Sorry for the long wait. I've been busy. As usual, beta-ed by my-silver-lining
"It's going to be a great year," Koko comments enthusiastically while pulling both his fiancée and Yuu Tobita into headlock.
Our eyes meet, amethyst blending with sapphire.
"You're getting married to me for one."
Ever so gently, the corner of her lips curve up into a small smile. Not her usual smirk, but a lovely little smile.
Sumire Shouda scoffs and pulls his arm away. There's a quick sparkle when the diamond ring on her finger catches the light. "I'm getting married to you? Try the other way around, you dolt."
Her gaze is so intent and I feel myself melting away under it, little by little, bit by bit.
What do you know, I'm being melted by the Ice Queen. Ahh, the irony.
"You're the wife, so you're getting married to me," Came the man's rebuke.
She tears her eyes away to face the ground. Perhaps it's the light or because of bashfulness, there's a light tinge of red on her cheeks.
Probably the lights, because as far as I know, Hotaru Imai is never shy. Humility has never been her thing.
"In your dreams, Yome." Sumire rolls her eyes but she can't resist the grin that creeps up her lips.
"Hey," I reach out to clasp her hands in mine.
Yuu laughs as he watches the lovers' spat between the two. "Okay okay, I get it, you're both getting married."
"What are you doing, Nogi?"
"We'll see about that." Sumire mutters under her breath.
I run a thumb against the back of her hand, "Are you cold?"
"Aww, don't be like that, wifey."
"Do I look like I'm cold?"
"I love you," and Koko kisses the top of Sumire's curls.
"Well, I can never tell what you're feeling,"
"Fine, I love you too."
As both the hour hand and the minute hand form a straight line pointing north, the crowd cheers as fireworks are launched into the sky, myriad of colours splatter across a black canvas.
Glancing casually around the jubilant crowd, I see both Mikan and Natsume locked in a passionate embrace as Natsume mouths the words of "I love you" to his girlfriend; Koko and Sumire are no longer arguing as the latter presses her lips against her fiancé's.
"Happy New Year, Nogi."
I lean in to plant a tender kiss right on her lips and watch as her cheeks grow redder by the second when I pull away.
"Happy New Year to you too, Hotaru."
The words are reverberating off the walls of my skull when my eyes snap open to meet with the morning sunlight streaming into my room through the curtains.
Oh god, what did I do?
I kissed her. I kissed her. I kissed her.
Wait a minute…
I sit up from the bed, still in a daze but I realize that the pillows smell different and so does the entire room. Turning around, I scan the unfamiliar surroundings; nothing in sight is remotely familiar. Well, besides the pair of shoes at the foot of my bed. I can hear the sound of running water.
I close my eyes, ignoring the dull headache that is slowly growing in the back of my skull.
What happened last night?
I went to a bar with some friends. I had some beer. We laughed. I ate some fries. We talked. I drank more beer. Hotaru was wearing the perfume I gave her. I had more beer. We watched the firework show. I kissed Hotaru. Everything after that was a blur of colours and noises. Then it hit me.
I was drunk.
Someone turns off the running water in the bathroom and a moment later, Yuu Tobita appears in the room, wiping his face with a towel. He's startled when he notices that I'm awake.
"Hey, Ruka. Morning." He strides over to the mini bar, picks out two cans of coffee and throws one of them towards me. "You were pretty drunk last night."
I blink. "We're in a hotel?" The obvious answer is 'yes' because where else would you find beds and a mini bar, but my senses have yet to fully return.
Yuu nods and cracks open the can. "Traffic was horrid last night, thank god Imai managed to book us a hotel room beforehand. The rest of the group is here too, sans Imai. She left an hour ago." Yuu furrows his brows and scrutinises my face. "You alright? You don't look too good."
I press a hand to my forehead. The headache's growing worse by the second. "Yeah. I think it's just a hangover."
As if just realising it, Yuu looks surprised and hurries over to grab my can away. "Sorry, I forgot. You know, coffee, hangover, not pretty." He walks back to the mini bar, and then replaces the can into the fridge.
God, this headache is tearing me apart. I close my eyes, shutting them tight, wishing that the headache would just fade away. Why did I have to drink so much last night?
When I open my eyes once more, there's a glass of water before me, offered by Yuu. "This should make you feel better." I accept it with a word of thanks and drain the cup of its content in seconds. Yuu takes a seat on the edge of that bed that's next to me—his bed most likely—then watches me intently, as if there's something about me that gnawing at the back of his mind.
"I never knew beer could be so lethal."
His eyebrows creases, puzzled. "Well, beer can't do this to you all by itself."
"But that's all I had… Right?" Right? I remember throwing back a couple glasses of beer last night and that was it. Believe me when I say that despite the fact that I don't drink too often, I have never ever gotten drunk from drinking too much beer. Not even when I had about twenty bottles of it during graduation all those years ago.
Okay. Maybe I had one shot of whiskey last night. Just one.
"You do remember playing Fivers right?"
Oh crap. I groan loudly.
Fivers is a drinking game which Natsume and I are big fans of—though he's remarkably good at it while I suck. Basically, a person has to mention a number within the given limit and the number has to be a multiple of five. At the same time, everyone else in the game would choose to show their palms or fists or one of each. Opened hands would mean a five while fists would mean zero. If all the hands add up to the number mentioned, that person who mentioned it would have to throw back a shot of whiskey.
Sounds easy enough right? Sure it is. But that doesn't mean I'm good at it.
In fact, I'm terribly bad at it.
"Damn." I mutter, covering my face with my palms. Fivers has never ended well for me; it will probably never end well for me. For one, compared to beer, my tolerance for whiskey is much lower, less than five shots later I'll be more than drunk. Once I puked in Natsume's car and for months he wouldn't let me near it. Admittedly, I had zero recollection of that ever happening. Then again, being drunk has always cost me my memory of the previous night.
"Did anything stupid happen?"
"Well," Yuu scratches the back of his head, "Koko almost punched a waiter and he broke a lamp so it's best if he stays away from Beerkeep for the time being." (Beerkeep being the restaurant/bar we decided to spend New Year's Eve in.) "Other than that, nothing much."
"Did I do anything stupid?" Please say no, please say no.
Yuu shakes his head slowly. "No. You passed out after six shots. Koko was the only one who did stupid things, can't say I'm surprised though."
At this moment, there's someone banging on our door. Yuu gets up from the bed and head over to open it. The moment he twists the knob, Koko barges into the room and mutters a string of expletives under his breath as he almost trips over a chair. He steadies himself by holding onto the wall while scanning the room through half-closed eyelids.
"Anyone of you over here have pills to cure this fucking migraine I'm having?"
Yuu replies a curt 'no' and I shake my head. Disappointed and exhausted, Koko throws himself onto Yuu's bed. "Bloody hell."
"Would you like some water?" Yuu asks but he's already pouring Koko a glass. The newcomer's reply is a just a muffled grunt.
Koko sits up on the bed and takes three large gulps of water when the glass was offered to him; it is easily emptied in less than two seconds. He burps, bangs the glass on the bedside table, then proceeds to stare at me intently, his expression no different from Yuu's a while ago.
"I-is there something on my fa—?"
His question escapes his lips before I have a chance to finish my sentence. "Are you dating Imai?"
Well, that was unexpected.
"Sumire's been asking me that question the entire morning. That's the main reason why I'm here, actually. As much as I love that woman, mother of my future babies, sometimes she just needs to shut the fuck up."
My jaw drops open. Well can't really say that I'm surprised by the question, frankly I've been asking myself that question for a while now.
Hotaru Imai and I have been having a pretty awkward relationship. We used to be strangers, then fake lovers, then we 'broke up' when her parents went back to France, then she said we could be friends and that's what we settled with. Friends.
We aren't lovers, we're not boyfriend-girlfriend or anything of that sort. We still hang out, just a few days ago she asked me out for lunch. We don't get on each other's nerves so much like last time.
And then last night, I kissed her.
I, Ruka Nogi, kissed her, Hotaru Imai.
Of all the people I could've kissed, I decided to smash my lips against Hotaru Imai's.
"That was actually what I wanted to ask him before you barged in," Yuu says to Koko. With his bed occupied, Yuu chooses to sit on a chair instead. "Natsume and Mikan told me what happened between the two of you—well, mostly Mikan to be honest—and I thought that since Imai's parents have left, you two were not, well, you know."
"Wait wait wait, slow down, rewind. What happened between the two of them?" Koko asks. It seems like his hangover is gone since he seems fully conscious, his huge eyes staring at Yuu, completely focused.
Yuu adjusts his glasses then begins to explain the condensed version of the relationship between Hotaru and me, from how we met, to the brief details of our 'contract', to whatever else that happened after.
Mikan has sure told him a lot.
"No way," Koko whispers in an almost breathless way once Yuu's finished with his story. Then he turns his attention towards me. "You, Ruka Nogi, have got to marry her."
Wait what? Huh? What? What?
In a split of a second, Koko's standing right in front of me, his hands pressing down on both my shoulders. "Ruka Nogi, listen very carefully to me and forgive me if I sound incoherent because this is how I usually am when I'm excited and this stupid hangover just makes it ten times more worse." He sucks in a deep breath. "I have known Hotaru Imai for years now, ever since middle school, ever since our Alice Academy days, so have Sumire, Yuu, Natsume and Mikan, Mikan knowing her the longest. That woman has fucked up my life on countless occasions and though I might not have loved her before, but she's like my sister now, my sadistic, anti-social, weird, scary sister. But my point is, I—" he looks over to Yuu who seems to be immensely amused, "—we have never, I cannot stress this enough, never ever, ever, ever, ever seen her treat any guy, not me, not Yuu, not Natsume, absolutely no guy at all, as well as she treats you. No guy would have survived if he so much as touched her hand, not even that stupid boyfriend she once had—what's his name again?"
"Hayate Matsudaira," replies Yuu.
"Right," Koko turns back to me, "not even that nutcase Matsudaira. If he so much as held her hand, let alone kiss her, Hotaru Imai would've gone ballistic and turned him into a girl. But you, you my friend, you're special. I—" Koko looks over to Yuu once more, "—we saw you last night and we saw her. We saw how she acted around you, normal people might not notice it, but Hotaru was different when she was around you. I swear to you, she was. If there's one thing that could make that woman smile, it's money and frankly, she looked like she was talking to a mountain of cash when she was talking to you.
"And then you kissed her last night. You kissed her, right on the lips. BAM! And from what I've heard just now, with you no longer playing the boyfriend role, you're not supposed to kiss her, but you did anyway and you're alive. Shit! That woman is bloody in love with you and she probably doesn't even know it."
Koko releases me and runs a hand through his hair. The next second, he's gripping me tight again, giving me the crazy eyes. "Do you love her?"
"W-w-what?" I splutter. Koko shakes me hard. My headache just got ten times worse.
"Answer me!" he roars into my face. "Do you, or do you not, love her?"
"I don't know!" My thoughts are all in disarray and my heart is beating erratically. What the hell. An hour ago I was still peacefully asleep and now this happened.
Koko waves his fists in the air like a maniac. "How can you fucking not know? Gaahhhh! Fantastic. Just bloody fucking fantastic. Now I have two idiots in my hands who don't even know that they're in love with one another. I. Literally. Feel. Like. Smacking. You. Two. Across. Your. Faces!"
This time, Koko presses his sweaty palms on both sides of my head, his crazy brown eyes staring straight into mine. "Listen very, very, very, very carefully to me. Follow my words to the letter. One, I want you to go into the bathroom and brush your teeth, cause frankly, your breath smells disgusting. Two, Yuu will send you to Hotaru's since he's the one with the clear head over here. Three, I want you to bring your sorry little ass up to her gargantuan penthouse, knock on the door and ask for an audience with her. Four, pay very close attention to this because this is crucial. When you see her, I want you to tell her how bloody much you're in love with her. Just look into her eyes and say, 'I am fucking in love with you, Hotaru Imai.' Just that. That's it." He smacks me across my head and groaned. "Just one night, one dinner, and I've already seen through the both of you and I think I'm going to go mad because of your stupidity. Call me a mind-reader, call me clairvoyant—whatever that word means—but I can tell that you're in love with her just as much as she is with you. You wouldn't have kissed her if you didn't now, would you?"
Koko tugs on my arms, pulling me from my bed and shoves me hard on the back. "Now go! I want that mouth of your minty fresh. Allons-y, my friend, we have a wedding to catch!"
He pushes me into the cramped bathroom but just before he slams the door in my face, Koko winks and points at the new blue silk tie hanging loosely around my neck. "I like your tie. It brings out the blue in your eyes."
Without having a chance to say thanks, the door shuts in front of my face with a loud bam.
Yuu pulls his car over by the sidewalk and cranes his neck to look at the Imai Tower looming before us. He turns his head to me and sighs.
"About Koko," we haven't spoken a word since Koko made us leave the room and the silent was comforting after that blonde's crazy outburst. "I'm sorry about him. He can get kind of—" Yuu pauses, trying to think of a word that's best to describe his friend, "—out-of-hand at times."
"You don't say."
Yuu places a hand on my shoulder. "But he means well." I nod, not knowing what to say next. My heart hasn't returned to its normal pace and my mind still a blur.
Eventually, I speak. "Yuu, I'm not going to die am I? When I go up there and do what I'm told, she's not going to kill me is she?"
Believe me, I am scared shitless. I know how scary that woman who resides on the top floor of Imai Tower can be. Perhaps there's some truth in Koko's words, but what if he was wrong? What if I'm wrong?
Yuu sends me a reassuring smile. "You won't. He might have sounded crazy, but Koko was right. I have never, ever seen Hotaru Imai so—different. This might sound cliché, but yesterday when you were with her, Hotaru looked like a different person. She actually seemed happy.
"I can send you home now if you want and I can deal with Koko's shit when he finds out that you've bailed, but I just want you to know that if you don't risk it this time, you might never will and perhaps one day you'll look back and regret not telling her how you feel." He looks away and stares out his window. "I made that mistake once and there's not one day that goes by where I don't regret my lack of courage."
"Uhh, so how's the girl? The one you let got away?"
A mirthless chuckle escapes his lips. "Happily married, has a kid now."
"Have you seen her recently?"
Yuu shakes his head. "Nope. She moved to New York with her husband shortly after their wedding. I only heard about her having a son from a mutual friend. I can't even find her on Facebook."
I let out a shaky exhale, mentally preparing myself for what's to come.
"You think this is going to work?"
Yuu shrugs, not exactly what I'd call comforting. "Perhaps, perhaps not. But there's nothing to lose right? It's not like she'll avoid you like a plague after it. We're all adults. Not a bunch of high-school kids." Then he gives me one last pat on the shoulder.
"I don't know what's going to happen, but trust me," he smiles, "you'll be fine."
My hands feel sweaty, my legs are tired and my mouth feels parched. I close my eyes and take in deep breaths.
Everything's going to be alright. I'll be fine.
After what feels like an eternity later, I hear the shuffling of feet behind me. Turning around, I see Hotaru rubbing her eyes and walking towards me. She's no longer in that body-hugging cocktail dress she wore last night, opting for a large t-shirt and silk pants instead.
God she looks so beautiful.
I can hear the blood in my ears.
I can feel my heart beating in my chest.
Damn. I think I'm in love with her.
Still a little dazed, my legs stretch out, one before the other, closing the distance before us.
"Nogi, you better have a good reason for waking me up or I will—"
I wrap my arms around Hotaru's frame, around her small waist before she even has a chance to realise what's happening. The scent of the perfume she wore last night still lingers on her skin, tickling my senses. I close my eyes and gently press my lips to hers.
If I die today, might as well go out with a bang.
I must go, my planet needs me. I've no idea when I'll be back. In the meantime, you could keep yourself busy with my other stories. Till then. (: