My thighs pumped vigorously as my weight pushed down on the pedals, with my behind hovering high above the seat. The bicycle swayed sideways with each alternating stroke. I kept my eyes peeled to the dark road, devoid of any vehicles at this hour. Planting myself back onto the triangular seat, I released a gloved hand from the handlebar and held the free wrist before my line of sight. The Casio showed nine twenty-eight with its glow-in-the-dark digital display. I instinctively pulled faces to stretch my facial muscles and generate heat as the chilly air brushed past my exposed cheeks.
I shot a quick glance at the wire-weave basket in front of the handlebars. Nestled safely within it were a medium-sized pink cardboard box and a bulging gift shop plastic bag. Assured, I focused my attention back to the road.
I reached the meeting point ten minutes before the agreed time, as expected. Leaping out of my bike, I looked round for the designated landmark where I was supposed to wait, and found it, a circular bench running around a tree in the middle of the walkway. I pushed the bike towards it and kicked out the stand, before plopping myself onto the seat, pulling off my black fingerless gloves and cracking my knuckles. My gaze descended onto the train station a short distance away. The lights were still on, but no movement can be seen within it, nobody going in or coming out.
Tonight was the night, I reminded myself. I was determined to make sure of that. It was the night when I would let it all out, having kept it to myself for such a long time. Many past opportunities had been wasted as I had always swallowed everything back in just when it was on the verge of spilling out. I’m not going to be as cowardly as before tonight, I promised myself, grudgingly. There’s nothing to be afraid of.
My mind was yanked suddenly back into reality. Realizing I had been staring at the station the whole time, I turned my head towards the speaker, whose voice I was too familiar with.
There she stood, leaning casually over the bridge of the bicycle on her elbows, half her face illuminated by the distant streetlights. She looked beautiful, from the shoulder-length dark brown hair that framed her adorable, smiling face, to the spunky pink sneakers accompanied by striped knee socks. She sported a beige sweater zipped up to her neck, and a frilly sky blue miniskirt. I grinned to myself; that was the skirt I had bought for her during my recent trip to Ginza in Tokyo.
I got to my feet, stuffing my gloves into my jeans pockets, and flashed the megawatt smile I always reserved for her. There’s nothing to be afraid of, I repeated.
“Sorry to call you out so late. I couldn’t make it for the party.” I hoped that was a valid excuse.
“It’s alright. At least we get to spend some quiet time together now,” she enthused, a heavy hint of delight in her voice. “How was today’s study-buddy session?”
“It’s going really well, thanks for asking. Diji-san’s improving a lot. I’m starting to see her potential to do well in school. If only she wouldn’t sleep so much during class…” I said. Her lips curled higher, making her eyes squint a little. I adored that smile.
“Oh, right. I have something for you.” I approached the front end of my bike and reached into the basket with both hands. Positioning them on opposite sides of the paper box, I carefully lifted it out and presented it to her. She straightened up in surprise.
“It’s cake,” I declared. She clapped cheerfully.
“Thank you so much!” She lifted the cover to reveal the cake inside, a vibrant ornament of chocolate hearts, mounds of whipped cream with cherries sitting atop, and snow-white icing over jam-filled layers of pink sponge. A near-illegible message was squirted in red syrup to one side. She observed it curiously. After a fruitless attempt at deciphering the scribbles she nonchalantly scraped some icing off the cake with her finger and sampled it thoughtfully. “Yum. I had a lot of cake at the party, but I won’t mind sharing this with you.”
The situation was running smoothly, better than expected.
“Of course, not forgetting…”
I moved the cake away and sat it on the bench behind me, and plunged a hand into the basket again. She watched intently as I heard the rustling of plastic, indicating that I found my item. I fished it out and presented it in front of her with a flourish.
“You said you didn’t need anything fancy for a present, so I had to hunt for something you would like and can use as an everyday item as well. Sorry I didn’t wrap it, I just came from the gift shop,” I told her, slightly guiltily. She eagerly took the plastic bag, and shook her head at me.
“No, it’s alright, I’m very glad you took the trouble to buy it for me.” She peered into the package. “Also, I’ll be sure to like anything you get for me,” she added, lowering her head a bit more. I felt warm blood rush to my cheeks.
She lifted the present from the bag. In her hand was a sunflower-yellow hair bow, with matching-coloured ribbons on both sides. At the shop an hour ago I had spent a ridiculously long time picking out one out of a vast display of hair bows which was outstanding but plain enough, and which suited her personality as well, a tall order for any piece of apparel. My eyes oscillated from the hair bow to her fringe rapidly as I tried to visualize how it would look like on her head; I ended up feeling dizzy instead.
“How cute! I love it!” She exclaimed, turning the hair bow around to admire it from different angles. “I’ll put it on every day.”
I could not help but grin even wider at that comment. It was as though her joy was contagious. I caught my happiness from hers.
It had always happened like this ever since we became good friends; right from the first time we met at the baseball stadium. A sense of pride, of knowing I have her in good care, had always accompanied each instance I could get her to laugh or smile. I figured it was the same feeling an older brother would feel with regards to his younger sister, as she was two years my junior; though, I sometimes think it could be true, deep affection that drives these emotions.
I stepped closer towards her and helped put the hair bow on. It was easy for me as I was a head taller. She looked towards the floor as I did so, perhaps to allow me a better view. I adjusted it over her fringe and tucked the sides neatly behind her ears, then rested my hands on her shoulders and leaned back to inspect my work.
“It looks wonderful in you,” I concluded. “I’m glad I picked this one.”
She nodded silently, raising her head a tiny angle. Our eyes made contact, and I suddenly noticed that the hair bow also matched the yellow hue in her irises. She opened her mouth to speak, and words came out after a few seconds of hesitation.
“I… I’ve never felt this happy before in all my past birthdays. In fact, I’ve never been this happy before I met you. Thank you so much. For everything.”
Her voice trailed off. My heart stopped for a brief second. I could tell very well where this was going, having had almost 4 years of experience in visual novels and shojo manga. The fact that it was happening for real this time took me off-guard.
Five full seconds later, and she had not picked up where she left off. Her eyes resumed to staring at her feet again. My mind dived into panic; I was going to lose another opportunity if I did not act now. Determination set in amidst the mental frenzy, and I drew a deep draught of air. I mustered as my confidence as I could, and drove out all second thoughts. I was not frightened now. Not entirely, at least.
“Nah.” Frustrated at myself for plucking up so much courage just to utter one syllable, I forced myself to continue, and gather more momentum. “There’s something I want to tell you, actually. I’ve been wanting to tell you this for a very long time now, but I’ve always been holding back at the last moment.” I had encountered this phrase countless times before in anywhere a love story exists, and thus managed to remember it perfectly. It came out clichéd and dull, but her attention was captured at once. She faced me again, her yellow eyes fixed to mine. I squeezed her shoulders in assurance. She was blushing so furiously I could feel the heat on her face undergoing convection through the chilly evening air and warming my cheeks. I pressed on.
“We’re been friends for a quite long now, and I feel that our friendship is very strong, but…” Doubt got the better of me once more, holding my speech back. I clenched my teeth in self-irritation, and inhaled strongly again. The next sentence had better be the deciding blow, I warned myself. The whole time, my eyes had not strayed away from hers once.
“I love you.” The words felt rigid with confidence, thankfully. I quietly sighed in relief and exhaustion. I instantly gained the will to say more. “I love you very much.”
She gasped, surprised. Her stare turned into one of shock, even disbelief. My smile faded slightly.
“Akira-sempai.” Her voice was a tiny wisp. That was the first time she said my name this evening. That aside, questions riddled with regret started to drown my mind. Was she going to say no? Had I spoiled her good mood tonight by breaking a piece of unpleasant news to her? Is she going to avoid me forever after tonight?
Out of the blue, two limbs curled around my waist. She leaned towards me and pressed her body against mine, burying her head against my neck. My skin flushed immediately as I felt her body warmth; this was the first time I had ever embraced somebody outside the family. I quickly recovered from the stun and returned the gesture, shifting my hands from her shoulders to her back. I felt like I could remain in this position forever. My body tingled all over in euphoria. I had never felt this way before, and it was pure bliss.
“Hearing those words… Is definitely the best birthday present I could ever receive,” she whispered, brushing her face against my collar affectionately.
It was confirmed, there and then. I was bursting with satisfaction. My fingers ruffled her sooth hair from behind, a habitual action also for her enjoyment only. I caught sight of the cake sitting in the bench, waiting expectantly.
Today she turns thirteen, and today my companionship with her had tightened a large notch. It was a memorable day for the both of us.
A rather early part of the story. Nothing spectacular has happened yet up to this point. And no, I don’t know the exact date either. This would sort of explain the relationship with Akira during the early periods. Despite how you might make it, no, it’s not a personal fantasy fanfiction. I actually dislike her a lot, I just felt this scene was necessary to make the rest of the story more interesting.