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The Way We Say, "I love you."

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His cellphone goes off, the alarm app letting him know that it’s time to get up to face another day. He doesn’t particularly want to, but today is a school day and being dead tired doesn’t count as being sick. His father can empathize, and mom would sympathize, but his insomnia is a fact of life, and there isn’t anything either of them can really do to help him. Once in a while he’ll be desperate enough to try a sleeping pill, especially if he doesn’t have anywhere to be the next day, but last night wasn’t one of those times and… damn it, he’s exhausted.

Still, with great reluctance, Hitoshi tossed aside his blanket and sat up. He grumbled as he ran a hand through his hair and slipped his feet into his house slippers. Trying to not stumble, he made it out of his bedroom and into the bathroom down the hall. He washed his face and then brushed his teeth, half-glaring at his reflection as he moved his toothbrush back and forth.

He looked like death warmed over, but that wasn’t anything new.

Returning to his bedroom, Hitoshi shrugged out of his pajamas and into his summer school uniform. Grabbing his schoolbag, he shuffled out into the kitchen to zombie-eat some rice and egg rolls, grunting once at his mom’s request to buy milk on the way home. Gulping down some milk, he picked up his schoolbag again and headed out the door.

“…Did I brush my teeth before breakfast again?”

Rubbing a hand over his face, Hitoshi made a mental note to stick an actual note on the mirror to remind himself to brush after eating, not before.

“Hitoshi! Good morning!”

Hearing the familiar voice of his best friend, he dropped his arm and looked forward. There she was, smiling as she waved at him, her colorful hair almost glowing in the morning light. She was happy this morning. Good, good.

“M-morning,” he yawned, continuing his shuffling walk in the direction of the station.

She fell in step next to him, still looking bubbly about something. He’d ask, but that ran the risk of busting her bubble, so he’d learned to wait. If she wanted to share, she would.

She didn’t that day.


“I’m back,” he drawled, stepped out of his shoes and nudging them aside with his feet.

“Welcome home,” his mom called from the couch.

She didn’t ask if he’d brought the milk, and he put it away without fanfare.

Going to his room, Hitoshi could barely find the energy to change out of his uniform before collapsing into bed. He’d been waiting for this moment all day, but even though this was all he’d wanted, sleep still continued to elude him. Staring dully at the desk opposite of his bed, Hitoshi wondered if this was how she felt sometimes, this mix of crushing hollowness and hopeless exhaustion.

A brief memory of That Day made his eyes twitch, and Hitoshi closed his eyes in an attempt to push it away (the mounting panic, his desperate prayer, their crying on the beach alone at night). He tries not to think about it (about The Day inexorably marching towards them), but sometimes he can’t stop the memories from replaying in his head. Today, though, he is lucky, and he sleeps—

chirp chirp. chirp chirp.

Hitoshi hates having to open his eyes because that means he’s awake when he could have been asleep. It’s not that he forgot to turn the sound off, it’s that he never does, just in case. His mom purses her lip whenever his phone rings because she knows how hard it is for him to sleep, but he got mad at her the one time she did turn the sound off on his phone. What was sleep if his best friend called him? (What if he was her lifeline?) It’s his own desire to be available no matter when she calls or texts, even if it wakes him up. He accepts that this means that sometimes he loses out on precious sleep, but that will always be an easier burden to bear than… than that.

Grumbling, he reached out with a heavy limb to grab his phone. Squinting in the harsh light as the screen lit up in his face, he saw that he’d at least gotten three hours of sleep. Better than nothing.

He touched the screen to accept the call and brought the phone to his ear.

“What’s up?”

[“Ah, Hitoshi. I was just calling about homework, but you sound tired. Did I wake you up?”]

The voice of his best friend sounds guilty and he doesn’t like it.

“The plan was to try to take a nap, but you know me.” He puts self-deprecation into his tone, making a reference to the insomnia she knows about, though he’s mostly certain that she doesn’t understand. He sat up with a grunt, slouching. “It’s okay. I couldn’t sleep anyway.”

[“Are you sure? I mean, it’s not important.”]

“It’s fine,” he says, standing to get his schoolbag. “Which homework are you talking about? I haven’t even started…”

She answers his question and soon he’s sitting at his desk with math homework in front of him. He’s better at it than she is, and he coaches her through the assignment. It’s when they’re done that she realizes how long they’ve been talking, and she utters a soft curse.

[“I should have just come over. I think I will, next time.”]

“Make sure to call first,” he said lazily, leaning back in his chair. His mom won’t let her in if he’s asleep, and he highly suspects her feelings would be hurt if that happened.

[“Alright.”]

They say goodbye and hang up. With a cloud over his head, he decided to get the rest of his homework out of the way before he went back to his bed to try to recapture his sleep. His work was half-hearted and sloppy, but he got it done. Collapsing back down into his bed, Hitoshi sighed softly and ignored his grumbling stomach in favor of burying his heavy head into his pillow.

He’d never directly said it to her, but his best friend could call him any time she wanted, and he would do his best to answer, or get back to her as fast as possible if he missed her; even if she woke him up from much needed sleep. After all, no matter how vital it is or even how much he wants it, sleep will never be more important to him than she is.

Ever.


I will love you through everything. Can you do yourself the same honor?

~Scott Stabile