Hiya! Sorry this took a while. I got bombarded with school stuff and got busy with my other fanfic! I'm really sorry for the delay. Unlike what I promised last chapter, this is NOT YET THE END OF THE FANFIC. The next one will be that. I thought I could get everything done in this chapter but it turns out I was wrong. I didn't want to overwhelm y'all with too much stuff again hehe. Anyways, thanks for your kind reviews and for reading everyone! I really love and appreciate you. Anyways, without further delay, I do hope you enjoy this 2nd to the last summarized installment of To Reach You! Have fun!
Winter arc (Summarized): To Reach you (Part 2 – The day of giving and taking)
For some reason, on this particular cloudy winter afternoon where Karma needed a hot chocolate and a lot of noise to drown out all his thoughts, he ran into Mai in a convenience store. She greeted him a happy birthday. He was almost flattered she remembered. Almost. He doesn't feel like he can stand seeing her today, not when it was the very same day he would make a permanent decision that will probably kill him but let all of them live peacefully. As contradictory as that sounds.
But she tried to get into a conversation with him. He tried to get her to go away as soon as possible, but then her friends were there. They're caught in a tight situation because they think Karma is her boyfriend.
"Uhhh…" Mai sweat, rubbing the back of her neck. She looked at Karma who was not at all amused by the situation, then got an idea.
She flung her arm around him. "This guy's my little brother!"
"Hah?" Karma doubted if he heard that right.
"Eh, really?" one of Mai's friends said.
"Oh, wow! He's pretty handsome!" said another. Karma looked between his senior's friends – they looked convinced.
'What part of us looks like?' Karma scrunched his brows.
"Yep! So obviously, we're not dating!" Mai beamed.
'How suspicious can you get?'
"Hehh…I kind of admire how you have a little brother Isura-san! I always thought you were the older sister type!"
"I didn't know about this and yet I was her friend since middle school!"
'What the hell is wrong with these people?'
Later, when she got them to go away with some excuse about meeting their 'mom' in another store, Mai had turned to him – completely serious. Then, catching him like stalked prey in a foul hunting game, she brought up an issue he'd been desperate to avoid all day until he needed to, and it made his mood even more sour.
"Okuda-san always lacks confidence in many things. Always unsure – that's how she appears to me," she said, eyes troubled, yet tone firm. "She gained confidence because of you. If you turn away from her, what will happen to all the confidence she built up? Okuda-san doesn't have a clear understanding of how you see her. This attitude of yours is trapping her."
Karma kept his back turned and cursed how she had him cornered here, in the middle of the footbridge high above cars frozen in winter traffic, where he can barely escape.
She pressed on, hand on his shoulder, as if to ensure that. "You're mad at yourself because you hesitated? Is that it? Is that really all it took to tear you two apart?"
"Leave it alone already." The words were as sharp as knives. "You're annoyingly persistent."
Mai gasped. Karma shoved he hand away with his shoulder. "I get that you're always trying to be a good senior to us and help out, but there are things I don't need you meddling your nose in. This problem isn't yours."
The corners of his lips downturned, he said with the intent to sting, "So, Isura-senpai, you don't have to push yourself to help out anymore."
But then, she shouted, "That's not what this is about!"
She grabbed his sleeve. Karma whipped around and faced her. Isura-senpai had never been angry, but the brokenness of that voice, the way her hair curtained her expression yet spoke volumes for her as it danced violently with each word, was enough to amount to a glare that made his eyes flinch.
"You finally found it and yet…!" His coat wrinkled around her fingers. "You finally found it and yet…! You threw it away like just that…"
When she lifted her head, blue eyes shone like a wall of glass about to break from heaps of grief. In them, it was as if he saw weeks of cloudy winter mornings pass, and a clubroom with nothing.
"How can you be so smart and not understand what you're doing!?"
With nothing he could say, Isura Mai let him go, and walked to the other side of the footbridge, leaving him there with the words,
"I never…wanted to see that."
Yuzuki and Sugino ran into one another in a book shop. Good thing they aren't as awkward as they used to be.
He noticed she didn't buy manga, but manga-making materials. When he asked, she easily opened up about it.
"I've been meaning to buy these since the Cultural Festival. Up until that time, I was convinced that I could only be an editor of manga, since I doubted I'd ever be close to the greatness of the mangakas I know. But, well…after I tried out what I could do and did my best at it in the festival, I suddenly felt like I had potential – I felt better about myself and didn't feel as incapable as I always did. That's why I mustered up the courage to earn some money and try my hand at this…"
Sugino nodded – so these were the feelings behind her changes.
"And, I'm just saying but, I won't tell you how I got that money."
Yuzuki just nodded. That didn't answer any question but he just rolled with it.
As they drifted away from the store lights and busy crowds, Yuzuki continued, "You see…I've got nothing on me."
She kicked a pebble off the bridge and into the river below. She watched it taken easily by the dark and by the currents. Flowing away yet it mattered to no one.
"There's nothing I've been able to do on my own throughout the year. So I figured…" Her expression hardened, even if she kept her eyes on her path. "This time – I want to have at least one thing I can look back at and say, I did that."
Her head was low. "There's a lot I'm terrified of by doing this, but I want to think it's better than looking back and knowing I did nothing at all."
Sugino picked up on that somber tone – the plethora of complicated emotions dancing within troubled eyes. She must also feel worthless for doing nothing when everything fell apart.
He frowned. Sugino figured it was also the right time for her to know what haunted his mind too, since the winter started.
"You know something," he said. Yuzuki turned to him. "Somewhere down the road...I'd thought of giving up on her."
"Kanzaki-san, I mean."
Sugino's eyes were on his feet, so he missed the wide, wide eyes that watched him as closely as a hawk yet as anxious as a deer.
"I've thought about what you said and...you're right, I only ever did anything for others not to be inconvenienced. Even on the day I smiled when she said she was going to an all-girls high school …the thought of not being able to get the chance to get to know her more really frightened me. But in the end…that was just me being a coward."
He was startled to see her look so shocked when he faced her. He wondered briefly if he had said something wrong. She kept her lips sealed tight, which may mean he hadn't.
"You haven't got nothing, Fuwa-san." He smiled. Yuzuki knew it was forced to be warm, but he was timid and rather abashed behind it, as he said, "In fact, you've...got it all right."
'No!' Yuzuki Fuwa shook her head as if she wanted to hear her brain rattling. 'I can't be happy! I can't be relieved...!
"W-well, I-I wouldn't take it to heart but I'm, erm, I appreciate the thought. D-don't take it that personally, though. W-what I said about you being a coward, I mean uhm, I don't think you have to really believe that, you know! That was just drama talk! Just like in my favorite shounen manga scenes!" Her laugh was breathy. Sugino must have thought she was embarrassed, and chuckled back. But the truth was, she only wanted to hide – from him and from herself – her next thoughts.
' Because if I start feeling that then I'll…I'll hate myself…'
You finally found it and yet…!
It didn't take him long to figure out what she meant by that. Here he was again, in that spot that day where he witnessed that senior roll down that steep hill on her bike. Her barfing on the bushes by the river. And a conversation on what he found precious.
Everyone needs something precious to keep themselves going.
Karma sighed, scratching his head. There goes his plans of finding peace of mind before the storm.
He was just going to throw another chocolate drink into the trash can by the vending machine when a car suddenly pulled over next to him. The window rolled down. Mikagura-sensei's cheeky grin showed itself like a badly executed surprise.
"Looking cold, aren't we?" She put a hand over her mouth. Karma felt dead inside, but he was sure his narrowed eyes were showing her that right now.
"Need a ride to where you're headed?" She tapped her steering wheel and winked. "All I'm going to charge is the sweet, sweet company of a younger man in this lovely Christmas evening."
Karma threw the empty bottle into the car. It was such a perfect bullseye to her face her glasses flew off.
Mikagura looked ready to run him over. "What the hell?! I'm still your teacher goddamn i-!"
"Pervert," he said.
"I was just kidding!" She stuck her head out and slammed a fist to the side of her own car. "As if I'm capable of doing that kind of stuff!"
"You're incapable of a lot of things regarding men, Sensei." He raised an eyebrow. "But contrary to that belief, you don't come across to me as someone who's above that."
"How dare you say that to me on Christmas of all da –!"
"So, what did you want?"
Mikagura's indignant reply was cut short. She frowned. This boy really was perceptive.
She sighed, "You're less fun than I remember."
Then reached over to the back. Confused, Karma leaned closer to the window. His teacher then handed him a tiny box. "I don't do this with most students, but I have one for all you troublemakers as your forced supervisor of the club. So, Merry Christmas, I guess."
"Oh…" Karma studied the small box, wrapped in cream-colored paper patterned with golden stars, all finished up in a blue bow. He'd never received one from a teacher since…
"Thanks…" was all he could say, still in the middle of making sense of it.
As the wave of questions took over his mind (maybe he was thinking if this was some sort of bribe), Mikagura could no longer ignore how dispirited this boy looked. Even if he looked healthy enough - hair fixed, lean and not skinny, and he didn't look like he was on anything suspicious. Just really, really...out of it. Though his usual self was a pain, seeing him like this just wasn't right.
"So," she tried, grinning. "How are things going?"
Karma lowered the box, sighing as he shoved the box into his pocket.
"I don't know if I can answer that question."
"Hm?" she hummed, almost sounding playful. "Well then, how's it going for you? Top of mind answers are okay. This isn't a test after all."
"Pretty bad then," he said.
Honesty was a good start, she supposed. "Somebody seems mad."
Karma rolled his eyes. "I'm not mad. Everyone's just annoying."
"And that makes you mad."
Karma glared, yet he debated if to respond to her would be a waste of time.
"About what, however, is something that does not escape me." The way Mikagura stared at him was distant, yet so close at the same time. Like an investigator, but one that knew what boundaries were. "Though it seems to me, it escapes you."
Karma turned away, wondering how to get out of this. Should he walk away or flatten her tire?
"But even from here, Akabane, I can see that you're trying your best to grasp it," she said. "And I think that's very adult of you."
His eyes widened, and he looked at his teacher again. She didn't bother putting her glasses back on, but this way, he could see clearly she held nothing back. Green eyes holding no judgment, no worry, no ulterior motives. Just eyes that truly saw him, holding the understanding he thought no one would have.
He had no idea what Mikagura saw was a wounded animal trying to patch itself up. The noblest act in this world that only ever received shaking heads by the end.
"I don't want to take that experience from you, but take it from someone who does that all the time. Try too hard, it might keep slipping out," she said. "You can keep trying until it doesn't, but…"
She was surprised he just stood there, listening to what she had to say. It convinced her this was a kid, after all. She smiled. "But you can try to keep your hands steady, too. It might just fall into place with ease."
Karma's brows knitted. He thought for a moment, then asked, "Why are you telling me this?"
Oddly enough, he got a smirk from her. In that moment, he felt like he stood in that strange in-between of being her student and being her equal.
"I'll see you when school starts again. I made plenty of deals with the authorities to heighten your budget for next year."
Karma's lips thinned. That sounded sketchy.
"So I can't wait to see you kids back at it again with everything you've got."
You didn't answer the question…
She started her engine again, and before the window completely rolled up, she said,
"Happy birthday, Akabane."
Rio found Rinka looking for chocolates to buy in the ground floor of the Don Quixote in the shopping district. The DonQui jingle was all that filled the air between them for several moments.
But then, out of everything she expected,
"Ah, Nakamura," Rinka said. "I've been meaning to see you."
That was not on the list.
Apparently, that chocolate wasn't for Chiba like she initially thought, but for her. She found that out when Rinka had somehow led her to a bench overlooking the city Christmas lights high above, in front of an empty shrine.
"This supposed to be a peace offering?" Rio asked, scrunching her nose.
"You can say that, or shut up and eat it," Rinka said before popping a chocolate puff into her own mouth.
There was an awkward silence between them, though Rio felt it was largely one-sided. Her side.
"You…" Rinka started, "like Nagisa-kun, don't you?"
Rio nearly fell off the bench. Where did that come from?
But Rinka had keen eyes on her, as if they would not allow her to escape. Rio hated herself for it, but there was no running away. With no pride or glory to the fact, she sighed, gaze low. "…So you did see it."
"Nothing escapes my eyes."
"But...finding out helped me make sense of you, now." Rinka looked at her. "And the consensus is, who you are is not how you act. In fact, almost always, they contradict each other."
Rinka then talks about how for the whole year, they've had a rocky relationship, but that's because she had no idea how to understand Rio. She now knows that Rio's actions are not translations of her feelings and thoughts. She may mess things up, make trouble, make people feel mortified, but that's how she goes out of her way to help someone. Rinka had to be honest and say she didn't like it, but she understood it. They were alike in that regard. It was respectable.
However, the contradiction between action and feeling goes beyond her desires to help. It's entrenched in her personality, for this is what she knows how to do in the face of the most mundane and most serious things. When faced with adversities like a group of bullies, or when faced with typical teenage things like the boy she likes.
Rio gritted. "You know I don't have a choice with that."
Rinka closed her eyes, and envisioned a pigtailed duo, green and blue, and just how perfectly they belonged. How everyone said that too.
"They are happy, yes," she said.
"All of us wanna keep it that way if we could help it, right?" Rio said.
Rinka sighed. "And it is because you're used to being shoved in that corner you can't escape, it was what fueled your actions when it came to finding out about her past."
Rio gasped. Rinka turned away from her, unwilling to break her own will with the sadness she saw. "I'm on point, huh?"
Rio stayed silent, fingers clenching her coat. Rinka took that as a cue to continue. "But that's where it went wrong. You all thought you knew what would keep her happiness because you knew what she'd think. But…you'll never be able to know how she feels…"
Rinka recalled the summer when she threw a tray of food, wasting it all on a misunderstanding with a boy she adored so much, when he hurt her, she thought it was her fault. "Somewhere down the road…we all really just confuse what happiness is to someone. It's the reason why even people in love fight each other."
But she also remembered that same summer, and a sweet girl's small shoulders, and her big white smile. 'You can call me Manami.'
"We might want to be the reason for someone's happiness, but people's feelings are not ours to decide...or control," she said. "The only happiness we're sure of is our own."
When Rio still wouldn't look at her, Rinka took a deep breath, facing the other way too.
She heard Rio whip her head. Rinka continued. "I thought I could shake my own feelings of guilt and worthlessness by painting you as the one at fault. But I learned quickly doing that only invites them more."
Emerald eyes finally meeting blue, Rinka said, "It took me some time...and some help to realize the things I'm saying to you right now. For that, I apologize."
In the silence that came, there was understanding as well. Rio would've said something, but words flew away with the weight she bore for weeks since this began. In the lightness of the moment, Rio was afraid of the unnecessary things she might say that will ruin it. It felt as if she'd been waiting her entire life for this feeling – this peace of mind.
Rinka smirked. "I didn't actually think that would make you so happy."
Rio scoffed, but in good nature.
"But I suppose the simplest of things are all it takes to achieve happiness. Gratitude, apologies…" And Rinka couldn't help her smile when she remembered a grinning yellow octopus as the first between the two to believe in her. "Precious little niceties we can't forget…"
It seemed Rio saw the same face in her memories then, and both of them looked up. The crescent moon where his lights once ascended was especially bright tonight.
"People are but simple creatures after all. We get emotional over the simplest things, and we hold dear the simplest things. Before we know it, we already are happy."
The stars mixed with the lights of the city was like gazing into the galaxies themselves. It was like a scene they could leap into, with the confidence that they will find what they're looking for.
"So stop overthinking it, and just continue being our friend."
Rio turned to her. Rinka had her deadpan stare back on and shrugged. "The clubroom isn't the same without the resident pandora's box opener anyway."
The blonde struggled not to laugh. That sounded so unlike her. "So that's all you came here to tell me?"
"Actually, it was Yuzuki-chan that told me to tell you that," she said, smiling. "I thought I would leave you a note with the chocolates in your house, but I took inspiration from you, and merely pulled you into your brand of chaos."
Rio no longer held back her laughter. She did so freely. She thought she sounded completely unladylike, but it felt right. For once, something she did around Hayami Rinka felt right. When before, it was Rinka that was overcome with self-doubt and insecurity, maybe it was appropriate that the tables turned with the both of them.
Rinka thought too, that at last, she found it in her to accept a person for what they can and can't be other than Chiba. For once, perhaps, she might have found another kind of best friend.
"I'm," Rio calmed her laughter, wiping a tear from her eye. "I'm sure I'm not the only one who needs to be told that."
The reminder of the fact made Rinka drop her smile momentarily.
'With a guy like that, who's hard to keep up with…seeing him fall behind is refreshing to see.'
Rinka put clapped her hands together and bowed.
"What the –?"
"I'm making a Christmas wish."
Rio checked her watch. "At 8PM? For what?"
"A positive outlook."
Manami panicked. She was a minute late. That was unforgivable by Japanese standards.
Maybe he'll forgive her because he's half foreign?
She stopped herself from spiraling into these thoughts when she finally caught sight of his hair by the light of a watch store next to the supermarket, on the emptier side of the pavement. By the lamppost, just like he said.
Karma saw her too. Stone-faced he remained, even if it felt as if his insides were being masticated in painful churns the closer she got, especially with that bright smile and glowing face she had that he knew he had no credit for. He grit his teeth. Yeah, he had zero credit for that. Why did he even bother.
Just like that, the meanings and different prospects he'd mulled over in his senior's and teachers words were extinguished. There was nothing else in him than what he saw through reflected on Okuda Manami's spectacles.
The most pretentious damn bastard he'd ever met.
Greetings were exchanged, though he didn't smile at her like she thought he would. Didn't make a joke. Didn't do anything that reassured her she was talking to the Karma she knew. So even if his birthday and Christmas gift were ready in a bag right behind her, she waited for the version of him she knew to come out. Because she wanted to celebrate this day with him, but how could she when he wasn't there?
"You know what?" he suddenly said, and her eyes darted to his after watching her fidgeting feet. He was stoic.
"Let's just stop this already." Before she could ask, he went on and said, "If I'm being honest, the you right now is an eyesore to me."
Manami didn't know what broke first – her train of thought, or her spirit.
His words and reasons for why drowned out. He said something about leaving the club. Making Sugino the president, perhaps. Seeing her around in the halls, but he wants nothing to do with her anymore.
You're an eyesore.
Waves of a thousand cuts from her memories of the same words being said to her by mean girls and boys, by the demons that used her voice and Inari's were back – like a vomit she'd already pushed down back to burn her throat.
But why? Karma-kun why? She desperately wanted to shout. Why? Why? Why?
Then she remembered all that she did to him. The things she said that must have cut deep. That time she gave him every reason to give up on her. The deepest cuts she'd ever inflicted on a person were the ones she did on him.
'If I died too then –"
And just like that, even with all the light around her, Manami felt like she was in a dark, dark place.
"We can leave it at that," his voice had come through. She had no idea what 'that' meant.' "So you no longer have to worry don't have to worry about that now, Okuda-san."
Manami felt herself go numb. And with wide, haunted eyes, she lifted her head and saw a look in his eyes that made her doubt if she knew him. Because even if he was right there in front of her, he felt so, so far.
He must have said something – a parting formality – before he turned and walked away. Manami stood there dumbly, the rest of the crowd just passing her by, giving her that bare minimum space. The seconds fleeted away. The stars continued to twinkle. The snow kept falling on her head. She thought it might be a matter of time before she's buried under it but she still couldn't move.
He got lost in the crowd. He's gone now. Her reason for coming out has left her with no other choice than to go home. And that sounded better than waiting for herself to literally freeze there forever, the logical part of her mind said.
You can move on from this too, it continued to say. So she listened to the part of her that brought her out of the dark clouds once. She listened, for she knew she can't let them take her again.
Manami turned her heel, making her way. Opposite the way he went.
If Karma-kun doesn't want anything to do with me anymore then I can't stop him…I can't force something that isn't going to work out, and that's fine.
The snow made her boots feel heavy. She kept going.
That's fine but…
Her steps slowed.
That's fine but…
She stopped again.
It should be fine but…
Manami wondered why raindrops were falling on her shoes. That didn't make sense. It's too cold for rain. But this rain was hot, relentless like a storm, fogging her glasses and drenching her face, because she couldn't take that he left her,
Calling her that.
"Why is it this painful...?!" She cried, spinning around, eyes darting in all places.
"No...No he's…" she swallowed, running back to the lamppost. She grabbed it and from there, searched and searched.
Where was his red hair? Where was his tall figure?
Where was the boy she shared her afternoons with? Where was the boy who consumed her nights with telephone conversations? Where was the boy who gave her the best things she could be?
Where was the boy who, for the entire time she knew him, was the one person she believed would always be there?
And why was he not?
Manami shot off from the lamppost, against the sea of joyous people as the lone fish who ran in anguish. The odd one out she'd always been, and she'd grown into a person beyond caring about that. Even if he didn't want her anymore, she had to have the gall to bring herself before him. Not like this. Too long she'd lived her life never having questions answered. Too long did she allow time to pass her by. Too long did she believe the world could spin without problem if she didn't move in it.
That Okuda Manami died. He killed her, and she couldn't be more grateful.
But she wasn't about to let herself do the same for the Karma she fell in love with.
I tried my best with this one. Like I said, this arc wasn't as well thought out as the previous ones, but the dialogue is still largely the same from the plan back in the day! I know this isn't as wow as the others, but I still hope it got to satisfy you guys as the summarized ender of our story! Anyway, I look forward to finally finishing it because for heaven's sake it's long overdue!
Thanks again for reading! See you again and I love you guys!