Chapter 9:

Broken Picture Frames

The Fall of Prince Hayashi

I finally reached my apartment after a whole day of being outside. The key to my apartment was hidden in the mail area, just as the owner told me. After one flight of stairs and a quick turn right, I was in front of my new home away from home. Bookmark here

Even though I napped all day on the train, it never hit me as ‘good sleep’. The type of sleep that so effortless and restores you completely. All of my nap energy was spent on dealing with Red, walking to the apartment, and meeting the ball of emotions called Satomi Imai. I was supposed to call my Mom the moment I got home. But opted for a simple message that even she could understand. Bookmark here

Souta: I’m here. Going to sleep. Will call. Bookmark here

The moment I got the door locked behind me, I threw my backpack to the side and pushed my suitcase away from me. Where was the bedroom? I made my way through the mostly barren house and found the bedroom to my left. Without even looking around the room, I slapped myself onto the bed and went straight into deep sleep. Bookmark here

Sleep. You love it but it hates you. Bookmark here

Bookmark here

I woke up naturally at the prime time of 2:45pm. My eyes opened, my mind groggy but overall, I was relaxed. My heart was beating so slowly, something that hasn’t happened in a very long time. I don’t want to get up. I wanted to lay down and enjoy this odd sense of peace I was having. To just close my eyes and let the birds chirp and hear the cars driving by. Bookmark here

This isn’t a vacation. It’s a mission. Bookmark here

I decided that sitting up should be the first step of “waking up”. Mustering all the courage and muscles I had, I sat myself straight up. But...where were my glasses? I needed my glasses to see and I only had a limited supply of contacts with me. I fidgeted around the bed, trying to feel out the cold metal of my glasses frame. Then, I went to the floor and found them underneath a night stand (table) right next to me. Bookmark here

Sliding my glasses on, I took the first real look at my apartment. I had some time before meeting up with Imai and I should spend that making myself comfortable here. Starting with getting myself ready of course. Bookmark here

The apartment was like my family’s old apartment here in Kumano. Everything was small but cozy. It must have been the natural light shining in or the smell of old furniture that was giving me these memories. Yet it felt like home. Somehow, in this hell of a town, I found some safe haven. Bookmark here

The first thing I had to do was call my Mom. A text wouldn’t suffice anymore. Knowing her, she’s already planned for me to freak out or fail. All she wanted was for me to run back home. Nonetheless, I wasn’t planning on going back for a while. Bookmark here

I dialed up my Mom’s number. It only took one ring for her to pick up. Bookmark here

“Souta!” She shouted. “Are you okay?” Bookmark here

“I’m fine Mom. Just a bit tired.” Bookmark here

I put her on loud speaker as I cleaned myself up for the day. Brushing my teeth, combing through my hair, choosing my clothes. Meanwhile my Mom decided to give me updates on everything that happened since I left. You wouldn’t think much changed in one day, but for her, any change was big enough to tell me. Bookmark here

Once I got myself together, then I turned my focus to my suitcase. Unpacking the things I needed to and reorganizing my stuff. I sat criss cross on the floor, my phone sitting in the bed above me. Bookmark here

“Oh Souta!” Mom shouted, the sound of the sink running behind her. “Speakings of your father, we both went grocery shopping together.” Bookmark here

I folded up the shirt in my hand. “That’s great Mom.” Bookmark here

“I wanted to get you some snacks for when you come back. Like coffee! I know young people love coffee a lot.” Bookmark here

“That’s true. Make sure to save me some snacks for when I come back next month.” Bookmark here

Aka don’t expect me back so soon. I’m staying here. Bookmark here

My bag was empty, I was ready and the clock was getting closer to the time that Imai demanded I arrive at. Sitting down on the living room couch, I opened up my phone and stared at the contact I saved Imai under. Bookmark here

“Mom. I’m gonna call you back tonight.” Bookmark here

“Why? Can’t you stay on the-”Bookmark here

“Mom,” God, why was she making this so difficult? “-please. I’ll call you later. Tell Dad I said hi.” Bookmark here

If I could hear disappointment, then whatever sounds my Mom was making perfectly described it. “…Bye dear.”Bookmark here

“Bye Mom.”Bookmark here

Sure, I felt bad ending the call. Yet if I kept her on the line, she'll go on talking about nothing for hours. The only reason she cared to talk to me was because I wasn’t in her sights anymore. At home, the most we ever spoke was limited to the ten minutes we shared at the breakfast table. Bookmark here

Don’t even get me started on Dad. Our longest conversation has to be at least two lines. Bookmark here

“No time to dwell on that anymore Souta. Imai is waiting for me.” Bookmark here

I stuffed my phone in my pocket. Summer means no need for a jacket, but I did grab a water bottle. I made sure that my shoes were laced up and every window was closed before heading out of the apartment. Bookmark here

Since I didn’t have a bike, or a scooter, or even a skateboard, I had to walk to the address Imai gave me. Here in the edge of Kumano, if you weren’t using the train, you weren’t going anywhere on foot. Almost everyone I walked by was skating along, a smile on their face and no pain in their feet. Bookmark here

Reminder: invest in a bike. Or at least steal one later. Bookmark here

The address looked familiar when she first handed it to me and it took me a minute to figure out why: The Hayashi household was in the high school neighborhood. Technically, it was only a five minute walk away from school. Which was a huge benefit to Souta because his popularity meant that more people were able to reach him in their free time. People were probably over twenty-four-seven. Or they would be there all the time if I was Hayashi. Except I wasn’t. Bookmark here

I turned the corner of the street and found myself starting at Kumano High School. Here I was, a somewhat grown man, starting at the one place that still haunted me. Nothing about the school changed. The way the sun hit every window near the West wing or the vines climbing the side of the building. I could even see the student garden from here if I stood on my tippy toes. Bookmark here

Focus. Only a couple of blocks left till I reached Hayashi’s house. I could be reminiscent about the past there. There was nothing connecting me to Kumano anymore, especially since Hayashi was no no more. Bookmark here

My whole body started shivering as I got closer and closer to the school. My heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest in any second, with how hard it was thumping against my chest. What if a teacher recognized me? What if they called me over and saw how scared I was of a simple building at the age of nineteen? Then word would get around about how cowardly I still was. Then- Bookmark here

“Fujiwara!!” Bookmark here

My head snapped to where the voice was calling me. I narrowed my eyes as I saw someone down a couple of blocks. They were waving their hands up in the air, trying to catch my attention. Bookmark here

“Fuji!!! Come on!” Bookmark here

It was Imai. I felt my stress elevate, as the building behind me became a second thought. Imai went through the same hell I did back in high school. I could even argue her experiences were worse. Yet there she was, waving towards from the other side of the school. She made it over to the other side, so I could too.Bookmark here

Don’t look back. Bookmark here

Power walking down the street, Imai came into clearer view. She was out of her uniform from yesterday and was now wearing casual summer clothes. Her hair was up in a high ponytail, swinging around as she jumped up to catch my attention. She seemed so happy seeing me that it took me aback for a moment. Nobody, not even my own parents, ever seemed so excited to see me coming near. My face flushed, causing me to put a hand up against my face. What a stupid thing to be blushing about. All because someone was waving to you down the street. God, I hope she was actually happy that I came. Or else I’ll be feeling like an idiot in two seconds. Bookmark here

“Hi Imai,” I said, finally reaching Hayashi’s front door. Imai was sitting on the small staircase leading up to the door, her legs crossed over each other. She got up and hit me on the back, a smile lighting up her face. Bookmark here

“For a second I thought you’d chicken out,” Imai said. Bookmark here

She smells sweet. Bookmark here

Woah. Back up. I moved back and cleared my throat. “Why would you say that? I didn’t run away yesterday did I?” Bookmark here

“Yeah, but you were pretty close,” she walked up to the door and took a look through the peephole. Well, I was here now. There was no going back or else I would actually look like a wimp.Bookmark here

“I thought no one lived here?” I walked up to her side, taking a look in the peep hole. The place was stripped bare of everything, like no one ever lived here in the first place. Dust layered everything I could see through the peep hole, including the shoe stand near the front. Bookmark here

Was there even anything to find in this house? Souta’s parents must have taken everything they had of their lost son with them, cherishing everything he owned like it was there own. His parents loved him a lot and the death must have taken a toll on them. Bookmark here

“The house seems empty Imai.” Bookmark here

Imai left the front door and headed towards the side of the house. “That’s because it probably is.”Bookmark here

Wait...this house was empty. That meant that there was nothing here to find. That meant that we were both wasting time trying to find something that didn’t exist in this house. Satomi Imai was really a crazy woman. Dragging me all the way here just to have me look at a dead person’s house when it was completely-Bookmark here

“Hey Fuji?” Bookmark here

I snapped out of my thoughts, although I was still staring at the wall. “What?” Bookmark here

“Has anyone ever told you that you space out a lot?” Bookmark here

I snapped my eyes up at Imai, who was no longer in front of me. “Huh? Where the hell are you?”Bookmark here

Was Imai’s spirit talking to me? I checked the front and back of the house, finding her nowhere. This reminded me of a horror movie where the house eats the people that come near it. I could imagina Imai falling through the house, shouting as she was being eaten whole and the whole time I was staring at the ground. Bookmark here

“What are you doing looking around?? I’m in the house stupid.” Bookmark here

Oh. Yeah, that made more sense. I highly doubt that a house can actually eat people.Bookmark here

“How did you get inside?” I shouted. “Through the front door?” Bookmark here

“No!” Imai shouted. “Through the back is an open window. I jumped through there. But if your going to act like an idiot, I’ll open the back door.” Bookmark here

I headed to the back of the old house and saw the door Imai was talking about. There was no way in hell that I was going to squeeze into a small window. Besides, who knows what would happen if I got stuck in the process of getting inside. Imai wouldn’t even help me. Rather, she’d just laugh at me. Or punch me. Whichever emotion she felt in the moment. Bookmark here

The sound of locks clinking in the air was the only sound for a minute, until the creaky door swung wide open, with Imai on the other side. Bookmark here

I crossed my arms as she rolled her eyes. I couldn’t help but laugh at how rough she looked already. Bookmark here

“Why are you so happy?” She grumbled. Bookmark here

“Are you sure I’m the idiot for choosing the normal way of getting inside?” I teased, stepping into the house. Imai slammed the door closed behind me the sound echoing through the empty halls of the house. Bookmark here

The house smelled of dust and rotten wood, a scent that infested the air around me. Imai’s face wasn’t as sour as mine, but that must have been because she was already here for a couple of minutes. The foreign scent must have gotten familiar to her in such a short while. The house was dull and dark, a gray tint highlighting all of the remaining furniture in the house. This felt like entering a haunted house, except the only unsettling thing here was the lack of activity. Bookmark here

There were small imprints of where the furniture used to be and I could tell that we were both standing in the living room. The nails were stuck on the wall next to me, the tops of them slightly rusted. I traced over one with my finger and saw the orange powder stain my finger. How many happy family photos were taken down here? Did his parents cry, ripping their house apart? Or was it necessary to move on? Ripping the past and dragging it with you for the rest of your life? Bookmark here

“Don’t touch anything,” Imai whispered. Her eyes were watering, as she scanned the room in front of us. Bookmark here

The words ‘why’ were on the tip of my tongue, yet I knew exactly why she didn’t want me to touch anything. This house was precious to Souta and Souta was precious to the both of us. Even if his parents were gone, this was still the only place that he ever had the chance to call home. Imai saw this house when it was filled with people and love. Now, we both stood in the shell of what once used to be. Bookmark here

I heard Imai sniffle and I knew we had to keep moving. I grabbed her forearm, slowly pulling her away from the living room. I know she wanted to stay here, reminding herself of things she could never bring back. I wish I could help her, tell her that everything turns out okay in the end. Anything to get rid of the tears that streamed down her face. Bookmark here

“Satomi, where do we go next?” I whispered in her ear. Bookmark here

“To his room,” she said, eyes focused on the wall in front of us. Bookmark here

I’m about to do something insane, so God please help me. Bookmark here

Taking Imai’s hand into mine, I squeezed her hand softly. “Lead me to his room.” Bookmark here

Without another word, Imai walked through the living room and headed up the staircase near the front entrance. Each step creaked underneath our feet, letting out loud shrieks into the silent air. Imai’s grip on my hand was getting tighter with each step we took. It was best not to mention that to her, in case her mood changed for the worst. Bookmark here

The second floor held bedrooms and a bathroom. Imai turned right at the top steps and opened the door in front of her. Bookmark here

Kota Hayashi’s bedroom. Bookmark here

Since he was an only child, Hayashi’s room was large. It had two large windows on the right and near our left was a huge closet. The back wall held the imprint of a desk, where I imagined Souta studied for all his classes. The wall was painted an acceptable light gray, and the floor was spotless. Bookmark here

“This is his room,” Imai whispered. She pointed to the window. “His bed was right there you know. A huge king size bed.” Bookmark here

I let go of her hand. “Why the hell are you telling me that?!”Bookmark here

The fog over her eyes seemed to lift once I let go of her hand, her eyes focusing back into reality. Suddenly, Imai slammed her foot down on top of mine, waiting for the pain to register in my eyes. Bookmark here

Oh sh-Bookmark here

“What’s wrong with you?” I grabbed my foot, now jumping up and down in pain. Imai was unaffected by my shouts and kept walking towards the window, looking outside through a small creak in the panel. Bookmark here

“How many times do I have to tell you?” Imai leaned back. “Me and Hayashi might as well have been acquaintance when it came to anything….intimate.” Bookmark here

I let my foot back on the ground but could feel the exact spot she hit burn in agony. “I hope you didn’t just drag me here for nothing.” Bookmark here

Turning away from the window, Imai headed towards the closet. I expected her to simply open it, distracting me from the fact that I was in pain and that we were wasting time. What I didn’t expect was that the door to the closet swung open, and Imai slammed the back of the closet down. The backing fell down with a large thump, a puff of smoke erupting in the air around her. Bookmark here

“...Did you just break his closet?” I whispered. Bookmark here

She rolled her eyes and leaned into the space, almost disappearing completely from my sight. The only thing that showed her presence behind the wall was the sound of her grunts, pushing things around and moving in the black hole space. Bookmark here

“You know Fuji!” A loud crash erupted in the air. “-it would would be great if you helped me out here.”Bookmark here

I came near the closet door, holding onto one of the swinging doors with my hands. “First, tell me what this is.” Bookmark here

Suddenly, Imai’s head popped out from the hole as she let out a huge scream. I fell backwards, my butt landing on the dusty wooden floor behind me. Bookmark here

“This is Kouta’s hideout,” she explained. “The one place he called his own.” Bookmark here

Notes from Zen: Bookmark here

The plot thickens 😳. What did Hayashi keep in his room? Hmmm. I don’t know…Bookmark here

Make sure to like this chapter and add the story to library if you’d like to. See you all tomorrow!Bookmark here

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