honey in the morning
Morita has never been on a Ferris wheel.
The thought rises whimsically into his mind on his first day of college. He's certainly passed by them before, and yes, he's sure he'd like to ride one. Somewhere he feels he should adore them: how they drew throes of friendly crowds, how the cars seemed made for intimacy even if it could seat more, how majestic and bright everything seemed, like something his father would have made.
He convinces himself that he hasn't tried riding a Ferris wheel because it just wouldn't be right to sit in the car by himself. Later that week he visits one to test this theory. He stops just short of buying a ticket and is left alone outside the ticket booths, looking upwards to the sky and wondering what the view was really like up there.
He sees her for the first time by sheer chance. An unknown force brings the two together, like gravity, and on one of the rare occasions that he is on time for class he happens to spot the hardworking duo of sweat-soaked girl and comically overweight dog exercising. The mere sight of them fills him with such a maniac curiosity that he decides it simply wouldn't be right to not investigate things further.
They run by him and in seconds he trails her, jogging at her side. The woman gives him a wary stare, one that he ignores because he's far too focused on the image in front of him. He puts the opposing tips of his index and thumb together, looking at the duo admiringly through the makeshift window.
"Perfect! Excuse me miss, would you please—"
He wakes up at the police station twenty minutes later. He really isn't sure what happened—all he knows is that his head hurts in multiple places. He asks the person on duty about this, oblivious to the dirty glare the officer gives him.
"You were brought in by a woman and her dog. Apparently you were following her and making her feel very uncomfortable. There's lately been reports of a pervert stalking the female college students, you know."
"Oh no, officer!" Morita gasps, fearing the worst. "Is she all right? Did they catch the pervert?"
After too much questioning he stumbles out of the station, a bit off balance—he could almost swear that the welts on his head were caused by kicks from jogging shoes.
But somehow he feels fine, perhaps even a bit giddy. The thought of the woman with her black jogging suit, her flushed cheeks, and crisp blue eyes lingers in his mind.
He's in great spirits today. He skips to school, whistling and thinking of jogging blue-eyed girls with pudgy dogs and Ferris wheels (and money, always money).
Morita arrives at his classroom just in time to see the professor dismiss everyone.
He meets her again about a week later, doubled over at the corner of the street, exhausted from her morning jog. He sidles up to her and hears her catching her breath in soft, controlled sighs. The noise is very pleasant and he doesn't disturb her, instead locking eyes with her dog.
It takes only a few moments of silent staring before the two meet a mutual agreement. He leans over and scoops the dog into his arms (nearly failing at first—the dog was pretty heavy), dancing around with the creature before the woman realized that her pet was being abducted.
"Hey! What are you doing?" she cries anxiously, advancing on the two.
"Miss! You have a fabulous dog!" Morita laughs, twirling around a few seconds longer before carefully crouching to set the dog back down. He looks up at the woman and gives her a bright smile.
"What's his name?"
She's on guard and doesn't immediately answer. He's about to say more when the dog nudges him, vying for reward.
"Oh, right." He fishes around in his pockets and pulls out the dried remains of some jerky he got yesterday (on sale, of course), holding his hand palm up in offering. The woman grabs the leash and pulls the dog back before it can lap up the jerky.
"Don't feed Taro anything! I'm trying to help him lose weight!"
"Taro?" Morita confirms, meeting eyes with her pet again. Breach of contract, the dog's stare accuses.
"Yes! And you're that guy from last time, aren't you? Can you please stop bothering me?" The woman is about to run off when Morita offers the jerky again. Taro instinctively lurches back towards Morita, stopping his owner in her tracks. Morita crawls forward a tiny bit to close the distance and in seconds Taro is greedily lapping up the protein. A cry of anguish and frustration reverberates throughout the street as the woman gives Taro's leash another futile tug.
"Eat Taro-kun, eat!" Morita laughs manically, reaching into his pockets for more. He has no idea how much jerky he has left—probably not enough.
"Stop!" the woman yells again, the two ignoring her. She grinds her teeth in rage and continues to try and drag Taro away, but the dog scrabbles against the concrete and soon it's an all out tug of war. Morita starts to slowly pace back, dropping jerky alongside the road as Taro begins to overpower his owner. The woman tries for one more tug before the leash slips through her sweaty palms. Morita nonchalantly tosses the last piece of jerky over his shoulder and Taro races for it, the leash slithering across the ground behind him.
Morita lets Taro scamper only far enough that the tail end of the leash is within his grasp.
The woman, hair now slightly disheveled and her cheeks again that lovely pink color, can only stare as Morita casually saunters over to her and holds the leash out for her to take. She reaches for it and Morita pulls his arm back, that confident smile still on his face.
"What's your name?"
"Yamada Ayumi," she finally says in an exhausted sigh.
"I'm Morita Shinobu." He hands over the leash to the sulking Ayumi, who swipes it away. Before she can leave or reprimand him, Morita gives her figure a quick study and rubs his chin in thought.
"Excuse me, Yamada-san. Are you a model?"
His smile grows wider as she barely contains a giggle. However she's unable to keep it to herself and even though she covers her mouth to try and keep it in, soon she starts laughing uncontrollably. Once in a while she sputters and tries to stop, like she knows she should still be upset at him. He doesn't know why she's laughing, really—it was a serious question.
But it's a beautiful sound, Morita thinks.
It's something that he would even be willing to turn a job offer down for, it's so beautiful.
After they find out that they attend the same college the two become the best of friends, so quickly that Morita can't help but think it was meant to be. He visits her in class often and sometimes they walk home together. It isn't long before he starts showing up in the ceramics room where she works after class. He sees her pots for the first time and can't help but feel impressed—each was made so carefully, as if her feelings at that moment in time were manifested into every work.
He finds one that's deformed and they laugh about it, like elders laughing over their adolescence. The pot fell apart in the kiln, she explains. It happens sometimes.
She mentions there's a fall festival tonight—would he like to go?
They leave school a bit later than usual so they can go to the festival together. He sees her hands are still covered with some dried clay and he takes them into his own, inspecting them like they're a type of foreign growth he's never seen before. She giggles over his antics and though she lives quite a ways from college, far too soon they're at her family liquor store. Her hands fall away and she runs in to freshen up and change.
Flecks of clay still cling to his skin. He hasn't worked with clay in quite some time, but the feeling left on his palms feels entirely new. He mulls over why this is, rubbing his thumb across the inner arch of his index, and it takes him a few seconds to realize that it's from her warmth.
Morita clenches and unclenches his hands and thinks that maybe it really was meant to be. He feels they're connected, like puzzle pieces, like her fingers wrapped around his.
The fall festival passes as a blur in his mind. He has so much fun that he forgets to be stingy with his money and the two stuff themselves with food and laughter.
Later that night, she tries to win a doll from one of the merchants. She fails spectacularly and begs for his help.
"Hm… a throwing game, eh?"
"Yes! Please help me get Whip-chan, Morita-senpai!" Ayumi desperately points at a stuffed pink rabbit. Morita wins it on his first try and she shrieks with delight, like a child. He celebrates with her until the merchant impatiently informs the duo that he still has two more balls left to throw.
"What should we do after this?" Morita wonders aloud, rearing up for another pitch.
"Hm… are there any Ferris wheels still open?"
Morita's pitch misses its target. Ayumi doesn't seem to notice this, but she does notice the change in atmosphere and gives Morita a quizzical glance. He tries his best to look as casual as possible and reaches for the last ball like his previous throw had just been a brief miscalculation, like he was still focused on winning her another doll.
"I haven't been on one before," Morita says stiffly.
"Really?" Ayumi glances at her watch and bursts into an excited smile. "Good news! It's still early, Morita-senpai. Want to go now?"
He can't pretend anymore and stares at her, frozen. She nudges him playfully to get a response, believing he's just being his usual strange self.
"Hey, come on. Let's ride one!"
He forces a smile. He suddenly feels strangely nervous and covers it up by turning away from her expectant gaze. Morita throws his last pitch of the night and it's good.
"Some other time," he manages, taking his prize from the merchant. He's somehow able to keep smiling when he offers her the other doll.
The fireworks soon start and she forgets about the Ferris wheel. He doesn't and it will bother him for the rest of the night, why he declined. They watch the sky light up in sparks of majestic color and dazzling flares. The booming explosions in the sky shake his core, but his heart skips for other reasons.
It was a good thing that he missed the second throw, Morita finally decides.
Now she has a rabbit couple.
Kaoru calls him the next morning. There's a job.
"How long am I going to be gone?"
A week, Kaoru tells him. They leave tomorrow. There's no further discussion and when Kaoru hangs up Morita just stares at the phone, waiting for it to ring again— this time with the real Kaoru calling him, the one that wasn't just pretending to play human.
That day, Ayumi doesn't show up at school. Morita searches every square inch of campus (including the women's restrooms, which is a splendid adventure) and turns up with nothing.
Morita waits for her at the school gates for all of five seconds before he decides to check the women's restrooms again. You know, just in case he missed something.
He gives her a call as soon as he's done looking. Something inside him says he could've just done that in the first place, but the thought is brushed aside when there's the click of someone picking up.
"Yamada-san?" Morita instantly picks up on the stuffiness of her voice. "Are you sick?"
"Uh… yeah." There's a weak cough on the other end and unconsciously Morita's pace picks up speed. "I think I just caught a cold from yesterday and—oh, it's already this late? Sorry, did you wait for me?"
"Are you feeling okay?"
"Fine." Her voice starts to sound a bit fragile. Maybe it's just the reception. "Just fine. I'll sleep it off. I have Whip-chan to keep me company. Oh, and my brother is helping out my dad with the shop so we're covered."
"That's good." Morita decides to head towards the Yamada Liquor Store, oblivious to the fact that there's now a rather awkward silence between the two.
"Yeah?" Morita asks distractedly, crossing a street even though it's not his turn. There's a few honks and shouts of warning but he doesn't notice. The outside world doesn't seem to really even matter anymore.
"I don't know if I said it yesterday, but thanks for keeping me company. I had a lot of fun."
There's another cough on her side. "I think I'm kind of tired, so I'm going to take a nap now, okay?"
Morita's steps slow.
"Oh. Uh, yeah! Get better quick!"
"Thanks. See you."
Slowly, Morita brings the phone away from his ear. He stares at the screen and after some time remembers that tomorrow he has a job.
He can cancel. Kaoru would understand. Probably. (Not.)
Morita snaps his phone shut and though his mind is blank, he stands there until the bright city lights flicker on, as if he was lost in just thought.
Ayumi wakes up the next morning with a splitting headache, a throat dry as cotton, and a shrieking alarm clock that was still set for her normal wake-up time when she had class.
She fumbles around for the clock so she can shut it off but the sound abruptly ceases in mid-squeal. She raises her head wearily from her pillow and sees someone carefully setting the clock back on her desk. A yawn creeps out of her mouth and she snuggles back into her blankets. It's great that Morita was there just to shut off the alarm clock; what great timing, especially since she was so—
"Morita-senpai?" Ayumi croaks, turning back on her side just in time to see him fiddling with her books and papers, exploring every inch of the room. He acts like he doesn't hear her and starts to flip through some of her magazines. She is about to say more before she starts hacking and coughing, which is more than enough to fully catch Morita's attention and draw him to her side. He squats down so the two are eye-level with one another.
"What're you doing here?" she asks in a raspy whisper. Morita fumbles around at the base of her bed and pulls out a large grocery bag in answer. There's a soft rustle as he empties the contents at the foot of her mattress. There's a variety of over-the-counter medicines, along with some unidentifiable bottles and packages of snacks.
"Mom is here to take care of you," Morita lightly smiles. Ayumi watches him sift through the mess he had made, looking for something. She finds a weak smile forming on her face, despite herself.
A flash of gold catches her eye and she watches him lift a container of honey up. There's a triumphant look on his face as he rummages through his pockets, finally pulling out a metal spoon from who knows where.
"I use this to treat my throat when it's hurting," Morita explains, squeezing about a tablespoon of honey onto the spoon and offering it to her, intending to feed her like a little girl. She gives the spoon a nervous glance, the unknown origin of the utensil disconcerting.
"I…" She tries to say more but breaks into another coughing fit. When she recovers, she abruptly reaches past Morita and simply pries the container of honey from his hand. With no thought of femininity, Ayumi takes a shot of honey straight from the bottle. Morita grabs an unopened water bottle and offers it to her, worried about her choking.
"Honey in the morning," she chuckles weakly after forcing down the viscous liquid, giving him an indecipherable look. "You're weird, Morita-senpai. It doesn't even help my throat."
"How are you feeling?"
"I'll be fine." She gives him a shaky smile before taking the water. He places the spoon of honey on her desk while she takes a few testing sips of water. There is a long pause before she finally says, in little more than a whisper, "thanks for coming to take care of me."
An inscrutable look crosses Morita's face, so quick that even he himself does not notice it. Instead he feels his face stretch to return her smile.
"I have to go for a while. Something came up. It's nothing serious," Morita adds when he sees Ayumi give him a look of concern, "it's just some errands."
"Mm," she nods, understanding.
"Yeah. So I won't be here to take care of you. But one of my roommates—Mayama—will check on you sometime this week while I'm gone. He's from architecture. Oh, and here's his number." He unfurls a crumpled receipt and gently lays it atop her blanketed legs. "Call him if you need anything. He wears glasses."
"And…" Morita trails off, finding he has no more to say. Instead he watches the soft sunlight glowing behind her silky curtains, the buttery gold of honey trailing down her pale hand, the quiet traces of a smile still at her lips, and her, always her, how long he has watched—
He abruptly shoots to a standing position and leaves her bedside. His heart pounds far too fast and hard: he's sure that she would hear it, even in her state.
"AndI'mgoingsoseeyoulater!" Morita exclaims in a rush, making to leave. He trips for no real reason, catches himself, gives his best "I'm-fine-and-I-totally-meant-to-do-that" smile to Ayumi, and soundlessly shuts the door to her room behind him.
There is a brief silence, a respite from the liveliness that Morita seemed to bring everywhere he went. Eventually Ayumi pushes herself to a sitting position, ready to move the assortment of items he had strewn around her bed. Just when she makes to take the paper with Mayama's number, the door slowly creaks open.
He timidly peeks back in. His voice is low, bashful.
"When you're better, let's go on the Ferris wheel."
Her sweet smile, softened by sickness and fatigue, is so gorgeous that he doesn't remember her answer.
As Kaoru drives him off, Morita watches the rearview mirror and absently thinks that maybe he lost something this morning, though he's not sure what.
When he makes his return alone a week later, Morita's first course of action is to buy some form of souvenir for Mayama as thanks for watching over Ayumi. He browses the train gift shop at his arrival terminal, taking his time, purposefully waiting for the closing discount deals to kick in. His head fills with calculations as he fiddles with the money in his jean pockets, thinking of the appropriate amount to spend on his friend. Oddly, his fingers close more often around his cell phone.
It doesn't take long before he gives in and calls her. Her familiar voice invigorates him, almost making him forget the exhaustion from his work.
"Morita-senpai! How are you? Is everything okay?"
"Yeah. I'm just checking up on you. You sound better." Morita fiddles with the plastic packaging on some cakes, whimsically imagining how she might react if he bought her something.
"I am. Mayama was a big help. He's very thoughtful."
"He's an intellectual," Morita tells her, as if that was explanation for Mayama's behavior. It was the impression that Morita had of Mayama, anyway.
"Mayama was kind to me. We talked a lot," she continued, as if she hadn't heard him.
That was odd, Morita thought. She was mentioning Mayama's name an awful lot.
"Fallen for him already, eh?" It was supposed to be a joke.
The silence on the other end tells him otherwise.
"What are you talking about?" she finally manages, after what he imagines to be a shocked pause. He knows her voice well enough to tell that she's flustered. "I only met Mayama once."
His chest tightens, restless. She's never said his name like that. Ever.
"Anyway, where are you?"
"Just buying some things," Morita replies evenly, trying to play along. It doesn't last. "Actually, I'm feeling tired. I'll see you at school tomorrow."
"Ah, okay. Um, I'll be in the ceramics room for lunch. I need to make sure that you're actually doing okay, so be sure to show up. Oh, and don't be late for your classes! See you then."
He leaves the store after she hangs up, not bothering to wait for the closing discounts. He'll buy that gift for Mayama some other time; what he needed now was sleep, he decides. Everything will be back to normal tomorrow. There will probably be even better deals then.
The ache in his chest feels heavy, like heartbreak.
Morita watches Mayama begin to fill her thoughts with each passing day. He entertains the thought of telling her how he feels, but maybe this was meant to be too—for her to never love him.
The thought depresses him and he tries to sculpt something to take his mind off her, but his creations soon turn into shapeless lumps with no definition and no meaning. He feels strangely empty, though she is still so close to him. She'll probably even be outside at the school gates, waiting for him so they can walk home together. He doesn't know how it's possible for puzzle pieces to fit and still not turn out right.
He gives up when the sun starts to set and heads out, alone, to the front of the school. Sure enough, she's there waiting for him with a smile on her face. He waves to her and she does the same, that friendly look never disappearing, and it suddenly occurs to him that she is suffering just like him—chasing someone but being unable to reach them, not really.
"You're late," Ayumi states, arms across her chest and her voice filled with mock anger. He falls into a kneeling position and begs her forgiveness—only to draw her laughter, just as he planned.
It is still a beautiful sound.
So beautiful that he now knows he's willing to surrender more than he wants to.
Morita finally makes his decision. It's quite possibly the hardest thing he's ever done, right up there with that time as a child when he had to give up on the Japanese plums he found in the abandoned cement factory, knowing that no matter how hard he tried to get them, they would never be his.
Time passes and the group of three swells to four when Takemoto joins the college. Morita starts picking on Takemoto and it's some of the greatest days of his life, his time with all of them. The unrequited love that Ayumi has for Mayama festers and grows, never stopping, only intensifying, and Morita watches her lingering glances and pained sighs and knows that she will never notice his own.
It isn't long before Ayumi tells him that she won't walk home with him anymore. There's more projects she has to work on, she says. I don't want Mayama to get the wrong idea, Morita hears.
This is the last straw. Morita can't stay composed anymore and he leaves the ceramics room as quickly as possible, ignoring her cries of worry. We'll make up tomorrow, he thinks. He knows that his days of finding her waiting at the school gates are over. But his decision is still the right one, it has to be.
There are a lot more deformed pots lately and he knows it's not because of the kiln.
Someday she'll tell him who she really loves and he'll be the one to give her advice. Someday he'll ask her why she can love someone like Mayama and his voice won't betray his true emotions. Someday he'll see her get married to not-him and they'll all laugh about the times they had together.
Someday he might get over her.
Today is not that day.
But today is the day he finally decides to ride the Ferris wheel.
It's nothing like he thought it would be.
He isn't sure whether it's nerves or his expectations were just too high. He doesn't enjoy the ride at all: it's painfully slow and gives him too much time to think. He sits alone in the four-seater car and stares out the window, not really all there. Once the car reaches the top, he absently scans the bright lights of the city. He's not sure how he feels exactly— about the view or himself. He tries to forget her, but the thought of Ferris wheels just brings Ayumi to mind. The two are connected now and forever, like jogs and dogs, like warm clay-covered hands, like honey in the morning.
When he gets off the car and turns to look back up at the sky, for some reason he feels a little better. The experience wasn't that great, but that only means his theory has finally been confirmed—it just wasn't right to ride it alone. Maybe next time he'll go with his friends, he thinks.
He decides to take the long way back, even though he's not sure why. It's a bit chilly and he rubs his hands together, trying to warm them.
He stops in the middle of the street when he thinks he sees bits of dry clay fall from between his palms.
Something invades his chest: a hot, painful emotion, like he had swallowed lava. His eyes sting and he blinks it away. The sight had filled him with a strange type of dread, like a secret he doesn't want to hear.
…because he no longer feels empty.
He doesn't want to let these feelings go. He wants to always feel this pain, to remind himself that he loved her. He wants to imagine how things could have been, to torture his heart into a shape that would always have her in it. But he now knows the emptiness is gone.
Because he still feels something for all they've experienced together. What they will experience.
For some reason the night feels a bit colder. He sniffles and tells himself that it's really not too bad. Failed love isn't bad at all. He's glad to have met her. Glad to know that someone like her exists.
He stares at his hands the rest of the way home. There isn't any clay on them but her warmth is still there, just maybe.
Thanks to ThePoisonousTiger for beta-reading.
I'm not sure about the timeline of Morita and Ayu (a bit of guesswork is done here, mostly from their conversations with each other), but during their first meeting they seemed to know each other well and Morita expresses a lot more interest/opinions about her unrequited love for Mayama and her life in general than the others. My imagination ran wild and this ungodly thing just wrote itself.
Reviews are appreciated. Thank you all for reading.