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When Haru came back to the room, it was quiet. Like water before a stone is dropped, the air seemed still, resistant to shifting around his body. He didn’t make much effort to cut past the thick, frozen atmosphere that had settled here in the days since Ryan’s death, but simply sat a few inches from the entryway, letting the door shut softly behind him.
Dust covered the cold floor in a thin layer and spun lazily through the heavy quiet as faint light illuminated the shadows curled around the fixtures of the room. Aside from the dust and the oppressive weight of the air, the room was exactly as Ryan had left it. His bag was still crumpled next to the desk where he had often worked diligently, a piece of candy sticking out between his teeth. His bed was still hurriedly made and pajamas and books strewn on top of the wrinkled covers. It seemed as if any moment Ryan could come running in the door, shouting about his latest success, and desperately wanting to share it with Haru. Ryan had always been like that. He clung to Haru, as if he might break if the other boy wasn’t there to hold on to. When he was uncertain or afraid, he would step behind Haru and hover close, as though Haru could stave off the horrors of the world by simpling staring it down.
A gentle breeze from the tiny crack in the doorway came, blowing more dust into the air. Haru watched with dark eyes as it settled back down and onto a little stuffed toy on the floor next to Ryan’s bed. He stared at the animal for a second, then slowly stood. With the aching weight of the air pressing him down, Haru leaned against the wooden frame of the bed and slid to the floor, giving in to his own personal gravity. He scooped up the toy and ran his fingers across it- worn, but still soft. A sheep.
Haru could remember the day Ryan had gotten it. They were seven. Haru had joined their family only a year earlier, barely able to speak English and not very talkative anyway. Ryan had insisted they go to the harvest fair for the anniversary of Haru’s arrival, something everyone but Haru had been enthusiastic about. There, Ryan had dragged Haru to virtually all the rides they were tall enough to go on, chattering excitedly in English and occasional, very accented, very grammatically wrong Japanese. Finally, Ryan and Haru won a game at the same time. Both of them wanted the same prize- a stuffed lion. However, just as the man was offering a tie-breaker, Ryan and reached out and snatched a stuffed sheep instead. He had given Haru an awkward smile and hugged the animal to his chest. Haru awkwardly took the lion, gifting Ryan one of his rare smiles.
Haru sighed as he came back from his memories, running one hand through his dark hair. Ryan was always better than him. As much as Ryan thought he needed Haru, Haru needed him more.
Back in Japan, Haru was quiet, passive, and cold. He didn’t really have any friends, most kids being creeped out by the lack of expression he doled out. Rumors swirled around crowded school hallways that if Haru ever laughed, Japan would be swept into a series of fatal earthquakes out of shock. Though he had an incredible gift for running and sports, he was never inclined to do much with them besides run for fun, and it surely wasn’t enough to win the kids at school over- in Japan or in America. When he was sent to abroad to the States by his rich parents to help cultivate his gift, he had wanted nothing to do with the other children at the school he was sent to, even more so with Ryan. Bubbly, kind, and motherly- even as a six year old- Ryan was someone Haru had known would be difficult to shake. The problem was, Haru’s host family was Ryan’s. He couldn’t escape. His equilibrium had been shattered.
Those first few days were filled with Ryan running after an increasingly annoyed Haru. Somehow, Ryan had known Haru needed a friend and was bound and determined to see himself in that role.
And gradually, Haru let him in. Within the next two years, Haru smiled more, and by the time Haru’s stay in America was originally planned to end, he made the decision to separate himself from his parents and allow himself to be legally adopted by Ryan’s family. Even when Haru realized that his birth parents didn’t care about him, not with a better, more normal child back home with them in Japan, Ryan was there to buoy him, with a patient smile and that stupid stuffed sheep and lion. He wasn’t judgemental. He just sat with him, and understood. He pushed Haru gently and wormed so far into his heart that he became the first non-blood relation to see his tears.
Three people in Haru’s life had ever seen him cry, and two of them were his birth parents. The third was Ryan. Very few ever saw past the calm, emotionless canvas of his face and fewer ever could understand his subtle body language. Ryan was capable of both and was ruthless in forcing Haru to share and not simply bottle things up. Ryan forced him to grow and become his own person instead of simply relying on Ryan to speak and decide for him.
And when Ryan had started to let Haru make his decisions for him, Haru had repaid the favor. Haru was far more devious than anyone gave him credit for, and when he began to speak solely in Japanese whenever anyone needed an answer, Ryan knew exactly what was going on.
So Ryan rose to meet the bar and then challenged Haru. He seemed to know when to prod and when to hold back, when to push, and when to catch. Skilled with people, Ryan steered around the mess that was Haru and taught him how to live.
Haru’s fingers clenched around the stuffed sheep as he curled into himself, pressing the stuffed creature to his forehead. The soft, fake fur still smelt like Ryan- coconut and sandalwood. A bit dusty from the floor. A choked sob bobbed in his throat and he bit his lip, teeth aching as he tried to push back the floodgates. The pressure from the air seemed to travel inside of him until he was fit to burst and desperate for the weight of the room to be back on his shoulders and out of him. His fingers pressed so hard against the fur of the stuffed animal that he could feel his nails poking against his forehead, but he didn’t care as his shoulders shook and stomach burned. Haru felt like a cup overflowing, or perhaps a fuse about to blow as fire ate closer and closer to the end of a rope. And there was no one to turn off the faucet now, or water to snuff out of the fuse before it blew, because Haru’s lifeline was gone, stolen away before anyone could have realized because, damn it all, Ryan was a better actor than they thought.
Something gnawed at Haru’s belly, an ache that he knew nothing but Ryan’s patient smile could heal, but Ryan was gone. Even as the pressure built and built, he felt the cruel chewing and gnashing of a creature within himself, whispering dark, ashy clouds of hatred and guilt. Ryan would have noticed. Ryan often did notice. Haru had not.
And now Ryan was gone. His room was full of dust. His curtains were closed. A small stuffed memento from the day they had become more than just friends but brothers laid forgotten on the shadowed floor.
He was never coming back. Haru was left alone.
The moment the pressure peaked was not an explosive finale like Haru would have thought. Instead, it was the flow of water over the edges of a cup, the ashes floating away on the wind as tears dripped one by one in a slow queue down Haru’s cheeks as he whispered apologies to the shadows on the wall. The little sheep was soon soaked, but Haru didn’t care anymore because surely Ryan had cried into the little creature too once upon a time and if Ryan could do it, so could he. His shoulders shook like earthquakes and his gasps seemed like thunder to the silence of the room.
So lost was he to the spasms of grief that Haru didn’t notice his adoptive parents opening the door and pressing hands to their lips. He didn’t notice them crossing the quiet wooden floor and kneeling next to him like the gravity that had tied him to the ground wasn’t existent for them- and maybe it wasn’t, because it was all within him and he had taken it and turned it into tears. Haru was helpless to do anything for Ryan now but cry. And remember.
But it was the touch of his mother’s hand that brought Haru back, and he blinked. Distantly, he thought he might be mortified because now the count of those who had seen him at his worst could be counted five instead of three. Now, however, But now, all he could see were the tears and the gravity of guilt that hung within those dark brown eyes and the understanding that lurked there. He saw the basest human reaction to pain in his mother’s eyes and shared in it, letting her wrap her warm brown arms around him, even as his adoptive father whispered quiet, choked platitudes into his hair. The three of them sat there, curled on the cold wooden floor with a little stuffed sheep between them as the light poured in from the hallway and dust danced through the air, illuminated by the pale glowing. And it was then that Haru realized maybe this wasn’t him at his worst, but perhaps at his best. Because grieving for Ryan meant that they loved him, and maybe that was truth Ryan was trying to show Haru all along.