Chapter 11:


Third and Final Time

I didn’t want to go to school.
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I wanted to stay motionless on my bed, waiting for exhaustion to consume me, but I couldn’t do it.Bookmark here

I had to.Bookmark here

If I didn’t, I’d make my parents worry and that would make this pain even worse.Bookmark here

Maybe I’d start to feel numb as the day went on.Bookmark here

Maybe I’d never see him again.Bookmark here

Or maybe.Bookmark here

I rushed to the bathroom and threw up again.Bookmark here

Just imagining him makes me like this.Bookmark here

It’s not him - it’s not the one I know.Bookmark here

It’s him before we ever met, before he became my boyfriend, my husband, my-Bookmark here

I rinsed out my mouth and took a few pills to help ease the stabbing pain in my stomach, though it didn’t do as much as I hoped it would.Bookmark here

“Have a good day, Akane.”Bookmark here

Tears.Bookmark here

I could actually feel tears starting to well when my mum said that to me at the door.Bookmark here

“…You too, mum.”Bookmark here

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When I got to the school gates, I found myself unable to move.Bookmark here

Something told me that if I took one more step forward, I’d regret it.Bookmark here

Cowardice - a slowly, all-consuming disgusting feeling that I could feel crawl up my throat.Bookmark here

Don’t.Bookmark here

You can’t let them know.Bookmark here

Just keep it inside, like you’ve always done.Bookmark here

You can do this, Akane.Bookmark here

You can.Bookmark here

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When I got into the classroom, I put my headphones on and started reading.Bookmark here

I didn’t break my concentration even when one person, no idea who, waved their hand in front of the pages.Bookmark here

I just stayed there in my bubble, tuning reality out, until the time I saw our teacher come into the classroom.Bookmark here

This is fine - it’s just for now.Bookmark here

You’ll calm back down soon enough; just a few more hours until lunch and then you can be with Hinata and the others.Bookmark here

It’ll be fine.Bookmark here

It’ll…Bookmark here

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I snuck to the bathroom during third period to take some more medicine. Just some over-the-counter pills I picked up on the way to school, though I struggled to swallow them.Bookmark here

Memories of the day before resurfaced in my mind and then I understood why.Bookmark here

My body was expecting me to vomit it all back up in this place.Bookmark here

Hopefully today wouldn’t be as bad as yesterday.Bookmark here

It couldn’t possibly be, I told myself.Bookmark here

When I walked past the mirror, I stopped and stared into my own eyes.Bookmark here

They were slightly red.Bookmark here

They were cold.Bookmark here

No, they were something else - something worse.Bookmark here

They were vacant.Bookmark here

It was like looking into a blackhole that threatened to swallow me whole.Bookmark here

Stop it!Bookmark here

I slapped my cheeks harshly.Bookmark here

The pain knocked me out of the spiral this time, though I didn’t know if it’d do it again.Bookmark here

I went back to the classroom and spent the rest of the time absentmindedly looking out of the window.Bookmark here

I want to go home.Bookmark here

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“Hey, is everything okay, Akane?” Hinata whispered into my ear as we set up our tables for lunch.Bookmark here

“…No.”Bookmark here

“Really?” I nodded and didn’t look at her face. “You aren’t still feeling sick from yesterday?”Bookmark here

“…No.”Bookmark here

“…Okay.”Bookmark here

For the first time, I didn’t bother trying to talk to my friends at lunch.Bookmark here

It was just us girls again, though I did notice Rei walk by our table a few times more than usual. Bookmark here

He didn’t say anything, just a quick glance, and then he’d move right along.Bookmark here

For some reason, looking up at everyone else made me nauseous. Bookmark here

So, I ate in silence and, once I was done, I did something I’d never done before at school - I started texting my mother.Bookmark here

Unsurprisingly, my mother was confused. Bookmark here

When she asked if everything was okay, I said I was fine and that I just felt like talking to her.Bookmark here

And so, we chatted all through lunch.Bookmark here

At some point, I had zoned out from the rest of my classmates and gotten absorbed in my own little world, though I seem to remember a few times the girls called out to me.Bookmark here

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“Is everything okay?”Bookmark here

That was the first thing my mum said when I got home.Bookmark here

“…I’m fine. Really.”Bookmark here

“Akane…”Bookmark here

Don’t.Bookmark here

Please, don’t look at me like that.Bookmark here

It hurts me to see you worry about me like that.Bookmark here

I shouldn’t have texted her.Bookmark here

I should’ve just refused to spend lunch with Hinata and the girls or come up with some excuse for why I couldn’t today.Bookmark here

I-Bookmark here

She hugged me.Bookmark here

“…Mum?”Bookmark here

“Hey, Akane. Did you know? That today’s the first day you’ve ever called me ‘mum’?”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

Her grip tightened around me ever so slightly. “You’ve always called me mother, even when you were a little girl, and now.” She rubbed her face against my shoulder. “You changed how you called me, and then started texting me while you were at school. I-I’m worried about you.”Bookmark here

“…Why?”Bookmark here

“Why?” She broke away from me a little and showed me a weak smile. “Because you’re my daughter.”Bookmark here

“No, not that. Why…could that tell you something was wrong?”Bookmark here

Her smile became a little bit brighter. “A mother can always tell.”Bookmark here

“M…um.” I sniffed as the dam holding back my emotions crumbled. “I-I…I’m sorry I worried you.”Bookmark here

“Don’t ever apologise for that!” She hugged me again and, this time, I held her back. “It’s a child’s job to worry a parent, and it’s the parent’s job to make them feel loved. Akane, no matter what happened, not matter what you do or where you go from here, I will always love you and be there for you.Bookmark here

“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, but please, lean on your father and I a bit more. Please…don’t suffer alone.”Bookmark here

I spent the night with my parents watching TV in the living room.Bookmark here

We didn’t talk about why I was like this, but they took turns putting their arms around me, making sure I was never alone for too long.Bookmark here

“Goodnight, Akane.”Bookmark here

Two little words made me feel so warm inside.Bookmark here

Why?Bookmark here

Was this the power of a parent?Bookmark here

If so.Bookmark here

I lightly grazed my fingers along my stomach.Bookmark here

Would I have been able to do that for them?Bookmark here

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Unfortunately, my parent’s sanctuary wasn’t enough.Bookmark here

A week later and I hadn’t recovered from my initial shock of seeing Ryuuji again.Bookmark here

I still said next to nothing to the girls, I barely did anything but read and listen to music, and I ignored all the texts and calls I got from my friends.Bookmark here

It was painful, but it wouldn’t be as painful as telling them.Bookmark here

“Are you really sure you’re okay?”Bookmark here

“…I’m fine.” I forced myself to smile, though the girls’ expressions told me it wasn’t convincing. Bookmark here

“But you look so pale and you’ve barely-”Bookmark here

“Hinata.”Bookmark here

“But Kana-!”Bookmark here

The mood turned sour because of me.Bookmark here

Sensing this, Inori took it upon herself to try and lighten the mood.Bookmark here

“Hey, maybe she’s just overwhelmed by all the hot guys that have come over to talk to us lately.”Bookmark here

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I heard something snap inside of me.Bookmark here

I don’t know what, but it was something.Bookmark here

Actually, I remembered this feeling, and so did Hinata.Bookmark here

Maybe that’s why she reached out to me, to try and stop me before I exploded.Bookmark here

But she was too late.Bookmark here

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“That’s not it.”Bookmark here

“H-hey, Akane. Let’s not do this-”Bookmark here

I batted Hinata’s hand away.Bookmark here

“Do you want to know why I’ve been like this, Inori? Or do you just want to make dumb jokes about my suffering?”Bookmark here

“A-Akane?” Bookmark here

I could see the terror on Inori’s face, but I didn’t care. Bookmark here

I didn’t stop myself.Bookmark here

“You’re right - half right at least. The guys coming over has bothered me; no, that’s not it. That’s not it at all!” Bookmark here

All eyes in our class slowly drifted towards me.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry, Akane, I didn-”Bookmark here

Frustrated, I slammed my fist onto the table and leapt out of my seat. “I don’t see any of those guys like that at all! In fact, I don’t have a crush on a guy. I like a girl right now.” I laughed bitterly and covered my eyes so no one saw my tears. “I’m bi-sexual, Inori, and I struggle to be around guys because my last boyfriend was the biggest piece of shit in the whole world!Bookmark here

“Hey, Inori, do you know what it’s like to love someone from the bottom of your heart and not have them love you back? Do you know how painful it is when that person abandons you because he’s jealous of your ‘talents’? Do you know how suffocating it is to be asked what guys I think are hot when I don’t even want to think about men at all?!”Bookmark here

Oh God, I’m throwing it all away and over nothing.Bookmark here

I wept louder and stopped hiding my face.Bookmark here

Inori - that’s an expression I’ve never seen you make before.Bookmark here

It’s one I could only describe as regret because a strong enough word doesn’t exist.Bookmark here

It’s not your fault, I know that, as does everyone else, but you had to be there at the last moment to ignite the short fuse.Bookmark here

“Hey, Inori, tell me - am I weird for liking girls? Am I weird for not wanting to talk to guys? Am I weird because I like both?”Bookmark here

My knees gave out, though Hinata and Kana managed to grab and support me before I passed out. Slowly, they eased me back into my seat, gave me tissues and slowly rubbed my back, calming me down.Bookmark here

“She likes both?”Bookmark here

“She’s got a crush on a girl?”Bookmark here

I heard a few malicious chuckles from a few boys and some comments that made my skin crawl.Bookmark here

“Does that mean she’d be down for three ways?”Bookmark here

“Oh my god! That’d be so hot.”Bookmark here

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It’s over.Bookmark here

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I should’ve spoken to someone sooner about all this.Bookmark here

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Hinata.Bookmark here

Inori.Bookmark here

Kana.Bookmark here

Mum.Bookmark here

Dad.Bookmark here

…Rei.Bookmark here

Just…someone.Bookmark here

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The rumours will spread, just like they did with the Ami incident.Bookmark here

Guys will look at me with lewd expressions.Bookmark here

Girls will stay away from me, asking me not to change with them.Bookmark here

And all because-Bookmark here

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“I’m bi.”Bookmark here

I shot up and saw Rei standing across from me, a small smile on his lips.Bookmark here

“…What?”Bookmark here

“I’m bi too, Akane.” He let out an awkward laugh and rubbed the back of his head. “I know what it’s like, you know, to have a crush on the same sex and not want to tell people.”Bookmark here

“Is that true?”Bookmark here

Hayato, Aki and…Ryuuji…were in the doorway, as were a lot of other students from different classes.Bookmark here

I wondered if someone went to get a teacher, or if they were already here.Bookmark here

“How long have you-?”Bookmark here

“Been or known?”Bookmark here

Hayato shrugged his shoulders. “Both?”Bookmark here

“For a few years now,” Rei admitted. “Probably since first year of middle school. I don’t remember when exactly, but, well…” He went a bit red. “I’ve had some crushes on some guys, then on some girls, and then I had some on both once.”Bookmark here

“…Even us?”Bookmark here

“…Maybe.”Bookmark here

Something changed in the air around those three.Bookmark here

Without saying a word to each other, they all started smiling and then started asking, quite loudly, “Is it me?”Bookmark here

“No way it was you, Aki! It has to have been me, right?! I mean.” Hayato flicked his hair a little. “I’m clearly the most attractive.”Bookmark here

“I can safely say it was not Hayato.”Bookmark here

“Hey!”Bookmark here

“What about me?!” Ryuuji joined in.Bookmark here

“You’re not my type.”Bookmark here

“Why?!”Bookmark here

“It’s your face.”Bookmark here

“Hey!”Bookmark here

Some of the onlookers had started to laugh at their exchange, but something else was happening beneath the surface.Bookmark here

Slowly, they were changing the heavy atmosphere in the classroom.Bookmark here

Were they…doing this for me?Bookmark here

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…No…way.Bookmark here

There’s no way Ryuuji would-Bookmark here

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“I like girls!”Bookmark here

Something more shocking that Ryuuji coming to my aid occurred.Bookmark here

Confidently, Ami, my old best friend, turned to face our class and put a hand to her chest. Bookmark here

“I’m gay. I’ve never had a crush on a guy before and I never will!” Her expression distorted as she scrunched up her eyes. “…I was always scared to tell people, especially my friends, because I didn’t want them to look at me differently. I was scared they’d reject me, say mean things about me, say I wasn’t normal or that I couldn’t be with them again because I might attack them.”Bookmark here

“Ami, we’d never-”Bookmark here

“I didn’t know that. No matter how much I’d want to believe that’s the truth, I’d never know until I came out to you guys. Honestly.” She lightly scratched her cheek. “I never thought I’d tell you guys, especially because.” Bookmark here

It was subtle, but I spotted it.Bookmark here

For less than a micro-second, Ami had looked my way.Bookmark here

“I didn’t want to lose you guys.”Bookmark here

“…Ami.”Bookmark here

“You’re very brave, Ami. In fact!” Hinata let go off me, put one foot on her chair and then declared, “I too am gay!”Bookmark here

“We know,” Inori and Kana said in perfect unison.Bookmark here

“How?!”Bookmark here

“Wait, you thought we didn’t know?”Bookmark here

“B-b-b-but I did such a good job at hiding it!”Bookmark here

“Hinata, when you invite us round your house for a sleepover and then spend a good five minutes staring at us after we change into our pyjamas, you aren’t hiding it.”Bookmark here

“Oh, actually, Kana…A-Akane, do you remember on the school trip when we all went to the public baths and she got really flustered?”Bookmark here

“Huh?!”Bookmark here

“Oh yeah, that did happen.” Kana giggled a little. “You said you were just embarrassed to go in with so many people, but we knew it’s because-”Bookmark here

“Don’t say anymore!”Bookmark here

Hinata put her hands over Kana’s mouth which drew more laughter from the class, and me.Bookmark here

“T-t-then!” Hinata thrust a finger at Inori’s face. “Why didn’t you ever tell me?”Bookmark here

“Because it didn’t matter to us. You’re you, no matter who you like.”Bookmark here

“B-but, wouldn’t you be uncomfortable with hugging or-”Bookmark here

“Not even a little bit.”Bookmark here

“Why?”Bookmark here

“Why?” Inori honestly looked and sounded dumbfounded. “Because we’re friends. There’s nothing wrong with us hugging, holding hands or sleeping in the same bed just because you’re gay. You’re not going to attack me in my sleep, are you?”Bookmark here

“Of course not!”Bookmark here

“Exactly. That’s my point.”Bookmark here

“…Oh. Ehehehe.”Bookmark here

Soon, the commotion in the classroom ended.Bookmark here

The boys who had made crude comments about me were not just shunned, but they were also called to the teacher’s office for a lecture at the end of the day.Bookmark here

In the end, a few teachers had rushed over to our classroom, praising those who came out for our courage and those who supported us. Bookmark here

There were still a few minutes left of lunch and I spent most of them crying tears of joy.Bookmark here

“Thank you, Hinata, Kana, Inori. …I’m sorry about before.”Bookmark here

“I’m sorry too.”Bookmark here

We hugged and I thanked Inori softly once more before we broke away.Bookmark here

“Thank you, Rei and…you guys.”Bookmark here

“Don’t worry about it.” Rei smiled. “I was just doing the right thing.”Bookmark here

“Even then, thank you.”Bookmark here

He nodded, then walked his friends back to their classroom. As they left, Aki, Hayato and Ryuuji all wished me well.Bookmark here

Then, I went to thank the last person I needed to.Bookmark here

“Thank you, Ami.”Bookmark here

It was the first time in a long time that we’d spoken and I hadn’t said anything to her in countless months.Bookmark here

We still didn’t make eye contact and we were no longer friends, but I felt happy to have her stand up for me.Bookmark here

“…You’re welcome.”Bookmark here

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Hey, Ami, do you think, if we hadn’t stopped being friends, we could’ve ended up together?Bookmark here

Because, at that time, I did like you that way.Bookmark here

I just…I just wish we could at least be friends now.Bookmark here

I prayed from the bottom of my heart that today was the first step towards rebuilding that bridge between us.Bookmark here

Kuromaru (クロまる)
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