A step. A heartbeat.
He retrieved the soda can from the vending machine and opened it in a snap. He was thirsty. But none of these things mattered as much as his thoughts did. He momentarily looked at the space beside him, and then back at the soda can. Images of a young girl apologizing came to memory, but he downed it all with a big gulp of his drink. He didn't want to bother with things that appeared vague to him. And if they were to haunt him for a century, he always knew how to deal with them. It was one of the ways he learned even without Saeko's knowledge and assistance. Independence meant serenity. That probably explained his constant solitude despite her company around. He walked alone, ate alone, drank alone, sat alone, and barely talked to anybody but Saeko. He was contented. Dead contented. He didn't want anything else-nor was it necessary for him to crave for someone who could make him feel less lonely on this Earth.
The high school boy tossed the can accurately on a nearby trash bin. Then he proceeded to the clinic where he usually stayed before and after classes-or even in between classes. Saeko didn't seem to mind. It was quite rewarding to have a nurse as his non-biological mother. Favoritism has its perks. But of course she was kind enough to allow any student to sleep for a whole day inside the school clinic. She was primarily here to take care of him. There were other reasons, but compared to the prior purpose, those said reasons were prominently minor. And, as he entered the clinic, he noticed her settled on the chair with a cigarette stick loyally positioned in her lips. He couldn't seem to pass a day without perceiving that thing in her mouth. But nothing else mattered. Because it was like any other normal day; the stagnant pace of it all scarcely shed a possibility of change in their situation.
"Oh, you!" she greeted with a wave.
Somehow, her voice assured him something-it really did. The fact that she sat there, smoking her heart away and grabbed for more, plus the very sight of her smile at the moment of his entrance-all these things somehow asserted that she was okay. Yet, as he continued to stare, he saw his life flash before him.
She was hung upside down. And her eyes stared back at him with no signs of life.
A snap back to reality.
"Ah. Sorry," he nonchalantly replied as if nothing happened. And he gave his favorite loaf of bread a savored munch before he surrendered himself against one of the clinic beds.
"What's wrong? Something happened?" she pressed on with a click of her lighter.
"Nothing, really," he responded impatiently.
She changed the topic, then. "Ah! A girl just visited here. I think you should meet her sometime. You might need someone cheerful at this point," Saeko suddenly stated.
He frowned. Takahisa was not the type to be concerned of such things. Okay, so a girl visited here. And what? Was he supposed to date her at all? Knowing Saeko, the usual bloom of romantic interest was implied in that statement. Whoever that girl was, he wasn't, isn't, wouldn't, couldn't, shouldn't, and musn't-date her. Who needs someone cheerful? He was fine by himself. Yes, until now. Besides, what's up with parents these days? Apparently, Saeko was not his mother by blood but she obviously lacked the capability to discipline him as she should. And out of all students who managed to visit the clinic, she had to notice an average cheerful girl who might turn out to be an annoyance in the end. Seriously. Girlfriend? This may sound cliché but he was way too young for that. He remained disinterested.
"You don't have to involve me with that crap," he instantaneously persisted.
"Oh come on. You need a friend," she argued lightly. She was always like that.
"No, I don't," he grumbled.
"Oh yes you do! I'll give you a cash of 100 yen if you find that girl in the school. I need her to come back here for the medicine."
Cash was the keyword.
"The better." She winked. Saeko was about to light another of her cigarette smoke, although Takahisa managed to bolt out of the door even before she blinked her eyes again.
"You don't even know what she looks like."
Yes, he does.
The thumping of his shoes overpowered the normal rate of footfalls amongst the passing students. He pushed, he half-stumbled, he panted, and his heart pumped to the point of desperation. Takahisa was at a race against time-and before he knew it, he was able to identify the very reason why the speed of his running never surpassed the currently alarming heartbeats within his chest. He was desperate-desperate to run, to sweat, to fight, to scream, to cry, to enrage, to shoot, and then-finally-
-to die in her arms again.
"Oof!" cried out a stunned young girl. Both of them stumbled backwards at the impact they unintentionally imposed upon the collision. Takahisa could only let out a brief grunt the moment his back hit the floor. Fortunately for the two, little to no students passed by the area they were in now.
"I-I'm so sorry! I didn't see you-and… stuff," she incoherently stated as she unconsciously waved her hands in frantic motions. He didn't respond. All he did was stretch his back slightly then slowly opened his eyes. He was about to give her his usual "watch it" message, but he was stopped short by the apology she had just made. Yes, that apology. He widened his eyes the moment he locked them on hers. And he sensed a painful familiarity about her.
"… Watch it," he said. Takahisa's tone was low, but rude nonetheless.
This panicked the girl even more. "Ahahaah! Yeah, yeah. Sorry. I'm so clumsy. I was in a hurry so I ran-and when I ran-well, I bumped you. Ehehe…"
He stood up and offered his hand to her. "Get up."
"E-eh, okay...!" she stuttered. Then she grabbed his hand.
That's when the spark came.
Her tears continued to fall. And that pained him even more.
Takahisa-sempai, I'm sorry.
"It's okay," he suddenly said.
For a moment there, she thought he finally responded properly to her apology. So she told him, "That's great!"
"Get going. I'm busy."
Busy for what?
He had forgotten Saeko's bargain with him. But nothing else mattered. The fact that this girl just stood there, smiling her heart away and beamed even more, plus the very sight of her eyes the moment they saw each other-all these things somehow assured him of something.
She was okay.
"Alright, then. Bye bye! It was nice meeting you!" she cheerfully dismissed.
Right, so who was she anyway? Takahisa raised an eyebrow. Before he could even ask for her name, she went away with a hint of embarrassment from a while ago's collision.
He watched her run.
Then he retraced his steps.