Disclaimers apply. I was feeling under the weather and I produced this. This was originally entitled Only One Word. Well then, enjoy!
One day, Sheryl told Alto she was leaving.
It happened while they were watching the sky change colors. Stars were peeking as the sky painted into a large mural of deep violet with dabs of pink and orange. They sat there on the cool grass, unmoving and unblinking, enchanted by the sight before them. They did not know how long they sat there but somehow it didn't matter.
They continued sitting there, in the youth of the evening. Neither of them said a word— but Alto knows. He knows she would say something. Something big… The silence was not her. Sheryl Nome was a woman who expressed herself through her voice. She spoke aloud and sang with everything she had. She was thinking deeply about something. Something that was serious. Something that would call for change. He could feel it coming.
He observes her from the corner of his eye. She was hugging her knees, eyes shut. Alto wants to know what she is thinking. He pushes his tongue out and licks his dry lips, he then opens his mouth. He calls for her attention. She does not show any acknowledgment but he asks her anyway.
"What are you thinking…?"
Alto will never forget the look on her face. Not in the two years of her absence that would follow. She opens her eyes, slowly, almost hesitantly. Her head turns to her side to meet his face. An expression he could not fathom was there. At that moment, Alto realizes he doesn't want to hear the answer. But it was too late. The question had already been asked and the answer was…
"Alto, I'm leaving."
Everything was in place. Her luggage was already in the trunk of the car. Every room had been stripped of whatever possession she owned, and it was only little. Sheryl chats with him gaily; Alto does not hear a word she says. All he hears is a strange buzzing. He nods, pretending to listen to everything she says. His lips would lift into a smile, as if the very idea of her walking out on him was completely okay. He puts up a front. Kabuki did actually have its merits once in a while.
Finally, she runs out of things to say. She looks at him, smiling but with blank eyes. He pushes his hands inside his pockets, afraid she'll see how shaken he is. She tucks a lock of hair behind her ear and adjusts her hat. She tells him good luck and best wishes. She says her thanks for putting up with her. She wishes him good luck again. But those words don't weigh in Alto's mind. He waits for the blow.
He receives it.
She turns around, her back to him. She opens the front door, the light and noise from outside spilling in. Alto watches her, rooted to his spot. The instant she walks out the door, she would be gone.
"Don't go!" and "Stay!" Those words come to his mind, tantalizing words, resting on his tongue. All he had to do was say it. But he does not say it. He watches her step outside; it was almost as if she was stepping into another world. In a way, she probably was. The sunlight catches her hair, gold and pink gleaming in the bright. Alto just watches. He only watches. He watches her as he gives him one last look. She was smiling. The sunlight was bright. She lingers, her blue eyes sparkling with green flecks. Desperately, Alto wants to call out to her. He opens her mouth, speaks her name. Something lights up on her face. Her eyes filled with something he couldn't discern. Wonder? Curiosity? ...Hope?
The words were spoken out before it registered in his mind. He is stunned. So is she. The light dies in her eyes, dampening with unshed tears. Alto opens his mouth to rectify his words but nothing comes out. Sheryl Nome puts on her sunglasses, turns away from his gaze and closes the door.
The sunlight disappears with her.
Six months pass, not a word from her reaches him. Alto flies in the blue sky with every spare chance he gets. The deep blue makes him forget even if it's only temporary. The wind feels good. The sunlight on his back makes him feel alive. He zooms in the blue canvas, writing symbols in the sky. He makes a portrait of a dinobird, though not as good as that one of planet Eden (1). He laughs at his bad art skills and does old routines back in the day when all they would worry about were stunts for a concert. He remembers Michel poking fun at him, calling him a princess. He recalls Luca (who is now busy at NUNS) chatting excessively about the latest in LAI.
He laughs at the memories, trying to ignore the hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach.
Alto visits Ranka when he has the time. Although, she had helped mankind in the final battle, people could not forget the looming figure that sang their near-doom. The fact that she sang the song Minmay used for salvation was like a slap to everyone, especially to the Zentradi. Right now, she still had seventy percent of the public's disapproval and some music stores even banned the selling of her songs or merchandise. Ranka was in hiding in a location provided by the government until things started changing for the better. She could have select visitors to come and see her. Alto was one of them.
Alto is ushered in by a pair of bodyguards to the living room. Ranka greets him joyfully. She tells him to sit down and asks a maid to bring in some tea and cookies. Alto wants coffee but decides to put up with what she offers. The bodyguards leave them to their privacy.
Ranka does not hesitate to tell Alto about everything she has been up to. She talks to him about things Alto wouldn't ordinarily care about, like a rare butterfly she saw in the garden. About how big Ai-kun has gotten and the funny sight of Brera cutting the hedges with his internal blades. She stops once in a while out of courtesy for him and asks how he is doing. He would respond straightforwardly with no frills. Ranka would resume talking about whatever there was to talk about.
Alto watches Ranka in her animated talk. She was still the same. It was as if the war never touched her. Sometimes it would grate him to see how she could still be like this when some people out there had scars to bear, shouting out in sorrow and anger for all the things lost. But he puts up with her personality. Despite her age, Ranka Lee was still a child who could not comprehend the things around her. Alto had, at first, found her childlike naivety endearing but after all the things he had been through, one could not just look at something the same way again. Ranka was one of those cases. Despite it, he still cares for her and promises to visit her again when he gets up to leave.
Alto does not look forward to going home. He notices how heavy his footsteps become, the nearer he comes to his house. He comes in, suddenly tired and haggard. He drags his feet into the kitchen and makes himself something to eat, which was usually ramen and anything instant. Rarely does he go to the stores to buy something more adequate that befits a soldier such as himself. He settles in the couch and eats his dinner.
He listens to the sound of his eating. After he finishes off the lukewarm soup, he sets the empty cup down the small table. Then he does nothing. He sits there in the lonesome quiet. Movement catches his trained eye. He turns to the windows and sees that it is only the curtains blown by the breeze. The lethargic movement of the cloth stirs a memory in Alto's mind.
He remembers it.
Sheryl looking out the window, the breeze blowing her hair, Alto imagines the scene. He imagines Sheryl slowly looking over to him. The moonlight would illuminate her as she let out a peal of laughter.
Alto shuts his eyes and he is certain he could really hear her.
It has been one year and three months since Sheryl left him. The fact runs through Alto's mind as he steps inside his bedroom. He sits on the bed, the mattress slightly giving away to his weight. For the longest time, he just sits there and thinks blank thoughts. He glances over at the huge vanity mirror where Sheryl would spend most of the evening brushing her hair while humming some song of hers. She would smile at him in her reflection when she catches him staring at her.
Alto imagines the scene again. He does so for a long time.
One and half a year pass and still no word from Sheryl. He asks around but nobody knows where she is. There was nothing on the media about her. It was almost as if she had completely disappeared. Alto chokes on his own bile at the thought.
Yasuburo comes and visit him. They sit down and talk. He fills Alto in about his father's health and other things worth mentioning. Alto listens genuinely. When it's already getting late, Yasuburo is ready to leave but before he parts, he asks Alto.
"How is your sky?"
Alto blinks at the question and laughingly tells him it's the same blue and windy atmosphere. Yasuburo looks pointedly at him with open eyes and says.
"I meant Sheryl."
Alto finally admits he misses Sheryl. Openly. To Klan as they visit Michel's grave. The Meltran attentively listens to Alto as he tells her of his fond memories with the currently missing songstress. He tells her how he keeps her earring in his locked drawer, unable to look at it as it stirred too much pain. She had left him, he confides to Klan, but yet she still remained. Klan tries to keep the tears from falling but fails miserably. Alto sets her to sit on the grass and offers her a kind handkerchief. She accepts it and uses it for all it's worth.
She whispers Michel's name over and over, all the while calling him an idiot for being a coward. Alto is there by Klan's side wishing he could do something to ease her pain. But he knows he can't.
He cannot even ease his own.
It has officially been two years. Alto is torn between loneliness and bitter resentment. Each passing day, he feels emptier. He stops flying in the sky, in fear he'll do something stupid that can never be undone. He walks in the grassy field in search for some sort of solace. But he finds none. His legs suddenly feel like weak and hollow, he stops walking and falls down on his knees.
His hands touch the ground. He stares at it for the longest time. Then a drop of water falls on his hand, followed by another and another. At first, Alto thinks it's raining,but then he feels the wetness on his face.
He is crying.
Alto visits the concert hall. The very place where he first met her. He is in the lobby right outside the doors that lead to the hall proper. He just stands there, trying to decipher why he came here in the first place. As his thoughts fill him, he hears something faint.
Kami-sama ni koi wo shiteta koro wa…
Konna wakare ga kuru towa omottenakatta yo…
His ears cannot believe it. His eyes widen and his whole body trembles at the familiar voice singing that familiar song. He pushes himself inside. He sees a figure on the stage. Alto breaks into a run, past aisles of seats. His steps echo inside the big and empty hall. He finally is close.
The song becomes clearer.
Mou nido to furerarenai nara…
Semete saigo ni mou ichido dakishimete hoshikatta yo…
Emotions overflow inside of him. He feels a variety of them. Happiness, sadness, anger and confusion, all bubbling inside of him… A part of him still could not believe it. She was there standing on the stage, her back facing him.
It's long long goodbye…
She just stands there. Alto knows she had heard him. He waits for her to look at him. When she does turn around to meet him, her face is blurry. Alto furiously wipes the tears from his face in disgust. When he thinks he has control of himself, a fresh set of tears comes running down his face.
She calls his name in a breathy whisper. Giving up on stopping his tears, he looks up and he chokes back a cry when he sees the tears flowing freely down her visage. At that instant, Alto wanted answers. Where had she been? Why was she here? Why now? Questions swim in his head but he could not ask them. The emotions were holding him back. He could only look at her face, trying to search for answers in her weeping eyes. His vision keeps blurring. They both stand there. Crying on their spots-nobody saying anything.
But when the emotions die down, enough for them to regain control, Sheryl finally speaks.
"Alto, tell me to stay…" Her voice is barely audible but Alto hears her. He always does. He had been haunted by her voice since she had left. Her voice picks up volume as she continues.
"Tell me to stay, Alto. I will never leave you again. All I need is one word."
She was pleading, desperation edging around her words. Alto trembles, fresh tears stinging in his eyes. His heart clenches looking at her. He wants to say the word. No, he wants to shout it out so loud that she would be deaf. Stay. Stay. Stay. His mind coerces him to say.
He opens his mouth.
He does not say it.
He does not say the word she desperately wants him to say.
He says three words instead.
"I love you."
(1) Reference to Macross Plus.