Arisu sat on the bench and plugged in her earphones. A gentle breeze sent a chill up her legs.
Her battery’s at twenty-five percent. It would last her about an hour, at most. The night wore on and the sky darkened, and somewhere behind them the clock struck twelve, going dong, dong, dong…
A large river flowed in front of her, the walkway guarded by a metal barrier. From here, she could see the moonlight shimmering over the water, as though crystal-gems laid beneath its surface. The deep, low drone of the river ran heavy. Like the passing of an iceberg.
Arisu plugged the earphones into her ears and put on a playlist: chillstep.
“So,” the young man began. He was leaning over the railing, overlooking the river. “Why’d you run?”
Arisu looked up for a moment, then shut her eyes.
He turned around and looked at her; she could feel his gaze.
She laid still and kept her lips shut. Listen to the music, listen to the music.
Keitaro shook his head. He couldn’t understand her.
He turned his attention to the river again, but then turned around and looked at her.
Long dark hair tied into a ponytail at the back and falling long down the sides of her face, she had a tiny build. Her ears were pierced all over, her thick brows hidden behind her bangs, her lashes dark, her cheeks bearing hints of pink. Around her neck, Arisu wore a black, belt-like collar and a chain-necklace that had a lock as a pendant, all silver. Sporting a rock n’ roll, black t-shirt, Arisu had on long, black-and-white arm warmers and a ripped pair of long jeans, and a pair of black sneakers with ankle socks. Her flushed, small lips stood out from her pale face. She reminded him of Snow White for some reason. He couldn't explain why.
Arisu had placed her large, black backpack by her side. Her earphones on, listening to her music, she seemed so distant.
She'd said she was sixteen, that she had run away from home. And that was it. She didn't tell him why, didn't tell him where she lived. Nothing. She'd only told him she ran away because he'd persisted. He just wouldn't let her go, and he followed her every step of the way. He can't just let a young girl out into the open world.
Yet, even though he wanted to help, she wouldn’t let him. Now here he was, standing here, waiting and wondering about what he should do about her. She was probably waiting for him to grow tired of her and leave. That won’t happen.
But what should he do?
Wait as he might, but if he couldn’t come up with something, nothing would happen.
No, she might leave without him noticing…
When she opened her eyes, she saw that he was still there. He turned around to her.
“Will you explain yet?” the young man asked. “Or do you want me to bring you to the police?”
Arisu narrowed her eyes. She planted her feet on the ground, her legs set, ready to run if she needed to.
There was a slight hesitance in his voice…
She pulled out her earphones, shut her phone off, and asked, “If I tell you, would you give up the idea?”
She tilted her head. “Really?”
Arisu let out a breath, rose to her feet, and walked over to his side. She felt the breeze brush her cheek.
Behind her, the trees rustled and swayed. Gently.
“My dad’s a lunatic,” she said. “After Mom died, after his stocks failed, he became an alcoholic.”
The young man looked at her. She brushed off his gaze.
“He used to be doing pretty well, when Mom was still alive. But then he got involved in a scam and he lost all of his savings. Then, of course, Mom got mad about this. They argued for days and days and days. Then suddenly on the way back home, Mom died in a car accident. A semi rammed into her at a stoplight. From then, Dad started spiraling. He used whatever he had left of his savings to invest in a ton of stocks, but then those stocks failed and he ended up losing, well, everything. Then he started drinking. He used up almost all of the money his little sister lent him on beer and beer and beer. He was a wreck. No job, no hope, no passion. All the passion he had for was self-destruction. And in the end, I couldn’t stand him. So I left…”
Even now, she couldn’t believe him. One night, he would break the dishes. Another night he’d be on the floor, surviving a crash with the dining table. He would throw beer bottles at the wall, as if for his own entertainment. And he’d leave beer cans strewn over the living room floor. There were even times when he came smashing a beer bottle at her door, or times when he stole what little money she earned from her part-time gigs.
“I left,” Arisu repeated, “but I still love him…”
She remembered that day, when she was about six, when he’d taken Arisu and her mother out to the park. She remembered flying kites with him, or rather, she remembered running around the field as he flew the kite up in the air. She remembered them playing card games together, like Uno, and the nights where they played Snakes and Ladders together, as a family. She remembered when he was happy. Before everything fell apart. Now, all she could do was wish, futilely, and remember how things used to be. And accept that things will never be the same.
“I understand now,” the young man said.
She looked up at him. “So you won’t take me to the police?”
He shook his head.
She kept her eyes on him. “So you’ll help me?”
“I’ll stop the fall.”