waiting for Spring
"That makes me feel better."
Houtarou Oreki's been staring out the window for a long time now, his thoughts have wandered off, miles and miles away. They probably could have travelled half-way across the world if not for the exhaustion of over-thinking. Even in his daydreams, Houtarou takes breaks and short-cuts; all this thinking is too much work, involves too much work.
It's raining outside, the night is cold and the moon is bright but lonely looking.
"What I feel now is important."
Oreki remembers when Chitanda had told to him that. Remembers it despite the lack of touch between them and lack of large purple eyes staring intensely into his own green eyes. Instead, Chitanda was looking at him from afar, looking at him as a whole, from head to toe, swallowing him up entirely. It felt like a confession.
And just like all the other times, her gaze was captivating, Oreki could not move. Not an inch.
'What are you trying to say?' Oreki recalls wanting to say, wanting to ask. The curious question had danced on the tip of his tongue, but he did not dare interrupt Chitanda.
No, he never does. So he just swallows his inquisitiveness and buries it. It will be dug up and exhumed another time.
Houtarou cares little of what others think of him. It's easy when he barely shows any emotion. People annoy him less when he doesn't show them that they irritate him and his friends don't make fun of him as much when he doesn't give them a chance to see his flustered face.
But, after encountering Eru Chitanda, Houtarou thinks he's become more … what's the word? 'Feel-y'? Okay, that's not the word. That's not even a word. 'Emotional'? Perhaps? That's close.
He ums and ers about it for a while before the word strikes him between the eyes. Ah, yes – 'considerate'. That's the word he's looking for. He's becoming more considerate.
Very strange. Houtarou never expected Eru Chitanda of all people, heiress to a wealthy rice paddy farm, to turn his life around. Like many mundane things that occur in this life, Houtarou didn't think anything would change. He had a simple thought in his head after meeting Chitanda, figured that she was a curious person and nothing else.
But then, there came a motive: not a trick, but a strong drive.
And he had tried. Oh, had he tried to ignore her. He had dodge and hid and even, dare he say, lie. All this persistency. All this questioning and mystery solving and glowing eyes. All this, for what?
It all came down to one word – feelings.
Chitanda wasn't curious just for the sake of being curious. Chitanda was curious because she's the type of girl who wants to understand the feelings of others. Chitanda wants to find the reason why people do what they do and how it felt at that very moment; her Uncle Jun Sekitani's fall, sickly Eba-sensei's words put into her script and scary Omichi-sensei's roars.
All this talk about feelings. Of Ogi-sensei's, someone who Chitanda's never met. Of Satoshi's when he stole Ibara's chocolates. Of Houtarou's own feelings too. And that's the day Houtarou realises why Chitanda isn't someone he can ignore, it's because feelings are hard to ignore.
Things are different now.
This time – this time – Houtarou thinks he has to feel. Or, at least, consider reaching into that beating organ in his chest, the one Tomoe claims he never had, and listen to his heart.
Green eyes stare at the calendar pinned above his study desk. It's already late and he's running out of time. Approximately a month ago, Eru Chitanda had made and given him Valentine's Day chocolates.
When he had implied his curiosity on why she had given the sweet dessert to him, she had simply said, "Because,"
But, Chitanda had muttered it with rosy cheeks. It seemed like a stretch of the truth. Hadn't she said she didn't give out chocolates in first year, the exact opposite of what had happened?
It was all so ...
What's he to do? Tomorrow is White Day, and he's got nothing.
Houtarou considers pulling some stunt, a short-cut of sorts. A similar one his older sister had done, wrapping a chocolate bar in pretty pink ribbons and calling it a day. But then Houtorou shakes the idea out of his head, he also remembers the taste of the store-bought chocolate when he had bit into it – bitter. He doesn't think Chitanda will appreciate such a half-hearted gesture.
Frustrated, Houtarou throws himself on his bed, he wouldn't dream of asking Satoshi for advice. And Houtarou is not exaggerating when he says he'd rather walk twenty-kilometres than admit he needs help from Ibara of all people.
It's no use. It's like the night before the Classics Club had decided to gather at the Chitanda estate to solve the meaning behind Kanya Fest and Jun Sekitani being a hero, Houtarou is empty-handed. Without even tugging on his fringe, Houtarou decides to accept the inevitable and declares that he is doomed.
The day starts of weirder than Houtarou would have liked. For one, he wakes up before his alarm, which is not pleasant. Especially when he misses the opportunity to cherish those extra minutes. But, there's no point dilly-dallying and avoiding the inevitable, Houtarou ends up walking to school after finishing his routine.
The morning is slow, and he hasn't fully woken up yet. Houtarou finds himself unable to think and ends up listening to students around him speak with their friends. Most of the conversations either voice out great expectations or annoyance for today. Houtarou thinks the only two normal conversations he hears are by three girls excitedly chattering about a newly opened cafe and of some anime episode by a pair of otakus.
Speaking of otakus, Mayaka Ibara finds herself by Houtarou's side as they walk across the bridge. It wasn't a plan, they didn't even greet each other. Ibara was just there and Houtarou couldn't be bothered to run away from her tiny fists.
Houtarou supposes he didn't mind until he noticed Ibara throwing glances his way. She moves and angles her head as if she's trying to peer into his heart.
And after a moment of tip-toeing, Ibara asks, "Where is it?"
Houtarou feels his eyebrow twitch. Since when has Ibara been interested in anything happening in his life? Has she ever been to begin with?
"Where's what?" Houtarou asks back and tries not to sound offended or look suspicious. He eyes a pink flower growing through cracked cement instead.
Ibara doesn't even pause. She's brave like that. "Chocolate." Is all she says.
And it's all she needs to say because Houtarou feels sweat gathering at the back of his neck despite it still being cold in March.
"Did you forget?" Ibara accuses when Houtarou says nothing.
"No." Houtarou replies. Then he adds for good measurements, "I know it's White Day."
"Then?" Ibara presses on. "You're not going to give chocolates back?"
"I never said I wouldn't – That's not –" Houtarou stutters.
He's not that insensitive! How can he be after Jun Sekitani and Eba-senpai and Ogi-sensei? He just not ready! Not yet! He still feels the same pressure he did last year when sakura petals fell around him and Chitanda.
And Ibara senses his hesitance.
"You're impossible!" She tells him.
Ibara reaches over and slaps a spot on Houtarou's shoulder, he stumbles forward a little. It feels like she's knocked something into him. He doesn't know what. Maybe she's passed off some of her traits onto him because Houtarou feels like saying a statement that is bold. He's never been the type to courageously get things off his chest without thinking of the consequences.
But Ibara walks away bristling before he can finish his words.
Houtarou stares at the wrinkles on the back of Ibara's uniform until she merges into the crowd of students. For someone with short legs, Ibara is fast. He finds himself reaching and tugging onto his fringe.
What he will do next might be terrible in his own way. Dropping his hand to his side, Houtarou considers something.
Houtarou comes to the Geography room late. He hates how all eyes are yanked to him, he feels like one of those haphazard tardy people who arrive with a Starbucks coffee. Which, if anyone considers it, he somewhat is. It's a reasonable assumption because his hands are full, his white Winter coat is lazily knotted around his waist and there are cherry blossom petals tangled in his messy hair.
"Why all the cups, Houtarou?" Satoshi is the first to ask, pointing.
Houtarou finds his gaze drifting down to his occupied hands like he's never seen these drinks in his life. A part of his wants the cup-holder he's holding to just disintegrate and allow all four cups to fall to the ground. He's always been dramatic, it's just in his head.
Houtarou doesn't get to answer because something starts tickling the back of his throat and he feels the need to pass it off as a cough. He thinks the tips of his ears are burning.
Ibara says nothing but the expression on her face says enough.
"What is it?" Chitanda asks curiously.
"Chocolate." Houtarou answers, and tucks his chin into the collar of his coat and yellow scarf. "Hot chocolate."
"For us?" Satoshi asks like he didn't hear his friend the first time.
"Oreki-san," Chitanda gaps like she can't believe her eyes. "You walked all the way to a coffee shop to get us hot chocolate?"
"Well, it's, uh …"
Houtarou swallows, feeling heat crawl up his neck. Why does he feel embarrassed? He tries to look away but he can't, not really, not when everyone's looking at him.
"It's …" Houtarou tries again, walking across to room so he doesn't just stand there like a statue. "It's …" Something I have to do. "… nothing." He finishes off lamely.
Ibara still doesn't say anything when his gaze falls to her. Houtarou does, however, catch a smile quirk on Satoshi's face. Oh, how he wishes Ibara would nudge the androgynous boy in the ribs.
"Ah, is that so?" Chitanda asks, smiling pleasantly.
Houtarou takes that as a rhetorical question and therefore feels like he doesn't need to answer. Not yet, at least. He takes his time and decides to place the warm drinks at the centre of the table. He's not going to out himself by distributing the drinks, if anyone's thinking of it. He'd probably do something stupid like hand the first drink to Chitanda if he extends his niceness.
"You always give us free things, so," Houtarou says, trying to add something to the barely salvageable conversation for good measurements. He could refer to all the snacks and gifts Chitanda had given to him over the year, biscuits and tea leaves and vegetables from her family garden, but he doesn't.
"So," He echoes. "You know."
"Do I?" Chitanda asks again.
Houtarou does not speak. How can he when he doesn't know how to respond? He feels the weight of his eyelashes fluttering and the intensity of those purple eyes. He inches away before Chitanda can start questioning him, and blinks to break the spell. Houtarou does what he thinks is best, which is to keep his mouth closed and sits down.
No one says a word.
Ibara is the first to reach towards a cup while Chitanda is second, taking her time to open the lid and letting the sweet aroma waft through the air.
Houtarou is kind enough to let everyone grab a cup ahead of him. Though, it isn't strange to treat his friends nor give them chocolate, it is still White Day, after all, Houtarou does feel bad for the way he handled the situation. That is, until Satoshi takes a sip without waiting for his drink to cool. Despite having the luxury of reading all 56 short stories and four novels of Sherlock Holmes, logic comes slow to Satoshi today and he burns the inside of his mouth.
Everyone reacts to Satoshi's pain differently; Mayaka calls him an idiot, Chitanda voices her concern and Houtarou thinks that's what Satoshi gets for laughing at him earlier. Though, Houtarou overall is just glad there is some form of distraction. And before long, the day falls back to its usual quietness.
Chitanda is animatedly talking to Satoshi as the two are the first ones out the clubroom door. Houtarou moves slow, gathering his things at the pace of a snail. He doesn't bother to rush and he when he looks up, he finds Ibara lingering.
A frown dips on Houtarou's mouth, he finds this odd. Usually, Ibara tries her best to be by Satoshi's side, even if it's for a little while. So, to see her wait is something else.
"Oreki," Ibara speaks up, her voice laced with irritation.
Something in Houtarou twinges. It might be annoyance. There's no need for Ibara to address him like that, it's not like he forced her to drink the hot chocolate he bought. The least she could have done is politely decline. It's not like he expects Ibara to thank him or anything grand, he knows she wouldn't. But, damn, Houtarou knows he doesn't deserve this coldness.
"What?" Houtarou replies and wonders if it would be childish to use his shoulder bag as a shield.
Ibara doesn't reply, only continuing to glare at him with those rose coloured eyes.
"What?" He repeats again.
"You chickened out." She says to him, accusing once again, before crossing her arms on her chest like he's personally disappointed her.
Houtarou finds his brows furrowing. "On what?"
"You know." Ibara replies.
Houtarou feels his earlier conversation with Chitanda echoes in his head.
Houtarou tries to mask his annoyance. He's not going to act like Satoshi, hiding everything behind a smile, but he's not exactly the type to shy away from frowning.
"No, I don't." He argues back.
Ibara grumbles something under her breath. They've been like this since middle school, can't they grow beyond this? Houtarou wants to voice this out. But when Ibara doesn't reply, only walking away, Houtarou feels the guilt catching up to him.
He starts, "Okay, I –" Panicked. "– took a short-cut."
"She made you honmei-choco (1) and it feels like you gave her giri-choco (1) in return." Ibara snaps.
Houtarou winces at this. Then he asks, "What do you want me to do?"
There is a pause.
"It's not something you have to do." Ibara says as they walk out into the chilly hall.
Houtarou blinks. "It's not?"
"It's something you have to say."
Ibara nods, she lifts her hand and points a finger onwards. Houtarou follows it and he sees the back of Chitanda, dark hair swaying and skirt swishing.
"Tell her." Ibara says.
It sounded like a threat.
Then Ibara adds, "Before I do."
And – oh, it is a threat.
"Do you understand, Oreki?" Ibara presses the matter on, her opinions strong like herself. "Do you know what will happen if you say it? How you'll feel if you tell Chi-chan?"
Houtarou finds Ibara pushy today. Well, more than usual. He wants to ask why she's harping him so much. He wants to tell her he doesn't understand and he doesn't exactly know how to feel but then he looks at her, actually looks at her. And suddenly, Houtarou remembers tears and something broken; it wasn't just the chocolates.
Houtarou is quiet. He blinks twice, clearly deep in thought, before looking over at the backs of Chitanda and Satoshi. Reaching upwards, he tugs on his fringe.
Waiting for Houtarou himself to address his feelings is like waiting for Spring, it's slow to the point that it feels like it's dragging and it's dreary like the mud-covered snow on the ground. But just like how the seasons change, it is welcomed.
"Do you know how you'll feel, Oreki?" Ibara asks again, almost as curious as Chitanda.
"What I feel now is important."
Houtarou raises his fingertips slowly and presses them against his lips as if he's afraid if he doesn't keep them there, he'll say something careless.
"I might have an idea." He finally says. "I'd feel better."
The tense line on Ibara's mouth relaxes and she reaches up to dust off the pink petals still in his hair, it falls around him comically like hearts.
"Go tell her then."
(1) Honmei-choco and giri-choco – The two types of chocolates given on Valentine's Day/White Day. Honmei-choco (known as 'chocolate of love') are grand chocolates given to people whom the maker has feelings for. Meanwhile giri-choco (also known as 'courtesy chocolate') are just obligation chocolates given to friends, classmates and co-worker. There are no romantic feelings attached to giri-chocos.