Summary: Coincidence; that's all it was, really. They just ran into one another every here and then, until meeting up became more than accidental. Falling in love was just a chance that happened.
Rating: T (later portions of the story may not be suitable for the sensitive)
Characters: Hikigaya Hachiman, Yukinoshita Haruno
Tags: gen, slice of life, romance, drama, pseudo-tragedy, maturation and personal growth
Disclaimer: Characters are property of Watari Wataru
The first time they met was definitely unplanned. But it wasn't a bad meeting, nonetheless, even though neither remembered so.
He was on his way to Soubu High; she was on her way from.
I wish today meant something, she thought. Special is the word she wanted to use. But special was so boring to her. She was special. She wasn't something, though.
Her legs carried her down the streets of Chiba, having decided to take a walk in her lonesome. It wasn't because the day was particularly good, but she felt like it was a good day to enjoy the light rain, despite her parents being concerned about her health in such cold weather. She called them and forcibly pressed her tone so that she brooked no arguments. Please, she said.
Her father conceded.
She sighed in relief as she let herself be carried by her whims and walked with a slow step, watching how the drips danced against the stretch of Chiba. How simple they had it. Nature was beautiful, and it was an ordered chaos of instincts and cycles, only without a lot of the meditation and forethought. A shiver went down her spine as the air seemed a little colder than before; to her, that meant that she had to get home earlier than she wanted. Pity.
Still, she decided that some more time outside couldn't hurt. She saw her breath in front of her; cold, white, wispy. It was fleeting. It was free, and, unfortunately, it meant that she had to hurry home.
A second sigh forced another surge of mist to fill the air and she frowned. Her mind turned was always moving, it seemed, so that even when there was so much around her, she was thinking about the next thing she should have been doing. Why was everything so boring? Why wasn't there anything more than going to school, doing well, please people, socialize, learn about laws and business, and catching up on all the latest trends? Repeating the same old things made her frustrated.
She looked around as passed by a park and thought of how fun it must be for children who were allowed to play there, particularly when they were children. Instead, she was held in the confines of a house large enough, relatively speaking, to have been considered close to mansion-sized (though, given her experiences, it was rather far from it) in Chiba. There were toys and games indoor, she was told back then.
Toys being her parents' associates and their children. Games were only fun if she won, her father once said. So make sure you win.
God, she muttered. What am I doing here?
She didn't feel like any other girl she knew graduating from Soubu. Not that they would, or rather, could, understand, she mused. It was just the luck of the draw that made their lives the way they were; and that was that. Of course, she knew a lot about them, while they knew little about her. She knew all their petty insecurities, their laughter behind her back, their envies and desires.
Her biggest envy was having a normal relationship with the people around her. Or having any relationships at all; the bridges built around her were either hanging by threads, burnt, or ever the illusion.
Over time, she questioned whether or not relationships were even real.
Once, she asked her mother what her purpose was. Why she was born into the world. What was she was supposed to do. What she could do.
She never smiled at her mother again.
Being born into the world as she was, she was 'never less than perfect,' a family friend once told her. How silly he was. More naive than stupid, considering he was only ten, but the effect was the same; there was something about her that shattered after that. A sense of loss; but of what, she could never figure out.
Why was every single day the same? Why was it so boring, she repeated. Those thoughts haunted her often enough that she had to practice smiling in the face of a mirror in order to maintain the facade; honestly, it was getting harder and harder to do as time went on, despite what she was told: 'if you believe the lie, eventually, you can make the lie a truth.'
She was distracted by her thoughts and was woken up by the realization that she stumbled backwards; before she could fall down though, a hand grabbed her and the person she ran into, presumably, hugged her close and kept her steady until she regained balance. She blinked and clutched her umbrella a little tighter. That was close, she told herself.
"Sorry about that… I didn't mean to - I mean I should have been more careful. Are you alright?" The voice was gruff but softer than it should have been. It was a young voice, she thought absently. A moment passed before she remembered she was pressed against this him. She flushed when she realized her head was cradled against his shoulders and pried herself free.
He was a bit tall for his age, she guessed. Not the most athletic height, but still one suited for sports and she supposed he still had a lot of time to grow. His frame was lithe, but judging from the impact, he did have at least a little muscle on him. That, or his coat was a wall of padding.
A tint of red dusted her cheeks as she responded, "Y-yes." The other person only smiled at her and told her with a laugh that he would try to be careful if he ever ran into her again. That was good, he said. She stepped away but kept her eyes trained on him, hoping to get a better glimpse. During the entire time, she couldn't help but stare at his face and etched his jaw into her memory, traced the way his locks fell down on his head, matted by the weight of the drizzle. She drank in his sharp nose but was sucked in by the way his eyes looked.
They're pretty, she thought. There was something in them that she hadn't seen before. And she, like any other teenager, was a curious person.
However, her thoughts were interrupted by him telling her that he had to go because he was going to Soubu High to visit the school check out the campus; he didn't bother to wait for a reply as he moved forward. She stared at his fleeting form and blinked.
I wonder if he's a student, or if he's just scouting. She sighed as she shook her head and continued on home. It didn't matter anyway; this was just a random encounter, really. The likelihood of them meeting again wasn't very high, especially considering she was leaving the school.
Greener pastures were ahead of her, she thought sarcastically. Though, she supposed, there was one thing about that meeting that stayed in her mind.
Maybe I can smile like him one day.
She was an odd one out, in more than just looks.
It didn't just come from her intelligence or cunning, either. Her hobbies were things she kept private, even though she had spent quite a large amount of time socializing and meeting up with others over the years. That was why very few people ever knew that she loved to read more than her sister.
And all of it started with an accidental visit to a local library when one of her parents was digging up ideas for a project (she honestly couldn't remember, or care, what for).
It was strange because she was always up-to-date with fashion and trends, and even made sure to look the part. But this was her sanctuary; a place that, she hoped, would embody her desire to one day defy expectations and find peace in both solitude and through words. The library was old. An antique, really. But it was one of her favorite places to be, to the surprise of many, many people, and she spent most of the time outside her house in this particular place (or the bookstore).
When it came into view, she sped up and entered, greeting the front desk as she always did, along with a cheery smile. What to read today, she wondered absently. What to read. She went around the different aisles as she normally did, simply passing by and looking for any title or author that caught her eye. It wasn't the best way to go about looking for interesting reads, but she felt that it was an interesting way to express her freedom - to just go and explore without care or premeditation, to sit back, relax, and enjoy the fact that there were the good and bad ones as she went around.
In fact, she couldn't count how many days she sat down in a rather random rank in the library and pulled out books she'd never even heard of before, scanning their prologues and endings to see if she wanted to continue reading. It was a calming feel in a way that she couldn't claim was cathartic or non stressful. She supposed it was a way to escape but feel good about her use of time.
Memories were built like walls; this was her castle, and she was queen. Rows upon rows of defenses, all ready at hand. The amount of comfort this place gave her was a bit frightening, and she realized that, in spite of having such an arbitrary, possibly pointless, attachment, it gave her warmth.
Perhaps, she thought, this was just another thing I needed to understand about other people - they treasure things, don't they? She stopped by a section labeled 'Foreign Classics' and picked up two books. Only one of them would join her; and in the end, one of Dumas' works had to remain at rest, whence it came. Ironically, while most people found other people difficult to deal with, some of her bigger struggles in life came from debating on which book would join her.
Honestly, she felt exasperated at the idea. After all, while people were constantly changing, they were much quicker to do business with - books required hours, something she did not often have. The quiet of the library soothed her as she went to find a place to sit.
She made her way through to her favorite corner and was suitably surprised to see that it wasn't empty. Someone else hunched up in it, and he looked like he was in his own world. He was also vaguely familiar, but she couldn't remember where she saw that face.
As she looked at how in his element he seemed, she wondered if that was 'his' corner, too. It was her favorite for a reason, namely because of its cozy feel and secluded nature but it wasn't a special corner with bean-bags or couches or anything of that sort, though. It was really just a corner of two old, intersected walls of brick and wood, a space filled with long hours of self-employed study in arbitrary reading and personal comfort.
She supposed she shouldn't have been surprised that someone else would eventually think the same.
He didn't even hear her as she walked up to him, too busy being engrossed by a foreign title. Infinite Jest, she could barely make out from the angle of the cover and the spine. His knees were held up and he nestled the book upon its perch, treating it with a care that left him to his own world. Her hands waved at him and she smiled from her distance. No response. She supposed he was too comfortable; he had a backpack laid to his left and was resting against a rather comfortable looking pillow - it had to have been his own; was he a regular here? - while enjoying himself.
If she was being entirely honest, it was kind of (read:rather) cute. Not that she would voice that opinion, but a small giggle would suffice.
"Hi there," she said as she crouched down in front of him, forcing them to meet eye-to-eye. His ears twitched first, as if just registering that something had entered his domain. His face shifted upwards a little and he blinked. His eyes widened as she saw him take in the sight (her) before him and she swore he blushed, but he was strangely calm and oddly disinterested for someone who found her attractive. He simply avoided her by looking back down at his book and muttered a hello back at her.
A novel experience for her, and it was actually not offensive. Though it was a bit refreshing, it was more or less just an oddity about him than her, she supposed. She wasn't often ignored, but it usually happened when her sister was involved.
"What're you doing here?" She tried again, adding a smile to go along with it as she sat down next to him, forcing him to turn towards her. He sighed, as if she was an annoyance; a humbling thought, but also welcome nonetheless. He gave her a look, which seemed to convey 'I'm busy,' and then returned to his diligence.
Wow, she thought. While his actions were somewhat rude, at least he wasn't fronting to make small-talk. He didn't even pretend he was interested in her. It made her feel a little more human, and more a young girl than another link in the chain of her family name.
He continued to ignore her for a while and opted to read in the silence. Well, she pouted, two can play at that game. She pulled out her own book and made herself comfortable by using his backpack as her own wall-cushion. He didn't comment, so she assumed it was okay.
A good half hour passed before he spoke to her. "That's a good book you have in your hands, you know?" His voice was deep, but not heavy. In fact, he was soft-spoken but because of the timbre of his voice, the whisper seemed rather husky.
She hummed in response. She didn't actually think it was that interesting, but she wanted to hear what he had to say first. She poked him, and it seemed he understood that she meant for him to go on. "It's one of my favorite books of all time, even though it's not the greatest thing out there."
Oh? Curiosity got the better of her and her mouth moved before she could come up with a more in-depth question.
"Why's that?" The Decameron was a classic, but it was by no means comparable to her love for other authors like Shakespeare (namely King Lear and the Winter's Tale) or Lovecraft. It had a charm to it, she could admit, mostly because she felt she could peruse through sections of the stories and take a lot of breaks while reading it. But she missed the epic-length adventure sort of feel that could only be carried out by continuous works.
"Because it reflects Dante's trilogy," he said laughingly. The way he looked at her as he said that made her cheeks feel warm. He sounded so childlike. So fresh. "I'm kidding, actually. How should I put this… It's because I like how it's a mixture of pieces that describe humans, but it's also strange, powerful, really, to realize that a lot of the stories provide similar feelings, contexts, and decisions. It makes humans seem so much more alive.
"In some ways, I find that it's a bit more vivid a picture of society than most people like to admit. Do people want to acknowledge it, though? Regardless, it is nonetheless true. We cheat. We lie. We steal. We regularly plot against one another and we also deceive ourselves quite a lot, too."
"But," she countered brightly, a small smile lingering on her face as she spoke, threatening to stretch into a full-fledged grin, "don't you think that those fragments are less powerful than they could be if it were a full-length vision like an epic? I agree with what you're saying - I see the points you're trying to make, but I don't see how powerful they are because of how short each story is."
He smirked at her. "That's probably because you're looking more for in-depth plot or more character exploration; not unexpected, particularly of contemporary readers. While I admit that's somewhat of a glaring weakness for us today, that's not exactly the purpose of The Decameron. Sometimes," he admitted, "I think that that's the point itself. Not all things in life are 'grande sized.' They don't have to be. Look at this conversation here; we've barely been talking, but I'd rather this than have spent the last three hours with you making idle chatter, no?"
Ah. He had her there, she supposed. A smile was still on her face after he finished his rebuttal. "Alright," she said. "Alright. So, now that we're talking; wanna answer my earlier question? It's a nice day outside, but you're spending it in here, you know."
"So are you." She stuck her tongue out. "I'm here for the same reason you are, so it seems," he glanced over her, analyzing her, she felt. Then she followed his eyes, which had dropped over to her book. Oh, she realized. "I'm here to get away from a lot of things; this corner was something I happened to stumble upon today. My usual is being taken up by some kids and I didn't want to ask children to leave just so I could feel comfortable. It's relaxing here," he offered. "But I guess I also came here today for a more specific reason.
"I'm actually waiting for them to open up the weekly book sale; I don't know if you know about it, but," he frowned, "books aren't that popular nowadays, and a lot of old ones or less popular ones are removed from the shelves and put out for cheap near the front desk."
"Oh yeah, I love those. I used to go to them all the time as a kid, but now, not so much. What are you looking for in particular?" She could tell by his earlier explanation that he enjoyed books just as much as she did and was curious about what he was interested in buying. She wondered if he had his own library at home; she certainly did.
"To be honest, I have no clue what I want to buy. Well, any books I get wouldn't actually be for me but an… acquaintance of mine, I guess. I might look for something for myself, too, but I'm mostly looking for a gift first." Her immediate expression must have been one of shock, because he looked rather sheepish as he scratched a cheek. Despite how brief their encounter was, she realized that, to him, books were important so she figured that it must have been a thought-filled gift. Lucky, she thought of the recipient.
"That's nice," she said. He smiled at her and said that he was probably going to stay here for a while, at least until he was sure the sale was going on. Then he nervously told her she could sit with him if she wanted, to which she simply grinned and turned her attention back to her book.
Eventually, the time came and she shut her book, excitedly calling on him. "Come on, let's go," she grabbed his hand, which caused him to yelp, and they walked down the aisles together. Well, more or less she walked, he followed - involuntarily. But, she thought, judging by the way he was reacting… He flushed from simple contact; she felt he had little experience with women. It occurred to her that he really must have been young and sheltered, at least considering the day and age. A giggle escaped her lips as she took him and forced him to follow along.
It was fun, she realized.
At some point, he wondered how he got into this mess. But, strangely enough, he didn't hate it.
In fact, he might go as far as to say that her presence was pleasant. While unwarranted, she did very little to antagonize him and gave him equally little reason to dislike her. Perhaps, he thought, there was hope yet. He felt that he might be able to get along with her, another thing that was not just odd but also important.
He had never dealt with strangers very well. People often misunderstood him, both for his eyes and from his attitude, even though he scarcely spoke, much less looked at their way. But this girl in front of him was so confidently casual around him.
The way she felt to him was like the one-eyed man leading the army of the blind; only she actually did so, at least it appeared that way. It wasn't as if he felt an instant connection with her or thought of her in awe, but there was just something about her that drew his gaze towards her.
A feeling that, if he could describe it, was best summed up as 'I can't miss what she's going to do next.'
Even though he barely knew her, he felt that level of compulsion and excitement; she just had that effect, he supposed. However, speaking of being strangers… "Wait," he said, and she stopped. "We've been going around for a while and we've been talking, but I don't know what to call you. What's your name?"
He thought he felt a flush come on for forgetting his manners, but it never actually arrived. It was as if something inside him felt relaxed at the situation. Relaxed, with her? It was one thing to realize that she wasn't unpleasant; it was another to accept her.
Before he could sink into his thoughts any further, she actually responded.
"Hmm…" She turned towards him, stepped closer, and laughed again. He couldn't protest or speak up as she pushed a finger to his lips. "Don't worry about the small things. Well, for now you can call me Onee-san, I suppose."
She smiled at him and for some reason that made everything okay.
The empty sounds of loneliness and hurt washed over him, but they were overwhelmed by his guilt. Why am I so stupid?
He wanted to curl in on himself for being so dumb; he wanted to berate himself for acting without thinking. His inner turmoil was like the predated Greek mythology: dark and full of chaos, waiting for something to be born out of it. A part of him wanted to latch onto the fact that he was 'right.' Another part of him wanted to know why he was wrong. But even monsters of logic can be cut down by words, he guessed, because monsters like him were still very human.
The park was a dull quiet, the only sound was the creaking of swings swishing back and forth. He was sitting all alone until she came by the bend; familiar footsteps and delicate hand-waving followed along. He only looked up slightly, gripping the chains that held the swing even tighter.
I don't even know why I called her, he thought.
He was glad she gave him her number because they had texted one another about their mutual interests. It led him to believe that she could be trusted, if only with the things they were at least able to talk about. They, however, had barely broached any serious topics or matters for concern, though they proposed hypotheticals and thought-children through their conversations.
As she came by and fit the swing next to him, he realized that she still hadn't given him her name. Every time they had met, they had only exchanged casual greetings; him with a smooth 'Yo' and her with a 'Hello' or something along those lines. But, he supposed, in the grand scheme of things, her name wasn't as important as her words and her actions; and so far, she had been more than good to him. Now wasn't the time for names anyway, and she did say earlier before that she didn't mind being called 'Onee-san.'
She let him stew in the silence and waited for him to be ready for their conversation; he recognized that it wasn't for formalities or politeness, but for a real conversation to be had. He appreciated the thought and mouthed to her 'Thank you' before he continued to brood.
Of course, when he spoke up, he asked questions that shocked the both of them.
"Do you believe in having a future set in stone?" His question came out of left field and it surprised her. Him, too. He was sure he was going to say something else, but he was too scared to speak up again, afraid he would say something wrong or dumb or just out-of-place.
What a strange question, she told him. But no, I don't think so, she said. After all, if the future was that cold-cut, then there would never be a point in putting in effort because you wouldn't really know when to not give up or when to give up. It was a pointless, fruitless endeavor.
She went on to talk about how believing is like seeing; it's proof, you know? She said it with conviction. She told him it was like going into a game or sport thinking he would lose - at that point, he would have already mentally conceded and thus, no one would ever know how much that affected his performance. That, she motioned, is how we should see the future.
We can see a bunch of different things, but that's what we see. And what we see is different from what we do. Her pause let him sink those thoughts into his brain as he closed his eyes and sniffled slightly.
He smiled at her after some time. Thanks, he told her. He, she noted, clearly didn't believe that the future was so rigid, but there was something that shook him up, something that made him need to ask the question out loud. It hurt to see him like this, she thought.
"What's wrong?" Half of her was curious, but all of her was concerned; something that wasn't common. I wonder, she mused, if this is what having a friend is like.
She didn't know where her patience was coming from. He was just glad it existed.
It took him a while before he opened up. Just like him, really. "I got into a fight with my sister. I said some things I shouldn't have. She said things, too, that she'd never told me before. She told me to shut up and stay out of her life."
"Oh." That was news to her; over the course of their text-friendly relationship, he had often told her about some of the more important people in his life, but most of their conversations revolved around how to deal with their little sisters, their interests in literature, and their ideal careers or futures. Over the course of time, she realized that his relationship with his sibling was in stark contrast to her own (considering how a fight like this was earth-shattering to him); she was envious, but now was not the time for it.
"Yeah." He was quiet for some time again. He took a deep breath as he looked at her and let it all out, "I'm just worried, you know? I get that she's growing up but I'm just afraid she'll do some dumb things. And I know that's dumb too. No one's perfect. We're bound to mess up." She stiffened but kept listening. "I just don't know how to tell her that all I'm trying to do is watch over her."
She hummed in the quiet, thinking about what to say. Might as well be forward, she figured. "Well, truth be told, I don't really get along with my sister at all. I never have." His expression was one of shock; maybe because of how well he got along with his sister, but he had to have realized that not everyone was like that. Or at least that's what she thought.
Even though they talked about their families, she had always been vague about both her parents and her actual bond with her sister; he had been forthcoming with his relationship with his sibling, but not so much his parents. He must have been confused by her constant pestering about how to handle little sisters and assumed that she was simply looking for more tips, she concluded.
But what he said next shook her a bit and made her blush a little. "Really? But you were getting her a gift last time we saw each other. And it was so thoughtful. You… you looked like a good older sibling to me. I believe you are." It was so earnestly spoken, so assured. He made sure to look her directly in the eye. "I know you are," he repeated.
Fidgeting, she tucked some strands of hair behind an ear and shyly told him, "Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I have it on good word that I'm really not." She smiled something sad and he felt it hurt him more than his own issues. "Realistically, we're strangers who lived together for a long, long time. But she can't bear to see me anymore so she avoids me all the time. Even when I make time out of my day to find her, she has this scowl on her face whenever I get near and then she panics and tells me to leave."
"That's heartbreaking. You didn't have to share your hurt if you didn't want to. I'm sorry I was complaining so much." She started to shake her head but he continued, "I don't know much about your situation, but I think that with a sister like you, maybe she's just scared or shy." Mentally, she asked him why he thought that way, but he simply kept going, answering before she could even prompt him. "You might have messed up a lot in the past, but you can't change that. She might be scarred; she sounds scared," he admitted, "but I think there's still potential - like you said earlier, the future's not set in stone. Don't give up."
"If you say so, hehe," she laughed. "But wow, this went from me comforting you to you comforting me. I guess why I brought up my own problems was because it wasn't just about getting it off my chest or rubbing it in your face, it was because I wanted you to know that you're not alone."
Not alone, he repeated silently. "Thank you."
He was bored. And lost. Apparently, there existed a Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy but there was no Household Guide to Girls. This was the second gift in a year that he had to buy. For a girl. Who was not his girlfriend. His nose crinkled as he looked about. Maybe he should have asked his sister to come along. Or followed his club president around and gotten a joint gift. But no, he had to tell her that he wanted to give her a personal gift.
While he explained that he wanted to show his thanks, he felt that he failed to properly explain how it was not just an obligation, but a gift as friends, considering the girl's heated stare and displeased look before she took off.
What was he supposed to get for someone so simple?
Shopping for his other club member was so much easier, if only because she was similar to him and equally simple-minded when it came to her preferences. He supposed he could just toss the more bubbly girl a Pan-san stuffed toy, or something along those lines, but even then, he wanted to genuinely show his appreciation and he honestly had no idea what kind of 'Pan-san' she preferred.
He was about to give up for the day until he decided that calling up his clubmate would be the best bet. However, before he made the call, something caught his eye. It was a stand full of hair accessories, the kind he knew that the intended would like. Finally, he thought. Progress.
Well, sort of. He stood there for some time trying to figure out what constituted a 'good gift,' but also what was a practical one - one that she would wear without shame.
He felt a finger jab one of his cheeks. He flinched and was about to yell, until he saw who it was. His expression soured for a second as he grumbled. Geez, he thought. Give me a heart attack, why don't you?
"Fancy meeting you here," he let out casually.
She smiled at him and instead asked, "How're things with your sister now?"
While they had met a few times since that day in the park, he had been a bit sullen and avoided the topic - oh, he wasn't necessarily bad company, but he was rather careful not to tread over sensitive ground. And for whatever reason, she complied; not that she truly understood why herself. After all, it was one of her favorite hobbies to poke at her toys til they broke.
Eventually, she concluded that he was somewhere between acquaintance and friendship and thus she could not break that; yet, because he was so stiff, she figured that she would need more time before she truly relaxed around him again.
Coincidence, however, brought her to him. She would recognize that hair kilometers away, she once joked to him.
"Good." He put down one of the hairties; it was far too bright. Even though she herself was a bright girl, there were some colors that never seemed to be her thing. She'd never wear a yellow one, he guessed. Well, she might, considering it would be a gift. She was far too nice for her own good.
"Hmmph," his 'friend' pouted. He was ignoring her! "So," she made sure to drag out the 'o' sound, "Whatcha looking for right now?" The 'for whom' went unsaid; it was most likely a girl - her instincts told her so (if it was a guy, he'd have to have hair pretty enough to warrant any hair accessories, and she didn't know how she felt about him looking for another guy). Curious, she thought. Was he looking to get a girlfriend?
"Another birthday gift, but this time for a… a sort-of friend, but more of an acquaintance." His eyes went up and he scrunched his face in thought. "Yeah, I guess that's the best way to put it. We might be friends, but I'm not so sure. I wouldn't say so, at least."
Friendships were too hard to think about, truly. An ironic statement that, in fact, kept both him and his current companion tied together by their awkward, strange conversations; he had pointed it out to her and she had only blinked before saying 'So what?'
As their conversation continued, he tried to avoid talking about the qualities of the girl he was actually shopping for, which, she told him, was completely stupid because it made helping him quite a bit harder than it needed to be. Despite this, he acted stubbornly, though perhaps only teasingly so.
He still didn't rule out the possibility of having a crush on her, she smirked. But there was only so much pushing she could do at a time. "Well, going back to what I asked you earlier," her voice dropped, "What did you guys, your sister and you, I mean, fight over last time anyway?"
At that, he stopped looking around and turned towards her.
"Relationships and stuff. She told me I was a hypocrite because if I could date, so could she. And I realized she was right." He was blunt, and it seemed that it he was still uncomfortable, though she couldn't make out whether or not it was because of the fight or the fact he had admitted he was dating.
Would wonders never cease? She pondered the idea of him looking at girls and thought about what might catch his eye.
"Oh?" She tilted her head. He never seemed to be someone who was lovey-dovey or affectionate; while she had thought he was shopping for a potential girlfriend, she never would have guessed he already had one. He just, truthfully speaking, didn't seem like the kind of guy to date.
She was a bit surprised he never even told her; she knew he was in some sort of club, whose member he was probably gift-hunting for. A little crush wasn't always something to tell your friends about, she supposed, but this? She knew he was also kind of secretive, but he couldn't even tell her about his girlfriend or boyfriend? "How long have you been in this relationship?"
"Ah, well…" He blushed. "I'm shy when it comes to talking about her." He scratched his cheek, an embarrassed habit that she thought was kind of endearing. "She's a bit… well," he paused. "A bit out of my league. Oh, and we've been together for two years. Almost three. Surprised we've gotten this far, really."
She blinked. "Wow," she whispered. "That's a long time." She couldn't imagine how that felt. For her, partners came and went. Most of the time after the night. Sometimes after the date. And few ever made it past the first month. She could count with one hand how many of her relationships she'd had that lasted more than six weeks.
This time, he smiled crookedly at her. "Yeah." Something caught in her throat. She wished someone would think of her like that. She pushed the thought away as she smiled back and hoped she could convey a shared sense of happiness.
His face lit up as an idea came to him and he pulled out his phone. "See?" He said it so proudly. And there she was; a cute girl, for sure. Though she wasn't sure she could call her beautiful, she could say that she might grow to be so. At the very least, she definitely fit the term 'attractive.'
"I wouldn't have expected that from you," she smirked weakly, hoping to catch him off-guard and allow herself to reorganize. It worked, given his stammering and constant neck scratching.
"Well," he said. "Me either, to be honest. I'm just glad she's willing to have me."
The next time they met, it was several weeks later, almost two months, on a bench outside the library; he was leaving it, she was going in. Both were in a hurry, or so it felt. But they paused as they saw one another.
The pros and cons of asking her for a conversation flitted through the forefront of his mind. Time, he realized, was something that even if someone had an unlimited supply of, might never be used properly. What more did he have to lose? How much did he left that he could use?
It took him a split second to rationalize how fleeting and dumb people could be. Obviously included was himself. So he took his chance. Sit down with me, he asked. So she did. There was a light drizzle, but thankfully there was a table with an umbrella.
There wasn't something that he was looking for exactly, but he didn't want to be alone when she came into view. There were words that she said, most of the time, that seemed to sit well with him and give him a little more peace.
He attributed it to her life experience; that three year gap meant quite a bit.
She was not uncomfortable, but she started to play with her hair as she waited for him to open up. Sharp as usual, he figured. Though, he supposed, given how often he started conversations, it was no surprise that she was waiting for him to move first.
A large amount of thought went through his head as he debated on how to talk to her. There were a lot of things he wanted to talk to her about, but all of those things didn't matter. There was something that he really didn't want to talk about. Of course, that one mattered.
His brain tried to filter his speech. Tried being the key word.
He didn't know why he started the conversation off this way but the first thing that came out of his mouth after they sat down was "She broke up with me."
Her breath hitched.
Really, she thought. Who could do something like that?
The memory of brown hair and bright eyes blinked back at her; it morphed into a disfigured expression of envy and anger that didn't suit the kind-looking girl she remembered seeing on his phone screen.
Three years, he had said.
Three years; three years he was so vehemently proud of, happy about, enamored with.
He must have been in hell, she thought, especially considering he was suffering through it alone. His eyes were rimmed a slight tinge of red that came from God knows how many hours of crying and scrubbing. Considering they were still red, he was probably clawing at himself nightly.
She took a deep breath. "Why?"
Sympathy shone in her eyes, but she also wanted to know 'Why didn't you tell me?' It wasn't like they didn't text one another; just having it sprung on her was a strange, painful feeling. It hurt that he hadn't spoken up about it, but as the minutes passed and she observed him, she knew that he couldn't.
That didn't really help her hurt, though. It was unfair that she felt so, but she didn't care. However, she did care enough about him, strangely, and tried to press the emotions away because at the end of the day, he needed that more than he needed her wit and sarcasm.
And for some reason, she felt she was more than willing to provide that care at the drop of a hat.
More minutes passed, yet she did not find herself growing bored. Instead, more concern tipped in, creeping into the hollows of what was her heart. It was hard enough for him to even try to think about it, she judged from his face; one that was usually cold and elusive to everyone else but her. And even then, she at least had to try and read it. He looked so fragile, like a light breeze would shatter him into dust and carry the remnants across the corners of the globe.
Still, she wasn't one to mince words and she knew she had to pester him to get him to open up, to vent. It was something the two of them liked about one another; they had to talk it out and they had to be unafraid to prod and ask the right question to make each other feel the wrong things, if they needed to.
They had something genuine, he once told her over text. I think that you might be my first friend, he said.
He was certainly hers.
"I wasn't spending enough time with her." He looked away; a telltale sign that he was lying. Or at least not telling her enough. His eyes were closed and even though it was a dark day, she could tell they were red. He was shrinking in on himself, if only mentally. She had to press harder, then.
Before she spoke, she pull him into a comforting hug, forcing him to take some deep breaths as she kept his frame from shaking alone. "Sorry." It wasn't so much an apology so much as it was her choice of word for regret. There was only so much emotion she could give in that hug. He sighed against her shoulders.
After he pried himself off, he told her "Don't be. It's not your fault." Translation: I don't know what's going on. I just wonder where I went wrong. Help me.
She nodded. "So why did you really break up?"
"She thought I was cheating." He stopped and massaged his temples. He chuckled a bit darkly, his voice rough and coarse with underuse. "Uhm… this might sound bad, but I'm pretty sure I told you about my clubmates. Well, it just so happens that they're the only people I talk to after school, aside from her, you, and my sister. And while my sister is my sister and I only really text you, the other two are both my age and they like talking to me, too. The problem is that they're both girls. Really pretty ones. Beautiful, even." She felt jealousy rear its ugly head, surprised that it was rising inside of her. Oh dear, she thought. That wasn't a good sign. She refused to let it fester; she motioned for him to continue and forgot it for the time being.
"It doesn't help that I spend a generous amount of time with them, even after club, at least on some days. We even go on outings together, sometimes all of us, and sometimes I'm just alone with one of the girls." Ah. She winced. Definitely not a good thing; but really, she felt, he wasn't one to take advantage of anyone else - she was surprised someone he'd been with for so long couldn't tell. " There are some guys but we're not close. I don't hang out with them except during school. Stuff like that," he added.
"Oh." What could she say? There was nothing wrong about his girlfriend's, well, ex-girlfriend's, suspicions in nature; she had some right to be concerned, but really, all this came from a lack of trust. It stemmed from jealousy and it grew; and she honestly couldn't find a way to tell him that everything was alright. Because it wasn't.
And he wasn't blameless. He all but admitted it. Sure, he technically hadn't done anything 'wrong.' But he should have realized. He should have known, or at least made sure the problem never got this far.
An earlier meeting of theirs came to mind: nobody's perfect, he had said. And he was right.
She had nothing left to tell him. The only condolences she could extend were given through the interlacing of their fingers in soft, platonic grip of warmth.
"Yeah. Things just built up over time, I guess. Three years wasn't much, right?" He was crying, but there were no sniffles. Just closed eyes and an ironic smile.
Help me. She called him in the middle of the night, but he was luckily still awake. They met outside a convenience store nearby his house before they decided to walk around.
Her parents, she explained, were fighting with one another again and she just couldn't take it anymore so she left the house unattended. But a few blocks out of the house and she became lonely. Mostly lonely. Also miserable.
He stopped and turned to her, an incredulous look stretched across his face. Then he scolded her. "Don't you know it's dangerous for you to be out at this time of night?" He averted his eyes, as if he were trying to say other words but needed something to fill the space. She tilted her head. She couldn't just be playing games; she's not that foolish. Then again, she wasn't really thinking at the moment, he figured. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, scratching his neck once his hand stopped. "It's not safe for you. Because you're… uh…" He tried to avoid spelling out the obvious, but when his friend demanded something, it was sometimes awkward.
Not that he hated that. She seemed, truly, strange when she was out-of-place, despite being a cynic just like him. Oh well, he thought. It wasn't a big deal (no use crying over spilt milk) and moved on, not wanting to waste more time. "Well, you're really attractive. And you were out here, alone. And tired. And not thinking right. Oh. Uh, not that you would do something stupid and not that you're defenseless," he hastily scrambled to cover up his 'slip of the tongue.' "It's just that things can happen. And," his eyes softened. "It would," he paused, taking a moment to press the intent in his eyes, "literally kill me to know something happened to you. Things can happen whether you're careful or not."
She blinked disbelievingly, and for some reason, her eyes seemed so incredibly cruel in that moment. He shivered and tried to dispel the involuntary wracking of his body; she needed someone calm and someone strong. He never wanted to see that broken look on her face ever again.
Her lips pursed as she tried to say things in a way that would be the most genuine.
"But do you care?" The question voiced itself. She was crying again. Her throat choked as she said, "Anyone can say words, you know. But can you mean them?" Can you prove anything at all?
They stopped walking and he closed a hand around hers. She was desperately pleading, he realized. He wasn't sure exactly what to say, but he he had to act. Slowly, he lifted their interlocking digits to his face and exhaled on them. "Look. Imagine relationships or influences acting like my breath, as though they're the very same as this fleeting mist. You saw it. You felt it. But it's gone.
"But that doesn't mean it never happened, that it never touched you, even if you don't see or feel it anymore. In some ways, that's the same as how we show care, how we feel care.
"I don't know much about how deeply this is eating at you, but," he moved behind her, still holding her hands, "I do know that even though you've run away from your problems, they still linger. It doesn't just all go away like the phrase 'out of sight, out of mind.' And yet, that's not the end of it; it's not just 'game over.' You fight back. I fight back. We," he stressed, "fight back. We always have fought; we're still kicking, you know.
"And I know that promises are half-empty, cups are half-full, and words are easily broken. It's hard for me to make a statement that'll please you or tell you what you want to hear, so I'll do my best to say what you need to understand.
"You're not wrong that I'm not gonna be with you during every step of your life. Yet, while I might not always be there for you, I'll try to be. You can carry the memory of me when I can't be with you. Actions speak louder than words, but sometimes, words are actions themselves. Remember the things that I do, the things I say, I guess. Though, sometimes I can speak and I can't act. Or vice versa; the point is that we all have struggles. But I promise you things will be okay because I'll be here when you need me."
His arms encircled her. When, he said. Not if.
When, not if. The difference between the words was what made it slip from surreal to tangible. Life was just that way, and he was willing to part with his own use of time for her. He valued her enough for that. Without any pressure from peers, parents, or even her.
In other words, he did this of his volition.
She said nothing but looked at him gratefully and understandingly. Thanks, she thought she said; but silence spoke it all. They continued walking.
He spent the next few minutes glancing at her every so often, carefully keeping his eye on her. He made no attempt to hide it, she mused. When was the last time someone looked at me this way? It wasn't insulting; he wasn't treating her like glass, and he wasn't walking on eggshells. There was only concern on his face and in his words.
Some while down the walk, epiphany met her down the road.
A single tear made its way down her face as the realization came to her. Oh, she thought. So this is what it's like to have a best friend. She wiped it with the slightly oversized sleeves she currently wore as more followed.
Heh, these things are multipurpose; no wonder he loves them, she thought. The hoodie he gave her was warm and it was a bit large on her. The cuff of the sleeves just reached past the middle of her palms, but the bagginess gave it a homely feeling. She was lucky, he said to her, that he realized she probably ran out of the house without a second thought for appropriate attire. She giggled at him and poked a cheek.
Cheek for cheek, she said. They broke down laughing at her horrible pun. Five minutes later and they stopped talking, though they kept on walking.
The rest of the night was spent in the quiet. She she didn't want to talk anymore. So they didn't.
Over time, they met one another more and more; when they changed phones, they made sure to always add the other first. When they had too much on each other's plate, they swapped some responsibilities and tried to feel how it was living in the other's shoes. They crashed into one another at the oddest places and made plans spontaneously for some weeks, only occasionally planning what to do next. Eventually, however, they had to met up so often that they even started to visit one another's living spaces.
It was an odd friendship that bloomed out of the great unknown, but she was nevertheless more than pleased that something so brilliant could have been hidden from her for so much of the life she had already lived.
The thought of not being friends with him was terrifying, and she roughly shoved it out of her mind as she embraced the lull of their current situation.
They were in his living room, casually lying about everywhere - from rolling around on the floor to sitting next to one another on his couch and sharing a book, to facing one another on a chessboard on their stomachs.
Was it possible to feel this comfortable in a house, she asked herself. She leaned into the couch and sank with it, feeling complete satisfaction. This must be what people think 'home' feels like, she told herself.
Even after knowing him for several months, about half a year, she thought, she still occasionally lapsed into a dark circle of thoughts, to which he would cure by pinching her cheeks or poking her nose, a playful side of him that he said he would only ever show her. At first, he admitted, it was because he panicked and randomly picked something to do. He only continued, however, because it was fun to do so.
She drank in the coziness of the living room that was connected to his kitchen and dining area and felt that she could imagine him growing up in the place. Her mind pieced together a flowing visual of him aging as the imaginative figure went about and tried to learn different things like how to cook or how he helped move things around the house.
It wasn't a feeling she personally understood. Calling his house 'home' made her realize how strange her life had been and why her younger sister avoided calling her parent's residence the very word. A sour feeling made its way to her stomach before the sound of classical music intertwined with the softness of the couch and caused her to learn back and look for him.
While she was sinking into bliss, he had gotten up and started digging through one of his bookshelves on the opposite side of the room. Minutes passed as he reorganized the shelf, which, she thought, was funny because he had to have read almost every book on there at least twice.
There were a bunch of things that whizzed past her ears in a blur, but then he suddenly stopped talking, as though he had been previously, unlike him, making small-talk in order to settle an internal debate.
The next thing he said had her heart hammering.
"Let's go on a date."
She blinked. Did he just..? Her eyes were trained on him. She hadn't been hallucinating, even though she had been drifting off. Her ears never lied to her.
Her brain began to assess the thing that had just happened. His voice was a tad shaky, his nerves obvious, but it was mostly controlled; close enough to being assertive. There was nothing off about him; he wasn't on any medication and he hadn't touched alcohol in his life.
Was it a joke, then?
He slowly turned around. His eyes were steely but not cold. He was serious, she realized.
She bit her lip to hide her own nervousness and swallowed thickly. Her mouth opened but nothing came of it, and silence forced itself a seat in the room, casually fiddling with the air.
Neither of them said anything for a while. During that quiet, she started to think about him, in general.
There was something about the way that he carried himself that made her feel a bit pleased. She watched how he stood, slowly seeming calmer and more collected. He was growing confident, but he wasn't smug. He wasn't just tossing out words; he was putting himself forward. It was the kind of openness, she realized, that came with the fact that their relationship had moved from acquaintances to friends, and then onto best friends (or so she surmised).
He was patiently looking at her, and she was busy observing how much he had changed since that day in the library. He didn't visibly seem that much different at first, but as she drank in more of him, she realized that he had. When did he get so tall? His shoulders weren't hunched either, she noticed. His hair was still that same ruffled mess, his scarf seemed smaller now with his neck showing a seemingly unusual amount of flesh.
"Go out with me," he repeated. His legs, his long legs, carried him back towards her in the blink of an eye. He sat down on the floor and held her hands, careful not to avert his gaze as he kept himself trained on her face. They were warm; both his eyes and his hands. And underneath that warmth, she saw there was a little candlelit passion that was only beginning to bud.
Her heart hammered again.
She knew it was there. She knew what it was. Frightening. Dangerous. He was her best friend, she repeated. Her thoughts ignored rationality. It was crazy. He was crazy.
But, her mind whispered, it wasn't an unappealing offer, honestly. Tantalizing, the more she thought about it; God, seconds never seemed so long before.
She was afraid her hands would start to get clammy, but he squeezed them tightly. 'I'm not letting go,' was what he meant. Her eyes widened. 'Give me a chance,' he didn't say.
This would be a mistake, her brain said. This could be horrible. Don't do it. She took a deep breath to try and gather herself. It wasn't helping. What must've been a minute felt more like ten.
Her thoughts drifted. She remembered she was seeing someone; a face blurred in her memories as she tried to figure out who it was or what he did. Every time she tried to gather more thoughts, his face came to mind.
"I don't know you,
but I want you
all the more for that.
Words fall through me
and always fool me
and I can't react.
And games that never amount
to more than they're meant
will play themselves out."
He sang softly, looking down at her sleeping face. He whispered her name repeatedly as he memorized her features and serenaded her still form. Even though the sentiment had mostly worn off since he first started singing it to her, he felt that it capitalized on the idea that there was always more to life and more to her. Essentially, there was more life because of her, and each day was something special.
Morning was no longer cold; a new day dawned, and so did a new phase in his life.
They had moved in together last night and had spent most of their time in the house fixing up an old bed-frame before throwing their mattress on top before glancing at all their belongings and foregoing any further move-in activities.
Aside from breaking in the bed, of course.
Everything felt like a dream as he thought back to the feeling of saying 'We're home' with her. Her face made him smile as he thought back to the beginning of their revolution.
Half a decade, he realized, since one little question changed the fate of his world. Five years of ups and downs. Full months of love that he thought had long since abandoned him; days and weeks where all the cycles of life hit him hard, but he ploughed on because he wanted to keep going with her.
It hadn't been easy a lot of the time, particularly with, surprisingly, his parents over hers. Both of them had frowned upon the situation, but she negotiated, over the course of a lengthy three weeks, with her parents and finally settled the situation. He, on the other hand, was pretty much cast out of the family by an angry mother and a displeased father.
That made university quite a bit harder as he struggled to juggle odd jobs, publish books, and also simply attend classes. It also hampered much of his social hopes, though he secured an acquaintance every now and then in spite of the pressure and workload.
School had also been hard for the both of them, truthfully speaking, and more her in the beginning because of how much she was forced to attend different events. However, once she decided her education and personal life could take center stage, she turned and never looked back.
His thoughts switched back to to the stacks of boxes and the unpainted walls surrounding him and he felt excitement build up at the prospect of actually having made it past so many of his struggles. There would be more, of course, but he felt invincible.
There was so much to do; so many pages to turn, he thought. This place would be theirs. Their home.
Life had strange ways of working, sometimes. He had caught the advertisement for this place through an acquaintance of his sister, who, coincidentally, was his lover's; although it was a bit pricey and the landlord was a bit strict, he felt fortune sing his songs because he held Nike at his side.
He kissed the crown of his sleeping beauty, careful not to wake her. It was still a little dark outside, and he knew she liked to sleep in, despite having been an early riser throughout her entire life.
I don't know if this is love, he thought. But with you, I think I... no, we have a shot at something genuine. I promise I'll take us there.
He swore on the golden silence about him that he would let her live a happy life.
There was just something about her that was so different from every human being he had ever met. She wasn't like his sister - she cared for him, but it wasn't out of obligation that transitioned into mutual friendship. She wasn't like his clubmates-turned-acquaintances-and-then-friends; she didn't have any working deal with him.
They were simply strangers that ran into one another, and he realized how funny life was.
So much of their early friendship had been randomly selected meetings that only happened when they found out on the spot; the other half of it happened because they committed to words across a screen and video calls that were just meant to tease.
He thought back to the question he had asked her under the rain all those years again and smiled again.
Life could change. Life did change.
She took a deep breath as she shut the door behind her and found him typing away at his computer, buzzing through words, erasing them, and rewriting them.
Their apartment had a pleasant feel to it that she could only describe as 'homely.'
Everything that fit inside was an amalgamation of their union as two lonely souls that became close enough to be called 'one,' she said to him once. He responded by telling her that two peas in the same pod were at home; and that the loneliness only lasted until they stopped being blind.
She remembered the kisses after those words.
The heat lingered across her body as she remembered what his touch was like. She traced her fingers against some skin, closed her eyes to recall how much love was synonymous with passion. Her eyes traced his back and the way he moved himself, the concentration and focus he dedicated to his life's work.
It wasn't as if he was doing anything special, but he was so thorough in his work that he often ignored the rest of the world, including her, usually until someone spoke up.
That had been how he operated at home for two years as he churned out bill proposals for the district and books for his own leisure.
Her heart was choking itself as she took each step and made her way behind him.
She coughed to get his attention and stepped a little more loudly, a little more slowly, emphasizing the fact that she was coming towards him. He hadn't even turned around; she knew he could hear her. But then again, she hadn't paid him much attention lately either.
Could she do it? She avoided asking if she 'should;' she avoided asking herself questions that mattered because she knew she was too scared to face the truth. It didn't seem like the choice she wanted at first. But the more she thought about it, the more afraid she felt staying around.
She stopped walking for a while and she just stared at him.
Then her eyes started to wander and bring up all the little things that made her fall in love - both with him and everything around him.
So many memories were made in this place; almost all of them were exclusive to him. Beautiful, she thought. Then her thoughts turned towards his face as she imagined it crumble after; the Eden around her buried under the ashes of another broken bridge. Her hands shook and she couldn't stop the trembling. Biting her lip did nothing as well.
They only made things worse.
Everything she did reminded her of him; the way he would comfort her gently and take their fingers and lock them together. The way he transferred his love through words and whispers and rough kisses and even the soft ones.
Her eyes tried to harden, but her tears got in the way.
She raised her hands to wipe her eyes. Her mouth moved with a strangled cry.
"I can't do this anymore."
The moment those words left her mouth, his heart stopped beating. He had stumbled out of his chair and quickly turned around, only to see the crying face of his fiancee.
His shock did not register for a full half minute; he stood there uncomprehendingly and she stared into his gaze, daring him to contest her.
They were dark and angry, but they were half-filled; they were genuine, but they didn't feel that way. He didn't know what to think anymore. So he didn't.
He couldn't recall how, but his legs took him to their bedroom. He collapsed back into bed as his stomach sank, his heart cold.
It was the third night in a row where she came home in the middle of the morning; it had been a fortnight since they had gone to bed together and he had woken up with her still in bed with him.
Obviously, there was something wrong. Something that wasn't just sudden or abrupt. And it was something big enough to warrant her leaving him. Problems do not come out of nowhere, he mentally recited. They, like empires, were built when seeds are sown and nurtured. They did not just 'happen.' They appeared because people allowed them.
And for all the pain she just threw at him, he knew she wasn't some instantaneous, youth-filled liar; thus, he was thoroughly surprised by the very idea that there was little, other than her absence, leading up to the situation at hand.
There should have been more than warning signs; there should have been talks. But his mind only drew blanks as he furrowed his brows and tried to dig deeper. The blurs and the memories started to intermingle until he couldn't distinguish one from the other.
He used to take comfort in the fact that they knew one another. That they were friends before all this; and that they had always been one another's friend in spite of relationship tensions. Always.
They both had asked for something genuine.
They both had lived something genuine.
Tears made their way down his face, much like he recalled hers. They trickled down into his mouth as he scrambled to wipe them, the salty taste overwriting the sweetness of his coffee.
But do I really know her anymore? The fierceness of that ugly thought was so full of vitality that it tore his psyche to shreds. It was pathetic, he thought, how a few weeks was starting to undo a relationship that spanned so long.
Past experience, however, taught him that life wasn't just cruel. Life was relentless and had no need for full-stops or permission to continue. It was a lethal turn of events that only needed one thing to go wrong; links between all sorts of chaos and upheaval acted independently of his desires. And as much as he hated to admit or believe, it had happened to him in the past.
He just couldn't figure out how much change could come from chance.
Meeting someone new brought a new perspective on her life, she said. And it gave her opportunities - but only if she wasn't with him.
The sting that came with that statement broke anything resembling self-restraint and emotional competence. He realized that, they were, too, just strangers that happened to get to know one another; and all of his life had changed from that.
His thoughts drifted towards the way she looked at him and the way her eyes embodied her emptiness. They weren't there a few weeks ago, he thought absently. And that was the absurdity of reality. Things could change in the flicker of a moment, the snap of fingers. But, could she?
That was the biggest puzzle for him. He had thought there was just another rough patch that she needed a little more time to go on with - there had been, unfortunately, plenty of times in the past where both of them had been more than foolishly stubborn (read: stupid) about certain things for what had gone on for weeks, much to their later chagrin.
And they had survived them all, only to grow even more and more.
And, he repeated, the one thing they never even touched on was the thought of separation.
Walking through the same park he had loved as a child often brought a smile to his face because of how familiar he was with the place. Despite having been decades too old for it, he loved to go around and recall memories. He loved, also, to contrast the fleeting youth of children that played there and the parting of that youth as they aged and changed into people (translation: he liked to relive his life. A lot).
Memories, however, decided to follow him this time.
She had been standing at the opposite end of the park, in front of a bench. Her eyes caught his and they lit up with something he couldn't read from the distance.
Move, his brain urged his feet.
Instead, she caught up to him.
"It's been ten years, hasn't it?" He noticed the child latching onto her hand. She noticed the one clutching his.
He said nothing for a while.
"We're strangers again, aren't we?" Her voice was light, but it trembled. It was thick, rich with some sort of emotion he couldn't place. He felt his heart involuntarily tighten.
"I guess we are, aren't we?" He didn't mean for it to come up with a harsh edge. But it did. She didn't flinch, however. "I'm sorry," he blurted out.
The children looked at their opposing adults, and then they stared at one another. He looked down at his son for a moment before he lifted his head, meeting her eyes. "Why don't you go play with him," he said, nudging his child in the direction of the other.
The two youths shrugged and ran off, laughing.
"How have you been?" He tried to keep his voice level, but she could obviously read the hitch that came with his breath. It wasn't fair, he thought. Ten years. Ten years and she still has the power to sway me just by being in my line of sight.
"I missed you," she said. In contrast to the her in his memories, the way she currently looked at him was like she couldn't tell what she wanted to say the most, as though she could not decide how she felt or even wanted to feel. There was no vibrancy or oath of life that swirled about her beautiful irises. He couldn't help but wonder what happened to her; after all, a lot could happen in ten years - and much did, for him.
But the way her eyes moved, the way they looked? He cursed himself for not only being curious, but for being sympathetic for someone who left him seemingly all of a sudden. Then again, he was three for three in terms of relationships and he cared deeply for all of them.
He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, a habit that always seemed to spark when she was around. He wanted to ask her, 'Are you okay?' Instead, he just kept staring at the thing he loved most about her. They lacked so much of the luster that made him fall in love with waking up next to her.
And he couldn't have that. Even if - his eyes turned to her son - she wasn't with him anymore, there was something wrong with the fact that she, as his ex-best-friend, wasn't happy.
She had left him for a greater purpose, he recalled. He wondered if she ever found it. Unfortunately, the only way he would be able to confirm that would be to extend his hand once more. His eyes followed hers, and he couldn't pry away.
Dammit, he thought to himself.
"Would you like to be friends again?"
He once told her, a long, long time ago, when she remembered being able to wake up with his arms encircling her, about a kind of animal who mated only once for life. I'm not actually sure if it's true, he admitted, but they say that when one partner dies, the other kind of follows along. Living just becomes pointless, and eventually, the surviving one just stops.
She remembered how she told him it was romantic and how it was beautiful. She wished she never said anything about it. She wished he never even told her how this could have felt.
It was more painful than anything she had ever endured.
She never thought that life would happen that way to her. She was a fighter. She was a survivor. She was strong. He used to tell her that he called her sister a strong girl; he used to believe she was stronger. He couldn't do that anymore.
Ten years, she repeated to herself. I was without him for ten years. She bit down on her lower lip, gnawing away at the tender flesh. The taste of iron lingered on her tongue.
Her bed never seemed so cold. Her husband left her alone for the following week, quietly tending to his own businesses. He said nothing to her. She was grateful.
Her son was much more vocal as he cried on her. They cried together. For a while. But after the third day, he understood that she couldn't be moved; it was on the fourth that her body allowed her to shed tears that belonged to her, and her alone.
Screaming was something she thought would be therapeutic. It wasn't.
She wondered how it must have felt when he was blindsided by that truck. What was going on in his mind? Was he thinking of something important? Did he have any bad premonitions that morning? Who filled his final thoughts?
Questions she would never know the answers to.
She had been the one to have all the plans. She always had. She was never unprepared. But there were rare cases when she was underprepared.
Her heart broke into little glass shards; sharp, and painful to walk over. Shattered dreams with no clear reflection. No whole in sight.
What do I do, she asked. No one answered.
A month passed before his little sister showed up his doorstep; somewhat of a surprise for her. Initially, and expectedly, she hadn't visited her very often, even when her brother started becoming a regular at her house. Though the frequency rose after her son had turned thirteen and she had given her a look of understanding. She also came by more often when her brother returned to her life.
There was a letter he left for you, she said. She gave one long, mournful hug before she turned and walked out.
She clenched the letter he had left her. Slowly, as though she were handling the last remnants of a sacred text, she tore open the envelope and gentle pried open the letter, careful to unfold it with a haunting patience.
Her eyes flickered to her nightstand, where she had placed an unintentional companion piece to the one she currently held. This is the last of him, she thought. Her hands felt so dry against the material, even though it wasn't so old. It hurt to touch it. To look at it. But she needed to do it. She had retrieved her own unsent farewell and kept it near her ever since, and hoped that he would hear her read hers after she was finished with his.
She could still hear him as she read it to herself.
I don't think you understand just how much it pains me to say that. Well, you might, because you're you. I love you for that (and a whole lot of other things). A part of me has always kept a part of you; funny, isn't it?
It's weird how so much has changed since we were together, but it's even weirder to find out how many things haven't. They do say that cheetahs can't change their spots, and I suppose we're similar in that regard. Not that I mind, really. After all, you still have all things, and more, that made me so invested in you to begin with. I guess I don't need to tell you how much you mean to me.
But I want to.
I can't tell you that the sun shines out of your ass. And I can certainly tell you that you've got quite a lot going for you, but you'll always still have lots more to work on. I refuse to say that you're perfect; because as perfect as you are to me, for me, I remember the young woman whose biggest desperation was to just be another girl. To be human.
And you've always been that to me. Always.
After all, who could be my other half, as rotten as I am, if we weren't perfectly equal?
It's getting a bit harder to see you every day, partially because of myself, some because of you, and another because of our son.
Funny how life works. When you first left, I got so mad. I don't think I've sworn up such a storm since, or even before, during the primetime of adolescent angst central. I didn't think in general at the time, actually. I think I holed myself up for several days and failed a class or two during that term.
But eventually, my little sister and yours slapped me. Figuratively and literally.
They came over, despite their busy schedules, once every other week for close to half a year. They sat by me and we did stupid things. They helped a lot, especially when your sister told me that you hadn't been feeling well, either.
She said sorry more times than I can count. They got through at some point because when she described your face, I remembered waking up or something of the sort. Kind of like an epiphany; but more like a change in gears. She was like a mini-you, I swear, and just seeing that made me want to change myself.
I knew, from the way she was talking, that you still loved me; I just couldn't figure out what you'd leave me. You didn't cheat, I know that much. You don't cheat. Because as much as you're dishonest, there are certain parts of you that have some soul in them, a shred of you that knows what it's like to be loved and so you could never bear to hurt someone else like that, even unknowingly.
I must be an idiot because it took me two years after I saw you again to realize why you'd left way back when. Despite all your intelligence, you do crazy things a lot of the time. And sometimes, you're a goddamn fool.
He looks just like us. A little bit of me; and quite a lot of you. He's not as tall as me so I didn't see it at first, but as he started getting older, I knew without a doubt.
I cried, you know, when I found out.
You knew we weren't ready; but you weren't, too.
I might not have agreed with what you've done, but I don't think I can hate you for it when I see the product of our love almost daily. They're best friends, even though our child is a bit older. He fits right into my family.
Speaking of family, I still have one dependent left. My sister is in the care of yours; she's fine, though I know she'll be crying her heart out if you've ever gotten this letter. But if I'm gone before my son's even in college, it'll be hell for him to make his way through. Especially on his own.
I know he's not yours. But… please.
You're probably crying at me, calling me stupid for even suggesting that you wouldn't take care of him. Remember, though, we promised we'd always try to talk out the big things. So I'm not afraid to seem dumb for the obvious.
Though, you could surprise me. If you can't, at least find some way he can fend for himself. That's all I can ask of you; I know that, despite how much you love him, it must be horrifying to seem him so much. Because he's so much of me and not enough you.
Anyway, that's probably enough of other people. Let's talk about us. Well, not us us, but us.
We missed one another; that's a fact. We can't go back in time and rewrite history and pretend that we didn't hurt, that we didn't crash, and that we didn't burn. We should just be happy that we could pick up the ashes and grow again.
Like before, we met each other halfway. And, unless things have drastically changed and I never bothered to write a new letter, then we're still continuing to do so. I guess I want you to know that being in love with you is more of a lifestyle and a process more than an emotion; it's something that I want to give you every single day in the ways that I can afford to.
I don't know what to say; even though I became a writer, I guess you could say I'm not that great with words - at least when it comes to you. Do you remember how flustered I was when we moved in together? God, that was embarrassing. Going back to us, I want you to say that while I've been sad, I don't think I can regret the way things have happened.
Because at the end of my days, I look at you whenever we meet and I can't help but realize that you're the woman I love.
Thank you for being her.
With Every Bit of Love You Can Hold,
Truly Yours, she repeated. That was the last name he called himself. Ashes, he mentioned in his letter. That was what her mouth tasted like. That, and dry.
She looked at her own letter that sat almost mockingly. Her hands fumbled around the nightstand and picked up the unfinished draft of what she wanted to say to him.
Her own words felt empty as she stared at them and her eyes glossed over everything she couldn't tell him.
I hope you can hear me, she cried. Because I have too many things I've never said. So please. Please, wherever you are; you don't need to do anything but listen, I swear.
Her lips trembled and her voice shook as she breathed life into her parting gift.
"My Eighth Wonder,
I didn't, don't, know how to tell you that I'm not married because I'm in love with him, but that I'm married because I needed to be. It's a different life than what you might be used to, I'm sure; it's not something everyone understands, but I have a feeling that you'll at least come to accept it.
You're a realist, after all.
Speaking of being real, however… I won't hide anymore. I want to be genuine again. At least to you. I won't lie to you anymore.
The truth was… I was scared of you.
Because before you, I don't think I believed in the word love.
I read about it in a few dictionaries. I heard people use it. I saw people profess it. But none of it meant anything to me. Even meeting you never changed it. Not even when we started seeing one another or when I woke up to your sleeping face; at least, not for a while.
It's stupid, but all it took was time. There was no big revelation, no big secret that bled out into the open. It was just time - spent with you, that is.
How could I not fall in love with you?
That leads me to today. I'm not blind, and you're not dumb. We're both hurting, but every time you see my husband, the glow from those eyes of yours, the warmth of your voice; they fade and they shake. It's not all too noticeable, I guess, but I know you.
I'm sorry I never worked up the courage to tell you in person if you're hearing words from an unspoken voice. But this will have to do; forgive me for not being brave enough. Forgive me, even though you shouldn't, for not stepping out and doing what I can - I'm scared to think that you'll believe that I'm not doing anything because it's the furthest thing from my mind. I'm afraid to see the recognition in your face that I wasn't willing to move, that I'm not willing to break all my other ties to lay them down before you, even though you meant - and mean - so much more than the rest of the world.
Because I can't tell you I didn't abandon you or pick someone other than you. I did, and I don't know if I should regret it. But I love him; I think you do, or will, too.
He's our son, after all.
You might have known; I don't know if you do, or how, but I'm almost certain that you would figure it out, eventually, or something along those lines.
He's a walking reminder of how much time we spent with each other, how much each touch, kiss, smile, laugh, cry, scream, hug, and word meant to me. He's almost half of you, you know?
It brings me to my knees, sometimes, thinking about how close you two look together. You two are so alike, and yet I never gave you two the chance to find that out for yourselves. I made the decision for the three of us.
But as many regrets as I have about that, I can't complain with the way things have turned out between all of us. I can't say that things turned out for the worse, because even though they did for a while, they didn't in the end.
All because of you.
So, even though this might be the cruelest thing I have ever done to you, I just wanted to let you know, to ask you this question, you silly man:
How could I not stay in love with you?
Your Wife in All but Name"
She closed her eyes and leaned back, drowning herself in the should-have-been-bliss of what was her almost-catharsis. Instead, she still felt the emptiness; instead, she still felt that weight.
He would never get the chance to read them, to hear her apologize, to hear her say his name again, hear that she loved him. He would never hear any of it.
Her mind felt blank as she put both letters on the stand, one atop the other.
They melded over one another; they rested on one another. Just like they should have done, she mused. At least their words would be together, unmarred by sluttish time; a small amount of peace, she supposed, that would remain immortal between her and his ghost.
She brought her hands together under the huddle of blankets that wrapped all around her. Why him, she asked. No matter how warm or cold she felt, no matter how comfortable the material of anything, all of it seemed so irritating, so bothersome.
Everything just felt so excessive all of a sudden; unnecessary, truthfully speaking. Days grew longer, too, and nights seemed shorter, but time was hard to tell. She hadn't looked at a clock in God knows how long. Her thoughts turned towards her job. Her career.
None of it seemed to matter in comparison to her obsession with trying to find a way to capture how she felt and let it all out. She wanted to bury this hatchet, but his hands weren't there to hold hers, to keep her pressing on. How did he do it when I left him, she wondered.
Her eyes widened in horror as her thoughts turned even darker.
Oh, God. This is what he felt like. Numbness started to set in, and she felt her lungs choke. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe, oh God. She was panicking and there was nothing there to be her escape or be a lighthouse to guide her to safe shores. No rock to hold onto, no steady foundation.
Moving felt so heavy, she thought as she struggled to lift herself. Eventually, she managed to turn her head about. She couldn't even remember why she looked up or if there was something she was searching for.
There was a certain morbidity that came over her limbs, a weariness that extended itself throughout her ailing frame. I'm so tired, she cried. I'm so tired that I'm sad and I can't even think of forgiveness; even though it's been weeks, why does it feel like just today that he's gone?
Everything felt harder, even though, ironically, everything she was doing was nothing - she was bare, stripped of all superficiality and responsibility as she laid in bed for the last month. All of the weight came down on her at once, and she felt like the sea of guilt and remorse was finally washing back, only to hit her back in the ebb-and-flow tug-of-war that was her mentality.
She was still lucky to have a roof over her head and the availability of sheets to hide herself away in. To have a mouth that worked enough to cry, which meant that she could eat, even though she hadn't been doing so lately. To have a husband. To have sons.
But she didn't want any of it.
Her eyes felt heavy, truly heavy, for what felt like forever. Her lidded gaze slowly sank to grief and she knew she was falling asleep again. Her thoughts were growing slower, and she felt her heart pulsing with patience and acceptance. Blankness washed over her in the dark behind closed eyes.
We'll meet again, she thought.
It's not your fault those hands are freezing.
Borne since youth, you wear these scars.
Are you afraid to love someone?
You pretend not to see the other side of the words
For anyone to be loved by someone,
makes life in this world shine.
If it was me, I'd make your
heart warm again,
with an unending tenderness.
Tohoshinki: Love in the Ice