Another story for ya'll. The first scene just jumped into my head, and I was hooked.
You really wouldn't think a simple mistake of grabbing the shoulder of a stranger could cause such nonsense in your life. I mean, it usually ends with an extremely awkward "I'm sorry," and then the two people go their separate ways, and things end peachy-keen. But take a chance and step into Tenten's shoes, and trust me - you'll start to see a lot of things differently.
Differently? Um, badly.
It could have happened to anyone...really.
She had just finished her own grocery shopping, and the street was crowded with many people - hordes - so that she could only get a slight glimpse of their figures and hair colors. And she wasn't really tall at the age of 13 anyways, so mistaking him was probably a common issue. Tenten had only seen the top of his head, so it was only natural that she thought it belonged to the tall old lady who lived next door since she always had her hair long and pulled back like that. And of course, she had to chase after the lady's figure, because she was the type to greet every acquaintance she had.
She had grabbed the woman's arm, and before her mind could process her fingers clenching against smooth instead of wrinkly skin, she had blurted out brightly: "Hello! Granny, can I help you with your bags?"
And then the signal of the feel of a more muscular arm reached her mind, and Tenten realized how completely humiliating her mistake had been.
He had turned his head and looked at her with such disdain that she found it difficult to laugh it off, quickly removing her hand from his bicep.
"Ah, sorry, wrong person. Sorry for disturbing you!" she had said with a wavering smile.
His voice, low and rumbling, overcame the clamor of the crowd. "Refrain from touching me or communicating with me in any way in the future."
And then he had walked away, leaving her stunned and incredulous at his terrible attitude, mentally wondering what poor object had found its way up his butt and lodged itself there for the rest of his life.
The worst part was, that wasn't even the last time she saw him.
They had met at crossroads, and now she could not get rid of him.
It turned out, his haunts were her haunts too, so she could never get a break away from him - and she sure as hell was not going to strike up a conversation with that antisocial man. He looked like he could freeze her with simply a glance; like Medusa, but worse since she could actually tolerate looking at him.
Because although he had a presence that made people keep a 5 meter radius away from (she doubted he was on good terms with anyone), Tenten had to admit that his good looks were wasted on such a simply awful personality.
She was keeping her distance pretty well; considering that he was freaking everywhere she went. And he definitely couldn't have ever noticed her since she was content to turn her head whenever they may have made eye contact, or was always coincidentally engrossed in some action when he passed her by.
It would have been good if it stayed like that, but heavens no, he had to go up to her one day and purposely initiate humiliating contact yet again.
"Will you quit following me?" he said harshly, and Tenten was surprised. Not because he had actually talked to her (though that was a tad odd), but because he had the audacity to chew her out in front of yet another crowd, and blame her for something she had no intention of doing.
"I have no idea what you're talking about." And this time, it was her who turned around and was ready to walk away, but he grabbed her shoulder like she did on their first meeting. And then Tenten was looking at him, almost angry (she had never been so ticked off before), preparing to stomp on his pretty little loafers. "I thought you said no communication or touching would be a good thing? Now let go and get lost."
People were watching them now.
They were in public.
"Stop following me," he repeated, voice serious and biting.
"Might as well tell me to stay cooped inside my house forever," she retorted, pushing his offending hand off her shoulder. She left him alone, and a sense of accomplishment filled her. He finally received a taste of his own medicine.
And by god, she hoped it tasted bitter and sour and atrocious.
But of course, it wasn't the end of the relationship she wanted nothing more to ignore. Because as much as she wanted to vehemently deny his existence, he kept cropping up like a cockroach that refused to die.
She saw him with Naruto one day, the kid who could make even the most awkward man feel comfortable, and they were laughing. And the notion sat so uncomfortably with her that Tenten could only watch. The emotion on his face...she never saw that before.
And then, with a feeling of something akin to guilt, she wondered if it was her own fault for not being friendly and more accepting of him.
So the following week, she buried her pride in a dark hole in her heart and attempted to communicate with him, which he warned her of prior. And then he said something so uncouth that the pride sprang right back out and she knew that it was not her own fault, he was just a jerk.
She barely refrained from kicking him where it hurt, and instead drilled holes into his brain with her eyes.
It was the first time she ever hated someone so extremely much. He ruined everything, filling up her mind and her thoughts and her dreams. Her nightmares were of him beating her over, taunting her from the sidelines. Her best dreams were of when she would finally put the darn guy in his place, asserting her rights, her superiority over him.
Tenten was a bit of a feminist, but she wasn't going to take pity on a guy like him simply because he looked a tad girlish.
In fact, she was determined to loathe him with every fiber of her being, because let's face it: his first impression on her did not change. He was still a douche-bag, and would probably stay one forever.
And so they stayed separate. And Tenten hoped it would stay like that forever, because that was the only type of connection she could imagine having with him.
But of course, Destiny, being the sick minded and awful thing that it was, decided it would be okay to play around with their situation. Now that they had crossed paths, they just kept meeting each other. And as time went on, from the middle school drama to high school and college, Tenten found herself somewhat growing attached to the guy. Jerk, yes. He didn't have much going for him. But still, he was witty and "cold", and sometimes the seriousness in which he said things just made her laugh.
The silence and tension slowly eased away, and she discovered that he was finally becoming less awful and more normal. Whether or not it was her influence was debatable, but at least a conversation that lasted more than 5 seconds was now plausible.
And occasionally, on those rare, rare chances, she sort of harbored a bit of respect for him.
Occasionally. Like, not often.
And it was...odd because they, enemies still, found a way to maintain contact throughout the years. He had gone to the same high school as her, finally settled into their small town from the "big city" up north. And then, by some awful miracle, they were in the same class all four years.
She got to know a lot of his different facets that way.
Afterwards, she got into college that she wanted to, not really asking him what his plans were but kind of wanting to know anyways. She never got a chance to ask him because who knew if they were on good terms or not? College was one of those things that normal acquaintances didn't really communicate about.
Tenten was pretty sure that she and Neji weren't exactly friends.
Oh, but then she stepped onto her campus, ready for the new life, the new start, and there was the head of long, brown hair that was in her lecture hall. She almost slapped herself in the forehead. Really! Again?
She should have been sick of him by that point, but he always found a way to keep her on her toes.
And like the inner child she was, she snuck up behind him and grabbed his arm, fingers wrapping around hard muscle instead of the growing arms of a prepubescent boy, whispering eerily:
He scowled and gestured to the seat next to him. "Quit embarrassing me, you're a detriment to society."
"Way to greet an old classmate."
"How do you suppose I should have greeted you then? With flowers and rainbows beckoning at your door? A happy smile and a plateful of cookies?"
"Cut the sarcasm, girly boy."
The stare he gave her could've froze fire.
Tenten was always one to walk on the dark side. Taking risks? A plus. Annoying the hell out of her fated enemy? Double plus. Doing both at the same time? Now that was just a form of entertainment in itself. She sent back a sweet grin and took out her notes, discreetly nudging him in the shins with her flip flops under the tables. "Pay attention now, Neji...don't want to make a bad impression."
"Says the one who randomly grabs people's arms," he grumbled, yet staying silent for the rest of the lecture.
He had always been the teacher's pet type.
Tenten got that menacing feeling one gets when they're at the top of the world and then are suddenly pushed down a very long, steep hill. Because the more time she spent with him, the more she didn't hate him even though she tried really really hard to. And even worse, she knew it sort-of-maybe-kind-of-had developed into a thumping heart and adrenaline whenever he would talk to her.
And that was not a good sign.
Because the relationship that was supposed to stay separate for life had now turned into a school girl crush. She had never felt more agonized. What a hypocrite she was...vowing to hate the guy and then falling in love with him a few years later. Sure, years could change a person, but they couldn't change Neji into a decent person!
But by the time she realized it, it was already too late. Neji had matured, and evolved, and no matter how much she tried to vehemently deny it, Tenten knew it was true: he was a good guy. A gentleman. The type of guy her parents would want to meet on Saturdays, and not just to insult over some crappily made tea.
Life wasn't easy. It was down right unfair.
She threw in valiant attempts to act as normal as possible. It didn't work out quite as well as she had hoped: she still couldn't look him in the eye without her heart spazzing out of control.
It got really bad when he invited her out to eat food. Simply to discuss the essay that was due next month, of course, but that didn't stop her from dressing fairly nice.
And he had done the same.
And they had a decently good conversation about school and parents and backstabbing friends.
It was good.
And then he had to be all stupid "Neji Hyuuga-like" and be civilized and polite to her in and out of class. Hell, Tenten hadn't recalled another time that she wanted to hate a guy again so badly. What happened to the asshole Hyuuga? What happened to the guy that wouldn't spare a second glance at people like her? Who wanted to remain in a cold shell for the remainder of his life?
It was easy to hate that Neji. And now...well, it was becoming mighty hard to hate this one.
It was also getting harder for her to refrain from blurting out the humiliating "I like you" that she had kept bottled in.
And from maybe just kissing him, to show with actions instead of words.
And just like that, college was over. They were graduating, leaving, separating - all those ugly synonyms worked fairly well.
Tenten was never going to see him. Ever again.
She knew, without a doubt, that this was the last time they would be together.
She wanted to tell him how she felt - to end their contact on a good note, no regrets. But she couldn't. When she saw his sad face, she couldn't do anything but cry.
Her hand had touched his, a last "good-bye" handshake, firm and concise, but very very warm. "Don't cry, Tenten. I'm not good with crying," he stated quietly, giving her a brief hug. She was still blubbering on, about how much she was going to miss him. How things had changed - high school and middle school graduation, she wanted nothing to do with him. And now she could hardly bear to leave him.
"We'll be friends for as long as we stay alive," he whispered. And like that, he was gone with the summer haze.
A few years later, there she was on the busy streets, ready to buy groceries for her new apartment. Now a successful actuary, Tenten was holding on her own pretty well, considering. She was heading towards yet another store, arms sore from the hot-pot she just purchased. And also half cursing her lack of upper body strength.
But fate, destiny, whatever you decide to call it, has a funny way of doing things. When two paths cross, they don't just cross for good. They cross for life. And all paths lead to somewhere...sometimes back to themselves, back to the beginnings.
Tenten was ready to collapse in the summer heat, feet already blistering from her flip flops. And then, like that time so long ago, she saw a head of long, brown, tied back hair. But this time, she didn't think it was the figure of the granny next door.
All she could hope was that she wasn't wrong this time, and wasn't going to grab the arm of a stranger...again.
She weaved in and out of the crowd, knocked her metal pot against several people, but she pushed doggedly forward until she was right behind the figure.
Tenten reached out and grasped a clothed arm, whispering a tentative: "Granny?"
A deep baritone laugh, so familiar, echoed in her ears. "Tenten...when will you ever get it right?"
Never. As long as she could keep meeting him that way, she would never call him by his name. And without a doubt, she knew it was the right moment. The words came out of her mouth like they had been waiting to come out for a very long time. "I like you."
He lifted the heavy pot out of her hands, smile gracing his features. "You finally got something right."
For once, words failed her. All that came out of her mouth was an ugly gurgling sound.
Eventually, her mouth pieced together a sentence. "Want to come over for hot pot? I know it's summer, but I'm having a housewarming party."
He raised an eyebrow and smirked. "As long as they don't mind meeting an old woman like me, I'm cool."
And so they walked, talking casually, hands brushing fingertips till they clasped together, traveling together on the way to Tenten's place.
Oh, and something important I forgot to mention. You know the thing about roads? The best ones are the ones that you initially think are different beyond belief, but once you travel them, you find out the two tracks are one and the same. They were just starting at two different places on one big circular path.
So next time, randomly grab a person's shoulder. Who knows: you may be connected for life.
I just said goodbye to my speech team for the last time today. I cried buckets. I'm really emotional...you get the feeling that you'll never see these people again. But just know: no encounter is accidental.
Read and review!