Disclaimer: I do not own Ichigo 100, the characters, etc.
Author's Note: I want to thank everyone who has read and/or reviewed this story so far, and gladly encourage more reviews and comments on subsequent chapters. Your kind words are most appreciated! That said, I am proud to introduce the second chapter of Intermezzo, "Day Like a Dream".
"Day Like a Dream (The Second Day)"
By: TYSON GRANGER
The sun had barely risen into the east when at last the long sleep I had fallen into subsided, and as I shifted in the comfort of the warm bed I felt a strange sensation lain delicately across my moderately-toned midsection. It wasn't particularly uncomfortable, though, only…foreign, unusual. A soundless yawn escaped me as I stretched in an unconscious haze, before turning to side and opening my eyes…to see the beautiful blue gaze of Tsukasa Nishino fixed directly on me. I flinched, unconsciously of course, before remembering the events of the previous night. Nishino had picked me up at the airport in Paris and taken me to her apartment. We ate…we talked a little…and then we…?
"Good morning, Junpei-kun," Nishino smiled warmly, as the pressure atop my waist grew a little tighter, urging me closer to the woman in my…her…bed. So it was her arm that was across my body when I woke up this morning? I wondered for a second, before realizing what this likely meant. My eyes widened and I blushed a little, before hiding my head in the crook of her neck in a somewhat hasty embrace that was both a greeting and a way to mask my embarrassment. This was the first time I'd ever stayed with her for the whole night…and even with all we'd been through, the idea was enough to send me reeling back into the same nervous awkwardness which had plagued me all through high school.
"Is this…I mean…" I stuttered a little, my arms tightening as I slid them around her waist and felt her gasp at my forceful greeting. It seemed that this wasn't what she had been expecting of me. Of course, that wasn't really surprising, since I had only done it on a whim myself, and had yet to consider the fact that I was embracing Nishino in the morning in her own bed. I was still too fixated on what happened the night before. "Is this…alright? Nishino…?" I should have known the answer, really. Or maybe I did and I just didn't realize. No matter the case, Nishino pulled back a little in spite of my insistence and smiled cutely in response to my hesitation.
"It's all right…" she told me simply, a pink blush covering the pale skin of her own cheeks. Smiling a little in spite of myself, I thought rather suddenly that Nishino was still as cute as ever. Seeing the look in my eyes, she almost turned away, but glanced back and forced herself to keep on smiling for me. Only this time, I knew that Nishino wasn't just forcing it to pretend. She was forcing it to let me know…how she truly felt. "I get to greet the morning with Junpei-kun…of course…I'm really happy."
I don't know why I was taken so aback by her words just then, but for a moment I only felt my heart beating faster. The night had refreshed my body but my heart and eyes were raw, a telltale blush deepening on my cheeks as I thought to myself that this was the person that I loved…that I loved Tsukasa Nishino. Leaning forward on instinct, I felt for a moment as if I could kiss her right then, but was instead surprised to find my lips landing against the unusual softness of her pillow. Opening a single eye incredulously to look where she had sat up and avoided my kiss, I could only blush a little as she laughed at my expense.
"S-sorry," she teased lightly, her laughter subsiding just enough so that she could talk in spite of her amusement. Her cheeks were bright red, though somehow I guessed that it wasn't just from the strain of laughter. Maybe it was the look in her eyes. "It's just…you should probably brush your teeth first, right? I mean…you just woke up and…" Nishino trailed off a little as she realized she was rambling, probably because in spite of her playful nature…she was just as nervous as I was. Still, watching her get caught up on her own words was something that I didn't get to see every day, and I chuckled a little myself, this time at her expense, earning a short glare from the blue-eyed blond. "Don't laugh! That is, unless you want me to tell you how bad Junpei-kun's breath is in the morning…"
Despite her threat, I could only laugh a little harder, and the glare that Nishino had thrown my way dissipated into a melodious giggle that mingled with my own lighthearted laugh in a sound that was wonderfully refreshing. This was one of the things that I had missed the most when Nishino had left for France…the simple joy of being with her, and the way my cares seemed to drift away when the two of us were together. Even now, I couldn't remember why I had been so worried about coming to visit her so suddenly, and only when our laughter subsided did I think about the day to come.
"Hey, Nishino," I broke the comfortable silence a little quietly, though my excitement was written as plainly on my face as the apprehension that accompanied it. I didn't really know what she was supposed to be doing today, but no matter what Nishino was doing, I would be fine as long as I could see her. "What are you doing today, anyway? I…uh…I know I didn't really give you much notice…" my voiced trailed off, and I didn't really know what to say. I guess there really wasn't much else to say that she didn't already know. In the back of my mind, I hoped that I wasn't being a bother to Nishino, showing up so suddenly like this.
My worries were assuaged abruptly when I felt a pair of soft lips press against the skin of my cheek, and the unusual sensation of my mind going completely blank. What I had been thinking up until that moment seemed to be washed away, and for the next few seconds I could only see Nishino, her cheeks a tender pink and her lips flushed, moist. No matter who kissed my cheek, I thought to myself that it would only ever be like this with Nishino. Such a simple thing had rendered me speechless. Was it really so easy for her to play with me like this?
"I called my adviser today," Nishino smiled brightly, blue eyes turned towards the small window where the morning sun shone in through the half-drawn, golden drapes. It was as if she were locked in remembrance of some wonderful memory, deep within her heart. I really loved watching her when she was like this…Nishino was cute no matter how she looked, but seeing her smile…seeing her thoughtful…she always looked the cutest like that. Turning my attention back to the bed's other occupant where she was curled up with her legs folded beneath her, I watched her eyes shift back to me and her smile turn a little shy.
"I told him that I was sick, and that I couldn't come to class today," Nishino told me conspiratorially, winking and sticking out her tongue a little in celebration, "that means for the next two days, I get to enjoy 'My Personal Junpei-kun' as much as I want. I'm pretty bad, right?" The cute expression she wore made me blush a little, but against my better judgment I thought that perhaps I actually had caused her a little trouble with my sudden arrival. Wasn't it wrong of her to skip class just because I came to see her? If Nishino was going to be distracted from her dream because of me, wasn't that wrong of me? Somehow though, I couldn't find the voice to put my concerns to words. At least, I couldn't say it as well as I would have liked.
"Yeah…no! I mean…" I trailed off a little, unsure how to answer her question. The small grin that creased my lips was more than obvious in spite of how I tried to hide how happy I was to be able to spend time with her. "Are you sure I'm not a bother? If I'm causing Nishino any trouble…I mean, you're skipping classes to spend time with me," I noted aloud, before realizing what I had said and raising my arms suddenly to wave off any negative connotations to that statement. "Not that I mind! I'm…I'm really happy that Nishino wants to spend time with me…I just…"
"Let's not talk about that," Nishino's solemn voice broke my incessant rambling pointedly, but before I could even see the expression on her face it had been replaced by a gorgeous smile that melted away my reservations. The smaller hand of Nishino slid itself into my palm as our eyes locked and I felt the tension leave my body. Wrapping my arms instinctively around her thin frame, she too relaxed into the embrace and whispered pleasantly into my ear, "I want to make beautiful memories with you while you're here…" before pulling away and standing from the bed. "So please…take care of me!"
"Y-yeah," I stammered uselessly, before following her out of the bedroom and into the living room of her small, one-bedroom apartment to get ready to face the day together with Nishino. Together…with Nishino…simply thinking those words again sparked warmth inside me that was loathe to give way to any other feeling. It was a feeling that remained even as I brushed my teeth and ate the meager breakfast she had prepared for us before we got ready to face the day. It wasn't a particularly bad breakfast…actually it was quite delicious…but even for Nishino, she was living the life of a university student. And as expected, that meant her cupboards weren't exactly busting out with a surplus of material to cook with.
"Thank you for the food! It was good…as expected from Nishino," I complimented her properly, before insisting to help clean up the kitchen…a task I managed to accomplish after more than a little arguing with my host. I knew that she wanted to do it herself, but I really was imposing on her. It was only right that I did something to help out, so I did just that…and with that, we were ready for our first day, together again in Paris. I stood in the living room as Nishino placed the last of the dishes in their proper places and scratched the back of my head a little nervously, before deciding to ask the question that had been plaguing me since breakfast. "Ah, Nishino…" I spoke up, before continuing once she had turned her head to listen, "what are we…um…I mean, do you have any plans for today?"
To that Nishino's eyes widened a little, before her surprised expression changed into something far more pleasant, the smile that beamed at me from across the room enough to ease all my concerns. "That's right, I haven't told you yet, have I?" she spoke a little airily, "I thought that since you were here, that I'd do something that I've always wanted to do, ever since I moved to France…" Nishino explained lightly, before turning completely and clapping her hands together in an excited fashion. In a way, her enthusiasm excited me as well. "I want to…walk the streets of Paris…with my boyfriend!"
And so it was that the two of us left her apartment with our fingers linked in a secure grasp and our cheeks red from a bit more than the heat of the sun, moving out into the bustling streets of the city that Nishino now called her own. It didn't matter to me that the two of us had agreed to break up once she had left Japan just a little over a year ago when we last parted ways. I was "Nishino's Personal Junpei-kun" until I left France to return to Japan, so it was only natural for me to fulfill her dream of walking the streets of Paris as if we were lovers. And perhaps we were lovers, our hearts bound to one another and our souls linked by the red string of fate. No, the more I thought about it, there was nothing unnatural about our walking around like this at all. After all, wasn't Nishino the one that I loved? Smiling sheepishly with that thought in mind, I allowed myself to be pulled along at the whirlwind pace kept by Tsukasa Nishino.
"Look! Look over there, Junpei-kun!" she called out excitedly, moving at just a slow enough pace for me to follow as she directed me towards a particularly animated street performer. Caught up in her enthusiasm, I smiled and allowed myself to be drug until we had made ourselves a part of a steadily-growing circle of patrons to the one-man show. I wasn't exactly sure what was expected in a situation like this, but chancing a glance over at Nishino I could see the pleasant expression spread across her face when the man lifted a large cello from a case at his feet and began to play. It was a deep and romantic melody, captivating the audience in an instant with its beautiful and ominous tune. Instinctively, I felt Nishino pull closer and I gave her hand a light squeeze to let her know I was there.
The melody continued and grew deeper, even more beautiful as the man got into his performance. Many of the patrons tossed a few dollars into the case of the cello before moving on, but for some reason the two of us were captivated by the song. Spurred on by the feeling, Nishino let her head rest on my shoulder as the man came to the climax of his performance, before at last setting the bow of his instrument aside and taking a well-deserved break from his talented act. And when he finished I couldn't rightly recall how many songs he had played or how much time had passed, but in a way, when I looked at Nishino and saw the peaceful smile upon her lips, I thought that perhaps it didn't matter.
"Would you like me to play you a song?" a strange voice broke the wonderful silence between us, and after a second of looking around I glanced down at the man with the cello and saw him peering up at me expectantly. I started, but recovered quickly and took a moment to examine the man before responding. There was a quiet sort of patience about him and an air of mystique, with long black hair pulled into a ponytail and bangs that framed his dull, grey eyes. He was the type of man you could know for a lifetime and never truly understand, or at least it was how he seemed to me. After thinking a moment, I couldn't really decide a way to properly answer his question before Nishino answered for us.
"Could you play Chopin's Sonata?" Nishino asked politely without moving her head from my shoulder. The warmth of her body pressed lightly against mine was a feeling that would etch itself into my memory forever, I was certain, and as the minutes rolled by with that kindly peddler toiling away at his stringed instrument I could feel the distance that had been placed between us being rapidly narrowed. A simple nod was all that the cellist offered in return, before going back about his performance without a second glance upward. It was almost as if he was used to this sort of thing, and based on his own honed instincts, knew that this was a moment meant for just the two of us.
So Nishino and I stood transfixed as he continued his afternoon serenade, still and silent as we soaked in the classical and romantic atmosphere of Paris. It wasn't until the cellist had finished his final piece and stood from the street that we at last realized it was over, but as we made at last to leave he paused beside me and spoke a sentence that left me blushing for all its innocence and audacity. Then again, maybe I was just embarrassed that I'd been so obvious in my affection…
"Huh, Junpei-kun? What did that man say to you?" Nishino asked curiously, watching out of the corner of her eye as the tall man moved down the street with his large case strapped carefully over his back. At the moment, however, I was more worried about what he said rather than where he was going. Swallowing a small lump that had formed in my throat, I turned to Nishino when she poked my cheek to grab my attention once again.
"Oh uh…sorry," I apologized meekly, laughing a little in spite of myself as I scratched my neck in my usual nervous habit. I was sure I must have been an entirely new shade of crimson by the time I found the nerve to answer her question. "He said…well, uh...he said 'Thank you!'" my words came out in a stammering, embarrassed fashion. Not that I was embarrassed of her or anything, only my own obviousness. I noticed then that Nishino seemed to be a little confused, however, and remembered that I'd probably have to elaborate a bit before she understood. "He thanked us…because he said that it had been a long time since…he saw a couple that looked so…um…in...love," I finished quietly, not really wanting anyone else to overhear the cellist's parting words. Fortunately it was just loud enough for Nishino to hear, but instead of the embarrassed reaction I had been expecting I was surprised to see her smile only grow more beautiful…even more genuine than before. "Ni…shi…no?"
"I'm really happy then," she admitted as she brought a hand up to her heart, before turning abruptly and lifting our joined hands before us with a playful smirk. "Come on, it's getting late and I know a place where we can eat…" she urged lightly, before taking off down the streets of Paris once more with me trailing pathetically behind her trail. It was a bit tiring chasing her around the way that I was, but it was also the spontaneity that I loved about Nishino which was guiding us through her new home. As far as dates go, this one was going about as well as could be expected, I thought. I'd never felt quite so natural just walking through a city with anyone else, and again, I found myself thinking that it could only be this way with someone like Nishino…with the one that I loved. "Here! This is the place…"
I heard the voice of Nishino break my thoughts as our trek through the city came again to a halt before a small outdoor café which had the look and feel of something out of an American movie. Set perfectly on the corner of the street with a small steel fence separating the patrons from the pedestrians, there was a table near the corner underneath of a white umbrella that almost seemed to be calling out to us. It didn't take long to understand that Nishino had been planning for this all along. "Wanna try it?" she asked curiously, offering a cute and coaxing expression that was hardly necessary to win me over. I nodded briefly in response.
"Uh…yeah," I agreed, a small hint of excitement betrayed by my voice. The wait to be seated was minute, and the seat in the corner we had been eyeing became ours in an instant. Sitting across from Nishino in this small corner of the outdoor café, I couldn't help but wonder what we looked like to the rest of the patrons…and if it was anything like what the cellist from the street corner told me before he walked off into the distance. If it was, I didn't really mind…since it was with Nishino. In fact, just the thought was enough to make me blush just a little…and enough to make my heart pound.
"Actually, this is my first time eating here…" the small voice of Tsukasa Nishino broke the short silence that followed our order and drew my attention away from my own spaced-out musings. The look on her face was somewhat wistful, distant in a way that I couldn't quite place. But then she smiled again…the heartwarming sort of smile that I fell in love with…and I knew somehow that this moment was special to her. "I promised myself when I first saw this place…that I'd only ever come here with Junpei-kun," she confessed, blushing prettily as she beamed up at me, "How silly of me, huh? There was no way I could have known that Junpei-kun would come see me like this…" Nishino laughed a little at herself, but I could feel the hint of sadness in her tone. It was a sadness that I was taking away from her even now, and I was proud…somewhat embarrassed, but overwhelmingly happy…to be able to do that. Still, I couldn't help but wonder…just how lonely was Nishino here in France by herself?
And with that thought in mind I felt a string inside me tug a little, and again I acted on instinct, leaning forward a bit over the small table that was set in between us. In Izumizaka I never would have done this quite so openly, but here in this foreign land, it felt almost…natural. "I…I'm glad that I could be here…with Nishino…" I told her quietly, as she too seemed drawn in by the gravity between us and began closing the small gap between us. Nishino's eyelids fluttered closed as we inched ever-closer, our lips almost touching…when a loud cough from the side startled us both back into the isolation of our own chairs.
"Sir, ma'am," the waiter greeted the two of us in an unfamiliar language as he placed our meals down in front of us, earning a quiet 'merci' from Nishino before he went on his way. Nishino and I had been so close just a moment ago…in the pit of my chest I felt a little disappointment at the lost opportunity…but when I noticed the shy smile on the face of the blond seated across from me even as her blushing cheeks and cerulean eyes were turned towards the street, I had a sense that there would be plenty more chances where that one began. So for the time being I merely laughed a little in spite of my own embarrassment at nearly being caught in such an open display of affection, and then dug into the food that had been prepared for us.
The rest of the meal passed in a companionable sort of manner with bits of conversation scattered throughout our dinner, many of them exclamations or compliments regarding to the top-class food that the café made for us. It was a bit more expensive than either Nishino or I were used to, but in a way it was a great change of pace that left us both more than satisfied. After paying the check and leaving a modest tip for the waiter…which would have probably been larger if not for a certain lack of timing...we then made our way from the café and back into the streets of Paris en route to our final destination of the evening. Nishino hadn't told me exactly where we were going, only that she was certain that I was going to love it…she'd even encouraged me to bring my camera this time, instead of forcing me to leave it behind as she might have done otherwise to ensure my interest remained focused solely on our date.
"…So Chinami-san said that as long as there was lots of money in it for her, she'd do it with him, after all," I laughed a bit excitedly after a while, having just finished telling Nishino about how Sotomura convinced Chinami Hashimoto to become the first client under Sotomura Productions once his company was up and running after his graduation from Tokyo University. Much of the journey from the café to our next destination had been spent with me telling her how everyone from the old Film Studies Club was doing since she had left for France, with Nishino nodding excitedly and asking questions here and there about each of them in-turn. Sadly, I hadn't been able to tell her much about some of the members of the club. Satsuki I hadn't seen since she left for Kyoto to become a hostess, and Toujou I only spoke to on rare occasions when she would return to Izumizaka for a day or two to see her brother. It had been almost three months since the last time she'd knocked on my door, and in a way, I knew that it was for the best. My heart was weak without Nishino by my side, so it was all I could do to keep occupied with work and following my dream until I could see her again. And the way Toujou felt about me was still…somewhat fresh in both of our minds. It just so happened that my mind and my heart both already…belonged to Nishino.
"I guess I'm not surprised," Nishino agreed playfully, still leading the way just a little, though we'd fallen into a more easy stride with our fingers still linked as they were when we'd watched the cellist some time earlier. And then, without warning, Nishino let out an excited little yell and pointed into the distance at what was obviously our penultimate destination all this time… "There it is, Junpei-kun! Look!" she pointed again, glancing back to ensure that I was looking in the right direction. Not that I could have missed what she was pointing at, after all. Such a thing…it absolutely dominated the Paris skyline. "Come on, let's run!" Nishino challenged me lightly, before taking off with our fingers still linked towards what was likely the most famous landmark in all of France...and the place where I would look out across all of Paris with my beloved Nishino.
"It's so pretty…" her voice came out hushed, awed and excited by the sight of the Paris skyline from the third level of the famous tower. My own observation was a bit less excited, though it was likely because I was still gasping a little for air from all the stairs we had to ascend to get to the lift which brought us this high. In spite of that, even I had to admit that the nighttime view of the "City of Light" was spectacular. Hundreds of thousands of tiny, glowing dots lined the streets that the two of us had walked all day to get to this place, and here, alone on top of the world, I felt more connected to Nishino than I could ever remember. It was only us…and more beautiful than the lights and the starlit sky was the shining face of Tsukasa Nishino as she held my hand and stared out across the world below. "Junpei-kun…" her voice broke the relative silence between us again, and I was surprised how soft it was this time. Turning to face her, I smiled brightly as the atmosphere began to change between us.
"Yeah…Nishi…no?" I responded quietly, wondering what if the downcast look on her face was something reflecting an inner sadness, or if she was really just so happy that she could be here like this…with me. It was probably the former...though the latter was much more welcome. No matter the case, I listened intently to the words that slipped past her lips next.
"Thank you for today," Nishino said finally, cerulean eyes facing the steel floor below as she spoke, though a fragile smile still rested on her lips. "Without Junpei-kun, I never would have experienced so many wonderful things…" she explained softly, passionately…and in a way, I understood the way that she felt. Doing something like this…feeling this way about someone…was something I would only ever experience with Nishino. That's why…at that moment…I took her into my arms and embraced her. There, on top of the world and in a place where only we could be at that point in time, I hugged Nishino Tsukasa-chan and let my passion take control of me.
"I'm really…" I paused, barely able to control my emotions, "I'm really happy…I could share this with you, Tsu…Tsukasa-chan…" It wasn't always easy for me to say what I was thinking, especially to Nishino, but just then I felt like I could say anything to her…do anything for her. It reminded me of the day when I finally confessed to her how I truly felt, kneeling down before her as she sat expectantly on that not-so-lonely park bench where we shared our first kiss. A strange sense of déjà vu flashed across the forefront of my mind for a moment, and acting purely on instinct I pulled away just enough to look down into the eyes of Nishino. And what I saw there…I think it provoked me just enough…
"Junpei…kun…" Nishino whispered quietly, eyes drifting closed as I closed the final distance between us and pressed my lips gently against her own…a kiss for my beloved Nishino on the third level of the Eiffel Tower…and a beacon of love, and hope, and wonder atop the "City of Lights".
("Day Like a Dream: The Second Day", Fin…Next Chapter…Coming Soon!)