I dedicate this to the pair of characters who have resided inside my head for five long years (before I succumbed to a . . . darker sort of beauty). They have played an important part in my life, and I am eternally grateful to them.
31 December 1999.
The last day of the millennium. And everyone around the world was celebrating.
He smiled faintly to himself. She continued to lie in his arms, her hazel eyes unfocused, her face and lips pale in the white moonlight.
So much have changed.
He tucked a stray strand of her raven hair behind her ear.
Pause. "What will you do if I go?"
He held her closer. It was only then did he realise how far they had gone in these two years. How much they had gone through.
And how she would be leaving him. Soon.
– – –
The moment she stepped into the classroom, their eyes had settled on each other.
And the only word they could think of was — hate.
He hated her sloppy style of dressing. That loose unbuttoned shirt over a white tee. Those baggy black jeans. And that careless ponytail held in place by a red bandana.
She hated his effeminate 'mummy's boy' appearance. Those long blond bangs down to the nosetip. That pair of wide blue eyes. The same shirt as hers — only yellow. Those faded jeans. And your typical go-straight-home-after-school-no-detention kind of person.
It wasn't even a week before the B&B — so they were called — started thrashing it out, for they just did not like each other at all. She was violent, sometimes using her beloved skateboard as a weapon; he only had a mountain bike — which was impossible to attack with — and so he could only make do with his fists and dirt-caked sneakers.
The common fighting ring was at the back of the school, and no one in the entire grade would miss those 'tournaments' for anything in the world, since it was one of the more exciting stuff that happened during dull schooldays.
"Say! Look at that! I didn't know that Bluebell kid could fight!"
"Neither did I . . . And wow! You saw that? Blazer's shot was fine!"
And undoubtedly these 'illegal gatherings' were found out, and so it had been detention five days a week, for two entire months. It marked the end of his squeaky-clean record, and it left the teachers a very bad impression of them both.
– – –
He could not reply.
"I . . . I don't know. Can we not talk about that?"
He listened. Far away, behind him, the low bass beat from the town's largest mansion could be heard. It was to be the last and wildest party of the year.
He imagined. In the midst of streamers, music, booze, bare limbs and wild party animals, the two of them could be laughing, dancing, yelling at each other, and collapsing into each other's arms, weary after all the workout.
He listened again. The weak, shallow breaths of the girl were weary, and soft. She shifted slightly.
They weren't anywhere else. They were still where they always had been: on the grassy slope, facing the flowing stream, under the sky of stars.
– – –
I'd really love to wallop that person who ever thought of this stupid random Valentine-cum-responsibility project. Everyone agreed that was pure dumb. And that stupid teacher paired me up with her. Her, of all people?
Everyone had gone for break, except us. We were still trying to decide what to do with it.
The two of us stared at the pathetically small egg, nestled in a thick pink towel in a shoebox.
I broke the ice rather scathingly. "Now what?" I snapped.
"How would I know? Talk to it, I suppose."
"You do the talking."
"Hell no. I'll get rid of this little chick once and for all." She snatched the egg and juggled with it.
"Bid thy final farewell, thou poor little feathered friend, before thou hatch — "
"Don't you dare break that — " I yanked her hand — too hard, it seemed — and the unborn chick went flying out of the classroom window.
"No!" we shouted in unison, for once.
And as if the gods above wanted to mark this uncanny anomaly of ours, a nice fat splat echoed from the ground floor.
I squeezed my eyes shut and winced. She probably did the same, since that egg was worth ten marks in our overall grade.
She slapped my shoulder — hard. "What are you still standing here for?" she yelled. "Quick clear up that mess before the teacher sees it!"
We sped downstairs and out into the carpark. The egg was now a blooming ox-eye daisy, sizzling on the principal's black Hyundai, under the glaring hot sun. It smelt so wonderful the whole incident suddenly became ten times funnier than usual.
She grinned and nudged me. "Nice one."
"You've got it," I agreed, pointing to the egg which would never become a chick again. "Let's tuck in."
– – –
She smiled to herself wanly. The night sky was sprinkled with silver glitter. A flowing ribbon of cloud streamed across the zenith.
She seemed to have loved stargazing ever since she was young. And that faraway look on her face whenever her head was tilted up towards the sky . . . that serene, gentle look that was so rare from her usual self.
Yet somehow he missed that authoritative voice of hers, that sarcastic smirk on her face every now and then, that daredevil in her that constantly craved for adventure and thrill.
Right now, even her fist on his face would feel good.
But she had become too frail. Her wristbone was already jutting out, making an obvious hump in her skin.
The stars whispered amongst themselves, and the moon looked on quietly. Nobody else noticed the two of them, both in the sky and on the ground.
– – –
"You jerk! It's my big day today! Who says you have any right to take me anywhere?"
"Because I say so." He gave an irritating smirk.
"Huh." I gave a snort. "And who do you think you are?"
"The most eligible bachelor across the entire grade, and for your information I — "
"Ri-ight. Like anyone would like a milksop like you." The sarcasm was rolling off my tongue as my eyes looked skyward in mock disdain. "And who had been the one who transformed you into a — ah, an eligible milksop like you?"
He ignored me, pulling me towards that stream we discovered a few weeks earlier, somewhere along the edges of the town. Then he sat me down.
"Wait here," he said firmly, and sprinted off.
Idiot, I thought, fuming inside. I was the one who actually helped him loosen up and break that image of a boring schoolboy. Now that he had become one of the most sought-after people in school, of course I deserved at least some credit for that! The friendship was fair enough — it required less energy than weekly fights and daily arguments — but still, that didn't give him the right to order me around like that!
And especially on . . .
I clenched my fists, trying to calm down. When that failed, I stood up to leave, but when I turned around I went smack-bang into something hard and cuboid.
"Didn't I tell you to wait?" he yelled at me. He looked almost hysterical.
I glared back at him. "You told me to wait, but never to stay." Before he could splutter out an answer, however, I pointed at the box instead. "What's that?"
He seemed to have simmered down from his slight temper, but his tone became falsely hurt instead. "You! I went to the extent of getting you a present and this is what I get in return? How unappreciative can you get?"
This time I stared at the box in his hands. Really hard. "A what?" I asked, quite stupidly.
His face mellowed. Then he winked, and thrust the box into my arms. "A present. Happy birthday, girl. Open it."
I frowned. He continued to smile this stupid, lopsided smile of his. Something was definitely wrong. "Are you okay today?" I put the back of my hand against his forehead.
He rolled his eyes and pulled my hand away. "Don't be silly. Open that present. I burned my pockets for it, you know," he added eagerly.
That made whatever lay inside the box even more suspicious. I laid the cardboard box on the ground and started tearing the tape and undoing the flaps.
And as I turned back the last flap there it was: a slick, black board, zigzagged with silver patterns, sitting snugly in its protective wrapping and staring proudly back at me. I kneeled there on the grass, dumbfounded. It can't be, I thought, although I sort of knew what it was.
I imagined him parting with his own money just to buy it, and hauling the whole thing home and hiding it till now. "You . . . you really bought that?" I asked quietly.
He shrugged with a small smile, and squatted down beside me. "Well, I noticed that your old one's almost in splinters. And that day I caught you staring at this skateboard in the display window, and when I called you you didn't even respond. So I thought . . ."
I said nothing. I still couldn't imagine him spending so much on this present . . . on me.
"It's customised, too," he added, helpfully. "Flip it over."
So I did. And on the underside of the board, a perfect B was carved and the valley was painted silver, with a sharp white outline around the letter.
I ran my fingers across the smoothly chiseled pattern. "Why did you . . .?" I started, but my voice fell softer and I could not continue.
His hands were on his lap, thumbs turning behind clasped fingers. "Because . . . because I want to?" he suggested, giving me a bigger smile this time. "You know, actually . . . I feel really awful whenever you're standing outside that shop all day and practically drooling over it! I know you really like it a lot.
"And I . . . I want you to have it," he added, though softly.
I glanced at him. His hair was hiding half his face from my view, but I could see him biting his lip, hesitant.
"I . . . there's something else I've got for you . . ."
He fished out something from his pocket and sort of dangled it in front of my eyes, still smiling. The pendant glinted, orange on purple, in the dying sunlight.
The amethyst was like a kiss to my skin, as he put the black choker around my neck. I should have known, I thought.
I did not say anything.
"I'm sorry," he said, very quietly this time. "I — I don't know what else to do. I don't know whether you'd like this, but I thought — well, the purple suits you. I know you like the skateboard, but I just wanted to give you something else, something that's not on your wishlist or anything, something . . . something that you'll accept because it was I who gave it to you."
He lowered his head, and could not look me in the eye. "I'm sorry for whatever I did in the past," he said instead.
But I stared at him, and he raised his eyes slightly, and I saw an uncertain sincerity shining in them, searching for an answer from me. I was confused, trying hard to understand the situation, of what was to come, of what he had done, of what he thought, of what he thought of me.
"I'm not saying all this because I'm . . . grateful, you know," he continued, haltingly. "I am grateful, that's a fact, but only because you made me see so much more. That there's more to life than just . . . blindly following rules. And because you made me see what you are like. And I know. You've always been true to yourself. You don't pretend, you don't try to be what you're not. You are who I've always seen you as."
When I did not respond after what seemed like a really long time, he gently pulled me into his arms and held me there, saying nothing else either. I closed my eyes, feeling the silent warmth around me, the confused, overwhelming thoughts inside me. Why did things turn out this way? Why me? Why him? Why only now?
. . . Why didn't I see it earlier?
". . . That's why I like you," he finally said, in a very small whisper, inside my ear.
That was all it needed. That was all it took. I finally abandoned the resilient side of me I had been displaying all along, having failed to keep it going, to hide my tired, lonely self from everyone, while at the same time subconsciously and helplessly searching for something — someone — that would accept me, protect me.
. . . And if he did, if he really did, I would try to accept him. I wanted to try.
Silently I buried my face into his shirt collar and wept, as he held me close, the two of us lost in our trains of unspoken thoughts.
– – –
She watched him quietly, and tried to imagine what he was thinking about. The pained look on his face gave him away: like her, he was trapped in his memories.
She turned away, biting her cracked lips so hard, she could taste a warm, metallic taste in her mouth. Yet it was something deep inside her that bled instead, in anguish.
I'm sorry, it whispered, and echoed over and over. If I had persisted, if I had refused then, all these wouldn't have happened. You wouldn't be here, getting depressed over a useless thing like me.
But he merely leaned down and kissed her softly on her forehead, not reading her inner thoughts, not saying anything, just like the several times before.
– – –
Her eyes were downcast. She clutched her skateboard and walked slowly towards me.
"Blaze," I started, but had no chance to finish my sentence.
She thrust the board into my hands, and I staggered back slightly from the impact. "Take it back," she said.
"Blaze, what — "
"I said take it back! Take it back with you right now! I don't want to see it again. I don't want to see you again either!"
I was confused, and dismayed, and I did not understand. I put the skateboard down and clutched her by the shoulders, shaking her hard. "What are you talking about?" I asked, desperately. "Why are you saying all this all of a sudden?"
Her head snapped up, and her angry brown eyes bore into mine. "Why?" she repeated, bitterly. "You want to know why? Then I'll tell you." She stared at me, and I saw, just for a split second, a hint of uncertainty in her burning gaze.
"Because I never liked you. I never liked you at all. I didn't reject you in the first place because I felt sorry for you, pretty boy. I knew you were pathetic. I knew you were just this stupid nimrod hovering around me, trying to get me to be your friend. And I played along because I couldn't get rid of you."
Her fists were shaking. "And I shouldn't have," she said, bitter. "It was a bloody waste of time!"
Inside I was chilled, crushed by her words — the words I did not want to hear — forgetting the tears which she shed on that very day. "Blaze," I pleaded. "Please — "
"Shut up. Let me finish talking. And I tell you — " she jabbed a finger hard at my chest — "We're history already. No, we never even had one. Do you understand?"
She was almost hysterical; her tears were flowing out fast and furious. I so desperately hoped that mingled with them were traces of denial, of unspeakable reasons for saying all this, of —
"And I tell you take that thing out of my sight right now!"
"No!" I yelled, frantically, angrily. "I'm not going to do that. I'm not!"
"Fine. If you don't I'll get rid of it myself!"
She whipped the skateboard off the ground and marched into the small shed at the side of the skateboarding grounds. Then she emerged with an axe — what was that doing there? — and a can of kerosene.
I was utterly speechless. And helpless to her advances, to what she was going to do to what she had loved — what she had once loved. I could only stare. Stop it, Blaze. Please stop it . . .
She stopped at the centre of the flat ground, right in the middle of a flaring star sprayed with graffiti. Threw the skateboard carelessly down, the wheels rattling in protest. Hacked up the entire board with the axe, right before my very eyes. Crying hard, crying as she raised the handle up and brought it down again and again and again. Reduced my first gift to her to useless splinters of wood, and there was nothing I could nothing about it. Nothing I could do to stop her.
I was numbed, and shattered; my eyes clouded, and throbbed with pain. She emptied the kerosene over the debris, and flung a lighted match onto it. In an instant the star burst into flames, lapping the air all around, burning with fierce vehemence.
She dropped the axe — it narrowly missed her feet — and fell back, staring at the flowing orange fire, watching it burn. I snapped up from my wretched trance, and ran to her, pulling her to safety. Angry, upset, I turned her around to face me, but her face was utterly blank.
"Why? Why did you have to burn it? Why did you?" I cried, my voice half drowned by the crackling of the fire. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
She looked at me, her eyes filled with nothing but a disturbing nothingness. A single tear trailed down her face, but she didn't bother to brush it off. She didn't say anything at all.
"I know you don't want this, Blaze," I said, trying to talk some sense into both of us, to make us believe another truth. "I know you didn't mean to do all this at all. I know you didn't mean to say those things . . ." I searched her eyes for a response, in vain. "Are you hiding something from me, Blaze?" I asked quietly. "Can't you just tell me?"
Still she said nothing.
"Tell me," I whispered.
And all of a sudden she burst into fresh tears. "I had to! I didn't want to, but I had to . . ." Her voice suddenly sounded exhausted, pained, amidst the tears pouring down her cheeks. "I'm not going to live past this year," she said, very, very softly.
– – –
He still remembered the passage he'd gotten from a book, after she had broken the news to him.
Leukaemia: a disease found in the centre of the bone, which causes white blood cells to multiply at an abnormal rate, affecting the bone marrow's ability to produce normal cells. An exact cause of leukaemia is not yet known. However, it is believed that exposure to radiation early in life, chemicals or genetic disorders can assist in its formation. Chemotherapy, radiation and drug therapy, blood transfusions and bone marrow transplants can relieve the symptoms of leukaemia. However, these reliefs are not guaranteed, and the final result may be fatal.
She was getting worse and worse by the minute. She had insisted on leaving the drip at home on the last day of the year. Probably the last day of her life.
Her eyes were losing their vibrancy and colour. He wrenched his eyes away, fighting back tears.
I'm not going to live past this year.
Five minutes left.
– – –
He was helplessly unaware of where he was going — his feet were as if they had a mind of their own. He was oblivious of her parents beside him, oblivious to the fact that he was still walking, perfect and healthy among the dying souls. His shoes squeaked on the deceptively polished linoleum floor, the echoes rebounding off the sterile walls.
Nurses were rushing down the corridor while pushing her bed, two on each side and one trailing behind with the pole they hooked the drip on.
She needs a drip to live.
She needs me.
I need her.
No . . .
The nurses pushed the bed into the open doors of a lift, and he caught sight of her face, half concealed behind the misty oxygen mask, and her eyes were closed, lost in a disturbed, dreamless sleep.
The doors closed.
Her mother broke down outside the lift, sliding down the wall and knelt down, sobbing uncontrollably. A man held her in his arms and tried to soothe her, but he could see he could not take it much longer either.
He ran his fingers along the cold, white paint. He'd taken the news pretty well, considering. Sometimes she couldn't accept the fact, but most of the time she could bear the pain. I still have that strong side, you know, she had told him once, although with a weak smile.
He never understood why she had rejected treatment. Maybe it was because of the long, shining hair she got from her mother. It was the only thing she had left that let her hide the truth from others. Maybe she knew her destiny. Maybe she would never get to see the first daybreak of the millennium after all, no matter how hard she tried.
The cold water rushed from the tap as he splashed his face. He gazed into in the mirror. He himself had become more fragile over the months. The brittle cold of winter was fading away the gold of his hair, leaving behind a pale yellow matted mop; his eyes, unfocused, the deep blue a murky depth of grief and regret; the guilt, eating him from inside, leaving a hollow shell on the outside.
And the water dripped from his chin.
And he was brutally reminded of the plastic packet drip, hanging from the stand, dripping into her — the girl he had grown to love, the girl who had grown to love him in return, the girl who wanted little, but who had even less time to have them all.
. . . And what could he do?
Nothing. Nothing at all.
– – –
She could sense it, her moment of departure beckoning her, pulling her spirit away from the ground and into the heavens. But she held on. Not yet, she told herself. Not yet . . .
The music got louder. His body trembled with fear and dread, his arms tightened around her frail body.
"Blue — "
"They won't take you away from me. They won't. I won't let them . . ."
But you have to understand. She choked back a sob. I can feel it. I have to . . . I'm sorry, I can't stay in this world much longer, Blue. I'm sorry.
"Why must they do that?" he asked, voice quivering. Right then he seemed merely like a helpless child, refusing to understand or accept the many unexplainable truths in life. "Why?"
She shook her head slightly, unable to answer his demanding question.
Desperately he searched her eyes for an answer, but there was no need for any. At that moment he finally understood everything.
And he smiled.
But it was not to be. For time and fate still played with them like puppets on a string, even when she was reaching her last moments of life.
"Countdown! Everybody get ready! Let's all welcome the millennium!"
He said nothing, and felt nothing. Nothing at all.
He gripped her hand tightly, knuckles turning white.
Their gazes met. Her lips moved weakly.
She whispered something into his ear.
Their hair, gold and onyx, waved about in the wind.
"I will. I promise."
One last smile.
Her eyes closed, lips curling up into an eternal smile.
A single tear trickled from the corner of her eye.
Silence. Silence. A deafening silence.
"Happy New Year! It's Year 2000!"
A dazzling meteor shot across the velvety blackness of the night, lighting up in the eyes of millions of people around the world. And another blazed past the inside his mind.
A meteor is a fallen star from the heavens, replaced by a fallen soul from the face of this world.
The warmth of her lifeless body was gradually fading away, fading forever. The eyelids never fluttered open again. The lips never quivered again. But the smile stayed on her face, evidence of her last wishes fulfilled.
It was her final departure.
His own tears finally found their way down his face, trickling off his chin, seeping into the damp earth, and his sobs echoed through the first night of the new era.