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bittersweet nostalgia

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Crazy:B had kindly kept the day free–despite it being one of their usual practice days–ever since they found out that it was HiMERU’s anniversary. HiMERU’s feeble protests that they could still hold the practice had fallen on deaf ears.

 

“It’s okay, HiMERU-kun, we understand,” Niki reassured, packing his and Rinne’s bags at the same time while the latter harassed Kohaku. Something about finding a job for Crazy:B.

 

“Ain’t today an important day for ya?” Rinne gave HiMERU’s shoulders two strong pats on the way out, jostling him around. HiMERU disliked it, but kept his mouth shut this time. “Awww, don’t pout! We’ll get outta yer hair now, Merumeru!”

 

“Please drive safely, and don’t do anything rash,” Niki warned, before he was dragged away by an over-eager Rinne. “Hey, Rinne-kun, let me go?! Wait, no, no no no put me down! Rinne-kun!!”

 

Kohaku nodded awkwardly, swiftly excusing himself to look for Knights’ Tsukasa. ‘Please lock the door on yer way out.’ was the last thing he said before he disappeared as well, leaving HiMERU alone in the practice room in the accompaniment of his thoughts.

 

Anniversary… HiMERU nodded slowly to no one in particular.

 

Body on auto-pilot, he went about their usual clean up procedure–switching the sound system off, then the lights. Doing one last check to ensure that no one left anything behind, he locked the door, and returned the key at the reception, before making his way to the underground carpark. HiMERU pulled the car out of the parking lot smoothly, slowing to allow the security guard to raise the barrier for his exit. 

 

[We’ll sneak out while it’s still dark. Let’s meet up and go to the sea.]

 

The car was mostly silent save for the muted hum of the engine, the steady clicks of his signal, the muffled whir of cars travelling alongside in the bustling city. The city lights sped past his window in a blur of fluorescent neons, twinkling like stars.

 

Take a right turn at this junction, and pull onto the highway. From there, take the fifth exit on the left… the route he took was a familiar one, engrained into his muscle’s memory from hours of sitting in the car’s passenger seat, countless trips back and forth from his days as a student. Back then, he had the luxury of taking his eyes off the twists and turns of the road to marvel at the city’s scenic skyscrapers, of the stores they would pass by en route to their destination, of the pedestrians going about their daily life while his companion drove. Now, he had no one to watch the traffic for him while he stared out the window.

 

[The driver’s seat is always your special seat;

Jumping into the convertible, lazily driving along the coast;

The seat next to you will always be my special seat.]

 

The stretch of road that ran parallel to the shore was devoid of people and cars alike, so HiMERU drove at a leisurely pace, his foot compressing the brake pedal till the car slowed to almost a crawl. The waves were choppy, racing each other towards the shoreline before crashing in a violent splash. Outside, the wind howled, battering against the windows of his car. A warning for the tempest soon to make landfall.

 

Kaname always liked the sound of the waves. Small or big, gentle or turbulent. So much that he would often kidnap (no, not really… he always went along willingly to the other’s whims) him on a quick road trip down to the beach after school. They would either drive along this same stretch of asphalt when the weather was soon to take a turn for the worse, or walk down to the shore, shoes in hand and pants rolled up to their knees when the weather was kind. Even if it were for less than half an hour, the effect on Kaname was instantaneous. It was as if he had left the idol persona ‘HiMERU’ behind, becoming just ‘Toujou Kaname’, a student who struggled just like everyone else. Kaname would often tell him that out here, there were no cameras, no prying eyes, no oppressive school system; it was just them, so there was no need for pretences. They could share secrets if they wanted to; everything would be washed away the next day when the waves lapped over the writings in the sand.

 

HiMERU misses it. These simpler times.

 

[When was the last time that happened?]

 

The answer was simple. “I don’t remember.”

 

HiMERU remembers… he remembers that the car doesn’t stay silent. It would be filled with long winded conversations, imbued with soft laughter. Some of it was academic in nature, he recalled, but most of the time it was whatever caught Kaname’s fancy. It could be anything–ranging from a new recipe he had found online, or a new game a schoolmate recommended him to asking for opinions on a new song he composed. HiMERU would let him talk and talk and talk, lulled by the gentle lilt of his voice into a sense of contentment, a comforting presence and a warm shelter in the midst of a raging storm.

 

[With glassy eyes, you looked at me like a lost child.

 

Even a few minutes later, I didn’t understand.]

 

“Kaname-san?”

 

“Yes, ____?” Kaname was drawing something into the sand with the blunt end of a stick, humming along to signal that he was listening. “Was it those bullies in school…?”

 

“What? No.”

 

“Then… what is it?”

 

“Did you… Do you… Did you know that meeting someone like me… your doppelgänger… it’s an omen of bad luck?”

 

“Are you trying to imply we shouldn’t be friends anymore?” The stick did not stop its incessant scratching against the grey grains, but its speed slowed down considerably. Kaname huffed, dismissing his train of thought entirely. “It’s fine, ____. I don’t believe in such things.”

 

HiMERU rubbed strands of blue between his fingers. He remembered whispering his fear to Kaname during one of their trips to the coast. Of how meeting your doppelgänger is meant to be a sinister omen, an indication of bad luck. People would talk when the two of them walked by in the hallways, him always a step or two behind Kaname by designation; they would speak with ill intent, of how he was the one who would doom Reimei Academy’s precious top ranking idol, HiMERU, just by being Kaname’s presence.

 

“People began to whisper, and I grew conscious of my likeliness to you.”

 

“Those people are wrong, ____.” Kaname skipped stones across the calm waters that lapped around their ankles like an affectionate cat welcoming its owners home. “You shouldn’t listen to them.”

 

But…!!”

 

“No buts, ____~ I don’t allow take backs~” Kaname teased, standing up when the waves washed away his crude drawing for the umpteenth time. “You’re stuck with me!”

 

“…But I had listened, and they were right.” HiMERU exhaled. He had reached the dead end on this stretch of road, the only way out would be to make a U-turn back to the city. “Kaname-san… it’s because of me that you lost everything… is it not?”

 

[The cold mass tells me cruelly;

“It’s not a dream.”]

 

It felt like he had been thrown into the ice cold waters of the deep sea the day he received news that Kaname had been hospitalized. He had to be put into a medically induced coma to treat his injuries; when he had questioned the nurses and doctors at the hospital for days, they had declined to answer, citing patient confidentiality. Whatever information he could’ve gleaned from them, he had it all. Kaname’s condition was stabilizing, and that for the most part he’s out of the danger zone. When he would wake up was up to Kaname himself, and that there was not much else the medical professionals could do except to support his recovery with around-the-clock monitoring. Holding Kaname’s cold, limp hand in his own warm one… he wished he never had to repeat the experience ever again.

 

[I don’t want to know what’s beyond the horizon.]

 

He remembers back then he had packed his bags in frustration before driving down to the coast as well, the same route Kaname had driven them on so many times before. His hands were shaky on the wheel, while his vision was obscured by hot tears… as a result, his control over the car more than a little lacking. Once or twice he had signalled too late, and another too early, before swerving out into the exit too sharply, his shoulder crashing against the internal frame. Still, he managed to slot the car into the empty parking lot haphazardly, uncaring of everyone else–the carpark was so big and deserted, anyways, so him taking up two lots too many was not going to hurt anyone. Stumbling out of the car, he collapsed onto the curb, scraping his hands on the rough cement.

 

He barely felt the pinpricks of pain.

 

No matter how loud he yelled, or how hoarse, how dry his throat became, the wind snatched all of it away, claiming it as its own. His voice, his tears, his agony–all of it was swept away by the wind and waves, just like the secrets they shared in the writings on the sand, washed away by the tides.

 

HiMERU remembers vividly that the sea that day had been just as turbulent as his heart, more ferocious than what it presented today. A sense of deja vu, a chill down his spine. He gripped the steering wheel tighter as a method of grounding himself.

 

[At that time, I couldn’t say “I should throw my destiny away”.]

 

The days that followed the incident passed in a daze. He carried the burden of being the cause of Kaname’s current condition, reflecting on the events in his mind like flipping rocks. Physically, he still went about his day as per usual–washing up in the morning, running errands during the day, forcing food past his lips even though they tasted like nothingness on his tongue. Every day was a rinse-and-repeat cycle, till he wondered who was he living for–Kaname, or himself, or was there an external entity pulling the strings?

 

Maybe if Kaname hadn’t stooped down to take him under his wing, to shelter him and guide him, then maybe, just maybe,  Kaname wouldn’t be in the hospital, confined to the uncomfortable mattress, hooked up to various machines that fought to keep him alive. Maybe then, Kaname would be standing on the bright, glittering stage where he belonged, singing his songs for the world to appreciate and enjoy, instead of having an imposter take his place. 

 

HiMERU heaved a sigh, shifting gears from Park to Drive. The sun was beginning to set, and he had an appointment to get to… it seems that the time he had set aside for idling about has reached its end.

 

[The driver’s seat will always be my own special seat;

Jumping into the convertible, driving along the coast alone.]

 

Besides, the government had made an announcement of their intent to close this stretch of road sometime next month due to planned renovations in the area, cutting off public access for the near future with no concrete answer as to when it would be reopened. So he took the opportunity to drive along for perhaps the last time, stewing in bittersweet nostalgia. It seems that Kaname might not be able to join him on another road trip to the coast on this particular stretch of road before its closed after all.

 

The journey back to the city passed by in a blur, and soon he was in front of a very familiar door. The smell of antiseptic stung his nose; he could never get used to it despite numerous trips to the hospital, but HiMERU supposed that he would never be able to get used to it. On the bed, a figure sat propped up on a mountain of pillows. An IV drip was hooked up to a frail hand, while the owner’s head of blue was tilted to the side reading the book splayed on his lap. 

 

“Kaname-san.” The door creaked when he pushed it open. Kaname looked up, his eyes softening at the sight of his unexpected visitor. “How have you been…?”

 

“____.” Kaname smiled. HiMERU smiled, too.

 

[The seat next to me will always be for you.]