Will The Stars Remember My Name?
Futaba was pissed. She was pissed at Ryouta for trying to act like a jerk. She was pissed at herself for not being able to do anything. During recess, she spent time with her friends. She did not utter even a word to Ryouta the entire day. When school ended, she got up, and without even looking back at him even once, left immediately. She texted Ryuuji something and quickly left the school, rejecting all offers to hang out with her friends.
Ryouta warily watched Futaba get up from her seat and walk away. He remembered the conversation he had had with Ryuuji and was waiting to see if Futaba would really do something or not. When he saw Futaba leave, without saying a word, he felt relieved. But along with that relief, he felt a small twinge of pain.
The past week, he had hoped to actually come out of his shell. He was making friends... Futaba, Haruto, Shiomi... Or was he? Weren't they all just illusions? Shiomi was right. Once a loner, always a loner. The only thing he could do was play his role of a loner properly... Even if it meant hurting the people who tried to bring him out of his cocoon. Even if it meant making his brother sad... Because in the end, everyone would be happy when he wouldn't be around. He was not needed, not needed emotionally. His goal was to provide, provide for his brother, so that he lived his life properly.
"What about your feelings?" somebody whispered in his head.
Irrelevant. His feelings... Whatever these feelings were, they were irrelevant. It was these feelings that had ruined a beautiful friendship. It was these feelings that had brought the hidden dark secrets of Shiomi. If he acted according to his feelings, everyone would be hurt and he couldn't bear that. He couldn't bear to see people around him hurt, and that too because of him… Not again. So... It didn't matter whether he was hurt in the process, but he couldn't see Ryuuji or Ryuuji's friends hurt.
He picked up his bag and left the classroom. He walked out quietly, ignoring the stares of his classmates. His unpopularity cloaked him from being recognized by the other students. He came out of the campus, and looked at his watch. Time for work.
Ryouta worked till late and then finally, set out for home. He was walking back when he saw a girl leaning against a streetlight ahead. She was wearing a pretty blue skirt and a pink top. Ryouta walked on and when he came closer, the girl saw him and walked out in front of him. She stood in front of Ryouta, her features now quite visible now under the light. Puzzled and surprised, he exclaimed, "Futaba?!"
The girl frowned at him and ordered, "Turn around, we're going to have dinner in a nearby cafe."
She flipped open her phone and flashed the screen in front of him. There was a text by Ryouta which said, "Hehe. Ok done, babe. You can have dinner with him. Just don't cheat on me *wink wink*. Tell him, I'll eat dinner by myself and prepare his bath when he gets back."
Ryouta stared at the screen for sometime and finally sighed, "Ok, fine! But you can't make me change my decision, you know."
"Let's not talk about this here, otherwise I won’t be able to control myself and punch you. I need to be in a public place to hold back from hitting you."
Ryouta gulped and then turned around to walk to the nearest cafe. Soon, they arrived at a small cafe. Business seemed slow, and it was mostly empty with just a few other people. They took one of the corner seats and Futaba ordered two dishes for both of them.
Ryouta started, "So before we talk about the incident in school, I want to ask you something."
"Sure, go ahead."
"How did your parents allow you to go out so late?"
"First of all, parent. Not parents. I live with just my mom. My parents are divorced. Second, my mother is pretty cool headed and open minded. I cooked her favourite meal and told her that I had plans to have dinner with a friend. So, she allowed me to go. Plus, I know a bit of jiu jitsu, so I can handle any stalkers or other creeps."
"Damn. Jiu jitsu, huh? That’s pretty awesome!"
"Thanks! Though, today I felt like giving you a Triangle choke, but Ryuuji somehow convinced me to let you stay alive."
"I should have realised earlier this dinner offer was a death trap."
The waiter brought their food for them. As they both dug in, Futaba said, "Now that the food is here, your interrogation starts. So, first question - Why were you intentionally so rude to Haruto?"
Futaba stared at him with dead eyes and he replied, "Ok, Ok, Fine! Yes, I was rude to Haruto. And I have a pretty good personal reason to do so."
"And what's that reason?"
"You just completely ignored the word 'personal' didn't you?"
Futaba continued staring at him, waiting for a reply. Ryouta let out a sigh of defeat and said, "Look Futaba, I... I was the reason why Haruto and Shiomi fought. It was because I started probing into their lives that Shiomi's dark secret came out. And because of that... Look what happened! They hurt each other."
Futaba swallowed her bite and said, "Ryouta... I have heard their story. I talked to Haruto and before I came here, I even talked with Shiomi. Nobody blames you! You're the only one putting all the blame on yourself! And right now, I feel their situation has become even worse than before"
Ryouta muttered softly, "You're wrong..."
He continued, "Futaba, I'm not going to change my decision. It's no use trying to make me change my mind. I did what I think was right. After this, Haruto and Shiomi will eventually apologize to each other. They'll forget this incident and me soon. If I keep being a part of their lives, I would be a constant reminder to Shiomi about her mistake and to Haruto about his childhood trauma. I want them to get over this."
“Even if I did change my mind, I’m already the guy who turned down Haruto’s apology in front of everyone. If I go back and apologize to him in front of everyone, it would just mean that I did it out of social pressure. Things can’t go back to what they were earlier.”
Futaba turned quiet and ate her food. The two of them finished their food and split the bill. Ryouta offered to accompany Futaba to the nearest metro station. They walked quietly for some time. The road was along the banks of a river and a soft summer breeze was blowing. The trees shook slightly and made a soft rustling sound. The moon and the stars shined brightly and a few street lights illuminated their path.
Finally, Futaba said, "Didn't it hurt you, saying that to Haruto? I could see that you liked him before. You wanted to be friends with him, right?"
Ryouta chuckled softly and said, "My feelings don't matter."
He continued to walk for a few seconds till he realised that Futaba had stopped. She was looking down on the ground and standing absolutely still.
"Futaba why did you st- ?"
He noticed a tear rolling down her cheek. Ryouta stood there frozen, unable to move or speak. Somehow he managed to say, "Futaba why are you cr- ?"
"You just wanted to hurt yourself didn’t you? I realised it when you said your feelings don’t matter.”
Sniffling, she continued, "It was all a lie, you being rude to him in front of everyone to protect Haruto. You just blame yourself for ruining their friendship and that’s why you thought you deserve punishment. So, in front of the entire class, you made yourself the bad guy so that you, Haruto and Shiomi could never be friends again, at least not publicly. And that… was your punishment. Destroying your own hope to make friends."
Ryouta stood there silently.
“You’re not even denying it, are you?”
Futaba came closer to him and raised her hand to slap him. Ryouta flinched, ready to take it but midway, her hand loosened and softly rested on his cheek. She looked up at Ryouta. The moonlight revealed a continuous stream of tears flowing from her eyes. She smiled sadly and softly, like a mother to her baby, whispered, "Your feelings do matter Ryouta... Please don't hurt yourself."
For a moment, the world stood still. Ryouta was overwhelmed by her words. He stood there shocked as he realised a tear rolling down his own cheek. He touched his face, still not being able to believe he was crying, after so many years. When Futaba saw him crying, she hugged him while he simply stood there, unable to move, and just tears rolling down, quietly, without making a sound. He wiped them off, but they didn’t seem to stop. Like an overflowing cup, they just kept pouring out. It had been long since he heard any kind words from anyone at all. The last time he had heard someone tell him to take care of himself was his mother, before she died.
As Futaba was letting go of him, he stopped her and pulled her closer. He whispered, "Give me a minute, I can't let you see me like this." Futaba nodded, and stayed still. After some time, Ryouta let go and they both walked to the metro station, without talking or even looking at each other.
When they finally reached the metro station, Futaba looked back once and smiled sweetly.
"See you tomorrow, Ryouta!"
Ryouta watched her walk away and then slowly went back to his house. His mind was a jumble of thoughts and he was too tired to sort them out. When he got back home, Ryuuji was already in bed, so he quietly took a bath and went to sleep.
Ryuuji quietly watched his brother enter their house from his bedroom window. He saw Ryouta’s wet eyes, marks of tears on his cheek, and a kind of relief on his face. He went back to his bed and lay down.
"Good job, Futaba" He whispered to himself, with a hint of sadness, before he dozed off to sleep.