“Whatcha doing tomorrow? Wanna come hang out with Kumi and me?”
Furukawa Airi shook her head, even though she knew Suga Nanako couldn’t see her over the phone, “Can’t. I start my new job tomorrow.”
Nanako made a clicking noise of disapproval, “Man, this means I have to start sharing my best friend now,” She chuckled lightly, “You’re working for the hospital aren’t you?”
Airi hummed, “Yeah, for the hospice.”
Nanako made another noise, “How depressing. Don’t get too attached Airin.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Don’t worry, I doubt I’ll get attached to someone in such a short time.”
“Do you know anything about your patient?” Nanako asked curiously.
Airi shifted a couple of papers around, “Not much, I just know her name and age.” Finding the paper she was looking for, she threw the rest of the papers back on her desk, “Takayanagi Akane. 22.” She read.
“So young,” Nanako said, sympathy laced in her voice, “That’s so sad.”
“I hope she’s not cute,” Airi joked, a small laugh leaving her lips, “It would be sadder if she was cute.”
“You’re horrible,” Nanako chucked, “Only thinking about cute girls.”
Airi shrugged, “I think about the important things in life.”
The two sat in a comfortable silence until a loud voice in the background yelled Nanako’s name. Nanako groaned, “Sorry, it’s my mom. I gotta go.” She shifted the phone around a bit, “I’ll call you later tomorrow, okay? Good luck.”
“Alright, thanks. Bye.” Airi clicked the end call button and tossed her phone onto the bed before collapsing onto the mattress herself. She glanced at her watch, 10:30pm. If she slept now she would be able to get 7 hours of sleep before she had to wake up and start her job. She made herself more comfortable and closed her eyes, falling into sleep
Airi awoke to the loud blaring sound of her alarm clock ringing in her ears. She groaned and turned to check the time, 5:30am. She closed her eyes again, before quickly reopening them and jumping out of bed. She had almost forgotten about work, too caught up in the pleasures of sleep. Airi made her way to her dresser, eyes still half closed, and picked out the scrubs in the bottom drawer before stumbling towards the bathroom.
“You’re late, Furukawa.” A stern voice reprimanded her.
“I know, I’m sorry.” Airi apologized, bowing in front of the women who towered over her.
The women clicked her tongue, “And on the first day as well, not a very good impression, I might add. I hope it wasn’t a mistake to hire you.” She continued, scribbling notes onto the clipboard in her hands.
“I promise, it won’t happen again.” Airi said, head still lowered and back arched.
“Fine, follow me then,” The women said, sliding down one of the many long corridors. Airi obediently followed, struggling to keep up with the woman’s long strides, “I take it you’ve read about your patient, correct?”
Airi nodded before realizing the woman’s head was turned away from her, “Yes.”
“Good,” She stopped, and pointed to a room on the left side of the hallway, “This is your patient’s room.” She opened the door, holding it open for Airi to walk in, “She’s still sleeping, but she should be waking up soon.”
Airi looked over at the figure, sleeping peacefully in the bed and her breath caught in her throat. She looked nothing she had imagined a terminally ill person would look and to her dismay, she was actually rather cute. Airi swallowed, eying the sleeping girl, “H-How long does she have?”
The woman glanced down at her clipboard, “About 3 months. She was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia about a year or so ago.”
“That’s something that can be cured, isn’t it? Why is she here? She should be getting treatments.” Airi argued, she didn’t really know much about leukemia, but she recalled learning a little about the disease in college.
The woman cleared her throat, “All the treatments failed. They attempted a hematopoietic bone marrow transplant after she relapsed, however her body rejected it and she developed chronic graft-versus-host disease.”
“But, there has to be treatments for that, isn’t there?”
“Yes, but they failed.” The women said, a scowl on her face, “That’s why she’s here.”
Airi nodded silently, all the other questions she had dying in her throat. She looked around the room. White curtains. White tables. White bedsheets. White floors. White walls. The only thing in the room that wasn’t white was the patient and the numerous machines that she was hooked up on. “Its very white in here, isn’t it?”
“White is calming to the patients.”
Airi nodded again, “Don’t you think patients would feel better with a little bit more color?”
The women tuned to Airi, a large frown on her face, “Do you understand the meaning of hospice?”
“Of course I do, otherwise I wouldn’t o-”
“Then you should know that there is no feeling better, Furukawa. They’re dying.”
Airi looked up at the women in shock, before lowering her head to stare at her white shoes that blended in perfectly with the white, tiled floors, “I-I’m sorry.”
“Look, she’s awake.” The women walked towards the bed, motioning Airi to follow her closer, “Good morning, Ms. Takayanagi.”
The girl in the bed squirmed around a bit before opening her eyes, “G-Good morning, Ms. Nakada.” Her brown eyes then fell on Airi, a confused look on her face.
“This is Ms. Furukawa Airi, she’s going to take care of you from now on.”
Airi stepped forward, a wide smile on her face, “It’s nice to meet you, Ms. Takayanagi. I hope we get along well.” She extended her arm towards Akane.
Akane stared at the hand, before reluctantly extending her arm. Airi continued to smile, even after noticing the ugly, blue marks that trailed up Akane’s arm.
“Airin! How was your first day?” The booming voice of Nanako emerged from the speakers as soon as Airi clicked accept call and brought the phone to her ear.
Airi winced and separated the phone from her ear slightly, “It was good.”
“You gotta give me more then it was good here.” Nanako whined and Airi swore she could almost see the pout that was undoubtedly on the younger girl’s face.
“It’s a hospice, Nanako. It’s depressing and not a lot of interesting things happen.” Airi chuckled, moving to sit down on the edge of her bed.
“What about the people that you met? Tell me about the girl you’re taking care of.”
“My boss is a bitch, but besides her everyone is rather nice.” Airi paused, thinking back to the girl. “She…” Airi sighed softly, she was like an angel, “She’s okay.”
“Just okay?! Tell me more about her.”
“I don’t know a lot about her, she doesn’t talk very much.” Airi explained.
“That’s no fun,” Nanako groaned, “Is she cute?”
“Very much. Even though she’s terminally ill, she’s still so pretty. She must’ve been beautiful when she was well.”
The younger girl yelled into the phone, “I wanna see her! If you say she’s pretty then she must be.”
“I would offer to bring you to work with me, but my boss already hates me. I don’t wanna give her more reasons.”
“I’m sure your boss doesn’t hate you.” Nanako assured.
“No, I’m pretty sure she hates me. She was so mean to me today, granted it was my fault I was late…but still! I apologized for being late.”
Nanako hummed in thought, “Maybe, she’s just showing you her tsun side.”
Airi let out a loud laugh at the image of the uptight and strict Nakada as a tsundere, “I hope so.”
“Ms. Furukawa, do you like birds?” Akane asked, her head turned towards the window, while Airi was adjusting her IV’s.
“No, not particularly, why?” Airi answered, not pausing from her task.
“Just wondering,” Akane laid back onto her pillows, “I like birds. They always look so serene.”
Airi chuckled lightly, straightening her back, “They’re birds, it’s not like they have much to worry about.”
“I wonder if birds know they’re going to die.” Akane’s tone had changed and her face darkened, “Sometimes, I wish I was a bird wth the ignorance of not knowing.”
“One of the many burdens of being human,” Airi spoke softly, taking a seat in the hard chair situated next to Akane’s bed, “Does it hurt?”
“Knowing I’m going to die soon or the disease?”
Akane was quiet, her head still turned towards the window. Airi craned her neck to see what Akane was so focused on and saw a small bird nest nestled between the window frame and the adjacent building.
“There’s no eggs yet,” Akane smiled and turned her head to face Airi, “Life works in weird ways, don’t you think?”
Airi nodded her head slowly at the odd question, “It does.”
“Another reason why I want to be a bird.”
“Why a bird? It seems like such a random animal.” Airi asked, curiosity laced in her voice. She wanted to know everything that was running through Akane’s head.
“To be free.”
“Sometimes birds are caged though, not all birds are free.
“Birds are only caged because of people. People just love to cage animals, to limit their freedom. They don’t realize that they’re the ones who are truly caged.”
“Caged how? I like to think that we are pretty free.” Airi chuckled as she got up to check on Akane’s IV’s.
“Caged by society. Caged by emotions. Caged by knowledge. To be a bird is freedom, to have ignorance.” Akane paused, wincing as Airi tugged a little too hard on one of her tubes. Airi mumbled a quiet ‘sorry’ before continuing her work. “The only thing a bird isn’t free from is pain. But everyone feels pain…except for maybe fish.” She added as an afterthought.
Airi sat back down, “I’ve never thought this deeply about birds before.” She chuckled.
“You start to think about a lot of things deeply when all you can do is think.”
Airi’s watch let out a shrill noise, surprising the two girls. Airi fumbled with the device and clicked the button to stop the offending noise, “Looks like it’s time for your lunch, Ms. Takayanagi.”
“I want to see outside.”
Airi turned the page in her manga, “You know you can’t get outside in your condition, Ms. Takayanagi.” She answered without looking up from the book.
“But, it’s not fair,” Akane whined, “You would think since we’re dying anyways they would let us indulge a little.”
Airi sighed and set the manga down, “I’ll talk to Ms. Nakada later and ask if it’s okay.”
“Yay!” Akane cheered, a wide smile making it’s way to her lips, lighting up her normally pale face. “Thank you, Ms. Furukawa.”
Airi smiled as well, a warmth filling up her chest, “Call me Airi.”
Akane nodded excitedly, “Then you have to call me Akane.”
Airi looked down at her watch with a laugh, “It’s time for your dinner, Akane.”
“Airi, what do you do for fun?”
Airi lifted her head from the paperwork on her lap that she was working on, “That’s a random question.”
“I just want to know more about you.”
“More about me, huh?” Airi turned back to the paperwork, “What about you? Even though I’m supposed to be taking care of, I hardly know anything about you, besides that you like birds and love to whine.” She teased.
“I’m not really all that interesting.” Akane frowned, fingers playing with the white covers draped over her body. “Besides, you can go outside and live. I’ve been stuck alone in hospitals all my life.”
“Alone?” Airi echoed, “What about your parents? Don’t they come to visit you?” Looking back on it now Airi realized that for the entire month she was with Akane she didn’t get one single visitor besides the doctor and Nakada.
“My parents…” Akane paused, “I haven’t seen them in so long, I’ve forgotten what they even look like.”
Airi nodded, a small frown on her face, “I’m sorry, it must be hard on you.”
“My parents were supportive of me at first. They always showed up for every doctors appointment. They promised they would never give up on me no matter how bad the disease got.” Akane paused, clearing her throat. Airi offered a drink to which the younger girl refused, “But there were more complications, and the months turned into years. After a while I just stopped seeing them. They’ve never bothered to call or check if I was still alive.”
“Akane, I’m sorry, that’s horrible.”
Akane shook her head, “No, it’s okay. I understand them. I wouldn’t want to watch my daughter die either.”
“Even so, parents should always support their children no matter what. If they can’t even do that then they’re failing their jobs as parents. At least that’s what I believe.” Airi argued.
“I’m sure they’re still supporting me from afar. That thought is good enough for me.”
Airi blinked in disbelief, if she was in Akane’s shoes she would be livid at her parents for at least not calling to check up on her.
“I’ve spent so many years being angry at my parents, I don’t want to spend my last few months holding that grudge.” Akane smiled softly, “The first step to being free is to let go.”
The two girls sat in silence, Akane looking out the window and Airi musing over Akane’s words.
“Airi? Is it sunny outside?” Akane broke the silence.
“It is, I was sweating on my way to work today.”
“I wish I could remember how it felt to be in the sun.”
“Speaking about that, I talked to Ms. Nakada.”
Akane lifted her head, her eyes glinting, “And?”
“Well, it took a lot of convincing. A lot. I mean I had to buy her coffee every morning for the whole week and then I had to-” Airi stopped and looked over towards Akane who hung on every word that left her mouth, “She’ll let you go outside on your birthday, but only for an hour and I have to be with you.”
Akane squeaked in excitement, “Thank you, Airi!” She held her arms out towards the older girl.
Airi tilted her head to the side in confusion, “What are you doing?”
“Hug.” Akane pouted, arms still held out.
Airi looked around as if Nakada was somewhere watching her disapprovingly, “I’m pretty sure this is against the rules.”
“Airi,” Akane whined, dragging out Airi’s name, “Come on, just this once.”
“W-we really shouldn’t be doing this, what if Ms. Nakada walks in on us,” Airi blushed, struggling to hold back her laughter.
“Don’t be a pervert, Airi.” Akane dropped her arms with a pout, “It’s just a hug.”
“Fine, fine,” Airi agreed, getting up and dropping the paperwork on the table next to her desk, “But just once and don’t tell Ms. Nakada.”
Akane nodded in excitement as she held her arms open again.
Airi sighed as she awkwardly wrapped her arms around Akane’s thin figure. Even through the gown and blankets she could still feel her bones sticking out from skin underneath her fingers.
“I’m happy you’re my nurse, Airi.” Akane breathed, laying her head against the older girl’s chest, “For once in my life I’m happy I’m sick because it means I got to meet you.”
“A-Ah, is that so?” Airi’s heart thumped against her chest and she prayed that Akane wouldn’t hear or comment on it.
“Your heart is beating so fast,” Akane teased with a small smile, “Could it be that you’re falling for me?”
“O-Of course not,” Airi stammered, breaking the hug and hurriedly returned to her seat, “I just have a weak heart is all.” She looked away at her lie.
“Sure,” Akane nodded, smile still on her face.
Airi cleared her throat and looked at her watch, “Anyways, it’s about time for your lunch, Akane.”
“Airin, you’re neglecting your best friend. I don’t even remember the last time I saw you.” Nanako whined over the phone.
Airi rolled her eyes and sighed, “Sorry Nannan, I’ve been so busy with work, you know with Akane’s time coming…” Airi coughed.
Nanako hummed, “Don’t forget what I told you about getting too attached to her.”
Airi clicked her tongue in annoyance, “I’m not getting attached, I’m just doing my job.”
“Sure, sure.” Nanako continued, “So what will you do when she dies?”
“Well, I would get sad, of course. Everyone would get sad if someone they knew died.”
“You know what I mean, Airin.” Nanako said, her tone turning serious, “I know how you get, I don’t want you to become like that again.”
Airi kept quiet, pondering over what Nanako told her. She thought about the way Akane smiled, showing all her teeth when Airi told her a particularly hilarious story. The way she talked so passionately about the things she believed in. The way her thin body felt against Airi’s. The bruises that decorated her body and how badly Airi wanted some magical way to take away all the pain she felt. “Shit,” Airi cursed out loud, she was getting attached.
“What?” Nanako asked in a smug tone, as if Airi had unconsciously admitted that she was right.
“Nothing,” Airi waved it off, “I’m not getting attached, okay?”
Nanako sighed loudly, “Whatever you say, Airin. I just want you to be careful.”
“I will. Don’t worry about Nanako, I’ll be fine.”
“I hope so…”
Airi looked up to see Akane staring at her, eyes sparkling, “Akane?”
“Do you know what today is?”
Airi put a finger to her thought in mock thought, “Of course I do.”
Akane sat up a little at Airi’s answer, “You do?”
“I would have to be dumb to forget,” Airi smiled, “Today’s when the new volume of the Shingeki manga comes out!”
Akane’s smile fell from her face, “Oh,” She pulled the covers up to her chin and turned towards the window as if trying to ignore Airi’s presence.
“I’m just kidding,” Airi said, getting up and walking towards Akane’s figure. She placed a hand on Akane’s covered shoulder, “Happy birthday, Akane.”
“That wasn’t funny, Airi.” Akane pouted, sitting up in the bed again, “I thought you really did forget.”
Airi chuckled nervously, she would never admit that she actually did forget and if she hadn’t looked at her planner before she came to work she would’ve never known. Airi cleared her throat, “So, do you know where you want to go?”
“The park!” Akane smiled brightly.
“The park?” Airi repeated, “Don’t you want to go somewhere…I don’t know, more exciting?”
“What’s wrong with the park?” Akane frowned.
“Nothing! It’s just that…I thought you would want to go somewhere…not as boring.”
“The park’s not boring,” Akane looked offended, “Besides, if we go somewhere else, I won’t have all your attention on me like usual.”
“W-What?” Airi sputtered, “You’re my patient, I would get fired if I didn’t pay attention to you.” She got up and reached underneath her seat, throwing it gently onto Akane’s bed.
Akane reached into the bag, “What’s this?”
“I brought clothes for you. It would look pretty odd if you were just walking around in the city with your hospital gown on.” Airi chuckled.
Akane nodded and pulled out the plain white shirt and a pair of blue jeans.
“Sorry, they’re my old clothes.” Airi said sheepishly.
“So this is how you dress outside of work?” Akane laughed, setting the clothes back down, “I never knew you would dress so plain.”
“T-Those are my old clothes! I don’t dress like that anymore!” Airi stuttered, her face turning a little red, “Just hurry up and put them on, I’ll wait outside.” Airi stomped towards the door and stepped out into the hallway, Akane’s laughter ringing in her ears. She leaned against the closed door, a small smile making it’s way to her face.
“Shit,” Remembering Nanako’s warnings to her last night caused the smile to fade away. Catching herself smiling at Akane’s dumb antics made her realize just how deep in she was. She had never known that she would end up growing this attached to the sick girl. Airi closed her eyes, eyebrows furrowed. Maybe it was a mistake to take this job after all. She had thought about transferring, but what would she tell Nakada for the reason of her transfer? That she ended up harboring romantic feelings for her patient? She would end up being the laughing stock of the entire hospital. She could see it now, her colleagues laughing at her behind her back, gossiping to each other, ‘have you heard about that Furukawa girl? She ended up falling in love with her dying patient. What a sicko.’ After that she would most likely be fired and with no income to pay her bills she would be forced to move back to her parents house. All their neighbors would look at her with disgusted eyes and eventually she would never leave the house again. Spiraling into depression she would become a NEET doing nothing but watching animes all day and playing visual novels. Her only support would be her parents money until she died at the tender age of 35 alone.
Airi opened up her eyes again, “I won’t let that happen to me!” She yelled, startling the nurses working at the desk.
“Shhh!” One of the nurses shushed her, anger apparent on her face.
“Sorry!” Airi apologized with a short bow, “I won’t let that happen to me,” She whispered to herself with determination. All she had to do was just separate herself from Akane a little, granted that was easier said than done as Airi’s job was to basically take care of Akane all day. The only time she wasn’t with the younger girl was from 11pm until 6am, a measly 7 hours. She sighed and rubbed her temples, she had to find a way to make these feelings go away before they got the better of her.
“Airi!” Akane yelled from the other side of the door, “I’m done, you can come in now.”
Airi took a deep breath to ready herself, before turning around and opening the door to her own personal hell.
“How do I look?” Akane questioned as soon as Airi entered the room.
The younger girl turned around and posed as if she was a model for a photo shoot. The large white shirt hung loosely over Akane’s figure, while the jeans sagged a little, the bottoms dragging on the floor. Airi stiffed a laugh, Akane looked like a little girl trying to wear her parents clothes while they were out to work, “You look, uh…I probably should just bought you small clothes instead.”
Akane frowned, “Does it look bad?”
“No, no! It looks fine!” Airi lied, “We’ll only be out for an hour anyways.”
“Well if you say so…” Akane continued frowning, pulling a little at the fabric, “I haven’t worn outside clothes for so long, I’ve almost forgotten what it’s felt like.”
Airi opened the door, ignoring Akane’s musings, “Come on, let’s go.”
Akane stopped her fussing and obediently followed Airi out the door. As soon as the two had made it out to the hallway she stopped and ran towards the window, “Airi, look!” She pointed, her face full of excitement.
Airi stood next to Akane, confused, “I don’t see anything.”
“The trees! The buildings! Look at all the people, I don’t think I’ve seen this many people in one place for years!”
Airi looked out the window again. She didn’t see what was so special about any of it, they were things that she saw everyday on her way to work. Airi chuckled at Akane’s childlike behavior, “Come on, you can see all those things better outside.”
“Is it warm outside today?” Akane asked as the two of them slowly made their way down the stairs. Airi had made her way to the elevator, only to be stopped by Akane who insisted that they took the stairs instead.
“It’s average, about 19.” Airi panted, cursing her poor cardio skills. They had only walked down 3 flights of stairs and Airi was already beyond her limit. She looked over at Akane, expecting her to be tired as well, however the sick girl didn’t seem fazed at all by the exercise.
“I was wondering, what won’t you let happen to you?” Akane asked, with a curious smile.
“What are you talking about?” Airi was focusing all her attention on trying to get her heart to not give out.
“When I was changing, I heard you yelling that to yourself.” Akane jumped down the last two steps, smiling up at Airi who looked like she had run a 5 mile marathon.
“O-Oh that?” Akane waved her hand, “T-That was just me hyping myself up…you see…I wanted to uh…I didn’t want to let myself become fat! So I decided I needed more exercise.”
Akane eyed Airi, “I can see that.”
Airi nodded, a small smile on her face at the success of her lie, “What park did you want to go to?”
Akane stopped, “I was hoping you would know where to go.”
Airi racked her brain, she didn’t visit parks very often as she didn’t see a point to, however she did remember passing by this park that was relatively close by to the hospital a couple of times, “There’s a park close by that we can go to.”
“Close by? So that means we can walk then?” Akane smirked as if she saw right through Airi’s previous lie.
Airi wiped away at her sweat, “I was actually hoping we could drive there instead.”
Akane lifted an eyebrow, “But, I thought you wanted to get more exercise?”
“Oh that? I’ll uh start that tomorrow.”
“Okay,” Akane agreed, “But only because you look like you’re about to pass out right now.”
As soon as the two had made it to the parking garage, Airi wanted to throw herself on the floor and praise to the gods that the torture was over.
“Wow, look at all these cars, they look so cool.” Akane stared in awe, “Which one is yours?”
Airi lead the way, weaving between the parked cars until she stood in front of a silver Prius, “This one is mine!” She stood proudly, running her hand over the metallic exterior.
“This tiny thing?” Akane laughed, “It’s so tiny, it suits you.”
“Hey! What are you trying to say?” Airi yelled, offended.
“Nothing,” Akane tried to control her laughing, “It’s cute.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Airi scowled in an attempt to hide the growing smile, “Get in.”
“Can I open the windows?” Akane asked as soon as the two were out of the parking garage and on the road.
Airi nodded and Akane wasted no time in getting the window down, sticking her hand out the crack, “The wind feels so nice.”
“Careful, if you stick your hand out too far it’ll get hit.” Airi warned with a small smile.
Akane looked shocked and immediately pulled her hand back in, “It would be awful if they buried me without an arm.”
After that the two sat in comfortable silence, Airi concentrating her attention on driving and Akane pressing her face against the window in wonder.
“We’re here,” Airi announced, pulling the car into the parking lot.
“Wow, this park is huge.” Akane awed.
“I thought you would like it here better,” Airi said opening the car door and stepping out, “There’s a lot of birds here, so…”
“Thank you, Airi!” Akane almost tripped onto the pavement face first trying to exit the vehicle.
“You’re welcome.” Airi smiled. No, stop smiling! She yelled to herself and immediately frowned which Akane noticed.
“Are you okay? Do you not like it here?” Akane asked worried.
“N-No, it’s not that, I was just having some uh…unpleasant thoughts.” She shuttered remembering her future if she didn’t stop now, “Do you want something to drink?”
“Some champagne would be really nice right now.”
Airi frowned and clicked her tongue, “You know you can’t drink alcohol.”
“I was just joking,” Akane squinted her eyes at Airi, “I’ll have some tea then.”
“Okay, wait over there, I’ll be back.” Airi pointed at one of the benches that overlooked a small body of water.
As soon as Akane was seated and no longer focusing her attention on Airi, Airi gave herself a small smack on the head, Akane definitely knew she was acting weird. She looked at her watch, only 20 minutes had passed since they left the hospital, that meant they only had 30 minutes left in the park until they had to start heading back to the hospital. Airi sighed, right now 30 minutes felt like too long to be left alone with Akane, but if she was lucky Akane would be too memorized by being outside to question Airi.
“Airi!” A voice called her name.
Airi turned around, expecting it to be Akane telling her something ‘interesting’ that had happened, but she was instead surprised to see Nanako jogging towards her.
“Airin, I knew it was you,” Nanako pulled the earphones out of her ears and wiped away at the sweat forming on her forehead, “What are you doing here? I thought you hated parks?”
“Oh, Nanako,” Airi cursed to herself, she had forgotten that Nanako lived near this park and often came here to jog, “I-I’m just here, alone, enjoying the sun. It’s such a nice day out, so I just thought I would come to the park to you know, uh relax and…enjoy the sun alone.”
“O…kay. Well since you’re alone…enjoying the sun, alone, that means you have time to hang out then, right?” Nanako squinted at Airi suspiciously.
“Uh, well you see, actually, I’m uh…meditating. Yeah! I’m meditating, that’s why I’m here alone.” Airi shifted her eyes towards Akane who was staring at her questioningly from the bench.
Nanako followed Airi’s eyes, “Do you know her or something?” Nanako smiled as if she had just found out a huge secret, “Are you on a date? Is that why you’re acting so weird?”
Airi laughed comically and smacked Nanako on the back, “A date! Yeah, I’m on a date, we’re on a date, well gotta go, don’t wanna keep my date waiting.” Airi tried to wave goodbye and walk back only to be stopped by Nanako.
“Wait, wait, wait.” Nanako shook her head, “You can’t go on a date and expect your best friend to not meet her. I need to know she’s good enough for my Airin.”
“N-No, you really don’t have to, I mean she’s a little weird, I don’t think it’s going to last.” Airi cursed at herself in her head, she just ended up digging herself into a bigger hole.
“Yeah, she does seem a little weird…I mean who the hell wears that on a date? She looks like she’s dressed to do construction work.” Nanako side-eyed Akane, “And she’s so thin, she looks like the wind is about to break her.”
“Y-Yeah, well I should head back, she’s probably wondering what I’m doing.” Airi tried for a second time to leave only to her dismay be stopped by Nanako again.
“No, no, no. I still have to meet this girl, this is too interesting for me to pass up.” Nanako chuckled.
Airi sighed, there was no way Nanako was going to let her go without meeting Akane, “Fine, just don’t say anything weird.”
“Don’t worry, Airin. Trust in your best friend.” Nanako grinned, slinging an arm over Airi’s shoulder, “Why are you all sweaty?”
“You’re friend was really interesting.” Akane mentioned as soon as the two were settled back into the hospital room.
“Sorry about that,” Airi dug in her bag, pulling out a small plastic bag, “She kept on insisting to meet you.”
Akane shook her head, “It’s okay. It was nice to meet her. I feel as if I know you a little better now.”
“This is for you,” Airi said, placing the gift wrapped bag onto Akane’s blanket covered lap.
“What’s this?” Akane questioned, picking the object up and turning it around as if trying to see past the gift wrap.
“It’s a birthday present,” Airi smiled, “Happy birthday, Akane.”
Akane smiled widely, “I wold say ‘you didn’t have too,’ but that seems as if I don’t appreciate it. Thank you, Airi.” Akane lifted the tape from the paper carefully, as if she was performing a delicate surgery, until the gift was free from it’s paper shell, revealing a small, hardcore book, “A field guide to birds.” Akane read the title out loud, before breaking out into a large smile, “It’s perfect, Airi, thank you.”
Airi rubbed the back of her neck, “Well, I just figured since you liked birds, and you always look so bored sitting there doing nothing.”
Akane held her arm out, “Come here.”
“I thought we agreed I would only hug you once?” Despite her words, Airi walked over towards Akane’s outstretched arm anyways.
“I’m not asking for a hug,” Akane smirked before leaning in and planting a light kiss to Airi’s cheek, “Thank you, Airi.”
Airi pulled away, shocked at the younger girl’s actions, “Y-You’re welcome,” She stuttered, her face dark red.
“Ms. Furukawa, may I have a word?” Nakada stopped Airi just as she was about to enter Akane’s room.
“Of course, Ms. Nakada.” Airi replied, a polite smile on her face.
“I’ll be frank here, Ms. Furukawa, I’m worried about you.” Although, Nakada had claimed to be worried, her face was still as stoic as ever.
Airi furrowed her eyebrows in confusion, “Worried? Why? Is my performance not up to par?”
“No, no, it’s not that. Unexpectedly, you’re quite a good worker.” Nakada cleared her throat as if the compliment burned her mouth, “I’m more worried about your…relationship with Ms. Takayanagi.”
Nakada cleared her throat again, “Yes, I’ve noticed that the two of you have gotten quite close over the past months, have you not?”
“That’s true, but I don’t see what this has to do with-”
Nakada awkwardly placed a hand on Airi’s shoulder and tried her hardest to muster a sympathetic smile, however it came out rather forced looking instead, “What I’m saying is, Ms. Takayanagi doesn’t have much time left. It’s better not to get too…attached.”
Airi frowned, “I’m not getting attached.” Her voice raised slightly in annoyance, “I’m just doing my job is all. I don’t care if Akane dies or not, it’s only work to me. She’s my patient and that’s all.” As soon as the words left her mouth Airi immediately regretted them realizing that she was standing outside of Akane’s door and that the girl might have heard her. She cursed her pride.
Nakada nodded, shocked at Airi’s outburst. She fixed her already perfectly placed skirt, “Well then, I’m glad you’re able to to distinguish between work and personal life.” With those words she left, the echo of her heels clicking on the tiled floor the only reminder that she was there.
Airi took a deep breath and prayed that Akane was either asleep or didn’t hear her at all. To her dismay when she opened the door, she found Akane propped up in bed, wide awake, her head hung low, evidence that she had heard Airi’s cold words.
Airi waked towards the side of the bed, “I guess you heard me then?”
Akane nodded once, her eyes focused on the white door in front of her.
Airi sighed, “I’m sorry, Akane. I didn’t mean it like that, I just-”
“No, it’s okay.” Akane spoke in a small, soft voice, that reminded Airi of the first time they had met, “I understand exactly what you were trying to say, Ms. Furukawa. You’ve made that point very clear.”
“Akane, please listen to-”
Akane turned to lay on her side, her back facing Airi, “I’m not feeling too well. I’m going to rest now. If you could please refrain from disturbing me.”
Airi closed her mouth and at down in her usual seat, not sure what else to say. She watched the rise and fall of Akane’s back before leaning her head back and closing her eyes, “I’m sorry, Akane.” She whispered one last time.
When Airi got a 3am call from the hospital, she already knew what they were calling her about. Despite it, she had still hoped they were calling about to tell something mundane like that they decided to give her a day off tomorrow, “Hello?” She rubbed the sleep from her eyes.
“Ms. Furukawa?” It was Nakada and her tone didn’t help put Airi’s mind at ease, “It’s time.”
Airi doesn’t remember the last time she drove that fast.
As soon as she arrived she ran up all the way to the 7th floor, not even pausing to take a breath or to calm her throbbing heart.
“Ms. Furukawa.” Nakada called her over. For once her boss wasn’t wearing her usual scornful scowl, but instead one of sympathy, “She wants to see you.”
Airi let out the breath she didn’t even know she was holding, relived that she would at least get to say goodbye. Airi opened the door to see Akane laying motionless in bed, eyes staring up at the ceiling.
“Airi,” Her voice was rough, she attempted to lift her head up but found that she didn’t have enough strength in her to do so. Airi ran over to Akane’s side, gently pushing the girl’s head back down, before taking a seat.
Airi gripped her pale hand tightly with hers, “Akane,” She cried, droplets of tears staining the white sheets of the bed, staining the white gown that Akane wore, staining Akane’s white skin.
Akane lifted her trembling hand up, resting it against Airi’s face, “Don’t cry, Airin.” She spoke in a hushed tone, voice hoarse, “This is what you wanted isn’t it?” A weak chuckle escaped her lips, “I’m just a burden to you after all.”
“No!” Airi raised her voice before speaking normally, “I-I would never want this to happen to you,” She lowered her head, the sound of the heart monitor echoing in her ears, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Akane.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Akane dropped her hand back to her side, a small smile making it’s way to her face, “I was always meant to be a bird anyways.”
Airi laughed lightly, despite the tears that continued to fall down her face, “You’re the most beautiful bird I know, Akane.”
Akane chuckled before falling into a fit of coughs, “Airi, I-” Another cough, this time bright red blood stained Akane’s pale fingers.
“Akane!” Airi yelled, standing up to get Nakada and the doctors to come in.
Airi’s hand gripped weakly around her wrist stopped her in her tracks, “Airi, 256.”
“256.” Akane’s grip loosened and her hand fell back to her side with a small ‘thump’.
Airi shot back one more look at Akane who was still mouthing ‘256’ to her before running out the room for Nakada.
After that it was all a blur for Airi, as cliché as it sounded. All she remembers was the doctors running around Akane’s bedside yelling vitals and other medical words Airi didn’t understand. Nakada stood stoic next to her, a hand planted firmly on Airi’s shoulder as if trying to comfort her in her own way. At the end of it all, Airi remembers vividly seeing all the doctors hang their heads as if in prayer before exiting the room, leaving Akane’s white, motionless body in the center of it all. One of the doctors came up to Airi, a solemn look on his face, “You did well, Ms. Furukawa. The first one is always the hardest to lose.” He then turned to Nakada, “Ms. Nakada, if you would follow me, there’s some paperwork I need you to fill out.”
Nakada nodded, “I’ll give you some time, Ms. Furukawa.”
Airi didn’t know how long she stood there, staring at the dead body of her former patient, her former friend. Somehow, without knowing how she got there, she ended up at Akane’s bedside, seated in her usual chair. Airi reached a hand out tentatively, her skin was still warm.
“Akane,” Airi closed her eyes, Akane’s last words still echoing in her ears. 256. What was Akane trying to tell her? 256. 256. She repeated the numbers in head, trying to make sense of it. 256 could have been a number of things; was it a password? Or perhaps a street number? As far as Airi knew, Akane had never mentioned about owning something that needed a password, and Airi was also pretty sure Akane’s only home was the hospital.
“Airi,” It was Nakada again, “The doctors are going to have to take Akane to the morgue now. Are you finished?” Her usual harsh tone now had an edge of softness to it, almost like a mother speaking to her child.
Airi nodded, she didn’t know how much longer she could take staring at Akane’s figure, knowing she was gone and wasn’t going to wake up again.
Two doctors came in, bowing quickly at Airi before wheeling away the hospital bed with Akane in it out the door and away from Airi.
“Oh, I almost forgot.” Nakada spoke up again, approaching Airi, “Ms. Takayanagi asked for me to give this to you after…” She coughed, “After she passed.” She reached into her coat and pulled out the book that Airi had given Akane for her birthday.
Suddenly it all clicked together. 256. They were page numbers.
“Well, I’ll leave you to it then. I’ll be in my office if you need me, Ms. Furukawa.” Nakada excused herself, sensing that Airi wanted to be left alone.
Airi sat back down in her usual seat, and turned the pages. 254, 255, 256. A paragraph in the book was underlined several times, ‘Birds have hollow bones for a couple of reasons. The first is that their hollow bones are part of their respiratory system. The second is that hollow bones makes them lighter which makes it easier for them to fly.’ Airi stared at the paragraph, clueless as to why Akane wanted her to read this. She looked to the margins and found a couple of words scribbled in, ‘Proof that I was meant to be a bird.’ Airi chuckled lightly before reading down further, 'Airi, don’t lose your way. I’ll always be watching over you. I love you.’
“Akane,” Airi repeated, feeling the tears well up in her eyes again. She closed the book, looking at the spot where Akane used to lay. If she was here right now she would probably smile that crooked smile at her, “Airi, why are you crying? You’re so sensitive.” She would tease before breaking out into a wild laugh. Airi smiled, the tears falling freely down her face, “I love you too, Akane. I love you too.”