A/N: I haven't updated in way too long! Life really caught up to me. I hope this update was worth the wait.
Only two months of the school year remained. The true beginning of Haru's and my journey was in the fall, beginning with the incidents at Akemi. Now, spring had arrived. Even though Haru and I have blossomed in the spirit of the season, and even though we've achieved a beautiful friendship, it bothered me that what we had could never become companionship. We could never experience life together. I would never know how his appearance changed as he grew into adulthood. We would never celebrate our eighteenth birthdays, never receive our diplomas together, never share the same room in a college dorm. He would never be the best man at my wedding, and I would never see him fall in love with someone who gave him the love he deserved. I was used to being the one who moved away, leaving others behind. I'd never been left before.
Haru was still beside me in a peaceful sleep. I left cautiously, trying not to creak the bed. With my softest comforter, I tucked him in and crept across the wooden floor, soft steps making a barely-there patter. I went into the kitchen, seeking out a pre-made meal. Ever since our cooking class in the first semester, Haru always kept a stash of home-made bentos. Just as I thought, they were in the back of the freezer, carefully wrapped in plastic.
This should do.
My mind was blank as I reached for a fork and sat down to eat. The routine of eat, chew, swallow, and repeat droned on in the quiet. For the time being, I didn't want to think about Haru. I didn't want to think about going back to school, about catching JFX or saying my goodbyes. I needed a moment of nothingness, just a second to be still.
As my bento was reduced to specks of sushi and rice scattered across the bowl, I heard a light knock on the frontdoor. I thought it would be Grandmother returning home after a long day's work. Quickly, I rinsed my hands and dried them, tossing the bento into the recycling bin. Then, I answered the door.
"Hey. It's late, I know. Sorry."
Something was wrong here. It was eleven in the evening, and a heavy rain left the streets drenched, soaking the town in its fervor. Despite that, he still made his way here. Not only that, but the expression on his face was sullen, almost like a familiar sadness had wore him away. I could tell that he was hurting, and I didn't mind being the friend that he needed. But why did he come to me? He had such disdain for me. What compelled him to come to me, of all people?
"No, it's fine. Come in, come in."
Closing the door behind me, I ran to get two towels, one for him and the other for his ineffably wet hair. Only God knew how much water a head of hair like that could retain. I thought he could use a pair of dry clothes too, so I found a hoodie and some old sweats for him. One of Kate's core philosophies was to be hospitable, and she raised me accordingly. It was my nature to immediately prepare tea and a slice of cake, to ask the predictable questions, "Would you like something to warm your feet? A blanket? A glass of water?" It was a wonder that I was so welcoming to him, since he made it clear that he wasn't partial towards me. He rarely spoke to me, and when he did, it was harsh, clipped. He wouldn't look me in the eyes as we conversed, and his attitude toward me was always cold, always distancing. Even still, the formalities helped to fill the lack of conversation, for I knew well that after they were said and done, I would be at a loss for words.
I invited Natsuki to the small greenhouse in my backyard, a glass structure attached to the outside of my home. He seemed very upset, like something was disturbing him. Whenever I was in a mood similar to his- especially during the rain- I sat here, watching the drops cascade down the windows, a small reprieve from the storm of the world and the one inside of me. We sat there like that for a while, curled up in wooden chairs and wrapped in woven blankets. I waited for him to speak.
"Yuki," he began slowly. The wheels were spinning in his head; he had things to say. Now, it was just a matter of saying it. That feeling of wanting to speak but not knowing how, I knew it well. So, putting my anxiety to the side as best I could, I tried to encourage him.
"G-go on, Natsuki. I-I'm listening."
"There's not much to say, really. I... actually like you."
Natsuki went on at the same easy pace, measuring every word as though his life depended on its accuracy.
"Yeah, I've always liked you quite a bit. Truthfully, I'm more fond of you than I should be. I know this doesn't make much sense, but that's the reason why I treat you the way I do. Remember the candlelit dinner by the sea? It wasn't my doing, but it was my idea. I wanted you to be honest with Haru, to tell him that you didn't return his feelings. You two are so close that a part of me feels jealous. So I went ahead and did such a horrible thing. But I realize now that he makes you happy, and it was wrong of me to try and hinder that in any way. And as for my disposition towards you- there really is none. I tried pushing you away to overcome the feelings I've harbored for you. All I did was hurt you, and you didn't deserve any of that. I can't take back anything I did, no matter how hard I try to wish it away. I don't feel like I have the right to ask you if we can start over, even though that's what I want the most. Besides, my feelings for you would probably just bother you in the end, and at this point, I'm positive I can't let go. So, I'll leave you alone after this. I just needed to say I'm sorry."
"It's okay. I forgave you a long time ago. I-if it's fine with you, then... let's start over."
Natsuki was shocked into silence. Not a word came from either of us after that. It was just him and me. I was sure that he had plenty more to say- even I had things I'd have liked to disclose with him, but I didn't need to. I was grateful for his apology, and I had an inkling that he cherished the second chance. I could feel all the words we wanted to say coming down to one point, hanging in the midst of the quiet and the rain.
With the closure of one bond approaching, I saw the beginnings of another forming. It was comforting to know that after Haru was gone, I still had someone. Every friendship was compromised in some way, but the ones that held true value always triumphed. His apology was so timely, arriving just when I began to question what was next for me. However, I would've accepted him whenever he came around. Empathy was a quality I had in abundance, and it helped me to function in the social world more than anything else. This empathy would always be there, inclining me to reach out to others. That was what I'd learned from Haru, and it was what I'd use to build something with Natsuki, something strong.
And then I began to tremble, because I finally understood: There is life after this. Every good thing may come to an end, but the end is always the means for a new beginning.
I'll be okay.