1. You're Beautfiul by Noizchild
2. Move by Noizchild
3. Disorder House by Noizchild
4. Cassius by Noizchild
5. Isaac by Noizchild
6. Tapes and Dinner by Noizchild
7. Sakura-hime by Noizchild
8. Ego Guro-hime by Noizchild
9. Out in Hiroshima by Noizchild
10. Out of Control by Noizchild
11. Dog Fight by Noizchild
12. I Want to be Alone by Noizchild
13. Queen Miki by Noizchild
14. Making Sense by Noizchild
15. Needy by Noizchild
16. Complication by Noizchild
17. The Truth of Sakura-Hime by Noizchild
18. I Don't Understand by Noizchild
19. Art Project by Noizchild
20. Puzzle Pieces by Noizchild
21. A Girls' Story by Noizchild
22. I Want to Be Alone by Noizchild
23. Hitomi's Truth by Noizchild
24. Man to Man by Noizchild
25. Parallels by Noizchild
26. Thoughts by the Creek by Noizchild
27. Back-Up by Noizchild
28. Ride Along by Noizchild
29. Never Let Me Go by Noizchild
30. Time to Move On by Noizchild
Chapter One: You’re Beautiful:
My dear friend, Hitomi, died last week. Her mother found her body in the driver’s seat of the family car that Thursday morning. In fact, she was the one contacted me the next morning about her daughter’s death. It’s funny, really. Hitomi-chan and I haven’t spoken to each other since we graduated junior high. We ended up going to different high schools.
We never really kept in touch either. I heard different stories about her. I heard that she had a boyfriend from Tokyo many times. There were other stories saying that she was having problems with bullying and depression. Some even said that she dropped out of high school and locked herself in her room. A few people said that they saw her rumoring the city streets at night. One rumor even said that Hitomi turned to dating for pay. I never tried to call her and see if any of it was true. I don’t know; it’s just that life and school got in the way for me.
The last time I saw Hitomi was when I just graduated from high school days before she died. I had just got home from school from the ceremony when I noticed my answering machine blinking. I looked at the flashing light in an odd way. Hm, why would anyone want to call me? I walked over and hit play.
“One new message,” the voice said.
“Hey, Kichiro-kun,” a familiar voice filled the room. I jumped with such shock.
That’s Hitomi-chan’s voice. But, why is she calling me?
“It’s me,” she went on. “I really need your help. Please call me. I’m so lonely. Come out and meet me at the creek where we used to play. Please help me!” The tone in her voice made my heart sank while pounding. I thought back to all of those rumors I heard about her. The way she said those words made me go out to see her.
By sundown that evening, I went down to the creek where we used to play together as children. I found Hitomi sitting near the water with a cigarette pinched between her fingers. I raced over to her as quickly as I could. I stopped when she looked up at me with a smile on her face. She gave me a little wave with the cigarette between her fingers.
“Yo,” she said. I stared at her rather confused for a long breather.
“Uh…” I said. “Are you okay?” Hitomi nodded at me.
“Yes,” she said. “Why do you ask?” I drew my lips together, still trying to piece together what was going on here.
“You left a message on my answering machine,” I explained to her as calmly as I could. “You said that you needed my help and you sounded really upset. What’s the problem? Did something happen?” It told her a little while for her to understand what I was getting at.
“Oh!” Hitomi said. “It’s okay, I’m fine now. Really, I am.” I blinked still confused on what this was all about.
“Okay…” I mumbled. I turned to leave, uncertain about what to do.
“Kichiro-kun! Don’t go!” Hitomi called out. I paused and glanced over my shoulder at my friend.
“Why?” I asked as I turned around to her fully. She gave me a crooked smile as she shrugged.
“Please?” she asked. I shouldn’t be out here, messing around. Hitomi just pretty much called me out here for nothing. I really need to get back home and study for the entrance exam for Todai. It’s just so easy to walk away and go home. I dropped my shoulders and rolled my eyes.
“Fine,” I said. I took a seat next to her at the creek. She grinned and rested her head on my shoulder. I don’t know why I stayed out there with her. We didn’t really talk or do anything. She even went to sleep on my shoulder. I looked up at the sky wondering how long we were going to stay like this. I really thought that she was lying about being okay. I already saw the truth in her eyes. I just didn’t bother to ask her what was wrong in that moment. Probably wouldn’t have made a difference that day, anyway. Hitomi would’ve brushed me off or just changed the subject altogether. Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder why she would call me out here in so desperately like that.
That was the last time I saw her alive in person. She didn’t contact me after that. Now, all I’m left with is her journal and a box of tapes that she had recorded ever since we went our separate ways in high school. With Hitomi-chan now dead, I thought that I had seen enough ghosts from my past. Then, there came a heavy pounding on my door at two in the morning.
Chapter Two: Move:
I wandered down to the door in a tired haze.
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” I mumbled. I peeked out the little peep hole. Of course, being half-asleep and it being dark outside, I couldn’t see a thing.
“Who is it?” I asked.
“It’s me, baby bro!” a raspy woman’s voice said. It didn’t register to me at the time. I blinked at that statement.
“Who?” I asked.
“Me, Kichiro!” the voice whispered again. “Let me in!” I really looked confused now.
“Huh?” I asked.
“Just let me in!” the voice hissed. It took me a few seconds to start moving. I fumbled with the door knob as I tried to unlock it. Opening the door led to another shock from the past right in front of me. A woman about twenty-nine dressed in visual-kei style stood before me. My eyes widened as I stepped backwards.
“Nee-san?” I asked. The woman nodded at me.
“Yes!” she said. I blinked at her with a puzzled look on my face.
“What are you doing here?” I whispered.
“Never mind that now,” she said back. “Just let me in!”
“Can’t,” I said. Nee-san raised an eyebrow at me.
“Why not?” she asked. I threw up my hands at her.
“You’re already in, aren’t you?” I asked. My sister looked around.
“So, I am,” she said. I sighed and hung my head. What was all of this? My sister’s name was Akemi. I hadn’t seen her since I was six years old. She ran away from home when she was fourteen years old. My family and I hadn’t heard much from her in years. She didn’t even come to the funerals of our parents. I gave her a bottle of green tea as she sat at my kitchen table.
“What are you doing here?” I asked. Akemi glanced up at me with that twisted smile on her face.
“I was bored,” she said. I gave her a dumb look on my face.
“How did you find me?” I asked. “I didn’t give out my address to that many people.”
“I tracked you down through your school,” Akemi said. My face dropped as she took a sip of her tea.
“You’re kidding!” I mumbled.
“Nope,” she replied. “Gah! This tea is crap. This all you have?” I frowned and puffed up my cheeks at her.
“Well excuse me for being a broke high graduate!” I hissed. “Anyway, what are you doing here really? Is it money? Are you here to get money? If so, I’m not giving you a single yen. You can just get a proper job for that!” Akemi took another sip before she shook her head and sat back.
“I’m taking you away with me,” she said. I gave her a long, blank stare.
“Huh?” I asked. My sister turned around to me with a dull look on her face.
“I’m taking you away with me,” she repeated. I slowly shook my head at her.
“Why?” I asked. She set the bottle down on the table.
“Come on, man!” Nee-san said. “What can be so great in this shitty town that you would want to stay here?”
“I have to study for the entrance exam to get into Tokyo University,” I reasoned with her. Akemi made a razzie noise as she rolled her eyes.
“Pul-leeze!” she said aloud. “What’s so great about college? It’s pointless, anyway!” I puffed up my cheeks.
“Says the woman who had to pass high school equivalency test to keep from coming home,” I muttered. Akemi frowned at me.
“Anyway,” she brushed off. “You’re coming with me, right now!” I turned to her with big eyes.
“No!” I said. “What?!?”
“We’re leaving right now,” she said. “Get going!”
“But… I don’t even have my things packed up!” I complained.
“So what?’ Akemi asked. “Just get some clothes, a couple personal things, a little money, and toothbrush. You know what, screw the toothbrush. I can just buy you a new one at the 7-Eleven.” I stood there, still lost. I expected her to come here begging me for money. She caught me off-guard with all of this. Akemi clapped her hands at me.
“Move it!” she barked. “Get going!” She stomped her foot in emphasis on her words. I took off running to my room as if on cue.
“I’ll be waiting in the car!” I heard her yell. “Don’t pack too much junk!” I ran to my room and closed the door. What the hell? Why is she doing this and where are we going to go? I sighed aloud. Something told me she wasn’t going to let up on this. I looked around my room to see what I could take. I better make this quick. I walked over to my closet and pulled out my black backpack. I paused for a long moment as I stared at it. Damn, I haven’t seen this thing since junior high. I used this backpack when I first met Hitomi-chan in kindergarten. She said it was so cool. Hitomi-chan…
I shook my head of any empty sorrow. Right, Akemi is waiting for me. I better finish up here. In a minute, I stuffed in seven t-shirts, three pairs of jeans, my glasses case, my notes and study book for the entrance exam, laptop, my wallet, a picture of mom and dad, and my other pajamas. I was looking around for something to wear when spotted Hitomi’s diary and box of tapes. That feeling of empty sadness crept up in my throat again. Somehow, I couldm't leave them behind. Something told me to take them to find out about why Hitomi died. The more I stared at them, the more the sadness twisted up in knots inside me. I forced myself to swallow hard. In the end, they, along with my walkman and earphones, went into my backpack.
Once, I got dressed, I began to follow through with shutting things off. I went from room to room unplugging and turning off everything. The first thing to be unplugged was my alarm clock. I went from my room, to the bathroom, the kitchen, and finally to the living room. Once I made certain I packed up what I needed and turned everything off, I made it outside to the parking lot where Akemi was waiting in her car for me. I quietly climbed in. She narrowed her eyes at me as she frowned.
“Took you long enough,” she muttered. I shrugged at her.
“Hey, I don’t want to waste energy while I’m gone,” I said. Akemi rolled her eyes at me.
“Whatever,” she mumbled. I looked her straight in the eye.
“So, where are we going?” I asked. Akemi’s face didn’t change.
“Does it matter?” she asked. My sister started up the car before I had a chance to speak. I looked down at my hands in my lap. I doubt that I had much of a say by this point.
Chapter Three: Disorder House:
Hours later, someone shook me awake. I slowly opened my eyes and looked over to my right. Akemi stared at me smiling.
“Oh good morning, Sunshine,” she said. “Finally to decide to join the world of the living?” I blinked at her.
“How long was I asleep?” I asked.
“Since we left Tokyo,” she said. I looked around confused.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“Hiroshima,” she replied. My face just dropped.
“Huh?” I asked.
“We are in Hiroshima,” Akemi repeated.
“Why?” I asked. My sister frowned at me.
“I live here,” she said. I looked out the windshield and realized where we had parked. It looked to be a large, vine-covered townhouse. The building itself looked out of place.
“And we’re in Hiroshima?” I asked.
“Yes,” Akemi said, nodding. I sat there trying to piece it altogether. We drove for about eleven hours from Tokyo to Hiroshima and I was out sleeping that long? I shook my head to myself. Akemi slapped me on the shoulder.
“Come on,” she said. “Get out. I want you to meet my friends.” She jumped out of the car as I rubbed my shoulder.
“Ow,” I mumbled to myself.
“Get moving, boy!” Akemi shouted at me.
“Okay, okay,” I grumbled. I pulled my backpack out of the back seat and stepped out of the car.
“Whoa, how long has this been here?” I asked as I looked up at the town house.
“Since after the war,” Akemi said. “Now come on already! I want to get this over with.”
“Okay, okay!” I said. “You don’t need to bite my head off.”
“Get moving!” she shouted. I raced up the stairs to meet up with her on the porch. Akemi shook her head and turned to the door.
“Hey!” she shouted as she pounded on the heavy wood. “Ayano! It’s me! Let me in!” I covered my ears over the pounding and shouting. Akemi only stopped when the door opened a crack. A bright red eye peeked out at us.
“You have a key, you know?” the owner asked. Akemi shrugged at him.
“Just let us in,” she said.
“I’ll let you in, but I’m not letting in another one of your boyfriends,” the owner of the eye said.
“He’s not my boyfriend!” my sister said back. “He’s my younger brother. Remember, I told you all about the nerdy boy.” A sweat drop formed on my head.
The door opened up wide. A man with long pink hair stared at us. Akemi gave him a small wave.
“Yo,” she said. The man turned his eyes on him.
“So this is the brother?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m Akemi’s younger brother.” The three of us didn’t speak at first. The man broke into a huge smile.
“Well, hello!” he said. “Come on in!” I blinked at him. What’s with all the pleasantries all of a sudden?
“Thank you!” Akemi said aloud.
“Next time, use your key,” the man said. I followed after my sister. The man closed the door behind us. My face dropped when I first saw the living room. I felt like I had walked into a J-horror film. Dirty clothes littered the floor. Old newspapers were plastered on the wall along with magazine cut outs and well-skilled drawings. A pile of beer cans sat over in the corner. There was even leftover food on the coffee table. I cringed at the very sight. Two other men looked up at me from the couch and their desks.
“I’m home,” Akemi said. The men gave her a sharp wave.
“Yo,” a black man said at his desk.
“Welcome back,” a blonde-haired guy said on the couch with a bowl of cereal in his hand. Akemi looked around for a moment.
“Where are the girls and Isaac?” she asked.
“Well, Isaac’s out with his girlfriend again,” the pink haired man said behind us. “Yumi went to visit her mother. I don’t know where Sakura-hime and Romi went. Miki is in Kyoto until Sunday.” Akemi nodded as she took in this information.
“You don’t say,” she said.
“But I do,” the pink-haired man said. The cereal guy looked at me with a perplexed expression on his face.
“Who’s this dorky kid?” he asked. I felt myself getting stomped on again. Again with the dork stuff? Akemi put her arm around my shoulders.
“This kid is my baby brother, Kichiro,” she bragged. I gave them a little wave.
“Hi…” I mumbled. The black guy at the desk looked at me intently.
“Well, I’ll be damned!” he said. “It’s the baby boy in the flesh!” I looked at him with big, blank eyes. Baby boy? What’s with all of the nicknames? Akemi patted my shoulder.
“Just graduated from high school!” she bragged.
“Nice!” cereal guy said.
“Kichiro,” my sister went on. “These are a few of my friends. The charming gentleman at the desk is named Cassius.
“Hey,” the black man replied.
“The funny man on the couch is Yusuke,” Akemi said.
“‘Sup?” the blonde man said. My sister turned me to the pink-haired guy.
“And this charming man here is called Sunao,” she said. He smiled and bowed at me.
“Nice to meet you,” he said. Sunao looked over at my sister.
“Don’t think the ass-kissing makes up for you pounding on the door, yelling moments ago,” he said.
“Look, my bad, okay?” Akemi said. “Can you please let it go?”
“Nope,” her roommate said.
“Pardon me,” Yusuke cut in. “But what is exactly is your brother doing here, if you don’t mind me asking?” Akemi turned her attention back to the blonde cereal man.
“Kichiro’s friend committed suicide,” she explained. “So, I risked him out of that boring Tokyo hell to hang out with us for a while.” I made a face as she said that. The hell? I didn’t decide this. You snuck back home at insane hours in the morning and basically kidnapped me! Don’t make up lies! Cassius rose to his feet from the desk.
“We have a spare room that he can use for the time being,” he said. Akemi pushed me forward.
“He’s all yours, man,” she said. I looked back and forth between them many times. Akemi? What are you doing?!? Cassius gave me a huge grin.
“Don’t worry, I won’t bite,” he cooed. That did little to make anything better. He grabbed onto my arm before I had a chance to protest and led me down the hall, up the stairs.
“So when are Isaac and them getting back?” I heard Akemi ask from behind.
“Soon,” Sunao replied. “They come dragging in once they get hungry.”
“I see,” she said. “And what’s Miki doing in Kyoto again?” Sunao groaned aloud.
“A photography exhibit, remember?” he asked. “She’s the main attraction.”
“Oh yes,” my sister replied. “You know I can’t keep up with these things when were drinking!”
“Which is why you need to cut back, love,” he said.
“Don’t be such a killjoy,” Akemi brushed off.
“I’m only trying to look out for you,” Sunao argued. That was all that I heard when Cassius opened the bedroom door. Oh lord! What has my sister dragged me into? I want to go home.
Chapter Four: Cassius:
I looked in the open room before me. I had to back up when I first smelled pot. Cassius glanced over and noticed my face.
“Aw, don’t mind the smell,” he said. “The last roommate we had smoked pot all day long in here.” I blinked in discomforted.
“Oh, so that’s it,” I mumbled.
“Hang on,” he said. Then, Cassius went into the room and opened up the windows.
“That should help get the smell out,” he said. He turned his attention back to me.
“Well, come on and get a good look around,” Cassius said. I glanced down at my feet and walked inside. To my surprise, this room looked cleaner than the living room did. The only things inside were a desk, bed, chair, and chest for clothes.
“This is the quietest room in the whole house,” Cassius told me. I perked up at that sentence.
“This is good,” I said. “I can study in peace!”
“Oh, for the entrance exams?” Cassius asked.
“That’s right,” I said.
“Which university?” he asked.
“Tokyo,” I replied. Cassius gave off a low whistle.
“Wow, that’s elite!” he said. I nodded at him.
“It’s hard to get into,” I said. “A couple of people from my neighborhood had to retake it twice to get in.”
“Why do you want to go there?” Cassius asked.
“It’s one of the best schools in the country,” I replied. I noticed the looked on Cassius’ face. “What?” I asked. He shook his head at me.
“Nothing,” he replied. “I didn’t say anything.”
“You made a face at me,” I pointed out. Cassius threw up his hands at me.
“That’s all you,” he said. I turned around to face him.
“And what about you?” I asked him.
“Went to college, moved to Japan, and ended up here,” Cassius summed up. My face became a rather confused one.
“Why?” was all that I could ask him. Cassius shook his head.
“I was in love,” he replied. Suddenly, he held my interest.
“What about it?” I asked. Cassius sat down on what was to be my bed in a few moments.
“I had always had a fascination with all things Asian,” he explained. “Japan in particular is a personal favorite of mine. In fact, my first love got me here. He himself was Japanese. Best times that I had with him.” I held up my hand rather confused.
“Wait! Are you…” I began to ask. Cassius leered at me.
“Am I what?” he asked. It took me a few seconds to try and piece together what I wanted to say. I brought my face closer to his.
“Are you gay?” I whispered. Cassius raised an eyebrow at me.
“And what if I am?” he asked. I couldn’t come up with a comeback for that once. Cassius gave me a smile.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “You’re too skinny to be my type.” I looked up at him.
“Heh?” I asked. Cassius laughed at my response. I could see his gold tooth towards the back of his mouth.
“Now if you were someone like Yamapi, I’d be all over you right now,” he said.
“Gee, thanks,” I mumbled.
“Then again, Akemi-san would probably kill me,” he added. “She’s really protective of you like that, you know?” I looked at him quite surprised.
“Does she?” I asked. Cassius straightened up his black-rimmed glasses.
“Yes, yes,” he said. Then, he rose to his feet. “Well, if you need anything, my room will be across from your room,” he said. “Akemi-san’s room is just two doors down from us.”
“Okay,” I said.
“We’ll have to get you some sheets and stuff,” he said. “I’ll go get the bed stuff right now.” I nodded at him. Cassius paused and glanced over his shoulder at me.
“Oh, there’s one more thing,” he said. I looked up at him from where I stood.
“What?” I asked.
“Watch out for Sakura-hime,” he warned me. “It would be best to lock your door at night.”
“Why is that?” I asked, blinking.
“You don’t really want to find out right away,” Cassius said in a serious tone. “Just lock your door, okay?” I nodded at him slowly.
“Okay…” I mumbled.
“You’ll do fine here,” the black man in white told me. “If you need to eat, the kitchen is open to everyone in the house. Plus, it’s two people per bathroom. You’ll be sharing with Isaac. Is there anything else?” I shook my head at him.
“No, I’m good actually,” I said.
“I see,” Cassius replied. Suddenly, we heard the door shut downstairs.
“I’m back!” a man’s voice followed behind. Cassius perked up.
“Ah, speak of the devil, Isaac’s back,” he said. “Just let me know if you need anything, okay?” I put up a thumb up at him.
“Sure,” I said, unsure of my own answer.
“I’ll go tend to Isaac now,” the Yamapi fan said. Then, he went out the door, closing it behind him. I gave it a small wave. He’s not bad, a little strange, but not a bad guy. I wondered how he came to live in a place like this with my sister and those people. And what is this Sakura-hime person like? Why would I have to lock my door at night? I shook my head of these thoughts. I can’t focus on that. Now that I have a room in this weird place, I might as well try to study. I sat down at the desk and set up my notes and textbooks. It didn’t take me long to get right to work.
Chapter Five: Isaac:
I studied upon to noon when my stomach started to growl. At first, I did my best to ignore it. No, I can’t eat until I’m finished. It’s not time to eat yet. I can hold out a little bit longer. I buried myself deeper in my books. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore.
Alright, you win! I’ll go get something to eat. I set aside my study material and went downstairs to the kitchen. I peeked around for the whole trip in hopes of not running into any of them. Something is telling me not to stay here too long. But yet, I feel that somehow I don’t really have a choice. I don’t know my way around Hiroshima and I don’t have much money for a train ride back to Tokyo. I don’t even know how long nee-san is keeping me here. Why did she even bring me here to Hiroshima in the first place?
I managed to make it down to the kitchen without being seen. Now what to eat? I glanced over at the clock on the microwave. 12:10 already? I shrugged to myself. I might as well have lunch. I opened the fridge and took a look around. To my dismay, there wasn’t much already cooked for me to eat. Most of everything inside was just ingredients and drinks. I frowned at my options here. I kept looking, however. I finally got lucky when I looked in the very back. Off to the far right sat a container of onigiri. A little smile came onto my face.
I hope they aren’t going bad, I thought. I reached forward and took out the container. Before I could fully stand up, I became aware of someone standing behind me. I glanced over my right shoulder. A black man’s face eyed me.
“Do you know whose rice balls they are?” he asked. I turned to him with big eyes.
“No!” I yelped. “I’m so sorry! I was so hungry and there wasn’t much in the fridge! And… And… And…” I bowed down as fast as I could. “I’m so sorry!” The black man laughed at me.
“We eat microwave meals for lunch here,” he explained. “Leftovers are breakfast and we all take turns doing the cooking for dinner.” I looked up at him.
“So, where is everything?” I asked.
“Cabinets,” the man said. “Next time, ask.” I looked at him still uneasy.
“Okay…” I mumbled. The man gave me a little smile.
“And yes,” he said. “You can have one.” I bowed with relief.
“Thanks!” I said. I opened the lid and took one out.
“Next time ask,” he said.
“Yes,” I said. I took a bite and chewed away happily. “Oh thank you!” I wailed. “I was so hungry upstairs!” The black man gave me an odd look.
“Excuse me, but who are you?” he asked. I looked up at him.
“Kichiro,” I said, “I’m Akemi’s younger brother.” The man perked up when I said those words.
“Oh!” he said. “So you’re little nerd boy she brags about!” A sweat drop formed on my forehead. Again with the nerd thing? What did she tell them? The black man stuck out his hand to me.
“Name’s Isaac,” he said. I shook his hand reluctantly.
“So you’re Isaac,” I said.
“Yes,” he said. I nodded at him.
“Hey boys!” we heard someone behind us. We looked over to see Akemi peeking in on us. She gave us a small wave. Isaac grinned and let go of my hand.
“Hey, Baby Girl!” he cheered. Isaac came over and hugged my sister. Akemi giggled aloud.
“Isaac!” she whimpered. “Why did you slip in without telling me?” Isaac kissed her on the head.
“I’m sorry, sugar,” he said. “I’ll greet you more personally later.” Akemi looked up at him with big eyes.
“You promise?” she asked. He kissed her on the forehead.
“Of course,” he said. I cleared my throat at them. Akemi and Isaac looked up at me.
“I’m sorry, did you want something?” Akemi asked. I shook my head.
“No, I’m good,” I said. “Thanks for the onigiri.” I walked out of the kitchen to head to back to my room.
“Oh yeah, I met up with Yumi at the bus station,” Isaac told my sister as I walked away, “She says she’ll be over soon. She just needed to pick up some things for dinner.”
“So she’s cooking tonight?” Akemi asked.
“Yep,” Isaac replied.
“And how’s her mother?” she asked.
“I didn’t ask her,” Isaac said. They went silent as I closed the door behind me. A confused thought crossed my mind.
Wait a sec! Doesn’t Isaac have a girlfriend? I turned to the door. Wait; did that mind that he was two-timing with my sister? She wouldn’t allow that, would she? I almost wanted to ask to settle my mind. I shook my head. No, it’s none of my business. Just need to study for the entrance exam for Todai and get in. Maybe once I get in, Akemi will have no choice back to let me go back home. I just paused at that thought. Somehow, I don’t even think it would be that easily. I looked up at the ceiling.
Hitomi-chan, what do I do now? Then, someone pounded at the door. I felt the knocking at my back.
“Yes?” I asked.
“I brought you some sheets for the bed,” Cassius said on the other side.
“Good,” I said, “Just leave it out there.”
“Alright,” he said. I didn’t move until I heard his footsteps leave the outside. I slowly opened the door and peeked downwards. Blue and white sheets, huh? I dropped my shoulders and lowered my hard. Oh well, I might as well unpack since I’m going to be here for a while. I picked up the sheets and took them into the room with me before closing the door.
Chapter Six: Tapes and Dinner:
I unfolded the sheets to put them on the bed. They looked really clean so far. In fact, they looked rather new. This shouldn’t be so bad, right? It took me about four minutes to put the bottom sheet on first. The rest followed rather smoothly from there. I looked at the bed in satisfaction. It looks about right for now. All the bed needed now was a blanket and pillows. I paused in that thought. Obviously, they would be in the hall. Just… I tried to remember where Cassius’ room was. I think he said that he was across the hall. Maybe the others are in their rooms right now. I made a quick dash across the hall to the door. I drew in a breath before I knocked on the door.
“Yes?” I heard the Yamapi fan ask.
“Um… where do you all keep the pillows and blankets?” I asked.
“They’re in the spare closet next to your bathroom near the stairs,” he replied.
“Thank you!” I called. I turned in the direction that he told me. “Which side?” I asked.
“Your left,” he said.
“Alright,” I replied. I headed down that way in the hallway. It took me about forty seconds to find the right door. A bunch of pillow slipped out at my feet. I frowned at the pile-up. Clumsy way to put them. Then again, I remembered the living room. I highly doubted about them all wanting to do a better job of cleaning up the place. I shook my head. I was still hoping that I wouldn’t be staying too long here. I shook my head and gathered up two pillows for myself. Once they passed my inception of soft and firm, I took them back to my room and put the pillow cases of them. I just needed the blanket to cover the bed. I returned with a thick, black one and laid it over the bed. I looked at the finished product. That’s done. I looked over at my backpack. I dropped my shoulders and went on to unpack.
My laptop ended up on the desk. I put my clothes in the chest. Mom and dad’s picture sat next to my laptop. My notes and study book went on the other side of the laptop. I set my glasses case above my bed. I placed my watt man next them above where I would be sleeping. The only things I had were Hitomi’s diary and tapes. Memories about the day I learned she died filled my head. Before, I didn’t have any real questions to ask. Now that I think about it, I just can’t but to wonder why. Why did she kill herself? What happened after we graduated junior high? Why did she call me out that day?
I shook my head of these questions. Right, I have study again. I took my seat at my desk and went back to my studying. Close to sundown, I heard a knock on my door.
“Yes?” I asked.
“Baby bro!” Akemi shouted on the other side. “Dinner’s ready!”
“Alright, I’ll be down in sec,” I said, not looking up from my notes.
“No,” she said. “We all eat together at dinner.” I paused at those words.
“What?” I asked.
“Come on,” she said. “Put the books down and come eat with us.”
“Do I have to?” he asked.
“Yes!” Akemi yelled. “Now get moving! Everyone’s waiting at the table!” I lowered my notes at the table.
“Fine,” I said. “Give me a moment.” I put everything away and opened the door. Akemi leaned in the frame, smiling.
“Took you long enough,” she said. Nee-san grabbed onto my wrist and dragged me with her before I had a chance to speak. I did my best to keep up with her. Again, she was forcing me to do something without talking to me about it. I didn’t understand why I had to go through all of this. Not like I had much of a choice anyway, but still…
Cassius, Isaac, Yusuke, Sunao, and a woman that wasn’t familiar with all sat at the table, waiting. They looked up when they heard footsteps.
“Finally!” Yusuke said aloud. “We can all eat!” The woman leaned her head on his shoulder.
“Oh come on, Yusuke-kun,” she cooed, “That no way to talk about the newbie. He just got here today.” The blonde-haired guy just waved her off.
“But I’m hungry,” he complained.
“Well baby bro is here now,” Akemi cut in. “Now we can all have Yumi-chan cooking.”
“Is everyone ready?” I heard a sweet voice ask from the kitchen area. Akemi and I took a seat at the table.
“Yes!” we all said.
“Perfect!” that sweet voice replied. I looked up to see what I thought was an angel walking out with a huge, steaming pot. I had to blink many times because I thought I was in a dream. Her face reminded me of an angel from the shoujo manga. I seemed to be attracted to girls with hair tucked behind their ears. This woman had a little help from a red hair holding it in place. Her whole appearance reminded me of a stay-at-home mom. In fact, she looked like my mom. Akemi patted me on the shoulder.
“Kichiro-kun,” she said aloud, “Meet our cook for tonight, this Yumi-san.” I gave her a small wave.
“Hi…” I mumbled. Yumi perked up at me.
“So you’re the younger brother,” she murmured.
“That’s right!” Akemi bragged. Then, she turned my attention back to Yusuke and the other woman.
“The lady with the red streak in her hair is Romi,” she explained. Romi waved at me.
“Yo!” she said. Akemi frowned at the table arrangement.
“Still no Sakura-hime?” she asked.
“Nope,” Sunao said. Nee-san took a moment to ponder this.
“Hm…” she said. “I’m guessing that she doesn’t have her phone on her either, does she?” The others shook their heads.
“Who cares?” Yusuke asked. “I’m starving here. Can we just eat?” Sunao put his hand up at him.
“Now, now,” he said.
“Take it easy, Nao-kun,” Akemi spoke up. “The man’s hungry. We all feel the same way. So, let us eat.” She turned to Yumi. “What’s the special for today, Yumi-san?” The cook perked up at that question.
“Oh, I made a seafood stew,” she replied. She set the pot on the table and started serving everyone. My spirits felt lifted with the steam formed at my glasses. Akemi tapped me on the arm. I glanced over at her. She gave me a big smile.
“It’s good,” she bragged, “You really need to try it.” I picked up my chopsticks. Yumi took her place at the table once she served herself. We all blessed the food and ate up. One slurp of those soba noodles and I saw Heaven. I looked up and saw everyone else’s eyes on me. I could tell they all had one questions on their minds. I set down my chopsticks and grinned.
“It’s delicious!” I announced. Yumi’s eyes lit up.
“You really think so?” she asked. I gave her a huge nod.
“I can really taste the seafood and herbs in this,” I said, “I can’t remember the last time I ever had a home-cooked meal.” That angel looked like she would fly over the moon from her seat.
“Oh, I’m so glad that you like it!” she said. “It’s actually a recipe from my mother. I couldn’t wait to try it out!” Yusuke smiled as he chewed and swallowed a piece of crab.
“You really outdid yourself this time, Yumi-chan!” he said, grinning. The others around her agreed. Yumi sampled some of her own stew in confidence. Stars twinkled in her eyes.
“It’s just like Mama made it for me on days when I was sick!” she confessed. I happily took another sip of the soba in the warm, herby broth. Akemi nudged me on the arm again. I nodded as I put a piece of shrimp in my mouth. Maybe staying here won’t be so bad.
“Oh man, Sakura-hime and Miki don’t know what they are missing!” Romi said aloud.
“We can just save them some in containers,” Isaac pointed out.
“Just got to be careful not to eat it up from them,” Cassius replied. “You know how Miki gets when her food gets eaten up from her.”
“It’s worse when it’s Yumi’s cooking,” Akemi said. The roommates broke into laughter.
Chapter Seven: Sakura-hime:
After dinner, everyone cleaned up and scattered throughout the house. I went back to my room to study again. They tried to invite me down to play some games. I refused, of course.
“I have to study,” I told them. Akemi mocked me under her breath.
“I have to study,” she muttered. I pretended not to hear her of course. I just went back to my room and got right to work. About ten o’clock, I started to doze off. I didn’t even bother fighting it off. I just went into the bathroom and changed for bed. Afterwards, I brushed my teeth and went to bed.
Around midnight, I felt fingers caressing my neck as I slept. I trembled at the sensation. Soft kisses landed on my neck as well.
“Mmmm,” I mumbled, “Hitomi-chan…” The kisses soon grew into nibbles. I shifted a bit in bed.
“Mmmm…” I mumbled again. But then, someone tried to lift my shirt. I slowly opened my eyes and saw a woman lying on top of me. She had her hands on my pants, trying to take them off. The shock took a little while to reach my brain.
“What the?!?” I shouted. She put her hand over my mouth.
“Shhh,” she whispered, “It’s okay, It’s okay.” I looked at her with big eyes. I don’t think I’ve even seen a face look that elegant before in my life. She reminded me of a geisha in a creepy sense at the moment. Those violet eyes of hers burned a hole through my soul and heart. Escape looked impossible from her. Her deep red lips lowered themselves down to kiss me. My eyes widened in a panic. I shoved her next to me.
“Get off!” I yelled. The woman looked up at him, still wanting another go at me.
“What’s wrong, baby?” she whispered. I reached for my glasses above my bed and put them on. This woman pouted at me now.
“I won’t bite,” she whispered as she tried to embrace me again. I shoved her off.
“I don’t even know you,” I hissed. “How did you even get in my room?” The woman blinked at me.
“So, you’re not Isaac?” she asked.
“No!” I shouted. Suddenly, the lights cut on in my room. We looked up to see Sunao looking in with a scowl on his face.
“What the hell is going on in here?!?” he snapped. The woman tried to grab onto me.
“I found my new lover!” she declared. I pushed her off again.
“Get off,” I muttered. “This crazy woman broke in my room and tried to molest me!” Sunao narrowed his eyes at us.
“Didn’t Cassius tell you lock your door at night?” he asked.
“What’s going on?” Akemi asked as she, Romi, and Cassius walked to my door. My sister looked up and saw the other woman.
“Sakura-hime!” she yelled. “What are you doing to my brother?!?” The woman blinked at her.
“Wait,” she said. “This is your brother?”
“Yes!” Akemi and I shouted. Sakura-hime, as I already that was her name, placed her hand on her forehead.
“Oh, my bad!” she said. “I really thought you were Isaac! Sorry!” Cassius had to hold Nee-san back as she glared at the other woman.
“Uh… listen, Sakura-hime,” I said, “Could you please get off my bed?” She turned her attention to me.
“Huh?” she asked.
“Get off my bed,” I repeated. I gave her a little nudge as a hint. Sakura-hime looked down at my arm.
“Oh,” she muttered. “Sorry.” The crazy woman climbed off of my bed and stood next to it. Once Akemi calmed down enough, she cleared her throat.
“Anyway as you have guessed, this is Sakura-hime,” she told me, “Saku, this my baby brother, Kichiro.” Sakura-hime turned to me with a cat-like grin.
“Hi!” she said. I frowned and waved at her back.
“Hi…” I mumbled to her. Cassius sighed and gave me a face palm.
“I told you to lock your door at night,” he said.
“I was too tired,” I replied, “Plus you never told me why.”
“Sakura-hime gets a little flirty and handsy when she comes in drunk,” Sunao explained. My face just dropped.
“Oh…” I mumbled. Sakura-hime hugged on me again.
“Oh, where’s my Isaac-kun?” she whimpered.
“Asleep, like you should be!” Romi said. “In your own bed!” Sakura-hime pouted at her.
“Aw, Romi-chan! You’re no fun!” she whimpered. I tried to push the drunk woman off of me again. Sunao walked over and pried her off of me.
“Come on,” he said, “Let’s get you to bed.”
“No!” Sakura-hime whimpered. “I want Isaac-kun!”
“You’ll get to see him in the morning, now come on already,” Sunao said with gritted teeth. He dragged the drunk woman away to her room. The others and I watched as they disappeared out the door. My sister and Romi followed behind back to their rooms. Cassius turned to me.
“Anything else?” he asked. I shook my head at him.
“No,” I said, “I’m good. Really, I am.” Cassius gave me a shrug.
“Okay then,” he said. He turned to walk out of the room.
“Cassius,” I said aloud to him. He turned his head and looked at me.
“Yes?” he asked. I crawled under the sheets and pulled them to my shoulders.
“Could you turn off the light on your way out?” I asked.
“Sure, man,” he said. I waited until the light was off and he shut the door. I leapt out of bed as fast as I could and locked the door. I climbed back into bed and exhaled. That should stop more molestation attempts in the night. I took off my glasses and put them back in the case.
I hope so, at least…
I shut my eyes and did my best to try and go back to sleep.
Chapter Eight: Ego Guro-hime:
I don’t actually know how to begin this. This was just my shrink’s idea. Well… My name is Fukui Hitomi and I’m pretty much am fucked up. I don’t how this happened to me. Why do we turn out like this? I used to have big hopes for myself, but then they just quietly died away. I still hold onto one hope, however. There is this one guy I want to see again before I go to college. I feel that he’s the only best friend that I’ve ever had. Some people were nice, but only he meant it. If I could only see him once more…
I sighed and hit stop on my walkman. Even back then, Hitomi never said what was on her mind. She always smiled, even when she was in pain. I never really understood her at times.
“Why do you always smile?” I asked her one day in the fourth grade. She shrugged her shoulders at me.
“It’s all I can do,” she admitted. I didn’t understand her then and I still don’t. I don’t even think I can even bring myself to finish these tapes, not now at least. I shut my eyes.
Why did your mom give these to me? Why? Why?
I suddenly became aware of someone sitting on my bed next to me. I glanced up to see Sakura-hime looking down at me. I stared at her, blinking.
“What the?!?” I asked. She had a stoic look on her face.
“Morning,” she mumbled.
“Uh… why are you on my bed?” I asked.
“To apologize,” Sakura-hime said somberly. I blinked at her.
“Uh…” I mumbled. She looked over at Hitomi’s journal beside me and saw her picture.
“Who is she?” she asked, “Your girlfriend?” I shook my head at her.
“No,” I said, “She’s just a friend.” Sakura-hime looked at the picture while smacking her gum.
“Ah,” she said, “She’s pretty.”
“She’s dead,” I told her. That lady looked at me rather perplexed.
“Oh,” she said, “How did she die?” I sat up straight at that question.
“What?” I asked, stunned.
“How did your friend die?” Sakura-hime asked again. I tilted my head at her, hoping that I heard her wrong.
“Are you asking how my friend died?” I asked.
“Yes!” she said, pushing me. I blinked at her with big eyes.
“Why?” I asked.
“Cause I want to know,” Sakura-hime said, just inches from my face, “Now tell me, how did this friend of yours die?”
“Suicide,” I said at last.
“How?” she asked, “Hanging? Overdose? Slit her wrists?” I frowned at her enthusiasm at such morbid questions.
“She gassed herself to death in the family car,” I replied. I could’ve sworn that Sakura-hime looked like a little girl who had just woken up to see a mountain under the tree on Christmas morning.
“Wow!” she said, “Why did she do it?” I backed away from the crazy woman.
“I don’t know,” I said, “Her mom didn’t tell me. Why do you keep asking me all of these questions?” Sakura-hime backed up with a smile on her face.
“You’ll have to excuse me,” she said, “I find suicide and death to be quite arousing at times.” I tilted my head at her.
“Uh-huh…” I mumbled. Sakura-hime gave me an innocent little pout.
“Oh, come on,” she said, “I’m not going to try and molest you. I already apologized. What more do you want from me?” I nodded at her rather uneasily.
“Right…” I mumbled. I bolted out of bed and dashed across the hall to the bathroom.
“Tell me you find out why your friend killed herself, okay?” Sakura-hime shouted from the room. That only propelled me to run faster. I raced into the bathroom and slammed the door behind me, panting.
That woman… She’s just nuts! I decided to do my best not to be alone with Sakura-hime as much as possible.
Chapter Nine: Out in Hiroshima:
I looked up when I heard a knock on the bathroom door.
“Yes?” I asked.
“Kichiro?” I heard Isaac ask, “Is that you? Are you about done in there?”
“Uh… sure,” I said, “What’s the problem?”
“We’re going out now,” he said.
“What?” I asked.
“The boys and I are all going out,” he said, “And you’re coming too.” I looked rather confused by that declaration.
“But I still have to study,” I said in a mumble.
“Never mind that; let’s get going!” Isaac shouted, “Chop-chop!” He pounded on the door for emphasis. I dropped my shoulders and sighed.
“Fine, fine,” I mumbled, “I’ll be out in a moment.”
“We’ll be downstairs at the door,” he told me. I listened as Isaac walked away from the door. I sat there, assessing my options. Anywhere away from Sakura-hime sounded so good right now. I just needed to grab one thing.
I opened the door and peeked around the hallway. It looked clear so far, but that crazy woman could be lurking around. I needed to make this quick. I held my breath and counted down to three in my head. I dashed across the hall back to my room. Luckily, Sakura-hime was long gone. I didn’t want to think where see went. I pushed myself to focus on the task at hand. Just get Hitomi’s journal and your phone and get out, I thought. I hurried to my desk and retrieve both items. That was easy, now I just needed to get back out again.
I can do this, I thought. I timed myself like I did before and raced out the room into the hall. I didn’t stop moving until I made it down the stairs to Isaac, Cassius, Yusuke, and Sunao waiting at the front door. Yusuke gave me a strange look on his face.
“You’re all sweaty,” he pointed out.
“Yeah!” I answered with a pant.
“Why were you running?” Sunao asked. I shook my head at him.
“Never mind that,” Isaac cut in, “We have to get going.” I looked at him rather confused.
“Why? Where do we have to go?” I asked.
“You’ll see when we get there,” Isaac replied, “Let’s just go!” I found myself being pushed out the door with the rest of them. We all got into Isaac’s black van. I tried to piece together what was going on around me. Isaac looked at all of us through his rear view mirror.
“Everyone here?” he asked.
“Yes,” we replied.
“Everyone buckled up?” Isaac asked.
“Yes!” we said again.
“Good, now let’s split,” he said. He put his van into drive and pulled out. I looked around as we were driving along the highway.
“Uh… where are we going?” I whispered to Sunao beside me. I noticed the big smile on his face.
“We’re going into the city for the day,” he said.
“Okay…” I said, “Why?”
“To meet with some friends,” Cassius answered behind me, “They are putting on a show today.” I nodded in slight understanding.
“Ah,” I said, “But what about the girls?”
“Sorry, bro,” Isaac said, “This is an all-male’s day.” I blinked at his statement.
“Wha?” I asked.
“No chicks allowed,” Yusuke clarified.
“Any more questions?” Isaac asked.
“How long are we going to be out?” I asked.
“We’ll be back late, tops,” the driver told us. I gave him a rather curious look on my face.
“How late?” I asked. Isaac tried to do the math in his head.
“About midnight, maybe?” he asked. I tried to be polite about it; no point in complaining in a van anyway. I smiled and nodded at his answer.
“Fine, fine,” I said. Isaac looked at me through the rear view mirror.
“No,” I said, “I’m good.” He turned his attention back to the road while I pulled out Hitomi’s journal that I had hidden in my jacket. I turned to the first page and glanced over it. Most of the content was of lyrics from random Dir en Grey songs. Before we went to separate high schools, Hitomi practically sang praises about that band. I could never understand it and she took issue with it.
“How can you not like them?” she came that summer before school for the year. I shrugged as I watched her walk across the balance beam.
“They’re not my thing,” I answered, “I’m not into metal.” She pouted and jumped off the beam.
“You hurt me so badly in here,” Hitomi said as she put her hand to her chest.
“Aw,” I said, “I’m sorry.” She gave me a little pout.
“Hug me?” Hitomi whimpered. I gave her a rather goofy smile.
“Alright, come here,” I said. I hugged my friend and she smiled against my chest. That same goofy smile I had back then came on my face now as I read through funny stories about her life with me hidden in the Dir en Gray lyrics. Suddenly, I stopped cold when I discovered the first of many ugly truths that possibly led to her death when I read the first sentence hidden among the lyrics of “Embryo.”
Dan Toshio was my babies’ father.
That sentence alone made my heart stopped in my chest and sink. Leftover anger that I thought had left filled my chest and started to simmer. I never wanted to see that name ever again, but here I was reading in my dead friend’s diary. I began to grind my teeth as we drove down the highway.
Chapter Ten: Out of Control:
Isaac pulled up into a packed parking lot. I looked around outside the windows as the sun started to set.
“Why did we stop?” I asked.
“We’re here,” Isaac answered.
“Huh?” I asked, blinking. I turned my head to look out the windshield and found an old-looking building sitting in front of us. A puzzled look came over my face as bright colored light flashed from inside.
“That’s it?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Yusuke answered. I failed to see the meaning in any of this.
“So… we’re here now?” I asked.
“Of course,” Isaac said. “What did you think this was?
“Uh…” was all I could say. Isaac chuckled as he turned off the van and climbed out. I watched as the other guys followed suit. I’m not sure if I should be doing this, but I get out of the car and follow behind. As we walked up to the run-down night club, I reflected on the events of today up to this point. At ten o’clock, we pulled up at McDonalds and ordered an early lunch. So far, that was nice and normal. Somehow, things turned rather uncomfortable for me when we drove into an unmarked neighborhood. I looked out and saw nice-looking houses all in a row. This place looked like it came out of a housing catalog. I slowly shook my head.
“Uh… why are we here?” I asked. Isaac suddenly got out of the car.
“Wait right here,” he said.
“Where is he going?” I asked once he shut the door. The other guys grinning and snickering didn’t ease me one bit.
“Guys,” I spoke up, “What’s going on here?” Sunao patted me on the back.
“Isaac’s just getting us some supplies,” he answered. My eyes widened in such alarm.
“What supplies?” I asked. The laughing only made me worry. I looked around for a single straight face in the van. “Guys?” I asked. “Guys?” Isaac returned to the van with a bag brown paper bag filled with… something.
“Got it?” Cassius asked.
“Yep,” our driver answered, “All of it.”
“How much they charge this time?” Yusuke asked. Isaac did the math in his head.
“About 2,000 yen,” he replied.
“Sweet!” Sunao exclaimed. They all went too fast for me to understand. Wait, what? What? What the…? Huh? Isaac climbed into the van drove off. Unable to hold back my nerves, I tapped Yusuke in the arm with two fingers.
“Uh… what’s in the bag?” I whispered.
“Pot,” he said without missing a point. At first, I tried to laugh off his answer.
“I’m sorry,” I lied, “I thought you said pot.”
“I did,” Yusuke answered. All of the color drained from my face.
“What?” I asked.
“And we’ve got pills for tonight,” Isaac added. I frowned when he told me that.
“I presume not for medical uses, right?” I asked. The guys laughed around me.
“That’s a good one!” Cassius howled. I blinked at all them confused.
“What?” I asked. Isaac smiled and shook his head.
“You have so much to learn, my friend,” he said. “You have so much to learn.” We pretty drove around the city until we came to the club that we are at now. Inside looks like a typical rave. There were people about my age or older jumping and dancing along with the live band playing on the stage. Oh, by the way, Isaac and the guys are all friends with the band. In fact, we snuck around the back just to meet them. The lead singer, Ryo, greeted Isaac with a huge hug.
“Isaac, my man!” he said aloud. “How have you been?”
“Great,” his friend answered, “Missed ya so much!”
“How did you find us?” Ryo asked.
“Well, you know, on the campus, a couple little cuties were putting up flyers for Dragon Spike coming home to Hiroshima this weekend. I just had to see your ugly mug playing once more.”
“Who ya callin’ ugly, pal?” the lead singer asked.
“Come on now,” Isaac told him. “You have always looked like a beaten-up pug and you still do.” Ryo playfully punched him on the arm.
“Aw, shut up,” he said.
“Ryo and Isaac go way back,” Cassius told me as we went into the club part of the building. “They’ve been friends since junior high.”
“Ah,” I muttered. Right now, I sit at the bar drinking cream soda while everyone is probably drunk or high while they are partying. I am wondering why am I really here? I’m supposed to be studying for the entrance exam at Tokyo University and going to college. Instead, I’m in a strange world, kilometers away in Hiroshima in a dirty-looking club at the bar while everyone else is having a good time. I don’t belong here. Why am I even here?
Suddenly, I paused when I noticed a familiar face approaching the bar just inches away from me. Three men walked over for a drink. They looked like as Akemi would describe them as douche bags with their fancy cheap suits and sunglasses on their heads. Their leader dressed in black and red stood out to me. At first, I thought I was seeing things. What the…? Is that Dan Toshio? I blinked several times. Shock overtook me as I realized who exactly I was looking at.
It’s him! It didn’t take long for the anger of seeing his face to take over. Without clearly thinking, I decided to make good on my own promise to hurt him. I finished my drink and walked over to that pompous jerk.
Chapter Eleven: Dog Fight:
I sat in a Kobe-style steakhouse at two in the morning. I glared at the wall with a black eye and sore jaw. The right lens in my glasses was cracked, but I still burned with rage and confusion. Cassius patted me on the shoulder.
“What would possess you to act like that, man?” he asked. I gritted my teeth in a vain attempt to calm myself down.
-Earlier that Night-
That asshole, Dan Toshio, looked up and saw me storming over to him. He raised an eyebrow at me.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“Do you know who I am?” I demanded. That bastard smirked as he played with his glass.
“Should I?” he asked.
“Does the name Hitomi ring a bell?” I hissed.
“Sorry pal,” he said. “There are so many girls named Hitomi in this country.” His tone made my blood burn. This creep hadn’t changed at all since I last saw him four years ago. He treated my dear friend like crap. This man cheated on her constantly and practically ignored her when she needed him most. When got pregnant by him, he acted like he wasn’t the father. Hitomi ended having an abortion by stealing money from her mother. She still chased after him even after their break-up. I should’ve taken it as a clue when he was twenty-one and she was fourteen at the time. I tried to talk her out of that sham of a relationship, but she wouldn’t listen. I folded my arms across my chest.
“Nagisa!” I barked. “Nagisa Hitomi!” Dan pretended not to know what I was talking about at first. He choked back a small laugh.
“Oh, that stupid whore,” he said.
“That ‘stupid whore’ was my best friend!” I barked. He tilted his head with a puzzled look on his face.
“What do you mean was?” he asked. “Did you get in a fight or something?”
“She’s dead!” I snapped. Hearing his voice made me want to scream. I’m not a violent person, but the more I stared at his ape-like face, the more I wanted to punch him. What the hell did Hitomi-chan see in him in the first place? He’s got no job and sponges off of other women. The asshole in red took a drink and shrugged at me.
“Oh,” he said. “Did she kill herself?” My self control began to chip away at that question.
“Yes, in fact she did!” I raised my voice at him.
“And you’re telling me this because?” Dan asked without a care in the world.
“She loved you, you know?” I asked. “I don’t understand why, but she really loved you!”
“She was screwed up in the head,” Dan argued.
“You made her that way!” I shouted over the music on stage.
“Not my fault that she couldn’t face reality,” he brushed off. This asshole really worked my nerve like he did back then. I hated everything about him tonight—his suit, his hair, his voice, his smirk. I just wanted to punch in the face so badly.
“You don’t get it, do you?” I asked.
“Get what?” Dan asked. He squinted his eyes at me as a light blue light flashed over me. “Oh, you’re that little nerdy boy that always tagged along with that skank!” he exclaimed.
“Stop disrespecting her!” I screamed.
“Why?” that creep asked. “She’s dead, that slut can’t hear me!”
“Call her that again…” I hissed. The punk rock music in the background pumped me to boiling over. I used to stand by quiet when this guy came around my dear friend. I admit to only beating him up in my head, but tonight made me snap. Dan’s laughter only made it sting worse.
“Or what?” he challenged me. “You’ll go crying to your dead skank?”
“You!” I screamed as I felt my face burning red. I raced forward with my fist in the arm and clocked him right in the left eye. Dan the asshole fell off his bar stool and hit his head against another one. I stood with my hands on my hips, grinning as he sat up, rubbing his head.
“Ow,” he mumbled. He looked up at me with violence in his eyes.
“You little shit!” that cheap bastard yelled in rage. He rushed forward and took a swing at me. I slid out of the way and punched him in the stomach. Dan hurled into a ball at my feet. I didn’t expect to get such a rush from living out one of my reoccurring dreams about this asshole. However, my power trip came to a grinding halt when I remembered that he had two of his boys with him. It didn’t occur to me when they stormed over to me and Dan. Their shadows swallowed me under the colored lights.
One punch and I fell to the floor. It would’ve gotten worse if Isaac hadn’t rushed over and grabbed me just in time.
“Break it up!” Cassius shouted as he stood between Dan’s friends and me.
“You’ve done enough, let’s go!” Yusuke shouted behind me. I didn’t go quietly, instead I tried to fight off Isaac’s grasp and run back to Dan steadying himself against the bar.
“Cool, lil’ dude!” Isaac shouted in my ear.
“Let me at him!” I screamed. “This man knocked up my friend again and drove to suicide!” I slowed my struggling when I heard him laughing.
“You think I caused your friend’s death?” he asked as he stood up straight.
“Yes!” I snapped. He threw back his head in roaring laugher over the closing number of the show.
“You are too funny,” he said in a mocking tone that made my ears burn. “But seriously, I had nothing to do with her death. That skank I had long broken up before she died. I doubt kid was even mine! I always used a condom! She probably some other dude and got pregnant again!” I pushed away from Isaac again with my fist in the air.
“Liar!” I shouted as I charged towards him. Isaac seized me just I got close enough to punch Dan again and dragged me out of the club with the other guys in other following behind out of the club.
I glanced behind me at Cassius at our table. He gave me a grim look as he shook his head at me.
“What did you have to go and do all of that for?” he asked in a low voice. I turned back to the entrance, glaring.
“He just deserved to be punched,” I muttered. I don’t regret saying that out loud either.
Chapter Twelve: I Want to be Alone:
We made it back to the house about seven in the morning. The guys didn’t speak to me for the whole ride home. I just wanted to be alone at this point. I had the feeling that the guys sensed that from me as well. I had my knees to my chest, looking down at the floor. I replayed the whole fight in my head just like I did at the steakhouse. Despite all of that, I still had more questions than answers. If Dan wasn’t the reason Hitomi killed herself, then what happened?
The girls stood outside of the house waiting for us. Akemi’s face went pale when she saw the bruises on mine.
“What the hell happened?!” she demanded to know.
“Leave me alone,” I muttered as I walked by her.
“I won’t leave you alone!” she shouted. “Tell me what happened right now!” The only response I gave was the door slamming behind me. I dragged myself up the stairs to my room. Hitomi, why didn’t you say anything? I flopped back on my bed. The ceiling looked like an endless black hole this morning. I reached up in vain to grab it. I was right here, I thought. You could’ve told me something.
My mind went back to that day by the creek. She could’ve said something there, but we didn’t talk. I could’ve asked her again what was wrong, but I kept my mouth shut. She would’ve lied anyway. We didn’t speak that die, but I wonder if anything would’ve been different if either one of us had said something.
I reached under my bed and drew out the walkman. After looking through Hitomi’s tapes, I selected a random one, put it in, and hit play.
July 23rd, 2004.
When I was a little girl, I loved to catch frogs down by the creek. My mom made me throw them back and wash my hands. They were just so cute. I used to put them in the small pond in grandma’s front yard and just watch them swim. For just once, I want a frog for a pet. Everything in my room used to be filled with Kerokerokeroppi. Keroppi sheets, Keroppi pajamas, Keroppi slippers, Keroppi backpack, my school supplies were Keroppi, most of my clothes were Keroppi, I even had a Keroppi toothbrush. –She laughs on the tape-
My mom got so sick of buying Keroppi at one point. “Don’t you want anything else?” she asked. I laughed and said no at the top of my lungs. She only sighed and shook her head. I still have my big stuffed Keroppi daddy bought for my birthday before he left us. I remember that summer I showed Kichiro-kun my “pets” at grandma’s house. I had never heard a boy scream like a girl in my life.
I remember that summer really well. She shoved a frog right in my face. Of course, I screamed. I didn’t expect it to be within inches of my face like that. You would scream to if beady little eyes were staring right into yours. I smiled to myself through the pain of my face. That was one of the best summers in my life. However, sorrow crept up in my gut as I remembered the recent events. Why didn’t you say something before you killed yourself? A knock came on my door. I pressed stop and looked up.
“What?” I asked.
“You okay in there?” Akemi asked. I sighed and rolled my eyes.
“Yeah,” I replied. “Can I please be alone for little while?”
“Tell me who hit you,” she demanded. I rolled over on my side.
“Go away, please?” I asked. “I’m too tired for this. Just leave me alone.”
“I will whoop the ass of whoever did this to you,” she said. “You know that, right?”
“Yes!” I shouted. “Now can you just go away?”
“Alright,” Akemi replied. I didn’t even lift my head when her footsteps echoed away from my door. I held the walkman near my chest as I drew my pillow over my head. I just want to be alone, I thought. I drew my eyes closed in an attempt to finally go to sleep.
Chapter Thirteen: Queen Miki:
On Sunday, I awoke to a loud surprise. I nearly fell out of bed when I heard pounding on the door.
“What the?!” I screamed. I grabbed my sheets to break my fall.
“Get up!” Akemi yelled. “Miki’s here!” I tilted my head, confused.
“Miki?” I asked.
“Yes!” my sister shouted. “Now get moving!”
“Okay, okay,” I said. I climbed out of bed and gathered up my towels. “Wait, why are we rushing around again?” I ask. Akemi groaned and rolled her eyes.
“Miki’s coming home!” she shouted.
“I get that,” I said. “But what’s the big deal?”
“What’s the big deal?!” my sister repeated. “What’s the big deal?! It’s Miki!”
“So?” I asked. “Is she famous or something?”
“You can say that,” Akemi said. “Now get going!”
“Okay, okay!” I said. “I’m going! I’m going!” I walked all the way to the bathroom. My sister clapped her hands behind me.
“Hurry up!” she shouted.
“Okay!” I yelled. I slammed door in an attempt to drown her out.
I made it down to the front door twenty minutes later. Everyone stood by waiting. Yusuke and Isaac held up a small “welcome home” banner. I glanced around, still unable to get what was about to unfold here.
“Is it really that big of a deal?” I whispered in Cassius’ ear.
“She’s worked for years to get into that gallery,” he explained. “We all supported her up to this point.”
“Oh…” I mumbled. Suddenly, we all looked up when we heard the door unlocking. A woman about in her late twenties walked in mumbling to herself.
“Welcome home!” the others greeted her. The long black-haired woman looked at each one of them with a sharp glare through her glasses. Her eyes rested on me.
“Who’s this?” she asked. Akemi stepped forward.
“He’s my brother, Kichiro,” she explained. “I told you about him over the phone last night, remember?” The other woman frowned at me as she narrowed her eyes. I glanced around as if trying to find an escape.
“Is that so?” she asked.
“Yes,” Akemi told her.
“Oh,” the woman said before walking past the welcoming party and up the stairs. I gave her back a puzzled look.
“What’s wrong with her?” I asked.
“She’s just tired,” Romi explained. “Let her sleep it off until dinner.”
“Right…” I mumbled.
Around dinnertime, that same woman returned. This time, she looked a little bit better. Romi clapped her hands together.
“Miki-chan, so nice of you to come back!” she asked. The woman with the black-framed glasses eyes us all.
“Who’s cooking tonight?” she asked.
“Cassius,” Sunao answered.
“Good,” she said. Miki took a seat across from me. “So this is the new guy, huh?”
“More or less,” Isaac said.
“I’m studying to get into Todai,” I answered.
“Cute,” Miki brushed off. The curls in her hair made it look like a cape. I had never seen a woman with such a round face before. Earlier, Miki was frowning, but now I can’t tell if she’s still frowning or slightly smiling. Something about her said, “I am the queen of this palace and you are in my castle! Deal with it!” Looking at her made me feel like I was shrinking in her presence.
“So what made you come here in the first place?” she asked.
“His little friend died!” Sakura-hime blurted out. “She committed suicide!” Romi quickly pinched her on the ankle.
“Ow!” the wilder woman yelped.
“Stop being a cunt,” Romi hissed under her breath.
“Bitch,” Sakura-hime hissed back.
“Sorry to hear that,” Miki addressed me.
“It’s okay, I’m fine, really,” I replied.
“So how the exhibition?” Yusuke cut in. Miki pushed up her glasses.
“Slightly boring, but it was successful,” she said.
“What type of art do you do?” I asked. The reserved woman that I believed her to be flashed me a wild grin.
“Modern art with the body,” she replied. Something about her tone with that answer made me sweat.
“What kind of modern art with the body?” I asked, not liking where this could be headed. Her face came within inches of mine with that grin of hers.
“Why do you come model for me and see?” she asked in a low voice that made me want to run out of the room screaming.
“Uh…” was all that I could say. Akemi quickly put up her hand between us.
“Back off, bitch!” she barked. “You lay a hand on my little brother and I’ll kill you!” Her words sounded threatening, but her tone suggested that she was half-joking. Miki puffed up her bangs as she sat back in place.
“I was only joking,” she said. I wanted to believe her, but something in my stomach told me she was lying. The tense broke up when someone cleared their throat at us. We looked up to see Cassius standing in the kitchen doorway with a big spoon in his hand. I had to admit, he looked good in a bright pink apron.
“Dinner’s ready,” he said. Miki flashed a huge angelic smile as she clapped her hands together.
“Wonderful!” she said. “I missed your cooking, Cassius-tan.”
“I’m flattered, Honey,” he said.
“Well, aren’t you truly delightful?” Miki asked. Her smile reminded me of the Cheshire Cat from Alice and Wonderland. Heh, Alice and Wonderland, that sums up this house completely.
Chapter Fourteen: Making Sense:
I have been at this house for close to a week and a half now. My sister’s friends treat me as one of their own now. To tell you the truth, I don’t know how long I’m supposed to stay here. Akemi has yet to tell when I’m going home and I doubt that she ever will. I rolled over on my stomach in my bed. Heh, “my” bed. It still doesn’t feel like home just yet.
I still don’t know why Hitomi killed herself. I haven’t even finished her tapes and journal. One would think they would know their friends really well. There is still so much I don’t know about Hitomi. I never even figured out why she called me out there that day. Why would she call me of all people? We weren’t that close by that time. I should have tried to talk to her then. Maybe try and make sense of everything. The more I try, the more I get confused.
I reached under my bed for Hitomi’s journal. My hand ran along the plastic green cover. Looking at it gave me even more questions in my head. Why would her mother give me Hitomi’s journal and tapes? I didn’t even go to the funeral. Her mother just showed up my front door afterwards and handed it to me.
“Please take them, my daughter would’ve wanted you to have them,” was all she told me. Before I could ask, she walked into her car and drove off. Honestly, I didn’t know what to do with the box at first. Throwing it away would be heartless, but I didn’t have any use for it either. It pretty much ended up stashed in room until Akemi came and took me away. I turned the journal around in my hand.
Well, might as well read more since I can’t sleep. I opened the journal on where I last stopped and began reading.
Sometimes, I look up at the skies and see the birds. I almost envy them in a way. They can just fly away wherever they want. Birds are free. Some people are free too. Kichiro-kun is like a bird. One day, he’ll fly away to Tokyo and go around the world. He’ll probably be a doctor in America or a professor in Europe. Kichiro-kun’s smart enough to do it. I believe in him.
I didn’t know what to say. Hitomi clearly thought highly of me. I didn’t understand why, though. I’m not really anyone special. I just studied hard like I was supposed to. I wasn’t good at sports or very popular. Yet, Hitomi stuck by me and never explained why. I tried to ask her when we were in grade school together. She gave me a huge grin.
“You are so cool!” Hitomi shouted on the playground. Even back then, I thought she was weird. Remembering all of that made me read more in the entry.
I am nothing like Kichiro-kun. I am not a bird. I will never fly away. I’m not too smart. Kichiro-kun surpasses me in every way. In my eyes, he is divine. I can never compete with that. My best friend is truly divine.
I shook my head. Hitomi, you think too highly of me, I thought. Some of the pages in her journal go on and on about how great I am. I still don’t know why she liked so much. Her friendship didn’t make much sense to me. I guess we didn’t really want to be so lonely. We were just two socially awkward little kids who just found each other and just hung around because we didn’t have any other friends. After we lost touch, I didn’t really make any new friends. Instead, I hit the books and studied throughout high school.
Looking through these pages, I see that Hitomi didn’t really have many friends either. She might have locked herself away in her room as they say. However, I don’t really read any evidence of that sort of thing. I believe that I need to know more about Hitomi. I was about to turn the page when there was a knock on my bedroom door. I slid the journal back under my book.
“Yes?” I asked.
“Kichiro-kun,” I heard a groggy voice mumble. “Are you awake yet?” I sat up in my bed, confused.
“Sakura-hime?” I asked.
“Can I come in?” she asked in a tiny voice. I bit on my lower lip.
“Why?” I asked.
“Please?” she whimpered.
“Go back to bed,” I grumbled.
“Please?” she begged again. I lay back in my bed.
“If I let you in will you go away?” I asked.
“Yes!” she said aloud. I sighed, putting my hand over my face.
“Fine, come in,” I said. Sakura-hime tried to open the door.
“It’s locked,” she complained. I rolled my eyes.
“Hang on,” I told her. I climbed out of bed and unlocked the bedroom door. Sakura-hime looked inside, pouting.
“Thank you so much,” she whispered.
“Whatever,” I mumbled. She walked straight past me into my room. I shook my head as I closed the door behind us.
Chapter Fifteen: Needy:
Nothing about Sakura-hime impresses me. Tonight, she has on a bright red baby doll showing off her cleavage. I try not to look down her gown. I don’t understand why she’s in my room right now.
“What do you want?” I asked, facing the wall. Sakura-hime put her arm around my body. Her hot breath on ear made me cringe.
“I need you,” she whispered. I pushed her off.
“Why?” I asked. I glanced out of the corner of my eye to see her pouting at me. She rested her head against my back.
“I don’t know,” Sakura-hime said.
“You don’t know?” I repeated.
“Hm,” she mumbled. I sneered at the direction that this could possibly go.
“Why did you come to me?” I asked again. Sakura-hime shrugged against my body.
“You are just so cute,” she whispered. It’s taking my all not to push her out of my bed. What the hell does she want with me? I hold my tongue from anything nasty that I am tempted to say.
“That’s nice,” I mumbled. Sakura-hime pulled me closer to her body.
“Tell me more about Hitomi,” she whispered. “What was she like?” I narrowed my eyes in the darkness. This isn’t going to end, is it? Oh well, might as well humor her until she finally decides to leave. I used my shoulders to try and push her off.
“I barely know her,” I answered.
“Why not?” Sakura-hime asked.
“We lost touch with each other after junior high.”
“Why is that?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “It just happened like that.” My eyes trailed upwards to the ceiling. “She’s thinks too highly of me, though.”
“Why do you say that?”
I shrugged under her arms. “I’m not anyone special. I’m just… me.”
“Is that a problem?”
I struggled to answer that question. I hated to admit it, but Sakura-hime was starting to sound like Hitomi. Both of them seem like damaged girls. I don’t know much about them, but they both seem pretty weird too. Hitomi had that obsession with frogs while Sakura-hime is obsessed with ero guro and death. I shuddered thinking about the last thought.
“Something the matter?” I heard Sakura-hime asked in my ear. I quickly shook my head.
“Nothing,” I lied. “It’s nothing at all. Just…” I turned the words over and over in my mouth. It felt bad to say this out loud, but something in me wouldn’t stop. “You remind me of her in a way.”
“Oh, I do?” Sakura-hime asked. I nodded, pressing my lips together.
“You both are kind of weird, but I don’t really know anything about you,” I admitted. “Her mother left me her journal and tapes and I still don’t know anything about Hitomi.” Sakura-hime’s fingers crept down my back.
“Why would you want to do that?” she asked. I looked down at the sheets covering our bodies.
“I don’t know,” I answered out of honesty. “Maybe I would have some answer to why she died and what she saw in me as a friend.”
“And why would you want to know all of that?” she asked again. I gave her a strange look.
“What’s with all of these questions?” I asked. “Why are you so interested in me and why are you so interested how my friend died? Sakura-hime pulled me in a desperate embrace.
“I think I’ve fallen for you,” she confessed in a whisper. I looked at her with big, panicked eyes.
“What?!” I whispered. She looked straight in the eyes. I hoped that she would say that she was only joking. Sakura-hime gave me a small, sad smile.
“I mean it,” she said. “I think I really like you.” By now, I don’t know how to handle this. I push myself out of her grasp.
“I’ve got to go to bathroom!” I said quickly. I crawled out of bed and raced out of the room. I closed the bathroom door and locked it behind me, panting. What the hell was that all about?
Chapter Sixteen: Complication:
I paused when I heard two people talking outside. Curious, I pressed my ears against the door. I recognized who was talking.
That sounds like Akemi and Sakura-hime, I thought.
“What were you doing in my brother’s room?” Akemi asked.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Sakura-hime said.
“So you went to my brother’s room?! Isn’t Isaac enough for you?! You have to go after my brother too?!”
“I didn’t do anything to him.”
“Yeah, yet! I know how you are!”
“I won’t do anything to him, I swear!”
My sister snorted at her. “Liar!”
“I’m telling you the truth, I promise I won’t do anything to him.”
“No better not jerk him around! If you ruin him, I will kill you.”
“I’m fucking serious here!”
“Okay! Geez, calm down.”<
I waited until I heard footsteps to open the bathroom door. Akemi looked up at me in the hallway.
“Oh, how long have you been in there?” she asked.
“Not long,” I said. I noticed her staring me down. “What?” I asked. Akemi grabbed me by the shoulders.
“Tell me right now!” she demanded. “Did Sakura-hime try to do anything to you? Anything at all?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head. Akemi breathed out a sigh as she let go of my shoulders.
“Good,” she said. “Listen, Sakura-hime isn’t exactly right in the head.”
“I kind of figured that,” I muttered to myself.
“No, I mean she’s really not well,” Akemi insisted. I looked at her with a puzzled look on my face.
“Okay…” I muttered. She grabbed onto my shoulder again.
“Look I know you are grown and all, so I won’t tell you not to be around Sakura-hime,” she said. “Just be careful around her, okay?”
“Alright,” I said.
“Thanks, bro,” Akemi said, letting go of my shoulders. She turned and walked back to her room. I tilted my head, puzzled at what just happened here. Sakura-hime says that she likes me and my sister is worried about her doing something to me. I don’t understand the whole concept about either one. I shook my head to myself. Maybe I’m over-thinking things here. I need to sleep. I walked back to my room.
The next morning, I wandered down to the dining room. Everyone sat at the table eating. At first, it didn’t look out of the ordinary. Soon, it donned on me that no one was saying a single word. In fact, they were all staring at me, all of them, except for Sakura-hime. She kept her eyes down in her bowl. I looked at all of them, trying to piece together what was going on.
“Good morning…” I said in a soft voice. Nobody spoke a single word of response to me. Okay then… I took a seat at the table. The others didn’t look at me at the table. Silence doesn’t work well with this bunch. My eyes trailed over to Akemi. She wasn’t much help as she gave me an “I warned you” look. I lowered my eyes towards the table. I need a way to fix this and fast. Right now, I got a bowl and chopsticks to eat breakfast. Maybe I can think of something while I eat this leftover fried rice Cassius made last night.
Chapter Seventeen: The Truth about Sakura-hime:
After breakfast, Akemi took hold of my shoulder and took me to the backyard.
“Akemi?” I asked. “Where are you taking me?” My sister didn’t answer me until we went out the door. The gray clouds in the sky indicated that it might rain later. I looked around puzzled.
“Why are we out here?” I asked.
“Close the door,” she told me. I slid the glass door open.
“Come over here,” Akemi ordered me. I tilted my head at her.
“What is this?” I asked.
“Come over here,” my sister repeated. I lowered my shoulders and walked over beside her.
“Now what’s this about?” I asked.
“What do you think of Sakura-hime?” Akemi asked without looking at me. A puzzled look came over my face.
“What?” I asked.
“Answer the question,” she said in a sharp tone. I dug in my mind for the right answer.
“Well…” I began. “She’s kind of like Hitomi in a way.” I tried to see where this was going. “Why?” I asked.
“She’s a sick woman,” my sister answered abruptly. I still didn’t seem to get it.
“Sick? What do you mean? Is she dying?” I asked. Akemi shook her head.
“Not sick in that way,” she said. “Kind of not right in the head, do you know what I mean?”
“I guess…” I said. “Where is this going?” She rested her hand on my shoulder.
“Do you really like her?” she asked. I shook my head, still confused.
“Not really,” I answered. “Why are you asking me this?”
“This is going to take a little bit,” Akemi said. “Can you handle it?”
“Where are you going with this?” I asked.
“Can you handle it?!” my sister demanded. I put up my hands at the sound of her tone.
“Okay, okay, yes,” I answered. Akemi took in a deep breath.
“Good,” she said. She pulled me in closer. “Sakura-hime is… rather fragile.”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you know why she’s here?”
“She ran away from home.”
I gave her a strange look. “What?”
“Her father… he was such a lowlife creep. He didn’t see Sakura-hime so much as a daughter as he did with any other whore he paraded through the house.”
“Yeah. She couldn’t take it anymore so she ran away here.”
I made a face at my sister. “I don’t get it. Why are you telling me this?”
“Because she’s fragile,” Akemi answered.
“Okay, so?” I asked.
“You… how do I put this? You’re…” she began to say. I raised an eyebrow at her.
“What?” I asked.
“You’re kind of a damaged chick magnet,” she said.
“Damaged chick magnet?” I asked. Akemi gave me a small shrug.
“Face it,” she said. “Hitomi was a perfect example of damaged. When I saw her, I thought, ‘Yeah, she’s going to be suicidal in a few years.’” I frowned at her. Akemi waved me off when she noticed my face.
“Hey, that’s just what I thought,” she said. “Anyway, Sakura-hime just wants someone stable to latch onto. You are the type to be a shoulder to cry on.” I blinked at my sister.
“What are you saying?” I asked. Akemi turned around to face me with a serious look on her face.
“I’m saying, be careful around Sakura-hime,” she said. I watched as my sister turned and walked back into the house. I came away more confused than when we first came outside.
Okay then… I followed after Akemi back into the house.
Chapter Eighteen: I Don’t Understand:
I turned one of Hitomi’s tapes in my hand. The more I listen and read about her, the more I realize that I didn’t really know her. I keep replaying that day by the creek. She really wanted to tell me something. Hitomi wouldn’t have called me out there if she hadn’t. Then again, she didn’t tell me anything that day. I don’t think she would’ve told the truth either. Still, I can’t get that day out of my head for some reason.
I flopped back on my bed. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. I thought I was going to take the entrance exam for Todai by the end of summer. Akemi and her friends turned that upside down for me. I can’t focus anymore. I frowned as I rolled over on my stomach. It just feels pointless now. Still, I feel like I have to do something. That’s not the only problem I have either.
I shut my eyes in frustration. Why do I keep thinking about Sakura-hime? It’s not like I have a crush on her or anything. She’s too weird. I’m not even looking for a girlfriend right now. I froze at that thought. What did I want right now? I thought I knew, but it went away the second I arrived in Hiroshima. Nothing makes sense anymore.
I opened my eyes and sighed. What’s the point of asking myself these questions? I never seem to get anywhere doing this. Yet, this is all I can do for now. I turned the tape in my hand again. I don’t even know why I’m listening to the tapes or reading the diary anymore. It just got dumped on me by her mother. Why did she come to me? Hitomi and I weren’t that close anymore. I mean, she probably didn’t have many good friends, but still…
Don’t get me wrong, Akemi’s friends are interesting people. I just don’t fit in with them. They like to party and sleep around. I just study and be nerdy as they call it. I didn’t even know that I could fight until that night. Seeing Dan’s ugly face in my head again made me grit my teeth. That bastard! Thinking about him makes me want to punch him again. He’s part of the reason Hitomi messed up her life.
That thought grinded to a halt. He’s not the only one. There are others that drove her to death. I’m sure that I am one of them too. After all, we did drift apart after junior high. I didn’t call and check on her at least once. Yet, I’m not the only one either. I reached under my bed for her diary. I keep reading this and getting nowhere, but I don’t have anything else to do with it.
“Gah! What the hell do you all want from me?!” I shouted. A knock on the door followed my question.
“What is it?” I asked.
“It’s only me,” I heard Miki say. My frustration gave way to confusion.
“Yes?” I asked.
“I’m working on a new art project,” she said. “I’m going to need your help.” I tilted my eyes as I tried to form words to speak.
“Uh… why?” I asked.
“You’re new,” she said. Somehow, that answer sounds much worse.
“Can’t you help me?” Miki asked.
“Now?” I asked.
“Yes!” she shouted. I don’t really think I have a choice at this point. I slid off of the bed, shrugging.
“Alright,” I said at last. I pulled open the door to see Miki standing on the other side, grinning at me.
Chapter Nineteen: Art Project:
Miki led me down to the den of the house. I looked around the brightly lit room, confused.
“What kind of project is this?” I asked. Miki chuckled to herself.
“A new idea I came up with,” she answered. I tilted my head at her.
“What kind of new idea?” I asked.
“Do you have to ask questions?” she asked back.
“Well, Akemi already warned me about you…” I answered. Miki snorted at me.
“Do you always listen to what your sister says?” she asked.
“Not really,” I replied. “I mean, she was barely around for most of my life anyway…”
“There you go,” Miki cut in. She pushed open the sliding glass door as I tilted my head so puzzled. She turned around to me with her arms outstretched.
“Welcome to my studio,” she said. “I am artist, you are canvas. Take your clothes off.” My eyes grew big at her words.
“What?!” I shouted. Miki leaned in so close to my face.
“Take your clothes off,” she repeated.
“Why?!” I asked.
“Just do it!” she pushed. Miki pulled back with a little smile on her face. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I won’t do anything bad to you.” I still didn’t look certain about this.
“All of them?” I asked.
“Yes!” Miki insisted. “Now, hurry up!” I looked down at my clothes. I don’t think she’s going to let this go, I thought. I reached for my shirt and started to roll it up.
“Not out here,” Miki hissed. “Get into the studio!” I looked around to find that I was still in the living room.
“Oh,” I said in a low voice. Miki backed into the room to let me in. Once I had stripped down, she looked me up and down, smirking. My cheeks grew hot as I tried to look away.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” I asked.
“Good,” she murmured to herself. “This will work just fine.” I found my feet slowly backing away. Why does she look like she wants to pounce on me right now? It’s really scary! I shuddered, but tried to contain myself. Miki turned and walked over to what I believed was her supply closet. She pulled out a sheet of large paper on a roll over to where I stood.
“Lie down on the floor,” she said. I looked down at the paper at my feet. I lay down on the paper on my back. I wanted to ask her where this was going, but kept my mouth shut for I had the feeling that I wouldn’t get a straight answer anyway. Miki frowned as she studied me in a straight lying down position.
“Hm…” she said.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Shhh!” Miki hissed. Her eyes trailed down my whole body. She knelt down and missed my right arm up by my head. Next, my left arm went out. I tried to glance over, but she turned my head straight forward again. This feels weird, I thought. She’s so close to my body too. Wait, are those her boobs? She smells nice…
“Oh, what’s this?” Miki asked aloud at my stomach. “Am I arousing you?” I looked down at her.
“Huh?” I asked. My penis stood up, looking proud underneath Miki. My face turned bright red. She reached up and pushed my head back into place. She moved down to my legs. First, Miki bent my right leg to knee height. Finally, she bent my left leg slightly upwards and stood up. I lay there with a red face as she examined my body up and down. Her lips curved into a smile.
“Perfect,” she said. “Stay right there.” Miki walked away from me to the supply closet. She returned with paint and a brush in her hands. She knelt down over me and set up shop. The brush and paint came by my left ear. Shivers came down all over my body. Miki gently shushed me as she drew around my head.
“Shhh, just keep still and relax,” she said in a low voice. “I’ll let you know when you can talk.” I drew my mouth closed and stared at her. Miki gave me a satisfied smile.
“Very good,” she said in a low voice. The brush came down to my shoulder and then down my arm. I tried to think about something else. It’s kind of hard when you’re naked and there’s an older woman drawing an outline of you on paper with paint. My eyes focused on the skylight above. How long is this going to take?
“You can talk now,” Miki said as the brush came down to my side. I looked down at her.
“Huh?” I asked.
“Keep still,” she commanded. “I’m drawing here.”
“Oh, sorry,” I whispered. I lay my hand back down. Her brush went around my left leg.
“I’m curious about something, though,” Miki spoke up.
“What?” I asked.
“What exactly are you doing here?” she asked. The brush went down the length of my left foot.
“Akemi brought me down from Tokyo,” I answered.
“But why?” Miki asked. She dipped her brush for more paint.
“To be truthful,” I said. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” Miki asked. The brush went down my other leg. I shook my head.
“Akemi just showed up in the middle of the night, rushed me along to pack up, and drive me down here,” I said. The brush moved around my right hand.
“But why do you stay?” she asked. I frowned to myself in thought.
“I don’t really know,” I replied. The brush moved up to my hip. She painted a straight line to my right arm.
“So what do you plan to do now?” Miki asked.
“What’ s with all of these questions?” I asked.
“I just have to know,” she told me. “You don’t really fit in with us. You’re a good little nerdy post-high school boy. We are just a bunch of rag-tag scoundrels with nothing else to do with our lives than art and slumming. You, on the other hand, have the rest of your future ahead of you. Yet, here you are, slumming with the rest of us and I can’t help but wonder why.” I drew my mouth closed. Why was I here? I hoped to get so studying in, but I haven’t really done much of that. I haven’t even registered to take the entrance exam. Miki drew the triangle gap between my legs.
“Done,” she said. I lifted my head back on earth.
“You are?” I asked.
“Yep,” she said.
I pushed myself to sit up. “Can I look?”
“Not yet,” Miki told me. I raised an eyebrow at her.
“But why not?” I asked.
“It’s not finished yet,” she replied. I tilted my head at her.
“When will it be finished?” I asked. Miki turned to me with a grin on her face.
“I will let you know,” she answered. She smacked me on my thigh. “Now get dressed,” she told me. “Dinner’s going to be ready soon.” I watched her stand up and walk out of the room.
“Ow,” I muttered to myself as I rubbed on my thigh. Why did she have to hit me so hard?
Chapter Twenty: Puzzle Pieces:
Once I got dressed, I walked into the living room. To my surprise, I found Isaac, Cassius, Yusuke, and Sunao sitting around, eyeing me. I looked at them rather confused.
“Yes?” I asked. The smirking doesn’t look good. “What?” I asked, looking back and forth at them. They all leaned in close to my face.
“Guys?” I asked, backing away. “What is this?” They began snickering at me.
“She got you, didn’t she?” Isaac asked. I looked at him in a panic.
“What are you talking about?!” I asked. “Who got me?!” My eyes moved back and forth at the guys staring me down. Suddenly, they broke into hard laughter.
“What?” I asked, still not getting what was happening. Isaac patted me on the shoulder.
“My man,” he said. “Welcome to this house!” I blinked at him with big eyes.
“Huh?” I asked. Before I could grasp it, we all sat in the living room, talking. Isaac gave me a huge grin.
“You’re not the only one she asked to post naked for her art projects,” he said. A puzzled look came onto my face.
“I’m not?” I asked.
“No,” all the guys answered.
“She’s done it to us all,” Sunao added. My jaw dropped.
“Seriously?” I asked.
“Miki asked me to model for her, twice,” Isaac added.
“Damn,” I muttered to myself. Another thought crossed my mind while I envisioned all these guys posing nude for Miki as she worked on her art. “How did you all end up here?” I asked. I happened to look up and notice traces of nostalgia coming over their faces.
“It’s a funny story really,” Isaac began. “I had just dropped out of college in Kobe and was really bored. I had my art, but not much else going on for me. One day, one of my former professors gave me a pass to an art exhibit in Hiroshima. He told me that I could make easy money if I entered into the contest.” I made an odd face at him.
“That’s sounds rather shady,” I told him. Isaac put up his hands in a shrug.
“Hey, what could I say?” he asked. “I really needed the money at the time. Anyway, my artwork didn’t even place in the contest, but I noticed the woman who placed third. I had seen her name before in the campus newspaper, but I didn’t pay too much attention to it during my college days. However, that day I found myself rather curious.”
“This is where it gets good,” Sunao whispered in my ear.
“I heard there was going to be a party afterwards,” Isaac picked up with his story. So I snuck right into the hotel where it was held.” He shook his head. “Too fancy for my taste, I mean didn’t even dress up for it. I spent the night at the bar, drinking. I was about to leave when this sweet little miss sat next to me.
“‘I’m getting bored with that party,’ she complained. She happened to turn and face me. ‘Let me guess,’ she said. ‘You got bored too?’ I told her yeah. This sweet little miss took her glass she had in her hand and drank up. ‘Want to get out of here?’ she asked. I asked her if she was serious and she said yeah.” He stared dead-on at me. “And do you know who that artist was who won third place and talked to me at the bar that night?” he asked. I shook my head at him.
“No,” I answered. Isaac sat back in his chair, smiling.
“None other than Miki herself,” he answered. My jaw dropped as my eyes grew big.
“No way!” I said.
“Yes, way,” he said back.
“Then… how did you get this house?” I asked.
“Miki’s grandmother owned this house,” Isaac added. “When she died, Miki inherited it. I had nowhere else to go at the time, so I asked her if I could stay for a while. She said yes.” A sweat drop formed on my head. Why does that not surprise me?
“So how about the rest of you guys?” I asked.
“We all just came here one by one,” Cassius asked. “I came here after my boyfriend dumped me. I met Miki and Isaac at a coffee shop downtown.”
“We loved his photos,” Isaac said. “So, we invited him to stay with us.”
“I came here when I needed a place to stay while I went to school here,” Sunao told us.
“I was struggling with my music career,” Yusuke added.
“And they let you stay here?” I asked.
“That’s right,” he replied. I thought about all of their stories as I looked at them one by one.
“So that’s it?” I asked.
“Yeah,” the guys answered. I thought about all of their stories as I put them together in my head.
“Uh-huh…” I said. “What about the girls?”
“What about us?” someone asked behind us. We looked up to see Akemi, Sakura-hime, Miki, Yumi, and Romi staring back at us. Isaac put up his hands in a shrug.
“We were just giving Kichiro here a little back story here,” he said. “Care to join us? He was just asking about you.” Romi put up her hands in a shrug.
“Why not?” she asked. “We don’t have much to do right now anyway.” The girls joined us in the living room. Isaac looked at each one as they took their seats.
“So, who’s going first?” he asked.
“I will,” Miki answered. Isaac bowed his head with grace.
“Go ahead, malady,” he told her.
Chapter Twenty-One: A Girls’ Story:
Miki pressed her hands together.
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll cut out the boring part and cut to the fun part. I came to Hiroshima after my aunt’s death. She left me her house.” Miki sat back with a smile on her face. “I loved that crazy woman, got me into doing art,” she said. “It broke my heart when she died. Anyway, I inherited this house, but as you can see it was too big for me to live in alone. I don’t enjoy being alone too often.”
“She wanted some roommates to live with,” Isaac added.
“Thank you,” she said. “But I’m telling the story here.”
“My bad,” he said. “Continue.”
“I thank you for understand,” Miki told him. “So, I decided to look for some roommates. However, just anyone couldn’t live with me. I needed to feed off of art around me.” She put her hand on Isaac’s art.
“He was the first one I was drawn to,” Miki admitted.
“I just have that charm,” Isaac said.
“Don’t kid yourself, buddy,” Akemi told him.
“You know you want some of this,” he said. My sister stuck out her tongue at him.
“Anyway,” Yumi cut in. “I came along when my mother and I weren’t getting along so well. I ran away from home and met Miki and Isaac in a book store.”
“She looked so cute that I had to take her in,” Miki said. I gave her a puzzled look.
“Did she ask you to…?” I began to ask. Both girls broke into laughter.
“No, no, no,” Miki said. “I only do that for dudes.”
“I figured as much,” I mumbled to myself.
“I still talk to my mother,” Yumi said. “She’s come to accept that I am no longer a child and can make my own decisions.”
“She still has to see her from time to time,” Yusuke chimed in. She glared at him with eyes of poison.
“Shut up,” she murmured.
“Now, now,” Cassius said. “Less fighting, more talking.” Yumi and Yusuke snorted as they looked away from each other.
“Then, I came along next,” Romi said. “To be honest with you, I didn’t have much of a plan for my life. I was just going to college in Hiroshima at the same time Sunao here was.”
“We were in the same class together,” Sunao spoke up. “How crazy was that?”
“Very crazy…” I mumbled as my eyes trailed away from them.
“In fact, Sunao here was the one who told me about this place,” Romi continued. “I needed a place to stay and Miki and Isaac let me be part of their family.”
“I think I’m starting to see a pattern here,” I mumbled to myself.
“You better,” Akemi told me. I forced myself to smile at her statement. My mood changed as I looked at my sister.
“How did you come to live here?” I asked. Akemi sat back with a smile on her face.
“Well, I have been spending most of my time in the south of Japan, couch-surfing,” she answered. “I came here and couch-surfed with these guys and ended up staying here to this day.” I frowned at her answer. Why am I not surprised?
“I just stayed here because I could,” Sakura-hime said. “I just drifted around Hiroshima myself and ended up here.” That doesn’t surprise me either, I thought.
“Finally, I brought you here to live with us,” Akemi said to me. I gave her a blank look.
“Me?” I asked. “But I don’t really live here.”
“None of us really did,” Cassius replied. “We just ended up that way.”
“But… I’m trying to get into college,” I said.
“So are Yumi, Romi, and I,” Sunao pointed out. “We still are.” I looked at all of them with their eyes locked on me.
“Face it, kid,” Akemi told me. “You’re pretty much one of us now.” I didn’t know how to take all of this. I didn’t feel like any of them, but could I go back to my life in Tokyo. What was waiting for me there? My parents and Hitomi were dead. I already graduated from high school. Heck, I doubt that I still have my apartment anymore. Did I still want to go Todai around all of that time I tried to study for the exam? If not, what could I do? Where could I go? I have no money or means to get back to Tokyo.
I lowered my head. “I…” I said. “I just need a moment.” I stood up and quietly walked out of the living room.
“I think we might have scared him,” I heard Yumi say behind me.
“Nah, he’s a tough old boy,” Akemi said. “He can adjust just fine. Just give him some time.” I shook my head to myself. Oh, nee-san, I thought. Why do you and Hitomi think so highly of me? I am not as strong as you love to think I am. I closed my bedroom door behind me.
Chapter Twenty-Two: I Want to Be Alone:
I looked at another tape in my hand. I just played it and it just added to my self-doubt. Why does Hitomi put so much faith in me? I don’t understand it. I’m not that great. I still don’t know what I want to do. My eyes wandered over to the clock on the nightstand. It’s only one o’clock? I frowned to myself. This is getting me nowhere. I need to get out of here.
I walked over to my door and peeked out. I think they’re still downstairs in the living room. Maybe I can go out the back door without being seen. I probably could. I looked backed on my bed at the box of tapes and Hitomi’s journal. Somehow, it would be wise to take them with me. I stuffed them and my walkman in a bag I found under my bed and quietly crept out of my room.
Once down the stairs, I looked around while keeping my lips pressed together. They’re still in the living room as of right now. I looked down at the other end of the hall. Let’s see, the kitchen is that way and back door is right next to it. I have only one shot at this. I drew in a deep breath. Okay, I can do this, I thought. Three… Two… One! I took off dashing down the hall. Don’t look back! Keep moving! Keep moving! I closed my eyes and kept running. Don’t stop! Don’t stop! When I opened my eyes, I saw the back door just in front of me. After unlocking it, I quietly slipped out into the backyard. I smiled when I stepped outside. I did it! However, I began to frown again. Now what?
I looked up at the heavily-clouded sky. I got outside and now I’m alone. Yet, I didn’t think about what comes after that. It’s just like how my life has been going lately. I don’t even know if the Todai angle will go bust or not. I have the grades to in. I probably could pass the entrance exam. I frowned to myself. However, I’m not sure if that’s what I want to do anymore. I looked back at the house. Yep, they’re still inside. I don’t even belong here.
What the hell am I doing? I put my hands over my head. I need… I need… I looked back at the house again. I need to get away for a little bit, I thought. My attention turned back to the yard around me. Damn, I didn’t realize that this place was so big. My eyes scanned for a gate or a way out. Come on… Take your time and look around, I thought. I held the bag close to my side as I looked left and right of me. Out of the corner, I spotted the answer I needed. I turned to my right and saw the gate. Ha! That’s really clever way to put the exit, guys, I thought. Really good. With one more look at the house, I made my way over to the gate and just slipped out.
I never really noticed this neighborhood before. I was sound asleep when I first came here. Most of my time in the past couple of weeks as spent studying and listening to learn more about Hitomi’s death. This neighborhood looked so nice and modern. I felt like I had stepped back in time in the West. Now, where can I go? I didn’t have much money on me. Crap, I didn’t even bring my wallet with me. I puffed up my cheeks and pouted. Somehow, I keep planning poorly. I smacked myself in the head. Oh well, too late to turn back now. I wonder what else is around in this neighborhood. While I was at it, I selected another one of Hitomi’s tapes and put it in my walkman. After I put on my headphones, I pressed play.
I don’t know why I’m so messed up. My therapist just terminated my sessions when I needed him the most. It’s probably for the best. He did stare at my legs while we talked. Plus, I think he’s sleeping with my mother. I tried to confront her about it, but she said it was all in my head. I’m not stupid. I’ve seen the way they look at each other. What kind of a therapist calls a client’s mother by their first name? I bet she dumped him and that’s why he chose to terminate my therapy sessions.
What hurts the most is that I still love him. I tried not to, I mean, I already have a boyfriend, sort of… That’s not the point. I can’t have feelings for Fujioka-sensei. He’s too old for me and he’s not attractive. But… I can’t stop loving him. That’s the part that just sucks. The fact that he was probably seeing my mother is what makes it even worse. I should’ve known he was a predator. He tore what was left between my mother and me.
I literally stopped in my tracks. Did I just hear that right? Was Hitomi’s mom really having an affair with her daughter’s therapist? When did all of this happen? Was any of it true? I could never tell which ones of these entries were true or which ones were exaggerated. Nah, her tone sounded really serious in this one. I doubt she would make something up when it came to her mother or me. Come to think of it, Hitomi did mention a Fujioka-sensei in her journal. I can’t remember exactly where I saw it. Now, I have to go back and find it. However, I need to sit down first. I wonder if there is a park nearby. Maybe I could just find a bus stop to read. I tried to work out how to go about this as I walked further down the street. None of this made sense anymore.
Chapter Twenty-Three: Hitomi's Truth:
I turned my walkman in my hand as I sat on the bus stop bench. What did I not know about Hitomi? First the relationship with Dan Toshio, her pregnancy, and now this? Who the hell was she? I'm almost scared to hit play again. What else has she been hiding from me?
I have questions for her mother as well. Did she really have a relationship with her daughter's therapist? I reached into my pocket and pulled out my cell phone. I'm lucky that I charged it up last night. I think I still have Hitomi's house number in here. It's good that I have a strong reception here. I scrolled through the contact list until I came to Hitomi's number. Ah, here you are, I thought. I hit dial and waited. My eyes trailed up to the sky while I waited.
"Hello?" a woman's voice asked.
"Chiziwa-san?" I asked.
"Who is this?" the woman asked. I leaned back against the bench.
"I'm Kichiro," I said. "I was friends with your daughter, Hitomi." The pause on the other line made me worry that she didn't know who this was.
"Oh, Kichiro-kun!" she said. "It's you. How have you been?"
"Good," I said. "Listen, I have something to ask you."
"What is it?" Chiziwa-san asked. I tried to think of the right way to put this. What if Hitomi was lying out of spite for her mother? I would be putting Chiziwa-san through unneeded turmoil. However, I just had to know.
"I was just listening to Hitomi-chan's tapes," I began. "And I came across something rather odd."
"What do you mean?" her mother asked.
"Who was Fujioka-sensei?" I asked.
"Oh," she said in a quiet voice.
"Is he a family friend or something?" I asked.
"No..." she said.
"Then, who is he?" I asked.
"This really isn't a good time," Chiziwa-san mumbled over the phone.
"Please," I said. "I have to know the truth."
"Why?!" she cried. "Why are you bringing this up now?" A puzzled look came over my face.
"What are you talking about?" I asked.
"I made a mistake!β Hitomi-chan's mom shouted. "It was only one night and we ended up talking a lot!"
"What?!" I shouted.
"Don't call this number again!" Chiziwa-san yelled. She hung up before I could say another word. I stared at my phone. What was all of that about? I began to think, what if Hitomi was telling the truth about Fujioka-sensei? Innocent people don't blurt out things like that and hang up. I turned back to my walkman and hit play.
I loved my mother. When she betrayed me, nothing felt right anymore. I wondered what other secrets she kept from me. What else had she lied about? Who else has she been sleeping with behind my back?
I don't know anything anymore. I haven't heard from Kichiro-kun in years. He's probably the top of his class in his high school. Toshio is probably with another new girlfriend. I feel adrift and alone. I don't where to turn. I can feel myself slipping away. I want to cry, but who will hear me? My mother has betrayed me. Kichiro-kun has his own life. Toshio doesn't care about me. Fujioka-sensei betrayed me too. I just... I just...
I am tired of living. I am just... tired.
My heart ached for her. Hitomi-chan, why didn't you say anything? She could've said something that day by the creek. Why didn't I push her to talk to me? Even if it was a lie, I could've talk to her. But what would I say to her? I lowered my head and pressed my lips together. It didn't take long for me to break down in a mental crash. Why is this giving me a headache? I lifted my head.
Why the hell do I keep thinking about all of this? I puffed up my cheeks as I looked up at the bus shelter ceiling. I've been in Hiroshima for weeks and I still don't know what the hell I'm doing.
"Kichiro!" I heard someone shout. I faced forward at the direction of the sound.
Chapter Twenty-Four: Man to Man:
Cassius raced over to me from across the street. I gave him a puzzled look.
"How did you find me?" I asked. He came over and sat down next to me.
"It was just a guess," he said. I frowned to myself.
"What's on your mind?" he asked. I shook my head.
"I don't really know," I admitted. "It's just one bombshell after another. Plus, I don't know what I'm doing anymore."
"Oh," he said. I looked over at Cassius.
"How can you guys live so care-free?" I asked.
"It's all we know how to do," he admitted.
"Lucky," I muttered. Cassius shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, not exactly," he said. I gave him a strange look.
"Huh?" I asked.
"You see," Cassius went on. "We all have our problems that we still can't really deal with."
"Like Sakura-hime?" I asked.
"Not as bad as her," he admitted. "But damn near close."
"Oh," I muttered. "What about you?"
"Me?" he asked. "I'm trying to get by for the time being until I have the answers for myself." I dropped my shoulders.
"Must be nice," I said under my breath.
"Excuse me?" he asked. I shook my head instead of outright answering him. My friend looked out at the empty street in front of us.
"The bus doesn't come today," he said. I looked up at him.
"It doesn't?" I asked. "Why is that?" Cassius pointed to the bus schedule in front of me. I read down the list until I came to Sunday.
"Oh..." I said after I read that no buses came on Sunday.
"Exactly," he said. I shrugged my shoulders.
"I wasn't going to take the bus anyway," I said.
"So where were you headed?β Cassius asked. I shook my head, shrugging.
"I can't really answer that myself anymore," I said.
"That's okay," he told me. "Most of us don't know our future."
"That's not it," I said. "I was going to Tokyo University, but I think I'm going to miss the deadline to take the entrance exam."
"Haven't you been studying for it?" Cassius asked with an eyebrow raised.
"I'e tried,' I said. "But I can't seem to focus like I used to. Plus, I still don't have any answers as to why Hitomi killed herself." I leaned back against the bench. "I probably will never know."
"Did you try talking to her mom?" he asked.
"That won't work," I said. 'Besides I already pissed her off today. Long story, I don't want to get into it."
"You sound like you have so much," Cassius replied. I nodded as I pressed my lips together.
"Pretty much," I said. I turned around to face him. βWhat am I supposed to do?β My gay friend put up his hands in a shrug.
"Hey now, I can't answer that for you, man," he told me.
"I guess you're right," I said. I sighed, frustrated. "I just wish there was some way to..." Suddenly, our phones buzzed. We reached into our pockets and pulled them out.
'I got a text from Isaac," I said.
"Same here," Cassius said as well. We both read it together.
We've got a serious problem. Sakura-hime's gone missing. It's not normal this time. I think she might actually do it this time. We've got to stop her! I'l meet you over at the park to form a plan if we don't find her.
I looked up at Cassius. "What does he mean that 'she might actually do it this time'?" I asked. "He can't possibly mean..." My words trailed off as I began to see the picture. Cassius and I took off running towards the city.
Chapter Twenty-Five: Parallels:
This all felt familiar. Not the searching and running part, but somehow Sakura-hime reminds me of Hitomi. Both of them acted so strange, but really they just needed help. They seemed to turn to me, but never told me what was wrong. Their darkness kept them isolated from those that they loved. The difference was Hitomi died before I could help her. I only hoped to stop Sakura-hime before she died.
I paused and shook my head. No, it might not come to this point. She didn't show the signs. Neither did Hitomi on the time I saw her. Rather, I did see it, but I didn't really buy much attention to it. Hitomi said that she was okay and I just accepted that. I closed my eyes and tried to think about where Sakura-hime could be. It suddenly donned on me that I didn't have a clue. I don't really know anything about her. I didn't really know anything about Hitomi either. What have I been doing all of this time?
I sat down near the fountain in the middle of the square. I am stuck on my future, friends death, and trying to find Sakura-hime. How did it all end up on me? I never wanted any of these headaches. I thought after I graduated that I would just study for the entrance exam and go to college. Then maybe look for a job, marry, and have kids. Hitomi and Akemi threw everything out of balance for me.
I picked up my phone and dialed Cassius.
"Hello?" he asked.
"Hey, it's me," I said.
"Have you found her yet?" Cassius asked.
"I don't know where to look," I confessed. "I don't even know her that well."
"Just look for abandoned place," he told me.
"Why there?" I asked.
"She loves abandoned buildings and 'haunted' things," he explained. I frowned to myself as I remembered how she asked about Hitomi died.
"Oh," I muttered. "Where do I start?"
"Where you are is fine," Cassius told me. "Meet us back at the garden plaza."
"Okay," I said. I hung up and looked at the sky. He didn't give me much to work with there. Still, that's a start. It's more than what I got with Hitomi. I gritted my teeth as I rose to my feet. Why do I keep thinking about her? She's dead, you idiot! You're not going to get an answer for the why! You barely even knew her when she was alive! My mind still would't let it sink in. It felt like I just had to know everything about her before she died. I couldn't explain it anymore. Maybe if I found Sakura-hime, I would have answers to questions and my head would finally rest. I frowned at that notion.
What kind of a stupid idea is that? Sakura-hime is not Hitomi! Stop using her as an excuse to try and justify your own indecisiveness!> I cursed myself under myself. Screw this! I'm going to look for her! I raced down the paved path, looking for abandoned buildings. My mind kept running back and forth between Hitomi and Sakura-hime. I couldn't really separate the two anymore.
Why didn't you say anything to me? I was right there. I was right there! I was right there, damn it!
After about an hour of looking, I gave up in that area went elsewhere to look for Sakura-hime. Calling her didn't work as I discovered.
"Sakura's phone," Miki answered. My stomach dropped when I heard her say that.
"Oh, she didn't have her phone on her?" I asked.
"No," Miki answered. This isn't good, I thought. "Did you see her before she left?" I asked.
"No," Miki said again. "And she hasn't come back either. Her boyfriends haven't heard from her and no one has seen her." I nodded as if I had just taken a bitter pill.
"Okay, thank you," I said before hanging up. When I looked up, I came across a neighborhood long since abandoned since WWII. I bit on my lower lip.
Come on, Sakura-hime! Where could you have gone? The crumbling dirty buildings that time forgot made me feel so tiny inside. My thoughts went back to that day at the creek. I had just gotten Hitomi's message on the answering machine.
"Hey, Kichiro-kun, it's me. I really need your help. Please call me. I'm so lonely. Come out and meet me at the creek where we used to play. Please help me!"
Chapter Twenty-Six: Thoughts by the Creek:
-Four Weeks Earlier-
The tone in her voice made my heart sank while pounding. Hitomi-chan...
I thought back to all of those rumors I heard about her. I used to just brush them off and go on with my life. There was no way that Hitomi would sink that low for herself. That girl had so many dreams when we were younger. She used go on and on about how she wanted to be rich and famous when she grew up. I'd smile and pretty much agree with her. I truly believe that she would be an idol when she got older. Even without her father in the picture, Hitomi seemed like an optimistic girl in our youth. She had so much light in her spirit that I refused to believe any of the rumors I heard about her. There is no way she would be like that, I constantly told myself. However after hearing that message on my answering machine, I couldn't help but wonder what had been going on with Hitomi since we parted ways for high school. The way she said those words made me go out to see her. I shook my head to myself.
It probably hasn't come down to that, I thought. Maybe she had a bad break-up or something. My gut told me otherwise, but my child-like naοve hope refused to listen. In any case, I decided just to check on her to put myself at ease.
By sundown that evening, I went down to the creek where we used to play together as children. Along the way, I planned to approach the situation with sensitivity. Clearly, it wouldn't be a good idea to upset her. It would be best to keep things causal at first and then lead into the problem at hand. It shouldnβt have been a problem, right?
I found Hitomi sitting near the water with a cigarette pinched between her fingers. I raced over to her as quickly as I could. I stopped when she looked up at me with a smile on her face. Shock washed over my face. Hitomi had changed so much. The light that had surrounded her as a child had gone dim. She wore all black and her hair was cut short to her ears. Her jeans looked so crumpled up. The dark make-up on her face made all of the color drain from my face. I wanted to turn around and walk away. This girl wasn't the friend that I grew up with all of those years ago. This was some gloomy-looking stranger staring back at me. I thought back to all of the rumors I had heard about her. Who or what did all of this to her? She gave me a little wave with the cigarette between her fingers.
"Yo," she said. I stared at her rather confused for a long breather before I gave her a nervous wave.
"Uh..." I said. "Are you okay?" Hitomi nodded at me.
"Yes," she said. "Why do you ask?" I drew my lips together, still trying to piece together what was going on here. Her tone sounded so different than the one on the answering machine. She even appeared to be smiling at me.
"You left a message on my answering machine," I explained to her as calmly as I could. "You said that you needed my help and you sounded really upset. What's the problem? Did something happen?" Hitomi made an odd face at me. It told her a little while for her to understand what I was getting at.
"Oh!" Hitomi said. "It's okay, I'm fine now. Really, I am." I blinked still confused on what this was all about. Did she just call me out here for nothing? What was the point if it wasn't a big deal like she made it out to be? I dropped my shoulders as I eyed the grass at my feet.
"Okay..." I mumbled. I turned to leave, uncertain about what to do.
"Kichiro-kun! Don't go!" Hitomi called out. I paused and glanced over my shoulder at my friend. Her eyes looked glazed over with a hint of despair. She pinched the cigarette tighter between her fingers.
"Why?" I asked as I turned around to her fully. She gave me a crooked smile as she shrugged.
"Please?" she asked. "I just miss you." I bit on my lower lip as my eyes sank back to the ground. I shouldn't be out here, messing around. Hitomi just pretty much called me out here for nothing. I really need to get back home and study for the entrance exam for Todai. I had just bought the books days before graduation too. It would've been just so easy to walk away and go home. That would be the right thing to do, right? I dropped my shoulders and rolled my eyes.
"Fine," I said with a sigh. I took a seat next to her at the creek. She grinned and rested her head on my shoulder.
"I missed you, old friend," Hitomi whispered. I forced myself to smile and nod.
"Yeah, I missed you too," I told her. I sighed as I looked up at the sky. What am I doing? How long are we going to stay out here like this? I really need to get back home and start studying. I really shouldn't be out here.
To tell you the truth, I still don't know why I stayed out there with her. We didn't really talk nor do anything. She even went to sleep on my shoulder. I made an odd face at her when she did.
"Oi, are you asleep?" I whispered as I shook on her. "Oi! Oi!" I got my answer when I heard snoring. I frowned to myself.
Figures! What do I do now?
My mind changed gears from that thought when I saw her face again, however. I really thought that she was lying about being okay. I already saw the truth in her eyes. Something killed that glow she once had as a child. I just didn't bother to ask her what was wrong in that moment. Probably wouldn't have made a difference that day, anyway. I suspected that Hitomi would've brushed me off or just changed the subject altogether. Yet, I couldn't help but wonder why she would call me out here in so desperately like that.
After looking down the abandoned neighborhood, I returned to the opening. Sakura-hime was nowhere to be found. I can't let the same thing that happened to Hitomi happen to her as well. I have to hurry! I raced down the street for another place to look.
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Back-Up: At sundown, Cassius, Isaac, and I met back at the plaza.
"Anything?" Isaac asked.
"No," I said. Cassius shook his head.
"Damn it," Isaac muttered. "Where the hell could she have gone?"
"It's still early," Cassius pointed out. Isaac nodded while thinking. I shuffled my feet.
"What now?" I asked.
"We keep looking," Isaac said.
"But where?" I asked. He put up his hands in a shrug. I narrowed my eyes at him.
"You don't really know her yourself, do you?" I asked. Isaac gave me a strange look.
"What are you talking about?" he asked.
"Could you see that she was in pain?" I asked.
"Of course I did," Isaac said. "Where is all of this coming from?" I took a step forward.
"No, you didn't!" I said aloud.
"hat the hell, man?!" Isaac shouted.
"I couldn't help Hitomi because I didn't really get to know her after junior high!" I shouted. "What if Sakura-hime ends up the same way, huh?!"
"Kichiro," Cassius said, trying to stop me. Isaac blinked at me with a funny look on his face.
"What's your friend got to do with Sakura-hime?" he asked. I paused when he asked me that.
"I..." I tried to say. I looked away uneasily.
"Sakura-hime is not like your friend," Isaac said.
"You don't know that!β I shouted. "I don't know!" I sat down near the door statue. "I didn't pay much attention to Hitomi when needed me most." I looked up at the sky, feeling my soul drain away again. "I stayed with her on the day of my graduation," I went on. "She called me out there in a right fix and then acted like nothing happened." I lowered my head, frowning. "I just wished that she would've said something," I confessed. "It could'e been anything."
"Did you ask her why she called you out there?" Cassius asked. I shook my head.
"No," I replied. "She probably wouldn't even tell me anyway."
"Maybe that's what she needed," Isaac suggested.
"Huh?" I asked with a confused look my face.
"Hitomi probably called you out there just to see you again,β he explained. "I'm assuming she made you worry just to get you out by the creek."
"Yeah, but why didn't she say that?" I asked.
"Would you say anything if you were her?" Cassius asked. I looked down at my feet.
"Probably not," I murmured. I looked up at the other two guys. "So what do we do now?" I asked.
"What else?"Isaac asked. "We keep looking."
"Yeah, but where?" I asked.
"Ah! I've called for back-up!" he announced. Before I could ask who, a car pulled up towards in a screech. Akemi gave us a wave from the driver's seat.
"Yo!" she said. Isaac raced over to her side of the car.
"Good, you made it just in time," he said. My sister gave him a confused look.
"What are all of you standing around here for?" she asked. "Kichiro-kun, get in the car. Cassius, Isaac, start looking around downtown!"
"Yes ma'am!" we all shouted. I jumped into the car while Isaac and Cassius walked off in the opposite direction. Akemi turned her attention towards me.
"Ready to go?" she asked.
"Yes," I said. Akemi put the car into drive and drove off.
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Ride Along:
Akemi and I didn't speak during the drive. Still, I couldn't help but wonder about her motive of why I was in Hiroshima in the first place. Somehow, this felt like the perfect place to find out.
"Nee-san," I spoke up. She kept her eyes on the road, not saying a word. I shifted in my seat for a second. How exactly do I ask this? "hy did you bring me here?"
"We're looking for Sakura-hime, remember?" she asked.
"No," I said, shaking my head. "Why did you bring me to Hiroshima?" I asked. Akemi shrugged her shoulders at me.
"Does there have to be a reason?" she asked.
"Well, yeah," I said. Akemi as we curved right.
"Fine, I wanted to."
She rolled her eyes and groaned. "Does everything have to have a reason with you?"
"Well, yes. Like why did Hitomi-chan kill herself?"
"Oh my god! That again?"
"What?" I asked. My sister stopped the car.
"Why can't you let go of her already?" she asked.
"She was my friend."
"Were you really that close to her before she died?"
"Well, no, but still!" I noticed her press her head to her forehead. "Now what's wrong?"
"You're missing the point!" Akemi shouted. I tilted my head at her.
"What point?" I asked.
"It does not matter!" she yelled. "Hitomi's dead! You couldn't really do anything to save her!"
"But if I had just asked her what was wrong..."
"And then what? Would she have told you anything?"
I froze at her question. "But..."
"Would she?" Akemi asked again. I lowered my head as I put my hands in my lap.
"No," I mumbled.
I frowned at her reaction. "But still..."
"But still nothing!" Akemi snapped. "Let it go already!"
I folded my arms across my chest. "It still bugs me, though."
"It will," she replied. "Just like a few other things in life. You have to move on and let her go." I kept my head down.
"What can I do to ease my questions out of my head?" I asked.
"Helping us find Sakura-hime," Akemi answered. "At least she's still alive and in the present." She paused at her words. "Though, I don't know how much longer." I lifted my head at her.
"What do you mean?" I asked. Akemi bit on her lower lip.
"She may be a bit suicidal..." she said in a high-pitched, small voice. My eyes grew wide in shock.
"What did you say?" I asked.
"She's probably gone to the highest apartment building to jump off," she went on. I grabbed her on the arm.
"Do you know where that is?!" I yelled.
"Of course I do," Akemi said.
"Well why are we parked here?! Let's get going now! We have to save her!"
My sister gave me a quick salute. "Yes sir!" She started up the car and stepped on the gas. I hung on for dear life as she sped away.
Chapter Twenty-Nine: Never Let Me Go:
Akemi and I pulled up to the building in question. I narrowed my eyes as I looked out the window.
"You sure she's here?" I asked. "It looks abandoned."
"Yeah," she replied.
"How do I know?" I asked. My sister pointed out the window. I looked out to see a person standing high up on the edge. I tilted my head, confused.
"Is that her?" I asked.
"Only one way to find out," Akemi pointed out.
"Right!" I said. I leapt out of the car and raced into the building.
"Hurry, Kichiro!" my sister shouted behind me. The door closed after she said that. I went over to the elevator and pushed the up button. When it didn't light up, I kept pushing.
Come on! I don't have time for this! Please, hurry!
When the elevator didn't come fast enough, I turned and took the stairs. The number of flights didn't matter to me. I have to stop her. I can't lose someone else to suicide! Wait for me, Sakura-hime! Halfway up, my body started to get tired. I shook it off and kept walking. I can't stop! She needs me! I couldn't be there for Hitomi-chan, but I can at least be there for Sakura-hime! I pushed myself to keep walking. I can make it! I won't give up! I finally came to the door to the roof sometime later. I reached out my hand to the metal as I panted. I did it, I thought. No time for celebration, however. I pushed open the door and went outside.
Sakura-hime still stood on the edge, looking down. It's amazing that I wasn't too late. However, my thoughts got distracted by the sound of her crying. Hm? Is she reallyβ¦? I slowly began walking over to her. If I can get close enough, mayb... To my surprise, Sakura-hime turned around, staring at me. Tears seemed down her face.
"Sakura-hime?" I asked.
"Why did you come here?" she asked.
"Why would you say that?"
Sakura-hime put her hand to her chest. "Nobody cares about me!"
"That's not true!"
"Liar! You are all liars!" she screamed. I raced over to her, grabbing her by the wrists. She tried to fight me off.
"Let me go!" she shouted. "Let me go! Let me go! I just want to die!"
"No!" I yelled back.
"Because I like you, okay?!" I screamed. "I don't want to see another friend die!" She looked at me with big eyes.
"What?" Sakura-hime asked. I lost all of my words in that moment.
"Uh..." I said. "It's just..."
"What did you say about me?" she asked. "Tell me! Please tell me!" I pressed my lips together.
"I like you," I repeated. "I like you, just don't die, okay?" Sakura-hime gave me a strange look.
"In what way?" she asked. I looked up her, blinking.
"In what way do you like me? Girlfriend-wise? Friend-wise? What?"
I shut my eyes, grabbing her wrists. "In any way that you want! Just don't die!" I panted and peeked up to see her wincing in pain. "What is it now?"
"You're hurting me!" she shouted. I looked down at my hand squeezing her wrists.
"Oh," I said in a low voice. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." I quickly let go of her arm. Moments later, we sat on the edge looking at the city. I couldn't think of anything to tell her at first. I pressed my lips together as I looked down at my hands.
"It's nice this evening, isn't it?" I asked. Sakura-hime didn't even look at me.
"Why did you come here?" she asked.
"Hm?" I asked.
"Why do you even care? I thought you were more interested in Hitomi and going to college." She slammed her wrists in her lap. "I mean, what the fuck?"
I shrugged my shoulders at her. "I don't really know anymore myself."
"Then why are you here?"
"Hitomi's dead and there was nothing I could do to stop it." I lay back against the roof of the abandoned building."But you're still alive."
"So?" she asked.
"Don't die," I insisted. "I'm not saying this out of sympathy or because I'm trying to make up for not being there for Hitomi! I'm just..." I drew my eyes closed. "I'm just tired of not really living and being stuck. If you lived, I won't feel so stuck anymore. So, please don't die. Live my sake if you have to! Just live!" I opened my eyes when I heard her lying down next to me. Sakura-hime gave me a little smile.
"Can we stay like this until the others come get us?" she asked. I shrugged my shoulders as I smiled.
"Sure," I answered.
"Thank you, Kichiro-chan," she said back. Akemi and the others found us by nightfall.
Chapter Thirty: Time to Move On:
It’s been easy for these past few weeks. I sat at my desk, studying this morning. Not much has changed around me. Everyone is just as wild and artistic. Sakura-hime had calmed down some. She’s actually started getting therapy these days. We were all pushing her to keep going.
“I will stick with it,” she promised us. Somehow in my heart, I believed her. I know that she will get better because she has people that care about her.
I stopped just as I was about to turn the page. Now that I think about, I might have changed a little bit. When we made it back to the apartment after our search for Sakura-hime, I decided for some reason not to go to Todai. Akemi raised an eyebrow at me when I made the announcement at dinner.
“So, what are you going to do now?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “Maybe I’ll go to a university here in Hiroshima.” Cassius raised his hands, clapping at me.
“Good for you, man,” he said. More applause joined in with his. I chuckled as I rubbed the back of my head. Akemi smiled as she gave me a small shrug.
“I’ll be happy with what you choose,” she told me.
Right now, I am studying for the entrance exam for Hiroshima City University. Akemi and the others haven’t been bothering me for the past three weeks while I was studying. Isaac grinned at me after I asked them not to.
“Okay,” he said. “But just as long as you come out for sunshine with us.”
“Fine,” I replied. For days, I have been studying hard. My exam will be coming in five days from now.
“Good luck, little brother,” Akemi whispered to me in the crack of my bedroom door last night. I only waved at her. This morning, I felt like going out. The studying started to bore me for once. I sat back in my chair, staring at the ceiling. I didn’t know if I was taking the right path after all. Ever since high school, I wanted to go to Tokyo University. I even had the grades to accomplish this. My teachers were so proud of my future goals. I chuckled to myself. If only they could see me now. I knew Hitomi would get a kick out of this.
Ah, Hitomi. I still think about her from time to time. I’m still learning to let go of her. I still don’t know why she killed herself. The answer’s probably in her journal and tapes. I’m not listening and reading, but I don’t have the time to look for an answer that will not come to me right away. I haven’t forgotten about my dear friend. It’s just… I put my pen down on my notebook. It’s time for me to move on. I still have my own life. I guess as the cliché goes, I will have to live on for both Hitomi and myself. Given my new situation here in Hiroshima and the residents of this house, that’s going to be an interesting new start for me. I could here myself chuckling again just thinking about it. I came back to reality when I heard a knock on my door.
“Yeah?” I asked, sitting up straight.
“You ready to go, little brother?” Akemi asked from outside.
“Yeah, give me a second,” I answered.
“I’ll be waiting downstairs.”
“Gotcha.” I stayed in place as I listened to the footsteps going down the hall. With one more breath, I felt ready to move on.
“Okay,” I said to myself. I rose to my feet and left the room, leaving Hitomi’s tapes and journal on my desk. Takahashi Hitomi will forever be eighteen in my mind.