Chapter 1:

Do You Remember?

Do You Remember?

Tracie’s teeth nip at her bottom lip throughout her entire flight to Japan. She’s been to Japan before, but this time is different. She isn’t an excited high-school exchange student staying with a welcoming host family for a year. This time, she has only a backpack with her, stuffed full of a few days’ necessities.

I look like a runaway. She thinks, wringing her hands together as ridiculous images of herself maniacally stuffing clothes and toiletries into her bag play over and over in her head. The thought itself is laughable, considering she’s running more towards her problems than away from them.

It was after that phone call she had received a few days ago.

“Oh, thank goodness you never changed your number! I was afraid I’d get someone else.” The caller had a boisterous voice and spoke as quickly as Tracie remembered. It was Yayoi, her host sister from when she’d lived in Japan that year.

One of the many voices she hadn’t heard in over six years.

Unable to mask the shock in her own voice, Tracie answered, “H-Hi, Yayoi! It’s been a long time.”

Yayoi, always happy, cackled over the phone. The sound pierced Tracie like a knife through her heart. “Hasn’t it?! I’ve missed talking to you!”


… Really?

Tears had built up in Tracie’s eyes then, and she pressed the conversation as she attempted to blink them away. “I miss you, too… little sis.” Her hesitance at using the nickname turned into relief after Yayoi giggled in her youthful way. Tracie smiled and continued, “So, I’m glad to hear from you. But what's the occasion?”

“Wow, so I can’t just call my American big sis after almost six years just for the heck of it?” Yayoi complained playfully.

Seven years, Tracie had thought, but who’s counting?

She left that out when she deadpanned, “Uh, yeah. No,” and laughed like she’d meant it, trying to keep hold of that good feeling she’d had just seconds ago. Who cares that this call was temporary? That Yayoi would disappear again like everyone did after Ken suddenly dumped her that day.

Living in the past for a moment was more than okay with Tracie.

“Alright, alright. I’ll tell you,” Yayoi said, laughing some more over the phone before stopping. Her voice became serious. “It’s Ken.”

Tracie isn’t one to panic. She prides herself on being rational, waiting before reacting, learning before assuming. So, at that moment, she had waited. She’d waited several silent moments and wanted to yank her heart out when it started beating in double time at the lack of response.

Her frustration grew when she had to bring her left hand up to grip her shaking right one. She then pressed the phone against her ear as if she could stick it all the way through. “Wh-Wh-What happened? Is—Is everything…” For some reason, she felt like her voice would break saying the word ‘alright.’

“What’s going on??” She asked instead.

Yayoi had seemed to hesitate before answering, “He’s… this is going to sound… wild, but Ken’s about to be institutionalized.”

“Institutionalized!?” Tracie shouted, her eyes wide in disbelief. “As in, mental institution??”


Tracie let a few beats pass as her mind worked through the information. Then, she recalled Yayoi’s prankster behavior ten years back and had to ask, “You lying to me? You’re playing a trick on me, aren’t you?”

Yayoi’s voice seemed to become more solemn when she answered next. “Unfortunately not, big sis. We don’t know if or when we’ll ever be able to see him again.”

She sounds so genuine, Tracie thought, fear creeping into her mind.

“H-How could this be happening…?” She wheezed, her phone gripped so tightly in her hands it felt like the sharp corners of a brick. Not to Ken, she thought, of all people. He was always the most collected of all of us. The smartest. The most responsible…

“You have to come see him.” Yayoi’s voice cut in. “Before it’s too late.”

Should I…?



Yes, before it’s too late.


Landing in Japan in early April and heading straight to Yayoi’s place as the cool spring air nips at her ears and teases her neck makes Tracie feel like she’s just stepped off a time machine. She feels that excitement from ten years ago come alive in her.

In the middle of the road at a side street on the way to Yayoi’s house, she stops and tips her head back, nose to the sky. She breathes in the fresh air, her senses delighted by the smells from the nearby bakery she had hoped would still be there. She closes her eyes and listens to the soft murmurs of the sounds around her, as it is still early in the day. It’s why she always loved Yayoi’s small neighborhood, where she could hear the bustle of the day but still experience the busy yet quieter local life of people in Japan.

So different, it was, from the loud sounds of her city back home. Just like ten years before, Tracie is all ears.

But this time, she’s all heart, too. Open and bleeding.

I know I can’t stand here forever, Tracie thinks, less concerned with getting run over by a car than she is with seeing Yayoi and her other old friends again. With seeing Ken again…

Reluctant though determined to see things through, Tracie resumes walking until she finds herself standing outside of Yayoi’s front door. This place had been her home for an entire year ten years ago. Seventeen years old… bright-eyed… bubbly… hopeful. All those youthful characteristics gone and replaced by disillusioned… lonely… and lost.

A heavy hand that doesn’t feel like hers knocks an old tap-tap-ta-tap-tap rhythm on the front door and presses the doorbell once for the resounding ding-dong to complete the tune. It was how all the friends had announced their arrival back in the day, their secret code.

Tracie feels both emotional and out-of-place after having used it once again.

Several seconds later, the door is wrenched open with such force, it could have swung right off the hinges. And a gasp scrapes Tracie’s throat so violently, she almost coughs, because she isn’t facing Yayoi or either of the girl’s parents. She hadn’t expected to see these eyes so soon, the eyes that always saw her and no other girl. This piercing ‘I-see-you’ look that always sets her heart ablaze.


They stare at each other in the doorway, neither moving nor saying a word. It takes Tracie all of two seconds to recognize how good Ken looks. Not just the attractive features that Tracie had always been weak to. It’s also not just the bit of weight that he's gained, the lean muscles he’s put on, or the way he fills out his casual clothing so well it makes her tongue go dry.

What Tracie realizes is that Ken looks perfect. Like, ‘not worthy of a dreadful phone call and plane ticket’ perfect. She has so many questions. In fact, she has a list of too many things to say. But it all gets lost on her tongue, a jumbled mess in her mind.

Eventually, it’s Ken who speaks first. “He—” He clears his throat. “Ah, hey.” He says again and tries to put a guiltless smile on his face.

He fails and it’s the awkward smile that breaks Tracie from her stupor.

She frowns and tries not to think about how crooked his smile is and how nervous his eyes now seem. She tries not to see how he swallows nothing over and over again as she squeezes her body past him and slips into the living room. Tracie doesn’t miss the way his eyebrows furrow together as she turns her back on him, as she dismisses him the way he dissed her.

Tracie also tries not to hurt, but this she doesn’t do so well.

“Yayoi!!” She cries as she tosses her backpack on the nearest armchair and stomps through the barren living room. “Get in here! I know you hear me!”

Despite calling Yayoi to come to her, Tracie marches into the kitchen in search of her “host sister.” Behind her, the front door closes and the sound of footsteps approaching tells her that Ken is right behind her, shadowing her as she rages around the house she still remembers like she’d just lived here yesterday.

Finally, in Yayoi’s room upstairs, Tracie yanks aside the sliding door of the linen closet and finds the troublemaker curled up inside. Of course, there’s a badly-contained smile on her lips that Tracie just wants to pinch off.

Tracie moves aside, bumping into Ken who hasn’t been more than two feet away from her since she entered the house. She glares at him and jabs him away with her elbow when he gives her a sheepish grin. Turning her attention back on Yayoi, she points to a spot on the floor and orders, “Out.”

Yayoi slithers out and stands in front of Tracie. Her downturned features are playing at being remorseful of her actions, but she can’t hide the mischief in her eyes. Yayoi looks so damned pleased with herself that Tracie has to fight down a scream.

“Yayoi…” She starts.

“Yes, big sis?” Yayoi answers. Her voice is syrupy sweet. She’s trying to pout but can’t stop smiling.

“I can’t help but notice that someone here is looking perfectly sane?” Tracie says, her thumb jabbing in Ken’s direction while her eyes shoot daggers into Yayoi’s face.

Yayoi shrugs and false innocence plays in her eyes. “I mean, I don’t know. He seemed a bit unhinged the other day, if you ask me.” She says. Tracie notices her eyes look pointedly in Ken’s direction and she finds herself twisting backwards to see him as well. He makes a face at Yayoi and then avoids Tracie’s gaze with eyes cast down to the floor.

Tracie frowns. “What are you pair of dirty diapers not telling me?”

Of course, this makes Yayoi’s face light up and instead of answering her, she coos, “Aw~ You used to call us that all the time because you hated cursing.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t hate it now, dammit. Tell me—”

Just then, the doorbell rings. “Ooh, the doorbell!” Yayoi cries much too happily, “I’ll get it!” And then she’s dashing from the room before Tracie can stop her. Her hearty laughter floats back towards Tracie like a dream, because this situation is suddenly all too familiar.

She’s been left alone with Ken before. It was how this all got started. The start of everything.

“Tracie…” Ken starts. The sound of her name coming from his voice sends a trail of goosebumps shooting up Tracie’s spine.

She shivers, shaking her head to clear her mind, before she turns to face him in Yayoi’s small room. This place has changed so little it makes Tracie uncomfortable, because everything between them, all of them, is so different. It’s depressing.

“Ken—” she starts but finds that she can’t finish. Her words get caught in her throat along with a lump she tries to swallow back down before any tears can fall.

The infinite amount of love she has for Ken is the one thing that hasn’t changed.

She hates it, but she’s blinking back tears like her life depends on it as these words burn on her lips:

Ken... Do you remember?

Does he remember that snowy day under the umbrella they shared, just two weeks after they had met? When, after school, Yayoi and several other classmates had run away with taunts and giggles after Tracie discovered her umbrella broken, leaving her stranded in the snow with just Ken as company?

A few beats of silence had passed between them in which Tracie stared at Ken like a confused chipmunk and he cocked an eyebrow at her in return, waiting. When Tracie made no attempts to slip beneath the umbrella with him, Ken had asked with his usual sharp tone, "You coming? ... Or did you want to be blanketed by the snow like that?"

Breath hitched up in her throat and knees wobbling for support, Tracie soon found herself pressed against Ken's arm. They walked together in that quiet snow, a beautiful sort of silence between them, until they reached the group’s favorite convenience store. As expected, they had found the rest of the group there hiding in a corner, spying on them as they came in.

“Ooh-la-la~ Did anything happen~?” Taka, one of Ken’s oldest friends had sung. Ken gave him the finger. Tracie blushed and hurried away to buy a new umbrella.

Snickering, their friends ended their ridiculous charade and came out of hiding to snatch various snacks and drinks off the shelves to eat back at Yayoi’s place, which was also Tracie’s place temporarily. As they had been about to leave and Tracie was just unsnapping the button to her new umbrella’s strap, Ken had appeared beside her as swift as a breeze.

“You… don’t have to use that.” He’d said, like he was delivering her a secret message that he wanted no one else to hear.

Tracie, wondering if she’d misunderstood, whispered, ‘What?”

Ken stepped outside the convenience store and popped open his umbrella. From there, he looked back at Tracie and said, louder this time, “Don’t use yours. Just… I’m fine with you sharing mine.”

Staring at Ken now ten years older, this memory open between them, Tracie recalls how stirring that moment had been for her. How her heart had scuttled to her belly and danced around in delight after the way he looked down at her 5'4" frame. Ken was tall at 5'10" and gentle despite his stern looks. In class all those years ago, his focus had made him expressionless, and he handled all tasks with solemn responsibility. If not for his eyes, the way they had sometimes locked onto Tracie’s in the hallway and seemed to glimmer when she flashed a small, shy smile, it was hard to guess he liked anybody, including his own friends.

But he’d liked Tracie.

He liked her, but then he left her three years later. Just when she had finally saved enough money to head back to Japan to see him and he’d told her to stay home. To stay away.

The tears fall now despite Tracie’s best efforts. She rubs them away. “Why?” she asks, her voice just above a whisper.

She doesn’t have to elaborate. Ken answers as if filling in the blanks. “Remember my mom was always sick back then?”

Oh no. She does remember.

“Ken…” Tracie croaks and traces the sadness in his face with her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Tracie. I just wasn’t strong enough. I needed time, I needed space, I needed… Everything.” Ken pauses and takes a step closer to Tracie. The action is so sudden it makes Tracie tense up. Her heart is racing, pounding in her ears as Ken continues. “I needed you, Tracie. And you were gone. So damn far away in America and I… I hated you for it.”

An immediate cascade of tears falls from Tracie’s eyes as these words sink into her, making her feel the cold she felt seven years ago when he broke up with her over the phone. She’d heard the pain in his voice that day but never found the strength to call him back and ask what was wrong. She never fought for him when she’d wanted to and should have.

She had canceled her plane ticket right after that phone call. Right after she’d stopped crying. Right after she vowed to never speak to him again.

I’ve hated myself for it, too, she almost says.

Ken speaks again, and now he’s much closer to her than he was before. “I knew it was unreasonable even as I thought it. I knew I’d regret breaking up with you, too, and I still did it anyway. But I was…” He starts shaking his head, unable to find the word.

“Lost.” Tracie supplies, her voice strained by the tears.

Neither of them speak. In time, Ken closes the distance between them, his hands taking hold of Tracie’s arms and sliding down her skin until he grabs her hands. He waits and finds her eyes with his own, wondering—asking—what he can and can’t do. In the end, it’s Tracie who intertwines their fingers together and leans closer to him.

She rests her head against his chest, her ear listening to his heartbeat. It’s fast. She smiles a little. “I wish you had told me.” Tracie mumbles, squeezing his fingers against hers.

Ken hums and says, “Yeah. Me too.” He squeezes back.

Again, she has so many questions, so many things to say. She wonders if he ever loved someone after her. She wonders if he ever found anyone to hold him after that day. She wonders how there’s still room for her after drifting seven years apart—

And then just accepts it.

She’s more than happy that there’s room for her, anyway.

So, she asks instead, “Ken, do you remember how to play Crazy UNO?”

The unexpected question makes Ken laugh and the sound reverberates through his chest. It makes Tracie smile from ear to ear. This feeling that sends happy tingles all over her skin is part of the reason she had been missing him for seven long years.

“Maybe I do,” he says, and when Tracie steps back to look at him, he too is smiling from ear to ear.

When they leave Yayoi’s room and head back downstairs, four of their old friends are over and have joined Yayoi on the living room floor. Tracie has only a couple of seconds to frown about her UNO cards being fished out of her backpack without permission before Taka, older now but not an ounce different, sings,

“Ooh-la-la~ Did anything happen~?” But he knows something did. Ken rolls his eyes and Tracie smiles.

They all do.

Steward McOy

Do You Remember?

MyAnimeList iconMyAnimeList icon