Chapter 2: Homecoming
The flight was pleasantly uneventful, though Kouichi wasn't able to enjoy it much. Everytime he made the annual trip, he worried that the calamity would knock the plane out of the sky. Mei sensed her husband's tension, and held his hand firmly the whole time. After disembarking, the couple walked through the airport until a familiar face called their name. "Hey, Sakakibaras!" cried a soft, but firm voice. The two turned around to see a man their age. He had light reddish brown hair and gray eyes, and he looked at them with a warm and inviting smile. "Yuuya! There you are, old pall," Kouichi said, embracing his friend. After pulling apart, Yuuya took one look at Mei and without hesitation offered his congratulations.
"So, when are you due?"
"In about three weeks."
Yuuya gave her a inquisitive look. "Don't you think you're cutting it a little close?"
"The reunion only lasts a week, and the flight home isn't long at all. We have plenty of time."
Yuuya shrugged, then changed the topic.
"Come on, let me drive you to my home," Yuuya said.
"You don't have to do that, we can get a hotel," Kouichi replied.
"No friends of mine are spending the week in some crummy hotel. I've already prepared a guest room for you guys, and it's much more comfortable than any rented room."
Mei cut in, "Thanks, but it wouldn't be right to make you take care of us when we came prepared."
"And I'm saying it wouldn't be right to leave the both of you to sleep in a small, poorly cleaned room that's been used by God knows who. Especially when you're making your homecoming and one of you is expecting."
"Yuuya, we don't want to be a burden," Kouichi replied, though he was clearly caving.
"You wouldn't be. I'd be happy to have you, especially now that my house is fixed up to have multiple people. Please, do it for me."
"Well, ok. For your sake, I guess," Kouichi teased, eliciting a chuckle from Mei.
Yuuya drove his friends to a two story house. It was larger than what would be expected of a confirmed bachelor, and much better maintained than most Japanese houses in similar neighborhoods.
"Wow. Is my memory failing or did you have some remodeling done?" asked Kouichi.
"Yeah, I had an addition made for extra storage. It cost a lot, but I'm usually pretty frugal, so I had more than enough saved up."
Yuuya took Mei's bags as the three friends walked to the front door. Upon entering, the couple observed that there was very little furniture to be found. Even more shocking, there were many paintings hung all over the walls. While Mei went to go unpack, Kouichi stopped upon finding an old yet familiar one. This painting depicted a lemon with empty eyes and a mouth stretched into a horrified scream.
"Oh my God, Yuuya, you still have this?" Kouichi laughed.
"Of course. I keep all my works. Usually it's because I never know when someone may want to buy one, but this piece is a nostalgic for me."
"I made it during that year. In a way it's the only physical reminder of those who passed."
"I understand," Kouichi said, the air growing uncomfortable. "So, your house is more organized than last time we visited."
"No kidding. I've made an effort to be better organized after a little incident with a customer. You see, she came over to see a painting she was considering to buy, when I realized that I had misplaced it."
"Yeah, I spent like half an hour frantically searching for it. Turns out the customer was the impatient type, and said she'd pay less because I 'wasted her time.'"
"Yep, but it worked out. I'm better organized and I got my house in working order so I can now have guests."
Just then, a lightbulb appeared to form over Yuuya's head.
"Oh! Before I forget, I have some good news! Some more people from class 3 will be joining us this year!"
"Who exactly is coming?"
'Well, Manabu, Sayuri, Noboru, Matsuko, Daisuke, San, Naoya, and ourselves have always been coming. I also convinced Takeru Mizuno and Yukito Tsujii to visit."
"Yeah, I know it's not that many people. There were six others I tried to convince, but they just wanted to leave it in the past. I guess that makes sense since they didn't even come to the class trip that year. . ."
"No! Takeru hates me because I got his sister killed, and Yukito tried to kill Mei at the inn! And now they're going to see us for a week. Do you have any idea how awkward you made this?"
"Oh, I didn't think about that. Still, if they want to pay their respects they should. Takeru especially has a right to visit, all things considered."
"You're right, it's just. . . this is another thing to worry about. I hope Mei will be okay with this."
As if on cue, Mei emerged from the guest room.
"I think there are more paintings than wall space. It really brightens up the place. Do you intend to sell all of these?" she said.
"Thanks for the compliment," Yuuya replied, "And yeah, eventually I'll sell most of these. Business has been pretty good. There's a pretty big crowd who appreciates my. . . interpretation of everyday objects."
Mei laughed, "I'm sure. You always had an interesting way of seeing the world." She then noticed the anxious look on her husband's face. "Yuuya, could you excuse us for a moment? There's something I need to talk to Kouichi about."
"No problem. While you two talk, I'll set out drinks for us."
Mei walked closer to Kouichi. "You have that look again."
"There's a look?"
"Yeah. You have it when you're worried. Like every time we take a plane."
"Funny. Yuuya was just telling me that we'll have a few more people this year."
Mei's eyebrows rose. "Isn't that a good thing?"
"It's who's coming that is the problem. Remember Yukito Tsujii?"
"Wasn't he one of the people who thought I was the extra and tried to kill me?"
"Yeah, he'll be there."
Mei pursed her lips. "It'll be okay. It was a long time ago, and I don't think he'll try to kill me this time around," she said, smiling a little. "Besides, these reunions are about healing old scars, right? So, who else is coming?"
"Takeru Mizuno. His sister was the nurse who took care of me at the hospital. We shared a love of horror novels and she helped me learn about you back when I thought you were a ghost." Kouichi cringed at how silly his theory was in 9th grade. "If I hadn't been telling her to investigate for me, she might not have been on the roof that day. Maybe she would still be alive."
Mei grabbed Kouichi's hand firmly. "You don't know that. She worked at a hospital right? She would have had to use the elevator at some point. She likely would have died regardless of what you did. You can't blame yourself."
"Somehow, I doubt her brother feels the same way," Kouichi replied glumly.
"Well, this will be your chance to make up with him." Mei looked down the hallway. 'Come on, Yuuya's got some drinks out for us. It'd be rude to keep him waiting," she said, a faint smile appearing on her face.