“Never break a sweat for the other guys, but when it comes to you, I get paralysed.”
“I’m putting my defences up, cause I don’t wanna fall in love.”
When Mai started her first year of high school, she’d expected many things: retests after failed exams, finding a part-time job, hanging out with her friends, and more. But never once, had she expected to fall in love. Dating wasn’t something she’d considered at all. She just… wasn’t interested. Which is why finding Naru had resulted in her being equal parts entranced and irritated.
He was pretty —that much she’d admit to herself— but he was cold. Something about him had screamed inevitable hurt and pain. And yet even as that warning grew into ringing alarm bells, she couldn’t help herself.
Because he wasn’t cold. Not really. He cared a lot about everyone, he just had a different way of showing it. Or rather, he did when he wasn’t trying to play the part of the villain in whatever mental drama he’d cast himself in.
She saw it in his midnight teas and the warmth of his body above her own. She heard it in the faked voices and understood it in the magic tricks used to distract her from terrifying situations.
Really, when she considered everything that had transpired over their time together, it was inevitable that she’d fall for him. And standing here, the truth of the man before her ringing through her mind, she couldn’t help but wonder how she’d missed so many details.
Yet, her love doesn’t waver. It stands firm in the face of so much pressure, unwavering.
Even now, she wasn’t sure what came over her and caused the confession had left her mouth. Now was not the time.
But if not now, then when would be the time?
When his answer finally came, Mai wasn’t sure how to act or what to say as the confusion built in her mind.
“The feelings are lost in my lungs. They’re burning, I’d rather be numb.”
“Hold me tight, like before. Tell me that it’s alright.
I will fight for your heart; I don’t want to let go.”
Even though she’d expected it, it had still broken Mai’s heart to hear Naru say that he was leaving them —leaving her so suddenly. She wasn’t ready to let him go yet.
Or ever, really.
Her mind was still clouded with thoughts about whether it was truly Naru she loved or if he was right and she’d fallen in love with Gene. Every time she thought she had a definitive answer in mind, his words would loop again, and she’d find herself re-examining the facts.
What she did know for sure was that she cared deeply for Naru. Romanticism aside, he was one of the people she spent the majority of her time with. It wasn’t really a shock that this led to a level of care. Right?
As fragile as she felt right now, Mai wished that someone (Naru) would offer her the reassurance that she needed.
Except, Naru already had, hadn’t he?
He’d offered her a photo; something she’d no doubt treasure for many years to come. But it wasn’t enough.
(She’s starting to believe that nothing ever would be.)
An irritational part of her wanted to fight for Naru. It called for her to rage and struggle against this hand she’d been dealt. But she couldn’t. Because what was there to fight against? Naru had made his choice.
It wasn’t until the office door shut behind her for the final time that this thought stopped being enough.
“I need you right now, so don’t let me down now. I think I’m losing my mind now.”
“Running out of time. I really thought you were on my side.
But now there’s nobody by my side.”
Despite the finality of the door clicking shut, it wasn’t until Mai saw the time of Naru’s flight on the clock on her wall that the denial began to set in. Part of her still hoped that this was some fucked up spirit dream —that it wasn’t reality. But after turning her arms read and blotchy, fingernails marks seemingly a permanent indentation in her skin, she was fairly (98%) certain that this was reality.
It wasn’t until he was gone that she actually started to lose her mind, she noted scornfully. What does that say about her so-called ‘independence’ —that she’d come to rely so heavily on someone else.
(A traitorous part of her mind reminds her that she found solace and dependence in a lie and that stings almost as much as her loss.)
It was even more disastrous to realise just how much her job at SPR (Naru) had affected even her school life. Her friend count consisted of only Michiru and Keiko and even they had grown distant after over a year of her lacking any time to hang out.
And that might be worse than any other realisation she’d had so far. She’d let her life be ruled by work. Not in the same way that Naru did —but what was the difference when the outcome was the same?
She was alone —no-one by her side. Not Naru, not the irregulars, and not her oldest friends.
“How did I fall for you? All you do is bleed me dry.”
After the shocking realisation of her precarious “friends” situation, Mai focused on starting to mend those bridges. Yet, for every moment she had alone to think, every chance she had to dwell on her situation, her irritation grew. Her duties with SPR hadn’t just impacted her socially, but also academically.
She was suffering through long days of cramming excess information into her brain to catch up. It was more than she could really handle, but at least it meant she was no longer thinking about Naru and the gaping hole that he’d left in her heart.
(Except she still was. Constantly.)
It was in those moments when her emotions would start to warp; when she removed her tight hold over them and let them run their course.
“Took your direction, no I didn’t think twice. Swimming in your lies.
Now I can see you, so why do I love you?”
Anger was most prominent, but Mai figured that was almost to be expected. After so many lies, after so many sudden changes, she was almost positive it could even be considered healthy.
What was probably less healthy, was the way part of her still clung to Naru. Even now, she loved him. The image of him in her mind still made her flush and the memories of the times he’d saved her still made her heart beat frantically.
It had been weeks already (18 days and 14 hours —not that she’d counted) and she was beginning to wonder if maybe she would feel like this forever.
“I knew you were trouble when you walked in, so shame on me.
Flew me to places I’d never seen.”
In the week following her rise in anger, Mai had time to reflect over more than her current personal situation. She’d had time to think on the decisions that had led her to this moment, and she realised that she was angrier at herself for the decisions she’d made.
From the first time she’d encountered Naru in that classroom —unsmiling eyes and phony smile— she’d known that he would be trouble. Her time with SPR had awakened many of her abilities, but her instincts? They’d always been there. She just hadn’t noticed in them, too caught up in the drama of her life.
But she’d been enamoured with the opportunities that ghost hunting presented her; money, time away from school, and fun. No matter how many bad things had come from her time with SPR, she couldn’t quite bring herself to regret it at all.
Those experiences —they were the kind most people dreamed of. And if she looked at how she’d felt in those moments, she truly adored (almost) every single one. But something about it all seemed tainted now; wrong.
“I am your satellite; I revolve around you. But that doesn’t mean that I’m your sun.”
In her more sombre moments, Mai found herself often thinking of what Naru is probably doing now. How he might be feeling. Often it just reminds her that whatever he’d feeling probably isn’t anything like she is. It’s in these moments that she can feel her heartbreak most clearly. Because somehow, she’d come to revolve around Naru —he’d been the centre of her entire world. But she hadn’t been the centre of his.
It was selfish, she knew, to wish the same pain she felt —the same loss— on him, but she was helpless against the all too human emotion. Often when this disgust of her own thought process begins to fade, it’s just replaced by even more anger.
Rage at how things had turned out, rage at how, even now, there’s a deep sense of longing that lingers in the back of her mind.
“I wish you’d stay by my side. I said I wouldn’t break without you.
I will break free of your arms.”
In these moments, she had to squash that voice that whispers long-impossible dreams of Naru staying despite everything. She had to remind herself that heartbreak wasn’t the end of her life —rather the beginning of new-found independence.
She’d promised herself that she’d keep going without him —that eventually she’d move on and break free of the hold he had on her heart.
Clinging to the past hadn’t done her any good in those early weeks so now she needed to make the effort to move forwards and let it all go.
“Things could have been so much better, if only you had stayed the same.”
After the first three months, things became easier. Not easy, but easier.
She had more good days than bad, and thoughts of Naru were less frequent and emotionally taxing. Which is why she was so perplexed by her current state of turmoil.
Michiru had mentioned that she’d heard about a new book that was being released by Oliver Davis. It had been a sweet gesture —Michiru had taken to mentioning anything ‘paranormal’ related that she heard about here and there, given Mai’s personal interest in the subject.
(An interest that she’d tried and failed to shake.)
But just hearing that name; Naru’s true name —the identity of the man who’d taken everything from her. Mai hadn’t known how to feel.
There was anger bubbling beneath her skin, but she ignored it. Instead, she forced herself to smile and thank her friend for that news, sincerely meaning it despite the emotional turmoil it had caused.
If either of them noticed her disposition on ‘Oliver Davis’ they didn’t mention (though since they never brought him —or his books— up again, she guessed they might have). They’d steered the conversation towards going to karaoke in Friday afternoon before splitting ways, leaving Mai to finally address her current headspace.
Images of how she could be right now if Oliver Davis hadn’t existed, if Naru had remained as just that for a little longer (or forever). Was it selfish to wish for someone to be someone they weren’t? Mai guessed it probably was. But in the safety of her mind, she ran towards scenarios and mourned the loss of those possible futures.
“Oliver Davis,” she scoffed to herself. “What a jerk.”
“Broke my back to make you change. I pushed, you always made way.”
Over the four months since Naru had left, self-reflection had become almost a habit. A necessity, even. Driven by how out of hand she’d let her time at SPR become, she often found herself examining herself —trying to be better.
Sometimes, like now, she was less enthused by what her pondering turned up. On some levels, Mai had let herself become fixated on Naru in the wrong ways. Part of her had recognised the soul-deep suffering of a feel member of the ‘my family keeps dying’ team. She’d seen it in the indifference and forced distance. And she’d pushed to change it —to teach him more human emotions and reactions. And he had allowed it.
Maybe that’s what had caused her to truly keep pushing. Was it narcissistic to think that even if he had rejected her, she was the only one he’d made those allowances for? She’d pushed him to be better and he’d let her.
(The Yoshimi case came to mind, but she pushed it —and the resulting guilt— away.)
“I have a desire to dance close to the edge of disaster.
And I can feel it locked within you, but you are hardly its master.”
Of all her theories on her attraction to Naru, this was one of her least favourites —yet it was the one that made her instincts ring true. It seemed… cheap, in a way, to be able to blame her attraction and the following love on a desire to be close to dangers (and didn’t that bring new meaning to the concept of being a danger-magnet?)— to be close to power.
Equally frightening was the concept that even back then, she could feel spiritual energy, even as tightly controlled as Naru’s. Maybe that was what really terrified her about the entire situation.
“We both know I needed you, the way you needed me.”
Maybe it was wishful thinking —the idea that Naru could need anyone, let alone her. But she liked to think that on some level, that had been why he’d kept her around. She certainly wasn’t necessary for the office work.
If nothing else, Naru needed someone. With Gene gone, she couldn’t help but worry —despite everything— that he’d become a recluse all over again.
For the first time in years, she prayed to a god that she didn’t believe in that this hadn’t happened.
“I’ll wish things were different, but you’ll stay the same. In time, I will let this go. Turn my bitter to something gold, forget all the things I hoped – it’s too late now, the damage is done.”
After months of recover and self-reflection, Mai still had her bad days. There were says when she dreamed of things being different —of confessions gone right and of happy endings. But she had learnt to remember that the bad things had already happened, and the resulting damage wrought. It was too late for them now. But she did like to think that even when she had these days, she was improving at taking the bitter aftertaste in her mouth and the heavy feeling in her heart and turning it into something productive.
Some days she exercised until her body aches and her anger faded from her mind, replaced by the repetitive motions. Other days, her anger-tainted memories of Naru’s smug face pushed her to study, and study and study, so that she could prove him wrong for every time he claimed she was an idiot.
(Except that he’d never know that she had proven him wrong. He was long gone from her life, not a single message to show for it. She wasn’t upset over that either. Really. It was probably for the best.)
“Replace me like it’s nothing. It’s fine. I see it like it’s written – got insecure across your face. You hide behind indifference. You can’t be touched; you can’t be maimed.”
Sometimes Mai would think bitterly over how little he must have cared for them to have cut all ties. But then she’d think of hidden expressions of happiness —of worry behind cold cerulean eyes and of harsh scolds that came from care, not anger.
And then she knew that despite all pretences, the cold was just a defence mechanism.
In those moments the words had felt too hard —cruel even— but now she can reflect on them and it’s easier to understand them. Because Naru was ‘the bad personality’, constantly compared to Gene. And Mai knows, in the same way she knows a lot of things she shouldn’t, that it had hurt him to grow up thinking of himself like that.
It was moments like these that Mai’s heart ached for a different reason entirely.
“I couldn’t say to you any words, I’m done with you. I suddenly changed, as if I took some kind of drug. Everything changed, it was like a common love.”
It’s about a year after Naru left when it happens. There’s no discernible reason as far as she can tell, but one day she just woke up and everything felt… different. The dull ache in her heart that had been constant background noise for so long was just, absent.
It was strange after so many months, but it also felt nice. Refreshing. She hadn’t realised just how heavily everything had continued to weigh on her.
It gave her a chance to realise something important that she’d thought she known but clearly hadn’t. Naru had been a very important person in her life, but he wasn’t her life. Losing him didn’t mean that she’d lost everything. It wasn’t going to be the end of the world forever. He might have been her first love, but that didn’t mean that he had to be her last.
She could move on.
And she would.
“This is my fight song, take back my life song, prove I’m alright song.”
It had been amusing to watch her friends struggle to deal with her newfound enthusiasm for everything. Mai hadn’t felt like she’d been acting too different over the past year, but evidently that wasn’t the case. Unfortunately, Keiko wasn’t of any use in understanding what exactly she’d done wrong.
“You were just, more absent? Almost a little duller,” she’d said. Which —what the heck was that supposed to mean?
Either way, after that Mai had made it her mission to show off that she had moved on. She wanted to prove to everyone and herself that she was alright now.
"And all along, I knew, I had something special with you. But sometimes, you just gotta know that these things fall through.
But I’m still tied, and I can’t hide, my connection with you."
It’s a few months after revelation about Naru’s part in her life when Mai thought about Naru again. Not in a romantic sense —they clearly had no romance over their time knowing each other. But in a general sense.
No matter what she did, Mai had come to realise that she and Naru has something special. A connection. Something that she couldn’t replicate with anyone else. And no matter how she tried, Mai knew she would never be able to forget him. But as she’d come to understand over the time they’d been apart, maybe that was okay.
Maybe moving on didn’t mean she had to forget everything they’d been through together. Maybe moving on really mean accepting that she could have been good, but that knowing that doesn’t mean things were guaranteed to work out. Because something these things didn’t go the way you want them to, and that’s okay.
In English, Mai had learnt that they had a saying that described perfectly how she thought of their situation. “Right man, wrong time.” And that was just life. She’d come to terms with that for the rest of her life, she’d be at least a little in love with Naru. But wasn’t that true for a lot of people. They say that you never forget your first love and now understands what they mean. And she’s ready to accept that.
"It’s been way too long, but still not long enough. No matter how we end, can’t we just begin again?"
When Mai sees him again its random chance – or maybe its fate. She knew which Naru would believe, but she couldn’t help but think this felt like the universe was pushing them together. Quite literally.
She’s in London for a business trip and he happens to bump into her on the sidewalk. (Or she bumps into him. Semantics.) It’s been so long but she could recognise him anywhere. For a moment they just stare at each other before the moment is broken.
It sounds so awkward Mai can’t help but giggle.
“Naru,” she said, and it feels a little mocking even though she doesn’t mean for it to. “Or would you prefer Oliver? Davis-san?”
It’s hard to tell if he reacted to her words because he’s shuffling them a little closer to the wall so they aren’t in the way of other pedestrians and his head isn’t turned towards her, but she thought she spotted a small smile for a moment. (It was probably wishful thinking though. Naru had only smiled at her once before.)
“Naru is fine. It’s not like you ever called me anything else before.”
Mai laughed openly at that. “As per usual, you’re correct,” she admitted. Glancing down at her watch, she frowned at the time. “I should get going.”
She’s already starting to walk off when she feels the hand around her wrist, and her name being called again.
Turning to look at him, Mai titled her head. “Yes?”
“Are you free anytime while you’re in London?”
The question catches her so off guard that she almost forgets to respond. “Yes?”
His lips twitched into a small smirk —likely at her uncertain response.
The hand on her wrist falls away and she instantly found that part of her a little too cold. But then something think is being slipped into her hand and she grasps it instinctively. Looking down, she blinked at the business card.
“If you want to catch up, call me. I’m free most nights.”
She doesn’t get a chance to respond before he’d walking away. Which just isn’t fair because he got to walk away last time! But she can’t bring herself to complain when her heart is pounding, and her cheeks feel warm.
She knows without a doubt that she’s going to make that call.