Chapter 21:


VISUAL SHOCK - sometimes you have to promise not to fall in love~

Tuesday morning rolls around… another sleepless night behind me.

All I did was think until my head ached.

The semblance of a plan only forming in the early hours. Then, with exhaustion clawing at my heels, I scrape things into motion…

At dawn’s first light, I wash for what feels like the first time in days.

Oh god, it is!

I leave as early as possible, Dr Jelly Energy in hand, to ensure I don’t bump into Kaori.

The bag of HattaMatta still sitting outside her door. I close mine quietly, then place a neatly wrapped parcel on top, before going to apologise to my professors for yesterday’s absence.

Class is the furthest thing from my mind, but I force myself to focus.

Every spare minute I fill with writing down my thoughts, identifying tangents, feeling them out, cataloguing each branch and alternative. It’s basically a post grad thesis by the end of the day, but I save it all as a draft email, and head straight from college to LOAF.

I arrive early, so hit up an Internet café to put the draft into a word document, sectioning everything out properly, then attach and hit send.

I’m like a dead man walking as I enter the live house for the aptly scheduled gig.

I’d bought two tickets on Saturday, intending to invite Kaori anyway.

I just want to share what I love with the person I…

“Tickets please!”

After filing into the venue, I head straight to the bar for a drink to settle my nerves. Downing one and taking a second to our designated spot.

She doesn’t show.

The warm-up act comes as goes.

She doesn’t show.

I nip to the bathroom, get another drink, and quake with nervousness all the while.

She doesn’t show.

The lights dim.

Deadmen descend upon the stage.

A chill - even in the heat of the crowd - encompasses me.

The lights flash deep blue.

Sorrowful and cold.

Chords ring out the haunting melody of Secondary Source Of Sadness, and I feel the emptiness beside me where Kaori should be, a ghost by my elbow. The vocals a piercing dirge, resonating with my soul, amplifying the misery trying to take hold.

“I guess I just bear this pain deep inside my chest…” the singer offers me clichés; I accept them with sincerity.

“It’s okay only when you’re sad and lonely…” I look down to cover my face before I actually cry in public for screwing up this bad and not being able to fix it.

“Night light makes you…” a pale presence, awash with the bitter glow, already enrapt at my side.

“Anyway…” I almost shriek, falling into the people across from us. Offering apologies until my heart rate slows to the final beat.

Kaori, stony faced, stays staring straight at the stage.

I go to get her attention, to test the waters, but the tension in her jaw - visible as she bites back errant tears - warns me away from distracting her.

Even between songs, we remain silent.

I can hardly contain the impulse to burst into anxious rambling and make sure everything is ok.

I mean, it must be, right?

She’s here after all.

She showed.

But, it hurts so much to look at her.

Emotion wrought across her face; her body atremble, remaining rigid, so as not to break down.

Even after the final song fades and the fans filter out, Kaori remains.

The lights come up, revealing something that chokes me.

She’s wearing the shirt.

It’d been hung up in my room, needing repair.

I’d been lazy, distracted by chores and my stupid bidding war.

Something that mattered, that I’d offered to do, then neglected.

All it took was five minutes with a needle and thread.

Kaori finally looks at me.

Her whole face a stoic mask, cracked with tired lines.

“I…” can’t get my words out. Nervousness - turned to panic - stripping me of speech.

“We should go.”

She turns away and starts walking.

Stopping to look back.

No words; the meaning clear.


We walk slowly through the cool night.

Early autumn robbing late summer of its suffocating humidity.

Words continue to evade me. My tongue rooted to my palette.

“I read your letter.”

She doesn’t look up while we walk.

“You could have kept the food.”

Head bowed, hair covering her face.

“Thank you for fixing the shirt.”

Her gratitude gives me hope.

“It still hurts…”

Our pace painful as she scrapes her soles along the street.

“…that you… that…”

She’s struggling with this as much as I am.


I go to apologise, to explain again, like my brief letter, like the emailed essay, but…

“…it still hurts that I did not trust you.”

My step falters. I wasn’t expecting that.

“I hate how I handled things. That I let myself get so angry, so quickly.”

Is she apologising… to me?!.

“I am embarrassed with myself that I would not, could not, listen. That I, desperately, wanted to believe you were out to get me, somehow, and yet you…”

Her voice cracks, but steadfastly refuses to break.

“…still do all this. You share something beautiful with me. You still want someone who said all those horrible things to be by your side, even now. Wearing something you chose and repaired and said I looked beautiful in…”

Her gestures - restrained, but emotive - whirl back towards LOAF, to the shirt, the stitch under the arm, then across herself as a whole.

“…you don’t even know me. I take advantage of your kindness to make my life easier. All you get in return is someone to talk music and fashion with…”

Some passers-by start to take notice, so I awkwardly shuffle us away from the main road.

“…you know what you love so deeply. I feel like a child or an imbecile when we talk, I can hardly keep up, and yet I prize my knowledge on the same things. Then I belittled you for it. I mocked and degraded the things we both cherish…”

Kaori shows no sign of stopping.

“…and yet you still invite me out. You take the time to explain that you were researching someone who has been stealing these precious things from your grasp, that you were hurting and stressed…”

Before I even know what I am doing, she is in my arms, wrapped in them, pressed against my chest.

“…and I didn’t notice. I’m meant to be your friend too, and I didn’t notice. I don’t support you. It’s all you helping me. I hate feeling guilty and indebted all the time…”

Burying her face in my jacket, she does not resist, continuing her tirade, muffled only slightly.

“…I feel everything so intensely. Like I haven’t since I was a child. Everything is raw, immediate, overwhelming… like an exposed nerve. I’d finally become good at controlling myself, but now I’m constantly at a loss, on edge, and…”

A sharp breath punctuates her sentence.

“…it’s all your fault. I hate that I took all of that out on you. It hurts so much Tai…”

She finally runs out of words.

But, I still haven’t found mine.

Kaori’s swept everything else away.

Except for the need to hold her.

“I’m sorry it hurts.”

I didn’t plan what I would say if she showed.

“But it’s good that it does.”

She looks up at me, confused.

“It means you’re human. Not some perfect being. Cool and untouchable, always right, as much as I think that you are.”

I scoff at myself.

“You need help because you can’t do everything on your own. No one can. You hurt because you know something is wrong but can’t place it.”

I’ve heard similar words before.

“You need to listen to your body. To work out how it reacts to things. Then, when you identify how it reacts to what, you’ll know what’s wrong.”

Doctors going through the pain scale.

“Where something hurts: your heart, your chest, the pit of your stomach. How much it hurts: a dull ache, tingling, pins and needles, sharp and stabbing, twisting or wrenching, from mild to the worst imaginable.”

Biopsies, blood tests, bone marrow samples.

“You have to listen to what feels right to you, then communicate it as accurately as you can.”

Terminal diagnoses.

“It’s a leap of faith that others will understand. Even using a common frame of reference guarantees nothing. You might think it means something slightly different to what they do, but you’ll never know unless you try.”

False remission.

“I’m trying. That’s all. If you think our friendship is worth continuing...”

She nods, fervently.

“…then we both need to try a little harder at the things we’ve identified that hurt, right?”

Kaori looks like her control could slip at any moment, gulping down air to suppress the whimpers in her throat.

She’s really trying.

“Thank you, Kaori…”

She exhales a long wavering breath, emptying her lungs, then manages a tortured smile.

“…for everything.”

All clear.

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