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Stutters and Mutters

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She was a quiet child, far too quiet much to her parents' dismay.

Whilst the older generations would coo and coddle at her, calling her a precious doll and other nonsense, they would shake their head in the background and pray it would be over soon enough. They were firm disbelievers of the old adage "children should be seen and not heard", excited during the rare occasions when Ib did talk.

The problem was that, when Ib did speak, her voice was too soft and gentle. She stuttered when too nervous and mumbled when meeting new people and feeling too shy. Her peers often laughed at her stutters and did poor, offensive imitations of her muttering under her breath when the teacher picked on her to answer in class.

"You really should stop mumbling, dear," her mother often reprimanded her gently when she was younger, "People tease because they don't understand you. You need to pronounce each word loudly and clearly so that you'll be heard."

When Ib met Garry though, those fears seemed to fade away. He made her much more calm. She practised her mother's advice, thought long and hard before she spoke and his patient smile never wavered. He was like a rock at sea, a temporary shelter from the currents and a chance to rest from all the words.

It's been three years since then. And yet somehow, the tides seem to have risen and she was struggling all over again.

She supposed she wouldn't be in this mess if she wasn't so nervous, but it was such a big question and now everyone was looking. The first time she asked, he was distracted and didn't hear her. She then raised her voice a bit too loudly in her haste... enough for the whole café to hear. Ib was as red as her sweater, despite her impassive façade.

Some of the cafe patrons that recognised them giggled, some gawked at the guts of the girl and the man right in front of her was as pink as their strawberry macarons, mouth hanging open, eyes wide as saucers.

She was sure he heard her the second time.

"P-pardon?" he mumbled. She heard him loud and clear in the silent café.

Ib had long since mastered the difficult art of raising the volume of her voice. The problem was that, again, when Ib did speak loudly, her words tend to jumble up or bunch together or drag out, especially when she was too nervous. Her neurons would misfire and her words came out all wrong.

It wasn't that Garry didn't hear her, it was that the mix up of the words this time was so hilariously bad he just couldn't believe them.

"N-Nothing!" she squeaked, standing up quickly. Slamming a few banknotes on the table, she grabbed her bag and walked off as fast as she could without appearing to run. Garry immediately stood too and called her name, but she couldn't stay in that room for another second. There was only so much embarrassment a twelve year old could take in one day.

X

6 hours ago

She shifted uncomfortably under the amused scrutiny of one of her few good friends. Suki's brown eyes practically sparkled with mirth. She had the gaze of a hawk and the grin of a Cheshire cat.

"Eh? So you're worried because they're super close?"

Ib hesitantly nodded. Garry had come by to babysit her the other day when her parents had to work late at night, and he brought a pretty lady friend with him. She was nice, really nice and Ib couldn't hate her if she tried. They played games together and it was genuinely fun. But Ib couldn't help but notice how close she and Garry sat and how comfortable he was musing her short hair or slinging his arm around her neck. Garry usually treated Ib like glass.

Suki gave her a happy sigh and rested her face on the table, her long golden hair spilling all around. She smiled up at her. "Well aren't you cute, all jealous and worried. Have you confessed to him before?"

The young girl sighed and slumped to the floor herself, their homework on the tiny table completely forgotten.

"I have, but… " She curled into a tiny ball in her misery, disregarding her friend's unhelpful shaking from her suppressed giggles.

Suki knew this would be good. "…But?"

"He didn't hear me."

Loud ringing laughter filled the room, the girl collapsing on the floor. "You poor darling! Did you whisper it into his ear or something?"

Ib wanted to bury herself into the ground from embarrassment.

"He was walking me home last Thursday. I think he didn't hear me over the bus splashing muddy water all over him."

"What horrible luck," she snickered, sitting up.

"Before that, when we went to the cat café on Sunday, he was attacked by one of the giant cats."

"What horrible cats!" she cried.

"And the week before that, I screwed up my words again, accidentally getting his autograph."

There was complete silence between the two. One was red from embarrassment, the other almost blue from lack of oxygen. Suki clutched her stomach and collapsed again, unable to bear the secondhand embarrassment. Finally she had enough air to breath again and continued to laugh.

"How?"

Ib looked ready to cry. "I told him I was his biggest fan, I think he thought I was referring to his shoujo manga work."

"Amazing." The girl crawled over to give her a crushing hug, rubbing her cheek with hers affectionately. "You're both amazing."

"I don't know what to do, Suki. I don't want to lose him. You've met Garry, he's so nice there's no way he doesn't have a legion of fangirls after him."

Her friend thought deeply for a moment before a brilliant idea came over her. Suki nodded to herself in satisfaction and gave her friend a thumbs up. "I know just the thing, Ib! Why don't you propose to him?"

"Eh?"

"Girls tend to back off once a guy is taken, it said so in that teen magazine I read the other day. If you guys get married, then you can be together forever."

X

Present time

She was going to destroy Suki.

Although it wasn't Suki's fault at all, it was her own for ruining everything. She ruined their Sunday tea date and now she can never show her face to that cafe or Garry ever again. Utterly depressed, she texted her mother that she went home early so she didn't have to pick her up afterwards at their appointed time. After wandering around for a while, she somehow ended up at the park.

Sitting on one of the swings, she checked her phone to see a reply from her mother.

Did something happen? You never leave early, or want to leave on time for that matter. Did Garry do something? ^_^ I will go 'talk' to him if he did ^_^

Ib's typically fair complexion turned white as sheet and she quickly texted back, lying about a stomach ache and wanting to rest at home. She sighed, knowing that her mother was fiercely protective about her when it came to Garry. It had taken her parents years to warm up to him despite the fact that he tried his hardest to win them over.

She put away her phone and rocked herself a few times miserably, although her impassive facade was as strong as ever. Not an ounce of her inner turmoil was visible to the random passerby. The scene from earlier just refused to leave her mind however, replaying infinitely on loop. Then she groaned and the façade cracked.

"Marry, will you Garry me?" she whispered mockingly to herself. "Suki would have a field day. That just sounds awful."

"It does sound a bit strange..." Ib jumped at the voice behind her and immediately stepped away from the swing set. A couple of parents nearby at the playground looked at the scene suspiciously. Garry took her seat and gave her one of those patient smiles of his. "But it's nice that you feel comfortable enough with me to able to say that."

She stood awkwardly in front of him and scuffed her red sneakers against the ground. Garry swung himself gently while gazing at her, then tilted his head to the other swing next to him. Ib shuffled towards it and slumped down, making sure to keep him out of her peripheral vision, staring at the kids playing in the sandbox instead.

"Ib? What brought this on?" She turned pink and mumbled a response far too low for him to catch. He shook his head. "Sorry, I couldn't hear that."

She looked at him with glittering garnet eyes, her mind flashing back to the pretty lady the other night. "Y-You… like Isabelle, don't you?"

He looked utterly puzzled and slightly alarmed. "Isabelle? Well yeah I like her, she's my best friend."

Ib felt her heart break into two and slumped lower in her seat. "I thought I was your best friend?"

Garry immediately realised his mistake, running a hair through his lavender hair. "U-uh well of course you are, Ib! Isabelle's just my best buddy at college, since we take a lot of classes together. You're definitely my best friend outside of school. But... why are you so concerned about that?"

She gripped the metal chains tighter, her nails digging into her palms.

"Because I don't want to lose you if you and Isabelle start going out together!"

Too loud, way too loud. The parents at the playground looked at them again, and even the children giggled. Garry smiled at them amiably and waved, bowing his head in apology for the noise. Ib hid behind her fringe and bowed too, mortified at how she just couldn't control her voice today.

"Seriously, Ib? You're way too young to worry about this kind of stuff, so don't worry about it okay? Just enjoy your childhood."

"I'm turning thirteen in two months," she muttered.

"Oh, yeah. Sorry about that. Well anyways even if, hypothetically if, I start dating someone… I would never leave you behind, Ib. You're my best friend."

She could cry with how nice he always was with her. "Promise?"

"Promise. Besides, you should only propose to someone you really like, Ib. Someone you wouldn't mind spending the rest of your life with."

Ib blinked at him in confusion. "But I really like you, and I want to be with you forever."

Garry immediately turned pink at the bold confession. Ib suddenly realised what she had done and clamped a hand over her mouth immediately. The man started laughing and swung himself a couple of times.

"Little girls are scary. I can't believe I'm having this conversation with a twelve— oh sorry, a girl who's almost thirteen year old. I feel like I'm going to prison."

Ib looked down and hid behind her long fringe again. "Sorry."

"No need to be, those are your feelings."

Garry pushed himself off his swing. A small child dashed over and clambered to take his seat. He made his way in front of her before he bent down on one knee, smiling gently at her. Her heart raced.

"You're sweet Ib, but I think it's too soon for you to be even considering marriage. Ask me again in ten years time if you like, okay?"

The child pouted as he grinned at her again. She was really cute when she became so expressive, especially after he mercilessly teased her. Garry's phone started vibrating violently in his pocket and he took it out curiously, flipping it open to read the messages. The man suddenly turned ghostly pale and flipped it close, offering a hand to her hurriedly.

"Your mother thinks I've kidnapped you and has started sending me death threats. Shall we get going and bring you home before she calls the police?"

It was finally Ib's turn to laugh at him. She took his hand, took out her phone and began typing a new message to her mum to tell her she was fine. Her mum must have come home early to take care of her. Her confessions and proposal didn't go well at all, but it didn't matter anymore. She would learn with time. Despite all that she had to endure today, Ib really was content with how everything worked out in the end.

x

"Don't worry Garry, Mama won't call the police."

"Are you sure, Ib? What makes you say so?"

"Grandpa's head of the Yakuza. She doesn't need the police."

"EH?"