Sunny is six years old, and the world is a storm of chaos and noise.
It all starts in his first-grade classroom, where they are having indoor recess because it is raining too hard outside. The boys are fighting over who gets to play with Legos, and the girls are all talking and pulling out toys. Sunny is sitting at his desk. The teacher comes over, and she leans down to ask him in a bright, cheery voice what he wants to do, and that’s when it falls apart.
The boys are all shouting, and the girls are too, and then he can hear the sound of the rain hitting the window, and the sound of the toy boxes being dragged across the floor, and the chair is digging into his back and his shirt tag is touching his neck and the teacher is too close to him and everything starts crumbling away into dust.
He is crying, and he does something he shouldn’t. There is yelling, and then he is in the hallway, and then he is in the principal’s office. They talk to him, and he doesn’t understand what they are saying, and that makes it all worse. The noise hurts his eyes and the lights hurt his ears, like everything’s upside-down but all he knows is that it hurts.
And then Mari is there.
She is blinking at him, short but still taller than him, three years older in the fourth grade. “Sunny? What are you doing in here? Are you okay?”
He can’t speak. He shakes his head, hard. He’s covering his ears.
Someone in the office tells her it’s just a tantrum. Mari’s then handed a little slip of paper—right, Sunny remembers that she has a doctor’s appointment today, and will be leaving school a little early. That’s why she’s here.
“Don’t you have a little office, or closet?” Mari asks, glancing towards her brother with worry. “He doesn’t like being somewhere loud.”
“Sunny has to learn to adapt to his school environment,” the secretary says, sounding pitying but ultimately uncaring. “It’s okay if he prefers quiet time, but that doesn’t give him permission to be disruptive.”
“How was he being disruptive?”
“Mari, you don’t have to worry about it. You can go back to class.”
“He’s my brother. I want to help.”
“You don’t have to, honey. I’m going to call your mother, okay?”
Sunny stares at the wall, and wants to be somewhere else, and so in his head he is. In his head he flies out of the window and decides to live in the sky. He fades away, tunes out, and in the sky it’s quiet and he can hide under a cloud if it gets too bright. His head gets fuzzy.
“…a little episode, yes…we just…well, we pulled him out of class. He’d started hitting himself…”
Tomorrow the kids will probably make fun of him, or just look at him funny. Sunny closes his eyes. He’s in the sky. He’s a bird, watching him from somewhere outside his body. He’s got bird friends who speak the way he does and don’t squawk too loud.
His mother comes to pick him up, since she’s already there to get Mari. When he gets in the car Mari (after asking) touches his hair and lets him lay down next to her. He hunkers down, so nobody can look in the window and see him, while she sits up and watches over him. The sun comes in from the window like a halo, and in front of it, Mari is his guardian angel.
Ten years later, the world is the same, and Mari is not here to protect him.
He is home alone, in his new house. He doesn’t have anything to do.
Before, when he lived in Faraway, he would spend the whole day sleeping. And when he got a headache, he’d get up and eat some cereal or something, drink a little water. He’d get dizzy, and go right back to bed. Rinse and repeat.
But he doesn’t want to do that anymore (consciously, at least, he knows he shouldn’t do that anymore, but he wants to). He doesn’t really have any hobbies, though, and the house is brand-new and clean, so he doesn’t have chores. So he just wanders around the house, filling out his mental map, finding out how quickly the water in the faucet goes from cold to hot, how loud the pantry door opens and shuts.
At one point, his phone vibrates. He lifts it, and looks at the little notification preview:
Text from Kel
…He puts his phone down very quickly.
He breathes in and out for a few seconds.
He turns on his phone.
Hey Sunny!!!!!! :) How’s the new house? Can I see pics???
And that’s it.
It’s a very simple text, all things considered. Sunny’s always had a hard time responding (to people) (to texts) (to anything), but this isn’t even a question or anything, just a simple request that wouldn’t be hard to complete.
He gets up, and takes photos of the house. It’s a single-story house, of course; only he and his mother are living in it. It doesn’t take a rocket engineer to figure out the other reason. He doesn’t take any pictures of the outside.
When he’s done, he sits on the couch and stares at his phone. If he sent the pictures, would Kel take that as an invitation to start talking? Would he show the others?
Sunny’s heart twists hard in his chest. What if he asked for a picture of the outside? What if Sunny obliged, and a neighbor saw him and asked to talk to him? What if he does show the others, and they take that as an invitation to start texting him? What if they aren’t as simple and nice as Kel, and ask him how could you do it, or just can we talk? or i will never be able to forgive you, or…
Sunny shuts off his phone.
He doesn’t send the photos.
Here’s how it goes:
When someone is drowning, you have to be careful about saving them. Even if a mother jumps in to save her child, the child will use her to get to the surface in any way possible. They’ll step on shoulders and kick and shove. In the water, people are animals. You have to be careful about saving them, because they’ll fight you on it.
Sunny remembers fighting Mari. He couldn’t breathe, and his chest ached, and he wanted to scream, and she was there, and he kicked at her, just once.
And isn’t that classic: she loves him, and sacrifices for him, and does nothing but good for him—
and he only pushes her deeper into the lake.
He wakes up. It’s the middle of the night. It’s dark. The room is unfamiliar. He keeps his eyes closed. His heart is pounding for no reason. He keeps breathing. He feels sick. It’s in his head. He’s six feet underwater. He closes his eyes tighter. He tells himself he’s safe. The room is unfamiliar. It starts whispering to him. It’s pots and pans banging together and clashing, and he is breathing, and it aches in his chest. He’s safe. It’s fine. It’s just nighttime. He just had a dream. That’s all. It’s grabbing his arms. He’s going to be sick.
He gets up. He has to. He stands up, and paces, and shakes his hands out in front of him. It’s nipping at his heels, barking like a dog. He moves to the bathroom. It’s not behind him like it used to be. It’s filling the whole room. He’s breathing. He’s looking in the mirror. He is alone. He splashes water on his face. It’s cold. It’s dark. The bathroom is unfamiliar. The water beads on his nose and drips back into the sink. His heart is pounding. He is breathing. His head is a washing machine, tumbling and rolling and falling in on itself, and he is suddenly outside, the sun too bright, a knife in his hands, blood on his hands, Aubrey shouting in anger and pain, and Kel is looking at him with a poorly masked fear, “why are you carrying around a knife?” he asks, “who do you think will hurt you?” he doesn’t ask, and Sunny is back in the bathroom, the sink is running, his stomach aches, the room is unfamiliar, he is drowning, and he is breathing, he is breathing, he is breathing.
He goes back to bed. He wakes up in the void.
He closes his eyes. God damn it.
“I knew you’d be back here eventually.”
The voice is young, high-pitched. Sunny opens his eyes and looks back. Omori is behind him, sitting with his knees pulled up to his chest, laptop balancing precariously on top of them. His hands are on the keyboard, but he is staring straight at Sunny.
“I didn’t mean to come here,” Sunny says. In his dreams he speaks clearly. “I don’t want to do anything. Pretend I’m not here.”
Omori is quiet. “I could switch places with you. The world is still out there,” he says, gesturing to the white door. “Or I could take you with me. Pretend we’re siblings. They wouldn’t question it, if you don’t want them to.”
Sunny stares at the ceiling. The lightbulb is gone. “No. I’m done with it.”
“Why? You’re asleep. It’s not like you’re wasting your days away here. What’s the crime in dreaming at night?”
“If I go back there, I’ll want to stay.”
“It doesn’t have to be one or the other. You can just come here when you’re sleeping naturally. You could see your sister again.”
Sunny’s heart twists. “That makes waking up harder than it already is.”
“Don’t you want to see your friends again?”
“The ones out there aren’t real.” His fists curl at his sides. “I think I’m getting too old for imaginary friends.”
Omori tilts his head. “Do you honestly think you can make any new ones? All the friends you’ve ever made, Mari introduced to you. This is all you have.”
Sunny closes his eyes. “I made you to protect me.”
“You did,” Omori says. He pauses. “I still can, if you want.”
“No,” Sunny replies, very quickly.
There’s a long silence.
“And I have friends,” Sunny tells the ceiling, indignantly.
“Sure,” Omori says, a hint of dry amusement entering his voice.
“Kel texted me today.”
“You didn’t text back.”
“I wanted to.”
“Then why didn’t you?”
Sunny’s quiet. He’s still lying on his back. “I’m still afraid.”
“Right.” Omori taps away on the keyboard. “Sunny, what if all your fears were unfounded? What if you sent the pictures, and Kel just said, looks cool, and then told you about whatever he’s doing?”
Tears suddenly spring to Sunny’s eyes. He’s silent.
“It would be worse, wouldn’t it?” Omori puts down the keyboard, stands up, and leans over Sunny. His gaze is softly compassionate, like he sees right down to Sunny’s soul and pities it. “Because you know you don’t deserve that kindness.”
Sunny wakes up.
He stares at the ceiling for a good few minutes, then wipes his eye and forces himself out of bed.
He checks his phone.
Message from Hero
He almost drops his phone.
He breathes in and out. He needs a lot longer than a few seconds for this one.
Hero is the one he’s afraid of. When Sunny told the truth in the hospital, Hero didn’t say a word. He just left the room. Sunny didn’t see him once before he left. If anyone deserves to hate Sunny, to chew into him, it’s Hero.
Okay. Sunny doesn’t have to deal with this right this second. The thought comforts him, and he stands up, making his way to the bathroom. He takes off his eye patch, and stares at himself in the mirror. The wound is not a pretty thing. He covers it with a new patch, brushes his teeth, and goes to make breakfast—a piece of bread. He doesn’t have the stomach for much else.
Three hours into the day, he checks the message.
Hi Sunny. Just wanted to make sure everything’s ok. How was the move in?
Relief and some unidentifiable frustration fill him. Sunny is happy the message isn’t aggressive and cruel. Sunny thinks it should be.
It’s also frustrating because Sunny can’t answer this.
I’m good. Move in was good.
Except he’s not good.
Move in was good.
And now he’s avoiding a question.
He abruptly realizes that Hero can see him typing.
He puts away his phone.
Sunny is twelve years old, and he is shaking with rage.
His violin lays in pieces on the ground. The sound of wood breaking echoes in the house. He hears rapid stomping coming from his and Mari’s room. She is suddenly there next to him, and she looks down the stairs. He doesn’t look at her facial expression.
“Are you kidding me?” she shouts, high-pitched, her voice sounding on the verge of tears. “Sunny, you—are you actually kidding me?!”
Sunny closes his eyes. He feels his head shake itself. His hands are wringing themselves at his sides.
“That was a gift! Your friends all told you how hard they worked to save up for that! We have a recital today! D-do you realize how ungrateful—“
She’s yelling. The echo of discordant, wrong, incorrect violin notes fill his head. The sound of her own mess-ups, her hiss of frustration, the way she’d briskly say “go back to measure thirty-two” and he didn’t know where that was, and the way he’d lose track of the beat, and she’d shake her head and say for the millionth time “it’s one two three, one two three, it’s a waltz,” and he doesn’t know what that means, and the light is coming in through the window, and he can feel the uneven wood of the floor below his feet, his socks not fitting on quite right, the material of his shirt touching him far too much.
Mari is yelling. Tears fill her eyes with frustration. She doesn’t get it. She thinks he isn’t trying. He is, he is trying so hard and he is simply not good enough, and she’s lived with him his whole life, she should know he can’t do anything for crap. She should know he can’t do it, stand in front of dozens of people and play the song perfectly and not lose track of the beat and play the notes correctly, and then sit still afterwards without having an episode, she doesn’t get it, it’s her fault.
She stands in his way when he tries to leave.
A hand is at his back. He’s being pulled away.
Sunny blinks. He is in the void. Omori is standing next to him.
“Sorry,” Omori says. “I know you said you didn’t want me to do that anymore.”
Sunny’s shaking. He can’t get his breathing to steady.
“We can switch places, if you want,” Omori tells him. “Right now. I can do it. I don’t mind.”
“No,” Sunny manages.
Frustration flits on Omori’s face. “Are you trying to punish yourself? What’s the point of this? There’s no downside, it won’t hurt you, you did it for four years and were fine—“
“I was not fine,” Sunny spits out. He sits down on the cold floor. “I don’t want to switch. Ever again. Drop it.”
Omori’s face smooths out. “Okay.”
“You don’t have to rescue me from nightmares anymore. I have to deal with it myself.”
“You’re happier when you’re me,” Omori points out.
And it’s true, and they both know it. Omori doesn’t speak to the people outside, but they all know what he wants. Omori’s friends accommodate his every need. Omori doesn’t like heights, Omori doesn’t like to be alone. They know everything that makes him tick and they avoid those things flawlessly. Omori’s emotions are clear and show on his face, like everyone else’s. Everyone knows when Omori is furious. Everyone knows when he’s miserable. When Omori does speak, it’s clear, and well put-together. Omori never gets afraid. Omori cannot die.
Sunny closes his eyes. It’s his own fault for making Omori perfect.
Sunny opens his eyes. Omori is depositing Mewo into his arms.
“If you just want to stay here, that’s okay. I’m used to that too.” He goes over to the corner of his little room and picks up his sketchbook. He has two colored pencils: black and red. He flips open a new page, and begins to draw.
Sunny runs his hands through the cat’s fur, and looks up to where the lightbulb used to be.
His eyes close.
The phone’s ringing wakes him up.
He just barely manages to miss the call, but a voicemail pops up soon after. It’s from his mother.
“Hi, Sunny!” His mother’s voice is bright and cheerful as always. “I just scheduled a follow-up appointment with your doctor so they can make sure your eye’s healing right. Mommy hasn’t gotten around to switching your GP to a more nearby one, though, so we’re going to have to drive back to Faraway next week. Just for this appointment, okay? Mommy loves you!”
Sunny’s heart stutters in his chest.
He’s going back to Faraway. This soon?
He breathes. His hands are wringing themselves at his sides.
He knows what the right thing to do is. He can’t go back to what he was doing before. He needs to reach out. He doesn’t know how to do that. He’s never reached out to anyone.
He blows out a breath. That’s okay. Someone already has reached out to him.
He opens his phone and goes to the photo app.
“Hey, Hero! Check out Sunny’s new house!”
Hero turns around at the mention of Sunny’s name, freezing up. Kel falters when he sees his expression.
“Unless you don’t want to?” Kel tacks on, somewhat awkwardly.
“No, it’s fine,” Hero hears himself say. “Let me see.”
Kel holds up his phone. There are several blurry pictures of a normal-looking house on the screen. “I asked Sunny to send some pics the other day, and he finally replied!”
“Did he say anything else?” Hero can’t help but ask.
“Uh,” Kel says, and then his phone pings. Kel stares at the screen, and his eyes widen. “Holy shit.”
“Sunny’s coming back to Faraway Town,” Kel says, dumbfounded. “He’s got a follow-up doctor’s appointment.”
Hero’s heart drops. “What?”
“That’s all he said. Hold on, lemme text back.”
“What are you going to say?” Hero’s voice sounds tight and high-pitched to his own ears.
“I’m gonna ask if he wants to meet up.” Kel sounds calm and confident. Hero is not. Hero feels like he’s falling. “Actually, better idea. Do you have Aubrey’s number? I’m making a group chat.”
Kel: hey guys!!!! roll call!!!!! is everyone in here??? : O
Aubrey: why is there a group chat
Kel: bc i have news you all definitely wanna hear >:)
Hero: Hi everyone!
Kel: i won’t say it until EVERYONE replies to the roll call though.
Aubrey: kel it’s been two hours. i really doubt basil or sunny are gonna say anything.
Kel: boo okay gotta do everything myself around here -_-
Kel: sunny’s coming to faraway town next week!!!!!
Kel: he’s got a doctor’s appointment
Kel: so i was thinking we could all meet up again ^-^
Aubrey -> Kel
Aubrey: what the fuck are you doing
Aubrey: i know you’re dense but on what planet is this a good idea
Kel: look you don’t have to come if you don’t want :< i just wanted to propose the idea.
Basil: Sunny’s coming?
Kel: :D! Hi Basil!
Aubrey -> Kel
Aubrey: did you even ask sunny before telling everyone
Aubrey: does HE even want to see us
Sunny -> Kel
Sunny sent 7 photos.
Sunny: I have a doctor’s appointment. I’m coming to Faraway.
Kel: :OOOOOO REALLY???
Kel: dude let’s meet up!!!
Kel: lemme make a group chat we can all plan it
Aubrey -> Kel
Kel: should i have done that? <:(
Aubrey: ohhh my god kel
Sunny is sixteen years old, and he is freaking out because he got added to a stupid group chat.
This is his fault, anyway. He had hours to tell Kel he did not, in fact, want everyone to know that he was coming. But he didn’t know how to say it.
I don’t want to see anyone. But he does. He should want to. He wants to stay friends, right?
I should see people, but
It’s not that I DON’T want to see you but
Your brother scares me
Aubrey scares me
Basil, who in Sunny’s darkest nightmares has stabbed and stomped over, killed him over and over in rage and bitter hate, who he has also tried to save, who Sunny has dreamed of rescuing, of catching in his arms, bridal-style in a church with the sunlight raining down around them.
Last time he and Basil tried to talk things through, Sunny got his eye stabbed out.
It was his fault. But still.
They’re going to ask him questions about it. It’s just inevitable. They might try to act normal at first, but how long before they start to ask? How long before someone finally passes judgment down onto him?
His phone pings.
Kel: i just realized i should have asked before blabbing to the group chat :< i’m sorry sunny, do you want me to call it off????
Kel: we don’t have to meet up if you’re not ready. no pressure! no judgment from me!
Sunny’s teeth grind. No judgment. That has to be a lie. Kel’s always been nice to him, but Sunny—
Sunny killed somebody.
Sunny killed Mari.
Sunny goes to his room and sits on the bed and covers his ears. He deserves whatever they want to do to him. If he says he doesn’t want to meet up, then nothing’s changed, he’ll just be the same as before, and Omori will be right there, waiting with open arms to tell him I told you so.
Sunny: It’s okay. I want to come.
Sunny is eight years old. He is crying in bed.
“Shhh, it’s okay,” Mari says at his side. She is eleven years old, and now goes to the middle school instead of Sunny’s elementary school. Her hands run down the back of his head, and she is holding him in her arms. “What’s wrong?”
Sunny shakes his head hard.
“Did you have a nightmare?”
Sunny shakes his head again.
Her hand smooths out his hair. “Okay. We don’t have to talk right now.” He rocks a little bit, back and forth, and instead of telling him to stop she follows the motion along with him. “Do you want me to stay here tonight?”
If he could, he would tell her that the kids at school call him a robot and a machine. They joke that he was made in a lab. On Valentines Day, everyone in the class gave each other little heart-shaped cards, and the teacher pulled Sunny aside and said it was rude that he didn’t smile at anybody or thank them when they gave him a card. She said it’s important to show one’s appreciation. But when Mari showed up today after hanging out with her new friend Hero, Sunny was at the door to greet her, and he jumped up and down and waved at her as hard as he could, and Mari turned to Hero with a grin and said “See? He’s happy to see me.”
Mari knows. Nobody else does.
Eight years later, and the only person who can comfort Sunny at night lives in his head.
He opens his eyes. He’s sitting up. He turns around, and Omori is sitting there, leaning forward. He is glaring holes into Sunny.
Sunny gets a bad feeling.
“What are you playing at?” Omori asks icily. “Why are you going to see them? How could that end in anything other than disaster?”
Sunny breathes out. “Do I really have to defend myself in my own head?”
Omori’s teeth pull back. That’s all the warning Sunny gets before his alter-ego jumps at him, knife in hand.
Sunny is bowled over, head hitting the cold floor hard. He shouts (in no real pain, this is a dream, after all).
“They hate you,” Omori spits at him, adjusting the knife’s grip in his hand. His voice is deeper. A bit more like Sunny’s own. “I told you before, they’ll never forgive you. You’re reopening the wound. You’re making things worse. Just let them forget about you.”
“No,” Sunny says, because that’s the best comeback he can ever come up with.
“I don’t get it. You know they’re just going to be mad at you, and hate you, and make you upset.” Omori’s hand shakes. “They’re going to hurt you. They’re going to hurt you.”
“I still want to see them,” Sunny manages. “If they need someone to blame, that’s okay. I deserve that.”
“What if they forgive you?” And Sunny flinches under his grip. “See?! I don’t understand. You’re scared that they’re going to hate you forever. But you want them to hate you forever. You want their forgiveness more than anything, but the idea of them forgiving you makes you sick.” He brings the knife down, and Sunny flinches, but its point sticks into the ground harmlessly, right next to his cheek. “No matter what happens, you’re going to leave there hurt. So what is it that you want?”
“I don’t know,” Sunny whispers, voice shaking. “But I know I want to see them again. So I’m going to go see them.”
Omori bares his teeth. “You’re going to come crawling back to me,” he says desperately. He says it and they both know it’s not a good thing.
“Maybe I will,” Sunny answers. “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”
He reaches for the knife at his side, and before either of them can react, he stabs Omori in the stomach. He doesn’t bleed.
“I hate you,” Omori says.
Sunny doesn’t reply. He just brings his arms up to hug Omori as he collapses, right on top of Sunny.
He closes his eyes and waits to wake up.
Time passes. The appointment comes. The drive to Faraway is quiet, and the appointment is quick. They check his eye, tell him everything’s coming along fine, and give him a prescription for something.
After he leaves the doctor’s, he checks his phone in the car. The plans have been finalized; all his friends are meeting up for a picnic in their old hangout spot. Simple. He turns off his phone and closes his eye until he feels the car slow down. Part of him feels like he’s being delivered to his execution.
“We’re here, honey,” he hears his mother say. Dutifully, he gets out of the car.
It’s a nice, mild day, considering it’s mid August. The basket in his hands is sturdy, full of apples. His mother had insisted that he bring them.
He killed their friend, his own sister, and he’s bringing some apples.
He takes in a deep breath, then lets it out.
“I’m going to drive around, alright, honey?” His mother says, in the car behind him. “Take your time, okay? Text me when you want to go. I love you.”
He turns around and nods at her.
She goes, and he is alone.
He keeps breathing.
He steps into the park, and heads for the woods. His hands shake. They’re going to notice. He breathes out.
When he steps into the clearing, he sees two people.
Kel isn’t here yet.
His chest tightens up. It’s Aubrey and Basil. He wants to turn and run. He won’t. But he wants to.
Aubrey looks up, and sees him.
He breathes in.
He walks forward, nothing but a basket of apples between him and the people he’s hurt so thoroughly.
Basil turns around to see what Aubrey’s looking at. His eyes widen. His cuts and black eye have fully healed.
Sunny’s grip tightens on the basket.
“Sunny,” Basil says, voice wavering. “Y-you came.”
Sunny nods. He sets the basket down on the blanket they’re sitting on. He’s glad that the forest clearing is always very quiet, because even the sound of the birds in the distance is starting to grate on his ears.
He breathes out. He is not going to freak out.
Aubrey is looking away. He feels like, knowing her, she’s going to be willfully quiet. Make him do the talking.
But Sunny’s never done the talking. Ever. So he sits down on the blanket and nods at Basil.
“U-uh…” Basil looks between them, fretfully, then turns around and produces a tiny pot of dirt. “H-here. I brought this. It has tulip seeds in it. I was gonna give it to you when they were fully grown, but since you’re here now, I thought maybe you’d like to grow them. If not I can keep them. It’s okay, I don’t mind.”
Sunny takes the tiny pot, grateful for the distraction. He moves his hand over the dirt, and focuses on the sensation against his palm. “Thank you,” he says. He knows it sounds fake. Rote. Basil was always good at getting what he meant, though.
“I’m sorry about your eye,” Basil gets out in a rush. He’s looking at his hands.
Sunny blinks. “It’s okay. I don’t mind.”
And because he can’t help but ask: “Is Kel coming?”
“He’s running a little late,” Aubrey speaks up. “They’re coming, though.”
They. Hero and Kel, then.
Sunny breathes in.
Basil takes the opportunity to ask questions. Safe, simple questions. How the move in was (fine), how the house is (fine), how the neighborhood is (shrug).
Kel’s arrival is announced by heavy, fast-paced footfalls in the underbrush, and a loud greeting. Sunny breathes out. He turns around. Kel’s running up, waving his arms and grinning, and Hero is behind him, looking down at his shoes.
Sunny breathes in.
“Sunny!” Kel greets him with a hug, and Sunny tightens up at first (he always does) before relaxing slightly. He doesn’t hug back, but he says a muffled “hi, Kel” into his friend’s shoulder.
“We brought sandwiches!” Kel triumphantly lifts a bag and swings it around a little. “Ooh, apples. Did you bring those, Sunny?”
Sunny wishes he could tell Kel how thankful he is. Without Kel, he thinks this friend group would have fallen apart a long, long time ago. Without Kel, Sunny never would have left his house.
His throat tightens.
“So, Sunny,” Kel says cheerfully as he takes out a sandwich, “Are you going back to school? How are things over at your new place?”
Sunny’s stomach tightens. “No,” he begins. Then he hesitates. “Not yet. Good.”
Kel’s eyebrows furrow for a second. I can tell you haven’t talked to people in a while, he had said, the first time they hung out after Mari’s death. Sunny backtracks. God, this is hard.
“No school yet,” he tries. “The new house is good.”
“Ohh,” Kel smiles and nods enthusiastically. “Okay, got it! Sounds good!”
“That’s good to hear.” Sunny startles as Hero speaks. He is looking intently at the picnic blanket. “I’m glad you’re doing well, Sunny.”
He’s lying, it whispers to him. It feels like arms on his shoulders. It feels like something behind him.
He breathes in. He breathes out. His hands are shaking. The sun is bright. He can hear Kel chewing. He can feel the blanket on his legs.
He closes his eye. He is not going to freak out. He is not going to freak out, when they haven’t even started asking hard questions yet. That would be embarrassing.
“Sunny?” His eye snaps open. Basil is looking at him worriedly. “Are you okay?”
“Huh?” Sunny hears himself say.
Basil gestures at the bag. “You can take a sandwich.”
Everyone’s eating. When did they start doing that? He looks at the bag. He’s not hungry. He doesn’t want to eat.
He forces himself to pick up a sandwich. It’s turkey. He’s not really a big fan of turkey. Mari was the one who would make sandwiches. She liked having picnics. She’d make the food with Hero. Why did they pick a picnic. Why did they decide to do this. Why here. He can see the lake in the corner of his eye, where he almost drowned, where Mari saved his life, where he kicked her away. This is wrong. There’s a piece missing. Mari’s supposed to be here.
“Sorry,” he says tightly. He wipes at his eye. His hand is shaking. He cannot cry. He doesn’t want them to comfort him. How wrong would that be, for them to comfort him? But he can’t get up and run away, or else they’d look for him, and that counts as them wasting their concern on him, he’s trapped and he can feel the bread in his hands and his friends are looking at him—
If he’s going to freak out even when nothing is happening, then he’s going to start the hard conversation himself.
“I’m sorry I killed Mari,” he gets out.
And then he just starts crying.
He puts the sandwich down and covers his face, leaning over. He’s supposed to say more, but he can’t get the words out. It’s like there’s something in his chest, a monster, caged and forcing its way out, blocking anything else.
“Sunny…” Kel puts a hand on his back. Sunny can’t look at them. His heart aches.
“This is what I thought was gonna happen,” Aubrey sighs. “We can’t act like things are okay. We can’t go back to the way things were.”
“Do…” Basil’s voice is quiet. “Do you want to talk about it, Sunny?”
“We need to,” he whispers. He sucks in a breath. “None of you need to forgive me.”
“I forgive you,” Kel says.
Everyone else is quiet. Sunny closes his eye.
“I just…” Hero clears his throat. “Honestly, I just…I can’t wrap my head around why.”
Here it comes. Sunny tries to breathe normally, and not cower, or whimper or cry too loud, tries not to show how terrified he is lest it make them soften the blow.
“Why this all needed to happen. I…I am mad. At you two. But…not mad in the way that…” he blows out a breath. “Not mad in the way that makes it…impossible to forgive you.” A pause. “I think I can forgive you. Some day.”
Which means he doesn’t. He doesn’t forgive Sunny, but he might later.
It hurts. It feels right. It’s both. He doesn’t know what he wants. He doesn’t know what he wants.
Aubrey shakes her head. “I just don’t get it. Pushing her, that was an accident, sure. But everything after? I don’t get how you could do it. If you really loved her.”
“Aubrey!” Kel hisses.
He loved her, she was everything to him, and he knows that she loved him too, and that he could do something so awful to her—he doesn’t deserve for them to even be talking to him right now, and yet he is so desperately afraid of them leaving, and he can’t say any of this.
And with that realization comes a million little others, Kel’s hand on his back, the noise, the light, even just the thoughts in his head—
Sunny needs to get away. Right now. Even if they try coming after him, he needs to get out of here or he’s going to do something he shouldn’t.
He gets up, abruptly, and runs.
Kel stands up to go after him, but Basil grabs his shirt.
“Don’t,” Basil murmurs.
“One of us has to!” Kel shouts. “Just…to make sure he’s okay.”
Basil bites his lip. “You remember what Sunny used to be like?”
Basil takes a deep breath.
“It was my idea. To frame it as a…a suicide. I did it because nobody would believe it was an accident.” He twists his hands and keeps going, words falling out in a waterfall. “Y-you guys, you guys didn’t really…talk with him as much as we did, or the way we did…he told me once. That kids at school thought he was sick. They’d call him soulless and stuff, like he had no feelings, and, and he does!
“He doesn’t show it the way other people do. But you can tell, right?” Basil looks up at Kel, eyes starting to fill with tears. “When he’s happy, it’s not in his face, but his—his body, his hands, you know? You remember? But other kids didn’t get it, they just thought he was weird. I thought…I had to do it, or else people would keep calling him a, a psychopath, or worse. What if they took him away, or something? Put him in a hospital? And you know Sunny, he, he hates to be alone, and you just—!”
Basil breaks off into a sob, wiping his eyes as he turns to Aubrey. “You just proved that! That you think of him differently! Y-you really think he didn’t love her?! That he’s a machine, or something?! After everything h-he’s been through?!”
Basil looks up, defiantly, face and eyes red. “I did it because I thought I was protecting him. I regret it, every day, and I never should have done it. But it was my idea. If you need someone to hate, hate me. This is all my fault. Sunny never…Sunny wouldn’t…”
Hero stands up.
“I’ll go get him,” he says.
Aubrey stands as well. “Yeah. I think it’s time we talk.”
Kel looks like he’s about to go too, but he frowns, lowering himself on the blanket.
“I guess this is between them, huh,” Kel says quietly.
Basil just wipes his eyes again, struggling to steady his breathing. “Sunny doesn’t need anymore punishment. He’s been through enough.”
“Yeah.” Kel looks into the distance, where the others are heading after Sunny. “We all have.”
Sunny doesn’t run far. He only gets far enough into the woods where they can’t see him before he collapses, and wraps his hands around his ears like his life depends on it.
It’s spiders. It’s crawling all over him. It’s screaming in his ear and shaking and banging into the tree behind him. It’s telling him to zone out again, leave this place, go back to the dream, dissolve and become nothing in Omori’s arms. It’s telling him none of this is real. It’s telling him to pull out his phone and text his mother to bring him home. It’s telling him to just keep running.
So he covers his ears, and he breathes, and counts backwards from a hundred. The ground below him wavers. He feels like he’s got one foot in reality and another foot sliding towards Omori’s clean, white room.
He closes his eye. Not good.
Something touches his shoulder. He flinches, a full-body shudder away from whatever’s grabbing him, and looks up.
Hero is staring at him, hands raised, eyes apologetic. “Sorry, Sunny, you weren’t responding to us, so I thought…”
He has to uncover his ears. His hands twitch, and he forces them away to hear Hero better. It gets louder, telling him to just fade away, fall asleep, stare at the sky and go somewhere else.
He rolls a blade of grass between his fingers, rocking so that his back gently bumps against the tree, and tries to absorb all his focus into those little sensations. He’s not going to zone out. This is an important conversation. He repeats it in his head.
“Are you okay?” Hero’s voice is low, almost a whisper. “You want to head somewhere quieter?”
Sunny gives his head a single, jerky shake. He’s not sure where they’d even go.
Abruptly, he realizes he’s not going to be able to talk. He knocks his head back onto the tree in frustration.
“Hey.” Hero kneels down next to him, and Aubrey comes up from behind, doing the same. “I know this is really tough for you. It’s tough for all of us.”
Sunny nods. “Sorry,” he tries.
He can tell by the way they stare at him blankly that it didn’t come out quite right. But then after a pause, Aubrey speaks, voice surprisingly soft. “No, I’m sorry, Sunny.”
He closes his eye. The apology feels worse than a condemnation. Relief fills him at the words, and disgust at the relief, and frustration at the disgust. What does he want.
“I think I’m with Hero here,” she continues. “I’m mad. I can’t really see us just…hanging out like nothing’s wrong. I mean, I think I’ll always have thoughts like…why didn’t they just leave her there, and say it was an accident? Why…why do all that?”
Sunny nods. He had those thoughts run through his head endlessly after what happened—until he blocked them all out and stopped thinking at all.
“But I don’t…” she hesitates. “I don’t want…anything bad to happen to you. So I don’t hate you.” Her hands fidget on the ground, before folding in her lap. “I’m sorry about what I said back there. I know you loved Mari. A lot.”
A tear slips out from his eye. He wipes it with the back of his hand, holding back a sob. “I’m sorry,” he whispers.
He gets an idea. He pulls out his phone, and goes to the notes app. He hears Aubrey make a confused, offended noise, but Hero murmurs something to her and they’re quiet. He begins typing.
It takes a while. Sunny’s never been good at getting his thoughts out, in voice or text, but text has always been a bit easier. After a good few minutes, he hands Hero the phone.
I’m so sorry. Every day after Mari died it was hard to stay here. I wanted to sleep all the time. I pretended it wasn’t real. So I could just ignore everything. That was selfish. I didn’t think of anyone else but myself. So you shouldn’t forgive me or apologize. I’m crying because I’m sad not because I want you to feel bad for me so it’s okay if you hate me because you should.
“Sunny…” Hero blows out a breath. “No. Don’t—Don’t think like that. You don’t deserve any more pain. I don’t want you to suffer.” He leans in, looking into Sunny’s good eye. “I’ll make the choice to forgive you, okay? You don’t have to worry about that. It’s our choice to make.”
“I-I hurt you.” He hurt them and let them all just sit in it. For four years. “I-I don’t—deserve—“
Gently, Hero hugs Sunny, pulling him in. It’s loose enough that Sunny could pull away, if he wanted. “My choice to make,” Hero repeats, and runs his hand along Sunny’s hair, like Mari used to.
“Same here,” Aubrey says. She doesn’t join the hug, but puts a kind hand on Sunny’s shoulder. “Sorry buddy. We’re here.” She gives a small smile. “Whether you like it or not. I think…I think that’s how Mari would want it.”
Sunny closes his eye, and he cries.
The world passes by in a blur, the car window cool against Sunny’s cheek. His mother had asked a few questions about how the day was, but stopped as soon as she realized Sunny was only answering in nods and shrugs. His phone pings at his side, and he looks down at it.
GROUP CHAT !!!
Kel: ok so when we meeting next >:]
Hero: Haha, not sure. When’s your next doctor’s appointment, Sunny?
Aubrey: let the man BREATHE
Basil -> Sunny
Basil: It was nice seeing you today.
Basil: I think…things might actually be getting okay.
Basil: Someday. :)
Sunny: i’ll text you when i get home. :)
GROUP CHAT !!!
Sunny: It was nice seeing all of you.
Sunny: I’ll ask my mom when we can meet again.
He smiles, slightly, and lets his phone drop into his lap. He hugs Basil’s little pot of dirt and tulip seeds to his chest as he stares out the window, and his eye slides shut.
He opens his eyes, and he is staring at a white ceiling.
“Hi,” he hears.
Sunny turns, and sees Omori, drawing in his sketchbook. Mewo is curled asleep at his side.
“I’m sorry I said I hated you,” Omori says without preamble. He flips a page. In his hand is a blue colored pencil. “I mean, I think I at least half-meant it. You’re the reason why everything isn’t perfect in here. Why I have to go into Blackspace and stop things from coming out. That’s not pleasant. Sometimes I have to come pull you out of a breakdown. Sometimes bad things even show up out there.” He gestures towards the door. “But without you I wouldn’t exist. So I don’t hate you completely.”
Sunny takes a while to respond.
“Without you, I would have killed myself those first few weeks.” He’s never said that before, but he knows it’s true. He closes his eyes, a strange, bitter shame burning in his throat. “Still, at some point...or maybe all along…you started holding me back. But you still helped me. So I don’t hate you completely either.”
“I’m not going out to Headspace anymore,” Sunny explains. “I’m sorry.”
“Okay. I’ll be here if you ever change your mind.”
“I won’t.” A beat. “Thanks, anyway.”
Omori takes out a purple colored pencil. “It’s okay.”
Sunny glances up at him. “Where’d you get those? I thought we only ever had red and black.”
Omori looks at the pencil like he’s just noticed it. “Oh. I don’t know. I think they just showed up one day.”
There’s a silence.
“Here. There’s still time before you have to wake up.” Omori turns to him and holds out a pencil, its wood a deep olive color. “Do you want to draw with me?”