Chapter 22:

The Hidden Devil

Will The Stars Remember My Name?

"The braid was killing me," said Hinata as she slipped her hair-band into the pocket of her skirt. Her ginger had come loose as they slapped across her cheeks hiding the bottom half of her face. Her sea-green eyes were not docile anymore and gleamed mischievously. Her lips weren't visible but Ryouta was sure they were upturned into a familiar evil grin. Bookmark here

"How did you even survive in Europe?"Bookmark here

She pushed her hair back and sneered at Ryouta.Bookmark here

"You don't need to worry about that. And please... Don't remind me of those horrible times."Bookmark here

She walked close upto Ryouta and carefully traced his jawline with her finger. She looked straight into his eyes and whispered to him, "All this time I was looking forward to come back and meet you~" Bookmark here

She suddenly turned away and said, her back facing Ryouta, "And then you didn't even recognise me."Bookmark here

"How could I? It's been so long and I've been through so many things." Bookmark here

"Oh... Mr. and Mrs. Ito. It must've been especially hard for you considering how you-"Bookmark here

"What do you want Hinata?"Bookmark here

She turned around to face him, her eyes searching for the old Ryouta.Bookmark here

"I told you, the old Ryouta is gone. Stop searching for him."Bookmark here

"I can't.” She paused and continued, “I won’t."Bookmark here

Ryouta held his head. Bookmark here

"This is stupid. I thought you had changed after all those years but you're still the same. You're still afraid of losing your image. You're still-"Bookmark here

Hinata banged her foot in anger. She glared at him and yelled, "I'm not afraid! You, of all people, should know I'm not! I- I- just can't... Ugh. And what about you then? This stupid act of yours, being all formal and polite. This- this wholesome Ryouta that looks out for people and sacrifices his own wishes and desires so that "others" can be happy. Why don't you drop your act too? What're you afraid of!?"Bookmark here

"This is probably the last time I'll say this Hinata. I. Have. Changed. Get it through your head." Bookmark here

She lunged and held Ryouta by his collar. Bookmark here

She spitted out her words spitefully, "Don't you dare tell me that lie again. I know bad shit happened to you. Yeah, your parents died. Boo-hoo. That can't change who you are. People don't change. People can't change."Bookmark here

Ryouta, instead of getting angry, simply smiled warmly at her. He looked at her with pity as he said, "People can change Hina-chan and so can you."Bookmark here

She slowly let go of his shirt. She looked towards the floor for a few moments and then stepped back and started laughing. Bookmark here

"Oh god- Hahahaha- I- I just can't believe what I heard. Fine Ryo. If you want to play it this way, so be it. I'll amuse you. Let's see how long you can keep up with this masquerade."Bookmark here

She pulled out her hairband and tied her hair into a neat ponytail. Bookmark here

"Tell little Ryu I said hi." She said as she walked past by him and left for class. Bookmark here

Ryouta suddenly didn't feel like going back to class. He sat on the floor by the door. He pushed away his painful memories and closed his eyes. Bookmark here

"I'm still alive though. Why didn't you tell her I'm still alive?" Spoke a voice in his head.Bookmark here

"I thought you promised to stay away."Bookmark here

"Hey! I didn't say how long, did I? I was remembered so fondly, how could I not come back? Don't worry though. I'll keep my distance for now. I won't bother you. We both want her to change and right now you're the only one who can do that."Bookmark here

"Me? You think I can change her? She doesn't even believe me."Bookmark here

"Who knows mate. Maybe you can, maybe you can't."Bookmark here

"Just go away."Bookmark here

"So cruel~ Fine, fine! I'll go away. I'll come back one day though."Bookmark here

The voice faded from his mind. Ryouta sighed and rested his head on the wall. Before he knew, he had fallen asleep.Bookmark here

———————Bookmark here

Ryouta opened his eyes slowly. The sky was just turning orange aand the sun was slowly dipping back into the horizon. He blinked twice and yawned. He felt something heavy on his shoulder and looked to his right. The first thing he saw were Futaba's fair cheeks with just a slight natural blush. Her eyes were closed and her lips parted. Her head rested on his shoulder and her chest heaved ever so slowly as she slept peacefully. Ryouta stood still astounded by her features up close. He could smell her strawberry shampoo from there. Captivated by the smell, he quietly leaned in towards her head to get a better taste of the wonderful odour. Bookmark here

He must have fidgeted a bit in doing so because just then Futaba slowly opened her eyes and looked up towards Ryouta. He shot back before she could notice as she slowly blinked her eyes drowsily.Bookmark here

She saw Ryouta's cheeks turning red as he looked the other way, trying to avoid an awkward situation. She realised where she was and sat up straight.Bookmark here

Her cheeks turned bright red as she stuttered, "O-Oh I- I must've fallen asleep. I- I'm sorry for sleeping on your shoulder like that."Bookmark here

"Mhmm."Bookmark here

"Actually, Haruto asked me to help him find you. He was worried you didn't return after recess. I texted him earlier that I found you. I- I didn't want to disturb you when you were sleeping so peacefully so I sat down beside you and then... Kinda just fell asleep too."She chuckled nervously. Bookmark here

Ryouta said, "Um... Don't worry, I won't tell Ryuuji about this."Bookmark here

"Oh. Oh! Yeah, I- yeah that would be for the better."Bookmark here

"Yeah let's just forget this happened."Bookmark here

"Yeah this never happened..."Bookmark here

They both sat there in awkward silence both able to hear the slow ticking of their watches. Bookmark here

Ryouta came back to his senses when he saw how late it was. Bookmark here

"Whoa, what's the time?"Bookmark here

He looked at his watch with shock and surprise. Bookmark here

"Wait. Did I just... Sleep through half of the periods!?"Bookmark here

Futaba giggled and said, "Welcome to the club."Bookmark here

"Oh wow. I never thought- Wow." Bookmark here

She laughed and asked, "Is this your first time skipping periods?"Bookmark here

"I guess..."Bookmark here

"So now you know what it feels to skip a period. Though all you did was sleep. What a waste."Bookmark here

"A period? Half the entire freaking day! And look, it's almost time for my part time job!" Bookmark here

Ryouta got up hastily and picked his lunchbox. Bookmark here

"C'mon Futaba! Let's go."Bookmark here

She smiled and said, "Go on, I'll catch up soon."Bookmark here

Ryouta hesitated a bit but finally said, "Ok then."Bookmark here

When Ryouta was gone, she got up and walked to the edge of the roof which was protected by a high fence. She slipped her fingers into the holes of the grill and looked at the clouds with a sad smile. Bookmark here

She muttered to herself, "Patience Futaba, patience." Bookmark here

She sighed and walked out of the door. Slowly, she closed the door to a shut. The wind quietly blew and the roof looked as lonely as the girl who was standing there a few moments ago.Bookmark here

———————Bookmark here

Hinata walked out of the school building alone. She had told the rest of her "friends" that she had something to do. That was an utter lie. She just wanted to avoid them for today because she was in a foul mood and it was all because of Ryouta Ito. She walked past the notice board outside the football ground and something caught her eye. The board was used to post sports related announcements and often had a few club posters. She went near the board and tore out one of those posters. She couldn't help grinning when she saw the poster.Bookmark here

"Interesting..."Bookmark here

She took out her phone and punched in a number. Bookmark here

"Himawari? Don't bring the car for me, I'll be coming late today... Yeah... Don't worry about it, I'll take the train... Oh gosh, I can take care of myself please... Yes, yes, I promise I won't be late... Ok... Bye"Bookmark here

She quickly kept the poster in her bag and ran towards the main building to get the club joining form. Bookmark here

———————Bookmark here

Ryuuji was reading a book in their club room. Most people assumed he didn't like books but he actually was quite fond of them. That was actually the first thing he and Futaba talked about when they met for the first time. There was a knock on the door and he closed his book. Bookmark here

"Come in!"Bookmark here

The door opened and Ai stood there. She looked at the empty club room and then at Ryuuji's smiling face. Bookmark here

"I'm sorry. Wrong club."Bookmark here

She shut the door and walked away. Ryuuji fell out of his chair and quickly got up to call her back. Bookmark here

"Ai, Aiiiii, Class president! Please wait!” Bookmark here

He opened the door and saw Ai walking down the hallway. Bookmark here

"Ai-sama, please wait!"Bookmark here

She turned around and quickly walked to Ryuuji, her face looking down hiding her red cheeks. Bookmark here

She muttered to herself with each step, "Stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid."Bookmark here

She came to him and without a word took his hand and dragged him to the club room. She closed the door and threw her bag on the table and went in front of the window. Her hands were on her face as she still tried to hide her embarrassment. Bookmark here

She turned around and quietly yelled at Ryuuji, "Baka-yuuji, what the hell were you thinking shouting 'Ai-sama' in the hallway!?"Bookmark here

Ryuuji laughed mischievously and said, "Calm down prez, it's not as if people were actually standing there. They're all in their rooms busy with club work."Bookmark here

She pouted and looked away. Bookmark here

"What a waste of such a good afternoon. I hope Futaba-senpai comes soon."Bookmark here

"You really like her, don't you? You should worry though, I'm not gonna let go of her so easily."Bookmark here

"Whatever."Bookmark here

Just then, the two club members heard a knock on the door. Excited, Ryuuji got up to see who was on the door. This might be their first ‘customer’ after all.Bookmark here

He opened the door and bowed, "Welcome to the holy land of-"Bookmark here

He stopped short when he saw who was standing.Bookmark here

"Hi- Hinata?"Bookmark here

The girl standing outside saw Ai watching them from the end of the room. She pushed her loose hair back and bowed politely. Bookmark here

"My name is Hinata Ichinose and I wish to join the Odd Jobs Club." Bookmark here

Ryuuji stared at her expressionlessly for a moment and then smiled back forcefully. Bookmark here

"Have you filled out the form?"Bookmark here

"Yes. Here it is."Bookmark here

"Thanks Hinata. We'll consider it."Bookmark here

Ryuuji was about to close the door but Hinata blocked it with her foot. She leaned close to him, out of Ai's sight, and whispered, "Not so easily kiddo."Bookmark here

Ryuuji backed off allowing her to enter the room. Ai could sense some tension in the room. She saw Ryuuji's clenched jaw and just a hint of a smirk rather than a smile on Hinata's face but she didn’t give it much thought.Bookmark here

"I'm sorry for intruding in but I wanted to know a bit about the club before I joined. But it seems the club president is not here so maybe I'll come back later."Bookmark here

Finally Ai spoke, "Uhm- I can tell you a bit about the club."Bookmark here

"Really? That would be great! Thanks a lot, err-"Bookmark here

"Ai. Ai Tanaka"Bookmark here

Hinata flashed her brilliant smile and sat down. Bookmark here

"Thank you Ai!"Bookmark here

Ryuuji looked at the two girls and sighed. This was going to be a long evening. Bookmark here

———————Bookmark here

That day when Ryouta returned home he found Ryuuji waiting for him outside. Bookmark here

"Did you miss your big brother that much?"Bookmark here

"Of course. Life without my big brother is empty."Bookmark here

"So? What is it?" Said Ryouta removing his shoes.Bookmark here

"It's Hina-chan. She filled out the form for joining our club."Bookmark here

"And?"Bookmark here

"What do you mean by and? She's still the same person, isn't she? I still can't forget what she did back then. Imagine her growing up in Europe! She could've gotten into-"Bookmark here

"Don't you think you're judging her too quickly?"Bookmark here

"The past speaks for itself."Bookmark here

"Give her a chance."Bookmark here

"I can't believe you're taking her side after she betrayed you."Bookmark here

"Ryu... Please. We were kids back then. All kids are like that."Bookmark here

"Fine. Let her join. And here I thought you wanted a place just for us where we could be ourselves."Bookmark here

With those words Ryuuji stormed off inside the house. Ryouta sighed softly and sat outside the door. He wanted to believe in her. He wanted to believe that she's capable of change too. Otherwise, all that he worked for and all that happened to him since he got to know so many people would be utterly useless. It would simply be an invite for his death and the rebirth of the voice in his head.Bookmark here

The next day Hinata was absent. Ryouta was relieved knowing he wouldn't have to deal with her that day. He and Ryuuji both had work today and it would be just Futaba and Ai in the club. Bookmark here

The day went by pretty fast and Futaba went to the clubroom. She opened the door, but was surprised to find nobody there. She had expected Ai to be at the club room already but she hadn't shown up that day. Maybe she had finally lost interest in the club... Bookmark here

Futaba decided to lock the room and call it a day. She turned around and jumped out of her skin. A ghost-like girl with long black hair covering her left eye looked at her with anticipation. She clutched a book to her chest nervously and her eyes kept darting away from hers. Bookmark here

"Woah there! You scared me. Uhm- How- How can I help you?"Bookmark here

She mumbled something softly.Bookmark here

"Uh- What's that? I didn't catch you."Bookmark here

The girl mumbled a little louder but was still inaudible.Bookmark here

"I'm sorry. You're speaking too softly for me to-"Bookmark here

This time the girl looked up at her with desperation and grabbed Futaba's arm. Somehow she managed to say,Bookmark here

"Please save Ai Tanaka!"Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.