“This is for you.”
Shion stared at the small package wrapped in dark purple paper that was held in front of him for a good while before his eyes wandered back to Safu’s, still confused. “But – why? My birthday is not for another seven months.”
“Six months and twenty-three days,” Safu corrected him, “and I know that. It’s not for your birthday.”
“Oh. Eh. Thank you?”
Safu sighed and bent her head a little. “Really, Shion.”
“Nothing. I have to hurry now, I have some tasks to fulfill before class starts,” Safu quickly said, “I think that’s Nezumi arriving, anyway.”
“But that doesn’t mean you have to go – hey, Safu!” But his words didn’t seem to reach her, even though she was well within hearing distance. Shion was left in mild confusion.
“So, aren’t you going to eat that chocolate?” Nezumi’s comment breezed past Shion’s ear as the speaker nonchalantly and annoyingly gracefully sat himself down next to him on their usual lunch bench near the blossoms.
“That doesn’t make for a very responsible lunch,” Shion said, “and how do you know it’s chocolate, anyway?”
“Oh, please. I caught your little moment with miss Safu there, I’d be insulted if you thought I hadn’t guessed.”
“Shion.” Nezumi sighed his name in exasperation. “You do know what day it is, don’t you.”
“Of course, it’s February four… teen. Oh.” He was getting an idea what Nezumi was getting at, now. “You don’t think that – I mean, it’s Valentine’s Day then, right? But Safu and I are friends, she never got me something before.”
“Seriously?” Nezumi had mastered a rather spectacular scowl of disbelief that he mostly reserved for Shion rather than acting class. “Oh, boy, did she pick ever the airhead.”
“Hey! What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothin’. On second thought, don’t eat that chocolate here – don’t want to disappoint your other admirers.”
Shion raised his eyebrow. “Please feel free to not speak in riddles at any time.”
“What? Oh come on, what did you think those girls were doing here?” Nezumi nodded at a group of three girls a couple of tables away, looking in their direction and looking away nervously when they realized they were being watched in return.
“Uh. Looking for you?” Shion almost rolled his eyes as he answered, as it was a general truth. It hadn’t taken long for him to realize that whenever he was with Nezumi, there was a distinct increase of people looking in their direction.
“No dice. They would have had their chance straight after class or when I walked over here, or any of the fifty other opportunities that some of their classmates were eager enough to jump on. No, this is your type.” Nezumi looked at Shion for a moment, then shrugged and turned back. “Well, the type that goes after you anyway. Oh, speak of the devil.”
Shion tore his gaze away from Nezumi and found his friend standing in front of them. “Don’t be rude, Nezumi. Hi, Safu.”
“Hello. Nezumi, Shion.” Safu gave each of them a nod before her eyes went back to Nezumi. “I came to see you.”
“Me?” Nezumi raised his eyebrow, though he didn’t show any surprise aside from that. Shion found himself staring at Safu in disbelief, as even though she hadn’t seemed to have a problem with Nezumi per say, it wasn’t often that she sought him out specifically.
“Yes. This is for you.” She held out a small, purple package, about the size of the one that was in Shion’s bag right now.
Nezumi didn’t move and looked straight into her eyes. “Chocolate?”
“Yes.” Safu didn’t even flinch under his gaze. “I made sure to use the very dark kind, so it has a less sweet flavor. I figured you might receive plenty of sweets as it is.”
“Considerate of you,” Nezumi said, not breaking eye contact.
It was a very strange exchange, and Shion found himself looking back and forth between Nezumi’s penetrating grey stare and Safu’s earnest dark eyes.
At last, Nezumi broke his stillness and took the package from her. “Thank you.”
Safu gave him a minute smile and took a step back. “Well, I need to go. See you later.” For the first time since she’d come over to their spot, she spared a glance at Shion, apparently trying to communicate something that Shion couldn’t guess for the life of him. She gave up after a couple of seconds and left the two boys alone again, Nezumi shaking his package lightly to figure out how much there was inside.
Shion turned to him in confusion. “I didn’t know you liked Safu that much.” In fact, he wasn’t even aware the two ever as much as spoke when Shion wasn’t around. It had usually been him and Safu, and since the start of the new school year him and Nezumi. If all three of them were together, it was usually because one had bumped into the other two, or it was school related. In the latter case, Inukashi also often joined them, giving Nezumi and Safu even less opportunity to talk.
Nezumi shrugged nonchalantly as he started to pack his things, package carefully on top of his books. “Oh, she’s just giving me this out of obligation. She doesn’t want me to be her Valentine.” For the second time that lunch break, Shion found a pair of eyes staring into his with some kind of intend he didn’t see.
Nezumi sighed in resignation and slung his bag over his shoulder. “Oh well, gotta go, need to prepare some stuff for club practice. Don’t break too many hearts in my absence.”
“Shouldn’t I be telling you that?”
Nezumi just waved and left Shion to his own devices or at least his lunch, as the case would have it.
Shion had barely put his lunch box away when there was a huff behind him, and he found himself in new company the next second as Inukashi flopped down next to him, feet dangling just about the ground as Inukashi was really quite short compared to the rest of the class. Not that anyone ever mentioned that; not more than once, anyway.
“The rat’s not here?”
Shion smiled. “Hi, Inukashi. No, Nezumi left just now, I think he went to –”
“Nah, don’t care, I was looking for you anyways. Just making sure he wasn’t around.” Shion noticed Inukashi was kind of fidgeting with something, and was that… He recognized the purple wrapping, though this package was a bit thicker than the two previous ones. “That little girlfriend of yours is a strange one, huh? Came right up to me and gave me this.”
“My… Are we talking about Safu here?” Mentioning that Inukashi was now doing a dead-on imitation of Nezumi’s earlier scowl was probably not the best idea, so Shion refrained from any comments. “Okay, never mind. Why is Safu strange?”
Inukashi sighed. “How often do you think I get gifts, Shion? And it’s not just that. She went all ‘I know chocolate is bad for dogs, so I got you somethin’ else you might like better’, only with a ton more long words.”
Shion smiled. “Well, that’s just kind, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, but… ya know, I’m not exactly popular here,” Inukashi said, sounding almost self-conscious. “Aside from you and the darned rat, most people treat me like I’m some kind of freak or something. So I dunno, I figured you might have told her to do that.”
“No, I’m just as surprised as you.” Well, maybe not entirely, since Safu had just come up to give Nezumi a similar package as well, but Shion hadn’t seen this one coming either. Something was definitely up. “Sorry, Inukashi, I have to go talk to someone. Talk to you later, okay?”
But Shion had already left the bench and with it Inukashi, who seemed less than pleased by the sudden disruption judging by the shouts of ‘I was talking to you!’ and ‘damn, why is everyone running from me today?’. Shion figured apologies could come later in this case.
He found Safu where he’d expected her, in her classroom preparing her notes. Lunch break would last at least another five minutes, so naturally, no other students were remotely within earshot.
“Hello, Shion.” She didn’t look up from her paper. “Shouldn’t you be in your own classroom?”
Right. It was easy to forget they weren’t in the same class for once this year. “It’s still lunch break,” Shion replied instead, “and I wanted to ask you something.”
“Okay, but please keep it short. I am rather busy, as you can see.”
Shion took the chair across from the table, looking over at Safu as she was concentrating pointedly on her papers. “I heard you gave Inukashi a gift, too.”
“Of course I did. I mean, we aren’t particularly well acquainted, but I was under the impression the four of us were in some sort of group together. I felt it was unfair to leave someone out.”
“Safu…” She refused to look up at the mention of her name. “How fair is it if you’re the one left empty-handed?”
“Shion, please don’t do this. I already know.”
He kept staring at her, wondering why his best friend for years and years suddenly wouldn’t look him in the eye anymore, and then it all fit together. Safu this morning, Nezumi’s words, today’s date. “Oh. Oh, Safu, I’m so sorry – you’re so important to me, but…”
“Not like that. I understand.” The pen dropped from her hands, and Safu finally looked up now, a sad smile on her lips. “It’s alright, Shion. I think in all honesty, I already knew long before. I feel – relieved, mostly. Nezumi told you, didn’t he?”
“Not in as many words, but yes, I guess so.”
“Okay. That’s… good, I suppose. I must say that any confession of the sort I had in mind would have come out rather awkwardly.” Safu looked back at her paper. “I think I would like to be alone now,” she finally said. “I will see you tomorrow. I really am busy, you know. And perhaps you have something to give today as well.”
“Never mind. Goodbye, Shion.”
True to her word, Safu was indeed busy after school, leaving Shion to wait alone for Nezumi. He had a feeling his conversation with Safu wasn’t over yet, but maybe today wasn’t a good day to discuss it any further.
Nezumi was late. It wasn’t uncommon for his rehearsals to run late, however, and as the weather was really nice for February, Shion waited patiently on their bench until the door swung open.
“Oh. Huh. You’re here,” Nezumi said, giving Shion a once-over. “Waiting for me? I feel ever so honored.”
“Well, I was going to ask if you wanted to come to the bakery with me, but I suppose you have received enough sweets to last you a life time.”
“Nah, just the box Safu gave me.” Nezumi tapped his indeed still rather flat bag for emphasis. “And I’m not going to say no to your mama’s baking.”
Shion raised an eyebrow. “Only Safu’s? Weren’t you complaining about being jumped on all day?”
“As said, Safu gave hers out of obligation. There’s no need to give people false hope by accepting their tokens.”
Shion considered that for a moment. “That’s – strangely kind of you.”
“Thank you for your generosity, your majesty.”
“Oh, shut up.” Shion shoved his friend aside. “Hey, speaking of which, why would Safu say I might have something to give today as well? That goes against the tradition, doesn’t it?”
“Ah, yes, and you are ever so big on traditions and rules. Like the whole part where you let strangers in your bedroom late at night to give them hot chocolate, and…”
“You can just go home alone if you’re going to be like that, Nezumi.”
“That is rather rude for someone who is just pointing out the truth. Don’t shoot the messenger, right?” He pulled Shion from the bench, studying him a bit more before apparently deciding something was off. “What, you’ve been kind too?”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t see your bag stuffed with chocolate. There were quite some girls waiting for you back during the break.”
“Oh, that.” Shion smiled. “I saw them after class, they just wanted to ask something about our homework.”
“Really? May the heavens have mercy on the poor soul that attempts to woo you.” Nezumi raised his hands dramatically to the skies for emphasis, which earned him quite some stares from some other students who were less used to Nezumi’s theatrical tendencies.
“Whatever you say, Nezumi. Will you come now?”
“What, you’re not waiting for Safu instead?”
“No, she was busy after school, and I figured she… wait, why ‘instead’?”
“Never mind that. It’s a date, then.”
“Huh?” Shion was absolutely positive Nezumi was just out to be as confusing as possible today.
“Agreement, appointment, what have you. Seriously, Shion, you should reconsider my advice to read something else than those dry text books of yours. Or what, did you want it to be a date?”
The offender laughed out loud. “Relax, Shion. Fine, I’ll come with you to your mama’s bakery on a completely platonic date as a consolation for the fact the lovely Safu can’t grace you with her presence. Happy?”
“Hmph,” was Shion’s eloquent reply. He followed Nezumi through the school gates, questions on his mind and the determination to talk to Safu soon. He had the feeling he had something to make up to her.