Note to Readers: This story takes place one year after "Breaking Up is Hard to Do" and a few months before "For the Love of Akira". Up until now, the order in which I had been posting my stories has been consectutive with the order in which they take place. But due to a miscalculation on my part in relation to Takumi's birth date and the start and end dates of the Japanese school year, I've had to double back in the posting of this story. Sorry about that. So to avoid any confusion, and also because I've had several inquiries about it, I've updated my profile to include a chronological listing of my stories in which they take place. Thanks for your understanding and enjoy the story.
Maid for Each Other
Standing at the foot of a narrow stairwell just outside one of Akihabara's retail establishments, and during the tail-end of their summer break, an ill at ease Takumi hesitantly expressed to his friend, "I don't know, Hajime, I feel kind of guilty about coming here like this."
"Guilty? For crying out loud, Takumi, it's a maid café not a strip club! On top of that it's your birthday, so you deserve to be a little pampered."
"I suppose," he conveyed with a bit of unease. "Although I'm sure I'll get an earful from Akira once I tell her where we went."
"Would you stop worrying about Akira already," Hajime admonished. "Look, you already told her this morning where you were going. And besides, I'm sure she realizes that no trip to Akihabara is complete without stopping at a maid café. Am I right?"
"Heh heh, you got a point there. Still," Takumi began to muse, "I just think that it's kind of strange that Akira didn't even say anything to me this morning. I mean, about it being my birthday and all. I wonder if she forgot."
"Well, you're the one who told her that you didn't want her making a fuss over you this year," Hajime reminded him.
"Yeah, I know, but…"
"There are no buts about it. You got what you asked for."
Feeling a tad dismayed, Takumi then couldn't help but to let out a heavy sigh.
"Oh would you stop brooding. So what if she forgot, the fact of the matter is that I didn't. And I'm going to see to it that this is one birthday you won't forget. Now come on, there are several maids up there dying to wait on their master hand and foot."
"Okay, okay," Takumi chuckled at his friend's enthusiasm who then practically began to drag him up the stairs.
Halfway up, Hajime paused for a moment while he pulled out his cell phone and began to send a brief text.
"There, now you can stop worrying," Hajime reassured him.
"What do you mean?"
"I just sent Akira a text and let her know exactly where we were."
"You did? Uh, you, you didn't have to do that," he nervously responded. "I would have told her when we got back."
"Hmmm, I wonder about that," Hajime remarked, looking skeptically on at his friend.
"Hajime, come on," Takumi defensively shot back. "You know I wouldn't lie to her, especially after what happened last year. I swear I would never…"
"Hey, hey, relax! Come on, I was just messing with you. Jeez, it sure doesn't take much to get you riled up."
After reaching the top of the stairs just outside the maid café's entrance, Hajime instinctively commented, "No doubt about it, you definitely need this more than I do. Okay, prepare to be pampered, my friend."
Intentionally remaining behind him, Hajime made sure that Takumi was the first to enter.
"Welcome home and happy birthday, master!" six attractive young females in maid attire greeted Takumi.
"Huh?" a startled Takumi reacted. "How, how did you know that it was…"
"Happy birthday, Takumi!" three of his friends then jumped out and shouted, proceeding to shower him with confetti.
"Kyoko, Hiromi, Wataru… oh, you guys, thank you," he appreciatively said. Then beginning to look around he wondered, "Wait, so then Akira's not…"
"Sorry, man," Hajime regretfully replied, placing a supportive hand upon his shoulder while attempting to keep a straight face. "I guess she really did forget."
"As if!" an all too familiar voice countered. Coming up from behind, Akira swiftly spun Takumi around and assertively planted an affectionate kiss upon his lips, sensually then wishing him, "Happy birthday, Takumi."
"Akira," a pleasantly surprised Takumi expressed, feeling rather relieved. "Oh, I knew you wouldn't forget."
"No, but you sure thought that she did," Hajime jumped in. "Really had you going there, didn't we?"
"Yeah, okay, you got me," he conceded. "That was a pretty clever ruse, Hajime, I must admit."
"Wish I could take all the credit, but it was really Akira who suggested that I bring you out to Akihabara and keep you busy for awhile before coming here."
"Really?" he expressed in astonishment. "Wow, thanks, Akira. Although I must say I'm kind of surprised that you chose to have the party here. I mean, I know you're not too keen on these types of establishments."
"Believe me, it wasn't my first choice," she confessed, shooting an annoying glance over at Hajime and then with a tone of umbrage added, "But somebody was most insistent on having it here."
"Hey, what can I say," Hajime proudly stated, "I know what my buddy here likes. This is his day and if he wants maids I'm going to give him maids."
"Aww, thanks, Hajime."
"Well, for once I agree with Hajime," Akira concurred. "This is your day, Takumi. So whatever you want…"
"How about dressing up like a maid for him then?" Hajime brazenly suggested.
"Within reason I meant!" an irate Akira shot back.
Looking over at his friend and shrugging his shoulders, Hajime regretfully retorted, "Sorry, pal, I tried."
"Listen, those past two times were enough for me," Akira sternly maintained, referring back to when she helped Takumi out at the school festival's maid café and also when she agreed to cosplay with him at an anime convention. "So there's absolutely no that way I'm putting that embarrassing outfit on again."
"At least not in public anyway," Takumi confided to Hajime in a whisper.
"That's my boy!" Hajime proudly extolled, high-fiving Takumi on the down low.
"Huh?" Akira quizzically looked on.
"Just congratulating my pal here on his, ahem, accomplishment," Hajime slyly retorted while giving a wink to his friend. "You know, on reaching that milestone age of eighteen."
"Hey, Akira," Kyoko then came over and requested, "mind if we borrow the birthday boy for a minute?"
Knowing well in advance what she and Hiromi were planning, Akira obligingly offered, "He's all yours. Just try not to be too rough on him, okay?"
"Hey, I make no guarantees," Kyoko nefariously replied while grabbing onto an unsuspecting Takumi's left arm. Meanwhile, Hiromi proceeded to place a party hat onto his head before taking a hold of his other arm.
"Now hold on," a dumbfounded Takumi began to object while helplessly exchanging puzzled glances back and forth between the two.
"Relax, Takumi," Hiromi reassured, "this won't hurt..."
"…much," Kyoko added. "Ready with the camera, Wataru?"
"Okay, Hiromi, on three!"
"Now wait a minute!" Takumi continued to protest.
Ignoring his pleas, both Kyoko and Hiromi now simultaneously began counting aloud, "One… two… THREE!"
While keeping his eyes tightly shut during the initial count, Takumi was rather pleasantly surprised at its apex when he then felt the soft caress of both Kyoko and Hiromi's lips upon each of his cheeks.
"Happy birthday, Takumi," the two then lovingly wished him.
Before he even had a chance to react, Akira came over and objectionably remarked, "No, no, no, you're doing it all wrong! Here, let me show you how it's done!"
Extending her arm and latching onto Takumi's, Akira forcibly yanked his body in toward hers, inescapably causing their lips to fuse. Without pause, she then proceeded to dip Takumi's body that she securely cradled in her arms, all the while maintaining a firm possession of his lips.
With an initial glazed-over look in his eyes after she relinquished her embrace of him, Takumi's stunned expression quickly transformed into one of extreme contentment.
"Ohh, I think I get it now," Hiromi lightheartedly remarked as she once again took a hold of Takumi's arm, seeming prepared to mimic Akira's moves. "Shall we try that again, Kyoko? I'll go first."
"NO!" Wataru loudly objected, crying out in a panic stricken state.
"Uh, I'm pretty sure she was just kidding, Wataru," Hajime informed him.
Looking over at Hiromi, who was innocently nodding her head in reassurance, Wataru then sheepishly retorted, "I… I knew that."
"Aww, I'm sorry, sweetie," Hiromi apologetically replied as she came over and comforted him.
"Hmmm, definitely the jealous type," Kyoko observed, murmuring under her breath before declaring to Hiromi, "Well, guess this just proves what I've always told you, Hiromi. That boy is head over heels in love with you."
"Kyoko!" a red in the face Wataru embarrassingly cried out.
"Heh heh," an amused Hajime chuckled. "She's got you there, pal. You know you shouldn't be so quick to fly off the handle like that. You gotta play it cool… like me."
"Well, I'm glad you feel that way, Hajime," Kyoko mischievously said as she then proceeded to take Takumi into her arms.
"KYOKO!" Hajime vehemently objected, quickly then realizing that he had been had. "Ohhh come on, Cuddle Bunny, don't tease me like that."
"Sorry, Snuggie Bear," Kyoko playfully retorted before coming over and giving Hajime a big bear hug. "Just wanted to make sure you still loved me."
"Weeell, if you really want to make sure…" Hajime slyly began to suggest with a raised eyebrow.
Feigning shock, Kyoko expressed, "Oh honestly, Hajime, you're incorrigible."
A tongue-tied Wataru meanwhile was still awkwardly attempting to convey his true feelings to Hiromi after his little jealous outburst.
Initially rolling her eyes at the two of them, Akira immediately became complacent when she observed the look of enjoyment upon Takumi's face that he seemed to beget from his friend's little antics, which then prompted her to cuddle up alongside him and rest her head upon his shoulder.
Her little respite was short-lived however when one of the maids came up to her and requested, "Pardon me, ojou-sama, but if you would come with me I would be happy to accommodate your request."
"Huh? My request? Aoi-chan, what are you talking about?"
"Well Moriyama-sama happened to mention that you enjoy maid cosplay and wished to partake in it today for Tokiha-sama's enjoyment. And since we have several spare uniforms in back, we'd be more than happy to allow you to…"
"Oh, so Moriyama-sama told you that, did he?" an incensed Akira responded through clenched teeth. "HAJIME! Get your butt over here you little…"
"Uh oh," Hajime worriedly expressed.
"And there's no point in cowering behind Kyoko because she can't help you!"
Shaking his head and looking on in amusement, Takumi couldn't help but smile as he turned to a somewhat befuddled Aoi and commented, "I have some of the most interesting friends."
More than simply being served typical café style fare by cute waitresses in maid attire, maid cafés offer quite a unique experience, particularly for the male otaku. However, the appeal is not as gender-specific as once believed since over a third of its patrons nowadays are female. Communication is a key factor in creating a memorable experience for the customer. From the initial greeting upon entering, being addressed as master or mistress, the maids will immediately strike up a conversation with the patron and attempt to make them feel special. Some cafes even have a small stage setup where the maids occasionally sing or dance. And in addition to simply ordering food from the menu, you can also have messages written in ketchup or other condiment on your food order, play a board, card or video game with a maid, and even have a personalized photo taken with one or more of them, all of which can be had for an additional fee of course.
After serving Takumi a plate of omurice (omelet and rice), the maid then took a squeeze bottle of ketchup and proceeded to write out the kanji for happy birthday master and finished it all off with a smiley face sporting cat ears. Before he could eat it however, she first made him recite the conventional chant.
"Moe moe kyun," Takumi willingly incanted, and rather enthusiastically at that.
As silly as she found the somewhat childish ritual, Akira couldn't deny the fact that Takumi, along with the others, got a big kick out of it. Therefore, she too went along with it when her food was brought out to her. Since she was amongst her closest friends, she at least didn't have to worry about being embarrassed in front of other people, which is also one of the reasons why she had booked the café for a private party for the entire afternoon.
While they ate, two of the maids, Aoi and Misa, proceeded to entertain them with a little song and dance. Later, Misa attempted to persuade Takumi to join her up on stage in a duet. Graciously declining, he instead suggested that Hajime would be a much better candidate, who then immediately leaped at the opportunity to perform.
"Yeah, way to go, Hajime!" Kyoko cheered him on upon hitting the song's concluding high note and holding it for several seconds.
"Your friend has quite a voice," Aoi commented to Takumi.
"He does indeed. And he's quite the actor too. I have no doubt that he'll make it big in the theatre. Right, Akira? Uh, Akira?"
Having been so focused on his friend's performance, Takumi didn't even realize that Akira had excused herself earlier from the table.
"Ojou-sama had to take an important phone call," Aoi informed him, then indicating over to the back of the room where it was quieter and Akira had her cell phone up to her ear.
Sensing a look of worry as she ended the call, Takumi instinctively headed over to her to see if anything might be troubling her.
"Akira? Is everything alright?"
"Huh? Yeah sure, everything's fine," she hesitantly replied. "I just got off the phone with my father. He merely wanted to wish you a happy birthday."
"Oh. Is that all?"
"Well, that and he also wanted to talk about, uh… our wedding."
"Oh, of course. Well I'm ready whenever you are." Then placing his arms around her waist he confessed, "Heck, I've been ready for the last four years now."
"Takumi," she happily uttered, practically succumbing to his charms before finally regaining her composure. "Uh, anyway, what he wanted to let us know was that we don't have to worry about rushing into it."
"What do you mean?"
"You see, he felt kind of guilty about having us get married the moment we both turn eighteen, that he talked to the clan and convinced them to allow us to hold off on the wedding until after we graduate from college. He figured it'd be a lot less stressful for us that way. Isn't that great?"
"Uh, yeah," he unenthusiastically responded. "I suppose. I mean, is that really what you want to do?"
"Well uh, I figure this way it takes the pressure off of you, allowing you to focus more on your studies."
"Th… that's not what I asked. Akira, I hope you're not doing this for my benefit, because as far as I'm concerned we can get married any time you…"
"MARRIED?" Kyoko shrieked as she came up behind them. "Oh my god! Are you two…"
"Kyoko, what's all the excitement about?" Hajime inquired as he, along with Hiromi and Wataru, now approached.
"Yeah, and who's getting married?" Hiromi curiously asked.
Looking at each other and smiling, Takumi and Akira then nodded in agreement, prompting Takumi to remark, "Well, I think now's as good a time as any time to tell them."
"Tell us what?" Wataru cluelessly inquired.
"No way!" Hajime said in disbelief as he suddenly came to the realization of the circumstances. Coming up alongside his friend and giving him a congratulatory slap on the back, he grinningly extolled, "So you finally got up the nerve to ask her, huh? I knew it was only a matter of time. Way to go, my friend. Congratulations, to the both of you."
"A… Akira, is it really true?" an elated Hiromi eagerly inquired. "Are you two really… engaged?"
With an arm around his waist as she then proceeded to pull Takumi closely up alongside of her, she acknowledged, "Yup, it's true."
"Oh my god! Oh my god!" Hiromi and Kyoko ecstatically shouted simultaneously, their hands cupped over their mouths as they both then ran up to Akira and excitedly embraced her in a congratulatory hug.
"Wow, congratulations, Takumi," Wataru commended. "I'm really happy for the both of you."
"So when exactly did you pop the question?" Hajime was eager to learn.
"Oh, a little while ago," Takumi vaguely answered.
"What, like a few hours ago? No wait that can't be," Hajime then realized, "You were with me all morning until just an hour ago when we first got here. You sly dog, you already asked her a couple of days ago, didn't you?"
"Uhh, more like four..."
"Four days ago? I knew it! But still, I can't believe you didn't tell any of us about it sooner, and least of all me, your best friend."
"Uh no, Hajime, it wasn't four days ago either. You see the fact of the matter is that we actually became engaged a little over four y…" Takumi began to trail off as though he was trying to elude the question, a little afraid of how everyone might react.
"What? Takumi, I can't understand you, you're mumbling."
With a stunned look on his face, having heard him clearly, Wataru reiterated, "Hajime, I think he's trying to tell us that he proposed to Akira four years ago."
"What? Wataru you're crazy. There's no way that…"
Observing both Takumi and Akira nodding to corroborate Wataru's assertion, a most bewildered Hajime struggled to grasp, "You… you're serious aren't you. But, how is that possible? That would have to mean that the two of you were already engaged from the very first day we ever met."
"Unless," Hiromi reasoned, "and I hope you'll forgive me for asking, but are the two of you by any chance involved in some sort of an arranged marriage?"
"You're partially right, Hiromi," Takumi confirmed, sighing heavily. "Come on, you'd better all sit down, it's kind of a long story."
Seated closely together around a small table, their four friends hung on to every word of Takumi and Akira's story as they conveyed it to them. Even the maids took an interest as they couldn't help but overhear their spellbinding tale.
"Wow, hard to believe that arranged marriages are still taking place in this day and age," Kyoko incredulously expressed afterwards.
"Oh but the way Takumi fought so chivalrously against it," Hiromi pined, "refusing to back down until he had convinced her father of his undying love for his daughter, why, it's almost like out of a fairytale. So romantic."
"Anyway, that's pretty much how it all happened," Takumi explained. "We're sorry we didn't tell you sooner. You don't know how many times we've wanted to just come right out and tell you all."
"But we promised each other immediately after becoming engaged," Akira continued, "that we weren't going to let this interfere with the remainder of our youth and that we were going to go on with our lives as though none of this had happened."
"Right. And thankfully we were able to do just that," Takumi emphatically stated. "So we naturally started dating each other immediately thereafter and experienced the love, and even heartache, that most every teen goes through. And of course along the way we were extremely fortunate to make the acquaintance of some really great friends. And yet if there was even the slightest possibility that we might be treated or looked upon differently, well, we just didn't want to risk it. That's mainly why we didn't tell you."
"We're so sorry," they announced in unison as they stood up, bowing repentantly before their friends.
"Hey, come on, it's alright," Kyoko reassured them.
"Yeah, we understand," Wataru concurrently remarked. "It's no big deal."
"Why of course," Hiromi concurred.
"Thanks, you guys," Takumi gratefully replied, relieved at their understanding.
Hajime, meanwhile, who appeared somewhat perturbed and whose face was now half-buried in the palm of his hand just shook his head and incredulously conveyed, "Unbelievable. I can't believe you never told anyone"
"Hajime, please, I beg of you," Takumi pleaded. "You must understand that it was never my intention to deceive you or…"
"Arrgh!" Hajime frustratingly expressed. "Do you realize how much grief you two could have avoided from that temptress, Miyuki?"
"Huh? Mi… Miyuki-san?" Takumi reacted in complete bewilderment, uncertain as to where exactly his friend's anger was directed.
"If she had known that the two of you were already engaged, she would have moved on and found some other prey to stalk."
"Somehow I doubt that," Akira skeptically retorted.
"W… wait a minute," a rather confused Takumi tried to comprehend. "So then, Miyuki-san aside for now, tell me, are you personally okay with us not telling you? I mean, you're not upset with us, are you?"
"Huh? Upset?" Hajime cluelessly responded, "No of course not. Why would I be upset?"
"Oh thank goodness," a most relieved Takumi expressed.
"I mean, you did what you thought you had to do. No biggie. I'm just saying that you might have avoided a lot of the hassle of always being harassed by Miyuki-san, not to mention breaking a lot of pretty girls' hearts in the process had they known about the two of you."
"A small price to pay, my friend," Takumi happily replied as he continued to breathe a sigh of relief.
"Well as long as you're okay with... OW!" Hajime cried out after unexpectedly receiving a smack to the back of his head. "Kyoko, what'd you do that for?"
"Idiot! That's for making Takumi worry unnecessarily."
"And just be thankful Kyoko beat me to it," Akira warned him, "otherwise you'd really be feeling it."
While Takumi looked on in amusement over his friend's oblivious nature, Wataru figured it'd be best if he changed the subject before Hajime really put his foot in his mouth.
"So have you guys set a date yet, for the wedding that is?"
"Actually," Takumi began as he glanced over at Akira, "we were just discussing that."
"Right," Akira then divulged, "and we figured it might be best to wait until after we… Takumi who are you calling?"
With his cell phone now up to his ear, Takumi innocently replied, "Why I'm calling your father, of course."
"My father? What on earth for?"
"Well for one thing to thank him for the present that he sent, but more importantly… uh, excuse me. Hello, Misaki-san? Good to hear from you too. Huh? Oh well thank you, I appreciate that. And yes I'm enjoying myself immensely. It's certainly one of the most memorable birthdays, that's for sure. Yes, if you could put him on, that'd be great, thank you. Ha, ha. Okay, I'll be sure to tell her. Talk to you later."
"Tell me what?" Akira curiously asked.
"Oh she just wanted me to tell you to stop causing trouble for everyone."
"Trouble? What is she…? Give me that phone," an exasperated Akira demanded as she grabbed Takumi's cell, proceeding then to yell, "I'm not causing any trouble! Huh? Father? S… sorry, I thought you were, uh, never mind. I'm giving the phone back to Takumi now."
Receiving the phone back from a now red in the face Akira, Takumi couldn't help but to chuckle as he always got a kick out of the unique rapport that she and Misaki seemed to share, which in a way was similar, he then realized, to the one she also seemed to have with Hajime.
While Takumi spoke with Akira's father, a rather curious Wataru leaned over toward Hajime and in a whisper inquired, "Who's Misaki?"
Unsure himself as he shrugged his shoulders, a frustrated sounding Akira then answered, "She's our smart-ass maid."
"You have a maid?" the stunned two concurrently reacted.
"Yeeees," Akira heavily sighed, always feeling a bit uncomfortable when it came to discussing her family's wealth.
"Cool," an intrigued Hajime remarked. "So um, Akira? Not to be too nosy or anything."
"Humph. Never stopped you before," she sarcastically commented, followed up then with a sly smile.
"Heh, heh. Anyway, I know you mentioned earlier that you were going to be taking over as head of your father's company in the near future, but just how big is it exactly? I mean, from what you've told us, like the huge contribution that you made to that hospital where Takumi had his operation, it sure sounds to me like a pretty major corporation."
"And you'd be right," Akira confirmed. "Let me put it this way. You know how Miyuki-san always likes to brag about all the money her father's company makes?"
"Well, we could by actually buy them out ten times over."
"But you know what the funny thing about it is? Her father's company is actually one of our clients. Of course she's obviously oblivious to that fact."
"You're kidding! Well then why didn't you ever just confront her with that?" Hajime tried to comprehend. "I mean it's one thing not telling her about your engagement, I get that. But armed with this type of information I would have been willing to bet that her harassment of you would have stopped dead in its tracks."
"That's true enough, but you have to realize that once everyone discovers that you have this immense wealth, then it's pretty much inevitable that people are going to start coming out of the woodwork wanting to be your best friend. You see all the hangers-on and wannabe friends that Miyuki-san has. You think I want any part of that? No thank you."
"Hmmm, I see your point."
"That's why I'm attempting to keep a low profile, unlike her who seems to take great pleasure in boasting about things like taking exclusive beach resort trips or the newest cars that her father buys. No, I'm perfectly content with the way things are and at least have the knowledge of something that I'm afraid she'll never fully realize."
"The satisfaction of knowing who your real friends are," she candidly remarked to a most pleasantly surprised Hajime just as she began to take her leave of him, pausing only momentarily when she came up alongside of him.
"Now don't let that go to your head," Akira prefaced with a wink and a smirk.
His newfound look of self-satisfaction quickly receded when he suddenly felt a rather firm smack to the back of his head, similar to the one that Kyoko had given him earlier.
"Ow! What was that for?"
"That's for telling Aoi-chan that I wanted to cosplay as a maid!"
As he rubbed the back of his head, Hajime glanced over his shoulder and watched as a now contented Akira made her way back over toward Takumi. Knowing full well that he had it coming, Hajime just quietly chuckled under his breath before finally rejoining them as well.
"So while I appreciate the offer," Akira overheard Takumi informing her father, "I'm afraid that I'm going to have to decline. Yes, sir, I'm sure. You see for some reason Akira seems to be under the impression that she'd be doing me a favor by postponing the wedding, when in fact quite the opposite is true. I mean, starting next April it's going to be hard enough just being apart from her for four whole years with us attending different universities."
"Takumi?" Akira seemed to express with concern.
Reaching over and reassuringly taking her by the hand, Takumi proceeded to gaze adoringly into her eyes while at the same time earnestly conveying to her father, "So if it's all the same to you, and if it's alright with Akira of course, I'd much prefer to wed your daughter sooner rather than later. And believe me, nothing would please me more. Because during those long stretches that we'd be apart, it would provide me with immense solace in knowing that I have not just a girlfriend to come back home to… but a wife. A caring, loving wife who I will have the great fortune of spending the rest of my natural born days with. And the onset of that first day cannot come soon enough for me. Heck, I don't mind telling you that up until a few weeks ago I had even given serious thought to the prospect of eloping with her on this very day. But of course I realized that the clan might not look too favorably upon those actions. So rather than create any undue problems or controversies amongst you and your family, I figured it'd be best to simply wait a few more months. And after all, she's definitely worth the wait.
Overwhelmed at this revelation, Akira was no longer able to contain herself as she then proceeded to throw her arms around Takumi, enveloping him in a tearful, yet heartfelt, hug.
"Akira," he softly spoke, returning the affection. "Uh, yes sir, I'm still here. Huh? Um, well judging by Akira's reaction, I think that would be a safe assumption. Yes, sir. But we'll let you know later what we decide upon. No, thank you, sir. What's that?"
As her father's next comment then reached his ears, Takumi's expression quickly turned to one of discomfort. And although Akira wasn't privy to it since she still had her head nestled upon his shoulder, the others, and particularly Hajime, couldn't help but notice a sense of embarrassment coming over him as they now witnessed him turning beet red.
"Uhh," he nervously began to stammer, even going so far as to cup one of his hands around the phone's mouth piece, thinking that he wouldn't be heard. "We'll… we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Th… thank you, same to you, sir. Goodbye."
Before Hajime had a chance to quiz his friend on what seemed to be an embarrassing issue, a rather emotional Aoi approached Takumi and requested, "E… Excuse me, but would the master and his friends care for us to serve the birthday cake now?"
Seeing everyone nod in agreement, Takumi then replied, "Why yes, thank you, that would be… Uh, Aoi-chan, is something the matter?"
Apologetically bowing after wiping a tear away, Aoi confessed, "Forgive me, master, I didn't mean to eavesdrop but I couldn't help but overhear your lovely heartfelt sentiments to ojou-sama just now. Please allow me to express my sincerest congratulations to the both of you."
"Why thank you, Aoi-chan, that's very kind of you to say," Takumi gratefully replied.
"So you still haven't told us," Kyoko then proceeded to press him for more information, "when's the wedding going to be?"
"Well I figure that the best time would be…" Takumi quickly stopped himself, realizing that he hadn't even consulted with Akira yet on the matter. "Uh, I'm sorry, Akira, I didn't mean to be so impetuous there without even discussing it with you first. Guess I just got a little overexcited, that's all."
"No, no, it's fine, really," she assuredly replied. "So go on. Besides, I'm actually rather curious myself as to what you have in mind."
"Well, I figured that we could have the ceremony immediately after we graduate since we have that two week window between then and the time that we start college. And not only that, that time period also happens to coincide with the start of the cherry blossom season. I just think that it would provide a stunning backdrop as we exchange our vows in front of the Fuka Shrine."
"The Fuka Shrine?" Akira was surprised to hear.
"Oh, sorry, there I go getting ahead of myself again. We don't have to have it there of course; I was just speculating. Anyway, I just thought that it seemed rather apropos to be wed on the grounds of Fuka Academy. After all, it's where we first met and soon thereafter fell in love."
"Aww, that's so romantic," Hiromi gushed.
"It is indeed," Akira satisfactorily concurred while now facing Takumi directly.
"Uh, so then you're okay with it?"
"Well of course I'm okay with it," she reassured him, proceeding then to take both his hands into hers. "In fact, I'm actually kind of relieved too. You see, I didn't want to wait until after graduating from university till we got married either. I just kind of figured that it might be easier on you. Say tell me something. Were you really serious when you told my father that you had thought about eloping with me?"
Gently tugging on her arms, Takumi proceeded to draw Akira in toward him until both their lips merged in a considerably drawn-out kiss.
"That answer your question?" he satisfyingly replied while continuing to gaze deeply into her eyes.
"Hey, come on you two," Wataru teasingly remarked. "This is a family establishment."
"Yeah, and don't forget there are maids present," Hajime humorously added, which was all it took to initiate a change of color in Takumi's cheeks, prompting Hajime to inquisitively inquire, "By the way, Takumi, what was up with that reaction of yours just before you got off the phone with Akira's father?"
"Huh? Oh ah, it was nothing really," he apprehensively replied. "He ah, was just expressing his gratitude that we had decided to marry sooner rather than later."
"Hmmm," he looked skeptically upon his friend. "And that caused you to turn ten different shades of red? Somehow I doubt that. C'mon, out with it."
"Uh, well," he hesitantly began, momentarily turning his head off to the side and looking upward before awkwardly responding, "he also kind of brought up the fact that the sooner we get married…" Takumi gulped uneasily, "the sooner we'd be able to provide him with grandkids."
"Oh ho! Best not disappoint the old man then, huh?" Hajime exuberantly exclaimed, enthusiastically then proceeding to take his friend into a headlock and submitting him to a congratulatory noogie.
Akira didn't have it that much easier as she too had to endure a bit of ribbing from a rather high-spirited Kyoko and Hiromi.
Peering out from between Wataru's headlock, who had since then stepped in to repeat the manly ritual, Takumi spied a most amused Aoi who happened to be carrying his birthday cake. Managing to crack a smile, Takumi looked to her and commented, "Told you I had some rather interesting friends. Hey c'mon you guys, haha, cut it out."