“Two hours! Two damn hours, Tsukiko!”
When Taiyou recognized the voice coming from the elevator, he halted in the middle of the hallway. The doors opened with a ding and he saw two girls he knew; one chuckling and the other breathing hard through her nose.
“Oh come on. Don’t say that,” Tsukiko said as she exited the elevator. Even from this distance, the boy could tell she was forcing the smile. “Admit it. You had fun, didn’t you?”
Yui-san glared at the girl. “Oh yeah. I had so much fun watching you choose a damn photo frame for two hours. Best time of my life. I’ll treasure this memory forever,” she said, pressing her temples.
“Oh, come on, it wasn’t so bad.” Tsukiko let out a nervous chuckle. “Now let’s leave this at my apartment and go eat something. I’m starving.”
“Oh, really? I wonder why,” Yui-san said, pulling all the sarcasm she had.
Tsukiko gave another awkward chuckled and avoided Yui-san’ gaze. As she looked everywhere but her friend, she saw the boy standing in the middle of the hallway watching them and her face lit up with a smile. “Taiyou-kun!” the girl screamed and raced to him while her friend raised her gaze.
“Why were you two fighting?” he asked before she could say anything.
“Ah, that?” Tsukiko waved the hand as best with the purchases as she could and laughed. “We’re not fighting. Yui’s just a little upset ‘cause—”
“I’m angry, not upset. And it’s not a little,” Yui-san interrupted Tsukiko when she caught up with them. “Listen to this, Taiyou. We wasted two hours so this girl could buy a damn photo frame. All because she needed ‘the perfect frame for the perfect photo’!”
As the two girls started bickering, Taiyou’s curiosity won. “What photo?”
Tsukiko pulled her phone from the pocket. After a second, she showed him the screen with a huge smile. “This one!”
When Taiyou saw the photo, he widened his eyes, his entire face an alarming shade of red. “Is that from—”
“Yes!” she answered before he finished asking. She looked at the screen again, the smile on her lips turning gentle. “That flower viewing day was the best one ever.”
“Yeah…” Taiyou did his best to avoid looking at Tsukiko, but it was hard. Before he realized it, he caught himself glancing the girl and the memories flooded his mind against his will, making his face burn even more. “So what are you two doing now?” he quickly added before she noticed his cheeks. If she notices and asks the reason, I won’t be able to keep hiding from her anymore…
“We were gonna leave these at this one’s apartment and then finally lunch,” Yui-san said in a tired voice.
“You’re getting home from school now, right? You haven’t eaten yet, right?” Her eyes sparkled as she stared him full of expectations. When the boy shook his head, her smile grew. “Then join us for lunch!” Under those eyes and that smile, Taiyou could only nod in silence.
“Great. Now that it’s settled, Yui-san said in the emotionless voice. She turned to Tsukiko and shoved the bags she held to the girl. “Put these and let’s go already.” As Tsukiko raced to the door and unlocked it, Yui-san massaged her wrists.
With his face still hot, Taiyou turned to the girl and gave a curt bow. “I’ll leave this in my home then,” he said, showing the school bag on his hands. He turned around and walked towards his door, but before he could take three steps, a hand grabbed him by the collar.
“Wait a sec” Yui-san pulled him back and forced him to look her in the face. Her eyes sparkled just like Tsukiko’s and with only those few words, Taiyou realized her voice was full of curiosity. “Hey, Taiyou-kun, why you were so embarrassed by that photo? And you changed the subject so quickly… Could it be that perhaps you’re trying to, I don’t know, hide something from Tsukiko?”
Taiyou tried to keep his face normal, but he knew he failed as the memories kept coming. Not only his cheeks reddened, he saw her eyes sparkling even more. This is bad, the boy thought. Though he had met the girl a few times, he knew when she got interested in something, she would pursue it relentlessly, according to Tsukiko. Now I know why they’re best friends.
“It was… nothing. It’s just… something… happened that day…” his voice trailed off. Damn… I need to think of an excuse, he thought as the girl hummed.
“If you say it was something embarrassing, it just makes me want to know even more.” The girl narrowed her eyes. “But I can see you won’t tell me, so I’ll just ask Tsukiko.”
Taiyou widened his eyes and grabbed the girl’s sleeve before he realized. “Wait…” Tsukiko can’t know… His face became an alarming shade of red. “She… she doesn’t remember, but if she remembers, there’s no way I can look her in the eyes again.”
Yui-san showed a mischievous smile. It looks like Tsukiko’s, but it’s not as cute, he thought.
“You’re just making me more and more curious,” she said, lowering her head to look him straight in the eyes. “If you don’t want me asking her, then you tell me.”
Taiyou sighed in defeat and looked down. There was no way out except tell the girl what happened on the day of that photo.
“Hey, Taiyou-kun.” With her cheeks a slight shade of pink, Tsukiko twirled around slowly with her arms open, showing every side of the dark purple yukata she wore. “How do I look?”
Before the boy realized it, his face reddened. “You look beautiful,” Taiyou managed to mumble. Though he was too embarrassed to look at the girl, at the same time, he couldn’t take his eyes from her.
Though he was aware, after his friends met Tsukiko and said he was lucky to have a girl that cute as the girl-next-door, Taiyou couldn’t stop thinking how pretty she was whenever she was too close. After that, it became hard to hang around with her the way they had during the school break, especially in her bedroom.
Now he had grown accustomed to the feeling and managed to keep his face from blushing. But from time to time, Tsukiko managed to caught him off guard and surprise him, looking more and more beautiful. Right now, with the yukata and her short hair tied with a red comb, he could feel his face burning.
“Really? Thanks!” She showed a smile that made him blush even more. “What about you? Where’s your yukata?”
“His old one’s too small now,” his aunt said, coming from the bathroom wearing a yukata too. “And he doesn’t want to rent one.”
Tsukiko turned to him and booed in a cute way. “Why not? I want to see you wearing one.” She came closer and held both his hands, looking him in the eyes. “Please?”
So close, he thought, her expression and touch making his heart beat faster. He avoided her eyes and pulled his hands, too embarrassed to find words. Tsukiko kept staring him, waiting for an answer. To his luck, his mom came from her bedroom at the time.
“You look lovely, Tsukiko-chan,” Shigure said with a smile.
“Thanks!” The girl finally took her eyes from him and Taiyou sighed in relief.
“Since everyone’s here, let’s go already. I’m pretty sure Sawako’s there drinking already,” Rin-nee said, taking Aika-chan by the hand.
“Wait a moment, Rin.” His mom walked to her sister and adjusted the obi from the yukata. “I can’t believe you still don’t know this.”
“Sis…” Rin-nee blushed as everyone stared her. “Stop treating me like when we were kids.”
“That’s impossible, little sis. Because no matter how old we are, you’ll always be my little sis,” she said with her smile and everyone but Rin-nee laughed.
Looking for Sawako-sensei in the park through the crowd wasn’t an easy task. Even though it was barely past lunch, many people were already drunk. They drank, ate, sang, dance and talk with the cherry blossom petals falling around. When Taiyou looked up and saw Tsukiko smiling, he couldn’t help but smile too.
Now that I think about it, I’ve used to go to the flower viewing days with friends, but this is the first time with a girl… The thought made him flush and he averted his eyes. A moment later, Taiyou felt a hand grabbing his and looked up.
“So we don’t get separated,” she said. Her smile made his heart beat faster, but he didn’t let go of the girl.
“I’ve being waiting for you.” They found Sawako-sensei sitting in a dignifying manner on a blanket under a tree. With her red yukata and hair up, Taiyou had never seen the math teacher so elegant. It’s weird, the thought crossed his head. The feeling grew when she placed both hands on the floor and lowered her head, showing them a serene smile. “I humbly thank you all for gracing me with your presence.”
None of them said anything as they looked at each other. The first one to break the silence was Rin-nee. “Sawako! You promised you’d wait for us to start drinking,” she complained, sitting across the woman with Aika-chan in her arms.
“This one has not broken the promise. At least you should believe in this one.” Sawako-sensei bowed to Rin-nee and brought a food box and a bag from behind her. With delicate moves, she unwrapped the box and took a porcelain bottle from the bag. Still with the serene smile, she got the bottle with the right hand, placed the left one on the bottom, brought it to her mouth and turned it over, drinking the sake in one gulp. “Now the hanami can begin!”
Rin-nee turned Aika-chan around and brought a hand to her face, pretending to clean the tears. “You shouldn’t see this, Aika-chan.”
The kid smiled and patted her on the back. “It’s okay. Mama drinks a lot.”
“Rin!” Sawako-sensei dropped the sake bottle and pulled Aika-chan, hugging her. “Don’t go trying to make look bad before my daughter’s eyes!”
“I’m sorry, Sawako.” Rin-nee stopped pretending to cry and seemed surprised. Then she became serious. “I don’t have the power to change reality.”
Tsukiko, Taiyou-kun and even his mother laughed. The math teacher bit her lips, her cheeks red. “Oh yeah? I could’ve sworn you’d have that power.” The teacher showed a triumphant smile. “I mean, you’ve been trying to erase a few things from your past. Like when you peed yourself during a lightning storm when you were a kid.”
Rin-nee reddened for an instant, but managed to keep her feelings down. After a moment, she closed her eyes, put a hand on her cheek and sighed. “Only you would spread a terrifying memory like that out of revenge.”
“Mama can’t say that!” Aika-chan escaped her mother’s arms. The little girl pouted to Sawako-sensei and then hugged Rin-nee.
“Thank you, Aika-chan. I hope you don’t grow up to be like your mama.”
“I won’t,” the girl said with an angelical smile.
“Even you, my daughter?” Sawako-sensei gritted her teeth opened. With a deep breath, she opened her purse and pulled another sake bottle. “You know what? I won’t let the two of you ruin this beautiful day,” she said and drank the entire bottle.
Rin-nee couldn’t keep holding anymore and laughed. After she stopped, she sighed and shook her head. “What unseemly sight… What if your students saw this?” she said, then pulled her phone from the silk round bag and took a photo.
Sawako-sensei tried to get the cellphone, but not only she coughed with the sake, her legs didn’t move like she wanted after sitting on them for so long. She could do nothing as Rin-nee handed the phone to Aika-chan, who ran away from her mother’s reach.
Laughing from the scene, Tsukiko, Taiyou and his mother sat down on the blanket with them.
“Ara, ara. I can’t believe you’re doing this, Rin.” Shigure covered half her face with the sleeve of her yukata, but they all knew the woman had her impish smile behind the fabric. “Didn’t you do something far worse at your friend’s wedding? At Sawako-chan took care of you all night after I couldn’t take your drunken whining anymore.”
“Ha! That’s right! I’d forgot that!” With her cheeks red from the embarrassment and the alcohol, the math teacher pointed her finger at Rin-nee. “Thank you for reminding me, Shigure-nee!”
Taiyou, Tsukiko, Aika-chan laughed and Shigure chuckled while Rin-nee flushed. This time the doctor couldn’t keep her cheeks from reddening.
“Sis! Why did you have to remember that?” Rin-nee stared her sister, but couldn’t say anything else. According to his grandmother, ever since they were kids, no matter how much she tried, Rin-nee couldn’t best his mother on this area.
“You’re picking on Sawako-chan too much for something you did yourself.” Shigure shook her head slowly. When Sawako-sensei hugged her, she patted the woman on the head.
“Thanks, Shigure-nee! I knew I could count on you.”
“Whenever my little sister gives you a hard time, come to me,” she said smiling. “There are so many embarrassing memories from Rin’s past I can tell…”
Even with everyone laughing, Rin-nee managed to withstand, but the final blow was when Aika-chan patted her on the back with sympathetic eyes. The woman couldn’t take anymore and covered her face with both hands. “I can’t believe my own sister is against me.”
“There’s no way I could be on your side if you keep picking on Sawako-chan.”
“Yeah! Tell me all her embarrassing secrets.” Sawako-sensei’ face was still red, but her eyes were eager and full of curiosity.
“No, Sis! No one besides Sawako wants to hear that, right?” Rin-nee turned to Aika-chan, Tsukiko and Taiyou.
“I wanna hear it too,” Tsukiko said, laughing.
“Me too!” Aika-chan said.
“Even you two?” Rin-nee pressed her lips and her ended on Taiyou. When the boy saw his aunt’s eyes widening, he knew what was coming. “I thought you’d prefer hearing about my nephew’s secret, Tsukiko-chan…”
The girl looked him with her eyes shining just like Sawako-sensei’, her opened mouth turning into a smile. “Yes, please! Tell me! Tell me!”
“Wait! Why are you bringing me into this?” Taiyou averted his eyes, feeling hot under the girl’s eyes. His aunt looked at him with an ‘it was you or me’ expression. There was no regret on her face.
“Oh, come on. Let me hear some of your secrets,” Tsukiko, poking him on the cheek with a finger. “Just one, no, two. Wait, seven. Yes, seven. I wanna know the seven mysteries of Taiyou-kun.”
“How did you get from one to seven?” Damn… why does she look so cute today? Taiyou looked around, trying to find anything to change the subject. When he found nothing, he turned back to Tsukiko and a triumphant smile crossed his lips. “Fine. If you tell seven secrets about yourself.”
“Geh… you’re all about equivalent exchange these days… I shouldn’t have had shown you that anime,” Tsukiko mumbled, averting her eyes. When she realized the attention had shifted to her, she reddened. “So Taiyou-kun wants to know a lady’s secret. I’m not sure I couldn’t look you in the eyes if you knew.”
Damn it! She got me, he thought, but for some reason, he had an urge to smile despite everything.
“Ara, ara, my son has changed so much,” his mom said, placing a hand on her cheek and shaking her head, a worried look on her face. “He’s used to be so kind.”
“I know what you mean, sis,” Rin-nee said, nodding. “Remember when his friend puked on the school trip and he took the blame so no one would tease that girl?”
His mother smiled dreamily as Taiyou’s face burned. “Yes. I remember that. You were such a gentleman… And now you’re blackmailing a lady to tell her secrets.”
“How do you know about the field trip?” he managed to ask in a low voice, but there was no way he could look any of them in the eyes. However, even without seeing, Taiyou could feel Tsukiko beaming next to him.
“Your teacher told me. She was so proud to have a gentleman in her class,” Shigure said.
“But he wasn’t always so cool and popular with the girls,” Rin-nee added, her smile sly. “I remember how he cried after he scored his first goal.”
“What? For real!” Tsukiko hugged him. “It must’ve been so cute. I wished I was there to see it,” she lamented.
“Yep. The winning goal and in the end of the game. When the ball hit the net, he just stared at it with a dumb face, and then cried when his friends jumped on him… I have photos, if you want.”
Taiyou’s face was an alarming shade of red as he opened his mouth, but since he had nothing to say, he stared the floor with the laughs around him. When he felt a hand patting him on the back, he looked up and saw Sawako-sensei looking at him with a sympathetic expression.
“I know the feeling… Those Fuyuzora sisters are hard to handle. Don’t ever end up like them, please!” She shook her head and then she pulled Taiyou into her arms. “I had no idea what I was getting into… I’m sure the gods will reward me for this.”
The next instant, Aika-chan came and patted him on the back with her pure smile. “It’s okay.” The boy couldn’t help but laugh and his embarrassment vanished a bit.
“Ara, ara. You say that, but you love my little sister, Sawako-chan,” his mother said with a gentle smile that hid her true intentions.
Sawako-sensei blushed and averted her eyes. Rin-nee crawled across the blanket, pulled Taiyou from the teacher and hugged the hugged her.
“I love you too, Sawako!”
“Shut up,” she mumbled as she tried to get rid of the woman.
“Come, on. Give me a kiss”
“Stop that… It’s embarrassing…” Her face was a wild shade of red as she pushed Rin-nee away. “I thought I was the one drunk here!”
As everybody laughed, Tsukiko rested her head on Taiyou’s shoulder. “This is so nice,” she said, so low only he could hear.
“My secrets or my crazy family?” Despite his words, there was a smile forcing itself on his lips when the girl chuckled.
“Both. You have no idea how much I love seeing you looking embarrassed… But just hanging with your family is fun…” She lifted her head from his shoulder and looked at him with a huge smile. “Thanks for inviting me.”
Taiyou couldn’t look at that smile without blushing, but at the same time, he didn’t want to take his eyes from Tsukiko. When she hugged him, his mind became a haze and he hugged her too, but his aunt’s voice brought him back.
“Sis, where’s the food?” Rin-nee had stopped trying to kiss Sawako-sensei and had settled on hugging Aika-chan. “I’m starving!”
Shigure unwrapped the food boxes they had prepared earlier. Together with the food Sawako-sensei brought, they had the most varied type of food, snacks and drinks so they could enjoy the flower viewing day. “But we can’t eat yet,” she said, grabbing Rin-nee’ hand midday to the snacks.
“Huh? Why not?”
“We’re waiting for someone.” Shigure lifted her wrist, checked the watch and then looked around. “He should be getting here soon… ah, there he is.”
Everyone looked in the same direction, but in the crowd, no one stood out… until a man wearing a suit waved towards them. Against the sun, they couldn’t see his face, but as he got closer, Tsukiko widened her eyes and smile.
“Dad!” she screamed and raced towards the man. She jumped and hugged him before he could say anything. A second later, he laughed and hugged her back. “Didn’t you have work?”
“I had, but I managed to finish early today.”
“But why are you here?”
“I invited him,” Shigure said. “I’m glad you could make it, Aozora-san.”
“Thank you for inviting me,” Tsukiko’s dad said, bowing his head. “Sorry I’m late, Fuyuzora-kun.”
“No.” she shook her head with a smile. “You’re just in time for the best part of the day; the food.”
Holding Tsukiko’s hand, he walked to them, bowed again and sat on the blanket. “It may not be much, but I brought this.” He took a bottle of sake from the paper bag he had.
“Sake from Okinawa!” Sawako-sensei got the bottle with both hands as if it was precious. “I knew you had great taste. This is the best way to appreciate the hanami.”
The man chuckled. “It was something I brought from my last trip. I’m glad I chose right. I was a little worried about my choice, since I heard you love sake.”
“Hey, Shigure-nee, are you bad mouthing me too?” Sawako-sensei turned to the woman. Despite her words, there was a smile on her lips as she opened the bottle and poured for four people.
“Ara, ara. Of course, I’m not. I mean, how I could badmouth someone with the truth?” Despite her words, she still had the gentle smile as she accepted her share. Rin-nee laughed as Sawako-sensei blushed.
“Hey, how do you two know each other?” Tsukiko asked, still smiling. From her looks, Taiyou knew she wanted to know, but barely managed to keep it to herself.
Her father and Taiyou’s mother looked at each other. “Recently his company has been doing a lot of business with us,” she said.
“And Fuyuzora-kun has been a great help. Thanks to you, the park renovations were well received, especially the flowers.”
“I’m glad to hear that.”
“Enough of that you two,” Rin-nee said after she finished her drink. “Tetsuya-san is the person we were waiting for, right? Then let’s eat. I’m still starving!”
“Yeah, me too,” Aika-chan said, eyeing the food with a finger on her mouth.
“Yes, yes, but…” Shigure looked at Tsukiko’s dad and Taiyou with a hand on her cheek.
“I’m not dressed for the occasion, right?” he said, looking down at his suit. “Is there a place to rent yukata around here?”
“It’s just around the corner,” Tsukiko said. “I can take you there.”
“It’s okay,” he said. His daughter was about to stand up when he placed a hand on her shoulder. “Enjoy the festival, Tsukiko. I’ll be right back.”
“My son will take you there,” his mom said and Taiyou knew what she meant.
“I’m okay, mom…” He trailed off under her stare. Though his mother had the gentle smile on her face, he felt the menace behind it. The boy gulped and avoided her eyes, but no matter where he looked, the people around looked at him with expectations. Damn… I’m weak against them, he thought, standing up with his head down.
Walking by Tsukiko’s dad side felt weird, and the silence only made it more awkward. He kept glancing up at him, but when he realized what he was doing, he stared forward again. This isn’t the first time I meet my friends’ parents, but Tsukiko…
“So you’re the famous Taiyou-kun,” he said in his deep voice when they were almost at the rental store. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“You have?” The words escaped his lips before he could stop them. Was that rude? I want him to like him, the thought crossed his mind, and out of nowhere Taiyou’s stomach tightened. When the man chuckled, the boy got more nervous.
“Yes. My daughter talks a lot about you.” The mention of Tsukiko made Taiyou’s stomach tighten again and he blushed. The man chuckled again. “You’re just like she said.”
With the help of the attendant, they chose the yukata—green for Taiyou and a dark blue for Tsukiko’s dad—and changed in the dressers. I know Tsukiko loves him, but from what she said, I imagined he was this scary and thought-only-about-his-work businessman type. I don’t know his him nor his reasons, but it looks like he cares about her. If only he was around more… I know Tsukiko wants that, but she won’t say…
“I know I’m a bad father,” Taiyou heard his voice through the division. “I know I should spend more time with her and I want that too, but…” The boy had no idea what to say and waited, but the man kept his silence. When Taiyou had almost finished changing and got out of the dresser, he heard a sigh. “I’m glad she has someone like you by her side.”
Taiyou stared the man, feeling his throat dry. I know I have no right, but I have to say it… for Tsukiko… “I-I… I know she wishes you were around more, even though she never said it,” he blurted out, his face red. The man widened his eyes a bit, but kept quiet. Taiyou took a deep breath and imagined Tsukiko’s face. “But she loves you and never said you’re a bad father.”
The man stared him with an empty expression, and then closed his eyes, bringing his hand to his face. Taiyou gulped. I never talked like this to an adult… “Thanks for telling me this,” he said with a smile, placing the hand on the boy’s shoulder. “You’re a great young man. Please continue to be Tsukiko’s friend.”
“I-I’ll… be by her side,” Taiyou managed to say, his face even redder.
“Thank you.” Tsukiko’s dad bowed his head.
“Ara, ara. Don’t you two look quite handsome?” Shigure said when they got back.
“Yeah, dad. You look cool!” Tsukiko ran to him and grabbed his arm.
“Haha. Thank you two,” he said, scratching his head. “It’s been awhile since I wore a yukata. I was worried it would look strange.”
“You look more like a feudal lord from the samurai era,” Tsukiko said. As they laughed, the girl leaned closer to Taiyou. “You look cool too,” she whispered to him.
The boy blushed and couldn’t look her in the eyes.
“Finally!” Rin-nee’ voice echoed.
The moment they sat, Rin-nee and Aika-chan started eating. They all talked, ate, drank, and never felt the time passing. There even was some amazake for Tsukiko and Taiyou. Even when Taiyou noticed the smile on his lips, it didn’t go away. But to him, seeing that his neighbor had a smile on her lips too, he couldn’t help but feel happier. She realized he was looking at her and kissed him on the cheek, laughing when she saw how red he was
“I think that’s enough amazake for you two,” his mother said. The adults agreed and laughed.
“Onii-chan, onee-chan, let’s play.” Aika-chan pushed the ball on his face.
Taiyou forced himself up and offered the hand to Tsukiko. They played with Aika-chan for a little while, but soon the kid felt tired and ran back to her mother. She fell asleep almost right away.
“Hahaha. That was fast.” Even though they had barely played, Tsukiko panted a bit. She leaned against a tree as she watched their families still drinking and talking.
“She’s just like her mother,” Taiyou said, standing next to her.
Tsukiko laughed again, but the boy felt that her mind somewhere else. “Hey, Taiyou-kun?”
He turned to her. A trickle of sweat ran down her neck when a cherry blossom petal fell on her. The sight made his heart beat faster and his breathing rapid. Before Taiyou realized it, he leaned closer to the girl. What am I doing? The thought crossed his head, but Tsukiko suddenly became more beautiful than ever and he couldn’t control himself anymore. He reached out to take the petal when she turned to him.
“Today was the best day ever,” she said in her voice that sounded more beautiful than ever. Taiyou barely heard her due to his heartbeats. He froze when she leaned closer to him and before he could do anything, their lips met.
Taiyou had no idea if the kiss was brief or long; time had lost meaning to him. His mind became blank; all he could feel was her soft lips. He stopped hearing; everything was mute to him, even his own heartbeats.
She pulled back, too soon for him. Taiyou stared her lips and when they formed a smile, it was the most beautiful one he had ever seen. “I’ll treasure this day forever,” she said and he finally managed to take his eyes from her lips. Tsukiko’s cheeks blushing almost as much as his.
As he realized what had happened, the world moved again. As he widened his eyes, Taiyou heard his heart again, beating so loud he was sure everyone could hear.
“Come on. Let’s get back.” Tsukiko pushed herself from the tree and offered a hand.
Taiyou tried saying something, but he forgot how to use words. He took the girl’s hand, but even as she pulled him, he said nothing. All he could think was her lips.
“No way…” Yui-san stared at him, her face bewildered. But it soon vanished when her lips formed a smile. “I can’t believe she managed to hide her first kiss from me… I’m kinda impressed.”
“She doesn’t remember,” Taiyou said, too embarrassed to look the girl in the eyes. “Please, don’t tell her. I couldn’t face her if she remembers…”
Yui-san opened her mouth, but then sighed, scratching her head. “Fine, fine. But you owe me.” He nodded right away. She looked between the boy and the door of Tsukiko’s apartment. “Hey, Taiyou, tell me one thing. Do you like Tsukiko?”
He widened his eyes and looked down, feeling his cheeks burn. “Yes,” he barely managed to say due to his embarrassment. “I like her a lot.”
“Wait, since you’re a kid, I need to clarify this.” Yui-san leaned closer to his face. “You mean like her as a friend or as a girl that you wanna kiss again?”
Taiyou’s his face burned even hotter. “I… wanna… kiss her again…” His voice came out so low he wasn’t sure the girl had heard him. But then Yui-san chuckled.
“Way to go, Taiyou. You have more guts than most guys on my school,” she said, slapping him on the back. “I’ll be honest here. You two would make a good couple. In fact, you two are so close I’m surprised you’re not dating yet.”
The comment made him happy, but also made Taiyou feel a stab in his heart. “I… I don’t know if she feels the same,” he mumbled. “Even though she kissed me, she doesn’t remember. It might be because of the rice sake…”
The girl bit her lips and after a long time, she sighed.
“Since you told me this, I’ll tell you a secret. But you have to promise to keep it to yourself, got it?” After he nodded, she looked around, making her no one was hearing them. “Last year, during new year’s eve, we, I mean, me, Tsukiko and a few other girls got a little drunk on amazake. As we drank and talked, the conversation ended up on dating and first kisses…” she trailed off, her face red. Yui-san closed her eyes and went on, “some of us ended up kissing each other… But Tsukiko, even though she was almost as drunk as me, didn’t kiss anyone, saying first kisses were important and she would never do it because of sake… Do you get what I’m saying?”
Taiyou understood what her words, but for some reason, his mind wasn’t connecting the dots. The girl realized and sighed.
“I mean even drunk Tsukiko didn’t go around kissing people!”
The boy widened his eyes as he understood. Suddenly his heart felt lighter and he smiled. But before he said anything, Tsukiko opened the door.
“I’m ready! Let’s go!” she said, panting a bit. “Hey, why are you two so read?”
Taiyou and Yui-san exchanged glances before turning to her. “No reason,” he said, avoiding her eyes.
“We were just chitchatting… about you,” Yui-san said with a sly smile, her face back to its normal color.
“Ah!” Tsukiko raced between them and opened her arms before Taiyou, as if shielding him. “Stop spreading lies about me to Taiyou-kun!”
“Who said I told any lie?” Yui-san looked pass Tsukiko and winked at him. Under the girls’ eyes, the boy showed a strained smile.
“Tell me what you said,” Tsukiko demanded.
“It’s a secret.” Yui-san turned around. “Right, Taiyou-kun?”
“What? No way. Tell me.”
“Come on. I’m starving.” Yui-san walked towards the elevator.
“Wait a minute! You’re not walking away from this conversation!”
Tsukiko and Taiyou headed after Yui-san. The girls’ argument still went on for a while, but the boy barely paid attention. Before he caught himself glancing at Tsukiko’s lips from time to time.
I can’t believe I told Yui-san about the kiss, he thought, his heart beating faster as he remembered. But she said we would make a good couple. The idea of dating Tsukiko was too much for him, but even so, he wanted to kiss her again, to make her happier than ever.