Stay With Me Chapter 1

By Lucrecia Marionette

Snowflakes whipped themselves into a wild frenzy, driven on by the incessant wind as it rolled across the landscape bringing sheets of pure white on its wings. The normally, soft undulating hills had been bleached by the smothering blankets of pallid weather and now seemed to be coated in powered diamonds. It glittered even from the distance she watched them.

Squares of light dappled the snow, beamed down from the windows of the small house. She stared at one even then observing the snow as it built up gradually in layer after fine layer in the gentle spotlight. She had remained that way for the past few hours and before then, days, weeks and months endlessly fusing to form a single life until she couldn't remember ever being anywhere else. Her fingers entwined among the frayed edges of the coarse and yet plump window cushion she sat upon. They had originally started to explore their surroundings unconsciously and now satisfied themselves with lying among the ragged tassels. A rough, brown blanket was pulled up to her waist and her left hand rested upon her lap, the other still among the frayed tufts of thread. Her ankles were crossed, her legs bent at the knees in order to hug the wall the seat was set into. Perhaps it was in some unperceiving wish to be as unintrusive to the room as possible. Maybe it was simply because it was the stature she had adopted for the past few years. It would require too much thought to alter it, and she had too much on her mind as it was.

She rested her forehead against the icy pane of the window and let out a sigh. The gust of warm breath blew out onto the frosty glass and it momentarily went a misty white. However, the sheer coldness of the air outside soon sucked away the haze, leaving it as crystalline and clear as before. She closed her eyes and rolled her head on the pane. She wasn't hot, but the biting chill seemed to drag her back into the reality which was so bitter to her at that moment in time.

After remaining stationary, her skin still pushed up against the glass for a few minutes she opened her eyes. At first, blurred white movement was the only thing visible to her. After a few seconds however she focused upon a single, delicate snowflake. It danced before her eyes, the barrier of glass the only thing keeping the two objects separate. Soft winds, muffled by the position of the house caused the tiny crystal to swirl around in the eddies caused by the haphazard structure. It eventually drifted towards the window where it stuck against the pane and allowed her to briefly gaze upon the impossibly intricate structure of the minute ice crystal. The heat from her breath however had lingered in the transparent and the snowflake melted within the blink of an eye, reduced to a smooth droplet of water. It hung, suspended on its landing place for a while before eventually flowing downwards drawn inevitably by gravity. She followed its irregular path for a few minutes until it eventually reached the sill where it mingled with the pile of white snow which had fallen there throughout the past few days of blizzard.

She gave another sigh, more out of weariness and sat up straight, turning from the window to look into the room she occupied. It was strange, she realised, how she had been sitting there for so long and yet had never cared to examine her surroundings. The ambience was subdued and faint, in truth; the light bulb which suspended shadeless in the middle of the ceiling had broken a long time ago. Now the only light came from a fireplace on the wall to her right and a small, half-melted candle balanced upon a chest of drawers on her left. Mako had long ceased to be used; wood, although crude and bulky provided a much more pleasant atmosphere anyway she mused. The dim yet warm light cast out by the flames was helped marginally to brighten the room by the creamy yellow paint, outlined by old black beams which criss-crossed the roof and walls. An ancient looking, small four-post bed jutted out into the room, it's headboard pressed against the wall opposite her.

The chamber was the epitome of comfort and warmth; both regarded as being the true forms of tranquillity and contentment. However, the physical appearance of the place she had contained herself within was a mockery of how she felt inside. A heart yearning and a soul aching; could life get any worse? That was what she had been asking herself over and over again for the past three years but still no answer had come to her.

Now it was no longer a question, it was merely a mantra; a phrase which said continuously allowed her to remain in her state of continuous meditation. Her eyes constantly trained to the horizon in order to catch a glimpse of a glint of silver as light reflects off the buckles of a sword holder, or perhaps hear the soft call of a young chocobo as it alerts his owners to his presence. No such luck though. . People delivering coal and oil from far away Correl; coffee and exotic goods from Costa del Sol were the only real strangers to the town of Kalm. Normally she'd put on a brave front and greet them as they came with her Gil in one hand and order form in the other. But that had ended six months ago. She had a lot of thinking to do, and liquor orders were not on her list of priorities. .

As she turned her head to face the window, a soft knock brought her attention back to the room. For many hours now, the only sounds had been the flaccid whistling of the wind as it attempted to push through the walls and into the sealed chamber and the occasional crackling of the logs on the fireplace.

"Come in," she called softly, momentarily overwhelmed at the sound of her own voice.

The door opened hesitantly and slowly as though the person on the other side was fearful of what they'd find. Eventually it opened fully and the light from another candle flowed in to consume the darkness which had existed undisturbed for so long now. A woman, perhaps in her forties stood in the doorway, her light brown hair which was now streaked with one or two grey hairs was pulled back loosely into a pony-tail, more than half of it draped over her face. She looked with undisguised concern at the figure sat on the window seat from behind her round glasses which had always seemed ridiculously large for her face.

She gave a comforting smile and stepped into the room, a tray with an object upon it held before her. Without saying another word she walked over to the chest of drawers and placed the tray down gently so as not to disturb the hushed atmosphere. Once there, she lifted a bowl from off it and put it on the polished wood, glancing indifferently at another bowl with the exactly the same delicate blue pattern around the rim. Like the one she had brought in, it was full with a yellowy soup, carrots and potatoes floating upon the surface. She didn't even have to reach out to know that it would be freezing cold; the silver spoon by its side unused.

"You didn't eat the soup I brought earlier," she said eventually. It was a statement more than a question and there was little emotion in the words. It was clear she had been expecting such an event.

"I wasn't hungry," came the reply.

Shera nodded without understanding or even the pretence to; it would undermine the suffering of the young woman to attempt to comprehend what she was going through. She simply felt as though she had to give some confirmation of her friend's words without speaking herself.

She silently lifted up the cold dish and put it on the tray, leaving behind the spoon. Unwilling to leave so quickly she softly prodded the buttered bread which had been brought in with the first bowl of soup many hours before.

"This bread's stale," she reported to no one in particular. "I'll bring some up in a minute."

"That won't be necessary."

Shera gave a weary sigh and for the first time in the past few weeks dared to the bar hostess the physical tiredness which plagued her body. Her posture seemed so much more tired, even her glasses appeared as though they were about to fall off her face through sheer exhaustion. She put one hand on her hips and ran the other through her hair, eventually holding her posture as her palm rested on the back of her head.

"You have to eat something, Tifa," she answered gently, but with firmness. "You haven't eaten anything for two days."

"I did yesterday."

Shera almost laughed aloud at the statement. "You had half an apple," she answered incredulously, with a snort of disbelief. "Starving yourself isn't going to help matters!"

Tifa blinked slowly as she stared back at the older woman, no emotion crossing her visage which seemed to have aged so much despite her youth. Shera sighed as she gazed back at her. Wide, burgundy eyes ringed from beneath by dark smudges accentuated by the poor lighting and shadows in the room gave the only outward signs of how she felt within. Terrified, misgiving and very much alone despite her friends. With the coarse brown blanket pulled up around her waist and long brown hair sitting in a dishevelled manner around her shoulders Shera realised that the young woman wouldn't be out of place begging or scrounging for food in the ruins of Midgar.

With a moan, she moved over and sat next to Tifa, lifting a lock of the hair and holding it before her face. "You used to have. such beautiful hair," she breathed emphatically with obvious sorrow. "I always admired it; since I was a little girl I always wanted long hair, but in my line of work it was impractical. Your hair always used to glow when it shone; it was so luxurious and soft." Her hands dropped limply onto her lap. "Now you don't even bother brushing it," she ended in a whisper.

Tifa's haggard face crumpled although whether it was through sorrow or thoughtfulness, Shera was unsure.

"You sit here and wait for Cloud, day after day; night after night. If he were to come back, do you think he'd be happy to see you like this? Or do you think that the one thought which would make him come back here is that of you greeting him with a successful bar and happy patrons behind you, a rosy complexion and your wonderful hair shining?" She shook her head sadly. "If he knew what you were doing to yourself then just think what he'd do. He'd say 'Tifa. why have you done this to yourself? Where has that spark gone I used to love and adore so much?'"

". And I'd answer, 'It went with you the second you left my arms to look for something you knew you could never have'." Tifa responded. Her words were not full of the resentment and bitterness Shera could have expected with such an answer. Instead all of the weariness and fatigue which she had been attempting to disguise for so long now poured out. There were no tears; Shera suspected that she had wept them all out as she sobbed quietly to herself every night, attempting to muffle her wails of anguish in a pillow without avail. Of course she and Cid had said nothing so as not to make Tifa regret their company or care but they tried their hardest to walk around her carefully, attempting to make conversation whenever they could and act normally. But in the present circumstances it was beyond impossible.

"I'm sorry, dear," Shera sighed with a forced, apologetic smile. "That was too blunt of me."

Tifa shook her head. "It's okay," she replied quietly. "I understand."

Shera patted the hand of the young woman which rested on the window seat and stood, making her way back towards the dressing table. She glanced back at the bar hostess. "Do you want this soup taking away. or will you feel like eating something soon?"

For a few seconds it appeared as though she was not about to receive an answer, but eventually Tifa's head lifted and she looked back at Shera, an oddly familiar look in her eyes.

"You can take it away," she started and Shera turned away with an unsurprised expression and began to stack the tray in preparation. "But. could you make me a drink of coffee? I'll be downstairs in a minute. I need to change. these clothes are getting far to dirty."

Shera looked back, an overwhelming feeling of relief and joy swelling up in her heart as a broad smile broke out on her face. "There's a good girl," she whispered approvingly. "I'll get Cid to stoke up the fire; it's far too chilly in the kitchen and I don't want you catching a cold in your state."

Tifa smiled in response and gave a nod. "Okay then," she said calmly in return. "I've been thinking and now it's time I acted. This view is starting to get boring. and you're right. Cloud wouldn't want me sat up her doing nothing all day. I have to pull myself together."

Shera continued to beam happily back at her almost forgetting what she was mean to do. Eventually, the cheery and greatly uplifted expression still on her face she lifted the tray and walked from the room, Tifa gazing thoughtfully after her.


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