Moon and Sun (Part 1)
"You're gorgeous," he said to me. "Not to mention that I simply love your personality. No, I love everything about you."
My heart was set a-flutter. "Oh, you flatter me. But I'm curious… Why did you take me all the way to this park on such a beautiful moonlit night?"
He looked bashful as he rubbed the back of his neck. "Well… There is a reason alright…"
Then, without warning, he enveloped me in his arms, swift but gentle as always. I gasped in surprise. I hadn't expected him to do that at all, but the feeling of being pressed against his well-toned body was heavenly. Ah… bliss.
"I came here with you to tell you something really important," he said.
"Yes." He took a deep breath. "I've known you for all of four years, and I must say… I love you. I want to be with you forever. Will you stay by my side?"
I looked up at his handsome face with joy sparkling in my eyes. It was hard to think up of the right thing to say to this; I was so giddy with happiness. But I blurted out the first thing on my mind in response to his confession.
"I… I love you too! Oh, you have no idea how happy this makes me!"
"I'm so happy too. …Kiss me, my love, so that we're one."
I stood on tiptoe, edging my lips closer to his. Finally, after four long years, my feelings for him were returned. Today would be the start of a new life together… and I was the happiest girl in the world…
…but all of a sudden, just before our lips met, he poked me in the forehead.
He had eyes of love for only me, but what he said next was out of place in our romantic setting. Like, totally out of place.
"What's wrong with you? You've stopped eating all of a sudden."
That was when I was transported straight out of my daydream back into the real world, where my male friend and I had been chatting and having tea at a fast-food restaurant – Sunshine Fast Food was its name. And the hamburger he was referring to was the one I had been eating. And his finger was still stuck in my forehead.
Argh… I knew I had a propensity for daydreaming in public, but…
I pushed his finger out of the way before it could bore a hole in my head. "Okay, Makoto, I get it."
"Geez," Makoto chuckled, "it's nice to have an active imagination, but yours borders on the fantastical."
"H-Hey, this doesn't happen often, you know," I said in embarrassment. "I'm just… you know, trying to take the sting out of what happened during cheerleading practice today."
"Oh, yeah, that really sucked big-time, huh?"
I heaved a sigh of dismay. "Yeah, well, 'big-time' is an understatement."
"I can't believe you'd actually slip up doing the triangle." He took a bite out of his burger.
"It was my fault." I dug my forehead into my open palm. "Somehow I made a mistake and then we fell over each other like a pack of cards."
"A pack of cards… That's a very apt description." He smirked slightly, half of his face chipmunk-like with the food in his mouth.
"Maybe I wasn't feeling so coordinated today. Oh well." Changing the subject, I said, "You know, Makoto, you should really come to school sometime and watch us perform. It'll be fun!"
Makoto, looking smart as usual in his suit and necktie, gave a slight chuckle, "Wouldn't miss it for the world! But I'll get fired for sneaking out of work to watch a bunch of scantily-clad girls doing somersaults. That's how cheerleaders are like, right?"
"Get that stereotype outta your head, man," I chided him gently and smilingly. He could be so cute when he cracked jokes. "But I guess it can't be helped. When it comes down to it, we are a bunch of scantily-clad girls doing a bunch of tricks… and that includes somersaults."
"I'm more than a little curious to see what your uniforms are like now," said Makoto mischievously. "It's been a while since I left Seiko High, you know."
Half in jest, I narrowed my eyes, dangerous and fox-like. "I had better inform the girls about you if you decide to come."
"Relax! I'm not that shallow!" he laughed, patting my arm affectionately. "By the way, before I forget…"
"What were you dreaming about anyway?"
My face grew red in an instant. I couldn't tell him that I was fantasizing about him! "I-It's nothing! Just the usual romp through a land of candy and clouds, ahaha!"
"For someone who doesn't really have much of a sweet tooth, you sure have a lot of dreams in Candyland…"
A lot of dreams in Candyland, he said… That's because I keep dreaming about him! He's kind, handsome, intelligent, near-perfect and everything. But…for all his wonderful traits, how was it that the one thing he was painfully unobservant to… was my feelings?
Nice to meet you. My name is Ai.
I'm just another teenage schoolgirl suffering from the usual mix of things that made school life so challenging: homework, exams, commitments to extra-curricular clubs, and an overdose of raging hormones. The symptoms of being a teenager were so many and hardly curable.
It's just so hard on me when a guy walks into my life and I fall for him. Especially when it's someone as cool as Makoto. My brain just jumps out of my skull and takes the day off: I don't know what to do, what to think. And the fact that I'm always at a loss with romance doesn't help matters.
Seiko High was the school I attended, and it had both junior high and high school facilities. I first met him a few years ago, when I stepped into the nightmarish realm of Form One. The circumstances around our very first meeting weren't very nice.
You see, I had found myself the target of a group of bullies who were trying to make my life difficult by extorting money from me. They obviously felt like they owned the right to wipe their dirty feet on me. And at that time, I was a doormat. With the word "WELCOME" emblazoned across it.
But there was a silver lining in all that. Just as I was about to wave the white flag in pathetic defeat, Makoto came rushing over to disperse the troublemakers, who promptly left me alone and walked away, grumbling to themselves. It wasn't the ideal image where they ran for their lives screaming like they sat on an anthill, but I was more than glad that I was spared and my lunch money was intact as a bonus.
Who was this guardian angel sent from heaven? I remember how he fussed over me, asking me if I was physically hurt anywhere or if there was a need for me to go see the school nurse. After he made sure I was totally fine and we parted ways, I felt good for the rest of the day. But it wasn't love. He was cool, but I didn't fall for him right away. He was just a kind stranger helping someone in need.
Being a freshie in a new environment with no friends was a harsh time. Lunchtime was awkward for me because there was no one whom I could sit with. What was it about us new kids that everyone was allergic to? They didn't even want to get within a two-yard radius of us. Every time I chowed down it was always by myself, at least for a while until I met Mina, but that's another story.
It was the Thursday of my very first week in Seiko High, and again my table was empty except for me. Eating alone felt weird in the cafeteria where every table was fully occupied. I always thought that people were staring at me for being so… different. Stress was quickly getting to me and though I tried to shrug it off as best as I could, it wasn't easy. All those Zen mantras that I recited over and over inside my head did little to help, if at all.
Can you even start to imagine how hard it was to picture a serene riverbank with accompanying waterfall and clean crisp air, when the smell of bad canteen food was constantly wafting my nose?
Then something unexpected happened. I perceived a presence near me and looked up at the face of the person in question. It took me a while to recognize him as he gave me a small smile.
"Well, what are the odds that I'd see you again?" he said.
It was my saviour from a few days back. I mumbled, "You… You're the one who… helped me out?"
He didn't reply to my question, instead asking, "Mind if I sit here? You look like you could use some company."
Company was exactly what I was looking for all this time. I would have preferred sitting with a girl, but my intuition told me that he wasn't a bad person, so I didn't hesitate. "Sure. And yeah, it does get lonely eating like this."
"You must be new here," he said, plopping down on a seat opposite me. He had on his tray a can of juice and a bowl of… uh, a non-descript soup-like substance with unidentified chunks of something floating around in it (canteen food was more horrible than I imagined; welcome to high school!).
"Good guess." I tried to make out which parts of my lunch were edible. "But how did you know?"
"I haven't seen you around here before."
Astonishment gripped me. "Do you actually memorise the faces of each and every student here?"
He laughed. "Well, if I could do that, I'd memorise all of my textbooks so that exams would be a piece of cake!" I cringed a bit as I watched him take a quick bite of the solid part of his soup. "But no, I've just been here long enough to know who's a freshman and who isn't. It also helps that I'm in the Student Council and I get to meet everyone!"
"Oh yeah, you're in the Council, I see." I had been eyeing the small cloth band that was wrapped around the sleeve of his left arm and pinned in place. So it as true; he was a Council member… not too shabby. "Aren't you always busy though?"
"Kind of, yeah. We have to manage a lot of the clubs and such. It's really stressful sometimes! And don't get me started on the Extreme Sports Club… They're always giving me headaches left and right… Eh, let's talk about me later. Let's hear about you."
"Me? I-I'm just afraid that I'll be a snoozer."
"Nah, c'mon, tell me about yourself. Oh, how rude of me to not ask for your name! Care to share?"
My heart skipped a beat. He was friendly and not stuck-up and had a pleasant face, but what was it about guys like him that was so intimidating? Was it his personality? Or his confidence? Or how he could still look okay eating from a bowl of… whatever?
Something about him was attractive; there was no denying that. However, this wasn't the part where I began to fall for him, because he was still at best an acquaintance. But I never really had much success with the opposite sex, due in no small part to my tendency to get flustered at the most inopportune of times. So him asking for my name was kind of sudden… I wasn't prepared at all…
"Um, hello?" he waved a hand in my face, breaking my chain of thoughts. "Earth to… um, new kid in school?"
"Sorry!" I blurted, a little too loudly. With my cheeks reddening slightly from embarrassment, I finally answered his question. "I'm… I'm Ai."
"I'm Makoto Miki, but you can call me Mick if you like, 'cause that's kind of like my nickname 'round these parts."
"Oh, please." He held up one open palm. "That's too formal. I may be your upperclassman, but let's do away with the 'sempai' bit. Just call me Makoto or Mick. That'll be good enough."
"B-But you're a senior…" I wasn't used to calling upperclassmen by their first names.
"It's not too hard. Seriously, just call me that. I like it better that way. Anyway, it's nice meeting you, Ai."
"Yeah, it's good to meet you too, Makoto!"
The rest was history.
Eventually, I did manage to make some friends, most notably Mina, who would become my most trusted bosom buddy. I still thought at first that Makoto would just remain as a very friendly acquaintance at best, but the thing that amazed me the most was he didn't just leave me be once he knew I had better bearings in school. He actually made a conscious and periodic effort to ask about my welfare, and to make sure that I didn't feel like a fish out of water. As part of the Student Council, it was his job to be sure that his fellow students were happy and satisfied with their time on campus.
There were times when he would pop his head into class during recess to see if I was around. If I was, he might ask me to accompany him for lunch. Other times we would meet in the hallway and get to talking. Every time I met him it was under pleasant circumstances.
But eventually, I thought his concern about me was very strange. Surely there had to be some ulterior motive? He didn't look like the evil sort, but you never know…
According to Mina, she heard that it's always been his nature to be caring and helpful to everyone. But my gut feeling told me otherwise. Could it be that he really wanted to be more than just someone to wave at when I passed him by in the hallway?
Could it be that he truly wanted to be… my friend?
Eventually, we became so close that he had reached the status of "awesome non-threatening male friend". I became so comfortable with him that hanging out with him was almost like doing the same thing with one of my gal pals.
Little by little, I found myself drawn ever closer to him, as I discovered more about his personality, his personal creeds and goals, his family background and whatnot… And no, I was not a stalker. Do I look like that sort of person?
Being the hopeless romantic that I was and still am, falling in love with Makoto didn't take too long at all. There had been a few lapses where I would meet a cute guy and be enamoured with him for awhile, but those were relatively short-lived crushes that were over quickly and almost immediately replaced by my infatuation with Makoto. Ah… he was the one blossom in a field of grass. …Funny how I'm comparing flowers to a guy, though.
He was just perfect. Or if there was a word that would better describe his goodness, it would be that.
A year later he graduated from Seiko High and applied for a job at a company that was kind enough to take him in and give him a working scholarship: this would allow him to simultaneously work and study his diploma course in business administration. He managed to finish his course in one year and a half, and then he was ready to take on the real world. Now he's working in a company that deals with graphic design, managing the number-crunching side of things.
But even when he wasn't a Seiko High student anymore, we still kept in touch with each other, hanging out, having tea in a simple but ambient ramen house. But dates they were not.
I wished they were, though.
Apparently Makoto only thought of me as a really good friend, or even something of a little sister. Many times I had wanted to tell him what I truly felt for him, but I was held back by the possibility that if I did, and he didn't reciprocate my feelings, we could no longer be friends.
I didn't want to lose him… he was the best guy friend I had ever met!
If only he could see into the depths of my soul, caged in a prison of love… Ugh! Not another display of Shakespearean nonsense!
The orange sky signified that the evening was rolling in. I knew I was getting late and my strict, insanely overprotective parents would be mad at me, but the sunset was so mesmerizing that I couldn't tear my eyes away from it. It was the perfect thing to look at while I mulled over my one-sided romance with Makoto.
I found a bench to sit in and watched the last of the skateboarders leave Miyashita Park, having finished practicing their tricks. Very soon, the park was like a desert, devoid of people with the exception of lonely ol' me.
"Hey, Makoto…" I whispered to myself, "What do you think of me?"
It was incredibly peaceful letting the warm rays of the sun wash over my face while I listened to the noisy scratchy call of the cicadas. I wished I could stay frozen in that moment in time for as long as I wanted. The fresh air, the serenity of the view, the disconnection from reality… everything was a joy to all of my senses.
And then someone had to come along and spoil it.
All of a sudden I felt strong arms wrap around me from behind in a tight embrace. I screamed.
"Wh-Who are you?"
"Heh heh heh…" The intruder had a deep, if weird-sounding voice and he was using it to breathe into my ear. "My precious… be mine and I'll teach you lots of wonderful things…"
Gah! I was struggling to get him off of me but it was no good. It was like his arms were made of iron. Out of desperation, I swung my hand over my shoulder for a blind reverse karate chop. The rock-hard edge of my hand smacked satisfyingly into what I figured was the head of the attacker, who gave a startled and pained cry.
"HNGH!" He let go of me in an instant. "H-Hey! What's the big deal, Ai?"
Even as I was spinning around to confront the pervert, I was wondering why his voice suddenly become more feminine. I mean, it was high-pitched, and as much as it gave me the chills, it was cute.
But when I saw his face, I understood.
And it wasn't a he; it was a she.
I sighed, "Mina, that was creepy."
"And that hurt so much, you dummy!" she cried, going into a long series of "ow's" and "ouches".
This girl was my best friend Mina, a pretty girl with short raven hair, a lively attitude, and a sweater perpetually wrapped around her waist. …She also had a knack for bad comedy; her jokes were crummy, and on the few occasions she would play a prank, like now, they were tasteless.
She was rubbing her nose where, apparently, I must have hit her. "You're no fun!" she said bitterly. "I was just going to pretend I'm Makoto for a bit and see how you would react!"
"And that's supposed to achieve what?"
"I just wanted to see you go all red and 'OMG-Makoto-just-said-he-loves-me'…! Thought it'd be fun."
"Well, just for the record, nothing's happening between us."
"What'd you mean? I thought I caught a glimpse of you and Makoto in Sunshine Fast Food… The sight of the two of you together was simply adorable! Or was I mistaken?"
"You weren't mistaken, but we were just having tea as… friends." My sad gaze fell to the floor between my shoes. "They don't count as dates if the guy doesn't know that you love him…"
"Oh dang," she said, her tone apologetic. "Sorry about that. I had no idea…" She clambered over to join me on the bench and promptly gave me a hug – a genuine one between BFF's – to cheer me up. Thankful for the support, I hugged her back. "I… thought to tease you a bit, but I didn't know you haven't hooked up with him yet. I'm sorry."
"No, it's okay. It's partly my fault, I guess, for being such a coward. We've known each other for so long but I never found the courage to tell him about how I feel." My lips parted to let out a sigh as I slumped in the bench.
"Why don't you just tell him? I mean, you've had plenty of chances by now."
"Four years…" I raked my fingers through my long chocolate locks. "Can't believe it's been four years since I first met him."
There had been many things that kept me busy during this time span, including studies, club activities and the occasional trip to 104 to indulge in shopping, every girl's vice. With so many matters occupying my life, there were few chances where I could confess to Makoto. The sad thing (and I mean sad as in both unfortunate and lame) was that whenever an opportunity presented itself, I would chicken out and it would get wasted.
"I really, really want to tell him!" I said. "But I'm just scared I'll screw up."
"But you can't just go round in circles forever, you know. It's tiring. Not to mention, well, lame."
"Th-The 'lame' bit was uncalled for, Mina!"
She bit her lip and looked to the skies, deep in thought. Then her eyes lit up, as though a light bulb turned on inside her head. "I've got it, Ai!"
"Wh-What? You got what? A fever?"
"No, stupid!" she snapped indignantly. "I'm talking about the Hachi Fest! It's coming up in a week's time! Remember?"
Shibuya had a tradition. Every year the citizens would hold the Hachi Fest, in honour of the loyal dog Hachiko. The famous Statue of Hachiko would become the main attraction as thousands of people flocked over to participate in a slightly weird ritual, where you could rub the statue for luck. If you rubbed it in the right spot, you would be blessed with good fortune for the rest of the year. However, if you touched the wrong spot, you would be cursed. Few people knew or cared what "curse" meant in this context, but it's a strong word either way and it was good enough to make everyone extra careful about where to touch it.
This bizarre ritual was the main event, but to further liven up the atmosphere there was always a multitude of booths selling Japanese delicacies or hosting a variety of games. So the Hachi Fest wasn't just some silly event where all you did was pet a stone dog. It was a fully-fledged festival in its own right.
"The Hachi Fest? That's awesome!" I squealed, temporarily forgetting about my romantic plight. "You know much I heart the Hachi Fest! I can't wait to feast on their deluxe dumplings!"
"Yeah…" Mina was already drooling, staring off in the distance in a dream-like state. "And takoyaki and shrimp rolls and chicken kebabs and…"
"Whoa, time out, Mina," I said, stopping her in time before she could drench herself stupid in her own saliva. "What was it you wanted to say?"
"Ah, yes. You see, the Hachi Fest is famous for a number of things. But do you know what really draws people in?"
I hadn't the slightest clue of what Mina was getting at. "I don't know. What is it?"
She spoke in a hushed tone to amplify the mystery of it all. "Many people go to the Hachi Fest not for the food, or the statue. They go for…" Her voice trailed off, as though to prompt me to guess.
"Well, what?" I said, getting impatient. "C'mon, tell me already!"
"Love," she said with a grin. "Maybe you weren't aware of this, but many a couple has hooked up successfully at the Hachi Fest. You can't deny that something about it has an effect on people. It's the perfect occasion for a first date!"
"Oh, that's great," I remarked, still not getting what she wanted to really say. There was something, I knew. Something she wanted to share with me… definitely more than just a piece of trivia about this festival being a fantastic hangout spot for budding lovebirds.
"So what I'm saying is… if you invite Makoto to come along with you, then you can put the moves on him, and he's yours – nice, easy and trouble free! Well, almost."
Ah, so that was it. I kind of figured that out, and in all truth, it was a good idea. If I confessed to him about my feelings at the Fest, maybe the chances of success and a happy ending would increase. Maybe. There was no guarantee that it would work, but it was definitely worth trying out. The Fest was fun, anyway. All I needed was that first step and everything would fall into place nicely.
"Hmmm… Yeah, that might work…" I muttered.
"Why do you seem so unenthusiastic about it?" asked Mina, cross, "Shouldn't this be the part where you get all hyper and say stuff like, 'Oh yes! It's a fabulous plan! Mina, you're the bestest friend in the world! Let me treat you to a week's supply of sundaes!'?"
"A week of what?"
Mina sighed and pretended to look disappointed. "So much for gratitude… (There goes my free ice cream…) Well, anyway, bring him along! That way, something good is bound to happen!"
"Um… but how do I confess to him? What do I say? What do I do?"
She looked at me with raised eyebrows, incredulous, "You mean you don't have an idea of what you should do?"
"No, not really," I said, gulping. "Did I say something weird?"
"All this time I thought you had a plan and that you just didn't go through with it because of a lack of guts. But I never for once thought you were a newbie at the whole confession thing."
"Ugh, spare me the sarcasm, Mina," I sighed, feeling even more guilty over the past four years of failures. "Wait, does this mean you've confessed before?"
"No, but I've watched enough sappy romantic dramas on TV to know how it goes."
Exasperated, I grumbled, "Soap operas aren't realistic, Mina! They're no yardstick!"
"And I say a dumb idea is better than none!" she retorted coolly.
Sometimes this girl had a very strange way of thinking. "Mina… You have things the wrong way around, but… never mind."
She took my hands in hers and with genuine concern, she said, "Look, I wanna help you get together with Makoto. Maybe I tell terrible jokes and show up late in class and copy your math homework sometimes…" Well, how true those three things were, especially the last one. "…but you and I are the best of friends, Ai. Aren't friends supposed to help each other? It's not like you're the only person in the world, you know."
Mina wasn't exactly the most reliable person when it came to getting things done, not because she was lazy or anything. But with her bumbling personality she had the tendency to come up with completely crazy and ludicrous plans. If they didn't give terrible results, then they almost always ended in utter failure. Yes, her heart was always in the right place. But my trepidation upon considering the implications of her helping me was understandable.
However, just this once, I decided to throw caution to the wind and go along with her grand plan. It was very risky and hardly comforting that I had everything to lose, but it was still worth a try.
"Alright, Mina, you're calling the shots here. Please help me!"
"Great!" she chirped, grinning broadly. "You can count on me!"
"So what do we do?"
"Right, listen up, Ai," she said, becoming visibly excited, "We need to use the 'creeping snake' approach!"
"Um… is that a good thing?" I was already starting to worry. This had better not be another one of her harebrained schemes… Creeping snake? Was that a ninja stealth tactic? Was she going to tell me to sneak into Makoto's home and jump him?
"Theoretically, it's very simple. Even if he's your very close friend, you can't just walk right up to him and say it in his face. It'll just freak him out. So you've got to drop hints to show that you like him… until he gets the message!"
"H-Hints?" I gulped, "You mean, like in flirting?"
"Exactly! Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not telling you to go dress up in skin-tight leather and stuff… though that certainly helps. But plenty of other cues would go a long way!"
"But I can't do that! Wouldn't that make me look like one of those loose women often seen prowling the streets at night?"
Mina sighed. "Girl, chill. It's nothing scandalous. You're not doing anything like lap dances on him. It's just a bunch of harmless little signs to gradually show him before you go for the coup de grace. That's why it's called 'creeping snake': you creep up on your prey bit by bit until you deliver the final strike or he gives in. And of course by final strike I mean the moment when you proclaim your love for him."
She was rubbing her hands together and chuckling with a slightly demented air about her, like she was a mad scientist. I didn't know whether I was in for a good deal or a tremendous disaster.
"I'll give you some suggestions," she continued, "but at the end of the day it's up to you to follow through with it, okay?"
"Creeping snake… It sounds so weird… but thanks, Mina. I appreciate it. Maybe I might just be able to do it."
"Heh, don't thank me just yet," she smirked, "Let's see if you can pull it off and get the guy!"
Would I be able to succeed with this plan? So much hung in the balance…