Forget to Love

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

After being lonely for years, Hitori was finally beginning to meet some new people after his neighbor, Sabishi, began inviting him to hang out with her friends. Everything was going smoothly until strange feelings began to swell in his chest, making his heart pound and his stomach twist itself into knots every moment he was around her. Why did his heart have to go and ruin everything? And why was she acting so strange around him lately? Was she... crying?
Hitori is about to learn what love really means, and what sacrifices it demands. Can he pay the price?

Chapter 1

A nice breeze ruffled the leaves of the trees. A few dying cherry blossoms, still pink in color, drifted along on the wind. Hitori reached out, catching one in his hands. He stared down at the little blossom. It was so small and fragile. Seeing them had always incited excitement and happiness in him. And now spring was over, they would be gone, he was watching the last remnants being stolen by the wind day by day. He wished the blossoms would stay. They reminded him of love and new life, the perfect symbols of springtime.

“Hitori-kun!” a familiar voice called his name. He looked up from the little blossom in his hands. It caught the wind and he watched with sadness as it was carried away. He turned his attention to the girl who was skipping toward him with a big smile on her face. He was surprised at first until he noticed it was just Sabishi, his neighbor.

“Look who’s out of bed on time,” Hitori commented as she drew closer. She stopped skipping and made a pouty face.

“You’re so mean! Aren’t you at least a little glad to see me?” she whined, poking at his shoulder. A faint smile played at his lips.

“I’m just teasing, of course I’m glad to see you, Sabishi.”

She smiled earnestly, like she was relieved. “Do you want to walk to school? Just like we used to? ...Together…?”

Hitori remembered those times, years ago. They used to walk to school together every day, but now he couldn’t recall the last time they had made the journey together. Maybe he had been withdrawing recently as his emotions ate at his insides. Or maybe they stopped because she had gotten lazy recently, sleeping in almost every morning.

“Sure,” he agreed, beckoning for her to follow him. She stayed at his side, a slight skip to her step. They kept a steady pace together, keeping to their usual route without a word. He wanted to ask what she had been up to recently, but he knew nothing had really changed for either of them in the years they had known each other. He wouldn’t call her his best friend, but maybe his only friend.

“So what made you want to walk together? It’s been a few weeks, at least.”

Sabishi shrugged. “Guess I was just in the mood for company, and you looked so lonely standing under the cherry trees for so long. I was starting to get worried. What were you thinking about?”

Hitori stifled a sigh. “Just about the time passing by, I guess. Another spring, gone. I don’t really know why I was standing around. Just thinking, maybe.”

She didn’t say much else, but they continued to walk together contentedly. Something about her presence just lifted his spirits, so he was glad for the company. Before they knew it, their high school appeared. They climbed the steps and the school day began.

Hitori shared most of his classes with Sabishi, but they didn’t talk much, even during lunch. For some reason though, he could feel her stealing glances at him when he wasn’t looking. Every time he tried to catch her eye, she would pretend she wasn’t staring. She just smiled back at him like she was hiding a secret. He tried to ignore it. That quirky girl was always acting funny.

The school day passed quickly. He didn’t talk much to anyone. After all, he didn’t know anyone from clubs or sports; he hadn’t joined any. None of the guys approached him, and none of the girls seemed interested. Instead, his thoughts were occupied with picking up the newest edition of his favorite romance manga from the nearby bookstore. He made his way down the steps fighting the urge to hurry. He couldn’t wait to read the newest edition, it almost hurt. A hand grabbed his shoulder. He looked back.

Sabishi smiled at him, but her bright blue eyes seemed a little sad. “Hey Hitori-kun, I was wondering if maybe you’d be interested in going out with me and some friends tonight?” she gestured at a few other people standing behind her. One girl had her nose in a book, another girl was having an argument with a taller guy who seemed to be teasing her. One girl who had bright auburn hair like Sabishi’s waved at him. He recognized her as Mitsuka, the most popular girl in class. His heart leaped into his throat and he forgot what he was about to say. She was so pretty he struggled to not stare. Blood rushed to his face and he suddenly felt the urge to hide.

“I uh… That’s really nice, but— I was gonna head to the bookstore and grab— uh… a book.”

Sabishi, who was always cheerful and fun, seemed disappointed. But she nodded. “Okay. Just know if you ever want to meet some new people, ‘cause you can always count on me!” she reassured him, her eyes brightening.

Hitori stuttered something like, “Yuh-huh, m-maybe some time— a-another day,” and he continued down the steps, glancing back at Mitsuka one last time. He missed a step and almost went sprawling across the pavement. His face burned and he turned away, gripping the strap of his bag. He ran a hand through his messy black hair. He’d made himself look like an idiot. He muttered to himself all the way to the bookstore. He barely remembered paying for the newest edition of the manga before he realized he was home. The brand-new manga was in his hands. He dropped his bag on the floor before sprawling out on the couch, already reading through the book.

The rest of the afternoon passed too quickly. He wasn’t expecting his mom home until late, and his dad was gone on a business trip, so he ate leftovers out of the fridge and spent the night reading. The pages passed in a blur. Dissatisfied, he brought out old chapters and reread through them again like he had countless times in the past. He skipped through most of the chapters just to reread his favorite parts. The first kiss, the separation, the reunion. He had the whole story memorized, he could recite most of the dialogue, and his favorite scenes were etched into his mind. It was the greatest love story, and it gave meaning to his life. Why then, did he feel so empty?

Why could some fictional characters find more convincing love than he’d ever felt? Why did it seem so easy and yet so impossible at the same time? He pressed the manga against his chest, feeling guilty. It was his fault he was alone, anyway. Mitsuka came to mind, filling his entire being with her beauty. He had a chance to spend time with her, to get to know her, and he blew it. He had refused because he panicked, and now he felt ashamed and empty. If only he could find something, some kind of love like in the mangas that seemed so… ideal. So perfect.

He hadn’t realized tears were falling from his cheeks and onto the book. He tried his best to dry the tears with the corner of his shirt before they ruined the pages. He felt so pathetic, crying, but he didn’t know what else to do. He should have accepted Sabishi’s invitation instead of hiding at home, crying over some stupid book.

With a sigh he turned out the lamp, realizing it was late, the sky dark. He just wanted to spend a few moments trying to figure out the meaning of love, alone in the dark. He just wanted to feel a little bit of peace. But the lull of night crept up on him and he fell asleep, manga still clutched to his chest.

“I wish I could find love.”

 

 

 

Somebody was calling his name, beckoning him back to consciousness. There was a distant knocking sound. He awoke. The sun was suddenly in his eyes, and he realized it was daytime.

“Hitori-kun! Are you awake?” Sabishi called, still knocking at the door. “You’re going to be late!”

He scrambled to his feet. His hair was messier than usual, and he was dressed in his school uniform, which was now irredeemably wrinkled. He muttered a curse under his breath and answered the door. The sun stung his eyes and he was blind for a few seconds.

“Hitori-kun! You look… awful! Are you okay?”

He rubbed his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, I just fell asleep on the couch, I’m fine—” his eyes adjusted and he saw her. But she was different. He saw her like she was completely different person. “… Sabishi-chan…”

She was cute. In all the years he had known her, he realized she was actually really pretty. He’d always just seen her as a friend, but now he felt a hammering in his chest he hadn’t noticed before. Her auburn hair was tied back and pinned up with a red bow. Her bright blue eyes looked concerned for him like he was a lost puppy. She placed her hands on her hips.

“‘Chan?’ Where did that come from? You never call me ‘chan’! It’s always just ‘Sabishi’! Are you okay?”

He stuttered for an answer, taking a step back. He hoped she wouldn’t stare at his hair. Or his clothes. Or actually any part of him, as he was totally unpresentable.

She giggled to herself at his acts of silliness, taking a step inside and looking around. He really wished she hadn’t, the place was probably messy. “Anyway, you need to hurry or we’ll be late!”

“Uh… You go on ahead without me, I’m gonna go get ready.” He quickly escaped toward his room, slamming the door behind him. He dressed in a frenzy and brushed his teeth while forcing a comb through his untamable hair. He burst from his room and almost slipped going down the stairs in his socks. Sabishi watched in amusement, standing in the living room.

“Why are you still here? You’re gonna make yourself late too,” he grumbled, pulling his shoes on. He hoped she hadn’t seen the romance mangas he’d left out. She smiled at him.

“I would rather walk together, if that’s okay.”

Hitori looked up and caught her eyes for a second. He lightly blushed and looked away. He picked up his pack and opened the door for Sabishi.

“C’mon Hitori-kun!” She grabbed his hand and pulled him along, her red bow bouncing on her head. He barely managed to shut the door before being dragged down the sidewalk. He didn’t let go of her hand, but his face was red with embarrassment. She didn’t seem to notice, laughing and pulling him along. He smiled.

 

Chapter 2

They both made it just in time, and the day passed like any other, except for the occasional rumbling of Hitori’s stomach. Though he was glad for the hunger pangs; it helped keep his mind off of other things. During lunch, Sabishi chastised him for skipping breakfast.

“I was right! I noticed you acting differently recently, you haven’t been taking good care of yourself!”

Hitori attempted to defend himself, which was difficult with his mouth full of noodles. “I jus’ los’ track o’ time,” he managed between bites. Sabishi had always teased him for little things, but this time she sounded genuinely concerned. He could only wonder why she was obsessing over him lately.

“Is that manga really so good you skipped breakfast?” she questioned with her arms crossed. Hitori almost choked.

“I uh— you saw that?” he asked, his voice hushed. He casually looked around to make sure nobody had heard. As usual, nobody was paying any attention to him. In fact, he would have been sitting alone if Sabishi hadn’t insisted on sharing a table.

“I may have snuck a peak,” she admitted with a smirk. “It looked pretty romantic.”

He motioned for her to keep her voice down, his cheeks red. “Just don’t tell anyone. I’ll never hear the end of it from the guys, and all the girls will think I’m weird.”

She played with the straw in her juice box. “… I don’t think you’re weird. I think you can enjoy whatever stories you want. Besides…” She smiled. “I like romance mangas too. They’re cute.”

He was shocked. Sabishi didn’t seem like the type who was interested in sappy romance. In fact, he couldn’t think of a time she was even interested in a boy. He couldn’t recall a single time she’d confided a crush to him, or asked for advice, or seemed flustered around anyone. She was always bubbly and playful.

“I didn’t know that about you. Do you really?”

Sabishi suddenly looked ashamed. “It’s really not that interesting, I just read them sometimes.” Her face brightened again. “But you should tell me more about you! I had no idea you were into those kinds of books!”

Hitori smiled. He opened his mouth to explain why he loved the series so much when the bell rang. Lunch was over, and he still had half a tray of food left. He looked down at his food. He’d been so focused on talking with Sabishi that he’d forgotten how hungry he was. He blinked, confused. There was a funny feeling stirring inside of his stomach that wasn’t hunger.

“Hitori-kun,” she called him back to reality. “We should get back to class. Finish your food silly!”

He nodded and attempted to wolf down the last of his lunch, though he caught Sabishi’s eyes as she turned to walk away. She seemed upset, or sad, muttering something to herself. Why, he had no idea. But it didn’t sit well with him; she had never acted upset or sad in all the years they had spent together. Was she really that embarrassed to talk about romance mangas?

A few hours later, the school day finished, and Hitori found himself walking with Sabishi. She found the others that he had noticed the day before, and introduced him. He didn’t have much say in the interaction because he was totally unprepared, but he was glad to meet new people. Though, if he had known she would try to introduce him to new people, he would have worried about it the whole day.

The shorter girl with choppy blonde hair was Nozoka, who was cute in a childish way. She made fun of his messy hair and then pretended he didn’t exist. The taller girl with long black hair was Yuuki, who was reading the same book as yesterday, except now she seemed to be a few hundred pages ahead. She regarded Hitori and greeted him shyly before returning to her reading. The guy who was teasing Nozoka the other day was named Kibou, and then of course there was Mitsuka, though she seemed less intimidating than the she was the day before. She smiled at him warmly.

“We were going to visit a new café, did you want to come?” Sabishi asked, excitement showing through her voice. Hitori was about to think up some excuse when he remembered the night before and all of the regret. It probably wasn’t good to isolate himself. His stomach rumbled before he could answer.

“It’s settled then!” Sabishi declared with a giggle. He didn’t protest. The rest of the group seemed thrilled, making small talk on the way through town. Mitsuka asked what he’d been up to, which he didn’t have much of an answer for. He politely asked what was new for her and was immediately bombarded by several amazing activities from sports to instruments. She went on about a piano concert she had been rehearsing for lately, but Hitori was only half-listening. Nozoka and Kibou were lightly bantering again and Sabishi was trying to make them both lighten up. He smiled to himself.

 

 

 

Mitsuka opened the door of the Sakura Café, a bell daintily ringing above to announce their arrival. Large windows let in the afternoon sunlight. Plants hung from shelves, and flowers bloomed from vases on the tables. They chose a table and a waiter appeared to take orders. Mitsuka politely asked for a salad, and Nozoka, a coffee.

“There’s no way you can handle the caffeine,” Kibou joked, instead pointing out a few kid’s menu items. Nozoka complained she wasn’t a child.

“Are too,” Kibou laughed, pretending to measure her height.

“Hey, it was my idea to come here in the first place! I eat here all the time!” Nozoka reminded him, as if he had forgotten her lecture about why she loved the café during their walk. “You should be the one asking me for food suggestions.”

“Yuuki-chan,” Sabishi prodded. “Do you want to order something?”

Yuuki closed her book and looked around like she was lost.

“Oh, a café. I love cafés, the atmospheres are so relaxing,” she said dreamily, admiring the surroundings. Sabishi giggled and ordered a green tea for her, seemingly apologetic to the waiter. Hitori couldn’t decide on anything. It all sounded so good, so he ordered a bento box. As soon as the waiter left them to their shenanigans, he remembered he hadn’t brought any money in his haste to leave the house.

“Don’t worry silly, I’ll pay this time!” Sabishi offered, already pulling money out of her pocket.

“… Alright, but I need to pay you back tomorrow.”

Sabishi suddenly got that same sad look in her eyes that Hitori had been wondering about. “No, please, that’s alright! What’s the point in gifting a friend if they always pay you back? That’s not a gift, it’s a trade!”

Hitori knew he couldn’t talk her out of her generosity, so he made a mental note to buy her something in the future. They joked around until the food arrived. Hitori wolfed down everything in his bento box so fast he didn’t even wonder what type of meat was inside.

“Jeez, someone skipped breakfast.” Nozoka smirked, taking small sips from her coffee. “But I’m glad you appreciate the food and the atmosphere, unlike somebody,” she shot a glare at Kibou, who was loudly slurping from a bowl of some kind of soup Hitori didn’t recognize.

Hitori shrugged. “I overslept ‘cause I was up late— uh… reading.”

Yuuki looked up from her book in interest. “Really? What were you reading? Was it a horror novel?” She suddenly realized everyone was watching her and lightly blushed in embarrassment. “Um— I mean… that’s great to hear. Actually, that’s how most of us met, through a book club.”

“At least you’re a reader. I was starting to think you stood out because you had nothing in common with us,” Nozoka casually mentioned.

“Nozoka-chan, be nice to our guest!” Sabishi pleaded.

“What? There’s nothing wrong with telling the truth, is there? I always live by the phrase, ‘If you want to say something, say it. Don’t be a baby!’”

Sabishi continued asking her to apologize, but Nozoka argued she was technically giving Hitori a compliment by admitting they had something in common. Seeing how hard Sabishi was trying to make him feel welcome with her friends, Hitori laughed in spite of himself.

They continued talking and joking for at least an hour before Mitsuka said she needed to leave. Everyone followed suite, and they said their goodbyes, promising to meet up together again soon. Sabishi and Hitori left to walk home together. The town was calm, and the weather was nice. Neither spoke for a while, enjoying each other’s presence.

“You looked like you were having fun, Hitori-kun.” Sabishi said, almost with relief.

“I’m mostly glad I didn’t make a fool of myself,” he replied with a smile.

“Would you want to hang out with them again? Kibou found a park with a volleyball net and he wanted to teach us how to play sometime!”

Hitori didn’t have to think for long. The afternoon was really fun, unlike most of the times he had tried to join some new club, which almost always turned out poorly. He wasn’t even good at any sports, but trying something new sounded exciting.

“That would be great.”

Sabishi jumped up and down a few times in glee. “You’re going to become good friends with everybody! Just wait and see!”

Hitori smiled, his heart warmed to see Sabishi being her bubbly self. The sun was setting, the breeze ruffled his hair. He felt at peace. In the moment, he didn’t need anybody else. He was content, wishing this moment would last forever, but also excited for how new things would reveal themselves in the future.

 

Chapter 3

It was a beautiful summer day. Hitori shifted his bare feet in the warm, soft sand of the volleyball pit. It wasn’t a familiar feeling, but it wasn’t bad. Kibou stood at his right, and Nozoka at his left. On the other team was Yuuki, Mitsuka, and Sabishi. The sun was directly overhead, and they had the entire pit to themselves despite it being the weekend.

“Serve’s up!” Kibou yelled a bit too loudly, tossing the volleyball into the air before jumping and delivering a powerful blow. It sailed over the net, directly at Mitsuka, who smiled defiantly. How she could stay confident when faced with Kibou’s incredible serve baffled Hitori. She blocked it with a quick underhand motion, sending the ball into the air.

“Get it, Yuuki!” she called. Yuuki looked up at the ball which seemed to eclipse the sun for a moment. Her eyes went wide and she turned away, shielding her head with her hands.

“I got it!” Sabishi called, sprinting across the sand to hit the ball. It went over the net, directly at Nozoka. She yelped in surprise but prepared her stance. A moment before impact, Kibou appeared in front of her, jumping to hit the ball. It brushed over the top of the net, bouncing on the corner of the enemy field and far away, scoring their team a point. The ball continued to bounce onto the grass that filled most of the park, coming to a stop under a tree.

“YES!” Kibou cheered, pumping his fists. Nozoka punched him in the arm as the other team regrouped to talk about their strategy.

“I totally had that point in the bag!” she complained. “You completely stole the ball and sent it flying halfway over Japan!”

“We got a point, didn’t we?” he retorted with a smirk, running his hands through his curly brown hair like he was a star. “Besides, I’ll get the ball.”

He jogged away, slowing down near the other team and pretending to not listen in on their plans. Mitsuka playfully shooed him away.

“He’s got such a big head showing off like that!” Nozoka thought aloud, kicking at the sand. Hitori wiped some sweat from his brow. He’d never had so much fun playing sports.

“He just loves to torture you, that’s all.” Hitori hushed his voice. “It just means he cares.”

Nozoka’s cheeks turned the shade of bubblegum. “W-well— who asked you anyway?!”

Hitori laughed aloud, beginning to understand why Kibou enjoyed teasing her. Mitsuka caught his eye, like he was a wildcard that hindered her master plan to win. She looked away, continuing to discuss strategies with the others. Hitori watched in amusement, wondering what devious ideas they were concocting. He turned to his teammate.

“Hey, do you think we should be coming up with—”

“A plan?” Nozoka finished for him. “No need. The game’s simple enough, I just need to get a good hit in!”

“You’re just hoping you can rely on Kibou to score most of the points. The guy’s crazy good.”

Nozoka waited for answering. “Well, he is our greatest advantage, being in a volleyball club and all.”

Hitori knew this, but he was still wary about Mitsuka. Despite never really playing volleyball, she was quick to adapt to the rules, even coordinating plays for her team. Impressive, as always. He regarded their team quietly. Mitsuka was serious about winning, her hair tied back in a ponytail under her baseball cap. Yuuki didn’t seemed to be listening, fanning herself with her hand and watching the clouds in the distance like she was deep in thought. Sabishi was all ears, giving enthusiastic responses like ‘Definitely! Just one question; what does that mean?’

Hitori almost chuckled aloud. It was just like Sabishi to be overly enthusiastic over something she didn’t really understand. She seemed to be having the time of her life, though. He was glad he had agreed to try out volleyball. Her smile was making his day. A strong hand clapped Hitori on the shoulder.

“C’mon dude, what are you hiding?” Kibou had returned, the volleyball under his arm. Hitori blushed and looked away from the other team. Had he been staring?

“What do you mean, hiding?”

Kibou raised an eyebrow like it was obvious. Was it obvious? Was Kibou able to read him like an open book? Did the guy understand more than he let on?

“Your skills, duh!” Kibou shook him, his strength almost making Hitori lose his balance. “If you never take your shot, how am I supposed to know your strengths and weaknesses, dude?!”

Hitori sighed in relief. Kibou was simple as always. “Everything happens so fast, I don’t really see any opportunities. I just freeze up, I guess.”

“Just trust your gut and let your body move for you! You’ll know what to do!” Kibou patted his shoulder one last time before returning to his own position. Hitori looked back at Sabishi, dressed in her simple shorts and bright yellow T-shirt with a big, cute cat print on the front. In her hands was an ice-cold glass bottle of lemonade that she brought to her full lips, taking a long drink. A few drops fell from her chin. Hitori was suddenly aware of just how thirsty he was. He looked away, his face overheating, but not because of the hot sun. Maybe Kibou really did understand more than he let on.

Kibou called out the points and served in his usual impossible-to-block manner. Mitsuka was the only person able of stopping it, sending it back over the net. Nozoka grunted and managed to pass the ball to Kibou, who sent it flying once again. Hitori lowered himself to a crouch with his hands clasped together, poised to attack if he got a chance at the ball.

Sabishi hit the ball to Yuuki, who used all of her strength to hit the ball in an underhand motion. It ascended slowly in a perfect arc so that it was going to land just past the net. Hitori forced his legs to move. He jumped, twisting his body to force more power into his impact. His open palm connected with the ball and it flew at a harsh angle into the sand, scoring their team another point. The ball ricocheted off the sand and hit Sabishi on the side of the head as she reflexively turned away. The red bow on her head wobbled and she fell on her bottom.

Hitori didn’t even realize his body was moving until he was kneeling on the sand next to her.

“Are you okay?” he sifted his hands through her fine hair to check for bruising. She softly took his hand to stop him from fussing over her.

“I’m fine, it doesn’t even hurt,” she lied with a faint smile.

“Your ear’s all red,” he mumbled. “Does your head hurt?”

“No, I —” she stopped, catching his eye. He stared back in worry. “It hurts a little bit.”

He stood and quickly made his way to the cooler Sabishi had brought, just beyond the boundaries of the pit. It was full of glass bottles of lemonade and ice. He grabbed one and returned. The others stood in a loose ring around her, asking if she was alright. They parted when Hitori returned and handed her the cold drink.

“Thanks,” she popped the cap off and took a drink. He laughed.

“You’re supposed to put it on your head, silly.”

“Oh… Yeah, you’re right,” she giggled and held the bottle against the side of her face. Hitori helped her up. “You take such good care of me, Hitori-kun.” She lightly blushed. Hitori realized the others were watching nearby, and he also blushed, taking a few steps back and mumbling something about being glad to help. The others continued to politely ask if there was anything else she needed, or if she felt alright.

“You’re sure we can’t get you anything else?” Yuuki asked. Sabishi shook her head in embarrassment, seemingly upset about getting so much attention.

“Oh!” Her face lit up. “I forgot to tell you all, I brought drinks for everyone! Please feel free to enjoy the lemonade!” She gestured towards the cooler.

“Good idea, we should all take a break,” Kibou advised, already dragging the cooler closer to the group and handing out lemonade bottles. Everyone gratefully took one. Sabishi watched their smiles quietly. She beamed. Hitori watched her. The sun seemed to move out from behind a cloud. He felt a strange fluttering in his gut.

 

 

 

A few weeks passed, and Hitori lost count of how many hours he’d spent with these strange new people. He’d grown to genuinely appreciate each of them. Kibou was funny, Yuuki was shy and insightful, and Nozoka was playful in her own way. Then there was Mitsuka, impressive as always. She was learning another language, a new instrument, reading tons of new books, and somehow she still seemed interested in Hitori, who felt like he was just outright boring. She seemed to want to know everything about him, but he never felt like she was prying. It was the first time a girl had ever shown interest towards him other than his best friend Sabishi. Sometimes, he would catch her staring in his direction and smiling, like she knew a secret she wanted to share with him but couldn’t.

But despite all of the new people he enjoyed being around, he was starting to appreciate Sabishi in new ways. She was always being the sunshine in the group and easing tensions, a quality he’d always known but never really noticed. In fact, in the beginning, he had agreed to spend more time with the others just to see her smile, like he had made her day. It was especially clear to him when she couldn’t attend their hangouts at times, when she claimed to be busy. He felt like the sun was dimmer, the air wasn’t as light-hearted and warm. And, more and more often now, Sabishi wasn’t just busier, she was acting different. It didn’t sit well with him, and he was starting to become concerned.

 

Chapter 4

Yuuki had insisted they all see a certain romance movie in theaters she had been waiting for all year. They met on a Sunday in the theaters near the neon concession stand sign and bought snacks. Yuuki lightly bounced up and down on her heels, clutching at the neck of her turtleneck sweater in excitement. Nozoka loaded up with sweets and popcorn, which Kibou jokingly complained about helping to carry until she offered to share if he ‘behaved like a good boy.’

“Is Sabishi not coming?” Mitsuka asked when he arrived. She was dressed in leggings and a blouse. Her long auburn hair flowed over her shoulders. “I thought you would be together.”

Hitori tried in vain to hide his disappointment as he made the same realization. “I guess maybe she’s busy again,” he answered dejectedly, weakly kicking at the carpeted floor with his sneakers.

“She has been acting differently…” She stared at Hitori for an answer, who remained quiet. “That’s really a shame, the movie’s starting in a few minutes.”

“You all go in, I’m just gonna wait a few minutes.” He picked a piece of lint off of his dark striped shirt. They seemed apprehensive, but Mitsuka silently motioned to them, and they all left. Hitori let out a quiet sigh, checking his phone for any text messages. She hadn’t responded to his last message, asking if she was coming. That was a day ago. He impatiently scrolled through the message history as if something new would appear. A few minutes passed.

Hitori drummed his fingers against the side of his leg. The neon concession sign glowed in the corner of his vision as he stared at the door. The air was warm and smelled like popcorn and candy. Sabishi loved food. She would have jumped up and down with excitement if she saw the selection of sweets. He was considering buying something when he suddenly remembered the time Sabishi had paid for his meal at the café. Now was his chance to buy her something sweet.

He approached the counter, eyeing the sign on the wall that was covered in cartoonish pictures of the available foods. He racked his brain for something she would love, but there were just too many options. She would have loved it all. The young man at the counter watched him, seemingly bored but patient.

“Is there anything you’re looking for in particular?” he asked. There were faintly dark circles under his eyes.

“Not really,” Hitori forced a polite smile. “I’m just trying to decide. Thank you.”

There were a lot of selections of candy. Sabishi loved sweets. But what was her favorite?

“Girls like chocolate, you know,” the young man mentioned casually with a smirk.

Hitori pursed his lips. “How did you know?”

The young man shrugged. “You seem nervous because she’s late, and you have no idea what she’ll like. Don’t worry little dude, the date will go fine. Trust me.”

The man placed a small chocolate bar on the counter. Hitori eyed it. Come to think of it, she did love chocolate. He paid for the candy and thanked the man, trying to restrain himself from explaining he wasn’t on a date. Hitori stuffed the chocolate bar into his pocket, making a mental note to not forget it. If she didn’t show up, he would give the chocolate to her once he got home. It would definitely cheer her up, considering she was so busy she missed another get-together.

He paced for another minute, even considering just giving up and leaving to watch the movie with the others. But it just wouldn’t feel right. He checked his phone again. No new messages. From behind, the main door opened. He turned hopefully. His deep brown eyes lit up like a firework.

Sabishi stood in the doorway apprehensively, like she felt out of place, or lost. Then she saw him, and she smiled in that way only she could. She was dressed in a somewhat frilly skirt and a simple pink shirt that hung lower on one shoulder. Her hair was pinned up with her iconic red bow. She wore no makeup, but she didn’t need any.

“Sorry I’m late, you really shouldn’t have waited for me,” she said, sounding a bit ashamed. “Were you waiting for a long time? I’m so—”

“No, it’s fine, you don’t have to apologize. I just wanted to wait a bit just in case,” Hitori reassured her, trying to hide his sigh of relief. He beamed.

She fussed a little more, and they hurried inside the showing room just as soon as the movie started. The room was dark but they found the others and chose seats. Hitori sat between Sabishi and Mitsuka, who quietly greeted her.

“We’re glad you came!” Kibou waved from the opposite side of the row. Nozoka hushed him, but quietly waved with a smile. Then the movie began.

Hitori was interested in the movie at first, but he was having a hard time focusing after a while. Sabishi watched the movie in awe, her eyes wide. For some inexplicable reason, he had a hard time not staring at her. She seemed so happy. The bow in her hair was slightly lopsided, and he wanted to reach over and fix it for her. Like any friend would. He looked back at the movie screen, trying to focus. The protagonist was about to make his confession of love.

“My darling, no war could ever separate us. I would run into gunfire for you, risking it all. I would die every day if it meant spending my life with you. How short our time is together in this life… how much shorter must you wait for my return. Will you promise me this? Will you wait for me?”

“Love, I would wait a thousand years for you…”

The two characters shared a passionate kiss. Hitori felt his stomach twist. He blinked hard, wanting to look away but also knowing he couldn’t. Sabishi beamed beside him, silently clapping her hands together. He caught her eyes, twinkling in the dim light like the sun in the void of space. He looked away, grateful his blushing was hidden under the cover of the dark.

“Then you must let me go, so I can end this war quickly…”

The rest of the movie passed like a blur. He faintly remembered it ending tragically with the man’s death as a noble sacrifice in the war. The woman became a widow and lived the rest of her life without loving again, long after the war ended. The ending confused him, he just couldn’t understand the ideals of love. It seemed so complicated and so simple at the same time. He tried to understand the paradoxical concept that was love, but he couldn’t describe it in thoughts or words, but only with feelings. Maybe that was the only way love could be understood and expressed.

Yuuki tugged at the sleeves of her sweater while she chatted with the others about the movie. She seemed even more passionate about the ending than Nozoka, who was on a mild sugar high. Sabishi watched the conversation, letting the typically shy Yuuki express her thoughts. She seemed genuinely happy that the others were enjoying themselves.

“The writers of the film did an amazing job!” Yuuki explained enthusiastically. “When it comes to expressing your love, you must be willing to completely open up to your lover, exposing your vulnerabilities and showing even the deepest reaches of your heart...”

Yuuki noticed the others were listening intently, and she grew quiet. “Um, sorry… I just mean, the writers did a good job of… showing that… I think…”

“What did you think about the movie, Hitori-kun?” Mitsuka asked, jarring him from his thoughts.

“I don’t know… I don’t really like sad endings. But the movie was good.”

Mitsuka smiled. “I think the tragedy makes it even more romantic. Nothing hurts more than not being with the one you love. It just kills you inside, doesn’t it?”

Hitori accidentally glanced at Sabishi. “I don’t know… I guess that would hurt a lot.”

There was no way she understood. He felt like there was a pit in his chest. He wanted to blurt something out at the top of his lungs, but he was also afraid to speak, like he might reveal something he shouldn’t. He was self-conscious of every movement and he couldn’t decide between crossing his arms and hiding his fidgeting hands in his pockets. He felt like there was something wrong with him. His face burned like he had a fever, and his pulse was too fast, but he didn’t exactly know why, or if he wanted to know.

They didn’t spend much time together after the movie, since it was late. Mitsuka took the bus, and Nozoka casually mentioned walking home by herself. Yuuki shyly voiced that she lived near Nozoka and would like to walk with her, but she was drowned out by Kibou.

“No way kiddo, you’ll get lost. I’ll come with.” He smirked, pointing at his chest with his thumb. Nozoka protested and began to walk away, but Kibou kept pace. Yuuki followed, attempting again to ask if she could join them.

“Don’t walk with me like that! People will think we’re dating or something!” Nozoka yelled at Kibou.

“I’m not walking with you, I’m walking next to you. Would you rather me keep some distance?” He let up so that he trailed behind a few paces.

“Um… Would either of you mind if-” Yuuki was again interrupted.

“No way! Then it’s like you’re a creep following me!” Nozoka continued.

Kibou laughed. He motioned for Yuuki to follow, who sighed with relief that he understood. He continued to reason with Nozoka, their voices fading into the distance as they walked further and further away. Sabishi smiled after them.

“Do you want to walk home together, Hitori-kun?” she asked excitedly.

He looked away to hide his blush. “What else would we do, take separate routes to the same neighborhood?”

“… You’re right, that was a dumb question,” she admitted, more quietly.

“No, I mean— uh… it’s not a dumb question, I was just joking,” he reassured with a smirk. “I’d be happy to walk together.”

She faintly smiled.

 

 

 

Traffic passed as they walked by light post after light post. The stars were out above. A few cicadas buzzed from afar. All was calm, but he couldn’t settle his mind.

“Don’t you think Nozoka-chan and Kibou-kun would make a cute couple?” she asked after a while. He had been thinking something very similar.

“They seem to fight a lot, even if they’re only joking.”

“Yeah, but I think that shows how much they care!”

They passed several blocks before speaking again.

“Hitori-kun, is there anyone you like?”

He almost jumped out of his sneakers. He cleared his throat in an attempt to steady his voice. “What do you mean?”

“Do you like Yuuki? I think she’s really thoughtful, even if she’s shy,” Sabishi put it simply. “And Mitsuka is just perfect, don’t you think? She excels at everything, and she’s so pretty! Even Nozoka is still single, and she’s really fun after warming up to you!”

“… I think they’re all great, but I don’t really love them,” he answered coolly.

She was quiet for a few seconds. “I was hoping you would,” she said, sounding disappointed. “You seemed so lonely, back then.”

Hitori remembered a few weeks ago. It felt like an eternity had passed since that day they walked together. “You were trying to set me up? Like— with a girl?”

Sabishi nodded, but didn’t say much else. Hitori couldn’t believe it. But then he didn’t exactly have another reason for why she kept inviting him. He’d just supposed that being bubbly and cheerful as always, she wanted to include others in on the fun.

“I guess I used to have a little crush on Mitsuka for a while.”

“… What changed?” Sabishi asked innocently.

Hitori pondered this. He remembered crying that night. Sabishi had given him hope. Come to think of it, he hadn’t ever accepted an invitation because he wanted to see Mitsuka. He wanted to spend time with Sabishi.

“I guess… I changed,” he mused. She seemed confused but she didn’t press him. He thought about this for a while, so long he didn’t realize they’d reached their neighborhood. They stopped halfway between their houses. He was waiting for this moment, but it came so soon. He wasn’t ready. But this was his chance to confess how he was feeling. Hitori swallowed hard, trying to put his feelings into words. He was going to tell Sabishi that he loved her.

 

Chapter 5

“Hey uh— Sabishi-chan,” he started. His emotions were welling up in his chest again and he felt like he was gonna explode. Something had changed inside and he was almost scared to figure out what it was. It was difficult to put into words. He dug his hands into his pockets because of his nerves. Some large object pressed against his hand, and he suddenly remembered what he bought at the concession stand.

“I uh… I got this for you. I thought you’d like it,” he said quietly, pulling out a large chocolate bar. He was glad it wasn’t melted. He handed it to her and she gingerly took it like it was fragile. She stared down at the candy like it was a dying fish. She looked heartbroken.

“Just… to pay you back. I wanted to give you something that wasn’t too big, ‘cause I knew you would refuse it otherwise.”

“… You really shouldn’t have, Hitori-kun, I— I like giving gifts to my friends… but when they give something to m-me… I—” She stopped.

“It’s really not that big of a deal,” he said casually with a shrug. They stood together for a few seconds, and she quietly thanked him. He didn’t understand why she was upset over something as simple as a chocolate bar. She’d probably get over it.

They said their goodnights and parted. Hitori wasn’t satisfied though, and every step was like torture. He was going to say more and he let himself get distracted by a chocolate bar. He needed to tell her how he was feeling, or he was going to miss his chance. This was the big moment. Besides, he didn’t have anything to lose. How much could words hurt anyway?

“Sabishi-chan,” he turned, ignoring his heart hammering in his chest. She looked back at him. Her blue eyes twinkled. He had to be strong like the soldier in the movie. “There’s going to be a festival on Monday, and—” he stopped. He took a step forward. “I was hoping you would—” he took another step. “Maybe if you were interested—” he took one last step so that he was an arm’s reach from her. She stared into his eyes and smiled like he was acting silly. “Would you like to go with me? To the festival? Just us?”

At the last question, her smile disappeared. “You mean… like a date?”

His face burned so hot he thought it would catch fire, but he spoke as confidently as possible. “Yes. Just us… on a date,” he finished. Everything clicked into place. Everything was right in the world. But Sabishi looked like something had gone terribly wrong.

“N-No, you—” she struggled like she was in shock, clutching the chocolate bar against her chest, her red bow still askew on her head. “You weren’t supposed to fall in love with— I’m not—”

“What are you talking about?” His heart had dropped at her words, and he was pretty sure a few stars had fallen from the sky.

“You seemed happy with— with the others. You seemed like you made such good friends, and it made me… so happy! That’s what really mattered to me!” A tear formed at the corner of her eye. “That’s what I cared about… So why…” the tear fell down her cheek like a droplet of rain. “Why does that have to be ruined?”

“What? How is that ruined?”

“Because you’re spending your time with me instead of the others. You weren’t meant to waste your love on me…”

He struggled for words. So suddenly, the world had been flipped upside down. Nothing made sense. More tears flowed down her cheeks, breaking his heart. “I’m not wasting anything on you, Sabishi-chan. I truly enjoy being around you!”

She turned away. “It’s my fault. I— I cared about you too much. I tried to hide it but— the world wanted to punish me.”

Hitori was silent.

“I wanted to be happy for you, but seeing you make other friends, it hurt so much! It feels like my heart is being torn in half! Everything hurts so much, no matter what I do. I wish I could just disappear!”

“No, don’t say that!” he pleaded. “It’s not—”

“It is true! If I wasn’t here, you wouldn’t have to waste your time on me…”

“… Sabishi-chan… do you love me?” he asked, hoping with everything in his being that she said ‘yes.’

She stared into his dark eyes, his messy hair ruffling in the wind. Her face turned pink like her shirt.

“More than anything else in the world!” she managed. “Ever since we were young, for years and years! More than anyone else, I love you! But it hurts so much— and I’m so scared…” She rubbed tears from her eyes. He closed the gap between them, fighting the urge to wrap her in a hug to make her problems evaporate.

“What hurts? What are you scared of? I want to fix it.”

“… I’m scared that I love you more than you love me… ”

They stood together for what felt like hours, though it was only seconds. He wanted to take away all of her problems. He just wanted to be happy together.

“I was too weak. I started to like you too much, that’s why I had to get away from it all. I couldn’t stand being near you because it hurt so much, I just wanted you to be happy with someone else,” she mumbled. “This is my fault. Why couldn’t things just be like they used to? I love you so much that I just want to die—”

“Tell me the truth, Sabishi-chan. Please,” he begged. He didn’t understand anything at all. She was quiet for a while.

“I’ve always been like this, you’ve just never known. I hid it from you,” she explained quietly. He wanted to ask why she had kept her feelings a secret for so long, but part of him already understood. “I never sleep in, I just struggle to get out of bed. I didn’t have a reason to live. We stopped walking together because I wouldn’t leave the house on time. But it hurt being apart from you for so long… and you looked so lonely standing by yourself every day, just for those few moments… I wanted to walk with you again. I wanted to be happy, and the world is punishing me for it…”

He was quiet, not trusting himself to answer. He just stared into her eyes wishing it would all go away.

“So now you know,” she sighed, “and you probably hate me for it, or you want to help me… But I’m just so worthless… That’s why I try so hard to make others happy and make sure they have good friends… and not worry about me…”

Hitori took her in his arms and embraced her. They could forget all of these scary things. They could live a happy life together. He only had to say a few words. But he was so desperate to fix her problems, he didn’t think it through.

“I love you Sabishi-chan. I want to help you so much— I don’t know why but my heart feels like it’s going to stop beating if we can’t be together…”

Sabishi cried into his shoulder, wrapping her arms around his chest. Her embrace felt angelic. But something wasn’t right. She wasn’t crying tears of relief, but genuine sorrow, maybe hopelessness, and he didn’t know why. He hated himself for being confused, he had made the wrong choice, or spoken the wrong words. Why couldn’t he understand anything? Why couldn’t this all just go away so they could be happy together? Was he being selfish?

Sabishi’s sobs slowed, and she hugged him tighter.

“Hey, the festival’s tomorrow. Won’t that be fun?”

“… Mhm,” she mumbled into his shirt.

“How about we spend the day together, and work out all of these intense feelings? All these questions? Do you want me to spend the whole day with you?”

She was quiet for a while before answering. “… You really want that?”

“Of course. I promise.”

“…Okay…”

The ground righted itself again, the moon finally giving off its light.

“So tomorrow, after school, we can walk home and change, and then we’ll be at the festival within the hour. Okay?” he spoke softly, like with a child.

“… Yeah… That sounds… wonderful.”

She moved away from their embrace, but he still held onto her hand, almost afraid to let go.

“I’m sorry you’re going through so much,” he said sympathetically, “I’m trying to understand what that must be like. But whatever is going on, I promise we’ll get through it.”

She looked into his eyes. “It’s okay. Just please don’t worry too much about it.”

He wanted to reassure her, but he knew he couldn’t say anything else. He couldn’t even manage a smile. “… I’m really looking forward to our first date. So… I’ll see you tomorrow?”

She clutched the chocolate bar to her chest. She nodded.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she echoed.

He stared into her eyes for a second more and lightly squeezed her hand, wishing he never had to let go. Her hand was so warm.

 

Chapter 6

The door clicked shut behind Hitori. He let out a breath he had been holding for what felt like hours. He fell on the living room couch, sitting by himself in the dark, trying to process everything that had happened. How could he have been so blind? Sabishi had been suffering for so long, and he never had a clue. What was she really experiencing? Depression? Did anybody else know?

Hitori watched her house through the window. The lights were on. It hurt knowing that Sabishi was there, probably alone, and he was stuck here, helpless. His leg jumped up and down anxiously. He wanted to get up and do something, but he was paralyzed. There wasn’t anything he could do to help, was there?

He slowly climbed the steps to his room, each movement feeling like he was ascending a mountain. Had he said the right words? Should he have confessed his feelings at all? Everything was a whirlpool of questions, and he could only let himself get sucked in, watching the world spin and spin around him. He numbly changed into his pajamas and got ready for bed. He brushed his teeth, staring into the mirror for so long he forgot where he was.

He finished and climbed into bed, pulling the covers tight around himself. He repeated the same message to himself over and over.

We’ll be together tomorrow. We’ll be together tomorrow. After school we’ll be free, and it’ll be the best day ever! Everything will be okay… We’ll be together tomorrow…

Then why did he feel so scared? Why did he feel like it was all falling apart instead of coming together? He flipped, laying on his other side. Neither position was comfortable. The alarm clock nearby blinked numbers that didn’t matter to him. Minutes passed like seconds. He tried to sleep but he wasn’t tired.

He awoke suddenly, like he’d had a nightmare but he couldn’t remember any of it. He only remembered the previous night, which made him more miserable than any nightmare ever could. Sunlight weakly streamed from the windows like it had come through a wall of fog. He quickly changed and brushed his teeth, bounding down the stairs and barely remembering to grab his bag before leaving the house. He skipped breakfast, he couldn’t fathom the thought of eating anyway.

Outside, the sky was a little overcast, and a mist hung in the air. A cherry blossom fell into a neat pile of other blossoms, but he didn’t notice. He trudged over the pile, scattering the petals. The distance between him and Sabishi’s house felt like miles. He finally made it, knocking on her door. His mood would lighten up if they could walk to school together like everything between them was normal. He yearned to see her bright smile, like there wasn’t a sorrow in the world that ever mattered. He knocked.

There was no response from inside. He knocked again, calling her name, but there was no answer. He tapped his foot.

Maybe it’s early, and she’s still asleep.

Hitori checked his phone. It was time to leave. No new messages. He typed out a quick text along the lines of wanting to walk together but not knowing if she’d already left.

She probably left earlier. She might be feeling a little awkward being around me at first. I understand.

He waited a few minutes, pacing circles and checking for any new messages. Nothing. Eventually he decided to leave without her. The sky seemed to press down on him, like it was smothering him with a blanket of clouds. He clutched the strap of his bag and quickened his pace. Everything felt muted and quiet, like the rest of the world didn’t fully exist.

Hitori reached the school, but the hammering in his chest didn’t let up. He didn’t share a schedule with Sabishi today, so he probably wouldn’t see her until lunchtime or after. He considered checking in on her classroom just to see her face, but that would be rude. He needed to calm down or else he would like he was panicking the whole day. So he sat through his classes quietly. Hours passed. He couldn’t answer any questions correctly. His worksheets stared back at him like an alien language. Writing his own name was a challenge.

Finally, the lunch bell rang. He almost sprinted out of his last class, accidentally bumping into a few other people he didn’t know the names of, and didn’t care to learn. He reached the cafeteria, barely aware of grabbing a tray of food. He sat alone at the usual table and scanned the doors as people spilled in. Still no sign of her. His stomach felt twisted into knots.

“Hitori-kun!”

He practically jumped out of his uniform, spinning around with a hopeful smile on his face. Mitsuka stared back at him, her auburn hair the same color as Sabishi’s, but without a red bow.

“Are— Are you okay?” she asked, suddenly growing concerned. He probably looked crestfallen. He sat back down, hard, and tried to hide his disappointment. Mitsuka sat next to him, placing her tray off to the side.

“Have you seen Sabishi-chan at all today?” he asked as casually as possibly but still sounding worried. She shook her head.

“I was wondering where she was, as well. But you don’t look so good yourself,” she tenderly placed a hand on his shoulder. “You look so pale. I tried to wave to you in class but you didn’t notice. You seemed really distracted. Are you—”

“—I’m fine,” he lied. He felt like he was falling to pieces. He still scanned the crowds of people as they thinned out, sitting at other tables. “I’m just really worried about Sabishi-chan.”

“… Did something happen last night?”

Hitori tried to ignore the question. “I haven’t seen her since. She hasn’t answered any messages.” He suddenly remembered his phone, whipping it out. No new messages. He typed out another text.

“Where are you?”

Maybe he sounded obsessive but he was starting to not care anymore. She wasn’t at school. Sometimes she was late but it was rare she didn’t show.

“Maybe she wasn’t feeling well and stayed home,” Mitsuka pondered aloud. “Or maybe she’s… avoiding you? Did you say something last night that hurt her feelings?”

Hitori couldn’t answer. He really didn’t have an answer.

“Did you confess to her?”

He met her eyes. “You knew?”

She winked with a smile. “I knew you were close, but you really gave it away all the time. The way you stared at her, the way you were disappointed when she didn’t show up.”

He was silent. She seemed to feel a little bittersweet on the topic.

“Boys are so oblivious to love. You know, I flirted with you a lot in the beginning,” Mitsuka said casually. For some reason, the idea didn’t register in his head. What? “But it was clear you didn’t feel that way about anyone… except for her. And, she seemed so sad sometimes, I just stopped… It made me feel guilty,” she admitted. She was quiet for a while, taking a sip from her juice box. “I’m glad you found someone, though. Now, you have to give her your whole heart. That’s the best way to go about it. You have to be there for her when she needs it the most.”

Hitori nodded, staring at the untouched food on his tray.

“Do you know what to do?” she asked plainly.

He tried to untangle the words like they were knotted up. He didn’t feel like he knew anything anymore.

“No.”

She smiled to herself like it was obvious. “If you don’t see her in class, after lunch of course, you should go to her house. Be firm. She’s probably going through a lot. You should be there for her.”

He nodded again, resisting the urge to pull his hair out. The bell rang and he stood, leaving the tray on the table. He strode out of the cafeteria, looking back at Mitsuka. She smiled, but it wasn’t like Sabishi’s smile. He turned and made his way to class, plunking himself into a chair. Other students filed in, still a little loud after lunch. He stared at them, laughing and joking. It seemed like a foreign concept, now. Student after student entered the room, but Sabishi’s chair remained vacant.

He wanted to stand up and leave. He wanted to run home, calling her name again and again. He wanted to embrace her in a tight hug, like it had been years since they had last seen each other. But what would the others think? It wasn’t like him to cause disruptions. He should probably finish his time at school, it was only a few more hours.

“You should be there for her,” Mitsuka echoed in his mind. She was right. He couldn’t wait another minute, he was burning up inside. The teacher announced class was starting and the others quieted down, but it all sounded so distant and muted to him, like the wrinkle of paper from another room. He suddenly stood, loudly scraping his desk across the tile. He walked to the door, feeling every pair of eyes watching him. There were a few mutters, but he didn’t care.

He turned to the teacher and bowed. “Excuse me, Yoshida-sensei. I must leave.”

Without another word, he opened the door and shut it behind him, leaving the class behind. He was never one to be dramatic, but at the moment, he didn’t care. He walked down the empty hallways. His pace quickened. His footsteps echoed on the walls like a resounding drum, becoming louder and louder, faster and faster. He barely remembered bursting from the school and running down the streets.

 

 

 

Somewhere in the back of his mind he heard the screech of car brakes as he cut across roads indiscriminately. The overcast sky had broken up, and visible rays of light shone down on him. It was like the sun had finally shown its face to him, lighting the way to his true love. He finally knew what he needed to do. What would she think? It didn’t matter. He was going to be there for her. He pulled out his phone and typed out a quick message.

“I’m coming over.”

Hitori reached his neighborhood, her house growing closer and closer, looming like a castle that stood between them. He wanted to break down anything that separated them, but he settled for knocking on the door. He waited to the count of three, checking his phone. No new messages. He knocked again.

“Sabishi-chan! Are you in there?!”

Still no response. He tried the handle. The door was unlocked. He hesitated.

“Be firm.”

He pushed open the door and found the layout of the house similar to his own. Nobody seemed to be home. An empty shoe rack stood near the door. Sabishi’s shoes lay within the rack. His heart raced. He stood at the bottom of the stairs, calling her name. She was probably in bed, like she had talked about last night. She was probably really scared, or really hurting. He walked up the steps, feeling like the stairwell was getting longer and longer with every step. He made it to the top. There was a little hallway, with one door closed. It must be her room.

He approached slowly, resting his head against the door.

“Hey, Sabishi-chan. Can you hear me?”

He waited, no response. There was a shadow under the door.

“Listen, please. I know you’re going through a lot right now, and I could never understand what that must be like… But…” He gripped the door handle. Was he really about to do this? Was any of this right? Should he just leave her alone? “Whatever you’re going through, I want to be a part of it! We can do this…”

He turned the handle. It clicked. Hitori gently opened the door. “… together…”

Sabishi was hanging in front of him. A rope was wrapped around her delicate neck, extending upward to the ceiling. The rope was coiled like a snake around a rafter above the ceiling, looped through a tile that had been removed. Her bright blue eyes were dull, staring at the ground. Her mouth was slightly open, and it wasn’t in the shape of a smile. She was so pale.

Hitori felt himself take a few steps forward, too shocked to speak. Her neck was torn up with scratch marks like she had struggled to escape from the noose, like she’d had regrets. She was dressed plainly in grey shorts and a shirt. Was she dressed in her pajamas? Was she getting ready for school? Or the festival? When did this happen?

On a nearby nightstand was an untouched chocolate bar and her iconic red bow, but he barely noticed either. Hitori took her hand, staring into her lifeless eyes. He lightly squeezed her hand. It was so cold.

What’s happening? When did she… Why? … Why? … WHY?!

“Answer me…” he pleaded, his voice a broken whisper. Tears finally fell from his eyes. The room was spinning. He couldn’t breathe. “Answer me, please… Please!”

He didn’t know who he was talking to. He didn’t care. He just wanted an answer. But more, he wanted this all to be a nightmare. He wanted to wake up. His legs wouldn’t respond, but he didn’t know what they were supposed to do. Was he supposed to run? He collapsed on the floor at her feet, which were suspended a meter in the air, like she was flying.

Hitori threw up on the floor, but there wasn’t much in his stomach. He dry-heaved a few times. He clutched his head. He clawed at the carpet. He didn’t know what was happened, or what he was supposed to do.

This is my fault. I shouldn’t have confessed to her. I was being so stupid!

He looked up into Sabishi’s eyes. It was like she was staring down at him in pity. Was this really what she wanted? He never wanted this. He hated this. He hated it all, hated everything. He hated everyone.

“I will do anything…” his voice croaked. “Just please… Take it back… Anyone… Please…”

He blacked out. Maybe he lay on the floor for hours, or days, or years. Hundreds of nightmares raced in his mind, but they all ended the same. Sabishi died. Again and again. She was dead. She would always be dead.

They were walking together. Then she lay broken, her body twisted on the sidewalk after she had jumped from a building. They were laughing together. Then she was slumped over a table, empty pill bottles piled around her. They sat under the night sky, watching shooting stars. Then she lay in a pool of her own blood, the knife in her hand shining bright like the moon.

He just wanted it all to end. He couldn’t handle it anymore. He couldn’t look into her eyes knowing that she would be dead soon anyways, again and again. It was becoming harder and harder for him to smile, to laugh. He just wanted it all to end. He would do anything to save her. But he just wanted it all to end.

I must save her this time. I want to save her this time. I can’t save her. Somebody save her. Please.

He hung from the end of a rope. He didn’t fight. His breath escaped him, and he would never get it back. He would never breathe again. But it was okay. She would be saved. She could move on without him. It would be better if he could just disappear. He was disappearing, the ground looming under him, just out of reach. The rope embraced his neck so softly. So then, why did it hurt so much? He could never be with her, he could never live without her. It hurt so much. He couldn’t save her. It hurt so much. They could never love each other. It hurt so much.

Sabishi was the light of his life, and now that she was gone, everything was fading to black.

 

Chapter 7

A nice breeze ruffled the leaves of the trees. A few dying cherry blossoms, still pink in color, drifted along on the wind. Hitori reached out, catching one in his hands. He stared down at the little blossom. It was so small and fragile. Seeing them had always incited excitement and happiness in him. And now spring was over, they would be gone, he was watching the last remnants being stolen by the wind day by day. He wished the blossoms would stay. They reminded him of love and new life, the perfect symbols of springtime.

Nobody called his name. He stood alone. He felt like he had just awoken from a long dream, but he couldn’t remember any of it. He let go if the blossom in his hand and watched it catch the wind, flying away.

You’re right. I should get moving.

He began his morning walk like usual, passing street after street on his way to school. It was a beautiful day, but he was completely alone. Nobody skipped beside him, nobody ever had. Hitori passed a café, the people inside chatting and enjoying their breakfasts. It would be nice to visit a café some time. He continued walking and noticed a park in the distance with a volleyball net. He didn’t like sports much, and volleyball looked difficult. A few minutes later, watching the horizon, he noticed an empty movie theater. He wondered what films were playing, though he didn’t care much. He didn’t watch a lot of movies.

He reached the school and climbed the steps, passing a group of students he felt like he should know, but couldn’t place the names of. A short girl with choppy blonde hair was trying to grab something out of the hands of a taller boy with curly brown hair, who snickered and kept the object just out of reach. A quiet girl with long black hair hid her nose in a book. Then there was Mitsuka, who he only knew the name of because she was the most popular girl in school.

Another girl stood amongst them with a big smile on her face. His heart skipped a beat, but he didn’t know why. She had long auburn hair that was pinned up by a red bow. She looked so happy. He smiled to himself before forcing himself to move on. He didn’t want to look like some creepy stranger. Though he couldn’t help but think to himself.

What was her name? Is she the girl that lives across the street? Sabishi?

Hitori continued the school day like normal. The girl sat near him in a few classes, but she didn’t pay him any attention. He didn’t mind. Usually, nobody payed him any attention, especially not girls. The day was boring, as always, and he couldn’t wait for it to end. Finally, the bell rang and he was free. He packed up his things and hurried out of the building. His favorite manga had released a new edition and he couldn’t wait to pick it up.

He passed the same group of friends on his way down the stairs. He stopped, looking back. They were making plans together. His heart ached slightly. Wouldn’t it be nice to meet new people? He berated himself for thinking about such things. Those thoughts always led him downhill. Best not to think about it.

He tried to catch the eye of the girl, Sabishi, but she didn’t seem to notice him, smiling at her friends. At least somebody was happy. He continued down the steps, making his way to his favorite bookstore. Hopefully today wouldn’t be as boring as the others, and he could kick back with his favorite manga an hour from now. Yeah, that sounded fun.

Hitori’s pace slowed while he walked through town. It was a beautiful summer day, but he didn’t seem to notice, his wandering eyes settling mostly on his own shoes. As the minutes ticked by, kids were getting out of school, passing him on bicycles or on foot, calling each other’s names excitedly. Younger children were playing at parks, supervised by parents. Cars went by, carrying important people to important places. He walked alone, to nowhere special. Was he being left behind?

“Hitori-kun!”

He stopped and turned, his grip tightening around the strap of his bag. He felt cemented in place, listening. His eyes were met by nobody. Nobody stood by him.

“You really shouldn’t have, Hitomi-kun,” a young girl spoke nearby, under a tree. She was no older than ten, dressed in a frilly pink skirt. A boy stood nearby, a colorful flower in his hand, outstretched to her. He looked scared, but she accepted his gift with an embarrassed smile. He beamed.

Hitori clutched his head. There was a sudden pain at the back of his skull.

“You really shouldn’t have-”

“I just wanted to wait a bit-”

The pain increased in waves, like a stake was being nailed into his head. He was grasping, like he had forgotten a name. What? What was it? Who?

“You really shouldn’t have-”

“It’s really not that big of a deal-” he muttered through clenched teeth. He didn’t understand why she was upset over something as simple as a chocolate bar. Who was she?

She’d probably get over it. Did he know her?

She’d get over it. Did he love her?

He’d get over it. Who?

“This is my fault. I really shouldn’t have confessed to her. I was being so stupid!”

He looked up into Sabishi’s eyes. It was like she was staring down at him in pity. Was this really what she wanted? He never wanted this. He hated this. He hated it all, hated everything. He hated everyone.

Hitori screamed. The pain was too much. He wanted to die. He stumbled, trying to run. Everything was spinning, but he ran. Faces stared at him. Did he know them?

“I will do anything…” he panted. He couldn’t breathe. “Just please… take it back… Anyone… Please…”

Everything went black. His body was on auto-pilot. His legs slowed like he was underwater. His eyes were dull, but the pain was gone. He couldn’t remember, but the pain was gone. Who?

The door of the bookstore opened. He watched himself head to the ‘new releases’ section and grab the manga, setting it on the counter with a handful of coins. The person at the counter spoke, but he couldn’t hear the words. After a while, the purchase was processed, and he was handed back the small book. Without a word, he turned and left.

Hitori’s legs carried him all the way home like he was on his usual stroll. He reached his neighborhood, his house growing in the distance. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a chocolate bar. He blinked. No, it was a ring with a key on it. He pushed the key into the lock and turned it. The door opened and he entered the house. The door clicked shut behind him.

He unconsciously dropped his bag on the couch, making his way to the stairs. He climbed every step with ease, despite how heavy his body felt. He approached the door to his room. It was shut. He approached slowly, resting his head against the door. He gripped the door handle.

“—We can do this…”

He turned the handle. It clicked. Hitori gently opened the door. “… together…”

Nobody was in front of him. The curtains were drawn across the windows, so the room was dark. On a nearby nightstand were the dim silhouettes of an untouched chocolate bar and a familiar red bow. He flicked on the light. On the nightstand was a small rectangular pamphlet about depression that was handed out at school a while ago, and a wrinkled school uniform jacket that lay in a small heap.

Hitori sat on the edge of his bed. He noticed he was holding a manga. The series name on the cover read, ‘Your Heartbeat.’ How sappy. Wait, this was supposed to be his favorite series. He opened the cover and began to read, his expression blank until he reached the climax. The protagonist made his confession of love to the girl. Nothing could separate them ever again, not time or space. They shared a kiss. He stared at the page.

He stood and approached the door that joined his room to the balcony and unlocked it, slipping outside, manga in hand. The wind licked at his hair. The sky was a violet shade of twilight, stars slowly appearing above. When had the sun set? The light from the summer day was fading, replaced by the quiet night. The moon was beginning to rise, slowly climbing over the horizon.

Hitori stared down at the manga in his hand. Why did he feel so empty? Why did he not feel empty enough? There was a gaping void in his chest, so why couldn’t it just consume him already? What was he missing? What was he not missing? Who?

Some feeling was building in his chest. Emptiness? Grief? Anger? He clenched the manga until his knuckles turned white, the pain at the back of his head increasing again. He was grasping, reaching out for something that didn’t exist with all of his focus. If he could just let go, the pain would go away. But he was scared to let go.

Hitori lifted the manga up and behind his head like he was preparing to pitch a baseball into the sky.

“Everything hurts so much, no matter what I do. I wish I could just disappear!”

He began to throw the book as far away as possible, but time resisted him like he was drowning in a pool of honey. He could feel every muscle as it fired.

It hurt so much. Why couldn’t he just disappear? Why couldn’t she just disappear?

He let go.

The book rose up and up, its pages fluttering in the wind. His hand remained outstretched. Was he reaching? Was he falling? Did it matter? He watched the book fall, whipped around by the wind until he couldn’t tell where it would land. He didn’t care. It disappeared behind the cover of trees and houses. The pain in his head eased, the feelings in his chest releasing. It was gone.

“…Hitori-kun…” the voice that had been echoing in his head over and over again was fading. He closed his eyes. It would all be gone soon. He could forget.

The wind had come to a stop. Everything was quiet. The light had gone out, so why was the luminance of the moon so bright? He opened his eyes.

A beautiful young woman floated nearby, surrounded by a glowing aura like the moon. Her feet were suspended a meter in the air. She was flying.

“Hitori-kun,” she spoke softly. “Who do you love?”

 

Chapter 8

Hitori stood in shock, trying to process who this person was, but he gave up after a few moments. After everything that had happened that day, a floating woman on his balcony didn’t seem so strange, and he was too exhausted to really question it.

She was stunningly gorgeous, reminding him of every person he’d ever thought was beautiful. Her icy-blue dress flowed around her like she was underwater, ribbons circling around her legs in a hypnotic dance. He struggled to remind himself to not stare. She carried a queen-like aura of regality around her that glowed like the moon. Behind her, further in the sky, was the moon itself. Though it had previously been full when it had risen, it was now a hollow ring, like the sun during an eclipse.

He had no idea who this woman was, but anyone who could fly deserved respect. He bowed.

“Please tell me your name, madam.”

She smiled a delicate smile. “I am beyond names, young one, but you may call me Aiki. I am what you may call, the goddess of love. I am the powerful embodiment of everything and everyone you hold dear, and it is my responsibility to ensure that this love, like a flame, never dies.” She slowly descended until she touched the floor of the balcony. He remained unnaturally calm, like he was watching himself in a movie or a bad dream.

“I’ll ask you again, child. Who do you love?” She stared at him encouragingly, like she had asked him to recite the alphabet. His head still hurt and he was exhausted, but her smile was so earnest he decided to humor her. He concentrated. The pain in his skull increased again. There was a girl… His chest felt like it opened up like a fresh wound. What was her name?

He sighed, letting the thoughts and questions away from himself again. The pain subsided. “I… I don’t know. I don’t think there is anybody. And…” He forced himself to look Aiki in the eyes. “I don’t want to. It just hurts too much, to love. But it also hurts to not love…”

Aiki smiled and stepped toward him, raising her hand like she was about to cast some sort of magic spell or smite him. He closed his eyes. She caressed the side of his face like his mother. Her touch was surprisingly warm, unlike a ghost’s. The feeling spread through his whole body. He sharply inhaled, his pupils dilating.

“Sabishi-chan.”

The memories suddenly came back to him like a flood. The day at the café, the night at the theater, the confession, and the death. He felt sick to his stomach again, but he couldn’t let go of these memories for anything. Never again. It was all he had left of her.

“You have my sincere apology, but I did what was best for you.” She stepped back, leaving him to stand in shock, a thousand thoughts going through his head at once. “I withheld some of your memories because they were causing too much suffering. Now—”

“You have the power to give and take memories? Did you also turn back time?” He had found his voice, allowing the questions to flow before his head exploded. “Wait, where’s Sabishi-chan? I need to find her and—”

“Stop,” Aiki commanded forcefully. He had turned so quickly to leave he had to skid to a stop.

“You may have your memories back, but you don’t know the full story yet. We’ve never met, so everything that has happened up until now has remained a mystery to you. Allow me to explain… I was the one who took you back in time, Hitori-kun. I heard your prayers, even if they weren’t very prayer-like. I gave you a second chance. In fact, I gave you hundreds of chances. Do you remember?”

Hitori had assumed those memories were only bad dreams or thoughts. It’s difficult to quickly sort out your memories when they’re handed back to you in such a jumbled mess. But now he understood them more clearly. The knife, the pill bottles, those many times that he had failed and Sabishi had died. Then, himself hanging from a rope. It had all become so hard. It hurt so much.

“Even now,” she continued patiently, like she was addressing a patient who had just awoken from a yearlong coma. “I will continue to withhold most of those memories, from those desperate attempts, for your own benefit. You tried again and again, and every time I granted you another chance because I could feel your love for her, but every time ended the same. The only difference was inside of you, growing and festering. Do you know what it was?”

He numbly shook his head.

“It was despair. You were losing hope, Hitori-kun, and after every attempt it was becoming harder and harder for you to love her. But you kept fighting. Even today, without your memories, you knew something was missing and you pursued your memories so painfully that they came back to you in shredded bits and pieces. You actually impressed me.”

Hitori’s reaction was delayed a few seconds as he realized what the goddess had said.

“Why didn’t you just take my memories away completely? Why didn’t you just ignore me and let me live like I always had? Alone? Why are you showing yourself to me now, when you never uttered a word during those hundreds of failures? I always thought that the universe was giving me another shot, but I had a lot of doubts, like if I was living some sort of Hell. I can’t remember all too well, but it must have been years that I struggled… So why? Why now? And what does this change?”

He wanted to continue with the questions until he got an answer for every last one; he wanted to yell or scream at her for ignoring him for so long, only listening when he requested to suffer more. He deserved an answer. Who was she to appear now like she was his savior? His anger boiled deep inside, but evaporated with one look from the goddess. She looked like she wanted to speak. She deserved a chance to explain herself.

“Gods may have a lot of power, but ultimately, mankind is its own master. You kept your memories because you were stubborn and scared. You were lonely and you wanted an answer. But mostly, you just didn’t want to let go. And now, you’ve let go of everything, including your love for her. You’ve given up. But I have come to bring you hope. You don’t need to give up, Hitori-kun.”

There was only a light breeze, like the goddess had quieted the wind by her presence. Trees seemed to sway in slow-motion. Hitori approached the balcony rail, resting his head on his hands and his elbows on the rail. He was quiet for a full minute.

“You said so yourself; I failed hundreds of times. Our— What we have is wrapped in an enigma. It hurts Sabishi-chan if I love her, and it hurts her if I don’t. And— I don’t know if I can try to live a normal life, knowing she’s out there, hurting so much… And I can’t help her.” Hitori stared the goddess in the eye. “If we can’t be together, it would be better if I lost my memories she ever existed.”

Aiki smiled in a sad way. “So then you understand what I’ve done, and why?”

Hitori nodded. “And I know what you must do now. What I must do. But first, I must know. If we are apart now, maybe for years, will we— If we forget each other, will we ever fall in love again?”

Aiki didn’t answer, almost like she was ashamed. “In all truth, I don’t know. It isn’t within my power to know the future well. Mankind’s actions are always changing things…”

Hitori straightened and faced her, more confident of what he needed to do now than he had ever felt in his whole life. “Aiki-sama. Please… take my memories. I’m not strong enough to remember her.”

The goddess was quiet.

“How I lived today… that’s what I’ll have to do from now on. I don’t care how many years it takes, I’ll wait.” He turned away to face the breeze, allowing it to gently blow into his face. That’s why his eyes were watering. There must have been pollen in the air, stirring up his allergies.

“You should know… I can’t guarantee you will ever find each other again and fall in love, if there ever is a time. That much is up to you two. How you act could change—”

“I trust you, Aiki-sama. There’s nobody else I would trust more. You can find a way.”

She stopped. Her face turned a brighter shade of pink for a few moments. “… I can’t make any promises, but I will try.”

Hitori was quiet. Sabishi was probably only across the street right now, yet she felt like she stood across the planet and a lifetime away from seeing him again. It was better that way.

“Are you ready, Hitori-kun?”

“… Yes…”

“If you aren’t ready to give up your memories of her, you’ll find yourself painfully searching again.”

“… No… This time is different… Now… I have hope…” He smiled at her, trying not to quiver. He was scared of what could happen. He could never see Sabishi again. And it was up to him to change that future, no matter the cost. “… I’m ready…”

Aiki nodded and raised her hand, bringing it closer to his face. He swallowed.

“Also, Aiki-sama,” He said, his voice quiet. “Being the goddess of love, could you… keep me from falling in love with anyone else?”

She smiled like he had handed her a bouquet of flowers. “Your heart’s already a step ahead of me.”

“And one last thing… Could you make sure Sabishi-chan… gets the help she needs? I would give anything—”

“Don’t worry, child. I’m already taking care of it. You’ve given enough. Both of you are pure-hearted; you both have my blessing.”

He let out a breath he’d been holding in. Everything was going to be okay. He was prepared to let go until the time was right, even if it took his whole life. There was no one else except for her.

“Sabishi-chan… I love you... I’m sorry, but I need to let you go for a while… Maybe after some time, we can be together, and then we can spend every day together… I promise… So… I guess in a metaphorical way… I’ll see you tomorrow… Goodbye, Sabishi-chan… I love you…”

“I’m ready,” Hitori spoke, his voice steady. He meant what he said. Aiki placed her hand on his forehead, her warmth spreading through his whole body again. He felt like he was floating. Colors swam before his eyes in a peaceful way, lavender and yellow, turquoise and pink. The shapes took form. There was a chocolate bar, a ribbon, a manga, a movie ticket, a bento box, a volleyball, and more he couldn’t see. There were too many to count, stretching into the distance.

Hitori closed his eyes. He smiled as the tears fell. He was going to happily give it all up, and he would never get those memories back. But maybe, just maybe, they would be together.

Who?

 “I don’t know yet, but maybe I’ll meet her soon.”

 

Chapter 9

Hitori opened his eyes. A nice breeze ruffled the leaves of the trees. New cherry blossoms bloomed in full, covering all of the trees like a canopy overhead. The air was sweet and crisp, with just a hint of dew and a wintry chill. The sun was warm, enticing flower buds to appear on dormant plants. The world was full of excitement and wonder, love and new life. The perfect symbols of springtime.

Hitori anxiously bumped his leg into the bicycle at his side, itching to feel the wind in his face. He swung his leg over the bike and began to pedal, wishing he didn’t have to go to work that day. He would have been content just laying on a new bed of grass, staring into the clouds. But he couldn’t do that to his boss.

He pedaled along the streets as the city began to wake up around him. The crowd of cars began to thicken as workers made the daily commute. Children were walking to school in that familiar uniform he almost missed, in pairs, or groups, or alone.

He stopped the bike at the storefront of the Sakura Café, parking it on the rack. He entered, the bell ringing from above, and made his way to the backroom.

“Good morning Koji-sama,” he said with a smile, unhooking an apron that hung from one wall. His manager was looking over a stack of papers.

“Morning, Hitori-san.” He looked up. “How have you been?”

Hitori grabbed a broom. “Same as always, I suppose… It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”

Koji seemed deep in thought, scanning the papers and scratching his salt-and-pepper beard. He looked up at the storefront’s windows. Clouds lazily moved along in the distance. “It is, isn’t it? It’s a good day to spend with family or friends…”

The bell rang and two men that Hitori knew to be the chefs entered. They exchanged brief greetings before disappearing into the back room to prepare for the breakfast crowd.

Hitori lifted and flipped chairs from the tops of the tables, setting them on the tiled floor around the tables. “… Oh, I forgot to ask, how’ve you been, boss? You seem pretty concerned about what you’re reading, there. Something wrong?”

Koji smiled. “No, no, but thanks for your concern, kid. I’m just going over the budget, and our staffing schedule, and comparing it to some renovation ideas I’ve had to— uh…” He looked up. “Well I don’t want to bother you with all that complicated stuff. But you should know we’re actually doing alright. In fact… maybe you should take the day off.”

Hitori caught himself staring out the windows as people passed by. “Huh?”

“Well, it’s just such a nice day, and you’ve been working real hard lately. You deserve some time with your friends.” He paused before continuing with a chuckle, rubbing the back of his neck. “And… well, I just realized I may have overstaffed today.”

The bell rang and a woman stepped inside. She waved.

“Hey, Hitori-san!” She bowed to the boss and excused herself to grab an apron from the back. The boss checked his watch. He flipped a big sign on one of the windows so that it read, ‘Open.’

“If it’s alright with you sir, I’d like to stay at work.” Hitori smiled. Everyone he knew was present in the building he had come to call his second home. If he left, he’d probably be idle all day.

“You’re sure?” Koji raised an eyebrow. “I don’t have a problem with you staying, but isn’t there anything else you’d rather do today? Anybody else you’d rather be with?”

Hitori smiled to himself. “… No. I’m glad, just like this.”

 

 

 

The lunch rush was busier than usual, so Hitori was glad the boss had called in an extra server. He carried dishes out, took orders, and bussed dirty dishes back to the kitchen in a blur.

“Your apron’s on backwards, Reina-san,” he teased as he passed her. She looked down to check, and Hitori laughed aloud. “Did you believe me?”

“Not for a moment,” she smiled. “I just wanted to make sure.”

Hitori carried a tray of drinks to a table of young teenagers, setting coffee and tea on the table. The group of friends were a bit louder than the other customers, but he didn’t mind. They looked like they were having the time of their lives. He smiled to himself.

The bell over the door rang. Reina did her best to motion for him to take care of the new customer, but it was hard while carrying a handful of dishes back to the kitchen. Hitori gave her a thumbs-up and turned to the door.

“Good morning! Welcome to the Sakura —” His voice stopped. His heart stopped. His breathing stopped. His deep brown eyes lit up like a firework.

A beautiful young woman about his age stood in the doorway apprehensively, like she felt out of place, or lost. Then she saw him, and she smiled in a familiar way. The whole building became brighter. She was dressed in a plain pink V-neck and capris pants. Her hair was pinned up and interlaced with an almost familiar thin red ribbon. She wore no makeup, but she didn’t need any.

“Sorry I’m late, you really shouldn’t have waited for me… Were you waiting for a long time? I’m so—”

“No, it’s fine, you don’t have to apologize. I just wanted to wait a bit just in case.”

Hitori knew he was staring, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away. She found a table and took a seat, glancing over the menu without paying much attention to him. Hitori found the strength to move, quickly retreating to the kitchen.

“Reina-san! Could you please take over table four?”

She raised an eyebrow at him, peeking out of the doorway at table four. A beautiful young woman sat alone. Reina looked back at Hitori and giggled.

“No way, you aren’t letting this one get away,” she grabbed his shoulders and pushed him out of the kitchen. “Go talk to her!”

He struggled, stammering about how he at least needed to fix his hair first, then he was back in the front room. Reina smiled and gave him a thumbs-up from the kitchen. He sighed and slowly approached the table, clearing his throat. Why was his heart racing so fast?

“H-have you decided on an order, Miss?”

“It all looks so good, I can’t decide.” She looked up, catching his eye. “I’ve never been here before. Do you have any recommendations?”

Hitori tugged at the collar of his shirt. “I prefer the bento box if I’m hungry, but green tea helps me think and calms my nerves.”

She nodded and ordered a green tea, allowing him to escape to the kitchen once again. He let out the breath he was holding in. Reina bounced up and down excitedly. The chefs smirked at him expectantly, but were quiet as always.

“You told them too?” he complained. Soon the boss would know, and then all of the other customers.

“How did it go?” Reina asked, ignoring his question.

He shrugged. “She ordered a green tea.”

The chefs let out a quiet groan and went back to their cooking, as if they were expecting him to ask her out on a date within seconds. Reina concentrated as she poured hot green tea into a large mug with a cartoonish picture of a cherry blossom printed on the front.

“Say she looks familiar. Usually they’ll tell you what hobbies they have, like if they spend a lot of time at the library or something. Then, you can find something you have in common!”

“That’s the thing,” Hitori explained. “She does look familiar. I don’t know from where but I just feel like I know her.”

“Good, that’ll make it more convincing. Now go! I’ll handle the other tables.” She shoved the tea into his hands and before he knew it, he was back out in the main room. Great. She wasn’t giving him much time to think. Then again, he wouldn’t have the chance to overthink things. He approached the table, setting the drink in front of her.

She thanked him, which was his cue to leave. But he couldn’t move. She poured honey into the mug, stirring it with a spoon. He idly watched it spin, just like his head. Why was she so familiar? And why was he so scared to talk to her? She took a tentative sip and looked up at him. She stared into his eyes and smiled like he was acting silly.

He slightly bowed and turned to leave. Every muscle inside of him protested, like he was pushing against a brick wall.

“Be firm. She’s probably going through a lot. You should be there for her,” a strong, feminine voice urged him. He clutched his head. Something was missing, something he hadn’t realized he had missed until he had found it again.

“When it comes to expressing your love, you must be willing to completely open up to your lover, exposing your vulnerabilities and showing even the deepest reaches of your heart...” a shy voice explained in an unusually confident manner. He continued walking back to the kitchen. Reina motioned for him to stop, but he was so stuck in his head he didn’t notice. He felt like he was watching himself in a film. Hitori stopped.

“Just trust your gut and let your body move for you! You’ll know what to do!” a fun and reliable voice cheered him on. Where had he heard all of these words? From a book? He turned and took a few steps back to table four.

“Excuse me, Miss —” he began, forgetting how to form a sentence.

“If you want to say something, say it. Don’t be a baby!” a girl’s tomboyish voice stated like it was a fact of the universe. Hitori swallowed hard.

“—do we know each other?”

The young woman stared at him, setting down her tea mug. Outside, a nice breeze ruffled the leaves of the trees. He could almost picture himself walking side by side with a cheerful girl. But that had never happened. He never walked to school with anyone.

Who?

“Sabishi-chan?”

She stared back. Her bright blue eyes lit up in recognition. He could almost feel himself float with elation as he suddenly remembered the girl from his high-school, which seemed like so many years ago. He felt like he had just awoken from a long dream.

“Hitori-kun!” a familiar voice called his name.

 

Written by Z.K. Anderson


Submitted: July 10, 2021

© Copyright 2023 Z.K. Anderson. All rights reserved.

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Pink Wish

well written emotional story

Tue, July 20th, 2021 11:34am

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