We spend almost the entire morning catching up. I fill Lilly in on my life after Yamaku. Signing up for writing courses. Landing my first book deal. Freaking out over my author photo for the dust jacket. Meeting Sho for the first time and being completely perplexed when he didn’t react to my scars. Seriously, his eye didn’t even twitch.
Then it’s Lilly’s turn. She tells me about the night before graduation, when she and Hisao were at the teahouse and she first felt that spark between them when she held his arm. Then she tells me that’s not entirely true. She felt something long before that, but wouldn’t let herself act on it. Because… Well, because of me. I have to assure her that I’m okay with hearing the story. I have to convince her that I’m not bothered by the details of their relationship.
It’s strange... I’m actually NOT bothered by it.
I think… I think it’s because it took seeing how much she loved him for me to realize that I never did. Or rather, I never had the chance to. I liked him a LOT, sure, but my feelings don’t hold a candle to hers. Besides, I was in high school at the time. It’s not like I was really mature enough to appreciate such a serious relationship. But Lilly and Hisao were together for a long time, and they developed one.
I couldn’t be happier for her. And I couldn’t feel more horrible about what she must be going through now.
She continues with her story – Their story
– and I can see the light come back to her eyes as she speaks. There’s an understandable sadness as she recalls fond memories that have just recently been repressed, but I can tell she’s happy to have them back all the same. She practically has to stifle her own laughter when she tells me about finding him on his Stag Night, tied to the hood of his car, completely naked and covered in soot and feathers. Apparently Akira was a sucker for Scottish traditions. At least the ones involving public humiliation.
They’d been married for a little over three years before…
She starts to tell me about what happened. How she was in the middle of teaching a class when she’d gotten the call from Akira. He’d been out for a late morning jog, part of his daily ritual to help keep him in-shape. The doctors said there wasn’t any way anyone could’ve known. His heart was doing well, all things considered, but his condition isn’t totally predictable. She breaks down sobbing, telling me how he died before she made it to the hospital. She never had the chance to say goodbye.
I want to cry with her, but something inside of me won’t allow it. She needs me now, and I won’t do her much good if I’m a bawling emotional wreck. I simply hold her, rocking slightly and gently stroking her hair. It’s a little matted. Most likely because she hasn’t been taking very good care of herself over the past few days.
We sit like that for almost a full hour. She asks me the time after calming down. When I tell her she almost jumps off of the couch. She says her parents will be here soon and she has to get dressed. I offer to help her but she politely declines. She reminds me that I probably need to get ready as well.
“Get ready…” Almost as though we’re going out for a nice dinner.
Nevertheless, she’s right. I’m something of a mess myself so I head over to the guest room after getting directions. I quietly open the door to keep from waking Sho, but he’s already up. Neither of us say much as I fish my clothes out of my suitcase – a pair of black slacks and a black turtleneck - then head to the bathroom.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to wear clothes like this again…
I think I hear the front door open as I turn on the shower but I ignore it. There’ll be plenty of time for further introductions and apologies later.
“- a young man who lived life to the fullest. He always put the needs of others ahead of his own. And while Hisao Nakai may be gone from this earth, his legacy will live on in the hearts and memories of all those who knew him.”
The priest finishes his eulogy and we all share a moment of silence, punctuated by the sporadic sounds of mourning. The Nakais hold each other, crying silently over the loss of their son. The Satous clutch each other tightly as Lilly’s father sobs in his wife’s arms. Akira stands with her hands clasped in front of her, only moving every so often to wipe at her eyes. Lilly stands next to her, even more still. She clutches the cane in her hands so hard that her fingers have gone completely white. I try to read the expression on her face but there’s nothing there. It’s as though she’s completely shut down.
I turn to look at Sho. He looks lost. Out of place. I suppose I’d feel the same way if I were at a funeral for someone I didn’t know. Sad that someone’s passed away, but not emotionally invested enough to shed a tear. I still have trouble believing that he’d willingly subject himself to something like this for me.
“Would anyone like to say a few words?” the priest asks.
No one moves. They’re all too afraid of what might happen if they do. I look back to Akira, expecting her to step forward. Her head is bowed. Her hand is covering her mouth. I can see her shoulders shaking. I flick my eyes back to Lilly but she’s still borderline catatonic.
I guess it’s up to me, then.
I take a deep breath and walk toward the small framed photo resting on the coffin. Hisao smiles back at me. He looks good with a short beard.
It’s now or never.
“Hisao…” I start, my voice already cracking, “I was… I was so MAD at you that day. B-But I was wrong. I didn’t hate you. I n-never hated you. I hated m-myself. You helped me to realize that,” I pause to blow my nose, then continue, “I owe y-you… s-so much…” my body starts shaking.
I don’t think I can go through with this.
I feel a hand on my shoulder. It gives me a light squeeze. I can almost feel the strength flowing back into me.
“Hisao… you w-were one of my best friends. I j-just wanted you to know that… I-I’m sorry. I’m s-sorry and I wanted to t-thank you. You made a huge d-difference in my life, w-whether you meant to or not. I owe y-you everything.”
I turn around to see Sho standing beside me. He’s staring at the photo, then starts to speak.
“Nakai-san… Hisao… I never had the pleasure of knowing you,” he fumbles for the words, “but I DO know how much you meant to Hanako. She’s a remarkable woman, and knowing that I’ll never be able to properly thank you for helping her realize that… it… hardly seems fair,” I cross a hand over my chest and place it on my shoulder, over his, and squeeze gently, “I just… I want you to know that you’ve made a big difference in my life, too.”
He turns to me and we embrace for a moment. Part of me wants to give in and break down, but I hold it all back. I glance over at Lilly and she’s still unresponsive. Without another word we walk back, me next to Lilly who’s flanked by Akira, and Sho next to me. One by one the rest of the group pays their respects. Each of them with stories to share. Everyone except Lilly.
The time comes to lower the casket. When Lilly doesn’t move Akira steps out and recovers the picture. She can give it to her later. The priest says a few final words and they begin. The finality of seeing the pine box sinking into the ground hits me like a sledgehammer. This is really it, then.
This is the end.
The coffin is about halfway down when I feel Lilly drop. She lands hard on her knees before bringing both hands up to her face. Akira and I crouch down on either side of her as she starts to cry. Her crying becomes sobbing. Her sobbing turns into wailing. All of the composure she’s tried so hard to maintain is gone. Her sorrow forces its way out through shrieks and tears and snot and sobs. We both hold her tight, afraid of what might happen if we let go.
I don’t know how long we stay like that. Long enough for them to finish lowering one of my best friends into the ground. Long enough for the man of the cloth to take his leave. Long enough for both Hisao’s and Lilly’s parents to hold their tormented daughter before the sound becomes too much for them. When only the four of us are left, her spasms start to slow down.
Her body is still shaking and her tears are still flowing. Even so, she tries to speak again.
I start to rub her back softly.
“He s-said… he said he’d never…” she sobs, then looks up and for a moment I could swear that she was actually looking into my eyes, “He said he’d never leave me…” she whispers.