Actions

Work Header

Happy Birthday

Chapter Text

Yuri's POV

It was nearly 3am now. Not many of us were left, since only so many of us could spend the night.

It was Sayori's birthday in a few days, and Christmas was not all that long ago, so a bunch of her friends all came together for a party of sorts. I didn't know all of them, but then again, I didn't know anyone outside of the literature club. There was one girl that Sayori thought I would take interest in. She had medium length, wavy blonde hair and blue eyes. Sayori said that we were a lot alike, which I just took as an insult. She always had her head in a book, which was as far as the similarities went. As soon as she interacted with people, however, she just shut down. She wouldn't even join any of the games that the others were playing.

Was that how I seemed to the others? Dear God, no wonder Natsuki doesn't like me. I think she knows I like her, but she's just being a jerk about it.

“Yuri! Truth or dare?” I looked up at Monika, startled.

“What? Oh! Dare!” I really didn't want to, but there was no way I would risk a truth. And I wasn't going to be that reclusive.

Monika gave me a wicked smile. She was clearly sleep deprived, which only added to the mischief she would normally be up to. She threw a sideways glance at Natsuki before walking up to me.

She sneakily handed me two bars of chocolate and whispered, “Go stand under the mistletoe arch and say, ‘The first person to kiss me gets a chocolate bar.’ If no one does it, you can have them both.”

I shot to my feet. “Are you crazy?” I asked, my voice shaking. I tried not to look in Nat's direction. I sighed. “You know what? Fine.” I might as well. It's worth a try.

I walked to the mistletoe arch that was only a few feet away. My paces were uneven, a contradiction to my normal stride. “The fir– the first,” I stuttered before spitting it all out quickly, “The first person to kiss me gets a chocolate bar.” I could tell I had piqued the interest of a few of them, but I wasn't sure who, since I couldn't look up from the floor. After everything settled, I rushed back to my seat.

“Okay!” Sayori declared, saving me from my awkwardness, “I think it's about time we all go to bed.” I got up at this statement and went to the bathroom to change into my pajamas. They were loose fitting, but the cuffs went to my fingertips.

I went to the floor by the mistletoe arch, since it was only space left to lie down in Sayori's living room. I laid as still as I could, mindlessly fidgeting with the cuffs of my sleeves; being paranoid that the sleeves were too thin.

Would no one actually kiss me? Then again, who would? Even if Monika wanted to, she was the one who proposed the dare, so she wouldn't. I wasn't sure about those I didn't know, but Sayori was straight as an arrow, so that only really left Natsuki. And like...

“Hey, Yuri?” The whisper broke me from my thoughts. Realizing that I had been scratching at my shoulder, at some rather recent scabs, I immediately stopped. “You up?”

“Yeah?” I sat up and looked at Sayori, the only one who was still awake. She stood slowly, clearly half asleep in the action. She walked under the mistletoe arch, into the kitchen. She started mindlessly rummaging around for something.

“Ha!” She declared triumphantly. She held up a blue foldable stool in her hands. She unfolded it and set it down at the edge of the tile. “Come here,” she whispered, making sure that she was stable where she stood on the stool. The giddy smile on her face somehow reassured me, whilst simultaneously making me more afraid.

I walked up to her. “Sayori, what are you doing?” Was she even awake enough to be aware of what she was doing? I grabbed her arms just long enough to steady her, before quickly letting go. She put a hand above my head, then moved it above her own, as if comparing our heights - which were almost equal, now that she was standing on the stool.

“Perfect.” The last thing I heard before she threw my whole world for a loop was her giggling slightly as she swiped my eyes closed. Her lips pressed against mine gently. What was this feeling? I didn't understand. It was how I had imagined a kiss with Natsuki, but… better. Oh my god, it was so much better.

There were sparks at just the touch of her lips. My breaths were uneven as I tried my best to kiss her back. I felt starved for this unexplainable feeling that I had never felt before. This was better than any knife. This was ecstasy. How could this one simple touch of her lips to mine be so...  Exhilarating?

As if she could hear my thoughts, she placed her hands on my shoulders and pulled me closer. I was on the verge of pulling her to me, when she stopped. I gasped slightly, just realizing how out of breath I was. “Sayori?” I just questioned her shakily, not even sure how to word all the thoughts and questions running rampant in my mind.

I followed her gaze to my right shoulder. Blood was seeping through the thin fabric of my pajama top. Why was I...? Oh! I tried to step away, but Sayori held me still. She must have ripped some of the scabs. Sayori's eyes met mine, pleading desperately with me in silence.

“Yuri,” her voice cracked, tears choking her voice, “Let me help.” She's going to hate me. I can't.. “Yuri.” I met her eyes again. “I already know.” She grabbed ahold of my wrists gently and pulled my hands to her face, making her point. I just realized the situation, and I suddenly felt the shooting pain in my shoulder.

Sayori jumped down from the stool and wrapped her arms around me. “Come on.” She grabbed my hand and pulled me to the bathroom down the hall. “Get the shirt you brought for tomorrow.” I did as she asked, then returned. She took my sweater and set it on the sink counter, while I sat on the lid of the toilet.

As carefully as she could, Sayori helped me take off my top that was now partially soaked with blood. “I'll get this washed for you, and you can just put your sweater on afterward. Everyone will just think you woke up first and got dressed.” She left for a moment, presumably to go put my shirt in the washer.

When she came back, she shut the door behind her, then began rummaging through the cabinets. “Here,” she said, handing me two pills and a glass of water she had filled up at the sink, “It'll help numb the pain, at least for a little bit.” She paused before realizing what she said and my current situation. “In your shoulder, I mean. It won't aid any pain that isn't physical. Believe me, I've tried.”

I sat in shock. “Sayori... Are you saying...” I could never imagine anything being wrong with this girl.

“Once,” Sayori blurted quickly, “But I was able to stop once I realized they didn't do anything. They couldn't stop the pain. This won't stop the pain.” She gestured to my arms before she started cleaning the bloodied part of my shoulder. “It won't ever fix things.”

I noticed that she couldn't keep her eyes in one place for long, she kept glancing to all of my scars. “Only my arms and legs seemed to do the trick. Closer to muscle and bone, more nerves I guess.” She visibly shook at my statement. “Hey, Sayori?” She looked up to my eyes again. “I know you'll probably just forget this in the morning, so just let me enjoy this one last time.”

She seemed to read my thoughts once more, as she sat on my lap, nursing supplies forgotten. I placed a hand on either side of her face, and pressed my lips to hers desperately. This time our lips moved in sync, and the sparks were still as electrifying as they were the first time around. Neither of us wanted to stop; we snuck in gasps of air amongst little kisses. Sayori's hand moved up my neck and into my hair, at which point she proceeded by pushing me further into the kiss. I licked at her lips, admiring their sweet, cherry taste.

It was an odd, yet, wonderful feeling to see how Sayori just let me control her like this. I almost felt like I had too much power. I came to a screeching halt, pushing Sayori away.

“Did I do something wrong?” She looked hurt.

“No! Oh god, no. That was...” I shook my head. “This isn't what you want. And I certainly don't want to give you anything worth remembering. You're just tired. You aren't thinking straight.” I wasn't sure if was talking to her or to myself.

She ran her fingers through my hair a final time before turning away with a sigh. “Put your sweater on. I'll see you in the morning.” She left, and the next time I saw her, she was seemingly asleep.

I tried for who knows how long to understand what had happened. Sayori kissed me. Sayori kissed me. I had just gone with it when it first happened, but looking back.. But not only did I enjoy it, but it seemed like she did, too. And that wasn’t even the confusing part. Well, it was confusing, seeing as how we all thought Sayori was straight as a line. Well, lines go both ways, I suppose.

But what I couldn’t wrap my head around was the fact that Sayori knew. How could someone know and still even remotely like me? Even someone like her. And... and... When she spoke about it all, she spoke from experience. Was I the one who didn’t know things? She tried to help me, I had to at least return the favor. It was such a rarity that anyone was kind to me - even falsely, so on the occasion that it did happen, I needed to do anything I could to show my gratitude.

I stared at the ceiling for hours on end. I had gotten over fourteen hours of sleep last night, so even if my mind was calm, I couldn’t sleep. Instead, I retrieved my notebook and began writing poems.

~

 

 

Weather

 

She was unexpected.

I truly did not expect her

or her effect on me,

my heart,

my mind,

my feelings.

She was the calming sound

of the light, pitter-patter of drizzle

on an April Sunday morning

in my brutal, destructive hurricane.

~

 

Poetry

You can write for hours and hours,

Of all the things that you wish you could be,

But the truth of the matter is simple.

People are not poetry.

And I know that you wish you weren’t awkward;

That sweet words could roll right off your tongue,

But your time here’s too short just to worry,

How each single sentence is strung.

It’s okay to be rough round the edges,

To be bruised up and broken and scarred.

But it’s not okay to let people tell you,

That it’s a reason to change who you are.

Your hair doesn’t always sit neatly,

The way a poem sits so neatly on the lines.

And sometimes you might feel like a word,

That nobody has learnt to define.

You might not be a star that lights darkness,

Or a bird that can teach us to soar,

But it’s okay, because you are too complex,

To be crammed into one metaphor.

It’s okay not to know what you’re doing,

Since your feelings don’t have to all rhyme.

Though a poem once complete is eternal,

You have the freedom to change over time.

You’re much more than can ever be written,

There is no title to say, “This is Me”.

You can’t be trapped in the lines of a notebook.

Because people are not poetry.

~

 

Station Manager

 

I was old enough to know

that your heart was a train station,

that the doors to your sanity

were hanging on their hinges.

 

Love would rush into you, like an afternoon

commuter, with crumpled sonnets

in its pockets and coffee stains on its hands.

 

There was an absence of light when

the last of it left down the stony steps

of your ribs, dragging rusted chains

over the entrance.

 

And I was there in the stark

mornings with the key, just a child

with a swaying lantern and the knowledge

of picking locks. In those early years,

you told me I was the keeper of that place.

I was the one to make those predetermined

schedules run on time - and billow into the nighttime

like locomotive steam.

~

I could see rays of sun sneaking in now, and the others were beginning to stir. I hurriedly changed into the rest of my normal clothes so that I wouldn’t appear mismatched. I put my notebook back, hidden away from the others.

“You’re up already?” I glanced to Natsuki as she mumbled in my general direction.

I shrugged, glancing at the clock. “It’s already past 8am. It really isn’t that early.”

Her eyes widened. “Crap! Guys, get up!” She started shaking Monika awake.

She jumped up to wake Sayori, but I stopped her. “She didn’t fall asleep until after four. Let her rest. You can go pack up. I’ll wake the other two.” She nodded with a quiet thanks and ran off. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wake up the other two that I didn’t know, because Monika did so for me. I followed after Natsuki, and packed up my stuff.

“Somebody kiss you after I fell asleep?” She asked out of nowhere.

I looked up at her in shock, but soon realized after doing so that she was eyeing my seldom chocolate bar. I shook my head dismissively. “Sayori probably stole it when I wasn’t paying attention,” I mumbled, partially to myself. Well, I had to give it to her anyway.

After we finished packing up, Natsuki and I returned together. I saw that the others had woken Sayori anyway. She shook her head at me when she saw the angry look on my face. “I oversleep all the time,” she said, “I can take one night with just a few hours.”

Natsuki reluctantly gave hugs to everyone but Monika, who did the same. “I have to be home by 8:30 or my dad might literally kill me. You’re walking with me, right Monsquid? You’re house isn’t that far from mine.”

Monika sighed heavily. “Yeah, but only if you stop using that stupid nickname! How would you like it if I just referred to you as, ‘I do not care?’ Huh? It doesn’t even make sense!” The duo left as they bickered back and forth.

Sayori’s mom entered a few minutes later. “I have to give these two ladies a ride home. Will you two be alright on your own? I have some errands to run after, so I may not be back for a while Sayori.”

She nodded. “Yuri will be gone by the time you get home anyway. I’ll be fine. I always am.”

The two girls I didn’t know followed her mom out. “Sooo...” Sayori said once they were gone.

“I’m sorry the gift I got you wasn’t much in comparison to the others,” I said staring at the small gift box on the floor by the couch where Sayori sat.

“Are you kidding? I love it! Besides, even if you hadn't gotten me anything, you certainly made up for it later.” I cast my eyes to the floor, trying not to blush. “Speaking of which... When do you have to go?”

“Well, I’m not sure when your mom will be back, but...”

She chuckled slightly at my response. “Believe me, she won’t be back for at least a few hours. In the meantime, I have to run your shirt through the dryer, and possibly the whole cycle again, so you’re stuck with me for at least twenty more minutes.”

 

“Of course, you could always stay for longer...”

Chapter Text

Sayori's POV

It's been weeks since the sleepover.

3 weeks and a few days.

24 days. And we haven't mentioned the incident once. We had both agreed not to talk about it. Well, more like she requested so, and I abided by that request.

I glanced at my clock. I had overslept all of those weeks, since I could never fall asleep until long after midnight. 2:10. I got out of bed. My eyes searched through the dark until they landed upon the oh-so-deadly object that lay carelessly neglected in the corner. It was buried under piles of laundry and other random things, so only the end stuck out.

Oh, how I so badly wanted to take it in my hand, feel it rub against my skin just once.

Not now, I decided. Not yet.

I got out of bed with a dragging sigh. I couldn't sleep tonight. I walked to the bathroom before deciding what I was to do. I pushed the pillow matted hair from my face. I opened the bathroom cabinet and stared into it. No, I scolded myself, I'm supposed to be done.

Later. I'll clear my head first, and then maybe.

I left a note, then changed into some normal clothes and went outside. There was a small trail I had found when I was younger. I didn't follow it often. Rather, I reminded myself of the danger at the end of the path. Far from the backyards of my childhood, there was a cliff. Not a high one, just a sudden drop in elevation about thirty feet to a river below.

I sat at the end of the stone, and precariously dangled my feet over the edge. If we lived elsewhere, this platform would be perfect for viewing the Northern Lights. I really wanted to take a picture of it, and maybe Natsuki or someone could Photoshop the Aurora Borealis in the sky.

I pulled my jacket tight around me. Even with it on, the wind still made it too cold. I kicked my feet against the edge rhythmically, creating a pattern that sounded like footsteps.

Why is she all I can think about? The Literature Club has been a nightmare. I can't read, can't write, and can't focus. It isn't fair. I thought that the latter part of the incident would at least give me some sort of closure, but that was not the case. It only managed to mess up my emotions even more.

Does she think of me as much as I think of her? Unlikely. She was the one who wanted to forget it after all. “Why does it have to be so hard?” I thought aloud, “Why can't I just be brave enough to say something? I just want to... I just want... This isn't fair !” I picked up a cobble from the rough edge and hurled it with all my might across the chasm in front of me.

This amount of momentum forced my legs to stop swinging. The sound of footsteps continued for a moment before stopping.

“It's beautiful isn't it?” The elegant voice spoke behind me. I turned around to face her. The gorgeous woman behind me stood tall and calm in a lacy, white tank top and shorts, her violet hair in one long braid. I almost didn't recognize her. I felt a mix of guilt, rage, and helplessness when my eyes went to her arms before anything else. They were covered in medical wrap, all in small groupings, clearly not all done at once.

I jumped to my feet immediately and went to her side.

“Stop.” I froze in my tracks. “Dear lord, Sayori. Stop worrying about me for once, and worry about yourself.” Her sudden boldness faded as quickly as it had appeared, and she returned to her calm state. I counted the groups of bandages slowly, and all the while, she watched me in fear.

48. Clearly set in pairs. 24. Twenty four days. Oh my god.

I wrapped my arms around her tightly, afraid that if I loosened by any degree, she could slip away. “This is all my fault, isn't it?”

“No... Sayori...” Her voice was a shaking plea.

“You can't deny it. I can tell. I did this.” She looked like a mirror, the bandages on her left fifteen hours younger than their twin on the right. 6am, 9pm? 5am, 8pm? 7am, 10pm maybe? This was all my fault. “Yuri... I hurt you.”

“No, Sayori. I did.” I had the overwhelming urge to scream at her, but my arms only tightened. “Why were you sitting on a cliff side at 2:30 in the morning?”

“I don't know.” Yuri breathed to answer, but said nothing. Myself, I took short shallow breaths. Yuri wasn't normally like this. “What happened?”

“What do you mean?” she asked, pulling me away.

“You know exactly what I mean.” She locked up, unable to speak. “Just pretend you're telling me the plot of your newest novel.”

She took a few long breaths to collect herself, and I waited patiently, respecting the fact that she needed time. She ran her fingers through the bottom of her braid as she spoke. “So, there's this girl, right? And she's kind of crushing on this one other chick, but she's too awkward so she really doesn't know what to do. She really wants to do something, say something, but she isn't sure how. She goes to this party with her crush and a couple of their friends. She's really just hoping she can survive the night, but then someone decides to intervene, thinking they can get the duo together. They force the girl to stand and wait for a mistletoe kiss.”

She takes a deep breath, needing more oxygen to continue with such passion. “She thinks this is brilliant. She'll either get a kiss from her crush, or she'll have confirmation that her crush does not feel the same. Alas, the girl does not get her kiss. She feels heartbroken. She doesn't know what to do with herself. But then a fourth character steps into the scene. This sweet darling of the night, she is like everything the protagonist couldn't expect. She is perfect. But up until that point, the protagonist didn't see her perfection. Her mind was clouded by thoughts of someone she thought she loved. This girl, no, this goddess , she takes the main character's world and tears it apart. She completely rips it to shreds, shatters it into a quadrillion tiny pieces. The main girl desperately isolated herself for weeks, but found no closure. When she looked at her heart, all she saw was a crumpled and confused mess; a bunch of broken pieces, all mashed together in a way they didn't belong. But after a few excruciatingly long weeks, she starts to view her heart differently. Her heart was not made of glass or stone. It was made of Lego bricks. It was something that needed to be completely taken apart, so that something new and beautiful could be made. After she comes to this epiphany, she wanders into nature to process her thoughts, where she finds the young goddess, sitting on the edge of a cliff. That's about as far as I've read.”

I took a moment to process this all before I replied. “And then the girl said to the protagonist, I will fix your heart. I will rebuild it until my last breath, in hopes to form something as beautiful, perfect, and strong as you are. I will form it in good grace, not because it has been requested of me, nor because I was forced, but because I love you, and I wish to see you blossom beautifully, rather than wilt. For you are too precious.”

Yuri spoke confidently, seeing through her character's eyes now, rather than her own. “The main character replied hurriedly, You speak the words of a deity, words of myth. I believe in you and I have faith in your ability to cure my pain, but there is no one who loves me. Not like this.”

“I love you! Can't you see that!? Can't you see it clearly? You remember that night as vividly as I do. That moment . I will always care about you, even when you won't do so yourself. I can feel your pain, crawling just below my skin and diving into my heart. I need to help you. Desperately . I can't even sleep, thinking about how I couldn't help you.”

I spun around, putting my back to her and sitting back at the edge. “I’m sorry. I want to help you. I want to show you how much you mean to me. I want to give you hope. I want to give you happiness. I want to show you the sunrise, and prove to you that the sky is darkest before the light. Prove that the light is there; the light is real. But all I can do is say sorry. Because no matter how hard I try, I will never be good enough. I try, I try desperately to show everyone a smile, but I can do it anymore. I can't care for all of them. I can't even save you, the one I love. I can't even learn to back away. Everyone knows it would be better if I just stayed out of people's lives, even I know it. The simple truth.”

Yuri stuttered once again, startled by all the negative emotion in my voice. “But, you've... All you do is help people. You've probably never hurt a single person in your e-entire life...”

“I've never hurt anyone, Yuri? Look at yourself!” I realized, no matter how far we were from civilization, I was yelling, and it was past 2:30 in the morning, so I tried my best to quiet down. “Yuri, all I manage to do is hurt the people I care about. That's it. I'm a disaster of a human being, and you and I both know it.”

“Get up.” I turned around in my sitting position. Her voice was clear, like how it had been when she first arrived. “Sayori. Get up, and come here.” I was shaken by the confidence in her voice, something that usually only came with books. I quickly did as she requested, my hesitance gone.

She held my face gently in her hands, staring into my eyes. “What are you doing, Yuri?” I asked cautiously. She had bent down to my height and I could feel her warm breath cascading down my neck, in contrast to the cold, whipping wind.

“I think you already know,” she said slowly, “I'm proving a point.” The look in her eyes seemed as starved of this feeling as I felt. She carefully pulled my lips to hers, as if she was afraid she would do something wrong. She was kissing me. The only thing she could possibly do wrong is stop. She was taller than me to begin with, which became a problem as my knees decided they couldn't support me. She was too freaking tall! I pulled her closer to me. She briskly stopped the kiss as soon as I did so. I went to protest, but she put a finger to my lips to shut me up. “Just come sit with me.”

I sat on the ground next to her, and we ended up lying side by side with my head on her shoulder. “Have I ever told you how much I love the stars, Sayori?”

As we sat beneath a canopy of constellations, I let myself dream. While she gazed at the sky, eyes glimmering at the night, my own took in each curve and crease of her, as I prayed that we’d stay this way forever.

I shook my head slowly. “They are really beautiful, aren't they?” I said whimsically, “I've always loved looking at them. Never in a science-y sense, but in an artistic one.”

“Astronomy is beautiful. From both a science perspective, and an art one. I should show some of my favorite space pictures in the club tomorrow. For now, we need to go. It's nearly 3am, and even goddesses have bedtimes.”

I whined slightly, hugging Yuri once more. I might never see her like this again. She kissed me quickly, and I felt completely at the mercy of her touch once again. The feeling only lasted a moment though, for we separated a second later. “I love you, Yuri.”

She ruffled my hair and walked away, whispering, “I love you too, princess.”

Chapter Text

Yuri's POV

Ah, the Literature Club. I walked in calmly, Portrait of Markov in hand. I went to the open closet immediately. I reached up to the very top shelf and pushed Natsuki’s box of manga aside, then put my book as far back on the shelf as I could, even pushing it with my fingertips so it would be out of my reach.

“Hey, be careful with that!” The pink haired girl whined at me.

“Do you want it?” I asked, putting my hands on either side of the box.

“No! I can get it myself!” Her retort made it obvious that she wanted the box, but was also determined to prove herself. I picked the box up and gently set in on a nearby desk, partially in spite of the small feisty girl, but mostly to help. She seemed truly taken aback by the act. “Thank you, Yuri.” I smiled. I honestly think that was the first time Natsuki had said something nice to me.

I glanced at my book a final time. I had never abandoned a book before. Even if it was a poorly written story, once I started, I had to finish. Even if I was disgusted by it. But this novel, Portrait of Markov, it had intrigued me. It was a horror story of sorts, gruesome and gory in its recollections. But after being with Sayori, even in just our few recent encounters, the horror that once interested me was now repulsive. It had changed my actions. It wasn't a story I wanted to live in.

Speaking of which, Sayori was walking in, Monika at her side. “We need to discuss with the others first,” I heard Sayori say, “I'm not sure if they'll even want to do the festival.”

“I suppose you're right,” Monika replied, “but I just want to relax for now. All this planning is stressing me out.”

Sayori carried a worried look on her face. Her eyes darted around the room. She looked at me, and her face lit up. She skipped over to me cheerily. “Space pictures!”

I chuckled at her excitement. “Nice to see you too, Sayori.” I called to Monika. “Is it alright if I use the computer?” She looked up from her desk and nodded. I went to my favorite website for space photos, and pulled up a few of my favorites.

“These are beautiful! “ Sayori was completely enamored by the half dozen pictures I showed her.

I nodded in agreement. “I think space is like an illustration of life. The photo that looks like a butterfly is really the death of a nebula, and the ‘exploding planet’ is the birth of one. It's a beautiful way to illustrate the concept of new beginning.”

I looked up from the computer to see that she was staring at me. I could feel my anxiety begin to creep back under her gaze. Did I say something weird? I'm rambling. Am I boring her? “What?”

“Ah. I'm staring, sorry,” she replied, casting her eyes down, “I just love when you get so enthusiastic about something. It makes me happy.” She paused and glanced at Monika for a moment, before pulling her cell phone from her pocket. She started texting someone, oblivious of my presence. She looked back to me a moment or two later. “Would you want to spend the weekend at my house? I'm sure Monika will mention festival preparations, but even if we don't do the festival...”

“Okay everyone!” Monika's voice brought everyone's attention. “I'm not sure of everyone's stance on the matter, but the spring festival is on Monday, so if we want to do something, we need to prepare this weekend.”

Sayori looked absolutely ecstatic about the idea. “We were thinking of doing a poetry performance! It'll be great!” She seemed happy, but her happiness was only a few inches thick. More than a mask, but not by much.

“Natsuki, you can bake cupcakes, I’ll help you if you need it. Sayori and Yuri, the banner and pamphlet design is up to you, just make sure you get the pamphlet design sent to me by Sunday night so I can print them all out.”

“Do we really have to do this?” Natsuki grumbled, “I like the Literature Club just the way it is.”

“Natsuki, you have to at least give others a chance. You may come to like them as much as the rest of us.” Monika was completely surprised by my words, but frankly, so was I. I’d typically be against the festival, much less be siding against Nat.

Natsuki sighed. “I’ll make cupcakes.”

“Any other objections?” Monika asked. We all fell silent. “Alright, so if we’re all in agreement, then I suppose club time is over. Meeting adjourned.”

I looked to Sayori. “Is your proposal still in the air?” I was honestly really looking forward to the idea of spending an entire weekend with Sayori.

“Going to my house? Of course! To be fair, even if you didn’t want to, we have festival preparations.”

I smiled. “Well in that case, we can swing down to my house so I can clothes and stuff, then to your house.”

*

I felt bad for making Sayori wait outside while I got all of my stuff together, but I would’ve felt even worse if I had let her come in. Especially to my room. “Hey, Dad?” I called as I ran down the stairs, “I’m spending the weekend at a friend’s house so we can prepare for the school festival. I’ll be back after school on Monday.” He smiled and nodded, letting me on my way, since I was clearly in a rush.

“Sorry that took so long,” I said, suddenly feeling my anxiety once again.

She gave me a sideways glance as we began to walk side by side, with a smile plastered to her face. “Weekend at a friend’s house ,” she thought aloud.

“Well, I, uh,” I stuttered, looking at my feet, “I mean, we could be more, I-I guess...” I covered my face with one of my hands. I sound like a complete idiot.

“Well, aren't we already?” She chuckled when I somehow managed to get even more flustered. “I’m just teasing you. I haven't told my mother, either, but I'm not really sure what to say.”

“Are you afraid of how she would react?” I asked. I don't think my father would mind. We hardly ever talked, so even if he hated it, I wouldn't get much of a reaction.

“Um, yes, actually. I'm scared she'll hate me or something.”

Her smile had suddenly vanished. Was her mom homophobic or something? That didn't matter. All that mattered was cheering Sayori up a bit. I grabbed ahold of her hand gently. “It'll be okay.”

A soft smile returned to her face, even if only for a short time. I went to let go of her hand, but she only held it tighter. “Let's just stay like this. While we still can.”

We walked the rest of the way to her house, our hands bound together. I truly loved this feeling, just being with Sayori, her hand in mine. However, soon enough we reached her house, and she let go of my hand. She stopped at the front gate and looked at the house next-door.

“A moving truck? Nobody has lived next-door to me since I was little. Huh.” She shrugged, then walked inside. “Welcome once more to my humble abode. Let us go up the mighty mountain staircase to my fortress bedroom!” She sounded like a child on an adventure, and I couldn't help but laugh. It was cute.

I followed her up the stairs to her bedroom, where we both dropped our stuff by the door. “I will give you a minute to change into something comfortable. I will be back.” After saying this, she grabbed an outfit. “Actually,” she said, pulling out her phone. A few moments later she tossed it to me, saying, “Pick a song.” Then she walked to the bathroom. Not really sure what to pick, I chose a playlist called, “Uplifting Songs,” and clicked shuffle.

I picked out a sweater and pair of leggings, then got changed as well. I winced slightly as the sweater pulled at the scattered bandages on my arms. As the song started, I heard Sayori outside the door. “I love this song!” The song was rock I guess, but it was softer for the genre. I could hear Sayori's soft, sweet voice singing through the door.

“She sits alone and wonders, when is the end of broken dreams? ‘This isn't what I pictured.’ she says, as tears run down her cheeks. She needs a friend beside her. She's looking for a savior.” Now finished changing, I open the door and let her in, to which she immediately stopped singing.

“Aw, why’d you stop?” I complained, “Your voice is pretty. But I do have a question, why is this on an uplifting song playlist?”

She smiled. “Give it time,” she replied, “We’ve talked over the chorus, so we’ll have to wait for it to come around again. Just sit down.” I sat on the floor and leant against her bed. As I did so, I saw a roll of medical wrap in her hand. I knew what she wanted to do, and although I tried to deny it, I wanted to let her. This thought in mind, I carefully rolled up my sleeves with slight reluctance.

She sat in front of me, angelic in the motion. Her wings of mercy carrying her softly, before gently letting her land before me. She began to sing again as she undid the bandages already on my arms, with her voice just as heavenly as she was.

“She grabs her coat to leave, so sure it's gonna be the end. Another broken family. Tears are her only friends. This isn't the life they wanted. She's hoping that heaven comes through.” I still couldn’t see how this song was uplifting, but then I heard her sing the chorus.

“Hold on, hold on. Someone will find you. Hold on, hold on. Somebody loves you. Yeah, hold on, hold on. You're not drowning this time. Hold on, hold on. Look for the searchlights.” Just as it began to seem happy, her voice dropped to the bridge of the song. “Does anybody care? Do you even see? Look past my skin, do you see me? Do you even know what I'm going through? I need to talk to someone. Can I talk to you? Does anybody care? Does anybody care? Does anybody care?” Sayori hummed the rest as the singer sang the chorus a final time.

I glanced around her room as she hummed, since I was now able to escape the trance her voice had put me in. Next to her desk, before the mess of laundry began, were two instrument cases. One was just a thin rectangle, so I had no idea what it could be. The other, however, looked like a miniature guitar. A uke, maybe? I had played so many string instruments that they all came naturally at this point. I had never played a ukulele before, though. Of course, it couldn’t be too different from a guitar...

“Hey, Sayori?” I said half-focused as I stared at the instruments, “Is that a ukulele?”

She followed my gaze. “Uh, yeah. I haven’t played since Gaku left when I was thirteen, so if you were expecting a performance, I’m sorry to disappoint. Why? Do you play?”

I shook my head. “No, but I have lots of guitar experience so I would like to try if you wouldn't mind.”

“Sure! I'll get it in a second.” She finished bandaging my other arm, then went to grab the uke. She kicked at the pile of things next to it in frustration, and a few things fell, expanding the mess further. She seemed to smile at this, strangely content with herself. Then she grabbed the uke case and brought it to me. I rolled down my sleeves and took it from her, opening the case as I did so. The uke itself was deep purple with blue swirls. It was pretty.

Not a violin, I reminded myself, a guitar. After a few tries, I managed to play a collection of chords. Sayori looked amazed. “I should have you teach me,” she said with a smile, “I don’t really remember how to play.”

Setting the uke beside me, I pulled my feet into a crisscrossed position, then pulled Sayori down so that she was sitting in my lap. I grabbed the guitar pick from her case, and put it in her right hand. Then I grabbed the ukulele and placed it in her hands. Putting her hands in position, I placed my hands over hers. I used Sayori’s hands as an extension of my own, and began to play.

With each chord we played, her expression seemed to flicker between sorrow and joy. Eventually settling on one of happiness, she stood up. She grabbed her phone once more and sat next to me. “I know a good uke song...” she whispered. She scrolled through through her music again. Choosing one, she set her phone speaker side up. I memorized the chords after they played a few times, which was good, because as soon as Sayori started singing, all attention I had for the instrument was gone.

Wait a second... I know this song! Sayori’s voice rivaled Tyler’s as the song continued, and no offence to one of my favorite musicians, but I preferred hers any day.

“We don't believe what's on TV because it's what we want to see and what we want, we know we can't believe. We have all learned to kill our dreams.”

She started pointing at me, imaginary microphone in hand. “I need to know that when I fail you'll still be here. ‘Cause if you stick around, I'll sing you pretty sounds, and we'll make money selling your hair. I don't care what's in your hair. I just wanna know what's on your mind. I used to say I wanna die before I'm old, but because of you I might think twice.”

The music began to bounce, and she bounced with it, chanting, “Yeah, yeah, yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah!” She was getting really into it, and her joyous expression made me forget all my problems, even if only temporarily.

“Alright, second verse. What if my dream does not happen? Would I just change what I've told my friends? Don't want to know who I would be when I wake up from a dreamer's sleep.” She sang the chorus again, humming over the lines, “I used to say I wanna die before I'm old, but because of you I might think twice,” instead of singing them. The inflection of her voice did not change between lines, but her expression fluctuated between a soft smile and an unreadable, blank slate.

As the song transitioned to the outro, I forced myself to focus on the ukulele in my hands. During the last chorus she couldn’t meet my eyes, and now I couldn’t meet hers.

I wanted to make her happy. I owed her at least that much. But I had no idea what was wrong. It was such a rarity for Sayori to ever be in a bad mood. She had always been so cheerful, that I wasn't sure what to do when she wasn't.

When the song came to a close, Sayori turned off her phone and sat next to me with a sigh. “Who's Gaku?” I asked her. She looked at me with a confused expression, but said nothing. “You said you haven't played ukulele since he left four years ago.”

Another sigh escaped her lips, and she cast her eyes to the floor. “He was the last one to live in the house next-door. He was the last one to ever see me happy. After he left, my world fell apart. His parents and mine were great friends, and once his family moved away, my parents fell apart. But I don't blame him for their separation. I know who's really at fault.”

She looked at the uke that I had put back in its case. “He got me the ukulele for my tenth birthday, and even taught me how to play, even though he couldn't. I was always smiling and having fun whenever I was with him. He was my only friend, and I was okay with that. Even after he moved, I made no attempt to get more friends. I would socialize on occasion, only ever enough to do schoolwork. Until I helped form the Literature Club, of course. But that's why I never play the ukulele anymore, and yet still keep it in good condition. I don't want to remind myself of how things used to be, before my life crumbled. Oh god, I'm rambling. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.”

She started crying, her face in her hands. I gave her the best hug I could from how we were sitting. “Sayori...” I didn't know what to say. ‘He was the last one to ever see me happy.’ What did she mean? Was this all a facade? Is this how she truly felt?

Gently, I pulled her hands from her face, swiped her hair aside, and wiped away her tears. “Thank you…” she whispered, “I really am enjoying this time with you. Dancing and singing, that joy was genuine. Of course, that’s probably why it didn’t stay for long, but...”

My arms back around her, I pulled her closer to me. I was always anxious, it’s just how I was. And especially in this situation, where everything was out of my control, I was on the verge of a panic attack. Yet, I found myself in this ocean of calm, that I only felt in books or when Sayori was by my side.

“Sayori, I love you. If you ever need something from me, just tell me, and I’ll do it.”

She rested her head on my shoulder. She began to speak, but no vocals escaped with her breath. My eyes only understood some of what she was telling me.

Both know...

Really feel...

Wanted to...

Happiness...

Shattered...

Unrepairable...

Eternally...

Pieces...

No one...

Obvious...

Myself...

Wait until...

Gone...

Put me back together...

Hate...

I love you...

My feelings...

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered, the strange calm overriding my anxiety, “You don’t deserve this pain. You don’t deserve to feel empty or alone. You’ve earned all the joy the world can give you. I’m sorry if I can’t help you, but I will try. I will try to show you the hope at the end of the darkness. You’ve given me a glimpse of how that feels, and I will do all I can to share that feeling with you.”

Chapter Text

“What time is it?”

Our emotional conversation now over, Sayori broke the silence that had followed. I glanced at the digital alarm clock. “6:04.”

A tapping noise resonated throughout the house as someone knocked on the front door. “Right on time.” Sayori jumped up, and ran out of the room and down the stairs to the front door. I followed her slowly.

Her mother came in, bags of groceries in her hands. “I can unload the car and put the groceries away,” she said to Sayori, “Can you start dinner? It's just macaroni and cheese; you should know how to do it by now.”

“Yay!” Sayori said, jumping into the air, “It's mac and cheese night!” I gave her a weird look. “What? Mac and cheese is like, the best.”

Chuckling, I replied, “Alright, alright. Let's make dinner.”

She smiled, spinning from the shelf, to the stove, to the cupboard, and back to the stove again. I found myself watching her motions as she moved around the kitchen. I'm not sure what it was, there just seemed to be some level of elegance to it. She eventually caught me watching. “What?”

“You're beautiful.” I almost spoke the thought aloud, but then I realized that her mother had returned, so I instead retreated back to my quiet, anxious state. “Nothing..” I mumbled instead. Sayori picked up the pot of now cooked pasta, but struggled to carry it. I took it from her and drained the pasta over the sink.

“Spring break is this upcoming week, right?” Sayori's mom said, putting cans into the cupboard.

I shook my head silently, but couldn't bring myself to say anything. Sayori spoke on behalf of both of us. “No, the festival is Monday, and we have the rest of the week. Then we have break.”

Her mother nodded. “Alright. I've got one more week with you then.” Jeez, it sounded like her mom hates her or something. It was clear, however, by her tone and facial expression, that she was glad to have an extra week with her daughter.

I realized then that I had never asked what was up with her family situation. She mentioned earlier that her parents had separated...

Sayori saw my thoughtful expression, and, connecting the dots, decided to explain. “I live with my mother during the school year,” she whispered to me, “but I spend all the breaks with my dad.”

I'm not sure how I had done it, since I knew where nothing was in her kitchen, but I had grabbed a third box of mac and cheese mix, taken out the cheese packet, and put the noodles in a ziploc bag for later. “What are you doing?” Sayori asked. I just shrugged. I added all the normal ingredients for two boxes of mac and cheese, then added the third cheese packet and mixed it all together.

Sayori, now done questioning, grabbed three dishes.  They weren't exactly plates, nor bowls, but something in between. I dished up dinner and we sat on the couch. Once her mother finished putting the groceries away, she grabbed the final dish and sat on the other side of Sayori.

She dug into her food, clearly enjoying it. “I'm surprised I never thought of that,” she mumbled through bites of food, “It's so cheesy! It’s amazing!”

“Macaroni and cheese,” I chuckled softly, “Of all things...”

“So what are you guys doing for the cultural festival?” Her mother’s voice disrupted my train of thought.

Sayori put up a finger to pause as she swallowed her food. “I honestly thought we weren’t going to do it,” she said after a moment, “Monika and I were for it, sure, but we weren’t going to do it if no one else wanted to. We already knew Natsuki would be opposed to it, but then Yuri surprised us by not only wanting to do the festival, but also convincing Nat to do it, too.”

Her mom smiled at me. “Sayori and I will be making a banner and setting the atmosphere,” I said, “as well as helping Monika make pamphlets. Natsuki will be making cupcakes to draw in a crowd,”

“And we’re going to do a poetry performance!” Sayori finished for me.

“Speaking of which,” I said, looking to Sayori, “Have you picked a poem to perform? Or are you writing your own?”

“I’m writing one myself,” she replied, “and I think I got some inspiration.”

“From mac and cheese?” I smiled.

She laughed. “No, silly! But I think I could make a great mac and cheese poem, thank you very much.” Seeing that I had finished dinner, Sayori took her last bite, then grabbed both our dishes and rinsed them out in the sink. She headed to the stairs and waved me to follow as she went back to her room.

“Do you have your poem?”

I nodded. “I have it somewhere if you want to see it.”

She shook her head. “I want it to be a surprise at the festival.”

She tossed her phone to me once more, her list of playlists on the screen. This time I looked through them more carefully, choosing one entitled, “TØP.” I knew all the Twenty One Pilots songs, but there were a few by other artists that I didn’t know. I sat on her bed for a long while, just listening to the music as Sayori wrote her poem. She'd write a little, erase a little. Write, erase. Write. Erase.

Suddenly, a song came on that I knew, that wasn't by Twenty One Pilots. I found it slightly ironic that she had this song on a playlist, when I had been listening to it at least three times a day for weeks now.

I grabbed her ukulele again and began performing the song, playing the uke like a guitar, and singing along, even though my voice wasn't that good.

“I walked into the room and then I saw your face; you looked me in the eye, and then I wanted to erase myself, erase myself. I didn’t wanna fall but then I stepped right in. I looked down at the ground, and then I felt it right within. It was too late for me...”

“You took a step forward and tilted your head. With a curious glance you stared, and I felt dead. Oh my god, I think I’m dying! You said “hey,” and I said “hello.” What’s your name? I’d really like to know about you. Too bad I stopped at “hello.” I just stared, and you grinned and looked right back. It felt like just one big whirlwind, one big emotional whirlwind.”

“Over the next few days we got to talking. With every single word I started falling farther, farther and farther for you. You were so witty, and so charming; you swept me off my feet. You made me laugh; you made me blush. No one could compete. It seemed to good to be true. I wanted to be with you. We clicked like legos, or the clacking of tap shoes.”

“You said “hey.” I said “hello, how was your day?” You said “better now” with a smile. Oh, what a cliché. But to be honest, it made my day. I didn’t wanna fall, but then I stepped right in. I looked up at your face, and those eyes, they drew me in. It was too late for me. And that’s what we were, a simple cliché. It wasn’t made to work, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“You were so witty, and so charming; you swept me off my feet. You made me laugh; you made me blush. Oh, no one could compete. It seemed to good to be true. I wanted to be with you. We clicked like legos, or the clacking of tap shoes. You said “hey.” I said “hello, I gotta know, do you feel this way?” You said “yeah I do, but I was scared of what you might say.” And that’s all we were, a silly cliché. I still think you’re cute, but maybe it’s better this way.”

I strummed away at the ukulele as the artist did a sort of vocal riff. Then, I very quietly sang the end. “That’s okay. We’re just a little cliché, a little cliché, but that’s okay...”

It was the last song on the playlist, which wasn't on loop, so silence followed. This left me in a very awkward tension. Sayori set her pencil down on her poem, but then sat motionless and silent, facing away from me.

She practically breathed my name, rather than said it, and I gave her a hum of recognition to let her know that I was paying attention. “Please excuse my weirdness earlier,” she whispered, barely loud enough for me to hear, “I know I’m hard enough to deal with as is. But I just wanted to let you know that I really am enjoying this time with you. I haven’t felt like this since... Since Gaku left, I guess. I don’t even know how to describe these feelings that used to be so natural to me. Why are you even nice to me? Thank you for not hating me. I understand that I’m a burden, I know. But you’ve put up with me, and I don’t understand why, but... I-I’m sorry, I... I don’t know how to say it. Thank you for being my friend even though I’m this boring, obnoxious, rambling, un-understandable mess. Even when I hate myself. Even if it’s fake, and even if it won’t work, thank you for trying to help. I just feel like everywhere I go, I don’t belong. But with you, the voices in my head are just a little bit quieter. I’m sorry for being such a burden, but thank you.”

I wasn’t even sure how to reply. I may be good with words, but not in situations like this. “I— don’t worry about it, Sayori. I-If I’m making you happy, even for a little bit… then it’s worth it.”

I’d try to reassure her that she isn’t a burden, which she isn’t, but that’d be hypocritical of me, wouldn’t it?

“Yuri,” she turned so I could see a faint smile on her face, “Just seeing you smile makes me happy.”

A slight smile came across my face as she said this. Not because it could make her happy, but because I was capable of making her happy . I walked over to where she sat, surrounded by crumpled balls of paper. I wrapped my arms around her gently and held her in my warm embrace until she pulled away to face me. “I love you,” she whispered, her voice a bit louder than it had been.

“I love you ,” I replied, delicately taking her signature red bow from her hair. I placed it gently on her dresser, careful not to mess it up somehow.

Sayori ruffled her hair as she stared at her clock. “I suppose we should go to bed,” she said, “We have lots of festival preparations we need to take care of tomorrow, so a good night's sleep wouldn't hurt.”

Goofy smile stuck on my face, I picked Sayori up and carried her bridal style to her bed. I tucked her in with an even brighter smile. “Good night, goddess.” I delicately kissed her forehead.

“What about you, flower?” She asked, her voice tired.

“Don't worry about me,” I told her simply. Her soft smile back in place, Sayori slowly drifted to sleep.

Saying it - even just in my head - sounded creepy, but I enjoyed seeing Sayori sleep. There was something about it that was just... Perfect. She was so calm and peaceful when she was at rest, with her fragile smile never fading. I felt as if I was covered by a quilt of warmth and love, just by seeing that smile.

I listened to her TØP playlist once more, since it was over three hours in length. Just as the last song ended and I was beginning to fall asleep on the floor, I heard Sayori start to cry.

Forcing myself out of my drowsiness, I got up and walked to her, making sure I was quiet. She lay motionless, sobbing. I put the back of my hand to her forehead. She was burning up. I didn't get much time to react however, before she pulled away. Instinctively, I sat next to her and pulled her into a hug. She squirmed at my touch, crying as she tried to get away.

I pulled away slightly, so I could see her face. She was still asleep. Should I... Would it work? It should at least calm her down, right? I pressed my lips to hers, and, as I had hoped, she stilled. I wiped the tears from her face, and her eyes fluttered open.

“Yuri?” I gave her a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dark. “Dangit,” she mumbled under her breath, “I haven't had to do this in nearly a year.”

She got off the bed and went to her dresser. She opened a small box, which held a bow, similar in size to the one she typically wore. It held the same pattern as the ukulele, but flipped (blue with deep purple swirls, as supposed to deep purple with blue swirls). She grabbed two blankets, and left the room. I watched from the doorway cautiously as she walked down the hall. She rolled up one blanket and placed it along the crack between the floor and the bottom of her mother's bedroom door.

She came back and shut the door, rolling the second blanket and mimicking her previous action. Sayori grabbed the blue bow and put it in her hair, opposite where the red one would usually go. I didn't understand anything until she grabbed the rectangular instrument case. Her mother was asleep, so she was soundproofing the room.

Turns out, the case held a flute, which had been custom painted to match the uke. Sayori played a key, similar to how a guitarist would play a chord to make sure the instrument was tuned correctly. She stood in the middle of the room, and (although she said she hadn't done this in nearly a year) began to play a melody. I did not recognize the tune, but it sounded similar to that of a lullaby. She played the melody over and over again, adding layers and harmonies as she went on. She played the basic, yet beautiful melody a final time before putting the instrument away. She took the bow from her hair and put it back in its box, carefully placed atop her dresser.

Sayori laid back in bed and pulled the covers to her chin. I leaned up against the end of her bed, and as I closed my eyes, I heard her sing the words of the melody she had played.

“You are my sunshine, my little sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You'll never know dear, how much I love you, so please don't take my sunshine away.”

*

It took about five minutes of Sayori's alarm beeping for me to wake up. Sayori was awake, but just staring at the ceiling. “What's the point,” she sighed. I went around the bed and kissed her cheek, turning off her alarm as I did so. Her face filled with a light pink blush and she rolled onto her side to look at me.

“Good morning,” I whispered.

Chapter Text

Sayori's POV

Oh the eternal predicament. What was the point of getting out of bed? There was nothing waiting for me. Weekends were the worst. But even on a school day, there really was no reason. Even the literature club didn't need me. Yuri was much more suited for the title, after all. I only got it because I was the first person to show interest in the club. Sometimes I wonder if that's why Gaku left. Because I don't deserve happiness.

I felt a soft kiss on my cheek, and my face immediately flushed. I hadn’t even realized that my alarm clock was beeping obnoxiously until it was replaced by silence. I rolled over to face Yuri. I should’ve turned off that stupid alarm off. She probably shut it off because it was driving her crazy. Good job, Sayori.

“Good morning,” she greeted me with a smile. She must not be that upset. I smiled back at her.

That was the thing with Yuri. Whenever I was with her, there were moments when I couldn’t discern the validity of my emotions. Was that smile real? Was it my mask? I didn’t know.

“Morning,” I greeted back groggily, “Why do you seem so happy?” No, seriously. What was the key?

She gave me a confused look, like it was obvious. “Because I’m with you, silly.” Her voice was so calm, a side I didn’t see often. But I knew what she was saying couldn’t be true. However, I forced myself to believe it for the time being. It was a reason to get out of bed.

I looked down at myself as I got out of bed. “Ugh,” I complained to the air, “I fell asleep in my clothes. I look like a mess.”

Yuri’s voice was faint, so I barely heard it. “Well, I still think you look beautiful regardless.” You just misheard her, idiot. Stop thinking she actually likes you.

I turned to face her, looking up so her eyes met mine. “What?”

Her smile turned to a smirk. “I said, I don’t care what you look like. I love you. Even if you’re a mess, you’re my mess, so it doesn’t matter.” She delicately fiddled with my hair, before putting my red bow back in its place.

“Hey, Yuri,” I said, looking at her hair which seemed untouched by sleep, “Will you let met me braid your hair?”

“Alright, but we have to get ready first. You can braid it after breakfast.” I smiled at this thought. She looked pretty with her hair braided. Well, she looked pretty all the time, but... It still filled my mind as I hurriedly got dressed and rushed down the stairs to make breakfast.

This rapid train of thought was cut off when I saw my mother already in the kitchen, scrambling eggs. I sat at the table, waiting as patiently as I possibly could. We sat in silence for an agonizing three minutes before she spoke up.

“You’re having nightmares again, aren’t you?”

“What do you mean?” My voice was almost shaking. I did not want a repeat of last time.

“I found a rolled up blanket in front of my door this morning, and I doubt it grew legs and walked itself there.”

“So?” I retaliated, trying to prevent my now inevitable fate, “Lots of people have bad dreams. They wake up, and some get a glass of water. Some take a shower. Some people listen to music. Some people pray. Some people sing themselves back to sleep. I don’t therapy. I’m perfectly normal.”

“I can call your father if you’d like.” My dad was a psychiatrist, and a pretty awful one if I say so myself, since he can’t even tell that his own daughter is depressed. I knew that wasn’t true, that he was great at his job, but my mask was better. But when I first started having night terrors, my mother had to call my dad. It helped I guess. They were far less frequent, and I could cope with them now; I even thought they were gone up until last night. I guess the emotional rollercoaster I’ve been on is what triggered it.

I’ve always hated when I felt nothing. I wanted to feel. I wanted to exist. But this was all so much.

“Please don’t tell dad,” I said, my mind back in the present, “At least until after I get back from break.” I didn’t want my mother ruining my time back at home.

Yuri came down the stairs, saving me from being pestered further. She wore a baby blue hoodie and denim jeans, a look I had never seen. I found myself chuckling lightly.

“Well now I definitely have to braid your hair. It works perfectly with that outfit.” She gave me a shy smile and sat beside me. My mother served up breakfast, and no more words were said until we all finished eating.

After Yuri finished, she turned her back to me and set her hair loose from her hoodie. I felt like I could sit here and braid her hair forever, without complaint. I simply loved the feel of her silky hair running through my fingers. However, I did eventually finish, and tied it off with an unused red ribbon that Natsuki had once given me. The little gift-wrap bow tied the whole look together, no pun intended.

“We’re heading to the store,” I told my mother, “I need to get some supplies. We should be back soon.” I resisted the urge to sprint out of the house.

“What do we need to get?” Yuri asked as we walked down the sidewalk.

I shrugged. “All my work will be online, so it’s really up to you. I just wanted away from my mom for a bit.”

She gave me a look, as if to ask, “What’s the matter?” but said nothing.

“Do you know what a tell sign is, Yuri?” I said in response to her silence. She nodded. “Well, it’s a tell sign that I’ve been having nightmares if I soundproof my mother’s room, no matter what I say otherwise, and I forgot to get rid of the blanket before my mother woke up. She basically threatened to call my dad, who’s a psychiatrist. And there is no way I’m dealing with that again, because she called him when I first started having nightmares, and he acted like my counselor rather than my father for weeks. Ugh, I’m rambling again. Sorry.” She doesn’t want to hear your troubles. She’s even getting sick of your apologies.

“It’s quite alright,” she replied graciously, “For one, I ramble more than you anyway. Secondly, I was going to ask anyway.” We reached the store, which saved both of us from awkward silence.

“I really just need a banner and some paint,” Yuri said, seeming lost in the store, “I have the rest already.”

She tried to convince me to get the cheap stuff, but the “expensive stuff” wasn’t all that much, so I got it anyway. “It really doesn’t matter,” I told her, “I have a lot of money saved up, and I’ll probably get more from my dad next week.” I checked out, buying a dozen chocolate chip cookies as well, because why not. I tossed the change, receipt, and cookies in my bag, and handed the banner and paints to Yuri, then we began the walk home.

As we neared my house, I pulled out the box of cookies. I handed one to Yuri, then ate one myself. Looking up from the box, I saw a girl sitting on the porch next door. She must’ve been one of the ones who just moved in. I should go say hi.

“You can head on in,” I said to Yuri, “There’s no need to wait for me.” Box of cookies in hand, I walk to the girl on the porch. Her hair was like a mix between Natsuki’s and Monika’s, but it was light blue, which complimented her light, algae colored eyes. “Hello!” I greeted, my mask intact.

“Hiya!” She greeted back with a smile, “I’m Zee. I just moved in.”

“I’m Sayori! I live right next-door.”

“Do you go to the school a few blocks from here?” I nodded. “Well, It’s good to not be alone then. You’re the first person around my age that I’ve seen since I arrived.”

“Would you care for a cookie?” I offered, holding two out to her. She took them gladly. “Who are you staying with?”

She shook her head, one cookie partially in her mouth. “It’s just me. I’m on my own.” It was a rarity for anyone around here to leave their family until after high school, but Zee wasn’t from around here.

“Well, I hope to see you in school,” I told her, “I shouldn’t keep my friend waiting. We have to get ready for the cultural festival.” She waved goodbye, and I headed back home. I saw Yuri watching, and as soon as I started walking back, she hurriedly went inside.

“Is everything alright?” I asked once I got back to by room. She just ignored me. Good freaking job, Sayori. You’ve gone and screwed up again. This is why you need to stop trying to make friends. You can’t support them, anyway.

“Can we just focus on the banner and stuff?” Yuri asked me shyly.

“Of course,” I replied, setting my bag down. I helped her set up the watercolors, and we began to work on the banner. In the end, it looked like a sky fading from one night to the next; night, sunrise, daytime, sunset, and night again. It was really pretty, but I couldn’t have done any of it without Yuri’s help. I have no artistic talent at all.

“Beautiful,” I thought aloud, watching as Yuri wrote “The Literature Club” over our scene.

“The banner?” she questioned, standing up and taking a step back to admire it.

“Well,” I stammered, “I meant you more than the banner, but I’m pretty proud of it, too.” For once, Yuri’s reaction wasn’t clear.

Typically, I tried to keep my mask off when it was just her and I, but right now I had no choice. I was having a mental breakdown.

Does she hate me? Does she think something happened between Zee and I? Does she think Zee was hitting on me? Does she think I was hitting on her? Has she come to the logical conclusion that there’s no reason to love me? To enjoy my company? To spend time with me at all? Has she realized that it’s better for her to abandon me? That she doesn’t want my burden? Has she noticed that all I cause is pain? That it’s not worth it to expect anything good from me? That she should just let me disappear already?! God, Sayori. The love of your life hates you. It’s not the end of the world or anything.

“Why do you put up with me?” I didn’t realize that I was thinking aloud until it was too late. I looked to Yuri, who was deep in thought.

“I don’t,” she stated simplistically. Well, that wasn’t the answer I was expecting at least.

“There’s nothing to put up with . If anything, you’re the one putting up with me .” I gave Yuri the best hug I could so that she wouldn’t spill the craft supplies in her her hands. She set them down in response, then turned to hug me back. Once more, my emotions became a non-understandable mess. Was this happy? Was this how happy felt? Then why does it feel so sad? That’s what this was. Bittersweet.

I speckled polkadot stars in the night sky as Yuri finished the words in her beautiful handwriting. We had been eating the cookies as we worked, so neither of us realized how late it was and how hungry we were until my mother called us down for dinner. We ate quickly, then decided to call it a night.

Chapter Text

Yuri's POV

Sayori fell asleep shortly after dinner. Not that I blamed her; it was rather late, and it was clear that she had a lot on her mind. I, however, just stared at the mess we had made of her room. I decided not to clean up until the banner had dried.

Roughly thirty minutes after Sayori had fallen asleep, I started picking up. I rolled up the banner and wrapped it in a couple of rubber bands. I packed up the watercolors, and crumpled up the newspaper that was covered in drips of paint. They became little basketballs, and the garbage can became a hoop. This entertained me for a while before I returned to the task at hand.

I folded up the two card tables that we had used, and leaned them against the wall to be dealt with in the morning. It eventually got to the point where I had finished cleaning the mess we had made, and started cleaning the room in general.

I was sorting through stuff, not really sure what I was doing anymore. It really amazed me the variety of things that Sayori possessed. Among the weirder side of things, I found two masks, each dated from elementary art classes; a purple fairy wand; a partially used first aid kit; an earring stand, although Sayori never wore earrings; a pack of rubber bands; and, a rope? I unburied it carefully.

Oh my god.

How long has this been here? A while before my arrival at least, since she didn't think about it until I brought up the uke. If it was recent, she would be more paranoid. So I was right. It is a mask.

And I haven't done anything about it. I noticed there was something wrong, and I never said anything; I never asked. I cursed repeatedly under my breath. Well I have the chance to do something now, but what? First, I hid the noose in my bag, and once I got home, I would burn it or something. But now what? “Sayori needs help,” I thought aloud in a whisper, “Like, professional help.”

I glanced around the room helplessly. My eyes eventually landed on Sayori’s phone. Her dad! She said he was a psychiatrist, and as her trusted parental figure, he should be able to help her. I grabbed Sayori’s phone, which thankfully wasn’t locked. Her cell in one hand, and mine in the other, I transferred her dad’s number into my contacts. Then I turned off her phone quickly, as if I was afraid she could wake up any moment.

“Hey. Is this Sayori’s dad?” After I sent my text, I wiped at the tears that I didn’t realize were streaming down my face.

I was surprised how quickly he replied at this hour of night. “Who’s this?”

“I’m a friend of Sayori’s,” I explained, “I need your help.”

“What’s the matter?”

I tried desperately to calm myself down, to no avail. My hands shook as I replied. “I found a noose in her room” I couldn’t say anymore; even putting a period was too much. It was a never ending thought, not made to be put in one sentence.

“What is this, some sick joke?”

Do you seriously think I’d joke about something like this??

He didn’t reply for a little while, and although it was less than sixty seconds, it felt like an eternity. “Please, explain what you can.” I told him how I was spending the weekend at her house to help prepare for the festival, and how she seemed rather out of character recently. I said that I had just been cleaning up when I had found it hidden away.

He took a while before replying, taking time to process what I had said. “You mentioned the festival... I take it you know her from the Literature Club?” I nodded, as was my typical social cue when I was asked a question, but then realized stupidly that he wouldn’t know that I nodded. My social anxiety was on the rise, on top of everything else.

“Yeah... You’d think I would’ve noticed, since I spent nearly two hours a day with her, and my struggles are just a variant of hers.”

“It isn’t your fault,” he told me. Even just through text, I could tell that he felt somewhat responsible.

“I know, I’m just really worried. Is there anything I can do until next week?”

“Just try to keep her mentally level. Too intensive mood swings can be very bad. For now, try to get some rest.”

“Thank you.” I took a few slow breaths before thinking slightly more logically, and sent one final message. “If/When this does come up, please don’t tell her I told you.”

After turning my phone off, I laid perfectly still with my eyes closed. I couldn’t find sleep, so I just waited for sleep to find me.

*

Sunday simultaneously sped by really fast and dragged on forever. We spent most of the day making the pamphlet design for Monika. We played an array of card games, watched some TV, and went to bed earlier than usual so we would have energy for the festival.

As much as I didn't want to go to school, I needed something to distract me from everything else. So when it came time to pack up and go, I gladly took the bundled banner and headed out.

"Do you think we'll get any new members?" Sayori mused as we walked along.

"Maybe," I replied, "Just maybe. And if we do, Natsuki may hate me forever."

"Well, it can't be that bad. And let's be honest, it's unlikely that we'll get any new members."

"Well you can't go in with an attitude like that," I said, slightly scolding, "because then we definitely won't get any new members. You're the light of the club; we need you!"

"Seriously?" She gave me a bewildered glance.

"Yeah. I'm a book nerd who can't socialize to save my life. Nat isn't the most friendly and outgoing person, and in case you haven't noticed, Monika might be a good leader, but she has no people skills to speak of. You're the mediator. We'd all kill each other if it wasn't for you. You're the glue that holds us all together."

We entered the clubroom, where Natsuki and Monika were already waiting. "You better have done your part!" Natsuki shot as soon as I stepped into the classroom premises.

"See my point?" I whispered to Sayori. "Chill, Nat. I've got it all right here." I held my bag up in one hand, and the banner in the other.

"Well would you look at who's outgoing today!" Monika beamed, looking at me.

I retreated to my anxious shell. "Let me just put up the banner," I mumbled.

We kept all the lights in the classroom off, letting the sunbeams illuminate the room through the misty windows. Starscape pamphlets were laid out on each desk, and piled on cabinet by the door.

I looked over Natsuki's cupcakes as I waited for the festival to begin. They were a variety of colors, and each was topped with a word written in frosting. I read over a few of them. Hop. Atone. Green. Friend. An atone cupcake. Hm.

The bell rang, announcing that the school was now open to be flooded by students. “Does everyone have their poems?” Monika called, her leadership now on the forefront of her personality. There was a chorus of affirmative answers in response. Natsuki took our poems up to the teacher's desk at the front of the room, where we would be performing. Monika did not have a poem, because she had arranged a poem for us to all do together.

We waited a few minutes for a small crowd to appear at the door, then Natsuki began her performance.

“I made myself a snowball,” she read, her tone different from the feisty voice we were all used to, “as perfect as could be. I thought I’d keep it as a pet, and let it sleep with me. I made it some pajamas, and a pillow for its head. Then last night it ran away, but first it wet the bed.”

Natsuki returned to her seat quickly. Our seats were at each cardinal direction of the room; Monika north, Natsuki east, Sayori south, and me west. No one outside of us knew the purpose of this, not yet.

But now it was my turn to perform. I walked up to the teacher's desk and grabbed my poem. I took a few deep breaths. Just my friends, I thought to myself, just Natsuki and Monika. I took one last breath and collected my words.

“This poem is called, “Bookshelf.” She has a bookshelf for a heart, and ink runs through her veins. She’ll write you into her story, with the typewriter in her brain. Her bookshelf’s getting crowded, with all the stories that she’s penned. Of the people who flicked through her pages, but closed the book before the end. And there’s one pushed to the very back, that sits collecting dust, with its title in her finest writing: “The Ones Who Lost My Trust.” There’s books she’s scared to open, and books she doesn’t close. Stories of every person she’s met, stretched out in endless rows. Some people have only a sentence, while others once held a main part. Thousand of inky footprints, that they’ve left across her heart. You might wonder why she does this. Why write of people she once knew? But she hopes one day she’ll mean enough, for someone to write about her too .”

I felt a soft smile spread across my face as I set the poem down and returned to my seat. Monika and Natsuki were smiling brightly back at me, giving thumbs-up. Sayori, on the other hand, didn’t even look at me. Had I upset her? No, it wasn’t me, she was just nervous. I walked over to her and whispered, “You’ll do just fine.”

“I’m the only who made my own poem,” she mumbled. I gave her a reassuring smile, and she walked up to the teacher’s desk. I sat back in my seat just in time to hear Sayori start to speak.

“This,” she said, “this is a poem I wrote entitled, ‘Ukulele’. A ukulele finely carved is how I wish my life to be.”

Ukulele. I didn’t think that’s what Sayori had meant when she said she hadn’t gotten some inspiration. I already felt on the verge of tears, and Sayori’s excellent deliverance of the words did not help.

“A uke has a purpose, clear and well defined. It conducts emotions, helps people find joy. Its music makes sorrow into beauty in the mind, both played professionally or as a toy.” She paused slightly, which gave a heavy emphasis, and her change in expression matched the poem’s change in tone perfectly.

“Not precisely tuned, nor polished squeaky clean. Simply loved by you, and that's all it needs to be. Locked away in its coffin case, the uke could sleep forever. The ukulele loses tune without someone to love her .”

I covered my face with my hands. I took several shaky breaths, trying not to cry. Pull yourself together! It’s Monika’s turn, so you must put on a brave face.

Sayori returned to her desk, and Monika took her place at the front of the room. “Invictus.” Monika read the poem title, immediately summoning everyone’s attention. The crowd had come into the room, clearly intrigued. Monika began to read, “Out of the night that covers me, black as the pit from pole to pole,” and then she stopped.

Natsuki had gotten up on her desk, and read the next two lines from memory. “I thank whatever gods may be, for my unconquerable soul.”

Sayori jumped atop her desk and continued where Nat had left off, “In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud.”

I got on my desk, completing the clockwise circle. “Under the bludgeonings of chance, my head is bloody, but unbowed.”

Monika now stood on the desk where she had been originally sitting. “Beyond this place of wrath and tears,”

Natsuki. “Looms but the Horror of the shade,”

Sayori. “And yet the menace of the years,”

Me. “Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.”

Monika took a step in toward the center of the classroom, and we each mimicked her in unison. We repeated the action. Monika followed, and as soon her second foot hit the desk, we all turned outward to face the room, rather than each other.

We chanted the last verse as a group. “It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”

One person by the classroom door began to applaud, which soon turned to the whole group clapping. “Great job guys,” Monika whispered.

Everyone chatted for a while, but then we had to close down our part of the festival. Our sign-up sheet held one name. Zenobia V.

Chapter Text

Yuri's POV

Sayori seemed to enjoy the festival, although she was quiet for most of the time. As far as emotions are concerned, the whole day was a rollercoaster for both of us. I texted her a good morning the following day, which she replied to. I hoped to give her more motivation, even in small ways.

And now it was literature club time, the first, and pretty much only, time I would see Sayori. Monika, Natsuki, and I had each fallen into our typical niches as we waited for her to arrive with Zenobia.

As if summoned by my thought of waiting, they appeared at the door. You have got to be kidding me. Zenobia is Sayori's new neighbor. I sighed mentally. Monika called us together to introduce ourselves.

“It seems you already know Sayori,” she said, “and I'm Monika, president of the club. This is Yuri and Natsuki.”

Zenobia looked to me. “I recognize you,” she said, nearly a whisper, “I believe we got of on the wrong foot. I'm sorry.” She turned back to Monika. “And just Zee is fine; I'm not a fan of my full name.”

“So, Zee, ” I said. Sayori clearly enjoyed her company at the least, so I would try to get along with her better. “What do you like to read?”

“Whatever tickles my fancy, really,” she replied with a shrug, “I enjoy mystery novels, and a romance now and then. Anything that can keep me on the edge of my seat.” Maybe we can get along after all.

We fell back into our routine places, and much to my surprise, Zee gravitated toward Natsuki. Sayori came to me, which made me happy. I put my book aside and just enjoyed her presence at my side. She was reading something digitally on her tablet. “What are you reading?” I asked after she finished a chapter.

“Man! You stopped me at a cliffhanger!” She whined, “It's called CGI, and I guess it'd be a romance, although it didn't start that way. It's about this girl with amnesia, who can remember everything but her own past. All she knows is being trapped in this video game with millions of others. She's been there for three years at the beginning of the book. You follow her story as she tries to escape the game, despite the slim chance she has. I just finished chapter twenty six. It's a little poorly written at first, but it really picks up. I see a bit of myself in each character, so I'm really into it all. It's been building up for a while now, and I can just tell something big is going to go down.”

“Sounds exciting. I should let you get back to it.” It did sound pretty cool.

She shook her head. “Not enough time now. Besides, now I've refocused on the world outside the story, so...” She glanced toward Zee, who was sitting next to Natsuki on the floor.

“You must really like her.” I said, minor tones of jealousy seeping through.

She shook her head. “I have no problem with her as a person, but…” she sighed, “She's still a constant remind of Gaku, no matter how different they may be.”

That is not good. It's hard enough to keep her level headed when I don't know what's running through her head, but it's even worse when I know what's on her mind and I can't do anything.

“So she'll be your source of happiness,” I mumbled, half to myself.

“No,” Sayori corrected, “ you're my shot at happiness. She's my chance at nightmares.”

I gave her a gentle side hug. “You will be alright.”

“I hope so.” So do I, Sayori. So do I.

Monika called us all together. Sometimes I wondered if her sole purpose was to save me from awkward silence. “Okay everyone! I know there's less than a week before break, but there's a perfect amount of time to jump back into our routine that we've abandoned for the last couple of weeks.”

“Poems!” Natsuki cheered with a smile.

“Yes,” Monika agreed, “but with a twist. Zee, you are exempt from this, unless you'd like to try. Everyone else, look at the person to your right. I want you to write a poem in their style. Zee, just write a poem of your own so we can figure out what your style is.”

That put me with Monika. Monika. What was Monika's style? I was pretty sure she incorporated song lyrics, or at the very least was inspired by music. She kind of liked metaphysical stuff too, and freeform poems.

As Sayori and I parted ways to pack our bags, Zee came up to me again. She went to say something, most likely aggressive, before being pulled aside by Monika. I tried hard not to eavesdrop, but I found myself listening in.

“You really like her, don't you?” Monika whispered. I glanced over just long enough to see her nod in Natsuki’s direction.

“What do you mean?” Zenobia replied. There was no tell in her voice, and I almost believed that she had no idea what Monika meant.

“I'd assume you would stay by Sayori, since she is your neighbor and all, or maybe Yuri, since you said you had seen her before. Maybe even me, as a leader in a foreign environment. But during the festival, and even now, you gravitate toward Nat.”

“By your explanation, you seem to make it even more obvious. I have a leader's personality myself, and I see the value in knowing everyone. I had already met Sayori and Yuri, and I was afraid of butting heads with you in your own club, so of course I'd go towards Natsuki. Besides, you each have your groups; you prefer to be a solo observer, Sayori and Yuri have each other, and it seemed like she needed company. Isn't it obvious that she needs a friend?”

Monika sighed heavily before perking up again. “What do you mean Sayori and Yuri have each other ?”

Zee turned and met my eyes for a split second. “Ah, nevermind, Monika.”

Monika raised an eyebrow at me before whispering, “I’ll be right back,” And walking into the hallway.

“Really?!” I shot at Zee as soon as Monika was gone, “Are you serious?”

Zenobia immediately took a retreating step back. “What?”

“Did you seriously have to say that?" I was practically spitting fire at this point, and I didn’t even know why. Monika probably wouldn’t assume anything until I gave her a reason to; which I was, right now.

“It seemed pretty obvious, so I just figured she knew. Sorry.”

Sorry? Sorry?! I seriously wouldn’t care around school, but in present company? Are you kidding me?” I saw Monika at the door, but I knew she wouldn’t dare to interject.

“Um, guys?” she whispered faintly. I gave her a glare and she shut up.

Natsuki, however, was perfectly used to fighting me. “Hey!” she yelled, “Leave her alone! She didn’t even do anything!”

“Stay out of this.” I growled the sentence at her, looking down at her small form. Zenobia took a step between us, blocking Natsuki from my rage.

“Yeah,” she shot back at me, “Leave Natsuki out of this.”

I was about to say something more, something I would probably regret, when I felt a set of arms wrap around me. I calmed down immediately in Sayori’s embrace, but still had no filter over what I said next.

Don’t you have someone else to be walking home with? What the heck? Did I seriously just say that? To Sayori? Even after the promise I made to myself to make her happy?

I grabbed my bag and ran out of the room.

*

I shut my bedroom door and slid to the floor. I had run all the way home, without looking back. How the hell could I do that to her? After all I knew, after all she told me. How the fuck could I just abandon her like that?!

I went to the side of my bed and knelt on the floor.

What was wrong with me? That was sickening. She’s Sayori’s friend now, so how could I just explode at her like that? Look down on her even?

I lifted the covers and pulled out the more exclusive part of my collection.

How could Sayori love me? It’s all some sick joke. People keep me around like the shitty stray dog I am, only there for abuse and amusement. Is any of this real?

I selected the cleanest, sharpest, most intricately detailed one I could find. I had only used it once before.

No. I vowed I would never touch this one again. Not after the first time. Not after mom.

I walked to the bathroom and locked the door.

You abandoned her. You sick freak. She definitely doesn’t love you now. No one ever did. How could anyone love you?

My vision began to blur.

You aren’t even human anymore. Nothing but a mass of scar tissue and guilt.

I looked up at myself in the mirror. The face that stared back at me was unreal and sinister, and unrecognizable.

Why the hell are you still here? Alive?

The knife clattered in the sink. I dropped to the floor, the tears uncontrollable as they streamed down my face.

I love you.

I’m sorry.

Chapter Text

Sayori's POV

I stared blankly as Yuri ran down the hall. I had called her name multiple times, none of which reached her now red ears.

“It’s alright,” Zee said, trying to reassure me from the safety of the clubroom, “She was right anyway. I should know by now to hold my tongue about some things.”

I shook my head, sighing defeatedly as I re-entered the classroom. “It’s not really your fault. I’m just worried about her.”

Not as worried about her, as you are about what you’re doing to too her, right? Come on, at least you can see how much you’re hurting her. Ever since that weekend before the festival, she’s always on edge around you. You scare her.

Zee said something about being late to work, and ran out of the room, shouting goodbyes to each of us. I sighed and gathered my stuff. “Are you alright?” Natsuki asked, her confidence turned to vapor.

“I don’t know,” I answered. It was at least closer to the truth than my typical affirmative answer. “I’m just really worried about Yuri. I know you have all the reason in the world to be upset with her, especially today, but she means most things with good intentions. I promise.”

Nat’s smile was faint, but somehow reassuring. “Things will get better.” She spoke oddly from experience, to the point where I almost put trust into her false words.

Will they, Natsuki? Will they really? I’m not sure if I believe that anymore.

I walked home slowly, no rush in mind. I didn’t want to go home. My mother would want to know why I seemed so down, start asking how my day was, if anything interesting happened, and if I learned anything. I would only disappoint her again, just like every other day.

Sometimes I thought about how often she wished that I lived with my dad. Lord knows I wanted to. I went home anyway, with my voice box now deactivated. I went straight to my room, closed the door, and knelt on my bed. Hands folded, eyes closed, and head bowed, I prayed.

Dear God, if you’re listening, if you even care, please help me. I need something... Guidance, maybe. A helping hand, I suppose. Help me bring her joy. Help me ease her pain. I know I cannot eliminate it, but with your help, perhaps I can alleviate it. Help me choose the words, the timing, the diction. Help me reassure her. I think you may be the only one to ever know how much she means to me, so I pray for guidance. Help her to see that I love her. That she is my world. I’m begging, give me a miracle. There’s no other way to save me now.

Help me find peace. Ease my worry, but not my concern. Ease my anxiety, but not my passion. Show me a reason to carry on. Give me something. Please.

I collapsed back into my blanket covered bed. I never went to church anymore, not with my mother, at least. I would be going this weekend, since I would be with my dad. There was something about attending church that I always enjoyed. I assumed it was the atmosphere. It always felt safe . I felt purposeful. There was this overwhelming feeling of togetherness, that no one was alone, no matter what trial they faced.

I used to go to chapel every week, but after my parents split, my mother stopped going. For one reason or another, I enjoyed praying again after so long.

But no sign comes, because even God has abandoned you.

My phone buzzed from within my backpack. I retrieved it in a leisurely fashion. “Two new messages from Yuri<3.” I double tapped the notification to see two lengthy messages from my messenger angel.

“I know you’re probably sick of my apologies, but I am so extremely sorry for earlier. I was mean, and I didn’t mean what I said to you. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’m so sorry if I offended you or something, I just lost control of myself and I couldn’t stop the rage.”

“I don’t even know why I got so angry. Zee had eluded to us being a thing to Monika, and I just totally lost my cool. I guess I was worried about what Monika would think or something, which was stupid. Not only should I not care what others think, but Monika would be the last person to judge me, let alone you. She’s one of the few people who even shows me patience. I guess I was just so busy stressing out, that I was just a short fuse waiting to be set alight. I’m so sorry.”

I rushed to reply to her. “Are you alright? I was really worried when you just ran off like that. Also, apology accepted. I understand.”

“Am I alright?” I could practically hear her scoff through the text. “I’m more worried about you.”

“I’m alright now.” I told her truthfully, “I was afraid that you would do something rash.”

There was a several minute pause before she replied with, “Don’t worry about it.”

I forced out a breath that I didn’t realize I had been holding. That was a long time to type four words. She probably just had something to do. Stop being so dense! There are only two scenarios here. Either she doesn’t care about you enough to reply quickly, or she actually did something rash. For once in my life, I hoped for the first one.

*

I stared at the paper in front of me. I just couldn’t write like Yuri. Typically I’d at least give it a shot, but in my current mood, I just wanted to scribble all over the page.

I glanced around my room, desperate for any sort of inspiration. Yuri never wrote about anything happy. It could have traces of joy, or of a happiness that was lost, but at its core it had to be sad.

I stared at my flute case. That was it! An orchestra. Each section would represent a different type of memory. The woodwinds, a peaceful past, a childhood. Yeah. The orchestra is just a metaphor for life. The string family, a loud and crashing disaster, full of pain and sorrow. The brass, the deep chaos of the present. Percussion, the never ending beat of life. Tempo and volume increase and decrease. 

After about a half an hour of writing and  rewriting, I finally perfected my poem. I was sure it would cause no worry; no one would understand what I meant, or where each verse came from. The only one who knew was Yuri, who happened to be the only one with experience decoding writing like this. Maybe I should write something else. No. This is my poem, and I shouldn't  change it. I read over my work a final time:

 

Conductor

 

I stand before the orchestra and bow to the crowd

Thousands of eyes in front of me, a hundred behind

The flutes take the stage, the clarinets play along

A short verse of my wonderful woodwind memories melody

 

Eleven measures pass before chaos ensues

The violins and cellos come in sharply on cue

Harmony after harmony

The pain overrides my peaceful melody

 

The drums beat in constant rhythm

Regardless of the surrounding war of sound

I wave my battan faster and faster

Trying to put an end to this madness

 

The brass comes and goes

A tide of tempo and volume

The strings crescendo, louder and louder

The flutes from forte to piano

 

A woodwind member stands

And plays a screeching note on piccolo

Then the motion comes to my mind

And I silence the orchestra

 

There is no applause

For this pitiful performance

 

I had to admit, it wasn’t all that bad. It wasn’t near as good as something Yuri would write, but it was at least mediocre. Just like me. I just hoped she would like it. It was a bit inspired by her, after all.

With a final heavy sigh, I place the emotion-ridden page in my bookbag and decide to carry on with my life.

Chapter Text

Zenobia's POV

A heavy sigh escapes pass my lips as I enter the tattoo parlor’s back door. My eyes anxiously dart up to the clock that hangs on the dark red wall. Almost late. I brush my hands down my outfit, and retie the bangs that had fallen into my face during the rush here from school.

I drop my bag at my workstation and plop down into the chair. I’ve only worked here for the few days since I moved in, but my desk is already overridden with drawing utensils. I open my sketchbook and flip through the pages. I’m not old enough to actually ink any tattoos, but I do make most of the designs.

My manager (really just my coworker who inks all my designs) walks over and greets me as I turn to the first blank page. “I was getting worried,” he joked, “You’re usually early.”

“Sorry, I started school today,” I apologize, still slightly out of breath, “What design do you want? My mind is everywhere, so I can draw just about anything right now.”

“Are you up for a something different? A bunch of girly-girls came in earlier.”

“You want something cute?” I resisted the urge to roll my eyes.

His hand gestures went all over the place. “Cupcakes, anime, sparkles, the whole nine yards! Have a crack at it.”

“Alright,” I sigh for the second time in five minutes. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Staring at the paper, my mind starts to wander. My hands busy themselves with pens, pencils, and pastels, but my eyes lose focus of the page.

Cupcakes... My thoughts drift to the festival. Maybe Monika was right. Perhaps I did have a crush on Natsuki. When I was younger, I felt the need to flirt with almost every guy I met. Okay, that was just barely an exaggeration, but that still doesn’t change the fact that I’ve never felt this way about a girl. Yes, I was bisexual, and yes, I was definitely attracted to girls, but this; this was different. I didn’t find Natsuki attractive persay. Well, I did, she looked like a freaking princess...

I didn’t understand how she made me feel. I was afraid to flirt with her. I was afraid I’d hurt her. A part of me didn’t even care if she hated me or not, as long as I could break down the walls that she had built around herself.

I was glad she didn’t push me away today, though. I would still be heartbroken if she did. I guess it helps that I’m an anime fan myself, so it was really easy to find common ground for the two of us to socialize over. I had shown her a webcomic app on my phone, and she may just be obsessed now.

“Wow, color me impressed.” I blink, refocusing on the page as his words break my train of thought. I look over my work, and even I’m afraid. “I take it you watch anime?” He said with a laugh.

“A bit. I'm not really sure how I drew this, though. I’ll have a hand at a cupcake or something.” He seemed confused; how could I not be proud of this? It was scarily accurate. Not wanting to look at the drawing any longer, I flipped to the next page.

Time crawled excruciatingly slowly as I tried to focus on the half-sketched cupcake in front of me. The different colored lights that hung evenly spaced apart on the ceiling made my head spin as they cast their rays of light around the room. The voices of coworkers and customers made a dull roar in my ears.

 

Hey brain? Slow the hell down. You've only known of her existence for two days. Today I did learn something crucial about the literature club, however. Natsuki and Yuri are inverses of each other. Natsuki is feisty on the outside, and shy at the core. Yuri, on the other hand, is a ticking time bomb that's wrapped in six and a half shells of bubble wrap.

I suppose that's why I'm glad she has Sayori. I have never seen such a bundle of light. I don't know how she does it. She's so cheerful that it's almost… shallow.

*

“Do you ever feel like life is repetitive and meaningless?” I found myself thinking aloud as I got ready for school. I woke up; went to school. Class, bell, class, bell, class, bell, repeat. Go to the Literature Club. Go to work. Come home. Do homework. Go to bed. Repeat the cycle. No one will remember me in a hundred years. Nothing I've done will matter. I’ll just be another statistic, just one body who helped the economy cycle. Existence is routine.

I sighed, and returned to my basic routine. I made sure that my bag had everything I needed, then slung it over my shoulder. I quickly laid my sleeping bag out neatly again on the floor, then put on my shoes and went downstairs. I navigated around the maze of unpacked boxes to my front door, then began my pace to school.

As I passed Sayori’s house, I could see her putting stuff in her backpack. Just as I realized I was staring, she caught my eyes through the dew covered window. Her pupils dilated, forming an expression that looked like fear. She ran out of view, and I never saw her come back. I stood and waited, half expecting her to burst through her front door. When she never did, I carried on walking. Was Sayori avoiding me?

*

I had found out yesterday that Natsuki and I had lunch together. I was glad for this, because sitting alone on my first day was not fun, and I did not plan on spending every day following the same way. I eventually located her perfectly pink hair. She was sitting alone, which for one reason or another, made me really sad. I went over and joined her, bagged lunch in hand.

I noted the fact that instead of lunch, a paper and pen sat in front of her. It looked like a half written poem, although it wasn’t handwritten. The words were drawn. I read it over in silence, since Natsuki was oblivious of my presence, and I assumed she would hide it as soon as she realized I was there.

“Purple eyes

Blue velvet skies

Looking down at me in pity.

Horror novel deepens

Our graphic secrets

What’s become of me?”

Her expression was solemn. She was clearly hurt by something. “What’s the matter?” I asked, sitting next to her. She immediately flipped the paper over at the sound of my voice.

“What do you mean? I’m fine.” I could faintly hear her stomach grumble as someone walked by with a tray of food.

“Are you going to go get lunch?” There was no way she had time to eat before I got to the cafeteria.

“Can’t,” she said absentmindedly, “I don’t have any lunch money.”

Well, she can’t have nothing. I rummaged through my lunch bag, which didn’t hold much to begin with. Moving out on my own certainly took a toll on my savings, and even with the job offer I got here, my first couple weeks went unpaid, so I don’t get my first paycheck until Friday. All I could pack for lunches this week was a sandwich, a bag of chips, a granola bar, and a drink pouch. I handed Natsuki half of my sandwich and the bag of potato chips. “Here.”

“I can’t have your food,” she said, pushing my hand away, “It belongs to you.”

“Just take it,” I insisted, “I’ll feel horrible if you don’t have anything.” She reluctantly accepted my offering of food, but ate it quickly, proving how hungry she really was. Lunch period started at noon, but breakfast was easily six hours ago. Had she not eaten since breakfast? Had she eaten breakfast?

“Why’d you even offer?” She asked suddenly, “No one’s ever cared enough to even notice, let alone do anything. Well, besides Monika, but she doesn’t know that I can’t get lunch.”

Because I love you. Because you’re important to me. Because I can’t stand a single moment knowing you are unwell and I am unable to help. Because I care about you. “How long has it been like this?” I questioned, not even sure what I was asking.

She shrugged, still staring at a point in the distance with complete focus. “As long as I can remember.”

I glanced down at her paper, deciding it was best to change the subject. “Is that for Yuri?” I guess I just kind of assumed with the first line being, “Purple eyes.”

Her face immediately flushed pink. “Well.. I.. I mean... It started with the idea of her, but...” Oh crap. She has a crush on Yuri, doesn’t she? “I mean, I... I never intend on giving it to her or anything... but..” She turned away from me and cast her eyes to the floor; her hair now covering half of her increasing blush.

Oh. My. Sweet lord almighty. Natsuki has a crush on Yuri, but Yuri has a thing with Sayori, and Natsuki doesn’t know, and I have a crush on Natsuki, and Yuri hates me — she probably thinks I’m out to get her or something — and because Yuri hates me, and Natsuki likes Yuri, then Natsuki will probably hate me. OhmygodwhatdoIdo? NowIamfreakingoutbecausethisisdefinitelyaproblem. I’mramblinginmyownthoughtswhattheheck—

I need to calm down. I don’t even know if I am in love with Natsuki. It could just be a weird feeling of complete and overwhelming jealousy that she’s falling for someone else . Geez, I really need to chill. My emotions tend to pass, or at least fluctuate, from week to week, so I probably shouldn’t even fathom the idea for a while, let alone tell Natsuki. She wants Yuri’s affection anyway, not mine.

We sat in painful silence for the remaining, eternally long, thirty-eight minutes. As the bell rang, Natsuki quietly thanked me for the food and rushed away.

*

I was the second person to reach the clubroom; only Monika was here. I settled in by the closet corner pulling my volume of Kingdom Hearts from my bag. “Zenobia.” I looked up as Monika said my name. She was near the middle of the classroom, with her back turned to me. Her head was turned ninety degrees to the left, as if she was throwing the word over her shoulder at me. Her eyes were open, but I was still out of her line of sight.

I made a sound of recognition. Why did she need to address me by name? I was the only one in the room. And the way she emphasized the use of my full name made it sound like the beginning of a threat. “Just so you’re aware, you hurt her, and I’ll hurt you. Her heart is already under enough turmoil.” Monika fell silent as the classroom door opened. “Good afternoon, girls!” All three of them had walked in.

Natsuki threw me a smile. “Can we just forget about what happened at lunch?” She said under her breath.

“Of course,” I replied quietly.

She glanced down to the manga in my lap. “You got the first volume of the Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix ?” She beamed, “I’ve glanced through a bit of the Chain of Memories series at the bookstore.”

“Do you want to see it?” I asked, holding it out to her. She gladly sat next to me and took the graphic novel. I hadn’t read much of it myself, but seeing Natsuki happily read page after page was enjoyment enough for me.

Eventually, Monika told us all that it was time to exchange poems. Natsuki cursed under her breath. “Dang it, I forgot!” I chuckled slightly. “What?” She shot at me, “I doubt yours is any good anyway.” 

I read the paper over before handing it to her.

“Fire

Dangerous, rapid

Burning, destroying, lighting

Disintegrator of towns

And lights of death.

 

It lights the way for the world

To see that all is lost

And there’s nothing to see.”

 “So... What do you think?” I asked after giving her a moment to read it.

“I, um, well, it’s a bit more complex than it needs to be. And you repeat yourself a bit in the last stanza. But, I mean, it’s not horrible...

I laughed to myself. “You kind of like it, don’t you?”

“That, that's not what I said!”

“Well, of course it's not perfect. I don't have near as much experience as you do. And it probably isn't your style, because I'm not near good enough to write like you.”

Natsuki bashfully hid her face in her hands. “Go away,” she mumbled, “dummy.”

“If you say so,” I replied with a smile, “I’ll go show my poem to the others. Catch you later.”

Chapter Text

Yuri's POV

I held Sayori’s poem gingerly in my hands. Her writing worried me to say the least. Her eyes were wide, and I could swear that she wasn’t looking at the page in my grip, but beyond it.

“Sayori?” Nothing. “Sayori? Are you alright?”

She blinked slowly, then looked up into my eyes. She suddenly seemed on the verge of tears. Level headed, damnit! How do I keep you calm?! “This is because of yesterday, isn’t it?”

What? She glanced at the paper, then back up at my eyes. I followed her gaze, to find the edge of a bandage sticking out from the end of my sleeve cuff. I didn’t realize I had gone that close to my hand. I should’ve been more careful, but I wasn’t thinking. I subconsciously pulled at my sleeves. “It's nothing. Really.”

It was a lie, and she knew it. “How far does it go?” She asked it without context, so if by chance anyone was listening, they wouldn't understand. I ran my free hand up my other arm. Ow, ow ow ow. I winced as my fingers grazed the deeper cuts right above my elbow. My hand traveled further and further up my arm, hoping to find and end to find an end to the pain. It did not.

I could tell she was resisting the urge to hug me. “I'm not upset, just...”

“Just what?” The way she cliffhanged her sentence made me afraid.

“I don't know,” she replied, her words buzzing with frustration, “It's like brown, you know? Not well rounded, calm brown, no. Like you swirled together every color on the palette, and you're left with this awful, disgusting, poorly-mixed color. I don't even understand it anymore.”

I rested my chin atop her head. “Just let it rain,” I whispered, “Let the storm rage on. The downpour will wash away all color. There will be a time of nothingness. Then someday the sun will shine, and you will be able to paint again. You just have to wait out the storm.”

I leaned back to my original standing position, and Sayori smiled faintly in my direction. “Did you like my poem?” She asked in a sweetly angelic voice.

Her words brought me back to the present; me, in the clubroom. “Uh, yeah. You seem to write me better than I write myself.”

“You're just saying that,” she mumbled.

“No, really. I'm struggling as is. You did really well. And I never got the chance to say it, but I really loved the poem you made for the festival.” She released a chuckling sigh at my words. Calm? Level headed? Or just chaos behind locked doors? I mimicked Sayori's sigh internally.

“Hey, Yuri?” Monika's sudden presence at my side made me jump. She spoke again as soon as she realized I was listening. “Can I speak to you in the hall for a moment?”

I threw a sideways glance at Sayori. “Uh, y-yeah. Sure.” I carefully matched Monika's stride as she walked outside.

After shutting the door, Monika seemed sure to keep some distance between us. However, alone in the silence of the hallway, I still felt very threatened.

“Is there a thing between you and Sayori?” Her swift words carried sharp diction, giving my a befuddled moment of odd clarity. Don't tell her. There's something more to this, and that answer will end the discussion prematurely.

“Why?” She seemed taken aback by my calm answer, despite my visible freak out.

“There is, isn't there?”

“Why?” I repeated.

“I don't know how to say this…” Monika? Having trouble with words? Now I'm really in trouble. “But… Natsuki has a crush on you.”

Shit. So you mean... When she was being mean and also avoiding me at Sayori's birthday party? That was just her being tsundere or something? Ohohofuck.

“No. Nooo. No, no, no, no, no...” I pressed my face against the wall. Monika seemed to be cursing herself for saying anything, and my reaction wasn't helping any. “What do I do?” I asked Monika without looking at her, “Whatever there is between Sayori and I... I don't know if there's a thing , per say, but I want there to be. Nat's feelings aside, I've fallen for Sayori and I've fallen hard. Nat had her chance, but now...”

Monika sighed. “I understand, I'm just not sure how to tell Natsuki.”

“However you do it, do it when I'm not present.” I turned back into the clubroom and grabbed my bag. On my way out, I was stopped by Monika. “Going around the circle means I have to write like Natsuki, yeah?” And Natsuki has to write like me. Monika nodded, and I stepped around her and walked out.

*

Instead of going inside, I walked around my house to the backyard. I rummaged around in my bag, eventually locating the noose buried at the bottom. I tossed it in the fire pit, then covered it with old ashes and new firewood. Grabbing the lighter that was always kept nearby, I set it all ablaze and walked away.

My footsteps were silent as my socked feet paced to my room. I shut the door and began to set up my easel. I used to only close doors if a bloody scene was about to unfold, but I quickly realized how suspicious that was, and started shutting doors whenever I entered a room.

I set my stand and canvas by my bedroom window, which perfectly framed the fire outside. A rainbow palette, and three different sized brushes, I began to paint away.

Hours pass. A green backdrop – growth, calm, peaceful fluctuation. Flames lick at the foreground. It reminded me of Zee's poem – dangerous, destructive, and rapid.

A soft, carefully measured knock could be heard tapping against my door. My brows furrowed. What could he want? I didn't upset him with the fire did I? “You can come in.” I called, focusing on the painting in front of me.

My father, a few inches taller than I, looked down at my painted canvas. “I was wondering why you had set a fire,” he said, “Now I see why.” I had almost forgotten what his voice sounded like. Nowadays it seemed that we avoided each other like the plague. I was afraid he'd find out about my... issue , and I was a constant reminder of my mother to him. Seeing each other brought a memory of grief to both of us.

“That's really good,” he told me as he gestured at my artwork, a smile in his voice.

I glanced down to my paint palette. I had been mindlessly swirling my brush around, creating a rather yucky brown color. Remembering what Sayori had said, I let out a sigh.

“Something on your mind?” I looked at my father for the first time since he had walked in my room. Was he actually trying to have a legitimate conversation with me?

“I, uh,” I wasn't sure how to react. We hadn't had a normal conversation in years. “Yeah, actually. Yeah.” I let go of another sigh before continuing. “You know the friend I visited this weekend so we could prepare for the festival?” He nodded, and it made me wonder if this was why I was so shy in social situations; because I never had small talk at home. “Well, she, uh, she’s been going through a rather tough time, and I really want to help I just don’t know how.”

I laid down my paints and sat on my bed. “And then today, Monika - the club president - goes and tells me that Natsuki has a crush on me and...” I fell backward and grumbled into my mattress. I didn’t know how to fix any of this. Ugh.

I could feel a shift in weight as my dad sat next to me. “The friend you went and visited, that’s Sayori, right?” I nodded slightly, although I was quite impressed that he knew her name. “I think the best thing you can do for her is just to stay by her side.” Yeah, like you would know anything about not abandoning people in a time of hurting. “And I know I’m not a good person to take that advice from, but really. Staying by her side, friend or otherwise, can go a long way. And I’m really sorry I couldn’t do that for you. As for the situation with Natsuki, I’m sorry to say that I don’t know how to help.”

We sat like that for a while, nothing to hear but the fire outside. “Other than club troubles, how was school today?” This was so foreign. He was actually making small talk with me; my father. And even weirder, I was reciprocating.

“I got my grade back on a French test that I had been freaking out over. And I didn’t do half bad.”

“What did you get?”

“87. Not as good as I wanted, but better than I thought I would do I guess.” Small talk, just small talk. Calm down. I worded my next few sentences very carefully. “Hey dad? About what you said with Sayori, “Staying by her side, friend or otherwise.” Would you hate me if it was “otherwise”?

Eyebrows raised, he seemed rather taken aback by my simple question. “Hate you? Of course not! I know it doesn’t usually seem like it, but I always have, and always will love you. And I’ll always be here if you need help with anything.

I embraced him tightly. The action seemed odd, but fitting in this situation. “Do you want to watch a movie with dinner?” He said after I let him go, “It might help take your mind off of everything for a bit.” My eyes darted to the clock as he got up. It was already just past seven o’clock, and I hadn’t even started my homework.

“Hey, dad?” He stopped under my door frame and looked back to me. “Thanks for checking up on me. I needed it.” He smiled and walked away, probably to go make supper.

I sighed, as if somehow letting go of air would help me let go of my problems and focus on my ridiculous homework. I kind of worked, to my relief. I found my homework folder and began searching through the pages. French, easy; English, not that hard; ugh, math. I hated pre-calc, but absolutely despised the unit we were doing now, probability.

Like, if Monika's mother is an asshole five sixths of the time, and her dad is the same way for every two out of three times that her mother is, what is the probability that Monika will form a club with three messed up children?

Based on your answer to question one: If Child A is a tsundere 12 out of 13 times, and Child B is smarter than she seems 97% of the time, based around the fact that Child C is reclusive 9 times out of ten; what is the likelihood that B will learn all of C’s secrets and that C will be oblivious to A’s true feelings? I don’t know! Why don’t we just roll the damn dice and find out?! It was all so stupid, and I hated it.

I decided I needed help, and I might as well take care of the math first. This thought in mind, I called Sayori. “Hey!” She answered almost immediately, “What’s up?”

“Nothing much, you busy?”

“No, is something wrong?” She sounded really worried.

“No! No. I was just wondering if you had some time to spare to help me with my math homework.”

“Oh. Sure! What unit are you guys on?” Sometimes I forgot that she was in advanced math. Guess it just goes to show that she really is smarter than she seems. With Sayori’s help, I was able to finish my math with enough time to also do my english before dinner.

“Wait, Yuri.” Sayori said when I told her I had to get going, “Why’d you leave early today?”

Be honest with her. She’ll know if you’re lying and it will only make things worse. “When Monika pulled me outside, she revealed to me that Nat has a thing for me, and I guess I just started having a mental breakdown. Because, like, I don’t want to hurt her, but I want to be with you so..”

“Oh.” The five or six seconds of silence that followed seemed to last forever. “Alright. You can go now. Enjoy dinner.”

“I’ll try. Catch you later.”

“Bye.” I could’ve sworn that we both hung up simultaneously, that we both just wanted the conversation to be over.

Sayori's reaction was heavy on my mind, and apparently me as a whole, because as I walked to the living room, it felt as if I was wearing shoes of lead.

I watched from the couch as my dad put the finishing touches on dinner. His black waves of hair were ruffled now, no longer matted down by stress and the keeping of appearances. His green eyes were intently focused on the dishes in front of him, as if he was trying to impress me. I had to give him that. He was trying really hard to reconnect with me.

A horror flick and a bowl of my favorite pasta later, it seemed like everything was how it should be. Even if only temporarily.

Chapter Text

Sayori's POV

Natsuki has a crush on Yuri. I stared at the ceiling and snoozed my alarm. Yuri had, and possibly still has, a crush on Natsuki. Yuri can have Natsuki. Then she won't need me anymore. I stared at the backs of my eyelids and snoozed my alarm. Maybe I could just stay here forever. Would anyone mind? Would someone come to aid me if I just slowly disappeared? How long would it take them to forget me?

“Sayori? You awake in there?”

I groaned. I should be done getting ready by now. “Yes, mother. Begrudgingly awake.” A chuckle came from the other side of the door, followed by leaving footsteps.

Much to my surprise, some part of my brain was able to go on autopilot and get ready for school. I put my poem for Monika in my bag. It wasn't all that hard; I've been an existential crisis kind of mood recently.

I barely had time to grab a bag of cereal before heading to school. I probably look really stupid eating cereal from a bag as I walk to school. But that's okay, because I am an idiot anyway.

“Hey, Sayori!” I turned around briskly, mask snapping into place.

“Ah, good morning, Zee!” Perhaps I'm not the only one running late.

God, I did not want to walk to school with her. I could practically see a younger me cheerily skipping to school, Gaku at my side; our hands interwoven in the way little kids do. I could trust him with everything.

“What would you think if Yuri and Natsuki started dating?” I didn't even realize that I was talking until the question had escaped my mind.

Zee became suddenly tense at the quite fathomable idea. “Well, I prefer that Yuri stays with you, if that counts for anything.”

“Why? They'd be perfect for each other.” Not that I wanted them to be a couple. I was completely in love with Yuri. “If Nat would stop being a tsundere for once, you could see what I mean. Yuri would get all shy, and Nat would be her voice. It's only happened a few times before, but I think it would become rather common if they started dating.”

“I suppose you're right,” she replied solemnly, “Yuri would be a good fit for Natsuki. Possibly the best fit, even. I'm not so sure about the other way around, though. Why are you so adamant about this anyway? Aren't you dating Yuri?”

“Not exactly, so I mean, if Yuri and Natsuki did become a thing, I would have no right to be mad. In fact, I'd understand it, and I guess I'd be forced to accept it.”

“No, wait; I'm still hung up on this. If you aren't dating her, then why don't you ask her out already? We both know she would say yes.”

Because I don't want to force her into something she doesn't want. Because she's too timid to say no. Because she wouldn't have the courage to break up with me. Because she'd stay out of pity rather than love. You can't see the pain I clearly cause her. “I’m just waiting for the right moment, I guess.”

*

Man, I hated tests. Now sitting at lunch, I had taken a test in every class so far, with the exclusion of calculus - the only class I was good at taking tests for. Just my luck, the math test was moved to tomorrow to provide an extra day of studying.

That being said, I was currently so focused on finishing the review packet, that I nearly fell out of my seat when Monika greeted me.

“Hey, Sayo!” Although startled by her sudden presence, I quickly returned to my homework. “Got a lot of homework?”

Shaking my head, I replied, “This is all I have so far. It’s been nothing but tests up to this point.”

“Then why are you doing it now?” Monika asked, never losing her smile, “It’s lunch time, silly.”

I answered with an exasperated sigh. “Just trying to keep my mind from wandering.”

Monika’s smile immediately faded. Great. Now I’ve made her worried. “What’s been nagging at you?”

“Just the whole ordeal with Nat...” I mumbled.

“What do you mean?”

I slammed my pencil in frustration. “You might as well tell her to ask Yuri out. I don’t deserve her, and lord knows it would all be better that way.”

“Have you even considered how Yuri feels about all this?” I answered Monika with silence. “What has she told you on the matter?”

“She just mentioned not wanting to hurt Natsuki, but...”

“But?”

“But she wanted to be with me, so...”

“Exactly. Why are you even worried about her loving Nat more? She told me that Nat’s chance was gone, because she had fallen for you. And she fell hard.”

Mumbling something unintelligible in protest, I stuffed my homework away. I looked at the plate of spaghetti in front of me. Not as good as mac and cheese, but hey. I glanced at Monika's plate a few times as we ate in uneasy peace. Her food was just like mine, but of course, without meat. As usual.

We had only been eating for maybe five minutes when Monika's eyes suddenly bugged out.

“What?” I asked in confusion. Her hands reached around her throat, and she made a gasp that sounded like pain. “Are you alright?” She rapidly shook her head. “Do we need to go to the nurse?” She responded with a nod. We calmly left the cafeteria, but as soon as we were out of the sight of our peers, we rushed to the nurse's office.

The nurse's eyes went wide as soon as she saw her, almost identical to her reaction. Monika held up four fingers and waved the hand in the nurse's face. They grabbed something that I could've confused with an Epi-pen, had I not known what it was. It was similar to an Epi-pen, in essence, but for much more minor emergencies.

I never thought I'd actually witness Monika having an allergic reaction. And now that I was, I realized just how scary it was. I knew that she would be okay, but the small doubt in my mind grew and grew as she continued to show symptoms. After several slow minutes, she spoke up.

“I'm going to guess that my lunch was not entirely meat-free.” Somehow she still managed to chuckle a bit, even after her allergic reaction.

“You think?” The nurse scoffed, “I know you won't like this, but I have to send you home.”

Monika looked to me. “Will you guys be alright without me today?” She searched my eyes as I answered her, looking for any hint of panic or lies.

“As long as you’re back tomorrow, I can manage today.” Sorry, Monika, but your gaze isn't strong enough to penetrate my mask. Not today. Truth be told, although I was qualified to lead the literature club, it still terrified me.

*

Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ah, the final bell. Time for the literature club. I meandered from my classroom, hoping to delay my arrival. I could see Zee down the hall. Maybe I should say hi. No, I’ll just make a fool of myself. My eyes landed on Yuri, only a few paces ahead of Zee. I lengthened my stride a little, closing the gap between myself and the two of them.

My eyes narrowed in confusion as someone walked up to Yuri. What was he doing? “Monika isn’t here to save you now,” I heard him say. He ripped everything from Yuri’s hands and threw it all over the floor. A few students streamed by, trying to leave, but most stopped to watch. I was frozen on the spot. I wanted to help, but Zee was already two steps ahead of me.

“Yo! Zenobia! Friendly word of advice, you shouldn't hang out with freaks like her.” The guy said.

“Why?” Zee asked calmly, “What makes her a freak?”

“Haven't you heard? People say she brings knives to school. And then...”

“Well at least she's important enough to have rumors spread about her,” Zee replied, cutting him off, “There are only two things worth remembering about you. That you’re an asshole with an obnoxious voice, and that I’d prefer to avoid your disgusting personality in the future.”

Kids were laughing at him now, rather than Yuri. Zee and I quickly gathered her stuff, and we hurried off to the literature club.

“Is Monika here?” Natsuki asked as soon as we entered the clubroom.

“I’m afraid not,” I answered, “She had an allergic reaction and was sent home. She’s okay though.”

“Of course,” Nat mumbled under her breath, “They only acknowledge me when Monika is gone.”

“Was somebody making fun of you?” Zee asked, “Do I need to punch somebody in the face?”

Nat shook her head. “They were just your typical jerks.” Although her attitude was collected and casual, it was clear that she was still upset. Zee met my eyes, and we exchanged words in silence. She would help Natsuki recover, and I would do the same for Yuri. Going our separate ways, Yuri and I went to her typical reading corner.

As soon as she sat down, she set down all of her things and began looking through her stuff. Her homework had crinkled corners and dusty footprints. Her workbooks held large creases. But worse of all, was her book. Zee was so busy arguing with the guy, that I don’t think she saw him walking all over her things. The book had been kicked open and stomped on. Most of the pages had been crunched; the book was ruined.

“It was a library book,” she said, her voice as drowned as her watering eyes looked.

“It’s alright,” I reassured her, “Zee or I can take care of it tomorrow, and we’ll make sure that guy gets in trouble for ruining your book.”

Yuri put her head in her hands. Glancing over at the others, I saw that Zee was in the same situation as me. Was there any way to cheer them up? “You know what?” I said matter-of-factly, scouring my brain for any drop of determination I could find. I marched to my bookbag which I had left by the teacher’s desk, and located my wallet. Confirming its contents, I announced, “Everyone gather their things. As president pro tempore of the literature club, I hereby declare that we are holding today’s meeting off campus.”

*

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been this way before,” Natsuki said, “Only when I went to your house for your birthday, but we would’ve gone straight at the last intersection.” Birthday party, Natsuki. Unbeknownst to you, my birthday still isn’t for another few days.

“I think I know where we’re going,” Zenobia replied, “Common Grounds Café, right? I pass it on my way to work every day.”

Nodding, I answered, “It's a coffee shop, ice cream parlor, pastry kind of place. I'm buying you all ice cream.”

“You shouldn't waste your money on me,” Yuri and Natsuki said in almost unison.

“You don't get a choice,” I replied, “Well, I mean, if you don't want ice cream you can get coffee or something.”

I went to my usual table, which sat six people, although I usually came here on my own. We each set our bookbags in a chair and walked to the menu.

“Now, do I want chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry?” I thought aloud as I looked over the ice cream flavors.

“Why don't you just get Neapolitan?” Zee offered.

“But that's what I always get,” I whined. I can't even pick a flavor of ice cream. I'm pathetic.

“Personally, I see you as a mint chip kind of person.”

“You know what? That sounds like a good idea.” I'd never had mint ice cream before. “What do you guys want?”

“Either rocky road or chocolate, I think.” Natsuki decided.

“I'd actually just like a chocolate milkshake, please.” Zee said.

“What about you Yuri?” I asked, “Have you decided what you want yet?” She wasn't looking at the menu, but rather the people in the café. Her eyes seemed fixed on a woman in the corner. She seemed tall - although I couldn't really tell because she was sitting - and had a head of bouncing, black curls. “Yuri?” I tapped on her shoulder as she whipped around to face me.

“Huh? Oh, I, sorry. I'm not really sure if I want ice cream...” She glanced back at the woman.

“Yuri.” She glanced back, meeting my eyes. “Do you like hot chocolate?”

“Um, y-yeah...”

“Okay. You guys can go sit down. I'll order.” Natsuki and Yuri went to our table, but Zenobia stayed behind to help me carry everything. I paced three energetic steps to counter.

“Welcome to Common Grounds!” The cashier greeted, despite us already being here for several minutes, “What can I get you?”

“I'd like two medium ice creams, both in a dish,” I told her, “one mint chip and one with one scoop chocolate and the other rocky road. Then I'd also like a medium chocolate milkshake and a medium original hot chocolate float.”

“Will that be all?” I smiled, nodded, and paid, then watched her scoop out my frozen treat. I could hear the black haired woman laugh. She was drinking either coffee or tea with what I assumed to be two of her friends, chatting up a storm, and smiling the whole time. So why was her gleeful demeanor making Yuri so sad?

Zee and I grabbed our things and headed back to the table. To my surprise, Nat and Yuri were sitting next to each other. To my expectations, they were bickering. “How is that ideal weather ? Who likes to walk outside in freezing rain? No one, that's who! This is almost as bad as when you told me you liked your coffee black!”

Yuri was about to strike back, but she paused instead and bit her lip. What she said, actually startled me. “ Natsuki. It's a matter of opinion. There's no need to get so worked up over it. And I wasn't saying I'd want to walk in freezing rain. It's just the best weather for reading. The sound of forming ice is actually quite soothing. Besides, my hair has always been really dark in color, so walking in the bright sun can make me really overheated. But I understand your opinion, sunny skies are really nice.”

Natsuki was in shock, and so was I. Yuri not only just diffused an argument, but an argument between her and Nat. I should check the news to see if pigs are flying. “What did I miss?” I questioned them.

“Well I was just looking out the window to distract myself,” Yuri said, “and it sparked a conversation with Natsuki about weather preferences.”

Yuri glanced back to the woman on the other side of the café. Their eyes met, and I could swear Yuri shrunk to the size of a jellybean. Sitting down, I asked Yuri if she was okay.

“I, um,” she stammered in response, “The woman over there looks exactly like my mother. And she sounds the way my mother did, too.” She rhythmically tapped her fingers against her Styrofoam cup.

“We can leave if you want,” I offered in a whisper. I didn't want to let her out of my sight after what she had just said.

“No, I don't want to ruin the afternoon for you guys. I think I'm just going to go home.”

Yuri has never mentioned her mother. Not even once.

Chapter Text

Natsuki's POV

I took a bite of my ice cream. Sayori really shouldn't have spent her money on me, but I wasn't going to complain, because the only thing I had to eat today was what Zenobia gave me for lunch. My father had stopped buying cereal maybe three or so weeks ago, so I was surprised I lasted this long without withering away.

Zenobia sipped at her milkshake as Sayori and Yuri whispered back and forth. God, how I wished she would leave. She was nice to me, which was definitely a surprise, even if I knew it was fake. I just wished everything would go back to the way it was.

Yuri stood suddenly and started to leave. “What’s the matter, Yuri?” Zee asked. She blurted something in reply that was to quick for me to catch.

“Yuri, wait.” She looked back to me. I retrieved my poem and handed it to her. “I figured you should have this. You can tell me how much it sucks later.” A faint smile spread across her lips before she lowered her head, turned on her heel, and left.

“Aw, man,” Zee mumbled, “That’s what I forgot yesterday; my poem.”

“Well I guess we’re done then,” Sayori concluded, “because Yuri’s gone, I already exchanged poems with Monika, and you two are now taken care of.”

“So what do we do now?” I asked, suddenly longing to have a manga open in front of me.

“Enjoy our ice cream, obviously.” I couldn’t argue with that.

Soon enough, however, we finished eating, and all decided on going home. Of course, it wasn’t the usual time for club to be over, so I still had quite a lot of time to kill before I could go home. Sayori seemed glued to her phone, probably texting Yuri. I wonder if she’s okay. I walked up to Zee instead.

“Is it okay if I stick with you for a while?” I asked. I tried to make an an excuse, saying that I forgot my house keys so I needed to wait until my dad got home anyway.

Against what I expected her reaction to be, Zenobia smiled in return. Her face suddenly fell. “I mean, you can , but you’d probably rather hangout with Sayori, and I’m just going to work anyway since I’m already halfway there.”

Woah, woah, woah. Zee has a job? I wonder what she does. “Of course I want to hang out with you. If I wanted to chill with Sayori, I would’ve asked her, dummy.” Why did I say that? That was stupid, and now I probably sound rude. She probably said that because she doesn’t want to hang out with me. “If I won’t distract you at work, that is.”

She scoffed. “Oh, you will. But that’s okay. Let’s go.” We parted ways with Sayori outside of the café. I sent her a quick text as we grew further apart.

Chat: ṠWeatherṢ

N : Hey, I know this sounds stupid, but please make sure Yuri is okay.

S : Can do.

S : Id tell her that youre worried about her but that might just make it worse

S : Im quite worried about her myself

N : Of course you are, Sayori. You’re her girlfriend.

I really hoped that she didn’t take the last part as spitefully as it was intended. But as my mind was on Yuri, I found myself rereading my poem in my head.

Cereal

 

Crisp newspapers, reading in the morning
Goodnight hugs, normal sleep schedule
Family movie night, grab a bowl of popcorn
Just like cereal

"Good job, kiddo!"
"We're so proud!"
"You look really good today."
Just like cereal

    I love you.
    Cereal
         Mother.
         Cereal

It's the smallest, most trivial of things that you don't usually notice...
Until it's gone.
Just like cereal.

I had hoped that she would like it, but now I didn't really care. I just wanted her to give me any kind of feedback. It was sick, but I loved when we would argue. It was nice to see that at least someone could be upset by me. Feel some kind of emotion towards what I have to say, even if it's not the best of emotions. It seemed that the only way Yuri and I could talk was through debate and anger.

That was one of the first times Zenobia had truly surprised me. Yuri had completely exploded at her with full force, and she just let it happen. I had expected her to either be like me, and explode back, or like Sayori and Monika, and try to calm her down. Given, Sayori was the one to calm her down, but Zee acted so different from the rest of us.

I found myself studying her as we walked along, like some odd specimen. How was she so calm? She said that she had a bit of a leader's personality, but even leaders have some form of reaction to being yelled at like that, even if it's just taking a moment to recollect their composure. Was neutral just Zee's natural state? If not, how much conditioning did it take to make her that way?

“Does my appearance upset you?” Zee asked with a smile.

“No, just wondering.” Although my brain didn't initially recognize the question, I did realize that I was staring, and therefore looked away.

Her response was hesitant. “What were y ou wondering about?”

“Just how calm you manage to be.”

“It's not that hard,” she answered, her eyes distant, as if she was reliving a memory, “especially when faced with a situation I feel indifferent about. And when faced with no real danger. Now, let's say it was you yelling at me, rather than Yuri. That would've been different.”

“How?” Yuri and I are both of equal standing, or at least I'd like to think so. Unless of course, she views me as lower, just like the rest of the school. I just wanted things back to the way they were. At least in the literature club I could be viewed as an equal.

“For one, Yuri doesn't really like me. And you're, you. I would've just let you yell at me. At least, if it made you feel better. I probably would've deserved it anyway.” Just as I was about to question her, she stopped. “Here we are.”

My eyes darted around the neon-lit building. A... Tattoo parlor? “But you're too young to ink tattoos,” I thought aloud.

“I don't,” Zee replied, “I draw designs for someone who does. Few people around here actually have artistic talent. They're just great at copy-paste.” She sat down at what I assumed to be her workstation, which was littered with art supplies. “Man, I really need to clean up.”

Just as Zee got settled in, a man walked up to her. He wore a name tag, but all I could read was the “X” at the beginning. He seemed to be checking me out, which I personally found repulsive.

“I am not eye-candy, thank you.” I stated, one hand on my hip.

“Zee’s notebook begs to differ,” he muttered with a smirk. She threw a pencil at him in retaliation. “Here,” he continued after a moment. He handed back the pencil along with a thin stack of paper. “Just a couple sketches from customers earlier. I was hoping you would be able to do something with them.” She nodded, flipping through the pages.

“Alright,” Zee stated, setting the stack down, “I’ll either see you when I finish these or when my shift is over, whichever comes first.” With one final glance in my direction, the man walked away.

My memory walked backwards through the conversation. “Zee’s notebook begs to differ.” So she had a picture of me in her notebook?

I heard a sigh at my side. “I'll show you,” she said, reading my mind. She had started on a blank page, but as she flipped back two, I saw first a cupcake, and then me.

“Why?”

“I don't know. I mean, my hands got ahead of brain,” she began. I flipped through the the pages as she continued. “Xzavier had requested something different from what I was used to. I asked if he wanted something cute, and his exact words were, “Cupcakes, anime, sparkles, the whole nine yards,” and so that just kind of happened. I'm sorry for the horrible anime recreation of you.”

Wait. I punched her arm, exclaiming, “I. Am. Not. Cute!” She laughed and muttered something, then began to go to work. My attack hadn't bothered her at all.

Half a drawing later, Zee spoke up again. “So what is this whole thing between you and Yuri?” What? How would she know I have a crush on Yuri? Well, there was the poem I was drawing, so maybe she's just assuming, but doesn't actually know. Okay, calm down. Play it cool, Natsuki. Play it cool.

“I, uh, I don't know? There's not, not much to say. We, um, we argue a lot I guess?” My god, Nat. You should know by now that stuttering is a repulsive quality. Then why am I so attracted to Yuri?

Zee replied with an exasperated sigh, running a hand down her face. “With a reaction like that, you should count yourself lucky that she's never asked you about it. It's alright, I was just curious. I mean, what about–”

“Sayori,” I blurted, “I know, I know. But they're happy together and I don't want to break that.”

“Well there are plenty of fish in the sea, you know.”

“But she's perfect...” Zee continued to draw as I rambled away. “She’s tall, and she's shy, she can't read people to save her life – which is a plus, she is the next level introvert, she's the only person I know who dislikes manga but doesn't judge me for liking it, she's book smart but not street smart. She's honest, she's mysterious, she let's me defend her but still won't hesitate to debate with me, and she always gets so flustered when she accidentally hurts my feelings, and she's really understanding.”

Zee chuckled sadly. “Stop.”

“What?”

She glanced at me. “Ah, nothing. Just talking to myself.” Okay. Whatever. We sat for awhile, both thinking in peace. It was quite peaceful, though, watching her draw. She was really good, too. Regardless, there was still a bit of tension as I looked at the clock every ten minutes.

5:00. “ Alright, I enjoyed watching you draw but I gotta go. Hope I wasn't a distraction or anything.”

“No, it's okay. I'm sorry if I bored you to death.”

I gave her one of my rare, genuine smiles. “It might sound stupid, but I actually really enjoyed watching you draw. You're really good, and it's amazing to see how you can make your pictures come to life.”

She smiled back. “Well I guess I'll text you later then?” I nodded and left. The walk home was a long one, but I enjoyed every second. The longer it took me to get home, the better. Despite being on a time limit. I did eventually get there of course, and, grabbing the key I said I didn’t have, I let myself in.

I scanned every room of the house for any sign of life. Nothing. He wasn’t here. My stomach growled, calling for my attention. I searched the entire house a second time before heading to the kitchen. He’d kill me if he ever caught me making food for myself.

But what was the fastest meal? I didn’t know when he would be home. I didn’t even know where he was. A sandwich, probably, but he would notice that things were missing. My eyes skimmed over the shelves of forever-desired, never-obtainable food. Pasta! I could grab a few of each kind of noodle and he would never notice, as long as everything went back into place. Wash the pot, wash the bowl, wash the metallic gleaming silverware, and put them back in their proper places.

But I had to be fast. I boiled as little water as I needed, adding a dash of salt to the mix to make it boil faster. Yet, no matter how fast the bubbles rose, I still felt that he could arrive at any moment, and... Well... I looked at the motionless doorknob almost every three seconds. I inhaled the poorly cooked dish as fast as I was physically able to and washed everything. The sound of clattering dishes echoed in my ears as I ran up the stairs after putting everything away.

A soft and silent vibration went off in my jacket pocket, signalling a text message from someone. Assuming it was Zee, I checked it immediately. However, it was not Zee, but Yuri.

Chat: PurpleMountainMajesty

Y : hey just wanna let you know that i read through your poem and i know this sounds really stupid but i actually really liked it

Y : however it’s left me with this one question

Y : Are you okay? And yes, I am 100% serious right now. Ideas like this, poems like this, they don’t just come out of thin air.

Oh no. She’s actually worried about me.

N : I’m alright, just, I was thinking about my mom recently, and inspiration struck.

N : I thought the topic would fit you’re writing style the best anyway, so it just kind of happened.

Y : You sure you're okay tho?

N : Yeah, I'm fine

Y : well anyway just wanted to tell you that your poem was really good, metaphor or otherwise

Y : i liked the way you spaced it too, the emphasis was really nice

N : Thanks!

She actually liked it! She liked my poem! As I turned my phone off, my eyes glanced over my homework folder.I didn’t understand why we had any homework. We had a test in every, single, subject. I must’ve spent hours following through on the stupid decision to do it all. Sure enough, I looked up at the clock to find that it was half past eleven and speckled stars were shining through the window.

I flipped my attention from my eyes to my ears. The house was silent. Creeping to the door, I cringed a little when the hinges squeaked. I opened it as little as necessary, sneaking out with my phone in hand. I tiptoed down the creaking stairs to the front window. His car still isn’t in the driveway. I glanced at my phone to confirm the time again. 11:36.

Well I can’t just go to sleep while he isn’t here. Not after last time . I crashed into the armchair nearby. It felt like a luxury, since I was stuck in my room most of the time. Needing to kill time, I flipped through the games on my phone. Ah, Webtoon. Zee had showed it to me during her first day in the literature club, and it was the best thing since sliced bread. Well, besides bread, of course. I had thousands of comics at my fingertips that he could never find. She had gotten me obsessed with a few, one of which had over ninety “episodes” and I was only on number twenty. Deciding that it would at least keep me up for a while, I began to read.

This however, was a mistake. I was so enveloped in the story, that I didn’t hear the car engine pull in at nearly one in the morning. Thanks to the heavens that I caught the sound of the softly shut car door. Something was definitely off. He never did anything lightly .

My eyes darted to the stairs. Not enough time to get to my room, he’ll hear me! The lights were already off, which I counted as a blessing. I rushed behind the side of the armchair, shut down my phone, and hoped that he didn’t hear me. The door swung open with force, but swung shut gently. That’s why, he’s stumbling . I could smell the alcohol on his breath as he stumbled through the living room. I heard a thud, and hoped that he had hit the floor, passed out, and maybe even died. Of course this wasn’t the case. It was, rather, a case of vodka being set on the kitchen counter. He stumbled up the stairs to my room with a drunken laugh. Thank god I was downstairs.

I held my breath, my entire body tense as I heard the sounds of objects crashing upstairs, mixed with yelling. Please don’t come back down. Please don’t come back down. I listened as my door slammed shut. More stumbling. Please. His bedroom door opened and closed with faint clicks, and I let go of my increasingly painful breath. That was a nightmare barely avoided.

I crept to my room, locked the door and passed out in my uniform with my phone in hand the second I hit the bed.

Chapter Text

Natsuki's POV

A bang echoed around my room. “Get up! You’re gonna be late for school, and I swear to god if that happens...” Shit. Shit. I sighed when I realized that my phone was shut off and therefore never set off my alarm. I leapt from bed and tidied my uniform, slung my bag over my shoulders. Then, I redid the ribbons in my hair and walked downstairs as calmly as I could fake. He was glaring at me as I glanced at the still-full box of vodka bottles. “What, were ya plannin’ on stealing my food?” There was a very evident slur in his typically formal voice.

I bowed my head. “No sir.”

He backhanded me across the cheek. “Look at me when I’m talkin to you!” I looked up like a soldier. “Now get! You gotta go to school.” I rushed from the house so fast I nearly tripped. I turned on my phone and texted Monika.

Chat: Monsquid

N: Moniko! can I swing by ur place for a while? i need to borrow a mirror

M: Sure! Would you like me to pick you up?

N: no

N: thx for the offer but im too close to my house still

M: Oh... I see you anyway!

I saw Monika at the end of her driveway, waving at me from a distance. She ran up and met me halfway, then walked the remaining distance alongside me.

“Are you okay?” She asked, eyeing the large red mark on my face.

“Yeah,” I replied, “I'm alright. I'm actually quite lucky that I only got backhanded.”

“How's, um,” I understood what she meant.

“Drunk, Monika. He's drunk.”

“Oh. Well… Do you want breakfast? There's no way you had a chance to eat yet.” Wasn't given a chance, no.

“Sure. If your parents don't mind, that is.”

“Ha!” Monika exclaimed with a wide grin, “My parents? Care what I'm doing? That's funny.” She wasn't wrong. From the times I had been to her house, I'd have to say that neglectful is the best fitting adjective for her parents. “I'll make you some eggs and toast, and you can use the mirror in my room,” she said, opening the front door. Nodding to show I had listened and agreed, I followed her instructions and went down the hall to her room.

I sat on the stool in front of her dresser mirror and grabbed my makeup from my bag. I'd keep it at home, but he would trash it all. And I suppose it's nice to have with me.

Examining the red on my face, I looked through my concealers. I was pale to begin with, but the mark was across my cheek, so I could use blush, too. However, that was a little over-cutesy for me. My exhaustion was visible as well, by the purple and green tinted bags under my eyes. Well, I have to start somewhere.

Monika came into the room as I was putting on the finishing touches. She held a plate in each hand, each with two over-easy eggs and two pieces of buttered toast.

She looked over my face. “I don't know how you do it. I'm horrible with makeup.”

“Well, I have to be good enough to cover bruises, so I was forced to learn pretty quickly.”

Monika sighed defeatedly. There was a few seconds of silence before her smile returned. “I got breakfast! It's nothing special, but...”

I mirrored her smile. “It's alright. It's food, so there's no complaint here.”

She stared at me dumbfounded, forkful of egg halted before her lips. She gently set the utensil back on her plate. “Nat, when was the last time you ate something?”

“Well I managed to have noodles last night for dinner, and Zee had split her lunch with me, but before that, just lunch with Zee each day, I guess.”

“And before Zee arrived?”

“I don't know...” I muttered, taking another bite of toast.

“You should've said something!” Monika exclaimed, “I'd gladly make you breakfast every day!”

“Monika...” I didn't want to be a burden for her to support.

“And don't think that you'd be any kind of trouble, because I'll gladly take any reason to cook.”

“I take it you enjoy cooking?” I asked, sort of changing the subject as I started to eat my eggs.

“Not to brag or anything, but I'm basically a professional,” she answered with a smirk.

Oh really ?”

“Yeah! Have you ever been to Comida-cibo ?”

“The ‘Food Around the Globe’ place on 5th street?”

“Yeah!” Monika beamed, “You know, everything from tacos to Italian, from steak and burgers to seafood. It satisfies everyone. I work nights there after club time. I'm a waitress and chef-in-training.”

“Are you going to be a chef as an adult?” I asked, suddenly curious.

“We already are adults, Natsuki. We're eighteen.”

“Well excuuuuse me! Blah blah blah, political correctness, whatever. You know what I mean.”

“I've thought about it,” she continued as if nothing had happened, “It’ll be weird being away from school, though, so the idea of being a teacher has crossed my mind. Then again, if I had to teach kids like those in our graduating class, I think I'd lose my mind. And I'm already really comfortable working at the restaurant, and college is a lot of money that I don't have. What are you planning on doing after school?”

I shrugged as a million ideas flew through my head. “I know this sounds really stupid, but I really want to write a manga. And of course that could never be my full-time job, but it would be really cool just to say that I've done it.”

Monika nodded. I knew that she thought manga was stupid, but she never voiced it, which I appreciated. I was more than used to being mocked for my interests. But instead of saying anything, she gathered up our now empty plates and waved for me to follow. I collected my makeup back into my bag and went with her.

“I’ll meet you at the kitchen table.” Monika said as she rinsed our plates and silverware. She walked back to the dark hallway and returned a moment later with her bookbag. She set her homework folder on the table. It seemed that her work had been barely touched, although, it being Monika, I had half expected it to be done already. “I crashed as soon as I got home from work last night,” she said, reading my mind, “I haven't even started yet.”

“I can help you if you want,” I offered, “although I'm no scholar like you.” I grabbed my homework and laid it out in front of her.

“Thanks, Nat. This will definitely save me some time. I appreciate it.”

Letting her get to work, I sat back and reflected over the past twenty-four hours. What would've happened if he had found me? Or if I had been in my room? Or even worse, if I had been asleep? That raised a second question. Why was he drunk? Then it hit me. Today was the anniversary of my mother's death. Ten years ago today. Wow.

I could still hear her voice sometimes. “Be strong, kiddo. Be strong.” I still remember the night she left. My parents didn't often fight, but when they did, it was major. I don't recall what it was that they had been fighting about, but I remember crying in my room because the yelling frightened me. I remember the sound the door made when it slammed, and the sound of the car radio that was so loud I could hear it from my room. I remember when she drove away. I never knew in that moment that the next time I'd see her car would be in the car crash reports.

All was calm for a day or so, then he started to drink away his sorrows. It was the first time he hit me, and from that point forward, sober or not, the behavior stuck. We never got to go to her funeral.

“Natsuki!” I shook my head and looked up at Monika. “Here,” she said, handing me my homework, “It's time to go.”

I stood and gathered my things, squinting my eyes in an effort to dispel the tragic thoughts in my head.

“Are you alright?” Monika went to grab my chin and turn me to face her, but her hand froze an inch away and flinched back.

“I’m fine,” I mumbled angrily.

Monika was persistent. “Natsuki, what’s on your mind?”

I cast my eyes to her parents, who were only feet away, yet were completely ignoring us. “Not here,” I grumbled, “We can talk on the way to school.”

Monika led me out to her car, and I followed in step. As soon as I shut the passenger door behind me, she snapped ninety degrees and stared my down. The pressure nearly brought me to tears. Monika could be a very aggressive person. Not the same kind of aggressiveness I got at home, but aggressive nonetheless. Upon seeing my reaction, however, she eased up immediately. “Nat...”

“Just drive,” I said shakily, “Please.” She started the car with a nod, and we began the drive to school. With only about one minute left before we reached the school parking lot, I spoke up. “I figured out why he’s drunk,” I told Monika, “The anniversary of my mother’s death is today. Ten years.”

Monika’s face fell solemn. I knew she was listening, and she cared, but even she didn’t know what to say to that. The vehicle fell to silence as she turned off the engine. “Hey, Natsuki?”

“Yeah?” She was looking me dead in the eyes, as if to make every aspect of her being convey this one message.

“You remember the deal I made when you first told me about all this? None of that has changed, are we clear?”

“Of course,” I replied with a grateful smile, “I have your number on speed dial.”

We walked into the school side by side, just as our lockers were. However, I had decided to carry my bag around with me today. I wasn't particularly in the mood for fighting with the lock right now.

“Hey, I forgot to ask, how was school yesterday?” Not even missing a beat, Monika noticed in the middle of her sentence that I hadn't even touched my locker. She put in the combination for me, and, using some force, unlocked my locker.

Despite her kind gesture, I didn't answer her simple question. Picking up on my silence, she stopped everything she was doing and turned her full attention to me. “Was Sora'no making fun of you again?” I sighed. It scared me sometimes how easily she could read me. “Come on,” she said, almost sighing in turn, “Let's go.”

Upon arriving at my classroom, I took my typical seat at the back of the room. Sora'no was already here, Zee was nowhere to be seen, and Monika had suddenly vanished. Such is life for me, I guess. I began to sort through my things when Sora'no decided to open his mouth.

“Oh look! The boy that thinks he's a girl is back again!”

“I've always been in this class, you know that, right?” If I was actually trans, I think I would've punched him by now for the number of times he's said that.

“Guess I only notice you sometimes,” he retorted, “I keep trying to smudge your pitiful existence from my memory.”

“I didn’t know you had a memory! Doesn’t that require a brain?”

He couldn’t think of a quick response to that one. Once he thought of something, he didn’t realize that the dull roar of the classroom had snapped to utter silence.

“You’ve accomplished nothing, and will never achieve anything with your life, you comic loving dweeb!” He yelled, “Bet your parents are real proud!”

Any retaliation I had, was drowned out by the last sentence. In a mist of near tears, I noticed the cause for silence — Monika had entered the room. She appeared calm, but was obviously furious. I’ve never seen her make a direct threat in the time I have known her, so I was curious what she would make of the situation.

She, after giving a glare at Sora’no, walked to the teacher and whispered something. The teacher nodded and smiled. Monika, concluding that her work here was done, came back. She made a ‘stand up’ motion with her hand, and Sora’no stood in front of her, head hung down.

“Look at me,” Monika demanded. He met her eyes with great hesitance. “Now, I’d tell you to look around the room, but you can already feel it; every eye in the room is drilling into you. Can you feel the shame of being put on the spot in the center of a crowd? Can you feel the shame for why you’re standing here? This message goes for anyone who dares to mock my friends: I have the power to make your school life a living hell. And I have a spotless record of never getting into a single fist fight, but I won’t hesitate to make you the first if something like this ever happens again. Now sit down. Class is in session.” Just as she said so, the last bell of the morning rang, signalling the start of class.

Monika’s entire demeanor softened as she gave me a proud smile, which I returned. I was glad to have a friend like Monika.

*

It wasn’t until literature club time that I pieced together what she had done. In every class of the day, teachers had been calling on him for every single question, using him as an example, making him read in front of the class, etc. I can only imagine how frustrated he must be. I’d say Monika proved her point.

“So what was up with class this morning?” Zee asked me, “I swear the teacher picked on Sora’no for everything, and kids were snickering the whole time. What did I miss?”

“What do you mean? Oh. I forgot you were late to class. He was making fun of me, so Monika told him off in front of the entire class, and I think she told the teacher to pick on him. Which reminds me, why were you late to class this morning? And escorted by the librarian of all people."

"It was no big deal," she said with a shrug, "I put Gyakutai in a chokehold and the librarian saved me from getting in trouble."

"Who? Also, you what now?"

"Ah, he's some douche that thought it was okay to bully Yuri yesterday. He ruined her library book, and Sayori and I decided she had been through enough already, so I returned it for her. When I was leaving the library, the librarian was already going to get him in trouble for destroying public property. But then I ran into him, and he had the audacity to try to punch me in the face! Security didn't notice until after I had put him a chokehold, of course, but the librarian stood up for me, and henceforth escorted Gyakutai to detention and me to class."

Aw, that's awfully nice of her, to save Yuri the harassment the librarian likely would've given. Content with her reason for being late to class, I returned to the manga in my lap. Time flew by; we exchanged poems, and soon it was time to go. Just as I was packing up my things, Zee's expression drew my attention. She had frozen, deep in thought. Just as I was about to ask what she was thinking of, she spoke up.

"Hey, Suki..."

I froze. "No. Don't call me that!" I suddenly burst, "Don't ever call me that." Only he called me that.

"What? They can all have a nickname for you, but I can't?"

"Nicknames are fine," I told her, "but not that."

"Alright, alright," she said, hands raised in surrender, "Nevermind."

"No," I corrected , "now you have my attention. What did you want to say?"

"Forget about it," she mumbled , "Forget I said anything." Not in the mood to fight her for information, I slung on my bookbag and headed out.

*

The walk home was uneventful. I had been texting the group chat, and enjoying or typical memes and shenanigans. However, I pocketed it as soon as I saw my dad's car in the driveway. Why was I surprised to see him? He was always here when I got back from school. I opened the door and shut it behind me with a sigh. Big mistake, Nat. Now you've drawn attention to yourself.

I glanced around. There were empty bottles of vodka strewn around the room, and he was slouched on the couch, with a bottle in hand. Reflexively, I reached for my pocket. He saw me grab my phone and jumped up, slamming his glass bottle down with such force that the liquid leapt to the rim of the bottle.

The deal with Monika is still an option, I reminded myself. I didn't want to drag her into this unless I had to. He pinned my wrists against the wall on either side of my head. I gripped my phone so hard I thought I would break it. He slammed my right wrist repeatedly against the wall in an attempt to knock my phone to the ground. I swiped to emergency call, and the force against my fragile wrist amplified.

9.

"Don't you fucking dare!" He yelled. My finger bumped the talk button and the speakerphone button as my cell fell to the floor. It landed in its corner, following the crash with the whine of cracking glass. To my relief, the stereotypical ring followed as well. His eyes widened in fear and anger, staring down my phone with a laser glare. There was a click as though someone had picked up, but no voice came over the speaker. He gave a satisfied smile and turned back to me.

"You thought you call the police?! What for?" His drunken slur returned. "Aww... I could never stay mad at youuu, Suki..." He clasped my wrists under the iron grip of his right hand and stroked my cheek — my bruise — with the back of his left. "SAO!" I screamed in the direction of my phone, "SAO!"

He scrunched his eyebrows at me, but soon neglected my previous screaming. "You're really pretty when your feisty." He lazily twirled one of my ribboned off sections of hair.

"No!!" I twisted under his hold, trying to break free.

"Aww, my precious girl... Don't! Fight! Me!" He slammed me back again, and this time, my head smacked against the wall. Colored specks danced in my eyes.

"Please," I begged, "Please, let me go..."

"Now whyy would I do that? I can't let go of your mother, why do think I could let go of you?" He threw me to the tile floor, and as soon as it made contact with my head, my vision snapped to black.

Chapter Text

Monika's POV

I tossed my waitress apron into the passenger seat. I've learned the hard way that I can't drive anywhere comfortably with that thing on. Just as I started the car, my phone rang.

Natsuki. Should I answer it? I may be late to work. Answer it. If it isn't an emergency, you can talk and drive. I answered the call, but sat in silence. It was one of the habits that Nat and I had developed over time, that I wouldn't say a word until she spoke first.

There was a period of tense quiet, but the voice that ended it wasn't Natsuki's. "You thought you call the police?! What for?" This was all I needed. I started to drive to Nat's house. "Aww... I could never stay mad at youuu, Suki..." His voice sickened me.

"SAO!" Natsuki yelled, "SAO!" Sword Art Online . The one and only anime she could ever get me into. Otherwise known as, It was time to act upon the deal that I had made.

I dialed 911. "This is 911," the responder spoke immediately, "What's your emergency?"

"My friend needs help," I spoke quickly, "her dad's gone psycho, and he might just kill her."

"Where are they, miss?" I recited Nat's address from memory as I parked on the road outside. With my car door propped open, I could faintly hear screaming from inside the house. I desperately wanted to help, but I knew the door would be locked by now, and her dad would never willingly open the door.

"Miss?" She had said that people were on the way, but my worry was clouding my focus.

"Yes?" I mumbled, eyes darting around the outside of the house.

"Your friend. What's her name?"

I took a deep breath. "Natsuki," I told her, "Her name is Natsuki."

"And you are?"

"My name is Monika. Monika Ashcraft."

I waved my arm rapidly as I saw a police car pull down the street. "Don't worry, ma'am. We've got this under control." A police officer reassured me. You better. I swear if she's dead in there.... I...

He twisted the doorknob, but after finding out what I already knew, that her dad had locked the house, he told the other officer and I to back up. He proceeded to turn the safety off on his handgun and kicked the door in.

As the officers took care of Nat's dad, my eyes scanned the room. Bottles were everywhere — of beer or what I was not sure, and my eyes followed a trail of broken glass...

Natsuki!

He threw a glass bottle at her! The cuts across her face proved that the bottle did indeed shatter after it hit her head. I wanted to clear her face, but I knew that removing any of the glass shards prematurely could cause her a lot of damage. I was shoved aside by medical personnel, and I turned away.

I should've started driving as soon as I picked up the phone. I should've entered the house. I shouldn't have let her go home alone. I knew he would be drunk. I should've escorted her in. I should've, I should've, I... I...

The medical personnel were escorting her on a stretcher into an ambulance, and I ran after them.

"I'm sorry," one of the medics said when they stopped me, "Only family members are allowed in the ambulance."

"You're Monika, right?" One of the police officers asked. I nodded. "Let her on," the officer told the medic, "The girl's family is what did this to her. And besides, Monika here is the one who called us in the first place." The medic nodded, and we both hopped into the ambulance and drove away.

I held onto Nat's hand the whole way to the hospital, and desperately tried to ignore the medics' voices. "Her pulse is there, but fading fast." "We can't remove the glass now; it's too dangerous. But it might less dangerous than letting her ride all the way there on these rough roads with it." "We need to figure out a way to get her heart rate back up. She can't get enough blood to her brain at this rate."

I held Nat's hand between my thumb and index finger. I ran my fingers along each of hers slowly. It was an odd habit, but an old one. Natsuki had injured her hand in gym class one day, and in an attempt to help, I started massaging it. She mentioned that it helped calm her down, and it's been a calming mechanism ever since — for both of us.

I stopped for a moment and reminded myself that I needed to breathe. A few deep breaths later, one of the medics spoke to me.

"Whatever you did," he said, "do it again." I began to massage Natsuki's hand again, and I watched joyfully as her pulse returned to normal. "There," the medic said with a smile, "Keep doing that. I don't know why, but it returned her heart rate back to normal."

"Remember," the second of the medical personnel said, "We want alive but not awake." I wondered why this was, but then thought of what my reaction would be if I woke up in her condition. Seemed fair enough.

I let Natsuki go as the ambulance opened, and got out of the way as her stretcher was rushed into the hospital. I followed, of course, but eventually had to sit outside when she was brought into an operating room. Don't freak out. Don't freak out. She'll be okay. I spun my phone in my hands to ease my nerves a little. Should I tell Zee what happened?... No. I'll leave that up to Natsuki.

Back up, Monika. Think about the bigger picture. Her dad should finally be in prison now, but that means she has no one to live with. She doesn't have a job, so she can't support herself quite yet. She can bunk with me for now, but I don't think I can support her in the long term. Zee has a job, doesn't she? But for all I know, she might make less money than I do. However, if her house is like Sayori’s, then it has two bedrooms, and Zee lives on her own. So maybe together?

Yes. Zee could give her a place to live, a room of her own, and I could help her financially a bit. Legally, Nat is an adult, so there shouldn't be a custody issue, but the house itself presents a problem. I'm not sure if it's rented or owned, so that will have to be taken care of later. I say all this like I know for certain that she'll make it out alive.

My cellphone vibrated in my hands. Incoming call from: Alex . I knew I forgot something! I picked up the call with a sigh.

“Ah, Monika! I finally got a hold of you!” My boss beamed over the phone.

“I’m sorry, I... I meant to call... but I...” I stuttered, zoning out at the closed hospital doors in front of me.

“Monika, what’s wrong?” God, he was more of a dad to me than my actual father. It was so frustrating sometimes.

“Long story short without too many details, I had to call 911 on behalf of my best friend, who is currently in an operating room, without a job, a home, or a family. You could say my hands are a little full right now.”

The other end of the line was quiet for a moment, but I knew he was thinking, not being rude. “You’ve never missed a day of work before, so it won’t hurt you any. Let that at least be one burden off your shoulders.”

“Thanks,” I said with a slight smile, “I’ll see you tomorrow. Probably.”

“No problem. See you around, Monika.”

With the soft click that the end of a call always made, I began my wait into eternity. I knew, in reality, that a forever had not passed before the uniformed police officer returned. Thankfully, it was the nice one who has come back to wrap things up.

"Hey Monika, you alright?"

"My best friend is currently walking a thin line between life and death. Yeah, I'm fine."

"You're really brave, you know, calling 911 on her behalf. Although I have to ask, if her dad was always like this, why have we never been called before?"

"How many abusive households do you know of in comparison to how many you think there are? It seemed clear cut, to her at least, that things would only get worse if he found out that anyone knew."

"Then why call now?" He asked.

"We made a deal when she told me what her home life was like; that if it ever got too bad, she could call me, and I would handle it. And that was today."

The doors in front of us opened, and the medical team cleared out. "She was asking for you," the last doctor to leave said to me. The police officer and I both stood.

"Would you mind if I go in and talk to her first?" The officer asked me.

"Sure," I replied, "if you don't want her to say anything, go on in by yourself. She might just rip your head off."

"Miss, I've been trained to calm people down. I think I'll be fine."

"Yeeeaaahhh, I don't think so." I stood in front of the door. "Her dad was a police officer." I opened the door with great caution.

"Monika?" Natsuki immediately looked to me. She glanced to the officer behind me and her eyes bugged out.

"It's okay, Nat," I said, rushing to her side, "It's okay now."

"What happened?" She asked.

I tossed a look at the officer. "What do you remember?" I asked Nat.

"I got back to my house, and made the mistake of waiting a second by the door instead of running to my room. I locked up, I guess. I just stood and watched as he set down his drink and came over to me. I called you when he had me pinned to the wall. He knocked my phone to the ground, thinking I had tried to call the police because your speed dial was 9. Shortly after you picked up, he threw me to the floor and I blacked out. Now I'm here."

I looked at the cuts all over her face, some stitched and others bandaged. So the bottle must've been thrown after that.

"Has your dad always been like this?" The policeman asked.

Natsuki only spared him a glance before looking down and shaking her head. "It, um," she stuttered, "It started just after my mom died."

"If you don't mind me asking, when was that?"

I gently squeezed her hand, drawing her eyes to me. I began massaging it and she started to calm down a little. "Ten years," she started, "Ten years ago today."

“Oh,” he said, looking at his feet, “I’m sorry.”

Natsuki shook her head again, this time with more force, mumbling, “No you’re not.”

Are you done? ” I said, giving him a look. Please, you’re hurting her.

He nodded, almost shyly. “Yes, ma’am. I apologize. I hope your days get better.”

“I hope my life gets better,” Nat muttered with a smirk as he left. Natsuki: 1, Police officer: 0.

“I don’t know how you’re still an optimist after all this,” I told her with a smile.

“I’m not,” she stated simply, “Optimism is for basic people. I’m an idealist, bruh.”

I chuckled. “No offence, Sayori,” I said on her behalf.

She gave me an annoyed glance. Ah, yes. Crush on Yuri = not a fan of Sayori at the moment. “Thank you,” she uttered instead, although I wasn’t sure why. “For saving me, I mean.”

A scoff escaped with my voice. “Yeah, some hero. If I had saved you , then we wouldn’t be here now. I only did what I said I would, and that’s it.”

“You can’t win all of your battles, Monika. But you sure saved me from having to fight a lot more. Isn’t that enough?”

“Yeah,” I sighed, “Yeah, Nat, I suppose it is.”

"When do you think they'll let me out of here?" She asked after a short pause.

"Not long from now, but..."

The realization that I had already made seemed to dawn on her. "But where would I go...?"

"Exactly. I figured you could crash with me until we come up with something." Well, I already had an idea, but I wanted to discuss it with Zenobia before mentioning it to Nat.

"Don't you have to go to work right now?"

I shrugged. "Actually, my boss already called me when I didn't show up. I had been getting ready to go to work right as you called. But no, I'm good. I probably shouldn't miss work tomorrow though."

"Why do you work six days a week? And l called almost immediately after I got home, so you're saying you start work right after club time?"

With a nod I answered, "I work a fulltime job, Nat, not part-time. I work a six day week because there aren't enough hours in the day for school, club, sleep, and an 8-hour shift."

I guess you could say that I felt like I had something to prove. I worked a full time job, got the best grades in school, ran a club, and I was learning piano. I used to have a lot more power, due to my place in sports and the debate club, but as soon as I turned 16, I was forced to find work. I was lucky I even got to 16 with any support from my parents.

"You know, I wish I didn't have a crush on Yuri," Natsuki said, bringing my attention out of my own mind.

"Why's that?" I asked her.

"Well, she's my friend, you know? And I don't want to ruin that. And she's so perfect with Sayori... Like, I know Yuri has problems, although I don't know any details, and it seems like Sayori balances that out well."

"I still don't understand how Sayori does it," I replied, "It's like she's incapable of being sad. She always knows how to handle people; how to brighten a room just by walking in. I was quite surprised when only her mom was present at her birthday. It made me wonder if her dad was out of town or something, because I can’t imagine her life as anything but perfect.”

“The girl probably doesn’t know a thing about a rough home life,” Natsuki replied, “I bet she’s the only one, too.”

I’d tell her to ease up on Sayori, but considering the current situation... “Who knows?” I said instead. “You know,” I thought aloud, “about Yuri... There are more fish in the sea.”

Natsuki laughed at that. “Really? Because the ‘attracted to guys only’ / ‘attracted to nothing’ / ‘attracted to anything but girls’ population to the lesbian / bisexual population in our school is like 172 to 1. And that’s not even including the ‘only attracted to straight girls’ population of people.”

Oh, Natsuki. You have no idea.

Chapter Text

Sayori's POV

I sprinted down the stairs to the sound of a knock at the front door. Would you look at that! 10 am on a Saturday, and I’m wide awake and out of bed! Of course, I have a reason today. I opened the door and attacked Yuri with a jumping hug, wrapping my arms around her neck.

“Ah!” she exclaims in a mix of shock and surprise, “Why hello!” Her shyness clouded her voice as she set me down with a returned hug and said, “Glad to see you happy, beautiful.”

A warm pink overcame my cheeks. Her compliments were always the thing to fluster me. Then again, almost everything she does flusters me.“Come on,” I mumbled, both joyfully and nonsensically, “My stuff is upstairs.”

That’s why she was here today, to help me pack, and to say one last goodbye before I left for my dad’s house. He would be here within the hour. “Twenty One Pilots?” I asked her when when we got to my room.

“Twenty One Pilots,” she agreed with a smile. As I set up the playlist, she grabbed my suitcase from atop the tall wardrobe.

My outfits had already been sorted into ten piles. I needed nine in total, and then there was one pile that was just pajamas. Of course, I was wearing one outfit already, but I liked to have a spare change of clothes in case something goes wrong.

I helped Yuri stack each pile into my suitcase, dancing a bit as I did so. This was the one thing I was not looking forward to; leaving Yuri and all of my friends for the week. Normally I had no problem with it, but this time... I mean, Christmas break was heavenly, and I loved getting away and getting my mind off of things, like my overwhelming crush on Yuri and my inability to express it. But now my mind was another place entirely.

With Yuri's help, the packing was over relatively quickly. This of course meant we still had thirty minutes to spare. We could go outside now, or we could watch TV downstairs. We could do anything, really, including trashing the entire house. My mother locked herself in her room for the day so she wouldn't accidentally see my dad. Such was the normal custom whenever he came to get me.

Yuri saw the pondering expression on my face and suddenly lit up. I could swear I saw a lightbulb turn on above her head. She reached above my tall dresser once more, and after feeling around a moment, exclaimed, "Aha! I thought you would’ve moved it, but hey, whatever.”

I peaked around her to see what she held in her hands. Ah, yes. My Starry Night puzzle. We had started it the Sunday before the festival, but never finished. A card table still sat against the wall, because I was too lazy to take care of it. God, I'm pathetic.

I helped Yuri set up the table and lay out all of the pieces right side up. We put the already pieced together parts in their proper places. We had made a competition of sorts to see who could piece together the most puzzle pieces. Yuri won last time, and I had no doubt she'd win again. I'd never seen her as an overly competitive person, but I guess I just had to find the right kind of game.

She pulled her hair over one shoulder and out of the way, scrunched up her sleeves, and placed her hands firmly on the edge of the table. This just got serious.

Both pairs of eyes glanced over the loose parts of the puzzle, then met each other in a staredown. "Ready. Set. Go!" Yuri already had three matches ready, sorted out in her brain. I, of course, was distracted. It was such a rare occasion that I saw Yuri either in shorter sleeves or with her sleeves rolled up. The bandages covering her arms were not as blood-soaked as I had expected, but also not as clean as I had hoped.

Focusing back on the puzzle, another sixteen pieces or so had been added. I really needed to get my head in the game, or she would think something was wrong. I managed to put a few together while Yuri finished the rest of the puzzle. I was lucky to get the last piece. She bestowed me the honor. In the end, I didn't care that she won. I made a big deal out of it anyway, because I liked to see her smile and hear her gentle laugh.

A car horn honked outside. "Perfect timing," I said, grabbing my suitcase.

"Allow me," Yuri replied, taking the suitcase from me and carrying down the stairs.

"Yuri, wait." She stopped and turned to face me, setting the suitcase on the floor between us. Her sleeves naturally fell down with the weight. I was mentally walking a minefield now, and I was already stumbling over my words. "I, uh, I wanted to make it official before I told my dad..." The words dried up in my mouth, and wilted from a statement to a whisper. "Will you go out with me?"

I stood as tense as a wooden board as I awaited the expected negative answer. As such, I tilted and nearly fell over when she grabbed my wrist and pulled me to her. Only three seconds passed. Three seconds, then her lips were pressed against mine. I felt the same warm, overwhelming fire as when I kissed her the first time at four in the morning.

"In case you couldn't tell," she whispered. "That's a yes." The words shivered down my spine before snapping into my mind. She said yes.

There was a second honk of a car horn. "Let's go." Yuri picked the suitcase back up and opened the door for me. Yuri's confidence fell the second she stepped outside. I, in the other hand, ran toward my father and gave him the same jumping hug I had given Yuri. "Papa!"

"Woah, Sayori!" He said, hugging me back, but also setting me down, "I'm getting too old for that." He ruffled my hair with one of his keyboard-callused hands. Yuri put my case in the trunk during that time, and was now back at my side.

I introduced them to each other and they shook hands. “Ah, Mr. Kimishima. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person.” Something about the way she said it seemed weird to me, although I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. My dad glanced between the two of us and nodded.

Yuri gave me a final hug goodbye. “I’ll miss you,” she whispered.

“It’s alright,” I told her, “I’ll be back by Monday. In the meantime, You can catch up on the novels I’ve been distracting you from or something. You won’t even notice that I’m gone.”

She reluctantly let me go, and shared a smile with my dad. “Love you, Sayo.” The syllables were born on her tongue and died at her lips; she wouldn't want my father to hear. I mouthed back, “Love you too.” We exchanged a wave after I got in the passenger seat as the car engine started.

“Literature Club?” Dad asked after we had turned off of my street.

“Yup,” I answered, “and probably more deserving of my title than I am.”

“There's probably a reason that you're the vice president.”

“Yeah. It's called I was the first one to show interest in the club.” I rolled my eyes.

“Well, what are your duties as the vice president?”

“Um,” I had to think about this one. “Not much, help Monika plan things sometimes, and take over as president if she is absent.”

“And how do you think it would go if Yuri took over while Monika was gone?” He asked, “No offense to her, but she seems a bit shy.”

I chuckled. “Yeah, you have a point there. Yuri is your stereotypical bookworm. Very soft spoken and shy around people. Maybe that's why I'm the vice president. I'm better with people than even Monika.”

One of my favorite CDs was slid into the car radio, and the conversation changed. “So,” he started, “It would seem I've met Yuri. Tell about the rest of the Literature Club.”

“Well obviously, there's Monika,” I started, “She's an overachiever I guess, but she's really nice. I appreciate that she doesn't treat me any less just because I'm not one of the popular kids. In fact, I think she holds the club with higher respect. She's a tall, green-eyed, ginger. She's just shorter than Yuri, and her hair is just lighter than yours.” I took a moment as I said this to admire my dad’s red hair. My reddish pinkish hair was closer in color to it now than the strawberry blonde hair I was born with.

“Then there's Natsuki, but we usually just call her Nat. She's the shortest of the bunch, with pink hair and matching eyes. She's a manga loving fireball. Always spunky and full of energy. She's also an amazing baker; makes the most perfect cupcakes.”

“And finally our newest member, Zenobia.” I let out a sad sigh. “Zee joined on Tuesday, after the festival. She just moved into town, into the house were Gaku used to live. She's Yuri's height, with long, greenish sky blue hair, and aqua eyes. She's honest, super serious, and, from what I've seen, very loyal and trustworthy.”

“She reminds you of Gaku, doesn't she?”

I sighed and nodded, pausing the music. “More than I'd like to admit,” I told him, “But not just of Gaku , but of how times were when he was around. When we were a family. When my mother wasn't a cheating —”

“Don't talk about your mom like that.” He cut me off.

“But you know what I mean,” I said, sniffling at the memory of my parents screaming at each other, “When we could all live happily under one roof. But I really miss him. At least I get to see you over school breaks.” I unpaused the music, deciding that I shouldn't be sad while I was with my father.

“Enough about that,” he said, also deciding to change the subject, “What about your birthday? Are you celebrating here next week, or have you celebrated already?”

I was stuck between a frown and a smile at the memory of my birthday party. “Actually... My birthday party was a long time ago. Like February.”

“Now why's that?”

“Well, I mean, I'm not sure if you guys had been fighting or not, but when I asked my mother if she would help me plan something, she was in an absolutely horrible mood and said she just wanted to get it over with. And thus, we had a slumber party that weekend. I mean, no complaints here; it was really fun. I got Natsuki to make cupcakes, and Monika wrote all of the invitations with her amazing handwriting. There were lots of games, and a lot of just hanging out. It ended with a near-month of tension between Yuri and I, but hey. All's well that ends well, right?”

“What happened?” Ah, my dad and his questions. I guess it's bred into him to listen twice as much as he speaks.

“Let's just say,” I told him, “It involved a game of truth or dare.” He nodded this time, knowing by the way I worded my answer that he wasn’t going to get any more information on the subject.

"So enough about me," I said about half a song later, "How's life been for you?"

He chuckled softly. "Ah, you know. Same old, same old. Lonely. Routine. Patient."

"What do you mean, patient?"

"For you, of course! Do you not recall the first adjective?"

"Don't worry, Dad. Just April and May, then I'll be back again for summer vacation."

"But what about college?" He asked, "Don't you want to go to university or something?"

"I mean, I don't know..." I don't think I'll live long enough to have to decide.

“I might follow in your footsteps,” I said after a moment of thought, “You know, help people.” He just chuckled and shook his head. “What?”

“Ah, you don’t want to do that,” he smiled, “You’d lose your mind in a job like mine. Live alone in a life like mine. There are plenty of other ways to help people without going down this path. And even if you follow my career, don’t do it like me. Don’t get so lost in your work that you can’t see the problems right in front of you.”

What, like me? Or... “Don’t be so hard on yourself, Papa. We both know that what she did wasn’t your fault.” A spike of pain pierced my heart. He still thinks that it’s his fault she cheated on him. I guess it hurts a bit more when it’s so close to home. As close as the house next door.

“I know,” he mumbled, “but sometimes I just think, that, maybe...”

“Stop,” I ridiculed him. This vehicle can only hold one depressed person at a time! “No being upset now. I’m here to enjoy myself.” Come on, Dad. This is the only place where I can be happy.

A slight smile came back to his face. “You’re right. Sorry Sayo.” The music went on, he hummed as I sang along, and it was a ton of goofy fun. However, I could see the look on his face. He was good at brewing behind a mask, just as I was. It was his job after all. But I saw that mask every time I looked in the mirror, so it wasn’t that hard for me to see through. Despite verbal contradiction, I could tell his mind was still on my mother.

I tried to cheer him up a little. I grabbed the mints from the glovebox, and tossed him one. I could only hope my smile was contagious. I was finally happy again, and everyone else was sad. It wasn’t fair. Thankfully, the joy was slowly infecting him, and by the time we pulled into the parking lot of a roadside restaurant, we were able to happily chat and reminisce over lunch. The drive continued as such until we arrived at home, 4 hours from where we had started.

The towering blue house seemed like a huge 2-story building, but viewing it from any angle other than the driveway made it clear that it was only one story and a basement. The musty basement smell welcomed me.

 

It was good to be home.

Chapter Text

Yuri's POV

I spun the knife in my hand.

I was having an odd existential moment after coming back from Sayori’s house. As if I was suddenly the narrator of my own life.

I spun the knife in my hand. I glanced at my reflection in the polished white knife handle. That, a thought. A narration of my existence. But as I wrote on that cold February morning, people are not poetry, nor simple metaphors or the like. I tried to break free of my self-narration as I stared at the contortions of lengths of hair the knife portrayed.

You’re a mess, it seemed to tell me indirectly, and you know why, too.

Well, at least I can differentiate truth and lies from my inner monologue now. I wish I knew why I was a mess. Was it because I cut myself? Was it because I’m a hopeless romantic? Is it because I’m somehow romanticizing the idea of playing with the knife my mother gave me with her corpse as a way of connecting with her now dead spirit? God, I was messed up.

I saw her Thursday. It was now Saturday. I should be okay by now. Clearly however, I was very far from okay. I had slit my arms to pieces after leaving the cafe, but I hadn’t since because I knew if Sayori saw today that I had fresh extremely bloody bandages, then she’d be worried.

That was the thing. She only worried on two occasions: 1. When she thought it was her fault or 2. When I went too far. And thus, I was careful not to reopen the wounds I created on Thursday when making more on Friday. I had no need to make any today; I was with Sayori.

But now she's abandoned you. No, she hasn't. Now she's gone. She's just visiting her dad for break. She might as well stay there. There's nothing left for her here. Well there's me... Exactly. There's nothing left for her here. Maybe I should text her. Then I’ll be okay. You’re nothing but a nuisance. Besides, you know full well that if you turn on your phone you’ll just end up scrolling through old pictures of Mom. Yeah, I suppose you’re right.

My phone buzzed. Just leave it. You need to stop living in the past. I’m miles behind the present at this point but sure. I left my phone on my bed and headed down the stairs to the living room.

“You leaving again?” My dad asked when my hand reached the doorknob of the front door.

“Uh, yeah... I, uh, need to clear my head a bit. I should be back in time for dinner.” He showed a worried smile and nodded.

With a burdened sigh, I walked out the door and closed it gently behind me. She’s not going to be there when you walk back in, I reminded myself, Mom is gone; she has been for years. I walked deep in the forest, back to the cliff where Sayori once was. I admired the change of scene as I walked along; from town to shrubs, flowers and larger plants, pine, oak...

Among it all I saw my mother in the shadows, disappearing in the rays of light that hit the forest floor. I used to love climbing trees. I could remember when Mom used to sit outside and read novels while I climbed trees. And I remember running to her in tears every time I missed a branch and scraped up my leg, and she’d always tell me, “Are you bleeding? No? Then you’re okay!” Oh how times have changed.

I paced to edge of cliff and looked down. I dropped the pinecones I had collected over the edge one at a time, listening to the faint scutter as each hit the bottom of the gorge. Once my hands were empty, I laid down where Sayori and I had watched the March stars.

The silence of the forest seemed to drown out the sounds of civilization in the distance. It left me alone with my thoughts. That’s dangerous, isn’t it? Being alone with your thoughts? Perhaps it was not the best idea to be alone with my thoughts, considering the circumstances, but I couldn’t bring myself to return back home and distract myself. Add this to the ever-growing list of impulsive things I’ve done.

Despite knowing it wouldn’t end well, I let my mind wander. From school, to Sayori, to the club, and so on. I found myself returning to my mother. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get myself to stop thinking about her. The nostalgia came back in waves, drowning me in bittersweet emotions. I remember her laugh as clear as day. I remember how warm her hugs were, and how soft her voice was.

I sat up and pulled my knees to my chest. God, I wish she was here. Maybe things wouldn’t be so damn confusing if I still had her as my guide. I had taken her presence for granted, and now she’s gone.

It’s all your goddamn fault. Why do you think she left? You overwhelmed her. That’s not true, my mother loved me. She even said so. But the note she left was meant for my father. A final “I love you.” The knife was for me.

Somehow I wish I had brought it with me so I could’ve dropped it off the cliff. But it’s the last reminder I have of her. And it will lead to a self destruction much akin to hers.

I could still picture the scene of her death. I was the one to find her, and although I wasn’t too young to understand, I was still too stupid at eleven to put all the pieces together. I had gone to my parents’ room to fetch her for dinner - I had always loved cooking as a family - and found her lying peacefully in bed. I dared not disturb her, only call her name. She was in a beautiful, white, springtime dress that was covered in a rose design. Her hands were folded across her chest, and her legs, although not crossed, were pressed together.

Three things sat on the bedside table. First, the black and silver alarm clock that had been there as long as I remembered; its red digital numbers shining into the room that seemed to be quickly shrinking. Secondly, the glass of water. Clearly half empty, not half full. Third, the yellow-orange bottle of painkillers, empty, with the white cap upside down and sitting next to it.

“Mom?!”

It wasn’t until after this exclamation that I noticed the two objects that sat near where her folded hands rested. A small white piece of paper and a knife with the same print handle as her dress. The note was written in cursive, something that I had just begun to learn within the past year. The purple ink flowed softly from letter to letter, forming three words.

 

 

I love you.

 

My fingers shied away from the tent-folded paper, as though I was disturbing the dead. Which, looking back, I guess I was. My fingertips instead grazed the handle of the knife. It wasn't serrated like many of the blades in my growing collection, but a flat, white metalled blade. It had become a habit of mine to spin a blade whenever I first picked it up, but not this one. Not this time. The handle felt leaden in my small palm.

“Yuri?” . . . A five second pause. “Yuri? Are you coming?” Dad's footsteps echoed up the stairs. In a moment of panic, fearing that he'd take the knife away; or worse, that he would think I killed her — which maybe I did — I set the knife under the bed. When he finally reached the room, I wanted to run. I wanted to cry. Wanted to bury my face in his shirt and hug him in an iron grasp. I was afraid that he might disappear too. But there was nothing I could do. I was cemented to the floor.

Dad's voice echoed my desperation. “Mary? Mary? Mary?! ” He carried on in the way grieving people do, begging and pleading her to wake up, when we both knew she never would.

I don't remember what day of the week it was when she died, but it was somewhere between Monday and Thursday, probably closer to the beginning of the week. I remember having gone to school that day and going the following day. It was more like a coin had flipped, rather than a switch. On, off. Two different things. Head, tails. Different sides, but the same coin. Somehow, looking back, I realize that I’d always deserved punishment. Yearned pain.

It wasn’t until later, perhaps that Saturday, that I snuck in during all the commotion and took the knife back. The tip balanced on my left palm, I spun the blade with my right hand. As I spun it faster and faster, the knife eventually lost balance. I fixed its rotation with too much pressure, poking it into my hand where my thumb and pointer finger aligned. Foolishly, I removed it with great haste, opening the small wound further and causing blood to drip. A small crimson stain formed on the white carpet of my bedroom floor. No one ever noticed.

It hurt. Bad. But, it felt necessary. This is what she wanted , I remembered thinking, This is your punishment. That was the first time I ever drew a beautiful line of blood across my forearm. I winced in surprise when it sliced through my skin like paper. This was meant to be her final addition to your collection. You disgrace her.

After I cleaned it, I made it the centerpiece of my best collection, the one I kept hidden. The cutting became an addiction, but I vowed to never touch it again. And I never broke that promise, until the incident with Zenobia. And I never will again. Unless...

No. She’s fine. She’s in good hands now. Better than mine at least. She’s getting better.

I sat up, trying to stop the dizzying spiral of thoughts. But then, why would she have.... No! Stop it! You’re already depressed enough! You don’t need this, too! But, I do, don’t I? I don’t know what I’d do without her. A sickening image of her, dead, dug its way into my brain. No! Stop! Please... I jumped up and ran home, in a futile attempt to leave my thoughts behind.

*

My arms freshly bandaged, I collapsed on the living room couch. My father sat next to me, so that I was laying against him. “So what was on your mind?” He asked softly.

Tell him. At least about mom. But I don’t want to burden him, too. He can’t help you if he doesn’t know. So what? Tell him! “I... uh...” I sighed. “You know how we went to the cafe for club time on Thursday?” He answered with a small nod. “There was a woman there who looked like Mom. Sounded and acted like Mom. And I’ve been stuck thinking about her ever since. How much I miss her. I just can’t get her out of my head.” I just can’t help but feel like it was somehow my fault.

He stroked my hair gently, calming me down a little. “I know you miss her, Yuri. We both do.” I curled up into his side; the tears unstoppable as they crawled down my face. “Shh, shh. It’s okay, Yuri.” Is it, though? Is it okay? Am I okay? Is this what you call okay? This self-destructive mess that I am?

Mom’s dead. Okay.

I’m covered in scars and a mental disaster. Okay.

Sayori’s depressed - possibly suicidal, and Monika, Natsuki, and Zenobia are oblivious. Okay.

There’s no way for anyone to help us. Not okay.

Chapter Text

Sayori's POV

Loosen. Tighten. Loosen again. See if it can be tightened more.

The blue bracelet that Yuri got me for my birthday never fit. It was always falling down, and sliding around. The strings that dangled down were always creating problems, and the metal conch shell pendant was always clinking in to things.

Despite this, I never took it off. Excluding showers and gym class, of course. Not that I think she ever noticed, though.

I couldn't. I mean, really, how could I? It was as if, everywhere I went, Yuri was always there. Whenever I was nervous, or anxious, or afraid, I had the bracelet. And if I was ever worried about her, I could hold the bracelet on my wrist, and — somehow — reassure myself that everything was okay. It even became a coping mechanism of sorts to play with it in my hands.

I released the threads and shivered as several more raindrops hit my face. The whipping wind made sitting on the front porch an unenjoyable experience, but I really didn't mind. I probably deserve it anyway. I did, however, really enjoy the sound of raindrops hitting the roof. The clink of water on shingles; pitter pat, pit patter, tick, tick tick. It was a soothing sound. It was ironic how the pain was also my comfort.

I sighed. Needing to escape the oncoming downward spiral of thoughts, I retrieve my phone from my back pocket. Unlocking it with a simple swipe, it opens to my messages, where I had left off. I tapped on Yuri’s name.

Chat: Yuri

S: Hey Yuri! Just got home. How you doing?

S: Goodnight beautiful

~ Sunday, April 1 ~

S: Good morning, Yuri. How's home?

S: Am I interrupting a novel? What are you catching up on?

S: Ah. I'll stop bugging you.

S: Goodnight angel.

~ Today, 8:32 am ~

S: Morning, Yuri

~ Today, 1:09 pm ~

S: Hey, Yuri

S: It's raining down here. The wind is cold.

S: I hope you have good reading weather.

S: If you're reading, that is.

S: Look, I know I said I'd leave you alone, but you're making me worried. I'm probably being really self centered right now, but I need to know that you're okay.

S: I know it's reasonable that you aren't getting any of this; that your phone may be dead or on silent. But if you get any of my messages, at least glance at them. Then my phone will say you've read them, and I'll at least know you're alive.

S: I miss you, Yuri. Please at least say hello, so I can know you're safe.

I reluctantly pressed the power button on my cell phone. The sigh that accompanied the action weighed me down, a time-worn brick dropped at my feet. It’s mental iron chains, rusted though they were, snaked around my ankles and pulled me back toward the painful rain as I trudged inside.

Eventually, I made it to the couch and collapsed. My eyes wandered to the backdoor, since the door that was most often used was out of sight. Dad wouldn’t be back for a while. I’m not really sure when he’ll return. He’s only getting groceries, but knowing him, he’ll stop for extra something somewhere. His shortest trips took around twenty minutes, but his longest trips took two or three hours. There were a few occasions where he had to go far out of his way to get something, but groceries were not such an ordeal. This was very unlike my mother, who could spend an entire day away if given the chance.

Mother. My thoughts sauntered toward her as I waited in the empty house. Lucky, that's what I was, lucky. Who knows what could’ve happened if she had seen Yuri and I kiss? If she knew, it would be the end of me.

Don’t worry about that now, I ridiculed myself, I’m at home now. I shouldn’t have to worry about her.

But Yuri... Yuri. I began to pace within my head. My physical body did not have the energy to do so. I can’t forget Yuri. Can’t push the thought of her aside, as I so easily could before the mistletoe. Before I knew she hurt herself. Before it became apparent to me that she’s just as messed up in the head as I am. Maybe even worse.

“God, I'm so useless ,” I mumbled to myself, “I can't even help her. Can't protect her — from me, others, or even herself. I don't understand why she says she loves me. She could be lying to me, but I respect her enough to believe she wouldn't do that. I guess that's why it makes no sense. Why waste love on me? What did she see in me that obviously wasn't there? Why be my girlfriend?”

I stuttered a second, rethinking what I had said. “ Girlfriend. Ugh, I do not like that word. But that's what it is now, isn't it?” I suppose, now , indeed it is, my thoughts agreed. “That's even worse. I've forced an angel to be in a relationship with a lowlife. She doesn't deserve me. She needs better. Oh, she deserves so much better than me.”

I dug my right fingernails into my left hand. “Why? Why fall in love with me? Why care if I die? Should do that... Soon. But things are finally looking up! It isn't fair!” The only time things look up is when they're scared of looking into the abyss below. “I'm always doomed to fail. Can't she see that being around me only leads to disaster?”

The sound of heavy steps on wood echoed in my ears. “No wonder she hasn’t replied to me yet.”

The sound metal against metal, and the creak of an opening door whose hinges were far too old. “She probably regrets ever meeting me, let alone saying yes to me.”

A thud, along crinkling plastic, and slightly lighter footsteps on tile. “I’m such a damn fool.”

The footsteps were almost silent now. A looming shadow on the carpet that I dare not meet eyes with. “Can’t even be happy correctly.”

The weight of the cushion beneath me shifted as my father sat beside me. The salty scent of tears filled my nose. His presence reminded me. “God, and I haven’t even told him yet about any of this! He’s going to hate me!”

My fingernails still lodged in my left hand, I defensively pulled my knees to my chest and wrapped my arms around my legs. “I’m going to lose the one person who actually tries to love me. This is all my fault.”

Without a word, my father carefully pulled my hands apart, letting my legs fall. He wrapped his own arms around me, cradling me gently. Reassure me. Tell me I’m okay. Tell me that everything will work out in the end. Lie to me if you have to. Tell me that life isn’t futile. “Tell me the truth .”

“I love you,” he whispered, “I will always love you.” He gave me a while to calm down before speaking again. “Why do you think I would hate you?”

I’m just a sin to you. That’s why. His time-worn fingers wiped the tears from my face. “I, uh, I started dating someone recently...” Yeah, like two days ago.

For a moment, he raised an eyebrow, confused as to why that was really a huge problem. “So,” he asked, “who’s the lucky guy?” I shook my head. That’s what I thought. “... Lucky girl?”

“Yeah...” I cast my eyes down, knowing full well that the expression on his face would tell me everything. The silence between us was almost physically painful. “Exactly.” More tight quiet followed.

“So?” He finally said again.

“So what?”

“So... Are you going to tell me who she is or not?”

I looked back up. “Wait, you’re not mad?” You’re not going to throw me out on the streets like my mother probably would?

“No... A bit confused, yes. Will it take me time to fully process? Yes. But am I angry with you? No. Do I hate you? Certainly not.”

“Do you really want to know who it is?” I asked, hoping he would say that he didn’t really care.

“If she’s dating my daughter, than of course I do!”

I broke eye contact with him again, this time a little afraid. “I’m dating Yuri.”

Chapter Text

Sayori's POV

My right hand, cold as ice, lay motionless on the back of my phone. My eyes were glazed over, staring at nothing, and my left arm was pressed alongside my body underneath my prison of blankets and sheets.

Ah, what’s the point? She will never want to text me back. It’s probably better if she doesn’t, honestly. But I really do need to get out of bed.

Why bother?

Knuckles came gently rapping at my door. “Breakfast is almost ready!” Dad called cheerily.

“Yeah, yeah,” I mumbled, “I’ll be out in a bit..”

Slight hesitation came from the other side of the door. “Do you mind if I come in?” He asked, much quieter than before.

“Yeah?”

The door opened slowly, and he walked in, coming up to the side of my bed. “Come on, sunshine,” he said, his words only a gust of wind in my ears, “It’s time to get up, face a new day, turn your back on the days before.” I picked my hand up off of my phone, and raised it in his direction. He took it and pulled me from the prison that was my bed. “I'll give you a minute to get dressed,” he said, his voice back to normal, “I have to finish making breakfast.”

Dad left the room, shutting the door behind him. A sigh slipped past my lips as soon as the door clicked back into the frame. Be strong, Sayori. Be strong, or you'll make him sad, too. I dropped to the floor, and changed into my Tuesday outfit.

Once dressed, I went to the kitchen as directed. My cold, bare feet paced across the yellow, brick-patterned floor, which was just as cold. I tried my hardest to snap my mask into place, despite the promise had made myself that there would be no fake smiles with my dad. Because of this promise, I slowly put together the puzzle pieces of my facade. Today, in a place like this, they didn’t quite fit together. I promised myself there would be no fake smiles with Dad.

Seeing his real smile fixed mine, though. “What delicacy are we enjoying this morning?” I asked him, as if this was the first interaction we’d had this morning.

“Just some over-easy eggs, bacon, and toast,” he replied as he happily served it to me, “I was going to make pancakes, but I figured they’d be too similar to the waffles I’m saving for tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? What’s tomorrow?”

He gave me a look as he sat down next to me, as though I had forgotten the most obvious thing in the world. “Are you serious?” He asked after another moment of silence from me.

“Yeah? What’s so important about tomorrow?”

“Today is April 3rd, yes?” He asked rhetorically.

“Oh.” I poorly hide my face with my right hand. “My eighteenth birthday is tomorrow. Right.”

“How could you forget?” A chuckle burst past his thin lips.

“Well, I mean, my quote unquote birthday party was at the end of February. So it’s been a while.”

“None of your Literature Club friends have wished you happy birthday?” He seemed rather concerned, as if he, of all people, could judge the quality of my friendships.

“Of course not,” I stated it as the fact it was, “Thanks to Varuna keeping my lie, they all believe my birthday was months ago. And even if they knew, Natsuki hasn’t spoken to me — or really anyone, for that matter — since Friday, and Monika’s always busy, so I wouldn’t want to bother her with my life. Personally, I would prefer it if Zenobia didn’t wish me a happy birthday, and Yuri won’t talk to me... Which is probably the best for her... so I don’t want to pester her anymore, either.”

Dad’s lips parted, and he breathed a word, but cut himself short of saying his original thought. “Speaking of Varuna, I planned on taking you out shopping and to the movies tomorrow. I’m assuming that you wouldn’t mind if I invited her to tag along?”

A goofy smile split across my face as I tried to talk through my breakfast. “Of course I wouldn’t mind! Aside from church two days ago, I haven’t seen Varu since that fateful February night.”

“Fateful? Why so?”

My fork clattered to my empty plate. “It’s, uh... Thanks to a game of Truth or Dare, it’s how, uh, how Yuri figured out I had a crush on her.”

“So I take it the others know, too?” He asked.

“Well they um, didn’t find out, then, exactly... They got the gist on their own, Zee picked up on it almost immediately — even before Monika, I think, and Varuna still doesn’t know. But Akae’s known since the beginning.” She helped me figure out what was wrong with my heart. And, I suppose, was the one who showed me that there was nothing wrong.

“I suppose that makes sense,” Dad replied, much a shock to me, “You should always have someone to talk to. Especially when it comes to defining parts of who you are. I suppose Akae’s a good person for that, too. She’s bisexual, too, right?” I nodded and he continued. I’m surprised he remembers that. It was barely even mentioned in passing, years ago.

“So, at some point, she’s gone through the same thing you have. To some extent at least, no one is the same. That and she’s quite honest and good with advice from what I know.”

“Backtracking a bit here,” I said as I rinsed off my plate in the kitchen sink, “We’ve discussed tomorrow, but are there any plans for today?”

“Not really,” he replied as he took his final bites, “Unless you wanted to do something, the day is free.”

Free. “That sounds fine. I’m kind of in the mood to get some writing done, anyway.”

“A poet never rests!” Soft, yet enthusiastic smiles were exchanged between us; then I headed to my room, grabbed my composition notebook and two blue pens, and crashed on the blue couch with my phone in hand.

Can’t write a poem about Yuri. I can’t write a poem about Yuri. Right. If I do want to write a poem or something about her, I should think of something else first. That way, my thoughts on Yuri should be a little more definitive.

But what should I write about? I traced back over the past few days.

Gaku.

Jeez. My friend before friends. My love before love. My brother in heart and in soul. I really miss him. We never spoke after he left. I never even got a goodbye. We had only just become teenagers, but I hoped that we hadn’t drifted so far that he’d cut all his ties with me. I only heard of him once after he moved away. His last name had appeared in the news — his house had burnt to the ground. Who knows if he’s even alive.

I sat for nearly an hour, maybe more, wording and rewording lines until they made some kind of poetic sense.

 

 

I miss you.

 

My friend before friends

The love before love

The other half of my soul,

Where did you go?

 

If you were here, what would you say?

What would you do?

Would you see through my mask

The way that so many others fail to do? you used to?

The way that only a best friend love can do?

All these years later, could you see through my facade?

Where are you, dear friend?

 

Are you only in my heart?

In the sky watching over me?

Off in some faraway land?

Or as close as the house next door?

 

I read it over, ignoring the scribbled out lines. Ouch. That kind of hurt. I suppose that’s the point of it, though; to get it out of my system. Speaking of which...

 

 

Violet veils, Violet veils

Violet veils, why do you hide your face from me?

 

Violet veils, I’m being hailed

By the skeleton in your closet

That only you and I can see

 

Violet veils, what’s wrong with me

Why do I hesitate

To pull up your long sleeves

Am I scared of what I’ll see?

 

Violet veils, a wall to block your words

I just want to talk to you

But you won’t let me, violet veils

Why can’t I see you? What secrets do you hide

Behind you violet veils?

 

Defeated, I tossed my notebook and writing utensils at the other side of the couch. I pulled out my phone, and was not greeted by even a drop of surprise when I found no messages from Yuri. I texted Akae instead.

 

Chat: A2Z

S: Hey Akae

A: hey sayo! wassup?

S: Ah yknow, just sulkin around at home with dad. How bout you?

A: im the same as always. why are you sulking? whats the matter?

S: Oh lord. I never told you.

A: Aannnndd youre using proper sentences. This is big. What don’t I know?

S: Okay, so, I asked Yuri out last Saturday. And she said yes. Like, in a very flirty fashion, too.

A: So whats the problem?

S: But she hasn’t texted me since. And I’m trying really hard to not be selfish or anything, so I haven’t messaged her since yesterday afternoon, but I’m a bit worried about her.

A: I doubt you did anything if that’s what you’re worried about.

A: There are so many reasons for her not to text you that make sense

1 new phone and lost your number

2 or it reset and thus lost all her contacts

3 it’s broken

4 dead

5 or just specific parts are broken that prevent her from texting you

6 she herself is also on vacation and left her phone at home

7 or she’s just generally busy

7.5 I mean if she likes books as much as Varu then she’s probably reading and

8 her phone is on vibrate or silent and she doesn’t notice

9 she got grounded from her phone

Or of course, 10 She’s just avoiding her phone for one reason or another

A: You get down on yourself too much Sayori. It likely isn’t your fault

S: You’re probably right. Thanks Akae.

A: No problem sayomayo. ;) Glad I could help

A: And knowing your dad, you won’t be able to text tomorrow because you’ll be to busy, so I’ll say it in advance:

A: HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!

S: pffft Thanks m’dude. Have a good day

A: Will do, you too. Text ya later

 

The day continued quietly; even the rain was silent. Dad seemed to be getting some work done, so I was sure not to bother him. Aside from lunch and dinner, I only saw him when he came in my room to wish me goodnight.

“Goodnight, kiddo.” he whispered, tucking me in and giving me a kiss on the forehead, “Man, that’s the last time I get to say that. You’re an adult tomorrow.”

Ugh. I hadn’t thought about that. Thanks to the small thought spiral this put me on, I just barely caught him before he closed the door. “Hey Dad?”

He turned back to face me. “Yeah?”

“You really surprised me today,” I told him.

“With what?” He walked back to me.

“Well after everything yesterday... I guess I just thought things between us would be... different.

He shook his head in obvious disagreement. “Sayori. Through any and all mental troubles you may have, straight or not, you are my daughter and I will always love and support you. Nothing has changed.”

I’d like to say I fell asleep soundly after that, but such was not the case.

Chapter Text

Sayori's POV

Where was I? This wasn’t my house. I stood in a hallway, which stretched infinitely on either side of me. Behind me there was only a cream wall, and in front of me stood a tall white door, its paint peeling and its golden doorknob rusted. In the endless length of hallway, I could only see three doors; the one I stood in front of, and one on either side.

The door I stood before was foreboding, so I went instead to the door on the left. When I opened it, I was met with a brick wall. My violet veils poem was stabbed into it with a swiss army knife.

By now, I was pretty sure I was dreaming. I looked around to see if anything had changed, and was relieved to find that it was all the same. My feet passed the middle door a second time and led me to open the right hand door. This one also opened to a brick wall. A note was stabbed into this one. “Sayori,” The rest of the text was blurred and unintelligible. It was my mother’s handwriting. That much was clear.

The knife that held it there was beautiful. For the most part, It was a glimmering white, and the handle had a rose print designed over it. It seemed like a knife Yuri would own. She did say she collects them.

I opened the center door. I was not met by a wall, but I did not look into the room immediately, as my senses were drawn back to the hallway. The knives clattered to the floor, bloody. The pages they held fell with them, both ripped to shreds.

I looked into the room and a strange, screaming static filled my ears. My eyes found their focal point, and the rest of the room turned to a blur of color. No. Yuri... The beauty laid before me, in a bath of crimson water, the color drained from her eyes. No.

No! NO!

I bolted awake. My dad sat on the side of my bed. “Sayori, are you okay?” My eyes darted around the room. Flute. I need my flute. Where’s my flute?

“I-I, I… um.” No. Don’t leave me like this. With a dream like that. Don’t leave me without a way to cope. Please .”

“Sayori, you were screaming in your sleep. What’s wrong?”

“My, my one way to cope with nightmares, it’s gone. I don’t know what to do.”

He hugged me tight, anchoring me to reality as he sang the lullaby that I had learned to play so long ago. That ought to help a little at least... “Whatever it was, it was just a dream. It wasn’t real.” Yeah, sure. Wish there was a way to confirm that, though. “Sayori, look at me and take a couple deep breaths. It’s okay.”

I did as he told me to, which thankfully calmed me down a little. “Thanks, Dad,” I said horsley, “I appreciate the help.”

“Now, what was that about? Do you remember?”

My eyes searched for the analog clock in the brightening darkness. 4:13. I contemplate lying to him, but I know he will figure me out sooner or later, so I decide against it. “I had a nightmare.” I state this fact more for my benefit than for his. It was just a dream. “I was in a hallway, and, uh, there were three doors. One had a poem, one a note, and, um, the third... The third door..” Tears drowned out my voice.

“Shhh.... It’s okay, Sayori. It’s okay.” He rocked me gently.

“Yuri...” I choked out, “Yuri was dead.”

Dad didn’t shy away from me the way most people did. Rather, he sat there quietly, rubbing circles on my back, and let me cry. Once my eyes dried, I thanked him with a cracked whisper.

“Thanks, Dad. Really. I don’t know what I would’ve done without you.” My mother would never do something like that. She’s one of the reasons I have the flute to begin with.

“You’re welcome; now try to get some rest, alright? You’ve got a big day ahead of you.”

I nodded softly, and rolled over as he left my room. I should text Yuri. Make sure she’s okay. You know she’s fine. But I was already worried, and then that dream... She won’t answer you anyway.

Resisting the urge to roll back over and turn on my phone, I eventually drifted back to sleep.

*

Beep beep! Wake up.

Beeep! Get up.

Beep beep! Get out of bed.

Beeep! Get out of bed.

Beep be-! ...

“Good morning, Sayoreo!” What?

I wiped at my eyes, clarifying the fuzzy image in front of me. “Varuna?” My voice in the morning is disgusting.

“Who else?” She smiled at me as I sat up. “Happy birthday!”

“It’s too early for this,” I mumbled, getting out of bed.

"Come on. Aren't you excited?" Her shoulders shifted down, changing her from gleeful and bouncy to a more neutral pose.

"Not really," I told her, "I'm really tired, it's been a rough night, and I'm not really in the mood for being an adult."

"There's waffles..." Varuna lured as I finished getting dressed. Man has she learned way too much about how I work.

"Alright, alright." A smile snuck unto my face. "Let's go get waffles."

Varu and I looked like foil characters of each other, and it seemed even more apparent as we walked to the kitchen. We were both without shoes, as was the rule in my home, but she had bare feet to my mismatched socks. She had a bounce in her step, carrying an energy with her that I usually tried to possess. I, however, was sluggish, my appearance together, yet disheveled. My hair was untidy, but my typical red bow was in my hand. Opposing this, Varuna’s light, sandy blonde hair fell neatly around her shoulders, framing both her figure and her face, and showcasing her beautiful bright blue eyes.

Her Sunday church service like attire suited her perfectly; she was always a fan of things such as dresses and skirts. The solid valley green skirt she wore was of the shorter variety within her wardrobe, falling just above her knees. Her shirt had a flower print, and the shawl over top of it pulled the two pieces together. My outfit was not so organized, a simple t-shirt and soft black and white capris. I was surprised to see sandal flats sitting next to my sneakers as we entered the kitchen, though. Varuna could walk miles in heels without complaint or injury.

“Good morning, ladies!” Dad greeted when we stepped into view, “How are we doing on this sunny Wednesday?”

Varu gave me a sideways glance, “Tired, but excited.”

“You can see the ratio between us,” I chuckled.

"So what are we up for today?" Dad asked, "I have the stuff for strawberry, blueberry, or chocolate chip waffles. Or I can just make some plain if that's what you're in the mood for."

"Strawberry?" I requested.

"Blueberry?" Varuna echoed.

"Got it. Fruity waffles coming up!"

Varu and I took a seat at the table. Dad's silver laptop sat in front of us, so I slid it closer and flipped it open. It wasn't password protected, as one might expect; there was no reason, since my dad lived alone.

Opening the internet, I mumbled, “There was something in particular that I wanted... But I don’t know how much it would cost...” Varuna smirked as I googled “astrophotography”. “What?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you use Google,” she commented with a smile, “You’re like, the only Bing fanatic that I know.”

I laughed. She wasn’t wrong. I only used Google when absolutely needed. (So basically school, I guess.) Her witty remark had successfully forced the main piece of my mental mask into place. My dad had come up behind me, and, reaching around me, set the price limit to anything six hundred dollars or less. “Have fun,” he said, returning to our waffles.

“Only 600?” Varuna asked sarcastically. Varu was the eldest of four girls, and often had to act as the mother of the group. Six hundred dollars was a ton to her.

“Yeah,” Dad replied, completely missing the sarcasm, “I want you to still have money for the mall.”

“Sometimes I forget that your dad makes a lot of money,” Varuna mumbled to me.

I had a rough image in my head of what I wanted. A telescope that can take pictures. By the time I found what I was looking for, the waffles had finished. Serving us all our respective flavors, Dad joined us at the table.

“So here’s the plan,” he told us, “Per request, and because I figured you’d like it, we’re going to the mall. I’ll set you two lose; you’re free to wander and in charge of where we go, but I won’t be too far behind. We can either have lunch in the mall or out at a restaurant nearby. That is also up to you. We have a movie at the end of the day, and of course, cake. And that’s that.”

Oh god. I’m eighteen. Legally an adult, mentally a child. I still couldn’t drive. I was only behind the wheel of a car once, and I never want to do it again, but I guess I have no choice now, do I?

I functioned as a child just fine. My life was together then. I hit thirteen and all the screws came loose. Now I’ve hit 18, and still can’t get my life together. I still haven’t decided on college, or what I want to do as a career. Although I know I should go to college because I’m probably the only one of my friends who could easily afford it. Not sure how I’m going to get there though, without a car or driver’s license. And I don’t know if I’ll ever get there mentally, let alone physically.

A blob of fur landed in my lap, breaking my train  of thought. I was in the livingroom now? My bow is in my hair, my shoes on my feet, and a cat in my lap. “Hey, Taila!” I cheerily greeted my father’s cat. I’d get a cat of my own, but I can’t even take care of myself, so I don’t think putting another being’s life in my hands is a good idea. “Sorry, baby. We gotta go.” The golden, fluffy cat whined as I set her back on the floor and followed Dad and Varuna out to the car. She did always like it when I was around. And she’s probably the only one.

Varuna and I spent the car ride picking stores to shop at, and deciding on a place to eat lunch. The day itself was happy; the shopping was a nice distraction from everything that had happened in the past few days. It was the travel from store to store within the mall that dragged me down the most.

“Sayori?”

Why carry on? Why do you insist on fighting this battle everyday? Can’t you see that it’s futile? This battlefield will crush you. And there may be many ways to reach the end, but this war will lead to your inevitable self-written demise.

“Sayori?” A gentle force shook my shoulder. “Are you okay? You’re looking rather down. What’s the matter?”

It angered me that my thoughts first went to Yuri before anything else. She is far from my only problem . “Everything,” I said quietly, my feet beginning to shuffle rather than step, “Everything is wrong Varu.” I’m barely out of the closet; Varuna still thinks I’m straight. How do I explain things now? Surprisingly, the words came with ease. “Since you last saw them all at my birthday party, one more member has been added to the literature club. Her name is Zenobia, and she is a constant reminder of Gaku. To make matters worse, she lives in his old house. And Yuri... You remember her from the party, right? Tall, gorgeous, long purple hair?”

She nodded and I continued. “Stuff went down between the two of us before I left, but it was nothing bad. Regardless, she hasn’t responded to me since. And Monika and Natsuki have gone off of the radar; the group chat has gone silent for the past few days. I also had a horrible nightmare last night, but we shouldn’t dwell on it.”

Varuna, unlike Akae, was not one for giving advice, and her shy nature was beginning to show. Yet, her look of concern somehow cheered me up.

Varu’s surprise was visible when I laughed softly at her silence. “You know, sometimes it’s hard to remember I have a life outside of the Literature Club.”

 

Happy Birthday.

Chapter Text

Monika's POV

“We should spam the group chat. Everything has gone dead over break.”

“Yeah, and I could really use some memes to de-stress.”

Natsuki was lying on my bed, scrolling through something on her phone as I got ready for work. This had become a pattern over the last few days. Nat would try to avoid her phone while I was here, so she would have some form of entertainment once I left. She spent the entirety of Saturday on YouTube, though. We never said a word to each other. Not that I blamed her; Friday had been... Rough. I was surprised how quickly she adapted to her situation. Although, I woke up to her crying Sunday night...

I gave myself a once over in my dresser mirror. Deciding I was satisfied with my appearance, I folded my white apron over my arm and turned to Natsuki. “Alright. I'm heading out. Dinner is in fridge. And I swear if you're awake when I get home–”

“I know, I know,” Nat rolled her eyes, “See you later. Have fun, Moniko.” I smiled at the stupid old nickname. She had given it to me when we first met, almost by accident, but stuck with it because I told her that calling me “Moni” was too cheesy.

On my drive to work, the same thought crossed my mind that had every day since Natsuki moved in with me. Nat’s home alone. I left her by herself through the middle of the night. What am I thinking?  Given, my parents were home, but it was basically the same thing. No, not basically  the same, it was  the same thing.

I parked and locked my car, and put on my apron as I walked in the staff entrance to the restaurant, my shoulders weighed down. I greeted my coworkers as I typically did, but my boss, Alex, could tell I was not in the best of moods.

“Welcome back, Monika!” He greeted in his typical fashion as I entered the kitchen, “How are you doing this afternoon?”

“As could be expected in my situation,” I said flatly.

Never taking his eyes off the skillet in front of him, he replied, “So, you mean to say that you’ll be quite upset when I throw a wrench in your day?”

Oh boy. Here we go.  “I couldn’t care less. I’m here to work, aren’t I? What do you need help with?”

He chuckled. “Actually, I’m worried that you  will be the one who needs help.” One of the other waitresses came past the front of the kitchen and pinned an order to our list. “Hey,” Alex called, getting her attention before she walked too far away, “Can you bring Stephen here?” She nodded and walked away, opposite of the direction she had been heading.

I didn’t recognize that name.  “We got someone new working here and nobody told me?”

“You aren’t that far behind on the news,” Alex reassured me, “He got a rundown of the place today before opening, but his first ever shift only started an hour ago. I’ve had him seating people so that he can get more familiar with the layout of the tables.”

“So, what exactly does this have to do with me?” I asked, shifting my weight to my left foot, then my right, and back again.

“You’re going to teach him,” he stated.

“You’re mental.” Shouldn’t have said that. Can’t afford to upset him.

Alex only laughed, and took the skillet to the counter and started other food preparations for whatever order he was working on. “There’s a large skill set you need here, Monika. Especially if you are going to take my place one of these days. That includes  teaching new employees how to fill their roles.”

I suppose he does have a point.  Alex was the eldest chef here. You really couldn't tell that he was 49 just by looking at him. His father started the restaurant, and Alex trained under him, eventually taking his place as head cook when he retired at 53. Now, with no children of his own, Alex taught me to do the same.

"Alright," I gave in, "I'll teach him."

His sly smile shined back at me. He knew just as well as I did that I didn't have a choice. "And Monika?" I raised my eyebrows in question. "Stop bouncing back and forth. You're nearly making  me  anxious." Right. I need to act like I'm in charge.  Which I am.

I shifted my feet to point forward, into a steady, shoulder-width wide stance. The young man that approached us looked how I'd imagine a generic NPC to be. (I haven't played many video games; I haven't had the time.) He was taller than me — almost exactly Zee and Yuri's height. His brown hair was short, but long enough that it swooshed in front of his face just a bit. His cerulean eyes accented it perfectly. His features were not strong and definitive, the way many adult men's were, but the slight femininity made him easier on the eyes. He didn't look much older than me, but he carried a sort of adulthood about him.

"Hello," I said, offering a hand, "I'm Monika. I'm going to be your mentor."

He shook my hand with a bright smile, his tense shoulders loosening as he did so. He took the handshake as a comfort. “Hi, I’m Stephen.” He glanced behind me to Alex. “Although, I suppose you already know that.”

I smiled, then made a gesture for him to follow me. I headed to one of the tables that had seated when I first walked in. Typical family of four; they started to speckle the place about now.

“Hello! I’m Monika! Are you all ready to order?”

The mother of the group stuttered something, and her daughter mumbled something to her. Figures. They were Hispanic, and by the looks of it, not very used to English speaking. Not atypical in a restaurant like this. “¿Ustedes hablan español?” The mother nodded with a smile. Come on, Sayori. Don’t let your Spanish fail me now.  “Me llamo Monika. Soy tu camarera.” I hadn’t noticed until then that the Spanish menu — there was at least one menu in Spanish, French, and Italian at every table, and we had a few of many other languages that shifted around as needed — sat in the center of the table, angled at the little boy who sat by his sister.

“¿Puedo interesarte en algunas bebidas?” My Spanish certainly wasn’t perfect, but it was enough that they understood. When I finished taking their order, I returned it to Alex.

“What took you so long?” Alex joked, only sparing me a glance.

“I’m not really bilingual. Not in a fluent fashion, at least.”

“Is this a common occurrence?” Stephen was soft-spoken, which didn’t help prevent me from jumping when he spoke. I had only heard him speak once, and he had blended into this world of color as I returned to Alex, so I had nearly forgotten about him.

“No,” I answered, “but it definitely isn’t a rarity.” How did someone so quiet become a waiter? Here of all places?  I’ve never taken Alex as a bad judge of character, however, so I would have to give Stephen a chance. “Now it’s your turn.” I told him.

Without moving his hand, Stephen waved his fingers about, his eyes rolled up in recollection. I’ll take an educated guess and say he was tracing a map in his head. He set off, and I followed — an action I was not used to doing.

He found a table as I had done and walked up to the couple, while I blended into the shadows. How in the world is someone as shy as he going to be able to do this?

“Good evening,” he greeted the pair, “Could I start your night off with some drinks?” His whole demeanor changed. Stephen was suddenly this outgoing person; welcoming, bright, mellifluous...

“Well that was a nice surprise,” I told him as he returned.

“What was?” He was still smiling, but he was a little more serious now.

“You just seemed so quiet. I'm glad you proved me wrong. Soft spoken people don't survive very long around here.”

We bounced back and forth like that for the rest of Alex's shift — until eleven — then Alex left and I went to go clean up. I tended to spend my last hour cleaning tables and cleaning the kitchen. Then I helped bartend until midnight, when I left.

Tonight was an exception of sorts. Alex stopped me on his way out.

“Hey, Monika? Would you mind working overtime on Saturday?”

“Which way?” I asked, not even thinking it over, “Before five pm, or after midnight?”

“Starting at noon. You'd be working a twelve-hour shift. I was supposed to cover the shift myself, but some family stuff has come up. Trust me, you would be very well-paid for the overtime, especially as the only chef on staff for several hours.”

I could probably arrange something for Natsuki. And I definitely need the extra cash. I'm still recovering from my car repairs a couple months ago.  “Yeah,” I answered, “I'll do it.”

Alex smiled and nodded, then headed out, leaving me to clean kitchen. Stephen was wiping down tables nearby, and I saw him staring at me out of the corner of my eye every once in a while. He caught me on my way out — which is how I found out that our shifts ended at the same time.

“Hey, Monika?” He called, shyly inquisitive, “How old are you?”

“Why?” My brows furrowed.

“Just curious. You seemed about my age, unlike a lot of the staff here. And you’re very experienced at that.”

I smiled, turned, and walked out to my car. “Eighteen!” I called back, just before I shut my car door and drove home.

I got home a bit later than I had hoped. Yet, against my wishes, Natsuki was still awake. Or, at least, the light was still on in my room. The door was open a crack, so I was able to sneak in without making any noise.

Natsuki was laying on her back, motionless. I knew she was still alive; I could see her chest rise and fall with her breath — four count in, four count out, perfectly timed — and she blinked from time to time.

I set my apron by my dresser, then went back and closed the door. It creaked when it shut, and the sound made Natsuki jump. Her eyes widened, instinctively afraid. She had been conditioned that someone entering her room meant danger. I froze, knowing that approaching her was the wrong decision.

I held my hands up, as if I was to surrender, showing that they were both loose and empty. “It’s okay,” I told her with a modulated voice, “You are safe.”

She settled a little, and I backed away, then I changed into my pajamas while I spoke.

“My boss slated me a huge chunk of overtime Saturday. I didn't really have a choice to take it or not, due to my current money situation, but I'm worried about leaving you alone for so long. Do you want to go over to a friend's house or...?”

“Well, I'd love to go hang out with Yuri,” Natsuki whispered, “but that probably isn't an option. Sayori isn't home. I guess I could spend the day at Zee’s place, if she doesn't mind.”

That would be perfect! Why didn't I think of that immediately? Probably good that Natsuki thinks it's solely her idea, though. “Yeah,” I agreed, “I can message her in the morning.” I laid down on the floor, letting Natsuki keep the bed.

“Goodnight.”

Chapter Text

Yuri's POV

“I know there’s someone at the door. They called for help, of this I’m sure. But do I want to say goodbye, to all the glowing eyes?”

The song played on repeat, never leaving my mind. Of course, having it as the only song I listened to for the past eight days hasn’t helped.

“I'm holding on to what I know, and what I know I must let go,” I sang along, “But I would rather play a song, for the eyes to sing along.” My eyes roamed between all the cases of knives that bordered my room. A quarter case worth — seven knives — lined my desk. My mind hasn’t been too strong lately, so I started polishing my whole collection. After all, it would be a shame to dirty a knife immediately after cleaning it.

A meow interrupted my music listening. I turned to its source; one of my two cats, Jupiter, was seeking attention. I set down the knife in my hand, leaving it and the cloth I had been cleaning it with on my desk. I laid down beside the purring furball on my bed. He walked across my legs and brushed against my chest, curling his fluffy body around my right arm as I sat up. The feeling of his fur on my skin was both calming and rare, for even when I wore t-shirts at home on occasion, my arms were typically wrapped up in bandages of some form.

“Hey, Jupi.” I smiled, petting him. “I love you, too, you know that right?” He purred in response, although my speech and his sound likely had little correlation of understanding. My smile faded with slow realization, “I guess that makes three beings in the world who love me. You, Smokey, and Sayori. Well, maybe that counts as three. I’m not really sure.”

Jupiter shifted beside me, bumping into something out of my line of sight as he rolled into my lap. “Why does it have to be so hard? Do you think my life would be different if mom was still here?” I vented at my cat, “What would change? Ah, you wouldn’t know. You haven’t met her. She was so perfect, Jupi. She was always so gentle and welcoming, so happy and bright.”

I could hear two small voices, audibly in my head. I looked around my room again. I really am losing it, aren’t I?  “She was perfect at all the right things. When other people heard me, she was the one to listen. When other people would hurt me, she would be the one to care. God, I miss her so much. I still don’t know why she...” Jupiter looked up at me with giant eyes, and I started to pet him again for my own comfort. “I wonder what she would think of the disaster I’ve become. I wonder if she would’ve saved me from all my failed relationships. Would she know how I could make friends? Seem more likable than this freak that I am? Do you think she would console me every time I broke my heart?”

Cradling Jupi in my arms, I walked back to my desk and set him on my chair. The knives didn’t really frighten my cats anymore; they knew that the knives could hurt, a lot , but they also knew that no harm would come to them as they were careful. I would never harm a being other than myself of my own volition, so any injury they received would be of their own accord.

I packed up the knives that were lined on my desk, putting the cloth away with them. Just as I was about to grab the next seven, an obnoxious beeping came from somewhere nearby. It was my phone, that much I knew. It was the sound that was made a while after someone hung up the phone. I had the annoying ring memorized, as it was a sound I was used to hearing whenever I called someone. I located the sound somewhere near my bed, and just as I found my cellphone, which was under my blanket, the line went dead.

Shrugging, I returned to my desk. I picked Jupi up like an infant, but he jumped down and ran to the door as soon as I did so. With a sigh, I let him free. That cat knows more about me than any human living or dead.  While my door was open, I could hear my dad call, “Yuri, one of your friends is here!”

Panic mode enabled.  “Just a minute!” I called back, “I’m getting changed!” Time! Don’t have time!  I tossed a hoodie over my t-shirt, and swiftly changed from shorts to sweatpants. I looked myself over quickly. No visible cuts. Good.

I darted down the stairs, although I had meant to walk. I saw the girl before she saw me. She was too busy taking in the room. I wasn't surprised, though, since none of my friends had ever been in my house.

My eyes swung from the floor to my father. He met my eyes, glanced at the guest in front of me, and left the room with a nod. Natsuki finally turned and saw me, and her pupils dilated immediately. “Why-”

She held up her phone — which was covered in cracks — before I could really ask. “You called?” Her voice was rather deep, and far more monotonous than I was used to. I, however, had never seen her face hold so much emotion. “Do you, wanna go for a walk or something?”

Don't leave. I don't want to leave. Let me stay in my suffering.  “You know what?” I replied faintly, “I should probably clear my head. Going for a walk probably isn't a bad idea.” Nat nodded and walked out, leaving me to follow. It seemed that she had a clear destination in mind.

“Are you doing okay?” She asked once we were beyond my house. Why was she the one to console me? Why  her  of all people?

“I'm doing about average. You?” How much did she hear on that phone call?

This  is average?” Natsuki questioned, never answering me.

“Well, the wallowing in grief and self-pity not so much,” I chuckled nervously, “but the rest of it, yeah.”

“And what exactly is  the rest of it?”

“Ah, you, you know, the hanging out in my room by myself, blasting music that's stuck in my head,” trying to resist the urge to cut myself, and usually failing,  “The general, um, emo-ness... I guess.”

Silence stirred between us. Natsuki’s feisty persona had evaporated before my eyes. Was she typically like this? Was she letting down her guard? Or was this just a part of the whole, “she has a crush on me” thing?

“Do you...” Nat stuttered and repeated herself shyly. “Do you mind if I ask, what happened to your mother?”

“She... Uh, my mom...” Oh god. How do I say this?

“I understand if you don’t want to tell me,” Natsuki said in response to my quiet, “I am  totally intruding here, I mean...”

“No! No,” I cut her off, “It’s just, I’ve never talked to anyone about it. Ever.”

“No one? Really?” Is this trust? Does she really care?

I mumbled in response, “There’s never been anyone who wanted to listen.”

“Well, I will...” She replied, just as quietly. Never known you to be shy, Natsuki...

“My, um, my mom passed away when I was eleven. She,” my voice cracked, “She overdosed.”

Silence swamped us after that. Not that I was surprised. We arrived at Natsuki’s destination — a park not far from my house. We headed to the playground section of it, and sat on the swings. Natsuki swung idly, staring at her feet that kicked the wood chips. I noticed the most odd and insignificant thing then, while I stared at her completely perplexed. She was wearing makeup. I didn’t understand why, or how she had time if she had come straight from her house to mine. Unless she had been wearing it at home, which made zero sense.

“Well, I do kind of know how you feel,” she eventually said.

What?  I looked away, to all the tiny children playing and laughing on the playground. “How so?”

“My mom died when I was eight.” Oh.

“I.. I’m sorry.”

She shook her head. “Don’t bother. I’ve had a long time to get over it. My mother’s death wasn’t near as traumatizing as yours sounds to be. She died in a car crash.”

“It shouldn’t even be bothering me.” Tones of self-resentment slowly seeped into my voice. “It’s been over a week since I saw her look-alike in the cafe... I should be over it by now.”

“Things like that,” Natsuki told me, “They can tap into a lot of nostalgia, can’t they? Seeing people who look like them, act like them... Heck, the anniversary of the car crash was in the past two weeks. It must be a lot more vivid for you, though.”

I nodded, eyes trailing to the ground. “I was the one to find her c-” I couldn’t bring myself to say “corpse.” It felt wrong. The way she laid there, so peacefully, was more akin to sleep. A nap at that.  “So yes, vivid  is probably the best word...”

“At least you still have dad, right?” Natsuki scoffed.

“I guess? There was a huge split between us when my mom died, and it hadn’t been under repair until recently. What of yours?” Natsuki dabbed at her face with a few fingers, as if she were checking her makeup, then shook her head. I chose the smarter option — the one I would’ve wanted her to pick — and decided not to press her about it. She glanced toward my fidgeting hands.

“What did you do to your arm?” She asked curiously. What?  Looking down, I realized that my left sleeve had come up a bit, revealing a singular cut that was way  too close to my hand.

Don’t panic. Don’t panic.  “Smokey has been grumpy with me all week... I’m kind of surprised that this was the only outlash he gave me.”

Wow. I actually made it through a lie without being a stuttering mess!  Nat arched an eyebrow. “I didn’t know you had pets.” There’s a lot of things people don’t know about me, Natsuki.

“Two cats,” I stated, “Smokey and Jupiter. Jupi was the one who called you, actually. You should meet them. I, I think they’d like you.”
She froze at a reply as a pair of small kids ran in our direction. The one that had been chasing, stopped, evidently out of breath. She looked up at us, and smiled. Full of new energy, she ran up at tapped Natsuki, exclaiming, “You’re it!” before darting away.

Nat looked to me for a response, to which I gave her a shrug. “Be right back.” She hopped up with a smile and ran off to join the younglings’ game of tag.

Watching her smile so genuinely brought a joy to my heart. Seeing her so happy, so openly joyful and friendly, as opposed to the defensive manner I was used to... It put a dull ache in my heart, actually. Was it not so long ago that I was in love with Natsuki? Has the love for her really vanished as quickly as it appeared?

She eventually returned — and I stood to meet her — out of breath, but laughing. Her face quickly became more solemn. Aw, come on. Don’t let me ruin your mood.  “We should probably be going anyway,” she mumbled.

Trying to escape my thought spiral brought my mind back to my phone. “I’m actually really glad you came by to check on me,” I told Natsuki as we started walking back to my house, “I needed it. I’ve been wanting to talk to Sayori about it, but...”

“But? Why haven’t you?”

“I’ve been avoiding my phone,” I came true, “I’m afraid that if I turn it on, I’ll just start scrolling through old photos of my mother, and end up doing something I’ll regret. And, well, I mean, besides, she’s at her dad’s house this week anyway, so I, I wouldn’t want to bother her.”

Nat shook her head as we reached my house. “She’s your girlfriend, Yuri. I doubt you’d be a burden. Why don’t you talk to her? I need to go home, anyway.”

“I’ll try,” I said, stepping inside, “And Natsuki?” She looked back at me. “You have a horrible taste in women.” With a smirk, I closed the door.

-------------------------

14 messages from: <Sayori3.

Chat: <Sayori3

Y: Hey, Sayori. Sorry I freaked you out. I’ve been avoiding my phone for the past week or so, didn’t notice you had messaged, my apologies

S: Youre good, chill. Sorry for overreacting on you tho

S: But thanks for getting back to me, you doin alright?

Y: I’m doing better now than I was earlier. Miss you, though.

S: Aww! I’ll see you Monday, don’t worry!

Y: <3 Enjoy your week, princess.