His morning walk missed someone. An unplanned absence, morning track, the question spun around. Each step planted to the school expected them to show up and nullify his question. The left foot became heavier. The right turned to lead. Over the school gate, an ocean dragged his limbs.
Saki was missing.
Chapter 15 – All Short One
The school felt busier than usual in spite of missing someone. Students talked between each other as they walked into the school stopping at the shoe locker taking a pause. Girls ran their hands through their hair or tidied the mess up from the windy morning. The boys chatted about the latest show or magazine. Some pushed frantically through trying to make morning meetings with the student council. However, when Yuki stepped into the school it did not feel crowded to him and a nagging feeling at his side made him think Saki was next to him the entire time.
Yuki left the shoe lockers once he was finished and went straight to class. He managed to ignore the bullies in the hall that were looking at him strangely. The classroom filled slowly with students in his homeroom, but the more important matter for him was answered. ‘She’s not here either.’ He looked around a second time to be certain and still found nothing.
Hiroshi had been standing around at the window watching the students coming in when he noticed Yuki with a pensive expression. He walked over to his desk from the window. “Hey, Yuki! You look like you got something on your mind.”
“Hmm…huh?” Yuki tilted up from his chair seeing Hiroshi was standing next to him. “Hey, Hiroshi!”
Hiroshi wasn’t going to let it end simply at the greeting like the distant Yuki seemed to be thinking. “What’s wrong?”
Yuki pulled out his books from his school bag and flipped through some papers. “I didn’t see Saki this morning.”
“Yeah, neither have I,” He looked around the classroom for a second look to make sure that she hadn’t suddenly appeared on them. “There’s still a few minutes before class begins.”
“I know, but it’s not like Saki to be late and she didn’t say anything about practice this morning. I wonder if those bullies from the other day stopped her.”
“Saki’s a big girl, Yuki. She can handle herself, a lot better than you can.”
His body rattled a little under the weight of the painfully obvious remark. It was no mystery that Saki was strong and that Yuki was helpless when it came to a fight. “Thanks…Hiroshi.”
“Hey, sorry man. It’s not your fault that you’re bad at sports and fail in P.E.” A second and third weight pounded on him with the continued teasing. The tired exasperated look from Yuki was enough to stop Hiroshi joking, though he was already satisfied with how far he went. “But seriously, man. You’ve got nothing to worry about. If she ran into trouble she can take care of them. Besides, she’s probably just sick and staying home.”
Yuki let the weight go from him and straightened up to look back at Hiroshi. ‘He’s probably right. Don’t know why I’m so worried about it.’ He painted a smile back on his face to reassure Hiroshi that he felt better. “Thanks Hiroshi. I guess I’m so used to having Saki nearby that it’s weird when she’s not.”
The front door of their classroom slid open allowing Ms. Kuniyoshi to enter walking to the front of the class. The class representative called on the class to come to order and rise for the teacher. Hiroshi gave an understanding nod to him before rushing off to his seat hoping not to have the attention. “All be seated,” the class rep said. Ms. Kuniyoshi began taking attendance for the class with peace restored.
Yuki dragged his eyes forward to see that Saki’s seat was still empty. ‘Where are you, Saki?’ Class for everyone went on without Saki, it was only Yuki that seemed to think to the contrary. However, he tried to push it to the back of his mind and focus on his class. He had expected to see her just simply appear sometime during homeroom late and get yelled at by Ms. Kuniyoshi again, but that did not happen. Saki never appeared the entire day at school.
After school ended Yuki left with Hiroshi, who insisted on going with him, to visit Saki’s home to learn what had happened to her. Ms. Kuniyoshi had no answers for them other than she was reported as sick for the day. Yuki wanted to know what had happened. Even with their situation, she would have let him know.
The creeping ache dug up through his feet into his chest painting its seed deep. It refused to leave until he got answers, even a mundane one. But it had to be from her. It was an unexplainable nagging that never went away during class for him no matter how much reassurance that he had. The feeling was pounding even stronger inside him now that he was getting closer to the apartment building.
The five story apartment building stood before Hiroshi and Yuki as they gave a moment for pause before going to the front door. When they came to the main hall and the stairs in front of them Hiroshi turned to Yuki. “Where is their apartment?”
“It’s on the fourth floor apartment 403.” Yuki started up the stairs alone with Hiroshi looking at his back in a little disbelief. They had walked from school to Saki’s apartment building (which really isn’t a long distance from the school) and now it was three sets of stairs to reach their floor. Hiroshi let out a fatigued sigh and went up the stairs catching up to Yuki before he made it to the second floor.
From the street it appeared old, painted in a bit of rust and carved out stains of damage. The interior view up the stairs made the age worse. There was no elevator in the building or at least one that worked. All of the walls were lined with cracks or plastered over and painted cracks poorly maintained. It was from the reconstruction era of Japan after the war when everything was built up quickly and the building showed its age under an owner that did not have a very caring eye for it.
The main stairs ran through the middle of the building with a narrow set on the opposite ends that all groaned under the weight of any person no matter the size. However, the building might have been old and falling apart in appearance, but it managed to be sturdy. That old fashion stubbornness and hard work kept it together (and probably some hope).
Yuki and Hiroshi made it to the fourth floor. While Yuki walked forward without much concern for his safety, Hiroshi hung to the edges where the wood did not make as much noise. He was slower in reaching the destination leaving Yuki to stare confused at him as he eventually reached the door to Saki’s apartment. On the door it was clearly labeled ‘403’ in a rusting metal with splintering wood for the door itself.
Yuki straightened up, beginning to feel nervous about meeting the Furukawas again after the last time that he visited. He gave a firm knock to the door and stepped back waiting to see what was going to happen next.
Hiroshi looked back to Yuki, who was now further from the door than Hiroshi, wondering why the sudden change in courage. “You look a little pale, Yuki. Like you expect something to grab you when the door opens.” He stepped over to Yuki’s side coming between the door and him placing his hand on Yuki’s shoulder looking for an answer. “Yuki?”
“N-No, nothing’s wrong. I’m just b-being p-polite.” He tried to give a comforting smile to show that he was not nervous, but it was a futile effort when his arm was shaking.
That wouldn't convince anyone. Hiroshi placed his other hand on Yuki as well, not letting this go. “Polite? Then why are you shaking?”
“I’m giving them room. Don’t want to crowd the door, right? And I’m not shaking.”
“Hello?” said a voice from behind Hiroshi. Hiroshi turned his head over his shoulder while still holding on to Yuki. It was a middle aged woman with longer graying hair tied back that was dry, but kept. When Yuki came into sight of Saki's mother her curious and open expression quickly disappeared for a narrowed viscerally angry one. “What do you want? Thought I told you never to come back here. I don’t care how much my daughter tells me that you’ve changed.”
Hiroshi was unable to say anything taken back by the woman’s sudden verbal assault on Yuki. Yuki placed his hand on Hiroshi’s arm gently, giving him a steady smile as though he knew what he was doing before stepping around. “I’m sorry for breaking my promise to you, Mrs. Furukawa. I needed to ask you if Saki was feeling alright. She didn’t show up for class today and I was worried.”
Saki’s mother went quiet after Yuki stopped speaking as though she was considering whether she would say anything to him. “Yeah, she’s sick. Now leave before I call the police.” She closed the door behind her sharply on Yuki kicking his hair back from the force. The door was enough to tell him that he was not welcome and should not press his luck any further to get information.
Yuki walked away from her apartment making it down the stairs and to the street before Hiroshi caught up to him. He grabbed Yuki by his arm, preventing him from continuing on. “What was that all about?”
A buried past. The happier times burned down. One single act to change everything. Flashes of moments turned page by page in his mind. A painted over history. Should he give an answer? ‘I guess it was eventually going to happen. If it was to be anyone Hiroshi should be the one to know.’
He turned around to face Hiroshi directly, making it clear to Hiroshi that he wasn’t going to be trying to run away. Hiroshi let his arm go free. Yuki changed his cheerful expression to a serious narrowed one staring back at Hiroshi. “How much do you know about me before high school?”
Hiroshi had to think about the question, but quickly knew that he had nothing. “I’m familiar with the rumors that fly around school about you. But none of you talk about it, so I don’t take much stock in it.”
“Saki is a childhood friend and I used to go to their apartment frequently when I was younger. However, I…” Yuki hesitated on the memories that were coming back to him. The time was painful for him as he looked back at a side that he wished to forget. A time before the second tragedy.
‘Saki had been the only one that stuck by me back then. None of my friends could deal with me any longer. I had arguments with all of them driving them away. They all knew what happened, but friendship is only so strong. They left me alone and all I could do was fight more. But Saki was at my side. She never left me even when…’
It was the fall a year and half ago and the school day had just ended. The air was cool with a strong breeze blowing through the school grounds. Their junior high school was further away, forcing them to travel for more than half an hour to reach their neighborhood.
A sour mood filled Yuki, but that was his perpetual state now. Most times it came from a fight (which he usually started). Saki walked alongside him looking cheerful, enjoying the fall air.
“Hey Yuki?” Saki ran up ahead of him and turned around to face him.
“What?” He had a gruffer tone with his uniform looking dirty from a fight.
“Want to go here and get a snack for the walk back?” She pointed to the convenience store behind her that they regularly passed by on their walk each day. It was a normal stop for them when they were hungry and wanted a break or rather when Saki wanted a break.
Yuki never brought it up.
He dug his hands into his pockets walking a little stiff, annoyed by the stop. “I guess.” He stayed outside letting Saki go inside to shop for him. Saki knew what he would like to eat. Yuki stepped away from the store for a moment to stare up at the sky out of the overhang of the building.
The atmosphere around the street suddenly changed when three boys in school uniforms from his school appeared, their jackets of their uniform unbuttoned showing off their undershirts. The three boys marched towards Yuki with vengeance in their eyes. The two following up the middle one were tightening their fists looking ready to start something immediately. “You Hayashi?” the middle boy asked, coming just outside of punching distance.
Yuki turned his tilted back head over to look at who spoke to him with an unimpressed look in his eyes. “What you weaklings want?” He had put his focus back towards the clouds quickly losing interest in a bunch of babies that could barely swing at him.
“Weaklings?!” The boy on the left leaned in only being held back by the boy in the middle.
“You beat up my brother pretty good. I’m here to make you answer for it!”
Yuki no longer gave them acknowledgement of his eyes and spoke to the sky. “And you think ganging up on me will make your revenge come true? I’m already in a foul mood and I don’t like weak babies staring at me. Leave my sight before I feel like changing my mind.”
The boy on the right was unable to handle being talked down to by Yuki and charged around the middle. He threw his fist wildly at Yuki, striking him across the cheek with great surprise and shock to the boy. However, the punch did little other than darken Yuki’s face and bring his focus down upon the student.
Yuki pulled back and released his fist quickly, putting it through the boy, who otherwise looked like a model student that got decent grades. The boy was flattened on the ground immediately with a bloodied lip and deeply bruised nose. “I’m more than willing to make the cement drink your blood.”
The boy on the left began to shake seeing his friend dropped without hesitation or a chance to fight back. He considered running away seeing that his chances for coming out alive narrowed. The middle boy charged forward to Yuki in a rage of anger planning his revenge.
However, the boy was unable to place a punch on Yuki. Yuki spun around landing his leg in the side of his ribs knocking the wind out of him. Yuki followed it up with a sharp fist to the side of the face, laying the kid out with a painful groan to cement and blood dripping from the cut.
Yuki turned to the boy that shook trying to back away not wanting to fight anymore. He began to walk over to the student flexing his hand to loosen it up.
Saki came out of the store with two plastic wrapped buns in hand looking around for Yuki, who was no longer against the doorframe. “Hey Yuki! I got our snacks!” She turned to the grunting from the two boys on the ground and saw Yuki moving towards a defenseless student that was panicking trying to back away.
“I-I-I d-don’t want any trouble! Let me go, please!”
“Too late! You three started this!”
Saki dropped the snacks and ran towards Yuki hoping to stop him before he hurt another. “Yuki! No…!”
Yuki’s fist was already up in swinging motion when Saki started running and the boy backed away. He was determined to break something on the boy for being too cowardly to even back up his friends. It was cowards that he hated more than weaklings.
His fist flashed by on target to the boy’s face, but Saki stepped in the way at the last second. He couldn’t pull back in time. The punch collided with Saki’s cheek and jaw making an awful noise on impact streaming blood through the air splashed against the boy’s face that she just protected.
Saki collapsed to the ground not moving with her eyes empty of light. Yuki dropped to her side immediately shocked at what had happened. ‘I hit Saki…she stepped in my way…’ The boy fled when he realized that he was spared his life leaving his friends behind. “Saki! Can you hear me? Saki! Wake up!”
For all of the shaking and shouting that he did she wouldn’t wake for him. Confused and scared, he picked her up. He walked the entire distance back home. When he brought her unconscious back to her mother there were too many questions for him to answer. All he heard was screaming dulled in his head as he stared at Saki. Her mother wasn’t able to hold back in front of Yuki.
“My daughter is hurt because of you! All you do is pick fights. You’ll never be able to do anything else! Never go near my daughter ever again! If you so much as touch her I’ll call the police! I knew I shouldn’t have ever let you into this family! Get out of my home!”
Yuki stepped away, constantly getting pressed out by Saki’s mother. He couldn’t say anything back to the tirade that assaulted him. He knew that she was right. When the yelling came to an end he simply stepped away. “You won’t see me again.”
Yuki stood up from the spot that he had been resting at for his story. He looked back at Hiroshi who seemed stunned by the revelation from Yuki. The release of the tale didn’t bring any comfort to his heart. He wasn’t sure what he expected to happen from sharing it with another. There was no forgiveness that he could expect from relating it to Hiroshi. “I’m sorry you had to hear that.”
Hiroshi snapped out of his glazed over appearance and turned towards Yuki. He still worked to take everything that he heard in, but he felt like he had to say something before the moment was lost. ‘But what do you say to something like that? I still can’t believe it.’ He placed his gaze on Yuki trying to find a connection or an answer. “Wow… Yuki, I’m not sure what to say. It’s a little hard to believe. You being some angry punk beating up people.”
“Now you know the rumors are true. I’ll understand if you don’t want to be friends…”
“Hey, wait! Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. I mean the Yuki I know is a hyper happy guy that has a little too vivid of an imagination and a little crazy about your manga. That’s the Yuki I know and who’s my friend. The other Yuki is the past. He’s not you anymore, right?”
“So, then there are you! It’s in the past. Don’t worry about it then! You found out that Saki was just sick. So nothing to worry about. Let’s go home!” Hiroshi slung his arm around Yuki’s neck and started to drag him down the street giving him a rough time. ‘Hard to imagine him hurting anyone…’
Yuki and Hiroshi walked down the street starting to come near the intersection that led to his house. Hiroshi started cracking a joke to start warming Yuki back up. A few steps, things started to feel a little normal. Things would be better again.
However, as they made it around the corner of the street a dark figure stood in front of them. The shadow swayed back and forth in the shade of the tree coming towards the two. They nervously stepped backwards. Neither knew what was happening until the person came out of the darkness into the sunlight. A dirty and messy Saki, in her school uniform, collapsed in the road in front of them.
“Saki!” Yuki rushed to her side.
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