Nari is just as I remember it, a perfect little hole-in-the-wall cafe that ends up being a jewel for the people that walk in off the street and discover it. It’s a lot smaller than the Shanghai with only a dozen tables and no booths, but even when it’s full, there’s a comforting sense of intimacy with the other people you’re there with. I stumbled upon it during one of my walks a few years ago, and it became a priority to stop at whenever my friends and I were down in the area.
Once we get our coffees and sit down, I spend a few minutes to give Mai the details of earlier in the morning; how I’ll need a pacemaker after all, my medications are getting adjusted again, and that I’ll probably be out of commission for a few weeks after I get cut open again. My rant carries on for a few stanzas before I realize just how bitter I’m sounding.
I shake my head. “I’m sorry. It’s just...deflating. I thought I was doing better, I’ve been feeling better, and I’m in better shape now than I was when I had the damned heart attack in the first place.”
“See?” she jokes. “It’s not all bad.”
“No...I guess not. It’s just hard to hear. I was working really hard to avoid that.”
Mai looks at me coyly over the rim of her cup. “Are you sure
that’s why you were working hard?”
“What do you mean?”
“Were you working hard because you wanted to keep your heart from getting worse, or because you wanted to improve who you
I stare into the cup in front of me, making eye contact with my reflection in the black liquid. “I’m not really sure, when you put it that way.”
“Really? I am,” she answers with confidence.
“Oh? And what do you think?”
you’ve been doing it to get better. You just said it yourself, you’re in the best shape you’ve ever been in.” She gives me another quick scan with her eyes then raises her cup slightly in salute. “Damn fine job by the way, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
“Thanks for the compliment.”
“No problem. So now that you know you’re going to need the surgery, when do they want to do it? I promise I won’t have any qualms about visiting you in the hospital this time.”
“Mid March, after graduation.”
She drums her fingers on the table for a moment, thinking. “Maybe your doctor’s right. You really should go back up and enjoy yourself up there. At least you’re down here for another week or so, right? We all need to get together again, if you’re up for it.”
“Yeah?” I ask, taking another sip. “How are you and the others planning to spend the next two and a half months?”
“Well, the class is planning a trip up north to the snow for a few days. There’s an inn with a hot spring there. All of us are going together. It should be a lot of fun.”
“Sounds like fun. I’m jealous.”
She laughs. “The rules are pretty lax. I could invite you as my plus-one if you really wanted to go.”
I shake my head. “Nah. If it was just you guys, I might do it, but it’s the whole class and well, I’m not really a part of it anymore. Trust me. I’d feel too out of place and not be able to enjoy it. Besides, you get to spend some quality time with your boyfriend.”
Mai winces. “Ahhhh...Takumi and I broke up.”
I’m a bit shocked when I hear that. “What? When did that happen?”
“The week before finals.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. I thought you two were good together.”
“Don’t be! We were. We are.
We just decided that we worked better off as friends. I’m always gonna love him though. Same with you, you big dork.”
“In that case, I’m flattered instead of sorry.”
She laughs. “Yeah. We dated for a few months and nothing really changed between us. It was fun but it never really felt right,
you know? It kind of worked out, since we realized there was no chance we would be able to go to the same university.”
“Is that so?”
Mai leans back and takes another long swig from her cup. “Eh, there was no way I was going to get into Meiji. Takumi had a shot though, and damned if he didn’t make the most of it.” Her eyes light up. “He actually got in! I’m proud of him.”
“That’s good to hear!”
She nods. “Well, it just seemed at that point it was easier to break it off so he could have the time to study. The timing ended up working great, and both of us are single going into college. Besides, Shouji’s closer.”
“You know, you’re actually not
the first friend I’ve had this conversation with. You’re handling it a lot better than they are, though.”
“Ouch. Sorry to hear that. They’re trying to figure out if long distance is worth it?”
“Yeah. Except she’s moving to Tokyo and he’s moving to Korea.”
“Did one of them not get the grade they wanted?”
I sigh. “No, both of them got into schools they wanted to. It’s just that distance is a thing with a lot of couples at Yamaku, since we come from all over the country. I mean, Saki lives in Osaka…”
“Huh. Makes me wonder what’s going to happen with Iwanako and Shin.”
I perk up. “Oh? What’s going on with the two of them?”
Mai winces slightly. “They were studying hard to get into the same university together, but Iwanako’s exam scores weren’t high enough. She’s going to Shouji so the two of us will be going together at least. We’ve already started filling out the paperwork to share a dorm room together, and it’s not that far away so we’ll be able to come back and visit friends and family here. What about you?”
I take a second to brush my hair out of my eyes, reminiscing about the hell that was final exams. “I did pretty good on the national exam, but I didn’t really do enough work or research the last few months to choose a university to shoot for. I’m doing the ronin thing.”
“Yeah. Gives me some time to figure out just what I want to do with my life. Besides, since I’ll be down and out for a few weeks anyway I’d miss the start of the year, and I already did that once. I don’t want to have to go through that again, especially for the same reason.”
She laughs again. “That’s true. You gonna stay at home, or are you thinking of moving somewhere else?”
“I was thinking of moving near Tokyo with some of my friends, but I don’t know if that’s going to be happening now.”
“Ah, so that’s what’s been bothering you?” Mai inquires, setting her cup down.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“I didn’t think the reason you were like this was just because of the pacemaker. I’ve known you for too long, Hisao. You have this little tell when something’s been on your mind for a while.”
“And what tell is that?”
Mai shakes her head. “Nope, if I told you what it was then you’d stop doing it.”
“It’s not like you’re going to be playing poker against me anytime soon.”
“You never know,” she winks.
I take a moment to consider. I wasn’t able to really open up to my parents about everything that’s been going on, but with Mai, things are different. She genuinely wants to know...and I need to talk it out.
So, that’s what I do over the next thirty minutes, which goes by so much quicker than expected. I end up telling her everything about my relationship with Saki, the recording studio, the Christmas outing and the fight at the end of it...and unlike with my parents, I tell her about Kayoko, and the full details of what happened yesterday morning in the dean’s office. She listens diligently, breaking her attention from me only to order us a refill on our coffees sometime during what ends up feeling like a confessional.
After I finish, Mai purses her lips and stares off into the middle distance for a few seconds, trying to take it all in.
“Too much?” I ask.
“No, I’m your friend, but wow,
that is some new information. No wonder you were so upset this morning.”
“I’m kind of at a loss what to do.”
Mai ponders for a moment. “From what you’ve said, it doesn’t sound like it’s anyone’s fault. Saki couldn’t have known that it would have ended like that.”
“But were her and and her ex right to keep it from Chisato?”
She sighs. “I don’t know. I can understand why they did, though. I agree with you though that no matter what, the situation just...sucks.
Everyone involved is hurt and angry, and they all have very real reasons to be.
“Look,” Mai says, sitting up straighter in her chair. “I can’t say I’ve been anywhere close to what you’re going through. But maybe you don’t need to do
anything. It’s not a problem to solve.”
“I know that, but it’s hard not to think about. My girlfriend and one of my best friends are fighting…”
“You can be there for both of them. That’s all you really should
“I hate feeling like I’m caught in the middle.”
She reaches out and puts a hand on mine. “Being there for one doesn’t mean you’re betraying the other. But if it does go bad, well...don’t let anyone walk over you.”
“Mai! That’s a horrible thing to say.”
She shrugs, not backing down. “It’s true. I mean, it’s not like I wasn’t there for both you and
Iwanako while you were in the hospital.”
“I don’t blame you, but near the end you were such a sad sack that it’s no wonder you didn’t end up noticing. Who do you think Iwanako kept coming back to every time she saw you in the hospital? She was an absolute wreck.
“I knew she was hurt but I didn’t know it was that bad,” I say, feeling guilty all over again.
“Like I said, you had other priorities. She blamed herself for what happened.”
“But it wasn’t her fault...”
Mai’s grip becomes tighter to drive home her point. “Ex-act-ly! It wasn’t anyone
’s fault. But it took awhile for her to realize that. She didn’t really believe it until you came back for the summer.”
I sigh, knowing she’s right. “Yeah, but that took months. We graduate in less time than that.”
“Maybe it all ends up happy and maybe it doesn’t. But it’s going to work itself out one way or another. Accept the things you can’t change, and have the courage to change the things you can, you know?”
“I’m pretty sure I’ve heard or seen that quote somewhere before, and you’re butchering it.”
“Did I? Doesn’t matter that I got it wrong if it means you’re still thinking about it.”
I smile. “Thanks for being there, Mai. And here, now. I didn’t realize you were there for Iwanako too.”
“You two are my friends,” she says. That’s all the reason she gives, and it’s all the reason she needs.
Before I can answer her, my phone starts to ring. I pull it out of my pocket and read the display, my eyes going wide.
“Who is it?” Mai asks me.
“It’s Chisato. I have to take this.”
Mai nods and waves me off, mouthing the word bathroom.
She retreats to give me some privacy as I open the phone and hold it up to my ear.
“Hey. I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you. It’s been a really long twenty four hours.”
“What’s going on? I thought you would have been back at home?”
“I am now. I stayed one more day.”
“So you could go to the recording studio?”
I frown. “I thought you said you weren’t going to be able to.”