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how to hold your hand so that i don't break it

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Mitsuha's fingers tighten around the railing. The stranger has paused as well, like he's forgotten the words to his favorite song. That's how Mitsuha feels too, blinking at the stranger's face, at the end of the stairs.

"My name is—" she says, and her voice is too loud. "Um, sorry." She clears her throat. "I'm Mitsuha Miyamizu." She bows, short and awkward. "It's nice to meet you."

But the stranger is looking at her curiously. Mitsuha thinks he must be trying to figure out how he recognizes her; Mitsuha is trying to remember as well. "Your name must've slipped my mind, I guess," he says, taking a step down towards her. "My name is Taki Tachibana."

Mitsuha's palm tingles, but the name brings nothing to mind. She thinks she would've remembered a man like him, someone who makes her feel like she's known him all her life upon their first meeting.

"Well, I suppose it's lucky that I've forgotten your name, too," she says, trying to make light of the situation.

Taki laughs. "I don't think people normally say that to each other. Do you work in the landscaping industry?"

The question throws Mitsuha off-guard. "Of course not," she says immediately, and then, "Oh, I didn't mean it like that! I mean, I'm nowhere close—I've got a friend who—anyway, I'm a catering manager at a dog cafe, so, no."

"Oh." Taki's face falls.

Mitsuha bites her lip. "Maybe you've been a customer once?"

Taki shakes his head. "I only go to one dog cafe near Shinjuku, and it's only when my friends drag me there."

"What do you have against dog cafes?" Mitsuha asks, teasing, and Taki shrugs at her but she thinks she can see a hit of a smile on his lips, too. "Mine is near Katsuhika, so you're right, I've probably never seen you there before. Where do you work?"

"Oh, I—" Taki scratches the back of his head. "I've actually just come out of university, so I'm still looking for a job."

"I'm sure you'll find one," Mitsuha says encouragingly.

"Yeah," Taki says, and then checks his watch. "Actually I—I can't stay much longer, I've got an interview for one in twenty minutes."

"Good luck," Mitsuha says. "I'm sure you'll get it."

"Thank you," Taki says. "You're much more supportive than my actual friends."

When he smiles, Mitsuha's chest rattles—and suddenly she doesn't want him to go, wants to beg him to spare another five, ten minutes with her. She twists a few strands of hair at the side of her face around her fingers, and tries to think of something to say.

"If you don't hate dogs," she says, trying to be as casual as possible, "you should come up to Katsuhika. To, um. To find dog cafes." She twists her hair again. "The one I work at."

Taki looks at her funnily, but he doesn't look like he wants to say no. "I'll see what I can do," he says, and usually that would sound dismissive, but he holds her gaze, and Mitsuha believes he genuinely wants to.

Taki starts back up the stairs, and then turns back one more time. "It was nice to meet you, Mitsuha," he says, departing with his big suit and briefcase and some part of Mitsuha's chest he's tearing at with every step he takes.

She says, "You too," and smiles when Taki looks back at her again. She doesn't say anything even though it feels like her insides are collapsing on themselves; she thinks Taki might've looked like he was regretting leaving.

Alone on the staircase, Mitsuha's throat clenches.

 


 

Taki's hand feels strange as he boards the train. It's felt strange since he met Mitsuha, but perhaps it's just the spring air doing a number on his skin. He stares down at his palm as the train goes on; buildings and trees rush by, but Taki doesn't notice them. He can't get Mitsuha out of his mind.

It's like the day he had come back from the countryside—from a quaint town he had barely heard of, that had perished at the hands of a comet. Taki can't remember what he was doing there, why he was so fascinated with the town. Perhaps he should've asked Mitsuha about it; she might've heard of it before.

He gets off at the station closest to the company interviewing him. Obviously he hadn’t wanted to mention to Mitsuha that he's still looking for a job; it's been three seasons and Shinta's boasting is actually starting to get annoying for once. He gets out of the subway station, looks up at the building, and takes a deep breath.

His interview is with two people—one stern-looking woman, the hiring manager, and the assistant contractor, an enthusiastic young man who pats Taki's shoulder and says, as they enter the conference room, "Relax, you've got nothing to worry about."

"I've got plenty to worry about," Taki says honestly. "I've interviewed at over twenty jobs before this."

"Look, I saw your resumé," says the assistant contractor. "If anything, you look overqualified for the job. I don't know how anybody else hasn't hired you yet."

"Maybe that's why," Taki says dryly.

The assistant contractor merely gives him a sly grin. "We're in luck then, aren't we? If we're the only ones who can see your potential, then we've beaten everyone else by far."

"Don't get my hopes up," Taki says, as they step into the room.

The hiring manager is already there, frowning at the assistant contractor as he strides across the room, over to their side of the table. "I apologize for my coworker's lack of professionalism," she says to Taki.

"It's alright," Taki says, as the assistant contractor makes an offended face that doesn’t seem serious. "I don't mind a bit of excitement every now and then."

"He's perfect for the job," the assistant contractor says to the hiring manager, who ignores him.

"I'll allow us to introduce ourselves," she says. "My name is Nura Hatsue, and Teshigawara Katsuhiko."

"You can call me Tessie," the contractor says. "Even though Nura-san doesn't."

"Taki Tachibana," Taki says, even though he knows they know.

They sit down; Tessie puts his hands behind his head and leans back in his chair. The hiring manager sighs, but doesn't say anything about it.

"First things first," she says to Taki, "tell me why you want this job."

"You said that you had a lot of interviews before," Tessie says, before Taki can answer. "And for the same sort of position?" Taki nods. "What's the reason for that?"

Taki looks between the two of them. The hiring manager looks annoyed again, but nods at Taki like she wants him to answer the question.

He's answered the question so many times that it should feel tiring, but the feeling wells up inside of him, and the words spill out. "I want to help design the landscapes of cities, to make them beautiful and memorable places," he says. "To make cities feel like home. Because people—the people you love are home, but the people you love have built that home, too."

"Where's your home?" Tessie asks.

Taki says, "Here. Tokyo's always been my home." He shrugs. "And it hadn't been important to me before, but then—but then something happened." He thinks, tries to remember. He's done this hundreds, thousands of times, but still can't remember why he had gone to that mountain at the edge of a small town, miles and miles away from here.

"I don't know what happened," he admits, "but now all I want to do is build places where people can make memories, because you never know when these places can disappear. So that the memories won't."

Tessie is smiling at his answer. The hiring manager moves onto the next question.

 


 

Mitsuha lives in an apartment complex on her own, but today she's visiting her grandmother, who still takes care of Yotsuha, in a modest townhome at the edge of the city. Being spring, the flowers line the sidewalks, and it makes Mitsuha think of new beginnings, new hopes, new loves—and new strangers to meet.

After answering a frantic text from Sayaka, Mitsuha pockets her phone raps on the door once. "Grandma, it's me," she calls, unlocking and opening it.

"Oh, Mitsuha." Her grandmother looks over from where she's watching the television in the living room. "You didn't pick up Yotsuha?"

Mitsuha smiles as she puts on her house slippers and joins her grandmother. "I don't think she'd like it very much if her sister came to high school to walk her back home."

"Nonsense," her grandmother scoffs. "She always looks forward to your weekly visits."

"I'll bet," Mitsuha says, amused. "Shall we start on dinner?"

"Oh, if only Yotsuha were here to help us," says her grandmother, but Mitsuha rolls her eyes and helps her up to the kitchen.

Everything in the house had been new, once; not in the sense that there had been a time they hadn't owned something before, but that just several short years ago, none of this would have crossed their minds. The ornate curtains, the cherry wood table that they eat at, the vase on the mantel, the pot with the boiling cabbage in it that Mitsuha had bought five years ago because the one she’d bought three years before that had broken. The bamboo panel doors, the balcony overlooking the streets, the huge ugly dresser that their father bought for them and Mitsuha and Yotsuha and their grandmother had laughed at it but never threw it out and never moved it, even though they weren't quite sure how to use it. The only items in the house that Mitsuha has known for more than eight years are the paintings of her relatives, past family members, a portrait of herself and her father and her mom, back before Yotsuha was born. Their grandmother had saved them during the evacuation.

It still feels new sometimes, all of it, Tokyo especially. But it's also hard to hold onto memories after you've lived in the present for so long.

Mitsuha remembers earlier today, because it had been a strange, short moment, and because it had been today, not years and years ago. "Something really bizarre happened to me today," she says.

"Oh?" says her grandmother.

Mitsuha stirs the soup. "I met this stranger... it's funny, because I feel like I've met him before. But when we talked, I also felt like he was the type of person I wouldn't forget meeting."

"We pass so many strangers so often that sometimes they start to look familiar to us," says her grandmother.

"But it wasn't like that." Mitsuha shakes her head. "And it looked like—it looked like he thought he knew me too. And I don't know why. I mean, he asked me if I was in the landscaping industry."

Her grandmother raises her eyebrows. "Landscaping?"

"I don't know. I... how did it even happen?" Mitsuha thinks aloud. "I was on a train, and he was too. But we weren't on the same train, we were passing by each other, and we saw each other through the windows." She tries desperately to grasp at the memory, though it feels like the more she tries to remember, the faster it seems to slip away. "And the look on his face, the way that I felt when I saw him—it was like we both knew what it was, as soon as we saw each other."

"When did you get to talk to him?" asks her grandmother.

"I ran out at the next stop," Mitsuha admits. "I felt like I needed to find him no matter what." She still has the aching in her chest, though, the empty feeling that's been there since the comet had fallen, and she had hoped maybe this was the answer. She doesn't tell this to her grandmother.

Her grandmother is looking at her peculiarly.

"Mitsuha," she says. "Do you remember the day we brought your kuchikamizake to the shrine?"

Mitsuha furrows her eyebrows. That's the other thing with memories—sometimes they happen so quickly, so quietly, that you don't know if they're there at all.

"I think so? Why?"

Her grandmother smiles. "Put the radishes in the soup; that's the only way Yotsuha likes to eat them," she says, and doesn't ask anything else.

 


 

Taki gets the email that he's been accepted at the Hoshi Landscaping company a week after his interview, and begins work a week after that, due to sector restructures within the company. "Honestly, I don't pay too much attention to it," Tessie says, on Taki's second day there. "If people are working, that's good enough for me."

"That's a rather holistic way of looking at it," Taki says. "So what exactly is it you do then? Tell construction workers what to work on?"

"Don't simplify my occupation like that," Tessie says, and Taki grins. "We run a well-oiled machine around here—isn't that what you want to do, in landscaping?"

"Yeah," Taki admits. They're heading to lunch, in a cafe down the street. Tessie has his hands stuffed into the pockets of his jeans. Taki thinks it's rather cool for spring, and that he should maybe try to find the dog cafe Mitsuha works at, if he remembers what province she'd said it was in.

Taki asks, "So how did you get into construction, anyway? I mean, you talk like you've done it for your whole life."

"I might as well have," Tessie says. "My father—he did construction in the town we used to live in. I was supposed to take over the family business but… it was hard."

"Why?" Taki asks curiously.

Tessie sighs. The door to the cafe jingles open, and they step inside. "I moved here a couple years after my final year of high school," he says. "The town I used to live in—do you remember that comet from 2013?"

Taki is not slow on the uptake. "You’re from that town?" he says, heart hammering in his chest.

Tessie nods. "Itomori. One of my friends—somehow she knew we were in danger, and we were running an emergency drill across town. Luckily, it was right outside of the range of the comet."

"Lucky indeed," Taki says, awed. The name Itomori rings in his head, but he doesn't know how or why. Taki's never been outside of Tokyo his whole life, except for when he had gone and searched for that town in the countryside for some inexplicable reason.

Realization hits him like a meteor. Itomori must be the town he had visited—the town that he had found himself on the cliffedge of in the early hours of one morning. The one that had been demolished, pulverized to the core. It had been gorgeous and tragic, waking up and seeing the craters rising up where life had once been.

But Taki can't mention that now, that he had been to Tessie's old town before. Tessie says, "Anyway, it was years ago, and me and my friends live good lives here, so it's okay." They sit down at a table, and order food when a waitress comes by.

Taki wonders what that town had been like, before the comet, before there had been nothing but a deep wound in the earth.

Tessie waves a hand in front of Taki's face. "Hello? You there?" he says.

The waitress has left. Taki bats his hand away.

"I'm fine," he says. "Just thinking."

"Don't think too hard," Tessie warns. He sets his hand down against the saucer for the tea that had been placed in front of him, and something metallic clinks. "Oh! Did I tell you that I'm engaged?"

"I would hope that you would remember if you did," Taki says.

Tessie waves a hand. "I've told so many people, I think I've already invited everyone at work," he says. "Well, I am engaged, if you want to the come to the wedding."

Taki swallows his hot tea down with surprise, too quickly. "What?" he says, through his choking. Tessie looks torn between concerned and amused. "We barely know each other."

"So?" Tessie says. "You seem like a stand-up guy—better than all those sticks in the mud at work."

"When is your wedding?" Taki asks, drinking his glass of water in the hopes that it'll soothe his throat.

"In three weeks," Tessie says. "The twentieth. It's a Saturday."

"I'll see if I can make it."

Tessie snorts. "What else do you have to do?" he says. "I promise, you can meet my girlfriend—er, fiancée."

"If it's your wedding, I hope I would," says Taki.

 


 

"Mitsuhaaaaa!"

Mitsuha runs into the fitting room, frightened for her life. "Saya-chin! What's wrong?"

Sayaka turns from the platform, where the tailor is fiddling with the back of her dress. "Does it look like I've gained five kilos?" she asks, worry set in her eyebrows.

Mitsuha squints; she's never been good at picking up on that sort of thing. "It doesn't look like you've gained any weight at all," she says honestly.

Sayaka looks at her reflection in the mirror and pouts. Mitsuha smiles at her through it. "I feel like I did," she says, and then sighs. "All that work I put into losing it, too..."

"Maybe it's because we had lunch right before this," Mitsuha suggests. "You'll be fine."

"Will I?" Sayaka asks the tailor, who ties up her dress with no problem.

The tailor pats her shoulder, and then looks at the both of them in the mirror. "You already look beautiful now," she says. "I bet you'll be even more gorgeous on your wedding day."

"See?" says Mitsuha.

Sayaka looks down at herself, and sighs again. "At least I know Tessie won't care."

"Of course he won't," Mitsuha agrees.

"Though it won't matter," adds the tailor.

Mitsuha glares at the tailor behind Sayaka's back. "It does matter," she says to Sayaka, "because it's your and Tessie's wedding, so all that matters is what he thinks. And I think he knows he's marrying the most beautiful girl in the world."

Sayaka giggles and hugs Mitsuha. "I'm not sure I'd agree with him on that," she says, grinning at Mitsuha's reflection.

They finish the final fitting, and once Sayaka's back into her normal clothes, they exit the shop. It's drizzling lightly, so Mitsuha pops open her umbrella above the both of them. Sayaka often sleeps over at Mitsuha's when Tessie needs to stay late or go to another island for work. And because their wedding is fast approaching, Sayaka needs Mitsuha even more now when Tessie's gone.

On the train to Mitsuha's apartment, Sayaka says, "I can't believe I'm getting married. To Tessie ."

"You've been dating for seven years; I'd think that you'd be able to believe it by now," Mitsuha teases.

Sayaka scoffs. "You know what I mean! He's Tessie . But he's also..." Her eyes get dreamy. "Tessie."

She pauses, and then looks back at Mitsuha. "You don't feel like we've cut you out or anything, do you?" she says. "Because if you do, I could—although I really, really don't want to -"

Mitsuha laughs. "How many times have you asked me this now, Saya-chin? Twenty times? And now it's just a few weeks before your wedding?"

"I just want to make sure that you're happy," Sayaka says with a pout. "I mean! Not that I think you're not, but sometimes you look..."

Mitsuha thinks about some of the mornings she wakes up with wet cheeks, when she looks down at her body and feels like she isn't there, like she doesn't belong here. "Lost?" she asks.

"I was going to go with 'sad,' but yeah, 'lost' sounds accurate, too," Sayaka says. Then, "Do you feel—?"

"No!" Mitsuha says, maybe too quickly. "Well, I mean. It's nothing to do with you or Tessie, it's just... since the comet..."

Sayaka nods. She's heard this all before. "Yeah," she says, and then gazes out the window, to the Tokyo landscape. "Can you believe how long it's been since you and I moved here?"

"Eight years," Mitsuha says; it had been seven for Tessie, only because for the first year his father had wanted him to help out with construction before joining the two of them at university.

Mitsuha watches the buildings and buildings pass by. She had once wished for this life. Sometimes she dreams that she's lived it at some point, too. "I miss Itomori," she says.

"Me too," Sayaka says, leaning her head on Mitsuha's shoulder.

"But," Mitsuha says, and pulls herself away. "If we hadn't come to Tokyo, you wouldn't have asked out Tessie the first day he came here !"

"Hey!" Sayaka bats Mitsuha's arm. "We hadn't seen him for a year, I already told you I liked him -"

"And now you're getting married."

Sayaka rolls her eyes, but loops her arms through Mitsuha's. "It's too soon," she says.

"But I'm happy for you," says Mitsuha.

Sayaka pretends she's contemplating for a moment, and then she beams. "I'm happy, too."

 


 

Shinta cracks open all of their beers in one deft motion, and then raises his glass. "To the one who's finally landed a job!"

"Cheers," says Tsukasa, and Taki lets himself clink his own glass against theirs before drinking.

"Are you going to get the sake?" Taki asks Shinta.

Shinta laughs heartily. "Someone's in the mood for celebrating properly," he says. "Yeah, I'll go get it, hold on."

He clambers up to his kitchen as Taki and Tsukasa remain sitting on the cushions in his living room. The TV's playing in the background; they're at Shinta's place because he has extra mats in case they get too drunk to go home and decide to pass out here.

Tsukasa takes a sip out of his beer. "So what made you so special that this place is the first to hire you?" he teases.

Taki shrugs. "It was an interview on a very weird day," he muses, remembering Mitsuha.

Tsukasa peers at him with interest. "Oh?"

Taki shakes his head. "It's nothing. I'm just glad I have a job now."

"All three of us are working men!" Shinta arrives back from his kitchen with his sake set, and pours into each of three cups. "Cheers again!"

Tsukasa laughs. "How fast do you want to get drunk, Shinta?"

"The happier the occasion, the more drunk we should get," Shinta points out, and sips from his cup. "I have more beer if you guys want more."

"We've only just started drinking," says Taki.

They work on their sake, and Taki takes a handful of arare that Shinta had brought out earlier. They had mentioned the idea of dinner, but if they get too drunk Shinta and likely Tsukasa will probably forget. Taki keeps a note of it so they don't pass out on empty stomachs.

Shinta asks Taki, "So, how's the work life treating you anyway?"

"It's good." Taki settles back on his elbows. "I have my own desk, and the hiring manager and my boss like me."

"Do any of your coworkers like you?" Tsukasa asks with a grin.

Taki rolls his eyes. "Don't say it like that," he says. "But as a matter of fact, one does."

"One likes you?" Shinta puts in.

"Shut up, both of you," Taki says, as they both laugh. "His name's Tessie, and he's the head contractor."

"Tessie," Tsukasa repeats, as Shinta looks confused. "Interesting name."

"Nickname," Taki clarifies, and both Tsukasa and Shinta go, ah. "He actually invited me to his wedding, and it's in less than two weeks."

"What ?" Tsukasa says.

Shinta chokes on his drink. "Didn't you just meet him?"

"He's that kind of guy, I guess," Taki says.

"I suppose there are guys like that out there," Shinta says. "You meet them, and then they say, 'hey, want to come to my family reunion next weekend?'"

"Or, 'hey, let's go to a hot springs tonight,'" says Tsukasa.

"Or, 'hey, let's fly to America next month.'"

"Okay, okay," Taki says, although he's grinning. "I guess it's kind of sudden, but it's fine. He invited nearly everyone at work anyway."

"He just didn't want you to feel left out because you're the new guy," Tsukasa says.

Taki throws an arare cracker at him. "Some people like me for my personality."

"I'd like to meet them," Tsukasa says, and Shinta laughs.

Taki drinks more of his beer. His eyes flit to the TV, where a news report about an upcoming binary star merger is being broadcasted, and he suddenly remembers the conversation he had had with Tessie earlier in the cafe.

He turns to Tsukasa. "Hey, do you remember that town I wanted to visit in high school? The one you and Okudera-san came along with me for?"

"Oh, yeah," Tsukasa says. "That one—what was its name… ?"

"Itomori?" Taki suggests.

Tsukasa nods. "Yes," he says. "But I can't remember why we went."

"I can't either." Taki glances back at the news. He remembers when he was fourteen, watching the comet fall out of the sky. That might've hit Tessie, once. Maybe in another world.

Shinta looks curious. "Why do you ask?" he asks Taki.

Taki thinks about telling them that Tessie used to live in Itomori, that—but, well, they might have drunk too much alcohol to emotionally handle it, and besides, it doesn't feel like Taki's story to tell. "I was just thinking about it the other day," he half-lies.

"Speaking of," Shinta says, turning to Tsukasa. "How are you and Okudera-san doing?"

Tsukasa pushes his glasses up his nose, but it's obvious to attempt to disguise his blush. "We're fine," he says. Silver glistens off of his hand.

"Another happily wedded couple," Shinta says tearfully, and raises his sake cup. "I'll drink to that!" He sips his sake too quickly and starts choking.

Taki and Tsukasa laugh. "You should probably stop making toasts for your own health," Tsukasa says.

"For all of our healths," Taki says, bringing his beer to his lips.

 


 

For the first seventeen years of her life, Mitsuha had always wanted to go to a cafe, so when she had first moved to Tokyo, the first job she had gotten was at a dog cafe.

"And when are you going to get a real job?" Yotsuha asks, playing with the sugar packets on the counter.

Mitsuha snatches them away from her. "I already have a real job," she says pointedly.

"By playing barista."

"I'm filling in for a coworker. You know I'm not a barista anymore." Mitsuha turns on the milk tea machine, before half-heartedly glancing at the door; it's been her habit for the past few weeks. "And you can't complain, you always get the macarons here."

"So this place sells good macarons. So what?" Yotsuha huffs and slurps her boba. "I'm not going to be like you when I go to university. I'm not going to major in design and talk on and on about being in the fashion industry and then still work in a cafe after I graduate!"

"I do want to work in fashion," Mitsuha says, blushing, because Yotsuha's rant has attracted the attention of some customers. "Eventually."

"Our family's traditions won't go forgotten!" Yotsuha declares loudly, and even more customers look over to them. Mitsuha tries to hide her face behind the glass she's wiping. "That's what you said, remember?"

"I remember," Mitsuha mumbles.

Yotsuha sighs. "You just don't look completely satisfied sometimes," she says. "And it makes me upset. Then I think: am I going to be like that when I grow up? When I go to university? I don't want to live a life like my older sister! And then that makes me even more upset."

"Okay, okay." Mitsuha laughs. "You're being overdramatic."

"I'm telling the truth."

"You sound like father."

"Hey!" Yotsuha says, and Mitsuha hides her grin behind the bucket full of boba. "He keeps messaging me, asking about my grades." She puts on a deep voice. "'Do well in school.' 'You'll need to get into a good college.'"

"At least he's trying now," says Mitsuha.

"I think he's trying to come over for dinner this weekend. He keeps asking if me and Grandma are free on Saturday." Yotsuha scrunches her nose. "It's not that I don't want him to come, but..."

"You know I'll be busy with Saya-chin," Mitsuha says warningly.

Yotsuha thrusts her elbows forward on the counter and clasps her hands together. "Please come?" she begs. "I don't want to be alone with them, Father's going to be so awkward and Grandma's going to be even more awkward. You can even bring Saya-chin with you!"

"She needs to try food for the reception and Tessie's going to be busy getting all his groomsmen fitted," Mitsuha explains. "So we won't have room to -"

"You don't have to eat! Just come and talk and don't leave me alone?" Yotsuha puts on her big eyes, ones that Mitsuha's sure she's seen in all the anime and cartoons she's watched over the years. That she still probably watches, actually.

Mitsuha shakes her head. "I'd love to, honestly, but we're tasting the food in the evening, and even though I'm pretty sure they're going to go with that catering, we still need to try it."

"Ugh." Yotsuha twirls on the counter stool, and leans her head back so she's looking at Mitsuha upside-down. "Just have this cafe cater for her wedding. That's your job anyway, and you've both had the food here before."

"No way," Mitsuha says, grinning. "Cafe food for a wedding?"

"Yeah! It'll be perfect." Yotsuha spins back around, right-side up. "Cafe themed, dogs everywhere, dessert and cakes for a meal, everyone will love it."

"You would love it, you mean," Mitsuha says. "No, I think—the restaurant that has the food we're trying, I think they're going to go with it. This cafe wouldn't even compare."

"Ooh." Yotsuha perches her elbows back on the counter. "Is it fancy? Is it expensive? Is it French ?"

"You'll see."

The assistant manager comes out of the back doors then, and says hello to Yotsuha before she tells Mitsuha she's going on break. If it had been a few years ago, Mitsuha wouldn't even be allowed to have personal conversations with someone she doesn't work with; but Yotsuha comes by so often during slow hours that no one bats an eyelash anymore.

Yotsuha sighs once Mitsuha resumes working. "You're so lucky. The dresses Saya-chin picked out for the bridesmaids are so pretty and look so soft."

"Hey, you'll get to pick out your own dress for your own wedding," Mitsuha says.

Yotsuha makes a face. "Ew! Don't talk to me about that." She sticks her tongue out. "And besides, you have to get married first. And you'll pick out my dress then."

"Find me someone to get married to, then I will," Mitsuha says with amusement.

 


 

The twentieth of May is a beautiful, sunny day, and Taki doesn't know what to wear. Tessie hadn't specified formality, and he doesn't seem like a formal guy, but Taki doesn't want to assume too easily. He settles for modest black pants, and a light blue button-up that could pass as casual or formal either way.

Tessie had given him a formal invitation last week, after Taki had reminded him to do so. The wedding is in the ballroom of a hotel near the Tokyo Skytree. When Taki arrives and finds Tessie on the podium and talking to his groomsmen, Tessie says, "I didn't let myself buy anything for a whole months to afford this."

"What about Sayaka's engagement ring?" one of his best men teases.

Tessie elbows him. "Shut up. You know that thing cost me an arm and a leg."

"Well, congratulations," Taki tells him. "I look forward to meeting your bride after the ceremony."

"You could meet her now, but Sayaka likes those American traditions, what with seeing the bride in her gown and all," Tessie says. "Don't worry, I'm sure you'll love her. Everyone does."

One of his groomsmen asks him a question, so Taki goes back to the seats, finds a chair, and looks around. He recognizes a few faces at work—not well enough to say that he actually knows them, but it's a bit of a comfort to not be surrounded by a sea of strange faces. Taki unlocks his phone and fiddles with a game as the other guests enter. The glass ceiling overhead shines bright sunlight into the room; Taki suddenly feels happy and full of hope, even though he's never been in love before.

When the ceremony starts, the room falls quiet and Taki puts his phone away. The music starts, and the doors open. Tessie's bride is a nervous, petite girl, with a tiny smile on her face.

Taki watches as she strides down the aisle, a bouquet of flowers in her hands. She steps onto the stage, and Taki's gaze sweeps over the bridesmaids, and -

He stops, does a double take. Standing in a pale pink dress and beaming at the bride is Mitsuha, the girl from the stairs, hair tied back in a red ribbon. Taki can't help staring as the bride and groom share their vows, as the minister announce they may kiss, as the whole room stands and claps and cheers. Taki stands and claps as well, but he can't tear his gaze away from Mitsuha, who looks like the happiest person in the world as she hugs Sayaka after she and Tessie have kissed.

Taki tries to make his way through the crowd, but too many people are either rushing out, or rushing up to congratulate the couple, that it's impossible to push against it. Taki tries to shout out, "Mitsuha!" but it's drowned out in the hall.

He gets swept out, and curses when he can't even peer over everyone's heads to get a good glimpse of her. Why did Tessie invite so many people? Taki follows everyone else outside; the reception is at an Italian restaurant a few blocks away, and everyone either goes to their cars or starts down the street toward it. With his jacket slung over his shoulder, Taki joins the people on foot.

The whole space is cleared out just for them, and Taki doesn't have time to take in the changes when the other guests are bumping into him, greeting each other and looking for tables. Taki lingers around, standing. Maybe he'll see Mitsuha as she comes in; maybe he can try saying hello to her then.

It takes even longer for the bride and groom to show up, but when they do, the restaurant erupts into cheers. Tessie waves his hands and bows, while Sayaka turns a bright shade of red.

"Thank you, but what are you all doing sitting down?" Tessie says. "Go ahead and eat! Don't wait for us."

"This is going to make it harder for everyone else," Taki hears Sayaka say right before everyone starts bustling out of their chairs, towards the walls of tables served buffet style around the room.

Taki, making his way towards them, manages to squeeze by several people fast enough to hear Tessie finish, "... find their way through it." His head swivels as soon as Taki pops out from the crowd, and says, "Oh, Taki! I'd like you to meet my girlfriend—fiancée—"

"Hey," Sayaka says, and Tessie grins at her.

Taki looks between them with a smile on his face. "Sayaka, right?" he says to her, and she nods. "Tessie said that I'd like you."

"He says that about me to everyone," Sayaka sighs, though her put-upon expression is unconvincing with the way she tightens her arm looped in Tessie's. "You work with Tessie, then?"

"Yeah," Taki says. "He was actually there when I got interviewed and hired."

"He must really like you then," Sayaka says, and nudges her husband. "You better not leave me for Taki-kun."

"I'll try," Tessie says seriously.

Taki looks around the restaurant, where the light from the golden chandelier glitters joyfully around the room. "It's a coincidence that you chose this place for your reception," he says to Tessie and Sayaka. "I used to work here when I was in high school."

Sayaka gapes, while Tessie says, "No way! It was actually our friend's suggestion—where did she go—"

He and Sayaka look over the many heads of the crowd. Sayaka calls, "Mitsuha!" Taki doesn't know how much time has passed, but suddenly Mitsuha is in front of him, looking breathless.

"What is it?" she asks Sayaka and Tessie.

Then she sees Taki.

"Oh -"

"Taki here wanted to know how you found this place," Tessie tells Mitsuha, cutting her off. "Since he used to work here when he was in high school."

"Really?" Mitsuha says, and when they glance at each other again, there's something else there, something knowing and secret. It makes Taki's chest warm.

Mitsuha says, "I don't know, I saw it one day and I thought it would be perfect."

"But there are other Italian restaurants in Tokyo," Taki says. "Why this one?"

Mitsuha shrugs. "It just felt right." She looks between her friends and Taki. "How do you guys know each other?"

"Why?" Sayaka asks.

Taki and Mitsuha exchange another look. "We sort of know each other," Taki explains. "Sort of."

"Oh? Well, there's another coincidence." Tessie grins. "Taki works for me at Hoshi Landscaping -"

"I don't work for you," Taki corrects. "I work with you."

"I'm still your senior," Tessie says.

Mitsuha looks like she's trying to follow the conversation, but Taki can tell that she's staring painfully hard at him, like she wants to talk to him alone. Taki doesn't know what to do—he wants to, as well, but the pull is irrational and he should be talking to Tessie, or other people he works with.

"Do you want me to show you around?" Taki asks the three of them. "I still know this place like the back of my hand."

Tessie says, "I'd like to, but I suppose we should stick around."

"Because it's our wedding ," Sayaka reminds him.

Tessie waves her off. "Yeah, yeah, I know. You think I'd forget after thirty minutes?"

"You would ..."

"I'd like to look around the building," Mitsuha says to Taki, as Sayaka and Tessie make their way to the large table in the front.

Taki raises his eyebrows. "You don't have to stay with them as well?"

Mitsuha looks over to where they had disappeared. "I think they'll be okay without me," she says to Taki, smiling.

He leads her to the kitchen, where the cooks are preparing even more food. "This is the kitchen," Taki says, suddenly feeling awkward. "Obviously."

"Obviously," Mitsuha agrees. "Did you work in the kitchen?"

Taki shakes his head. "I was a waiter," he says. "It was good work and good pay—I even had a crush on one of my seniors one time."

"I bet it was good work then," Mitsuha says with a smile at the corner of her mouth.

Taki shoots her a look, but Mitsuha retains her poker face. "Shut up," he says, feeling even dumber now. He doesn't know why he had brought up Okudera-senpai with Mitsuha—with a girl that he—

But Mitsuha just laughs. "I'm just teasing," she says to him. "I'd like to meet her someday."

"She's engaged to one of my friends," Taki tells her. "Just so you know. I don't have a crush on her anymore."

"It would be awkward if you did," Mitsuha agrees.

Taki shows her the break room and the office before someone yells at them to stop snooping in the back. Giggling, they make their way back into the hallway, as Mitsuha asks, "Is there a rooftop?"

"Yeah," Taki says, and leads them to an elevator near the entrance. "I didn't go there much, but sometimes people would go up to smoke."

"I love looking out over the city," Mitsuha says. "You know, I once thought that I'd never get out of my old town, never live an exciting life. But here I am."

Taki remembers Itomori, and what Tessie had said. He wonders if he should bring it up.

They enter the elevator, and Taki presses the button for the roof. He and Mitsuha stand on opposite sides as music plays; every few seconds they would glance at each other, smile, and look away. Taki feels like he should say something, and sometimes Mitsuha looks like she's going to say something too, but the silence is enough.

When they get to the roof, Taki can see clearly from the sky that it's almost dusk. "This is gorgeous," Mitsuha says, as she steps out. "If I worked here, I would come here all the time."

"Yeah," Taki says. Mitsuha runs toward the edge of the roof, laughing and spreading her arms out. Taki watches her; he feels like he has so much to say all at once, but he doesn't know where to begin.

He catches up with her. Mitsuha turns around, cheeks flushed and eyes bright.

"Hey," she says to Taki. "Have you ever felt like you're spending your whole life searching for something, but you don't know what you're looking for?"

Taki swallows. "Yeah," he says again, because that's exactly it—that's the feeling in his chest, that he's found something that he didn't know he had lost.

Mitsuha beams at him. "Me too," she says, and extends her hand.

Taki takes it, not sure why. But it seems like the right thing to do, as something electric, bright burns as their palms brush, press together. He looks down at their entwined fingers, and then into her eyes. She's staring up at him like she's just found him, too.

Taki pulls her in, so that their hips meet, their lips flutter, so that his nose is pressed into her cheek. He mumbles, "I won't forget your name this time," and Mitsuha laughs into him, against his shoulder.

"Maybe I should write it on your hand so you won't forget," she says, and they both grin.

The sunlight falls. The moonlight rises. The earth shifts beneath their feet, and for a moment, they transcend it all, two people on the edge of time and space and what it means to be on one end of a string, to find another.

But neither of them notice. The night begins, and their hands are still intertwined.

Taki looks up. "The sky is beautiful," he says, because the orange is fading fast into purple and he can make out several stars above the city's haze.

"I've seen better," Mitsuha says.

"Oh?"

"But that's a long story." Mitsuha's fingers twist between Taki's, and nothing has felt more perfect than this moment. "I think it's beautiful too."

 


 

(because sometimes meeting a stranger for the first time is like finding them again.)