Summary: Usagi is spotted adamantly scribbling away in a notebook one afternoon and a love-sick Mamoru is dying to know what's in it. But perhaps he was better off not knowing.
This is actually the first fic I finished since my return, but I got so caught up in the other ones it kept slipping behind schedule. I'm worried parts of it are too cliche. But I do hope it will bring many warm, flustered feelings.
As always, a huge thanks to Stormlight! She was probably thinking I'd never get around to posting this one. Thanks, babe!
For some reason, I haven't been putting these in my recent fics, but this verse was recommended by Mad-4-Manga, so I thought I would throw it in here. Thanks!
"The Fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness and
Self-Control. Against such things there is no law."
"What on Earth is she doing?" I mumbled, feeling my best friend's presence suddenly beside me.
"Haven't a clue. She sure does seem determined about it, whatever it is, though."
I nodded my head. She was never this intent on anything, not even eating ice cream—which was one of her favorite pastimes.
"Maybe a homework assignment?"
"She's on summer break."
"Oh yeah." I chuckled. "Besides, if she ever put that much effort into school work, maybe she'd pass once in awhile.
I could feel Motoki's sarcastic glare without even taking my eyes off the girl. Ashamed, I scooted away on the stool.
"You're impossible," he scolded.
"Sorry. Force of habit. You know I don't mean it."
He sighed. "Yeah, I know. But she doesn't."
I lowered my gaze.
"So if you're so curious about whatever her project is, why don't you go ask her?"
"Are you kidding? And ruin that concentration? I'd probably scare the living daylights out of her."
"Never stopped you before. Besides, I've never known you to pass up an encounter with Usagi-chan before."
I finally tore my eyes away from her and glared at Motoki, pretending the crimson rushing into my face was anger. I fooled no one, not even myself. "Maybe in a bit," I finally said, looking back to her. After all, almost as much as I loved talking to her, I loved looking at her. Especially now, when she was so focused on something. I'd never seen her hold still this long. The feeling was something akin to stumbling on buried treasure. I wanted to scoop it all up in my arms, but at the same time, just sit and gawk at it and leave it completely alone.
"Suit yourself. Just don't let her catch you staring at her. Is that drool I see on your chin?"
This time, the glare was a little less forced and accompanied with a probably-could-have-been-gentler smack on the shoulder. He laughed, and went to serve a customer at the other end of the counter.
Sighing, I turned and watched her some more. Her gorgeous eyes were staring out the window, lost in thought, the most tender smile playing on every one of her features, her skin and golden hair catching the afternoon sun. Slowly, she let the pen fall from her fingers and lowered her eyes down at the notebook. She stared at it a long time, flipping through pages, reading what it was she had written, but she never picked up the pencil again. Eventually, she sighed and, leaning over the book, kissed the final page.
I watched mesmerized, my heart thumping loudly, if not wildly, behind my lungs. How I envied that notebook.
Finally, when it seemed safe that all of her inspiration or ideas or determination had completely worn off, I slid off the stool and walked toward her. As I neared her I knew, though, that this buried treasure would never be scooped up willingly in my arms.
"Oy, Odango Atama," I said, sitting down across from her.
She gasped, looking up at me, her face paling noticeably, before she suddenly whipped up the notebook, slammed the covers shut and hugged it tight to her chest. "What do you want?" she spat, before a tinge of redness crept into her cheeks.
I grinned. Whatever was in that notebook, it must have been good. "To know what you've been writing for the last hour. I've never seen someone so caught up in a notebook."
"None of your business!" she shot angrily, the blush deepening in her cheeks.
I raised an eyebrow, thoroughly enjoying every moment of her angry facial expressions. Though it may not have been my ideal way to spend the afternoon with her (something along the lines of a romantic walk in the park was more fit to those specifications) I took what I could get. And right now, this was all I could get. It was worth every moment.
"What are you so embarrassed about? Are you writing some steamy romance novel or something?"
She flushed, her eyes widening drastically, and I nearly choked. Gods, that couldn't be it. Just the thought made me nearly buckle over in laughter. Somehow, I resisted.
"Of course not, Mamoru-hentai!" she screamed, jumping up from the booth. "Why don't you go pester someone else for once?" Still clutching the notebook to her chest, she stormed out of the arcade.
When she was gone, I sighed and leaned back. It wasn't long before Motoki was back, leaning up against the table and shaking his head at me.
"You know, someday, you're gonna have to tell her." I grinned up at him crookedly. "Yeah. That way, she'll NEVER talk to me again. Great idea." I sighed. "Besides, even if it is just pestering her . . . at least I have that."
He rolled his eyes. "Impossible," he muttered, patting me on the shoulder as he walked away.
The sun was beginning to set as I found myself walking home that evening. I cut through the park, as I did whenever I got the chance. It was by far one of the most beautiful places in Tokyo, with its tall trees, fields of grass, and clear lakes and ponds. It was the perfect place to dream, and of course, I always found myself dreaming of one girl. One amazing girl.
One amazing girl sitting on a bench not fifty feet away from me.
My feet stopped as I looked at her. Her back was turned to me, but I would have recognized that hairstyle anywhere. As I walked closer, I saw that she had her feet up on the bench, hugging her knees to her chest as she stared out over the lake. It glimmered in oranges and reds and pinks, the lights reflecting in her eyes. I also noticed that she still had the notebook with her, and was still clutching it to her chest.
I hesitated a moment, hating to break the serene spell that she had over her, but couldn't resist the temptation. Motoki was right; I never passed up an encounter with Usako.
"We meet again, Odango."
She looked up at me, startled again, but didn't get quite as flustered as she had earlier. Her eyes blinked, almost as if she hadn't heard what I'd said, but then they slowly darkened to an annoyed glare. "Oh, you again," she muttered, then turned out to watch the sunset.
I cleared my throat. "May I sit with you?"
Her eyes widened, but she didn't look up at me as her thoughts processed the request. Finally, with an almost unreadable shrug, she whispered, "Sure."
Sitting on the bench, I made sure to keep an appropriate distance between us, though I wanted nothing more than to sit right beside her, even wrap an arm around her shoulders. I dared not and the gap of empty bench was cold and sad because of it.
"So you're driving me crazy," I finally said, almost whispering, hating to break the silence.
She turned to me, her lips pink and full and open in surprise. "What do you mean?"
I grinned and gestured at the notebook. "I can't figure out what could be so important in there that you carry it around with you all day. I'm dying to know."
The astonishment in her eyes faded and she looked down at the grass, pulling her knees in closer. "You wouldn't understand."
I blinked. "Oh? Are you so sure?"
"Come on, what is it? A diary? Poetry? A dream journal?"
I thought that I might have seen a hint of a smile creep over her mouth, but she turned away. "No. None of those."
"Then what?" When she was silent, I dared to inch closer to her. She didn't shy away. "If I guessed, would you tell me?"
She rolled her eyes, heaving an exaggerated sigh. "Fine." But I could see the smile more clearly this time and wondered if she was enjoying the silly conversation. I dared not to hope.
"So . . . it's not a diary, and it's not poetry, and it's not a dream journal?"
"No, no, and no."
"Then is it . . . a to do list?"
Her face became sour, and I laughed.
"I didn't think so. Maybe a story?"
"Could it be artwork?"
"You're getting an early start on a research project?"
She laughed. "Yeah right!"
I thought a long time, furrowing my brow, before finally heaving a long sigh. "I give up. Won't you tell me?"
She was silent a long time, her eyes watching me. I stared back, trying to look as friendly and kind as I could. It wasn't hard, seeing that all I could think about, other than the mysterious journal, was leaning forward and kissing her. I hoped she couldn't read my thoughts with those piercing eyes. But of course, if she could, then she would have figured out my secret long ago.
"You have to promise not to laugh."
"Would I laugh?"
Her glare answered that, well, yes, of course I would. I sighed, and inched even closer. We were almost touching. I could smell her. I forced myself to focus.
"I promise I won't laugh."
Inhaling a deep breath, she looked away, off toward the pink sky. "It's . . . a letter."
I waited, to see if there was more, but nothing was forthcoming.
"A letter," I repeated. "For who?"
"I can't tell you!"
"Oh," I said, chuckling. There was a long, quiet moment.
"It's a love letter," she finally whispered, so quietly that I barely heard her. I looked back down on her small, shy face, looking off at the sky. For a moment, I thought I saw her trembling, but then I thought perhaps it was only a chill.
"Oh," I said again, feeling dull and dimwitted at my lack of speech. For a brief moment, a flicker of hope entered my brain and I wondered if it could ever . . . possibly . . . But just as soon as the thought had come, I pushed it aside. Silly me. I already knew who it was for. I looked down at the ground, gulping to rid my throat of its sudden dryness. "For Motoki, I suppose," I said, feeling the lump in my stomach grow, just as it always did every time I thought of her crush on my best friend. Of course, I couldn't blame her. And I couldn't be that envious. After all, he was a lot nicer to her than I was. And she had no idea how I. . . . She had no idea at all.
"No," she answered, her knuckles turning white as she clutched the notebook. "It isn't for Motoki."
"It isn't?" I gasped, staring at her. She shook her head, not looking back at me. "Oh." I desperately searched for anyone else it could be, but frowned, knowing that she had so many more friends from school that I had never met. The chances that I knew him were very slim. Not that it mattered anyway.
"See? I knew you wouldn't understand," she grumbled suddenly, burying her face into her knees.
I looked at her, her golden hair pooling out over her shoulders and back, her pale neck almost white against the darkening world. "What do you mean?" I whispered, daring to reach out a hand to her back. I lightly stroked the material of her shirt, right along her upper spine, then let my palm rest there, my heart fluttering at the caress. She inhaled a sharp breath, but didn't move. I let my hand stay. "What do you mean I don't understand? I . . . I might."
"Oh, right," I heard her mumble sarcastically. I leaned closer to be sure I heard every word, and caught a gentle whiff of her shampoo. "I'm sure you know all about unrequited love!"
"Unrequited?" I asked, wondering if I'd heard her right.
She nodded. "He doesn't like me at all." Her distraught voice seared my heart. I'd never heard her sound so hopeless and lost.
I gawked, watching her little shoulder begin to tremble and knew she was fighting back tears. "Are you sure?" I asked hoarsely, wondering how such a thing could be possible. How could ANY guy not like her? Not want to hold her and love her and see her gorgeous smile? It was unfathomable.
"Yes, I'm . . ." She paused, raising her head a bit, tilting it slightly in my direction, and licking her lips. "Well, at least, I'm . . . I'm pretty sure."
I felt a smile crease my lips at her modesty. Of course she wasn't sure. Such a thing wasn't possible. Sighing, I pulled together my courage, and wrapped my arm around her shoulders. She tensed for a brief moment, then let herself slide into my embrace, her back nestling against my side.
"Then he's a complete idiot," I said.
She turned to look at me, her eyes wide, and slowly, an amused smile crept over her lips. "That's what I always tell him."
I frowned, not understanding the twinkle in her eye, but she quickly turned away, the little smile fading before I had the chance to analyze it.
"Are you . . ." I began to ask, my voice snagging in my throat. Clearing it, I tried again, hating the words as I spoke them. "Are you going to give it to him?"
"Why? I really don't think it's possible for him to . . . to not like you, Usagi-chan."
She was quiet as she looked up at me from the corner of her eye. "You called me Usagi."
Realizing that she was right, I managed a teasing grin. "Sorry. Won't happen again."
The intensity of feeling her so close, so warm against me, began to overwhelm my senses, and I slowly began rubbing my hand over her upper arm, pretending that I was only trying to keep her warm. Really, I was trying to keep her by me forever.
"I already told you. I can't give it to him. Besides, I know he will never like me back. See, I knew you wouldn't understand. Of course no girl would ever turn YOU down." I could hear a tinge of bitterness in her voice and blanched, my jaw falling. It took all my effort to keep from bursting into ironic laughter.
"Odango, I think I understand better than you think."
I nodded, gulping hesitantly and tearing my eyes away from her. My heart was beating so loudly I was surprised she didn't ask what all the ruckus was about. "Yeah, I do. You see, I . . ."
She looked up at me, wonderment and curiosity on her face. At least she no longer looked as if she was about to cry.
"I . . . I was once in love," I half-lied, "with this amazing girl." I put special emphasis on amazing, looking into her gorgeous eyes, watching her black lashes flutter ignorantly. "She hated me," I concluded, watching her face change as she listened to my short, sad, and very true story.
Pursing her lips, she slowly turned away. The last sliver of orange sunlight clung to the horizon and she, unconsciously or not, I couldn't tell, snuggled further into my embrace. I thought I heard her whisper, "Stupid girl," but couldn't be sure.
I pictured her in the arcade earlier, writing that letter, so intensely, so thoroughly, pouring all of her heart into it, and the thought nearly broke me. If I hadn't been so ecstatic to be holding her, I may have broke down crying myself. Then I thought of her alone, at night, dreaming about this other guy, pining for him, loving him, and though my heart cringed in jealousy, it also melted in sympathy. I knew that pain. I knew that pain too well.
I didn't want her to know it at all.
"Usagi-chan," I said gently, breaking my vow and using her real name, "I think maybe you should consider telling him."
"Why?" she whispered.
"Because . . . if it's real love, then . . . you deserve it. You deserve it more than anyone in this world. And if he doesn't return it, then . . ." I sighed, squeezing her tighter. "Then if you want, I'll beat him up for you."
She laughed, and the sound tickled my very soul with happiness. What I wouldn't give to be the name written lovingly in that notebook.
"Thank you, Mamoru-san. I guess . . . I'll think about it."
"Okay." I sighed, looking up as the first stars twinkled to life in the sky. "Now, you should probably get home soon. Somebody will start to worry." As much as I wanted to stay there the rest of the night, I knew I couldn't be so selfish, especially when she could possibly get in trouble. Besides, she was probably imagining that I was the guy she loved, anyway, and the thought of that broke my heart. If it could have broken anymore.
She nodded quietly and pulled herself away. Her arms were still wrapped around the notebook and again, I felt myself growing jealous of it. That notebook received way too much of her attention these days.
"Thank you," she whispered, her eyes glittering up at me. My heart twisted in love and compassion and cruel irony, telling me that had I done this months ago, things could be very different tonight. I ignored it and smiled back at her.
"You're welcome. Do you want me to walk you home?"
She shook her head. "No, thank you, though. I'll be fine."
I nodded, not liking the idea of her walking home alone at night, but knowing that it wasn't far and there were still lots of people out for the evening. I also knew that if I found myself alone with her on her doorstep, I might not be able to resist that kiss.
"Good night, then."
She smiled. "Good night, Mamo . . . Mamoru-san."
Motoki answered his apartment door in flannel pants and a t-shirt with a toothbrush in his mouth. He blinked curiously when he saw me on his doorstep, looked me up and down, and his eyes filled with instant comprehension. This was why I kept him around.
"Comm im," he mumbled through a mouth of toothpaste, and gestured to the living room, closing the door behind me.
"So what happened?" Motoki asked, pouring a cup of coffee five minutes later. I was laying on his couch, staring up at the ceiling, thanking my lucky stars that I had built up such a resistance to crying over the years.
"I found out what Usagi was writing today."
He set my cup of coffee down on the table and sat down in his favorite recliner, watching me. I took a long time to answer, dreading the words that I knew had to eventually come out of my mouth.
"It was a love letter. Needless to say, I will not be the lucky receiver."
He was silent, staring at me, for a moment, before he shook his head and leaned back. "Mamoru, I'm so sorry. Did she . . . did she say who it was for?" His voice was hesitant and worried, and I smiled gently at his concern.
"No. But she did say it wasn't for you. So I guess I don't have to kill you after all."
He grinned, seemingly comforted in knowing that my sense of humor was still somewhat intact, but his look faltered upon seeing that I was not returning the smile. "You know, this is Usagi we're talking about. I mean, she gets crushes pretty easily. I'm sure this new guy is just another one of her phases. You shouldn't worry so much. You know how girls are."
I shook my head and he stopped talking. "No, Motoki, I don't think this is just another phase, as much as I wish I could. But you didn't see her. It was different this time. Different than when she looks at you, or watches some guy on the sidewalk. It was . . ." I sighed, closing my eyes. "It was the same look you get when you talk about Reika. It was the same look I'm sure I get when I talk about her."
The only sound in the apartment was the ticking of his clock as Motoki digested what I'd told him. Finally, I heard the familiar creaking of the chair and his floorboards as he stood. "Drink your coffee," he said, "I'll bring you some blankets."
I left Motoki's apartment the next morning before he was awake, folding the blankets up in a nice pile on the arm of his sofa. I was of course aware that he was the best friend a guy like me ever could have asked for. Never judgmental, always there to give advice or even just listen. And he understood, at least where Usagi was concerned. I thought about the day that I'd told him the truth, so many months ago. Looking back on it, I couldn't believe how nervous I'd been of telling him. Of course he had understood. Sometimes, I felt like he knew what I was going through even more than I did. After all, he was no stranger to love. He'd found it in Reika, his girlfriend of nearly four years. Luckily for him, though, love had found him as well.
The day I confessed to him what had taken me weeks to confess to myself was much like any other day. I'd seen Usagi in the arcade, I'd called her Odango Atama, she'd called me a cruel and heartless baka, then she'd huffed away while her face was still rosy with anger. I'd followed her with my eyes as long as I could and when I turned around—there he was, Motoki, looking down on me with his famous "something is going on and you're going to tell me what" expression.
I backed away, looking him frightfully in the eye. "Can I help you?"
His mouth quirked. "Is there anything you want to tell me about?"
Blinking, I forced myself to breathe deeply, already knowing that he already knew. "What do you mean?"
"You've been acting strange, lately. Especially around Usagi-chan."
"I don't know what you mean. Everything is just how it's always been."
"With the insults and the teasing, yes, but I see the way you're looking at her. Something's changed. And I think I know what it is."
I stared at him incredulously, trying my best to look shocked and disgusted, but when his knowing smile didn't fade, I conceded and let my expression fall. "Fine. You caught me."
He grinned at my defeat, but it was more sympathetic, and maybe even proud, than taunting. "How long?"
I sighed. "Since I've felt it or since I've known about it?"
Shrugging, "I've been aware of it for almost a month. But I've felt it . . ." I shook my head, analyzing the table before me, "since the day I met her."
He nodded. "I figured as much."
"It's not like it matters," I said, rolling my eyes and suppressing the dreamy heart-warming feelings. "I mean, who am I kidding? She could never feel this way for me."
"You don't know that. Maybe if you were a bit easy on the teasing."
"Yeah, that wouldn't freak her out. We have a routine. If I were to mess with that, who knows what would happen?"
"Exactly. Who knows? Besides, Mamoru, we aren't in kindergarten. Teasing a girl is not the way to win her affection."
"Yes, I'm aware of that. Thank you, Dr. Phil."
"Sure thing, Romeo. So, you'll be nicer?"
I smiled sadly. "Motoki, I have never, ever felt anything like this before. You know me, I am not one to get caught up with girls and romance, but there's something about her. And not only do these spats let me talk to her, sort of, but I also feel comfortable with them. I can handle them. I mean, I can't even imagine what a blithering fool I would become otherwise. Besides, why would she ever forgive me for the way I've treated her?"
"Because it's Usagi. Forgiveness is what she does. She's friends with Rei, for goodness sakes."
I laughed, knowing he had a point.
"But you do what you want. The way I see it, you're just digging your grave deeper and deeper, but hey, at least it's warm down there, right? Even without the sun."
I grinned. He always had the best, and worst, analogies of anyone I'd ever known.
"Say, Mamoru?" he continued, refilling my cup of coffee. "Do you . . . you don't suppose . . . that this is the real thing, do you?"
I stared down into the black drink, seeing my reflection staring back. "I think this is the only real thing I've ever known in my entire life."
Since that day, the teasing hadn't stopped, but I had started looking for any opportunity to drop in a hint of kindness, tiny mementoes of what I truly wanted to tell her. A compliment here, the slightest apology there. The look on her face was always priceless, as if she was trying to figure out whether she'd only imagined me saying it. As if she was trying to make sure she was still talking to the same guy. I'd come to adore that look even more than the flustered and embarrassed scowls I was usually met with. And as the subtle confessions became more forthcoming, so did the priceless looks. Sometimes, it almost seemed that she was about to smile at me, even. Though she never had.
Not until last night, at least. And it was for the wrong reason. She didn't know. She would never, ever know. Her heart didn't belong to me. And it never, ever would.
The first thing I did when I reached my apartment was slip into the shower, the water as hot as I could stand, hoping it would drown out some of the pain. It didn't.
I didn't see Usagi that day. In fact I avoided her. I just couldn't stand the thought of being near her knowing once and for all that my plight was hopeless. Knowing that she not only wasn't mine, but that she was someone else's. And the day that her love letter found the guy it was intended for was the day my life as I knew it was over. Because of course, no matter what she said or believed, of course he would fall in love with her. Honestly, what guy wouldn't take the most priceless treasure he ever found? So he would be happy and she would be happy and I . . .
I didn't want to be there when it happened.
Motoki called me during his lunch break. He didn't bother to ask why I hadn't been in for my daily morning coffee. Certainly, he already knew the answer. Instead, he asked how I was and, given the vague response, set about trying to make me feel better. His methods were risky, to say the least, but I knew his heart was in the right place.
"So . . . Usagi asked about you this morning."
"She did?" I asked, my heart fluttering.
"Uh-huh. Asked if you'd been here yet, or if I thought you would be. I told her I doubted it." He paused. "She looked pretty disappointed."
I couldn't help but smile at the thought. At least she didn't still hate me. I wondered if now she even considered me a friend. She had, after all, confided a pretty deep secret in me. A month ago, hell, a week ago, I would have been ecstatic at the prospect. But now, it just didn't seem to hold the same promise, the same hope.
"Mamoru," Motoki continued hesitantly, "are you SURE this love letter wasn't for you?"
I laughed wryly.
"No, I'm serious. I mean, she didn't say who it was for, and she normally tells me when she has a new crush, but I haven't heard anything about this new guy. But if the feelings are as strong as you're assuming, and it is you, it makes sense that she wouldn't tell me, right?"
I sighed. "Motoki, thank you, really, for what you're trying to do, but if I was the guy, she wouldn't have told me about it at all, would she?"
"Well, not necessarily. Maybe it was her way of testing out the waters, you know? Seeing what your reaction would be before she plunged into anything."
There he goes with those analogies again. Although, thinking about it, it did make a strange kind of sense. I shook my head. "Motoki, please stop. It'll only make it worse."
He sighed. "Fine. I'm sorry. It's just that, well, ever since you told me how you felt, I've always had this feeling that eventually you would get her, you know? It just never really occurred to me that you might actually lose out this time."
"Like every other time, you mean?" I said, alluding to my pretty abnormal, and even tragic, childhood.
"Yeah. I honestly thought this time . . ."
"Well, thanks. It's good to know someone else was playing on my team."
"Did you ever doubt it?"
"No. But besides, she doesn't even have my address. How would she send it to me? There's no way . . ."
"Actually, she does have your address."
I blinked. "She does?"
"Yeah. I thought . . . Don't you remember?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Oh. Um, maybe I forgot to tell you."
"Motoki," I said sternly, frowning. Though he couldn't see my face, I'm sure he heard it in my voice. "How did she get my address?"
"Well, a couple months ago she was going to have this huge birthday party for one of her friends. I think it was Rei. And she wanted to send formal invitations to you and me, so I gave her your address, but then her parents decided that she couldn't have it, so it never happened. Sorry, I thought you knew . . ."
"Motoki, how could you have forgotten? Oh, never mind, it doesn't matter. Either way, this letter isn't for me."
He said nothing, and I could tell he wanted to continue to argue, but thought better of it.
"Sorry, Mamoru. I really am."
"I know. Thanks."
"If I see Usagi again, do you want me to tell her anything for you?"
I thought about it, thinking of all the millions of things I wanted to tell her. Finally, I answered, "No, but thanks."
"Sure, I have to get back to work. I'll see you tomorrow?"
The following morning, I pondered at least forty-five minutes whether or not to return to my normal schedule and go see Motoki, and Usagi. The thought of my Usako looking for me, wanting to see me, made the temptation almost unbearable, but then I thought of her angelic face as she scribbled her feelings down in that notebook and the look in her eyes when she admitted that she was in love.
I decided to go for a jog instead.
Upon returning to my apartment, I saw my answering machine blinking with one new message. Pressing the button, I heard Motoki's voice.
"Hey, it's me. I figured you weren't coming in today, but, well, thought you might want to know; Usagi was in this morning and asked about you again. She looked devastated when I said you weren't here. You know, you can't avoid her forever. Okay, that was all. See you tomorrow? Ja!"
I sighed and deleted it, before collapsing onto my couch, my sweats sticking to me as I sat staring at the wall. Devastated? Honestly, devastated? But why? Why would she care to see me so much? Why wasn't she out pursuing . . .
Groaning, I stood up and made my way to the shower.
On the third day since seeing Usagi in the park, I could take it no more. Sure, the pain of knowing she was in love with someone else was excruciating, but the pain of not seeing her was worse. I headed for the arcade.
She wasn't there when I arrived, so I ordered coffee and a glazed donut, chatted with Motoki a bit, and sat down in my favorite booth to read the newspaper.
My donut was gone, my coffee down to its last few drops, and I'd read Peanuts three too many times before it occurred to me that perhaps she wasn't coming today. I sighed dejectedly, folding the paper neatly and setting it aside. Then, just as I was about to down my coffee, the doors opened and there she was.
I felt peace and longing and contentment crawl up inside of me. I hadn't realized how very much I had missed her until that moment.
Her eyes quickly, nervously, scanned the arcade and I saw her gasp and jump a bit when her gaze landed on me. She looked terrified and worried and just a tinge hopeful.
I tried to smile warmly. I could see her gulp and slowly— very, very slowly—make her way toward me. She looked ready to bolt for the door at the drop of a hat.
I cleared my throat as she shakily settled into the seat across from me. Her evident nervousness was rubbing off on me.
"Hey, Odango Atama," I tried to joke casually, hoping I could somehow make her relax. Never had I seen her more terrified. I hated that that might be from me. However, despite this small effort, the teasing name didn't even seem to register with her. She just continued to stare at me, her face nearly white, her lips pursed tightly together. Realizing that teasing hadn't worked to ease her spirits, I decided to try and be caring instead. "Are you okay?" I asked gently, reaching across the table to rest a hand over her arm. She whimpered, staring down on it in shock.
"No, not really," she whispered back, not removing her gaze from where my hand rested on her skin.
I flinched. What could have done this to her?
"What . . . what happened?" I asked, a thousand horrible scenarios coming to mind.
"Oh, don't taunt me!" she wailed, pulling her arm away. She hunched over, trying to make herself as small as possible, or quite possibly trying to vanish altogether.
"I'm sorry," I said, flinching away. "I wasn't trying to . . . taunt you."
"Please, Mamoru-san, please," she whispered urgently, not daring to look into my face. I ached to hold her, but dared not, having no idea if I had caused this, or how to possibly make it better. "Please don't pretend . . . don't pretend like nothing's changed. I couldn't bear that." She slowly sat up and raised her face, though her eyes were clamped shut. She still looked deathly pale. I gawked at her look of determination, awash in fear. "Say anything you like. I can handle it. Just . . . just tell me the truth. After . . . what I've told you . . . What . . . what do you . . . want to be?"
I blinked. "What do I want to be?"
She nodded, but her eyes did not open. "As far as WE go. What . . . what are we? What do you want . . . ?" Her voice dried up, and I thought I could see the hint of a tear in the corner of her eyes, but they were shut so tightly that it could not escape.
I gawked, processing the words. After what she told me? The truth? What I want to be? What I want US to be? I could think of a thousand answers to that: lovers, soul mates, boyfriend and girlfriend, husband and wife, together forever? But I thought of the conversation in the park, and all she had told me, and knew that I could say none of those things. Obviously she was worried that after bearing her soul to me as openly as she had, I would now reject her. I would now want to go back to teasing, to being enemies.
I leaned forward, daring to reach out and stroke a finger along her forearm. She shuddered.
"I . . . I would like to be friends," I said uncertainly, knowing that it was partly true. Though it was not enough, would never be enough, it was the only thing I could say short from telling her everything, all of my deepest feelings for her.
She slowly opened her eyes, and a few shimmering tears streaked down her cheeks. I clenched my teeth to keep myself from brushing them away. Finally, after staring at me silently, more tears falling untouched from her eyes, she lowered her gaze and wiped them away with her sleeve. "I see," she choked. "Th . . . thank you for telling me the truth."
I blinked. I had assumed to hear at least some sort of joy or happiness after my half-confession, but there was no such thing. If anything, she only sounded more heartbroken.
I gasped, realization striking me and I knew what had made her so sad. The only thing that could have made her so sad.
"Usagi-chan," I whispered, grabbing onto her fingers. "I'm so sorry. I didn't know."
"Of course you didn't. But you do now," she whimpered.
"He's a complete idiot. He doesn't deserve you," I said forcefully, watching her face.
"Oh, don't say that about . . ." she paused, her face red with crying, and looked up at me again. "Who?"
"The guy . . . I assume you gave him the letter?"
She blinked, and slowly nodded, her expression turning to doubt and suspicion.
"Well if he turned you down, he's a complete moron. He has no idea what he's missing out on."
"Are you . . . joking?" she asked, her voice shaking.
It was my turn to look confused. "Of course not. I mean, I know, compliments from me are a rarity, and I'm sorry for that, too. But I mean it, Usagi-chan. You're an amazing girl. And if he can't see that, then . . ."
"Wait!" she said, suddenly leaning forward across the table, her eyes burning into mine. "Just stop," she huffed and analyzed my face as I stared back at her. All signs of crying were gone, save for red and glossy eyes. "You mean it? You don't . . . you don't know about the letter?"
I gawked. "Only what you've told me."
She inhaled a shaky breath and slowly sat back against the bench again. "Oh." She said quietly, her eyes glazing over. I could almost hear the wheels turning in her head, before she suddenly went stark white again. "Um, um . . . it was nice seeing you, Mamoru-san. Um . . . I-have-to-go!" Jumping out of the booth, she ran for the door. I stared after her, watching her streams of blonde hair soaring behind her as she disappeared down the sidewalk. Heaving a sigh, I shook my head in confusion. The girl was driving me crazy, in more ways than one.
An hour later, I stepped out of the elevator onto my apartment floor. I had waited for her to return for nearly forty-five minutes, hoping she would come back and explain . . . well, everything. I couldn't help but feel that there was something very important that I was missing.
But as I walked down the hall, fishing through my pocket for my keys, a small, beautiful girl turned the corner full force and collided into me with a loud squeal. Startled, I raised my arms to steady her before she could fall.
Her breath was haggard, but as she looked up at me, it caught in a loud gasp. Her eyes widened and her face, red from exertion, paled noticeably.
"Well, this is a first," I chuckled, not having the strength to let her go though I knew it would be the only proper thing to do.
I didn't have a choice, though, as she suddenly jerked away from me and pressed her back against the far wall like an animal caught in a trap or a criminal in the searchlight. "What are you doing here?" she gasped.
"I live here," I said gesturing toward my apartment down the hallway she had just come from.
She blushed, losing some of the startled expression, "I know that," she breathed. "I just figured you would still . . . be . . . um . . . I have to go." In a blink, she was tearing down that hallway, but in half a blink, I was reaching out and grabbing her around the waist.
"Wait!" I said, despising the thought of her running away like this twice in one day. Not when I had so many questions. Not when I had so many feelings. As she turned to face me, her eyes peered up shyly through dark lashes. I felt my hands tremble to cup her face in mine and press my lips to hers. I thought of her being heartbroken and wondered if I could heal it. I would gladly try. I would have done anything.
I pulled my arm away from her.
"Usagi-chan, won't you stay?" I asked nervously. "You must have come here to see me, right?"
She looked down, saying nothing.
"There must be a reason you're here. Why don't you come in? I have ice cream."
Her lips tilted up and she slowly raised her eyes to mine. She still looked shy, and still a little scared, but also a little happy. "I . . . actually . . ." She looked back toward the elevator, chewing her lip helplessly, then down the hall toward my apartment. She finally braced herself for some sort of impact and heaved a great sigh. "Okay."
I grinned. "Right this way." I wanted to take her hand in mine, but didn't. She followed a pace behind me, dragging her feet. I turned to see her staring at my door, wide-eyed. Hesitantly, I reached back and laid a hand on her shoulder.
"Are you okay? You've been acting so strange today."
She pursed her lips, still looking at my door, and nodded. Then, raising her eyes to mine, she stated, "You're being so nice to me."
I blinked, wanting more with every moment to take her in my arms. It was becoming near impossible to resist, especially when her eyes were looking at me with so much . . . what was that? Caring? Adoration? I dared not hope.
"Well, I meant what I said. If you would like to be friends . . ." I stopped speaking as her face fell and she looked down at the floor.
Reaching my apartment, I stuck in the key, heard a familiar click, and let the door swing open. The first thing I saw in my neat, spotless apartment was something out of place. I blinked and bent down to pick up a manila envelope. "What's this?" I mused to myself. Turning back to Usagi, I smiled at seeing her standing still in the hallway, twiddling her fingers nervously. "You can come in. Have a seat. Make yourself comfortable."
She inhaled a deep breath, her eyes locked on the envelope, before walking into my living room. She reminded me of a prisoner walking to her execution. I quietly closed the door behind her and turned curious eyes to the envelope.
In large, bubbly letters, it had my name, "Chiba Mamoru," scrawled on one side. Nothing else. Shrugging, I started to walk to the kitchen. "Is chocolate okay?" I asked, setting the envelope on the counter.
"Wait . . . aren't . . . aren't you going to open it?" she asked shakily.
I turned to see a rejected look on her face and, looking down at the envelope again I suddenly realized why the handwriting looked so familiar. "Usagi-chan, is this . . . from you? Is this why you came here?"
She gulped and looked down at the floor. "I thought I'd given it to you two days ago, but I went to an apartment on the wrong floor. I thought you were avoiding me because of it." She paused, forcing a tiny laugh. "I don't know if your neighbors opened it, but they sure looked amused when I came to get it."
I slowly reached for the package, feeling it like a weight in my hands, and read the name again. There was no way that this was what I hoped it was. There was simply no way . . .
"Why don't you sit down?" I asked gently, clearing my throat. She looked at my sofa and walked carefully to it. I thought she might pass out, she was trembling so badly, but she made it and sat down, her legs together and her back straight as a board.
"I like your apartment."
I smiled, coming to sit on the coffee table in front of her.
"Thanks. You can come back any time you like."
"We'll see," she whispered, watching as my shaky hands ripped open the envelope.
I reached inside and pulled out a purple spiral notebook. My heart began thumping wildly. My whole body shook as I recognized the notebook she had been so very attached to.
I struggled to pull air into my lungs, looking up at the trembling girl. She was staring at her lap, desperately trying to not to make eye contact.
"Usagi-chan, this . . . This is . . ."
She pursed her lips and forced herself to nod.
"For me?" I choked.
She didn't move.
With shaking fingers, I slowly opened the cover.
"Oh, please!" she wailed suddenly, clapping her hands down on the page. "Please, please, don't read it in front of me!" I looked up to see that she was crying again, her face flushed pink. "Please, Mamoru-san . . ."
"Okay," I whispered, and slowly closed the journal, not having read a word of it. "Okay, I won't." I put the book aside on the table and reached out to take both of her outstretched hands. My voice was wavering as I caressed her palms with my thumbs. "I won't read it in front of you. But . . . but Usagi- chan, would you . . . would you tell me what it says?" I made no effort to hide the pleading in my voice, wanting so badly to believe, to hope, to know . . .
She was silent for a very long time as I rubbed her hands, the tears leaving tiny wet lines down her gorgeous face. Finally, chewing on her lip, she looked up at me and took a deep, shaky breath.
"Fine. It says," she whispered, then paused to clear her throat, beginning again with a bit more conviction. "It says . . . it says that you are the most . . . wonderful man in the world." Her eyes burned into me, filled with tears, honesty, truth, and, gods, could it be? "And I know you're going to think it's a silly crush, but . . . but I am madly in love with you. I always have been. I always will be." She broke into sobs, pulling her hands away to cover her face.
For my part, I could only stare, desperately trying to comprehend the impact, the meaning of her words. Desperately trying to remember the speech I had practice so many times in my fantasies. Desperately trying not to wake up from this dream.
Cautiously, I reached up and gently pulled her hands away from her face. She let me.
"Don't cry," I whispered, feeling the inadequacy of the words as they left me, but I repeated them twice more, stroking the tears away with trembling fingers. I was so scared to break her, so scared she would disappear with every touch. "Usagi- chan," I murmured slowly moving to kneel on the floor before her. Her eyes opened slowly to peer at me from their shimmering depths. "I . . . I don't know what to say," I choked, desperately wishing I could explain how I felt, but all words eluded me.
She shook her head. "Don't say anything," she said, looking away. "I already know. Friends, right?" she sniffled and I could see her desperately trying to force back the oncoming tears.
"No, it isn't that," I said forcefully, cupping her face, forcing her to look down on me. The elation suddenly exploded in me and I smiled up at her incredibly beautiful face. "It's just that . . . Usako . . . they don't make words strong enough for what I want to tell you."
Leaning forward, I pressed my lips to hers, as gently as I could manage given the flooding passion inside of me. She gasped, her body becoming rigid, but her lips were warm and soft as I fervently tried to tell her through my kisses what I couldn't with words.
The tips of my fingers tied themselves up in the strands of her hair, my thumbs rubbing the perfect skin of her temples and ears. She was so much sweeter and so much softer than I had ever imagined.
I heard her whimper quietly, almost inaudibly, and the tenseness suddenly left her. I pulled away, staying just close enough to feel her breath, as I tenderly ran my fingers down her neck and arms, hesitantly leaving them on her waist. My lips were trembling with desire and satisfaction. Hers were, too.
Leaning back, I looked up at her as her eyes fluttered open. They still glittered with unshed tears as she stared at me, her mouth open in surprise. It was the most wonderful moment of silence I had ever known.
She licked her lips, gulping, still watching me with doubt and disbelief. "I don't understand," she finally whispered, and my goofy grin was back.
"Usako," I said, my voice barely above a whisper. "What I'm trying to say is . . . You are the most wonderful girl in the world. And I know you'll think it's a silly crush, but I'm madly in love with you. I always have been. I always will be."
She began to shake, a few more tears falling even as I reached up to brush them away. She leaned into the touch. "Really?" she asked innocently.
"Oh, Mamo-chan!" she squealed, throwing herself into my arms and crying into my shirt. I wasted no time in holding her close, memorizing every sensation, every inch of her back, every smell of her hair and skin, every sound that came from her perfect, lovely, amazing lips.
"Usako," I whispered against her hair when her tearful crying had ebbed. I almost laughed from the pure waves of happiness and giddiness colliding in me. "I've been going crazy thinking you were in love with someone else."
She giggled. "I've been going crazy thinking you read it and you were avoiding me."
Kissing the top of her head, I asked, "May I read it now? For real?"
She giggled and nodded her consent.
I crawled up to the sofa and pulled her along with me, not bearing to be more than a few inches from her. She followed willingly, bringing her feet onto the cushion and cuddling against my side as I picked up the notebook. As I flipped through the pages, I saw that nearly every line had been crossed out, scribbled, and erased time and time again, leaving the pages illegible. I laughed, and she looked up at me, her eyes twinkling.
"I really wanted it to be perfect," she said, blushing. Here and there I could barely make out a few words.
"Gorgeous eyes... sappy, but... what I mean... when I see you smile... forever and ever..."
"I wish you would have left it alone," I said, kissing her forehead. "I would have liked to read it."
She grinned, "I'll write you another one. I won't leave anything out this time. It was so easy, really. Once I started, everything just spilled out. But . . . I didn't know what you would think, so I erased it." She batted her eyelashes. "I'll write another one for you. But . . . there is something . . . at the end."
I flipped to the end, the last page in fact, and couldn't help laughing at the letter. My love letter. It read:
You are the most wonderful man in the world. And I know you will
think it's a silly crush, but I am madly in love with you. I
always have been. I always will be.
You are the most wonderful man in the world. And I know you will think it's a silly crush, but I am madly in love with you. I always have been. I always will be.
"I told you that's what it said," she whispered. I tilted her face toward mine.
"Thank you," I whispered.
She beamed at me, sending my heart fluttering madly. Then, with little warning, she reached her arms up around my neck and kissed me. I instantly melted into her touch, holding her against me, returning the kiss with all the love and passion and truth I had kept hidden since I first met her. It was almost like a first kiss again—this time, she was kissing me. She was telling me, without words, that this was all real and fabulous and would still be real and fabulous tomorrow.
When she pulled away and settled her head against my shoulder, I felt as though heaven had fallen on top of me. I knew that if every person could feel this kind of pure happiness, all the world's problems would be solved. I knew that I would never, ever let her go.
"I love you, Mamo-chan."
"I love you, Usako." Kissing her feathery bangs, I ran a hand down her back, rubbing her gently. "And I believe that I owe my love some ice cream."
"Mmmm . . . no thank you."
I blinked. "What?"
Giggling, she nestled deeper between me and the sofa. "To get ice cream, you have to get up. And . . . this is better. Let's stay here forever."
I sighed happily. If there had been any remaining doubts, they vanished with those words.
She loves me more then ice cream, and knowing her, love doesn't get much stronger than that.