One thing: I love InoShino. And Shino's the bomb. I hope I do him justice! Reviews of any kind are greatly appreciated.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
Let me begin by saying that I don't usually examine fruit so thoroughly.
The vendor keeps flashing me pleased and approving smiles because I've been here for quite a while already, with two bags bulging and one partially filled with the fruit I've been absent-mindedly adding each time I feel I'm becoming suspicious. Every so often she eyes my bags and envisions the butt load of cash she will soon receive from me and mentions how the apples are firm and fresh, or how sweet the bananas are, or how the mangoes are imported and will only be sold this season, and wouldn't I like to get some of those too? I lamely add whatever fruit she points to without much protest.
What she doesn't notice is that strategically placed in between my pseudo-inspections of the firmness of the grapes and the softness of the avocadoes—with me idiotically squeezing each one like I know what the hell I'm doing—are furtive and cowardly glances at the flower shop across the street.
The truly shameful part is that this is my fourth visit to this stand this week and I am officially the fruit stand vendor's favorite customer (a title I clearly take immense pride in). It's been getting worse. A month ago I only came about once a week. Then, out of the blue, she—not the fruit vendor—was outside watering some flowers and looked up just as I passed and…smiled. At me.
After that increased the visits—at such an alarming rate it scares me—to the fruit stand, the pottery shop, the food market, anywhere remotely close to that blissful paradise where the wonderful poisonous scent of sweet, sweet flowers wafts through the wind the same way her long shimmering blonde hair flows when the breeze caresses its airy fingers through it.
I'm in love with her, you know.
How do I know this? I admit this is the first question I've encountered to which I cannot give an answer solely based on reason and factual evidence.
Mind you, this is not an obsession. It's not like I come to this fruit stand every day. My thoughts do consist of more productive notions such as new fighting strategies, how to improve my bonding skills with the kikaichuu, the universe, what to eat, and so on and so forth (although Ino does, perhaps, slip in once or twice unintentionally).
Nor am I a stalker of any sort. I do not know all her whereabouts at all times of the day every day. I do not collect locks of her hair. I don't have a scrapbook filled with photographs taken from behind walls or bushes of her watering flowers, buying groceries, doing laundry—or any such chores and errands—much less any perverted pictures of her dressing. I am a sane man. Just quiet, is all.
Well, perchance I should clarify. I am mostly sane. Somewhere along the way of my being acquainted with Ino, rational thought began slowly dispelling itself out of my mind, much like radioactive decay, until one fateful day when I lost enough to actually accept the fact that I was in love with her. If absolutely forced to assign it a numerical value for those of you who prefer more mathematical proof over testimonial, I would say that I am eighty-two percent sane, but I admit I haven't actually sat down and sincerely calculated such a thing. But you will have to simply deal because that's all you're going to get.
Trust me, I wasn't always like this. I have known Ino for quite some time, and for most of my life I had never been struck by her as I am now. Of course, she was always pleasing to the eye, but not much more. I lived life in bliss. I was confident in my abilities. I concentrated only on improving my skills as a fighter. Love didn't exist in my world; I was not a fool. My father always taught me better.
Then we had a mission. At some point, like some ghastly romance novel, she lost consciousness and I became her temporary caretaker. I held her, and realized rudimentarily that she was a woman, and I was a man. That her slim body fit quite nicely in the grooves of my arms, that her head on my shoulder was a contact sorely missed when it was gone. When she awoke, she gazed at me for quite some time, and the sun shone in her sapphire eyes and sparkled, her smile soft and radiant and her cheeks pink. Beautiful.
I am nearly sure she does not remember that, however. What she probably does is the time, about a month after our previous moment, when I saved a defenseless scarab from her almost-ruthlessness. For once in my life I happened to be passing by the right place at the right time. She stood, half-hunched, outside the front of her shop staring vehemently at something on the ground.
On closer inspection I found that a small beetle, upturned with his legs wiggling in a frenzy in the air—a result of her smacking it off a flower it had been snacking on—was the cause of her attention. She lifted her foot in threat, and I stole the creature from under her right before her foot slammed where my hand had almost been.
"What'd you do that for?" she screamed angrily. I explained carefully that he, although six-legged and a little unsightly to her, was a living creature and therefore deserved to not die smeared on the bottom of her shoe. He was my friend. I set him upright on the ground and he scurried to the wall, where he became confused as to why he could not move further.
She insisted on continuing her declarations of how disgusting the creature was, how selfish it was to be eating her flowers, how it would hardly make a difference if the world had one less beetle in it. I let her roar. When I turned away and she thought I was not looking, however, I saw her pick up the insect and gently place him back on the flower petals.
If you are still not convinced, here's this: I think about only her for the better part of my conscious existence. My once-peaceful slumber is now pleasantly plagued by her appearances in my dreams. I often wonder if she thinks of me. I want to make her happy. I want to make her smile. Hell, I feel like smiling. I got sunshine on a cloudy day. When it's cold outside, she's like the month of May. Every time I see her, my organs suck in the 0.000524% helium in the atmosphere and float around crudely and fanatically in my rib cage.
I figure the only conclusion I can come up with after considering all these facts is that I am in love with her. Does it matter if it really is love or not? If it is attraction? Infatuation? That I am feeling anything at all of this sort is already ridiculous. I might as well go all the way.
Ino, Ino. Yamanaka Ino.
Shut up, Shino.
I wonder how she would react if she ever could hear the ridiculous whims that flutter about in my head. Would she laugh heartily in my face, as I pitifully hide behind my collar in humiliation? Would she, in an angry and offended rampage, hit me on the head and tell me anything romantic between us was completely out of the question and, in fact, was absolutely a revolting thought to her? Or, would she use my own weapon against me, and remain utterly silent? Her disgusted expression would need no words.
Ah, I am too cruel to myself. I can't help it. I believe I can think of a thousand more things she could do before I would remotely consider her doing what I wished most she would: Smile at me tenderly, stroke my cheek softly, and whisper, "Shino, I feel the same way."
And then rip off my clothes.
Just kidding. Sort of.
I wonder how much longer I can stall before anyone notices the man conspicuously clad in a hood and sunglasses staring relentlessly across the street. I don't want to leave yet, but the bags I'm holding are beginning to feel heavy and I cannot even so much as catch the slightest glimpse of Ino through the window. It's feeling a little hopeless now. I'm starting to brood. Maybe I should just go home? Another day, no progress. I am still only the footnote of a footnote in the saga of her captivating life, barely noticed, barely mentioned.
Eh, I'm used to it. Unless your pity will somehow help me recover from this predicament, and either instigate affections from my Flower Girl (I am aware of how incredibly uncreative and stupid a nickname that is; it's a work in progress, you know) to me or aid me in regaining my sagacity by falling out of love with her, I shall ask you in my most gentlemanly voice to not bestow it upon me. Kindly.
As I turn to leave, I am suddenly struck by an absurd thought (not a new occurrence). An epiphany, of sorts.
What if, just what if, I walk inside her flower shop?
This sort of thought may seem to you exceedingly obvious, but I can assure you it has never before traversed the labyrinths of my deranged mind. But now that I've gone slightly mad, warped inspirations such as these are becoming the norm. You see, I never used to bother with "whims." I never had them.
I cannot even trust my own judgment anymore.
I can feel my iron feet taking me one step closer against and for my will; I am aghast that I am actually going to do this; my hand clutches the coldness of the door handle and somehow the door opens…
She is standing at her register, one hand under her chin stabilizing the weight of her head, the fingers of the other drumming on the counter. Her store is seemingly empty, and ever the attentive attendant, she notices at once the arrival of her customer. "Welcome to Yamanaka Flower Shop!" she greets.
She recognizes me. "Shino! I've never seen you come here before."
It is silent as I awkwardly walk up to her counter, place my burdensome bags on it—my arms throbbing in pain—and stare at her. She stares back, but auspiciously cannot see my eyes through my dark glasses. That is why I wear them.
"I believe…I am here to buy a flower?"
Her eyebrow rises in perplexity. "Well, it doesn't look like you've come to the right place, does it?"
"I'm just joking," she smiles, as she often smiles to her customers. "What kind of flower is it that you'd like?"
"Uh…" I drawl. I usually am not such at a loss for words—since nobody really expects me to say anything and for that reason I have plenty of time to think of exactly what to say only when it is absolutely necessary—but generating conversation on the spot with Ino is making me understand extensively the phrase "panic attack."
My hands and armpits are producing so much sweat I'm sure I'm going to drop dead from dehydration approximately in the next five minutes. My breath is shallow and intermittent, and only happens when I remember to do so. My heart is going to burst out of my prison cell of a chest any second. My brain is nothing more than a baby's regurgitated oatmeal, splattered on the tile floor.
Can I possibly still be suave in a state like this?
"Friendly, fast, and yummy."
An ice cream truck passed by in that moment, providing me with the most useless adjectives to mock my vulnerability. I read off the truck's side profile lamely—"Mr. Ice Cream Coney's Ice Cream Supreme: We'll give ya your ice cream Friendly, Fast, and Yummy!"—my body no longer belonging to me, but controlled by some unknown but irresistible demon of stupidity.
I regret ever coming here.
"Hm…um, well I've never heard anyone describe them like that before. But…I can help, I think. Friendly, fast, and yummy," she mumbles, walking off as I follow her shadow. "You want edible flowers, then?"
I nod. I'm not about to open my mouth again.
"And you want them to grow fast?"
"And…to be friendly? That means…colorful? No thorns?"
I nod. I am amazed by how she can make sense of it all, or even take it seriously. She's not even looking at me like a freak of nature. Honestly.
"Perfect! Day lilies!" She snatches up a few in her hand and turns happily to me, an expression of accomplishment and slight smugness in her ability to choose what was, apparently, the perfect flower for me.
"Yes," I lie. "That's precisely what I was looking for."
"Yes, well, we are the best flower shop in Konoha."
"So it says on your sign." But I can think of another reason why it is.
She smiles and leads me to the cash register to make my purchase. "So," she asks, "you really going to eat these?"
I shrug. "Should I?"
"Well you can, of course. But I think you should save some just to look at. They make you feel a little less lonely."
Her gaze shifts to the lilies in her hand. Mine stays on her. The lilies are pretty but they fail to match her beauty. Ino, my lovely flower.
If that makes you gag then I do not know how you've endured me this far.
"And here are your flowers! Thank you for choosing Yamanaka Flower Shop! Come again soon!"
She beams. I revel. Come again soon. Can't I just pretend she doesn't say that to all her customers?
"Hey, Shino, don't forget your bags!"
"Oh yes, thank you. I forgot."
Heaving, she hands them to me, slightly out of breath. "Geez, what do you have in there, human heads?"
She seems to find that funny. It gives me a little more confidence to continue.
"There are peaches on the top. Would you like one?"
She looks surprised. "Really? Okay, sure. They're my favorite. Did you know that or something?"
She takes it from my hand. It doesn't pass my consciousness that her fore and middle fingers brush against mine—and she does not cringe from the contact.
"Thanks," she says, taking a bite. She chews, her eyes surveying me. I realize that my stance is quite awkward, my shoulder facing her, a result of me not knowing whether this is the time I'm supposed to leave or not. I turn away and begin my way out.
I stop at once. Her voice is sweet but it holds my legs in place with a might stronger than any physical force I've experienced to date. I swear Jupiter is spinning in my stomach.
"Thank you for the peach. It's really good."
I manage a courteous nod. "You're welcome…Ino."
I wonder if she will say anything more, but she returns to the cash register and looks instantly busy with something or other. I take it that whatever fortune Fate, out of boredom and perhaps a little sympathy, supplied to me during the last ten minutes has run out, with not even a crumb left out of the crumbs I had been given. Will she even remember me tomorrow? I step through the door and leave.
Mrs. Fruit Lady—the nicknames, I know—is still at her station across the street and she acknowledges me with a wave and a greeting of gusto. At least she likes me.
I mope to a bench where I plop by bags down and then myself. I stare at a fly sitting on the edge, scrubbing itself with its paws. It takes flight, buzzes around my head once and then settles down again in the same corner it left.
"Yes, it's a safe little spot, no? Staying where you are?" I tell it. He buzzes in understanding. He flickers to my shoulder as a signal of comfort. It's nice to have a friend at a time like this.
"Do you think I have a chance?" I ask him quietly. He shifts his wings uncomfortably.
There is the sound of a door swinging open and then shut. My head shoots up out of instinct and I catch the wave of her blonde hair dart outside.
"Ino!" cries a female voice a little ways away. "Get over here now or I'm leaving without you!"
"Hey, stop that! Wait for me!" she calls back. "Wait for me!"
I watch her run to her companion—away from me—my presence as invisible to her as her presence is strikingly noticeable to me.
All right, Ino. I'll wait for you…