Chapter 24:

It's Ok To Be Selfish Sometimes

Will The Stars Remember My Name?

Ryouta opened his eyes groggily, waking up to the sizzling sound coming from the kitchen followed by a lovely aroma.Bookmark here

"Thyme?" He muttered half-asleep. He managed to stand up and walk out of his room and peeped into the kitchen. What he saw snapped him out of sleep immediately.Bookmark here

Ryuuji was making omelettes for both of them to take as lunch. He was making two of them at the same time and flipping each one alternatively. With a huge grin on his face, he looked like a professional chef who was enjoying cooking like it was the best thing to do in the world for him. Bookmark here

But this was not the most obnoxious thing. As he hummed a song to himself while cooking, Ryouta watched a half naked Ryuuji flip eggs. All he had were his white striped pyjamas and a plain white apron with two bow knots cleanly tied at his back. Swaying his hips to the rhythm, he cooked with a natural flair and panache as his back glistened with fresh drops of sweat.Bookmark here

"Ryu, what the hell!?"Bookmark here

Ryuuji looked back and chuckled mischievously. Bookmark here

"Look who's awake! I'm preparing some special omelettes today!"Bookmark here

"Yeah, you're using Thyme but- What the hell are you wearing?"Bookmark here

"Oh this?" He asked, slowly lifting his apron like a skirt. He bowed like a lady from the Victorian era and said, "It's really humid since yesterday's shower so I thought... Why not?"Bookmark here

Ryouta shook his head in resignation and went back to his room to freshen up. After changing into the school uniform, he pulled open his window and listened to the melodious cacophony of birds. The air was cool and smelled like a mixture of fresh rain and wild jasmine. Ryouta's window overlooked the back garden of their house which their mother had been particularly fond of and often used to grow different kinds of fruits and vegetables. It was like her own mini-horticulture plantation.Bookmark here

Though, the farm was a mess now without its caretaker. All kinds of weeds and other odd plants had grown, ousting the precious fruit bearing plants and taking up all the space of the little nature’s niche. Ryouta looked at the garden with wonder and appreciation yet felt guilty at the same time. He blamed himself for not being able to maintain something his mother had cared for a long time. Bookmark here

He slowly put his hand out and touched one of the Wisteria leaves. A drop slowly trickled down the veins of the leaf and softly kissed his fingers. The cool sensation tingled from the finger down to his entire body as he felt a momentary sensation of pure ecstasy.Bookmark here

He broke away from his little moment with nature when Ryuuji rapped on his door.Bookmark here

"Yo bro, we're getting late! Hurry up."Bookmark here

"Yeah yeah, I'm coming."Bookmark here

He looked at the unkempt paradise one last time before shutting the window and leaving for school. Bookmark here

Ryouta remembered his conversation with Futaba on text the night before. She had truthfully told him everything about the situation between Ai, Shizu and Ryuuji. Her plan was simple. They had to convince Ai to ask Ryuuji out who would then, as expected, decline her and in that way Ai would get some closure of sorts. It was the only way to stop Ai falling in the trap of her overthinking cycle. Ryouta still couldn't believe that Ai liked Ryuuji. It was too hard for him to imagine the pink haired girl who was always trash-talking and fighting with Ryuuji would look at him with a soft gaze full of care and love. The thought was almost absurd. How the hell did she even fall for him?Bookmark here

He glanced at the happy-go-lucky oblivious boy whose bright smile never seemed to fade but was always there for absolutely no reason as they walked to school together. A very small part of Ryouta was envious of him… Though mostly he was annoyed. It was not the kind of annoyance that would make him hate his brother but, in fact, made him even more adorable and lovable. In Ryouta's eyes, he was like this small cute rebel who tried so hard to be his best in front of everyone. Though he knew the actual reason for his demeanor, he still liked to pretend to see Ryuuji as a rebellious pretentious youth. That way he could avoid the truth. But he still envied him having a better life - a life with so many people around him. Even though Ryouta was trying his best to socialize with other people now, there were still times he had the same feeling of hesitation return to him. The hesitation to talk to someone because one thinks he would be a bother to the other person. He was trying his best to face it and couldn’t help but be jealous of Ryuuji’s boundless confidence.Bookmark here

He went over and ruined his carefully made messy look. Bookmark here

"Hey! What're you doing that for!?" exclaimed Ryuuji, immediately shaking his hands off and trying to reset his bangs into their former position.Bookmark here

"Just felt like annoying you, you little shit."Bookmark here

"Thanks for the love mate, but I don't want it."Bookmark here

Ryouta grunted and proceeded to ruin his hairstyle again.Bookmark here

———————Bookmark here

As soon as the bell rang, one of the students in the second row got up and, as custom demands, said loudly, "Stand!"Bookmark here

The rest of the class stood up in perfect synchronisation, after years of practice as students. Bookmark here

"Bow!"Bookmark here

The students bowed slightly as the teacher exited the class and the silence was replaced by the excited hubbub of youth. Students scrambled all over the class turning the well organised classroom into human clusters with the sound of laughter and chatter and the aroma of food everywhere. The girl who had conducted the formalities earlier slowly took out her lunchbox and went to the guy sitting at the back, in one corner of the class. Before she reached there, a blond tall boy was already by his side talking to him. The girl in front of him had turned around and was listening to their conversation, hoping to drop in between. She stopped and looked at the entire scene. Bookmark here

A year ago, she couldn't have imagined this scene at all. The corner seat used to be as lonely as the boy who sat in it. Everyday, he would walk in, his eyes not leaving the blank white floor, sit down and take his books out. He would flip through the pages, as if he was engrossed in the content, while hearing the rest of his classmates near his table talk about something completely random. He would sit there awkwardly, hoping to not get noticed before the period starts. His back would be hunched, his hand resting on his chin as he gazed at the book with his attention somewhere else. Bookmark here

And now... Now he was looking into the eyes of other people. He was talking, laughing and smiling. His hands were not focused on not looking too awkward or noticeable, they naturally moved. Futaba closed her eyes for a second, enjoying her small moment of victory and then skipped to the small group.Bookmark here

"Hey Ryouta! Hey Haruto!"Bookmark here

The boys looked at her and waved. Bookmark here

"Heyyyy Fu-chan!" replied Haruto. Bookmark here

"Ugh, the last period was soooo boring."Bookmark here

"Huh. You don't like algebra?"Bookmark here

"No. I hate it. I really really hate it."Bookmark here

"I think it's fine though... Ryo, what about you?"Bookmark here

"I- uhm- actually like math a lot. Whether it's algebra or trigonometry, I really love solving those problems."Bookmark here

"Really now, Ryo?" said Hinata, pouncing on her chance to drop in. "I thought you hated math in elementary school."Bookmark here

"Ooooh did he?" asked an interested Haruto.Bookmark here

Ryouta made a straight face and tried to defend himself, "Well, at that time I wasn't really-"Bookmark here

Haruto, completely ignoring Ryouta, interrupted him, "Hey Hinata, you were classmates with Ryo in elementary school right? Tell us what he was like!"Bookmark here

An evil grin appeared on her face as Ryouta got a terrorised look on his face.Bookmark here

"Mhmmmmmmmmm. Indeed... Ryouta in elementary school. Should I tell them Mr. Ito?"Bookmark here

"Now look, Hina, I know-"Bookmark here

He was interrupted by a short girl with beautiful long white hair who slipped into Haruto's arms sneakily. Bookmark here

"What're we talking about here now?"Bookmark here

"Oh great! Now we have a crowd," muttered Ryouta under his breath. Bookmark here

"Alright, fine Ryo! We won't ask her if you don't want us to know. And anyway, I have been called by the great artist Miss Shiomi Mabuchi to be her... I dunno what that is, but I'm supposed to sit still for hours while she paints me," said Haruto.Bookmark here

She looked up at her boyfriend and frowned, "Hey! You were the one who requested me to draw you."Bookmark here

"Whaa-" said Haruto, suddenly turning high-pitched. "I- I don't know what you're talking about. Only a narcissistic selfish person would ask you to do that."Bookmark here

"And apparently I'm dating one of those. So get your ass in the art room right now mister."Bookmark here

"Oh well. You gotta do what you gotta do. Futaba, I'll leave Ryouta in your care."Bookmark here

Shiomi left Haruto's embrace and went over to Futaba and hugged her tight.Bookmark here

"Futabaaaaaa. I'm so sorry I didn't notice you standing behind this idiot."Bookmark here

"Ahaha. That's fine. How're you girl?"Bookmark here

"I'm doing great. And you?"Bookmark here

"Oh I'm fine. Just cursing math, that's all."Bookmark here

"Ew. Math. Who likes that?"Bookmark here

"Me?" said Ryouta in a timid voice. Bookmark here

Shiomi stared at Ryouta for a second and then whispered to Futaba, "Wait, who's this guy? Do we know him? Why is he talking like he knows us?"Bookmark here

"Ouch..." Bookmark here

"Hehehe. I'm just kidding Ryo," said Shiomi as she giggled softly and softly punched his arm. Bookmark here

"Ahem-" Bookmark here

Haruto cleared his throat and asked, "Shall we?"Bookmark here

Shiomi sighed and came to his side.Bookmark here

"Alright, alright. Your painting is not going anywhere mister."Bookmark here

Haruto blushed and stuttered shyly, "We- Well, it's not exactly the painting I'm waiting for~"Bookmark here

Shiomi turned away and walked out with him fast, turning red as a tomato.Bookmark here

"Stupid Haru"Bookmark here

Futaba couldn't help hiding her laughter as she saw the couple walk off. Bookmark here

She turned towards Hinata and said, "Do you mind if I borrow Ryouta for some time? I need to talk to him about something important."Bookmark here

Hinata smiled and said, "Of course Futaba! I was going to meet someone else anyway."Bookmark here

Ryouta stood and walked with Futaba as Hinata stared at their backs and muttered to herself, Bookmark here

"Hmm... Interesting. Very interesting."Bookmark here

Ryouta and Futaba walked in one of the corridors outside the building that connected two parts of their school building. It had a vending machine just outside the building. Futaba took a coffee and offered to buy something for Ryouta but he refused. It was midday and the sun was shining bright, high in the sky. They could hear the faint chirping of the insects in nearby bushes. It was a fresh change of environment compared to the noisy classroom. The corridor had a long roof above it and poles supporting it. The two of them took their place beside opposite poles, facing each other. Futaba sipped her coffee while Ryouta patiently waited for her to begin the conversation.Bookmark here

"So... We've to help Ai come out of her shell..."Bookmark here

"... And make her confess her love?"Bookmark here

"Mh-hmm. Yeah."Bookmark here

Ryouta folded his hands and looked at the floor, thinking about something deeply.Bookmark here

After a moment of silence, he spoke up, "Do you really think this is the best way?"Bookmark here

Futaba fiddled with her can, slowly rolling it between her hands.Bookmark here

"I'm not sure Ryo... I mean, if you had been there with me, hearing her talk about Ryuuji so lovingly, you would know how much she likes him. I'm his girlfriend and I don't think anything I say to her will work because somewhere, inside her, she considers me an enemy. I'm the one she hates and I can't help her directly. The only way for her to resolve her feelings is confessing to Ryuuji even when she knows she'll be rejected. And we have to convince her to do that… indirectly I guess."Bookmark here

Ryouta looked at Futaba closely. Her medium-sized eyes looked sad. He could sense there was something deeper going on in her mind behind the scenes.Bookmark here

"Futaba, do you mind if I ask a personal question?"Bookmark here

"Hm?"Bookmark here

"Why do you like to help people?"Bookmark here

Futaba's lips parted for a second as she almost let out something. Then, she clamped them tight and forced a smile.Bookmark here

"What do you think, Ryo?"Bookmark here

"I'm not sure... I- I don't think it's because you are just like that. I mean, I don't think it's just because you naturally want to help people around you. I feel there's a deeper reason behind it. Right now, you're helping Ai confess to your boyfriend. I mean that's- that's really strange. Usually, nobody would go as far to help uh- an acquaintance." Bookmark here

He paused as he met her eyes and then said, "It's almost as if you're doing this out of guilt."Bookmark here

For the first time, Ryouta witnessed Futaba avert her eyes and look far away. Suddenly her usual cheerful expression was replaced by an empty smile. Her eyes lowered and Ryouta could see the sadness filled in them. Bookmark here

"You're wrong, Ryo," she replied softly.Bookmark here

She raised her eyes to his and spoke clearly, "I'm not doing this out of guilt. I- I am a very selfish person you know. If there's something I desire for, I would do anything to get it.Bookmark here

Even if it means hurting others to get what I want.Bookmark here

The only way I can atone for my sins is by giving back. The only way I can continue being selfish is by being selfless to someone. That's why... it's not because of guilt. It's because of my selfish nature."Bookmark here

She smiled weakly as she finished. Ryouta took a long deep breath.Bookmark here

"I think that even if you say you're doing it because of your selfish nature, it still makes a difference in the world. And for me, that is something wonderful. You helped me come out of my shell and made me realise that maybe, maybe the sacrifices that I made were not for someone else but just an excuse to hurt myself. That my feelings about myself matter."Bookmark here

With a deep firm gaze, he said confidently, "If your selfishness is what made you do it, then I'm grateful that you're selfish."Bookmark here

He saw the corner of her eyes turn wet as she quickly tried to wipe them away. She sniffled softly in her arms as she hid her face. Bookmark here

She whispered to him, "You don't know how much that means Ryouta. I- I've been trying to fight myself to give up on what I want and I- I guess I needed someone to tell me that it's ok to be selfish."Bookmark here

She sat on her knees and continued to sob silently. Ryouta walked up to her and sat on the floor beside her. He offered his handkerchief to her. Bookmark here

"I'm glad my little brother has such a wonderful person in his life."Bookmark here

"Shut up. I'm in your life too."Bookmark here

“Ok ma’am.” Bookmark here

They both stopped for a moment and then burst out laughing. The pleasant sound of their laughter echoed all across the open space and for a moment, it felt like they were the only music in the air. Bookmark here

Ryuuji's hand rested on the door that led to the corridor where the two of them were laughing. He could feel a strange mix of emotions as his hand slightly trembled. Bookmark here

He withdrew his hand and kept it in his pocket to hide his shaking, more from himself than from others. As he turned away and started walking in the other direction, he knew it had begun. He knew what was going to happen and he knew he wouldn't be able to do anything to stop it. He walked off smartly, trying to keep his head lifted and maintain the fake weak smile on his face. A single thought resonated softly in his mind again and again. Bookmark here

"It hurts."Bookmark here

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