The sun was setting over the lower district of Calida, casting a deep red hue in the sky that faded into light pink swirls. He was standing at the corner—lovely as always despite the scar that ran from his left eye to his jaw, the pink-scarred flesh contrasting with the rest of his bronze skin. He flashed a smile that always made her giddy, so she nearly missed the shadowy figure that was approaching him.

Her voice caught in her throat—she was unable to scream a warning, her eyes widening in fear. Time slowed down—he cocked his head in confusion and walked towards her, then a loud sound—a gunshot! He clutched his gut, blood spilling through his fingers as he gave her one last lopsided grin and slumped to the ground.

Melanie bolted upright, heart racing, with beads of sweat clinging to her as she gasped for air. She closed her eyes slowly and then buried her face in her hands, surprised to find her cheeks were blotted with tears. Mentally scolding herself, she got out of bed to prepare for the day. It was still a few hours earlier than when she normally got up, but it just meant she had more time to relax and forget.

No—not forget. But at least push the nightmare away. She couldn't abandon him.

She started the shower and searched for some clean towels—it had been a while since she had felt like cleaning up the place, but she finally discovered one was still in the dryer. By the time she peeled her nighttime attire off the steam was already filling the room.

The hot water soothed her muscles and helped her clear her mind. She took deep breaths and tried to hold onto that feeling. Now more than ever she couldn't afford any mistakes.

She waited until she was certain she had her emotions under control before turning off the water. She dried her hair just enough so it wouldn't drip on the cold tile of the bathroom floor before wrapping it around her body and walking towards the mirror, wiping off the fog.

Her own hazy reflection greeted her. Melanie wiped the mirror again until she could see herself clearly. Her thick black hair was unusually wavy due to the brisk drying treatment she had given it a few moments ago, falling haphazardly on her shoulders and chest. A callused hand held the towel around her body, which showed off toned muscles. A pair of determined green eyes looked back at her as she gave one last gaze at the image in the mirror, wishing once again that she wasn't going to walk out into an empty room.

She sighed and picked her way through the maze of dirty clothes and empty soda cans, heading towards her dresser. Her work clothes were clean, thankfully, and she pulled them on slowly before trudging back to the bathroom to put her hair in some sort of order.

Facing her new reflection, she straightened and forced a smile.

"Today's the day," she told herself, and adjusted the white collar of her blouse so it would fit properly against her dark gray blazer. She made sure her slacks were also in order, and then headed back to her bedroom.

She looked at the disorderly state of her room and mentally resolved to clean up sometime this week. He never would've let things get this bad. Melanie glanced at the picture frame on the small table near her bed. It still held a picture of him. She bit her lip as she fought a silent battle to keep a hot flood of tears from spilling over. She closed her eyes, reached out and fumbled around to find the frame and lay it down so the picture was no longer visible.

With that done, she reopened her eyes and resumed getting ready to leave. With all of the necessary belongings gathered, she headed out of the room and down the hall towards the door, pausing slightly as she grabbed the handle, but left without looking back.