Chapter 1: Healing
1 Month Later
Naho cried for the first time since the accident. She’d tried so hard to be fine, to stop being a bother to everyone else who had cared for him, but she felt like the floor had fallen out from beneath her and she was still falling.
After a particularly bad day of school, she decided she didn’t care where she ended up. Without Kakeru, everything was the same. The pitying looks of her parents weren’t any different than the sad looks of her friends.
She ended up at Suwa’s house, hoping for some comfort that her other friends hadn’t been able to give her. Suwa had always been there for her, and so she raised a hand and rang the doorbell.
He answered the door, and she stared at him. She hadn’t talked to him since the accident, since the hours all of them had spent together after Kakeru died. He looked worn out and tired, but more importantly, he looked like home.
A tear ran down her cheek as she stood alone on the doorstep, and he pulled her into his arms.
“It’s alright. It’ll be ok.”
She didn’t believe him, but she hugged him back and cried into his shirt.
2 Months Later
Naho had stopped caring about school. She thought about the opening ceremony, when everything had seemed so bright and full of possibilities. Her notebook filled with wishes in the form of his name.
Kakeru. Kakeru. Kakeru.
When they became distorted by tears, she excused herself to cry in the bathroom.
She only made it to the hallway before collapsing in a mess of unfathomable sadness.
Her friends walked past later on, offering help, but she couldn’t hear them over the black silence in her mind. She waved them off, and they left.
Suwa approached her and said something, but she hugged herself tighter, trying to make it all go away.
“Naho,” he said, eyes serious. She looked up at him, trusting him, and he silently handed her her bag. Then he picked her up easily on his back, bag hooked over his shoulder. She cried into his back, arms looped tightly around his neck.
“I don’t want to go home,” she told him.
He nodded and they sat on a bench until the sun went down.
Only later did she see that he had closed her notebook for her.
3 Months Later
Naho still hadn’t visited Kakeru’s grave. It was too painful for her; life without Kakeru was hard enough, but she had managed to hold onto the memories of Kakeru. She clutched them close to her heart, and wouldn’t let them be erased by the memory of his grave.
She had drifted apart from her friends over the months. All of them had been affected in different ways: Azusa’s smile was no longer blinding, Takako faded into the shadows even more, and even Hagita remained quiet for quite some time. But when they all began to heal, Naho felt the gap between them widen. She knew she never would heal, and never could. Life without Kakeru was like a harsh, cold wind, reminding her of everything she had lost. She could never forget Kakeru, and that alone was what kept her going and what made her want to give up.
Only Suwa seemed unaffected by Kakeru’s death. He still smiled and joked, played soccer with his friends, and talked to everyone normally. He was always there for her, and Naho thought that was exactly why she always felt alone. He didn’t seem to understand the emptiness in her: the emptiness that Kakeru had left in the world.
Naho stood alone in the cold wind. She didn’t feel the warmth of the figure next to her, or the sadness weighing him down.
4 Months Later
It was raining. Suwa offered Naho his umbrella, and they walked side by side, Suwa slumping slightly to lower the umbrella to her height. Everyone else had left already, but Naho didn’t care. She listened to the rain falling on the umbrella and remembered the day when she and her friends had shared umbrellas. When Kakeru was still alive, smiling with Suwa and Hagita under his own umbrella. Tears began to fall down her face, and she felt utterly alone. No one would ever understand this feeling.
That day was the first time that Naho realized she was not alone.
Naho could feel Suwa looking at her tears, and her tears fell faster. She looked up in shock when Suwa broke the silence. Rain fell hard around them, tapping against the ground as Suwa shoved the umbrella at Naho.
“Here, take this. I forgot something at school,” he said roughly, turning immediately and walking back towards the school. Naho watched his figure disappear in the rain, as alone as she felt, and walked home emotionlessly except for a slight hint of worry.
He would be fine, she told herself. It wasn’t like he cared all that much anyway.
She didn’t see him leaning against the school building, rain masking tears. She didn’t know when he stayed there for hours, alone except for the constant sting of rain on his shoulders.
She left the umbrella to dry, and cried alone in her room.
5 Months Later
Azusa asked them all to meet up over the weekend, and Naho said yes.
Now it was Saturday and Naho knew she wasn’t going. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to be with her friends. She just felt too empty to go. Her mother poked her head into Naho’s room worriedly.
“Weren’t you going to meet Azusa and the others, Naho?”
Naho turned over on her bed, smothering her face in the blanket.
“I don’t feel too good,” she said, her voice muffled.
“Alright, honey,” her mom said quietly, closing the door.
A few minutes later, Naho heard the door open again, and sighed.
“I really don’t want to go. Stop pestering.”
She looked up at the door, and saw her friends crowded in the doorway. Azusa grinned widely at her, and Takako offered her a smaller smile. Hagita came up from behind, saying something to Azusa, and Suwa pushed his way through, looking intently at Naho.
“ Come with us. We’re all going to the bakery to get some bread together.”
Naho saw the determination in his eyes, and smiled for the first time. She saw Suwa’s face brighten before dimming slightly, and she looked at him in confusion. He just shook his head.
“Let’s go,” he told her, and Naho looked at each of her friends, and nodded. She pushed herself off of her bed and followed them, letting Suwa close the door behind them.
“I’m going out,” she told her mother, who was waiting near the front door. Her mother looked at her first in shock, and then in absolute happiness. She hugged Naho.
“Have fun,” she whispered.
When Naho turned back to her friends, Suwa caught her eye and smiled at her. She smiled back at all of her friends and walked with them, listening to the banter that she had almost forgotten.
In her heart, the emptiness filled a little.
6 Months Later
Naho kept talking with her friends, but felt horrible for ignoring them for so long. She could see now that they still hadn’t healed, and probably never would. But now they were all there for eachother, and that was enough for Naho.
She approached them in class one day, and took a deep breath, then bent over, eyes staring at the floor.
“I’m sorry,” she blurted out. When she glanced at them, Azusa grinned at her.
“I’ve been waiting,” she said. “, and we’re sorry too. We weren’t there for you enough.” Then a serious look came upon her face. “Just remember that you’re not alone, Naho. We’re all here for you now.”
Naho looked at all of them, and nodded hesitantly.
“We feel the same way as you do, Naho,” Azusa added.
She felt the need to explain herself for once. To make them understand how she felt. “I feel so empty without him,” she told them, standing alone. “I really loved him.”
“I think we all loved him, in our own ways,” Takako said gently. “but I know what you mean.”
Naho felt tears running down her face, and looked at Takako to see that she was crying, too.
Azusa caught Hagita’s eye, and Hagita turned red.
“What, do you expect me to cry or something?” He looked closely at her and realized that Azusa was crying, too. He sighed, then hugged her.
Naho only realized after a few minutes that Suwa was gone. She asked Takako, and she replied that he had left about halfway through the conversation.
Naho sighed, remembering Suwa’s confession, and then her admission a couple minutes ago. She wandered out of the classroom, and found him looking out of the window.
“Suwa-“ she started. He didn’t reply, so she looked closer at him and saw the tears on his face.
“I miss him too, you know. You’re not alone,” he said.
She smiled at him. “Thank you, Suwa. I know.”
He smiled back at her, and she felt her heart flutter slightly, then shook it off.
They stood together, looking out of the window until the others joined them.
Chapter 2: Friends
Naho only noticed that Suwa had been acting strange after Hagita pointed it out.
He had been unusually silent recently, and seemed to be avoiding Naho slightly. Naho worried for a while- had she been bothering him recently? maybe he didn’t like spending this much time with her- until she looked at the calendar and realized that it was almost New Year’s Eve. Her mind skipped back to his confession, and she furrowed her eyebrows. She still hadn’t replied to him, she realized.
She approached him after school, and found him surrounded by a group of girls. She felt slightly off, like she had forgotten something, but didn’t know what it was.
She turned away and joined Azusa and Takako. She hadn’t had anything important to say, anyway.
That night, she cried slightly. She must have been relying too much on him, she thought, clutching her pillow close to her. She really was a bother. And Suwa had always been so nice to her, too. He must have gotten over the confession already, but she hoped he still wanted to be her friend.
At school the next day, when he grabbed her arm to stop her, she startled away from him, pulling her arm back. He ignored it and began talking to her. She tried to smile like normal, but she had seen hurt on his face before he started talking. The memory of the confession came back to her, and she felt guilt settle on her shoulders.
“- going with us to eat on New Year’s Eve?” Azusa said as Naho tuned back in later on in the day. Naho looked around at her friends’ expectant faces, and nodded.
“Where are we going?”
“My mom and dad’s bakery, of course.” Azusa smiled mischeviously. “My mom has been making some new stuff for the holidays, so it’ll be fun. You can come, then?”
Naho hesitated slightly.
“Unless you’re doing something with Suwa, of course,” Hagita added in.
A chair screeched in the corner, and Suwa stood up.
“I have to go to soccer practice. See you guys later.”
When Suwa left the room, Azusa punched Hagita in the shoulder. Naho looked questioningly at Takako, who shook her head.
“Yeah, I’m coming,” Naho told them. Azusa immediately cheered, turning away from Hagita, and Naho ducked her head, smiling.
She kept smiling with her friends until later in the week, when the gloom of Kakeru’s death hit her again. Recently, it had been on and off. Some days she felt that she could be happy with the memories of him, and some days she felt the unbearable sadness.
She sank into her seat, barely hearing the conversation around her.
“Are you coming with us, Suwa?” Azusa’s voice said in the background.
“Ah, sorry. I’m busy that day.” Suwa said. Naho looked up in surprise. She hadn’t seen Suwa much lately. He’d been at soccer practice almost all of the time, and seemed to be avoiding her even more.
“You don’t have to be a martyr,” Takako said sharply. Naho looked back and forth between them, before making her decision. Suwa had supported her so much, and yet she’d only been a bother to him. The least she could do was support him.
“He doesn’t have to go,” Naho added in. Her friends went silent, and Suwa looked away from her.
“Even Naho agrees,” he said eventually. “I’m not going.”
Naho felt confused as he left, wanting him to smile and act normal. Then she felt angry at him, and she got up. She glanced at her friends, then ran after Suwa. Hagita caught her eye as she left and nodded, before Azusa cuffed him on the head.
She found him at the soccer field, head in his hands. When he saw her, he smiled like normal, but she didn’t smile back.
“Tell me the truth,” she told him, sitting next to him. “Am I a bother to you? Is that why you’ve been ignoring me?”
Suwa shook his head immediately. “Of course not.” Almost as if it was an afterthought, he added “Do you not want me to go on New Year’s Eve?”
Naho stayed silent before asking “I thought you were busy?”
He flinched. “Alright. I have to practice some more.”
She caught his arm as he moved away, and he froze.
“I do want you to go with. We’ll all go together.”
He searched her face before smiling. “Ok. I’ll go, then.”
When he realized she was still holding his arm, he broke into a smile. “I really do have to practice, though.”
She let go of his arm immediately, feeling her face heat for some reason. She sat there for a while before finding Azusa and telling her that Suwa would be going.
Hagita gave her a big smile.
Chapter 3: Remembering
Naho arrived at the bakery early, only to find that Hagita was already inside, joking with Azusa. She backed out silently, closing the door behind her, and was surprised to see Suwa standing there too. She lost her balance on the steps, and Suwa caught her shoulders, steadying her.
Naho blushed, then cursed herself.
“Want to leave them on their own for a while?” Suwa asked, smiling widely. She grinned back. Suwa’s smiles had always been contagious.
They met Takako as they walked back past the bakery, and when they told her what was going on, she smiled mysteriously.
“I’ll go on ahead,” she told them, catching Suwa’s eye. Suwa narrowed his eyes at her, but let her go.
“Want to get something from the store?” Naho suggested.
“Yeah, we probably won’t be able to eat for a while.” Suwa agreed, leading the way toward the store. When he realized that she was walking behind him, he slowed down a step and walked next to her, talking easily.
She watched him as he talked, noticing the clench of his hands, and the sadness behind his smile. Had he always been faking it around her? It was so hard to tell when his smile was real.
She grabbed his hand out of impulse, and he froze, then smiled. It was real, she thought. And she realized that she wanted to make him smile. She wanted to be someone who he could talk to. She didn’t want to be a bother to him or to any of her friends.
They kept walking, and this time, Suwa stayed silent, his hand around her hand. For some reason, her palm started sweating, and she blushed, but his hand only close more tightly around hers.
Then she remembered Kakeru, and his smile, and his hands as she fell in love with him, and she pulled her hand out of Suwa’s.
“Sorry,” she told him, smiling. “My hand was getting a little cold.” She shoved it into the depths of her pocket, looking away from him so she couldn’t see his reaction. She slowed when she realized that he had stopped walking.
“Kakeru?” he asked, hand shoved into pocket.
The mention of his name brought tears to her eyes, and she nodded.
“I’m sorry, Naho,” he told her, eyes pleading with her. She looked at the ground, and he slid something out of his pocket.
“Here. I figured you would be thinking about him today, so-“ he gave her a wrapped package and a fake smile.
“Tell the others I wasn’t feeling well. Bye.”
Only after he left did she turn the package over and open it. It was a photo book, filled with pictures of Kakeru during school events. A note fluttered out of the back of the book, and Naho carefully opened it.
I was asking other for photos of Kakeru. You always seem worried about forgetting him, so here are some memories that you can keep forever.
Happy New Year’s, Naho.
Naho cried as she looked at all of the pictures, remembering each of his smiles. She closed her eyes and tilted her head back.
Thank you, Suwa. Thank you so much.
Chapter 4: Anniversary
It was days before the anniversary of Kakeru’s death. Soon it would be one year since Kakeru had left them. Naho’s heart twisted with dread as she thought of visiting his grave. The photo album had helped, but she had never lost the fear of forgetting Kakeru.
She voiced her concerns to Takako, who seemed to be the most likely to understand other than Suwa. Suwa, however, had been avoiding her after New Year’s Eve. She’d only gotten the chance to thank him for the photo album.
Takako listened intently to her, before nodding. “I haven’t visited it yet either. But I feel like we owe this to Kakeru. He needs to know that we all care enough to visit him.”
Azusa popped up behind Takako, dragging Hagita behind her. “We’ll all do it together. Don’t worry, Naho.”
“Is Suwa going?” Naho asked worriedly.
Azusa hesitated. “I’m sure we’ll convince him. All we have to worry about is whether or not it snows that day.”
“I don’t know about you guys, but I’m going whether it snows or not.” Suwa’s voice came from behind Naho. Naho startled, turning around to look at him.
“Are we all going together, then?” Hagita asked, sounding bored. Azusa pulled him away from the group, rolling her eyes at them.
Suwa smiled tiredly at them. “I’m going home. See you then.”
Naho said her goodbyes to Takako, too, and ignored Azusa and Hagita, who were arguing on the other side of the room. She walked with Suwa to the entrance, feeling awkward with him for one of the first times. He opened the door for her, and she blushed.
“Do you want to walk home with me?”
Suwa tensed, then smiled at her. “See you, Naho.”
Naho stood there for a while, wondering why he had ignored her. He really had been acting strange recently, and he was beginning to worry her. She didn’t want to care about Suwa right now; she wanted to remember Kakeru and focus on his anniversary. But her eyes still followed Suwa as he walked home alone, hands in his pockets.
She ran after him. “Suwa,” she called out, holding her bag tighter. “I’m sorry about New Year’s Eve.”
He examined her, then offered her a smile. “It’s alright. I’ll walk you home.”
They changed direction, and she looked at him out of the corner of her eye.
“Are you okay? You’ve been acting strange recently.”
She didn’t believe him, but she didn’t push.
Soon it was the anniversary. It came quickly, like a rainstorm, and hovered above them, a constant reminder of the pain they couldn’t get rid of.
The forecast that morning was for snow, and Naho frowned at the whiteness on the ground. The temperature was supposed to be almost dangerous, and a blizzard was possible later in the day. Naho sank onto her bed, heart heavy, and hesitated before calling Suwa.
He didn’t pick up. She blinked at the beep for leaving a message, then hung up and called Azusa instead.
“What do you think about the forecast?” Azusa asked immediately after answering the call.
“I don’t think-“ a sob broke her words, and she cried into the phone. Azusa comforted her awkwardly.
“I don’t think we can go.” she finished, sniffing loudly.
“It’s okay, Naho. We can go tomorrow. Kakeru won’t be mad at us for being safe during a snow storm.”
Azusa promised to tell Hagita and Takako about the news, then hung up after asking Naho to call Suwa.
Suwa still didn’t answer. Naho stared at her phone indecisively, then put it aside. She would try later. For now, she had things to do.
Several painstaking hours of work later, she was done. She looked at the photo album that was now full of pictures of Kakeru’s childhood and friends. Suwa had given her the extra pictures a while after New Year’s Eve, and Naho had been determined to finish the photo album since then. The photos were all pasted in now, a collage of memories. She hugged it to her chest, then checked the time.
Five AM. Naho checked her phone for missed calls, and felt the ball of concern in her stomach grow. She called him and got no answer, then called his parents.
They told her that he had gone out at noon to visit Kakeru’s grave, and that he still wasn’t back. She said her goodbyes, and tried to calm her quick heartbeat.
The doorbell rang, and Naho opened it, only to find Suwa there. His coat looked like it had long since given up on fending off the cold, and his hair was covered in a layer of snow. He closed the door behind him, and then stood there, leaning against it.
A string snapped inside Naho. “Do you know how important this day is to all of us? This is about Kakeru, about what he meant to all of us. This is not about you! Don’t ruin this day!”
He nodded slowly. “I know. It was my fault. I’m so sorry, Naho.” Tears glistened in his eyes.
Naho began to cry, too. She hadn’t meant to yell at him. She just wanted him to know how much he meant to her. She didn’t want to lose anyone else she loved.
Naho’s breath caught, and she stared at him. His eyes were slightly unfocused, and his breathing was slow. He collapsed in front of the door, and she screamed.
She couldn’t remember anything after that before sitting next to him in the hospital.
“Hypothermia,” the doctor had told them. Their friends had arrived later on, but Naho stayed next to him, numb to anything else. He had shadows under his eyes, as if he hadn’t slept well for weeks, and even in sleep, he frowned as if he was in pain. Naho knew it was her fault: she had ignored his confession, and hadn’t talked to him about Kakeru’s death. She couldn’t believe he thought that it was his fault. It matched up with his behavior, but Naho hadn’t been thinking enough about him to realize what was going on. She cried in the seat next to his hospital bed, hands clenched into fists.
Azusa and Hagita sat next to eachother, silent for once. Takako sat next to Naho, offering support.
Together, they waited.
Chapter 5: Love
Naho hadn’t seen Suwa since he’d been released from the hospital. Azusa had visited once, and so had Takako, but Naho felt something hold her back.
Now, on his first day back at school, her heartbeat quickened as she spotted him in the crowd. She opened her mouth to call for him, but then closed it when she saw that he was surrounded by other girls. It would’ve been a bother, anyway. She would talk to him later.
He avoided her throughout the entire day. His words still echoed in her head. It’s my fault. I’m so sorry, Naho.
As he went to leave without her, she hurried after him and grabbed his hand.
“I’m sorry for what I said,” she blurted out, looking down at the ground. “None of it was your fault, Suwa. I’m here for you if you want to talk about it.”
He didn’t reply, and tears fell from her eyes straight to the ground. She closed her eyes quickly to stop the tears before he could see them, and gasped in surprise as he hugged her.
“Thank you, Naho.” he hesitated before adding “I love you. I know you still love Kakeru, but I’m here for you too.”
She pushed back from him. “You’re right. I do still love Kakeru.”
Suwa closed his eyes briefly, as if bracing himself.
“But I love you too, Suwa,” she said, her words rushed. “I realized how much I care about you on the anniversary of his death, when I thought that I didn’t want to lose someone else that I care about. Please, don’t ever do that sort of thing again. You scared me.”
Suwa hugged her close again, and then kissed her. It was sweet and it felt like home.
Naho’s heart healed that day. She would always miss Kakeru and have regrets that she couldn’t fix, but for right now, this was enough for her. The feel of Suwa’s warmth against her, and of his smile against her lips.
This, for Naho, was happiness.