The Dream Chaser
By Ekai Ungson
DISCLAIMER: Card Captor Sakura copyright CLAMP and other related enterprises. Characters used without permission.
For a Moment
People's lives begin to change the moment they enter that shop.
There is an old bookshop in middle London, squidged in between apartment complexes and flats, a relic of the old, old city. It is small, warm, comfortable; dusty and musty, managed by and old, kindly man whose good-natured smile seemed weather-beaten, tried, and tested. It serves tea to its patrons, who range from any age from old scholars searching for youth, to young artists seeking life's meaning within rare, antiquated, often ignored books. Some of them never really go that deeply—these are the people who have grown up in the neighborhood where the shop has stood since before the very days they were born, situated in one of the out-of-the-way back alleys people almost always find by sheer chance.
He frequented that little shop, liked it because of the little knickknacks scattered around, like old, worn rugs, salt and pepper shakers from Namibia (although the true origin was debatable), a globe fashioned from clear crystal, etched by hand. He liked it because of the old, old music the old, old man played in his antique Victrola from records the sizes of big serving dishes. He liked the worn beanbags and the overstuffed armchairs, worn with time and weather, he liked the books and the tea—the old man made excellent tea.
There has not been a life that the shop did not touch, even in some very small way. There, friendships were forged and lasted lifetimes, there, people experienced an epiphany of something or the other—and he was not spared.
One day, the door opened, and the young man's life changed.
Hiiragizawa Eriol was sitting on a beanbag behind a bookshelf, a copy of The Collected Poems of Sappho in one hand and a cup of tea in another. He was just getting ready for a good read, when—
The little bell on the door chimed and the hinges on the door itself creaked loudly, announcing customers to the old man, whose hearing was rather weak and needed at the very least a cacophony of noise to orient himself with people. Since it was fairly early in the day, and the silence in the shop was broken, all eyes turned to see who had come in, including Eriol himself.
It was a woman's voice that he heard first, clear but soft, still, with impeccable English with only the slightest tinge of a foreign accent. She related that she had gotten lost, and if they had a phone she could call with?
Eriol leaned out of his post, intrigued, to see who this young woman was.
She was wrapped in a trenchcoat of ebony black, and a striped scarf rested around her neck. Her long black hair was tied to one side and on her face was a sheepish sort of smile. Her violet eyes glittered while she spoke and he found himself rather largely mesmerized.
She was also, he was surprised to see, Japanese.
She took the phone from the old man with a smile (and he wondered how the old man had processed her request so easily when her voice was so very, very soft) and dialed a number.
"Hi, Hilton? Penthouse please. To Sonomi Daidouji, this is her daughter. That's right. Thank you…." She shifted to Japanese quickly, but he never missed a beat. "Hello, Mother. I kind of got lost again. Well, I know where I am but I can't find my way back. I'm in a bookshop in the middle of Third and Fifth Street. Oh, you know where that is? I'll be back for that later, yes, Mother. No, Mother, I think I'd like to stay here a while. It's awfully cold out. Yes, Mother. Thank you, Mother. I'll call again if I want to be picked up."
She hung up and gave the phone back to the old man with a smile. "Thanks," she said, and began to look around.
"There are a lot of books here," he heard her say. "Some I have never yet heard of. May I look around?"
"Look around all you like, miss," the old man said genially. "I'll fix you some tea."
She smiled. And he felt a flash of familiarity with that smile, with everything about her.
She turned her head and looked straight into his eyes.
He fell off the beanbag, onto the floor, on his face.
She winced once, then hurried to help the man who had fallen.
"Daijoubu ka?" she asked.
Eriol opened his eyes to meet violet ones swimming above him in concern.
She blinked. "Sorry—are you okay?" she said in English this time.
"Daijoubu," he replied, sitting up.
The young woman drew back. "You're Japanese!"
"Sort of," replied Eriol, clutching his head. He took a good look at her, wracking his memory—both memories, really—from where he'd seen her before. A picture of a smiling little girl in a school uniform, passing him papers in class, stamped itself in his mind. "And you are… Daidouji Tomoyo."
Tomoyo stared at him. "You're…" She took a moment to place the face with someone, from somewhere, long ago, and.
The man was smiling benignly at her. She knew that smile. That smile was—
"Hiiragizawa Eriol!" she exclaimed. His smile widened. She laughed, and her laughter rang out, filling the shop. "You haven't changed a bit, have you?" she asked. "In a matter of speaking," she amended quickly.
"Can't say I say the same for you," he replied. Tomoyo had been adorable when he last saw her—she had been twelve. Now some ten years had passed and having dispensed with the awkwardness of puberty, she was stunning. "You've.. changed a great deal," he managed, and that was putting it mildly.
She held out a hand, which he took, and helped him up. "That much, huh?"
He looked at her and decided it HAD been entirely too long since he saw her last. "Is there a right answer to that, or was it a trick question?"
She grinned. "Don't answer that." And she pulled him up. "I never expected you'd fall head over heels for me."
If you only knew.He smiled back. "Neither did I. What brings you to England?"
"This and that," she swept her hand about generally. "Basically, it was my mother's idea. I never expected to see you at all, though. I would have dropped by or called had I known your address or number, but Sakura-chan said that you had lost correspondence two years ago—" she stopped suddenly. "Sorry, I'm babbling."
"It's still a nice surprise to see you here," he said. "I would have known you were around. Strange, I never sensed your presence."
"Maybe your senses have forgotten about me," she replied coyly.
That was probably the case, but he'd make sure it never happened again. "Maybe," he found himself replying. "Would you like to discuss it over tea, Daidouji-san?"
She placed a finger to his lips. The gesture made him stiffen involuntarily. "The first thing you have to know about me, Eriol-san," she said, "is to call me Tomoyo. All right? And yes, I would love tea."
He stared at her, not quite believing that this was the same Tomoyo he had met in Japan. She grinned at him. It was infectious.
Things were about to get VERY interesting this afternoon.
The old man was playing that record again. That old, old record of violin that he rather liked. He never could guess who the artist was, and when the old man showed him the record itself, he found the cover blank.
It didn't stop him from liking it. But no matter how much money he offered the old man, the man never sold.
Ten years, it had been. Ten years that he never noticed had been that long until he saw this woman before him now and thought back to the time when she was but a little girl.
"Sakura-chan married Li-kun last year," Tomoyo was saying. "We sent an invitation over, but it was returned."
"I gave my old house away," Eriol explained. "Kaho married last year as well."
Tomoyo's eyes darted to his quickly. "She--? Not to you?"
"Not to me, no," he laughed. "A man, some archaeologist."
"And Akizuki-san—and Spinel?"
"They still live with me in a rather smaller flat," he supplied. "We're quite comfortable. I wager they'd like to see you."
"I would love to see them," she said. "It's been so long."
"That, it has, Tomoyo-san," he answered, nodding.
Tomoyo looked at him.
"Tomoyo-san?" Eriol prompted. "Something on my face?"
She blinked, startled. "No… no, sorry, Eriol-san."
The day was gone too soon, he mused later, as the sun sank in the horizon, as the excellent lady he was with was shrugging into her coat. He sighed. He would have liked to spend more time with her.
"Here, let me help with that, Tomoyo-san," he said, holding the coat for her.
She turned to him with the clearest smile on her face. "Thank you."
And he felt his heart melt into a puddle and settle somewhere between his feet. Determined, he swallowed the lump in his throat and said, "Shall I take you back to your hotel, Tomoyo-san?"
Tomoyo turned to him. "That's not necessary, Eriol-san. Mother has sent the rental car. Thank you for the offer, however," she said. "For offering. I'm afraid I took up quite a lot of your time today." She grinned in a sheepish sort of way. "Gomen nasai."
"It was a pleasure," he replied airily. "My life had no meaning 'til you entered this shop, Tomoyo-san."
She smiled indulgently. "That's a bit over the top, Eriol-san. As always, you are a man of flowery words." She rummaged in her purse a moment, then later held out a hand, a card between her fingers. "Call me at this number should you ever find need for meaning in your life again."
He took her hand, turned it over, and kissed it. Then he took her card.
She left the shop and he stared at the swinging door, knowing himself to be smitten.