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home away from home

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The world is just a bunch of colors and shapes slapped together in one landscape to make it make sense. The concept of perceiving taste, smell, and feel is your own function, one the world isn’t responsible for—it’s your own individuality that makes you think that a food tastes horrid, if a smell feels pungent, or if a texture feels rough. While it may technically be objective, those three senses are really just based on subjectivity.

Here’s an opinion: the beach is best experienced at the crack of dawn. You see the sun rising, like it emerged from the deepest depths of the sea and going back up, but the sunlight doesn’t entirely feel blinding nor does it burn your skin. The birds honking from the distance and the waves crashing to the surface in ripples serve as a white noise and don’t break your concentration. It just gives off enough light for you to realize that it’s already daytime, that the year advanced one more day, and that you’re starting another adventure—or misadventure. The warm blue of the sky and yellow of the sunlight that tickles your beloved’s skin pink cannot be topped by a time of the day later than six in the morning. Plus, there’s not plenty of people around you, too. The beach at daybreak is the best way to experience it.

And Yuka had never experienced that before. All she had ever felt is the world turning its back against her, as the feeling of rejection is slapped across her face.

 

 

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Whenever Yuka feels trapped by the world and feels like there’s nowhere for her to go, she wanders around aimlessly at midnight, hoping for her feet to carry her to where she belongs. Sometimes, it’s in front of her highschool, gazing at what she can see of the art club from afar. She imagines Saeki with a gentle expression on her face, ready to listen to her vent her frustrations. But then Yuka shakes her head and starts walking away. She pushed her away once, anyway. There’s no way Saeki can still accept her.

Next, she finds herself standing near the train station, thoughts of Musashino Arts University and Mori filling her head, and maybe a good warm hug and a reassuring pat in the back with soft whispers of affection. She imagines the gentleness in her voice, cradling her like she’s fragile, and providing her with the warmth akin to her grandmother’s embrace. But Yuka goes out empty-handed, and only brings what she thinks is necessary for her when going out, so she leaves.

There’s nowhere for her to go, she thinks. Wherever she’s headed, there’s more reasons for them to reject her than to accept her.

But there’s Yatora; persistent that he is, even after pushing him away, he only insists on getting even closer. Yuka hates persistent people, alright. It’s always those types of people that couldn’t take “no” for an answer, sees it as a challenge, thinks that their poor attempt at sweet talking will have the situation turn their way. Yuka despises people who can’t handle rejection.

Most of all, Yuka despises herself for not putting up a fight.

“We already did this once, didn’t we?” Yatora exclaims, looking at Yuka with a melancholic expression. Yuka only looks at him wordlessly with an emotionless look, before sitting down next to him as a silent acknowledgement.

Is it perhaps the attention, or is it because she feels reassured when Yatora is around? Yuka can’t quite place her finger on it, too.

There is something oddly familiar with Yatora, almost like she’s known him forever, when they really only met in highschool. If there can be any words used to describe their relationship, it’d be anything but harmonious. They always clash with their opposing opinions, have an entirely different view of the world, approach things with different manners, and really, there’s nothing much between them that binds them together except the feeling of loneliness.

Yuka always knew that despite having only one thing in common—the unsure future and how unnerving it is—Yatora would always dart on ahead. She knew that whatever Yatora did, he’d find himself innovating and using what he has on hand to break out of the shell, may it be his own fists that don’t account to much damage; on the other hand, Yuka sees herself just adapting. She sees herself accepting what the world has to offer for her, takes it without any problem, holds on to it without thinking much of what happens next, but just to get by well. They’re drowning in the same boat, alright. But Yuka is on the other end of the boat where it’s already dipped in water, while Yatora can still manage to make it out.

Yatora’s attitude of finding his way out of dilemmas may be what kept Yuka holding on to his hand. Calloused, rough, and it’s probably seen and felt better days, but it still felt… warm.

“It’s a Tuesday, isn’t it?” Yuka speaks after a long moment of silence. “Don’t you have school to attend to?”

Silence.

“Are you giving up on school?”

More silence.

Yuka figures Yatora doesn’t want to answer her, so she stops prying. Instead, she turns to face him, only to find that he is displaying a terrified expression, one that she’s never seen him make. Concern quickly buds from her heart, but she finds herself stuck, not knowing what to do—not when she feels like giving up, too.

So instead, she sighs and leans back, looking out the window only to see nothing but darkness and patches of snow on the road. “Who would’ve thought, huh…”

“I just need a break.” Yatora finally speaks, shifting in his seat. “School is great and all, and I’ve regained the groove I once had back when I just started making art, but it’s too sudden and too overwhelming. It’s like I can see everything and nothing at the same time.”

“There’s too much for you, you short-circuit,” Yuka adds.

“Yeah.” Yatora sighs. “Why did you call me, Ryuji?”

“Don’t call me by that name right now,” Yuka quickly interjects, peeling her eyes off the window. “Please,” she adds.

From her peripheral vision, she sees Yatora slowly nodding in understanding. “Then… what’s on your mind, Yuka?”

Yuka looks at Yatora, and she smiles at him. It wasn’t particularly a gleeful smile, nor could you pick out the feeling of happiness from her smile; it’s a sad, tired smile, one that screams, get me out of here.

“I’m tired, Yatora. So tired.”

Yatora stays quiet, stays staring even when Yuka breaks eye contact and hunches over her seat in a show of frustration and defeat. He keeps looking, searching for the right words to say, for reassuring phrases that don’t feel empty, and a happy promise that’s easy to fulfill, but he comes up empty-handed. Instead, he places a hand on her shoulder, making Yuka tense a little. She only eases up when Yatora takes his hand off.

“Let’s take a rest, then. We’re both tired, aren’t we?”

 

 

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The pair find themselves standing on the same shack by the seaside, where lodging is cheap and the food is good, and even the creaking of the floorboard is something that they can’t afford to be bothered with because the service makes up for it, anyway. It’s a relief to both of them that the place still wasn’t torn down, although the notice plastered on the wall of its entryway tells them that they’ll go out of service soon. Yuka thinks it’s unfortunate how she still hadn’t visited the beach and entered this lodge in summer, and how she probably wouldn’t have the chance to in the future.

“This place is still cozy, huh,” Yuka comments, looking around the room they rented and puts her bag down. “When does your class start, Yatora?”

Yatora stiffens when he hears that question, making Yuka raise an eyebrow. Yatora faces her and forces a smile as he says, “Well, I suppose it’s not required for us to go since, uh, Winter break is starting the day after tomorrow, anyway…”

Yuka scoffs. “What about your Winter piece, then?”

Yatora only chuckles. “I’m working on that, don’t worry. It’s why I have this,” he gestures towards his bag, “with me even if it’s ridiculously big and heavy.”

“Ha.” Yuka snorts inappropriately. “That’s funny.”

“You’re so immature.” Yatora squints his eyes at Yuka as he continues organizing his things, making Yuka laugh harder.

“You’re nineteen, Yatora,” she says in a sweet tone. “I don’t think it’s too inappropriate for a little baby like you to hear.”

“If you call me a little baby one more time I’m letting you draw yourself naked once more.”

Yuka’s eyes widens as she stares at Yatora who continues organizing his things, acting like he didn’t say something… surprising, to say the least. Or maybe it isn’t surprising; maybe Yuka just expected Yatora to forget it and bury it in the deepest depths of his head, because she remembers him doing it begrudgingly and feeling embarrassed while doing so. But then again, it’s Yatora we’re talking about; if it is in terms of determination and things he knows he can gain experience from, then that moment of them drawing their own nudes is an important moment of his development. Or at least, it was to Yuka (and maybe to Yatora, too).

Maybe that shared moment between them also made Yuka put Yatora in the list of people she can depend on when things take a low turn. There’s only so much she can do, so many people she can rely on, so much she can say—it’s not like she can always run to and inconvenience people when she’s down, anyway. They’re busy with their personal lives, and she is thankful for what she receives when she does ask for help, but if she were to be selfish, she wants to ask for more from them, and it’s Yatora who does. It unconsciously made her seek for him, because if there’s one person that she thinks can understand him more than she thinks she understands herself, maybe it’ll be Yatora.

Yuka smiles a little. “Now, now, if you want to do it again so badly, don’t rope me into it. I don’t want to spend my winter sick from doing art.”

“And we have to go back tomorrow,” Yatora adds, zipping his bag in finalization, “so I won’t be doing it, too.”

“Heh. Guess we’re on the same page, then.”

Yuka stands up to stretch, walking past Yatora to get to the bath and purposely hitting him on his shoulder. She giggles when he complains about it, quickly dodging when he tries to slap her calf.

“Hey, you better hurry it up with the bath,” Yatora says lazily, raising an arm to punch Yuka lightly. “I badly need to use it.”

“Then go first, you idiot.”

“Ladies first.”

Yuka pauses for a bit, rolling her eyes at the statement when she recovers. Is it too bad she’s happy over something like that when she’s been perceived as a girl for the majority of her highschool life?

“Whatever, Mr. Gentleman.”

 

 

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If she were back home, Yuka would hear her parents arguing and trying to reason out with her or her younger brother, sometimes her grandmother cutting in to straighten out the situation but not quite solving it. She’s glad she doesn’t have to hear it right now; everyone in her shoes would. Just hearing the sound of the waves reaching the shore and the soft rustling of the winter breeze is a hundred times better than hurtful words and cars honking at an ungodly hour.

Whenever her parents would start arguing, she takes advantage of it by drowning out her thoughts. She makes herself too busy with complaining about them in her head, too occupied with coming up with rebuttals and refuting whatever comments they make on her life, and falls asleep while doing so. She thinks that, at least, she won’t have to deal with the voice in her head, but now that it’s silent and the environment is suitable for her to fall asleep, those thoughts start streaming in.

“Yatora…” she calls out with a hoarse voice. When he doesn’t respond, she repeats, “Yatora… you awake?”

“Mm.”

“Is that a yes or a no?”

Yatora grunts. “A yes now.”

“Oh,” Yuka deadpans. “Okay. Go back to sleep now.”

“Are you being serious?”

“Sort of.”

Yatora sighs. “Yeah right… what’s up?”

“I don’t know,” Yuka breathes out a laugh. “Open your eyes and see it for yourself.”

“I’m afraid to wake up and find myself drowning.”

Yuka turns her head to look at Yatora incredulously. True to what he said, he had his eyes shut. “I’d be drowning along with you, then,” she muses, trying to get a reaction out of him. It backfires on her when Yatora smiles instead and she’s left baffled.

“Well, that’s better than drowning all alone,” he whispers.

Yuka stays staring at Yatora, watching his chest heave as he breathes. She only stops when it steadies, indicating he has fallen asleep again.

“You’re right,” she mutters to herself. “It is better than being all alone.”

 

 

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If she were to be honest, Yuka couldn’t remember if she even slept a wink. All she knows is she has somehow fallen asleep, but when she woke up, it felt like she just had her eyes closed for a few minutes. When she turned to look beside her, she could still see Yatora sleeping, so she left him be, not before tucking him in properly and noticing the sides of his eyes turn red and swollen.

Yuka realizes again that, to some extent, she’s still selfish. She realized that no matter how much she dislikes her parents, it still doesn’t erase the fact that they’re right—that she’s selfish, and she acts like she isn’t for her own convenience.

Yuka smiles sadly. “I’m sorry you still had to drown all alone,” she whispers, brushing away a few strands of Yatora’s hair. “I’m sorry for asking too much from you. I promise I’ll be here if you need me.”

She stands up and leaves the room quietly, greeting the manager in a low voice. She took a glance of the wall clock that read 5:24, making her frown. Compared to her usual waking time, she’s hours early, making her feel odd, but maybe it’s because she couldn’t fall asleep properly when she wasn’t used to what she’s experiencing that night.

Yuka sighs. She wraps her body tightly with her jacket and hugs herself for extra warmth, trotting on her way out of the lodging house. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the morning breeze by the beach in winter is cold as hell, but it still made her shiver unexpectedly when it hit her skin. The cold weather only reminds her of how she regretted going to the beach in winter a year ago, but at the same time she still feels thankful for the bone-rattling temperature; after all, it makes her senses numb.

Besides, whatever season it is, seeing the sun emerge from its quick dip in the sea is still worth waking up earlier than usual. While the sun still hasn’t risen in the horizon, seeing it even though it’s just a peek still brings a little warmth to Yuka, although she knows it’s only fabricated by her mind, or whatever is in charge of making her feel sappy emotions. The contrast of the cold atmosphere making her see her breath and the warmth that’s been overcoming her is laughable, because really, she doesn’t even remember a moment in her life back when she was younger that she was glad because of the cold. She always hated it, for as long as she knew. It’s odd now that she’s hoping for this beach trip to happen annually during winter.

And maybe it’s all because of her selfishness. Maybe it’s her driving force to get by through her life. Maybe it’s because she is selfish that she has people to run to, and that while she no longer feels ashamed of the thought of dying naked, she still couldn’t bring herself to do it. Maybe it’s because she’s still desperate enough to live, that she is selfish.

“You’re really a masochist, aren’t you? It’s so damn cold.”

Yuka chuckles, seeing the sun more clearly now. “Nobody asked you to come down here, though.” She turns to see Yatora bundled up in thick clothes, eyes droopy and still swollen, making her look at him with gentle eyes. “Are you okay?” she whispers.

The shock in Yatora’s face is evident, but he quickly brushes it off his face. He turns to look at Yuka with an easygoing grin—probably a practiced one—as he replies, “Honestly? I feel a lot better.”

I don’t believe you, Yuka wants to say, but she instead looks away. She feels the rays of the sun penetrate her skin, making her close her eyes. “Well, you better work on making that true,” she hums, cracking one eye open to observe Yatora. Instead of looking at her, he was also looking forward instead, a lax expression dancing on his face.

“Thank you,” he says, “for not asking what’s wrong.”

Yuka grins. “Heh. You look like you have gotten over it, anyway. I can’t force someone to open up when they genuinely don’t want to.”

“Right,” he whispers. “I’m sorry for doing that to you.”

“You don’t.”

“Really?”

Yuka opens her eyes completely, facing Yatora again, who’s also staring at her. “Really,” she repeats. “I don’t really understand it myself, but I… I don’t know, I really want other people to hear about my problems. Sharing it with others makes it feel like it’s real.”

Yatora slowly nods. “Whereas when it comes to me… it feels like I’m making it up.” He looks away to see the rising sun, making Yuka do the same. “I know it’s unhealthy, but all I can do is to tell my problem by face value and just bottle it up. It’s kinda frustrating setting an expectation of myself, for me to follow.”

“But we don’t really advance if we don’t do that, do we?” Yuka kicks the sand and sinks her feet further. “Too much is unhealthy, but thinking we can do better is what keeps us going.”

“Fake it till you make it, huh?” Yatora exclaims with a huff. “I guess you’re right…”

“Just keep playing the role you’ve taken, and someday, you’ll find yourself in his shoes.”

Yatora smiles slightly, as he hums in agreement. They fall silent as they go back watching the sunrise, now seeing it in full view. They had to cover their eyes with their hands, as they looked ahead, seeing the sea glimmer under the sunlight incomparable to how it looks at night.

Yuka stretches her arms out, the sunlight hitting her pale skin. She laughs silently at the thought of possibly getting a sunburn despite getting the sunlight during the healthy hours, and at the thought of Yatora being more likely to get it as he is a tone paler than herself. She turns to look at him only to find him staring emptily ahead, his cheeks already tinged with pink as their surroundings are drenched in blue. She smiles fondly.

“Thank you,” Yatora says all of a sudden, not looking at her. “I know I’ve said this already, but… thank you. I’m glad I got to know you, Yuka.”

The statement made Yuka blush; no one ever thanked her before just for being there. Maybe indirectly, but to hear it outright sets her heart ablaze. She looks back at the sea. “I’m not accepting that.”

“Why not?”

“Because it feels like we’d stop doing this.”

Yatora laughs.

“Then, let’s do this again next year.”

Yuka smiles to herself. “Yeah. Let’s.”