Chapter 31:


Chained Regalia

It was hot, despite the time of day. The sun would set early around this time of year, so even though it wasn’t that late yet, the moon and stars had long since taken over the sky.

I was sweating pretty badly. I blamed the heat, even though I knew that wasn’t the reason why.

It would work out fine. I was going to do the right thing.

This was the right thing to do. It was. It had to be.

… Though the fact that I had to keep reiterating that to myself probably wasn’t a good sign.

I felt slightly sick. I shouldn’t feel sick. It would work out fine.

Being honest was the right thing to do, right? Of course it was. She would understand. She was an understanding person. So it couldn’t be wrong.

I didn’t know how long I’d been standing there for before I finally heard the sound I was waiting for. A vehicle pulled up a short distance away, and someone got out of it before heading towards me.

I knew who it was long before she stepped under the streetlight. My girlfriend—or, as it was probably more accurate to say, my fiancé—gracefully entered the small area lit from overhead, a gentle smile on her face.

“Sorry, I’m a little late. Anyway, happy birthday, Lewis!” Probably because the dark sky made it feel like it was later in the night than it really was, her excited voice was a whisper.

“Th-thanks.” My reply was so quiet and frail, I doubted she even heard me speak.

“Why are you standing in the dark, weirdo?” She giggled at first, then trotted over to me, grabbed my hand before I could react, and tugged me into the light. Her expression dipped for just a moment when my face was first exposed, but her smile quickly returned. “I know, I know. I’m stressed out too. But we’ve spent half a year planning for this. We’re prepared.”

She had the uncanny ability to read my thoughts just by looking at me. When we were kids, I was sure she must’ve been a genuine mind-reader or something (back when I believed in that sort of thing), but she always insisted that I was just super easy to read. In this case, however, she was slightly off the mark.

“Is your stuff back there?” She gestured towards the darkness I’d been standing in a moment earlier. “I couldn’t believe it yesterday when you told me that you managed to fit everything into a single suitcase. I don’t know if that’s a guy thing, or if it’s just you that’s odd.”

She teased me, probably trying to ease the tense mood that was enveloping us at the moment.

Noticing my unresponsiveness, she shifted gears. “Listen, Lewis.” Her grip on my hand tightened, as did the invisible force painfully constricting my heart. “Even if you’re scared, I’ll be there for you. I love you. So, come on…”

Her smile was wonderful; it brought me comfort and warmth. I was so afraid of losing that smile, that I’d chosen to stay silent all this time. That was the right thing to do, right?

“… Let’s head towards our future together, Lewis.”

It would work out fine.

“I-I can’t,” my voice croaked.

“H-huh?” She looked confused, probably thinking she’d heard me wrong.

“I… I can’t do it, Ellie.” My words carried an impossible fusion of both shakiness and certainty.

“Wh-what do you mean? What do you mean you ‘can’t do it’?” Her expression crumbled, and a look of panic engulfed the smile that had been on her face.

“I just can’t!”

All at once, the emotions I’d bottled up for the past six months flooded out uncontrollably.

“I can’t deal with a change this big! I’m a coward, Ellie! You know that! I’m just not capable of something like this…” My voice started loud, but it gradually trailed off.

An unknown future, an uncertain future. I couldn’t face that. I wasn’t capable of that.

But we loved each other, so it didn’t matter, right? She would understand. She always understood me. And so, tightening my grip on her hand, I asked it.

“We can just go back to how things were before, right?” I wanted to return to that safe, familiar past. I was being honest with her, so she had to—

She suddenly snapped her arm off to the side, slapping my hand away.

“… What the hell?” She whispered something so quietly that I couldn’t make it out.

She began to shake lightly, and after a second, she raised her head; at that moment, I finally realized she’d started crying.

“This is my fault, isn’t it?” she muttered as tears continued to streak down her face. “It was obvious… obvious how worried you were. But… what was I supposed to do? You kept telling me you would do it anyway, and I wanted to believe you.”

“Th-then you aren’t surprised, right? You had to have expected it would come to this.” I was starting to get defensive, even though I probably had no right to do so.

Something suddenly changed in her expression. She continued to shake, but it felt… different from before.

And then I realized she had snapped.

“EXPECTED IT!?” she screamed with ferocity I had never seen from her before. “I should have expected that you’d lie to me for six months straight? And I’m supposed to be understanding of that!? I’m supposed to forgive you, and ‘go back to how things were’!? I can’t deal with your bullshit anymore, Lewis!”

I froze at her outburst, completely stunned. She rarely got angry, and almost never swore like that. This was all so uncharacteristic of her that I had no idea what to do.

“Of course I could tell you were reluctant! But I trusted you!” As she continued, her voice sounded as pained as it was furious. “I trusted that you would talk to me about your worries, and that we could work through them together! I trusted that you would be honest with me if you couldn’t go through with it! I trusted that when you told me again and again that you would follow through, you weren’t blatantly lying to me! I trusted that you cared about me enough to tell me how you honestly felt!”

Stop. Please stop.

Each word sliced into me, dug deep into my flesh, and slowly punctured my heart. I couldn’t take it. In my mind, I begged her to stop talking.

But she did not stop.

“I’m an idiot. You were right about one thing: I really should’ve expected this. I’ve known you more than long enough to know I can’t trust you.”


“All you do is lie to yourself.”


“You don’t even trust your own words. So why the hell did I?”

I didn’t know if what she was saying was right, or if it was fair. I didn’t know if she was just reacting emotionally because she felt betrayed, or if she wholeheartedly believed what she was saying.

It didn’t really matter, did it? It was too late, regardless. This rift couldn’t be repaired. Without meaning to, I had ensured that.

Before I realized it, she’d turned away from me and started walking back the way she’d come.

“E-Ellie?” That was all I could bring myself to say as I feebly stretched my arm out towards her. I failed to will my body to even step in her direction.

Just as she was about to step into the endless veil of darkness, she stopped. One last time, she turned so I could see her face. She was still crying, and I’d never seen her look so anguished.

“Stop living stuck in the past, Lewis. You can’t go on forever like that.”

That was the last thing she said to me before disappearing into the night. I hadn’t known it at the time, but it was the last thing I’d ever hear her say. I never saw her again.

Apparently, she moved someplace far away for college after that. She’d never spoken about that school before, so she probably did it specifically to avoid me.

I never got over it. I practically locked myself in my room for two years, slowly wasting away in self-pity and regret.

Then, on one of the rare occasions where I actually ventured outside, I was unlucky enough to be the victim of a freak car accident. It wasn’t flashy or interesting, just sudden. I barely had time to even realize what had occurred before I died. That was the anticlimactic end of my life.

In a brief moment, a mere fraction of a second, all of that came flooding back to me.

So… that’s the kind of person I am.

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