He gazed out toward the spacious night sky and the numerous radiant stars. He coughed several times using a handkerchief. He deeply breathed in and out. He contorted his eyebrows. He grasped onto his chest. He coughed again. This invisible pain was slowly tearing him into pieces… bit by bit.
He studied the handkerchief. He knew exactly all the fine details of that day. It was on Valentine’s Day. All the girls were supposed to hand chocolates to the guys they liked. Instead of getting chocolate, he surprisingly received a nicely wrapped, bow tied present that was anonymously left on his desk. He discovered a handkerchief inside the box. He was astounded as to who would give him such a gift. He never knew anyone who sewed.
He had no clue of who that person could be until years later. Coincidentally, he moved out of the city with his father to the suburbia. He never informed that person, but it was for the better. This separation would prevent any feelings from continuing to grow. At least that’s what he believed would happen.
Leaving the thoughts in the back of his mind, he pinched himself. He couldn’t keep floating around in the past. He knew it was time. There would be no delay. He would return the gift… his first and last one ever.
For some reason, he couldn’t help but feel an empty loneliness. When he peered over to his own side, there was only space. Nothing else.
He touched the unoccupied side of the bench and examined it for a while. He could only feel that coldness. He clenched his fist and bit his lip. He immediately took his hand away.
As a kid, he could have cared less about what anyone thought of him. All of the guys created rumors that he was the devil while the girls stayed away from him labeling him as a creep. He didn’t mind. In fact, he liked it that way. He wouldn’t have to be close to anyone. Besides, who would want to be with a decaying corpse? It was hideous and ugly. He was bound to die and pass away at a young age. And who ever remembers those who die young? Nobody.
His mind stubbornly refused to change those melancholy thoughts until a certain bludgeoning idiot got in his way. Most people stayed out of his way, but not this one. Through his gentle and kind façade, there was a fighter inside. He truly believed on the brighter side of this world. It was not surprising since this guy had loving parents and a little sister, unlike him.
“Kai-san, what did you call me out here for… especially at a time like this?” a familiar voice approached him.
“Hey… Rui-san…” Kai meekly greeted as he slipped the handkerchief back into his jacket pocket.
He hadn’t been feeling the greatest ever since a week ago. He didn’t go see his doctor yet, but he didn’t need to see anyone to know that the end was clearly in sight.
Rui took a seat on the bench next to Kai. The warmth of Rui’s body cuddled right beside him. He breathed in the aromatic cologne surrounding Rui. He dearly missed this sweet, heavenly presence.
“It’s been such a long time since we last spoke face-to-face.” Rui gently mentioned.
The sentence made Kai guilty on the inside. He didn’t mean to ignore Rui. He just couldn’t let anyone see him shriveling up inside.
Rui held onto Kai’s shoulder blade and slid his finger across his cheek. “Kai-san, what’s with the cut on your face?”
Kai wiggled out of Rui’s grip and forced a warm smile. “Nothing! I’m fine. You’re always such a worry wart.”
“Who did this to you? Is it someone you work with? Your father? Your neighbor?”
The words stabbed at Kai’s heart. He uncomfortably shifted his eyes away from Rui and chuckled. “Come on, Rui. You’re being mean. Accusing false crimes and false perpetrators. I didn’t call you to talk about other people.”
What a lucky guess Rui made. Father. The most dreaded word in his dictionary.
Kai’s mother and little sister passed away in a fatal car accident when he was only in middle school. The incident left his father scarred and made him a drunk. With that, Kai had to endure his illness and the bruises and scars left on his body… alone.
He didn’t dare tell a single soul about his father or his illness. He had to keep every last shred of dignity for his family and himself. He couldn’t let anyone know, especially Rui. He was the last person Kai wanted to inflict any sort of pain onto. Rui lived a blissful and peaceful life. If anything, Kai swore to himself to be Rui’s shield. Even if he had to shoulder the pain all by himself, he had to make it… at least until Rui found his true happiness in life.
“Kai-san, I worry about you.” Rui innocently stated.
Kai burst out laughing. “Get real. If anything, I have to protect you from getting swindled or beaten up by thugs.”
“I’m being serious.” Rui cutely pouted.
Kai’s laughter died down into a mischievous grin. He pretended. He feigned. He had to be tough and strong. He would never give up. He would never succumb to the ways of others. That’s what he taught himself. No one deserved sympathy. Not even himself.
“Well, enough about boring me. What about you?” Kai hastily switched the subject.
“Nothing much. Dad got a promotion. My sister will be entering high school this year.” Rui nodded his head.
Sister. If Kai’s sister was still alive, she would probably be the same age as Rui’s sister. He wondered what kind of person his sister would have become. He imagined her as a nice and cute girl who would appeal to all of the boys. Every day, he constantly questioned himself: why? Why, out of all people, did his sister get taken away? If anything, he should have been in that car. He wouldn’t have hesitated to switch places with her. Besides, he was gradually disappearing from this world.
“Oh, I bet she looks cute!” Kai teasingly commented.
Rui shook his head. “She would never like you.”
“Hey, I have never even met her before. How would you know? Huh? Huh?” Kai skeptically shot a look at him.
Rui broke out into a quiet chuckle. Kai gave him a perplexed expression. “What’s so hilarious? I’m being serious.”
There was a moment of odd silence between the two. Not because they were angry at each other, but because they were a pair of two awkward friends. They had many matters they wished to verbalize. Yet one had a hard time expressing the true meaning of his words while the other never started the conversation. It was a wonder as to how they even became friends.
“So… how come you called?” Rui managed to find a way back to the real point of the meeting.
Kai’s body stiffened. He tried to keep the topic at bay. But he knew it was unavoidable. Eventually, he would have to confront Rui.
At first, Kai thought about blurting out his whole sob story, but decided against it. He didn’t want Rui suffering. Rui didn’t need to know. A light bulb sparked in Kai’s mind, but the idea was sinister and cruel. Was this truly the best parting present?
He remembered how Rui crushed his fortified walls and was let into his secluded circle. Ever since, they stuck together like jelly and peanut butter. As their friendship continued, Kai realized Rui’s feelings extended beyond friendship. From the way Rui behaved towards him, Kai discovered that Rui had helplessly fallen in love with a walking dead man. To add to the tragic drama, the walking dead man secretly loved the naïve Rui back.
“Uh… Rui… where do you see yourself ten years from now?” Kai suddenly inquired. His chest grew heavy as lead.
Rui raised one eyebrow, but answered the question, “Me? I don’t know. Maybe having a job at the business firm.”
“What about people relationships?”
He actually took a moment to deeply think before responding. Kai was afraid of how his friend would say. He replied, “I imagine myself with the person that I… sincerely cherish.”
“But… what if that person had already fallen for someone else?” Kai purposely mentioned.
Rui abruptly looked over at Kai with grape sized eyes. Kai cleared his throat. It was no secret. They just never openly reciprocated. Mostly because Kai pretended to be ignorant of Rui’s feelings. Today, he had to settle it. There was no more running away.
“Kai-san, are you… serious…?” Rui choked on his words.
Kai heard the gentle guy using every ounce of his strength to fight against the tears, the emotions, and the thoughts taking over his mind.
This was the only way to free Rui from ever having to bear witness to his illness. The Heavens didn’t grant him enough time to roam around on Mother Earth. So the least he could do… No, the last thing he could do… was to let Rui go from his grip… forever. This was his gift... his white lie.
“I… uh… meant to tell you…” Kai hesitantly lied. He had never been as uncomfortable and cruel as now. He had to do this. He couldn’t stop. He couldn’t. He didn’t care that this would be soon all his fault. Rui could loathe him for as long as he lived. But he had to do this. Before he knew it, the words came spilling out on their own. “...That we have been seeing each for a few months.”
Rui was dumbfounded and speechless. Kai expected Rui to throw a fit or be upset and curse at him… anything that would make Kai regret every single word flying out of his mouth. Instead, Rui softly patted Kai’s shoulder.
“That’s good. That’s really good.” Rui sounded breathless as if trying to search for the words to fill the silent void. “Here I was thinking you would stay a hermit forever. How… silly I was.”
Kai shifted his eyes toward Rui. Those guiltless eyes of Rui’s glistened like a diamond in the rough on this eerily quiescent evening. He couldn’t read what was on his friend’s mind. Normally, he could. But at this very moment… He failed at what he did best. Rui stood up and gazed out at the scenery.
“I’ll see you around, Kai.” Rui said with his back faced towards Kai.
Kai got up from his seat and watched Rui slowly fade away from the scene. He desperately yearned to holler, shout, and scream. He wanted to chase after Rui. He wanted to apologize. He wanted to tell that it was just a dumb lie. Anything to stop Rui from vanishing right before his eyes. But Kai’s body simply stayed put while his voice was completely silenced.
When Rui disappeared into the eternal darkness, he fell onto the ground as though in defeat. He tightly grabbed onto his shirt and slammed his fist on the ground with the other hand.
There was no response.
“Dammit… How the hell…?” he cursed to himself.
Losing everything in an instance… Losing everything forged in a lifetime… This was certainly not what he desired. But he didn’t have a choice. It was him or Rui. And he would choose himself over Rui any day.
This was the best. This had to be the best. After today, they would be on separate paths. They would become strangers. They would simply forget a friendship worth a lifetime. And one of these days when they met each other again, they would simply nod their heads and wave hello. They would never know the intimate friendship that had a fighting chance into becoming a relationship even more powerful.
He took out the white handkerchief sewed by Rui. He slowly caressed it taking in every last detail. He headed over to the beautiful lake and threw the handmade item into the water.
Yes, this simple white lie was his last gift. The last and only precious gift that Kai could give to Rui. Maybe one day Rui would uncover the truth and comprehend what Kai had really done. Maybe then Rui would forgive him. For now, though, things should remain like this. Just as still as the stars in the dark horizon.
A single shard of tear cascaded down his cheek as he peered up at the starry night sky.
“Rui, I love you.”