“Do you want a drink?”
She bobbed her head in a nod. “Please,” she added like her manners were an afterthought.
They sat on the floor, their drinks on the low table between them, and said nothing. Hikaru fidgeted. ‘What do I say? Everything people normally say to someone grieving means nothing, but silence is deafening. Too much time to think.’ He opened his mouth. “Where were you?”
Nervously, he flicked his tongue over his lips. “Where were you going on the rest of your holiday?”
“Oh, I was making my way to Okinawa. Finish the whole thing off there.” She tipped the bottle to her lips and held it there for a long time, gulping loudly. “I wasn’t actually planning on coming back here.”
“I guessed as much.”
“I’m sorry about before.”
“It’s okay.” he responded automatically.
“No, it isn’t. I pushed you for no reason. You don’t owe me or anyone else an explanation as to what you do with your life.” Ruby wouldn’t meet his eyes.
Hikaru felt the words sitting on his tongue. They were there, ready to be used, all he had to do was let them out, explain to someone. Watching her made him want to say them. “At the end of high school, my mum was really sick. No-one could say what it was exactly, they wanted to do an autopsy on her but… I wouldn’t let them.”
Ruby’s eyes snapped up to his, her lips parted in shock.
Hikaru sipped his beer. “She kept it hidden from me, I was in the middle of exams and applying to universities, she didn’t want to distract me. Occasionally, she’d drag me away from my desk and we’d hang out. We would discuss books. Mum loved classic Japanese literature. Every Saturday, she’d go to the library to borrow another book. I didn’t go with her enough.”
The tightness in his chest appeared on cue.
“She lived long enough to see me accepted into university for classic literature. Then she passed.”
His words faltered.
Ruby abandoned her side to come and hug him, rubbing her hand up and down his back. “I’m so sorry.”
“That apology… everyone says it when a person dies, but what does it mean?” He turned to her, his face so close to hers he could see the engorged red lines in her eyes making patterns in the whites. “I get that people don’t know what to say and they have to acknowledge somehow, I just prefer if they didn’t apologise. Are they sorry they’re hearing that a person has died? Sorry they have to be there?”
“Sorry is the only thing left to say to the family left, and goodbye to the ones who have passed.” Ruby muttered. “So… that explains the job.”
He snorted. “And everything else. I threw myself at studying, afraid that if I became depressed like so many people out there, and took time off to do nothing but stare at walls, I’d lose my spot at uni and go crazy. It was a distraction.”
“And you didn’t want to get close to anyone after that?”
He shrugged out of her arms, climbed to his feet and turned the air conditioning on, closing the door to the balcony on his way. “I don’t have the time to mourn the loss of another person in my life. I want to be the best professor I can be and be the man people turn to for information on the classics.” Coming back, he dropped back down, his knees off at different angles as he sat with one foot planted on the floor and the other leg making the beginning of a cross. “It’s silly, but you came into my life and started to change things. Small things.”
Ruby stared at him in confusion. “I only wanted to get to know you.”
“And I wanted to get to know you.”
“And here we are.”
Hikaru nodded his head. “Here we are, getting to know each other… I’ve never explained any of that before.”
Ruby rubbed at her nose. “I don’t know if I can come back to Japan if Yuki isn’t here.” Her eyes welled up again. “Seeing Takashi… being in that house… not ever being able to hear her voice again.”
“It gets easier.”
“I don’t want it to.” She broke down and bawled her eyes out. Slumping to the side, she curled into the foetal position. When she finally quietened she added. “But I don’t know if I want to leave here at all. Go back to Australia, back to my mum, and be happy that I still have my other family…”
Hikaru drank in silence.
“Why didn’t you run away? Take your chances to see the world and live life to the fullest? Why distract yourself with academics?”
Hikaru shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Will you read to me?”
“What?” Startled by the request, Hikaru frowned at the woman.
“One of the classics. Will you read to me please, distract me?” Her voice was soft.
Unsure of how to say no, he moved to his bookshelf and pulled out an old ragged paperback. “Are you sure?”
“Didn’t your mother ever read to you?”
She sat up. “Forget it.” Ruby took the book from his hands and shoved it back into the shelf. “I’m not a child who needs comforting like that. I need to act like an adult.”
“And how do they mourn?”
“With lots of alcohol.” She chugged the beer. “And crying.” She gave him a watery smile.
‘She looks exhausted. Like she’s about to collapse any moment.’ He took away her bottle. “You should get some rest.”
“Take the bed, lie down for a bit.” Hikaru began to clean up.
He nodded. “It’ll help.”