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"Breaking the Fourth Wall" by Mao


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Disclaimer: Prince of Tennis does not belong to me.
A/n: I can't stand it anymore.. x_x
I can't stand writing Constant Sugar High.
I don't know why. I think sometimes I just need to take a break with a story. I'm trying to force myself to write this happy fluff scene and it's not turning out right. My weird mind is telling me that if I write something angsty, then a scene with a happy mood would be easier. XD

* as a break denotes a change in POV.

Breaking the Fourth Wall


Oshitari Yuushi.
26.
Published Author.


The grandfather clock within the structure was at exactly 5:59.

My fingertips met the glass door of the café with force, the barrier swinging open and allowing me to walk inside, feet meeting a tiled floor. The refreshing scent of coffee reached my nostrils and I breathed in deeply as my grip on the laptop I was clutching tightened, feeling rejuvenated. Pushing up the glasses that had no use to me, I smiled and took my usual seat by the corner, putting the computer on the desktop. "Mahh, let's see... What shall I work on today?" he mumbled to himself, opening the laptop with a swift motion while scanning where he last left off in the text that he had been working on.

The waitress came by as the slow minute hand of the clock struck 6 and caused a brief period of light chiming sounds; I could tell that she was new from the way she fumbled with the pen and notepad, and by the awkward way she walked in her uniform, not entirely comfortable with it. My eyes swept over her legs for a brief moment and then landed on her face; she seemed spirited despite her disorganized actions, as well as frankly attractive in my eyes. It was a pity, I thought, that she was just too young and clumsy for my tastes. She didn't hold my attention for long, however, for I wanted to continue my novel. I merely muttered the usual that I had, sending her walking away in the black heels of her uniform.

As my fingers met the keys repeatedly, eliciting soft clacking sounds, the subtle sound of pattering reached my ears. Straightening up, I glanced outside. It was beginning to rain quite heavily, heavy and depressed clouds willing their collected waters onto the Earth in a part of a circle -- a continuous cycle. I squinted as I saw a dark and quickly approaching figure, no umbrella in hand, cutting her way through the thick, heavy air and empty streets outside to make her way towards the building I was residing in.

I glanced at the table beside mine. I had already taken note that it was empty out of my peripheral vision, but now that it was the focus of my attention, the table seemed oddly lonely unoccupied; it was missing something vital -- it would not truly serve its purpose until somebody sat down within the chair and ordered her regular chai tea or cappuccino; until then, it was nothing but yet another object taking up space in the background. The thought struck me as oddly depressing, but I let out a chuckle at it nonetheless, not too perturbed at the concept.

It probably would have though, if the figure, drenched and strangely pathetic like a dog, burst into the café panting. Nobody seemed to mind her much as she sat down though; she was a regular customer. She ended up ordering her regular cappuccino.

She also ended up dropping her bag with an air of irritation onto the floor as per usual, extracting a few papers and a pen from it. Glancing at the clock and mumbling something about being late, she slammed the pile of papers onto her desk and only began to write, droplets slipping off wet strands of hair and tainting the crisp, white sheets on her desk. Making no move to look up except only to take her order with courtesy, she sat like that for a good few minutes as I typed away unconsciously, my eyes glued on her.

'Odd,' I thought immediately. I couldn't help it though. This nameless school girl, no matter how many times she had come in and sat down next to me or vice versa, would always send subtle glances of curiosity at me. Unlike most other women or girls who would admire me quietly, she didn't do so smitten or with any sort of profound adoration. She seemed to be simply curious of me.

I couldn't blame her, though. There were quite a few occasions where I'd pull my chair up to her table, looking at her with a cool expression and smirk. I discovered that it was far from homework that she was doing; she had been writing stories, some including romance, but mainly fantasy and science fiction. Being a published author, I couldn't help but feel curious at her talent with words, the way that she could manipulate the simple lines on a page to bring vivid images to even my skeptical mind and draw emotion with a simple pen. Her stories, simple and complicated, brought rare smiles instead of the usual smirk to my face.

But despite the minutes of silence between the two of us that would occur sometimes, she still hadn't caught my name. I still hadn't caught hers.

Well, I did know it. I had overheard it once or twice from the young owner of the establishment. Your Name. But I managed to remain a complete mystery to her; perhaps that is why intrigue always tugged at her mind whenever I walked by.

Today, though, there was none of that coy or quiet observation from behind half-fallen eyelids or thick eyelashes. There was no silent studying. She straight-out turned around, her voice ringing strongly instead of the usual quiet and reserved tone she used, "Hey."

I looked up from my laptop, admittedly pleased at her attentions. "Yes?" I drawled, undoubtedly appearing collected and almost bored to the younger Hyotei student. She didn't seem to care.

"Have you ever had trouble writing... sappy scenes?"

I pushed my glasses up, nearly offended at the thought. "Ah? I've told you before that I am a romance writer. How could I be one if I had trouble describing sentimental displays?" The legs of my chair scraped against the floor as I shifted, looking over her shoulder. She bit the eraser on the top of her pen. "What; are you having troubles?"

"Obviously," she replied, sarcasm infecting her voice and making it sound incredibly aggressive. "It's just, sap can be so difficult to write because it can be so boring. I would like to skip straight to the comedy I have planned, but I can't because this is a pivotal point is the development of their relationship..." Your Name stopped abruptly, running fingers through her hair with frustration as my eyes scanned the page, taking in the words she had written. My lips turned downward -- a rare occurrence when I was reading her writing.

"Not bad, but it's getting too forced near the end. You're clearly not in the mood for writing romance at the moment. Scenes such as this should only be written when you are in the mood too; that way, the emotion can be expressed clearly enough." She gave me a dubious look, but, again, I couldn't blame her; for some reason, I had said such a potentially passionate line in a coolly neutral and analytical voice -- it drew perturbed looks from everybody when I did such a thing. She seemed to move on quickly though.

"But I want to get through this. I don't want to wait," she complained.

"Hmm? Then get inspired. Listen to music or read some books -- I think I caught you reading one or two romance books yesterday," I replied with a teasing, boyish chuckle. Her usually collected and neutral demeanor crumbled before me for once as she turned flush, angling her face down and away from me. "Ah? Are you ashamed of it or something?" Your Name gave a noncommittal noise and shrugged.

"Sort of. A lot of people wouldn't take me for the type to read such books. Heck, I was surprised myself when I realized that they were to my liking," she replied, coolling down and regaining her composure and managing to not look so embarrassed. The smirk on my face only grew stronger; she had such an intriguing persona.

"There's still certainly not shame in it," I said, reclining in my chair.

"You're a romance author," she pointed out bluntly, giving me an exasperated glance, "granted, I suppose there isn't... But this one is getting a little too cheesy for my tastes."

"Really now? Let's see it?"

I felt my eye twitch just the slightest. I believe that's the first time in years that I'd lost my composure like that. Of course, it was hard not to when I read the title of one of my older books as well as my name on the glossy, redesigned front cover of the bunch of papers. "Don't get me wrong," she said, "it's a good book. But I'm nearing the ending and I can already tell that it's going to be gratingly and unrealistically happy."

"Ah," I said, my voice restrained. It was the only thing I could say without any tirades pouring out. "But it would be heartbreaking if the ending were tragic, no?"

"But it would be farfetched. I would like to read romances about people, not 2D characters in a fantasy world; it's easier to relate to."

Huh. She had a good point there, I had to admit. "It's a shame you aren't more interested in writing romance. You seem to be quite good at it." She gave a shrug.

"I suppose so. I just wish it interested me more. The romances that interest me are the dramatic and tragic ones, I'm sad to say. But not Romeo and Juliet. Stupid teenagers."

"I agree. However, you can't deny the literary value of the play," I chided, "and I believe the Shakespeare at least did a good job with that kind of plot. Notice how it turns from a lighthearted comedy into a crushing tragedy."

"Yeah; this guy does it often in his books. Except they're not as quite as stupid. Retarded teenagers," she said again in her agitated growl stubbornly. I raised a brow; from the way she was acting right now, I could already predict that she would be quite the wrathful force should she ever turn angry. In fact, I was already quite put off by her behaviour; Your Name was usually very reserved. Either she really hated Shakespeare or something was wrong -- but what exactly had put her into this mood? I reiterated my question out loud.

"Actually, it's both. I hate Romeo and Juliet and something DID put me into this mood."

"The rain?" I questioned, noting how her grey uniform clung to her as well as the droplets of water on her legs (then again, I noted every woman's legs).

"No. On the contrary, I like the rain," she said offhandedly, calming down noticeably as she watched water slide down the cold glass of the windows. "It makes me feel a lot more relaxed. Anyway, it's a foolish reason."

"It doesn't matter. Venting always helps," I pressed. She hesitated.

"I don't know you," she pointed out immediately.

"Nor do I know you," I replied, "odd since we know each other fairly well by now. I suppose it's time that we introduce ourselves, hm?"

"Very well," she agreed, crossing her legs and staring intently at the paper in front of her. Frustration was clearly striking her repeatedly, and she wasn't entirely paying attention to me. The fact almost drew a growl from my lips; I was not used to being ignored as such. Well, this introduction would catch her attention.

"Oshitari Yuushi," escaped my lips, my velvety and smooth voice reaching her ears. She stiffened immediately. I smiled at her reaction; of course she would be uncomfortable at realizing that she had met one of her less-than-favourite authors. I expected an apology, but only got her name in reply.

"Last Name First Name," she responded with as just as much confidence and slyness, as if she knew that her name would throw me horribly off as my name had done to her. Unexpectedly, it did -- as soon as she uttered her last name, I froze as comprehension took over me. Last Name. Her family was affiliated with the Atobe-Groups, and she was fabulously well-to-do being the heir of the Last Name Corporation.

"I see. How could I have expected less from Hyotei?"

"You know my school?" she asked.

"It used to be mine as well. I believe my friend is associated with your family's corporation."

"Atobe Keigo, correct? He's mentioned you to me in passing the few times we have conversed," Your Name informed me, my lips curving into a definite smirk. Through glass, I caught a faint pink on her cheeks, but it was quickly banished as she sank further into her chair, if that was even possible. "Well, this is awkward. I'm surprised you don't have me about the comments I've made in the past about your books." It was probably the closest to an apology I'd ever get from the strong-willed girl, so I shrugged and cast away irritated thoughts.

"Mahh, well, I will admit that I am not used to girls disliking my work," I said with conceit in my voice. She rolled her eyes, obviously annoyed at my egotistical ways, but I paid no mind to her. "So, you go to Hyotei. What year are you in?"

"I'm 16 in my senior year," Your Name said, seeming to become disinterested and stirring her cappuccino impatiently.

"And how has the tennis team been going since Atobe and I graduated?"

"As large as ever, from what I've heard. You two are practically legends in the tennis team, you know? Some of the girls still love you as not only the 'dreamy romance author' but also the genius tennis player. As for Atobe... well, let's just say that I wouldn't be surprised if I come across a cult for him," she said monotonously, yet still cynically amused at the disturbing thought. A chuckle, nearly a quiet purr, emitted from me at the statement. "The tennis team is still pretty big with all the new talent we're suddenly getting... Some of the coaches say that they can't wait for Atobe's kid to start attending, though. Not Sakaki-sensei, though. He's as neutral as ever."

I raised a brow. "Sakaki-sensei is still there?"

"He's my music teacher. He also occasionally coaches our tennis team, but he mostly stays with the boys'."

"Oh? You play tennis?" I asked, my interest spiking, "Are you on the regulars?"

"Nope. I play a few matches here and there, and if the Hyotei elevator rule applied to me, I would be on the regulars. However, I'm just not interested."

"It's a shame to waste such talent," I drawled, "but it's good to hear that Hyotei's maintained its reputation over the years."

The conversation came to a dead stop in which I saw her fidget for a while. My eyebrows partially disappeared under my blue bangs for a moment; even if I had not talked to Your Name much, I still knew her strong personality -- cool, reserved, on the strong-willed side when talking, a little shy when addressing controlling elders, but charismatic nonetheless. She was raised to be such, after all; she was going to be the heir of a powerful company. Today, however, she was acting more foolish (than usual), giving me furtive glances every so often with mainly well-contained blushes, suddenly turning quieter than usual while talking to me...

... Maybe it was because she found out who I am. Heh, I have the ability to sweep even the most strong-willed girls off their feet. (I have a feeling that if I had said that out loud, she would've slapped me.)

For the sake of my conscience, I wrote it off as because she was caught off guard with my identity. No matter how many teenage fangirls I had gotten during the years as an author, it still managed to disturb my conscience (which Atobe has described as 'close to nonexistent').

The ticking of the clock suddenly reached my ears sharper than ever and my eyes narrowed. How much time had I killed so far? I finished up my coffee which, to my displeasure, had grown cold over the minutes I had talked to her, and glanced at the numbered, circular face hanging from the wall. The minute hand, to my dismay, was already dangerously close to 7 and I had not made much progress on my current novel. Excusing myself, I turned back to my own laptop, my eyes squinting at the brightly lit screen -- a habit that I have been advised to get rid of lest I lose my perfect vision.

My fingertips pounded mercilessly away nonstop for the next few minutes, my thoughts being written out on paper instantly. I paused after a short while, wading through the deluge of words that I had typed and scowled, highlighting the entire block I had written and erasing it all forever (unless I used the undo option, but that is a detail that can be overlooked!) with a single tap on the 'backspace' key.

I subdued an amused laugh. 'Ironic,' I thought, 'I was supposed to help her out with her writer's block and now I've gotten my own.'

Shutting down the power on my laptop, I walked out of the café, trying to ignore the stare that Your Name was giving me.

*


Last Name First Name.
16
Student and aspiring author.


Keigo Atobe. An interesting person, I had thought as I walked out of his professionally decorated office. My father had a meeting with him, and subsequently brought me to meet the charismatic man. We hadn't talked much, as usual, but I did get to exchange a few words with him -- about my inevitable inheritance, and about our mutual acquaintance. Oshitari Yuushi.

Oshitari. Another interesting man. He possessed as just as much charisma as the leader of Atobe-Groups, but his personality was so different. He was the epitome of reclusive and mildly taciturn, but still had the ability to draw people towards him. He was a mystery -- and enigma, if you will. I had heard so much of the man after I started attending Hyotei and as well as his novels because they were so explosively popular.

A sigh escaped my lips as I boarded the elevator. His novels. Now there was something that I did not like as much as the man himself. They were perfectly good novels, but simply not my cup of tea.

Shaking my head, I sighed in exasperation at myself. It would not be good to linger on such things, after all.

To my pleasure, it was raining for a second day in a row. I walked out of the air conditioned lobby of the Atobe-Groups office building for some cool and fresh air. Unfortunately, I could not escape the humidity and heat of summer, even with the rain falling upon the city, shielded from me with only a glass canopy supported by four pillars outside the exit. Yet, I stayed outside; it was a nice change from the air-conditioned and eerie subdued noises of the Atobe-Groups hall, reaching my ears after being distorted by thick walls and an unspoken rule of silence and banned noise.

"Mother," I spoke into the cell phone in my hand, "could you send somebody to pick me up?"

"Oh, of course..."

Her voice seemed oddly drowned out when I compared them to the sharp noise of water slapping the streets in miniscule deposits, of cars racing past me and making puddles of water go flying in an unsightly mess. I winced when the dirty liquid reached me, retreating back into the glass of the lobby windows and straightening my grey Hyotei skirt out. Despite such noise, the conversation went on quite mundanely, and normally. "Yeah, so, somebody should get there in roughly 3 or 4 minutes... By the way, I have something to tell you when you get home."

Blinking in curiosity as I closed the minuscule device, I wonder what on Earth she could possibly have to tell me. My mother had seemed so oddly thrilled about it, as if she were bottling something up from within her. Was it meant to greatly surprise me? To shock me? Excitement welled up inside of me even if my face displayed nothing but neutrality physically. Nevertheless, my eyes danced as I watched cars speed by in the wet environment.

Squinting my eyes, I looked up to the sky for no real reason. Boredom was just driving me to do so. However, I was forced to turn my attention to the car that had just halted in front of me; my mother was waiting in the shotgun seat and from behind tinted windows, I could make out another figure in the back seat.

I opened the car door and entered it before taking a final glance at the sky. It seemed grey and square.

My brow furrowed in confusion once I got inside upon seeing who it had been sitting in the front seat. I looked at my mother for an explanation as I slammed the door shut and as the car began to speed away. She had an expression of ecstasy.

"Your Name, I know you're graduating from high school soon. You'll be entering university and after you're done with that, you'll be getting a job!"

"Don't remind me," I groaned. The guest beside me gave me a gratingly amused glance to which I sent him a sharp and quick glare for. It didn't seem to scathe him in the least.

"Yes, well, I know for a fact that you would like to pursue your interest of writing... So your father and I got in touch with this young man through Atobe Keigo, and he was willing to not only help you improve, but with publications and such!"

I felt myself sinking into my seat. This was not how it was supposed to be. I had envisioned myself in publishing a novel by myself with no handicaps to see if I really had material worth publishing; I didn't want to get stuff that wasn't up to par being bound and mass-produced because a well-established author was suckered into endorsing it. 'Don't be stupid,' I argued with myself, 'this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Publication is hard to obtain and you probably need all the help you can get!'

I wondered when I had picked up the habit of talking to myself.

Glancing up at my mother, I couldn't help but note the look of expectance on her face. I fidgeted as I searched for a response that would please both my mother and Oshitari, one that couldn't possibly be misunderstood in any way possible. In the end, I settled for an elegant, "Thank you," and a flash of a grateful smile. Oshitari's expression contorted into one of brief surprise for a moment, but quickly switched back. Ignoring it, I only inquired in order to seem interested and polite, "so Oshitari-san will basically be tutoring me?"

My mother glanced at me in surprise. "You know him?"

"We've met," he admitted, his fingers playing longingly with a white paper cylinder, filled to the brim with toxins that I did not want to think of. Yes, I disliked cigarettes. "But to answer your question, yes, I will be tutoring you for a short while; guiding you, you could say, as you write your book." Nodding as a sign of understanding, I leant into the leather seat of the car and wondered if there were any more questions I could possibly ask. Only one occurred to me at that moment.

"When will I first meet you?"

"I'll pick you up from school tomorrow," he said.

"Ah. What about the fangirls?"

"They really aren't that much of a nuisance as everybody makes them out to be," he drawled, "sometimes it's annoying when they try to mob you, but it rarely happens. They usually respect my space." I nodded.

"Alright then. Thanks, Oshitari-san. Err, I guess it's '-sensei' now, nah?"

The car pulled into the driveway of my house -- which was, at best, 'modest'. Modest for us, anyway. My family did not enjoy to display our wealth with a mansion too much, but we still made ourselves "comfortable" with a particularly large house. The driver -- a hired chauffeur, needless to say -- exited the car and held the door open for my mother who smiled graciously in response. I scowled as she did. Why couldn't she just open the damn door herself? Even if they weren't as bad as some people when it came to superfluous comforts, my parents could still act unreasonably spoiled.

I had already been in a dreary mood, and the whole deal with Oshitari didn't particularly thrill me; it should've, and I knew that if I were normal, I would've greatly appreciated it. But my pride didn't allow me such a luxury; I wanted to turn my nose at the whole thing, to scoff at Oshitari's admittedly skilled work, and to chide at my mother. I knew better though. I restricted myself to slamming the car door shut louder than usual as the only sign of displeasure. Oshitari himself gave me a dubious look as my mother walked into the house, chattering incessantly to the chauffeur.

"Last Name-san?" the ex-tennis player inquired.

"It's nothing."

Nothing. Always nothing, he probably thought. It was the same response I gave him yesterday when he asked what had put me into a foul mood. I offhandedly replied that it was merely nothing.

I, myself, knew as a fact that it wasn't good to keep everything pent up. The thing was, whenever I tried to vocalize them on the spot, they seemed petty and trivial, and I'd confuse myself until I forgot why I was originally angry. Emotion could be so difficult for me to express verbally. The best route to establishing them properly was through either actions or recording them on a piece of paper, where I had the time to organize them thoughtfully. Even then though, with the latter, it was difficult.

Yet, my careful upbringing and own dignity did not allow much room for action. Maybe that's why I had taken up narrative writing.




Hours sped by and already, I found my head lying on a desktop in the thick, summer heat. The clock's ticks were as steady as always, but they seemed to slow down from my point of view. I took another glance at the object, even if I just had a few precious seconds ago; there were still 3 minutes until the bell would ring. Then, I would have to pack my bag quickly and run outside, hopefully that my new tutor wouldn't be lost to me within the crowd.

Even while fatigue was pulling at my eyelids due to the classroom's quiet and the summer haze, I shot out of my seat like a bullet cutting through the air towards its victim and sprinted out of the classroom with my books, drawing a few concerned (and other suspicious) glances. I didn't care for them much, though, I only wanted to pack my bag and get out of there quickly. Oshitari Yuushi had always been somewhat of a mystery, but it was not only that which made me eager to meet him, but also his natural charisma that bluntly put, made me think that he was a cool guy.

He certainly didn't need to know that though.

God knows he was a conceited enough guy.

The thoughts passed through and caused me to smile, calming me and forcing me to relax. From behind me, a wave of the sound of footsteps reached my ears. I turned around to see a few of my friends, panting a bit and looking at me reproachfully. "Hey, why'd you ditch us like that?" one of them said, her eyes narrowed -- it was all in good humor, though. I shrugged; it seemed mean, but I couldn't care less at the moment.

"Sorry, but I'm meeting somebody and I don't wanna be late."

The mildly irked facial expressions disappeared immediately and they disintegrated into wobbly-legged, squealing teenagers. 'Why am I friends with them again?' I pondered needlessly as one of them clung onto my arm. "Yes?"

"Wow! You finally got a boyfriend!"

"It's not my boyfriend. It's my tutor," I pointed out bluntly. "And a rather important one at that."

"Oh? Is he cute?"

"Sort of, but why would it matter? He's like, what, 10 years older than me?"

"Love transcends all boundaries!"

I rolled my eyes. Sometimes I wish that Izumi wouldn't gush so annoyingly when it came it boys. Slamming my locker shut with a considerable degree of force, sending the noise through the hall, I gave her a sharp glance. It was then that they seemed to consider tact; two others who were present slapped their palms over her mouth and she even put her own hand overtop to add to the effect.

"Oh gosh -- I'm sorry," she apologized. She repeated the words several times as I walked quietly to the exit of the school.

"It's no problem," I said, "I don't really mind."

I honestly didn't really. They were being too sensitive about something I didn't care about much. It was something that happened yesterday and which I was determined to forgive and forget. They weren't helping by being melodramatic and making it a big deal.

Giving a particularly violent push to the door, I squinted as I looked outside. Unlike the previous two days, it was not rainy, but irkingly sunny. My eyes strained to see in the immense light that blinded me as I came outside; finally, after a few seconds, I could see a figure leaning casually against the school gates, a cigarette in hand. Whispers were already ringing through the air and fingers were already pointed at him. I didn't want any attention, and therefore rushed toward him.

Last Name-san," he greeted in that careless monotone. I gave him a respectful nod and mumbled a quick greeting before the two of us turned and walked towards my house.

"We won't be doing much today," he said, "I want to assess your writing skills. That is, I'll assign you three pieces to write or take out for next time so we can go through them later. One is a report, another is a narrative, and the last is a persuasive essay. While we will be specializing in narratives, I'd like to cover the other two at least briefly."

"I have the report and the essay," I admitted, "but not a complete narrative that satisfies. Nothing that would take you a short while to read either."

"Then write one for me. Your minimum is 3 pages."

"I have no ideas."

He gave me a smirk with hints of pent curiosity. "Would you like a suggestion? Express to me the thing that was making you so upset yesterday through a story."

I halted for a moment. Why did everything have to keep going back to 'yesterday'? Why, for once, couldn't people just go with the flow and stay in the present instead of looking backwards? There were nothing but embarrassing mistakes in the past, anyway, like that one time where pie was thrown into Saka --

Actually, maybe I shouldn't bother looking back either.

Regardless, though, I was sent into glaring at him needlessly. He had been my tutor for less than a few minutes and he had already begun to annoy me. "What happens in my life is my own business," I hissed. Feeling myself being observed with a calculating glance, I shrunk back from the obviously powerful man, eliciting a rumble of an amused laugh from his throat. As odd as it seemed, the laugh made my breath catch in my throat, sent heat shooting through my head and cast clear judgment away.

I nearly shook my head at my own foolishness. Forcing away such reactions in mere seconds, I glanced at him, coolly replying, "What?"

"Ah, whatever made you angry is obviously very personal," he picked out conversationally, "Sorry about that, then. Anyway, I'm sure your allegedly genius mind could come up with something." After giving him an angry glare at how easily he read me even through my quiet and puzzling personality, I secluded into silence, looking straight ahead of me and trying to ignore the smoke that was drifting from the end of his lit cigarette. Even so, my eyes were beginning to sting, and my throat was feeling increasingly dry by the minute.

"Must you smoke that?"

He gave another one of those annoying chuckles, and no matter how much I found the noise to my liking, the sound only put more tension on my nerves and shortening temper. "Very well; it seems you cannot handle it." He snuffed out the cylinder and threw it onto the ground, rubbing on it with his foot for good measure for a few minutes.

I stopped merely to observe the fading wisps of smoke rise into the atmosphere. My eyes flared with a sudden brilliance for a brief moment, but Oshitari didn't miss it.

"It seems like you just had a light bulb."

"From something as simple as smoke," I replied quietly, upset pretenses dropping as the topic wandered onto that of writing. "It's quite easy for me to get a plot idea, you know. It happens often."

"That's good," he said, "It seems I won't have to press you on originality or lack of ideas. I'm guessing that your progress in writing at least goes fairly smoothly."

"I wouldn't know about that," I warned him, "I am not a very dedicated person, and it's easy for me to drop things and simply erase it."

"That is no problem," he said, unperturbed, his eyes closing as a knowing smirk overtook his face, "I will find ways to motivate you. Trust me."

For a split second, his glasses gleamed in the sunlight and I found myself shifting away from the intimidating, blue-haired figure. "... You are a scary man," you pointed out. He shrugged, not seeming too disturbed by the conversation in contrast to my wide-eyed face, and only continued on walking to my house, which we were now nearing. I stared after him, studying the casually clothed man for a few seconds, contemplating his egotistical personality and his somehow-coexisting charm. My eyes narrowed as I lingered on the latter; I probably wouldn't ever admit it out loud, but no matter how much he could piss me off with one sentence, I still somehow managed to feel attracted to him. I couldn't even figure out what the attraction was supposed to be. If it went beyond the simple force of charisma, well, then... hormones sucked.

As my mind concluded that last thought, I felt a sigh leaving my lips, only adding to the stifling heat around me. Finally, the lack of conversation made me bored enough to attempt another start at it.

"How many times will we meet? Will there be a regular schedule or --"

"Whenever my schedule permits it," he said, "if I am making good progress, am not busy, and think that there has been enough time since the last lesson, I will give you a day's warning ahead of time."

"So... it's basically at random."

"Basically," he admitted.

"Hopefully, then," I said dryly, "you make good progress a lot."

"Che, of course I do. Have you seen the length of my recent novels? If I didn't make good progress every day, it would take quite a while for each novel to come out."

I thought on this for a moment; from what I had seen in bookstores, his recent books were quite lengthy. The thought occurred to me that I would have to drop my own procrastination habits when it came to writing should I pursue a career in it, which I was obviously on the path to. "Writing always seemed like the dream career to me. Now I'm not so sure, especially with the existence of deadlines," I inputted sardonically. "I don't do good with those."

"It's, 'I don't do WELL with those'," he corrected almost instantly.

"Grammar freak."

"It's my job," he defended (could it even be called that? He had said it quite dispassionately), "And, also, everybody seems to believe that being a novelist is easy. Unfortunately, financial instability and deadlines do mess up that dream somewhat. I hope that you are dedicated enough to deal with that. I also hope that you'd be smart enough to get another job should you fail as a novelist."

"You're encouraging," I replied sarcastically as I swung open the front door to my house.

*


There was the regular jingling as the café door swung open. I glanced up to see if it was she who had arrived. I almost waved my hand in greeting once I realized that it was not her, but somebody who merely resembled her.

My eyebrows slanted downwards. It was not common for me, a genius, to make that kind of mistake. I was usually very well in touch with my surroundings. Something, however, made me look impatiently towards the door every time it opened, expecting Your Name to walk through with that placid and unemotional face except for her eyes which would express the mildest of irritation once she saw me.

Snorting at the thought, I glanced at my screen. Instead of the usual walls of text expressing 'scandalous public displays of fictional affection' as Your Name put it, I had a lesson outline in dot jot notes. I had to subdue another laugh at the thought; the student could honestly be quite amusing at times. Even if it had taken her a while to stop glaring at me every time I made a sarcastic remark, she had grown on me.

Despite the many glares though, I had figured out pretty quickly from the day that I walked from my old school to her house that she seemed to harbor some kind of attachment to me. She was nothing like a fangirl, to which I was grateful for -- her dignity and her own personality would not allow such a thing; even then, however, I hoped that it would fade relatively quickly. Crushes on teachers were not unheard of, no matter how creepy they were.

My thoughts were interrupted by an abrupt tap on the shoulders. I turned back, not even having to glance at her face.

"Oshitari-sensei," she greeted before sitting down at the chair beside me. Before she could continue, a voice trilled her name.

"Your Name-chan!" She glanced up at the source and smiled.

"Tifa-chan!" she greeted. The waitress who usually served her bustled over, the arm with the hand holding the notepad and paper she used to record orders lax for she already knew what Your Name's order would be.

"I haven't seen you lately. I hope we haven't lost a customer?" Tifa inquired, dark eyes expressing genuine worry. My student shook her head. "Then why --?"

"My lessons with this guy, here, have been scheduled at the times I usually come. Today we decided to meet here because I missed the place and I decidedly write better in the atmosphere of this café," the younger girl responded, eyes glancing around and taking in her surroundings, a fond familiarity in her voice. "Sorry if you've been bored to death."

Tifa looked inquiringly at my student and I. "She's your student?" she asked.

"Yes," I said, "I'm tutoring her for English."

"I wasn't aware that you were a teacher."

"I'm not," I said simply, "I am merely a novelist. Her family had the connections to get in touch with me; I already knew her from here and found her agreeable, so I took the job." Tifa gave a simple nod, her interest dissipating, and then turned to Your Name with a considerably increased degree of interest.

"So you'll be pursuing your interests in writing?"

And thus, the conversation persisted on from there. I found myself watching the time in irritation; this was, after all, supposed to be the time I used to teach Your Name, not the time that she used to chatter mindlessly to her acquaintances and friends. When the waitress finally left to get my student's coffee, I glanced at her sharply, reproaching her with a simple glare. She winced, probably realizing the error that she had done, and flushed. "Don't get so carried away next time," I said with earnest, looking at the table cloth and with boredom in my voice.

"Sorry," she muttered quickly. Taking off her bag and putting it in her lap, she zipped it open with violent force and rifled through her belongings carelessly in order to find the homework that I had assigned her, my displeasure hitting her harder than I intended. I found myself pondering at her behaviour once more. It was getting easier and easier these days to break her quiet and dignified ways, easier to get her embarrassed. She still made the same sarcastic remarks, but her glare was never as stinging. To be quite honest, my nonexistent conscience was starting to bug me about it.

But I would have rather just written off as a passing thing, or just my imagination -- after all, if I talked to her more, then her quirks would become less and less obvious to me anyway. Therefore, I did. It was both less work and less guilt-inducing.

A few papers were put straight into my line of vision, right in front of my oh-so-stunning visage. I took them quickly from Your Name, admittedly looking forward to what she had written. For the first time since I started tutoring her, I had given her a narrative to write -- the challenge was that it had to be romance, something I knew that she had trouble writing but wanted to go ahead and do so anyway.

My pen scratched away at her papers, writing short notes and comments here and there. A few minutes passed by in which the only sound between the two of us was the scratching of my pen flying across the typed pages. Then, I paused, looking over the things I had added and the criticisms at the very end, before passing it to her.

She read it with a surprisingly calm attitude. It had impressed me, to say the least, when she handled my nitpicky criticisms quite well. Looking up with confusion in her eyes, she pointed to my longest note -- and probably harshest criticism. I was expecting some sort protest, or an explanation or excuse. I certainly wasn't expecting --

"I can't read your writing."

For a moment, I disregarded her question and studied her eyes for a bit;Your Name continued to stare at me with eyes that both screamed of things like naiveté and confusion, but also matured thoughts and beliefs that, bluntly put, intrigued and distracted me.




Atobe Keigo, I was aware, was a powerful person these days.

Nevertheless, he would always be that egotistical tennis player with leadership skills and a strong aura to me like he was back in junior high. Even as I met him now, dressed in expensive clothing and walking out of a limo with a woman practically hanging off his arm, I only smirked at him, nodding in greeting.

"Oshitari," he acknowledged, "I trust you've been doing well."

"Of course," I responded. "When are the others coming?"

"They should be arriving soon," he told me, sitting down at the table that he had reserved for us. From our seat at the window, I looked out at the view that we had of the city, flashing neon lights consistently breaking the shroud of darkness and making the lack of sun seem trivial and unobtrusive. I looked down below at the street, wondering if one of those specks of lights that were cars would be one of my old friends from Hyotei, stepping out of an expensive car and noticeably older, but still the same person as he was 10 years ago despite the experience and money that he had gained.

My brow furrowed. A decade had passed since high school; it had never occurred to me how much time had slipped by my fingers until recently when I looked at myself -- my accomplishments, lifestyle, and attitude -- compared to Your Name. I would never admit it to her, but she wasn't only a source of amusement anymore. While she was mature for her age, she still had something that I had lost long ago and that she had and probably would still managed to retain; innocence and wonder.

It was true that she could act cold at times, and even dignified and with class and with the attitude of the young woman she had yet to become. But this did not mean that she was not innocent to experiences that I did not even bat an eyelash at. It only muted naiveté to a certain extent; yet, that inexperience was quickly becoming more and more apparent to me.

I was, simply put, fascinated. It showed how ephemeral time could be; it was hard for me to believe that I was once that young -- once that generally inexperienced, per se. I cannot even recall acting as such when I was 13. I really was cool and levelheaded, only bored with small details no matter with how much clarity I saw them with. The only time I ever became really passionate was through tennis, and tennis, I'm sad to admit, is a thing of the past now.

It was, as well, something lost with age with most of the previous Hyotei regulars. Even Jirou, somebody who could get so worked up over tennis with no huge corporations to manage like Atobe or no children to take care of like Ohtori (needless to say, this fact raised a few brows amongst us), did not play anymore.

Speaking of Ohtori's family, he had just walked in with his wife (who seemed to dislike me) along with Wakashi and his wife (who also disliked me). My annoyingly philosophical trains of thoughts which would, no doubt, make no sense to me later, were snapped clean in half as even Gakuto bounded up from behind and practically jumped into the chair beside me. He gave me the boyish grin which he had managed to retain (as well as his lack of height).

"Oy! Yuushi!" he greeted, attracting a few stares from other patrons. I gave the sigh of a plagued man, though it was in good nature.

Old team mates and school mates were sitting down beside me, a few of which I had lost touch with. I looked around the table at the ex-regulars, all talking with vigor now -- except for Wakashi. He just sat there and looked annoyed.

"So, Oshitari," Atobe started, "how have your lessons been going with Your Name?"

"She's a good student," I reported, "but I just wish she had more of an attention span." Atobe snorted.

"Sounds like her."

"You know her well?"

"Since I was 12. I was 'Keigo-nii' to her during her childhood until she finally stopped denying the fact that we weren't related by blood. It's amazing how much she's changed since then. You know, she used to be so cute... and then she learned how to talk," he finished absently, killing his nostalgia faster than Gakuto sped in a car in a fit of road rage. His girlfriend gave several giggles while others around the table either coughed in trying to stop laughs or merely sighs of exasperation. I was one of the people to do the latter.

The dinner proceeded with no further mention of him; Atobe did not seem to want to talk of her. However, as the number of people at the table began to dwindle as they went back into their own lives, Atobe was starting to give me furtive glances that left a strong impression on me. He clearly wanted to talk.

Even after Gakuto, who had tried to wait up for me, had gone, Atobe waited for his girlfriend to excuse himself for a break and then surveyed me with a serious expression.

"Oshitari," he said casually and nonchalantly, "I've been seeing Your Name more frequently these days."

"Mahh, in contrast, my schedule has not been allowing me to teach her much these days," Oshitari inputted.

"Yes. I've been hearing her mention you in passing maybe a few times."

"And?"

"I think she's taken more of an interest in you than I'd like. Of course, it's to be expected. She is young and curious and you're basically the man that every female wants -- besides me, of course," Atobe added in the last part thoughtfully, "and while I'm entirely sure that you don't want this, maybe you should stop tutoring her for a while. Her exams are going to start coming up, anyway. Just say you're taking a vacation."

I hestitated for a moment, indecision irking at me. "As long as she does any homework that I assign, I'll be fine," I forced myself to answer. Atobe nodded, taking a sip of his drink.

"I trust you will make your own arrangements?"

"I'll be fine."




When I returned home and instantly dialed her cell phone number at 11:30 into the night, Your Name picked up without protest at the sudden intrusion. After all, she was used to my random calls to warn her of my coming the next day or the day after that -- she'd been my student for nearly three seasons now. At times, I would only call her once or twice a month. Other times, she would get calls weekly, or even more frequent. She had no way of predicting when they would come, and usually, neither did I; therefore, she stopped bothering to complain.

"Oshitari-sensei," was the first thing I heard from her, "I can't do Friday, sorry. I have to study --"

"I know, I know, exams," I cut her off in a bored tone, "Listen, since you're going through a busy time anyway, I see no harm in leaving and assigning you some minor homework."

She responded to the news with silence for a few moments. "How long will you be gone?" she asked.

"I don't know," I replied honestly, "I'll give you a call when I do."

*


I personally would've enjoyed chasing my sensei all the way to the airport in order to punch him for the final response he gave me on the home before hanging up shortly afterwards. It was always, 'I'm not sure; I'll give you a call'. Sometimes he'd wait a month or two to give me the promised call. This time I didn't doubt that it wouldn't be past him not to call for at least sixth months.

Sighing in frustration, I trudged into the washroom and rubbed my tired eyes, ignoring the bags that had formed under them. I combed my messy hair, looking at my average appearance for a second and mistaking it for beauty and elegance for a moment. When I looked again, I was just the same old Your Name. Entirely ignoring my superficial moment, I took the time to wonder as to why I was exactly upset at the romanticist's leave. Maybe because he was the only source of amusement for me these days. I would vehemently refuse to accept any other reason.

I heard the washroom clock ticking. Glancing at it, I realized that I had wasted two minutes in silence in the washroom, simply doing nothing but thinking under the fluorescent lights for 2 minutes.

After I graduated, I probably wouldn't be tutored by Oshitari anymore. I wouldn't really need it, he said, because of the progress I had made in the past few months.

It was then that I realized that by the time he came back, I probably wouldn't need his help anymore. I blinked in confusion. His random disruptions in my life had made themselves subtleties that I did not mind in my life so far. It would be odd to write a piece without getting instant criticism, written in a blue pen in a messy scrawl that I had to squint to read. It would be new for me to undertake writing a novel without Oshitari being there to pick at me in order to keep me writing persistently.

I walked through the frame of my bedroom door and threw myself onto the bed, not willing to study anymore. Closing my eyes shut in order to relax the burning, abused organs, I rolled onto my side.

It would be, I continued my line of thoughts, weird not to hear his sardonic remarks on my ranting or rambling, strange not to be able to contemplate his figure waiting at Hyotei's front gates for me when school ended or times. It would just be entirely alien for me not to spot him when I walked into the café after school regularly.

Musing along these threads of thought, I still could not accept any of these things for my bad mood. My mind went to the extremes for an answer. "I certainly don't like him. He's barely my friend," I said with a frown.

'I do not like Oshitari Yuushi,' I thought, 'I do not...' My protests to myself were cut short as my eyelids finally shut close and my body grew lax. My mind was holding onto consciousness by only a few threads as I unwittingly delved into an ocean of lucid and senseless dreams. In my mind's eye, a jumble of vivid scenes acted out in front of me, each one of them spiraling into nonsensical events that made me want to roll off the bed and onto the floor, if only to shock me awake.

Before me stood the one that I liked, the one who had my feelings of infatuation and adoration.

Before me stood my old boyfriend, the one whom I hated and despised more than anything else; the one who had used me and my foolish, elated thoughts of a pure relationship full of declarations of love or something out of one of Oshitari Yuushi's novels. Before me also stood the novelist himself, every fibre of my being screaming at me not to draw any nearer to the man. I took a step closer, disregarding warnings quite mindlessly.

Before me was Cole and Oshitari.

Will alone drew me to rip of the blankets of drowsiness and forced me to shoot up into a sitting position. "I don't like him!" I said fiercely out loud, knowing that I sounded like a foolish schoolgirl in denial or a person on the brink of insanity, "I don't!"




The pent-up emotion that had been subdued up until after my exams was nearly let out in a frenzy of anticlimactic panic. Nevertheless, I stepped out into the hallway with a neutral, nearly bored, expression that shielded the jumble of thoughts within my mind, all pertaining to the insignificant numbers that would be written on my test paper by my teachers later. I glanced around the hallway of Hyotei Gakuen, thick with tension and with nervousness for the last time -- for me, anyway. The next and last time that I would enter the school as a student would not be in the mornings with my hair messy and my uniform wrinkled, but in an evening with glossy tresses framing my face and the silk of my gown, or skirt, or whatever I was pleased with wearing, kissing my legs.

Graduation made my eyes dangerously hot. It was not because of the fact that it would be a sign of possible separating from my friends and the high school that I had come to be familiar with, but because of the fact that it signified my final night as a mere high school student before I would be going out into the world on my own -- if things went according to plan. Under normal circumstances, my calm and logical attitude would not be broken by this, but the mere fact that my parents weren't coming was enough to send me into a hurricane of petty disappointment.

'I will be,' I mused thoughtfully as I walked out of the school, 'probably one of the only students there with no face to search for in the crowd. Nobody will applause for me with real interest.' I tried to push the fact away and behind me, for I could do nothing to change it anyway.

And I couldn't. 48 hours passed by and I found myself walking onto the stage, alone, with spotlights blinding me and drawing the illusion of a beautiful young woman even more than the make-up did. Yes, I had put on make-up, and I had done my hair. Yet, there were no cameras going off, despite many whispers spreading realization of my identity once my name was announced, for there was nobody I knew to take any pictures. Despite this, I put on the fakest smile that I could, took the a few worthless documents that I had wasted 4 years in achieving, and found myself walking calmly and with a certain elegance that I had been raised to possess off the stage.

In contrast, I broke into a violent run outside afterwards, my cheeks an unsightly red through the white powder as I peeled my white gloves off of my disgustingly sweaty hands.

Despite the circumstances that I had earlier felt upset at, my lips curved. That single moment was all I needed to leave this place. It didn't matter that my parents weren't there; it was not as if they were not without a reason. All that really mattered was the fact that I would be going to university, leaving this school, this country — pursuing my dreams and leaving behind —

"Heh, I was surprised to see you looking like a young woman instead of the kid you always were around me. So was Atobe, you know," a familiar voice that spoke of confidence said to me.

I turned around violently, my eyes consistently becoming wider. Here was the man who I thought I'd probably never see again for at least a good few months -- perhaps never. Here was the man who had kept me awake at nights, denying feelings of attraction and obsession that I truly and passionately fought in order not to succumb to them. Here he was, staring at me with the smirk that I was both annoyed at and liked at the same time. Somehow.

"Oshitari-sensei," I said in a relatively lazy manner, my eyes switching back to their normal size, "I wasn't aware that you and Atobe-san would show up at my graduation."

"I didn't know until I came back yesterday. I was planning to spend the day sleeping, but then I found out that you were graduating without your parents there to watch you, and Atobe guilted me into coming... so..."

"Atobe-san, hm? I didn't know that he still thought about me that much. Where is he, anyway? You mentioned that he was here..."

"He left earlier," Oshitari replied, beginning to walk in a slow pace aimlessly, "right when you got off stage. He mentioned already having pushed back a meeting, and apologized for leaving. A question, though -- Atobe told me that you were quite close to him when you were younger, or at least close to it. Why, then, do you refer to him as Atobe-san?"

"People change. They grow apart," I replied with a nonchalant shrug, subtly gearing us towards a park near the school grounds, "It also seems to be the most appropriate way to refer to him now... You know, Atobe-san, young head of Atobe-Groups, Atobe-san, the silver-tongued and charismatic leader... You get it."

I found myself in a little park with my tutor, the sounds of raucous celebration coming from school growing weaker and weaker until they were barely noticeable in the secluded spot that we were in. It was like a park of sorts, and I found myself leaning against the rail of the wooden bridge that arched over a pond full of flowers and plants, staring at the trees that bordered the pleasant clearing as we talked. "So, Oshitari-sensei, where did you go for vacation?"

"Here and there," he replied vaguely, "mostly countries in Europe; I met a few people I was acquainted with back in junior high."

"Scary," I remarked, "Did you feel odd seeing where they ended up?"

"Not too much," Oshitari said, "although I will admit that it was a little hard to comprehend at first. The future can be an unpredictable thing. Why do you ask?"

"Nothing. I've just been having thoughts about my own future." I paused for a moment. "If all goes well, I'll be going to England for university, you know. And if things continue to go well, then I will be an even more successful author than you, Oshitari-sensei," I finished playfully. The purr-like, amused chuckle that I hadn't heard for a month or two now, but still remained shockingly familiar and commonplace to me, emitted from him.

"I'll have to watch out, then," he said. "Anyway, where are you going next?"

"I'll just linger around here for a little while longer," I told him, increasing the angle at which my back was against the wooden rail, "and then I'll get home. Mother is sick."

"Ah, I see." Without much warning, he began to walk away from me. "I'll see you tomorrow, then, with all your homework. Usual time at the café," Oshitari announced, his figure losing clarity as it became a shadow blending in with others, moving farther and farther away from me. I gave a nod of affirmation, even though he couldn't see me; it would've made no difference if I told him that I couldn't make it, anyway. If I had detention, he'd come into the classroom and drag me out himself. If I was at home, asleep, he would come in placidly and steal my blankets from me. I'd stopped complaining about the little warning he gave a long time ago, considering that aspect of his behaviour.

I turned around and watched the few fish that swam beneath the mirror-like surface of the water, their scales gleaming with the little light that was provided from the nearly-muted moon. I frowned, my mind suddenly drawing back to a statement that I had made earlier.

"Nothing. I've just been having thoughts about my own future."

Admittedly, now that I was closer than ever to leaving home and the people that I had known all my life, I felt oddly nervous -- something that never happened these days, except it came to big things like finals. It was incredibly melodramatic, I had to remark dryly to myself, but I simply couldn't help it.




I was not supposed to be out here.

I was supposed to be at the café, not sitting out here over the pond that I had been around last night, blowing soap bubbles and sending them floating lazily through the air. I knew that eventually, Oshitari would find me as he always did, disturbing my good mood and somehow managing me to become irritated.

Yet, I didn't exactly care. I had passed by Hyotei, and nostalgia had struck me suddenly and wrathfully, throwing me to reminisce with thoughts too good to be true about nearly everybody who I had met and liked. This included the former student, Cole, who had dated me and manipulated me into believing that I was in a deep, passionate love for him -- no, I was in love with him, to the point where it was unhealthy. How could I not have been? I ended up being scathed by his true intentions, and it hadn't ended well.

And the mere concept that I was thinking of him in a good light disgusted me so. The thought that I could've potentially started to shed tears right then over a 'lost love' made me want to jump of the bridge and hope that the cold water beneath it would snap me out of my fit of idiocy and illogical thinking. The last thing I wanted to do was sob like a lovesick fool, or even think about it any longer; he was just another boyfriend, who had inevitably broken up with me. Immature, high school relationships never lasted, anyway. Why had I begun to expect inconceivable dreams such as spending the rest of my life together with him, sharing in a relationship of mutual love, anyway? It was all inexperienced and stupid, now that I looked back on it; but they were confusing thoughts that I would have to continue to deal with as I grew up.

I could've wished and moaned to be 30, clad in elegant dress and with jewels at the tips of my fingers and with years of wisdom and experience behind me. Instead, I longed and coveted for the exact opposite. Time was too fleetingly quick for a person like me; it was why I liked to come back here in this place of seclusion so much. Nobody ever came here despite the site's beauty, and thus, time rarely touched it.

I blew another bubble after swishing the stick around in bottled soap water, the translucent sphere floating above as a light breeze swept by. I watched it until I could no longer spot it within the bleeding, magenta sky, scowling at the thoughts running through my head.

My mother would probably be worrying about me through her coughs and my father would probably not even blink, too engrossed in his work. They were both busy, burdened people, and I knew that they would not miss my absence as a near-solid fact until late into the night. It wasn't as if I would be gone that long, anyway. As I had stated earlier, Oshitari would probably be, by now, prowling my usual haunts and trying to track me down like the impatient person he was, not stopping to consider if I was merely late or not.

On the topic of Oshitari, I had only grown to despise his books more and more in the past few minutes. Happy endings like that would never happen to me. The endings of the subplots and subtle arcs of my life would probably always end with a bittersweet aftertaste, I thought -- not with tear-inducing bouts of sweetness that would cause many a woman to sigh as they closed the book, envious of fictional characters.

I knew already by now that I was just being angsty, reveling in my problems and mildly sensationalizing them. So I had a boyfriend beforehand, and he may have touched me, and he may have used me, but I wasn't the only person out there to experience that kind of problem. And what if my parents didn't pay attention to me? It was understandable, considering the work that they did and the stress that they underwent daily. No matter how hard I tried to talk myself out of moping and blowing bubbles like some kind child, I only stayed in that loop of inescapable confusion.

Glancing into the water, I realized with a start how long I had been here -- already, the water did not mirror a bleeding sky, but rather a quickly darkening, navy one. I looked up, as if confirming that the water wasn't tricking me somehow and waited for me to fully comprehend this fact. The time was probably way past when Oshitari wanted to meet me; in the back of my mind, I wondered just how long my attention span was in order to spend so long wandering aimlessly and mulling over circumstances.

As if in a dream or a book, I heard heavy footsteps approaching me, causing me to look at the source of the noise. As I had earlier predicted, Oshitari Yuushi was here, probably to make a few snide remarks at me before dragging me to the place we were supposed to meet. Resignation clearly in my movements, I turned to him and gave a slight bow of the head as a sign of respect and even apology.

He ignored me, his nostrils flaring, and for once, I saw him speak with something mildly resembling passion -- a formidably strong anger. "Do you know," he said, "how long it has been until you were supposed to meet me? I don't know what you've been doing all this time, but it doesn't matter. Your parents are worried, and even I went everywhere trying to search for you." He motioned to his car, parked nearby on the dirt path. "I'm taking you home."

"No," I said stiffly, but with vigorous hate in my voice. "And my parents are worried? That almost sounds like a joke."

He glared at him, truthfully annoyed at me for the first time that I could remember, "What on Earth are you talking about? Even Atobe pressured me into searching for you, and Atobe usually places enough trust in you to shrug it off."

I froze for a minute. Keigo-nii, orAtobe-san, always seemed to express disinterest in my plights. Was it disinterest due to trust and lack of time? I had always assumed that he didn't want to deal with a clingy, metaphorical little sister anymore than he had to, always contributing in more time with his friends his own age and to play tennis, neglecting me in the process. That was really why I had pushed him away; that was the true reason as to why we had grown apart. A monster clawed at me within, guilt flooding my consciousness.

For the first time in years, I desired the words 'Keigo-nii' to roll of my tongue.

But that was too much to ask for now. Opportunities had slipped by, once more.

Oshitari ignored my pause and my stiffening, only continuing, "I don't know what's been getting you so down lately. Yesterday was your damn graduation, and you didn't even bother with an actual smile; instead, the day after, you come down here and angst and neglect all of your appointments. Tutor sessions, cram school, piano -- believing that nobody cares about you. Get off that ridiculous pedestal."

He wasn't shouting at me. I would've liked it if he had, but there was only a bitter disappointment in his whisper of a voice -- a bitter disappointment all directed at me. But my dignity would not allow any tears to fall from my eyes or any sign of weakening. For the first time in a long time, I became disrespectful towards a teacher, actually caring about their comments of me.

"Ridiculous pedestal? Are you saying that I have a martyr complex? Well, I don't. Please just leave me to sort things out," I said shortly.

He gave a clearly derisive snort, and began to walk away from me as he had done last evening. Indescribable pain struck my heart like lightning striking a tree, making it blaze aflame as my breathing constricted for a moment. I could not comprehend the feeling of repeated heartbreak, even if I knew for a fact that many others had. I simply could not deal with it.

Lines and thoughts rushed through my head in frenzy, most of them pertaining to the author of so many fantastical romances, so surreal that I clearly pushed them away. All of them were comments along the lines of Oshitari being a true gentleman, a veteran of love, a romanticist -- all remarks as equally as unrealistic as his books, I had already known, but experiencing this firsthand was too much for me. I had expected him to be like the characters that he imagined; I wanted him to stay back, comforting me with his silver-tongue and clever words and to tone down my ferocity and bring down the social wall of a personality that I had. A desire of his declaring some sort of attachment to me filled my being, whether it was love or friendship or even a mild fondness of me. I didn't want him to walk away like this, leaving me scorned...

... and brutally humiliated.

I could already feel nonsensical tears beginning to slip down my cheek for possibly the first time in years. Not able to explain them, I lingered back and continued to form bubbles, sobs racking my torso as my nose grew to an unsightly red. My fingers grazed my lips with a delicate touch, longing to feel Oshitari's against my own. This was an awful infatuation to nurture, I was aware, but the desire was just so strong that I couldn't just forget about it.

Not even Cole had this effect on me. I wasn't reduced to pathetic crying, my head upon my arms which were lying loosely upon the cold wooden railing my body had been seeking solace against for so long. I couldn't deny it any longer. At first, I had admitted grudgingly that it was an infatuation, but now that he had left me, I would passionately declare any day with confidence and belief that I was in love with a man so much older than me.

I was still being foolish, I knew.

And yet, at the same time, my annoyance directed at him did not flee. 'What kind of man,' I thoughts to myself, feeding burning fires deep within my psyche, 'leaves a teenage girl in the dark after searching for her? And what did he mean that Keigo-nii got him into searching for me? He doesn't care at all, does he?' My fists shook as I glared up venomously at the black sky.

"If he won't care," I declared dramatically with fervor to nobody in particular, aware that, once again, I sounded to be on the borderline of insane, "then neither will I!"

A presence behind me made itself known with a laugh. The same nerve-wracking-ly annoying laugh that I had to endure almost everyday. Embarrassment stung at me, but I was not moved. I had never been prone to caring much as to what others thought, not even the man that I allegedly loved. Allegedly.

It was strange, I thought, that I was getting so worked up without knowing if it were actual love. It was an unrequited affection at that, as well. Logic sobered me up and I calmed down enough to stop trembling needlessly; thus, I turned around with almost no shame, even if I was glad that the darkness made my red eyes invisible and wished that it would cloak the sound of my sniffles as well.

"I thought I told you," Oshitari said, his words cutting deep into my pride but not my strengthening composure, "to step off that pedestal. You won't be very happy up there, and I wouldn't enjoy the company of somebody who's too caught up in their own misery, anyway." I regarded him for a moment with suspicion in my eyes; had I been wrong? Did he care about me? Or had he just come back to lace my wounds with salt and to toy with me further?

Perhaps that this wishful thinking that somehow, by chance, he would interested in a girl so much younger, was going to bite me in the ass soon.

He didn't draw attentions to the things that he had heard from me, or the display with dramatic flair that I had put on for him. Oshitari only pushed up his glasses, his mouth not in a smile despite the laugh he had formed, and simply walked, motioning for me to follow him.

"Now," he said in that Kansai accent of his, "I was honestly going to leave you there, but it probably wouldn't have been a smart thing to do, considering how long you seem to be able to bottle up problems. Heh, I've told you before that it's probably not a smart thing to do." I shrugged, fingers gliding against the skin near my eyes in order to wipe away moisture. "So, then, why did you decide to be a genius and cancel everything for blowing bubbles?"

I muttered something vehemently in response, not giving into his sad-attempts of counseling, and he rolled his eyes.

"Being stubborn, I see. Answer me properly."

The strict quality in his voice was so great that I felt compelled to answer. "... Fine," I said in a louder voice, teeth grinding against each other as I offered the best explanation that I could. "Like you said, I've been bottling up my problems and I guess graduation was the last push until the glass shattered. I decided to be emo for at least this day in order to clear my mind."

"Now, there's the Your Name-san that I know better," he said. I noted that he had switched to referring to me by first name, but I didn't care much at this point. "Well, I suppose that everybody needs to blow off steam once in a while," he admitted in a resigned voice.

"Unless they're you," I pointed out dryly.

"Unless they're me," he agreed, although I could tell that he was only humoring my sharp attitude. "That's beside the point, though. Why the bubbles?"

"... I want to be younger." I already felt foolish at speaking the line.

He extracted the keys from his pocket and opened the doors to his car. I went around, sitting in the shotgun seat. "Ah," he said in what seemed to be understanding in a neutral voice, not portraying any sort of disbelief or amusement. "I understand." Somehow, I doubted that he did, but I wasn't about to say that out loud now that the fire was smoldering and slowing perishing.

The drive back to my house was silent, void of conversation of any sort. I liked it this way; it gave me time to clear my mind and to think with balance. Already, I was coming up with explanations for my stupid and ignorant behaviour beforehand -- as well as an innocent explanation in case Oshitari asked me why I had made that 'if he hates me' statement.

We were nearing my house when he suddenly stopped right before the bend after which my house would be visible. "Your Name," he said, dropping formalities and honorifics, "I have something to ask of you."

"Yes?" I urged him to go on.

"Do you believe in happy endings?"

His whisper was harsh and rough against my ear, yet beautiful in its own way. He was a romanticist, I thought, as we grew closer.

We kissed that night, in his dark blue car, in a suburban neighborhood in which almost nobody knew me in. Nobody could see us through the tinted windows and night's shadows.

It was an odd kiss, now that I look back on it. It wasn't particularly passionate or anything -- but he certainly wasn't gentle. He was simply against me, his emotions subdued as well as his energy and passion -- his were lips simply lingering on my unresponsive ones. He wanted an answer, a confirmation of my feelings, but I could not offer him any. Despite the fact that this was my very dream come true (or at least one of them), I was frozen. The moment seemed prolonged and anticlimactic.

I broke the kiss by moving my head back with no hesitation whatsoever, the back of my head bumping ungracefully against the glass behind me; shrinking back, I must have been the defining figure of 'pathetic', resembling a wilted, neglected flower.

I was not ready for this.

Not after Cole, even if it had been a year.

I would never tell him about Cole, and that is why he would probably still shake his head at the incident at my perceived lack of logic. But after thinking about Cole and how I had simply been a puppet for him to touch and play with as he pleased, to throw on the floor during long nights and ignoring quiet pleadings after the short days of manipulative pledges of love, I simply could not handle associating with a man that much older than me.

And he was my teacher nonetheless. Maybe in a few years, the rift would not seem so big and I would readily accept such a relationship, but I was only so old, not even a legal adult yet.

My reaction had no drama. My only response was to stiffly unlock the door manually and to exit the car, for once, being the one walking away from my sensei.

Emotions, which were quickly being shot down by my will not to think in such a depressing manner any longer, were attempting to overtake me from the inside. Fear was by far the hugest one.

I had to hold back a fit of laughter, despite the situation. It was raining.

*


If I had turned my head, I would've been able to sense Atobe's anger merely radiating off of him. However, I had to bear the blunt, powerful force of his rage. His blue eyes were glaring at me like there was no tomorrow, his lips drawn back to reveal his teeth in an angry, disconcertingly animalistic snarl. "That was an idiotic thing you did. You know for a fact that I told you to take a vacation for a reason."

I merely released a sigh of exasperation, making myself comfortable on the plush couch in front of Atobe's large desk in his office. I had never predicted this surprisingly protective streak within him, probably acquired during his junior high years when he had first met Your Name.

Taking this into account, I chose to listen to his raging complaints without any myself, despondently saying, "I know."

It did not appease him in the least, only encouraging his fit of ranting and venomous hisses, "She is only 16. Or maybe 17 -- I don't know! Either way, she is far too young for you. You are her elder by ten years!"

"I know." I really did; I didn't have to be reminded.

He looked at me disbelievingly. "Che. It was the least that I ever expected of you, Oshitari," he commented, seeming to be able to soothe the beast of anger that had possessed him just a few moments ago as he leaned back against the enforced glass windows. "I trust you will not do such a thing again?"

"Well, I don't know," I drawled teasingly, trying to make light of my situation. His sharp eyes narrowed dangerously. "Mahh, fine. It was stupid of me, I know," I finally admitted now that he was acting at least semi-civilly. The grey-haired man seem to be pleased by this by at least a margin and flicked a strand of hair out of his face in that narcissist fashion of his ('If it were legal, he would marry himself,' I thought dryly).

"Heh. Fine. I suppose that's the closest I'll ever get to an apology from you," Atobe compromised, surprising me. He would usually press me for what he wanted: the admittance of my idiocy and an apology as well as some form of flattery, I suppose.

I growled when I walked out of the Atobe-Groups headquarters, losing composure uncharacteristically.

It wasn't supposed to turn out like this.

*


Break had started, leaving me a generous portion of free time in the day. Thus, I had decided to take a walk to clear my head in the evening, despite the lingering high temperatures of Tokyo. Already, I could feel heat gathering up between the fabric of my clothes and my bare skin, making sweat begin to form on my body.

I glanced at my watch. It was 8, two hours past the time I usually got to the café, but I figured that I could consult Tifa in the events that had taken place a few days ago as well as grab as ice cappuccino in order to cool me down. Sighing with contentment at the thought of a friend so much older and wiser than myself -- not like the boy-crazy girls I knew at school who always had their heads in the clouds -- as well as cold drink, I began on my way to the small place. As I stepped inside, I was half expecting to see a dark figure in the corner, working away patiently on his laptop computer.

Instead, of course, I was greeted with the sight of a happy couple who had taken his usual seat. Even my seat had been taken due to lack of occupation. I thus made myself comfortable in the middle of the room, waiting for somebody to come and take my order.

I was not disappointed. The dark-haired beauty who I looked up to came by in her outfit, practically exerting a motherly aura that I never got from my own mother. She was already holding an ice cappuccino in hand and sat down in the empty chair beside me, studying me intently as the drink was placed in front of me. I looked at her curiously, wondering what on Earth she could've possibly inferred from the poker face I kept on my visage.

She cracked her knuckles, sighing. "It looks like I won't be going back to work for a while. Something's wrong."

"Hm? How did you guess?"

"It's really not that hard to read you since I know you so well," she answered. "Anyway, what on Earth could possibly be wrong?"

"Oshitari Yuushi," I said in a low voice, bitterness making itself all-too evident. "I... he... We kissed. Or rather, he kissed me."

She made an alarm face, both of her hands on my shoulders, shaking me forcefully. "What?! What did you do? Did you stop him? Did he do anything bad? And what about Cole --"

"Cole," I said bitterly, "is a thing of the past. The truth is, I have liked Oshitari for a while now. And yet... Cole makes me scared -- he makes me scared of getting into a relationship, especially one where the facts are just screaming that I'll get hurt in the end. He's so much older and..."

"You pushed him away," she deducted. "What did he do?"

"Nothing," I said with a grateful smile, "He was being very respectful."

Removing her hands, she exhaled in relief and looked at me with a wary expression. "And you're confused, right? Because he seems to be that much older than you?"

I clasped her hands for comfort, glad to be letting all of this out, to have such an insightful friend. It was then that she asked the question that I had been asking myself for a while now --

"Do you love him?"

My own answer surprised myself.

"... I... don't."

After that declaration the night on the bridge, after all the drama that had taken place, I had still hesitantly answered with a crushing 'no'. "I do, however, like him very much," I continued, considering all the events that had taken place, taking into account the long stretch of months in which he had managed to become a source of comfort and security through mere English lessons. "I believe that if we ever entered a relationship, I would, indeed, fall in love -- for the first time." She studied me thoughtfully, noticing my long overdue admittance of my past, unhealthy feelings for Cole.

"Does he make you happy?"

"Not yesterday, no. But generally... sort of. He gets me riled up easily, and enjoys it, but I honestly do love his company a lot."

"One more thing. Is he willing to wait for you?"

"... I don't know."

Tifa looked at me with a strong compassion in her eyes, her lips curved in a soft but withering smile as her arms enveloped me in a comforting embrace. "I never would've guessed that you would've gotten yourself into that kind of situation," she said, "and I feel so bad for you. If you want my advice, though, patch up your friendship or whatever relationship you had in the first place with him... And if it seems like he's willing to wait for you and you really like him -- then go for it. You're not of age now, and 10 years seems like a big gap, but once you near my age, it's really not so massive."

"Yes, but you're ancient," I joked weakly.

She ruffled my hair, sticking out her tongue playfully.

"I guess I really can't do anything else but the advice that you've given me," I said, scratching my chin as I mimicked a person submerged in a sea of philosophical thoughts. "I'm still really confused though. I know I should've moved on from Cole a long time ago and let bygones be bygones like I usually do... but..."

"No," Tifa said with a quietly burning rage at the mention of his surname, "what Cole did was admittedly terrible. You finally worked up the courage to protest and then he..." She cut herself off, stiffening, not allowing herself to resurrect such memories not for my sake, but purely because she was already disturbed by the concept. "Anyway, considering the circumstances, I'm really not surprised at your reaction. If he knew, I'm sure he wouldn't be either."




I was in nothing but a large t-shirt and a pair of shorts, practically ready for bed as I sat watching TV on the couch, when the heard the doorbell ring. My parents would, no doubt, be out late tonight, so I had to go answer myself. I started at a slow and begrudging pace, not really wanting to move my eyes away from the radiant screen of the television while lethargy clawed at me mercilessly -- but what if it was important?

Whoever was at the door was certainly impatient, for the doorbell had already been rung several times. Eyes narrowed in irritation, I unlocked the door and swung it open, ready to bite whoever's head off -- but I stopped before I could even scream out the first word. The blue-haired man who was previously in front of me merely walked into my house like nothing was the matter and sat down on the couch.

I closed the door, not caring if he had come in without my permission. He had already been in my living room several times, anyway, so why bother protesting? Besides, he would just get his way like all the other times I protested -- except for a few nights ago. I sat down on the far end of the couch away from him, waiting for him to say something, and when a few minutes marked by the metronome-like clock with no words spoken, I glared at him irritably.

"Well? Are you going to bother to say anything?" I demanded, formalities dropped.

There was no conceited laugh or amused chuckle. Rather, he just stared at him uninterestedly until shrugging his shoulders, staring at the television. Granted, he did begin to respond, "Mah, you know, Atobe sure screamed at me a lot when I told him what happened yesterday."

I looked down at my lap in pure shame when I heard Keigo-nii's named mentioned. I had yet to talk things out with him or rebuild our relationship like I had wanted to; instead, even if I thought of him as 'Keigo-nii', I still referred to him as 'Atobe-san'. The latter name seemed awkwardly informal, as well as funny and cold to me now.

Oshitari only disregarded any inner-conflicting emotions I had at the moment, which were clearly displayed by my facial expressions. He only continued, "I guess he had a point, though." He came to a clear stop there, just short of apology -- and I knew right then that I would never be able to get an 'I'm sorry' from him, not even if he saw me briefly in a clearly romantic light. I only shrugged.

"It's alright. No harm done," I said placidly. Oshitari nodded.

"Good, then. I was just checking up on you," he said with a wave of his hand, rising. "Our next lesson will be tomorrow, in which I want to see your homework done." He had stopped being the object of my affections for the moment in order to become my respected teacher and reputably author.

He left unceremoniously through the door, acting as if nothing was amiss in the world -- even if, though it was not to my knowledge, he went out with the full intention of getting drunk. I was mildly glad that he hadn't brought up the kiss from a few nights ago too much or attempted to 'talk things out'. If he had, I might've begun to cry; but he probably knew that, and kept me calm enough to maintain my control.

*


It wasn't long until I found myself in front of Last Name First Name's front door. I did not act any more differently than I usually did; there was no lingering feeling of anxiousness or nervousness. A single finger merely pressed the doorbell nonchalantly as it always did, falling to my side along with the rest of my arm and my hand. I assumed that she had been waiting for my arrival, as the door had swung open instantly.

There was no longer any fidgeting or clumsiness from her; nor was there any blushing or any shy glancing at me. Instead, she was as how she was supposed to be; she was the way that she was when we were still two strangers in a café to each other, apart and with our own worlds colliding only when I bothered to look over her shoulder and comment lightly, or when she turned around to study me for a few moments before returning to her work.

I closed my eyes, and thought to myself for just a moment as I walked into her house that I missed those days when our fleeting, weak connection was simple and easily understood. I also wished that I had never gone and botched the odd relationship we had as a teacher and student, a friend to a friend. If only I hadn't kissed her...

'... Things,' I thought to myself for the second time, 'weren't supposed to turn out this way. They weren't. I was never supposed to kiss her. Well, at the time I had, she was supposed to willingly accept or something, like what's supposed to happen in a romance.' But now I had dropped such foolish aspirations and poked cruelly at myself for thinking such things, even if it had been incredibly spur of the moment. My inability to accept my odd mistake would eventually pass, anyway, since this certainly wasn't the first time that I had thought by the books -- the books that I wrote.

I walked inside and the lesson began normally, with me reading over the work that she had written. The plot in itself was utterly stupid and made to be; a boy acting incredibly angry over small, trivial things as he ignored his responsibilities. But the emotions were coherently written, and I even found myself sympathizing with him. It really was a pity that she was not too interested in writing romance novels; Your Name could manipulate emotions so well -- simply tug them along with a string of cleverly recorded words.

I paused briefly in mid-sentence, a sudden thought hitting my mind out of random and making me freeze before I recollected myself quite quickly, "... the prose is, in general, too passive for such an action-packed scene. You're telling, not showing."

"No, I am not," Your Name protested, "I have clearly described --"

"Their surroundings, I agree," I cut her off, "and you've done it to a healthy degree. However, 'show, don't tell' is supposed to apply to actions, not settings. 'The tips of her slender fingers hesitantly pressed against the closed door' sounds a lot better than 'she opened the door'." She conceded, sitting back and staring at her own work resentfully instead of looking at me with that gaze of quiet confidence that she usually held.

This related to the thought that had driven me into a sudden halting of things. This was an action that was an example of my musing. It was like everything was hazed over and subdued, I had noted, with neither of ourselves really acting as we normally did beneath the surface and past first glances. I glanced at her, seeing how awkwardly that she sat up with her back straight. No longer did her posture have that grace that it usually did, but it was instead stiff and oddly forced, as if all she wanted to do was slouch.

Even I was not acting as the two of us had grown accustomed too. Gone were the witty comments I was making to her a few months before, replaced with purely educational and, bluntly put, boring responses. Each word I said was purely impersonal.




I was never one to like irony in particular, although it always made for smashing, strong and clear endings with wit and lasting impression. It was, I thought, too much of a pain to plan out in order to make it really last. However, in the short story that Your Name had written, there was a lovely cutting bout of irony at the very end, leaving a smirk on my lips.

I finished marking the story, praise written in my neat writing, before I gave it back to her. "Good job," I complimented her, "I enjoyed that very much." I was about to go on and instruct her more -- of the things that she had done wrong and such. However, I was cut off as a peculiar rumbling reached my ears. My brow furrowed as some of the lighter furniture shook and as dust was awoken from its dormant state in the many nooks of the room, swirling into the air. Your Name looked around in wonder, especially at the dangerously swaying chandelier over the dining table.

The treacherous rumbles and mutinous mumbling of the Earth stopped after a few short, but infinitely lasting as I held my breath, moments. I figured that it was one of those passing, small Earthquakes that would hit occasionally, but a lot more frequently than the big ones that caused actual damage. With that, I resumed the lesson quite naturally -- "This turned out a lot better, prose-wise. Although, I would have to nitpick at the bit of info-dumping done over here..."

I carried on whilst observing the previously swaying chandelier. I was particularly anxious of the event of an earthquake hitting us. In Your Name's lifetime, there had never been a serious one, but when I was younger, there was one that had caused quite enough damage to my house and body. It wasn't enough to leave any trauma haunting me in the future, but enough to keep me wary about the tremors running through the unstable ground every day.

That day, I wish that I had turned on the radio or the television like my intuition was screaming at me to -- just to check if things were okay with mother nature. Instead, I insisted on teaching my student with no interruptions, reveling in the time I had with her even if it was oddly cold and formal.

But that one tremble that had passed through was not all that there was. Pretty soon, the floor was unstable and shaking wildly, sending small objects clattering to the floor as furniture gyrated in a twisted dance. I immediately made for the dining table, instincts driving me towards it. Your Name had the sense to follow me, not far behind.

But something had gone wrong. She found herself slipping up ungracefully, somehow, as the world around the two of us vibrated wildly in an esoteric pattern that I could not even begin to comprehend. I could practically feel the Earth beneath us shifting with a vengeance as she fell to the floor at an odd angle, her head making blunt and heavy contact with the hardwood floor, causing it to bounce up against with the hit.

At this time, I was watching her with a snarl at the elements which had decided to ensnare her in danger in the comforts of her home. A brilliant loud crashing sound reached my ears, adding to the chaotic din of beeping cars and falling debris outside, as the chandelier finally struggled free of its chains and fell victim to gravity. Shards of glass flew everywhere, glinting in the sunlight that managed to penetrate the dust that was heavy and thick in the atmosphere, some cutting Your Name's exposed skin of her unmoving limbs.

I waited for her to move, but she didn't. My breathing hitched and I felt myself tense, ready to spring out and to grab her in a dash of schoolboy heroics. But self-preservation instincts forced me not to as I felt the dance grow worse and worse every second.

There was only reason my will prevailed. It was because of the wildly dancing china in the glass cabinet beside her. Already, the fragile, transparent doors were swinging open listlessly, with the cups and teapots shaking and jumping towards the edge...

I leapt out, grabbing her and holding her whining, writhing body against me as I struggled to avoid any other possible falling objects. I dashed under the table as I heard weak duplications of the sound of the falling chandelier, whatever little baubles having been placed inside of that cabinet falling with unexplainably heart wrenching, delicate chinks. The thought occurred to me, for a single moment, that something so sweet and pure had to be broken so violently.

I found myself, with the tabletop over me, looking at Your Name, who was lying listlessly beside me, small moans of pain emitting from her. "What... the hell...?" she managed to gasp out, looking around at her surroundings, with disbelief in her voice. "Oshitari-sensei? What's going on?"

"An earthquake," was all I needed to say. Inwardly, I felt myself snarl at the impersonal way she had spoken my name -- Oshitari-sensei. But, I thought, it couldn't be helped.

My ponderings were drawn away as a loud, shocking bang! reached my ears. I looked up, just seeing bits of wood and glass shards cut through the air in all directions as the cabinet fell, yet another figure of perfection cleverly imitated lost forever to this plane. A few glass shards showered our way, a few of them barely making contact with our skins and causing a mild stinging in some locations of my arm.

"Oshitari-sensei..."

The potential of the danger of the earthquake seemed to hit Your Name. I glanced back at her, wondering if she had ever looked into them and the damage that they could possibly cause. This earthquake couldn't really cause much, but a tsunami would be a damn pain.

I felt my student creeping closer to me, her small hand gripping my arm for some sort of comfort, and I couldn't keep myself from committing yet another act of grand stupidity and tactlessness; I simply couldn't stand to have her in such a close proximity, but not being able to hold her, or...

Gripping her by the shoulders, I gave her a steely, displeased glare and then kissed her in the same dispassionate manner that I had a few days before. This time, however, it was I who broke the kiss, looking at her with my mouth a mere line before swooping down beside her and whispering into her ear, "Do not deny me of this -- just for this moment," and laughed at my own words. I couldn't believe that I used to think myself as suave as Casanova. I was only foolish when I acted like this; only a sap having watched too many love movies.

This time, though, something else besides my hands seemed to grip her. She returned the kiss slowly and clumsily, but it sent a shot of pleasure through me anyway.

And we only continued, with chaos falling as splinters and shards around us, a flimsy table for protection from the elements wreaking havoc overhead.




A dream.

Perhaps that's what I would have, in one of my novels, described our relationship to be like. We had to keep it hidden in secrecy like all of those cheesy romance movies, but I didn't mind; this was all too real and nothing so utterly implausible. She had told me that if I would wait for her, she would gradually reveal it to her parents when she was old enough -- it was only as simple as that. Right now, the difference in age was merely a limiting factor.

But it wasn't enough to deter us from admitting the mutual attraction we had. I took her out on dates when she had the time and when it wouldn't seem suspicious, and while I did enjoy holding her and making suggestive comments all the time, I respected her wishes not to do anything beyond that. It was silly, I had to laugh at myself, that once we did start dating; nothing was so much of a big deal anymore.

And as for Atobe? He couldn't stop me from doing anything.

I sat across from him, sipping my coffee and giving him occasional glances from my laptop. "So, you are dating Your Name," he stated more than asked.

"Yes," I confirmed.

"Ahhh... Well, it's not like I can ever stop you from getting something you really want, Yuushi," Atobe finally admitted grudgingly, rolling his eyes. However, I could see that he didn't mind too much -- but it didn't surprise me considering that he had probably figured that I would never do anything bad to her. That was the truth, too; if I ever hurt Name, I wouldn't be able to bear the guilt. She was too young, too naive, despite the walls that she put up, and breaking that sort of attitude would've been a damn shame.

I left the Atobe-Groups building with that in mind, getting into my car and driving out of the area fairly quickly. Glancing at my watch as my hands slowly guided the steering wheel, I hoped that I would get to the café where we usually met in time -- I was supposed to meet Name at 5:45, where we'd then go on a date. My brow furrowed upon thinking of the café; there was Tifa, that waitress friend of hers. I silently wondered of Name had dared to tell her of our relationship, and wondered what kind of person Tifa was. Knowing her, she'd probably pick up on what was happening sooner or later, thus making the bigger question: Would she be revealing it any time soon?

I knew that if word got out, Name would probably be grounded for the rest of her life, and my publicist would probably give a whoop of joy. Publicity was publicity, after all...

But, really, who cared?

When I arrived and pulled into the parking lot of the café, I was surprised to see Name outside, talking politely to who seemed to be a stranger to her. My eyes narrowed as I squinted; that figure looked mildly familiar -- and then it struck me why...

Brown hair, eyes closed in an eternal smile, polite gestures, ivory skin...

"Fuji Syusuke," I acknowledged as I walked up to the two who were conversing. He turned around, looking at me curiously. "I don't know if you'd remember me --"

He smiled at me, but then, when did he not? "Oshitari Yuushi," he interrupted, "I never thought that I'd see you ever again."

"Yuushi!" I heard Name exclaim in surprise, probably at my unexpected arrival. I gave her a smile, regarding her through the glasses that I did not need -- she was dressed better than usual, with a skirt and nice top and all, and I silently wondered what the occasion was. However, my ponderings were cut short when Fuji turned to me.

"The two of you know each other?" he asked.

"Quite well," I answered shortly, "I'm surprised that the two of you know each other, though."

"We don't," he replied pleasantly, "I was simply asking her for directions." He turned back to the girl, saying, "thanks for your help."

"No problem," Name replied timidly, seeming to feel awkward in his presence.

"Well, I'll be going now," Fuji finally announced after a few awkward moments of quiet," It was nice seeing you, Oshitari-san. Take good care of her, okay?" I nearly found my composure breaking at his implication -- but it then occurred to me that Fuji was not stupid; on the contrary, he had been the genius of Seigaku back in our middle school days. He would not reveal anything except to maybe a few trusted people if he felt the sudden urge to.

Reassured, I took Name by the hand. "Who is he?" she asked quietly.

"Just a fellow tennis player from a rival school from back when I was 14 or so," I answered casually. Her lips went into an O of understanding as she seated herself in the shotgun seat of my car with me sitting down soon afterwards. "So, where shall we go?" I asked her. She shrugged.

"The movie we were supposed to catch doesn't start until after a while, so let's go to the park to kill time, okay?"

"Your wish is my command." And I drove quite silently and steadily, the pace considerably slower than at the one that I had arrived at.

Our date had gone smoothly; granted, there was none of that so-called obligatory arm-around-the-shoulder during the climax or any passionate kissing as the heroine and hero finally confessed to each other. I had always believed in that sort of stuff as a teenager, but after a few serious girlfriends, I finally gave up on it -- deeming it unnecessary and stupid. Name didn't seem to mind too much each other; at least, she didn't seem to generally mind. To any regular person, she seemed as stoic and as sure of herself as ever, but to me, I could see that she was trembling slightly, giving into some sort of nervousness like that delicate China during the earthquake.

I parked beside the sidewalk and stepped out of the car, my companion doing so well. "Something's wrong," I said casually, lighting a cigarette.

"Yeah," she admitted, "That Fuji Syusuke guy..."

"Did he do anything?" I questioned immediately, looking at her sharply.

"No. It's just -- he reminded me of somebody. His eyes were the same as my ex-boyfriend's, always closed as he smiled, and he seemed like a nice guy, but I'm guessing that beneath the pleasantries, he's really crafty, hm?"

"... and you figured his entire personality in a nutshell out after a few minutes', at most, conversation?" I asked dryly.

"Call it a suspicion or intuition," she replied. "Anyway... the similarities just sort of unnerve me. Fuji-san -- is he a good guy?"

"Last time I checked," I confirmed, "Why, though? You should stop lingering on whoever your ex-boyfriend is." We walked into a space where trees were grew more frequently, the foliage cloaking the both of us from eyes not meant to see the two of us together. There, I put a possessive arm around her, pulling her flustered body closer to mine. "He is a thing of the past. I am what you should concentrate on."

She gave me a deadpanned look, her solemn mood broken. "Somebody is very modest," she grumbled.

But I ignored her, putting another arm around her and sending a little giggle escaping from her mouth, nipping at her exposed neck affectionately. "Yuushi~!" she exclaimed breathlessly at the sweet contact, glancing back at me. I gave her a mischievous glance before rising, only drawing her closer to me. "Yuushi," she repeated my name again, her petite frame leaning against my body, "I... was accepted into the university I was trying to get into."

I felt a sudden lurch within me. "The one in England?"

"Yes."

I blinked at her. "Well, I suppose that means we won't be seeing each other for a while."

"No, Yuushi," she said quietly, "I... I also got accepted to the University of Tokyo. I'll go there instead." She motioned to me, to the surrounding area -- a generic, but passionate gesture -- "I want to stay with you, and all the things that have made me so happy these past couple of weeks." She gave me a smile, but not the weak one I was expecting; this was a brilliant one, radiant in all its glory. Unfortunately, I found her statement utterly ridiculous.

"... No. You should go. It won't affect our relationship that much, and this is a once in a lifetime opportunity -- to go to England, and to --"

"But, Yuushi," Name protested, "I want to stay with you. Long distance relationships are hard to keep, and --"

"And what? Are you afraid I'll cheat on your or something?" I drawled disinterestedly. She gave me a hurt expression, and I could not blame her -- I had scoffed at her attempt to be faithful to me, and to our relationship. But, it was just too silly. "Just go to England; it's for the best. Besides, isn't that what my tutelage was for? To help you open doors to various opportunities? Before long, you will have to take over the family company and --"

"I really don't care," she interrupted furiously, "I don't! I told you that my aim was to become a novelist. That can be done without that university... And even if it might complicate things when I run the family business -- well, I don't give a damn about the family business! Yuushi..." Her voice melted into a puddle of tenderness and sensitivity, and I held back the urge to groan as well as my impatience.

"Name," I snapped irritably, "just go to the damn university. Nothing will have changed by the time you get back. I don't want to be the one holding you back from your full potential."

"You sound pretty eager to see me go," she only snapped back, and quite vehemently, scorned. "Kind of surprises me, actually."

"There's no reason why I shouldn't be eager. It was your goal to make it to that university for such a long time -- you told me that you wanted to live up to your parents' expectations, to manage the company well, to..."

"Well I've recently separated my parents' wants from my own!" she suddenly burst out, catching me off guard. I stared at her calculatingly for a few moments, listening to her go on and on. "My parents want me to manage the company, but I've never asked for that. I just want to stay here with you -- be a good girlfriend, maybe even --"

"Even what?" I scoffed at her, "Become a good wife? Honestly, what on Earth are you expecting from this relationship?" She froze, staring at me, wide-eyed. "Nothing good will come of it. It has no future. It was honestly doomed from the start." I was aware of how oddly cold and conceited my voice sounded; it annoyed even myself. I didn't care, though, she was acting like an idiot and nothing good was coming from it -- by it, I meant 'us'.

"Really. You have a goal and you're throwing it away because of a guy? I have no idea why I took an interest in you -- so young, so foolish. Stop chasing such stupid dreams; they're totally impossible."

I walked away from her that day, aware that whatever nerves I had struck, I had struck them hard, for I heard the sound of stifled sobbing from her. I mildly wondered why I had done that instead of just convincing her calmly to go to that university -- perhaps it was because a part of me had always been convinced that it would never work out. Perhaps it was because I knew that I did not only have the potential to hurt her, but to ruin her young life in so many ways.

Age. Experience. Was that all it equaled to in the end?

I thought this bitterly as I drove away from that park, from her, and from the ephemeral happiness I had obtained.

*

Our last kiss
tasted like tobacco
a bitter and sad smell.

Tomorrow, at this time
where will you be?
Who will you be thinking about?


Over four years.

It had been over four years since my last boyfriend, I mused to myself as I browsed the bookshelves. Yesterday was the day four years ago on which he had left me crying amongst the green on that cruel Tuesday.

I no longer cared for him, though. He was right — our relationship had been, after all, trouble from the start. The fact that we had broken up over something so trivial was proof that it was weak and unstable: something not meant to last.

I had, admittedly, toyed with the idea of going back to him and making up with him — Oshitari Yuushi was a man that had really kept me happy and managed to make me move on from that despicable ex-boyfriend of mine, Cole. But I kept going back to how he had basically stated that he was basically toying with me, that I was a mere ragdoll for him to toss and throw to him. That was, Tifa had later assured me, no better Cole had been.

Besides, I had never seen him ever again. I remember wandering through that city like a ghost, silently and with a forlorn aura at first, hoping to catch a glance of navy blue or to hear his low voice speaking with that Kansai accent of his. But no — I had never caught such a thing, and I had never seen him again after that break-up.

After that, the mere mention of his name sent hatred through me. I really did hate him for causing me so much grief and confusion.

But like I said, I really didn’t mind anymore. I was a different person — yes, same in a lot of ways, but I had changed too much. I was a young, mature woman now. I didn’t long for such an awkward sort of love anymore, but for the past few years had concentrated on my studies. I had graduated and pretty only a few weeks ago, though, but instead of considering dating, I instead haunted the many bookstores of England.

Today, I had left my small apartment in the morning and walked through the drizzling atmosphere of the busy city which I was in. I had entered a bookstore and decided to indulge myself in a few books — I felt the urge to read something other than textbooks and epic poetry for classics. It nearly felt awkward to buy books of my own free will — gasp — but I wanted to, nonetheless.

And that is how I felt my slender fingers going over the spines of many books. I glanced at the display set up near the front of the bookstore; I had neglected to check there for any materials of interest. Eyebrows rising in interest, I walked through the quiet shop and looked at the colourfully arranged set of books and, to my surprise, saw a familiar author amongst them.

Well, okay, I saw very many familiar authors amongst the books, but I wasn’t familiar like this like I was familiar with this one. After all, in the case of this one, I had slept at his apartment overnight, watched movies with him, kissed him, let him hold me…

It was ironic that I should see his book now, right after reminiscing about him.

A wry expression on my face, I picked up the book and examined the dark cover. The words Breaking the Fourth Wall were imprinted onto the glossy, simply designed cover. I felt intrigued, only because within the expanse of black portrayed was a simple coffee cup on the displayed edge of a familiar-looking café tabletop.

I bought the book. A freaking $30.00 bucks for it — Oshitari must’ve been making a lot of money off this relatively short novel right now, I thought wryly.

I walked out into the rest of the mall, briefly surveying the shops around me before sitting down and opening the book to the first page. It was in first person, written with the same style that he was writing with a few years back when I had met him, but noticeably more refined. This is what the first bit said:

The grandfather clock within the structure was at exactly 5:59.

My fingertips met the glass door of the café with force, the barrier swinging open and allowing me to walk inside, feet meeting a tiled floor. The refreshing scent of coffee reached my nostrils and I breathed in deeply as my grip on the laptop I was clutching tightened, feeling rejuvenated.





I practically ran into my house, immediately throwing my bag onto the floor and then jumping onto the couch, the book I had bought earlier that day in hand.

I had been reading for so long that I had forgotten about the time — when the mall was closing, I finally had the sense to take the bus home, and even continued to read the novel on public transit. The short walk from the station to my house had suddenly become a full-on, breathless sprint for I wanted to get out of the rain in order to continue to reading.

The names were changed. The location had been changed. However, the plot was still so much the same. At first, fury had coursed through me — how dare he dramatize our relationship for the sake of a quick buck! But I only continued to read; I wanted to scrutinize every bit of this book before calling him up suddenly and giving him a good shouting over the phone.

I was finally nearing the end of the book, only a few pages being bound back by my fingers —

. . . had always believed in that sort of stuff as a teenager, but after a few serious girlfriends, I finally gave up on it -- deeming it unnecessary and stupid. Doki didn't seem to mind too much each other; at least, she didn't seem to generally mind. To any regular person, she seemed as stoic and as sure of herself as ever, but to me --

It was rather interesting, I thought in spite of the circumstances, to see what had been going on in his mind during the relationship. Oddly enough, he had never really hinted at his true intentions yet — he had only made things sappy, writing lies about how my youth intrigued him, about how hurting me was the last thing that he wanted to do. Part of me wanted to believe him, but majority of me was too proud too. He was probably making things annoyingly sweet again in his novels.

But that resolution weakened as I continued to flip pages. Finally, I reached the scene where our fiery relationship had ended — where it left with him walking away with me.

This is what it said:

I felt the wind rushing through my hair as I drove away from her — from her and everything that had given me such ephemeral happiness for the past few weeks. It hurt a lot to leave her there — crying, broken — like that, but I was sure that she would be able to recover quite quickly.

And I know that she, Doki, must be reading this book by me, Kaoru. I also know that she must have not believed any of the intentions of mine that I had stated in this novel.

But, Doki — please excuse the new name — you have to believe me. I had left you there because I was so afraid that our relationship would ruin your life. You have so much potential, but without the will to pursue those talents of yours, none of that potential would have mattered. I believe that with the foolish ideals you had in your head, you would have turned out similar to the man you had met earlier that day.

Let us call him Seijitsu, shall we, ‘Doki’? Yes, I know it’s a funny name. Disregard that. Anyway, back when I knew him in middle school, the two of us played tennis against each other a few times. We were both geniuses of our respective schools. The difference between him and me, however, was that I had motivation and he did not. He had such sky breaking potential but was so unmotivated that tennis for him was a talent wasted.

I was simply afraid that you would end up the same — but instead of simple lack of motivation, it would be ME holding you back that would be the cause.

I remember this one lesson where we had gone over the literary device that I am currently using. Heh, extra points if you can guess it. I’ll give you a hint: It’s the title of this book.

I have broken the fourth wall for you, ‘Doki’. I dedicate this entire book to you, Doki — no, actually, I dedicate it to you, Name. There’s no doubt that enough people have figured out just who this is about. I hope you are happy now — that you have no regrets about that relationship or that harsh break-up. I have no doubt that you still have lingering doubts, which you have thought about a few weeks ago on Tuesday which was the anniversary of our last day together.

… Goodbye.


*


All the fuss about my newest novel had finally died down.

At first, I had received many a hatemail at it, but I merely ignored all the protests, chidings, and insults that I had received. I didn’t care. I had a message to give her. I wouldn’t be able to hear Name’s voice over the phone, or tell her in person, and I definitely wouldn’t be able to ask her parents to leave a message for me — so I did it in the simplest way possible to me. I wrote a book.

I had started it right after I got home. I worked on it for so long and so diligently that by the time I had seen daylight again, she had already left for England. But, that was for the best, I decided. I would only have to make the book good — so good that it would get translated into English amongst many other languages and be published in that country that she had gone to.

My plan had succeeded. I had no doubt that she had read it by now, the vivacious reader she was. After she saw the cover, I knew that she would pick up the book, practically devouring words before realizing what exactly the story was about.

And now, as it rained, I was simply sitting in that little café that Tifa now owned; sipping a cup of coffee as my fingers worked away at the keyboard, pressing down the many squares as words magically appeared on my computer screen. I reclined into my chair, stretching momentarily, and read over what I had written so far.

Suddenly, a melodious tinkling reached my ears as the door chimes danced. Habit forced me to glance at the door — you see, it was evening, and around the time that Name would normally have arrived. Of course, I really didn’t truly expect her to come walking through the door any moment, making her way to the table towards me. Nobody had for the past four years.

Apparently, somebody up there hated me, because I sat corrected.

There she was, changed both physically and, it seemed, mentally. Name was walking tall, gaining a few stares as she strode gracefully through the semi-crowded room with an aura of grace surrounding her. She was the epitome of sophistication and maturity — but, regardless, part of her eyes still danced with a repressed childish amusement as they had a few years ago.

And for a few precious moments, she was once again that reserved, quiet schoolgirl as she sat down at the table next to mine and I was that man in the corner again, typing away silently at his laptop.

But then she turned to me, breaking the lovely illusion. “Hey, there, stranger,” she said that corny line playfully, probably often found in one of my earlier novels, “you write novels, right? I was wondering — have you ever had any troubles writing sappy romance scenes? Because I certainly have.”

The grandfather clock struck 6:00.

You are always gonna be my love.
Even if I fall in love with someone once again
I'll remember to love.
You taught me how.
You are always gonna be the one.
It's still a sad song,
until I can sing a new song…

-- “First Love”, Utada Hikaru


End “Breaking the Fourth Wall”


Whoo! I am personally not very happy with how it turned out — except for the ending. XD I liked the idea (and the ending), but I botched everything. All was way too angsty. And I refuse to proof-read this thing.

Yaaay, new one-shot record! 46 pages. Thank you if you’ve had the courage to read all this crap. >>;

REVIEW PLEASE! ♥



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