Chapter 60:

A Heart Behind a Lock

Lovely kNight

Celine sits before a canvas with a paintbrush aloft in her slender fingers. Though we both feel the tension of the pressing matter of Juna’s condition, we’re slow to approach it. When her brush strokes start to become more consistent and decisive, her resolution builds.

“Today is the first day Juna has locked her room. I’d sent her messages but none of them had received a response. Even when I’d checked up on her and spoke through the door, she was silent. When I’d tried to enter, I’d found it was locked.”

She marks the canvas with a waving sweep, birthing into it such expression that only the hands of a seasoned artist could create. Lifting her brush at its end, she takes a pause while expelling a troubled sigh.

“It’s come to that.” Her sigh infects me. “Even going so far as to close herself off to the point of silence with everyone.”

“How often had this happened before?” She asks me while peering over her shoulder.

“It’s so rare and unlike her. It’s a sign that she’s really not well. But that much should be obvious to anyone with a mind. I can only recall a few times in all of our history where this has happened. Only enough to be counted on one hand. And when her door is locked that means…”

I remember the moment so vividly as it comes to me. The first time I’d ever experienced her own expression of sorrow. I’d meant to visit her to see if she was well and yet when I’d reached for the handle, it was stiff. It wouldn’t budge at all even when Juna had always left her door open. I’d just stood there, stunned as the minutes passed by.

“…that she won’t even allow me in.”

“What are you saying? Aren’t you two best friends? Isn’t there something you can do?” Though her tone is edged, her concern and care is still apparent in her words.

“When it gets to this point, she’ll stay locked away until she finds a way to deal with what she’s going through. I think everyone needs time like this. I… Juna means so much to me but I couldn’t dare to force her and cripple her own growth. But I’m torn. Torn between kicking down her door and forcing myself in or letting her sort it out all by herself. I could end up suffocating her and inhibiting her own development if I’m not careful. And that’s happened before…”

An expression teeming with surprise is painted onto Celine’s face. She sits completely still in disbelief. Her stillness is my sign to share my story.

✩ ✩ ✩

“She was in a dark place and it would take her some time before her heart would mend once more. There were so many emotions burning inside of her.” I conclude my recollection of the memories I’d revisited before Celine had found me. “All the pain she’d felt while she’d thought of herself as a failure. She’d given herself away to shattered confidence and stopped believing in herself. But I suppose some old wounds linger for a long time. Maybe even a lifetime.”

Without realizing it, I’d slowly began to touch the scar.

“I’d never have expected that from Juna.” Celine says with awe.

“We all have our pasts and our ways of coping. We’ve both grown up a lot since then. I’d come to realize how I’d taken being a hero in a bit of a wrong direction. I didn’t give Juna the time to heal and go through what she’d needed to alone. That caused her to lash out even worse. I hope that soon enough she’ll open up once more and come to me when she needs help. That’s she’ll go to someone. Anyone. Whoever it would be so long as she’ll be okay.”

“It really means the world to her to be like Libera.” She says before a blush begins to form on her face. “But was it really necessary to tell me about your first time sleeping together like that?”

“M-My apologies… I’d ended up so caught up in retelling events that I’d began to run my mouth a bit too quickly there.”

“It’s not that I’m angry or anything. It’s probably an important part of your history and all. So I’m grateful to at least know more about you two.” Try as she might, she still flushes brightly.

“Sometimes I’m not entirely sure whether or not to draw near to her or to let her be. I’m worried that I’ll make a mistake and cause her to heart to ache even more. Just like I had during that time. I just hope I haven’t been making the wrong decisions with this situation.”

“You take a lot of burdens onto your shoulders. I guess that’s a little bit of the reason why you’d ended up being the Celestial Knight.” She sighs and returns to her canvas at last. “But why do you feel that you’re going to impede her growth if you chase after her? If you know that she needs help, why are you still staying so far away and being so indecisive? I understand worrying that you’d might become a nuisance, but I doubt that’d be the outcome now. You’re both adults and you’ve been together for so long…”

“It goes deeper than that.” I let my tongue slip and my depression at last infects my speech. “…Much deeper.”

Though she had returned her focus to painting mere seconds prior, she brings her full attention to me once more. At a still, curious while high on pins and needles.

“Juna… has a problem that she struggles with even now. I know that well even if she’s gotten better at hiding it.” I make eye contact with Celine and carry on. “Juna… wants to be helped. It’s obvious and there’s no way that I couldn’t know that after all the time we’ve been together. Even if she was so aggressive back when, the way that night ended told me everything I’d needed to know.”

My heart is rent in twain as it remembers the discovery I’d made that night alongside me. While she was in my arms I’d come to realize everything.

“Juna’s own confidence and thoughts of herself get in the way of going after what she truly desires at times like these. She’s too headstrong and unwilling to show weakness. She doesn’t want to be seen as pathetic or pitiable. To her it’s as if she’s failed her dream with just that treatment by others alone. And yet… she wants someone to hold her and keep her close. But she fights against it and pushes everyone away as all the fear and sorrow she has overtakes her senses and makes her lose her way.”

Celine remains stunned. All the can do is place her brush down to eliminate the last distraction that could take her from our conversation.

“To her, Libera was always strong and never once had a time of wavering. Even if she knows deep down inside that nobody could be like that, she continues believing in that ideal. And to fall short of Libera is a crushing experience for her.”

“Then why don’t you go to her and hold her? If that’s what she desires and keeps herself from?” Though she asks me this question, I can discern that she already knows the answer herself. She just wants to hear it from me.

“Because… I can’t let Juna continue pushing others away and I can’t spoil her like that. It would either result in her lashing out as her confidence is shattered or that she won’t learn. To finally, truly overcome that old wound of hers so she can heal. Juna herself… needs to come to acceptance in confidence to embrace others and accept that she too… isn’t invincible. So long as I stand in the way of her own mending she’ll continue making a habit of hurting herself and shelling herself away. Of using me as a crutch.”

I sigh deeply as the emotions and feelings of helplessness thrash about inside of me. It’s as if that rainstorm had never ended. As if it had only continued thundering and pouring inside of my heart after all of these years.

“I have to have faith in Juna that she’ll make the right choices. I’ve given her all that I can. She knows by now that if she truly wants me by her side she can be there at the drop of a hat. I’ll run to her as fast as I can and I’d hold her as close as she’d want me to. She needs to stop hiding herself away from others and refusing to let her more painful, sensitive emotions show. The emotions she refuses to show even to me. While I’m doing everything I can as I wait for her, now is the greatest opportunity she has to grow and heal.”

Celine is pensive and saddened but understanding. Though she is quick to perk up and to take up the reigns to the conversation in unison with her brush to continue painting.

“Whatever comes… I have hopes that you’ll both be okay. But if I can do something, then I will. After all, hearing that story reminds me a bit of myself.” A mark and then another word. “There was a time when I would lock myself in my room and refuse to leave under any circumstances. All I’d had was my paint, my canvas and my own solitude. I was a child then and I’d had my own share of heartaches. I didn’t want to be a part of the world. I was intimidated by its size and depths. So I’d hid myself away.”

In kind to her own attentiveness, I give her my full attention as a present for listening to my own tale.

“It wasn’t until I’d decided for myself that I’d needed to be brave that I’d left my room behind and went into the world I was afraid of. It was a long, difficult struggle, but I am where I am today. Even if I have my own moments of weakness. I… can understand what she’s going through in some way even if it’s altogether different.”

Her next stroke lacks the vigor that those which came before contained in them. But it compliments the painting she’s creating as a weaker stroke to bring out more boldly the stronger lines of the canvas.

“You too? Maybe most people have their own times of hiding away from the world. Flowers and trees need rain just as much as sunshine to blossom and bear fruit. For all this time I’ve always taken you for a very private person, so I could expect that you’d need your own space to breathe.”

“The way you say that makes it sound like I’m a shut-in.” She sighs. “But I do like to have my peace and quiet whenever I can.”

With her focus refined to her work, our conversation slows. She maneuvers her brush quickly all the while. The painting, though feeling like a practice in stress relief, is marvelous all the same.

Yet incomplete, the sights given life so far are of a beach embanked by the sun’s falling light. The soothing waters which caress the land with gentle sweeps are already so defined that I can almost swear I hear the sounds of their waves. Shells are embedded in the sand adding a lively texture to it. The sky itself is an array of sweet colors which only grow more rich with every new layer of paint adding life to the world.

Though I admire her work for a time, I prepare myself to leave. Both to let her have her own space and so that I can go about my remaining tasks for the day. She’s quick to catch me as I stand and start.

“You’ll be going now?” There’s a place in her words that sounds a bit disappointed.

“I have something important later today and I’d thought I’d best let you work in peace.”

“I understand. Please take care on your way out.”

So I continue on my path but find myself pausing at the doorway.

“If Juna comes to you, please make sure you hold her close.”

“I would, but I’d expect she’d come to you before myself or anyone else.”

“Perhaps. But I wouldn’t want to rule out anything for her. If she needs anyone, I hope she’ll choose anyone at that time. The time when she finally begins to heal that place inside of her.”

Though I intend to leave, when I watch Celine who looks back to me, there’s one thought that I can’t let go.

“This would be the first time I’ve ever gotten to see you in your own personal clothes. Usually you’re dressed up in that university uniform of yours. It’s a pleasant surprise. You look beautiful in them. They suit you well.”

A twitching at her lip, her eyes widen and her skin is quickly crimson like a boiled crab’s shell. She stutters her words and shuffles in her seat at a complete loss of composure. But in the snap of a clock’s hand to the next second, she looks like she’s ready to launch her entire painting set in my general direction.

“Sh-Shut it! You and your jokes! Do you really think now’s a good time to ham around?! J-Just get out of here already and go help Juna! She needs you right now, moron!”

“Right, right.” I say with a chuckle.

For better or for worse it feels like some new side of me is coming out. A side that enjoys seeing Celine flustered. Though I couldn’t admit that to anyone. She’s always beautiful and cute, but there’s something especially cute about her when she’s flushed and her composure is tipped out of balance.

I step to the door and shield myself with it before speaking one final jab.

“But I wasn’t joking. You’re a pleasant woman so I’m sure you’d make most clothes look good. I’m just glad you don’t lock yourself in your room so that I can see that myself.”

“Get out and let me c-concentrate!”

I shut the door and hear a dull thump smack against it.

“Sorry. I couldn’t resist.” I speak an apology though she likely wouldn’t hear it.

✩ ✩ ✩

There’s a gathering in the main hall. All of the maidens save for Juna and Celine are present as a pleasant murmur of conversation fills the four walls. Before their company is a man with an attention grabbing presence that could never be ignored. Taking notice of my entry, he’s brought to shine with a pleased grin.

“There he is. Just the man I’d hoped to see.” So speaks Ophikka, the king of Celestia.