“We’re in the middle of the desert and you expect me to marry you?” Anzu’s beautiful coffee brown hair sways in the mid-afternoon sun as beads of sweat pool above her cupid’s bow. She laughs at her blond companion’s confusion, patting his head and smiling at him. “Forget this old woman’s complaining, I’m quite happy to be here.”
They sit in Makoto’s convertible, September distantly playing on the radio. “Anzu, I’m older than you,” he reminds her, concentrated on the road as they near Death Valley. His own hair slightly sways with the wind, and with Anzu’s hand on his shoulder, he smiles.
“I know, but I’m wiser, so that automatically makes me your elder,” she jokes. With the sun glaring down on them, she pants through a laugh and makes a move to tie her hair up. “It’s scorching out here,” she complains, fanning herself. “Where are you taking me? Oh no, are you ditching me in the desert? You know, years ago, Ritsu told me we were going to In N Out and he pushed me out the Impala in the desert! It was his idea of a joke. The audacity,” Anzu says with a huff. “You better not leave me here or I will shave your eyebrows in the middle of the night.” She’s serious, and that’s what sends chills through Makoto’s body.
The blond’s eyes widen and his mouth hangs open slightly. “I don’t plan on leaving you, if that helps,” Makoto assures her. “I wouldn’t ditch you in the desert, but on the topic at hand, how did you get back home?” Anzu blushes and crosses her arms over her chest, looking out on the scenery consisting of tumbleweeds and drought-ridden ground.
“Well, I had to hitchhike,” she begins, “let’s say the guy who picked me up wasn’t exactly friendly and he made me beg him for a ride. Then he made me promise him I’d give him a blowjob once he dropped me off.” She turns to face Makoto’s worried glance. “Hey, babe, don’t worry about that, nothing happened. He stopped at a gas station and I locked him out of his car. The face on that pervert was priceless. I got home and kicked Ritsu so all's well that ends well.” She, once again, turns to look at the scenery as the car goes by. “Deserts suck. Where are you taking me, lovely boy?”
Makoto snaps out of his melancholic trance and in an attempted cheer, says, “It’s a surprise, I’m not telling you.” Anzu sighs as a frown discourages her lovely face.
“Cheeky,” she comments, turning the dial to switch radio stations. “You’re lucky you’re cute,” she hypes, patting his head and smiling as she stumbles on a station playing Dancing Queen. “Ah! This song is to the max!” Anzu exclaims, turning to look at the blond. “Mako, it’s ABBA!”
Makoto looks at her from the corner of his eye as he smiles. “I guess so. Dancing Queen, huh? You sure do love this song,” he says, struggling to keep his eyes off of her beaming face. “I love it too.”
“Of course you do,” Anzu insists. “It’s ABBA, loving ABBA is a must.” She smiles widely as she rummages through her canvas bag and takes out her Polaroid camera. “Do me a solid and take a picture of me,” she says, handing him the camera and failing as Makoto startles and swerves on the road.
“Anzu! I’m driving! What the fuck!” Makoto screeches, pulling off to the side of the road and killing the engine. “What’s your bag?”
Anzu stares at him, pondering for a second before answering, “It’s canvas, Hokuto gave it to me for my birthday.” She hums in understanding when Makoto shakes his head. “Oh. Slang. Gotcha.” She unbuckles her seatbelt and reaches down to pick up her camera, holding it up to her face to snap a picture of the blond. “Whiskey,” she says as the camera clicks and flashes, making a noise as it produces the photograph.
“I’m mad at you.”
“I’m too cute to be mad at. Actually, scratch cute. I’m too ‘foxy’,” she says as she shakes the photograph. “Hey, I’m learning!” She hands the developed photograph to Makoto, who in return pouts. “Mako, come on,” she says, waving the photo. “You look like a stud, a real heartbreaker,” she tells him. “Woo me, sweep this fair maiden off her feet, so heartbreakingly handsome, the heavens shine upon thee and thy gods are jealous of thee!” Anzu recites. “Now take this photograph, lovely boy.”
Makoto blushes at her words and quickly grasps the photograph tightly in his hand. “You don’t have to go that far out, Anzu.” He glimpses at the Polaroid photograph in his hand and smiles at Anzu’s skills. Although Makoto had been photographed off guard, he still looked quite dashing. “I look great, thanks,” he tells her.
She smiles and nods, saying, “Happy to help. I’m too skilled to let this talent go to waste, I’m glad I get to spoil you with it.” She snaps one more photo, this time of the scenery, and Makoto starts the engine once again.
They cruise down the road, and the song changes from current songs to one that had been around since the year Anzu had been born. “Makes you feel old, don’t it?” Anzu ponders, watching the sun gradually lower in the sky. “It’s going to get dark in a few hours,” she says, yawning. “Lovely boy, where are you taking me? I have to get home soon. We have to get home soon. You don’t want Mao to scold us, right?” Makoto smiles softly before nodding.
“No, definitely don’t want your mother to scold me,” he teases. Anzu sticks her tongue out at him as she tries to flick his forehead.
“He’s not my mom, take it back!” Anzu says through laughs. “He’s my pretend husband and you know it!”
Makoto laughs along with her and says, “Sometimes he wishes it weren’t pretend.”
“Fuck off, Makoto,” she says, taking another picture of him. “Now, tell me once again where we’re going.”
“I’ll tell you once again that it’s a surprise,” he reminds her, keeping his eyes on the road as Anzu pouts. “If it makes you feel any better, we’re almost there.”
Anzu cranes her neck to look over the windshield and frowns as she sees nothing but rain shadows. “We’re in the middle of nowhere,” she tells him, leaning back into her seat and turning her head to face him. “There’s nothing here.” She yawns through her pout and, bleary-eyed, checks the watch on her wrist. “No way.” Now fully awake, she turns her whole body to face Makoto as she says, “We’ve been driving for five hours?”
Makoto raises an eyebrow as he nods. “Yeah. You took a nap though, remember?” Anzu stares at him in disbelief. “We’re almost there, I swear. Then we can drive home. It’ll just be another five hours.”
“But we have to get home soon!” Anzu insists, irritated. “I can’t believe this, where are we even going?” Anzu demands, crossing her arms over her chest and glaring at Makoto. “You haven’t told me anything and now we’re going to wind up in the desert well after dark! And then Mao and everyone is gonna be mad at me!”
“In my defense, you were the one who agreed to come with me,” Makoto retorts, a sense of irritation chilling his words. “You didn’t have to come here, but you did anyway. You signed yourself up, just like you always do!”
“I thought I was doing something nice for you!” Anzu yells, tears threatening the corners of her eyes. “For the hell of it, I was trying to do something nice for you!” Anzu’s voice breaks on the last word.
“I didn’t ask you to,” Makoto bites back. “I never asked you to come with me, you just tagged along and meddled in everyone’s business like you always do!”
“Let me off.”
“What?” Makoto’s anger is replaced with regret as he sees Anzu’s hands ball into tight fists and tears stream down her face.
“Let me off here,” she says once again.
“How are you going to get home?” Makoto inquires as panic courses through him.
“I saw a callbox a mile ago, I have money. Let me off and I’ll call roadside services, or Mao,” she whispers, unbuckling her seatbelt. Makoto quickly pulls over to the side and puts a hand on her shoulder. “What are you doing?”
“So am I.”
“Two of a kind.”
“Let me go.”
“I’m sorry,” Makoto says. “Anzu, I’m sorry,” he whispers.
Anzu looks down at him and the way his hand goes from her shoulder to her hand. “Mako,” she begins, biting her lip as the tears begin to fall. “Don’t apologize,” she says. “I’m the stupid one, I should apologize. I just wanted to get h-home in t-time,” she says as her voice trembles.
Makoto unbuckles his own seatbelt and wraps his arms around Anzu. “I really don’t care about this stupid trip anyways,” he says as he too begins to cry. “I-I…” he trails off, years of pent unrequited love threatening to voice their opinion through him. He pulls back to wipe away the stinging tears before hugging Anzu once again. “I just wanted to spend time in Death Valley,” he whispers. “Before my dad passed away, every year on my birthday we’d drive here and watch the sun set over the rain shadows.”
Anzu lifts her head up to look at Makoto, and a frown has the audacity to ungrace her beautiful, tear-stricken, face. “I didn’t know,” she says, shame pooling in her heart. “I feel terrible now.”
“There’s no need to,” Makoto tells her, lacing their fingers together. “You were just trying to do something special. Why did you want to go home, by the way?” Makoto looks down at Anzu’s flushed face, red from embarrassment.
“Well, we planned a surprise party for you,” she sheepishly says. “Guess it’s not much of a surprise now.”
“Do you think we can still make it?” Makoto asks as he starts up the engine and abruptly makes a U-turn on the lonely highway.
“What about Death Valley?” Anzu asks, startled by his sudden change of mind.
“I’ll have other birthdays,” he says. “This is my eighteenth, after all.”
“God, we’re old,” Anzu says. “We’ll graduate before we know it, just- what- two more months?”
“Yeah, two more,” he concurs.
“I’ll miss you,” Anzu says, searching for a radio station. “I’ll be gone, you know,” she says as she settles on a station playing Norwegian Wood.
Makoto can’t help but feel the song is mocking him.
“I once had a girl,” Anzu’s sweet voice trills along with the song, “or should I say, she once had me.”
The words she sings make his heart clench.
They’re silent for the rest of the ride, up until they park in front of Mao’s house, the surprise party long forgotten with the hours of teenage angst he’d pent up during the ride. The may songs Anzu sang along to, the photographs she took.
They’re on the porch, and her hand rests on the doorknob. His heart aches and he feels a swarm of butterflies in his stomach. As she turns the knob, he remembers their conversation, on how in less than two months she’d be gone and he’d never see her again. This courses through his mind as she opens the door and he blurts out, “I love you.”
Anzu’s eyes widen as the door swings open and they’re lost is a chorus of “Surprise”.
Makoto supposes he’s possibly fucked up their friendship, but he doesn’t care, not when his friends crowd around him and wish him “Happy Birthday.”
He doesn’t care.
He doesn’t care, not when he’s sitting on the couch next to Anzu and the rest of Trickstar, laughing at Subaru’s attempt at singing along to the radio.
He does care, however, when Anzu kisses him on the cheek and says, “Happy Birthday, lovely boy.”
He absolutely loves this girl.