The final chapter. This was hard for me to write. I think I got too emotionally involved. Anyways, it's named after a Coldplay song. Enjoy.
Chapter 9: The Scientist
How long do you think passed before I pick up where my left went? Take a guess. Make some wagers. Don't be shy. Anybody say four months? Well you're wrong. Five years passed. I worked at the same damn advertising agency that I was hired from immediately after college. I worked within five minutes of campus yet I never dared to set foot there again. As much as I had hoped to have moved on quickly after graduation, I didn't. It was worse. My life stayed exactly how it had become in those last few months of college. I was even in the same area code. For some reason, I felt chained to that place; to that place that always managed to tear me down.
I was still with Nel. She was the only thing keeping me sane. I didn't deserve her. She deserved so much more than me. She denied a teaching job in a different state that was going to pay her fifty percent more than what she was earning then. She denied the offer because of me. Yeah, I felt guilty every day, but she made me feel more alive than I really was. I wasn't in a state of horribleness like I was way back when; but I know I was depressed. The degree just wasn't as extreme.
I couldn't get a better job. I couldn't advance in the one job I had. I was going nowhere. I kept in touch rarely with my old friends. They were all successful. They had their own houses, married, started families; I lived in the same one bedroom apartment that I could hardly afford to pay every month, and I was still dating and just dating my college girlfriend. I was supposed to have a new life after college. I was supposed to have everything change for me. Yeah, some things did change, but they weren't for the better.
"Ichigo, Uryuu's on the phone. He wants to talk," Nel would say to me.
"I'm not home," I throw over my shoulder emotionlessly.
I heard her sigh every time. "He just ran out for some dinner. I'll tell him you called."
Everyone tried to stay in contact with me. But I hid away. I didn't want them to see how I turned out. I didn't want to think of my old life and compare it even more than I already did. Nel told me many times to give Chad or Uryuu a call. I never did. I didn't feel like it was my place to just pick up the phone and call.
I'd see Rukia out somewhere every few months. Could have been the grocery store, the mall, she could have been pumping gas. But no matter what, she never acknowledged me. If she happened to lock eyes with me, she immediately turned in the opposite direction. I was invisible again. After everything, I ceased to exist. Again. It seemed worse this time though. It was like I was used to it, which is something you definitely should not ever get used to, but also, after the progress that we seemed to have made after the whole situation, it was like it never happened. I guess that was her way of moving on. I just wish it didn't have to be so cold.
Nel would go out occasionally with friends from work. She asked me to join, but I always said no. I was always too tired, or had a headache; some bullshit excuse.
Then, the day came when we got a phone call from Chad. Nel announced who it was when she read the caller ID. "I'm not here," I said carelessly without looking her way. I remember hearing her answer the phone.
"Hey, Chad! How's it going?" she began perkily. Then it was silent. I turned around in my chair at the kitchen table. I was in the middle of dinner. Nel's face was frozen, mouth slightly open. "Yeah," she answered weakly. "Yeah, I'm still here."
"Nel," I said sternly. I watched her look my way quickly. She swallowed. "We'll be there," she said into the phone as she locked eyes with me. Her jaw began to tremble. "Bye," she whispered before hanging up and holding her hand over her mouth.
"What's going on?" I asked fearfully. Something was coming. Something I wouldn't want.
"Uryuu," she pushed out. "He died in a car accident," she explained as she broke into tears.
The air left my lungs. I felt like I was shot in the gut. "What?" I responded stoically.
"He's dead, Ichigo. Hit by a drunk driver," she sobbed. This couldn't be right. My mind couldn't wrap around the possibility. This was just some kind of sick joke. He couldn't- He had a wife and two children now! He wouldn't leave Orihime alone. He wouldn't deprive his three year old son and six month old baby girl a father. He was responsible, dedicated, smart, caring. He was my best friend. It couldn't be possible. It wasn't.
I stood up, walked over to the kitchen counter and grabbed my cell phone. I clicked the contact and waited as it began to ring.
"Who are you calling?" Nel asked through quiet tears.
I ignored her. I stood, nostrils flared and jaw set. It continued to ring. "Come on, come on, pick up," I urged softly. The voicemail picked up. I hung up and dialed it again. My heart was beginning to race. It rang. And rang. "Pick up, damn it!" I yelled before the voicemail came on again. I dialed it again.
"Ichigo," Nel called softly. I ignored her again.
The voicemail came on again. "Hey, it's Uryuu. I can't answer the phone, but I'll try to get back to ya somehow. Talk to me." I heard the beep. My body suddenly lost all strength left in it. I slid harshly to the floor against the counter. My phone fell out of my hand at some point. Nel rushed over to my side. I kept looking straight ahead. I couldn't turn my head or breathe. I couldn't even blink. "He didn't answer his phone," I said with no emotion coming from me. "He's gonna get back to me though. He's gonna get back to me."
"Ichigo," Nel whispered with a tear. I immediately turned to her. "He's fine," I said powerfully before standing up and making my way back to the dinner table. I left Nel on the floor in the kitchen as I continued to eat my dinner again.
I was in a horrible state of denial. Nel realized that. She tried to tell me that we had to leave the following day to go to his funeral. I looked at her as if she was crazy and left the room. The next day, she told me we had to leave to go see Uryuu. I tried to tell her it wasn't necessary. I was acting how I would have before we got that phone call from Chad. I didn't want to see my friends. But this was one of the only times I ever saw Nel raise her voice to me.
"He's your best friend, Ichigo! You're going to see him!" she yelled, eyes watering. My jaw hung open and trembled a bit.
"Okay, okay. Let me get a bag," I said in response. Nel had packed a black suit for me without me noticing. I drove us two hours to where they lived. We got a hotel room for the night. In the morning, she pulled out the suit.
"Why am I wearing that?"
"You need to, Ichigo," she said gently.
"Why?" I pushed again.
"Can you please put it on," she begged. She looked upset. I remember thinking that I didn't want her to be sad. So I took the suit and put it on.
She drove us to our destination. We parked near a cemetery. I looked out at the crowd of people residing in a particular section of the grounds. I quickly looked over at Nel. "What are we doing here?"
She turned off the car and locked eyes with me. "We're here to see Uryuu." I stared into her eyes for a few more seconds before slowly turning back in front of me. My gaze was blank. "Are you sure he's here?" I said in almost a whisper. I was trembling.
"Yes," she said delicately. "Let's get goin'."
She left the car first and waited on my side of the car. I opened the door slowly. Placing my foot on the ground felt like it would cause an earthquake. With each step, it was me who felt further in the ground. Perhaps it was my way of digging the hole for him after being forced to admit the truth.
I saw them. My old friends. They stood together. I noticed Uryuu's family there. Orihime's too. Orihime's mother held her as she cried. Orihime held her daughter in her arms, while her son held her leg. As I approached, Tatsuki was taking her baby girl out of her arms. Renji held Rangiku. Chad had his arm around Momo's shoulders. And Kaien stood holding Rukia's hand. I felt their surprised gazes upon me, but I didn't acknowledge them. I stared at the coffin in front of me. My best friend laid in there. He was right there. Right in front of me. But I'd never see him again. I'd never talk to him again. After all the times he tried talking to me on the phone, or trying to visit or have me come visit; I regretted all of it. I would take back every time I had the chance to see him.
I didn't listen to a single part of the ceremony. I just stared at Uryuu. It was over before I realized it. I continued to stare down at him as Nel put her hand on my shoulder. "I'll wait for you in the car." I still didn't move my gaze. Everyone had apparently left the graveside.
"I'm surprised you came," I heard her familiar voice from behind. I still didn't turn away. My expression didn't even change in the slightest.
"Everyone was really happy you made it today. I know Uryuu would be happy," Rukia added as she moved to my side.
"He was my best friend," I whispered out.
"He knew that," she reassured.
"He always tried to talk to me and I wouldn't."
"It doesn't matter. He would never want you to feel guilty about anything."
"But I do feel guilty."
There was a pause before she spoke again. "Life's not predictable, Ichigo. You can't live in regret when there's nothing you can do about it. Things happen where you wish you did things differently, but always holding on to that wish could kill you. It can tear you apart. Trust me, I know," she said gently before making her exit.
And I did trust her. I believed exactly what she said because it made sense in my eyes. She needed to not regret the things she's done because I believe she felt horrible about it; at least at some point down the line if not during it all.
Staring down at him again, I left my wish with him; my desire to have kept him in my life when I could have. "I'll see ya," I said quietly. I wasn't ready to say goodbye. It felt too permanent right then. Too forced. I turned and left my friend in the ground that day.
A few days had passed. I was trying not to think too much about things. I tried to stay busy. You would think that it would have paid off somehow, but of course, it didn't. Then, one day when I got home, I walked into my apartment to see suitcases packed by the door. I walked in further and saw Nel waiting on the couch. She stood up suddenly after spotting me.
"What's goin' on?" I asked suspiciously.
"I'm moving out, Ichigo," she said with sadness. I just continued to stare at her in confusion. "I don't know what we're doing anymore," she began to explain. "We're together, but we're not. It's not going anywhere." She was upset. I know she was.
"So, you're just gonna pack up and leave?"
"I love you, Ichigo. I do. I just don't think I'm in love with you anymore."
I took in a deep breath and looked down at the floor with my hands in my pockets. I knew what she meant. I felt the same way. In a way, I might have always felt that way. We cared about each other. It got to a point where we just stuck; like bugs in wet concrete. And Nel knew that we needed to get out before we were stuck there forever.
"I know," I said softly. "I'll still miss you."
She nodded rapidly as she began to cry. She made her way over to me and wrapped her arms around my neck. "I'll call you," she said before kissing me on the cheek and walking toward the door. She left. And I understood why. What was the point? I was wasting her time. Of course I was hurt, but I wasn't bitter; I wasn't in a state of not bathing and eating cereal out of the box for a week while I watched Friends on the couch; which by the way, Ross was right. They were on a break. I just had to get that off my chest. If you get that reference, you get a gold star.
I was still a walking mess from Uryuu. Nel didn't affect me much because I already was at the bottom of the pit. After she left, I stopped being as busy. I'd come home, sit in silence and crack open a few beers. I'd usually pass out somewhere.
It had probably been a week or two before I came home after leaving my cell at home by accident when I left for work. I ended up having a voice message. Going into the fridge, I popped off the cap to a beer and took a swig as I listened to the message.
"Hey, buddy! It's Tatsuki! I was hopin' I'd catch you, but I guess you're busy. I was just callin' to see how you were. Also, I don't know if you could spare yourself a week or two, but you should definitely come on over. You seem more like a California man to me anyway. Really consider it! We can buy a few bottles of champagne and get ourselves into more trouble. Okay, pal. Hope to hear from ya soon!"
I couldn't help a small smile hearing my old friend's voice. But it quickly fell. I'd probably never get out there to see her. I was probably never going to go further than ten blocks from my apartment. After a few beers, I found myself on the floor with my back against the fridge door. I guess I didn't want to go too far from the rest of the beer. I just stared ahead of me in silence. What was I doing with my life? I wasn't moving anywhere. I was legit sitting on the floor, washing my life away with a few brewskies. The only human contact I used to have was with Nel. I no longer had that. Even my parents barely heard from me. My mood was rocketing toward the center of the earth. I started to lose myself. Again.
Looking down at my phone with disgust and sorrow for my life, I dialed the last contact.
"Hey, it's Uryuu. I can't answer the phone, but I'll try to get back to ya somehow. Talk to me."
I swallowed the ball in my throat. "Hey, bud," I started with a mix of pain and cheerfulness. "I'm just callin' 'cause I really want to talk to you," I paused and swallowed again. "Ya see, I'm not doin' too good. I'm kinda lost here," I stopped to let my jaw tremble. "You were there when I needed help. You saw through me and pushed," I closed my eyes tightly and flared my nostrils. "But you're not here anymore. You're gone," I whispered into the phone. "I kept you out of my life, all because I was embarrassed of myself; of my failures. I pushed you away because of my insecurities!" I took a few deep breaths. "I took you for granted. And I wanted to say that I'm sorry." I waited a moment before chuckling. "The sad part is that I feel like I'd know what you'd say to me right now. You'd tell me, 'Stop apologizing. You don't think I know you well enough to not take crap like that personally? You're still and always will be a toolbag.' Then you'd flash a winning smile like we were competing in the conversation." I chuckled again before letting the smile fall. "Maybe you've taught me something and it took me this long to notice it. Maybe… despite how much I hate the word; maybe the strength we get from the ones we care about, teaches us how to wake up the next morning; to keep going. Maybe it takes people like you, in the lives of fuck ups like me, to prove that they can make it through and have worth; that I have worth. It's because of people like you… that I'm still here." My jaw began to tremble again. "And that isn't fair," I said fiercely. "You saved me and I couldn't save you?" I exclaimed. I took a long deep breath. "You deserved so much more time," I whispered. "Maybe I should have become a scientist. I'd be able to go back before anything went wrong. I'd be able to save you." I smiled sadly. I knew it wasn't fair. But Rukia was right back then; there wasn't anything I could do about it. As much as I wished there was.
"Something has to change, doesn't it? You'd probably say, 'Change isn't always a bad thing, ya know.' And I'd say, 'Well it isn't always a good thing either.' And we'd bicker back and forth for a bit before one of us said something witty and smirked past the finish line… And after explaining all of that, you'd call me an asshole right about now." I laughed and paused for a few seconds. "But you'd be right. Change is what I need." I swallowed hard. "I promise to check up on Orihime and the kids all the time. Your kids are gonna need someone to tell them the difference between Marvel and D.C. Comics," I said with a pathetic smile as my eyes began to water. "I'm gonna miss you, man." I sniffed as a tear ran down my cheek. "Goodbye, Uryuu," I said so softly that I barely heard myself say it. I hung up the phone. I did it. I let him go. I cried for a bit on the floor. I finally let it out. I knew he wouldn't get back to me. I'm not a loony idiot. But some small part of me thought maybe he'd give me some mythical spiritual sign one day; just to tell me, 'Hey, asshole. I got you.'
It was this point in my life when I truly believed I had grown up. I thought it was the moment at graduation when I stepped out into the real world, but no. You don't grow up through monumental moments that approach at a particular time. It's what you go through, how you deal with certain events, being able to take the bad and continue walking. I guess I would agree with Peter Pan. If I could, I would have never grown up. But being shielded from the pain of life is only a fairy tale.
But even though you can't live in a fairy tale, it doesn't mean you have to live in a nightmare. It didn't have to be the way it was for me. I could have something better. I could live. I could live for myself. I could live for Uryuu. I was alive. I think so many people forget that about themselves. They're still breathing; that's enough to push through anything. For everyone who lost their life before their time was due, live for them. And eventually, I think you'd realize that you want to live for yourself too.
I started going out more. Co-workers asked me to go to the bar, I'd go see a movie, and I'd go for walks and take in the sun. I worked harder at work. Maybe a promotion would finally come my way.
Three weeks passed after my phone call to Uryuu. Nothing at work changed fast enough for me. I found myself staring at my computer in my tiny cubicle. A sudden urge to run out of the door came over me. I didn't want to be there. I didn't want this life anymore. It wasn't meant for me. So I stood up, threw what I wanted into a box I kept under my desk, picked up my over the shoulder bag and walked to my boss' office. "I quit," I said sticking my head in the door and giving a wave before leaving the building forever. I got into my car; a smile plastered on my face as I began to drive home. By the time I got there, I sat in the driver seat. I got out of the car, and started walking. I wasn't sure where, but I picked a direction and went.
Now we're all caught up in the story. Let's start where I originally began this delightful tale of exuberating love between individuals that succeed in everything they do…
Walking down the street makes everything seem surreal. I'm getting places. Literally, yes, but my life is on a promising road; which is also a pun. The air's clear and breathing in iss a natural high. The smile is understandably placed across my face. I made it back to my old college campus. This is the first time I've come back here since graduation. It's not what I always thought it would be. It didn't bring back bad memories. I feel warmed somehow. Like that life is embracing me, finally.
Now, there comes a point in your life when you are so completely involved with the world around that you lose any coherent functioning when presented with the unexpected. And that moment for me was right now. Ahead of me on the sidewalk, walking toward me was Rukia. I'd recognize her anywhere. Her hair's longer than I remembered, but once those deep violet eyes locked with mine, I was gone.
She paused in her tracks. I came to a halt because of it. Her initial sense of shock vanished faster than I anticipated. Instead, a look of adoration took its place. And my heart melted.
"Hi," her mouth ushered softly. It was the most wonderful thing I had heard in so long. I swallowed in order to find my voice. I barely heard myself say, "Hey."
"How are you?" she said so sweetly. Everything begins to ache. My heart pulled deeper into my chest. Apparently I'm not as good as I was a minute ago.
"I'm doing pretty well," I replied. I'm not lying. She wasn't asking how I'm doing at this precise moment. It's a very general question. Besides, no one really tells the truth for this kind of greeting anyway. "What about you?"
"I'm good," she said with a small smile as she nodded. I couldn't believe it. She's actually talking to me. She's actually looking at me. And it's not because of some tragedy either! How am I supposed to feel? My emotions are so mixed. I'm so thrilled this is happening. I've wanted this for so long. It's something I spent far too long hoping for. But another part of me is wondering why she thought she could just walk up to me with a smile and ask me how I was. It's almost as if none of it ever happened. That she hadn't been ignoring me for years. But the look in her eyes tells me it did. There in her dark violets rests a pain I know very well. Seeing it now gives me a whole different kind of ache. It's the realization that it wasn't as one-sided as I thought. And that it's now too late. The shine of a ring held by her finger caught my eye. She's already promised to someone else.
"Where are you off to?" she added after a moment of too long silence.
I gave out a chuckle. "Well, actually," I rubbed the back of my neck in amusement. "I just quit my job and I'm going for a walk."
Her eyebrows rose. "Wow. I'm… sorr-" she begins before I cut her off by holding out my hands to stop her.
"No, no! I've got better plans for myself. I think I'm actually gonna get out of here. Move to California or something." I smiled more to myself. Tatsuki would be happy to hear. "What about you? Where are you headed?"
"I walk through here every day on my way home from work." I nodded and smiled. She let out a single chuckle and gave me a look of curiosity. "You… seem so… alive. Like the boy I used to know way back when." She gave a smile lined with sadness. Used to know. That makes my chest tear open. We don't know each other anymore, do we? We're just two people part of a past. Nothing more.
"So, who's the lucky man?" I forced a smile as I nodded toward her hand.
Her face showed surprise. "Oh, he- uh, it's Kaien. He proposed about two months ago," she explained in a manner I thought to be quite awkward.
Kaien. Someone she never saw herself with when I still existed in her life. Someone who waited long enough for her to come around. And now she's his. She isn't mine. Although, she was never really mine to begin with, was she?
"Congratulations," I said gently with what I hope was a sweet smile.
"Thanks," she replied, avoiding eye contact.
Silence enveloped itself around us. "I-…" I cut myself off. I want to say so much, yet I don't know exactly what it is. My mind knows of no words, but that useless chest organ that has the ability to ache and swell knows exactly what to say. But how can the me that exists now speak for the me that existed then?
"Were you going to say something?" she asked almost hopeful. Her eyes wide.
"Uh, no." I smiled convincingly and sighed as she seemed to exhale the air stuck in her lungs.
"Well, I guess I should probably get going then…" she inferred casually.
I begin to panic. Is it over? Would nothing come of this spontaneous meeting? This couldn't be it… right?
But then, all of a sudden, something makes sense. Here we are; the place I've taught myself to hate through the years. And there we were. I could almost see the younger versions of us standing there on the sidewalk. All I ever wanted was to be back there. But who made the decision that the here and now can't be the then and there? You can make the present whatever you want it to be. Everything is in your hands. So I can have it back. I can have that happiness.
She steps closer and wraps her arms around my neck. She held me for a moment before my mind finally registered to wrap my arms around her as well. Her embrace is gentle, but firm. It's warm and comforting. This is it! This is my chance! And then, the faintest whisper graces my ear. "I'm so sorry, Ichigo… for everything." Her breath is dancing across my skin, taking the words away by finally leaping into the wind. This is definitely it! This is the moment everything I want would come back to me. "I've loved you all this time… I've never been so sure of anything in my life." And just like that, the breeze swept those words away as well.
She pulls away and stares gently into my eyes. Her watery violets glisten in the sunlight. "Goodbye, Ichigo." She stares into my eyes for one last moment, and then turns around. I watch as she walks away. Now, I've seen her walk away many times before. Most of the memorable occasions were when she walked out of my life. But this one's different. She isn't running off stage like I'm so used to. She's taking a final bow. She apologized and confessed what she had been denying for so long. It put my scars at ease and somehow broke through something. Here I am, having what I had then. I have happiness, finally.
I turn around and begin walking again. I don't know where I'm going. I'm just walking. Till this day, I've thought back to that night when she confessed. I've thought about ways I could have responded differently; ways that could have changed everything. But I was told once not to live in 'what ifs'. What happened, happened. And this is the moment I've strived for. This is what moving on feels like, isn't it? Everything happens for a reason; I firmly believe that. The reasons for having to go through all of this? To be honest, I have no fucking idea. At least right now I don't. But I can safely say I survived it all. Now here comes the moral, so brace yourself for the fun family lesson. You're going to be okay; in any sense of the word. So when a bag of flaming shit drops on your doorstep, don't be afraid to stomp it out. Of course it'll leave a stench, but nothing lasts forever. Poetic, aren't I? People say don't be afraid of death. I say, don't be afraid of life… or shit in a bag.
The End. That was an intense journey. I hope you guys enjoyed it. Leave me your last thoughts. I'll try to respond to them this time.