Notes: I am basing everything that I know from apartments to money to kindergarten teachers from where I live. As much as I would love to learn about Japan, I rather not use their language as in -chan or -kun, in respect to them since I know little to nothing to their culture.


Chapter One

Sudou kicked the door, carrying bags of merchandise, and sighed in relief when he dumped them on the living room floor. Behind him, the door closed as his roommate moved into the living room, and laid the rest of the bags next to his.

"Thanks, Sudou."

Her cherry tone lifted his tired mood somewhat. He slumped in the couch and propped a leg on the coffee table. On the floor, with one leg tucked to her inner thigh, the other sprawled out, Kotoko pulled out the crayons, and then the play-doh, before she scattered to find the paper among the many bags on the floor.

"Why are you doing this again, Kotoko?"

His roommate looked up and gave him a grin. She always smiled; he enjoyed that from her. Her cheerful demeanor brought a smile to his face.

"I want to give the kids a gift."

She rolled a white paper in a telescope of some sort and looked at him through the hole. Her silliness brought his smile to widen into a grin. She lowered the rolled-up paper from her eye and released it from her hand.

"I just want to make a strong first impression. You know, be the best kindergarten teacher there is," she confessed.

"You worry too much. They're five-year-old kids. They love anything that's nice."

She looked from her pile of play-doh to the many Popsicle sticks and to the boxes of crayons next to it. They were all gifts for the children; a present for their first step of education. Or second step depending if the child went to preschool.

"I'm just nervous," she admitted.

He understood her. This was the start of her first job as a teacher.

"You'll be fine." It was the only words he could say to her. He tried to ease her nerves the best he could. But it seemed that he had forgotten how in the past seven years. Kotoko never lost her sensitive side, however. Although she was stronger in character, she was still the same energetic, loving person.

He truly loved that about her. His best friend, roommate, and little sister he loved to call became someone important to him. He watched as she stood on her feet and walked toward the kitchen to prepare lunch for the both of them. The bags lay forgotten on the ground. She will sort them out and decorate each gift basket at a later time.

He felt as if she was going overboard with the gifts. But whatever made her happy. He will not question her, just as she would never question him about his tendency to walk at night.

Sometimes he liked to get away from everything, even from Kotoko. Not that she was a problem. She never was the problem. There were times, however, when he felt his world gray and bleak. Being a car sales rep had its perks, it left him satisfied at least. He accomplished something in life (not the type of accomplishment he had in mind however).

But there was also the fact that he never cared about his goals in general. His parents never cared. His ex-girlfriends demanded too much for him. Not a single person in his life was happy with his accomplishments.

It was hard to live up to the expectations your parents had of you, and how your ex-lovers expected more from you. Sometimes he wanted to escape from it all.

Tennis served as his escapement back then. It helped him in so many ways. For a long time, he wanted to become a pro-tennis player. Instead, like all the other dreams he had told to his parents, they took it as a joke.

He never knew why he looked for his parents in the first place, if they never looked for him. Perhaps, he simply wanted recognition. But he would never receive it for them. Not even at their death.

Then, out of his gray world, love struck him hard. He wasn't the type of person to believe in love at first sight. It was a lie, a big fat lie. Love did not happen in five seconds. But he was wrong, for in five seconds he had fallen in love.

He had wanted to prove himself to the woman he loved; he had wanted many things, but out of everything, he had wanted her. Nothing became easy for him in the end; he learned that the hard way. She did not like him, which was obvious. She had preferred someone with a goal; a person who was just like her.

That's when he had decided he needed to do something.

Having a nervous tendency around women, he had decided to join a dating group. He had never thought he would meet Kotoko there. He had seen her before, once at the tennis courts. He never really paid much attention to her though.

"Sudou, do you mind getting juice? I knew we forgot something."

The past became a memory. Forced in the dark recess of his brain, it was never allowed to reemerge without his consent. Or so he would like to believe that he had control of his memories from popping in his head. That never was the case, however. Needing the distraction, he grabbed the keys in the glass bowl and headed for the door.

"Orange juice?" he asked.

"Yeah." She stirred the pasta with a wooden spoon. "And get some apple juice."

Opening the door, he shouted out behind him, "Be back in a few."

He heard her say in return, "Thanks!"

With the door shut behind him, Sudou walked toward the sidewalk. The path was cleared of dead leaves and rested against the bright, green grass. The gardener trimmed the bushes with sharp shears, each small, broken branch falling to his feet. He heard the air conditioners rattle and consume the area with a harsh swishing sound.

Each apartment building held a small inclusion of privacy. Instead of seeing the small outdoor porch, he saw a thick, brown fence. Behind one of them, he heard the dryer machine buzz, announcing the cycle was done.

The path curved and led straight to the parking lot. He decided to walk toward the store instead of using the car. It was only across the street. Heading toward the gate, he left the apartment ground, and instinctively touched his pocket. The keys were felt under his palm. He wanted to double-check.

The last time he left the apartment building he had left the keys behind and had to wait nearly thirty minutes before Kotoko arrived. The apartment complex of where they live required a punch code (if one was driving to enter) or a key (if one was entering by walking) to enter the premises. He did not want to make the same mistake again.

The weather was heavy. Perspire touched his forehead. It was the middle of June, not a single cloud was seen in the blue sky. He stood under the glaring sun, waiting for the signal to cross. The signal turned white, a shape figure of a man glowed, and he hastily moved his feet across the street, before the figure blinked.

The store was a small-looking building, where above in red lettering the store name hanged. He approached the entrance as the doors automatically slid open. Inside, he felt the air conditioner cool his sweaty skin.

He walked along the aisles, knowing where the juice laid. All refrigerated meals and/or drinks rested at the corner of the store. He pulled out a gallon of orange juice, and went in search for the apple juice. He found it nearby and grabbed the first one he saw.

There were hardly a few people in the store. It made purchasing faster. But he was not ready to face the heat. He enjoyed what little he had inside the cool building.

Then, as he placed his things at lane number 1, he heard a name. He turned his head a little and noticed a woman, her back exposed to him, her face hidden from his view, in a red dress, grabbing a bag of bread. She turned her head and opened her mouth, but he was instantly distracted by the cashier, telling him the amount he needed to pay.

He reached for his wallet and pulled out the money.

The woman in the red dress had disappeared when he looked back. He quickly placed the wallet back in his pocket and continued on his way, giving a small thanks to the cashier. Into the heat, he crossed the street and made his way home safely. Upon reaching his apartment, he stopped when a friend of his walked toward him, waving a hand.

"Sudou, my man, what's up?"

"Rye, what's going on?"

His friend stood in front of him, placing his hands in his jean pockets. Wearing flip-flops, and a regular, white t-shirt, he smiled, exposing the laugh lines near his eyes. He was a slightly, heavy man with a roll around his waistline.

"Nothing much. Some new neighbors moved in across from you. Married couple I hear," he said. Rye was nosy with other people's business. He probably picked up the habit from his wife. She was quite known for being too curious. Noticing the bags in his arm, Rye asked, "Kotoko sent you on an errand?"

"Yeah, she forgot something."

"When doesn't she forget something?"

He laughed at his joke.

Sudou forced a smile, bothered by his light joke. Not that the joke was disrespectful. He simply did not like any jokes toward Kotoko. He was just a cautious man around her.

Rye cleared his throat, noticing his uneasiness.

"I'm just playing with you. Well, I'll see you around, Sudou. Tell Kotoko hi for me."

He walked past him, heading toward the parking lot.

Sudou moved forward and noticed across from his apartment that his new neighbors had left the door opened to their apartment. They were probably rushing to bring their things inside when the sun was merciless on their backs. Sudou quickly entered his apartment and sighed when the fresh air hit his face.

"You made it on time."

He placed the bags on the counter and made his way into the kitchen. Kotoko was already placing the plates on the table. The pasta smelled delicious. He couldn't wait to eat.

"Did you hear about the new neighbors?" she asked.

She pulled out two cups and poured soda in each one. The gas fizzled and settled into small popping sounds. Putting the cups on the table, she sat down. He sat in front of her after he saved the orange juice in the fridge.

"Yeah." He grabbed his fork and stabbed into his food.

"I should bake a cake for them. You know, to be nice."

He chewed his pasta, and raised a hand to his mouth, to say, "Go ahead."

"But what if they don't like it?"

Stabbing at his food, he said to her, "They'll like it."

Encouraged, she finished her pasta in silence, and then she pushed back her seat and dumped the dirty dish in the sink. In a couple of hours, she finished her cake, and covered it with chocolate frosting. Looking in the cupboards, she dashed the cake with sprinkles and placed a couple of M&M's.

She looked around for a pan to carry the cake, and instead took the pan that the cake was in and headed out the door. He was right behind her, not too thrilled about meeting his new neighbors. But whatever made Kotoko happy, he will not argue.

"Press the doorbell for me."

He reached over her shoulder and pressed it.

Kotoko waited patiently as a woman answered from behind, "Just a minute."

When the door opened, Kotoko grinned and watched as a man answered. He stared at her in confusion, and then slowly a smile reached his face.

"Kotoko!"

She blinked her eyes several times, unable to say a word. Sudou looked at her, pondering on her silence. Did she know the man in front of her? It seemed like it. For the next moment, she gave a half-smile, and said his name.

"Kinnosuke…"

Then, behind the man, Sudou noticed a woman. She looked at him and gave him a smile. In her arms, she carried a toddler. He returned his attention back to Kotoko and noticed her eyes filled with tears.

"I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry that I ignored you," she said.

A tear rolled down her cheek, and Sudou grew tense.

He did not like this.

Not one bit.