pockets full of stones
your hands can heal, your hands can bruise
Three years after Menma, they develop a pattern.
At first they meet every other week, out of a random text message or a movie they both want to watch. Soon it becomes every Friday, just because there is usually nothing good on TV and boredom kills more than company. Then Yukiatsu starts dropping by her apartment once every two or three days, and just like that, the warning bells inside Anaru's head go off screaming bloody murder.
"Stop," she tells him one day when he knocks on her doorstep with a six-pack of soda and a rented DVD. "You're making this more complicated than it should be."
"Making what complicated?"
"This," she gestures between them. "Us."
Yukiatsu raises the six-pack to her eye level. "I'm only here to restock your fridge."
"This is exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about. You can't just—you can't just stop by to 'restock my fridge', Yukiatsu! It doesn't work that way. Those things are for couples, and—"
"Anaru," he cuts her off, patiently. "We're just hanging out. As friends. Are you going to make me leave?"
She flushes red, both out of mortification and frustration. "You know I won't do that."
Yukiatsu simply smirks, making his way to the kitchen to stash the soda in her fridge. He then proceeds to talk her into watching The Ring and they spend the rest of the night tending to the bruises and cuts on his arms, courtesy of her manicured nails and her gripping him like a lifeline for the entire length of the movie.
It goes well for about three months.
Things don't just fix themselves, Anaru learns. Not so fast. Not like this.
She finds a white dress with blue ribbons hanging in Yukiatsu's closet and knows, with a pang, that this is where he stands. She is just the same. The earrings Jintan gave her on her twelfth birthday still lie in her bedside drawer, star-shaped and cheerfully yellow. Some days when she's feeling particularly brave, particularly pretty, she wears them just to see how she looks. They never suit her.
"They're not your style," Yukiatsu comments the next time she puts them on in front of him. He is sitting cross-legged on her bed, working on an essay and not even really looking at her, and Anaru bites her lower lip to keep from pointing that out.
Instead she murmurs, "I think it's the clothes."
This time he glances up, sparing her a few seconds of intense staring over his laptop screen. "You look like a child."
He means no harm, but this irritates Anaru anyway. She purses her lips and returns the earrings into the box, tying the silver ribbon as neatly as she can before she sets it back in her bedside drawer. Yukiatsu watches her do this silently, eyebrows raised. When she finally notices his stare, she huffs. "What?"
"Jintan gave them to you, didn't he?" His voice is dry and the slightest bit mocking.
"Shut up!" Anaru snaps. "As if you don't still keep Menma's dress in your closet!"
It becomes their biggest and longest fight. When Yukiatsu finally storms out two hours and a broken mug later, he leaves crippling words and hurled accusations that are not entirely unfounded on the walls of her apartment. Anaru has to spend the next few weeks trying to forget it ever happened, but it is impossible when she only has one mug instead of two and she has to keep rewashing it whenever she wants to make herself a cup of hot chocolate and she has just drank tea. Not to mention that she also gets this foolish urge to break that mug, too.
They don't speak for a while. At first it's hard, mostly because Yukiatsu's one of the very few people Anaru talks to and whose company she actually likes—but like pretense, it gets easier and easier. Her eyes stop searching the crowd for his face; her hands stop itching to call him. Vengefully she hopes it's harder for him, but then he has Tsuruko.
Soon there are boys asking her to go out with them and she does, just for the sake of it. They tell her she's the prettiest girl in class and spend weeks chatting her up, and they never get angry when she breaks up with them after one or two dates. Anaru thinks about how nice it is when there are clearly defined lines and clean slates; no taboo names to throw at each other's faces when things get unbearable, no knowledge of any tragic back-story that makes both of them the victim instead of the hero-slash-heroine.
One afternoon she finds Yukiatsu standing in front of her apartment. He thrusts a package into her arms before she can say a word. "Fine," he says, raising his hands, "Fine. I lost. I won't insult your earrings ever again. You can wear them every day if you like and I won't say a word, even if by some old-time magic they start rotting because they're too old or something."
"You just insulted them," Anaru points out. Something in her heart flutters when she sees what the package contains: a brand new mug, a six-pack of soda, and a DVD of her favorite movie. She briefly wonders if this is how her younger self would feel around boys if she hadn't been so in love with a boy so in love with a dead girl, if her pockets hadn't been full with invisible stones for most of her life—if this is how she will feel around Yukiatsu from now on.
"Anaru," he says patiently, "Anaru, I'm sorry."
She lets him in after that, of course. It's nice to have company when watching something that is guaranteed to reduce her to tears, after all, and at least Yukiatsu knows when to pass her the tissue box.
The peace does not stay for long. One moment Anaru is putting on some makeup in her room and the next thing she knows, Yukiatsu is standing beside her. "Do you still keep the earrings in your drawer?" he asks, in a tone that tells her he has seen the inside of her drawer and realizes that no, she does not.
Smoothly, she sweeps her eyeliner brush over her eyelid. "I threw them out when we made up."
"Even after I told you I wasn't going to insult them anymore?"
"Even after that."
This silences him, but only for a second. "You could have just kept them somewhere else."
She pauses to apply some lip balm. "I'm never going to wear them, Yukiatsu."
"You've given up," he realizes finally. "Why?"
"I've let go," Anaru corrects him. "You were right. They make me look like a child, and right now…" she shrugs, "I don't want to be one anymore."
"You're not one."
This time, a smile curves her lips. "That's right," she agrees softly, "And neither are you. Not anymore."
He kisses her later that night, almost out of the blue. It is tentative and unsure, sending smatterings of electricity dancing across her skin as her eyes shut. His chest is pressed against hers, heartbeat on heartbeat, his hands spreading on the small of her back before they move up to her shoulders, the back of her neck, making her shiver. In the background a turtle-necked housewife is demonstrating the use of an exercise machine—Yukiatsu has grabbed for her right when she switched to a home shopping channel.
"I'm probably never going to forget Menma," he admits when he releases her, "And I know you're not completely over Jintan. But Anaru… I would like to try," he pauses, and Anaru realizes he has placed something in her hands: a pair of star-shaped earrings, silver and lined with small diamonds that glittered under the light, "If you say yes, if you want this, too—I would like to try."
The words form on her tongue and release themselves without her permission, so easy and so light for the first time in years that she almost feels like flying: "I think I would like that, too," she hears herself saying. It is the truth, and she is glad when he believes her.
The following week, Yukiatsu folds the dress in his closet and stores it in a white box before he visits the temple. She comes with him this time, wearing the earrings he has bought for her. They suit her very well, and as they walk out of the temple, hand in hand, Anaru thinks that the world is almost beautiful again today.
notes: Do I know what I was doing? NO. MAYBE NOT.