The day after that terror-inducing night ride might have become the last day I saw Tadashi alive, had things the rest of the summer not gone right.
I woke up to an apparently normal morning. The sun was shining, birds were chirping outside my window, and I was feeling very, very glad to be alive. I sat up in bed, indulging in the clean air and waking up my brain. For a moment I held my breath and listened to the world around me. The rest of the house was silent, and I assumed Tadashi and Katsumi hadn’t gotten up yet. I checked my phone for the time – 7:43 – and began to plan out my day. First I’d wash up and change, then I’d go downstairs and do some work; at some point my housemates would come down and we’d have breakfast. Then I’d ask for my third guitar lesson, if Tadashi was free. After lunch I’d call Tadashi and Katsumi’s manager asking for permission to write some articles on them. Normally, magazines and other employers would tell me what to write, but I occasionally got to propose topics myself, and I wanted this new life of mine to be one of them. If all went well, I’d be able to start some kind of writing project this afternoon. Then I’d lounge around and maybe watch a movie or something before dinner, and afterwards I’d pitch in on some house chores.
I didn’t use to preemptively plan out my days like this. It was just one example of the small ways in which my life had begun to change. I thought about that for a minute before tossing off the covers and getting out of bed.
As it turned out, Tadashi was already up, wrecking my schedule from the get-go. I found him sitting at the kitchen counter, brooding over a piece of toast and a bowl of soup leftover from the previous night’s dinner. He saw me come down the stairs and his eyes lit up a little, but his usual gentle smile was notably absent.
“Hey,” I said to him casually.
“Morning,” he replied.
“I like that shirt.”
He looked down at the bluish-grey button-up he was wearing. “Oh. Thanks.”
I stared at him for a second before turning to rummage through the fridge. He didn’t seem to be up for a conversation; I couldn’t tell what was wrong with him. Probably not the day for a lesson, I thought to myself as I scoured the shelves for something that didn’t need to be cooked. Remarkably, Tadashi didn’t offer to make anything for me. I settled for some microwaveable leftovers and pulled up a chair to sit beside him.
“So,” I started, “not eating outside today?”
He shook his head slightly. “Nah.”
“No,” he replied. He downed the rest of his soup, set the bowl down with surprising force, and added, “But it’ll be fine.”
I considered that for a moment. “Katsu up yet?”
“He went to the market.”
We sat in silence for a while after that, each of us working through our own breakfast. Then Tadashi glanced over and said, “Hey, can you do something for me?”
“Let’s go kayaking.”
I was taken aback. “Huh? You want me to go kayaking with you?”
“Well, sure.” I stared at him, but he wouldn’t meet my gaze. “Now?”
“Uh… okay. Let’s go.”
Tadashi nodded, stood up, and grabbed his jacket from the living room. He headed out briskly without another word, and I followed, half-stunned into silence. As I trailed my friend through the woods, the early-morning sunlight splashed against his figure and gave his long blond hair a near-golden glow; I drank in this image without hardly noticing it, so occupied as I was with trying to process this strange morning.
We reached the lake after a few minutes without any words having passed between us. Abruptly Tadashi turned left and started walking parallel to the shoreline, and again I followed in silence. Some ten minutes of this adventure took us to a little wooden dock and a beachy area where a single blue-and-white canoe lay flipped over on the sand.
I stood around watching as Tadashi prepped the canoe. “So, uh… where do I sit?”
He glanced at me. “In the back.”
“I’m smaller,” he said.
“I’m gonna sit in it, and then you walk it a little farther into the water and then you sit down in back.”
We got out onto the lake without a problem. Breathing deeply and still slightly wary of the whole situation, I stared at Tadashi from behind, matching my paddling to his strong, steady strokes. We headed out into deeper waters and then angled towards the opposite shore – I wondered if Tadashi had a particular destination in mind. Soon he cut in directly toward a small, sandy, unremarkable area, jumped out into the gentle waves, and hauled our kayak out of the water.
I stood up cautiously and stepped onto the sand. “What are we doing?”
“What time is it?”
I checked my phone. “Almost 8:45… there’s no service out here.”
“Too far from the house.”
Tadashi found a nice spot on the sand and lay down there on his back. I went to stand next to him.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Lay down, Chas.”
I settled in beside him, putting my head back so that I was gazing up at the sky.
“We used to do this when we were kids,” Tadashi started slowly.
“Watching the clouds?”
“Yeah. And stargazing at night.”
“I don’t remember too well.”
“One time… after somebody had hit me. I was on the ground, and you came over and for some reason you lay down next to me, and you said something about about how you’d never appreciated looking at the sky like that before. You were trying to not embarrass me. That’s how it started.”
“…Really? I did that?”
He sighed – slow, quiet, and empty. “You’ve changed, Chas…”
I froze at that statement. “Well… everybody changes. That’s life.”
We lay around for a while without talking. I stared up above as puffy white clouds came and left, and something in the scene profoundly moved me. At some point I closed my eyes and thought, when we get home, I need to write this all down…
I never got the chance, for by the time we got back to the house, the whole first floor was decked out in party decorations and Katsumi was screaming happy birthday.