Will The Stars Remember My Name?
After Ryouta waved to Futaba and Hinata, he jogged to where Ai and Ryuuji were standing. They went towards the area near the new club building to search for the cat. While they were walking, Ryouta intentionally dropped a few steps behind the both of them to observe Ai. Now that he knew about her feelings for Ryuuji, he could notice Ai’s almost indiscreet glances towards Ryuuji. He could see the movement of her hands become a bit erratic as she kept on fidgeting and adjusting her shirt or glasses.
Ryouta suddenly noticed her parting her lips as if she was going to say something, but then she looked the other way immediately. She clenched her fist, frustrated by her inability to speak her mind properly and somehow stuttered, "L- Looks like you're in a bad mood today Baka-yuuji. N- not that I especially care."
Ryouta could see Ryuuji's frown turn intense as he squinted at her.
"If you don't care, then don't talk about it," he said in an irritated tone.
Ai clenched her fist even more tightly as her nails dug in the palm of her hand. She bit her lip, angry at herself for making the same mistake again. Ryouta was not pleased where this was going. He placed his hand on his shoulder and said in his elder brother voice, "Now, now Ryu, you shouldn't be this rude to-"
He shook his hand off and glared at him.
Ryouta's jaw tightened in anger but he managed to not lose his patience. This was getting a bit out of hand. He had talked to Futaba during recess on that day and they had come up with a plan to tackle Ai’s problem. Since Futaba was already in a relationship with Ryuuji, it would be Ryouta who would confront Ai about her feelings towards his younger brother. For that, he would need to observe her for himself at first and when he would think that the time is right, he would straight up ask Ai about it. After that, it was Ryouta's job to help her gain confidence and help her gather courage to ask Ryuuji out while Futaba would work behind the scenes to minimise the possibility of Ryuuji and Ai being in the same room, so that Ai would not fall into her cycle of overthinking and end up doing what she hates. But right now, Ryuuji was just making things worse. At this rate, before Ryouta could even confront Ai, she would already be a prey to her mind and would give up on herself. He decided it was best to keep them apart for now.
"Alright Ryu, I won't bother you. Let's split up and search for the cat, ok? We'll meet at the back of the school."
Ai nodded while Ryuuji didn't bother to reply and simply walked off in the opposite direction. They watched him walk away as he scratched his head with one hand while he kept the other in his pocket as if he didn't care about anything in the world. Ryouta sighed and looked towards Ai. She was still clenching her fists and her lip had turned a bit darker than the usual light pink as she bit it down in frustration.
He took a deep breath and began, "Ai do you-"
'No. Not now. This would be the worst timing to ask her whether she likes Ryuuji or not.' he thought to himself.
"Do you want to search near the new club building together?"
Suddenly, Ai relaxed her hands and her mouth. She licked her lips to hide the result of her bad habit of biting them and fixed some loose hair that peeked in front of her ear.
"Uhm- yes. Sure. Why not?"
They walked off together, both silent and thinking about Ryuuji's unusual behaviour. While they both knew that it was perfectly normal for anyone to get angry or irritable sometimes, they had not seen Ryuuji be like that, at least Ai had never seen him be like that ever before. Even though the two brothers used to squabble a lot as kids, it had been long since Ryuuji had become angry and stayed angry. There were a few times Ryuuji had sudden outbursts of anger but he usually kept them in check and would immediately control himself. Apparently, that was not the case this time. Ryouta was definitely vexed with Ryuuji for this behaviour but somewhere in his mind, there was a nagging worry about Ryuuji. Something had happened that had made him this irritable and he wasn't opening up. He was worried that if he kept all inside, he would sooner or later burst.
"Uhm- Ryo- Ryouta-senpai?"
"I- uh- I wanted some advice..."
"Sure. Go ahead."
"I've never talked about this to anyone other than my best friend Shizu but- but I feel you're older and mature enough to help me... Maybe?"
"I- I have this problem where I just do the opposite of what I actually wanna do."
"Ok... Can you explain a bit more?"
Ryouta knew where this was leading and he was quite surprised that Ai had brought it up herself. He certainly didn’t expect that. Maybe being the brother was a factor why Ai had opened up to Ryouta but he stopped thinking about it to focus on what she was telling him.
"It's like- In front of this person, I suddenly start acting in a different way. I just can't control myself. I grow conscious of everything, my dress, my hair, my glasses and I get so nervous around him that I just lose control over myself and end up saying hurtful things."
"Do you… Perhaps like that person?"
Ai's cheek turned red hot as she stammered, "I-"
She looked down to hide her face and quietly muttered, "Yeah, maybe."
"Isn't that perfectly normal?"
Ai blinked in confusion unable to understand what Ryouta meant.
"I mean, you get nervous around him right? And you grow conscious about how you look. That's because you want to look the best in front of the person you like, right? That's perfectly normal isn't it?"
"B- But then I start trash talking and-"
"That's because you get nervous and you don't want to let him realise that you like him, right?"
"Ye- yeah but-"
"Ai, don't you want the person you like to like you back?"
Ai stopped walking as she looked at Ryouta with surprise. Her hands went limp and she could feel her knees getting weak.
The answer had been right in front of her all this time. Didn't she want the person she liked to like her back? Then why was she trying to hide it the entire time? Why was she trying to put up a front when it wasn't her intention at all? Was it because Ryuuji already had Futaba?
Ai couldn't hold it back anymore and dropped to her knees on the soft grass. She could feel her eyes getting wet and her face scrunch up in an attempt to stop her tears. But not today. Her tears didn't stop flowing and in no time she was bawling furiously.
In between her wails, she cried, "I- I want him to like me back. I really want him to like me back. I want it more than anything. But- But he'll never look at me. Whatever I do it'll never work! Bec- because he already has someone else. I can't be the one by his side! I can't. I can't! I can't!"
Ryouta bent down and offered his handkerchief.
"I know you can't be by his side. Even then, do you want to keep these feelings inside you? Don't you want him to know how you feel about him?"
She looked at him, her vision blurry and her eyes red.
"I'm scared. I'm scared of being turned down. I'm scared of hearing it from his lips that he likes someone else."
She took his handkerchief and wiped her eyes.
"I'm scared of hearing it from him. As long as I tell myself that he won't ever look at me like I want him too, I know I could be wrong. I know there's some hope. But if I hear it from him, even if it's painfully obvious, there would be nothing left for me!"
"Is that really true? That there would be nothing left for you?"
"Yes, it's true. I mean I know people say you move on but-"
"No, I don't mean it that way. Even if he rejects you, won't you still be in the same class? Won't you go to the same club? Won't you talk to each other?"
"Won't you not give up so easily?"
Ai stared at Ryouta exasperated. His words were simple yet they resonated inside her for some reason.
‘He... Was right, wasn't he? All this time, I had been worried if I let him go out of my reach, he would go far, far away. Somewhere I couldn't reach. But that was just an illusion I had made to scare myself. He would still be here, right by my side. Even though I know he would not like me and I won't be the special one to him, I would still be a part of his life, wouldn't I?’ she thought to herself.
Ai glanced upwards at the yellow sun slowly turning orange. She blinked, her long eyelashes casting shadow on her cheeks. She closed her eyes, feeling the warmth of the sun heal her as she stared into the reddish black abyss from which she had just walked out of. In her head, she imagined herself turning around to look at it one last time. Then she faced forward and walked into the light and opened her eyes. A tall boy with black hair and soft eyes stood in front of her, reaching out to yer. He had a smile on his face, a reassuring smile which told her everything will be alright.
And then she took the hand.
Ai slowly stood up, still wiping her eyes. The tears had stopped but her cheeks were still wet. Her throat was heavy but she still managed to say, "I'm sorry Ryouta-senpai, I-"
"It's alright. Take your time. I'll go search the other way."
She nodded and watched him walk away. Ai took a few minutes to calm down and regain her composure. She walked towards where Ryouta was searching for the cat and helped him. Ryouta smiled when she came back, nodding to make sure she's ok. As they searched for the cat, Ryouta kept glancing towards Ai to make sure if she was still alright. Nothing pleased him more than seeing the hint of a smile slowly appear on her face. He had succeeded. Their plan was moving forward much faster than he had thought and he was glad Ai had finally found the courage to accept her feelings openly.
They called out for the cat but still couldn't find a trace of it anywhere. It seemed like it had almost vanished into thin air. After some time, they gave up and headed towards the back of the school to meet up with Ryuuji.
Ryuuji was already there by the time they arrived. He was leaning against a tree, his hands in his pocket as he stared somewhere into the bluish orange sky.
"You sure took your sweet time didn't you? Any luck?" he asked, still a bit irritated for no reason.
"No, we couldn't find it anywhere. Hopefully the girls had more luck than us," said Ryouta clearly aware of his mood but subtly ignoring it.
"Tch. I'm going back to the clubroom. I don't feel like searching for it anymore."
He started walking back and this time Ai found strength in her voice as she said, "Hey Ryuuji, shouldn't we wait for the others?"
"Huh?" He scowled at her. He turned around to face her and replied in a sharp tone, "Either they found it or they didn't. Nothing we can do about it. Why should we wait for them?"
"I- I mean-"
"And what's with you suddenly talking normally to me. Where are your usual insults and trash talk? What, a walk with High Priest Ryouta and suddenly you turn into a goody-two-shoes?"
Ai clenched her fist, desperately trying to stop herself from being pushed back into the abyss. No, she wouldn't go back there now. She tightened her jaw, stopping herself from hurling out insults at him.
Ryouta immediately understood what Ai was going through and stepped up to stop it. He grasped Ryuuji's shoulder tightly and said in a firm tone, "Ryu, that's enough. Stop it."
Ryuuji replied in an equally firm tone as he gritted his teeth, "Get. Your. Damn. Hand. Off. Me."
Ryouta clasped his shoulder even tighter. "Not until you apologise to Ai."
He clenched his fist and hit Ryouta straight on his face.
"Get your hand off me."
Ai gasped and watched in horror as Ryouta reeled back. He held his nose and took a deep breath.
"I'll forgive you for this if you apologise to both of us right this-"
Before he could even complete his sentence, another fist hurled towards Ryouta hitting him smack on the nose much harder than before. He fell on his hips and blinked, his vision suddenly blurred. He felt something hot trickle down his nose and touched his lips.
Blood. He slowly got up as the blood trickled down to his cheek and fell on grass, turning it into a red shade.
Ryuuji snapped back to reality right at that moment and realised what he was doing. He looked at his fist, unable to believe what he had just done.
Ryouta slammed his palm onto Ryuuji's face and with sheer strength pushed his face into the ground. Ryuuji struggled underneath and somehow managed to get out and tackle Ryouta onto the ground.
Ai watched helplessly as the two brothers began to fight violently, pulling each other's hair and shirts, smacking each other's face as blood, spit and sweat flew across the place. She could feel her legs turn to stone, unable to move as she screamed to herself in her mind, ‘STOP IT.’ All she could do was hold her hand to cover her mouth as she watched with absolute shock and terror at what was happening.
She continued watching as Futaba and Hinata arrived at the scene to stop the wild scuffle and somehow managed to pull the brothers away from each other. Ryuuji's expression was feral and savage and he looked as if he would go on a frenzy if it wasn't for Futaba's firm jiu-jitsu lock on his arms and head. Ryouta, on the other hand, simply stared at him with a calm expression. Hinata didn't have to hold him back at all, as he himself just stood there and stared at Ryuuji quietly.
When Ryuuji had pacified his anger a bit, they went back to the clubroom and sat opposite from each other as Futaba tended to Ryuuji's wounds while Hinata to Ryouta's. Ryouta left early saying he had something important to do at home while Ryuuji sat there blankly, not responding to Futaba's questions about their fight. After some time, Ryuuji got up and thanked both Hinata and Futaba and apologised to Ai before leaving. Futaba held her head wondering if the two brothers were going to be ok.
Ai told them what had happened. They listened to her carefully and sighed.
Hinata said, "To be honest, I've never once seen them fight even as kids. It was almost as if they were always good to each other and I think bursting out like this, in the end, it might do good to both of them. Maybe now they will talk to each other more honestly."
"We can't know for sure. Right now, I think both of them need space and I'm not sure how they're gonna manage that living in the same house," remarked Futaba grimly.
"Let's see what happens at school tomorrow I guess."
"But there's no school tomorrow..."
"Ah- Summer vacations. I totally forgot about that."
They thought about it silently.
Futaba broke the silence, "I'll try talking to Ryuuji tonight."
"Yeah, that would be good."
The three of them slowly picked up their belongings and said their goodbyes to each other before leaving with a dark expression on their face.
Hinata listlessly lay on the couch of her living room as she browsed something on her smartphone. She was still trying to process what had happened between the two brothers. The first thought that had struck her mind when she saw them fighting was, "Wow."
She had never seen the two of them fighting like this before and she was simply awestruck by the rare occasion. She sighed, mostly because she was tired of replaying the memory of their fight and a little because she was disappointed that it had ended so early. But there was something else bugging her too. Futaba. That girl, she was pretty perceptive and much smarter than one would think. For Hinata, Futaba was like a red warning signal, something from which she had to stay away. She wasn't sure why she had to keep her distance but she knew that she just had too.
Suddenly the doorbell rang and Hinata got up to receive the guest. She said to Himawari, who was just walking down the stairs to open the door, "I'll get it!"
Himawari bowed to express her gratitude and went back up. Hinata tied up her hair into a ponytail and jogged to the door in her blue shorts and white blouse. She opened the door and her jaw fell wide open.
"Wha- what are you doing here?"
The boy in front of her chuckled nervously and scratched his chin. His face was covered with bandages from before and he had a big backpack on his shoulders. His blackish hair with tufts of blond were loose and covered some of his face, partially hiding the fresh white bandages.
"Hey Hinata... I- uh- Ryouta, he- uh-"
He took a deep breath in and said, his voice trembling a bit,
"Ryouta kicked me out of the house."