17: Kitanai: Dirty
Koki packed up his English copy of The Great Gatsby and said goodbye to the club president. He was becoming more confident in his English skills. He had actually read the whole book from cover to cover. Granted, not without help from his electronic translator. Still, he'd fared far better than many of his club mates.
He headed down to the shoe lockers and found Chitose putting on his street shoes. He was about to greet him, when someone came from behind and wrapped an arm around his shoulders.
"Hey, Akira." Koki could tell without looking that it was Akira's arm over his shoulder. It was familiar enough that he didn't have to confirm it.
"Hey. You're finished with club for the day?" Akira said.
Koki thought he saw Chitose glance in their direction. "Mn." He nodded. "I was just headed to the store to pick up some things for mom. What have you been doing? You haven't gotten into any trouble lately, have you?"
Akira scrunched up his brows in thought. "Define 'trouble'."
Koki sighed. He wished Akira was joking. He knew the other boy was still fighting. He could tell by the bruises under his eye and the scratch marks on his arm. Koki removed himself from Akira's arm and went over to his locker. "If you don't stop this, you're going to get yourself into something bad."
Akira scoffed. "I can handle myself. I'm tougher than I look."
"I know you are. That doesn't stop me from worrying."
Akira paused. "You worry about me?"
Koki sighed again. "Of course I do. You and I have been good friends for a long time."
Akira laughed, but it sounded a little funny; different from his usual laugh. "Of course. Friends."
"Na, are you feeling alright? You sound funny."
Akira did his little odd laugh again. "I'm fine. Maybe that last fight just took a little more out of me than I thought."
Koki studied him for a bit. "If you say so. Listen, I'm going to get going. Do you want to come?"
"No, no. I'm fine. I'm going to head home in a bit. I just left my bag up in the class room."
"Alright." Koki shrugged. "Get some rest. And take care of those sores so that they don't get infected."
After saying goodbye to Akira, Koki set off to catch up with Chitose. Luckily he hadn't gotten too far ahead of him.
"Hey Fuyuki!" He called.
Chitose stopped and turned around. "What?" He called back.
Koki jogged to catch up with him. "Mom gave me a shopping list for dinner tonight, and I don't think I can carry it all myself. It looks like she let the refrigerator run out again. Want to help?"
Friends. Of course that's why he would worry. Akira wanted to slap himself for being so stupid. What other reason would he have?
Koki used to seem in a different world from Akira. They were so different in so many ways. Koki was pure in heart and mind. Akira would never use that adjective to describe himself any more. He was unclean.
There was a thump on his head. Akira looked up to see a third year holding a notebook standing over him.
"Cheer up, Kouhai." The senpai said. "A frown is never befitting of a Shounen."
That was all he said. Akira, dumbfounded, watched in silence as the senpai put on his shoes and left without another word, nor another glance in his direction.
Koki tossed the grocery list in the trash. Both his and Chitose's arms were filled with bags from the super market. His mother had to remember to pick up groceries as they ran out of things, not wait until their refrigerator was empty to send him to the store. He and Chitose had managed to find the basic staples, as well as everything Koki's mom needed to make somen and roasted veggies for dinner.
Koki glanced at Chitose. The sight of his face in the dimming sun reminded Koki of his dream. He flushed and averted his eyes. It felt real, and he'd seen the picture as proof. However, The memory didn't feel that real. Then there was that promise. Koki couldn't remember what it was for the life of him. He hadn't been able to concentrate all day for all the trying to remember. He knew he had remembered that promise in the dream. Now why couldn't he remember? Koki knew he should be happy to get any memories back, but why did it cause him so much aggravation?
"What was that for?" Chitose asked.
"What was what for?"
"That sigh. You've been sighing a lot lately. Is something-" Chitose shook his head. "I'm sorry. You probably don't want to talk to me about it. It's probably none of my business."
Koki paused for a moment before responding. Did he really want to talk to Chitose about this? Before he could stop himself, or think it over, Koki found himself saying, "Naa, Fuyuki, remember last night I asked you if it would be alright if I talk to you about the past?"
Chitose nodded after a moment's hesitation. "Nn. I do."
"I have a question. Lately, I've had some pretty…weird dreams. They feel real, but I'm not sure…"Koki took a deep breath. "Did our families ever go to New York City together?"
Chitose paused. "Yes. They did. Several times."
"What about…for your birthdays. Did they ever go then?"
Chitose was quiet for a long moment. His pace slowed a bit. Had his dream been wrong? No, he'd seen the picture himself. He'd held the ring, twice in fact. So why wasn't Chitose-
"Yes." Chitose said, very quietly. "I was fifteen that year."
"So it was real." Koki murmured.
"What was that?"
Koki quickened his pace, walking ahead so that Chitose couldn't see the reddening in his cheeks. It had been real…All of it had been real. For some reason, that knowledge made him…a little glad.
After dinner that night, Chitose flopped onto the bed. Why had Koki suddenly asked about that day? Of all the things he had to remember, why was it that? Up until recently, the memory of his fifteenth birthday had held a special place in his heart. It was a day filled with acceptance, happiness, and love. However, when he found out Koki had lost his memory and thrown all of the promises they had made to the wind, Chitose had locked that day away in the back of his heart. Chitose reached under his bed and pulled a couple of things out of his heart shaped box. He turned the tiny gold ring over in his hands. It seemed so small and insignificant now. Like it could bend or break at the slightest of efforts. Chitose slipped the ring onto his pinky. It still fit, of course. He unfolded the news article and ran a finger down the length of the image and onto the words written below. "True love knows no bounds."
Suddenly the door opened. Chitose shoved the article under his pillow along with his ringed hand. Koki flopped on his bed in a similar manner that Chitose had only moments before. Why is it that every time I give up, you give me one more reason to hope?