Title: Call Me Anytime
Rating: G (this chapter)
Genre: less angsty than it could have been
On Monday, Ritsuka went to school because it was better than staying at home.
He didn't want to talk to anyone, so he was glad when no one talked to him. He practiced his thousand-meter stare: just look right past them as if they don’t exist. Shinomine-sensei left him alone, and his classmates all took the hint. Except...
"Ritsukaaaaa. You haven't said one word all morning, are you ignoring me?" Yuiko bent over to peer down at him, paying no attention to her low cut shirt and what that looked like from his perspective.
Ritsuka ignored her. He had other things to think about.
"Hello, Ritsuka?" She set her lunch -- a convenience-store boxed lunch like his -- on the closest desk, then dragged a chair over and straddled it. "I'm going to sit next to you, okay?" she said.
He considered telling her off, but -
"Do what you want." She probably wouldn't have left anyway.
Yuiko smiled as if this was the best thing anyone had ever said to her. It was amazing how little encouragement she needed. ("Stupid people are always happy," Ritsuka had said once, but that wasn't it, exactly.) He hoped that this time, she'd know better than to talk to him.
No such luck.
"Yesterday I went with some friends to see this movie, House of Stairs, have you heard of it? It's about a ghost that lures people into this house full of stairs, and then feeds off their, what's it called, their fear and anger, things like that. The house is full of traps, I forgot to mention that, and there isn't enough food so everyone is always fighting for it, and then some of the people kill some of the other people, and then the dead people's ghosts go out to bring in more people and it happens all over again. Anyway I thought it sounded reaaaaally scary, so I didn't want to go, but Mayumi said it wasn't that bad so I went. It was SO SCARY I thought I was going to cry. In fact, I did cry."
"I don't care," Ritsuka said. "Could you just keep quiet?"
"And then Mayumi and Naoko and Masumi all started laughing at me and -- what?"
"I don't care," Ritsuka repeated. "Is there something wrong with your ears as well as your brain? Also, it's really pathetic when you want to be with your friends so badly that you keep letting them hurt you. I can't stand that. I-"
Do the exact the same thing.
Yuiko looked at him uncertainly and a little tearfully. "Ritsuka?"
"Don't talk to me," Ritsuka said. "I'm not in the mood." He picked up his lunch and moved to another desk, tail lashing behind him. Yuiko looked after him like she was going to cry.
But she didn't. Class started again, and Ritsuka stopped thinking about whether he'd been too harsh. Yuiko hadn't deserved that, but that was life. He'd make it up with her next time.
With Yuiko, there would be a next time.
I don't want things to stay like this. I don't want to stay dependent like this. I want to call him. I don't want to call him. If I don't call, I'll never see him again. I'm afraid.
What am I afraid of?
Thinking through what had happened, Ritsuka realized that he hadn't really been scared when his mother had driven away. He'd been hurt, but at the same time, he'd known there was someone who'd pick up when he called. (Next time, there might not be.) The memory thing was harder, but he was willing try to let it go -- try, at least -- if Soubi promised not to do it again. He didn't know whether he could trust Soubi but that didn't matter, because he already did. It was frightening, though, because there was so much he didn't know and he had the vague idea that theoretically, there were some things you weren't supposed to forgive.
In the end, none of mattered. Not forgiving hurt too much.
On the other hand, just because he'd decided to forgive Soubi didn't mean that he had to do it right away. At the very least, Soubi should have to suffer a little first.
Even if that means I have to suffer, too.
"If you suddenly had a hundred thousand yen, what would you do with it?"
Soubi added another dab of blue paint to the canvas in front of him. "A hundred thousand yen isn't that much money," he said. "It isn't even enough for a down payment. Don't you mean a hundred million?"
"No, a hundred thousand is more exciting. If it's a hundred million, you'll just buy a fancy car or open a grocery store or something." Kio leaned over his shoulder. Soubi was painting a perfectly normal vase of blue roses, how boring. His trademark butterfly was absent; he always added that last.
"Most people would say they'd invest it."
"Ugh, you're so boring! Why I am even friends you!"
"For my looks," Soubi said automatically. He mixed a little red and black in with the blue on his palette, and mechanically began to shade the inner edges of the petals purple.
Kio watched for a little while, but it really was a very boring vase of roses. "Don't you want to know?" he asked.
"What I'd do with the money."
Soubi said dutifully, "What would you do with the money?"
"I'd take two weeks off from school, and go on a motorcycle tour of North Japan. I want to go all the way up, past Hokkaido, and then try to sneak into Russia without a passport. I know some Russian drinking songs, the peasants will love me. Russians and Ainu are the best alcoholics in the world."
"Is that right?"
Soubi rested the palette at his side and looked at the canvas measuringly. Or maybe just blankly. "I suppose I'd eat at five or six expensive five-star restaurants. Try out a few chefs."
Kio made a face. "They'd have to be really expensive, for six meals to cost a hundred thousand yen."
"Twelve. I'd take someone else. You can't eat at those kinds of places alone."
"I suppose you'll take the shrimp," Kio said, with the air of the long-suffering.
Was it Kio's imagination, or did Soubi look wistful? "No, Ritsuka wouldn't appreciate the food. It would only go to waste."
Ah, that made -- wait.
"Wait, does that mean you'd take me? Sou-chan!"
"You, or a girl. It really doesn't matter."
"I always knew you loved -- what?"
"I'll memorize the flavor," Soubi said, "so that I can cook it for him myself." His smile was wistful.
He was out of his seat and headed for the classroom door before the bell rang, pulling his school bag across one shoulder as he went.
"Ritsuka! Wait!" Yuiko tried to follow him, but her hastily closed bag caught on the back of her chair and spilled open, papers and notebooks scattering across the floor. Ritsuka, already halfway into the hallway, pretended not to see her distress.
"Yuiko didn't mind! They were only teasing, friends are friends!" he thought he might have heard, but by then he was already a dozen meters past the door; by the time he had connected her words to their previous conversation, he was squeezing through the main doors with a hundred other students, all just as eager to leave.
Was she thinking about what I said this whole time? That's-
Pathetic, he decided. It wasn’t anything else but pathetic.
Which made him the most pathetic person of all.
He walked faster.
Soubi set his brush aside. "Finished," he said.
Kio looked up from his own painting. "Already? We're only halfway into our studio time. I know you work fast but-"
"I don't work fast. I work steadily. And-"
"And you don't make mistakes, I know. It's unfair, that's all I'm saying."
Soubi finished gathering his things. "Is that right." He was almost to the door when Kio called after him.
"Hey! Is it alright if I stop by later? Since your squatters left last week, I thought I'd keep you company. I can bring dinner and-"
"It's not a good time," Soubi said. "Sorry."
"Awww, that's too bad."
Soubi shrugged, and left without incident.
Which had been the point.
Ritsuka was taking the long way home. This meant that although he normally walked through only quiet residential neighborhoods, today he was passing through a shopping district. Surrounded by people, high school girls mostly, he found that no one paid any attention to him. There was something comforting about that. Feeling calmer now that he'd made a decision (even if it was only the decision to put off dealing with what had happened for a little while longer), he even stopped to peer into a few windows.
The face that looked back at him from the glass was somehow very young. He narrowed his eyes at it, which helped, but the effect was ruined by his ears -- they were large, which made his face look smaller.
Oh, well. There was nothing he could do about it, anyway.
He was calculating the longest he could stay here and still make his curfew when he noticed two adults, a man and a woman, standing behind him. He watched their reflections in the storefront window for a moment to make sure, then turned around, smiling broadly.
"I saw you were looking at me," he said, as cheerfully as he could manage. "Can I help you with something?"
"Yes, er, actually, we were wondering...that is, I was wondering, and my wife suggested we ask you since you seem to be about the same age-" the man seemed taken aback by Ritsuka's forwardness, which had been the idea.
His wife smiled ruefully and elbowed him into silence. She crouched so that her eyes were level with Ritsuka's. "We're sorry to bother you, but we're looking for a gift for the son of my husband's boss. It's his tenth birthday. We don't have any children ourselves, and we're a bit stumped when it comes to the sort of thing kids that age like. This might be forward of us, but we’d like to ask your advice."
"I'm thirteen," Ritsuka said.
The man winced, and the woman froze. "I see," she said faintly. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize. I didn't mean to offend you, please accept my apologies. We'll ask the storeowner, sorry again." Her husband nodded along behind her.
What strange people. Quick to apologize, careful not to give offense...they reminded him of Shinomine-sensei.
The thought made him smile. "No, it's alright," he said. "I know exactly what to get a ten year old."
His mother treated him like he was eleven, but this was close enough.
Soubi stopped on the way home to buy cigarettes. Pausing outside the shop to light up, he considered the walk home. Zero had been gone from his apartment when he'd woken up this morning, and although they hadn't left a note, something about the way their bed had been provocatively left undone told him that they didn't intend to come back. He hadn't told Kio yet.
That would have been too much like trying to start a conversation.
Still, it wasn't outside the realm of possibility that they'd be there when he went back. Soubi ground out his cigarette and lit another. It was possible that a little company would help to take his mind off Ritsuka. That was the way it usually worked, after all.
Soubi knew better.
Looks like I won't be going home, he thought, and headed back into the store to buy another pack of cigarettes.
Author's note 1: There is a point, I swear!
Author's note 2: Poor Yuiko. That section really isn't fair to her. I like Yuiko, I think she's like Ritsuka in a lot of ways -- not as spectacularly abused and traumatized, but there's definitely something going on at home. I suspect she's mildly neglected.