At the Edge of the World
Disclaimer: CCS is not mine.
Chapter Thirty Eight – Nadeshiko
Sonomi and I split up in the afternoon as she heads to her next class, leaving me to my own devices for two hours. I head towards the library, then double back and make my way to Kinomoto-sensei's classroom. My heart is pounding and my brain is on autopilot. I have no idea what to expect. What do I expect? Firstly, he's a teacher, and secondly, we're in school midway through the day and it's not like he's about to pull me into his arms and kiss me and – oh, my brain thinks treacherously, that would be lovely.
I find his classroom empty. Bother. I decide to wait for him and pull a paperback copy of Rebecca out of my skirt pocket and settle in for what could be a long and futile wait. The heavy tone of the book begins to weigh down my spirits and sucks me into a well of self-pity. Everything I read seems to relate to me in some way, and I can't help but feel terribly lonely. I think about my family – or what's left of it, anyway – of all the expectations I never lived up to, that are now aimless things since my mother's gone – and I think of Sonomi and her pain, and of Kinomoto-sensei and his smile, and I suddenly wonder how much of a relief it would be if I could simply stop thinking altogether.
"Come on now, Nadeshiko," I tell myself firmly. "Happy thoughts. Happy thoughts." I will myself to remember how I used to sit on my father's knee before bedtime, of Sonomi's laugh, of Kinomoto-sensei holding me in the moonlight. I can't help but smile as I recall a passage from Rebecca:
"If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again."
Yes, I decide wistfully, that would be lovely. I'm still daydreaming when the classroom door slides open and I am startled into awareness.
"What are you doing here?" he asks, looking around perplexedly.
My brain buzzes dumbly. "It was…quiet," I say, because I honestly can't think of a better excuse.
"Oh. Um. Have you seen Kinomoto-Sensei?"
I shake my head. "No, I'm sorry."
He doesn't leave. He hovers by the door for a moment before stepping inside, and all I can think is goawaygoawaygoawayplease.
"How was your summer?" he asks, taking the seat next to mine.
"It was nice."
"Yeah? I spent a couple of weeks in Tokyo with my cousins! It was pretty awesome."
"That's nice," I smile.
There is a moment of silence and I get the worst feeling and then he opens his mouth and-
"Have you had any time to think about what I told you?"
"Oh," I mumble, and my face heats up and I struggle to find a good answer and then Kinomoto-Sensei arrives like a Christmas miracle.
"S-Sensei!" I exhale in relief.
"Sensei," says Sagawa-kun, jumping out of his seat. "I wanted to talk to you about getting a copy of this year's play on video."
"I'm sure the school's broadcasting club has a copy of that Sagawa-kun, I'll look into it and get back to you."
Sagawa-kun bows, then turns to me expectantly. "Amamiya-san?" he says, waiting by the door.
"Oh, um…I…wanted to talk to Kinomoto-Sensei about a few things regarding the play, too."
Sagawa-kun looks at me strangely, as if to say: whatever for?
"Oh, you must be talking about the work the art club did," Kinomoto-Sensei lies smoothly. "Goodness, are you preparing for the art exhibition already?" He raises his eyebrow without a hint of falsity on his face.
"Y-yes," I say. "In fact, it's a year-round endeavour."
"Alright then," says Sagawa-kun unconvincingly. "I'll see you around. Thank you, Sensei."
We hold our breath as the sound of Sagawa-kun's footsteps fade down the hallway. Kinomoto-Sensei walks briskly to the door and, with a quick glance this way and that, gently slides it shut.
"Well then," he says, and I feel a little awkward standing in front of him. I have no idea what to say. Hello? I missed you? Did you miss me? It's so good to see you? Crazy weather we're having, huh?
Kinomoto-sensei seems to sense this and smiles tentatively.
"It's good to see you," he says. "How are you?"
"I'm very well, thank you. And yourself?"
"Not too bad, not too bad…"
More silence. I want to sink into the floor and die. What on earth was I thinking? Honestly, what was I expecting? I'm surely the biggest idiot on the planet.
He takes a single step towards me, and I lift my head and look into his eyes and I remember why I'm here and what I'm hoping for. I reach for his hand nervously and we entwine our fingers. His touch is halting and gentle.
"I missed you," I say softly.
His grip tightens. "Aa," he says. He swallows heavily, nervously, as if he can't believe what he's doing. "Nadeshiko, we can't-"
"Am I being a nuisance, Sensei?"
More silence. My heart plummets. Oh. Oh. I wrench my hand from his and stumble backwards. "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, I didn't want…I didn't ever want…"
"Nadeshiko," he says, moving towards me, "stop. Calm down."
"I know, me too."
Then I have to stop and look into his eyes. Is he lying? He lied so easily to Sagawa-kun, after all. And what am I doing? Kinomoto-sensei is my teacher. I could cost him his career; his life!
"I just…argh!" Kinomoto-sensei pushes his glasses out of the way and rubs his eyes wearily.
"We need to talk about this, Nadeshiko," he says finally, and I can suddenly see the difference between us – he is an adult, serious and very aware of everything, and I am so young and lost and all I can think of is myself.
"It's too risky to have this discussion in school. If someone happens to hear us, things could turn very ugly very fast."
I nod dumbly. I feel like such a child. What am I doing? Kinomoto-sensei is no longer all soft-edges and gentle smiles. He is anxious and serious and distant and I want to cry. I bite my lip as hard as I can. I will not cry. I will not, will not, will not.
I can't look at him. I can't even speak.
"Oh darling," he breathes, "don't cry."
His arms are suddenly around me and his body is so warm and comforting that I can no longer hold back my tears and I blubber incoherently into his shirt. And all the while he strokes my hair and presses his lips against my head, murmuring "shh…shh…"
He tilts my head back and kisses my mouth and I can't help but wince in embarrassment because I probably taste like snot. Kinomoto-sensei seems to misunderstand because his mouth quirks upwards in a sort of half-smile. "That bad, huh?"
"No!" I gasp. "I'm just…so disgusting!"
He kisses me again. Soft, hot, not-quite-chaste little kisses that leave me breathless. "Silly bird," he says. "Are you ready to hear me out now?"
"Let me know when you can get away for a while, and we'll talk things through, okay?"
I nod. "Okay."
"I'm sure you're feeling very confused right now, and that's all right. We'll figure everything out in time. But we have to talk about this…whatever this is…before we can continue. Do you agree?"
"Yes," I murmur.
"Good." He kisses me again and my legs quiver. "Do you have anything more to add?"
I shake my head. "No."
"All right then."
He kisses me with finality and tries to step back, but foolishly, boldly, I follow his body. I hold on tighter and press myself against him. He makes a strange, strangled noise in the base of his throat.
"Hello," I say. Now that the awkwardness has passed my voice is finally unstuck and everything comes out in a rush. "It's so nice to see you. Crazy weather we're having, huh? I missed you."
"Silly bird," he grins, and kisses me again.