The sun-rays hit her face like a spotlight in the dark. Even in the half-asleep state, Tsukiko winced, pulled the covers and turned around. But it was already too late; she was awake. She could try going back to sleep, though deep down the girl knew it was useless. Once she was up, not matter how tired she was, sleep didn’t come back.
Rubbing her face with one hand, she picked her phone on the nightstand with the other, checking the time. The heavy eyelids didn’t stop Tsukiko from blinking several times. Seven o’ clock… Seven o’ clock on a Sunday! She screamed in her head. It’s too early for everything!
She lied there for a few seconds staring the ceiling… and then sighed as loud as she could, as if to get rid of her drowsiness. It did no good; she was still tired, her sight blurred and her mind slow. Even so, Tsukiko wrapped herself with the covers, got out of her comfy bed, out of her cool bedroom and dragged her feet to the kitchen.
The fridge wasn’t empty. It never was, since her father’s secretary made sure her boss had always food at hand, even though he barely ate home. But neither Tsukiko nor her stomach had any desire for pre-made or instant food so early in the morning. And the healthy food had to be cooked, which was beyond her capabilities.
I really should work harder on Home Ec. classes, Tsukiko thought for a second before picking up a milk carton. She headed to the balcony dragging the cover like a tail behind her. She winced again and covered her eyes. The sun shone high and bright in the air, with no clouds in its path, but even so, the air was cool and the girl pulled the covers closer.
Even this early, many people walked the streets. She watched them for a while, her mind half paying attention. Why are they in such hurry on a Sunday? There was a woman talking on the cellphone, moving her hands around as if it helped explaining something to someone who wasn’t there. A man dragged his son, who refused to move from where he stood. Another woman had her makeup all messed up walking with her head down, and many more. They should be sleeping… like I should be, she thought, sighing.
Tsukiko watched and drank straight from the carton, trying to wake her mind. The girl had no idea how much time had passed when she heard a tiny sneeze. It was low and restrained, almost as if trying to avoid bothering anyone.
With both hands grabbing the handrail, she leaned the most she could, stretching her neck until she could see the other apartment’s balcony. When she saw the boy with messed brown hair with his head down and blowing his nose with a tissue, Tsukiko beamed.
“Taiyou-kun!” She took one hand from the handrail and waved, all her drowsiness gone.
The boy raised his head slowly and looked at her with those innocent eyes, the tip of his nose slightly red. He’s so cute I wanna pinch his cheeks!
“Good morning.” He closed his eyes and greeted her with a tiny nod of his head.
“Morning!” Tsukiko quickly changed her smile to a sympathetic nod. “So you’re awake at this early hour as well. So sad for us both.”
“Early hour?” he asked in a low voice, tilting his head. “I’m usually awake at this hour on weekends.”
Tsukiko stopped nodding her head. Even if the boy had no other meaning behind his words, the girl felt as if she was losing to him. “Is that so? So you’re one of those early birds I hear about, huh?” She brushed it off with a queer laugh.
“Excuse me,” Taiyou-kun said, discreetly touching his upper lips with a finger.
She tilted her head. What’s he doing? Is he scratching himself? A second later, Tsukiko was mimicking the boy. For some reason her upper lips were moist. She looked at her finger; it was white. She retreated to her balcony and hurriedly cleaned her mouth with the back of her hand. Damn it! A milk mustache? For real? Why can’t I catch a break near him?
Tsukiko had no siblings nor cousins around her age, and despite saying she was lucky for that, she envied how some of her friends complained about their siblings. Ever since she met Taiyou-kun, she wanted to play the big sister role. But not only the boy was more polite and calm than she was, somehow Tsukiko kept showing only her lame side.
Is this my punishment for trying to be what I’m not? She thought, tiny tears forming in the corner of her eyes. Almost at the same time, her belly growled loudly. Why is my luck completely against me? She hugged her stomach. Did he hear? It wasn’t that loud…
“If you’re hungry…” He shot down her hopes almost right away. “I mean, if you don’t mind…” he said in his ever polite and low voice.
Despite talking in the same tone, for some reason the image of Taiyou-kun’ cheeks reddening a bit came to her mind. But probably nowhere near as mine. Tsukiko dropped her shoulders; the thought gave her no comfortable.
“I would like to invite you for breakfast…”
Her mouth was open for a moment… then her lips curled into a smile. “Yes! I’ll be there in a second!” Tsukiko quickly threw the covers aside and ran to the neighbor.
Taiyou-kun opened the door before she knocked thrice. He looks too cute in his pajamas, she thought, smiling. But her smile soon became smaller when she realized she was wearing her pajamas too. Damn it! I should’ve changed! Why didn’t I change…? There’s nothing I can do now. She dropped her shoulders in defeat. Guess I was never meant to play the big sister role with him.
His apartment was as big as hers, and just as organized, though there was a major difference; the decoration. Her father never care about it. Apart from the basics, most rooms seemed as if they had moved in recently. Only her bedroom and her study room, which she called that for no real reason since she’s never really used for that purpose, were fully decorated.
Taiyou-kun’ apartment was a home. Tsukiko knew five women lived here with the boy’s aunt, but since they all moved out recently, she expected the apartment to be just as empty. But the girl was wrong. Everywhere she looked there was something showing a happy family lived here. The beautiful wallpaper, the trophy case, the neatly organized DVDs and BDs, the rug. The walls and the tables were covered with pictures of Taiyou-kun’ aunt with another woman holding a baby, with the boy’s mother, with him and his mother, with two elderly hugging him, the aunt with the elderly couple, and many more, each and every one filled with smiles.
So he can smile like this, Tsukiko thought, picking up a framed photo, a smile own appearing on her own lips. I wanna see… There were pictures of her and her father in their apartment, but it wasn’t anything like this. All this family love embraced her, and she couldn’t help but feel the warmth
Taiyou-kun went to the kitchen. Tsukiko put the frame down and trailed after him. Even if she wasn’t in the mood for pre-made food, she wouldn’t mind if it were with company. But when the boy grabbed an apron, opened the fridge and placed an egg carton on counter, Tsukiko widened her eyes.
“You’re gonna cook?” the words came out of her lips before she could stop them.
He tilted his head, the eyes narrowing slightly. “Yes,” he said his low tone before taking other ingredients and closing the fridge.
Suddenly Tsukiko had trouble holding her tongue. Her real question now was if the boy knew how to cook. She tried her hardest to keep quiet though. Asking that would only show another part of her who couldn’t do something a kid two, three years younger than her could. I’m so hopeless, she thought, sighing in her mind.
The feeling of defeat grew inside her again. She had to do something, she just had no idea what. “Let me help,” Tsukiko said out of impulse. But the moment the words came out, she regretted immediately and hoped the boy would refuse. Given his over the top politeness, there’s a big chance… I’m so lame I’ve got to depend on a kid politeness, she thought, a hollow laugh echoing in her mind.
The boy stared her for a moment, as if seeing the offer was but an empty gesture. He did accept her help in the end, though she only got easy tasks, like chopping vegetables.
At least I can do that, she thought, rolling up the sleeves of her pajamas. Taiyou-kun pays attention even in something like this… Instead of being sadden for another thing the boy was better than her, Tsukiko smiled. He’s very interesting.
They finished before she realized, the smell of the omelet rice filling the kitchen. Taiyou-kun handed her the ketchup and Tsukiko drew a smiling face on her omurice, matching the one on her lips. A second later, she noticed the boy eyeing her food. He had the same innocent expression, but Tsukiko could swear there was a tiny light in his eyes. Out of impulse, she pulled his plate, did the same smiling face on his food and gave back.
Taiyou-kun stared her. His expression was the same, but for a second she thought she’d gone too far. Why did I do that? We’ve only met a couple days ago. I can’t be this friendly with him.
Tsukiko held her breath, the seconds stretching… and then he smiled. Thought it was nowhere near the one on the photos, Tsukiko couldn’t help but grin and ruffle his hair. Ah, shoot. I just told myself I had to watch my actions… But this time the boy’s reaction was picking up two spoons, handing her one.
“Delicious!” Tsukiko screamed, widening her eyes. Not only it looked good, all warm and fluffy, but it melted in her mouth. She thought for a heartbeat it was a bit sad that a kid could create such food, just like a restaurant, while she could barely cook, but with the second mouthful, the thought was gone, and she simply enjoyed the meal. I’ll work harder on home ec. classes and treat him something nice… someday.
When they finished, Tsukiko thanked for the food in a loud voice, while he barely mumble the words. She leaned against the chair, stretching her arms, and Taiyou-kun stood up and walked towards her. Tsukiko realized what he wanted and pulled the plate out of his reach.
“I’ll clean the dishes.” I can at least do that. And it might help a bit her already shredded to pieces big sister role.
“You’re a guess,” he replied in his quiet tone, looking her in the eyes.
“I wanna do this,” she grabbed his plate too, but he held it tight with both hands. “Since you cooked, I should at least clean up.” She gave a tug, but the boy didn’t budge.
“You helped cooking.”
Though his tone was the same, the girl could swear it had a note of impatient. He’s surprisingly stubborn. While still trying to pull his plate, Tsukiko considered the best way to handle this.
“It’d bother me if I didn’t help for real,” she said, remembering their first conversation.
The plate trembled for a heartbeat, and then he let it go, his cheeks a shade of pink. Although it had worked, Tsukiko felt a hint of guilt… but seeing his embarrassed face made her forgot almost immediately.
Though she rarely washed the dishes in her own house, Tsukiko was good enough and had on trouble at all, even with Taiyou-kun at her side all the time. He’s surprisingly good at small talk, she thought, smiling. It was another thing she found out about the boy. Does he think it’s rude to leave a guess alone for a moment? She giggled and ruffled his hair when she dried her hands.
Tsukiko yawned and took out her phone, checking the time. Barely past nine… still two hours until… she thought, dropping her shoulders. She turned her head to the boy at her side, putting the phone away. “What are you gonna do now?”
He looked her with that innocent expression. “Nothing in particular,” he said, shrugging. She narrowed her eyes and stared him. He reddened a bit under her gaze. “My… my aunt and mom are working today, so I planned jogging a bit or maybe read…” he trailed off.
“How about spending the day with me?” He became redder and looked down, but after a second, he nodded his head a bit. “Great!” Tsukiko grinned.
Taiyou-kun went to his room and came back a few moments later wearing a baggy short and a slightly loose shirt. His casual clothes matches his aura, she thought while watching him put his phone on the pocket and pick up the house keys.
“Wait here,” she said flushing. Only after they were already in her apartment, Tsukiko remembered. Damn, how could I forget? While the rest of her house was cleaned and presentable, her room wasn’t.
Polite as he was, the boy made no comment, but Tsukiko distinctly saw the corners of his lips quivering.
Running to her bedroom, Tsukiko quickly closed the door. She looked around, reddening and cursing her own mess. Why I’m not more organized? She asked herself while shoving the pile of clothes and underwear in a drawer and tossing the empty back of chips in the trash.
At least now it’s not that bad, she though, looking at her work. The bed was still unmade and there were a couple of manga here and there, along with a few games. Normally she left it like this, neither organized nor a mess. Not only her friends were already used to, it also helped Tsukiko keep the good girl label away from her.
Taking deep breaths, she called Taiyou-kun. He stepped in, looking around. Tsukiko gulped and suddenly regretted leaving the manga and games around. She noticed she was holding her breath now. Wait, why am I so nervous? He’s only a kid, she thought.
Tsukiko tried to calm herself down, but it didn’t work. Only when she saw his eyes shining while staring at her huge TV, she breathed out in relief. Seeing a new expression from him made up a little for her embarrassment.
“Then, Taiyou-kun,” she said, picking up the games on the floor and leading him to her bookshelf, half-full with manga and games, “take your pick. I’ll take you on!” she announced with a smug.
Thought Tsukiko didn’t call herself a gamer, she had spent many hours playing, and she was confident. She watched as his eyes went from one side of the shelf to the other, a tiny smile on his lips. Is he gonna chose a sport game, or perhaps a RPG? To her surprise, Taiyou-kun ended up choosing a fighting game, Street Combat. Tsukiko couldn’t help but laugh; she had stayed up late last night playing it.
Taiyou-kun wasn’t bad. He knew most special moves and his timing wasn’t half bad. But he was no match for her. “Not bad, Taiyou-kun,” she said nodding her head in approval. “It’s been a while since I played with someone in real life who could make be sweat a bit,” she ruffled his hair.
“Again,” he said.
It was in the same low usual tone, but there was something different in his voice. It was something minor, but Tsukiko could tell the difference. When she looked his face, his expression was the same, but his eyes were narrowed a bit. Is he… mad? She didn’t know if she’d laugh or hug him. Cute! So he’s just a normal boy who doesn’t like to lose. She giggling.
“I’ll accept you challenge how many times you want!”
There’s no way you can defeat me, she thought with a smug on her face. But with each defeat and rematch, Taiyou-kun became better, her victories tighter and tighter, until…
“You’re the winner!” The TV said and the screen flashed the words while Tsukiko’ character lay dead on the floor, Taiyou-kun’ character swinging the adversary’s spine on the air.
The boy didn’t gloat or anything. He just turned to her, looking her with a weird glow in his eyes and I won written all over his face, despite showing the same calm expression.
“Again!” this time it was Tsukiko asked for another fight. She crossed her legs and leaned closer to the TV. It was her get serious pose.
“No,” he said in his low tone, but somehow it seemed determined and strong.
She almost dropped the controller, all the tension disappearing. “Why not?”
He stared the TV, avoiding her gaze. “I’m done with this game,” were his words.
“Why you brat…” Tsukiko dropped the controller and pinched his cheeks. “You’re gonna ‘retire’ just because you won once?” she pinched harder. “Quit while you’re ahead, huh?”
“No,” he looked away. She pinched a bit harder, trying to get the words out of him. “It’s…”
“What?” Tsukiko let him go and he rubbed the red cheeks immediately.
Taiyou-kun turned his head and Tsukiko did the same. The boy was staring the digital clock on her desk. It was almost 11 o’clock. We played this much… she thought… a second later she widened her eyes. The anime!
Tsukiko looked to the boy by her side, who scratched his cheeks. What should I do…? She was having a blast with him. Only when her friends slept over she had this much fun on a Sunday. But even on those days, she never missed her favorite show.
“There’s an…” he avoided her eyes, playing with his fingers a bit.
That face’s too cute, she though, giggling. I wouldn’t mind losing the anime one time to see more of this. I set to record it, anyway.
The boy took a deep breath. “There’s an anime I want to watch,” he said, his eyes fixed at the ground, his voice barely above a whisper.
Out of reflex, she poked his face. “Is that it? You don’t have to be so shy. Tell this big sister here what you wanna watch,” she said with a smug. Perhaps this’ll be mine only chance to be the mature one. Even if he wants to watch a kid show, I’ll watch with him.
He played with his fingers again, his cheeks a shade of pink, and not because she pinched them. “It’s… My Guardian Persona…” Taiyou-kun finally said.
Her mind was racing through the shows airing around this hour, but when the boy said the name, Tsukiko stopped poking him, and looked straight in his face. The next second, she smiled, and hugged him. “You watch it too?” she tried hiding her surprise, but the voice betrayed her.
Now it was his turn to be speechless. When Taiyou-kun understood what she meant, his face softened and a smile appeared on his lips. “Yes. Even though it’s for kids, I like it a lot since it’s about finding yourself,” he said, looking at her with those innocent and now sparkling eyes.
Tsukiko gulped. She liked it for the exact same reason. Although the characters seemed to have it all, they had their worries and many things Tsukiko could relate. But the best about the anime was that the characters tried their best to improve themselves and help those who needed, always making sure no one gave up on their dreams.
Ever since the first episode, Tsukiko became a fan, and bought everything related to the show and the manga. Hearing someone younger than her calling her favorite anime a kid’s show made her flush.
“You’re a kid yourself,” she said, laughing and ruffling his hair to hide her embarrassment.
Suddenly something popped in her head, and she gulped again. Should I show him? She considered for a while. Not even her closest friends knew. Actually, not even her senpai, whom she confided a lot, had the slightest idea Tsukiko did those kind of things. But I can show him, right? If it’s Taiyou-kun, he wouldn’t laugh, nor he’d make fun of me… He wouldn’t even judge me…
“Taiyou-kun… could you…” she hesitated, holding her own arm. He looked at her with his innocent face, and it was enough for her. “Could… you wait here for a moment?”
He was puzzled, but then nodded his head without asking. She left the room and after making sure the door was closed, Tsukiko went to her other room, the room where she kept the hidden part of her life.
That door looked like the others, with nothing indicating it was her room. It was mainly to pretend it belonged to her father. Because of that, Tsukiko’s friends never asked about it. She opened and quickly passed by the shelves containing her real manga and game collection, going for the dresser on the back wall. The skirt, top and accessory she wanted were buried under a pile of old clothes she barely used anymore.
I knew it’s embarrassing, Tsukiko thought after changing, but even so, I want to show him this. She picked up one of her pink lock of hair and tied it in a side ponytail with a heart accessory. While the main character had pink hair, Tsukiko was blond, but since her dye was already fading, the three pink locks were enough to look like the character.
If it were a contest, I’d lose right away, she thought, remembering the last time she wore this clothes. She had a pink wig, but still she came in third. Yuuno, a great cosplayer Tsukiko came to admire, won with her perfect cosplay.
Tsukiko breathed slowly, gathering her courage. Finally she walked out of the room and stood before her bedroom door. She almost knock on the door. “Taiyou-kun… I’m… I’m coming in,” she said in a faint voice.
Besides the contest, she had worn the cosplay in front of people before. It was in one of the maid café events. Apart from the staff and a few regulars she knew by face, everyone else were strangers who watched her intently and took many pictures of her. Somehow, dressing like this in front of someone she knew felt more embarrassing.
Taiyou-kun’ eyes widened and the next second he showed the biggest smile she’d seen from him. For the first time, he truly seemed like a kid his age. But that didn’t prevent her from blushing because of his shining eyes. Why are you looking at me like that? She wanted to say, but held her tongue.
“Could you…” He played his fingers and looked at the floor. “Make the pose…?” he asked, his face almost as red as her.
Tsukiko knew right away what he meant. She’d practiced for the contest, but even there and in the maid café, it was too much for her and she only made normal poses. She won the maid event even without it though.
“Please?” he said, raising his head, his innocent eyes shining even more.
Damn it! Too cute! She pressed his head down, making him look at the floor. “You’ll leave many girls in trouble with that face!”
When she stopped, he looked at her again with the same eyes. She gulped. Damn it! Tsukiko took a few steps back, raised her arms and formed a heart with her hands.
“Ne… negative heart… lock on…” She tried saying as she practiced many times, but it nowhere near that. It’s too embarrassing.
To Taiyou-kun, it wasn’t. Even if it was horrible, his eyes shone brighter and he clap his hands, making her blush even more.
“Stop that.” He did as she said, but kept looking at her with the innocent eyes. To make him stop staring her, she grabbed his shoulders and turned him around, making him face the TV. “The anime’s about to start!”
“Yes,” he said in the same low voice, but she could feel the happiness in him.
And for the first time, Tsukiko shared her secret and watched her favorite anime with a friend.