Just Friends

June 9-June 15, 2006

Matsuda Bakery, Shinjuku

Footsteps on the stairs make the floorboards squeak. My bedroom door starts to open and I turn my head. It's my mom. "Takato, did you hear me? I said dinner's ready."

"Y-yeah, I heard," I say. I'm sitting at my desk. "I'm not really hungry."

"You said that last night, too," she says. I can tell she's worried. "You don't look very good. Are you sick, sweetie?"

"Yeah, I'm… sick."

She takes another step into my room. "Is there anything we can do? Do you need to stay home from school?"

"No, no. I just need to get some rest is all. I'll be okay."

"Do you want to talk about it?" she asks. She's not buying the 'I'm sick' excuse. I don't blame her after what she and dad saw, and… well, I don't want to tell them the real reason.

"Could you just, I don't know… Could you put my dinner in the fridge or something?" I ask. "I'll try to eat a little later."

"Well, alright," she says. "You should try to keep your strength up you know. It might make you feel better."

She leaves, closing the door behind her. I know she's right, but I don't want to feel better right now. She's also right about how I look. I catch my reflection in the window: my eyes are red and puffy, and I look like I could throw up.

I fold my arms on the desk burying my face in them. My stomach aches. Even if I did have dinner I don't know that I could keep it down. I do feel sick, that's true. It's my fault though.


It's a week earlier in my room after school. I'm trying to get some homework done, but I've been having a hard time with it since I started high school. It doesn't help that I'm always looking for anything to distract myself. I look up when I hear the bell at the bakery door jangle. I stick my head out of my door hoping to hear something—anything—interesting.

"He's upstairs in his room," my mom says. What? Who's she talking to?

"Thanks Mrs. Matsuda!" Oh, it's just Juri again. I head back to my chair to stare at my homework hopelessly again. I can hear Juri coming up the stairs. Those stairs creak and groan like you wouldn't believe. Always makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

"Hi Takato!" she calls from just outside my room.

I turn to face her and wave. "Hey Juri! What's up?" She's wearing her school uniform, one of those sailor things with a green skirt. It looks like she just got a haircut. And is that… makeup?

"Oh, nothing," she says with a little laugh and a big smile.

"You sure look nice today," I tell her.

She blushes. "You say the sweetest things, Takato! How have none of the girls around school grabbed you up yet?"

"Oh, you know," I say with a laugh. "I guess I'm just too fast for them." Yeah, sure, that and the other thing…

"So what are you up to?" She nudges the door shut with her foot and saunters over toward my desk.

"Oh!" I turn back to look at my homework. "Just some, uh, assignments. Yeah, it's really hard this year. I mean I'm not failing or anything but it's more work than I'm used to you know? I've been trying to get an earlier start on it is all." Why am I suddenly so nervous? It's just Juri. She comes by all the time. She's over at my place at least three times a week, and we always eat lunch together at school. Then again, there's something sort of different in the air. I just can't quite place my finger on it.

"Uh-huh," she nods. "Do you need a hand or anything?"

"N-no, no, I'll be okay. Besides, I bet you have enough of your own homework to do anyway."

"It's not so bad," she says, sitting down on my bed. "Besides, I owe you, right?"

"Huh?"

"For saving me," she says with an overly-dramatic swoon and a grin. "Takato: my knight in shining armor, who came to rescue me, the captured princess."

I… just sort of gawk at her. I have never been able to tell if Juri is serious. She sees me and tosses my pillow at me.

"The D-Reaper, dummy!"

Now it's my turn to blush. "I told you, Juri, you don't owe me anything. I couldn't let anything happen to you."

"Come on, how many girls get to say they were saved by a real knight?" she asks. That grin seems to be glued to her face. She's in a really good mood I guess, even better than usual. "Not only did you save my life, but you gave me a great story to tell about it."

I'm not going to argue with her on this one—there's no way I could win. "Well… if you insist, I guess it wouldn't hurt to have you check my work."

"This'll be great!" she says, jumping to her feet. "Let's see what you're working on!"

"Uh, yeah, okay." I turn my chair back to the desk and grab the assignment on top.

"Ooh, math," Juri says from where she stands right behind me and peering over my shoulder. "Looks tricky."

"Yeah, it is," I say with a sigh. "Math homework always takes me the longest."

"Good thing I'm here then, huh?" Juri asks. She leans forward, right up against me. She's trying to get a better look I think, but her… uh… things are in my back. It's… uncomfortable.

She points to one of the problems and starts explaining something or other. I'm not listening. Can she not feel that? What does she think she's doing? My heart is racing, I can hardly breathe, but she just keeps going on about math. The door's closed but my parents are right downstairs and I've never even… and we're just… just friends! Where is this coming from? Is it just me? Is it her? Is it really happening? What am I supposed to do?

I've got to say something. I turn to her and manage to get out a feeble, "Juri, I…" before she turns to look back at me. Our faces are only inches apart. I freeze. I can't just blurt out, 'Get your boobs off my back!'

I can't think of anything to say or do, so we're just silent for a few seconds. Then all of a sudden Juri does something I never expected. She beat me to the punch, just not the punch I was going for. We're on two different pages… in different books… written in completely different languages. Not that I blame her, but it's just not what I was thinking. I mean sure we're right there, inches apart, and sure I'd told her she looked nice… but she… sort of… kind of… kissed me.

It wasn't a bad kiss or anything like that. It was… nice, I guess. She just put her lips on mine and held them there a second. Her lips were closed the whole time. Before I even knew what was happening I'd had my first… kind of… sort of real kiss. Like an actual kiss, not a peck or a smooch or whatever you want to call it when you're a kid, but a real, actual kiss… kind of. I mean, I didn't kiss her back, but I'm pretty sure it still counts.

And now she's backed up, and she's staring at me, analyzing. I'm still not saying anything. I don't think I'm even breathing. Since when has she ever even thought of me like that? What is she waiting for? Whatever the question is, I don't have the answer! The seconds are getting longer and longer and if I don't do something now this awkward situation is going to turn into a catastrophe! I have to do something! Anything! But what? What would most guys do? I don't know! I just explode forward and kiss her back, just like she'd kissed me.

It's warm and… wet and… her lipstick feels weird. What am I doing? This is just… I don't even know what this is. Do people really like this? I can't tell if I should laugh or spit! This is stupid. This is really stupid. This is probably the most stupid thing I've ever done in my whole life! This is stupid and scary and disgusting and just… just… wrong!

Wait, what's she doing? She—she—she's kissing back! Oh this is bad! This is so bad! Her lips are… And mine, they're all… I can't do this! I jump back, like really jump, enough that I actually fall over backwards in my chair. I'm on my back, and we're just looking at each other. She looks confused. I'm breathing so fast I think I'm going to explode. She's still looking at me. Please, Juri, please stop looking at me! I don't want you to see me so… so scared. It's like she can see right through me. She can tell how scared I am. And suddenly she isn't confused anymore. She's mortified.

"Takato, I… I'm so…" Her whole face turns bright red.

"No! You're… I mean it's fine! Great even! You're a super great kisser!" I can tell it isn't working. Whatever I'm saying, my face still gives me away. I'm shaking and I sound scared to death.

She's got tears in her eyes. I barely hear her say, "I think I need to go."

"No! Wait!" I say, practically shout, without trying to get up from the floor. "Please, Juri, don't go! It was nice, it really was!" It's enough to keep her where she is.

"Then why…?" Oh no, she's crying. She's really crying. What do I do? My parents are right downstairs. It would be a miracle if they don't hear what's going on. Please, just stop crying.

"Juri, you're great! Really! It's totally not you!"

She can't seem to bring herself to look me in the eye now. "I shouldn't have… I'm so sorry Takato."

"No!" I'm trying to whisper, but it's coming off like a whisper-shout. "Please, Juri, please don't be sorry! I'm just not… I don't… It's me! Really!"

"Oh just stop it, Takato," she sobs.

"You've got to believe me!" I insist, scrambling to my knees and begging. "I'm just… I don't… like you… that way." Stupid move, Takato. She just bawls harder. "No! I mean I'm… I don't…"

"What is wrong with me?" she asks out loud. I don't know if she's asking me or herself, but I've got to do something to try to make this better. How can I possibly explain this so she won't get even more upset? How can I get her to stop crying?

"I-I like you, Juri, just, uh… I like someone else, okay?" Please work. I'll do anything if this just works.

"Someone else?" she asks through her tears. It distracted her, I think, so that's a start. "Is it… is it that girl who sits in front of you in home room?"

"What? No, not her. I just…"

"Stop it, Takato!" Okay, now she's not just crying, she's mad. That plan didn't work.

"Please, Juri, I didn't mean it! I'm sorry! I think you're the best friend ever! Please don't cry!"

She wipes the tears from her eyes but they just keep on coming. "You're j-just trying to make me—"she hiccups—"to make me feel better. You d-don't like anyb-b-body else. You just… don't like me."

Maybe, just maybe she'll calm down if she believes me. "No, really! I swear it's true!"

"Don't you think I feel stupid enough already?" she asks.

"I'm not lying! Really!"

"Then who is it? Who do you really like?" Shit. I wasn't expecting her to ask that. How did I not see this problem coming?

"It doesn't matter! I don't even…" I'm flustered. She lets out the biggest sob yet. She starts to leave but I grab her by the hand. "Don't go!" I plead with her.

"Just… just stop," she blubbers out.

"Don't—!"

She pulls her hand free and heads for the door. She reaches for the knob and sobs out, "…Bye, Takato."

"It's Jen!"

"Wh-what?" She stops in her tracks and looks back at me, eyes wide.

I can't believe I really just said that. I've never said it out loud before. I don't even like to think it. Did I really just say that to Juri? I feel numb all of a sudden. Everything's spinning. No way did I really say that. It can't be real. But I can see Juri looking back at me. She looks… Yeah, I said it alright.

And now I can't say anything at all. Juri, she just sort of screams and then runs out crying. The stairs rattle and squeak and then the bell at the front of the store jangles. Mom and dad are upstairs a few seconds later. They want to know what happened. They want to know what got Juri so upset. They want to know why I'm crying. I… I don't have an answer for them.


That was a week ago. Juri hasn't been back at the bakery since then. She didn't answer when I called her, which I only managed to do once after hours and hours of hovering over the phone, trying to think of what to say. She was nowhere to be seen at lunch, and the one time I did manage to catch sight of her at school she took one look at me and ducked into the nearest girls' room.

A week ago I was just a regular 15-year-old kid. I hadn't even had my first kiss yet. And then I… I got that kiss and I broke Juri's heart. Things seem so weird now. My mom and dad say they didn't hear anything but they're… so careful around me. I don't want to tell them what happened. They think Juri and I are fighting or something. At least I hope that's what they think. What if they heard? At school I… I worry about some of the looks I get. Did Juri go and tell the whole school what I said? Would she do that?

What I said. I… I don't want to think about it. I kind of knew… I guess. I just try to ignore it. I keep hoping it'll go away on its own, or that somehow I'll get over it. I want so bad to be normal. Juri was crying and nothing I said was working. It sort of slipped. Just like that. It only made things a whole lot worse. Suddenly I wasn't just the guy who broke her heart, I was a freak. She just ran off and now she's probably telling the whole world that I'm… that I'm… gay. I can still barely even think it to myself, but now everyone in the world thinks I'm… that way. I can't even talk to her. I don't know what I'd say, but… but there has to be something! I feel so helpless.

Oh no. What if she told Jenrya? He'd kill me! He really would kill me! He hasn't said anything yet but it's only a matter of time. When he finds out he's going to… I don't even want to imagine. I can't imagine. Shit. I'd be happy if he only killed me.

Why did I have to say it? What is wrong with me? I shouldn't have said anything. I shouldn't have gotten Juri so upset. Hell, if I had punched her right in the face when she went in for that kiss it couldn't have been any worse than this. My whole life sucks.

"Takato! Could you come down here, please?" my dad shouts from downstairs.

Oh no. What now? "C-coming!" I call back nervously. I might look like hell, but I feel way worse. I don't want to talk with them but I can't just ignore them. I just want to sit in my room and not think about any of this. But when I'm alone I can't think about anything else. I take my time heading down the stairs. The floorboards squeak with every slow step.

When I get down to the bottom I turn to where my parents are eating. Oh shit. I feel like I'm going to faint. Or throw up. Or both. It's… Juri, she's there with them. Please, Juri, please, please, please don't do anything.

My mom looks at me, smiling a little. "Takato, I think someone wants to talk to you."

I can't breathe. What's she doing here? Is she here to kill me before Jenrya gets a chance? Is she going to tell my parents?

"Takato can we… talk someplace?" she asks.

"Uh y-yeah. In my, uh, the, uh, upstairs. I-in my room, I mean. If that's, uh… okay. I mean you don't have to. If you don't want to, that is." My mouth is dry. My voice sounds weird, shaky, terrified.

She hesitates. She's not looking right at me, but she isn't looking away either. What is she doing here? "That's fine," she says.

"Um, it's this, uh, this way. Up the, uh, stairs. You know." I sound like an idiot, but that is the least of my problems right now. I start walking up the stairs again, but it's like I can't even feel my legs. She's following me. What is going to happen when we get up there? This is killing me!

I'm standing in my room, staring out the window. Juri closes the door behind her. She doesn't say anything for a long moment. I sure can't say anything. Who knows what might come out of my mouth if I tried? This is going to be bad.

"Takato…" Oh shit, this is it. "Takato, I'm sorry. Can you ever forgive me?"

I… did not expect that. Is this some kind of trap? I don't say anything.

"Please," she begs quietly. "Please don't hate me."

I turn to look at her. She's not looking at me though, just down at the floor. She seems so sad. Please Juri, just don't cry again. I don't ever want to see you cry. It's… enough to help me find my voice, even though that voice sounds tiny and scared. "I-I could never hate you."

She sniffles. "Thank you."

"Why would you… How could I?" I ask. She looks confused and I don't know why. "Y-you should… hate me."

I look away, but I feel her eyes on me. "What?" she whispers.

I swallow. "Don't you hate me?"

I glance at her, just to see if she's still looking at me. She is. How can she stand it? But… she doesn't look angry, she looks really worried. "Of course not, Takato." Suddenly I can breathe again. "Why did you think I hated you?"

"You r-ran out of here and I… and what I said and all…" I'm stammering. My face feels like it's on fire.

"I was upset," she admits. "I thought you and I, uh… Well we spend so much time together and you always seemed to like me. I just wanted to…"

"But then…," I start. "How can you not hate me after I got so scared over a… kiss?"

"But I understand why," she says. "I just never thought you were…" Please don't say it, Juri. I'm begging you not to say it. So long as no one else says it it's not real. I can just ignore it. "…Gay."

It feels like my heart just stopped. "Wh-what?" I ask. "No, I'm not… gay. I'm totally, absolutely, uh… I like girls. You know. Like you. I really like you, Juri."

She's still looking at me. She seems sadder and more worried now than ever. Her lip trembles. "Takato, please…" she begs. "Don't lie to me anymore."

"I—I—I'm not l-lying," I say feebly. She isn't buying it. After a few seconds I fold my arms in front of me and bring my shoulders up around my head. I'm trembling worse than ever. I feel sick.

"Jenrya doesn't know, does he?" she asks. "That you like him, I mean."

If my face was on fire before, it just exploded. "…No."

"Do your parents know?"

A shake my head at that one. At least I really, really hope they don't.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

I shake my head again. I don't want to talk about it, or think about it, or hear anyone else talk about it. I just want this all to be a bad dream. I sniffle. Damn it, I think I'm crying in front of her.

"Then how about a hug?"

I want to shake my head again at that one, but honestly it sounds really, really good right now. My voice cracks a little when I say, "Okay."

She seems nervous, but she walks over to me and puts her arms around me. My arms are still folded, pressed between us. I didn't realize how much taller than her I was these days. She doesn't say anything, but I think she's scared. She's shaking, though not as much as I am. She's scared… but she's here for me. She doesn't hate me. She's still… my friend. I slump forward, dropping my head onto her shoulder and I really start to cry.

This hug isn't like the kiss at all. It feels so… safe, like wrapping up in a warm blanket. Juri pats me on the back as I cry. "You just seemed so sad lately," she says. "Like you were lonely."

She's right. I've been depressed for a long time. A year? Two? I just stopped noticing it after a while. It became normal. This whole thing has been tearing me up inside and I don't know why.

"I just wanted you to be happy again," she goes on. "Like you used to be. I thought maybe if you had me around to be your friend you wouldn't be so lonely anymore."

I'm still sobbing, but I'm being quiet about it. I manage to choke out, "Thanks."

"It didn't seem to work," she says, squeezing me tighter. "So I thought maybe… you might be happy if you were in love. I thought you liked me, so I…" She trails off. I don't want to hear that anyway. She did this for me. It was for me. The way I acted was… just mean.

"Takato, you saved me before," she says, "from the D-Reaper and my own sadness. I just wanted to save you from your sadness."

I let my arms down and gently put them around Juri. It's the best thanks I can give her. She's being so nice and… she's actually cool with my, uh, news.

"This time I wanted to be the knight who saves the princess," she says. She instantly starts to backpedal. "Not that I mean you're like a princess or anything! I don't think of you like that at all! You're uh, totally… manly and all that." She sighs. "Sorry, Takato. I guess that was kind of insensitive of me, huh?"

I laugh. I actually laugh. Sure I'm still crying like a baby but she made me laugh at the same time. Juri would be the best girlfriend ever if things were different. I just have to know what she thinks about it. "You really don't mind?"

"Well I wasn't really expecting it at first," she says. I sob into her shoulder. "But then I thought about it," she goes on. "I just want you to be happy again, and if this makes you happy then I'm all for it."

"But I'm not happy," I blubber out. "I'm confused and… and… and angry… and I c-can't do anything about it. Why'd it have to be me, Juri?"

"I don't know," she says.

I clench my fingers. Juri doesn't have the answers. I don't have any. This just… sucks.

"But look on the bright side, Takato!" Bright side? What possible bright side is there to this? "You get to wear the coolest clothes. You can do your own interior decorating. Umm…oh! You get to call things 'fabulous' and mean it!"

I… guess she means well, but this isn't really helping. Like I said, I can never tell if Juri is being serious. "I don't like any of that stuff," I mumble into her shoulder.

She seems to be thinking. "Well there's still the very best thing of all," she says after a few seconds, "and it's even something I know you really like."

"What's that?" I ask warily.

"Jenrya."

I smile and my face feels hot again. She's right about that.

"Takato, we, uh… don't have to talk about this, you know." She sounds frightened. "I mean, if you really don't want to. We can just forget this ever happened and go back to how things were before. I mean, I didn't tell anyone." Funny time to tell me all this, Juri. "I just don't want to see you go back to being so unhappy. I think you'll feel better if you talk about it with someone."

"I can't tell anyone else," I whimper. "Only y-you."

"Then I'll just have to learn to be a really good listener."

We talk in my room for over two hours. Not just about my problem. We talk about lots of stuff, like what's going on at school, our friends, everything. I know what she really wants to talk about, but she doesn't push me. She just lets me bring it up on my own. Besides, it's good to talk about something normal. It feels like things haven't really changed all that much, like my whole world hasn't just fallen to pieces. When she does have to go home I walk her to the back door to say goodbye. My mom is there, downstairs, pretending like she's doing something else. Juri hugs me again as she's leaving. When the door closes I turn and see my mom smiling at me.

"Juri looks a lot better," she says.

I nod. "Yeah. I think things will be okay now."

"You look better too, Takato."

"Thanks." I feel my stomach aching again. "Hey mom, dinner's in the fridge, right?"

"I'll heat it up for you," she says.

"Thanks, mom."

She goes to the fridge and I just sort of watch. I'm still thinking about what all Juri said. I feel different, but not bad-different. Just… not as lonely. It barely even registers that my mom just asked me something. "Huh?"

"I just want to know if you want to talk about what happened," she says.

"M-maybe later," I say nervously.

She nods. "Whenever you're ready then."

Thanks, mom. Really. I don't know when, but… someday I'll be ready.


[Notes: Thanks for taking the time to read this one-shot, and if you actually leave a review that would be even better. I would like to get better and it's much easier to do that with feedback. It also might help to inspire me if I knew what you thought worked, what you want to read.

Also, yes, I know this wasn't exactly a lighthearted little jaunt. They won't all be like this, I promise, but rarely is it a good idea to turn away inspiration and this is the story that struck me. Besides, it's only uphill from here, right?

love,

ian]