"Well that didn't take lo-What the fuck happened, Arai!?" I cry out, stepping over a knocked over thigh-high table and the remnants of a vase in the entranceway, before getting to the living room. Getting the all-clear to come home after being turfed out for my roommate's booty call, I really didn't expect to find the place trashed.
"Oh… Yeah, I'll, uh… don't worry, I'll get to it in a second." Taro mumbles from the kitchen and I look around and see everything else seems fine so seriously; what the fuck? I turn my attention back to the shattered fragments of blue porcelain and sigh sadly.
"Awww man, that was my favourite vase…" I mutter. It was a house warming present from Hana…
"It was our only vase…" Taro corrects and I frown. I storm over to the kitchen yank at his shoulder to spin him around, only to recoil when I see his face.
"GAH! What kind of freaky shit did you get into?" I ask, mildly concerned at the band-aid across his left cheek and swollen, red eyes. A quick glance down at his good arm shows red-raw claw marks, which he must have been cleaning and dressing. "What the hell happened?" I ask, grabbing at the band-aid and tearing it off.
"Shit! Owww! Watch it, Miki… Damn." He hisses, wincing as I uncover another scratch on his face. "Just a couple scratches. Not a big deal."
"Not a big deal? You look like you got your ass kicked by a hedge-trimmer; what the fuck did she do?” I ask, my blood boiling. I warned her. I gave her a fair shot but when she does this to my friend? To my Taro? Miki gon' smack a bitch!
"Hey, look, it's nothing alright? Kinda deserved it to be honest…" He leans back against the counter, replacing the band-aid with a wince. "I said something really fucking stupid and I got what I deserved."
"What could you have possibly said to deserve this?" I question, folding my arms, awaiting his answer. He looks down, rubbing the back of his neck in the hangdog way when he really feels like he's fucked up.
"I said Ritsu's name." Oh. "While Noriko was blowing me." Pffffftttt.
"Can you, uh, run that by me on more time." I say, barely containing a snicker and a huge grin. He looks up with a 'Really?' expression and I have to cover my mouth.
"That's awful. Really, really, awful. Totally bad." My thinly veiled attempt to keep a straight face isn't working, especially with how high and muffled my voice is. I'm so sorry, Taro, but that's hilarious.
"Just get it out of your system…" He sighs, giving me reluctant permission while shaking his head. I have to brace myself against him as I let out a roaring belly laugh, rocking him back and forth as I do.
"You all done?"
"Yeah, yeah, thanks. Fuck me, Taro…" I right myself and look at the pitiful guy before me. All scratched up and kicking himself for yet another bone-headed mistake. "Go take a seat, dumbass. I'll clean up this mess and then I'll do some dressings for you."
He nods and slinks over to the couch, an audible 'fomp' as he sits there dejected. God damn it, Taro. I tried to warn you… I toss my hoodie onto the counter, tying my hair back into a ponytail. Gathering up the mess of bandages and tape he's made, I take the kit over to the couch, planting myself on the coffee table in front of him.
"Lean forward." I command and he obeys. I peel off his cheek bandage again and set about doing another. "It's been taken off once which means it won't stay on properly. Did you even disinfect the cut?"
"Yeah. Stung like a bitch." He grimaces as I plant a fresh bandage on his face. I pull up his good arm, resting his palm on my knee.
"How were you going to do these then, genius?" I remark, gesturing at his lone functional arm and the reddened grazes up it's length.
"Why do you think I called you? I needed an extra hand." He smirks a little and I start working on him, shaking my head. Dumbass. Good thing I know a thing or two about wrapping up arms.
"So… Ritsu, huh? Bet Nori wasn't too pleased with that."
"Didn't get you anywhere… else did she?" I ask with a curious eyebrow and he chuckles.
"No. I should thank my lucky stars that she didn't bite my dick or something."
"You'd be on your own with that one!" I laugh.
"I tried saying sorry but she went ballistic! Just kept signing insults at me and then she started slapping, then scratching. The vase was her last little 'fuck you' out the door." Taro explains and I can only blow air in amazement.
"Wow… Who'd have thought she'd have such a short fuse? Still, at least you escaped with only a couple cat-scratches. Crazy bitch, man… You should never stick your dick in crazy, Arai."
"Speaking from your vast experience of dick ownership or as the crazy in question?" He snarks in return and I pull the bandage tighter around the last set of claw marks, making him hiss a little.
"Do you wanna push that button, tons-of-fun? Because you know full well I don't do scratch like a bitch." I glare, clenching my fist at him before packing up the first aid kit. He's had worse from me; he'll survive.
"Thanks, Miki." He smiles sheepishly. I pat his knee with my stump before heading back into the kitchen.
"So what did you learn from this failed rebound, Arai?" I call out behind me as I place the first aid kit back under the kitchen.
"That maybe I should listen to my roommate more often?" He groans loudly.
"Damn straight. What else?"
"That… That I need more time…" He says quietly but I still hear him. It's good to know that he's still smart enough to learn, even when he's stupid.
"Well, you'll be making time tomorr-well, I guess today, for shopping because you owe me a vase." I look to the clock before turning with a grin. Taro furrows his brow in confusion.
"But it wasn't me who—"
"You brought that nutcase into our home; it's on you. After that, I think we can head over to the park and I'll get some training in." I state, standing in front of Taro.
"So I get to put on boxing pads and take another beating? Is it my birthday?" Taro replies in sarcastic excitement.
"I'll let you get some pity hits in, buddy." I hold out my right hand to him and we grab hold of each other's wrists so I can help him to his feet. "Now where do we keep the dustpan?"
"Why am I not surprised you still don't know where the cleaning supplies are?" He gives me a real bitchy look as he passes me and I smile at his back. I know.
But you need to sort out your own messes, Taro.
Gone. She's gone. Not surprising really but still… I kinda hoped she would stick around. I pull myself up off the futon, putting on my glasses and looking around my lonely, empty room — the dull light of morning seeping in from behind my curtains.
I rub my head and try to remember when she left. I told her everything. About what happened at Yamaku. How it all went to shit and how I became a misogynistic tool with no friends. Unlike my own, hindsight is twenty-twenty and it all seems so blatantly obvious…
Schizoaffective disorder, as Akio's friend Kapur described, appears to be the root cause of my pitiful mental state. Granted, she was working off third-hand information but still… After doing my own Google-fu on it, her opinion seems sound. Her opinion… It's funny, and pretty fucking sad, that Hisao has known all these brilliant people all along while I spent half of my school life locked in my room worried that girls were out to get me.
I missed out. I really did. On a girlfriend, on a social life, and on decent grades. God, it's too early in the morning for this much self-pity… I miss Rika already. She was a fun distraction.
No, more than that, you d-bag! She was amazing! Cute and clever and she liked you! And you let your past drive her away. You fucked it up, just like you always do. I don't know how Hisao can put up with yo—
A rapid-fire barrage of thumps to my door snaps me out of my inner monologue. Who the hell could that be? At this hour? On a Sunday! I mutter and curse under my breath as I groggily rise to my feet. Another series of bangs just riles me up.
"I'm coming, asshole!" I shout, unlatching the lock and swinging the door outward. "What's with all the rack-ru-Rika!?"
The woman in front of my tilts her head at me quizzically before barging past me. "Let me in, Kenny! It's cold as hell out there! Brrr!" She shivers a little and I quickly close the door. What's she doing here?
"What?" She asks of me as she places a grocery bag on my small kitchen counter and I don't have an answer. I'm utterly dumbfounded. "Sorry I took so long, I got a rather dramatic text from Nori. Apparently her night wasn't as good as ours. Sucks that it didn't work out, Taro seems like a nice guy. At least the corner store had some fresh eggs."
"Huh? What happened with Taro? Wait, did you say you were going out for eggs?" I furrow my brow in confusion.
"Yeah! While you were on the futon twenty minutes ago, silly!" She laughs and I rub my eyes. I must have been talking in my sleep, I guess? Have I always done that?
"You okay?" Rika asks as she takes off her coat. She came back. She heard everything I had to say and she didn't run away.
"I'm, uh, just surprised is all. I just woke up too so I'm not entirely convinced this isn't a dream." I rub the back of my neck nervously. She smiles warmly and hangs her coat on the peg behind her.
“What? You thought I'd be half way to Hokkaido by now?" She raises an eyebrow at me and plants her hands on her hips.
"Pretty much… Wouldn't blame you either. Like I said last night; I'm kind of an asshole."
"Do you remember what happened after that?" She asks, turning her attention to the stove. Is she making omelettes? Is that why she went out for eggs? Why is she here, cooking breakfast?
"Umm, not really. I was pretty drunk." I admit sadly.
"So was I and I kinda remember you telling me all this stuff about school and some librarian and how you were trying to organise a one-man reich… but mostly I remember you saying something that completely contradicts that whole 'Kenji is a woman-hating turd' persona." She puts everything down and steps closer. I step back instinctively, which makes her laugh.
"You said you were glad to have met me because all of our dates, and you smiled when you said dates, have been the most fun you've had in years. And you thanked me." She blushes and reaches out her hand. The little voice in the back of my screams as I reach out and take it.
"Believe it or not, I'm not amazing with people either and when we got talking about your patches and about history… It's the first time I really connected with someone, especially a boy, about some of my favourite subjects. So I thanked you too, for just talking to me." She smiles again, so brightly that it's like being snowblind.
I did that. Damn.
"And then we drank more beer and watched bad TV until we passed out." She giggles and I suddenly get a flash of us cuddling in front of an 80's comedy.
"Huh. Well, that's…" My cheeks burn as I struggle to think of something to say. Where's Akio when you need him? He could be feeding me smooth lines right now but noooo, he has to spend time with his wife. Somehow a worse wingman than Hisao.
"Yeah…" Rika blushes, pulling her hand away and proceeding to tie her hair back. "So then! Breakfast! Do you like your eggs scrambled, in an omelette, what?"
"I don't mind, whichever is easiest. Do you want some help or should I make coffee or what?" I ask, feeling rather useless in my own kitchen.
"Oooh, yeah! Coffee would be great. Lots of sugar in mine."
"Aren't you sweet enough?" I joke, thankful that I might have picked up something from Akio after all.
"Geez, man! What the fuck happened to you? Did she finally snap?" Kenji's straight in with the questions as soon as he sees me. I breath a weary sigh because I've already heard that particular question from Akio; though he asked as a joke whereas Kenji probably would think Shizune gave me this black eye.
"Just… Get in here already, I'm starving." I all but drag him inside because the smell of that pepperoni pizza is killing me. We take up positions in front of the TV and I reach for the pizza box, only for it to be snatched out of reach.
"Nuh-uh! No pizza until you tell me what happened." Kenji chuckles and I flop backwards into the couch.
"Fine! Hanako invited a bunch of us out to the Tokyo Big Sight yesterday…" I groan, Kenji opening up the box for me to take a slice.
"Right, she was doing a signing or something, right?" Kenji states as he pulls a slice out of the box himself. I throw him an incredulous look as I chew. How does he know? "What? I read her stuff, she's not half bad."
"Oooookay, well, yeah. Her publisher was giving away signed copies of her light novel; she couldn't actually face that big a crowd so they had a stand-in or something. Unfortunately, some clever dick behind the stall got his hands on a t-shirt cannon and well." I gesture to my black eye and Kenji cackles like a mad man.
"You took one to the face?" He chokes between laughs and I glare at him.
"Yeah, yeah, Akio already made that joke…"
"He did? For fuck's sake! I swear that guy is like some kind of future plagiarist; he always makes the jokes I want to before I can!" Kenji whines and I have to wonder how he came to that odd observation.
"I'm just thankful I got hit in the face and not in the chest; not that it mattered to Shizune. Miki had to hold her back from decking the guy." I say with a small smirk.
"Your girl's quite the Spitfire, man. You did good." He says with a bizarre note of sincerity in his voice and I have to place my hand over his forehead, which causes him to swat at me.
"What the hell, dude?"
"Just checking you're not running a fever or something. That almost sounded like a compliment for Shizune." I chuckle and he rolls his eyes.
"Well it was, alright? I think it's cool how protective she is of you. Same with Miki and Taro. They're both pretty cool."
"Okay, now I know something's up. What have you done with the real Kenji?" I narrow my eyes at him and he sighs with a smile.
"Nothing's up, Hisao. Everything's… right, for a change." He offers with a genuine smile and I make the connection. It's Rika's influence. Has to be. I haven't really seen him in a couple weeks but he's been texting me and he always seemed upbeat.
"I'm glad to hear it, sir." I say, reaching for another slice of pizza.
Good on you, Kenji.
So that's that. I wanted to finish this story up before I focus back on Flutter. I ended up choosing Swamp's alt-future to Monomyth for the ending because, well, this story was his idea in the first place and so everyone gets a good (My version obviously would have played out differently). I know this probably didn't go in the direction he intended but I hope it was at least somewhat enjoyable.