreamland.
“The sun’s gonna rise tomorrow.” He repeated, more firmly this time.
Was he trying to comfort her or himself, this time?
Raphael stifled a yawn, failing to keep it quiet. The late nights and the early mornings were finally getting to him. The bedroom window faced the path from where they entered the cabin. Fortunately, over the past days, their footsteps had been covered by fallen leaves, and he wondered how long it would take for them to find her. Even her father was largely unaware of their whereabouts – he just knew that Issie was safe and sound. Raphael was about to give more details but her father stopped him, implying that the conversation could be recorded. Later that day, he threw the old Nokia phone in a nearby river, known for having fishes that would eat absolutely anything.
Boof-boof. He heard the quiet pat of the bed, and turned around to see that Issie had shifted herself over, laying on the right side of the bed, instead of her usual middle position. The duvet was open slightly, her thighs were slightly exposed, but she managed to use the duvet to cover them.
“Come.” Her voice was soft, and Raphael had to think twice if he even heard it. When he didn’t move, she moved over a bit more to make her point. “You’re tired. Come here.”
That was the most that he’d heard her say today. He hesitated. “I’ll sleep on the sofa. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”
“It’ll make me feel safe.” She paused, then cleared her throat. “Plus, I’ve seen how uncomfortable you are when you sleep on it.”
Raphael exercised his neck. She was right, the sofa was bumpy and often caused him backache in the mornings. He slipped his shoes off, and chucked them at the corner of the room. They landed clumsily on top of each other, clearly showing the dark scuff marks on his trainers. He slipped inside the duvet, and made sure that the duvet covered her completely. He didn’t mind, he only needed a pillow to lay his head on.
She turned away from him, hoping that facing away from his body would stop her from thinking. Her tired eyes focused on the rug instead, how the different shades of grey and black soon merged into one tight spiral. She wondered whether her mother would be found, and with all the hope in her heart and soul, she was hoping that her mother would be found alive.
She closed her eyes, hoping that sleep would find its way to her but instead, she was swallowed by the many thoughts that eventually drowned her to sleep. She hunched over into a foetal position, not realising that her top had risen to expose half of her back.
He couldn’t help but stare at the intricate lines that wrapped themselves over her back. The lines almost reminded him of stitches, as if they’d been tattooed onto her skin from birth. He stopped himself from tracing over the lines with his fingertips, stopped himself from wondering where they began and where they ended.
Issie nestled closer to his body, her legs hiked up to her knees and her feet crossed. She must have been asleep. She wouldn’t do that if she was awake. He looked back, wondering how much space she was going to take up before he was forced to fall off. He had been given no choice but to tangle his body with hers, for the sake of his comfort. That’s what he told himself. Not because he enjoyed having her this close. Just because he couldn’t fall off the bed.
He didn’t know where to put his arm. It felt awkward just lying on his side, especially with her just here. He could just put his arm on her, but wouldn’t that make things weird? But he was very uncomfortable. His other arm was under the pillow, enjoying the colder side of the pillow. Where would he put his–
She suddenly turned around. Her gentle snores startled him, as her faced nestled closer and closer to his chest. She was practically snuggled under his arm. He wasn’t doing anything wrong. It’s not like he purposely – intentionally – placed his arm on her. His arm just happened to be there. With her. Over her.
His fingers slowly drifted to the bottom of her back. Out of a mind of their own, they lightly traced lines on her back, shaping out the shape of infinity of her back. He wondered if he would ever get this moment again. This moment couldn’t be repeated. Shouldn’t be repeated. What was he doing?
He was going to get in trouble. His fingers should stop what they’re doing. Do they stop? Should they stop? The feeling of her close felt so nice. So comforting. A feeling that he hadn’t felt in a long time. Drowning in this comfort seemed like the best way to die.
* ~ * ~ *
She found herself in the middle of a large ballroom, with a huge spiral staircase sitting at the back of the room. Its floors were paved with gold, glinting under the golden chandelier’s light.
Its walls were full of ornate floral patterns, donned with golden glitter that she couldn’t help staring at. Roses, hydrangeas, cherry blossom plants. She couldn’t name the rest.
He emerged from one of the doorways. What was behind the hallway, she didn’t know – for some reason, her curious nature didn’t want to know what was behind the wall. He looked as confused as she did, until he looked at her clothes. She peered down to realise that she was wearing an ebony ballroom gown, and for once she didn’t feel uncomfortable with the golden high heels. They were similar to the ones that her sisters usually wore at events, the ones with the red bottoms.
Raphael stumbled forward, as if he was being pushed by some unknown force. Was this real? He didn’t know. All he knew was her. He couldn’t keep his eyes off her, the way that her black curls framed her face, or the way that the top of her dress framed the top part of her body. The golden rose sat on top of her hair, right above her ear, sitting comfortably as if its home was on her head.
“You look…” His words ran off with each other.
Issie looked at him, watching how his black suit jacket emphasised his arm muscles as he strolled towards her. His hands were bloodied, as per always, but Issie thought it was endearing.
“Appreciate it.” She thanked him, smiling as he looped his hands with hers.
Where did the music come from? The classical music reminded her of the masquerade party that her sister had a couple of years ago for her sixteenth birthday. She remembered how her sister, Evelyn, seemed to glide over the floor, while her now-deceased date led her around the dancefloor. She looked so graceful, and Issie wondered, in her prepubescent mind, whether she would ever get to glide like that.
Apparently, today was that day.
His hand placed themselves on the lower part of her back secured her in his grasp as he helped her to glide across the floor. Suddenly, her feet weren’t touching the ground as she realised that he was actually lifting her up. Did he always know how to do this?
No. He didn’t. In fact, he actually had no idea what made him lift her up above his head. Why were her feet so pointed? Did she know that this was going to happen? He placed her gently on the ground but she drew closer to him, their dance coming to a standstill.
They found themselves in the centre of the floor, suddenly realising that the lights in the room were nearly off. The only source light was above them, and had turned their spot into a spotlight.
“Ow, ow, ow!” She whisper-yelled, realising that he was stepping on her toe.
As she was looking down at her toes, and readjusting the trail of her dress, he was a bit too close to comfort and his chin collided with the top of her head.
“Oh, shit! I’m so sorry!” She rambled, reaching out for a stumbling Raphael.
The pain in his jaw was more intense than usual. He’d suffered from worse than this. He couldn’t understand why the pain was rapidly spreading to his face. He fell to the floor, his body apparently not being able to handle the pain.
She crouched down over him, reaching out for his jaw. She wasn’t sure what she could do for him except apologise profusely, hoping that her apologies would quicken the healing process.
It didn’t, but once her hands made contact with his face, suddenly the pain started to melt away. He looked at her, like the many times that he had looked at her, wondering whether she knew that she was a special one. Not just to him, but to everyone else too. She was used to the hushed whispers, ignoring them like it was just wind whistling past her ears. He wasn’t. They put him on edge – he knew what they were whispering about was pointless, but it didn’t help his nerves. The hushed whispers came from everywhere: from her walking out in the street; her walking into her living room where her sisters were present; to walking past a gaggle of teenage girls.
He didn’t know how she was so calm about everything. Something inside him always wanted to pounce on anything unfamiliar. Call it an impulse, if you must. But… she was so still. So reflective.
Issie didn’t realise how close his face was to her. Something was pushing her closer, closer and closer to his face. More importantly, closer to his lips. She wondered whether this was making him uncomfortable, whether the proximity of her presence was putting him on edge.
“I-” She started to speak, but her words were taken by his mouth on hers.
Home. She had never felt like she had belonged anywhere and perhaps, this was the reason why. He was her home. She was his home. Comfort and belonging flooded their hearts and souls and reached their smiles as they carried on kissing each other.
She was home.
* ~ * ~ *
Raphael woke up, finding himself tangled up with her. Her body lay half on his and half on the bed. Her head was firmly placed where his heart was, and he wondered whether she could feel the rate of his heart. One of her hands were propped next to his hand, and the other was bent near her side. He could feel her heart as it pounded away against her chest, almost wanting to jump from hers to his chest.
Two hearts. One body.
“In perpetuum et unum diem.” She found herself whispering as she woke up.
Huh. The bed seemed firmer than usually. She definitely didn’t remember the bed ever having a pulse, or a heartbeat.
Raphael gently slid Issie off his body, realising that she was half-awake. He couldn’t get what she said out of his head. He replayed what she said, over and over again. Was that Latin? Since when did she ever speak Latin? Then again, he did remember her father coming in and saying something in Latin but he had never fully understood what those words meant.
“I had the weirdest dream.” He began to say, realising that she was now completely awake.
“Same.” She mumbled as she rubbed her eyes. The room was blurry before it eventually sharpened. She was sure that she seemed and looked as gross as she always felt in the morning when she first woke. “You were in it and I was in this beautiful b–,”
“Black dress, with gold swirls on it? You also had a gold-”
Issie furrowed her eyebrows. “Rose sitting on my head, near my ear right? Then we danced and you lifted me up.”
“Then you hurt me and I fell to the ground and then we…” His eyes widened as he realised what had happened. “We kissed.”
“We kissed.” She repeated. “That… did happen.”
They were both sitting up now. Issie had somehow made it to his side, her feet apparently not listening to her brain and instead following her heart’s wishes. Raphael tried to look everywhere but her; once her hand had found its way to his face, and directed his gaze into her brown orbs, he knew that he couldn’t just look away.
“You felt like home.” She muttered under her breath, not minding where he heard or not. “I’ve never felt like I belong.”
“You’ve seen what I am.”
Issie nodded. “Home isn’t perfect. Doesn’t mean that it’s not home.”
Raphael started to speak in protest, to tell her that this was a bad idea. To stop because this was the worst idea ever created. He was not about to get her involved in his messes, despite how chaotic her life already was. However, the three single knocks on the door stopped him.
Issie looked back, and created some distance between them. The hairs on her arms stood up, as she realised that the three single knocks had turned into multiple knocks. Then, she heard the shouting. Then, the shouting got louder. Then, the shouting escalated into aggressive taunts, apparently right outside of the door.
They were outside the door. Issie looked down at the crowd, nearly managing to barge in but she could the door was barely handling it. It would be soon that they would be able to get in and find her.
She looked back at Raphael, who was nearly out of the room. “You have to hide.”
 Forever and a day