“Shin, are you ok?”
I opened my eyes to see Chiaki bending her head over to check my reaction.
I took a look around my surroundings.
The large bell is still being rung.
Fireworks are all over the sky.
People are cheering.
“Happy New Year!” they screamed, happily.
Chiaki is still holding my hand, standing right beside me.
She’s alive, and well.
The first drop of snow fell on her face.
“Are you ok?” she asked, as she wiped the tears from my eyes with the sleeve of her kimono. “Why are you crying suddenly?”
“I’m not,” I try to smile. “I’m not crying.”
“Yes you are,” she continued to wipe the tears. “Calm down, Shin.”
“I can’t—I can’t—”
She wrapped her arms around my neck and put her head on my chest. “It’s ok. I’ve got you.”
I started to sniff, as I let out a loud cry. I hugged her tighter.
Everyone stared at us, but I couldn’t let her go.
“I’m sorry, I couldn’t control—”
I cried like a baby. It was immature, it was pathetic but I just want to let it all out. My pent up emotions of not being able to say how I feel, my pain to go through their deaths again and again, my struggles to keep them alive, and my small, small wishes of only wanting to be with them. To be with her.
After a while, I only calmed down, as Chiaki sat on one of the benches beside me.
Some people walking past us still giggled at me.
That was the most embarrassing moment in my entire life.
“Cheer up,” Hideki said, as he passed me a cup of corn. I don’t know where he got it.
I took it with a “thanks”.
He sat on my right, while Yui sat beside Chiaki.
“Are you sure you do not have any mental problems?” Hideki asked.
I chuckled. “No. For the millionth times, no.”
“It just feels weird, you know. You were normal then all of a sudden, you were not normal again. What happened?”
“I… I’m not sure. I just felt like a heavy burden was lifted off me the moment I passed through the gate. I don’t quite remember what happened. It was vague.”
“Could it be stress?” Yui asked.
“No, guys like Shin never have stress in his studies.” Chiaki said.
“I just felt like there were these intense emotions following me the past few days, urging me to do something, and I felt desperate. I felt like I needed to do so, in order to protect things that are important to me.”
Hideki looked at me weird.
“I don’t know how to say it, but I felt a small part of me gone missing after I passed through the gate.”
“Ohhh, that must be what they called a ‘death turn’, those things we talked about during our presentation.” Hideki said. “Perhaps there was this lingering, uncomfortable, death-like feeling crawling all over you, and passing through the shrine gate cleansed you of all that.”
“Maybe,” I said. “But I feel much better now. Looking at you guys, I feel relieved. That I’m glad to be here.”
Yui chuckled, “You sure are weird, Shin.”
Hideki nodded. “Yeahhh.”
I then saw Yui signalling Hideki, without Chiaki noticing it.
“So, Yui,” Hideki stood up. “Want to buy those amulets?”
“Sure,” Yui said as she followed Hideki.
They both winked at me.
I turned my attention to Chiaki.
She held her paper cup of drink that Yui gave her, looking at the ground, without saying anything.
I waited for her.
“So,” she said. “…I’ve given it some thoughts.”
She continued, “I was really surprised when you suddenly said it in front of my parents.”
“I mean,” she softly played with her cup, rubbing her fingers on it. “I was not sure of how you felt…”
Her face then slowly turned red, and she turned her head away from me.
I chuckled, loud enough to be heard by her.
“Don’t laugh, this is serious!” she said.
“I’m sorry,” I replied. “You’re just too cute.”
“I—You—Just promise me one thing!”
“What is it?”
“That you will never shoulder things by yourself again. It worries me to see you like that, if you want me by your side, then you should—”
Under the dark sky lit by the fireworks, I kissed her.
Her lips were soft, and they trembled a bit when I made the kiss.
I backed away from her for a bit, and she kissed me back.
Another round of fireworks were shot into the sky.
She slowly backed away from me, her face still a bit red.
“I wasn’t ready,” she said.
“That’s what makes it surprising,” I replied.
“Shut up,” she said.
“I promise you,” I said. “I promise you I will share my burden from now on, with you, with Hideki, and my parents, if possible.”
“Pinky promise?” she held out her pinky finger.
I hooked my pinky finger with hers. “Pinky promise.”
“Awww,” Hideki came back. “You two are so adorable.”
“Shut up,” Chiaki and I said in unison.
Yui chuckled at us.
Hideki leaned closer to me, and whispered, “You kissed like an amateur, Shin.”
I slapped his arm. “Go away.”
“I’ll be taking Chiaki with me then,” Yui said as she looked at Chiaki. “You wanted to buy an amulet, right?”
Chiaki nodded, but she also held my hand as she stood up.
She looked at me, “Let’s go.”
“Together?” I asked.