Chapter 12:

Damage Control

Will The Stars Remember My Name?

Ryuuji was the first one to move. He immediately went to Miyuki's aid and helped him up. The next person to come to his senses was Ryouta. He indicated Futaba to go after Natsu while he ran up to help Ryuuji. He helped Miyuki get up and whispered to Ryuuji, "Control damage. You're good with crowds. Try not to involve Haru and Shio, they've already been through a lot... Plus it's her birthday."Bookmark here

Ryuuji nodded and left Miyuki in the hands of Ryouta. He sighed out of relief as he saw Ryouta go inside the staff area with Miyuki. He took a long deep breath and brought out his usual charming and happy fake smile. He went and sat on top of the counter and then said in a loud voice, "Hey guys! I'm sorry can I have a moment of your attention. First of all, I would like to apologise on behalf of the staff for the mishap that just happened. Thankfully, nobody got hurt other than our dear Miyuki-senpai. But it's nothing serious! Those two friends always have small spats like these, hahaha..."Bookmark here

The crowd looked a bit unconvinced and slightly uncomfortable. A drop of sweat dripped down his temple. Bookmark here

He continued in his usual panache, "Anyways, I have another important announcement! We have a special event for everybody! When Shio-senpai arrived, most of us could just barely say happy birthday, including myself, before she was covered with gifts and bouquets. So... For all those who want to wish her individually, they are free to come up to the counter and just say a few words if they would like to do so. So... Before I make this awkward for all you guys, and ask for volunteers, I'm gonna go first!"Bookmark here

He took a deep breath and jumped down from the counter. He could see all eyes on him and then he intentionally overacted by sweeping his blond bangs back and with an intense look in his eyes, he said to Shiomi, "Shio-senpai, I'll only say this once cause my girlfriend is not around." He paused for effect and continued in a smooth and flattering voice, "Shio-senpai... You... Look like a star fell from the heavens tonight."Bookmark here

Some girls in the cafe gasped while most people laughed at his silly act. Bookmark here

"Alright, then! Who wants to go next?"Bookmark here

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Meanwhile, Ryouta took Miyuki to the staff area which was beside the kitchen. It was a small room divided in two parts, one for men's locker room and the other for women. The two were divided by a huge wall. Ryouta took him to the men's room and helped him sit down on a chair. Miyuki groaned in pain while Ryouta took out a bottle of water from his bag and handed it to him. Miyuki drank the water and just sat on the chair with his head hung. After a few moments of silence, Ryouta said, "What exactly happened, senpai?"Bookmark here

Miyuki shook his head to indicate he didn't want to talk about it. Bookmark here

SplatBookmark here

Ryouta heard a small tear drop from Miyuki's eyes on his hand. He offered his handkerchief, but Miyuki didn't take it. He said, "I don't deserve your kindness, Ryouta."Bookmark here

Ryouta couldn't do anything but watch Miyuki cry quietly. The feeling he had had before, of being helpless, worthless and unable to help anyone returned slowly like a familiar dark shadow.Bookmark here

But then, he remembered Futaba. He remembered her courage and the way she had solved Ryouta's mess before. He remembered her dragging him after his work for the dinner and confronting him head on. He remembered crying with her, and for the first time, he felt brave. Just a little, but he did feel courage in himself. Bookmark here

He sat on his knees and said in a soft voice, "Miyuki-senpai, I'm worried about you. Please, can you tell me what exactly happened?"Bookmark here

Miyuki looked at Ryouta's kind eyes and wiped away his own tears. After drinking some more water, he began, "To be honest, even I don't know what exactly happened. You… You must have seen, we fell on the floor and... And I almost lost control... But then I backed away. I did back away but... Her eyes... Her eyes were so cold and distant..."Bookmark here

He choked on his words and somehow managed to say, "She- She called me a monster Ryouta! I don't know what to do! Maybe... Maybe it was because I kept having those silly fights with her. All I did was point out her mistakes and... I never once appreciated her and the hard work she puts in every day and... I never... Expressed my feelings properly to her..."Bookmark here

Ryouta said, "Miyuki-senpai, I don't know why Natsu-senpai is hurt, but I'm sure she doesn't hate you."Bookmark here

"Why else would she call me a monster then!?"Bookmark here

"Calm down, senpai."Bookmark here

"Maybe... Maybe she's right, I am a monster. I embarrassed her in front of an entire crowd. I always made fun of her whenever she made a clumsy mistake. Maybe I deserve those stone cold dead eyes."Bookmark here

Miyuki raised up his hands and looked at them as if they had committed a sin. Bookmark here

Ryouta sighed, "Miyuki-senpai, please don't overthink about this. I think what you need right now is a good night's sleep. Don't worry about the cafe, me and Ryuuji will clean it up and lock it safely. You can give me the keys to the cafe and go back to your home early today. All I ask is one thing senpai, please... Please don't think you're a monster. You're one of the most wonderful people I have ever met and I know you wouldn't hurt Natsu-senpai in any way. I'm sure there must be a misunderstanding or something... So please, never say you're a monster again."Bookmark here

Somewhere inside Ryouta's mind, a voice whispered to him,Bookmark here

"Q2F1c2UgeW91IGhhdmVuJ3Qgc2VlbiBhIHJlYWwgbW9uc3RlciB5ZXQ="Bookmark here

Ryouta blinked in confusion. He didn't know where the voice came from... But he pushed away the voice as Miyuki smiled weakly and said, "Thanks a lot Ryouta... I'll try not to think about it. And thanks for taking care of the cafe."Bookmark here

He handed over the keys to Ryouta and picked up his bag from his locker. Bookmark here

"I'll be leaving through the backside then."Bookmark here

Ryouta smiled warmly at Miyuki and replied, "Take care senpai. Sleep well."Bookmark here

Miyuki nodded and left. Bookmark here

Once Miyuki left, Ryouta sat down on the floor, panting heavily. He was almost on the verge of tears. He smiled and said to himself, "I did something... I actually did something!"Bookmark here

It had taken a lot of courage for Ryouta to fight off the darkness. Ryouta looked at his hand and balled it into a fist. For the first time, in many years, Ryouta felt proud of himself.Bookmark here

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Futaba opened the cafe door and came rushing out. The spring breeze had gotten a bit colder and her flimsy dress wasn't helping much. She sneezed and looked around to find the street empty. She didn't know where to go or what to do. Bookmark here

She started walking towards a nearby park and then heard rustling in the alley near the cafe. She quietly entered the dark alley, and made her way through stacks of old newspapers and garbage bins.Bookmark here

A cat popped out its head from behind a bin. It purred softly and Futaba bent down to pat it. As she bent down, she saw a dark figure sitting on her left. Bookmark here

"Whoa!"Bookmark here

She fell back and the cat ran away because of the loud noise. Frightened and shocked, she was about to run out of the alley when she noticed the figure had familiar features. Bookmark here

"Nat- Natsu senpai?"Bookmark here

Natsu raised her head and looked at Futaba. In that dark alley, she looked half dead with no light in her eyes. Her hair was rumpled, her dress was dirty and her face blank and expressionless. It seemed as if all life in her, her happiness and cheerful personality, had been drained out. She was almost unrecognizable. In the dim light, Futaba could see her stone eyes suddenly well up as she started sobbing loudly. Futaba went down the alley with her and held her hands. Natsu couldn't stop crying. Futaba pulled her closer and hugged her. Natsu clung to Futaba as she buried herself in her arms as she cried out in pain and despair. Bookmark here

"Take me home", she managed to whisper to Futaba.Bookmark here

Futaba helped Natsu get up and accompanied her home. She looked at her watch and decided to stay the night as it was already pretty late. She quickly messaged her mom something and went with Natsu to her house. Bookmark here

Natsu lived in a small flat which she had rented when she moved to the city for college. Futaba helped Natsu unlock her house and came inside. She gently led Natsu into the bathroom and prepared water for her. While Natsu bathed, Futaba prepared a cup of hot chocolate for her. They both sat down at the table and Natsu sipped her beverage. Bookmark here

She felt warmth and finally smiled slightly. She looked much better now. She looked at Futaba and said, "Thanks a lot, Fu-chan."Bookmark here

"Mhm", she nodded quietly.Bookmark here

She held Natsu's hand and looked at her with concern. She gently asked, "Natsu-senpai, what happened back at the cafe?"Bookmark here

Natsu started trembling for a bit but Futaba squeezed her hands to stop her from shaking. She stopped shaking and diverted, "Miyuki will hate me now..."Bookmark here

Futaba shook her head. Bookmark here

"I know Miyuki-senpai. He would never hate you for something like this... He probably knows it was all a misunderstanding."Bookmark here

Natsu quietly said, "I called him a monster."Bookmark here

Futaba blinked in surprise. She asked, "Did… Did he do something wrong?"Bookmark here

"No… He- He didn’t do anything wrong… It's- It's all my fault. I just- I don't know what happened... It's been so long since..."Bookmark here

She started shivering again in fear. She stammered, "I- I can't..."Bookmark here

Futaba got up from her seat and hugged Natsu. She whispered, "It's alright senpai, you don't need to force yourself to tell me about it."Bookmark here

Natsu cried in her arms again. Soon, she became too tired to cry. Futaba helped her into the bed. Futaba closed the lights and took the couch. She looked at Natsu’s peaceful sleeping face and sighed quietly. A bit tired and sleepy herself, she fell asleep on the couch.Bookmark here

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At 2 a.m., Natsu got up from her bed. She opened the door to her balcony and felt fresh air touch her face. She smiled at the night sky. She walked up to the edge of the balcony and looked down. She climbed on the edge and spread her arms.Bookmark here

She felt the wind graze her body, as if it blew away all her worries, her secrets... Her past. The wind cured her, it cured her of doubt. She knew what she had to do now to escape her mind. Bookmark here

"I'm sorry."Bookmark here

Then, she lost her footing.Bookmark here

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