He comes home, late, late, one Saturday evening, paperwork having backed up. She'd, surprisingly, hadn't called him, so he enters the house warily. The house is cooler than outside, lights off.
The entry-way is clear of clutter. No scattered clothes, no high-heeled shoes in mismatched pairs.
He pauses, blinks in thought, then slips off his shoes and places them where they belong. He continues on into the kitchen, into the living space. There are no clothes hanging from the strings nailed to beams throughout the house, no plastic potato chip bags under his feet. Even the dishes are put away.
He wonders where she is, just as he sees her on the porch. He puts the binder he was carrying under his arm on the kitchen table. She's asleep, lying on her right side away from him, dressed in her favorite pink t-shirt and blue track pants, her blue dolphin pillow clutched in her arms, the head of it under hers. A beer can, Suntory blue and gold, is close to her left foot.
It was this day, last year, that she moved out.
She rolls over and the arm over her pillow uncurls out across the floor. The windbell chime hanging above the porch tinkles. Strands of hair are stuck to her right cheek, standing out against the flush of summer heat.
He moves closer, quietly. He'd never admit it honestly without it being dragged out of him, but she really is cute. He goes to his knees and just looks at her for a few moments. She doesn't stir when he brushes the hair from her face. Dead asleep.
She makes a small breathy noise when he presses a gentle kiss on her forehead, but she doesn't wake up. He shakes his head, and leans over her to pick up the beer can. It's empty, completely. He doesn't even hear sloshing when he shakes it. Amemiya, the beer vampire.
He stands up, taking the beer can with him, intending to smash it and place it with the others collected. He pauses, and says, low enough not to wake her, "Thank you. Thank you for not forgetting me."
He rounds the corner, flipping through a folder. "Amemiya, are you here?" he calls.
He closes the folder and peers around the door to the stationery storage room. Rows and rows of metal shelves, boxes and cans on them, are poorly lit by a double row of fluorescent light tubes, one of which flickers off and on.
"In the back," he hears, along with the sound of small boxes being shuffled. He starts walking that way, trying to catch a glimpse of her through the gaps in the shelves. He says, as he goes, "Have you finished the paperwork on--" and then he sees her.
She's standing on the tiptoes of her left foot on two boxes of blank copy paper. Her high heels lie akimbo beside them. He can see a tiny hole, beginning to run, on the heel of her hose. The boxes are ridiculously placed away from where they should be, considering she's reaching across an inside corner of the shelving, her right foot on a shelf just a little higher than the boxes, across the corner. She's reaching blindly, her head turned away from the shelf, toward him, her hand trying to close on a small box, muttering, "Almost--"
"Ahomiya!" He jolts forward, afraid she's going to fall, coming to stop right below her.
She stops reaching and looks down at him. Her bangs have fallen down into her eyes. "What?"
"What do you think you're doing?"
"Trying to--" she stretches again, her fingertips barely brushing the box, "trying to get the paperclips."
"Get down this instant, before you pull the whole thing down on us!"
"But, buchou," she whines.
"Get down! I'll get them for you."
She tries for the box again, but no luck. She blows out air, frustrated, and says, "Okay!" She looks away from him, as she starts to come down.
One false step, that's all it will take, and no sooner does he think it, than her right foot slips, how, he never remembers--maybe she tried to slide across the way to put weight on her left foot, misjudged her balance, and--no, that's all conjecture. He does remember his heart thudding faster. She twists as she falls, and lands hard on him, knocking him on his back. His folder falls out of his hands as his arms come up around her.
There's no sound but the rushing of blood in his ears, and her breathing, for a few long seconds. He feels the odd sensation of floating, the room moving in a circle around him.
She starts feeling his head, running her fingers through his hair, and along his scalp. "Are you all right? Buchou? Are you hurt?" Her face swims into focus, and her eyes are full of concern.
He lies there stunned for a few seconds as she desperately feels for injury... She's so focused on ensuring he's okay, she doesn't seem to realize she's still lying on top of him.
He says, "You..." and gathers breath, preparing to raise his voice.
The frantic movement of her hands ceases. He can feel her hold her breath, as close as she is, pressed to him.
Everything he was about to say is forgotten, as he sees her eyes widen.
She blinks rapidly, her bangs moving with each blink, caught on her eyelashes. "I'm sorry, so sorry, it was an accid--"
How dare she, he thinks, right before he seals her mouth with his own. How dare she make him worry like that. She freezes, doesn't even respond for a long second, and then she softens. Everything goes quiet, as still as a winter night with no wind.
He's wanted to kiss her for such a long time.
He almost forgets exactly how they got to this point, lying on the cold floor in the storage closet. That is, until he hears voices out in the hall.
She hears them, too, because she sits up and away from him, scrambling across the floor, panic on her face, and really, why can't they catch a break?
He sits up, wincing. She immediately scoots across the floor toward him, hoarsely whispering, "Are you sure you're all right?"
He looks at her and he feels that peculiar floating sensation again. His gaze drifts down to her lips, but the voices outside are still getting closer, so he clears his throat and says, "I'll meet you back at the office."
He helps her up. She says, "All right."
He starts to leave and she says, "Buchou?"
They seem to be caught by some sort of magnetic pull, because he can't seem to stop looking at her. Finally he says, "I--" and points over his shoulder, "I should go."
He picks up his folder and goes. For some reason, she doesn't follow. There's a credit to her for thinking wisely for once.
He can't help watching for her once he gets back to his desk, but once she appears, he pretends he's busy with something. Not that it helps because a few seconds later, she says, loudly enough for everyone in the office to hear her, "Shoot! The paperclips!"
He starts coughing and bends over to rummage in his bottom desk drawer. Really, he's just looking for some for her...it has nothing to do with the way heat is rising on his neck.
He opens the door to the house, looking down, anticipating being able to slip off his shoes and relax. He doesn't notice Hotaru standing there, a mischievous smile on her face, as he turns to shut the door. He starts to say, "I'm back," turns around and sees her there, and springs backward, hitting his shoulder on the door.
"Amemiya! Don't scare me like that!"
He lets out a huff of air, and stares suspiciously at her. "Why are you smiling like that?"
She leans forward and says, "I have a secret, want to know?"
He rubs at his shoulder, looking at her with eyes narrowed. He tries to move past, saying, "I just want to sit down and rest."
She catches his jacket sleeve and pulls on it. "I think that can wait," she says.
She stands on her tiptoes and he bends down, just a little. She whispers in his ear. He turns his head sharply to look at her when she's done, disbelief on his face.
She nods, her topknot bobbing, and the smile on her face is so ridiculously happy, he can't help but smile back at her. "Really," she answers, and then asks, "Are you happy?"
"I'm happy," he answers.
He grabs her close, dropping a kiss on the top corner of her ear.
"I'm happy," he repeats, and holds her even closer.
She's leaving. In just a few minutes, she'll be gone. And unlike it was with Miyuki, whom he never wanted to leave, but never held back, Amemiya is leaving with his consent. Hah, consent. He's downright pushed her out. He's pushed her in every way he can, because, because...
Someone should have pushed him.
He has no one to blame but himself for her decision. Of course she would pick Makoto. Of course. Whatever she puts her mind to, she goes after, even if it takes prodding her into it. By all rights, she should pick that boy, because, above all, she genuinely has fallen in love, and he's not selfish enough to get in the way of that. He'll never consciously be that selfish again.
He jokes around with her on the porch, for the last time, a grain of truth buried in his remarks, always just enough for her to interpret differently from his intent.
She says, "I should've kissed you or something."
She thinks he's not serious when he responds, "We should have." She thinks he's just joking, and that's exactly what he wants her to think.
She takes a swig from her beer can, while he looks at her and for a moment, a brief moment, he allows himself to imagine that. Imagines setting aside his can of beer, and turning toward her just enough to reach out to her, to place a hand on her cheek, to lean in. Allows himself to imagine her lips parting under his. A fantasy of a life where she doesn't choose anyone else but him.
But he can't follow through on that. He won't. It's not fair to her. So he looks away, before she can notice how his gaze has lingered on her.
He offers her congratulations. He means it.
Somehow, some way, he fell in love, too, and he can't help but wish the best for her. Because he finally understands. He understands far too well.