A/N: I know I'm… like… three months late, but I got a sudden urge to write this. Thank you so much for the support, especially The Scarlet Sky, who has actually reviewed every flippin' story I've posted. You are the coolest. And though this author's note doesn't really fit the atmosphere of this chapter, I hope anyone reading this will like it. xxx.

Prior to the Ocean

I couldn't get over it.

That was the conclusion I had come to as I sat at the foot of my bed the next day. My pale skin shone from beneath me.

My throat felt blockaded and my breath felt tight in the mere thought of being in the proximity of my grandmother. It was just so different without hearing her loud trills each day, hearing her berate me as I played an improper B flat; as I recited sonatas to her on the keyboard… and, just, if life were a song, I'd be pressing the replay by now. Replay it right to the beginning, before any of this happened, before I felt the subduing pain in my abdomen. Of course, replaying meant, really, replaying… not even my fantasies have escapades.

Everything would change, faster than I thought.

But who would be assisting this change…? For some reason, I couldn't help but think of Jack. I think he was the only one who had ever just sat there and watched the waves with me. The waves, they have so much sentimental value to them… they mean so ridiculously much to me. And to have someone to just stand there and enjoy it fully at my side means the world to me.

I wanted to meet this farmer. I wanted to talk to him, to get to know him… somehow I felt so connected to him. But why would someone like him want to be friends with someone like me? I was sealed from reality like a glass wall, eternally suspended with my own thoughts. He was down-to-earth. He knew what it meant to accept the truth. But I… I'm above my grandmother's half-ticking heart and body, and I don't know how to feel. I still don't believe it's happening, and I still refuse to accept it.

I refuse… yet it oppresses me.

I pulled on an outfit and headed downstairs, counting my steps as I traveled down the coil of the staircase. When I reached the bottom landing, I expected to see Sebastian waiting for me in the middle of the room with an emotionless expression on his face. But he was nowhere to be seen. Fear thrummed up my chest… was I alone again?

Why must you place all judgement on what you can and cannot see? My skin is cool against my own prudence. Is what you see taken for granted? If you blink, will it all disappear?

I spot a note on the piano and approach it hesitantly. If I was so careless, I wouldn't be able to drink in the words well enough. This slip of paper could change my life.

Gulping, I take it in my hand. It's already unfolded, so I merely smooth out its inexistent creases and read it. It says, Dearest Miss Lumina; I apologize for not making you a breakfast this morning. Please eat at the inn. Sebastian.

A part of me is relieved, but a part of me is still afraid. Sebastian is not… like this. But if he wishes, I should make way to the—

I heard noises coming from one of the backrooms and immediately assumed he was in the kitchen, finishing something last minute. Forgetting my orders, I swept up to it and knocked once before opening the door, but to my surprise the room was bare. The sink was empty and all the dishes were unused.

Puzzled, I checked Sebastian's room, but it too remained soulless. Where could he be?

Stepping out, I was about to leave to follow his wishes when I heard noises coming from the centre room, also known as my grandmother's room.

My grandmother's room.

Again, I receive that hammering sensation. I want to I rush up to the door and knock hard, on my first instinct. I want to throw it open and charge through the doorway. I want to press my face against the wood and scream, "Sebastian?"still knocking with one hand. "Are you in there?"

But I cannot. I can only take slow, breathtaking steps toward the door, and touch it lightly with my hand. Instead of raising my voice, I lean in and quietly say, "… Sebastian?"

I paused for a moment and was shocked when I heard forced, stifled sobs from inside. My heart began to crumble; another soul, broken…

"Miss L-Lumina?" He stutters… he cries. "What are you doing? I thought you were supposed to go to the inn!"

I can tell he's trying to sound demanding. I can tell he's trying to scare me, and drive me away from what I need to know. But I feel strong. "Do you feel alright?" I ask cautiously.

His ruffled voice told me, feigning liltingness, "Practically wonderful!" I begged to differ; his voice read high cadence but I knew something was wrong.

Why was he hiding this from me?

"What are you doing in there?" I asked, careful with my choice of words.

"Oh, you know!" He burst into a joyous, terrible laugh. "D-dusting. I'm cleaning. That's why I'm a butler, you know? To be your slave…"

My heart pinches, and I hate myself for pushing him. "Sebastian—" I paused.

We both pause. And for a second, there's a silence.

"…May I come in?"

I heard him jump and smash something, the silence shattering. "Oh, oh no!" he says loudly. "I mean, I wouldn't like to burden you with my cleaning, I am capable of doing this myself, for I wouldn't like to bring you any trouble, Miss Lumina…"

"Sebastian, you can start calling me just Lumina now, it's alright…"

"But Miss Lumina, I try to show respect, and I—" Another wicked crash pierced the air, this one making me cringe.

"Please, can you—" I stop again. I have to be brave. I have to face my fears. "I'm coming in, okay?" Am I?

I hear him collecting himself frantically from inside and bite on my lip. I give him some more time, but alas, I push open the door. When I look up, he is standing in the middle of the room looking petrified and awful.

If a coma can do this to him, then what can death…?

"Miss Lumina, I tell you: I'm merely dusting!" he protests, as if I have accused him.

I eye the formation of his arms. They are crossed— he is hiding something. "Sebastian, please…what are you holding behind your back?"

"Wh-what? Oh, Miss Lumina…"

There are always a few words that someone wished to say to someone else. There's always something like that. And mine would be, Treat me as who I am. He thinks I'm still a child, and that, I partly am. But who am I, past this exterior? I want him to think of me like he does an equal. I don't want him to say, 'Oh, Lumina' to me, like I am foolish. I want him to say my name solidly: "Lumina." I want him to be strong, for me.

So I tell him.

"Sebastian: show me."

He bubbles out a few more protests, but finally he brings his arms to his front. I approach him and take a small, dusty four-sided object out of his hand and gasp.

In my grasp was no more than a photo— an old, lost photo of my grandmother and Sebastian when they were young. Their arms were draped over each other and they appeared to be standing in a meadow of glimmering summer flowers. Their lips were formatted in perfect upward curves, genuine and beaming.

Comparing it to the clammy figure he was now, I was shocked. Could time do all this? Or did time only play a minor role…?

The butler took the photo before I could look at it a second longer, quickly brushing at it with the back of his fingers as if I had tainted it with my touch.

"This is…" I begin quietly, feeling my actions hurl at my stomach with pity. "I'm sorry, Sebastian…"

"It is okay, Mi— Lumina." His completely life-absorbed face is far from okay. "I will… get over this."

"Oh…" I can't hold it in anymore. I step up and embrace him tightly, as if transferring my empathy to him. "You're not alone," I say bravely as he stumbles back in shock. "Sebastian, I'm here… I understand your loss. Sebastian… I get it."

I evoke a few more innermost words, ones I've shared with no one up to this point, and soon it's me crying into his arms. He gives occasional pats on the back, half-awkward and half-comforting.

"I miss her," I finally conclude, letting my tears run freely. "I know it's only been a few days, but I miss her so much… and just wait, in a few weeks' time, I'll have committed suicide."

At this, he pulled back— warmth evaporating into thin air. I want to reach out and take it back— but it's already gone. "M— Lumina, please don't speak like that."

I hadn't meant the suicide thing, but I knew where he was going. "Sebastian, please… look at her, she's practically dea—"

"I don't want to hear you talking like that, Miss Lumina." The sheer density in his tone, relatively more defiant than his ex-one, throws me off guard. "This is not death. Call it a temporary rest. Call it a life abeyance. It is not the gravity of the situation, but the gravity of its aftereffects. If you give up hope, all will be lost. The future does not depend on you. But how you take the future does."

I am speechless as he sets the photo back down on the mantelpiece. "Be hopeful… Lumina," he says quietly. Then he brushes past me, stopping when he touches the threshold. "Breakfast will be served shortly."

Then he departs, leaving me standing in his abandoned footsteps blankly, all alone with my thoughts.

...Why am I always alone?