'Portal to Somewhere'
"Personally, I... Well, I must say. I'm a bit surprised he hasn't dropped dead yet."
"Oh for crying out loud, you can't be serious."
"...Stress cardiomyopathy is serious, it's-"
"You're not even a real doctor."
"Off my back, for a second. He's not even a real doctor."
"If you would like to see my credentials, they're on the wall. Over there. ...All five frames. Yes. Thank you. If that's all--"
Behold the kid in the waiting room.
...Not that one.
The one to the left.
Yeah, the kinda freakishly pale one. Moving past that, the kid's not just freakishly pale, he's freakishly Riku. Heads, shoulders, knees and toes-- the whole nine yards, absolutely Riku, staring rather intently at his smiley-face shoelaces. They're walking back in time here, Riku and these shoelaces of his, just to tell you a fine old story that truly began, not in a psychiatric waiting room, but in a town faire square in the fine month of March.
In like a lion, out like a lamb.
No one could have seen it coming. A complete and total freak accident, for sure. After all, it's not every day that you see a runaway ferris wheel making its way down Main Street, taking a fire hydrant and a corn dog stand right along with it. It rolled straight into the ocean, dead set on a dead-man's path, but shockingly enough, only two truly died. One man, one woman-- a delightful middle-aged couple who had asked for the operator to stop it at the top, just for a while, just long enough for them to take in the water, the island, and the dying sun.
That dying, dying sun.
It was somewhat ironic that their son-- not their sun, which was dying, but their son, which was living-- was buying a corn dog at that moment the screech was heard, the metal was bent, and the wheel sent spinning off into the evening. He had just started over towards a bench and sat down, napkin in one hand, corn dog in the other. Nothing on it-- the boy was a die hard plainest and would sooner drop dead than having anything come between him and that pure, pure taste of processed meat and cornbread.
He had looked up with an expression of mild interest as the wheel rolled on past, colossal in size and perhaps significant in meaning. Streamers and rope lights were the banners of the newly-weds, a man, a wife, and their wheel. Riku didn't know at that time that those were his parents being spun, jerked, and twisted about so violently by the out-of-control amusement. He simply stared, mouth slightly ajar, corn dog hitting the asphalt with a nearly inaudible and sickening plop.
He merely stared, yes, stared as the wheel screamed and groaned and moaned its way down into the harbor, into the bay, into the water with quit the terrific splash. When the waves died down, he could see the very top of the ferris wheel protruding from the water's surface by just five or six feet. Poised perfect on the crooked crown were two bodies, tangled up in one another. In the moment he took in the bodies, his thoughts were, oddly enough, not the predictable Oh my GOD, those are my 'rents up there!
They were simply: Weird how the wires look like dead sea grass.
Maybe the wires really did look like dead sea grass, floating there around the sunken ferris wheel. Surrounded by the terrified shrieks and howls of the town's craziest and sanest alike, Riku's thoughts were, ultimately, lost. Sort of like the corn dog by his feet. By his feet, which, mind you, were dressed in a pair of Vans, tied with a pair of smiling laces, each of their faces a different, happy color.
Weird, and a little haunting, perhaps. Rumors flew that day of the boy's deranged nature the moment he laid eyes on his poor, pathetic parents. Both of them had expressions of pure elation painted on their cold, dead faces. Riku stared on, oblivious and numb. He looked to the ground, he looked to his sneakers, and he looked to his laces. You keep my shoes on my feet, he thought.
And standing beside the double grave, somewhere past the black slacks and above the mossy earth-- You keep my shoes on my feet, laces.
On the day of his parents' funeral, not many people came. Riku was not so far gone as to be spared the torture of wondering where his friends were. But when he allowed himself to focus for a moment, to think for a moment, he found he already knew the answer. They always had gone on about how he liked to solve his problems by himself. This was just another one of those many, many problems. Those many Riku problems.
During that time, the relatives arrived-- slowly at first, but with a growing frenzy and a more maddening message every day. Riku shook so many hands in the space of one week, he was half surprised when he remembered that, no, he was not running for mayor, he was burying his mother and father. A tragedy covered up by warm smiles and one hell of a bizarre commentary.
"Boy, ol' Haj' 'n me, ol' Haj' 'n me, we used to have some good times, boy. A shame, it is. A damn shame an' I'm sorry to hear 'bout it. Yeah, poor ol' Haj'."
"Your mother was always such a gentle woman... I'm so sorry for your loss, Riku. If there's anything-- and I mean anything I can do. Please. Don't be afraid to let me know, mm? Here, this gelatin is for you, boy. Ohhh, do stay safe."
'Hajime & Nora Wataya' was written in some crazy sort of lettering on the gigantic headstone poised over the grave site. Above the carved marble stood an angel, a cross dangling from one hand, a lantern from the other. Every time Riku looked at the peaceful, expressionless face, he couldn't help but feel as though that damn statue in itself was more depressing than the bodies of those buried beneath it. He would've liked to chip and chisel the wings clean off, but Riku was a good boy.
Riku didn't go around dismantling angels.
Riku went around having a massive series of chest pains and searing headaches that left him bed-ridden and virtually immobilized for weeks.
Talk of the town was that the boy was touched. The thing was, Riku was starting to believe it himself. And the belief started festering like the worst kind of wound, festering for some months until it grew so bad, so damn bad, so very damn bad.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where the first act begins, heralding the arrival of the Type A aunt and uncle. The classics. The aunt, Mayako, came from his father's side. The uncle, her husband, was an American man, laid-back as could be and only driven up and over a wall, any wall, by his dearly beloved wife. Quite a pair, the two of them made that day. That day Mayako grudgingly let herself in, presented Riku with a paper from the court, a paper full of legal mumbo-jumbo, a paper making Riku legally bound to Mayako and her hubby.
So ends the beginning, giving way to the middle, to the early, early middle, to the summer, to the scene in the psych's office where Mayako was once again trying to jump through any hoop imaginable to get Riku off her hands and on his own.
"It would not only be illegal, in this case, but terribly, terribly unwise to let him alone. After two attacks already, it would be a grave mistake to leave Riku to fend for himself. What he needs, ma'am, is a change of scenery. Take him back with you. Get him away from all this. Let him start over. He might surprise you."
"The only thing Riku's bound to surprise us with is a new local gang."
"Maya, Hajime never mentioned Riku was in a--"
"Haji-- Hajime? Since when do you know my own brother better than me? Honestly, he and that woman spoiled that kid rotten and now they've left me to deal with it. Good lord. Good lord."
Riku tilted his head to one side, his cheek resting on his knee, his body scrunched up into the large leather armchair the clinic provided. With his eyes open, the smell of dead cows sort of bothered the kid, but with his eyes closed, it wasn't so bad. He could hear their voices in the other room and he certainly wasn't stupid, by any means. Under any normal circumstances, Riku would've thrown open the door with a triumphant cry and would have proceeded to curse the living hell out of his aunt. He would've loved that. He would've loved to do that.
But as things were, Riku was heavily sedated. He wasn't entirely sure what kind of drugs they had him on. He wasn't depressed, therefore he only became more confused as he tried to figure out just what on earth they thought was wrong with him. If I knew what it was, I could prove to them it isn't.
Wincing and curling his arms around his head, Riku remained motionless for a good long while. He didn't want to listen, but he couldn't escape the voices...
"...an entire summer to recuperate and I'm sure he'll be alright."
"And what about when school starts up? Where do you think he's gonna go?"
"...Is there a public high school near you?"
"How long do you expect us to take care of this kid, huh? When's he gonna be able to get out on his own? Isn't he old enough?"
"Don't you 'Maya' me. I'm serious. I can tell. That kid's no good. He's always been a little queer, you know."
"One year, ma'am. Time enough for us to wait and see if the medicine does his heart any good, to see if he eases his nerves any. Just one year-- not even that. He'll be entering his senior year in high school and, after that, college, if he chooses. He'll inherit his parents' money and shouldn't require anything more from you or your husband."
"He'd better not."
Some time later, the door opened. Riku could hear it, just as he could hear the approaching footsteps, just as he could hear her words, snapping, "Oh for crying out loud, don't sit in the chair like that. You're seventeen, not seven. Come on, we're outta here."
And that was it. Just like that, they were indeed out of there. Boarded a plane for some place Riku had heard of, but had never been, for some place that was, at the end of the day, still not home. When Riku arrived at his aunt and uncle's house, it took him a moment to take it in. It was not so much that the building was impressive-- it looked just like every other single family home on the block. It was more the sudden, painful realization that this was the new life he'd had dealt out to him.
It felt strange. It made something in his chest bite and crawl and scratch and scrape. It made him cringe. It made him stop and stare and stand in the doorway of his new bedroom and just stand, stand, stand and shake and quiver and realize that it was not his bedroom, but a guest room. This house was not made for him and he did not belong. Nor was he at all welcome.
The first night, Riku slept on the floor, propped up on a pillow salvaged from his real room, from his real home back on the islands. He didn't want to disturb the perfectly made bedspread laid out over a bed so foreboding.
The second night, he was too tired to care. But he still didn't stop thinking of the slight possibility that there might be some sort of accident, some sort of bizarre shift in dimensions that would leave him waking up somewhere else. And he didn't pull himself out of that hazy half-wishful, half-delirious state of mind, not for quite some time. Not until the room stifled him so much that he retreated to the backyard, to the verdana painted white and lying beneath the scorching sun.
They kept him on meds, that poor boy. More meds than an eighty year old diabetic with a plastic hip could every possibly hope to shake a stick at. He was sedated, he was passive, he was, to be terribly cliche, nothing more than a sickly shell of what he had been. Riku should have taken every step to Destati kicking and screaming and biting and fighting and shoving and resisting, dammit. But he wasn't-- found he couldn't. Found he couldn't do anything more than sit and sit and sulk and stare up and out at that tired sun hanging in the tired sky.
Until the day Riku found himself-- eyes closed, breathing slowed to a crawling pace-- trying to make believe that the drop of sweat sliding down the bridge of his nose was really water, that the sky was about to open up and let down a nice, cool shower.
But then there came the voice.
She had the appearance of a girl freshly attacked by a professional stylist and a curling iron, but it wasn't necessarily in a bad sense. Loose red curls hung down around her bare shoulders, scrawny limbs and skin alike held back behind a tank top and a rather distressed-looking pleated mini skirt. Her neck was bent just so, head cradled in her arms, legs locked around the railing of the porch. All in all, she looked quite like some beautiful, exotic little monkey.
The stare-down began like that, rather uneventfully and rather dead silent until it dawned on Riku that the girl wasn't exactly planning on leaving unless she got an answer to her question.
"Who're you?" Riku countered. Really, he didn't honestly care who she was. He cared about two things: one, why she was there, and two, why she felt the need to pry into his life during such a time in which he felt like ripping heads off. Quietly and sullenly... ripping heads off. But still, proper manners deemed he ask her for her name first. A name which she gave most willingly.
"I'm Kairi. Your turn."
"Riku. Uh, Wataya."
The Kairi girl smiled, revealing perfectly straight and pearly teeth. "Riku Wataya... May adopt you or something?"
"No." Riku shook his head lightly before slowly continuing with, "I'm her nephew."
"Cool! You here visiting for summer?"
"No." Riku shook his head again, this time even slower, his response even more hesitant, but still coming through in the same careless monotone. "My parents died."
"...Oh my god. ...Ohmigod, I'm so sorry." Kairi's mouth hung open for a few moments before her face was screwed up into an apologetic frown and the words started spilling out like nothing you've ever heard-- "Oh God, I feel like such a jerk now! I'm sorry, really. Listen, if you don't wanna talk about it, that's so fine. That's totally fine by me. I'm so sorry." In quite the display of speed and (shockingly enough) silence, Kairi unwound herself from the porch rail and landed on the green of the lawn, spinning on her heel and hurriedly making for the low fence which Riku could only assume she'd come over in the first place.
"Are you leaving?" he asked.
Pausing, Kairi turned and tilted her head, studying Riku was a brief, calculating look before she offered him a small smile. "Um... no! Of course not. I was stretching my legs. Uh... You want me to stay? I'll stay! Hey, say, uh, this is great, huh? No one lives in this part of the neighborhood. At least, no one did. I used to have to trek all over with my bike just to hang out with someone! But this'll be cool, huh?"
With the girl back and dangling off the verdana rail, Riku couldn't help but half wonder if he'd really made the right decision in requesting her to stay. ...Well, sort of requesting her to stay. ...Or something like it.
"...You're totally ripped."
"You're buff, Riku. You work out or something?" Riku winced as one slender little index finger jabbed at an innocent bicep, causing him to shrink away, causing her to smile, giggle, say, "The girls'll totally be all over you when school starts up. Yep, completely and totally aaall over you."
"Say, don't get weird about it, you goof. Tons of girls around here are prettier than me. Skinny and blonde and tan. You'll like them."
"What's wrong with you?"
"There's nothing wrong with having red hair."
"I'd say there's nothing wrong with having silver hair, but then again, I've never seen anyone with silver hair, so I can't say. Is it naturally like that?"
"I guess so."
"You guess so?"
Riku blinked at Kairi's laughter, tilted his head to one side and pursed his lips thoughtfully. Either I've completely forgotten how to interact with other human beings, or this girl is just downright weird. ...Somehow, I have a hunch it's a little of both. Huh. Imagine that. His brows drew together at the thought, his head shaking softly, his hair falling down around his eyes.
"Sorry," Riku mumbled. "Uh... my head kind of hurts. That's all."
Eyes widening as though the thought had just occurred to her, Kairi nodded understandingly, saying, "Hey, you're so pale and all, maybe you're not used to the sun. You should go inside."
"No! I mean... No, really, I... Fresh air's good."
Riku slumped back down into his sprawled position on the lawn-chair, heaving a sigh as the plastic scalded his back straight through his thin t-shirt. No good. Being branded by a piece of furniture was not high on Riku's list of things to do and he promptly began to fidget uncomfortably, trying to cool off somehow and failing miserably. Like it or not, Riku got a very clear view of Kairi's cleavage as she leaned forward earnestly-- and he suddenly felt the need to stare at the painfully cloudless sky.
"Shade?" Kairi suggested.
"Shade is good, too," Riku mumbled. Between the two of them, they managed to maneuver the burning chair out of the sun and into the shade of the overhanging roof by the very side of the house. Riku sat back down, Kairi returned to her perch on the railing, clearly unfazed by the sun's rays.
And then there was silence. A big nasty old silence that reared its grisly head and pointedly reminded Riku of his inability to deal with strange people. Especially when he was unsure if their company was of their own willingness or of their own sympathy. 'Let's go hang with the kid with dead parents! He's bound to be loads of fun!' It was a disturbing thought that Riku tried to lock away in the closet of his brain.
"You really had it rough, huh?" Kairi asked, turning the metaphorical key and safely tucking Silence in the metaphorical closet. Riku was grateful. But he still said nothing, still focused on his hands, woven together by his fingers in his lap. Her voice came again: "Hey, it's okay. You don't have to say anything. Sorry if I made you uncomfortable."
"You want some Tylenol or something? For your headache? Hm, I hope you're not getting a heat stroke or anything. I don't remember what you're supposed to do if you get a heat stroke."
"It's not a heat stroke. I'm okay."
Pointedly ignoring this comment, Kairi looked towards the open kitchen window. "He-ey! Mayako!" she called out. Strangely enough, Riku's aunt appeared, knobby elbows resting on the window sill, graying hair pulled back into a loose and messy bun. Riku thought she even looked a little bit... pleased. The thought sort of scared him. He considered trying to lock it away, too, but then feared over-stuffing his (still metaphorical) mind-closet.
If the metaphorical hinges broke, what would he do then?
"Kairi! ...And Riku." Mayako added his name with a slight sneer, a slight drawl. "What can I do for you, Kairi?" Perky as possible when addressing the crazy neighbor. Riku was completely at a loss.
"Hey, how come you never introduced me to Riku here, huh?"
"I figured he'd introduce himself eventually. Which he obviously has."
"You have any Advil, Tylenol-- something like that?"
Mayako studied the pair of teenagers carefully for a moment before disappearing, only to return several seconds later, holding out her fisted hand with a simple, "Here you go, Kairi." Kairi eagerly skipped over towards the window, reaching up to take several small capsules from Mayako's outstretched hand. Riku just watched on in silence.
Mayako nodded, turned away from the window, and vanished once more into the cool darkness of the house. Next thing Riku knew, a pair of bright little pills was dropped into his hand, the sweat on his palm making them sticky, ready to dissolve. Pills, pills, more pills. Enough to make Riku sick. But, perfectly oblivious, Kairi busied herself by walking over towards the hose in the backyard, rolling it out while explaining, "May's a raging feminist, didn't you know? She can't stand it if she thinks a guy's got a spine. Probably why her husband's such a tool."
"I think he's nice," Riku said, rolling the pills around his hand, trying to prevent them from liquifying in the heat and sweat. Disgusting.
"Oh sure! He's nice, but he's a tool. He's a nice tool, you know? Hey, here." A spray of cool, fresh water shot out from the hose, bubbling up and over and covering Kairi's outstretched hand. She looked at Riku expectantly. Riku looked at her blankly. "...You're gonna take water with those, right?" she asked.
"...Oh. ...Water. ...Right."
Obediently, Riku popped the pills in his mouth, and held the hose away from him, placing his mouth by the little waterfall it made and drinking deeply. Surprisingly enough, he didn't gag or choke on the capsules like he normally did. And he couldn't help but feel slightly disappointed when the water was turned off and Kairi took the hose back to where it belonged.
Silence, take two. Riku made a mental note to find a way to craft himself into a properly sociable person. Clearly people in this town expected you to talk, no matter what sort of shit you were in. Things did not look too promising for Riku in his current state.
"Ahh... Wow, it's hot out here. Hey, too bad for you you missed the last day of school by just two weeks, huh? You could've met everyone."
Kairi licked her lips and leant up against the railing, legs sticking out in front of her. She looked almost like the was studying them rather intently for a moment, but it was shattered as she tilted her head upwards, shooting Riku a small smile and a promise. "Hey, it'll be okay, you know?" Smile, smile, smile. "It's not the end of the world."
"You can't honestly say that, can you? You don't really know what's going on. You don't really know me."
"No, you're right. I don't know you at all, do I? So then. You're doomed. You're going to suffer forever and you're never going to be able to get over it. You'll spend the rest of your life sulking around like this. Forever and ever."
Mouth hanging just slightly ajar, it was all poor Riku could do to just stare blankly at his new neighbor before quietly questioning, "How can you say that?"
"I didn't mean it. At least I know you're alive in there."
"What are you talking about?"
Cupping her hands to her mouth, Kairi once again turned towards the kitchen window, calling out, "Mayako! He-ey, is it okay if I borrow Riku for a while? I wanna show him around!"
"You could've asked me first," Riku muttered. Either no one heard him or no one cared. Riku had a sneaking suspicion it was the latter.
"Sure thing, Kairi. Whatever you want," came his aunt's response. Riku could just barely make out her muttered addition of, "No sense, no sense at all," over the soft cling and clatter of glasses and plates. Mayako would undoubtedly be making lunch soon and there was little room for doubt in Riku's mind that his aunt wouldn't hesitate to eat without him. He'd probably be on his own for the meal, not that he really had a problem with it.
Dining with Mayako and her 'tool' of a husband hadn't exactly been a custom Riku had grown used to just yet.
But he was pulled out of his thoughts by an insistent tug on his arm and a pleading voice which said, "Come on! You gotta get up and moving if you're gonna get any better. No time for pouting around here!" Pulling harder, Kairi nearly had Riku halfway out of the lawn-chair, the boy precariously clinging to the metal. "Up ya go!"
"Get off me."
"Now, now, is that any way to talk to a lady?"
"You're no lady. You're some crazy viper demon trying to eat my soul."
"Yeah, well you're a soulless prick, so no soul for me to eat! Let's go!"
"I don't feel like going."
"I don't care, Riku Wataya." This was followed by a delighted little laugh which, under most circumstances that did not involve the prying of one from Position A to Position B, probably would have been quite charming in Riku's mind. "God, I just love saying that," Kairi continued. "Can't get enough of it. Riku Wataya. Riku Wataya. Go on, try it!"
"Knock it off."
"Fine! Riku Wataya! Now leave me alone!" Tug. Flop. "Whoa!" The two of them tottered on the edge of the wooden steps, Riku still holding on desperately to the lawn chair he'd dragged along with him, Kairi still holding on desperately to his arm. If there existed one snowflake for every ounce of desperation between Riku, Kairi, and the lawn-chair, it would be snowing in June and it wouldn't even be crazy. Desperate, desperate!
"Come on, you gonna make me break my back or what?" Kairi whined.
"What's wrong with you?"
"You're perfectly miserable just sitting here all alone!"
"It's called mourning, dammit. I don't feel like going anywhere because I'm in fucking pain."
"Anger's good. Keep going."
"That's it! Rage!"
"What th-- Are you on crack?"
"Absolutely not! I believe in a strict 'hugs not drugs' policy. You do drugs?"
"Shame, I was looking forward to a big bear hug." Kairi let out a lighthearted little laugh that reminded Riku, oddly enough, of wind-chimes. For a thoroughly unpoetic person, Riku could only be surprised at himself. Surprised... and somewhat concerned.
"You're lazy. Get up now, we gotta move or Sora's gonna get in trouble!"
"Yes, Sora! It'll be a great way for you to meet new people, Riku Wataya."
"Stop saying that."
"Well, what am I supposed to call you instead, huh? Pumpkinhead?"
"Do I look like a pumpkin to you?"
"No, you look like a total grouch."
Pressing frustrated fingertips to his temple, Riku let out a small ragged sigh before explaining tiredly, "Listen. Five hours ago, I was passed out on the floor from crying so much. I don't feel like talking. I don't feel like moving. I don't want to be here. And I don't want to go anywhere else."
"I said no."
Kairi caught her bottom lip between her teeth as she leaned against the rail once more. Riku stood there lamely, feeling strangely guilty, strangely cold. Strangely dead. The girl in front of him should've given up and beat it back home-- he didn't want to talk, he didn't want to be friendly. He wanted to--
"It's reeeally hot out here," Kairi said. "Your headache gone?"
"No." The snap was gone from the kid's voice, truly a kid as he curled in on himself. He didn't care what Kairi thought or if his creepy aunt was still spying on them from the kitchen window. He didn't want to hate all over this strange new girl, but he didn't know what she wanted. He felt awkward and misplaced, completely isolated and yet cornered at the same time. It was a scary thought, a big thought, too big to ever be truly rid of to ever pen up and hide away. No matter how big any non-existent mental closet could ever be.
Whether Kairi understood or not, Riku didn't know. But when she bent down again, all Riku saw was her tiny little hand, somewhere between the color of mocha and porcelain, outstretched and perfectly calm. Her voice was demanding when she said it, when she spoke. "Let's go now." But she smiled and that was what made it okay. Not that Riku saw it, but that he felt it through her fingertips as they slipped around his wrist.
"It'll be okay."
Don't fool yourself into thinking he believed her for a moment. But still. It was a start. A start he didn't truly understand, but a start nonetheless.
x x x
Riku had never before seen such a perfect, damn near model replica of middle-upper-class America. All that was missing was the 'Leave it to Beaver' theme song and a few "Gosh, golly, gee whizz, that'd be great!" shouts from the neighborhood kids. Riku had never seen anything so frightening in his entire life.
Yet amidst the picket-fence paradise strolled Kairi beside him, pointing out this, that and the other with the air of a distant tour guide running through a daily routine.
"And that's where Mr. Tigi lives-- we don't really know much about him, but he has a poodle we call Frou Frou. Well, we don't really know much about the poodle either, but no one really cares. The Koskis live next to him and they have two kids in elementary school-- really annoying little morons, if you ask me. There's Paine and Rikku... oh... hm, I can't remember their last names... Well, they live over there. They're the local lesbos-- total sweeties, the both of them-- though Paine would just as soon kill me for saying so..."
"Uh, hell-o? Lesbians! Homosexual girls. Come on, Riku Wataya, even you aren't that spacey, are you?"
Riku merely blinked and shrugged. "This just doesn't seem like the kind of place where... uh, where that sort of... lifestyle would be so easily accepted. ...You know?"
Kairi seemed to find this terribly amusing, for as they reached the top of the gently sloping hill, she let out an airy little giggle and waved her hands around emphatically, saying, "It's the kids here more than the adults."
"You know. The kids! Most of us are okay with it. It's weird. I mean, well... It's kind of like this. At our school, there are a lot of people who are firmly against homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality-- you get the picture. But if you really ask around, most kids are either quietly supportive or they really just don't care one way or the other."
"Really." Kairi's smile stretched into a broad grin and she opened her mouth as though to continue, but, after a moment, she closed it again, apparently having second thoughts. The rest of their walk continued in a peaceful silence only disturbed by the hum of lawn-mowers and the chirp of sprinkling systems, the neighborhood running like clockwork.
The girl finally seemed to reach her destination after crossing train tracks and dry creek-beds, roads busy and silent alike. They were in what appeared to be the back of a shopping center, the aroma of fast food hanging thickly in the air along with a very faint odor of old garbage. Quite pleasant really. But rather than stopping and taking time to explain, Kairi simply kept walking, right over to where an old school bus was parked. Frankly, Riku had no idea why the hell there was a school bus behind a shopping center during summer vacation. But he was either too disinterested or too lazy to ask, so really, it made little to no difference whatsoever.
What did make the difference was when Kairi leant against the bus, arms crossed, kicking her heel against the front wheel and calling out, "Sora, get out from under there, would you? Come on, there's someone I want you to meet!"
...Sora was under the bus? What the hell could...?
"Who?" came the muffled response. Riku cocked his head to the side-- it was a fairly delicate voice, but it sounded a bit mellow for a girl. ...Not that girls aren't mellow. It just sounds pleasant. Like bath water. Gee, that'll go over well. Telling the strange girl she has a voice like bath water. Way to make friends, Riku. Fucking loser.
Kairi, who remained (thankfully) oblivious to Riku's internal monologue, turned to him then and shot him a wink. "Oh, a certain attractive neighbor of mine by the name of Riku Wataya," she said.
"Wataya? Japanese?" came the Bath Water Voice.
"I'll meet him later."
"He's right here, Sora. Like. Now."
This seemed to provoke the response Kairi had been waiting for, seeing as an alarmed "Oh!" was quickly accompanied by a scuffle, a slam, and an, "Oww! Nuu... ah... uh..." Out popped some yellow sneakers, drawing out the tan legs, skinny torso and... alarmingly flat chest?
"Sorry there." Sora grinned, holding one hand over his eyes, looking up at Riku and wincing from the sunlight. Though Riku didn't know it then, that one split second in time, that one perfect picture sitting right there in front of him on the burning asphalt-- it would stay with him forever as his one lasting impression of Sora.
"..." Sora's a guy. ...Sora's a guy ...Oh.
"Riku's living with Mayako," Kairi chirped, as though that one fact explained absolutely everything.
"Ohh... So that's where the Japanese comes in. ...May's really something else, huh? The original radical feminist-- crazy, but in a good way!" Sora laughed lightly, placing one hand behind his head and ruffling up his own already-mussed hairstyle. Whether it was a nervous gesture or whether he was checking to make sure the bruise on the back of his head wouldn't be too bad, Riku couldn't really tell. But he felt strangely relieved, somehow.
Probably because there won't be so much sexual tension? Riku plus girls has never equalled much of anything other than annoyance or chaos. ...Then again, maybe I'm not being fair. ...Or maybe I'm just not... thinking? ...Headache. Fuck.
"Yeah... right..." Riku frowned softly, then realized what he was doing and screwed up his face to try and force it into a smile. "Uh... so..." What he got was some lopsided sort of thing that felt like it was stabbing his face with an ice-pick. "School bus?" he asked stupidly.
"Sora likes to pretend it'll roll over him someday." Kairi nodded sagely, tugging her skirt down and brushing her hair back over her shoulders.
"I do not."
"So why do you lie right under the tires, you goof?"
"It's cool under there. Quiet, too. Sometimes there are even cats!"
Rolling her eyes dramatically, Kairi wagged one slender finger beneath Sora's nose, her cheerful eyes narrowing slightly as she lectured, "Sora, Cid's totally gonna kill you if you don't get back to work. You know how he is about you taking such a freaking long lunch break! You shouldn't get on his nerves so much-- you'll kill him and his blood pressure, I swear."
Sora groaned in protest, mumbling and muttering as he hopped to his feet. Riku stood silently by while the two friends jabbed and jostled one another for a short moment, exchanging words that Riku couldn't make out and couldn't really care less about. He already felt like a third wheel-- no need to make it any worse by noticing the things flying right over his head. But as Sora disappeared inside, Riku felt a small hand pressing at his back and shoving him forward, Kairi's voice smoothly suggesting, "Riku, why don't you go check out the store, huh? You never know what you might find interesting there."
And that was how he first entered the bookstore. Illegally. Through the back door which so clearly read 'Employee Entrance Only.'
Sora was nowhere to be found, but rather than hurry back out the way he'd been shoved in, Riku took several steps forward, quiet as could be. The shop smelled distinctly of cigarette smoke and dollar-store air-fresheners, yet Riku couldn't possibly bring himself to mind it once he came out of the back hallway and stood facing row upon row of worn, well-loved... well, books. Obviously. But there were more books there than Riku had ever seen crammed so tightly before-- from floor to ceiling, from shelf to shelf-- some precariously balanced, others just jam-packed in as close as could be.
Riku wasn't a die-hard lover of all things literary. But just walking through the aisles of the shop, he suddenly felt the urge to become one, to spend every last moment of his life curled up in the corner of that shop, reading every single word and making sense of all the things that all these people must have found so important. So important they just had to write about it. So important they just had to share their thoughts with someone, with anyone, with a total stranger who they might never ever meet, but who could be profoundly changed just by a few of their words.
He was flipping through a rather randomly selected book when he was finally found. But it wasn't by Sora.
"This isn't a fucking library, kid. You gonna buy it or what?"
"Ah..." Riku stared up into the face of a middle-aged man with brilliant blonde hair and enough of a scowl to frighten away a large pack of small children. But Riku was certainly no small child and he actually found he had half a mind to make a rather rude retort before returning to reading. However, before he could even get that far, the familiar little brunette appeared at the end of the aisle, a curious little look upon his face.
Riku stared at Sora.
Sora stared at Riku.
And then Sora promptly dumped his entire armload of books on the ground with a loud CRASH!
Wheeling around, the man cursed and swore and flung his arms around, hollering, "What the--? Fuckin' brat! What the hell're you thinkin'?"
"Sorry, Cid! I'll clean it up!" Sora grinned sheepishly as Cid glowered and stomped off towards the front of the shop, his attention obviously dragged away from the silver-haired teen who still held that one book in his hands. After gathering his stack of books back together, Sora threw Riku that impressive smile once more, saying, "Don't let Cid freak you out. You can keep looking, you know. Do you like Kerouac?"
Looking at the book in his hands, Riku smiled. Not so randomly selected after all, it seemed. 'On The Road' was only the beatnik Bible of the sixties. While Riku himself was no beatnik, there was something about that era, about that lifestyle which just drew him in.
"He's one romantic helluva guy. ...You know, I mean, I mean his ideas! His ideas, the stuff he writes about... Crazy beatnik." Sora laughed loudly, but there was a trace of something else in it-- nervousness? Riku could only smile slowly, watching the smaller boy draw closer, feeling the tips of his mussy hair graze over the back of his hand, Sora bending over Riku's arms as he reached for a book below them.
...Getting a little out of control with the bullshit observations there, Riku. Time to cool it down a little.
"Alan Watts?" suggested Sora.
Sora tapped the one temple with his index finger, a small smile settling across his pouty lips. "The stuff in your head," he said. "...And elsewhere. He's good-- probably a major stoner, but if it works, it works, right? It's good, I promise. Makes you think. Gives your brain some exercise."
"Well, my brain could definitely use it."
"Well, the rest of you doesn't need it. You work out or something?" Damn, what's with these people? You'd think they'd never seen a guy work out at a gym before or something. Not that you can tell by looking at them. Crazy naturally beautiful people...
"I used to."
"Used to..." Sora seemed to mull this over for a moment, his lips mouthing those two words several times over as his fingers played thoughtfully across his smooth and slender little chin. Looking up, he asked, "Play any sports?"
"Play any instruments?"
"Rebel without a cause?"
"...Impressive intellect? Misunderstood genius? Subdued super-hero?"
"...No, no, and no."
Hands flying about his face in some random gesture, Sora laughed loudly, sweetly, and, Riku decided, most un-nervously. "Man, if you were any sort of polite, you'd ask me about myself. Not everyone is always going to want to talk about you, right?" Sora winked-- he actually dropped one eyelid and winked at Riku, forcing his books into the boy's dazed arms before grabbing ahold of one of them and leading him around the aisles of the shop with nothing more than two simple instructions. "Here, take these. Come on!"
Wait a minute, 'if you were any sort of polite...' Sora thinks I'm being impolite? Or self-centered? Or something? Like hell! I'm one fucking excellent conversationalist when I want to be. Little weasel. Little spiky-haired weasel boy. ...With cute little whiskers and paws? GAH. Focus!
"Sounds great the way you say it. Good start, man."
Mouth hanging open, Riku was clearly caught off-guard by that comment. Thankfully, Sora had apparently hauled them to where he had in mind, for his hand promptly released Riku's arm and began tracing the spines of countless books as Sora searched. Thankfully, he couldn't see Riku swallow thickly and try to erase the slight blush from his face. "So... what sort of... music do you listen to, Sora?" Riku asked, praying that his voice would crack or do something equally idiotic.
"Everything. I don't limit myself. If I hear pop and I like pop, I like pop. Jazz, country, indie, rock, alternative, emo, techno-- who cares. Music's music and it makes people feel, don't you think?" Smile, smile, smile. It was too bright to handle and Riku could only look away.
"I guess so," he replied.
"You guess so?"
"You sound a lot like that girl... Kairi," Riku said with a small smile.
"Kairi? You like her?" Sora was facing the books again-- Riku couldn't get a good look at his face. Let's see. How to approach that question...
"Like... like how?"
"I could hook you guys up if you wanted."
"No, that's okay." It was Riku's turn to laugh nervously, but he had the sinking feeling that his was more obvious and painfully less cute than Sora's had been. So he quickly shut himself up and let thoughts rattle around his own head as Sora appeared busy, every once in a while snagging a book or two from Riku's arms and tucking it here or there within the mighty shelves before them.
"Kairi and I grew up together. We were born two months apart-- she's older than I am and never lets me forget it. Ever since, we've been like this." Sora held his middle and index fingers up, curled one against the other, saying, "Kinda cool, right?"
"Yeah, I gue-- I mean, yeah."
Sora's mouth curled into a playful little smile as he elbowed Riku gently, taking the last book from his hands and tossing it between his own two. "She's really important to me, so don't go being mean to her, got it? I just might have to beat you up! Hah!" At this, Sora lightly batted Riku's arm with the back of his hand, laughing alllll the while. ...Riku couldn't see what was quite so funny, so he just sort of stood there. And stared. ...And felt increasingly awkward.
"Come on, Riku, it was a joke. Laugh a little, already!"
"But what's so funny?"
"Ohhh, Kairi didn't tell you. Weird. She's usually always ragging on me about it." Mouth puckering into a thoughtful little frown, Sora went silent for about half a second before waggling his fingers playfully and spinning off to the side, finally shelving the very last book. "There's no way I'd ever beat you up. Trust me."
"Why should you trust me or why wouldn't I beat you up?"
"Well, you should trust me because I trust you. You seem like a trustworthy kinda guy! A little bit of a hard-ass, yeah, buuut--" Sora burst into that delighted laughter again before holding up both hands and saying, "Kidding, kidding, I swear!"
"Hm. Something's just not right with you, you know?" Sora bent over slightly, peering up at Riku with his hands tucked behind his waist. There it was again, that action that so closely pinned Kairi and Sora together. Kairi had done the exact same thing when trying to bend Riku to her will! Riku knew it! ...The sad thing was, as much as he knew it, he was still thoroughly unprepared when Sora's tan little hands reached up towards his face and attacked his cheeks, pulling his mouth into a crazy sort of a grin. "There we go! Now hold it, just like that. Look at your feet for inspiration if you've got to, for crying out loud!"
"Your shoelaces, Riku."
"Oh." He looked down at those colorful smiley laces and he had a strange sort of feeling he'd done it before-- for indeed he had, many, many times before. You keep my shoes on my feet, laces.
"You know, I bet you're really an amazing person once you get past all the stuff outside yourself. Maybe you've bulked up so much you're suffocating your heart in all of it. And I don't just mean bulking up your body. It's something else." Sora's smile faded then, just ever so slightly. Riku wasn't sure he'd ever seen something so sad before, and that was just one more thought in a sea of the thousands that scared him.
...And then there was silence.
Sora hooked his fingers inside his lips and stretched his mouth wide, tongue dangling out. "Nya-aaa-aaah!" And of course, Riku could only chuckle. "Phew. You are human! You had me worried." Sora grinned again as he said it, and all earlier sadness was wiped clean from his face and the cheerful expression he held there.
"So... if I wanted to buy a book..." Riku started.
"I'll hook you up, Riku! Nooo problem!"
"How would you know what I want?"
"I wouldn't. I'd guess. As I'll do riiight now!"
"You know all these books?"
"Heck no! I read, but I don't read that much. I try and avoid the classics like the plague because they're just so boring, you know? Modern's best, but don't tell Kai I said so. She's a big ol' 'Pride and Prejudice' fan."
"Try this one." Sora flipped a book into Riku's hands, leaving the taller boy to flip it over, to trace his fingertips over the cover.
"...'The Elephant Vanishes'?" he asked.
"Short stories. You know, even if you're not a big reader or anything, you can still get something out of these because it doesn't take to long too finish them, you know?"
"I can read just fine."
"I can tell. You're every living, breathing anti-hero."
"Say, I gotta get back to work or Cid'll really get pissed. You hungry?"
"Here!" Having led Riku to the front check-out of the store, Sora pulled out a small brown paper sack from behind the counter, your everyday lunch bag, in Riku's book. "It's nothing but lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and a little bit of dressing. Kinda like a salad sandwich. But I promise it's good when it's hot out like this."
"But it's yours."
"Actually, it's Kairi's. She always makes me lunch in the mornings. I don't want it today though, so it's yours! Eat up, man. You look starved. Besides, if I know Mayako, she didn't wait up for you, right?"
"Probably not." Riku tried his best to offer Sora a smile of his own, but it still felt faulty. So instead he settled for standing there, brown bag in one hand, book in the other.
"Hey, two bucks for the book, Riku. Not gonna give you that much slack, even if you are new."
And Sora laughed. And Riku laughed. And for a split second, maybe they were both perfectly normal.
"Thanks. Er. For the sandwich and the book," Riku said, sliding two dollars across the countertop. He couldn't help but notice Sora's fingernails were perfectly clean, perfectly trimmed. Perfectly girly in every way.
"Any time! Well, the book part. Trust me, that sandwich bit? Yeah. Never gonna happen again." Sora turned towards the front of the store and raised a hand to someone through the display window-- only then did Riku notice Kairi leant up against a concrete pillar, clearly waiting outside for him. Shooting Sora another half-assed smile, Riku made a beeline for the door, only stopped by Sora's voice ringing out once more behind him. "Oh, and Riku! One more thing!"
"You gotta smile more, man. Your world's not over."
"...You people just love saying that, don't you?"
"Something like that, yeah!"
Some time later, Riku and Kairi were back on the porch, back beneath the sun, both of them splitting the sandwich that had been meant for Sora. If Kairi was at all put-off by the fact that Sora had just up and given her carefully crafted sandwich away, she didn't show it. Instead, she just studied Riku closely in between their snippets of conversation, thinking her own deep thoughts while Riku was lost in his.
(x) (x) (x)
Stress cardiomyopathy: Remember that big hooplah back in February when it was said that you could really die from a broken heart? This is that medical condition-- far more common in females than in males, but Riku's girly enough to pass off, I think. To save you a fair amount of Google-ing, stress cardiomyopathy is a stress induced disorder thing that basically gives people 'heart attacks,' but is obviously due to stress, trauma, or grief-- not clogged arteries.
I haven't forgotten any of my other fics, of course! This is just my special warm-weath-inspired-whatchamacallit. Sooo.
Like it, hate it, want to burn it? Lemme know!