Constellated (Vol. 1) - Chapter 1
A cicada cry pierced the air among the crinkling of the leaves. Tucked in the cedar tree, the insect clung to a sliver of bark and its wings shuddered as it sensed the slight change in weather. All the while, its beady red eyes stared at a couple of third year high school students beneath that great cedar.
“I’m breaking up with you,” Reiji’s girlfriend said.
The girl slowly reached behind her neck and unhooked the necklace that Reiji had given to her one week before. The blue topaz in the shape of a dewdrop shimmered like a tear in the light as it dangled from her fingertips. Reiji’s eyes lingered on the pendant in her palm, then snapped to Naori’s, which were shrouded by the deep shade of the cedar tree above them.
Reiji’s mouth quivered as if to say something before settling into a hard line.
He smacked her hand away and she lost grasp of the necklace in seconds. It plummeted into a grassy patch on the pavement beside the school yard, causing Naori to silently lift her head at him. She was a cool beauty with high cheekbones and sharp eyebrows, and retained her composure in the face of conflict.
“You didn’t need to do that.” Naori stepped away from him and bent over to collect the pendant, picking at a clump of dirt that stuck to the small gem with her pointed fingernail. Reiji gripped at his sides, watching her back and feeling a burning sensation rising in his chest. She turned and her uniform skirt whirled with the motion, holding on more tightly to the pendant.
“Is this some kind of joke?!” Reiji burst and the cicada made a startling chirp as it quickly flew the scene. He dragged a hand through short, tawny spikes of hair. The wind picked up and blew Naori’s long hair behind her as the two of them lightly shivered from the gust of air.
“I’m one-hundred percent serious.” Naori rearranged the black strands that had blown across her face.
“Then why the hell did you kiss me today!?” Reiji’s bangs shook in the wind as goosebumps prickled along his bare arms.
“That was only a goodbye kiss. But please don’t shout, I really want us to part on good terms.“
Hearing her already using the past tense to describe their relationship, Reiji slumped against the bark of the cedar and exhaled hard.
“I don’t want some crappy “goodbye kiss” from you, I want answers.”
“I don’t think you’ll like what I have to say.”
“Well, I’m not leaving this spot until you say it properly.”
Naori bit her lip and for a moment Reiji was patient enough to wait for her to gather her thoughts, but no such thoughts reached him. Reiji pinched hard at the bridge of his nose and stewed over her words in silence while she glanced up at the blue yonder, gradually being washed out by an army of gunmetal clouds.
Then finally. “Reiji, do you have a dream?”
“What?” Reiji opened his eyes. “I thought I was the one asking the questions.”
“I have a dream.” Naori was still speaking to the broad sky. “I want to be a detective when I’m an adult…… Did you know that?” She turned to look at him. “Do you know anything about me?”
Something wet splashed on his shoulder. Rain trickled down forcefully and suddenly as the hollow bell rang in Reiji’s ears. Naori stood close by, but for all he knew, they were already many solar systems apart.
“We’ve talked enough. Let’s head back.” She slipped the necklace into his hand and pulled him towards the school, but Reiji’s feet were anchored to the spot. Slight frustration played on Naori’s features, then evaporated.
“Like hell this is over.” He watched her grey eyes and waited for Naori’s resolve to melt beneath his glare, but she slowly lessened her grip on his hand and started walking back towards the school entrance.
“Wait, Nao!” Reiji grabbed her arm and his shout was dampened a little by the rain. “You really aren’t gonna tell me?”
Naori’s feet quickly stopped, and the look in her grey eyes froze Reiji and burned him all at once.
“You lack purpose; it’s like you don’t even know why you’re alive.”
Reiji’s fingers unfurled around Naori’s forearm. Her words hung in the air like a cold breath in winter and she quickly vanished into the wavering image of the schoolyard.
His senses filled with the shushing of the rain as it drowned out the echoing of the school bell. He fell back against the tree for a few moments, besieged by the spell of Naori’s words cast upon him, “You lack purpose; it’s like you don’t even know why you’re alive.”
his throat constricted as curses welled up and spilled over.
All this time, it felt like Naori had been testing him for something, but never gave him an inkling of what that “something” was.
Though they’d shared the same homeroom teacher during the past couple of years, they’d never once spoken to each other, blending into their own respective friend groups. What separated them most of all was their reputations: Naori was a token honor student and Reiji was an outright delinquent.
There was absolutely no reason for them to interact with each other, or so he’d thought, until that broiling day right before summer break.
The school day was over, and Reiji followed at the back of the gang of boys that he’d started hanging out with when he entered his first year. By the school gate, the leader of the group was boasting about never having done summer homework in his life, when a girl’s voice called out “Yamazaki-kun,” coolly from behind them.
All five boys turned their heads and Reiji recognized the girl student as one of his classmates. The leader shamelessly looked her up and down, then squinted at Reiji with suspicion and jerked a thumb in the girl’s direction, “Reiji, she wants you.”
Feeling their stares fuse like a bright red target on his back, Reiji stepped in front of the group and cleared his throat, “Whatcha need?”
The girl stood in her wrinkle-free summer uniform with a stiff posture and hands clasped behind her back. Her even gaze switched between the rest of the boys’ faces, as if analyzing their data. Then she teased something that was hidden in her hand as Reiji strained his eyes to see. Her hand came into focus and when he realized what was in it, he felt even more confused.
It was one of his paper dragons that he’d folded half-heartedly and tossed in a waste bin on an afternoon in math class many months ago. She brought the dragon out into clear view and the boys frowned down at it in unison. “I rescued him.” She spoke to Reiji only, ignoring the strange looks and comments coming from the gang. “I think you’ve got a real talent for origami, will you teach me how to make one?”
“Uh” Reiji couldn’t wrap his head around the situation and scratched his temple, but looking at the girl, she was rather cute, although not exactly his type. “Yeah, sure.”
The girl smiled, which almost didn’t seem to suit her, and pulled out her cell phone. “Let’s exchange numbers so we can set up a time. Is that okay?”
The boys nudged him suggestively and started howling. One even made small kissing sounds, but Reiji quickly shoved the boy’s shoulder, and glanced in her direction to see if the girl was disgusted. She was still waiting for him to type up his cellphone number, looking completely unfazed. There was something compelling about a girl who could walk up to a pack of infamous delinquents without quaking in her dress shoes.
They swapped phone numbers, and the day before summer break ended.
Over break, Naori texted Reiji and they met at a local café, where Naori had brought a slew of quality origami paper with her already. Reiji only had craft paper in his bag, but quickly disregarded them. She was one of the first people to point out that he had a gift for origami. Soon after that, he asked her to go out with him and she agreed.
It was only today that Reiji sensed an emotion like anger coming from Naori. He thought about how cold her hand was when she’d handed him the necklace, remembered how her body was warm beside him many summer nights ago, and then those words again: “You don’t even know why you’re living.”
Reiji had failed another test.
Thunder boomed as lightning tore through the grey sky. With the school building steadily shrinking behind him, he exited the gates and entered the beginnings of a storm.
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