Chapter 1:

Lose me in the crowd so I can find you.

Searching for Nobody

With a flutter of her eyes, the young woman, named Nakano Ai, was awake. Despite living in her apartment, something was off. The heaviness of her sleep didn’t wear off even as she got up and moved around in her apartment.Bookmark here

She glanced around. Daisies had fluttered around the apartment and it seemed they grew through the walls. The young woman avoided certain walls that had certain portraits hung around.Bookmark here

“Meow,” a young black kitten begged for food. The woman moved her hazel eyes downwards and the young woman smiled. Her smile was bright and it seemed to cut the darkness that lingered in the apartment.Bookmark here

“Twitchy,” she said gently. The name sounded like she needed to get used to it. Still, the cat meowed in response. “I know you’re hungry. Let me get you some food.”Bookmark here

The woman said as her pale hand pet the small creature. Her long curly brown hair reached the floor since she had to bend down to pet him. However, she knew she had to face the reality – the portraits that hung in the apartment.Bookmark here

Her deceased parents. She didn’t want to look at the portraits for long. After she ignored the pictures longer, she went and filled the kitten’s bowl. Though, she glanced at the clock and realized what time it was.Bookmark here

“Oh, dear, I’m going to be late!” she exclaimed. The kitten twitched its tail and settled on a chair as the woman quickly got dressed with a simple white blouse and a knee length pink skirt. Soon, she was ready for work. She grabbed her materials and briefcase and even petted the kitten on its head as she dashed off.Bookmark here

“Have a good day, Twitchy!”Bookmark here

Twitchy, the now irritated kitten, glared at the woman and merely went back to sleep as she closed the door.Bookmark here

City A was famous for being one of the most packed cities as thus, it was just easier to use the subway to get to places. When Ai arrived to her familiar platform, she waved hello to the conducter who always waited for passengers to show up. As he usually did, he ignored her and followed his orders.Bookmark here

The businessmen and women had always been grumpy but whenever Ai was around them, it made them extra annoyed. She would smile her bright smile around them and they would wonder if she was a country bumpkin because of how overtly cheerful she was towards them.Bookmark here

“No, I was born and raised here,” she would say in response. They would shake their heads and Ai would wonder why. She had always known not everyone was glad to go to work – not everyone had their dream jobs, but Ai just wanted to make things a little better for them.Bookmark here

Soon, she was sitting in her seat and a feeling creeped up on her – her parents were murdered. Her parents were politicians and were known to be humantarians. They had done a lot of good work around the city – helped the poor, gave medicine to the sick, spent time with the elderly; needless to say, her parents made a lot of enemies within the sphere. However… Ai wasn’t sure who exactly their enemies were. They always kept their political talks outside the house, or at least, not around her as much.Bookmark here

Still, Ai admired them greatly. Because of them, she became a teacher to help students and to at least change one person’s life. She didn’t want to stop just because her parents were dead. She couldn’t stop.Bookmark here

Eventually, the subway had stopped for her usual spot. The young teacher struggled through the crowd that had built up but she managed to get through.Bookmark here

“Thank you, Kiyoshi-san,” she said as she bowed towards the conductor. Upon closer inspection, the man named Kiyoshi would be considered attractive but he always seemed to glare and he always seemed a little too proper to be a mere train conductor. Ai still was thankful for his hardwork and she always went out of her way to thank him as often as she could.Bookmark here

Ai ran as fast as she could towards a small bike rental shop. There was a man who stood there and had a bike ready. He seemed very average with his longer hair and simple clothes but, honestly, looks never mattered to the woman. She was thankful this man had a bike ready for her.Bookmark here

“Ah! Thank you, Takahiro!” He handed her the bike as he let out a laugh. “Send my regards to Junpei.” The man nodded. “And let me know when you decide to go back to college! Take it from me when I say that education is very important!” She winked at him and he let out a laugh.Bookmark here

“Nakano-san,” he said as he tried to laugh off his embarrassment. “You know these medical bills won’t pay for themselves.”Bookmark here

Ai nodded. “I understand. I’ll keep hope though!” She climbed on the bike and rode off. The young man named Takahiro waved her off.Bookmark here

“Have a good day at school!”Bookmark here

She couldn’t turn around and say her goodbyes as she was already late enough as it is. She pedeled as fast as she could. She wished that she had seen the time earlier so she could talk more to Takahiro and had done her usual route around the park near the private school she worked. Instead, she pushed herself to go as fast as she could.Bookmark here

The Pico Private Academy wasn’t particiularly known for anything other than being the result of her parents’ hard work. They had managed to convince the chairman to be more environmentally friendly and use not as much electricity as the other academies had used.Bookmark here

Although, the only thing that Ai could complain about was the fact the academy was on a steep hill – so the falculty and students could get better exercise. Eventually, Ai managed to climb the hill through the bike path which happened to be next to the stairs.Bookmark here

She saw there were some empty spaces and hoped that she wasn’t the only one late to class that morning. After she locked the bike to the post, she bolted towards the school building as fast as she could.Bookmark here

And then, the first bell rang.Bookmark here

“Aw man!” she said out loud as she hurried to her class. Her footsteps echoed in the hallway and the teachers, who’d watch for tardy students, turned a blind eye. She was always thankful for the other teachers’ kindness. However, when one particular teacher did, she did hear them scold a student who did wander in late.Bookmark here

She hoped they teacher wouldn’t be too harsh on them…Bookmark here

When she arrived, the class seemed extremely gloomy. In her peripherals, she could vaguely notice a vase with flowers in it – but she didn’t have time to really inspect it.Bookmark here

“I apologize for being tardy, class! Please forgive me!” she said as she panted, tired from all the extra energy she exerted from earlier. Despite the gloomy feeling, the class tried their best to be cheerful. Even though there was an undiscernable darkness, Ai’s bright smile was a least able to help them forget about it if for a moment.Bookmark here

She was about to start class when she heard a tap on the door. Immediately, she answered it and saw that it was the teacher from earlier and they smiled gently at Ai.Bookmark here

“Pardon me, Nakano-san, but it seems that you have a transfer student.” He seemed a bit embarrassed to bring this to her attention in this way but he really had no other choice. He turned around and motioned the student behind him to enter the classroom.Bookmark here

Ai stepped back and grabbed the students’ attention, as though she didn’t have them already. “Ah, it looks like we have a new student today! Um, please introduce yourself!” The other teacher took this time to close the door behind him as Ai tried to get everything together.Bookmark here

The young man who walked in was hunched over and his bangs covered one of his eyes. He seemed quite average in height but Ai couldn’t really tell since the kids seem to change heights every day.Bookmark here

“My name is Nakashima Takumi,” he simply said. He couldn’t look at anyone in the eye. “Where do I sit?”Bookmark here

That was it. He didn’t say any more, any less.Bookmark here

“Um, just go to any empty seat, okay, Nakashima-kun.” Ai said nervously. She still hadn’t calmed down her exertion earlier but before the boy could go to his seat, she grabbed his shoulder and whispered to him. “See me after school today, okay?”Bookmark here

The boy pushed her off his shoulder and she was taken aback. Still, she had a class to run.Bookmark here

In the back of her mind, as she reviewed the last lesson they had gone through, she remembered the funeral that took place in her parents’ hometown.Bookmark here

Town Uno was where they were from. It was a town that wasn’t far from there. The town itself was known to have famous and infamous politicians because of how close it was to City A. The grass was greener and the air was fresher but Ai wasn’t sure if she could ever visit the town again… not until she figured out who murdered her parents.Bookmark here

Police had found their bodies in their brownstone home. They had told her that both of her parents, healthy adults who took good care of their bodies as much as they could, had died due to natural causes.Bookmark here

There’s no way they died of natural causes. Ai thought as she tripped up.Bookmark here

“Don’t you mean ‘where’?” a student had said suddenly. Ai couldn’t help but laugh nervously again.Bookmark here

“C-correct.”Bookmark here

Ai couldn’t think anymore. She knew what could happen if she thought about it any longer than she should. She forced it out of her mind. She shouldn’t think about it.Bookmark here

As much as she could, she had to excuse herself during lunch. She had to go use the bathroom; any place away from these terrible feelings. Frustration and sadness overcame the usually cheerful teacher. She hated it when she cried, especially in public, especially where her students can catch her.Bookmark here

She grew angry with herself. She thought she left all her tears back in Town Uno. She thought she had no more tears to cry and yet… She dabbed herself with a hankerchief as she made her way back to her classroom. She was glad she didn’t remember to put on eye makeup – it would’ve smeared. She would’ve been ashamed of herself had anyone caught her.Bookmark here

It didn’t take long for her to settle. She watched the classroom as she tried to pushed the negative thoughts out of her head.Bookmark here

A small knock on the door echoed and she jumped. She tried to clean her eyes as quick as she could as she stood up and walked towards the door. Behind the door was her childhood friend and colleague – Fukoi Akio. He carried his own bento box but he also had a store-bought one and he handed it to her.Bookmark here

“Ai,” he said gently, “I brought you lunch. I’m sure you were probably in a rush this morning, weren’t you?” He laughed just as gently as his voice was. The man had a very professional appearence but it was clear he was very handsome. Usually, the two would eat together in the staff room but Ai just really wanted to eat in the classroom that day.Bookmark here

She didn’t want to part with what students remained in the room. They were lost in their own world but it was clear there was still an aura of gloominess amongst them; but she was glad that she had someone to share a lunch with.Bookmark here

“Thank you, Akio,” Ai responded just gently as she took the store bought bento box. “You’re so kind.” From what little conversations Ai could pick up from her students, she could only pick up the usual talks of their daily life.Bookmark here

Once the two had opened their lunches, they ate in silence. Ai wasn’t sure if she wanted to stay silent for long. She knew her feelings very well – she didn’t want to deal with them in a public space.Bookmark here

“Anything new going on, Akio?” Ai asked suddenly. The man was surprised by this and let out a sigh. It wasn’t a sigh of annoyance.Bookmark here

“It’s,” he paused, “the same thing really. Make sure everyone gets to class on time, turn in the attendence sheets, lesson plans, getting ready for the festival. The same old thing, really.”Bookmark here

It was clear in his voice he wanted to hide something from Ai. He could never hide anything from her but she didn’t pry in further. Usually, he had a good reason to hide from her.Bookmark here

Ai nodded. “I see. So, how about you, Akio? Did you go out with the teacher like I told you too?”Bookmark here

The handsome teacher shrugged. “Yeah, I did. She and I didn’t click as well as I hoped we would,” he lied once again. Ai just nodded and let out her own sighs.Bookmark here

“I suppose I could always ask Amano-sensei…”Bookmark here

The man cleared his throat suddenly. Ai always worried every time he cleared his throat in front of her in such a way, especially when it came to his dating life. For Ai, she always had noticed how Akio was always alone. She was fine with it – it was Akio who always called her and always wanted to do things with her. She couldn’t understand why but she figured that he didn’t have anyone else to spend time with.Bookmark here

It was clear though that he didn’t want to talk about this any further.Bookmark here

Eventually, the long first day back finally ended. Ai had hoped the new student Takumi would show up but she wasn’t surprised he didn’t. The teacher decided to leave the school early as she had no other reason to be there.Bookmark here

She was exhausted and didn’t want to give up her bike already. Instead, she opted to walk her bike around the park she neglected that morning. Instead of her usual smiling face, her face fell and it couldn’t get lower than it had.Bookmark here

Despite her childhood friend’s words, she had talked to the Head Teacher about what had happened within the short time she was gone. The Head Teacher was annoyed but he still told her about a survey the teachers had done about their thoughts about the school.Bookmark here

Since the survey was optional, Ai figured she probably didn’t want to do it and Akio had known that. However, that wasn’t why her face was so sad.Bookmark here

One of her students was brutually murdered in cold blood over the fact she wouldn’t give up her bike to the stranger. He had retailiated by choking her to death and she wondered why the other students were so tight-lipped about it. The student in particular had an affinity for science and wanted to help the world around them but within a short time, she had been killed for such a small thing.Bookmark here

As she was a young teacher, this was her first student’s death. It seemed the other students were able to cope with it but Ai wasn’t sure how to handle it. She had already lost her parents – she didn’t want to mourn over them for too long but now she came to find out another one of her own had passed on. She didn’t know what to do at that point. A walk was the only thing she could think of – to clear her head, to clear her emotions, just to clear herself of everything.Bookmark here

Eventually, she found a bench to sit on. She wailed for the student but she knew it was her frustration and anger towards everything that hurt the most. She could’ve done something, couldn’t she? She could’ve done something to protect that student, couldn’t she?Bookmark here

She could’ve done something to prevent her parents’ death. She felt extremely alone. She didn’t know what she would do from here on in. She shook with fear – her parents were to never visit her again. She wouldn’t spend time with them anymore. Instead, she would have to visit a plot of land with her parents’ names on it, along with a reminder when they were born and when they died. She had never felt as alone or powerless as she had. She couldn’t protect her parents, what made her think she could protect a student?Bookmark here

However, she knew she couldn’t stay out too late. City A wasn’t safe anymore. Then again, was it ever really?Bookmark here

I better not think like that, she thought as she started to make her way back. Her mind was still occupied by the grief from earlier but because she was so distracted, she collided with someone hard enough for her to fall from her bike.Bookmark here

Her skirt managed to get tangled in the bike’s chains, along with bloodied knees, and the stranger also dropped something that clinked against the ground.Bookmark here

“Oh my goodness! Are you okay?” Ai glanced at the person. They didn’t seem like a typical business man she would sometimes see stroll in the park. His hair was slicked back and his shirt buttons were opened. He glared behind his glasses and got up to run away. She tried to get up and chase after him but the bike fell on top of her. She groaned in pain when the metal dug in her skin. “Ow!” she winced. She reached out to try to crawl her way out but she felt a chain necklace instead. She pulled it closer for inspection and it turned out to be a necklace with a cross.Bookmark here

She almost audibly gasped. Ai was about to call out to the man who quickly disappeared when she heard the familiar voice of both Akio and Takahiro.Bookmark here

“Ai!” growled Akio, something that even shocked the woman.Bookmark here

The brunette turned to gave him a shocked expression but the man’s expression didn’t change. Something about that scared her.Bookmark here

Soon, he realized and apologized. “I-I’m sorry. I’m just concerned.” He turned away in shame.Bookmark here

“If you’re so concerned, help me with this bike!” shouted Takahiro as he tried to help lift the bike off the woman.Bookmark here

Once the two managed to get the bike off of Ai, her skirt had gotten torn from being stuck but as long as Ai was okay… Akio carried the brunette to his car which was an expensive car, especially on a teacher’s salary. Ai always figured he must’ve saved up for quite a while to get it. After she got patched up at Takahiro’s shop, she was thankful to the two men and had wondered how they managed to find her in the middle of the park. Still, she was thankful. She thanked Takahiro and he just nodded and took the bike back.Bookmark here

Akio carried her, even after she got patched up, to his car again. Apparently, she had gotten more scars than she thought and could walk on her own but Akio insisted. He didn’t want her to be hurt any further.Bookmark here

“Are you okay?” he asked once more. She nodded.Bookmark here

“I’m fine, Akio,” she said. “Don’t worry about me. You know I’m pretty tough!” She brought up her arm and flexed for effect.Bookmark here

“I can’t help but worry, Ai. You’re so accident prone.”Bookmark here

She feigned offense and laughed. “I am not!” She held on to the chain necklace as tightly as she could. She didn’t want to bring it up with either men – there was something that told her not to show it to them. Ai always listened to her instincts and this wasn’t an exception. She managed to put the necklace in her purse without Akio’s glance.Bookmark here

Ai figured she would give it to the station’s lost and found section in the morning since the train stopped at night quite early.Bookmark here

“Would you like me to take you home?”Bookmark here

“Sure!” She smiled for effect. Ai didn’t have any reason not to trust Akio – after all, he’d been there since the beginning.Bookmark here

The ride was a quiet as the lunch earlier was. Ai couldn’t help but feel extremely fidgety but she supposed it was because she was in the car of her dreams. She glanced at the interior design and the unique embroidery on the seats. She couldn’t imagine how long Akio saved up for the car – she remembered she saw it in a magazine once and pointed it out to Akio one day. She would often joke about stealing the car from under his nose and he’d just laugh along with her. She didn’t have a license so it wasn’t like she was going to.Bookmark here

“Hey, hey! As long as the train and Takahiro’s business are around, I’d have no real use for a car!” she would say.Bookmark here

Suddenly, the car stopped. She glanced outside the window and recognized nothing. Instead, she realized they were at the legendary Lover’s Death that she and the other teachers were supposed to warn the students about.Bookmark here

Supposedly, a couple came to the pointe to make out but something caused the car to fall off and the couple perished. Rumors circulated that the yakuza was somehow involved since the couple happened to be the children of two rival clans. However, eventually it was wrapped up as a simple accident.Bookmark here

Ai then turned to Akio in surprise when she realized where they were.Bookmark here

“Akio, aren’t we a lttle old to be here?” she asked. She hoped there was an innocent reason. Her heart couldn’t take any more relevations.Bookmark here

The man stared out of the windshield and the other windows. Unlike before, though, the silence from the man only made Ai more uncomfortable. Eventually, there were a barrage of bright lights which surrounded the two. Akio turned and dove on top of her, he felt he was about to crush her body with his.Bookmark here

She screamed.Bookmark here

“Akio! What are you doing? Stop this!” she screamed as she struggled to push him off of her. Akio grabbed her arms and placed them over her head. Now she really struggled – afraid of her what might happen. She was already weak from the crying she had done. Her legs were scarred up and she could already feel her exhaustion build up.Bookmark here

However, he covered her mouth with his lips. Her eyes widened in fear and he looked extremely shameful when he pulled away.Bookmark here

“I-It isn’t what you think, Ai! I’m not that way!” he whispered. She started to cry and struggle. It seemed he was about to lose his grip so he tightened it. “Stop it!” he demanded. “Stop! I’m doing this for your safety!” His whispers were unusually harsh – much like the growls he’d done earlier that night. She continued to cry in fear as it was clear Akio felt disgusted with himself. He pressed his lips against his hand and stared directly in her eyes. “Trust me.”Bookmark here

Those words didn’t comfort Ai but she had no other choice. He glanced up and looked around. Ai breathed hard against his hand but it was then she noticed that there weren’t any more lights. It was soon dark as it was once was.Bookmark here

Once it was evident the coast was clear, he released his hand.Bookmark here

“W-what’s going on?” she asked, clearly frightened as more tears streamed down her face.Bookmark here

“I can’t tell you. But… they think we’re here to,” he paused. “You know.”Bookmark here

“‘They’? Who is ‘they’? What do they want with us?” Ai asked, as she got more frantic.Bookmark here

“They’re trying to get to you, Ai.”Bookmark here

“Why? I didn’t do anything! I’m just a teacher! I’m just a Language teacher at Pico Private Academy!”Bookmark here

“Shh!” he shushed her. “It’s not because of that! It’s because you’re a Nakano! They’re trying to eliminate you!”Bookmark here

She gasped.Bookmark here

Eventually, he pulled away and sighed. Akio left her alone. He knew she didn’t want to be near him. Eventually, Ai sat herself up. Once she was up, Akio started the car. He kept his eyes strictly on the road – it was clear she didn’t want to look at his eyes at that moment. He seemed to want to retain what little of their relationship remained.Bookmark here

Ai kept her being away from him.Bookmark here

“Forgive me, Ai,” he said suddenly. “I have to protect you.”Bookmark here

She didn’t respond to that. She didn’t know what to think. She really couldn’t think of anything to say after that. Ai wasn’t even sure who this person was anymore – and why he called himself Akio, her childhood friend.Bookmark here

It didn’t take very long for them to reach her apartment building, even under their heavy silence. Akio stopped the car and tried to talk to her once more.Bookmark here

“Ai, you have to know that….” he paused as he struggled to find the words. “I love you.”Bookmark here

Finally, she gave him eye contact. Tears continued to stream down her face as she sat there, unsure what to say or do. Akio, instead, continued.Bookmark here

“I will do anything to protect you. Even if that means going against the yakuza.” He reached out and kissed her on the cheek – Ai froze. She didn’t have the strength to push him away. He rubbed where he kissed her on her cheek and he bit his lip. “I do mean what I say. I will protect you with my heart, body, and soul.”Bookmark here

The brunette opened the door to leave but paused. Ai opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. What response could she have to all this? In the span of an hour, or more – Ai lost track of time, the man she had known to be her childhood friend had suddenly kissed her and confessed to her. She sighed as more tears came out. In the end, she didn’t say anything to him. She couldn’t say anything to him.Bookmark here

As she made her way out, she heard radio static and heard something even stranger come out of the radio.Bookmark here

“The target disappeared. I repeat, the target disappeared.”Bookmark here

Ai felt her heart race. Akio tried to push her out of his car as quickly as he could. As soon as she was out, the car before her zoomed away as fast as it could go. The young woman stared at the car as it disappeared into the night.Bookmark here

She didn’t know what to do. She didn’t know what to think. She wanted nothing more than to blend in the crowd she was always content in.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.