Close to you
Sometimes it feels like the world is too little, like places are too crowded, like connections are too wide. When you realize that your childhood friend is a friend of your boyfriend’s sister and she knows your boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend who, by the way, has tried to flirt with your boyfriend’s childhood friend who, you guess, has a crush on your own childhood friend… well, you realize that the world is just fucked up.
We stood, all the characters, in one place.
On this side of the counter: Yumi, Tetsu, Ken and I. On the other side of the counter: Hikari, Kokoro and Hana. Oh, and floating around was Chibi Ken.
If there is a God somewhere, well… he must have been pretty bored to arrange such a thing.
It actually seemed to be a competition, but I’m not sure if it was “Who is paler?”, “Who breaks the silence first?” or “Who is more uncomfortable?”
‘Or maybe “Who can name all the fucked-up relationships without stuttering?”’
Or that too…
We all seemed to look for something else to watch but one another. Yumi was looking through the window, Ken at the floor, Tetsu at the counter, Hikari at the door, Kokoro at her hand, Hana at her dress. Me? Oh, I was just watching the chair next to me.
Someone dared to break the silence, after maybe 5 minutes of uncomfortable and (watching it from outside) pretty laughable silence.
We all, instantly, turned toward the brave Kokoro, whose face was so pale that her light brown hair appeared almost black against her frame. Her lips were tightly shut, in a straight line, almost like she regretted the word that had escaped from them.
Before anyone could react, the voice I knew so well responded with a choked “Hi” by my right, only to become the target of our glances some seconds later.
It was as though two balls of energy had collapsed and left a calm silence behind… again. And the next thing that was heard was not words but steps.
In a flash of green, little Hana let go of Hikari, ran through for the door of the counter and practically jumped at Tetchan’s arms, laughing between tears.
It took us all a moment, including Tetsu, to register her movement and by the time we all did, Hana was kissing Tetsu repeatedly on both cheeks, desperately clinging to his collarbone.
And when we actually woke, Tetsu was already crying, hugging his little sister as though the end was near.
I could not begin to express the sudden tenderness I felt towards the whole situation. I felt like I was a part of the perfect re-encounter scene that played before me. Watching him, the one that meant everything to me, hugging his 10-year-old sister, crying and kissing her… I felt as though I was a part of it, a passive character that smiled on the background.
The next thing that happened was that Tetsu, carrying Hana, opened the counter door and Kokoro almost instantly walked toward them, and without further ado hugged them both, burying her face on his brother’s shoulder, already crying.
At that moment, when I felt the tickling and burning sensation behind my own eyes, I realized that Yumi had gotten a hold of my left arm and was weeping without a sound. When I was about to turn to look at Ken and Hikari’s reaction, Kokoro spoke.
“But I don’t get it, how do you know Hikari?” she said to Tetsu, wiping her tears with her hand.
“Oh well, she is my…” Tetsu started, with the biggest smile upon his face, not really caring about anything but the moment.
“…girlfriend! I am his girlfriend” ended Hikari, smiling ‘innocently’.
‘Oh, you bitch!’
Kokoro then turned to look at Hikari, her eyes wide. A surprised little yell came from her mouth.
“Oh my god! I’m so happy for you!” she yelled as she jumped in excitement, now looking towards a confused Tetsu. “Mom is going to be so thrilled when she hears this!”
“Ogawa Kokoro! If you tell my mother anything that has happened here, I’ll make sure that we never meet again” said Tetsu almost immediately, with this big brother voice that fitted him perfectly.
Kokoro just laughed and kept repeating things like “I won’t tell anyone” and “Gosh, you make such a cute couple!”
By this moment, my hands were on fists, my eyebrows were deeply furrowed and my jaw was tightly shut. One thing was that Hikari wanted to fuck with us by telling a dirty lie, and another was that Tetsu didn’t care to deny it!
‘Do you expect him to yell “NO! THIS BEAUTIFUL BOY IS MY BOYFRIEND, SHE IS A SLUT!” to the sisters he met after who knows how many years?’
I was about to open my mouth and say something… ANYTHING! when I felt Yumi’s calming hand at my back, patting me. She used to calm me down with that simple gesture in the past, and I have to accept that it worked at the moment too.
“Wait, and how do you know Yumi and Hide-san?” now said Kokoro, who apparently had dropped the ‘Tetsu and Hikari forever’ flag.
“Oh! Well Hide-chan is… I met him by coincidence and he is now living in my apartment, along with Kenchan and me. And Yumi is actually Hide-chan’s childhood friend” he stated matter-of-factly.
I have to accept that I found myself feeling miserable at his lack of feeling as he stated this. Coincidence? A man that came to live with him and his best friend? That was all?
“Oh! I actually go to the same high school as Yumi! And I met Hide-san yesterday at the ice cream parlor across the street, and I actually came to say hi to him. I didn’t expect to find you here, of all places!” she said, looking at Tetsu.
“Oh really?” he answered slowly, with a hint of distrust.
He looked at me as though expecting to find an excuse behind my eyes for not telling him that I had met his sister. I couldn’t control myself and I looked back at him, furrowing my eyebrows as saying ‘I should ask what are you doing!?’ But he actually ignored me and turned to Kokoro.
I couldn’t stand it any longer and without looking back, I turned on my heels and walked through the kitchen door. I was met by silence and light, which instantly blinded me.
I wanted to yell, cry and laugh at my feeling of… what exactly? What had I expected Tetchan to do? Proclaim our ‘relationship’ to everyone? Or had I wanted him simply to express a certain… what?
Before I had time to question the situation more Yumi walked through the kitchen door, arms spread out to hug me. She knew I didn’t know what to feel or think, and she always silenced my confusion by offering me a sincere hug.
I hugged her and buried my face on her tiny shoulder, letting my long, curly brown hair fall at her back. Outside the kitchen, Kenchan was laughing and apparently Kokoro too. But I didn’t want to know anything.
I felt betrayed and ignored and at the same time I understood that I was to be ‘another friend’, at least to the people outside our little world.
“Just don’t think” whispered Yumi close to my ear, patting my back in a motherly way.
And I did it, I stopped thinking. Some minutes after that we stood, both Yumi and I, behind the counter again, knowing full well that something had broken in the kitchen and was lingering there, waiting for the time to come.
He didn’t talk to me the rest of the afternoon, neither did he found a change in attitude when the sun went down and the time to close down the café was near.
Hikari, Kokoro and Hana had left after some thirty minutes of chatting, a conversation I only remember as his face floating in front of the window, bathed in the reflection of the sun in the sidewalk, his red hair a halo around him in the sunlight. His eyebrows gently furrowed, listening intently to every word and looking at everything he could… except me.
The only words I remember where “Let’s go and dine together, you, Hikari, Hana and me! I wanna know so much about you!” spoken by Kokoro and to which Tetsu answered with a simple “Sounds great! Be here at 7:45” At that instant, I felt almost invisible, like someone had killed me and my ghost was listening to the conversation of a loved one that had already forgotten me.
I couldn’t grasp the memory of that same morning when he had hugged me in front of the mirror and kissed me so tenderly. It was far away, the memory… and the touch of his lips against mine was an alien thought, almost like it had all been a dream.
Some two hours after the girls had left I was sitting behind the counter, watching him come and go between tables, taking orders and cleaning messes. For an instant he lifted his head and looked in my direction, not at me but definitely close to where I was, and when I could already see him smiling to me with his beautiful, innocent smile… he looked away. And that was the closest he got at truly looking at me.
Comment! :D <3
They arrived exactly at 7:45, by that time we had almost everything set to go. Yumi had stayed with us, but she actually spent almost all the afternoon in the kitchen, excusing herself with something like “What can I do next to you on the counter? I’ll better help Kenchan in the kitchen”.
I didn’t want to think anything, and I didn’t. I was too frustrated and angry at Tetsu for ignoring me that I ignored too the sudden laughter that erupted in the kitchen from time to time. Well, at least someone was having fun.
Yumi joined me at the counter to greet Hikari, Kokoro and Hana when they arrived, followed shortly after by Ken. Thanks to their chitty-chat and my trembling hands product of the frustration, I had to count three times the money to scratch the right amount on the counting book.
When I was done with this and was cleaning the counter to get some time (so I didn’t have to talk and start yelling) Tetsu got closer, untied his apron and left it to my right, far enough to get me even angrier, not close enough to touch me. Then, he placed the café keys on top of the apron. For an instant, he sighed almost inaudibly and I could feel his eyes on my neck, for I was still bent cleaning. But maybe I just imagined it, for the next thing he said was “I’m going, close down the café for me. I’ll be out late, don’t wait for me”.
I heard the girls and Tetsu’s steps. The door opened and the door closed. The bells on top of the door chimed for a moment, and then fell silent.
I was frozen on my spot. He didn’t… do anything. He didn’t say anything else.
Yumi and Ken where watching me, I could feel their stares. So, I did what I had to. I sighed, finished cleaning and took off my apron and, along with Tetsu’s, hung it where it belonged. I did all this in complete silence.
They hadn’t moved and inch. I looked at them.
“What are you waiting for?” I said, like nothing had ever happened.
In that instant they did multiple things. Yumi went to the kitchen to get her purse and car keys, Ken grabbed the café’s keys and turned off the lights.
Some minutes later I was sitting on the expensive and luxurious backseat of Yumi’s car. But this time there was no red-haired man by my side, no one was laughing, there was no music.
…Only the cold murmur of the engine against the cold noise of the city around us. Our breaths were practically silent; everything was silent against the sound of the city.
For the first time since I met him, five months ago, he was not there smiling. He wasn’t blushing or holding my hand. He wasn’t there to light the scene with tranquility and fill me with sensations unknown to me.
He had left me behind. He had ignored me. He had thrown me into a dark corner where his sisters only saw me as “that guy”.
I felt like I once felt in that dark room that I used to call “home”. I only saw the reflection of life outside the window, a cold and unfeeling life. The flicker of light danced away in the emptiness.
Every burning light that appeared before my eyes hurt, because I knew perfectly well that it would disappear seconds later, leaving behind only the scar on my retina, a phantom that danced between times.
I was alone.
And as we drove through the city in silence I realized how hopelessly lost I was. But most importantly, I realized how madly I hated him then.
How madly I wanted him out of my life.
Just to stop the pain… just to stop dreaming.