Dec 25, 2019

Christmas Comes Not For Us - Epilogue

Epilogue

December 28.

As I lay on the bed, the clock before me displayed that date. When I woke up for the first time, December 25 was written on it. From then on, every time I saw the date change, I was overcome with a sense of security.

After all, that was the proof that I escaped from the loop.


“Examination result is the same.”

And yet, when I saw it now, I couldn’t feel anything but emptiness.

Because, even though I escaped from the loop, the price I had to pay for it was immeasurably big.

“Kuroe Riichi. The chances of recovering your right hand is extremely low.”

“I see.”

That was all I could muster to respond to the doctor’s words.

“Its because your nerves themselves are damaged. It’s different from a mere bone fracture.”

“I see.”

The doctor still continued to pour salt on my wounds as I kept responding indifferently.

“It’s not like there’s no hope at all. If you continue rehabilitation, I’m sure you will be able to move it like before. I will support you too. Let’s do our best together.”

“Okay.”

Did he think those pretty words would comfort me? Did this Doctor really understand it? I might not even be able to move my right arm anymore, you know?

Was it because I kept those kinds of thoughts to myself? My heart had tasted a sudden shock.

“In any case, keep resting for some time.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

I remained indifferent all the way until the Doctor left. I was thankful that he cheered me on once again just before he left, but just what was the point in motivating myself now, goddamnit…

I closed the sickroom door with a quiet sound of air leaking.

After the Doctor left, I was the only one left behind. That caused the silence to grow even deeper and I could no longer settle down. I never thought being alone felt so painful.

“Shit…”

At this point, it was too much. Along with entrusting myself to the bed, I ended up sinking into my thoughts.

“I suppose I should consider myself lucky to survive after falling so gruesomely...”

Even as I tried to say something positive, it all felt too dry.

I know. No matter how many times I tried to play tough, there was no meaning to it.

“Shit!”

I swore without thinking.

I knew that wouldn’t make me feel any better, but I couldn’t help but do it.

But, how could I even begin to accept it?

It’s my right hand, you know?

Every part of my body took the hit, but it just had to be my hand to end up like this!

After telling me I could never use it again in my life, what do you expect me to do?

“At this point, I can’t even hold the camera properly…”

Shit, don’t joke with me!

Out of everything that could’ve happened, why did…

“I did escape the loop, but how can I come to grips with something like this.”

Goddamnit…

Knock Knock!

As I was sunk in my thoughts, I heard a reserved knock on the door. As I hurriedly wiped my eyes and responded to it, my voice came out trembling a little. I silently took a deep breath during the short time it took the door to open.

After all, it was past 10 oclock now. The only one who’d come right as the visiting period started was her.

“...Riichi.”

The girl - Natsumi had a heavy expression on her face as she entered the sickroom, as if she came here to get scolded.

The fact that she was grasping her coat to the point of wrinkling it made it seem as if she was hurting far more than me despite not having suffered any injuries.

“Oh, Natsumi. You came again? Thanks for doing that during this valuable winter vacation.”

“No, it’s okay. But sorry. If I’m being a bother, I’ll return…”

Even now, when I imagined Natsumi jumping off the rooftop, I just couldn’t let myself be sunk in grief. If I showed her a gloomy expression now, I was sure she’d seriously jump off the roof.

“You idiot. There’s no way that could be true. I was just feeling bored too.”

“...Okay.”

“Is it cold outside?”

“...Yeah.”

“Still snowing?”

“...Yeah.”

“Ah, man, what a waste. It was a rare White Christmas, and I ended up missing it.”

“...I’m sorry.”

“Again, I’m telling you it’s not your fault.”

“...Okay. I’m sorry.”

Regardless of what I said to her, she either responded with an absentminded nod or apologised. She looked to be lacking in vitality, perhaps because she was not sleeping at night.

Seeing her like that day after day depressed me. Her deep emotional scar made it look painful to watch her.

“I saw the Doctor leave your room earlier… Did anything happen?”

As she squeezed out her voice to inquire about it, I didn't know how to respond for a moment. But I wasn’t sure what would happen were I to lie to her right now and tell her the examination results were good.

Would she be happy? Perhaps so. Ever since they carried me to the hospital on Christmas Eve, she has never left my side. Even when they told me the examination results for the first time.

That’s why, she knew.

That I may never be able to use my hand again. And just how much of an impact that revelation had on me.

So if I lie, she would surely be happy. But…

“Well, the results came today.”

“──!”

As I started to talk, Natsumi’s body jolted in an eerie manner. The coat she was grasping slipped off from her knees.

“Your hand will heal right…?”

As she asked me fearfully, I silently shook my head.

The moment she heard that, Her face grimaced, as if she was about to cry. Seeing her like that made me feel like I was looking at my own self. I was on the verge of tears myself.

Sorry, Natsumi. I still can’t tell you such a dreamlike lie.

“It seems the nail that dug into my arm that day damaged my nerves. Whether it improves or not… only time can tell.”

My heart creaked as I forced out those words. It was a fact that I was forced to acknowledge when I spoke it aloud.

And it felt awfully heavy.

“Then, are you going to remain like that forever…?”

“That, too, is something only time can tell.”

“Is...that...so…”

She dropped her shoulders in complete disbelief. As time passed without any conversation going, I didn’t know what I should be feeling right now.

My right arm that got injured when I fell from the pile of trash might never be useful again. I couldn’t move the part starting from the elbow even a bit, so I couldn't even eat properly.

“Uu...Hic…”

Suddenly, I noticed Natsumi was crying. Her tears were spilling without hiding.

“I’m sorry, Riichi… I’m sorry… Because of me…”

I wasn’t sure what to say to her as she apologized to me.

Persuade her gently that it was not her fault?

Even if I myself haven’t properly come to grips with it?

Give me a break.

I lacked that kind of courage now.

In fact, it took my all just to hold back breaking into tears.

But I knew that if I cried now, that would injure her even more…

“Because I missed my footing...”

“If you go there, I was the one who suggested climbing up there.”

“Even so, if only I paid more attention…”

“It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault, so please don’t cry.”

My words never felt so empty. Even if I said that, there’s no way that could comfort her. If I told her everything now, that might have changed things, but I couldn’t even do that.

Even though she was crying in front of me, was there nothing but these meaningless words that I could tell her? Was I really this..powerless...?

“I will do anything. For your sake, I will do anything. I did something so terrible to you.”

“Natsumi…”

“If it’s something you want, I’ll do it whatever it may be. That will be my punishment. So…”

Along with those words, Natsumi laid her hands on the buttons of her blouse. First, second, she undid the them one after another. Her white skin was exposed. Her soft bulges were covered in lace decorations.

My mind couldn’t keep up with the sudden development. What in the world was she doing…?



“Hurt me.”


Her words reverberated in my heart. That shock finally brought me back to my senses.

“What...are you doing…”

At the end of those repulsive words, Natsumi stood while hanging her face. Her hair spread out and covered her face, so I couldn’t see her expression. The contrast between her dark hair and white skin was awfully dazzling.

“Natsumi, what in the world are you doing…”

“......”

She said nothing. She was weakly embracing her body with one arm in a helpless manner. It looked as if she was trying to restrain herself to remain in this place. As if to say that was her punishment.

“Natsumi…”

Filled with sorrow, I couldn’t control my trembling voice.

The corners of my eyes felt hot, but my tears stayed inside as if I had forgotten how to cry at all. My throat was on the verge of breaking into sobs, but it wasn’t able to cross that final line.

“What’s up with that. What are you doing…”

Seeing her miserable state, my heart almost burst from sadness.

Seeing her heartrending state, I could feel some indescribably ill feelings filling the depths of my heart.

Please stop, Natsumi.

You don’t have to go so far.

“Natsumi, please stop… I beg you…”

Along with those words, I sorrowfully reached out towards her.

Her shoulders twitched. Avoiding touching her body even a bit, I tried to fix the buttons of her blouse, but her arm was getting in the way and it didn’t go as planned.

“Riichi, what are you…? You are going to wound me, right? If you don’t, that won’t serve as a punishment.”

“Don’t...Don’t say something like that. Please…”

Natsumi. Just how much have you been cornered? A punishment…? And you are presenting your body to me for that?

You are wrong, Natsumi.

That’s certainly not what I desire.

“What are you doing. No, stop it, Riichi! Stop treating me so kindly!”

“Be quiet and stay still.”

Because my right arm was useless, I had great trouble with buttoning her shirt. She kept squirming, but I made her sit still and somehow finished buttoning her chest.

“Stop… Don’t be kind to me. I’m not worthy of something like that. Please, Richi, hurt me… If not, I’ll go crazy.”

Her words sounded as if she was desperately trying to find salvation, and they made my heart tremble. Her eyes, dyed in sinful colors, were stirring up my carnal desires and drawing me in like a light trap.

I was certain she would not refuse it.

She accepted me, and she desired it as well.

But, that’s exactly why I could not do it.

“Why? Why are you shaking your head? Please Riichi, punish me. Don’t hold back, hurt me. Scream at me that I did something horrible to you, come on, please.”

She pleaded to me with tears, but I still shook my head. Even if I did it, the ashen sadness filling my heart would still remain the same color.

“If you really desire a punishment...then live together with me. Live on through this sad and painful future that has lost many things.”

I was surely saying something very cruel right now.

She was harbouring such immense guilt, yet I was telling her to live.

But, if she wanted punishment, that was only appropriate, wasn’t it?

“Your sin would only be cleared if you keep on living.”

And, it was the same for me too.

I have hurt her this much.

My sin could only be cleared by keeping on living together with her.

“Is that really okay? Can I really remain at your side…? I did something terrible, but can I still stay with you…?”

She looked at me as if clinging to me, looking just like a lost child. Unreliable, anxious, completely lost and on the verge of being crushed…

“Riichii…”

When I noticed, I was hugging her with my remaining left arm. I hugged her small head, pressing it on top of my shoulder. As she continued sniffling and couldn’t see my face anymore, I found it a good opportunity to silently shed tears.

“You can. You can...Natsumi.”

I sustained a wound that may never heal again.

I even heartlessly damaged the love I held so precious.

Still, there was a future that I obtained.

What was the best thing to do? Was there any other way I could have handled it? I keep thinking, but the answer is nowhere to be found.

Hence the cruel conclusion.

I couldn’t even choose it, I was forced to choose it. The endlessly priceless and fleeting thing that we call future. At the cost of sacrificing many things in exchange.

I could not agree with it.

I couldn’t even sort my feelings.

Perhaps I will keep on regretting it for the rest of my life, thinking there might’ve been another possibility, another way to do it.

Still, if this is the future we have arrived at, then we have no choice but to do something about it from now on.

Natsumi’s love was painted over by the feelings of guilt in her heart…

And I couldn’t even embrace her with my wounded arm…

But even so, we have no choice but to aim for the future and live on.

“Ueeh…uuuh….hic…”

“──Kh!”

Even if that means I had to get soaked in two person’s worth of tears. Even if we keep on remembering this sorrow every time this time of year visits us.

Surely, there will be no Christmas that fun ever visiting the two of us again.






After Natsumi cried herself out, she returned home with a miserable expression. I remained alone in the sickroom and fell into thought as I gazed at the moonlight shining in through the window.

About the future and the past.

Will there be a day when I can accept this sorrow in my heart?

“The moon sure is beautiful tonight.”

“Yeah. It’s so dazzling it’s almost making me cry.”

“It’s okay if you cry, you know? Even if you can’t cry in front of Natsumi-san, please cry in front of me.”

“I thought you already returned back to the future, Rinka.”

The door closed with a light sound. Making her way through the dim light was a girl with white hair and fluorescent blue eyes.

I haven’t seen her for the past few days, and now, she was in a pitiful state with bandages covering her head and thighs.

“Thank you very much, Riichi-san. Because of you, the future can be protected.”

The serenity of the words she said while lowering her head seeped through me as if to comfort my heart that was worn down from sorrow.

“So, what did you come here for today? And at this hour, no less.”

“You are so cold. Do you not want to at least see my face?”

“Looks who’s talking. You never showed your face these past few days.”

“Well, I had things going on too.”

I could only respond to her with a small nod of understanding.

“You seem out of it. Is everything alright?”

“More or less, after realising I finally escaped the loop. Hey, was I able to obtain anything?”

“You did, I’m sure of it.”

My question amused her, making her leak a faint smile. To think there was something I obtained in this future where only sadness and pain remained.

“You pushed Natsumi off at that time, didn’t you?”

“──So you noticed?”

“Well, I would.”

Rinka’s expression I saw just before my consciousness was cut. It contained neither worry nor impatience, but instead, all I could discern was the bitterness caused by acknowledging the end result.

“Is this the right outcome in the future?”

“...Yes.”

“Then it can’t be helped.”

“...It makes me relieved to hear you say that, but are you really fine with this?”

“Of course, if you ask me if I’m fine with it, my answer would be a definite no. But it’s already in the past. Which means...yeah, it can’t be helped.”

“Riichi-san, you’ve become strong.”

Rinka’s expression...It looked strained, as if she was forcing herself to laugh. Right, she surely suffered from this just as much. She suffered from what she did, the result it caused, and finally came here.

“How is Natsumi-san?”

“It’s awful. Honestly, I can’t even bear to watch.”

She hurt me. She was surely thinking that, unaware of Diva’s existence or Rinka’s identity. That’s why she harbored unbelievable guilt and was being crushed by it.

“I really did something horrible, didn’t I...”

“Even so, it had to be done, right? So we have to carry that burden. Both you and me.”

“Indeed.”

Suddenly, as I took a breather, another thought appeared in my head.

“Truth be told, I might not have desired the future at all.”

I spoke as I gazed outside the window.

“Do you regret it?”

Rinka asked back with a clear voice.

“Yeah, I do. Natsumi is crushed by guilt, while I sustained injuries that may or may not ever heal.”

“Yet, your tone suggests otherwise.”

“Well, that must be because I’m tired. It must be that.”

My heart was calm as if it were the most natural thing. When Natsumi was here it was full of grief, but now it was still like the surface of a calm lake.

I felt calm, but at times, I also felt dreadful. Surely this calmness would be thrown into disorder once again.

Due to regrets, attachments and grief.

This was not how the future should have been, it would surely not be something that unseemly and uncool.

But still, I’m sure I would rethink it every time.

Even so, I arrived at a future where I get to live with Natsumi. Everything from now on depends on the two of us.

“Rather, I can’t do it unless I keep thinking like that.”

The future was synonymous to suffering.

It was overflowing with sadness.

Still, the two of us swore to live on. We embraced each other’s sorrow.

“You see, from now on, I have to be by her side. If the guilt she is feeling my fault, then I have to dedicate the rest of my life to getting rid of it.”

That’s why, this is my decision.

It is my resolution, as well as what I’ve sworn.

“From now on, it will be a harsh path. For as long as she feels that guilt, Natsumi-san will never confess to you, and even if you confessed to her yourself, she would never accept it. She would not allow herself to be happy with you.”

It would surely be exactly as she said.

Currently, her heart was full of her guilt towards me, with not the slightest room left for love, and even if it did blossom, being who she is, she would surely entrap it in her heart.

“It’s the same for you, Riichi-san. Inside you, there’s the guilt of injuring her. That’s why, the two of you can neither part nor grow any closer. This curse-like relationship will continue for a long time, until that time comes.”

Her fluorescent blue eyes shined beautifully in the dark room. As she directed those eyes straight at me, I responded with a firm nod.

“I will do my best. I finally arrived here after going through so many loops. Besides, after all’s said and done, I really do want to be with Natsumi. I mean──”



“I love Natsumi, after all.”



In the end, that was what I truly felt. Regardless of how much I suffered or grieved, those feelings alone would never change.

“I see. I’m relieved to hear that.”

She bloomed into a warm smile. It looked so much like the one Natsumi would make I spontaneously opened my mouth.

“Hey, what would you call my and Natsumi’s relationship? This relationship that’s neither friendship nor love.”

“Even I don’t know the answer to that.”

Thought so. In the end, we have to discover the nature of our relationship as well from now on.

“Are me and Natsumi of the future...happy?”

“Yes, I’m sure you are. From now on, the two of you will be exposed to the threat of Diva. But even so, it will be alright. If it’s the two of you, you would surely arrive at a happy future.”

“How can you be so sure about that?”



“Because I am the very proof of it… Father.”



“What...did you just…?”



“Who knows? That’s something you’ll find out in the future.” With those words, Rinka turned on her heel and opened the sickroom door. She took a step into the dim light permeated by silence and closed the door behind. The words she left behind at that time will forever remain within my heart.


“Well then, enjoy your future and enjoy your life.”

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