"I hope it doesn't rain tonight," Sohma Yuki said with a frown, glancing out his apartment window at the partly cloudy skies. "It would be a shame if the fireworks were cancelled. You would have come all this way for nothing."
From her spot at the low table in the center of the room, Kuragi Machi shook her head. "I wouldn't mind," she admitted, looking down as she wrote down another wish on a tanzaku. Her cheeks were faintly flushed. "It was nice just to spend the weekend with you."
Yuki smiled, pleased to hear that. A part of him had been afraid things would be awkward between them after not being able to see each other for a couple of months. With him busy with his college classes and Machi studying for her university entrance exams back at home, several hours away, it wasn't feasible for them to see each other much, although they kept in touch with phone calls and e-mails. Long-distance relationships were more difficult than he expected, and he had a newfound appreciation for the legend of Tanabata, in which two lovers, Orihime and Hikoboshi, were only allowed to meet once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.
"Even so, I hope Orihime and Hikoboshi are able to meet this year," he said, coming over and kneeling down at the table. "If it rains, the magpies won't come to make the bridge for Orihime to cross the Milky Way."
"Then I will make a wish that the skies will clear up by tonight." Machi wrote down "Please don't rain tonight" on another one of the tanzaku and hung it on the potted bamboo tree sitting in the center of the table. "Are you not going to write down any wishes, Yuki?" she asked him. "I know it's kind of childish, but…"
"A wish, huh?"
Yuki reached across the table and grabbed some of the blank tanzaku from the stack in front of her, along with a pen. He tapped the end of the pen against the table as he tried to think of what to wish for.
To be honest, there was very little he wanted. When he was a little boy, every Tanabata he would wish that the zodiac curse on him would be lifted, although he never found the courage to hang the wish on the tree, afraid that somebody would see it and tell Akito. Now that the curse was broken, for the first time in his life, Yuki was truly happy with his life. He had his freedom, a pretty girlfriend, good friends, a nice apartment, and his studies were going well. What more could an eighteen-year-old boy want?
Well, a maid might be nice, I suppose, Yuki thought, looking around the messy room. Though Machi had only arrived yesterday, his apartment had become a disaster area. Yuki was far from a neat freak himself, but even he had his limits. He refrained from writing that wish down, though. He didn't want Machi to feel uncomfortable, and if living in a dump made her happy, then he was happy to let her.
"What wish are you writing down now?" he asked Machi, looking for inspiration.
After a moment of hesitation, she held up the tanzaku for Yuki to read. It said, "I wish I got along better with my family."
Yuki frowned. "Your parents still don't believe you were never jealous of your brother?"
With a shake of her head, she tied the wish to a branch. "Some parents, huh?"
"Some people are just not cut out to be parents," Yuki agreed, thinking of his own money-hungry and status-obsessed parents. They barely even acknowledged him and Ayame any more, now that the curse was broken and they no longer received an allowance from the main house. "Still, that's a good wish. I think I'll borrow it."
He wrote down, "I wish my parents would accept the new me," and tied the tanzaku on the same branch as Machi's.
By that time, Machi was already finished with her next one. Yuki read it aloud as she hung it on the tree.
"'I wish it will snow a lot this winter.'" He gave Machi a quizzical look. "I thought you hated the snow."
She blushed and looked down as she began writing another wish. "I like it when you are with me," she mumbled.
Yuki felt his own cheeks warm as he remembered the previous winter. As he had promised her back at the end of his junior year, the two of them had made footprints together in the snow, ruining the pristine beauty Machi hated so much. That had eventually turned into a full-blown snowball fight, ending with the both of them wet and frozen to the bone. Machi had invited him up to the apartment where she lived alone to dry off, but they soon discovered a far better way to warm up.
They ended up doing a lot of "warming up" together that winter.
"If it snows too much, though, the trains won't run," he reminded her.
"Oh. I didn't think of that." Machi untied the tanzaku and added, "…but not enough to cause the trains not to run," to the bottom of it. "There," she said, placing it back on the tree.
"What about that one?" Yuki pointed to the other one she had been writing.
To his surprise, Machi quickly slapped her hand over the tanzaku and pulled it toward her, covering it with her folded arms. "You can't see this one," she said. "It's… well…"
His interest piqued, Yuki crawled behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. "Come on, let me see," he said, resting his chin on her shoulder. "I'm going to see it eventually when you put it on the tree."
"I'm not putting this one on the tree."
"If you don't, it won't come true."
"It probably won't, anyway."
"How do you know?"
Machi sighed. "Fine, I'll show you, but don't freak out, okay? I mean, I know we never really talked about it, but -"
"I promise, no freak-outs. Just let me see it."
With some reluctance, Machi lifted her arms off the tanzaku, allowing Yuki to read it over her shoulder. In her messy handwriting, she had sprawled, "I hope I pass the Hanabi University entrance exams and can live here with Yuki in this apartment."
"You were worried about me seeing this?" he asked, holding up the tanzaku. "But why? I already knew this."
"You said you'd follow me, right? Before I left? And I said I would be here waiting for you. I thought everything was already set."
She craned her neck up to look back at him. "Then it's okay if I move in here after graduation? Provided I get accepted?"
He smiled. "Of course. Why do you think I gave you the key?"
Turning around, Machi threw her arms around Yuki's neck and kissed him on the lips. The force of her embrace threw him backwards, so that they were laying together on the floor, Machi on top of him. Yuki had no objections to the situation, but Machi sat up and blushed when she realized what she had done.
"Sorry," she apologized, climbing off of him. "I guess I let my excitement get the best of me."
Yuki grinned. "Believe me, I wasn't complaining. In fact…" He reached for her arm and pulled her back down, pinning her underneath him.
"Yuki, the festival is about to begin," Machi reminded him, though she made no move to escape. "I need to get dressed."
"Oh, right, the festival… I suppose we should get ready."
Yuki sighed and sat back up, running a hand through his hair. He was tempted to suggest they just skip the festival altogether and stay in, but the Gardening Club at his college had a booth selling flowers to raise money for some new gardening equipment. He had volunteered to work the first shift, intending to enjoy the rest of the festival and the fireworks with Machi.
While Machi was in the bedroom, changing into her yukata, Yuki tied her last wish to the little bamboo tree and began reading the rest of them. It seemed she had a lot of dreams and wishes, some he knew about, some he didn't. He had to chuckle when he read the one about wanting a rare Mogeta poster for her upcoming birthday, filing the information away for later.
When he was finished, Yuki reached for one of the last remaining tanzaku and wrote something down. Machi came out of the room just as he was tying the wish to an empty branch. She walked up behind him, bending down to read his wish.
"I hope all of Machi's dreams and wishes come true," she read aloud, "because she's already fulfilled mine."
"Oh, hey, that was quick," Yuki said, standing back up and turning to face Machi.
His breath caught in his throat.
She looked beautiful, dressed in a red yukata with white flowers printed on it. Her long hair was pulled back into a low ponytail at the nape of her neck, but one strand fell over her face, free from the rest. It looked accidental, yet Yuki knew the truth - she had pulled that strand out of the ponytail herself, making the hairstyle imperfect.
It was amazing how a girl who hated perfection so much could be the perfect woman for him.
Taking the strand in his hand, he brought it up to his lips.
"You look…gorgeous," he told her, causing Machi to shyly look down, her cheeks flushed pink.
"You're embarrassing me," she said, but Yuki could tell she was pleased by the compliment.
He lifted her chin back up. "You know, I think you're even cuter when you're embarrassed."
That only caused her to blush even more.
"Oh, shut up," she said, pulling away. "We're going to be late if we don't leave soon. Are you ready?"
Yuki nodded. The Gardening Club didn't have a uniform besides an apron, so he could go in what he was wearing. After Machi spent a few minutes scavenging for her purse in the sea of decay that was his apartment, the two of them headed for the Tanabata festival, which was being held in a nearby shopping district.
"Good, it looks like it's clearing up," Yuki said, looking up at the star-filled sky. There were still a few clouds lingering around, but it seemed as if the rain would hold off at least for the night. "Orihime and Hikoboshi will be able to see each other this year after all. I'm glad." Beside him, Machi nodded her agreement, but she seemed distracted. "Something on your mind?"
"Did you really mean it?" Machi asked, stopping.
Yuki paused as well, turning to face her.. "What?"
"What you wrote on the tanzaku, about…me?"
"Of course. I meant every word."
"But I'm just an ordinary girl." She brushed the loose strand of hair back behind her ear. "And I haven't done much of anything."
"That's not true. You accepted me for who I really was, not the Prince Yuki every else saw me as." He placed a hand against Machi's cheek. "Machi, you have no idea how much you've helped me become the person I am today. My name may mean 'a reason to hope', but it is you who became my reason to hope. It's because of you that I was able to dream of a better life, a life where I could be myself and be loved for myself. You did that, and I will be forever grateful. I only hope that one day I can be the same for you."
Tears filling her eyes, Machi smiled as she reached up to cover his hand with hers. "You already are, Yuki," she whispered. "You have always been and always will be my reason to hope."