Chapter Fourteen: Three of a Kind
Ritsu didn’t break in this morning. Can’t decide if I’m happy about that or not. I slept surprisingly well, but emotional exhaustion will do that. Yesterday’s events weigh heavily on my mind and heart, the malaise making my morning routine unnaturally sluggish and the walk through the eerily silent grounds feels like a Sisyphean task.
I step through the door of Class 3-3, the atmosphere is sombre and the silence is deafening. This must be what Shizune lives with everyday. I think I respect her a little more now. Despite there being no classes today, this little meeting was arranged. A debriefing of yesterday’s events. I slowly make my way across the front of the classroom. Lezard is squatting near Ikuno, both avoiding eye contact with me. Miki offers me a small fist bump on my way past her, a small gesture of solidarity that is much appreciated. Suzu gives a smile as weak as my own. Conspicuous by his absence is Akio, no doubt nursing a hangover. I hope that’s all it is. And then there’s Ritsu. My wonderful Ritsu.
She steps out from behind her desk, taking measured steps towards me before curling her arms around my chest. Instinctively, my arm encloses around her shoulders and holds her tight against me. I don’t know what to say. There’s so much I want to say. So much I need to.
“Ritsu, I…” She shakes her head violently against my chest.
“Don’t you dare
say you’re sorry. It’s not your fault
. You have nothing to be sorry for!” Her voice is quivering, on the verge of tears. My heart is breaking and I say the only thing I hope will reassure her.
“Thank you for a wonderful date, Ritsu. I’d love to go again soon.” I feel her legs buckle and I gently follow her down, kneeling with a crying girl in my arms.
Eventually, Lezard and Ikuno make their excuses and leave. I don’t blame them, this is no doubt going to be very awkward. Suzu is dozing peacefully on her desk and Miki is sitting patiently. Very unlike her but I know she understands the gravity of the situation and, hopefully, my appreciation for her presence. Ritsu has dried her eyes but hasn’t left my arm.
“I think I‘m okay now…” She finally speaks up, standing under her own strength. She sniffles once and looks me dead in the eyes. “What happened yesterday?”
I sigh and get to my feet before perching on a nearby desk. “I don’t fully understand the whole story. I don’t know what kicked off with you guys bu--”
“Essentially, Akio was stood up
.” Miki speaks up, turning towards us. “When we met up, he was expecting someone to be there, but they cancelled at the last second. Put him in a shitty mood for the rest of the afternoon.”
Ritsu asks the obvious question. “Who was it?”
“Haruhiko, the space-case in the front corner. He’s in the track club with me. Akio would have had better luck with the club captain
if you ask me…” Miki offers, which only confuses Ritsu but I speak up before she can.
“That makes sense in hindsight. I think Akio is bisexual
“Wait, what?” Ritsu’s sceptical look says it all. “How could you possibly know that?”
I breathe a heavy sigh. “Because Akio kissed me last night.”
Ritsu stumbles backwards into a desk. That’s about the reaction I expected. “W-what?”
“When I found him last night, he was saying some nonsense about a love triangle, or what his drunk brain could best describe as a triangle. It didn’t make sense until later. There’s definitely a lot of conflicting emotions rolling around in that glass skull of his but that triangle stuff… The only way I can think of interpreting it is that he’s crushing on me.” If this was any other day, this would sound ludicrous but today… it feels all too possible.
Ritsu is stunned into silence, her face switching between a half dozen emotions at once and none seem adequate to suit this… bizarre situation.
“So he’s depressed, gets plastered, spills his guts about unrequited love and does something stupid, that about the size of it?” Miki recaps, more for Suzu’s benefit, who’s just returned to the land of the living.
“It’s happened before
…” I idly mention.
“Hold the fuck
up!” Ritsu finally seems to have found her words. “How is Akio bi
? Since when? Why did he never tell us?” Good questions, none I have answers for.
“Because that’s who he is. He realised he was bi a little after Valentines last year and because he was worried what you guys would think.” Suzu declares, answering all Ritsu’s questions with surprising insight.
“Valentines? …When I talked to him on the roof
!” I exclaim, the realisation hitting me like a tonne of bricks. I turned someone bisexual. There’s one for my personal achievements list, I suppose.
“I assume he told you all this?” I turn my attention to Suzu.
“Yeah, just before the festival…” Suzu responds rubbing sleep from her eyes. “He took me aside after a lit. club meeting and… came out
. I don‘t know why he thought I was the best choice to tell…” Her eyes lower to her dainty, swinging feet.
Miki and I offer a “Huh” in tandem.
“But why not tell us? He’s our best friend.” Ritsu asks, sounding utterly defeated.
“How do you tell your two best friends that you have feelings for one of them while they‘re dating the other?” Suzu ponders aloud. “Awkward.” Miki responds.
I close my eyes and breath a heavy sigh. “This is so messed up.” I can’t help but laugh at the ridiculous situation I find myself in.
“How are you not freaking out more?” Ritsu justifiably questions me.
“Because I’ve kissed guys before?” The girls all gasp.
!” I need to relieve this tension somehow… “But to be honest, it’s… shocking? Bewildering? I don’t think I know the word for it. I don’t think I’m even bothered by him being attracted to me, more that he didn’t feel that he could talk to me about it.” I furrow my brow. “What about you?”
“I… I think I’m the same. I just want to talk to him. Get this all cleared up.”
“I don’t think I’m nearly
sober enough to even begin to clear this shit-show up.” A voice calls from the doorway and we all turn our attention towards it. “God, you all look how I feel
…” He rubs his head and takes a seat near the front, still a distance away from us.
“Morning, glass jaw.” I try my best to smile. At least he’s mobile.
“Mornin’ everyone.” He doesn’t look at me. Silence fills the class room again for what feels like an eternity.
Akio clears his thought and instantly regrets it has he clutches his head.
“Okay. I guess for starters, I should apologize to Miki and Suzu. I apologise profusely for my inappropriate behaviour and if I offended either you guys or Lezard and Ikuno. It was inexcusable.” He bows deeply to the girls. They take a look at each other before giving him a nod. Looks like they’re not going to weigh in on this. Probably for the best.
He turns to me and Ritsu and sits quietly for a moment, formulating the words in his head.
“I guess I should explain myself, huh?” He meekly smiles. “You guys already know about my Dad… How he drank himself into a hole after losing his job and started beating me and my Mom, because I was ‘brittle’ and ‘weak’... My Mom and I eventually
left to go live with my Aunt and cousins in the city...” He takes a deep breath. “You remember my cousin, Renzo?”
“The one who helped you move into the dorms? I think so…” I have a vague recollection of some 20-something guy with a shaved head.
“He’s the one who’s been buying me booze. After we moved in with my Aunt, me and Renzo would hang out all the time. Kinda fell into some bad habits with him… Underage drinking was just the tip of the iceberg but when I enrolled here, that all kinda stopped.” His eyes are becoming watery, conflicting emotions and memories churning inside him like a storm.
“But I guess I’ve got more of my Dad in me than I thought… It’s hard to build healthy relationships when your baseline is an abusive fucking mess. Any time I had a crush, I’d hold back because I was afraid I’d be just like my Dad but then something would happen and I would hit the bottle just like he fucking would.” Bitterness, regret, inadequacy: all tied into memories of his Father. I recognise the feelings in his words. I’ve felt them all.
“Renzo works as a store clerk in the city so when I… want to drown my sorrows
, he sneaks something to me. Not sure how he gets it past his boss…” He admits, slamming his fist on the table. “But that doesn’t fucking matter because I’m to blame for my own
shitty actions and I’m sick of hurting the people around me. I refuse to be a slave to my Dad’s demons…” He reaches aggressively into his pocket and tosses his phone to me.
“Taro, delete all of Renzo’s contact info and block his number for me?” He hangs his head and clenches his fist, resolute to allow me to do so. I solemnly nod and do as he asks, closing his phone with a snap that echoes around the room.
“Thanks…” He breathes a heavy sigh of relief.
“No problem.” I toss the phone back to him. He places it back in his pocket and stares at the floor. C’mon, man.
“I guess it’s time for my grand finale…” He rises from his chair, leaving his cane rested against the desk. He takes a deep breath and raises his head, his eyes red raw and water stains running down his cheeks. “Taro… Ritsu… I am
bisexual and… As Taro already figured out, I realised after he talked me down off the roof. I guess when you play hero like only Taro can, even a guy’s gotta fall for him, right
?” He cracks a half-smile then shakes his head. I guess he was listening in this entire time…
“But he’s my best friend and I didn’t know if I could compromise our friendship like that. Not when I hadn’t even… come out.” He turns his gaze towards Suzu. “Thanks for being understanding, Snuzy. I knew you would be.” All eyes turn to the blue-hair narcoleptic who visibly shrinks at the attention. “I didn’t do anything.
” is all she can muster.
“When Haru blew me off…” He considers it for a moment, chuckles to himself and shakes his head. “When Haru didn’t show up
for our little hang-out, it destroyed me. I’d gotten up the courage to actually ask him out that day and he didn’t even show for the confession. The rest, you guys all kinda know. I guess I defaulted to drinking in some… fucking stupid attempt for attention.” His eyes lock with mine, full of regret.
“And now I’ve gone and fucked up the truest friendships I've ever had; I betrayed Taro’s trust in me by trying it on and Ritsu’s for kissing her boyfriend… and I have no fucking clue how I’m going to clear this up with you two but…” He furrows his brow, as if to stare down the grief he’s feeling.
“I’ve already arranged a meeting with Miss Tsunemori to discuss counselling. It’s nothing big but… It’s something I can
do. Everything I did yesterday was shitty and totally out of line and I hate myself for it! I’m so sorry…
” One last apology escapes his lips before he slumps back into his chair, exhausted. I think we all are.
Silence again, except for the sniffles of tears being held back, a floodgate waiting to be opened. C’mon, Taro. Think
. Think about the guy in front of you. All you’ve been through. I can’t be angry at him. No, I can
, his drinking is a real sore point for me and he fucked up my plans and hurt Ritsu’s feelings…
I turn to Ritsu and she’s hugging her own arms, eyes closed in a vain attempt to stop her tears. I look to Miki and she looks me dead in the eyes. Everything she said last night floods into my mind. Lead with my heart
. Make things right
. Never give up
I get up off my perch and walk around the desks towards Akio. “Get up.”
Everyone is on edge but Akio acquiesces and stands slowly, ready to receive whatever I have for him. I’m going to give him everything I’ve got. I wrap my arm around his shoulder and bring him into a hug. I grip the material of his shirt tight to make sure he stays there.
“Now you listen to me; I am still fucking pissed that you turned to drinking instead of talking to me. I hate that you still feel you can’t come to me, especially with something like this. I love you like a brother
, Akio, and I would do everything I can to help you, you stupid fuck.” I breath a heavy sigh, the tension in my chest subsiding and my tight grip turning to a reassuring clasp of his shoulder.
“That said, you‘re taking a positive step in seeing Miss Tsunemori and if you’re willing to take that big a step to help yourself... Then I‘d be a real asshole if I didn’t forgive you.” I smile genuinely, holding his shoulder.
“Even though I slipped you the tongue…?” His inappropriate gag means he’s feeling a little more at ease but that doesn’t save him from a sock in the arm from Ritsu.
“You’ve fucked up, Akio, and we still have a lot to talk about. Together. But…” A soft smile curls on her face. “I’ll always accept you for who you are because who you are to me
is my friend. First and foremost.” She’s tearing up again.
“Th-thank you, guys...” Akio sniffles.
I grab them both and pull them in. This is definitely the weirdest couples day we’ve had as a trio… But if we play our cards right, we’ll get through this, like Ritsu said.
Akio wipes snot from his nose and coughs. “Hate to cut the mushy stuff short but I think I need to see the Nurse about this hangover. Which’ll be fun…” He bemoans, slinking out of the room after a goodbye hug from Ritsu and a wave from me. Miki carries Suzu out on her back shortly afterwards, throwing me a knowing smile before she leaves and me and Ritsu are left alone in the class room.
“God damn… it’s not even 11am and all I want to do is go back to bed…” I admit, Ritsu agreeing with a yawn. Her hand creeps into mine. We look at each other with weak smiles.
“Nap time. Definitely nap time. Then maybe the Shanghai?” She asks.
“It’s a date.” I laugh as best I can and pull her into a tender kiss. “Napping first though.”
Between the mental and emotional exhaustion and being more than happy to while away the small hours cuddling and watching movies on my laptop, me and Ritsu never did manage to make it to the Shanghai.