The air was warm due to the summer heat. Cooped up in the small wooden house that she’d grown up in, a brunette girl lamented the air conditioner that had been moved out a few days ago, leaving the abode with no defence against the harsh air of early June. Along with the Everything else had been removed, too, from the set of pink and purple zabuton to the blue bucket of gardening supplies that never seemed to move. The little jot notes that she and her father used to make had been taken off of the fridge's front door, as well as with all the food that used to occupy it, and the photos of their family had moved from the bureau to boxes, stored away in a U-Haul truck.
She let out a sigh, chestnut eyes surveying the place. It was no longer the Dojima residence, not anymore—all that remained was a house that could barely be called hers. Without all of the knick knacks and clutter items, it was just a house; a pile of wood and tatami, three bedrooms and two bathrooms, a kitchen and now-abandoned garden that she didn’t have the heart to take care of anymore. If she closed her eyes, she could imagine the life that used to inhabit the place: the decade old TV that they hadn’t bothered to replace would be playing a Junes commercial while she prepared dinner in the kitchen, now old enough to prepare food instead of buying premade meals from Junes; her father would be reading the daily newspaper on the couch, making quiet, annoyed mutters at whatever information the media had skewed or misrepresented; and, if she went far enough back in time, Yu might even be chatting the night away all of his friends, laughing around the coffee table.
That wasn’t the case anymore. Opening her eyes, reality overcame her once more as she took in the scene once again, disappointment fogging over her as she made the realization—for the nth time—that that was not her life anymore. Subconsciously, she rubbed her cheeks with her hand, wiping away the wet tears that she’d prefer to ignore and letting out a shaky breath. She forced herself to turn away from the empty living room, her feet dragging as she walked through the hall to the front door. Taking one last dejected look at her old home, she mumbled a soft “goodbye” to no one in particular, sliding open the front door and closing it behind her. She took a moment to collect herself, staring at the pavement under her feet, before looking up to the car stationed on the other side of the road. “Okay, I’m ready.”
The lanky figure of Hanamura Yosuke was leaned up against his car, orange headphones hung around his neck. He looked up to her, offering a sympathetic look as he smiled—either out of pity or empathy, she couldn’t tell—taking his hands out of the pockets of his jacket and straightening his posture. “Are you sure? It’s only an hour long drive, there’s no rush or anything.”
“I’m sure.” she said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. Her sneakers clicked against the cement underneath them as she walked to the other side of the street. Yosuke simply nodded, opening the car door for himself and getting in. Nanako trailed to the left side of the car, sitting down on the black seat and closing the door behind her, sighing as she leaned back into the pleather.
Nanako glanced at the dashboard, the digital clock behind the car’s wheel reading 11:17 in green font as Yosuke began driving, expertly navigating his way through the suburban streets of Inaba and onto the highway. Neither of them spoke, Yosuke focused on driving as Nanako looked out the car window, more so staring off into space rather than paying attention to the familiar houses and stores of Inaba as they were left behind, buildings slowly but surely morphing into farmland and forest. A while past before Yosuke sparked conversation, glancing at Nanako quickly before returning his eyes to the road, “Uh, Teddie says ‘hi’. I left him at Junes to watch over the place, but he’s sending his… uh, ‘love’.”
“I’ll text him later.” she said absentmindedly, staring at the reflection of her that was barely visible through the window. If she focused, she could make out the features of her face and hair, transparent against the forested scenery of rural Japan. The conversation halted at her dismissive comment, and after a moment or so, quiet music filled the car. She looked over to investigate, and Yosuke met her gaze. When asked if she minded, she nodded ‘no’, turning back to face the window.
The station that Yosuke had chosen was mostly pop, with the rare more rock-like tune showing up every now and then. Twenty minutes or so passed before the obligatory Risette song showed up, coined from her new album ‘Sapphire’. The familiar voice couldn’t help but make Nanako smile, and after looking towards Yosuke, she broke into a small laugh to see he was bopping his head. He smiled at her, raising an eyebrow goofily. “What? It’s a good song!”
“Are you sure you’re not biased?” she laughed, reaching her hand forward to the car’s sound system to turn up the volume slightly. Even when she wasn’t present, Kujikawa Rise always knew how to cheer her up, whether it be through her music or Yosuke’s enjoyment of it.
“That’s golden, coming from you.” Yosuke smirked, now tapping his finger along with the song on the curve of the steering wheel. “Then again, I guess you did prefer Mashita-san and her group after the whole Love meets Bonds fiasco.” he chuckled, looking over to her to find her smiling, clearly fond of the memories. Turning his gaze back to the road, he said, “You were pretty adorable in that outfit, I gotta say. Do you have any plans to see her in Tokyo?”
“‘Adorable’ is weird when you say it, Yosuke.” Nanako feigned annoyance with a huff, but failed to wipe away her grin. “And no—I don’t have her number, or anything like that. Besides, I’m sure that she and the others are busy, anyway. I wouldn’t want to bother her.”
He glanced at her, voice softening as he said, “You’re not a bother, Nanako.” Through the corner of her eye, she saw his head turn back to the road, and a beat of silence passed between them—the atmosphere of the car changed as it did, and as Rise’s song entered the bridge, slow and melancholic, all the emotions that Nanako had been burdened with the past three weeks came flooding back to her. They were feelings she’d love to get away from, and yet they never seemed to leave: like a cloud that forever rained over her head, they followed her everywhere, and were seemingly inescapable.
Yosuke broke the silence, yet again. “Well, you never know.” he shrugged, finger no longer drumming against the wheel as Rise’s song faded out, now replaced by the radio with some a vague pop song that Nanako couldn’t name. “You’ll see Rise in Tokyo, right? With Yu? I’m sure if you ask her, you could catch up with Mashita-san—maybe go for coffee.”
Nanako didn’t reply.
The remaining car ride was held in silence. Yosuke was right about it being short—with no traffic on the highways at this time in the day, the 11:17 she’d previously made note of had become 11:39, and after that, 12:03 when the buildings of Hachioji began to appear. The countryside turned into cityscape quickly as they continued to drive, and the near-empty highway turned into a crowded street along with it. The car took more periodic stops as they met traffic light after traffic light and pedestrian after pedestrian, and soon, Yosuke had tipped his head back into the seat’s headrest behind him, groaning. “Man, don’t these people know how to drive?” he said to himself, sighing as the light turned green and the car continued, albeit slowly.
The traffic continued as they got closer and closer to Tokyo, and soon, the clock read 12:44. The hour long drive that Yosuke had promised had given itself an extra thirty minutes or so, but now that they sat idle outside a beige, concrete house with wood accents and stone trimming the bottom of the walls and paths, she couldn’t care less about the allotted time.
As Yosuke turned the car off and got out, Nanako opened her own door and gazed at the building—her new home. Moments passed, and while Yosuke opened the trunk of the car to fetch the few boxes that hadn’t made it into the U-Haul, the front door of the house opened. Though the stone gate that surrounded the front of the house blocked her view, the wisps of a silver bowl cut were visible above the top of it, and the call of “Nanako!” all but confirmed who it was. While she ran towards the gate from the street, he scrambled to open it from the other side, carefully swinging it to the side before enveloping her into a hug. She desperately returned it, pressing her forehead into the crook of his neck, the two lightly swinging back and forth for what could have been either seconds or minutes. Yu eventually pulled away, keeping her at arm’s length with his hands on her shoulders, grey eyes soft. “Hey,” he murmured to her.
“Hey.” she smiled a lazy reply, her hands resting on his outstretched forearms. While he had planned to visit Inaba on Golden Week, his job had caught up with him, and he’d ended up staying to do extra work—the last time they had seen each other in person had been Christmas, and even then, he stayed overnight for two days before having to return to Tokyo. Being able to hug him after nearly six months was refreshing, to say the least.
He did a quick glance at her stature, smiling as he said, “You’re taller now. Growth spurt?”
She used a smile to evade the rhetorical question, embracing him once more before Yosuke’s footsteps became audible behind them. Nanako dropping her arms to face him, watching as he smiled ear to ear when he approached Yu. “Hiya, Partner,” he said, quickly exchanging his own hug with Yu. It had been six months for them, too.
“Hey.” Yu returned the greeting as they hugged, before letting go of Yosuke and glancing at the box that he’d been holding, which had made its way to the concrete paving before their hug. He turned to Nanako, “I can help unload the car and help get you settled. I got the day off work, too, so we can hang out.” he paused, before looking at Yosuke and adding, “Feel free to spend the night, by the way. You shouldn’t exhaust yourself after a long drive.”
“Dude, we left Inaba at, like, eleven. ‘Long drive’ my ass.” he picked up the box from the road, wrapping his arms under it to hold it against his torso. “But if you’re free, then yeah, we might as well hang out. I’ll be fine to drive home later.”
“If you’re sure.” Yu opened the gate for Yosuke, beckoning him over with a nod. Looking back to Nanako, he said, “The furniture arrived yesterday. I didn’t know what to do with it, so everything’s still in its box—or however else it was packaged—in the garage.” Yosuke passed through the gate as Yu held it open for him. As Nanako followed him through, Yu lowered his voice to say, “We can go through it whenever you’re ready—we don’t have a car, anyways.”
She looked away, pausing before she said, “Okay.” Without another word, she followed the small path that lead to the front door, the gate audibly closing behind her as Yu’s footsteps followed. At that point, Yosuke had already made it into the entrance foyer, the box placed haphazardly to the side. Stepping aside from the doorway to allow Yu to enter, Nanako let her eyes wander through the hallway. A long white bureau was placed across one of the walls, a few photos—mostly of Yu and his parents—framed and hung above it. Small trinkets such as a key rack, a tissue box, a jar of pens and a notepad had been neatly placed across the table, as well as an unopened letter that was addressed to her. On the other wall was a small shoe rack, most of the pairs as ones she’d recognized Yu wearing from her memory or photos, as well as a box of slippers beside it.
Thumps and pitter-patters on the stairs, the bottom steps poking out behind a wall at the of the hallway, eventually grew louder as a woman vaguely familiar appeared, eyes softening as she and Nanako shared a look. “Nanako!” the woman called, and putting two-and-two together, she identified the woman as her aunt—Natsuko, her father’s sister—the familiar brown hair and brunette eyes that the two shared an easily linkable trait. Natsuko enveloped her into a hug, pressing one hand against her back and the other against her head, easily resting her head on the top of Nanako’s. She blushed, the greeting from someone that Nanako could barely recognize unexpected, but not unwanted. Carefully, she wrapped her own arms around the older woman, hugging her back. They stayed like that for a moment, before Natsuko pulled away, a lazy smile and eyes that held back tears festered on her face. “You’re so big, now.”
“Um—… thanks,” she half-heartedly attempted a smile, and looked back at her brother with eyes that said “help”. He, unhelpfully, gave her a thumbs up. Reminding herself to scold him for that later—after all, he knew his own mother better than she did—she let her eyes drift across the entrance hallway, picking out the details. The floor under her was a type of tile, but turned to wood half-a-metre before hitting the staircase. The shoe racks, lined up against the wall to Nanako’s left, met up with an archway as the tile hit wood, leading to a side room that she reminded herself to explore later. Next came the stairs, which were pressed against a wall, before the rest of the hallway continued into a small alcove at the end, a closet door and two others visible from where she was standing. Unsure of what to say, she awkwardly fumbled out, “You have a nice house.”
Natsuko laughed. “Oh, thank you very much. I’ll admit, it’s more Yu’s house than mine—my husband and I aren’t here very often; we spend a lot of time overseas. He—Kage, he’s still in France for business. I’ve only been home for a week myself, after…” she trailed off, brown eyes soon meeting the floor. A moment of tension passed, before she took a breath, plastering on a smile and motioning to the door with her hand, “Well, come on, Yu! Help her unload the car… oh, hello, Hanamura.” she said, both noticing and greeting Yosuke seemingly an afterthought to her.
“Right.” Yu nodded, glancing at Yosuke, who’d been sheepishly waving at Natsuko. “Yosuke?”
“Oh?” Yosuke said, letting his palm fall out of the air and to his side. “Uh, yeah, right.” With that, the two left back through the front door, Nanako and Natsuko soon following.