This is a story about you.
You live alone in a nice apartment on the sixth floor of a mansion, which is strange for a high schooler. It’s walking distance to your school, your neighbours are quiet, and you have a friend and colleague on the floor above you.
You generally keep to yourself.
You do well enough at school; enough to keep your parents proud. You have a few good close friends, despite the fact that most of your peers consider you the tall, contemplative, but most blunt member of your grade. Saying that, your male classmates enjoy your company - sometimes you think it might be because they're interested in your unsupervised living space - but you don't seem to speak to many normal girls.
This story is about you.
You used to live in your family's comfortable four-bedroom home in Saitama. You have both your loving parents in your life, and a younger brother and sister, both attending the middle school you went to. But living in Saitama had meant a half-hour journey into Tokyo every morning and back in the evening, before even considering walking from home to Omiya station, or getting to Roman Academy from Ikebukuro. Now that you live in the city, your commute to school is less than fifteen minutes by foot. You can stay up late working, and get up a little later in the morning to compensate. You can still find time for your school work, too.
You were close to your parents, and Mayu and Yumeko. You're still close, but the distance means you don't see them often.
Today after you finished school, your friends Mikoshiba and Sakura visited to help with your long-running manga series. As always, Mikoshiba drew beautiful flowers for effects, and Sakura complemented your work with wonderful brushwork on the beta. Mikoshiba left earlier than usual, jokingly saying something about leaving the two of you alone. You didn't notice Sakura blushing and looking flustered. But that's not unusual; you never notice.
There was a quiet calm while you worked on the next storyline at your desk and Sakura double-checked all her pages, looking for any white streaks or missed marks. There weren't any, of course. She's very good at the beta, and you're very grateful to have her. You don't often tell her this, although you think you should. Instead, you compensate with your cooking and baking, which she loves so much.
"Ah, Nozaki-kun, I should really get going for the train," Sakura had said suddenly.
You felt what could only be described as a little flutter in your stomach. It had started to happen more and more recently, when Sakura called you by name in her fond way. The other girls in your class don't call you that, and neither do Seo and Kashima. Sakura is the only one that calls your name with that level of familiarity. But you put that thought to the back of your mind, because she's your friend, your assistant, and your fan, and that's surely all the interest she has.
She didn't notice that you were slow to respond; that's common with you. "Of course. Thank you, Sakura."
She made small talk about seeing you the next day at school while she packed her things. You responded briefly in kind, standing to wave to her in the genkan, and then started to go about your business cleaning the kitchen. You heard her voice again in the genkan as you were putting on your apron, but assumed that she was on the phone as she left.
You vividly heard her footsteps retreating down the walkway, which was odd, because she's normally so good at closing the door behind her. You made a mental note to go and check on the door in a few minutes, but that thought was interrupted by a knocking on the ajar door, and another familiar voice, "Yumeno-san, excuse me."
"Ken-san!" you cried in surprise, tearing off your apron and slinging it back into the kitchen over the counter. You looked around at the living room, in the totally acceptable tidy condition Sakura had left it in, but still asked, "can you give me time to tidy up?"
Your editor looked weary, but that was very normal too. "No, sorry. May I come in? This is important."
You weren't expecting that answer, so you didn't have a response prepared. You just waved your arm towards the living room, managing a defeated "please".
Ken-san never wants to stay, much less invites himself in.
Ken helped himself to a seat at the table, the position Mikoshiba normally sat at. You weren't sure why, but you felt a pang of relief that he hadn't sat in what you considered Sakura's space. You pushed that thought to the back of your mind too while Ken made his usual comment about your apartment not needing any tidying up. He then turned to look at your fax machine for some reason, sitting on the edge of the counter under the ideas board. "Yumeno-san," he said, snapping you out of your stray thoughts, "Is it conceivable that you might be missing a Post-It note from the wall, that might have maybe fallen into your fax machine?"
You frowned, not sure where this question had come from or where it would lead. Was it a trick question? You weren't sure, but he looked at you expectantly, so you tried, "Maybe?"
He had already pulled a sheet of paper out from the pocket of his jacket. He unfolded it; it was part of your most recent draft that you'd faxed him just earlier that day. "We need to talk about this one."
You were hesitant; it must have been a tremendously large and obvious error in the draft if he had come all this way in person. But you cast your eyes over it and you saw that a large Post-It note was stuck over the final speech bubbles of the final frame of the chapter. You felt a wash of relief, and you mentioned that you could have faxed it again if he had just called or sent you a text.
"No," Ken-san had said sharply, and massaged his forehead slightly. "Yumeno-san, that doesn't matter right now. I need you to read the note."
You looked at the note, focusing away from your draft. It wasn't your handwriting, but it was very familiar. Almost as neat as your practised hand, but with a feminine touch. You smiled, remembering that you had read it before. You recalled aloud that it was one of Sakura's ideas, but that you didn't think it would work for a short-form comic.
"Yumeno-san," Ken-san repeated, looking more and more frustrated. Had he liked her idea so much? You began to wonder that, but he continued. "That's not a story idea she's pulled out of thin air, that's how she feels."
You didn't register his explanation very well. You looked at the note and read it two or three times more, but still, almost out of surprise, nothing made sense or stuck. You looked back at Ken-san, and admitted that you did not understand. His eyes had started to look a little wild, and he snatched the paper back from you.
"Yumeno-san," he repeated yet again, clearly trying to contain how very frustrated he was, "This girl is spending time with you hoping you, a mangaka famed for knowing girls' hearts, will notice how she feels about you. I don't know why, because if I'm honest, you are really doing yourself zero favours right now with your obliviousness, but there it is, she likes you, and I've no doubt everybody but you knows about it."
You didn't know how to process this. You couldn't possibly process this, but you felt the tirade needed a response, and you only managed to stutter out the first word of a hypothetical sentence before he delivered the finishing blow.
"You need to talk to her. Now, I'm done." Ken-san let out a huge sigh of breath, "You can resend me the last page by fax while I'm on my way back with Miyako-sensei's manuscript."
This suggestion at least gave you something purposeful to do - now, rather than later - and you slowly made your way back over to your fax machine. You equally slowly retrieved the last page from the output tray of the machine and pulled off the Post-It note, formerly beautifully sealed to the paper by the fax rollers. You looked at Sakura's neat, familiar handwriting, and stared at it. You wondered how you could be so clueless as to miss this, and wondered what else you'd missed. Feeling Ken's eyes on you, you finally remembered to prop the last page up in the input feed and hit the autodial key for his fax machine.
You cleared your throat and put the note very gently and precisely in the middle of your living room table. You managed to utter a monotone thank-you to your editor. He apologised for his bluntness and reiterated that you definitely needed to talk to her, and then he was gone. But then as he left, you heard him talking to someone, and you recognised the voice of that someone, the someone that let herself back into your apartment as he left.
Which brings us to now.
This story about you.
Sakura Chiyo stands in your living room, greeting you like she does any other day, but this time you find it hard to make eye contact and you feel your face turning pink. Your heartbeat quickens, presumably to compensate for the way your mind is racing. You vaguely register that she's quietly explaining her predicament with the trains, and that Ken-san has offered her a ride home on the proviso that she comes in and speaks to you. She seems concerned, and not her normal bubbly self.
Self-consciously you cover your face with your hands, looking at nothing in particular through your parted fingers. Muffled, you ask her, "How long?"
She still looks uncertain, but she says, "Ten minutes."
She has misunderstood.
"No, how long-- how long have I been oblivious to your feelings?" you ask, finally stealing a glance at her. Now your eyes feel a little pink too, stinging as you wonder how you can forgive yourself for hurting her like this.
"Nozaki-kun?" she says by way of query in her confusion and shock, even starting to tremble a little bit, and despite this the sound of her saying your name sends a little shiver through you.
You won't be able to take it if she cries.
You take a deep breath, but it's unsteady and you're sure she can tell as your voice starts to falter faintly too, "It's not a game he's playing with me, right? Why would he do that?"
She gasps, concern growing in her beautiful violet eyes, and she purses her lips and reaches up for your arms. She takes your hands gently, nervously, and she heaves a huge breath which she holds until she works up the confidence to speak.
It feels like a lifetime.
"Sakura, it's okay if it's not-"
"Since the entrance ceremony, Nozaki-kun." She blurts out, interrupting what you had offered as an escape. "I've liked you since then, and it's..."
Another long pause as she finds her words. You have your eyes on her now, and you can feel your pupils darting back and forth between hers, wishing your heartbeat hadn't made its way loudly and heavily to your ears.
"The truth is... I love you, Nozaki-kun." She faintly draws a shuddering breath, trying her very best not to cry. "And I've already come to terms that you might not feel--"
You don't let her finish.
She doesn't weigh very much at all, you think idly, stooping to gather her up in your arms; one cradling behind her knees and the other supporting her small shoulders. You draw her in close, silencing her surprised and almost indignant shriek as you press your lips to hers.
Time seems to stop.
She throws her arms around you, desperately pulling the two of you as close as possible. You stay like that until one of you has to come up for air, and you simply press your foreheads together and try to catch your breath. You gently lower her down so her feet touch the floor again, but she won't let go of you until you answer a very important question.
"This is real, right, Nozaki-kun?"
You only nod, but that's good enough for her. She swoons a little under your gaze as you unconsciously run the tip of your tongue across your upper lip, tasting the sweet remnants of her sugary berry-flavoured lip balm.
"I have to get going. I'll text you, okay, Nozaki-kun?"
With that, your girlfriend - you suppose, now - is gone. She didn't wait for your reply, but she did see you affirmatively pick up your phone from your desk, and you saw her blush and giggle a little at the uncharacteristically wide smile you gave her.
Sakura tells Ken-san a more embellished story in the car, one where you actually said the words that she interpreted from the kiss. That's okay with you, you tell her as you text late into the night.
This has been your story.
A story about you (and her).