Unlike yesterday, I collapse into sleep despite my desire for the contrary, and wake up with time to shower, dress, and even eat some breakfast before I’m out the door and on my way to the main school building. Yesterday’s rehearsal was mostly a success and soothed most of my anxiety, aside from some minor chord confusion, we should be ready for Sunday’s performance. However, the pressure has clearly started to affect Takeshi seeing how he beat himself up over unnoticeable mistakes. Rika and I have already performed at the festival once, last year, but for him this is a new experience – his disabled debut.
By lunch time the day has fallen into its regular drudgery, with Mutou practically falling into his desk after writing work up onto the board. We end up covering most of the stuff we did yesterday, albeit in different groups, but nobody complains, everybody falls into the rhythm. Living at Yamaku is very cyclical, or maybe Mutou really does run on autopilot as Molly once suggested. Some people enjoy falling into this routine, waking up – learning – socialising – relaxing – sleep and repeat. I think even if you claim not to enjoy the repetitive nature of life here, it's impossible to escape it. We might reshuffle the order of things, or value different aspects of the cycle. But in reality, it represents Yamaku and the real world beyond it. We get up, we work, we rest, and then we get up to do it again. Disability or not, we all have to adjust to that routine and it’s harder for some than others, but there's no getting away from it.
“Anyone ever tell you that you think too much?” Taro waves his hand in front of me, snapping me out of my reverie. The classroom has emptied, leaving only Mutou at his desk reading and Taro before me. Actually, he’s standing next to someone. Oh.
“Hello, I’m Hisao Nakai.” He looks a little nervous to meet me to be honest, or maybe he always stands like that, with his shoulders stiff and his eyes straight forward.
“Lelouch Lamperouge. Call me Lou.” He stays looking at me, trying to understand me with his mouth agape in an awkward smile. Taro laughs and rubs Hisao on the shoulder with his good arm a little enthusiastically, this clearly startles him.
“So yeah, Lelouch has Aphasia or Apraxia or um, I think it’s one of those. Basically, he thinks normally and hears normally, but can’t formulate words properly thanks too…” Taro cuts himself off, not wanting to divulge more about my condition than is necessary. I’m thankful.
To ease the look of worry on the new guy’s face I give him an eager smile. He reassures himself and smiles back.
“Well it’s nice to meet you.”
“I’ve invited him to hang with us for lunch, don’t want you-know-who roping him into the student council.” Taro says laughing whilst Hisao looks uncomfortable. I object to the bad stigma Shizune has gotten over the years, I mean sure it’s earned to a degree, but I think she has what’s best for the school in mind. However, it’s not my place to pity Shizune. In fact, she probably enjoys the allusion to an iron-fisted ruler. I try to welcome Hisao as I get up from desk with a grin.
With that we exit into the hallway. Thanks to my daydreaming, the corridors are quieter than yesterday and once again we pass the newly hung painting that depicts mayhem and slaughter by the lifts and vending machines. Taro comments that that it’s the work of a fellow student, this time to Hisao. He looks bewildered. Down the stairs again and along the hall we pass the practise rooms and the sounds of a thumping drum beat. I wonder if it’s Takeshi as we go by, but we don’t check as we beeline for something to eat.
When we arrive inside the cafeteria, I immediately spot Rika waving at us from the table we sat at yesterday. She goes from a look of joy, to mild shock and back to joy again in an instant. Hisao, Taro and I queue for some food. I feel a vibration.
[Dude. He IS hot.]
Whilst Rika’s text forces me to stifle a laugh, I can’t help but feel a bit jilted. The banter of yesterday inches closer to reality and an uncomfortable feeling hits me. When I turn to look at her across the hall, I see her stuffing her face with bread whilst chatting to Ritsu.
Thanks to a rather short line, the three of us reach the table and once again Taro introduces Hisao to the girls who both reciprocate. It’s interesting watching the new guy check over us all, maybe at first unable to notice that each of us is broken in some way but knowing that it must be the case in order to be here.
“So how was your first day here Hisao?” Rika asks him.
“Well,” Hisao swallows his food, “If I’m honest it has been a bit strange.”
Rika raises her eyebrows with gravity, leaning across me to interrogate him. It gives me a view I’m awkwardly forced to divert from.
“What, because of all the freaks
?” We all turn to look at Hisao, deadly serious.
Taro is the first to laugh, which causes all of us to break including Rika who collapses onto me before withdrawing. Hisao still looks a bit bewildered but joins in the laughter.
“You’ll get used to her.” I say. But nobody understands me and the laughter dies out as they try.
The rest of the lunch passes with chatting and joking, Hisao seems to be welcomed by all. It’s a nice afternoon, and I don’t bother speaking again.
It’s Thursday evening -uh, Friday morning, and once again I find myself nodding to Hiroshi, who passes me as I exit the dormitories. I step over probably his fourth cigarette of the night and drag my hands down over my eyes and cheeks as the night breeze meets my face. The dim lit path outside the dormitories gives way to declining stairs, that I take two at a time, clutching my jacket across my chest.
A moth flies elegantly before me and so I hold open my hand as it drifts into my palm, pacing along my ley lines, to the tip of my thumb.
“Hey little guy.”
I turn to see the source of the voice, and I’m a little startled to see that its Suzu Suzuki, a blue haired girl from my class that I’ve never spoken to even though we’ve been in the same homeroom, and literature club for three years. She smiles at me, sat under the glow of the stars on a grassy embankment by the path. A look of horror takes over her and she darts her eyes to her hands, prompting me to do the same. The moth sails away.
[Do you prefer to sign? I’ve seen you do it with Shizune a few times.] I don’t immediately respond, mostly out of shock that she can sign, but a little because it feels weird to know I’ve been watched.
[I don’t mind, I can’t speak properly but I can hear fine.] It takes her about a minute to understand my reply, which is frustrating because it makes me feel like I can’t even communicate clearly when I sign but she eventually realises what I’ve said.
“Oh, that’s a relief! To tell the truth I’m not that great at speaking sign. I just know what I learnt from hanging out with Shizune and Misha before they went all cold-war and kicked me out of their group.” That sounds like a bit of an emotional subject since her voice quivers near the end and I notice that she’s whispering, maybe to not be caught outside? I’m pretty sure we don’t have a set curfew, but then given the recent news about my condition I wouldn’t be surprised if the security staff were just giving me some leniency. I’m still confused as to why she’s talking to me. She continues:
“I know this is really random, and I hope I’m not like disturbing you or anything, but I’ve seen you out here a few times in the last two weeks. It's really nice at this time, right? It’s just reassuring to know I’m not the only one here who prefers it to the day. I’m Suzu by the way, we’re in the same class.” In truth, I like spending this time alone, but given her being out here at this time, and her effort to converse I decide I ought to give her the benefit of the doubt. Besides that, her voice is very delicate and soothing, it fits the night.
“I know you, I’m Lou. Have we spoken before?” It’s harder to whisper and be understood given my condition. Considering her reaction to my voice, we must not have spoken before. I expected her to have heard me in class, but Mutou never calls on me and every time I’ve seen her during school she’s either been sleeping or daydreaming. Her proclivity to sleep makes her appearance now all the more startling.
“Uhm, sorry, I just didn’t expect you to sound like that. Is that why you’re here?” That’s a bit of a personal question. But before I react she has that terrified look on her face again.
“Oh that’s so bad I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean –“
“No, it’s okay. Yes and no.” I can’t bear to hear her beat herself up over this and shake my hands to calm her down. I of all people know what it feels like to not be able to say the right things. She might be acting a little weird, but nobody comes out at this time to be normal.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” reassured, she regains her composure and looks from me out into the trees behind me and the top of the bubble of light from the town below the hill. “I’m narcoleptic, but you probably knew that. I fall down a lot, my muscles just kind of give up and I watch myself crumble into another broken bone. I sleep a lot too and sometimes I can’t at all.”
I actually didn’t know that. I feel terrible for thinking she was just lazy now. She’s currently wearing a brace on her left knee over her leggings. Before she had that she wore a sling and I assumed she just broke easily, I guess that’s kind of true. Despite being a school in which everyone is disabled, the taboo about asking never really went away for me. Maybe that’s because Rika, whose condition was so serious, was the first person I met here. Or maybe it’s out of shame of my own ailment.
“I didn’t know. You sleep in class a lot. I thought you were just tired.” I try my best to make it sound like I’m joking even if it’s a lie. She laughs, and her energy deflates, not in a bad way though, since she’s smiling at me.
“Wanna know a secret?” She taps a spot on the grass next to her, and I oblige, unzipping my jacket before I sit. “Most of the time I’m pretending, it gets me out of classwork.”
We both laugh. Its weird to find myself laughing, seeing as I’ve been using this time to be solemn and think about what I want to do before…
I don’t want to reach the conclusion of that thought, something about Suzu’s willingness to share with a relative stranger makes me feel oddly warm, despite the chill in the air and despite my earlier intention to be alone.
“Okay, my secret.” Suzu turns to face me as I talk, going through the motions of understanding before tilting her head and prompting me to go on.
“I actually used to have quite a nice voice, apparently.”
After dissecting my words, Suzu tries to stifle her laugh.
“It’s a little hard to imagine I’m sorry for laughing.”
I try to give a serious face, but it's early and I don’t have the constitution so instead I let out a deflating laugh, more of a cough which gives her permission to actually laugh.
“You weren’t born with it?” She asks after regaining her composure.
I could use this opportunity to open up, to share my truth with someone other than medical staff. To tell someone what it was like to wake up being unable to scream, being unable to be understood even now after years of speech therapy.
“No…I had a stroke five years ago that hospitalised me. Had it since.” I could salvage this opportunity to tell her the full story.
But the moment's gone and I don’t.
Suzu’s smile vanishes, slowly like a sink emptying through a tiny drain as she dissects my words. She grabs her shoulders and looks forward, away from me again.
“I’m sorry, that’s terrible. One minute you’re fine and then…” I follow her look. Unlike from where I was standing below her, the embankment allows us to see past the tops of the trees, past the small bubble of light encasing the town below and out into a dark sky dotted with shotgun stars, like someone flicked them off the end of their paint brush. “Why are you out here anyway?” She doesn’t turn towards me to ask, but the question catches me off guard – a simple question with a simple answer made complicated by my shame.
“Thoughts too heavy.” This time she makes eye contact. I’m scared my poignancy is lost to the delay of understanding, but her emphatic smile tells me for the first time in a long time that it’s not. She replies in turn.
“I think I’m running away.”
“From Yamaku?” I ask.
“More like myself I guess, I’d rather lie awake where I can see something, then let my mind sleep when my body declines.” Once again, she faces forward as if trying to find something out in the beyond. I can’t help but wonder.
“What do you see out there?”
I guess I take her off guard, or she doesn’t understand me as I see her face contort in concertation. Inside her head, asleep but wide awake, words formulate into sentences of artillery. It must be relieving not having to worry about them exploding before they’re fired.
“Look there,” she points, “I see the tips of the city and the lights that reach even higher from them, I see how it fits in the palm of my hand. It’s kind of stupid, but being here, with nobody around, it makes you feel powerful, like you’re privy to something others aren’t. “
Hearing Suzu lose herself in describing what the night means to her makes me realise something. That I’ve misclassified what this time really means. It’s not a time between worlds. It’s not stained by our presence but enhanced by it. The relationship between us and the night is symbiotic, what’s the muse without the artist? Beauty without the perceiver? You don’t appreciate the sound without the silence. This is all forgetting that whilst Suzu and I ponder what the night means to us, someone on the other side of the world bites into their lunch, the world of romanticism a thousand kilometres away. Literally.
Re-grounded in reality, Suzu shivers, so I offer her my jacket which she accepts politely, wrapping herself inside of it like a blanket. It’s pretty cute. I can see Rika doing something like that, snuggling up to me with a snarky comment beneath stars that shine dutifully. Maybe I kid myself.
“You have something on your mind, right. That’s why you’re out here?” Suzu eventually asks, eyes closed and head laid back into the grass. “If you have something you need to say I think you should say it. Even if nobody hears you.” Her advice hits me but she adds, “They will.” She motions with her arms towards the trees, or the stars, or maybe the town.
It scares me, but she’s right. Time’s running out and eventually the night will be all that’s left of the supernova.
The clocks continue to chime in the distant night.
I wake up just in time for lessons and with a text from Rika that causes my heart to quicken. I ended up staying out with Suzu for most of the night, with neither of us retiring to our rooms until about four A.M. The majority of that time wasn’t really spent chatting, but it was pleasant to just have someone next to me regardless. I didn’t expect to be moved to action by her so much, after all I barely know her, and the severity of my situation probably demands more time to contemplate. But I don’t have a lot of time, and I’ve spent so much of it recently thinking that I may as well have been running in circles, chasing one of those mechanical rabbits at a racetrack of my own imagining. I’ve decided that I have to be honest, to myself and to Rika – damn tomorrow, it may never come. We may never wake up to see it, as Suzu said falling asleep inside my jacket.
My personal truth occupied my thoughts throughout the day until I ended up here, sat outside the practise room with Rika now heading towards me. I spent the first half of the day wondering how I would tell her, and how I would subsequently ask her to date me. I don’t want to use the pity angle for obvious reasons, and I certainly don’t want to guilt her. I’ve successfully kept the urge to not tell her entirely subdued, but even as she heads towards me now with a casual smile plastered on her lips I can’t help but doubt myself. Perhaps I should just tell her the half-truth, ask her out another time, when she’s come to terms with everything?
No, I can’t do that. Even if that’s more ethical, I physically can’t. The thought of waiting even a moment longer to confess sets my blood to boil beneath my skin and blisters screaming in bubbles. She’s closer now and I feel myself begin to sweat.
The second half of the day was spent contemplating her text, an ordinary message perceivable in a thousand different ways.
[Yo, we need to talk. Practise?]
It could mean any number of things. Has she noticed my absence from our group? Maybe she already knows my secret or does she feel the same way I feel for her? Does she know how I feel at all? It may well be nothing to do with me, maybe she’s sick again and needs another surgery. Maybe we’ll find our truths are the same or maybe –
“Dude, did you get my text, and why are you sweating?”
She’s before me now, a ghost with a half-smile and a questioning raised eye. I wipe my forehead with the back of my hand and sickness sinks like a pit in my stomach. In my anxiety I must have forgotten to reply to Rika’s text at all, which has earnt me a terrible start and an annoyed stare from her. She’s wearing her hair in a braid slung over her shoulder that she twiddles between her fingers. In her other hand is a small plastic folder, containing the sheet music I gave out on Monday and Wednesday. In all my excitement and bigger news, mostly the later, the festival has seemed inconsequential, but evidentially Rika is beginning to feel the pressure as frustrated markings and scribblings dot the pages inside the clear binder. Over the week banners and stalls have started going up around campus, and group projects put pressure on everyone throughout the school. Maybe I should have stepped up as a better band leader, but then maybe I should have confessed to Rika months ago. Maybes don’t cut it at Yamaku or the elsewhere.
“Yeah. Sorry. We need to talk.”
After the accustomed understanding period, Rika responds with a smile, not the reaction I was expecting. “Who goes first then?” She asks.
“You.” I reply immediately, shamefully. But I keep thinking over what to say in my head. There’s no way to say it without hurting her, I’ve already done that by keeping it from her since last Wednesday and not letting her visit me. How can I salvage my confession into a meaningful one? Rika checks up and down the corridor before grabbing my shoulders and speaking excitedly.
“Okay so I went to the Nurse’s office yesterday evening to restock on some meds...”
Hearing her mention the Nurse’s office with such a nonchalant tone worries me. She’s assured me in the past that her last hospital visit was a scheduled surgery, and that her medication pretty much guarantees her a healthy, albeit shorter life. Yet I’ve had my doubts. Since last year she’s referred to her condition as a machine in need of a software upgrade, but ‘good at heart’. I’ve started finding this particularly unfunny. Maybe a life-threatening illness is a catalyst for ironic comedy.
So then how do I broach the subject of my condition, if her own causes me such fear?
“Right,” I reply to her, seeing that she’s been waiting for me to catch up with her.
“Right, so I barged in because it was like six ‘o’clock and I couldn’t hear any talking…”
And how can I tell her I feel? Is it love, or does that have to be mutual? I want to kiss and hug her, but then I wanted to do those things and more with Miki last year. When we hooked up the feeling was pretty much satisfied and we haven’t spoken since. Would the same thing happen with Rika? Then again, I didn’t want to ‘cuddle’ Miki.
“…and the nurse turned to face me, stethoscope on the new guys chest with a fat grin on his face making that dirty ‘euw euw’ noise he makes.”
The new guy? What if she wasn’t being playful when she said he was attractive, did they get to know each other that lunch time, no not really, I was there.
“So, after he made a point about knocking and what-not, Nakai slapped a shirt on and the nurse gave me my prescription. But get this – “
I’m giving her my full attention now, sweating more. It must just be the effect of the new guy on me, and apparently on all the girls in this fucking school.
“Half of my meds were the same as the new guy’s! He gave them to both of us at the same time.”
I must admit that the connotations of this are interesting. Part of Yamaku’s charm is the kind of disability ‘top trumps’ we all subconsciously play. Rika for her part is visibly animated, a wide smile and open eyes that melt me as she grabs me harder by the shoulders with excitement.
“Lou he’s like me!” She contains herself a little, withdrawing her arms and I feel the heat rising in my chest. Is it wrong for me to be angry and jealous of her joy? “I caught him in the hallway after and, and…”
Even though she’s trying to calm herself down, I can tell how huge this is for her. Her eyes are lit up and she’s tugging her hair down over her shoulder.
“He’s like me. It’s not the same as mine, I mean obviously that’s like one in a million so how could he be but to meet somebody like me Lou, somebody who can be fine and then kablow, you know? Just like that be gone. Someone who can finally understand me and not be left wondering.”
I don’t know why but hearing this, knowing that all she wants is somebody to be like her. Someone who, at any moment, could explode and just stop existing like she might, it hurts me. Even though it should comfort me. I could confess to her now, about why I was really in the hospital, about why I’ve stayed up late listening to her stories. Why I’ve spent the last two years staring at her across tables and trying to make her jealous, dating Ritsu, fucking Miki. All she’s wanted is compatibility, and now when I have it, when all I’ve ever wanted was to have it, I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut.
But maybe I’ve realised something more. What she wants is a shared risk. Nothing definite, but an empathy with the same. I’m not really offering that am I? We can’t comprehend one another when I’m mandate and she’s hypothetical. When she’s the future and I’m already past.
“He said he’d come watch us at the festival, and he’ll hang with us after too! He’s already friends with Taro and, I dunno Lou I just have a feeling,” She calms down once again, her face plastered with a beautiful smile and a cocktail of hope, anxiety and genuine happiness. “Anyway, your turn.”
She’s waiting for me to talk, even reaching my hands with her own and squeezing them. Behind her I see Takeshi, ear bud in one ear bandage on the other and hat pulled down with his face to the ground. Air drumming as usual in his approach.
I could tell her now, I’ve planned it all day. Ran it through inside my head and, put myself to the sword a thousand times in an amphitheatre of my reflections. My love for Rika, my anger at myself, my jealousy at Nakai. It feels as though it’s all submitted to something, like it’s let out its last breath underwater. I respond.
“I was going to say you should talk to him, he seems nice.” I try to smile back to her, at least half genuinely.
She seems to accept it. But her face takes on a serious look.
“That’s so weird! You’re sure there’s nothing else?”
It’s like I see myself, below the waves, and whilst I’ve been struggling for so long against them filling my lungs with water. I finally close my mouth and eyes, arms up towards the ancient mariner. Still in the full light of the moon.
I say nothing. This time a choice. This time because nothing needs to be said.
Takeshi catches up with us, takes out his ear bud and the three of us enter the practise room for the last time before the festival. For the last time, maybe.
After a group hug, and wiping the sweat of off Takeshi’s forehead, we’re ready to perform. There’s a small crowd before us and swathes of people hobble between the stalls on either side of the festival strip. We’re the second band to play and the third overall. A group of first years will be playing to mark the end of the festival after the firework display, accompanied by some thanks by the Yamaku committee to its donors and sponsors etc.
Seeing as the fireworks will be taking place in the field just beyond us, we’ve likely garnered the biggest crowd of the night by accident rather than any expectation of our performance. Still, the pressure is on, and Takeshi isn’t the only one feeling it. Rika flicks through the lyrics of our first song, over and over as I do my final checks, the both of us shaking a little.
Takeshi’s drumming finally counts us in as the crowd goes silent, we begin to play.
Rika’s voice carries out into the crowd of swaying parents and students, below paper lanterns that ebb similarly. Calmness takes me over as I play and I watch Rika, hands on the keyboard, lungs jumping from her throat into the microphone. Her whole-body shakes, her white hair behind like the silk ends of a scarf.
I look past her into the crowd.
Sure enough, beside Taro is the new guy, his chestnut hair and slender form a dead giveaway, especially when stood next to Taro who sways with his arm limply abiding him. Hisao is smiling, not at me but at Rika. His eyes fixed in a way I recognise, caught in her charm and beauty.
Behind him, the crowd breaks apart into tables, stalls and the swathes of people moving between them. On the nearest table is Suzu, waving and smiling at me with a bowl of noodles and notebook before her. She has her body facing me, sat at the end of the table dangling her legs and watching us perform. I keep playing as I smile back.
Fixed on the atmosphere, I see Hisao and Taro cheering us on, behind them Suzu sways to our playing as she writes. At some point, Shizune and Misha catch my attention and cheer a little too loudly. Well Misha cheers anyway, and others from our class wave and smile.
At some point I get lost in the music, in Takeshi, in Rika and in the past that I become.
“You guys were great!”
Taro is the first to greet us as we exit from the stage, hugging each of us including Takeshi who squirms in his grip. With him, Hisao and Ritsu stand without much purpose, just waiting for Taro to compose himself. Rika pats me on the back and grabs my hand as well as taking Ritsu’s, the nerves having apparently worn off and her charisma returned to her.
We all look to her, our final performance at Yamaku over. Maybe our last time ever.
“Well I’m hungry, let’s grab something before the fireworks.”
And with that our group becomes one with the wobbling crowds, Rika tugging me and Ritsu by each of our hands on either side of her. There’s about thirty minutes until the fireworks are set to begin, so we pretty much settle for the first food stall we can find which happens to be run by some of the blind students here at Yamaku. The cashier, who I recognise as a fully blind girl from our year smiles cheerfully at us as she takes our order, and subsequently our money. We all end up buying buns of varying flavours, with about three minutes to spare. The girl tells us to enjoy the fireworks, to which Hisao replies ‘you too’, before looking mortified.
Armed with some grub, we find a comfortable patch of hill to settle on in preparation for the display. We sit in line with one another, Taro and Rika on either of my sides and Ritsu leaning into Takeshi causing him to blush. Between bites of food, and congratulations of our performance, we all laugh and chat about what we will do after the fireworks, Taro even mentions an upcoming long-weekend and his lake house. Next to Rika is Hisao, who’s being charmed more and more by her as each moment passes. Seeing the two get on so well salts my wound a little from the other evening, but she continues to hold my hand, squeezing it intermittently. Like maybe, deep down, she knows how I feel for her, reassuring me that I have a place with her no matter what. I squeeze her hand with finality, causing her to face me.
There’s a place for someone, to hold her hand and understand her. But it isn’t mine, I let her go. Speaking without the static, without the interference for the first time since putting down my guitar.
“Well okay.” She replies with a warm and determined smile.
I return it, rubbing Taro’s shoulder as I stand up and wave to the others to leave, they look somewhat confused but oh well. Back up the hill, past the crowds that have settled into sitting constellations. Sure enough, Suzu is still sat alone at the table, scrawling into her notebook between bites of food. She doesn’t see me approaching until I sit down beside her, facing the swathes of people now settled into pockets on the knoll I came from. The energy of the festival is intertwined with the approaching firework display, the great aimlessness of roaming between stalls and display stands placated by the screaming of phosphorus, a sensory overload of colour and noise.
“Hey,” Suzu acknowledges me, placing her pen down delicately on the pad, “you were pretty awesome up there.”
I give her my softest smile, reaching to grab her pen. She looks panicked for a moment because she’s clearly written a poem or something on the notebook, but she relaxes when I point at the pen and scribble in the air for some fresh paper. She tears the surface page and carefully folds it, passing me the pad to write on with a curious look on her face.
I write a confession. I write about my recent stroke that sent me back to the hospital. I write about the tumour the doctors discovered eating my brain, using the same words, ‘inoperable, prognosis, atrophy’. It’s short, a few sentences but it’s a start and I slide it back to her, smiling all the while. There’s something about the evening air, the quiet anticipation that surrounds the festival. Suzu’s worried, then immediately reassured face as she reads my note to her. It all calms me, I think I feel relieved. She opens her mouth to reply but stops herself and begins to respond in writing; a sentiment I don’t thank but do appreciate. She slides the pad back to me.
Have you told anyone else this?
No, I just thought you should have all the facts before I asked you to watch the fireworks with me.
She laughs as she takes the notepad.
So what, if you die then no hard feelings?
She watches my face anxiously, maybe wondering if her joking is too much. But decorum has already been thrown out the window.
When I die. No hard feelings.
This is kind of a lot to spring on me you know?
I should feel guiltier than I do, having only met Suzu properly the other night and suddenly baring my reality to her. I turn over the page to reply.
I thought I’d start with the truth, the rest can come later if you decide you want it to.
She laughs again as she reads my response, and pens in her own. She’s about to give the notebook back when the crowd begins counting backwards from ten, signalling the start of the display. She quickly jots another sentence that I just about have time to read as the pad slides across the table.
Tell a girl you’re dying, then ask her out, that’s shameful.
Well I guess I can’t object now – not that I was going to.
I laugh awkwardly, and feel a pang of residual guilt in my stomach. I can't deny that Suzu is an attractive girl, but even in writing I seem to have misconstrued. Whilst I won't speak on whatever future I may have, I know that in this moment I'm not looking for another love, but somebody to trust. Just as I'm about to clarify myself ,Suzu reaches for my hand and stands from the bench. I once again let go of feelings and we turn to watch as the countdown reaches zero and the first streak of light burns into the night.
The lights crackle and blaze above us, scorching veins into the sky and outlining the clouds with the coating of colours. With each rising hiss the crowd cheers until the rockets explode into ashes and awe. I can feel the weight of Suzu’s shoulder begin to lean into my own, and for a minute I miss the warmth of Rika’s hand until, as if to comfort me, Suzu’s arm slips behind and between my own and instead her heat envelops me.
I follow the trail of colours that fall like tears before us as they sprinkle and dissipate just above the crest of the hill in front of us. As I do, I spot the white hair of Rika, slowly awning to her right onto the shoulder of Hisao, whose head settles in return.
Maybe this isn’t a perfect story.
But we’re imperfect people, a shoebox filled with our own mutilated songs.
Thoughtless and silent, we begin to twirl away. Waltzing echoes of the past, with the promise of tomorrow, beneath paper lantern stars and a firework moon that shines ceaselessly.