By Alicia Blade
A very short, silly little story follows. This was a personal exercise for me, trying to capture a bit more in Mamoru's personality. In re-reading it almost four months after I first wrote it, I wonder if perhaps I made him a little TOO Prince Charming, but… well, I hope you'll like it anyhow. Besides, what's a perfect fictional man if you can't actually make him perfect?
Inspired by "You Don't See Me" from the "Josie and the Pussycats" soundtrack. Check out Aria's Ink to see the story as it was originally published, with lyrics.
Thanks a whole bunch to my editor, Stormlight-chan! Love ya, doll! Thanks also to all of you who have been reviewing my stories, old and new. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it!
Can't get enough first season romances? Join my C2 archive: First Love: Usagi and Mamoru Beginnings.
How did I come to this spot at this place in time? How did I end up back here, feeling this way? Staring up into Mamoru's deep blue eyes that, for once, are finally looking at me with something other than mockery and annoyance. This time they look almost compassionate, almost kind, and if I wasn't so upset, I might find joy in the small, friendly smile he's giving me.
That is, after all, what I wanted, isn't it? For him to look at me with something other than mockery and disgust?
No. Goodness, no. Maybe before, but not now. I could never, ever settle for that friendly little smile. All of his efforts to cheer me up are wasted. He has no idea that they only hurt me even more.
How on earth did I get here?
Perhaps I should start from the beginning.
I met Chiba Mamoru in the early fall of last year. First, he called me stupid and then he insulted my hair. Things just went downhill from there.
It turned out that he was best friends with Motoki-onii-san, my crush at the time. And when he found out about that little infatuation, he took every opportunity to make me look bad in front of Motoki-san. Mamoru never let up. He was always saying something about my voice, my lack of grace, my not-so-stellar test scores. The months passed and I finally decided to write him off as Tokyo's Biggest Jerk. Trust me, it was a simple decision to make.
Then, six weeks ago, the unthinkable happened.
Chiba Mamoru was KIND. Not to me, mind you. That would be laughable. But right in front of me. And when I say "kind," I mean it was like watching a prince, a complete and utter gentleman, a sweet and sincere and honest man.
Here's the story: Ami, Makoto, Naru, and I were sitting in the arcade after a grueling day of exams, mellowing and chit-chatting and gossiping. You know, the norm. Did I mention it was a perfectly normal day? Perfectly. We'd been sitting there for close to half an hour when Motoki-san came by and sat with us for his lunch break. Mako-chan and I could barely contain our excitement at his company.
The moment was almost immediately interrupted, though, by the sudden cries of a child not fifteen feet from our booth. We all turned to see a little boy wailing and screaming, looking desperately every which way. He looked lost and helpless and terrified as he cried and searched the room.
Motoki went over to him and kneeled down, asking gently, "What's wrong, little guy? Are you lost?"
The boy only wailed louder, gesturing strangely with his hands. Motoki blinked. "Oh, dear," I heard him mumble, clearing his throat nervously. "Um… It's okay. It's alright. Calm down." He stuttered, trying to signal friendliness with his hands. The boy continued to scream.
"What did you do to the poor thing?" I heard Mamoru ask and turned to see him grinning down at Motoki and the boy.
Motoki immediately exhaled a loud sigh of relief. "Ah, just the man I wanted to see. Come here."
Mamoru quirked an eyebrow. "What's up?"
"I think he might be deaf."
Mamoru blinked, looking from Motoki down to the little boy, who was hastily rubbing at his eyes. "Aah…" He approached steadily and crouched down into the boy's line of sight. When the boy had again opened his eyes, he looked at Mamoru again and instantly began wailing. "Hello," Mamoru said kindly, gesturing with his hand.
The boy hiccupped and eyed him speculatively.
"My name is Mamoru," he continued, his hands dancing intricately in front of him. "What's yours?"
The boy sniffled, the tears quickly receding as he watched Mamoru's friendly smile. Then, the look of fear and confusion were quickly wiped away, replaced with a bright, hopeful, yet timid grin. He signed his name.
"It's nice to meet you, Kaworu-kun. This is my friend, Motoki. He works here. You can trust him."
The boy looked gratefully up at Motoki, who smiled and shyly gave the sign gesture he had seen Mamoru use for 'hello.' The boy's grin widened.
"Why are you crying?" Mamoru asked once the boy's attention had returned to him. Quickly, a look of sadness came over the boy as he told Mamoru the reason.
"I understand. We'll help you find your mother. Okay? But first, are you hungry? Would you like some... er... ice cream?"
The boy nodded ecstatically. Standing, Mamoru took hold of his hand. "Two chocolate sundaes, please," he said to Motoki with a smile. Then, suddenly, he noticed our table and the four of us girls staring at him, though I think my expression was by far the most shocked. "Ah, Odango Atama and company," he said, quirking a smile.
I instantly attempted to cover up my startled face with one of anger. "Don't call me that, baka!"
He chuckled as Kaworu began pulling furiously at his hand, trying to drag him up to the counter. "I guess we'll have to finish this delightful conversation some other time, Odango-chan," he said cockily, feigning a bow before allowing the little boy to pull him away.
When I knew he was out of hearing distance, I turned back to the girls, my jaw hanging open. "Mamoru knows sign language?"
"I didn't know, either," Ami said, nibbling on a piece of cherry pie. "It isn't too terribly surprising, though. He is very intelligent. I'm sure he probably knows English fluently, as well."
"Besides," said Mako-chan, staring at him with dreamy eyes, "wasn't that the sweetest thing you have ever seen in your life?"
Naru-chan sighed in agreement. I could only gawk at them.
"Sweet? More like horrendously out of character!"
"What do you mean?" asked Naru, blinking at me in confusion.
"I mean that was Mamoru! Tokyo's Biggest Jerk! I think we may have just stumbled into the Twilight Zone!"
The girls exchanged glances amongst themselves.
"But, Mamoru-san is very kind," Ami said, the first to break the silence.
"Kind! Are you crazy? Him? THAT!"
"Are you okay, Usagi-chan?" I heard Motoki's voice above me and looked up to see him collecting our empty dishes. "You look distraught."
"Motoki, did you see what just happened?" I asked, gesturing to where the boy had been a moment ago.
"Yeah, I know. Sad, huh? But Mamoru already found his mom. It's fine now. Don't worry."
I blinked, looking over my shoulder at the counter. Sure enough, Mamoru and Kaworu were sitting there, now with a woman as well, munching away on their ice cream sundaes. "Well, that's… er… good, and all. But… Mamoru! He was…." I looked at Motoki meaningfully to see if he was catching my meaning at all, but he only stared. I looked at the girls, all three of them watching at me as if I'd lost my mind. "Well, you all saw! That wasn't normal!"
"Well, of course not. He doesn't need to sign very often, of course. I'm surprised he remembers as much as he does."
I groaned and pulled harshly on my pigtails. "Oh, never mind! You don't get it!"
But then, I knew that neither did I. When my friends and I got up to leave not long after, I sneaked a look back at Mamoru, but he was no longer at the counter. Instead, he and Kaworu were sitting at the Ninja Turtles game, Mamoru cheering the boy on excitedly as he racked up points and passed through another level. He suddenly raised his eyes and caught me staring at him, a spark of something foreign in their depths when they locked onto mine. I gasped and quickly turned away, a blush creeping up into my cheeks as I followed my friends briskly from the arcade. End story.
I know, purely unbelievable. I, for one, was shocked out of my wits. I mean, this was MAMORU. Tokyo's Biggest Jerk! But there he was, being wonderful right before my eyes. And not only that, but I seemed to be the only one who thought it was strange. There I was, thinking surely some Pod Person had taken over Mamoru's body, and no one else was phased at all. I was ready for the sky to start falling down and everybody else had the gall to act like everything was perfectly normal. Then Motoki, of ALL people, had the nerve to ask me if I was okay! I was flabbergasted.
So I started asking questions. Namely one in particular: WHY did people like Mamoru-baka in the first place? Which they obviously did. The absolutely perfect Motoki, for example, was his best friend. But why? Rei-chan had once had a huge crush on him. But why? Even Ami and Makoto had once commented on how sweet he was. But WHY?
Well, my curiosity got the best of me, and I began to pay attention. And it was as though at that moment my eyes were opened to a whole new world. A world where Chiba Mamoru was not Tokyo's Biggest jerk, but instead Tokyo's ...gulp... Most Eligible Bachelor.
I was noticing things left and right about him that, once I got over the possibility of him being a Pod Person, seemed to answer a lot of questions as to why people liked him so much.
Not two weeks after I'd decided to find out more about the elusive Chiba Mamoru, I was at the grocery store, picking up milk and butter for my mom (and some mochi for myself; after all, she was paying) when I saw Mamoru walking down one of the aisles. I quickly ducked behind a display, peering at him over a stack of Lucky Charms boxes.
He was dressed casually in khaki slacks and a button down pale orange shirt. For once, the awful green jacket had been left behind. A shopping basket hung from one elbow and I longed to take a nosy peek inside, but wasn't near close enough and I dared not emerge from my hiding spot.
He reached up and grabbed a couple cans of corn, dropping them into his basket. I had to walk down the adjacent aisle, making sure to keep hidden behind the jars of pre-made pasta sauce, to keep up with him as he picked his way along.
"Excuse me, darling?" I heard an elderly woman ask.
Mamoru looked at her curiously to see if she'd been talking to him and when it became obvious that she was, politely asked, "Yes?"
"Could you reach that soup can up there for me? You're so tall."
He grinned, walking closer. "This one?"
"Yes. Two, if you please."
He grabbed two cans of tomato soup from the top shelf—not even having to stretch—and set them inside her shopping cart. "Would you like me to push that for you?" he asked, seeing that the cart was very full and probably very heavy.
"Oh, no, I can handle it. Thank you, though."
"Sure. Anything else?"
"No, that was all, sweetheart. My, but Tokyo needs more strapping gentlemen like you. Thank you."
He smiled and continued down the aisle, adding a few cans of soup to his basket as well.
I followed him secretly around the store, taking an almost unhealthy interest in his shopping list. It hadn't really occurred to me before then what a mystery Chiba Mamoru was to me, and how much I really wanted to know about him. When he finally got to the checkout line, I found his assortment almost laughable. Not only had he picked up the basics—milk, bread, and eggs—but he also seemed (on the surface) to have a very healthy diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, and wheat bran cereal. That, however, was until one noticed the triple chocolate fudge ice cream and box of powdered donuts.
A moment after Mamoru had gotten into line, a woman holding the hand of a seven or eight year old girl got into line behind him. The woman began flipping through her checkbook as the girl eyed the "tease" stand, practically drooling over the last-chance candy bars and snacks. Suddenly, she squealed and tugged on the woman's skirt.
"Mom, look! The new Sailor Senshi starter packs!" she said, pointing at a box of trading cards. "Everyone at school is trading them. Can I have some? Please?"
Her mother sighed sadly. "Not today, honey. You know we're on a really tight budget until those doctor's bills are paid off."
"I said no."
The girl sighed and fell silent, watching the cards longingly. Finally, she lowered her stare to the ground, her shoulders slumping in defeat.
That was when Mamoru grabbed a handful and tossed them slyly into his basket, just as the checker began ringing him up.
I watched with a warm feeling in my stomach as he took the cards from the clerk before they could be put into his bags. "Oh, whoops!" he suddenly exclaimed, eying the cards like foreign objects. The girl raised her eyes at his exclamation.
"These aren't the new Yu-Gi-Oh cards! I must have grabbed the wrongs ones. Gee, I don't have any use for these." He sighed, looking at the girl from the corner of his eye. She was eying the cards hungrily, biting down ferociously hard on her lower lip.
"I don't suppose you would want these?" he asked speculatively, watching her eyes widen.
"Really?" she squealed as he handed them to her. She instantly clasped them to her chest like a priceless jewel.
Her mother, an enormous, grateful smile on her face, said, "What do you say?"
"Oh, thank you! Thank you so much!"
Mamoru grinned and handed a couple bills to the checker. "You're welcome. But, you have to promise that if you get a Tuxedo Mask, you won't trade him away."
"Oh, I won't! He's my favorite! Well, next to Sailor Jupiter."
Chuckling, he ruffled the girl's hair, took his change and his groceries, and walked out of the store.
I sighed dreamily, wondering if perhaps this was some stage he was going through—you know, with this whole "perfect" thing—but somehow knowing that it wasn't.
Three weeks later, I was drinking hot cocoa at the counter in the arcade, thinking of how much I didn't want to go home and do homework. Motoki was doing his arcade thing—scooping ice cream, pouring sodas, making change. Then, Mamoru came in and walked straight up to the counter, one hand inside his jacket and a smug, goofy grin on his face.
"Motoki, where's your manager?" he asked, sitting on the stool beside me. I blinked up at him, looking from his all-too-proud and mischievous smile, to the... twitching?... hand hidden in his coat. Certainly this was the first time he'd ever been this close to me without the preliminary teasing.
"Over there, fixing the candy machine. Why?" answered Motoki.
Mamoru's grin widened. "Then I'd like to order one extra large bowl of milk, please," he said, pulling a tiny brown and white kitten out of his jacket.
I gasped, my love for adorable furry things leaving my love for hot chocolate and dislike of Mamoru in the dust. Looking at me for the first time, Mamoru's eyes twinkled. "Do you want to pet him?"
"Yes!" I squealed.
"Oy, you'll have to lower the decibels, though, Odango," he said, mock-flinching. "Motoki's manager can't see it. Animals aren't allowed in here."
"Luna comes in here all the time," I said, reaching forward to scratch the kitten on the ears.
"Must be a stealthy cat," Mamoru said, looking over his shoulder. Suddenly, he wrapped an arm around my waist and pulled me close to him, the lengths of our bodies touching.
I gasped again, a blush instantly rising in my face as I felt the muscles beneath his shirt. Flustered, I gawked up at him, but he was still watching something up near the front, and it occurred to me that he was only using our bodies as a wall between the manager and the kitten. I turned back—a tad disappointed, I'll admit in hindsight—and began running my fingers down the fluffy softness of the cat's fur.
"Where did you find him?" Motoki asked, setting a bowl of warm milk in front of the kitten. It curiously sniffed at the liquid a moment before sticking a tiny pink tongue in the bowl and lapping furiously at the milk.
Mamoru turned back, watching the kitten with a fond softness in his gaze. "Right outside, in the alley. I looked for a mother but couldn't find one. It was probably a runt."
"Oh, Mamoru, he can hear you!" I hissed, twirling the pointed tail around my index finger. "It's okay, sweetie. You're not a runt. Don't listen to a word that big, mean Mamoru-baka says."
Mamoru chuckled and it suddenly occurred to me that his arm was still securely around my waist. I gulped nervously.
"What are you going to name him?" Motoki asked.
Mamoru sighed. "I'm not."
"Hm?" I turned to face him, his deep blue eyes almost carrying a tinge of sadness."My apartment doesn't allow pets. I can't keep him."
"Then what will happen to him?"
He shrugged, then leaned down to run tender fingers over the tiny paws. "Would you like him, Odango?"
Smiling, I put both of my elbows on the counter, cupping my chin with my hand and watching Mamoru's long fingers lose themselves in the kitten's fuzz. "Yes, I would. But, I can't. Shingo's afraid of cats. He freaked out when I brought Luna home. I'm sure he would blow a gasket if I brought home another one." I sighed, reaching forward to pet the kitten again. Though it occurred to me when my fingers brushed Mamoru's that I wasn't sure whether it was the animal I'd wanted to touch or the man.
"Well, that leaves only one person," Mamoru said, his eyes glittering up at Motoki.
Motoki ran a nervous hand through his hair. "Gee, I don't know..."
"Oh, come on!" prodded Mamoru, picking the kitten up from the beneath the belly. "How can you say no to this face?" The kitten mewed quietly as Mamoru turned him to face the arcade clerk, pouting for added effect. I burst into giggles, though my stomach was doing crazy flips at the sight.
Motoki laughed also, rolling his eyes. "Fine, fine! I'll take him!"
"I knew you couldn't resist a cute face."
"Meaning the cat's or yours?" I asked before the words could register.
Setting the cat down by the milk bowl, Mamoru quirked an eyebrow at me. "Odango, are you saying you think I'm cute?"
My face reddened instantly and I rolled my eyes in exasperation, turning to Motoki who was busy stroking his new kitten on the neck.
"So what are YOU going to name him, Motoki-san?"
"I don't know, Usagi-chan. I'm really bad with naming things. Why don't you name him for me?"
"You sure about that?" asked Mamoru, grinning. "It'll probably end up 'Spot' or 'Fluffy' if you leave it up to her."
I glared at Mamoru briefly, recognizing that glint of mockery and challenge that I only saw when he looked at me, before turning back to the kitten. I analyzed his white belly and nose, brown paws and tail, and the little caramel colored specks on this back. "How about... Brown Sugar? You can call it Brownie for short."
Motoki grinned. "I like it. Brownie it is. Thanks Usagi-chan."
I smiled proudly and stuck my tongue out at Mamoru, who only laughed.
"Oh, here comes my manager. Could you watch him until I get off?"
"Sure thing," Mamoru said, scooping up the kitten and holding him beneath his jacket again. "Say good bye, Odango."
I ignored the nickname and leaned close, reaching beneath the jacket to lightly stroke Brownie's ears. I could feel the material of Mamoru's shirt against my knuckles and smell a hint of lingering cologne and felt suddenly dizzy. His arm was still around my waist. I wondered if he noticed.
Brownie mewed quietly as I tapped his nose. "You behave, Brownie-Neko-chan. Try to keep Mamoru-baka out of trouble."
Mamoru only chuckled as Brownie started licking his paws. "See you around, Odango. I'll be back at closing, Motoki-kun."
He took his arm away and I thought I sensed a moment of hesitation before walking inconspicuously from the arcade.
I couldn't ignore the feeling of loss or the thumping of my heart as I watched him go.
Not a week after the kitten incident, I was standing at the crosswalk a block from my school, debating my plan of action for the day. I could either go to the arcade (a place that had become much more fascinating with my Mamoru observation project), or I could go to the mall (after all, Mako-chan's birthday was coming up and I didn't have a gift yet), or I could go home and veg out (knowing that Dad and Shingo weren't home yet and Mom would be so immersed in her afternoon soap operas that it would be like having the house to myself).
My thoughts were severely interrupted, though, when I saw an increasingly familiar green jacket on the other side of the street. Mamoru was walking in the direction of Azabu University, while reading from a large blue textbook. From that distance, I could tell he was wearing the ultra-adorable reading glasses I'd seen on him from time to time, set low on the bridge of his nose. Even I couldn't help but smile. After all, I could admit his superb handsomeness—when he wasn't being Tokyo's Biggest Jerk, of course.
While I watched—okay, stared at—him, from the corner of my eye I saw another form moving along the sidewalk toward Mamoru. I was fully prepared to ignore it, but then it collided right into him!
I gasped as Mamoru's book, plus a ton of papers, were dropped and scattered to the ground. Then, my surprised gasp turned to a growl as I noticed the young, attractive girl who had crashed into him. "That's MY job!" I muttered angrily beneath my breath.
I recognized the girl as a Junior from the high school down the street. She was very pretty, with shoulder-length brown hair and curves in all the right places, and though I didn't know her personally, I'd always gotten the impression that she was at the top of her class.
After his initial shock, Mamoru immediately kneeled and began scooping up the papers. The girl took a moment longer to recover, but was soon on the ground as well. She picked up Mamoru's book, dusted off the cover, and vainly attempted to un-crease some pages that had gotten bent in the fall. Though I couldn't hear her, I could tell that she was apologizing profusely as she held the book out to him.
I was fully prepared to recognize a mocking grin, a teasing laugh, the flooding redness in her cheeks as he deemed her a klutz or reprimanded her to watch where she was going. But none of the above happened.
Instead, Mamoru smiled. Smiled! A large, carefree, comforting smile. She stopped apologizing, her jaw dropping open. I knew her expression as the star-struck look of a girl who thinks she's fallen in love. I rolled my eyes.
Lowering his gaze, Mamoru brushed off the stack of papers, then grabbed another as it blew past on a breeze. He handed them to the girl and took his book. For her part, the girl seemed incapable of looking away or speaking.
As Mamoru stood, he offered her a hand, which she took just as a light blush colored her cheeks. I saw her stutter what must have been a thank you, clutching her stack of papers to her chest.
He made some comment, that friendly grin back in place, and she giggled shyly. Then, adjusting his glasses, Mamoru winked—yes, winked!—at her, before brushing past and continuing on his way, his book tucked safely beneath an arm.
The girl stood watching him go, openly gawking at his treating form until he had rounded the corner, out of sight. Slowly, she turned and began walking the direction she'd been going, but now her stride made it look as though she was walking on a cloud.
Meanwhile, I stood on the street corner fuming.
How DARE he? I'd run into him like that countless times and never once (not ONCE) had he ever smiled or helped me up or winked at me! Mamoru! Winking! At some other girl! Being a gentleman! To some other girl! My blood was positively boiling, and even I could not deny the cause.
I was purely jealous.
I was so jealous I could have spat!
Knowing that made me even angrier.
"Miss, are you okay?" some poor sap asked me.
Realizing the crosswalk sign had been set to walk (and just recently started flashing against it) and I was standing stock still, beet red, with clenched fists, I felt embarrassment creep into my twirling emotions as well.
"I'm fine!" I snapped, and stormed off toward the mall.
Now, don't get me wrong. Through all this, things between us never changed. The evil spark always lit up in his eyes when he saw me. There was always the teasing, the mocking, the gloating, the flying insults. And I kept up with them, too, of course. I couldn't let him know I was going soft. But now I kept my eyes open, searching desperately for any sign of the friendly charm he displayed with everyone else. It was never there, always replaced by some sadistic giddiness instead.
And then, it struck me.
I WANTED him to look at me the way he did everyone else. I wanted him to smile at me, wink at me, treat me like his everything. And I wanted him…
God, that was all. I wanted him.
This epiphany hit me yesterday in the middle of another argument, another stupid fight. His eyes had that tint of glee as he called me by his favorite mocking nickname: Odango Atama. His lips were quirked up sarcastically and his black bangs were hanging over his flashing eyes. The insulting comeback died in my mouth.
The urge to touch that hair almost overtook me. The impulse to touch those lips nearly buckled my knees. I froze and could think of nothing, absolutely nothing. I couldn't even remember what crude remark had made me so angry a moment ago.
But my epiphany was almost immediately followed by another.
He would never, ever, EVER want me back.
His smile fell even as I could feel tears flooding my eyes. "Odango?" he asked, and there was worry—yes, worry—in his voice. It didn't help.
I did the only thing I could do.
I turned and ran.
Since then, for nearly twenty-four hours, I had been unable to keep him out of my thoughts. I'd of course been thinking a lot about him for nearly six weeks, but now it was as though some trigger in my mind made it impossible to think of anything else. I lay awake for hours, seeing him and those blasted looks in his eyes. Those looks that told so much about him. The friendly twinkle when he talked to Motoki, the caring glimmer when he held that kitten, and the one look I was most familiar with. The one he used only for me, had only for me. That glowing dislike so keen in his deep blue stare. Even when I finally fell asleep, I could see him, looking at me.
"Odango?" he'd asked, almost like an endearment.
Oh, if only…
And I would wake up smiling, before it would fade away and I would cry. When my alarm went off in the morning, I got up without even hitting the snooze button. For the first time in my life, I felt the persistent need to get out of bed. Go somewhere, do something, anything to keep my thoughts from returning to him.
I shocked my parents when I had time to join them for breakfast and my teacher even more when I wasn't late to class. But I still couldn't pay attention to the lecture and I still did horrible on the test.
"Some things never change," I heard Haruna-sensei mutter as I walked past after classes were over. It barely fazed me.
I knew I looked like a wreck, what with the dark circles beneath my eyes and the tiny rims of red from crying all last night. And I felt every ounce as bad as I looked. And still, the image of his eyes, his gorgeous eyes, plagued me. I couldn't make it go away.
I walked to the arcade barely noticing where I was going. My feet tread the familiar path, my eyes fought back more tears. When I sat down on a stool at the counter, Motoki-Onii-san's face fell into bewildered shock upon seeing me and I knew my suspicions about my appearance were correct.
"Usagi-chan? What's wrong?" he asked, hurrying to pour me a soda.
"You look like you haven't slept at all. Have you been crying? What happened?"
I almost—almost—smiled at his worry, but just couldn't bring myself to. Dear Motoki-san, the world needed more people like him around.
With a huge sigh, I mumbled, "I think I'm in love."
He blinked, his jaw hanging open. "Huh?"
Biting back the sob that desperately tried to escape, I continued, "He doesn't love me back."
I shrugged, pretending for a moment that the pain wasn't there, but knew it came off more as a pathetic cringe than anything else.
"I'll make you a chocolate sundae."
"Don't worry about it. I'm not going to stay long."
"Do my ears deceive me? Did Odango Atama just turn down free ice cream?"
This time my pathetic cringe wasn't of my own doing, and I let my head hang. "Kon'wa, Mamoru-san," I whispered as he slid into the stool beside me.
"Eh? Odango-chan? Are you okay?"
I sighed. "Yes, fine, thank you. But I need to go. Ja."
I stood and grabbed my school bag, walking out of the arcade without looking at either of the men. Motoki tried to call after me, but I pretended not to hear him as I stepped out onto the sidewalk. It was only a moment before the tears finally tore down my barricade and began crawling down my cheeks.
It was only a moment after that when a familiar, deep, very concerned voice was heard behind me.
"Usagi-chan, wait!" Mamoru said, catching up to walk beside me.
"Go away, Mamoru-san." It was only after I had said this that I realized he had used my real name. I think it was a first. I didn't know if I should feel grateful or more annoyed.
"Usagi-chan, what's wrong? I've never seen you like this."
"I've never been like this," I mumbled, staring at the sidewalk as I continued to walk.
I heard him sigh and he gently reached out and grabbed my wrist. "Is this about yesterday? I'm sorry about what I said. I didn't think… I didn't mean it."
I blinked and slowly came to a stop, still staring at the ground. Of course Mamoru would assume that my sudden bursting into tears had been due to his teasing. I guess, in a way, it almost was. But he didn't know the full extent of it. But either way, here he was, apologizing.
Slowly, I looked up into his face.
And that, my friend, is how I got here. Staring into his deep blue eyes, their look kind and compassionate, and a hint of a smile on his beautiful lips. And still, even now, there is that look. That one look that is always in his eyes when he looks at me. Even now, there it is. That horrible, hateful look telling me I am only a child to him; I am only annoying and irresponsible and nothing compared to his wonderful, mature, sophisticated self.
I am nothing to him.
"Do you know where we are?" I ask, my voice wavering slightly. I don't bother to wipe the tears away from my face.
He blinks down at me. "About a block from the arcade?"
I almost feel like smiling. He's too handsome for words, sometimes. "No. Well, yes, but no. This is where we first met."
His face is expressionless for a moment, before he slowly looks around, recognizing the Osa-P jewelry store we'd stopped in front of. A little chuckle escapes his lips. "So it is." His gaze returns to me, his voice growing softer as he stares at me. I think maybe he can see right through me with those piercing blue eyes. "Usagi-chan, is it something I did? Are you mad at me?"
I gulp, desperately wanting to look away but not having the strength to. I try to move back, away from him, but some invisible wall keeps me stationary. "No, I'm not mad at you," I whisper.
If I didn't know he hates me, I would almost think there's something else in that face right now. Something almost along the lines of… adoration. And his hair is falling in front of his eyes again, and he's hovering over me, his hand still lingering on my wrist, his lashes fluttering once in awhile over his sensitive stare, his lips set in a concerned line. Another tear escapes my eye.
"What's wrong? Why are you so upset?"
Another tear. I feel a cascade building up, and know there will be no stopping it this time. "Mamoru-san," I squeak, my lips trembling at the word. He reaches up a finger to wipe away the tear, but I take it into my hand before it reaches my cheek. He freezes and instantly wraps his fingers around mine. His eyes are full of curiosity now among the concern. I gulp and wet my lips. I know he will hate me. I know he will never talk to me again. I know he will be completely disgusted with me. But how is that any different from where I was a minute ago?
I know I will never have this chance again.
Leaning forward, I capture his lips with mine. Instantly, tears begin soaking my skin again as I desperately try to pour all of my feelings into the kiss, hoping that maybe if I try hard enough, they'll be gone when I pull away. His lips are warm, even when they don't respond.
Slowly, after a moment that seemed a lifetime, albeit a short one, I pull away, taking my hand away from his, and look up into his face. He's stunned, his eyes wide in surprise. His hand, still on my wrist, is trembling, and I pull away from his gentle hold. For a moment, he opens his mouth to speak, but I don't let him. The feelings did not disappear with the kiss as I had hoped, and the last thing I want is for him to tell me… whatever it is he's going to tell me.
"I'm upset," I whisper, watching his eyes flicker in confusion, "because you will never kiss me back." I can't keep back a tiny sob, and quickly turn on my heels. I'm eternally grateful that all those stories I'd heard about knees going weak when you kiss the person you're in love with don't appear to be true. I break into a dead run.
It must have been nearly ten minutes later when he finally caught up with me.
"Usagi-chan, wait!" he yelled, grabbing my wrist again.
"Stop chasing me!" I screamed, wiping at my eyes with my sleeve, desperately trying to struggle from his grasp.
"No," he said flatly. And that one word, or perhaps the tone of his voice, made me stop. I looked up at him through blurry eyes, my heart thumping and my breath ragged.
"What do you mean 'no'?"
And the man—the blasted, stupid man—had the nerve to smile. I could have slugged him if I'd had the strength. But I was angry and upset and heartbroken enough that I at least withheld from smiling back.
"I mean no, Usagi-chan." He was breathing almost as hard as I was but I noticed suddenly that he didn't look angry. "Not until you explain to me what this is all about."
I gulped, my breath dry and scratchy from the jog. "You're not going to yell at me?"
"Not unless you try to run away again."
I blinked and looked around. We'd ended up on some playground that I'd never been to before. It was deserted, the swings swaying in a gentle breeze, clouds of dust billowing up on an empty baseball diamond. "Why did you follow me?" I asked harshly, ready for him to give up this nice-guy routine and start laughing at me at any moment.
He didn't laugh, but his lips did quirk a little bit. "Because usually when a girl who I could have sworn hated my guts kisses me and runs away, I figure I've missed something pretty big."
I rolled my eyes, suddenly finding the grass beneath my sneakers very fascinating.
"Why did you kiss me, Usa?" he whispered, the nickname intimate, his voice even more so. My heart fluttered, a blush creeping into my cheeks. I could hardly suppress the daydream that begged to come up: Mamoru speaking to me in this way, showering me with kisses and compliments…
"Please go away," I pleaded.
He was silent.
I growled. "Either go away and leave me alone or laugh and get it over with!"
He didn't even flinch at my yelling, just continued to stare at me with that curious, compassionate gaze. "Why would I laugh?"
"Why wouldn't you laugh? The ditzy, obnoxious middle school kid thinks she's in love with you! YOU, of all people! It's hilarious, Mamoru! It's downright hilarious! So go ahead. Laugh. I don't care." I closed my eyes tightly and turned my head to the sky, stubbornly refusing to let any more tears escape.
"You think you're in love with me?" he whispered tenderly.
I clenched my jaw together and slowly opened my eyes, the question rolling around in my head. "No," I finally whispered back, looking down at the ground, my determination fading. "I don't think I'm in love with you. I know I am." Already, the tears were threatening to return. "And I hate you for making me say that! And I hate you for making me feel this way! And I hate that you're being so nice right now! And I hate that stupid, stupid look you always give me!"
"That one!" I screamed, daring to look up at him. And it was there, of course, that same look. That same glittering softness in his eyes that so clearly spoke of pity and apathy. "That look you only give to me! I don't need your pity. And I don't need to be reminded that you think of me as just some brain-dead teenager. And I know that the only times you ever smile at me are because you love torturing me so much, and you don't even KNOW what it does to me. I hate you!"
And after all that, Mamoru had the gall to smile, again. And not just a little, humorous smile, either, but a full-fledged grin. Even a short laugh erupted from him as he smiled all goofily down on me. I rolled my eyes.
"I told you it was hilarious," I grumbled.
"Usako, you have no idea what you're talking about," he murmured, taking a step closer to me.
"Oh, I think I know perfectly well what I'm…" I hushed, the breath suddenly escaping me. "At least… I did until you called me that."
His grin only broadened, his eyes twinkling mirthfully at me. "Let me get this straight. You've noticed a look that I give to only you, of all the people in the world, and you've assumed that it's because I dislike you? And, on top of that, you're in love with me?"
I gulped, taking a hesitant step back. "Well, er… yeah."
He cupped my chin in his palm, successfully capturing my gaze, holding me in some trance as he smiled down on me. "And did it ever occur to you, Usako, that maybe I look at you differently because I'm in love with you, too?"
I blinked, my brain refusing to comprehend his words. They defied all logic, all of my predetermined beliefs of him and me and the future and the possibilities and… "That… that's absurd!" I stammered, even as my heart began to tingle and expand and hope.
His smile didn't fade as he ran his thumb tenderly over my cheek. "Is it, really?" he whispered, before craning his head down and lightly caressing my lips with his.
You know what I said earlier about all those stories about your knees going weak when you kiss the person you're in love with not being true? Well, I lied. Apparently it makes a huge difference when they're kissing you back. That said:
Not a moment after his lips had touched mine, gently pressing into me, did all strength flood from my limbs. Immediately, his arms were around me, holding me against him, supporting my body as his kisses slowly deepened. I moaned, my hands grasping onto his upper arms as he molded our bodies together. It was the most passionate and lovely and painfully gentle sensation I had ever experienced, his soft lips forming to mine completely, before pulling away in a series of sweet, breathy kisses, before encompassing me again.
When he pulled away I felt light-headed and dizzy and intoxicated. The feeling still had not returned to my legs and I hung limply in his strong arms, wrapped tightly around my waist. I opened my eyes to see him hovering only inches from my face, his warm breath tickling my parted lips, his eyes darker than I had ever seen them. I could now clearly smell that hazy cologne scent on him. And still, there was that little glimmer, though it suddenly took on a whole new meaning.
"Mamo..." I whispered, my eyelashes fluttering dazedly. "You don't hate me?"
He chuckled and lightly brushed my lips again. "Of course not, Usako. I never have. I never could. I thought you hated me."
I smiled shyly. "I did. I thought I did. But then I saw you. I saw the real you. I couldn't help falling in love after that." Tying my arms around his neck, I pulled him to me again, kissing him with all the love and desire I felt. He responded instantly, lovingly, and I knew that he could see the real me as well.
When we separated, he laid his forehead down against mine. "I bet if we head back, Motoki will make good on that offer of a free chocolate sundae."
I smiled, adoring the idea of walking into the arcade, hand-in-hand, with Chiba Mamoru. Tokyo's Biggest Not-So-Eligible Bachelor. "What are we waiting for?"
Smiling, he wrapped his arm around my shoulder and we walked off into the sunset.