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moonchild, don't cry
"It's been some time."

At my words, she tilts her head towards me, purple smoke issuing from her parted lips and an eyebrow arched imperiously. She flicks ash in my direction and returns the lipstick-stained end of her cigarette to her mouth. I wipe my palms on the thighs of my jeans and plop down next to her on the sand. She doesn't reply; turning back to face the ocean and continuing to release purple rings of mist with each puff and drag of her cig.

I watch as the smoke rings float further, bobbing lazily in the air before dissipating into thin air, against a backdrop of the setting sun at the beach. The ocean stretches as far as the eye can see, with trees and cliffs framing the scenery. I tug off my Converse high-tops and ball my socks up, stuffing them into my shoes. I pull my legs up and hug my knees to my chest, digging my toes into the white, fine sand and savouring the warmth on my skin.

We stay like that for a while, a companionable and familiar silence broken only by the rhythmic hum of the waves, and her soft sigh with every other pull on her cig. The waters are surprisingly calm today; I would've expected it to be the opposite to match the turmoil and uneasiness that has been roiling within me for the past few weeks.

It must be her doing — she's always balanced me out.

Her hair is short now, but dyed a dark silver, like how Jin from BTS used to wear it. She's wearing a light and breezy chiffon dress with floral motifs on it, and her slippers are tossed to the side. Unlike me, her body language is more relaxed — slightly hunched and legs splayed out, with wet sand caked on her soles. Another stark difference between us is our weight, she looks skinnier.

A few moments pass before she releases a loud sigh, so full and deep with emotion. "Here," she mutters, shoving her cig towards me. I mumble my thanks and accept it, pausing for a second before taking a long drag on it, my chest expanding and shoulders rising with my inhale. I let the drug fill my mouth, before it slithers down to my lungs like a fine mist. At once, I feel lighter.

God, I needed this.

A giddy snort of laughter pushes past my lips as I exhale, and she rolls her eyes good-naturedly, her mask of indifference finally cracking with a glimmer of an amused smile. "You've gained weight," she says in a mocking tone, looking me up and down.

I stare at her for a moment, before the hot ash from the cig falls onto the back of my hand, jerking me back to my senses. "Fuck off," I say, shaking my head in part-amusement and irritation. "Yeah, I know. Don't need you to tell me that."

"Just saying," she trills, and now it's my turn to roll my eyes.

"So," she starts in a conversational tone, "I like how your optimism, productivity and motivation crashed and burned in such a spectacular manner."

"Yeah, me too," I reply without missing a beat. I shrug my shoulders and pass the cig back to her, gazing at my smoke rings fading into the air.

I went back to look at my previous post and flipped through the last few pages of my hard-copy journal and laughed — a mocking snicker slightly like her words — at how I used to be. Eh, I don't know, maybe it's just been a bad few days. Inertia is the absolute devil, and this shrill witch's cackle of a voice keeps ringing in my head, pulling me down and exacerbating my doubts and fears of inadequacies — haha, twenty-nine with no full-time job, no boyfriend, still living with parents, haha fucking loser what the fuck are you doing with your life other people have already done so much what are you doingggggg

"Dunno. I had such high hopes about everything," I say, cracking my knuckles just for something for my hands to do. "I was supposed to have accomplished so many things by now."

She scoffs. "Your kind are all hypocrites anyway. Saying that you'd do all of that, and not delivering in the end. You wasted so much time." She takes a last drag of the dwindling cig and tosses it into the waters. We watch in silence as the waves engulf it, dragging it away from us. She links her fingers together, peering at me. "Getting married and settling down. Societal pressure finally getting to you, huh?"

I shrug again, sinking my feet further into the warm, comforting sand. "Everyone else is moving on. Friends getting married, getting attached, getting qualifications, getting houses and climbing higher, progressing with life." I turn my hands over, palms facing up to the heavens, and gesture helplessly. "Just feeling left behind, I guess. It's graduation season now, which doesn't help." I try for a smile, but it doesn't surface this time. The corner of my lips tug up just a bit, before I pull them back down to a straight line.

I never could pretend much with her.

On a whim, I went to check his profile on Facebook even though I unfriended him years ago when we dated. I've never thought about him for so long, but he popped into my mind when I was scrolling all the NUS graduation photos from my newly-minted Masters/PhD friends. Turns out that he just graduated from medical school too, and a part of me is glad, even proud, of him, because he finally achieved something that he was so passionate about when we went out. And it feels bittersweet too, I guess, because I thought about what we could have been, which sent me on this rabbit hole of storming down memory lane of not just my time with him, but basically my entire love life which ceased in 2014.

My first two exes are married now with stable jobs (I assume), making good money and probably having plans to settle down with a house, kids and a white picket fence with their rosy, dreamy, fairy-tale happily ever afters firmly grasped in their fists. 

Which makes me feel even more left behind and more of a loser, if I am allowed to put my pride aside and admit it with utmost and full honesty.

"Fucking hell, the things you wrote—" she says, and I squeak in horrified embarrassment, covering my ears in mortification and shaking my head.

I wrote thousands and thousands of words about each of them, and I went back to my archives and tried reading the most recent post, but I COULDN'T DO IT BECAUSE EVERYTHING WAS SO CRINGY DID I REALLY FEEL LIKE THAT FIVE YEARS AGO AND BEYOND AH FUCK I CAN'T I CAN'T I CAN'TTTTT

She throws her head back and cackles with laughter at my aghast reaction, and after a while, I drop my hands and dissolve into a fit of giggles.

"That was a wild ride from start to finish," she remarks, and I nod, wiping my tears of mirth from the corners of my eyes. After a while, after the short-lived amusement is wringed out from me, I tumble back to reality. I sigh, stretching my legs out on the sand and wriggling my toes. I wrap my arms around my stomach and hug myself.

A sudden sea breeze rustles her attire, the pleats of her dress tickling my left calf. "Dating apps?" she offers, saying something that has been repeated ad nauseum to me. 

"Nothing wrong with that, but I can't do it now," I say. At her blink of confusion, I continue. "No job. No one's gonna go for someone without a job. They'd swipe left even before I can say my name, yeah?" I smile self-deprecatingly, ducking my head and rubbing the back of my neck.

My mum's currently sick with a high fever, cough and sore throat, and it got really bad a few days ago; she wasn't sure of her surroundings and my dad brought her to the doctor's, and that got me thinking — if I don't get married, and if I'm sick, then what's gonna happen? Sure, I can take care of myself in general, but what if it's really bad? My aunt, who was single, passed away in hospital, but at least she had her brothers and their families to sort things out.

I'm an only child. 

I did get my first non-NUS paycheck last month, so it felt that I was trying something different, for once, and I'm clocking in regular hours at my part-time job, but nothing feels right.

"Do you regret leaving the museum?" she asks, and my answer is instant.

"No. Not at all," I say with certainty. "I couldn't have stayed. It was a good time to leave. I didn't want to stagnate there, with musty cobwebs all over me, and I guess I needed those pushes to yank me out of my comfort zone and go out into the real world and do something different."

She nods and leans back, as if satisfied with my answer.

I've been thinking a bit much for the past few weeks, which comes as no surprise because apparently when one isn't busy with work, one tends to over-think shit and end up getting all miserable and useless. It's a good time to reassess my life at this point in time and think about my meaning in life. I've turned it over and over in my head, like a complex and annoying Rubik's Cube that is almost perfect, except for one or two corners here and there that no matter how much I spin or flip, won't fit.

I keep thinking about nature.

When I read the news everyday, there's always an item or even multiple items about the state of our earth — heatwaves and wildfires in Europe, droughts in Australia, monsoon floods in Asia, everything melting and going to hell, the risks Singapore face in the horrors of climate change and the measures that the government are implementing to mitigate them, and this voice inside me just pipes up use me, use me, use me!

I have the qualifications, expertise, the skills and the passion to help in this fight, and sadly, none of it is being mobilised. I miss being involved — be it in outreach, writing, presenting, a bit of research here and there, learning about the environmental sciences. I want to help, I want to be involved in the environmental sciences, so use my training, use my experience, just use me!

Even though I'm aware of the fact that I spent all of my adult years mired in environmental education, it still surprises me how much I miss it.

I keep going back to nature.

I just sent in two applications to National Parks Board, and from what I understand, there should be another one opening up soon. Recently, I've been inclined to the Public Service because of the stability, benefits, bonuses and higher salary compared to my previous job. I really don't know how anything is gonna turn out, honestly, and that puts me on edge.

Writing still makes my soul sing, and it's still really the number one thing that grants meaning to my life and makes me glad that I'm alive. Without my flair for writing, I would've lost a big chunk of my will to live ages ago. I think as long as I keep writing, keeping my mind turning with new pieces, it'd chase away this heavy, dark cloud of helplessness and depression dogging my footsteps.

So yeah, nature and writing. Work in nature by day, and be a writer by night. That still makes the most sense to my mind, my heart and my soul.

"What are you grateful for?" she asks, and this question is like a bolt out of the blue. It takes me back to the time when my mother used to ask me this when I was growing up, to count my blessings.

I blink rapidly. "I..." I start haltingly, casting my mind back to the previous weeks. I dip my head, drawing swirly patterns in the sand as I stitch my words together. "At least I have this part-time job. I have a... a comfortable lifestyle and parents who care about me, even though their jibes at my joblessness make me feel like absolute shit sometimes. I met up with Ziyun last week, she volunteered to meet me for a last-minute lunch when I asked her for tips for my job applications, and... Bernice, 'cos when I met her for dinner on the same day when my rabbit died, she gave me a long hug and we had good food and conversation. And BTS' music and videos. They make me so happy," I say, and this time I smile, something genuine and gentle. At the thought of those seven men, my heart warms. I love their music, it suits every emotion — I'm currently listening to RM's forever rain and seoul while writing this, and it's just so damn fucking perfect for the mood.

I stop drawing and look up at her, my grin fading. "Yeah." I look away, training my gaze out to the ocean. "That's what I've been grateful for."

There's a sudden scampering of paws, and I turn my head towards the sound. "Oh!" I yelp, my lips parting in surprise and mounting happiness. My heart leaps as a white Holland Lop rabbit — with dark brown patterns on her fur coat — dashes towards us, flicking sand behind her with every bound of her back legs. She hops across my stretched-out legs and lands neatly in between us.

"Oh, you're here, you're actually here," I say, tears prickling the back of my eyes. I stretch a hand out and run my fingers through her fine, soft fur. I touch her floppy ears, the tufts of fur on her head before sliding my palm down to her underside, swallowing the lump in my throat when I feel her strong heartbeat beneath my fingers.

"Of course. She keeps me company when you don't visit," Chloe says. I try to detect a note of disdain from her words, but come up short. She pets the rabbit too, her lips hiking up into a grin when the animal sits on her haunches and lifts her paws to her face, grooming herself. When she's finished, she peers up at me with her precocious brown eyes and nudges my hand with her twitching nose, as if calling my attention to something, and this reminds me so much of her last few days with us before she died in the middle of the night and we woke up to her stiff, cold body, her eyes wide open, exactly seven days ago—

I bite my lower lip hard and look away briefly, unable to reconcile that memory of her with the rabbit in front of me right now—

Nothing here is real. You knew that the moment you crafted this world, you know that!

"Yes?" I whisper, following her gaze towards the distance.

Yes. But I've always loved playing pretend.

A glittering rainbow bridge, reaching up to the heavens, is in the horizon to my right, the direction where she came bounding from. The spectrum of colours of the bridge — the newest addition to this world — are faint, yet it is the brightest, most hopeful thing in this earth. Another impatient nudge to my wrist, and a faint huffing sound from the rabbit draws my attention back to her.

"It's not my time yet," I murmur, stroking her back once more. "But you can go if you want to."

She stares up at me with her warm brown eyes, before letting out a sound suspiciously like a sigh and flopping down on the sand, her long ears resting on the ground. A gust of wind rustles her fur, and she closes her eyes, as if content to stay here with me until I'm ready.

"We'll wait for you, then we'll go together," Chloe says, catching my eye and holding my gaze for a long, loaded moment, before turning away.

A heartbeat of a pause.

"Yeah," I say, my voice breaking on the word. "Yeah, we will," I repeat, softer this time.

I haven't written in months.

The last time I wrote something was in December, even though I spent the next two months proofreading the piece. When I started this piece, it was full of starts and stops, before I got into the proper flow of things, and it made me feel like myself again.

"What's the new story you're working on right now?" she asks, sweeping sand away from her dress.

Excitement swells within me at her question, and I sit up straight, my lips automatically curving into a grin, my eyes shining and my hands rising to gesture. "It's a really emotional piece about moving on from grief and losing people or things that are important, or used to be important in your life."

I saw the prompt for the story while Spring Day by BTS was playing, and everything just clicked in my head. My next piece is about enduring the piercing pain and overwhelming sorrow of reminiscing about people that we've lost, comparing it to the biting cold of winter, because we have to hurt, we have to grieve before we put ourselves back together, learn enough to move on to a new chapter of our lives — a spring of healed-over wounds, of hope and promise, of rebirth and renewal.

Just thinking about the serendipity of this piece, of putting my thoughts and emotions on paper and how much the fic means to me, at this point in my life, is enough to make me tear up.

"So what now?" she asks, her words tugging me away from the potential of my new story.

"I-" I start, before realising that I don't know how to answer her.

I feel the occasional scorpion sting of loneliness and sadness, and when you couple that with the perpetual dark storm cloud of inadequacy plaguing me, it leeches my old positivity away from me.

The sun dips lower and lower in the pink- and yellow-streaked sky.

I sigh.

"I'll do my best, like what I've always done."

We sit there in silence, both human and rabbit, as we watch the sunset in all of her glory, accompanied by the soft hush and hum of the waves. Life goes on, as certain and sure as the tides of the ocean.

My spring has to come, sooner or later.