"Ami's Lonely Days - - Cupid Usagi Strikes"
A Sailor Moon fanfic
By Bill K
Sailor Moon and all related characters are (c)2006 by Naoko Takeuchi/Kodansha and Toei Animation and are used without permission, but with respect. Revised story is (c)2012 by Bill K.
Thank you to BrownToneGirl, who unwittingly pointed me in the direction of this story.
Dr. Ami Mizuno stood at a filing cabinet in the doctor's office she shared with her colleague, Dr. Mamoru Chiba, and checked over the prescription log for the day. It had been a typical day at the office: a day's worth of patients with ailments running the gamut from an infected toenail to follow up on a recovering heart patient. Her work was never dull at the office.
Unlike her social life. Instantly Dr. Mizuno shunted such thoughts to the back of her mighty brain.
"Oh, Dr. Mizuno," said Chiyo, the receptionist, handing Ami a phone message written on a piece of note paper, "Dr. Nezuma called again while you were in with your last patient." Chiyo was a vivacious young woman of twenty-one with long silky black hair pinned up for work, a tawny, sleek form hidden by a proper white blouse and black skirt, and twinkling violet eyes that hinted of barely restrained mischievous activity.
Ami took the paper with a raised eyebrow and a smirk. "Dr. Nezuma needs to learn to take 'no' for an answer."
"Well it is a pretty prestigious job offer," Chiyo argued. "And Tezuka Medical Industries is a pretty prestigious research lab. You should be flattered they want you."
"I am," Ami said calmly, "but they need to realize that I do just as much good here at this doctor's office as I could in their research facility. Too many doctors get lured away from basic medicine by huge salaries and fancy medical labs. There are enough people researching cures. Somebody has to be here to decide who needs them."
"I guess," the young woman said, filing her end of the day paperwork. "But it is a lot of money."
Ami grinned to herself.
"So what do you have planned for tonight, Doctor?" Chiyo asked. Knowing Chiyo, she had another night of music and dancing planned. Ami knew the look in her eye well.
"I'm still reading Dr. Yurishenko's treatise on cold fusion energy."
She sensed Chiyo staring.
"It's quite engrossing," Ami protested.
"Do you ever go out at all?"
Chiyo was young and didn't immediately sense how uncomfortable Ami suddenly became.
"Occasionally," Ami murmured.
Aware now of the woman's discomfort, Chiyo awkwardly dropped the subject and allowed Ami to return to the prescription log. It wasn't that Ami resented the vibrant, playful lifestyle that Chiyo set for herself. The woman was twenty-one and such a lifestyle clearly agreed with her. But it disinterred a fact Ami had managed to keep buried under her work, in that she was thirty-two, had never been married and hadn't been in a serious relationship in years. It wasn't that she was unhappy with her life. But sometimes she missed the companionship of someone more intimate than friends or co-workers.
"Hi, Ami!" Usagi squealed as she burst through the door of the doctor's office. "Hi, Chiyo! Is Mamo-chan in with somebody?"
"Hi, Chiba-San!" Chiyo waved as she buzzed Usagi through. "No, I think he's on the phone with the pharmacy."
"Great!" Usagi beamed and hurried down the hall.
"It's nice to see you, Usagi," Ami called to the trails of golden hair swiftly disappearing down the hall. Moments later, Mamoru appeared. Usagi had her arms around his neck and was riding immodestly on his back, kissing him over and over again as he carried her.
"Um, I think I better go," Mamoru grinned as Usagi nibbled his neck. "I think my wife misses me. Lock up?"
"What tipped you?" giggled Chiyo. Ami concealed her smile. But the smile quickly dimmed. As much as she loved Usagi and as much as she was happy for the woman, seeing such public displays of affection between her and Mamoru only served to remind her of the empty place in her life.
Outside, January was cold, a particularly cold beginning to the year 2011. Mamoru and Usagi walked to the lot where his car was parked, Usagi clinging to his arm as she often did. He looked down at her and noticed the faraway look in his wife's blue eyes.
"What's wrong?" he asked. She looked up at him suddenly, surprised by the question.
"Oh," Usagi shook herself, "I was just thinking about Ami. Doesn't she seem lonely to you?"
"Not really," Mamoru replied. "She seems like the same old Ami I've always known."
"Well, is she going out with someone?"
"I don't know. I don't think so. It's really none of my business."
"How can you say that?" Usagi howled as Mamoru paused to open the car.
"Because Ami is thirty-two years old and capable of making her own decisions."
"But she's always been so shy around men. She's always been afraid of love."
"And maybe she hasn't met anyone she wants to spend the rest of her life with."
"But it's not natural," Usagi fumed. "Think about how happy Mako-chan has been with Sanjuro! Think about how much Haruka and Michiru do for each other! Think about how much Toshihiro had calmed Minako down!" Usagi smacked the side of her head. "That was a bad example." She looked over to Mamoru as he engaged the car. "And where would I be without you?"
"Let's not even go there," Mamoru said, then leaned over and kissed Usagi. "But people are different and what's good for a hundred people may make the hundred and first sick." He winked at Usagi. "I learned that in medical school."
"It's a good thing you learned something," Usagi shot back.
"I sense your meddling instinct flaring up," Mamoru told her. "I doubt there's anything I can do to stop you. Just keep in mind that Ami might not automatically be grateful."
Usagi looked to her hands as she considered her husband's advice - - for all of thirty seconds.
At the Tokyo Metropolitan Library's Central District Branch, Hayami Fujihara scanned in the afternoon's batch of CD returns. Though the technology had been slowly dying due to MP-3 technology, the library still carried a stock of CD format media for customers who either weren't up to date on the latest technology or preferred the older one. The library even still had a collection of vinyl records, though nobody checked them out anymore. Though people milled about looking for something they hadn't heard yet or some old favorite they wanted to listen to again, Hayami continued with what he was doing unaffected. He went about his work quietly and unassumingly, but with one eye out for the approach of a visitor in need of assistance.
Hayami Fujihara was thirty-five. He'd been with the library eleven years and supervisor of the audio-visual department for three. In that time, everyone from superiors to co-workers to guests had a favorable impression of the man, though if pressed few could name anything specific about him. The best anyone usually could come up with was quiet, unassuming or genial.
He was usually dressed in dark slacks and shoes, a white or light pastel shirt - - short sleeves in the summer, long in the winter - - and a black tie that was inevitably loosened before a half hour of his shift passed. His clothes often seemed rumpled, mostly because it was harder and harder to drape his increasingly pear-shaped body. Whenever questioned about his waistline,
Hayami would usually make a quiet joke about his sedentary ways or murmur that he probably needed to join a gym. Then he would push his thick black frame glasses back up his nose or smooth back his black hair that was hinting at receding and go back to his work. He was always courteous and mild-mannered.
But no one would ever associate the words "brilliant conversationalist" with Hayami Fujihara.
It wasn't that he was unintelligent. Those who knew him longest knew he had a deep appreciation for the classical arts and was very cognizant of current events. He had a humanist lean to his beliefs and, though few things angered him, mistreatment of people or animals were two. But to people he didn't know, he was courteously reserved an, though loathe to offend,seemed reluctant to venture out of his safe cocoon.
As he finished with the last of the CDs, Hayami caught the movement of someone approaching out of the corner of his eye. He looked up, prepared to greet the customer, and found a pleasant surprise.
"Dr. Mizuno," he smiled - - his co-workers noticed that Hayami always smiled a little more broadly for the petite doctor with the short black hair and glasses. "How nice to see you again."
"It's nice to see you, too, Fujihara-San," Ami warmly smiled back. She handed him a CD.
"Did you like the album?"
"Oh, yes, it was quite wonderful," Ami beamed. "I've never heard traditional Japanese music played with quite the verve that Tanaka-San manages. I played it for my friend, Rei, and she was impressed as well. And Rei is quite the traditionalist, so it isn't easy to impress her with such things."
"That's good to hear, Dr. Mizuno," Hayami replied and genuinely meant it. Suddenly he fished around under the desk, then came up with a recently returned cartridge. "If you're interested in western classical, you might like this." He handed the cartridge to her.
"Michiru Kaioh?" Ami asked, reading the label on the cartridge.
"She's magnificent," Hayami marveled. "She's the greatest violinist I've ever heard. I even think she manages to surpass Fritz Kreisler."
"Actually I have this album at home," she smiled, handing the cartridge back. "And you're right, she's very good."
"You're a fan of western classical?" Hayami asked.
"More accurately, I'm a fan of Michiru, um, I mean Kaioh-San. Do you know she paints, too?"
"Yes! I loved her book of prints so much, I went out and bought a copy for myself. Her work is very powerful. She's, um," and Hayami looked down nervously. Ami almost thought he was blushing. "She's almost as good - - as your father." He suddenly looked panicked. "Um, your father is Yoji Mizuno, isn't he?"
Ami twittered softly. "Yes, he is," she answered. Then her expression softened and warmed. "Thank you. I'm very proud of my father."
A pregnant pause came with the lull of the conversation.
"Well, I have to get back to the office," Ami said. "I only stopped by to return this and a book I had checked out."
"What book?" Hayami inquired.
"'The Bonding of Specific Geno-types, Causes and Effects' by Dr. Claudio Zabel," Ami told him.
"My," Hayami responded, surprised by the title and in a way not that surprised, "you do have unusual reading habits."
"Just trying to broaden my horizons," she grinned. With that, she turned and headed for the door. On the way, she was joined unexpectedly.
"Hi, Ami," Usagi said, sliding up next to her. "I'm not surprised to find you in the library, but I am surprised to find you in A-V. Check out a five-hanky love story?"
"I have better things to do," Ami smirked indulgently. She glanced at the book under Usagi's arm. "'Traditional Japanese Architecture'?"
"I needed reference material for a story I'm drawing. It's times like this that make me sorry I made the mistake of setting 'Fire Princess Rika' in the 18th century."
"You see, you should have paid attention in history class," Ami needled.
"Never mind that," Usagi said, eyes narrowing and mouth curling. "Who was that man I saw you talking with?"
"Fujihara-San is a librarian here."
"Do you like him?" Usagi probed.
"He's very nice," Ami said innocently. "He's very sweet and very well-read."
"Nooo!" Usagi howled. "Do you LIKE him?"
Ami gasped in shock. "Usagi! Is it remotely possible in your world for a man and a woman to engage in conversation without it being a precursor to romance?"
"You are truly hopeless," Ami said, shaking her head, though she couldn't help smiling. "Fujihara-San is a nice person and I enjoy talking with him. It's not romantic in any way."
"Well, with a little help, maybe . . ."
"I'm going. Good-bye now."
Usagi watched Ami leave. Then her eyebrow went up. Then she headed back to the A-V room.
"Hello, ma'am," Hayami smiled at the approaching stranger. His hands rested on the desk expectantly, next to a stack of recently returned Blu-Ray disks. "May I help you?"
"Um, hi," Usagi said, trying to be her most charming. "Um - - goodness, I really don't know how to ask this without sounding weird. Ah ha ha ha ha ha!"
"Does it have something to do with our audio or video collection?" Hayami asked politely, though he found this strange blonde with the strange hairstyle - - strange.
"No, nothing like that. Um, well, in a way it does, but it doesn't. You know?"
Hayami stared at her blankly.
"Um, that woman that was just here - - Ami Mizuno?"
"Yes, Dr. Mizuno," Hayami smiled, for this was the first moment he'd understood what this woman was driving at.
"Do you like her?"
"She's a very articulate, very charming woman," he admitted, then reflexively sought out his hands. "Is she a friend of yours?"
"No, um, I mean, yes, she's a friend of mind, but, um, that's not what I was going to ask." Usagi blew at her bangs. "How much do you like her?"
"I mean, do you like her as a friend or," and Usagi fought down a lump in her throat, "or would you - - like it to be more?"
"Uh," Hayami answered. There was an urge forming in his chest to hyperventilate.
"Because she's not seeing anyone! She isn't serious about any man. She's not promised to anyone - - and if you really want to ask her out, you should!" Usagi leaned in conspiratorially. "Because I think she'd say 'yes'."
"Um . . . really . . ." Hayami whispered. "That's - - very interesting. Um, thank you, ma'am. W-was there anything else?"
Usagi looked at him. Hayami wasn't reacting the way she expected him to react.
"Um, I didn't - - offend you, did I?" she asked.
"No," Hayami replied and a small smile began to dawn on his face. "Thank you for telling me this, ma'am. It's unexpected news, but good news."
"In that case, it's Usagi," Usagi smiled. Then her eyes twinkled. "Just remember, I get to be bride's maid at your wedding!"
And off she hopped, a joyous spring in her step. Hayami didn't really notice. He was too busy suppressing the urge to hyperventilate again.
A scant twenty-four hours later, Ami found herself back at the library, this time not by choice. Usagi had shown up at the office the doctor shared with Mamoru to see her rather than him. Then her friend practically dragged her to the library branch where Hayami worked. Clearly Usagi had something up her sleeve, but trying to guess what Usagi had in mind courted madness.
"This is what was so important?" Ami asked, the late January wind whipping under her coat. "Is the library having an exhibition of some sort?"
"You'll see," Usagi chirped happily. It was the same maddening response Ami had gotten to all her inquiries. Since the revelation of this mystery was about to come, Ami surrendered and let Usagi pull her inside. Once inside, they headed straight for the A-V department.
"Let me guess," Ami sighed, for she loved Usagi dearly, but the woman could be maniacally immature at times, "the Sailor V anime is out on Blu-Ray?"
"It is?" Usagi asked, then realized what Ami was saying. "No! See that man?" Usagi pointed through the door to the desk.
"Fujihara-San?" Ami asked.
"I think he has something to ask you," Usagi continued, in a sing-song fashion. Then she shoved Ami into the room. Taking a few steps to regain her balance - - and her dignity - - Ami ventured up to the desk. Hayami's face lit up when he saw her.
"Dr. Mizuno," he smiled. "It's so nice to see you again."
"Thank you, Fujihara-San," Ami beamed. "I feel the same."
"Please, Doctor, if it's not being impolite, feel free to call me Hayami," the man said with deep sincerity and warmth.
"Why, thank you," Ami replied, "Hayami. Please feel free to call me Ami."
"Ami," he said, smiling wider as he sampled the name. "Thank you."
"I wasn't aware you knew my friend, Usagi," Ami noted and nodded behind her. Hayami shifted his gaze. Usagi waved, barely able to contain herself.
"Um, she introduced herself to me yesterday," Hayami admitted. "She seems very interested in your life."
"Usagi is a very caring friend," Ami said, flushing slightly and privately amazed she could still do so at thirty-two. "She's very concerned with the welfare of her friends and tends to involve herself a great deal." Trying to shift conversation away from herself, Ami ventured, "She said you had something to ask me?"
With that, Hayami grew visibly uncomfortable. Ami instantly noted the visual cues. He seemed embarrassed, tense and nervous. This piqued the doctor's curiosity.
"Well," Hayami began hoarsely, looking at his hands, "according to your friend, you aren't seeing anyone - - seriously."
"She said that?" Ami gasped. Now she was the one feeling tense and embarrassed.
"Yes," Hayami admitted, startled by her reaction. "She said you weren't promised to anyone or seeing anyone seriously. And-and she said you might - - might like me."
"Oh my goodness!" Ami cried. Hayami could see the utter horror on her face. "She was this personal and informal to-to someone she just met!"
"It-it's all right," Hayami said quickly. "She - - I wasn't offended by it!"
"Nevertheless, she had no right burdening you with such things," Ami said, on the verge of tears. She bowed to him, right there in the library. "Please forgive her and me for disrupting your life with such personal matters! It won't happen again!"
And Ami hurried away. Hayami stared after her, his vital question dying on his lips. The young doctor steamed right up to Usagi, who realized at the last moment that things hadn't gone according to plan.
"Usagi, how could you?" Ami demanded, trying to keep her voice low enough so that no one else was disturbed.
"What?" Usagi whimpered.
"How could you," Ami stammered, momentarily losing her voice from her discomfiture, "embarrass him like that?"
"Ami, what are you talking about?"
"Fujihara-San is a respectable professional!" Ami hissed, her voice rising slightly. "He doesn't have time to be bothered by your - - your silly matchmaking schemes, particularly at his place of work!"
"But Ami," Usagi gasped.
"Be realistic," Ami said as she tore away from Usagi. "What would someone like him see in me?"
Usagi watched her friend flee out the library front door. She wanted to chase after her, but remembered Fujihara. Quickly she went up to the desk. Fujihara looked up at her and she caught a momentary glimpse of his disappointment.
"Fujihara-San," Usagi whimpered penitently, "I'm so sorry about this. I thought . . .!"
"It's all right," Hayami said, offering her a pained smile. "You were just trying to do a good deed. I don't blame her, I guess. What would someone as nice as her see in me"
When she hadn't picked him up after work, Mamoru figured Usagi was on a deadline, so naturally his first choice to look for her was her studio. He found her there - - but she wasn't drawing. Couple that with events of that afternoon and suspicions began to form.
"So," he began, his hands resting on either side of the back of Usagi's chair, "what happened between you and Ami this afternoon?"
Usagi looked up at him, towering over her from behind. Mamoru could see the tear stains on her cheeks and the devastated look in her big blue eyes. Her lip trembled.
And then the whole story poured out.
"I told you not to meddle," Mamoru said, his arms around his wife. She was crouched up against his chest as they sat on the sofa. Luna looked on from the far window sympathetically.
"I just thought," Usagi sobbed, her face buried in Mamoru's chest. "Mamo-chan, they both like each other. And they seem so shy. I just thought if I nudged them, maybe they'd get together and - - and be happy!" Another sob shuddered out of her. "Was she mad?"
"No," Mamoru sighed. "Morose more than anything."
"What does that mean?" Usagi squeaked.
"Disappointed. Hurt that a friend betrayed a confidence and talked about intimate details about her life behind her back."
"That wasn't what I meant to do!" wailed Usagi.
"I know. Some people aren't comfortable with that - - or with being nudged."
"It's more than that," Usagi sniffed, hiccupping. "Mamo-chan, she still thinks she's unattractive! Why! Why doesn't she think men like her?"
Mamoru hugged her tighter. "Usako, you're asking me questions that I can't answer. I certainly think she's an attractive woman. I always have."
"How attractive?" his wife squeaked. Mamoru bit his lip to force the smile from his face.
"Very attractive," he said, then tickled under his wife's chin with his finger, "though not nearly as attractive as you. I don't know why she thinks that way. Maybe it goes back further than either of us have known her. Maybe it got reinforced by the string of unsuccessful relationships she's had over her life. But I'm just guessing." He stroked Usagi's golden hair. "Maybe we should just butt out and let her live her own life."
Usagi contemplated everything her husband said while he hugged her and stroked her hair. What he said seemed to make sense, and he was so much smarter than she was that she'd be a fool not to listen.
Ami sat at her breakfast table, as she did ritually every morning she was preparing for work. She rose at the same time, prepared in the same manner every day, fixed herself a nutritious meal, then sat down at the table and read her three newspapers, one each from Tokyo, London and Beijing. Her three papers were stacked and waiting to be read. However today she just stared into space as she absently ate.
Usagi meant well, of course. The woman had an indefatigable belief that everyone had a mate and that love was the single greatest state of mind in the world. It was part of what set her above mere humans, for Ami had long since embraced the notion that Usagi was a special person destined for special things. There had been no malice in what she'd done, unlike other incidents long in her past.
But to involve Hayami in it - - that's what made it hard to dismiss. She respected Hayami so much. In a world of selfishness, a world that seemed not only to accept ignorance, but to lionize it, Hayami was different. He was so kind and so giving, and though he didn't possess the intellectual quotient that Ami did, he had such an appreciation of the beautiful things in life. Whether it was art, music, prose or poetry, beauty stimulated him. And yet he wasn't arrogant about his tastes like so many intellectuals were. Hayami had such an open mind to new things and refused to condemn what he personally didn't care for.
Ami had been coming to that library and that department for years now and she always looked forward to her conversations with Hayami. The thought that now there was the cloud of "romance" hanging between them, thanks to Usagi's thoughtless meddling, disturbed her deeply. How could they just talk about intellectually stimulating things now with the implications of romance between them? Before there was the safety of friendship. Now the guilt and burden of rejected romance hung between them, for naturally there was no way he might be interested in her in that way. How could they talk freely amid that uncertain cloud? The best way to destroy a friendship was to inject romance into it.
The door buzzer shook her from her reverie. Ami rose and went to answer it. Peeking through the spy hole first, she found Usagi waiting. Her first inclination was not to answer it. However, Ami quickly dismissed that as illogical behavior and opened the door.
"Please forgive me for offending you, Ami!" Usagi cried. She bowed at the waist and held her hands up above her head, palms pressed together flat. "I'm very sorry!"
"Of course, Usagi," Ami whispered, melancholy at yet another reminder of yesterday's incident. "I know you were only trying to help. The fact that you're up this early proves you're as upset about this as I am. Come in. Would you like some juice?"
"No thank you," she squeaked. Ami's eyebrow went up. Usagi turning down food was another sign that she really was upset. "Really, Ami, I just thought that you and Fujihara-San would hit it off. You both really seem to like each other's company."
"Usagi, two people can be friends without it being romantic," Ami told her. "I enjoy being with Fujihara, but - - our relationship isn't that way."
"Ami, just because he's not much to look at . . ." Usagi began.
"It has nothing to do with his looks," Ami spoke up. "Certainly he's not the idol type that even I - - in weaker moments - - fantasized about when I was a teen. But I like to think I don't judge a person's merits solely upon looks."
"Is it because you're afraid you're not attractive to him? Because you are attractive! I wish you'd stop putting yourself down!"
"Usagi," Ami sighed.
"Oh, there I go getting personal again. I'm sorry!"
"I'm certain Hayami only sees me as a friend. And that's part of what disturbs me. I value his friendship, Usagi. If you go pushing us into - - into a relationship . . ."
Ami grimaced at painful memories. Usagi's heart bled for her.
"And it - - goes badly - - Usagi, I've lost more than just a lover then. I've lost a friend - - a friend I value greatly."
"Why would you think it would go badly?"
"I would have thought what happened with Minako and Toshihiro would have taught you that. Because love isn't as eternal as you like to think it is, Usagi."
"Is this about Ian?" Usagi asked, recalling for both of them the man Ami had conducted a torrid affair with during her second year of Masters studies at Oxford University. "Just because it ended badly with Ian doesn't mean it would end badly with Fujihara-San. You could be running away for a lifetime of happiness, Ami."
"So you say. And that's assuming your premise that Hayami is attracted to me is true - - which I dispute. What if it does go awry? How easily can failed lovers go back to being friends? I don't want to risk that, Usagi."
"But the reward could be so great if you only take the chance," Usagi pleaded. "Ami, aren't you lonely? Isn't there an empty hole in your life?"
The young doctor looked down. Mentally reviewing her life, she was suddenly struck by memories of her mother's life when Ami had returned from Oxford and how empty it was - - a fact that was still true to this day. And Ami realized that, unconsciously, she'd slipped into the same behavior pattern, despite all her efforts to pry her mother from her solitude.
"I'm sorry for meddling," Usagi offered. "All I want to do is help and all I seem to be doing is embarrassing you and making you feel uncomfortable. Maybe I should quit while you're still speaking to me."
"No, it's all right," Ami said, preoccupied with her vision. "If you're guilty of anything, it's over-optimism." Ami glanced at the clock. "I really have to be going, Usagi. I have patients that need me to see them."
The pair rose and headed for the door. Ami grabbed her coat and handed Usagi's coat to her.
"Can I drive you back home first?" Ami offered. "It won't make me late."
"That's OK," Usagi whispered. "Baishaku-San's office is close and I thought I'd drop in and see her."
The elevator ride to the lobby of Ami's apartment building was silent. The door opened and Usagi started out. Then, in the doorway, she turned and looked directly at Ami.
"Ami, there's all kinds of love in the world. It's not always like the movies or some romance novel. I know sometimes it seems like that's all I believe, but I know differently. Sometimes love is being overwhelmed by passion." She shrugged. "Sometimes it's just two people who fill each other's gaps - - you know?"
Ami seemed perplexed by Usagi's statement. Bowing her head, Usagi turned and walked off. The elevator door closed and the car headed for the underground parking garage. As it descended, Ami was dissecting what Usagi said. During the drive to her office, she continued to dissect the statement, trying to understand it. It seemed like just another argument for Usagi's side of the question. Yet the more Ami thought about it, turned it over in her mind and examined it for what it meant, the more there seemed to be some kernel of profundity in the simple statement.
"The thirty-first!" sighed Chiyo, at her desk looking at her calendar. "Finally, January is over!"
"Don't like January?" asked Mai, the medical technician for the office.
"No. It's cold and it's dreary. February at least has Valentine's Day in it." Chiyo grinned. "Got to get me some chocolate, too."
"For Daddy - - or did you get lucky?" Mai asked. Ami was in the background, half-listening.
"I've got my eye on a certain someone," she smiled. "And if he likes it, I may get something sweet in return."
"And you might not," Mai smirked.
"Hey, love is a gamble," Chiyo shrugged. Then she smiled broadly. "But when you roll a seven, you win big."
From a distance, Ami stared at Chiyo and Mai for several moments. Then she went into her office to prepare for the day's patients.
Hayami heard the person approach the desk in Audio-Visual. He looked up and found Ami there. The mixture of hope and awkward embarrassment was clear on her face. It matched his own.
"Dr. Mizuno," he greeted her quietly.
"I was hoping it could still be Ami," Ami said. That drew a quick, but cautious grin from him.
"I," he began, then relented. "That's fine, Ami."
"Hayami," Ami said tensely, "is there a time and a place where we could meet and talk? Things went very badly two days ago and I'd like to have the chance to - - clarify things. I don't want to interfere with your work . . ."
"If you want to take some time off, I'll handle the desk," his fellow librarian, a young man with a thin moustache and sleepy eyes under his sloppily combed black hair.
"I can do this after work," Hayami deferred.
"Go ahead. How many times have you covered for me? Use the study room. It's empty and it's too cold to go outside."
Relenting, Hayami escorted Ami to the study room, a small room off the A-V department containing a table and four chairs where students could leaf through audio or video material in private. Hayami held out a chair for Ami, then sat down opposite her. The young doctor summoned her courage and pressed on.
"Again, I apologize for everything that happened," Ami offered. "Usagi tends to be a little over-zealous at times, but I reacted much more strongly than I should have. I suppose it's the doctor in me, but I believe that personal details of a person's life shouldn't be bandied about to other people."
"I understand, Ami," Hayami nodded.
"Usagi tends to believe that there's always more than friendship between men and women, that it isn't possible to have a relationship that isn't romantic or sexual. Please don't be annoyed with her. She tends to over-estimate my allure to the opposite sex."
"Well, Ami," Hayami countered, "I think any man would find you very attractive. You're very bright and very engaging, and you're quite a pretty person, too."
"You're very kind to say so," Ami smiled shyly.
"That's why I was so surprised to hear your friend tell me that you weren't seeing anyone. I just assumed someone as charming as you would be engaged with someone else."
"Not for a while now," Ami admitted, looking away.
"That's very surprising," Hayami said, then averted his gaze. "I can understand in my case. I'm not terribly handsome or witty . . ."
"Please don't say that, Hayami," Ami told him. "I find you quite witty and charming as well. As for physical appearance, it's only shallow people who don't recognize the beauty of a kind and gentle soul. I've met physically beautiful men who were so inwardly repellant that I couldn't stand to be in their presence. You're a great deal more attractive than any of them."
Hayami's head came up. His eyes locked with Ami's and for a brief moment each person seemed to see their souls mirrored in the other person. Hayami swallowed nervously.
"Ami," he began tentatively, "forgive me if this is too personal a question, but - - are you lonely?"
Ami felt her eyes water. He could see that, just from looking at her? But then, she knew he was a smart man.
"It does seem to be a growing pattern in my life," she admitted, because she couldn't bring herself to lie to her friend, not even to spare herself humiliation.
"Well," he started to say and Ami could sense him struggling with his thoughts, "would you - - consider - - spending some time with me?" Ami looked at him, the surprise evident in her expression. "Perhaps we could - - go out, after work? Spend some time together? We already know we like each other's company. This way we could - - maybe - - be a little less lonely?" He quickly realized what he was asking. "I'm not trying to be forward! And I'm not interested in asking just out of sexual interests - - although you're a very beautiful woman and - - but it's not my objective . . .!"
A smile was spreading across Ami's lips. It was small, timid, but what this dear, sweet, caring man was inspiring within her couldn't be suppressed any longer. Impulsively, something Ami Mizuno rarely did, she reached across the table and covered Hayami's hand with hers.
"I think that's an excellent idea," Ami told him, her voice breathless with a euphoria blooming in her heart. "It's certainly more logical than sitting home alone with my books for company night after night. And I already know I'll like the companion. Shall we say tonight?"
"Yes!" Hayami nodded enthusiastically. "There's a performance of Mai Norihiku tonight. It's a fusion of Japanese and western dance styles. Would you like to go?"
"Certainly," Ami smiled, then averted her eyes shyly. "And perhaps afterward, we could - - discuss the merits of the performance - - over a late dinner?"
"It sounds wonderful," Hayami replied and his giddy smile suddenly made Ami feel like she'd just conquered cancer.
As Usagi entered the candy store near the library, she encountered something more pleasant than either the wonderful smell of the chocolate aroma inside or the anticipation of giving her love and her life his Valentine's Day chocolates - - and sharing them with him later snuggled up on the couch.
"Ami?" Usagi gasped. "What are you doing here?" Then she glanced down at the small bag in Ami's hand. Usagi grew a sly look. "And what's in the bag?"
"A box with a chocolate valentine heart in it," Ami whispered, blushing in a way Usagi hadn't seen her do since they were teens.
"Who's it for?" Usagi inquired. "You wouldn't be blushing like that if it was for your dad."
"Very observant, Usagi," Ami replied, smiling like she was about to burst.
"Who is he?" Usagi gasped.
Ami thought for a moment, then relented. "Come along. I suppose of anyone on this Earth, you have the most right to know."
Usagi followed Ami, peppering her with questions, but her friend steadfastly refused to answer any of them. Just before she was about to shriek from frustration, Usagi noticed they were approaching the library.
And she dared to hope.
Hanging back in the doorway at a discreet distance, Usagi watched Ami walk up to the desk of the Audio-Visual section. Hayami looked up and his face lit up when he saw her.
"Ami! Well this is a pleasant surprise!" he exclaimed softly. "I wasn't expecting to see you so soon after last night."
"Well, Hayami, I felt I just had to tell you how much I've enjoyed the last two weeks," Ami told him from the heart. "The difference your company has made in my life has been - -well, truly remarkable. I'm very grateful." Hayami's two fellow librarians peeked over at the couple from the opposite side of the desk. Both were smiling, happy for their co-worker.
"Not as grateful as I am, Ami," Hayami told her. "The last two weeks have been such a shining paradise that it casts my life before as dismal and gray." He looked at her with, did Ami detect, a hint of love. "And I owe it all to you."
"I'm glad I could reciprocate with as much as you've given me, Hayami," Ami said. Then she brought the bag up to the desk. "That's why I wanted to give you a gift. It's my way of thanking you for all you mean to me," and she looked down for a moment, for she could feel her cheeks burning again, "and a gift, given what today is, that is presented with full cognizance of all of its implications."
Hayami swallowed nervously. Adjusting his thick glasses, he opened the bag and reached in. His hand drew out the decorative box. Tremulously he opened the box. His mouth opened in surprise, then he looked at Ami, joy dancing in his eyes and gratitude coloring his manner.
"YES!" Usagi shrieked, jumping up into the air.
Then she remembered she was in a library. Sheepishly she looked around at all the patrons who were staring at her like she was psychotic.
THE END - - AND THE BEGINNING