Author's Note: I couldn't wait for chapter 72, and just had to write something about everything that's been happening...for each of the couples. :P Starting with Ayane and Kent... Reviews are always deeply, deeply appreciated.
Warning: Spoilers up to chapter 71.
Christmas Eve: Innocence
Ayane had walked home with boyfriends before. She had walked home with a boyfriend who clasped her hand, weaving their fingers together and winking as if there were some secret or subtext she ought to be aware of; a boyfriend who smirked and pulled her into the shadow of a lamppost or a tree and pushed her back to a wall or a tree trunk and stuck his tongue down her throat; a boyfriend who suggested that they might take a "short cut" or "the scenic route" and seemed to honestly believe that he was being subtle enough that her insistence that they stick to the usual path didn't seem to be interpreted as anything other than obliviousness on her part.
She couldn't say what she had expected when she had said she would go home with Kent, but it hadn't been this walk straight homewards with a treasure in the form of a slightly crushed bouquet cradled in her hands and Kent walking beside her with a small empty space between them. But most surprising of all was the potential that blazed brightly in that gap. It was like a firefly, begging her to reach for it and yet terrifying in the knowledge that it was temporary: the light would eventually go out, and if it went out as she would find herself on a precipice reaching into the dark.
Her former boyfriends had always been the ones to touch her. Ayane couldn't remember ever wanting to reach out to a boyfriend and touch him, let alone hold hands, hug or kiss. Touching was something that boys started, and she participated. She never was the one to start it.
Yet right now, Ayane found herself for the first time wanting to bridge that gap and take Kent's hand. It was a terrifying thought. He wouldn't pull away, Ayane knew. But the thought that he might take it as an invitation and pull her into a corner to make out was not a happy one.
In telling her that he would love her, that he would treasure her, Kent had awakened something in Ayane. It was a hope, of sorts, that Kent would be the one who would want to be with her because she was her, and not just to kiss and touch her. That when he did kiss her, it would be...special. Ayane didn't need there to be fireworks or sparks like in cheesy romance novels; but to feel her pulse race, to know that his pulse was racing too, and to know that with this kiss, they were starting something new and exciting—she wanted the first kiss that she'd never had.
A touch on her hand startled Ayane out of her thoughts, and her head jerked around. Kent was half-smiling—he's nervous, Ayane realized, and all at once her heart leapt into her throat like she was nervous too—as he ever so carefully wrapped his hand around hers. Ayane shifted her grip on the bouquet so that she was holding it with one hand, and let their joined hands fall into the space between them like a gentle bridge. Kent's smile widened ever so slightly, and he looked so hopeful, so happy, that Ayane had to look away for fear that her face might catch fire.
Kent never tried to shift their hands so that their fingers could weave together; he simply held her hand in his, and Ayane in turn wrapped her fingers around his hand. Ayane knew that she had never experienced a touch as innocent nor as intimate as this touch of their hands, and the knowledge kept her face ablaze.
They walked straight to Ayane's house. No "shortcuts," no "stops," no "scenic routes." Ayane turned to Kent, their hands still together, and smiled.
"Thank you...for everything." Her voice sounded odd—maybe a little higher than usual?
"Not at all—thank you," said Kent, and his voice seemed a little higher pitched than usual too. His face was red, but his eyes were on hers; Ayane held his gaze despite an illogical urge to look away. "I... Thank you," he repeated, and his eyes flickered to the side and back. "For giving me a chance. For...for everything."
Ayane was at a loss for words for a moment. She bit the inside of her cheek, wondering where all the sense in the world had vanished to.
"Can I...maybe see you tomorrow?" asked Kent quietly. "I know you probably have plans, but-"
"I don't," said Ayane, and had her heart ever beat this fast before? "I'd love to."
"Great!" smiled Kent, and for a moment her mind went completely blank except for the picture of that characteristic grin on his reddened face. "Can I come and pick you up around...maybe two?"
"That sounds wonderful," said Ayane, and her own smile felt different—softer.
"I'm looking forward to it," said Kent.
"Me too," Ayane practically whispered.
There was a moment of silence. Kent cleared his throat. "Well, then..." He squeezed her hand. "Good night!"
And then he had dropped her hand and stepped back with a smile, as though he intended to stand watch until she went inside.
"Good night," Ayane replied, and walked over to the front door. She only looked back once she was inside and closing the door; Kent was still watching, his face still red. She kept the door open just a crack and watched as Kent's gaze dropped to his shoes. He raked his fingers through his hair and cleared his throat again before turning and walking away.
Ayane closed the door all the way and wondered how it had taken her this long to really see Kent.