Chapter 8:

The Wild Card

Will The Stars Remember My Name?

That night, Ryouta's dream continued. He fell on the clouds and once again saw the hand reaching out to him. He came closer and tried to grab it, but his hand passed through the illusion. He could still see the hand, and now, a person coming out of the clouds. He saw a beautiful woman step out of the wall of clouds. She had lush blond hair and her vibrant smile radiated like the sun. He could feel her deep gaze penetrating into him as if she could see through him. All his secrets, his loneliness, and even his happiness, she could see it all. He felt bare in front of her, his feelings and emotions stripped down completely. The woman softly said, in her soft and familiar voice, "Hello Ryo, how're you doing?" Ryouta could feel his eyes welling up as he looked at her. Her image became blurry, maybe because of his tears or because she was fading away. He whispered to the apparition, "Don't leave me, mom." Ryouta shot up straight on his bed. He gasped loudly, remembering his dream.

‏‏The blond woman, it was his mother. His mind suddenly became a jumble of thoughts as all his memories with his mom came flashing back to him. Her smile, the faint smell of rosemary shampoo from her hair, her warm embrace, her deep penetrating grey eyes and most of all, he relived his last memory with her again and again. After some time, he calmed down and looked at the time. He had woken up a bit earlier than usual. Nevertheless, he got up and went to bathroom to wash up. He splashed his face with water and looked in the mirror. 

He suddenly remembered what had happened last night with Futaba, and exclaimed, "Oh, holy shit! What the hell did I do yesterday !?" Embarrassed to see himself in the mirror anymore, and to imagine himself crying in front of her, he quickly occupied himself with some pending homework, after dressing up. Before the two brothers left for school, they visited the small shrine they had made for their parents. Ryouta looked at the familiar picture of their mom, with her blond hair and cheerful smile. He pushed away the thoughts of his dream and started off for school. Ryuuji was oddly quiet as they were walking to their school. Ryouta didn't know if Futaba had told Ryuuji about his... Encounter, but his silence was deafening. After all, she was his girlfriend, she would have obviously told him about it.

‏‏‎Ryouta said, "Rarely do I ever get a chance to have a moment of quiet with you around. Thanks Ryu." 

"Mhmm, my pleasure." 

Ryouta raised his eyebrows and after a while asked, "What's wrong? You can tell your Nii-Chan." 

Ryuuji sighed and said, "Don't worry Ryo, it's just... I need to reconsider my actions and my thoughts to know if I'm doing the right thing and to know if I'm doing something that'll make me happy. Right now, I'm confused which one is more important... To do the right thing or to want happiness." 

"If it were me, I would do the right thing. But that's what makes you different Ryu. You're not me and you've always fought for your happiness, even if it's not always the 'right' thing to do. And that's why you can stay happy, because as long as you give your best you never lose." 

Ryuuji chuckled and said, "You mean to say you would never take a decision that would make you happy, right?" 

"Well you could interpret it that way... But I guess that would be wrong. Why would I want myself to be unhappy?" Ryouta lied. 

Ryuuji immediately saw through it and for the first time, after many years, scowled. His eyebrows scrunched as he glared at Ryouta and his eyes filled with rage and disgust. His usual smile now replaced by an angry frown. He spoke in a low but firm tone, "Listen, brother, I'm fine if you lie to me and don't tell me what you feel. It's fine if we keep on having secrets between us. We both have played dumb enough times, so no need to act like that right now. But there's just one fucking thing I don't want you to do. Don't you dare lie to yourself. We both know how it ends. Keep saying the same lie to yourself and one day you'll end up like her." With those words, Ryuuji stormed away.

‏‏Ryouta stood there for a moment, shocked at his brother's rare outburst, and then quietly walked to school, deep in thought. He knew the person Ryuuji was talking about. It was their aunt Megumi Ito. Ryouta had too many things in mind after yesterday's encounter with Futaba and Ryuuji's outburst right now, so he pushed away his memories of their aunt.

He still wasn't sure what to do about his moment of truth with Futaba. What she had said, it had definitely touched him, but... He still couldn't agree with what she had requested him. Nothing had changed, he was still the same person, and he still would continue to do what he was doing. Not hurting himself was not an option for him because that was his way. That was his method of resolving things.

As for Haruto and Shiomi, he didn't know what to do. Somewhere inside, he did feel guilty of being so rude to Haruto and hurting him a bit. But there was no other choice. He hadn't had a chance to talk to Shiomi but he was pretty sure she knew what had happened between him and Haruto. He wondered what she would think of him now. She would hate him now, after all, wasn't he just like Kentaro? Breaking off friendship suddenly and then being rude to him like that, hadn't Kentaro done the same to him?

As for Ryuuji, Ryouta knew he would eventually calm down and things would go back to what they were. They would continue hiding their true emotions. Ryuuji would hide them behind his smile and Ryouta behind his busy lifestyle. That's how things were supposed to be.

‏‏If there was anything Ryouta feared, it was change. He didn't want things to change. He didn't want his relationship with Ryuuji to change even if it was built upon secrets and lies. No matter what people think, he still loved his brother and would gladly do anything for him even if it meant hurting himself. He knew Ryuuji loved him too and that's why hated it when Ryouta hurt himself. It was as if there was a war ongoing between the two brothers. Ryuuji would always want things to change and Ryouta would always keep them the same way. Ryuuji was more than just a smile, he was a fighter. He had been trying to change his brother since the last 2 years. Trying new ways, to bring him out of his shell and everytime, he failed. Somehow the big brother had won every battle. 

When Ryouta came to his classroom, the first person he saw was Futaba. She was talking to some of her friends. She cast a quick glance towards him to acknowledge his presence. As he entered, he could feel some eyes staring at him and the mood of the class turned just a bit darker due to his presence. Some people had still not forgotten about him yet. He walked past Haruto who was sitting quietly, still drowned in his guilt. Ryouta set his bag down and thought something for a moment. He imagined himself walking up to Haruto and apologizing to him in front of the entire class. He could see Haruto's listless eyes lighting up again. With those thoughts, he sat down and did nothing. Would everything be okay even if he did that? Would things go back to normal as anyone would expect them to? No they wouldn't. It would just destroy his character further. He would be a fickle minded person easily susceptible to societal pressure. That's how he would look to the class. But Ryouta didn't know that Futaba had already made her move.

‏‏During recess, Shiomi Mabuchi entered their class. She went up to the sad Haruto, and slightly tapped on his shoulder. Haruto looked at her surprised, "Shio, I-" In front of the entire class she hugged him. She started crying and apologized to Haruto. Haruto couldn't hold back and he hugged her back. They both apologized to each other as the entire class watched them make up. The class cheered for both of them and the mood of the class suddenly became light, joyful and vibrant. Some were surprised, some were amused and some made fun of them. Their friends gathered around them and cheered them on. They teased the two of them for not going out already. They seemed to have forgotten Ryouta and his stunt. Ryouta looked at Futaba in amazement to see her smile back at him. She had done the impossible. She had managed to bring back things to normal and at the same time she had managed to remove Ryouta from the spotlight. She had somehow convinced Shiomi to get over her own guilt and approach Haruto. She was able to do what Ryouta couldn't. Ryouta couldn't help but smile as he stared out the window. Ryuuji was right. Futaba was a storm. She didn't stop until she got what she wanted and he knew what she would want next. In the war between Ryouta and Ryuuji, Ryuuji had brought in a wild card.

When school ended he expected Shiomi and Haruto to come up to him, but they both left pretty early. Futaba was nowhere to be found too. He wondered where could they go as he left for his job at Nagasaki's Cafe. He entered the shop and saw Miyuki senpai looking crossly at him. "Oi mate, this is the second time I'm doing an extra shift. I'm very angry, so don't ask any questions and just go to that corner table. It's reserved for you." Said Miyuki senpai, frowning. Confused, Ryouta walked up to the corner table and he saw familiar faces sitting there. Ryuuji, Futaba, Haruto and Shiomi. All of them were sitting there, talking and laughing when Ryouta came. They looked at him and beckoned him to come sit with them. A little dazed, Ryouta sat beside Ryuuji who was sitting beside Futaba. Across the table, Haruto and Shiomi both bowed and apologized to Ryouta.

‏Haruto lifted his head and said, "Futaba told me why you did that in front of everyone and first of all, I'm really really thankful to you. You were trying to help me and somehow I couldn't realise because I was just feeling guilty. I... I still don't know what to do with these new memories, but I know that Shiomi and you guys are around to help me out. So, I'm grateful to have you around Ryouta, because I know you care for me." He smiled cheerfully. 

Shiomi said, "Ryouta, I'm sorry for involving you in our problems... I mean, I guess, we started off on the wrong bat. I would love if you could accept our apologies and be friends with us." 

Ryouta shrugged and said, "I'm happy you guys made up. Though, to be honest, I... I don't know about the part of being frie-" 

Haruto interrupted and said, "Wait, Shiomi is stupid. She phrased it the wrong way. We're not asking. You'll have to hang out with weird people like us now. We're intruding in your life. No matter how much you distance yourself, we'll pull you back with us and make you enjoy life." 

Ryouta kept quiet for a moment and then said, "Bro... Haruto... I hope you ain't gay for me cause that sounded like... Y'know like you hitting on me." 

They burst out laughing as Haruto turned red and said, "Listen, the only person I would be gay for is Rima-chan." 

Ryuuji and Shiomi both hit their foreheads. "Not again!!"  

Futaba, a bit confused, said, "Rima-chan ?! What even- !? Who's that?" 

Ryuuji said, "You don't want to know Fufu." 

Ryouta raised his eyebrows as Futaba turned red and hit Ryuuji's shoulder, "Stuuuupid!! I told you to not call me that in front of everyone." 

Ryuuji stupidly, in a girly voice, said, "Tee-hee!" 

Everyone burst out laughing. Ryouta could feel himself smile. He looked around to see people that cared for him. After some time, Ryouta slightly leaned towards Ryuuji and whispered to him, "Congrats Ryu, you won this battle."

‏‏Ryuuji looked at his brother and grinned. He was happy. After so many years, he had finally won a battle. But Ryuuji knew... Even though he had won this battle, the war between him and his brother wasn't over yet. 

In fact, it had just begun.

                                                  ‎~End of first arc: "The Wild Card"~