Chapter 00: Recollections | revised

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CHAPTER 00

It was a land of snow—white itself became a landscape of hills and valleys. She could barely tell where the ground and the sky parted. Snowflakes drifted from above, pirouetting in the air before landing onto her small frame. It filled the creases of her pink-lined white jacket and covered her brown boots, settling over her like a cloak of ivory.

Above her, the large clock tower emitted three sonorous chimes, the sound echoing as if the air itself were a gong and the clock a mallet.

Children squealed as they flopped onto the snow. One of the boys picked up a snowball and threw it at the girl making the snowman, the fluff striking her dark hair. She jumped a foot in the air and turned to the instigator. The boy asked her to play with them, but she waved at the half-constructed snowman in front of her in response. He shrugged and ran off to play in the snowball fight with the rest of their class.

They giggled as they got hit, tumbling over each other in the field. Excitement permeated the air, the promise of Christmas break etching giddiness on their countenance. It was as if they had no care in the world.

The girl smoothed out the snowman's round bottom, shaving off the excess snow. She clawed more snow next to her, preparing a new snow pile to form the second section of the snowman. Her gloves were soaked, and her fingers were numb, but that didn't stop her from continuing. 

A rogue wind blazed down from the south, curving into the Ouran playground. It drew low, rushing past the children. They squealed, hugging their jackets tighter. Along the outer edges of the field, the trees rustled, their naked branches clapping against each other like an audience's encore.

The wind passed by the small girl, too, and the girl shuddered, diving into the sanctuary of her jacket as her eyes stayed glued on her creation. She rubbed the body into its shape before her gaze lifted up and trained ahead.

Two young boys sat on a bench several metres away from her, their figures hazy from the thin veil of snow between them. She observed their blank gazes that occasionally broke when one of them moved his mouth almost imperceptibly and the other nodded in response. Other than that, they did nothing but hold each other's hand, staring at something the girl couldn't quite see.

When the boys first transfered here a few months ago, they were the talk of the school. Cute, smart, and most of all, identical. It was a rare occurrence that spurred the curiosity of everyone that laid their eyes upon them. At first, all the students wanted to befriend them. Girls would offer them chocolate, and boys would offer them friendship.

Yet for some reason, they never reciprocated the affection. Their eyes were always cold, distant, and bored, like they had something better to do than to socialize with them. After that, they were worse than hated. They were ignored, their existences erased by the student body, left to become nothing more than two ghosts that roamed the school. 

The girl slowly propped one leg off the ground, then the other. The unfinished snowman stood there as she trudged across the playground, dragging her feet in the sticky knee-high snow.

Once she crossed the field, taking care not to be hit by the snowballs, she entered a fresh batch of snow. While the rest of the field was trampled with footprints, the area around the twins was smooth. Untouched.

Her footsteps made squelching noises as she approached the two boys whom she was determined to befriend.

As soon as she stopped a couple of metres in front of them, the boys looked at her. They didn't say anything to her, not a greeting, nor a dismissal. She took that as a good sign. Gazing into their eyes, she smiled. "Hi, do you want to make a snowman with me?"

They stared at her without even a flicker of emotion.

"Which one of us are you talking to?" they asked in sync, clutching each other's hand tighter. She'd always thought they were telepathically connected, since they spoke the exact same words at the exact same time as if it were a natural occurrence. Perhaps it was, to them.

The girl tilted her head to the side, amused by their question. "Both of you, of course!" 

"There's no one named 'Both of you' here," they retorted. 

"Okay, then. Hikaru and Kaoru!" she added, giggling at their sense of humour.

"Well, which one is Hikaru, and which one is Kaoru? Can you tell?"

She blinked. "Oh . . . um." She exhaled a breath, releasing a thin trail of vapour leading into the pale blue sky. She hadn't expected them to ask her that. 

She wished she knew the answer to their question, but she couldn't say she did. She didn't know them well enough. They were always there, and she was always here. The opportunities she'd received to differentiate them were non-existent.

To her, they were identical to the point. They had the same phoenix-coloured hair and strange yellow eyes. They even wore the same white parkas and brown boots. Nothing gave away who was who. She rubbed her gloves together, her eyes darting from the boy on the left to the boy on the right. 

She bit her lip. "Well . . . " She decided to take a guess. What else could she do? "You're Hikaru." She pointed at the boy sitting to her left. She turned to the other boy, swinging her arm over to him. "And you're Kaoru."

The world grew silent for moments that seemed as long as eternity itself. The children's squeals became nothing more than the static of an abandoned television. Only the winter's winds made any sounds, murmuring like the soft hush of an ocean reaching towards the sand. She gazed into the eyes of the two boys as the sound of snow sliding off the tree and pounding the ground echoed in the recesses of her mind. 

She watched them. They watched her. 

And at last, they opened their mouths once more. 

"You're wrong." They kept a steady gaze on her, but she didn't miss the way their eyes changed—from the brilliant amber of hope to the dark red of disappointment. Their lips trembled as they spoke those quiet words, the smallest of tears forming in the corner of their eyes.

The girl swallowed a hard lump, feeling her own tears rise as well. From shame or from embarrassment, she couldn't tell. All she knew was that she hurt them. She gripped her hands tightly. "I'm sorry," she murmured, lowering her gaze to the ground. "Please don't cry." 

They continued to stare at her, the pain much worse than it had ever been.

* * * 

She never forgot that day, even though it happened when she was only a small child. The memory clutched onto her like a drowning sailor to his worn boat. She could recall the details with exact preciseness. The cold of the afternoon, of her fingers, and of their eyes.

The twins distanced themselves even more after the encounter, shutting out each subsequent person who tried to approach them. They went from being ghosts to being shadows. And not once did one leave the other's side.

On that day, she hoped to befriend them. She wanted to show them that the world was not as cold as it appeared, but that it was a glorious, beautiful place filled with magic. She wanted to share joy with them, like she'd been blessed with her whole life. But of course, she ruined their sole exchange and only made them more wary about letting others get close to them. 

I was the girl on that snowy day.

I was the girl who caused them to start playing their self-destructive guessing game.

But I could have certainly never anticipated that I would see them once more, under entirely different circumstances—them on the snow, and me on the bench. 

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