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    The sounds of cards swiping and trains running on tracks filled the station. Taku swiped a card of his own, adding to the noise, and he walked up the stairs to the platform with a blank mind. He walked next to some girls and stood idly, facing the trains when his eye caught somebody familiar across the other side. He let out a small gasp. 

    Taku’s once blank mind now raced with thoughts. He took a couple steps forward, and for a slight moment, he saw the girl on the other side look up from her book and into his eyes, right before a train rode past and blocked his view.

    He sped back down the stairs, through the station and up to the other platform, but she wasn't there. He sighed, looking down at his feet in disappointment. 

    But he looked back up again, and just to his right, not far away stood the very same girl, in the very same dress. 

    The wind brushed her hair up, and Taku smiled. The girl bowed. 

    “It’s nice to see you again,” he said, “Rikako.”

-

 

    Yutaka and I met Rikako two years ago. It was the summer of our junior year.

 

-

    Taku scrubbed the plates cleanly, inspecting them to make sure there was no bit of grime on them at all. His summer job was tiring at times, but it gave him the money he needed.

    He was a hard worker, and he always got the job done. He’d even worked overtime before. 

    But of course, he’d drop it all for a certain someone.

    “Hurry up, kid! More dishes! Keep em comin’!”

    “Okay!” Taku called out, continuing to scrub away.

    As he placed another dish onto the rack, one of the restaurant owners called out, “Taku, telephone!”

    “Coming!” 

    He pat his wet hands down on his apron and picked up the pretty pink phone. “Hello?”

    “Taku?”

    Taku brightened up. He wouldn’t have wanted the call to be from anybody else. “Hey, Yutaka! Whatcha calling for?”

    “Come to school as soon as you finish today. I’ll be here waiting for you.”

    “Ok, I’ll see you there!” He hung up the phone and called out, “Sorry, I have to leave early today,” already undoing his uniform. 

    “Now, wait a minute!” the manager called out as he ran off. 

     I wouldn’t want to keep Taku waiting, after all, he thought. 

    “See you tomorrow!” Taku called out to the chef. He ran outside and jumped onto his trusty bike before speeding off. “See you!” he called out to his coworker. 

    Biking was a peaceful thing to Taku. It was an everyday occurrence, a habit he’d made. His bike was there to bring him anywhere he wished, of course except for anywhere it couldn’t. He normally loved to watch the scenery, to soak in the view around him and feel like an anime protagonist in an aesthetically pleasing show. But today, even as he sped past the attractive sights, they couldn't beat out the truly important view in his mind. 

     Yutaka. 

    He parked his bike by the outside of the school before dashing off to find his friend. He ran into Yutaka’s classroom, where he leaned outside a window. “Yutaka!” he called. 

    Yutaka turned to look at him. Taku’s heart skipped a beat. “You got here fast.”

    “You told me to!” he defended. “And I’d go for you if you asked.” 

    “Take a look,” Yutaka said, looking back out the window. Taku followed his line of sight. He leaned outside of the window for a better look.

    “Who is it? I can’t see.”

    “Just transferred to my class. Her name’s Rikako Muto.”

    “From next semester?”

    “Yeah.” 

    “A mid year transfer?” He leaned onto a desk. “That’s unusual.”

    “She moved here from Tokyo, that’s why.” He looked back. “I just showed her around the school.”

    “That’s right, you’re on the student council.” His heart slightly deflated. “You really like her, huh?”

    “Anyone would, she’s really good looking.”

    “Really?” He ran back up to the window. She can’t be that attractive. “I can’t tell, and we can’t just walk down and look.”

    “If you want, we can go down and say we have a question.”

    “Nah, we don’t have to go that far.” I can’t believe you’d want to go that far in the first place. Taku grabbed his bag. “The teachers know I’m working this summer and not taking classes.”

    “Still mad about the junior high trip?”

    “I don’t like the way they just cancelled it and tried to buy us off with Hawaii in high school. Do they think we’re stupid?”

    He walked down the hallway, and Yutaka followed. “Everyone’s excited about Hawaii. I think it was a good move. A relaxing trip will help us cram for college exams.”

    “Hawaii’s expensive. I need to make some money.”

    “Just remember to keep up with your studies. Don’t fall behind.”

    “Sure. By the way, was there something you wanted to talk about?”

    Yutaka looked at the ground, like there was something he couldn’t say. “Not really. I just felt like seeing you.”

    A smile overtook Taku’s face before he could stop it. He couldn’t describe it, but he felt good. “I’ll get my bike. Wait by the gate.”

-

 

     All through junior high school and high school, Yutaka and I were never in the same class. Even so, I always felt like he was a close friend. 

    It all started in our last year of junior high school when the school trip to Kyoto was suddenly cancelled. 

 

-

    “We regret to announce that this year’s junior high school trip has been cancelled. In the future, junior high and high school trips will be combined.” The students broke out in protest. “Last year our college placement results were lower than the prefectural high schools. Our school’s proud traditions and your obligations to your parents make this completely unacceptable! To restore our school’s honor, the high school seniors must redouble their efforts. You must set an example for our junior high seniors.” The speakers clicked off and students started to chatter in complaints once again.

    Taku, however, did not. No, he kept his hand by his mouth as he stayed in deep thought. 

    His deep thoughts were broken by his friend calling his name. “Let’s go see Ms. Sayama. Come on, Taku!”

    “Huh?”

-

    

    The whole thing was so stupid that we decided to complain to our homeroom teacher. 

 

-

    “We all think this is unfair,” Taku said, his class nodding in agreement behind him. “Cancelling the trip won’t help our grades. The school owes us a detailed explanation.”

    The teacher behind Ms. Sayama slammed his hands on his desk, his ash tray jumping and clattering down from the impact. “Come back when your grades are in the top 100!”

    Taku felt annoyance rise up in him. “But I’m at 89 already!” he retorted.

    The teachers behind him chuckled. Embarrassed, he snapped, “Don’t pressure Ms. Sayama just because she’s a woman!”

    The annoyance in him rose even higher. Angry, he marched off, unwilling to talk to the frustrating teachers who stole away their group trip without a decent reason why. 

-

 

    We thought that was the end of the matter. But a week later, at the morning assembly-

 

-

    The principal tapped the mic. “Your parents have also approved the trip cancellation. If you’re still not satisfied, we’ll explain the decision. Raise your hand if you’re still not satisfied.”

    Taku still felt frustrated. This whole matter was so unfair; there were students who were still doing well in the grade, like him! Seriously, he was already at 89, so why did he have to have his trip cancelled just because of some other students? 

    Nervously, knowing that he might get in trouble for this, he raised his hand, shutting his eyes tightly all the while. But when he heard students around him gasp, he peeked an eye open and turned to see another hand up. The girl next to him moved her head, revealing the hands’ owner. Pride and relief swelled up in him. “He’s got guts,” the girl said to her friend. 

-

 

     It was Matsuno Yutaka.

    Of course it was.

 

-

    “We’ll explain the decision for students who raised their hands. Go to the art room after school. Dismissed!”

-

    Taku stepped into the art classroom, which was filled with busts and canvases. He looked at the chalkboard. On it was written, Write your opinions on the paper provided. 

    He took a piece of paper and a pencil and sat down at a desk. He scritched out a few words. 

3rd Year, Class 3

Morisaki Taku

    He tapped the paper with his pencil a couple times before beginning to write. 

 

The trip cancellation makes no sense. It’s only to make the teachers and parents feel better. It’s a pity attempt. 

 

    He set down his paper and stood by the window, watching the clouds drift across the purple and pink sky when Yutaka walked in. He read the chalkboard, took a piece of paper and proceeded to walk towards Taku. “I ran into Yamao and the others just now. They’re sorry for not coming. Don’t hold it against them.”

    Taku sighed. “Those jerks. At least you came through.” 

    “You did too,” Yutaka replied. “I knew you would. That’s why I raised my hand so quick.”

    Taku’s heart pounded a bit at the compliment. He walked towards Yutaka and leaned down to read what he was writing. Yutaka looked up at Taku and smiled fondly.

3rd Year, Class 4

Matsuno Yutaka

I can’t agree with this unreasonable decision. Even 10, 20 years after I graduate, I’ll still think the school was wrong. 

    “Wow!” Taku said, sitting down at the table next to him and looking out the window. “You’re thinking 20 years into the future already.” A breeze tickled his hair. “You’re amazing.”

    “You think?” Yutaka said behind him. 

    “Uhuh,” Taku replied. “The best.”

    If he’d looked behind him, he would’ve seen Yutaka wearing a smile that said he had just been charmed.

-

 

    After that, I always thought of Yutaka… a bit differently than my other friends.

 

-

    Taku was walking his bike to the school when he noticed Yutaka standing by the gate, a girl with long hair right in front of him. Yutaka waved, and the girl turned.

     Who’s this?  he thought. 

    “This is my friend, Morisaki Taku.” He gestured towards the girl. “This is Rikako Muto. She’s transferring to my class.”

     Huh, Taku thought, she’s not that pretty after all. 

    “See you then!” Rikako said to Yutaka before walking off. “See you next semester!”

    When she was out of earshot, Taku said, “What, you made your move already?!” Is she really that great for you?  he thought with a pinch of salt.

    “Huh? No, she asked me where the bookstore was. She needs to buy her textbooks.”

    Taku hummed. 

-

    “The cook where I work is this former gang member,” Taku said. The two boys were walking through the mall, which bustled with people. “Sometimes his old habits come out, like the way he squats when he smokes.”

    Yutaka stopped in his tracks. 

    “What?” he asked.

    “Do you think there’s something behind her transfer?” Yutaka said.

    “Eh?” Oh. So that’s it. That’s the real reason Yutaka wanted to see me. He wanted to sigh. Why call me over to talk about a girl I don’t even like?  “Maybe her dad got transferred or something like that.” He kicked Yutaka, who laughed and speedily kicked him back. 

    Yutaka turned with a smile, and held up a hand to wave. “See you.”

    Taku watched him in disappointment and annoyance. 

    Why’d he have to leave?

-

 

     It really irritated me when I realized… that Yutaka was interested in Rikako.

    Better forget it! Girls are only interested in looks. I thought she’d never see his real value. Not the way I do.

    When the new term started, Rikako was a bit of a sensation with us simple country boys. 

 

-

    The ball soared through the air, and the opposing team gasped as they tried to chase it. 

    Taku, tired, sat down on the steps alongside his classmates as they all got a rest. Soccer was hard sometimes. 

    Yamao tapped Taku’s shoulder. “Hey Taku, get a look at the girls!”

    Taku, unimpressed, turned his head. “Hmm? Ariga, right?” Ariga was a girl who had big boobs. It got her pretty popular with the boys. “I know, they’re big.” I’m still unimpressed by it, he thought as he turned his head again to watch Yutaka play.

    “No! The far court!”

    He turned his head again, interest slightly piqued when he saw Rikako playing tennis. She was playing exceptionally. 

    “She’s really cool,” he said, impressed by her tennis prowess.

    “She just beat the tennis club captain!” 

    In the boys locker room, they continued to talk about her skill, which could be heard from outside. Yutaka walked out of the locker room, dressed when Taku passed him to go inside. “Rikako really stands out, huh?” he said. You like her, he thought, I guess she has to be cool. 

    “I don’t know why you’d say that,” Yutaka said before walking off, never even turning to look at him.

    Huh?  “Oi, Matsuno!” Taku chased after him as he turned the corner, stumbling over his feet as he ran up to the boy.

    Yutaka wiped his glasses on his shirt and put them back on. “Sorry. Rikako’s out of place in class. I think it’s because she stands out too much.”

    Taku didn’t know whether to feel if this was a good or bad thing. “Out of place, huh?”

    “Yeah.. in lots of ways.” He walked off, and Taku watched for a second longer before sighing and going his own way.

-

     12

    Rikako Muto

 

    Students gossiped quietly over the rankings posted. “She’s already 12th in our year,” Taku said in disbelief. 

    “Sports and study,” Yamao said, “she’s a super woman! Let’s see, Taku, you’re-”

    “Number 92,” Taku said, obviously peeved. Damnit, how could she have done this? And Taku was so proud of his top 100 ranking score, but she beat that already by a long shot, and she’d only been in school for a week or two. 

    “You were a better student in junior high,” Yamao laughed. Taku pouted, sending him a side glare.

    Rikako walked down the stairs that moment, uncaring and aloof. 

    “What an attitude,” the girl next to Taku said.

    “She’s so stuck up!”

    “That’s enough!” Akiko, a sort of uptight girl, said. “Stop gossiping. Time for class!”

    Taku’s eyes followed Rikako, who stopped by her class doorway for a second before walking in, shoulders solemn.

    “What’s wrong? Got a crush on Rikako?” Yamao commented. Yeah, right. 

    “No, but she doesn’t seem very happy.”

    Yamao slapped his back good heartedly. “Oh, come off it. She’s 12th. 12th!”

    Who cares, he thought, you can be smart and unhappy. 

-

    “I heard you have a new transfer?” Taku’s mom said, handing him a bowl of rice. 

    He took it and began to eat. “Yeah. Why?”

    “I hear her grades are excellent. Tokyo students really are top notch.”

    “How did you hear?” he asked, food still in his mouth.

    “They were talking about it in town. Rikako’s family is related to the Mutos of Muto fruit packing.” Still unimpressed, he continued to eat. “Her mother moved back for family reasons. She brought the two children to live with her.”

    “Maybe her parents got divorced,” he suggested. “Is her father still in Tokyo?”

    “I wonder.”

    He stood up. “I’m full,” he announced. 

    “Atsushi, mind your table manners!” his mom reprimanded Taku’s little brother. 

    “Poor Rikako,” Taku said, walking towards the couch to watch tv. “With her grades, she’ll just go back to Tokyo for college. Kids sure get jerked around.”

    “Now don’t talk like that!” his mother said. “A mother needs her children with her!”

    Annoyed, he replied, “You don’t need to get upset about it.”

    “Relocating is a tough decision!” she reprimanded. “She can’t leave them behind just for school! It’s natural for her to want them with her!”

    Whatever, he thought, shouldn’t you care about the child’s happiness as well? As a parent, shouldn’t you take account what your child wants other than just your own needs? Parents are kinda dumb. 

    “Speaking from experience, huh?” he commented.

    “Now you be nice to Rikako!” she said. “She must be having a hard time adjusting.”

    He rolled his eyes. “Sure, sure.” He turned to watch the TV, which began to play a superhero show. His brother loved this one.

-

    Taku snored lightly, a magazine on his face as music played on his CD player. His window was open, and his curtains waved gently from the breeze. Downstairs, the phone began to ring.

    “Taku!” his mom called. “Taku! Telephone!”

    He woke up, the magazine falling off him. “OK!” he called back. He set the magazine aside. Who could be calling me?

    “Hello?” he said. Yutaka spoke back, and he smiled. “Hey, Yutaka. What’s going on?”

    “Well…”

    “What?” he replied, moving the telephone with him all the way to the wall of the stairs. He sat down, right hand playing with his left slipper and foot. 

    “It’s not really that important,” Yutaka said. 

    “Huh?”

    “I visited Rikako today!” Yutaka said, voice excited. Taku’s stomach churned. Oh, well, that’s not good, he thought.

    “Where? At her house?”

    “She was out sick! I heard she lives alone. I was worried.”

    “She lives alone?” Taku’s brother ran past. “Her mother’s house isn’t that far from school.” Trying to not sound down, he asked, “And you went to see her? Alone?” He played with the hem of his pant sleeve.

    “Yeah. And… she was alone in bed!” Don’t go making me feel even worse, now.

    “She was in bed. So?” 

    “Nothing. That’s it. That’s all.”

    “Mmm.”

    Taku turned his CD player off and sat down in his chair, looking out by his window. The stars were out tonight, and the view was beautiful. So pretty; he really did feel like a nostalgic anime mc. However, his thoughts were downturned, regardless of the scenery.

     So you like that kind of girl, do you, Yutaka?

    Would you ever like a kind of guy?

-

 

     The year ended, and March came… and with it, the long awaited school trip. 

    And it was here that all the trouble started. 

 

-

    “Taku!” He closed his Hawaii pamphlet. “You’re not going to the beach?”

    “Today’s our last day!”

    “I’ve had an upset stomach all day,” he replied.

    “Too bad! See you, then!”

    “Yup!”

    “So long!”

    Taku turned, looking down below the balcony he stood on and at his classmates, lounging on beach chairs and swimming under the sun. He turned away and walked inside. 

    “Taku!” He turned, and saw Rikako looking at him. “Could you lend me some money?” She walked towards him.

    “Money?” he parroted. “What happened? Did you run out?”

    “Well.. not exactly. I lost all the money I had with me!”

    “That’s awful!” But how do you even do that?   “Did you tell the teacher? With traveler’s checks, you can get your money back.”

    “I’ll get in trouble.”

    “Don’t be silly, you’ve got to report this!” No, seriously though, how do you do this? 

    She began to giggle. “I’m sorry. Your Kochi dialect reminds me of samurai movies.” He blinked. Well, that felt offensive. Offensive as hell. “Want to sit down?” As they sat, she said, “Let me tell you what happened. I mostly brought cash. Traveler’s checks are a pain, so…”

    “Cash? You mean dollars?”

    “Right, about $400 in cash. I must have left it somewhere.”

    “That much? We were supposed to bring less than 20,000 yen in cash! The rest was supposed to be traveler’s checks.”

    “Nobody really does that!” she snapped back. “You sound like one of the teachers!” So what? The hell does it matter if I do?! “Are you a goody goody?” He was annoyed as hell. Following the rules suddenly makes me a goody goody? Sorry that I’m not a law breaker too. “Too bad. I heard you were different.” WHAT’S THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN?  he thought, real annoyed. Wow, and you’re trying to get me to give you MONEY? Hah. Find a better method to do so, don’t you think?  

    “Not my fault I’m not a weirdo rule breaker rebel. And your Tokyo dialect sounds so harsh,” he retorted after cursing her out mentally for a few seconds. 

    “Why? I’m not angry!” Wow, really? Couldn’t tell, he thought sarcastically. 

    “And I’m not a samurai!” he replied, mad. 

    “You’re mean, Taku.” This jerk, he thought. I can’t believe Yutaka likes her. You should find somebody else. Somebody better. “Nobody ever called me harsh. Is that how I sound?”

    “Yeah. Everyone thinks so. But they’re afraid you’ll say they sound like samurai.” 

    “OK, I’m sorry,” she laughed, “I didn’t mean to make fun of you. You hear dialects in dramas, right? I thought dialects were all gone. But Kochi people really talk that way. I was shocked. Still, I never told anyone I felt that way, til today.”

    “Better not to,” he agreed.

    “At first I couldn’t understand a word. I kept asking people to say things twice. Maybe that’s why people don’t like me.”

    “Who doesn’t like you?” Besides me. Well, Yutaka likes you, so I suppose I should too, though.

    “Everybody. Boys especially.” You couldn’t be more wrong, he thought snidely. “Nobody talks to me. Well, except Yutaka, the class representative. He’s nice.”

    Taku smiled. “Yeah, Yutaka’s a good guy. Did he tell you about me?” I hope he did.

    “Yes. I saw you working at the restaurant during the winter vacation. Yutaka was with me. He said you work really hard. Then he told me a lot about you. Like your protest over the cancelled school trip.”

    He felt a weird sense of pride fill him. “He told you about that?”

    “You must have a lot of money from your job, right?”

    He stood up. Okay, Yutaka, maybe you’re right. She’s kinda nice. “Okay, how much?”

    She lit up. “What can you spare?”

    “I brought about 60,000 yen and $400. I haven’t spent much. How about $300?”

    “Really? Then could you lend me the 60,000 yen?”

     What did she just ask?  he thought, shocked. Is she serious?  She was serious. “Wait here,” he said after seeing her expression. He got into the elevator. “Sixty thousand yen!” he said, shocked. 

    He stepped back out, money now in hand.

    “Much obliged, Mr. Morisaki!” she said. 

    “Should I give it to you right here?”

    “You’re pretty cautious. Ok, you sit right there. Put it in this handkerchief and hand it to me.”

    “Feels like we’re doing something illegal.” He handed it to her, and she put it in her purse before standing up, a whole new air to her. She was warm and talkative before, but now she felt cold and standoffish. 

    She took a few steps before she said, “I probably can’t pay you right away. I’m expecting some money, though.”   

    “Pay me back anytime.” Hopefully soon, though.

    “Please don't tell anyone about this.”

    “Sure, but why?”

    “Mama would yell at me.”

    “‘Mama,’” he said incredulously. He watched her step into the elevator before sinking into his seat. “What’s her story?”

    He looked to his left and gulped. There stood Yutaka, in shorts in a green shirt. His shorts were very short. Yes. As shorts do. 

    “Hey,” Yutaka waved.

    Taku tugged at his shirt collar. “I’m surprised she knew so much about me!” he laughed, attempting to brush off his nervous feelings. “So you guys are friend. Dating, huh?”

    “That wasn’t a date. I ran into her on vacation. I asked her to a movie and she said yes.” Relief was definitely felt. “I couldn’t think of a thing to say. We passed your restaurant so I started talking about you.” Taku didn’t know whether this was a good thing or not. Should he feel glad that he was thinking about Taku, or should he feel annoyed that he was just a side conversation bit on a date with somebody else? “It really helped.”

    “Maybe, but I just got hit up for a loan.”

    “Rikako asked you for a loan?”

    “Yeah, I walked by and she said she lost her money. Maybe she remembered I made money over the break.”

    “So she lost all her money? Poor thing!” Maybe YOU should have given her the money instead of me, Taku thought bitterly. “Want to walk around?”

    “Sure!” he said eagerly.

    “Wait a sec, I’ll leave my stuff.”

-

    The noise of happy chatter was mixed in with the sound of cheerful music playing over the speakers. It smelled like Hawaiian food mixed in with the smoke from the grills and fires. The weather was an odd mixture of warm from the torches and cold from the regular night temperature. 

    Taku ate the food off his plate as he looked out at the view. It was a gorgeous sunset, going from dark, midnight blue to purple, to a magenta, a coral sort of pink and yellow, and all over a large, vast sea. 

    He felt somebody tap his shoulder. He turned and saw Rikako. “Oh!”

    “I said not to tell,” she said, looking betrayed. “You already told Yutaka!” Huh? I did? Well, I guess I never thought he counted! He’s too great of a guy to tell anybody else, anyways. 

    “Huh? What did he say?”

    “He offered to lend me money!”

    “See? Isn’t he a good guy?”

    “I borrowed 20,000 yen… but really, keep this a secret!! You’re awfully chatty for a boy!” She stormed off into the crowd.

     That was so incredibly rude for somebody who just borrowed 60,000 damn yen from me! And wasn’t that sexist? Misandrist!!  “What was that?” he said, mad. “How did her parents raise her?!” Tokyo parents must be real damn lax or something!

-

 

     The next day, we returned to Kochi, and I bought some candid shots of Rikako from a friend that I then eagerly crossed out. I felt like getting even. And I thought that was it for my bad feelings. But next term, we ended up in the same class. 

    Rikako finally made a friend. A quiet girl in the same class. Her name was Yumi Kohama. That was nice for her… but then the May holidays came and I still didn’t have my money. I thought she’d forgotten it.

 

-

    Taku sat as his desk, writing in his photo book when his door received a knock and opened. “Taku, telephone! It’s Yumi Kohama.”

    He walked downstairs and received the call. “Is that you, Yumi? Where are you calling from?”

    “You’re the only person I could think to call!” she said, sounding distraught.

    “What happened?”

    “We were going to Osaka for two nights… for a concert. No we’re at the airport and Rikako says she’s going to Tokyo! That was her plan all along! She doesn’t know I’m calling you.”

    “Unbelievable!” The nerve of this girl!  he thought acidically.

    “She says there’s no difference where we go. Rikako even bought two tickets to Tokyo. I don’t want to go to Tokyo!”

    “Look, calm down! You don’t have to go! Just leave and let Rikako go by herself.”

    “I can’t! Her mother let her go because I’m with her!” He made a funny face at the phone. Wow, and Rikako was all on HIM for being a ‘goody goody.’ “She really wants me to go. What should I do?”

    “What should you do- wait a minute! Me?”

    “She told me you lent her the money for the tickets.” She did WHAT?!   “You’re her friend.. can’t you convince her? Please come to the airport. Our flight is at 11:30. We’ve got 90 minutes. I really need you to come!” She ended the call, and he groaned in frustration.

    “That money again!” He pulled a red jacket on and started to run.

    He sat in a cab and pouted, annoyed (and rightfully so). So she didn’t really lose her money. It was a lie! It was just part of her plan for this trip! What a JERK! I bet she even cheat Yutaka out of his stuff, and Yutaka doesn’t deserve that! Jerk, jerk, JERK!

    He walked through the airport doors and Yumi grabbed his jacket in excitement. “Taku! You came!”

    “Where is she?”

    “In the restroom. Says she’s not feeling well. I wish she’d get worse. Then we wouldn’t have to go!” Same! 

    “Anyway, she’s way out of line!” Taku snapped. “You’re her friend. You should tell her off!”

    “She really wants to see her father. I feel sorry for her.”

    “Her father?”

    Rikako made her way over. “What are you doing here? Did Yumi call you?”

    “Rikako! Let’s not lie about this trip! Let’s tell your mother!”

    “She’d never let me go! I’ve been planning this for so long.” She started to wipe her eyes.

    Feeling pity, Taku said, “Wait a minute. OK, how about this. Yumi, call home and say you feel sick and can’t go.”

    “But…”

    “And Rikako is going by herself, because it would be a shame to waste both tickets. Your parents will worry only about you. They won’t think about Rikako.” Good, they shouldn’t. 

    “You’re right! My mom doesn’t know Rikako’s mom, she won’t say anything!”

    “OK, fine,” Rikako begrudgingly agreed. 

    She ran off. “I’ll call her!”

    “Yumi’s from a strict family. She’s not going to just run off to Tokyo like that.” He looked down and saw Rikako staring ahead with a focused expression. Damn, what’s up with her?  “So you’re not feeling well?

    “My period just started. Sometimes it’s really bad.” 

    “It must be tough.”

    “Boys don’t know what it’s like.” Well, duh, because I don’t bleed 24/7 for a week. Am I supposed to?

    “Do you really have to go?”

    “I’ll get your money from Papa. Don’t worry, I’ll pay you.”

    “If you’re worried about going alone, shall I go with you?”

    “Really?” Her entire demeanor suddenly changed, like back at the trip to Hawaii. She went from a rude, standoffish girl to warm and bubbly in a flash. Wow, bipolar. “Would you really do that?”

-

    Yeah, he would, since now, he was in a plane next to her. “Hey, listen,” he took out an earbud. “Your father knows you're coming, right? Is he expecting you?”

    “No, I doubt it.”

    “Could he find a place for me to stay?”

    “Sure. I’ll ask him. When I see Papa, I'm going to tell him. I want to move back to Tokyo and live with him.” 

    She looked back outside the window. The clouds looked nice.

-

 

     As I followed Rikako around Tokyo, I thought- “She’s done it to me again.” But I couldn’t just let her go to Tokyo by herself. Even though she stole my money and insulted my accent and I a bunch of times, I’m too nice to do that. 

 

-

    “The cherry trees around here are really nice,” she spun. “This is the best part of town. My grandparents used to live here. This was all farm land. They built apartments and we got the nicest one. It was big even for four of us. I bet Papa’s lonely.” 

    “He’ll be glad to see you.”

    When they reached her apartment, he stared, slightly surprised. Wow, it really was big. 

    “It’s good to be back!” She waved into the camera.

    “Who is it?” a female voice said. Rikako stopped, surprised.

    “Um, isn’t this the Mutos?”

    “Yes, that’s right.”

    “Um… is Papa home?”

    “Is that Rikako? I’ll come down, wait in the lobby!”

    Well, Taku wasn’t dumb. He could guess what happened, and not gonna lie, he was feeling sorry for her. And also kind of mean for all the catty things he thought about her. But it was still pretty justified, so it was fine. The door opened, and Taku sat down in the lobby. It was nice and clean.

    “What a surprise! I didn’t know you were coming. Are you alone?”

    “My boyfriend from Kochi.” Taku stood up. I am NOT your boyfriend, he thought as he bowed. Why would you introduce me as that?  “It’s the May holidays. We came to visit.”

    “Oh, really? Thanks for looking after Rikako. Shall we go for coffee?”

    “I want to see my old room! How’s it look?”

    “Ok, let’s go up. I’m sorry… could you wait here for a while?” He asked Taku.

    “Sure.” He didn’t want to spend time with Rikako more than he had to. She really wasn’t all that fun to be around. He let out a sigh and sat back down on the couch. A woman walked down the stairs and out the door. I can guess who that is. He waited in the lobby for a while, bored and slinking down on different parts of the couch.

    The elevator door slid open. “Taku, thanks for putting up with Rikako. I hear you don’t have a place to stay? I made a reservation. And Rikako owes you money. Thank you very much.” He handed Taku money and a card. Taku bowed and walked out the door.

-

 

     I really felt sorry for her- from the bottom of my heart. 

 

-

    “Hi, mom?”

    “Ah, Taku? It’s almost dinner time. Come home.”

    “Look, I can’t make it tonight.”

    “Ok, we’ll go ahead. Don’t be too late.”

    “I’m in Tokyo.”

    “Tokyo?! How did you get there?”

    “I took a plane straight to Tokyo.”

    “What?”

    “I’m escorting someone.”

    “Escorting?! Who?”

    “I’ll be home in two days.”

    “What’s going on? Hello? Hello?” 

    Somebody knocked the door. “I’ll explain later! Goodbye!”

    “Taku, wait-” He hung up and opened the door, where Rikako stood. 

    “Rikako!” She let out a cry and ran in. “What happened?”

    “I’m staying here. Papa’s paying so I can stay here if I want.”

    “Hey..” She continued to sob as he watched uncomfortably when she ran to him and clutched onto his shirt in a hug. He jolted back in surprise. 

     WHAT DO I DO?  he freaked. I don’t want to hug her back! Nooo… 

 

-

 

     The whole thing was starting to feel like a bad soap drama… 

 

-

    He opened the fridge. “Want some beer, Rikako?” She shook her head. “No? We drink it sometimes when no one’s around.” Yutaka’s funny when drunk. 

    “Make me a whiskey and Coke.” He handed it to her. “I tried it when at a friend’s house.” She downed it and handed it to Taku. “Papa’s going on a trip with his lady friend.”

    “Well, it is the May holidays,” he laughed awkwardly. 

    “My room was completely changed! The wallpaper’s dark green. I hate green!”

    He handed her another cup. “You’re right. Green’s no good!” She downed it once more. 

    “All the pots are fancy enamelware! It’s so stupid! Nobody uses enamelware anymore!” She poured herself more. “Listen, Taku. When my parents were fighting, I thought Mama was wrong. She wouldn’t give in so papa didn’t either. It ended in a bad divorce. My brother and I had to move and leave all our friends. I was on Papa’s side. But he wasn’t on my side.”

    “On your side? Wait…”

    “My life is so sad.”

    “Things must be tough but you should help your mother. You shouldn’t be living by yourself.”

    “I didn’t want to impose on Mama’s family. I wasn’t mad at her.”

    “Well, that’s different…”

    “It’s none of your business.” Then why tell me about it? Confusing. He sighed, and stood up. He pressed play on the tv.

    “Good evening,” it said. “How are you spending the May holidays?” He looked back and saw she’d passed out. 

    “Ack!” He took the glass out and set it on the table. Taku covered her in a blanket and sighed. “Ouch!” he slipped on his foot. Seeing as how Rikako was sleeping in the bed, he couldn’t sleep there. So he resorted to the bathtub. 

    He tried to get comfortable, so he could sleep. But even if he was comfortable, his mind would be keeping him up anyways. I wonder what Yutaka sees in her, he thought, he doesn’t even know what she’s really like. I feel sorry for her though, I do, but she’s so mean and for no good reason. I think Yutaka ought to get some taste. Hmph. And what’s up with everybody caring about only her? She’s having a tough time? What about me?

    The next morning, Rikako woke him up. “It’s about time. I was waiting to use the bathroom. I had to go downstairs.” Yeah, I wonder why, he thought irritably, stretching his neck side to side. 

    “Sorry,” he said.

    “Could you leave for a while? I’m meeting someone. I need to dress.”

    “Your father?”

    “A high school friend. I called this morning. We’re meeting downstairs.”

    “That’s great,” he said. I’ll get to spend time away from you and you’re gonna spend time with somebody who’s not me. Sounds perfect. 

    “I need to shower and change,” she ushered him out. “Hurry up and leave.” 

    And so he strolled outside, onto the streets of the city.

    He liked it.

-

 

    I think this was when I decided to attend college in Tokyo. Seeing Rikako bounce back made me feel at ease here somehow. Like in Tokyo, you could do anything.

 

-

    He opened the door after a walk around the city to find Rikako at the door already, all dressed up. 

    “Good timing! My friend just called. We’re meeting in the lobby.”

    “Oh, really?”

    “See you then!” she said as she began to walk off. She stopped and turned. “Oh, what about the key? Are you going out?”

    He held his hand out and took the key. “No, I’ll take a nap.”

    “Really? Sorry.”

    “Don’t worry. Enjoy yourself.” Maybe she’s not so mean after all! I’m so harsh. She nodded and ran off. Taku closed the door and laid down on the bed, bored. 

    He stood up and slipped on his shoes when the phone coincidentally began to ring at the same time. He picked it up. “Hello?”

    “Taku, could you come down to the coffee shop?”

    “What happened? Forget your wallet?” Going to extort me again, are you?

    “Just come down! You’re rescuing me.” Why? Gosh, have Yutaka do it instead of me… at least he wants to be around you. Although I still don’t get too much why.

    He hung up and stretched his arms. “So, what is it this time?”

    When he came downstairs, Rikako called him over. “Taku, over here!”

    He waved and, as he came closer, saw she was sitting with a pretty boy who had tanned skin and dark brown hair. Different style than Yutaka,  he thought. I wonder what Yutaka’d look like with longer hair. 

    “This is Morisaki Taku,” Rikako introduced. “He was worried about me, so he came along.” Not really, he thought. “Taku, this is Okada, my former classmate.”

    “Hi,” he smiled. He leaned forward on his hands. “Rikako, a boyfriend already?” I’m not her boyfriend, dammit… Why does everybody have to automatically think that?  “What a shock!”

    “Look who’s talking! As soon as I left you got together with Ryoko. I feel kind of betrayed!” Taku leaned back in his chair as he listened. It feels like she’s offended but she’s trying to hide it. I get it, for sure. Kinda sucks to watch happen though. I mean, it’s still boring. 

    “But you’re prettier! Ryoko says so, too.” Should you really be saying this when you’re dating somebody else? “She says she can’t compete?”

    “Listen, Taku.” Me?  “Wouldn’t you be shocked? I date Okada for a year and two months after I leave he’s dating a friend of mine!”

    “Happens all the time,” he said. Doesn’t really affect me… 

    “Nothing surprises him either,” she said after staring at Taku for a second in shock. 

    Okada laughed. “I called Ryoko. Are you free? Why don’t we all see a movie? Like a double date.”

    “I’d like to, but Papa’s treating me to lunch this afternoon.”

     I’m so bored, he thought. 

    “Too bad. If we’d known you were coming, we could’ve made plans. But your mother’s not very fair, she could’ve left you in Tokyo. You’re going to college here anyway.” Taku impatiently started to tap his foot on the floor, really caring no attention for anything being discussed in the conversation. “She had to drag her children off to the country.” 

    “What are you talking about?” Taku interjected, irritated. “She’s not a child!” He stood up abruptly, ticked. 

    “What’s wrong, Taku?” Rikako asked. 

    “You’re a bore, that’s what! You and this guy both!” He promptly walked off to his room, leaving them in his wake. Those bores, he thought, what dull people. All for show and good for nothing in the end. 

-

 

     I was disappointed. In Kochi, Rikako seemed so strong, but she gets to Tokyo and all she does is put on a big show and fawn over a stupid guy. With that big show she puts on in Kochi, you’d think she’d actually live up to the act. 

   But then again, I guess we’re not all like we seem. 

 

-

    Somebody rapped on the door, and Taku leaned up from the bed. He peeked into the eyehole and saw Rikako stood at the door. “Rikako?”

    Taku faced away from her, hearing her throw her bag onto the couch and plop down onto the bed. “Okada says to tell you he’s not mad.” I don’t really care about his opinion, but I guess it’s the thought that counts. “That guy’s really dumb. When we were dating I thought he was kind and thoughtful.”  She chuckled to herself. “I called you because I wanted to show off. Afterwards, I just felt stupid. We’re really bores, he and I both.” At least you’re admitting it. 

    “Well, I can see you’d be shocked about his new girlfriend,” Taku thought. 

    “You don’t get it, Taku.” She stood up. “I was shocked because he wasn’t like I remembered. All he talked about was himself.” Is it wrong to say it’s kind of like you?  “He didn’t even ask about Kochi. But that’s his real personality. I just never noticed. I’ll stay at my aunt’s tonight. We shouldn’t stay in the same room anyway.” She walked off. “Let’s meet at the airport tomorrow.” She stopped in front of the door and turned with a smile. “Our Tokyo trip wasn’t much fun, was it?” Rikako stepped out the door, shutting it with a click behind her.

-

 

     In half an hour, Rikako seemed to have grown up. 

    After the holidays, Rikako ignored me, just as if nothing had happened. To be quite honest, I was fine with it. 

    As usual, her only friend was Yumi Kohama. 

    Summer came.

 

-

    Taku set a Sprite can next to him, the bugs of summer buzzing loudly. “How were your finals?”

    “Awful,” Yutaka replied. “I’m going to cram school in Osaka this summer.” Awh, you’re going to be gone? 

    “Training camp, huh?”

    “It’ll be a nice change.” He took a swig of his Sprite. Taku watched his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed. “Listen. Don’t be upset, but… did you and Rikako take a trip during vacation?” 

    “Yeah, we did. How did you know?” Now why does that matter, though? I don’t like her anyways, it’s not like anything would’ve happened. 

    “How do you think? The rumor’s all over school. Haven’t you heard?”

    His stomach twisted a bit. “No, I haven’t.”

    Yutaka smiled. “That’s just like you. Nobody wants to joke about it to your face. People are whispering.”

    “Listen, I don’t know what people are saying. Rikako just went to see her father. Don’t get the wrong idea!”

    “Yeah, I heard.”

    “From who? Did Yumi tell you?”

    “Yumi? Why her? I heard it straight from Rikako.”

    Taku squeaked.

    “I ran into her at the library and asked her. I confessed to her when she asked me why it mattered to me, and she said, ‘I hate Kochi boys and boys who speak Kochi dialect. Don’t say that to me! It makes me sick!’ and she left me there, standing in my rejection.”

    Anger swelled up in Taku, and he gripped the wall to restrain himself. “‘Sick,’ huh?”

    “Yeah. It was kind of tough.”

    “Is that what did your grades in?”

    “I’ll get back on track over summer.”

    Taku curled his hand into a fist and set it back down onto the wall, looking below at the view in indignation. “Now she’s gone too far!” He abruptly dashed off, knocking the can of Sprite down onto the floor as he left Yutaka in his wake. 

    He ran down the stairs and to his classroom, where Rikako and Yumi sat chattering away. He walked up to them and the classroom fell silent. “We need to talk. Come with me.”

    Rikako stood up, frustrated. “What?!” She followed him out of the classroom, and the second they both left, the classroom burst out into gossip once more. 

    “What’s the problem?” Rikako asked, cross. “Don’t talk to me in school! People will notice.” 

    “Who’s fault is that?” he scoffed. “You told Yutaka we stayed in a hotel in Tokyo?”

    “So what?”

    “‘So what?’ It was all YOUR idea! But people are pointing at me! I guess because the ‘all good prissy girl from Tokyo’ can’t do any wrong, wouldn’t you think?”

    “Why, you-!”

    “I’m suffering thanks to you. You insulted my entire region and dialect, and you insulted my friends. You insulted Yutaka for no good reason! You’re the worst, you really are!” 

    She slapped him, and the students, who were peeking out of the classroom to watch, gasped. Yutaka, however, took no shit from anybody. He didn’t care if she was a girl! If somebody deserved it, they deserved it, and if somebody got offended, they could take a hike. Gender equality should mean equal fights, equal rights anyways. You shouldn’t get a lighter sentence just because you’ve got boobs. So he slapped her back in indignation and retaliation, and boy, was it a satisfying slap. He felt a little happier after that.

    She glared at him like he was the one who did wrong. “You’re such a loyal friend! Satisfied?” She stormed off, leaving Taku to calm down and let the weight of what he just did settle down in his mind.

    To be quite honest, he didn’t regret it.

-

 

     That trip to Tokyo really was a total disaster for both of us. 

      And so autumn came. 

     Rikako was as isolated as ever. But her grades just got better and better. Then, during the last event of senior year- the school fair- 

 

-

    Taku carried the large ramen bowl display with his class’s number on it, 3-5, to the back of the building where the trash cans were, to clean up when he heard a familiar girl’s voice behind.

    “Is that all? I’m in a hurry!” the voice said. Huh? 

    He stopped and waited behind the corner to listen. “What? What did you say?” somebody else said. “In a hurry? Don’t you care about class harmony?”

    He peeked behind the wall and saw Rikako, surrounded by the girls in his class. “Class harmony?” she said in disbelief. “You sound like some stupid politician!” Kind of funny, to give it to her. 

    “You’re wrapped up in yourself. What about the rest of the world?”

    “What kind of world is it where people can’t think of themselves?” she replied.

    To be honest, he kind of agreed with her. He didn’t think it was a bad thing to think of yourself first at all. After all, if everybody dies, your efforts go to waste and you’re the only one left to take care of anyways. But at the same time, shouldn’t you at least pitch in a bit of effort towards your last senior year event? Even if it’s not going to help your grades, wouldn’t it do a little bit of good towards your memories?

    “Does the world care about me?” she said, voice raising, “I’ll take care of myself!” Wow, she just summed up everything I was thinking in a sentence and two. 

    “You pretend you’re not interested in boys, but I see you flirting!” a girl stepped forward. Who cares?  Taku snorted to himself. “Making eyes at Yanagida!”

    “Yanagida?! Who? I don’t even know who he is! Bring him here! I’ll tell him I hate him!” Guts!  The girl accusing her of flirting gasped and stepped forward before beginning to attack her and yell. WHOAAA! AGGRESSIVE! 

    “Stop it!” Akiko said. “You’ll just hurt your school record. No point crying because of someone like this.” The girls all scoffed at her and walked off.

    Akiko folded her arms. “I think I expected too much from you.” She walked off too.

    Well, Taku still had to clean up, so he took the chance to walk up and place the display down.

    “Taku!” Rikako gasped. “How long have you been there?”

    “I’m just throwing this out. I heard voices.” He disassembled the display. “Good for you. You stood up to all those girls. Even made one of them cry. You’re real strong.” He stood up and brushed his hands. “It was really impressive.” Noticing she was standing behind him, he turned, only to be met with her raising her hand and slapping his face again. AGAIN! 

     “You idiot! You’re the worst!” she yelled. Her eyes started to well up and she ran off. What did I do? I complimented her, didn’t I? Ahh.. Taku, you were being mean to her, weren’t you… But she could handle it, right? Ahh. Who knows… 

    “Hey.”

    Taku smiled at the sight of Yutaka. “Hey!”

    However, Yutaka’s expression was serious. “Rikako just ran by. I think she was crying.”

    “Oh, she just got scolded by the girls in our class. She cut all the activities. But she really stood up to them! They couldn’t touch her. That Rikako, she’s tough. It was really something.”

    Yutaka’s voice was grave. “You didn’t stop them?”

    “They’d have just told me to butt out. They’re fed up. She can be a real pain. I get it, too. You should’ve seen how many times she’s insulted me, or how she was like in Tokyo… and she's insulted you too, which is really the worst of it-” Yutaka reared up his hand and swung, punching Taku with a blow to the face. He staggered back and fell on some cardboard boxes from the impact.

    “You idiot,” Yutaka hissed. 

    Taku watched him leave and sighed. “Excuse me for saying what I wanted to say,” he said to himself. “I guess I can’t have an opinion when it comes to her, anymore... that loyal, huh? I wish you were as loyal to me as I am to you. I’m closer to you yet you still care about her more…”

-

 

     I figured Yutaka and I would be back to normal the next day. At least, that’s what I thought. But we graduated without speaking again. Rikako enrolled at Kochi University. Yutaka want to Kyoto… and I went to college in Tokyo. 

 

-

    “We have just landed at Kochi Airport,” the speakers said. Taku sighed and stood up. He had to get up sometime, wouldn’t he?

    He walked outside when a car rolled up to him and stopped. Yutaka, to his surprise, stepped out. “Hey, Taku!” he grinned. His smile was invigorating after not seeing it for a year.

    “Yutaka!” he said in surprise. 

    “Thanks for picking me up,” he said as Yutaka drove them past familiar sights. 

    “Sure. I got my license last month.”

    “I’m impressed you found the time to take lessons. Took me a month to get used to Tokyo. Another month for college, and another for my job. Before I knew it, summer came.”

    “Tokyo and Kyoto are really different,” Yutaka said. “Kyoto’s almost like Kochi. I settled in right away. But Kochi’s nice. It’s not as crowded.”

    “And everything you need is right at hand,” Taku added. “Tokyo’s got everything, but it takes an hour to get anywhere.”

    “Even Katsura’s Beach is only an hour from here.”

    “Jingu Stadium’s an hour, with train transfers.”

    “An hour from Kyoto, you can get to Osaka or Nara.”

    “Gosh, sounds like Kyoto’s better.”

    They pulled up to Taku’s family home. As he stepped out of the car, he asked, “Want to come in?” 

    “I’ll pass for today. Your family must be waiting. See you at the reunion?”

    Taku nodded with a smile and continued to get out of the car when Yutaka gasped and stopped him. “I always wanted to apologize.” Yutaka wore a smile and expression that was sort of strange. It was like there was something hidden behind eyes, his smile. Like he didn't know wanted to say something, or rather, didn't know how to. “Sorry I punched you.”

    “Ah, so that explains the free ride from the airport!” Taku started laughing. He didn’t know it, but it was like music to Yutaka’s ears.

    “I’ll call you later,” Yutaka said.

    “Want to take a walk?” Taku suddenly asked, not wanting to leave him yet. Yutaka looked at him, surprised. Taku wore a boyish grin. “It’s been a while.” 

-

    They walked down the pier, a ship passing them by. A seagull flew overhead, cawing loudly as it went in circles. The clouds and lavender colored sky framed it above. The water glistened, sparkles lighting it up when it rippled from the miniscule waves. 

    Taku stood at the edge, the water painted yellow and orange from the reflection of the sunset. Yutaka stood a couple odd feet away from him, toeing at the ground below in thought to himself. 

    “I was angry that time,” Yutaka broke the silence, body avoiding Taku, “because I knew you were holding back on my account.” This time, he stopped moving his foot and stood up straight, looking at Taku directly. Taku didn’t notice, however; he was looking straight ahead. “I hadn’t noticed ‘til then…” Taku crouched down to a squat. “...that you really liked Rikako.”

    The birds swirled up ahead, rays of light peeking through the clouds. 

    To himself, Taku giggled.

    Yutaka looked down at him, eyebrow raised in confusion. Taku started to laugh freely, just like he had earlier that day. The giggles bubbled out of him, while Yutaka watched in pleased perplexity. 

    Taku's laugher simmered down, and he smiled. He looked up at Yutaka, who’s gaze had been fixed on him the whole time. “Now why would you ever think that?”

    “Did you not love her?” he asked, puzzled.

    He leaned back on his hands and looked up at the sky, shaking his head. “No,” he replied, “I never liked her. Not even one bit.” He looked up at Yutaka, feeling bold. What did he even have to lose? His own pride? “No, instead, I’d always liked you.”

    Yutaka’s mouth fell slightly slack as he began to register the meaning of his words. When he fully did, his cheeks visibly colored at the spread of a pink blush. “You liked me?” he tested. “Wait, liked?” His eyebrows furrowed slightly.

    “Ah, sorry, I suppose I need to correct myself.” Taku turned his head down and stared out at the sea, feeling a bit embarrassed now. “Like.” Up above, Yutaka’s cheeks turned from a pleasant coral pink to a bright, vivid red. 

    “How long?” Yutaka questioned, curious. 

    “Who knows? I just know one day I knew I did,” he replied. “Since high school, though. Before Rikako came.” He chuckled to himself, shaking his head. “I really have never liked Rikako. Because you liked her. And she didn’t like you.”

    Yutaka sat down next to Taku. They were a couple feet away. “You know, I punched you back then because of a lot of reasons.” Taku didn't know if he wanted to hear them. “But a lot of them were related to you.” Taku looked at him, surprised. The wind ruffled his hair and shirt collar. “I was angry because you didn’t save Rikako, my crush. I was angry that you just stood there and watched by. But I was also angry because you confused me.” A small smile took over his face. “You confused me lots. You know, when I realized you might like guys out of nowhere, I sort of panicked. Because it made me think about if I liked guys. And it also made me wonder if one of those guys I might possibly like, was you.” 

    Taku blinked aggressively. “You what?” he said quietly.

    Yutaka continued. “I was already mad about how your existence caused me to question if I had a crush on a guy, if I was into guys at all. In fact, I wanted to hate on you, to show my anger. I blamed you for something completely of my own problem." Taku blinked. He didn't know Yutaka had ever even felt such negativity towards him. Yutaka seemed to know this. "I was just... really good at hiding it," he clarified. "So when I saw that you hadn’t saved a pretty girl, it finally gave me a reason to openly lash out. It was an excuse, I guess.” He looked over at Taku, who was staring at him with wide eyes. “And for that, I really am sorry.”

    “So,” Taku said slowly after a few seconds of staring and silence other than the sound of the birds and the sea, “have you figured it out?” His eyes bored into Yutaka’s. “Do you like-” he gestured to himself, “you know, guys? Us?”

    Yutaka smiled, eyes fond and comforted. “I do. And I really did figure it out, Taku. The guy I like out of us all really is you.” 

    Taku stood up abruptly, heart rushing like a waterfall crashing down onto the earth with streams of happiness and joy. He gave Yutaka a hard stare, and then marched over the few feet dividing them until they were a mere couple of inches apart.

    “Taku?”

    He placed his hands on Yutaka’s shoulders, took a breath in, and leaned down, kissing him right on the lips.

    Yutaka’s shoulders rose in surprise, but quickly relaxed, and Taku felt relief that Yutaka wasn’t backing away. 

    The seagulls cried out, circling around noisily, and the ocean waves rolled over each other in small lapping whisks onto the shore. The sky was an array of vivid colors painted by a brush of the gods, and the water of the sea reflected the colors with a sunset shimmer. The lights of the city were beginning to pop as the clouds grew bigger and the night grew dark.

    And in the midst of it all was a boy and another, one leaning up and one leaning down, both kissing softly on the edge of a pier as they took in the time to treasure what they now finally had.

-

 

     Yutaka and I spent an hour there - then we went home. 

    Then we went to the reunion.

 

-

    “Better watch the drinking, Yamao,” Taku said worriedly as Yamao downed his beer in seconds. 

    Yamao gasped and set his mug down drunkenly. “She’s late…”

    “Late? Who?”

    “She’s late!”

    Suddenly, the people in the other room started to clap and laugh wildly. “What happened?” Taku asked.

    “Yamamoto just confessed,” Akiko smiled. “He always liked Nishimura!”

    “Ehh! Good for him!” Taku grinned. 

    “We’ve got a new couple!” 

    Yamao looked at them, eyes wide, then said to himself determinedly, “Time for me to confess, too!” He stood up. “I-I’ve always had a thing for Komaha Yumi!” 

    Everybody started to congratulate him and break out in happy noise, although disappointed she wasn’t there yet. Lots of couples being made tonight, huh?  He shared a glance with Yutaka, heart skipping a beat. I think Yutaka and I would know a thing about confessions.

    “From the start, she was always in that flashy Rikako’s shadow,” Yamao sighed. “While you were mooning over Rikako,” Taku made a face, “I had my eye on Yumi.” 

    “In what world?” Taku snorted. Yutaka smiled at him knowingly. 

    Yamao suddenly fainted, and Taku sighed, dragging him to the men’s room. “Yamao, I told you to watch your drinking...”

    “He passed out,” Taku announced. 

    “Akiko told me she saw Rikako,” Yutaka informed. 

    “Heh?? Here?” Taku looked around. “No, she’s not here!” 

    “Yesterday, at a department store! I told her about the reunion but she probably flew home.”

    “Flew?” Taku suddenly remembered their meeting up, just the day prior. “She… went back to Tokyo?”

    “Yup. I thought she went to Kochi U, but she only got in to please her mom. She actually secretly applied for a Tokyo uni.”

    Taku smiled. He expected that. “So, when you saw her were you all like ‘Waah! So nice to see you!’ and stuff like that?”

    “How did you know?”

    “Well, I know you never liked her.”

    Akiko smiled. “Yup. I always hated her, actually. Really did. But seeing her again made me feel nostalgic. It’s kind of like changing seats. When you’re little and you sit next to someone  you hate, you don’t even want to go to school. The problem is, your world is too small. If you have something other than school, like piano lessons, people you dislike aren’t a problem.”

    Taku couldn’t help but find himself agreeing. He never liked Rikako, yet he still seeked her out so quickly a while ago; he realized his world back then really was small. Luckily, their meeting again had proved they’d grown. Even if just by a bit. 

    The door slid open and everybody gasped. “Yumi!”

    Yamao woke up from his slumber. “Y-Yumi?” He ran towards her. “Yumi!!!” He fell again, and Yumi winced. Everybody gasped. 

-

    “Hey! Come on!” Taku called. 

    Behind them, Yamao staggered drunkenly with a dopey smile on his face. “Yoo-hoo!”

-

    “You saw Rikako too?” Taku asked. “Everybody’s seeing her!” 

    “Yep. I wish she was there,” Yumi said.

    “It felt like she was there,” Yutaka said. 

    “Me too.”

    “I’d forgotten how pretty it was!” Akiko said in awe. “The castle!”

    All of their eyes turned towards the castle, lit up by lights.

-

 

     I always thought lighting up Kochi Castle was a waste of electricity. 

    But with Yutaka next to me, it was beautiful.

    I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if Rikako was next to me, that ridiculous city looking girl. 

    And so I thought of all our memories together. 

   ‘Taku! Could you lend me some money?’

   ‘You sound like one of the teachers! Are you a goody goody? I heard you were different.’

   ‘I said not to tell. You already told Yutaka! You’re awfully chatty for a boy!’

   ‘My period just started. Sometimes it’s really bad.’

   ‘When I see Papa, I’m going to tell him. I want to move back to Tokyo and live with him.’

   ‘I’m staying here tonight! Papa’s paying, so I can if I want!’

   ‘My room was completely changed! The wallpaper’s dark green!’

   ‘I was on Papa’s side. But he wasn’t on my side.’

   ‘My life is so sad. We’re bores - he and I both.’

   ‘Our Tokyo trip wasn’t much fun, was it?’

   ‘You’re such a loyal friend! Satisfied?’

   ‘You idiot! You’re the worst!’ 

   Yup.

   None of those were good memories. At all. Not even in the slightest.

   Safe to say, I did not want to watch this castle with her. Maybe she’d slap me again.

   But as I looked to my side and saw Yutaka watching the castle with bright eyes, I realized it just like I had before and like I would for many years after.

   Ah.

  I really like this boy. 

 

-

    Taku stood carefree, bored and waiting for his train to come.

    It was time for him to leave Kochi, and to go back to Tokyo. He wasn’t mad about it, Tokyo was his new home. He and Yutaka promised to call each other at least every week, although Taku knew he’d probably call every day.

    It was exciting, this new world.

    His eyes scanned the station and widened. His breath hitched, and he felt his mind go blank. Again? Taku knew who this girl was. He knew it was her.

    But as he took a few tentative steps forward, wondering what to do, a train rode past before he could act, blowing wind up in his face and blocking his view. And this time, he knew not to run after her. 

    When the train finally moved away, she was gone.

    And he let her.