YEARS AWAY FROM WHAT I NEED
DISC: I don't own Hana Kimi or the characters. Please don't sue. I'm not profiting from this story, other than the benefit of the joy of writing it.
"Welcome! Welcome, Shu-chan!"
"Good to see you again! Yes, very good. I've got your regular table waiting!"
"Thank you so much."
"Your regular and fried noodle with ham?"
Nakatsu smiled and nodded at the woman and sat down. He'd been coming to this Teppan Okonomiyaki restaurant for 14 years now. He'd discovered it when he was a first year in high school at Ohsaka Gakuen and had continued to frequent the restaurant throughout his time at school – whenever he was feeling down, or homesick.
He'd also visited several times with his two best friends from high school. That is, until Mizuki had to leave and go back to the states.
As he started cooking up the dish, he thought of the first time Sano and Mizuki had come together here. "They already looked like an old married couple back then." He smiled as he sighed. 12 years later, and he still felt his heart was divided. He was so in love with Mizuki back then, even thinking she was a he. But she loved Sano. There was no denying that! Not then, not now.
Back then, he'd tried. He'd tried so hard to get her to love him the way he loved her. Hell, he loved her so much, he'd been willing to give up everything, he'd been willing to believe he was GAY, just to be with her. But even so… She and Sano were meant for each other.
Even if that weren't obvious to anyone with eyes, they were a family now. From the moment Mizuki got pregnant… well, really from the moment Nakatsu FOUND OUT Mizuki was pregnant, he knew that not only did he not have a chance, not only were these two meant for each other, but that what he really wanted more than anything was to help these two to MAKE IT! They deserved to be happily together.
Yeah, he loved Mizuki, but the truth was, he also loved Sano. JUST AS A FRIEND! But still. Sano and Mizuki… and Kayashima, of course… were the most important friends of his high school life. Even though it hurt to know she didn't love him like she loved Sano, after she left he discovered that he didn't love Mizuki like Sano did either. He didn't need Mizuki the same way Sano did, he didn't completely fall apart when she left. But Sano… Sano absolutely couldn't live without Mizuki. And she couldn't live without Sano. He could never stand in the way of that. He was glad that he could be there for his friends, really.
And still be there for his friends today. It's amazing to have friends you can stay close to, even as you grow down such different paths.
Who would have guessed that he'd develop friendships in high school that would be as deep and long lasting as his childhood friendship with Atsushi.
He reached up and touched his hair. His dark brown hair. He smiled, as he remembered the World Cup – playing against Atsushi on the German team. They'd both kept up their end of the deal – both with bleach blonde hair. And after Japan beat Germany – thanks in large part to their star, Nakatsu Shuichi – and they'd gone out for beers at a German beer hall, Shuichi and Atsushi left to go to a barber – where both had their heads shaved, and they agreed they'd both NEVER be blonde again!
He thought he looked so different now than he had back in high school. But apparently, he looked pretty much the same. Mizuki and Sano easily recognized him when he arrived for New Year's dinner the first New Year after winning the World Cup. And their kids were SOoooo adorable. He had a blast every time he came over to visit his former schoolmates, just playing with the kids and giving their parents a break from their rambunctious behaviour.
He noticed the food was finally done and began to eat. It was a big comfort that Auntie here kept a table special for him. Now that he was somewhat of a sports hero in Japan – he was still playing professionally, although at the ripe old age of 30, he was thinking he might want to retire. He could always go home and go into the family business. His mom would love that.
Briefly he remembered Mizuki standing up for him to his mom, and his mom saying she'd disown him. She never actually did, but he honestly believed that she was going to cut him off after high school. Yet, when he made the Japanese team for the World Cup, she had been right there saying, "I always knew you could do it!" He grinned.
As he smiled, he heard the murmurs of a table of girls. They all were making swooning and giggling noises. That brought an abrupt end to his smile. He really could have done without all the fame. Fame kept him isolated.
It had privileges, of course. Like tables reserved for him at his favorite restaurant. Yeah, this one held a table for him even before he got famous, but afterwards, as their business expanded – seems a certain female sports reporter had written that this was one of his all-time favorite restaurants, and the restaurant had to expand to take care of all the new patrons – they not only held him a table, but they kept it mostly screened off – so that he'd be able to eat in peace. And, truth be told, so they could still serve him, yet be able to keep the peace in the restaurant so they could serve their other customers.
In order to keep the peace, he had to be isolated all the time. He had his few friends, who were precious to him, but that was it. He never dated.
He glanced over at the gigglers, and they broke out in an all new bout of titters.
No. Dating was out of the question. Anyone who would be interested in dating him, was most likely going to be interested in "Football Star Nakatsu Shuichi", not the real Nakatsu Shuichi.
He'd dated a couple times when he first went professional – before he became a household name. But… He knew it was unrealistic, but… None of the girls could ever even come close to comparing to Mizuki, and the way SHE used to make him feel.
Maybe after he retired, after his 15 minutes of fame (which in his case appeared to be more like 10 years of fame) were up, he'd find someone. He smiled sadly as the waitress brought him his fried noodles. That'd be nice. To find someone.
He ate the rest of his meal in silence, noticing that all the girls at the one table he could see had left – except one.
XXX END SCENE XXX
She'd been eating at this restaurant every chance she got. Ever since she'd started going to St. Blossoms Academy.
She was glad when the group of classmates who had come with her to find out why she liked this restaurant so much finally left to go off on a shopping binge. She didn't enjoy shopping that much, and didn't really need anything, so she'd politely declined and said she wanted to do a bit more writing there at the restaurant before she went back to her dorm room. Her classmates smiled at her – they didn't really hold it against her. She was well regarded, but she wasn't really a people person. They understood that and accepted her.
Her whole life, she'd been a bit shy and moody. It took a lot for her to warm up to anyone. Once she did, they found her strong and reliable. But still, in her world, there was her mom and dad, her older brother, and her older sister. Not too many other people stuck around to make an impact.
And of course, her older brother was soooo popular. In high school, he was high jump champion of Japan. He'd broken all high school records up to that point, and graduated champion. The next year, his records were all broken by a 2nd year in Hokkaido, but still… And then he made the Olympic team. Unfortunately, he did not medal. He was beat out by his arch rival from high school, who had taken another hiatus – apparently for personal reasons – during the final year of high school, but had come back with a vengeance.
And her older sister was totally boy crazy. She'd developed early, and had boys eating out of the palm of her hand almost her whole life. Who would have thought she'd end up a pre-med student?
Kyoumi shook her head and smiled. She loved her family. And she was happy with the friends she did have, but she was glad to see them leave.
She was also a bit glad that none of her classmates knew the real reason why she ate here every time she didn't have plans for dinner – or why she'd been glaring at them every time they'd started tittering at the celebrity presence that they could only see from her table.
She looked over at that table and thanked the gods that she'd decided to start coming here two years ago. Now, she was something of a fixture and the Auntie who ran the place had taken to saving this very table just for her. A year and a half of visiting regularly, at least once a week, every week, and Auntie O decided that a customer that regular deserved her own spot. So now, again thank KAMI, every time she ate here, alone or with friends, she got her VERY special table: A table that was the ONLY one within view of the table reserved for football star Nakatsu Shuichi.
That was the real reason she'd started coming here. Yes, the food here was really quite good once you acquired a taste for it, but the reality was that she'd never even TRIED okonomiyaki, she'd never even CONSIDERED it, until she read that article, "What's HOT!"
"What's hot? Teppanyaki, according to Tokyo's sexiest footballer. That's right, Nakatsu Shuichi tells me that his favorite dish is that spicy grill from the south. 'When I'm eating really good Teppanyaki,' he said, gracing this reporter with his famous, heart-melting smile, 'it just makes me feel like I'm home again.' Wouldn't you know that the man famous for his fiery spirit on the field would go for spicy food?
"And there are several places that he frequents on a regular basis – for those readers who like to star-watch. Topping the list is Auntie O's, located just down the street from Ohsaka Gakuen – where Shuichi attended high school. 'Whenever I'm in town, I always stop by to visit Auntie. She's got the best Teppanyaki outside of Osaka. Plus… I've got a lot of memories there.' And for those who prefer a more urban scene, you can try Hot Plate in downtown Tokyo – where you'll find the World Cup champ dining at least once a week…"
Truth be told, she did feel a little silly when she first started coming here. Such a silly fan girl. She reached down and touched the striped armband on her left wrist. She smiled. When it came right down to it, she didn't really care how silly she was.
She fingered the repair work on the band, lightly tracing her delicate stitching.
Her mother had tried to throw the band away once, claiming it was old and dirty. After an hour digging through the garbage, scattering it all over the driveway, she found the filthy band and thrust it on her wrist without even washing it. Then, she cleaned up the mess, rebagging all the trash, and periodically casting dirty glances at her mother. When she was done, she went inside and carefully hand washed the old band.
She hadn't spoken to her mother for a week after that. In repentance, her mother presented Kyoumi with some embroidery thread and showed her how to repair the thing. And she promised NEVER to bug the girl about the band again.
It was her most prized passion, given to her by the man who had held her heart for the past 14 years. The only man she ever dreamed about. The man who was the sole reason she loved Teppanyaki. The man who had her so tied in knots that she was now a nervous wreck.
The man who was sitting at the next table over, eating with such a sad look on his face.
Two years of eating at this restaurant, hoping for a chance to meet him again. And now…
She stood up, took the armband off her wrist and quietly began the trek over to his table, to see if… To see if.
XXX END SCENE XXX
It was really strange. The girl reminded him of something… For some reason, he kept thinking about Mizuki and the beach when he looked at this girl.
And that was really odd. Because the girl looked nothing like Mizuki. Mizuki was lean and athletic. This girl was curvy – very curvy in all the right places. Mizuki had short hair. This girl had hair so long that even braided, it looked like she might accidentally sit on it. Mizuki was outgoing and not at all shy. But this girl seemed to be quiet yet decisive. There was really nothing alike about the two at all.
He noticed her fingering something on her wrist. Then she got a wistful look on her face. With a look of determination, she pushed back from the table and stood up. And turned toward his table.
She nodded at Auntie, who smiled at her as she started back toward Shuichi's table. And that was odd, too. Auntie protected him from all the odd – and some of them were VERY odd – fans who sought him out wherever he was. But Auntie just smiled at the girl and winked. He saw Auntie wink at the girl.
This could only mean trouble.
She stopped in front of his table and bowed. And paused. Then, he saw her take a deep breath and let it out. Finally, she looked him in the eye.
"You probably don't remember me…"
'Remember her? You mean I KNOW her from somewhere?' he thought frantically.
"…but… I… I've been holding on to this for you. You told me that I should give it back the next time we met. But… I never saw you again, and I think it's about time I gave it back to you." She held out the worn armband. 14 years of wear. 14 years of stitching and repair.
He took the armband and looked at it. His mind flashed back to his summer at the beach house with Sano and Ashiya. He put his hand to his head, as he remembered a three-year old girl holding desperately onto his hair, unwilling to let him go – as if she instinctively knew she'd never see him again if she did. He looked at her in shock. He quietly muttered her name, "Kyoumi?" but she didn't seem to hear him.
"I'm sorry, the color's a little faded. And I've had to repair it a lot. Maybe you didn't mean for me to actually wear it…" She was obviously trying to apologize for not keeping it in better shape.
"Kyoumi? Kagurazaka Kyoumi!" he asked again, a little louder, and she gasped!
'He… He remembers me!' she wanted to smile at that, but she felt like she was going to cry. She nodded at him, gave a quick smile, then panicked and turned to run out of the restaurant.
"Oh my god! Kyoumi-chan!" He quickly stood up and embraced her in a hug before she could get two steps into her flight. She thought, 'God, let me die right now, and I'll be happy.'
But God had plans beyond that for her.
He swung her in a circle. "OH MY GOD! Kyoumi-chan!" He started to laugh! "You're all grown up!" He set her down and smiled at her – it was the smile that had broken thousands of fans' hearts.
"And attending St. Blossoms, I see!
"Please, join me for dinner. How the hell have you been?" He gushed enthusiasm at her, and she was blushing so red, she thought she must match a fire hydrant. Her knees felt like they might give out at any second, so she sat at the table across from him so that he wouldn't notice her nerves.
"Auntie!" he called, then turned back to the girl. "Have you already eaten? Do you want some tea or juice? Anything you want! It's my treat!" She smiled at him and Auntie O brough Kyoumi a refill of her tea, a plate, a spatula, and some chopsticks, and asked her what she'd like to eat.
As they were talking, Nakatsu sat back and stared at the girl bemusedly. 'Imaging meeting little Kyoumi-chan at a place like this!' He could really see the little girl she had been – in a way she hadn't changed at all. Except… 'But she sure isn't little any more!' he thought as he found his eyes attracted to her soft curves. 'C or D… What the!' He closed his eyes quickly and mentally smacked himself hard across the head. Then he mentally kicked himself for good measure. 'This is KYOUMI-chan! You can't be thinking like that!'
He opened his eyes to peet at her again as Auntie walked away to fill the girl's order. 'She sure is beautiful though. Who would ever have thought that Kagurazaka's baby sister would turn out so HOT!' He shook his head to clear it and repeated like a litany, "Not hot. No no no. Not hot. KYOUMI!'
"So!" He was startled at his voice squeaking and cleared his throat. "How long has it been?" He smiled at her again.
"F- fourteen years," she replied. "Plus a few months."
"THAT long, huh? So you're… seventeen now?"
"Eighteen. It… my birthday was last month."
"Eighteen, huh? You're all grown up!" He blushed as he realized the implication of what he'd said, and shoved some food in his mouth to cover it up. "I see you're going to St. Blossom's. How do you like it?"
She gave a little shrug and said, "It's okay."
"Just okay? But… Eh, it's none of my business." He took a bite of his food, straight from the spatula, and she smiled. 'He really does eat straight off the spatula – just like the article said.'
"What's none of your business?" she asked politely.
He cocked his head at her and said, "Well… your brother went to school at a public school in Tokyo – so that means you live near Tokyo. Isn't… Isn't this a bit far away for you to be going to school?"
She blushed and looked down at her tea.
"You don't have to answer," he rushed to ease her discomfort. "Like I said, it's really none of my business."
She looked up and saw his face – he was trying so hard to make her feel better. "It's okay. I just… I kinda picked this school and talked my parents into letting me go there."
Sensing she would feel uncomfortable going into further detail, he said, "Oh! Well, I have to say it makes sense that you'd go there. St. Blossoms is really known for it's beautiful students-"
He cut himself off as he realized what he was saying. She stared at him, her eyes wide. 'He thinks I'm beautiful?' She felt her heart beat faster.
Frantically he looked around for some inspiration on how to change the subject – to hide what he'd just said. His eyes fell on the armband, which was resting now on the table – almost in a place of honor.
Gently he picked it up. "I… can't believe you still have this." A look of wonder and warmth lit his face as he looked back at her. His fingers on the band lightly touched the delicate repair work she'd done on it. "You must have put a lot of effort into keeping it… wearable."
She looked up at him shyly. "I'd promised to keep it for you. I don't break promises." She glanced away, as she quietly said, "I… probably shouldn't have… I probably should have just kept it in… a drawer. Then it wouldn't have gotten so worn." She turned back to face him directly. "I hope you don't mind that I wore it every day!" she blurted out.
He sat back, up straight, his surprise apparent. "Why would you want to wear it every day?"
Her embarrassment was now total. But there was no escaping it. And deep down, she knew this would eventually come out. "I… To remember," her voice was quiet, but steady. "So I would always remember you, and how nice you were to me."
This was unexpected. Nakatsu felt his heart warm to her.
"You know, that whole summer, I thought you hated me," he quietly told her, and her jaw dropped in shock.
The famous Nakatsu-smile glowed at her. "Well, you were only three. I shouldn't have taken it so personally. But… you kept doing things… I thought… It doesn't matter."
She leaned forward and put both hands flat on the table. "It matters to me!" The anger in her voice startled him. "I… What did I do? You thought I… It matters to me!"
"It was… just silly things." The look on her face clearly indicated that this would not be dropped. "When I first met you, I asked you how old you were and you held up three fingers and jammed two of them up my nose." Her hands covered her mouth and she pulled away from him, aghast. "When I was showing you how to do a water pistol, you grabbed the hose that was filling the wading pool and soaked me." Her eyes got bigger. "But looking back on it, that was really cute! I mean, you were just frustrated and found an easier solution.
"And you were only three, so you probably were just repeating something your brother said when you called me a homo."
Her hands moved to completely hide her face from him. "I… I don't remember any of that," she said in a tiny voice.
"Hey, it's okay!" he was a little amused at her reaction, and a little confused by it. "At the end of the summer I understood. God, you were so sweet. I thought you were just taking one more chance to pick on me when your brother held you up to say goodbye and you grabbed and pulled on my hair, but then you started crying. You just didn't want to leave. It was…" he looked at the grown up woman in front of him and felt weird about relating that experience with this one, "adorable."
She peeked out from her fingers at him and saw him smiling at her. Her hands slowly dropped to her lap, and her eyes shone with the memory. "That's when…"
"Yup. That's when I gave you this." Cocking his head at her again, he said, "But I don't understand. If you don't remember any of that summer, why did you keep this? You said that you'd promised to return it. You did, but if you don't remember – why should you? You were only three. But still-"
Interrupting his rambling: "I remember that summer. I just remember it differently." Her voice was soft, but filled with some emotion he couldn't name. "I remember that this boy with funny yellow hair had on shoes just like my big brother. I remember that he was the only one at that place who looked me in the face and talked TO me, not AT me. I remember that boy spending all kinds of time with me – when he should have wanted to be with his friends – and making sure that I was having fun the whole time I was there." She looked him directly in the eyes. "I remember him making me laugh all summer. And I remember my brother telling me that I'd never see that boy again.
"I remember panicking and feeling lost, and that boy smiling at me and telling me not to cry. And giving me… something that was special to him – something he'd worn EVERY day that summer." Hands rested on her heart. "That's what I remember.
"I just…" here she paused and her face became uncertain again. "When I never saw you again, I just figured you… you wouldn't remember me. But I promised to return this, and I don't break promises!" Her voice was defiant and there was fire in her eyes when she looked at him again.
'God. She's beautiful!' He was stunned by how radiant she looked as she faced him. "You know, Kyoumi, I would never have even considered that you would even think of breaking a promise. You're not that kind of person. I just didn't expect you to remember." The spatula came to his mouth again, so that he'd have an excuse to not talk. 'I shouldn't look at her like this, but she's just so beautiful.'
She looked down again, shyly. "I didn't expect you to remember me, either."
For a few moments they ate in silence. They were both a bit embarrassed. But Nakatsu never let anything get him down for long.
"So I expect you graduate in March?"
"Yeah. I'm in my final year, so there's not a lot of classes this year. Just mostly studying for the entrance exams."
"I remember. Third year was when I really started doing better in school. I really got more focused on my future, so it finally seemed important. What do you plan to do after you graduate?"
"I – I – " She looked embarrassed. "I don't know!" she cried.
He instantly reached out and grasped her hand. "Hey! Hey! That's okay! You've got time! Not everyone has their decision made up for them in junior high." He began to stroke her hand, and she became mesmerized, watching his fingers stroke hers, feeling his smooth skin against her own.
'Really, God. You can take me now. This would be a really good note to go out on,' she thought to herself. She looked up at him, eyes dazed.
"I remember my friend Mizuki, she didn't decide what she wanted to do until the end of her second year, and then she had to change her whole plan when…" 'Why the hell am I talking to her about Mizuki. That's just rude!' "Whatever. That's beside the point."
He continued to hold her hand as he looked into her eyes. "The point is, you have time." Her eyes were so deep and brown. "You can do anything you want." So deep. "What do you like to do?"
Again, they sat in silence, but this time, it was filled with them looking into each others' eyes.
Her brain was catching on something. 'I'm not saying anything. What, what, I'm supposed to be saying something… He asked…'
With a start, she shook her head and said, "Wha- Um. I… I like to write." She held up her notebook – it was full of short stories she'd written.
"Really? That's so cool!"
The rest of the meal was filled with comfortable small talk. Comfortable small talk. Something she'd never had before ever, and something he only felt with a very few of his oldest friends. In his current state of fame, it was so rare it was like a precious gem.
As they finished eating, they both fell silent though. The meal was coming to an end. They'd have to go back to their lives, alone. Simultaneously, they sighed. Then laughed.
Shuichi stood up and held his hand out to her. She took it and stood. "May I… May I walk you back to your dorm?"
The buxom brunette smiled and nodded. Still holding hands, they walked out of the restaurant, and Auntie O beamed as they left.
As they neared St. Blossoms, their pace began to slow down. At the gate, Shuichi stopped and turned to her.
"Could I… Could I maybe read some of your stories? I promise I'll return them-"
She interrupted him, "You'll return them the next time we meet?"
He grinned at her and nodded.
She opened up her notebook and scribbled something in the front cover. Then she thrust the book into his hands. "I… I put my cell phone number in the front. You could… call me when you're done." Holding his hands, she took a deep breath and looked up at him. "I hope this doesn't take another 14 years. But even if it does, I'll still be waiting."
She quickly leaned up to give him a peck on the lips. Her intent was to kiss him quickly and then run into the school before she could get embarrassed.
Again, God had different plans for her.
The moment her lips touched his, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her in, kissing her thoroughly. His tongue parted her lips, and they both felt heat pool in their centers. When they finally broke for air, he cupped her face in his hand, and she instinctively leaned into it.
"I have to go back to Tokyo tomorrow, Kyoumi-chan." His voice saying her name. Again, she thought, 'Okay, God. Thanks for leaving me for this. But if I can't hear him say my name again like that, please, end it now.'
Aloud she said, and was proud that she didn't sound sad, "I understand. You do have a career. My friends say you were pretty good last year – I don't know much about sports, so I had to ask." She looked a bit embarrassed.
He laughed. It was a full-out belly laugh. Free from worry, and one that showed he was truly, truly happy. Then he pulled her to him again and whispered in her ear, "But when I come back for you, I'll return your book then. Don't worry. I promise it won't be so long this time."
They held onto each other tightly, neither wanting to let go this time. Then they broke apart and backed away from each other, not wanting to look away. Finally, they both turned and ran away from the gate, breathing heavy.
XXX END SCENE XXX
Her friends surrounded her.
"YOU KISSED NAKATSU!" they shrieked at her. "WE SAW YOU!"
She blushed and said, "He's an old friend." And walked back to her room.
Her roommate, Sakura, halted her progress as she said, "He was wearing that ugly old armband that you're never without. Are you guys, like, an item?"
She smiled up at her friend. "I've been holding onto it for him for a long time. I finally got to give it back."
Sakura stood in front of her and crossed her arms, blocking Kyoumi's path. "You didn't answer my question, Kyoumi!"
Kyoumi shrugged, blushed, and said, "Uh… We'll find out when he returns my notebook."
"OH! MY! GOD! You gave him your notebook of stories! You won't let ANYONE read that!" Kyoumi shrugged and tried to push past the wiry girl she'd been living with for the past two years.
"You are in love with him." Sakura said quietly so that only Kyoumi could hear. When the curvy girl didn't deny it, she said loud enough for their classmates to hear, "So how long have you known him?"
"Wait. That's how long you've had that armband, isn't that what you told me?"
Kyoumi shrugged and again tried to get around the girl to go to their room. Away from all the prying eyes of their classmates. This time, her roommate let her go, and followed her to the room. They entered and closed the rest of the school out.
"You've been in love with him that long?"
Kyoumi blushed and nodded. No sense in denying it now.
"And what does he think about you?"
Kyoumi again shrugged. "He kissed me."
Sakura sat back and sighed in envy. "True. And you know what? For the past two years, the press has been saying that maybe he's gay, cuz he NEVER dates." She held up her hands in defense as Kyoumi glared at her. "Hey, don't get mad at me. I saw that kiss. Gay men don't kiss delectable curvy girls like you that way."
Kyoumi looked up at her, curiously. "What way?"
Laughing, Sakura leaned back and fell onto her bed. "The way that makes even people watching the kiss get hot, bothered, and expecting more."
As Kyoumi flushed down to her roots, Sakura said, "I'm so happy for you."
XXX END SCENE XXX
As he walked back to his hotel, he was thinking only of the beautiful brunette that he'd met all those years ago. What luck to have met her. But she was so young – should he really… didn't this make him a dirty pervert? Briefly he remembered how he'd fallen for Mizuki and refused to admit it to himself for so long. 'I'm definitely not gay.' He remembered the way the girl had felt in his arms. 'Okay. I'm a dirty pervert,' he thought with a smile. 'I just don't care, if it means I can be…' Quick flashes of all the things he'd like to do to that luscious body passed through his head, interspersed with all the things he'd just like to do with her, making a permanent impression. 'If I can be with her,' he thought as his chest heaved, and his heartrate sped up, "I just really don't care!'
THE END FOR NOW…