Chapter 10:

Stolen Vows IV

Backward Steps


We began to get discouraged sometime in the afternoon; it was already past noon, and our friend, Ren, had not given any sign that he was around. Apart from the singing of the cicadas and the jerky movements of the river waters, we were the only ones making sounds in such a green and beautiful environment. After spending most of the morning talking about the most varied subjects, Yui, ironically the quietest child among us, finally externalized what we had been thinking for a while:Bookmark here

"Ren is not coming."Bookmark here

We were all forced to confirm, consensually.Bookmark here

"That's not at all something he would do" Yui continues.Bookmark here

"Not at all" Rena reinforces, noting if everyone present there is paying attention to her. "Ren would certainly love the treasure hunt, after all, he was the one who gave the idea."Bookmark here

"Maybe he went to the dentist...?", Ichise suggests. But he himself quashes such reasoning, "that's not possible, Take said you called him..."Bookmark here

"Yes, I did call. And he said he would come right after breakfast."Bookmark here

"Then there's no way, something must have happened at his house," Rena concludes, and there is no objection. "What do we do now?"Bookmark here

"I said we should have gone into the river..." Kenji, who was quiet until the moment, mutters softly.Bookmark here

Obviously, the children wanted to enjoy a bit of the day, only to have it not be counted as lost. Looking at the whole group, I can notice things that I did not notice at the time, and probably would not even be able to notice: the looks of tiredness, discouragement, of an activity that had not been accomplished. In my mind at that time they were being insensitive; what if something bad happened to Ren, you don't care?, I thought. When, in fact, I was asking too much of them. As teenagers, they just wanted to have fun, and maybe I was the one who was worrying too much.Bookmark here

"You guys can do whatever you want" my past self says, standing up stiffly, "I'm going to go see if it's okay with Ren."Bookmark here

"I'll go with you" Rena says immediately, getting to his feet. The others remain seated.Bookmark here

"You can go to Ren's house to hear from him, and if he is okay, bring him here" Ichise says, looking at Rena and me. We affirm.Bookmark here

Unaware that this would be impossible.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

The children split up after that. Ichise, Kenji and Yui had stayed at the river to enjoy the sun while it was still out, and Rena and Kazuta were walking toward the avenue to walk to the Kouyama house. Both were walking side by side on the somewhat busy street, and my companion and I were following them from behind. I had nothing to place me as to the time, but it must have been about two in the afternoon when we decided to walk there.Bookmark here

We all walked in silence. There was not much to talk about: Rena and my young self were absorbed in thought, to know what had happened to Ren, if he was all right, and they didn't have much to comment on, since doing so would only make them more apprehensive. And the old man and I... We hadn't talked much since we got here. Maybe because he wanted me to pay attention to everything that happens, he hadn't asked so many questions, and I hadn't felt any need to talk with him either. It seems that this time I don't need to feel guilty.Bookmark here

At least not like before.Bookmark here

But I already know what we are going to see in Ren's house. The trigger for everything that came after. The end of a friendship.Bookmark here

And another wound.Bookmark here

"Don't think like that," says the gentleman next to me, without even looking at me. And I pretend not to hear him.Bookmark here

After a few minutes walking, we finally arrive at Ren's street. It is a long, busy street, probably because it's one of the main roads in the city, and there is a lot of traffic at peak hours. People are walking in both directions, and the common sounds of an urban environment intensifies, even though this is not exactly a busy hour.Bookmark here

Rena decides to break the silence:Bookmark here

"I hope someone is home. Maybe they needed to leave suddenly."Bookmark here

"If that is the case, we will at least know that Ren is okay," my self says.Bookmark here

Ren's house is quite nice, with a paint job that appears to be quite recent and a huge garage. The Kouyama family was not special by any means, but they were people with good living conditions, and this was remarkable with a simple glimpse of their home. Rena approaches the entrance to the house, which has the deeds "Kouyama" in a beautiful, large handwriting in black letters, and rings the intercom positioned next door. There is no answer.Bookmark here

"Do you think they're not home anyway?", Rena asks Kazuta, behind her.Bookmark here

She tries again. At this point, the street is not so busy, so the two children approach the door, attenuating their hearing, looking for any signs that there are people inside. And we, the visitors in this memory, pay attention too.Bookmark here

Suddenly a low cry is heard, followed by other, softer cries. Rena's eyes widen, and Kazuta looks back at her, just as surprised. It seems that there are two people, a man and a woman, arguing, and they are shouting now.Bookmark here

The two children begin to walk away from the entrance. They were facing something that they felt was wrong to listen to. But before they could get out of there... Bookmark here

The door opens. They and we look at the door, only to find Kouyama Ren, with his face so usually molded in smiles and friendly expressions, now looking downcast and unwell, almost as if he were ill. Something definitely bad was going on, and Rena and Kazuta were aware of it.Bookmark here

"Hello," Ren says, with only half his body out of the house. My heart squeezes to see that boy like that. Ren was definitely the more mature young man among us at that time. Not like Rena, who was hardworking and responsible, or like Ichise, the oldest of us, but there was something different about him. Something that we, elementary school teenagers, didn't see in any of us anymore. It was as if we knew that Ren was the only boy our age who would have something to say, about anything. If I had a problem with my performance as a libero, if Rena had difficulty with a math question, if Yui asked for some advice... Ren would know what to say and do in every case. Practically a leader.Bookmark here

And for my self of the time, seeing weakness in my best friend's eyes was a huge shock.Bookmark here

"Are you okay, Ren?", Rena asks. Unlike me, who was just looking at Ren with dumbfounded eyes, Rena was wondering if she could help the boy with anything. He had probably already helped Rena a lot with something, because that was his nature. But, unfortunately, our willingness to help was completely useless for what Ren was facing, and our presence there was only something that made his life more complicated.Bookmark here

The boy does not look into his friends' eyes as he speaks:Bookmark here

"Now is not a good time... if you guys can get out of here..."Bookmark here

"Can't you tell us anything?", Rena questions. Her distressed look shows that there is not the slightest intention in allowing Ren to close the door. "You can talk to us, maybe we can help you."Bookmark here

"I'm sorry, Rena, but you can't. I just want to be alone, for a while..."Bookmark here

"Ren."Bookmark here

Rena looks back: Kazuta is looking steadily at his friend. In his view, Ren was shying away from sharing his problems with them because he considered them childish. What would the people who always asked me for help have to offer me? But this thought was wrong, and today I understand; Ren was not being overbearing, nor was he doubting us. Above all thoughtful and intelligent, Ren was a humble boy, a person who could be consoling one of us today, and need help with a school assignment tomorrow. So he would never exclude us from any event in his life, if this was not necessary.Bookmark here

Ren just didn't want to involve us in a delicate matter. Delicate, especially for me and my family.Bookmark here

Because it involved us.Bookmark here

"Come outside, let's talk" my I say, approaching the door to his house. Ren does not back down or close the door, but still does not look into my eyes. I feel like pulling my past self back, stop! Leave him alone!Bookmark here

"I don't want to talk, Take. We're going through family problems. Please..." his voice becomes embattled, and he is starting to get emotional "...just go away."Bookmark here

The Kazuta from the past reaches out, perhaps to hold Ren's arm, but Rena holds his hand tightly, causing him to stop moving, and look at the girl.Bookmark here

"I get it, Ren," she says. "Let's go, Take."Bookmark here

Still in disbelief, without looking away, Kazuta begins to be pulled along by Rena. He looks intently at his friend, the strong Ren, thoughtful, intelligent, secure... this time in totally different appearances. The sight is too surprising, my past self can't believe what it is seeing; but he is walking away, leaving his friend behind, the friend who always helped him. Am I not able to repay you for everything you have done for me?, he thinks, and I remember this very well. For this was a very harsh reality for me at the time, a shock that kept me awake for a long time.Bookmark here

The cause for the disaster that befell Ren's family was my family's fault. And I, not knowing this, was trying to help him, I wanted to get into a subject that already concerned me, but that would not be up to Ren or any other Kouyama to tell me. It would be up to whoever caused all this trouble. Or, better, it was supposed to be so.Bookmark here

Unfortunately, to my sorrow, I had not been able to repay all that Ren had done for me. And if I died today, I would die without having helped my friend.Bookmark here

"You'll have to explain this to me tomorrow!", Kazuta shouts, still staring at the crestfallen Ren, who is now slowly closing the door. "I'll come here again!"Bookmark here

"Stop it, Take. These are family problems, there's nothing we can do about it."Bookmark here

"How can we not, Rena? I want to help Ren, with anything I can!"Bookmark here

"You're out of control!" Rena holds my other hand, and now we face each other. "You want to help him? Then give him time. Let's play for a few days without him, let things work themselves out!"Bookmark here

She was right. In fact, it was hard for Rena not to be right about something, ever since we were kids. Seeing my lack of response, she smiles, letting go of my hands. And, without saying anything else, we started walking, in the same direction we came from.Bookmark here

"What did you and Rena do after that visit?" the man next to me questions me. It seems that he has decided to talk now. "It's not close to sunset yet, it would give you plenty of time to go back and play a bit with your other classmates."Bookmark here

I lower my head. Since I had seen Ren's expression again, and remembered more details from this memory of mine, it became harder to speak, more than it had always been.Bookmark here

"You guys decided to go home?"Bookmark here

I affirmed with my head.Bookmark here

"For what reason?"Bookmark here

I take a moment to answer him.Bookmark here

"We just didn't feel like being there anymore."Bookmark here

"You didn't imagine that was the last time you would talk to Ren as a friend, did you?"Bookmark here

I don't answer him this time.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

As anticipated by me, Rena and Kazuta had decided to go straight home after that visit. Because of the screaming from inside and Ren's fragile appearance, we were not that excited to have fun that day. Something serious was going on with our friend, and we had no idea what it could be. And worse, we could do nothing to help him.Bookmark here

Rena says goodbye to me, and I make my way to my house from the Kanzaki family home.Bookmark here

"You had no idea what was happening to the Kouyama family that day," comments the man next to me. We are watching my young self from behind as he walks, alone, home. "You didn't find out until school started again, two weeks after that day."Bookmark here

"Yeah."Bookmark here

I didn't like that memory one bit, and reliving it was starting to be painful for me. My hatred was becoming greater by the minute I remembered things.Bookmark here

"You didn't find out until the week of school, because Kouyama Ren was no longer enrolled at Kitagawara," the man continued. "He and his father had left town, on account of their divorce."Bookmark here

Divorce.Bookmark here

"And Ren became a complete stranger to you. Without a goodbye, without a conversation, without any interaction. He just walked out of your life."Bookmark here

"I know, I know all that" I reply the man, becoming impatient. "But it's not like it's my fault, right? It's not because of me that our relationship was destroyed...so why are we seeing this?"Bookmark here

Little Kazuta arrives at his home. Lupus welcomes him into his yard, a Dachshund dog who runs quite fast and perks up as soon as he sees one of his owners arriving, and Kazuta graces him with a little peck. I liked this dog very much; I would take him for a walk and play with him whenever I felt lonely, and the need to think about oneself was beginning to grow.Bookmark here

"It is necessary," says the reaper, as if he is scolding me. But I don't understand the need for it, and for the first time I feel the urge to confront this man.Bookmark here

"I don't understand how this is necessary; you were showing me some of my childhood, I felt really grateful... so now you want to show me a bad moment from that phase, without explaining to me why I need to see this? You just want to see me upset?"Bookmark here

"No, it's not that." He moves toward the house of my memories, but I don't move.Bookmark here

"I hadn't forgotten that. I hadn't forgotten my relationship with Ren, and I hadn't forgotten how it all ended. I will never forget the things my father caused in my life and the lives of my friends. You could have simply reminded me of those things, I certainly would have remembered all of that with a simple conversation; so I don't understand why you are making me relive that painful moment... I don't want to see those things!"Bookmark here

To my surprise, the man has not only stopped walking, but is looking directly into my face. I had noticed for a while that this man did not like to look at me. What was once disappointment in his eyes became simple disbelief: it seemed that the old man still disliked my presence, even if with different feelings. I was still a company that disgusted him, after all.Bookmark here

I had almost forgotten, but this man is not my friend. God, devil, reaper or illusion... we are not friends. His intention is to make me destroy my own tower.Bookmark here

In a way, to destroy me.Bookmark here

"You are not entirely wrong," the man says, looking at me. I can feel the hostility in the atmosphere. "But bringing you here was, yes, necessary. You may not understand now, you may not even understand at the end of all this.... But I would like you to believe me."Bookmark here

I don't have what to answer. But the man is not finished. Approaching me, he keeps his eyes fixed on mine, and his strength intimidates me. His presence and imposingness make me weaker, and I immediately recall the memory of Hina, inside Kitagawara. It is exactly the same feeling: as if my body is losing its strength. The old man is so powerful that I have no choice but to notice how weak I am, and this makes me insecure, fragile as glass.Bookmark here

Similar to how I feel when faced with the memory of Kazuta Naoki.Bookmark here

"This is for your own good," he says, and I see in his eyes the eyes of my father.Bookmark here


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Stolen VowsBookmark here

- The EndBookmark here

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