i. Attention Please
"Sorry!" Misaki says, bending at the waist as she bows to the person who'd been standing behind her.
"Is that the way to greet a person?" is the snark of a reply that follows.
Misaki freezes when she recognizes the voice, can't bring it in her to look up, but just from the murmurs and the nudging from Yayoi and Sekiyama at her sides lets her know that she's probably right in her assumption. Slowly, very slowly because she's afraid of being wrong, afraid that maybe she really has been missing him too much, but her eyes reach his face before she realizes and Misaki's torn in her reaction—whether she should hug him or kiss him or sock him in the stomach. "Shouta," she says instead.
He's grinning at her, hands stuffed in his pockets. "Hey."
Misaki grins back, shoving him slightly—trying to get back into the swing of things. "You should've told me you were back!" she scolds, crossing her arms. "I would've gone to pick you up at the airport--"
"Technically you have," Yayoi points out as she gestures where they're standing. Sekiyama elbows her and smiles at the two standing there.
"Well, we'll just be on our way. We'll see you later, Misaki-chan."
"Sure," Misaki says with a wave of her hand—completely forgetting that they'd made plans just ten minutes ago to go to dinner together. All she can see right now is Shouta—tanned and messy hair (as always) and just... there.
"So how about you? Eating?" Shouta asks, breaking the silence after her friends have left.
"Yeah. That sounds good," Misaki says. Shouta smiles and Misaki feels that familiar skip of her heartbeat—she missed him.
Coincidentally (Misaki half thinks it's on purpose), Shouta comes back a week before Valentine's Day. He grins at her, jokes that she'd better give him chocolate, and then goes back to obliviously eating his bowl of ramen. He doesn't notice Misaki frozen beside him until a few minutes later when he tells her that her ramen's getting cold. She shakes herself out of her anxiety and wonders the entire time—beneath all the jokes and the smiles and the light shoves—if she should give him chocolates.
"Of course!" Sekiyama insists. "You two have been there, but not officially there for ages! Someone has to make a move."
Misaki blinks. "There?"
"You know, almost going out but haven't because someone hasn't exactly confessed yet?" Sekiyama explains.
"You should do it!" Yayoi nods, nudging her slightly.
Misaki pauses then sighs, burying her head in her arms. "I can't even bake."
Instantly, the two girls chime, Yayoi slinging an arm around Misaki's shoulders, "We'll help!"
It all ends up being a moot point. Two days before Valentine's Day, Misaki meets up with Shouta only to find he's leaving for America next.
"For how long?" Misaki asks, feeling her throat close up, remembering the multiple batches of chocolates she's already made in practice for Saturday.
"Six months," Shouta says, his eyes never meeting hers.
Misaki shoves him slightly. "Don't look so depressed! You're going to America. Blonde girls, huge breasts. Isn't that every guy's dream?"
Shouta finally looks straight at her and Misaki feels her heart constrict. "When I come back," he says instead, side-stepping her comment. "I expect those chocolates."
She laughs. "How did you even know you were going to get some?"
"Just because," Shouta says, stuffing his hands in his pockets.
"How about some ramen before you leave?"
"Sounds like a good idea."
Misaki marks off the date on her calendar—this time, when he comes back, Misaki'll be waiting in the airport with a box of chocolates just for him.
She says that she's not that kind of girl. Looks straight at her laptop and types and makes sure that nobody can see that she's lying. Aki just goes along with the flow of the conversation and hopes that nobody notices that she answered a little too quickly, denied that she would have chocolates for them. In her mind, she can see the four small containers of burnt chocolates sitting on her counter where she'd left them that morning—purposely.
When the five of them leave the office and head to Akira's family shop, Aki hangs back, staring at she puts one foot in front of the other. That's the only reason why she sees Daiki's feet walking towards her before she actually sees him. "What is it?" she asks when he comes to a stop in front of her. She looks up.
"Do you really not have any chocolates for us?" he asks.
She huffs. "I already said I don't have the time to do things like that. Why are you questioning it?" She moves to walk past him, but Daiki's persistent at best and he follows behind her with that annoying look on his face that reads that he just knows.
"You're lying, aren't you? Why would you lie? Are you embarrassed?"
Aki spins around, stopping him short. "I am not embarrassed!"
"Is that a yes?"
"Argh!" she half-screams before turning back around and dashing towards the other three who are still obliviously walking down the road.
"Aki, it's okay that you can't cook! We'd still eat it. Maybe," Daiki calls out, a few feet away. The three in front of her stop suddenly, facing her.
"Wait! Was there really chocolate for us?" Teppei asks hopefully.
Aki freezes in her spot, eyes wide as she clings to her handbag. "I already told you I don't have the time for that!"
"She's lying," Daiki sing-songs, walking past her and patting her on the back lightly. "It's probably still at her place."
"We should go then!" Ryosuke suggests, pumping his fist in the air. "I want some chocolates from Aki."
"Yeah, that sounds good to me," Akira agrees as they suddenly walk in a different direction from Akira's shop.
"What—Wait!" Aki cries out, holding out her hand. "Nonono, there aren't any chocolates there!"
"What do you guys think it'll be like?" Ryosuke asks, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "Tied in a nice pink bow?"
"Oh! Maybe she even wrote notes that go with each one?" Teppei adds—again, a tinge of hope in his voice.
Aki resists from stomping her foot down. "Guys, there really isn't any chocolate for you!" she says, rushing after them, but they ignore her pointedly and continue with their conversation—to her horror.
iii. 1 Litre of Tears
They work together. He is—was—always will be? her older sister's boyfriend. Or ex-boyfriend really. Or does that concept even apply when one's older sister is, to put it bluntly, dead? Not to mention that Ako doesn't only see him for hours and hours on end at the hospital (because they're both workaholics scarily enough), but Asou's been coming by their house lately—making sure nobody's hurting themselves (especially after her dad had strained his back that one time). So now, whenever Ako as much as blinks, she can see Asou standing there in the corner of her eye—always around. She hates that butterflies just seem to pile up in her stomach when she does.
Ako sighs again, fingering the ribbon tied around the box of chocolates sitting on the table in front of her.
"Oooh? New boyfriend?" Michi, another nurse on that floor, asks teasingly as she moves to snag the box.
Ako snatches it away, stuffing it in her bag. "Not that it's any of your business—"
"Ikeuchi!" Asou calls, sticking his head inside the nurse's break room. "I need you for room 328."
Quickly, Ako stands up, nodding. "Sure, I'll be there right away." He nods, smiling briefly at her before disappearing into the corridors. Ako holds back her sigh.
"You know, I always thought you had a thing for him," Michi comments off-handedly as she nibbles some chocolate.
Ako rolls her eyes. "Not going to happen. He has a thing for my older sister."
"Oh? Is she pretty?" Michi asks.
Ako closes her eyes and remembers the smile on her sister's face when she talks about Asou or even Asou's expression whenever he remembers Aya. "Yeah," Ako says as she puts away her handbag into a cabinet. "She was." Michi doesn't seem to notice Ako's use of the past tense but she's not about to explain.
"Too bad. Asou-sensei's hot." Michi grins in Ako's direction.
"Yeah, yeah. I'm going to work like someone else should be," Ako says pointedly. Michi only waves her hand.
Ako never does pull out the chocolates from her bag that day and when she gets home, she immediately throws them away without a second glance. Sometimes, dreams had to remain dreams, no matter what.
iv. Ryuusei no Kizuna
Making chocolates for her brothers was practically a habit for her. After all, they were siblings. Not blood-related as Shii had thought for so long, but they grew up as such and wouldn't Shii get used to giving them chocolates as soon as she was old enough to even bake. "What? We're supposed to eat that?" Taisuke asked when he was about 12 years old and she was 10 and all she could manage even with George-san's help were mangled chocolates that looked half-burnt.
"Then don't eat it!" Shii snapped back, feeling the tears bubble up in her eyes. And even though he'd been protesting a second ago and even though Shii had said he shouldn't, Taisuke still swiped one off the baking sheet, wincing slightly—to Shii's immense delight (What he deserved, she thought to herself)—before plopping it in his mouth.
He winced again. "Wow, this is crap." Shii's frown deepened, but then Taisuke yelped in pain and Koichi moved to grab a chocolate for himself.
"No!" Shii protested, shifting the chocolates out of the way, but Koichi gave her a stern look and she relented.
Koichi took a bite and even though he didn't say anything, Shii noticed instantly his grimace. "I knew—" she started, dejected, but Koichi's enthusiastic "It's delicious" cut her off completely.
"What, are you crazy? Do you not have any taste buds left?" Taisuke immediately asked in reply, but only got an elbow to the stomach.
"It's delicious, Shii."
Shii could feel the tears bubbling up in her eyes again. "Thanks, onii-chan." By the end of that night, not a single one of her chocolates were left behind.
This year though is different. She stares at the Valentine's Day chocolates she'd made for her brother—neatly tied in a pink bow—mainly because she's used to it and then sighs. Maybe next year they'd be out of prison and Shii can give them newly baked chocolate then. For now... Shii grabs the chocolates she'd made for Togami and walks swiftly out the door.
v. Long Love Letter
"I don't get any chocolates?" Asami asks as they're walking down the school corridors, heading towards the teacher's room.
Misaki shushes him, smiling pleasantly at the students as they pass them by. "Like you need another chocolate to put on that table of yours." Asami grabs her arm, stopping her sharply and she yelps in surprise. "We're in the middle of the hallway," she snaps.
Asami shakes his head, leans over so that there's barely any personal space left to her—his face only a few inches away from her. Misaki can hear the giggling of students as they pass and she struggles out of his grasp. "I don't want chocolates from students. I want them from you."
Misaki feels her face go red, remembers the chocolates stuffed in her bag, and shakes her head. "Who says I'm giving you any. So arrogant." She pulls her arm out of his grasp and spins around, walking back towards the room.
"But Misaki-sensei," Asami half-whines. "It's me."
"So? You're the same one who got into a dirty situation with one of your students. Doesn't exactly say much." She gives him a sideways glare and Asami frowns.
"You already know—"
"Yeah, yeah," Misaki interrupts with the wave of her hand as they slide open the door and walk inside. "I still don't have any chocolates for you."
"Are they having another lover's spat in the middle of the day?" Sekiya leans over to ask the person beside her.
"You'd think they'd stop being so public," another teacher sighs. "The students—"
"Don't care a single whit, but the teachers seem to gossip a lot," Misaki retorts loudly. Everyone bustles back to work.
"Seriously, not one chocolate?"
"Not a single one," Misaki says—a hint of an apology in her voice and she almost balks under his intense stare.
Asami sighs, sitting down in his table right next to hers. "I guess I'll have to be satisfied with dinner tonight."
"Oh, about that..." Misaki starts and Asami turns to her sharply. "I'm joking," she says with a laugh, hoping that the chocolates won't go bad by tonight—a school's no place for her to give him his chocolates after all.