Hey, guys. Long time no posting. Sorry I don't think this one's my best, but it's been a long time.

Chapter 15

He was stuck in her head, like a song, like his songs. The drumming of his fingers on the countertop to the rhythm of 80's movie soundtracks playing in the background as he helped her with dinner. The way his eyes squinted when he smiled. The earnestness of his voice as he dragged her outside for a walk he claimed would release endorphins and help her feel better. The child-like excitement in his expression when she got him talking about something he cared about – journalism or media communications, or basketball. The patient air about him as he consoled a sobbing Yolei over the death of her dog. The warm hand he put on Kari's shoulder when he knew the disaster in her head had her on the brink of tears over the death of a dog she'd never even seen.

The wave of discomfort that crossed his face when you asked him to the movie, that voice in her head reminded her. The irresistible revulsion that surfaced before he could put on a polite front again. A tear rolled down her face before she could stop it, splashing onto one of the dirty plates in the sink. Stop it. You don't have time for this. No one has time for you to fall apart.

Kari's cellphone rang while she was still washing dishes; she had to wipe her hands quickly on a towel and her eyes quickly with her hands before scrambling to pick up. His name glowed up at her, and she felt heat rising to her face, tears rising to her eyes. Stupid. You don't mean that much to him.

He said-

He wanted you to say no, you idiot girl. She did her best to stop the irrationality there.

"H-Hello? Takeru?"

"Hey," she could hear the smile in his voice, and she could almost see him: smiling and rubbing the back of his neck to match the touch of shyness in his voice. "Yeah, how are you feeling?"

"'M fine," she whispered unthinkingly. Her thoughts caught up, though. Terrified. Lonely. Sad. Insane for taking all of this so personally because I know it isn't like that. Stupid for letting myself care so much, as if you could care back. She covered the receiver so he wouldn't hear the shake in her breathing. You're fine, she told herself, willing it to be true. He sighed softly before continuing, like he knew anyway.

"Listen, I just wanted to apologize, for the other day." He has nothing to apologize for. You must have acted upset, made him feel bad. You're always doing that. He shouldn't have to feel obligated to do anything for you.

"Y-You don't need to do that."

"Yeah," he disagreed calmly, "I do. I blew you off, and I'm really sorry; I was being an idiot and a jerk as well as quite a few words I usually try to avoid in polite company." He sighed again a little nervously, and she realized he was serious. "If it happens that you're still free this weekend and don't loathe me to my very core, I would love to escort you to the movies." Kari swallowed, startled by his directness, unable to think.

"I-I don't 'loathe you to your very core,'" she blushed, suddenly embarrassed in a different way. Boys didn't call her on the phone, certainly didn't ask her to movies on weekends.

"'M happy to hear that," he replied, the smile back in his voice, and her cheeks flushed further as she thought about the shades of his smile – the twitch at the corner of his lips, the crooked smirk, the too-wide grin. "Does it happen that you're still free this weekend?"

"It does."

"Is Friday night okay? After your appointment?"

"Sure." Her heart pounded nervously, as though he might change his mind then and there: "Just kidding, Kar. I have better things to do with my weekend." He didn't, of course. True to form, TK had already read the inflection of her voice over the line with startling precision.

"Sounds like a plan. How are you really?"

"I-I'll makeittoFriday," she managed sharply, caught off-guard, smiling weakly into the receiver as tears burned her eyes. The weight on her chest became heavier when she remembered it, and hearing his voice muffled by the phone line made her feel lonelier than ever.

"Are you sure, Kar?" His voice became very serious very quickly. "Do you want someone over there?" She closed her eyes as guilt hit hard. Stupid. You've got him all worried over nothing. Over what you've imagined into existence. Why can't you just feel better?

"Your mom is here, Takeru. I'll be fine; I know you guys have work to do."

"I'm done with schoolwork for tonight. Do you need to talk, at least?"

"I-I d-don't really want to start crying right n-now," she whispered, tears already creeping into her voice, and he paused for a moment. Hold yourself together. Stop. Just stop. Just-

"Are you hurting yourself?" His voice was too soft; a few tears made it past her eyes. She rubbed rapidly at her face with her free hand and felt her own voice shrinking as she responded.

"N-No. No, TK. I'm not."

"Are you thinking about it?" The ever-present empty aches in her forearms grew suddenly in insistence, and she rubbed her wrist against the edge of the counter behind her to soothe the itch. She closed her eyes at the sensation and hated herself even more fully.

I'm always thinking about it.

"I-I'll make it t-to Friday, Takeru. I promise." He hesitated for a moment.

"You can always call, if it gets bad."


"Please call, Hikari," he corrected, "if it feels at all worse or if you feel better or if you just change your mind. I mean it. Even if it's just to talk."

"Yeah," she whispered in what she hoped was a convincing tone, "okay."

"Hang in there, okay?"


"I'll see you on Friday?"



"Surprise," he smiled gently as he pulled into a field of cars. She furrowed her brow, confused. "It's a drive-in," he explained, "I hope you don't mind the switch."

"No, not at all; it's really sweet. I didn't know they still did these." TK grinned as they pulled up to the ticket window. Something's different today, she thought – something in the way he held himself, the way he spoke. He was always confident, but he still seemed somehow more at ease that night. Her eyes came to rest on his hands, still on the wheel as he waited for his change, and she realized he hadn't been fidgeting in his seat the way he normally did.

"Neither did I. I just stumbled upon it checking showtimes online," TK continued as he pulled forward to find a parking spot. Even his speech seemed a bit slower, less hurried. "Now… food?" Her brain was quickly overrun by an almost irresistible desire to cringe and her body by a wave of nausea swept over her before she could contain her thoughts. He continued cheerfully: "Cheeseburger? Hot dog? It looks like they have milkshakes and slushies, too."

"J-Just a soda is fine; I'm not really hungry." She tried to be quiet about it, to ignore the frantic thoughts begging her to make him stop saying the words that made her sick with layer on layer of guilt, but his blue eyes sharpened with his sudden alertness. You should have just pretended to eat something. You're a terrible liar. You should just eat something; you're being ridiculous.

You shouldn't eat anything, stupid; it isn't like you couldn't stand to lose a few pounds, and it'd just cost him money.

Not eating makes the depression worse.

You don't deserve to eat.

You're doing this to yourself, idiot. You have no right to complain; it's all in your head.

You're ugly; you're ugly; you're ug-

"Did you get dinner on your way back from your appointment?" His question interrupted the whirl of thoughts in her head, and she hovered, disoriented, between honesty and safety for a long moment.

"No," she murmured, trying to brush it off. You're here to watch a movie, not bother him with your problems; that's why he's paying for your therapy. "I just don't get that hungry lately; I don't want to order something I can't eat." He's paying for your therapy; you're a horrible person, and he's paying for your therapy; why aren't you better yet?

"You were skipping meals over the summer, too," he recalled, the strength of his attention making her uncomfortable. She shrugged and glanced out the windshield, away from his face, willing the movie to start though she knew they were early, but the new, even more perfectly composed TK wouldn't let her off so easily. "Kar…" The nickname fell almost painfully on her ears; she didn't want to hear him care that much; she didn't want to hurt him again.

"Can we talk about this later? I-I don't want to ruin tonight, too." She rubbed at her right eye in a way she hoped looked like she just had allergies and gave a forced smile.

"You aren't going to ruin the night, Kar." The warmth of his voice almost made her believe him.

"Yes, I will," she contradicted him softly, fighting to stay in control of the moisture in her eyes. "Y-You didn't even want to do this, a-and I'm going to make it even worse if I start talking about that." He frowned sharply, breaking his composure for the first time that night.

"I wanted to come, Hikari," he challenged. "What happened before… it had nothing to do with you, okay? Or not wanting to do something with you. It was stupid, and it was all me. I'm happy to be here now." She shook her head and looked out the side window when his blue eyes became too focused on her face.

"I-It doesn't matter; i-it happens every time. I spend time with you and then I burst into tears and then you have to waste the rest of the evening calming me down."

"I'm making things worse?" The sharp tug on her heart was too painful to ignore, and she turned back to him for a moment.

"No, TK, I am." She hesitated before letting a little more truth escape her lips. "I-I'm not used to having s-somebody care, even a little bit, so I fall apart every time…" His face softened. "You shouldn't have to deal with that all the time."

"Hey," he smiled gently and put his hand on her shoulder, peace returning to his face. "I want to deal with you, remember?" Quickly, before she could open her mouth, he planted a soft peck on her forehead, smiling at whatever color she was sure her face was turning. "And right now that means dealing with some sad stuff; that doesn't mean it will be that way forever. And I don't think any time making you feel any better is a waste." Kari's eyes watered, and his hand dropped to find hers, pulling her away from the window and towards the center of the car, towards him. "C'mon, what's going on?" The concentration in his eyes told her he was already determined to have the conversation regardless, and the gentle lips that touched her temple this time muddled her brain.

"I-I've just… had trouble eating, the past few months. I-I d-don't know why, completely… it's complicated." The heat of his fingers on hers made it far too easy to give in but far too hard to hold her coherency.

"Would it help to try to explain?" Kari squeezed his hand almost unconsciously, and a slight smile showed on his face. She'd never seen him smile that way when she was so sad; he'd always faded with her when things got bad, never gave up, but always hurt too much for her to bear. Something was different; something that made it even harder to ignore his pleas to comfort. "Would it help to have a hug?"

Her face must have betrayed her because he pulled her into his lap, cradling her against his chest with his chin on her forehead, arms around her waist and her legs. His body heat eased the tension from her muscles, like a warm bath – better, with the peaceful rhythm of his breathing in her side. "Comfy?" She nodded quietly, blushing at the closeness of his smile, of him. He hugged her even closer for a moment before he spoke again: "okay, go." It took her a few seconds to find a place to begin.

"I'm just… genuinely not hungry a lot of the time lately," she started slowly, "m-maybe just from being sad." Her voice shrank noticeably as she struggled to verbalize the tangle in her head. He shouldn't have to deal with this. With you. You should be able to fix this yourself; it's your problem. "But it also…" She thought about the feeling of her empty stomach, too close to the feeling of her bruised wrists. "I-I don't know if it's another way t-to… hurt myself," she mumbled the last two words, avoiding his face, horrified that she dared to say them out loud. What are you doing? What are you doing? He doesn't need this right now. He'll leave. He doesn't need you; he can have someone normal, someone better than normal – happy and pretty and sweet and smart. She swallowed hard, but TK remained quiet, still. "I don't know," she repeated nervously, almost scared by his uncharacteristic calmness, "I-I just feel bad about eating, too, sometimes. When I start to feel bad about things.. a-about myself." You should feel bad about yourself. You deserve it. "And I-I know I should eat, b-but when it's so easy not to… girls aren't supposed to complain about losing weight; it's always a good thing." He broke his silence for a question.

"You've lost weight." It wasn't really a question, she supposed, but she answered it like it was.

"T-Ten pounds, o-or thirteen? Somewhere around there." He picked up her hand and began to rub the back of her palm with his thumb. Her heart began to pound too quickly – in her chest, in her ears – as she waited for him to yell. Aimi was bulimic, he said. Why would you tell him about this? It isn't that bad; you're making it worse than it is; you're going to worry him or scare him away or- "I-I'm s-sorry," she choked out sharply, tears distorting her voice; "I c-can't believe I told you that; I-I…" He squeezed her hand gently.

"Sh, sh… breathe, Kar. What's wrong?"

"I-I j-just," she swallowed hard. "I don't talk about that stuff; i-it's my fault, anyway, if I'm not eating or if I'm upset about it; I'm not that thin; lots of people would tell me to lose-"

"Hey, stop," he interrupted sharply when she took a breath, suddenly sounding almost angry. He is upset, see? You're an idiot, talking about this. He doesn't need you bringing that all back up again. Just because he's trying to make you feel better by not looking upset– "Did somebody tell you you needed to lose weight?" The fear and surprise that ran as a jolt through her nerves was disproportionate to his tone.

"N-No, Takeru. I-I just… I meant that's what a lot of people's attitudes would be about it." His eyes darkened with concern at the shake in her voice.

"I'm not trying to yell at you."

"I-I know that; m-my body just overreacts sometimes." She struggled to slow her gulps for air.

"I was just… I was trying to give you a chance to talk, not tear yourself apart." He looked down at her, eyes shifting. "That stick-thinness stuff is a load of crap, okay? And that's coming from a guy who's quite attracted to you, so you know I'm not lying." She felt her face reddening. "We're supposed to be attracted to healthy people, not skeletons. You are plenty tiny; you have every reason to be worried about losing weight if it's hurting you. I'm worried, from what you told me." You hurt him. You're always hurting people. You're not even really anorexic or anything; you're just whining.

"'m all right."

"No you aren't," he disagreed gently, and she swallowed again, but his fingers found her chin and tilted her face up towards his, lips a few inches from hers, "and that's okay. We can talk to your doctor about it next week; I'll go with you, if it'll help." She couldn't breathe properly with those bright eyes so close, so calm. She hid the sobs that followed in his tee shirt, and he hugged her closer until she could talk again.

"Th-The movie's going to start soon."

"I can get you a drink?" he confirmed, not moving. She nodded quietly.

"A coke?"

"Sure. Can you handle anything else right now, or no?"

"I-I'll try," she whispered, afraid of the care in his eyes. "Fries or something?"

"Absolutely," he smiled at her. "I'll be back in two minutes, okay? Lemme know if I miss anything." He kissed her one more time, on her cheek near the corner of her eye, where she was hoping he would ignore her tears, before carefully returning her to her seat and darting out the door with his wallet.

He pulled her back into his lap after he finished his cheeseburger, this time with both his arms around her waist, so she could keep her eyes on the screen. She took quiet sips of her soda and picked at fries when she could, but their laughter soon drowned out any lingering thoughts of pain or tears, and she blinked in surprise when her fingers touched the empty bottom of the cardboard carton.

"See?" Calm TK murmured in her ear as the credits rolled two hours later, squeezing her hands, which had woven together with his over the course of the film, "remind me what about the night it was you ruined?"

Thanks to all for taking the time to read.