As I make my way across the school grounds, in amongst the small islands of light created by the pathway lamps, I let my mind wander, in an attempt to ignore my phantom pains.
I end up thinking about what Suzu said earlier, about me and Hisao. About how she thought it was ‘obvious’ that we were together. When did she know? How
did she know? If the roles were reversed, would I
I also remember something that occurred to me, while Suzu was teasing me about my these late-night visits to Hisao: that really, Hisao and I could do anything
with this time. Memories of our date on Sunday fill my head, and in the back of my mind, I start wondering whether we could do more like that tonight.
Of course, regardless of how I feel, I probably shouldn’t push him about it. It’s the middle of the night, and I just woke him up, so maybe now isn’t the best time. He probably expects me to come in, talk with him a bit, and then leave and let him sleep.
I do think of something to talk about, though: maybe I can suggest another date, for when we actually get some more time to ourselves. Time when we're both fully awake, and not in pain - speaking of which, I clutch at my stump as I enter the boys’ dorm. The wave of icy pins and needles subsides after a bit, but I hurry up the stairs anyways, wanting to get to Hisao’s room before another hits.
Knocking quietly on his door, I remind myself, one last time, that I'm only here to talk, like I told Suzu yesterday. Talking to him is nice anyways, so it's not like I won't be having a good time.
He opens the door, then smiles, and I smile back. He looks a bit tired, but not incredibly so. I probably look about the same - my body knows it really shouldn’t be up this late, but I’m willing to ignore it.
He steps back from the doorway and gestures inside, with a bit of a flourish. Amused, I step into his room, which feels comfortably familiar - except for one object. In the moment before he closes the door, the light bleeding in from the hallway illuminates something eye-catchingly colorful on his bedside table. I’m about to investigate it, but stop when I feel his hand on my shoulder.
I turn around to face him, only to be caught by surprise when he presses his face against mine, catching me with a kiss. It takes me a second to realize what’s going on, but once I do, I close my eyes and join in. I wrap my arms weakly around the boy in front of me, and lean into him, as if exhausted. And yet, my core feels warm, and my lips feel like they could keep going forever. It’s a strange combination - being both tired and
invigorated - but it’s also comfortable, like staying under the blankets even after waking up.
Before too long, however, Hisao pulls away, and I let go of him, though his hand remains on my shoulder. We look at each other, my eyes now pretty much adjusted to the darkness, and I can’t stop myself from grinning. “Thanks.”
He chuckles. “It was my pleasure.”
“No, really, thank you - I didn’t know whether that was something we, uh... something you were willing to do after being woken up in the middle of the night.”
He scoffs. “As if I’d say no!” He moves his hand up to my cheek. “You don’t have to be afraid, and neither do I.”
I have to laugh a little at his use of my phrase, corny as it may be. “Well, then, thank you for not being afraid.”
“Any time!” After a brief pause, he adds, “Besides, I wanted to see whether it might help with your pains.”
My... oh, right, my- “Ow!” I grab my stump, which is back to its dull ache. I completely forgot about that. After rubbing it a bit, I look up at Hisao again. “They’re not gone, but it definitely took my mind off them.”
“Well, if you want to take your mind off them again, just ask!” He winks, and I giggle, before he turns and walks over to sit on his bed.
Instead of joining him, though, I make a point of investigating the flash of color from before. Sure enough, there’s something unusual on his bedside table: a letter, written by someone with frilly handwriting. It’s difficult to tell in the darkness, but I could swear that it’s written in pink pen, only adding to the script’s flowery nature. Curious, I ask Hisao: “Hey, what’s this?”
He takes a moment to realize what I’m referring to. “Oh, that. It’s a letter from Iwanako, I just got it today.” He looks at his alarm clock. “I mean, yesterday, I guess.”
“Iwanako... She was the girl from your old school who confessed to you, right?” I think I’m remembering that correctly - the girl who caused Hisao’s first heart attack, and then left him in the hospital.
“Yeah, that’s her.”
Well now I’m even more curious. I instinctively reach out to pick up the letter, then stop myself. “Can I read it, or is it... personal?” Another question I’m pretty sure I know the answer to, but I still feel the need to ask.
Hisao seems a bit surprised at the notion that the letter might be ‘personal’. “Sure, go ahead.”
I pick it up and begin reading, not quite sure what to expect - what would a girl like that even write to Hisao about?
How are you? I hope you are well and happy at your new school. Everyone here misses you. Almost all of our second-year class got put together in class 3-1 for the final year, so we are pretty comfortable right from the beginning of the year. I'm sure you would've been assigned to this class as well.
The mood among third-years seems to be very anxious about the final exams, even though they are so far away. The teachers are badgering us about it all the time - even old Mr. Tachibana who is, by the way, our homeroom teacher this year. Would you believe it? I was sure that he'd retire after our second year, but here he is, nagging everyone about studying for exams.
I think things like that are the main reason why the mood among the third-years is so nervous. I must admit that I'm somehow losing confidence in myself as well, even though I've always fared reasonably well in exams.
It's so weird to think that we are already seniors, isn't it? Time has really flown past. I wonder where it went. The new first-years seem so young and somehow really innocent. I keep wondering if I was like them in my first year. I've been feeling nostalgic like this for the whole first trimester.
Everything so far reads like a very one-sided attempt at smalltalk. How have you been, things are great here, so and so did this, classes are pretty much the same... it almost feels like she’s actively glossing over all the crazy stuff that happened between her and Hisao, and just writing the letter to nobody in particular. Convinced that there's no way she would send a whole letter’s worth of filler, I keep reading.
There are other things I want to say. I'm writing to you because I felt that there are things I should've said after the incident back in winter. I really regret that I wasn't able to say them in person, and I have no excuse for it.
The truth is, the times when I visited you at the hospital made me worried about you. I am not talking about your health. You seemed to become more and more distant and disheartened. It was natural after something like that happened, I'm sure, but somehow I got the feeling that you had given up on something back then. Happiness, maybe?
we’re into the important stuff. I know exactly
what she’s talking about: when Hisao first arrived at Yamaku, there was something missing. He seemed like a shell of a boy: unresponsive and mechanical. But then, if Iwanako saw that happening to him, why didn’t she do anything about it?
I wanted to somehow express my feelings, but the right words didn't come to me. I couldn't say anything to comfort you. I am really sorry for not being able to support you when it mattered the most, even though I like you so much. At least now, finally, I can be more honest.
If I could go back to those quiet days in February and March, I'd tell you not to give up on yourself. That's what I would say. Maybe you wouldn't have drifted so far away if I had just said something. I hope you've managed to get back on your feet on your own.
I had gone into this letter thinking of Iwanako as an enemy, but her words are simply too sad and relatable. She wanted to help, just like I did. She tried to think of something, anything, to make things better - but she never managed it. And now, all she can do is hope that someone else did. With that thought, I feel a sense of pride: I’m
the one who managed it. I almost want to talk to her, now, and tell her that it’s okay. I hope she hasn’t let all of this bother her, but I feel like she wouldn’t’ve sent a letter if that were the case.
Now that the distance between us is also physical, it also feels more final, somehow. I wonder if we will meet again. Perhaps it's for the best if we don't? Still, if you would like to correspond with me, by all means write me back. I'd very much like to hear about your new school and how you are doing. I wish you all the best.
I put the letter back on the nightstand, then sit down next to Hisao.
He looks at me curiously. “So, uh, what do you think?”
“I feel bad for her.” I consider taking more time to think about what to say, but realize that I kind of know already. “She knew something was wrong with you, but she never managed to do anything about it. Now she’s kicking herself for it.”
It takes a bit for Hisao to digest that idea. “I guess... I never really saw myself that way.”
“Oh, trust me, the boy she’s talking about in this letter is definitely
the same one I met during his first week at Yamaku.”
He shrugs. “I’ll have to take your word for it, I suppose.” After thinking on it for a bit more, he adds, “So I’m guessing you think I should write her back?”
I scoff. “Of course! She’s afraid that you never got any better, and blames herself for it - obviously
you should let her know that things turned out okay!”
“I’m worried she’ll take it the wrong way, though. If I tell her that things are going great now that I’m at a new
school, with my new
friends, in a new
relationship... it might sound like I’m implying something about the old
stuff. What if she starts thinking that it’s her
fault I was having such a hard time?”
“Well then tell her that it wasn’t
her fault! That’s the whole point, that’s the only reason she- ugh, here.” I reach over, grab the letter again, and find a particular sentence at the bottom. “Ahem: ‘I'd very much like to hear about your new school and how you are doing.
’ Case closed.”
“Alright, alright, I get it, I’ll write back.” Satisfied that he understands, I put the letter back where I found it - as soon as I finish doing so, however, Hisao grabs me in a bear hug. “Thanks. I think I needed that.”
I wiggle a bit, trying to find a position where I can hug him back, and just about manage it. Even though he can’t see it in this position, I smirk. “Don’t thank me, I was only reading it to make sure she wasn’t trying anything funny.”
We laugh, and I feel Hisao’s chest bounce. Soon enough, though, it returns to calm, slow breaths - the kind of rhythm I could fall asleep to, speaking from experience. That sounds rather tempting right now, but I know that I really shouldn’t, so I try talking to keep myself awake, though we remain in our embrace.
“Do you miss your old life?”
There’s a pause as he thinks about it. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, Iwanako’s letter talked about your old school. And you mentioned thinking about new versus old stuff. I wondered if you were, you know, thinking about the way things used to be.”
“I mean, it crossed my mind, but not really in a nostalgic
way. I haven’t really thought much about my old school since... well, probably since my first week at Yamaku.” I can practically hear him grinning as he speaks. “I guess I found something I like here.”
I giggle at the implication. “Come on, that’s way too corny.”
“No, really! Since coming here, I’ve been feeling a lot better, and my health has improved, and I’ve met so many amazing people - including you, of course. My life’s changed a lot in the past few months, but... I think it’s actually better now than it was before.”
He has a point. I know he’s grown a lot since I first met him, but maybe that’s also because of how much around him has changed. Maybe the thing he needed most from Yamaku was a fresh start. And if that’s what’s done him the most good... “I think that’s what you should tell Iwanako.”
He’s quiet for a moment. “To be honest, that’s exactly what I was worried about telling her. But maybe you’re right - maybe that’s what she wants to hear.”
“I think it is. Even if she still blamed herself, I think she’d be okay just knowing that it all worked out in the end. If you enjoy your life, and she enjoys her life, then why worry about the past?”
“That’s... That’s a good point.” He thinks for a moment, then chuckles. “Now the only problem is actually writing a letter that explains all this.”
“Come on, Science Boy, it can’t be that
“Writing letters isn’t a science thing! There’s no standard operating procedure, almost no guidelines, the objectives are ambiguous... but I guess I’ll just have to give it a go.” I didn’t expect him to be so worried about this part - then again, I guess this isn’t really his area of expertise. He sighs, then changes the subject a bit. “So what about you?”
This catches me by surprise. “Huh?”
“Do you miss your old life?”
I had completely forgotten that that’s where this started. I was also completely unprepared for having the question turned around on me. “I-I don’t really know. I mean, I definitely like it here. I guess I wouldn’t want to go back.”
“So you don’t really miss it?”
“Maybe. But my life before wasn’t bad
- it’s just that I’m used to Yamaku now, and it would be a pain if everything changed. I like to have... not a routine
, exactly, but a way of life. That way I can just kind of take everything one day at a time, and not really focus on the big picture.” Saying that, however, reminds me of the few big-picture thoughts I’ve had recently. “Well, mostly.”
“Yeah. Lately, I’ve kind of been thinking about us
as maybe, you know, a ‘big picture’ kind of thing.” I feel a few butterflies begin to flit around my stomach, and do my best to defy them. “I mean, I really like... being with you. A lot. Sometimes, when we're together like this, I just want to stay with you..." I stop, knowing full well which word should come next.
I find myself paralyzed by the thought. I want to tell him that he's my big picture, that I care about him more than I fear the Future, but the same nagging thoughts hold me back. We've only been dating a few weeks. We're just high school students. In less than a year, we won't even be at Yamaku.
As always seems to happen when stuff like this comes up, I feel way in over my head. What am I even doing
While I'm getting lost in those thoughts, however, Hisao squeezes me tightly, and speaks a bit more quietly. "That’s the sweetest thing anyone’s ever said to me. Thank you."
I feel like I should say something in return, but I can't really find the words. It would feel like a bit of a letdown to add anything, especially that I wasn’t even able to properly finish my sentence. Instead, I just squeeze him back, and try to focus on his warmth instead of my worrying thoughts.
After a bit, however, I notice my pains again, and remember Hisao’s offer from earlier. “Hey, uh, speaking of being together... You said you’d be willing to help me with my pains some more, right?” I feel my cheeks flush, and I can’t tell if it’s due to nervousness or anticipation.
He chuckles, then leans back a bit so we can look at each other. “Well, yeah, sure. I’d be happy to, uh... Yeah.”
He trails off, and I’m left not knowing what to do. Our eyes are locked, but I’m not sure if he’s supposed to make the next move, or if I’m supposed to say something, or... my stomach tightens up a bit. Nervousness or anticipation? I don’t know, I can’t tell - but the solution is the same.
I close my eyes, lean forward, and press my lips to his. The knot in my stomach comes undone, the tension in my muscles that I hadn’t even realized was there melts away, and the familiar comfort of being so close to him returns. He puts one hand around the back of my neck, his fingers gently sliding under my hair and across my skin, his soft touch making me even more comfortable. Just like before, I can't stop myself from wanting to hold onto this feeling forever
- and this time, I feel just a little more confident in that thought.
As always, though, it has to end eventually, and for the second time tonight, Hisao pulls away, a smile on his face. “You’re tired, I can tell.”
I hadn’t even noticed it, but he’s right, I am feeling a bit drowsy. “I guess so.” Probably because it’s the middle of the night. Why was I even up this late? Right, pains. I notice them again, and they hurt again, but now I feel like I could probably fall asleep despite them. Hisao seems to have worked his magic once again.
“Well, don’t fall asleep yet, unless you want to dash back to your room in the morning like last time.”
I briefly consider that option; after all, last time wasn’t so bad. Well, except that I made Hisao sleep on the floor. Maybe I could sleep on the floor this time. Or maybe we could just share his bed. That thought alone is too embarrassing, so maybe not. “I guess you’re right, I should get going.” I lean forward and grab him in a goodbye hug, and feel him return the favor.
A few seconds pass, and I still don’t really want to go. This was supposed to make leaving easier, not harder. I sigh. “I wish I could memorize this feeling. It never feels the same when I try to remember it.”
“I know what you mean. Like you know how much you enjoyed it, but you can’t make yourself actually enjoy it again.”
I hum in agreement. “Like, imagine how much easier it would be to get through class like this!”
He pauses, then chuckles. “Okay, that
one, I don’t understand.”
I groan. “Of course you don’t.” Finally, I manage to pull myself away and sit upright. “I’ll see you tomorrow?” It might be a while until we actually get a chance to be together like this again, but at least we’ll be able to talk and stuff. That’s better than nothing.
He gets a stupid grin. “You mean later today.”
I roll my eyes, though I find myself smiling. “Whatever, you know what I mean.” I look back at him, and he nods, but doesn’t say anything. Evidently, there’s not much more to talk about. It feels weird to just leave it at that, but I guess that’s what I have to do. I stand up, making sure I have my sweater, and head for the door.
As I reach for the door handle, I stop and look back at Hisao, who’s watching me from his bed. I feel like I should say something. ‘Goodbye’ feels bland. ‘Seeya’ is too casual. I’m going to miss him, but ‘I’ll miss you’ doesn’t feel right, since I’ll see him again in a few hours. But it reminds me of something similar, something I barely have to consider before saying.
“I love you.”
He smiles. “I love you too.”
With that, I open the door and leave, finding myself in an empty hallway. Feeling less alone than I thought I would, I begin the walk back to my room. It’s only once I get back outside that I realize I forgot to ask him about our next date. I guess that’ll just have to wait.