Atsumu too grand and condescending, Matsuyuki too childish and whimsical, but Yukiatsu...no other way to describe it.
The corners of his lips upturn in a mocking smile.
Like Goldilocks, brimming in his own frivolous naiveté and hunger to find the perfect fit among all the world's imperfections. And, after falling asleep, tucked in between the silver quilt of docile guilt, where he could spin cotton candy lies and still be that boy on the boardwalk with the flawless smile and striped, crisply ironed tie, all that the indulging world left for him was a cracked dystopia where dreams seep into reality and nothing ever fits.
He had loved her. Loved, loved, loved her.
But in the end, it wasn't enough.
Not matter how many girls swoon over him, how many shiny silver plaques are handed to him, how many hurdles he jumps and rock walls he scales, he's always been second. Second to the shy girl in class 1-D who received perfect grades in every subject, second to Jinta Yadomi.
Even so, he pities the girls who pine after him, the girls who spend hours crafting vomit-inducingly cheesy love letters like something out of a silly shoujo manga and carefully packaging those disgusting homemade chocolates he tosses out without a second glance. After all, who wants to be second to a ghost?
He wishes this could be easy, that he could fall in love with that pretty girl batting her eyelashes at him on a whim. That he could forget about her and just fucking move on, because Christ, it's way too stupid to be in love with a corpse that's been buried in the ground for ten years.
So he smiles that same glazed, easygoing smile, straightens his tie, and makes false promises, lies that roll off the tip of his tongue with practiced ease. He enters email after email in his phone, toys with the idea of calling that girl from his home-ec class, imagines what it would be like to kiss her, taste her cherry lipgloss, tumble headfirst into her brown curls that always smell like watermelon shampoo and that gleam in her green eyes and the dimple in her cheeks, say that he loves her without feeling so much as a twinge of guilt because, goddammit, hasn't he lied enough already?
He deletes her from his contacts in the end.
Yukiatsu wonders when he'll stop being such a goddamn fool.
He goes on dates sometimes, gives his customary thin-lipped smile and leans on his elbows, pretends that he's the least bit interested in the conversation. All of these girls, they're just so dead, with their electric blue nails and hot pink cellphone charms and their plastic, plastic world of glitz and glam, of parties and late nights gossiping and those practiced, perfect lies.
But Menma- she'd been so alive, dancing barefoot in the rain and kissing the cracked earth and scrambling up the tallest tree in the forest. Living and breathing and forgiving and loving.
None of them had ever deserved her, least of all him.
But he dreams, anyways.
He catches her lingering glances, sometimes.
Sitting in glass, tapping a pencil against his chin and pretending like he's paying attention, he can feel Tsuruko's eyes on him, turns his head in time to see her jerking her head away, cheeks dusted with pink like they're two lovesick middle schoolers.
If he's feeling bold one day, he'll hold her gaze, and they'll have a conversation, just like that, quiet and honest, like it's always been for them. Silence has never felt awkward with Tsuruko, flowing and natural and easy; the rain patters on the rooftop, the sun rises and sets, and words will forever be too fumbling, too messy for them.
Little fissures in the ground, just on the cusp of truth.
You're pitiful, her eyes tell him.
He smiles grimly. I know.
Tsuruko is beautiful.
She's slender, all lean muscles and long limbs, her hair the deep, deep blue of the ocean; he loses himself in the glint in her eyes, eyes that hold the weight of the world. Lips that are pert and pink, lips that spill subtle quips that only he can understand, lips that smile only for him, and the gentle cadence of her voice, light and lilting, soft and sweet.
As he watches her jog around the track, admiring the way the sun hits the bare skin of her neck, he revels in her quiet beauty, her fragile strength, her feline grace.
He just wishes he could tell her.
Yukiatsu stops by the cemetery whenever possible, sweeping the dust and earth away, polishing the stone to a shine. He leaves little bits of his love- handfuls of wildflowers, pieces of penny candy, candles and incense and chocolate chip cookies.
He crouches down to pray, closing his eyes.
Looking at Tsuruko, it feels like betrayal.
"How do I forget and remember?" he muses. "Can you tell me, Menma?"
"You ever been in love?" one girls asks him, twirling a thick strand of inky black hair between her fingers.
He considers lying, but decides not to, just this once. "Yes."
She pouts at him, stirring her Diet Coke with a straw. "Aw, don't leave it like that! Come on, tell me more! What happened? Where is she now?"
Drowned and dead and gone, and sometimes, we still blame ourselves.
"She moved away," Yukiatsu says quietly, nibbling at a soggy french fry. To a place where I can never reach her.
"Oh," she says, looking put out. "Did you ever get over her?"
He gives her a crooked grin, tilting his head to the side. "No, I don't think I ever did."
Long after the school day has ended, Yukiatsu lounges at the front entrance, waiting for the rain to the stop. Even from underneath the roof, the wind sprays a cool mist onto his face, sending pearly droplets dripping down his cheeks.
A shadow looms over him, and soon, the mist stops.
"You'll catch a cold."
He smirks, glancing up at her. "Always the mother hen, hm, Tsuruko?"
She averts her gaze, her fingers tightening around her pink umbrella. The battered hairpin glitters from her hair, clipping her bangs in place.
Her eyes widen when he reaches up to grasp her wrist. "Sit down," he urges. "Can we just stay here for a bit?" His grip loosens when she gives a curt nod, easing into a cross-legged position. Mist begins to cloud her glasses.
The umbrella is tilted to his side, sending raindrops soaking into her shoulder.
Yukiatsu places a hand on her arm and brings her closer to him. "Careful. You'll get wet."
She tenses, turning her head to stare at him. Their noses are barely centimeters apart, and he can smell the traces of lavender perfume on her bare skin.
He presses his hands to her cheeks. "Sorry," he whispers, before leaning in to kiss her. She lets out a squeak, dropping the umbrella with the splash, but neither of them seems to care when she starts kissing him back, grasping onto his shoulder blades as he threads his fingers through her hair.
It's sloppy, it's bruising, it's fast, but it's oh-so real.
When they finally separate, her forehead is glassy with rain.
"I love you," he says, barely audible over the sound of her labored breathing.
She lets out a choked-off laugh. "Just how many girls have you said that to?"
He smiles. "About time I started being honest, huh?"