Author Notes: Hello again, everyone! This story continues from A Happy Father's Day so it will make more sense if you've read that one. I wasn't sure if I was able to get this story done by July 15, but I did it, phew...! Enjoy :)
Disclaimer: Bleach belongs to Tite Kubo.
- Story Start -
Ichigo opened his eyes and turned over in his bed to see a bright blue sky outside his window, adorned with a few puffy white clouds. A perfect day for a barbecue at the beach, and on his birthday too!
Sitting up, he swung his feet to the floor and ran his fingers through his hair. His past birthdays usually consisted of a fast food lunch with his friends and his favourite dishes for dinner thanks to Yuzu, but Keigo being Keigo, had thought it too low key for one turning sixteen.
Flashback to a few days ago.
It was lunch break at Karakura High, and Ichigo and his friends were sitting at their usual spot on the rooftop.
"Iii-chiii-goo, your birthday is this coming Sunday!" Keigo exclaimed, extending one arm out in a dramatic pose and almost knocking the sandwich from Ichigo's hand. "Let's celebrate it with a barbecue at the beach, complete with sun in our eyes, sand in our food, and a sunburn everywhere else!"
Mizuiro frowned, Ichigo scowled and pushed Keigo's hand out of his face, and Sado looked perplexed. The others just ignored Keigo and carried on eating.
"How is that fun?" Sado wanted to know.
Ishida rolled his eyes and pushed his glasses up with one finger.
"Everyone knows that Kurosaki-san and Inoue-san are dating," he pointed out, "so they'll want to spend Sunday together."
"But we'll be together at the beach!" Keigo was undeterred.
"They'll want to be alone with each other," Ishida added dryly.
Keigo pouted for a total of five seconds before brightening up again.
"Well, let's have the barbecue on Saturday then!"
Tatsuki cleared her throat.
"Sorry, I'm participating in a karate exhibition on Saturday. It's a whole day event."
Keigo sulked for a total of ten seconds this time.
Ichigo raised his eyebrows at Orihime in a silent question which she answered with a nod and smile. Then he turned to the others.
"Let's have it on Sunday. Besides, we have a lot of assignments to turn in next week so better to get those out of the way first."
"Iii-chiii-goo! Don't mention homework when we're planning your birthday!" Keigo wailed. "You'll give me indigestion!"
The others just ignored him in favour of agreeing with Ichigo, Sado giving his signature thumbs up sign.
Ichigo nodded at Orihime. They had gone out a few times since Father's Day last month so he didn't really mind if his friends wanted to celebrate his birthday with him.
Fired with enthusiasm once more, Keigo jumped to his feet and began making plans about place and time and food and enough activities to last three days. With a resigned sigh, Ishida fished a pencil and piece of paper from his pocket. He muttered something about him being the only one to organise things, starting with who would attend.
"Karin and Yuzu," Ichigo told him.
"Oh, I'm looking forward to seeing them again," Orihime said happily. "And I'll let Rukia-san and Abarai-kun know too!"
As Ishida started jotting down names and ignoring Keigo who wanted to invite the whole school, Ichigo made a note to remind his sisters that certain subjects were not welcome at the barbecue. He was pleased they liked Orihime, but he preferred not to be teased by the others.
End of flashback.
Ichigo snapped back the present when his bedroom door slammed open. He lunged to the side, allowing Isshin to fly straight out the window which Ichigo had made sure was wide open; he didn't want to clean up glass shards from his bed, especially on his birthday.
"Happy Birthday, Ichigooooooooo!"
Rolling his eyes at the resultant crash below and their neighbour's alarmed voice asking 'Kurosaki-sensei, are you alright?! What happened?", Ichigo got to his feet and went to the bathroom.
- o -
Orihime had woken up much earlier than Ichigo. She went to get washed up and dressed before lighting a joss stick for Sora.
"Good morning, onii-chan! Today is Ichigo-kun's birthday and we're spending it at the beach with all our friends. I'll be sure to put on lots of sunscreeen lotion so please don't worry!"
After a simple breakfast, she made mizu-yokan, a jelly made with agar, red bean paste and sugar. It was a chilled dessert popular in the summer. She had originally planned to make Ichigo's birthday cake but the other girls vetoed her suggestion, saying they would prefer a cake without any red bean paste in it no matter how much Ichigo liked it. Laughing and blushing, Orihime had decided on the jelly instead. It didn't take long to make and dozens of little plastic containers were soon chilling in the fridge.
Orihime cleared away the things and changed into her new swimsuit before pulling a sleeveless sundress over it. She hadn't gone to the beach for a few years and her old swimsuit didn't fit her anymore. Tatsuki said her own swimsuit was still fine so Orihime and Rukia had gone shopping on Friday after school. Hoping that Ichigo would like her new outfit (and that Renji would like Rukia's), Orihime packed a towel, a change of clothes and a bottle of sunscreen. It was an almost full bottle she had bought two years back for a school trip and forgotten about. It had expired three months ago, but she decided that since it wasn't food it could still be used. It would be a waste to throw it away just like that.
She carefully packed Ichigo's present, wrapped in light blue paper and tied with more of the orange ribbon that was the exact shade of Ichigo's hair. The item had only arrived yesterday and she had been on tenterhooks the whole time, hoping that it would arrive on time and that he would like it.
The doorbell rang at that moment and Orihime's eyes flew to the clock. A quarter to ten. Tatsuki was right on time!
- o -
Ichigo and his sisters reached the beach at ten in the morning with Ichigo carrying their old picnic basket. Yuzu had gotten up early to cook a pot of Japanese curry while Karin prepared a fruit salad.
The others were already there, standing around or sitting on a large blanket spread on burlap sacks, under the shade of a large tree. It was much further away from the popular part of the beach where the sand was a pristine white, but Ichigo nodded his approval at Sado who was in charge of finding a nice spot. Then he looked around for Orihime and spotted her walking up with Tatsuki and Rukia, carrying a large cooler box between them and waving and smiling.
Ichigo hurried over to relieve them of the box and received smiles, birthday greetings and a friendly punch on the arm from Tatsuki. He almost dropped the box on his foot when they started stripping in front of him, revealing swimwear underneath.
Orihime looked... amazing.
Ichigo would have to be blind if he hadn't known how curvy she was even in her school uniform. Her swimsuit was a peach coloured one piece with a modest ruffled neckline and attached skirt, but he still felt like he might get a nosebleed at any second. He didn't know whether to whip off his shirt to cover her up or continue ogling every inch of her, from her long neck and pale shoulders, to her generous bosom and narrow waist, to her shapely hips, long legs and tiny feet.
Wrenching his gaze away, he saw Tatsuki giving him a knowing smirk and scowled at her. As his sisters rushed up to greet the girls and Orihime in particular, acting like they hadn't seen her in a year instead of a month, he turned to Rukia who was wearing a purple bikini which matched her eyes. He grinned at her and imagined the look on Renji's face once he saw her.
Right on cue, a familiar voice calling out "Happy Birthday, Kurosaki-san!" was heard. Everyone turned to see Urahara, Yoruichi, Tessai, Jinta, Ururu and Renji approaching them. As the others called out greetings, Ichigo caught sight of Renji's face at the right moment. The redhead looked even more torn than Ichigo had felt about Orihime in her swimsuit; alternately gawking at Rukia and glowering at any male who looked at her, his face as red as his hair. Ichigo grinned when Ishida glanced his way with raised eyebrows, looking just as amused.
When Yoruichi came up to clap him on the shoulder and wish him a happy birthday, Ichigo noted the very skimpy orange bikini she had on. She looked stunning, but Urahara didn't seem to mind or even notice the admiring stares sent her way. Ichigo could only conclude that the shopkeeper had had plenty of time to get used to it.
- o -
It was a fun filled day.
Urahara spread his mat next to theirs and Tessai unpacked homemade bento boxes, skewers of dango and a salad from a huge basket, putting them together with the other food. There was plenty to go around; Tatsuki supplied canned drinks while Ishida brought onigiri and Sado daifuku. Keigo and Mizuiro bought a carton of Pocky sticks. Everyone other than the Kurosakis also contributed to buy a huge chocolate and vanilla birthday cake which was stored in the cooler box after some of the drinks had been taken out.
As the beach grew more crowded, those who knew how to swim took to the sea and those who didn't lazed on the beach. Urahara and Yoruichi went swimming in the deeper waters, racing each other with strong sure strokes while Tessai taught Jinta and Ururu the crawl in the shallow waters. Mizuiro pointed out Keigo who was inching ever closer, trying to listen in, and then stalking off in a huff when Tessai volunteered to teach him as well.
By noon, it was too hot to be out in the sun. Everyone had worked up an appetite and demolished the bento box lunches, curry, onigiri and fruit salad. Then it was nap time or shell collecting or chatting while munching on Pocky sticks. Ichigo went for a walk with Orihime, supposedly to get ice cream from one of the vendors for all of them, but also to spend a bit of time together.
At four in the afternoon, thick clouds blew across the sky and obscured the sun. Urahara produced two metal poles, a net and a volleyball and a rowdy game of girls vs boys was soon underway. It was rather one sided as Tatsuki and Karin showed they were just as good at volleyball as they were at karate and football. Ururu was a powerhouse while Rukia and Orihime gamely kept up their end. The boys didn't fare as well; Ichigo and Renji were too distracted by Orihime and Rukia in their swimwear, and too busy scowling at Keigo and Mizuiro for laughing at them while Jinta grumbled about not being able to use his bat in the game.
Needless to say, the girls won by a landslide with boisterous cheering from Urahara, Yoruichi, Tessai and the rest of their audience.
They rested with another round of chilled drinks, dango and daifuku while Tessai got out an assortment of marinated meat and vegetable skewers he had prepared earlier. As he started heating up a portable bbq grill, the others arranged the containers of meat, vegetables skewers, chicken wings, sausages and corn within easy reach.
The sun was setting in the horizon and a cool breeze blew in, chasing away the last of the afternoon heat. Ichigo offered Orihime his shirt, his heart swelling with pride as she put it on over her damp swimsuit without hesitation. She offered her sundress to Rukia instead and got a relieved nod from Renji in return.
Urahara had brought a portable lamp powered by batteries so everyone could see what they were eating. The expertly grilled food and chilled garden salad tasted very good eaten in the company of friends amidst banter and laughter. Halfway through, the guys took over the cooking to give Tessai a break. Then they finished off Orihime's dessert and the last of the Pocky sticks. By then, most of the other beach goers were packing up to leave.
Karin and Yuzu brought out the cake and Sado arranged the candles and lit them. Everyone joined in singing Happy Birthday to Ichigo who blew out the candles and bowed in thanks.
As Tessai took over cutting the cake, the others started presenting Ichigo with their gifts. He reached for Orihime's first and ignored Keigo pointing out that the ribbon was once again, the exact same shade of his hair, which made Orihime blush and the others chuckle. With everyone's eyes on him, Ichigo unwrapped the box and pulled out an orange coloured doll consisting of just the head, about seven inches tall.
"I... I hope you like it, Ichigo-kun!" Orihime gave a quick bow of her head. "I got an orange Daruma doll because it signifies success in your studies."
"And not because of his hair colour?" Jinta asked, grinning.
"What's a Daruma doll?" Rukia wanted to know.
Urahara looked like he was prepared to explain, but smiled and nodded when Ishida cleared his throat.
"Daruma dolls are based on Bodhidharma (or known as Daruma-Daishi in Japan), a sage monk who lived in the 5th-6th century," Ishida began. "Most dolls are red, because it's believed that Bodhidharma wore red robes and because red is a very auspicious color signifying energy and good health. The eyebrows are made to look like cranes and the moustache or cheek hair made too look like turtle or tortoise shells. Cranes and tortoises represent longevity. Each Daruma is hand painted so no two Daruma have the exact same design."
"Nowadays, they come in different colours. Red signifies good luck and fortune, white for purity, yellow or gold for money and fame, black for prevention of bad luck, orange for academic success, green for health and fitness, pink for love and romance, and so on."
"The bodiless head has a stern expression. The eyes are left intentionally blank, so that it's up to the owner to draw in the pupils or irises. They decide on a goal, wish, or promise to fulfill and paint in one eye. Then they work towards achieving their goal every single day. When they achieve it, they paint in the other eye."
Everyone listened with rapt attention to the explanation, even those who already knew about it. Ichigo turned over the small doll in his hand, his brow furrowed.
"I can always have it painted a different col-" Orihime said anxiously only to break off when Ichigo reached for her hand and squeezed it in front of the others.
"I like it, Orihime," he said gravely. "In fact, I'm going to make my wish and paint in one of the eyes tonight. Thank you."
Orihime beamed at him and Keigo immediately demanded to know what wish that was while Tatsuki rolled her eyes and told him it wasn't any of their business. Rukia announced that she and Renji both wanted dolls of their own and asked Orihime where she had bought it.
Meanwhile, Ichigo continued to accept his other gifts which included snacks, books, pens, gift vouchers and even a headband from Renji and Rukia, made of black cloth with 'Substitute Shinigami' printed on the metal plate.
Finally, they packed up all their things and threw the discarded boxes and empty packets into a large rubbish bag. Ichigo stored his presents in a couple of large shopping bags which Yuzu had the foresight to bring. She was pleased to find the leftover food was enough for their father's supper.
Ichigo thanked everyone for the barbecue and presents again, declaring today was the best birthday he had ever had. Waving goodbye to each other with the students promising to meet at school the next day, the group parted and made their way to their respective homes, Soul Society and Urahara's shoten.
Ichigo and Orihime walked Karin and Yuzu to the Kurosaki clinic and dropped off the presents there before continuing on to Orihime's home.
- o -
As they stood at her front door, Orihime found herself biting back the words to invite Ichigo in. A part of her knew she should be more careful about doing so since she lived alone. She might have a black belt in karate, but Ichigo was still much stronger than her. More importantly, she didn't think she could bring herself to hurt him even if she had to. But the other part of her that had watched Ichigo for so long knew she had nothing to worry about.
It wasn't a good idea tonight though. They had spent the whole day at the beach and her skin was sticky and itchy from dried sweat and sunscreen lotion.
"I'd ask you to come in," she began hesitantly, "but I need a bath and..."
"It's fine, Orihime," Ichigo said easily before running a hand through his hair, wrinkling his nose. "I should get back home. I feel like I'm covered in sand from head to toe."
Orihime laughed, torn between relief and regret.
"Me too. And I used an entire bottle of sunscreen!"
"You did? You look like you got a bit too much sun."
Orihime's eyes widened in dismay. That was it - no more using expired stuff! Hoping that she didn't resemble a cooked lobster, she glanced down at herself.
"Oh, I'm still wearing your shirt!" she exclaimed and shrugged it off quickly, not noticing how it drew his gaze to her chest. She nudged aside a shoulder strap and frowned at the paler strip of skin revealed.
"You're right, but I think it doesn't look too bad?" she asked.
"May I?" Ichigo took a step closer and gently pressed a fingertip to her shoulder. They both stared at the white spot that appeared when he lifted his finger.
"It's slight, but you have to be careful with your skin," he told her.
Orihime nodded, suddenly very aware of the large hand hovering over her shoulder, almost touching it. Then it withdrew and clenched into a fist at Ichigo's side as he cleared his throat.
"You look good in your swimsuit," he confessed. "I had a hard time trying not to stare at you the whole day."
Orhime blushed. Ichigo never used flowery speech or gave lavish praise. His words were simple and straightforward, but maybe that was why they affected her so much. Because they were honest, just like he was.
"I also had a hard time trying not to touch you as well," he continued in a lower voice, his eyes focused and intense.
Orihime gulped. Alright, that was a bit too honest. His gaze was flicking over her body in a way that made goose bumps break out all over, her heartbeat doubling in speed.
"Ah...w-well..." she stammered.
Ichigo exhaled before a tiny smile quirked his lips. He looked down at her swimsuit again, but his gaze was lighter this time.
"I'm glad you didn't wear a bikini like Rukia," he said wryly. "I thought Renji was going to explode!"
Orihime's laugh was a bit shaky from relief.
"So you did have a good time?" she asked, just to say something.
Ichigo nodded solemnly and took a step closer.
"Best birthday ever," he replied. "And thank you again for your gift."
"You're welcome," Orihime managed, thinking of the pink Daruma doll that stood on her desk at home which already had one eye coloured in.
Ichigo pressed his lips to hers and then tucked a lock of her hair behind one ear.
"Go take a bath and don't forget to put lotion on your skin. Goodnight, Orihime."
She stayed there, staring after him until he had latched the gate and looked back at her. Then she smiled and went inside, locking the door behind her.
When she stripped off her swimsuit in the bathroom, she could see the difference in the exposed parts of her skin and the ones shielded by the swimsuit. Shaking her head, she decided to be more careful in future.
But apart from that, it had been a wonderful day! The memory of Ichigo's pleased expression at her gift was a more than worthy memory for her collection.
- Story End -
A/N: Thank you for reading! This is the longest story in my IchiHime collection so far. Details on Daruma dolls were sourced from blog/daruma-doll-history-of-japanese-wishing-dolls. My apologies if I messed up the explanation in any way.
The sequel to this is A Happy Awa Odori Day. Please leave a review if you enjoyed this story :)