Will The Stars Remember My Name?
Ryuuji couldn't breathe. He tried to remove Natsu's hands from his throat, but it was in vain. Her grip was too strong for him. He was losing consciousness, and then, with a burst of energy, he slapped Natsu's face. The grip suddenly loosened, and Natsu's eyes returned to normal. Ryuuji backed away gasping for breath. Natsu fell on the ground in shock. She looked at her hands. They were shaking so bad, it looked like she was having a seizure. Her eyes were wet and wide open. Her pale complexion seemed paler than ever, almost like a bright moon on a cloudless night. She looked at Ryuuji to see the fear in his eyes. Her mind was being constantly bombed by erratic negative thoughts.
Ryuuji was scared. He had never been attacked like that before. He knew something was wrong with Natsu, but he didn’t know it was this bad. He tried to speak, but before he could utter a word, she got up and ran away. Ryuuji weakly called out after her, "Nat-...su... Senp-..ai," but his throat was hurting too much. He dragged himself to the side of the road and sat against a wall separating the road and a nearby field. Tired and hurt, he closed his eyes and rested his head against the wall. All he could think about was the fierce look in Natsu’s eyes. For a moment, he thought maybe he had done something wrong. Maybe he was being punished for holding her hand without asking first. Suddenly, he began to doubt all his flirtatious actions towards the other gender. His philandering behaviour wasn’t so amusing to him now. His thoughts were interrupted by a familiar voice.
"Ryu? What the- "
Ryuuji opened his eyes to see his brother rushing to his aid. Ryouta gently helped him up and asked with concern, "Did you get in a fight, Ryu?"
Ryu tried to answer, but his throat hurt too much. Ryouta looked at his neck. It was bright red and had finger marks on it. Ryouta's eyes turned stormy. He wasn’t overly protective of his brother, but he couldn’t control his anger knowing his younger brother had been physically hurt. He couldn’t bear to see his only family like this.
"Who did this?" he growled.
Ryuuji managed to whisper, "Mis...under...standing"
He winked back at Ryouta, and his usual grin replaced his painful expression.
Ryouta’s anger faded out. His eyes returned back to their soft and concerned gaze. Ryouta hadn't realised until then how strong his brother was. Maybe that was the reason why he respected him keeping secrets from his big brother. Even in so much pain, Ryuuji was able to keep up his cheerful act. Ryouta himself wasn’t able to hold back his emotions, but his brother hadn’t just kept composed, he had calmed Ryouta too.
But, he realised Ryuuji's wink was not his normal one. He was actually mocking the situation between the two brothers. His wink meant he was playing along with Ryouta's charade that was built on secrets and lies. He wasn’t going to tell his brother who attacked him or why. He wouldn’t share his pain with his only family. That hurt Ryouta, but he knew he was in no position to complain. Didn’t he do the same?
Ryouta didn’t say anything and quietly helped him stand up. He was about to suggest taking him home, but Ryuuji pushed his brother’s arm away and stood up straight by himself. He gave up a thumbs up sign and walked away, towards the cafe. Ryouta looked at him limp away from him and slowly realised that Ryuuji must have felt all the time this way, the way he was feeling right now. Without any questions, having your brother walk away from you. The pain of keeping their true emotions hidden, and most of all, lying. Lying to each other about little things or feelings. But, it was Ryouta who had started this. It was his fault, and he knew it. He wondered if there was any way they could mend their relationship.
Ryouta sighed and turned around to walk the other way.
When Ryuuji entered the cafe dirty, hurt and a bit bruised, the manager ushered him upstairs in her private quarters. She put him in the bath and gave him his cafe clothes to wear. The old lady was kind and sweet. She didn’t ask any questions, but like a loving and caring mother, she tended to Ryuuji's wounds and gave him a bitter concoction to help his sore throat. It turned out to be quite helpful for Ryuuji even though he drank it unwillingly. His voice was much better now, and he could at least interact with customers. He looked at the old lady tending to his wounds and remembered a fond memory of his childhood where he had hurt himself and his mother had taken care of him. Ryuuji never cried, but a single tear managed to escape from his eyes. The manager, without a word, wiped it away and said, “Ryu, sometimes you have to let it out, or else, it becomes a huge burden. I know you and your brother haven’t told any of your friends about your family situation, but how long do you think you both can keep it a secret?”
Ryuuji breathed in and said, “I… ”, he cleared his throat and continued, “I wonder how long...”
The manager looked at him with concern as he got up to get to work. He thanked the manager and rushed to work to avoid the conversation.
When he came downstairs, he wished Miyuki. Miyuki raised his eyebrows at his sore voice and asked, "What happened Ryu? I heard you came up all bruised and beaten up."
"Hey! How do you know if I was beaten up or not?! Anyway, leave it. It was nothing important."
This time Miyuki was surprised. Usually, Ryuuji would make a joke out of it, or if he really wanted to hide something, he would secretly distract the other person in some way. He had never directly told anyone to not get involved with his personal matters. This was the first time Miyuki had seen Ryuuji openly avoid a topic. Something was different about Ryuuji today, but Miyuki already had a lot on his mind to think about Ryuuji. He had no idea what to do about Natsu. Their friendship was getting weaker and weaker, and he didn’t want it to end this way.
The two continued to work until their shift was over. The two of them came out of the cafe and walked together. There was an unusual air of silence which usually wasn't there when Ryuuji was around. Miyuki thought he must have a lot on his mind too and didn't make conversation. Soon, they came at the intersection where they had to go separate ways. Miyuki wished Ryuuji goodnight and started walking his way.
Ryuuji called out, "Miyuki-senpai!"
He looked back to see Ryuuji approaching him.
"Miyuki-senpai, Natsu-senpai is not okay. You need to call her, visit her or... I don't know. You're the only one who can do that! Please, do something!"
Miyuki looked away.
"She hates me and thinks I'm a monster. I have no right to help her."
"You don't know that! You won't know unless you ask her yourself. Are you fine breaking off your friendship with her without even knowing what it was that you did wrong?"
Miyuki stayed silent. Ryuuji was correct. He didn’t want it to end this way… he didn’t want it to end at all.
Before leaving, Ryuuji said, "Senpai, I know the way you look at her. I know you love her. You're the only person who understands her the most. Please do something before she gets worse."
Ryuuji turned around and walked away.
Natsu ran straight back to her home. Her hands hadn't stopped shaking. She held her head in pain as a constant thought ravaged her mind.
"I am the monster. I am the monster. Iamthemonster. Iamthemonster. IamthemonsterIamthemonsterIamthemonsterIAMTHEMONSTERMOMSTERMURDERERMURDERERMURDERERMURDERER"
She flung her backpack aside and went straight to the kitchen. She picked up the kitchen knife and brought it to her wrists. But her hands were shaking too much, and she dropped the knife. She bent down to pick it up but dropped it again. She moaned and screamed and flung all the neatly arranged dishes. The metal dishes clanged against the floor. She fell down and wept. She cried with all her heart until she was too tired to move, cry or make a sound.
She was terrified of herself. She was terrified of how she would fit in society if this change of behaviour continued. She was terrified of losing the friends she had made until now. But most of all, she was scared of losing Miyuki. The only man in her life who had made her believe she could trust men. The kindest and warmest of them all, who unknowingly had helped her heal over time. He didn’t show his kindness openly, but she knew him all too well. After all, they had been friends for a few years now.
Her breathing gradually slowed, and her head was aching badly. Drowsily, she fell on the floor on top of the mess she had made. She didn’t mind the stiff pressure of metal dishes against her ribs and arms as she crumpled gently upon them. Her eyes began to droop and she slipped away into a dreamless darkness.
Natsu opened her eyes to find herself still on the kitchen floor all alone. Her body was a bit sore from lying down in an uncomfortable position, and she was hungry too; it was quite evident from her stomach growling. She crawled to the refrigerator and took out an apple. She bit into it. The juicy apple tasted sweet and made her feel good. She sat down against the wall and looked at the clock. It was already 9 pm now. She remembered what had transpired before in the day. She looked at her hands and muttered under her breath, "Why?"
Her phone started ringing. She looked at it to see Miyuki calling. She picked it up and kept it on her ears.
"Hey, Natsu. It's Miyuki calling."
"Are you ok?"
"Can I ask you something?"
"Why did you call me a monster?"
"I won't know my mistake unless you tell me Natsu. I don't know how- how I can make it up to you!"
"It's... Not your fault."
"I don't know... I- I can't tell you"
"Natsu... Do you hate me?"
"... Then, why can't you tell me? I'm... Your friend, right?"
"I- I'm sorry Miyuki. I'm sorry for everything."
"You're not okay. I'm coming over. Leave the door open."
"NO! Don't come... I- I might hurt you."
"... I'm coming"
Natsu got up in a hurry and quickly cleaned up the mess she had made. The last thing she wanted the man she loved to see was how big of a mess she was right now. She arranged everything in order and prepared some tea beforehand. She was just pouring the tea when there was a knock on her door and a familiar voice saying, "I'm coming in Natsu."
Miyuki entered her flat. Natsu brought tea from the kitchen and set it on the table.
"I prepared some tea."
Miyuki looked at Natsu’s tired eyes, dark circles, swollen cheeks and the slight tremor in her hand. He sighed and sat down across her. They both sipped their tea quietly.
Miyuki broke the silence, "Natsu... I- I'm sorry. I have never treated you properly nor have I ever appreciated you for the hard work you put in the cafe and in the college. As a friend, I'm a failure... And I understand if you're mad at me because of that, but please... At least tell me what exactly made you mad! Or else... I might continue doubting myself. I'll go crazy thinking what it is that I did wrong!"
Natsu ignored Miyuki's soft, pleading gaze, which showed her self guilt at making him feel that way.
She muttered, "You've done nothing wrong Miyuki. It's all my fault."
"What's wrong? What did you do, please tell me!"
He brought his hands to hold hers, but she immediately withdrew, scared that she might become violent again. Miyuki's hand froze when he saw her retract her hands. Slowly, he brought them back to his side.
"I can't tell you anything Miyuki. I- I just can't. I'm sorry... Could you please leave now?" Natsu immediately realised how hurtful her request was.
Miyuki didn't say anything and got up from his seat. He said in a low tone, "Thanks for the tea."
He walked out of her house as Natsu looked the other way to hide her tears. She couldn't believe what she had just said right now. She heard the door close, and soon, the receding sounds of Miyuki's footsteps faded out. Natsu cleared the table and sat on her bed, lost in thought. She knew the night was going to be a long one for her.
The next morning, Ryouta entered his class to see Futaba sitting alone on her desk. This was surprising because she would usually be surrounded by her friends, but they were all keeping their distance from her today. He kept his bag beside his seat and approached Futaba.
"Hey! Good morning," he said in a pleasant tone.
Futaba looked up and smiled at Ryouta, "Hey!"
"So... Um, haven't your friends arrived, or what? You're usually never alone..."
Futaba sighed, "I told them I'm not feeling well and that I needed some personal space."
"Oh... Well, are you alright?"
"I... Yeah, I mean I am okay, but... I'm concerned about... Someone"
"Is it Natsu-senpai?"
She nodded. Ryouta switched the topic and asked, "Well, is your head alright? You don't have any bandages."
"Yup, it's all good now. It was no biggie."
"You tripped and hit your head on the edge of the door, right?"
Futaba became uncomfortable and didn't reply. Ryouta understood that it was all a lie. There was something much deeper going on behind the scenes.
"Hey, do you mind if we eat lunch near the rooftop today? With Ryu too, of course," asked Ryouta.
"Yeah, sure. I would like that."
He smiled at her and went back to his seat. He messaged Ryu and kept his phone back inside his backpack.
Later, during recess, Ryuuji ran up the stairs to meet up with Futaba and Ryouta. He wished Futaba and sat with them. The door of the rooftop was surprisingly unlocked today. The three of them went out and saw the beautiful blue sky and felt a slight cool breeze on their faces. They could almost see the entire neighbourhood from the roof.
"Wow, the rooftop is really such a cool place. I wonder who left it open today," said Ryuuji.
The three of them sat down in one corner and opened their lunch boxes. They quickly finished their lunch while making light conversation, and then, got up to stroll on the rooftop.
Ryouta was the first one to turn the topic towards Natsu, "Futaba... Can you tell us what happened with Natsu?"
Futaba looked down and shook her head.
"No, I promised her that I wouldn't speak a word about that."
Ryuuji frowned and finally decided to reveal the truth about the day before’s incident.
He said, "FuFu... I was actually attacked by someone yesterday."
Futaba turned her head in astonishment. "WHAT!?"
"Yeah, the person tried to choke me."
"Did you get a good look at their face?"
"Yes. In fact, I know who it was…” He looked straight in Futaba’s eyes. “It was Natsu-senpai."
This time, it was Ryouta's turn to be surprised.
They both remained speechless as Ryuuji continued. "Look, she was going back home, and I wanted to talk to her, so I tried to stop her, and then, she-"
Futaba interrupted, "Did you touch her?"
"I- yeah, I held her hand."
Futaba sighed, "There's nothing we can do Ryu. There's absolutely nothing we can do because none of us can understand what she had to go through."
It was obvious what she was talking about now. Natsu had probably been sexually assaulted, and now, she was scared of men touching her. But there were still a few things that were bugging Ryouta and Ryuuji. She had never acted this way before. Earlier, Miyuki had engaged in physical contact with her many times, and yet, she was normal. There was more to the story than just sexual assault… What exactly triggered the change? How was Natsu able to hide this side of her so well before? There were too many unanswered questions.
The bell rang indicating the end of recess. The three friends quietly hung their heads and walked back to the classes. Ryouta was surprised that even Futaba gave up. She was the kind of person who would never give up and go out of her way to rescue someone. But this time, she was depressed and hopeless as if there was no way to help Natsu. This scared Ryouta. It scared him a lot.
Miyuki handed a letter to the manager. She opened it and read it carefully. She closed her eyes for a moment before saying, "Are you sure about this Miyuki?"
"Yes, ma'am. I wanted to thank you for everything you've done for me till now."
She looked in his eyes, trying to find even a slightest hint of hesitation. She didn't find any. The manager sighed and kept the letter inside her drawer. She took out some money and gave it to Miyuki saying, "This is your remaining salary for this month. Here."
Miyuki took the money, and without counting the notes, kept them in his pocket. He bowed and wished the manager goodbye. The manager walked the straight back of Miyuki as he left the cafe. The boy was certain about his decision, and there was no way the Manager could have convinced him to stop.
The manager sighed and took out the letter. Miyuki had become strangely formal and serious, writing an actual letter instead of just telling her.
She reread its contents.
She muttered under her breath. "I just hope you'll be happy with your decision lad..."
She placed Miyuki's resignation letter back in her drawer.