By the Shores of Time
The strum of an acoustic echoed to clouded air. Its vibration died after the slip of her thin fingers. She looked at the cut on the tip with blood slowly forming. Elizabeth took a deep breath, glimpsing the shallow graves spanning the cryptic distance. At the rare chance she was away from her tasks, she was constantly reminded of her duties. She took out an old, dull flask, opening it to take a sip.
She dropped her flask, startled by the subtle footsteps coming from the rooftop entrance. Her subdued aggravation showed, seeing as the contents poured out. Looking over her shoulder, she saw Celeste emerge while glancing off toward the clouded distance. The sundress she wore was peculiar for the cold, dreary weather, but it made her feel more at home. The nurse chuckled, casting her eyes toward the gravel.
“Having a session?” Celeste asked, walking over with unhurried strides. “It’s been a while since we’ve sung together.”
“It has,” Elizabeth nodded. “Taking a breather too?”
“It’s not like there’s much to do on my end… I’m just here, watching the time go by.”
“Aren’t we all?”
“You got another one of your depressing ass poems.”
“First off, they’re more like ballads, so it goes well with your guitar.”
“Don’t you ever write anything more uplifting than that? Jeez, you know with all this I’d think you’d come up with something that you know—Inspires hope.”
“Expression is expression,” she smiled as she sat next to her. “All forms are important.”
She glimpsed the wet spot under the empty flask, which her friend promptly picked up her cold, empty flask. The apparent shame overcame her when she slipped it into her pocket. The upturned sleeves revealed the healed hesitation marks. Celeste could still smell the alcoholic breath leave her parted lips. Her droopy bags showed the lack of sleep she had.
“You’re—Drinking again?” Celeste voiced her concern.
“Look—” she replied tiredly, unable to look at her. “I—Everyone copes in their own way, so leave me be.”
“The last time that happened, well things didn’t go too well, did they?”
“Didn’t I just say leave me be?”
“You expect me just to back off?” she asked, seeing Elizabeth roll her eyes.
“Why don’t you just hang with Gabriel?”
“What does he have to do with any of this?”
Elizabeth tightened her lips, almost regrettably, as Celeste leaned in. Her colors had shown once again, which she took as her way of caring about her. The nature of Celeste and Gabriel’s relationship wasn’t a secret, but Elizabeth was the only bothered by how dismissive Gabriel was of her feelings. Abrasive and shallow, there seemed to be a disdain with him she rarely ever brought up, regardless of the things he’d done to help them.
“You can talk to me,” she insisted without raising her voice.
“You can do better,” she replied. “He’s ignored you this whole time, yet somehow you stick around.”
“That’s between me and him. We agreed—That we should keep things open.”
“But, that’s not what you want though, is it?”
“I, well—” she stumbled over her words with her hands grasped along her chest.
“You see?” Elizabeth noted. “You really don’t want that, you want him to yourself… for some reason. Alex, Gabriel… They’re no different.”
“That’s not true.”
The hand over her chest trembled as she defended him. Elizabeth saw how easy it was to get under her skin, sowing a slither of doubt. Celeste had built a particular perception of the man she grew to love, ignoring the glaring aspects of his character. Stories spoke of his cold efficiency out in the fog, tales of how he’d sacrifice others to escape the infecteds’ grasp. But her time with him betrayed the image often painted by many.
“You also see what you want to see,” the guitarist continued, strutting the strings. “He’s no saint. He does what he needs to—No wonder why he gets along with Victoria.”
“Liz, who here hasn’t doesn’t something they didn’t want to?” she questioned.
“I always took you as a principled person. Look, I’m just looking out for you is all. You’re a sweet girl, but you deserve a little better than what you’re settling for. How’d it work out with that guy before Alex? You were black and blue when we first met. How long did it take until you realized he just wasn’t it?”
Celeste couldn’t summon a response, instead glancing away in silent defeat. Her hands gripped the loose fabric of her dress, recollecting on everything that happened before she was thrown into this empty world. It was hard to contend with the differences when it felt the same. Old sensations came to her, trickling as she felt along her skin. While the bruises were gone, the pain lingered, reminding her of how helpless she was then. Elizabeth paused from the casual string play, glimpsing her blank gaze.
“I—I probably shouldn’t have said all that,” she admitted.
“No,” Celeste responded without spite. “I guess I have a strange way of idealizing those I fall for, right? I just think… Maybe it could be different, so… I stick around and hope for the best.”
“You deserve a lot more than that. But enough of that, I still have the time to play a song before I get back.”
“If you’re up to it!” Celeste expressed enthusiasm. “There’s still that thing I wrote some time ago. Remember?”
“Oh, no,” Elizabeth sighed, giggling soon after. “After all this talk, you’re still settling for the saddest thing you wrote. You must really love sad things.”
“It’s not that I like it. It just seems easier to identify with the concept.”
Elizabeth nodded, finding her response as strange as she expected. Celeste placed her hand on hers, attracting her attention to find the maiden’s pleasant smile. Her heart quivered, finding her graceful presence strangely alluring. She took a little time to remember the lyrics while channeling her energy through the readjusted chords. Celeste hummed the rhythm in her head, providing clues to the guitarist. Her childish approach replaced Elizabeth’s hyper fixation with a smile, humming along to get a feel of how she’d progress. Before long, she picked up a steady rhythm both found suitable.
I’m not who you think I am
Celeste’s vocals began soothingly, overlapping the southern belle’s notable drawl.
(Where I go I haven’t a clue)
Elizabeth’s southern accent shined in her added line.
The light seems ever distant amongst the fog,
As the divide grows, I don’t know where I’ll find myself~
So, I’ll go on—To the nexus beyond,
To hell, we’re drawn while the trumpets call,
Yet this song’ll go on and on~
So, you think you know who I am?
Celeste’s voice sprung with pain, underlying the strange smile she held
Reality sets in, things so blurry,
(On this beaten path we’re on)
Elizabeth added another piece to Celeste’s lyrics, prompting her smile
Emotions churning, only one way to go~
Fleeting hopes like shooting stars,
Standing at heaven’s edge,
(What’s to break my fall?)
Elizabeth’s voice raised through her heartfelt delivery
Where I may go,
The winds’ll carry this sorrow~
This is me,
Their voices harmonized a haunting melancholy
Am I what you thought me to be~
As one as you believe, am I everything you want?
(Am I everything you hoped)
Celeste added with a powerful tone, mesmerizing the guitarist for a moment
When nothing is left, can you~
See the peeled layers beneath?
Perhaps part of me can be set free…
See me for who I am~
Not the image you perceive.
They were soon startled by someone’s clapping as they looked over to find Gabriel, wiping a tear from his eye. Elizabeth cleared her throat, reddened along her fellow vocalist. They didn’t know how they sounded since it had been months since they sang together.
“How did we sound?” Celeste asked.
“You two still got it,” he answered. “I didn’t expect you two to be rehearsing.”
“Rehearsing,” Elizabeth repeated. “No, we were just vibing.”
“Well, whatever it was,” he said as he sat near Celeste. “It was so good.”
“I thought I was pretty rusty.”
“Rusty, no? You two complement each other so well. It’s too bad you don’t sing together anymore.”
“Busy. You know the usual grind. Glad to see—You’re doing well.”
Gabriel glimpsed the nurse’s tired expression. The smile she held when she concluded their song was perhaps the happiest she’d seen her. Celeste stood up, walking along the edge, energized by the duet they finally sung. It drew them toward her like an enticing light. Swinging toward them, she saw Gabriel’s startled expression, seeing how close she was to the edge.
“You scared me,” he admitted with his hand over his heart.
“I—I’m not that clumsy,” she pouted with her arms crossed. “I’m just glad we’re all here, together. It’s been a long time since we can just kick back.”
She saw Elizabeth glancing away in respectful protest while Gabriel’s crinkled smile cracked along his usually stoic face. It confirmed that she meant what she said earlier. And it confirmed where everyone stood in the matter. The only thing she wanted was for everyone to thrive together, but the nurse’s disdain for Gabriel had left a lasting impression. Through her friend’s evasive body language she sensed jealously lingering between them
“Well,” she spoke. “I gotta get going before Victoria drags me out. See ya’ll around.”
They watched as she disappeared into the dark entrance before looking toward one another. She clasped her hands in front of her, happy to see him. Yet they both struggled to get their words out, fumbling over the other. Her eyes cast to the side, thinking about what Elizabeth said. Celeste hoped she was wrong about her conclusion. She hoped she found happiness at the world’s end.
“Celeste,” he spoke first, meeting her eyes when she looked toward him again.
“Sorry,” she responded warmly. “It’s weird—It’s like it's easier to talk to you in the dark.”
She winced, wondering why she said that. Gabriel raised his eyebrow, confirming the peculiar choice of words. As he sat forward, her cheeks flushed, beating herself up over her poor choice of words.
“I—” she tried to speak first.
“You two were drinking, weren’t you?” he concluded, causing her to have a more exaggerated reaction.
“N—No, it’s not like that.”
“No, no, it’s fine to unwind. Just don’t overdo it.”
“But, I don’t like drinking!”
“There’s a first time for everything.”
And like that, they’d go back and forth for a little longer, each time it brought them a little closer with their bickering and teasing. Celeste wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Thanks for reading! We've reached the midpoint of this tale!
Sorry for the lack of polish here, it was written on a whim with a ballad in mind!
If you like what you read, leave a comment and like!
Comment if you spot some issues for me so I can clean it up!