Yuzu sat down at his desk, pulling out his notepad and a pen. He began tapping his foot lightly against the ground. He felt like writing something. He’d skipped practice, so he had to be at least somewhat productive. Usually Yuzu loved practice. He loved getting to play with his friends and let go of all restraints he usually exercised over his emotions. But today…today he felt trapped. Suffocated, even. He wanted to be alone – with his thoughts, with his music. He looked around at the empty classroom before staring out of the window. There was a gentle breeze blowing, stirring the leaves of the trees. The sun still shone brightly, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. He knew he should have felt calm, but he felt agitated. There was no way to kid himself that he was just having a bad day. Yuzu sighed and rubbed his face vigorously. He knew exactly what was wrong. He closed his eyes, losing himself in his memories.
Nino’s hair whirled around her as the breeze tugged and pulled at their uniforms. She looked empty. She looked lifeless. This wasn’t the Nino he knew, the one that never gave up so matter what. This wasn’t his Alice. He found himself stepping towards her.
“Alice.” She didn’t even blink. For some reason, it made him angry. This was all Momo’s fault! It was so frustrating. Everything was to do with Momo. It was like Momo could do anything and win by just snapping his fingers. Whereas nothing – nothing – ever went right for him. “Alice!” He curled his hands into fists. His words spilled from his mouth before he could stop them. “Go out with me!”
Yuzu felt his heart begin to pound in his chest. He found himself growing even more desperate. She didn’t look shocked, or even surprised. She just remained staring at him. “I’ll make you forget about Momo. So – so go out with me!” His voice cracked. “Please.” He stared at his feet. It always had to do with Momo. Everything did. He squeezed his eyes shut, feeling tears burning behind his eyes. If he could just have one chance, one single chance – he bit down on his lip, feeling like if he didn’t contain himself he would start crying. His chest felt tight and he felt dizzy.
“Okay.” Her voice was barely more than a whisper. He looked up in shock, his eyes wide. Nino didn’t look lifeless anymore, she just looked…sad. But it was better than her faking a smile. “You’re doing this all for me.” Her eyes shined abnormally bright, filled with unshed tears. “But what about you, Yuzu? What about the girl you like?” Yuzu swallowed hard. He took a step closer. Another step. Her brows drew together in confusion. He kissed her cheek.
“You still don’t get it.” His voice was very soft. “You’re the girl I’ve liked. I’ve always, always liked you.” A tear rolled down her cheek, and Yuzu smiled bitterly. He hated that this brought her pain, that she would never be happy about his feelings for her.
“I’m sorry.” Her voice broke, and Yuzu shook his head.
“No!” She shook her head. “I’ve put you through so much, and…I’ve been so selfish. I’m so sorry, Yuzu.”
“Nino.” That stopped her. He held out his pinky finger to her. Hesitantly, she hooked hers around his. “It’s okay.” It really wasn’t. He felt like he had been run through with a knife and it was twisting into his abdomen. “I will make you forget about Momo.” He knew he wouldn’t be able to. He knew it was impossible. But still, even now, he couldn’t give up on her. Forever and always, he would like Nino.
Yuzu bit his lip and rested his head on his hands. The pain from that memory was still fresh in his mind. He’d been dating Nino for two months now, but he hadn’t been able to shift her feelings even a little. It was so frustrating. What was he lacking? Would he ever be enough for her? He squeezed his eyes shut. Eventually his breathing evened out and he let himself sink into sleep.
He didn’t know how long he’d been asleep for, but when he opened his eyes the sun was setting. His shoulders and neck were stiff but he felt better, at least. That was when he noticed that Nino was sitting across from him, her face inches from his own. He was too exhausted to jerk away. He was really too tired to care. Nino glanced over at him and breathed a sigh of relief when she saw he was awake. He was taken back by the concern on her face. She gently pressed her hand to his forehead and Yuzu felt his stomach twist itself into knots. They’d held hands before, and hugged, but this closeness…he felt his breath stutter.
“You don’t have a fever.” She murmured, mostly to herself. “Are you alright, Yuzu? You missed practice.” Yuzu bit his lip as all of his feelings came rushing back.
“I’m fine.” His voice was hoarse. “Don’t worry.”
“But I am.” She sounded chastising. “I was looking for you for ages, and I found you asleep here, and you didn’t wake up when I called your name. So I decided to stay here until you woke up, but you stayed asleep for ages.” His eyes widened at this.
“You’ve been here all this time?” He felt a treacherous seed of hope start to grow within his heart.
“I’m your friend, of course I’d be here.” And just like that, his hopes plummeted. Even though they were dating, they would, and forever be, just ‘friends’ in Nino’s mind. “That reminds me of this time Momo got sick and he started making all these weird puns – he basically only talked in puns – and I had to stay and look after him and –” Yuzu couldn’t listen to this. He couldn’t bear to see the way she came alive when she talked about Momo, how she didn’t watch what she said or did. The way she talked, unabashed and rambling, her words overflowing. He stuffed his things into his bag and got to his feet abruptly, swaying a little bit. Nino stared up at him, eyes wide. “Yuzu? Are you –”
“I’m going home.” His voice was drained of all emotion. He felt like his exhaustion had seeped into his bones. He wanted to keep trying. He didn’t want to give up on Nino. He’d lost her for years, but she had still found a way back into his life and his heart. But maybe it was time to give up. Maybe it was finally time he ended this façade. He was sick of trying to be a replacement. He was done with always being inferior in Nino’s heart. He knew how much Momo wanted Nino as well. They were perfect for each other. Why did he even try? Just like that, tears started to roll down his face. He began gasping as he desperately tried to contain his feelings.
“Yuzu? Yuzu?!” Nino pushed back her chair and hurried over to him. “Yuzu, what’s wrong?” She sounded unsure, almost scared, at his sudden outburst. He tipped his head back and dug the heels of his palms into his eyes, forcing himself to squash his feelings, to lock them back into the recesses of his heart. He was so selfish. He had offered to help Nino, and now it was like he was blaming her for his failure. It was his fault that he was second-best. He choked back his tears.
Alice, whatever it takes, I will be your friend.
He remembered this thought. How he had kissed her so rashly. He just had to keep up this pretence. He just had to…had to…he bit down on his lip and inhaled a deep, shuddering breath.
“I’m fine.” He forced a smile. “I’m okay, Alice. Sorry for bothering you.”
I will be your friend.
“If you’re sure…” She trailed off, not wholly convinced. But he forced his smile to widen.
“We should go and get nejima.” He offered, trying to ignore the way his hands were shaking. She brightened up then and nodded enthusiastically, reaching out to take one of his hands. Yuzu’s eyes burned, but he forced his feelings back.
Forever and always I will be your friend.
He let himself be pulled along by her, his fingers clutching at his empty sheets of music.