Head Games with Hyouka
Yuji let out a sigh as the restaurant's door closed behind Hyouka and Natsumi, finally leaving him alone with his friends. The boys talked and laughed among themselves, finishing off the last of their meals. He glanced down at the bowl before him- all that remained were the dregs of soy sauce and miniscule particles of leek. His stomach was comfortably full now.
His wallet was a different story.
Hyouka's meal was another expense for today's outing, though Yuji really only had himself to blame. Dragging her along without telling her in advance wasn't the smartest course of action.
He’d probably have to get a part-time job if he wanted to have recreational funds for himself- being Hyouka’s servant was starting to get pricy.
Or better yet, he could always “borrow” money from his brother.
As the boy sat back in his chair, his gaze drifted to the table Hyouka had been banished to after Ryuhei arrived. He could almost still see her sitting there, staring up at him after being asked what he was once like.
Yuji involuntarily shivered.
Hyouka’s red eyes had looked downright nightmarish in that moment. They were icy cold yet burning hot, and sharper than any blade. Her pupils were like blackholes, preventing him from even budging. Those crimson irises were like a sniper’s red light sight, locked on their target and prepared to destroy.
But she had spared him.
Yuji didn’t understand why Hyouka had covered for him- for all she knew, he could’ve already told his friends everything.
Scratch that. There was not a chance he’d voluntarily make himself look awful for the hell of it.
Even so, Hyouka had every right to expose the worst of what he had put her through.
It was unlikely that she would’ve forgotten, after all.
Yuji felt his chest tighten, grimacing at the sensation. He didn’t want to remember what he was like back then. It wasn’t good for his conscience.
That horrific, reoccurring nightmare really had nothing to do with some sort of curse.
Of course it hadn’t.
Maybe the sudden reappearance of Hyouka had been enough to stir up the old memories they shared. Maybe having to face her again forced him to recall that his past wasn’t just something that could fade into obscurity.
That was just something he had to live with. It hadn’t really bothered him before, though.
Yuji closed his eyes, replaying the nightmare in his head.
Hyouka had stood below him, the tendrils of her hair suffocating him. The setting had been a familiar one, but appeared twisted and ransacked. Anyone would’ve been at least a little shaken up by a dream like that.
It was then that he realized the truth of the situation.
He hadn’t begged Hyouka for forgiveness by following his current, more refined moral compass. It wasn’t out of shame nor guilt.
It was out of cowardice.
Yuji had feared that his karmic debt was manifesting in the form of cursed nightmares. He hadn’t really cared about redeeming himself in Hyouka’s eyes nor proving that his character had changed since junior high.
It was all quite literally just to help him sleep at night.
So why was he now feeling like this?
“Hey! Are ya ready to go, Tanihara?” Ueno’s voice snapped him out of it.
Yuji blinked, rubbing his temples.
“H-Huh? Oh yeah, let’s get out of here.”
“You were zoning out.” Ryuhei remarked, tugging him up. “Everything alright, Yu?”
“My head kinda just hurts, that’s all. Don’t worry about it.”
“We’re gonna go pay now, so c’mon.” Moriyama led the other boys to the front of the restaurant.
Yuji pulled out his wallet, leaving the money for two bowls of kishimen on the counter.
Though Hyouka had said that her forgiveness couldn’t be bought, he sure did try.
That evening, it had begun to rain again. Dark clouds blocked out the moonlight as a steady stream of droplets struck the windows, the sound amplified by the blowing wind.
It was nearly June- precipitation would only become more frequent and more intense as next month drew closer. Hyouka didn’t mind, though. Heavy rainfall reminded her of Kyoto, a comforting constant that was luckily shared with Nagoya. The sound was music to her ears and only made her grandmother’s house feel warmer in contrast.
Hyouka sat on the edge of her bed, her bedroom illuminated by the glow of her bedside lamp. Her Victorian style nightgown elegantly enveloped her petite figure, the pale pink fabric matching the flush of her cheeks. The long flowing skirt and ruffled hem and neckline made her feel princess-like, a bonus next to the comfort. Her white hair was loose, falling to her waist.
It was all too easy to compare her to a doll. Even her restful expression suited that comparison.
As Hyouka brushed through her long, pale locks, her mind wandered.
She and Natsumi had walked home together that day. It was nothing like she was used to. The girl was alarmingly lively and more sincere than anyone else that Hyouka had recently met. Natsumi walked with bouncy steps and made pleasant conversation, unfazed by the albino girl’s humorless responses.
Perhaps she was like this to everyone- always chipper and outgoing. However, Hyouka couldn’t complain.
It surprised her how quickly time flew, how much more relaxed she felt. She swore she almost let a faint smile slip when Natsumi waved goodbye.
She would consider looking for the girl at school next Monday.
Hyouka put her hairbrush down on her bedside table, reaching over to turn off the lamp. The room darkened and she crawled into bed, curling up and slowly dozing off.
She didn’t expect to have such a sobering dream that night, though.
Hyouka jolted straight up, startled by the sound of someone calling her name. She sat in a rolling desk chair, a large desk lay in front of her, covered in various stacks of paper and books. A large chalkboard hung on the wall, wiped clean.
It was her 7th grade classroom.
“Yes..?” Her voice spoke, but not from her own mouth. As her eyes darted around, they soon landed on the source, her heart sinking in her chest.
Among the faceless children seated at desks, one girl stuck out to her like a sore thumb.
She was an outdated replica of Hyouka.
About 13 years old, the girl's stature was even smaller and thinner than before. Her crimson eyes were doe-like, but partially obscured by her round-framed glasses. The girl’s hair was white, pulled up in two buns- one on either side of her head. Her uniform was that of Hyouka's junior high- a simple black and white seifuku with a red neck scarf.
“Hey.” Hyouka spoke up from behind the teacher’s desk.
No one looked towards her.
“Hey!” She said, louder this time.
It seemed that to the children, she didn’t exist. Perhaps she was just there to watch.
A group of three boys now stood around the desk of her past self, grinning. Unlike the other students, they had recognizable faces.
“So, are you a real albino?” Komori spoke up.
“Yes, I am...”
“Are you sure about that?” Sakamoto chimed in.
Hyouka’s eyes widened as she stared at the third boy from across the room.
“So...” Yuji Tanihara remarked, smirking as he snatched one of her buns. “Does that mean the carpet matches the drapes?”
Both girls went bright red at the vulgar question.
“U-Umm..” The replica of Hyouka stammered, the boys crudely laughing at her flustered reaction.
Hyouka grit her teeth, fire blazing in her eyes as she watched herself be obnoxiously harassed. She recalled how vulnerable and alarmed she had felt in that moment. Reliving it made her blood boil. She urged to wring Yuji’s neck, but could only sit there, paralyzed.
The scene seemed to fade into a different memory, the faceless students getting up from their desks and starting to move around. Some remained in the classroom, while others went out into the hallway as the daily cleaning period commenced.
Hyouka watched as her younger counterpart rose from her seat, leaving the room. Yuji and his friends slipped out as well, presumably to slack off as they usually had.
As the children wiped down the desks and windows, Hyouka found herself able to get up from the teacher’s desk, rushing out the door.
Stepping into the hallway, she watched herself enter the girl’s bathroom, cleaning supplies in hand. Hyouka grimaced. She was on toilet duty- a responsibility she would be taking on for all three years of junior high.
A few students glanced back at her as she disappeared behind the door.
“Say, why does Morikawa always clean the bathroom?” A boy mused to his friend.
“No one else wants to, so she’s stuck with that job.” She replied, leaning on her broom handle. ”Isn’t that obvious?”
Hyouka stiffened as a familiar trio seemed to pick up on the conversation, approaching with mischievous grins.
“Nope, you’ve got it all wrong!” Sakamoto snickered behind his hand.
“Yeah, Tanihara knows the real reason!” Komori elbowed him. ”Tell ’em!”
“Oh, haven’t you heard?” Yuji feigned surprise at this, before confidently elaborating. "Morikawa haunts the bathroom!”
“Eh? What are you talking about?”
“She’s like our school’s Hanako-san of the toilet!” Yuji claimed. ”But the rumor says that if you get too close to her, she’ll put a curse on you!
“That’s kind of scary...” The faceless girl murmured.
“Yeah, so if you don’t wanna face her wrath, watch out!”
Hyouka’s fists were tightly balled up, her shoulders quivering in barely contained hatred, lips pressed into a firm line.
There had been no rumor until he had started one.
She glared at their retreating backs as the boys carelessly strolled away, chuckling to themselves.
The sound of a door swinging shut forced her to tear her gaze from them, instead watching as her replica returned to the classroom once more.
She stopped dead in her tracks.
Hyouka hurried to join her, chest tightening. The classroom was the same as before, but with one notable difference.
Faceless children sat at their desks, facing the front of the room. They had all shifted away from the albino girl’s seat, which now stuck out like a broken bone. The only one that hadn’t left her isolated was the desk behind hers.
It was the one that belonged to Yuji.
It felt threatening- an ominous warning.
The girl lowered her head, pushing up her glasses as she silently approached her desk, sitting down without a word. Hyouka stood in the doorway, the three boys walking right through her without even the slightest reaction. Yuji nonchalantly reached into his pocket.
“Woah, Tanihara!” Komori jeered. ”Your desk is awfully close to Morikawa! Are you gonna be okay?”
“Yeah, what if she hexes you?”
“Aww guys, don’t worry about me!” Yuji simpered, sitting down behind Hyouka. ”I’m here to exorcise her!”
His hand shot forward in an instant, pulling back the collar of her shirt. She gasped in protest, trying to pry his fingers off.
Yuji gave her a wicked grin, dumping salt packets down the back of her shirt, his friends laughing as she jolted, struggling to shake it off.
From the doorway, Hyouka let out a strangled yelp, her eyes widening as a burning sensation crept up her spine. It rapidly grew stronger, scorching her in seconds.
The girl clawed at her back, a scream tearing from her throat.
None of the faceless students even flinched. The boys and their target didn’t either, too enraptured by their game of torment.
Hyouka fell to her knees, her vision flickering wildly, dark spots dancing before her eyes.
Fading away like wisps of smoke, Hyouka was finally purged from her nightmare.
The albino girl jolted up with a scratchy gasp, her eyes wide and glossy like rubies. Her small hands clutched at the pillow that her face had just been buried in, the fabric dampened by sweat.
Frantically rolling over, she found Grandmother leaning over the bed, worry tainting her features.
“Gr-Grandmother...” Her soft voice came out hoarsely, a rawness in her throat.
“My dear Hyouka, what on Earth just happened?” She frowned, sitting on the edge of the bed. “I heard muffled screaming coming from your room- it gave me such a fright!”
The girl wiped at her damp forehead with her sleeve, her gaze dropping to her lap. Her vision was blurred, a result of removing her contacts earlier.
“It was just...a nightmare.” She murmured. She felt juvenile to have had such a strong reaction to a bad dream- stupid even.
“It must have been quite a terrible one. Are you alright?”
“Yes...” Hyouka kept her eyes fixed downwards. "Did I...awaken anyone else?”
“It doesn’t seem so.”
Hyouka let out a sigh, nodding vaguely.
“Good...I’m sorry I disturbed you, Grandmother.”
“There is nothing to apologize for, do not fret.” She shook her head.
Silence filled the room. It became apparent that the rain had finally stopped.
“Would you like me to make tea, darling Hyouka?” The woman spoke up again. ”I was just about to brew myself a cup.”
“Come along then.” She rose from the bed, waiting for her in the doorway. Hyouka scooted out from under her covers, feeling for the glasses that sat on her bedside table. She slipped them on, before following her grandmother.
The albino pair quietly walked downstairs, entering the kitchen. The room was dimly lit by a small nightlight, casting a warm orange glow across the walls. Hyouka leaned against the counter, watching as Grandmother opened a cupboard to retrieve a small kettle, filling it with water and setting it onto the stove.
“Have a seat in the living room.” She smiled gently at her granddaughter. ”I’ll bring it to you when it’s ready.”
Hyouka nodded, turning and leaving the room. Padding across the tatami mat floor, she sat down at the table, not caring enough to sit in seiza.
She tiredly reached up to comb her fingers through her hair, which had become tangled and somewhat matted by sweat. The thin pink fabric of her nightgown clung to her petite figure, making her feel uncomfortable and sticky.
It wasn’t long before Grandmother gracefully swept into the room, a yunomi in each hand. The scent of roasted buckwheat wafted through the air.
“I made sobacha. It should soothe you.”
“Of course, my dear.”
Hyouka carefully took the cylindrical teacup into her hands, feeling its warmth against her palms. The tea was a light golden color, and as she took a sip, she found it to taste sweet and nutty. The heat soothed her throat, spreading throughout her insides.
Grandmother sat in front of her, cupping the yunomi in her own pale hands. The pair were the spitting image of each other, only differentiated by their age and attire.
“What was your nightmare about?” She spoke up, peering at Hyouka through the spectacles perched upon the bridge of her nose.
The girl frowned, staring down at the tea in her cup. Her fingers pressed into the white glazed porcelain, tracing over the pink hydrangeas that decorated its surface.
“A few incidents from junior high.” She murmured.
Hyouka didn’t feel the need to elaborate- she remembered eavesdropping on that conversation on the day she arrived.
“I’m very sorry, darling Hyouka.” Grandmother’s warm red eyes met hers as she glanced up again.
“Why are you apologizing?" She dryly chuckled. "You weren’t the one who bullied me.”
Grandmother shook her head more firmly.
“I’m sorry you inherited my condition.” Her voice was hushed. ”Perhaps that never would’ve happened if not for it.”
Hyouka’s eyes widened, alarmed by this uncharacteristic sentiment.
Late night conversations with Grandmother were familiar and often intimate, but she had never heard her say anything so guiltily before.
Hyouka slammed her yunomi down on the table as she got to her feet, the golden tea sloshing over and splattering her hand. Grandmother stared up at her, startled by Hyouka's sudden surge of energy as she threw her arms around the elder woman, burying her face in her shoulder.
“Grandmother, don’t blame yourself for what they did to me!” Hyouka felt her throat tighten as she spoke. “Albino or not, there’s no one else but you that I’d rather look like!”
The girl felt thin arms wrap around her waist, embracing her in return. The room was silent for a long moment, before Grandmother finally broke it.
“I love you, my darling Hyouka...”
“I love you too...” She squeezed her eyes shut, clinging onto her yukata.
Though the memory of her past torment stung like a healing wound that had reopened again, Hyouka pushed it back down. It was not out of shame nor pride. In the comforting security of Grandmother’s arms, there was simply no need to brood.
She would save that for once she was alone again.