warning: coarse language, mild sexual references, and themes of death, violence, + self harm. i recommend reading this chapter in my blog, not reader, for the best quality.
The winter is strangely tender tonight, coaxing the city back into glittering life under a intoxicating sheen of rain. Date night, for Luc and I, when we are free to explore the heart of Bridgeport together, shimmering with neon and breathless laughter and wicked smoke of a city in feverish half-sleep. Not my scene, I suppose, but there is a temptation in wandering through the dizzying lights, walking the edge of losing myself in the drunken tide that pulls so many others under, just anchored by the weight of Luc’s hand. It must be almost midnight when we leave the cinema — a romantic comedy this time — and stumble happily into a late night diner, sliding into an empty booth. Cracked linoleum, burger grease, an echo of a time gone. The diner itself is quiet, save for the crackling of popcorn and neon signs, the latter of which douses the place in red and blue.
I hum over the menu before ordering a strawberry milkshake and fries, while Luc asks for a glass of water. “Don’t you want any food? You didn’t eat anything for dinner.” I tip my head at him curiously, but Luc just raises an eyebrow. “I’m surprised you noticed.” “Or lunch. Are you okay?” “I’m fine, Cherry. Just not hungry.” He shrugs, a careless jerk of his shoulders. The order arrives before long, and I smile at the cherry and pocky sticks on the milkshake. “Look, it’s a cat!” I turn the glass towards my boyfriend, who doesn’t respond. His gaze is turned away from me, watching the rain drip down the glass. Spacing out again. I can tell he is pulling at his sleeves, steadily fraying the hems; an odd habit that has been confusing me for the past couple weeks. “Luc.” “Hm? Oh, cute.” He gives me a faint smile. I have learned to predict Luc’s tempers over time, like the tides, but this is new. Not his sharp-tongued arrogance, or mellow kindness, but something else entirely, a quiet that barely flickers with life.
Ever since Ebony had stumbled across us — if a woman like her could stumble — under the fairy-light trees, Luc has been different. His presence not quite here. As if… he is pulling away from me, slowly, subtly. This thought flits anxiously around my head, and no matter how many times I try to reassure myself, that he still kisses me with that same love, I can’t help but worry. For myself, yes, but mostly for him; now, as I nibble on fries, Luc doesn’t spark the flow of conversation that used to be so easy for us. There are shadows underneath his eyes. “You look exhausted,” I point out in concern. “I told you I’m fine,” Luc suddenly snaps, and I blink in surprise, the rough edge of his words startling when I have gotten used to his soft-spoken sweetness. The last time he spoke to me this harshly feels like ages ago, but I can remember the cigarette and tense muscles and me sleepily thinking something was wrong. Regret flashes across Luc’s face a moment later. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” I say quietly. “No, it’s not. Sorry. I’ve been so out of it.” He takes my hand after that, his thumb softly tracing my knuckles, and focuses his attention back on me with a smile. The rain has eased to a whisper once I finish the fries, with the begrudging help of Luc, and we finally begin our walk back home. This district is a sort of artsy gathering of shops which come alive at night, tattoo parlours and music stores and stranger things, casting a electrifying cocktail of colours. I think the tattoo shop Raphael works is along this lane, and I smile to myself, suspecting where the inspiration for his dyed hair comes from. I almost don’t notice the familiar tall figure sweeping past me. “Oh, James! Hi…” I trail off when Lilith’s boyfriend passes by me in silence, just with the swish of his black coat. Perhaps he didn’t notice.
Tonight feels like all the others. The bliss of a shower, getting ready to fold myself into the warmth of blankets and Luc’s arms. Instead, I find myself faltering, uncertain, when I slip into his room. The curtains are pulled shut, and my boyfriend is draped over the armchair; his eyes are half-closed, a cigarette pinched hard between his fingers. I haven’t seen Luc smoke in months, and the bitter scent makes me cough. I know him well enough by now that him smoking means he is stressed. “Luc?” “I don’t think we should be together anymore.” The words are rough, and they take a slow, painful moment to hit me — and when it does, the breath is sucked out of my lungs. “What?” I stare at him, not quite believing what he had just said. When Luc stays silent, crushing the cigarette harder, I move forward angrily. “Why?”
“This relationship was never meant to be more than a placeholder,” Luc says flatly, and I blink rapidly, something sour burning in my throat. “I don’t understand.” “I mean that this is a rebound.” Each word stings, and I shake my head wildly. “Luc, no, that’s not what I think of you!” “Why else would you fall for the asshole brother?” The self-hatred in his voice shocks me, and I step back, trying to figure out what is going on. “Why are you saying this? I care about you. I love you. And you feel the same… right?” “Of course I do.” Luc softens, the slash of hard-wired anger giving way to his usual, gentle self — the side of him that I realise is reserved for me. From the way my boyfriend heaves himself up from the chair, I sense the exhaustion aching in his muscles. For what reason, I’m unsure. “I do love you.” Luc searches my eyes before pressing on. “I didn’t expect to feel this way, or for us to last this long,” he admits quietly, “I thought you would get bored of me after a week.” “I worried you would get bored of me,” I exclaim, and we look at each other for a moment, before Luc’s gaze drifts away.
“What are you trying to say?” I cross my arms, confusion racing in my mind, just like my heartbeat. “Physical affection and dates can only get us so far, Cherry. I’m sorry, but I can’t give you more than that. You deserve more. Emotional depth. Whatever.” The way he says all that — distant, like an echo of his thoughts — is unsettling. Doesn’t he care? “Then open up to me.” I gaze up at him, closing the space between us and touching his arm. I feel him tense under my hand; an odd thing, for I am used to him softening whenever I touch him. Luc gives a bitter laugh, so low I barely hear it. “You don’t want that.” “Yes, I do. I barely know anything about you. Why do you keep shutting me out? What’s wrong?” I slip my hand down Luc’s sleeve, intending to link my hand with his, but then my fingertips skid along his wrist, on something I recognise almost immediately as fresh blood. “Wh-” “Don’t.” He pulls his wrist out my grasp, and I scramble to grab his arm; for all Luc’s strength, he can’t fight back, and I manage to drag up his sleeves. Something twists sharply in my belly at the cuts. “Luc!” “Don’t make this a big deal.” “Is this why you wanted to break up with me?” I cry, tears finally starting to spill over. “Cherry, leave. You shouldn’t have to deal with my problems.” Lifeless, his eyes downturned. “No. No. I’m staying.”
The news arrives late at night. No photograph, just a name, spoken with no emotion by the newsreader. The murder itself had been reported several days before — on that neon-drenched night, scarily close to where Luc and I had walked — but the victim had only been identified as Ebony Malanov hours ago. The lights of Bridgeport continue to sparkle in the murder of a meaningless name, for she had no meaning, just another criminal girl lost in the shadowed underbelly of the streets. For the penthouse, however, Ebony had cost everything. And that is why, in the early hours of the morning, I find Gabriel and Lilith in the kitchen, silently sipping green tea, lit only by a lantern and the skyscrapers beyond. I linger before stepping into the kitchen. Over the last few nights, I have learned things about the Torres’ past that I never would have guessed; just tidbits, when Luc had enough energy to speak. Those slivers of history, though, are enough for me to see the family in a new light. Grief, the sharp coldness in Gabriel’s gaze; weariness, etched in the hard lines of Lilith’s shoulders. Now, I wonder how I had been so blind to their scars, rippling across their words and mistrust.
They look at me, those matching silver eyes that I have always found both eerie and beautiful. Lilith waves me over and pours me a cup of green tea, with a spoonful of honey. “How are you, Cherry?” Gabriel is studying me, his eyebrows pulled together in gentle concern. The question is a surprise. “I’m fine. How… are you?” I blink at him quizzically. Gabriel looks down at his cup, slender fingers pressing into the ceramic. “I’m not sure.” He doesn’t look up until I pull up a chair next to him. “I’m sorry.” I lightly entwine my fingers with his — a careful attempt to comfort him — and while Gabriel doesn’t say anything, doesn’t question how I know, he squeezes my hand in a silent thank you. He lets us stay like that for a moment, before he slips his hand from mine and crosses his arms again. Something aches in my chest for a fleeting moment, and I blink, trying to remember why I had walked into the kitchen. “Oh! Lilith, do you know anything that could help with sleep?” “Passionflower tea might help.” Lilith busies herself with brewing a fresh pot of tea, and I fold my arms, watching the steam curl off my cup. I can feel Gabriel studying me again. I am not sure why he’s worried, especially through the grief that must be echoing inside him. “Cherry, is everything alright?”
I glance at him, catching the lantern light reflected in his eyes. “Yes. No. I’m fine, it’s just… Luc, he…” “Is he okay?” He’s never been okay. I reel in my thought before it spills from my lips, reminding myself of a promise I made to Luc. “I can’t really say.” Before Gabriel can reply, I push back my chair and dart away to collect the passionflower tea from Lilith. Guilt bites at me as I leave them in the pool of golden light. I know Lilith and Gabriel would help if they just knew. Luc’s struggle is not mine to tell, however, and unless things get worse, I will respect his wishes. My boyfriend is sitting on the edge of the bed when I quietly enter the bedroom. His head is bowed, and from the tense arch of his back, I can tell his thoughts are thrashing at his mind again. “Is it shitty of me to feel relieved?” The question is empty, just edged with guilt. I am careful to answer. Murder is a horrible thing to wish upon someone, but this case… “I’m sure Gabriel feels the same way. And she can’t hurt anyone else now.” My point seems to reassure Luc, and he twists around to give me a smile, the one that flickers to life every time I am here; a rare sign of happiness that curls at the edge of his mouth before dying. I smile back and hold out the cup. “Would you like some tea? Lilith said passionflower can help with sleep.” Luc blinks in surprise, and it is a wavering moment before he gratefully takes the cup, his hands covering mine briefly. “Thank you.”
I perch on the end of the bed, my shoulder pressing against his, and he leans over to kiss my cheek in another thankful gesture. I watch the slight tremble in his hands as he sips the tea. The past nights have been… difficult. To watch my boyfriend unravel, shattering that crafted image of a handsome smirk and steady confidence, the perfection that only existed in his paper-thin armour and my mind. It is painful, to understand why he wanted to break up with me; to see how much he had been hiding from me, the days when exhaustion ties him to the bed, and the days when numbness empties his gaze. The worst thing is not knowing why. Luc can shakily explain the guilt that still rages from Maria’s death, but the dark hollow in his chest… something different, unknown. Tonight he is a little better, I think. Perhaps because Ebony’s murder has lifted a slight weight from his shoulders, or him voicing some of his past has helped.
“How’s Gabriel doing?” Luc asks, after setting down his cup. “You two should really be asking each other, not me,” I prod, and my boyfriend folds his arms, with that same stiffness as his brother. He is quiet for a while. “Cherry, I think you should be helping him more than me. Your kindness would be better spent on Gabriel.” Luc gently tries to push me away, but I shake my head and stay firm. “Lilith is supporting him. She’s been helping him for years. I want to help you first.” I reach up to softly touch his cheek. and after a moment of hesitation, Luc dips his head to kiss my palm. “Thank you. Maybe you should spend more time with him, though. I’ve been taking up all your free time. I’m sorry.” “No, that was my choice. I… didn’t even realise.” I frown, wrapping my arms around my knees. He’s right. I’ve barely spent any time with Gabriel and Michel lately, for music or just friendly conversation, and guilt wells up as I make a mental note. We had been tucked in our own happy world, Luc and I. Ignoring everything else, and for Luc, what was happening in his own head.
“Can you tell me about your relationship with Ebony?” My tentative question makes his back stiffen. “Why?” His answer comes out sharper than intended, I think. “It’s just… you’ve told me about what she did to Maria and Gabriel… but you haven’t said anything about yourself.” “There’s nothing to tell. It was just a bad relationship. Don’t worry about it.” The slump of his shoulders and his frown says otherwise. I have been wondering about their relationship, all the way from when Ebony talked to me. The way she had spoken about Luc was… unnerving, and despite his protests, I cannot help but feel there is more behind his reassurance. “Luc, please.” “Fine. I was fucking stupid, alright? She was nice, the first couple days, but later… I should have broken up with her, but I was a coward.” There it is again, the self-hatred, spiking in his voice. “Ebony didn’t like me. We didn’t spend any time together, apart from when she wanted to… you know, screw around.” The words fade, and he averts his gaze from me. “Cherry, can we not talk about this? I just want to forget,” Luc murmurs, and I nod, deciding not to argue, although suspicion is beginning to bloom in my chest. The conversation is done for tonight. “Come here,” I yawn, softly tugging on his arm, and Luc works himself over the blanket until I am tucked in his embrace; warm and strong, one that has always soothed me. Perhaps I feel the same way to him, for when my fingertips trace sleepy lines across his face, he gently kisses me and sighs. “Cherry.” My name is a quiet hymn in his throat. “Is the tea helping?” I whisper, and a faint outline of a smile lingers on his lips. “Yeah, I think so.”
A couple points. 1) I wrote much of this half blind (one of my contact lenses fell out lmao) and in a late night rush (won’t have my laptop for maybe a week), so please excuse how weirdly written the chapter is! At least that’s how it feels to me. 2) You know the burn in your throat when you eat something too sugary? That was me writing the last two chapters of Luciferry 😖 I do feel the shallow love was important to lay down the baseline for a deeper relationship, and Luc’s situation, but boy it was painful. 3) I’ve finished my first year of university 😀 Four months of summer, finally enough time to catch up with Reader, and wrap up this generation for good 🎉