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When sunlight breached his windows, Masumi pulled himself out of his sheets and into his ofuro. His head was blank as he showered, brushing his teeth, went through all the motions of his usual routine and came down the stairs in his school uniform. He prepared his breakfast, sat down, ate half of it, and threw the rest away. He waited with the TV on until it was time to leave, then marched down the hall to his bike and the journey to Retsuko Academy.

 

He rode straight to school without talking to much of anyone along the way. He stopped into a convenience store to pick up a bento box, then went back on his way. He parked his bike among the racks and kept his head down as he weaved his way through the corridors to his homeroom, then took his seat at the back and waited for the day to get on with itself. He stared down at his desk, tapping his fingers just to give them something to do until the teacher arrived.

 

“Sanada Masumi.” She called out.

 

“Present.”

 

The rest of the classes passed through like a blur. He did what he was meant to do, copying down the notes, taking in the information, solving whatever problems were asked of him, and then it came time for lunch. He paused as he passed through his homeroom door, his gaze stretching down the corridor and through the endpoint of his journey, the cafeteria.

 

Masumi found a quiet corner of the school, one of the corner corridors that nobody had much of a need for, and sat on the floor to eat his store-bought bento box. It was fine. He finished eating it, found somewhere to dispose of the box, and tossed it away. There was still time left, but he didn’t know what to do with it, so he just waited until the seconds passed by and walked back to his homeroom.

 

The class that followed was just like all of those in the morning, and then it came time for gym. He didn’t know whether people were still whispering about him, or whether he was just blocking out the world well enough to keep them out of his head, but he got changed, did the minimum he could to get through, and then went back into the gym.

 

Kiryu was there, doing his own thing with his friends, and seemed to pay as much attention to Masumi as he’d wanted. The day was over and Masumi headed back home, spinning the pedals of the bike until he was back in the building that had become that much colder. He went to his room to finish his homework, then came downstairs to prepare his dinner and the rest of his lunches for the week. It wasn’t anything special.

 

Then he went back to his room, onto his bed, and found himself with nothing to occupy his thoughts. Any preparations he had to make were done, any work that needed to be finished was, and there was nobody but himself to keep him company. He stared at the wall opposite himself and tucked his legs under him. He could think of all of the things that he didn’t want to do, all of the things that he’d be punished for, but there wasn’t even a crack to let the light in.

 

Masumi closed his eyes and leaned against his wall, focused inwards, focused on anything that wasn’t his life. He tried counting sheep, he tried remembering the paths he’d taken through all of his games over the years, and by the end of it, he thought he’d done a decent job of it. He opened his eyes and looked at the clock.

 

Twenty minutes had passed.

 

So he got back up and wandered outside of his house, then started walking. He could look at the houses no-doubt filled with families, the trees and grass and all the little animals that made their homes there, and when he got to the outskirts of town, he could look at the rolling green and the world that stretched far out across the horizon. They were pretty things, at least.

 

Masumi got back home not long before he knew his parents would, and he knew even more that he didn’t want to be awake when they got back. He had his bath, got into his clothes, then went back to bed and forced his eyes as tight as they would go. He heard when his mother checked in on his room and saw him sleeping. He heard them moving about for the rest of the night, until they went to bed, and then there was nothing. He didn’t know when he went to sleep, but was thankful for its mercy.

 

He went through the motions when dawn came back, brushed his teeth, found a corner to eat his lunch in, avoided anyone who might be able to recognize him. The only change came when he attended Dance Club. Yuna was there, but her attempts to get him talking were as successful as anyone could have hoped for. He gave her a few half-answers, then got on with the rest of the club. He was thankful that it didn’t require much movement on his part, got changed back into his uniform then went home to spend the night alone again.

 

The next few days followed the same pattern. There were small changes. Sometimes people tried to talk to him, and soon found themselves wishing they hadn’t. Sometimes he found something to distract himself with, like a television show that filled some time or a happy memory that didn’t immediately spoil. He spotted Yui a couple of times, the people that spent their time with her, and that always made his heart sink again. He’d steeled himself against it, at least, but that wasn’t much of a shield when it came down to how he was feeling.

 

Masumi had just finished his Saturday classes when he climbed onto his bike, adjusted the gears, put his foot down on the pedal and...jerked forward to a stop. He pushed his foot down on the pedal, a frown creasing his pale brow, and didn’t move an inch. He glanced back and found himself staring into the stony eyes of Akira. He glanced down, to see that she’d just barely lifted up the back wheel of his bicycle.

 

“Mori...” Masumi said, with all the intensity of a light breeze. “What’re you doing?”

 

“I’m holding your bike up.” Akira said. “Physically, anyway, that’s what I’m doing – but I’m also holding you up, in the figurative sense, ‘cause I’m stopping you from going. Want to guess why? Too late, spoilers, it’s ‘cause you’re being a jerk and I want to know why.”

 

“I...I’m just trying to go home.” Masumi couldn’t bear to look at her any more and let his eyes fall down to the hand holding u the back of his bike. “Please let go...”

 

“No way!” Akira put her free hand on her hip. “You’re avoiding my friend and I want to know why you started being a jerk, ‘cause it’s making her feel bad and I’m not going to let that sit for long. I know that some kind of crap went down between you two, and I know that she doesn’t want to feel like that, and you’re not giving her the chance to explain herself or anything that somebody who’s not a jerk would do. So what’s the deal, Sanada?”

 

Masumi took a few steadying breaths. “I...it’s, it’s...what’s wrong with Yui?” He asked, as he swung his leg off of his bike and stood properly. Akira let go of the back and he walked to the nearest wall.

 

“She’s sad, duh.” Akira watched Masumi walk, then placed herself between him and his bike. “She said that she thinks she did something to upset you and make you uncomfortable or whatever, and then you ran off and didn’t give her a chance to talk to you, and now she’s been looking for you and she can’t even do it, and you’ve been ignoring her messages!”

 

“I’ve not been looking...” Masumi muttered.

 

“Yeah, well, when you know that’s what she’s probably doing and you ignore that, then you’re being an ass and you know it!” Akira pointed an accusatory finger at Masum’s face.

 

Masumi nodded slowly. “How did you find me if she couldn’t?”

 

“I was stal-” Akira scratched her cheek. “When I was investigating things, I learned your schedule, and now here I am!”

 

“If Yui wants to find me, why isn’t she here?” Masumi asked. “If she wanted to see me, she’d do that, she wouldn’t send you.”

 

“Uh, yeah, she didn’t want me to come find you, but the second I see her crying I’m allowed to ignore that kind of crap and solve this thing.” Akira nodded confidently. “So, what’s the deal, Sanada? You going to tell me or am I gonna have to nag you some more?”

 

“It’s not...” Masumi breathed in slowly and his voice trembled. “It’s not Yui, it’s everything, all the things. My parents found out about my streams and now I can’t do that any more. I can’t do anything that I wanted to do, and they took it all, and now I can’t...” He clenched his fists tightly at his sides. “Even if Yui hadn’t been like she was, I’d be doing this. ‘Cause she wouldn’t want to see me like it anyway, would she? She just wants to see me when I’m all dressed up and now I’m just...some boy.”

 

“...crap.” Akira said, her expression softening as she looked at Masumi. He’d thought that admitting it might have helped with the ever-present dread, but it wasn’t helping. His fingers shook and his shoulders started to hunch over, and before he knew it, he was crying again. He covered his face with his hands, tried to hide his eyes from Akira and bit his lips to silence his sobs. He didn’t even know Akira and he was already crying in front of her, a pathetic me-

 

Masumi froze up as he felt a pair of hands on him, then arms, and Akira’s warmth against him. He could just make her out through the tears in his eyes. She was hugging him to her chest, and his body kept trembling, until he gave in and leaned into her hug. He cried as she patted his back and held him close, until his tears dried up. He stood there or a couple more seconds, and she slowly released him.

 

“Y-You hugged me...” Masumi said, as he wiped his tears on his sleeves and took in Akira.

 

“Yeah, well, you needed it.” Akira shrugged. “Just count yourself lucky you were moping on the way here and got to the bikes slower than everyone else. I don’t know all the crap that’s going on with you and your parents, but it sounds like a bad deal and I did come here to help sort out whatever the problem is with you and Yui. And she seems to know more about this stuff than me, so here’s what I’m gonna do: I’m gonna fix that problem, and then Yui can probably help you with yours. Got it?”

 

“I-I don’t...” Masumi’s instinctive reaction was to tell Akira that there was no way she could fix the problems with him and Yui, or the problems with his parents, or anything that had happened in the last week. But then he looked at her confident pose, the determination in her voice… “Okay.”

 

“Really? Cool. I was worried I was going to have to start punching some dudes when I got here, so that’s good news for both of us.” Akira made a fist and flexed her fingers. “So, let’s go sort this out.” She said, as she climbed onto Masumi’s bike. “Get on the back. We’re going for a ride.” And Masumi did.

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About the author

Hazuzu

Bio: Stock art for Words on a Screen from: https://www.deviantart.com/artmasterrich/art/Closeup-of-My-Keyboard-207386064

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