Happy New Year
What a funny meow.
I looked down to see a cat brushing against my legs. What good timing, I thought, bending down and starting to pet it. I became so distracted that I didn't notice ten minutes passing.
No one was around, so I decided to bring the cat up to the apartment for a bit, since cats didn't malt in the winter and Hiyoshi wasn't allergic to them. It seemed friendly enough, and honestly, I was rethinking my decision to go out on a run. I might get accidentally hit by a car.
Besides, the cat gave me the strong desire to ask Hiyoshi if we could adopt a pet, if not this cat. As far as I knew, the apartments were pet negotiable, because the landlord's son was fond of animals. Only docile animals like cats were allowed, and I thought that this cat would be no exception to that rule.
So I walked back upstairs with the cat in my arms.
"I found this stray downstairs." I said as I walked into the room and set the cat down. It casually surveyed its surroundings and then padded towards Hiyoshi. His gaze followed the cat as it brushed across his legs, and then jumped up onto the couch beside him. That made me smile. "I think it likes you."
Hiyoshi looked from the cat to her. "Weren't you going to go for a run?"
"I was going to, but then I found this cat." I said. "And I thought we could... adopt it."
He considered this. Then he reached forward and flipped a bead down on his abacus, so that it read two instead of three.
"Does it have a name?"
I blinked, having not expected him to give in so easily. But I wasn't complaining.
"Well..." I looked around the room, and my gaze fell on a painting that my mother had given me as an housewarming gift. I never really found out why it was of kiwifruits, but I never complained because it added color to the otherwise dull wall. "Let's call it Kiwi."
He paused, but slowly relented after setting his abacus to one. "Alright."
I went and sat down next to Kiwi. "Kiwi, huh?" I said, scratching it behind the ear. It was purring contentedly. "It's weird, but it's kind of perfect."
Hiyoshi neither agreed nor disagreed. "I'll tell the landlord later."
"Okay." I said, rising from the couch. "Come on, Kiwi."
It followed me to the kitchen when I found the smallest dish we had and sat it on the bench. I went to retrieve some milk from the fridge, and when I came back, Kiwi was on the bench, sniffing at the empty saucer and trying to lick it.
"Not so fast, hot shot." I said, setting the milk down on the bench. Kiwi started towards the milk, but I picked it up and set it on the floor. Then I poured milk in the saucer and set it on the floor. For a few moments, there was nary a sound, save for that of Kiwi lapping up the white liquid.
Then, from my open laptop sitting on the coffee table, I heard the chime of an incoming email. I wondered who it was. When I went to check it, I discovered it was my brother, who I recalled was in Australia with his wife.
He had sent me a picture of what appeared to be the hotel lobby, and a message that was, for some reason, written entirely in English. Thankfully, it wasn't long.
Hi . This is the robby of the hotel in Surfers Paradise. Nice right?
I looked critically at the text, but I had to admit, it was a nice lobby. Very first-class.
I become unintentionally distracted by the computer, barely noticing that I hadn't left after checking my email until Kiwi leaped onto my lap and broke me out of my distraction. I patted it and let it watch as I navigated through a few sites. I was predominantly browsing eBay for secondhand records and bookmarking them.
I discovered I was soon rendered stationary because Kiwi fell asleep on my lap. So I decided to make myself productive while I was at the computer.
"Do you want me to make anything in particular tonight? For dinner?"
He thought. Since he didn't really put his heart into celebrating New Year, he wasn't set on eating dishes specifically for New Year, and I didn't feel like making them. The only one I ever tried to put effort into was shiratama zenzai1—a tribute to my father.
"Flavored shellfish?" I asked. Maybe he would be partial to his favorite food. "Zenzai?"
He shrugged obligingly. I jotted the recipes for flavored shellfish and shiratama zenzai on a nearby notepad, reminding myself that I would have to shop for these ingredients before the stores closed today.
Since I thought flavored shellfish alone would be kind of dull, and typical New Year dishes were fairly overused, I thought I should make something more, too. After navigating through several websites and having to close down several pop-ups, I decided that maybe I could settle on desserts. Maybe giant parfaits, or something equally fabulous.
But, then again, giant parfaits took too long to make, and I was kind of over cooking right now, so I settled for something less tedious. Anything would do. Well, anything except pig feet marshmallows.
Hiyoshi flipped up two beads. His abacus read three again.
- x -
I was listening to A Night at the Opera the next morning because I felt like it. When I finished the first side, I flipped it over, unaware that Bohemian Rhapsody lay in wait for me on the other side. When it finally came on, my mind went blank and I thought about lights zipping through space.
I broke out of my trance when the song broke into the operatic section.
I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Scaramouche! Scaramouche! Will you do the Fandago?
Thunderbolt and lightning; very, very frightening me!
Kiwi hopped up to the bench, and I smiled as I ruffled its fur. Hiyoshi had contacted the landlord, who agreed to let us keep it. Though he warned us that his son might accidentally kidnap it.
"If it's as friendly as you say..."
"Don't worry." Hiyoshi had said. "He's welcome to as often as he likes."
Having Kiwi was like having a second TV: a form of entertainment with all the weird and wonderful things it did. My favorite was how I'd set up a small area for it to sleep at night, but it refused to sleep there. At night, when I went to sleep next to Hiyoshi (who usually went to sleep earlier than I did), something furry crawled into the bed, over me, and onto Hiyoshi's stomach. It didn't smell, so I didn't chase it away. And Hiyoshi didn't seem to mind, if he was even aware of it, since it went away to wander at the crack of dawn.
Having Kiwi was also like having a mute version of my little sister: comforting—when, in particular, Hiyoshi was absorbed in doing things and I didn't want to bother him, or he was asleep and I was still awake—and very affectionate. With Kiwi, I didn't have to worry about it getting annoyed with me.
I set to work on the New Year's Eve dinner later that afternoon. It was quiet, because Hiyoshi had opted to take a nap in the bedroom and Kiwi joined him. When I went to close the bedroom door, in case I made too much noise while preparing dinner in the kitchen, I saw Kiwi napping on top of Hiyoshi's stomach and gave an amused smile.
On my way to the kitchen, I saw one unread email, so I went to check it. I recalled replying earlier to my brother's email, telling me about Kiwi and making sure he would never write me messages in English again. And sure enough, it was his email waiting:
Haha! Okay, , just for you. Send me pictures of your cat?
He had some more pictures attached, and a few paragraphs detailing their adventures thus far.
We haven't set foot far from the hotel. We went shopping at a nearby place, and Kairi bought a scarf. I'm not sure why she chose that of all the other things she could have bought, though. Women logic?
I looked at the picture of Kairi and my brother. She was wearing a scarf that resembled something Ryan Ross would wear.
And get this: there is barely any rice in Australia! It's all steak and bread! ): And their vegetarian pizza is just like normal pizza, only it has vegetables on top. And it has cheese. Nothing like okonomiyaki. I miss that so much. Cook me some when we get back?
The beaches are really nice, though. Nothing like Japanese beaches. I'm talking about real Californian golden beaches, only... not in California. Puts our beaches to shame, really. Kairi tried to get me in a speedo so we could swim, but I refused. ;) We went back to the hotel afterwards. I came across this really interesting cartoon, too. It's called Teen Titans. Have you heard of it? It's similar to our cartoons, only with worse drawings and weirder names. Starfire is a way, way weirder name than something like Lyndis.
Well, I will leave you be. I believe you guys are an hour behind us, so Skype me an hour before New Year for you so I can rub it in your face. :D Send me pictures of your cat and I'll buy you a souvenir.
It sounded like he was having fun in Australia. Good for him.
I typed a quick reply back to him, and then decided that I really should get working on dinner. In the midst of preparing my ingredients, I realized that I'd forgotten to buy the ingredients for the pirikara kon'nyaku, which I'd decided to throw in at the last minute. I left a note for Hiyoshi in case he woke up, telling him where I'd gone, and pocketed my cell phone just in case. Then I went next door and asked my neighbor, , if I could borrow her bicycle, since the convenience store was kind of far and I didn't want to take the car. I was kind of terrified of cars at the moment.
She said yes, because she didn't need it right now. I could see she was busy preparing for her New Year's party.
"Okay. Do you want me to bring you anything back?" I asked. "Supplies, or...?"
She thought for a moment, disappearing momentarily inside and reappearing with a supply list. She crossed off items she already had, and handed it back. "Let me just find some money..."
I looked over the list. None of it looked substantially expensive, and my pay from the Eve-of-New-Year's-Eve would replenish my savings soon enough. "It's okay." I assured her. "It's the bike fee."
"I don't charge for my bike."
"Then it's a New Year's present."
"If you're sure..." She said uneasily, obviously not wanting to waste any time arguing. "Oh, now that I think of it, why don't you come over tonight with Hiyoshi-san? You're welcome to join the party."
It sounded kind of like a mercy date, and anyway, there was still an invitation that Hiyoshi had received from Shishido. If Hiyoshi wanted to go to a party, he would have accepted Shishido's invitation.
"That's alright." I said, smiling. "I think Wakashi-kun is partial to an ordinary countdown to New Year."
She didn't want to stand there and chat because she still had things to do, so she didn't try to change my mind. "If you have second thoughts, just invite yourselves over."
"Okay." I said.
I headed downstairs and had just unlocked Shiraga's bicycle when I heard my cell phone ringing. I thought it might be Hiyoshi, but then discarded that thought it for two reasons: one, Hiyoshi had an exclusive ringtone; and two, he was usually content to wait patiently for my return.
I was hearing the ringtone I used for my friends minus Shishido (and Ōtori, who liked to call equally as much as Shishido), because I wouldn't be able to remember who was who if I gave too many people exclusive ringtones. Thus it became a Hiyoshi-and-people-who-call-too-much-only privilege.
I answered the phone. "Hello?"
"Ore-sama is cross with you." 2
"You are a very stupid woman, ."
I didn't really feel like addressing whatever problem Atobe had with me. I would prefer to have Hiyoshi wake up to dinner instead of me fastidiously preparing it. "Yeah."
A sigh on the other end of the line. "Ore-sama does not think you realize the depth of the situation."
"What are you talking about?"
"Allow Ore-sama to grace you with good advice: say yes when the time comes."
"Atobe-san, are you high? On drugs?"
"Otherwise Ore-sama will be displeased."
"Okay... I think."
"Ore-sama is glad you understand."
"I'm... glad to have made you glad."
"Ingrain this conversation into your memory."
I heard a satisfied sound on the other end of the line. "Good." He said. "Ore-sama expects you to think of a good New Year's resolution."
Then he hung up. When I pulled the phone from my ear, I gave it an extremely confused look before pocketing it and peddling off to the corner store. I didn't think Atobe was high, but something must have triggered such a strange, sporadic and completely confusing conversation.
I felt very conscious of myself while riding, partly because I had no idea what Atobe was on about, and partly because I was just conscious of being on a road. I rode quickly, but no so that I would be unsuspectingly hit by a car coming around a corner. I found myself looking critically into every blind spot mirror I could find, just in case there really was a car waiting to hit me.
I stopped at the convenience store to gather my materials before heading back home.
The last thought in my mind was what Atobe had said about resolutions.
- x -
Part of the reason that I liked giving New Year's gifts to Hiyoshi was simply because I felt like it. The other part was that, before Kiwi, I had no one else to splurge my savings on.
Besides, if I bought presents for only one person, then I had more time to put thought into the gift and be individualistic about it. I'd bought Hiyoshi's present months ago: a book that overlapped time travel with theoretical physics. It sounded like something he would like: history and math together in one book. I didn't know if it was what Hiyoshi considered a 'rare book,' but I bought it secondhand, so I thought he might like it.
At the last minute, I also bought Kiwi some new dishes and a litter box, since we'd been make-doing with things we were going to throw away later anyway. It couldn't give a human reaction, but I assumed that it was pleased with something that held water on the left and food on the right.
Before I started dinner, I gave Hiyoshi his book, and he looked approvingly at it. Or, as approvingly as Hiyoshi could look. He flipped a bead up on his abacus so that it read four, and then he moved it off the table, setting it beside his book. I set dinner out on the table, and we started eating.
There wasn't a great diversity in food, but Hiyoshi didn't appear to mind. That was a good thing, because after the-Eve-before-New-Year's-Eve, I didn't really feel like cooking.
"Does it taste okay?" I asked. I was always waiting for a day when Hiyoshi would say no so I would feel more motivated to cook, but he never did. He always said yes and went back to eating. I couldn't tell if he was trying to make me feel better or legitimately didn't mind my cooking, but I never asked. Maybe he didn't care that I hadn't put much effort into it. Maybe it was because he knew that I cooked basically every day of the year for the restaurant and it bored me to do it at home, too.
I decided my New Year's resolution was to be a better girlfriend to him.
"Hey, Wakashi-kun, have you decided what your New Year's resolution was?"
He nodded mid-way through chewing. I didn't expect he was going to say what it was, and sure enough, I was right. "What about you?"
"Yeah, I decided on something."
He looked at me expectantly. Waiting.
"I thought I should improve as a girlfriend, you know?"
He was a hairbreadth away from putting dishing some rice and flavored shellfish in his, but paused and slowly lowered his chopsticks. "In what way?"
"Well, I'm overly affectionate."
"I never put much effort into cooking for you."
"I think I'm kind of clingy?"
I opened my mouth to list many, many other reasons why I was a flawed human being—and lo, we could have gone on all night—but he interrupted me with a sigh.
"Do you think I would be dating you if those things bothered me?" He said, making me blink dubiously. He had a good point.
Kiwi politely butted in our conversation once it finished its own dinner. It came over and reached out to paw at us, but Hiyoshi touched its paw and moved it away in a, 'No. Don't interrupt' fashion. Rejected, Kiwi crawled under the table, and I felt it crawling into my lap. I smiled.
"That's a good point."
Hiyoshi sensed I was holding something back. "What?"
"... Shishido-san sent you an invitation to a party, right?"
He nodded to confirm.
"Is there a reason you didn't accept? I mean, Shishido-san was very insistent in you coming, but you stayed home anyway." I said. "And I heard that you went every other year, except last year."
"I didn't want to go."
I didn't want to pester it, but something pestered me to go one more step. Maybe it was my inner Ore-sama social link. No, that was a bad use of social links in context. "You wouldn't have liked it? You're such good friends with them all, so I thought..."
Hiyoshi blinked. "I wanted to stay home. I don't see why it's such a big deal."
"You're only ever stopped attending once we moved into the apartment."
"That was two years ago. Is it so strange to skip two parties?"
I really did want to keep asking, but I felt as though I'd pushed it enough, and it wasn't helping that I didn't get to the point. Besides, was it really so strange for Hiyoshi to skip a few parties? He didn't want to go. It was as simple as that. What need was there in continually asking?
So I just said, "I guess not." And after a brief, awkward silence, we went back to eating.When we finished, Hiyoshi helped me clear the dishes. I washed, and he dried, just as usual. I was content with the silence, though should any of it have been discomforting, it was most likely on my part.
Hiyoshi's eyes were cast out the window, and I felt awkward one-sidedly staring at him, so I followed his gaze out the window. Good thing I cleaned it; the view across the city skyline was clear—particularly clear for winter. More times than often, it would be snowing about now.
When the dishes were dried and put away, Hiyoshi said I should put some music on. I blinked, wondering what was appropriate for New Year's Eve, what was appropriate for Hiyoshi's ears, and what was appropriate for this general moment. I decided upon Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes, simply because traditional pop felt relevant and I liked The Theme from A Summer Place.3 Once it was playing, I rose to my feet and looked for Hiyoshi. I noticed that the balcony door was open, and realized he was outside, leaning against the rails, as if waiting for something to happen. Kiwi was there with him, having made itself comfortable on the table next to him. Hiyoshi blinked and let his fingers dangle towards Kiwi. It stretched up to rub its cheek against his hand.
I joined the two of them out on the balcony, feeling the chilly wind hit me: cold, but fresh. I stood close to Hiyoshi, and he put an arm around my shoulder. He didn't seem to mind when I leaned my head on his shoulder.
"I owe you five things."
He broke the silence so abruptly that I almost jumped.
I had no idea what he was talking about, so I just gave him a confused long. For once, he went on.
"My New Year's resolution," he said, "was to start paying you back for things I owed you."
"But you don't owe me anything..."
"I do. I was counting."
An image drifted into my mind, of Hiyoshi reading The Renaissance, his abacus at the ready. "You were... counting things from our daily conversations? That you felt you owed me?"
"From the last three days." He clarified.
I didn't know what to say. "Then... what... you counted backwards, too, didn't you?"
"I wasn't going to." He said. Then he began to list off the things he had already paid back. "I agreed to drive you to work. I let you adopt the cat. I let you call it something ridiculous."
I smiled sheepishly. I felt him squeeze my shoulder gently.
"I had something planned tonight." He went on. "So I didn't go to the party."
"You didn't want to go because you wanted to pay me back?"
"Yes." He said. I felt his hand drop. "Wait here."
Hiyoshi ghosted past her and back inside. Kiwi flicked its tail, perhaps debating whether to scamper after him or not, but he was back before it could make up its mind. He was holding things behind his back.
He began, "I also didn't kill that family of beetles whilst I had the chance."
I laughed. Good thing he owed me.
"The rest are these."
Then he revealed what was behind his back and extended the contents to me. I looked in disbelief as he handed me, in vinyl, The Best of ABBA and West Side Story.4
"Here are two more." He said.
"More like ten." ABBA and West Side Story, in the vinyl. Like a dream. "Where did you get these from?"
"You had them bookmarked on your laptop."
That was something unexpected. Hiyoshi preferred pen and paper to a computer, so he rarely used one. "This is... perfect."
Hiyoshi thought for a moment. "That's six favors."
He went through them again, just to make sure: he agreed to drive me to work from now on. He let me keep the cat. He let me give the cat a ridiculous name. He didn't kill the beetle family when he had the chance. He gave me The Best of ABBA. He gave me West Side Story. Six.
"So..." ABBA. West Side. "The reason you didn't go to the New Year's party is because of this?"
"It wouldn't have been very personal if I didn't pay the favors back in private." He said. "Which is why..."
And then he descended to his knees. He searched from something in his back pocket, and when he found it, he extended it towards me. A ring.
I stared. On the inside of it was engraved, 'just the girl.'
"For an engagement." Hiyoshi said, in case I misunderstood, got scared and ran away because I didn't want to be permanently tied down just yet. And maybe it was just my imagination or lack of better lighting on the balcony, but I could almost see the smallest of smallest of smiles in his face. Like a hopeful gesture.
I was struck, torn between resisting the temptation to throw myself at him and think of a more sensible approach to this.
Hiyoshi answered for me. "You can say no if you want to."
There was an eerily familiar touch to his words, and that was when I remembered something. That conversation...
Atobe had known about this all along. He was the one who told me to say yes. And the party... well, I wasn't sure what relevance that had. Maybe Atobe wanted to give Hiyoshi the spotlight for a chance, or maybe it was completely irrelevant.
Allow Ore-sama to grace you with good advice: say yes when the time comes.
I don't need you to tell me that, Atobe-san.
"You know, you never asked the question." I said as I lowered myself to my knees. There was a grin on my face.
Hiyoshi never seemed to think there was a question involved. "Be my fiancée?"
I laughed. "Of course."
It was almost perfect timing, for we heard abrupt sounds: loud cracks, like soft gunshots. They were the fireworks going off, a reminder that the country was still the ghost of 2012. While I was busy being fascinated by the myriad of exploding colors, Hiyoshi snuck the ring onto my finger. It was a discreet affair.
He took me by the shoulder, and we both rose to meet the balcony. The fireworks were at the height of all their power and glory, expanding from their point of combustion and clouding the sky like a diffuse nebula. It was lucky our apartment was at an advantageous point.
Hiyoshi noticed I was trembling. "Are you cold?"
I didn't think so. I just laughed nervously and said, "No... but the fireworks just seem uncanny." Honestly, at any moment, I was waiting to see Atobe's face in a rainbow of exploding colors and an, 'Ore-sama told you so.' Or something similar.
Hiyoshi seemed to understand.
A pause. "."
"You're missing a favor."
There was a pause, most likely in which Hiyoshi was counting the favors. Maybe since he toyed with the abacus so much, it slipped his mind as to many favors he owed me. I recounted them all for him, but silently, I didn't care that Hiyoshi hadn't 'repaid all his favors.' There were never really any favors to repay. I just wanted to see what he would come up with next.
He looked down at Kiwi, as if for advice or encouragement. Then he looked back at me.
Abruptly, he kissed me.
He broke away before I had a chance to realize what happened.
It took a small while to process the happenings of the past four seconds. I ended up smiling. "All your debts are repaid."
"I still owe you something."
He looked half-questioningly, half-expectantly at me.
It wasn't hard to decide what I was going to do. "I love you."
Those were the words that were like taboo in our relationship, as strange as it was. The closest thing we had said to it was 'I like you,' back when we first started dating.
He pulled me close enough that he could lean his cheek on top of my head (him being slightly taller than me and all). And I could feel the muscles in his face rising, as if he were smiling, but he didn't want me to see.
In turn, a smile appeared on my own face. "Happy New Year, Wakashi."
He, in turn, said, "Happy New Year."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - -
January 1, 2013.
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Ribbon: So the main reason I put an explosion of shoujo romance at the end is because I know Princo just can't with shoujo. ;) But admittedly, I felt pretty stupid writing that part. Just because.
I was so busy listening to music that I didn't realize I finished coding this. Wow.
1 Shiratama zenzai: bit.ly/VvoYCv
2 I felt it was necessary to use ore-sama in place of 'I.' Don't ask me why. LOL.
3 I know that I say my favorite song changes all the time, but honestly, I think my absolute favorite song of all time is Andy William's cover of A Summer Place. I'm not even sure why. Maybe it's because I grew up hearing it on vinyl and I loved it so much. Or, no, this is actually my second favorite song. My favorite might have to be Goodbye by Air Supply. c:
4 I actually do have The Best of ABBA and West Side Story. I went through all my records to see which one I could use for the story. Granted, I've only listened to The Best of ABBA. I didn't listen to many records because I liked listening to my favorites. :D
I was going to make a video for you guys, but I didn't have time. So I'll just type it out.
So, I'd like to thank each and every one of you readers for reading our stories and making us feel like we're not a waste of human lives and we're actually doing something productive with our time. To our other reviewers and friends: Swooosh, Dom, Hikari, Mariko, Seriyiena, Haruka, Cerise, Jeska, Linna, Ly... and to anyone who we may have missed, I sincerely apologize. But you have all played a very welcome part. Thank you all so much! ♥
I would like to thank Shizuka and Eri in particular, for making their support known and regular. It's been an honor and a pleasure to have you guys read and like our stories, and fangirl along with us because Princo and I are pathetic people. I can't thank you guys enough! ♥ ♥
Finally, I would like to thank Princo for her ongoing support. She has been the best person to work with because she lets me write and doesn't make me proofread. She has been honest in her feedback, and that feedback has helped greatly. She has been the best person to cheer me up (read: insult) when I was going through writer's block depression and many other things. She has been the best friend that I could unfortunately never have in person. (Curse you, God, for making her on the other side of the universe.) Had it not been for Princo, I would probably be one very sad and lonely child, so I would like to thank her for, well, everything. Hehe. ♥ ♥ ♥
So thank you all so much! I love each and every one of you. ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ Happy 2013 everyone! Hope it's a wonderful year for all of us!