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Mar 22, 2018 - 12:41 PM

Who I Am (11) ~ Goodbye

In the past three days Shiori's condition has worsened very fast. Rukawa has become even more silent than he's always been. We visit Shiori in the early mornings and sometimes also after the trainings. It's hard to hide from the others that we actually leave the trainings together, but nobody has asked a word yet.

Only brother clearly worries about me, but I don't know how to explain it to him. Besides, I'm too concerned about Shiori, I don't have time to think about my own problems.

It's very painful to just ignore his worries for me. We haven't spoken a lot to each other in the past few days and although I want to speak up I don't know where to start. Deep in my heart I know that it's not Shiori's illness that makes me unable to talk to him...

Shiori is losing appetite and we start losing hope as we look at her fragile body. Rukawa hides his sadness very well while I walk outside a lot to not show my tears. The doctors tell us to be prepared for the worst and Rukawa just silenced.

We often don't know what to say to each other to bring comfort, so we just choose for silence. And I have to admit, at this point silence is the best way to communicate.

I have been thinking to myself what I would want to do if I was dying... And I know that I would want to see my brother play the game that we love so much. Or maybe just seeing his shooting skills would already be sufficient to fulfill my dreams.

Today is a sunny day and we want to make it an even more beautiful day.

"Shiori," I whisper to her, "I want to go outside with you, do you think you can do that?"

A little smile appears on Shiori's pale face and she slowly nods.

I help her in her wheelchair and I cover her legs with a blanket. I carefully push the wheelchair down the hallway to the elevators. We walk through the gardens of the hospital and finally reach the small half court where the tall rookie stands with a basketball in his hands.

Shiori is quite surprised by this sight and looks up at me. "This is for you, Shiori."

Rukawa pulls off his blue vest and underneath he wears his usual black t-shirt and sleeveless white shirt. He looks at Shiori and then starts dribbling. His show started off with simple lay ups and jump shots, and ended with mid-air hand changing movements and a few marvelous dunks.

Shiori quietly watched it all while I stand behind her still holding the grips of the wheelchair. Rukawa is truly amazing. When I lay my hand on her shoulder, she firmly holds it and I see her body shake a little. I cannot see but I know tears are flowing down her face.

"Rukawa, how about finishing what we left off?" I shout to the rookie.

He holds the ball in his hands and gives me a quick glance, which says enough. I tap on Shiori's shoulder and walk to him. I pull off my vest and throw it on the ground. I didn't notice just yet, but I see people around the fences of the court watching us.

"We got audience."

"Just bring it on." His cold voice replies.

We both take two shots to try out the board and the rim and I suggest: "Any position?" and he agrees.

I take my first shot from the bucket and it goes in with a bounce on the rim. Such an ugly shot… Rukawa stands on my spot, fires and hits with ease.

We both have a pretty good aim today. We both miss the first 3-pointer but then hit two. And so it goes on and on from different spots. The number of people around the court grows. But our only important spectator is Shiori and we gladly hear her clap her hands once in a while.

"Hold it a little higher, Shizuri." I hear a voice next to me giving instructions. The voice was near but sounded far away. I hesitate and look aside but there was no-one. He wasn't there. My thoughts however have already followed the voice away.

I take a deep breath and get myself together for my shot. I fire and the voice says: "What do you feel in your fingertips? That feeling will tell you whether the ball goes in or not."

It didn't feel good at all. The ball bounces with a loud clang on the front of the rim.

"What's wrong?" Rukawa picks up the ball and dribbles in my direction. He's right, this was an easy shot but I missed hopelessly.

"Just shoot, it's your turn."

The look in Rukawa's eyes suddenly freezes and he drops the ball running right pass me. "Hey...?"

When I turn around I see Shiori in her wheelchair with her eyes closed and her head slightly to one side, almost resting on her shoulder. For a second I don't feel my heartbeat and I am standing here frozen to my spot.

I hear nothing around me, I'm in a soundproof bubble until Rukawa's voice finally wakes me up: "We have to get a doctor!"

We wait outside Shiori's room, both trying to remain calm. Finally the doctor comes out and we jump up. Rukawa looks tall next to the doctor who slightly looks up and I beg it won't be the words that we do not wish to hear...

"She's fine. For now. She was probably just too tired. Her body is very weak, she will need all the rest she can get. And we might have to start with liquid food and drip."

We sigh in relief and I almost cry my emotions out. "Thank you so much."

The doctor smiles but tells us not to stay too long, because Shiori needs rest. We nod and silently enter the room. Shiori tries to sit up and I hurry to help her.

"Who won?" her hoarse voice says.

"We haven't finished yet."

Rukawa's glance, however, seems to tell me that he would have won. Next time we will have a resolution.

"Kaede, now I remember, I wanted to see you playing one last time so badly..."

One last time... I want to say comforting words, but I don't know what to say, because every word would probably be a lie. The uneasy silence hurts us all.

Rukawa and I haven't said another word, not even goodbye when we rode our bikes to separate ways home.

"Where have you been, Shizuri?"

Brother looks really worried and I feel bad that I cannot share my sadness with him, and all I can do is silence. My heart aches so bad that I can hardly breathe.

"What's the matter with you lately? You're away all the time, you leave the trainings early... And, we hardly talk to each other..."

My heart pounds heavily in my throat blocking all the words that I want to say to him. I look at his handsome face and his broad shoulders and I remember how I used to wrap myself in his arms. I miss the safe feeling of that embrace every day. I try to avoid his eyes, because I know I will cry.

"I just want to know what's going on. I just... I just need to know that you're okay."

I recall all the times that we spent together, all the fun we had together and all the tears that we cried together. The images flashes by in front of my eyes and I can't even get a clear view on them.

"Damnit Shizuri, what more do you need me to say?" Brother has always lost patience with people easily. I think it's his pride, which some may call arrogance, that makes him so strong and handsome as he is.

My silence has pushed him over the edge. I didn't mean to, but I was so sunk in my thoughts that I forgot opening my mouth to speak.

"Shizuri, I'm not asking for the whole story, but at least tell me when you're gonna be home late or... Or if anything is going on between you and Rukawa..." He pauses looking for the right words, "I'm your brother... Just say something! Anything!"

My eyes meet his and I freeze from the warm feeling inside. A long silence is followed by the words: "I wish you were not my brother..."

As I walk by I feel the wall of pain and misunderstandings between us. He doesn't reply to my statement. There was no reaction at all. I'm sure he didn't understand what I meant...

This night I silently cry on my pillow for the things I've said. And for the things I haven't said.

Two silent days went by.

During lunch break I try to find Rukawa, but he's not in his classroom. I run to the rooftop where he often takes a nap. But all I can find are the clouds from which little rain drops fall. I look up and see how big grey clouds gather. It's the first rainy day of this summer.

I return to his classroom and ask his classmates, who tell me that he hasn't showed up yet today. I think that I'm trying to ignore that uneasy feeling deep in my heart, but I have no choice but following it to the hospital.

The nurse who has gotten used to our visits looks at me without saying a word. She only nods at me as I walk by.

I know what's awaiting me. I just know, but I refuse to believe it. I will not.

As the elevator doors open I look right into the long hallway where a tall young man sits in his school uniform. He leans forward with his head down and his hands folded. I walk upon him in a slow pace as I still cannot believe what I'm going to face.

He looks up at me, as if he had been awaiting me for a long time. I sob while tears run down my face. My view is blurred by the tears and I can only shake my head in disbelief. My knees are getting weak and my body goes limp. Then I feel a pair of tender yet muscular arms around me. His embrace was gentle yet tight. I bury my face in his jacket and hold him tight. He was not crying, I can tell. But his heart was broken.

Shiori got a high fever last night and then it all went very fast. Her weak body fought a hopeless war. As she was still in a critical situation this morning, the hospital called Rukawa. But when he arrived it was already too late. My heart aches at the thought that she was all alone when she died.

I heard it all from the nurses as Rukawa would not speak a single word. He has not shed a tear, but it's even more painful to see him like this. I wish he would cry and I wish I could comfort him but the grief is too much for both of us.

Rukawa stands next to the empty bed and looks at the flowers and the cards around it. He takes a book from the drawer that Shiori had been reading when she was still able to. He sits down and starts reading the first pages. His silence fills the empty room, which hope had deserted.

I lay my hand on his shoulder and he finally speaks: "I never told her what she meant to me."

"You didn't have to. She understood."

"No, she wouldn't have. Because... I don't even know for myself..."

He reads my amazement and says: "I asked myself several times and I just could not tell whether it was love or just compassion."

For a second I felt rage because I knew how much he meant to her, how could he say such a thing? But that same second later I knew what he was talking about. Love doesn't always get rewarded with love in return.

"But now she's gone I know how much she meant to me." Rukawa softly speaks, "and I haven't had the courage to tell her. Or to tell myself..."

"I understand."

"You won't understand the emptiness, it's..."

"Rukawa, I understand. I really do." I know my words are true and I feel a tear running down my cheek.

That night Rukawa calls me and tells me he wants to leave for the States.

~~ And so, people seek an answer and lose something that's irreplaceable. A city filled with desires, even the stardust in the night skies doesn't shine on us. ~~

--> To Chapter 12.