“Are you visiting him again, Kenya?” Kenya looks up from his lunch across the table at Hiromi, sitting curled up, his shoulders hunched in. He’s wearing their middle school uniform, it still looks too big on him—he hasn’t gone through any growth spurts quite yet, unlike Kazu who shot up almost immediately the first week in.
Kenya looks back down at his lunch, moving the rice with his chopsticks absently, “Yeah, did you want to come?”
Hiromi nods, his now much shorter head of hair no longer bobs when he does. His hair is cropped close to his skull, now, Kenya remembers him saying that his mother wanted him to cut it as soon as he entered middle school. Something about how he needs to “look handsome for all the pretty middle school girls”. Kenya doesn’t get it, he doesn’t try to get it, girls just don’t interest him. Hiromi seems to agree with him on that, at least, he constantly complains about missing his long hair.
“We’ll go after class.” Kenya says, just as Osamu and Kazu come up with their own bentos.
“Have either of you seen Aya yet?” Kazu asks, looking around eagerly. Kenya smiles a little at the frazzled way Kazu looks. Ever since he and Aya had become close, Kenya’s observed the almost comically obvious way Kazu has become attached to her.
Osamu, still oblivious even a year later, tilts his head in confusion, “why are you looking for her? Isn’t she with Misato and the other girls?”
Hiromi giggles and Kazu looks both exasperated and anxious. Kenya comes to his rescue by beckoning to them both to sit, “she’ll show.” He says simply, scooting over so Osamu can take his seat, Kazu across from him next to Hiromi.
Their usual lunchtime chatter starts up, led by Osamu and Kazu’s boisterous personalities. Hiromi makes comments here and there, smiling and laughing at the right intervals. Kenya is content to listen to them talk, keeping one eye on them while he eats silently.
“We’re visiting Satoru after class today.” Hiromi says suddenly, catching Kenya’s full attention. He pauses in his eating to glance at Kazu and Osamu. Both their smiles have crumbled ever so fractionally.
“Ah, I see…” Kazu mumbles, wincing. Kenya watches out of the corner of his eyes the guilt in his eyes. Osamu adjusts his glasses, his expression troubled.
It’s been two years since Satoru was found, rescued from the river and put in a coma. Kenya and his friends had visited nearly daily their friend. But time moves on, even for one’s closest friends, and though Kenya knows Kazu and Osamu still care about Satoru, and that they still help out with Misato’s campaign in raising money for Satoru’s medical bills, they have started visiting less and less.
Kenya’s hand curls into a fist, he hides it under the table on his thigh so the others can’t see. He understands why they’ve stopped coming to see him, he does but there’s an irrational part of him that nearly resents them for moving on so easily.
“We’ll come with.” A new voice speaks up. The boys all raise their heads to Nakanishi Aya standing by the table, a bento in her hands. Aya’s gotten her hair cut since last year, it frames her face now in a style similar to what Hiromi used to wear back in elementary school. Her eyes are determined and fixed, immovable, and she’s looking directly at Kenya. Kenya doesn’t startle, but he can read it in Aya’s face, she had noticed how tense he’d been.
“Aya!” Kazu exclaimed, an easy, lopsided grin flitting across his face. Aya spared him a small smile in return before she looked back at Kenya.
“I want to see Satoru.” She said firmly, making sure Kenya didn’t look away. Kenya had always felt intimidated by Aya. She had been the only person—aside, perhaps, from Satoru—who’d ever made him feel like the kid he actually was. The familiar burn of frustration at this weakness slid down his spine but he schooled it from his features with the ease of practice. He met Aya’s gaze head-on.
She searched his eyes for a second before she nodded, seemingly satisfied with whatever she had seen, before she relaxed and took her usual spot beside Kazu.
The rest of the lunch was easier, lighter, with the tension having dissipated with Aya’s forceful nature. Kazu and Osamu relaxed, and Kenya let his earlier anger fade.
“Kenya, are you reading Shakespeare!?”
Kenya was sitting in one of the cushions in the hideout. There was a stack of some of Shakespeare’s plays on the table to his right, titles such as As You Like It, A Midsummer’s Night, and Hamlet were among them. In Kenya’s lap, open to one of the middle Acts, was King Lear.
“I find Shakespeare intellectually challenging.” Kenya replied without lifting his head, but he side-eyed Satoru. Satoru had an eyebrow raised as he looked at the stacked plays beside Kenya and then back at the blonde-haired boy. Slowly, a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.
“Wow, Aya really got to you, huh?” Satoru teased. Kenya felt his cheeks heating up and he resolutely didn’t lift his head up from his reading. Satoru laughed at Kenya’s childish reaction. “If I remember, you said the only play you’d read was Romeo and Juliet?”
“Yes, it’s just a coincidence that I decided to take up more Shakespeare after Nakanishi Aya expressed her interest in his work.” Kenya would definitely not admit that he’d felt intellectually inferior to Aya—no not at all—when she’d shown him her own copy of King Lear.
“Whatever you say.” Satoru laughed, taking a seat beside Kenya and grabbing one of the plays on the table to read for himself.
Satoru was the same as always. His hair was a longer than he’d worn it in elementary school, his face pale from lack of sunlight, and his limbs thinner than Kenya remembers them being. He knows Satoru’s mother has been taken care of Satoru’s body for the last couple years: routine therapy for Satoru’s muscles, and so on.
It’s still a shock see Satoru so still like this, though. Kenya doesn’t think he’ll ever quite get used to it. In his mind, he sees Satoru looking the way he had on the last day they’d seen him before he’d fallen into a deep sleep. His bright smile, the frantic waving of his arms, the repeated, “See you”, his usual goodbye that had once seemed tedious and mildly annoying, but now Kenya just wanted to hear Satoru say it again.
Hiromi had one of Satoru’s hands in his as he relayed his day. Kazu and Osamu stood on the other side of Satoru’s bed, looking solemn. Aya stood by the door next to Kenya, watching the three other boys with a stern look. “Don’t get angry with Kazu and Osamu.” She said, lowly, so only Kenya could hear it. “They still want to do what they can for Satoru, but…” She trailed away, looking thoughtful, “middle school is different.”
“I understand,” Kenya replied, because he did. He knew how hard it was to juggle more rigorous classwork, lack of recess and breaks. It was a new curriculum, a step towards the future they would all be a part of one day. Kenya would be lying if he didn’t think he was a bit bitter about it. They would all move on to make their mark in the world while Satoru lay here for however long, deprived of his chance to do the same.
“You’re still angry.” It wasn’t a question. Aya eyes him.
Kenya shrugs. “It’s hard not to be.” He’s always been more level-headed and calmer than most other kids his age. He’s never been quick to anger, not really, always been better at seeing the situation from the outside and making a collected decision from what he’s observed. This is all… new to him. Most of his anger isn’t for Kazu and Osamu. He knows he’s just frustrated with the reality that Satoru won’t be with them when they all eventually graduate from middle school, then high school and then university—at least in Kenya’s case. Most of his anger is settled around the person who stole Satoru’s life away.
“I’m not angry with Kazu and Osamu,” Aya gives him a look and Kenya sighs, “okay, I am, a little bit, but it’s not just them.” Aya listens quietly as Kenya looks down at his fist, watching it tighten at his side. “I’ve told you about the detective game Satoru made up.” Aya nods. “Except it wasn’t made up. It was real. Satoru tried to tell us, tried to tell me, and I didn’t believe him. Not one hundred percent at least.”
Kenya watches Osamu and Kazu as they go through their own school days, talking about all the things they’ve been doing over the summer since their last visit, about Misato’s campaign and new clubs. It all sounds like excuses for why they’ve been away, to Kenya. Kazu and Osamu look apologetic, guilty, as they speak, and it further fuels Kenya’s frustration. Hiromi, unlike Kenya, seems to forgive them, sitting at Satoru side, his hand still holding Satoru’s limp one, as he nods and laughs and reassures. Kenya imagines Satoru sitting up, awake, his eyes open as he laughs alongside them all and congratulating them on their successes and gains, accepting their apologizes with his blue, blue eyes, not looking upset or disappointed.
“He should be able to go to school with us.” Kenya said, defiantly. “He should be getting better at drawing so he can become a manga artist like he’d been saying he wanted to be.”
“It’s not fair.” Aya adds, looking sad.
“No, it isn’t.” Kenya agrees.
There are several scraps of paper littering the floor of the hideout. Satoru sits in the middle of them all, his expression serious as he scribbles on one of the loose papers. Kenya hovers in the doorway of the hideout, watching the tilt of Satoru’s head as he works. He doesn’t want to enter, in case he breaks Satoru’s concentration. He’s seen Satoru look serious like this before a number of time since they’d started this detective game. Usually his gaze is focused on Kayo, or Hiromi, or, more recently, Nakanishi Aya. Kenya hasn’t seen him look this serious about paper or work before.
“Are you drawing?” He finally speaks up, after he’s been standing there for a while. Satoru startles, looking up in surprise. When he sees its Kenya, he relaxes a little bit but by the tense way he holds himself Kenya can see he still looks guarded.
“I’m just doing simple sketches, really.”
“It doesn’t look simple to me.” Kenya says, nodding to one of the Satoru’s “sketches” where Satoru had started to draw the outline of someone’s cheek and profile. Satoru flushes when he sees what Kenya was pointing at and snatches it up from the floor, hiding it against his chest.
“That’s nothing! I was just bored.” Satoru lies. Kenya has always known when Satoru lies, but it helps that Satoru is a horrible liar.
Kenya raises an eyebrow. “You looked really serious when I came in. This doesn’t look like some passing fancy to me.”
“I—” Satoru fumbles for a response but he can’t come up with one quick enough before Kenya is stepping fully into the room and taking a seat on the ground among Satoru’s mess of papers. Close up, Kenya can see they are different scenes and a hundred of different things. There are people, animals, backgrounds… there’s even a sketch of half of Kayo’s face. They’re awkward, still just growing into themselves but Kenya can see how much care Satoru put into drawing all of them. There is still much more Satoru needs to master, but Kenya can see that Satoru is developing skill ever so slowly.
Kenya presses his finger to part of Kayo’s hair on the sketch, “you gave her a cowlick.”
Satoru flushes even darker and Kenya turns his head into his shoulder to hide his grin. “I-I’m still not very good.”
“I can see that.” Kenya says and Satoru laughs at the blunt honestly. He doesn’t look upset though as he gently pushes a few papers in front for Kenya to see.
“I forgot how bad I was at first.” He says, almost absently. Kenya quirks an eyebrow at Satoru, confused, and Satoru startles, looking frightened for a moment before he scrambles to say, “I mean when I was really little! I was much worse than this!”
“I see.” Kenya can tell Satoru is lying. Satoru’s always had this habit of speaking what he’s really thinking sometimes, like word vomit. It’s always been amusing to see the horrified expression Satoru makes after he realizes he’s said it out loud. Kenya doesn’t know why he’s lying, but he can tell Satoru is shaken so he doesn’t comment. Instead he tilts his head down at another picture. This one is a half sketch of Hiromi and Kenya himself. In the picture it’s the both of them talking, Kenya recognizes Hiromi’s longer hair and Kenya’s own headphones wrapped around his neck. It’s a clumsy picture but in an endearing way.
“What have you been drawing all of this for?” Kenya can guess, it’s some form of practice for something based off Satoru’s earlier words.
Satoru seems to hesitate before he answers, “I want to be a manga artist when I grow up.”
Kenya looked up at him curiously. “I thought you said you wanted to be a hero.”
Satoru laughs, awkwardly rubbing the back of his neck, “I do! But I can’t really do that for a living, you know?” Kenya watches the sardonic way Satoru looks down, the faraway look he sometimes gets when he’s thinking about something, what Kenya doesn’t know. Kenya’s always thought himself adept in understanding other’s thoughts, he’d always been able to tell when Satoru was uncomfortable, annoyed, feeling lonely back before the detective game and all the business with Kayo. Satoru had always looked lonely, even when he’d been smiling and chattering with their group of friends. It’s only recently that Satoru had looked genuine about it all. Kenya isn’t quite sure how to read this new Satoru anymore.
“You need more practice.” Kenya says in lieu of asking why Satoru suddenly sounds and looks way too mature.
Satoru nods. “I know. I don’t put enough heart into what I draw, I know.”
“That’s not it.” Satoru looks up, surprised, and Kenya meets the cool blue of Satoru’s eyes, “I can see how much you care in,” he points at Kayo’s picture, “See, the way you draw Kayo is gentle. You captured her fragility exactly, I think.” He doesn’t add that she looks beautiful in the picture, even if it looks like she’s been drawn by an eleven-year-old. His heart lurches at the thought and Kenya isn’t quite sure why. “And here,” he points to the picture of him and Hiromi, “you caught both Hiromi and I talking how we usually look. You’ve captured it perfectly.” He looks back up to Satoru, seeing the faint blush on the other boy’s cheeks. “I think you have heart, Satoru. A lot of it.”
Misato catches Kenya when he’s leaving class the day after they all went to see Satoru. She looks furious.
“You went without me!” She shouts, livid. Misato’s usual pigtail style has been switched for just a single ponytail now. She’s gotten taller, taller than Kenya now, actually—he hasn’t gone through a growth spurt yet either—and she’s taken to wearing some amounts of makeup. Kenya can see she’s wearing red lipstick and that she’s gotten her ears pierced since the last time he saw her. A lot of their new male classmates, those not from their old elementary school, have taken to whispering about how pretty Misato looks. Kenya doesn’t quite see it, maybe because he knew her back in elementary school when she’s made fun out of Kayo’s less-than-wonderful home circumstances, and when she’d been ostracized for it, leading to being in similar dire straits herself not too long ago.
“I assume you are talking about when we all went to see Satoru yesterday.” Kenya responds calmly.
“Yes!” She is still shouting even though she’s standing right in front of Kenya now. He leans back a little and lets her rant for a minute about how Kazu and Osamu ditched her campaign that evening and how if they were all going to see Satoru she should have been invited as well.
“You can come with me today.” Kenya says, always the pragmatist. He’d planned to go again today so having Misato join him made him feel better about all of Satoru’s friends not forgetting about him.
“Good.” Misato nods, as if it was her idea, before she sobers and flashes Kenya a small, apologetic smile, “Sorry I yelled at you. I just sometimes feel like you guys leave me out of things.”
Kenya shifts on his feet, readjusting his backpack around his shoulders, “You’re always very busy with your campaign. I respect what you’re doing for Satoru.” Misato beams, hooking an arm through Kenya’s which startles him a moment before she begins to pull him along.
“Well let’s not waste time! I still have a lot to do before we can raise enough money for Satoru and his mother!”
Satoru had invited them all back to his house to join him and his mother for dinner. Fujinuma Sachiko had made curry enough for the entire group.
“Eat up!” Sachiko said, smiling brightly. “Don’t worry about leaving some food behind, we still have enough for a week’s worth of breakfast, lunch and dinner!”
Satoru groaned, leaning over to Kenya, who was sitting next to him, to whisper, “Eat as much as you can, please, for my sake.”
Kenya hid his smile in his sleeve, taking a bite of Sachiko’s spicy meal.
Kazu and Osamu were shoveling spoonful after spoonful of curry into their mouths. Aya eyed them both with a frown, but Kenya could see the fond way her mouth twitched as she moved to wipe some leftover curry from the side of Kazu’s mouth with a napkin. Hiromi was giggling at the others’ display, eating much more daintily than the other boys as he chatted between mouthfuls with Satoru’s mother. Satoru himself, though he was complaining earlier, was savoring each bite he ate. He didn’t leave a single piece of food on his plate.
When Satoru looked up, catching Kenya looking at him, he tilted his head in question, still chewing, and Kenya caught sight of a grain of rice stuck to Satoru’s cheek. His fingers twitched, as if he were going to lean over and pluck the grain off with his bare hands. He thought of Aya and how nonchalantly she’d done the same for Kazu earlier. Kenya felt a rush of apprehension settle in his stomach, suddenly nervous.
Instead of giving in to a desire he didn’t even know why he wanted, Kenya said, “You have a little…” Kenya pointed to his cheek and Satoru blinked, moving his hand to brush at his face. He looked down at the grain of rice he saw in his palm before he popped it into his mouth. He turned to flash Kenya a smile.
“No problem.” Kenya wasn’t sure why he felt disappointed.
Misato was quieter than the others when she sat with Satoru. She didn’t try to describe what she’s been up to, or explain why she hadn’t come to see him in a while. She merely watching Satoru breathe with an air of sadness that Kenya recognizes from Satoru’s mother sometimes. Kenya watches Satoru a little bit behind Misato, enough that he can’t touch but that he can see the steady rise and fall of the blanket to signal Satoru’s breath pattern. Kenya looks at the sweep of Satoru’s eyelashes, dark against his pale, too pale, cheeks. His hair is still too long and Kenya almost wants to ask someone to give Satoru a haircut.
Misato rises suddenly, rubbing at her eyes before she pats the bed lightly with her hand. She turns to Kenya, flashing him a wobbly smile. “Do you still need a minute?” She asks, her voice rough from what Kenya knows were tears.
Kenya shakes his head. “No, we can go.”
They leave just as Fujinuma Sachiko walks in. She smiles wearily down at them, looking exhausted but her eyes are fierce. She hasn’t lost hope yet. “It’s good to see you both.”
Kenya bows and Misato nods, “And you too, Fujinuma-san.”
Her smile looks a tad more genuine when she says, “How is the campaign going?”
Misato brightens a little, explaining away while Kenya stands beside her and watches Satoru’s mother. He can see the exhaustion in every limb in her body, from the way she carries herself and to the way she is using a smile like a shield. It’s similar to the way Satoru used to wear his smiles before they’d become truth instead of the façade they had once been. Kenya is surprised by how much Satoru resembles his mother, in the way they look and in the way they hold express themselves. Kenya attributes it to genetics and Fujinuma Sachiko’s status as a single mother. It must be lonely, Kenya thinks, living in that house with Satoru here in the hospital still. That house that once had held such life. Kenya knows Satoru’s mother is propositioning the hospital into allowing her to have Satoru live in her home while he is comatose. He wonders if that will cure her loneliness or just make it worse.
“—you been, Kenya?” Kenya comes back to himself at the address, meeting Fujinuma Sachiko’s eyes.
“I’m alright, Fujinuma-san.” He says, bowing again. “School has been much the same. I’m not taking as many extracurriculars as I or my parents would like, but for now they want me to focus on my studies.”
Sachiko’s smile is rueful, “That’s all well and good, but I meant how have you been?”
Kenya tries to hide his wince, he doesn’t think he is successful, “Good.”
Sachiko nods and doesn’t say anymore. She touches his shoulder and squeezes as she passes, however, and Kenya feels the tears begin to collect in the corner of his eyes. He wills them away.
It’s when they’re sitting in class, Satoru’s attention elsewhere and Kenya’s attention on how the light plays off of Satoru’s hair, when Satoru says, “Do you think Hinazuki will come visit?”
“Where is this coming from, Satoru?” Kenya watches the frown that splits Satoru’s mouth. “Kayo has a life now with her grandmother.”
“I know. I just… I miss her.” Satoru looks faraway again, his eyes on Kayo’s empty desk.
Kenya feels a burn in his chest and he presses a hand to his heart, surprised. It hurts in a strange, churning way, not unlike butterflies in his stomach but instead of a fluttering feeling it’s more like they’re beating recklessly against his ribs. He’s never really had butterflies and nervousness before—he’s always been confident when test taking and he’s never had stage fright, and even if his parents can be strict with him he’s never felt nervous around them. He knows they expect the best from him, and that’s what he gives them. He’s pretty sure it’s not supposed to feel like this.
Satoru seems to come back to himself, glancing at Kenya and sighing, “She’s much better off where she is; I should be happy for her. I guess,” he leans his head on his arms, “I wish I’d had more time to spend with her.”
Satoru closes his eyes, and Kenya watches him, the thumping of his heart beating faster than before. Kenya wills it to still, pressing a fist against his chest.
Hiromi is the one who breaks the news. “Hinazuki’s coming down to visit!” He says, not hiding his delight. Kenya looks up from his homework, feeling the familiar burn in his chest again. He’s gotten used to it now in conjunction to the mention of Kayo’s name.
“Is that so?” Kenya says, looking back down at his work.
Hiromi gives Kenya a curious look. “Aren’t you excited?”
“Yes.” Kenya lies. Kayo is his friend, he cares for her as much as Satoru had, well perhaps not as much as—his chest throbs again—he is happy she will be coming down, but another part of him doesn’t know how to feel.
When Kayo finally arrives, she’s bustled into a tight hug by Kazu. She looks bewildered—Kayo had always been different about contact. She wasn’t adverse to it, but Kenya knows from seeing her flinch every now and again that she is nowhere near healed from the abusive effects of her mother. She looks a little taller, her hair is longer too, but she’s still wearing those signature pink gloves of hers, Satoru’s gift, and it makes Kenya suddenly feel awkward.
When it’s Kenya’s turn to greet Kayo, he smiles tightly at her, “it’s good to see you again, Kayo.”
Kayo smiles, it lights her face up in ways Kenya had only seen a very few times before she left. It makes her look radiant and Kenya feels strangled but at the same time he can’t help but love her a little at the sight. She’s changed so much in only a couple years, smiling and laughing more with Kazu and Osamu’s antics, being more receptive to hand-holding, which she does with Hiromi, and even getting along surprisingly well with Aya whom she is meeting for the first time.
It’s nearing the end of the day when Kayo looks suddenly down, biting her lip, “How is Satoru?”
The others go silent, an air of tension hovers around the group. Kenya knows Satoru’s mother had phoned Kayo’s grandmother and told her the news. He remembers overhearing Kayo’s frantic pleas over the phone to Sachiko about how she wanted to come see him. Her grandmother had said she needed to settle in at school first, so Kayo had been unable to come visit until now.
“About the same,” Kenya says, because someone needs to tell her the truth. He meets Kayo’s eyes, “he hasn’t woken up yet. The doctors don’t know if he will at all…” when Kayo looks like she might cry, Kenya calmly continues, “Satoru’s mother still believes he will, though, so she hasn’t taken him off life support. She won’t even consider it.” He smiles, thanking Fujinuma Sachiko’s fierce spirit.
“Can I see him?” She asks, trying to keep her emotions in check. Hiromi takes her hand and squeezes.
“Of course you can.” He says and Kayo looks relieved, as if she thought she wouldn’t be allowed the chance.
Once Kayo sees Satoru for the first time, her tears fall freely and unchecked. She sobs, clinging onto Hiromi for comfort. Hiromi hugs her to him, trying to soothe her but he looks like he’s about to cry as well. Kazu and Osamu politely declined coming with. Kenya had hidden his furious anger at this when they’d said they had made other plans: Kazu to football practice, Osamu to a cooking club. Even Aya had said she needed to catch up on some of her homework. She looked apologetic when she’d said it, glancing at Kenya every now and again. Kenya had told her it was alright, she hadn’t looked convinced but she’d gone anyway. Misato and Kayo are still not on good terms so Misato decided not to join for Kayo’s sake. Kenya was more accepting to this excuse, even if he still wanted to force them all to come anyway.
Hiromi helps Kayo to the stool beside Satoru’s bedside and she wraps her quivering, still gloved hand around Satoru’s. Kenya watches her tremble and feels sympathy for her. He knows how much that Satoru and Kayo had meant to each other, and even if this burn in his chest still churned maliciously in his stomach, he wouldn’t let it control him. He put a tentative hand on Kayo’s shoulder and, once he could see that she wouldn’t pull away, squeezed her shoulder.
“Where did you learn basketball, Kenya?” Satoru asks, one day.
Kenya looks up from his reading of Othello this time, “Why do you ask?”
“I remember that one time I came to the children’s center late and you were all playing basketball instead of Othello,” he nods to the book in Kenya’s lap as if to explain where his thought had come from, “when I asked you to watch Hinazuki for me.”
“Ah,” Kenya remembers it, now, the gentle game of basketball they’d played to pass the time. It had been Hiromi’s idea when they’d discovered that Othello was hard to play with more than two people. “I’m not particularly good.”
“You could have fooled me!” Satoru exclaims, looking surprised, “you didn’t fumble once and you didn’t miss a single shot!”
Kenya shrugs, “it’s a matter of trajectory. I just knew from what side I shoot best from and took my time.”
Satoru looks impressed, “you could be a professional basketball player, if you wanted.”
Kenya looks back at Othello, “that’s not what’s best for me.”
“What do you mean?”
Kenya doesn’t look up from his book. “My parents want me to focus on my studies. I’ve dabbled in sports here and there, but once middle school begins I’ll be a full-time student. I won’t have time for sports.”
“That seems silly.” Kenya looks up and sees Satoru looking at him with his eyes narrowed, “You should do what you want.” Satoru’s eyes widen then, as if he’s come to some great conclusion, “wait, what do you want to do when you grow up?”
“I’ll be a lawyer.” Kenya says immediately. He doesn’t feel a surge of anything when he says it, not pride, not disgust, not frustration. It’s what’s expected of him to become; it’s what his parents want.
Satoru searches Kenya’s face, then blurts, “You looked so blank when you said that.” He pauses, realizes what he said and flushes but his mouth straightens into a frown and his eyes gleam and Kenya sees that he doesn’t regret saying it.
Kenya shrugs, “It’s what I’ll be doing when I’m old enough. I’m good at observing people so I’ll make a good lawyer.”
“You’ll become a lawyer because you think you’ll be good at it?” Satoru’s words come out low and Kenya can see how sad he looks. Kenya suddenly, abruptly, feels guilty. Satoru continues, more to himself, “Is this how he was before? Is this what he became when we grew up?”
Kenya blinks. “Satoru?”
Satoru straightens, as if coming back to himself, “Sorry.” He still looks sad when he looks at Kenya and Kenya can’t help but frown under Satoru’s scrutiny. He isn’t sure why he feels guilty, for letting Satoru down, perhaps? He can’t muster up the courage to tell Satoru not to look so upset, so instead he looks back down at his book and continues to read in silence.
Summer starts up and Kayo stays with them for the next few months. She tells them she will return to her grandmother and her own school once the New Year begins. Hiromi is the most excited out of all of them to have Kayo staying with them for so long. Kenya notices the way Hiromi looks at her. He can’t help but grimace, thinking of Satoru. He wants to tell Hiromi off, just a little bit, knowing that Satoru would want to be with Kayo the way that Hiromi wants to be. It’s unfair to Satoru, he wants to tell him. He doesn’t say any of this, he trust Kayo to hold the same sentiment. So it comes as a shock when Kayo begins to share the same look that Hiromi has. Kenya finds himself furious at the sight of them holding hands. He thinks of Satoru, he thinks of Kayo wearing Satoru’s gloves while holding Hiromi’s hand.
He goes to see Satoru alone now, unable to stand in the same room as either Hiromi or Kayo or both of them together—which is worse—without feeling sick with disgust.
He’s angry. He’s angry at his friends who are slowly but surely becoming accustomed to middle school and acclimating to their new lives, seemingly coming less and less to see Satoru. He’s angry at Kayo for moving on from Satoru—he knows how much Kayo means to him, and if he could see the way Kayo and Hiromi are together… Kenya doesn’t want to see the way Satoru would congratulate them with sadness and longing in his eyes. He’s angry at whoever tried to kill Satoru. He’s angry that he’s still too young to do anything about it. But, mostly, Kenya is angry at himself. He’s angry at himself for feeling frustrated with his friends for wanting to live the lives Satoru gave them. He’s angry at himself for feeling jealous of Kayo whenever Satoru used to talk about her. He’s angry at himself for not being able to admit how he feels about Satoru; he’s angry he didn’t figure it out sooner and wasn’t brave enough to tell Satoru before he went into a coma.
It’s only now, sitting alone beside Satoru’s closed eyes and gentle breathing that Kenya fists his hands in Satoru’s bedsheets and lets go. “Satoru, you’re my best friend.” Kenya says to a boy that won’t hear him. “I wanted to grow up with you. I wanted to see you smile. I wanted to see you become a manga artist, because you were already a hero.”
He smiles, but then the next words nearly don’t leave his throat. He can barely choke them out. “I wanted to tell you I love you.” He sniffles and wipes at his eyes. “I know, too late. Sorry.”
He looks up at the ceiling. “You remember when you asked me about what I wanted to be when I grew up?” He doesn’t stop from staring up at the ceiling because he’s afraid if he looks down the tears fill fall. “I told you wanted to be a lawyer because I thought I’d be good at it. My parents wanted me to do something important… I chose to become a lawyer because I thought that would work out the best… that it would make them happy.” Kenya takes a shuddering breath. “I don’t want to be a lawyer for those reasons anymore. I want to be a lawyer so I can find who did this to you and bring them to justice. I want to be a hero, too.”
Kenya finally looks down and, just as he thought, the tears runs freely. He grasps Satoru’s limp hand, cold from air conditioning but Kenya can feel Satoru’s steady heartbeat against the back of his wrist. Kenya squeezes Satoru’s hand, pressing his forehead to the bed and tries to get his breathing under control.
They’re in the hideout again, the others are outside playing in the snow but Kenya is reading again. Satoru appears in the doorway, “Here Kenya, catch!”
Satoru throws him a rolled up piece of paper. Kenya catches it easily, giving Satoru a curious look. “What is it?”
Satoru moves from foot to foot in a nervous gesture, Kenya can see him wringing his hands. “Open it.”
Kenya obliges, unrolling the paper from its scrolled state and blinks at what he finds. It’s a drawing of himself. It doesn’t look at all like how Satoru’s other drawings look: childlike in their skill and messy. This looks almost professional, for an eleven-year-old, anyway. Kenya is caught in surprise at the detail of his face, his hands and clothes.
He can’t speak for several moments. Satoru moves from foot to foot in unease. “Well?”
Kenya swallows, speaking around a lump in his throat, “It’s really good.”
Satoru beams. “Oh good! I thought you might say it was as terrible as the others!” Kenya gives Satoru a reproachful look and Satoru laughs, standing in front of Kenya and smiling down at him. His eyes are very blue and his cheeks are flushed with color, from the cold or embarrassment Kenya isn’t sure. “I wanted to give you this as a thank you… for what you said about my drawings before.”
“You didn’t need to…”
“I wanted to.” Satoru insists, looking determined. He leans forwards so that their faces are suddenly very close together. Kenya balks at the close distance between them. He’s never been this close to Satoru before. He can see deep into Satoru’s eyes this way and it makes Kenya feel warm all over.
Kenya has the strange, inexplicable urge to lean his head forwards just a little so that their mouths meet. Shocked by this revelation, Kenya startles and leans away.
Satoru looks surprised, but leans back too, his smile not diminished in the slightest. “So keep it. And come join us in the snow! We miss you out there!” With that, Satoru turns and exits the hideout.
Kenya lays, back smooshed hard against the cushions in his haste to put distance between himself and Satoru. His heart is beating a mile a minute, and he can’t get himself to calm down the usual way. And that’s how Kenya realized he might be in love with his best friend.
“You have some visitors.” Fujinuma Sachiko says.
Kobayashi Kenya, 26, and Sugita Hiromi, 25, enter the hospital room where Satoru sits, looking at them curiously. Kenya raises his hand in greeting, “Hey Satoru.”
“Kenya? Hiromi?” Satoru croaks out, his voice still sounds raspy from disuse. It’s been fifteen years, after all. Kenya can feel his eyes crinkling as he smiles, pushing Hiromi forward so the other man can sit and then he takes a chair for himself.
“In the flesh.” He teases, nodding to Hiromi. Hiromi smiles too, elated. They’ve been waiting for this moment for fifteen years, and it’s everything and more than what they imagined.
“I know, we look taller.” Hiromi teases too, now. Fatherhood has loosened him up in several ways, and Mirai is only a few months old at this stage. After deciding to become a doctor for Satoru’s sake, he’d taken his studies in university deathly seriously and his attitude had changed to match. He was finally returning back to his usual, soft, sunny self.
“You both do look… different.” Satoru accepts, smiling wryly. Kenya can’t take his eyes off the animated way Satoru is talking, moving—although only with his hands—Kenya’s been replaying memories in his head, trying to remember how Satoru used to act, used to talk. He’d nearly forgotten what Satoru’s eyes looked like. The blue of Satoru’s gaze is familiar and Kenya sighs in relief at the sight.
“We have a lot to tell you about.” Kenya says, straightening up from his slouch to give his best friend a friendly smile.
It took time for Kenya to come to terms with everyone moving on. It took time for Kenya to understand he was allowed to move on. Moving on wasn’t leaving Satoru behind, like he’d been adamant was what they’d all been doing. No one left Satoru behind. Growing up was just growing up, and once Satoru woke up, they’d all be there to greet him.
Kenya tells Satoru about everything he can think of. Hiromi shares his own thoughts and experiences too, eyes gentle and too-happy and Kenya knows he must share the same look. Because their hero is awake, and it’s time for him to catch up to them.