Under the Shade
He was a curious child. Everyday, he'd notice the brunette standing under that specific tree. Whether it was raining. Whether it was scorching hot. Whether the snow was biting. Without fail, that man would always be there.
He'd always wanted to talk to him but he never got the chance. Until that day unexpectedly came.
"Eh...Chii-chan...it's not really good to talk to strangers you know?" a little girl mumbled, clutching her hello kitty back pack. "You'll get scolded!"
"Shut up ugly!" the boy hissed, not minding the girl. "If you're too chicken, then go home! I'm doing this for our interview project!"
The little girl who looked so pretty already in her age, portraying the features she'd be really known in the future scowled. "What a meanie! Our teacher told us to interview interesting people we know! Not a seemingly odd person!"
"Leave me alone ugly! Go back to your girly friends and stop following me!"
The girl stopped walking altogether. Clenching her fists, she drew a deep breath.
"BAKAAAAAAAAAA!" she roared.
The boy ignored his classmate and went on walking towards that majestic tree. It was always a mystery to him how that man looked eerie yet beautiful under it. The green leaves of the summer trees couldn't even rival that of the mysterious man's.
Almost about tripping, the boy was able to hold himself up. Smiling awkwardly as the man he was always curious about was finally just two feet away from him. Then he bowed.
"K-konnichi ha!" the boy repeated, thinking the man hadn't heard him. Instead, the green-eyed man nodded to the direction the girl disappeared to.
"Should you really not be running after her?" the soft voice asked, sounding almost amused. "She'd never marry you now if you ask her in the future."
"Ha?" the boy frowned. "Who'd want to marry that ugly!?"
A slight smile became visible on the man's thin lips. His relaxed posture making him more and more intriguing for the boy.
"Uhm...Nii-san...can I ask for your help for my homework?"
A little surprised, the man looked down at the kid. Scrutinizing the boy's flushed cheeks and eager eyes, the man knelt on one knee to meet the boy on eye level.
"Yes!" the boy excitedly nodded. He shuffled into his bag and pulled a notepad. "It's about asking an adult what their turning point is and then we predict our own future twenty years from now!"
The man stared at the notebook and the boy alternately.
"Why me?" the man asked.
Looking up the bright afternoon skies as if thinking, the boy then grinned innocently. "Because you're mysterious Nii-san!"
"You're always standing under this tree...looking at me...I even thought at first you might be a ghost!"
The green eyes widened a bit. His expression somehow odd. But then after a few seconds, he ended up smiling and then patted the soft grass beside him lightly.
"Sit and we'll see how I can help you with that homework."
Excitedly, the boy sat beside the 'mysterious guy'. He could even smell a sweet fragrance. A smell of freshness. Relaxing and a little intoxicating.
"So what do you want to ask me?" the man asked, his eyes looking at the neighborhood before them. "I'll try to answer as interestingly as possible."
Almost clumsily, the boy took out his pencil and a car eraser. He then fixed his eyes at the brown hair which was slightly swaying with the summer breeze. More and more he was starting to get drawn even more.
"Err...the topic I picked up is about regrets...so..." the kid's voice started getting softer and softer. At a young age, he knew that asking someone a question like this was very evasive. But there was no way he'd back down now. "Do you regret anything in your life?"
Caught a little off guard, the brunette bit his bottom lip. How can elementary pupils be asked to write something about regrets at such a young age?
"Regrets huh?" the brunette repeated, pulling on his knees to his chest. It made him look more like a child instead of the one beside him. "I guess all have one or two of them..."
"Hmmm..." the man forced a laugh. However, after the cheery voice out of his lips came the silence. A silence which the dancing of the leaves of the trees around them made all the more prominent. "I guess...that would be me running away."
"Right..." the man sighed. "That would be the greatest regret I could think of."
The boy, who was supposed to write the man's answers down, just remained as fixedly staring at the brunette.
"Why...did you run away?"
"Because I got too scared."
The huge eyes of the boy slowly motioned from the pretty brown hair down to the blank notebook he was holding.
"I thought...adults are more courageous than kids?"
"Haha...actually...I think it's the opposite. When I was a kid, I was ready risking all. But when I became an adult, I turned into an instant coward."
Flipping through the pages of his notebook, the boy finally shut it close. "Would you like to turn back time?"
The man was silent. He was for such a long time. As if he had gone into his own world and totally forgetting the kid beside him. Being worried already not to mention impatient, the kid tried to look closer at the man's profile. Yet had to back away at what he saw.
"N-niisan?" the boy called. "Why...are you crying?"
"I wish I could. I wish someone warned me...that the choices I was making back then would make me this..." the man bowed his head, hiding into the comforts of his knees. "...this miserable..."
Alarmed and at a loss of what to do, the boy simply placed a hand on the older one's shaking shoulder. It was his first time seeing an adult crying. And knowing it might probably even be his fault, the kid could only pat the other innocently.
"I'm going to live my life regretting and bearing that person's grudge..."
"..." the boy kept on patting the adult comfortingly. A role totally in reverse. "If that person is angry, why can't you just say sorry, be friends and be happy?"
The brunette laughed. Such was the innocence and simplicity of children that it was a amazing.
"I can't...it's too late."
"I'd never be able to stay by that person's side no matter how many sorries I say..."
"It's just how it is. If I turn up...I'd just make things more complicated."
The boy patted the older one a little too harder this time. It made the other lift his gaze from his knees.
"Nii-san! If you apologize sincerely, that person would surely forgive you!"
A pained smile became visible on those red lips. "You think so?"
"Hmmm! I don't think any person would hate you for so long!"
"If only it's easy..."
Exasperatedly, the boy squeezed the other's shoulder tight. His eyes serious. His expression stern.
"Is this why you're just always under this tree nii-san?" the boy asked. "Are you by any chance...actually waiting for that person?"
The green eyes looked away. This kid nailed it that it was so embarrasing.
"Are you afraid you'd get hit if you come face to face?" the boy continued, his face becoming even more serious. "Then I'd be your protector!"
The older man could not help but really smile at that. From the deepest parts of his heart he was grateful for this innocent soul.
"Call me anytime...just call 'Chii-chan' and I'll fly straight at you!" the boy declared. " I have super powers you know? No one believes me though..."
Feeling the comforting hand on his shoulder, the older one took the small hand in his and squeezed it gently. "I believe you."
That power of the boy to somehow lighten his heavy heart was a miracle in itself.
"'Chii-chan'?" the brunette repeated as he wiped the embarrassing traces of wetness on his cheeks. "What a cute name..."
"Ha?" the boy scowled. "I don't particularly like it but I'm used to it already so..."
"It's cute," the older nodded as he said so. "Your mom gave it to you?"
"No," the boy begrudgingly mumbled. "My dad gave me my name and it's not 'Chii'. Said it's after his beloved's name."
The brunette looked away. His smile coldly plastered on his face. "Heh...you've got a nice family...after your mom's probably..."
"Hmm...I don't know," the boy replied, kicking the dried leaves before him. "Dad named me 'Ritsu'. My mom's name isn't Ritsu."
Silent the two were, as if both were thinking something deep. Yet when the boy was ready removing his hand off the man's shoulder, he had to stare again.
"Nii-san...you're a cry-baby..."
"Can I hug you?" the brunette asked. "Just a little..."
The boy stared at the flushed face. Listened to the almost pleading voice the other gave. Watched the green eyes grow redness in them.
And not saying anything, or agreeing to anything, the boy opened up his small arms and wrapped them around the older one.
The little one hugged the brunette. The only ever man the boy hugged other than his own father.
"There...there...I don't know but it seemed like it's me who made you cry...so hug me all you want..."
A laughter escaped the older's lips, yet it was so obvious in the trembling that he was still crying for whatever reason. And the boy could only stare at the tree branches, as the brunette's arms clung to him as if he was something precious.
"Nii-san...you smell good."
The brunette laughed again. He laughed and cried and cried and laughed while hugging the little one tight.
"Oi...brat, where are you going?" the sharp voice asked. "Don't just take off without telling me."
Standing by the genkan, the boy stuck his tongue out before turning back to tying his shoe laces.
"I'm going on a date!"
The man frowned. He walked behind his brat and smacked the little one's head. "Date? You're a million years early to date."
"Come on...it's not the lusty kind of date!"
"Remember the guy who's always watching us when you bring me to the park to play?" the kid glanced up. His neck hurt. He wondered if he'd grow as tall as his dad in the future. "I finally talked to him yesterday. He's helping me with my homework. You know about that 'regret' thing."
"Haaa?" the dark-haired man scowled even more. "Haven't I told you don't talk to strangers?"
The boy finished tying his laces. He stood proudly before his father with his hands on his hips.
"He's not a stranger!" the boy declared. "He's a friend!"
"You just talked to him yesterday. Acting all best-friend and shit already?"
"I like him."
The father couldn't believe what he was hearing from his brat's mouth that he knelt on one knee, grabbed the kid on both shoulders and locked gazes with him. Hazel eyes to hazel eyes, both stubborn.
"You have any idea what you're spouting brat?"
"What?" the kid asked nonchalantly. "Instead of teaching your kid to believe in 'trust' you teach us to distrust people instead."
Sighing, the older man shook his head. He couldn't really place whether having his son to be this too much open and knowledgeable of most things a blessing or a burden.
A merry laughter added to the father and son banter. A pretty woman wearing a frilly apron appeared from one of the doors in the hallway.
"You two...you never get along with each other huh? Always quarreling all the time."
The boy smacked his dad's hands away and pedaled backwards to the door. "Because dad is an idiot."
"Huuuh?" the man smiled though his eyes weren't. "What's that again?"
The boy suddenly beamed, looking at the ceiling as if he just remembered something amusing. "Oh...come to think of it...that guy was weird."
"He cried when I told him my name."
"I said, 'dad named me Ritsu after his beloved's name and then he just cried," the boy grinned. "I've never seen an adult cry-baby. He's funny."
"Ritsu," the woman called. "Don't call an adult a cry-baby. That's rude."
"But Mom, aren't you bothered? Dad named me 'Ritsu after his beloved', your name is different though..."
The woman smiled. "I know. He told me about that."
Seeing the change in his father's face, the boy peered closer. "Dad?"
The older man stood and ran his huge hand over his son's head once. "I'll walk you to the park."
"What?" the boy complained. "What you think I'm six?!"
"You're six, stupid."
He was standing with his back against the tree trunk. He promised to meet that little boy at this time yesterday but it's been fifteen minutes since the agreed time. He was starting to get anxious over what could be the reason for the boy being late. From all the watching he did from afar, he was sure at four-thirty was the kid's playtime in this park.
He sighed. Since it was a Saturday, there were more kids than usual. They were playing in the sand-box, in the swing and some were pretending they were ninjas as they dangled from the monkey bars.
Considering his distance from the playground, their laughter felt so far away. There was something calming in it though.
"He's late..." he mumbled.
The brunette's ears perked up from the breaking of twigs he could hear. They were coming nearer. Coming closer. Just as he was about to turn and look, something struck him as odd. The sound of those footsteps was way too loud for a small kid to produce.
He was nailed on his spot, glued and unable to move at the next thing he heard.
"Heard you're helping my son with his homework."
The brunette stood stiffly. The dark-haired man standing too on the other side of the tree. The barrier was only that trunk. A small distance to consider yet no one dared to cross over it or look to the other side.
"I-it...just happened that way..." the brunette replied softly.
A silence worth a trillion meanings ensued. As if a hole opened up and sucked all kid's voices and the sounds all around them. Only their breathing, and probably their heartbeats reigning.
"You disappeared for eight years. Have you been well?" asked the deep voice.
"I guess I'm alright..."
"That's good to hear."
The brunette looked up, the shades of the leaves playing before his eyes. "You seem to have a happy family life..."
"Yeah I have. Caring wife. Stupid son."
A laugh which was obviously forced came next. It came from the brunette. It died down eventually and what was left was another thick silence.
"Are you...angry at me senpai?"
"Angry...yeah. I was. Not anymore."
The dark-haired man kicked a stone before him and watched it roll away. Glared at it even when it stopped.
"Your father was old and ill that time...he'd flip if you chose me over your dad's company. I've already forgotten about it."
"It's weird isn't it?" the dark-haired man continued. "I just got used to the thought of not being able to be with you and everything...seemed to fall perfectly to make up for the pain I felt that time."
The sound of dried leaves being stepped on came into their ears. The dark-haired man was about to walk away.
"Ritsu...go find your happiness too..."
"Also..." stopping on his tracks, he could already see the happy expression of his child running towards their direction. "I still love you. It's never gonna change."
A muffled sob escaped the other's lips.
"I..." the brunette wiped his face with his hands and drew a deep breath. "I...love you too...senpai...I'm sorry for giving up on us...I'm really sorry..."
The sound of the brunette's breakdown caused the other to slightly turn to his back. He could see the silhouette of his beloved, his shadow, feel his trembling from the other side of the tree. But he made no move to touch or approach him.
There was an invisible line they knew not to cross for the sake of the people around them.
"Don't cry Ritsu..."
Looking up, the taller man sighed. "It's probably still hard for us to look at each other...but I wish...there comes a time that we'd be able to smile towards one another when we pass by..."
The brunette kept on nodding as if agreeing. Although his heart was really deeply bleeding.
"Eh?" the young boy was surprised as he walked around his new friend's favorite tree. "Where'd he go?"
The father kept on looking up as if hiding away.
"Oi...dad! You were just talking to him earlier...where'd he go?"
"He's...he said you two could meet tomorrow. He needed to go home early today..."
Obviously disappointed, the kid tugged at his dad's hand. He kept on doing it to pester his father, yet when the man looked at him, the boy had to pause.
"Dad...why...are you crying?"
"Nothing..." the man said, pushing himself to smile. "...nothing..."
Onodera Ritsu, CEO of a publishing company. Takano Masamune, a known editor, married to a fine woman with an intelligent child. Both still love each other. A fact that would never cease. One that started as a fairytale.
Yet not all fairytales have happy endings.
Blessed are those who end up with each other.
And still, blessed are those who were able to make good memories to go by.
Chapter end notes:
it's a one shot i managed to sneak in during lectures. i'm still busy as hell with school and stuff...but thanks for your time if you read this! XD