Wearing her black blouse and white skirt, Yukiko tapped the toe of her flat anxiously on the newly waxed floor of the Amagi Inn entrance. Outside, the buzzing of cicadas almost drowned out her feeble "Y-Yes," as she forced her foot forward—it somehow felt to her as though her feet had been encased in cement. In her mind, she could almost hear the squeak of rusty hinges in her joints as she took another step towards the silver-haired young man. He flashed her a reassuring smile as he held out his hand to her—that was all it took to settle the butterflies that were fluttering nervously in her stomach.
"Have fun, you two," she heard her mother call from the front desk. Next to her a tall man with short, wavy black hair with his arms crossed in front of his chest nodded.
"Know this, Seta," Yukiko's father warned in a low tone. "My daughter is very well-loved in this town. If something happens to her, all of Inaba will be after you."
"With torches and pitchforks, I know," she heard Souji mutter under his breath. A giggle slipped out of her as she placed her delicate hand into his larger one. In a louder voice, he said over Yukiko's shoulder, "Amagi-sama, if anything happens to her, I give you permission to skin me alive."
Yukiko turned around and saw that her father had snorted in irritation. "If that is an invitation, then I humbly accept."
"Oh, Dear," her mother sighed. "Just let them have their fun. I remember when my father gave you the same speech on our first date, and you were—"
"—Perfectly respectable and proper—"
"—And almost caused a five-car pile-up when you took my straw hat and danced in the street with it," Mrs. Amagi finished with a gleeful smile. "What wonderful memories we had…"
"I did not dance in the street with your hat!" Mr. Amagi raised his voice defiantly, but the reddening of his cheeks said otherwise. Yukiko's face twisted in embarrassment and Souji took this as their cue to depart.
"I'll have her back by sundown," Souji promised while the two adults enjoyed their little lovers' spat. As they headed out the door, they could still hear Yukiko's mother going on about their first date.
"You even had a song with it. Now how did it go? 'Straw hat, straw hat, Sachiko-sama's straw hat. Better look out, the wind might take it away…'"
She trailed off, tapping a finger to her chin as she struggled to remember the rest of the words. Her eyebrows rose excitedly when she recalled the memory. "I remembered now! That was when the car swerved and you screamed like a little girl!"
"My voice was still developing! You know that!" her husband shouted defensively. He was about to say more when his wife tugged his head down and kissed him.
"I know," she told him softly. "And you became a very wonderful husband and father. Nothing is more masculine than that."
For a brief moment, her words had calmed him before he snorted and frowned. "We have work to do…"
His wife gave him one more smile and walked off, but not before he gave a playful slap to her behind. She popped up on her toes with a surprised look on her face and stuck her tongue out at him over her shoulder before heading towards the kitchen.
The afternoon summer heat seemed to compress itself all around the young couple, but even though they knew they had both chosen to wear black on top, they shrugged it off and began the long trek to the train station. When they reached the bottom of the hill from the Amagi Inn, they thought better of the walk and aimed their new destination at the bus stop. The wait and the ride only took about fifteen minutes and the train ride to Okina City took another thirty, but they never let go of each other's hand the entire way. When they arrived at the strip mall in the city, Souji raised the hand that held on to hers and pointed to their left.
"Shall we see what's playing?" he asked, indicating the movie theater.
"A movie's fine with me," she said barely above a whisper. Yukiko had lowered her face, unable to mask the smile that had formed—she didn't want to seem too eager or inexperienced in the dating realm. Souji had still managed to see her uncontrollable smile and started to lead her to the theater.
Her mind seemed to fuzz over through the process of Souji buying tickets and ordering popcorn and two soft drinks. She did, however, remember the short breaks where his hand left hers to produce his wallet and found that her hand felt empty without it. She felt almost childish envy when she saw that he had busied both of his hands with the popcorn and drinks, but the feeling left when they found their seats and the movie began to play.
Towards the end of the movie, hot tears began to spill from Yukiko's eyes when the young woman regained her memory of her boyfriend as he lay in a hospital bed dying from a bullet wound. With her own tears streaming down her cheeks, the young woman held onto the young man's hand, sobbing as she said to him all the wonderful memories they had together. Just as the heart monitor next to the bed let out a long, deathly beep, she whispered to him, "We were supposed to grow old together… you promised…"
At this, a sob escaped Yukiko and she hurriedly brought her handkerchief to her eyes. As she dabbed away the tears, a strong, comforting arm wrapped itself around her shoulders and Souji held her close to his chest, allowing her tears to soak into his short-sleeved black dress shirt. The credits began to roll and Souji held her there until her sobs dissipated.
Once Yukiko had calmed down, Souji brought her to a nearby cafe where they discussed the movie they had just watched. They had barely taken a seat in their booth when a waitress came and set down menus on their table.
"I didn't expect to start crying like that," Yukiko admitted bitterly. Her head almost kicked back a bit from a little hiccup that caught her off-guard.
"It just shows that it was a really good movie," Souji said quietly with a small smile. "I didn't expect the plot to be that well-drawn for a foreign film."
"Oh, you're right!" Yukiko piped up. "Who would've guessed that Max and Ulysses were half-brothers? And I really liked that fencing duel at the end. But, poor Rosalind…"
"If only Max had finished off his brother right then and there…" Souji sighed as he flipped through the menu.
"But, I don't think Rosalind would've wanted Max to be a killer, especially since it was his half-brother," Yukiko said, tracing a finger down her own menu. "But, it was cowardly of Ulysses to shoot him in the back…"
They spent a short while sipping cool drinks and chatting at the café. From there, Souji brought her to the jewelry store, hand-in-hand, and together they pointed to the various necklaces, earrings, bracelets and rings that glittered in the glass cases. On the far right of the store, Souji pointed to one of the rings—a gold band with a tiny ruby embedded on top. The clerk took it out of the case and handed it to Souji, who slipped it onto Yukiko's ring finger on her right hand. It twinkled merrily, as though pleased with the warmth of a person until Yukiko removed it and handed it back to the clerk. Souji offered to buy it for her, but as nicely and respectfully as possible, Yukiko turned down his generous offer and the two left, still hand-in-hand.
They walked up and down the strip mall, pointing at things in the windows and Souji joking that she should try on the new shipments of bikinis. Yukiko slapped his arm playfully and retorted with a suggestion that he should cool off by jumping into the fountain outside one of the restaurants. He made to run, but Yukiko held his hand tightly and tugged him away.
By now, the sun had begun to set, and the two began the long trip back to the Amagi Inn. The train was packed this time in the evening, and both were forced to stand and hold on to the silver rings that hung above their heads. Souji placed a protective arm around Yukiko's shoulders, and she felt the same comfort that she had experience just hours before in the theater. She snuggled into his chest, almost nodding off from Souji's warmth in the air-conditioned car. From the train station, they took another bus that brought them to the bottom of the hill that her family's inn sat atop, and as promised, Souji had brought Yukiko home before the sun had begun to disappear behind the mountains.
"We still have some time left," Yukiko said as they approached the entrance.
"But, we're already here," Souji told her. "There's really nothing else to do."
She giggled when he looked around almost uselessly. "There's one more thing we can do. Follow me."
Inside the front doors, she took two pairs of slippers from the cubbies on the wall and the two kicked off their shoes to put them on. She took his hand and ran to the elevator, dismayed to see that it was on its way to the third floor. Gaining determination, she dragged Souji towards the stairs and dashed on up, her light footsteps obscured by his heavy ones. They ran in a squared spiral up two flights of stairs and down a long hallway, the faint ding of the elevator announcing itself somewhere behind them. Panting heavily now, they turned down another hallway and up one final flight of stairs ending in a single doorway. They burst through it and bright yellow-orange light blinded them briefly as they arrived at the top deck overlooking much of Inaba.
"This is my favorite spot," Yukiko panted with a smile. "Usually it's pretty windy up here, but I guess today's an exception."
She held a hand out to the golden sunset as it had just began to touch the tops of the mountains. "I wanted to share this last little thing with you today. I know it's not a great movie, or a fancy ring or anything, but…"
Souji took a few more deep breaths, trying to return some oxygen to his lungs. When he had finally calmed down, he straightened up and took a hold of Yukiko around her waist and drew her near. "It's beautiful," he said to her.
With her outstretched hand, she wrapped it around Souji's waist as well and hugged him around his middle as they watched the sun sink below the mountains. The golden light washed over them, almost as warm and welcoming as Souji's embrace.
The sound of her name made Yukiko turn her head up to Souji's. She looked at him in wonder and saw deep intensity in his grayish-silver eyes. Like the sun, his face lowered, and with a half-lidded gaze, Yukiko bid him welcome.
"Souji-kun…,"she whispered, feeling her heart pounding in her chest. Just as the sun disappeared behind the mountains completely, she raised her face to Souji's where her sight sizzled into a blaze of silver.
"…I love you…"
She slowly awakened, wrapped not in Souji's arms but tangled in her blanket. Her arms had been embracing her pillow tightly, just as she had with Souji in her dream. Her breathing slowed and the pressure in her chest loosened as her heart began to settle down. She remained lying there motionless, trying to make sense of what had just happened. With a sigh she sat up, blinking at the morning sunlight. At first she was confused since it was just sunset in her mind, but the realization that everything that had happened was only a dream left her in a strange mixture of joy and sadness—she was happy to have gone on a date with Souji without fearing that their relationship would be revealed, but at the same time, she was disappointed that none of it was real.
"Even in my dreams, I can't enjoy our date," she grumbled. She stretched her hands over her head and yawned, wanting only to go back to sleep and finish the last part of the dream. As she was about to lay back down, her clock alarm went off with a sharp, repetitive buzz.
"Okay, okay," she told her clock as she flipped the off switch. "It just means that it's motivation to make that dream real, right?"
She got up and folded her blanket and her futon, placing them in the closet with some difficulty from her grogginess. She looked over to her desk and saw that she had hung her summer uniform on the chair as a reminder that second semester was to start that day.
"Looks like I now have a reason to see Souji-kun every day now again," she said happily to herself as she began to untie the belt of her yukata. "I wonder… if he dreamt of me, too…"