Come Inside

mirror, mirror

There was once a dreadfully wicked hobgoblin who made a mirror which reflected everything good and beautiful in a way that it dwindled almost to nothing, and anything that was bad and ugly appeared worse than it already was.

That's the funniest thing about it, thought the hobgoblin.

One day he was flying high among the clouds, flashing his mirror on the land below. Suddenly it slipped from his hands and fell to the earth, shattered into millions of little pieces, and they flew about all over the world. If anyone got a speck of it in his eyes, it stayed there, and from then on he would see everything crooked or ugly.

Some people got splinters in their hearts, and then the heart would turn into a lump of ice. The hobgoblin was pleased and watched as the tiny bits of glass continued to whirl about in the air, every tiny splinter possessing the same wicked power as the whole mirror.

He laughed.

a little boy and a little girl, part one

First comes heavy breathing
Staring at the ceiling
What will happen next

-i don't wanna know

Takashi hates this place.

It is his first time attending a wake. The air is stale, the atmosphere is stifling, and everywhere he looks there are people exchanging whispered snippets of gossip that seem too inappropriate for a solemn occasion. He does not blame them. It is impossible to feel the gravity of the situation when the deceased did not play a significant role in your life.

The aforementioned deceased is one of his family's favorite lawyers. She was a kind, upbeat woman with beautiful eyes and a brilliant smile who gave him candy from her purse and chocolates for Christmas. He's seen her several times before, and it confuses him, at first, when he sees the woman encased in a pristine white box with flowers in her hair and rosemaries set neatly on the swell of her breasts, underneath her clasped hands. He hears his little brother ask if she has trouble breathing, that beautiful woman in the box, and their mother smiles a little too darkly and tells him that she is dead.

"Like my little dog?" Satoshi asks curiously.

"Yes," their mother answers, "just like your little dog."

Satoshi ponders on this for a moment, before he asks, genuine concern in his voice, "do you think they'll be able to find each other there?"

Wherever 'there' is, Takashi's not sure if he wants to find out soon.

His mother's tall form turns away from them slightly, impatiently gesturing to Takashi. He takes out a black and silver envelope from his black coat and places it on her open palm as carefully as he could. Her fingers curl around the thick envelope, and she begins to walk away, telling them to amuse themselves for a while. He watches the edges of his mother's black kimono swish with her abrupt movement, and sees the pale sliver of white skin when she bows before a young man in greeting.

His mother says her regrets to the woman's husband, whose eyes never leave his wife's face, and Takashi wonders if this is a practiced speech, given his mother's formal, detached way of saying things. But her voice is calm and cool, and it has always been pleasing to everyone's ears, especially to his.

Takashi sits next to a little girl with wide eyes and brown hair who is playing with a sprig of poppies and rue in her hand, looking like a lost little Ophelia. He looks at her for a minute until he lifts a hand to touch the flowers clasped in her tiny hands.

"Hey," is all he offers, and she looks at him, nonplussed.

"Hello." It sounds more like a question than a greeting.

He normally does not do this. He is not the most sociable kid in the planet, but there is something sad about her, something off and upsetting that makes him want to see her happier than she is right now. Her wide-eyed innocence is a stark contrast to the sorrow that she wears on her sleeve, and there is no pride in her consciousness of this fact.

That may be the only reason he is telling her his name.

No one deserves to look like that.

"I'm Takashi," he says. Ten inches of air and five thousand superficial reasons separate their bodies from each other, but Takashi crosses the open area of forbidden friendship to hold out his hand to her. He takes her hand into his and leads her to a corner of the room, right next to the flower arrangements, away from prying eyes and sorrow and whispered words of regret.

"Do you like flowers?" He asks, eyes resting on the poppies and the rue. They're almost wilting, he notes. Just how long has she held on to them?

She purses her thin lips and fiddles with the rue. "No." Wear your rue with a difference.

"Do they mean anything?"

She nods.

"Sorrow," she whispers, looking at the coffin with glassy eyes. "She was my mother."

Takashi can't help but feel nauseous and drained and angry at himself (stupid, you're so insensitive) for making her unhappy. "Oh," he says, a little too breathlessly and uncomfortably. He wonders if he should say sorry, but he does not trust his voice enough. So he takes a sprig of violets from the flower arrangements and tucks it in her hair as gently as he could. She lets him.

"I miss her," she gasps out, and he winces, opening his small arms to her.

"Don't cry."

He learns very early in his life that saying things like that only makes women and little girls cry harder. Her short nails dig into his skin uncomfortably, and he hides his pain, because, surely, this is nothing compared to what she is feeling right now.

They sit in relative silence for a few minutes, and he runs his fingers through her hair, more out of fascination than any semblance of comfort. She is tired and sleepy and he is distracted and unsure of himself, but they can't find the strength or motivation to let go.

When he is called by his mother, his fingers still in her hair and, when he began to pull away, the back of his hand lingers against the violets in her hair. He gives her a shaky smile, as if to say, please let me be your friend, and she stares at him, her eyes flickering with some strange emotion, but makes no move to encourage him.

He misses the inquiring look in his mother's eyes, and the way her gaze slides over to the little girl is a little too critical and severe, but she looks away for a minute and sighs in satisfaction (or something close to it).

He goes home thinking of violets tangled in brown hair, flowers fisted in not-quite-white and not-quite-strong hands, and lost little girls with no mothers to hold on to, and realizes that he does not even know her name.

There was once a little girl and a little boy. They were not brother and sister, but they loved each other just as much as if they were.

Afterwards, Takashi often sees the little girl around his home, usually when he is practicing kendo or patiently working on problem sheets his tutor prepares for him. It seems that his mother has taken a liking to the little unnamed girl, having had only two boys who can barely connect with her in a lot of ways. Takashi takes lessons in etiquette and gets drilled in foreign languages, while the girl acts as his mother's little dress-up doll, being paraded around by maids in dozens of expensive costumes with frills and lace and ribbons made of silk or cotton. Takashi knows rather than feels that he should be somewhat jealous that she is getting all the attention, but he finds that he simply does not care.

One day, he catches her peeking into the library and tugs at the sleeve of her dress in a slightly rough motion. The fabric feels soft against his palm.

She bites her lower lip, lowering her eyes and saying in her defense, "I like books."

He eyes her carefully and she stares back. When he realizes that the staring contest would not come to an end soon, he closes his eyes and sighs. "What are you looking for?"

He pushes the door open for her, and she smiles.

They spend the next hour leafing through story books with exquisitely drawn pictures, and he reads to her because she wants him to. She listens with rapt fascination.

When one of the maids pokes her head in, calling for him, he stands up, dusts his clothes off, and idly touches the part of her hair where the violets should have been.

"What's your name?"

She smiles a small, secret smile and tells him.

In the summer, the two sat underneath the rose bushes all afternoon and played with each other. In the winter, they heated pennies on the stove and put them against the frozen window panes. These made perfect peepholes through which they could gaze at each other.

They make an effort to maintain their friendship despite their differences.

Mitsukuni is, at first, surprised that she is a commoner, but takes to her like bees to honey. She accepts him for who he is, not what he is supposed to be, and he appreciates – no, adores this little girl who is a little to straightforward and a little too oblivious.

Takashi shares different kinds of closeness with Mitsukuni and Haruhi. With the former, it is a closeness that is reminiscent to loyalty and binding ties, and, although Mitsukuni tells him to stop with the formalities, he finds that he simply cannot act casual around him, or anyone, for that matter.

With the latter, it is a lax kind of devotion, wherein one of them can simply put an end to their friendship, no questions asked. Not that he would want to do that.

They grow up together, go to different schools, mix with different crowds, but, in the end, they always come back to each other.

It is because she is his friend, he reasons. He put violets in her hair. She asked him to read to her.

Haruhi, who has never found the need to justify her relationships with people, does not say anything about the matter.

He likes to think that she feels the same way.

One day, it was snowing very hard.

As far as friendships go, they never fight.

He is a silent type of guy, and she never feels the need to engage him in conversation every minute. They let the silence permeate and fill the whole room, cloaking them like a warm and soft blanket of peace. They never need words.

He does not tell her a lot of things, and she never asks, so when he asks her about her plans for college (never mind the fact that she still has three years to go), she blinks at him and raises a hand to her lips.

"I always thought Tokyo University was the best place to go."

The next day, he files his application to Tokyo University without a second thought. A few months later, Satoshi waves around his acceptance letter, making sure to let Haruhi know immediately that his brother is going there.

"I'll wait for you," Takashi simply says, and goes back to helping her finish her literature essay.

She smiles.

When she steps into the gates of Tokyo University years later, he is there, waiting, as he promised, a hand stretched out for her to take.