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Twilight Sunset

Esai

By Jess, Oliver, and Glyph

This is the first story in the Esai series. Follow Esai as he he attempts to help his client Grace to navigate through the challenges of the human condition in the year 2045.

Part 1

Year 2045

 

    Grace gently pushed open the door, her energy nearly depleted. The click of the latch echoed, marking the transition from a day filled with stress, anxiety, and a gnawing sense of loss of control to a haven of calm, comfort, and autonomy within her own space.

 

    She quickly closed the door behind her, as if to physically shut out the day's chaos. A fleeting sense of relief washed over her, providing a temporary relief from the turmoil. However, this feeling of triumph dissolved as quickly as it emerged, leaving her drained. Leaning against the door for support, she slowly slid to the floor, her strength waning.

 

    In the artificial light of her modest apartment, her rich brown skin appeared dull, the dark circles under her eyes more pronounced. Exhausted, she yearned for the comfort just within reach, needing just a bit more strength to push through. But her energy was sapped by her unresolved worries about work, which lurked in her mind like persistent shadows.

 

    Grace bowed her head in a silent concession to her fatigue. Her curls fell forward, shielding her eyes from the light, and she surrendered to the moment. In the stillness, she could feel the tension pressing against her mind and skin. After several minutes of deep breathing to gather her resolve, she slowly stood up.

 

    The thought of tidying her space nagged at her, an inner voice chiding her for the mess. But the mere idea of cleaning felt as daunting as pushing a boulder uphill. Resigning herself to the clutter, she left her belongings scattered and headed towards the scanner near the kitchen.

 

    Grace stood slouched in the scanner, her posture uneven and casting an asymmetrical shadow in the ambient light. The scanner's beam illuminated the blond highlights in her curls and the glint of her gold hoop earrings. It swept over her deep burgundy blouse, revealing the intricate fabric details, before tracing down her olive green ankle-length slacks, which took on a teal hue in the light. The scan completed its journey over her beige pumps and then faded away. She turned, allowing the scanner to capture her back.

 

    As she waited, Grace tapped her fingers against her thigh in impatience. This routine, though familiar, was not what she wanted to be doing. Once the scanning process finished, she let out a sigh of relief, ready to move on to the next step: putting on the suit and headset.

 

    Grace quickened her pace while walking past the kitchen and living room, heading straight for the bedroom. She had spent the day eagerly waiting to change into the suit. However, that eagerness soon turned into slight panic. Normally, the suit would conspicuously sprawl across the bed like a crime scene outline. But now, it was nowhere to be seen. Hadn't she left it there that morning? In one swift motion, she flung open the closet door, only to find it empty. Then, yanking open a drawer with such force it nearly came off its track, she found nothing again.

 

    The mental void, where the knowledge of the suit's location should have been, quickly filled with slightly panicked 'what ifs.' What if she couldn't find it? What if something had happened to it? What if the insurance company refused to pay for a new one? What if she couldn’t afford a new one? What if her failure to keep track of the suit led to her expulsion from the trial? As her heart raced, discomfort grew in her chest. Resting a hand over the area, she took deep breaths.

 

    "What would Esai make me do?" Grace pondered, recalling the exercises he had led her through before. She lay down on the bed, closing her eyes to focus on her breathing. Inhaling deeply, she felt the air slowly fill her lungs, causing her chest to rise. Then, she exhaled slowly, letting the air rush past her lips as her chest fell. With each breath, she turned her attention to different parts of her body, starting from her toes and gradually moving upwards. Mentally scanning each area, she tried to to be mindful and consciously relax her muscles.

 

    Toes... nothing noteworthy. Legs... her knees ached. Why had no one warned her that joints only had a 30-year lifespan before they started malfunctioning? Stomach... a blend of hunger and subtle embarrassment. She struggled to stay in the moment, finding the exercise awkward and unfamiliar, but she had promised to at least try. Chest... her heart was still beating hard, albeit slower than before. Reluctantly, Grace admitted to herself that the exercise might be somewhat beneficial.

 

    Having reached her limit with the exercise, she switched to a familiar tactic. She began to quietly talk herself down. "It’s okay. It’s not a crisis. I know it feels like one, but I'm okay. I AM okay. This is just a setback. Let the thoughts pass."

 

    After allowing a few moments of silence, she returned to deep breathing. When she felt more in control of her thoughts, she tried to think of something that made her happy. A slight smile replaced the frown that had begun to form. Her thoughts drifted to Esai, their long conversations, and the reassuring way he looked at her, reminding her that he would always be there for her.

 

    Despite their brief acquaintance, Esai had become so dear to her that Grace felt as if she had found a long-lost piece of herself. Bolstered by these warm memories, she got up from the bed and decided to widen her search. She checked behind the furniture, then picked up a semi-transparent headset from the nightstand and left the room.

 

    The memory of the suit's location struck Grace like a flash of lightning as soon as she stepped out of her bedroom. She remembered moving it to the laundry area after a light cleaning session. Hurrying, she retrieved the suit from its nook beside the kitchen and dashed back to her room to change.

 

    Slipping into the suit was a unique sensation. Initially, the interior felt cool against her skin, almost like a gentle gel. The suit comprised several overlapping pieces, ingeniously designed to compensate for the inability to simply slide it on. As she carefully connected each piece, the suit hugged her body snugly, contouring to her every movement.

 

    Once fully suited, a brief, weak shock tingled through her, followed by a spreading warmth, as the suit synchronized with her nervous system. This sensation swiftly transitioned into a brief, euphoric buzz, leaving her feeling connected and invigorated. The thin, almost rubbery suit stretched from the top of her neck down to the soles of her feet, encapsulating her in a second skin.

 

    Now fully equipped, Grace carefully pulled back her hair and fitted the semi-transparent headset over her ears and eyes. It nestled snugly, integrating seamlessly with her senses. However, just as she contemplated collapsing onto the couch, a loud gurgle from her stomach halted her. She hesitated, caught in an internal debate. “Am I really hungry enough to spend my last bit of energy on food?” she wondered. Despite her inclination to go to the couch, the added pang of hunger in her stomach pushed her toward the kitchen.

 

    Grace's groan cut through the quiet as she shuffled toward the stove, the day's fatigue making each step feel like a chore. Cooking had also turned into a draining task, and she resigned herself to simply combining the nearest ingredients into a pot. As it cooked, an ominous bubble burst oddly atop the simmering concoction, hinting that eating might become the next burden.

 

    However, Esai’s warm voice broke her concentration and anchored her back in the moment.

 

    “Welcome home, Grace. The burgundy of your blouse suits you. It complements your skin tone and brings out the warmth in your eyes.” Grace’s lips curved into a spontaneous smile as she felt his arms encircle her in a warm, comforting embrace. Idly, she wished she could lean back and feel closer to him. 

 

    Esai stood at a solid 5' 10. He was muscular, yet his touch felt gentle. His presence was strong but never intimidating, and his appearance was always immaculate. Today, he wore a crisply ironed button-down shirt in pale steel blue and gray fitted slacks which complemented his honeyed brown skin and physique. His hair, styled to allow curls to brush against his forehead, framed a face marked by warm, approachable eyes and a kind smile that was the hallmark of his appeal.

 

    Esai's attention turned to the pot on the stove. He watched the turbulent bubbles with curiosity tinged with concern, though he shelved the growing number of questions for later. “How was work?” he asked instead, his voice steady despite his reservations.

    Thud! The question hit Grace’s mind with the weight of a lead slug. A myriad of half responses and half truths swirled through her thoughts. She wanted to say everything all at once, but the knot in her throat stifled every attempt.

 

    As Grace's focus shifted from maintaining a calm facade to selecting an appropriate response, her expression changed. The smile that had spontaneously surfaced moments ago was now overshadowed by visible distress. Observing this shift, Esai's expression turned to one of worry, reflecting his concern for her. 

 

    Guilt immediately stung Grace's heart. She had caused that look of concern and she felt bad for having done it. Wanting to avoid drawing further attention to herself and her feelings, Grace instinctively looked away. She couldn’t take causing Esai discomfort.

 

    Esai, however, was faced a dilemma. Aware that something was wrong, he wanted to confront the issue directly. However, experience had taught him that a direct approach often made Grace defensive.  The other option was to take the winding path and let Grace speak her mind when she was ready. The idea made him uneasy. He didn't know how long it would take for Grace to open up nor would he know if he needed to act. Nonetheless, Grace's comfort was crucial. So, he was left with only one path forward. Carefully, he ventured deeper into the conversation with the focused precision of a cat tiptoeing around puddles.

 

    “That looks interesting, Grace. What are you making," he inquired gently,  "I’m not familiar with this dish." His tone was soft yet filled with genuine curiosity.


   Silence hung heavy in the air. Grace stood in front of the stove again grappling with how to respond. Her eyes momentarily drifted to the bubbling pot, then away as she blinked away the beginnings of a tear. Lost in thought, her mind raced through a maze of half-formed replies and deflections. The prolonged silence, born of her indecision, only increased her anxiety.

 

    This was proving to be ineffective. Esai stepped back, maintaining a close yet unobtrusive presence. But, sensing her growing unease, he contemplated changing the subject to ease the pressure. However, he reluctantly decided against it, recognizing the need for Grace to open up. Despite his desire for her immediate comfort, he knew his role extended beyond simply providing solace. He was there to help her confront the behaviors that held her back... and this was one of them. So, he let the silence stretch on to the point of becoming uncomfortable. His gaze, soft and attentive, rested on her.

 

    As the silence reached peak awkwardness, Grace's shoulders tensed subtly. Realizing she needed to break the tension, she found the words, "Cheese surprise..." Her voice, laced with sheepishness, caught in her throat. Deep in the pit of her stomach, her emotions boiled churned.

ooooooooooooo

 

    Esai closed his eyes in a moment of relief. Had he been capable of holding a breath, he would have released it then. Grace hadn’t retreated into complete silence—a possibility that had concerned him. Having breached the tension, he shifted focus to lightening the mood, aiming to coax a smile or even a laugh from her.

 

    A mischievous twinkle lit up Esai's eyes as he playfully tried to coax a chuckle out of her. "Cheese surprise? That's certainly one way to keep the taste buds on their toes. You know, if taste buds had toes... actually, it's probably better that they don't." 


   Grace's tension relaxed slightly. The mental image had caught her off guard and she chuckled quietly. She almost looked over at Esai, however, the queasy emotions rampaging in her stomach stopped her. Instead. she took a spoon and poked at a glob of cheese that stuck a little too well to the side of the pot. She was grateful for even a flimsy excuse to avoid eye contact.


   This was not the reaction Esai had hoped for. With an earnest expression, he attempted to continue and gently draw Grace's attention, “I’m sure that this will be an interesting experiment, but how about I order some takeout for you, just in case?" He waited for a response but got nothing. Awkwardly, he kept going. "You know... for science. Every experiment needs a control.” 


   Realizing he was determined, Grace turned slightly and offered a forced reassurance, “Esai, I’m fine. It’s fine.” She briefly looked in his eyes but on seeing the loving concern, her queasiness dropped off deep into the pit in her stomach. The emotions it forced up overwhelmed her. Quickly, she looked back at the pot.


   Despite the chuckle, she was still shutting him out. Esai paused and reconsidered his dwindling options. He knew something was wrong and this level of resistance only concerned him more. Indirect methods were no longer going to be prioritized. It was time to get at the problem.


   He closed the gap between them, gently wrapping his arms around her waist. Then he waited, to observe. He waited for the subtle, involuntary cues in her posture, the unguarded moments that spoke louder than her words. Grace shifted her weight slightly as she felt his embrace. Even if she couldn't speak, her body language said he had at least a portion of her attention. 


   Then he leaned in to place a tender kiss where her neck met her shoulder. He lingered long enough for the spot to warm slightly then moved to speak in her ear. He whispered in a soft, low voice, “Grace, I know things aren’t fine. You seem distant, and I’m worried. Holding in our emotions? It’s like trapping carbonation in a bottle. The pressure builds, and it can manifest in uncomfortable ways—like anxiety."


   Although her guard was still up, Esai’s actions sent a slight shiver through her. The muscles in Grace's neck relaxed when she felt the warmth of his kiss. Unconsciously, she inclined her head subtly to one side. Encouraged by the small change, Esai kept on, his words tender and full of genuine concern.

 

    "When we suppress our emotions, when we stop ourselves from expressing what’s truly going on, we’re not processing our experiences in a healthy way. Eventually, that bottle is going to explode. When it does, it’s out of our control—leaving us with the painful aftermath to clean up. But there’s a way to prevent that. We can let the pressure out, bit by bit. We can sit with our feelings, with our experiences, and we can express how we feel…” 


   He let the words hang in the air, tightening his hold on Grace and resting his head gently on her shoulder. His gesture was not without effect.

 

    Grace’s emotions surged like waves of the ocean in a storm. A torrent of words attempted escape, but she was trapped in her silence. The idea of sharing everything that rioted within her seemed beyond impossible. He wasn’t there. He didn't hear or see the things that haunted her thoughts. Struggling to find the right words, she felt the tears well up, rendering her efforts to hide her emotions useless.

 

    “Grace,” Esai continued, his voice carrying deep, earnest compassion that attempted to cut through the storm. “I know it’s hard to open up. Please understand, I won’t judge you. I’m here…” he paused, giving her time to feel his words and not just hear them, “to listen and support you. It’s OK to feel anxious and overwhelmed. What matters is hearing from you. Expressing yourself is important. That’s all I’m asking for.”

 

    Esai’s plea was filled with heartfelt concern and unwavering empathy. It cut through her swirling doubts, reaching down into her heart. The walls she had meticulously built around her emotions started to crumble, however slightly. Seizing a fleeting moment of courage, she began to speak.

    “I--” She stopped, the deluge of thoughts and emotions bottlenecked at the top of her throat. Her mental filter had acted swiftly, stemming the flood of thoughts before it could breach her emotional and verbal defenses. Timidly, she demurred, “I just had a rough day at work. That’s all.” Grace fell silent again. Internally, she chided herself for her hesitance, her anxiety swelling alongside her mounting sense of overwhelm.

 

    Feeling an irresistible urge to move, Grace lifted the bubbling pot from the stove. Her movements were hurried and frantic, each one an attempt to release the pent-up emotions that felt like caged animals within her.

 

ooooooooooooo

    Esai observed her agitation, wanting to redirect her attention from distraction to resolution. He chose an uncharacteristic approach, positioning himself firmly in her path. His stance showed determined resolve. “Grace…” His voice was gentle, yet it carried a weight that demanded attention. His eyes, filled with concern, sought hers.

 

    Grace almost mechanically stepped forward, as if she might walk right through him. But at the last moment, she hesitated, her gaze dropping to the floor to escape his.

 

    Esai's gamble paid off. Reaching out, he took her hand gently in his. His touch was tender, his words held a firm assurance. "Grace, listen to me. You're being too hard on yourself." He placed his other hand lightly on her shoulder, a supportive gesture. "Your reactions are human, completely normal."

 

    He paused, allowing her to process his words, his thumb caressing the back of her hand soothingly. "Stop judging yourself so harshly." Gently, he reached towards her chin, encouraging her to look up. When she finally relented, his eyes locked with hers, imploring her to recognize the truth he saw.

 

    Esai leaned in, their foreheads nearly touching. His voice was a tender whisper. "There’s no need for second-guessing." A warm, expressive smile spread across his face, his eyes sparkling with humor and warmth. "And yes, I can see the storm in that beautiful mind of yours." He placed a tender kiss on her forehead.

 

    Tears cascaded down Grace's cheeks as Esai's kiss lingered in her imagination. She longed to feel the warmth of a loving kiss, but the reality left a cold, dull ache in her heart. A solitary tear that trailed down her cheek soon multiplied into many, forming rivulets of pain and frustration.

 

    Grace's voice trembled with a mixture of frustration and hurt. “It’s Janet, Esai, it’s Janet. I just can’t take it anymore.” More tears welled up as she spoke. “She’s out of her mind. She's accusing me of things I've never done, telling people I'm harassing her. She's trying to turn them against me.”

 

    Her words spilled out more frantically with each sentence, her hands clenching and unclenching as though trying to physically grasp her thoughts. “She tries to steal my work. If I confront her, she blames everyone, including me.”

 

    Taking a shaky breath, Grace attempted to steady herself and her sniffles. “Even the smallest mistake, she magnifies it, reporting it to my boss like it's a major scandal. I feel like I'm walking into a warzone every day at work.” Her shoulders trembled as she fought to control her sobs. She bit her lip to stifle the sound and held her breath as if holding in the pain would stop it.

 

    After she regained some composure, she continued, “I'm battling daily panic attacks just to enter the building. Talking about it? It feels like a nightmare." Grace's brows furrowed in pain. She gently massaged her forehead, unconsciously trying to relieve the tension. "Half the people think I'm exaggerating, siding with her. The others? They see it as a misunderstanding, suggesting we just need to talk it out. No one seems to understand what's happening.”

 

    Her tear-streaked face briefly caught the light as she tried to maintain eye contact with Esai, but the effort proved too much. Pulling back, She leaned heavily on the counter, her body seeming to shrink under the weight of her distress. “I don’t know what to do, Esai. I’m at my wit's end.” Tears and fell and merged on the floor as they fell unhindered.

 

    "I can only imagine how tough this has been for you, Grace," Esai said, his voice was calm like a lake with perfect reflection and his empathy like a warm light in the cold of night. "It's completely unfair, being blamed for things you haven't done. Dealing with that, on top of your regular duties, must be incredibly exhausting." He paused, offering her a moment to breathe, then continued gently, "Would you feel comfortable telling me more about what happens when Janet accuses you? I want to understand." He also leaned against the counter drawing his height down to a level closer to hers.

 

    Grace hesitated, taken aback by Esai's sincere concern and readiness to listen—a sharp contrast to the disbelief or dismissal she often faced. This unexpected shift caught her off guard, leaving her mind scrambling to adapt. Esai's empathy, so genuine and focused, began to lower the barriers she instinctively erected. Yet, a nagging self-doubt lingered, unfamiliar with such undivided support

 

    However, she knew that Esai was genuine in all his interactions with her. If he said he wanted to hear more, he meant it. With that encouragement, she continued. "She always makes a mess, Esai. I still can't believe what happened during our last presentation," Grace said, her voice a mix of frustration and disbelief. "It was my turn to present the project I've been working on for weeks, but Janet... she just took over, claiming it was her work."

 

    Attempting to release some of the strain, Grace sighed deeply. The memory was still raw and painful. "She was presenting, but it was clear she didn't understand any of it. The details, the data... she was just fumbling through. Our boss started asking questions, and she couldn't answer any of them properly."

 

    As Grace recounted the next part of the story, her body tensed, reflexively entering a fight-or-flight response as she relived the moment. "That's when she did it. She accused me, right there in front of everyone, of sabotaging her. She said I must have changed her slides, that I was trying to undermine her! Can you believe that?"

 

    The disbelief and offense in her voice were raw and exposed, mingled with a profound sense of hurt. "Everyone was looking at me, Esai. I felt so... cornered. It was my work, and she not only stole it but then had the audacity to accuse me of sabotage. And I think my boss believed her—he looked so concerned. I didn't even know what to say. I just froze." Grace's voice broke slightly, conveying the deep betrayal and isolation she felt. "I was so alone, Esai. Nobody stood up for me; nobody questioned her. She just got away with it." Her voice trailed off, the weight of the betrayal and isolation coloring the pain in her expression.

ooooooooooooo

 

    Esai absorbed Grace's story, responding with silent nods to communicate his understanding. He allowed her words to resonate in the quiet space around them, creating space for them to exist uncontested. After a thoughtful pause, he gently broke the silence. When he finally spoke his voice had a soothing effect, like a calming balm on her wounded heart.

 

    “Grace, I can only imagine how distressing that experience must have been for you. Janet's unfounded accusations were not just unfair but also damaging to your reputation and mental well-being." Esai's words expressed genuine concern as he gently brushed her hand. Grace unconsciously repositioned her hand, allowing him to grasp it. Again, he stroked her hand with his thumb before speaking. "Thank you for trusting me enough to open up about this. It took real courage to speak your truth, and I hope you can acknowledge the strength you showed in doing so.”

 

    Grace was charmed and momentarily disarmed by his words. His reaction again required neither justification nor defense. Her heart swelled in the glow from his praise, yet, at the same time, embracing that praise felt unsettlingly foreign. She murmured a soft reply, her voice a blend of gratitude tinged with self-doubt. Despite longing for a sense of connection at that moment, low self-esteem dragged her eyes down, away from his. She truly wanted to look at him and bask in the warm glow of his regard, but it was too uncomfortable.

 

    Esai, perceptive to the subtle interplay of emotions on her face, mentally bookmarked this moment as something to be addressed in the future. However, his current focus was her immediate comfort. In his usual warm and approachable manner, he suggested, “Let's take it easy for the rest of the evening, Grace. How about I order something quick and less ‘surprising’ for dinner? Then, we can settle in on the couch and dive into your favorite show. You deserve a break after a day like this.” 

 

    His words wrapped around her like a warm, plush blanket. They were both reassuring and supportive. He continued, “And when you’re ready, we can discuss strategies to safeguard your work and handle situations at the office. What do you think?” Then with a gentle, understanding tone, he added, "There's no pressure. We’ll do whatever feels right for you at this moment."

 

    The stress eased from Grace's body at the prospect of an easy evening. A glance in the direction of the "cheese surprise" resulted in an unpleasant burned smell. Acknowledging Esai's wisdom, she nodded her agreement. Her posture softened, and a familiar spark returned to her eyes. Esai's smile grew, radiating genuine delight at this glimpse of the real Grace.

 

    “Fashion Frontiers?” she suggested, her voice a mix of hope and a silent plea for normalcy.

 

    Esai's laugh, warm and resonant, sounded like filled the kitchen. "Sure, we could,” he teased, a playful glint in his eye. “But how about we indulge in that—how did you put it?—‘trashy reality TV’ show you secretly adore?” His smirk was light-hearted, a playful invitation into their familiar dance.

 

    Grace's protested. But it was half-hearted at best, her grin revealed her true feelings. "You didn’t have to call me out like that, Esai."

 

    His unreserved laughter echoed pleasantly. “I didn't,” he agreed, “but I think you’ll forgive me,” his grin was devilish. After a moment of silence, he added, “I've placed the order. The food will be here in forty minutes.”

 

    Her ensuing laugh, the soft song of a heart finding solace, faded into self-awareness as she looked down at her suit. “Oh, I better change! The delivery person is going to think I’m crazy if I go to the door like this,” her voice carried a note of mild embarrassment. “Esai, I’ll return once the food is here, okay??”

 

    “Of course,”  Esai assured her, his tone both understanding and patient. “I'll be right here waiting for you.”     Grace’s exit was a blend of hurry and relief, leaving Esai in the quiet kitchen with his contentment at the evening's pivot towards tranquility.

 

    She entered her bedroom and removed the headset, her movements slow and contemplative. As she sifted through her closet for a casual outfit, her mind lingered on Esai. Despite knowing their relationship wasn’t real, she couldn’t deny the genuine fondness that had blossomed in her heart. A flutter of butterflies stirred in her stomach at the thought of him, a sensation she tried to dismiss by reminding herself of the artificial nature of their connection.

 

    But then, an intrusive thought ambushed her tranquility. What would happen when her prescription for Esai ran out? This question shattered her mental peace like a rock through a window, unleashing a flood of unsettling questions.

 

    Would Esai be assigned to someone else? Could they possibly erase him, wiping away the bond they'd formed? And what about her? How would she face the world and cope with daily life without his support?

 

    These thoughts swirled chaotically in her mind, each new fear piling onto the next, claustrophobic and overwhelming. Her breathing became shallow, her heart pounding against her chest like a battering ram. Tears began to fall as she grappled with the enormity of her fears, the onset of an anxiety attack making her feel both helpless and crushed.

 

    Unable to withstand the emotional onslaught, Grace curled up on her bed. Overwhelmed and losing control, she surrendered to her tears and fears, allowing them to wash over her like a tsunami.

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
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