The Meaning of Life
The train had been delayed by five minutes due to the frost on the tracks. Sitting next to strangers in the carriage, he read the complex book about astrophysics, hardening his nerves and ultimately his heart with facts.
The computerised lady's voice announced loud and clear the next station. That was his cue to leave, and to give his seat to another.
His footsteps pounded the earth rhythmically, like steady drum. To go with this beat, Natsume started to quietly recite some facts.
The glow of cosmic microwave background radiation,
He arrived at Koko's all too soon.
Natsume took a deep breath.
Wine in a plastic bag, book in hand: Natsume was ready.
He knocked on the door.
—which is found throughout the universe, is thought to be a tangible remnant of leftover light from the big bang—
All the facts melted away and his heart softened, tender and sweet, like a newborn. Because there, standing in front of him, was Mikan, the door handle still in her hand with a nervous smile on her lips. He did not expect to see her so early on, as she was notorious for her usual tardiness. She seemed to have expected him, though.
"Hello," she greeted.
Natsume felt goosebumps erupt on his arms at her very voice. "Hi."
"You never called."
Natsume didn't know how to respond. He was thrown straight into the deep end and any excuse he conceived now would just sound insincere. Mikan stepped back to let him in, before she offered to take his coat to hang. "Koko's burnt the turkey, so I'm on door duty."
Koko's panicked voice rang from the kitchen. "Hey Natsume! Make yourself at home!"
"Is it only us?" Natsume asked, as he unwrapped his scarf from his burning neck.
"So far. But everyone should be here soon."
Mikan tried to head back to the kitchen, away from her ex-boyfriend, but Natsume held her arm very softly. She did not push him away like last time he tried to hold her. "Hey," he let go, when he saw her expression, "can we… can we talk? Before everyone gets here?"
Mikan hesitated, and looked in the direction of the kitchen. "Koko really needs help…"
"Please." Natsume begged, looking at her in a way that made her unravel and uncurl like a rose, desperate to be free. "Please. It's Christmas."
Mikan couldn't help but laugh. "I never thought you'd use that against me. You hate Christmas."
"I do." Natsume confirmed, smiling slightly too. "But I'm still using the Christmas card against you."
Her expression had softened. Looking once again in the direction of the kitchen, she turned back to face him. "Let's go upstairs."
Up they climbed, Mikan leading the way, Natsume faithfully following her, his heart beating erratically.
"I should have spoken to you a long time ago." Natsume started, as Mikan sat down on Koko's bed. Natsume leaned on the wardrobe. "I'm sorry I didn't call that Friday, or any other day."
Mikan pressed her lips together before she said, "I think… I think we needed to break-up. I know I needed to grow up by myself. I'm sorry I sprung it up on you so suddenly… but I was so unhappy, and I just couldn't tell you that. I couldn't. You were so happy... you were exactly where you wanted to be, top of your class, with a bright future ahead... I should have told you instead of being quiet about it, because, well, it all just bubbled, and ended with me storming out. I shouldn't have done that to you. I suppose it takes two grown ups to make a relationship work, and I just wasn't ready for you."
Natsume stayed silent. Here was the apology he wanted to hear, but did not really deserve. He was no more a grown up than Mikan.
"I knew you wouldn't call me. I know what you're like, Natsume. And I'm sorry that I caused… grief." By that, he knew she meant psychologically. "I know you well enough to know what kind of pains you must have felt."
Mikan started to play with her hair. A habit she succumbed to when she was nervous. Her hair was shorter, he noticed.
"I said I knew you wouldn't call. But I didn't call you either, so I can't be angry at you for that… I wanted to but… well. I couldn't. I needed to be alone, away from you."
"I-I… I was a stupid ass." Natsume blurted out, not knowing how else to say it. "I should have called you."
"I know you hate phones."
Mikan understood, yes, of course she did! The only one who knew him so well, so intricately... yet he had let her down. He had done exactly as she feared.
"I went to visit you," Natsume confessed. He wasn't sure whether his friends had mentioned it to Mikan. Obviously not, as Mikan cocked her head in surprise. A good surprise? Was she happy to hear he tried in the early days to make an effort?
"You did? When?"
"Back in summer. But… you were with someone."
"A man... tall… lavender eyes…"
Recognition on her face; "Oh! Subaru? Hotaru's brother, you mean?"
Natsume felt sick. All this time… the weight of his mistake made him sink further down to hell. What idiocy – how unlike a scientist to jump to conclusions without concrete evidence! Fool, fool, fool! How could he be guilty of such a mistake...
"I thought… I thought he was…" The words were stuck in his throat.
Mikan stayed silent as she shook her head. She knew exactly what he thought; he didn't need to say it out loud. Natsume gripped the book in his hand incredibly tightly. Books and facts may be his backbone, but he was still just an idiot.
Mikan looked down at her hands in her lap. "I-," she started, before she took a deep breath, "I know you and Luna…"
That excruciatingly lonely, depressing and loveless night flashed like a nightmare. "No, no," Natsume tried to deny this, "that was… that was nothing. We didn't sleep together. I'm not seeing her. I don't think anything of her… I just… we were both so alone and…"
Bravely Mikan looked at him straight on. Softly she said, "You don't need to lie, Natsume. You don't need to justify it."
"Even if you didn't have sex with her, it's really none of my concern. I have no right to be upset about it. Besides," she gently smiled, "we are not teenagers anymore. Nor are we religious. Sex is just sex. It's not a holy and exclusive act, restricted to married people. We don't think like that. You're a grown man."
He knew this. No matter, he wanted explain to Mikan: she was still a part of him after all. "I regret it. Please believe me when I say we didn't have sex. I'm not trying to collect your favour by saying this, it's just the truth. I mean, we were going to... but I couldn't. I couldn't. I… I regret the whole night so much. No, I regret everything; for being arrogant and cowardly in the first place… for just withdrawing, and becoming an apathetic recluse instead of getting up on my feet, to take one step at a time to change for you—"
"You can't change your character, Natsume—"
"I should have done for you."
Then, Natsume asked her a question that she did not expect. "Do you think there's a meaning to life?"
She blinked, but then she pondered about it sincerely. "Well. We're still very young, Natsume. I don't think you're supposed to know that answer until the day you die, on your deathbed. So, I think, to find a good answer, you should have a happy life, with little regrets and with the people you love around you."
Natsume thought about this. "But what if you were shot? What if you were hit by a truck?" Like Kuonji. "You wouldn't have time to figure out the meaning of life. You'd die before you know the Truth—"
Mikan laughed. "Natsume! Don't take everything I say so seriously. I don't know the meaning of life. No one does. Truth? What Truth? That's an incredibly vague word. You think the meaning of life, or the Truth is the same for every single living creature on this Earth, Natsume? Take Usagi," Luca's pet rabbit, "His eyeline comes just under our ankles. Take us: the view you see and the view I see are different just because you're tall and I'm short. When you think of my room let's say," he remembered her room well, and all of the happy memories such a small room contained, "and I think of my room, the image we have of it will be a few degrees different. Have you ever thought what life would be like to be Usagi? Not even necessarily to be, but to see life as a rabbit? Or an ant? Or a whale? The world we all know are completely different. It's not the same world. Maybe all our perspectives combined is the true world. I'm not sure, but either way, this Truth you are looking is too large and obscure for us even to contemplate. It'd be arrogant for us to contemplate the meaning of life without encompassing other living creatures, and other worlds. We are all floating in this stream, individually, but together we make one and therefore all. Does that make any sense? The world's existence depends on your existence, as well as others. With death comes life, and with life comes death. We die, we decompose, and become nothing more than nutrients for plants. The cow eats the grass, we eat the cow, and it all begins and ends again."
"The food chain."
"Yes. That's all life is. Nothing in this world exists completely independently. We can't; our existence depends on the death of animals, the cutting of trees and plants, and air. The only thing that really separates humans from the real world are words: words limit reality, slicing it up to simplify matters. So, you wouldn't be living life if you were searching night and day for your whole life for the definition of life. It's ironic, I know. But that's why you just have to take it day by day, experiencing life, not trying to contain it in a sentence or paragraph."
Natsume assessed Mikan's words. God, he really did miss her. He should have listened to her in the first place. It took him a good few seconds to digest everything she had just said.
Quietly, Mikan concluded, "We are going to die someday, Natsume. So you might as well have a happy life rather than a wasted life."
He nodded, agreeing.
"Natsume. Are you happy?"
"Not really." He truthfully answered.
"Were you happy when you were with me?"
He looked up. "Yes." He stared intently at her.
Mikan encouragingly raised her eyebrow. "Then why don't you amend that? If the answer of happiness is right in front of you, why don't you seize it?"
Panic seized him. Was she... could she be... but...
"I've grown up these past few months. A lot. I know what I want, I know who I am. I have a voice. I won't let your voice ever mute mine again. I'll fight from the start. If I can take on Freud in my dissertation, I can definitely take you on. But I will also listen from the start, if you promise to do the same."
"A-Are you asking me out?" Natsume questioned, overwhelmed.
"Are you going to ask me out?"
Natsume didn't quiet realise that time was passing as he stared at her. He hadn't said anything. Not discouraged, Mikan just smiled and stood up from the bed. "The turkey is starting to smell like charcoal. I'm going to go check it out."
"Wait!" Natsume begged, holding her hand. "Wait, please."
She clearly had no intention to go anyway; Mikan sat back down, pulling him along, to sit beside her.
He took a deep breath. "But you might say no—"
"But I might say yes."
"But I'm an ex-pyromaniac, depressed, arrogant and cowardly asshole—"
"You're an ex-pyromaniac; sometimes upset, sometimes very happy; incredibly intelligent, bordering arrogant at times; brave grown up man, who sometimes needs a push." Mikan took his hands in her warm hands. "Go on," she urged.
"Mikan. Will you be my girlfriend?" There was a pause. "Please?"
Mikan smiled. "Well, just because you said please I'm going to say yes." Natsume reacted immediately by pulling her into a tight embrace. The smell of her sweet hair delighted him.; he rubbed his cheeks against her hair, before he rested his forehead against hers. "We still have a lot to discuss though."
"I'll listen this time. I promise."
"That's all I want, Natsume." She pushed him ever so slightly, so she could wrap her arms around his neck to kiss him. A kiss that tasted of endless possibilities, hope and home. Her hands touched the nape of his neck, making his spine tingle, vertebrae by vertebrae.
"Let's get married." Natsume couldn't help but blurt out in between kisses.
"One step at a time!"
"Let's get married and have three kids."
"Slow down! I don't want kids yet—"
"Let's make a kid now."
Mikan laughed so hard, she threw her head back. "That is the most romantic way you've ever asked me to have sex with you. You silly, silly man."
"Is that a yes?" Natsume eagerly inquired. "By the way, I wasn't kidding about the proposal and the kids—"
"Like I said, we have a lot to discuss. If you want to bring the subject of marriage and kids on the table, we'll do that back at my place, or yours. Not on Koko's bed."
"… no sex on Koko's bed either?"
"No, Natsume. No sex on Koko's bed. We're better friends than that. Besides, you're going way too fast! Slow down!"
He simply just kissed her - he was soaring; he couldn't stop now! His heart, his very being was on fire; he was alive, with her, in this stream, together.
She was the only real thing in his life.
Mikan Sakura was the only real thing in Natsume Hyuuga's life.
'Real thing'? What does that even mean? It meant, to Natsume Hyuuga, everything in life was exciting, meaningful and worthwhile with Mikan Sakura: to him, she was the only person truly tangible in this world, the only existence he cared about more than his own. Life with her was simply Monet with all its brilliant colours - the flowers blooming, the sky limitless and the lake eternal.
Mikan Sakura was the only real thing in Natsume Hyuuga's life.