Chapter 34:

“Dead Leaves”

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

Between work and finals, we talk.

During her birthday dinner, her parents told Kaori of her sister’s passing. No details. Not a date, not a cause, nothing… then dumped her back at the dorms in that fancy ass car.

How she’s kept it together…

How she hasn’t been screaming with grief the entire time?!.

I mean… she has been crying.

I haven’t heard her sob through the wall, but her eyes never look any less red and sore and utterly bereaved. Even now, after talking things through, the redness never fades.

All I can do is be there, support her, keep up with chores, and take some weight off her shoulders.

There’s coursework, projects, tests, and exams... all due at the same time.

I don’t have anything else after becoming a social leper, and all I do is save since realising I was doing the same as my brother. It’s strange, but being productive all the time, having such a strict routine… it helps.

Demand at the language school also increased. I accepted extra lessons to cover Kaori’s compassionate leave, then come home to make dinner for us. Sometimes I hit up HattaMatta or raid a convenience store discount section on my way…

That’s happening more and more.

I can’t let myself go back to buying things all the time. I have to work. I have to study. I have to support…









Mom changing dressings.

Cleaning tubes.

Giving me a sponge bath.

Dad, a rare occasion he’s home early, feeding me.

One spoonful saltier than the rest.

His lined face streaked wet.

Johnny keeping me company.

Showing off new additions.

Talking to me like I’m a person.

“He's just a talking vegetable!”

“You watch your mouth! He can hear you, y’know!”

“I don’t care! I’m sick of it always being about him! What about me?!.”

“You don’t think we’re tired too!”

“Look, if this treatment doesn’t work, the doctor said there’s nothing left, so just…”





A pang shoots through me. Stomach cramps turn to vomit.

“Mom… no…”

Johnny always did his best. He’s allowed to blow off steam every now and then.

“…no, Mom… I don’t want to go again…”

Dad couldn’t stand seeing his son whither and whither. Of course he’d cry.

“…it makes me sick, it hurts… Mom it burns…”

Mom had to go to a psyche ward. The stress nearly killed her.

“…stopstopstopstopstopstopstopstopstopstop, pleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleaseplease…”

Hands all over me.

Another needle in my spine. Another blood and fluid test. Another drill through my bones to scoop out the marrow. Another dose of radiation.

I flail and fight and bite and claw.


I awake drenched in cold sweat. Fatigue racking my every fibre. Head pounding, dry mouthed, stomach churning, completely zombified…


…Kaori’s face slowly comes into focus. She looks frantic, filled with care and concern.

“Can you hear me?”

My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth, claggy with saliva turned to glue. My lips crack like arid plains.

I manage a nod.

She sighs with relief.


A damp cloth dabs my mouth, just enough to moisten, not enough to drink. It disappears and comes back, occasionally wiping my cheeks or brow.


“Don’t talk.”

Kaori’s tone is firm, but not cold. There’s warmth, filled with worry.

“Y-you were sick. You missed work. I came to check on you and…”

I recall nothing. We’d just broken up for the holidays. Everyone else had gone out, celebrated, then either off travelling or home for festivities. It was just me and Kaori in the dorms. Things had gotten less stressful, finally…

“…your door was unlocked. I found you on the floor. You’d been sick. I panicked, thought you might have choked on some. I had to clear your throat, drag you to the bathroom…”

My family fighting. Loud and fearful.

“…you vomited more in there. It just kept coming…”

The doctors trying to save me.

“…eventually you got all of it out. You settled down, but…”

She finally breaks, shaking.

“…I thought you’d left me! It’s been days! I didn’t think you were coming back…”

I’m too weak to move. What made me so sick? I want to reach out and hold her. She shouldn’t have to look after me. I’m meant to be helping her!

“…you don’t have to keep pushing yourself so hard!”

Did I over do it? Was I working too much?

“You need to take care of yourself first!”

A sense memory comes back of eating something; the taste slightly off. Did I get food poisoning?

“I need you…”

Kaori scoops me up delicately. She’s usually so thin and fragile in my arms, but right now it feels like I’m some gossamer rags, too flimsy to be handled without extreme care.


She holds me tighter, bringing her face next to mine.

“Please do not apologise. Just…”

Her expression wavers, but she finds the strength to push through, the words to get across her mind.

“…rely on me too, ok? You don’t always have to do everything alone.”


Her head shakes violently.

“No! I’m sorry! Again, I did not notice how hard things were getting for you. How you were struggling too.”

She applies more water to my lips, to help recover my speech.

“We need to support each other.”


Getting out a full word is enough to warm the taste of stale vomit on my breath. It’s acrid and foul, but I’m too empty to retch.

“…I’m sorry.”

It takes a while to recover. Dozing minutes or hours at a time, but nothing fitful like before.

My fever breaks and Kaori sets about making…


“Yes. I thought it would be light enough for you to eat.”

…green tea over rice - nostalgic from just one hangover - seems like a safe bet.

I end up not being able to eat much, but keep picking at it over the coming day. Kaori never moving far from my side.


I limply groan my acknowledgement. She hesitates, but soldiers on.

“While you were at your worst, it was like you were fighting a nightmare…”

I know where this is going, and I don’t know whether I have the strength to address it.

“…you cried for your mother and about so many painful things…”

Some more of the green tea helps sooth the anxiety threatening my stomach.

“…you lashed out when I tried to help…”

Her hand involuntarily runs along her forearm, covering inflamed scratches.

“…just what happened to you?”

“I…” don’t think I can do this “…I’m sorry I hurt you.”

She looks down at her arm, moves her hand away, then back to me… imploringly.

“It’s ok, Tai. I’m here.”

Kaori slides onto the bed, lowering my head into her lap. She strokes the hair from my face, so we can still see each other. It’s the most maternal thing I think I’ve ever experienced.

“You’re safe. You can tell me.”

“I…” fighting a lump in my throat big enough to choke on, “…I had cancer.”

It’s a hard thing to tell people - especially someone I care about - that I was given less than 6 months to live before turning 10. Childhood leukaemia has decent survival rates, but it’s still many years of painful, expensive treatment.

“They gave me the all clear, but…”

It came back.

My parents were struggling, but they thought I’d be cured soon. Then they had to pay all over again.

It nearly bankrupted them.

“…the second round of chemotherapy was worse...”

I was even more sick and lame. Vomiting from the radiation, unable to go outside or have visitors from a compromised immune system, weak and alone. My childhood was hell and it nearly ruined my family.

Kaori sits, matronly, putting on a detached demeanour to get through my confessional. Her caresses never cease or break rhythm.

It takes a while to cover everything. I pause frequently to drink or force down tears.

All the while, she strokes my hair like a metronome. It’s relaxing, but it comes to feel like a distraction for her to be able to get through this. Something to occupy her hand and mind.

“That’s why they flipped out so much over my brother wasting his college funds. They couldn’t afford to bail him out and pay for me.”

She nods, eyes closed.

“Johnny doesn’t talk to me anymore. He hasn’t been home since graduation. University was his way out.”

I can see her lip quiver, but she bites them in place.

“I cling to what we had, what we shared, because those were the only good times. He saved me at the expense of himself…” like I’ve been doing for…

Kaori tilts her head back, to blink away tears.

“I promised myself that if I… if I survived, I’d go see all the bands I loved. To thank them for getting me through…”

Her suppressed sob heralds a few weak droplets kissing my cheek.

“Then I found you…”

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