Once upon a time, there was a girl who lived across the bay from me. She had brown eyes, brown hair and a smile that was just for me. Her name meant light, as if her parents knew from the very beginning she would bring it to the world, as she brought it to my life. I look back to endless, summer day that was childhood, and I see her face everywhere. It seems as if there were no time when we were not together, when we did not know each other, although I know there must have been. Nonetheless, even though I no longer remember how our story began, I do remember how it ended: with a kiss in the rain.

It was the day of our graduation, and one of our classmates had thrown a party to mark the occasion. I remember nothing of it - what music was playing, what food was served, what toasts were made, or even who was our host. I only remember the way Hikari smiled up at me, or rested her head on my shoulder, or laughed at some joke that has long since slipped out of memory. She was so beautiful and brilliant that night, although there was an edge of panic to it that I had not seen for years.

When the party had ended, we walked out of the apartment into the pouring rain. Neither of us thought to get an umbrella or a raincoat, or to duck under cover until it passed. At the time, it seemed right, like it was washing away the past, like it was a baptism into a new life. The whole road was wet and slick with it, and the pavement shimmered beneath the streetlights. I held out my hand for Hikari to take, and we strolled together towards the park. I wish I could say it was a shortcut to one of our homes, but it wasn't. It was just somewhere we knew we needed to go.

Apart from the pigeons cooing and fluffing in the rain, we were the only the ones in the park. Without discussion or thought, we found ourselves heading down the path that led to the children's playground. The equipment was painted all the primary colours that only exist in a child's world: fire-engine red, sky blue, daisy yellow. The raindrops glittered on the swings and slides on which we had played so many years ago.

"One last time," she smiled impishly at me, climbing onto the swings and kicking off with her feet. I laughed and moved into position behind her, slipping easily into the familiar pattern of catch and push. Neither of us gave a thought to how ridiculous we must have seemed - me, in my hired tuxedo; her, in a long, red dress that made her look like a rose. For a moment, we were both eight again and our lives stretched ahead of us like a broad road through a country which we had never seen before and to which we could never return again.

As the swing creaked to a halt, I could see Hikari was crying.

"What's wrong?"

"It'll sound so selfish," she sniffed, wiping at her eyes, "But I don't want you to leave me and go to France. And I don't want to go to Kyoto to learn to teach. I want us to stay right here forever."

There was only one, right answer to that kind of plea. And that was to turn down my Sorbonne scholarship. To apply to a creative writing program at Kyoto where she was studying. To go down on one knee in the pouring rain and mud, and ask Yagami Hikari to be my wife. To tell her that I would never leave her.

But I did none of that.

"It's only a few years," I replied, "And we'll be together after it."

"Promise me that we'll always be together, Takeru," she said, standing and wrapping her arms around me.

"I promise, Hikari. I promise."

It was a promise spoken by two, young lovers, who saw their future stretching ahead of them like a broad, straight road and who knew they wanted nothing more from life than to be able to walk down it hand in hand. It was an earnest promise, full of passion and faith and sincerity. It was a promise of hope for the future, a promise of light for the shadow of parting. It was a promise sealed with a kiss that tasted of tears and rain.

It was the type of promise we could never keep.

That summer was the last I spent in Odaiba. I packed my bags for France that September to study creative writing at the Sorbonne. When I returned to Tokyo five years later, Hikari was there to meet me at the airport. She had not changed in the time I had been away from Japan. I remember coming out from the crush of people at the gate, and seeing her standing there, a bunch of balloons in her hands. She was wearing a red dress, flaring around her like a flame, and her dark hair was loose around her shoulders. When she saw me, she ran up and threw her arms around me. She even smelt the same - of clean soap and apple shampoo. Then, pulling me by my hand, she introduced me to her husband and baby daughter. In turn, I introduced her to my new wife.

Once upon a time, there was a girl who lived across the bay from me. She had brown eyes and brown hair and a smile that was just for me. I look back to endless, summer day that was childhood, and I see her face everywhere. She laughs at me from green branches. She smiles up at me as we dance beneath the electric lights. She runs through fields of white flowers, and calls me onwards. She was a part of every, important memory. She was - she is - a part of me.

Our stories are always one.


This vignette was inspired by the last episode of the "Wonder Years", which gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. You'll recognise parts of it, if you've seen the episode. If not, it's an incredibly powerful piece of television, because you have Kevin and his family at last Fourth of July parade he spends at home while the adult narrator goes through their fates. When he said "my father died the next year" and you saw him smiling and waving, it was just . . . chilling. I've worked on this for months now, and I'm finally happy with it. I doubt most of you will be, especially if you're a Takari fan, but I was working from coda for once.

And, yes, it is meant to be Takeru's writing. Hence, the dedication to Hikari.