For months after that day, my body grew weaker, and my mind more fragile. At first, the bed had haunted me with memories of the night that Tadayoshi and I had proved our love. Then, for some sick reason, I felt myself growing sadder as his scent disappeared from the bed.
Murakami had been wonderful to me in those days, urging me to take time off of work, constantly coming by to make sure that I was eating and sleeping. He held me on days when my thoughts got to be too much. He didn't force me to talk about what happened, though I knew he was probably as curious as anyone else. I really owed him my life.
I knew everything there was to know about depression. I could see the telltale signs in myself, but I couldn't help myself. I didn't want to ask for someone to save me. I was in too deep, drowning in my memories of Tadayoshi.
When I left the house, it was always to go drinking. That was the only time that my body wasn't in pain, that I could tear my thoughts from Tadayoshi.
My friends, however, did not approve of my methods for forgetting about Tadayoshi.
“Shota,” Maruyama scolded me one night after I had called him from a bar, too wasted to find my own way home. “You're turning into a drunk.”
I shook my head, “I'm fine.”
He sighed, partly in annoyance, partly in pity, as I pushed him away from me, throwing up at his feet. “You're going to kill yourself.”
I pulled him back towards me, using his shoulder to steady myself, “I said I'm fine.” I felt dizzy then and had to crouch down to keep myself from falling over.
“I'm taking you to your parent's house,” He picked me up off of the ground.
I shook my head, shame suddenly filling me. “No.”
“Yes, Shota. You can't keep relying on Murakami and me to take care of you. We have our own lives. Tonight was my three month anniversary with Ohno, you know.”
“I'm sorry,” I threw an arm around his shoulder, hugging him sloppily. “I'm a horrible friend.”
“No,” Maru patted my back, used to my drunken crying. “You're not a horrible friend. We're worried about you. We can't watch you all the time, and we're afraid what you might do. That's why we think its best if you go stay with your parents for a while.”
“I can't stay there,” The shame had entered my voice again. “I don't want them to see me like this.”
“They're worried about you too, Shota. You haven't talked to them properly in over two months. This isn't like you, all this drinking. No one knows what your thinking these days.”
“I'm sorry,” I said, so drunk that I was already forgetting what we had been talking about. “I need to sleep now,” I muttered, sitting down on the sidewalk.
“Let's get you home, then.” Maruyama grunted as he hauled me up from my spot on the ground.
The next morning, true to his word, Maruyama had packed a bag for me and pulled me out of my bed. With Murakami's help, they brought me to the train station, boarded a train and made sure I arrived safely to my hometown.
My head was pounding, and as memories flooded back, I realized that the last time I had been home was when I was with Tadayoshi. I sighed, feeling miserable, but not missing the look my two friends exchanged.
“This is where you grew up?” Murakami asked and I knew he was trying to distract me from my thoughts.
I was thankful for it, because their questions kept me from dwelling on the fact that the last time I had walked these streets, I had been with Tadayoshi. By the time we made it to my parents' house, I was feeling slightly better about the situation.
“Why don't you two come in for lunch?” My mother asked, pulling Murakami and Maruyama into my house. I doubt they would have turned her down. I knew that they were not looking forward to an awkward train ride home together.
“I think I am going to go to bed,” I sighed, climbing up the stairs.
“Oh no,” My mother rushed over, pulling me down. “It's the middle of the day. You sleep at night, young man.”
My two friends exchanged smiles as they tried to hide their giggles. I sat down across from them at the table, resting my chin in my palm. If I had been in a better mood, I might have found the humor in the situation.
“Eat your lunch, Shota.” My mom scolded, pushing my plate closer to me.
“I'm not hungry,” I mumbled. The only thing I was interested in consuming was alcohol.
“I said eat it.”
“I'll eat when I feel like it. Stop treating me like a kid.”
“Stop acting like one then,” my mother replied, completely unphased by my grouchiness as she shoved a pair of chopsticks in my hand.
Murakami and Maruyama left that day, pleased that they had left me in good hands with my family.
The weeks that followed were difficult. My family, although I am sure that they knew about Tadayoshi, showed very little sympathy. At first, their tough love approach annoyed me to no end.
During the day, my mom would keep me busy with housework, or my sister would drop off the baby or insist that she needed help picking out new curtains or bed sheets or forks. Anything to make sure that I didn't sit around in bed all day.
At night, they would have a curfew set. If I stayed out any later than 9, the doors would be locked and I would be sleeping on the sidewalk. Making that mistake once was all it took for me to make sure that I was home in time.
Slowly, as the days went by, I found myself thankful for all of the distractions my family offered. When I was scrubbing the floor, or having lunch with my sister, my thoughts didn't tend to drift to Tadayoshi as much.
One day, as I was walking home from the train station, I took the long way home. I had been feeling particularly sad for myself and my sister had sent me home from our lunch date, saying that she couldn't stand to be around me.
Before I knew it, my feet were leading me into the pet shop that Tadayoshi and I had visited on our date. “Welcome,” the same girl from last time greeted me. A look of recognition crossed her face before she smiled widely at me.
I smiled back, “Do you still have the kittens from last time?”
“No,” She frowned. “I'm sorry. But we do have some other cats.”
“That's okay,” I felt disappointed as I headed towards the door. I didn't know what I had been expecting. It had been over three months since I had visited the store. Of course those same kittens wouldn't be there.
“Wait!” she called. “I just remembered. We do have one left from that litter.”
I turned around as she came around the counter, motioning for me to follow. I did as she told, although I had my suspicions that she was lying to get me to buy one of the animals. But as she led me to a cage, I immediately recognized the small white, pink-nosed cat. It was Tadayoshi.
“The other kittens sold right away, but no one wanted this little guy. All he does is eat and sleep.”
I smiled, “Can I hold him?”
“Uh, well, to be honest... he's not a very nice cat. But if you want to risk getting scratched, you can try.”
I nodded, lifting the cat from his cage, and she cringed as I disturbed his sleep. Contrary to what the girl had said, however, the cat nuzzled itself into my arms, drifting back to sleep and purring loudly. “He just needs someone to show him a little love. Isn't that right, Tadayoshi?” I scratched his ears and the purring amplified.
“Wow,” she commented.
“How much is he?” I asked, before I even had time to think it over.
“You're going to buy him?” She asked, incredulously.
When I left the store, I had a rather impatient Tadayoshi in a cage in one arm, and top of the line cat food, toys and a bed nicer than my own in the other arm.
I was quite pleased with my spontaneous purchase, however, I was probably the only one. “A cat?! You brought cat home? Shota, you know how I feel about animals in the house.”
“Aw,” I started, lifting Tadayoshi from his cage. “But look how cute he is.”
My mother screamed as the cat hissed in her face. Tadayoshi was confined to my room after that.
About one month into living with my parents, my sister was sitting in the living room making me paint her toenails. “Shota,” she said, sipping on a glass of lemonade. “Aren't you tired of being sad all the time?”
Her question caught me off guard. “Sad? I'm not sad all the time.” And it was partially true. I found myself feeling less sad all the time.
“Yes you are. Every time I look at you, you look like you are on the verge of an emotional breakdown. It's frustrating to all of us.”
“I'm trying,” I said, and I couldn't look her in the eyes because I knew if I did, I probably would end up crying. I focused my attention on her toenails.
“I'm not saying that you're not trying,” she pulled the polish bottle out of my hand. “But I just hate to see you like this. I miss my little brother. The cute one who was always laughing and who would scold me for being naughty. I feel like I barely know you anymore.”
The tears were coming and I blinked rapidly, trying to force them away. “I don't know what you want me to say. I can't go back to the way I used to be when there is a part of me missing.”
“I don't know what happened between you and Tadayoshi, and I know its none of my business. But people break up all the time. The way you're acting, its not normal.”
I found myself getting mad at my sister. She was the one person who had been supportive of my relationship, and now she was belittling it. “You're right. People do break up all the time. Because they're not right for each other, or because they don't love each other anymore. I still love him,” I said, wiping at my eyes. “And I can't figure out what happened.”
She pulled me up off the floor, hugging me. “I didn't mean to upset you. Just forget I said anything.”
I shook my head. She had started the flood of tears that had been building since I arrived, brought up the memories of Tadayoshi that I had been trying to hard to forget. I wiggled out of my sister's arms.
“Shota,” She asked, somewhat sheepishly. “What happened? You were both so happy when you left here, so hopeful.”
I shrugged my shoulders at her, “I don't know. He left me, told me he didn't love me.” The words left my lips so effortlessly, I was caught off guard. The past three months, I had held everything inside of me, thinking that it would hurt more to say it out loud.
My sister stared at me in shock for a few minutes. “I'm so sorry.” She wrapped her arms around me and I could feel the disbelief radiating off of her. I knew there was a million questions she had floating around in her head. The same questions I asked myself everyday. Wondering constantly if every moment I had shared with Tadayoshi had been a lie took a toll on my emotions.
“I am sick of being sad all the time,” I said, wiping the last of my tears on my sleeves. “I want to feel happiness again.”
She nodded her head, smiling and ruffling my hair. “Its about time for a change, hmmm?”
I sniffled one last time, nodding my head.
By the time spring had rolled around, Tadayoshi-the-cat and I were settling into my new apartment in Tokyo. I hadn't found happiness. I knew that it would take time. I also knew, like my sister had said, that I needed a change.
I tried to remember what was important in my life before I met Tadayoshi, what I used to live for. Going to work used to be what got me out of bed in the mornings, helping patients brought fulfillment to me.
And so, I decided to go back to school and get my Master's Degree in psychology. With a letter of recommendation from Murakami and two months worth of hard studying, I miraculously gained admissions to the prestigious Tokyo University.
On school breaks, I decided not to leave Tokyo. I took an internship working at one of my professors private offices, and when I wasn't there I spent my time studying.
Studying took my mind off of Tadayoshi, and the courses I took reminded me of why I wanted to help people in the first place. As my first year back at college wound down, I found myself thinking about Tadayoshi a little less.
I thought that forgetting him would make me happier, but somehow the less I thought about him, the emptier I felt. I was never happy, I didn't care about anything enough to be angry. When tests rolled around, I was the only one of my classmates not stressing out. Outside, I was still Yasuda Shota, but inside I felt like I was missing some very critical emotions.
Maruyama visited me in the early fall of that same year, in town with Ohno for one of his art showings. “How is Murakami?” I asked him, as we sat at the table in my tiny Tokyo apartment.
“Don't know. I haven't talked to him much since you left. You were really the only reason I had to talk to him after I stopped working at the clinic,” he stabbed the cake on his plate. His voice sounded strangely depressed. I raised an eyebrow at his actions, because Maru never ruined a perfectly good piece of cake.
“What's wrong with your cat?” he asked, as Tadayoshi sat on the counter glaring at him.
“He doesn't like... people,” I said.
“Everyone likes Maruyama Ryuhei,” he said, climbing out of his seat and crossing the counter to the cat. “PAAAAAAAAAAN!” he shouted at it before I had a chance to stop him.
Tadayoshi-the-cat was not amused, and as I swabbed Maruyama's cheeks with peroxide, neither was my friend.
When I returned home for a family visit during Christmas time, I called Murakami and Maruyama to go out for drinks.
We met in a bar, and as they gazed at each other, I realized that neither one of them expected the other to be there. “Hello, Ryuhei.” Murakami smiled kindly, and I could tell that he had missed his ex-lover.
“Shingo,” Maruyama tried to say it calmly, but neither Murakami nor I missed the smile tugging at the corner of his lips.
We sat down at the bar and I ordered three beers for us.
“How's school going?” Murakami asked, sipping the foam off the top of the beer that the bartender had just set in front of him.
“Good,” I nodded, also taking a drink. “I should be finished by the end of spring.”
“I'll be glad to have you back. The clinic has been lonely lately,” Murakami said, and I had a feeling that the last bit was aimed more at Maru than me.
We were all more than a little drunk as we left the bar, earning strange looks as we stumbled through the streets singing Christmas songs loudly.
“Shingo,” Maruyama started. “Your voice is horrible.”
“I know.” Murakami smiled, before pointing to a nearby konbini. “I have to go pee.”
We followed him into the convenience store, waiting by the magazine racks as Murakami danced his way to the bathroom to relieve his bladder. I leaned against the magazines, watching Maruyama's face as his eyes went wide. He reached forward, sliding his hands over the magazines and messing them up.
“What are you doing?” I asked, reaching forward to straighten out his mess.
“No!” he pushed me out of the way. “I'm hungry. Let's go get some pudding.”
“Wait,” I tried to get around him. “Lets clean up your mess first.” I lifted a stack of magazines, preparing to sort them out. I dropped the stack of magazines that I had been holding as my eyes landed on what Maruyama had been trying to hide from me.
“Shit,” Maruyama sighed.
I grabbed the magazine. On the cover was a paparazzi photo of Tadayoshi with a very attractive young woman. “Ohkura Tadayoshi, son of restaurant tycoon Ohkura Hideo, engaged to Morikawa Kimiko, heiress to Morikawa Oil Company,” I read out loud.
“Shota,” Maruyama began.
“It's fine,” I calmly returned the magazine back to the rack. “It's getting late. I should head home.”
“Shota, wait.” Maruyama grabbed my arm, trying to stop me.
I pulled my arm away, running out of the convenience store. I couldn't let them see me cry. Not when I had worked so hard the entire night to make them think that I was happy. That I was finally over Tadayoshi.
And as I crouched in the alley, wrapping my arms around my knees, I let the tears flow.
I was glad for spring and the start of a new semester. With all of the homework and classes, my mind was too busy to think about him. Every bit of my time went into studying, and I knew I was probably taking too many classes, but I didn't want any private time.
I was in a coffee shop near campus one day, when I heard someone call my name. Turning around, Nishikido Ryo was sitting at a table, waving me over.
I had heard from Murakami that he had checked himself out, and from the smile on his face, I could tell that he was a lot happier. “Nishikido,” I carried my cup to his table.
“I heard you went back to school. I didn't know you went to Todai, though.” He closed the textbook he had been reading.
“Are you studying here too?” I asked, realizing for the first time that Ryo was also already eighteen.
He nodded, “It's my first year. I'm studying theater.”
“Wow, that's great. You look great.”
“I feel great,” he smiled before glancing down at his wristwatch. “I have to go meet some friends. But, are you busy tonight?”
I shook my head and Ryo smiled, “Great. Hiroki and I are getting together for dinner. Come with us.”
I shook my head, “I shouldn't.”
“Ah, come on. He would love to see you too,” Nishikido's voice pleaded
I agreed, watching as he gathered up his books and rushed from the cafe, promising to see me that night.
I felt nervous as I was getting ready for dinner that night, not knowing why. I reasoned that it was probably because I was having dinner with a past patient. But looking back, I know it was because I would be with Uchi and he was still in contact with Tadayoshi. He would know all about Tadayoshi's engagement.
I followed the directions on the paper to Ryo's apartment, surprised when Uchi opened the door. “Ah,” I fumbled for something to say, glad as Nishikido emerged from the kitchen.
“Come in,” he smiled and I entered the apartment. “I hope you like pasta.”
I nodded, taking off my shoes as Uchi shut the door behind me. I offered the bottle of wine I had brought to Uchi and he took it as Nishikido scurried back into the kitchen. “This place is really great. Nicer than mine,” I laughed nervously.
Uchi said nothing, leading me towards the table.
“Do you guys live together?” I asked, trying to keep the topic away from me, fearing that the subject of Tadayoshi would inevitably come up.
Uchi shook his head, offering me a seat and pouring me a glass of wine. “We're taking it slow. I'm still trying to earn Ryo-chan's trust.”
I nodded, shifting uncomfortably. I picked up the glass, taking a sip of wine nervously. “Sorry for being nosy.”
Uchi shook his head, “Not at all. Nosiness is part of your job, right?”
I nodded, not realizing that Uchi had just been teasing me.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
I nodded, realizing, as Nishikido came to the table, that I had been staring at Uchi Hiroki. I never thought that he looked much like his older brother. But as I looked at him, I saw the same innocent smile cross his face, that same sparkle enter his eye.
And throughout dinner, I found myself staring more and more, hoping to catch more glimpses of Tadayoshi in his face. Finally, Uchi sighed, “Do I have something on my face?”
Ryo reached over, pinching him.
“I'm sorry,” I said, embarrassed that I had been staring so blatantly. “You just look a lot like him.”
A silence fell over the table. Uchi finally spoke up, “I take that as an insult.”
I tried to smile at his joke, but instead, found myself leaning across the table. “How is he?”
Uchi shifted uncomfortably. Clearly he had intended to stay away from the topic. “He's fine. He's started his first year at Kyoto Daigaku. Business major.”
I nodded, my stomach churning with that information. I was better off not knowing anything. I couldn't imagine that he was miserable without me when I knew this much. My thoughts filled with him planning a future without me, going about happily as though I had never existed at all. “I should go.”
“But you haven't eaten yet,” Nishikido said.
“I just remembered that I have to study for a test,” I slipped on my shoes, letting myself out.
May came and went, and I realized that Tadayoshi was already eighteen. Any legal obligation he had to stay at home was gone. And I was still alone.
I graduated with my master's degree that spring, and when I returned home to Osaka, my old apartment was still unrented and empty. I moved back in, replacing my furniture exactly as it had been. It seemed bigger, emptier and lonelier than I remembered.
I came back to work, and seeing Yoko, Subaru and Murakami again was the first time that I felt anything remotely close to happiness. My patient load was light. During my absence, my patients had all switched to new counselors and when I returned, Subaru was the only one who wanted to come back to me.
The thought that other patients didn't need me hurt, but I knew that I had deserved their abandonment. I had been a horrible therapist, but I vowed it would change.
“Yasuda,” Subaru chirped happily, sitting at the edge of my desk. “I'm so glad you're back. This place is boring without you.”
“You've had Yoko to keep you company.”
“He hasn't been around as much lately,” Subaru pouted.
“What? Why not?” I worried that perhaps Yoko was pushing him away again.
“I convinced him to quit doing street duty. He's going back to working for the family courts,” Subaru climbed off my desk, sitting himself in a chair. “After that incident with Uchi and Nishikido, I don't want him to put himself in danger. I don't know what I would do if something happened to him.”
A solemn look crossed his face, but was quickly replaced by a smile. “But luckily that idiot agreed.”
I was glad that nothing much had changed in my absence, but found myself depressed as every one of my friends was trapped in heartbreak.
“Maybe you should try dating again,” my sister suggested one day as we were having lunch together. “It's been a year and a half since...” she trailed off, not daring to say Tadayoshi's name.
No one ever said his name around me, skipping around the subject as though even thinking about him would cause me to break. Sometimes, when I was alone, I would say his name – hoping, praying that he would hear me, that he would come back to me. Or sometimes just so as to not forget the way it sounded. And each time I did it, my heart ached a little more.
I nodded my head at her statement. I knew my sister was right. If I knew what was good for me, I would try to date again. That closure would be the final step I needed to move on with my life.
But I knew that no one would make my heart beat, my pulse race, the way Tadayoshi had. No one would understand me; every unspoken thought, hope or fear. No one's lips would feel as soft or taste as sweet. No one else had arms so strong, yet able to hold me so tenderly. And no one would be able to make me feel as whole as he did when I clung to his body, slick with sweat, as he made love to me.
There is a saying that time heals all wounds. And I suppose it was partially true, because every day I thought about Tadayoshi a little less.
That saying would imply, though, that it was possible to move on. That it was possible to forget him and everything we shared.
No matter how hard I tried to forget the time we spent together, to focus on school or work or entertain the idea of dating again, I was confronted with the fact that I was not healed, no matter how much time had passed. There was a part of me that was missing and that I knew I could never get back.
That part wasn't something tangible. You couldn't hold it or put it on a shelf to admire. There wasn't a name for the piece, or a medial term for its disappearance. That piece, who absence had left me with an emptiness, had been willing given to Tadayoshi.
And, as sick as it sounded, even if he could give it back to me, I wouldn't take it. I would keep all the pain, the empty place it had left, the loneliness – I would keep it all.
As long as Tadayoshi had that piece, whether he knew it or not, a part of me would always be with him. That piece was the only connection I had left with Tadayoshi. It was a piece that belonged only to him, because no matter how hard I tried to move on, I too, would always belong to Tadayoshi.
A/N: Sorry for skipping around so much in this chapter... its hard fitting a year and a half into one chapter. Hopefully it all made sense and flowed okay. Hope you enjoyed the chapter, and the next one will be the last full length chapter of the story, so please look forward to it. Because I am on winter break now, it should be coming soon :D