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Dreams Too Great for the Heart

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The room was filled with the certain kind of warmth that could only be created by childhood memories and the seconds of that age that decorated the walls in the form of photographs of the three of them, young, carefree, and happy. And still, despite all of that, despite the quilt Anju had buried herself underneath, despite the walls that separated her from the coldness of the night that was descending on them with every passing second, Anju felt how the sense of coldness refused to leave her, instead growing deeper and deeper, reaching into her lungs and her bones as she lay there, listening to the sounds of a house devoid of conversations.

The end was drawing near.

Even if Cremia had fought to make the worried grimace that would always return to her features become a smile as she said goodnight to Romani, pausing for a moment to tuck in the quilt around her as she did, undoubtedly to make the short ritual last for just a little bit longer, with Anju, the optimism had disappeared, instead making way for an expression that told Anju what she already knew deep down: the moon was hanging on the very edge of the horizon. Looking almost like a drop of water that clung to a blade of grass, it could only be a matter of hours before it would fall fully. And, once that happened, it would be more than merely naïve to think that the short distance that separated them from Clock Town would be enough to spare them. No, the moon was falling, but even then, even as the world was coming to an end, Kafei was nowhere to be found.

For as much as Anju knew that she should have given up long ago, that she should have listened to her mother and made peace with the fact that he was gone, despite her best attempts at reminding herself that it was a hopeless dream to think that the finality of what was before them might make him remember her and put aside the issue that must have arisen to separate them, that was nevertheless the kind of wishes that busied her thoughts, a fact that was not helped by how she turned around to face the wall, only to find herself looking directly up at a photograph of her, Cremia, and Kafei.

They looked so young there. Though she could no longer remember the exact day, Anju could easily recall how Kafei had tried to balance on the fence they were all sitting on just a few minutes before the photograph had been taken, only for him to lose his balance, his arms moving through the air like a bird’s for a moment before he fell to the ground where he was left to brush the dirt of his knees as Cremia tried to hide her laugh.

It had been visible in her eyes, that laugh. That much, Anju could still remember as clearly as the day it had happened. She had smiled, free and at peace, back before the Gorman Brothers had begun to try to bring an end to her chances of providing for her sister by bringing an end to her deliverances, back in a time where the moon had simply been the moon, back before they had all grown up.

From the bed on the other side of the room, Anju could hear Romani snore.

Though she did not tear her gaze away from the photograph, Anju could easily imagine how she would be so completely gone into her dreams that not even the slow rhythm of her snores as they grew in intensity would be enough to wake her.

For a moment, Anju found herself envying her for that peace. She had no idea about what was to come. To Romani, this was merely another day where she would go to sleep in the evening, where she would be tucked in and told goodnight by her sister, all while being blissfully unaware of how she was the only one in the house who had any hope of waking up in the morning. She was a child, free from worries. Perhaps that was what she was truly envious of.

Blinking against the darkness, trying to find enough tranquillity to let herself drift off to sleep, Anju could only imagine what she might have thought about the end of the world back when she was still a little girl who would help Kafei up from the ground after he fell of a fence. For that was what it was: the apocalypse. The word sounded far too small to describe what was to come in a way that mirrored the way Anju knew the meaning of it without being able to say that she truly understood the enormity of it. It was the end, but with Kafei gone and without any sign that he might return to her, it was next to impossible for her to understand it, to chase away the stray hope that, if it really was the end, then Kafei would be there with her.

In the distance, another sound added to the rhythm of Romani being unaware of the dread that clung to the air around her. Feeling how her muscles instinctively tensed, it took another moment before Anju was able to recognise the sound of footsteps.

For a heartbeat, the period of time reduced by the way her heartrate sped up, beating against her ribcage at a frantic pace, Anju could almost see how Kafei would step into the room, an apologetic look on his face and an explanation for what had happened waiting on his lips that would soon fade away as she would tell him that none of that mattered, that nothing mattered other than the fact that he was there in time for them to face the end together.

Then, much like it had happened when she had grown up, the dream faded away as reality set in. The footfalls were too light, hesitating for just a fraction of a second too long for them to belong to Kafei. As the sound of floorboards creaking came to a sudden end, Anju knew better than to hope for what she now knew would have required a miracle, and so, as the door creaked on its hinges, she quickly closed her eyes, forcing herself to relax and try to echo Romani’s slow breathing as Cremia stepped into the room.

Even with her eyes closed, Anju could feel how Cremia looked first at her and then over at her sister. She had to be exhausted, having spent the evening pretending that all was as it had always been, that her reasoning behind offering Romani a cup of Chateau Romani was that she had proved herself as an adult with her bow and arrows, and still, she was the one who was standing there in the doorway.

Holding her breath for a moment too long, Anju felt how her lungs were aching for more air, and still, she made sure to remain still as Cremia stepped further into the room, at once fearing and hoping that she would notice the tension she could not completely remove from her shoulders. If she were to see it and realise that she was still awake, there was little doubt in Anju’s mind that Cremia would try to comfort her once again, making yet another attempt at convincing her that Kafei was certain to appear in time. It was, after all, what she had spent most of the evening telling her, tilting her head to the side as she spoke, something Anju could not entirely name flashing across her face the first time she had come over to sit down next to her after she had placed a plate of roasted mushrooms in front of her little sister.

Yes, if she were to see that she was still awake, Anju knew that she would sit down next to her to once again tell her to maintain hope. Of that, she had no doubt.

Perhaps that was what she was afraid of, the thought that she might once again be confronted with the fact that Kafei had left days before their wedding and that the apocalypse itself had evidently not been enough for him to return.

In truth, as she lay there, Anju did not know what was the truth anymore, if she was frightened of the idea of Cremia realising that she was not sleeping and making an attempt at spending their last couple of hours with her or if what truly scared her was the fact that she lacked the courage to look over at her and see the pity in her eyes, if she wanted to be angry at Kafei for having left or if she wished to weep for the fact that they would die separated. All she knew was that, rather than moving over to stand next to her little sister’s bed, when the footsteps echoed through the floorboards, Cremia was walking towards her, stopping next to the bed she had willingly offered her the moment Anju had first yawned.

A moment passed, at once as fleeting as those last few days of looking up at the approaching moon and carrying the sense of weight that Anju had come to associate with the hours she had filled with thoughts of Kafei.

In the quiet of the room, she could hear her heartbeat, her breath low. Even as she tried to picture the seconds that would follow her rolling over to face Cremia, she found herself unable to move.

It would be the right thing to do. Though those last few days had become an increasingly difficult exercise in figuring out what was the right thing to do, whether to flee or to wait, Anju finding herself unable to make a decision until her mother took the choice out of her hands and brought them all to Romani Ranch, for once, Anju knew what she should have done: yawn and bring up her hand to rub against her eyes in an attempt at keeping up the charade.

And then, the moment was over, the floorboards creaking once again, the sound of a deep breath and the sense of warmth moving around telling Anju that Cremia had knelt down next to the bed, that she was still there with seemingly no plans of leaving just yet.

“Thank you.”

As the words filled the room, Anju could only be grateful for the fact that she had not given in to the urge to turn around to look at Cremia. If she had, there was no doubt in her mind that Cremia would have noticed the sharp intake of breath she did not think to stop in the wake of the silence that had lasted for hours being replaced with words.

Now, however, it did not appear that Cremia had any suspicions of her voice being heard, not as she continued. “For coming out here, you know. I… I know that we haven’t talked much these last few months but… for what it is worth, I truly am happy that you knew that you would always be welcome here, that you would think to come out here once again.”

A drum echoed in her chest, Anju struggling to keep her breathing quiet. With how loudly her heart beat against her ribcage, it felt as if it should have been a futile effort, and yet, Cremia gave her no indication that she was aware of how she was not merely talking to her sleeping friend.

For a moment, the sole thought that went through Anju’s mind was the wish that that would happen, that Cremia would notice the tension in her shoulders and tell her that she knew she was awake, giving her both the chance to look at her and see what expression accompanied her confession, if her voice shook to reflect a shiny gleam of tears in her eyes or if it would be a reflection of a beginning laugh, as well as to answer her.

But Cremia did not reach out, did not tilt her head to the side and place her hands against her sides and tell her that she was doing a terrible job at pretending to be asleep the way she had done when they were children. Instead, she let out a sigh. “Because you can. There will always be a place for you out here; I will always be happy to welcome you, you know that, don’t you?” a laugh followed, but it was devoid of humour. “Well, perhaps that is a question I should not have asked after these months. You didn’t mention it, but I just wanted to tell you that I know that I haven’t been a good friend recently. I avoided you and kept to this ranch, and still, you never brought it up. But you must have noticed it, that we have hardly seen each other ever since… ever since you and Kafei got engaged, right?”

Not even the state of otherwise near total silence would have been enough for Anju to hear Cremia move, the motion far too gentle to allow for the rustling of fabric or the slightest creak from a floorboard to give it away, but Anju still felt how Cremia reached out towards her.

Between two heartbeats, she knew what would come, a hand on her shoulder as well as an excuse for her to open her eyes. At that, though, she found herself unable to imagine what would come next, if she would reach out to envelop Cremia in a hug, tell her that she had noticed, that of course she had noticed the distance that had appeared between them even if she had lacked any explanation for it, if she would try to ask her for such an explanation.

In those short seconds, Anju could envision herself reach out and finally find and place the last piece of the puzzle that was Cremia’s sudden distance and reservations when it came to spending time with her and Kafei.

Cremia had almost closed the distance between them, her hand hovering above Anju’s shoulder, allowing her to believe that she could feel her warmth through her blouse and the air that still separated them. In the end, however, those last few hair’s breadths were never closed, Cremia pulling back her hand, the slight shift in the air letting Anju know that it had fallen back to rest against her side.

“You never figured out the reason for it—at least, I don’t think you did. You would have said something if you had.” a chuckle punctuated the statement as all Anju could do not to nod, not to reveal that she was awake by assuring her that she would not have hesitated to confront the reason for why Cremia seemed to avoid Clock Town, why she seemed to avoid her, if she had had just the faintest inkling of what her reasons might be, was to wait for Cremia to stifle her laugh and continue. “Romani figured me out, though. I guess I should almost have known that she would be sure to know just what was wrong sooner or later, and still, when she asked me, I have to admit that I had to take a moment before I was able to give her even a somewhat coherent answer.”

Counting along to ensure that her breathing did not reflect her anticipation, Anju waited, waited and prayed that what would come next was the explanation she had waited for. In those few moments, as she counted the seconds until she could exhale, Anju could almost believe that she might be able to forget that she was counting down the seconds to more than just the chance to finally confront what had come between them, that the moon was hanging low in the sky, just above the horizon as the threat of it finally making contact loomed in the future.

And then, the explanation came, pushed out into the air around them along with a tired laugh.

“Still, I suppose that even if I had known that she would ask, there is still something about having your little sister ask you if you are in love with someone from Clock Town, if your reasons for staying with her here weren’t as much a matter of something keeping you here as much as it was something keeping you away from the town, that would have made anyone be at a loss for words.”

From one moment to the next, everything fell into place, leaving Anju with a sense of clarity that made it appear almost absurd that she had not seen it before. It was half an explanation, that much, Anju was aware of, but even then, it was enough for her to fill in those last few gaps, to connect the way she had had to convince herself that she had simply misinterpreted Cremia’s response to her telling her about her engagement, that the look of regret and sadness that had flickered in her eyes had simply been a shadow falling across her face, with the way Cremia had seemingly always had some other issue she wanted to discuss with her the few times Anju had been able to see her for long enough to bring up the subject of the future wedding.

Everything was falling into place, and still, Cremia continued, adding to an explanation that had already been given. “I am not quite sure if she knew that it was you or if she thought that it might have been Kafei. To be honest, I never truly answered her question, but I am sure that she knows me well enough to realise that that was an answer in itself, even if I didn’t want to burden her with by problems. But… for what it is worth, even if I was too scared at the time to fully admit it to myself, before it all ends, I just wanted to say that it was you, that of course it was you.” Cremia said the words as if it was her very last chance, her voice growing thick with emotions as she struggled to reach the end of her sentence.

Perhaps it really was. The moon was still in the sky, their world still clinging to the last thread of its existence, but its destruction was still imminent, something Anju knew to be a given. And yet, as Cremia took a deep breath, as Anju heard how she fought back the tears, she could not help the feeling of regret at the dawning realisation that, to Cremia, this really had been her last chance. There would not come another one, would not come a moment of either of them finding the courage to bring an end to the pretence, not of Anju looking at her, nor of Cremia finally reaching out towards her. The confession would not be repeated with both of them able to react to it.

It was a selfish thought, deeply so, and yet, Anju could not deny that part of her felt an immense relief at the realisation that she would not have to think about what to say in response to what was happening, that she would be allowed to let it all remain in a state somewhere between a full understanding and the detached feeling of being unable to fully connect what Cremia was telling her with their lives and the memories of all the days they had spent together, both the three of them as well as just her and Cremia. There would not be a moment of her sitting down and trying to make sense of the hundreds of thoughts whirling through her mind—surprise, understanding, and something she could not quite name—to figure out what to say to Cremia. It would never come, and yet, lying there, Anju could feel the ache, the wish for Cremia to reach out and bring about exactly that situation by touching her shoulder, for Anju herself to take and cherish the excuse to pretend to wake up, roll over, and look at her, really look at her, with the full understanding of what had happened to take away the confusion and the veil that had been between them.

But such a moment never came. Much like before, Cremia maintained the distance between them.

It took hearing her shaky breath for Anju to realise her mistake. She was not keeping her distance, not in the way Anju had thought she was doing, at least. Rather, she seemed to guard herself. It should not have come as a surprise, not now, not when she knew that Cremia was only telling her the truth because she was certain that Anju would not hear her, and yet, it did, the last piece of the puzzle being found in the way Cremia sighed before pushing herself to her feet.

A creak, and then Cremia paused, Anju imagining how she would stop to look back at her as she spoke. “I suppose what I really wanted to say is that I am sorry. I am sorry for having created this distance between us, and I am sorry that even now, even when I know that the consequences would only last for a few minutes, I still cannot find the courage to confess and give you’re the explanation you deserve. I am sorry that I could not find the courage to be a better friend.”

A moment’s hesitation left Anju with the hope that Cremia might return to her side, but the sound of the door being pushed open, of footfalls leaving the room, growing fainter before the door was closed once more, brought an end to all of that and left her there, staring out into the deep darkness of the room that, despite Romani’s presence, suddenly felt far too empty for Anju to bear.

It was not a surprise, and yet, despite how the confession felt like something she should have known already rather than something that had the power to make the world shift on its axis, as Anju thought of everything she had been certain that she knew, she could not deny that it felt as if she was seeing everything clearly for the first time in a long time.

Kafei was gone. That was a fact that could not be changed by anything she might learn or realise. After that, however, Anju could not help but wonder about those little moments, the moments where she had known that something was untrue without knowing exactly why.

Her fiancé had left her to run away with Cremia. That was, as absurd as it had seemed even back then, even before the moon began to look down at them, shedding tears as it approached, the explanation her mother had found to answer the question of his whereabouts, one sentence filled with absurdities after another. It had been impossible, a ridiculous notion, and still, along with the rest of the world, it was among those questions whose answers Anju could now see clearly.

Before anything else, Cremia was her friend. Much as Kafei was both her friend and fiancé, she was among the handful of people Anju could confidently say she would trust with her life, the one she had known would be sure to let her flee to her ranch as the apocalypse hung above them. An hour, a day, even years ago, Anju would still have known that her mother was wrong. The events of those last few minutes had only reinforced that.

Cremia was her friend, and in the silence of the house, Anju would have been sure to have heard it if the front door had been opened. Cremia was her friend, the one who was awake and present in the same house as her for the first time in weeks, and yet, Anju could not ignore the thought that it felt as if she was further away from her than when she had been in Clock Town, unable to fully push away the feeling that she was losing her friend.

There was a weight sitting on top of her chest. It took a precious moment before Anju realised that it was the way the silence allowed her to listen to the drum of her heartbeat that felt as if it was pushing her underwater. Steady and low, the sound continued on, unyielding and undeterred as it counted the last few moments before the end.

Before she knew anything else, she knew that Cremia was her friend. She could not leave her to face what would come next alone, could not hide from her by pretending to be asleep. Though her mother might have regarded the question of whether or not to leave Clock Town to spend the night on the ranch as a question of whether or not to try to flee from the impending doom, Anju would not flee from this.

Much as they had done before, the floorboards creaked below her as she swung her legs over the side of the bed and pushed herself up, ignoring the way the cold instantly crept in to replace what little warmth she had been able to find while lying in the bed. Perhaps Cremia could hear her from the room below, but if she did, she did not react in any way to let Anju know that she was aware of her moving through the room, of her reaching out to push open the door once more, making her way down the stairs while listening to the way the house creaked around her.

She found Cremia sitting at the table. In front of her, the flames were still dancing in the fireplace, bright and warm, a testament to her refusal to let them die and become embers before the night was truly over.

Though part of her wanted to find sadness in the confirmation that Cremia would not have returned to the bedroom, deep down, Anju understood her choice. For as much as they should perhaps have grasped what little peace could be found in being asleep for the end with both hands, with how little time they had left, it would feel almost wasteful not to fight to hold on to those last few moments.

Cremia gave her no indication that she was aware of Anju’s presence in the room, not as Anju closed what little distance remained between her and the table, not as she pulled out a chair, the sound of its legs being dragged across the floor feeling impossible loud against the backdrop of silence and the crackle of fire, not as she sat down next to her. Instead, she kept on staring into the fire, the flames making shadows dance across her face as she appeared to search for something within the blur of red, white, and orange.

Was that what would await them at the end of the night? Sitting there, Anju understood all too well the spell that lay within the strange dance of the fire, the question of whether or not that would be the last thing she ever saw, an unavoidable wall of flames that would grow larger, far larger than the house, larger than even Clock Town, until it became an all-encompassing inevitability.

“Hi.”

She could have believed that she was making it up, that the voice was nothing but a figment of her imagination. Still, as Anju tore her gaze away from the fireplace and turned to look at Cremia, it was clear that it had really happened, that she had not merely been imagining her voice and all the things she could have said. With how Cremia was looking at her, a tense smile tugging at the corners of her lips, the fatigue etched into every line on her face, there simply was no other explanation. But now, despite how the smile did not reach Cremia’s eyes, Anju could see what she had missed all those times before as well, the softness that could still be found in the gesture, how, despite not reflecting her smile, Cremia’s eyes still shone with affection.

How she had ever been able to miss it was beyond Anju. After all, now that she was aware of everything Cremia could have possibly wanted to share with her during their last moments, the idea of ever being able to look at her without properly seeing all of her appeared almost laughable.

Perhaps she should have brought it up, should have said something about it. Maybe that would have been the right thing to do, to make sure that there would be nothing left unsaid between them. But then again, there was no world in which either of them would ever get the chance to regret their next moments, so all Anju could do was to return the smile.

“Hi.”

It should have been enough. A moment before the word left her mouth, Anju was certain that that would be it, that from there on out, they would be content to await the end in silence. Really, she should have been satisfied, and still, she felt herself move, saw how she reached out, her movements slow and unsure, to take Cremia’s hand.

Separated only by a thin layer of cold and silence, she heard the little gasp that followed, felt how her shoulders tensed as she waited for Cremia to pull her hand out of her grasp.

She did not, however. The seconds passed, Cremia remained still, and slowly, Anju found the courage to place her other hand on top of Cremia’s as well, holding onto her as if that alone would be enough to keep them together through the end. Though the thick walls of the ranch might have shielded her from the sight, Anju knew beyond a shadow of doubt, that the moon was almost touching the horizon. All it would take was that last push. Then, it would all be over.

“You know…” Cremia’s voice instantly brought Anju’s thoughts away from the end that awaited them, stopped her from looking towards the front door as if the apocalypse would have the manners to knock before entering. “I never thought that this would be the end for us. I always thought that we would have more time to…”

The sentence was left unfinished.

Anju had her guesses about what might have come next, but let them remain unsaid. It was, after all, not her choice whether or not to bring an end to it.

The only thing she could do was to nod, and so, that was what she did, simply looking at Cremia, clutching her hand a bit tighter.

For a moment, Cremia looked as if she regretted not finishing her sentence, looking first at Anju, then at a point directly to her left, before her gaze once again returned to rest directly on her as the silence around them grew thicker.

There was no way of telling how long the silence lasted. All Anju knew was that it felt as if the words came bubbling up from a point deep within her when she finally brought an end to it.

“I love you, Cremia. No matter what happens now, I want you to know that. I love you, and I will always be here for you.”

In the moment between two heartbeats, Anju could see a thousand emotions flicker in Cremia’s eyes as she looked at her. When she spoke, however, all Anju saw was the joy that accompanied her smile, the way she knew for certain that she was once again sitting across from her childhood best friend, the one she would not hesitate for a moment to help, no matter what risks that might have entailed. She was sitting there with her best friend, her best friend who was blinking back tears, still smiling, still present, as she too tightened her grip on Anju’s hands.

“I love you too.”

There would not come a tomorrow. There would not be a day where Anju might be asked or ask herself whether or not the two of them had meant the words in the exact same way.

In a way, there was a strange sense of clarity to be found in the knowledge of the finality that accompanied both of their confessions, one that saw them wordlessly bringing each other into a tight embrace as the minutes brought them closer to midnight.