Chapter 1:

Long Time No See

The Fall of Prince Hayashi

“Souta Fujiwara is a creep.”

My bag was grabbed off my back, lifting my small body off the floor. Whoever was holding me then slammed me against the classroom wall, my head vibrating from the impact.

The blurred face holding me grinned, a smile of fangs drawing my attention. “Hey creep, why don’t you just do us a favor….and follow your books.”

Turning my head towards the window, I saw my books from earlier scattered across the school yard. Right now, we were on the top floor. Don’t tell me he was planning on-

Before I knew it, the window behind me shattered into pieces as I felt myself fall through the glass. It was like reaching the top of a rollercoaster, only to come crashing down thanks to gravity. The moment the glass left my side, I was met with the force of gravity that pulled me closer and closer to the ground.

“Oi, Fujiwara! Make sure to grab that last box and unpack it before you go.”

My eyes snapped open as I jolted awake from the sudden noise. Was that a dream? I ran my hand down my legs to find myself on solid ground. Nope, that was most likely a nightmare. I haven’t had one of those in a while.

Making sure my body couldn’t hear my sigh, I got out of the cashier booth and headed to the backroom. “Got it sir.”

In reality, I was here inside the convenience store. Although I hated my job, I was thankful that it kept me safe from the summer heat wave that had just hit Onomichi in the early morning. Getting here on the train early in the morning was a nightmare. Imagine dripping head to toe in sweat, with not a piece of cloth dry enough to wipe the condensation off your forehead. That’s how hot it was. While this place was safe, customers would walk in reeking of summertime as their feet bee-lining to the cold drinks section. I opened the backroom as a cool breeze hit me. I probably rung up 50 different types of drinks, with both the old and young wanting something cold to beat the heat.

Opening the backroom was like entering a hideout. Except this hideout lacked any glamour and smelled like bleach all the time. This room carried the extra stock for the store and sadly, my boss’s small desk in the corner. Finally, the room had lockers for the workers, as if we would ever use them for a job as useless as this one. Walking back the broken boxes in front of me, I headed towards the back of the room and grabbed the newest container in the collection. The top was already open, and I could tell my coworkers from earlier shifts already took some of them out.

The boss wouldn’t mind if I took one then. I’d just blame it on them if I get caught.

I took two water bottles and opened my locker. It carried everything I’d brought to the store, including sweaty clothes and a sturdy backpack. Since I was going to return the uniform today, I had more than enough room for some treats. Ripping the zipper open, I placed both the bottles underneath my old shoes and closed the locker after the job was done. There. My first robbery was complete.

With the box in hand, I made it back to the cashier booth and plopped myself back into the seat. I threw the box behind me, because although I was supposed to be putting product in the fridge, I was getting payed by the hour. So the longer I took, the more money I was going to get. Besides, no one was in a rush to get only water when all the fridges were stuffed with other yummy drinks.

A sudden thud brought my attention to the backdoor which lead outside. I leaned on my hand and watched to make sure some teen didn’t suddenly decide to rob a store in broad daylight. I saw a big guys, with tan skin and slicked back hair. Oh, it was the boss. Probably back from smoking a cigarette outside. He was acting like a customer who secretly stole something from the back, his eyes darting from side to side. Boss was smart enough to know that some youngsters hated the smell of cigarette smoke. But I really never cared. Even in this heat, he was a man of habit. It was almost honorable.

My boss suddenly noticed me and stopped the paranoid acting he was so used to. He flashed me the confident grin he usually always had and walked over to my side. “Fujiwara, did you find the box of water in storage?”

Well, looks like I was caught red handed. “Yep, I was just putting them in before I customer came in. I’ll go back to putting them up if you want.”

Boss smiled. “Atta boy.”

I got up , lifting up that stupid box once again. Instead of going back out to smoke, my boss followed behind me like a lost puppy. Probably because he knew that he was going to be losing his best worker in a few hours.

I opened the fridge closest to the front of the store and flipped the box open. Of course my boss wouldn’t help me. He choose to lean on the fridge next to me, watching my movements like a hawk or a strict parent. Like he had the criticism on the edge of his tongue, itching to come out of his smoke-filled mouth.

“Hey Fujiwara,” my boss said. “Do you have to leave the store today? I’ll pay you a dollar extra on the wage if you stay till fall.”

“You already know I can’t,” I pushed the bottles in the front back to make room in the fridge. I’ve already missed going to university last year. I can’t miss another year.”

Right now I was supposed to be in my first year of university. I was supposed to be studying criminology and making friends and going on trips. However, I was obviously not at school right now. Instead of rushing into university, I decided to take a gap year to make some cash so that the next couple of years as a student weren’t like hell. In other words, so that I could finally enjoy school. Finally become the person everyone hangs out with, without ever begging my parents for cash when I moved out.

Nobody liked a loser who borrowed cash from their parents.

The top two shelves in the fridge were full, so I made some room on the bottom ones. Even though nobody ever kneeled down on their knees to grab drinks anymore. I thought we were done talking for now, but it seemed like my stupid boss wasn’t on the same page as me.

“I guess you’re right,” he said. “Young boys need to be outside, living their lives before settling into work. I remember when I was younger. I was the one all the girls wanted in high school.”

He landed a playful punch on my shoulder. “I bet in your high school everyone was dying over you. Girls like the dark-haired-mysterious type. And who knows, maybe if you wore glasses you would get some dumb popular girl.”

Irritating. This man was irritating. If he didn’t pay me, I would stay away from him at all times. If only he knew that girls only like the dark-haired-mystery guy when they were in their stupid manga. Middle school and high school were both hell for me. I was small, puny, weak, and had all the tail telling signs of a nerd. My existence was an invitation to life-long bullying. I pushed the final water bottle into its space and frowned. I was boring, dull, sad, and lonely. I was like a rock at the bottom of the sea. Destined to be used and forgotten.

It wasn't until till the day I transferred out of high school in Kumano to Onomichi that I finally felt peace. It felt like grabbing someone’s hand and letting them save me from drowning. Here in Onomichi, no one knew me as the class creep. Instead, I was just Souta Fujiwara. The kid who worked at the convenience store down the block from the train station.

Wait, what did my boss just say? I snapped back into reality to find the boss yapping about his own luxurious life in college. According to his accounts, all the girls and guys loved him. The teachers gave him amazing grades and he was almost valedictorian. A perfect university experience.

Which lead him into owning a shabby convenience store apparently.

“I hope university is good to me as much as it was kind to you sir,” I closed the fridge and turned to face him. “Maybe you can give me some tips on how to do well in university?”

So I can avoid ending up like you.

“Of course buddy!” he said, grabbing me by my shoulder and pulling me in. “After all, us men have to stick together to be successful!”

Now, what I said wasn’t a lie. I wanted friends, I wanted to know people. I wanted to enjoy my life again after spending so many years of it suffering in a school uniform. I traded my old glasses in for contacts days after arriving to my new school. I played video games but hid who I was online. I styled my jet black hair in an acceptable way. By the end of my first month here, I was already physically ready for society again. It’s just that my mind needed more than a couple of months to get over it all.

I let my boss talk his heart out as we both headed back to the cashier booth. I was only up for a minute, but I still took my seat in the cashier chair, while he leaned against the wall next to me.

Bzz. Bzz. Bzz.

A message? Pulling my phone out of my pocket, I saw the home screen light up. Yep, it was a message. Guessing by my lack of friends or social life, there were only two people who would ever text me. My mom...or my dad. Hmm. What if I just ignored the message? But….what if mom really needed my help? But what if it was just a prank?

Oh my God just pick up the phone you weirdo. It’s your Mom.

Giving in, I opened the screen and entered the messaging app.

Mom: We made your favorite today Souta! Can u grab some milk? Your father forgot to bring some home today. :)

It was mom. I felt a little stress I didn’t know existed leave my body.

Of course Dad forgot milk. He would forget his own body if he could.

Okay. So she just needed milk. Nothing serious. Just text back ‘okay’ and get the milk once you leave. Was my boss still talking to himself? I looked behind me to find him in the middle of a story, one he’s already told a thousand times. Good. He was the last person who I wanted to explain to why I hated phones. Let him stay in his own fantasy since it sparred harming me.

Students my age had a parasitic relationship with technology. They had no choice but to be connected online, because everyone else was online too. Universities even pushed people to be more active on their apps and programs, since it gave the universities a modern look in the eyes of a new generation. I was everything but a lover of technology. This was my first phone in three years and I only brought it out of necessity.

My parents gave me a phone back in middle school. I felt honored to hold it, as if it was a heirloom and not a classic dummy phone. The only thing it could do was download a few apps and text/call people. Texting and calling others. I felt a shiver down my spine as goosebumps emerged all over my back. That phone….. caused me more misery than anything else in my life. Who knew that having the world in your finger tips was such a horrible thing for a middle schooler like me. Everyone from school used to make sure that I knew how irrelevant I was. That I knew how much they didn’t care about me in the slightest. It was a common occurrence that the people who would follow me on their secret accounts would be call me a creep on those very accounts.

Souta is such a creep. He looks like he’ll snap at any minute.

Ew, his hair smells like trash. I wonder if he takes showers. :D

Why does someone like him have to exist?

My parents weren’t blind. They saw how much school hurt me. They knew how much it killed me to go to middle school and then high school with people who hated me. Mom never understood why I was bullied or why I didn’t say anything to her earlier. Dad was concerned too, a rarity in his case. Both of them tried their hardest to change things, to make it better. My parents tried to become closer to other parents, they would drop me off at school themselves, and my Mom would text me how much she cared for me every morning.

Yet that never worked.

Middle school and high school left me empty. In an attempt to salvage what remained of my sanity, we moved to Onomichi. There was no one else left in Kumano. No one cared if I left, or even if I disappeared. 

What about him? He would care....right?

Joe Gold