Hello! Yes, I'm still alive after so long. I'm so sorry for almost a year long absence. Truth is, for a long while, I've run out of juice, and then add that with demanding school work, I just couldn't write for a while. But I didn't want to leave this story hanging, so here it is. WBH's LAST CHAPTER. I had the ending in mind since the start of this story (the general idea of it) but it took me a while to put it into words. Thank you for patiently waiting and continuing to push me to get this together.
So here it is. I hope you guys enjoy this, as much as I had enjoyed writing the entire story!
Chapter 18: Home
Calling all passengers of Japan Airl flight 415 bound for _, Switzerland, to head to Gate 2 for boarding.
I repeat, all passengers of Japan Air flight 415 bound for _, Switzerland, to head to Gate 2 for boarding.
She heard it, she knew she did, but it just didn't register as her eyes are fixed at the LCD screen of her mobile phone reading and rereading the message she had just received a couple of hours ago.
And if it were a normal day, just any other day, she would have dropped what she was doing and rush to her friend's side with all the support and well wishes, and happiness her friend deserved. Perhaps also to have some share of her own.
But it wasn't.
Standing in the waiting room of the boarding gate as she held her carry-on luggage on the way to a once-in-a-lifetime career-making surgery, she stayed in place with half a heart. She knew her friends would understand; they've forgiven each other for worse. Yet something still didn't sit right with her, and maybe it wasn't just what she was about to miss.
"Aya?" she almost didn't hear him, but he calls her attention again anyway to be sure.
She closed her phone's screen in surprise and quickly tucked her phone inside her pocket. "Sorry. What was that?"
Shin raised an eyebrow in suspicion. "We should board now. Other passengers have lined up and gone inside the plane."
"Oh, right." Her voice was unsure as is her smile, but, thankfully, he didn't ask about it. She tightened the grip on her bag while her free hand held her passport and boarding pass, and hesitantly she took a step forward as her fellow doctor began to walk as well at her side.
She took a look back, unsure what she was looking for exactly, but looking. Taking another deep breath, she continued walking toward the boarding gate.
He took a breath to gain momentum right before he lifted and placed the big case of booze into the trunk of his car in one swift motion, the bottles slightly cackled against each other as he did so. He wiped the few drops of sweat forming beneath his blonde hairline while he watched his friend do the same with another case before finally closing the trunk loaded with booze.
Stretching his back from all the heavy-lifting, he got into the car while his chocolate-haired companion heads for the passenger door. "All right. We're good to go, right?"
Rei nodded in response. "We've got four cases of alcohol in the trunk. I heard the cake is on the way. And Yuuya's got the food covered."
Yamato grinned. "And you've got the address?"
"Yeah. We can input it to your GPS."
The corn-blonde police officer let out a big breath of air. "Wew," he said, turning the engine on and releasing the hand brake. "We've got a long day ahead."
"We can take it out on him later on. Get him drunk and all," said Rei with a hint of a snicker. "But if you ask me, this has been long overdue."
"Couldn't agree with you more."
They finally got going when the GPS started giving directions. Thankfully they had gotten an early start that morning, considering the spontaneity of this gathering, avoiding the onslaught of city traffic for the most part of the day. They reached the highway without much fuss, receiving updates now and then of where the rest of the gang is and how and what time they will be arriving.
With that train of thought, Yamato could help but inquire about a certain raven-haired doctor. "So," he started off hesitant. "Is Aya going to be able to make it tonight? Her flight to Sweden is today, isn't it?"
Rei didn't look at him but only straight ahead at the seemingly endless highway. And just as Yamato accepted his non-response, he said, "Yeah. She should be in the airport by now since her flight will leave in a few hours."
The blonde ventured once more. "She's going to Switzerland," he paused ever so cautiously, "with that other doctor?"
He was slow to respond, but he did so with a slight dip of his head.
"Are they…" he trailed. "I mean, have you guys talked, about, you know, you two?"
It was Rei's shifting of his body to face the passenger side window of the car as he stares into the long terrain of a mountain side that tells Yamato he might have pushed his luck just a little too far. Rei rubbed his chin with his thumb absently, sighing.
"I know she wanted me to stop her," he said without turning to face the driver. "It was just like last time, and there wasn't a moment then, as there isn't a moment now that I wonder 'what if I did?' Because," he breathed out helplessly, "why wouldn't I want her to stay? I want her to stay, and if I could help it, I want her to stay by my side."
"So why didn't you?" Yamato asked as if it was the most natural response.
Rei closed his eyes, rubbing his fingers over the lids as he snorted, defeated. "It's a lose-lose situation, Yamato," he whispered audibly. "I lose by telling her to go and pursue her dream, to grab each opportunity that'll help her get there because by doing so I just might be pushing her away." He leans back to the chair, shoulders falling. "And I lose if I ask her to stay, keeping her from becoming the best version of herself she could possibly be, and be the reason she might regret it for the rest of her life."
Yamato didn't say anything at first, taking in his friend's honest admission at the same time juggling driving them safely to their destination.
"You know, Rei," his voice was soft and understanding. "You shouldn't put all the blame on yourself. It wasn't a decision entirely yours to make, she made her choice too. And a relationship is a two-way street. You're not the only one who has to fight for her, you know? She had to choice to stay. She made the decision to go."
"So you think we just somehow always choose to let each other go?" he asked without looking at him, eyes hiding behind the back of his hand, so he didn't see his friend shrug.
"I'm saying she didn't have to make you decide for her." He didn't intend to sound mean, but he needed to be honest. "I've seen you two in this push-pull thing you guys seem to always do for the better part of a decade, and I know the both of you always mean well, and will always want the best for each other, while wanting each other. It's just, the choices both of you have made just always seem to put you both in different paths."
The engineer places his hand down, opening his eyes and turning just ever so slightly to take a look at his friend who kept his view on the road.
"I don't mean it as a bad thing," he added, feeling the chocolate eyes fall unto him. "And it doesn't mean that those paths won't ever cross again. I mean, she came back to your life, didn't she?"
Rei stared at him, slowly making embarrassment crawl up Yamato's skin for all the cheesy things he's said so he tries hard not to look into those judging brown eyes.
"Did anyone tell you that you should write a book?" Rei said in a tone so casual yet laden with sarcasm. "You seem to really have a knack for this whole relationship advice-giving guru thing."
Yamato snickered. "Having you, Yuuya and Tatsuki in my circle of friends? What choice do I have, really?"
"If the whole police thing doesn't work out for you, at least you have a fallback."
They laughed it off, and Yamato found it a relief to have his friend a little bit more relaxed given the day that it was that day.
The cold salty breeze of the sea hit his face while he lay among one of the long rattan chairs overlooking the beach where resort staff were hurriedly arranging seats and arches, and an assortment of orchids just by the shore the waters could no longer reach. He stared at the unknown beyond of the sea through his shades while he let his black jacket, folded in the middle from the inside to prevent creasing, lay on top of his lap.
Thoughtfully, his fingers tapped the square velvet box entrusted to him, playing with it to prevent himself from looking at his watch for the nth time and wondering what might have been if he'd chosen to be selfish that night.
"Rei," he heard someone said, taking him away from his thoughts. He turned his head a little to catch sight of the dark-skinned blonde coming his way. "So this is where you've been hiding," he grinned mischievously. "Dunno why I didn't think of this earlier today."
Tatsuki took his seat on the empty rattan chair beside the chocolate-haired man, imitated his pose, except kept his coat on.
Rei bristled. "Shouldn't you be getting ready in there or something?"
The blonde shrugged. "Been getting ready there since a while ago, my friend, while you, on the other hand, have been escaping your duties."
"My duty," he holds up the velvet box for him to see, "is being performed as we speak."
"And your best man speech? I better not be hearing some homespun delivery, I want it heartfelt, you hear?"
"You get to hear it when everyone else does," he dismissed.
Tatsuki laughed. "So why are you here?"
"I think the real question is, why are you here?" Rei countered. "Are you, perhaps, escaping, Tatsukichi?"
Tatsuki let his shoulders fall while he stares into the vast beyond, uncaring about the glare of the sun and his lack of eyewear protection.
"I heard about Ran," Rei said softly. "Is that why you did—"
He shook his head immediately. "No, no. That's not it."
"Did you change your mind?"
There was a silence, a telling one that would have satisfied Rei's question if Tatsuki didn't say his next words moments later.
Breathing in the sea air as if readying himself, he finally said, "I'll be lying if I said my resolve wasn't shaken." There was a hint of a faint smile of his lips, Rei saw from his peripheral, a defeated smile as if he was taunting himself. "It was Ran, Rei! Ran Kotobuki, my first love, my one who got away, the one I thought years ago was the one and I even put a ring on it, and she could even be my great love. How can I not be shaken?"
His laugh was empty, as if finding some cosmic irony in his own words that only himself knew and understood.
"She walked away from my life and I was broken, and then she came back with all the words I wished she had said to me two years ago when I knew it didn't matter what she had to say, I would have taken her back. I'm not made of stone," he said, shoulders rising and falling with the beat of his words. "When you hear everything you wanted to hear, even if it's a couple of years too late, how can I not think, 'what if?' What if there's a reason she's coming back to my life this way? What if this is our second chance at what could possibly be our great love story? It has crossed my mind more than I am proud to admit."
Tatsuki took a moment to catch his breath.
"Oh god, I've picked the worst moment to have my self-doubt." He rubbed his eyes with the back of his hands, pulling up his knees so that his shoes lay flat on the rattan.
"Why? Because of the wedding?" Rei mused.
Tatsuki chuckled. "You think it's bad luck getting cold feet while I'm at somebody else's wedding?"
Rei shrugged. "I don't believe in superstition."
The blonde smiled, finding comfort in whatever little words of wisdom his friend cared to share.
However their conversation was cut short when another person came in searching for the best man, and the two men saw it to be Miyu.
"Rei," she called. "The groom needs you."
Carrying his leather shoes with one hand and his black jacket with another, he stood up, excusing himself from his friend's company and walked through the sand until his reached the carefully laid out stone steps leading into one of the many cabanas of the resort they had reserved for the wedding festivities. It was quaint, all painted in white to reinforce that relaxing ambiance matched with wide wooden windows and screen doors that welcome the sea breeze.
Immediately upon entering he is met with Yamato who was having a difficulty putting on the vest of the three-piece suit his toddler was going to sport as the ring bearer with all the little blonde's fussing about (apparently the clothes were 'too hot'). When the father caught Rei's eyes, he pointed the best man to the direction of the groom's room.
He knocked once for courtesy and opened the door, catching the groom as he stood in front of a full-length mirror, clad in a white three-piece suit, as he was trying to make sense of his bow tie. He adjusted it a couple of times more before finally facing Rei, and asking him, "Does this look right to you?"
"Like I told you, before I went out an hour ago, it looks fine."
The groom fiddles the bowtie once more. "It's just… I mean I've worn bowties before, but somehow it feels a little uncomfortable right now for some reason."
"Maybe because, as the little three-year old out there had put it, it's too hot," he snapped. "Why did you two suddenly decide to elope anyway? And why on earth on the beach?"
Yuuya frowned. "This was the only resort we could book in its entirety on such short notice since the owner owes Mami a favor." He heard Rei sigh at his response before he proudly added, "Also, I didn't want to spend another night not married to her."
Much as the entire day (including the night before) had been such a busy and hectic one considering the surprising news of Yuuya and Mami's elopement to which they all had to be a part of, and much as they had to wear the suits and gowns tailor-made for them for the original wedding, which was originally to be held in an air-conditioned hotel, to the beach on a day the sun was out on full force, he can really find little fault in his best friend's words (or opted not to).
So he approached the groom in what seemed like an attempt to put the bowtie in place, but instead he pulls the white cloth from his collar and throws it to the floor. Yuuya gave him a suspicious look but Rei ignored it. "We're in a beach. Just ditch the bowtie and the vest, and open the shirt to the second button. And tell the father of the poor kid outside to do the same unless you want to feel itch throughout the whole ceremony," he instructed, taking a seat on the arm chair in the room.
Yuuya weighed his options considering that on the one hand he'll be going against Mami's fashion mandates and he's not quite sure that's going to be how he wants to start his marriage. Yet his immediate need for comfort gets the better of him when he removes his jacket in order to take off the vest.
"So what did you want to talk to me about?" asked Rei while he watched his friend change.
The blonde placed the white jacket back on after removing the vest and loosening the collar by unbuttoning the same. He sat down on the coach beside the armchair from which Rei sat. "I was just going to ask you if you have the rings."
Rei raised an eyebrow in response to his friend's dubious answer. "You already know I have the rings."
Yuuya scratched his head. "I was just making sure, you know, things can happen in between."
"You're nervous." It wasn't a question.
Yuuya's face immediately changed from cheeky to frantic. "Damn it, man, I'm getting fucking married."
"I know," Rei said each word slowly. "That's why we're all here, throwing a wedding that took you two nearly a year to plan in just half a day."
"No, no. I mean, shit, it's really happening, Rei. I'm getting married."
Rei narrowed his eyes, a sense of déjà vu creeping over him when he wonders why he was suddenly the go-to person for cold feet when he hasn't really had a good track record of sticking it through. "Are you saying…you don't want to go through with the wedding?" His voice was cautious, eyeing his best friend's body language.
"No!" Yuuya replied instantly. "No, that's not it."
Yuuya paused as if unsure what to say next so Rei decides to fill in the gaps. "So then what is it? Look," he said sternly, looking straight into his golden orbs. "She's my friend but I'm your best friend so if you need a getaway car I've got one parked in front of the resort."
Yuuya takes a gulp but doesn't respond, so the best man continues. "But if you need me to pour a bucket of cold water on you to wake you up to your senses, I can do that too. But you have to tell me something, buddy."
The groom took a deep breath, trying to collect his thoughts. "I'm just… I mean every groom must have been through this, right? I should have gone through this 3 months ago, then shit happened, and I'm just… I mean all of this, it's just a little overwhelming."
Rei responded with equal honesty. "Of course it is. You decide to elope with Mami five minutes after you decide to get back together with her." But then he softened his voice for the latter part. "You were hurt, and then hurt some more. So it's scary. Hell, even I'm a little scared for you. But it's only fair to be scared, it has to be, because then it means that you still have something to lose. And like you told me earlier, you can't imagine spending one more day not married to her, so you already know that your love for her trumps your fear of the uncertainty of it all."
Yuuya stared at Rei for a while longer, almost making Rei regret the sudden outburst of sappy advice. But then he exhaled a huge sigh of relief and regains his usual composure.
He closed his eyes a leans back to the couch. "I knew I chose you as my best man for a reason."
Rei snickered. "And here I thought you only needed me for my good looks for your entourage pictures." As he finished his sentence, he caught the throw pillow tossed his way by the groom.
"You're not that good-looking," countered Yuuya.
"That's not what the magazine said all those years ago," and now they were both laughing in a more relaxed atmosphere.
When they finally caught their breath from all the laughing, they stood there in knowing silence. "Thanks, Rei," Yuuya smiled sincerely. "I'm really glad you're here."
Rei nodded. "Wouldn't miss this for the world."
"I'm sorry about Aya," Yuuya added.
She gripped her bouquet of purple and pink orchids tightly, closing her eyes and taking deep breathes as she tried to calm herself down. At that moment, the only thing separating her from her ever-after was a couple of meters of sand and pavement that she had to walk through in her five-inch white Louboutins, and this made her nervous.
Releasing her grip from the bouquet, her fingers moved on to fiddle the organza of the layered skirt of her white wedding gown, not caring if she was creating a slight crumple on the skirt.
If she had her wedding as she had originally planned, she would have had her parents with her at that moment, comforting her and holding their hand. But she eloped without informing her parents (they were in Paris and would have never allowed for a wedding without inviting the who's who of the Japanese high society), and she wanted to marry Yuuya immediately, scared to lose him ever again.
At least she had her closest friends, well, at least two of them, with her to make her wedding possible. And even though it wasn't the grand wedding of her dreams, with the big flower arrangements, the orchestra playing as she walked down the aisle, the big ballroom reception, the father-daughter dance, and seven-tier wedding cake, still, she had come to terms that all she needed was the man of her dreams to have the perfect wedding. It was already a plus that her close-knit gang threw their whole day away to arrange as best they can a beautiful wedding for her.
Miyu called in a favor for the flowers, Yuuya's staff was going to cater the food, Tatsuki made a wedding cake for them from scratch without a night's sleep, Rei prepared the music, Yamato looked for a minister, and Ran helped decorate the venue. For all they have done, she will be forever grateful.
The warm touch of a hand on hers took her away from her thoughts and she found Miyu by her side and Ran right behind both wearing the pink bridesmaids' dresses that had already been made for them for the wedding that didn't take place.
"Are you ready?" Miyu smiled gently.
Mami answered back with a smile. "I know I am."
"Rei's about to start playing the music," said Ran to which Mami nodded.
The two bridesmaids took their place as the hymn started to play. Ran walked out first, then Miyu. And when she was alone, she comforted herself with the thought of the future with Yuuya, and their dreams, whether or not a child was in their future, she smiled to herself knowing everything will be alright. So she took her first step to forever, followed by another, and another in a continuous motion as she slowly but surely found her way to the aisle. And as she stood there at the end, she looked up and her golden eyes immediately found his as if it was the most natural thing to do, and she didn't even notice the tear that escaped the corner of her eye because she was too focused on him, and his eyes, that she couldn't even read his reaction. And if she could read it, she would have realized that the moment she stood at the end of the aisle, he was left breathless at the sight of her, his perfect, beautiful bride, and all he could think about was how she couldn't walk fast enough to get to him that he couldn't control his own tears until Rei handed him his handkerchief.
She shook as she walked, not because of the nerves but because of this inexplicable happiness that overcame her like one big wave. Everything around her was a blur, except for him, the love of her life. Closer and closer, she finally reached to where he was, and everything was perfect. Their eyes stared at each other from the time the minister started the rites to the recital of their vows.
"Mami… I don't even know where to begin," he said breathlessly and his friends laughed. "We've made it, my love. We're finally here. And it was a long and painful road that brought us here, and we've got an even longer road ahead of us starting now. And we'll have our ups and downs and roller coaster rides, because that's life. But there's no one I'd want to go through them with except you. And I promise to be true and to say the truth in complete trust in you. I promise to be your strength when you're weak, even though you never like to show your weakness, to be your verbal punching bag on your bad days." Even Mami laughed at this bit. "To be the arm that not only holds you close but also your shopping bags, and to be your companion in everything that life throws at you. I love you, always will."
After wiping the tears that formed in her eyes, she took a deep breath in preparation for saying her own vows.
"Wow," she said through the tears. "Hard to top that. But you know me, babe, if anything I'm competitive." Their friends laughed and so did Yuuya. "But truth be told, Yuuya, you came into my life unexpectedly and made everything better. Suddenly I felt that I will never be alone again. But you didn't only make my life better, you also made me better… a better person, a better friend, a better daughter. You loved and continue to love me for everything I am and even all those things I am not. So I promise to be competitive, not with you, but with life and what it throws at us. I won't let anything break my love for you, which will only grow stronger with time and with trials. I promise to love you even when it gets hard, to exercise patience and understanding above anything else. I love you, Yuuya, more than anything in the world."
Even behind the veil she can see him crying and she couldn't help but cry some more. She had promised herself earlier not to be a crying wreck but she supposed that's what waterproof mascara was for.
The minister went on to the exchange of 'I do's and rings. Yuuya was first to take Mami in as his lawfully wedded wife when he placed the thin gold wedding band onto her delicate ring finger, just above her engagement ring. Mami followed suit placing his wedding band on his ring finger, officially proclaiming him to be her lawfully wedded husband. And it wasn't long until the minister proclaimed them to be husband and wife. He removed the veil and took it over her head, placed his hand on her lower back pulling her in, his other hand on her cheek as he kissed her deeply, and she kissing back to the cheers and gushes of their few guests.
When they parted from their kiss, they looked deeply into each other's eyes and knew, they didn't make a mistake.
"I love you," Yuuya whispered.
"I love you too," she mouthed back,
It was a scene straight out of a romantic comedy film, really. The night sky was contrasted with bright yellow light bulbs stringed to wires that served as the ceiling of the reception of a party of eight as the bride and groom danced their first as such on a makeshift dance floor while their closest friends watched. The cold breeze of the sea complimented the warmth of the bonfire on the shore a short distance from where they sat. And the waves, well, they represented exactly what Rei felt that night—an overwhelming rush of emotions when he remembers the events that had transpired that day, and then an almost instant sense of emptiness when the one that didn't comes to mind.
So he sat there, beer in one hand, arm outstretched on the one roundtable where the only guests to the wedding sat, mindlessly watching the couple sway and glide to the rhythm of their song, and oblivious when the same suddenly ended as well. It was the nudging from the older Kotobuki that kept him up to speed.
"It's time for your speech, Rei," his smile almost a snicker.
He raised an eyebrow until he remembered what his other role in this wedding was, a role he was never prepared for to begin with. He stood up, almost unsure, taking a glass of wine with him as the bride and groom take their seat in full view of the speaker.
"Um," he coughed. There was a bit of jeering from his few male friends which his chose to ignore. "Shit. So, uh, we're here, surprisingly, I might add. And you're there, the both of you," he gestureed to the newly wed. "Married. Finally." He hears some laughter from his small audience. "I mean, thank god."
"You're not very good at this, buddy," laughed Yuuya.
Rei frowned at him. "Can't say you weren't warned though," he countered.
He takes a moment to collect his thoughts, something he should have considered while the couple was dancing, and his friends patiently waited for him to resume.
"I've known Yuuya for more than half my life, and growing up with him was simple because he was a simple guy. No big dreams, just taking on life one day at a time—I mean he couldn't even manage his own allowance, who would have thought he could manage a bunch of restaurants?" He chuckled at his own words, the image of a younger version of him and his best friend comes to mind. "Then he met you… well, he met Ran first, but we all know how that turned out." Mami narrowed her eyes at him jokingly while she is wrapped in Yuuya's arms, but Rei is unperturbed.
"So, he met you, right, and he was all about college, and career goals, savings, and building a future he couldn't have ever imagined before you came along. Much as I suffered from his head-over-heels-lovey-dovey phase, and believe me, nothing is worse than hearing a grown man cry over his girlfriend's picture the first time they have to be away from each other for a long period of time—"
"Hey! 2010 was generally a bad year for me—"
"—Wasn't a pretty picture." He paused to calm the erupting laughter. "I have never seen Yuuya more in love and happy than I have when he's with you, Mami, and I've seen him through a lot—the three-nights-no-sleep to finish a video game, camping out for concert tickets to a metallic band that wasn't worth it, to getting drunk and waking up in a bathroom, not necessarily our own, to getting high before a final exam, to coming up with ways to propose to you, even to buying an engagement ring… I suppose I've seen him through his lowest times in life too—from your first real big fight, to his failed business venture that made him bankrupt, to your broken engagement." Rei paused to see if maybe he took it too far with that last statement, but there was no violent reaction so he continued. "And even then, at his lowest of lows, or even after that when he's strong enough to put on a mask to hide the pain, or lie about being okay, I could tell that, he wanted and loved you, Mami, just as much as when he first realized he was in love with you."
He paused, but this time not to check on his audience, but because there was a moment, right then and there, and from the corner of his eye, he made out a shade of raven from a distance. He held his breath thinking it can't be. But as he focused his eyes more, he caught a face, one he was all too familiar with, white and beautiful, and orange from the reflection of the flames from the fire, and still perfect. His chocolate orbs met hers, and he's sure she's looking at him when she smiles, although weakly, and he didn't even remember what he was doing in the first place at the sight of her. When she gestured her hand in a circular motion, however, he is taken out of his trance and he sees the waiting faces of his friends.
He blinked, trying to remember where he stopped, and when he regained his focus, he looks at her again while she leans in one of the pillars holding up the lights. He took a breath and looks back at the couple. "… I guess what I'm saying is, you are his happiness, even when you make him sad or angry, whether it's your fault or his, or even if it's neither of your faults…" Then he looked back up to catch her eyes. "Even when you leave… or while you were away— you are his happiness," he resumed his eye contact with the bride and groom. "And everything you've been through, especially the last couple of months, hard as they may be, have only made your relationship stronger. You both getting married, the way you did today, only makes us believe that relationships can go through the worst, but they can still make it as long as they let their love for each other lead them."
Rei held up his glass of wine and smiled. "To Yuuya and Mami, cheers!"
They all stood up, glass of wine in hand. "Cheers!"
Yuuya and Mami then shared a kiss.
"Cheers," a voice said from the back.
With stunned faces, they all turned to see the source of the unexpected voice, and they were just as happy to see her arrival, albeit late. They called her name in unison, standing up from where they sat to meet and hug the lady still clad in a trench coat and a small luggage on her tail. She happily met her friends halfway with open arms, hugging Miyu and Ran in one big embrace.
When they released her, the bride and groom comes in full view. Her shoulders fell as she smiles. "Mami, you're so beautiful!" she said, taking in the sight of the bride. "Congratulations, you two," she continued as they come into an embrace. "I'm so, so, so very sorry I'm late."
"Oh, Aya," Mami hugged her tightly. "It doesn't matter. I'm just glad you're here."
"We're happy you could make it, Aya," added Yuuya.
She smileed at them while they let go of their grip. "I'm happy to be here."
It was then that her sight fell upon his brown eyes, orbs that remained on her since the speech ended, watching her every move as if she was a hallucination conjured up by his mind that could barely keep her off his thoughts the entire day, a gaze so deep she found herself drowning in them once again. He hasn't moved from where he stood, but his eyes followed her around. She felt a flutter in her heart and she couldn't help but smile at him, a small but meaningful smile, and she worried for a moment when he does nothing, except continue to stare at her, but those feelings soon fade when his expression softens, giving her the same knowing smile.
She stared at the dance floor, at the two wedded couples as they moved in unison, wrapped in the arms of their partners, to the song at the background, a color of orange reflecting upon them from the flames of the bonfire as they sway. It was a beautiful sight, really, so beautiful that there was this heaviness inside her, a slight pang of jealousy, that made her feel a little guilty for feeling that way while when everything else around her was so full of love.
Rei and Aya went off somewhere to talk (finally, she thought) and Tatsuki brought Yuri back to the cabana to sleep.
Ran took a sip from her wine glass wishing she had something a little stronger than wine to drink. Maybe that way she'd finally have some courage to talk to Tatsuki, especially about what had happened not to long ago. They haven't talked about it, not that she had made any real effort to do so. If she were being honest, it was because she's scared of what he would say after he didn't answer her back then. Of course, him leaving her apartment would have been a clear sign of what his answer was, but the part of her that still loved him couldn't help but hope that a part of him still loved her too.
Then she felt a hand on her shoulder, causing her to jerk slightly in surprise. She turned back to see the face that had been bothering her thoughts all this time.
He smiled, and it's just as bright as always.
"Care to dance?" He held out his hand, and she looked at him confused while he waited for her to accept it. He tilted his head slightly to the dance floor when she still doesn't respond.
Hesitant, she took his hand and he led her to the dance floor. He spun her around in her flouncy yellow bridesmaid's dress so that now they're facing each other, and he gave her a reassuring smile while he let his right hand rest on the small of her back. They start swaying to the soft and slow music when she rests her head on his chest, taking her hand from his so she can lock them behind his neck. She closed her eyes and breathed him in, taking in the salty air, burnt wood, and expensive wine that come with his scent.
He was warm around her so she easily ignores the chilly night while they danced in small, feathered movements, not necessarily to the beat of the music playing, but to their own pace, to a song only they know in their heads. She closed her eyes and nuzzled onto his neck, he didn't resist, and instead rested his chin on her messy corn-colored hair. It smelled of sunflowers, which he thought fit her to the tee.
This is easy. Being with him was easy, just as it ought to be. For a moment, it escaped her just how much they went through, together and apart, as a couple and on their own, all of the choices she's made up until that point, the pain she had caused and everything else she had felt. Everything had been so difficult for her up until now that she forgot just how easy life felt around him, with him.
She counted a minute, but it may have been more, and it didn't matter, for if there was a way for her to stop the clock from ticking away, she would have done so without a second thought. If she could freeze that brief moment when everything felt right again, if only she could.
But their song was ending, and the movements were coming to a stop. His grip on her loosened and she felt the rush of the cold night between the empty spaces where contact with his touch used to be. She could feel it coming, dreading almost the next words that will come from either one of them.
When there was enough distance between them, she looked up to his face and found him already looking at her with his golden eyes. He cupped her face with his hands, his thumb tracing the outline of her cheekbone gently, as if remembering a not-so-distant memory.
He spoke first. "I'm sorry." It was a whisper, but she heard it clearer than anything.
He wasn't talking about last night and she knew that. Her heart twisted at his words, wishing he was referring to that singular incident, but she knows there's no use fooling her self.
"You're choosing her." There was a weak, broken-almost, half-smile that came with the words.
A tear fell from her face, it was a reflex to pull her self away because she knew more wanted to come running down her eyes, but he didn't let her because he knew she didn't really want him to let her go. So she closed her eyes, forgetting that they are in the company of others, and he caught every single droplet as they fell. He pulls her in and embraced her tightly, not caring if the make-up and tears stained his shirt.
"I'm sorry," he whispered again. He feels her shake her head.
"It's all my fault," she said softly, barely audible through her tears.
He hushed her. "No, it's not. It's not."
"I shouldn't have let you go in the first place."
This time he caressed the back of her head. "Things happen for a reason," his voice was soft as it was sure. "You deserve to be happy, Ran, you do. But your happiness, it's not with me. It's out there, waiting for you to seize it."
She wanted to believe his words, she really did, because she knows he meant it with all his heart. But her heart ached from the thought that she can't be happy with him, and him with her. She knew this was going to happen, and she had prepared her heart for this big blow, and yet, it still hurts all the same. So instead, she hugged him tightly, she held him close to her until the very last moment when she had to let him go completely.
When he released her, she felt his hands on either side of her face, wiping the tears away with his thumbs.
"I love you." It wasn't a last-ditch effort to win him over, it wasn't her begging him to stay. It was just something that she had to get off her heavy chest, something true, something of a good bye.
"I love you too," he said.
"Just not like before," she said, smiling through the tears.
"Just different from before," he corrected her.
But she accepts this nonetheless. She knew she had fought hard and long trying to come back from the mistakes that she thought she had made through the years. She has no regrets.
She liked the feeling of the sand going in between her toes and out, and then back again, almost like the water, except it was warm and like a blanket for her bare feet. His jacket wrapped around her shoulders; she liked the way it smells, like him. They have been walking for a while now, each holding their own pair of shoes lest they sink in the sand or get wet, and not many words have been exchanged. If she took a look over her shoulders, she's sure she'll only manage to see a glimpse of the small party they snuck out from just a little while ago. He walked in front of her, not that far, perhaps a step or two ahead, and she thought he's purposely slowing down his stride to match hers, and she didn't mind at all.
They stopped when they reach the end of the smooth path of sand, just before where large rocks start to gather to a trail that led to a steep formation of a cliff. The moon shone above them, and its light, along with those from the slightly distant festivities, is enough for them to see each other despite the darkness of the night sky.
He turned around to face her, and he found her beauty ethereal under the moonlight, but he didn't tell her. She could see his deep brown eyes glowing, as if penetrating her deepest thoughts, finding out the secrets of her heart that she's just about to tell him. She took a deep breath, and so did he, taking a step toward her closing the distance between them.
"So," they both said at the same time.
It cracked them up a little.
But she smiled, softly, almost knowing. "You look like you have a lot of questions for me, so why don't you go first?"
He did have a lot of questions, all of them coming at once, and he didn't know what to ask first. So he went with the most obvious one. "You're here," he blurted, and she raised an eyebrow. "Why?"
She chuckled. "Mami and Yuuya's wedding, of course! I can't miss two of my best friends' wedding again, can I? Granted, the other one didn't actually happen."
He looked puzzled to her, almost like her answer isn't registering to him. She found this funny because he was the most rational and pragmatic person she knew.
She tucked the strands of hair that waved across her face because of the sea breeze. "There will be other opportunities for me; other surgical marvels out there waiting for me," she said. He didn't buy it, and it's written all over his face. "I mean, yes, Dr. Hasegawa was furious when I told him in the airport that I couldn't go, and it will probably not reflect well among other doctors in the hospital—"
"Yeah," he quickly agreed. "You are crazy for not going."
"True," she conceded, nodding her head in agreement. She looks into his eyes, wishing they can say it all for her. "But… I think I'll go crazy in Switzerland, knowing that I should be here."
"To attend the wedding," he said.
"Yes, and well," her voice faded out.
He looked at her, waiting for what she's about to say, scared yet hopeful for the next words that will come out of her mouth. There was a minute almost of silence while she constructed what she wanted to say in her head despite the number of times she had practiced the line on her way over to the wedding.
"The truth is," she said solemnly, her eyes diverted to her toes as they wiggle unconsciously underneath the fine sand. She had lost all the speech she prepared so she decided to go with bare honesty. "I'm scared."
His face frowned, and she can't see the worry on his face. "Scared? Of what?"
She shrugged. "This," her right hand made a gesture of indicating the spaces between them, "us, or what might be us—"
"Aya," he said, his tone understanding and comforting.
She looked up at him, her dark orbs met his chocolate ones. "I'm scared of you most." She bit her lower lip as she crossed her arms in a defensive stance, raising her shoulders and then lowering them when his eyes asked her why. "I'm scared that I'll get hurt again, like before, all those years ago, if I dive into this. I'm scared of the uncertainty of us. It was hard, you know, picking the pieces of my heart back together, it was really, really hard." Her voice cracked on the last couple of words, and her eyes began to water when she remembered the past as the words came out of mouth.
He took a step closer, wanting to pull her into his arms and reassure her against all of her fears, but she held a hand up telling him to stop where he is. He fought the urge to take another step toward her, so he said instead, "Aya, it's not going to be like before."
"I'm even more scared that if you break my heart again, that I won't be able to fix it anymore," she said.
She shook her head. "But I think, I'm most scared of regretting not giving our second chance a shot."
He opened his mouth to say something back to comfort her, but closes it when her words sink in.
"I've been blaming you for not fighting for us hard enough, but I've come to realize that I, too, haven't fought for us with all I have," she said as she wiped a tear that falls on her face. "I've been putting all the burden on you to save our relationship then, and even now, wanting you to make the decision for us because I was too weak. I was so weak that I needed you to push me to pursue my dreams."
"Aya, that's not true," he interjected. "We've both made mistakes, but I was the one who was too coward to fight for you when I had the chance two years ago—"
"But I didn't try to make it work either, back then, I just let the wind push me around to where it wanted me to go," she admitted, not letting him take all the blame. "I didn't tell you what I wanted most of all, back then."
"And what was that?"
"I did want to become a doctor, save lives and be someone my parents, you and even myself could be proud of," she says. He opened his mouth to say something but she stopped him by shaking her head. "But what I should have told you then was that," she paused, taking a deep breath. "In all of the those moments that I could be proud of myself, I wanted them to be with you. I wanted you to be a part of my life, even if we had to be miles and miles apart for the meantime. I wanted you, most of all."
His eyes widened, mouth slightly open as he took in every word that was uttered. But his silence only made Aya even more nervous.
"I should have fought harder for us to stay together. And I should have told you that night that I wanted you, only that I was too scared to admit it, too scared to give you—us, another chance, when deep down, it's all I've been wanting since the day I came back home."
He didn't take another step closer. Instead, he extended his hand to grab her left arm and pulls her toward him. Her small frame hit his chest when he does so, and he let go of her arm so that he can wrap her in an embrace. He slouches so that his face is beside hers.
"Rei!" She tried to wriggle him off, but he wouldn't let go.
"It's okay that you're scared," he whispered. "I'll be the brave one this time, I'll be brave enough for the both of us." His words made her stop moving, but he couldn't see the surprised reaction on her face, and the mildly red blush that rose to her cheeks. "So go and do amazing things as a doctor, save the world, cure cancer, or just anything you want to do, I don't care what it is, I'll be here, I will never let go again, I promise."
Her heart skipped a beat, and the fact that her body is in complete contact with his makes her think that he may have felt that too, and in spite of the cold night air she felt too warm underneath his jacket. But it didn't matter; he was there with her, in that moment of complete vulnerability and long-awaited honesty; he promised to stay with her, and that's all that mattered to her.
Her hands rose from her sides to return the embrace, resting lightly on his lower back. She slapped it not-so-lightly, and he flinched from unexpected pain, nevertheless he keeps his arms wrapped around her body.
"Ouch!" He hissed, still reeling from the jolt of electricity that crawled up his spine upon impact. "What was that for?"
"You're so silly," she laughed, almost melodically, her laugh echoing in the sea wind, and he thought it was almost magical. "I thought I already made it clear. This time, I'm ready to fight for us too, okay?"
"Okay," he said softly, content. "But I didn't know that four years in America could make a girl so violent, just saying."
He didn't see her roll her eyes, but she slapped him again at the small of his back, and he flinched once more.
"I see that you spent the last four years learning how to tell jokes," she came back. "You've become real funny, ha-ha." But as she said so, regretting causing him physical pain when she made an oath to do otherwise, she soothed his pain by gently massaging his back.
She's taken by surprise when he tightened his embrace and snugs his face to her hair, she's sure he can feel her heart beating out of her chest by now.
"I'm really glad you're here right now."
Aya smiled as she tightened her hug as well. "I'm sorry I took so long."
They stayed that way for a little while longer, not minding the cold air or the freezing water slowly making its way to their feet. They were perfectly alone in their own little world, warm in each other's arms, thinking how did they manage to go so long without the other in their life, thankful that they found their way back.
Slowly, he loosened his grip of her, and the cold that she felt where his warmth used to be disappointed her, but she followed suit anyway. He didn't completely let go of her, his hands still gripped the sides of her arms, rubbing them so that she can feel warmer. Then he traced his gaze upward until it finally meets her eyes, glowing under the moonlit night and piercing through his very soul, eyes he knew could make him do whatever they told him to do and he'd gladly oblige. He lifted his right hand to put aside the bangs that swing in front of her face from the wind, tucked them, only to rest his palm on her cheek.
Blushing, she closed her eyes and she feels the other hand on the other cheek. Shyly she opened them and found his face closer than before. Surprised as she was, there was this familiarity, a belongingness almost, and even a sense of longing, that coursed through her body, such that as if instinctively she smiled to let him know what she's feeling. His thumbs carefully rubbed the rise of her cheeks, she noticed his eyes studying her own, looking for permission, which she readily gives.
He leaned in closer, and they can feel each other's breaths touch their skin; it makes the hair on the back of her neck rise. They closed their eyes, and she felt his lips in hers like it was the most natural thing in the world.
The loud and bursting sound of the fireworks replaced the serene crashing of the waves and various colors of red and yellow, among others, lit the pale sky above them, breaking the kiss before it could have really begun. This took them by surprise, each pulling back from the contact to look up to the explosion of colors dancing in the night.
Aya couldn't help but think that those were not merely meant to celebrate the marriage of two of their closest friends, but also to revel in their finally making it here. Thinking of this, she smiled in spite of the unwanted interruption to their sweet little moment. She felt a hand enclose upon hers, and she didn;t need to look to see to whom it belonged, the warmth that the touch made her feel is enough.
She turned to see him already looking at her, smiling with his deep brown eyes.
"Shall we go back and celebrate with our friends?" she asked.
He feigned a frown, sighing. "If we really have to."
"It is their wedding," she argued as they begin to walk, hand in hand, toward the festive lights down the beach where merry songs can be heard.
"I suppose we shouldn't steal their thunder," he reasoned.
She shrugged comically, "No, that would be rude."
He released the grip he had on her hand and swings his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close.
"What was rude was how their fireworks interrupted us."
"It was pretty rude, wasn't it?"
"Good thing they're paying for our entire stay here," he added.
"Then we should really take a look at their room service menu," she laughed.
He tilted his head to the side and plants a kiss her temple, whispering as he did so "I love you."
She looked up to meet his eyes and smiled. "I love you."
I don't know if this is what you guys hoped the ending to be, but I always thought this was the most natural course of the relationships I built through the story. I was supposed to add another chapter, like an epilogue of sorts, maybe I will, in the future, maybe it's own story and not a multi-chaptered one. So for now, this is the ending ending.
Thank you to everyone who had read, reviewed, and enjoyed (maybe even those who didn't) the story. This story evolved just as much as I did, grammar-wise, technique, story-telling, and everything else (so forgive my poorer writing of the earlier chapters). Thank you for sticking with me for the past couple of years!
In other news, I'm in the process of writing chapters of my other story, "Hanging By A Moment" so if you're interested, please take a moment to read it.