Fuyou Residence, Verbena City [ Itsuki Midoriba – I ]
It was a cold winter Christmas Eve in Verbena City as specks of soft flurried snow showered the town with a mild white blanket. A gentle breeze blew though town, lowering the temperature by a few degrees and it goes without saying, it was pretty damn cold. Luckily for us, Sia-chan, Nerine-chan, Asa-senpai, Kareha-senpai and Mayumi-chan and I, Itsuki Midoriba, were spending Christmas in the warmth of the Fuyou residence. Rin, Primula and Kaede-chan were kind enough to throw a Christmas party at the end of the Christmas term, and we, the guests, were more than happy to drop by.
In the house's living room stood a quaint yet lavishly decorated Christmas tree, sparkling white in the myriad of Christmas lights wrapped around it. There, huddled around the warm fireplace, the nine of us chattered and laughed with mugs of hot cocoa to warm our hearts as well as our hands. Talking about the past year and discussing the ever intensifying gossip about Rin and his girls, there was never a dull moment in the party. On top of that, the snacks Kaede-chan had prepared and the cakes Asa-senpai and Kareha-senpai had brought in were excellent as always and everyone was having a good time. Well... until Rin and Kaede asked everyone to show the presents they brought in, that is... They were going to have an exchange gift… and I didn't have a present!
Beads of sweat slid down my cheek as the present I was supposed to bring was absent from my hands. I had spent most of my time last week studying for the winter exams after all, I totally forgot about the exchange gift. I beat Rin really bad this time too, my ninety-eight to his petty eighty-nine, but that offered no consolation at the moment. However, to my relief, I wasn't the only one without a present. Beside me was a crying Mayumi, kneeling before Rin and Kaede and begging for their forgiveness. It was her usual drama; not only had she passed the last exam by a mere 0.25 points (which she got only after fierce negotiations with the teacher), she had totally forgotten about the exchange gift altogether.
"Tsuchimi-kun, Kaede…" she wailed, grabbing on to Rin's and Kaede's sweaters from where she knelt, "I forgot to bring a present for the exchange gift! Forgive me!"
"Eto…." Kaede said, trying to console the kneeling girl, "that's okay Mayumi-chan…"
These words however failed to calm the girl as she eyed the many presents wrapped in bright and colorful paper piled up on the coffee table. I could see it in her eyes; she wanted to get a gift. However, without a gift of her own, she wouldn't be able to participate in the exchange. Once her eyes reached my empty hands however, she was surprised.
"Umm… Itsuki-kun… where's your present?"
"Well, would you look at that?" I said with a grin, "Looks like you're not the only one without a gift."
The girl chuckled and smiled, rubbing her eyes gently. She then stood up and said she was alright. Everyone else then got on with the exchange gift. Our friends traded the bright, colorful boxes and packages and Mayumi and I were content to watch happily and laugh as the gifts went around. The girls got jealous over whose present reached Rin again… which is a normal thing when it comes to that playboy Rin. Petty arguments erupted here and there over the topic of territory but were silenced when Rin clearly affirmed his love for Asa-senpai once again, as he has done many times over the past year. Mayumi made sure to take good pictures of it all, and I'm certain that those pictures would be on the spring edition of the school newspaper. Laughter and cheer then filled the house as the people opened their presents, thanking the giver for what they had received. Not long afterwards, the party ended and it was time to come home. Mayumi and I left first, waving goodbye to the rest and heading out into the cold winter night.
Since Mayumi's house was on the way to mine, we decided to walk together through the flurries and the thick snow. The two of us talked cheerfully as we walked, talking about the most nonsensical things people could think of. That was the way we had talked for years after all, talking in harangues au nonsense (a fancy bastardized French term I coined for our useless babble) was almost second nature to us.
"So," Mayumi-chan said jokingly, "Tsuchimi-kun and Asa-senpai have been boyfriend and girlfriend for a few months now… but still, the other girls are determined!"
"I know right?" I concurred, "That lucky bastard… even Primula was trying to hit on him!"
"If Tsuchimi-kun takes that bait," Mayumi-chan replied abhorred, "I wouldn't know what to think of him anymore!"
The two of us then shared a hearty laugh. Our friend Rin was being fought over by a batch of pretty girls after all; his exhausting life was more often than not the butt of our jokes. Walking further down the town, we passed by the Komerobi shopping district and were awed by the sights. Christmas decorations of all shapes and sizes lined the streets, blending well with the soft snow blanketing them. Brightness emanated from the Christmas lights and from store display windows, illuminating the street in a cheery glow. Seeing the brightly-wrapped presents behind those windows though, Mayumi-chan only remembered our failure to bring presents to the party.
"Man…" she groaned, her breath fogging up in the air, "if only we did some last minute Christmas shopping…"
"You're still thinking of that Mayumi?" I asked, fixing the scarf I had wrapped around my neck, "Kaede-chan said it was fine already."
"But still!" Mayumi argued, "We missed out on the exchange gift and all. We could've gotten the cookies Asa-senpai baked, or the wine Sia-chan's dad bought for her, or…""
"I know, I know…" I said adjusting my glasses, "I'm quite pissed off at myself too, you know. But don't worry about it, we still had a good time."
"Yeah," Mayumi-chan laughed hitting my arm, "you're right Itsuki-kun."
"Glad I could help." I said with a confident smile, "You know, if only I had a little more money, I'd go and get you a present right now!"
"A proposal and an excuse at the same time…" Mayumi-chan said laughing harder. She then showed me her seven raised fingers and cried "Seven points! Gosh Itsuki, you're losing your touch!"
"Haha," I said scratching the back of my head, "I'm sorry…"
"But I appreciate the ofter Itsuki-kun," Mayumi-chan said pleasantly.
"Is that so?" I smirked, "Then that means you'd have to get me a gift too!"
"Touché Midoriba," Mayumi-chan said intrigued and the two of us burst into laughter once more.
Before we knew it, we had left the lights and sounds of the Komeribi district behind and were by the riverside, painted ashen white in the bright moonlight and sparkling in the countless stars that dotted the night sky. As we walked on by, we couldn't help but look up at this natural spectacle… Somehow, it was prettier than the bright lights of the Komerobi district and the decorations of the Fuyou household. Walking together in that cold winter night side by side felt quite warmer than when we were huddled around the flame or when I held hot cocoa in my hands. Looking at my gloved hands, I watched the spaces in between my fingers ponderously and smiled.
"It's beautiful isn't it?" I said, "The night sky, that is…"
"I know." Mayumi-chan replied, "It's really pretty."
"You know something Mayumi-chan," I said turning to the girl, "I think we did get our Christmas present."
"Really?" she asked surprised. She looked at her hands, noting the absence of a wrapped gift or package. "I don't see-"
Before she could continue, I took her hand and held it tight.
"Our Christmas present," I said facing the girl, "is being together like this."
Mayumi-chan blushed, but held on to my hand as well. She then smiled and said,
"Ten points. That's the Itsuki-kun I know."
She then put her head near mine and whispered,
"And here's a bonus."
Mayumi-chan pecked at my cheek and smiled.
The two of us then continued our journey home. Side by side under the bright moonlight, holding hands in the blistering cold… out of all the Christmas presents exchanged at that party, the two of us got the best one; Each other.