(A/N): I dedicate this chapter to everyone following this story, especially Love-RiniBell-Love and Mandy I Am. Thank you for your continued and silent support. :3
Chapter 4 - Grief
"I need someone who believes that the sun will rise again, but does not fear my darkness. Someone who can point out the rocks in my way without making me feel like a child by carrying me. Someone who can stand in thunder and watch the lightning, and believe in a rainbow."
― Fr. Joe Mahoney
Yuna shakes Baralia awake, and he sits up startled. 'Did I doze off?'
"I... I'm sorry to bother you with this, but..." Peeling his face off his sleeve, he covers his yawn behind his hand and rubs the feeling back into his face. "It's been over half an hour, and my mom's not here, yet. I've tried calling her, but she won't answer. I called my dad and he tried calling her and―."
He puts a hand out to interrupt her, blinking the grogginess out of his eyes. "I need to ask you to calm down. You're talking too fast for me to properly digest what you are saying."
"My mom, she's... it's taking her awhile to get here, and she won't answer my calls."
"She's probably driving. That's why she cannot answer the phone."
"But it took us ten minutes to drive here."
"It's still raining, isn't it? She has to force herself to drive slower."
Baralai can see her calm down a little bit with each logical response in spite of the darkness. He must replan a dinner that doesn't require electrical appliances. Baralai stands and trudges over to the refrigerator, considering his options. 'Maybe Grandmother wouldn't mind a cold egg sandwich with smoked salmon or maybe black peppered ham...'
"Would you like something to eat? I can understand why you are worried. While you wait, I'll prepare you something."
"I... I would. Thank you." On cue, her stomach rumbles, and she blushes.
"If you were hungry, why didn't you tell me?" He smiles, amused. "I feel like a terrible host."
"You fell asleep. You looked like you really needed to take a nap."
"Thank you. My body oddly feels better."
Baralai spent ten minutes making sandwiches for the three of them. Nothing happened. No phone call, no knocks on the door. They proceed to the living room and eat a simple, yet fulfilling meal at the couch with Yunalesca in the candlelight. Baralai has to keep swatting her hand away every time Yunalesca tries to pilfer extra lettuce from her great-grandson's sandwich, and Yuna giggles.
"Will you stop, please? I gave you five layers of lettuce. If you want another sandwich, just ask me."
"Your lettuce keeps falling off. Once it lands on the plate, I consider it a castaway."
"It's not a castaway. I will eat it eventually. Stop rushing me."
"Here. You can have some of mine," Yuna says, trying to alleviate the situation.
"I'd rather you not. I don't mean to offend you, but I don't want you two sharing germs."
Yuna pouts. "My family shares food all the time."
"But you're not family." A cell phone rings and Baralai recognizes the "We Are Family" ringtone. He smiles, smug, and Yuna grins in kind. "I believe that is your phone."
"Our argument isn't over."
"Sure it isn't― Grandmother! That's mine."
Yunalesca manages to pilfer some lettuce the moment he looks away, and he glares at her. In the middle of their argument, one they have repeated since the dawn of time, Yuna returns to the living room. He can perceive her distress right away and stands up, worried.
"What's wrong? Did something happen?"
"My Dad called, and..." Yuna stops, speechless, on the verge of tears. "He told me mom got into a car accident! The hospital... the hospital called him, and he's already there, and and..." Glancing at the object in her hands, she sniffles. "D-Daddy wants to talk to you."
"Me? Okay." He takes the phone and presses it to his ear, unable to imagine for what reason Yuna's father would want to talk to him. "Hello? This is Baralai speaking."
"Son, I need you to listen to me real carefully. Do exactly as I tell you."
"You have my full attention."
"I told her to stay with you for the night." Before Baralai can protest, he continues. "I don't want to repeat what happened to my wife, but I know this is also an uncomfortable request."
"I..." He gulps, conflicted. There are too many things wrong with this picture ― a girl sleeping over at a boy's house, a father consenting to this kind of inappropriate setting, a mother who probably has no say in the matter ― but Baralai must swallow his pride and accept it. If he lets Yuna leave now in this storm, he would be endangering her own life. "I understand. I give you my heartfelt sympathies for your wife. My parents are out of town doing business, but my grandmother surely won't mind Yuna sleeping over. I assure you I won't do anything inappropriate to your daughter."
"I'm choosing to trust you. Prove to me that I made the right choice."
"Also, I must warn you... Keep an eye on Yuna, and don't let her leave your sight. When my daughter is in distress, she will become stubborn and no amount of reasoning will sway her. The first thing Yuna will do is leave the house and try to reach the hospital."
'Wait, what?' Baralai's eyes widen and he turns around to find Yuna nowhere in sight. He sees the front door open, and wonders how did she take the keys without him noticing. How did he even miss the howling of the rainstorm, being as loud and violent as it is?
"Why did you not find the sense to tell me that first?!" Shoving the phone in his pocket, he runs outside and looks around. Baralai spots her white blouse and fluttering blue skirt about two blocks out, and he sprints after her. "The nerve of that girl!"
He closes the distance at startling speed, and doesn't give Yuna the chance to react when he tackles her down. She thrashes in his arms without hesitation, and he manages to clamp her tight into his suffocating embrace. Baralai throws her over his shoulder, ignoring the punches on his backside that will no doubt bruise come the morning.
Fighting against the pelting rain that blinds him and the arctic whip of the wind that bites on his skin, Baralai stalks back to his house. Sheer anger motivates him to brave the storm and block out her shouts of ire. Once they return, he throws her on the floor and shuts the door behind him, holds her back by force as she lunges for the exit, and locks the door from the inside with his house key. Never had he felt more grateful of the deadbolt.
"I can't believe you!"
Yuna responds by shoving him, sobbing and wailing and finally he can longer reign in his patience and he slaps her. This shuts her up, maybe because he hit her so hard she falls to the floor and he does not apologize, not while he can't think straight. Baralai stoops to grip her shoulders and shakes her.
"What were you thinking? Are you trying to kill yourself? Are you trying to make everyone worry about you? Anything could have happened to you, and I would be responsible! This is not the time to be acting irrationally! Do you understand? Do you understand me?"
He stops talking, stops glaring and stops shaking her, weariness softening his frightening features when he sees Yuna continue to cry silent tears. She doesn't bother wiping her face when she nods, her beautiful blue green eyes dull with cold fear and grief. Baralai sighs, scared of the consequences of his actions, scared of the thought what would have happened to her had he not caught her in time.
"Are you trying to give me a heart attack? You really made me worry..." Tired of speaking and thinking altogether, he pulls her into his arms, but she does not reciprocate the gesture. He might as well have been hugging a rag doll.
"I... I hate you... why did you stop me? I want to see her..." It hurts to hear her say that, after all he has done for her, but he resolves to be strong. Even if the sound of her broken sobs tears him apart.
Baralai sent Yuna and his grandmother upstairs so Yuna can be given a spare set of dry clothes. Downstairs, he busies himself with lighting more candles around the house, which gives him plenty of time for him to simmer down. In the meantime, Yunalesca watches Yuna towel dry her hair after she stripped from her wet clothes to only her underwear. When Yuna removes the towel from her face, Yunalesca can see the bruise forming in the dim lighting. The depth of that discoloration will last a week.
Yunalesca chose an alpaca tan blouse for Yuna to wear over a periwinkle yellow sundress, and sees her frown at the reflection of such young, yet downcast beauty reflected in the mirror. She worries that this girl will come to resent her great-grandson for trying to show he cared. A shame his parents are never around to teach him how to interact with people, or maybe this happened for the better.
"He did not mean to hurt you, my dear," Yunalesca says.
"But he did. I never thought..." Yuna trails off, emotion stuck in her throat. "I-I never took him for a violent person..."
"He's not normally violent, but he does hide a dark temper. No one is perfect. Do not hold it against him. He tries so hard..."
"Do you think he's..." Sniff. "...b-blaming himself right now?"
"Yes. He may be strict with others, but he's most harsh on himself. He won't ask for forgiveness, since he feels at fault for hurting you and involving your mother in that accident."
"That... That's not true! You can't know that. Why would he ever think―."
"It is because I am his family that I know full well the way he thinks."
Yuna sniffles and wipes her eyes, gulping down her sadness. "...do you think school will be canceled tomorrow? You know, because of the storm?"
"Perhaps, if the storm persists passed morning."
"Baralai wouldn't like that, would he?"
"No, he wouldn't." And they both laugh.
When Yuna comes back downstairs, Baralai looks up only to watch in horror as she approaches and her face becomes visible in the soft candlelight. The bruise on her left cheek festers the guilt and shame in his heart, and his eyes linger for too long before he finally manages to look away. Baralai returns to wrapping the sandwiches in saran plastic for lunch tomorrow if not to distract himself from what he just saw. He feels her hand rest on his own, pulling his attention away from the task.
They lock eyes where Yuna implores reconsideration, yet Baralai does not budge.
"I want to go home. I want to see my mom."
He sighs. How many times will he have to say no? He might need to start getting creative.
"You will see her soon. She's at the hospital, and you should let her rest with the thought that you are safe."
"But my father―."
"Is at the hospital. He called you from there, didn't he? He's safe, too, and looking after your mother. In the meantime, try your best to be calm."
"Please..." she whispers, and he sighs again. "I want to go stay with them."
"Your father specifically told me to keep you here until the weather lets up. Don't be irrational. We will be leaving first thing in the morning, and that's final." Yuna glares, tightening her vice grip on his hand; Baralai doesn't even flinch, glaring in kind. Angry tears prickle at the corners, and she averts her eyes from his resolute gaze.
Suspending food for the moment, he shifts his hand to clasp hers, pulling it close to him even though she resists. "Look at me. Look at me, Yuna." Baralai forces her to face him, holding her face, so Yuna won't be able to look away. "You have to be strong. This won't be the last time something like this will happen. You need to accept that possibility, so you must be strong. You can cry all you want, and throw tantrums all you want, and scream all you want, but don't you dare think I'm not here for you. I'm not your enemy, Yuna. I'm your friend. Your father put his trust in me, a boy he doesn't even know, to take care of you. He'd rather risk that, than have you be exposed to the storm outside. Respect that he has your best interests at heart, and please try to be strong."
The candlelight makes her grief-stricken face glow in the dark. He feels the tears run over his hands, feels the quivering of her cheeks in his palms, and lowers his voice to sound less firm. "Will you do that for me?" Without a word, she gives a shaky nod. "Will you do that for me? Thank you." Baralai uses his sleeves to wipe the tears, not bothering to acknowledge the fact snot will stain the cloth. He can always change his sweater later.
Yuna drops the stubborn act when he pulls her into his arms, sensitive to the point where more tears rise from her heart like a waterfall of pure emotion. Feeling her bawl on his shoulder, Baralai tightens his hold around her and tucks her head beneath his cheek. He proceeds to speak over the her noises of distress, saying whatever comes to mind to soothe her. "Are you hungry? I will finish making dinner, so you can relax with food to eat. I'll fix you something warm to drink, maybe hot cocoa. I remember seeing hot cocoa in the pantry. Nothing tastes better than hot chocolate with marshmallows on a rainy day. I can light another fire when the other dies down, and we can have Grandmother tell you more stories by the fireplace. How does that sound?"
The electricity has yet to come back on, and Baralai knows Yuna won't be able to sleep in an unfamiliar house wreathed in pitch darkness. And so he brings his extra blankets and pillows from the upstairs closet to the living room, placing some of them on the couch for her. He decides to sleep downstairs with her to keep guard in case she ever considers repeating the same fiasco from earlier, and also to give her company even if she may not want it.
They have a civil disagreement over the sleeping arrangements, however; Yuna doesn't want to sleep on the couch if it means Baralai will have to sleep on the floor. It goes without saying why they refuse to sleep in the same room, let alone the same bed. Baralai sighs on his spot on the floor as Yuna prepares her space next to him in the dark.
"Will you really be able to sleep on the floor? It's not as comfortable as the couch..."
"I don't think... I'll be able to sleep regardless." He hums his agreement, hearing her settle down beneath the blanket in complete silence. They don't say anything else, not even goodnight, for such a simple sentiment rings hollow in the silence of grief. Baralai finds it impossible to sleep with the thoughts running through his head, of her mother's current condition, of Yuna's current emotional state, of how small and immature his problems seem in comparison to a friend's anguish.
Baralai turns on his side, straining his eyes to make out Yuna's silhouette in the dark. She does not move, and he can't tell whether she fell asleep or simply waits for him to fall asleep first, so she can cry without him aware.
He slows his breathing, pretending to be asleep for several moments, and true to his expectations she starts to emit quiet sobs. 'What should I do? I don't know what to do...' If he were in her shoes, what would he want? To be alone or to be consoled? His pride would say 'to be alone,' but his heart would say otherwise.
"Yuna." She halts in her tears right away, stifling the gasp of surprise. "Do you want me to hold you? Would you feel better if I did that?" Today has taught him Yuna can be stubborn beyond reasoning, but when it comes to matters of the heart she looks willing to listen. If he chose to communicate through affection instead of logic, would she be able to understand his true intentions?
Baralai tries again, this time with a little more aggression. "Let me hold you. I won't do anything inappropri―." Her sudden acquiescence startles him when she turns around to scoot closer to him. He can feel the heat of her blush even in her somber state, but he casts away his embarrassment to accommodate Yuna's need for comfort. Pulling her in by the waist, Baralai uses the arm that pillows Yuna's head to tuck her below his chin. He pulls the bangs out of her eyes so he can see her face, unmindful of the tears that soak his shirt.
"You emotional creature... May I ask what you're crying for? The worst has come to pass. Your mother is alive, and you are safe. Why do you cry?"
"I-It breaks my h-heart... to imagine what my mom w-went through... during that crash..." Yuna sniffles, rubbing her bloodshot eyes. "...sh-she probably thought she was going to die..."
He envies the depth of her love, marvels at the capacity of her selfless and compassionate heart, and strokes her cheek to confirm the most glorious girl exists. So soft, and warm, and real ― a human being who possesses such innocence and glory, who flinches at his contact and he recalls why. She doesn't deserve to feel pain. Ever.
"I'm sorry I hit you. I..." Baralai forces himself to gulp down the sugar-coated lie. She deserves the truth, not deception. "I don't regret the act itself, but I do regret hurting you."
"I-It's... it's okay..." Blinking back the tears to no avail, she decides to hold his hand there to prove her actions match her words. "I understand... w-why you did it... still... you... y-you really scared me...! I-I never felt so fr-fr-frightened!"
Never had he felt the urge to cry more powerfully than in this moment, but he somehow manages to suppress it. "I don't expect you to forgive me."
"I do," she says, incoherent, and she speaks again, a little louder and with confidence. "I do. Of course, I do. I forgive you." Yuna sniffs, clearing her throat. "I-I... I'm sorry... for being difficult... and saying... 'I hate you'..."
He laughs, because he finds it unfair she would feel the need to apologize when he has done far worse to her, yet feels too selfish to deny the apology.
"I understand that you said it at the heat of the moment. Do not worry about it."
"...we've both done terrible things to each other..."
"Yeah." For a moment, their talk dwindles into awkward silence. He usually likes the silence, but in the absence of words he believes Yuna needs more, more comfort and emotional support ― something more encouraging than the exchange of apologies for damage done and dealt towards each other.
"Look for the girl with the broken smile, ask her if she wants to stay awhile..." He feels the trembling of her smile, hears her choke in the garble of her giggle, and knows she recognizes the lyrics. They sang to Maroon 5 in his room mere hours before the incident, a time so peaceful it feels faraway. "And she will be loved, and she will be loved... and she will be loved..." Embarrassed by this point, he stops and waits for the sound of her calm.
"Oh, you... what am I supposed to do...? You're so... nice..."
He hums his amusement, and allows sleep to claim him at long last.