((Leila Langford and Hilary Strand continued from Heartbeat Symphony))
The sun smiled, hanging low as it did beneath the evening clouds, with an essence of hope radiating warmly into the purpling sky beyond. Two girls, around the age of modern womanhood, sat down on the idyllic shore below; the reason for the pleasant atmosphere the great light was emanating. They'd sat there for a good set of hours now, drinking in the scenery with hearts full of longing and deep, impenetrable sadness. One of the girls missed her family, for she knew that her time was running short. She knew that there was very little chance of her ever escaping the island alive, and although the spark of determination crackled in her veins, there was something holding her back from her true potential. It was something she hoped on one hand she'd never have to find, something that would lose itself amidst the darkness of her soul and remain trapped therein forever. Still, it would always be there, at the very back of her mind. That urge. That primary function so many people had kept controlled and sedated over millennia after millennia, allowing it to break free only when they saw it best to do so, not when their instincts told them to.
As for the other girl, the sun smiled rather differently. It was not a smile of warmth and hope at all, at least to her. This smile was one of consolation, of pity, of regret. The only love she had ever known in her entire life was gone, and she could think of nothing else. Questions poured into her mind as she watched the busy tides brush the sand away from their feet, but they didn't need to be answered. There was no point trying to figure out her place in the world, because she knew it now. God was using her as an example, though of what she didn't know. Maybe he was simply being cruel, showing her the error of believing in an ever-after. If there was a heaven, well, would she deserve a place? All she'd ever tried to do was make people like her - to be accepted and welcomed by everyone she knew. She drank herself mad, and sneaked into clubs. She dressed as up-to-date as she could, and only recently found herself a boy to call her own. She'd done everything by the book, just like she'd been shown before, and all the while kept to the promise she and Leila made together so many years ago.
So then, after all of the work she'd put into life, and all of the torment she'd been forced to go through, why was she being punished like this? What deed had been so terrible that it warranted a punishment this severe? She thought all of her pain was behind her - back home with the people who took everything away from her without once saying sorry. What possible explanation could there be that would excuse everything that had happened in her miserable life? Was she to blame for her sister's death? Was she meant to have saved her? How could she? Hilary was the young one, the baby of the family. Surely this wasn't the debt that Jean had meant to pay? That wasn't fair. She wasn't the one handing her the needle every night. She wasn't the one to blame. This was all so twisted and wrong, and thinking about it only left Hilary feeling weak; it felt like she didn't even believe in any kind of God any more. Not after the things she'd seen. Not after everything she'd been subject to.
She looked across at Leila, whose eyes were closed and still. The walk through the swamp must've taken it out of her too, especially when she had to wade through all the mud and the slime in nothing but a skirt and sandals. A twinge of jealously ran through her as she watched the girl rest in the dying light. Leila had always been so confident, so free of doubt. She may have been relaxed, but there was something more to her - something powerful. Hilary often wished she had the same fire in her belly, to keep her fighting whenever things got too hard. It would keep her warm and remind her that she was alive at night, when her dreams insisted on reminding her that she was nothing special; that she was worthless. The sea breeze waved at her hair, letting it dance quietly on while she watched her friend, the warrior, sleep, and she thought back to all the time they'd spent together.
Their first meetings, their first conversations; she remembered them fondly. Two years back, and Leila was the same ferocious girl, and Hilary had never met somebody like her before. The first things she asked about were the brands of Hilary's clothes, as a few of them matched her own scrupulous tastes, and although to most it looked as though the two were only superficial as friends, they didn't realize just how close they were. Leila often acted as a mentor to Hilary, showing her the best places to find affordable yet stunning bracelets, and how to apply the best colours of foundation to her fair, freckled complexion. Leila would shout and groan whenever Hilary got something wrong - "that belt's too chunky", "those heels are way too short" - but she loved every second of it because she'd finally found someone who was willing to teach her all of the things that would one day make her popular. Liked.
Her eyes turned suddenly to the sea. For a moment she thought she'd seen a boat, away in the distance, but it never came. Though if one ever did - she glanced over to the wreck - she knew that it was a lost cause. So many kids had died now... so many families torn apart, and for what?
It was strange then, when her eyelids didn't twitch, and no lump swelled inside her throat as she looked back over her span on the island. Brock was dead now, she'd never see him again. She'd never kiss, or touch, or hear him any more, and it didn't even bring her close to tears. Was this what it meant to be strong, to feel nothing at all? Had she finally stopped caring? That must've been the quota, she figured. Dead sister, dead boyfriend, dead inside. That was it now. No more crying, because she had nothing left to lose - no reason to keep on going. Her eyes drifted back to Leila, back to their things. What if... what if she saved herself the trouble. What if she finally gave Him what he wanted, and ended it all - the heartache, the throbbing emptiness inside of her - right now. What if Leila wasn't staring right back at up at her?
Her shoulders tensed as she leaned back, away from the bags, while Leila sat up dusting sand from the backs of her arms. She looked around, in case of spying eyes, then asked her a question.
"Are you okay? You look a little nervous."
She spoke in a hushed voice to prevent unwanted attention, and it carried a sense of fear within. See, she knew what those eyes meant, what they were searching for, but she didn't quite know why, and it scared her.
"I-I'm fine. Sorry, I just, I really needed a drink, and I've ran out, so-"
Leila cut her off by nodding, then turned to grab her things. She brought the bag closer to her body, out of a certain reach, then took a look inside. Her journey into the daypack brought back a half-drank bottle of water, but by now they were used to missing out on luxuries like cold drinks that they gladly drank it warm. She handed it over to Hilary, who took it with a polite "thank you", and watched as her friend carefully opened it up and took a mouse-like sip. It was funny, really, how hard it was to tell the difference between a normal Hilary-sip and this one, as they were both so small and impossibly refreshing, but as Leila sat there, watching her screw the top of the bottle tightly back on, she didn't find it very funny at all.
"Thanks." Leila replied, as the water fell back into her daypack, and the two of them moved back into their previous spots, both watching the sun as it sank beneath the waves.
After a while, Leila broke the tension, by asking a simple question.
"Do you remember when we first met?"
Hilary looked a little confused, but nodded nonetheless.
"I saw you in class, just sitting there all on your own with your little Hello Kitty notepad and your giant jumper, and it made me laugh."
What was she saying? That she'd only talked to Hilary out of pity?
"And then... I felt kinda bad."
"You looked so, I don't know, lost, I suppose. Like you'd never been in a classroom before. It was weird. I mean, I know you were new back then, and I never usually talk to the new kid 'cause let's face it, they're usually freaks, right?"
Hilary didn't bother hiding her frown.
"But you were different."
Her face brightened a little, as did Leila's.
"You're so pretty, Hil. Always have been. Even when you're half-hungover and covered in vomit-"
"That was one time!"
"Hah, even then, you're still so pretty. You could be whatever you want to be with a face like that, seriously. I mean, there are some hot girls at school, yeah, but none of them are a patch on you, Hils. Not a single one."
Her eyes became darker then, as she hesitated to continue.
"And Brock, he... I think he always knew how lucky he was to have you."
The two of them sat there, on the cold, wet sand, as water lapped up around their toes, staring into each other's eyes. These sides of themselves were foreign to them - the hollow, sad-eyed expression of one mirroring the rare, honest smile of the other. Leila looked like she was going to say something else, but the silence between them said more than enough, and so she swallowed her words to keep the moment going. A few seconds later, Hilary spoke up and said something both of them weren't expecting.
"We never had sex, you know."
Leila sat up, more awake now.
"These." She pointed down to her chastity bands, ribboned as they were around her wrist, then to the ones adorned on Leila's own.
"He was so thoughtful. Didn't ask to do it, not once, 'cause he knew all about it." She laughed. "His friends would pick on him about it, teasing him about "frigid" I was, all that. But he didn't care. Brushed it off, came over to visit and watched reeeally bad TV with me." Her expression appeared much calmer now, a little more accepting. "And we'd end up falling asleep, all curled up in bed; I always fell asleep on his chest... that must've been annoying." She giggled. "But then I'd wake up and he'd be there, right next to me, just staring at me with the biggest smile on his face - oh, he had such a wonderful smile."
Just as it seemed as though she was beginning to cheer, her eyelids fell and her lips began to quiver.
"And now, he's... oh, Leila-"
Leila scrambled closer, wrapping her arms around Hilary's shaking, howling body as tightly as she could. She'd never let go, never again. She'd hold her until all the pain and the tears washed themselves away and left her alone for good. She never wanted to see her friend cry again.
The following morning, after the third announcement had played out in all its sickness, Leila woke up under the cool shade of the trees with the sounds of the sky blissfully cawing overhead. Stretching out her tired bones and muscles, she gave a stifled yawn behind her hand, then reached into her daypack for a little morning refreshment. The water, as warm as it was, felt lovely as it splashed all the way down her throat, and it was only when she went to put back the bottle that she noticed two very important things were missing.
She looked around in wild fear - where did Hilary go? Her things were all here, so had she gone for a quick trip to the ladies' room? No, she hadn't eaten or drank anything in hours. There was no way she'd need to. But if that was the case, then where was she, and why wasn't she here? Another look into the daypack, and her heart stopped. If that was missing too, then had she...?
She raced to her feet, kicking up sand as she went until it blew back into her face.
"Shit! Hilary! Where are you?! Hilary!"
Ran across the entire beach; where could she be?!
Her sandals weighed her down, flopping uselessly on the shore, so she kicked them off onto the sand.
"Hilary!" She called again, her voice straining as she screamed the name across the key.
"Hilary! Please! Where are you?!
She was about to call again, when something alien caught her eye.
Her legs pushed her forwards, told her to keep going - but she didn't want to. She didn't want to go near the thing that looked so much like a familiar blonde-headed girl she knew. She didn't want to walk up to it and talk to it because it looked like it had the barrel of a gun inside it's mouth. No, that couldn't have been Hilary, there was no chance. She'd never do something like this. Not her. Not the real Hilary.
"P-pl-ease, Leila, I just... I j-just want to die, p-please, help me."
She sat in the sand, hidden by the looming vegetation; her expression hard to see under the amount of tears and shadows which were covering it. The girl, Hilary Strand, sat live on a beach somewhere, with a gun stuck inside her mouth. This girl's entire being trembled and shook, like it was ready to die of its own accord. Leila couldn't believe it - any of it. What was happening? What was she doing with... with that... thing? It'd infected her with some kind of evil, something so corrupt it bent her friend all out of shape until she was nothing like the girl she used to be friends with. That poor, sweet girl.
"Hilary... you... you don't..."
There was nothing to say, was there?
She couldn't bear to see her like this anymore, so desperate. She'd never understand what Hilary was going through, not fully, but she'd asked for Leila's help, and as much as she protested; as much it killed her, too; as much as it tore out her very heart to walk towards her friend and kneel down in front of her, she needed her to guide her. One last time.
"L-leila, I-I'm so- I'm-"
"I-I'm sorry, I'm s-sorry, I-'m s-"
"Shhhhh, shh, shh. Stop crying now, okay?"
Leila's hands began to cover the girl's, as they sat there watched by the sun and the sea, and the two of them fell silent. They both closed their eyes as their fingers began to pull back on the trigger, and just as they were about to fire, Leila's forehead rested forwards onto Hilary's as she began to weep.
"I love you, Hilary."
And the sun began to cry.
G056: HILARY STRAND, ELIMINATED
Leila stood alone on in the sand, staring out at the dying sun as the water lapped gently at her feet. Wrapped tightly in her hands were two intertwining bands - one red, one white. Her chastity bands. Her eyes played over them, circling around and around the infinite loops for so long a part of her hoped she could just lose herself in them forever. Forever, though... she wasn't sure she wanted to remember today for that long. Hilary's blood had long since washed itself away in the sea, but she could still feel it, seeping into her skin. That stain would never leave her mind, she knew. She knew that sleep would come painfully from now on, interrupted as it was with the image of her best friend sticking a gun in her mouth, clinging to the very last limits of her life.
But what to do now?
It was all over now, for her. Hilary was sound asleep beneath the ground, and the only parts left of her were drifting off into the sunset, having left their mark on the young girl by the shore, whose clothes were spattered with blood. It was alright though. She'd be just fine. There was no point in hiding it, was there? Come the next announcement, her name would be paired up with Hilary's, as the man on the speakers reads out their last moments together with all the empathy she expected from the man who ran this "game". Ugh, she hated using that word. It cheapened everything she'd been through, like she was just another mindless TV character running through a Styrofoam assault course. Who was he to use that word? To cheapen the name of her friend and make it seem like nothing of value was lost here today?
He was a nobody, just like her. "Leila Langford" was simply another name in the long line of credits, but wasn't he as well? This... "Danya". Fuck him. Fuck the lot of them. They were all nobodies, and that made things so much easier. Without names, without their stories, these fuckers were just the villains of the piece, like the one she'd been playing so brilliantly over the past few days. No mercy, no love, just chuck hundreds of kids on an island and watch as they all tear each other apart for no good reason. Survival of the fucking Fittest; the biggest joke on earth, and there she was, right in the middle of it, with a gun in her bag and a friend in the dirt.
Well fuck this.
She wasn't a bit player by any means, and she wasn't going to let Hilary's death be in vain. She had a family too, just like everybody else here, just like all the other scared and confused teenagers who didn't have the slightest clue where they were or why the fuck they were there to begin with. It was all such shit.
She'd had enough.
Without screaming or falling into a fit of hysterical tears, she'd managed to bury her friend that day, and while she knew that she might have to do the same again soon enough, she was at least going to bring down a couple of those bastards with her, even if she turned out to be an extra after all. It was worth it just to make herself feel better, to untie the knot in her chest that threatened to choke her. Turning back with the wind sweeping the hair from her eyes, she walked over to the freshly-dug grave and knelt down beside the end she'd marked with the water bottle, caressing the bands in her palm.
She paused, biting back the cry.
"I could've protected you. From all of this... like a real friend."
Wiping the remains of her mascara away with her free hand, she leant forward, softly placing the bands around the neck of the bottle, which then began to sway with the oceanic breeze.
"I'm leaving this here, with you."
She spoke quietly, fearing someone finding her out here on her own.
"If I'm gonna find those men... that Danya, then I don't think I'm gonna be able to stick to our promise. I might... I might have to do something bad. Something even worse than-"
She stopped, biting back tears.
If she spoke again, that would've been it. The tears would never stop coming and she'd be dead meat for anyone to find. So, she bit down hard on her fingers, drawing the slightest amount of blood from her knuckles, and powered through the pain. She focused on it, escaping from her thoughts, then gradually came to a stop once the knot had been swallowed back down to the pit below.
That's it, swallow it away. Save it for later, when you need it. When you need to cut and stab and twist, because it's the last thing you'll ever be able to do to bring her back.
And once she was finished, and her things were packed and sitting ready on her shoulders, she took one last look at the ocean, wondering if the red sky in its reflection told her something of her time to come.
((Leila Langford continued in Aimless))