Chapter 18: Under the Starry Night Sky

"Don't go to bed angry."

~ Ephesians 4:26

Toshiro and Anita arrived back at the campsite about five minutes later. Toshiro was still upset, but tried his best to hide his emotions. This was not a hard task. Toshiro's stepfather Kenji had never liked him. He was never abusive, but there were countless times when Kenji would purposely go out of his way to avoid conversation, or go on vacation and leave Toshiro with Gunnar and Suzu at home. During those times Toshiro had taken to believing that it was best to try to hide when you are feeling sad. He hated letting people into his problems because that either seemed to lead to them getting upset, like with Anita, or it could make them feel pity for you, a feeling Toshiro hated just as much because it made him feel inferior.

'It's not fair.' Toshiro thought bitterly. 'Why can't Anita just mind her own business? I knew she wouldn't understand! I told her that, yet she insisted anyway, and now she's mad at me because I won't see Teresa the way she does! I feel so stupid for giving in! Well that's just fine. I don't need Anita nagging at me anyway! It shouldn't matter that I hate Teresa because she reminds me of …'

Toshiro stopped his thoughts there. He did not even want to think of her name. It was connected to too many hard memories. Now Toshiro's mind was back in reality, but oddly it didn't look a thing like how he had imagined it to be. Max and Teresa seemed to be getting along so well, it did not look like Teresa was even considering abandoning Max, and sweet little Anita, who he had been so mad at a while ago, looked more hurt than how Toshiro was feeling.

A new memory wormed its way into Toshiro's head. 'You're still upset at Straton aren't you? It's never an easy task, but you should try to forgive. God wants you to try to love everyone. Don't harbor hatred because that will only make you upset and stop your willingness to forgive.' Gunnar had told him that, but it was so long ago Toshiro could not remember what was going on before the quote came up. The memory was on the tip of his mind, yet it seemed so far away.

He shut his eyes in deep concentration and tried to remember the conversation, but before he could get it he was interrupted by a tugging on his sleeve and Max's loud, overly excited voice.

"Toshiro; who do you like better Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, or the GazettE?" Max asked.

"What?" Toshiro asked. "They don't even sound anything ali- … Never mind! Look I just want to go to sleep; so do you think we can find a way so that I can get some shuteye?"

Max bit his lip feeling a little unsure and taken back by Toshiro's answer. "… So does that mean you like Taylor Swift?"

"… No I don't care for either." Toshiro replied bitterly.

"Wow, someone's in a good mood." Teresa teased sarcastically.

"I'M NOT!" Toshiro retorted; not catching the sarcasm.

"So you're angry?" Max asked. You know Nym doesn't like it when people are upset or angry."

"Who's Nym?" Toshiro and Teresa asked in unison.

At that Max's jaw dropped. "Y-you don't know Nym? S-she's my cousin! Shesh guys, I thought everyone knew her!"

Toshiro looked back over at Anita. She kept her head down and seemed to do a good job at keeping quiet about earlier. She still seemed to hurt, but she was too good of a person to try to sell Toshiro out. The blond knew he had to try to find a way to make up, but he would wait until morning when the heated emotions would have cooled down a little.

Toshiro shut his eyes and tried to think back once more. This time the memory seemed to return much faster, and much clearer than it was before.

In Toshiro's mind a young blond haired boy sat beside a girl with long brown hair. It was October first 2008. Toshiro had recently started seventh grade and he sat with Regina, a girl who Toshiro believed at the time would be his best friend for life.

The two watched something in the distance. A slender, black haired boy was picking a fight with another boy with sunglasses, and messy black hair hidden underneath a hoodie.

"Come on Chris! Kick his butt!" A large, chubby boy yelled out to the sunglasses wearing kid, named Chris.

Chris smiled. "Don't worry about me Thug. Go sit down. I can handle this guy myself."

"Alright." Thug replied. He walked/waddled over and without asking squeezed himself between Toshiro and Regina; resting more of himself down on Toshiro's lap than the ground.

"Ow! Get off!" Toshiro protested while trying to push the bolder-sized man off of him, but even though the boy heard he still refused to budge.

Regina seemed much calmer. She looked Thug in the eyes and calmly said: "Please get off of me."

Thug's cheeks turned slightly red. He nodded and stood up. "Sorry 'bout that." Thug said.

"It's alright." Regina replied; giving the boy a bittersweet smile. "Now let's just watch the fight alright?" And Thug nodded.

By now Chris was already down on the ground. His trademark sunglasses had been cracked and the black haired boy had Chris pinned down and was wailing on him.

Toshiro cringed and looked around. Where was the supervision? Poor Chris, who often acted to be high and mighty, now had a black eye and was half in tears as he was punched over and over.

Finally the black haired man stood up and Thug ran over to Chris' aid. The black haired man did not say anything, not even apologize, instead he smiled and proudly kissed his fist before walking over to gloat to Regina.

"Did ya' see that? I knocked 'im out!" The boy bragged.

"Straton you jerk! You seriously hurt him!" Toshiro yelled. "Why do you always have to pick fights with people?"

The black haired boy, now known as Straton shrugged. "... Makes me feel good I guess. If you don't like it you could always fight with me."

Toshiro shook his head. "No Straton. I'm not going to fight with you."

For a second Straton's eyes seemed to flash with anger. He grabbed onto Toshiro's neck and under his teeth said, "You better fight."

Toshiro could see it then. The look in Straton's eyes reminded him of Kenji; both men cared for nothing, but money and the love of power. They would trade their souls in a heartbeat for just a little more. Toshiro hated that.

From there the next moment just seemed to go by in slow motion. Toshiro had turned his head to Regina, she was laughing, cheering Straton on. It was obvious then that Regina never cared for Toshiro, at least not to the same extent that she loved Straton or that Toshiro liked her.

'How come it took me so long to notice that?' Toshiro thought.

Straton snickered and slowly released Toshiro from his grasp, letting the boy fall to his knees. Then Straton and Regina walked away together, leaving Toshiro by himself.

When Toshiro got home he told Gunnar about what had happened at school. Needless to say Gunnar did not look pleased. He put his arm around Toshiro's back and softly spoke.

"There there. I know things may look bad now, but you've got to stay positive. There're more friends for you out there." Gunnar said solemnly.

"Like who?" Toshiro asked.

Gunnar put his finger on his chin and thought for a moment, and then his face instantly lit up. "Oh! Do you remember that Anita girl; the one who nearly saved you from choking yesterday?"

"Yeah why?" Toshiro asked; half bitterly, half interested.

Gunnar gave a sly smile. "She called here earlier today. She really wanted to make sure that you were alright. Anita, she's really got a lot of class that one. There aren't too many people like that these days. You should talk to her. I'm sure you two would be great friends in no time."

Toshiro's face turned red and he fingered his hair, an absentminded reaction he had when nervous. "S-she did? You're not joking are you?"

"No, I'm dead serious." Gunnar replied.

"B-but Anita … I've had a crush on her forever. She's so beautiful and I'm so … you know ..."

"I think you should talk to her." Gunnar said with a smile.

Toshiro looked to the ground. If he and Anita could be friends, then that would be the greatest thing ever. But there were so many other problems, like how shy he got around her. Would the two even be able to talk? Maybe the shyness would be something that faded if the friendship progressed.

'Stupid Straton, it's his fault that I'm without any friends in the first place. Regina would have never left me if it weren't for him trying to show me off.' Toshiro thought.

Gunnar must have read Toshiro's thoughts because he nodded. "You're still upset at Straton aren't you? It's never an easy task, but you should try to forgive. God wants you to try to love everyone. Don't harbor hatred because that will only make you upset and stop your willingness to forgive."

Back in reality Toshiro sat in deep thought. Maybe Gunnar had a point with the whole forgiveness thing. After all, the only reason why he did not accept Teresa in the first place was because she reminded him so much of Regina. Even though Regina was not sorry Toshiro knew it was a good idea to try to forgive her; that way he would not still hold Teresa accountable for something she had never done.

Yes, that seemed like a good plan. Toshiro was not sure why, but he truly felt good about that decision.

Teresa stretched and let out a yawn. "I think I know what cha mean 'bout the whole sleep thin'." She said. "Anita, d'ya' have any idea how we're gunna get ta sleep?"

Anita looked up seeming slightly surprised and dazed almost as if she had been daydreaming as well, and then she shook her head.

"Sorry; I have no clue."

Teresa sighed. "… Well it was worth a shot. How 'bout you two?" She asked turning her attention to Toshiro and Max.

"We could sleep in caves like the polar bears do!" Max suggested.

"… No … just no ..." Teresa replied. "Toshiro, please tell me ya' have a better idea."

"Well we really should have started preparations earlier." Toshiro said casually. "But since we're in this mess now there are a few things we'll have to do. So pay attention."

Teresa nodded. "I'm listenin'."

"Well first off even though I don't believe we're in a whole lot of danger I've read somewhere that it isn't wise to sleep on the ground because we don't know what kinds of wild animals live nearby." Toshiro explained.

Teresa nodded again, seeming to be in deep thought. "Yeah that makes sense. That way we're out of reach from any snakes or bears."

"Actually black bears and most if not all snakes can still climb trees. It's just less likely we'll encounter them high up than we would on the ground." Toshiro stated.

Teresa rolled her eyes. "You're beginning to remind me of my brother."

"Good, I'm glad. Your brother is probably a very good man if we're alike." Toshiro said with a teasing smile.

"Sure he is ..." Teresa muttered sarcastically. She turned her head and looked around the area. "Hey, where's Max?"

"I'm right here!" Max cheered. The group looked up to find the boy on top of an extremely high tree branch, waving down at his friends.

"How'd he climb that so fast?" Teresa asked, wide-eyed.

"He's Max. He has a pet monkey and is obsessed with Taylor Swift. Nothing about him surprises me anymore." Toshiro explained.

"Yeah I see what ya' mean." Teresa replied.

"Max, you should probably get down from there! You're up way too high!" Toshiro yelled.

Max let out a laugh. "Alright Toshiro, if that's what you say, then I'm coming down!" He then awkwardly leapt off the branch, landing noisily on the one directly under.

"PLEASE BE CAREFUL!" Toshiro yelled; his expression filled with worry.

"Don't worry Toshiro. I'll be fine." Max assured so casually that he almost had Toshiro believing that the boy pulled stunts like this every day. (Max really did.)

"Alright, but please go down slowly this time." Toshiro warned.

Max sighed. "That sounds boring, but fine." He said, not seeming pleased in the slightest about having to play it safe; a role deemed unfitting by all that knew him.

He slowly extended his foot until the tip touched the branch underneath. Max attempted to apply his weight slowly and balance himself, but as soon as he put his second foot down the branch underneath him snapped. Max was sent crashing to the ground and out of sight. The moment had happened so fast. One second Max was falling; the next his five foot body just seemed to vanish into thin air.

"MAX!" Toshiro and Teresa called out in unison before running toward where they thought they saw the body land. Even Anita came rushing toward her friend.

"Do you see him?" Toshiro yelled.

"No! Wonder where he is!" Teresa said.

"He's not behind this bush!" Anita replied. "This is so weird. It's almost like he just ... vanished."

Toshiro stopped searching and looked into the distance in deep concentration. 'Max, where are you?' He thought.

- phantom130 5 (October 2012)