Chapter 1:

Empty Land

Will The Stars Remember My Name?

Ryouta opened his eyes softly. He blinked them twice. He was sitting in a clear patch of grass, surrounded by cherry trees. He stood up and walked to the trees. He looked beyond the trees and saw nothing but the empty sky. He looked below the edge of the garden and saw clouds floating. He looked at them hesitantly and jumped from the garden. He fell on the clouds and bounced twice and finally came to a stop. He lied very still and could feel the soft cloud with his body and it was the best feeling of the world. He suddenly felt water trickle down his forehead. He touched his forehead but it was dry. Puzzled, he got up and looked around to see a huge wall of cloud about ten metres away from him. He jumped from cloud to cloud, closer to the wall till he was just a jump away. He saw a hand coming out of the wall. He moved towards the hand and suddenly felt more water trickle down his forehead. He stopped for a second and then continued to reach for the hand that was trying to come close to him and then he heard a whisper, "Good morning, stupid Ryo" and then it rained.

Ryouta woke up drenched and wet and managed to see his younger brother, Ryuuji, run away with an empty bucket and his laughter echoing in the house. Ryouta sat very still for a moment. He slowly got up from his wet bed in his wet pyjamas and wore his wet slippers. He smiled and cracked his knuckles.

Breakfast for the two brothers was always cooked by Ryuuji, while Ryouta made the dinner. Their parents had died four years ago and their close relatives had always disliked the marriage of their Japanese dad with their American mom. They didn't know any relatives from their mom's side and all the relatives from their father's side had basically abandoned them. They hadn't even talked to them since the funeral. All they did was send some money for the first year and then they stopped even sending that. Ryouta and Ryuuji lived a very difficult life, but that didn't stop them from being content. They managed to get by with two meals, and somehow had received a grant from paying school fees from the school they went to, because the principal of the school used to be good friends with their dad. He had invited them to live with him but Ryouta and Ryuuji had both decided to decline the generous offer. They wanted to be strong as their mother had always told them to be, and be capable of looking after themselves. 

Ryuuji handed over Ryouta's lunchbox to him and Ryouta smacked his kid brother's head. 

"OUCHH! That's where you hit me brother." 

"Serves you right. The last time you threw water on me, I almost murdered you. I don't know how I'm getting used to these pranks of yours." 

Ryuuji grinned and winked at his brother and said, "I'll think of new ones which you aren't used to then." 

Ryouta said, " And I'll find different ways to clobber you, brother mine. Now, let's get going. We'll be late for school. And don't forget to say bye to mom and dad." 

 Ryuuji nodded and went where the pictures of their mom and dad were kept. It was like a small shrine the brothers had kept to pray to their mom and dad. Ryuuji locked the house and skipped to Ryouta who had already started out.

‎‎"So, guess what Ryo? I started going out with a new girl." 

"So a month is over it seems. That's how long you actually last with any girl." 

"Oh, don't be jealous Ryo, just because you haven't had any girlfriend, or friends for that matter... Wait, I just said something incredibly sad. Actually, I feel bad for you now, you can go ahead and feel jealous. There there, it'll be alright." 

Ryouta shot him a you're-dead-when-we-get-home look and continued to walk. It's not that Ryouta was introverted or shy. It's just that.... He didn't interact much with people as he's always busy with part time jobs and thinking about how to provide for his brother and not make him feel as if he is limited by the absence of their parents. 

So usually, he refused all invites to hang out or go to karaoke and slowly people started drifting away from him. He almost became a ghost and most people didn't even know he was Ryuuji's brother. 

Being apart just a year, Ryuuji had always looked at Ryouta as friend rather than a big brother and Ryouta didn't mind. He loved Ryuuji's cheerfulness and during tough times, it was his smile that had saved him from giving up on life. Ryuuji was definitely mature, maybe even more than Ryouta. His cheerfulness earned him loyal friends and somehow even a fan club. He was definitely the most popular boy in their school and having a mix of blond and black hair, and unlike Ryouta, he was considered attractive by most people. 

"So, who's this new girl you're going out with Ryu?" 

Ryuuji smiled and said, "Futaba Sakamoto" 

Ryouta stopped and looked at his brother, "Futaba? Futaba Sakamoto? The girl in my section ?" 

Ryuuji nodded and smirked, "I even told her about my lovely lonely brother." 

"You did WHAT now? You know she's one of the most popular girls in second year right? You know what's gonna happen to me after you break up with her in a month right?" 

"She's.... Different." 

"I think that's what you said last time." 

"Don't worry bro, you have nothing to lose anyways" 

"You little..." Ryouta tried to catch hold of his brother but he managed to escape and run away. With a deep sigh, he figured his day would turn out to be rather difficult than he had expected.

He walked to the school, almost invisible, and reached his classroom. The first thing he saw was Futaba sitting on his chair. She waved at him and he turned back and started walking away. Futaba, a bit flustered, got up and ran after Ryouta. She grabbed his arm and said, "Hey... Phew... Why did you go away?"

Now, Futaba was an attractive girl, her hair was always done up in a pretty way and her medium height made her neither too small nor too tall for girls her age. She had light brown eyes, the kind that looked almost golden when light falls on them. But more than her physique, her personality stood out. She was bright, cheerful, easy-going, humourous and friendly. She had lots of different friends and exactly zero people who hated her. You couldn't hate her even if you wanted to, because that's how friendly she was to everyone. Looking at her closely, she was almost superhuman for being friends with everyone. 

Ryouta said, "Oh... Hey Futaba... Ah... I was just kinda going to... Uh.... The water cooler to drink water." 

"But you already have a bottle in your bag." 

"Oh yeah... That.. haha" 

She let go of his hand and said, "Wait, I'm making you uncomfortable aren't I? I'm sorry, I was just... I got a little bit excited because Ryuuji told me about you and I realized that I didn't even know you properly."

"Look, lady, I really don't mind you going out with my brother and it's fine if you don't know me, I'm usually busy with my part-time jobs and other stuff. I would be happy if you just treat me like a ghost just like before you started dating Ryuuji." 

She made a sad face and said, "Oh... Ok. I guess if that's what you want, I'll do that. I'm sorry for disturbing you." 

"Much appreciated." 

Ryouta turned back and started walking towards the water cooler until he somehow found Futaba holding his hand again. She said, "Ryu was right. You... You don't actually mean what you just said right now, did you? You don't want to be a ghost. You're actually a pretty thoughtful guy. You still went towards the water cooler, so I wouldn't feel awkward going back to the class with you. You know what Ryouta? Today, you're going to have your first friend. And that's your highness, Futaba Sakamoto herself." 

Ryouta looked at her for a moment and said, "I was actually gonna go and wash my face at the water cooler." Futaba blushed red and started laughing. Ryouta looked at her and just a small little smile escaped out of his mouth. Maybe the day wasn't going to be as bad as he thought.