The Mikami brothers proposed to play truth or dare, that alone should have made everyone suspicious right away, but after the tenth beer and not enough snacks for the whole gang the idea seemed fun to Izaki, so he pushed everyone in.
Tokaji objected loudly emphasizing that the game was bullshit, but no one listened. Serizawa was his usual self (almost in Nirvana), Genji didn’t care, so the game begun.
Everything was going fine in the beginning: some had to walk the eaves, summon the Toilet Hanako and share terrible secrets about the first cigarette or the favourite porn. Then the Mikami brothers left to get more beer taking Chuta with them, and Tokaji asked Makise, who'd chosen truth, about his first time.
Everyone held their breath: the whole school knew the peculiarities of Makise’s sex life. Even Serizawa snorted into his bag of chips, while Tokio, the ever kind boy, looked down hiding a smile, and Genji scowled. It looked like a taunt: Tokaji looked at everyone as if he were an innocent child, so it was immediately clear that he asked this question on purpose.
“Well… I…” Makise was sweating, he was breathing hard like a hippo that had ran a sprint. It was obvious that he couldn’t think of any lie.
Genji was angry because Makise ended up in the situation when Serizawa’s boys were making fun of him while he, the leader of Suzuran, let it happen. He could start a fight of epic proportions so everyone would quickly forget why it started, but it seemed stupid to fight over a truth or dare game.
“Right,” Genji stood up. “We’re leaving. Let’s go,” he said to Makise and Izaki.
“Calm down.” Shun put a hand on his shoulder. It was his place to rescue GPS when a fight wasn’t an option. “We’ll tell one truth and leave. One secret per person, really quickly. I can start.”
“Don’t outsmart yourself,” Tokaji smirked, “we’re playing by the rules, which means that all the bullshit about ‘I went to the shop in the first grade and stole some candy’ won’t do.”
“I’m not a kleptomaniac,” Izaki cut him off narrowing his eyes. “I’ve been told this disorder can be cured, though, so stop fretting.”
“You're the one who'll need medical treatment real soon. I can even promise to come by,” Tokaji jumped up. Only Serizawa’s hand on Yuji’s jacket stopped the fight before it began.
Still, both generals stared at each other with hatred, Makise started massaging his fists, even Tokio frowned. Genji and Serizawa looked at each other. They talked without uttering a word, and it even seemed to Genji that they agreed on something, even though communication wasn’t one of his strengths.
“Izaki, back off.” Genji sat back on the couch. Shun stared at Tokaji for a few more seconds, then sat at Takiya’s side and crossed his legs as if it were his own decision. Tokaji realized that the chance to hit the hateful blondie was lost, smoothed his jacket and sat down behind Serizawa.
“So, who will start?” Genji looked around. He wanted this stupid game to end as soon as possible.
“You are the leader now, so you’ll start.” Serizawa got more comfortable in his arm–chair. “Set an example.”
Izaki stared at his leader with unreadable expression willing him not to start a fight.
“Let me begin,” Tsutsumoto said tentatively from his stool a bit away from everyone else. Tamao, Tokio and Yuji stared at him in surprise. Usually Tsutsumoto kept his mouth shut – either he wasn’t fond of talking, or adhered to chain of command since he was the youngest.
“Whatever,” Genji said and looked around looking for more beer. Alas, the bottle was empty. Serizawa shrugged his shoulders, Tsutsumoto sighed collecting himself and started his tale.
“I’ve never told anyone about this,” he said a little self-consciously. “About the reason I quit judo. I used to be good at it, you know, I even won the junior championship. Not the world or national one, but still.”
“Bla-bla-bla, we know you’re almost a pro,” Izaki waved him away and put on his sunglasses. “Wake me up when he gets to business.”
“Oh, you are going to kiss the floor!”
“Yuji!” Tokio became the peacemaker this time. “Izaki, stop provoking him. Everyone is telling a story the way they can. Do continue, Shoji.”
Tsutsumoto, who seemed to be lost in thought, flinched and nodded.
“As I was saying, I was good. The coach said I had talent. He used to spend extra time with me. I didn’t realize at first that he was acting strangely.”
“Strangely how?” Tokio asked.
“Well, he used to tell me how to do stuff, show new exercises, correct the mistakes. Then he began to train me in earnest. I liked that he was strict. If anyone dicked around, he could bite their head off.”
“Did he hit you?” Genji asked kicking Izaki so he moved and let Genji stretch his legs.
“All sportsmen are mad,” Izaki mumbled and turned to Genji. “If anyone tried to touch me, they would have ended up in hospital.”
“Anyway, later I noticed that he was…” Tsutsumoto faltered, but continued, “sort of feeling me up.”
Tokaji choked on cigarette smoke, Tokio, who was sitting nearby, forgot to pat him on the back. Izaki took off his sunglasses, Genji whistled.
“Wait…” Serizawa was slowly standing up, but Makise cut him off.
“Like if you were a girl?”
Tsutsumoto shrugged and smiled a little guiltily.
“Are you sure?” Serizawa offered an almost empty bottle of beer to still coughing Tokaji.
“At first I thought I was imagining it.” Shoji was balling his checkered shirt in his fist, while the rest of the gang stared at him. “Judo’s a contact sport. He touched my ass, arm or leg, but it was training: hold your arm right, stand correctly… Then I realized that he was lingering longer than strictly necessary.” Tsutsumoto blushed and looked down. “You showed the correct stance – take the hand away. He didn’t, though. Instead he used to touch me up to the groin or pat down the back, he liked to put his hand between the shoulder blades and stroke. And it was not done to ease the muscular tension.”
He fell silent, tied the tail of his shirt into a knot, then started untying it.
“I tried to convince myself that it was not what I thought, he was my coach after all. Then I saw him and one of the guys after the class. I wasn’t spying, it was my turn to clean up…” Tsutsumoto was completely embarrassed.
“We understand,” Serizawa said too calmly. “What happened then?”
“So,” Shoji looked gratefully at his leader, “he was stroking the guy’s shoulders and chest whispering something in his ear. The guy was older than me - he was competing in the senior league – but he was just standing and listening. Then I ran away.” Tsutsumoto looked down so his hair was completely covering his face. “I stopped going there.”
“Why didn’t you tell anyone?”
“I was ashamed. And I thought no one would believe me. He was a teacher, a coach, and what about me? And anyway, nothing of that sort happened...”
“Why didn’t you tell your parents?” Serizawa asked grimly.
“What if they didn’t believe me? What if they started worrying or made a scene?” Tsutsumoto started tapping on the stool leg. “They didn’t understand why I quit, they were very angry. They hoped I’d receive an athletic scholarship and enter a university.”
“Why didn’t you go to another coach?” Tokaji asked. “Not all of them are freaks.”
“I know, but I just couldn’t. Every time I entered a dojo I imagined all the weird stuff again. I was never good at studying, because I spent all the free time in the dojo, so I ended up in Suzuran.” Tsutsumoto looked up. “I don’t regret anything, I really don’t. I like it here.”
“You, idiot!” Serizawa said angrily. “You ruined your future because of some jerk!”
“Come on, I’m not a world champion or professor material.” Tsutsumoto lit a cigarette.
“And I wanted to say that I used to wet my bed when I was seven,” Izaki said so quietly that only Genji heard him. “Hey you, the might-have-been champion,” Shun leaned forward and stared at Tsutsumoto long and hard. “Did it ever occur to you that your jerk of a coach could be still feeling up – or more – other boys while you are enjoying yourself here? And not all of them can say nothing happened.”
Tsutsumoto blinked in confusion, it looked like the idea never entered his mind.
“The blondie is right,” Tokaji agreed. “He continues doing it because you didn't speak out.”
“But I…” Tsutsumoto looked at Serizawa for support, but Tamao concentrated on his own boots.
“What’s his name?” Genji asked fiercely.
“No one asked your opinion.”
“Beating him up won’t change anything. He’ll still return to his workplace or move to another town and train kids there. Even if I tell everything, who is going to believe me? And you can’t make other guys speak up. Some are afraid, others have something to lose. No one needs scandals.” Tsutsumoto’s lips were trembling. “You’re the only ones who know this, I thought we were playing a game.”
Everyone was silent. Tokio looked at him sympathetically, Tokaji was angry, what Serizawa thought wasn’t clear. He stopped staring at his boots, but turned to the graffiti on the walls as if seeing it for the first time. Izaki put his sunglasses back on and leaned back, but his tightly pressed lips betrayed his barely contained rage.
Genji sat straighter.
“I’m next.” He looked like a man who was about to jump off a plane, but wasn’t sure his parachute was going to open. “I’m a virgin.”
Tokaji ran out of luck for the second time and choked on his beer. Tokio’s hand froze in midair. Makise swallowed loudly behind their backs.
“You know, Takiya, I just knew you were insane for a reason,” Serizawa said slowly.
“What about Ruka?” Izaki coughed. He was rarely rendered speechless. Genji thought gloomily that he managed to astonish his general for the second time after that fight near the pool.
“You… didn’t… I mean, you and Ruka…” Makise was sweating again. Genji winced.
“This is the guy we lost the school to!” Tokaji sighed after catching his breath.
“The humiliation just doubled, didn’t it?” Izaki grinned.
“Not that I care,” Tamao crossed his legs, “but why? No one was interested?” Strangely enough there was no mockery or sneer in his voice.
“Can’t get it up, can you?” Makise asked with sincere sympathy. Genji felt a strange urge to get rid of such friends who were worse than enemies.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said darkly. An awkward silence fell. Not that anyone was actually interested in Genji’s sex life, simply because no one could assume it was non-existent. A cool girl was throwing herself at him, it seemed completely natural that their relationship entered the ‘adult’ stage. And now it turned out that Genji didn’t bed her – or anyone else for that matter.
“It’s called displacement,” Tokaji said finally, “or sublimation. All the energy that you don’t spend on sex you spend on fucking the brains out of everyone around you. That’s why you’re a psycho. If you had sex on somewhat regular basis you’d have been calmer.”
“When did you learn such long words?” Izaki asked holding Genji back just in case.
“I can tell you a secret: there are books in this world, they are meant for reading because a lot of wise and useful things are written there. Try it, maybe you’ll like it.”
“Well, either I don’t want to or it’s just too awkward…” Genji said almost to himself. It was clear that he wasn’t referring to books.
“Why is it awkward?” Yuji asked when he processed the new information. “You’re not a girl.”
“No idea,” Genji shrugged. “I’m telling you, I’m not interested.”
“Listen,” Serizawa suddenly had a lightbulb moment. “Maybe you’re interested in guys?”
Either Genji was too taken aback by such impudence or didn’t want to start a fight, but he only shook his head.
“Don’t worry, I’m not. Either way, you’re not my type.”
“Do you remember,” Tokio said quickly before Takiya changed his mind, “there was that cute girl in the junior high… She used to have a stupid transforming twinkling trinket on the backpack… What was her name? Himawari! That’s right! You should remember her, she gave you chocolate for St. Valentine’s day.”
“Yeah, I was sick of her.” He didn’t even try to hide his disdain. “When we visited the chamber of horrors during the school festival she clang to me, tried to kiss me. Eww!” He made a face.
Tokio looked confused, Izaki and Tokaji looked at each other with the same expression of ‘he’s slightly mad’ on their faces, but quickly turned away from each other.
“Where are the Mikamis and beer, I wonder?” Serizawa mumbled under his breath.
“Well, why didn’t you try?” Tokaji interfered. “This Ruka of yours is hot…” He stopped short. “I meant to say…”
“She didn’t offer,” Genji confessed. “And I have more urgent business to attend to.”
Izaki tried very hard to keep a straight face, but it was obvious that only the presence of his enemies – who still hadn’t earned the prefix ‘ex’ – kept him from explaining to the GPS leader that: a) there were precious few things more important than sex, b) one didn’t preclude another.
“It’s not something I haven’t seen before anyway,” Takiya added.
“How so?” His general wasn’t able to contain himself. “The real thing is different from movies.”
“I’ve seen it live. It’s different from any movie, trust me.” Genji took a cigarette out of a deck. “Forget it, we are supposed to share just one secret here, not make a full confession. I’m done.”
“It’s your turn now.” Izaki came to his senses first.
“Why?” Tokaji scowled.
“Because Tsutsumoto was the first, Genji was next. Now it’s your turn again,” he explained slowly as if to a mentally-disabled. “Tokaji, you have paranoia, you think everyone is trying to screw you over even when that’s not the case. Don’t fret, though, it can be cured too.”
“I’ll tell a truth,” Tokio said quickly before Tokaji’s fist connected with Izaki’s jaw.
Yuji shrugged and leaned on the wall.
“It’s not really a secret,” Tokyo said smiling weirdly, “I’m afraid to die.”
Serizawa sat straighter in his chair and stared at his friend.
“I understand that everyone dies sooner or later,” Tokyo continued, “but I can die, like, tomorrow. Wait, Tamao, this is my secret.” He stopped Serizawa in unexpectedly firm voice. Only Serizawa heard hysterical overtones in it. “I’m always pretending to be cool, I pretend that everything’s fine, but I’m constantly and terribly afraid.”
“It’s alright,” Tamao said anyway. “There’s no point in hiding it, anyone would have been afraid in your shoes.”
“You had an operation done, hadn’t you?” Genji added as an ex-best friend.
“It probably helped. But it’s like I have a bomb in my head that can blow up any moment.” Tokio, who was sitting on a chair backwards, clenched its back so hard his hands were trembling. “I don’t want to die tomorrow, two days from now, next year or in ten years. And I don’t understand why it’s happening to me. What have I done to deserve it?”
Everyone was silent: even Makise realized that words like ‘It’s not your fault’, ‘You’ve done nothing wrong, of course’ were rubbish that would only make Tokio feel worse.
“I’ve never told anyone.”
“Why?” Serizawa asked at last. He sounded uncharacteristically confused. “Did you think someone would laugh at you?”
“Who’d have dared to laugh at Tatsukawa Tokio, Serizawa Tamao’s best friend? No one’s that suicidal.” His lips were trembling, he bit them hard to hide it. “You wouldn’t understand what it feels like when…” His voice finally broke. “And I can’t admit that I envy you and hate you because you’re healthy, you can live and never think that every hour can become the last one. I hate myself for this because it’s disgusting, it’s wrong…” Tokio threw his hands around himself as if he were cold. “Because you, Tamao, are my best friend, how can I even think that… it should have been you?”
Tokio was shaking as if a seizure was coming.
“I hate myself for saying this because it’s wrong to say such things, no one should know about it!” Suddenly Tokio fell silent as if he were a wind-up toy.
“During moments like these one realizes that their life is not a complete shit,” Tokaji muttered to himself, but everyone heard him. It was that quiet on the roof.
It was so quiet that they’ve heard the babbling of students who stayed late, cars passing by, they even seem to hear a huge crow shuffling on the cable above their heads. Everyone was silent and looked away from each other as if they were ashamed to be healthy.
“This is a stupid game.” Tokio jumped up and walked toward the roof door. Movement and sound woke everyone from stupor.
Tokio flinched as if Serizawa’d hit him. Tamao came closer, now his nose was almost touching Tatsukawa’s neck. Tokio’s shirt made a stark contrast with dirty walls, it reminded them of hospitals and the fact that despite Western fashions white was the color of mourning.
Serizawa slowly reached up. At the same moment Genji rose from his spot, he looked like a panther ready to strike. He didn’t know what this self-proclaimed Buddha had in mind, maybe he’d hit Tokio for ‘it should have been you’ part.
“Sit down,” Serizawa said calmly (maybe too calmly like he was talking to a child playing with a knife or to a mad terrorist with a grenade) and put a hand on Tatsukawa’s shoulder. It looked like Tokio bent under its weight. He obediently went back to the chair without looking anyone in the eye.
“You’re right,” Tamao said lighting a cigarette, “none of us can understand you. I don’t know why this shit happened to you. No one deserves it. You’re scared, but it’s alright, anyone’d have been afraid in your shoes. And you don’t really think what you said about me or anyone else, that's just fear talking. It’s not the worst thing that can pop into your mind when you’re scared. We’re friends, don’t worry. Sometimes I’m thinking too: why Tokio’s got all that money? He doesn’t know how lucky he is. I need to work for every little thing.”
Tokio looked up. Serizawa looked at him with his usual soft wistful smile.
“Tamao…” He was almost crying.
“About that dying tomorrow thing,” Serizawa plopped back into the arm-chair, “no one knows who’s going to live longer: you with the hole in your head or, for example, Takiya.”
“What?” Genji, who just relaxed, was scowling again.
“Your father can fall out with his business partners, and you’ll be cut to pieces. The Suzuran leader will disappear like he never existed,” Tamao feigned a sigh.
“You’re such a dick, Serizawa. I wish you’d break your neck in your slums,” Takiya answered amicably - to everyone’s surprise. “Let’s go on.”
“Your turn, blondie,” Tokaji smirked at Izaki.
“Stop grinning, your turn will come too.”
Shun fell silent. It was obvious that he wanted to be as far as possible from the roof and this game. He was quiet longer than the others, he spoke only when Genji poked him in the ribs. He was weary of this calm before a storm.
“I don’t have any friends,” Izaki burst out and took a pull at a cigarette. “I don’t really believe in friendship.”
If Maria Ozawa (*) showed up on the roof they’d have been less surprised. Even ever-unflappable Serizawa froze with an unlit cigarette in his hand.
“What?” Makise was totally flabbergasted.
Izaki stared ahead, spoke without any emotions as if he were listing rivers and prefectures of Japan during a geography lesson.
“As long as I can remember my Dad always drilled into my head that no one could be trusted, relationships were overrated because everyone would deceive you anyway. When he was young a friend stole his money or his girl or something like that.” Izaki smoothed down his hair. “He always said that trusting someone made you weak, and only the strong’d win. At first I didn’t listen to him, I believed that if you lived next door to someone or sat at the same desk at school, it was a friendship that would last forever. Then you go to different junior high schools, and it all ends.”
Genji was drumming a rhythm on the sofa’s arm-rest, Tokio was looking at the town beyond the roof.
“I had a friend like that. We were close as long as I can remember - like in the movies. Then he enrolled into a cool junior high, and I didn’t. And the friendship evaporated. I didn’t realize it at first, I tagged after him until he said, ‘You know, Shun, it was fun, but it was elementary school, now it’s different’. It was humiliating. Then I enrolled into a junior high, met new people. I thought one boy was a bastard, but it didn't mean everyone was like him. I’ve found new friends, the five of us became a team, we were ready to kill for each other, that sort of thing. It was cool. We used to shoplift to amuse ourselves.”
“Now I know why you know so much about kleptomania,” Tokaji couldn’t just keep quiet.
“Kleptomania is something entirely different, read some books of yours. We shoplifted small things, magazines or CDs, to prove that we were tough. The biggest challenge was to steal something from under the salesman’s nose. Sometimes we even invented tasks what to steal to make things more interesting. One of us entered the shop, others were outside, it was easier to run away and fight back together.”
“It was oh so serious, you were like grown-ups,” Makise clicked his tongue in admiration. “So you were never caught, weren’t you?”
“Oh yes, we were,” Izaki said examining garbage under his feet. “Once. I was to get a new volume of Black Cat (**). It went fine at first, I grabbed it and ran for the door, and the salesman ran after me. The guys were running ahead. They saw that the salesman almost lost me and were off. But then I twisted my ankle and fell. The salesman grabbed me. My gang stopped, but people were gathering around, so they slipped away. If only two of them’d returned I’d have escaped.”
“You ended up in the police, of course,” Makise nodded sympathetically.
“No, the salesman took pity on me. He made me tell him my parents’ phone number. Mum was hysterical.” Shun shook his head. “But Dad… I thought he’d kill me, but he said, ‘See, what your friendship is worth? Where are your friends now? They’re probably shaking in their boot afraid that you’d tell on them. You can rely only on yourself, remember that’. I asked if I should stop talking to anyone ever again. He said that I could talk to whoever I saw fit, people could be useful, I should look at them and figure out what advantage they could give me, but never stick out my neck out. Being different is dangerous and all that. The next day the whole gang waited for me outside of my house. The only one question they asked was if I turned them in,” Izaki smirked.
“So you decided that everyone was like them?” Tokio asked.
“One episode is an accident, two are a pattern.” Izaki was twirling a lighter in his hands. “I decided that enough was enough, I was done with this friendship thing. Dad was right. People were to be used. I didn’t even quarrel with those idiots. I made them believe everything was fine. I practiced on them, so to say.”
Izaki looked at Genji, but saw only the back of his head.
“I quickly learned to manipulate people. It turned out to be a piece of cake. I only needed to know their weakness. One is a coward, another is greedy, a third one is a show-off. The crows, for example, are not really into thinking, so I decided that was what I needed. I wanted to become the leader, but you ended up in my way,” he looked at Serizawa.
“I’m not responsible for your demons.”
“I couldn’t understand why you were sitting here, on the roof, while your army grew. And more importantly I didn’t know how to get rid of you. Because you’re a riddle, Serizawa.”
“Then I appeared,” Genji said slowly turning around. He said it quietly, but Izaki flinched as if he were tased.
“Then you appeared,” he mumbled. “And I just knew it was my chance. You have so much courage, so much strength and…”
“…not enough brain,” Tokaji added – without much bite.
“I realized you were what I needed, you could help me to get rid of Serizawa, I could become the leader.”
“Why are you telling your fri… guys this?” Tamao asked quietly. “If you’re an asshole keep this information to yourself.”
“Then I realized that I was just following Genji,” Izaki continued without looking at Takiya. “I follow him not because he’s useful, but because I want to. I don’t care that I’m only the second, Takiya. When you offered Bando to cut your ear off I knew you were out of your mind. But I also realized that you’d never leave behind those who believed in you, you’d never say, ‘Sorry, things changed’. I never thought that I’d have a friend whom I’d trust more than I trust myself, that being friends was much cooler that making others do what I wanted.”
“Fuck,” Makise breathed.
“I’ve only recently understood what it means to have friends.” Genji put a hand on Izaki’s shoulder just like Serizawa did a couple of minutes ago for Tokio. Genji smiled crookedly looking shy and embarrassed. His usually sullen face suddenly became open and boyish. Izaki half-whimpered, half-sobbed and quickly put on his sunglasses.
Genji coughed and said, “Only the two of you are left”.
He felt uneasy after Izaki’s words.
“It’s my turn, I think,” Tokaji said hesitantly.
“You can bet on it,” Izaki calmed down a little and teased him – almost good-naturedly. “A loyal general is covering his leader’s ass.”
“Are you jealous?” Serizawa asked lazily.
“Nope,” Shun replied in the same tone.
“My secret is nothing special, I think, sometimes I even wonder why I worry about it so much,” Tokaji started cheerfully, but Serizawa wasn’t fooled and looked at him suspiciously. “If anyone asks I say that my parents divorced. They were never married, though. I was registered as an illegitimate child (***).”
His cheerfulness didn’t last long. His usually expressionless face turned to stone.
“Do you have any contacts with your father?” Tokio asked as the most tactful of the bunch.
“I’ve never even seen him. At first Mum used to say that he’d died, but when I grew older I realized that he hadn’t. She just didn’t want me to feel crippled.”
“Did you ever want to know who he was?” Genji asked a bit too nonchalantly.
“No,” Tokaji shook his head. “Maybe when I was a kid, but later… Why would I look for him? I always pitied my Mum, she alone was dealing with me and the hairdresser’s salon. That’s my secret, no big deal,” Yuji concluded quickly.
“Why didn’t you tell it before?” Serizawa asked shrewdly, eyeing ‘the brains’ of his army with suspicion, not entirely believing that it could be that simple. “Every other student here is illegitimate.”
Tokaji refused to look him in the eye.
“It’s gross, like it’s my fault.”
“But here, at Suzuran, no one cares who your parents are and how many of them you have. Takiya doesn’t have a mother, his father is a yakuza. Tokio’s family is even worse, they’re rich. Why should anyone care that you’ve never seen your father?” Tamao wasn’t easily swayed.
“He never married my mother.”
“I ended up in Suzuran because of him,” Tokaji snapped.
“How so? You said you’ve never met him,” Tokio wondered.
“I ended up in trouble because of him. I had good grades in junior high, you know. I knew I could count only on myself, if I wouldn’t work hard I wouldn’t get anywhere in life. And I pitied my Mum.” Tokaji talked as if he were ashamed of his sentimentality. “There was a boy in my class like Tokio, only he was a jerk. He was even more wise ass than Izaki.” Shun smiled crookedly. “I rarely talked to him, I had my own friends, I was busy with homework and clubs.”
“So you were a goody two-shoes?” Izaki couldn’t contain himself too.
“No, I never was a quiet one. I could hit hard if the need arose.”
“So what happened between you and that boy who was like me, only an asshole?” Tokio reminded him of the topic.
“He started bugging me, I still have no idea why.” Tokaji was twirling his sunglasses as if it were the most interesting thing in the world. “Maybe because I didn’t want to join his gang. He had his own lackeys, they loved to pick someone from the crowd and bully him. My previous school was gentler than Ebizuka,” he looked at Izaki. “There were no psychos like Kirishima, everyone showed their teeth, but eventually caved in. No one wanted to be an outcast.” Yuji let the sunglasses go and lit another cigarette. “But I was tougher than that.”
“Oh yeah, you can bully anyone yourself,” Izaki agreed.
“Something like that. Since ‘Die!’ and all that jazz didn’t work on me he tried another tactic: ‘You’re so useless even your father abandoned you’ and all that.” The cigarette ended up on the floor. Yuji stepped on it like it was his old enemy’s face. “Fuck, where are the Mikamis and beer?” He grabbed the sunglasses again. “I didn’t fall for it, not really, I tried to beat him several times, though, but either classmates or teachers dragged us apart. I couldn’t lie in wait for him near his house, I had other things to do. Then… I don’t know how he found out, the information was written only in my file that was kept in the teachers’ lounge. When he said that my mother was a whore because she never married I…” The sunglasses finally broke. Its arm clanked on the floor, everyone stared at it. “I don’t remember what exactly happened, but when we were dragged apart, he had a broken nose and a missing tooth. There was a huge scandal. His parents threatened to send me to jail, teachers fretted. In their defense I can that it was a first for the school. Everyone demanded for me to apologize and explain myself. They gave such an awful letter of recommendation that I couldn’t enroll into any decent high school, even with good exam results.”
“That’s fucked up.” It was the only thing Izaki said.
Tokaji lit another cigarette.
“I did a dumb thing then, of course. I was a kid, had all these principles to follow.” He smirked. “I should have apologized. Mum was so worried, she begged and shouted at me. She even beat me. That is, I let her to make her feel better.” There was a hint of gentleness in his voice.
Tamao stared at him, but his expression was unreadable. Genji’s thoughts, on the other hand, were written all over his face.
“Why should you apologize for something that wasn’t your fault? Have you lost your marbles? You should hold on to your honor.”
“My pride was the reason for the whole mess. If I’d apologized I could have enrolled into a decent school and gotten ready to university exams.”
“And you’d let your mother be called a whore?” The situation was getting out of hand, but strangely enough Yuji didn’t even bat an eye and looked at Genji as if he were a kid who just asked why the grass was green.
“She wouldn’t become one because of it, but I could have earned money later. Well, I lost the principles on the way here, so it’s alright.”
Genji obviously wanted to discuss the topic some more, but he didn’t get the chance.
“Do you regret coming to Suzuran?” Tamao asked.
“No,” Tokaji answered firmly and quickly. “I don’t. I used to, but now I don’t.”
It seemed that these two were the only people on the roof.
“Maybe because a decent school and a well-paid job are not the most important things in life. I’m not afraid of anything now, and I have people I can trust. I can achieve any goal if I want to.”
“Where the fuck are the Mikamis?! Tokio, give me a cigarette, I don’t have any.” Yuji smiled too.
“Well, Serizawa,” Izaki stretched. “You’re the only one left. What’s your secret?”
Tamao’s smile turned almost saintly.
“I don’t have any.”
Genji was taken aback, Izaki took off his sunglasses, even Tsutsumoto, Tokio and Tokaji stared at their leader.
“I don’t have any secrets,” Serizawa repeated.
“Listen you, self-proclaimed Buddha, it’s not funny,” Takiya frowned.
“Do I look like I’m kidding?”
They stared at each other. Things were heating up so fast a falling match could have caused a fire.
“Do we look like idiots?”
“Depends on who you’re talking about.”
“You should be ashamed,” Izaki said holding Genji back with some effort. “Your friends here told their secrets, you’re letting them down.”
“I have no imagination,” Tamao said almost apologizing. “I can’t think of anything that will nurse the wounded pride of our king of the jungle.”
“Everyone has secrets,” Shun said firmly.
“Izaki,” Serizawa said with feigned kindness, “You think that you know people, but you judge everyone based on your own experience.”
“Are you saying you don’t?”
“I’m saying that everyone should live the way they like.”
“Oh do you?” Izaki flared up. “You don’t give a shit about anything, you only want to eat and play majong the whole day long. You even fought not because you wanted to be the leader, but because you wanted to be left alone.”
“Everyone has their own reasons. Takiya fights because he always wants to be the king of the castle, and I don’t want others to bother me. If I have to defeat everyone in order to do that, I will.”
“As I was saying – you don’t give a fuck.”
“No.” Serizawa straightened and looked Izaki in the eye. “I simply can separate the wheat from the chaff.” Tamao leaned back again. “When I was a kid my parents sometimes left me with a funny old man who looked after me. He used to be a Catholic priest or a Buddhist monk, or he maybe was just a harmless lunatic. He never worried about anything, I don’t remember ever seeing him angry. He always said that it was very important to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff, to see what was really important and what was not. Many people get their panties in a twist over things that aren’t worth it.”
“Are you saying you know what’s important and what’s not?” Izaki asked.
Serizawa exhaled cigarette smoke and watched it fade away, then answered.
“Everyone decides for themselves what’s important for them.”
“So you never make mistakes?” It seemed Izaki sincerely wanted to understand his philosophy.
Serizawa fell silent again.
“I do,” he admitted finally. “It’s probably the thing I’m most afraid of: that there will come a time when I won’t be able to see what’s important and what’s not.”
“So what’s important for you?” This time Genji asked a question first.
“The same things that are important to any normal human being: my family, my friends. The rest is not worth bothering about.”
“Your ideas are miserable,” Izaki said disdainfully.
“Look who’s talking. At least I’m doing everything myself, I’m not hiding behind someone else’s back.”
“Are you saying I’m a coward?!” Izaki jumped up. Genji stood up too. Tokaji followed their example.
“I only said that everyone solved their problems the way they could.” Serizawa didn’t even move. “I can spend my whole life asking myself why I’m poor, why I’ve been wearing hand me downs as long as I can remember, why I’m shorter than any of my classmates or even younger boys, but what will change if I do? I won’t become rich or tall, and I don’t care about clothes. I know that my friends are with me not because I have plenty of cash, though. And we trust each other. I used to get angry at each ‘we don’t have enough money to buy that’ – and I’ve heard it regularly – but one day I realized that instead of getting angry and indignant I should ask myself whether it was really important to me. If I really want something I’ll find a way to get it. I learned to enjoy the small things.”
“You’re just a coward,” Genji said looking Serizawa in the eye. He smirked. “You are a coward,” Genji repeated slowly amazed by this discovery, “because you’re afraid to challenge anyone."
“Are you mad? What challenge? Whom to challenge?”
“Life is a war, and you’re simply afraid to lose. You sit on this roof eating your sausages and pretending it's what you need. You even invented a theory about the wheat and the chaff. Bullshit! You’re lying to yourself and you know it because life is a fight, if you stop you lose.”
“While you always want to have it your way and don’t stop to think if you need it or not - because you’re afraid to stop, look around and ask yourself why you're doing this. Because asking means thinking and one day realizing that there are questions without answers.”
Tamao stood up, the two of them froze opposite one another. Genji was frowning. Tamao crossed his hands over his chest, his eyes half-closed. Everyone on the roof knew that this relaxed state of Serizawa’s could instantly switch to fighting mode.
The crows gathered around them ready to drag them apart or join the fight. Suddenly the door slammed: Chuta and the Mikami brothers brought loads of beer.
“Look what we’ve got here!” Tamura shouted, exited.
“Now we won’t have to go…”
The Mikamis were finishing each other’s sentences as usual. The bottles clanked happily, but this sound wasn’t met with approval.
“I’m going home,” Genji said.
“Hey! What happened?” Chuta asked surprised. “Gen-san, where are you going?”
“I have things to do.” Serizawa relaxed and patted his pockets making sure he had all his things with him.
“I need to go too,” Tokio reached out for his jacket.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Takeshi asked staring at them.
“What happened?” Manabu added.
“Nothing happened,” Tokaji shrugged and put his cigarettes into a pocket. “We’re just sitting here and playing.”
They left the roof, went down the stairs and exited the school.
* * *
“Hey, pig face,” Izaki called out. Tokaji turned around.
“What?” He waited for Izaki, though, they walked on together.
“What do you think about someone else’s secrets?”
“What do you mean?” Tokaji looked at Izaki, but he had his sunglasses on. It was impossible to understand what this sly fox had on his mind.
“I think,” Izaki drawled, “that’s it’s a good thing, uniting even. You know something about me, I know something about you, both of us know something about a third one, and he knows something about us. And it’s somewhat uncomfortable to quarrel. Do you agree?”
“Something like joint responsibility?” Tokaji smiled knowingly.
“Something like that, yes.” Izaki kicked an empty beer can.
“I’m curious, though, what Takiya and Serizawa think. I saw them walking away together. They could cripple each other.”
“They won’t,” Shun answered confidently. “And they don’t have to think about it. We’re here for that.”
* * *
“What do you want, my violent friend?” Serizawa stopped and wearily looked at approaching Genji.
“Tsutsumoto,” he said curtly.
“What about him?” Serizawa was swaying back and forth and staring at Takiya.
“Are you going to leave it at that? The thing Tsutsumoto said?”
“It was his choice.”
“Why are talking about it so calmly? Tsutsumoto isn’t on your list of important things, is he?”
“What are you laughing at?” Genji clenched his fists. “He’s nobody to me, but I can’t walk away.”
“What are you going to do? Are you going to start a fight?” Serizawa stopped swaying and stared at Genji long and hard. Takiya was getting seriously angry because Serizawa was right.
“That’s what I was trying to explain to you. You don’t have to run, you can stop and think.” Tamao thrust his hands into his pockets and hunched a little. “Keep a low profile,” he said viciously. “I’ll find out everything there is about this jerk, then we’ll decide if he needs only his arms and legs broken or something else too.”
Genji smiled and held out some cigarettes because there probably was some sense in Serizawa’s philosophy: for example, don’t worry about lack of money for cigarettes, there is always someone who’ll give you some for free.
Tamao took one, lit it and let Genji light one too.
Sometimes it’s important to just stop and think, but when everything is decided the only way is forward.