It was getting late; so late that it was early. The digital clock on his desk behind him beeped an artificial blend of monotonous notes and told him it was precisely midnight. What a melancholic hour. The moon was full and the lines of car headlights on the streets below created an ever-changing neon rope that curved like brilliant streamers with the asphalt. The city was made of irregularly-shaped building blocks, each one glittering with the yellow and black squares he knew to be windows to the worlds of other, more carefree people, and the inky, star-spangled sky was a reverse black sea. He only wished the Ferris wheel were there, along with her, and then everything would be complete.
The wind from the open window blew through his hair and he reached into his breast pocket for an elastic band; why did it always have to tickle him like that? He held his cigarette in place between his teeth, the smoke rising in random spirals from the white stick of nicotine. He combed his hair back with his fingers and tied it into a stub of a ponytail at the base of his neck; it wasn't that long, anyway. Nomiya Takumi rubbed at the dark circles beneath his eyes and took a long drag from his cigarette. It felt satisfying after a long day of work. He had been sitting for so long in front of his computer that he thought his pants had fused with the upholstery of his chair, and he had pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose so many times that it felt a bit raw. Why had Yamazaki dumped all of his own work on him, for crying out loud? He had enough to be getting on with.
At present, Yamazaki was lying, face-down, on the couch, his glasses dangling off one ear and his mouth hanging open. He was drooling all over Nomiya's pillow. Just great — something else to dry-clean.
Nomiya put out his cigarette butt in the ash tray and sat back down in the swivel chair, his gaze trained on his ceiling fan, wondering what else there was to do at that time of night. There was no one to call, no one to talk to, no one to visit. Even most of the cafés he wanted to go to were closed now. He fiddled with his mouse, and the black, reflective screen came to life. His wallpaper was a picturesque scene of snow falling on the sand dunes in Tottori; he had downloaded it off the Internet. A few months ago he had been due to go there with Yamazaki to work on a German restaurant that Luigi had picked for its "romantic atmosphere", but the trip had been canceled because of the bad weather there. Nomiya moved the mouse over to a folder marked "pictures" and clicked on it twice. A window popped into view, and Nomiya scrolled through the seemingly endless photos of the same thing: a towering Ferris wheel that glowed a different luminescent color in each shot. The backgrounds varied too, ranging from late afternoon to evening, from pink to orange to indigo. Looking at them was calming, but the real thing would have been a lot better. However, the building from which he liked to watch it wasn't within walking distance, and at any rate his legs felt too dead to engage themselves in any form of exercise.
At the very bottom of the "pictures" window, in the lower right corner, was a picture of Yamada Ayumi sleeping. Even though the thumbnail was tiny, Nomiya could clearly remember the details: She was slumped against a bar table, smiling like an idiot, her petite white hand clenched around an ice-cold glass of hard liquor. She had drunken herself stupid the last time he had taken her out for a drink, and her expression was so hilarious that taking a photo of her with his mobile phone was simply irresistible — though the other men around him had told him off for "toying with his girlfriend", he had replied that he wouldn't let her see it. He'd allowed her to sleep for a bit longer and jokingly asked the bartender to give him something "lighter than what she got" before he hoisted her onto his back, bid the other bar-goers farewell, and left for his car. It was lucky nobody else knew about it, though, because Miwako-san would tease him to death, and Mayama would probably come at him with a pair of kitchen shears.
Without really meaning to, Nomiya clicked on the photo — the pointer had already been hovering over it — and it enlarged itself. There she was, suspended in another embarrassing moment of liquor-related unconsciousness, this time caught on camera and immortalized for as long as Nomiya kept his files safe. Her corn silk-like hair had been swept to one side and her delicate hand looked too petite for pottery. But when Nomiya looked past her idiotic expression, he saw someone breakable. He could never shake off the feeling that she would shatter if he tried to touch her, that she would go far away if he turned around. She was very hard to hold onto, Yamada, as though she were sand that would slip right through his fingers if he wasn't careful.
He closed the window and then stared intently at the wireless telephone next to the clock. Twelve oh-nine.
Yamada was hopelessly in love with Mayama Takumi. What could Nomiya do about that? She was forever chasing after the man who shared Nomiya's first name, but to no avail; Mayama was after someone, too, though she was someone entirely out of his league. Nomiya didn't know what good would come of their roundabout relationships, but he didn't count himself as part of the equation. He was just another stray strand that independently connected itself to the intricate web of the others' emotions. He pointlessly — and willingly — existed in that web to make things more complicated. However, he was already acquainted with Mayama because they had once been colleagues, and very recently he had taken to hiring Yamada on a regular basis for work, so the web wasn't inaccurate. But Nomiya's connections with Yamada were — to her, anyway — strictly business-related. It was true that she was a skilled potter, and she was very pleasant to be with, so whenever he called her down it was always enjoyable. They had even become close enough that she had allowed him to drop the honorific and simply call her "Yamada". She, however, was too polite to do the same with him. The downside to being around her so much was that Miwako-san made it her business to catch Nomiya in the act of falling for Yamada, but she was only a child. She was too young to know what it was she really wanted. It wouldn't be fair for Nomiya to take advantage of her confusion.
But whenever she turned to him for help, whenever she buried her face in her soft arms and cried her heart out, whenever she smiled her martyr's smile, Nomiya didn't only feel pity, but senseless longing. He longed to reach out to her and tell her that everything was going to be all right. He wanted to act like the cool guy again and say, "Come on, stop that. Take my hand and let's watch the Ferris wheel until dawn. Then maybe, if you're lucky, I'll buy you some ice cream."
Unfortunately, he was in no position to do so. He was too busy being the "cool" guy. He had no time for romance anymore, not when there was just so much to do. Yamada would only get caught up in the sleepless nights and the mugs of scalding, strong coffee. She deserved to spread her wings and soar as high as they could take her, and Nomiya didn't want to be a liability. She was already being weighed down by the heavy burden she carried inside her, the invisible locket that held only Mayama's picture. What was the point of her suffering? Mayama would never look twice at her that way, was that so hard to accept?
Deciding that it was too early for him to understand her in full, Nomiya wrenched his eyes way from the rubber dials on the phone, shut his computer down, stuffed bits of rolled-up cotton up one of Yamazaki's nostrils, and went back to the window to wait for the sun to rise.
When Yamazaki awoke (he was oblivious to the cotton up his nose), Nomiya had already prepared coffee and was whistling tunelessly as he typed away on the PC; he was just lucky he hadn't spewed coffee all over the screen yet — Yamazaki looked hilarious.
Another morning at the office. Coupled with the tacking noises of the keyboard, the noise outside just bordered on "bearable." The incessantly twittering birds? Not so much.
"Hey, sleepyhead. You're going to have to pay for getting your saliva off that cushion," Nomiya said by way of morning greeting.
Yamazaki scratched his head and yawned. "'Mornin', Nomiya. Sorry for last night, I just felt so wasted, y'know? Like I was gonna die if I did any more work." He sounded like he had a cold with the cotton still in.
Nomiya's smile was sunny when he said, "And you're going to have to pay me back for that, too. It's a week's worth of takeout dinners or I tell Miwako-san you've been slacking."
Yamazaki sighed in resignation and shuffled over to get some caffeine into his system. "You can be really evil, you know that, Nomiya?"
"Just doing my job," Nomiya replied, taking a sip of the stuff himself.
"Did you even try to catch some sleep?" Yamazaki said. "You're gonna die too if you keep that up. You look hideous."
"Yeah, thanks for pointing that out." The circles under his eyes could have been bruises. He knew he needed some shut-eye, but how could he get any if Yamazaki was too lazy to do his fair share of money-earning?
Yamazaki was thoughtful for a moment, and then he seemed to decide something. "I think you need a nice long break. Tell you what — I'll take care of everything around here, as long as you promise to have yourself a nice time this weekend. I'll make sure to tell Miwako-san. I'm pretty sure she'd be on my side if she were here."
Oh, that's right, it was Saturday…. That's why Miwako-san hadn't come to the office yesterday; she'd said that she was going on a mini-vacation with her friends that weekend, and Nomiya hadn't noticed its arrival. It had been quite a while since Nomiya spent his weekends with a woman. Not that he minded, of course, but why couldn't he remember what he did to fill the barrenness of his single life when he wasn't at the office? Well, when he thought about it, those women were all the same to him anyway, really. Lovely words. That was all he shared with them.
"What do you expect me to do? Frolic in a field of wildflowers? Go ice-skating? Go for a swim in the local pool?" Nomiya asked sardonically.
"Well, if you don't mind looking like you're thirteen and new to the world of girls and peeking up their skirts, you could. But I was sort of thinking you might like to take Yamada-san out. You've been wanting to call her, haven't you? But since she doesn't have a cellphone and you're afraid to call her family's store because of her dad, you haven't really been able to talk to her since the last time she came over. I'm right, right?"
Despite Nomiya's irritation that Yamazaki, as dense as he was, had seen through him so easily, he maintained his aloof façade and said, "Maybe you were imagining things, Yamazaki, and exactly what kind of guy do you think I am? I wouldn't look up a girl's skirt. But I guess I will take her out. Yamada, I mean. I don't think she has any work, so I might as well. Thanks for the suggestion."
Yamazaki made a "pfft" noise and grinned mischievously. He could have grown devil horns and a tail right then and there and it wouldn't have surprised Nomiya. "'Suggestion,' my ass. Now run along."
Nomiya turned and headed down the hall. Since Yamazaki couldn't see him, he smiled too — one of Yamazaki's cotton plugs had fallen out. "Yes, sir."
Nomiya returned home for a nice cold shower and a change of clothes; he had been starting to smell like smoke and stale beer. He also tried making himself some real breakfast by frying up some eggs, but they fell apart and were charred in some places, so he couldn't say that it was the best breakfast he'd ever had. Nevertheless, with his stomach less empty and his mind less foggy he felt that it wouldn't hurt to take Yamazaki up on his offer. The previous night, when he had been staring at the telephone, he had been contemplating whether or not to just buy Yamada her own cellphone so that communication — of both the personal and business kinds — would become easier. The catch was that he didn't know exactly what Yamada's father would make out of his giving her such an expensive present. He had seen him once before, and Nomiya wasn't so sure he'd like "Daddy Yamada's" finely-toned muscles anywhere near him.
The first place Nomiya went to was the bakery. It was very warm inside, filled with the enticing scents of freshly-baked goods and powdered sugar. He picked out some delicious-smelling cream rolls for Yamada and a mocha bun for himself. Next he drove down to the art college, where he figured Yamada would want to go. It was still pretty early, and it was a weekend, but it seemed sensible to check. It was like her second home.
He dropped by the pottery department, and it came as no surprise to him when he found Yamada sitting at her usual potter's wheel, her features arranged into a look of determined concentration. She was wearing a sleeveless white summer shirt and light blue jeans, and she had put her hair up in a neat bun at the back of her head. She had also thrown a fluffy towel around her shoulders to absorb her perspiration. Beads of sweat rolled down the side of her face and she took a deep breath. She was an entirely different person when she was there, in her element, surrounded by those wondrous objects she had created, and for a few minutes Nomiya did nothing but stand at the door and watch her, clutching at the bag of bread. He was hypnotized by the spin of the wheel. At some point, however, Yamada looked up to wipe the sweat out of her eyes and saw him, breaking the spell.
Smiling, she waved and motioned for him to come in.
"Good morning, Nomiya-san," she said brightly. "What brings you here today? Got any new work for me?"
Nomiya shook his head and sat himself down on a plastic chair he pulled up. "Nah, nothing like that. On the contrary, I actually came to ask you to spend a relaxing weekend with me."
"Huh?" Yamada drew the towel away from her face and proceeded to wipe her hands on her apron, looking curious. "What for?"
Nomiya opened the bread bag with the crisp sound of rustling paper and offered her a cream roll. "Yamazaki thinks I've been working too hard and said that I should take the weekend off. And I thought you might be free, so you know, why not? I'm only following orders."
She smiled and took the roll. "That's really nice of you, thanks a lot! Especially for thinking of me. I've been meaning to have a little break myself, but I haven't had the chance." She took a bite out of the pastry and seemed to like the taste. "Oh, wow, this is really good! Where did you get it?"
"I stopped by the Flourdust bakery on my way here and thought you might be hungry." He rummaged in the bag for his lone mocha bun and took a bite of it as well. At least it was better than his burned-egg breakfast.
"How did you know I would be here, anyway?" she asked thickly, her mouth full of roll.
Nomiya shrugged. "Instinct, I guess. But I'm pretty good, huh?"
"I've got some more of that for you here, if you want," Nomiya said, seeing that Yamada had finished off her first and was eyeing the paper bag discreetly.
She blushed. It was a beautiful color on her. "O-oh, thanks very much."
She took another one and Nomiya's attention was won over by the vase she had been making. It was very plain, but it was obvious that the craftsmanship was that of an expert, someone who had been working at the wheel for years. Yamada was extremely skilled for her age. "Is this one for recreational purposes?" he said, nodding towards it.
She shook her head. "Rika-san requested it last Wednesday. It's just this one piece. I started it this morning."
"Is it done?"
"Pretty much," Yamada answered, licking some cream off her sticky fingers. The rolls were coated with a thin layer of honey. She titled her head to one side and appraised her work, as though Nomiya's comment had reminded her of its presence. "What do you think? It's not too ordinary, is it?"
Nomiya adjusted his glasses. "Do you want a critical answer or a kind one?"
Yamada's jaw was set. "Critical, please."
He cupped his chin with his right hand and smiled. "You're gutsy. That's going to take you very far in this business. Anyway, about this piece… I have to admit that it is ordinary." Yamada took a sharp intake of breath. "But ordinary pieces of pottery aren't uncommon, and when have I ever disliked your work? It's amazing as usual, Yamada. Don't worry."
"You didn't have to scare me like that," Yamada sighed with relief. "But thank goodness. I thought that since it was a teensy bit hurried it would show. I suppose I was just paying too much attention to the little things. Anyway, I should get going, I was supposed to deliver it as soon as I was done. I can come back for you here, if you like."
"What are you talking about?" Nomiya said briskly. "I can drive you there. It's better than walking or taking a taxi, right?"
"I'd really appreciate that." Her returning smile would have been undeniably pretty had it not been for the small white spot at the corner of her mouth.
Stifling a laugh, Nomiya fished his checked handkerchief out of his pocket and used it to wipe the cream away. "Are you an elementary school student or something? Still unable to eat without a mess at the tender age of twenty-two."
Yamada turned pink. "It's not like I could feel it. And it's really hard to keep the cream in when you bite into the roll, okay?"
Nomiya chuckled. "All right, all right. I'll be waiting outside. You fix up here and we'll be at Harada Design before you know it."
Yamada, who had changed into a more formal, collared white blouse, handed over the earthen vase to Rika-san, talking about how grateful she was that Rika-san had trusted her enough to call on her again for such an important order. Looking over Rika-san's head, Nomiya saw that the Harada Design office was neat and orderly, nothing fancy. Just a few desks and two sleek desktop computers, one for her and another for her… assistant, who was probably somewhere inside. There must have been a kitchen, too, because Nomiya could smell sizzling sausages. It made his mouth water.
So this was where the famous Harada Rika spent her days.
Appearance-wise, Rika-san looked like the embodiment of Yamada's internal turmoil. She was leaning against a metal crunch, which, in Yamada's case, Nomiya supposed represented himself. Rika-san was physically fragile and seemed so insubstantial that a single drizzle would probably wash her into oblivion. Even her voice was soft — it was barely audible, but something about it made you want to lean in and listen to what she had to say. It was like a whisper that promised you secrets.
Rika-san was thanking Yamada now for her effort, as well as praising the beauty of her piece. Yamada could only thank her, in all modesty, for her kindness and ask her not to hesitate requesting her services again. Nomiya wondered how far Yamada's mind was really flying, as well as where it was planning to drift. Whether she was thinking about Mayama, if he was here, if he had had a good night's sleep, if he had already eaten breakfast…
And as though on cue, Mayama emerged from the edge of the doorjamb just beyond their line of sight. His black-framed glasses, a striped light green polo shirt, and khaki pants. He looked just as dorky as Nomiya remembered, like he was trying too hard to look manly. Was he really jealous of this guy?
"Rika-san, have you seen the extension plug for the microwave? I can't quite get it to —" He stopped dead when he saw Nomiya, then his eyes shifted to Yamada, who, in spite of herself, couldn't help but look back at him. Pained, unspoken words hung in the static that kept them apart, threatening to explode and shower them all with letters. The room suddenly got twenty degrees colder. Nomiya felt Nomiya stiffen and hold her breath. It was starting again.
Why did it have to happen so soon?
"Oh, Mayama-kun," Rika-san said. "The extension is in the drawer next to the cutlery, under the coil of wire. Yamada-san just came by the drop this off." She had pointedly neglected to mention Nomiya. "Could you take this to my room, please? And remind me to send an e-mail to Kotobuki-san. I need to let him know that since we have the vase he asked for, the designs will be ready by Tuesday at the latest."
Mayama forced himself out of his frozen trance. "O-of course." He walked over to her, very carefully took the piece from her thin hands while averting his eyes from the two intruders, and left.
"I do apologize, Nomiya-san," Rika-san said sincerely once he was out of earshot. "But as you have seen, Mayama-kun is a bit… uncomfortable when you're with Yamada-san. I wasn't sure how I could help. I'm terribly sorry for being meddlesome."
Nomiya, startled that someone so famous would know about someone insignificant like him, shook his head. "Think nothing of it, Rika-san. I'm used to Mayama acting like that."
Rika-san nodded, looking doubtful, and made a small bow to the pair of them. "Thank you very much for going through all this trouble. Yamada-san, I hope to see you again. And as for Nomiya-san, it's been nice meeting you."
At this, Nomiya took Yamada's hand and they took their leave. On their way out of the building, it was all Nomiya could do to keep Yamada's hand from shaking.
Cumulous clouds — impossibly white and fluffy and so unrealistic against a robin's-egg-blue sky that they could have driven themselves right into the pages of a children's picture book. The birds, too, looked like small black M's cutting through the air. Or maybe they looked more like mustaches.
Yamada had not spoken a word since they had left Harada Design, and Nomiya did not force her to speak. She had still consented to spend the weekend with him, and she did not revoke her answer. Instead she sat with her head bowed. Several times Nomiya had tried turning on the radio to make the silence less suffocating, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. He got the feeling Yamada would say something at any moment. He knew that because he knew her.
"…was expecting it," she muttered. Her voice was so quiet and so hollow that she could have been a hundred feet away, or maybe even on the other side of the world. She was in that place again, that wretched place in her mind, purposely making herself suffer, burning the image of Rika-san and Mayama together into the back of her eyelids so that she could watch them forever, even in her sleep...
"Expecting what?" Nomiya kept his eyes on the road.
"Him to come out," Yamada finished softly. "If I talked loud enough, I knew somehow he would come. Maybe the thing with the extension plug was just a ruse to see if it was really me, or maybe it was a coincidence. He feels sorry for me, anyone can see that, and I love it when he worries. But… why am I sad again?"
This seemed to be a recurring theme when they were together: him at the wheel, her sobbing into the folds of her skirt. On this occasion, for a change, she was wearing pants. She was clutching at the tight fabric so hard that she could have wounded herself.
Nomiya noticed a poor bug splatter itself against his windshield, and for whatever reason it irritated him to no end. He wished he could reach right through the glass and wipe it off.
"I accepted that request because I wanted to keep improving," she continued, her voice only getting quieter. "But deep down I knew only did it so that I could have some other excuse to go and see h-him." She began to hiccup. "I-I knew it was s-stupid but I couldn't h-help myself. I m-missed him. Why d-d-do I keep doing this to myself, Nomiya-s-san? It's t-torturing me but I keep d-doing it."
"You're doing it because you love him."
And even Nomiya recognized Yamada's agony for what it was, because he felt the same thing for her. He denied it in company, but alone he understood himself well. It wasn't healthy for him to cling to Yamada and say that he's only there to console her, because he was selfish. He wanted her for himself, he wanted to monopolize her time in such a way that he managed to play the part of the "good guy friend". He gradually gained a sick sort of pleasure from having her near, from seeing that her efforts to make Mayama return her affection were fruitless. It wasn't easy to watch her beat herself up, but it was necessary if he wanted to win her over. He thought that it was only a matter of time before she completely let go and turned to Nomiya for comfort. He was her safe harbor, and he was playing it for all it was worth. It wasn't sane, but he kept wanting to do it too.
He and Yamada were just the same. They were kindred souls, bound by their rejected feelings.
If he could, he would have torn his gaze away from the bug and told her that he — the other Takumi, the one she didn't want — would always be there for her. But he just let her cry like he always had, cursing himself for being restrained by his crooked, overprotective mentality.
Yaaaay~! Here's my next story. ouo
I sure hope there are a lot of NomiYamada fans on the Internet, because I ADORE these two~! ^u^
So yes. Is this good enough? Feh, I tried really hard to come up with a good title, but I still keep pulling blanks. Is this title good enough? Maybe...? Perhaps? I guess? *dies*
Reviews or private messages will be greatly appreciated. ^^