Chapter Eighteen

"Why did you rip the letter?"

Doctor Irie gave a faint smile and secured his hands together on his lap. "I refused to read it. I was angry. I was in pain. I just felt betrayed."

"Are you still mad?"

He straightened his back in the seat. "No. Not anymore."

Nobuhiro Kimura settled into the sheets and allowed the heart monitor to take the gap of where the silence stood in between them. Doctor Irie, silent and serious as he ever was normally, sat in the chair, left of his hospital bed. He lifted his eyes and seemed to take in the length of the room, searching for a distraction.

On the table right of Nobuhiro sat Irie's empty carton box, once filled with his homemade food. His mother, no doubt, prepared his meal each day. Nobuhiro felt a pint of jealously claim him for a moment, before it fluttered away, its existence questionable.

He looked at Doctor Irie, taking in his deadpan expression. Behind that cool composure, Nobuhiro was able to see a man trapped in his sorrow and loneliness, the very image of himself.

The tape around his left hand began to bug him again. How he wanted to scratch at it. For a brief moment, he glared at the offending tape, strapping the IV in place. He placed his eyes elsewhere, ignoring the need to scratch.

Nobuhiro began to think of Yuuki instead. Yuuki did not lie when he had told him that he, and his older brother, had a story to share. At first, his older brother had objected telling his side of the story, but then out of the blue he had wanted to clear any misunderstandings that Yuuki must've made with his storytelling.

Then two people he didn't know had appeared to talk to him, filling in the gaps of where the brothers failed to provide. It was tidbit information, things he necessarily didn't need to know, but even that tidbit information helped realize how crucial Kotoko's departure impacted their lives.

Matsumoto Yuuko—beautiful woman if he ever saw—never took her eyes off the man named Sudou. From what he could see, the woman loved him, as much as he did to her. No doubt a wedding was approaching.

Still, concentrating on the present, Nobuhiro never imagined that the Irie brothers would fall in despair over one woman. Perhaps because they had a family that supported them and friends that cheered them on that Nobuhiro found it difficult to see them heartbroken. But, as he can see clearly in Naoki's expression, no matter if he led a fulfilling life or not, he suffered with his problems as well.

Doctor Irie didn't need an illness like his to be miserable. Maybe that's what Yuuki was trying to tell him—and it also explained Yuuki's mission to make him happy. Irie Yuuki did not want a second regret.

At that moment, his train of thought came to halt. He looked up and watched as Doctor Irie took the empty carton and disposed of it in the trash. He then rinsed his hands and wiped them dry with disposal napkins.

Nobuhiro couldn't help but ask, "How long has it been?"

Doctor Irie approached the bed and tucked his hands in his pockets.

"More than seven years now." He then turned his attention to the clock. Nobuhiro followed his eye and took in the time as well. Thirty minutes had gone by—it was time for Doctor Irie to return to his shift.

But when Nobuhiro returned his attention to Doctor Irie, he found his eyes settled on him. Irie was examining him, perhaps still looking for that young boy he saw years ago, helpless and alone, lying on a hospital bed.

But he was no more. Well, the little body did grow up. Time did that to people, which brought up an important detail Nobuhiro should've mentioned to Yuuki and his older brother. The story that he heard from them—it was quite similar to the one he had heard weeks ago.

To ease up the awkward silence, Nobuhiro jabbed, in light humor, "It took a whole damn two weeks for you to finish your side of the story."

Laughter.

"I'm a busy man," Irie explained, his voice light as it could ever be.

He excused himself and turned away, heading toward the door. It would be his final exit to the tale—never knowing of what happened to the main girl.

Quickly, before his chance slipped away from him, Nobuhiro said, "You know, I heard a story similar to yours from a nurse here." He paused for a moment to build up the suspense; growing the curiosity of the mysterious nurse. Irie turned his head, falling into his trap.

Nobuhiro swore he saw a smile on his face, as if hinting that he already knew. "Oh?"

"Yes, except in her story it was about regret on losing the one she loved."

"Is that right?" he asked, almost as if he questioning someone else and not Nobuhiro. He was able to tell that Irie's train of thought drew him away from the room and into another matter. It made him wonder what could've possibly distracted him. Could it be that he already knew of the nurse?

Giving him another rare smile, he bowed his head. "I must be going."

"You know," Nobuhiro said when Irie's hand touched the door handle. "I think if you search hard enough, you'll find her again—and this time she won't be running away."

Irie did not comment on the matter. Instead he merely offered a friendly farewell, "You should rest. Take care." Number 52—the silver number nailed to the door—opened and closed behind Doctor Irie's departure, and allowed Nobuhiro to chuckle discreetly.

There was no doubt in his mind that Doctor Irie knew of the mysterious nurse.

xx

Doctor Irie entered the busy hallway of the surgery department and began to navigate his feet across the white tiles toward his next patient. He could hear the phones ringing off, and the nurses chatting with one another about a doctor's verbal order to prescribe more medication for a patient.

He saw a male nurse enter a patient's room and checked the patient's vital signs. And in the room next to that, he saw a glimpse of two nurses preparing the room for the next patient coming in. He was observant to everything he saw, including that of a redheaded nurse coming toward him of the opposite direction. Her head was lowered, chin tucked to her collarbone. In her hands were fresh sheets stacked together neatly.

It took one simple second for them to glance at each other. And it took another second for him to realize how close he was on saying her name. It wasn't time for him to chat. He needed to go on his next task. For this time, he would let her go, as countless times he did before.

Besides, something about today told him that he would see her again.

But he never presumed that it would be in front of Pediatrics. The mechanical doors swished behind him to a close. In the corner, standing under the lamppost, she stood with her bag strapped over her shoulder, hands held tightly around the strap.

He shot her a sidelong glance and watched as she chewed on her bottom lip nervously.

Irie let out a sigh and took the opportunity to strike up a conversation. "It feels good to be out."

She kept silent, perhaps afraid of her own voice shattering under the increasing pressure.

"I never expected you to be working here," he addressed the issue at last. He took a second to glance at her and noticed her eyes were on him. He stayed focused on them for a moment before he looked away, waiting for the taxicab to arrive.

He added after a short moment of silence, "You haven't changed, Kotoko."

She mumbled a response in return, "You haven't either."

"So… you were the one who began the storytelling."

"Nobuhiro had changed, Irie." His name rolled over her tongue with ease. He swallowed his emotions and forced his face to stay serious. It had been far too long since he had heard her voice. Here he imagined that she would be gone for his life forever, but it was only temporarily. He felt his emotions rise. He needed to focus on the present.

"Is that your excuse of telling him?"

"I wanted to share my life experience with him. Maybe it would change his mind about life. I didn't know that he would ask you."

"It wasn't him that asked me to tell my side of the story." He was able to feel her eyes rest on him. "It was Yuuki—he told me about you and what you had told Nobuhiro."

"Yuuki," she expressed his name with furlong pain. "He changed. He's so…" She searched for the appropriate word to describe him, and settled with, "…different."

She then looked at him, fear rattling her bones. "Are you mad?"

"No. Like you said, he needed to know."

"No." She shook her head. "I mean—are you mad about what I did?"

He took the silence to think about his next choice of words. In truth, all he wanted was her back in his life. After the intensive pain he went through, and forgiving her for leaving, he wanted a second chance with her. But he feared her rejection, and could not bring himself to look into her eye.

He spoke, softly through the night wind, "You surprised me."

She lifted her eyebrows in confusion.

"I never thought you would go for nursing, Kotoko." He looked into her eye and gave a smile. "You did it."

Kotoko smiled. "I did, huh? I finally accomplished something." With teary eyes, she asked him, the one question that plagued her in the past, and even now, "Are you proud of me?"

He began to feel his eyes water that he had to look away for a moment. Returning his attention toward her, he nodded his head, and said, "Yes—I've always been proud of you."

Acceptance—finally, as he was able to see through her expression, she felt at ease. She sputtered in tears and placed a hand over her mouth.

"Are you done running?"

Kotoko nodded her head.

Irie continued, "I've waited for you."

Her bottom lip began to tremble.

"I couldn't give up on you. I loved you too much."

He felt a tear roll down his cheek.

She regained her voice, although it sounded faint, tired. "You didn't have to do that."

"I would do anything for you. Just don't leave me."

He did not want to feel alone again. She looked at him and whispered his name. He continued, "Please. Never do that to me again."

She remained quiet, with tears rolling down her cheeks. The air felt close and stuffy—he was suffocating with suspense, waiting to know if he had a second chance with her. And her answer came with a smile, and twinkle of a promise flaring in her eye.

He felt his heart skip a beat when he took in her beautiful face.

"So…" she questioned when the taxicab rolled into view. "…what happens now?"

For once in his life, he felt at ease, no longer caring about what the world viewed him as. He took in her face, and looked down to her lips. He then gave a rare smile of his and offered her his hand.

"I don't know. Let's find out."

He didn't need to repeat himself again. She eagerly took his hand and explored the unknown path that awaited them.

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Notes: I would like to thank all of you, whether you reviewed, placed this in favorite, followed, or just read it—I thank all of you for your support. I'm not much of words, but this will probably be my longest author notes.

I wrote this story because I couldn't see a woman take all that crap she took in—being called an idiot, stupid, or being put down in general—and brush it off as if it was nothing. I wanted to show the bad side of that.

For a lot of people, it's hard to change when you are around the person who makes you miserable. Case and point: Kotoko lives with Irie. She wanted to change—she kept saying that she would be independent and all these things, only to go the opposite when she decided to share an apartment with Irie.

Lot of people that I know do that—make a goal than go against it.

As for Irie, he didn't know what he was doing. He never been in a relationship; he fails at reading body language. He's only good at school, but not in the dating world.

Going back to Kotoko, she was emotionally a mess. She kept doing things for Irie, never for her. The whole spring thing was another goal she made but she didn't follow through with it.

Her leaving was her way of healing. Everyone has a different method to heal. Hers was to escape.

Irie—he suffered when she was gone. It took a long time for him to forgive her, and when he saw her, he just wanted her back. And the only reason she came back was because she loved him as much, and she just wanted to come back as what she always dreamed of being—independent, strong, and with a good career—and show that to him. She just wanted to be accepted.

Thank you, once again, for riding this roller coaster with me.