Fourth of May

Outside the gate to Professor Agasa's house, Ai kisses you on the lips.

Your world stops.

It's the first time she does this. You're both 17 today. Both her lips and yours are closed.

Offhand, you wonder why she never did it sooner.

"Happy birthday," she says in a low voice, with a twinkle in her eye. That's how you find out.

Afterwards, she escapes into the house across yours.

This is the one thing you hate most about being pubescent: the uncontrollable blushing. By all rights, you should have outgrown it by now. Then again, by all rights, you should be 27.

Ten weeks older than Ran.

But you aren't, are you?

You enter, and then close the door behind you. Ran is standing by the window. She wears her old-woman smile, the distant look on her face, the almost-tears, as if she were reading an email, or had just gotten off the phone.

"Was that Ai-chan I saw with you at the gate?" she asks you. Her voice is deeper and more melancholy than you remember.

You fumble for a reply. That's all you end up being good for, at 17. The hormones get in the way of your logic at times... and you note with amusement that those are only ever the times when you are with Ran.

But then you catch yourself. Ai is not "the other woman." And you're such a child. Why not just come up with some excuse to get out of this? You've always managed it before...

Ran waits, watching you, her lovely brown hair cut short, her hands absently wringing her apron. She's not 17 anymore and she's no longer so hard to fool.

She's been making dinner.

Are you still blushing?

"It's perfectly normal. You're almost the same age -- " she begins, then she catches herself. She tries again: "You're certainly old enough to date -- " then she must stop altogether.

"Dinner will be ready in ten minutes," she decides on finishing, with the brightness you're more used to. "Go wash up, I'll call you and dad out as soon as it's done!" She hurries into the kitchen and you faintly remember that you decided her brightness was feigned a long time ago.

But this is such a gloomy place without her.

You realized this for the first time when she left for university overseas, and you were 10 years old. She decided it would be pointless to stall her plans while waiting for Shinichi, and so... she left.

A karate scholarship took her enough places in the span of 4 years. She wrote, you wrote back, you communicated over email and on the phone.

Then she came home.

After four years, she was older, taller, more beautiful than you remembered. Ran. The only girl you ever admitted to yourself you had feelings for.

The only girl.

But then this afternoon, there was Ai.

And you must not forget the letters Ayumi-chan sent you. She moved away three years ago but you've been in touch since then. She's established a detective club in her new high school, and she has never forgotten you.

She met up with the old members of the Shounen Tantei many times in a year, but she went out of her way to meet up with you, especially. You once thought to ask her about that, but never really expected what she said in reply, almost sorrowfully:

We've known each other for some time... but... I just can't wait any longer, Conan-kun... I need to know how you feel about me. Because I know how I've always felt about you.

Not too many people in the world know it's your birthday. Everyone in the Mouri household celebrates your birthday on the 15th of January, the day Ran found you in Agasa's library. You'd ingeniously claimed at the age of "seven" that you didn't know when your own birthday was, as your parents never celebrated it, so Ran got the brilliant idea of assigning a new birthday for you. Every 15th of January has been the same ever since.

But every fourth of May you get a card from Osaka (which you burn after reading, as the sender unfailingly recommends) and something special from the house across the street. Today, that something special was a kiss. And a moment to think about how much time has passed.

Has it really been that long? You look at yourself in the mirror. You've let your hair grow long so it won't be too obvious, but you still look exactly the same as the young man in the yellowing photo Ran keeps in her room.

The photo Ran has stashed away in a bag somewhere, and hasn't looked at in years.

Every 4th of May is also the same: when Ran thinks everyone is asleep, she sneaks out and sits by the phone. She brings a book, sometimes, and keeps her cell phone handy in case the person she's waiting for rings that number up instead.

This year, you think about Ai, and you forget.

At around 11:30 PM, you think you hear faint movement in Mouri Kogorou's office. You return to your senses. You pick up the fax phone Dr. Agasa made you, but you suddenly realize the "movement" is the sound of someone crying.

You hide the gadgets away.

You step out of your room.

You see her sitting where you thought she would be, facing a phone that will never ring - not while you're here. Her arms are wrapped around herself tightly. She has not dressed for bed. In fact, she's dressed as if she's about to go out on a casual date, perfumed and armed with her high heels and elegant pearl earrings.

"Ran-neechan?" you venture. She looks at you and dries her eyes quickly.

"Conan-kun," she acknowledges with a tone of pleasant surprise.

"Ran-neechan, what's the matter? Why are you all dressed up?"

She stares at you through the darkness. She uncrosses her arms and folds her hands on her lap, perfectly dignified, even as she's breathing hard to keep back whatever had been choking her a while ago.

"Conan-kun, did you know," she says in answer, "your voice sure has changed a lot."

Your fingertips fly up to your throat. It has, hasn't it? You don't sound like a little boy anymore. It's not so safe to speak. Your voice is older, more impertinent... perhaps even more familiar to some, like Ran herself --

"You should be in bed," you tell her, desperate to sound clueless, as you approach.

You lay your hands on her shoulders, and she leans back, unknotting beneath your touch. Have her shoulders shrunk, or have your hands grown?

"It's Shinichi's birthday, Conan-kun," she says softly. "Do you remember?"

You remember. You also remember Ai from this afternoon, and the emails you received from Ayumi, how Ayumi smiled so sadly the last time you parted.

"I wonder if he'll still call," she says to herself. "It's almost midnight... maybe he's coming to see me today..."

"Ran," you start to say -- because you've forgotten that you shouldn't.

"Don't," she sharply interrupts. She looks at you, but she isn't angry, only sincere. "You have no right to call me that."

Not in that voice, she means.

So a few minutes after you return to your room, you call her on the phone, and you turn the dial to the proper setting. You set the device to make sure the caller ID reflects a number from another country. "I'm sorry," you tell her, a few hours too late. And you call her by her name.

You set her tears off again.

You put down the phone, wondering when it'll stop breaking your heart.

Three hours later, you step out of your room one more time. She isn't wearing her pearl earrings anymore. She'd kicked off her high heels and lain on her side on the sofa her father always keeps clean for clients. She's moved that particular piece of furniture so it would be facing the phone.

She's asleep.

Again you catch a whiff of her light perfume, so mature, so unlike the Ran you know... and yet so like the Ran you've always known. Having faced so many fourth of Mays in the past, you know she must have cried herself to sleep. She hides her face like that in case someone sees.

You're big enough to carry her to her room. So you take her in your arms gently, watching for the slightest change in breathing pattern, in the way her eyes move beneath the closed lids.

You lay her down in her own bed, brush the hair from her cheek, so lightly. She stirs, and you stop, and the moment is over.

How can you help but hate Shinichi after all of this? Ten years, and the girl still hasn't forgotten him. Ten years, and he still hasn't come back to her, and every fourth of May she waits by the phone, dressed up and ready for when he'll come to sweep her into his arms and into the life she's always wanted to be part of.

Yes, you hate Shinichi. You hate how he can't be here for her now. You hate how you'll never get him to share your pain, because all that remains is you and the memory she has left of him. You're Edogawa Conan now, and it's a struggle for Shinichi to come to the surface and remind you of those moments when he and Ran shared ice cream, rode in love seats at the carnival, argued about girls and family and balancing work and school.

For now you're Conan-kun who has Ayumi-chan and Ai-chan... but you are also Shinichi, the boy whose last ever memory would be that of Ran, the poised adult ashamed to show her tears before you, the breathtaking young woman who was once a girl.

The only girl.