Chapter 1:

The Me That Loves You

In This Life and in the Next, Too.

  When I began living with my girlfriend, I thought my life was a dream come true. But I don't think a life like that was meant to be. We were still fresh out of high school without real work experience, and I still had to attend college. It didn't take long for the two of us to start having trouble paying rent, and we couldn't ask our families to help since our strained relationships with them were the reason we were living together. Needless to say, we got evicted pretty fast. I'm surprised we even got an apartment in the first place.

We figured that it wasn't a big deal. We would be happy as long as we were together. But we realized our moments together only served as a distraction, a very, very brief distraction before we had to continue our work. We often dreamed of another life, a peaceful life. We weren't exactly homeless; we had just enough money to keep booking a large booth at our local Net Cafe. It has a cushioned floor with a sizeable 2-person desk and two computers sitting side by side. It's comfortable for our brief periods of rest.

I sat in the booth, storyboarding for my next manga with my bangs clipped up. My girlfriend, Touko Moriyama, was sitting next to me, her head resting in her hands as she gazed at me working. Since I began college, I've been creating manga after manga in hopes of a publisher noticing me; in my mind, it would be the quickest way to earn money for someone like me. Sketching on the paper, I carefully spell "Nakamura Haruki" on the untitled cover. Looking back, I don't like it. I erase it and redo it. Again. And again. I sigh in frustration, laying my forehead into my hands.

"If I can't even write my name in a way that looks good, how am I supposed to do anything right?" I mumbled in irritation.

"Don't talk like that, Haru," She says gently, wrapping her arms around me lovingly. "You don't have to be perfect, okay? This is just a sketch."

I set down my pen, returning her embrace.

"You're right, I'm sorry…"

"-What did I say about apologizing?" She asked in a stern motherly voice.

"So-" I quickly covered my mouth. Touko smiled, pleased.

"Why don't we get some fresh air? I don't think staying here is good for either of us."

Following her lead, I threw on a lightweight jacket and walked outside with her; the cashier's "See you soon, Nakamura-sama, Moriyama-sama!" echoes through the halls as we shut the door behind us. With her hair blowing in the winter air, Touko leaned on the railing separating the sidewalk from the street in front of us. I joined her, watching the snow fall onto the ground; I'll admit, I'm pretty cold, but style takes precedence over comfort for me.

Touko reaches her hand out, allowing snowflakes to fall on her hand.

"I feel like… we've done everything we can do, you know?" She gazes at the snowflake with a melancholic expression on her face. Hearing those words, my heart sinks to my stomach.

"What do you mean?"

"Recently, I've realized how much we've endured without payoff. The only good thing that's happened to me is meeting you."

"Our experiences make us stronger."

"I'm not strong. I can't stand up for myself; I can't do anything alone. I'm the antithesis of strong. I'm a coward," she looks down.

I put my hand on her shoulder and pulled her close, not saying a word. She glances at me, tears forming in her eyes before she wipes them away.

"I'm… sorry. I guess you're rubbing off on me, huh?" She chuckles.

"I was scared to admit it, but you're right. This life isn't made for people like us, is it?"

She leans into me, the warmth of her body making me feel a little less cold.

"Yeah… I just wish we were somewhere else together. That's my dream."

"Somewhere else?"

"Somewhere better, somewhere where we have money and can live peacefully. It's impossible here, though," she shakes her head, ridding herself of the fantasy.

"Somewhere better…" I echo her words, "I… can try."

She looks at me confused, "Try what?"

"I'm not sure yet. But, I will try and find a way to make our dream come true."

She looked at me with hope and admiration in her eyes, making me realize that maybe I bit off more than I could chew, but that worry dissipated when I saw her comforting smile.

The next day after class, I dropped by the library. I intended to study for both my classes and my next manga, but a particular section caught my eye; spirituality. Somewhere else, Touko said.

I scanned the spines of the books before one caught my attention. I was curious and didn't expect to actually find a book that might help my goal. I picked up the book I saw from the shelf, the words "Reincarnation and the World After Ours: A Chihara Tsukimi Study" displayed proudly across the cover. I recognize Chihara-san's name from the test score charts in high school. She was a first year when I graduated, yet she always had top scores. I guess now she's researching the afterlife.

I don't know how she found all this information at such a young age, but now that I'm actually reading everything, it's surprisingly useful. Maybe someday I'll have the chance to thank Chihara Tsukimi. The book talks about what happens after someone dies. Since she isn't dead herself, Chihara-san says she doesn't know a lot of specifics. From what she can gather, though, when someone dies in this world, they get reincarnated into a fantasy world with magic; it's like something straight out of an anime. 

I ended up checking out the book and left, repeating phrases from the book in my head so I don't forget to tell Touko when I returned.

When I arrived at the Net Cafe, I heard the familiar "Welcome back, Nakamura-sama!" from the cashier, and we exchanged a quick smile and wave before I stopped at our booth. Stepping inside, I try to carefully avoid Touko's sleeping body… at 2 pm. Her drowsy eyes flutter awake after I accidentally kick her in the stomach.

"Mmmm… Haru…?" Touko murmured sleepily, rubbing her eyes.

"Ah- sorry." I apologize and sit on the ground, cradling her head in my lap and gently stroking her disheveled brown hair. She leaned into my touch, and I was almost scared she would doze off again.

"How was your class?" She asked, her voice filled with drowsiness.

"Same as usual, but I stopped by the library and found something you might be interested in!" I said with growing enthusiasm, setting the book next to my legs. Touko lifted her head up and read the title out loud.

"This girl from our high school found out that we can reincarnate into some sort of fantasy world, like an anime! Isn't this great? We can start over just like we wanted!" I smiled as I spoke enthusiastically.

"You remind me of a puppy sometimes…" She mumbled drowsily, lifting her hand up to pet my hair. "Are you sure you'd want to die for that dream, though…?"

"I'd do anything for your happiness, Touko. If this life isn't something you want anymore… we can create a new one." I stared into her eyes with admiration, and she stared back.

"This is everything I've ever wanted and more… I'm glad to start a new life with you," she smiled before turning on her phone, frantically sitting up.

"Oh shoot! I have to go to work now… bye, Haru! We'll talk later! I love you!"

"I love you too," We exchanged a quick peck on the lips before she hurried out the door.

MyAnimeList iconMyAnimeList icon