Disclaimer: Nothing is mine, everything belongs to 07 and PeachPit. Also, heads up for anime-only viewers reading this: "Shunichirou Sakaki" is actually not his real name, it's "Junichi Mukata". "Sakaki" is an alias. Hence, why he's called "Mukata-san", "Junichi-kun", etc.
I open my eyes. Today, my apartment feels colder than it usually does during winter. But that's no surprise; some days are worse than most. Accompanying this cold, however, is the gray sky outside.
I roll over and close my eyes, hoping to get back to sleep, ignoring the time on the clock telling me that it's almost noon. I almost never sleep in that late, not even when I'm sick. After all, I had to balance both a late-night job and my university classes. There had been only two things that got me through the day. The first had been coffee. The second eventually became Mieko.
Of course, I no longer had Mieko. So what reason did I have to get up at all?
I open my eyes and look at the page-by-day calendar Mieko had gotten me for my birthday. I tear off a page and instantly wish I hadn't.
Today is December 24.
The day Mieko and I would've gotten married.
"Hold still, Mukata-san!"
"Gah! Easier said than done when you're squeezing the breath out of me!"
In truth, I was trembling not because my friend was tying up my black kimono too tight, but because, after waiting nearly an entire year, I was finally getting married to the woman I loved. What had once been a blissful fantasy we had discussed many times was about to officially become reality.
And yet, I felt both numb and anxious. This couldn't really be happening, could it? This had to be a dream. I couldn't actually be here, preparing for the first day of the rest of my life. And yet, I was here, in my apartment, with a friend helping me prepare for my big day.
"Ah…I think I need to sit down for a minute," I said. I sat down in a chair and tried to calm the rocking of my stomach, hoping my breakfast would stay down. What if this wasn't meant to be? What if Mieko got cold feet? Or what if I got cold feet and made the biggest mistake of my life?
No, I wouldn't. I would make this dream a reality.
The door opened and I looked up to see my mother standing in the doorway. Her face was as bright as the sunshine pouring through the window as she walked up to me and said, "Look at you. My little Junichi…all grown up and about to be married."
Tears welled up in her eyes and I said, "Now mother, you know I'll still remember to call you, right? Have I ever failed to call you once every Sunday?"
"Of course not, dear," said mother, smiling through her tears. She pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes. This handkerchief had her name, and my father's name, stitched onto it. She had told me that it had been a wedding present to them from a friend. Over the years, the pink stitching had begun to fade but the names stood out as proudly as ever.
"If only your father were here," sighed mother as she put the handkerchief back into her purse. "He would've been proud of the man you have become."
"Perhaps," I said, wondering if father would've approved of Mieko. His idea of a "good wife" was a woman who was content with folding her husband's laundry, cooking for her family, and being mild-mannered. Of course, Mieko was certainly good at cooking and doing her own laundry, but she could also tell me when she thought I needed to shape up and improve myself, even if it meant having to push me a bit.
Still, I think he would've been happy with my choice. Even if Mieko couldn't cook or fold laundry, I'd still be happy. Hell, even if Mieko had been an escape convict, I'd still be happy.
"So how do I look?" I asked.
Sniffling, mother said, "You look wonderful."
Finally, I force myself to get out of bed and make myself some breakfast. It has only been a few months since that hot summer day I found Mieko...or rather, her corpse. Her bloody, dismembered corpse, with only her beautiful face left intact. But I had known it was her. She still wore the ring I had given her.
I clench my fist, and I feel my blood boiling up. Those bastards…monsters…they weren't happy with just killing her. They took pleasure in defiling her and then putting her corpse up for everyone to see. And to add insult to injury, the police acted like nothing had ever happened, like I was just some raving lunatic.
I unclench my fist look over at the phone. I should probably call up my mother. She already knows there will be no wedding, but it has been months since I last called her. I reach out to dial, then draw my hand back. What's the use? What good could she do? Offer moral support?
I pick up the piece of toast and bite down. It's dry and crumbly.
The shrine had never looked so beautiful yet so intimidating as I stood and exchanged my vows with Mieko. When our pictures were taken, we were not allowed to betray the slightest sign of any emotion. We had to sit with still faces and pretend that we were not excited, anxious, or feeling sick. At least, I know that's how I felt. Did Mieko feel the same way? Had she, like me, wanted the photo-taking to be over and done with so we could get the ceremony started?
Now, I relaxed a little bit and looked into her beautiful, brown eyes hidden beneath the white veil. She smiled softly, which gave me the assurance I needed. Could she hear my heart beating? Did she know how hard it was thumping against my rib cage? Could she feel the sweat of my palms, the dryness of my mouth, or the pure euphoria that raced through me?
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed my mother standing opposite Mieko's family, which, though small, suddenly looked so much larger than the single woman they faced. I looked back over at Mieko and focused solely on her, as though there was no one else in here but us.
Just me…and her…forever…
The crumbs lie on the floor and I do not feel like picking them up. Oh well; at least the mice won't go hungry tonight.
Instead, I sit at the table and look out the window. The gray sky is beginning to clear up a bit, but the smallest blue that can be found is little more than a sliver. Is there any good at searching for blue if the entire sky is just gray?
I feel a weight pressing down on my lobes and consider going to the bathroom to get a bottle of Aspirin. But would I stop at just one or two? What if I became tempted to take just one more…and then another…and then another…until…
But I must live, even if I have nothing to live for. One of these days, I'll find the bastard who killed Mieko and then…and then…
I let out a weary sigh. Then what? Kill them? Maim them? I don't know which would be more satisfying, if either would satisfy me at all.
Mieko and I had now changed into different kimonos for the reception in the ball room, which looked just like something out of a Western fairy tale. We laughed and danced in each other's arms, reminiscing on our memories together—from the first day we met to our first lunch together to our first date. Each memory that came after the other made me smile, though I also cringed at the more embarrassing moments we had shared.
"Junichi-kun," said Mieko as we slowed down to a gentle piano melody, "can you believe we made it here? After all we went through, we're now married…husband and wife…"
"Husband and wife," I said out loud. Those words still hadn't sunk in. To me, this was still just a wonderful dream I refused to wake up from.
"Mieko," I said, "can you just imagine what our lives will be like from now on? Imagine me coming from work to you in an apron-"
"Remember what I said: Just two kids, one boy and one girl, okay? No more than that!" interrupted Mieko.
"I come home from work," I went on, "and I scoop you up in my arms and tell you all about the raise I got, while our dozen or so kids…"
"Two!" Mieko raised two fingers and tapped them on my forehead. "I said two~!"
"While our two kids," I said, "beg me to show them those geodes I promised to take home from work and—"
"Don't I have a job, too, Junichi-kun?" asked Mieko, batting those doe-like eyes at me.
"Of course you do," I said. "Two jobs, actually: World-renowned geologist working from home, and a mother."
"Ah," sighed Mieko, placing her head on my shoulder, "you're such a dreamer, you know that?"
"Indeed," I murmured. I inhaled her cherry blossom perfume and ran one hand across her smooth, silky kimono as a movie of the rest of our lives played out together in my mind. This was happiness. And I would not let go of it for anything in the world.
"But you realize this isn't real, right?"
"Eh?" The sombreness in Mieko's voice alarmed me. "What do you mean?"
Mieko looked into my eyes. Gone was her teasing yet affectionate smile. Gone was the light from her eyes.
"This…is just an illusion. You know what really happened. Stop being so foolish. You know I'm dead."
And then…I was holding a corpse.
I stand up, then fall down to my knees. How silly of me to pretend in my mind that we might've been happy. I know that what I had imagined in my mind was not real. But it had been tempting to think it was real.
Would it have been better for me to remain in that reality where Mieko was alive and we were getting married today as we would have been had she lived?
Or was I better off living in this cold reality with no purpose?
I gulp and feel my breath shake when I try to breathe. Never again would I do that. Never again would I build up foolish hopes and try to live in a reality I knew could never be.
Mieko is dead. What could've been today never will be.
My cheeks feel wet and the apartment feels so much colder.