* 21 *

Around the end of October the following year, something snapped in my head.

After graduating high school, I lived in an apartment near my college. And by then, I had become very much a shut-in.
I rarely went to school, didn't have a part-time job or anything, didn't meet with anyone, didn't eat well, drank all day, and slept the rest of the time.
I didn't even turn on the TV or radio, nor did I read the news. I isolated myself from the outside world.
Other than going to the convenience store to buy beer, cigarettes, and junk food, I hardly went out there.
All my cellphone inbox had in it was stuff from agencies about finding a part-time job and newsletters. Not a single human name.

Ever since I found out my "replacement" existed, I had to compare myself to him whenever I did anything.
I became very self-conscious about how much better he'd do every little thing.

Thanks to this, even things that were perfectly ordinary before become all of a sudden unbearable.
For example, I'd never had any problem with not attending class in high school, but when I saw Tsugumi and my replacement - it seemed his name was Tokiwa - attending seemingly every day, it made me feel hopelessly alone.
Since then, every day I came and went to school alone, I was overcome with emptiness thinking how Tsugumi wasn't there next to me.

And this gradually started to happen every waking moment.
When I ate alone. When I watched TV alone. When I lay in bed alone. When I went shopping alone.
I was aware of Tsugumi not being there all the time, and I was stricken with a sense of loss.

When I walked through town and saw couples in high school and whatnot, I was wordless.
Tsugumi and Tokiwa must've always been having dates in uniform like that, I thought. I couldn't get over it.
On days they stayed late for clubs they'd bike home together, on rainy days they're share an umbrella, on snowy days they'd hold hands through their pockets.
It was too easy for me to imagine.

And perhaps when I saw Tsugumi waiting at the bus stop that day, she was waiting for Tokiwa.
I knew how happy Tsugumi would be able to make me, and I probably knew how happy I would be able to make her.
And so I felt empty.

I was devastatingly wounded. Unfortunately, all I did to try and soothe myself - look at pretty scenery, eat delicious things, watch emotional movies - had the opposite effect.
It just further reminded me that I didn't have anyone to share those wondrous things with.

I'd given up. There was really nothing I could do. I was only a step away from going mad.
That's why I distanced myself from the outside world, and numbed my brain with alcohol and cigarettes. Some of humanity's finest inventions, those.

Chapter 22

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