She counted to three.
Then all was back to the way it had been. The familiar light from her bedroom window leaking in and warming the sheets she laid beneath, the sound of Suga in the kitchen, burning the breakfast as usual. She rolled her head to his side where a little memo lay – the spot his head should have been.
‘You had another night terror.
Headache medicine in your drawer.
Breakfast will be ready soon.’
She let out a heavy sigh as her head throbbed with the memories of medicine and pills. She scrubbed her palm over her face, then sat up, stared at the little drawer where those numbing pink pills were, then got up and went to him.
‘I don’t need them. There is nothing wrong with me.’
As expected, he was tinkering around in the kitchen, digging through cupboard after cupboard while the pancake in his skillet turned from a golden brown to an ashy black. It wouldn’t be long before the entire kitchen was up in smoke. She debated whether or not she should help him, but ultimately sidled up beside him to take the skillet off the stove.
He let out a light grunt in surprise before absent-mindedly reaching for his pocket where his fingers grasped at a memo pad and pen that were no longer there. He clenched and unclenched his fist a few times before going back to the cupboards.
He was still not used to using his voice, and he probably never would be. It was one of those absolutes Shiori had to just accept, though some things were easier to accept than others. While his silence was understandable, the silence of the mansion was another monster all together. The museum was a lonely place. Shiori was lonely, too.
She stared at the burnt breakfast, no hungrier than she had been before, before slumping to her seat at the table.
Suga peered at her over his shoulder. Shiori pretended he wasn’t or at least that she hadn’t noticed, though she couldn’t help curling into herself, hiding what she thought he might be able to see. His scrutinizing gaze pressed into her for…
Then it stopped, and she was alone again.
Her body expanded back to normal size, her lungs deflated of her held breath, and sounds of Suga’s searching returned. It was so hard to go back to being normal when things certainly weren’t normal. She wasn’t normal. Her mind went back to the pills resting in her drawer.
‘I don’t need them. There is nothing wrong with me.’
Her head pounded as her mind attempted to dredge up so many memories – so many painful memories – all at once. She had spent so long trying to remember. Now, she would kill to forget.
Suga stomped over to the table, balancing two plates of burnt cakes and a tub of syrup in each arm. His eyes were trained on her fully, even as he set the table up:
A plate on his side, a plate on her side, and syrup in the middle, leaving the seats on either side empty, just as they always had been – just as they always would be.
She pressed her face into her hands, tears leaking and making small pools between her fingers.
The mansion was lonely, and so was she.
This kind of thing isn’t easy. It’s not exactly common, but it’s certainly not rare, either. I’ll prescribe you something for the headaches, and maybe something to sleep if you find yourself unable to. You just have to remind yourself to breathe – count if you have to – and remember there is nothing wrong with you. There are other options. I’m sure you’re not up to it right now, but… when you’re ready. You and your husband can come back, and we’ll refer you to a service that can help with these kinds of things.
If there was nothing wrong with her, why could she not do the one thing a woman was born to?
It wasn’t long before she felt the weight of Suga’s arms around her, clutching her tight, as if she might disappear. There were some days, she thought she might. Other days, she felt so very there and grounded, she wished she could.
His warm breath tickled her ear, and his scratchy voice slipped out in broken whispers,
“Please, Shii… just… talk to me.”
What was there to say? The doctor had said it all.
Mrs.… I’m so sorry, but your tests came back. They were worse than we had expected.
“Shii. I’m sorry.”
His counts are perfectly normal for a man his age, but Shiori… for you… there is nothing there.
Her voice was just as hoarse as his and paired along with a painful sob, “No… I’m sorry, Suga…”
Shiori… you will never be able to carry a child.
Her body wilted against his. So many memories mingled together that it was hard to tell the present from the past. Maybe if she hadn’t come back to the village, maybe if the Kotori Obake hadn’t found her child… Maybe, this was punishment. Repentance for all the pain and suffering that woman had gone through. The Kotori Obake had finally met her child, but Shiori would never meet her own.
She suddenly couldn’t breathe. Her eyes were cemented shut. She couldn’t open them. She was barren and blind, a rag doll being shaken until she tore to bits. Shiori had never realized she had wanted a child so much… not until she was told she couldn’t.
But she remained whole, intact, no matter how bad the shaking was. Her eyes flew open of their own accord to see Suga. He shook her gently, repeating her name over and over and over, as if he was still learning to say it again.
She counted how many times he would say it before he stopped.
Then, he stopped. Rather, she stopped him, gripping his forearms so tightly she was scared he might have bruises. His eyes locked on hers, and they just stared for a long time.
Finally, she said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I can’t give you what you want.”
He shook his head, then pressed a finger to his lips. He wanted silence. She wanted just the opposite. She wanted screaming kids and noisy footsteps. She wanted pestering, chubby hands and quick, bare feet. She wanted to scold a child for breaking something. She wanted to cuddle one when he cried. She wanted so much at one time, but none of it would ever satisfy her. She was empty, she was barren, and when she met Suga’s eyes, she realized she was selfish, too…
He looked broken, upset, and very much lost. He opened his mouth as if to speak, only to close it again. His silence was uncomfortable and lonely, something which Shiori was tired of feeling.
He could speak. He was able to speak at the doctor’s office. He was able to thank the doctor and tell him good-bye, but when the doctor had read the results and she looked to him for something… just, anything. He remained silent.
Just as he did now.
That was all she wanted, some confirmation that she wasn’t alone in all of this, that maybe he was lonely, too.
“Suga. Say something.”
He shook his head and Shiori released her grip on his arms, instead balling up her hands in to fists and pressing them to his chest.
“Please, say something!”
He just stared. She clenched her eyes shut and screamed.
“Please! Just tell me what you want!”
Her voice echoed through the house, a memory, until fading away completely.
They sat in silence for…
Then Suga opened his mouth and said, “I know… I don’t say… much, but Shii… I have what I want…”
He sighed and ran a hand through his hair.
“I… I don’t know… if I’m saying this right, but… I want you… and I want you to be happy.” He smiled, a firm and embarrassed smile, “Shii, whatever you want to be happy… I want, too.”
What he said and what Shii heard were two totally different things.
‘Shii, I love you. I hear you. I want you to know, I want you, too.’
The tears bloomed at the corners of her eyes again, but this time, she smiled. She reached out to him, and he easily fell into her arms where he nestled himself, warm and safe.
No matter what, they would protect each other… and together, they would be happy.
“Hey… I’m supposed to be… the cry baby.”
She didn’t feel so lonely anymore.
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