Chapter 5:Reasons and Decisions
 
I want to stop loving you because you don’t even care, but it’s hard when you’re always by my side. So, that’s why I’m leaving.

Why? Why wouldn’t Sou tell Jihyo the reason that he quit? He quit the only passion he ever had, and he had talent. She remembered every time they were forced to play together, they’d end up in his room.  He’d tell her to sit wherever she wanted, and usually she’d end up sitting on his bed. There wasn’t much in his room. There was the typical chair, table, and a few books scattered on his desk. There was his closet, which was more or less filled the basic shirts, hoodies, and jeans. He didn’t care much about dressing up for an occasion. He didn’t need to anyways. He stood out in the crowd without doing much, and when he did dress up, he was the star of the show, everything he hoped not to be. She was sure that was why they always ended up staying in his room. He didn’t want to entertain guests or her family, and she didn’t want to be associated with anyone else.  The two of them had that in common: they were loners at heart.


“So, what do you want to do?” he’d ask Jihyo after taking a seat in his wooden chair.

Jihyo would shake her head, rambling, “I don’t know. Up to you.”

“Well, it sucks that Itsuki is too busy with his violin lessons,” he’d mutter quietly. “Or else . . .”

Jihyo could complete his sentence easily. Or else he didn’t have to stick with her. She knew he hated her, so it was okay. It wasn’t as if she wanted him to like her.

There was that awkward silence and quickly, she’d skim around the room. She’d notice a new photo on his wall, and she’d point and ask, “What’s that?”

Immediately, Sou’s eyes would light up just like a little match ignited by the ashes of a cigarette. He’d start rambling about the story behind his shot. The best one she remembered of his was of a stray dog in a cardboard box. He told her, “Oh that, that’s a stray dog I found. It was raining really hard that day, and I saw someone placing an umbrella to help out that dog. It was a great shot. Really inspiring.”

“Wow,” She remembered staring vividly at the puppy’s eyes, and commenting with her mouth wide open, “that is very inspiring.”

“Yeah, I know right?” Sou stood behind Jihyo. He had his arms folded as he uttered, “It’s funny how a small act of kindness can really touch someone’s heart. It’s too bad that most people aren’t really that nice. I’m pretty sure we were all born to be evil.”

“Wh-wh-what?” Jihyo, still crouched to the ground, turned around to ask. “What do you mean by that?”

Sou carried on explaining, “Everyone at some point will betray you. Who knows why? Maybe out of temptation or greed or whatever. At some point, someone will disappoint you. We’re selfish like that.”

“You really think so?” She eyed him uneasily.

Sou scoffed and landed on his back on his bed, “You’re really naïve, aren’t you Jihyo?”

“Is that a bad thing?” She remembered asking.

Sou didn’t answer her for a while. He just lay there staring at his ceiling, which was filled with glow-in-the-dark stars. Jihyo remembered why they were there in the first place. When his mother was still living at the household, she told Jihyo that Sou really hated the darkness. 

“If it’s too dark, Sou can’t sleep at night,” his mother explained to Jihyo the first time she was invited to Sou’s room.

“Mom!” Sou shouted. “That’s not true! You’re the one that really wanted me to have those!”

“All right, all right.” His mother chuckled with a sweet grin. “I wanted you to know that your dreams aren’t that far away, just like those stars. You just have to think outside of the box to reach your goals, honey.”

“No,” Sou finally replied, “it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just a bit . . .” His eyes glimpsed at the stars before adding, “Idiotic.”

“Thanks, Sou,” Jihyo rolled her eyes to say.

“Hopping off the bed, Sou noted with a devious smile, “You’re welcome Jihyo.”

“Any time.” Jihyo too forced a grin out from her lips. “Any time for you, my dear Sou.”

“Ew.” 

Sou would always give her that dreadful grimace as if he had seen the grossest bug in the world. That scornful look always jabbed at her chest. Still, she would scoff, “To think you treated what I said seriously. I think you’re the pathetic one, Sou.”

But she knew deep down that she was the pathetic one. She was always the one waiting for someone to come back to her or to be there for the sake of her. Maybe, it was just like Sou said. People would always betray each other. She sighed, looking at the azure afternoon sky. She had betrayed . . .  

“Watch out!” She turned her head to find a basketball flying towards her. She landed on her bottom as she backed away. Immediately, the same boy, who shouted at her, came rushing towards her. He stopped right in front of her, panting, “Are you o . . . Jihyo? What are you still doing here?” Surprisingly, it was Naoki. He had beads of sweat sliding down his temple. Using his jersey, he wiped the perspiration off of his face. Then, he uttered, “Sorry about that. One of my teammates just hit a bad shot and the ball bounced off of the rim.”

Jihyo didn’t know why, but she couldn’t say a word. Was the ball that scary? She had dodged it just in time. There was nothing wrong, yet why were her legs so cramped? Why couldn’t she get herself up? The basketball was in front of her rolling a bit forward before Naoki bent down to pick it up. 

“I . . .” Jihyo could only murmur.

“Haruma-san! What are you doing? There’s still practice!” a deep voice hollered.

“Sorry coach!” Naoki shouted back. “Hey, I’m going to have to leave now, but I-I-I hope you’re okay.”

I should be okay, Jihyo thought. I shouldn’t be reacting this way, she told herself. Even if it were before . . .

“Hey,” she heard a snarky voice declare from behind, “when are you going to stop blocking the road?” There stood Jun with his legs spread apart and his arms clearly crossed. He had that arrogant look of disdain. His neck was cocked to the side while his beady eyes glared at her. “So you’re not even budging huh? Well, I guess I better give you a hand like a gentleman would,” he said along with an all-too-friendly smile, the sort that brought goosebumps down Jihyo’s spine. Still, he walked closer to her and extended his arm out towards her. “So . . . are you going to be thankful or are you going to lie to yourself that you’re an independent woman who doesn’t need to rely on a guy?” Jun boldly questioned.
Though reluctant, Jihyo still placed her hand in his. Then, he pulled her up with such force that her body crashed into his. It was a super brief moment but she thought he had hugged her. Jun immediately let go, leaving her to almost trip over her own feet. 

“I . . .”

Jun interrupted as he shifted his eyes in her direction, “You’re feeling guilty aren’t you? To be honest, you should be.”

“What do you mean by that?” Jihyo shouted.

Swinging his black briefcase to his back, Jun glowered at her like a snake eyeing its prey. Then, he revealed his sharp teeth, hissing, “Oh, so you don’t know. Well, that’s too bad.”

“Wh-wh-what are you talking about?” she stuttered, taking a few steps backwards, which made Jun’s grin grow wider. 

He marched towards her so quickly and so powerfully that within seconds his face was inches away from hers. In her ear, he cursed with a whisper, “Now drown in your guilt . . . but I think that’s too easy for you to do.”

“Wh—“

Again, he murmured, “If you want to know more, then come to the café your brother used to work at this Saturday at noon.”

It was with that that Jun left. He left as quickly as he had arrived on the scene. Jihyo was left wondering what had exactly happened. What more could she be guilty of? Did Jun know? What did Jun know? This was bad, she thought. She had to do something before Jun manipulated her to death. What to do though? 

She gulped down as she continued to walk again. She had to be brave this time and confront everything on her own. This was the lonely path she had carved for herself. This was how it should go.

---

Home was exactly what Sou dreaded, but there really was no choice. It was easy for anyone to say that he or she would run away. When it came down to the hard, cold facts, running away from the situation was the stupidest act to commit. At least at home, he had a proper roof over his head. He didn’t need to sleep on benches and didn’t need to worry about food. All he had to worry about was her.

Sou used to love the way she smiled, the way her lips pursed nicely together to form a smile that resembled more or so a kiss. With her hair tied up attractively in a bun, she would always greet him with that smile, regardless of the situation. That sweet smile . . .

“Sou,” she turned around to grin at him as he walked through the front door. “You’re back from Hawaii!” Upon hearing that location, he snickered. “What’s so funny?” she asked, still with that pleasant smile.

Sou glared at her and answered, “Nothing.”

“All right then,” she replied nonchalantly. Sou rapidly walked past her, purposely brushing her shoulder with brute force. He was about to tread upstairs to his room when Naomi called out, “Your father wants us to have dinner together . . . as a family.”

He turned around and chuckled, “Family? You call this a family?” 

Before he could escape, she grabbed his wrist tightly. She looked at him like an innocent doe about to be sacrificed to a famished bear. She was looking at him and reminding him of all the reasons that he used to love her. And that stung his chest hard. He had to glance away, he told himself, but she was hanging on so tightly that he could only bite onto his lip.
“Sou,” she muttered, “I know it’s hard for you to accept me as your mother, but I really want to be a good mother. I’m trying really hard now, so could you please—“

His arm broke free from her grasp and even hit her body, almost making her fall to the ground. “I don’t need you to be my mother!” he yelled angrily. “I already have a mother!”
Naomi continued to shriek as Sou marched up the stairs with each step making a loud stomping noise, “She doesn’t even visit you! She hasn’t even seen you for ten years! How can she be a mother?” 

Immediately, Sou stopped his steps and argued furiously, “Right, you’re suitable to be my mother when you’re only four years older than me and . . .”

“And what?” she shrieked from the top of her lungs. 

By then, Sou had already made it to the top of the stairs, and so with his head bobbing down to see her now miniscule figure, he screamed, “F.uck off!” 

He entered his room with a grand slam and plopped his body onto his bed. He was too tired. Now, only sleep would ease his mind, but even his dreams seemed to haunt him of his previously dear memories.

He knew why he loved her. It was because of her delightful smile that always seemed to lift his spirits up no matter what. So when she showed her smile, he would reward her with a tiny peck on her lips. He never told her that was why he kissed her so often. 

“Naomi,” he whispered in her ear. “Don’t ever have a frown, okay?” His arms were already wrapped firmly around her body with his head resting comfortably on her shoulder.

She giggled in a bubbly voice. “Okay, I promise that I’ll always smile when you’re around.”
“Good.” He kissed her right cheek and held her even more tightly.

She suddenly broke away from his embrace. “You know, you shouldn’t kiss me that often,” she mumbled. “Your dad might find out about us.”

Sou’s eyes closed together while a large smile was plastered on his face. “I don’t care if he finds out about us,” he responded. “He’ll find out sooner or later when I tell him that we’re going to be together forever.”

Her smile turned into a slight frown. “You shouldn’t say such strong words, baby.” She pecked his neck.

“Why? Are you scared?” he asked curiously with a bit of disappointment filling his pupils.
Her beautiful smile reappeared. “No, I’m not scared. I’m just worried that you might . . . have a change of heart,” her voice trailed off.

His lips tenderly pressed against her forehead. “You shouldn’t be worried.” He grabbed her hand and placed it over his heart. “You’ve already stolen my heart, a long time ago.”
She blushed excessively as she smiled.That was when he was sure of what had made him fall in love with her: her everlasting smile. It was also because of her smile, however, that he realized how much he was worth to her, and that, broke his heart.

He had woken yet again in cold sweat. Even sleep was not letting him go from the pain. Looking at the digital clock shining in the darkness, he sighed. It was only early in the morning, 3:13 am to be exact, yet he couldn’t fall back asleep. That smile kept badgering his mind. Shamelessly bewitching.

He couldn’t get his jaw to close properly when he saw her smiling so happily with his father. There were creases along her eyes as she laughed with an open mouth. She never laughed with her mouth gaping wide open for all to check on her cavities; she always covered her mouth with her left hand. His chest grew sore and his body quickly became immobile even when his mind was telling him to run away.
“Sou!” his father waved cheerfully. “Come here!”

 It was only then did Sou proceed to move. When he arrived at the scene, he noticed that his father’s arm was supporting Naomi’s back and occasionally even rubbing up and down it. “What?” he grumbled. His eyes couldn’t meet with his father’s for his father’s arm was more distracting.

“I’d like you to meet someone special,” Sou’s father introduced politely. “I know that you know her as your tutor, but I’d like to formally introduce Oshiro Naomi as your stepmother, no, your mother.” 

Instantly, his eyes glowered at Naomi, who only smiled at him in a way that he had never encountered before. Her lips weren’t pursed like how they were supposed to be. She gave a toothy smile—the million dollar sort that could win over numerous hearts from men. He would be lying if he said that his heart didn’t skip an extra beat. She even extended her hand out for him to shake. He had no idea how to respond, but only to stare at her palm and then at her fingers. It was then that he saw the enormous diamond ring that hung flawlessly on her ring finger. 

“It’s beautiful right?” She turned her hand over to show off the sparkling jewelry. This was followed by another wide grin.

Now, he fully realized what he meant to her: nothing. That smile made him question everything in his life and reconfigure the meaning to love. Her smile wasn’t customized for him; it was only to mask the meaning of his existence to her. The truth did hurt—a bit too much.

As he sat there with his eyes wide open, he knew that he had to escape. There had to be some way to leave this family. He couldn’t just camp out on the streets; he wasn’t that brave. He couldn’t live in another home of theirs for it was entirely his father’s. He could go to his mother’s for now. I guess, he thought to himself, that it was time for a reunion.
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