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“Gakuki was no fool. He understood the laws of the universe and the wisdom of the skies, seas, and earth. He walked over the bridge, telling himself that whoever was waiting on the other side, he would grow to understand, too.”

 

***

 

Gon knew there was nothing more wholesome, more gratifying than turning the corner of a page and starting on the next one. He tried to think of at least one thing, but failed. To him, reading a good book was the equivalent to watching a classic movie or seeing an old friend after many years. The feeling was warm and familiar. 

 

His current read was one Kite had recommended, Obliteration, and so far it had Gon literally on the edge of his seat, eyes strained from focusing so hard. The words spoke to him in a language he felt he’d understood his entire life, about a boy who left his hometown in hopes of finding his father, though upon the journey, dreadful things happened. 

 

Gon was so enraptured with the novel, he didn’t notice the house quieting as his great-grandmother, Abe, brewed her nighttime tea. The desk lamp illuminated the words in his otherwise dark bedroom. It had to be at least 10 o’clock, and Aunt Mito would soon barge in his room and yell at him to “Take his behind to bed because he had school tomorrow.”

 

Reading was his first love. He’d always liked hearing stories Aunt Mito would whisper to him as a kid, giggling and eager to hear more, so when he finally learned to read at the age of only two, he couldn’t stop. 

 

He loved to read because it was really his only source of entertainment, being that his aunt couldn’t afford cable or toys while struggling to find a decent-paying job. He loved to read because when the noise of their run-down apartment building irked his nerves, he could drown it out. He loved to read because if reality became too much, fantasy was only a page away. 

 

The family of three lived in Section 8 housing, where low-income workers could have a roof over their heads in exchange for sanity and sense of order. They really had no other choice. Abe’s medical bills were relentless, and without a degree to her name, Mito couldn’t get anything that didn’t require her to use her hands. 

 

After months of searching, she found work at a nearby hotel as a housekeeper, not making nearly as much as she was worth, but enough, and maintained a couple side-gigs like sewing and cooking for some needy families in the building. 

 

Gon knew she was tired. She probably always had been, but he was too young to realize it. A woman in her early thirties should not have to commit her life to caring for her teenage nephew and sickly grandmother, but she did it anyway. 

 

He felt a rush of anger surge inside of him, though he didn’t exactly know why. He was of age to get a part-time job, but Aunt Mito insisted that he dedicate his time to school. He wanted to help her, to not have to watch her fall asleep on the couch because she was too exhausted to walk to bed. 

 

Because of one selfish person, they were struggling, and what she didn’t know was that while at school, Gon was hopelessly lost inside of himself, thinking of that same person, someone he loved, hated, yet had never met. 

 

Ging.

 

Gon knew absolutely nothing about him, other than his first name and the soul-cutting fact that he had abandoned him before he was even born. Mito refused to give any information on his background or whereabouts, and even went as far as removing any household items that would provide the slightest hint about who he was. 

 

Gon tried not to be mad at her for this. He knew she was only trying to protect him. But when his mind wandered at night, and the silence of his room crept up on him, he couldn’t help but feel like she was making him suffer. 

 

He remembered an argument they had one night. 

 

“I have a right to know, Aunt Mito.”

 

The young woman was in no mood to talk, nor was she willing to give her nephew any sliver of hope. Hope would only turn into hurt. 

 

“No, you don’t. But you do have a right to go to bed.”

 

“Why won’t you tell me? Do you think I’m stupid or something? I know you know. You’re keeping this from me on purpose.” He accused, fists clenched at his sides. 

 

“Gon, honey. I’m not keeping anything from you. He isn’t important. He never was.”

 

“Aunt Mito, please—”

 

“Be quiet! Not another word from you. I have to arrive at work early tomorrow, and I won’t let you keep me up with this nonsense. Go to bed. Now. “

 

Gon wanted to scream. He just couldn’t understand why she thought keeping his father a secret was the best thing to do. Gon needed closure, to shut the door in his chest Ging had left wide open. 

 

But right now, his guardian, mother figure, and doting aunt didn’t care about that. So, he gave up.

 

“Fine.”

 

He marched away, fuming and filled with sorrow. 

 

His Aunt Mito, a woman only thirty-one years old but had eyes like an elderly widow, sat at the kitchen table, and cried.

 

Gon stopped reading, sliding in a bookmark and placing the paperback on his bedside table. Indeed, he did have to go to school the next day, no matter how badly he wished to bury himself beneath the sheets and escape to a fictional world. Tomorrow would consist of impossible algebra tests, lazy teachers who didn’t give a damn, and rowdy teens running up and down the halls. 

 

Despite this, he could still be thankful he would be spending his lunch hour with Zushi, Meleoron, and Mr. Wing in his classroom.

 

Their company was always anticipated, and he loved joking with Zushi about whose grade took the most damage after turning in a Distributive Property assignment, or chatting with Meleoron about a new card trick he learned.

 

And as for Mr. Wing, well, students weren’t allowed to lounge in rooms by themselves, so his presence was necessary. 

 

He also had the woods to look forward to, which he discovered one afternoon when the air conditioning in their apartment broke for a few days, needing fresh, brisk air to cool off.

 

It was on a path behind the apartment complex, packed with trees whose branches danced in the wind and brown, rough dirt that exfoliated his feet. Small animals inhabited the bushes and hollow trunks were plotted along the ground, though his favorite spot was a lonely creek, one that filled his head with the tranquil sound of flowing water. 

 

Nature and literature gave him solace, but the constant void in his chest made him sore. 

 

Laying awake at night was typical—and it wasn’t because of noise. His soul often went away for a bit, only returning when he and his aunt went on flea market trips together on her rare days off, or when Abe was feeling good enough to take a short walk down the street. 

 

He stopped caring where it went, after a while. 

 

After tossing in bed for thirty minutes, he sat up and sipped the tea Abe had saved him, the scent of chamomile lulling his body to rest. Through the window, he stared at the row of houses, each of them so cramped together he could make out the figures moving. 

 

He tried to imagine a life different than his own, one where he was fully accepted and free to do whatever he pleased. A life where he could laugh without the feeling of emptiness itching its way out and reminding him that he was only kidding himself, that joy and contentment were out of reach. 

 

A life that felt like a good book.