I don’t remember meeting Tobio exactly. If I tried hard enough to remember I think I can see him in his full glory, tall and intimidating for being so young, pointing a finger to himself and declaring that he was Tobio and he was going to be my best friend. But I might just be imagining it.
Tobio never had a best friend before that moment, I only know that because I didn’t either. Neither of us had ever really had a friend before each other. But that doesn't matter anymore because now we are best friends. And nothing can change that.
“Tobio! Don’t you dare die on me!” I cry out when Tobio jumps off the couch and his toes miss the corner of the cushion and he falls onto the carpeted ground with a dignified grunt. I watch with exaggerated horror and amusement as he clutches his chest and reaches one arm out to the ceiling, grasping at nothing but air.
“I’m dying Shou, the lava has gotten me. I leave you with my pokémon card collection,” he coughs a final time and his hand outstretched towards the ceiling collapses on top of his face with a dramatic smack.
“Nooooooooo,” I rest my face in my hands, trying to be serious, but failing to contain my giggling. “Oh wait, this means I can have your card collection?” I wait for a reaction, but there’s nothing but a twitch from the hand resting on his face and silence.
“Okay, bye then!” I jump over Tobio and he clumsily shoots up to run past me so he can guard his binder of cards. However, Tobio’s mother blocked the entrance to the stairs with crossed arms and a disapproving look.
“Tobio I told you not to stomp your feet while your father is working, he will get angry at me as well as you. So try to be quieter please,” I watch Tobio cross his arms indignantly out of the corner of my eye.
“But mom, Shouyou was loud too!” He huffs, stomping his foot in protest. All I can do is watch with wide, guilty eyes as his mother turns her head and with a blank stare tells me to be quiet too.
It’s not the first time she doesn’t look me in the eye.
Dew drops dance on long blades of grass, sliding over my ankles ominously under the rising sun that’s peaking out over Tobio’s white picket fence. The droop in Tobio’s eyes is apparent and concerning, but I knew he would have only asked to wake up early if he really wanted to watch the sunrise.
I’m silent— a rarity in itself— as beams of life reflect off of the wetness of grass, giving Tobio’s simple, closed off yard some kind of memorizing glow that neither of us can tear our eyes from. Granted, it didn’t take long for my attention span to wear thin, and my hands start fidgeting on their own accord.
“Just a few more minutes Shou? I haven’t watched the sun come up with anyone else before,” unable to argue, I sit back down wordlessly, and let my fingers feel the rhythm in the creases between the brick steps to Tobio’s porch.
As I find solace in literally anything other than sitting still, Tobio found it in taking some things slow. Sometimes it feels like we were made for each other in that way. Like I was made to pull him around, introduce him to new things and keep him entertained. As he was made to make me slow down, and appreciate the little things. Like watching the sun rise.
He bends down to thread a handful of grass between his knuckles, taking his time to pluck each one from the ground. Then he spreads his fingers and the wind is quick to catch the blades and carry them a few paces from us. We watch with bated breath as they tumble and jump over the longer stripes of green until they're out of our range of vision.
Tobio twists to look at me, “Do you wanna play knights?” There is a whimsical look in his eyes that makes me hesitate to immediately say yes as I usually do. A part of me begs and pleads to talk to him, and force him into taking his route of doing things. We could slowly talk out his feelings, and I could ask what was bothering him. But my reply crawls up my throat all too quick.
“Of course.” And that’s the end of it.
As we run inside I wonder if there was any chance of us talking in depth about anything at all. I guess fate does not want me to.
A foam sword plunges in between the arm and chest of the stuffed dragon and with a final battle cry Tobio and I collapse. Grass prods at our skin as beads of sweat leisurely roll down my face. And as the sun dips behind the house and the moon takes its spot in the sky, our labored breathing slows with the arrival of stars.
Tobio gets us a blanket to lay on and as we settle in, getting comfortable in the patchy blanket. There’s hardly a beat of silence between us before Tobio begins pointing out constellations and I attempt to join.
“That one looks like a butt.” I contribute enthusiastically.
“What? No, but that one star is a part of this one.”
“It is defiantly a butt.”
“I think that's a bit of a reach, Shou.”
“But you see it though, right?”
“Then it's a butt.”
Tobio huffs, but after a minute of silence he slowly picks up the conversation again, pointing out less immature, but still random shapes in the stars that could not have been constellations. But both of our attention is directed to the porch when the sliding door softly clicks closed and work shoes thump down the stairs until they reach us.
“Hey buddy,” a gruff voice sounds above us, and a thick aroma of surrounds us as I make room for him to sit down on our blanket.
“Say hi to Shouyou too,” I make a face at Tobio, we both know that his father would rather him hanging out with much more proper kids. But Tobio chooses to ignore his distaste of me, so I don’t come to mind him too much. Sometimes it does annoy Tobio that his parents won’t acknowledge us together, though.
“Hi,” he slurs quickly, “What are you two doing out here?”
“Stargazing,” I watch Tobio lick his lips nervously, working up the courage to talk to his dad about something other than sports.
“That one kinda looks like a butt, and that one is the little dipper.”
“No, they’re not.” Tobio’s open mouth, ready to point out more constellations snaps shut and its replaced with a fiery heat on his cheeks.
“That isn’t a butt, and that is the big dipper.” My heart leaps into my throat and gets stuck there as a gross silence envelops us for a mere thirty seconds before the low voice above our heads’ continues. “Well, I better go back inside. The mosquitos are coming,” I glare at the blanket in a silent fury as Tobio’s father nearly steps on me on his way to the door. Leaving his broken-hearted son out here like he isn’t the one to blame for his sadness.
A faint ‘don’t stay out here too late,’ and a final click of the sliding door leaves us in a tense silence. Only the sound of Cicadas filling the humid air and a broken conversation flutters around us underneath the stars, that were no longer as beautiful.
I’m in Tobio’s room years later, the yelling downstairs seems to seep into the walls and I feel absolutely helpless watching my best friend bury his head in pillows. He only lets himself cry for a few minutes before pulling himself together. I feel pride swell in my chest as he wipes the snot under his nose and the wetness shining on his cheeks with a handkerchief.
He apologizes for letting me see him in such an uncivilized state, not looking at me as he pats his shirt down of wrinkles and nimbly sits back down at his desk and finishes his homework quietly.
There is so much I have to say, but my stone tongue stops me from comforting Tobio. I’ll never know how he got used to the screams that bleed into his room that create the foundation of his unhealthy household. But I admire him more than words could ever say.
“To— bi— o~,” I sing-song, my folded elementary graduation papers press against my thigh in my pocket. They seem to weigh me down as I politely ask what middle school Tobio wants to go to.
His papers are held proudly in his hands as his parents talk to each other in irritated hushed voices in front of us. I see them gesture to me sometimes when Tobio isn’t watching, when I brought this up to him he said it was probably because of my obnoxious orange hair. But they always seem too angry to be upset about my hair.
“I’m not sure yet, some school in the Miyagi prefecture for sure, and they have to have a good volleyball team.” I nod in agreement to that. He lists some of the schools he liked, and I comment whether or whether not I liked them. Tobio sips on his milk box thoughtfully as I talk loudly about his options, complimenting him as I go through the list. When we get to the car he buckles in my seatbelt for me, because I get distracted by a crow that flies near the window.
“So Tobio, what middle school do you think you’re going to choose?” His father asks, his eyes not leaving the road even though his mother is the one driving. I look to see if Tobio bothers to tell him that he should have been listening to us. He’s been doing that less recently. I don’t mind, not really. But his family make me feel like I'm invisible. But Tobio would always stick up for me, including me in everything he does.
It’s not a nice feeling when he doesn’t.
He doesn’t talk to me much more for the rest of the night.
We are twelve when Tobio throws himself into volleyball and forgets everything else. Including me.
He hasn’t actually forgotten about me, I think, but we hardly speak anymore. Even when I pester him for hours on end, he won’t respond more than a few more sentences. I still come over almost every night, so tonight isn’t unlike any other when I plop down on his bed, hours after volleyball practice and curl up on his favorite pillow.
The loud mumbling downstairs is insistent to puncture the walls and I can see Tobio’s hands shake. Even after hearing his parent's consistent yelling for years, it still affects him. They’ve become so loud now that I could probably make out their splitting words if I wanted to.
Tobio’s grip on his pencil is so tight his knuckles have turned white. I cleared my throat so I could tease him about snapping his pencil, but Tobio’s father’s voice belts out, louder than I’ve ever heard anyone scream before. The entire house seems to shake with the final slam of the door.
“Your son is a freak!”
I turn away from Tobio’s closed door I hadn’t realized I’ve been staring at, but he has already composed himself enough to put down his pencil and wring his hands out underneath the desk. He breathes out deeply once and then continues the math problem he was working on previously.
Moments like these make me feel like fate or destiny aren’t real, like they’re just a gimmick to get people from losing hope. Or maybe I’m betraying it, by being unable to help him.
The deafening silence falls on deaf ears, and Tobio doesn’t speak a word throughout the night. And not another for many to come.
Tobio’s father doesn’t come back after the final outburst, and neither does much of the noise that used to surround us. I wonder if the last words he shouted into the house echoes through his head as much as it does mine.
At only fourteen Tobio gains the nickname ‘King’ by his own teammates. But it was no compliment. I knew it was because he’s recently been acting brash and loud towards them. And maybe I’m biased, but I think they could do better too.
Tobio is the best person I know, even if we haven’t spoken more than a few words in months, he is no dictator. He just wants them to be the best they can be. I don’t see what’s wrong with wanting everyone at their best.
If I could play I’d surely—
Why can’t I play?
I can jump freakishly high, I’m fast, and I’ve been Tobio’s friend for as long as I can remember, so we would sink up easily.
So why can’t I play?
Tobio has talked to me more this week than he has in the past few months, and although it makes me feel like I’m finally not being ignored, every word is like walking on eggshells.
I’m not smart, I know this well. Despite this, I know Tobio still doesn’t have any friends other than me. I know even if he isn’t the most social person in the world, he wants another friend.
It’s breezy outside, I know because Tobio is wearing a thicker sweater and because of the swaying of cherry blossom tree branches are swaying in the wind. However, I can’t feel the chill on my translucent skin, and otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to tell.
I’ve followed Tobio up the path to this point where he comes to a sudden stop in the middle of the road. I ask him what was wrong, and although the sound doesn’t make it past the wind separating us. I knew Tobio heard it. He has always heard me.
“I can't do this anymore Shouyou,” his voice breaks at the end of his sentence and I ask him what he couldn't do anymore.
“I can’t live like this! I’m a freak,” he says, each word growing louder, ‘you aren’t a freak’ I whisper into the passing breeze.
“I am though, I am. You want to know why I’m a freak? I’ll give you a hint, it's not because my dad said so. It's not because all the kids at school say so either, nor is it because I’m antisocial, or have anxiety issues. And I think you know exactly what I’m talking about,” He blubbers, huffing out a choked sob. “So why don’t you tell me, tell me, because If I’ve figured it out I know you have.” He’s screaming himself red in the face, but I can’t help but to look him over admirably. Tobio presses his cold fingertips under his eyes to stop the tears from falling, but it's inevitable.
“You aren’t real, Shouyou,” He says it like a mantra, but I only heard him the first time. My hearing deteriorates as I look at my best friend of fourteen years with wide eyes. My only friend of fourteen years.
The ringing in my ears only continues to get louder as I look up to see Tobio’s red face mouthing— screaming that his best and only friend wasn’t real. That the reason his father left was because of me. Because of him. Because I’m not real. And because he is a freak.
I am real, my emotions are real, I like real things, and I dislike real things. I am real. I am real. I am real. I’ve never tasted or truly touched anything, nor have I really done anything other than be with Tobio. But I am real. I have to be real. I have to be.
Both of us are in an utter and complete hysterics, until we both simultaneously choke on a breath as we watch as a single cherry blossom petal, a sign of spring, of rebirth, pass right through the heart of my image. It hovers above the concrete and drifts off into the grass, blissfully unaware of the effect it just caused me, and the realization that I am not Tobio’s only friend, and he is not mine. As he has no friends and I am no longer as real as I thought I had been.
“Oh,” I think, watching Tobio close his eyes, tears bubbling over his lashes and falling down his pale cheeks. “I guess I never was real.”
And when Tobio blinks open his watery eyes,
Shouyou was gone.