Chasing Life With You (Chapter 16)


Sometime in the late afternoon, their manager arrived at the hospital.

Her name was Aliyah. She was tall and broad-shouldered, athletic-looking, with dark blue-rimmed glasses and a tan messenger bag at her side. Her hair was black like Katsumi’s but slightly curly; she wore an off-white, generic brand-name T-shirt and jeans, and I caught an initial glimpse of a tattoo climbing up the back of her neck. She entered the room in a rush, halted almost immediately, and stared at Tadashi for a moment in the same exact way I had.

“Aliyah,” Katsumi said, getting up from his seat.

“Katsumi,” she replied. Her voice was low and hesitant, strained. “Are you okay?”

“No.” Katsu pointed to me. “This is Chas.”

We shook hands. The introductory small talk came and went with no one really paying attention to it. I remembered the plans I had made, to call Aliyah and ask her for permission to write publicly and properly about Katsumi’s and Tadashi’s music. None of that matters now, I thought. Not anymore… not until this is over.

“Sit down,” Katsumi invited. “You got here so quickly…”

“Naturally,” Aliyah said. She glanced over at Tadashi, then at me, then back to Katsumi. “How long has he been out?”

“Since this morning. Around 7:30.”

“And they don’t know why.”

“Not really, no.”

“At least it doesn’t look like he’s hurting,” I commented slowly.

Aliyah looked at me. “You’re Tadashi’s friend from back in middle school? Cheng-han, right?”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

“He’s told me about you before.”

I was surprised. “Really?”

“Yeah. If he talks about his childhood, he talks about you. Inevitably.”

“Oh.”

“I heard you’re a freelance writer.”

“Before… I was going to ask you if I could write about them and their music.”

Aliyah nodded. “When this is over, we’ll talk.”

“He’s a good writer,” Katsumi cut in.

I looked at him, startled. “What?”

“Chas is a good writer,” he restated simply.

“When have you ever read my writing?”

“We looked you up once. Me and Tama. It wasn’t so long ago.”

I considered that for a moment. “It’s kind of weird knowing that anybody can just look me up on the internet and read everything I’ve ever written… I hadn’t really thought about that until now.”

“Anyway,” Katsumi said, “Chas is a good writer and a good person, so you should let him write about us. That’s my two cents.”

Aliyah smiled. “You, on the other hand, can’t write for your life.”

Katsumi flushed at her teasing. “Hey! It’s not essays or newspaper articles, but I write great songs. I write music.” He started to go on, stopped himself, and deflated slightly. “…Tama’s the one who can’t write anything at all.”

In an instant he looked like he was about to cry again. Aliyah and I glanced at each other, both of us wondering what we should do, what we should say, but luckily, the problem was solved for us. Katsumi stood up abruptly and started heading for the door.

“I’m going for a smoke,” he announced.

“Okay,” Aliyah said. “I’ll stay here with him…”

Katsumi paused in the doorway and turned to look at me. “Chas. You coming?”

I choked down my surprise. “Yeah. Sure. Let’s go.”


The two of us found an empty bench in a park area across the street from the hospital. Katsumi passed me a cigarette, and we lit up and stood around smoking.

“I shouldn’t smoke,” Katsumi said after a long while. “It’s not good for the environment, and it’s not good for my voice.”

I made a small sound of acknowledgement. “So… you wrote all of your songs?”

“Yeah…” He sighed. “All the lyrics, almost all the music. You hear me say that, it sounds like Tama’s pretty useless.”

“…But you can’t do any of it without him.”

He swung to meet my gaze, his eyes bright and full. “No. I never could.”

We tapped out and discarded our cigarettes. Listening to short bird calls and the dull roar of city traffic, I thought quietly for a while. Both of us knew we should probably go back, but there was something I had to say, and Katsumi seemed to recognize that. He waited.

“You know, Katsumi…” I began. “I was mistaken about you.”

“How so?”

“I thought you were crazy. I thought you were so hard to figure out, so wild and complicated. I made up all of these explanations in my head, and all these ideas and metaphors for how to understand your personality – but they were all wrong. I see that now. You aren’t hard to figure out at all.”

Katsumi considered this. “Well, if you think so…”

I pushed on. “Over the past couple days, everything suddenly started to make sense to me. You aren’t complicated. You’re the exact opposite of complicated. You let yourself feel… everything. You think and feel and react genuinely to everything, and you don’t hold back. If you’re angry, you let yourself be angry. If you’re sad, you let yourself cry. If you’re not okay, you say that you’re not okay. It doesn’t matter where you are or who you’re with. You’re just you – always you – and that’s how you live. It’s not how most people live, which is why for the longest time I thought you were just unstable and crazy, but that doesn’t matter. It’s how you live, and that’s the bottom line, isn’t it?”

Gazing thoughtfully at the ground between us, he answered slowly, “…That’s right, Chas. That’s the bottom line.”

“Tell me something, Katsu. That day, a week or two ago, when you woke up screaming… what was your dream about?”

He looked at me with slight, wary surprise. “Why?”

I waved my hand to indicate the hospital. “It was this, wasn’t it? You dreamed about Tadashi?”

For a long moment he did not answer. I watched him, intent but at the same time uncertain if my intuition was correct.

“No,” he said at last. “No, the dream wasn’t about this… but it might as well have been.”

Before I knew it Katsumi was in my arms and crying, and as I embraced him fiercely I felt tears on my own face and I closed my eyes.


Chasing Life With You (Chapter 15)


I was eating breakfast alone the next morning when the call came.

Pulling my phone out of my pocket, I stared at the caller ID for a second. Katsumi Nakajima…

Weird, I thought. By the time I had woken up, the house had been empty. The pair often went out for walks or errands in the early mornings, so their absence alone wasn’t a surprise – but it was rare for them to call while they were away, and it was most unlike Katsumi to call me. I wondered if our talk the day before had anything to do with it.

Picking up, I drew out a slightly hesitant but unsuspecting, “Hello?”

“Tadashi’s in the hospital,” he said. His voice was charged and hoarse.

I was shocked still. “What?”

“The hospital in the city. Come now.”

“Wait, Katsumi, what happened?”

“We were just out for a walk earlier, kind of headed in toward town, and all of a sudden he said he couldn’t see anything anymore. He said his head really hurt, and then he collapsed and passed out. And I called the local doctor and she said I should take him to the hospital, so she drove to pick us up and now we’re at the hospital but he still isn’t waking up and they’re trying to figure out what’s wrong with him and you should come right now. Take my car.”

Before I could respond, he abruptly hung up.

I stood there for a minute with the phone in my hand, shocked and flustered. Tadashi… what?

Without really thinking about any of it, I left the remains of my breakfast on the table, grabbed my wallet and a jacket, and went into the garage. Take my car, he’d said. Tadashi’s keys were all hooked onto his wallet, so he always had them even if he wasn’t driving. Katsumi, simply because he drove less, just kept his car key at home. I found the key, got into the car, and started the engine.

The drive in to the city would take over an hour.


After much too long spent navigating city traffic and hospital guest policies, I finally reached my housemates in a hospital room on the third floor. When I walked in, Katsumi was hollering at a frustrated-looking nurse – and Tadashi was in the bed, still out cold.

Staring at him laying there like that, I vividly remembered a scene from eighth grade: Tadashi passed out in the bed of the school infirmary, bruised and bloodied from an unusually vicious bully. The school nurse had called me in, knowing we were friends, and asked me to sit there and keep him company because his parents would not come take him home. That situation had occurred many times, sometimes with the roles reversed, and now, the visual comparisons chilled me. But this time there were no bruises, no blood, no bullies – and this time, there was Katsumi.

Katsumi stopped yelling as soon as he noticed me enter the room. He stared at me for a moment, and his eyes, which had been full-blown wild before, seemed to calm. The nurse seized on this moment to make her escape.

“You came,” he said slowly.

“Of course I came,” I answered. “He’s my friend, too.”

“They don’t know what’s wrong with him,” he said. “Still waiting on some more test results, but basically they don’t know. They said I should just wait and watch and see if he wakes up.”

I nodded silently. There was nothing meaningful I could say to that.

He stared at me some more. “Chas… how do you do it?”

“Do what?”

“You don’t… show your emotions. Aren’t you scared?”

He looked like he was about to cry. I swallowed hard and met his gaze.

“Of course I’m scared, Katsu. But… I’ve been here before. Seeing Tadashi unconscious in a hospital bed isn’t new to me.”

“It’s not new to me, either.”

“Then… I don’t know.”

He nodded and looked away. I knew it was not the answer he had wanted – it really wasn’t an answer at all – but I couldn’t find the words.

I watched Tadashi breathing for a while and then spent some time wandering around the room. The patient information charted on the big whiteboard on the wall caught my eye – Katsumi was listed as his next-of-kin. Something in that struck me, hard. I went to sit next to Katsumi on the little sofa in the corner.

“Back in junior high,” I said. “It was just like this.”

“It was high school for me,” he said.

“Did he get bullied a lot then, too?”

“Not as much, I don’t think. Over school breaks his parents made him take self-defense classes. He really learned to fight, and most of the time people didn’t bother with him anymore. I thought the classes were stupid – putting the responsibility and the blame on the wrong person, teaching them violence, none of it is actually fixing the problem. It just fixed it for Tama… sometimes.”

“Sometimes?”

“Sometimes. Most of the time it was me ending up in the nurse’s office. People didn’t like Tadashi for his hair, for his looks. They didn’t like me because my parents were rich arrogant hotshots – and also because I got in their way whenever they were trying to be mean to Tama. They figured out that of the two of us, I was the easier target, because it was so easy for them to make me angry. Tama is cool and calculated. He’s smart, and he hates violence. But it was the simplest thing in the world for those bullies to knock me off my center.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“For what?” He closed his eyes, thinking for a while. “I just thought it was so ridiculous… beating up another human being, and for what? Because of his hair? Because of his parents? After I met Tama, I stopped cutting my hair. I came back to school the next year with my hair down to my shoulders, and before long we both ended up in the hospital with broken ribs. They could’ve killed us – over our hair. I couldn’t comprehend it. I still can’t.”

I nodded. “Your teachers never did anything?”

“Most of them turned a blind eye. Some of them blamed us for what was going on. Others just couldn’t be bothered.”

“And your parents.”

Katsumi looked at me. “Like I said… couldn’t be bothered.”

For a long time after that we just watched Tadashi sleeping. There was a strange feeling in the air – all the memories we had just brought back to life, mixing together with everything new. Part of me wanted to write, but I knew I couldn’t.

After all, if I couldn’t find the words to talk properly with Katsumi, I knew I’d never be able to find the words to talk to myself.


Chasing Life With You (Chapter 13)


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.”

“Everything okay?”

“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?”

“What’s that?”

“Let’s go kayaking.”

I was taken aback. “Huh? You want me to go kayaking with you?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, sure.” I stared at him, but he wouldn’t meet my gaze. “Now?”

“Yeah.”

“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.”

“Okay.”

“I’m smaller,” he said.

“Oh.”

“I’m gonna sit in it, and then you walk it a little farther into the water and then you sit down in back.”

“Alright.”

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.”

“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.


Chasing Life With You (Chapter 12)

A few nights later, as we were all trying our best to attain a new sense of ordinary routine, Katsumi took both Tadashi and I out in his car. He gave no explanation for where he was going or what he was doing, and when I hesitated to get in, wondering if he really wanted me there, he pushed me gently into the backseat. His eyes were slightly offbeat, edging on dangerous – I was incredibly afraid of making him angry more than anything. Tadashi settled in the passenger’s seat, quiet and calm, and nodded a small bit of encouragement towards me. I buckled up and just hoped for the best.

Katsumi drove us out of the deep wilderness in which we lived, tracking quickly along the few empty roads that existed in the area. He played no music and said nothing. After a while, I thought I knew where he was going; we reached the intersection which, had he turned left, would have taken us into town. But instead, he turned right. I stared out the window at the rapidly blackening night, biting my lip and wondering where this strangely silent adventure would take us.

It wasn’t long before we reached the mountains.

You would think that at this point, Katsumi would slow down. It was dark, the roads were slightly steep and winding, and he had two passengers in the car. But instead he abruptly stepped on the gas. My heart almost burst with the shock of it. Alarmed, I wanted to yell at him, to make him stop, but I couldn’t find the words or the courage to speak up. As we shot into the mountain pass and the rock walls on either side of us began to narrow with dizzying speed, I tried to calm my breathing and began to wonder if I was going to die.

From my seat, I stared at the back of Katsumi’s head. Even from the rear, he gave off a strange aura of determination, and I imagined that I could see the look of wildness in his eyes. His hands were tight on the steering wheel. Sitting calmly beside him, Tadashi gazed out the window with a vacant but thoughtful air. Business as usual, my old schoolmate seemed to say. I didn’t sign up for this! I shouted back.

I don’t know how long I spent in that speeding car, but it felt like an eternity. I was really starting to accept my impending death. At some point, probably fifteen or twenty minutes in, Katsumi braked incredibly hard, throwing us all forward, and then made a sharp turn. I covered my ears and winced at the sound of his skillful death-defying flair. Thankfully, the road began to straighten out a little after that, and a guardrail appeared to our left. Tadashi glanced over his shoulder then, as if to check that I was okay. He gave me a relaxed smile, brushed some of his long blond hair out of his face, and turned toward Katsumi.

“Katsu,” he said, “let’s take a break.”

“Okay.”

Katsumi sighed in disappointment and began to slow down. I closed my eyes and sighed in delirious relief.

Some ten seconds later, Katsumi pulled over at the side of the road. He got out, leaving the lights on so that we could all see, and wandered off to pee. I swallowed a sudden nausea and crawled out of the car very, very slowly after him.

Tadashi took up a position a few feet away, leaning against the roadside guardrail and watching me make my escape. I made my way over to him, breathing deeply. He shyly offered me a cigarette, but I declined, and he chose not to light up either.

“I don’t know how you can do it,” I said after a moment. “He’s crazy.”

“He is,” Tadashi admitted. “He has a death wish. But this kind of thing is good for him, you know? Some nights, when he’s not feeling well, he just taps me on the shoulder and I get in the car. He’s got a complicated mind, a complicated heart, because he’s human – and all of us humans find our own ways of dealing with our personal demons. If he didn’t do this once in a while, he’d probably be dead already.”

I shook my head. “You go with him every time?”

He gave a slow smile and a nod. “Every time.”

“Aren’t you afraid he’s going to kill you?”

“Yeah, I’ve thought about that. Of course I’ve thought about that. I’m human too, right? But whenever I start feeling afraid, I just think: if I’m going to die, at least I’ll die with him. You know? It’s better that way for both of us. Besides, he needs me. He can’t do this kind of thing alone.”

I thought about that for a moment. “That’s messed up.”

Tadashi smiled again. “Well, we’re both pretty messed up people.”

Katsumi returned at this point asking for a cigarette. Tadashi offered him one and lit it up for him, and our driver wandered off in the opposite direction to take a smoke. I stared after him wonderingly. Drinks alone, smokes alone… what a guy.

“See, he needs this kind of thing,” Tadashi said to me.

“Yeah, I think I know what you mean. His eyes aren’t so wild anymore.”

Tadashi regarded me. “Chas, when he gets back, I’ll tell him we should turn around and head home. You seem like you’ve had enough excitement for one night.”

Those words relieved me probably more than anything ever had. I thanked him.

Tadashi hasn’t changed, I concluded in my head. Ever compassionate, always looking out for the people around him… he’s probably the most considerate person I’ve ever met.

I puzzled momentarily over a question that would plague me for years – the question of how he and Katsumi had ended up so close, seeing as how they were so different from each other. But then, maybe that was too much of a surface assumption. Maybe, somewhere deep on the inside, they weren’t so different after all.

“You know, Chas, you should consider it a pretty big honor, getting to go for a ride with him,” Tadashi commented. He saw the look on my face and broke into a quiet laugh. “It means he’s willing to die with you. That says a lot.”

“Maybe I’m not willing to die with him,” I suggested.

He shrugged. “For Katsu, that’s besides the point.”

I thought about that for a while. “Say, can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“Maybe it’s kind of rude.”

“Just say it,” Tadashi said encouragingly. “We can decide if it’s rude afterward.”

“Well…” I bit my lip, embarrassed, and then quickly put it forward: “Are you in love with him?”

My old friend met my gaze directly, surprised, and started up his usual gentle laugh. “What kind of question is that?”

Before either of us could clarify, Katsumi was back. He eyed us warily, said, “What’re you waiting for?”, and got back in the car. Tadashi followed him, glancing over at me with amusement.

“Katsu, I think we should head home…”

After a minute I too returned to my seat. The rational part of me was terribly unwilling to do so, but Tadashi and Katsumi both delivered – the car turned around and headed home, much slower than before. I said a silent thank you and spent the rest of the night gazing out the window, admiring the countryside’s perfect starry sky and thinking about what Tadashi had said to me.

Maybe I should be willing to die with these two…

Taiga (Chapter 8)

The following night, I showed up at the entrance of the southside library at exactly eight o’clock. I had never been one for promptness, but I really didn’t have anything better to do, and I have to admit I was curious as to why Taiga had called me there. After the previous night’s violence, I wasn’t sure he’d even be there – he hadn’t come back to the dorm and I hadn’t seen him the whole day. So I guess I also just wanted to know what had happened to him.

As I opened the heavy library door, I heard music wafting up from the floor below. I paused and tilted my head towards it, trying to hear. Apparently there was a piano somewhere in the basement level – I hadn’t known. I walked hesitantly into the library, exchanging casual nods with the tired-looking student worker sitting at the front desk, and spent a few minutes wandering around looking for the stairs. A few people were studying or using the computers, but none of them paid any attention to me. The piano playing below went on and on, melodic and gentle, and I was surprised to realize that I actually liked it.

After lightly jogging down the stairs and rounding a corner into the mostly-empty basement, I found Taiga sitting at the pianist’s bench, his fingers reliably striking the keys. I immediately noticed a thick white bandage beneath his shorts and a pair of crutches leaning against one of the chairs next to him. He raised his head when I walked in, and his eyes lit up and he gave me one of his slow smiles, but he didn’t stop playing. I found an empty chair and crashed into it, figuring that he wanted to finish his song.

Silent, I watched as Taiga carefully brought the piece to its conclusion. Something in me was oddly intrigued by his playing. The song didn’t sound like your typical classical music, and he didn’t sound like your typical classical pianist – which is not to say that I actually listened to classical piano. He just seemed, somehow, different. I would later conclude that Taiga’s piano playing was an extremely good reflection of his character: he made music with great strength, but he was also highly capable of great reservation, and sometimes these two qualities were not in conflict but actually worked in parallel to create beauty and grace. How this stood out to me so early, I have no clue, but it’s only through hindsight that I’m able to articulate what I felt about his artistry that night.

“You came,” Taiga said to me when he’d finished.

He turned toward me and smiled again, brushing his fluffy hair out of his face. I nodded wordlessly.

“I thought you might have forgotten. Or that you just wouldn’t care to come.”

I shrugged. “Nothing better to do.”

“Are you sober?”

“Not really.”

For some reason, that made him laugh. “I don’t know why I asked,” he said.

“Me neither.”

After a few seconds of silence, I pointed at the crutches and asked, “How’s your leg?”

“The nurse at the clinic said it’s probably infected. He said that the knife wasn’t clean, and neither was the rain, and that I should’ve walked in to get it looked at sooner, but it took me a while to walk there so I couldn’t have helped that. He wrapped it up and referred me a prescription for antibiotics and painkillers, and because it started hurting pretty bad while I was there, he gave me crutches, too. I guess I’ll be on them until it gets better. I went to the pharmacy for the medicine this morning.”

“Are you going to tell the police?”

Taiga smiled wryly. “You mean the two women always sitting in the little police box on university center? No, I’m sure they have better things to worry about. The guy was drunk, that’s all… I don’t think it’s really worth it to go after him.”

I nodded in quiet agreement. “Ok.”

“Have you ever been down here?”

“To the basement? No. I think I’ve only been in this library once. I didn’t know there was a piano.”

“The head librarian lets me down here to play it most nights,” Taiga explained. “You’re supposed to be quiet in a library, but few people come here for serious studying, and they rarely ever mind hearing the piano. If somebody complains, of course I’ll stop, but it’s only ever happened once.”

“That piece you were playing just now wasn’t classical, was it?”

He shook his head. “It was a solo piano arrangement of a rock band’s signature single. I’m not a huge fan of classical, really, but I do like the sound of most rock piano arrangements.”

“Oh.”

I ran out of things to say and fell silent. Taiga stared at me for a bit and then began to smile again.

“You aren’t used to talking with people, are you?” he said.

“Hardly.”

“Well, if you ever want to practice, I’m down here most nights between eight and ten.”

The invitation puzzled me, but I gave him an awkward thank-you.

I didn’t realize until years later what Taiga had been trying to do for me when he said that. He, as always, had paid very close attention to the happenings of the night before, and he had caught onto something that most people probably wouldn’t have. When I finally understood the meaning behind his words, I actually almost cried – in my rejection of the community he and Isabella had built within our room, he had been offering me another option for a home.

As it was, I unknowingly accepted. On and off for the rest of that semester and well into the next, I would crash in the basement of the library, listening to Taiga play the piano and occasionally talking with him. A few weeks in, I walked down the stairs to find the chairs pushed up against the wall and an old couch occupying the space they had vacated. Taiga told me that even though the basement was usually roped off after ten, he had gotten permission from the librarian for me to spend the nights there if I wanted. He bought some pillows and blankets, and cushions for the chairs, and also found a small desk in one of the basement’s storage rooms, just in case I ever actually wanted to do my homework. A couple of months later, after the librarian felt sure that I wasn’t going to ruin the place, Taiga got me permission to have food and drinks there, and he bought me a mini fridge and microwave. There was a long list of things he told me I wasn’t allowed to have or do: no alcohol, no drugs, no weapons, no smoking, no open fires, on and on and on – a typical but unofficial housing contract, and Taiga told me that I really would be “evicted,” and he probably would get banned, too, if I broke any of those rules. To make sure that I didn’t, he would sometimes search through my stuff or show up randomly in the middle of the night. I didn’t like it, but I also couldn’t complain. If I needed a drink or a smoke I could always just go outside.

It may sound weird, but the basement of the library was much more preferable to me than our dorm room. It was dark, quiet, and strangely cozy, and I was almost always utterly alone. As time went on and I grew more and more comfortable in that space, I began having long, actual conversations with Taiga, and he accordingly would show up more often to spend time with me. This isn’t to say that I didn’t like Isabella or our other suitemates; I just needed a time and place to be alone and figure myself out, and Taiga was the one who happened to give that to me. I’d still go to our dorm most days to get food and relax on a real bed, and I’d still go out to parties and wander the streets, but whenever I wanted to sleep or have a real talk with someone, I went almost exclusively to the piano room of that basement.

Maybe it’s spoiling the rest of the story – and maybe it’s just making me look bad, too – but that was the same room where Taiga was murdered.

Taiga (Chapter 7)

A week or so after the train incident, Taiga ran into me late one night. Besides occasionally, randomly attending some of my classes, I had pretty much gone back to my parties and drunken midnight antics – without the train gang, that is. I’d found another group to hang out with that didn’t so explicitly threaten my life. In this town, guys like me were in endless supply. That night, I was walking along the street, with a bottle in my left hand and my right arm around the shoulder of a heavily-drunk pseudo-friend, when I saw Taiga on the other side heading slowly in my direction. He was talking with one of his juniors, a tall, remarkably thin, androgynous and good-looking high-schooler in a wheelchair. It looked like he had just taken them out for dinner. Typical, I thought. That’s Taiga. He loves to waste his time on society’s hopeless.

A few moments after I’d noticed him, Taiga raised his head and his eyes met mine, his expression soft and surprised. He stopped walking, debated for a second, and said something to his junior that I didn’t catch. The kid gave a hearty reply and an obvious “thank you” before wheeling off. Left behind, Taiga stared at me from across the street. I frowned and glowered, hoping he would leave, too, but before I knew it he was crossing the road to meet me.

“Who that?” my drunk friend slurred. “Wonder if he’s got any cash.”

“Leave off it, buddy,” I replied, taking my arm back from its resting position on his shoulders. “This guy ain’t gonna be robbed.”

Taiga halted in front of the two of us. “Hey,” he said casually.

I frowned at him. “Hey.”

“Having a good evening?”

“Best,” my friend gushed. “It’s been awesome.”

Taiga regarded him for a moment. “What’s been so good about it?”

I tried to cut in, but the guy next to me started rambling. “This beer. You should try it. And walking around at night looking at girls.”

“I prefer to enjoy my nightly walks without beer and girls, thank you,” Taiga replied.

“Hey, you’re missing out!”

I groaned. Something about the conversation was making me sick. It wasn’t the alcohol – I’d developed a pretty unhealthy tolerance, and I knew I wasn’t too far gone yet. Irritated, I pushed the drunken guy away from me. I didn’t even know his name.

“Scram,” I told him. “I don’t wanna hang with you no more.”

“What!” he protested. “Wait a minute–”

“Get outta here!”

“Fine… you’re no fun.” He alternately pouted, whined, and scowled as he wandered away from us into the night.

Taiga and I faced each other, practically alone on the gradually emptying street. Most of the shops had already closed, and those few that were still open were beginning to lock up. I fidgeted uncomfortably, emptied the last of my beer, and shattered the bottle on the road in a sudden, mindless motion. Taiga didn’t even flinch.

“It’s late,” he said softly. “And it looks like it’s going to rain. You should go home.”

“I don’t have a home,” I replied bitterly.

He shook his head. “Then make one. Or join one – you aren’t blind. And believe it or not, you aren’t stupid, either.”

“Don’t try to convince me.”

He studied me in silence for a while, contemplating his next move. I looked around, trying to avoid his gaze, searching for an easy escape route. But Taiga had always been an incredibly hard person to run away from.

“What are you doing tomorrow night?” he asked.

“Same old.” I was about to add, none of your business, anyway, but I stopped myself.

Taiga nodded. “Meet me at the bottom floor of the southside library tomorrow at eight.”

“Why?”

“Just meet me there.”

Before I could respond, the drunk guy I’d been walking with reappeared. He darted up to us, obviously struggling to control his hand movements, his words growing steadily more incoherent. His eyes were wide and large, and for some reason he seemed to be incredibly angry. He was holding a knife in his left hand, with a newly opened beer bottle in his right. Pointing the knife at Taiga, he steadfastly ignored my presence.

“Wallet!” he demanded, waving the knife about threateningly.

Taiga looked at him with surprise. I shifted my gaze between the two, alert and interested in this new development, and I was shocked to see Taiga’s expression resolve into an uncharacteristic reflection of alarm. So, he can be knocked off center, I mused in my head. For some reason this made me really happy.

“I’m not giving you my wallet,” Taiga said. He spoke firmly, despite his obvious unease.

“I’ll kill you,” the young man slurred.

Taiga shook his head slightly. “You’re drunk. You should go home.”

“Need money.”

“What for?”

“Beer.”

Taiga sighed. “I’m not giving you money if you’re just going to spend it on alcohol.”

“I’m gonna kill you,” he said again, moving closer and giving Taiga an insistent shove on the chest.

My roommate stumbled backward slightly, regained his composure, and raised a perfect hand, reiterating, “You really should go home.”

“Well, I don’t have a home!” the drunk man yelled.

Incensed, he tightened his grip on the knife. I stared at him, wide-eyed, and I knew for sure he was going to swing. In a split-second, thoughtless motion, I lunged forward and tackled him. I didn’t have the strength to knock him down, but at least I could try to push him away. Taiga dodged backwards as I collided with the man and wrestled for control of his dominant arm. The beer bottle went flying amid our scuffle; wildly alert, I heard both of my companions almost simultaneously draw a sharp inhale. Finally, the man gave and we both went crashing to the ground. His knife clattered onto the road, and as I struggled to keep him down and get to my feet, he turned his head and vomited against the sidewalk.

As if on cue, it began to rain. A light misty sprinkle blanketed the three of us – violent occupants of an empty, directionless street.

I slowly stood up, dazed. A dull soreness began to blossom in my shoulder. The young man hurled the rest of the contents of his stomach, groaned, and relaxed onto his back, breathing hard. I eyed him warily, but it didn’t seem like he would be a threat anymore. None of us spoke a word. After a few minutes, he clambered to his feet and staggered away, leaving his knife in the middle of the road.

I turned to look at Taiga. He was clearly shaken, his eyes bright and glittery, his hair ruffled and growing damp. It took me a moment to notice the huge rip in his pants.

“He got you,” I said stupidly.

Taiga nodded unsteadily. “Yeah.”

I narrowed my eyes at the long, thin slash across his thigh. “Does it hurt?”

“Not yet. It’s not that bad.” He ran a hand through his wet hair, took a few deep breaths, and looked around at the rainy, abandoned night. I watched him, feeling incredibly tired, incredibly strange.

“There’s a clinic a couple of streets over,” he said after a while. “I’m going to go get cleaned up before it starts hurting and I can’t walk. You coming?”

I considered it, but the whole incident had already been too much for me for one night. I really, really needed another drink. “No,” I replied bluntly.

Taiga nodded. “Okay. Listen. Thank you.”

I turned without answering and started to walk away, fast and determined, kicking my feet through the rapidly developing puddles by the side of the road. I had nowhere to go, but all I wanted to do then was flee the scene of the crime. Standing alone in the rain, Taiga watched me from behind and said nothing more.

Chasing Life With You (Chapter 11)


When the sun set that day, events seemed to take a full one hundred eighty degree turn. In other words, things seemed to go back to normal. Katsumi and Tadashi came downstairs together at around five to start prepping dinner, and they both were acting completely like their usual selves – as if the dream, the wild awakening that morning, hadn’t happened at all. They said nothing about it. I watched as the two of them fluidly moved about the kitchen, bantering and laughing, Katsumi with no trace of the prophecy on his mind and no sign on his face that he had cried. Their abrupt reversion to normalcy was in itself strange, but I accepted it without complaint. Forget my confusion; I was just glad that the earlier tension in the house had disappeared.

I turned on a music program on the TV and lounged on the couch. After exploring the contents of the fridge, Katsumi went out to the garden to pick some vegetables for dinner, and he came back with a feast. Tadashi was obviously delighted. He tied his hair back and the two of them set to work, and I relaxed for the next half hour as delicious aromas began to fill the house.

At some point in the midst of this calm atmosphere, I heard Tadashi suddenly call out my name.

I fumbled for the remote and paused the show. “What?”

“Come here,” he said. “You’re gonna learn how to cook something.”

I yelped. “No!”

“This is easy, promise. Just come here!”

“I’m going to ruin it,” I vowed.

“There’s no way to ruin this,” Tadashi laughed. “Get over here.”

I turned off the TV and reluctantly plodded into the kitchen. Katsumi was busy cutting corn and squash in wildly impressive ways; I looked over at him, wide-eyed, wondering how he managed to not cut his fingers off.

Tadashi pulled me over to the stove and gave me a pot. “Put water in it,” he said. “From the sink. Fill it a little over halfway.”

“Okay.”

I filled it up and brought it back over to him.

“Put it on the stove,” he said. “Make sure to center it, okay?”

It turned out that all he wanted me to do was boil some green beans. He’d already cleaned and cut them; he just had me boil them, and that was all. Still, I’d never done it before, and I stood over the pot embarrassed and fuming as I tried to figure out whether or not they were cooked yet. Tadashi stood next to me the whole time, giving basic advice, all the while smiling gently and trying not to laugh.

“See, Chas,” he said when I’d finished, “easy, right?”

“Maybe, but anything harder than this and I’ll ruin it,” I replied adamantly.

Tadashi shook his head. “That’s what everybody thinks about everything they don’t yet know. See, you’re letting me teach you guitar, you’re letting me teach you how to cook – doesn’t it feel good to learn something new? A couple weeks from now you’ll be laughing at how much you underestimated yourself.”

“Boiling green beans isn’t cooking,” I said. “Holding a guitar isn’t playing it.”

“There’s a first time for everyone and everything in this world,” he replied.

I scratched my head. “Maybe, but…”

Katsumi came up from behind and threw his arm around my shoulder, startling me. He looked at the plate of green beans I’d just boiled, and then he looked at Tadashi and threw his head back and laughed.

“You made Chas do it,” Katsumi grinned. “That’s so funny.”

“It’s not funny!” I objected. “Gross, your hands have corn juice all over them, don’t touch my shirt!”

Katsumi ignored me. “You look nice with your hair tied back,” he said to Tadashi.

Tadashi blushed a little. “Thanks.”

“Ahem,” I interrupted, “can I go back to my show now?”

I managed to escape back to the living room, but before long, it was dinner time. As usual, we all moved out to the porch to enjoy the meal. Tadashi loaded my plate with the green beans I’d cooked, accompanied by a dipping sauce he had made, and I enjoyed them thoroughly.

“Aren’t you proud you made something that tastes good?” Tadashi prodded me from across the table.

“A little,” I admitted. “But it’s mostly your sauce that’s good.”

“It needs more salt,” Katsumi cut in.

I laughed at hearing his typical complaint. Yes, I thought, he’s gone back to normal.

After we finished dinner, Tadashi surprisingly brought out a couple of cases of beer.

“We bought it at the market the other day,” he explained. “Do you drink?”

“Not really. I’ll just have a little.”

He poured me some, and then filled a glass for himself and sat back down.

“None for you?” I asked Katsumi.

He shook his head slowly. “No.”

“Katsu drinks alone,” Tadashi explained to me.

He leaned back and started to drink, and the three of us sat around the table in a soft companionable silence, watching the sun dissolve over the trees.

I’d never gone drinking with Tadashi before, so I had no idea how he might react to alcohol. Everyone reacts differently, I knew – some people get crazy, some people fall asleep, and so on. It turned out that Tadashi was a silent but very happy drunk. As the evening wore on and he kept pouring himself more glasses, he spoke less and less, but he couldn’t hide the flushed smile on his face. I watched him a bit warily out of the corner of my eye, surprised at this new side of him that I hadn’t seen before. The feeling of normalcy surrounding dinner had left me.

At some point, as the world around us fell into a deep, glowing darkness, Katsumi struck up a conversation.

“He gets a bit wild sometimes,” he said to me, nodding at Tadashi sitting between us. The person in question didn’t seem to hear a word he’d said, still just smiling absently off into the night.

“Drinking?” I asked.

“Yeah. He doesn’t drink often, but when he does, he drinks a lot. And he gets ridiculously happy. He does it to get happy, I think. To momentarily push away the sadness.”

I nodded. “A lot of people do that.”

“It’s no good,” Katsumi said. “But we all need something like this once in a while.”

“Are you going to let him just keep drinking?”

He shook his head. “At some point, he’ll get really crazy happy and start acting up. After that he’ll throw up and pass out. Happens every time.”

It didn’t take much longer to reach that peak. While I was talking with Katsumi about something or other, Tadashi suddenly started trying to kiss him. Katsumi laughed and pushed him away a few times, but after a minute or so he gave in, leaned over, and kissed him back. I blushed and looked away in amusement. Not long after, true to Katsumi’s word, Tadashi looked like he was starting to get nauseous.

“Take him upstairs, would you?” Katsumi asked me. “I want to stay out here a bit longer.”

“Sure.”

I helped my ridiculously drunken friend to the second floor bathroom, cleaned him up, and got him to bed.

Afterwards, I thought I might go out to the porch again, but as I entered the kitchen I saw outside Katsumi’s lone figure and something inside me paused. I stared at Katsumi’s back and bit my lip, wondering. He was, for the first time all night, partaking in the beer Tadashi had left out on the table. I watched him drink for a moment, nodded silently to myself, and turned around.

After everything that had happened that day, it was no surprise he wanted to be alone.


Chasing Life With You (Chapter 9)


Several days passed with nothing in particular of note. I ate, slept, walked around the garden, and went on my phone and computer; Tadashi and Katsumi cooked, cleaned, and played music. I relaxed into this lifestyle in a pretty passive way. It was slow and leisurely, like a dream retirement. But of course, it couldn’t always be that way. On my seventh day at Katsumi’s family home, several things happened that would almost entirely change the course of that whole summer.

I woke up that morning to the sound of Katsumi’s screams. They weren’t the crazed, shocked, hysterical type of scream – his voice was full-throated, terrified, and, for lack of a better word, tragic. If I could make up some kind of story about it, it was like he had just come across a serial killer standing over the body of his one true love, bloody knife still in hand. Katsumi turned and ran, and the serial killer chased him. It was that kind of scream.

I bolted out of bed, my heart pounding, and ran into the hallway. The other bedroom door was still closed; I banged on it worriedly. “Katsumi?” I yelled. “Tadashi? What’s going on?”

Nobody answered. I tried the door and found it locked, and resigned myself to shifting back-and-forth in front of it, agitated. What could be happening in there? My storyteller’s imagination went wild, and I choked on my own thoughts. Katsumi went on and on; Tadashi started yelling over him, his words entirely incomprehensible. Nearly a full minute later, the screams and shouts finally abated, and the house was plunged into a deafening silence.

“Hello?” I asked hesitantly.

A few moments passed, and then Tadashi came to the door. He opened it just a crack and looked out at me. His eyes were charged, his expression unreadable; he was shirtless – both of us obviously just out of bed, though I had slept in thin pajamas – and his long blond hair ran messily down his shoulders. For a moment he just met my gaze, his mouth slightly open, struggling to find words. He glanced over his shoulder, defeated, then turned to me again.

“Sorry,” he said. “Everyone’s fine. Hold on and I’ll tell you about it later. Just… go downstairs or something.”

Then he pulled back and closed the door, basically in my face, without saying another word. I was shocked. I swallowed the response I hadn’t finished forming, mechanically went to wash up in the bathroom, and then plodded down the stairs, stunned into obedience. I crashed on the couch, checked the time on my phone – just barely 6:30 – and closed my eyes.

Tadashi came down some fifteen minutes later. He had washed his face, brushed his hair, and changed into a navy blue short-sleeve button-up and chino shorts. He glanced at me almost absently, poured himself a tall glass of water, and chugged it. Then he came over and sat next to me.

“Morning,” he said casually.

“Morning,” I replied, my own voice still slow and tense.

“Woke you up?”

“Yeah.”

“Scared you?”

“Yeah.”

“Sorry about that.”

I shook my head. “What happened?”

“Um… Well, first of all, Katsu had a bad dream.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. But… it wasn’t just a normal nightmare.”

I blinked, surprised. “What do you mean?”

Tadashi was calm and serious. “Chas, you can believe me or not, I’m just going to tell you things as they are, okay?”

“Okay…”

“Sometimes,” he said, “sometimes Katsumi has prophetic dreams.”

I thought about that for a minute. “You mean, like, he sees the future?”

“Yeah, well, not exactly. His dreams are usually of events that are going to happen in the future, but when he wakes up, he rarely remembers them. He just hangs on to bits and pieces, so it’s like a preview, like a movie trailer or something. And later when the event actually happens, the whole dream comes back to him.”

“Uh-huh… So you’re saying Katsumi had a prophetic nightmare this morning?”

Tadashi nodded. “I think so.”

“What was it about?”

“That’s the thing… he won’t tell me.”

I frowned. “Does he normally?”

“Yeah. That’s why I believe that sometimes his dreams are prophetic, because usually when he wakes up he’ll immediately tell me what he remembers, and then later on we’ll both experience the real thing. But today, for some reason, he isn’t telling me what his dream was about, and that worries me.”

He paused and studied my face. “Do you believe me, Chas?”

“That Katsumi has prophetic dreams? Sure.”

“Really?”

I shrugged. “It’s not that crazy. Stories about people who are like that are pretty common. And you aren’t the kind of person who would just go around saying things without having really thought about and analyzed them – so if you believe it, I believe it.”

“Okay,” he said, sounding relieved.

“Is he okay now? Katsumi? His screaming was really something.”

Tadashi nodded. “I haven’t heard him scream like that in a long time… when he woke up he just kind of sat on the bed for a while, not looking at me, not talking. I went to wash up in the bathroom, and when I came back he stood up and went into the bathroom after me. He’s taking a shower right now. I think he’ll be okay, but I have no idea how he’s gonna behave today, especially with you, so…”

“I’ll keep my distance unless you’re there,” I said. “Don’t worry about it.”

“I wish he would tell me what that dream was about…” he murmured with a quiet sigh. “Anyway, are you hungry? I’ll make something.”

He got up without waiting for my answer and wandered into the kitchen. I stared after him wonderingly, then sank back into the couch and closed my eyes again.

It’s too early for this, I thought. But I guess it’s too late to go back to sleep.

And so it was that we got a headstart on that fateful seventh day.


Chasing Life With You (Chapter 8)


Lunch came and went, and in the early afternoon I settled back down onto the living room couch, browsing aimlessly on my computer. Nothing in particular aroused my interest – I was just wasting time. I do that a lot. Meanwhile, Tadashi and Katsumi cleaned up the kitchen and then vanished up the stairs one after another. I checked out the blogs and social media feeds of a few celebrities I like, and then spent half an hour on a pointless online word game.

Just as I was finishing that up and wondering what I should do next, the sound of electric guitars came blaring from the studio upstairs. I closed my browser, raised my head slightly, and listened to Tadashi’s swift, skilled tuning. First he did one guitar all on its own, and then he picked up the second one and tuned it to the first. I found out a while later that he has perfect pitch – no surprise there. Even without that trait, he’s always had exceptionally good hearing. Relaxed on the couch, I closed my eyes and waited for the two guitarists to start playing something.

As the days went by I’d learn to differentiate the sounds and styles of the guitars and figure out who was playing what, but for the time being I just accepted the music as it was, with no names attached. They warmed up for a few minutes, one of them running through some scales, the other playing an exceptionally fast, complicated melody. Katsumi tested out his voice, too. After this was a short pause; then they launched freely into a song. For this piece, there was some prerecorded drumming going on in the background, and Tadashi contributed no backing vocals. I listened with intense curiosity. The pace was faster than the song I’d heard last night, and the rhythm was far more complex; the guitar solos were spaced well apart with some kind of interlude between them, and in a lot of places the two guitarists were playing entirely different rhythms laid on top of each other. Last night’s piece had certainly impressed me, but this one captured my attention in a very different way.

And what about the lyrics? Even though he was all miked up and belting soulfully, I didn’t really catch Katsumi’s voice all that well, so I couldn’t really tell what the song was about. But, guessing just from the tone and melodies, it was certainly on the rougher side. The song they’d played the night before had been more of a soft, introspective, heart-wrenching ballad; this one, on the other hand, made me want to get up and take action, to get in a fight with someone over something I found worth fighting for – at least that’s how I imagined it.

Suddenly inspired, I opened up a new document on my laptop and wrote down my impressions of the song. Maybe, I thought, writing about music wouldn’t be so bad after all. I just had to learn the terminology, get to know the artists, listen to the songs more, and it would be just like any other article… right? And if the music was like this, like what Tadashi and Katsumi had just played, I might even be able to enjoy it.

Before they could start on their next song, I bolted upstairs and poked my head into the studio. There was an intimidating mess of instruments and equipment everywhere. Katsumi, who was adjusting his headset and monitors, saw me and gave Tadashi a surprised, somewhat perplexed look; my friend glanced over his shoulder, met my gaze, and smiled.

“Hey,” he said, turning to face me. He muted his guitar with one hand while brushing back his hair with the other. “You been listening?”

“Sorry to interrupt,” I said embarrassedly.

“That’s okay. What’s up?”

“You said you release your music digitally, right? Is there like a website or something? I have no idea how that kind of thing works…”

Tadashi grinned. “I’ll set you up with it after dinner, okay? Just remind me, in case I forget.”

“Okay, thanks. Also… can I stay and watch?”

He looked at Katsumi; the black-haired musician shrugged. “I don’t mind.”

“We’re just running through some of our old songs right now,” Tadashi explained to me, “so it’s probably a good time for you to listen in, too.”

“Is it okay if I bring my computer and write down my impressions of the songs?” I asked.

Katsumi scratched his head. “Yeah, whatever, but probably best if you don’t publish it – especially not for a real article.”

“Better if you talk to our manager first for stuff like that,” Tadashi clarified. “Otherwise she’s going to give you some trouble for it.”

“Okay, I won’t,” I promised.

I brought up my computer, crashed on the floor in a corner of the studio, and spent the rest of the afternoon watching, listening, and writing.

The two played on for hours without paying much attention to me, a behavior which I appreciated. I wanted to observe everything as it was, without interfering or changing it. The notes I made were nothing special – there was nothing you could describe as technical, no professional evaluation or criticism. I just jotted down how each song made me feel, and that was about it. But I would later come to believe that this kind of emotional, surface-level writing was just as important, and in some ways just as valuable, as the real thing you might find in a music magazine.

While listening, I observed their instruments and the equipment they used, trying to learn as much as possible. Having had no background in music, especially not of this kind, I was basically starting from scratch. It was like catching a glimpse of what life was like in a different universe. Tadashi would eventually explain everything to me properly, but for the time being I just tried to soak everything in.

I wasn’t at all sure why I was suddenly interested in their music. Maybe it was because it was my old school friend making it. Maybe it was because I was living in the same house with them. Maybe there was something special about their songs. I really hadn’t a clue. But whatever the reason, I knew in my heart that this was what I’d been searching for when I had started asking around for a summer place in the countryside – I needed cleansing, emotional and physical; I needed to jumpstart my stagnant life; and I needed writing inspiration. And here it all was.

The guitars, the lake, the people – everything was perfect.

After a few hours of on-and-off playing, Tadashi left to start prepping dinner. Katsumi fell back onto a chair and rested. He was breathing a little hard, but it seemed like he’d had a good time. His voice had come out well, I thought. I made no attempt to strike up a conversation, wondering how hard it must be to sing.

After a few quiet minutes he faced me and asked, “How was it?”

“Great,” I replied.

“Yeah?”

To be honest, I was still slightly wary of being alone with Katsumi. Sometimes he would be casual, sometimes he’d be just as friendly as Tadashi, and other times he’d be too friendly – as I mentioned, wild. But I was slowly getting used to these changes in his mood. I imagined the surface of the ocean, sprawling from horizon to horizon; sometimes it would be stormy and surging, sometimes the shifting waves would be of an average, expected size and shape, and other times the sea would be calm and still. Right now, tired as he was, and having loosened up with an afternoon of music, he seemed pretty relaxed. So I wasn’t too worried about having a conversation alone with him like this.

The worst times to catch him, I’d eventually learn, were either late at night or, in the event he hadn’t slept well, early in the morning. During the day, especially when he was with Tadashi, he was generally pretty tame.

“So you like our music?” he asked.

“I like it a lot,” I admitted. “More than I thought I would.”

“Anything in particular about it that you like?”

I thought about it. “Your vocals… when the two of you sing together. Two human voices singing together, that sound is really powerful, I feel. And you make good use of it. Also, just your personalities, the way they come out in your guitar playing… and the variety of style. The way you sometimes use recorded backing tracks, and other times play alone, that kind of thing. It keeps it really interesting. Each song is different and incredibly unique… that’s new to me. Most of the stuff I hear on the radio or in stores just all sounds the same. So I like the creative, artistic drive behind your music, it’s refreshing.”

“As expected of a writer,” Katsumi said. “You think carefully and speak meaningfully. I like it.”

I flushed. “What’s that?”

“Most people will just say ‘the melody is really catchy’ or ‘your voice sounds good.’ I like the way you think about it and really detail what you like and why it matters.”

“Oh… well…”

“That’s one of the reasons why I like artists,” he said. “They’re sensitive to this kind of thing, and they care about it.”

Artists…

I learned a lot that summer. About Tadashi, about music, about life – but also about myself.


Taiga (Chapter 6)

Now, don’t get me wrong here. It’s not like Taiga gave me this magical speech and immediately I became a good person. Something about his words tugged at me, that’s all, and I decided to go to one of my classes that afternoon for no other reason than I suddenly felt like it. I didn’t think all that much about Taiga’s lecture, I didn’t start contemplating morals or ethics or the sad state of my life at that moment. I just went.

It was a history class that I had signed up for, as I mentioned earlier, just to meet the minimum unit requirement to stay enrolled. You might be wondering why I even bothered to apply to college in the first place. I didn’t have much idea about that, either. But from the beginning, I’d been told that going to college after high school was just the thing to do, so I just went and did it. This has been a pretty common pattern in my life: I just go and do things, without really thinking about them.

Anyway, this particular class turned out to be a sweeping overview of world history – go figure – and on this day that I attended, the professor was talking about imperialism. I arrived to the lecture hall a bit late and sat in an empty seat in the back row near the door. All the students around me were taking notes; I didn’t even have a pencil to write with, let alone paper to write on, so I just watched and listened.

Did I know anything about imperialism prior to this lecture? No, not really. And I didn’t care to hear about it. But I was there, and the professor’s voice was loud, so I couldn’t help anything. She went on and on about imperialism and capitalism and their definitions and their impacts on human history, and somehow, for some reason, I actually paid attention. Maybe the alcohol had jacked up my brain.

After the class, as I was slowly making my way back to the dorm, I spotted one of the guys from the train gang – not the leader, just some other dude – walking toward me. I don’t think he actually saw me, since he was staring down at his phone the whole time, but just to be safe I ducked into the closest building and took an incredibly roundabout way home. I didn’t want to talk about that whole incident with anyone, let alone one of the guys who had almost killed me.

I arrived at our suite some thirty minutes later and found it empty. Taiga and Isabella had cooked, eaten, and left without me, as usual – not because they didn’t want to spend time with me, but because I never wanted to spend time with them. Anyway, I was glad they were gone. I took off my jacket, threw it on a chair in the kitchen, and checked the fridge to see if there was anything I could eat. There was a new bowl of curry rice, still slightly warm; I glanced at the dish rack and saw two similar bowls, empty. I heated up the curry some more in the microwave and settled down for a delicious lunch.

Isabella didn’t always cook for me. Most days I’d eat out somewhere or just have something stupid like cup noodles, or else I wouldn’t eat at all. But occasionally, she or Taiga would leave some leftovers in the fridge, and I’d just take it without asking. They never said a word. Sometimes, I suspected, they purposely left food for me – like when the leftovers would sit in the fridge untouched for a few days, or if there were a lot of leftovers for a meal that really shouldn’t have been a problem to just make two portions. I couldn’t comprehend for the life of me why they’d do that, but I didn’t think about it too much. I just took the food and ate it.

Taiga came back home before I’d finished eating. He saw me at the table, smiled, and went into our room without saying a word. I went on eating and watching pointless videos on my phone. After a few minutes he came back out to the kitchen wearing his work clothes.

“How’s the curry?” he asked.

“Um,” I said. “It’s good.”

“Not too spicy?”

“No.”

“Do you prefer your curry spicy or sweet?”

Slightly dumbfounded, I replied, “I don’t really care…”

Taiga nodded. “Isabella and I both like it pretty spicy, that’s why I was asking.”

I couldn’t fathom why he was making small talk with me. I just kind of nodded and mumbled along. He talked about curry for a little while longer, and then he said goodbye and headed off to work.

It occurred to me then that I had no idea what his internship even was. I’d never thought to ask. When it came down to it, I realized, I didn’t really know very much about him, or Isabella either. Back then, I didn’t know much about anyone at all – not even myself.

I finished my lunch, dumped the dishes in the sink, and almost instantly passed out on my bed. I figured there wasn’t anything better to do, anyway. I didn’t feel like searching for a party or hitting the streets, and it’s not like I was about to start my three weeks’ and four classes’ worth of homework. I napped for a few hours, woke up, went on my phone, and then rolled over and fell asleep again. By the time I finally pulled myself out of bed, it was nine o’clock at night. The world outside our window was dark and unforgivingly silent.

For a few minutes I leisurely paced around the room, waking myself up and trying to remember what I had been dreaming about. It had been a bad dream, that I knew, but I didn’t remember any single detail of it. And I hated that. That’s saying something, really. I didn’t have strong feelings about very many things, but I hated not remembering my nightmares with a gut-wrenching passion, and I still do. Something about it bothers me.

Eventually I gave up on my memory and went outside. Isabella was puttering around in the kitchen; she looked over at me, nodded without smiling, and went back to cleaning and washing dishes. Taiga was sitting at the table with his computer in front of him, an online textbook on one half of the screen and a note-taking application open on the other. He had early on taken up Isabella’s policy of not using paper unless absolutely necessary. He turned around in his seat to look at me, gave a slow, soft smile, and waited for me to say something.

“Hey,” I said awkwardly.

“Hey,” he replied.

“… I, uh, fell asleep…”

“Are you hungry?” he asked. “There’s some soup in the fridge.”

“Oh.”

“You can just cook some noodles to go with it.”

“Okay.”

He nodded, turned around, and resumed studying, and I went up next to Isabella and put a pot of water on the stove to boil. None of us said another word.