A small blond boy was sitting on a swing at a park. He had a soft melancholic expression on his eyes as he stared at the ground while swinging slowly. The park was located at a lonely corner of the neighbourhood in which the boy lived. There were no houses around there and it had overgrown weeds all over. Except for a few benches, some rusty slides, and a pair of swings, there was nothing in the park. His mother often warned him to not go there, but the little boy would often escape reality and come to the desolate park. Of course, this was his secret that only his best friend Shiomi Mabuchi knew of.
“Haruto!” A girl called from the distance.
“Finally, I found you!”
The blond boy looked back to see Shiomi come up to him panting. Young Shiomi had cropped up white hair, which gave her a tomboyish look. She stopped for a bit to take a small rest and then huffed in a frantic tone, "Haru-chan, your mother is looking for you! Come on, or else you'll get scolded!" The boy looked away and replied, "I don't want to go home. They... They always tell me to be strong against those bullies, but I can't. I'm weak..."
Shiomi looked at Haruto sadly. She knew what Haruto was going through and she always tried to help him but sometimes she just couldn't do anything. She had tried to tell their teacher but Haruto had stopped her from telling because he didn't want to trouble his parents, as they already worked overtime. Being a thin and frail girl, she could not help him fight away the bullies physically. Haruto was also protective of her and tried his best to not let Shiomi get involved in his fights. Shiomi went up to him and hugged him.
"Don't worry, Haru-chan. I'll always be your friend. I... I really want to help you, and... I know your parents don't really have the time to help you. I... I just feel helpless sometimes. But I will tell you this, I will always be there for you."
Haruto looked at her and asked, "Promise?" Shiomi smiled and replied, “Promise!”
A few days later, early in the morning, Shiomi's parents dropped her and Haruto off to the elementary school they went to. When Haruto entered his class, he noticed that the mood of the class was a little excited. He went to his seat and overheard his classmates talking about a transfer student. The bell rang and all the children hustled back to their seats. Their homeroom teacher entered the class and behind her came the transfer student. The transfer student was lean and thin like Haruto. He had shiny black hair, which was well kempt and he was neatly dressed. He had an air of discipline around him and a big smile on his face. He introduced himself, "Hello everyone, my name is Kentaro Takahashi. I hope we all can be friends!"
The friendly boy became very popular in a matter of a few periods. His friendly and sweet nature made him likeable and his polite behaviour made him easy to talk to. One of the boys sitting in the back benches, the same person who used to bully Haruto, observed the new boy carefully with an eagle's eye, as if scouting an enemy.
During recess, the bully, a fat strong boy, came to Haruto and said, "Hey Blondie, show me what you brought for lunch!"
Shiomi, unaware that Haruto was being bullied, was busy talking to some of her friends, otherwise she would have immediately come to help Haruto. Haruto gave his lunch box to the bully slowly and quietly. The bully opened it and saw carefully decorated egg rolls. He went to the trash can and emptied his lunch there, "You know that I don't like eggs Blondie! Yuck, the eggs smell terrible even from the trash can! It's good that even you didn't eat them. But what can I expect from a boy whose mother works as a poor part-time nurse in my father's hospital?” the bully cackled.
Haruto glared at the boy and snapped, "Don't say bad things about my mother!" The bully raised an eyebrow and approached Haruto dangerously. Just then, Shiomi noticed what was happening and got up from her seat to stop him. Before she could do anything, the new boy, Kentaro, went to the bully and said, "Hey there, back off! You shouldn't say mean things to other people."
The bully turned around and glared at Kentaro. He said, "I knew you were gonna be trouble, little goody-two-shoes."
He tried to push Kentaro but Kentaro grabbed the bully's hands and held him in a lock till he cried out in pain to let go. Everyone in the class started to look towards them. Now embarrassed and hurt, the bully ran away saying, "You don't know who my father is, you'll see what happens now!"
Everyone in the class cheered for Kentaro and praised him for saving Haruto. The new hero went to Haruto and brought forward his hand, "Nice to meet you! My name is Kentaro, but you can call me Ken-chan."
Haruto looked at him in awe and shook his hand. "My name is Haruto, but you can call me Haru-chan."
Shiomi looked from far away and felt a small pain in her chest. She felt as if her position in Haruto's life had been replaced by the new transfer student. But, she immediately hid these feelings away and became happy that Haruto had a new friend.
Over the next few days, Haruto and Kentaro became close friends. They would eat lunch together, discuss hobbies, and play Kentaro's favourite sport, which was soccer, together. Haruto loved playing soccer with Kentaro,though he was pretty bad at it while Kentaro was a very good player. Because of this new friendship, Haruto became more popular and the fat bully kept his distance. But as Haruto's friends increased, Shiomi started feeling distant from him and stopped approaching him. Haruto was so busy meeting new friends that he didn't notice Shiomi was getting hurt. They used to walk back home together. But now, since Haruto was always hanging out with Kenatro, Shiomi had to go home alone.
Everything was going good for Haruto. Until one day, Kenatro said, "Hey Haru-chan! Want to know about this cool place I found yesterday?" Haruto became excited, "Yes! Tell me, let‘s go there!" Kentaro quietly led an excited and enthusiastic Haruto to a desolate place nearby the sloping banks of a river. Haruto squealed in delight as he slided on the sloping banks.
He was so happy that he didn’t notice what exactly was going on. He trusted Kentaro so much, that he would believe anything his dear "Ken-chan" told him. He turned around to ask Kentaro to come play with him, but when he looked back, his entire body froze.
He saw the bully standing beside Kentaro, smirking cruelly. Haruto stood there for a moment, a bit confused but everything became clear when the bully said, “That’s a good boy, Ken-chan. Nice work, fetching back my dog."
The bully looked at Haruto menacingly and approached the pale boy. Haruto couldn't move as he watched him get closer. He held him by the neck of his shirt and screamed, "You little mutt, how dare you go against me!? Don't you know my father could throw your mother out of her job!? You thought you have a saviour now!? You never did, and you'll never have one! You know why? Cause you're weak, you dumb mutt!" He kicked Haruto in the stomach, and he fell down, moaning in pain. The bully didn't stop, he kept hitting the fallen Haruto.
He shouted for help, “K-Ken-chan! Shio-chan! S-Somebody— HELP!" Haruto looked at Kentaro to see him looking away. His usual polite smile was replaced by an expression of disgust and pity. Haruto couldn't take it anymore. He wanted to know why his friend had betrayed him. He somehow managed to escape the hits of the bully and ran towards Kentaro. Covered in dirt, tears, and blood, he ran to Kentaro crying and shouting, “Why… Why, Ken-chan!?” The boy cried.
Kentaro, out of reflex, pushed Haruto back. Haruto fell down, tumbling down to the bottom of the banks nearby the river. He stopped before he could fall in and just lied there crying. The bully laughed, "Better behave from next time, jerk! You don't have Kentaro to rely on anymore! And all those new fake friends of yours? Forget about them, or else we'll spread bad rumors about you… then everyone would hate you." Without looking back even once, Kentaro and the bully left Haruto alone on the banks of the river.
Haruto cried loudly for a long time, more out of being betrayed than of physical pain. He stopped crying after some time and stared blankly at the beautiful orange-pink sunset. He reached out to the fading sun with his blood smeared hands and slowly realised that he had ignored Shiomi all this time, wasn't sensitive to his parent's bad financial situation, and how much stress they already had. His mind could take no more, he started to unravel. He started blaming himself for all the things that were wrong in this world. Slowly, and steadily, he broke down. He cowered and pulled his hair tightly as his thoughts ran wild, and started crying silently.
Soon it was dark, and Haruto was too tired to cry or to move. The pain he had before, had become numb now. He couldn't feel anything. He turned around his head and looked at the river beside him. He saw the beautiful stars and the bright peaceful moon shining in them. He felt the reflection of the night sky drawing him in. He could hear the water gently whisper to him to come closer. In a trance, he got up and went closer to the river. He stood and quietly observed the reflection of the dark and beautiful sky in the river. He tried reaching out to the reflection and his foot slipped. With a splash, he fell into the river.
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