Rika narrowed her eyes. What were the odds of Hatano being here? He disappeared after meeting her at the coffee shop and hadn’t been at the flower shop. Despite keeping a lookout on her way here, she could not spot him anyway around town. Unless…
“Did you follow me here?” she accused, glaring at him.
“Ah, it was just a coincidence that I was here.” Hatano shrugged. It wasn’t a very convincing answer.
Realising he was caught, he raised his hand in defeat. “Fine. I saw you walking out of town and decided to follow you. It’s not safe for a lady to be out here alone, you know.”
There! That sentence! He always tells me that! Just like the rest of them used to.
“I’m capable enough to protect myself, thank you.” she retorted. “I don’t need you to follow me around wherever I go like a stalker.”
Hatano’s eyes flashed with hurt. Guilt replaced anger as she realised that she had just directed her pent-up frustration at him. She turned around and decided to stare at the stone obelisk – at anywhere but him.
She heard him sigh. Leaves crunched under his shoes as he walked closer to her. A hat suddenly appeared in front of her face.
“This is yours, isn’t it?” he said softly. “It flew down the hill so I came to pass it back to its owner.”
Tears welled up in her eyes as she snatched her hat from his hands and placed it snugly on her head.
“…thank you.” she muttered, refusing to look at him.
Hatano merely shrugged in response and followed her gaze to the stone obelisk. A long silence ensued between the two of them. Rika shifted uncomfortably, noting how close they were standing. They were almost standing shoulder to shoulder, with him being a head taller than her. He was short for a guy, but tall enough compared to her petite stature.
“I’m sure they appreciate it.”
“Your family,” he explained. “I’m sure they appreciate you building this stone obelisk for them. And these flowers too. Remembrance, huh.”
“I’m not too sure about that,” Rika sniffed. “They are not exactly the people who want to be remembered.”
“Why do you say that? Aren’t they your family?”
“Not exactly. I’m not related to them. I don’t even know them that well. We’re just-” A pause. “We’re just acquaintances? One of them was Emma’s Papa so I kind of knew them.”
Hatano raised an eyebrow, “Yet you consider them as family.”
Rika blinked. “I suppose. I don’t have a family. With them being so kind and welcoming to me – despite me just barging into their lives, I guess I saw them as brothers.”
“Including the guy who always sees you? The husband who ‘ran away with another woman’,” he raised his hands, forming air quotes with them.
She gave him a wry smile, casting him a brief glance. “I was never married, so he can’t be my husband. But, he passed on a year ago.” Nodding towards the obelisk, she continued, “his name’s the last one there.”
“I see. Wait, then what about Emma? She’s not your child?”
“No she’s not. I took her in after her Papa died in an accident. The rest were his…friends. So they were always together. Happened to be together as well during the accident which took all of their lives.” A lie. Well, technically it’s not a lie. I just twisted the truth a little.
“They must have really mattered to you for you to simply adopt her like that. Despite you not really knowing them well.”
“I knew a bit of their characteristics from the times we met though. Knowing some of them, they would have relentless questioned my decision on these stone obelisk. And the flowers, gosh. They would have said I was being too sentimental,” Rika chuckled slightly, imagining how the spies would have reacted if they knew what she did. It was true though. They would have seriously think that she was insane to try and keep their memories alive.
There was a brief moment of silence before Hatano spoke again.
“Oh, I’m sure about that. They would criticize you for remembering them when they were supposed to be forgotten. And flowers?” A bark of laughter. “How stupid.”
Rika froze at the sudden change in attitude. Hatano sounded more different now. More confident. More sarcastic. The tone that he used – it sounded as if he knew the people personally.
“Let’s see,” he continued, voice dripping with amusement. “Miyoshi would have said that the flowers were not as beautiful as him. Jitsui would have simply broken the grim reaper’s neck instead of dying. Though the Lieutenant would have appreciated your effort. Shall I continue?”
“Tazaki might be pleased with the fact that his pigeons can still visit freely. Maybe bring along a few bread crumbs next time.”
Rika turned around in shock, finally looking at him properly. She had been too distracted at his sudden presence earlier. Now that she’s properly looking at him, she noticed the slight changes in his appearance compared to earlier that day. If one hadn’t looked at him properly, they would have never noticed that his eyes were now half-lidded. His previously hidden hair was now fully visible without the hat – with a parting in the middle. And that cheeky smirk. The one that Hatano the spy usually has.
“Oh, for the record,” he smirked at her, “I definitely would have make some sarcastic remark about you behaving like a wimp, crying after dead people.”
It really can’t be…
“Hatano…?” she breathed out, not wanting to believe it yet the truth was already there in front of her. “Wha-? How?”
“Cat got your tongue, Rika?”
“No. Well, yes. I mean-” she was starting to panic now. “You’re supposed to be dead.”
Hatano rolled his eyes in exasperation. “I’m very much alive thank you. I’ve been talking to you for years. Can’t believe you never notice it was me.”
“I even kept my name the same. Did you really think some guy would want to hit on a single mother with some bad rumours surrounding her.”
Well, that was insulting. I’m convinced now that this is Hatano. But if what he said was true, that means all this time, he didn’t bother to reveal himself? Even after seeing me suffer?”
“Of course not! But that’s not the point. I just-”
Rika glared at him. “Can you just shut up and let me talk?”
“Nope. Not gonna.” A cheeky reply.
Rika growled in frustration. She had forgotten how infuriating the real Hatano was. Even from the few times they met, he could easily rile her up with just a few words.
Rika’s eyes turned glassy as she looked at him dead in the eyes. But as irritating as he is, I really miss him.
“…why?” she whispered.
“This whole time,” she struggled to get the words out. “Why did you hide yourself? Why didn’t you tell me you were alive?”
Hatano blinked before averting his eyes. “I had my reasons…”
“Reasons?! I told you that I missed you guys,” her voice raised with every sentence. “You should have known how much I was suffering!”
“Four years, Hatano. Four years. I struggled with your deaths for four bloody years.” Tears were freely streaming down her face by now. All the pent-up sadness rushed out all at once. She couldn’t believe how cruel Hatano was. He had known how much she was suffering yet he had decided to keep his identity a secret. She may have been dumb to not realise who he actually was after being given so many hints but then again, she wasn’t a spy.
“Listen to me-”
“No! I will not! How could you lie to me?!”
“I didn’t mean to!” he snapped. “Did you really think I wasn’t suffering too? Did you think I didn’t want to reveal myself to you? I told you I had my reasons.”
Rika stared at him fiercely, albeit slightly shocked by his outburst. “Then tell me.”
Hatano sighed in defeat, “Fine.”