Chapter 22:

I like you, Yori-chan

My childhood friend ran away from home and now I have to share a room with her?!

As my eyes continue to adapt to the shady light in my room, my eyes fall on some odd shadows on the pillow Koyori was trying to sleep on earlier, appearing too artificial to be created by a play of the moonlight.

Why is her pillow wet?

It’s the only thing that comes to my mind when studying the patches more thoroughly. The pillow is just shy of my current range. Otherwise, I would have confirmed this from up close. For a brief, derpy nanosecond, I ponder the possibility of Koyori actually having an accident after all but it quickly occurs to me that not only the smell but her pajama would have given this away long ago.

Did she drool all over it then? Or…

I’m taking a sideways glance at the girl. There was only a brief moment I could see her face clearly earlier. I didn’t have any secondary thoughts when I took note of her slightly reddened eyes, attributing the observation to underlying symptoms of having just woken up.

Drool seems unlikely as she was awake the entire time. You don’t typically drool while you’re awake. So are these… tears?

Panicking, I push the girl away from me just enough for her cheek to disconnect from my shoulder. Using my nearest hand, I stroke across her cheek only to find it completely dry.

Good, she’s not crying. Wait, what did I just do?!

Only now it strikes me that stroking a girl’s cheek is a pretty damn intimate thing to do. Koyori musters me with a sleepy face and I can determine that her eyes are no longer reddish.

Still, she could have cried earlier. She’s acting oddly right now so it’s not impossible…

My underlying worries overlap with Koyori’s confusion about my sudden action.

“Kei-kun, what did you do this for?” she inquires sleepily.

“I uhh…”

Fuck, how do I explain this?!

“Was just checking if you were still awake, I guess?” I offer, knowing fully well that I do not sound convincing at all.

“Well, I think I was able to calm down enough to give sleeping another try,” the girl resigns, still leaving me in the dark about the dark patches on her pillow. Stretching a little, she gets back to her feet so I’m following her example.

And regret it.

Just when I feel the warmth of the blanket replaced by the surrounding ambient air, a sudden warm sensation reappears all over my body. A pair of arms fling around my neck and this time I actually jolt in surprise. I’ve been in her close proximity for a little too long to freak out per se but a sudden hug is still a strong upgrade. Koyori buries her face in my chest, holding on to me tighter than she has done during previous instances.

“Thank you for being such a good friend, Keiichi.”

Her voice is quiet and hoarse, barely above a whisper and her embrace now threatens to cut my body in two. A lot of raw emotion showers me as the girl melts into my body like hot steel through a wooden plate. So many emotions hit me at once that discerning them feels impossible. Joy, sadness, desperation, and affection. I can feel each of those in Koyori’s crushing hug in varying quantities and mixtures.

Return it.

This time, my arms work as intended. For more than one reason, I decide to return at least a little portion of the gesture. Like a protective blanket, I wrap my arms around her petite body. I’m squeezing her just enough to hold her in place if she decided to let go of me without warning, holding her just enough that I don’t have to convince my brain that our embrace is non-romantic right now.

I can’t judge the girl’s current state of mind at all but the same could be said about my own. I mostly act the way I do out of a sense of duty, an inexplicable hunch telling me that she may have cried earlier for reasons still unknown to me. I feel like I should voice my concerns yet I decide to just live and enjoy the moment, knowing that I might very well be back to the “help she’s hugging me” awkwardness again tomorrow.

Koyori’s embrace changes somewhat once I start returning it. It’s more gentle now and her head no longer tries to fit into my thorax. Given how quiet she has been, I’m surprised when a soliloquy starts bubbling from her mouth.

“You know, Keiichi? I feel really blessed to have met you back there,” she narrates, her voice barely above a whisper as she continues to snuggle with me. “Due to traveling around so much, I never got to make many friends. Life is so dull when you’re traveling from set to set, from hotel to hotel, never having a place to call home. My mother really loves her job but… it’s not easy to go along with it.”

Is that why she changed the topic so suddenly when we were drawing earlier?

“Life was so boring and devoid of any excitement for me that I could barely stand it anymore. It made me sad; I wanted to escape. Wanted to see you again at last - the kind and funny boy who made me smile like no one else could.”

Koyori’s words evoke strange emotions in me. If she’s praising me this much, I worry about the quality of the other people she’s met…

“But when I was finally waiting at your front door, I was so nervous. 'What if Keiichi doesn’t like me anymore?' I thought. I cried a little when you didn’t show up but then you did. You were acting really funny though. I tried to act the way I did when we were little but it just made everything worse. I just couldn’t tell if you still liked me. Even when I said all these nice things to you, you wouldn’t hug me back. I couldn’t sleep because all of these things were going through my head but now you’ve hugged me back so I know you’re still my friend, Kei-kun.”

Excuse me what?

“I knew you were silly but this is truly the icing on the cake. I told you we were still friends back at the playground, you know?”

I hate to ruin the mood but sleepy Yori is a terrible airhead. Upon realizing her blunder, she disentangles from me, looking at me dejectedly.


For the first time this night, a hint of her silly Yori-chan roleplay thing resurfaces though it seems like Yori-chan needs some cheering up.

“I’m glad you’re feeling better either way,” I assure her, a random urge telling me to hug her again but somehow I can’t bring myself to be the one starting it. Thus, I am fated to just stand in front of her like a dumbass. “There’s no need to worry about any of that. You accepted me even though I changed so much and I’m struggling a lot to become a better person. How could I not be your friend after all that? Today has been more fun than the entirety of summer break combined…”

“Same here, I haven’t had this much fun ever since I was a little Yori-chan!” the girl agrees with a cheer, finally showing signs of happiness again. “It’s all thanks to you, Kei-kun! You’re the best!”

I’m not sure if it shows in the relative darkness of my room but I hope the girl’s not missing the smile that flashes across my face. Being praised like that feels great but Koyori isn’t done with me yet.

“Still, why did you act so weird all day?”


Well, this is gonna be awkward…

“I honestly don’t know how to explain it,” I begin, hoping that I’m not going to slip something I’m not ready to say yet. “It’s, you know, kinda awkward after not seeing each other for so long. Even though we’re still friends, we’re strangers again. It takes a while to get familiar with each other again.”

Koyori nods at my words, signaling that she understands my rambling.

“I haven’t had a friend over in ages - more like, I haven’t had a friend like you in quite a long while. I simply didn’t know how to act around a friend anymore and I still don’t know half of the time. Even right now, I don’t know if I should be telling you this but I don’t want you to worry about this ever again.”

I pause quickly to consider how to word the statement I’m trying to make. Yori yawns heartily, the weight of the day finally hitting the girl like a truck.

“Actually, let’s tuck you in first,” I mutter, still insecure about my words. Just like earlier, I’m putting a blanket on her as soon as she lies down, smiling warmly at me as I do so which encourages me to say the words I’ve had stuck on my mind all day.

“Koyori, you’re my best friend. I’m glad you’re here, I want you to be happy, and I…”

One final time, I pause in embarrassment before finally saying it.

“I like you.”

Thankfully, the word is vague enough to leave a lot of room for interpretation. Otherwise, I couldn’t possibly have brought myself to utter it so casually. Koyori melts into the sofa, relaxing visibly upon hearing my pledge of friendship. A smile as big as the ribbon she sports on her head adorns her face. Her eyes are already closed when she replies.

“I like you too, Kei-kun.”

Before I can discern the type of liking me she’s talking about, the girl is sound asleep, that silly smile still chiseled into her face. The sudden serenity invites me to linger at her side. I’m watching over her, admiring her grace. I can barely keep myself from stroking across her now messy hair, afraid to stir her awake if I decided to do so. I’m positive now that Koyori is more than just a friend. Me watching over her like some guardian, seemingly unable to leave her side, is a testimony to the existence of feelings that go beyond the boundaries of a middle school friendship.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to express them one day but my awareness of their existence is going to help me work towards that goal. Finally, the truck hits me too and I say goodbye to my childhood friend, trudging over to my bed and collapsing into its warmth and comfort. A content smile appears on my face as I reminisce about the day. I feel like Koyori and I have barely scratched the surface of the fun that’s to be had and shared. I can’t help looking forward to the next one, and the one after that too.

This is just the beginning of something big. With that engraved into my mind, I finally slip into the hazy depths of blissful unconsciousness.

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