Everyday is Valentine
It's that damn day again.
A day that I gradually loathe more and more the older I become.
One might think that one would stop being this petty once they passed the mids of their 30s,
But that is only if they have already found their partner,
Their other half in life.
Statistically speaking, the majority of the population, even for those with plans for late marriages, would have already, or are still in the middle of a relationship of sorts.
And guess who does not fall under that "majority"?
You are talking to him right now,
Someone so pathetic that he has never had a proper relationship with a member of the opposite sex in his 36 years, 6 months, and 7 days.
Hurray for the bachelor life!
Celebrations to the bachelor life!!
Bachelor life is the best!!!
Oh, what is this salty liquid rolling down my cheeks?
Must be the taste of success.
Out of spite, I wolfed down yet another box of dark chocolates, intricately decorated and store-bought.
Why am I partaking in the ritual of Valentine's?
Needless to say, it is definitely not to show support for the cause, oh no no no.
I am, but of course, exercising my capitalistic rights to reduce the supply of chocolates in the market.
A drop in the ocean, sure,
But if that means one less chocolate available for one less couple, then I am all the more for it.
The bitterness of the chocolate set in and overwrote whatever nonsensical trainwreck of a thought I have surfaced.
They may be all over the place but they served a singular goal:
To distract me from this illogical, inexplicable and unfounded anticipation of mine.
Exactly 365 days ago,
Something of the fantastical nature happened in this very studio apartment where I resided in.
I stole a cautious glance at the kitchen section of the room only to immediately dart my eyes away the moment my wok came into view.
The kitchen continues to not see much use, despite what happened.
In fact, the disorderly arrangement of the pots and pans, some sprawled across the table while others lying dormant on the floor, had been purposely and meticulously prepared and preserved,
All to maintain the surroundings to a state that saw no difference compared to the one seen exactly one year ago.
There is no basis that such a course of action would yield any positive results.
It might even be all for nothing.
Who am I kidding?
It is going to be all for nothing.
Whatever went down that day had been nothing but a construct of my mind,
My sad, lonely and insane mind,
The mind that kept itself awake the moment February 13th turned to February 14th in dumb faith that something might happen,
The mind that had not once stopped retrieving and replaying the events of that day every day in the past 365 days,
The mind that is still, till this moment, trying to look at the very spot where it presumably happened, only to force itself away at the very last second out of fear of the mere fact that the simple act of observation of the space would permanently establish the non-existence of that day and sets it firmly in the realm of dreams.
Yet, that day felt so real,
So real that I could still feel her weight.
“DON’T RUN OFF ON YOUR OWN!"
The cold rain continued its cascade and saw no signs of stopping.
In that world blurred by precipitation, only a young girl and a not-so-young man remained on the roadside, dangerously close to the main road filled with traffic.
"IT IS DANGEROUS ENOUGH TO BE IN A NEW WORLD, NOT TO MENTION ONE WITH CARS THAT CAN RUN YOU OVER,"
The words spewed out of my mouth so naturally that there wasn't enough time to even examine what was being said.
Desperately shaking the small figure in front of me back and forth, I tried to imbue some semblance of sense into her.
"HOW WOULD YOU GO BACK IF YOU ARE INJURED!"
Not long after materializing in my kitchen, the girl in a short, green and white dress who looked no different from a character in the Gacha game I was playing leapt out through the window, leaving behind glass shards, broken window frames and a slightly shocked me.
I didn't stand around for long though and quickly followed after her, not by jumping down the building but by taking the lift, of course.
No normal person would be able to walk again if they chose to descend five storeys like she did.
It took some searching, long enough for the thunder clouds to bring forth rain, before I finally found her in her fantasy-esque clothing sticking up like a sore thumb,
Standing in the middle of the road like a deer caught in the headlights.
Unfortunately, the "headlights" were nowhere metaphorical and I found myself quickly leaping into action even before my brain could issue its command.
There was enough braking distance for the oncoming vehicle to halt in time. In fact, it was even showing signs of slowing down out of caution for the young girl that seemingly ran out of a fairy tale.
But, I still found myself moving forward to push her out of harm's way.
The car zoomed past, not forgetting to honk another time to make its dissatisfaction known.
The both of us were already out of the way when it rushed past us so nothing life-threatening occurred,
"Sometimes, your demeanour as the most responsible in the guild makes everyone forget, but you are still canonically 11 of age, a middle schooler."
It wasn't in my intention to chide or scold her. Her frail, drenched, petite body did nothing to help the situation, garnering more sympathy and pity, so much so that I wanted to give her a big, firm hug more than anything to assure her that all will be right.
"It is the job of those older than you to take care of you, so have more faith in us! Have more faith in us to be of help to you!”
Clasping my hands on her slender shoulders, I finally finished saying what I wanted to say to her.
Having the words left my mouth made me realise all at once what a bunch of incomprehensible jumbled babble I had just brought to the young child.
I took a deep breath to take back in whatever shred of sanity I had previously thrown into the wind and was greeted in the face by one fundamental fact that I had so carelessly glossed over:
She wouldn't understand a word of what I was talking about.
The desire to curse and lambast myself at this realization was great and believe me, I would have gladly done it have it not been the young girl in front of me with eyes still clueless and lost about the world around her.
That is not what she needs right now.
Pondering, I arrived at my next course of action and began by taking out my phone, protected within a waterproof ziplock bag that served to defend it against the elements and protect the saved data it was storing.
If what I needed is Japanese, then…
It didn't take long to find a suitable translation application, one that could even convert text to speech.
Typing down precisely what I wanted to tell her had become easier, now that I could take a step back and reflect with minimal interference from my emotions running amok.
I’m not here to harm you.
Firstly, I should try to reassure her of my intentions. Wouldn't want to have the lance she is holding in her hands to be pointed at me again.
Before I continue, I need you to calm down, take a big breath…
Next, help her regain her composure, not that simple words could do it, but I should do what I can.
You are no longer in your world, in fact, this is a world that is completely different from yours with a completely different set of environment and people. The technology here is significantly more advanced than where you came from and there might be a lot of things that might feel unfamiliar and alien to you…
Then, a brief explanation of the concept of an "Other World",
From her perspective, that is. If it is from my point of view, her appearance would be a form of reverse Isekai, wouldn't it?
But it will be ok. It might not be much but I will help you. I promise.
Lastly, offer her my assistance. Since she first appeared in front of me, I couldn't find it in me to just abandon her.
Even if she refused my offer, it would be my responsibility to, at the very least, bring her to the relevant authorities and leave her in safe and understanding hands before I could bid her farewell.
Although, I doubt there is a relevant authority that handled something as absurd as "Being transported to another world"...
Keeping it as concise and to-the-point as possible, I ran the small chunk of text through the application and had it recite its contents aloud for the resident of another world in front of me in Japanese which she might be familiar with.
As the robotic voice spoke, I mustered the most harmless smile I could make to appear as supportive as possible for her.
Her face, however, could not be described as a "smile".
She did not seem confused about the contents of the message, which suggested that Japanese might be a language that could get through to her.
Yet. somewhen between the start of the message and its end, the life in her eyes left without a trace.
Just when I noticed the change, the lance she was holding so dearly suddenly began to dematerialise into green particles unaccountable by the human eye, as if it was no longer able to hold on to its own existence.
No words escaped her mouth, yet the silence echoed louder than the surrounding rain, submerging the world in a state that didn't allow any other sound to be heard.
It was as if she was a puppet with her strings cut, sapped into oblivion was the strength that was supporting her all this while.
Had I not been holding on to her, she would have fallen and let herself stay fallen as the rain continued to pelt down on her.
But I am holding on to her,
And I would not let her fall.
There wasn't any more to be done there and then, not with the state of the environment and her emotional state.
In hindsight, I really should have focused on relocating ourselves to a safer and more conducive place to settle the explanations instead of doing it on the spot in the middle of a thunderstorm.
A criticism for the rash, past me to be further reflected on later.
Right now, I will simply keep my hands full carrying the both of us back home, taking as sheltered a path as possible.
I could feel the faint rise and fall of her breathing with her resting on my back, a much-needed signal to her state of being since she looked like she was about to let herself disappear into the storm before I gave her a piggyback.
Throughout the trip back, neither of us spoke a word, let alone dwelled on or clarified on what happened, although I was dying of curiosity.
There was so much I wanted to ask but it was hardly the time, place and occasion.
Highly likely, she would want to know more about this "Other World" as well but she might need more time to adapt.
Occupied by those thoughts, we finally made our way back to my place without a hitch.
"(Would you like to go wash up first? Or I could bust out the old Full Body Dryer? 30 seconds and you would be dried to the bone, from the clothes to the body right down to every strand of hair.)"
First thing first, a freshening-up was in order…
But she remained unresponsive as if the world was fading away behind her.
"(Alright. I will show you how to use the showers. Just come out whenever you are done, ok?)"
I thought I saw her nod, albeit faintly. Something nigh impossible to notice by anyone unfamiliar with her mannerisms.
Glad to know that she was still present, even if it was only in body and the bare minimum of her spirit and mind.
Her not replying or asking questions made it hard to determine whether she was able to grasp what was being shown to her but the sound of the showers running the moment I left the bathroom made me realise that I had been worrying over nothing.
In the first place, what is the technological level of the world where she came from?
If we are talking about the source material, that is to say, the game of Re:Connect, its aesthetics and worldbuilding are reminiscent of the fantasy genre where magic is the dominant discipline in a world filled with a myriad of unique humanoid races and monsters, Elves and Beastfolk to mention a few.
Yet, there wasn't a complete lack of science and technology, either.
I myself caught a few glimpses of modern objects that did not seem to fit the fantasy setting: There was an appearance of a thermal flask and a radio set that was used to telegraph messages across the seas. At one point in time, one character even created a glider with a capacity for four out of mana and took it into flight with an engine powered by the spirits of the wind.
Incidentally, that character is currently taking a shower in my bathroom right as we speak.
All that is to say, it was a surprise that a denizen of another world could so readily utilise some of the modern appliances but after further thought, it wasn't completely out of this world that it happened, all things considered.
Look at how capable a child like her could be,
Then take a look at me.
It wasn't exactly an exact one-to-one comparison but still, as an adult 24 years older, there is a fair bit that I think I could and ought to do better.
As the one playing the host, if one's guest was caught in the rain, wouldn't it be courtesy for one to provide a change of clothes for them?
However, after turning over every cabinet and drawer in the studio apartment, there wasn't a single set of clothing that I could possibly offer to her in replacement to the set she was wearing that was drenched in the rain and should be washed.
Even the simple act of offering her a hot drink after standing in the rain for so long could not be prepared on the spot, owing to the fact that the only choices of drinks under this roof were coffee and water.
I could give the excuse that there was no way I could expect a girl to suddenly overcome the boundaries of dimensions and appear before me on Valentine's Day.
But that would be running away from the responsibilities of a host that I had been entrusted with.
"*Sigh* I will print it. That's what technology is for."
Distressed as I may be, the situation could be salvaged rather easily with the help of a huge piece of machinery that looked like a metallic fridge.
"(I got you a set of clothes, do change into them once you are done.)"
It is capable of creating anything,
Even clothing for a girl that did not exist outside of fiction, given that it was provided with enough Universal Material, not so different from a fabricator of Sci-fi.
I didn't want to rely on it since it felt like cheating and made everything in the world too simple but its convenience and ease of use made it damn near impossible to ignore it.
It even came installed into every form of housing along with the basic appliances like the lights and fan and is even managed by the utilities company.
She came out of the shower donning the set of clothes that was printed for her.
Speaking in terms of conclusions, they were two sizes bigger than what she was previously wearing and were too baggy even when observed by me.
However, she barely sounded any of her complaints.
"(You should be famished, right? I have prepared some hot drinks to sate your thirst while I get something cooked up. Do you have any preferences? Maybe some strawberry Crêpes?)"
An illusion of choice,
For I have already instructed the printer to prepare no less than a full course meal, with Crêpes included as dessert, owing to some passing in-game exchanges.
She could not be described as more than excited, however.
Eyes affixed to the cup of hot chocolate placed on the coffee table in front of her, she continued to stare at it with no intention of reaching out to it, remaining in her state of trance until she was eventually seen struggling to prevent herself from nodding off.
It wasn't long before the Z monster overcame her, whisking her away to a land of much-needed rest and dreams.
Resting herself on the sides of the sofa, the other-worldly Elf with white hair finally allowed herself to close her eyes in this brand-new world.
"Didn't I already say to have more fai…"
I decided to cut my own mutterings before I could finish them.
That is not what she needs right now.
Instead, I opted for the much more sensible option of relocating her to the only bed in the room and covered the blanket for her.
"**...," she was heard saying.
Even when she was supposed to be sound asleep, she still wore a tense complexion as if she was experiencing a nightmare.
"It's ok. I am here."
Had been for 16 years,
Will be for the years to come.
In the end, I could not be sure what it was she had faintly whispered but she seemed like she needed support.
I gave a simple reply that did not even run through the translator but seeing her countenance easing up ever so slightly suggested that it had played its part.
Now that the dust has settled, there is finally time to think.
So much to consider:
Whether this is real aside, will this be a one-off occurrence or a frequent phenomenon?
If it is the latter, how long will I be able to realistically support her?
I would have loved to be there for her every step of the way in her journey to return to the world of Re:Connect but there is only so much that I can do on my lonesome, I should…
There would definitely come a…
It is almost like I could never finish my thoughts nowadays for interrupting me this time is the ringtone of my phone.
I quickly answered the call, not forgetting to take a gander at the caller ID, so as to not wake the girl who had just fallen asleep.
“Son, son, how are you? Have you eaten yet?”
It’s my mother on the other side.
“...I am fine. Yes, I have eaten as well…”
My eyes naturally drifted to the full-course meal that was in the process of going cold.
“...A full-course meal even.”
“A full-course meal! Aren’t we fancy today~ Why? Something interesting happened?”
Tch. I cursed at the me who kept saying unnecessary things.
“No, mom, nothing interesting happened. I mean, work has been tough and I have already forgone splurging during the New Year's and other festivities. What's wrong with treating myself to a hearty banquet every now and then? Don't worry mum, all within budget! Nothing to worry about!”
“Hoho, strange coming from you when you even refused to spend on your own birthday…”
“Haha, what can I say… the craving suddenly struck me out of nowhere… Anyways, enough about me, how about you? Everything ok back home? How is…him…how is father?”
“Trying to change the subject now, are we? We aren’t against you in a relationship and we don’t mind you not telling us anything, in fact, we are really supportive of you for taking the first step, but do tell us whenever you are ready~”
“Wah, what was that? I can’t hear you over the storm outside. Hiss. I think you are breaking up. Hiss. Talk hiss again another hiss, see you mom!”
Standing beside the broken window, I tried to end the conservation as soon as possible…
“You know there is no longer such a thing as “poor signals” anymore in this day and age…”
And hung up the phone before she was able to finish.
The storm continued to rage on outside, inviting droplets of rain into my humble abode through the recently-exposed opening.
I pulled up a tarp over the broken window frame and sat myself down on the sofa again.
There is still much to think about, if not more so now after that brief phone call.
“*Sigh*That is going to be a problem for the me tomorrow. The me today is just… going to…”
My eyelids could no longer support themselves and I soon fell asleep.
The next time I woke up, the next day had already arrived with the light of dawn shining through the windows (or the lack thereof).
Littered throughout the room were signs of the ordeal yesterday having occurred, yet…
The Other-worldly Elf who stumbled into the real world was…
One year has passed since then.
Another Valentine’s Day is here.
I know, I know, I know already
Deep down in my heart
That all of it had been and must be a figment of my imagination.
I have waited a day, a week, a month and now a year,
So if nothing happened within today,
Then I can finally be sure that it…
Don’t bring your hopes up.
It’s probably, no, definitely due to something mundane, like the wind blowing hard at the kitchen or something.
It was a voice akin to soft clouds, gentle yet all-encompassing, capable of accepting all parts of someone, be it the good, the bad or the ugly.
As reality would have it, I could avert my eyes no longer.
If her existence is no longer a question,
Then it would be my duty to continue observing her and see to it that her time in this world, no matter how brief, is a pleasant one.
Standing there as the wind gently brushed against her white hair, she continued to look around the room with eyes no longer plagued with emptiness. Instead, it was curiosity and a desire to understand the new world around her.
The moment my line of sight met her dull pink eyes, the world began to blur just a little.
What is this salty liquid rolling down my cheeks?
Must be the taste of success.
Even without seeing my face, I could feel the widening of a smile across my face.
[Chapter to be Completed]
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