Chasing Life With You (Chapter 11)

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When the sun set that day, events seemed to take a full one hundred eighty degree turn. In other words, things seemed to go back to normal. Katsumi and Tadashi came downstairs together at around five to start prepping dinner, and they both were acting completely like their usual selves – as if the dream, the wild awakening that morning, hadn’t happened at all. They said nothing about it. I watched as the two of them fluidly moved about the kitchen, bantering and laughing, Katsumi with no trace of the prophecy on his mind and no sign on his face that he had cried. Their abrupt reversion to normalcy was in itself strange, but I accepted it without complaint. Forget my confusion; I was just glad that the earlier tension in the house had disappeared.

I turned on a music program on the TV and lounged on the couch. After exploring the contents of the fridge, Katsumi went out to the garden to pick some vegetables for dinner, and he came back with a feast. Tadashi was obviously delighted. He tied his hair back and the two of them set to work, and I relaxed for the next half hour as delicious aromas began to fill the house.

At some point in the midst of this calm atmosphere, I heard Tadashi suddenly call out my name.

I fumbled for the remote and paused the show. “What?”

“Come here,” he said. “You’re gonna learn how to cook something.”

I yelped. “No!”

“This is easy, promise. Just come here!”

“I’m going to ruin it,” I vowed.

“There’s no way to ruin this,” Tadashi laughed. “Get over here.”

I turned off the TV and reluctantly plodded into the kitchen. Katsumi was busy cutting corn and squash in wildly impressive ways; I looked over at him, wide-eyed, wondering how he managed to not cut his fingers off.

Tadashi pulled me over to the stove and gave me a pot. “Put water in it,” he said. “From the sink. Fill it a little over halfway.”

“Okay.”

I filled it up and brought it back over to him.

“Put it on the stove,” he said. “Make sure to center it, okay?”

It turned out that all he wanted me to do was boil some green beans. He’d already cleaned and cut them; he just had me boil them, and that was all. Still, I’d never done it before, and I stood over the pot embarrassed and fuming as I tried to figure out whether or not they were cooked yet. Tadashi stood next to me the whole time, giving basic advice, all the while smiling gently and trying not to laugh.

“See, Chas,” he said when I’d finished, “easy, right?”

“Maybe, but anything harder than this and I’ll ruin it,” I replied adamantly.

Tadashi shook his head. “That’s what everybody thinks about everything they don’t yet know. See, you’re letting me teach you guitar, you’re letting me teach you how to cook – doesn’t it feel good to learn something new? A couple weeks from now you’ll be laughing at how much you underestimated yourself.”

“Boiling green beans isn’t cooking,” I said. “Holding a guitar isn’t playing it.”

“There’s a first time for everyone and everything in this world,” he replied.

I scratched my head. “Maybe, but…”

Katsumi came up from behind and threw his arm around my shoulder, startling me. He looked at the plate of green beans I’d just boiled, and then he looked at Tadashi and threw his head back and laughed.

“You made Chas do it,” Katsumi grinned. “That’s so funny.”

“It’s not funny!” I objected. “Gross, your hands have corn juice all over them, don’t touch my shirt!”

Katsumi ignored me. “You look nice with your hair tied back,” he said to Tadashi.

Tadashi blushed a little. “Thanks.”

“Ahem,” I interrupted, “can I go back to my show now?”

I managed to escape back to the living room, but before long, it was dinner time. As usual, we all moved out to the porch to enjoy the meal. Tadashi loaded my plate with the green beans I’d cooked, accompanied by a dipping sauce he had made, and I enjoyed them thoroughly.

“Aren’t you proud you made something that tastes good?” Tadashi prodded me from across the table.

“A little,” I admitted. “But it’s mostly your sauce that’s good.”

“It needs more salt,” Katsumi cut in.

I laughed at hearing his typical complaint. Yes, I thought, he’s gone back to normal.

After we finished dinner, Tadashi surprisingly brought out a couple of cases of beer.

“We bought it at the market the other day,” he explained. “Do you drink?”

“Not really. I’ll just have a little.”

He poured me some, and then filled a glass for himself and sat back down.

“None for you?” I asked Katsumi.

He shook his head slowly. “No.”

“Katsu drinks alone,” Tadashi explained to me.

He leaned back and started to drink, and the three of us sat around the table in a soft companionable silence, watching the sun dissolve over the trees.

I’d never gone drinking with Tadashi before, so I had no idea how he might react to alcohol. Everyone reacts differently, I knew – some people get crazy, some people fall asleep, and so on. It turned out that Tadashi was a silent but very happy drunk. As the evening wore on and he kept pouring himself more glasses, he spoke less and less, but he couldn’t hide the flushed smile on his face. I watched him a bit warily out of the corner of my eye, surprised at this new side of him that I hadn’t seen before. The feeling of normalcy surrounding dinner had left me.

At some point, as the world around us fell into a deep, glowing darkness, Katsumi struck up a conversation.

“He gets a bit wild sometimes,” he said to me, nodding at Tadashi sitting between us. The person in question didn’t seem to hear a word he’d said, still just smiling absently off into the night.

“Drinking?” I asked.

“Yeah. He doesn’t drink often, but when he does, he drinks a lot. And he gets ridiculously happy. He does it to get happy, I think. To momentarily push away the sadness.”

I nodded. “A lot of people do that.”

“It’s no good,” Katsumi said. “But we all need something like this once in a while.”

“Are you going to let him just keep drinking?”

He shook his head. “At some point, he’ll get really crazy happy and start acting up. After that he’ll throw up and pass out. Happens every time.”

It didn’t take much longer to reach that peak. While I was talking with Katsumi about something or other, Tadashi suddenly started trying to kiss him. Katsumi laughed and pushed him away a few times, but after a minute or so he gave in, leaned over, and kissed him back. I blushed and looked away in amusement. Not long after, true to Katsumi’s word, Tadashi looked like he was starting to get nauseous.

“Take him upstairs, would you?” Katsumi asked me. “I want to stay out here a bit longer.”

“Sure.”

I helped my ridiculously drunken friend to the second floor bathroom, cleaned him up, and got him to bed.

Afterwards, I thought I might go out to the porch again, but as I entered the kitchen I saw outside Katsumi’s lone figure and something inside me paused. I stared at Katsumi’s back and bit my lip, wondering. He was, for the first time all night, partaking in the beer Tadashi had left out on the table. I watched him drink for a moment, nodded silently to myself, and turned around.

After everything that had happened that day, it was no surprise he wanted to be alone.


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Chasing Life With You (Chapter 10)

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Tadashi whipped up some breakfast sandwiches, and the two of us sat down to eat on the porch, trying to enjoy the beautiful post-sunrise atmosphere. Before long, Katsumi came downstairs and joined us at the table. He looked at neither of us and said nothing. He was wearing a loose, comfortable-looking gray shirt and khakis, and his black hair was still wet from the shower. He dug into the meal in silence. I watched him warily out of the corner of my eye. I was trying to figure out what he was feeling, but that was really an impossible task. Considering the way he had woken up this morning, he seemed preternaturally calm… the sea before a storm, I thought. Or is it after?

“Chas,” Tadashi said after a while, “any plans for today?”

“Mmm, I think I’m going to listen to your album,” I replied.

“Cool. Let me know your thoughts, okay? Anything else?”

“Not really.”

“Want to give guitar a try?”

“Oh, sure!”

“Let’s do that this morning. You can listen to the album after lunch. How’s that?”

There was something of a point to his words, some kind of hidden motive, but I couldn’t quite figure it out.

I nodded. “Fine by me. Thanks for breakfast. This sandwich is really good.”

Tadashi smiled. “I’m glad you like it.”

I glanced at Katsumi, part of me expecting him to butt in with one of his typical banterous rebukes, but he gave no indication he’d even heard our conversation. Tadashi followed my gaze, frowned, and focused back on devouring his food.

In the midst of this uncomfortable silent tension, the three of us finished our breakfast and cleaned up. Tadashi beckoned me up the stairs; Katsumi followed us up but then whisked by and vanished into his room. Tadashi looked after him for a moment, quiet and unreadable. Then he met my gaze, set his jaw a little, and led me into the studio.

“Sit down here,” he said casually, pulling out a chair.

I plopped down obediently and watched as my friend crossed the room and picked out one of his acoustic guitars from the rack.

“Let’s go with this,” he said, turning back to me. “I like this one. It should be easier for you to play.”

He pulled over another chair, sat down, and rested the guitar on his leg for a moment to demonstrate how to hold it before handing it to me. I took it, slightly surprised by its weight and size. As I experimented with getting accustomed to this new item, Tadashi began to talk about music, about the differences and similarities between various instruments, about how a guitar actually works, about the sounds a guitar can make. I tried hard to understand what he said and commit it to memory.

For the entirety of the morning hours we spent in the studio, I did not actually learn any chords or try strumming or anything. I simply sat there with the guitar in my lap, listening to Tadashi’s impromptu lecture, asking questions whenever I had them. Tadashi brought over another one of his guitars so that he could demonstrate various things to me as he talked about them, and I paid as much attention as I could. It was a somewhat strange experience for me. I hadn’t learned anything new in a long time, at least nothing as new as this, and I didn’t know how I should feel about it. But some part of me was very tangibly thrilled.

Sometime around ten or ten-thirty, Katsumi walked in. Tadashi was in the middle of playing part of a complex guitar solo in front of me; he stopped midway and stared as Katsumi entered. The black-haired musician ignored us, walking to the back of the room and picking up a left-handed bright yellow electric guitar. He sat down in the corner, set up quickly, and started to play something very fast and very loud.

Tadashi looked back at me. Rather than being annoyed at the interruption, his expression seemed slightly triumphant.

“Thanks, Chas,” my friend said, leaning in close so I could hear. “Let’s stop for now, okay?”

“Okay. Thanks for the lesson.”

I gave him back the guitar and left the two of them in the studio together. Unsure of what to do next, I wandered downstairs and loitered aimlessly around the kitchen for a while, listening to the chaotic music raining from the floor above.

I wonder what he thanked me for… That was kind of weird.

Slightly unsettled, I poured myself a glass of cold water and sat down in the living room. Outside, birds vibrantly chirped about, and upstairs, Katsumi’s solo playing went on and on. As I gazed out the window I thought about the various events of the morning, beginning with that horrifying scream. It was definitely a change of pace from how rhythmically relaxing the past few days had been. Suddenly remembering, I opened up my laptop to jot down my impressions of my first guitar lesson.

Just as I was finishing up my notes, I heard Katsumi upstairs cut himself off. I cocked my head towards the abrupt silence, wondering what might be going on. A few minutes passed, and then Katsumi started playing again, on acoustic this time. He launched directly into a song, and before long Tadashi joined him. The melody was strangely familiar…

The two of them began to sing, and then it struck me.

That’s right, I thought. It’s the song they played for me that first night. What was it called again…

“Unsuitable.”

I sat quietly and listened to the song for the second time all the way through. It was just as beautiful as it had been a week ago. I wondered why Katsumi had chosen to play it – why this song, and why now. I don’t normally try to psychoanalyze people, but his strange behavior the whole morning had been a mystery to me and I wanted to understand it. More than anything, I wanted to know what his prophetic dream had been about – but fat chance of finding out, I knew. If he wasn’t telling Tadashi, there was no way he’d tell me.

Unsuitable…

As the song came to a close, I silently agreed with the conclusion I’d come to after first hearing it: strange name, and strange lyrics, for a love song.

Katsumi didn’t play anything more after that. Without a partner to play with, Tadashi came downstairs to start making lunch, and I sank into the couch to get some work done, trying to put the jumbled events of the morning out of my mind. But it wasn’t happening. I was already swept up within that strange seventh day, and it wasn’t ending anytime soon.

Lunch came and went; Katsumi didn’t come down for it. I helped Tadashi clean up the kitchen, then lay down on the sofa and put my headphones in to listen to their album. “Unsuitable” was the twelfth and final track. I ran through the whole album first, to get an overall feel of it, and then the second time around I opened my computer and wrote down my impressions for each individual song. The style was diverse and captivating, and the technique and quality were on point, as I’d come to expect from the two. Taking in the album as a whole left me breathless with awe at the power these musicians had to convey and control emotions, to inspire and impress, to leave somebody in tears of joy and sorrow simultaneously. And with that morning’s guitar lesson, I couldn’t help being hopeful and excited at the idea that I could be that powerful someday.

I headed upstairs to find Tadashi, bursting to talk to him about it. He wasn’t in the studio or in the workout room, and the door to his and Katsumi’s bedroom was closed. I went to knock on it – but as I leaned in I heard something that stopped me in my tracks.

I couldn’t tell what it was for a moment, but then I suddenly knew: Katsumi was crying.

I stood outside their room in shocked silence, swallowed my excitement, and and fled back down the stairs. My thoughts on the album could wait.


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Chasing Life With You (Chapter 9)

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Several days passed with nothing in particular of note. I ate, slept, walked around the garden, and went on my phone and computer; Tadashi and Katsumi cooked, cleaned, and played music. I relaxed into this lifestyle in a pretty passive way. It was slow and leisurely, like a dream retirement. But of course, it couldn’t always be that way. On my seventh day at Katsumi’s family home, several things happened that would almost entirely change the course of that whole summer.

I woke up that morning to the sound of Katsumi’s screams. They weren’t the crazed, shocked, hysterical type of scream – his voice was full-throated, terrified, and, for lack of a better word, tragic. If I could make up some kind of story about it, it was like he had just come across a serial killer standing over the body of his one true love, bloody knife still in hand. Katsumi turned and ran, and the serial killer chased him. It was that kind of scream.

I bolted out of bed, my heart pounding, and ran into the hallway. The other bedroom door was still closed; I banged on it worriedly. “Katsumi?” I yelled. “Tadashi? What’s going on?”

Nobody answered. I tried the door and found it locked, and resigned myself to shifting back-and-forth in front of it, agitated. What could be happening in there? My storyteller’s imagination went wild, and I choked on my own thoughts. Katsumi went on and on; Tadashi started yelling over him, his words entirely incomprehensible. Nearly a full minute later, the screams and shouts finally abated, and the house was plunged into a deafening silence.

“Hello?” I asked hesitantly.

A few moments passed, and then Tadashi came to the door. He opened it just a crack and looked out at me. His eyes were charged, his expression unreadable; he was shirtless – both of us obviously just out of bed, though I had slept in thin pajamas – and his long blond hair ran messily down his shoulders. For a moment he just met my gaze, his mouth slightly open, struggling to find words. He glanced over his shoulder, defeated, then turned to me again.

“Sorry,” he said. “Everyone’s fine. Hold on and I’ll tell you about it later. Just… go downstairs or something.”

Then he pulled back and closed the door, basically in my face, without saying another word. I was shocked. I swallowed the response I hadn’t finished forming, mechanically went to wash up in the bathroom, and then plodded down the stairs, stunned into obedience. I crashed on the couch, checked the time on my phone – just barely 6:30 – and closed my eyes.

Tadashi came down some fifteen minutes later. He had washed his face, brushed his hair, and changed into a navy blue short-sleeve button-up and chino shorts. He glanced at me almost absently, poured himself a tall glass of water, and chugged it. Then he came over and sat next to me.

“Morning,” he said casually.

“Morning,” I replied, my own voice still slow and tense.

“Woke you up?”

“Yeah.”

“Scared you?”

“Yeah.”

“Sorry about that.”

I shook my head. “What happened?”

“Um… Well, first of all, Katsu had a bad dream.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. But… it wasn’t just a normal nightmare.”

I blinked, surprised. “What do you mean?”

Tadashi was calm and serious. “Chas, you can believe me or not, I’m just going to tell you things as they are, okay?”

“Okay…”

“Sometimes,” he said, “sometimes Katsumi has prophetic dreams.”

I thought about that for a minute. “You mean, like, he sees the future?”

“Yeah, well, not exactly. His dreams are usually of events that are going to happen in the future, but when he wakes up, he rarely remembers them. He just hangs on to bits and pieces, so it’s like a preview, like a movie trailer or something. And later when the event actually happens, the whole dream comes back to him.”

“Uh-huh… So you’re saying Katsumi had a prophetic nightmare this morning?”

Tadashi nodded. “I think so.”

“What was it about?”

“That’s the thing… he won’t tell me.”

I frowned. “Does he normally?”

“Yeah. That’s why I believe that sometimes his dreams are prophetic, because usually when he wakes up he’ll immediately tell me what he remembers, and then later on we’ll both experience the real thing. But today, for some reason, he isn’t telling me what his dream was about, and that worries me.”

He paused and studied my face. “Do you believe me, Chas?”

“That Katsumi has prophetic dreams? Sure.”

“Really?”

I shrugged. “It’s not that crazy. Stories about people who are like that are pretty common. And you aren’t the kind of person who would just go around saying things without having really thought about and analyzed them – so if you believe it, I believe it.”

“Okay,” he said, sounding relieved.

“Is he okay now? Katsumi? His screaming was really something.”

Tadashi nodded. “I haven’t heard him scream like that in a long time… when he woke up he just kind of sat on the bed for a while, not looking at me, not talking. I went to wash up in the bathroom, and when I came back he stood up and went into the bathroom after me. He’s taking a shower right now. I think he’ll be okay, but I have no idea how he’s gonna behave today, especially with you, so…”

“I’ll keep my distance unless you’re there,” I said. “Don’t worry about it.”

“I wish he would tell me what that dream was about…” he murmured with a quiet sigh. “Anyway, are you hungry? I’ll make something.”

He got up without waiting for my answer and wandered into the kitchen. I stared after him wonderingly, then sank back into the couch and closed my eyes again.

It’s too early for this, I thought. But I guess it’s too late to go back to sleep.

And so it was that we got a headstart on that fateful seventh day.


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Chasing Life With You (Chapter 8)

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Lunch came and went, and in the early afternoon I settled back down onto the living room couch, browsing aimlessly on my computer. Nothing in particular aroused my interest – I was just wasting time. I do that a lot. Meanwhile, Tadashi and Katsumi cleaned up the kitchen and then vanished up the stairs one after another. I checked out the blogs and social media feeds of a few celebrities I like, and then spent half an hour on a pointless online word game.

Just as I was finishing that up and wondering what I should do next, the sound of electric guitars came blaring from the studio upstairs. I closed my browser, raised my head slightly, and listened to Tadashi’s swift, skilled tuning. First he did one guitar all on its own, and then he picked up the second one and tuned it to the first. I found out a while later that he has perfect pitch – no surprise there. Even without that trait, he’s always had exceptionally good hearing. Relaxed on the couch, I closed my eyes and waited for the two guitarists to start playing something.

As the days went by I’d learn to differentiate the sounds and styles of the guitars and figure out who was playing what, but for the time being I just accepted the music as it was, with no names attached. They warmed up for a few minutes, one of them running through some scales, the other playing an exceptionally fast, complicated melody. Katsumi tested out his voice, too. After this was a short pause; then they launched freely into a song. For this piece, there was some prerecorded drumming going on in the background, and Tadashi contributed no backing vocals. I listened with intense curiosity. The pace was faster than the song I’d heard last night, and the rhythm was far more complex; the guitar solos were spaced well apart with some kind of interlude between them, and in a lot of places the two guitarists were playing entirely different rhythms laid on top of each other. Last night’s piece had certainly impressed me, but this one captured my attention in a very different way.

And what about the lyrics? Even though he was all miked up and belting soulfully, I didn’t really catch Katsumi’s voice all that well, so I couldn’t really tell what the song was about. But, guessing just from the tone and melodies, it was certainly on the rougher side. The song they’d played the night before had been more of a soft, introspective, heart-wrenching ballad; this one, on the other hand, made me want to get up and take action, to get in a fight with someone over something I found worth fighting for – at least that’s how I imagined it.

Suddenly inspired, I opened up a new document on my laptop and wrote down my impressions of the song. Maybe, I thought, writing about music wouldn’t be so bad after all. I just had to learn the terminology, get to know the artists, listen to the songs more, and it would be just like any other article… right? And if the music was like this, like what Tadashi and Katsumi had just played, I might even be able to enjoy it.

Before they could start on their next song, I bolted upstairs and poked my head into the studio. There was an intimidating mess of instruments and equipment everywhere. Katsumi, who was adjusting his headset and monitors, saw me and gave Tadashi a surprised, somewhat perplexed look; my friend glanced over his shoulder, met my gaze, and smiled.

“Hey,” he said, turning to face me. He muted his guitar with one hand while brushing back his hair with the other. “You been listening?”

“Sorry to interrupt,” I said embarrassedly.

“That’s okay. What’s up?”

“You said you release your music digitally, right? Is there like a website or something? I have no idea how that kind of thing works…”

Tadashi grinned. “I’ll set you up with it after dinner, okay? Just remind me, in case I forget.”

“Okay, thanks. Also… can I stay and watch?”

He looked at Katsumi; the black-haired musician shrugged. “I don’t mind.”

“We’re just running through some of our old songs right now,” Tadashi explained to me, “so it’s probably a good time for you to listen in, too.”

“Is it okay if I bring my computer and write down my impressions of the songs?” I asked.

Katsumi scratched his head. “Yeah, whatever, but probably best if you don’t publish it – especially not for a real article.”

“Better if you talk to our manager first for stuff like that,” Tadashi clarified. “Otherwise she’s going to give you some trouble for it.”

“Okay, I won’t,” I promised.

I brought up my computer, crashed on the floor in a corner of the studio, and spent the rest of the afternoon watching, listening, and writing.

The two played on for hours without paying much attention to me, a behavior which I appreciated. I wanted to observe everything as it was, without interfering or changing it. The notes I made were nothing special – there was nothing you could describe as technical, no professional evaluation or criticism. I just jotted down how each song made me feel, and that was about it. But I would later come to believe that this kind of emotional, surface-level writing was just as important, and in some ways just as valuable, as the real thing you might find in a music magazine.

While listening, I observed their instruments and the equipment they used, trying to learn as much as possible. Having had no background in music, especially not of this kind, I was basically starting from scratch. It was like catching a glimpse of what life was like in a different universe. Tadashi would eventually explain everything to me properly, but for the time being I just tried to soak everything in.

I wasn’t at all sure why I was suddenly interested in their music. Maybe it was because it was my old school friend making it. Maybe it was because I was living in the same house with them. Maybe there was something special about their songs. I really hadn’t a clue. But whatever the reason, I knew in my heart that this was what I’d been searching for when I had started asking around for a summer place in the countryside – I needed cleansing, emotional and physical; I needed to jumpstart my stagnant life; and I needed writing inspiration. And here it all was.

The guitars, the lake, the people – everything was perfect.

After a few hours of on-and-off playing, Tadashi left to start prepping dinner. Katsumi fell back onto a chair and rested. He was breathing a little hard, but it seemed like he’d had a good time. His voice had come out well, I thought. I made no attempt to strike up a conversation, wondering how hard it must be to sing.

After a few quiet minutes he faced me and asked, “How was it?”

“Great,” I replied.

“Yeah?”

To be honest, I was still slightly wary of being alone with Katsumi. Sometimes he would be casual, sometimes he’d be just as friendly as Tadashi, and other times he’d be too friendly – as I mentioned, wild. But I was slowly getting used to these changes in his mood. I imagined the surface of the ocean, sprawling from horizon to horizon; sometimes it would be stormy and surging, sometimes the shifting waves would be of an average, expected size and shape, and other times the sea would be calm and still. Right now, tired as he was, and having loosened up with an afternoon of music, he seemed pretty relaxed. So I wasn’t too worried about having a conversation alone with him like this.

The worst times to catch him, I’d eventually learn, were either late at night or, in the event he hadn’t slept well, early in the morning. During the day, especially when he was with Tadashi, he was generally pretty tame.

“So you like our music?” he asked.

“I like it a lot,” I admitted. “More than I thought I would.”

“Anything in particular about it that you like?”

I thought about it. “Your vocals… when the two of you sing together. Two human voices singing together, that sound is really powerful, I feel. And you make good use of it. Also, just your personalities, the way they come out in your guitar playing… and the variety of style. The way you sometimes use recorded backing tracks, and other times play alone, that kind of thing. It keeps it really interesting. Each song is different and incredibly unique… that’s new to me. Most of the stuff I hear on the radio or in stores just all sounds the same. So I like the creative, artistic drive behind your music, it’s refreshing.”

“As expected of a writer,” Katsumi said. “You think carefully and speak meaningfully. I like it.”

I flushed. “What’s that?”

“Most people will just say ‘the melody is really catchy’ or ‘your voice sounds good.’ I like the way you think about it and really detail what you like and why it matters.”

“Oh… well…”

“That’s one of the reasons why I like artists,” he said. “They’re sensitive to this kind of thing, and they care about it.”

Artists…

I learned a lot that summer. About Tadashi, about music, about life – but also about myself.


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Taiga (Chapter 6)

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Now, don’t get me wrong here. It’s not like Taiga gave me this magical speech and immediately I became a good person. Something about his words tugged at me, that’s all, and I decided to go to one of my classes that afternoon for no other reason than I suddenly felt like it. I didn’t think all that much about Taiga’s lecture, I didn’t start contemplating morals or ethics or the sad state of my life at that moment. I just went.

It was a history class that I had signed up for, as I mentioned earlier, just to meet the minimum unit requirement to stay enrolled. You might be wondering why I even bothered to apply to college in the first place. I didn’t have much idea about that, either. But from the beginning, I’d been told that going to college after high school was just the thing to do, so I just went and did it. This has been a pretty common pattern in my life: I just go and do things, without really thinking about them.

Anyway, this particular class turned out to be a sweeping overview of world history – go figure – and on this day that I attended, the professor was talking about imperialism. I arrived to the lecture hall a bit late and sat in an empty seat in the back row near the door. All the students around me were taking notes; I didn’t even have a pencil to write with, let alone paper to write on, so I just watched and listened.

Did I know anything about imperialism prior to this lecture? No, not really. And I didn’t care to hear about it. But I was there, and the professor’s voice was loud, so I couldn’t help anything. She went on and on about imperialism and capitalism and their definitions and their impacts on human history, and somehow, for some reason, I actually paid attention. Maybe the alcohol had jacked up my brain.

After the class, as I was slowly making my way back to the dorm, I spotted one of the guys from the train gang – not the leader, just some other dude – walking toward me. I don’t think he actually saw me, since he was staring down at his phone the whole time, but just to be safe I ducked into the closest building and took an incredibly roundabout way home. I didn’t want to talk about that whole incident with anyone, let alone one of the guys who had almost killed me.

I arrived at our suite some thirty minutes later and found it empty. Taiga and Isabella had cooked, eaten, and left without me, as usual – not because they didn’t want to spend time with me, but because I never wanted to spend time with them. Anyway, I was glad they were gone. I took off my jacket, threw it on a chair in the kitchen, and checked the fridge to see if there was anything I could eat. There was a new bowl of curry rice, still slightly warm; I glanced at the dish rack and saw two similar bowls, empty. I heated up the curry some more in the microwave and settled down for a delicious lunch.

Isabella didn’t always cook for me. Most days I’d eat out somewhere or just have something stupid like cup noodles, or else I wouldn’t eat at all. But occasionally, she or Taiga would leave some leftovers in the fridge, and I’d just take it without asking. They never said a word. Sometimes, I suspected, they purposely left food for me – like when the leftovers would sit in the fridge untouched for a few days, or if there were a lot of leftovers for a meal that really shouldn’t have been a problem to just make two portions. I couldn’t comprehend for the life of me why they’d do that, but I didn’t think about it too much. I just took the food and ate it.

Taiga came back home before I’d finished eating. He saw me at the table, smiled, and went into our room without saying a word. I went on eating and watching pointless videos on my phone. After a few minutes he came back out to the kitchen wearing his work clothes.

“How’s the curry?” he asked.

“Um,” I said. “It’s good.”

“Not too spicy?”

“No.”

“Do you prefer your curry spicy or sweet?”

Slightly dumbfounded, I replied, “I don’t really care…”

Taiga nodded. “Isabella and I both like it pretty spicy, that’s why I was asking.”

I couldn’t fathom why he was making small talk with me. I just kind of nodded and mumbled along. He talked about curry for a little while longer, and then he said goodbye and headed off to work.

It occurred to me then that I had no idea what his internship even was. I’d never thought to ask. When it came down to it, I realized, I didn’t really know very much about him, or Isabella either. Back then, I didn’t know much about anyone at all – not even myself.

I finished my lunch, dumped the dishes in the sink, and almost instantly passed out on my bed. I figured there wasn’t anything better to do, anyway. I didn’t feel like searching for a party or hitting the streets, and it’s not like I was about to start my three weeks’ and four classes’ worth of homework. I napped for a few hours, woke up, went on my phone, and then rolled over and fell asleep again. By the time I finally pulled myself out of bed, it was nine o’clock at night. The world outside our window was dark and unforgivingly silent.

For a few minutes I leisurely paced around the room, waking myself up and trying to remember what I had been dreaming about. It had been a bad dream, that I knew, but I didn’t remember any single detail of it. And I hated that. That’s saying something, really. I didn’t have strong feelings about very many things, but I hated not remembering my nightmares with a gut-wrenching passion, and I still do. Something about it bothers me.

Eventually I gave up on my memory and went outside. Isabella was puttering around in the kitchen; she looked over at me, nodded without smiling, and went back to cleaning and washing dishes. Taiga was sitting at the table with his computer in front of him, an online textbook on one half of the screen and a note-taking application open on the other. He had early on taken up Isabella’s policy of not using paper unless absolutely necessary. He turned around in his seat to look at me, gave a slow, soft smile, and waited for me to say something.

“Hey,” I said awkwardly.

“Hey,” he replied.

“… I, uh, fell asleep…”

“Are you hungry?” he asked. “There’s some soup in the fridge.”

“Oh.”

“You can just cook some noodles to go with it.”

“Okay.”

He nodded, turned around, and resumed studying, and I went up next to Isabella and put a pot of water on the stove to boil. None of us said another word.


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Previous: Chapter 5

Next:

Ritual

“Just follow me,” she’d said, and I’d followed her without looking back.

Today is our one-year anniversary. Technically, we’ve known each other for much longer, but exactly one year ago, we’d made it official. Sometimes it matters to make things official – something about the formality, the gravity of it, the sudden sense of responsibility. I don’t know. I’m not the type to wonder about stuff like that. I’m just saying that today is our one-year anniversary.

In the morning she surprised me with flowers and my favorite breakfast foods; in the afternoon I surprised her with flowers and a lunch reservation at her favorite restaurant down the way. Our apartment is filled with flowers now, and we’re stuffed with great food that took a lot out of our wallets, but no matter. Rituals are important, and flowers and food are ritual.

Tomorrow I’m going to surprise her even more. I have all kinds of things lined up – presents I’ve made, experiences I’ve ordered and reserved. I can bet she has more surprises for me, too. And that doesn’t come from any narcissistic, self-important heart I might have; we both just have a penchant for surprising each other with gifts, especially on important days like our one-year anniversary.

Anyway, right now, we’re cuddling on the couch. She has her head buried deep into my layers of polos and button-up shirts – it’s been incredibly cold lately, so don’t you judge me – and I have my arms around her. That’s what’s happening, nothing more, nothing less. People don’t touch each other as often anymore, that’s what I think. Hugging, holding hands, touching, cuddling. Never see it. Especially among people who aren’t in a relationship. Isn’t it sad? We could all use some more of this stuff, don’t you think?

So there we were, all cuddled up on the couch, and after a while of this my girlfriend suddenly lifted her head up and looked me in the eyes.

“Haku,” she said.

“Mmm?” I replied.

“I’m glad I met you.”

I smile a little. “I’m glad I met you, too.”

She reaches up to touch the side of my face; I close my eyes, savoring the touch. Then, as usual, she starts to play with my hair. Long and brown and curly, some typical nondescript girl’s hair. She twirls it around her slim fingers, studies it for a while in great concentration. I watch her and wonder what it is about my hair that she could possibly find interesting.

Well, when you think about it, there’s a ritual contained in that, too. She knew it, and I knew it, and that’s all that ever mattered. Right?

That’s all that ever mattered.

Borderlines

“You will not remember me.”

You will not remember me.

It wasn’t the words themselves that gave me pause; it was something in the way he said it, the way he spoke, the way his mouth moved to give form to the sounds. The boy looked at me and said, with absolute certainty, “You will not remember me.” It wasn’t arrogance, or stupidity, not a false assumption nor some dumb superficial pride. He wasn’t trying to impress or intimidate, either. He was just stating a fact. He spoke his line in exactly the same way he would have recited Newton’s universal law of gravitation from last year’s physics class. You will not remember me.

It gave me chills.

It’s not that foreign of a phrase. Maybe I’ve read it in a book before, I don’t know. Maybe I’ve heard it in a movie. But those were always fake, always on the other side of reality, and this boy was certainly here, on my side, and he was very real to me.

“Wh-what’s that?” I managed to reply.

“Don’t worry,” the boy said. He patted me on the arm in an oddly mature, adult way. “I’ll be gone soon, so you don’t have to worry about anything. Your work, your girlfriend, nothing like that.”

I shook my head. “Okay… But I don’t understand.”

“I just wanted to see you,” he said. “I’ve missed you.”

I choked a little in surprise and confusion. “Sorry, but I don’t know you. You have the wrong person.”

“No, no,” he said. “See, Haku, here’s the thing – we haven’t really met. Yet. Right now you don’t know me, but one day you will. Except you won’t remember.”

“What?”

“I just came to see you,” he said. “And I wanted to tell you this: it’ll be alright.”

What will be alright?”

“Everything. School – you’ll graduate, promise. Work – you’ll get a good job. And then you’ll get fired, but you’ll get another one. Family – they’ll come around eventually. Your mom will love you again. She still loves you now, and it’s very hard, but one day it won’t be hard anymore. When your girlfriend dies she’ll realize how much you loved her. Your girlfriend’s death will be alright, too, by the way. And eventually yours. You’ll get through it all. Everything will be just fine.”

I shook my head again, speechless. The boy gazed into my eyes and smiled gently.

“I have to go now,” he said. “You won’t remember me, but that’s okay. We’ll meet again. I just wanted to tell you that it’ll all be alright.”

It’ll be alright…

He nodded and walked away, and that was that.

Taiga (Chapter 5)

Table of Contents

Previous: Chapter 4

Next: Chapter 6


When Taiga came back from his class, he found me on my feet, pacing around, struggling to outsmart Isabella while dealing with a throbbing headache. She wouldn’t let me out of the room – Taiga’s orders, but also her own – and I’d attempted practically everything short of violence in my wild desperation to leave. I didn’t want to face Taiga so soon, but it seemed Isabella would make sure of it.

He opened the door, looked at Isabella, looked at me, and smiled. That’s right – he looked at me and smiled. Ever graceful, he closed the door quietly behind him, took off his backpack, and set it on his chair. Then he took off his navy blue windbreaker and hung it up in his closet. I stared at him, waiting, wondering what he was going to say. Isabella vigilantly continued blocking my path to the door.

Taiga brushed back his hair with one hand, then nodded at Isabella. “Thank you, Issa.”

“My pleasure,” she replied.

They both stared at me. I was itching to leave – I couldn’t stand this strange tension, the air feeling like it would right before a great storm or earthquake, something unnatural getting ready to be released. Of course, it was all in my head, but that didn’t make it any less real to me. I just felt an overwhelming urge to run.

An animal – trapped in a cage, or cornered and on its way. That’s what I thought I was. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Taiga spoke softly at me. “How are you?”

There was no edge to his voice, no sense of anger or even disappointment. I shook my head slightly, confused at the question, but answered anyway.

“My head hurts.”

He nodded. “That’s how it is,” he replied simply.

“Why’d you come?” I asked.

“Why’d you go?” he countered.

I frowned. Taiga swept on before I could say anything else.

“It’s not any of my business what you do with your life,” he said. “You want to join a gang, spend your nights drunk and high and committing crimes, throw away any possibility of you being happy and content in the future, well, go ahead. That’s your prerogative.”

I nodded along with his words, growing more confused by the second. When I didn’t respond, he leaned toward me slightly, a gentle smile crossing his face.

“That’s what you think, right?” Taiga said.

I blinked. “Um. Yes?”

“That’s the problem,” he replied. “I think you’re wrong there. It is my business what you do with your life. And it’s your business what I do with mine. You’re human, aren’t you? And we all know humans are social animals. See, whatever you choose to do with your life affects me, and Isabella, and everyone else around you – even the family you claim to hate, the family you claim hates you in return. What do you think will happen if you get yourself killed? You think the world will just keep spinning, time will just keep flowing, all these people will just keep living as if nothing ever happened? Because if you do, you’re wrong. Human life doesn’t work that way.”

I tried to cut in, but he raised a hand and continued on.

“And what if you, in one of your criminal sprees or drunken antics, end up killing someone else? Accidental or not, you stole someone’s life away. You think the universe isn’t going to care? Listen, I’m not going on about karma or anything religious – these are basic fundamentals of human existence. We all have a responsibility towards each other, can’t you see?”

I stared at him. After a moment he sighed and looked away.

“You can go now,” Taiga said. “I just wanted to talk to you. Just think about that, okay?”

He turned to Isabella, his speech apparently over, his tone lightening. “What’s for lunch?”

“Oh, I was thinking some kind of stew or curry,” she replied. “Let me go see what we have in the fridge.”

“Sounds good. I’ll help. I don’t have work until three.” He glanced at me, smiled, and then followed Isabella out to the kitchen.

Alone in the room, I found my urge to run away had vanished. I sat back on my bed, tired, drained. My head hurt for more reasons than one. I drank some more water and then laid back and closed my eyes. Gazing into the internal blackness, I thought about nothing – I just breathed. In, out; in, out. Some kind of weird meditation, I guess. It actually relaxed me a lot. But I didn’t go to sleep.

Instead, a half an hour later, I got up and went to class.


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Previous: Chapter 4

Next: Chapter 6

Chasing Life With You (Chapter 7)

Table of Contents

Previous: Chapter 6

Next: Chapter 8


After a relaxed, delicious morning meal, Katsumi and Tadashi headed out to the market. I cleaned up the kitchen a bit – it was the least I could do, if I’d be boarding at their place for free all summer – and then grabbed my laptop and settled on one of the soft chairs in the living room. First I checked my email. There was one message from someone I didn’t know, asking me to write an article for some sort of private publication. I made a note on my to-do list to look them up later.

After emails, I settled into actual work. I was in the middle of writing about an interview I’d held of a pretty popular local musician. Like I’ve said, I’m pretty far removed from the world of music, so doing interviews with musicians or writing articles on music always made me nervous. But lately I’d been trying to get out of my comfort zone. I opened up the transcript of the interview on one side of the screen, and my work-in-progress article on the other side, and just got to it.

Time passed smoothly, silently, at a perfectly unhurried pace. Occasionally I would take a break and look around and stretch out my neck. Several times, I closed my eyes and listened to the birds chirping outside. I found the natural soundscape out here incredibly interesting. I knew there was silence everywhere, but it hadn’t really occurred to me that different places filled that silence in different ways. Here in the woods, in the middle of nowhere, the sound of the birds was layered on top of a silence that was in itself complete; the birds weren’t necessary for the auditory environment to be in balance, but they were still an integral, valued part of what kept the air at peace. Very different from the city, I thought.

I finished my article in a little over an hour, and saved it to be proofread and revised later. I’d learned that it generally wasn’t a good idea to spot check your work right after you’ve written it – you need to look at it at another time, with a pair of fresh eyes, and a clearer head. I figured I’d look at it tonight or tomorrow, and submit it to the magazine editor tomorrow afternoon.

With that assignment done, I checked my email again, studied my to-do list to see if there was anything important, and then closed my computer. There wasn’t much to do; I decided I’d go out for a walk. I went up to my room to put on a hat and sunscreen, slipped my Swiss-army knife and phone into my pants pocket, and ventured into the semi-wilderness.

Given that this was my first day, I didn’t feel brave enough to just go wandering in any particular direction, so I just followed the walking path down to the lake. Various little birds and insects fluttered in the air amidst the trees. I walked slowly, observing, drinking it all in. The path got a little steep in places, and there it had been buttressed by human hands, with planks and ropes tied taut between nearby tree trunks. I watched my footing, moving carefully, and held onto the ropes as I made my way down.

Several minutes later, the woods spit me out onto the sandy, pebbly lake shore. I exhaled in slight relief, glad to have reached my goal, and walked up to the water’s edge. The clear blue water lapped gently at my feet; I took off my shoes and stepped into it, relishing the sharp chill. I gazed out at the perfectly flat surface of the lake, and smiled at the woods on the opposite shore.

What a place to be…

Staring out into this seemingly untouched, perfect wilderness, I was overcome with a sudden urge to just throw myself into it, to flee the rest of the world, to flee human society and just go. Not a very unique or creative feeling – I’m sure anyone in my shoes would have felt the same, and certainly many people have done so throughout history. But it was a strange, surprising feeling for me. I’d been pretty content with my life back in the city. The same old, boring routines, the same environment, the same people – this kind of static existence suited me, and I hadn’t given it a second thought. So I was pretty unsettled that I suddenly wanted to run off and become a hermit. I stood there quietly, slowly adapting to the temperature of the lake, testing out this newfound urge inside me.

This is dangerous, I realized.

Don’t lose your head.

I blinked slowly, backed out of the water, and started heading up the path towards home. I wasn’t prepared to face nature like this. Not yet.

Once I was back in the house, I went to the bathroom, splashed water on my face, and crashed again onto the living room couch. Needing a distraction, I opened up my computer. After a couple minutes I found a pointless movie to watch and quickly pressed play. I didn’t actually care about the movie. It was one of those films that go in one eye and out the other, so to speak, just something you put on to waste time. I just needed some human connection again, so I put the movie on and stared at it until I heard Tadashi and Katsumi pull up in the driveway.

“We’re home,” Tadashi announced as he entered the front door. His arms were full with four cloth grocery bags. Katsumi came in right behind him, carrying an equal amount.

“Welcome back,” I said happily, standing up. “Need help?”

“That’s okay,” Tadashi replied.

They set the bags on the wide kitchen counter, and started stocking the fridge and freezer.

“What’ve you been up to?” Katsumi asked.

“Oh, nothing much. I got some work done, then I walked down to the lake for a bit.”

Tadashi flashed me a look. “Really? Alone?”

“Not the greatest idea,” Katsumi put in. “Especially on your first time.”

“Well, you had to do it eventually,” Tadashi said.

I nodded, glad that they both seemed to understand. “Anyway, how was the market?”

Katsumi grinned. “We had to wait a bit for them to open, but the upside was that we were the first customers in, so we got first dibs. Look at all this good fruit and stuff!”

Tadashi said to him solemnly, “If you don’t make us a good lunch, I’ll be mad.”

“I’ll make something disgusting,” Katsumi replied assuringly.

“Yeah, disgustingly salty. How about you teach Chas how to make something?”

“Oh no,” I cut in quickly, “I can’t cook for my life.”

Tadashi laughed. “Yeah, that’s why I told him to teach you.”

“I’m down,” Katsumi said. “I’ve got just the dish.”

“Whatever I make will actually be disgusting,” I warned them. “It’ll test the limits of disgusting. I’m serious!”

I kept insisting, and eventually the pair gave up, to my great relief.

Tadashi sighed. “One of these days, Chas, you’ll have to learn. But I guess for now it can wait.”

“Can it wait ‘till I die?”

He laughed at that. “What’s so scary about learning how to cook?”

“It’s not scary,” I replied, shaking my head. “I just can’t be bothered. I don’t want to deal with it.”

Don’t want to deal with it,” he repeated with great interest.

“Weird,” Katsumi said.

“Right?” Tadashi replied.

They both grinned sympathetically at my embarrassed face. Having just about finished unloading the groceries, Tadashi closed the fridge, and Katsumi folded the cloth bags and went to put them back in the car. I looked at Tadashi, and he smiled gently at me.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “We won’t force you to learn how to cook.”

“Phew. And here I was thinking–”

“At least not yet.”

“Hey, wait!” I started.

He grinned mischievously and fled from me. “We’ve got all summer, Chas,” he sang as he ran up the stairs.


Table of Contents

Previous: Chapter 6

Next: Chapter 8

Taiga (Chapter 4)

Table of Contents

Previous: Chapter 3

Next: Chapter 5


I woke up the next morning, in my own bed, with a terrible hangover and practically no memory of the night before.

I opened and closed my eyes, stretched out my mouth, pressed my fingertips to my temples. I was hoping I’d feel better enough to fall back asleep, but no such luck. I lay on my messy sheets, incredibly awake, incredibly pained, and starting to get nauseous. Normally I don’t have such a bad reaction, but that just goes to show how much alcohol I’d really consumed the night before.

Somebody had opened the window blinds to let the sunlight in, and in my state I couldn’t stand it. I opened my mouth, swallowed an aching dryness, and managed to say in a surprisingly capable loud voice, “Close the window!!”

Nobody answered me. I didn’t know if anyone was even in the room. I sighed in my head, tried to fall asleep again, and failed again. After a while, with some of the pain and nausea fading, I rolled over onto my side and spotted Isabella, sitting on her bed across from mine, doing work on her computer.

She looked over at me, her expression completely impassive. She didn’t say a word. We stared at each other for a moment, and then she lowered her gaze back to her computer screen and went on working. There was a strange tension between us that hadn’t existed before, and I couldn’t comprehend the meaning of it. I kept staring at her, my mind completely empty, and after some five or ten minutes she closed her laptop and met my eyes.

“Good morning,” she said.

Her voice wasn’t cold – it was just neutral, and that alone startled me. Normally her tone was friendly and open. On this morning it was closed off and unreadable.

“Good morning,” I replied slowly, nursing my dry throat.

Isabella sighed. “Hungover?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t throw up. I’m not cleaning it for you.” Her voice curled up a bit, prodding me. “Do you want something?”

“Can I have some water?” I asked timidly.

“That’s five words out of six.”

“Please?”

She nodded, got out of bed, and went to get me some water. I waited for her to return, gazing around at the empty room, feeling alone and scared for the first time in years.

“Where’s Taiga?” I asked when she came back.

“Class,” Isabella replied. She handed me a glass and I gingerly sat up in bed to drink it. Immediately I started to feel better, though I knew the pain would probably last for quite a long time.

“Does he always go to class?” I said, amused at that idea.

Isabella sat on her bed to face me and scowled a little. “Don’t underestimate him. Taiga’s not some stereotypical snobby teacher’s-pet rich kid. He goes to the classes that are necessary and productive for his education, and skips the ones that don’t help him.”

Her words rolled over my head. “Okay, okay. Whatever.”

She started prodding me again. “Do you remember what happened last night? Anything at all?”

“No. Why?”

“Do you not think that’s a problem?”

“No,” I said honestly.

She sighed. “What are we going to do with you? Really.”

Something in that irked me. “Nothing,” I said, annoyed. “You have no business getting involved in my life. It’s mine and no one else’s, and I can do whatever I want with it. I’m the only one responsible for me, and I like it that way.”

“Keep telling yourself that,” Isabella replied. “But one day you’ll understand that it’s not true.”

“What’s not true about it?”

“Take last night,” she said. Now her voice was edging on cold. “You say you don’t want people getting involved in your life – well, last night, Taiga got involved. You’d have died if he hadn’t saved you. Do you understand that? You’d be dead – dead and gone – and he might be dead too, on account of trying to save your worthless self, and for the rest of the semester I’d be living in a single at a discount rate because both of my roommates went and died on me for no reason at all. Are you listening?”

She was talking too fast, and I couldn’t keep up. I closed my eyes, fought off an intense desire to just flop over and go back to sleep, and spoke slowly.

“Isabella, what happened last night?”


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Previous: Chapter 3

Next: Chapter 5