Implication 2:Exchanges


Can you believe it? I’m even part of Keigo’s going-away party. Everyone is recounting some sob story or memory that they shared with Keigo at his family’s apartment. They’re making toasts stupidly. I don’t know anyone here, except for Ayane. I don’t see why I agreed to attend this senseless party when all I’m doing is drinking cheap vodka. I seriously think I do too much for this rash girl.
“Azuma, can’t you be happy for once?” Ayane looks at me with much disappointment. Her lips are pouting and her eyes are drooping like a puppy’s. “You’re always such a party pooper!” she mutters under her breath.

I stick out my tongue, taunting, “Yeah, yeah, I’m a party pooper. Then, I guess I’ll go out for some smokes.”

“Yeah, Azuma, don’t smoke,” Ayane starts to lecture. “It’s bad for you!”

I just wave at her and head outside. She’d only care about me when it came to smoking. She said that her grandpa had lung cancer, so she didn’t want anyone to suffer from that. I told her that there are those that have never smoked and have gotten cancer. It’s partly genetics too, so I’d like to take my chances with it and with her. I have a feeling that she’ll come out chasing after me to throw that cigarette to the ground and stomp it with her heel. At least, that’s what she usually does.

Once I’m out of this apartment and into the freezing night, I reach into my pocket for my lighter and cigarettes. When I’m about to light a piece, I happen to see that girl again, the girl from the restaurant. This time, she’s sitting to wait for the bus. From her cherry red cheeks, I think she has been waiting for a while now. If I remember correctly, buses should come every fifteen minutes. I don’t quite understand what she’s doing there. Waiting for a friend?

Inhaling a deeper breath of smoke, I see a bus pass by her. I’m expecting her to go on, yet she still remains in her seat. Another drives by her, and she still doesn’t budge. By the time I’m done my cigarette, she has only stuck her fingers into her pockets. Then, I notice a guy with a black beanie heading towards the bus stop. It doesn’t take me long to realize that it’s the man that she was staring at that day. She was waiting for him? Are they friends?

Nope. I realize that they’re just strangers. Maybe, I should call her something, something like Fan Girl? She seems pretty infatuated with this guy. Surprisingly, she has not greeted him nor has she jumped from her seat. It was only until the guy smiled at her did she smile back. This guy opened his mouth to say something, but the bus already arrives and the two disappear after the bus leaves.

“Azuma! There you are!”

I turn around to find Ayane shaking her head. I know she is probably disappointed in me for smoking. There’s that disdainful grimace oozing out from her lips. Her eyebrows are arching downwards as well. She’s frustrated and mad all together. Somehow, that makes me a bit happy. She cares . . . for me.

“What’s up?” I casually ask.

“What do you mean what’s up?” Ayane lets out a long sigh. “You actually went to smoke. Geez, Azuma, how many times do I have to tell you that it’s bad for you? I don’t want you to die you know.”

I laugh at her innocent mind and walk by her. “I’m not going to die that easily,” I pat her head once and say. “And even if I die, the world will move on.”

“I’ll be very sad if you die,” I almost hear her whimpering, which makes my chest ache.

“Why?” I shift my gaze towards her to ask. “Why would you be sad?”

With her watery eyes, she murmurs, “Because you’re really important to me, Azuma.”

“How important?” 

“What do you mean?”

“Would you be more upset if Keigo died?”

She furrows her eyebrows to show her puzzlement. She’s even biting her lower lip. She likes to do this whenever she doesn’t know what to say. Even now, she can’t even read me properly to figure out what I’d like to hear. Instead, she inquires, “What are you talking about, Azuma?”

“I’m saying . . . never mind,” I mutter, knowing that she’ll never understand.

She snatches the back of my blazer, pulling me backwards. I’m forced to wait for her as she questions, “What do you mean never mind? You’re my best friend! Of course, I’d be really upset if you died.”

“Don’t worry, kiddo. I’ll be there when you need me.” I turn around and pat her on the head. Then, I brush past her, but she unexpectedly hugs me from behind.
“Azuma, please . . . don’t make me worry,” she whispers with her hands shaking. “I c-c-can’t lose someone again. I c-c-can’t . . .”

I place my hands over her unsteady fingers, and reassure her, “I won’t leave, I promise.”

“Good.” I hear her voice waning away. “You’re even nicer to me than my own brother. I wish I had you as my brother.”

As soon as she finishes that sentence, Keigo sees us from down the hall. I purposely give him a smirk and even turn around to embrace Ayane. “You’re always going to be my little sister, all right?” I tell her.

That’s the only way she’d let me hug her. Even though it pains me to do that, I know that this’ll mess with Keigo’s mind. What can you say though? Mind games are my forte, and I’ll do anything I want to get what I need.

----

After my part-time job as a waitress, I’m waiting at the bus stop that Takeshi takes. We happen to use the same route home. Obviously, only I take note of that and the first time I met him on the bus, I remembered to check the time he got on for this stop. Later, I learned to get off at this stop and wait for him to board with me. Somehow, I like having the option of getting the chance to sit beside him. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. I don’t want to seem like a creep.

Tonight, he’s a bit late. I’m just sitting here alone in the cold while bus drivers think how crazy I am for being this way. I stare ahead; actually, I have been staring ahead for a while now. Finally, someone comes out of the apartment across from me. It’s that guy, I think. It’s the guy who looks like a rock star. Maybe, I need a name for him. Rock Star?

This time, he is dressed in skinny black jeans with grey grunge rock boots. There’s a silver chain hanging from his pocket and another long cross necklace dangling from his neck. He reaches in the pocket of his olive military jacket for . . . a lighter and a box of cigarettes. I’m not surprised that he’s a smoker. He looks like the sort that would smoke. He’s looking down to light his cigarette; his dark fedora covers his face. Once he glances up, I find our eyes meet. He has a set of intimidating eyes that reminds me of a ravenous carnivore waiting to strike for its prey. 

Now, a bus whizzes by me and once that’s over, I realize that he’s still there standing by himself smoking. He inhales and exhales to a steady beat. I can tell that he’s lonely. Why else would he be out here by himself?

He kind of . . . reminds me of myself. I can’t overcome this loneliness. All my friends have boyfriends, and so now at lunch, it’s awkward. Everyone is paired together within our group while I’m the only one by the end of the table. They’re all having double dates or triple dates. I’m like a little light bulb.

I let out a sigh before seeing Takeshi. He’s listening to music again, but still he recognizes me and gives me a polite grin. I smile back and pray that he doesn’t think this is weird. This is just a coincidence in his mind, I brainwash myself. 

“Hey . . .” Takeshi suddenly greets me. I almost lose balance of myself, yet he catches me in time. “Sorry about scaring you,” he mutters in a timid tone. “I was just wondering if you had any change on you. I lost my bus pass, and I don’t carry change on me. I only have bills and a credit card.”

The bus is already approaching us, and frantically, I search in my pockets to see if I can fulfill his request. I don’t want to look bad, and I don’t want him to think I’m cheap. Normally, I’d be extremely hesitant to lend anyone money. My dad had lent a ton of money to his best friend, who ran away and never paid us back. In the end, we had to move to a cheaper neighbourhood and sometimes had trouble paying for the bills. My dad took on extra shifts, and my mother, who originally stayed at home, went back to work as a cashier at the grocery store. The lesson, then, that my mother would tell us was to never give anyone money.
This time, I don't listen. As the bus stops in front of us and opens its doors, I hand him the change I have in my pocket. “Here,” I tell him.

“Thank you . . . umm . . . is it Watanabe-san?” he asks me while ascending into the bus.

I feel my heart pound against my chest. I know I shouldn't have expected him to remember my name, but somehow, I wished that I meant something more to him. If he had, at least, remembered my name, then I had some hope, right?

“No,” I correct him and show the bus driver my pass, “it’s Kuhara Sumiko.”

Upon taking a seat close to the exit, he apologizes, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to get your name wrong. I just know a lot of people, and I’m bad with names in general. But, don’t worry! Next time, I’ll get your name right. I have to return your money anyways.” 

“Yeah . . .”

Maybe that was why I let him use my money. That way, there’s a chance that he’ll talk to me again. My mother, though, would say that I was wrong and that I had been used. Trying to ignore her potential lecturing, I sit beside Takeshi. The bus is driving slowly ahead now and from the window, I see that lonely guy, Rock Star. This time, there’s that same girl beside him. I see him walk past her, patting her head as he enters into the apartment building. Then, she hugs him from behind. The bus moves too quickly that I can’t understand what’s happening between the two.

Are they lovers? If they are, then why does he seem so empty? Why does it feel like he’s craving to be loved?

And why do I feel like I understand him completely?
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