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He cannot sit still. When he moves: tries to do five things at once, is so busy he can barely recall the date or time or day of the week, exhausts himself to the point of delirium, that’s when he can forget the empty space in his head.

He fills his surroundings with noise. Sometimes he gets in trouble from his grandfather for setting the volume of the music too high in the shop. On slow days, he’d get around it by sneaking his iPod to work. He keeps his hair longish (he has his own definition of ‘longish’) and buys the kinds of ear buds that go around the back of the head so he can better hide them. He’s good at yanking them off fast when he hears the back door open, although he’s come close to getting caught several times.

He’s picked up the embarrassing habit of taking to himself. His friends say nothing about it, except maybe Jou who’s tries to distract him when he can’t keep it to a mumble. He’s comfortable enough around his friends not to worry about restraining himself but he’s stared at a lot in public, which still bothers him. At home, he can let his thoughts show in his face and hands. He’ll laugh out loud, frown, make wild hand gestures and get so lost in his own talking that he forgets no one is answering him.

At night he keeps the fan on, or the humidifier, or the radio with the volume kept low. He wraps his comforter tight around him, tucks his head underneath it and tries to sleep. The insomnia he has comes and goes but he doesn’t really go all out to try and cure it because he knows it’s pointless. It takes up to two hours for him to fall asleep but the dreams catch him before he’s totally gone. They’re always very vivid and weird. He’ll wake up instantly when someone comes into his room to turn off the fan, or humidifier, or radio.

He still turns his head when someone nearby says ‘aibou.’ He’ll hear it even if no one says it, kind of like the way some people randomly think they hear their cell phone ringing.

Sometimes the silence is so deafening that he thinks he’ll go crazy. He is the only one in the world suffering from… from a hole in his head that doesn’t actually exist and whatever he does to make the problem better doesn’t get at that hole. When it becomes too much, he can’t function. He can’t go to school or help his grandfather that the front desk or hang out with his friends. He doesn’t get hungry or thirsty. Sometimes all he can do is clutch his head (or his chest) double over and take long, deep breaths. He may be inclined to go for a run until he’s out of breath, stumble home and collapse on the couch.

His grandfather suggests he go see a shrink, at least for the depression.

But he doesn’t have depression. Everyone has depression. Everyone has depression and they take meds and see shrinks and talk out their problems (all of which are normal and believable, by the way) and maybe they get better and maybe they don’t but at least their problems are normal and believable and someone, somewhere on the planet can empathize with them. He doesn’t have depression. And his problems are neither normal nor believable. And counselors are expensive. 

His friends understand, but only to an extent. Even Ryou. But even when they didn’t fully get what he says, it feels good to talk about it.

He sits and waits for the time to come when he’ll be used to this. Which would basically be like the time before he got the Puzzle: when he played with his games alone (even the 2-player games) and sucked at basketball and got beaten up on a weekly basis. He wants to think that he can be just a normal teenager AND have friends. His friends are good at helping him believe this.

When he feels particularly brave, he pays a visit to his Soul Room. On the other side of the hallway are ruins. It’s not so much the ruins of the dead as it is the ruins of someone who used to occupy that space but had left a long time ago. Every time he visits, there’s less of it. He remembers when he’d gotten his wisdom teeth removed. The gums were tender and there were large holes where the teeth used to be but the holes closed over time and the remaining teeth shifted to fill the space. His Soul Room is doing the same thing. Slowly, it’s getting accustomed to one mind and one heart and soon there would be room for him to spread out as much as he wants.

There would be room for him to become better.

He wonders if, beneath this mess, there’s room to mourn. Maybe the mourning has already started but he doesn’t realize it. The space in his head isn’t just that, after all. It used to be the home of a dear friend.

He chooses to believe that he’s stronger for having had another self. His other self helped him to better know his own self. His other self protected him, raised him to his feet and helped him run.  And his other self still existed, somewhere, as his own person.

He’ll move on in life as a normal person, eventually. He will. But he needs some time, and that’s okay too.