What? A third installment? But I thought the second chapter was the last of it? What do you mean an encore? Haven't you grown tired of this yet? Is your writing style even the same?
Err, yeah. That's me, talking to my alter-ego, who cannot keep her word. This is the same alter-ego who loves periberi and Jenipunch too much, and fear their demure Mitsuko smiles.
I promise this will be the last of this. Or not. I don't know. I don't want to make promises anymore.
Oh, and unbeta-ed, as always.
WHERE IS YOUR BOY TONIGHT: ENCORE
Graduating from their university was fairly easy for her; sitting around for three hours straight as wave after wave of students receive their diplomas on stage was not. By the end of the ceremony, Takako was as cranky as she was tired. Add that to the fact that she had no idea where the hell her boyfriend was, because stupid university regulations prohibited them from bringing their cell phones in the assembly hall. Mentally cursing herself for not having the foresight to arrange a meeting place with him after the event, Takako braced herself as she charged the sea of hyperactive men and women from her batch, throwing congratulations at each other, hugging their friends and promising to keep in touch, only to break their promise not even six months after the affair.
Takako frowned as she scanned the crowd. She recognized a few familiar faces—Yuka and Satomi from her junior high class, Rei Otohata from her evening study group (she could vaguely remember him being the Most Desirable Male Student in the University in a stupid poll about a year back), even the couple Neji Hyuuga and Tenten—what was her last name again—from her track team. Still, no sign of him anywhere.
Takako rubbed her forehead to stop a headache that was slowly forming, spreading across her temples in tiny tendrils. All she wanted was to get out of that place, change out of her graduation clothes, and take a long, hot shower to relax her tired muscles. Instead, she has to endure rubbing shoulders—literally!—with people she barely knew, in the vain attempt to find the one guy she wanted to see.
Takako turned around, disappointed that it was someone else who called her name. But again, in a crowd of a thousand, what were the chances that he'd actually spot her? Still, she stopped and waited for the caller to reach her. Shifting her weight from one foot to another, she crossed her arms across her chest and raised an eyebrow.
"And to what do I owe this displeasure?"
Shuuya Nanahara, clad in an apple-green suit and black slacks, chuckled good-naturally. He and Takako had been what other people could call "friends," if one could use that word loosely, ever since she started dating his other friend. Mostly, it meant that he didn't shrink back as often when she glared at him, and she tried her best to tolerate his impossible optimism about anything.
"I was going to congratulate you, that's all," Shuuya grinned, offering his right hand in a form of a handshake. "Departmental award!" He whistled, that ever-blinding grin affixed on his handsome face. Takako fought the urge to roll her eyes. Instead, she shook his hand, offered him one of her rare smiles (more like an upward tug of her lip and a slightly raised eyebrow), and murmured a word of thanks in return.
"So, listen, me and the guys are planning to celebrate later," Shuuya continued, still beaming. "You're coming, right?"
This time, Takako did raise an eyebrow. "Oh?" She hadn't heard anything about any kind of celebration, and it was unusual for her boyfriend not to inform her of his plans.
"Wait, he didn't tell you?" Shuuya blinked, the color draining from his face. Takako showed the first signs of a grin. "Uh, oh look, Yukie!" the rockstar wannabe suddenly exclaimed, and all but scampered away from her and bounded toward an equally beaming Yukie Utsumi. Takako watched the pair for a little while, slightly amused at how they both tried to hide their feelings for each other, when it was so obvious to everyone else that they were meant to be.
Shinji Mimura, where the hell are you? she hissed to herself.
She continued her search, this time, her intentions no longer as pleasant as they were minutes ago. What celebration was Shuuya talking about? And why in the world had Shinji failed to mention it to her? Now that she thought about it, her boyfriend did look kind of distracted for about a month already. She had shrugged it off, thinking it was simply the pressure of passing his exams that was getting to him, but what if it had meant something else? What if he was actually fading away from her?
Takako clenched her fists. The nerve of that guy. Nobody plays Takako Chigusa for a fool, she hissed, a little angrier this time. If he had grown tired of her, he should have just come clean and told her directly. It wasn't as if she was going to castrate him if he broke up with her. Telling her face-to-face that it was over was definitely better than simply disappearing from her life the minute they graduated from college.
Finally reaching the edge of the crowd, Takako decided not to look for Shinji anymore. Or, if anything, she would continue her search later, after she has recharged, just so he could feel the full force of her wrath.
She saw him standing in front of her dorm room. Not Shinji, the other him.
Things had been awkward between them ever since she chose Shinji over him, but Takako was greatly relieved to see her best friend. Without another word, she hurried to him, opening her arms in anticipation of a hug, realizing that the martial artist had his arms spread out as well.
They remained silent for about a minute or so, enveloped in each other's arms. Takako realized she had missed his warmth so badly, the fondness they shared over the years. After all that was said and done, Sugi was the one thing constant in her life. She was glad that at least that fact had not changed.
"You look really cool in that dress," Hiroki said, smiling his kind smile reserved only for her.
Takako smiled. "And you're the coolest guy in the world," she replied.
They both grinned at their childishness.
"Well, congratulations, Miss Departmental awardee," Hiroki quipped, poking Takako's head affectionately. "You deserved it."
Takako shrugged. "Says the guy who got five gold medals for five different tournaments." She chuckled as Hiroki blushed beet red, showing how uncomfortable he still was when given compliments about his achievements.
Gently, the martial artist smiled, and tucked a strand of hair that fell down Takako's face. "We could have had it all, you know," he said, smiling a sad little smile that made Takako sad too.
"I know," she answered, linking her fingers with him.
"Do you regret it?" he asked, and Takako knew exactly what he was talking about. Her smile only got sadder. "Sometimes," she replied, because even after all those years, she couldn't really lie to him about anything.
"Me too," he chuckled, and Takako grinned, because, wasn't it all water under the bridge already?
"You planning to hook up with that Kayoko troll again?" she asked, not really sure what answer she wanted to hear.
Hiroki shook his head. If there was one thing Takako admired about him, it was his utmost honesty about everything. "I don't think that's going to work out, me and her," he answered, and as an afterthought, "and stop calling her a troll!"
Takako laughed. "Well, she looks like one, what can I say?" Looking away, she continued, "I just want you to be happy, you know."
She felt Hiroki's smile, even when she was not looking. "And what will you do when I do find someone else?"
She shrugged. "Be jealous."
This time, Hiroki laughed. "Kami, this is why I love you so much," to which Takako cheekily replied, with a wink for emphasis, "I know."
Suddenly growing serious, Hiroki asked the question Takako had dreaded ever since she saw him standing by her door. "Where's Mim?"
She frowned. "Like hell if I know."
Hiroki, ever the considerate best friend, squeezed Takako's hand. "Hey," he said, forcing Takako to look at him. "Mim may be a lot of things, but he won't do this. Not to you." And it amazed her how Hiroki had figured out what she was thinking, and she wondered not for the first time if they shared the same brainwaves after all.
"He better not," she murmured.
She received another hug in response.
She did find him, after two excruciatingly long hours.
Or rather, he found her.
She was standing in the middle of her old classroom, the very same classroom where Shinji had approached her for the very first time, during their first year in college. She could only remember snippets of their initial conversation, but then again, there was almost nothing to remember anyway. She had called Hiroki a prick then, the aftereffect of a rejected love confession, and had automatically labeled the former basketball ace as another prick, simply because he was the other prick's friend. Still, Shinji-the-prick persisted, tried to get her attention, until she finally gave in, if only to stop him from being so damn annoying.
She never expected they'd get to a second date.
But there she was, in love with the most annoyingly charming guy in the whole of Japan, and she feared that he was going to break her heart real soon.
She turned around and waited for him to approach. There was a soft smile on his lips, so unlike the confident smirks he always wore. Takako suddenly felt her heart grow heavy. Whatever bad words she had conjured in the span of two hours all evaporated when she saw how he was smiling at her.
"Damn you." Not that best cuss word, she knew, but that was all she had left.
Shinji nodded. "Not exactly the proper answer to 'hey,' but you have never been conventional."
Takako narrowed her eyes. "What are you doing here?"
Shinji looked around, stared at the empty chairs (Takako suspected those were the same seats they sat on that first day, though she couldn't really be certain), and looked at her again. "I could ask the same of you."
"Stop screwing around, Mimura," she growled, realizing that she was, in fact, angry. She only called him by his surname when she was pissed off as hell with him. And "pissed off" was definitely an understatement right now.
If Shinji noticed the venom in her voice, he most definitely did not let it faze him. Instead, he walked toward her, step after step, both hands tucked in his pockets. "Congratulations. Departmental Award, I see," he answered.
Takako fought the urge to throw him her shoe. "You know what, why don't you just go ahead and get this over with?" she hissed, willing herself not to cry. She had only cried once over a guy, and she had finally closed the cycle with said guy two hours past.
Shinji raised an eyebrow. "Get over what?" He finally reached her, and they stood face to face, eyes locked with each other.
"If you don't want to be my boyfriend anymore, just say it," Takako choked out, but not really crying. She'd be damned if she broke down in front of him.
She expected him to look surprised, or deny her accusation even a bit. Instead, Shinji merely nodded, as if he was already expecting her to say those words. "Okay then."
"Okay?" Takako repeated, not daring to blink lest her tears started falling.
"I don't want to be your boyfriend anymore."
The first tear fell anyway.
"Ah, see, now you're crying," Shinji said, wiping away the tear on her cheek. Takako barely felt his touch. Her whole body grew numb, her mind blank. So he was really breaking up with her? Why was it so easy for him to say things like that? And why the hell did it hurt so badly? She wasn't one to believe in happy endings anyway. She knew there was always the possibility that she and Shinji would not end up together, but now that it was finally happening, why was it so fucking hard to accept? How was it possible for someone other than Hiroki to break into her defenses and hurt her this much? And why in the world was Shinji Mimura kneeling in front of her?
"W-what?" She blinked, the tears finally falling down one by one, so that she was able to see clearly again. "What the fuck are you doing?" she whispered, not trusting her voice to not crack.
"What do you think?" Shinji asked, holding a small box in her hands. "I'm proposing to you, Departmental awardee."
Takako frowned. None of it was making any sense. "You just said you don't want to be my boyfriend anymore."
Shinji shrugged. "I don't."
"Are you toying with me, Mimura?" she hissed, feeling her old self slowly creeping back.
Rubbing the back of his head, Shinji stood up, pressed his forehead against hers, and murmured, "I don't want to be your boyfriend anymore. I want to be something more, well, permanent."
For all her intelligence and Departmental award-ness, it took Takako several seconds to realize what the former basketball ace meant.
Shinji's old smirk returned. "Yep. Oh." Kneeling one more time, he held the box again, and asked, "Now, again?"
If theirs was just another fairy tale, Takako would simply squeal "yes," and let Shinji slip the ring around her finger. But such was not—never had been—the case. So instead of a squeal, she cursed him, smacked him on the forehead, dragged him up to his feet, and gave him the best kiss ever.
"Just so we're clear, that's a 'yes,' right?"
Rei Otohata is from GALS, and Neji Hyuuga and Tenten (no surname) is from Naruto. I love cameo appearances.
Anyway. I got too tired to make an explanation why Shinji did not tell Takako about the celebration, so feel free to make your own assumptions. Also, I wanted to tie up the loose ends with Takako and Hiroki's relationship, thus the need for the middle portion of the story. And no, periberi, I will not delete that part, no matter how much you sulk or threaten me.
Reviews will be lovely, and flames will be used to roast marshmallows. Trolls can join Kayoko in one of her flower arrangement classes.