She doesn’t wait for the trains to pass but she wants to. It’s the wanting that makes the whole thing wrong. The ring on her finger feels tight and uncomfortable. What would Takaki say if he saw it? Why does she want to hide it? Why does she care at all?
It’s been years. So many, many years. She shouldn’t be able to recognize him but she does. And Akari knows if she waits for the trains to blow past he’ll be there on the other side of the tracks. She can’t handle that. She can’t handle seeing him there waiting. She’s getting married.
She is happy.
Even though Akari doesn’t specifically recall tucking away the letter, it’s waiting for her in the small box of things she brought back from her parents’ house.
His name scrawled in the childish handwriting makes her heart ache. Akari doesn’t need to read the letter again to know it’s line after line of clumsy confessions of love that can only spill from a heart too young to count the years ahead. She always meant to write him more often but –
She’d composed hundreds of letters in her head but the words never made it to paper. Why, why, why hadn’t she made the effort? Her questions were endless but circular. Takaki hadn’t written to her either.
Now she wears a ring. It weighs more than it should on her hand and Akari now longs to remove it but doesn’t. Instead she leaves all her clothes in an untidy heap on the floor and crawls into bed. She’s never been one for sleeping naked but she isn’t naked is she?
The ring sits snugly around her finger at the base.
Tokyo is sprawling and large, but it can also be small. When she sees him next he’s on a park bench hunched over his phone. Akari can’t look away. The ring on her finger is cold but so is the air. As much as Akari loved spring as a child, autumn and winter are her favorites as an adult. She likes the brown and red leaves coating everything with their dying colors. The snow blankets it all and chills her to the marrow of her bones. Akari prefers the cold.
When she joins him there’s a leaf on his shoulder. Akari reaches over to brush it away and when he startles she folds her hands in her lap. She doesn’t hide the ring. Something about him seeing it brings the beautiful ache in her chest to a full blossom on the brink of rot. Petals heavy with bright color – but thin and soft. Easy to squish.
Takaki blinks and he is beautiful. His hair is tidy and she suspects he’s recently had it trimmed. His coat is open despite the cold and the shirt underneath is wrinkled. She can feel him taking her in and when he smiles it pulls at every joint in her body. Takaki doesn’t speak for a long time and when he finally slides his phone into one of his pockets, she sighs.
“I wanted to wait for you by the trains but I couldn’t,” she whispers. I’m sorry is on the tip of her tongue. It’s sour and sweet and she holds it in.
“I knew it was you.” His eyes fall to her folded hands and if he cares she’s wearing a ring, he doesn’t show it. “Are you well?”
Akari tilts her head to the side and observes the flecks of gold between the swaths of brown in his eyes. She never noticed that before. She should’ve.
“I’m –” She pauses and smiles a little. Not a lot but a little. It’s enough for his own lips to twitch into a grin, as well. “I’m good. And you?”
“I’m doing better. I work for myself now and –” Takaki’s tone is light but engaging. He’s talking as much as she isn’t. Their roles feel reversed. She used to be the talker. “It means I can spend an afternoon in the park if I want,” he adds softly.
She stays until the sun begins to set and the air chills the tips of her ears. Akari is the first to walk away because she thinks if she stays too long she won’t want to leave.
The fight was stupid. Unfair. But Akari is unravelling. There’s no good reason for it, she just feels frayed. Lost. She loves Haru. He’s always made her feel safe and sturdy but now? She is unwieldy. He is trying to placate her. Akari knows he doesn’t care about what tea they’ll serve or the colors of the table service. He grasps at her hands and tries to peer into her eyes but she is already on her way out the door.
She doesn’t want to feel so guilty. She wants it to be partly Haru’s fault.
Her pastry is half cold when a tear drops from her chin into her teacup. The cup is the only thing keeping her fingers warm. It’s been days since she’s seen him but Akari’s skin tingles when Takaki sits beside her. She watches him prepare his tea and bring the cup to his lips.
She remembers his lips though it has been ages. Sometimes she dreams of a shed on the edge of a field and itchy blankets and soft voices. She remembers his breath on her forehead. She remembers being warm when the world outside was nothing but frigid.
“Are you alright?” he asks in a quiet, unimposing tone. There’s a rumble to his voice now. It’s deeper than it used to be and it touches her in a place that makes her suck in a breath.
Akari doesn’t know how to answer his question.
Are you alright?
She both is and isn’t. The parts that aren’t alright, she can’t fix alone. They haven’t been alright for a long time but Akari is very good at swallowing barbs. She thinks maybe her entire body is full of thorny emotions and things that hurt her on the inside but she can’t bear to let them go.
“It’s cold tonight,” she whispers.
“They say there’ll be snow next week. The trains...” he trails off and she can feel him drift away to another night buried in snow.
Akari chokes down her cold pastry and finishes her tea. Takaki’s hand falls to the small of her back as they leave the cafe. She clings to his side as if she belongs there. The world spins around her at a dizzying pace.
She is on his arm.
She feels his body warm her left side.
She follows him for blocks.
“Akari –” his voice is low and gravelly. She loves it. Takaki’s eyes are darker than they were the other day. Her eyes slide closed when he brushes his gloved fingers over her cheek.
Akari says nothing as they wind up and up, floor after floor to his apartment. He hasn’t invited her and she hasn’t declined. Her mind is quiet. Her body hums. It can’t be all her fault if she didn’t invite herself up… right?
Takaki isn’t as thoughtful a lover as Haru. Generous, yes, thoughtful? No. He isn’t careful with her. Somewhere in the hazy recesses of her mind Akari wonders if this is because he’s the same as her. Does he dance in the breath of space between full and overflowing? Are the women he fucks too heavily intoxicated with the pleasure he gives to notice he doesn’t really see them? Do they not know that he dreams of her and no one else?
Or is it just her that’s so badly ruined? She’s become such a good liar. Takaki fills her so thoroughly she can’t imagine a world where she’s fooled even herself into thinking Haru is the man she loves.
The night stretches on and on. There isn’t a surface of his apartment home that Akari hasn’t touched – and there isn’t an inch of her body that hasn’t felt the press of his mouth or the brush of his tongue. She takes him on his back when the moon reaches its apex.
When she remembers her own name again, he is asleep. She is gone before the sun can think of rising.