He saw her, and his whole life changed.
She was a vision of beauty in the midst of the ordinary. Her old-fashioned kimono looked stunning, almost ridiculous among the everyday clothes of the crowd. You might expect an old woman to dress that way, but she was young — so young!
He stood staring at her, impressed. So impressed that without even thinking, he snapped a picture with his cell phone.
The girl tripped and fell. Stupid! he thought. The flash must have startled her. Better get out of here before she thinks I'm some kind of... But the girl wasn't looking at him. She was still down, fretting over one of her sandals.
Marshalling his courage, he walked up to her. "Hey, are you all right?"
"Oh," the girl replied. "Hello. Thank you for your concern. I will be fine. I just... as you can see, my hanao is broken..."
Huh. How to fix something like that... he glanced around. There! That rubber band would work.
"Hold still," he said, and wrapped the rubber band around her sock where the strap had been.
The girl looked a bit uncomfortable. "Did... did you find that on the ground?"
"Ash tray," he corrected. "Would you rather hop your way home?"
She stood, testing the sandal. It didn't fall off. "Thank you very much, sir," she said, giving a polite bow. "I wish you a good day."
The girl started to walk away, but paused after two steps. She looked slowly from left to right, then back from right to left. This continued for a while.
"Having trouble finding your way?"
She turned back to him, trying not to look embarrassed and failing miserably. "Thank you very much, but I will be fine," she said. "I just need to regain my bearings." She started muttering to herself, going over the directions she must have memorized, and comparing them to the busy station in front of her.
He stared. The girl looked like she was trying to multiply two 15-digit numbers in her head.
"Let me help," he said. "This place is confusing even for people who come here a lot. Where are you heading?"
She blushed. "If you are willing, then thank you. My destination is Izumigaoka."
"Hmm... you want platform 4. Come on, I'll walk you there."
"Thank you very much. You are very kind."
He led her in the right direction, but still found it hard to take his eyes off her. Gotta find a way to stay with her when we get there, he thought. Make some conversation, idiot!
"So..." he ventured, "what are you up to in Izumigaoka?"
"It's... a little personal," the girl replied, eyes down.
"You can tell me. I won't turn you in if you're running from the cops." He chuckled. Humour, that's a good way to start. Right?
"No no, not the police," she said.
He took a stab in the dark. "Parents?"
The girl lowered her eyes again.
"It's okay. We've all got family troubles. Don't get me started on my folks. What a bunch of jerks."
She gave him a funny look. Maybe that was too much... sometimes they warn girls about guys with family problems...
"You know how to fix a hanao," the girl whispered. "Your family has rejected you. Of all the people in this station, you found me and helped me."
"'Rejected' is a bit strong..."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I was only thinking out loud."
They were at the platform now. Now or never. Ask her out. You can do it. You can...
He noticed a snack stand. You can stall! "You must be thirsty," he said. "Let me get you a drink."
"Oh! Thank you. Do they have those slush drinks?"
"Yeah. One sec." He walked over and picked up one for each of them. Taking a swig of his slushie, he handed the girl hers... and she stared at it like it was made of diamonds. "Something wrong?"
"Is this... blue cherry flavour?"
Before he could say another word, the girl threw her arms around him, tears filling her eyes. Whoa!
"You knew! Somewhere deep down, you knew! This is destiny! It is the red string of fate at work!"
She released him. "I am sorry. I was so moved that I forgot myself for a moment. It is high time that we were formally reintroduced."
The girl made a deep bow. "I am Aoi Sakuraba." Blue cherry! "And you are my betrothed, the man I have been preparing all my life to marry... Kaoru Hanabishi."
It took him less than a second to make the decision.
"Yes," he lied. "Yes, I am."
Next: Enter the Dragon
(A/N: This'll be 5 parts. Next one in a few days.)