Author note: Woah... I totally need to go and rewrite Conversations: Tsuruko and Yukiatsu now. The difference in quality is really obvious.
By the way, Anaru's two friends are called Aki and Haruna. Aki is the girl with short, brown hair, and Haruna is the girl with long, black hair. Their names are mentioned in episode 3 at 5:17.
Jintan came to school again. In fact, he came to school everyday since. He ate better, he made an effort to talk to the people around him, and he even did his homework. He still distanced himself from everyone else and made no friends, but he was learning to live his life once again, slowly but surely. To Anaru, the most important thing was that he no longer had that aimless look on his face all the time - the one that said he had given up on life. Whenever they passed in class, or in the hallway, he always had something to do, somewhere to go. Truly, Menma had changed him for the better.
But Jintan never talked to her. And Anaru never talked to him.
Still, that was to be expected, right? Jintan had already made his choice clear. His heart belonged to Menma, no matter where she was, in this world or in heaven. That day, at the back of the video game store, Anaru had borne her heart to him. She cried and cried and pleaded to him. For once, just once in her life, she wanted Jintan to take his eyes off Menma and look at her instead.
Jintan never turned around.
With a relationship like this, it was only natural that they would drift apart again after Menma left them. It was just like when Menma left them for the first time.
'Narukooo, you're spacing out again!' Aki called out to her as the afterschool bell rang.
'Ahhh! It's that creep Yadomi, isn't it?' Haruna joined the chorus. 'I knew he was up to no good! Not since he took that handkerchief from you who-knows-when, and only returned it after he did who-knows-what!'
'I hope you've thrown it away!' Aki nodded in agreement. 'You know boys...they only have one use for anything tissue-like...'
'That's disgusting!' Anaru retaliated. 'Aki, I can't believe you just said that!' She let out a sigh, her face full of annoyance. Nonetheless, she gave a weak smile. 'But I'm happy that you chose to call him by his name.' She said softly.
'My god, Naruko, at least hide your feelings for him a little!' Aki replied. Then, her lips formed a slight curl.
'You're hopeless!' Haruna teased. She, too, had a smile on her face.
Anaru smiled back at them. Their smiles were not sarcastic, narcissistic or scornful. They were genuine smiles that said 'that's the Anaru we know, and we wouldn't have it any other way'.
For a long time, Anaru was lonely. Her conflicting feelings for Jintan caused her to feel alienated from the Super Peace Busters whenever Menma was around. When all of them split and went their separate ways, she continued to drift, a forlorn piece of wood, waiting to see which shore the tide would carry her to. That was when she found Aki and Haruna.
At first, she did not consider them friends. She thought they were selfish, and did not understand the meaning of friendship. She told herself that they only hung out together because they were afraid to be seen alone, and they only hung out in groups of three because they were afraid of being seen as lesbian. Why she continued to hang out with them, she did not know.
That was before Menma came back. After she did, everything changed for the better. Menma taught Anaru that people did not always have a say in how they grew up. Everyone was afraid of change, afraid that one day they would look in the mirror and wonder if they were the same person in a different body, or a different person altogether. If people hated and mocked, it was because they were hurting. If they tried hard to look superior, it was because they were terrified inside.
Jintan taught Anaru something important as well. Even after the world had given up on him, Jintan still tried his best to be a good person, in his own unique way. His mannerisms were different, but the moment Anaru was able to look beyond that, his heart shone as brightly as ever, and she realised that he was still the very same leader of the Super Peace Busters who gave her butterflies in her stomach.
Coming back a new person, Anaru confronted Aki and Haruna. She confided her insecurities in them. She told them that she was always disengaged because she was not familiar with many of the things they talked about, and it only made her feel more left out. She confessed that ever since the karaoke incident, she started to fear being around them, and apologised if it may have come across as a rude gesture.
To her surprise, they apologised to her in turn. Haruna confessed that she felt bored all the time and needed something to do, and was jealous that Anaru always seemed to be so deep in thought, even when there was nothing exciting going on. Aki admitted she felt dislike towards Anaru because she never participated in their gossip, because it seemed as though Anaru thought herself above them.
In the end, all of them promised to be better friends. It was the first time Anaru had seen them being so sincere, and felt as though there was a true friendship to be sought.
'Attention, everyone!' Anaru was brought back to the present by Haruna's voice, thundering across the classroom and along the hallway. 'Back away, boys! Naruko Anjou is TAKEN! She has just admitted that she is, in fact, in love with Jinta Yadomi! I repeat, Naruko Anjou is taken!'
'Wha-!' Anaru stood up in surprise. The whole class, all eyes already on her, became even quieter as her chair crashed over and made an awkward sound.
'What a reaction!' Aki chimed gleefully. 'There's no doubt that Haruna's words hit the spot!'
'Jintan, I'm sorry-' Anaru burst out, but stopped. The seat in front of her was empty.
'Your Jintan already left a long ago.' Haruna chirped. 'I can't believe you didn't realise it. You're always staring at him, like you're trying to make a hole in his back with x-ray vision or somethin!.'
'Jintan?' Someone in the class murmured. 'Wow, Anjou actually has a pet name for Yadomi?'
'Aww, that's so cute!'
'I always knew they were an item ever since Yadomi stood up for her in class!'
By now, Anaru looked like a florid version of a Na'vi. 'My life is over!' She buried her face in her hands and wailed.
'Or maybe it just started.' Haruna asserted. 'There's only one thing you can do, Naruko! You need to get together with Yadomi before he comes to class tomorrow morning! Failure is not an option!'
'Trust me, you needed this.' Aki added. 'If we just left you on your own, you'd never have the guts to talk to him!'
'But you're not supposed to rush it like that!' Anaru protested. 'I know Jintan, he doesn't like it when people force things onto him! Now everyone is going to be talking about us! He'll hate me more than ever!'
'No he won't!' Aki said staunchly, and placed her hands on Anaru's shoulders. 'Yadomi likes you! Trust me!'
'Yeah, it's soo obvious!' Haruna pumped her fists supportively. 'Hey, we don't gossip a lot for nothing. Our intuition is first rate when it comes to things like these!'
'Y-you think so?'
Anaru wanted to believe them. She had plenty of happy memories with Jintan, when they were children. But it's not an issue of whether Jintan likes me or not, is it? She thought to herself sadly. It's the fact that he'll never choose me over Menma.
However, Haruna and Aki's support had given her the resolve she needed. What they was said true. Anaru was sick of the deadlock in her relationship with Jintan. She was sick of the fact that no matter how many opportunities there were to turn it into something different, it always stubbornly bounced back to the same position. She needed change. Something permanent. For better or for worse.
'Thanks.' She told Haruna and Aki appreciatively, and gave them a heartfelt smile.
Now, all that was left was to find Jintan.
'H-hey... you wanted to talk?'
Jintan came to the shed by the playground, like Anaru had requested. It was the first time she had texted him in a while, and he was visibly confused. He did not feel comfortable talking to her in class, much less in such a quiet place.
She was easy to spot from a distance. The fiery orange of her hair had a radiance that shone from a mile away. However, as he drew close, and her face became clearer, he started to look elsewhere.
'Hello...' Anaru replied softly.
For a while, nobody said anything. They just stood there, looking at two separate, uninteresting spots on the ground. Finally, Anaru spoke again.
'Um... thanks... for... um... returning the handkerchief...'
'Oh... y-yeah. No problem.'
What am I doing? Anaru cursed herself. He had returned her handkerchief weeks ago. She needed something else to start the conversation with.
'N-nice weather, isn't it?' She muttered, and regretted it immediately. Nobody brought the weather up this early in a conversation! It was a last resort, when all else had been said. For all she knew, Jintan might just take it as his cue to leave.
'You're right...' He said. 'The clouds look so peaceful. Not a care or burden in the world. What I'd give, to be like them.'
Jintan... Anaru turned to him. She could see the pain in his eyes. She continued to look, searching the cloudy hazel of his pupils for all signs of his sadness.
Then, he turned to look back at her, and for a moment, they locked eyes. It was the first time they had done so since he returned her handkerchief, the day after Menma left. Anaru could feel her cheeks turn rosy, but she wanted this moment to last longer. She wanted to be able to feel a connection to him once again, a bond that existed between just the two of them, with nothing else in the way. Look at me... Jintan... look at me a little longer...
Anaru immediately looked away.
'So... how's school?' She asked.
'It's alright. Though I'm not doing as well as Menma hoped I would...'
There it was. Menma had entered the conversation. It was only, what, his fourth sentence? Anaru let out a sad sigh.
'Making any friends?'
'You should try to get to know the people around you!' Anaru said in a cheerful tone. 'They may not seem like it, but once you're closer to them, they are actually quite nice!'
'That's probably true.' Jintan agreed. 'Still, I'm not... a very sociable person. Definitely not like Menma is...'
'That's because you keep comparing yourself to Menma...' Anaru replied, her annoyance becoming a little more pronounced. 'You weren't always like that, you know? You used to be so lively! Back when we were still the Super Peace Busters.'
'I don't know...' Jintan continued to look away. 'The past is the past. Now is now.'
'Still, don't you wish you were more like who you used to be? I mean... we all admired you so much.' She pressed.
'It... it doesn't really matter to me. After all, Menma didn't care about how I had changed.'
'Jintan, I want to talk about you. I don't want to talk about Menma.' Anaru scrunched her fists together. As the words left her mouth, she felt herself blushing. It had only been a few weeks, and already his name sounded so unfamiliar when it rolled off her tongue. She wanted to say it more often, as much as she could. If only she had the chance.
However, it had a less than desirable effect. Jintan began to frown.
'I don't think it works that way,' he said agitatedly, 'Ana-'
He stopped. He could not finish the word. '-Anjou...' He murmured, letting his voice trail off.
Anaru's eyes widened. It had taken so much effort for them to start using their childhood names again. Now, Jintan was trying to take back all the progress that had been made. It was not fair of him to do that. It was not fair of him to keep acting as though he did not know of her feelings.
'Why did you call me Anjou, Jintan?' She began to raise her voice.
Jintan lowered his gaze. 'It... it just felt awkward... I mean, I only started calling you that again... because... Menma... called you that...'
'Menma again!' Anaru flared. 'It's always about Menma, isn't it? Menma Menma Menma Menma Menma Menma, you're just thinking about Menma the whole day!'
'And so what?' Jintan snapped back. 'You're right! I'm only thinking about Menma all day! I keep thinking about Menma because I love her! Is that wrong?'
They both stopped. Anaru began to cry. She felt so pathetic and useless. Nothing was going the way she wanted. She knew Jintan loved Menma, but it still hurt a lot to hear him say it so directly. She hated the fact that they never did anything together unless it was about Menma. They would not have played Nokemon together if not for Menma. They would not worked at the video game store together if not for Menma. They would not have spent any time together if not for Menma. It was as though Menma was the cornerstone of their relationship, and there was nothing between Jintan and her that she could truly call their own. Was this how it was destined to be? Was Jintan going to forever see her in terms of Menma?
'No... it's not wrong...' Anaru conceded. 'I wanted you to come to school again... and you have. I should be happy, shouldn't I? All I wanted... was for Jintan to live life for himself again... I always knew that wanting Jintan to reciprocate my feelings was too selfish of me...' She had to stop to let out a sniffle. 'So why...? Why am I crying like that...? It... it doesn't make sense...'
Jintan closed his eyes and bit his lip remorsefully. This was why he had avoided Anaru. He did not want to see her like this. He knew that he was being irresponsible by refusing to respond to her feelings, and he knew that she was still clutching on to the hope that since Menma was gone, again, she might have another chance. How could he put it in a way that did not hurt her. After all, she was a beautiful girl, and he wanted her to be happy...
'Hey... Anaru...' His voice trembled with apprehension. 'Maybe... you should give up on me after all...'
Anaru did not say a word. For moment, Jintan was fearful that she would go into a frenzy again. However, nothing of that sort happened. Instead, she merely nodded her head slowly, wordlessly.
It should have made Jintan feel relieved. However, for some reason, he also felt a strange sadness.
'I mean... you deserve someone better than me, right?' Jintan continued, trying to cheer her up. 'I'm not outgoing, your friends don't like me, I'm perverted, I-'
'That's enough!' Anaru screamed. 'You can tell me you don't like me, Jintan, but don't you DARE insult my feelings towards you! Don't act like you're selfless and you're trying to think of me, when you're obviously only thinking about yourself!'
'What, you think I haven't thought it over all these years, Jintan? I think about it all the time! I keep asking myself: Naruko, why don't you just move on and stop thinking about Jintan? It makes sense, right? I should've done it a long time ago! So why haven't I, huh? Why? Is it because I'm an idiot?'
'No, I didn't mean that at all!' Jintan burst out, retorting with equal ferocity. 'But you know what it does mean? It means you're no better than me, Anaru! You keep telling me to move on, but how can I move on when you can't? No, you're not an idiot, but you're a damn hypocrite!'
Jintan was right. She wanted Jintan to do something that she herself could not do.
'You think I like coming to school, huh? You think I like putting up with all the bullshit that people give me? No, I HATE it! The only reason why I can still bear with it is because I'm always remembering Menma's words. Her encouragement gives me the strength I need! Without Menma, I would've just given up on life all over again!' Jintan continued shouting, until he had lost his breath.
'I know what you mean...' Anaru muttered. 'But... it's not right... Jintan... it's just not right. I want Jintan to live for himself... to fight for his future because he wants it for himself... and I'm sure that's what Menma wants, too. Menma doesn't want you to be hung up about the past, Jintan!'
'I can't...' Jintan admitted bitterly. 'If I don't do it for Menma, then I have no reason left to do it.'
'Then... do it for me.'
Anaru could feel Jintan turning to look at her, but she continued to lock her eyes to her front.
'You heard me, Jintan. Live for me. It'll be well worth it, I promise.'
Jintan fell silent, lost in his own thought.
'If it helps...' He spoke again with hesitation. 'I... I do think you're a very attractive girl, Anaru. If Menma weren't there... I think I would've definitely fallen for you.'
'No, it doesn't help.' Anaru let out an empty laugh. 'That was a terrible thing to say. What's the point of telling me this at all? Now I feel even worse about myself, because I know that somewhere, in an alternate universe, I may actually be going out with you. It's like I have a chance and don't have a chance at the same time... It's even more cruel than giving me false hope.'
'I told you that because I didn't want you to blame yourself. I didn't want you to think that you weren't attractive, or that just because I'm not with you, it means that you can't find someone else.' Jintan tried to reason.
'It's not about whether I can find someone else or not. You're right, I could. But I don't want to, Jintan. You're the only person I want.'
'Then maybe you should see it from my point of view. What you're experiencing is nothing compared to my pain.' Jintan said, and his tone became grave again. 'When Menma came back, do you know what she said? She said that she loved me. She said that she wanted to marry me. If I never ran out of the room that day, and just came clean with my feelings, she would have reciprocated! I would be spending every single second with her right now, instead of moping around and hating myself for the life I never had because of a wrong decision I made as a child in just a matter of seconds!'
'Jintan, don't blame yourself for her death!' Anaru shouted. 'Haven't we already gone through this before? Nobody knew what would happen! Life has been cruel to us, but none of us deserve this, and it's absolutely not our fault! Also, I knew that Menma liked you back, okay? All of us knew! It was so obvious from the way she looked at you! That's one of the reasons why I always kept quiet about my feelings, Jintan! Because I, too, expected you to get together with her!'
'Then tell me! Why is life so unfair? Why am I the only person in the world who has a girl he loves tell him she feels the same way only ten years after she's dead?' Jintan screamed in agony. 'Of course I know that Menma wants me to move on! And believe me, I've tried! But whenever I'm at home, I keep seeing her in my head! She's everywhere! Sitting at the table, standing at the kitchen counter begging me to cook ramen, playing Nokemon in my room... Each time she appears, she seems so real that I think she's actually come back from the dead again, and some times I spent hours talking to her and I start to feel hopeful, but whenever I go to sleep and wake up the next morning, she's always gone... without fail... I can't live without Menma, Anaru! I just can't live without her!'
'No! You can't live without her because you've been trying to take everything upon yourself, Jintan! Maybe you're not supposed to suffer through this alone? We... the Super Peace Busters... we're all here for you, you know? I'm here for you! I'm ALWAYS here for you, Jintan!'
'I just can't do it...' Jintan whispered, shaking his head vigorously.
'That's because you aren't willing to try! You're not willing to let go of that single what if in your head! If you just keep comparing your life to how it would've been if Menma hadn't died, then of course you're never going to feel like you can be happy! But it doesn't do you any good, Jintan! It may make you feel more comfortable right now, but one day you'll wake up and regret it!'
'How many times do I have to tell you that you're in no position to say something like that!' Jintan berated. 'I hate hypocrites like you, who expect other people to do something you yourself can't!'
'Except you're WRONG!' Anaru screamed back. 'I'm not being a hypocrite because we're not the same! You're not truly thinking of Menma! If you were, you would respect her wishes for you to move on! I, on the other hand, I've always been thinking about you, Jintan! For ten years! Day after day, I see you shutting yourself out more and more, and it hurts so much to see you like that. Even the teacher stopped caring about you, and wanted to fail you straight out! However, I insisted that I would continue to bring you your homework, because I never wanted to join everyone else! Even if everyone else walked out of your life, I swore that I would continue liking you, so that you would always have me!'
Jintan had nothing to say. He just stood there, trying to comprehend all he had heard.
'I know what you're going to say.' Anaru continued. 'You're going to tell me that I'm still being selfish, and I'm just lucky that what I want and what I think you want happen to coincide. You're going to tell me that if I were in your situation, I'd be equally conflicted, right?'
There was still no response from Jintan.
'You know what I'd say to that? I'd say that you're probably correct. I am, indeed, lucky that it's so easy for me to believe I'm being selfless, when it's just as probable that I'm just being selfish and can't stand the thought of not being with you! In that case, I should just give up on you, right? And watch you continue to hate yourself, and in the end everyone will just be miserable and nobody gets a happy ending after all-'
'I disagree!' Jintan shouted. 'I... I don't think you're being selfish... Anaru...'
'You... don't...?' Anaru looked at him in surprise.
'I can tell... you're doing this because you love me.' Jintan muttered softly.
'I... I think you're a very selfless person too, Jintan.' Anaru replied. You've always been looking out for me. You went to great lengths to make sure I never felt left out whenever we played as children... I mean, you knew I hated bugs, and even though you loved bug-catching, you were always thinking of ways to poke fun of the bugs and make them look silly so that they didn't seem so frightening any more. And even now... when you defended me in class and at the video game store... you're as amazing as ever, Jintan. I wouldn't just do this for anyone. I love you because of who you are, and I don't regret it one bit.'
'Anaru...' Then, Jintan took a deep breath. He seemed like he was struggling greatly to get his next few words out.
Anaru looked at him. She had no idea what he was about to say, but she wanted to listen to whatever he had to say. They were beyond pleasantries and white lies. She wanted to know how he truly felt.
'I... want... I...' He started to roll his eyes, like he was about to give up.
'No, tell me. I don't care what it is, I want to hear it.' Anaru persuaded him gently.
'I... I want to be able to live my life for you, Anaru.' Jintan began to wheeze, then slammed his fist into his thigh in exasperation. 'Dammit, I knew it would come out all weird. I can't believe I just said that, it sounds so stupid now-'
'No, it doesn't!' Anaru cried out. 'I want to be one of the reasons you choose to live, too. And I want you to be one of the reasons I choose to live.'
Then, Anaru let out a slight giggle. She tried to suppress the urge, but it became stronger and stronger, until she burst out in laughter. 'Oh god, it really does sound really weird! It's so creepy! It sounds like we're trying to stalk each other, or something like that!'
'Thanks.' Jintan scowled.
'But it's alright!' Anaru proclaimed. 'I'll help you to the best of my ability! You say that you often think of Menma when you are at home, right? Then I'll just have to visit your house every single day, after school, without fail! We can do homework together, or even play Nokemon - hey, there's currently a discount on Nokemon Black 2 and White 2 in the store I work at, you know?'
'Are you sure? It's... not just that... I mean, Menma was in my room all the time...'
'That- that's okay! I'll just come up to your room, then! It's no big deal! After all, we used to visit your room all the time when we were children, right?'
'And... Menma even slept in my bed...'
'Then I'll just have to sleep in your - wait, WHAT? Okay, there's NO WAY I'm sleeping in your bed, but that's not even the point here! MENMA SLEPT IN YOUR BED? Are you FREAKING KIDDING me? Why the hell did you force Menma to sleep in your bed? Pervert! PERVERT! Don't tell me you two... NO, it can't be! I mean... it's not possible... r-right? To do... this and that... with a ghost...'
'Of course we didn't do anything like that!' Jintan shouted. 'I can't make Menma sleep on the couch, right? I had no choice! And I obviously didn't sleep in my bed when she was using it!'
'Good!' Anaru commended. 'Otherwise, you'd have been a pervert on a whole different level!'
'Oh... so you're implying that it's not as bad if I wanted to do it with you?'
'NO! Oh my god, Jintan, just how perverted have you gotten since I last saw you?' Anaru screamed, and then went into a long line of insults that she was remarkably rehearsed at saying.
She never finished her speech. As she continued scolding Jintan over and over again, he hugged her. He was shaking all over from nervousness, because he had never hugged a living girl before, and he did not quite know where to put his arms, or adjust himself so that it was not as obvious that her chest was pressed against his. But his arms were locked tightly, refusing to let go.
Anaru never resisted at all, not even for a second. The moment he closed in on her, she relaxed her body and let herself sink into his arms.
'Jintan... that was damn immature of you.' She whispered, smiling. 'But... somehow, I was happy to hear that. It reminded me of how you were when we were kids. Not half as perverted and creepy, but still cheeky all the same.'
'If it's you... Anaru... I feel that I'll be able to overcome my problems.' Jintan hugged her even more tightly.
'I know that you'll be able to overcome your problems... Jintan... I just know it.'
Just then, their phones buzzed at the same time. Someone had sent both of them a text message. Reluctantly, Jintan and Anaru let go of each other. They could feel the longing in each other's hearts, and smiled at each other warmly. Then, they checked their phones, and saw that they had both received a text message from Poppo.
Yo, what's up! It read. Haven't met in a while, huh? Thinking of organising a barbeque this weekend at our base. We were all so caught up in Menma's return that we never really talked about ourselves, huh? Bring video games, books, movies, music, anything that you like! Let's relearn each other again, from the start! i^o^i
'Poppo's still the same as always, isn't he?' Jintan sighed. 'Even if so much has changed.'
'But that's the good thing about the Super Peace Busters, right? We're all friends with each other, both individually and as a group. So what if we're different now? We're committed to being friends again, and that's what counts!'
'Yeah, I wouldn't miss it for anything in the world.' Jintan grinned.
'Hey, it's Anjou and Yadomi!' Someone called out.
'Woah, they're hugging!'
'What speed! Barely two hours after the declaration of love, and they're already together!'
'Woohoo! I totally ship you two!'
'Get a room, you guys!'
'Um...' Jintan turned to Anaru, who had gone all red again, refusing to meet his eyes. 'Mind telling me what this is?' By now, a huge crowd at gathered around them, like people surrounding a painting in a museum.
'Yeah... about that... it's kind of, like... the new rumour in school.' Anaru mumbled. 'S-so... I guess it's a good thing that you're willing to give our relationship a try, huh? If not... I'd never dare to show my face in this school ever again...'
'Are you serious? Anaru, I'm starting to think you actually like the attention!'
'Wh-what! First you say that I have a love hotel look, and now you're accusing me of being an attention whore? You better watch out, Jintan! You're dead meat!'
'Do your worst- OW! Dammit, that hurt! I meant that as a joke - OW!'
'Still want to say anything about me, Jintan?'
'Okay, I give up! Just stop that- Ah, not there, dammit! Anaru!'
However, Anaru was smiling all the way. She had finally gotten what she wanted, all these years. And she knew Menma would give them her blessing, because it took someone as selfless as Menma to do that. She had only seen Menma for a minute, but when their eyes met, she knew. Menma wanted Jintan to be saved, at all costs, and she trusted Anaru to help her do it.
I am seriously impressed. What a great read! I'm glad that you took the time to iron out the issues both characters would still have after Menma's disappearance. It would be too easy to just say "They realized they love each other" -END. I feel so sorry for Jintan, having read Menma's letter... *tear* So I'm glad that Anaru promised to save him from his endless torment. YAY.
I also like the commentary from their classmates "I totally ship you two" - LOLz
Thanks for writing this!
Hey, thanks for the review! ^^
Yeah, to me, Anohana is really special in the sense that no amount of fluff can fill the gap in your heart until the characters first overcome their problems. It makes you care about the characters a lot!
When writing this fic, I didn't just want to think about what stayed the same ie. the fact that Jintan can't get over Menma, and won't be able to for a long time. I also wanted to think about what changed. Most importantly, how did each of them grow after meeting Menma once more?
I believe that for Jintan, Menma gave him the first push to start trying to rebuild his life again. And, for Anaru, Menma made her honest about her own feelings. To me, Menma's return never made it worse. She forced them to confront their problems and stop running away - which is always painful - but she also gave them the key to picking themselves up again :)