Disclaimer: Everything about Mai-Hime and its characters belongs to Sunrise.
Here's another one. This one came out between the hours of midnight and ... *checks clock* quarter after four. Yeah, there will probably be typos. I read it over once and I'm half-awake. It's a slow-paced dialogue-flashback romantic one-shot that will not be continued because I have faith in the power of imagination.
I'm really tired right now. But this had to be finished. So here it is. *drumroll*
The elevator gave a shudder and began its descent. I stood, arms folded, finger tapping, impatient with this old box's slow journey to the first floor. It was just my luck that the only apartment I could find was a bachelor on the 14th floor of a 50-year-old high-rise. I can't imagine this place ever being a ritzy new condominium. The place is a dreadful dump, I thought bitterly, as the floor indicator slid to 10. I felt another shudder as the elevator came to a stop. I stumbled and the door opened just as I started to regain my balance. I heard a lilting giggle and glared at the figure before me – and suddenly my jaw dropped.
"Ara, I'm sorry to sweep you off your feet," came a sweet, sing-song voice. That accent...
"Er, s'okay," I mumbled, stepping to the other side of the elevator.
Elevator rules. It's so interesting to study people's actions in an elevator. She stood with an innocent kind of confidence, poised and relaxed, next to the wall closest to the door while I stood as far from her as possible. When alone, I always stood in the centre. I wondered if that was where every elevator passenger stood when riding alone. It seemed logical to me; if I stood to one of the sides the car would be unbalanced. What if the cables broke and the thing crashed fourteen floors to my doom?
I tried to keep my gaze ahead of me, staring at the elevator buttons. Despite those unwritten rules – not to look at the other person in the elevator – I had to take a peek. I flicked my eyes towards her without moving my head. She was thin, she stood in a passive, feminine way with one foot gently relaxed behind the other. Her arms were crossed around a brown folder – she wasn't folding her arms to appear unapproachable. And her face – her skin was soft and clear – she must spend a fortune on skin care products. Her eyes – they were red, such a deep, almost brown shade of red – looked so familiar. They were open and kind and she gave a slight, peaceful smile as she gazed ahead at the elevator door. She looked bored, but patient. The complete opposite of me.
She turned and gave a sweet smile and I shot my attention back to the buttons. I felt my ears heat up, spreading to my cheeks. I looked up at the dial – we were just passing the seventh floor. The elevator gave another shudder – a big one, but not big enough to cause any anxiety. The thing was old, after all. It came to a stop at the sixth floor and I prepared for another passenger. The girl beside me would slide over – not close enough to touch but enough to allow the next person space to stand. The new person would give a quick nod in acknowledgement and cross their arms in front of them, looking either ahead or up at the ceiling. This girl and I would look down at the floor.
But the doors didn't open.
This meant an awkward laugh and a quick exchange of awkward words would ensue. I glanced at her and gave an unsure chuckle. "Weird," I said. She smiled and looked at the button panel. Taking the cue, I reached forward and pressed firmly on the 1, holding it for a second before releasing. Nothing happened.
We looked at each other again, nervously, and suddenly she disappeared. The light went out and we were engulfed in pitch blackness. I blinked twice and gave a confused "aahm".
"Ara, where did you go?"
"I think the power just got cut off," I muttered, feeling a shiver crawl up my spine. Now was no time to freak out.
I heard the slightest sigh a few feet to my left. I reached blindly into my messenger bag, seeking the small flashlight I carried in case my bike broke down at night. I clicked the button and dim light flooded the small elevator car. I glanced to my left to see her shield her eyes with a faint whimper of surprise.
"Sorry, I guess I should have warned you," I smiled. She was cute.
I set the flashlight in the middle of the floor, filling the car with a steady light. There was no use hitting the "Call" button on the panel, with the power out. I sighed heavily.
"You don't suppose the car will fall, do you? I really don't feel like being horribly mangled today. I have an important interview."
I laughed. "Mangled or not, I don't think you're going to make it."
She sighed and placed her head in her hand. She slid down and sat on the floor, knees drawn before her. In the faint light I could see her defeated expression.
"Can't you call and reschedule?"
She looked up at me with condescension. "We're in an elevator."
I nodded. Dumbass. I followed her lead and sunk to the floor, legs sprawled out before me, and banged my head against the wall a couple of times. "How long do you think this will take?"
She shrugged. "I don't make it a habit to get stuck in elevators, so I have no reference to guess."
I smiled. She didn't sound irritated, just depressed. I looked over at her. She had light hair – lighter than most Japanese hair. Maybe she was only half-Japanese? While I felt like striking up a conversation, I had a feeling now was not the best time. I was never much of a conversationalist to begin with, but if we were going to be stuck in this prison for a few hours, it would sure as hell get boring.
Silence danced through the stale air like a muted tango. It was impossible to ignore, it stole all of my attention. I was stuck sitting in a box, suspended 6 stories above ground, with a complete stranger. Somehow I thought being stuck alone would have been better. At least if I were alone I wouldn't feel pressured to stay quiet.
"Do you know the time?"
I looked up. She was still sitting with her knees drawn in front of her, gazing at the floor with a lost look in her eyes. Then I turned my glance to my watch.
"Two-ten," I replied. I looked back up at her, wanting to ask why until I saw her reach down to the folder beside her.
She sighed. "Very well."
"What time is your interview?" I asked quietly.
She smiled sadly. "Twenty minutes ago." She gave a soft chuckle. "I can imagine my phone ringing in my room, my would-be interviewer is probably furious with me."
I felt the need to console her. She looked so depressed. "I'm sure he'll understand when you call him back later. It isn't often that something like this happens."
She looked up at me, her red eyes glittering mischievously. "Exactly. How likely would the CEO of a top architecture firm believe I missed the interview because I was stuck in an elevator?"
Point taken, I squeaked a reply, "He – he might buy it." I grinned. "You can tell him to give me a call to prove it!"
she gave a mocking snicker and turned from my hopeful grin. "Are you trying to get me to take your number?"
It took me a second to make the connection, but when I did my cheeks smouldered. "N-no! I was just being nice!"
She snickered. "You're cute when you're embarrassed."
The red on my cheeks darkened a shade or two. Then she turned back to me and met my gaze with a friendly smile. "Who knows how long we're going to be stuck here, so we may as well get acquainted. I'm Fujino Shizuru."
I pushed the embarrassment aside. "Natsuki. Kuga Natsuki." I felt the need to offer my hand to shake hers, but given the distance between us and our sitting positions, I figured leaning over so far would just look odd.
Then it hit me. Fujino Shizuru? "Hey, you didn't happen to go to Fuuka Gakuen, did you?"
Her eyes lit up with recognition. "Why, yes, I did! Why, did you attend that school as well?"
I nodded. "You were the student council president when I was just entering high school."
She smiled, a pleasant smile. I remembered this girl from three years ago – always so poised, constantly surrounded by a horde of adoring underclassmen, a calm smile permanently plastered on her face. Except that one time... I thought, recalling one particular day near the end of that year, as I wandered the empty school long after classes had ended. I had heard rumours about one of the teachers being involved in a secret government agency – crazy, I know. Regardless, I had been hunting for information and somehow wound up on the roof of the main building. And there she was, standing by the railing, the saddest look in her eyes. It was in that moment I'd developed a genuine interest in the girl.
"I was indeed." She gazed at me a moment. "I think I recognize you. You've cut your hair – and grown up quite a bit," she added, and I didn't miss the flirtation.
"Un, yeah," I said, running my hand against the back of my head, feeling the short cut just past my ears. I regretted doing it. "I needed to cut my hair, it just gets in the way of work."
"Ah? What is it you do that required you to keep your hair short? You're not a chef, are you?" Her last question sounded rather curious.
"Er, no. Right now I'm working part time fixing bikes – that is, motorcycles, not bicycles," I added, just to be sure she understood. "But my goal when I'm done school is to build engines for Boeing." Almost in a whisper, I added, "Or NASA, as if that'll ever happen."
"Ara! What is Kuga-san studying that will lead her to such an advanced career?"
"Oh, um, I'm doing a double-major in mechanical engineering and physics, with a special focus on aerodynamics."
The look in Shizuru's eyes was beyond words. She was impressed, clearly, but somehow she looked surprised.
"Ara! I'm sorry for being so shocked, I remember disciplining you quite often in detention. I just never expected you to graduate."
I blushed. "Oi! I'm not a drop-out!" I snapped defensively.
"I'm aware of that, now. In my defence, you never seemed too interested in academics, and unfortunately I never had the opportunity to make your acquaintance as more than an authoritative figure."
Unfortunately? I smiled sheepishly. "To be fair, we were a couple of years apart."
"Ne, is Kuga-san not only one year my junior, though?"
I gave her a shocked expression. How did she know? "Er, well, I guess, unless you missed a grade as well. But um, how did you know that?"
She smiled. "I was the student council president. I had a lot of access to information on all of the students. And you, my dear, caught my attention as someone I should learn a little more about."
"Ah," I mouthed, turning my head away but keeping my eyes on her. Just how much did she know?
We fell into another long, thoughtful silence. What kind of strange fate was this that set me up with my high school's former student council president in a suspended elevator? In the dark, no less. I watched through the corner of my eye as my company picked up her folder and silently flipped through the pages. What had she been up to these past years? What had she taken in school? She would only be twenty years old, so what sort of education had she received? Surely she couldn't be finished university already?
She set the folder back down with force and started drumming her fingers on her knees. She gazed up at the ceiling. Was Fujino Shizuru growing impatient?
"Ara, when is this torture going to end? I'm growing a tad peckish."
Her strange accent took a moment to register in my mind when suddenly I exclaimed and dug through my bag, pulling out a large box of Pocky. It was another emergency tool I brought along, just in case. I tore open the box and waved it over to her, a smile on my face,
She grinned. "Ookini!" She gracefully reached out and delicately picked out one of the chocolate-covered sticks.
In turn I pulled out three and started munching happily. I set the box between us. We continued sitting without speaking, the silence broken by our contented nibbling.
"So, did you go to post-secondary school?"
"Of course," came her reply.
I looked at her expectantly, assuming she'd tell me more. When she remained silent a few more moments, I continued the conversation. "Where did you go?"
"Kyoto University." She nibbled on a new stick on Pocky.
I blinked. "You graduated already?"
She turned to me and smiled innocently. "I took an advanced course, as well as summer courses."
I nodded, bewildered. "Must have been intense."
She nodded. "There were some difficult times. I almost thought I wouldn't make it through, but I just kept thinking about," her voice trailed off. I looked over to find her hand gently covering a blush on her cheek. "Thinking about getting a good career," she finished.
"I see." I wondered if that was what she'd meant to say. Of course it wasn't, but what was it she didn't want to say? She always had been such a private person. I guessed at what it was she'd almost slipped and ventured another daring question:
"So, do you have a boyfriend?"
I remembered in high school, it had been public knowledge that she and the vice-president had been in a relationship. I personally couldn't have cared less at the time who my school's student leader dated, but it was hard to ignore the obsessive squeals from the girls in the change room as they discussed those petty subjects. Was Shizuru still in a relationship with him? Maybe she wanted to finish quickly so they could get married or something. Somehow the thought of her being with him made my heart sink, and I couldn't figure out why.
"Ara, why does my love life interest Kuga-san? Does she perhaps hope I am single?"
Was she always this flirtatious? I remember those few exchanges we'd had in high school – the first time in the detention room when she punished me by making me write a dirty sentence a hundred times. By the end of it we had both been trying not to laugh, something completely out of character for me. I was always so cold and aloof. Even my closest friends had a hard time getting a rise out of me, but somehow the student council president had no trouble.
I had to fight from blushing. "I was just asking to be friendly," I insisted firmly.
She seemed satisfied with my reaction. "Well then, I suppose it can't hurt to enlighten Kuga-san about my relationship situation." I looked back up, ready for some kind of intimate confession of being engaged or pregnant or already married.
"I'm not seeing anyone."
My heart sank. There went my hopes for an interesting story. I gave a nod and turned back to gazing at the floor. I traced circles on the tiles with my index finger.
"What about Kuga-san? Is she seeing anyone?"
I sighed. "You know, I don't mean to break formalities, but you can call me Natsuki. After all, we're going to be stuck here for an indefinite period of time and besides, apparently we live in the same building." I looked up at her with a gentle smile. "We might be seeing more of each other."
"And no." I looked down. "I'm not seeing anyone either."
She seemed to soften sympathetically. Had she sensed the regret I tried to hide in my voice? "Was there someone?"
I bit my tongue. She just had to ask. I gave a casual shrug. "Yeah, but it happened a while ago. It's old news."
A moment passed. I figured she wouldn't press the subject and I returned to drawing circles on the floor. Then she spoke. "Old news isn't necessarily irrelevant news."
"What is with you?" I snapped. I immediately took it back – her eyes looked shocked; hurt. "I mean, I'm sorry. I guess it still gets to me sometimes. But it's nothing you need to worry about."
Another pause fell between us, and again she spoke, her voice soft and concerned. "If you need to talk about it, you can."
I sighed forcefully. I could sense her recoiling, regretting pushing the subject on me. Before she could apologize for prying, I reluctantly started to give a run-down of the story.
"I met someone just before I started college. We dated for a few months, and then I found out another woman was in the picture without my consent. I refused to give up on the relationship until," I paused. "Well, it just took me a while to realize I needed to break it up."
I tried to avoid her gaze, but her eyes were magnetic. Damn her! I lifted my gaze to meet hers and found her looking at me with such sympathy that even my heart melted. "Really, it's not that big of a deal! It's over with."
She smiled, her eyes still sad. "Ara, I'm sure it's left Natsuki afraid to trust anyone again."
"O-oi!" I stammered. "That's a little bold."
"Kan'nin na," she said, her Kyoto accent catching me off guard. Those strange words, almost a completely different language. How could she pull me in so hypnotically with those words?
Her eyes looked up and met mine again. I felt the strangest need to get closer to her. A flowing emotion filled my heart – I'd felt this before. A strange longing, and I'd felt it around her. When I began my first year of high school, I ditched class to rebel and ended up stuck in detention a lot. After a while, I started misbehaving just to be around her. She always treated me differently than she did the other students in the detention room. She'd always sit on my desk, watching me scribble whatever sentence she'd written down for me to copy. She had me blushing every damn day I was in detention. One particular sentence came to my mind: Spying on girls in the locker room makes Natsuki a naughty girl. I'd been caught eavesdropping on a couple of girls and they ratted me out. A rumour started to go around the school that I was a lesbian after that. Shizuru never straight-out accused me of such a thing, but she definitely used it as a reason to tease me. Those two girls, they had been talking badly about Shizuru, and for some reason I couldn't help myself but listen. I was so cut off from the cliques in the school that when they saw me leering through the shower curtain at them, they probably thought I was spying on them. What defence did I have against the claim? That I was so desperately interested in hearing their conversation of the student council president? Instead of defending myself I kept quiet about the whole situation, even from Shizuru. My lack of denial or excuse only fed the rumour that I had been peeping.
Even thinking about that rumour now had my cheeks burning red. I still regretted having to walk the halls hearing such whispers following my every step. The following year, to fix the problem I reluctantly agreed to date the school's Kendo club captain, Takeda Masashi. I hated the whole experience and to this day I can't call it a relationship, but it lasted the majority of my high school career. The night he graduated he convinced me to sleep with him – I gave him my body that night, but my mind had been elsewhere. I couldn't help, that whole night, but think that maybe those rumours of me were true. When I finally managed to reach an orgasm, I almost cried out the name of the student council president; I came to the thought of Fujino Shizuru.
I broke it up with Takeda the next day. I didn't date again until the month before I started university.
"Has Natsuki ever been in love?"
My face burned and I looked up in shock. Really, what was with this woman? I softened when I saw her face. She looked troubled as she gazed at the floor. Was that a blush on her cheeks?
"Un, no," I said quickly. Perhaps I answered too quickly. She didn't respond. "Why?"
She loosened, and turning to me, she gave me a smile – even in the dim light I could tell it was fake. "No reason – forgive me, I don't know why I asked."
Confused, I gazed at her a moment longer and returned to my floor-circles. I really needed a Game Boy or something. Then I remembered my cell phone. I may not have had any service in this elevator, but I did have Angry Birds! I pulled out my cell phone and gave a glance to Shizuru.
"I have some games, wanna play?"
She smiled, and after a moment's contemplation, she moved the empty box of Pocky and shuffled next to me to watch me play.
"I'm stuck on this one level right now. You've played this game before, right?"
She gave an innocent smile. "No."
"Uh – okay, well, it's sort of a physics game, with green pigs and dumb-looking birds instead of math equations and dumb-looking professors." I started up the level in World 3 that I'd desperately been trying to defeat for a few days. She watched over my shoulder, the heat of her body warming me in the cool air of the dark elevator. I could feel her breath softly caressing my collarbone and I started to panic. No, I definitely wouldn't be able to beat the level like this, but somehow I sat paralysed, unable to shift my position. It felt nice – almost too nice. I could feel my thighs tingling. Damn my sex drive! How long has it been since I've gotten laid?
Shizuru seemed to be completely unaware of my internal panic as I consistently failed the level. She started to laugh more liberally each time I had to restart. I was growing more and more irritated with the damn game but somehow her light laughter made me laugh as well. Soon we were both cracking hysterically as a black bird soared straight up into the sky and came crashing back down. I handed her my phone, offering her a chance to fail.
I took my turn watching her grumble at the game as she got the hang of the logical, yet complicated rules of two-dimensional virtual physics. I noticed her fingernails were elegantly polished with a clear cover and very delicate – not too long, the whites only about half a centimetre deep. I noticed the scent of her body – a very light hint of some high-end perfume, not overpowering but present – a subtle hint of jasmine and something else. Under that perfume lingered another kind of scent – one only noticeable when sitting so close to the place where her neck met her collarbone – her scent. It was more intoxicating than the smell of the store-bought concoction she'd delicately touched to her neck. And it was with that smell I caught a hint of something else: pheromones. No, I couldn't actually smell it, but with the growing tension between my legs, I knew they were there, wafting in the short distance between us. My heart thundered. What was I feeling? What the hell was I thinking? Sure, I may have had a small crush on this woman when we were girls in high school, but we were grown women now. I barely knew her then, and we were now leading completely different lives.
An ocean of crimson suddenly caught my full attention. She turned her eyes up to look at me, catching me off-guard in a very vulnerable position of gazing so sensually at her neck. Somehow my face had leaned in on its own will. She clearly hadn't expected this; she blushed.
"Ara, is Natsuki falling asleep or is she happy with what she sees?"
"What? Er, sorry, no! I mean – yeah, I was just dozing off."
She pouted. How long has it been since I'd seen that adorable, pitiful look in her eyes? It tore me apart in high school and it was tearing me apart right now. "Am I boring Natsuki? If I'm so bad at this game, I can stop playing." She started to hand the phone back to me.
"No!" I exclaimed, pushing the phone back in front of her. "I just didn't get much sleep last night, and it's so dark in here."
She smiled. She looked content. A touch of pink still graced her cheeks. Her lips were so pink – she wore a dash of soft pink lipstick – not a bold colour, but enough to compliment her soft features. Those lips were shimmering. She pulled her bottom lip in a bit as she gently bit down on it.
"Sorry, you were saying something!" I stammered, escaping the pounding in my chest. What the hell was that?
Before I'd been caught staring, I remembered Shizuru had said something – I clearly hadn't been listening.
"Oh, right. I just wanted to tell you I beat the level."
I looked down. I hadn't noticed, but the screen now showed a whole new level. I gaped. "How?"
She grinned. "Is Natsuki jealous?"
"Uh," I rubbed the back of my head as she handed me the phone. I chuckled as I took it, staring at the screen. "A little."
"So what has been keeping Natsuki from sleeping?"
I looked back at her. "Huh?"
"You said you didn't get much sleep last night."
"Oh, yeah." It wasn't a lie, in fact, I hadn't slept at all since the night before yesterday. "I guess school's just getting to me."
"Ara, perhaps doing a double-major in such heavy programs is to blame?" she said with a scolding tone.
I snickered. "What, don't believe I can manage it?"
"From the track record I remember, I have no reason to." She winked.
"Hey, times have changed. I'm a whole new woman now!" I boasted, folding my arms matter-of-factually. I wasn't prepared for the alluring look I received from my acquaintance.
"I can see that," she smiled.
My heart did a flip-flop. Something was going really wrong here. It was enough to be trapped in an elevator with my old high school flame, let alone for her to be innocently flirting with me. This was like a scene out of a terrible romance novel, or an episode of FRIENDS.
"So, what was this interview for again?" I asked, desperate to cool the heat in the room.
I should have kept my mouth shut; that sexy look on her face suddenly dissolved, replaced with disappointment.
"I was to be transferred from my father's firm to one of our partners', as well as to receive a promotion from an assistant designer to the head of the entire advertising department. I just had to jump through this one hoop."
I looked down, feeling sorry for bringing it up. "I'm sorry you had to get stuck in here with me. Sounds like a golden opportunity."
She gave a very reluctant smile that grew as she looked up at me. Her eyes were bright. "Maybe this is a different kind of opportunity."
I gazed at her, her face suddenly so positive. Why was she driving my heart so wild? What exactly was she trying to say?
"I hope this isn't too bold, but I often wanted to get to know the elusive Kuga Natsuki better in high school. But she was too cold to get close to and then I left for university. Maybe this is my chance." She gave a cute giggle and I couldn't help but blush. "If we had gotten into this elevator together and it had gone on its normal path straight down, we might not even have looked at each other, let alone recognized each other."
I couldn't believe this woman. I wondered if she was this open with everyone. She seemed so mysterious when we were in high school, like she'd always been wearing a mask. She always had a group of girls around her, but I'd often suspected that she wasn't as taken with them as she made it seem. She never seemed interested in them.
"Fujino-san," I started, but she interrupted me.
"If Natsuki insists upon using given names, then she should refer to me as Shizuru."
"Shizuru," I complied. "When we were in high school, you always seemed so calm, so secure. But," I hesitated. She was hanging on every word, waiting for me to gather my thoughts. "I always thought that maybe it was all just a front."
"Is Natsuki saying that I am a liar?"
"No, that's not what I meant," I stammered. I looked down. "Sorry, it's stupid."
Silence hung between us. "No." She paused. "Natsuki is very observant. It isn't stupid, because it's true."
I looked up, waiting for the rest.
"I have a hard time giving out my true self. I always have. It was how I was raised. One's personal life is not public interest. One must work hard, be fair, and be modest." She looked up at me and gave me a mischievous grin I hadn't expected to see. "Besides, if anyone knew the real me, they'd probably despise me."
A chill shot down my spine. "Shizuru, you're not going to kill me, are you?"
She laughed, relaxing. "Of course not! I just mean that I've never been the perfect, hard-working, up-tight prude everyone thought of me."
"I never thought you were up-tight."
"Thank you, Natsuki, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn you thought those other things of me."
I reflected a moment. I had known Shizuru very distantly. While I never did think of her as up-tight, it had crossed my mind occasionally that she might never have even felt aroused. And I certainly would never have thought of her as lazy. And perfect? Well, I never did believe anyone was perfect but if there was a candidate, I would have voted for Shizuru.
She seemed to sense my thoughts and laughed. "You see? Even you, the only one who ever came close to knowing me, has no idea who I am."
My mouth fell open. "What?"
She blushed. Without meeting my gaze, she continued. "Natsuki, I had a lot of admirers in high school, but they only liked me for my status." And your looks, I wanted to add. "But," Shizuru continued. "I was never close to anyone. Even now." She pressed a hand to her chest. She looked truly regretful. She finally met my gaze. "Natsuki, I have to say you were the closest I've ever come to a real friend. I truly appreciated lecturing you in detention."
I was moved, I wanted to console her. I felt I could sympathize, but by the end of high school even I had gained a few strong friendships. Then an idea hit me. Whenever we got out of this horrible elevator situation, I would invite her to karaoke with me and my friends that night. She needed to be cheered up after missing such an important interview.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bore you with the story of my pathetic social life," she started, but I cut her off.
"Nonsense, you call it pathetic? You have ambition, goals, success. People look up to you Shizuru. Just because you haven't met someone you can see eye-to-eye with yet doesn't mean your life is pathetic."
She looked at me, a truly touched expression shimmering in her eyes. She smiled one of her rare genuine smiles. "Natsuki."
I returned the smile just as the flashlight in the centre of the elevator gave a flickering and finally died. Neither of us had noticed its light steadily dimming as the batteries started to wear out.
"Fuck!" I yelled, blindly reaching out for it and accidentally whacking Shizuru somewhere I couldn't see.
"Ara, Natsuki doesn't need to use the darkness as an excuse to grope me!"
I froze. "Ah – ah! Sorry!" My hand made contact with a hard object and I smacked the flashlight a couple of times, casting a flickering light about the car. The beam steadied and I cautiously replaced the light, this time just in front of us.
I glanced over at my old schoolmate to see her blushing with a hand over her face. As soon as light filled the room she snapped her hand back into her lap, but the blush remained. I couldn't help but smile in spite of myself – I made Shizuru blush! I wanted to tease her about it, but somehow just the thought of doing so almost made my own cheeks redden. I was no good at teasing.
"Do you think they've even noticed someone might be in the elevators?" I asked, wondering if there were any occupants in the second car.
Shizuru responded with a light shrug. "I don't know, but I'm starting to enjoy this time with Natsuki. I'd be very sad if I was stuck in here alone."
My heart sang. She was so adorable! I turned my gaze up to the ceiling to find the hatch to the roof of the car. I wondered if I would be able to take a look at the cables and ease us down if it became desperate. It was a matter of finding the right cable and using enough force to move it, although I knew I alone wouldn't be able to do it. Plus, there was always the chance of breaking something and sending us crashing to our deaths. Maybe Shizuru was right – I should just make the best of this chance to get to know my high school crush.
Shizuru was the one who spoke next. "I'm sorry to touch on a sensitive subject again, but might I ask the name of the boy you dated after you graduated high school?"
"I told you, it's not a sensitive subject," I snapped, a little too tensely for my liking. "And well, you see, er, how do I put it," I mumbled. How the hell was I supposed to explain my most recent ex to this flirt? She'd tease me mercilessly for it, and I knew it. I took in a deep breath and forced the words out. "My ex isn't a boy."
Another silence blew through the room like a wind. My heart pounded. How was she about to react? What was she thinking? Was she backing away? I could feel her body going stiff, that was for sure. And, as per usual, I screwed up another possible friendship. I let my shoulders fall.
"I'm not surprised," came the calm reply.
I snapped my head in her direction. What? "Uh," I murmured.
She smiled, eyes almost closed, as she stared at the ground in front of her. Then she looked up at me warmly. "Somehow I never expected Natsuki to be one to fall for the opposite sex."
Had she not heard about me and Takeda? It was all over the school; then again, she did say she returned to Kyoto for university. The words that came from her mouth next foiled my suspicions.
"Kanzaki-san did tell me you eventually paired up with the Kendo club captain. But somehow I didn't believe him. Just another high school rumour, I'm sure."
"Actually, I did date Takeda."
Now was her turn to give me a surprised expression. She smiled mischievously. "You really are full of surprises. So you swing both ways?"
"No!" I yelled, then slapped my hands over my mouth. What the hell Kuga? Shizuru responded with an even bigger smile.
"So you are that way?"
My heart pounded. Was she making fun of me? I hardly thought of myself as such, but I suppose that was how I was. A lesbian. The word felt so wrong to describe me, but I guess it was just used to describe the act of a woman loving another woman. And indeed I have cared for another woman.
"So, what is this ex-girlfriend's name?"
"Why do you want to know?" I asked bitterly. I was feeling less comfortable with the direction this conversation was taking.
"I'm curious to know more about Natsuki," was her response.
I gave in. "Tomoe. Tomoe Marguerite."
"And she cheated on you?"
I nodded gravely. I felt anger rising in my chest. Did it still bother me? It happened a year ago. "With a girl named Yuuki Nao."
Shizuru nodded. "It hurts to watch the one you love walk into the arms of another, ne, Natsuki?"
"I never said I loved her!" I yelled. Shizuru looked taken aback. I looked down, my fist still clenched. "I'm sorry."
Shizuru gazed at me a moment longer before turning back to the ground. I heard a quiet sigh escape her lips and I turned to her.
"Why, who did you love?" I asked softly.
I received no response. I'd really done it this time. My hot temper gave me a track record for screwing up friendships. But somehow, despite my lack of confidence in words, I usually managed to fix things. My high school friend Mai had always had plenty of reason to walk out on me, but I always managed to pull her back in. Sure, my friends got on my nerves quite often and it wasn't uncommon for me to say terrible things in a fit of anger, but I was grateful to them.
"I'm sorry, Shizuru, I didn't mean to get angry with you." I meant it. I didn't know if my words would console her, nor did I really care. I just needed her to know I regretted my reaction.
"Silly Natsuki." She looked up at me, that sad smile back on her face. "I'm not that sensitive. You didn't make me feel bad by yelling."
Then what had caused you to look so sad?
We sat once again in silence. This time it felt uncomfortable. I wanted to know why she felt at odds. What had I said? I wanted to make her feel better. I had no idea when we'd be getting out of this dungeon and I didn't want us to part ways with her angry at me. I glanced at my watch in the dying light. Four and a half hours had passed since I left my apartment. I was just going out to buy some milk, so I wasn't concerned, but I felt terrible for my old schoolmate. To lose a chance at such a job; I wondered how her father would react. I was sure given the circumstances he would help rearrange the interview. What kind of father wouldn't believe his daughter?
Well, my father. But he was an exception, and one I often tried to pretend didn't exist.
The dim light gave another flicker and went out, descending another curtain of blackness over us. Again I picked up the flashlight and beat it, but nothing happened. I bashed it on the floor, on the wall, opened the battery case and rolled the batteries around and tried the light again, to no avail.
"Remind me to pack extra batteries," I thought out loud.
A couple of minutes passed in the pitch blackness when suddenly I heard the sound of the girl's bracelet hit the floor. The sound of fabric sliding across tile followed and the next thing I knew she was wrapping her arms around me, snuggling in close.
"You're not afraid, are you?" I asked, my heart raising.
"Not anymore," she whispered.
I couldn't hold myself back – I leaned my head down, feeling my short hair brush across my cheeks, something I still wasn't used to. My cheek rested on her head. I could feel her soft hair against my skin. My cheeks burned, my heart thundered, and that damned tingling in my thighs only grew hotter. I felt her hand slide along mine. Was I dreaming? I responded on instinct and slid my arm around her shoulder, pulling her into an even closer embrace. Neither of us spoke and it wasn't until I woke up to a light burning through my retinas that I realized I'd fallen asleep. The power was back on! My back bolted upright, waking Shizuru. I turned to her, grinning wildly.
"The power's on!"
It was in that moment we both realized how we'd been sitting. I blushed profusely, as did she. I started rambling out an apology when she silenced me with a finger on my lips. My heart started to pound again as she brought her face in closer to mine, her crimson eyes gazing into mine. I parted my lips – was this for real?
The elevator gave a violent shudder, ending the moment.
"Argh! What a mood killer!" I growled as the car began a downward descent.
Reluctantly, we stiffly rose to our feet and stretched. My neck was throbbing and my back refused to bend. Not to mention my legs had fallen asleep. Shizuru remained close to my side, her shoulders leaning against mine. I looked up at her – she was still a few inches taller than me. I could feel the heat on my cheeks and she returned my blush.
"Shizuru," I started to ask. "Who – who was it you were in love with?"
Her blush brightened and she looked down at her feet before meeting my eyes once more. Without her having to say it, somehow I knew the answer. As if compelled by her gorgeous eyes, I started to lean in and rose up slightly on my toes. Our lips touched – electricity shook through my body with a violent force. I've kissed a couple of people before, but kissing this girl – my old high school student council president – filled me with a kind of feeling I've never experienced before. I pulled away only for her to catch my chin in her hands and kiss me back. Her tongue traced along my lips and I opened my mouth, letting her search. I returned the gesture.
The elevator hit the first floor with unexpected force, knocking us both against the wall behind me. The door slid open, filling the car with natural light from the open-concept entry hall. I looked at the open door, Shizuru's lips just parting from mine. My gut dropped. There stood my best friend, Tokiha Mai, eyes as wide as golf balls. Shizuru snapped back against the other wall, both of our faces as red as beets.
"Kaichou-sama!" Mai gasped.
"Um, ex-Kaichou," I corrected sheepishly. Mai turned her shocked gaze to me, and I couldn't help but grin girlishly.