The Longest Day of the Year
I stand in front of my apartment's door, key in hand. It's been a long day at work and I can't wait to just get to sit down and relax.
Aiming my keys at the door, I think about how long of a day it's been.
I work in retail. Lilly suggested it when I finally admitted to her that I wanted to get over how people look at me for my scars.
Now I'm a checkout manager at a local supermarket. I balance that with trying to figure out what I want to do at a university.
I push my keys towards the door's slot, but I miss.
It was hard at first working at that supermarket. Always having to smile and enjoy the day, learning how to manage with my anxiety when under pressure -- With my job and my two best friends, I've grown a lot.
Today's a day that used to bother me a lot.
I try again to insert my key into the door but I miss.
I think 'a lot' is an understatement.
But I've learned there's no reason to let it get to me, you know?
My keys slide into the door this time.
I turn the knob, closing my eyes and taking in a deep breath as I push open the door.
"HAPPY BIRTHDAAAAAAAY!" A roar of happiness and voices erupt from my apartment, celebrating the day I was born; happy that I exist.
And then I open my eyes.
That's what I imagine this should be like, at least.
My apartment is dark and empty, void of people or friends who care about me. Lilly and Hisao are in Scottland, meeting her family. Few people outside of them know about my birthday and I never got close to anyone while at Yamaku.
Well, I guess this is okay.
At least I don't want to lock myself in anymore and wish I was never born.
This is better, right?
I walk in, removing my manager's jacket and throwing it carelessly onto my couch.
Venturing towards my computer, I sit down with a sigh, pushing the power button on my tower.
Is this better?
I feel like it could be.
Like there could be more to enjoy, like I should be out doing something.
I don't have many friends and my cell phone's contact list is woefully short.
I should really get on fixing that. I keep people at arm's length too much.
Leaning on a palm, I glance at my monitor while the computer starts up.
I guess that's my fault too. I tried letting someone close and he started dating my best friend. I laugh inwardly at myself.
It's less painful to laugh than to cry, I've found. And the more I laugh at my hardships, the less they seem to bother me.
So I direct myself to the place I always go to when I'm bored; an online imageboard.
No one here gives a damn, no one here cares who you are. You can just talk about things and no one will give you shit for it.
Today, I decide to float towards a board where you can seek advice from people.
Today, I'm going to make a thread. I almost never do, I usually just lurk and sometimes post in various threads in different topics.
Today though, I'm going to do something a little different.
I make a topic, stating what the predicament is.
"Long day at work, my closest friends are out of country.
No one else even knows it's my birthday today. Don't feel like sitting around home, being miserable.
What should I do?"
Almost immediately, I'm told to kill myself.
Well, that's not something I didn't expect.
A few posts later and a bump after I fall off of the first page, some people actually start chiming in and suggesting things I can do without any friends.
Going to a local bar, maybe going to a cafe or treating myself to a nice dinner.
We all chat back and forth a bit, with me talking about how shitty my birthdays usually are and how little I enjoy them.
One person tells me that if they could, they'd go celebrate my birthday with me. 'I'd buy you a drink or two', they tell me.
If only it were that easy. I doubt they're anywhere near where I live. Plus, I don't think it'd really be a good idea to meet someone I've never met before.
Eventually, I decide on going out and treating myself while ignoring the bad post Even if no one else is around to celebrate it with me, I can enjoy myself, can't I?
I hop off of the computer after sharing a thank you with the thread and turning off my monitor.
To the bedroom!
Changing my clothes and donning my favorite, familiar hat, I decide to head out.
So, a restaurant? A cafe? Maybe I could go to a local bookstore. Or maybe some movies?
Even though I'm alone, I feel strangely refreshed as I walk mindlessly around my city. People glance at me sometimes, but I decide it isn't because of my scars and rather because of my smile.
Ultimately, I decide to go to a local bookstore that I really enjoy. It's kind of a mix between all three places I had mentioned before; a cafe, a bookstore and a library.
They have little coffee machines with terrible coffee that you wind up loving for some reason, as well as a little book renting system. You can always buy the books, too.
I walk in after a short walk. The place is called 'Dog Eared' and most of the employees know me. I wave to the person at the counter as I walk in, who returns it politely.
I wonder what I'll read today?
There's Japanese novels, light novels and a pretty nice collection of American works. I've got a pretty good grasp of English so I can actually read most of them.
I'm feeling in the mood for something different.
How about some William Gibson?
I grab it off of the shelf and head towards a nearby lounge chair. There's a ton of them, scattered around the store, none actually matching. They all kind of lend to the overall feeling of this place.
It's like someone's house that they rebuilt to let people enjoy the wonder of books. Nothing really matches, nothing's really professional -- but it all feels really, really cozy.
I pull open the book and begin reading, glancing over to the nearest coffee machine. I can smell it starting to brew a pot. The staff tends to make sure they're all full so those who come in can have some when they sit down to read.
Turning back to my book, I immerse myself in a whole new world.
A blend of noir, science fiction, crime and dystopian culture thrown into words and blasted directly into my imagination. Where low-life is the high-life and everything happens by the edge of your seat.
Books like these are the best.
I completely forget about the cup of coffee I was going to get while getting completely absorbed in the book I'm reading.
I've read it before, but I still like going back after a while and rereading it. Sometimes you pick up little odds and ends you didn't the first time. You find symbolisms, meanings, underlying themes -- it all just goes on and on and on.
Then I hear the dull clunk of something on a table besides me.
I jump hard, whirling my eyes to the right.
A man's standing there, a smile on his face.
"Coffee?" He asks, pointing to the chipped mug he put down besides me.
"O-Oh, uh, e-er..."
Think, Hana. Then speak.
"Th-thanks." I put on a smile and take the coffee. Keep the stutter under control, you've had it beaten for a while, Hana.
He sits down across from me. "Neuromancer, huh?"
I nod. "One of my favorites."
"Oh yeah? You don't seem the sci-fi type." I can tell he's looking at my scars, but not out of disgust. I can see the curiosity, not horror that I used to always superimpose onto people to justify hiding myself from the world.
"A good friend of mine got me into it."
A slight pain there. Hisao.
Sometimes I wish I had been a little more forward with him. Maybe he could've been mine, instead of just letting him be with Lilly. She's attractive, she's kind -- she probably wouldn't have a hard time finding someone else for herself.
Instead of being a little selfish for once, I settled for 'whatever makes my friends happy'.
"So what kind of books do you usually like?"
"Fantasy, usually. How about yourself?" I ask, sipping my coffee and flipping my bangs out of my eyes.
"Horror, I guess?" He puts on an abashed smile. Normally, I'd leave the conversation there, but... it's my birthday. And I want today to be the birth of a new me. A new Hanako.
A braver Hanako.
"Is that why you're talking to me? You like scary things?" I put on a mischievous smile. I want to see how he responds to this. Most people do find my scars a bit frightening.
He's completely taken off guard by this statement. "Ah, no. That's not why-"
I giggle, going back to my book. I can hear him sigh a little to himself. I guess he feels like he lost the battle, there.
I spend a little longer reading, but end up feeling restless. I dog ear the page and close the book.
"Hey." I say to the guy across from me.
He's taken out from the world inside of his book.
I take a good look at him. He's wearing glasses, doesn't have a bad sense of style. Hair's a bit messy, but I like that.
"Do you like karaoke?"
I'm starting to like this guy. He's so unassuming that it's kind of cute.
"I guess I do, I mean, I used to go every now and then with my friends from school..." I wait for him to sip from his own coffee a bit.
"Want to go with me?"
He practically chokes on his drink. "Buh- what?"
"C'mon, let's go. I know a good place." Then I pause. "Oh yeah, what's your name? I'm Hanako."
"I'm, uh..." He coughs. "Kouki." I smile. Kouki?
"Yeah, my name's a bit corny. Wonderful parents of mine thought it'd be a good idea."
"Well, don't worry about it. Let's go." I say, motioning for him to follow.
"Wait, really?" I nod at him.
I walk him out of the store, leaving a few thousand yen on the counter for the time I spent there. I don't have to, but I like showing my appreciation for having a place to go when I need it.
I walk ahead of Kouki, hands folded behind my back while humming to myself. I wonder what song I'm going to sing?
"I know this is going to sound paranoid, but this isn't some kind of trap like I see on the news, right?"
I slow my pace a little and turn my head towards him.
"You're not going to lead me into a room with no cameras, where three men are going to pummel me into submission and steal all my money?"
I laugh a fair bit at this.
"No, no, nothing like that."
"I don't get it then. Usually, uh..." He pauses, wondering if he should use whatever word he's mulling over.
"Attractive women don't approach me and ask if I want to go singing with them alone. And they're usually not attractive women from bookstores with good taste in reading."
Oh, so I'm attractive? I guess he was right. Outer beauty can be beaten by inner beauty...
I remember Hisao telling me something that made me cry for a long time. It was after I told him about my feelings for him, because it didn't feel honest to keep them secret from him or my long time friend Lilly.
'I'm sorry, Hanako. I can't return those feelings, but I know someone will one day. You don't think so, because you hide from people.'
'You think that no one will ever love who you are because of what you look like on the outside, so you hide from them. But I swear, the minute you start showing what kind of beautiful person you are on the inside instead of being afraid, they'll ignore those scars. And so will you.'
I told him that it wouldn't change how I wished I was with him.
'Hanako, the thing that hurts me the most is that I might've been with you if you had learned this on your own. And that I might've been able to keep you from hurting right now.'
"Thinking about something?" Kouki asked me.
I smiled. "Nope! Just trying to remember where the karaoke place is." That wasn't true, but I wasn't going to tell him I was thinking about the one that got away.
The karaoke place was just a little ways down the road.
"So, are you going to tell me what spurred on all of this?" I shake my head, balancing along the curbing's edge.
"That'd ruin the fun!"
When we got there, the person at the counter recognized me right away.
"Ah, Hanako! Nice to see you again, it's been a while."
"It has, hasn't it? Work's been keeping me from having a little fun."
"Where's your usual friends?"
"They're out of the country right now." I glance slightly behind myself, to see if the look of understanding registers on Kouki's face.
"Well then, two people, an hour?" The woman asks. I nod and she gives me the usual cost, which I pay for.
Entering the room, I plop myself down, grabbing the little remote to navigate through the songs. A lot of them are from popular J-rock bands, some are from animes... I'm not so sure what I want to sing right now.
Then a cute, upbeat song I remember hearing a while ago flips across the screen.
Sakuranbo by Ai Otsuka.
It's a love song that used to make me think of Hisao and reminds me of my time falling out of love with him.
I pick it and stand up, grabbing a microphone from the basket besides me. Taking in a deep breath, I start following along with the lyrics on screen.
I guess this will be my final departure to my old self. Happy Birthday, Hanako!
As the initial guitar riff plays from the screen, I start putting all of my focus into singing along with the lyrics. I'm putting a kind of energy into my singing that just resonates happiness and cheer.
The song continues while I sway along with it. Finally the chorus plays, which is my favorite because of the melody that accompanies it.
I finish the song, even managing to get a high score.
"Awesome!" I declare, even giving a little bit of a fist pump.
I turn towards Kouki, pointing to his microphone. "Your turn!" Then I notice he's blushing a little. "What?" I ask.
"You're an amazing singer, is all."
I grin a little, blushing myself. I usually don't get compliments from Lilly or Hisao, mostly because they're so used to my singing nowadays.
"Now it's your turn, Kouki. C'mon!" I push his microphone towards him and he sighs. "I'm terrible at this, so don't expect anything at all like your singing."
I smile, patting him on the shoulder. "No worries, I don't judge. I've been judged plenty."
He nods slowly. Neither of us have to say why.
He ends up picking out a few popular J-Rock songs and doesn't do too badly. He's not the best singer, but it isn't completely laughable. Lilly and Hisao aren't the best singers, makes it a little more fun going with them.
Kouki and I take turns, sometimes even singing duets and enjoying ourselves.
After our hour expires and I finish off a bottle of water, Kouki asks me a question.
"What do you do for a living?"
"That's... not what I was expecting. You're interesting." He adjusts his glasses, like he's some kind of scientist trying to deduce the secrets of the formula before him. In this case, I'd be the formula.
"What do you expect about me, Mr. Kouki?"
"Well, I'd expect you to be a lot more shy."
"I was, but I decided today that I was tired of being that way."
We walked out into under the brisk evening sky, the sun starting to set. There was a refreshing breeze, which I took in like it was the first breath I had ever taken.
"Well, I'm about to go home, so I might as well tell you why." I take in a short breath and decide to tell him exactly why.
"It's my birthday."
"So... you decided to go out and find something to do alone, on your birthday, with your friends out of the country."
I nod cheerfully, a wide smile on my face that feels a little uncharacteristic for me. It's like trying on new clothes, it's a little stiff -- but refreshingly clean feeling.
"And that lead you to dragging me out of a bookstore to go singing for an hour?"
I nod. "Better than sitting home and surfing the internet."
"You are something, Hanako." He sounds legitimately surprised by how I've been acting.
I glance at him. I bet he's trying to figure out a way to tell me Happy Birthday or do more to celebrate it with me. So while he isn't paying attention, I decide to pull a small notepad out of my pocket (can't be without one at work, so it's become a habit) and start scribbling out a few numbers.
"Well, I hope you had an excellent birthday. I hope your friends call you and wish you the sa-"
But then I cut him off with the piece of paper.
"Why don't you give me a call sometime? We can always do this again. Or get dinner, sometime."
He looks from me to the paper.
"Absolutely. I'd tell you when to expect a call, but I think I'll let it be a secret for now."
"It'll be a surprise, then."
He nods, smiling. "Yes, it will. I had a lot of fun tonight."
"I did too, Kouki. See you around." I wave to him and turn away. No man wants a woman more than when they're walking away, after all.
I can barely contain myself as I walk through the streets, making my way home. Today... today was certainly interesting. I didn't expect anything to wind up like this.
Truthfully? I'm happy I did this.
I'm going to have to post on that imageboard again to let them know that my day went wonderfully. I doubt anyone will know who I am and I doubt anyone from the original thread will be in it, but I still want to extend my thanks anyways.
It's about five minute from my house when I get a phone call.
I retrive my phone from my pocket and see that it's a number from out of the country. It's Lilly, very likely.
Opening my phone and placing it to my ear, I hear her familiar voice. She sounds a bit groggy. There is about eight hours between us, so she might have slept in today.
"Hanako, I hope I'm not late in calling you! I wanted to wish you a happy birthday while it still was in Japan. How's your day been? I'm so sorry we can't be there to celebrate with you."
Okay, no more containing my excitement. I'm going to tell her everything I've done today and all the crazy things I've done that aren't a thing like me.
And how wonderful all of it feels.
"I've had an absolutely wonderful day, Lilly!"
Even in the worst of situations, flowers can still bloom.
Happy birthday, Hanako!