Hiya! OK, so... don't shoot. I haven't watched all of this anime yet, so I don't know it very well, unfortunately. But I love it and I love Nozomu! He's awesome.

A few comments before we begin:

I know Japanese people don't really have any hair color other than brown or black. Her hair is red because she's half-American, even though it's not stated in the story. I didn't wanna get shot up for that... XD

Annnnnd... um. I'm not sure how I feel about this story. I LOVE the present tense thing because it feels kind of, like, laid-back but you're watching it unfold right there. Not sure how much else I like.

I hope you enjoy!

He can't do it now.

Not now that she sat down on the bench in front of the tree. Granted, he doesn't know her. Granted, her back is to him. Granted, she will not be able to see it, nor is she paying any attention at all to him. She sits there pleasantly, in her beautiful pale purple sundress, reading her book, humming a sad but lovely song. She can probably care less about whether he lives or dies. She will get up, not knowing anything of the body in the tree, and she will walk off, go buy groceries, prepare dinner for her husband and their children. She will clean her house. She will happily converse with her tea club, leading them in the ceremony and hanging on every word of their gossip. She will lie in bed, sleeping peacefully, covers half off and half on, not deciding whether she is hot or cold. She will wake up the next morning, pass the site on her way to work, see the city workers taking his body to the morgue. She will gasp in shock, weep a little, and say a prayer for his soul, and will go on with her day, haunted by what she'd seen, until she goes home and kisses her husband, makes love to him, lying unclothed in his arms, smiling, blushing like a bride. He knows all this, he just knows.

And that will be all there is to their relationship. The man who hung himself in a sakura tree, and the woman who read with her back to him as he performed the task.

As he steps onto the stool, a sudden rush of cold wind sweeps past him, rustling the sakura blossoms. The frigid air (as it was nearly December) aggravates his respiratory system. He suspected yesterday that he is probably coming down with a cold (or at the very least, a chest cold), so he really doesn't feel that well. The burst of freezing air makes him cough, bending forward at the waist as he curls his fist in front of his mouth, the harsh, dry sound shaking him to his core, as he finds himself shivering.

This causes the young lady to look back, and this is when he notices how truly beautiful she is. Her hair is an unusual, ethereal red, whipping around her face in the wind. Her eyes are hazel. And she wears Western clothes, a lavender dress, instead of a kimono. Her eyes widen when she sees him, and she drops her book.

She comes running to him, and reaches up to take his hand. She tugs on it, her eyebrows knitting together in concern. "Please," she urges him, pity in her eyes. "Please come down. You're going to get hurt. I don't want you to get hurt."

"You don't know me," he says coldly. "You shouldn't care. Leave me be." He pulls his hand away from her. However, since she has a delicate but firm grip, he struggles a bit with this before freeing himself. This causes him to lose his balance, and slip off the stool. He falls back, collapsing on the ground and the stool being knocked over.

He lands with a grunt, pain already spreading through his back. He sits up partially, rubbing his head, and shoots a glare at the woman. She is giggling, a hand over her mouth. "What's your problem?" he shouts. "What on Earth were you thinking? What if I had died?"

"If you had," she comments, replacing the stool upright and climbing up onto it, "you probably would have gotten what you had hoped for. And I couldn't allow that to happen." She begins to carefully untie the noose from the tree branch, resuming her humming.

As she does, he notices one very important thing about her hands. She isn't wearing a wedding ring.

Maybe she isn't married.

-xxx-

Her name is Maiko. He learned this from one of the women in the office at the school. He isn't sure why, but he is curious about her, and would casually ask, if he happened to be conversing with anyone, if they knew a young lady with red hair. Most people laugh at him, saying that crimson hair is uncommon in the country - the sign of a demon. But one of the girls in the office knows her. According to her, the red-haired woman's name is Maiko Kaira, and she is twenty-two years old. This woman speaks of Maiko very positively, although she does mention that she has a tendency to go too far with things - her stubbornness, for example. Once she decides on something, there is no changing her mind.

Well, he saw that first-hand.

Then he asks where she works. The office woman says she doesn't know how Maiko makes income, but that she volunteers at the soup kitchen most days.

Once he gets off work, it is three o'clock. With any luck, she will still be there. With his luck... she will have fled the country after meeting him.

Slinging his bag over his shoulder, he makes the journey to the kitchen. He scans the place for the carmine-haired woman. It is hard to spot her bright brown eyes against those of practically everyone else. But it is impossible to miss her flamboyant flames of hair compared to the darker locks of the others. She is smiling and laughing as she dishes out food to a young man, and she is wearing a hairnet over her cherry locks.

Gathering his courage, he takes a breath and walks up to her. "Good afternoon," he says, feeling quite nervous and, if he had to admit it, quite stupid.

She looks up, and their eyes meet. He notices that her eyes are close to the same color as his own. She smiles at him. "Are you hungry?"

"No..." He idly wonders if she may have mistaken him for someone else. "I wanted to talk. Don't you remember me?"

She blinks at him, probably searching her mind for his face. Then she smiles, obviously recognizing him. "Oh! You're that man who was trying to hang himself in the sakura tree last week!"

He looks down, mumbling. "Well..."

She giggles. "How cute. You're shy." She reaches over and tousles his hair (as if it isn't messy enough already). "I like your glasses. They make you look very handsome."

He feels the blood rushing to his cheeks, and hopes he isn't blushing too hard. "... Thank you..." He clears his throat (cursing this damn cold) and pushes his glasses up. "Is there anywhere we can talk... just us?"

"Well, the number of people are winding down. I could take my break now."

"... If it wouldn't be too much trouble..."

"Alright, just let me get my 'uniform' off." She disappears into the back, and he steps to the side to wait for her.

After a moment, she returns. Her hairnet is gone, allowing her long strawberry hair to pour down her back. She brushes bangs away from her face, and he smiles inwardly. Perhaps her hair is too long? She has also removed her apron, revealing a black tank top and a pair of jeans. On her feet are plain flip-flop sandals, sky blue in color. He suddenly feels overdressed in his yukata... but he didn't have time to change, and it is what he wore to work.

She smiles, and begins to walk, waving him to walk beside her. He just looks at her walking for a moment, then feels the start of a smile himself. She's a pretty girl when she smiles...

They walk together, and they rarely look at each other. When she isn't looking at him, he steals looks at her. Her hair dances slightly in the light wind, and her eyes are fascinated with everything she sees. When he isn't looking at her, she looks at him. His hair is messy, which makes her smile, and his eyes are dull behind his lenses.

"My name's Maiko Kaira," she says, one of them finally speaking up again.

"Nozomu Itoshiki," he answers, returning the favor.

"It's a pleasure."

"No one who ever meets me says such a thing."

"I find that hard to believe. You seem like such a sweet man."

"Clearly you don't know me very well."

"But I would like to."

Surprised, he looks over at her with wide eyes. He stops walking, shocked by her words. "... As it stands... I would like to know you better as well." He isn't quite sure why those words just came out of his mouth.

She stops too, and looks over at him. She gives him a wide smile, and he is surprised when he is tackled in a tight hug. He feels Maiko's arms around him, and tries to hug her back, but it's clumsy and awkward. "Thank you for not killing yourself," she whispers, then lets go and presses her lips to his. "The world is a better place because you're here." She gives him one last squeeze and then runs off back toward the soup kitchen. "Good-bye, Nozomu-kun! I hope I'll see you tomorrow!"

As she fades from his sight, Nozomu brings a hand up to his face and touches his lips. He feels a slight smile coming, and shakes his head, turning to leave.

Maybe his life wasn't so bad after all.

Maybe his heart didn't bleed all the time - it wasn't bleeding now.

... Review pwease? If you don't review, then Nozomu will be in despair...

Nozomu: I'M IN DESPAIR! THE FACT THAT YOU WOULD WRITE A STORY ABOUT ME AND ARE BEGGING FOR REVIEWS HAS LEFT ME IN DESPAIR! *goes to the Emo Corner*