I was standing by myself. The surrounding was dark. I searched for any color but all I could see was black. I was starting to think if I had become blind. I took a step forward, wondering if I'd suddenly fall into a manhole or down the stairs. But I didn't. I heaved a deep breath as I started to walk. My heart started to pound harder in my chest until I increased my speed until I was already running. I tried to search for a light but I couldn't find any.
I tried to reach my hands out at the side, expecting I'd feel the cold plaster of a wall but I didn't. It seemed as if I was in the middle of nowhere. I tried to speak but nothing came out.
Just as I was about to crouch on the ground, I saw something red dripping until they started to melt towards me from every direction as the scent of rust filled my lungs. It was blood! I covered my nose and stepped back only to feel something wet and lumpy and sticky under my shoe. I looked down and could almost bawl my eyes out seeing a tongue. I screamed for help and covered my head with my trembling hands. Where was I?! Where the hell am I!?
No, no, somebody help me. Somebody help me, please!
I bolted up as I grabbed onto the sheets, clenching them tightly. Sweat beaded from my temples and I was trying to catch my breath. My heart rang in my ears it was almost deafening. The pace of its beating was suffocating me.
"Akane, what happened to you? Are you okay?"
I turned to see Marumi, worry written all over her face. "Did you have a nightmare?" Then she tried to calm me down by gently rubbing my back, "Breathe in and out, okay? Breathe in and breathe out."
I followed what she said until my shoulders weren't moving up and down so hysterically anymore. I breathed in again and as I exhaled, I felt a little calmer. "Th-Thanks." When I blinked, I was surprised when a tear rolled down my cheek. I wiped it with the back of my hand as I looked up at Marumi.
She sighed and sat beside me. "Will you be alright by yourself here today?"
"I'm going to school."
That was when I'd noticed she was already in her school uniform. "Wh-What about your parents? They're still on a business trip?"
She nodded, "Yeah. They won't be home until Friday next week."
"Oh, okay. Yeah." I smiled, "I'll be fine by myself, don't worry. I might go to school tomorrow, too."
"Don't push yourself. Sensei's already excused you for the rest of the week so you could rest, okay? Take it easy. You were crying for help a while ago and I believe you had a nightmare. You just rest, alright?" Then she stood up and grinned, "I'll take notes so I could lend them to you! It'll be like I'm your private tutor or something. Isn't that cool? I'm the private tutor of the school's top 1?"
I couldn't help but laugh, "It is cool. Thank you, Marumi. I must say the situation has its merits. Look at you, taking notes!"
"Yeah, thanks for that sarcastic remark using a mother's tone in saying that line," she laughed, rolling her eyes. I smiled at her and thanked her again. Before she closed the door, she said, "Oh, I think Minoru-senpai's going to drop by later. I've already emailed him you won't be coming to school until next week. See ya!"
I nodded, "Yeah, see ya—" and then the picture he'd sent me quickly flashed in my head. I stood up and almost tripped on the stool. I clattered my way towards the door as I turned the knob. The moment I did, I heard the front door close. I threw the door open and leaned on the wall as I rushed downstairs. "Marumi!!" I called out as soon as I had stepped out and was standing on the pavement. "Be careful of—" my voice trailed off when I saw the person standing next to her.
His green eyes met mine as he smiled his innocent smile, "Akane. Good morning. I was worried about you. How are you?"
"Na—" my voice cracked when I tried to utter his name. I swallowed, "Naoki."
"Akane, is something wrong? Did you need something?" Marumi said as she approached me. "What were you trying to say?"
Naoki had approached, too, "You were trying to say something?" I clamped my mouth shut as my chest felt painful and my stomach churned. "Oh, wait, don't move. You have a bed hair," When he reached his hand out to me, as I saw his palm coming closer to my face, I instinctively closed my eyes—expecting a blow.
"Minoru-senpai, I think Akane still needs more rest," I heard Marumi say, her voice depicting the tone of being overprotective.
When I felt Marumi's hand on my shoulder, I opened my eyes as she gestured I go back inside the house.
"You just rest, okay? Don't worry, I will be careful," she smiled. I forced a smile at her and opened my mouth to say something but I decided to save it for later. I threw one last look at Naoki before I closed the door and what I saw squeezed my heart.
He had this painful look on his face. Wait, why was he with Marumi, anyway?
I pushed the curtains of the window aside as I peeked at them. I didn't bother hiding because the people outside won't be able to see me inside—it's that kind of window.
Naoki and Marumi were still there, talking. I had no idea what they were talking about but Marumi kept glancing at the house so maybe they're talking about me? Naoki laughed. I couldn't help but wonder how he could act that way when he'd done something so...
I clamped my hand over my mouth as I pulled away from the window and leaned on the wall. My knees felt weak that I slid down, falling butt-first.
How could he still look so innocent after doing something so horrid? Did he really do that? Of course he did, Akane. Of course, he did. He was the one who sent you the photo, right? He sent it to you!
Tears started to well up in my eyes.
"No," I muttered. "That's not him..." I hugged my knees and buried my face there as I whispered, "That's not the Naoki I was supposed to love..."
How do I stop that?
I winced when my phone vibrated from the pocket of my pajama. I fished it out and as I tapped the screen on, I was surprised when I saw Jin's name.
From: Aoi Jin
Subject: Where are you?
Body: Akane, where the hell are you? Sensei's looking for you, Akane. I've been trying to reach you! Why aren't you answering your phone?!
My forehead creased at the question he threw. Why was he looking for me? And sensei was, too? Wait, I haven't even received a single call from him!
To: Aoi Jin
Body: What are you talking about? I'm at Marumi's. Why would sensei be looking for me? Could it be that you don't know what happened? I won't be attending school until Monday.
As I pressed send, I remembered Naoki. Should I tell Aoi Jin or not? If I do, won't I be dragging him into this mess?
My phone beeped again.
From: Aoi Jin
Re: Re: Re:
Body: We were just worried. Sensei's looking for those girls who had bullied you. We haven't seen them in school, lately. I've also asked around and no one's seen them, too. I thought they had disturbed you there. I was worried.
My phone beeped again before I could even reply.
From: Aoi Jin
Re: Re: Re: Re:
Body: I meant WE. Not just me. No. Not me. US—the people who know you. Your friends, the staff—everyone. You get what I'm saying. Anyway, WE're glad you've replied to my mail. Thanks. Take care, Akane. You need some rest so you better get that and get your shit together. Those girls are gonna turn up soon enough. They're just trembling scared right now, I'm guessing.
I couldn't stop my lips from forming into a smile. Jin definitely was there. He did catch me. But why was he not there when Marumi had arrived?
I heaved a deep breath, trying to weigh the decision in my mind. Maybe I could ask Jin for some advice. I can't tell anyone. Naoki's going to be behind bars. He only did it for me. He was just so mad at what they had done to me that pushed him to do that. I was the reason he dirtied his hands. I was the reason that he had...killed.
I pulled on my hair as I shut my eyes close.
How? How can he do that!? Those girls—they have families, too! They're daughters, too! They might be the youngest of their family or the eldest or the only person who's there for their siblings. They might be the hope of their families. Why would Naoki do that? They just wanted him to notice them... They did some pretty horrible things to me, I know but...
Was it a valid reason to do that?
That day, I just decided to relax for a while. I will talk to Naoki tomorrow. I will talk to him about it and convince him to turn himself to the police.
Those girls still deserve justice. I do, too. And suspension is already enough for them, not death.
I can't let Naoki sully his hands any longer.
But that was useless, I should've known.
Because night had already fallen, the sky was already embraced by the stars and streetlights had started to pop out on the streets like mushrooms. I waited until midnight.
Marumi still didn't answer my calls.
She still hasn't replied to my emails.
She still hasn't come home, yet.
I have a really bad feeling about this.