Daisuke left the hospital after giving me my homework. He said he had some “business” to attend to, and hurried off. Fortunately, my mother came soon after I woke up. She hugged me and cried, and scolded me for taking the shortcut, finally falling asleep in a chair at the other end of the room after a tiring day of parenting. My father would have come too, but he was out of town on a business trip. He called as soon as he could after my mother’s visit.
“Take it easy, son! I’ll be home as soon as my assignment is finished. Tell your mother I love her!”
The doctor told me that it was a miracle that I had survived that accident with nothing but a mild concussion. I guess that would explain why I can’t seem to remember much about the accident, or anything that’s happened since then. Sometimes, it feels like someone’s bashing my brains in with a hammer, but other than that, everything seems normal. It’s probably just migraines or something. After a few days of recovery and some light physical therapy, the doctors tell me I’ll be heading back home, and back to school. They recommended that I check in with Dr. Mori regularly so that someone could keep tabs on my progress outside of the hospital. It seemed everything was set for me to get back to my boring everyday life.
This is my life now…
I can hear footsteps stomping down the hallway toward my room, moving at a quick pace. Someone’s in a hurry, and they’re not happy either.
It was Kaneko-san! She rushed to my bed and hugged me tightly. I could smell her sweat as she buried her face into my chest, and the soft sound of her sobbing nearly broke my heart. I’ve gotta get this girl off of me.
“I can’t breathe Kaneko-san…” She let go, blushing as she realized how close she was to me.
“You idiot! How could you get into an accident? You made me worry!” she shouted, pointing her tiny finger at me.
It was adorable, until I heard my mother giggling from her seat. She’s never met Kaneko-san, so this might be giving her the wrong idea about our relationship.
Kaneko-san quickly turns her head to see my mother. I wish I could have seen whatever face she was making, because my mother nearly burst into tears in a fit of laughter. Kaneko-san darted out of the room with her head down, saying nothing. Before I can even laugh at how abruptly her visit ended, she’s back in the room, at the side of my bed again.
“I’m glad you’re okay! I’ll see you soon, right?” she asked, in almost a whisper.
Before I could even reassure her that it wouldn’t be long before I got back to school, she was already out of the room. I could almost swear I could hear her and my mother giggling as she left, but the pain is probably making me imagine things. I look at the small clock next to my bed to see that it’s actually about time for track practice back at school. Only our track star could race to the hospital after class and make it back to school just in time.
“That girl seems nice…” my mother remarked, a mischievous smile on her face.
I look away from her and pretend I’m too weak to respond, if only to avoid having to talk to my mother about girls. Everyone close to me had visited me by now, but something in my heart kept saying there was one more person that I wanted to see. I know Yuki-san would never visit me here. I know that it isn’t a real possibility. I just can’t help myself from imagining it, picturing in my head what it would be like to have her at my side, fawning over me, helping me to sleep just by making me comfortable. I imagined a world where that could happen. A world where her love was something more than a far-fetched fantasy in a painfully dull existence. A world where I could have a chance to prove to her that I have what it takes to make her happy. The beauty of the scene in my mind is broken by the reality of what had happened just before I got here.
I’ve already blown my chance, and there’s no way in hell I can make up for it. When I go back to school, it will be the same as ever, and she’ll never give me the time of day. All I’ll have left to get me through those days are my dreams of her, of the life I wished for as I looked up at that hospital ceiling and begged for sleep to come.
“I’m glad to be back everyone.”
It was my first day back from the accident, and I had a lot to catch up on. For one thing, I had managed to miss a pretty important exam, and after seeing Kaneko-san’s score, I know I have to do well to avoid her incessant bragging. Fortunately, the teacher told me I could take the exam next week, after some studying. I looked up in my seat, and there was Yuki-san, right in front of me, still as a doll. If there was any consolation to this unfortunate week, it’s that the school’s gossip headlines changed from “Cherry Boy Shot Down by Ice Witch, Surprising Nobody” to “Cherry Boy Survives Head-on Collision with Truck.” Maybe that’s something I can talk to Yuki-san about, seeing as we haven’t spoken since the accident.
Can’t really do any harm talking to her at this point, right?
As I open my mouth, Daisuke slides his arms around my neck.
“You’re finally back, eh Kaz?” he says, tightening the headlock.
I could’ve sworn I told him I had a concussion.
“Let me go, you big dummy!” I try to yell softly, though people still turn to look as he let’s go.
Daisuke’s changed a lot over the past year or so. Ever since we were kids, he and I were always the rejects of the class, and our mutual reputation of being alleged troublemakers made it easy for us to bond over the years. Although people considered us to be a couple of punks, we both had a sense of “justice.” Whenever something was wrong or someone was getting picked on, we would try to solve it or save them, just like the heroes in our TV shows. Of course, the real world is a bit more complicated, and a lot of times we ended up making people even more unhappy. Looking back, it was mostly pretty embarrassing, but to someone in elementary school it made sense at the time. The big guy was sort of the brawn in our partnership, while I was the brains for the most part. I always wanted to try to be the muscle, too, because a hero who can’t defend anyone isn’t much of a hero at all. Daisuke had always been super athletic, but he never really tried to train, or even join any teams or play any sports.
When high school started, Daisuke seemed completely different. His smile was gone, his attitude much more befitting of a real “troublemaker”. He started to hang out with what I can only describe as “the wrong crowd”, unsavory types that skipped nearly every class and got into all sorts of trouble I couldn’t imagine. One day, he started to hang out with me again, saying there had been some sort of incident. Every once in a while, I try to ask him what happened, but he just shrugs it off and finds something else to talk about. Maybe some things are just better off forgotten.
Now, Daisuke seemed a bit more serious, more mature. He had his carefree attitude and smile back for the most part, but he only really used them around me, or when he was comfortable. Most of the time, he seemed like an older brother, a bigger and stronger quiet type. Girls went crazy for it. His sense of justice was back, too. One time, I heard he stopped a bunch of bullies from another school who were picking on a kid. I have to admit, I think Daisuke embodied that sense of justice more than I ever could.
“Hey, now’s your chance to say something to the Ice Witch!” whispered Daisuke, not three feet away from where she was sitting.
Thanks man, if you hadn’t interrupted I would have. I guess I’ll get to it now, though. It should be good small talk at least.
I had nothing to lose, so it’s not like my nonexistent relationship with Yuki-san would get even worse.
Well, here goes nothing.
Yuki-san didn’t budge at all; you might wonder if she was even alive.
“Yuki-san? Did I miss anything in class? Being in a hospital bed is sure uncomfortable!” I said, as I gave a small chuckle. I feel like an idiot. Why am I bringing up the hospital? To sound tough?
Being aloof is so much cooler, Kaz, you know this already.
Yuki-san turned just enough to look back at me with one eye.
“No, not much.”
She turned back to her desk. Daisuke had run off to the other side of the room, watching the whole thing from a distance. He came back to me, a look of disappointment in his eyes.
“That… that was the lamest line I’ve ever heard, Cherry-kun.”
“I couldn’t think of what to say man!”
Daisuke started laughing but was quickly silenced as Yuki-san turned around.
“I hope you’re feeling better, Kaneshiro-san.”
“Th-thank you very much, Yuki-san!” I managed to get it out, as my heart fluttered.
Daisuke had his mouth wide open in shock.
“Well well, maybe you’re not a lost cause after all, Kazuki.”
I can’t believe she said she hopes I’m feeling better! Or at least, that’s what I think she said. It doesn’t matter. What matters is she’s aware of my presence after all. Maybe there’s still a chance. I shouldn’t get ahead of myself, but I shouldn’t have counted myself out so soon either.
“Class is starting, all rise!” our class president shouted. I’m feeling light headed, but there’s a lot of work left to do.
During lunch time, I’m required to go to our counselor, the (supposedly) certified Dr. Mori.
“Well, how have you been feeling Kazuki-kun?” she asks lazily, as she swirls her coffee around in a mug.
“I’m feeling fine, Dr. Mori. It’s just some light-headedness sometimes during the day.”
Dr. Mugi Mori was our school’s counselor, as well as the school nurse. Kill two birds with one stone, I suppose. It was weird to see someone so qualified on paper be stuck here in this high school, but given her attitude, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for her to be dealing with serious medical or mental issues. She’s a relatively mature young woman on the outside, but her mannerisms seem to not have evolved since she left high school. I think her coffee is spiked with sake sometimes, given the way she usually slurs her words and complains about men leaving her, or standing her up on dates. Stuff that you shouldn’t be complaining about to kids just over half your age, really. I guess the other adults don’t want to listen to a fair maiden’s love troubles, so she forces me to sit through lectures on the evils of men every so often. I’m not entirely sure what her deal is, but deep down she seems like a genuinely nice person, just with a bit of an honest and blunt edge. The alcohol brings out the pessimism, I assume. I just hope someone marries her soon. Anyone. Please. Today, however, my being here is just part of the rehab the hospital instructed Dr. Mori to conduct with me. It’s just a precautionary measure to make sure there aren’t any lingering problems stemming from the accident, but it makes me uneasy to continue to have these sorts of evaluations.
“So, tell me Kazuki-kun, besides your health, has anything else been troubling you lately? Have you looked into what future career goals you have yet? I don’t want to pressure you or anything after your accident, but you have to be aware! Otherwise you’ll end up at my age, wondering where all the time went…” She takes another long sip of coffee and looks away uncomfortably.
“Uh…I’m not really sure what I want to do. Maybe I’ll go to college afterwards, but I don’t know what to study there.”
Dr. Mori composed herself, looking as if she had an exciting thought.
Oh, no. Did I accidentally stumble onto her love of academia and trigger an excruciating lecture on the wonders of college?
“That’s perfectly fine. But there’s something else I’d like to know about! How are you and Akane Yuki? I’ve heard an incident happened between you two lovebirds!” she covered the side of her mouth and spoke in a low tone, even though we were alone in her office. She really hasn’t grown up much.
Okay, I take it back, please lecture me on what makes college so exciting.
I can’t believe even the staff is gossiping about us. Especially with so little to gossip about at all! “It’s nothing! She and I are not lovebirds!” I can feel the blood rushing through my cheeks as Dr. Mori let out a bellowing laugh.
“Ah, young love, what innocence” she said, wiping a single tear from her eye.
“What should I do, Dr. Mori? I don’t know how to deal with this sort of thing yet...” I say, looking away from her out of shame.
She stopped laughing. The air in the room suddenly turned cold.
“Kazuki-kun, I’m not the love doctor here, and I’m the last person you want to ask for advice. The only person that can do anything is you.” She suddenly leapt forward and grabbed both of my arms.
“You better believe kid, just try being yourself.” I could smell the alcohol on her breath now, but I could tell it was still an honest statement.
Being myself is the last thing I want to do.
She turned back and stumbled to her chair. “Or, I don’t know, be reasonable, keep talking to her once a day or something. Start small and you’ll get there. Baby steps, Kazuki-kun!” she said, sitting down and giving me a thumbs up, a dumb grin plastered on her face.
“You should get going, class is going to start soon!”
I stood up and headed out of the office.
“Good luck Kazuki, come back soon and entertain me with tales of romance!”
I’m walking back to Class 2-B, but I can hear the unmistakable high-pitched voice of Kaneko-san yelling at someone in the hallway, so I stop at a turn in the halls to listen. I wouldn’t want to interrupt her. She gets a few solid hours alone with me every week, so punishing me isn’t exactly difficult.
“You need to apologize!” shouted Kaneko-san. She was fuming with rage and frustration.
“For what, Kaneko-san?”
That voice… that monotone voice belonged to Yuki-san, there was no doubt. I run out into the open hall to see the two of them standing in the doorway of my classroom, the students looking on from the inside looking like a crowd in Las Vegas eager for the title fight to start.
“You’re the reason…you’re the reason Ka-”
Kaneko-san noticed me at the end of the hall. She stopped herself from finishing the sentence. She was on the verge of tears. Yuki-san, however looked composed, unfazed at the obvious tension in the room. Kaneko-san runs out of the doorway and over to her classroom, turning to look at me as she disappears from sight. The look in her eyes was strange. It was like she was expecting me to be disappointed. Like she was sorry.
I walk to my classroom and take my seat. Everyone was staring at me, while Yuki-san had already went back to her seat, acting like nothing had happened. I wanted to ask some questions about what I’d missed, but I know that I’m not going to get the full story from anyone but Kaneko-san or Yuki-san.
“Yuki-san is really cold as ice” whispered one student.
Yeah she is. I thought.
Nothing notable happened for the rest of the day. I wanted to take Dr. Mori’s advice of talking to Yuki-san, but I’d already done it once today, and since she apparently had gotten into it with Kaneko-san I figure it’s best to wait until tomorrow. Aside from my daily dose of Kaneko-san’s humble bragging about tutoring me this time before my make-up exam, it was a pretty normal. I brought up her incident with Yuki-san, but she got quiet. After what felt like hours, she slammed her hands on her desk and stood up, fire in her eyes.
“I’m just frustrated Kazuki. When I see her, my blood just boils! I mean, what the hell do you even see in her, anyway, she’s just so… so rude.” She would’ve flipped over her desk if it wouldn’t have hit me square in the face.
“I’m sorry for the outburst Kazuki…” she said, as she slunk back down in her chair, her arms crossed in a look of defiant resignation.
I could tell Kaneko-san was tired. It was difficult to work so hard, only to see your efforts mean nothing when your work is compared to the accomplishments of someone like Yuki-san. The only thing that I could do for her was help her study. Maybe if her grades can match those of the Ice Witch, she’ll warm up to the idea of her tutor being friendly with her rival.
I’m home now, and Dad called, promising to bring me some herbal medicine or something that will cure my headaches. Hopefully they’ll be gone by the time he’s back, so I won’t have to give them a try. If they aren’t, I’ll just pretend I’m fine. Adjusting to life again after the accident is easier than I’d thought it would be. I guess living a boring and regimented life has its perks. All I want is to sleep in my familiar, comfortable bed after that week in the hospital. I may have slept all day there, but the idea of my old room has me feeling so tired it’s as if I haven’t slept in years.
Back to my normal life…
I look up at my old familiar ceiling and think about what tomorrow holds. Maybe it isn’t the world I’d dreamed of in that hospital bed, but maybe it could be. Like Dr. Mori said: baby steps.