by Leo Gillard
Laila could see that he was on the edge of something; something she didn’t want to see come to pass. Actually, they could all see it. Kieran was standing on the edge he’d been standing on for years now.
Yet it… it almost wasn’t him she worried for. Everyone knew that Kieran was facing down the void and couldn’t quite turn away. Every single one of them knew – had known for months, or maybe years. If he started to slip, started to fall, everyone knew what to look out for. Everyone would be there to pull him back.
(This was all a metaphor. Laila hoped beyond all hope that the cliff edge, the void – all of that was meant to be a metaphor. It would never happen. He never would. He cared too much, even through the distance he’d put between him and them.)
No, she wasn’t worried for Kieran. She worried for Arin. She worried for Orion. She worried for herself.
Every day, every week, every month, they chipped away a little piece of themselves, part by part, in the hope that things would one day go back to how they used to be. They patched themselves up as well as they could, but one day…
She absolutely did not blame Kieran for any of this. He never asked them to help; that was the only reason Orion even did. They tried to help anyway, and piece by piece, moment by moment, they sacrificed themselves to something none of them could fathom.
Laila couldn’t see it, couldn’t hear it. Like those metaphors for explaining situations like this, she sometimes likened the problem to a monster, or a big black dog. Or maybe a cat, that took a swipe at her every day, not envisioning the day that there would be nothing left to take.
It was subtle. She didn’t notice at first, the way she drew away from other things. The way she took time she had once used for herself, and changed to make it for others. Sacrificing herself, day by day, for happiness that never seemed to come.
When she mentioned it to Arin, he laughed. “It’s like a bank,” he said, and he threw an arm around her and smiled, because that’s what Arin did when he didn’t want to face up to an ugly truth. “We’re investing time now, and the happiness will come later.”
“Are you sure?” she’d asked. He hadn’t answered. Or maybe he had, but the answer meant so little that she hadn’t bothered to remember it.
She knew, of course, that sacrifice for the sake of others wasn’t a bad thing. Self sacrifice was a good trait to have. Selflessness, a willingness to put others before yourself, they were all the same thing put in different words. It was just the connotation of ‘sacrifice’ that made it seem like a bad thing.
Yet she knew that, even if it was a good thing, even if she was meant to hurt herself for the sake of others, she was only losing right now. She lost her time, and energy. She lost sleep worrying about where things were going to end up. Whether anything would be okay ever again.
She was sacrificing herself, and she felt like it was to no avail. So was Arin, so was Orion. And each time they gave a piece of themselves to Kieran, he gained nothing, but they lost themselves more and more.
Sometimes she didn’t recognise Orion, and that was why she worried. It wasn’t her job to worry – she shouldn’t have to worry about him. He was a grown man, he could take care of himself. But out of all of them, she worried for him the most. He was sacrificing himself, and he didn’t seem to know where to draw the line.
Laila didn’t want to be angry at him, or angry at Kieran. She couldn’t be angry at either of them, really. They were only doing what they could (except Kieran would say he wasn’t doing enough, if she were to ask him). Only doing what they wanted to do (Orion, for one, would say he didn’t want to, that actually he wasn’t doing anything at all, but he’d always been like that, with a little less tiredness).
But she was tired. She was tired of watching everyone she loved give themselves up to the beast in the dark that no one would name. She was tired of worrying, tired of sacrificing. Tired of being tired.
She would not let any one of them, herself included, sacrifice themselves to a cause they couldn’t articulate. It wouldn’t happen. It couldn’t.