I am at the fountain where we agreed to meet. If I know Keika, she won't show up for another hour or so. I don't even know why I bother to be on time. Must be all that childhood drilling by my parents. It's simply not possible for me to even contemplate lateness. Maybe I should check out that game store over there to kill some time. They have a sale on some game called RPG Tsukuru. I stand up, take a step, and see Keika. My jaw drops.
"You're...on time," I say.
"Isn't that what people do?"
"Yeah, but you know, with you..."
"Didn't you tell me it's unhealthy for me to make a habit of being late?"
"I guess I did."
"Besides, there's this really cute store I absolutely have to visit today." She grins.
Keika looks amazing, as usual. I don't know how clothing designers do what they do, I only know that they know what they're doing. She definitely looks more beautiful than she really is. Stop. That sounds awful. What does it matter?
Today, she looks beautiful. That's all that matters.
A variety of shops line the streets surrounding the train station. Trinkets. Souvenirs. Sweets. It's a good area to window shop for people who have nothing in particular they want to buy. We browse the shops, with Keika walking into random stores with high spirits, laughing while showing me this and that. I would like to think she's having a grand ol' time, that she's overjoyed to see me. But I can't help but notice that she's laughing a little too hard, like she's determined to have fun.
After an hour, we find a cafe and take a well-earned rest from our ordeal. Or my ordeal, anyway. She still looks quite energized. We sit by the window. There isn't anyone else here except a gruff old dude at the counter, who after bringing our drinks goes back to cleaning his coffee cups. I sip at my espresso. Keika stares at her tea.
Normally just chillin' with Keika is cool, but today's a little tense. The silence becomes uncomfortable.
"So...how's the tea?" I try to start a conversation.
"Sorry? Did you say something?" She looks up.
"Something on your mind?"
"Maybe we should order something else from the menu? These macaroons look ni—"
Keika bites her lip.
She bursts into tears.
"Whoa, I mean, if you don't like macaroons we can order something else." Was it something I said?
"This is all so wrong," she whispers.
"Huh? What is?"
"Last night, I asked Shoichi to go shopping with me," she sobs. "I don't think he heard me at all. It's like he was playing video games and only paying scant attention to our conversation. Like he didn’t even care who he was talking to. Like I don't even exist. So I said fine, I'm gonna have a good time, with or without you, and hung up on him. I thought he was going to call back, but he never did. So I asked you out. I'm sorry, I guess I just didn't want to be alone today.
"But I still love him so much," she says fiercely, as if daring me to contradict her.
"I'm sure you do," I say. She buries her face in her hands.
While I am sweeping up the pieces of my manly ego, I begin to piece (har har) everything together. It's all clear to me now: I'm the doofus who's been reading too much into this. I am Keika's long-time friend. In other words, I am that 'safe' guy to go to in times of need. I guess it's too much to think she asked me out because of my mojo.
"Here," I say as I hand her a tissue.
"I'm so sorry. I don't know what's with me these days." She wipes away her tears and blows her nose.
She cries a little more, with me sitting there stupidly, not knowing what to say, passing the occasional tissue. Eventually her tears turn to sniffles, and finally end with a sigh.
"Thanks. I needed to get that off my chest," she says as she wipes her last tear. "You're such a good friend, Hiroto."
"Uh. Glad I could help," I say.
She smiles. A cloud lifts and sunlight returns to her face.
My heart skips a beat.
As if suddenly realizing what she has done, she blushes with embarrassment. She takes out her pocket mirror and proceed to put herself back together.
“I’ve made such a fool of myself,” she laughs as she dabs at her make-up.
“Don’t worry,” I say. “It’s just me. And the cafe owner I guess.”
"Oh, you mean the man behind the counter? That's only Hanzo-san. He's one of my body guards." She waves a 'carry on' signal to him. The old dude returns a barely noticeable nod without looking up from his cup cleaning. She whispers to me, "Don't worry. He's very good with privacy."
"Right." Sometimes I forget that I'm sitting across from one of the richest heiresses in Japan. Not anymore. I look at ‘Hanzo-san’ again. Now that I really look at him, it’s obvious that underneath his too-small uniform are bulging biceps and rippling muscles. A scar crosses his left eye, and he washes the cups with a deadly grace. He stands there completely balanced, not a weak point anywhere. Yeah. He can so kick my as s. I wonder how many ‘Hanzo-sans’ have been around all this time.
After that we go through the shops again, this time truly relaxed, with all of that weird tension gone. We joke, laugh, and window shop. It’s just like the good old days (and I try to ignore the whole Hanzo-san thing). Admittedly, it isn't a bad afternoon.
I’m so glad we got all of that weirdness out of the way. We’re back to being just friends. Plain and simple.
Funny. It seems she now calls me Hiroto.