I rolled over to my left.
“Shin. Wake up.”
I pulled my blanket up and covered myself with it, like a caterpillar.
“Shin, you’re going to be late!”
My mother then pulled the blanket away from me, opened the curtains to let the light shine into my room. I hissed at the sun.
“Come on, get up!”
I curled myself in a position like a baby.
My mom lightly slapped my face, “You’re already in university, Shin.”
She sighed. “What would you do if I’m not around anymore?”
“… Five minutes,” I replied to her.
She then left and went downstairs.
Every time when she said those words, I couldn’t help but to choke on my own saliva. It felt just the same, just like my second time, my third time, and my fourth time repeating this. The same sharp pain hit my core, and shook my breath.
But I’d learnt from my previous times that I should not deviate from my normal daily pattern too much. If I do so, then it would create a bigger hole in my timeline, leading to a bigger paradox. In other words, recklessness would only make the accidents more unpredictable, and happen faster than I can react.
So, I need to act normal. Again, and again.
I took a deep breath, as I put on my casual clothes, my watch, and grabbed my bag with me downstairs.
My father had already left to work, leaving a stash of cash on the table, for my next year’s university semester fees. That’s right.… My first university year is coming to an end in three days. Three days left.
“Why are you just standing here? Come eat, or you’ll be late!” my mother shouted at me, with her soft voice.
I sat down at the same table with her. With a pair of chopsticks, we started eating our breakfast of miso soup, grilled mackerel fish, and omelet rice. My mother always had these unusual ideas for our meals. And, some are always too salty. This time around, it’s the fish.
When I asked her about it, she always said that it was because she wanted me to feel some ‘push’ to trigger my senses, making me more alerted in the morning. But then again, it’s the same case with our dinner as well. So, after a while, I’d only found out from my dad that my mother wasn’t good at cooking. She always had trouble with putting in the right amount of spices, salt, oil, or sugar. But she never complained to us about it, and kept learning by trial and error. With us, being her experimental rats.
My father has always been straightforward with his words, though he doesn’t say much, but he’s seldomly wrong. And I had seen it before, when I woke up several hours earlier than usual time, only to find my mother tasting her own dishes in the kitchen, with only the kitchen light on. So, my father and I never complained about our meals.
No, we just showed it on our expression.
“Is the fish too salty?” my mother asked.
“Hmm? A little, maybe.”
She nodded, and smiled at me. “I’ll put in less salt next time.”
“It’s… it’s tasty enough,” I said. “Really... refreshing.”
“That so?” she chuckled. “Maybe I’ll prepare a bowl of salt for you next time.”
I choked on my rice.
“Just kidding,” she said. “Hurry up and finish, Chiaki should be waiting already.”
“Right,” I replied, as I munch my remaining food at a faster rate.
“Is she going to prepare bento for you today as well?”
“Yes. I think so. Only two of us eat bento in our university.”
My mother chuckled again. “That means she cares about you, doesn’t she?”
I paused, as I stared at the slightly red miso soup. “Yes… she does.”
“So, when are you going to do it?”
“You know,” she wiped the rice away from the edge of my mouth. “Confessing.”
I choked on my rice, again. “Mom.”
“Fine, fine. You have it your way, just introduce her as your girlfriend before my next birthday.”
My choke had turned into a cough.
She then pinched my face. “Do you understand?”
I only nodded. “Fine, fine,” I said, with my mouth full of rice.
After finishing our somewhat awkward breakfast, I then bid her farewell and ran to the train station.
Chiaki was already there, crouching in front of a telephone pole, her eyes staring at a cat, as one of her hands is playing with it, while the other, is holding her laptop bag and two bento boxes stacked on top of each other.
I slowed down and walked to her. She doesn’t realize it even when I’m only a few feet apart from her. Her red short hair has a white lily clip on it, and she’s wearing a T-shirt with a small sunflower logo, a blue jacket, and a pair of slender jeans. Her choice of clothes had never failed to stun me before, just how beautiful they make her.
“Chiaki,” I called out, patting her head.
“Wh—What are you doing suddenly!” She removed my hand and backed away from me. Her face slowly becomes red, almost as red as her hair.
“Sorry I’m late,” I said. “Let’s go?”
She only nodded as I walked beside her, to board our train. As usual, there is no one else in this old train station in this small rural town. We had to exchange three hours’ worth of train trips in order to get to our university in the big city.
After boarding, we stood in front of one of the exit doors of the train, as the train started to move. And as usual, after I pulled off something like that, Chiaki would only calm down and talk to me a few minutes after.
“Don’t do things like that on campus,” she said. “Others would misunderstand.”
As the paddy fields and rows of houses passed by us at a dizzying rate, I asked, “Why?”
Then I moved closer to her ear. “Because they will think we are dating?”
Her face began to turn red again and she pushed my face away. “Stop teasing me!”
She then turned away from me, and started to scroll on her phone.
“You’re so cute,” I whispered again to her ear.
She stepped on my feet without looking back. I yelled in pain, while jumping around.
It has always been like this between us. There’s this distance that we try to close in on, but many times, due to many circumstances, we are unable to. So, we are stuck in this stage, not even able to hold hands ever since we were 10.
I then stopped jumping, and I found my eyes staring at her back. Her body seems so fragile even though she’s only half a foot shorter than me, even though she had won many running competitions, and had mastered black belt in Judo. She has always been the friendly, sometimes aggressive type when it comes to defending her friends. She’s kind-hearted, as many have said, but it was because they didn’t know what happened to her when she was a child.
They wouldn’t have known.
It happened when we were 10.
I was walking back with her from our school, holding her hand, when a few thugs stopped us. Chiaki was quite rich back then, with the rumors of her father earning a million-yen commission spread across our small town. Of course, the thugs caught wind of it.
They attempted to kidnap her, but I fought back. I kicked the crotch of one of the thugs, and bit the hand of the other, and took her running. But another thug came out of the corner and kicked me in my stomach. He grabbed Chiaki’s long hair, as the rest of them continued to step on my head and my legs, kicking me with pure anger.
I screamed, and yelled in pain.
Chiaki cried, as she tried to run towards me.
Our screams and cries attracted the neighbors in our area. Luckily, a few of them came out with bats and kitchen knives in their hands. The thugs were intimidated and ran away, while I was brought to our town’s clinic and had a few stitches on the top left of my forehead.
Chiaki was crying the entire time, and wouldn’t let go of my hands. She was afraid that I would leave her behind.
Until now, I could still feel the intense, deep scratch of her nails on my palm, as they leave not only a mark there, but inside my heart as well. She’s asked her father to send her to Judo training since that day, and has become more reliable, protective than any of our peers.
Her long hair, she also cut them short a month after that day. She said it’s easier for her to move, and that she wouldn’t need to worry about wasting time to dry it after bath. She said so, with a proud smile.
That was when I realized that Chiaki was not the type to open to others about her true feelings; she has her pride and her own reasons to do so. And, I shouldn’t force her to either.
That’s why… I decided this time, I will confess to her. Beneath the fireworks, on New Year’s Day.
“Are you ok?” Chiaki asked, as she turned to me.
I snapped out of my thoughts.
“Was it that painful?” she continued.
“No… I’m just…” I paused at her white hairpin. “I’m just tired. That’s all. I had to rush my assignments yesterday. Hideki kept texting me about it.”
“Are you sure?” She placed her right hand on my cheek. “You look a bit pale.”
I gazed at her warm hand. The same hand that was asking for help.
I placed my hand on top of hers. “I’m fine, thank you.”
She immediately blushed and tried to take her hand back but I grabbed it.
“Let go!” she said.
“Just for a minute more.” I replied, as I tried to calm myself down. “I just suddenly thought of something sad.”
“F—Fine. One minute. Just one minute,” she stated, as she shot a quick worried glance at me. “Are you really ok? We can still go back, if we change trains at the next station.”
“Yes. I’m just a bit sleepy,” I said.
“Fine then,” she said. “I’ll lend you my hand until we reach there.”
“Thank you,” I replied.
She then smiled at me.
Her smile, it’s always so blinding, so shining. So... overwhelming.
I took a deep breath.
This time, I will save her.