Writer's Block

chapter three

I expected Marui to be ignoring me on Monday morning. To my surprise, he was cheerful when I walked in, despite the fact that it was the beginning of the week. I wasn't prepared to take his appearance as a convincing answer, and so kept my hopes down when I went to sit down.

To my surprise, he greeted me. "Morning, Elmo."

I turned to look at him, surprised, as I put down my satchel. "Oh... morning."

He frowned. "Are you annoyed at me?"

"Honestly? I thought you were mad at me."

"Why would I be?"

I shrugged. "I just... kind of assumed."

So he wasn't annoyed at me, then. Why had I made such a big deal out of it?

Marui was too busy eyeing me curiously. "Are you alright today?"

He reached out a hand to pull the same stunt he had a small while ago, but I quickly caught his hand and lowered it back down to his side. Marui was convinced that I was not alright, but it was better than receiving stares from people (and secret fans). In fact, I received a few curious and cautioned stares from boys and girls respectively.

I took my hand back. "Fine. Just fine."

Marui grinned, and then leaned back in his seat. "Whatever you say."

- x -

I wasn't in the best mood for the rest of the week. I was distracted and tired, pushing on through school with my head in a daze. No one asked why—not even Marui.

That much surprised me. But I guess I shouldn't have been. I warned my hopes not to get too high, and he has no business in wondering anyway.

Maybe I thought that way because Marui was the complete opposite to me. He was the opposite to me. He was in a totally cheery mood for the whole week, whereas I had given up trying. If I were a self-piteous wimp, I would have said that Marui thrived off my depression. But knowing full well that the world didn't revolve around me, I guess that something good must have happened to him. A recent win in tennis, maybe? A study accomplishment?

I didn't find out why he was so chirpy until Friday.

- x -

On Friday morning, Marui came in with a wide grin on his face. I blinked, wondering why he looked so happy. He sat down, shot a cheery grin in my direction and said, "Good morning, Elmo."

"Morning... I think..."

"Have you purchased LIT yet? The results came out just this morning."

We hadn't talked about LIT's competition yet until now. Regardless of that, it wasn't such a hot topic for me. It was my own cowardice that made me not send in my manuscript. I was afraid to be judged, I assumed over the years. I didn't want to see what stories were in there, read them, and nitpick at things I didn't like, because I had no right to. "No." I said.

"Are you going to?"

"Maybe. I don't think so."

"Maybe or you don't think so?"

His cheeriness prevented me from frowning. It was refreshing to see him so chirpy this early in the morning. "I don't think so."

Marui looked thoughtful. "Hey, are you doing anything after school?"

I assumed he moved on from the topic. "I don't think so. No. Why?"

"I don't think so or no?"


He grinned. "I want to show you something quickly before you leave. I could do for a delay to tennis practice."

"Sure, I guess." I said. It wasn't like I had any other life to attend to. "What do you want to show me?"

"That's a surprise." He was with a wink. He flashed me a grin when I didn't look convinced. "Aw, come on, don't look at me like that. I promise you'll enjoy it. Just wait in the classroom after school, alright? I gotta find Jackal first and tell him that I'll be late for practice."

"Why not just ask this guy?" I asked, poking Niou, who was sleeping on the desk, in the back. He didn't stir, but even Marui could tell that Niou's ears were keen. "He's on the tennis team, too, isn't he?"

"He is. But I don't trust him with my messages. Eh, Niou?"

There came a muffled agreement. Or it might have been an insult.

Marui grinned. "So? Wait for me after school?"

"Sure. I guess."

"Sure or you guess?"

I gave him a look. He laughed.

- x -

As soon as class ended for the day, Marui flashed a peace sign in my direction—a reminder to stay put. "Ten minutes," he said, "and I'll be back."

I nodded, and he vanished out of the classroom in search of a message. I took my time in packing up my books, perhaps hoping that he would walk through the door the moment I finished.

He didn't.

Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes. Twenty minutes. He still didn't appear.

I gave way to a frown. Despite what his appearance and carefree attitude implied, I didn't take Marui for the unreliable type.

But ten minutes were up. So were twenty. So were forty.

Curiosity and anxiety gnawed at me. What did he want to show me?

I didn't know. I didn't stay to find out.

Anything I might have felt for him left me as I walked home that afternoon.

- x -

Naturally, with LIT's competition off, there wasn't much I could do with my spare time at home. I could optimize Perceptions for next year, or give up trying, just like all my other attempts. Even petition for Marui's help didn't motivate me to keep trying. I didn't expect inspiration would come to me while I was in this kind of mood.

The rain outside was further encouragement that I should just give up on today and find the sun tomorrow instead. It seemed to be the life I lived by anyway. Here I was, on a rainy Friday afternoon, with more free time than I'd asked for. My homework was done, for once, and summer was rapidly approaching.

It might have been too much to expect for a turnaround in my life. Even with Marui.

At least, that was what I thought until my quiet life was interrupted.

It was the ring of a doorbell. I looked at the clock, and saw that it was only five. I didn't have high hopes for who could want to come over on a miserable day at such a time.

But no matter what I felt, I was forced to get up off my bed when the visitor kept ringing the bell. My guess was that mom wasn't going to answer for me. Around this time, she was probably in the middle of an afternoon nap, and when she took one of those, she didn't wake up until she was refreshed or until the music on her iPod stopped playing. That always took a while, so there was no point in waiting.

I went down the staircase and opened the door.

Marui was standing there in the rain, water dripping from the tops of his hair. Something was under his arm, and a wide, cheesy grin was on his face. "Sorry, practice ran over time."

I shut the door.

Pity he caught it in his foot. "Nope. I'm not letting this slide. Not this time."

"Neither am I." Why did I even bother believing that he would be back in ten minutes? "Now go home."

"I am home."

"No you're not." I tried pushing the door shut on his foot, but years of spending free time writing on the computer proved nothing for my physical fitness. Marui easily pushed the door open and invited himself inside, as if he lived here for real. I had no choice but to shut the door behind him, annoyed for appearing at all. I would have preferred him not coming at all. "You're dripping all over my floor."

"It's okay. You can mop it up." He grinned at me. "Come on. I have something I want to show you."

He beckoned me over.

I looked at him, unimpressed. "I'm not falling for that."

"It was worth a shot."

"Look, you should just go home. I was stupid for even letting you try."

"Actually, you weren't." He said. Despite the evident annoyance in my voice, the excitement in his face was still raring to go. He took out something from underneath his arm, and honestly, with the deal he was making about it, I thought it was something big. Something that somehow made a hopeful impression on me.

In the back of my mind, my subconscious told me it wouldn't last.

It took a lot of effort to ignore it and convince myself to give him one last chance.

"Here." He said, putting something into my hands.

I looked at it.

My subconscious was right. My excitement didn't last; it faltered. Why did I even bother trying?

"LIT." I said, my voice void of emotion. My fingers trailed across the shiny front of the magazine, smearing droplets of water. This was the magazine that my story might have been published in, had I not chickened out—the story that I might have won a place, had I entered. I looked at the magazine, and then at Marui. "I thought I told you I don't want to see the results."

"Oh, you will." He said, nodding encouragingly at the magazine. "Just open it to the results page."

"Why?" I said sarcastically, my aggravation starting to reach its final straw. Why it hadn't already, I wasn't sure. Maybe I was saving the hope that I tried to banish so many times. It just kept coming back. "It's not like I published my story in here."

"You didn't. But I did."

"You what?"

In the incredulous, heart-beating silence that should have followed, my raised exchange with Marui. I heard my mother's voice from upstairs ask, "Honey, what was what?"

I threw a glance back up the stairs. "Nothing; it's just the cat! Go back to sleep!"

There was a pause. When I safely assumed that my mom had plugged her ears back up again, I turned to Marui, panic and frustration starting to take hold.

"I said I didn't want it published, didn't I?" My voice was far quieter than before. "And it wasn't just mine; it was yours, too! Why did you send it in? What—?"

"! Just calm down for a second!"

Naturally, I was frantic. But what he called me caught my attention. I settled into silence.

"Yikes." He said, catching his breath, as if calling me by my name had taken something out of him. "Open the magazine."

I looked down at the magazine, feeling a hideous lump in my throat as I turned to the first page.

"Open it to the sticky."

It was hardly a sticky note anymore, I discovered. It had been soaked through by the rain and lay in tatters from where it stuck out in the magazine. I spared Marui a last glance, praying that something would amaze me, before opening to the note. I was greeted with the results page of the competition. The first thing to meet my eyes was the first paragraph, which yammered on about all the wonderful entries, and that while only ten places and three highly commended awards were available were to be given out, everyone was to be congratulated. I didn't care to read the rest.

I scanned down the place list, a tension building my stomach. But as I expected—or should have, at the very last, there was no Perceptions by and Marui Bunta on the top ten list.

I lowered the magazine, feeling dazed. Those who had won must have been writing for longer than I had, or were just more talented than me, plain and simple. No hard feelings; I could just look for the sun again tomorrow.

And yet, I couldn't suppress the tiniest disappointment. Maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised, after all. I was just fifteen. Just a high school freshman.

I looked at Marui. "There's nothing here."

"Well obviously. You looked at the top ten list, right?" He leaned in to search the page for something else. He was either completely oblivious or completely comfortable with the fact that his face was barely inches from my flushed one.

'Get over him?' As if.

His eyes might have been on the page. But mine weren't until his face lit up, and his index finger tapped a spot on the page. When I jerked back into reality, I looked to where he was pointing. "Here it is."

It was the highly commented section. Out of the top three authors and stories listed, the top two were unfamiliar.

The third, however, was a ten thousand yen prize for Perceptions, by .

Then it had a page reference to where it was in the book.

"Mother of God..."

"See? What did I tell you?"

Was it an accomplishment? It was far too much to have expected to be in the top ten. But I guess it was almost too much to be in the highly commended, too, considering that these results were a select cohort out of literature fans in the entire Kanagawa region. It was an honor, really.

But, then again, I noted guiltily, I didn't do it alone. Marui had been a heavy contribution to the piece (after all, he served the basis for it), and yet, his name wasn't printed next to mine. He had previously vowed to merge our names or come up with a pen name, but he hadn't put it into practice. He just used my name.

"Your name isn't here." I said.

He blinked. "Huh? You were the one who wrote it."

"You did most of the work. You made it this." I turned the book around to show him and pointed at the highly commended section. "You deserve half the acknowledgement, if not more."

"Aw, that was nothing."

"Marui. At least... take half the pay or something."

He considered this. "I guess I could use it to pay Jackal back."

"Good. As soon as I get the money, I'll give you half. But..." I was still in doubt. Marui had gotten my hopes up and let them down more times than I could count, and that annoyed me. But then again, I'd also let myself down. If not for Marui, I wouldn't have made it into LIT. I wouldn't have even gotten a highly commented, nor would I have been standing here with him now. "Are you sure there's nothing else you want? You went all out for this."

There was a moment of silence. In it, a gradual grin spread across his face. "Well, I guess there's one thing." He said. I waited for him to go on, and when he noticed this, he winked. "Go out with me?"

It took longer than I expected for the words to sink in, and for my face to go scarlet. "Wh-what?"

"Aw, come on. It can be like the story." Marui went on, satisfied by my reaction. "You based pretty much the whole story off our relationship, so why don't we have a cheesy happy ending ourselves? You can accept it as a challenger, if you want, like Shiraga did. Or you could consider it payback for all the times you never noticed my hints. Or just payback for the fact that I helped you with this story. Or that you've secretly fallen in love with me."

Was I really that transparent?

"I said nothing of the sort."

"Really? Your face tells me otherwise."

The scarlet turned to a deep shade of crimson.

"In my defense, I thought you were joking every single time."

"Hah! That's so cruel! Is it really that hard to take me seriously?"

I thought so.

"You look so shocked." He teased. "Here—lemme ease that for you."

He leaned forward and planted a kiss on my cheek. I dropped the magazine at the abruptness of the gesture, and it might have landed on his toes if he hadn't jumped back, laughing jovially all the while. My face felt like it was on fire. He leaned forward and pinched my cheeks—a gesture that I wasn't altogether fond of when a family member did it, but one that didn't annoy me when Marui did it—where he'd kissed me.

"Guess it did the opposite." He said, his grin written perhaps permanently on his face. "Here, I want to show you something more."

He picked up the magazine, and flipped to a page he seemed to have memorized. Then he turned it around to show me. "Read it from the start."

Once I'd managed to calm down. I hesitantly did as I was told. "Ideas and opinions are the two things that—"

Marui was quick to stop me. "That's not the beginning. I meant the beginning of the page."

I gave him a funny look, but his dubiously encouraging face was enough to make me turn back to the text and read from the top this time. "Entry number nine: Perceptions, by ." I said mischievously.

He wasn't deterred. His face told me to keep reading.

"Recently, I've become more aware of the power of human obsession. Perhaps, to others, it's more than what I see it as. But the act of writing simply encourages one to share his or her experience with the world. Is that not what we write for?

"I don't believe a moral to this story exists. But maybe a perception change will. After all, all cats are grey in the dark. People don't have names until we give them one..."

I didn't remember putting that in, and I didn't remember this being on Marui's document, either. The only place I remembered hearing it was from Niou. Could it have been that Niou wanted a say in the story, too?

I decided to keep reading.

"Acknowledgements to a little bit of an obsessor of my own..." It was then that I did a double take. My eyes snapped up to Marui, who was finding it hard to stifle a laugh. "You wrote that?"

"Aw, you have to admit. It's cute. Like you and me." He grinned. "Together. All you have to say is okay."

It might have been the most glorious thing in my life in a long time: winning a competition, and being asked out by someone who attracted me. Somehow. It made even summer, which I loved so dearly, seem poor in comparison.

"Okay." I said. Marui grinned and started to lean. This time, when I realized he was aiming for my lips, I did a quick double take and leaned out of the way. "H-hey! Not yet!"

He blinked, tilting his head at me, and then smiled this time. Not grinned. "It was worth a shot."


"How about this instead?" He held out his arms, and before I could run away, he caught me in a wet embrace. The water from his clothes was already soaking into mine, and it chilled the warmth I had from when I was dry.

"Get off! You're cold, and wet!"


The atmosphere—and the embrace—broke as a rumble of an oncoming summer storm brought me back to reality. It might not have been strong enough to rain on my parade (at least, not anymore), but it might certainly rain on Marui's way home. "Hey. You should go. You'll get drenched on your way home."

Our eyes fell to the puddle that Marui created at our feet.

"Mind if I borrow a towel first?" He asked.

"You'll get wet when you go out anyway."

He grinned. "I won't need to. You can drive me."

- x -

It might have been fair to say that Mom was shocked when she woke up and came downstairs to find two teenagers. One of them was the one she gave birth to—me, who was drying Marui's hair as he dried off his clothes. The other was Marui, who introduced himself to my mom as my 'boyfriend.' He might have sneezed all over her, had he not been polite enough to turn around and cover his mouth.

I tried not to sigh at the way he introduced me, but mom didn't seem bothered. If anything, I would have said she was charmed. A charmed mother. Right.

Maybe she was just happy for me—or by the fact that I had more friends than Tumblr, Facebook, and the internet in general. Because when she drove Marui back home to where he lived, she seemed in a much better mood than she usually woke up with.

Reality really was a misleading thing.

- x -

When I checked Facebook that night, Marui had updated his status.

Marui Bunta: I have a girlfriend.

There were already several replies.

Niou Masaharu: Finally.

Yukimura Seiichi: I'm so heartbroken, Marui-sama... Ah, the doctors say I might not live another day... Is this really what the world has come to?

Jackal Kuwahara: I have to say this because I'm curious. Is this a joke?

Marui Bunta: I don't understand. How did I make friends with any of you? She's real, she's cute, and she's a genius, just like me.

Kirihara Akaya: Bah! You're so cruel, downgrading her to your level! Just what is your girlfriend's name?

Marui Bunta: Sheesh! As if I would tell you her real name! My girlfriend is Elmo!

Jackal Kuwahara: Marui, are you serious? Have you really stooped that low? Why would you even name your girlfriend after a furry red creature that was created for children in another country? That's just... man, you're insensitive.

Kirihara Akaya: Wait. Isn't Elmo a guy? So that means...

I closed down the window, fighting the oncoming laughter. Marui would have a ball for as long as this would go on.

- x -

"Took you long enough."

I stared up from Marui's notebook that I had been copying my notes into. Now that LIT's competition was off, there wasn't really an excuse for Facebook, Tumblr and Marui to distract me anymore. Besides, Marui was home sick today, having been somewhat delicate to the cold, wet weather that Kanagawa was currently burdened with. Apparently he caught colds often.

"Really." I said, ending the conversation.

As usual, Niou didn't give up. "He dropped so many hints, and yet he didn't get a response from you until the end. He wouldn't shut up for days when you even considered marrying him."

I reddened. "Look. I thought he was joking. I thought he was like that to every girl."

"Not likely. Otherwise there would be more girls that were falsely lulled into believing that he had a crush on them." Niou said.

"That's great, Niou. Really. Please leave me alone."

Niou looked at my notebook. "Is that due today?"

"No, it's Marui's. He asked me to copy notes for him. For every subject."

"I can see where this relationship is headed." Niou said. I ignored him. "Say. Did you see the uproar on Facebook last night?"

If you mean about his friends asking if he was gay, yes. I saw that.

"Everything's on Facebook, Niou."

"Marui changed his status. He says he's going out with you." Niou said. "You should have seen the threats on his fan club. Actually, while we're on the subject, he asked me to shut it down. So you'll be getting more abuse in daily life as opposed to online."

"Somehow, I think I'd prefer that." I said, not bothering to ask how Niou had gotten rid of it. He had gotten in trouble for hacking the school network once; that hint was enough. "Girls in high school aren't that bad, anyway. You grow out of fangirling once you graduate middle school."

"How would you know? Could it be that group of girls you were hustled by this morning?"

It had only been a small group of girls: perhaps representatives, or just the last lingering group of fan girls. Considering Rikkai was an elevator school, most kids automatically went up through the grades. That was probably why Marui was still so popular with everyone.

"I wasn't hustled by them." I said. "They were just curious."

"Right. I believe you."

"I never expected you to." I said. Then I went back to copying notes.

"So are you guys on kissing terms yet?"

I kicked Niou's chair, which fell out underneath him. Niou, however, just grabbed onto my desk to balance himself. He grinned at my red face. Curse a tennis player's balance and reflex. "None of your business." I said, trying not to think about Friday. Niou wasn't totally right, anyway. It was kind of one-sided at the moment.

I fought a smile.

Just at the moment.

"I'll take that as a yes." He drawled.

- fin

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Princo & Ribbon
June 29, 2012.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Ribbon: I more or less cried tears of joy when this was over. I've been agonizing over trying to finish this for a long time, and I feel kind of accomplished (even if it is kind of a bad story) that it's all over.

But, of course, more work lies in store. Sigh. You win some you lose some, right, ladies (and possibly gentleman)? Haha.

I think we should all applaud Princo for putting up with this. And to you, for reading this! Many thanks! -applauds-

Princo: NO NEED TO APPLAUD REALLY, JUST CHEER. HOHOHO. Well, I'd like to say, "This has been a long journey..." then continue on, but this is probably (on my part, haha) the shortest journey. Since it didn't even take me a week to code this DN. Though I cheated, I only coded like 2 1/4. LOL.

Three cheers for Ribbon's amazing story! (: & Bunta, hehe.

Oh, and quick trivia. This was posted before part 2. LOL.
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