Chapter 3:

Shiomi's Secret

Will The Stars Remember My Name?

Ryouta stood still for a few seconds, staring intensely into Shiomi's fierce yet deep eyes. When he was finally able to process what she had said, Ryouta spoke, "Why?"

Shiomi looked away and said with a melancholic tone, "I've always done this to anyone approaching Haru. You can't be friends with him. You... Just can't."

"Why do you think so, Shiomi?"

Shiomi looked back at Ryouta and said, "I can't tell you that Ryouta. All I can tell you, is that please... Just stay away from Haruto. All the other people who I've told this too, they... Have stayed away. So I request you, please just stay away... I know it's going to be difficult for you, being in the same class, but you... HAVE TO STAY AWAY... for his sake"

Ryouta stood silent and walked away saying, "I'll think about it."

Shiomi stood there, with a dangerous look in her eyes, and watched Ryouta walk away.‎

‎Ryouta stepped out of the school grounds and headed towards his first job. Ryouta had three part time jobs, where he worked from 4 to 10.30, two hours at each job. Ryouta and Ryuuji had decided to distribute their work equally, but Ryouta had made sure he did larger share of work. Ryouta worked on weekdays for 6 hours after school and Ryuuji spent more than 12 hours on weekends at a local water park, doing life guard duty. The weekend job was high paying and not so tiring, so Ryouta wanted Ryuuji to do that. Ryuuji, being a skilled swimmer as a kid, accepted the job. Ryuuji was obviously against the idea of Ryouta working 6 hours each day, but Ryouta managed to convince his brother and now they were both used to it.

Ryouta's first job was at a local cafe, where he served the customers. The manger of the cafe was a very kind old lady, who knew the situation of the two brothers and secretly paid Ryouta a bit more than the usual. Ryouta entered the cafe and wished the manager. He immediately got to work and emptied his mind. He would think about Shiomi's request later that night. For now, he had work to do.

Later that day, when Ryouta went to his second job, Ryuuji wished Futaba goodbye and scurried to the same cafe at which Ryouta worked for his first shift. Ryuuji was secretly working on the weekdays to ease the pressure on his brother. He secretly added the money to his own weekend job salary and gave it to Ryouta, who managed their financials. Ryuuji knew that his brother wanted him to have fun and lead a good high school life, without having to feel their financial insecurity, but Ryuuji was not stupid. He knew his brother worked hard day and night to make ends meet. How could he enjoy when his brother was working so hard? ‎

‎He had persuaded the rest of the staff at the cafe to keep his job a secret from his brother, and somehow, it had never been revealed yet. Ryuuji returned home before his brother's last shift ended and cleaned their house before Ryouta came back.

When Ryouta came back, Ryuuji could see that his brother was not exactly at ease. Something had happened, but he didn't say a word and acted normally. The two brothers ate their dinner and they talked about their day. Ryuota told his brother about Shiomi and Haruto, but didn't mention his conversation with Shiomi. Ryuuji was happy to know that his brother was making friends and the first phase of his plan was successful.

After dinner, the two brothers bathed and went to bed. As Ryouta lay in his bed, he closed his eyes and replayed the conversation he had had with Shiomi. What could possibly be wrong with Haruto that Shiomi had told every person to stay away from him? After thinking for some time, his tired mind and body fell asleep.

The next day, when Ryouta entered the school gates he found Shiomi waiting for him. She indicated him to follow her behind the school. He followed her to the back of the school, which was a popular spot for students during recess, but quite empty during the beginning of school. Shiomi sat down on a grassy patch and asked Ryouta to sit in front of her. She looked at him, with the same deadly eyes, and told Ryouta, "You overslept, that's your excuse for skipping the first period."

"I usually don't skip periods but this time, I'll make an exception."

"Good. So... What did you decide?"

"I decided to stay friends with Haruto until you tell me what's wrong with being friends with him."

"He's broken."

"... And?"

"That's it. He's broken. That's all I can tell you."

"Then I guess, I'm not staying away from him."

‎‎‎‎Shiomi pouted and said, "What's your problem? All you did was stay away from every person in school and now suddenly somebody talks with you and you become their best friend? The rest of the people just got weirded out and stayed away... But not you. Why? And here I expected you to just stay away without questioning. Ryouta... I don't know why you avoided everyone at the beginning of the year, but I'll tell you something. Once you choose to be a loner, you'll always be one. That's how high school works. Once you choose what image you have to be in high school, you have to stick to it. If you suddenly change your character, everything you built falls down. Believe me, I know. And you chose to be a loner, the worst of all the images you could pick."

"First of all, .... Ouch. Secondly, allow me to explain you the benefits of a lose- ...Uhm, I mean a loner. Point number one, you don't have to keep an image up. You don't have to lie to others about who you are. You can be true to yourself. Point number two, you learn to see objectively, and thus you learn to see through masks of other people, which brings me to my main point, Shiomi Mabuchi, you're scared of something, and that is either losing Haruto or Haruto losing himself. The question is which one and why?"

Shiomi looked away and a drop of tear rolled down her cheeks. She whispered softly, "Both." ‎

Ryouta realised his bluntness and kept a hand on Shiomi's shoulder. He said, "Shiomi, you can tell me about it. I'm sorry, I was too straightforward with you. Look how about this, we still have time to run back to our class and attend the first period. How about we talk during recess, right here?"

Shiomi looked at Ryouta and said, "You just didn't want to skip the first period."

Ryouta gulped and stammered, "I... Uh.. I won't.. uh... completely deny that."

Shiomi laughed and said, "Recess. Right here. Don't be late or else I'll kick your butt"

"Sounds like a plan."

The bell for recess rang and Haruto saw Ryouta get up and walk out of the class. Ryouta had wished Haruto in the morning and Haruto wanted to eat lunch with him later during recess, along with Shiomi. He knew that Ryouta was usually stuck to his seat, even during recess, unless it was something important. He looked over to see Futaba talking with her friends, too busy to notice Ryouta's behaviour. Curious, he decided to follow him and saw him meeting up with Shiomi behind the school. It was still a bit early for students to come down here, and he saw them sit near a bushy area, where nobody would notice them. He felt a strange pain in his chest, and he couldn't recognise what this feeling was. He had this insatiable curiosity to hear what they were talking about. He quietly crept up from the other side and hid behind some bushes. They had just met yesterday, how could they be so close? He had to listen to them.

Ryouta met up with Shiomi during recess. He sat down with her, and then Shiomi said, "Alright, Ryouta. I'm trusting you with this. I don't know why you, but... You seem like a good person."Without knowing how much the next few minutes would affect her, she began by saying, as Haruto listened closely from the bushes,

"You better not tell this to Haruto."