Tsukiko was alone once again. All her friends had just left and she was staring at the door when her phone beeped, the screen flashing with a new message. She didn’t pick it up though. There was no reason to read it; the girl already knew from whom it was and what the content was without even glancing the number.
At this hour, it could only be her father, saying he wouldn’t be home for dinner. I’m too busy with the new project, sorry, or something like that. It had been his latest excuse. How long has it been since I ate with him? She thought. Tsukiko knew it wasn’t that long. Probably last week or so, but there were many times she had trouble remembering she didn’t live alone in that big apartment.
She sighed loudly, as if to get some of her frustration out. She knew she’d get nowhere sulking about it, so the best thing she could do was to think about dinner. The fridge wasn’t empty, but she had near zero culinary skills, so her only options were ordering some takeout or eat out. I don’t want another takeout dinner… not only she had it most nights this week, recently she had grew to hate eating in complete silence.
It’s decided, Tsukiko thought, grabbing her jacket and leaving the apartment. From the hallway, she watched the streets, feeling the slightly cold wind on her cheeks. Suddenly, among the many people on the sidewalk, she saw her friends passing by the playground in front of her building. Out of impulse, she leaned on the rail, placed her thumb and middle finger on her mouth, and blew, whistling as loud as she could.
A few pedestrians looked in her direction, but her friends didn’t hear her. Tsukiko breathed deep and whistled again, louder. This time her friends heard the sound and turned around. When they saw each other, the girls waved at her. Even from this distance, she could tell they were smiling. Tsukiko beamed and waved both arms, screaming goodbye to them again, not caring if she was bothering the neighbors.
Tsukiko kept waving at her friends until they turned around the corner. When they were out of sight, she lowered her arm slowly, the smile vanishing. She watched the playground for a little while, her mind thinking on what restaurant to go.
When Tsukiko decided to eat at the maid café nearby, something caught her attention. There was a boy walking around at the playground with his head down, staring at the ground. It was so weird she kept watching and after a while walking in circles, he went to one of the shrubs and pushed the branches aside. He placed his head between the leaves and then took it out, only to move to another shrub, over and over.
I’ve seen him around somewhere, Tsukiko thought when she finally stopped watching him. She couldn’t remember where she knew him from though, so she closed her eyes and forced her mind. Ah! He’s the new neighbor! When the elevator reached the ground floor, she finally recognized him.
No wonder it took me this long to remember him. Even though she was excellent at remembering faces, the boy had moved to the apartment next to hers just a few days ago, so she had only seen him a couple of times. Though he had bowed his head at her when they saw each other in the hallway, they never really introduced themselves to each other.
The boy was still in the playground, doing the same thing to another shrub. When she crossed the streets and passed by, he took his head from another shrub and their eyes met. For a second, they stayed like that, looking at each other, and then he went to the next shrub while Tsukiko kept walking.
His eyes… what was that? There was something in those brown eyes. Some spark that set her curiosity. They weren’t lonely, but there was something… different in them. Could it be he was a bit ashamed? No… I don’t think that was it.
“You’re the new neighbor, right?” before she realized, Tsukiko had turned around and raced back to the playground. “What’re you doing?” There was something else familiar in that boy. It wasn’t just the eyes. It was something she was familiar with it, but couldn’t remember what it was called.
The boy looked at her with a blank expression. He narrowed his eyes and then a second later widened them a bit, almost too fast to notice. “You are the girl next door,” he spoke in a low voice, more to himself than talking to her. He looked down, avoiding her eyes, his cheeks turning a shade of red. “I lost my house keys,” he said in the same calm tone.
Is he embarrassed? Tsukiko covered her mouth with her hand and giggled. That’s cute. “Then I’ll help you,” she said with a smile, already rolling up the sleeves of her jacket.
His cheeks gained a bit more color this time. “Please, there is no need to trouble yourself. It’s my own fault I lost my keys,” he said all politely, but Tsukiko was already searching through the bushes, just like she saw him doing many times.
They looked around for less than twenty minutes before she was already complaining. “It’s not here,” Tsukiko called it for the eighth or ninth time.
“Guess I misplaced it somewhere else.” He closed his eyes, cleaned himself as best as he could. “Sorry for wasting your time,” the boy said, bowing to her.
Wow, so polite! Tsukiko thought in wonder. I was nowhere near this polite, not even as a little kid, she looked away, an awkward smile forming on her lips. “There’s no need to worry. I was just heading out to dinner,” she tried to dismiss the apologetic look on the boy’s face. “It’s not like there’s someone… waiting…” her voice trailed off when she remembered the unread text. “What are you planning to do now?” She quickly changed the subject.
The boy lowered his head, looking at the ground. “I shall wait for my mother,” he said in the same low and polite tone.
“When will she be back?” Tsukiko close the distance between them, forcing the boy to look at her. “If she’s gonna take long, then have dinner with me,” she offered with a huge smile.
Again, he widened his eyes just for a heartbeat, so fast he was already back with his calm expression. “I have to refuse because I…” He reddened much more this time. “Because I forgot my wallet at home,” he finished, looking at the ground again.
Too cute! She hid the sudden smile that appeared on her lips with a hand. “Don’t worry, it’s my treat. Let’s say it’s my way of welcoming you in the building.” She came closer and picked a few leaves and twigs on the boy’s hair. For a moment, he backed away and then looked up, letting her finish. When she was done, out of impulse, she ruffled his already tangled brown hair.
He didn’t moved away nor tried to stop her, but Tsukiko could swear his cheeks reddened a bit more. Is he embarrassed? She giggled, but she could see he was going to say no again. “Let’s go.” She pulled him by the hand, but he resisted. A thought crossed her head. “You know, if you stay here, you might bother the neighbors.” She felt his arm quivering slightly and then the resistance was gone. While leading the boy, Tsukiko turned her head and smiled at the unreadable expression.
“We haven’t properly introduced ourselves to each other yet,” he said, now side by side with her, though he didn’t try letting go of her. “My name is Fuyuzora Taiyou,” even still waking and holding her hand, he bowed his head. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”
“Ah…” She realized he was right. “My name is—” In the middle of introducing herself, Tsukiko tripped while trying to bow like the boy done just now. The only reason she wasn’t on the floor right now was because of Taiyou-kun. Even though she was taller than he was, the boy managed to catch her. I’m so pathetic. I can’t even do what a kid just did seconds ago, she thought, laughing nervously to hide her growing embarrassment. “I’m Aozora Tsukiko,” she said in the most normal tone she could muster at the moment.
The maid café was just two blocks away from the playground. But when they turned around the corner and the sign above the door came into view, Tsukiko suddenly changed her mind. Though a big part of her wanted to see the boy’s reaction, if he’d get too embarrassed to even enter, she decided Taiyou-kun didn’t need to know she was somewhat a regular at the place. So she turned around and led him to the nearby family restaurant.
When they opened the door, she heard the little bell above the door ringing and a few free attendants welcomed them. Tsukiko smiled, looked around, and then waved her hands at one of the waitresses. “Senpai!”
“Tsukki?” a voice came from somewhere. After a second, a girl walked in their direction with surprise in her face. “You could’ve told me you were coming.”
“It was a spur of the moment thing.” Tsukiko noticed the girl looking at the boy holding hands with her. “Yes, table for two today,” she said beaming.
The senpai was surprised, opened her mouth a bit, but instead of saying something, a gentle smile appeared on her lips. “Then, this way please.” She led them to a table near the window and told them to call her once they decided their order.
Tsukiko glanced at the menu, but soon put it back; she already knew what she’d order. Now she was more interested on the boy’s order. “You can ask anything you want, Taiyou-kun,” she said with a smile. He looked at her with a serene expression, and then turned his attention to the menu.
She watched him, seeing the boy’ eyes going over the list of food twice before stopping at the bottom for a while. What will this super polite boy order? She hummed and swung on her place, waiting.
It had barely passed twenty seconds, but she was so curious the wait was too much and an impulse to play him a bit came to her. “I said you can order anything, but please keep in mind that I’m just a middle schooler with little money.” His reaction was exactly what she expected; he blushed and widened his eyes for a heartbeat. Though she immediately regretted it, she couldn’t help but smile, even when she tried hiding it. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding. You can ask anything, don’t worry.”
His face was blank for a while and then his cheeks reddened slightly. “The hamburger,” he said in the low voice, covering his mouth with the menu.
This time Tsukiko was the one who widened her eyes in surprise. The boy chose the same order as her. A gentle smile appeared on her lips before she noticed. “Excellent choice, Taiyou-kun. I’m having the same.” She called her friend and after they had ordered, Tsukiko turned back to him. “But why did you choose the hamburger? You know the money thing was just a joke, right? You didn’t had to order one of the cheapest meals,” she forced a laugh and pressed her hands together, avoiding his eyes. She still felt a bit of guilt for teasing the boy.
Taiyou-kun stared her with those innocent eyes for a moment and then lowered his head, the corners of his mouth twitched a bit. That set the curiosity in her at once, making the guilt disappear. Was that a smile? She wanted to see more of it.
“My mother used to make them a lot back home,” he said, his cheeks turning a slight shade of red. Now a small smile actually appeared on his lips while he sunk in his seat to hide it from her.
Tsukiko chuckled. He’s cute. “What made you move here?”
“My mother decided to go back to college, but it’d be too hard commuting every day from my grandparents’ house, so we moved to my aunt’s apartment. It’ll be much easier for her this way,” Taiyou-kun said all this in the same low voice and polite speech, but Tsukiko noticed something behind the tone.
It’s like he’s trying to hide his true feelings… He’s happy for her, but didn’t like moving… Something inside her wanted to see more under all that politeness, but the way he spoke about his mother… “You really care for you mom, don’t you?” Tsukiko smiled and stretched her arm, touching the tip of his nose with her finger before she noticed. “It’s cute.”
When she realized what she was doing, Tsukiko pulled her hand, flushing. Taiyou-kun didn’t react, and simply watched her without a word, touching his nose. They said nothing, the awkward silence stretching. Before the mood became more awkward, Tsukiko’s friend came from somewhere carrying their meals on a tray. “Thank you, senpai!” In many ways.
Both hamburgers let out a bit of steam, the white and fluffy rice as well, and the corn and vegetables seemed just right. Taiyou-kun picked up the hashi, raised his hands together as if praying and thanked for the meal. Tsukiko did the same and then was already slicing the meat.
“Delicious,” said Taiyou-kun before she could take a bite.
She stopped her hashi in midair and looked at him. “Ah!” she shouted. This time I saw the big smile! He looked at her with a bit of shock for her sudden scream. “I… agree… it’s delicious…” Tsukiko hid her blushing cheeks by eating the first bite.
It was the best dinner she had in days, maybe in weeks. Tsukiko could barely keep herself from skipping on the way back. But she was so happy there was no way she could stop herself from grinning and humming all the way back to their building. And what made her feel even better was the fact that she wasn’t the only one who felt like this. Despite his effort to keep his expression to a minimum, she could tell he had just as much fun as she did.
“So that blond lady is your aunt?” Though the woman was Tsukiko’s neighbor for a long time, they never really talked. But there were a couple times where the neighbor truly helped when Tsukiko felt awful. The only thing she really knew was that the neighbor was a doctor, or at least she seemed like one, given almost every time Tsukiko saw her she wore one of those white doctors’ smocks.
“Yes. She shared the apartment with a few colleagues from college, but recently one got engaged and the other received a job offer and moved out.” They felt a cold breeze and Taiyou-kun rubbed his hands together to warm up. Out of impulse, she grabbed his hand. He looked at her surprised, and then looked forward, not pulling it back. She could swear he squeezed hers a little, and she smiled. “So my aunt invited us to live with her,” he added.
“Hum.” So the rumors were fake after all. Ever since she was a victim herself in elementary school, she hated and never listened to them, especially one as nasty as the one circling amongst the residents with too much free time on their hands. “Do you wanna hang around at my place until your mom or aunt gets back?” They were back to the playground across the street from their building. She invited him because she knew it wasn’t the best place to wait. But there was something else. “We can watch TV or play games. I don’t want to brag, but I’m awesome, so I doubt you’ll have any chance,” she showed a smug.
He looked at her with the blank expression, but then his eyes shone a bit and he nodded his head a few times. Is he excited? Tsukiko’s smirk turned into a genuine smile, and she couldn’t make it go away. “Then let’s go!” she said, and led him by the hand.
When they got in the elevator, Tsukiko was already deciding what game they should play, already clutching the apartment’s keys on her hand. They talked, but when they reached their floor, and the doors opened, the boy stopped talking. There was a woman standing before Taiyou-kun’ apartment.
“Son,” she said walking toward them. She was a little out of air, her cheeks red. “Sorry I’m late. Work took longer than I thought,” the woman turned to Tsukiko and smiled. “You’re our neighbor, right? I’m Fuyuzora Shigure,” she bowed just like Taiyou-kun did earlier, “it’s nice to meet you,” her eyes saw their hands still together. “Thank you for keeping my son company.”
“Ah, it was my pleasure.” Tsukiko let go of Taiyou-kun and bowed too. “And he’s such a good kid it was he who kept me company,” she said patting him on the head with a laugh.
Taiyou-kun walked to his mother’s side, turned and bowed at her once more. “Thank you.” Again there was a hint of smile in his lips, but while he seemed happy, Tsukiko’s smile only grew thinner with each second.
She watched mother and son walking to their apartment, talking. Tsukiko sighed and dragged her feet, dropping her shoulders. Taiyou-kun looked at her for a second, said something to his mom and then the woman looked back too. “If you’d like, how about eating dessert with us?” she said raising the white box with a sweets store’ logo she had on her hands. “It’s my way of thanking you for treating to Taiyou dinner.”
Tsukiko beamed with a huge smile. “Yes!” and raced to join them.