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July had come to an end. I started doing the shopping to take the load off of my little sister. She had enough of a workload from school. Especially if she wanted to get into my school. I wished that I could help with her school work but my old essays were no good for her. They were far too pessimistic for my angel of a little sister.

And when she came to my school it would be quite the shock to my schoolmates after dealing with me. Komachi was normal. She was normal and I wasn't. I was a schizoaffective loser. And all the signs seemed to be that Komachi wouldn't be like me in the worst ways. In the back of my mind I worried my symptoms would start to manifest in her. Whatever genetic tweak I had she could share. Genetics was an interwoven tapestry. There wasn't one gene responsible for just one thing in a person. One deletion and you ended up with a totally different animal. Metaphorically speaking, that was. Same animal with one deletion literally. But a different beast.

The point was that I worried about her as I walked down the street. Heat rose from the asphalt around me and before me. All there was was the hum of cars and the scream of cicadas. What a life a cicada had. Sleep for seventeen years. Wake up and scream for four weeks. Then die.

Color me jealous. I wish I could sleep that long, wake up and scream then die. But no. I had to be born a human. It was the heart of my human condition which left me cursed.

I wiped my brow and found myself wishing I had left the house when the sun had started to set and it was a little cooler even if it was just as humid. It had been so long since I left the house that the thought hadn't occurred to me.

My objective had been to never leave my house all summer long but now stuff with my sister came up. She had the priority. I'd do anything for my little sister. I'd even cling to life. Again, when I killed myself my little sister couldn't be the one who found my body. My parents… well, whatever. But not Komachi.

I'd been shut up in my room examining different fractals like the Julia and Mandelbrot set. They were crazy and nowhere differentiable. I found myself loving them and their twists and turns. They were as beautiful as they were maddening. I loved the way they burned me and made me manic. I discovered a fractal in the rotation of the sofa couch as I tried to bring it around the corner. It was gorgeous. It coursed around the corner and the corner drew loops as I tried to puzzle together the appropriate curves of the sofa couch.

It made me manic.

It made me burn across the roof of my skull.

I needed a break from them, as wonderful as they were. I kicked a rock and it bounced elliptically down the street under the pull from gravity.

Just don't call me a recluse. I was going out now that it proved necessary for my little sister. I had people I had to do things for.

The neighbourhoods in Kaihin‐Makuhari boasted a rather lively and bustling atmosphere during the summertime. The Summer Sonic Festival was held there, along with fireworks during the nighttime pro baseball games. The marine sports were huge as well since it was closest to the sea. The problem was that no matter how you spun it, I could only think crowds were annoying on a fundamental level. I called a large group of humans a 'fuck that.'

The swathes of people who walked along with their friends and family – or alternatively, their lovers – did so painfully slowly. Was it because they were minding the side of the path the whole time? Maybe it was because they were so absorbed in conversation they stopped paying attention to their walking pace? Or perhaps they just wanted to stretch out their time with each other, even if it was just for a little longer?

Gah! Stop taking up so much of the footpath! Damn that trio over there! Were they one of those types? Doing an en passant strategy and taking their sweet time! What a solid position. I suppose I couldn't fault it.

I slipped past the trio without a word. I was then blocked by a group of girls using a catenaccio-like defense. I slid off them easily since they were on their phones and were dragging their feet.

I turned my feet towards the shopping area, which included Plena Makuhari, where the outlet stores and a bunch of different specialty stores were located.

As I was stumbling along, a fluorescent green jersey came into view. I'd seen that jersey before. It was the same one I normally wore for gym class.

That meant it was someone from the same high school as me, huh? Better make sure I don't get spotted… I figured, about to avert my gaze, but my eyeballs paid no heed to my thoughts and I ended up looking straight at the other person's body.

It was, to put it in a word, fate.

He had neat, silky hair and white limbs that reflected the brilliant sunlight. As he adjusted the racquet case on his back, he let out a soft sigh that dissolved in the air, bringing forth a gust of wind.

I'm not gay. I'm not gay. I'm not ga-

Indeed, I thought he was an illusion conjured up by the shimmering hot air rising from the asphalt. In that moment, the crowd I had thought of as such a goddamn nuisance receded into the background. It was like Totsuka and I were the only two people in the world.

I might be bi. I might be bi. I might be-

Gripped by an onslaught of emotion, my jaw fell slack. I was absolutely certain I would find him no matter where he went. That, I believed in with all my heart.

"Saikaaahhh‐" The utterance died in my throat. Instead, this weird sigh slipped out. The family surrounding me gave me odd looks from a distance and hurried away. I gazed at Totsuka silently. That was because someone was running up to Totsuka, waving energetically behind him.

The boy wore a matching jersey, and a racquet resembling Totsuka's was slung over his back. When I saw how well they got along, I couldn't bring myself to call out to Totsuka. Hence the funny sigh that slipped out of me.

The other guy clapped his hands lightly together in front of Totsuka, probably because he had been late for their meet‐up. In response, Totsuka shook his head casually. Even from a distance, I could clearly see his shy smile.

The two of them exchanged a few words and headed off towards the outlet store together. Once I had finished watching them disappear into the distance, I started walking off towards Plena Makuhari once again.

For a while, I moved my feet without thinking, almost like a robot.

…I see. So Totsuka had club activities. It made sense that he would have friends involved in the club too. Right. It was summer vacation, so of course he would have club activities. Was stopping by somewhere on the way home normal for him? It had to be. It stood to reason he would have friends among his tennis partners and that he would smile at them.

I wondered just when I started thinking that he was only chummy with me. In elementary school and middle school, the people who talked to me got along with everyone and had heaps of friends… even if I thought they were my friend, they wouldn't think the same, and even if they were my best friend, I wouldn't be their best friend – that sort of thing happened all the time.

I took the escalator down. I leaned on the hand rail easily. I was uncomfortable. What if Saika let a bunch of other people call him Saika. And it wasn't just me. Not that I needed it to be just me. But I'd certainly have liked it if it was just a few people.

I turned and almost ran straight into a black haired girl. I recognized her immediately. She wore a light sweater around her shoulders and leggings under her skirt probably to protect her pale skin from sunburn. She looked less stern than she did in her school uniform, but her small accessories like her wristwatch and handbag were woven very elegantly, preserving her neat and tidy appearance.

"Yukinoshita."

"Hikigaya-kun," she returned.

I glanced away. She was a bit much to look at so I thought maybe looking away would help. Like looking at the sun. I gleaned a peak at the book she was holding. It was a catalogue of cat pictures.

"More cats?" I grinned.

"I hardly see how that's any of your business what personal shopping I get up to."

"I just think it's cute." I used her trigger word. She hated being called cute. She knew I was using it demeaningly. Like it was her only redeeming quality. It wasn't. She was smart and clever. The two were to be distinguished. I was smart but often not clever. It took me a minute to pick up a plan. "Keep it up."

"It's for my sister."

"Sure it is."

"It is. It is."

"Okay. Sure it is." She positively glared. She turned away. Like I was too much to look at. "Hey, I'm agreeing with you. If you say it's for your sister then I'll bite. What are the odds that your obsession with cats is genetic? Pretty strong considering how obsessed you are."

"I'm not obsessed."

"Are you not? Review my definition of obsessed."

"To be preoccupied to a worrying extent."

"It's certainly worrying from my perspective. I worry about how much you think about cats. Do you not?"

"No I don't."

"And that's healthy?"

"Yes. It is. It isn't unhealthy."

"If you say so."

"I do. I do."

"So you say. Enough to emphasize. Repeatedly. But still I wonder. Doesn't that make you think?"

"Not really. Who knows what you see with your dead eyes."

"But didn't you hear me?" I wondered. She cocked her head. "This is about my ears."

"Are your ears not dead as well?"

"A little. Not as much as my eyes."

"Well there you are. Not as much as your eyes doesn't say much."

"So it doesn't. I suppose I often hear whispers in the day and night."

"Are they bothersome?"

"At times. Other times I want to listen. They have good advice sometimes. Maddening things. If they were only helpful it would be one thing but instead they often whisper at a pitch too low to hear. And occasionally they will be a familiar voice. My parents. My sister."

She looked at me slightly askew. Like she was seeing me in new light. "It's really not okay for you in there. Is it."

"It's tolerable," I disagreed.

"No. You're really not alright."

"I have serious issues. But I do okay. I manage."

"Barely."

"So what should I do?"

"See a doctor. Or a whole team of them."

"Can't afford it. We're not all rich girls in their own apartments. Where would I get the couple million yen required for my treatment? And keep in mind it would be a treatment. Not a cure. There's no cure and this is permanent. Reckon on that."

"Does it have to be that way?"

"I think so. I don't have many good options. I lean on my sister. I'm actually out here shopping for her right now."

"At least you have a good relationship with your sister…"

"Oh. Right." I suppose her relationship with her own sister was slightly more rough.

"I get on with her. But she can be difficult at times." She sensed where I went.

"I believe you."

"I do. We do."

"So have you been baking with Yui?"

She shuffled into a more comfortable stance. At my mention of Yui I suppose. "A little. Have you seen her recently?"

"Not super recently." The last time was a little before school ended.

"That must be hard."

"It's been relatively easy. I have distractions."

"More math?"

"More math."

"A simple calculator. And nothing more."

"I-I take offense to that. I work hard at understanding. The things I'm trying to understand are just very complex."

"Sounds like a convenient excuse."

"Maybe it is a little. Leave me alone."

"When you won't leave me alone?"

"What do I do that isn't leaving you alone?" I asked.

"Calling me cute."

"Ah that. I suppose you take true offense to that?"

She shuffled again. "I was vulnerable to you. And you abuse that."

"Oh."

"Are you sorry?"

"A little."

"Good." She hummed.

"I promise not to call you cute anymore. Since you're so offended."

"Why? It's not like I don't say things that offend you."

"But I'm better than that. I don't have to tear you down to feel okay. So I won't."

She flinched as though struck. "You think I say what I say to you to feel good about myself?"

"Don't you?"

"I say it for your benefit. So you can fix those things about yourself."

"I'm not going to get better from this."

"So I suppose I should stop."

"Not if you don't want to. I don't really mind being your punching bag."

She gave me a long indecipherable look at that. "You really don't. Do you."

"I really don't."

"Why not?"

"I ain't shit, dog. And I know it."

"Self hate?"

"I suppose."

"More for me to work on."

"You don't have to work on me. I'm a lost cause."

"I believe a lot about you." She murmured. "But not that you're a lost cause."

"I am a lost cause. I will kill myself. I will die young. I will suffer my hallucinations."

"Not if I can help it. And I can."

"You can't. You're not strong enough to bear the weight of my life on your hands."

"Yes I am. I'm strong enough for anything," she denied.

"Then I don't want that for you." She paused at my words. "I don't want my blood on your hands."

"Too late," she whispered.

I pretended like I didn't hear her.

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-WG