For the rest of the evening, Hikaru and I converse with Florence, within his home up the stairs. It seems so small, although I suppose most places do, compared to where we were raised, and where I eventually came to live…and yet, just the atmosphere has an aura of warmth and safety. As day turns to night, the soft candlelight makes the gentle browns and reds around us even more inviting, even more peaceful.
“Do you live here entirely alone?” I ask Florence while we eat a simple supper of stew. I had assumed perhaps his wife, or a child, anyone at all would come out to greet us by now, yet no such person has come.
“Uh-huh,” Florence replies casually, “I’m surprised you feel the need to ask.”
“I am sorry…”
He finishes gulping his food, and looks at me with a strange look.
“Does it not get lonely?”
“Not really, I deal with people all the time. Nice getting a break.”
“I see,” I say, continuing on with my own food. “I assumed you had always told our family you wished to be alone because you found no one suitable for you…”
“I mean, a little,” he says, “But I really am happy alone too.”
“I suppose I should learn such things…” I sigh, under my breath.
“Why’s that?” Florence asks, and I flinch slightly, startled.
I truly need to cease that—!
“I-It is nothing,” I stumble.
For a moment I glance towards Hikaru, who is looking down, away, with a blank look upon his face…
“You don’t have to be alone if you don’t want to,” Florence says, “I know most people aren’t like me!” he adds with a laugh.
I grip my hand tightly, not entirely sure how to respond. Hikaru is right there…
But before I need to think of a response, Hikaru interjects instead.
“Would it be okay if we stayed here for the night?”
Florence gives him an unamused look.
“Really? You think I would just throw my little sister and her friend out on the street?” Hikaru looks at him, clearly worried, and even more pale.
“W-Well, I, uh—”
Florence starts to laugh.
“My, you’re not used to jokes, are you?”
Hikaru merely looks at him.
“Here,” Florence gets up, “I’ll show you where the guest room is…it’s not the best and there’s only one bed, but it’s something, at least. You two are welcome to stay here as long as you want—I can’t keep feeding you forever, but it seems like you two know how to take care of yourselves better than I could, anyhow.”
“Oh, then you don’t have to bother with it,” Hikaru says. “I’ll sleep on the sofa, if that’s—”
“Hikaru,” I sigh, “You remember we can just split the sheets, yes…? Please, do not do that…”
“You don’t mind?”
“Why would I?”
Now Hikaru sighs, and returns his gaze to Florence.
“Well, I suppose you can go on, then,” Hikaru says to Florence. And the two disappear down a short hallway. Only Florence returns, and sits down just as before.
“Your friend isn’t really one for nights, huh?”
“Usually he enjoys the evenings…although, I have never seen him speak so much with someone other than myself either. Perhaps it tires him…”
“I can understand that,” Florence says. “Although he is a tad odd,” he adds quietly, returning to his food.
“…Do you not like him?”
“Now, I never said that,” Florence says, a strange grin coming across his face. “I’m happy for you.”
“Hmm…?” I mutter with confusion. “I am not sure I follow…”
Florence leans in, and whispers even more quietly.
“I…I really wasn’t the best person, when I left our family…” he sighs.
“Why would you say such a thing? You were always wonderful…”
“I guess you wouldn’t remember very well, huh? They kicked me out, I still wanted to leave our family, because they tried to snuff out my dreams. But…I think that desire was more selfish, in the end. The way our family treated anyone who wasn’t an aristocrat…it took a long time for me to realize it was wrong at all. An embarrassingly long time for me to get my head out of my ass, as some say.
“You though,” he says, “It seems you don’t have that issue at all. I can only imagine the cruel thoughts I would have had if I met Hikaru around the time I left our family…but I can tell you two are quite close.”
“Well, I have known him for years now…”
“And even still being tied to our family, you were kind, weren’t you?”
“Maybe…a little insensitive,” I reply, thinking back to those days with deep embarrassment. “Yet I tried.”
“And all this time…” he trails off, “All this time, occasionally I’d think of you, and worry that they’ve probably corrupted you by now. Clearly I didn’t have anything to worry about.”
“If you say so,” I reply with a slight grin.
I was so worried he would loathe me, yet…
“So…” I change the subject back to before, “Do you like him? Beyond…”
“Oh, please,” Florence says, “If I didn’t, he wouldn’t be sleeping in my bed right now.”
“You mean the guest bed?”
Now Florence laughs, but quickly stifles it, so it is not so loud.
“You think this place is big enough for two bedrooms? I’ve known for ages I’d likely never have a family, I never bothered with such a thing.”
“He shall likely be upset once he realizes…”
Florence simply waves me off.
“This is my house. He can deal with it.”
“All right, then,” I chuckle.
Everything, everything fills me with a strange sense of nostalgia; for this life, for other lives…such a feeling that appears nearly impossible to put into words. It is just…lovely, pleasant, peaceful, safe. Not like an excited sense of happiness, yet simply joy.
Perhaps we should live nearby, within this town—
And immediately, my thought ceases.
“We”…Hikaru and I. We have traversed with one another for long enough, it would feel strange not to refer to ourselves as “we.” And yet, we are no such thing…it appears that presently, that shall never be the case. No “we.” No “us.”
Hikaru has remained silent ever since that day…sometimes, I wonder if I merely misunderstood him. He never told me he loved me, after all…perhaps he merely does love me, yet is not in love. Wanting the best for me, but not a life with me. Although what he said appeared to be to the contrary…alas. Perhaps that is merely my own perception…
And…even Florence noticed his own perception of himself. I have no idea if I cause this to be worse; apparently, others seem to think I am nearly like some saint, and yet, in truth…
“Suzette?” Florence says after a while, “You’re being really quiet.”
“I believe I am growing tired as well,” I say.
“Well, I guess that’s understandable,” he replies. “Somêl amé!”
“Tsiâ mo,” I reply with a weak smile, and head to the small bedroom.
Inside it is not quite as dark as I anticipated, as the light of the full Moon illuminates everything through a crack in the curtains. I slowly ready myself for sleep, hoping not to make any noise. I slip under the warm covers, left by Hikaru for me. He, meanwhile, is merely wrapped within a thin sheet.
I exhale a long, loud sigh.
“…Suzette?” a deep, soft voice whispers.
“You are awake?” I turn on my side, facing him—who in turn is looking towards the ceiling. His hair is free from his face, revealing his scar…
Ah, this all feels rather familiar. Yet…perhaps not enough…
“Yeah, I’m awake,” he replies quietly. “Are you all right?”
Now, to my surprise, he turns on his side and faces me. Staring into one another’s eyes, mere inches apart…close enough that our breaths mingle in with each another.
“Why would I not be?” I attempt to brush the question away.
“I don’t know,” he says. “That’s why I ask—it seems like you’re happy to find Florence, but that sigh…I don’t know. Maybe I’m reading too much into it.”
“No,” I answer, “You know me well.”
“Then what’s wrong?”
“Hikaru…how do I make you feel?”
He furrows his brow.
“I don’t understand what you mean.”
“Even Florence noticed the way you perceive yourself. Saying your own name as though it is something to be ashamed of.”
“The way most react once they hear it—”
“What does it matter?”
Now, he puts on that sad grin he always seems to wear once more…
“Do I truly have to explain it to you?”
“Please explain to me…do I inspire you to feel that way? To look upon yourself with such shame, such loathing, for…nothing?”
“I wouldn’t call it nothing,” he sighs. “But…you’ve heard it all before, now.”
“The nonsense you said that one evening?”
“It wasn’t nonsense.”
“It was. So many cruel, untruthful things…do I inspire such thoughts in you?”
“Well, isn’t it inevitable?”
“Hikaru…” I whisper, “Why would you say that?”
“Look at you, Suzette,” he says softly. “How beautiful and talented you are, how determined and brave, how kind and gentle you are, to even look on someone like me fondly…”
“I am far from perfect, Hikaru…many would say I am far too small, far too heavy, my talents are useless—and, I surely hope being kind is not a unique attribute.”
“Anyone who would say that are fools.”
“And why can you not say the same regarding yourself?”
“What do I have?”
“The most enchanting hair I have ever seen, the gentlest voice, so much knowledge I scarcely understand how you keep track of it all, and kindness that allows you to give practically your all for someone else…”
“That’s not what the world says…”
“And, you know what?” I whisper, as I slowly begin stroking his face, “That is another thing…in spite of it all, in spite of the cruelty you have faced, you have never betrayed yourself. Never let yourself become bitter and cruel…would you not say that is something extraordinary, Hikaru?”
“…Maybe. But, I don’t feel like I’ve done anything.”
“Hikaru…you say that as though you have not done everything.” Now, though he tries to blink them away, small tears begin welling in his eye.
“Will you ever listen, Hikaru? I suppose that is one thing that truly saddens me with you…whenever I tell you how lovely you are, you refuse to believe it. Over and over again, you refuse to believe.”
“Because you’re always the one who’s saying it, and then I can’t help but compare myself to you. To the kind of person you deserve. I’m just a pathetic man who’s nothing like you.”
“Have you ever considered the kind of person I desire? If I am so wonderful…surely my opinion is just as worthy?”
For a moment, he says nothing. I stop my palm on his cheek, chilled from the surprisingly cold night air. But steadily it warms, as my warmth mixes with his…
“I must ask you something,” I whisper to him. “After our journey…what do you wish to do?”
“I plan to continue wandering, just as I always do—”
“No,” I reply, “I did not ask what you intend to do. What do you wish to do?”
“Suzette…” he sighs as sorrow begins to cloud his face, “Why does that matter? I…I don’t deserve what I wish. It wouldn’t be good for anyone.”
“The only thing you do not deserve are these wretched thoughts.
“Please…for once, please tell me what you would like.”
“This has been a wonderful journey…” he says.
“Then, shall it end?”
He remains silent.
“We’ll reach my house eventually, I hope.”
“You know that is not what I mean…our journey need not end there. It can continue onwards to wherever we wish. What of here? Do you like Bydlin so far?”
He merely frowns.
“You don’t want that, Suzette,” he replies hoarsely, gazing away from me.
“And why not?
“It’s, just…you should find someone better,” he says quietly. “I’ve nothing of value to offer you.”
“Yet, you have something no one else could ever offer me. Never in a thousand lifetimes could anyone else give what you can.”
“What on Earth would that be?”
“You’re Hikaru. Everything that makes up you, no one could ever hope to replicate.”
Slowly he sits up, leaving my hand lingering behind. I follow him…and notice a full stream of tears glistening in the moonlight.
“…Pšyku,” he mutters, wiping his eyes to his sleeve. “I know, someone my age, my sex, being like—”
“Is that not another part of you?”
“…I guess so.”
For a couple of minutes, he and I say nothing.
“If you truly would prefer someone more attractive, more—”
“Suzette…” he whispers, turning towards me. “It’s not that—it’s not even possible for someone like that to exist, I don’t think.”
“You are not merely saying this to be kind?”
For a moment, he sits in silence, before reaching out and bringing my small palm within his. So cold, so bony…and yet, together, they grow soft.
“Never. I…” he pauses. “I guess I can see how others might think you’re not, but—I never could really understand. Honestly, I…never even knew women could be so beautiful, before I encountered you.”
He frees our hands, and instead wraps his arm around me, pulling me to his side.
“Truthfully? You have never found me shameful, or embarrassing, or—”
“You have never, ever been anything of the sort.”
With his free hand, he gently turns my head towards him.
“I promise you my honesty, when I say…you’re truly remarkable in every way.”
I smile, and lean in closer…
“And this goes for yourself, as well. Truly, sincerely.”
“Suzette…” he mutters once more, moving away and looking straight into my eye. “I’ve been told you don’t understand me, but…I think I’m the one that doesn’t understand you at all.”
“Perhaps I truly do not,” I whisper. “Yet that does not mean I have no desire to try.”
Instead of words, he speaks with a sweet, subtle smile.
“Something important you should know of me,” I begin, “Is…
“Lêm sâ tsiâ né, Hikaru.”
He squeezes my hand tightly…so tightly, it nearly hurts.
“…Lêm mo sâ tsiâ né, Suzette.”
“Then…what are we doing?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well…” I lean in, our faces now as close as when our conversation began, “Whatever it is, whatever journey we shall take…does this mean we shall do it together?”
At last…he leans in as close as we can muster. Cracked, barren lips become soft, sweeter than the most prized honey, as two bodies seem to combine into one.
Now I let go of his hand, and throw my arms around him instead, stroking his silky hair. The two of us collapse in the sheets below, his entire body atop of mine…
“Hikaru…” I breathe as tears flow out, “You love me after all…!”
“Of course I do,” he whispers. “From the moment I met you, even when I couldn’t admit it to myself…I’ve always loved you, Suzette.”
Now I squeeze him tighter and tighter…
I close my eyes as he wraps his arms around me, being enveloped by a shining light… So warm. So safe.
“Hikaru…” I whisper in his ear, “I…I apologize that I doubted you, when you said we would meet again. That we would have a joyful, peaceful life… I know we will…we always will.”
He pauses for a moment.
“I know, Suzette…I know.”
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