“Shinkurou! Shinkurou! Buy me this!”
“Err…” He looked at the item his companion was pointing to and promptly moved along. “Sorry, Murasaki, but it’s too expensive. We can buy it later when it’s on sale.”
Her head drooped in disappointment. “Okay, Shinkurou.”
Guilt stabbed him. Although he knew that they could never afford something so luxurious, the sight of her crestfallen face was enough to make him feel like he had stolen something. Stooping down next to her until they were face-to-face, he smiled and patted her head. “Don’t be sad, Murasaki,” he assured her. “Look, it’s not so bad. Next month, when it’s on sale, I promise you I’ll buy you as much as you want.”
She brightened immediately. “Really? Next week? As much as I want?”
Ah…I shouldn’t have said that.
“You’re the best, Shinkurou!” Murasaki said happily. “But this week, since I took care of the apartment everyday, buy me something else!”
“Well, as long as it’s not too – ”
“I want that carton of ice cream!”
He looked at the carton displayed behind the windows of a bakery. His eye twitched.
“Murasaki…” He scratched the back of his head nervously. “It’s awfully expensive, too…and you know we can’t keep any ice cream in my room. It’ll melt. We don’t have a refrigerator, and if we left it in Tamaki-san’s or Yamie-san’s room, they’d just it eat it all…” Seeing the disappointed look on her face again, he cursed his conscience and quickly added, “But how about I buy you an ice cream cone instead when we pass by a vendor? We still have two hundred yen left to spend.”
She latched into his leg. “Ok, Shinkurou. I’ll be satisfied with an ice – hey, there’s a vendor right there!”
He cast his eyes around the busy street, wondering if the universe conspired with cute little girls. All he saw were a few retired stores and throngs of people walking purposefully.
“There! Right over there where I’m pointing!”
It took him several moments to make out the place his companion was eagerly pointing to. How did she find that so quickly? he wondered. The ice cream stall was almost entirely hidden behind a swarm of customers. Warm summer air had permeated the night, and many in the crowd of sweating humans seemed to be in the same mind as Murasaki. It was the busiest place on an already-hectic street.
This is going to be a long wait, he thought forlornly.
“Hey, Murasaki,” he started. “Why don’t we…”
The suggestion to find a less crowded stand died on his lips. He caught sight of the beaming Murasaki hugging his leg, face just visible beneath a mass of purple hair. Her pale skin and aristocratic features were illuminated by the setting sun until she seemed an artist’s sculpture, and he was reminded that those skin and features had been painstakingly cultivated for seven years by the finest beauticians a noble house could afford. Her cheek was pressed tightly to his thigh; her face, tilted upwards, smiling, stunning eyes closed but even more striking. With that kind of expression on her face, he wondered, how could anyone deny her anything?
“What is it, Shinkurou?”
“It was nothing,” he said, approaching the end of the line. “Don’t let go of me, Murasaki. I don’t want to you to get lost.”
They waited in silence under the pleasant sedative of an early summer night. Fireflies flickered in the gloom. It was still early June, that month of festivals and fireworks, and they were already deeply entrenched in the sweltering heat that embodied the season. But it was not an unpleasant warmth. The heat had brought along lethargy, and with that had come a peace perpetuated by an instinctive lack of desire to do anything. They stood idly waiting in a field of people and lamps and felt like they had waited for eternity. Crickets chirping, cars zooming, and the conversations of a hundred people beneath a dimming sky…
“Welcome! What would you like?”
It took several seconds for the vendor’s words to reach his ears.
“Hello,” Shinkurou replied politely, shaking his head. “I would like a strawberry – ”
“Wait, Shinkurou!” Murasaki interrupted. “I think I’ll try something different this time.”
“What would you like, then?”
“Let’s see…” Letting go of his leg, she stood on tiptoes to peer over the counter at the menu plastered on the wall. “How about…vanilla? That’s your favorite, isn’t it, Shinkurou?”
“It is, but I thought you hated – ”
“I don’t like vanilla that much,” she admitted. “But I’ve decided that it’s worth it to give things a second chance. Wasn’t it you who told me that? And – and if it’s something that Shinkurou likes, it can’t be all bad!”
“Are you sure? This is your treat, you know – ”
“Just hurry up and decide already,” the vendor snapped. “I have other customers waiting.”
“Vanilla it is, then,” Shinkurou said, laying two hundred yen on the counter. He wondered why Murasaki was acting so strange.
After receiving the ice cream, they left the stall, in turn leaving behind the crowd and its chaos. The wait had taken a long time, and the sun had set enough to let darkness cover the area. The street was quieter now, perhaps because of the loss of light. There were less people, less cars, less agitation to finish that last piece of work before the day ended. Everything was permeated by the unhurried pace of summer. Time was nonexistent here.
Yawning, he looked at the girl by his side. The ice scream was still in her hands, untouched, dripping slightly. She was woefully hesitant.
Clack, clack…their steps fell softly against the road. Without need for conscious thought or communication, their feet carried them on the long way home – past parks, past stores, past schools…the everyday scenery vanished. He wondered when they diverged from the main road onto this blue highway. Wasn’t he, just a few moments ago, in a rush to get home? Where had that precious sense of time gone?
That’s right, he thought. It had really almost been a full year now, hasn’t it? Since –
He paused. Murasaki had stopped in front of him, hands on her hips.
“Hmm? What is it?”
“I called your name three times already, Shinkurou. You look like you’re going to fall asleep walking. Are you okay?”
He smiled and patted her head. “Thank you for your concern,” he said, continuing along the road, “but it’s nothing. I was just thinking about some things.”
She fell in step beside him.
“Really? What were you thinking about?”
“It wasn’t important.”
“Shinkurou,” she said exasperatedly, “just because I’m younger than you doesn’t mean that I don’t know when I’m being lied to! Don’t you trust me? You can tell me anything – ”
“It was really nothing, Murasaki. I was just wondering…just wondering when you were going to eat that ice cream,” he finished lamely, pointing at the uneaten cone in her hand. “It’s starting to melt. If you don’t eat it soon, it’ll turn into a puddle of water.”
“W-What are you talking about?” She hugged the ice cream protectively to her chest. “I was just – just savoring it before I begin eating. And don’t change the subject! That wasn’t what you were thinking! Don’t think that I’ll be gotten off track so easily!”
The buzz of cicadas filled the air. He gazed into the sky. “I wasn’t really thinking about anything,” he said softly. “It’s just that – it’s been nearly been a year now, hasn’t it? I mean, since – ”
“Since Benika-san introduced us to each other?”
“Yeah…time sure passes quickly, huh?”
“A year…” Her voice was full of wonder. “Has it really been a year? I feel like I’ve been with Shinkurou my whole life.”
Silence fell as they walked along the darkened street, each to their own memories. The road they tread was nearly empty, its usual vivacity gone with the fading light, and, sometime when they were talking, had been cloaked by night. He could not tell when the sky changed from blue to black, just as he could not tell when his life changed from solitude to a partnership. It was strange how some things crept up on you.
He looked at the girl by his side. The ice cream still lay untouched in her hands. “Hey, Murasaki.”
“Are you going to eat that? If you don’t, it’ll melt – ”
“What are you talking about?” She glared at him. “O-Of course I’m going to eat it. Wasn’t it you who told me to give everything a second chance?”
“Okay, Murasaki. But if you really don’t feel like eating it, then you don’t have to – ”
“Just watch me!”
Bemused, he watched her out of the corner of his eye. She stared at her ice cream like it would bite her, hesitating, then slowly brought it to her mouth. It hovered inches before her lips. For a few moments she did nothing, grappling with some vital inner decision, and then, tentatively, she gave a lick.
She made a face.
After a few seconds, she gave another lick.
Her grimace was less pained this time.
“Hmm…you know,” she said after several more bites, “vanilla isn’t nearly as bad as I remember.”
“Is it?” he said, fighting to keep the smile from his face. “I’m glad to hear that.”
“Actually, now that I’ve actually really tasted it, it’s not bad at all. It’s flavorless and bland and uninteresting (just like you, she giggled to herself), but there’s a minty taste you can’t find in strawberry. Although it’s not nearly as good, of course.”
Giving another lick, she said, “No, it’s not bad at all.”
“Doesn’t that make you wish you tried it sooner? You shouldn’t judge something based on one bad experience – ”
“I know,” she said. “That’s what made me try it in the first place, remember?”
She laughed, a sudden playfulness seizing her.
“Or not. You know, Shinkurou,” she began, smiling coyly, “you remember when I asked for that really expensive carton of ice cream half an hour ago? The one you didn’t buy? I knew that if I asked for something like that and pretended to be really disappointed when you didn’t buy it, you’ll buy me something else to compensate. And it went exactly as planned! Ha, this ice cream cone was my true goal all along! You’re too easy to dupe, you know. What kind of highschooler gets tricked by an eight-year girl?”
Her face was flushed. Shinkurou sighed, looking at her exasperatedly.
“You shouldn’t do things like that, Murasaki-chan…”
“And why not? I’m a member of the Kuhoin family, Shinkurou! Someday, I’m going to be very influential. It’s my duty to learn things like this!”
“But tricking your friends isn’t an honest thing to do… ”
She giggled. “Alright, then,” she said, extending her ice cream. “I’m sorry for tricking you, Shinkurou. Here, how about I make it up to you? Vanilla is your favorite, right? You can have the rest!”
Gently pushing it, he said, “I don’t think you really understood my point, but there’s no need for anything like that. As long as you’ve learned something, I don’t want anything in return. I would feel guilty if I ate something I bought for you, so just enjoy it.”
Her shoulders drooped. “I’ll enjoy it more if Shinkurou ate it with me…”
“You don’t have to – well, alright,” he said. Murasaki looked like she’d be happier if he went along. “Maybe I’ll just have a bite or two.”
She brightened. “Really?”
He took the ice cream from her fingers, careful not to let it drip over his hands. He was about to eat it when he caught Murasaki staring intently at him. She was like a cat stalking a mouse. Did he get ice cream get all over his face?
“Is something wrong, Murasaki?”
“Huh? Oh, Shin – oh! Nothing’s wrong!” She quickly turned away, face bright red. “Just – continue eating.”
He shrugged and took a bite. It tasted like water.
“Haha…it’s pretty melted,” he said.
“Is it? I probably should’ve eaten it sooner. Sorry, Shinkurou.”
He took a few more licks. “It’s not your fault, Murasaki.” He handed it back to her. “It’s still pretty good though, kind of like a vanilla shake. Here, you can have it back.”
She giggled, turning away from him. “You can keep it! I’ve already gotten what I wanted.”
“Oh, nothing. Just something to tell Yuno about.”
“Tell Yuno about what?”
“Let’s hurry up, Shinkurou!” she said, running ahead. Her face was flushed. “Tamaki-chan and Yami-san will be wondering where their dinner is! We can’t keep them waiting!”
He ran after her, throwing the remains of the melted ice cream into a trashcan. “Murasaki! Don’t run in the dark! It’s dangerous!” But even as he said it he knew that it was of little use – when had Murasaki allowed common sense to get in the way of her whims? By now she was already too far away to hear him. With a smile he started after her, clacking footsteps fading and fading and fading, and the street soon lay dark and silent and empty.