Natsume is standing outside in front of the house. His feet are rooted to the ground and he takes in the sight before him. Everything comes rushing back to him with a mellow gust of wind. His blonde hair sways as he freezes in place; hazel pupils fixate on the house like it's the only thing for miles.
The house is different from the last time he had seen it.
He should've realised this at some point, someone would snatch up the old house eventually. It's well-maintained, has a nice view and definitely enough for more than two people. He wonders why his father chose to stay there with him, all that space only for them, then thinks the house probably held some semblance of his mother. Maybe it was painful to leave it behind. Should Natsume be feeling pain too?
The gate is brown. Cream coloured paint coats the wooden flooring of the entrance; the walls are polished with a rustic shade of silver. Shoes of varying sizes are huddled together in front of the door and four umbrellas rest against each other in a narrow box. A family.
"...tsume..." The voices around him are broken and distant, "...are...okay..."
Natsume closes his eyes and finds himself in the backyard of the house sitting on his father's lap. A wind chime produces a soft and melodious sound. The cheeks of his toddler self are round and chubby, jiggling as his father pats him on the head. Natsume looks up at his father.
But he doesn't see his father's face, he can't even feel his hand hand ruffling through his hair. Chestnut hair, a grey shirt and army green pants hold Natsume close. He wants to see more, but his father fades away. The chiming subsides.
He blinks and lies on the flooring where they sat. Some time has past since then, a couple of years. How ironic, he wants to remember what he tried so hard to forget as a child. Something about a garden, flowers in bloom, a clatter of wind chimes, Natsume struggles. The yard outside is dry, the grass is shriveled up and a repulsive yellow. Clumps of brown mud cover the uneven surface. Tears stream down his face as he curls in himself. The land is barren, and so are the memories of his past.
A breeze drifts him to the present, he opens his eyes. Natsume is standing outside in front of the house. He wonders if the interior is still the same, not that he could recall what it used to look like before. He remembers feeling upset at himself choosing to forget, but not so much anymore.
The house has changed, and likewise Natsume Takashi.
The door to the house creaks ajar from the wind, and Natsume gets a sneak peek of the family living inside. A mother and father sit at a table, the woman brings a mug to her red lips and the man hides his face in newspapers. Two children, girls the spitting image of their parents, are sleeping soundly near the backyard. And the yard, oh their yard.
He had only a glimpse, but he sees row upon row of roses, peonies and flowers of all kinds and colours. The orange-yellow of the rising sun emblazes the garden, the grass illuminates with brightness, immersed in saturation and warmth. It has to have been the most beautiful garden Natsume has ever seen. Is this the garden in bloom his father had talked about? Is this what he wanted Natsume to see?
A hand grasps his shoulder, gently pulling him back to his reality.
Natsume is standing outside in front of the house. He keeps telling himself that, reminding himself that he's outside. That what used to lie inside is no longer there- the man with chestnut hair is gone, the woman who was his wife died before him, all of what remains is Natsume Takashi.
And after years of grieving, Natsume decides that it's okay. Painful emotions of loneliness and sorrow linger every now and then, but it's okay. Because there are precious people around him who have taken him in and accepted him. His newfound family, Touko-san and Shigeru-san; his friends, Nishimura, Kitamoto, Tanuma, Taki, Sasada, his bodyguard, Nyanko-sensei - they've stuck with him through and through. His heart aches with joy to think of it.
"Are you okay?"
Natsume pieces the echoes of words together and turns to the person holding his shoulder.
Tanuma looks at him, his black pupils waver in worry. His friends are beside him smiling eagerly. The sunrise accentuates their faces glistening with perspiration.
"Yeah," Natsume says, "I'm okay,"
Tanuma relaxes and lets go of Natsume’s shoulder. Nishimura excitedly raises his fist to the air.
"Let's go find that Sake spring!" Nishimura says.
"You better know the way," Kitamoto says, raising an eyebrow.
"Have you no faith in me?" Nishimura gasps dramatically.
"Hey, hey, I just don't want to get lost, there's literally no one else here to help us out," Kitamoto reasons to his pouting friend.
"Things would've been a lot easier if you didn't drag us out of bed at like 5am to do this," Sasada rolls her eyes.
"Even fluffy sensei doesn't want to come 'cos it's so early," Taki says sadly, recalling the grunting cat refusing to budge from his spot in the morning.
"So mean!" Nishimura sticks out his tongue childishly.
"Alright, guys, the sooner we leave the sooner we get there, right?" Tanuma calms the group down, "Nishimura, why don't you lead the way?"
Nishimura starts smiling again and puffs out his chest confidently, "follow me!"
The rest of them trail behind Nishimura and follow him into the forest with less than half of his enthusiasm. Tanuma stays close to Natsume, still worriedly checking if he's fine.
Natsume sees a rainbow of colour. The red clip holding Sasada's hair in place. The pink hue rising on Tanuma's cheeks from the heat. The faint yellow jacket on Nishimura’s back. The green bag clinging on Kitamoto's shoulder. The blue band-aid covering the tip of Taki’s index finger. The purple pouch in Natsume’s hand where he keeps a very special photo.
The rainbow stretches over him and his friends, each colour burns bright and increases in intensity, blending into each other it until it becomes indistinguishable where each shade starts and ends. They combine together forming a kaleidoscope of flowers.
The thought hits Natsume: this, this must be his garden in bloom. The view his father wanted him to see.