Chapter 35:

Open Wounds

The Day I Forgot About You

Neo woke up and felt a little relieved not to be in a hospital bed, and especially to see Len sleeping in the bed below. It was a scene that calmed him, as he knew he was 'home'. He had woken up very early and couldn't sleep. The memories of losing his mother were still vivid, as if they had just happened. He didn't remember all the details about her, but his body and 'heart' felt sad.

At the school entrance, someone was standing in front of the garden. The math teacher looked different, seemed worried, looking around as if he had lost something. Neo was curious about why he was acting like that, but he ignored it and continued walking towards his class. It wasn't his problem.

"Hey, Neo," Antonio called out.

"Yeah, need something? You seem worried," Neo asked indifferently.

"My cat has been missing for a few days now. I was in the teachers' lounge and lost sight of him. He usually comes back, but now he's gone," the teacher said, sounding sad.

"Is this the first time this has happened?"

"I think so. Where could he have gone?"

"Sooner or later, he'll show up, but as a precaution, you should put up posters around the city and keep searching."

"Alright, you're right. Thank you."

Neo noticed that the teacher seemed calmer with this advice and was about to continue his way, but he decided to say one more thing to ensure everything would be okay, even though he didn't know why he wanted to do it.

"I promise that if I see anything, I'll let you know."

Before the teacher could say anything, Neo entered the school.

The school was completely empty. Usually, there were people arriving or at least some movement, but he couldn't see anyone wherever he looked. Finally, someone appeared in the distance. It was Karine, walking the hallways, making sure everything was in place. When she saw Neo, she was surprised and couldn't resist going to talk to him.

"You're looking better!" she said as she hugged him.

That hug was so familiar, reminiscent of the first time he appeared at school.

"I was really worried about you. How are you?" Karine stepped back to face him and look into his eyes. Before her, she saw someone who she knew was suffering, suffering for various reasons, some of which she might understand and others not so much. But no matter how much she wanted to help him, only he could overcome those obstacles, so all she could do was to encourage him.

"I'll be fine," Neo said somewhat distantly.

"That's a start." She smiled as she tousled his hair. "You know you can talk to me or Erick. Try to surround yourself with things that make you feel good, that usually helps."

And another hug. She left, leaving Neo in that empty corridor.

Neo went into the classroom, rested his head on the desk, and began to think about everything that had happened recently, the small memories he recalled, and how they hurt him. His spirits were completely crushed.

"Well, what a surprise," Len said, interrupting his thoughts. "Did you fall out of bed to have to wake up so early?"

"You're the one who sleeps too much," he retorted.

"It wasn't me who slept for so long these days," Len said, teasing him.

"You're right." Neo turned his face to the window with a sad expression.

"What's wrong? Did something happen?" Len asked, his tone completely changed.

"I don't know, I feel so weak."

Len, who had been standing, decided to sit down to listen to his friend better.

"Is it related to what happened to you?"

"Definitely. I didn't expect my mother not to be in this world anymore."

Len looked at the sad boy and thought for a few seconds about how he could help.

"Many times when we're in trouble, facing difficulties, we end up needing help. Being alone is the worst thing you can do. Don't forget the people who care about you."

"Yeah, maybe you're right," Neo said, forcing a smile.

"Hold on. A smile is a good start," Len said, happy to see him slightly cheered up.

Neo chuckled softly at the joke.

"Don't worry, this moment will pass," Len said, giving him a small pat on the back.

That was really nice of Len and it did give him a little boost that he needed. Saya arrived and brought more food. Even though Neo wasn't happy eating just anything anymore, he wouldn't refuse anything made by Saya.

The week had been tough for the boy. Uncle had given him a week off to gather his thoughts. He had stopped going to Takeshi's training sessions, and the baseball team had started to worry.

One day, while he was heading home, he saw a cat with a strangely familiar collar. At first, he ignored it; it had nothing to do with him. But then he realized that it wasn't just any cat, it was Lanny, the math teacher's cat.

Without a second thought, Neo dashed towards the cat, startling it with his sudden movement. The cat ran off, and seeing it start to run, Neo picked up his pace, but the cat was fast, and he couldn't catch up.

The sensation of running was wonderful, the wind not only on his face but all over his body gave him a sense of freedom, as if he were flying. He realized how much he loved speed, and the faster he went, the better it felt.

They ran for a long time, that cat was no ordinary cat. They went through several streets, up and down, until it got late, and Neo lost sight of Lanny. But where he was looked somewhat familiar. It had been a while since he'd been there, but he remembered that place existed.

After a bit of effort to squeeze through gaps in the wall, he found what seemed to be an old little park with a few cats and a small bench. Lanny was among them. Neo picked up the tired cat, and it didn't seem to mind. It was clear that Lanny was tired and had come here for water.

Neo sat on the bench while looking at the cats. Such a nostalgic view. What a journey he had been on to get here. The problems of sleeping outside and going hungry seemed small compared to what he was dealing with now.

Someone appeared under the wall, startling Neo.

"So, this is where you've been."

It was Maeda.

"Hey, Maeda," he said, forcing a smile.

He was angry. "You lied to us at the hospital."

Neo looked distant, thinking about the time he was in the hospital. Soon, his face showed the sadness he was feeling.

"Sorry, I didn't want to bother you guys."

"Quit being silly. You know you can count on us. You're supposed to count on us!"

Neo was shaken by those words. "Sorry."

Maeda realized he was pushing a bit, so he sat next to Neo and watched the cats with him.

"It's okay."

The two remained silent until Maeda gathered the courage to say what he wanted.

"The truth is, I lost my mother too." He sighed; the words were harsh, and it seemed like they hurt his throat as he spoke. "Actually, I lost both of my parents." He looked at Neo, his anger returning.

"That's why I know exactly what you're feeling now, softie."

"That makes sense," Neo said, looking distant. "Must have been tough."

"Yeah, it was tough. I was completely alone back then, no one wanted to be my friend because I was too clumsy or too playful. And all of that was because my parents were absent."

Neo sympathized with the boy, he reached out and gave his shoulder a pat.

"Hey, stop that! I'm fine! I'm the one who came to help, not you," he said, annoyed.

Neo pulled his hand back, startled. "Okay, okay!" Then he chuckled softly.

"Anyway, that's why I was mad. Neo, I'm your friend too. All of us on the baseball team are your friends. I had no one to lean on, and I had to face all the pain alone. You don't need that, I'm here to save you, just as a way to save myself from the past."

Neo was a little confused and chuckled lightly.

"I'm serious, man!"

"Sorry, it's just that you always talk in a funny way. Making me laugh really does ease some of my sadness, honestly."

Maeda smiled, seeing that what he did had an impact.

"So laugh, laugh more! And come to practice. If you don't feel like it, you don't have to participate. But just show up and watch. You'll see how it's better than isolating yourself."

Neo smiled and understood what he meant.

"Thanks. I'll show up."

As the afternoon was turning into evening, Maeda headed back through the hole in the wall.

"If you understand, then it's okay. But don't forget, or I'll hold you to it."

And he left. Neo returned to the school to give the cat back to the teacher, who was still searching, worried. Seeing the teacher he liked so much happy lifted Neo's spirits.

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