Hatano scratched the back of his neck uncertainly. He didn’t know when to begin. He wasn’t even sure where to start from.
“Start from the beginning,” Rika demanded. “How are you even alive? From what I know, the restaurant you guys were in was totally destroyed.”
“Yeah, it was. But I left earlier. I had another appointment right after the dinner so I had to go back and prepare for it first,” Hatano elaborated upon seeing Rika’s confused expression. “The bomb landed a few minutes after I left. I was far from the restaurant, but not far enough as you can see.” He scratched a scar running down the side of this left cheek.
“…it wasn’t there before.”
“I used makeup to hide it,” he said nonchalantly.
Rika stared at the scar, entranced, before allowing her fingers to gently trace the length of the scar. She could feel him twitch slightly at the contact.
“The accident put me into a coma for almost a year. The first thing I did after I woke up was to find the rest of them. But, it was useless,” he drew in a shuddering breath. “Their descriptions were among those still unidentified dead bodies being listed. I went to confirm it. I-I-I couldn’t believe it. They shouldn’t have died so easily. Yet, there they were – dead.
I didn’t return home because I knew no one would be there. Empty and silent. I hated it. Instead, I wandered around, lost. Trying to pick up the pieces. Trying to settle back to normalcy with difficulty. It took me so much courage – and so much time, before I could finally step back home. I had expected the silence to greet me the moment I stepped in. Instead, I found the Lieutenant packing things up.”
Hatano chuckled, relieving that memory. “He was so shocked seeing me. It was as if he saw a ghost. Can’t blame him though. He saw me, and hugged me so tightly I couldn’t breathe. Yet it was comforting to see him. To see someone I know and that I trust. The Lieutenant knew that I was suffering and helped me out.
He told me he was selling the place off. That it was time to start anew. And that it was time I tried to move on. It would be difficult, he said. But he would help me the whole time. He bought me a house, settled all the documents required for me to move here, furnished the house, found me a job. Though he said my new identity was my own choice – and I decided to keep the name Hatano.”
Rika silently looked at Hatano as he paused, not once interrupting him. She wanted to know what had happened to him. She wanted to understand him. Although all the wanted to do right now is shake him so furiously in anger.
“But guess what he neglected to tell me?” Hatano scoffed. “He didn’t tell me you and Emma were here. That sneaky bastard. Imagine my shock seeing you and Emma walking around town one day. I followed you both home, you know. Watched over you two for a while before I decided to talk to you.”
Rika narrowed her eyes at him. “You really are a stalker.” Hatano laughed at that. “If you had known where I lived the whole time, then what made you not reveal yourself to me truthfully? Instead, why did you introduce yourself as this innocent, cheerful flower shop boy?”
Hatano looked at her wistfully. “I wanted to,” he said softly. “I was heading towards your house. But the Lieutenant was there. And you guys looked happy. So happy. I felt that I would be breaking that normalcy that you guys finally had.”
“I felt like I didn’t belong in the picture,” he continued, voice filled with sorrow – emotions that she had never seen him with before. “So I decided to stay out of your life. I met the Lieutenant the day of his accident, before he left town. He told me that it was about time to tell you about my existence – whether I liked it or not. But of course, who would’ve thought that he would leave us that very same day.”
Sorrow filled Rika as what-ifs entered her mind. What if Sakuma had managed to tell her about Hatano earlier? What if she had known who Hatano really was in the first place? She was surprised Sakuma had not told her about Hatano being alive the moment he knew, but she guessed it was because he wanted Hatano to give time to gather back the pieces of his life together first.
So Sakuma-san did intend to tell me about Hatano after all. But of course, fate wasn’t on our side – again.
Silence enveloped the two of them yet again. It was happening way too frequently now that the truth was out in the air.
“I’m planning to move.”
Rika stared at him in shock. “Why?”
“Just felt like it.”
Emotions rushed through her at his declaration. Rage. Fear. Confusion. But most of all, sadness. Hatano was going to leave her again. He was going to disappear from her life. Just like that. Just like the rest. To never be seen again. She didn’t want that. She didn’t want him to leave. She had grown attached to Hatano – albeit the flower shop Hatano. If he were to disappear again now that she just got him back – she didn’t even want to think about it. Her heart wrenched in pain at the thought of him just disappearing. It took some time for her to realise her feelings, but now she knew.
I love him. I loved him ever since I first met him. No wonder it hurt when I knew he had left me forever.
“Stay,” she whispered.
“Don’t go. Please don’t go. Stay with me, please,” Rika knew she was full out begging right now. But she didn’t care the slightest. She gripped his shirt tightly, afraid that he would just walk away.
“The paperwork for the house has already been settled. I have no reason to stay anymore.”
“Then stay at my house! It’s way too big for just Emma and I.”
Hatano’s eyes softened slightly, “Rumours will fly around you again…”
“I don’t give a damn about those!” Rika hissed. “Just-just don’t leave me. If not for me, then for Emma. Emma misses you.”
“…what about you? Do you miss me?”
“Do you really need to ask the obvious?”
Hatano laughed openly before pulling her close to him. Arms encircled her waist as he buried his face into her hair. Rika momentarily stilled before tightly hugging him. Warmth radiated from his body. He felt real against her. He was alive.
“I wasn’t kidding, you know,” he murmured.
“About what I said today. Or for the past few months. I really meant it when I said I wanted to go on a date with you.”
She remembered the events earlier today, when he had asked her for a date in exchange as payment. Relief washed through her, knowing that it wasn’t an act.
“It was supposed to be a lovely memory for me to hold on to when I left. But,” he paused, “Can I hope for more now? Can I take your word seriously? Can I finally be happy?”
Rika cupped her hand on his scarred cheek. “Yes, you can.”
His hand covered hers gently before he entwined their fingers together. “Can I kiss you?”
She smiled at him, eyes brimming with tears. Hatano memorized every single detail of her face at that moment. How her eyes were gently looking at him. How her whole face beamed with happiness. How her lips curled up into a smile. Just for him. What he wanted was finally in front of him – and is now finally his.
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
Hatano kissed her gently, loving the way her soft lips felt against his. It was short yet sweet. Pulling back from the kiss, Hatano leaned his forehead against hers. No words were spoken between the two of them. The kiss told both of them everything they needed to know.
“I love you, Hatano. So don’t ever leave me,” Rika said.
“I love you too. And I promise I’ll never leave you, ever.”
It took them a whole four years. For them to accept the things that had happened. For them to move on. For them to be released from the pain that held them back.
It was a long wait, but it was worth it.
They were both finally happy.