Chapter 1:

How I Didn't Get Chocolates... Again

Cursed Lines

I had a pretty simple life plan. Finish my education, find the right woman, and a stable, not mentally exhausting job. Having those few friends you can go out for a beer with and a home you can come back to. Have I asked for so much?

All the details were still to be worked out, except for one - Hamada Tomiko. We went to elementary and secondary school together, and I've liked her ever since. Now we were in the same class in high school. It is easy to guess that I took no steps to approach her. I was hoping everything would work out just fine. We talked a lot, she was always nice to me and gave me cookies when I helped her with her English. Like I did to every other person during my educational path so far, but only she brought me some sweets as a thank-you gesture. I assumed that I had a pretty good chance with her, but I learned the hard way that that wasn't true.

The problems started on Valentine's Day. I felt it was going to be a bad day because I had a headache since the morning. It was still possible to survive, but at times my vision became blurry. On the way to school, I would have fallen over a couple of times, being on the verge of passing out.

"Kiyoshi, maybe you should go home?" a friend asked me before we entered the school.

"I can't," I snapped back, feeling another surge of pain and seeing strange lines appearing in front of my eyes.

"Another year of waiting for chocolates from Hamada? I thought you'd give up eventually," Daisuke muttered. "I don't expect anything, so I can focus on more important things. Even Maiko isn't going to give any, and I was afraid she was already that age..."

"You'd whack any boy she was interested in any way," I laughed.

"Except for you, of course."

"Beyond me. I would still help you. We practically grew up together,” I said, hesitating a moment before opening my locker.

I was disappointed that it was empty, but I had to believe that there would still be something there by the end of the day. However, I looked with envy when my completely uncaring friend took out a beautifully wrapped box. He didn't have to pretend he wasn't interested, shrugging his shoulders, I saw him smiling.

"Back to my beloved younger sister. She still reads all those stupid romance novels on the internet, luckily she didn't freak out because of it, and that would be a problem," Daisuke said, changing the subject.

"Maiko has a head on her neck and combines business with pleasure, reading in English," I said, noticing a group of girls hiding something behind their backs. "She told me that a few months ago she happened to come across a young author and immediately became a fan of hers. She keeps asking me to help her understand the more difficult passages."

The girls, from what I knew, were the year above, clearly began to be a bit worried about our prolonged conversation at the lockers. They probably came early to school on purpose to give their chocolates, which did not require as much courage as a direct confrontation with the object of their love interests. We looked at each other and headed to class.

"We're thinking of the same person, aren't we?" Daisuke asked.

"Of course," I murmured.

"He could carry these chocolates in sacks every year. I wonder if he eats them all himself or shares them with someone. Or maybe he makes rankings of which was the tastiest?"

"I don't know, ask him at the next opportunity," I grunted, needing a moment and leaning against the nearest window sill. Why were the damn lines different colours now?

We were talking about Tachibana Shigeru, a high school student who was loved by the entire school, both students and teachers. The type that will convince everyone with his charm, handsome face, and helpful nature. In addition, he had excellent academic results and was a representative of the school government. Nothing but bowing to him, I bristled in my mind. I know he wasn't a bad man, I've talked to him a few times. He had that kind of character and that special charm that made people cling to him. However, from what I heard, not a single girl turned his head and he treated each of them with the same courtesy.

With every hour my condition got worse and worse, I barely made it to lunch break. I knew a visit to the nurse wouldn't help much, so after my friend's complaining and persuading, I finally decided to go home. So, I was about to head to my locker when I heard a faint whisper. I looked out and saw her, my beloved, with chocolates in her hand. It looked like she was casting a spell on it that would make her gift noticed. My heart beat faster, hoping that this was meant for me. Maybe she noticed I wasn't feeling well and decided to put the chocolates in my locker because she was afraid I'd go home early. That would be so sweet of her, after all, she had asked how I was before. Suddenly the day wasn't so bad, her smile rewarded me with everything. The special kind that you know is only for the person you feel something for.

I leaned even further to make sure the chocolates were getting to me, but how wrong I was. I wanted to scream that it should have been me, but all I could do was fall to my knees as another wave of pain came. Furthermore, I looked at her, coloured lines flashed in front of my eyes, I couldn't focus on anything, and I felt that I was losing consciousness. Hamada said my name several times, worried; that much I could understand as it got darker. I felt that someone or something was lifting me up. I had the impression that I was flying. I could even describe it as a nice feeling, but everything was ruined when, right before I fainted, I was told that I was pathetic. All I wanted to say is that I already know.

I woke up in the hospital trying to understand what had happened. I bet I was initially taken to a nurse, and meanwhile, an ambulance was called to me. Probably I was unconscious for a long time. The school had to inform my mother, whose voice I heard and recognized, but I couldn't understand what she was talking about with the doctor. The headaches temporarily subsided, and I was wildly grateful for whatever substance they gave me.

She finally found out everything she wanted and came to see me. As usual, she looked as though nothing had bothered her, but I could see in her eyes that she was worried about me. However, my mother did not want to show it, she raised me alone from the beginning and wanted to be strong for me. I admired her for that, but growing up I hoped she would gradually become more self-oriented; in other words, I didn't expect her to be completely self-sacrificing.

"I called Daisuke, he told me that you felt bad since morning." She smiled sadly, placing her hand on my forehead. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I thought it would be gone later," I murmured, knowing I couldn't tell her it was just headaches. "What did the doctors say?"

"Everything seems fine, especially with your head, but they gave you strong painkillers when you regained consciousness earlier and screamed in pain." Her voice was calm but full of concern. "You'll be released soon, but they asked you to keep an eye on you."

"I'm fine," I replied, but without conviction. "It's probably the stress."

After returning home, I was sent straight to bed while my mother decided to go shopping. Dinner was usually on my mind, and I felt bad about having someone else do it for me. I wanted a drink of water, so I staggered to the kitchen, surprised at how weak my legs were. I had only a few steps to go, and I couldn't even manage that much. Right away I fell down in a sudden wave of pain. My head throbbed, I felt like it could burst at any moment. My vision blurred, and I couldn't formulate the simplest thought clearly. I don't know why I thought bashing myself with a cookbook would be a relief.

Mother found me writhing on the floor, the first time I heard her cry. She fell down next to me and took me in her arms, which helped me a little. After a while, I went back to bed, and she gave me painkillers; furthermore, I also started to run a fever, so she prepared a compress for my forehead. I had no appetite, although I know that my mother prepared my favourite dish.

She was still crying as if fighting her helplessness. I wanted to comfort her somehow, to tell her that she didn't have to worry so much about me; that I don't blame her; that sometimes the image of a strong, independent woman disappears. She created it so hard in front of everyone. I was grateful to her for everything she did for me. Am I dying? Has my time come? Will I even have the strength to write goodbye letters to everyone? I wanted to paint so many more things and I won't have enough time, I thought sadly. I fell asleep trying to make a list of things I should do before dying.

A bit later I woke up feeling slightly better. The door was ajar, the light in the kitchen was still on, and I could hear my mother putting something on the table now and then. I looked at my watch, it was two o'clock and I sighed heavily, she should go to sleep. I wanted to call her and tell her I was feeling better, so she should rest. As soon as I got up, I heard that she started talking to someone on the phone.

"Yes," she replied, annoyed at someone's question. "I knew it wasn't possible, but the older he got, the more I hoped he wouldn't." What is it about? Was she talking about me? With whom? "How long will it take? How long will he suffer?" The answer of her interlocutor. "He's my only child. How can I help him?"

Mother knew what was wrong with me. I didn't understand, but it all sounded as if I was suffering from some strange disease. There was no sound for a long time, including goodbyes, so I assumed someone on the other end had more to say now.

"At least you can do that much," she muttered sarcastically. After a moment, the chair tipped over to the floor, as a result of my mother getting up violently, dissatisfied with what she heard. "I haven't spoken to you for so many years for a reason. I hate you, I hate you so much!" She exclaimed and took a few deep breaths to keep herself calming down. "I'd like to regret meeting you, but if it wasn't for that, I wouldn't have Kiyoshi."

Cursed Lines