Mori realized that it had been nearly half a year since he first met his artist.
It had been so long since the first day he saw her standing there in that moment of stillness, staring at that boy (Ren, if Mori remembered correctly). Mori wasn't usually a nosy, curious person, but there was something about her that drove him to yearn to know more. He wanted to be closer to her, he wanted to know her more than anybody else in the world. Mori was a bit perturbed at the sudden selfish, greedy thoughts that crossed his mind, but she was changing him. Somehow, deep inside, she was affecting him.
This became painfully obvious when he found himself investigating this "Ren" boy. He felt foolish for doing it, but he would remember the look on her face when she stared at that soft painting of him, and his determination would return ten fold. He wanted to help her, and he had to know what he had to heal if he wanted to do that.
It wasn't very hard to figure everything out. He easily found an article about the boy's death; apparently he had been diagnosed with leukemia as a child but went to school regularly. He had passed away a couple years ago in the hospital.
He didn't know much about his artist's relationship with this Ren boy, but he knew enough. She was close with him and he died. He could only imagine how hard that must have been on her – so hard, it seemed, that she still painted his face in her past time.
"Hey," she said one day as they sat in her painting room. Mori sat at his usual spot near the window and the artist painted on her canvas. All was as it had been for half a year, this comfortable image, merely sitting in the presence of the other. "You're graduating this year, right?"
"Everybody is pressuring me to do well," she said in a softer voice. "I mean, yeah, I love art. I love painting. I love it, I really do. I've been doing is for so long that it comes to me as naturally as breathing." She took a deep breath as if to emphasize this point, and breathed out. She smiled at Mori, who watched her quietly, listening. "I've wanted to attend this art school in France for such a long time. If I get the scholarship, I can go there. It's been my dream, but…since someone close to me passed away, I've forgotten my own goals. I don't….I don't know what I want anymore."
She closed her eyes and put her paintbrush down. Mori watched as she leaned back and ran her hands across her face. He could have sworn he heard a soft, shaky sob leave her lips, but there were no tears in her eyes so he assumed he was merely hearing things.
"I've lost my drive. He was the one who encouraged me to follow my dream. When my parents scoffed at my desire to be an artist, he was there at my side cheering me on, encouraging me to move forward. He was my anchor, you know? He made me better. And when he left….I didn't know what to do with myself. Whenever I picked up the paintbrush, nothing except his smiling face came to me. I couldn't draw anything else."
Mori felt something stir in his heart, and it hurt.
"Then I met you," she said. Mori almost fell off the chair in surprise but, ever the coordinated gentleman, he stayed still and merely gazed at her. She smiled at him and looked at her painting. "Even though you didn't say anything, I could tell what you were thinking. I don't know, but there was just something about you…you being here with me, taking up the empty space he was once in…I felt whole again."
She stood and turned to Mori. She gripped her painting and turned it towards him with a wide smile. Mori was stunned to see himself, a perfect painting of his solemn face, turned slightly towards a window overflowing with light. Despite himself, he felt his neck turn hot with embarrassment and pride. She drew him; not Ren, but him.
"Now, I think of your face. Cheesy, isn't it?" she asked with a light laugh. "I want to thank you. Even though I found your presence an annoyance at first, you grew on me. Being alone – well, I didn't realize I even felt lonely until you cured it. So, yeah, thank you," she said warmly. She picked up the painting and handed it to Mori. "Here, you can keep it. Your own self-portrait. How fancy."
He smiled and took it.
"Oh," she said, impressed. "What a cute smile. I may have to paint that, too."
Graduation was strange, to say the least.
Mori had breezed by the rest of the year with ease. Classes were never changing, and the Host Club proved to be as entertaining and chaotic as ever. But his artist…she was always there, in that room, waiting for him with a new smile every afternoon. She painted different things, scenic and architectural images, and sometimes people. He noticed that her old pile of Ren portraits were gone, and he could tell she was trying to get over him.
After another half of a year, Mori was finally done with school and a part of him was slightly relieved. As fun as his days passed, it was also quite exhausting.
He didn't see his artist at graduation, and he had to slip past the host club members so he could seek her out. The first place he found himself in was that empty classroom he met her in everyday. The door, like always, was slightly ajar. He saw her standing in front of her canvas and, to his surprise, finished paintings rested against the wall and on the floor.
"Oh," she noticed him when the door creaked open slightly, "Mori."
He stepped inside and she set her brush down. "You graduate today, don't you?"
"Sadly I graduate next year," she said. Mori tried to hold back his surprise. For some reason, he thought she was the same year as him. She seemed to notice his reaction because she laughed lightly. "Yeah, I'm younger than you. Shocker. Ah, now that I think about it, you don't know much about me, do you…? And I don't know a lot about you."
Mori didn't reply. She walked towards him, her face strangely sad. "I'll miss you, you know. It'll be empty without you."
He felt that pang of sorrow in his heart again.
"Of course, I'm happy for you. I heard you're going to America?" she asked. Mori nodded. "Well, maybe we'll meet again some day, huh? Fate is funny that way. It brought you to this room, didn't it? I think God is on our side," she said in a teasing tone, smiling up at him.
At that moment, Mori felt enraptured. For some reason, knowing this was the last time he would see her made him bold, desperate…her eyes looked unusually soft, her face strangely beautiful…he felt sad, knowing this was their last meeting.
So he kissed her.
It only lasted a few moments; his lips brushed hers and then it was gone. He pulled away and felt his mind grow light at the tingling sensation on his lips. She merely gazed up at him in shock, her cheeks flushed a dark red, eyes wide. It was the first time he saw such a look on her face before, and it made a somewhat satisfied feeling well in his throat.
"Wha…" she sputtered. "Did you just…?"
He smiled and nodded. She shook her head and began to laugh. She reached for his hand and grabbed it, squeezing his warmth in an attempt to memorize this moment and this feeling.
"Well, I suppose it's alright," she said with a chuckle. "You're going away for a long time, so one kiss shouldn't do much harm. If I become a famous artist, I'll definitely find you again, alright?"
"Alright," he said softly.
She didn't seem too shocked that he spoke, though her face did seem to light up slightly. She released his hand and walked to her half-finished painting. Mori suddenly realized it was a picture of him smiling. He felt his neck go hot again and she waved him over. With a smile brighter than the one she was painting, he walked towards her.
"By the way," she said as she watched him approach, "I don't think you know my name. It's Chinatsu."
He tested it out; "Chinatsu."
She blushed. "Ah ah ah! Such an intimate way to call my name! I never knew you were this bold," she chided with a small chuckle. Mori stopped beside her and tried not to touch her, even though his fingertips burned with desire. "Can I call you by your first name too?"
He nodded. She didn't notice him lean towards her for another kiss, and before their lips met she was able to murmur one single breath of a name –