When I summoned the courage the next morning before school to check Ryou's messages, I was taken by surprise. Rather than insults, I found myself reading comments that you could derive concern from if you squinted. They were simple little things, like, 'We're eating now. Better hurry back if you don't want to miss out' and 'We're saving you some food. Come back before it gets cold' and 'Icchan ate the last of the sea chicken.'(1) The very last message he said me said, 'Can I talk to you about something? Meet me at the west gate once you buy your drink.'
Was that the reason he had come looking for me last night? I didn't see Ryou at school the next day, though whether that was for better or for worse, I couldn't determine. After giving it a night's thoughts, I'd come to really regret having such a bitter argument with Ryou.
Neither Aoi nor Tsubaki pressed why I'd left yozakura so early yesterday. Tsubaki was being as silently understanding as was humanely possible, and Aoi said a simple, "Don't worry about it, . Everything's alright, though, isn't it?"
I paused. "Well, it will be. Soon."
The only person who didn't seem to be all sunshine and happiness was, to my surprise, Saeki. I had a run in with him in the hallway on my way to gym class, and he pulled me aside. "Say, was everything alright last night? You went home early, so I wasn't sure whether to ask or not, but Ryou hasn't said anything about it. How did it go?"
I stared right through him. "How did what go?"
"When Ryou went to find you. What did you say to him?"
I paled with guilt. "I, um, well, I said some pretty awful things."
Saeki looked taken aback, leaving me incredibly confused. "Wait. He told you, and then you fought with him? Why did that happen?"
"Told me what?"
"You know. Didn't you guys meet at the west gate? Then he told you..."
I waited for him to finish.
"Well, you know what he told you. You were there."
"But I wasn't!" I said, having been led astray by Saeki's shady talk. "I actually didn't even read his message until the day after. He just kept messaging me and messaging me, so I just turned my phone off."
"Wait, so... you didn't go to the west gate?"
"No. I ran into some old friends who convinced me to hang out with them for a little while. Then Ryou came and found me." I said. Rather bitterly, I recalled, "He probably didn't have any faith in my ability to navigate the park and assumed I'd gotten lost."
Saeki blinked. Then his eyes started to wander off. "So... he didn't tell you..."
"No. I just said that."
"Oh." Saeki said, looking... disappointed? In the blink of an eye, the discomfort on his face vanished, and he was back to flattering me with his sunny smiles. He gave me a supportive part on the shoulder. "Never mid, then. I'll see you later, -chan."
"Wait a second." I said as he started to turn around. "What was Ryou going to say?"
"I can't tell you that." Saeki said, putting a finger to his lips. He laughed when I frowned at him. "I wasn't sure exactly what he was going to say to you. I was just assuming, based off previous conversations with him. I'm sure he'll get it off his chest sooner or later."
"He probably wants to tell me that he wants to stop being friends." I said dryly. "Lately we just—wait, no, sorry, this isn't your problem."
"No, go on." Saeki said. I cursed myself for piquing his interest.
"Lately... we just seem to be fighting all the time. I'll overreact about some fight I had with my mom, and he'll just making these spiteful comments, and nine times out of ten we'll end up arguing. I don't ever remember him being this disagreeable, like, he used to just sit and not care." I explained. "If I started talking about my mom, he'd usually just change the conversation to something more light-hearted. Lately, though, he just seems set on attacking me. And his face doesn't even bear a remote trace of 'that was a joke, .' He just..."
"Oh. It's a nickname."
"Right. Go on."
"He just... I mean, he was kind of just my pet rock. He didn't react to anything. And he still doesn't react to anything, but lately he's been kind of sardonic."
Saeki looked thoughtful again. "Is that really what you think of Ryou?"
"I dunno. Mind you, it's only what I've been thinking of him recently. If I'd known ages ago that all this talk of my mom would piss him off enough to hate me, I would have stopped. All he had to do was ask—no need to be so snide about it."
"Did he specifically say that he hates you?"
"No. But his face seems to imply it."
"I wonder if Ryou would say that if you talked to him, though." Saeki said as the bell for the next class rang. With a playful wink, he added, "Maybe you should go and find out, -chan. But for now, it looks like we're both late for class."
He waved and headed off down the hallway before I had the chance to catch up with him again. I was left in a haze of sheer confusion. I remained in a similar state of mind until the end of the day, after which I hoped a one-on-one with Ueda (probably the least proficient basketball player out of misfit trio) would clear my head.
I met Ueda, Youko, Tomita, and a few of the girls from yesterday at the dilapidated basketball spot we'd found back at the start of middle school. After a two-on-two—thankfully males versus females (Youko annihilated Ueda and Tomita)—Ueda and Youko opted out of a second round in favour of a break. While they both chilled with the girlfriends and their other female friends, Tomita taught me how to shoot hoops.
"Don't you have a girlfriend?" I asked him, retrieving the ball when it miraculously went through the hoop.
"I do." Tomita said with a bit of a laugh. I was taken by surprise, partially because he did have a girlfriend, and partially because I'd never heard him laugh before. "She gets pretty bad hay fever, though, so spring isn't really her scene."
I made another attempt at shooting. It hit the back of the board and came bounding right back at me. "Shouldn't you be with her instead of playing basketball with a miserable lot like us?"
"Nah, she hates clingy people. She'd get annoyed if I coddled her too much." He retrieved the ball that I was too slow in picking up and took a shot himself. Nothing but net, as expected of the shooting guard. "What about you, ? Don't you have a boyfriend to keep you company?"
"Don't need one." I said.
Tomita laughed again. "You always were the pretty blind one. Or, not really blind. More so ignorant—don't look at me like that. I bet even if a guy did like you, you wouldn't notice. And... you didn't."
His choice of words took my by surprise. "What are you talking about?"
"Well," Tomita said, scratching his face, "I used to have a huge crush on you in middle school, and you never even noticed! Goes to show what a great person you are." He meant the last part as a joke, but his words didn't leave the humorous impression on me that he'd hoped to leave.
"What do you mean? You just stared through me half the time! And bought me cans of Sparkly the remaining half of the time!" I reasoned. "How was I supposed to know that you had a crush on my from that? To be honest with you, I thought you hated me and wanted me to stop hanging out with you."
"Nope. Total opposite." He said. When I took an unnecessarily long pause, he held up his hands defensively and added, "I swear I'm over it now, though. I have a fantastic girl already. Don't feel awkward around me because of the past, okay?"
"Yeah, um, that's fine. I wasn't planning on being awkward about it now that I can actually hold a proper conversation with you."
He seemed satisfied with my answer. "To be honest, I was planning on telling you on graduation day, but you must have gone early or something. Ah well." He said, shrugging it off. "Either way, you might want to scope out your friends. That guy from yesterday night didn't look even remotely happy to see you hanging out with us like that."
I sighed. "You mean Ryou? He's a guy from my high school." I said, trying to avoid calling him a friend at this point in time.
"He seemed pretty concerned for you."
I gave Tomita a dubious look. "Really? He doesn't even have a personality. Kind of like the way you acted towards me in middle school—no offence." I added hastily. He shrugged it off good-humouredly. "Really, though, I don't even know how to picked that up. To me he just seemed really angry."
"That, too. But beneath that, concern." He paused, looking thoughtful. "Maybe not concern, but more like... anxiety? For what, I'm not sure. Guys can just tell these kinds of things with other guys."
"Really. Maybe you can tell me why he seems to hate me so much, then."
"Hm? Why do you say that he hates you?"
"We've just been arguing a lot lately. He's been really... snide. I get the feeling that he doesn't really want to be friends with me anymore. Like, he's tired or something."
"You think?" Tomita wondered aloud. When I shot him a look, he went on, "You told me that he reminds you of me from when I was in middle school, and since I had a crush on you, then maybe..."
I paused. "Are you implying that Ryou is acting like such a dick because he's...?"
"Just for the record, there are plenty of people who act like dicks when they have a crush on someone. I guess they're kind of a dying breed, though. Ueda's too nice for his own good, and Youko's too suave to be a dick." Tomita paused. "Don't feel victimised, though. This Ryou guy probably just conceals his feelings really well. Ueda didn't even notice I liked you until I asked him for your number."
"Let's not talk about Youko." He broke away from the conversation to retrieve the ball. In the time it took him to walk to the basket and back, my brain went on a little wander.
The west gate, and then... "I can't believe this." I said, sighing so deeply that it caught his attention. "Ryou sent me a bunch of messages while I was hanging out with you guys, and one of them told me to meet him at the west gate because he had something to say! And then the next day, Saeki—that's, um, one of our friends—was asking me, 'how did it go?' And I had no idea what he was talking about!"
"I'm going to take a stab in the dark and say that this Ryou guy likes you." Tomita said with a shrug. "I don't see what the big deal is. Why don't you just give him an answer?"
An answer. An answer, huh? "How?"
"Easy. Just call him up and tell him whether you like him or you don't like him."
"That's kind of a premature step." I said, wincing at the mental image. "Besides, it's not that I don't know what I think of him. It's just that my opinions have changed as of late. It's probably pointless to give him an answer like this."
He frowned. "So prepare for the moment, then. How did you guys meet?"
"... I don't remember."
Tomita laughed. "I guess you know what step one is. See if you can find a way to remember that, and maybe it'll put you on the right track."
I decided to take a time out when Ueda and pretty much all of the other girls—except Youko—flocked onto the court to be taught how to play. When I sat down next to Youko, she gave me a smirk and asked, "Did you get what you wanted to say off your chest?"
I flopped back against the brick wall. "Sort of. I got most of my questions answers, but there's still a few things that are still bother me."
"Anything I can help with?"
I paused, wondering if it was premature to ask Youko a question of such calibre. I had to remind myself that Youko was the most intelligent out of the misfit trio, and if she couldn't answer my question, I'd have a tough time getting it answered anywhere else. "Why do we pursue things that might be pointless?"
Youko tilted her head, eyes tilted up to nowhere in particular. "Because we want to believe that there's something more waiting for us on the other side of hard work and effort. Human tenacity, I guess."
I decided to quit for the day soon after my conversation with Youko, promising I'd play basketball again with them next week, if time allowed. I went home, mostly absorbed in thoughts of how I'd met Ryou. I had, of course, kept most of the journals that I'd written all the way up until the end of last year, and hoped that some of them would hold fonder memories of Ryou.
When I got home, I scrounged through my desk drawer for journals. I found them all in the bottom drawer: ordinary notebooks with covers worn and tattered. I flipped through all of the notebooks until I found the one that documented years at high school.
On the entry for April 28 of my first year at Rokkaku, I rediscovered how I met Ryou.
There was an unusual spur of rain in the spring of my first year at high school—that was probably the reason that so few of the students were armed with umbrellas as they ran off campus that day, myself included. Most of the students around me were lucky enough to be catching buses, or had parents picking them up from the school gates. I, on the other hand, had inconveniently gotten into a fight with my mom the previous day over how annoying my channel surfing was while she was trying to talk on the phone. Even if I did call her, I doubted that she would have come after I'd said something like, "I'm not back-chatting you, Mom: I'm just telling you why you're wrong."
I stood under the bus shelter, ready to make the twenty minute job to my house when a male standing nearby tapped me on the shoulder.
"Don't you have an umbrella?"He was a guy from my class—Kisarazu, I think his name was. I didn't think it was a good idea to antagonise other students within the first week of school—no less students who were in my class, so I resigned to a simple, "Uh... no."
"Not even a jacket?"
He was silent as he shrugged of his jacket, took off his cap, and handed both of them to me. "It's not much, but it might help. You'd fare better without a cold at the start of spring."
"I... thanks." I said, looking at him in disbelief. "Are you sure it's okay?"
"It's fine. I catch the bus." He said.
"Then... if you don't mind..." I donned the jacket and put on the cap, feeling extremely uncomfortable wearing a total stranger's articles of clothing, but he didn't seem to mind. On the run home, I stopped minding, too. Though his jacket was quite wet, it kept me relatively warm on the way home, and though his cap served little function, it did keep the rain out of my eyes.
The overall notion was very kind. The unforgettable kind of kind.
I didn't have much to offer Kisarazu in return, so I took the leisure of washing and drying his articles. We had a fabric softener that captured the smell of the sea rather well, and I hoped that someone like Kisarazu would welcome the smell of a summer beach to chase away the omen of spring rain. When I turned up with his jacket and hat the next day, rather than being thankful for washing and drying his clothes, he seemed mystified by how soft and clean it was. (To be fair, I used quite a lot of fabric softener.)
When I handed him the bag, he said a simple "Thanks" to defy the magic of his expression. When I frowned, he stared at me. "Is something wrong?"
"It's just... I don't know, you started showing a reaction, and then you cut it short."
"Ah, sorry. I'm not that great at reacting."
"How can you be not good at reacting?"
"It's a little hard to be individualistic when you have a twin."
"Wait, you have a twin?"
I came to learn a lot about Kisarazu in the first week that we were friends. I also came to learn to sense his emotions—how he would start to twitch when we talked about the actual concept of twins, but how warmly he spoke of his brother, Atsushi. When our class did a seat change pretty early on into the year (there were a few rowdy people in my class that the teacher had been keen to split up), we ended up sitting next to each other and passing notes to each other a lot.
'How come Atsushi-kun doesn't come to the same school as us? - '
'He got scouted by a guy from St. Rudolph. He boards there, so I usually only see him on breaks or the occasional weekend. - K.R.'
'Hahaha. :) - '
'What's so funny? - K.R.'
'You talk more on paper than you do with your mouth. - '
We became fast friends, which was curious, but not altogether far-fetched. He was patient, and I was impatient. He had good control over his emotions, and I was impulsive. I found out that he played tennis, and he found out that I was on the track team (even though he could run faster than I could). Kisarazu and I had a few things in common, but enough differences to keep our friendship balanced.
He was one of the closest and most stable friends I'd had for a long time—I felt as comfortable around him as I felt around Ueda, but Kisarazu was not simple minded; he had the same level of intelligence, and acted on the same spurs of charity that Tomita had. On top of that, he was a classmate, meaning that I had constant access to him.
As the year went on, I resigned to eating lunch with him, at first in the classroom, and then out on the grounds when the weather smartened up. There was never much time to hang out after schools, since we both had clubs, and—in the first place—had not formally acknowledged on another as friends. No, that didn't happen until the day of the cultural festival came. On the first day, I worked an open to close shift in our class's café, since Ryou said he would be busy with the tennis club on the first day. On the second day, a girl named Aoi took my shift out of the kindness of her heart and kicked me out of the café, telling me to explore while I still had the rest of the day at my disposal.
In my free time, I managed to wander over to the tennis court and saw Kisarazu with other members of the tennis team, playing what appeared to be an exhibition match against other members of his team. He didn't notice until the end of the match that I was there, but when he did, he immediately came over to greet me through the chain-link fence. "I thought you were going to work the café two days in a row." He reminded me.
"That's what I though, too." I said. "But I got found out. They made me go enjoy the rest of the day."
"So why aren't you?"
"I am. I'm watching you guys play tennis."
He paused. "Have you eaten anything yet?"
"Yep. I even found a place that was selling chicken nuggets—you like those, right?"
He dropped his racquet in shock—whether it was because I remembered that he liked them, because I found a place that was selling chicken nuggets or because I bought them for his sake, I never thought to ask. Maybe it was all three.
After he finished up with his exhibition match, he agreed to hang out with me for the rest of the festival. We wandered around, mostly watching people pack up as Ryou ate his nuggets and I drank a can of juice he bought for me in compensation.
"I heard from one of the other classes that there's gonna be a bonfire on the beach tonight." I said as we walked through the hallways. Most of the stalls were beginning to clean up, so Kisarazu and I figured that we would go and help our own class. "Are you gonna go?"
Kisarazu paused. "Are you?"
"I don't have a lot of friends, so I figured I'd spare myself the pain."
"So you'll go if I go."
He stared me. "We're friends, aren't we? So if I went, you'd go, too. Right?"
I was a little slow in replying, "Yeah, of course—I mean, you've just never acknowledged that we're friends before, so I didn't want you to think I was stepping boundaries or anything."
"Why would that be stepping any boundaries?"
"I dunno. I've just never done any of these kinds of things with my friends." I said. "You know, I played basketball with them at the street courts, and we went to karaoke sometimes, but participating in school-organised events? Now that's new."
There was a brief silence.
He caught me off guard with a smile.
After we returned to our classroom and helped clean up for the day, all of us filed down to the beach for the bonfire. The school officials obviously weren't playing it half-hearted when they said 'bonfire', either. When we got there, there was a roaring tower of (controlled) fire, around which students had already joined hands and were already dancing.
Our classmates were quick to join in the dance. Kisarazu was not keen on not falling behind. He extended a hand and said, "A friendly dance?"
I took it. "A friendly dance."
Most of the actual couples were simply content to dancing in silence with their partners, but the platonic couples—like Kisarazu and myself—were having little conversations between themselves.
"Say, you say you're a twin, right?"
"I figure it's pretty useless to call you Kisarazu—like, if I ever met your brother, that would be really awkward." I said. "So, um, are you cool if I call you Ryou?"
"I've gotten used to , though, so I'll keep calling you that."
"You know, I've gotten pretty good at trying to tell when you're joking or not. That damn poker face of yours used to be kind of troublesome, but you know, I think I've gotten used to it."
"Are you talking about the face I was born with?"
I couldn't help but laugh.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him smiling too.
- x -
", how do you take notes in class?"
I looked up from my lunch to see Ryou staring thoughtfully at me. "What do you mean?" I asked. "I take the same kinds of notes that everyone else does. The ones the teacher puts on the board."
"Lately when you take notes, you've been writing from the start to the end of the lesson. Half of the classes we do don't even have that much theory in the curriculum."
"Oh, that." I laughed nervously. "They aren't notes. They're journals."
"Yeah, I've been journalling since elementary school. It's an outlet that teaches me patience. I mean, I get angry a lot, so if I write about it I feel better without having to take it out on anyone else." I explained. "And, like, for an impatient person to write while they're angry—that's kind of a painful process, so while I'm learning to keep a lid on my emotions, I'm also learning how to be patient."
If it was possible for Ryou to look impressed, that was the kind of expression that formed on his face. "You've been doing that since elementary school?"
"Yeah." I said. "Now the only person who I'm ever angry at is my mom. She's like... my Achilles' heel."
"That escalated quickly. Why do you say that?"
"I think it's because we're too similar." I said. "She always gets irritated because of the small things I do, and I always get irritated because I don't understand why it's such a big deal to her. So... we fight a lot, but the fights are resolved pretty quickly. It's not really a big deal."
"Your journals are filled with fights of your mom?"
"Mostly, but there are good things in it, too." I said. "You're in it, for example."
Ryou looked legitimately taken aback. "M-me?"
"Yeah, you." I said. "You were one of my first friends here. Is there a reason you wouldn't be in it?"
"... I'm not very individualistic because—"
"Twin or not, you're plenty interesting." I said. "I'd find it a little hard to make conversation with you if you weren't."
I laughed. "There's no need to thank me for something like that."
The next day, I came back to school and bumped into Saeki, a friend of Ryou's, on the way to gym. He looked incredibly amused for some reason. "Good morning, -chan."
"Morning... Saeki. You look kind of like you're in a good mood."
"I heard something from a little bird."
I raised an eyebrow at him.
Saeki chuckled. "Ryou tells me you called him plenty interesting yesterday."
"I did. I don't really think it's that great of an honour, though."
"He seemed a little taken, if you asked me."
"Are you... pulling my leg?"
"No, if I wanted to do that I'd have to do it with my hand."
"That was incredibly disappointing as a joke, I hope you know."
He laughed. "Sorry. But most people find Ryou too plain to befriend. The fact that he even has a female friend surprises most of us."
"Why is that surprising? Doesn't he have fans?"
Saeki considered this. "Regardless of whether or not he had fans, most of them would tire of him quite quickly. It's like how David used to have a lot of fans because of his hair, but then lost of a lot of them because of his puns."
"... Yeah, that doesn't surprise me."
"I think Ryou took it as such a compliment because now, not only have you called him plenty interesting, you've also acknowledged the fact that you don't care whether he has a twin or not."
"... Why would I care?"
The bell for the next period rang. "I'll tell you another time—the story of a scout from St. Rudolph and his failure with the twins. We're late for class now, though, so we should go. Bye, -chan!"
"I'm accumulating late slips because of you, Saeki!"
I heard his laugh as he disappeared down the hallway and back into his classroom.
Still, though, I was surprised to see that Saeki was right about plenty interesting being a huge compliment to Ryou. He had suddenly become a lot more attentive and, for some reason, a lot more charitable. He even started hearing me out when I came to school in a bad mood after a fight with my mom.
"—And then she got so angry and went on a total rant about all the things I'd done to infuriate her that well. She was like, -chan this and -chan that—"
"Oh." I said, coughing awkwardly. "That's a nickname. My dad gave it to me when I was a little kid because he thought it was cute, and he thought I was cute."
"It kind of suits you. ."
"Not you too."
" doesn't quite fit your image."
"Are you talking about the name I was given at birth?"
"I'll call you from now on."
"Don't decide that by yourself!"
I couldn't help but do so, too.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Princo & Ribbon
February 3, 2015.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
(1)Sea chicken: Don't ask me why this is an actual thing, but sea chicken is synonymous with tuna. While I was over in Japan, I had a conversation with my host mother (we had to home stay over winter break) about what kind of onigiri I wanted to eat when I went to school. She asked, "Is sea chicken and mayonnaise okay?" And I was like, "Sea... chicken? You mean like an actual sea chicken?" And she was like, "Tuna and mayonnaise." AND I WAS SO CONFUSED BECAUSE WOULD YOU NOT JUST CALL IT TUNA LOL. Jk, I actually did a bit of research, and apparently Sea Chicken is supposed to be a brand name or something. I guess the name just stuck? HAHAHA.
Ribbon: I'm aware of how many times I actually say "high school basketball player" in this DN, but basketballer is continually rejected by my dictionary (for some reason that really bothers me), and baller is too ghetto for me. HAHAHA. Also, at the "a friendly dance?" part I just kept thinking of Zaizen going, "A friendly date. A friendly date. A friendly date." You'll get that reference if you read RP LOL. /sighs because of its terrible jokes.
Princo: I'm weirded out by how quickly this got updated, too. But that's actually because chapter two was finished while I was in the middle of coding chapter one. LOL. Also I'm positive sea chicken comes from Chicken of the Sea. LOL. Also who actually uses "baller" in terms of "basketballer." LOL. Or am I just from too ghetto of a region.