A Memory of a Different Color
The periodic crunch of snow was comforting, as was the warm hand in her palm. Fumi ignored her numb-with-cold nose that had begun to sting slightly with pain. She sniffed a bit; the crying earlier she'd done had made it even easier for the chill to seep in and she hated it.
Akira's eyes trained themselves to Fumi's face, longways. She couldn't explain her urge to always want to witness this girl's tears, even if she couldn't make them go away. Still, it felt even more painful if she thought that Fumi was hiding something from her, so she bore it. But it wouldn't do to watch her like a hawk anymore; they were both in high school now, after all.
When she was certain that it was just a momentary lapse, Akira gripped Fumi's hand a bit tighter and turned her eyes back to the sidewalk. The night was quiet, yet. The time was somewhere around 4am in the morning. Even the store owners weren't going to rush to get open on the day after Christmas for returns, so the two of them enjoyed the simple act of walking together.
They finished walking through the commercial district within ten minutes and had, at some point, let go of each others' hands. Reaching the side road which led into the residential area, their walk suddenly became more taxing than they'd first realized; on the way there, it had been fine to scramble a bit up the path beside the road which had an overlook of forest above it, but going back was going to be a different matter. The snow had been given the opportunity of about an hour or so to solidify underneath as ice. Finding themselves a bit off-balance, they walked (or rather, skidded) their way down the sidewalk as they made their way down the hill.
Fumi caught onto a lamppost on a particularly slippery patch and, with a twist, reached out her other arm on instinct when she heard Akira beginning to slip from behind her. The motion worked, somehow, and the red-haired girl mumbled a thanks. Fumi merely smiled with a gratitude of her own in return.
Akira seemed momentarily flustered, but passed it off by facing the overlook into the residential area they were headed toward. Her feigned interest slowly turned into a real one, however, as she took in the scenery, a blanket of white mostly undisturbed yet, silently covering the slumbering homes below. "It's so beautiful," she said eventually, and Fumi felt herself almost strain to hear it, she'd said it so softly, almost as though she were afraid that if she spoke any louder it might break the scene apart.
Indeed, it may well have been that Fumi had more read Akira's lips to know what she'd said, as the taller girl hadn't taken her eyes off of her for the duration of the exchange. She felt no pressing need to shift focus now, either. Instead, Fumi found herself considering Akira quite a bit more seriously than she ever had previously, and not just as a friend (or any other boxed-in relationship type for that matter), but truly as a whole person.
The shorter girl had unconsciously set her left hand tentatively, almost hesitantly, against the post to steady herself, the edge of her wristwatch peeking out from under her coat sleeve. The lamplight cast an almost haloing-type glow about Akira; the red of her hair caught this most especially. Her eyes were relaxed, a rich amber glinting slightly as they took in the treasure of a view. A soft smile graced her features also, comfortable in her surroundings. Finally, a tinge of red splashed across the girl's cheeks and nose, from the cold or from something else she knew not which, yet either way Fumi felt a barely-quelled urge to touch Akira's face to find out.
And then the thought came to Fumi very starkly, that she wondered she hadn't ever come to the conclusion before (let alone had never thought to consider Akira this way):
She liked what she saw.
They reached Akira's home with no further situations arising, and both were glad for the comparative warmth of the blankets. After some fidgeting, Fumi was invited to lay down beside Akira; both knew it would be warmer than to try getting to a comfortable temperature than being alone. Strangely enough, Akira was the first to fall asleep (indeed, so quickly that Fumi found it amusing, as it was this girl who had suggested they go out for a night romp to begin with).
Akira's face was peaceful as she slept, as it always was. It made Fumi more than a bit jealous. Given another moment, the red-haired girl's mouth parted just slightly, and a light snoring sound filled the quiet room. Fumi merely smiled.
To Fumi, currently finding herself in a rather reflective mood, everything seemed suddenly immutable.
Her relationship with Chizu had lasted for quite some time in her own perception (though really, who thought of six months as a long time?). There had been a soft quality to it, like a woolen cloth had been pulled over her eyes through the entire thing. Indeed, whenever they touched each other, it would be well beneath a blanket, in the dead of night, struggling to keep their voices down and out of hearing range of the rest of the family. It worked of course, but despite how much of a warm and soft impression those experiences left on her, it didn't seem like there was anything much behind it; no red string of fate was tying them together.
Yasuko had a different flavor, one of mystery and dashing and excitement; there hadn't had a dull moment, there hadn't been any points at which she hadn't felt a rush in the back of her mind. Fumi had savored those moments of anticipation (mixed in as they often were with doubt and wanting to know this was even truly real). The red string Fumi felt which tied her to Yasuko had been always taught, tugging, and insistent. Thinking on it now, it hadn't been entirely unpleasant, but it also had made her weary of almost everything Yasuko did, no matter how much her heart hammered in her chest after the fact.
And of course there had been the other thing her relationship with Yasuko had brought onto the field which she'd never experienced before: jealousy. She had to agree, there was a certain amount of pride to be taken in having a girlfriend so desirable, but it had become far too apparent to Fumi that she herself was simply not built to handle such constant attention to her significant other, and in turn herself. Due scrutiny was one thing, but the fact remained that Yasuko was literally a legend not only in one school, but two. It had been killing her by the inches to see Yasuko so flaunted over.
Fumi turned over to lay on her stomach, finally facing away from Akira. Through all this, her conclusion, despite the differences, was this: she was waiting, always had been the one waiting. Nothing changed through either of the two relationships; it had always been Fumi who awaited their next move, their next action, unsure of how to act unless it meant reacting. It then occurred to her that perhaps that was her problem; that perhaps this had been the reason the relationships she'd been in had not lasted.
At length, she found herself burying her face against the pillow, inhaling deeply to capture Akira's scent from them. Her arms reflexively reached to grab the pillow into a tight, if awkwardly positioned, hug. Fumi then turned to face Akira again, still on her stomach, still clutching the pillow.
It was then, in the back of her mind, that she had convinced herself that she might be the one who would take initiative. Then again, initiative was well and good, but Fumi also knew it wasn't ideal to jump into another relationship so soon; her gnawing doubts with Chizu had more than once seeped into her impression of Yasuko.
With someone such as Akira... someone who had supported her so much already, someone who was already the sort to give as much as she took, she wanted things to be right.
This time she would wait yet again, bide away for the right moment, but for this instance at least, it would be on her own terms.
The weeks passed slowly as Fumi considered how she might bring up the subject to Akira. The red-haired girl had begun taking up her backstage role for the next play and Fumi would find reasons to discreetly join her each day. Sometimes she would take up the mantle of errand-runner, fetching drinks together with Kyouko. Others, she would sooner call herself a ninja, sneaking into the staff-only hallway behind the stage, sometimes climbing up the stairs to the catwalk so she could wait to spy on Akira as she regularly dashed onto the stage between scenes to add or remove certain props and backdrops. (It sounded more romantic than it probably was, but Fumi didn't mind.) Yet other days she would seek Akira out specifically, inviting her to eat at the local ice cream shoppe.
Fumi enjoyed these times the greatest, mostly because she knew the other girl was truly enjoying herself; Akira would, without fail, eat her "afternoon snack" with relish and would speak so animatedly that Fumi swore (if she were the swearing type, which she was not) that she might have placed Akira's hand in t he Bocca della Verità* and that even if she'd told a lie, that Akira's demeanor and constant control of the conversation would completely fool the carving. Fumi herself never tired of it.
Afterwards, they might go to a park until dusk (never any later, because the night brought out the worst in Akira's fear of the occult when they were alone in the darkness), visiting the lines of trees still bare of their leaves or playing games of hide-and-go-seek among the various tourist-like structures. Neither of them had the heart to tell the other that they felt very childish during these games; they felt so exhilarating to play that the two forgot for the moment that they were young women now.
Fumi eventually realized that she had a terrible crush on Akira. She thought of nearly nothing else, no one else, every time she felt her mind wander. The smaller things: the way Akira's eyes lit up whenever she smiled, the adorable fidget she made when she thought no one would notice if she'd been embarrassed, and even down to her habit of keeping her wristwatch upside-down on her wrist; all of these contributed to Akira's appeal.
One day, a Saturday morning sometime in early March, Fumi stood at the train station, her hands holding one another behind her back, the topmost one hooked haphazardly around the handle to her schoolbag, head bent slightly to try to keep her nose as close to her muffler as possible. It was a half-day for the both of them and they regularly went someplace special on such occasions.
Akira arrived on the platform around the normal time, none-the wiser, and just as chilled. "Fumi-chan, would you want to go window shopping today?"
Hazel eyes glittered happily at the suggestion, but she had already made her plans for today. "I want to do something else." The train was turning the bend in the tracks, the screeching brakes covering her silence and Akira's confusion. Generally, Fumi was never the sort to decline an invitation Akira made.
"Well... all right," Akira replied uncertainly, as they boarded the train, ignoring the chatter of the other passengers.
It was easy to tell that Fumi's cheeks had perked up into a full-on grin, even under the muffler . "I just thought we might have some fun today, doing something different."
Fumi's grin was naturally infectious. "Fun is good!"