People often described Nene Yashiro as a girl with her head in the clouds. For the most part, they weren’t wrong. However, those who described her in such a way were also those who did not bother to look beneath the surface.
Sure, Nene spent a lot of time dreaming. She longed for a fairytale romance like many other girls her age, and at times she let her fantasies get the best of her. She did silly things to impress boys, such as making bento boxes filled with adorably decorated food and writing sappy love letters (both of which she always chickened out of actually delivering). But contrary to popular belief, Nene Yashiro did not, in fact, live in the clouds. Her two feet were firmly rooted in reality, and at the present moment, reality felt particularly harsh.
Nene was at a loss; for how much longer could she pretend not to notice the scrapes and bruises marring her friend’s body?
To his credit, Amane did a great job at hiding them. The first bruise she had seen was on the right side of his waist when he lifted his arms up to stretch. Nene couldn’t help but gasp at the shock of purple against his pale skin. Amane rapidly dropped his arms down and shot her his signature smile.
“Basketball accident,” he explained hastily. “Tsukasa’s awful at one-on-one.”
Well, he had never lied to her before. And it wasn’t implausible. She didn’t really understand how one’s side could acquire such a bruise in a game of one-on-one basketball, but to be fair, she knew nothing about basketball. She decided to take his word for it.
The second strange occurrence was when he showed up to school clad with a makeshift cast on his left wrist.
“Amane-kun, what happened?” she asked in surprise. She had ran into him late in the afternoon the previous day after they both finished their respective club activities. Whatever the cause, it must have happened at night.
“Kitchen accident. Remind me to never try my hand at cooking again—apparently I can’t be trusted with knives,” he chuckled.
The answer didn’t satisfy her. “Well, are you okay?”
He nodded and hit her with that smile again. “Mm.”
She couldn’t shake off the deep feeling of unease. His smiles somehow felt forced, as did his laughter. To the untrained eye it might not have appeared so, but Nene knew him better than most.
These events reoccurred so often that Nene refused to ignore them any longer. But what could she do? Amane had not opened up to her for a reason. It stung, but if her suspicions were correct, then she understood. Someone was harming Amane—badly. These days, Nene did not even have the free space in her mind to think about love stories and cute boys. Instead, she used it all up to brainstorm.
How should she broach the subject with him? Or would it be best to forego it and tell a teacher? No, the latter seemed wrong. As much as she wanted him to get the help he clearly needed, she’d be crossing the line by speaking to someone else without his permission. She had her theories, but she would never actually be certain until she spoke to Amane once and for all.
As the final bell of the day rang, Nene caught up to Amane on his way out the door.
He whipped around, making room for the other students to leave by moving aside.
“What’s up, Nene-chan?”
She froze. She was going to ask to walk home with him, but wait, wasn’t that kind of embarrassing? Whenever they walked together in the past, it was more of an unspoken situation. The heat rose to her cheeks. Suddenly, she remembered her purpose and shook her head. She needed to have a serious talk with him—this was no time to have such childish thoughts!
“Want to walk home together today?”
His eyes widened momentarily before easily accepting her invitation.
Two hours later, Nene found Amane leaning against the school’s front gates.
“Did I keep you waiting long?” she asked upon approach.
“Nah,” he grinned, kicking himself off of the gate.
She smiled back at him. They started in the direction of Nene’s house, though Nene had no intention of returning straight home.
“How was the astronomy club?” she asked to fill the silence.
“Good. Fun. And the gardening club?”
“Also fun. My tomatoes are almost ready to be picked. Ooh, my carrots and cucumbers are getting bigger too!”
Amane couldn’t help but laugh at her excitement. “Maybe you could try gifting some veggies to Minamoto-senpai again. You know, round two.”
Her face screwed up as if she had taken a bite of a lemon. “Ugh, don’t remind me,” she whimpered, nudging his shoulder with her own as they walked.
He burst into a loud guffaw with a grin spanning from ear to ear.
“Don’t laugh at my trauma!” she admonished.
“Sorry,” he said in a tone of voice that suggested no feelings of guilt.
As they neared Nene’s house, she purposefully made a left turn in the wrong direction.
“Where are you going?” Amane asked, helplessly following behind.
“I was thinking we could stop at the park,” she explained, marching ahead. “There’s also a convenience store nearby. Since it’s kind of hot, we could get popsicles too.”
“Oh, well alright.”
She came to an abrupt halt and spun around on her heels. “Is that okay?”
He paused before shooting her an easy smile. “Fine by me. Better than heading straight home, anyway,” he shrugged.
Turning back ahead, she frowned out of his view. There had to be more to his comment, and she would certainly address the subject later.
As per her suggestion, they each got popsicles at the convenience store near the park. At the park, they sat on two vacant swings and swayed gently back and forth.
“How’s the grape?” Nene asked, nibbling at her own strawberry bar.
Unlike Nene, he took a great big bite out of his. “It’s just grape !”
She threw her head back with a groan. “That has to be your lamest joke yet.”
“You wound me,” he clutched his chest in feigned agony. “But really, it’s great. I suspect the heat makes it taste better.”
She hummed in agreement. The singing of cicadas rang through the air as they enjoyed their frozen treats.
With every bite of her popsicle, Nene’s heart sped a little faster. She had been thinking about the upcoming conversation for weeks now, building up the confidence in her mind, but it seemed to crumble all at once. She couldn’t deny that it would be awkward. What if she was wrong, anyway? She knew she couldn’t be, but the what if nagged at her. Beads of sweat formed at her temples, and she knew it wasn’t just the heat.
“Ah, that was refreshing!” Amane boomed as he finished off his last bite, jerking her out of her thoughts. “This was a good idea, Nene-chan.”
“I am full of good ideas, after all.”
He narrowed his eyes at her in suspicion, and she didn’t hesitate to deliver a playful smack on his upper arm.
With a chuckle, he stood and held his hand out in front of her. “Here, I’ll throw your popsicle stick away for you.”
“Oh, thanks,” she said, handing over the stick. She watched him as he walked across the park, and a dark cloud materialized above her head. The mood was so great right now—could she really ruin it by bringing up something so heavy? Her heart thumped through her chest. She turned her head up toward the clear sky. Sunset was still a little ways away, but the sun had weakened regardless.
“It’ll definitely be a nice night for stargazing,” Amane commented, resuming his seat on the swing beside her.
She looked over at him, but the sky above had already captured his attention. There was something in his gaze, a longing of sorts, that saddened Nene. Her eyes fell to the back of his neck where two band aids hid what she assumed to be a cut. Right then and there she released her fears of potential awkwardness and decided to press the issue no matter what.
“Should we wait for nightfall, then?”
He averted his gaze from the sky and onto her, his eyes perfect circles. “Huh? Won’t your parents be worried?”
She dismissed the issue with a wave of the hand. “It’s okay. What about yours?”
Amane tensed up, lowering his head. Nene had a feeling that he would shoot her his typical smile, and a moment later he proved her right.
“They probably won’t mind.”
“I’m sure that’s not true…”
“It is what it is,” he shrugged.
Nene took a deep breath, mentally preparing herself to ask him about, well, everything.
“Hey,” she began. “I actually wanted to talk to you about something.”
“We’re good friends, right?”
“I’d say so.”
“I’m just going to come out with it. Amane-kun, are you okay?”
His brows furrowed in confusion. “Yeah, I think I feel fine?”
“No, I meant in general. It’s just, your bruises…” She didn’t miss how Amane’s face darkened, but continued on nonetheless. “And sometimes you’ll show up to school wearing a homemade cast. You even have bandaids on your neck right now.”
Nene watched Amane tighten his grip on either side of the swing set’s chains. He kept his eyes planted on the ground, clearly avoiding contact with hers.
“What are you even talking about? I’m fine.”
“No you’re not, I can tell. Ama—”
He shot up from the swing and bent down to pick up his bag. “On second thought, I better go. My parents might be worried after all. I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah?”
“No!” she yelped, reaching for his hand and holding it tightly within her own. Amane gaped at her, ducking his head as his face brightened in color. She pleaded, “please.”
As if time itself stopped, they stayed frozen like that for a minute at the very least.
“Why don’t we move to a bench?”
“Alright,” he relented, still refusing to meet her eyes.
Hand in hand, they walked over to and sat on the bench, setting their school bags down at their feet. Nene shifted the position of her hand in his so that their fingers intertwined, and Amane couldn’t help the blush that deepened across his cheeks.
“It’s getting darker,” Nene noted.
Amane reacted by looking up at the sky. A few stars could be seen here and there. He was right, it would be a nice night for stargazing.
“I’m sorry for upsetting you,” said Nene with a small voice. “It’s just...I hate it. I hate seeing you hurting.”
His heart skipped a beat at the pained expression on her face. “I’m not hurting, Nene-chan. Please don’t worry.”
“Please don’t lie,” she countered. “How could you not be?”
“It would be ridiculous for me to deny what’s going on at this point, so I won’t. But I mean it, I’m not hurting at all. I don’t even mind it. Really.”
Try as she might, Nene could not stop the tears from building in her eyes. Damn it , she cursed herself. She wanted Amane to count on her, to be his pillar of strength. Now here she was, on the verge of tears. She couldn’t understand what he was saying at all, and even the thought of being unable to understand him made her want to cry harder.
Amane panicked as he watched her tears spill over. He felt another pang in his chest, and tightened their intertwined hands on impulse.
“Who is it?”
She stared him in the eyes despite the tears blurring her vision. “Who’s doing it?”
A beat of silence passed. “You don’t have to tell me.” As an afterthought, she asked “It’s someone close, isn’t it?”
Amane rubbed at his neck with his free hand, his fingers skimming over the bandaids. “Yeah.”
“I’m sorry, Amane-kun,” her voice cracked midway. “I really don’t know how to help.”
He scooted closer to her, eliminating the distance between them entirely. His heart beat wildly as he released her hand and threw his arm over her shoulder, drawing her in close. She leaned into him instinctively, allowing her head to drop into the hollow of his neck. They had never been so close to one another before, but it felt perfectly natural.
“It’s okay, Nene-chan.”
“It’s not, though…”
“You being by my side has always made me feel better,” he admitted shyly, his face instantly flushing. “You caring as much as you do makes me feel better.”
Nene did not know how to respond; she still had so many arguments pent up inside of her. She feared that Amane was in denial, and she desperately wanted to snap him out of it. On the other hand, his words sounded so genuine that her thoughts had degenerated into a jumbled mess.
“I used to dream of going to the moon.”
His words snapped her out of her daze. She peeked up at him, and then to the sky where the moon had finally appeared. More and more stars revealed themselves against the dark night’s sky. They seemed particularly bright tonight, Nene thought.
He hummed in affirmation.
“We’re only teenagers. You can still go.”
He looked up at the sky with that familiar yearning in his eyes. Nene didn’t know why Amane talked about the future as if it wouldn’t exist, but she did know that she would do everything in her power to make him see the brighter side of things.
“You definitely can!”
Her excessive enthusiasm caught him off guard. Unbidden laughter bubbled up out of him, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “Pfft, that was loud.”
She smiled at his smile, realizing it was his first since she brought up the topic of his bruises.
“Have you ever watched the Perseids?”
“The Perseids?” she repeated slowly. “Uh-uh.”
“They’re a meteor shower,” he clarified. “They’re considered the brightest and most active one of all. We discussed them today in astronomy club since they’re coming up soon.”
“You’re going to go watch them, then?”
“Mm. If conditions are good, you can see fifty meteors per hour.”
“Really?” Nene asked in awe.
“They’re next month, to be exact. Would you want to come?”
“Won’t I be intruding on the club?”
He shook his head. “A meteor shower is open to everyone. The more the merrier, anyway. Although, the moon may be quite bright this year, making the meteors more difficult to see. But we might always get lucky…” he trailed off.
His invitation, along with the fact that she would be able to experience something that Amane loved, made her heart soar. “I want to come.”
“Okay. I’m glad.”
Amane readjusted his grip on her shoulders, tilting to lean his cheek lightly against the top of Nene’s head.
“I’ll tell you everything someday.”
Nene had a feeling that he had more to say, and remained silent.
“I’m sorry for not being able to talk about it all at once. It may be that… I’m not ready yet.”
She turned inwards, wrapping her arms around his waist. With her head pressed against his chest she could feel his heart quicken, and similarly felt her own do the same.
“I’ll always be here for you, Amane-kun. Take as much time as you need, but please take care of yourself too.”
Her heartfelt words brought a soft smile to his lips. “Thank you.”
Cicadas and crickets sang in a chorus, preventing Nene and Amane’s current little world from growing too silent. A light breeze blew by, rustling the leaves up in the trees. It was just an ordinary summer night, but it also felt like a new beginning. Nene did not know what the future would bring. She hadn’t a clue whether things would get better or worse, but at this moment—nestled in the arms of someone special to her—she had endless hope for the former.