Ever since I've remembered, people around me had talked about how perfect it was that my father had a son in me, and that Yamanaka-san had a daughter in Ino, and that we were given birth at almost the same moment. They talked about it being dictated by fate, or a consequence of destiny pulling some strings together.
It was bad enough that way, but your folks believing that crap too, to the point of contemplating an arranged marriage—that was beyond heaven's mercy for me. I went through my first year in the preparatory classes for the Ninja Academy being teased. Why?
See, Yamanaka Ino was reared under that injudicious idea that both of us were star-crossed lovers—that our destinies were sealed and stitched by the threads of the hand of the Divine One. Thus, this five-year-old girl had officially pronounced as man and wife in-waiting, and that she would just have to wait until the time that blessings can be handed down upon us legally.
For the meantime, she would be playing her role as my dutiful spouse. One of them included visiting me in my class, bringing along a burnt mass of what could have been rice, with toppings that were either too dry or too soup-y.
Like what she was doing right now, standing in the doorway of my classroom, smugly holding her signature tin lunchbox and a bag filled with towels, napkins, toothpicks and such, on her other hand.
As if on cue, teasing buzzes filled the room. Of course, it wouldn't have been such the case for us five-year-old students. What do we know about marriage and love and destiny picking on two kids only because their birthday calendars agree anyway?
But no, there were adults in the classroom too: parents, Chuunin teachers, and even school staff pass by every lunchtime just to watch the spectacle that Yamanaka Ino makes.
And as the maxim goes, "Children only imitate what grown-ups do".
So today's lunch period was no different from the lunch periods I had went through. I could only watch, groaning, as she casually sat down beside me and laid down the placemat, followed by a ramen bowl and my usual chopsticks.
"Mama taught me how to make miso soup!" she said proudly, laying down her masterpiece in front of me. "Your father told me how much you like soups!"
I looked away, slightly annoyed. The way she said it so innocently, I knew she didn't really understand what circumstances we were in: that was too much to ask from a five-year-old girl anyhow. I just had to live with the fact that my thinking is different from hers, and that I could understand things even more than she could, and perhaps even more than my crazy folks could.
And I felt that it only my moral obligation to not let her get too deeply attached to our parents' absurdities…even if it meant acting like a villain in the story.
"There! Lunch is set!" said the girl excitedly.
I yawned and laid my head on the crook of my arms. "I'm sleepy. I won't eat lunch."
From the small opening between my arm and forehead, I could see her eyes turn crestfallen, but she quickly wiped it away with her smug smile. She got up and poured water onto my cup, and then took out an iced tea mix and stirred it along. I sweatdropped. Perhaps, my father shared my little secret fascination for green tea with his desired daughter-in-law.
"Shika-chan, I even made tea for you!" she sung out coaxingly.
"No." I shut my eyes and concentrated on falling asleep, just so I would have an easy way out of this. Alas, just when I really, REALLY wanted to sleep, it won't come to me. The aroma of the food wasn't helping too—I did took breakfast at home, hoping it would cue everyone into not sending chirpy Ino to school to bring me lunch, but that too failed. Perhaps they were unfortunately deprived of a shot at romance in their childhood, so the manifestations of their hidden wants were being pushed on me and Ino. Or perhaps, they were just bored at their lifetime chore called Bringing Up Your Children, and were finding for themselves a little excitement by matchmaking their children this early. I would never know, I guess. For all their years spent in school on their way to adulthood and its so-called maturity through proper education, it was amazing that the people around me were…fools who believe in things unproven scientifically and logically yet. Say, fate.
"Aaaw, don't sleep on me, Shika!" whined the girl, grabbing my shoulders and shaking me vigorously. It was forceful enough to chase away an alibi of sleepiness. Geez, now I had to think of another one.
Her hazel-blue eyes smiled at me when I finally lifted my head. "Ne, try the soup?"
"I'm full," I said dully.
"You only ate little at breakfast," she said, cocking an eyebrow at me.
Another exasperated sound escaped from my throat. "So my mother is cooperating with you too?"
She laughed proudly. "Hah! A future wife should know everything going on about her future husband!" The words gave rise to teasing hums in the background.
"Ino," I said through gritted teeth. "Future is not today. Today is the present. So we're not yet husband and wife, alright?"
"So I'm practicing!" she shrugged. "Anyway, the miso soup will not last until that future, so eat it, okay?"
"B-But I just said you weren't!" she cried. She said it, so automatically, it was it. Yamanaka Ino could really remind me of Mother too much.
And yes, there goes another alibi.
"Go home, Ino," I decided to say.
"Will you eat it?" she asked, eyes wide.
"Just go home," I said, finality in my voice.
She was silenced. "O-Okay," she said after a while. Getting up, she cleared her pitcher, placemats, and towels, but she left the miso soup and the iced tea on the table.
"Eat it, okay, Shika?" she said quietly, forcing a cheerful smile on her face. "That's my best dish yet!"
I grunted, but my eyes were still on the window.
"Bye-bye then, Shika-chan." She waved my way before exiting the classroom, humming.
She had barely reached the hallways when laughter exploded in the classroom.
"SHIKA-CHAN!!!" all the boys in the classroom chorused before bursting into more laughter.
I rolled my eyes heavenwards and sank my head on the desk once more, blocking everything around me except for the lingering aroma of Ino's miso soup.
Maybe for a five-year-old boy, I think too much than asked for. However, my emotions weren't covered by this seeming mental advancement that I have. No matter what I do or think, it still affects me whenever they gang up on me about her.
I also disliked the fact that whenever I act a bit nicer towards her, the folks around us would look at me expectantly and tell me that things were going according to their plan. It was as they anticipated.
And I had enough of those fate, destiny, and pre-determined stuff.
As I sat down on my desk amidst the already deserted classroom, I pondered on whether to eat the miso soup or not. Normally, it would only take me two seconds to make a decision and just hand this over to Choji, whom I know would appreciate this more.
But the guardian angel that my teacher talked about sometime before in class (which miraculously kept me up for some five minutes before falling asleep again) surfaced, sticking newly-sharpened pencils into my conscience. I knew I promised my wife I would eat this…
My fists clenched, and with a decision that neither my heart nor my mind made, I threw the packed lunch onto the nearest garbage cam. Grumpily, I got up and gathered my things, intending to go home and sleep my frustrations in already.
When I turned left to the hallway though, I saw a lonesome girl leaning by the wall, hands behind her as she looked down sadly at the floor.
My heart stopped beating.
She looked up at me, her eyes more pained than accusing. I instantly knew that she saw what I just did.
I waited for her to go ballistic, or punch me mercilessly for doing so. But none materialized—she simply straightened up and looked at me askingly. "Was it too salty?"
My chest constricted painfully. "I-Iie…" I looked down guiltily.
"I-It isn't? O-Or you didn't taste it?"
At that moment I realized one of life's most impossible but often-wished-for faculty: the power to turn back time and undo mistakes.
"N-Naruhodo." She had quickly turned her heels around and ran away, but not quickly enough for me to not see the sadness that would teach me my first taste of pain too.
I didn't know when the issue between me and Ino as a fated couple stopped, or when did the witnesses to the unmoving climax of our little love affair stopped talking about it and started to get on with their own lives. I never got to apologize for my stupidity, but she never mentioned it anymore.
She stopped bringing me those burnt rice and awfully sweet toppings. She never attempted to make even an instant coffee mix for me. She stopped trailing me around, and had never mentioned anything about how she once wholeheartedly believed that I was the man for her.
I should be happy. I should feel relieved. But they were all short-lived, and in fact, there were still times that I would not eat breakfast, hoping that Ino would march into the classroom and nag me for forgetting to eat, and then whipping out her own lunch she made for me.
I shouldn't feel so bad—the friendship between her family and mine remained, and she never showed resentment against me even once. She would get annoyed at my refusal to make extra fuss on things that happen for me, or she would get pissed off when Choji and I would laugh at her temper explosion when arguing with Sakura or when she would get blown off by Uchiha Sasuke, along with his legion of worshippers in the classroom. But never had she taken it against me that I, her supposed future husband, was the first to break her heart.
Leading me to believe that someone like her was meant for someone else better than what fate could have planned, if what my folks say is true.
I guess regrets are way too troublesome for someone like me to ponder on, but as I watch Ino wave at me goodbye as she prances off to bring her dear Uchiha Sasuke some lunch of burnt rice and toppings, I realized something.
That after eight whole years, I was still stuck in the body of the five-year-old boy who never had forgiven himself when he threw away the miso soup, and threw away his chance to love and be loved as well.
Ino's Miso Soup
A ShikaIno (huh? XD) request for AnimeFreakPerson