White Wings Café
Once again, I had shrunk to the size of a kid and found myself within my world of glass. It seemed like there were some changes since my last visit. The cracks that were only just beginning to form on the ground now riddled almost every surface, a black odourless ooze seeping out from under each new crevice. Judging from the bit that had spilled over my shoes, I could say that it had a thick, inky texture to it.
More importantly, Ako was still here. She sat on a makeshift throne made of shards that had been broken off from the ground, one leg crossed over the other. The throne raised off the ground in a way that gave her a much clearer height advantage. Some parts had even been painted in different colours. I could almost commend her for being so resourceful, if not for the fact that she looked down upon me. Ako was digging her hand into a snack bag and stuffing her face.
“First off, don’t use my head as a trashcan, please,” I said, taking a single step back. The ooze slid off my shoes and rejoined a larger puddle of the stuff not too far away. “Last time I checked, there’s no one to clean up around here—”
“Respectfully denied. Your second request, human?”
She didn’t even let the question sit for a second.
“You know what? Whatever.” I threw my hands up. “Second off, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I wouldn’t consider myself too much of an overthinker.”
Although, I’ve always wondered what type of person I come across as. Aya, Yuu, even Maeda to an extent I guess, would they all come to the same conclusion? If that was the case then—
“Empathy’s broken crown, stop that at once! You’re doing it again.”
Ako promptly dropped whatever she was eating and jumped. The throne disappeared within a blink of an eye. She made her descent. The heels of her pure white boots clicked against the ground as she landed directly in front of me and put a finger in my face.
“Goodness, give it a rest already,” Ako said, exasperated. “I’m surprised you manage to lull yourself to sleep with all that incessant jabber going through your skull. Goodness. Goodness!”
I blinked a few times before I managed to get any more words out. “I’m sorry, what?”
“I. Can. Hear. It. Some of it. Did you forget?”she asked.
“Oh. Well, to be fair, you probably shouldn’t be here in the first place. Where else are someone’s thoughts supposed to be?”
She pulled on my cheek for a few seconds before letting go. “It’s for both of your safety. Despite her rank, you still are the first person she’s ever monitored.”
“Does she know you’re doing this—er, in here I guess?”
“You know not what you speak of, human.” The moment I raised an eyebrow at her, she refused to look me in the eye. “Look, it is sometimes important to give some thought to the actions we do once in a while, alright? But there’s a limit to that. Eventually, you’ll find yourself paralyzed in your own thoughts, unable to act on even the simplest of tasks.”
Ako sighed. She leaned down and swiped some of the goop from below onto her pointer finger. Rubbing it against her thumb, it wouldn’t even come apart let alone dissolve and disappear. Upon coming upon the same realization, her nose wrinkled and her upper lip pulled up in disgust. She flicked it back to where it came from and turned her back toward the puddle.
Looking back to me, she asked, “Have you really not taken my advice from our previous talk into account? Not in the slightest?”
“Sorry, you lost me.” I pulled at the hair covering my left eye. “Let me just say that it isn’t perfect or anything, but I’ve been doing some ‘monitoring’ of my own. Just like her, I’m doing my best to see that she’s alright too. It’s the least I could do.”
Ako raised a finger and took a sharp breath. However, it seemed that the words she wanted to say quickly died on her tongue faster than they could come out. She put her head in her hands for a few seconds before raising it slowly with a blank look on her face.
“Just forget about it.” Putting a hand on my shoulder, she said, “For the time being, remember that you are living with each other, which means that you are under each other’s care. If things get especially bad, Yuu will definitely know what to do.”
“I guess so, but—”
The words she said next. By themselves, they shouldn’t have pierced me the way that they did. They weren’t meant to. The words that spilled from Ako’s mouth and leaked onto the glass floor below—they left behind a venomous aftertaste that made my stomach sick.
“After all, she’s down here because of you.”
That disgusting aftertaste only led to an even more disgusting realisation.
In the back of my mind, farther than anyone could hope to notice, a single branching thought was born.
If it wasn’t for me, Yuu could have been living a perfectly normal high school life.
At the very end of the day, this was nothing more than a work-study someone would do for school. She couldn’t go home, not even if she wanted to. She might get in trouble otherwise.
With both of them no longer around, I thought it would finally end.
So then, why am I still going out of my way to make trouble for other people?
A loud pop echoed throughout the area. Behind me, a new crack had formed without any prior warning and started oozing that same black ink as the others.
Scratching the back of my neck, I swallowed before a soft yet bitter laugh left my lips. “I’m alright, Ako. I’ll consider that.”
Let me make this as clear as possible. I have no intention of ever forgiving you, and not even a sliver of me wants to see you again. I had already decided that.
It’s been a month and some odd days since your passing and yet, it was as if everything had hit me all at once.
Like a stream into a river, the memories of us together continued to flow without an end in sight, every single last one converging into one single point of focus.
Our times of happiness—our outings and time spent lounging around the house, the moments that were never coming back. The moments that I was fine with forgetting. Our lesser moments—the threats, the promises, the lies, the screaming. At each other. At me.
For the longest time part of me, including that sliver that wants nothing to do with you, had felt like I’d gone crazy. Like I was stuck having to defend you both. After all, what if everything was just in my mind? What if I was just overreacting like a little kid? What brings comfort to one person might be borderline unbearable for another, and what may be an unbearable joke of a situation may bring smiles across the faces of many. Other families out there definitely had it worse.
Did a person without a genuine bone in her body have the right to complain?
Now, that very same part of me finds itself stuck in a new place. Kneeled down on the soft freshly-cut grass directly in front of our old home with my mouth agape and ears ringing. In between each breath I took, each one sharper than the last, the faint murmurs of a newly formed crowd could be heard. Even then, my gaze could only be fixated on that blazing inferno which tinted everything from the grass to the night sky an ominous orange and red.
Maybe, I was just overthinking it. Or maybe, I was trying to avoid thinking about it in the first place.
Regardless of what the truth was, the day we came up with the name for our cafe had come and gone, bringing us to a rainy start of the week— Monday.
With no way to please everyone, the best way to approach a “comfort cafe” was to research as much as possible. I even bought a new notebook so that I could write down some of the things that I would consider comforting.
This specific Monday had more entries than I expected:
In the morning, Yuu seemed a bit too eager to turn off the news which was talking about the third missing person’s case in the last 4 days. As concerning it may be, I could only assume it was because she had made such a large meal for us to enjoy. Well, I mentioned the two of us but Yuu never seemed to eat any of her own cooking. She often is just happy enough watching me enjoy what she’s made. It’s weird, sure, and you’d never hear it come from my mouth but it’s endearing. That’s probably close enough to comfort, right?
According to the forecast, it was supposed to rain for the next few days. The soft thud of tiny droplets hitting rooftops. The metallic clang of cars being pelted by rain, their red lights reflected in puddles below. A smell like no other filled the air as the town I knew my entire life changed its entire aesthetic. Even if only for a few moments. God, I hope no one reads this.
When I had gotten to school with Yuu following shortly behind, I couldn’t help but notice that a crowd of students had gathered around the bulletin board right near the entrance. It was there that Aya hopped and danced around as she thanked the rain gods…or something. It was times like these I wondered why she was even popular in the first place.
Although I didn’t agree with how she got off scot-free with the whole track and field fiasco, it was still nice to see that she was happy.
P.S. Aya if you get your hands on this notebook and you’re currently reading this, I am never talking to you again.
The rest of the day went by relatively fast and it wasn’t long until I was back at my shoe locker, searching for my umbrella as I prepared for the walk home. At least, that was until a voice called out to me.
“Ah, dear! I caught you in time!” Yuu banged her hand against the set of lockers across from me. Putting her hands on her knees and clearly out of breath, she said, “And here I was, thinking I was gonna be late after I was stuck looking for my umbrella.”
After getting mine out, I grabbed my handbag and threw it over my shoulder, turning to look at her. “It’s not like I would have left you or anything, you know? If I did, I’d give you full permission to get revenge somehow. Angelic divine karma and all that.”
“That is not a thing.”
“Huh, actually? I could have sworn I researched into that hard too…”
Yuu leaped forward and landed on one foot. She continued this, zigzagging her way across the floor tiles until she made her way in front of me. “Alright, so I’ve been reading some of your ‘books’ during lunch today and I wanna try something.”
“You do, huh?” I braced myself to listen to what she wanted. Had she been even a little bit close, I’m sure she’d be able to hear me grinding my teeth together. “Let’s hear it.”
She puts a hand to her chin as if she was in deep thought.
“Very well, so I’ve deduced that a lot of the characters in these stories often walk home in the rain together. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but I honestly feel like I’ve really found a pattern here.” Whipping out her light blue umbrella and pointing it at me, she said, “let’s try to do the same.”
“Oh. That’s it, thank god.” I waved mine in front of her face. ”You got it a bit wrong though. In those stories, it’s less the fact that they’re walking in the rain and… more that they’re sharing a single umbrella.”
“Is that so? I was mistaken then?”
“Yeah, sorry. It’s alright though, we’ve both got our own so there’s no need to share them in the first place—”
A sharp crack sent a chill down my spine as Yuu took her umbrella and snapped it clean down the middle.
When she tossed it in the garbage bin and turned to face me again, she was grinning ear to ear as if she had solved some sort of thousand-year puzzle. Yuu asked, “How about now? Would it work, now?”
I gulped as I answered back, “Uh, yeah, that works…”
“Honestly now, this town…” Yuu said under her breath.
As we walked home together, a myriad of animals roamed the town despite the unflattering weather. A quick look behind me didn’t do me any good. A thick fog had covered everything even a few steps behind us. Cats rushed to the nearest dry shelter, dogs raced around and barked at anything that moved, and rabbits and bunnies were scared out of their minds—all of them flooded the area and drowned out the different sounds of the pouring rain. What a pain.
Aside from Yuu who was darting her eyes all over the place, no one else walking home seemed to notice they were even there. In fact, most of them just carried on as normal. Despite this, she still at least tried to keep a smile on her face.
“Hey Shiro,” she said. “You must be glad that it’s raining like this, huh?”
“Oh, am I that obvious? I don’t think I’ve ever told you that before.”
Yuu put a hand to her mouth for a second before moving it to her cheek. She laughed as she said, “You just seem like that type of person, that’s all.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?!”
“Nothing, nothing, I said not a single word.”
“There’s nothing wrong with it, alright!”
“I never said there was, dear.”
She continued to laugh as I lightly thumped on her shoulder, demanding a proper answer that I knew I wouldn’t get. The umbrella shook lightly with each hit but I had the feeling that it was more because of her than me. My uniform got soaked before I knew it.
Noticing this, Yuu signalled for me to stop. She grabbed my shoulder and pulled me closer to the centre of the umbrella. Her body against mine, my heart felt like it was pounding out of my chest.
“There.” She said, “Let’s not get too hasty now. A cold when school’s just starting? That’s no good at all.”
However, a quick glance to my left told me the whole story. Due to our difference in height, Yuu’s shoulder was peeking out from under the umbrella. Ever since we had started walking, it had been that way. At this point in time, that part of her uniform was drenched to the point where the white dress shirt underneath could be seen.
“You’re too nice to me,” I said in a low tone. “I don’t get it.”
My hair, wet from when we were fooling around, dropped in front of my eyes. The hairpin wasn’t doing anything at this point, so I just took it off and stored it away. Ako’s words from early in the day kept repeating in my mind.
That newly born, single-branching thought grew and grew until its poisonous roots managed to reach the very tip of my tongue.
“Hey, Yuu.” I could feel her eyes on me. “Even if you weren’t a guardian angel, would you still be friends with me?”
The moment the words left my mouth, a wave of regret pelted me more than the rain ever could. As if I was in a trance before, I took a sharp breath and took in my surroundings. We came to a full stop in the middle of the bridge. I could see the end of it. A group of dogs stood guard and yapped at us.
Looking up at her, Yuu’s eyes widened for a little bit before her gaze softened altogether. Her smile was gone, and in its place was a look of melancholy which overshadowed anything that came before it.
“That…hurts, dear,” she said, gripping the umbrella tighter. “You shouldn’t even have to ask that question.”
“Wait, no, I didn’t mean—”
“Were I from the peak of Heaven, the very depths of Hell, or anywhere in between, my answer wouldn’t change.” She said, “I will always appreciate your kindness towards me, Shiro. So I would, over and over again. Forever and always.”
My head shot down as I put a hand in my hair. “Yuu, I’m so sorry. I—I don’t know what I was saying.”
She wouldn’t let me continue.
“I find myself in quite the odd spot. Even though those are my true feelings, the only reason I can stay here in the first place is because of my occupation as an angel.” Her gaze stayed on me as she spoke.“In the end, I can only wonder if everything would be easier if I was human as well.”
Yuu fell silent. She handed her umbrella to me shortly afterward. Taking a deep breath, she raised her hands and brought them down hard onto her cheeks. The sound of hand against skin caused me to flinch. When I opened my eyes again, a new fire burned within her as she beamed as hard as she could.
“Even then. Even if that were true, I’d prefer everything to stay just the way that they are. After all, I’m here now, aren’t I?” she asked. “How’s that for an answer?”
The exhale through my nose sounded more like a soft chuckle as a hand found its way onto my face.“Yeah, that’s more than fine,” I hesitated but ultimately managed to get the words out, “...Thanks, Yuu.”
“Great, you have no need to apologize to me then, dear.”
Yuu twirled her hair around her finger, the sides of her face now a faint red. Whether it was because she was blushing or she hit herself, I couldn’t exactly tell. Despite her confidence proudly on display just a second ago, Yuu continued to glance around as she seemingly shrunk in her shoes. At the fog that divided us from the other kids. At the overabundance of pets that riddled our path. She paused for a second before huffing. “Uh, I assume that our definition of ‘staying just the way they are’ has no choice but to broaden ever so slightly though, huh? Wouldn’t expect any less from Apparition central.”
I might as well have choked on my own tongue with how hard I coughed. “Central…wait—what do you mean by that? Yuu?”
“Gosh, how long has it been since one of these things came out of their little holes.”
She rolled her shoulders a few times. Taking my hand and pulling me forward, she rushed to the group of dogs at the end of the bridge. As they continued to nip and scream at her, Yuu kneeled down in front of them. “Shiro, listen up.”
She winded back her fist as far as it would go and struck the air in front of her. Suddenly, each and every individual raindrop stopped in place, transforming them into the shape of orbs. The dogs, the rest of the animals, and the fog that was behind us— all of it transformed into vibrant purple, misty smoke and evaporated into the atmosphere. Nothing from when we started to walk home remained. Only the soft chime of a bell ringing and rain now bombarding my umbrella. A group of students with their handbags over their heads ran past us and over a puddle, splashing us with water before shortly turning the corner. It was then I was certain that the former could only be heard by the two of us.
I could barely believe my eyes. Raising my heel backward to take a step back, I took a deep breath before steeling myself and putting it back down.
Was this someone else’s warp in reality? Why animals? Was this that “leak” thing that Ako was talking about? As I held the umbrella over us both, a thousand questions rushed through my mind. Some made more sense than others.
“Well, at least this one was harmless.” Putting her hands together, she said softly, “Be put to rest now, alright?”
As Yuu stood back up, she flipped her hair back with her hand. She kept it there, only ruffling it every now and again as she turned her focus to me.
That was cool as hell!
A faint snickering echoed throughout my skull.
“Sorry for the wait,” she said, scratching the back of her head. “This town is responsible for many odd occurrences in the past decade or so. People disappearing, apartment buildings or houses collapsing without a solid reason, and as you could probably see, generally weird things appearing where they shouldn’t.”
“Then, your job is to help where you can with these, er, ‘occurrences’, right?”
“Precisely— whenever they’re out here like this, it means someone’s mind has unfortunately been put under an extreme burden. Extreme enough to affect reality itself,” Yuu said.
“Let’s see here, to put it in simple terms you could say that this town is a ‘hotspot’ of sorts for these individuals—Apparition is their title. That’s how my old headmaster put it at the very least.”
Putting a hand on her hips, she pointed a finger at me. “Now, I know it’s hard to believe, but aside from guiding you to happiness I—
“Me. I’m one. I know already.” I scratched at my face. “An Apparition.”
The colour drained from her face.
“What? What, what, what?” Yuu waved her hands around frantically. “Who? Who told you this very sensitive information?!”
“Your little sister, but I assumed you both were on the same page.”
“No! No, we were very much not!” She paused. Every time she’d open her mouth to say something, she’d interrupt herself before moving on to a different thought entirely. “Wait, does that mean—no. She wouldn’t—brat or not. I didn’t tell her ‘no’ per se— however.”
“We were in my head if that makes things any better?”
Ruffling her hair, she let out an infuriated shout and rushed forward. Water splashed sky-high as Yuu tackled me to the ground. The umbrella flew out of my hands before being blown into the sky, never to be seen again. If we weren’t soaked from before, then the giant puddle definitely got the job done.
“H-Hey, what happened to not missing school?”
My face felt unbelievably hot as I lay with my back to the ground, looking up at her. I couldn’t even muster the ability to cover my blushing face. With her on top of me, she began to pull and grab at my face as if that would make her sister hear her better.
“Get out, get out, get out now!” she cried, “Ako, you rascal, you brat! You get out of Shiro’s mind space this instant, do you understand me? Ah, now how else is she going to think I’m cool?”
“You two...are...so interesting to watch!” Ako’s voice spoke from within me. The snickering from earlier had turned into bellowing laughter.
Yuu fell backward and laid parallel to me. Maybe it was because of the absurdity of the situation, or maybe it was because I was embarrassed, but Ako’s contagious laughter would soon catch up to us both. When that finally happened, Yuu and I could do nothing but throw our heads back and let a laugh out of our own.
Together. As the bittersweet taste of the rain pelted our tongues.
Please log in to leave a comment.