weeaboobs: let's get married (Default)
weeaboobs ([personal profile] weeaboobs) wrote in [community profile] narutobang_fic2010-09-05 11:27 pm

day eight: spokes

Title: Spokes
Pairings: Gen; character introspection
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Some language
Summary: They wronged her in life. And now, they'll come together. “Hinata was almost ethereal...like a monarch trapped in its cage, like pinwheel spokes in a harsh breeze. She was too fast - too fleeting - to keep." 5 people - Ino, Sakura, Naruto, Neji and Sasuke - in Hinata's life remember her after her death. **Word count: 14,048
Notes: At the time of the narrations: Hinata, Ino, and Sakura are all 16 (or 16 1/2), and in the same grade, 11. Naruto, Neji and Sasuke are one grade above, 12, all about 17 or 18. Sorry if this causes some confusion, but I didn't want all my characters to coincidentally end up in the same grade.


A Naruto fanfiction




Everyone noticed the empty seat in class.

October 15. First period Pre-Calc. Everyone hurried to their desks, trying not to be late. They talked about what they did on their three-day weekend. The teacher, Kakashi Hatake, passed out their graded math exams. It was ten of eight. A television was on in the corner of the room, showing the high school's morning announcements. The school's two newscasters, the cheerleading captain and the student council vice president, were promoting the upcoming track meet.

His students looked over their grades; some compared grades with others, while some hid failures under text books in binders.

Hatake had already written the daily assignment on the board in blue erasable pen. But he stood at his desk. Class hadn't yet begun.

Someone threw a chalk duster in the back of the class. There were giggles. Idle conversation.

And slowly, they noticed the empty desk. Seat 4, row 2 - the desk was empty.

A friend asked about her.

Where's Hinata? she'd asked. It was the first day back from vacation. And she'd never been absent. She'd won perfect attendance in junior high.

Hatake walked forward and clears his throat. This is where it began.

(Because she's dead.)


The teachers had met that morning, before all the buses had filed in and the students that had drove parked their cars. At the meeting in the library, they'd all been told. But how were they supposed to tell their students?

Some teachers stood at the front of their desks, absolutely somber and serious, demanding silence to deliver news that would shake them. (Mr. Shiranui.)

Others explained it in rushed and almost tearful voices, because they were still sad, unable to understand something so horrifying, so real. (Miss Yuhi).

Hatake wasn't sure how to explain.

He signed up for the job at this school just three years ago. But he hadn't signed up for something like this. Life's curveballs always hit him hard.

Yet somehow he managed to struggle through all the key words, heavy as lead. Serious – accident – weekend – mountains – wreck – wake – service – counseling. And he managed to avoid entirely using a word that seemed taboo – d-i-e-d.

All their reactions were different, just as Hinata's teachers had reacted differently.

Some were shocked. A few girls gasped in the front row. Some were too surprised to speak. But in all the classrooms, when it was announced – each classroom was absolutely silent.

Grief counseling would be available next week. The wake was this Friday.

Anyone could go, the teachers explained when some students asked after class. It was to help them cope. But the truth is bittersweet, especially after death's touch.


When they saw each other a week later at three in the afternoon, they were surprised at the faces they recognized in the semi-circle in room 205 B.

Tsunade, the school counselor, sat at the head of the circle in a rolling chair, clipboard in hand. Even death seemed all business.

They would have to go around the room and say names like they were at summer camp or a real therapy session. This was unnecessary. They all knew each other, in some way or other, already. And they had all come there – out of confusion, sadness, anger, regret, guilt - to face something they'd never expected they'd have to.

Some girls from drama club who had known Hinata showed up too. They were sitting together, all dressed in black teeshirts they'd decorated with her name. A few of her friends – the No Name kids, the wallflower girls – sat together too, sharing a box of paisley Kleenex.

But the others...

They'd wronged her in life. And now, they would come together for it.


Confessing is hardly simple.

The sign on the door says “GRIEF COUNSELING.” It sends shivers up arms; it makes others looks away. Those who were at the wake.

Are you willing to admit your deepest, darkest fears?

Are you able to say the name of the person you hate most aloud to everyone?

(Or maybe the name of your love?)

It's safe to say that not many would do that. So why would they confess to each other about what they'd done to her when she was alive?

Offender #1 - dumped her.

Offender #2 - hated out of jealousy.

Offender #3 - laughed in her face.

Offender #4 - cut off all ties.

Offender #5 -never said one word when she needed it most.

Tsunade begins the counseling session. “We'll go around the room and say our names. And then, we can discuss how to cope. Death is a very difficult part of life, but we have to face it.”

Easier said than done.

And now they'll all feel like they are staring her ghost - Hinata's ghost – in the face, as they remember.

I was very popular.

But she could see beyond to who I actually was.



::Yamanaka Ino::


October 15. I was getting a tooth cavity filled. I was going in late for school.

I was one of the last ones to find out.

When Sakura told me in third period math, I can remember how sallow her face looked; how her eyes seemed drawn and almost far away, like she was in deep thought.

“Ino. Hey,” she'd whispered.

I was filling in the last problems on my math homework. “What?” I'd whispered back, annoyed at being interrupted -

“Hinata...she's dead.”

The mechanical pencil I was using? I pressed it so hard into the page, the lead broke.

It's like this: you're sure that the other person is lying, and you're wishing so desperately to hear them laugh, to hear that it was a joke - but you instinctively know that it isn't.

When I heard her words, I shivered. And I didn't know why Sakura seemed so out of it, so depressed. Because I have more reason to be than anyone. Hinata was...used to be my close friend. Before I traded her in for the others. The cardboard cutout girls.


I first met Hinata in eighth grade. I went over and sat next to her with my lunch tray because I was so, so jealous of her straight, long hair.

I wished my hair, bleached surf bunny blonde, courtesy of drug store box dye, could look as naturally radiant and smooth as hers was.

At thirteen I was, and I quote: “that loud, kinda slutty wannabe” who couldn't find a place to fit in at my new public school.

I had to switch schools – thanks Mom, for getting a divorce – because I decided to live with my dad. And despite all the bad stuff going on in my personal life, I was solely focusing on trying to fit in. But even by the beginning of October I still didn't have any good friends. At my old private school I was always called to go to the mall or to do homework. At Konoha Junior High everything changed for me.

And maybe I had gotten so desparate, so in need of a seatmate at the cafe, I would just go over there and sit down next to the one girl I'd spied here who seemed approachable.

I seated myself beside Hinata, at the table of mismatched girls who ate lunch there because they had no one else to sit with but each other.

Hinata was surprised. She was so surprised. I'll never forget that look.

“Oh, h-hi Ino. I...how are you?” Hinata had said. She even blushed. She was so nervous. Like this kind of thing rarely happened to her...which was probably true. Painfully shy, couldn't pick a fight, wore these conservative kind of clothes that some older girls made fun of.

Still, I didn't care much about those things because I always gave everyone a chance. I never laughed at her, never laughed along with them about something as dumb as not speaking up. Because at that time, despite the bangle bracelets and bright hair and rolled skirts...I didn't know much about who I was.

And that hair – Hinata was so pretty, so how could Hinata not have friends?

(Good question.)

“Mind if I sit here?” I asked, smiling.

Hinata paused for a moment, then blushed and nodded rapidly. “S-sure! I mean, go ahead,” she smiled back, and I felt almost relieved.

We sat for a few moments in silence as she picked at the school's hot lunch and I drew shapes with the water from my water bottle onto the table. But soon I couldn't help but naturally start running my mouth off.

“Hey. Y'know how we have Geography together? Second period?”

She nodded.

“Well - the teacher's so interesting,” I said sarcastically, rolling my eyes. “I guess that's why I failed my test.”

She looked a little nervous; maybe Hinata wasn't used to talking badly about anybody. But soon we both were talking about how boring Asuma-sensei was, and then we talked about other things too.

I was glad she didn't have to sit alone anymore. How many times had I seen Hinata in the corner of this table by the windows alone, staring out at the parking lot like she was lost? I hated that. I figured, when I saw here there - maybe I knew that like me, Hinata could be searching for someone. So when I sat with her and she didn't tell me to get up, leave, go someplace else – I was happy.

I sat with her again and again, because I had one friend now – did I really need anyone else? We understood each other. We got along. Hinata was a fabulous listener. And could I ever go on and on and tell her just about everything: crushes, lame teachers, TV stars I was in love with. And at times, she could be pretty funny. No one even knew she could have a sense of humor.

“Hinata,” I said in Geography one afternoon, amused. “You know that boy over there, named...um...oh, yeah, Zaku. He asked me out.”

Hinata blinked, as if turning that over in her mind, before quickly turning around in her chair to catch a glimpse of him – then giggled. “How can he really ask you out if he can't even drive?” We both laughed at that, because it was true – I mean, how dumb is it to ask out a girl in junior high when you have to have your mom take you places?!

We traded phone numbers. I wrote down my cell phone number on a piece of notebook paper. When I gave it to Hinata at her locker one day, she turned bright red.

“Oh! Here. I-I'll give you mine,” Hinata said. I remember it was December and paper snowflakes were hanging all around the hallways.

“Here,” she smiled shyly and gave me hers. I smiled back. I knew we were friends, then. I wished I could have remembered that later.


Everyone has a secret, right?

I asked Hinata this once. It was near the end of the eighth grade. We'd remained close friends throughout the entire year. Before Sakura and I met.

We were sitting in Hinata's room and she was finishing her English assignment. We mostly went to her house to see each other outside of school.

I didn't like to be around my father. In other words: I had chosen to stay with the lesser of two evils – the lesser of two evil parents, that is. And Hinata's house was unlike the three bedroom loft I shared with my dad – it felt warm. There was an actual cookie jar on her kitchen table filled with chocolate chip-raisin.

Hinata paused. “Yeah. I mean...I suppose everyone does.”

She was probably thinking I was going to ask what her darkest secret was, but I didn't. I was prone to babble, but I rarely pried.

I shrugged. “Yeah. I guess.”

Hinata looked up and closed her binder. Her brows furrowed. Her eyes looked concerned. “Why? I – well, I mean - is there something...you need to tell me?”

I paused, staring at her desk – there was a purple mug filled with pencils, a tray of printer paper, a computer, a shelf with books underneath. “Charlotte's Web” was among the other grown-up titles like “A Separate Peace”.

Trailing a finger across the surface of the desk, I finally said, “No. I was just curious, y'know.”

So why couldn't I tell her?

I trusted Hinata. She was my Real Friend. Beyond all the dumb stuff, like the mall and hanging out and smoking and all that – a friend-friend.

I knew how messed up what I was doing was. Something too messed up for the Sort Of Friends in other classes to get, too extreme for them; bad enough for my dad to go ballistic and start screaming. My mom was never considered. I'd come close to coming clean, maybe getting healthy. I had no reason to hide it from her. But I'd chickened out.


I went home that night. At 11 PM when my dad was asleep, in the light of the fridge (ignoring the half full Absolut inside), I ate cold potato salad, a slice of peach pie; leftover tacos, and half a carton of orange juice.

I went into the bathroom and stood there, unable to cry, confused as to who I was, why I was so sad.

And I think you know what happens next.

But at least I had a friend, I told myself, when I went back to bed and tried to calm my racing heart. At least I could feel normal sometimes – when we were talking in class, helping each other with homework, talking in the cafe. And sometimes Hinata talked to me when she was upset too – she'd cried to me over the phone more than once about stressing over finals and getting into fights with her dad, who was weirdly strict. And thinking about it now...I wanted to keep that close to my heart. I didn't want Hinata to look at me with skeptical/scary/sad eyes.

Over the summer, I had to go stay with my mom. We said good-bye as my dad helped throw my suitcase into the trunk of his Lexus.

“I promise I'll e-mail,” I said as we hugged for the fifth or sixth time.

Hinata nodded on my shoulder.


You know how sometimes people go through these phenomenal, unexpected changes? How they're gone for a little while and come back a completely different person?

When I went back to live with my dad – after a tumultuous summer spending time with my mother and sneaking out with boys – and entered my first year of high school, I was...different.

No one knew who I was. But I was definitely no longer the bleached-blonde girl with dreams too large to contain, old wishes (like my parents magically making up) smothered.

At last, in this maze and battle ground of public school – I was the one to be envied. Newly tamed hair, glossy honey blonde hair, commercial on TV hair, hair no longer hanging down my back in an unruly and embarrassing way, cut above my elbows now. New pretty clothes, 'sexy' clothes, crop tops and capris, showing a tan from going to Cabo with my mother and her new boyfriend. “New”.

Hinata's expression, when she first saw me – she was confused. She seemed lost and searching.

Like we'd never even met.

“H-eeey!” I called to her when I saw her across our new halls, the freshman grounds. I ran up to Hinata and hugged her like I hadn't seen her in years, not months. And I pretended everything was the same, because I didn't know what else to do.

She hugged me back. I'd e-mailed her off and on during the summer. Sent a postcard once. But that was all.

“Hi,” she said, looking at me and smiling like she always did - then the bell rang and we didn't have the same schedules anymore. Because High school is so different. But I embraced it while she didn't.

“Listen, listen, I really have to go but Hinata, seriously – we HAVE to catch up, ASAP!” I grinned.

I waved over my shoulder and she waved back to me. I was going to call, “see you at lunch.” Except after comparing our schedules, we no longer shared that either.

When I got my first invite to a school dance by one of the most popular junior boys - I knew I was Popular. People liked me - my fashion, the expensive clothes my mother bought to make ammends, how flirtatious (slutty) I was. Suddenly my old crazy, outspoken, flirty ways made me It.

I was friends with lots of people. But I felt myself slowly growing miles apart from everyone else I used to know.

Talking to boys on the phone, dates with older guys; flunking out of a few subjects and going late to class. Shopping for new clothes. Still throwing up. But my parents and my old life – that didn't even matter anymore. I was happy now, as the school QB's girlfriend. I didn't have a choice not to be. I met a girl named Sakura, who was in the same grade, who dared to dye her hair pink, and we helped each other climb the slippery social ladder. We became best friends, sort of.

It happened that Hinata didn't fit in with this newfound happiness. How did this happen? I could almost feel us slowly drifting apart. I guess I could have stopped this. I could have if I tried.

November: we still talked, and sometimes hung out in study hall; I still tried to see her outside of school, but I was always so busy and had to cancel for whatever reason a few times. We helped each other with homework, but it wasn't the same, these kinds of things you can just tell, they aren't the same, y'know?

That day: me, in school, on my latest boyfriend's arm. Maroon lipstick, hair blown out, I'd lost ten pounds, fifteen years old but looked about twenty.

The scene: as I laughed at something one of his friend's told me, I happened to look over – and was it really Hinata standing by the lockers, just standing and watching us, backpack over her shoulder, hair tied back? When I looked again - and we met gazes, something was different.

Hinata didn't look at me the same way.

I noticed: Hinata was still as pretty as she was last year, still stuck in grade 8 but maybe getting prettier. She was smart, and she was shy, but she didn't need a bodyguard, and she didn't need me, and what about me needing her? Because did her eyes really speak to me: we're growing apart? Oh no, no, not possibly, we could still be friends, pretty close, because we were close so quick so fast -

Twist in plot: Boyfriend wrapped his arm around my shoulder tighter, tugged me along like I was his property, I couldn't say No. (I guess Hinata left to catch the bus home. I don't know. I never looked back.)


I broke down. Unexpectedly.

My tears didn't stop. I've cried numerous times over the same boy, over that quarterback-meathead I told you about, over guys who promised they'd love me forever, and though I hate to admit it, over my father getting drunk and his messed up life. But I was able to stop crying, eventually, over all that....

Sakura's words replayed in my head, over and over. Dead. Hinata. Dead.

What does Dead mean really?

I could sneak off with a boy in his car and have him drive me 80 miles per hour around the sharpest curve as we laughed and sang along to the radio, the volume blared high, without crashing. And even if we did crash, I'd somehow get up again. Because Dead can't possibly existl it's not real -

But it was there, real, OCTOBER 15TH, when I sat and cried in the bathroom stall. Death was there, with me, crowding the air. Some girl came in to wash her hands. I watched a pair of tennis shoes shuffle in and out. Then I was alone again. And I cried and missed a class period, and almost got suspended for it, and didn't care, because I hadn't been able to stop crying.


As I sit in this room I wonder: can I go back in time to that day in the hallway, ninth grade, after class; call her down to join us – no, just me, only me and her - instead of going the opposite way? We were just as we used to be, and I could have called her to be with me, go off smiling and laughing in that racing red car without my boyfriend and not-caring.

(Except we weren't the same.)

Naturally, during the group counseling session, they ask me how I knew her, why I'm here. In the past I didn't tell anyone that we had been friends. Not out of spite. Hinata wasn't popular and she never wanted to be. It was all I'd ever wished aloud for when we were friends, while she'd never wished for that once. It was the difference between us.

(I know it spoke volumes, it did.)

When Sakura asks me how I knew her, and the counselor stares because she's listening too, and they're all sort of listening - I tell her nothing, because I am so horrible I can't lie, can't mumble or mutter, can't speak, just so awful I can't even say anything for her. Only shake my head and bite my cheek and squeeze my eyes shut to stop the hot wetness behind my eyelids from slipping out. But maybe it's better I don't. Maybe....

It's clear to me:

Hinata was pretty, almost ethereal ... like a monarch trapped in its cage, like pinwheel spokes in a harsh breeze. She too fast - too fleeting - to keep.

I almost wish she'd never met me.

In class they tell us she's dead.

I write in an 8 instead of a 9 for problem #15 on my geometry homework. I hear a pencil drop.

Someone stifles a gasp.

Why do girls have to die?

::S P O K E S::


::Haruno Sakura::


She sat next to me in English class next year, and I marveled at her handwriting.
Hinata's handwriting was neat and beautiful. Perfect Catholic school cursive. And I was always sort of jealous of her - but of course I had difficulty admitting this even to myself, because she was lost in the social fray and was not the type to be envied. Yet in her own way, she was special. Different.

We never really spoke that much. I'm not sure why exactly. But I know now that maybe it was because some strange and unreasonable dislike for her was always lingering in my chest whenever she stared at me with those ugly pale eyes...
But Hinata's not ugly anymore. She's beautiful. Even as a corpse.


I went to the wake because I was forced to go. I'm not sure why I didn't put up a fight. I could have refused to go, but because I am in the drama club and the drama club voted on going "as a group", I wasn't exempt from this whole affair. Because Hinata was in drama club. We had lost one of our own.

Everyone knew Hinata was asked to help sew costumes, yet no one took much notice of her. She helped mend gowns for Renaissance women when we put on A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. We saw her add glitter to fairy wings, and add sequins to fancy flapper dresses. Yet we hardly ever never asked her to attend our after parties, to celebrate finishing our shows, because Hinata was always so polite that she'd refuse anyway.

(Was she really that transparent?)

We were told to dress in head to toe black - and it was so ridiculous, so over-the-top-macabre I almost laughed. Yet I found myself spending a half an hour digging through my winter clothes bin to find a black shirt to wear.

The day of the wake, I got up fifteen minutes late. I squeezed too much Crest out of the toothpaste tube. I tripped on my untied shoelaces and almost fell down the stairs. At eight-ten my doorbell rang and I answered it with bags beneath my eyes because that previous night I stayed up watching old, bad B-movies on TV.

There was Ino and the rest of the club standing around my porch – 10 in all. We have a lot of kids involved in drama club, as sound stage and scenery and script editing helps make our shows put totally together. But only the real "actors" of this past show arrived at my doorstep to escort me to a funeral home.

For eight blocks we paraded as a throng of wanna-be actresses and actors, some with piercings, others with dyed hair (like me). We got a few odd looks from women crossing the street with strollers and glamorous jocks running alongside their golden retrievers. I contemplated if it was possible for me to casually make a right at the next street corner without Ino noticing.
Ino has been my friend since grade nine. In fact it was her idea for me to join the drama club - in other words, she dragged me down with her because irrationally enough she hates doing things like that alone. As we approached the funeral home, she took out a tissue from a flowered pack of Kleenex and wiped her eyes. And this got on my nerves.

"Why are you crying?" I whispered as we walked in together. Because you didn't even like her.

I remember she looked offended, almost appalled. "Because Sakura - this is a tragedy, OK? God."

Her words stuck to my skin for the rest of the day, ringing out in my mind whenever I felt myself becoming detached during the service.
Because I realized: this all was a tragedy.


We all ended up standing together simply as a group of kids dressed in black clothing too hot for the weather, leather pants and sweaters, at KONOHA FUNERAL HOME.

Some girls from our school were talking to some boys who were forced to go because of their parents, and I wondered why half of these kids even bothered to show up. The family stood near the coffin, giving hugs and consoling the ones who cried; then one by one, everyone slowly lined up to view the body, to sit before it and kneel, to pray.

I felt bile rising in my throat. I remembered going to my great-aunt's funeral and chewing on a hard candy I found in a dish at the front of the funeral home where we held the viewing. I bit down on it and nearly cracked my tooth when I got to close to the casket.

Too close to the body. Just a body all dressed up. That was how it was then and now.

My knees were shaking as I approached her coffin - hers, as if Hinata had ever wanted a coffin in the first place. It was a shiny tomb to be buried 10 feet under. I wondered how Hinata could rest while smothered by piles and piles of dirt.

Maybe thinking of her alive would help me feel better. But it didn't – all I could remember was how she ate cold spaghetti at lunch, when I saw her sometimes sitting at the drama club table, and how I always wrinkled my nose at it.

Ino stood beside me as we waited in the long line together to say our farewells. I felt almost like the walls were falling down and closing in, because there was a dead body at the end of the room.

"It won't be as bad as you think," Ino whispered to me as she held my hand. But she didn't seem to be faring too well herself. One of our drama club members Tayuya, who wearing a black veil instead of her usual ski cap, slowly walked away from the coffin in tears, hand-in-hand with her boyfriend Sakon.

I breathed deeply and focused on the parents. Hinata's parents. A father, somber, and a mother, holding in tears to herself, head bowed, as relatives approached and offered condolences.
(The signs of the end to a life.)

Ino squeezed my hand as suddenly, it was our turn to view the body – Hinata.
Picturing Hinata eating the spaghetti at lunch – it was wrong. The pasta turned to worms in my head, because soon she would be buried, and would she dirt clog her pores, and smother her one day?

My head felt thick. The air was arm. I heard someone loudly blow their nose. She was lovely, in a loose-fitting, long sleeved dress, her legs in tights, feet not visible to me. Ino was crying. All I could hear was her stifled crying, quiet crying, as we knelt together, my legs, damp, sticking to the bench -

Suddenly I was drowning, drowning, unable to reach the surface again.


I had stood very still, hoping not to look at her close eyelids, her pale face caked with all that unneeded makeup, and decided then that it was her obliviousness that had bothered me the most.
All throughout high school, Hinata was not ugly. Yet she was not stunning either. Kids knew her because she helped with charity events, and she often got great grades in class, but she was content to be Normal. She wore parka coats throughout the winter and lacked “sex appeal”. If she wore makeup, it wasn't obvious. If she went to the mall, no one saw her there.

Basically, Hinata was a wallflower who didn't raise her hand often, who didn't go to school footballs games, someone who didn't appear much in our yearbook. She acted so withdrawn. In drama club, she'd never stop stuttering. She bugged me. Why was she so content with Normal?
But...did her death haunt others, as much as it did to me?

We shared classes together, but only spoke to one another if I needed help with something on an elaborate costume in the Club, or when we'd worked on class assignments in groups. We saw each other in the drama club backstage where I would sometimes make small talk and say my hellos and goodbyes to her. We never discussed anything or gossiped together, like the other girls did. We were never close.

(But I already had an answer, didn't I.)

I knew deep-down that I felt remorse. That Hinata getting killed wasn't like, some random kid in our class getting killed in a car accident or jumping off the side of a building. It was worse. And it did haunt me: or more specifically, the question did, The Question that dominated my daydreams and idle thoughts, all the way up to the viewing, maybe beyond: Did I purposely close myself off to her?

I've always been popular and social. Maybe I figured that we were too different to be friends. But I was never actually mean, was I?

(For someone smart, I was ignorant.)

Like a magnificent author whose worked was not known before they passed, Hinata became an instant celebrity in death.

October 15th, ordinary day, first period. 8:00 AM. I'm tired and almost hungover, because Naruto and I had stolen those beers from the minibar fridge and Hell, his dad is probably gonna kill him now.

Head-achey, too, I notice. Boredly writing down my geometric equation for a class that only the teacher really liked.

And then, Miss Yuhi comes in the class, pale, silent, and clears her throat, and we know to shut up.

"Class, I have some very terrible news. I was informed that your classmate – Hinata Hyuuga... she has passed away. Today."

When I was kneeling there, beside Ino, despite willing myself to look away - pretend to look, pretendpretendpretend - my eyes met hers and it was as if Hinata had never even closed them.

(You were afraid, weren't you? Because anyone else's beauty - her purity, would make you dislike yourself....)


Last year - no, almost two years ago - It was back when I first dyed my hair Cherry Blush; when Ino and I would giggle and laugh and do fake plies on the bleachers after school; when I'd cover her back when she was puking, when she'd cover mine when I was smoking, in the bathroom stalls.
It was another after school rehersal. Backtage, I watched Ino bound around on stage in our rendition of Grease. I was not talented enough to land a major role. I was an understudy/painter/good-for-nothing. Did this burn me up? Sort of. But I never said anything. I just had sour grapes.

Our auditorium was different back then. We kept all of our costumes in a tiny sidestage area hidden by a few curtains, in boxes and bins, because we needed all the stage room we could get.
I watched Ino sing and dance and recite lines with the others, like puppets on strings in a puppet show. I knew I was only good for painting trees and bushes on sheets and cardboard. She complained about not getting the lead, but at least she got a part.
Then, I heard rustling.

Despite being needed to “read lines for our star”, or give the lead actress Kin a line when she forgot what to say, I was bored, and a little curious as to who was behind the curtains. I saw our instructor, Shizune, clapping loudly and critiquing someone's delivery; it was my chance to slip back there and see who was making that noise.

Quietly, I walked through the side stage and peeked in -

- and there I saw Hinata trying on the dress the one I always wished I could steal to wear – it was Kin's dress, the very dress Hinata had helped sew and design for the scene where Sandy goes to the school dance. A silken princess's dress, a sparkling pink bow around the waist, with beautiful lace straps. Her back turned to me, almost like a stranger.

It was almost ridiculous. Like, out of a movie. Because the dress she'd tried on - it made her look more beautiful than she would ever realize, because she was meant to wear it and I never was.
How could I ever wear a dress like that and look so flawless without even trying? How could anybody? I scowled.

(Now I hate myself for my jealousy.)

I quickly walked away, back to my place backstage, back to my script, back to watching the practice. In that moment, Hinata Hyuuga was someone. More than Someone. She was the cheerleading captain who won a cheer competition. A Miss Universe contestant who just won for Evening Gown. A Homecoming queen. She was the true Star, not Kin, a perfect Sandy with the wrong hair color, perfect for the show.

I should have been happy for her.


My hands were shaking, my veins laden with ice, fiery pinpricks of fear, but I leaned close enough to feel that imaginary pulse beneath Hinata's skin and that imaginary heat radiate from her body, that was still incredibly alive, to whisper:

You were always prettier.

I'd fulfilled my own selfish wish to make myself feel better -

I fainted.

Ino and the others gathered around me, as some strange pressure had made me fall, from my knees straight back to the floor. I didn't come to until someone put water on my face and streaked my cheeks with mascara tears. I was back in minutes.

(Is that what dying is like?)

We didn't go to the mass or to the grave; that was private, for the family. I didn't get a chance to put a flower on Hinata's grave, or cry for her. But at least Hinata could take what I'd given to her. Some kind of truth, in what I'd thought I'd said.

Ino sat with me outside the funeral home. Why did I faint? I knew it was seeing her face, Hinata's face, caked with makeup...and the white-and-peach colored gown, that had made me remember the day I'd seen her with Sandy's dress...and God, I felt sick, I was going to puke.

I needed to breathe. Death crowds everything.

“I'm sorry,” I said aloud, almost to myself. Ino still had her tissues in her pocket, sticking out of her dressiest pants, the black Chinos we'd just recently bought together at the mall, just before school began. Who knew we'd be buying them for this.

“Ino?” I half-whispered.

Her voice sounded shaky. “Yeah?”

“Did you even know Hinata?”

I heard her drawn in a deep breath. Like she couldn't breathe either. For some reason, when you go to funerals for people you're not even that close to – and you see someone crying hard, or you feel the emotion crashing like a tidal wave in the entire room, you can get overwhelmed, and suddenly you're sucked in, and you're depressed too.

“In middle school, I....” Ino's eyes looked far away. She bit her lip twirled the butterfly ring on her finger.

Ino rubbed her eyes with her shirtsleeve sleeve. I wasn't going to point out that she was smearing her mascara. We weren't in school now and we weren't on a double date or gossiping or flirting with a guy. We were where things like that didn't – couldn't - matter in the least.

Before I could stop myself, I admitted, “I didn't really know Hinata. But I haven't been able to stop thinking: I mean, I could've. But I... I was kind of jealous. Hinata was really pretty but acted all, I don't know – she was just so blind. It was so, impossible...annoying....”

There was a pause. And then I spoke, my voice shaking in disbelief. (Oh. God.)

“Wow. I really can't believe I just said that.”

Ino sniffed. “Hinata was... just kind of lucky, y'know?”

Even though I didn't really understand what she fully meant, I never disagreed.

It was September and I was finally a senior.

King of the school - of my own stupid, important little world.
Could you really blame me?



::Uzumaki Naruto::


It was a Wednesday.

(Two weeks before it happened.)

It was only October; the start of my senior year.

(And I felt like no one could touch me.)

She told me she loved me.
(I laughed.)


What was so special about Hinata Hyuuga? No - where had I even seen her before?

I tried to remember. I really did.

I thought back to the previous year when I was a Junior. As a newly instated Senior I thought I'd feel like I was on top of the world, or more realistically the high school food chain. But, as usual, I was wrong. Because right now, as one of the Seniors, “Mr. Slick,” I'm not untouchable. I never actually was.

As a junior I was an Underachiever. I had Chemistry with a trampy blonde named Ino, Gym with my ninth grade crush Sakura. I didn't care too much about history because the teacher was a real bore, and my electives were either a pain in the ass or a waste of my time.

I couldn't recall Hinata being in any of them - my classes, I mean.

Maybe Ino distracted me from Hinata. Ino and I always end up taking a course together. Our last names both fall near the end of the alphabet. But I don't really know how the placement systems work. Anyway. Ino always wears flashy tops to show off her belly button piercing (like she's proud from having some needle and cork shoved through her stomach). She really is distracting. Guess I've always liked blondes.

Then again, that's not true. Because for as long as I can remember, well, since grade nine, I've been over the moon for this pink haired girl named Sakura. Maybe you've heard of her – she does theatre sometimes, and last year she actually got a chance to be in the play when she filled in as some chick's understudy? She had a pretty major part. Still – that hair is unmistakable.

But Sakura's more than just pink hair. She's the girl who sat beside me in homeroom, and>/i> let me copy her history notes just that once when I really needed them; who made me fall in love with her just by throwing a half-smile my way, or saying 'hey!' to me (or maybe it was my group of friends) in the hall. I'm still secretly pining. Thinking back to Gym class with her, she was always so into the game. Naturally I always jumped for a chance to be on her team.
The girls in History and my electives? If you're wondering about them, don't, because I didn't bother with them. I mean, I was never serious about all the girls who flirted with me or gave me looks in Western Studies or Cooking. And Ino is like something encased behind glass in an exhibit: look but don't touch, boys (and girls).

But Hinata....

I couldn't remember how I knew her in Junior year until I later told one of my friends, Uchiha (I'm-So-Tortured-By-My-Own-Accidental-Popularity) Sasuke, at lunch a day after it happened.
For some reason what she'd said was really on my mind. It was messing me up. It made me late for gym and look like a total moron in Kakashi-sensei's class. I knew I'd seen her somewhere, and was close to remembering where exactly, but I just couldn't put my finger on it.
(I couldn't wipe that look she gave me out of my head.)

“Sasuke. You know Hinata?” I asked. “Did I like, have any classes with her last year, or something?”

And like the jerk-off that he is, Sasuke replied, “She was your lab partner. Moron.”

And finally, I remembered her.


OK. Let's flash back.

The time: last year, junior year.

The place: Ebizu's chemistry class.

Ebizu isn't a bad guy, but he's strange because he's a chemistry freak. And hell, it's only what, the second week of school and he's shoving these atomic bonding theories down your throat? It's gonna be a rough year.

But your schedule isn't that bad, and a couple Honors classes means no extra schoolwork, and you're going to finally get a date with Sakura, and you're one step closer to School's Out Forever! so you'll get over it.

You plan to blow this off; a mediocre grade, C+, won't be too bad. Not bad enough for guidance counselors to get on your case or anything. College still seems far away. You're still kind of dumb.

You're getting assigned lab partners for the year because Ebizu's so thrilled to start experiments. You hope you'll get paired with one of the brainier guys, but then someone pulls out a slip of paper and your name is called it's already too late to wish.

For the next two marking periods, till Ebizu switches things again, you will be lab partners with this shy, timid girl. Hinata, whose name you will forget on multiple occasions, who will lend you the neatest study guides you have ever seen, who won't mind giving you the answers on a few impossible homework problems. Who will, for whatever reason, come to really like you.
Who you won't get a chance to like back.


Time went by, and I started to really, really hate myself.

No, I mean, I really DESPISED myself. I loathed myself. I was a jerk.




Just like Sasuke said. Man, is he ever wrong? The answer is, obviously he isn't. Then again it doesn't take a genius (though he is one) to figure that out. How careless I was, I mean.
And when she died, my guilt tripled.

I just couldn't erase Hinata's face from my thoughts. And in my morbidity, after her death, I couldn't stop picturing her dead in so many different ways. And in my dramatic, romantic fantasies, I scared the hell out of myself by questioning: did she kill herself over me?

Of course she didn't. She wouldn't have. They told us it was illness. That made it worse. When was she ever “ill”? How do things like this, just happen?

Hyuuga Hinata. She was quiet. “Shy”. Never bothered anybody. Content to stay in the background. But she was kind.

She cared about people, 'cause she did all this charity stuff. I even asked– back when a few days after she died, like a madman, when I was so confused and lost I was barely aware of what I was even saying to people – and found out Hinata was in Drama club too. Something to do with stage crew, or art, or whatever. I'm sure she had some friends. I'm sure of that.
But she deserved more from me.


My laughter was her knife and she was unable to hide how badly it hurt.

I stopped laughing. My breath caught in my throat, and my head felt a little dizzy.

I mean, a girl comes up to you after lacrosse practice and confesses her love to you? Actually, if you think it's uncommon, it really isn't.

Before...everything happened, for Senior year we ended up not sharing a single class together - besides art. I was forced to pick art as an elective. All the “good ones” had filled up: slacker classes where teachers don't care if you get a C- or about how good your bunt cakes or sewing projects are, were picked early. The art teacher is a freaking fanatic. Mr. Sasori is one helluva guy. Lucky me.

Hinata sat near my art table every art class, seventh period. The same day she confessed, Hinata had offered to write down my assignment for me when I had to leave early for practice. She was always doing things like that: offering to take notes for absent students or copy down homework or classwork for them. Some guys in the lockerrooms joked that she was like, Mother Teresa, “probably a virgin”. I never said anything about her.

By two-thirty, there she was, giving those notes to me. Like I said: art teacher = fanatic, especially with art history exams. She actually remembered. Sometimes, when people say they'll take down notes for you, they might actually do it and forget to give them to you, or just blow it off completely.

(Hinata wasn't like that.)

I remember: I smiled almost mechanically, and as I slipped them in my notebook, I took in her slightly flushed face, her downcast eyes, her hunched-up shoulders.

Then, she said:

“I don't know if you...remember me. But I – It's just...I really was wondering if you – It's kind of hard to explain -”

And here, she cut herself off mid sentence, breathed and started again:

“So I wanted to tell you. Just – J-just tell you, because it's been driving me crazy, and I think telling you will make it...go away. I think.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Tell me what?” I asked, curious.

Hinata briefly met my eyes, and turned two shades redder. Her voice was soft. Like she was about to break.

“I've known you since I started high school, and, and I reallythinkI..loveyou – and it'sokayif...youdon'tfeelthesame....Naruto....”

Pause – I can barely think, like I didn't even hear her right -

Then, Play, and it all sinks in -

And Stop, because I ruin everything.

I laugh.

Here, I laughed. I swallow hard as I remember my own laugh. That confused, dazed, clueless laugh, slightly breathless. A laugh born from my own surprise and disbelief. The laugh of a meathead. Insensitive moron. I know, despite how much I don't want it to be true – what I was thinking after she said that:

Who is this girl? Is she for real? Seriously? Have we like, even dated or anything? It's a joke. Gotta be....

(So, so stupid.)

Hinata's face crumpled. Her hands were shaking. She clapsed them tight.

I took the liberty to stop laughing because I wasn't even doing it out of humor. No of course it wasn't funny. It was just...what? I couldn't explain.

I smoothed back my hair. I needed to head back to the Gym for practice. It was too much for me – a love confession? I didn't think of myself as any Romeo. As we stood there, neither of us able to move, I was trying to recall if I did or said anything to lead her on, while it all just seemed so ridiculous.

“I'm really sorry...I mean, it's nothing personal - “

(No, of course it wasn't personal, you didn't care.)

“ - I don't think we really even...know each other that well. I mean - you don't know me. But I'm flattered you, y'know - you, uh, like me.”

(Hinata's face – still fallen, right?)

“It's just...I really don't know what to say. But I guess – thanks for taking those notes. Thanks a lot. And uh...I would talk but my coach, see, he's really impatient and I really have to run. Look, I'm sorry, OK?”

(You didn't have to say any more.)

After that Hinata left. She walked past me and said loudly enough for me to hear her, “S...See you tomorrow. Sorry about that.”

These simple words. Her stiff posture. Her strange placidity. It was kinda...shaking. “Bye,” I managed. Bye.

Two weeks later, when I'm in first period math, I'm told that Hinata Hyuuga died. Over the weekend. Passed away from being sick. She was on vacation in the mountains at the time. In October, in the mountains, it snowed.


I went to Hinata's wake. I was sick from lack of rest. It was Saturday and a few friends of Hinata's were going. Drama club went too. I was going because I felt like I just had to. Like Hinata would have wanted me there. Maybe for me to suffer from remembering, or guilt, or something.

I deserved it - to feel completely like hell over her just – just dying. Out of the clear blue sky. In a strange way I felt responsible for ruining some of her hopes, or hurting her in some terrible kind of way beyond fixing. I'd forgotten how we'd talked, sat next to each other for those months – forgot.

Throughout the wake I kept thinking, over and over: why couldn't somebody have just put me in my place?

The counselor, Tsunade, she's already gone over how to cope with death. There's check-lists for that kind of stuff. Now she's curious to hear how I knew Hinata.
So I speak with truthfully. (Regretfully.) “I didn't.”

We knew what had happened when we were children.

So naturally we were never close.

Yet when they told me she was dead, I felt lost.

::S P O K E S::


::Hyuuga Neji::


It was the fourth of July. I was seven. In just a few minutes we would watch greens, reds and blues illuminate the darkness. There was something magical about fireworks at that time.

That night, I chose not to light sparklers and play with other children in our family, all dressed in matching yukata, because I had something very important to do.

My mother was tired. She wouldn't see the fireworks. Draw me a picture, she'd said, though her her eyes were swollen shut.

I also was to look after Hinata, the smallest child, my playmate, my cousin; a sister to me. Our fathers were siblings. Our family was close-knit, so to speak.

Hinata had a tendency to wander away. Through the many times we played together as children, I can recall her being there one moment and gone the next. She'd scared her parents time and time again by suddenly disappearing. And when I looked near my blanket, where she had just been, I discovered Hinata had wandered off.

The first cannon boomed in the sky. I searched for her. I could hear Hinata calling my name. I ran across the grass - there she laid, crying. She called me nii-san, to which I never objected.

I took Hinata's arm and pulled her up from where she laid. I tried to take her to our blanket – yet she continued to cry and wouldn't move.

“I'm scared,” she'd whispered.

I pulled harder. I was angry. It was a time when I allowed myself to be overwhelmed with emotion.

And then, the first firework flew through the sky, above our heads, and went off with a brilliant crackling pop.

I had missed the first firework.

Red sparks flew down into the sky, shining brightly before they disappeared entirely.

I shoved Hinata into the grass and she was too surprised to scream.

“Never call me nii-san!” I shouted above the explosion and noise.

Say a prayer for your father tonight, Neji, my mother had whispered in my ear before I went to the banquet. Say a prayer for your outosan in heaven, on the first firework tonight.


Days earlier, I had not been able to understand.

Hinata was playing beside me as she always did, watching the television and licking the frosting from between Oreos. We were confined to this playroom, filled with this old TV and some toys. Something bad had happened.

I was not allowed to leave the room. Soon, Hinata was sent home to her house much later than normal. I had not seen my mother since the night before.

At such a young age, I was unable to fully comprehend death and its reprecussions, what disarray it caused. What it meant. I asked my mother why she cried. Who she was crying for.

And so I was told my father had died.

But even as a child, I knew: Death was a bottomless well. Once you fell in you could never return. I missed my father. I didn't understand. How could a life suddenly be gone? Disappear, it seemed? It was as if my father had never had a life at all.

I had a tantrum. I screamed. I searched everywhere, as if looking for something.

(Looking for someone.)

Tearing up the room. Throwing my things. Screaming at the housekeepers. Asking for my father. Wishing people dead.

On the day of my father's funeral, the housekeeper watched over Hinata and I as we sat on the sun porch and watched the mourners drive away in their cars. She was in the tearoom, playing with paper dolls, taking scissors and cutting out cardboard figures.

I overheard the relatives talking. “Such a shame. Such bad luck.”

Bad luck. I hated them for their words.


After my father's death, my mother took us out of the Hyuuga family's compound to an apartment building on the sixteenth floor. Naturally the family frowned upon us. We were leaving behind all of Hiashi's possessions, his home. We were gossiped about, my own mother called crazy - but she felt she could never return there, and I was childishly angry at relatives who talked about “Hizashi's younger brother”. I would no longer have to see Hinata, my uncle, my aunt or grandparents as often.

On the day we moved, our boxes were everywhere. I saw Hinata timidly holding a doll and hiding near her parents as they awkwardly watched movers carry our things into trucks. I scowled at her. I was cheated of a life that she had. It was unfair. I was confused. No one explained anything. It was all in black and white.

And Hinata - she had always been sniveling, whining, crying, and worst of all, pitied. She had everything. When I was most miserable I almost wished she'd lose her father too.

(I was almost jealous.)

I still saw her at family gatherings, at holidays, at school. Each year my mother and I still attended family events. When I grew older, I noticed Hinata was still infuriatingly withdrawn, underserving of the treatement she was given.

I was thirteen. The night of the New Years festival, my mother put a hand on my shoulder as I cleaned my dishes after dinner.

“You really must start to think of treating Hinata and your uncle better, Neji.” She spoke in poor English. I was taking American English class at the time. I could speak English more fluently than she could. She continued to try for my sake. It almost sickened me.

(Why was it all so bitter>)

Her words were like a hot poker on my arm. We hadn't associated much with the family beyond formalities for the past few years. Why change now? Immeadiately I asked for what reason.

“Because. We are not wanted. It was my mistake.” In her Japanese, my mother sounded impossibly sadder.


My mother had good intentions: she wanted me to befriend Hinata.

My mother was growing weary alone. Her sisters only spoke to her out of politeness. The elders did not associate with us. We were remnants of the dead. We'd detached ourselves from pain. Now it was my mother's regret.

I was forced to comply. That same night, New Years Eve, we drove to the family compound. Before we walked inside my mother said quietly, “Just try to be kind.”

Lanterns had been hung. Table after table was filled with food. The adults and older children sat at the long dining table. As it always was, according to tradition, the head of the family sat at the head of the table – Hizashi, with Hinata and her mother.

We were served food, wine, and tea. My mother's eyes met mine, sharply, when Hinata arose to pour herself a drink.

My mouth was dry, thick with a strange kind of humilation.

“Allow me,” I offered quickly, awkwardly, my voice strained. I found myself moving hurriedly under a tense yet approving gaze of my mother as I took the tea nearest to me and poured her a glass.

Everyone was subtly surprised. My mother spoke in a calm voice, “Neji is very polite, isn't he?”

I felt as if we were in a play, hoping we would all soon be told to stop playing our parts. The TV droned in the other room. My grandfather had already been excused to fall asleep on the sofa.

Hinata's father seemed to approve, with a smile and a nod in my direction. “Very considerate” was all she got. That was all that mattered to her, for whatever she was trying to prove.

(That were were all right? Not crazy?)

Later, as the adults drank sake on the porch, I sat upon the staircase, thinking. Suddenly, I saw Hinata walk in from the sitting room. She took a few hesitant steps toward me. She bowed. “T-thank you, Neji-nii. For pouring my drink -”

My voice was tight. “It was nothing.” I meant it. I wanted to add, 'Don't call me that.' It stung. But I said nothing else to her, and stared only until she left. There was no anger between us. Only a sort of strange indifference that she knew I had.

(For everything.)

On the first day back to school my mother casually mentioned at breakfast, “Why don't you help Hinata more, maybe tutoring her?”

I scoffed. I almost laughed. Here my mother was, practically grovelling. “Why would I do that? I don't like Hinata. Why exactly are so pathetically desparate?”

The silence between us consumed the room. She had no answer.


I can remember the last time we saw each other.

Around the first week of October, I was in school very early for orchestra pratice. Honors orchetra, in fact. I was asked to audition for the program. I heard it was good for transcripts.

I was gathering my sheet music from my locker when I saw Hinata.

She was there. Walking down the hallways. Why was she there so early as well? Even now I do not know.

Her face was almost pale and drained of color. She tried to give me a smile, but it was weak, as if Hinata was weak. She paused and said, with her head down: “C-congratualtions on starting your senior year, Neji-nii.”

The name. She said it again and again. But this time I hardly took notice of it.

I nodded. Brushed past her. Went to join the other violinists waiting for me at the end of the hall.

“Do you know her?” Tenten, one of our violinsts, asked me.

What I said surprised even myself. Maybe I said it because despite sharing a last name, not everyone immeadiately saw the connection. Or maybe it was something else entirely.

I gathered my instrument, and the words came on their own. “No.”


My mother was told me, her voice soft and fragile; a lingering sort of whisper, like a ghost.

The news channel had the date in the bottom right hand corner – 15 October – as the weather forecast faded to black, and a commercial for discount Halloween costumes came on. It was very early in the morning. I was eating an orange for breakfast.

“H-Hinata – she... she is dead. Very bad illness killed her, her mother very sick now too. She has died, Neji....” Her words, half English and Japanese, corrupted everything.

I heard myself asking, “How did she -” But I was unable to get out “die”.

I threw my plate in the sink, my arms heavy. I could hear my mother continue to speak – Hinata had contracted some kind of pnuemonia. It was worse than they'd thought. It had been too late....

I was trapped in a strange place in my head – one where I replayed over and over again everything I'd ever done with Hinata, and my feelings of discontempt.

At the wake, I felt strangely unaffected by her friends crying, my aunt sobbing, everyone grieiving. My suit made me feel too warm. I couldn't bring myself to look at the many pictures set up of Hinata when she was alive. Someone was serving fruit punch and cookies, and it seemed wrong.

I didn't speak with my uncle. I avoided my mother. Instead, I asked myself why I disliked this family so much – the broken, ruined family crying in front of me, praying for the dead. Why I had let my childlike grief carry me throughout my life.

But it was evident to me: it was impossible to go back to being a person I'd already given up. I could never go back. But my indifference for them – for Hinata– with her death, it became like a blade with a dull edge.

I could see my mother, finally reunited with her sister. In grief they were allowed to be together. Social niceties did not apply here. My mother held my aunt. I watched my mother cry like Hinata had been her own daughter.

It was painfully simple – what I should do.

My knees shook as I approached my uncle. The man I'd disliked most. Always the better man, my father had said, his voice ringing out in my thoughts. My stomach twisted in knots. My heart pulsed uncomfortably in my throat.

“I'm sorry for your loss. I'm....” I began, but faltered when I met his gaze.

“Neji,” he said my name, without scorn. “Thank you for coming.” And the man I'd once seen as the true head of the family - underserving, took a place my father should have had - had never seemed so lost and unstable to me.

I walked out of the funeral home before the wake was over. After viewing her body, I left. A girl from our school had passed out cold by the casket; another student threw water on her to wake her, creating a small stir. I quietly slipped out.

Outside I watched cars pass by. I watched as people walked across the streets, some carrying bags and brief cases, bags and children. All living their own lives, completely untouched by this, by us. By Hinata. Briefly, I marveled at it. I felt, for the first time in a long time, powerless.

Sitting here, now, in this room, watching kids I don't even know cry for her – the girl who was like my sister, they'd told me once – it makes me think about the night of that banquet, briefly. To remember to watch the fireworks this year, when the next banquet comes.

Maybe I liked her, a little.

Maybe I could have known her better. (Protected her.)

But I did nothing.



::Uchiha Sasuke::


I can't remember when I first met her -

But is that even important?

It's the thought that's been reoccuring ever since I found out Hinata died.

I try to remember where we first spoke – though to be honest we didn't speak much at all – or even when I first said “hello.”


Another reason to dislike myself.

But no – it's more like another reason to wish I hadn't been so dumb.

Me, dumb. What a laugh. Right?

Well, it's true. So you can start laughing.


After much deliberation, I realize that the first time we actually met was in student council, in junior high.

Her hair was in braids. I remember thinking, How incredibly immature. Like I was better than her just because.

Hinata was in one my advanced classes. She wasn't very good at English – I didn't share a literature course with her then, and she missed out on decoding some of Shakespeare's greater works in that class – but we had math together fifth period, after lunch. Hinata was one year younger than me. But she was smart enough to do work an entire grade ahead. “Special”.

This annoyed me. Geometry was meant for grade eight only, and so was student council. She hardly ever spoke up. Since school started that year, I'd only seen her raise her hand in math class twice; but I'd seen her test scores when papers were handed back and Hinata had gotten all As. High As. Which, of course, only added to my aggravation.

Yes, I admit it. I was being childish. But I couldn't seem to help myself.

And there she was, sitting in the guidance room, waiting for our history teacher to begin the student council meeting.

At first I thought it was a mistake that Hinata was there. Then, when our teacher walked in and passed everyone a form to fill out, including her, I realized it was no mistake. She'd actually been chosen to be a council member.

I had been one of the few students who had been forced to campaign for the position, and ended up becoming Vice President. I hadn't wanted the position of President; that seemed too pretentious to me – it wasn't my style. (This popular kid in our grade ended up winning.) And in the “campaign”, which in my opinion was entirely juvenille, I'd barely done anything. I've never had trouble connecting with other students. I was already chosen before I was forced to promote myself.

Why had I wanted to become vice president? Because it will improve my grades, and it will be my extracurricular for the year, I'd been tempted to say. Instead, I'd lied. I want to be vice president to ensure that I will help my friends and student body, I'd said. To make much needed changes to sports and clubs at our school. To listen to complaints and to help.

What had Hinata done, really?

I watched her throughout the entire meeting, waiting to see what she would do. I gave her credit that she told us her name and grade without faltering. It was clear to me that Hinata believed she was meant to be here. I credited her for that more than anything.

We went around the room and said all of our names. We talked about why we wanted to be on the council and what we hoped would be accomplished by Spring. We discussed what initial changes we wanted and what our first project of the year would be.

Hinata called me out.

Our history teacher agreed that it would be good for our first project to be a fundraiser during spirit week. I said we should have something to raise money for the school, like a raffle. You enter to win. Tickets cost sevety-five cents. The more tickets you bought, the greater chance of winning the prize.

Hinata raised her hand.

“I think it's a good idea, Uchiha-san. But...it's just – I think we should give something maybe to charity too. We should donate to charity and take some of the profits for the school. B-because – because if it was for charity instead of just a prize, w-wouldn't more people want to buy tickets?”

The other students agreed. And I sat there, silent, because a seventh grader changed my idea and everyone else agreed. For some reason, it made me feel stupid.

“That's an interesting idea, Hinata,” the teacher smiled. “In fact, it would be great if you and Uchiha could work on it together, as a collaboration. Wouldn't it?”

I was suddenly paired up with the youngest, quietest girl in the room.

“I-I'm Hinata. I know you probably already know my name, but-”

“Sasuke.” I was curt.

I was forced into working with Hinata Hyuuga. But I was subsequently forced to see her in a different light.


We worked on our raffle project for the next few weeks of October. The teacher thought it would be a good idea for everyone to pair off.

I wasn't happy about working with a seventh grader. I wasn't mean to her -at least I can say I wasn't cruel– but I spoke to her arrogantly. I always acted with that attitude of indifference I'd perfected.

Despite telling myself in the beginning that it was absolutely ridiculous that I, of all people, would be paired off to work with Hinata, I found that it wasn't as difficult as I'd anticipated. For one, she didn't pine. And...she didn't giggle. She flushed from her own insecurities, though not over asking for my phone number.

I can remember sitting with her in those same desks in the guidance room, three times per week, for one hour after school. She'd stopped stammering so much, which, as I'd bluntly told her, was obnoxious; I let go of my cautious approach, without realizing it.

Hinata and I talked about what charity we would contact and choose to support our raffle; how much of the money would go to the school's profits, and what the prize would be. It was an accident that I got to know her at all.

Girls, whether they were younger or even older than me, always seemed to ask too many questions. But Hinata...in a way, seemed different. Like she was genuinely interested.

“So...what do you – outside of school?” Hinata asked one afternoon as we stood outside.

I was very tempted to say “None of your business”. But Hinata had guts to ask me that. I said, “And why do you want to know?”

She blushed. “I don't know – it's just...well, we've been talking a lot about, er, student council things. So I figured I'd ask about...some other things...because....”

I shrugged. “I don't do anything in particular.” This was true. I didn't have many extracurricular activites outside of school. That was one of my reasons for joining the student council in the first place. I read and worked on honors homework. I rode my bike everywhere. Stayed out of the house as often as possible. It was completely uninteresting, I had to admit.

“I'm not very interesting,” I found myself echoing my thoughts. “I don't know why everyone asks me that.”

Hinata looked embarrassed. “Oh.”

I felt as if I'd offended her. As if she actually thought I did have things to do outside of the council but didn't want to tell. “It's true. I'm one of the most boring people you'll ever meet,” I'd smirked.

Kind of amusing.

Hinata smiled a little. “I don't think – you don't seem boring....”

“OK. Fine. What do you do?” I asked. It seemed right to.

Usually talking with girls got on my nerves. In truth, I wasn't too “emotionally mature.” Talking to Hinata wasn't as terrible as talking to other girls I knew. I think when I acknowledged her at all, it was startling. But it wasn't a bad thing that I did - it never was.


In school, when you're “popular”, everything is complicated.

Since grade school I was a loner. Some people were jealous of me, and I could tell. I only wanted to focus on grades, because my parents pushed me to perform at my best. When that kind of agenda is drilled into your mind, it's hard to think any differently. I became friends with few other students, some who didn't bother me constantly. But I was never on the same level.

I suppose I never totally rejected everyone. It just...happened. I knew that even as an accidental insider - someone who everyone wishes to be with just to be liked too, to feel like they are just as good looking or smart - I was secretly an outsider. I did not truly believe I belonged. I questioned: what did everyone see in me anyway?

Yet with popularity, there are some advantages. One being: your worshipped. No one questions you. No one dares. You're loved. And you never have a difficult time making friends, or getting people to like you.

Then again, is that an advantage? Or something like a disadvantage?

I recall it clearly, and it makes my stomach twist. It was a situation where you know you made the wrong thing. Where “popularity” becomes the worst thing. Where you wish people didn't care about you in the first place, where you're the underlying cause for everything that's wrong.

It was January. School was back into session. We were having our first student council meeting since the holiday break. After a successful winter dance, we were making progress.

At the meeting, Hinata and I took the same seats we'd taken since the beginning of the year – I sat near the the president, while she sat across from me. It was easier avoiding everyone who I was sure would bother me, while I knew Hinata wouldn't already.

At that time, Hinata wasn't really my “friend.” And I knew she didn't like me in the way that other girls did, for whatever reason, I didn't care. So, we had a sort of mutual understanding. We worked well together in student council, and could actually communicate, no strings attached.

But I wasn't a reformed person or anything. I was detached.

(I was the problem.)

We worked together that day as we always did. The teacher smiled and said, “Our best duo, back to work again.” This made some kids laugh.

Hinata asked me about my break. “What did you do on vacation, Uchiha-san?”

“Nothing too exciting,” I said quietly as I sorted through my old notes. “Exchanging gifts and seeing relatives.”

She was always asking me things like that, out of politeness. I found myself answering all of her questions. Maybe it made her happy. She didn't seem to have too many friends, that I knew.

After the meeting ended, I was one of the last students to leave. We were on the second floor now, in the seventh grade guidance room. I was a few minutes late, as I'd been writing down my ideas for changes we wanted to make in school activities and functions. It was already four-oh-five.

And as I shut the door behind me, I saw them at the end of the hall standing around a girl.

(It was Hinata.)

I really should have known what was going on.

I recognized Karin and a few other girls from the council, even from my math class. I saw Hinata, standing by the lockers with her book bag open, her books spilled out around her feet in a mess, her face bright red, her hands clenched into nervous fists.

I could gather what they were saying all the way down the hall.

The girls were yelling at her. They were calling her names, degrading her in hopes of tearing her down. Stay away. Back off. Loser....

In one brief second, I thought – thought - I saw Hinata turn her head and I swear – she looked at me.

(Help - )

Suddenly I was at the door, then flying down the stairs, as if I'd imagined it.


I didn't do it out of hate, or resentment for her.

I did it because I was a coward.

My actions made me just as good as the others I didn't want to be, the guys in my grade, in my class. No. Worse than them.

Isn't there someone better for these kinds of situations? Some fearless and courageous person whose unafraid to step in and threaten and look absolutely heroic?

(Why couldn't it have been you?)

When I walked down the stairwell and out the front exit, I saw my brother waiting for me in his car. I got in and threw my bag into the backseat. Itachi said nothing to me beyond: “How was the meeting?”

I shrugged. My heart was beating unevenly. I was deliberating if Hinata had actually seen me. I was trying to convince myself that she hadn't – that my eyes were playing tricks on me, that Hinata had never turned my way, that I hadn't seen her either. “It was all right.” We didn't talk on the way home.

At the next meeting, Hinata seemed nervous; she didn't talk to me as much. The girls kept staring; I felt tense. What had happened – it was ignored between us both. Honestly, I couldn't have betrayed her.

Even though I did.

I hadn't signed up on the student council to be bothered by bickering, fighting girls. I hadn't signed up to be vice president to deal with girls being jealous over me – I'd joined to get away from all that. I convinced myself, maybe for the sake of my own conscience, that the fight that day – it hadn't been any of my business at all. So why should I get involved, only to draw more unneeded attention to myself? I hadn't wanted that. I wanted to be left alone.

( I was selfish.)

The rest of the meeting, we discussed our plans as we usually did. I ignored how drawn Hinata's faced looked. I represented our ideas at the end of the meeting. She didn't ask me anything that day. I rarely heard her questions afterwards.


When I went on to high school and Hinata went to the eighth grade, we didn't see each other for that entire year.

But in tenth grade I ocasionally I saw her again around the school. Sometimes helping out, sometimes staying late, maybe for tutoring or for a club I didn't know about. She did a lot for charity. That was all I knew through what I heard.

She always managed to give a small smile.

After Junior year I quit the council. I wasn't interested anymore. And Naruto, one of the few friends I'd bothered to keep, actually became president. High school was a different place. I was no longer touted as the most popular person. I Despite being obnoxious, Naruto gives off a quality that makes him more likeable than me. He deserved his position.

I noticed Hinata wasn't on the council any longer. Whenever I caught glimpses of Hinata, I was tempted to go ask her just for the sake of it, Why did you give up the student council? I myself had no motivation to do it, but I know she did. In middle school Hinata liked being on the council. If she'd been more confident, she could have been president. I was curious. But maybe I wanted to ask her, just to make sure she didn't say It was your fault.

It was a normal day in the middle of October when we were told that one of the juniors had died. I'd been trying to organize my papers at the time, which was more important than listening in. It was almost time for second period and I had misplaced my history paper. I was planning on getting an A....

I wasn't listening until I heard them say her name.

“Yeah...Hinata Hyuuga. I heard it from some of the underclassmen. The teachers were all freaking out...like, they weren't sure if we should know or something....”

The bell rang, blaring over conversation and discussion over her death. I forgot to find my history paper until in class my teacher demanded it from me.

I felt numb.

I'm not a “nice” person. So I couldn't make myself go to the wake. I've been to viewings; they certainly aren't pleasant. Yet I felt I wasn't wanted there anyway. I heard from Naruto it was, as he said in one word, “awful.” I didn't ask for details.

A few days later, in my room I was looking for something in my closet. I noticed above my clothes wrack, I had a shelf of old folders, papers and binders with important information from middle school and my underclassmen years.

I was suddenly compelled to look through it. I reached up and grabbed a blue folder, bent at the edges. 'STUDENT COUNCIL' was written on the front in black pen.

Inside the folder, I browsed through the papers. The first thing I saw was Hinata's writing – all the notes she'd written in the margins, in contribution to mine. Her neat, perfect cursive made my writing look bad. She'd commented on all my ideas. She'd added some of her own. It was still all there.

In reading her writing, I was almost reassured that Hinata had been alive before. That we had ever spoken at all. It felt like a distant memory, longer than four years ago, standing beside her outside in the cold winter as we waited to get a ride home. I almost wished I could replay it, differently. I would have changed it, not in reality, but only in my mind. Maybe in doing so, I would be as good as everyone said. But I couldn't change it, even in memory.

I shut the folder and shoved it in the very back of my closet, past boxes of old clothes and shoes, photoalbums and books.

I don't know why I bothered coming here today. Grief counseling? Some people do these kinds of things. I'm not one of them.

Yet as the bell rings and the students in this room stand, I find myself asking:

Where are you now?


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