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 naļve 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 shouldnā€™t 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.