The Fall of Prince Hayashi
Walking back to my apartment turned out to be anything but eventful. I wasn’t shocked though. Satomi Imai and I were tired, as the hot summer sun beamed down on us. It didn’t help that the uninhabited Hayashi household lacked any form of AC or fan. So the both of us were stuck in a hot house searching for an hour. Also, the lack of breakfast was starting to kick in. My head was starting to spin, as my feet felt heavier and heavier.
We reached my apartment, and I passed the box to Imai as I fished my pockets for the keys. I opened the door and was greeted with the same room I left this morning. Except now, the natural light of the early morning turned down a slight bit.
“Nice place,” Imai said, taking it upon herself to sit down on the couch.
I decided against dropping the box in my room. First, that would force Imai to enter my room, which didn’t feel comfortable at all. Second, if Imai was entering my room, then that would mean that I needed to somehow clean up the mess I left behind in five seconds. Which was impossible. I put the box down in front of the couch and headed to my tiny kitchen.
The kitchen was so small, with the fridge almost doll sized. That didn’t matter to me since I wasn’t planning on cooking much or keeping stuff in the fridge. Yet, that was before Imai decided to stomp herself into my mission.
But we invited her-
“I don’t have anything here,” I shouted, opening the fridge to find it bare. “You okay with a glass of water?”
“Sure,” Imai shouted. “But how do you live in an apartment without any food?”
Opening the cabinet, I found a couple of old glasses that the landlord left. After I told them about my sudden arrival to the apartment, the landlord was nice enough to sneak in some basic necessities into the apartment. Stuff that I completely forgot about, like towels and glasses.
Reminder: thank the landlord later.
I filled up the two glasses and headed back into the living room. Imai was sitting crisscrossed on the couch, leaning back and reading the newspaper we found in Kota Hayashi’s house. It felt surreal, the fact that she was sitting right in front of me. For years in high school, I only knew her as “Hayashi’s girlfriend” and it never crossed my mind that she was a person before all that. Before any of this all happened.
“Why are you standing around?” Imai said, not looking up from the newspaper.
I lifted the cup in the air. “Water?”
Imai threw the paper down on the couch and jumped up. She grabbed the cup and smiled. “Don’t mind if I do.”
She leaned her head back and brought the glass to her mouth, chugging it all down in one huge sip. If it were me, I would have thrown up after the first couple of gulps. Yet she pushed it all down, a final gasp signaling that she was done with her drink. As expected, she wasn’t affected at all. Actually, she seemed ten times more alive than she was just a minute ago. How was she able to do that? Did she practice with alcohol? Technically, there was no issue with her throwing down drinks like water. But...if she were to find out that alcohol made me squeamish…
Every moment I stand by her I feel my ego fall apart slowly.
Imai took it upon herself to drop the now empty cup in the kitchen sink. I stood there and gulped down my water too, trying to ignore the fact that I couldn’t be anywhere as fast as Imai was with her own drink.
“Are you done drinking?” Imai shouted from the kitchen.
She groaned. “Why is it taking you so long to drink a cup of water?”
I sat down on the couch and drank the last couple of sips. “Sorry if I drink like a normal person.”
She came back into the living room and grabbed the newspaper. Her fiery passion was back and it seemed like her renewed vigor came at my expense.
“Just reminding you that you’re paying for lunch!” Imai slipped her shoes back on and I followed suit.
“I know, I know,” I tied my last lace and grabbed the newspaper off the couch. “Did you force Kota to pay for you all the time too?”
“Nope!” She opened the door and pushed me out. “Because he was smart enough to know he had no choice!”
I didn’t recall any restaurants in Kumano that ever stood out to me back when I lived here. My parents didn’t see eating outside as an option, since the argument of ‘we have food at home’ always existed. The only times I ever ate outside was after school, when I’d sneak around the shopping area trying to avoid after school activities. Because any after school activities meant a direct ticket to getting dunked into the school pool.
So when Imai asked me where we should eat, my mind sent us both straight to the shopping center. Unlike yesterday night, today the shopping center buzzed with life. Mothers, children, couples, all of them were walking around in their summer clothes hoping to enjoy their day in semi-sweet weather.
“So,” Imai said. “Have any place in mind?”
I ran a hand through my hair. “To be honest….no. I have no idea what to eat.”
She seemed pleased with my lack of direction, probably because that meant she would get to choice where we eat and not pay a penny for it. Imai crossed her arms behind her back, in an attempt to look innocent as she flashed a smile for me.
“I know a place Fuji~” she whispered. “You want to got there?”
I felt my cheeks flush as I let out a rather obvious fake cough. Why was I blushing like a school girl at her stupid offer? She was just tricking me to pay for her food! Nonetheless...it felt good having someone at least consider me nice enough to go have lunch with. Even if it was a trick...because it was definitely a trick.
To make matters ten times worse, Imai grabbed my forearm and pulled me towards her as she lead us down the road. The people walking by us watched as she dragged me with her, determined to get to the place she had in mind. To them….we might have looked like a couple. Was it getting hot in here? I thought todays weather was going to be good, but turns out that it was still a nasty summer day.
“Just across the street is the place we’re gonna eat,” Imai stopped at the cross sign and waited for the light to turn green. “It’s not super fancy, so you should be able to afford it.”
“What if I was broke and you were using the last of my money?”
Imai actually contemplated my idea for a while, her eyes focused on the floor besides her. Suddenly, she tugged my arm down and looked me in the eyes.
“If that’s the case, then you’re going to have to work at the convenience store with me Fuji!”
But I just quit my job-
The light turned green and she pulled my arm while we walked the street. I felt like a mother letting her child guide her to the toy store. Except the child was a full grown woman and the toy store was a restaurant.
We both stopped walking and I turned to face the building right besides from me.The building was covered in black colored brick as the only lights that illuminated the whole restaurant were the small spotlights handing down from the store sign. It’s store sign was only in English, and was written in fancy cursive that reminded me of Hayashi’s English assignment from earlier.
Why did the restaurant only have an English name? “The...Road hill?”
“It says ‘The Roadhouse’,” Imai pointed at the sign, as if it were obvious.
There didn’t seem to be a line, so we just waited at the door in front of a foreign man wearing a button up. Imai peaked her head inside, curiosity fueling her sneaky nature.
I looked back up at the sign. “Why doesn’t it have the name in hiragana at least?”
Imai snapped her head back at me. “Because most people didn’t fail basic English.”
“I never failed English! I was just never goo-”
The man signaled for the both of us to come inside, and I decided to retain some control and choice where we sit. Based on the sour look on her face, Imai wanted to sit somewhere else (probably near the front or the kitchen). Nonetheless, I was the one paying. So she would have to deal with sitting in the back of the restaurant, where there were less people and less noise.
If the front of the restaurant seemed ominous, the inside was ten times more dark and sultry. The room lighting was fueled by a dying lightbulb as the occasional spotlight shed light on the foreign employees running around with orders in hand.
Not to mention that almost everyone here seemed foreign too.
“Are you sure you want to eat here? "I whispered into Imai’s ear. “It seems like a tourist cash grab Imai.”
“I know,” Imai pushed me away softly. “That’s the whole point Fuji.”
The whole point? Was she trying to rationalize spending my money by saying the point was to look touristy? I leaned back to her face. “What’s the whole point?”
This time, Imai pushed me away harshly and grabbed the knife on her side. Although I knew she was playing with my mind, some part of me feared that she was going to end me right here and now if I made another move. Her demeanor switched to defensive and I was on the receiving end of her anger again.
“If we dine somewhere local people will recognize me,” Imai said. “Then, after a minute, they’ll recognize you too.”
Ah. So that’s the point. Which actually made sense (besides the fact that she was pointing a butter knife at me of course). If anyone saw me and Imai together, a mill of rumors would appear. If any of them were to spread, not only would we become the towns focus of attention, but the whole ‘mission’ we were on would fall into shambles. I didn’t consider this possibility before. I was certain that no one would remember the loser they bullied back four years ago. But in Imai’s case….the face of the ex-girlfriend of the kid who killed themselves was much more recognizable.
Imai...she really had it rough. Everyone knew her. Everyone remembered who she was. Even yesterday, just by mentioning her name...she fell into defensive mode. At this very moment she was outside of her comfort zone, sitting in a restaurant meant for foreigners, all because she wanted to help me find out the truth.
Making sure to move slowly, I grabbed Imai’s arm in my hands. She wasn’t going to hurt me at all. I took her hand in mine and unwrapped her finger off the knife. Her hand was slender and warm, the knife in her hand dropping down to the table. She was staring at me the whole time, her face stoic the whole time.
“Satomi Imai,” I let my frustration finally show, my words rough around the edges. “How many times are you going to do this?”
We were both dead silent, as the ambient noise of the people around us filled the air. She was quite for the first time since we met. You know what? I’ll let her think about it. I waved my hand at a waiter, something I saw they do in American movies, and the waiter came rushing to our table.
“What may I get you two today?” he said, ignoring Imai’s blank expression.
“Get the two house specials for the both of us,” I said. “We’ll both take water for now.”
The waiter nodded, heading back to the kitchen to deliver the order.
“I wanted sake,” Imai said. “Do they have that?”
“You should have asked him if they do. Now you’ll have to wait for when he comes b-”
I looked back up at Imai, her eyes watering. The angelic tears were once again threatening to make an appearance. The last time she cried, I offered her to tag along with me on this journey. Who knows what I’d say this time.
“Imai,” I grabbed her hand, ignoring the alarms ringing in my mind. “We both have an abundance of issues. Yet that doesn’t mean you should act the way you act. You threaten me one moment and then the next you cry about it.”
“I know it’s wrong,” I heard her sniffle. “Yet...this is how it’s been for the past couple of years. I make a friend, people find out, they tell them lies, and then they all leave me.”
The waiter dropped off our food at the table, ignoring the fact that Imai and I were in a serious conversation. It seemed like today’s special was spaghetti and meatballs, something I’ve only heard about through foreign exchange students and tourists.
“If it makes you feel better, I’m as equally messed up as you are,” I said, poking at a huge meatball. “Years of bullying doesn’t make you the nicest person around after all.”
Imai nodded, her face still sullen. “I know. Remember the skunk move you pulled on me when we first met?”
Skunk move? Back when I first met her, and Imai brought up my bullying….she did call me a skunk straight to my face. I never thought she was serious about that though. I thought it was a joke in the heat of the moment. I could imagine that through her view of me all she saw was a skunk the height of a man sitting down at the table, with contacts in place of glasses. As mad as I wanted to be at that, I still couldn’t help but laugh at the image of it all.
Imai took a forkful of spaghetti and tried to eat it, with no success. I decided to devour the meatball first, and then move my attention to the weird noodles at hand.
I rested my head on my hand, taking a look at Imai. “When I see you, I think of an alley cat.”
She dropped her fork and looked up at me, anger rising through her. “An alley cat?!”
“Woah,” I held up my hands. “Let me finish before you decide to rip me to shreds!”
Imai slammed her hand on the table. “And why should I?”
“You literally called me a skunk twice! I think I have the right to call you a cat once!”
Of course I was making a valid point. Even she couldn’t deny that. Imai let out a frustrated groan and leaned back in her chair, stuffing her mouth with a meatball to distract herself. I wasn’t going to bother pushing her into admitting that I made a good point. Her reaction said it all to me.
“The reason I think you’re an ally cat is because of how independent you are. The way you just roam around on your own terms and avoid anything that bothers you reminds me of a cat.”
“What about the alley part?”
I raised my hand. “I’m getting to that. After everything you’ve been through, you’re on edge like me. But rather than get super defensive like I do, you just attack. Physically or verbally.”
Imai crossed her arms. “I said I was sorry-”
“I never said it was a bad thing.”
I took a bite on my noodles and watched her face morph from slight anger to complete confusion. Maybe I should tease her and leave it at that. Let her wonder what I mean for the whole meal so I could eat in silence. Her face twisted, eyes focused on me, waiting for my next words. Dare I say it, it was cute watching her get so worked over a simple extended metaphor.
Nonetheless, I think she needed to hear everything I thought about her. Whether it was for her own sake or for mine.
“Unlike me, you show emotions,” I looked Imai in her auburn eyes. “You force emotions out of the people around you, force them to feel things. I’ve trained myself to stay emotionless for the past three years, and here you are, breaking all my walls down with sheer force.”
“And my good looks-” Imai commented, her lips curling upwards.
Of course your looks.
I rolled my eyes as her smile grew wider. “Keep yourself humble Satomi.”
I wanted to say to her that she was an amazing person despite her attitude sometimes. That even though everything she’d been through, her smile was a hundred times more genuine than any of mine had ever been. Her beauty, her energy, all of it was still running strong while I died a long time ago. I wish I was her. I wish I was youthful in my heart and didn’t run away from my emotions all the time.
Nonetheless, the rest of our meal went by without another word. She must have been satisfied with my ‘compliments’ and I was way too prideful to indulge upon how amazing she was in public. We both struggled with the noodles for a good thirty minutes until we gave in and asked the waiter for chopsticks. Anything to somehow help us eat the noodles that I was paying for.
Once the check came in (and I was over the amount of money I spent on stupid noodles) we both got up and headed out of the restaurant.
The both of us strode the street, rejuvenated from having a good meal. Imai put a hand on her stomach and laughed.
“Where to Fuji?” she asked.
I pulled out the newspaper and read the title. “The Daily Kumano Town Newspaper Headquarters. We’re going to have to take the train there.”
“Look, I’ll pay for you today. But I’m expecting you to pa-”
She grabbed my arm, pulling me into a side hug. “Thank you so much Fuji!!”
God, if I lose all my money making this girl smile….I’m gonna have to go back to working at that damn store during the summer.
Notes from Zen:
So for the contest I plan of having an early ending to the series, something different from what I planned before yet I still like the new ending. Due to time constraints I won't be able to completely flesh out the story, but I guess things like that happen. Maybe after this contest is over I'll write a new series? I'm thinking of an isekai based off some of my favorite webnovels like The Villainess Reverses the Hourglass. Let me know if you'd like that!
If you liked the chapter, please leave a like (or any reaction) and if you like the story feel free to add it to your library :)