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The Ocean Above Your Knees

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"Hey, taste this, taste this! It's so good!"

"Easy now! You're getting crumbs all over your face."

 

I was walking,

 

"But the food is so good. It's like I want to taste this forever."

"Then we'll just come here again next year. And then the year after that. And then after that, after that, after that."

 

slow, but walking,

 

"Wow, that's so many afters. What if this fish becomes extinct because of us?"

 

and the ocean was above my knees.

 

"Ah, Gavin! Do you want to have a bite, too? It's super good!"

Suddenly, all eyes were upon him, expecting him to say something. But he only held up a hand to complement his polite smile. He was not much of a foodie.

"Oh, alright then. Feel free to get some if you change your mind."

... That, and he could not muster up the courage to spoil such a picturesque scene: a blond and a brunette, hip by hip, casually brushing their fingertips across each other's cheeks. Even he could not deny that they looked lovely together. Or was it only Kiro's image deceiving him?

When the younger boy wiped a hint of cream off the corner of the girl's lips, Gavin could not placate himself from a bitter smile. He just wished the boy wasn't so nice. He just wished he had a reason to stand up, crack his knuckles, and punch the superstar straight in the face. But he didn't. Not when the boy was so sweet and nice and caring towards her. Not when the boy was treating her like she deserved.

There was no reason for Gavin to be in this picture.

There was no need for him.

She didn't need him.

He stood up abruptly; the pace of it blacking out his vision for a second. But when it cleared again, he wished he had lost his vision right then and there.

"What is he doing?"

Whispers.

"I don't know, showing off?"

Eyes upon him.

"Envious that people are paying more attention to Kiro?"

As if he was a weird spectacle.

"He's just jealous that the boss lady likes Kiro more than him."

He clenched his fists; knuckles popping from the pressure that he was inflicting upon his palms. His breathing grew heavier. His vision blurred with a red mist.

"Oh yeah, didn't the boss lady say she has a crush on Kiro?"

His teeth ground together; tightly, noisily--as if drowning out the sounds, as if wishing for his ears to stop throbbing for the torturous torment. To stop hearing voices. 

"With all those visits from Kiro every day, they might as well be married."

But the whispers only turned to shouts.

"Kiro."

"Kiro!"

"She's happy with Kiro!"

"Why should she pick you over Kiro?"

A flame blazed the lines of his palms.

"She doesn't need you!"

It hurt. The burns hurt.

"Utterly worthless."

The searing pain scorched his hands, his arms, his shoulders. The blaze lit his clavicle; slicing an angry red line from his shoulder to his chest. Blazing, dripping. Hurting.

"You're a disgrace."

Blood.

"You can't do anything correctly."

Flames.

"Your mother died because of your incompetence."

Burning.

"You should have never been born."

Drowning.

Before he knew it, his feet were already buried in the sand.

 

I was walking, slow, but walking,
and the ocean was above my knees.
I didn't know of the cold  that crawled up
or the mist that hung silent above the surface.

 

He knew he should reprimand himself. He was not weak. He could not be weak. He was a figure of strength; it was a part of his duty to stand up tall and act as if he was infallible--that he could stop a bullet between his teeth. That he was no less than Superman.

And maybe he really was like Superman. He remembered frequenting the sea, just like this, and hold his breath for a few minutes longer every day. To block out the voices. To extinguish the fire burning his flesh. Longer and longer, each passing day, to hopefully remember to be thankful for each mouthful of oxygen running through his veins.

 

I knew the darkness, old friends since longer
than we'd both admit, and I knew the waves,
in ways I promised I would not explain.

 

But he never felt grateful. The fire burned slowly, dimmer and dimmer, until he could feel it no more. Until he could feel no more. Until even the sea was tired of stealing his breath away.

Should he try once more, much longer for the last time?

"Gavin!"

 

You found me there, walking, slow,
but walking, and you called out to me.

 

He turned his head lazily; vision blurred by the stinging saltwater in his eyes.



I do not know how deep I would have gone
if you did not know how to pronounce my name.

 

"What are you doing out here? You haven't eaten a bite." She yelled to get across to him, water rippling with her every step.

Splish, splash. Splish, splash. She waded through the lapping waves and ignored the sand between her toes just so she could grab a hold of his shirt, "Ah, let’s scoot nearer to the shore,” She laughed impishly, “I don’t know how to swim.”

Gavin’s brows furrowed, but he obliged anyway. He held a strong grip around her arm so he could steady her reliably.

She stood on her tiptoes; bobbing up and down the sand beneath so the water wouldn’t reach her mouth, “I’m sorry about Kiki and the others. Their words are maybe a bit...untamed, but I promise you they don’t mean anything malicious. They just really think you’re cool and handsome!” She leaned a bit more into her companion’s sturdy frame as he pulled her away from the deeper end, “They were really worried when you suddenly walked out like that. They said they were sorry for calling you a Hot Police Stud—“

“They called me a what?” He asked suddenly; confused.

“A hot—“ She halted, suddenly embarrassed of reiterating such a shameful moniker, “You know what? Let’s just head back. Kiro asked for you to eat a lot and said you shouldn’t think about the costs since he’s going to pay for everything. Isn’t that sweet of him?”

Gavin arched an eyebrow, “Why would he say that?”

“Because that’s why we’re here in the first place! He’s thanking you for teaching him those amazing stunts. You’ve basically earned him a blockbuster movie!”

At her words, he stood silent for a fraction of a moment. He kept his hold on her, however, as they slowly made their way out of the sun-baked sea and onto the white sand. He let his gaze wander through the waters. It looked positively lovely. It was clear and calm--tinted orange from the lazy sun beginning to bid its good-night--and riddled with tiny waves that rippled through their long shadows.

Were they always like this, just like their shadows? Always parallel, nearly touching--but never truly together?

The thought haunted him, and he stopped short on his track, "Hey, do you--" His words ran dry on his mouth.

She waited for a while, but when he said nothing more, she turned her head to peek at his downward gaze, "Do I what?"

He breathed in through his nostrils, and out through his mouth. He closed his eyes to calm his emotions, but it did not help him at all; not when he could acutely smell the strawberry in her hair, and not when he could feel the familiar squeeze from her warm hands. Not when whenever he closed his eyes, all he could see was her.

"You... It's nothing." He dismissed with a sigh.

Gavin half expected her to pull at his hand with an irked expression. Why are you being so secretive, she would ask, and he would repeat his point with a smile. She would only be half-convinced, but since she was the gentlest of people he knew, she would drop the subject. Hesitantly, but she would. And that was the reason why he did not know what to say to her when she stood directly in front of him, caught his face between her soft palms, and stared at him directly in the eyes.

It was not a look of ire, but of wholehearted concern.

"It couldn't be nothing," She whispered; her thumbs wiping saltwater off his cheeks, "Your hands were trembling."

Gavin’s breath was caught in his throat. He still refused to say anything, but  he no longer denied that something was weighing on his mind. He still knew he would not last, however, for although Superman was a man of steel, he had a fatal weakness. So when she caressed his hands and traced the scars on his fingers, he knew then and there that she really was his Kryptonite.

He held onto her hands tighter as he rested his forehead on her shoulder, "I wanted to die."

Her frame stiffened; surprised by Gavin’s sudden, direct confession. She had a lot of questions swarming her mind, but she enunciated not a word, and the long breath Gavin heaved confirmed to her that it was a much appreciated silence.

“There were times...so many times in the past that I felt so tired. So tired that I wanted to sleep for a long, long time.” His hands slackened; allowing her to be the only force that kept his strength aloft, “And even if I did sleep for God knows how long, no one would dare to wake me up. Would care to wake me up.”

“And yet you’re here. Alive, with me.” She whispered gently; slowly running her thumb across Gavin’s taut skin.

Gavin scooted the crown of his head into the crook of her neck. His hair tickled her a bit, and he felt her brush her hands against his face to fix his stray locks, “Yes, but only because I was clinging onto one reason.” He breathed; voice shivering, as if cold from from the warm water nipping at his skin, "But what if I can't hold onto that reason anymore?"

Silence. There was nothing but silence. The languid sigh of the sea, the lazy rhythm of her breath, and the listless beating of her heart: they had all halted to a small tremble. They had all stopped to take a moment to look at him: a flame burned out, a pair of eyes that forgot its shimmer. A wayward soul lost at sea.

And in his voice, he was once again the boy who frequented the waters.

"Waking up today so I wouldn't die... Living so that I could try not to die tomorrow. It's a pain in the neck, sometimes literally." He let out a humorless laugh; fingers absently trailing the deep scar forever embedded on his skin, "But it's all worth it, if only to keep her smile on her face for a minute longer. But..." He let out a long, heavy sigh.

Finally, he managed to pull out a strength that he did not know he still had at this moment. He stood up straight; her hair no longer tickling his nose. His skin no longer touching her skin. Her warmth no longer embracing his. He gazed at her with so much longing--so much sorrow, but no longer than a second as he gathered the courage to turn his back to her. He tipped his head towards the waning sky; hair ruffled by the salty breeze that whispered of bereft.

"But if I couldn't see her anymore, I wouldn't know what to do. Not even all the money they throw at me would ever amount to..." He gazed at a lone shell beneath his feet. Worn out and battered by the angry waves, it wouldn't take long for it to crumble and return to the ground where it belonged, "To all those memories of being left alone because I wasn't good enough. Eating alone, sleeping alone, spending a quiet holiday alone. I thought I've gotten used to it. I thought I'd be fine just seeing her smile even if I couldn't see it up close, even if it wasn't for me--"

"So you just want to see a smile, from up close, directed only at you?"

Gavin was puzzled at her suddenly cutting off what he was saying, but he was even more startled when her hand clamped around his shoulder to forcefully spin him toward her.

"I'm not sure who you're talking about," She pointed, a bit surprised by the determination she did not know she had the courage to display, "But if it's a smile that could keep you going,"

She grabbed a firm hold of both his hands and, for a magical moment, with a gentleness that only she could possess, guided his thumbs to dab at each corners of her mouth.

"Then I'll smile for you."

 

It was when you
with fingers
like wands,
curled my lips
into a
smile,

 

"I'll laugh at all the not-so-tasty food we'll cook together. I'll sing a song for you, though I'm not really good at it, just so you could fall asleep."

 

that I hoped
you 
realized that
You,

 

"And I'll smile with you."

 

and only you

 

"On Christmas, on New Year's, and every possible holidays on all the years after that.

 

will be the
orchestrator
of the greatest
happiness
my life
will ever
know.

 

"So please, learn to smile for me too."

 

His breath caught in his throat. Speechless, breathless. In this moment of time, the sea was not azure, the sand was not white, and the sky was not gold. The sea was the waves of her hair, tender against his trembling hands; the sand was her sun-kissed skin, fine and delicate against his calloused fingers; and the sky was her eyes: twinkling with tears not shed, bright and bursting with emotions that he was too shy to observe so closely.

In this moment of time, she was the world to him, and he would give all he was to hold her close to his heart.    

"But," He managed to choke out between his dry lips, "Those kind of smiles should only be for the one you love."

A fond smile bloomed on her beautiful face, "And who do you think it is I love the most?"

He did not know if it was the scent of saltwater that urged him on. Perhaps it was the golden glow cast upon her supple face. Maybe it was the way her fingers, all so lovely and tender, strummed across his chest, over his shoulder, and tickled the nape of his neck. It was probably all of that. Everything about her. Just her. And it was only her--the only person in this world--who could ever make him weak on his knees with just a simple kiss.

 

And it was only her who could ever taste the sweet smile on his lips.