- The answer
The wedding ceremony was glamorous and joyful. Sumiko and Kenzo were making a beautiful couple and after that, everybody cheered and enjoyed the party. With a beaming Hanako by his side, Ren was calm and polite, but very much silent. Half disconnected from what was happening around him, his thoughts were drifting away. When his father announced the renewal of the engagement between Ren and Hanako and that they were due to marry next June, the youth rose to his feet with a courteous smile, bowing politely but had nothing to say.
During the party, he danced Hanako dutifully, then taking Sumiko from the hands of her husband, took her to the dance floor.
-You are so beautiful, Sumi!-he said lovingly. Are you happy?
-Yes! How could I not be, Ren? I am very happy and I wish you to be happy, little brother. Take care of Father while we are on honeymoon,will you?
-Of course, Sumi! Enjoy your trip and don’t forget how much I love you!
She embraced him and left a loving peck on his cheek, then returned to Kenzo. The party went on till midnight, then guests and family spread to their homes, while the young couple boarded a plane and left to their two weeks trip around the world.
The next day, Ren walked to the pond and sat on the gravel shore, waiting for his Koi friends to emerge. Light was twinkling on the ripples as the red spotted white Koi swam up to his feet. Soon, the black one followed, waiting patiently his turn. Ren split the greenery between them and fed them slowly. The black Koi looked restless, swimming up and down, like looking for someone else to come.
-He’s not coming anymore, my friend…-said quietly Ren, swallowing the lump in his throat. It’s over….
The fish seemed to understand his words. After nudging gently his colorful mate, they began to swim back and forth, faster and faster, in a hypnotic entanglement, bending the layers of water into a swirling tail of shimmering froth. Then, with a coordinated hit of the tails, they disappeared in a final splash of sparks and rainbow droplets, like a shooting star in the skies of the water.
As the surface of the pond quieted down, Ren stood up.
-I see…-murmured the youth. He’s got an answer to his unvoiced question.
Two weeks passed and Kenzo was returning with Sumiko, content with himself, but eager to see Ren. He was missing him badly. Looking for the youth at the apartment,he learned that the tenant moved out recently but left no address. The young man was baffled. He asked around family and friends; but no one knew where Ren lived. He took a vacation, he was visiting his father, but aside from that, he had vanished into the thin air. Yes, he had spoken with Sumiko after they came back from the trip but he wasn’t returning Kenzo’s calls.
-What did he say?-asked Kenzo slightly exasperated, turning to his wife.
-He said that it was about time for him to become independent. Oh, Kenzo! Don’t be so upset! I think he needs a bit of time to sort out all these recent changes in our family life. He’ll be back when he’ll be ready. Anyway, I’ve told him about the party for our new home and that he won’t be excused-added Sumiko with a sweet smile.
-You’re right, my dear. We should give him a break. Let’s go out and take advantage of what’s left of our vacation !
On the other side of the town, an inconspicuous car was rolling casually in a street with neat but modest flats. He stopped near one of the buildings, waiting patiently for the arrival of a particular tenant. JT knew him well. There he was: a gracious, slender young man with dark, melancholic eyes. Kenzo’s confidence-man waited till the light turned up in the room of the apartment, then he sent a message to his boss: “I’ve found him.”
Two days later Kenzo was knocking on Ren’s door. The door cracked open and the youth was standing there, pale and visibly upset.
The youth opened the door to let Kenzo in.
-So….you found me- he said with a sigh.
He shut the door and showed Kenzo in. The young man sat on the couch, watching his beloved as he moved around, placing two beers and some crackers on the coffee table next to him. He looked fragile, almost ethereal and the bluish shadows underlining his eyes were speaking of sleepless nights and deep inner turmoil.
-Why, Ren? Why did you move out?- Kenzo’s question broke the silence.
-Because that was a place filled with memories I had to leave behind. You should do the same, Kenzo! It’s over! It must be!-said Ren, pleadingly.
Kenzo jumped to his feet and grabbed him.
-How could it be over when all I have in my mind is you?! I love you, Ren and I know you love me too! Look at you: you’re like a ghost since I’ve left!
-I feel like one….-said Ren and his voice cracked. Oh!…..
He buried his face in his palms, snuggling in Kenzo’s arms. “ I can help it… Aishiteru” he whispered. “Aishiteru” murmured Kenzo, kissing away his tears, easing the pain. “Aishiteru”echoed every caress that followed, each passionate kiss and intimate touch. “Aishiteru=I love you” was the name of the maelstrom of feelings that swept them away that evening, entangled, entwined, embraced….All the yearning summed up in the days of separation was bubbling up , unstoppable….
-I have to go now-said Kenzo finally, dressing up. Don’t forget to come to visit us on Sunday noon! Sumiko is cooking something special !
-I know-said Ren softly. He stood there smiling, reminding Kenzo of his first impression at the pavilion:“His beauty can put the Moon to shame.”
-Please, keep an eye on him, JT!- said Kenzo in the car. I want him to be safe and well. I count on you!
JT followed with increasing anxiety Ren’s movement after Kenzo’s visit. The youth made some small, odd shoppings, then spent most of Saturday in the park, sitting at the pond and feeding the Kois. He woke up early on Sunday and JT could see him through the open window pacing up and down his room. Then….nothing. No move. Silence. JT sent a quick message to Kenzo:”I think you should come here! Something doesn’t feel right.”
Ten minutes later, they were speeding up the stairs. JT opened the door with a spare key. They found the youth in the room, lying on the floor, gasping for air. Kenzo kneeled and held him up, shouting desperately:
-Ren!!! What have you done?!
-Itoshikute…..whispered the youth. Hold me….It’s cold and it’s…getting… dark….
Kenzo squeezed him, muttering helplesly:“ Don’t leave me, itoshikute….Don’t leave me, my shooting star…..Hold on….”
But when the paramedics arrived and then took him away, Ren’s already lost consciousness. The medical team took a sample of the liquid left in the glass on the floor, hoping to find the antidote. Slumped in the rear seat of his car, Kenzo was clutching to the pile of addressed letters left on the coffee table by his beloved, while they were following at high speed the ambulance. His mind was racing from Ren’s broken image to that of Sumiko waiting at home, unaware of the unfolding tragedy. How was he going to tell her about it?! He leafed through the letters and found the one written for him. He held it for a moment in his palms, barely touching it… but he was unable to open it yet. Instead, he slipped the small envelope in a hidden pocket of his jacket. He sighed, trying to calm down. The family needed him and he wasn’t going to fail.
Ren didn’t come back from the coma. For days, Sumiko and Kenzo kept watching him, hoping in a miracle. But there was no change for the better. Finally, Kenzo sent her home to rest and sleep, while he stayed at the hospital. Leaning back in a chair next to the bed, he was reading the diary of Ren’s mother. It explained a lot. On the last page, there was a line, written by her:”I don’t want to be saved!”. And right there, the youth has made an addition: “ I understand now, Mom! I know the feeling.” Reading it, Kenzo swallowed hard; rising his eyes, he looked at his love lying on the bed. He was visibly slipping away…Kenzo grabbed his hand, desperate to hold him back. As the new day was dawning, Ren quietly set forth to the stars, leaving behind all his loved ones in grief. After he was cremated, Kenzo took the urn of ashes up to the mountains, to that place where they were once counting stars together. He made that trip alone. Sumiko and her father were in no condition for such an endeavor.
Once arrived to the plateau, Kenzo waited till nightfall. He left the cabin, looking for the place where once they stood together. The skies were teaming with stars and the nightwind was whispering in the grass….He stood there,holding the urn to his chest, waiting for a sign.
The shooting star emerged from the depth of the Universe, crossing the night sky in majestic arch. It slowed down above the plateau area, waiting. Kenzo opened the lid of the urn and the nightwind slowly lifted the soft ash towards the blazing traveller…The shooting star blinked; then retook its flight, delving into the night and leaving behind a trail of sparks….