Maybe it was because you didn’t know, that you were able to be so happy.
As a child you hadn’t had any idea what the world around you was about. For all you knew, the universe’s absolute centre was yourself; and only good things would come.
You were dead wrong, of course, but you hadn’t known that at the time.
When the days were long and the sun was high, you would often spend your days with the boy next door. He would never have been your first choice, but there weren’t any other kids your age to play with. The highschoolers were scary, the babies couldn’t do much but gurgle and cry, so you were stuck with him. Yuuji Terushima was a classmate, and, when nobody was around to hear you admit it–he was your best friend. You could do nothing or everything with him. On Monday you could spend the entire day sleeping at his house or walking around the block. On Tuesday the two of you might’ve traversed down to the creek and discovered a bird that hissed like a snake if you got too close. Yet, as a kid, everybody was your friend. Maybe that was all he thought of you.
Maybe that was why he stopped being friends with you.
“Don’t you want to play with me anymore?” you asked, peering through the screen door that Yuuji kept closed in your face.
“No,” he said, with a flat, cold expression, “I don’t want your cooties to drag down my popularity.”
You hadn’t known that there was already a hierarchy being built, and you doubly hadn’t known that you were fighting a losing battle for last place. But it was no surprise to you that Yuuji Terushima had already secured his place as King of the Playground. He was fun and energetic, good at all sorts of things, so of course people liked him. Did you have anything to be liked for? When you voiced the timid question to Yuuji, he merely blinked and closed the main door on you, leaving you alone on his porch.
And maybe that was your first lesson in growing up: people will grow apart.
Summer passed and became autumn. Leaves died and fell to the Earth, shriveled and yellowed, and that was how you felt as well. Gone were the warm, long, sunny days. Now it was just… cold. You heeded Yuuji’s wishes and backed off, returning to your own boring friends. You liked them well enough, but they were no Yuuji Terushima. You couldn’t do ‘nothing or everything’ with them; you were just friends with them. And the loss stung. You watched as he laughed in the middle of a group of friends, his smile not quite as wide as it had been when the two of you found that bird that hissed like a snake. But you turned away.
The next few summers were the same. The Earth kept spinning, the Milky Way kept flying through the known universe, and Yuuji continued to pretend as if he’d never known you. One hot night, you were biking home from a bonfire at your friend’s place, and saw him sitting on the side of the road. It was strange to see him alone these days. You considered silently biking past, but he heard the gravel under your tires and turned. In the orange setting light of the sun, you saw streaks of tears on his face.
“Oh,” you said dumbly, startled. He wiped them away hurriedly with the heels of his hands and stood hastily.
“You didn’t see anything!” he snapped in a weak voice. You slowly put your foot back on the pedal of the bike and lowered your head. Once upon a time you would’ve tackled him and demanded he tell you what was wrong. Instead, you said,
“…if that’s what you want, Yuuji.”
You were about to head back home before he put his foot in front of your front tire. You winced when he yelped in pain, leaping back and holding his foot.
“What the heck?!” he screamed.
“What the heck back at you! What do you want?!”
“I…” he exhaled shakily, lowering his gaze so that you could no longer see his hazel eyes. “I want to be your friend again.”
“What?” you demanded, skeptical. “Didn’t you say that my ‘cooties would make you lose your popularity’?”
He winced again, swiping a hand through his hair. He looked back up at you, and your heart stuttered a bit, the eyes so familiar and sorrowful that you felt as if you were staring into his soul.
“…I lied. I only said that because I was afraid to be near you.”
“Why?” you demanded, thoroughly furious with his casual change of heart. “Don’t you know how lonely I was? You think you can just take it back?!”
“I do know, because I was lonely too! I wanted to get away from you because you were making me feel… weird. I always wanted to be with you. Whenever I was playing volleyball, or sleeping, I could only think about you, so I… I had to get away from you.”
“I want to start again.” He stuck out his hand and you remembered, that when you first moved in, he had done the same:
“My name’s Yuuji Terushima. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Let’s be friends, okay?”
His past words and present voice echoed through your head, and he gave you a sheepish smile.
“…friends,” you replied grudgingly, taking his hand and shaking it once. “They don’t lie to each other. Tell me the truth.”
“I like you. That’s the truth.”
His grip didn’t loosen and when you stared at him, he smiled again, as wide as when you two had found the bird that hissed like a snake.
It was your second lesson in growing up: people can grow back together.
“You look like a baby when you cry,” you mused, getting off the bike so you could walk it.