Monday, March 12, 2012
Edit: Monday, June 8, 2015
In the previous chapter, Hikari receives a ring from her ex-boyfriend in America as an early anniversary gift, but accidentally loses it the first day she wears it. Miyuki finds the ring, but refuses to give it back, which encourages Hikari to beat her at her own game by showing up, uninvited, to her house party. Takeru, intrigued by her courage, ditches the party and asks her to a movie instead.
Sorry this took so long. I've been working on this since January 2011, and about halfway through the chapter, I moved to Tokyo for half a year and had my own love story. That experience definitely informed the second half of the chapter. I wonder if you can tell when the shift was (teehee). Anyway, please enjoy!
Disclaimer: Digimon is the property of its respective owners and creators.
Note: Words that are bolded (followed by a number in parentheses) have explanatory notes at the end of the chapter.
The Weekend of Mounting Surprises
"Teeekaaaaay, can I go plaaaaay?" Mina begged, her voice coated with the sugary sweetness she used only when she wanted something. The teen opened his mouth to reply, but the four-year-old cut him off. "I'll just be right over there, " she continued, drawing out her last word: "Pleeeeeease!"
Takeru laughed. "Mina, let me get a word out!" The small girl froze mid-"please" as she stared at him expectantly. He stared back a moment, as though he was seriously considering her request, though, in truth, he had already decided. He waited just over a minute, until Mina was about to burst with her pleas all over again before he spoke, "Okay."
"Hurrraaaayy!" the girl exclaimed, throwing up her hands in victory.
Her celebratory cheers mostly drowned Takeru's next words out as she turned and ran full speed towards the playground. "Be careful! Don't talk to strangers!" And then as an afterthought, "And stay where I can see you!"
He sighed nervously as baby Ikuko shifted in his arms. "I hope she heard me…" he mumbled. He settled in with Ikuko nestled in a bundle of blankets pressed closely to his chest and watched Mina run around with her newfound friends.
Not long after, Ikuko began to wake up, kicking and stretching to help herself along. "Shhh, shhh," Takeru cooed, rocking the girl back and forward. But, it didn't stop the fussing, which was made worse as Mina bounded up to them and shoved a smooth, perfectly oval rock under his nose.
"Look!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, what, Mina?" the blond boy asked, trying to keep himself from going cross-eyed as he attempted to look at the rock. Ikuko, unhappy that she was no longer the center of his attention began to whine, kicking with more emphasis.
"Ah, Ikuko, shh," Takeru shushed, bouncing her on his knee.
"It's a rock!" Mina proclaimed proudly.
"Yes, I know it's a rock," Takeru replied, trying to deal with the baby, but unable to as Mina shoved the rock back into his line of sight so he could get a better look at it. "Mina, please." He turned to glance at her, but his eyes instead landed on a girl strolling through the park in a soft, multi-tiered, floral, white-and-coral sundress. Was that…Hikari?
His face reddened.
God, he had to get out of here!
Sure, they'd connected well as they'd eaten together last night after the movie, but…he wasn't ready to be greeted by her, with children in tow. Somehow, it just seemed too embarrassing. He tried to grab for the baby bag, but Mina shoved the rock in his face again, and Ikuko, upset at his sudden movement, burst into loud wails. "Shhh, shhh, it's…okay, Ikuko," Takeru grunted, trying to work his way around the rock to the baby bag. But it was no use, Mina was determined that Takeru see and comment on her rock. "Ugh, Mee-naaaah! What?! What about the rock?"
"It's a perfect….uh, a perfect circle!" she announced. Takeru stared at her, completely astounded. The rock was an oval, first off, and second, who cared? He'd seen plenty of oval rocks. Takeru struggled to remember that the four-year-old would not have had nearly as many occasions to see rocks as he had. Mina, of course, assumed he was speechless in awe of her world-shattering find. Who had ever seen anything so perfect before?!
"Yes," he finally managed as Ikuko flailed and screamed as loud as she could. "Yes, it is."
"We just keep running into each other, don't we?" Hikari's voice came from beside him cheerfully. He looked up, his face slightly flushed with embarrassment. He gave an awkward chuckle.
"I guess we do." Well, no point trying to escape now. He gave up on the baby bag and returned to trying to calm the screaming baby in his arms. Hikari intervened.
"May I?" She sat down her coffee and held her hands out, indicating the flailing mass of limbs bundled in his arms. The blond surrendered Ikuko without a word and watched Hikari work her magic. Within minutes of the brunette bouncing the child in her arms and shushing her, Ikuko's cries quieted to hiccups and then to contented sighs.
"Good girl," Hikari smiled, lowering herself onto the seat next to Takeru. So that she would not sit on it, he grabbed her coffee off the bench.
"So, what's her name?" Hikari asked, situating the girl as she faded back into sleep.
"Ikuko," Takeru said, offering her coffee back to her.
"Pretty name. Thanks." She accepted the cup and took a sip. "I hesitate to ask, but yours?"
Takeru grinned. "My cousin's."
"So, you're just watching them for the day?"
He nodded. "My mom volunteered me for the job. My cousin's husband has been overseas on a business trip for a couple weeks, and she needed a break." Well, there was the big embarrassing secret. Yet, he didn't feel at all worried that he'd shared the information with her. Why had he been so petrified of being seen by her? It was almost as if overnight he'd forgotten how easy going she was.
"I can imagine," Hikari nodded. "Nice of you to help her out like this." She took another sip of coffee.
"Nah. Like I said, mom volunteered me, but I don't mind. Mina and Ikuko are fun to be around." He watched her sample her coffee again. "What are you drinking?"
"Hazelnut Crème coffee."
"It's interesting. Wanna try it?" she offered the cup to him. He was hesitant at first, as his mind floated back to his elementary school years. Wasn't sharing something like this akin to kissing? Their mouths would touch, albeit indirectly! But then he changed his mind, trying to refrain from physically rolling his eyes, though he did mentally. Really, Takaishi. He was 17 years old and still believing such nonsense. It wasn't like she had cooties.
He smiled. "Yeah, if you don't mind."
He accepted the cup and took a sip of the steaming liquid. "It's unusual, but definitely good." He took another sip and handed the cup back to her.
"Isn't it?" she smiled. Before he could reply, Mina bounded up.
"Teekaaay, I'm hungry!" she whined.
"Okay, okay, we'll get food," Takeru replied.
"Who are you?" Mina demanded.
"Mina, don't be rude."
"It's fine," Hikari said to Takeru before introducing herself.
"So, what do you want to eat, Mina?"
"Fried chicken!" she exclaimed, instantly.
Takeru laughed, and gathered up Ikuko's stuff after handing Mina her rock back. When Takeru tried to take Ikuko back, between the movement and Mina's excited exclamations, she started to whine again.
"Oh shoot. Mina, quiet down some," he chided, trying to work out the transfer. But it was just not meant to be. Having settled in Hikari's arms, Ikuko was not willing to be moved.
"Sorry. I'm sorry," he apologized.
Hikari shrugged. "I don't mind tagging along. Not like I had any big plans anyway. If you don't mind, that is."
Takeru replied without missing a beat. "Of course, I don't mind! It would be my pleasure."
Hikari smiled. "Then let's go."
The day was a long one, filled with laughter, tears, and many, many awkward comments. Hikari had to admit she had never been mistaken as anyone's mother before. Yet somehow, while spending the day with Takeru yesterday, she heard many people whispering such a conclusion. It was…weird, to say the least. She didn't think she particularly resembled either Mina or Ikuko, but that didn't stop the disapproving stares or knowing smiles.
Last night, as she lay falling asleep, Hikari thought nothing could have topped the surprised she felt yesterday, but she was mistaken. This was a lot more surprising and worrisome. She stared at her ringing phone, unsure of what to do.
ShoeBunny91: Ange, Ryuji's calling me.
SurferBabeXOXO: The guy you like? That's good! Answer the phone!
ShoeBunny91: But last time we met, he was drunk out of his mind. He tried to kiss me twice.
SurferBabeXOXO: ANSWER THE PHONE!
Hikari did as she was told. "Hello?"
"Hey, Hikari. Was worried I was gonna have to talk to your voicemail." His voice was calm and collected, like usual. Had the image of Ryuji practically crying on Friday night not been burned into her mind, Hikari might have forgotten the party ever happened. "What's going on?"
"Um, not much. Just…"
SurferBabeXOXO: What's he saying?
"…Just talking to my friend."
"Angela. You wouldn't know her. She was my best friend in California. How about you?"
"I'm not doing much. You know, the same old same old."
SurferBabeXOXO: What's he saying?!
"Say, if you're not doing anything later, you wanna go out and grab a late breakfast…or something?"
"Breakfast?" Hikari asked. The surprise factor was rising. "Are you asking me out, Ryuji? On a date?"
"U-uh…" Ryuji faltered. "Uh, yeah. I suppose I am. Are you…gonna answer or just keep asking questions as if g5 showing up on your doorstep would be less surprising?"
SurferBabeXOXO: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, HIKARI, WHAT'S HE SAYING?!
"Uh yeah, I'm gonna answer you. Just…give me… one second," she replied, hurriedly tapping out a response.
ShoeBunny91: He asked me out for breakfast.
SurferBabeXOXO: Breakfast? Not much of a date.
ShoeBunny91: Well that's good. I'm not sure if I want it to be a date.
SurferBabeXOXO: Say yes.
ShoeBunny91: What?! But, he was so…but I don't know if I want to. He seems pretty loose with his lips.
ShoeBunny91: Friday! He was all over me and some other girl!
Shoot! She'd totally forgotten he was still on the line. "Uh yeah. Haha, sorry. I, uh…"
SurferBabeXOXO: Say yes. You'll regret it if you don't. No could've, should've, would've's allowed.
"So what's the answer, hmm? Breakfast for two?"
"Uh…" Hikari stared at the screen. At Angela's demand. Once she said yes, she couldn't go back. What if it was a disaster? But then, she'd never know unless she tried it. She cursed, mentally. Stupid Angela. Somehow, this was all her fault. Hikari caved. "Yeah, sure. What time?"
He sounded noticeably relieved in his response. "Hmm, well, maybe, I'll pick you up at your house in like an hour? Where do you live?"
"Uh, actually, I don't want to wake my parents. They were out late last night at a business function, so… why don't I just meet you at the park on the way to school?"
Ryuji's voice was hesitant. Had she hurt him with her statement? Had she sounded too eager to deflect him from her house? "Yeah…sure. I'll see you there, then."
"Yeah, see you." She hung up before the awkward conversation could go any further.
SurferBabeXOXO: What did you say?
ShoeBunny91: Against my better judgment, I said yes. This better be worth it.
SurferBabeXOXO: Oh come on. It's not like he's going to show up to your breakfast date raging drunk.
ShoeBunny91: Theoretically, anyway.
SurferBabeXOXO: Come on, Hikari. Don't be such a drama queen. He's not going to show up drunk. And if he did, go you, I'd say. You should have let him kiss you on Friday. Then you would've known if he's a good kisser.
ShoeBunny91: That's disgusting, Angie. I'm not a whore.
SurferBabeXOXO: Kissing around doesn't make you a whore, Kari. Just makes you experienced. The boys can't resist a feisty girl like that, you know? ;) ;) ;)
ShoeBunny91: Again, disgusting, Angela. I'm going to go get ready. You keep your weird kissing fantasies to yourself, okay?
SurferBabeXOXO: Hmm, I wonder if I can. Would be a shame if Chase found out about your new role overseas~
ShoeBunny91: Angela, don't you dare! That's not funny.
SurferBabeXOXO: Right, right. Go get ready for your big "breakfast" date.
ShoeBunny91: Don't tell Chase anything!
SurferBabeXOXO: I won't, I won't.
ShoeBunny91: Especially about the "date," non-date.
SurferBabeXOXO: Okay, I won't! Calm down, wild and crazy. Take the frustration out on Ryuji's mouth, not your bestie. Garsh.
SurferBabeXOXO: Kay! I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Go. Have fun. Tell me about it later tonight. 3 Love you girl.
ShoeBunny91: I'd say I love you too, but the jury's still out on that one.
SurferBabeXOXO: It's okay. I know you can't get enough of me. ;)
Hikari was beyond nervous standing at the corner of the park where she often saw Takeru and Ryuji on her way to school. The longer she stood there, the more she felt like this had been a huge mistake. Rocks were settling in the base of her stomach. Rocks and butterflies. What an unsettling combination.
She should leave. If she headed in the opposite direction into the park now, she could avoid being seen by him, and call and ask for a rain check. Tell him that something came up. Yes, it was a brilliant plan. She was just turning to execute said plan, when someone grabbed her.
Easy, bubbly laughter met her ears as she turned around, hands clasped to her chest. Ryuji was laughing heartily, in a thin V-neck hoodie, which exposed just enough of his chest for the casual viewer to see that it was quite defined, and equally attractive dark wash jeans. Hikari felt a boulder join the rocks sitting in her upper intestines.
Oh god. He looked so…good.
Still, Hikari could not allow herself to be distracted from her valid, she tried to remind herself, concerns. "Ryuji!" she gasped. "You scared me!" Good, state the obvious, Yagami. Great job, Hikari thought sarcastically.
"Sorry, sorry. You just looked so caught up in your own thoughts, I couldn't resist," he apologized, casually draping his arm around her shoulders and pulling her into his muscled chest. Hikari felt the heat rising in her cheeks. "Though, it seems not a moment too soon. Were you about to make a bathroom run? Sorry for being late."
"Uh, no. Not really. I was just, uh… you know. Pacing… or something," Hikari stammered lamely. Or about to ditch you. You know, something.
"Pacing? You're not nervous are you?"
The heat flooded to Hikari's cheeks, reddening them. "N-n-no," she replied. "Of course not."
"I don't blame you, of course. I am quite attractive if I do say so myself," he said. Hikari could hear the grin in his voice, and though it didn't quite completely erase her fears, it did set her at ease a bit.
She rolled her eyes and laughed. "Sure, let's go with that then."
"What is that supposed to mean?!" Ryuji exclaimed, feigning anger and hurt as he pushed her from his chest and spun her around so that he could look at her. She smiled sweetly as she met his eyes.
"It means what you think it means," she replied. She kept eye contact only briefly after she'd spoken and then turned away, taking a few steps forward, wishing to put some space between her and the brunet. "So, where are we headed for breakfast?"
It took Ryuji a moment to gather himself. He had been so caught off guard by Hikari's earlier stare that he didn't quite hear her question. His cheeks felt a little warm. Even though she'd been teasing him, perhaps even making fun of him, she'd managed to make such a cute, yet mischievous look in the fraction of a second, and yet at the same time, it had been so fierce. It had completely taken him by surprise. Just thinking about it again made his face hot.
Struggling to keep the heat from his cheeks, Ryuji tried to refocus on the situation at hand. "W-what? Ah, where? Um…well, I thought maybe we could go to that new café on the water near the shopping center. I heard that their breakfast sandwiches are really good."
Hikari nodded. "Sounds good!"
They made idle small talk as they walked, chatting about the basics they had not already shared, school, and a bit of their pasts. Ryuji was really easy to talk to, perhaps scarily so. It didn't take long after they'd made it to their destination for Hikari to completely lose track of time. Breakfast turned into a beachside stroll, which turned into lunch, which turned into a visit to the museum, which turned into a mid-afternoon snack, which had brought them right back to coffee.
It briefly occurred to Hikari that perhaps she was drinking way too much of the stuff. But then they'd found a seat tucked in a corner next to the window overlooking the water and the thought had vanished with only a whisper of protest.
After tactfully avoiding what could have been a mine-filled conversation about Chase, Hikari discovered that Ryuji was indeed all the ladies' man he claimed to be. Not intentionally, of course. She figured it out after Ryuji kept accidentally mentioning the names of his ex-girlfriends, a list that Hikari thought must have been quite extensive. An impressive feat for someone as young as him.
"So, basically you like pretty girls?" Hikari summarized, watching his face carefully, but smiling easily so that he knew she wasn't about to grill him about his past love life.
"What are you saying?" Ryuji asked, chewing on his coffee stirrer.
"Well, there was Yukiko, Sara, Chihiro, Keri, Mari, Jeri, Marie, the foreign exchange student aka Helena, Yuuri, Rena, and Ari, whom I believe you called Peko because of her insatiable appetite. And that was just since starting high school? Or did that include your middle school history as well?" Hikari smiled, as Ryuji's mouth dropped open in shock.
"Touché, you caught me," he said, raising his hands. "I have a thing for girls, especially pretty ones, but man, you've really been listening, huh? Wow, you're something else. I can't believe I've already revealed so many of my exes' identities."
Hikari's eyebrow rose. "You say that like there are more." Ryuji averted his eyes from her gaze, focusing instead on a napkin holder situated across the room. "There are more, aren't there?" His silence was the only answer she needed. "Goodness, Ryuji."
"Hey, it's not what it sounds like, okay? I'm not a player or anything. I've never cheated on any of my girlfriends, you know."
"I'm not judging you, Ryuji, I'm just…impressed. You've been quite busy to have been on this earth for such a short time." Ryuji's face reddened, and Hikari laughed. "Easy, easy. I come in peace.
"But I am curious. Since it seems like you've been romantically involved with a fair amount of girls from our grade over the years, why haven't you ever gone after Miyuki? There's no denying that she's as pretty as they come, even if her personality is a little…unbecoming."
"That's one way of putting it," Ryuji grumbled, before raising his voice to defend himself. "And it's not like being pretty is the only requirement I have for a girl. I like girls of substance too, you know."
"I take it that you tried then?" Hikari grinned, taking a sip of coffee.
Ryuji sputtered to a stop.
"So it didn't end well then?"
"It didn't even start," Ryuji answered. "Miyuki was always interested in Takeru. She didn't pursue him until high school, but she was always keeping tabs on him from the corner of her eye."
He nodded. "Yeah, I mean, it didn't necessarily bother me. Miyuki's pretty, but she's a bit too high maintenance. Even for me to put up with."
Hikari nodded thoughtfully. She could certainly believe that without any effort. "How long have you known Takeru again? It's been a while, right?"
Ryuji nodded. "Definitely. We've been best friends probably since third or fourth grade. Right after I moved here from Saitama."
"What kind of person was he when you guys were younger?"
"Takeru? Takeru hasn't really changed. Nice guy, heart of gold, but clueless sometimes. Popular with the girls, but he never really seemed to reciprocate feelings in equal measure—he's always been pretty guarded about relationships. He takes them very seriously. It's kind of weird, actually, considering his age, but I always chocked it up to the writer in him."
"Because…? What? Writers always seem more in tune with human emotions or something like that?"
Ryuji shrugged. "More or less, yeah. But why are you asking? You interested in him?"
Hikari shook her head, before balancing her chin thoughtfully in the center of her palm. "Not like that, but… I just don't get it. How did he end up with a girl like Miyuki?"
Ryuji laughed. "Oh, so it's like that."
Hikari backpedalled sharply as heat rushed to her cheeks. "I don't mean it like that. I know it came out sounding rude, but I just meant that they seem like complete opposites—the kinds that wouldn't attract. I mean she's so…so…" Hikari struggled to come up with the right word.
"So Miyuki?" Ryuji offered knowingly.
"Yes!" Hikari nodded. "Exactly."
"Honestly, I'm not too sure how they became attracted to each other either. Aside from the fact that Miyuki's gorgeous and Takeru's not so shabby himself. Beautiful people tend to gravitate toward each other, don't you think?" He grinned at her. "We have a prime example of that phenomenon right here at this table."
Hikari shook her head and laughed. "Flattery will get you nowhere, sir." Though she couldn't pretend that the compliment hadn't just made her heart start slamming about in her chest.
"Darn," he replied flashing his dazzling smile at her. "Was worth a shot." At the same time, a chime alerted both of them to the arrival of a text. "One moment, excuse me," he replied as he dug the phone out of his pocket. Hikari waved it off and turned to stare out the window.
It was a Sunday in mid-September, so the boulevards running by the park and beach were extremely crowded. Everywhere she looked, she was met with snuggling couples and smiling families as far as the eye could see, all out to enjoy the fine fall weather. It was what Hikari had been told to expect of life in Odaiba. Lots of tourists and lots of couples meant lots of crowds. Not that she necessarily minded the crowds, though they could be trying at times. No, what she minded was the endless displays of public affection the couples just couldn't stop themselves from exhibiting. No sooner had the thought entered her mind than she noticed a couple that had been strolling by pause as the girl raised herself up on tippy-toes for a kiss.
The familiar wave of jealousy swept through her body. So that was it. It wasn't that she hated PDAs, but that she wanted to be the one involved in them. Though she'd made a couple friends in her short time back in Japan, the one thing Hikari missed more than anything was an intimate connection with someone—the one or two people she could tell everything too. People like Chase and Angela.
She longed to take a stroll on the beach with her fingers intertwined with Chase's, bangs blowing into her eyes as she smiled up at him. She wanted to hear his voice recounting yet another practical joke he and Tai had played on a teacher or asking her about her day, to feel the silkiness of his hair as she ran her fingers through it, to meet his green eyes with her own and instantaneously communicate the inner feelings of her heart and have those same feelings reciprocated with equal intensity. At this point, she even sort of missed Angela running up at the least opportune moment, her blonde hair dripping with ocean water, surfboard tucked under her arm, determined to ruin whatever Hikari and Chase had been in the middle of sharing. Though Angela was more than pleased with the relationship between her best friend and her older brother, she did feel that it was her responsibility to give them a hard time whenever possible. She had made it her mission to interrupt as many of those "frivolous" moments, as she called them, as she could.
But maybe, just maybe she wasn't so far away from finding someone like that here. She stole a glance at the boy sitting across the table from her as her cheeks heated up. She thought she'd just memorize the image of him bent over his cell phone, half a smile on his handsome face, eyes glittering with amusement at the message that had captured his complete attention. A small smile crossed her own lips as she returned her gaze to the smooching couple still standing in the middle of the sidewalk.
"Toshi just texted me," Ryuji said, looking up from his cell phone. Hikari tore her eyes away from the couple now snuggling their noses together. "Some of the guys are gonna have a small party tonight. Do you wanna go?"
Instantly, Hikari thought back to last night, to the sloppy, drunk, emotional Ryuji who had tried to kiss her several times before practically breaking down in tears. She compared that Ryuji with the cool, collected Ryuji sitting in front of her. The immense difference between the two was like a slap in the face. The realization had forced her to open her eyes.
Which of the two Ryujis was the real one? Or were they both the "real" him, in which case, which personality was his predominant one? Or did he flip between the two the way one might flip through TV channels?
The thought triggered an even more troubling realization. Did he flip between them the way he flipped between girls? Hadn't he been locking lips with some other girl before Hikari had shown up? Yet, he hadn't had any qualms about switching his attention to her, though his previous partner had clearly been upset by his actions. And when he hadn't been able to garner Hikari's attention, he'd gone right back to the first girl without a second thought.
The warm, fuzzy feeling that had caused her to blush only a moment previous was gone now. She suddenly felt very disconcerted.
"Hmm?" the brunette asked, snapping out of her thoughts.
"The party? Would you like to go with me?" He paused, waiting for her reply, but when she didn't, he decided to answer her blank stare with a bit more information. "Because it's a school night, it won't be too wild or anything."
"Ah, yeah. But, um, I actually can't go. I have plans with my brother this evening and then a standing appointment to talk with a friend from back home—um, I mean, in America. In fact, I'll probably need to get going soon." she trailed off as she dug into her pocket for her cell phone.
"Yeah, no problem," Ryuji replied. "So your friend in America, do you speak with him often?" He was fishing. Hikari could tell even before he glanced at the ring on her finger. Even still, she couldn't help but smile a little.
"Yes, I do. She's my best friend," Hikari admitted, slightly emphasizing the pronoun "she's" for Ryuji's benefit.
Ryuji relaxed a bit and smiled. "Will I ever get the chance to meet her?"
The question caught Hikari by surprise, causing her to pause a moment as she extracted her phone from her pocket. They met eyes for a moment, Hikari's uncertain ones staring into his confident ones. "Maybe, yeah." And then she glanced at her clock. Quarter past four. She was late.
"Ah, I'm sorry. I have to go. I'm late to meet my brother."
"Oh, where are you meeting him? I'll take you there," Ryuji said, starting to rise, but Hikari laid her hand on his to stop him.
"Thank you, but I'll have to run, so don't worry about it." She dug into her purse for her wallet and started to extract some bills, but this time Ryuji was the one who stopped her.
"Don't worry about it. My treat."
"But you've been treating all day…"
Hikari hesitated, but smiled gratefully and dropped her wallet back into her bag. "If I had time to argue…"
"Well fortunately, you don't," Ryuji cut her off with a smile. Hikari stared at him a moment, painfully aware of the thumpity-thumping of her heart and the warning bells in her mind.
"Well, thank you again. I had a… I had a really great time today. I'll see you in school tomorrow," she said, standing. Ryuji stood with her.
"Me too. It was my pleasure. And yeah, see you tomorrow."
"Have fun tonight."
And then she raced out into the sunlight, the glass door swinging shut behind her.
Taichi was already at the house by the time Hikari returned. He was in the kitchen, dumping various snacks into bowls. "You're late," he said without turning to greet her.
"I know, I know. Sorry!" she said, crossing the room for her customary hug and kiss.
He paused, surveying her clothes and flushed, sweaty face. "Where did you come from?"
"Near Odaiba park."
"What were you doing over there?"
"Uh… nothing important really," Hikari said. No way she was going to tell Taichi she'd gone on a date this morning. She'd never hear the end of it; he'd spend the whole night grilling her for specifics. He might even show up at her school to try to scope the guy out. The mere thought made her shudder violently. Quick, change the subject! she thought as she snagged a bottle of water from the refrigerator and glugged about half of it in one gulp.
"These are a lot of snacks. How many people are coming over?"
"Two," he replied.
"His little brother."
"Ah, well they'll probably be here any moment, huh? I'm going to try and shower really fast," she replied, chugging the rest of her water and heading for the stairs, tossing her empty bottle in the recycling bin on her way out of the room.
Taichi watched her flee. She was hiding something, but it didn't seem that important. Probably something related to boys. He crinkled his nose. He'd dig it out of her later. If it was related boys, he definitely couldn't let that stand. He finished stocking the drinks in the fridge and straightened, swinging the door shut just as the doorbell rang.
"Coming!" Taichi yelled, rinsing his hands in the sink and wiping them on a nearby hanging dishrag, before trotting to the front door.
Yamato was all smiles when Taichi swung open the door.
"Hey, you granny. Took you long enough," he said, holding up a box. "I've brought a cake."
"Oh, Yamato, you shouldn't have!" Taichi replied in his best granny voice. He grinned as he reached out and took the box. "Please, come in."
"It's not for you, it's for your parents," the blonde replied as he stepped across the threshold into the entryway.
"In that case, you can show yourself out," Taichi replied, still grinning from ear to ear. Even still, as he spoke, he knelt and laid out a pair of house shoes, closing the door behind him. "Where's your brother?"
"TK? He'll be over soon, I think. I haven't spoken to him today, but I know he's coming. Should I text him?"
"Nah, no worries. Here, this way. You ready to get beaten in Smash today?"
Yamato scoffed. "In your dreams, nest head." Referring, of course, to Taichi's hair. Taichi just smirked in response. He knew Yamato was just jealous. Girls dug the crazy hair, and blondie couldn't get it if he tried. And how he'd tried, but it seemed that he would never again be able to get it back to the gravity-defying form it had taken when they were kids.
Alas, poor Yamato.
He sat the cake down on the kitchen counter and grabbed several bowls of snacks to carry into the front room, laughing quietly at his private joke.
Takeru, meanwhile, was irritated, lost, and late.
He made his way down the street, glancing between the number placards on the front gates and the paper in his hand, cursing silently to himself the whole way. Stupid house numbers being so random. Why had Tokyo been the last place to figure out that a consistent numbering system was the best numbering system? It was nigh impossible to find any place simply based off of its street address.
He was just about to call Yamato when his eyes landed on a familiar set of numbers. Quickly, he compared them the numbers on his paper and nearly whooped with joy. Finally! He'd made it! And he was alive!
Not that there was any reason he wouldn't be alive. It was just… he'd been so lost for so long, it sort of felt like he might starve to death before he ever made his way back to the main street.
Dramatics aside, Takeru's joy slowly faded, replaced by complete and total awe, as he realized what he was looking at. Tai's parents' house was huge! No wonder Tai had wanted to play Smash here instead of at his and Yamato's small apartment. Everything about the house was elegant and refined, displaying its opulence through understated but high quality materials and architectural design. A beautiful sturdy brick wall surrounded the whole house, and the gate, which sat propped open in front of him, was new, shiny, and black, its adornments curving gently into each other like small dollops of black whipped cream. Affluence seemed to seep from every crack, cranny, and corner.
Takeru suddenly felt very aware of his own humble dwellings. The 3LK (1) he shared with his mom, was not shabby by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, compared to this, he might as well have lived behind a McDonalds.
Realizing he'd been standing creepily outside the house for far too long, the blond willed his legs to move, slipping through the gate and walking up the nice cobblestoned path. The garden off to the left was mostly green, and somewhat plain looking, but Takeru recognized the dozing bulbs of what he was certain would be gorgeous flowers come springtime. To the left were a gravel driveway wide enough to park two cars and a covered port for the bicycles. There were four parked neatly underneath it.
He veered to the left, following the path as it cut right through the green garden, guiding him right to the door where he hesitantly raised his finger and pressed the bell. He didn't know why he was afraid. He'd met Tai before—the older boy was perfectly nice and welcoming and had never made Takeru feel out of place, so why would he change now? Still, clutching the bag of oranges he'd brought as a gift, he felt hopelessly inadequate.
"I'll get it!" he heard a feminine voice say from inside. Tai's mother? Still, the voice sounded fairly young… Involuntarily, his fist clenched around the top of the cellophane surrounding the basket of oranges as he saw the figure approach. And then the door swung open, and Takeru nearly dropped the gift on the ground.
Of all the unexpected things that had happened this weekend—no, since her father had announced they were moving back to Japan, Takaishi Takeru showing up at her doorstep topped the list. Rude though it may have been, Hikari could not help but stare, utterly dumbfounded by the sight of her classmate in front of her. Judging from the wide-eyed expression the blonde wore on his face, Hikari could tell he was just as flabbergasted as she was.
The space that followed this surprising meeting must have lasted a fair length, because Taichi called from the living room and poked his head into the entryway to see what was going on.
"Everything okay, Kari?"
His voice broke the spell. Startled, both teens jumped about a mile out of their skins and started babbling at breakneck speeds.
Hikari said: "Oh my goodness, excuse me. I was so rude. Please come in. Welcome to our home. Oh, thank you. You didn't have to bring anything with you. Well, if you insist, I'll take it. Thank you so much. Here, please use these slippers! This way. Did you find the place okay?"
At the same time that Takeru was saying: "Excuse me for intruding. Thank you. Please, I brought these oranges. It's not much, but please. No please, I insist. Thank you. Oh, excuse me for troubling you. Thank you so much. Yes, I had a bit of trouble once I got into the neighborhood, but I found it all right. This is such a beautiful house."
And Taichi just watched the whole thing with a bemused expression on his face, filing away the flustered way Hikari was acting for later interrogation.
"So, I take it you two already know each other then?" Taichi asked as they joined him and Yamato in the living room, cutting off their unusually formal interaction.
Hikari nodded. "Yes, we're in the same class at school."
"Oh, really?" Taichi asked, arching his eyebrow in surprise. "And are you always this formal with each other?"
Both teenagers froze, their faces going red. After a space of awkward silence, they both began talking at once, even more flustered than before.
"No, of course not! You see, it's just that I was surprised to see him there, because you never told me the name of Yamato's brother. It's just a small world that these two are related and that Yamato's brother just happened to be in my class!"
"No, not usually. I was just so suddenly startled by Hikari's appearance—and the house is so nice, I wanted to make a good impression and I thought at first that perhaps your mother was going to show up and—"
But Taichi wasn't even listening. He had already burst out laughing.
Of all the surprisingly things that had happened to Takeru in the past couple weeks, the second, just after showing up at Yagami Hikari's house, was getting his butt kick by her repeatedly in Super Smash Brothers. The girl was a beast. At first, Takeru had thought he might be nice to her—that she had felt pressured to play to be cordial towards their guests—but he quickly realized that he couldn't win being nice to her, he couldn't win being mean to her, he couldn't win period. Not often anyway.
Attempting a sneak attack with Samus's blaster gun, an attack that he had purposely charged when he was elsewhere and she was less likely to be paying attention, Takeru's mouth fell open in horror as she effortlessly dodged the attack, and flew at him, her Kirby's leg outstretched. Without batting an eyelash, she forced him over the edge of the stage and drilled him straight down into oblivion. Winning the game for herself. Again.
"Whee!" Hikari giggled, putting down the controller and stretching. "This is fun!" Takeru took the moment to steal a glance at Yamato, who looking white as a sheet, was staring back at his brother looking completely soulless. Who knew the sweet, unassuming Yagami Hikari could be so vicious?
But then again, Takeru was beginning to realize that Hikari was full of surprises. He thought back to Friday night, when she had shown up unannounced at Miyuki's party looking even more attractive than the party's host.
"Has she always been this good?" Yamato was whispering to Taichi who nodded solemnly. "Doesn't it ever bother you that you can never win?"
Taichi shrugged. "Nah. Sometimes I get her. Plus, I so enjoy watching my friends' faces as they get their butts handed to them when they play against her." He laughed heartily and then stood and stretched too.
"Can I get anyone anything?" Hikari asked, moving towards the kitchen, holding the now empty snack bowls.
"Can I get a beer please?" Yamato asked.
"Me too!" Taichi chimed in.
"Yeah, no prob. Takeru? Beer too?"
"Uh, no, I'm fine I think. Let me help you though!" he stood and headed toward the kitchen before she could protest.
"Thanks, I guess," she laughed as they entered the kitchen together.
Takeru grinned. "No prob. Being the loser I am to your talents, I must show my respect somehow."
Hikari flushed. "Please…" she mumbled, embarrassed.
"How'd you get so good?" he asked, reaching in the fridge for the beers.
"My boyfriend—uh, well… I guess…ex-boyfriend now," she hesitated for a split second and then rushed on, "used to play all the time. When Tai was there and after he left, and us girls—me and my best friend—didn't want to be left out, so we'd play too. But the boys would never take us seriously. So one day, Angela said—Angela's my best friend—she said, 'If we beat them, then they'd pay attention to us.' So we practiced and practiced and practiced until we were skilled enough. And what do you know, it worked!" She laughed quietly to herself, as she refilled the chips bowl and dumped the bowl that had held the shrimp-flavored party mix in the sink. She replaced it, instead, with Takeru's oranges. She was so lost in her thoughts about America, remembering the look Taichi and Chase had had on their faces when Angela and her had creamed the pair of them for the first time, that when Takeru spoke again, she was completely startled.
"You really miss America, huh?"
Usually, Hikari would have replied with some breezy, off-handed remark about how she was making her adjustments, or how she enjoyed being able to walk everywhere, or even how she was making great, new friends. But before she even had a chance to formulate any sort of white lie like that, she was answering, "So much." The honesty of her statement, in the timbre of her voice, etched into the slightly frowning curve of her mouth startled them both.
But Takeru took it in stride. "That must be hard. I can't even imagine. Leaving behind everything to move halfway around the world."
Hikari felt a bit like a child when she nodded her head slowly, while looking down at her hands and feeling sorry for herself. But then she perked up as an idea came to her. "Hey, I want to show you something!"
"Here, come on!" She grabbed the goodies and encouraged him to keep pace as she hurried into the living room, set down the snacks, and then grabbed Takeru's arm and dragged him up the stairs to her room. She was really excited about something.
When she flicked on the light, Takeru found himself oddly excited, eager to see what kind of secrets about her her new room held. It was a tidy place, with her bed pushed flush against the wall to his right, and her desk sat opposite it, with a single laptop sitting open right in the middle of its clean surface. Save for the photos on her desk, the room was devoid of decoration. Shoved in the corner by the bookshelf where Hikari was crouching were several boxes, still half-packed. He finished his once over and approached the desk to look at the pictures littered across the top in picture frames of various shapes and sizes.
There was one, set off to the right side of the desk of three girls. He recognized Hikari in the middle, with long, wavy brown hair tumbling down her back. Flanked by two girls whom Takeru assumed were here friends, one with long, straight blonde hair, and the other with short black. They were all grinning from ear to ear, and Takeru suddenly realized that he had never seen Hikari offer a smile as wide as the one she had in that photo. He was suddenly possessed with an irrationally strong desire to produce one from her himself.
"You used to have long hair," Takeru said in wonder, staring at the photo, memorizing the brightness of her face, the vivacity of her smile, the ease and comfort that seemed to radiate from her body. She really looked like she felt at home.
"Huh? Oh yeah. I cut it all off my first day here. New country, new life, new start—why not a new hair style, you know?"
"You looked really pretty with your long hair," he said, quietly, more to himself than to her.
But she'd heard. "Thanks. Angela will kill me when she finds out I cut it off though. Angela is the blonde." He turned to look at her. She was crouched by her shelf, searching the books for something. As if sensing his gaze on her back, she turned around and grinned at him. It was big and seemed to have come from a happy place, more closely resembled the smile she had in the photograph, but it still wasn't quite there. "Maybe Chase too," she said, smiling a more private smile. And though the thought was actually a rather morbid though, she was smiling, as though nothing could have pleased more. Takeru stared at her a second longer, and then turned back to the desk.
There were several photos of Hikari with these two girls in varying configurations, sometimes Hikari and the blond, sometimes Hikari with the black haired girl, sometimes Hikari by herself, or the two them alone, or Hikari with a boy with longish, messy brown hair that flopped unceremoniously over his green eyes. The biggest framed photo on her desk was one of them—of Hikari and that boy.
"Who's the other girl? With the black hair?" he asked, as he studied this photo of her with the boy that he figured was her ex. What was his name? Chase? Clearly, she still loved him, or at least their split had been amicable, because the picture was of him grabbing her from the side, and kissing her face, his nose pressed comfortably into her cheek. And she was laughing, a big smile across her face as her bangs fell across one of her eyes, both of which were squeezed shut anyway.
"Oh that's Miranda. My other bestie. She's hilarious." Takeru stole a glance again to see her smiling to herself, no doubt running than years worth of precious memories. He glanced back at the photo of her and Chase, leaning down to get a better look, accidentally brushing his hand across the keyboard of her laptop.
The laptop burst to life, just as Hikari exclaimed, "Ah, here it is!" and stood up. Takeru yanked his hand back.
"I'm sorry!" he stammered. "I was just trying to look at your pictures better."
Hikari laughed. "It's okay—"
But the familiar blee-bloop ring of a Skype call cut her off. She hurried across the room and glanced at the Caller ID. Angela Murphy. Well this was unusual. They didn't tend to Skype much, because usually it was either really late or really early when they spoke, and neither of them wanted to bother their parents with their voices. On the rare occasions that they did Skype, they didn't video chat. Not that Hikari didn't want to see Angela, but she was putting off Angela's wrath about the hair for as long as possible. So she'd told her best friend that their Internet connection couldn't support webcam yet. They would have to wait until her father upgraded the connection.
"Er… uh, sorry. Just give me one sec. Sorry." She started to decline, but Takeru stopped her.
"No, please, not on my account! I can leave. Or… if it's okay…I'd like to talk to her too?"
"Uh, I mean, yo—I don't car—uh, can you?"
"English is my best subject, and I've been to America before, you know. One of Yamato's friends, Mimi, lived there for a little while."
"Really? But I met Mimi and she never said—" Blee-bloop. Blee-bloop. "Oh— uh, then, okay? Real quick. I'm sure Tai and Yamato are wondering where we ran off too." She clicked Accept.
"Kariiiiiii!" a singsong voice exclaimed. She sounded just like the perfect girl to be Hikari's best friend, Takeru thought. Her voice was dynamic, filled with life, and it matched the bubbly appearance of the blond girl in the photo well.
"Hey, Angela. What a pleasant surprise!" Hikari replied.
"Ah, Ka-rii," she said, whining playfully. "When is your dad going to get the Internet upgraded? I want to see you!"
Hikari was startled by this mention and glance at Takeru just long enough for the blond to catch the guilt in her eyes. Perhaps Hikari was hopeful that he wouldn't understand what Angela had just said. But no such luck. For whatever reason, she had lied about not being able to video chat. He smiled at her, innocently, but she knew she'd been caught. "Uh, yeah, I know! I'll pester him about it again."
"Yeah! Light a fire under that man! Doesn't he know the world will explode if I don't see you soon?"
Hikari laughed. A fluid, musical laugh that seemed just a bit fuller than her usual laugh. "Dramatic as always, Angie. Say, I have a friend here today."
"Friend?" Angela asked, her voice wavering as though, for a split second, she had thoughts of being replaced. "Who?"
"Takeru! You remember I mentioned him before?"
"Oh, the one who just dumped that one bi—"
"YES! That's the one!" Hikari yelled, cutting her off. Her face went exceptionally red, but Takeru just laughed.
"Hello," he said. "Nice to meet you."
There was a short pause, and then Angela said. "Why hello there, Takeru." Though she was trying her best, Angela could not reproduce the accent with which Hikari had said his name, so it sounded slightly foreign in her American accent.
"Please, call me TK," he supplanted, and Hikari smiled apologetically. But Takeru just shrugged it off.
"Weellll, Hikari. I didn't realize you had other company," Angela replied, a mischievous edge to her voice. Hikari caught it immediately.
"Angela, it's not like—"
"Excuse me for interrupting. You two have fun now! Within reason of course." Hikari could practically hear the wink in her voice, and felt her face going even redder at the thought.
"Angela, wait, it's not—"
But the call ended with a noise like a jangle of coins, and the room fell into a heavy silence.
"Oh god. I'm sorry," Hikari sighed. "That was… completely and utterly embarrassing, I just can't even… There are no words."
Takeru just laughed. "It's fine! She seems like a really great person. Clearly she cares about you. I can see why you miss America so much, having such a lively friend there." Hikari smiled at him gratefully. "So anyway, what was it that you wanted to show me?"
"Oh yeah! Well, er…wow. After that exchange it kind of seems like a moot point. But I was going to show you pictures of my life in California. But after that, I'm sure you wouldn't want to—"
"No, no! I would really like to see them. I want to know what kind of person you were before you came here. What kind of life you had, before I made it so difficult."
"Takeru, Miyuki is not your responsibility. It's not your fault."
"Yes it is. Miyuki drew all kinds of conclusions because I brought you up in conversations I shouldn't have and defended you and—"
"Whatever. It's in the past now. Let's move on… TK…" she tried out the nickname cautiously. Glancing shyly at him to see if he minded. But instead, a huge smile broke out on his face.
"Okay, Miss Kari. Let's see what you got. Those photos. Hit me with 'em." She returned his smile enthusiastically.
Hikari and Takeru had long since abandoned Super Smash Brothers. They sat in her room flipping through pictures while Hikari regaled him with tales of her life in America and Takeru participated eagerly by asking loads of questions. Then, suddenly curious about his own life, Hikari had started asking him questions. By the time Taichi had poked his head into her room to ask if either of them wanted tea, a look of deep suspicion, quickly followed by deep relief in his eyes, they two of them were practically rolling on the ground with laughter as they reminisced about a classmate they had both had in grade school. The two of them had figured out they had both lived in Hikarigaoka (2) when they'd been young, and that they'd both moved to Odaiba after the Hikarigaoka terrorist bombing. From which they also figured out that they had been in the same class for about a year before Hikari moved to America. Them being young at the time, their memories of the time were fragmented and fuzzy at best.
Now, several hours later, the two of them were sitting on the back porch staring up at the night sky in pensive silence, relishing the quiet. Neither of them had ever talked so much in one day, and both had been left with a feeling that they'd known each other for a lifetime. Their friendship had formed quickly, but it already felt solid.
"It's strange, but I feel like I can tell you anything," Hikari said, quietly, her voice barely breaking the silence. Takeru looked up; she was staring straight ahead, a distant expression on her face. He had barely heard her. Fortunate that he did. An admission like that was too personal to be repeated.
He smiled at his knees, letting her confession hang in the air a moment. "Funny as it may sound, I feel the same way about you." He looked up, and their gazes met. She returned his smile with a small one of her own and then glanced down again, thinking. They sat in an easy silence for a while, Takeru watching a plane make its way across the glowing night sky, Hikari staring at her hands, both of them lost in their thoughts. Thus, when Hikari finally spoke, it took Takeru a minute to reorient himself.
She continued to stare at her knees a moment, even though she could feel his gaze on the side of her face. Her heart was oddly calm, considering what she was about to tell him. Proof of the statement she'd made earlier, she supposed. "TK," she repeated. Hesitantly, she began to raise her gaze, casting her eyes everywhere but Takeru's face. "I think I like Ryuji." She locked her eyes with his sheepishly.
Takeru was confused. Why was she telling him this? Yet, the look on her face told him that his reaction was a deciding factor in whatever decision she was making. "O-o-okay…" he said, slowly, noncommittally. He started to say something else, but there was more. He could see her working it out in her mind.
"I'll probably end up getting hurt, won't I?" She glanced at him again, and though he really did not want to sell his best friend out as a low life who only broke girls hearts (after all, it wasn't like he did it intentionally) the look in her eyes told him that she wanted the truth straight out, whatever it may have been. That meant no embellishing, no justifying, and no rationalizing.
"Probably," he said, finally.
Hikari nodded slowly, thoughtfully, a small, knowing smile crossing her face. "That's what I thought."
Takeru watched her face carefully, feeling guilty. He felt like he should qualify his statement somehow, but nothing he could say would change the facts. But maybe if he could just make her realize that it wasn't personal. It was just how the boy was.
"But he's not a bad guy," Takeru added, watching her very carefully. "Really he's not. Ryuji, he's…" He paused, thinking carefully about how to phrase his next thought. "Ryuji is like water. Easy to catch, but hard to hold. Say he's got commitment issues or whatever, but that's just how he's always been, and no girl's ever thought of using a cup. So, I mean, you never know. You might be the one to do it."
Hikari mulled these words over, not lifting her eyes from her knees. Considering her options very carefully. When she spoke at last, it was about something completely unrelated to Ryuji. "You really have a way with words, you know that?"
"What?" Takeru asked, his face blushing at the sudden compliment.
"That was a really poetic way to put it. Water. I'd never have thought of that in a million years, but I can totally see it."
"Oh, yeah… I, uh… I kind of want to become a writer," he admitted. Hikari's eyes lit up at the idea.
"That's right!" she exclaimed, and Takeru frowned. "Ryuji said something about that this mor—er, the other day," she added as a way of explaining. She dropped her legs so she could lean forward properly. "You should do it! Do you write now?"
"Uh, yeah, some." He was suddenly both uncomfortable and happy. Nobody had ever responded to his hobby of writing as enthusiastically as Hikari had. Not that he'd told many people, but he already knew they wouldn't find it that impressive of a trait.
"Do you mind? I'd like to read some of it."
That really surprised him. His mouth flapped open as he stammered, "Uh, yeah… sure. I… Any time. Just… come over… I guess."
"Yay! I'm so excited," she sighed, sitting back. "To think, I am in company with a budding Akutagawa prize (3) winning author."
Takeru turned the shade of a tomato, as he began to protest heavily, though secretly, he was really happy. "I haven't even published anything yet! Besides, I'm really not any good."
"Nonsense! I can tell. You'll be award winning. There's no way that won't be true."
Takeru looked at her astonished. If only he could have that sort of confidence in his own writing. She hadn't even read anything yet. Oh yeah, she hadn't read any of it yet. So there's no way she would know. Still, it was a comforting thought. "You're really something, you know that?"
"Oh? A good something?" she asked, eyes shining.
"A great something," Takeru replied, thinking a truer statement had never been said.
(1) 3LK: shorthand for an apartment containing three bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen.
(2) Hikarigaoka: In the English version of Digimon, this area was called Heighton View Terrace. It is the place where all the original DigiDestined lived when they were younger and the place where they first saw Digimon, the giant Greymon and Parrotmon. Lately, I've been watching the original Japanese version of Digimon, and it has inspired me to try and be truer to the original storyline whenever possible, even though there are no Digimon in this story. Teehee.
(3) Akutagawa Prize: Is the highest literary prize in Japan named for Ryuunosuke Akutagawa, a literary great who wrote many famous pieces such as "In a Grove" (from which the phrase "In a grove" comes from) and "Rashomon" (which was made into a movie and has been retold in one form or another countless times) before committing suicide at age 35.
In the next chapter, Hikari and Takeru settle into their newfound friendship as both struggle with personal problems. Meanwhile, Ryuji, emboldened by their Sunday date, starts trying to woo Hikari, which tests her resolve to stay single. Takeru, having failed at convincing Yamato to take his spot in the musical, is forced to make good on his promise.
Thanks to all who reviewed the last chapter: Kjhgb, bROkeN TrUst, xosunshinegirlxo, Koatan, Arisachu, freedom2619, kitto-be-alright, AniManGa19930, Wildcats15, aaaa, missyEll16, x0Arisax0, Namika-i, Final Genesis, authorgal282, and inudemon02.
No, really, thank you guys. I really really appreciate all your reviews (criticisms and all!), and I read all your glorious reviews over and over again to get motivated to write again. If you aren't too mad about the long delay, please leave me another one!