to remove from a mixture or combination; isolate

Three days passed and Hamuko and Yukari sat in their living room, enjoying a rather calm Monday evening. Yukari glimpsed at her cell phone for what Hamuko noticed, was the fifth time in ten minutes. 4:03PM and still nothing; he wasn't making this easy, was he?

"Still nothing?" Hamuko asked, unable to watch the painful sight any longer.

She gripped the cell phone tighter and turned to Hamuko, who sat on the adjacent sofa. "No...Maybe I don't have any reception in here or something," she mumbled while lifting the case off the battery. "I'll reset it just in case."

"I'm sure Minato will call," Hamuko said, sending a small smile. "You gotta give it some time. He might busy with other things like work, or school. You know finals are coming up so he could be cramming for that."

"It's already been three days," Yukari exclaimed, letting her phone fall onto the sofa in frustration. "I hate it when guys do that thing where they wait a few days before calling. Why do they have to play hard to get? It's not like it makes us like them more; if anything it's the opposite! Why can't they just call right away? Why don't they just tell if you if they like you? What's so hard about that?" When she didn't hear anything in reply, she leaned up and looked in Hamuko's direction. "How are you holding up, still fine?"

Hamuko sat up and pulled a nearby cushion onto her lap. Her expression wasn't of sadness and even though a smile played on her lips, it didn't reach her eyes. "What else can I be?"

Yukari leaned back into the sofa, suddenly feeling over-dramatic. Her situation was nothing compared to Hamuko's. It was like comparing lemons and limes. "You're handling it a lot better than I would be. I don't know what I would do if I was in your situation. I'd be in a mental institution or something."

"I can't be upset about it," she said with a forgiving smile. "I would do it too if I had the chance."

Yukari didn't know how to respond. While Shinji was too ambitious for his own good, she knew the same could be said about Hamuko. "I guess."

The truth was Hamuko fought with the idea at first. She didn't want Shinji to leave, who would be okay with their boyfriend leaving the country for a few months? It was a classic battle of head versus heart and once the pros and cons had been weighed, the head won in the end. Le Cordon Rouge was the most prestigious school in the world, there was no denying that. She would be supportive of his decision and do what she could to help him out. Whether it included giving him time to himself, or smile and say she was all right with it.

Cause I've been trying way too long
To try and be the perfect song
When our hearts are heavy burdens
We shouldn't have to bear alone

"Oh my God, it's him!" Yukari squeaked. In a sudden movement, she flipped open her phone and held it to her ear. "Hey! Uh...I mean, hi. Huh? A date? Yeah, I guess that's okay. When? You're outside right now? Y-Yeah, right now is fine. I'll be down in a few minutes!" Within a split second, she ended the call and sat up. "I gotta get ready!"

Smiling to herself, Hamuko leaned deeper into the couch cushion. "Be careful what you wish for."

Junpei rested his hands on the metal railing in front of him and grinned. Class ended early for the day, the weather was nice and he was on a date with a beautiful girl. It was a great day to be alive.

"Are you having fun?' He asked, turning to his right.

A red-headed girl tilted her head to one side and studied the penguins carefully. They were strange to say the least, waddling back and forth. Was that all they ever did? "I'm not sure if I would classify it as fun. It's...different."

"Different?" He sighed, "Come on, the zoo is a great place. You need to take a break from working on that portfolio and get some air. Besides, it's finally spring!"

While she didn't particularly agree with the topic at hand, it did make her feel happier that he was trying to relieve her stress. "Sorry, do you mind if we take a break? I'm a little tired from all that walking."

"O-Oh, sure. Sorry." Junpei nodded his head and took a seat beside her on a nearby bench. Despite what the weather channel said, the skies were starting to darken. So much for the perfect date, he grumbled incoherently. "Didn't your other boyfriends take you out? You know, a picnic, the zoo, a beach? The mall?"

She recoiled a bit, which of course didn't go unnoticed by Junpei. "I've...never had other boyfriends. You're my...first." Eliciting a surprised look from him, she cleared her throat. Was she abnormal? Did every other girl experience dates and romance? Her hands grasped her skirt to the point where her knuckles turned white. "Junpei, I've always wanted to ask...Why me? It's just that, I'm not like everyone else—"

"It's because you're not like everyone else..." He interrupted without hesitation. She turned to him and his warm smile greeted her. "And I could ask you the same thing: why me?"

It took her a moment to think about that question. Why was it him? She never cared for anyone, let alone boys, yet she was enjoying spending her time with him. What made him different from everyone else? She fiddled with the strands of her hair. "'re caring and kind...and lots of fun...and I like myself more when I'm with you."

He turned to her, eyes shining and used all his courage to draw his hand from his side and place it over hers. "I feel the same way."

"I'm glad." She flushed.

"Damn," he blushed, "I wanted to take it slow, you mind if I kiss you?" Her silence made his heat stop beating altogether, but he somehow found the courage to lean in. He paused before touching his lips to hers so they were only a breath away. Her smell was intoxicating; like the bloom of a budding flower. The second their lips touched, he knew he could never compare her to anyone else. She was perfect in every way and even though raindrops continued to fall, he didn't notice until she broke away for air. "Crap, it's starting to rain! We'd better go—"

A tug on his sleeve sent him peering down at her. Her eyes stayed on his steadily and as their faces drew closer his heart started racing. It was amazing how she always did that to him whether it was a brief glance, a small smile, or a soul-shattering kiss.

Junpei, who chased skirts and never believed in something as outlandish as soul mates finally found someone. After years of dates and one-sided feelings, y found her.


Hagakure sure was quiet for a Tuesday afternoon. With the deluxe bowl being the daily special, he expected Hagakure to be a lot busier. On the other hand, it was raining. The sparse clouds from earlier in the day rolled in quickly, leaving little to no time to find shelter.

Akihiko sat there quietly, listening to the pitter-patter of raindrops of the roof. The unforeseen rain hadn't hindered his plans for the day; he didn't have any after all, so it was no bother to him. It merely reflected the way he felt.

There was no Hamuko to worry about; no Mitsuru. Things were a lot less stressful, but boy were they dull. At the mere age of seventeen, he managed to feel like a widowed old man. He knew what it felt like to be in love, but now it was gone. And he was alone. Maybe it wasn't so much that life was now dull, but more so that he was just lonely.

A subtle chime of the front door caught his attention his shoulders squared instinctively.

Was it her?

The thud of his heart slammed against his chest and although he was nervous, he managed to shift his eyes towards the front door. He wasn't excited or hopeful; he was afraid that if he made eye contact with her he would turn to stone. No, it wasn't her. It was just a group of students from the neighboring high school taking refuge in the shop. Why did he think it could have been her?

Suddenly his thoughts were all about timing. The right place, the wrong time; the right thing to say, the wrong time to say it. What importance did timing play in his life? Why did everything have to fall apart once she came to Gekkoukan? What happened if she came a few months later, or months earlier? Would things be completely different now? Would he still be alone?

Akihiko closed his eyes only for a moment and when they opened, somehow his phone found a way into his hand. Despite his better judgement, he began scrolling through the messages. Just months ago they were together. Where did he go wrong? He read the messages quickly, but carefully. There were text messages with good mornings and good nights. There were countless happy faces, hearts and emoticons.

They were so damned happy. What the hell happened? Where did he go wrong? Why didn't he just try harder?

He shook his head and placed the phone securely in his pocket. No, he couldn't let those thoughts consume all his time. It was the last few months of senior year. Now was the time to focus. It was all of nothing.

It took a moment for him to realize there was no point in pondering the could-have-beens. He had already been there, done that and nothing good came of it. Out of the continuous train-wreck of thoughts, he just came out feeling even more alone and depressed. Even if the circumstances had been different, he would probably still be alone. Maybe he would always be alone.

He shook his head and set his chop sticks down.

"Yes, I'd like to confirm the order for two-hundred. When can I expect it to arrive? Next Friday? No, better make it Monday. Yes, express. That's fine. You know where to charge it. Thank you."

Mitsuru tucked a strand of curls behind her ear. Work was finally done for the day and although she should have been happy, she wasn't. Work, at the very least, managed to keep her busy throughout the day. Without the constant overseeing of things she felt powerless.

The sound of her heels against the marble tiles soothed Mitsuru. It was like a song; a melody of triumph. She felt at ease and above all else—formidable. Sure things with Shinjiro were over and Akihiko was gone, but from it she learned an important lesson: As much pain as you're in, the world doesn't stop.

When he left she went through all the steps: denial, anger, sadness, bargaining and acceptance. She was so sure he would come back to her—just like he had so many times before. When he didn't call a few hours later she shrugged it off. He would call tomorrow—he'll come back. But when he didn't call the next day, or the day after that she knew it over. He was serious.

She took advantage of him to make Shinjiro want her back. She used him so Hamuko would want Akihiko back and in turn end her relationship with Shinjiro.

Things didn't turn out quite like she was expecting it to and now she was alone.

"No need to go to London, huh?" Her perfectly manicured hand gripped her cell phone and she punched in a number. "It's me. I need you to look into something. I want a check on Shinjiro Aragaki. Le Cordon Rouge. Find out which campus he is enrolled at. No, that's all."

"Hey, stranger," Hamuko grinned, after opening her front door. "How was work?"

"Work is...well, work. Ringing up items, bagging them...You know, as good as it gets." Shinji said with a sardonic smile. "But never mind that." He bent down for a small kiss. "How was your day?"

"You know the usual," Hamuko hummed, "baked and decorated thirty cakes. Come on in."

"Thirty?" He asked as he followed her into the kitchen.

"Mini cakes. Well, technically spiral cakes. They're bigger than cupcakes, but smaller than actual cakes." She laughed. "Don't worry, I haven't gone insane."

"So you say." He teased, "What was it for exactly?"

"A fundraiser for a new oven." She said, trying to suppress a giggle. "During practice yesterday, Junpei caused one of them to burst out in this amazing display of flames. I've never seen anything like it."

"He's certainly talented, that one." He said with a hint of amusement. "That sounds noble of you."

"It's the least I could do. Besides, it was tons of fun. Yukari and Fuuka gave a helping hand in it."

"I'm glad. What did you prepare for dinner?"

"Take a seat and I'll serve it."

Shinji complied and took a seat at the small dining table. This was always his favorite part of their dinners together. Not the cooking, or even the food itself—as good as it was. It was the way she scurried away to get the new dish she created. He could see the excitement in her eyes and feel her excitement. He let himself become engrossed in the moment as she finished plating his meal and came back, holding it above his head.

"Okay, close your eyes." She sang. He obliged. The aroma wafting from the kitchen was a dead giveaway. He knew what it was. He did his best to remain nonchalant. He heard the light tap on the table in front of him and opened his eyes. "Tadaa! The one, the only...Penne all'Arrabiata!"

Even though he knew it was coming, Shinji was at a loss for words. He wanted to laugh, but the laughter died. The only words that came out were, "You're too much."

Sensing what could have been a faux pas, Hamuko took a seat at the table with him and laughed for him. "Take a bite." He complied. She watched him take a few more bites before joining him.



She looked down at the knotted fingers in her lap. "There are only a few more weeks before you leave for Le Cordon Rouge."

"Hamuko," he warned.

"Are you excited?"

He stayed very still, waiting for her reaction. The topic was always a sensitive one between them and he was scared at what she would say. Or what she could say.

Shinji contemplated telling her how much he was looking forward to it, and how much he would miss her. He wanted to tell her part of him didn't want to go, but he knew it would cost too much. "Yeah."

She stared at him silently and watched the way his hand clasped the other. "I'm excited for you."

March 5th was blessed with beautiful spring weather. The sky a bright azure blue and only a hint of clouds streaked the sky.

"And now, I'd like to call our senior year Valedictorian: Shinjiro Aragaki."

A hush fell over the auditorium full of students and everyone waited with baited breath for the school idol's speech. Hamuko looked on with admiration. There he was; her boyfriend. Perfect grades, perfect attendance, school valedictorian, accepted into Le Cordon Rouge.

"It's been quite the experience attending this school." He started in a low voice. Everyone watched quietly as he paused to continue his speech. Hamuko watched as his eyes scanned the sea of faces and stopped once his eyes met hers. "Thank you for everything."

A long period of silence stretched on before hushed voices went off. "That's it?" A classmate murmured.

She was the first to clap, followed by a few underclassmen she instantly recognized from the Aragaki-senpai fanclub.

The formal part of the ceremony didn't last as long as she thought it would. Sure she had attended graduation ceremonies before, but this one seemed to go by faster. She sat under a cherry tree, watching him from afar. There he was, tall and proud humbly thanking teachers followed by the student council for their hard work. Each teacher congratulated him with a firm handshake; the student body simply bowed their heads in respect.

Feeling a bit exhausted, Hamuko decided to give him some time. It was his graduation ceremony anyway. She lifted herself from the brick tree ring she sat on and walked into the school and up the staircase. Thankfully the rooftop was deserted. She decided to sprawl out on a nearby concrete bench.

"He's really leaving."

The sun's bright rays made her squint her eyes in defense.

"Here you are. I was looking for you."

She tilted her head upwards to see Shinji standing over her. His blazer was wide open; a clear sign he had been attacked. Her only reply was a smile. "Nice shirt."

"Luckily I anticipated this." He grunted. "I put on the nicest shirt I have. And when I say nicest, I mean the closest shirt I could reach when I rolled out of bed this morning."

She got up and moved over to make room for him. "They took all of them, huh?" She asked, reaching in to inspect his torn blazer.

"All but one." He held out his hand and caught hers before placing a small object on the palm of her hand.

She paused and then opened her palm slowly; a single button off his blazer. She instantly knew it was the second button.

"You're sweet."

"As sweet as apple pie?"

"As sweet as a pea."

"That doesn't make any sense."

It was bright and sunny the day he left. Not dark and gloomy like she wished it would be. Not at all rainy and cold, but warm and balmy.

How unfitting, she thought.

"Well," Shinji said after throwing the last bag into the taxi trunk, "that's everything."

"Not quite," she replied, causing him to turn to her. In a swift movement, she raised onto her tiptoes and kissed him.

"Sorry. I almost forgot." In a swift movement he tipped her chin forward and placed a gentle hand on the back of her head. His lips captured hers and when they broke away a slight flush crept onto his cheeks. "Are you sure you don't want to come to the airport?"

"Yes." She answered simply. "I would probably get all emotional and beg you to stay."

"It would probably work, too."

She felt the familiar sting behind her eyes and knew the countdown had begun. Don't cry, she told herself. Don't cry.

He watched her, waiting for the first tear to fall. When it didn't, he brought a hand to her head and smoothed her hair. He forgot how strong she actually was. "Au revoir."

"No," she interrupted with a forced laugh. "I'll see you later."

He nodded once slowly and she felt paralyzed as he turned on his heel and got in the taxi. Everything seemed to slow as the vehicle pulled away from the curve, down the street, and out of sight.