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Strawberry Jam

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The ringing of her doorbell woke her up. Her eyes shifted to her phone, the alarm had been ringing for an hour. She must have set the volume too low. She noted the time as 2 pm, which translated to "could have been worse". The bedsheet had basically imprinted onto her. Her long hair was everywhere, tangled up all over. On top of her usual morning woes the door was ringing. She tried to stay positive. Lately such tries of hers hadn't been succeeding but she felt a part of her would die if she stopped trying. After sacrificing so much for survival, it didn't seem fair to let even a part of herself die.

The doorbell, she reminded herself. She scrambled to her feet and hurried out of her room. There wasn't too much distance to be covered. She looked through the peephole to see a familiar face. Her violet eyes and unevenly cut bangs. Most importantly, her signature eyebags. Nao unlocked the door, forced a smile and greeted her visitor. "What's up, Sara?" Her forced happiness wasn't fooling anyone, Nao figured. Sara looked miserable. "I feel bad." she murmured through her chapped lips. Sara would do this often. Sometimes it would be over the phone. If it wasn't too bad it'd texting. But often, she needed to be face to face. Nao made way for her to come inside. Sara walked towards the living room, which appeared too small to be a living room at times. Nao overdecorating the walls wasn't helping. What could she do, those paintings had to be hung somewhere. You could argue, "No, they don't." but you wouldn't convince Nao. Sara had tried. The only painting of hers not being showed off on her walls was her painting of the late Mishima. There was one room in Nao's house Sara hadn't been inside, so she assumed that to be the studio. Nao was probably still working on the painting. Sara theorised Nao was humanising the painting and felt as if Mishima would die once more when the painting was finished. She couldn't be more right but she'd never know. It wasn't any of her business anyway.

As Sara went through the door, Nao called out to her "I just woke up so there isn't really anything to eat or drink!" Sara came to herself and turned around. "Let's make something then?" If she didn't know better, she'd criticize Nao for waking up late. Sara, over time, had come to understand oversleeping when there wasn't anything to be awake for. They walked into the kitchen. It was rather small, especially for two people. The door opened inwards so Nao closed it after they entered to make more room. Sara opened the drawer where she knew the pasta to be. She was disappointed to find it empty. She turned her eyes to Nao, looking somewhat annoyed. Nao looked apologetic. "Sorry. I made strawberry jam, though?" She pointed to the refrigerator. Sara looked surprised. No matter what she looked like, Nao couldn't help but notice an underlying sadness in her face. Sara asked "You made strawberry jam?" with an emphasis on "made". Nao nodded. It wasn't that hard, but to say that would be to break Sara's perception of it. She got the jam out of the freezer and a sweet smell filled the air. Nao put the jar down on the table and Sara sat down soon after. Nao handed her a spoon and got a knife out for herself. She took 2 slices from the counter to toast them. Sara preferred eating jam without any bread, right out the jar, so she started eating.

Nao started the conversation as she wanted for the bread to pop out of the toaster. "So, why are you feeling bad?" Sara scoffed. "Why? You know why." Nao frankly wasn't the best at comforting people. Understandably, she was running out of words to tell Sara because she needed it so often. "Yes, I know... I guess what I'm asking is whether any part of is especially bad today." Sara looked down at the jam in her spoon. "All of it, Nao, all of it is just so bad. I don't know if I'll ever be the same." The toaster made the familiar noise and the bread emerged. Nao held a napkin in her hand to pick the bread up with. After taking both of them out, she set them down on the table atop the napkin. She sat down. "No, you won't be the same. That's not necessarily bad. People change and grow."

Sara swallowed the jam that insisted on being stuck at the roof of her mouth. "That's not really what I mean. I just... want Joe back. I guess. It's so hard seeing Ryoko. She says she's not mad at me but I can't trust anyone anymore. I feel people staring at me in the hallways. Whispering about the news. They think they know it all. They think they have the right to talk about me, a girl they didn't even know. They think they can act as if we were friends just because we go to the same school. When I saw people posting about Joe, I had to delete all social media. It made me sick to my stomach. They pretended they know him. None of them did. None of them. None of them can understand the pain I'm going through. But they love to pretend." Nao understood to some degree. Few of her acquaintances from high school had reached out to her. The way they spoke about Mishima, they acted like they were as close to him as Nao was. That frustrated her to no end. Still, she believed Sara's case to be worse. It was just not the same thing, although Nao would consider Mishima and herself friends more than teacher and student. "They just won't know. Leave them be. You don't need to care about what they say. Ryoko and you are still friends, I think that's all that matters." Sara raised her face to meet eyes with Nao. "You're just... Better than me at disregarding people, I suppose." These words made Nao feel like she had countless needles pressing onto her skin. Disregarding people. She had flashbacks to the vote. It must have showed on her face because Sara, who usually doesn't initiate physical contact, put a hand on her shoulder. "No. That's not what I meant. Just forget I said that." Despite her efforts to take her words back, the sorrow was apparent in Nao's eyes. She nodded, "Mhm.". Sara took that as "Okay, you can take your hand off now." and so she did. Nao slowly took a bite of her toast that she had spread jam on. It tasted dull. Sara felt like she couldn't just leave it, so she kept talking "You know, it's not your fault. At least not your fault only. I made the choice to vote for you." Nao smiled sadly. "That doesn't really make it any better. It's no use blaming myself or other people, anyway. We have to move on one day. I'm trying so hard to forget." Sara nodded, deep in thought. She was trying to forget too. She was trying to forget the friendly policeman, the loner with the beanie, the small kid who had a huge cat plushie, the little girl with a bucket on her head. The singer-songwriter with peculiar make-up. The buff baseball player. The murderer. The man who'd been taking care of her house since she was a child. Nao's teacher. Sara's friend.

But... "Isn't it worse to forget them?" she voiced her thoughts. Nao raised her eyebrows. "Why?" Sara continued "I think it would be better to come to terms with their death." She could go on but Nao interrupted. "All of them, Sara? I understand, that's what I did for Professor Mishima. I came to terms with his death. It still hurts to know we could have prevented his death by having a tie, oh, it hurts a lot. But I accepted his death. He's gone and there's no bringing him back. But how many people can you do this for? 2, 3, 4, 5? I, personally, couldn't do it any more after Professor. I'd rather forget. Maybe it has to do with how I'm alive only because everybody is dead, who knows." Sara felt bad. She felt bad because she had to agree with Nao. Sara was still trying to come to terms with Joe's death, how was she going to do it all over for everybody else? Still, she had more to say. "But how? How will you just forget people? They will surely come to mind time to time."

Nao spread the jam on the other toast on her plate. "Yes, that's the part I'm trying to figure out still. Maybe I will have to accept all of it one day. I don't know Sara. But it's nice to have someone to talk with. Don't you think it'd be worse if you were the sole survivor?" Sara wondered how they even came to the subject of her surviving alone. "That would be bad. I just can't help but think of a happy ending though, one where we would be able to make it out before anyone else died." Nao interrupted again. "And I'd already be dead, right. That's probably why I don't feel as bad as you. I'm dead in any other scenario." Sara felt a bit bad, but that was true. "Nevermind. You're right, this is better than surviving alone." They exchanged a seconds worth of understanding looks and kept eating. After a few minutes Nao spoke, gazing outside the mirror, "Do you feel any better? I don't feel like I helped, but..." Sara smiled. "I just had to talk, really. Thanks for being here for me." "It's the least I can do."

The jar was half empty, or half full as they saw it. Sara told Nao it tasted really good. Nao joked, saying she could tell from how much Sara ate. At the expense of all else, they were happy in this moment.