The Sweetest Lie

I have no idea why I offered Naota a ride home that evening. I guess it was mostly because I had said I would do so before the concert and I was a man of my word. But under certain circumstances, it's reasonable to believe that even the noblest men would go against a statement proclaimed in a state of ignorance. After all, the guy did almost get me killed.

"What a great night," said Naota with a sort of dreamy, far off expression on his face. I kept my eyes on the road and opted to say nothing.

"I mean, what a great night!"

I don't think I'd ever seen him so energetic. I distinctly remember tightening my hands on the steering wheel.

"Did you see how many people showed up?" he asked. "It was like the whole town was there. And we played so good… it was ten times better than anything we've ever done in practice. Okay, not really ten times better, but you know what I mean. And the moon!"

What was it with him and the moon anyways? I gritted my teeth at the mere mention of the word.

"I knew it was still there! I mean, it had to be out there somewhere. It couldn't have just disappeared. I bet it was just knocked into a different orbit or something… like we could only see it during the day… or something weird like that, huh?"

I refrained from telling him how dumb this explanation was. Honestly I didn't trust myself to speak to him at that moment… I probably would have shouted.

"And he was there, too! We got the Pirate King, Sanji! And we shot the moon! We really shot the moon! How many people can say they did that?"

I stopped the car.

"Get out," I said.

"What are you so upset about?"

I spoke very slowly so that he would understand. "You. Tried. To. Kill. Me."

For a moment, Naota frowned at this accusation. But then he allowed himself a small little smirk.

"Well I wouldn't have bothered, if I knew you were going to be so sore about it, Sanji."

I wasn't laughing.

"Oh come on Sanji," he said petulantly. "You can't be mad about it forever. Besides, you have to admit it was pretty cool."

Looking back on it, I guess it was pretty cool, but I wasn't about to tell him that.

"Look, are you going to throw another hissy fit over this? Are you going to hit me again? Or are you just going to cry about it all night?"

"Get out," I said. He was beginning to remind me of Gaku.

Naota slowly opened his door and stepped outside of the car. His face had suddenly turned serious. I took some satisfaction in that fact. After closing the door he stuck his head through the window and spoke again.

"You know," he said. "If there was any other way I could have done it, I would have."

I nodded my understanding. He withdrew his head from the window and just stood there. For a moment, I just sat in my car staring at him, but then I remembered that I was supposed to be driving off angrily. So I shifted into drive, and hit the gas.

"I'll miss you!" shouted Naota before I got too far away. I didn't turn around or answer in any way.

If that was his idea of a joke, it wasn't very funny.

-----------

It was odd seeing Naota sitting on my couch and staring around at the contents of my living room. It was the first time he'd ever been inside my house. To be completely honest, I was surprised that my mother had allowed him to come in. She had been very cautious about the whole ordeal, scanning the horizon for paparazzi and reporters before quickly whispering, "Get in". I don't know why she's so worried about being caught in the public eye. This house hasn't seen any media attention in years. The only person who would even dream of doing a story on our ex-scandalized family would be the father of the boy who she had let though the door.

As I took a seat on the other side of the couch, I tried to track his eyes. For a moment he was looking at a portrait of my dead grandmother. Then he was looking at a piece of pottery on a stand nearby. Next, I think he was appraising our furnishing. Probably wondering how much the colorful furniture cost. But then his eyes settled upon mine and I surprised myself by not looking away.

"Nice place," he said. I glanced around the room as if to confirm this assessment. When I looked back at Naota his eyes were still looking at mine.

"Thanks," I said.

And then he sorta frowned in his odd little way. I suddenly felt a pang of dread creep through me.

"I'm leaving."

"Oh…" was all I could think to say. For a while we were both quiet. I couldn't quit look at him when I spoke next.

"When?"

"I don't know… could be today. Could be a few days from now."

"Is it that woman?" I ask. I hate the look I know I'm giving him. The one filled to the brim with jealousy and spite.

"Yeah."

"Of course… it's always been her hasn't it?"

He wisely kept silent

"I loved you," I said.

He said, "I know."

"Did you ever even like me?" I asked because I had to know. Naota looked almost scandalized at the suggestion. But slowly the shock ebbed away from his face. Leaving his features depressingly neutral once more.

"You're my friend, Ninamori."

I waited for him to continue, but I was only met with silence. Suddenly I felt nothing but repulsion toward the guy. I didn't hate him, really. But I just wanted him to leave.

"Does anyone else know about this?" I asked. I wonder if it was wrong of me to take some enjoyment in seeing him squirm a bit.

"You're the first one," he said quietly.

How kind of him, I remember thinking to myself. It was just like Naota to think of me first when it didn't even matter.

"Sanji'll be hurt." I felt bad about these words as soon as they slipped out of my mouth. I knew I was trying to cause him pain.

"I know," said Naota as his eyes found his lap. "That's kinda why I'm here."

He fished around in his hoodie and pulled out an envelope and handed it to me. There were no stamps or addresses listed on it. Only the word "Sanji" spelled out in messy kanji. When I saw it I almost laughed.

"Could you…" said Naota clearly embarrassed. "You know…"

Here he was. Leaving us after all this time. After all the gigs, all the concerts, all the practices, and whatever the heck had happened the day before, he couldn't even say goodbye properly. How pathetic.

"I know…" did I really say that out loud. "But could you do it anyways?"

I looked into his sad pleading eyes… and I melted. One last time.

"Okay," I said. And I think I must have gotten a little teary eyed. Naota suddenly looked very concerned.

"Are you alright?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said and I felt a tear trickle down my face.

"Are you sure? Are you going to be okay?"

It was pretty funny when I thought about it. He was so concerned that the world would shatter when he left. How highly did he think of himself, to believe that I (or anybody else) wouldn't be perfectly fine without him? I wiped the moisture from my eye with my hand.

"Get out," I said. It seemed fitting that the first time he entered my house would be the first time he got kicked out. You should have seen the look of shock on his face. Nevertheless, he rose and exited.

Later that night, I went somewhere nice to get drunk. I don't know why. It felt like the right thing to do.

----------

I always sort of admired Masashi, in a way. While I never fooled myself into believing that he was a happy person, I was jealous of his ability to understand his situation. He was a guy who almost always knew what it was that he had to do. There was a certain set of codes he followed that seemed to govern his every action. If I had asked him what these codes were, I doubt he'd be able to produce a single one. Because they weren't something as inflexible as rules or guidelines, but more of an intuition of sorts. He was lead by an ever-shifting set of values that easily fluctuated with any given situation. These values often lead to some head-butting between the two of us, but on this one occasion… this last occasion we were in agreement.

A short goodbye is a good goodbye.

"I'm leaving," I said and he nodded. I looked into his dull eyes and saw nothing. This information didn't seem to be a surprise to him. Or maybe he just didn't care.

"You gonna come back?" he asked.

"I don't know."

"I'm sorry," I said. "You know it was me, right?"

I was surprised when he sighed and said, "I thought we went over this last time. I forgive you. Just drop it."

In my defense he had never actually said he forgave me before, but then again I hadn't asked. Negligence by both parties means no one is at fault.

"Well, I guess I'll see you around then," I say, but I sort of wish I hadn't because I have no idea if it's true. Nevertheless I throw out my hand to the chopping block and am surprised that Masashi actually shakes it. I guess all truly is forgiven, or at least the grudge is well hidden.

"Yeah, I guess," is his muted response and as I turn to leave he says, "He's dead, you know."

If a proclamation such as this wouldn't turn me around, I don't know what could.

"Your grandfather?" I ask.

"Yeah."

"How'd he go?" I ask.

"During the concert… there was a power outage all over the city. It knocked out the life-support."

"No back-up generators?" I ask.

"By the time they came on, it was too late," he says.

"That sucks."

Masashi simply shrugs.

"I think you were right about what you said before. Maybe it was just his time, you know?" He gives me this look that clearly says something more than his words ever could.

I nod and for a moment we just stare at each other.

"Take care of yourself," he says. I tell him to do the same. Then we both leave like gentlemen, neither worse off for knowing the other.

I could be wrong, but it looks like his morals have lead the two of us to agree on something else. I'll never be sure… but I think he pulled the plug.

If so, good for him.

------------

The days following after the concert I questioned a lot of things. Everything I thought I understood, seemed to be coming apart at the seems. Things that made a lot of sense before suddenly didn't seem to mesh anymore. But most importantly I realized that I had almost died and I was perfectly okay with that.

Am I really ok?

I didn't have the answer to that question. I don't think that anyone who can accept that their life had nearly ended could be classified as "ok". However, I found it hard to really be mad about anything. The initial anger I felt towards Naota and the concert finale as whole had slowly ebbed away. Left in its place was a smug sort of contentment and a vague detachment from my surroundings. I was certainly confused… but more than that, I think I was happy.

The world can end at any moment. All that's needed is the remnants of some far off corporation and a determined kid with guitars, then Bam! Instant Armageddon. It's almost as easy as making ramen (though my noodles always seem a bit too soggy for my liking). Forget food poisoning and car accidents. If somebody has the means and desire they can bring the moon down on your house. It's just that simple. And though I finally realized I lived in such a world, this realization brought me nothing but happiness. There was nothing to worry about anymore. Absolutely nothing.

What's the point of fearing death, when death is something completely out of my hands? My parents died without incident. They didn't piss and moan about it. They just went quietly without a care in the world. I'm sure if there had been a way for them to fight against their demise, they would have. But no such method exists. You can't swing a guitar at a car accident and expect it to go away. Especially when you don't know whether there will even be a car accident, or when said accident will occur.

Having the fear of dying being put completely out of mind for the time being, I took some time out of my life to explore my ever-present fear of living. I wondered if I had ever really taken time out of my busy schedule to sit back and enjoy the finer things in life, such as love, friendship, anger, solitude, and a whole mess of other things that I'd been putting on the back burner for a while. When I pondered on these things, I realized that I'd been experiencing them all along.

I had friends that I liked. Not acquaintances whom I hung around because I knew no one else, but actual friends. Naota… Naota was a jerk. But he was also a cool enough guy to hang around with. He may be a little serious at times (and not serious enough at others), but if I ever got in a knife fight, I could depend on him to be the guy standing behind me with a gun. And maybe his priorities were a little mixed up. It is a little odd to value seeing your girlfriend over your own personal safety, but I suppose in a way I could understand his choice. There really was no other life for him. So he had to make one. I respected that.

Then there was Eri. She's clearly a very pretty girl and honestly just a little too cool for me. What I mean to say is, I'd never exactly pictured myself on the same level as a girl like her. But then again, I'd never picture her hanging out with a guy like Naota either. I think she's a bit too smart for her own good, and way too manipulative. But when she's honest (and I'd like to think I can tell the difference) it's like bottled electricity. Or the glow of Christmas day. Or some other description of the intangible feelings of joy and tenderness that I've come to associate with the girl. And hey, she's a good kisser to boot.

Masashi is a tad bit more moody than I'd like. And Gaku… I don't even want to talk about Gaku. But I figure the two of them are tolerable. That is to say, they're okay guys. So I guess I'd keep them around, assuming neither of them hated me.

So having these thoughts in mind, I made my way back to my apartment on that second day. I was feeling oddly optimistic. I thought when I got inside that I'd make a few phone calls to Naota and Ninamori. Maybe see if they wanted to hang out (or maybe make out, in the case of Ninamori). But when I opened the door, I was in for a bit of a shock.

"You're a dork," said Ninamori letting out an unnaturally high-pitched giggle. It didn't sound very Ninamori-like at all.

She was standing in the middle of my living room and gazing at my collection of movies. I don't know why everyone seems to be so shocked that I own a bunch of American flicks. So I like American culture. Sue me. She was wearing a black knee length dress with white high heels. Maybe if there had been a speck of white in the rest of her ensemble it would have matched decently well, but the shoes seemed to spring out at me and scream, "I'm unnecessarily white!"

Oh, and also she was drunk out of her mind.

"Ninamori?" I called out her name hesitantly. It was taking some time for me to adjust to her presence in my living space. She, however, had no problem moving into action. Clumsily making her way to where I was standing at the door, she placed herself at an uncomfortably close distance to my face. But she managed to steer clear of any physical contact. At least for the time being.

"Why do you always call me that, huh?" she asked staring at me with wide childish eyes. "Ninamori this, and Ninamori that. Why can't you just call me Eri? Isn't Eri a nice name?"

"Everyone calls you Ninamori," I say.

"Are you everyone?" I'm a little confused at this question so I keep quiet. I mean, is that supposed to be an accusation, or some sort of philosophical argument. I'm still not sure. "You're going to have to start calling me Eri sometime. When we get married are you still going to call me…" But she trailed off into silence. And after a moments hesitation she clasped her hand tightly to her mouth, like a little kid who just blew a big secret.

"I shouldn't have said that," she said looking almost afraid. Then she added in a commanding voice. "Forget it, now."

Feeling rather embarrassed at these implications myself, I decided the best course of action would be to change the subject.

"How did you get in here?" I ask, but I'm not the only one who has the power of subject changing.

"Do you like my dress?" she asks out of the blue. "The dress is my mother's. She's always wearing stuff that's too short. But on me it fits just right because I'm shorter than her." She put a hand down towards the bottom of the dress for emphasis. "See it comes right down to my knees, right where I want it. But on mother it's all the way up here." And to show this she pulls the dress up to a point high on her thigh.

Of course this does nothing to answer any of my questions. All it does is make me imagine her mother in short length dresses, which really wasn't what I wanted to be thinking about at the moment. But since she had brought up the subject, I couldn't help but feel that she was exaggerating a bit. There was no way her mother was that much taller than her. But I didn't dwell on this too long because Ninamori still had her dress pulled up to display her legs and it was making me a tad uncomfortable.

So I ask her again, "Ninamori, how did you get here?"

She finally lowers her dress and pouts. "Are you mad? I knew you'd be mad. Even after I got all dressed up for you. And you never dress up for me. Don't you like to dress up?"

"That's not the poin-"

"It's nice to dress up Sanji. I took a long shower so I felt very clean. And then I borrowed Mom's dress." It was almost comical how serious she was when she added, "Don't tell her though because she doesn't know. But you can tell about the shoes, because the shoes are mine. You aren't going to tell about the dress are you?"

"No, I won't tell about the dress but-"

"I feel much better when I dress up because I look good. You think I look good don't you?" But she left me no room to answer. "It's all about confidence. When you're confident you can say and do what you want and no one can stop you. That's what daddy said. Confidence is freedom."

But I couldn't take it any longer.

"Ninamori, You're drunk."

"I know, I know," she says and I get the feeling she's been waiting for me to say this. "But it's all okay. I brushed my teeth, so the plan would work. Oh, but you don't know about the plan. I used your toothbrush, Sanji. I'm so sorry."

I'm still not sure how I feel about her using my toothbrush. Of course, by now I've already purchased a new one. But for a while I couldn't help but feel a little awkward every time I brushed my teeth. I didn't want to just throw the old toothbrush out though because that'd be like saying that I thought her mouth was disgusting. Which is not the case. Still you have to admit that it's strange to have someone else use your toothbrush. It's just too personal. Even if you've had the other person's tongue in your mouth. But maybe that's just how I feel about it.

Moving on.

"What plan?"

"The plan is a secret," she says in whispers, and it has to be one of the cutest things I've heard in a long time. But I have no time to be wowed by cuteness as I feel the need to take responsibility for Ninamori. Even if her breath is minty fresh, she is still drunk as a skunk. And I have to make sure she's going to be all right. I thought briefly about calling her parents, but I didn't want her to get in any trouble. So I figured I'd just have to take care of her myself.

Upon closer observation, she looked as if she could pass out at any moment, but that was clearly not her intention. Somehow she managed to move even closer to my person. For a moment she just stood there staring into my eyes. I felt something stir inside of me.

"Ninamori," I say and my tone makes it clear that I know what she's thinking and that I don't think it's such a good idea. It's not that I'm not interested in kissing her at the moment. I'm just not so used to making out with drunk people. If you're not also drunk, then it's almost as bad as making out with a blow up doll. Albeit, a blow up doll that's breathing and kissing you back. But that's not the point. I'd at least like her to be aware of what she's doing.

She gets up on her tipi toes and leans in to kiss me and I can't help but feel like the biggest jerk alive when I turn my head. But this does little, if nothing to stop her. Instead of aiming for my lips, her kiss lands somewhere along the right side of my jaw. I'm naturally surprised by this. But then she attacks again directly under my chin. And again at my neck. And once more right above the collar of my shirt. This is infinitely worse for my resolve than a kiss on the lips. Next she's tugging at my shirt and despite my gasps of surprise she continues to lift it up. But she only gets the shirt as far as my armpits as I refuse to raise my arms for her. I'm not that far gone. She throws a few more kisses at my neck and I shut my eyes to keep my tenacity.

She pulls back to better raise my shirt, which allows me to finally get a handle over the situation. When she finally realizes that I'm not cooperating she gives me this look of annoyance and confusion. I didn't want to do it, but I had no other choice. I stared right back at her and resolutely said, "No."

I knew it wasn't my fault, and I knew a lot of it was due to the alcohol, but I absolutely hated myself when she began to cry.

"Oh… come on… don't…" I say as I see her face erupt in agony as the tears began to well up in her eyes. She lets out an unrestrained sob and I feel the intensity of it like a jolt in my heart. I'd consider running a knife through myself, if I thought it would make her stop. Instead, I circled an arm around her shoulders and led her to the couch. She put up no resistance whatsoever, collapsing into me as we landed on the furniture. She desperately wrapped her arms around my back and cried harshly into my chest. I have yet to experience a more heart-breaking scene.

"Eri," I say soothingly, making sure to use her first name. "It's okay." She let loose another cry of anguish and I awkwardly rubbed her back. "I'm sorry. It's all going to be alright."

Somehow she manages to find her voice, but what she says almost makes me wish she hadn't.

"You. Hate. Meeeeeee!" she cries. Each word is separated by a ragged intake of breath.

"No!" I say strongly. "Of course I don't, Eri. You're one of my best friends."

She takes a moment and composes herself… well at least a little. It's clear that she's still crying, but it seems as if she's got it under some measure of control. But I feel horrible about the sadness of her tone.

"But you always liked him better."

And suddenly I feel numb. It's clear that she's talking about Naota. What an awful accusation to make? But I couldn't bring myself to refute it. As if roused by my prolonged silence, Ninamori stares up at me with her tear streaked face. At least there's no make up running from it. She never did wear much of the stuff. But there was no mistaking her expression. I would have had to work extremely hard not to notice the anger etched upon her face.

"I…" I start, but decide to switch directions. "You make it sound like some sort of competition."

"But it is!" she insisted. "You broke up with me for him. And you always pick him over me!"

"That's not true," I say. I wasn't even sure if I was lying or not. The words just naturally slipped out. "And breaking up with you was a mistake."

"And you always smile at him," she adds in her defense. She suddenly seems sad again. "You never smile at me that way."

I have no idea what to say to this. No idea at all. So I just pull her close. And I kiss her forehead. And I stroke her hair as gently as possible. For a while Ninamori seems content with this. I can feel her body shaking as she leans up against me, but she's finally stopped crying. When she spoke again, the passion was gone from her voice. All that was left was sadness.

"The plan didn't work," she says, but I just keep quiet. "Why couldn't you just let me?"

I look down at her, but she's not meeting my eyes at all. She's staring off into some spot in the room that doesn't look particularly interesting.

"You were supposed to kiss me," she says, but I'd already gathered that much on my own. "And you were supposed to hold me. And then we'd go to your room. And you'd take me."

"Take you?" I couldn't help but say those words aloud. It was just a bit surprising.

"I would have told you I was on the pill, so it'd be okay. You would have believed me too. But why didn't you kiss me?"

And suddenly I wanted her to shut up. The way she said that made it clear that she wasn't "on the pill". I really didn't want to hear anymore, because I didn't like where this plan was going.

"He's probably gone now, Sanji."

"Who's gone?"

"I loved him and now he's gone."

A terrible thought ran through my head. "Are you talking about Naota?"

"But you wouldn't have left. You'd have stayed to take care of me. You wouldn't make me take care of it alone."

I had stopped stroking her hair by then. My mind was on a completely different track than hers. "Wait a second. Where is Naota?" I asked.

"What difference does it make?" she said with surprising force. "Probably with that woman."

"Of course!" I thought aloud. "The girl!"

But I couldn't understand how he could possibly be leaving. He didn't say a word to me. He didn't even mention the possibility. And he certainly didn't say goodbye.

But then the words, "I'll miss you" rang clearly through my head. I felt my eyes widen.

I was up in a second and ready to move. I moved to the door and put on my shoes as fast as I could. Then headed to my closet to grab my jacket. But before I could pull a single arm into a sleeve, there was a force pulling on me.

"Don't go."

My motion stopped completely at these words. She had gotten up from her position on the couch and clutched at my arm with no intentions of letting go. When I looked into her face, I saw the beginnings of fresh tears welling there. I was instantly frozen in place.

"Stay."

If I hadn't been convinced before, the soft desperation in her voice was sure to do the trick. There was no way I could leave her then. It was simply impossible.

I let her lead me back to the couch were we settled into the same position. Only she connected her hands around my back, as if to physically restrain me from leaving. I slipped off my shoes and stared into her unsmiling face. She stared back into mine for a moment, before once again laid her head upon my chest. Though my arms were somewhat trapped, I managed to hold out my jacket and drape it over her shoulders. As I did so, she let out a small sigh. Though she had to be tired to the point of exhaustion, she continued to throw glances up at my face, as if to visually confirm that I was there. We stayed that way for hours until she finally fell asleep.

Even after she began to snore, it was a while before I worked up the courage to break free of her hold. I slipped silently from under her and gently laid her down on the couch. I made sure she was on her side, just incase she had some trouble keeping her stomach fluid down in the middle of the night. I even went into the kitchen and grabbed the small trashcan I keep in there, placing it beside where her head lay.

After that, it was pretty much easy. I slipped my shoes back on, but left her the jacket. It might get cold. I grabbed my keys off the coffee table and made my way to the door. As I slowly opened it as not to make much noise, I surprised myself by saying a little prayer. It felt like the first time I'd prayed in years.

I silently asked God for two things:

To allow me to find Naota. And to make it back before Ninamori wakes.

I don't think I could have lived with myself if I let her down again.

---------------

I showed up at the grassy spot by the bridge at about nine. I wasn't sure if she'd show up there or not. But I did know she wouldn't arrive until it was dark There was a variety of places she could land her Vespa, but I had a feeling she'd show up here. It just felt right. But it didn't really matter where I was. She'd find me eventually. This time was different than all the others. This time she wasn't on some mission. She was coming for me.

I didn't really expect her to show up the night of the concert. There was no way for me to know just how far away she was coming from, or even how fast it takes her to travel any distance. I just camped out in the grass with my backpack full of clothes, and my guitar. Playing a few notes now and then, I looked up towards the stars and waited. Unsurprisingly, nothing happened. There were a few times when I jumped to attention at the passing of a satellite through the night sky, but other than that there was nothing much to get excited about. At about 5 AM I pulled a blanket over myself and settled down to sleep. She'd come when she came. There was no reason to worry about it.

But that night I wasn't disappointed. I only had to wait until 2 AM before I spotted the approaching light in the distance. It was a surreal sight if I'd ever seen one. The headlights of the Vespa blinded me as it made its decent from the sky. As it approached the ground it slowed down notably. However, when the motorbike touched down a few meters in front of me I heard a harsh curse word emanate from its driver. She'd hit the ground a bit harder than she expected. She stepped off the bike, leaving her helmet to dangle off of the handlebars. My breath caught in my throat.

For the first time in months, there stood in front of me Haruko Haruhara.

Her hair had grown longer since the last time I'd seen her. Much too long actually. While it had once been short enough to be considered shoulder length, it now reached all the way down to her waist. It didn't make sense that it could grow so long in such a short period of time. This generous amount of hair was in no way well groomed. It had previously been stuffed inside her riding helmet. Having been loosed from its bounds, it now appeared frazzled and curled. If it weren't for the vibrant nature of her expression, I would have guessed that she'd just woken up moments before. She was wearing the exact same clothes she wore the first time I saw her. With her long red jacket slightly unzipped revealing the white long-sleeved t-shirt beneath, and those shiny black pants that looked too gaudy to be authentic leather. The ensemble was completed with a scarf, a pair of matching gloves, the goggles resting upon her head, and the double-necked guitar hanging from her back.

Haruko looked like an alien.

"Hey, Ta-kun," she said grinning wildly. "You rang?"

I'm still not sure exactly how it happened. She might have walked towards me, or I might have walked towards her, or maybe we both walked towards each other. All I know is that I somehow found myself within her arms. I held her close and rested my head on her shoulder. Though she had a few inches on me, we were about the same height then so it was more or less a natural fit. We stayed that way for several long moments until Haruko decided to pull back. I was glad, however, that she stayed within arms reach. I honestly didn't want to let her go.

"I know you missed me Ta-kun, but they'll be time for that later." Her eyes held me almost mystified. I couldn't believe she'd finally come. "I want to know everything you did while I was off defending the universe from certain doom."

I couldn't help but smile. There was no way I'd take her words at face value.

"There's nothing to tell," I say.

"Come on Ta-kun. Tell me about all the fun you've had while I've been away." Her crazy grin widens. "Did you grow any facial hair? Play some good music? Kiss any girls?"

I can't stand myself for blushing. It was like I was 12 again. Her teasing is my one true weakness. But I held her gaze and stayed my ground.

"It was all for you," I said breathlessly. She looks almost surprised at this response. For a moment her smile falters, and I thought I even caught a splash of pink on her cheeks. But soon the moment is gone and her smile is back in full force. I wouldn't have her any other way.

"You've grown up, Ta-kun," she says and I'm sure she's not talking about my height. "Looks like my little Earth boy is finally becoming a little Earth man."

And I continue to blush. Her half-complements are just as bad as her teasing, if not worse. I lap up her words of praise like water in a doggie bowl. And I don't know why, but I desperately want to touch her again. I want to feel a part of her against me. Any part would do. So I reach out my hand and my palm brushes gently against her cheek. I know I'm sweating and I know I'm shaking and I know that neither of us truly cared. I take a small step forward and I find myself leaning in to capture her lips. I wanted them pressed firmly against mine for a moment in time. No motion. No tongue. No lust. Just the constant pressure of connection gained from a long chaste kiss.

But it didn't quite go down that way. Haruko, whose eyes had flickered briefly from mine, spoke several words that completely shattered the moment.

"Who invited Taro-kun?"

I follow her eyes and turn to look behind me. Walking toward the two of us is Sanji, with Haruko's old Rickenbacker guitar slung over his shoulder. I think briefly of fleeing, but it was clear that he'd already seen us. To knowingly dip out on him like that would just be impolite.

"Sup Naota?" calls Sanji from a distance. He's still walking and doesn't come to a stop until he's about 2 feet away from the two of us. He wasn't smiling, nor was he frowning. His expression was that of unreadable calm and that made me worried. He gives a glance toward Haruko and casually asks, "So that's the chick, huh?"

I nod in affirmative.

Haruko, now standing shoulder to shoulder with me, looks down at me and asks, "A friend of yours?"

Again I nod. "Could you give us a few minutes?" I ask her. She too nods, but makes no motion to leave us. I sighed in frustration. She still had all the manners of a four year old. But at least she remained quiet from then on out.

"What, no goodbye?" says Sanji with a bit of a smirk. My stomach aches with guilt.

"Didn't Ninamori give you the letter?"

"No," said Sanji with a shake of his head. "She wasn't in much of a condition to remember it, I suppose."

I don't question him as to what this means. I'm not sure if I had the right anymore. I was leaving. As far as I was concerned I was already gone. But there were still things that needed saying. So I said them.

"I'm sorry, Sanji."

"Don't sweat it," he says as he waves off my words. "I understand. It's rough."

"Yeah, but still…"

"No, no, I get it. I'm actually flattered really. I'm the really bright star, huh?"

I find myself grinning. He remembered that stupid analogy of mine. Sanji was always good for stuff like that. Remembering the little details. But his next words wipe the smile from my face.

He looks over at Haruko and says, "But I'm still not brighter than the moon."

I'm at a lost of words. I find myself stuttering.

"I… I… it's not that simple."

"Of course not," says Sanji and for some reason he's shaking his head. "It's more than that."

"You have to understand," I say. "I worked so hard for this. You know… this is what it's all been for. If I knew that it would be this way… maybe I would have worked towards a different goal. But it's too late now. I made my decision months ago. It's much too late."

"Right," said Sanji. "It all worked out as planned, I guess. But you know what?" And he smiles this unhealthy smile at me. "I realized something on the car ride here. I'm not a good friend Naota. I'm not a very good friend at all."

I found myself frowning. "You're my best friend, Sanji."

"No I'm not," he says and his smile widens weirdly. It actually looks sad. "I'm actually your worst enemy."

He takes his guitar from the strap on his shoulder and I'm deeply confused. But when he grabs it by the neck and throws the heavy end over his shoulder, there's no way I can mistake his actions. I look over to Haruko at my side. She seems to be examining her nails. I look back at Sanji and my confusion rises.

"Sanji?" I ask feeling nervous to the point of fear.

"I'm not your friend Naota," he says repeating himself. "Because everything you've worked for, everything you've fought so hard to gain this past year, is what I plan to take away."

I catch the dangerous look in his eyes and I manage to slip my guitar from around my back just in time. He rushes forward with the Rickenbacker, ready to swing for the skies. I raise my guitar in defense and it looked as if I'd have just enough time to block. But he was faster than I thought, and his attack held one crucial surprise: He was aiming at Haruko.

I thrust my guitar in front of her in the nick of time, absorbing the brunt of the attack, but still being overpowered by his momentum. Haruko leans backward with a flexibility that I hadn't expected and let out a cackle of a laugh.

"This should be good," she says, but no one else laughs. I don't remember ever being so pissed off in my life.

Sanji's a smart guy. He doesn't say anything stupid like, "Get out of the way" or "You're not the one I'm after." He just pulls back his guitar and readies another swing. This one is aimed at my side and I barely lower my guitar to block in time. The force of the impact sends the edge of my flying V into my hip and it feels more than a little uncomfortable. I knew I'd have a bruise there, but it definitely could have been worse.

Sanji pulls back his guitar again and prepares to wind up for another blow. But I'm ready for him this time. I trust out my guitar driving one of the points right into his stomach. He groans a bit and doubles over and for a second I think I've won. But he takes his guitar in a swiping motion and attacks at my legs near the ankle. There's no way I can block him this time. The pain is instantaneous.

Having caught me off balance, he moves backwards a bit and tries to regain his bearings. My jab at his guts, seemed to take a bit out of him, but he wasn't ready to give up quite yet. He looks at me, then he looks at Haruko and his decision is made in an instance. He takes two big steps toward his original target and swings at her forehead in a downward slash.

But no, I wasn't going to let it go down like that.

I'm not sure how I reached the two of them in time, but I raised my guitar over my head, holding it at the base and neck, and somehow managed to block the hit. The two of us stood in conflict like that for a while. Sanji trying his hardest to force the Rickenbacker downward, and me doing my best to resist him. Haruko, who hadn't so much as flinched, stood behind me laughing even harder.

And then I got an idea. I lowered my guitar quickly and sidestepped from under the attack. Sanji, still attempting his downward thrust, drove his guitar straight toward the ground. The surprise on his face was evident. He tried to bring his guitar back up to a reasonable defensive stance, but I was much too quick for him. I gave everything I had as I swung my guitar against the side of his face. His head went spinning as he fell toward the ground… the sound was sickening.

"Oooooh!" said Haruko. I could just picture her wincing behind my back. I really hadn't meant to hit him that hard. Dropping my guitar, I rushed toward my fallen friend. My heart was racing. He wasn't moving.

"You hit him pretty hard," said Haruko and I couldn't help but be annoyed at her lack of concern.

"I know that," I say as I kneel down to check him. His chest was rising and falling. That was a good sign. I placed two fingers to his neck and found a pulse. That was a good sign too.

"Where should we put the body?" asked Haruko. "Do you think anybody'll miss him?"

"We're not going to move him!" I yell, but this only causes Haruko to smile.

"Aw, Ta-kun's all concerned about his little friend."

I'm not paying attention to her anymore. I was already thinking of a plan. I couldn't just leave him there unconscious like that.

"I'll use my cell phone," I say. "I'll call 1-1-9."

I knew it wasn't likely that they'd try to trace the call, but I figured it was worth a shot. I dialed the number and the operator picked up.

"Please state your location and the nature of your emergency."

"Help him!" I tried to say it urgently, but I'm not sure how good my acting skills were. So I just set the phone down by where Sanji lay and hoped that someone would come to get him soon. And then I didn't know what to do. I just stood there staring at Sanji, feeling horrible about what I'd done, even though he was the one who'd attacked me first.

"So what now?" asked Haruko. "Can we go?"

And I remember how absolutely annoying this woman could be.

"Give me a second, alright!"

"Okay, okay," says Haruko sounding offended. "You sure have gotten touchy over the years, Ta-kun."

I ignore her snide comments and head back over to the patch of grass where I dropped my guitar. I pick it up and lay it gently by Sanji's side. I couldn't help but feel that there was some symbolism in this. It felt like the right thing to do. When a guitar smacks you in the face, it should belong to you or something… actually that made a lot more sense to me at the time. Looking back on it, I realize it wasn't the most coherent idea I'd ever had.

But I was distracted from these thoughts. As I stared down at Sanji, I realized that this was likely to be the last time I ever saw him. It was a realization that brought a lot of sadness and regret in its wake. I don't know why I did what I did next… I guess I was just caught up in the moment. I bent down low to Sanji's face and… well don't think I'm gay or weird or anything… but I kissed him on the forehead. It just seemed like the appropriate thing to do.

After that, I was done with him. I got up and turned my back away from the person that is Sanji Miyamoto. The only thing that laid in that direction was sadness and regret. Instead I looked forward towards the future. I looked right into Haruko's serious eyes.

"You really loved him, huh Ta-kun?"

I smiled weakly. This hurt more than I thought it would.

"Yeah… I guess I did."

Haruko rustled my hair and smiled at me.

"Come on, let's get out of here before the man comes." She was referring to the emergency response vehicles. "You'll be okay, kid. You're made of some pretty tough stuff."

I think she'll still call me a kid when I'm eighty.

She mounted her Vespa and patted the spot behind her. I put on my backpack, hopped on the back of the bike, and wrapped my arms around her waist. But she turned herself around and lowered her helmet over my head.

"Got to protect that dome of yours," she said rapping lightly at the helmet. "You've still have a lot of sensitive information in there that you've got to tell me."

She then twisted her head back around at a rapid speed, sending hair flying into my face. That change was going to take some getting used to.

"And what information do you want me to tell?" I ask already knowing her answer.

"Oh not much really," she says. "I'd just like to know how you generated all that N.O. a few days ago."

I smirk at the back of her head. I'm not that easy. "Like I'd really tell you that now. You'd be gone before I finished the last sentence."

Haruko turned back towards me with that vicious grin in place. I'm not sure if she'd ever been more beautiful in my eyes.

"You really have grown up Ta-kun," she says almost motherly. And then she whips her head around again and I can feel the stinging lash of her hair on my cheek.

She revs up the engine on the bike and I can feel it vibrating heavily under us. I remember thinking that if the whole trip was going to feel like that, I'd probably jump ship halfway through. But then we started to move and the vibrations calmed down a bit. We picked up some speed on the bike and it looked as if we were going to crash into the river. But then Haruko pulled back on the handlebars and I felt the front tire lift. In moments we were air born and I had never felt more unstable in my life. So I clutched harder at Haruko and snuggled myself close. But my fear was all for nothing as we continued to rise into the sky.

It was the first time I left Earth.

------------

When I woke up in the grass it was still dark outside. The sound of a dial tone blaring in my ear did nothing for my aching head. I searched around clumsily until I found the phone by my head and turned it off. It took me a second to recognize my surroundings and even longer to remember what happened.

He hit me…

Oh well. I would have done the same thing if I were in his situation. I had tried to do the same thing to him, but it looked as if I'd failed. They were gone without a trace. The only evidence of them every being there was the phone in my hand and Naota's flying V guitar. I picked it up, along with the Rickenbacker and headed back to my car.

The drive back was short, but significant. I realized, most importantly, that my best friend was gone. Despite my best efforts he had left. He wasn't coming back on my account and there was nothing I could do about it. When I reached the parking lot of the Rocking Stones Bar and Grill, I parked the car and put my head in my hands. I didn't cry or anything. I just held my head and thought about all that had happened.

After I was done sulking, I got out of the car and headed up to my apartment where Ninamori sat up on the couch waiting.

"You left," she said blankly and I felt a sudden dread steal over my heart.

"I came back," I said. She nodded in agreement.

"You came back."

I walked over to where she sat and put an arm around her shoulder. She leaned into me and grabbed my other hand into both of hers. She lightly caressed my hand and said soothing words as I cried.

We never talked about that night again.

When we woke up later that afternoon she gave me the letter. We read it together. It wasn't as grandiose as I had imagined. In fact, the majority of it was merely instruction as to how to take care of the band.

He told me to get Masashi back on board, a task which proved to be relatively easy. When I approached him and asked him to join, he was almost eager. I guess it was true that his only problem with the band had been Naota. He was happy to join us again as base guitarist. I took up lead.

He also told me to settle our debt with the city. The whole "moon crashing into building" incident had caused a few damages to the Medical Mechanica plant. So we had to dip into our studio-recording fund in order to pay for them. It didn't cost nearly as much as I'd have expected. It only took us an extra two months of working in John's bar before we had the money necessary to record again. Even Ninamori pitched in and got a job, something that astonished Gaku more than anybody.

I was surprised that Naota left "Gaku instructions". He basically told me that if I wanted Gaku to act right, all I had to do was give him some praise every now and then. The guy was a glutton for positive reinforcement. To my surprise this actually worked out decently well. We still butted heads a bit, but for the most part he was easier to handle than before.

The Ninamori instructions were much more vague and a lot less helpful. In this small section of the letter he merely wrote, "Take care of her." I'm not sure, but I think I did a good enough job of that. I always tried my hardest to stay by her side.

That was about it for the instructions. The rest of it was merely an apology. I've read the letter over and over since I got it, but this is the only part I've manage to memorize word for word.

I'm sorry Sanji… I wanted to say all this to you in person, but well… I'm a wimp. I've never been as strong as I tried to look. I just did the best I could Sanji… it was all I could do. I know I've left you with all this responsibility. And I'm still not sure if it's fair to leave all this on your shoulders.

But I meant what I said that day. I don't leave without settling things and I don't take without giving back.

I've left you with everything I had. You've got my band. You've got my friends. And you've got my girl. It's all I had to give.

And yet somehow I can't help but feel that you were still the better friend.

I'll miss you man. Take care of yourself, and try not to mess up any of my stuff.

-Naota Nandaba

When I finished the letter, I couldn't help but laugh. The irony of it all was almost too much to take. After all we'd been through and all of this time, Naota had finally lied to me. And the funny thing was that he hadn't even lied to me in person. He'd waited to write it down in a letter. I couldn't believe he'd said it either. It just seemed so out of character for him.

Anyone with half a brain could tell that he was the better friend.

-----------

Thanks to Eric Blair for meaning to pre-reading (I got unreasonably impatiant and decided to post without him). If any of you likes Evangelion you should really go and check out some of his stuff out.

------------

AN: Thank you to everyone who continued to follow this story to the end. This one's for you. Feel free to ask any questions.

Also I do not support or promote euthanasia. I don't even know any Asian kids that well… (Bad joke I know).

Bonus Stuff!

(Everything you never wanted to know about The Sweetest Lies)

The title: I'll be the first to admit that the title barely fits the story. The only reason that this story is entitled "The Sweetest Lies" is because Naota doesn't lie. Yes I know, the ending scene seems to reflect the theme of the overall title and this chapter, but the only reason that the scene exists is BECAUSE I wanted to reflect the theme of the title. Luckily this worked out well and I was able to weave this detail into the story without making it feel forced. In fact, I like the ending scene as I feel (and this might just be the afterglow of finishing) that it brings up all the feelings that exemplify the overall message of this story.

The Overall Message of this story: Basically the message is that friendship is cool. And that it's better to have a good friend than have a boyfriend/girlfriend. But of course this part of the message is voided if you find a boyfriend/girlfriend who doubles as a good friend because then you've hit the jackpot. And really, I guess I've got a small chip on my shoulder when it comes to romance stories (even though I like a lot of good romance stories). I think it's pretty average to have a story where the most important relationship is between that of a guy and girl who love each other. So to mix it up a bit, I made my most important relationship between a guy and a guy. And I didn't even have to make them homosexual. The only reason I picked Sanji and Naota instead of Ninamori and "Sanja" is because I'm a guy and I understand how guys think (I have no idea what lies within the mind of women). You see, romance is not necessary for love. And just because you are romantically involved with someone doesn't mean that you love them more than anyone else. Also, I think I'm rambling a bit. So instead of saying anything else of any importance I'll just repeat what I said earlier. Friendship is cool.

The Sanji show: Sanji was supposed to be a bit part character originally. I needed a drummer and at the time I didn't want to write someone as annoying as Gaku… I probably didn't have the skill to do it well anyways. So I thought up Sanji. I said to myself, "He needs a gimmick". So I killed his parents and made him American. Then I thought to myself, "He needs a personality" so I gave him a bit of mine (not the whole thing… he couldn't handle it). That's why he's got the whole "I think too much" complex going on. Go figure. And despite all this "character" I had tried to instill in him, his dialogue still read like a Gary-Stu from way back when. At least this was true in the earlier chapters (back then Naota felt a little Garyish himself). But as time grew on I found myself drawn to writing Sanji. After all, he's the only character in the story who is adjusting to the new group of friends and whatnot. Also, his presence was the only way I could let any resemblance of romance creep into the story. Naota/Ninamori… well Naota already wanted Haruko. Ninamori/Masashi… just didn't seem right. Ninamori/Gaku… come on, she has standards. While originally I had no plans whatsoever to make Sanji one of the central characters of the fic, as I saw his friendship with Naota blossoming, I couldn't help but love it. So this dynamic ended up being the focal point of the fic. And since Naota is semi-mysterious and the mastermind of all things "behind the scenes", a lot of the story had to be told through Sanji's point of view, since he is both ignorant of Naota's plot and close to Naota. In short, he stole the show. Taking most of the scenes in the latter part of the fic. Oh my god, I wrote a self-insert (kinda)… somebody shoot me.

What's the deal with Masashi? I had no idea how to write Masashi at first. So I winged it.

What's the deal with Naota? I wanted Naota to take control and not to lie... even if this didn't quite fit his character. During the beginning of the story I almost completely ignored the fact that he was acting out of character. I cited poor excuses like, "He's been really hurt by Haruko's actions" and "many years have passed. I personally call bull crap on these earlier excuses. Later in the story I began to realize how grossly out of character he was and tried to bridge the Naota I created with the Naota of the series. I think he's a little better towards the end. Almost recognizable even.

Drunken Ninamori? Not as funny as you'd think. She's pretty screwed up actually, and that scene shows a glimpse of it. There's a reason she steals her mother's dress and talks about her father. These are the people who left her first. Her father with his work. And her mother with her lack of visible caring. She fears abandonment more than anything, so when Naota leaves, it hits her pretty hard. So She thinks, "how do I stop anyone else important from leaving me?" And she realizes that the only person who's really left TO leave her is Sanji. So she gets drunk, comes up with the "Secret Plan" and the rest is history.

Gaku Pukes: That was a really fun scene to write. I mean a really, really fun scene to write.

Haruko: I was somewhat afraid that I'd mess Haruko up, but I think I like the end results. The long hair was my personal twist on her. I think it's one of my better ideas. And the way she acts, is well… I think it's pretty much similar to the series. She hasn't changed a bit. She's still selfish. She's still teasing and alluring and all that jazz. She's still Haruko… or at least I hope it turned out that way.

Naota's love: The way Naota feels towards Haruko is very tender. My interpretation of the series is that he almost loves her like his mother. Except he thinks she's very hot. And he admires her carefree nature. And he knows she's not a good person. And all these impressions of the women get screwed up in his head so that the only sense he can make of it is, "I just love her".

I think the short paragraph where he wants to kiss her is… something… I'm not sure. I just liked writing that too. I could see it clearly in my head. But I guess that's a bit off topic. Really the truth is, Naota is pretty sprung. He's been sprung for years.

Planning: There was no planning at first. I originally wrote this after the writing high of "The Art of the Swing". I just wanted to write something as good as that… and I more or less failed. Overall this story isn't as good. But towards the end of the story the chapters did begin to improve to somewhere along that level. This chapter and the last chapter were more or less planned out ahead of time. By the time I reached the "in the blink of an eye" chapter I had already planned out a rough idea as to how it would end. This included the ending concert scene (even a bit of the song), The drunken Ninamori scene, The Naota/Sanji fight, and Naota's letter.

Fight Night: The Naota/Sanji fight was my first attempt at ever writing a fight scene. I have no idea if it's good or not. I think it's alright. It's quick enough to be almost believable. Almost

The Song: the song came to me after thinking really really hard about what I'd write down for the song. Basically I wrote it to some music (which also popped into my head) that somewhat resembles something that Maroon 5 would sing to. Only that's nothing like what I'd imagined Naota's band to sound like. But since you can't hear the music, it doesn't matter. I could have written the lyrics to the tune of a country hit.

Astronomy: I used to really like astronomy. Thus the "moon" and "star" metaphors. Mystery solved.

Character ratings (greatest to least)

Honesty: Naota (duh), Masashi, Gaku, Ninamori, Sanji (the last two are debatable…)

Kindness: Sanji, Gaku, Naota, Ninamori, Masashi (again… debatable)

Ability to love: Naota, Ninamori, Sanji, Masashi, Gaku

Annoyingocity: Gaku, Sanji, Naota, Masashi, Ninamori

Charm: Ninamori, Sanji, Masashi, Naota, Gaku

Calmness: Masashi, Ninamori, Naota, Sanji, Gaku

Coolness: Ninamori, Naota, Masashi, Sanji, Gaku

Sense-o-humor (quality wise): Ninamori, Sanji, Naota, Gaku, Masashi

Complexity: Ninamori, Sanji, Naota, Gaku, Masashi (maybe…)

Overall liked by me: Three way tie between Ninamori, Sanji, and Naota, then Gaku, then Masashi

End Character ratings

My overall impressions: I liked it. It was fun to write and some of the scenes felt almost real to me. The writing and plot could be better, but as far as I'm concerned, it's not half-bad.