.:.ONE WEEK LATER.:.
“Kaori, I don't want you to go!” Matt wailed, sitting down on the floor and wrapping his arms around her legs so she couldn't walk.
Kaori laughed and patted his head. “I'm not leaving just yet, you know.”
Her trunk was sitting open on the bed, half of her belongings already packed. Mello and Matt had come to bid her farewell that afternoon, with gifts and promises to visit her as often as they could.
“Matt, quit being such a baby,” Mello said, rolling his eyes, but smiling all the same. He walked over and pulled Kaori into his own arms. “I'll miss you.”
She returned the embrace and buried her face in his shoulder. “I'll miss you too. But I promise that you and Matt are welcome to come.”
Matt didn't move from his position at Kaori's ankles, and Mello roughly yanked him up by his shirt.
“We have to get to class,” Mello reminded him.
“Come on, this is a special occasion – they should let us skip!”
“Matt...” Mello said.
“Fine...” Matt said sulkily. “Bye, Kaori.” He gave a final wave.
“Bye, Matt.” She smiled as Mello took his hand and pulled him out of the room. I'll miss the both of you once I leave....
She turned back to her trunk and started packing the rest of her things; there weren't very many, but she took her time all the same. Maybe she was just trying to drag out the time...?
All of a sudden, she heard a soft knock on the door-frame. Turning around, she saw Near standing in the doorway.
Kaori smiled when he entered. “I was wondering if you were going to come by,” she said.
“Of course. I'm not letting you leave without saying goodbye,” he replied.
“Did you see Mello and Matt? I'm really glad they came to terms with everything...they're so cute together, don't you think?” she said cheerfully.
“Yeah,” Near said with a small smile. “Say, Kaori...you don't have to leave until this afternoon, right?”
“After dinner, yeah.”
“Then...come with me for a bit,” he told her.
They went outside and walked around the orphanage, talking similar to the way they had done when Kaori told Near about the adoption. The sun was shining, and most of the snow had melted; some children were playing around the orphanage, but they didn't pay attention to the two of them as they walked.
“Are you sure that...you want me to go?” Kaori asked him.
“I already told you I wasn't going to let you pass up this opportunity.”
“I don't believe this,” she laughed. “You kiss me...and then expect me to leave after that?”
“Kaori...” he smiled and shook his head, taking her hand and touching it to his face. “I care too much about your happiness to ask you to stay. It would be entirely selfish of me. Besides, it'll only be a year before I leave.”
“Yeah, I suppose...” she sighed.
Near let go of her hand and leaned forward, brushing his lips with hers; by now, this gesture was familiar to her. And by now, Kaori had learned to control herself. She no longer expected to be treated the same way that she had been before, and she no longer felt obligated to please him. Just being with her seemed to be enough for him, and Kaori decided if he felt that way, then it was enough for her as well.
When they parted, Near stared into her eyes for a minute. “I'll really miss you, though.”
She smiled. “I know. And Near...?”
“You better not fall in love with some other girl once I leave,” she teased.
“Now what other girl am I going to possibly fall in love with?” he asked.
“I don't know...Linda has a crush on you, you know. When I'm gone, she'll probably start to catch your attention...” Kaori replied with a smile.
“You must be joking. It would be impossible for me to love someone like her,” Near assured her.
“Just making sure.”
He laughed. “If someone had told me a year ago that it would be like this now, I would've never believed them.”
“Yeah, I guess same here.” She looked around the snow-covered ground. “I never dreamed I would...be happy like this. But coming here...I'm glad that things turned out the way they did.”
Near smiled. “Me too.”
“Hey, the results of the test are in!!”
The familiar crowd of students hovered around the bulletin board in the common room once more, eager to see what their scores were.
“Hey, I'm eighth!”
Mello sighed as he waited for the crowd to dissipate. There really isn't any point in wondering. I know Near got first again. But I...don't really care this time. It doesn't really matter anymore, I suppose.
Suddenly he heard a shout from one of the students in line.
“Hey, hey! Look at the first place!”
“What?! No way!”
Curious, Mello pushed his way through the crowd; Matt met him in the front beside the board.
“What are they yelling about?” Matt asked.
“New first place. I guess Kaori got it again,” Mello said.
Matt furrowed his brow and turned to scan the board. His eyes lit up moments later and he tugged anxiously on Mello's sleeve. “No way! Mello, look at this!!!”
“Wha...?” Mello followed Matt's gaze and could feel his stomach lurch when he saw the name at the top of the board.
“You did it!” Matt cried, throwing his arms around Mello. “You did it, Mello! I knew you could!”
Wha...? I made it? But how? Near always gets first, and this time he's three points behind me. How could that happen...? He looked around as the crowd thinned out, and could see Near standing in the doorway with Kaori.
Mello could have sworn he saw a smile on the other boy's face as he turned toward the boys' dormitories.
After dinner, L arrived.
Feeling that everything was settled, Kaori said her final goodbyes and followed him out the front doors. A few students looked her way -a few even smiled and waved- but it didn't matter. She smiled to herself as she walked down the driveway to where the car was waiting. As Watari opened her door, she took one final look back at the orphanage. It's strange, but...this place felt more like home to me than my own house ever did. It was here that I realized a lot of things. Sure I made some bad choices while figuring them out, but it all worked out in the end. She slid in the backseat behind L and Watari and watched the children playing out of the window. I can't deny that I'll miss it here...but it's time for me to leave. Soon Near will leave too, and Mello and Matt as well. They'll all follow their own paths, discover themselves as I did. One day they'll break away from this place and find their own happiness. Kaori could hear the key start in the ignition, and felt the jolt of the car as it began moving out the front gates. But no matter what...we'll all be together. This place has joined us, intertwining our fates...we're all bound to each other in some way. No matter how much we want to try and forget, we'll always have our memories. It's just how we deal with them that matters. But...I think there is always room to replace bad memories with better ones..... Mello, Matt, Near...before they were all distant, ignorant of each others' wants or feelings. But now their lives have been altered and their fates woven in with one another. I wonder...if I had never come here, would they have stayed the way they were? I wonder...if I hadn't arrived, would nothing have changed between the three of them? Maybe I was meant to come here, as my own destiny. I can't say for sure, but I know it's a good thing. The only thing I'm sure of at this point...is that no matter how deep the scars...no matter how unerasable the pain you've experienced is....there's always someone....who can help make it better. Someone...who can slowly begin to mend the wounds of the past.
And the four of us? We have all found that person now. Slowly, all of our wounds are beginning to heal...one step at a time.
-End of chapter 26-