Implication 8: Bonjour Et Au revoir

Credits and thanks goes to urstruly for the poster!

 When I arrive home, I’m surprised to find Ayane sitting in a chair in the kitchen and waving at me. “Hello!” she enthusiastically waves at me with her legs crossed together like in yoga. She is wearing her workout clothing consisting of black short shorts, a turquoise tank top and a black zip-up jacket. Her hair is nicely put in a ponytail and she has ear buds in her ears. As she turns off her Iphone, she smiles at me, saying, “Surprised, Azuma?”
Dropping my messenger bag on the ground and removing my shoes, I answer, “Y-yeah. How’d you—“

“I, Azuma, have my skills!” She winks at me playfully before hopping off her seat to rush to the fridge.

“I don’t remember giving you my spare key,” I tell her.

“Oh, the security guy let me in! I just told him that I was your girlfriend.” She giggles foolishly and sticks her head in the open fridge. “Say, Azuma, you really don’t have anything to eat here! But . . . wait, what’s this?” Ayane lifts the pudding up and shakes it a few times. “Pudding? Since when did—“

“Don’t touch that,” I snap at her while snatching it from her.

“So stingy!” She tosses the pudding into the fridge and rolls her eyes. “You really suck, Azuma.”

“Yup. I know.”

“You know, most people don’t agree with these things?”

I correct her, “And most people don’t say these things either.”

“Gah!” She shakes her head to shriek. “You really drive me up the wall sometimes, Azuma.”

“So . . . what are you really doing here?”

She flashes a syrupy smile. “I missed you. It’s so boring at the dorm,” she sighs and wraps her arms around me. My heart tingles as soon as I sense her touch. She really has a way of entering my heart. She is too good at teasing me, and I have no choice, but to succumb to her advances. I feel her head rest on my shoulder as she continues to say, “I’m really lonely . . . Azuma. Keigo . . . I think . . . he’s cheating on me.”

“What?” I push her away to ask. “He’s . . . cheating on you? For real?”

Staring at me with wavering eyes, she sputters, “He . . . isn’t answering any of my calls or texts! Do you think he’s secretly seeing someone, Azuma?”

Then, I realize that this is one of her phases. She always feels so insecure around Keigo when he is away from her. I remember whenever Keigo had to go to a baseball tournament out of the city, she would be worried that he’d fall for one of his fans. She would have to sleep over at my place. I think she only became this insecure after her first boyfriend cheated on her with one of her best friends. I know I should relate to her, but I’m tired. I’m tired of making sure that she feels safe. If she’s that unsettled with this relationship, then she should just break up with him. If she can’t even trust him, then why would she even date him? Why am I taking over his responsibility as a boyfriend? Why am I playing the nice guy?

Still, I know now is not the time to explode, so I calmly reassure her, “He’s probably just studying.”

“Then why can’t he reply to my text at least? And it’s just the start of school! How can he be reviewing already?” she shrieks at me.

“How long was your text this time?” I ask.

“I just typed five sentences.”

“And how many ‘ands’ did you include this time?”

“All right,” she sulks while crossing her arms, “maybe I do text too much, but I just want to know that he’s okay and well, I . . . want to know that he cares about me!”

I let out a sigh before ordering, “Give me your cell phone.”

“Wh-wh-what?”

“I said, give me your cell phone,” I repeat in the same robotic tone. 

I extend my palm out and eventually, she places her phone on there. I quickly type a text stating that I’m comforting a crying Ayane in my arms. She’s hugging onto me real tightly, I purposely add. I also include that I’m probably sleeping over at her place since we’re both studying so hard. Actually, I am studying. She’s the one that’s complaining. Of course, I don’t tell him the truth though. That’d be stupid.

“What’d you type?” she wonders aloud.

I put the cell on the table and then stretch. I think I need a smoking break, so I inform her, “You can see for yourself. He’ll definitely answer this one. If he doesn’t, then he’s either pulling an all nighter or he’s fu.cking someone. I hope it’s the latter, no, I mean, the former.”

“So . . . you honestly think he’d—“

“Yes, he will Ayane. Now, I need a break.”

“Are you going to . . . smoke?”

“Nonsense.” I lie my way through. “I’m just going to get a soda and a breath of fresh air.”

And there, the door closes. Ayane doesn’t stop me because she trusts me or she doesn’t know me well enough. Better yet, she might not even care about me. I’m thinking too much. I’m a fu.cking fool. I keep marching down the hall until I reach the elevators. I press the right floor, and then out I go through the front hall. I walk to the nearest convenience store to purchase a pack of cigarettes and as I reach into the pockets of my leather jacket, I realize that I am a stupid fool. I forgot my wallet and my keys in my apartment.

Jesus. I’m retarded.

“Sir?” the cashier asks. “Do you still . . . want to—“

“No,” I interrupt, “I don’t feel like it anymore.”

“All right. Have a good day, Sir,” the cashier answers.

I scoff aloud when I recognize that I don’t have my phone on me either. I guess I better try to find the landlord who lives in this building, but looking at the time on my watch, she is probably not here. It’s only 3 in the afternoon, and the woman has work. I guess I’m fu.cked. I just have to wait outside and hope that someone will enter this place. I doubt . . . that’ll really happen. I’m pretty sure Ayane has left the building too or is still there in my apartment waiting for me to come back. She’s too self-absorbed to realize that I have nothing on me.

Speaking of her, I have to know what I’m going to do about my situation. Clearly, I am not making any progress. I’m still being the same old me around her. I’m being that friendzoned guy that she goes to whenever she has relationship problems. Now, to get me out of that fu.cking zone, what should I do? Cut ties with her completely? Seems too crude. Kiss her? That’s too spontaneous. Seduce her? No. Maybe . . .

Suddenly, I see a girl at the door. She is stabbing her key into the hole with her head low while there is a bag of food in her other hand. Immediately, my heart starts to pound. I’m too damn lucky. I follow her to the door and to the elevator. She even presses the button for the same floor as me. Shi.t I should go win the lotto now. Unexpectedly, she lifts her head and I’m shocked to my bones. It’s her . . . it’s really . . . her.

“Wh-wh-which floor?” She tries her best to cover her stutters. 

“Same one,” I respond coolly. 

During the elevator ride, there is nothing but silence. I’m not sure how to approach her or what to say. I mean, do people normally already know someone’s name before actually being introduced to him or her? If I’m able to say who she is right now, isn’t that rather odd? I guess . . . I can ask about the weather. That seems safe enough.

“Umm . . . nice weather today right?” I ask just as the elevator doors open for our floor.

“Y-y-yeah,” she mutters quietly and then proceeds to ignore me. She pretty much speed walks to her room. It is extremely awkward how I am following her every move. It’s really not my fault that we are neighbours. I mean, I try not to be a stalker, but life is just painting the wrong picture for me. Fu.ck. Really. 
Luckily, I stop in front of my door before her. That seems less suspicious. Unfortunately, I can only stand there. I don’t really want to knock because I really do live here, and when I think I can’t get even more embarrassed, I unexpectedly hear her utter in an anxious tone, “D-d-d-did you forget y-y-your key?”

Without even trying to save my own face, I confess, “Yeah. Kinda stupid huh?”

“N-n-no, no.” She waves her hand at me a few too many times. I guess I really do make her worried. I mean, I suppose I would freak if a stranger waiting at the front door also lives in the same building, on the same floor and right next door to me.

“Well, this normally doesn’t happen,” I utter.

“It’s okay,” she reassures me. “We all have our moments.”

“I suppose,” I murmur. Then, I think of an ingenious plan. I feel a slanted smirk forming from my lips. Now, I take a few steps towards her and stare down at her. “So . . . are you going to invite me over or not? Normally, when people ask others if they’ve forgotten their keys, an invitation over to their place before the landlord comes . . . happens.”

“I-I-I-I guess . . .” She looks away like a vulnerable lamb about to have its head ripped off by a wolf.

“What?” I pose. “You’ve never brought over a guy before?”

Within seconds, her cheeks boil to frightening red. I feel a bit guilty for teasing her too much. She’s still very, very innocent. I kind of admire her innocence. I wish I could be a white slate too, but that’s impossible when I’m completely tainted in black ink. I swear I probably can’t be recycled. 

“I-I-I just . . .” I hear her voice linger on.

“Sorry . . . and . . . thanks,” I tell her. “I promise I won’t bite. I just need a place to stay before the landlord comes home.”

“Yes, I know,” she utters while pushing the door open. She steps inside, and holds the door for me. “Come in,” she welcomes in a silenced tone. As I slip off my shoes, she apologizes, “I-I-I only have slippers for myself. I don’t really have guests over.”

“It’s fine,” I murmur. “I’ll manage.”

Sumi rushes off to the small kitchen and reaches for two cups. “Tea or coffee?” she asks.

“Tea would be fine.”

“Y-y-you can take a seat in any of the chairs,” she instructs before proceeding to boil the kettle. “I’m sorry if my place is rather plain. I just moved in, so I . . .”

“It’s fine,” I reassure her and walk towards one of the empty plastic chairs across from a small dining table. “My place doesn’t even have much furniture.”

“Oh. If . . . you need any cushions, I . . . might have some extra . . .”

“No, I’ll be all right.”

“Okay.”

Now, there is this long silence between us. I can even hear the kettle bubbling with warm water. She is just standing there by the stove while I am sitting there. We simply don’t know what else to say. I’m not really sure where to begin. I still don’t feel comfortable admitting to her that I have noticed her before this meeting. Luckily, the kettle starts shrieking loudly, which is really a relief. I can’t stand silences in general. I’m already constantly surrounded by it that I really don’t need more of it. As Sumi finishes making tea, I ask, “So . . . what’s your name? Sorry I forgot to ask.”

“Oh, it’s Kuhara Sumiko,” she answers while setting my cup of tea on the table. “And you?”

“Nogiri Azuma.”

Again, there is that pause. I want to break it so badly, but I’m not sure how. I’m hoping that she will do something or that time will make something occur. Still, she is very quiet. I can even hear her sip her tea, and so, I do the same. After a few drinks, she suddenly utters, “Th-th-that’s a nice name.”

“Really?” I confirm.

“Y-y-yes.”

“Most people relate it to Akuma.”

“You know . . . I thought Lucifer was a really beautiful name,” she utters, “but after I realized what it meant, I wasn’t sure if I should still continue believing that.”

“And?”

Flashing a warm smile, Sumi notes, “I still think it’s beautiful.”

I feel my heart tingle and my throat constrict. I think that’s what I have been waiting to hear all these years, as much as I hate to admit it. Now, I take a drink from this poorly brewed tea. It tastes nice, and I can feel the warmth from the tea sink into my stomach. This feels like home, and there aren’t a lot of words I can use to describe this moment. It’s just . . . darn . . . nice. And even with bare makeup and messy hair, Sumi looks nice. She looks . . . beautiful, and she is glowing. I want to tell her that she doesn’t need to do anything more to herself, and that she’s just perfect the way she is, but I know that that’s not how the world sees her. The world wants more, and I have a feeling that she can do more too. So, I keep that comment in my head and savor the silence that we share.

-----

Just like how Ran promises, she emails me that day. She asks if I could show her any stories, and if we could meet up over lunch some time to discuss about the newsletter. She also tells me that this meeting would be before the general meeting. That way, she adds, I can share my ideas to all of the members.

The thought of public speaking makes me nauseous, and Sen notices my anxiety as I pay for my slice of double chocolate mousse cake, which he recommended, by commenting, “Sumi, you’re frowning! That’ll give you wrinkles! Are you worried that this will be too sweet? I mean, it is richer than most cakes, but I thought you looked like you’d be in the mood for that.”

“Well . . .”

“Well?” Sen wonders aloud. “What?”

Placing my coins in the blue plastic tray, I utter, “It’s . . . hard to explain.”

“Oh come on,” Sen urges. “Try me.”

“Well . . . let’s say you have a secret recipe . . . that you can’t share, but—“

“If this is anything about baking, then I think there’s nothing secretive about it. You bake a cake because you want others to enjoy it right? So, if you keep everything to yourself, then there’s no fun in this job right?” Sen interrupts me and punches a few codes in the register. Handing me the receipt and the appropriate change, Sen remarks with a cheerful grin, “Hope that helps!”

I smile back, realizing what he is implying. I’m sort of amazed at how he can answer my question so well. I’m thinking about why I write. I write for myself, but I can’t just be my own audience too. I write because I want other people to learn from my stories. I want people to enjoy them and even question my characters. I want to . . . connect to people on so many different levels, and because I’m a bad speaker, it’s better for me to write. Ultimately, I would like readers. I want to know what they think of my works too. 

It’s just all these years that I have been afraid. I’m worried that people will penalize my writing level. I’m nervous that no one will like my stories. I’m scared that I’m living in a hopeless dream and that writing will never be my career. Do I even want it as my job? Writing . . . just feels like a dying world too. With the Internet, people don’t really need to purchase books anymore. Is it worthwhile to jump into an already grim world? I know. I know I’m dreaming too much. I know I should hold my ground, yet I’m excited. I know that I’m secretly eager to share my stories with the world. It’s just . . . will they ever read them?

“Thanks Sen,” I mutter and head for the door.

“No problem, Sumi! Any time! And oh, Sumi!” Sen unexpectedly calls out.

“Yes?” I turn around to ask.

“Are you free this . . . weekend?”

“This weekend? I . . . think so, but it has to be on Sunday because I have work on Saturday.” I reply. “Why? Is something—“

“Oh! That’s perfect!” Sen chants. “It’s just that my girlfriend really wants to thank you, and remember how I said that we’d go shopping with you to help with your makeover?”

“Y-y-yeah.”

“I’m the sort that sticks to promises, so this Sunday, we are definitely going to be helping you out here! Just meet me at Entrance A of Harajuku station.”

“B-b-but I don’t have a lot of—“

“No worries! There are tons of second-hand stores. You just have to search carefully!”

“I suppose . . .” 

On my way back to the apartment, I’m thinking of which stories to show. I’m not really sure if there are any that I am proud of revealing. Perhaps, I should start on a new project. I sort of want to write a slice-of-life, romantic story. I’m wondering what the protagonist should be like. I think I’ll make the main character a girl around my age. Maybe, it’d be interesting to write about myself. I haven’t tried that before. There isn’t much going on in my life though. If I were to write a romance, I would need a male lead. It’s just that . . . 

I scratch the back of my head while reaching for my keys now. I should really get back and call it a day. I’m feeling pretty tired after a day of class, so maybe it is best that I take a nap before starting to preview for my courses. As I insert my key into the lock and open the door, I realize that there is someone behind me. I guess he’s either a guest or a resident hat forget his or her key. Regardless, I pretend like nothing has happened and head for the elevators. I press the up button and immediately, the elevator doors open. Once I head in, I select my floor and like a typical person would do, I look to my left. I’m about to open my mouth to ask something when I realize that it’s him, Azuma. My heart is rattling a storm. What a coincidence. He’s too close to me right now that I’m having trouble breathing steadily. Taking a gulp down, I stammer, “Wh-wh-wh-which floor?”

“Same one,” he says without even moving an inch or stuttering.

The elevator ride is extremely awkward. It is normal for strangers not to exchange words, yet . . . I don’t feel like he is someone completely foreign. I know his name. I understand his current love status. I know what high school he attended. I believe I know a bit too much to deem him a stranger, but the problem is that he doesn’t know me. So, what do you do when the other person has no idea who you are? Nothing really. I can solely wait for the doors to open and act like nothing has happened.

Suddenly, he surprises me by asking, “Umm . . . nice weather today right?”

The doors of the elevator open just in time and as I step out, I don’t know what to say except, “Y-y-yeah . . .”

I walk as casually as I can down the hall. I’m telling myself that I am tired, so I need to get home as soon as possible for my nap to recover. That is all. There is nothing more than that, but with Azuma walking behind me, I feel my heart pound even faster. Why . . . why does he have to live in the same direction as me? Why does he have to see more of my foolishness? Why can’t I just be normal around him or in general?

Once I reach my own apartment, I don’t’ know why, but I take a glance to my right. Azuma has stopped right beside me, yet he is simply standing there. I’m wondering if he actually lives here or if he is visiting a friend. He has his hands folded around his body as if waiting for something. For some reason, I blurt aloud, “D-d-d-did you forget y-y-your key?”

He stares at me sans expression, and in stern tone, he admits, “Yeah. Kinda stupid huh?”

“N-n-no, no,” I reassure him. He isn’t the stupid one. I’m the silly one that can’t even stop stumbling through my words. It feels like I have some speech impediment when I really don’t.

“Well, this normally doesn’t happen,” he states solemnly.

“It’s okay,” I utter in hopes of making up for my awkwardness. “We all have our moments.”

In a quiet tone, he mumbles as I insert my key into the keyhole, “I suppose.” Once my hand hangs onto the door knob, I feel a shadow over my face. I turn my head to the right again and realize that Azuma is hovering over me with a devious smirk plastered on his face. I feel my hands get clammy and my cheeks grow warm. He’s too close. He’s way too close that I can smell his sharp, mint cologne, which is suffocating me in the process. The scent is too much to handle. No, everything about him is overbearing, and just as I am about to turn the knob and push open the door to sprint to my room, Azuma poses, “So . . . are you going to invite me over or not? Normally, when people ask others if they’ve forgotten their keys, an invitation over to their place before the landlord comes . . . happens.”

I croak weakly, “I-I-I-I guess . . .” 

“What?” I hear a slight cackle through his voice. “You’ve never brought over a guy before?”

I feel my cheeks grow even warmer. This is incredibly mortifying. I try my best to look away while answering, “I-I-I just . . .” 

I don’t know what I am waiting for exactly. I should just push through and shrug everything off. Maybe, I just want him to tell me that I’m not being weird. Really, I don’t understand what I am feeling.

Unexpectedly, Azuma announces, “Sorry . . . and thanks.” I seem to have the courage to face him now, and so my eyes wander in his direction. He continues to say, “I promise I won’t bite. I just need a place to stay before the landlord comes home.”

Seeing his serious stare, I confidently answer, “Yes, I know.” I push my door open now, and I don’t even have the urge to run away anymore. “Come in,” I urge him. When I look ahead, I realize that my place is unsuitable for guests. Maybe, I shouldn’t have accepted him over to my place for the time being. He probably thinks I’m tacky with all these uncoordinated furniture lying around the room. I have no theme; I just have bits and pieces to support my life. Embarrassing. “I-I-I only have slippers for myself,” I anxiously mumble when I hear his shoes land on the floor. “I don’t really have guests over.”

“It’s fine,” he states. “I’ll manage.”

Oh right. I quickly wear my slippers and head for the kitchen to my right. Luckily, I have not put away the two cups in the cupboard, and so I first store my cake in the fridge before snatching them from the counter. “Tea or coffee?” I steady myself by holding onto their handles tightly. 

“Tea would be fine,” he responds while standing there.

Realizing how uncomfortable this whole scene is from the way he is just posing there, I instantly notify, “Y-y-you can take a seat in any of the chairs.” Another glance at my place proves to be even more disappointing. This is not a girl’s apartment at all. I feel like a mess, I think to myself as I fill the kettle that I grab from my stove with water. “I’m sorry if my place is rather plain,” I apologize. “I just moved in, so I . . .”

Fortunately, this excuse seems to work for he replies, “It’s fine.” I hear his feet shuffle until his jeans brush against one of my plastic chairs. “My place doesn’t even have furniture,” he remarks.

I feel bad for him. No furniture? Isn’t that very uncomfortable? “Oh. If . . . you need any cushions, I . . . might have some extra . . .” I hear my voice lingering and maybe raising higher than normal. I sound like a shy, little girl. Maybe I am . . .

“No,” he kindly declines, “I’ll be all right.”

“Okay,” I murmur, place the kettle on the stove and adjust the knob to high heat.

There is yet another round of quietness. I can hear the sound of electricity travelling through the painfully blue lights in the kitchen. The sound of steam permeating in the kettle seems louder than usual. I can even listen to my own heart beats and breaths. If I want to, I can count those in my head. Frankly, I am not sure what I am supposed to do or say. The two of us are just staying in our positions. It’s awkward. It really is.

The kettle now is screaming, and so I do the necessary steps to prepare simple tea. I hope that’s good enough for him. I really don’t know the right ways of making tea. As I dip a tea bag into his cup, I hear him ask, “So . . . what’s your name? Sorry I forgot to ask.” 

I head over to the table with two warm cups of tea in my hands. Resting his cup on the surface, I utter, “Oh, it’s Kuhara Sumiko. And you?”
“Nogiri Azuma,” he responds with a nod to thank me.

Once more, we suffer from an almost unbearable silence. I move to the seat across from him, and all I do is blow on my tea in hopes of making it cooler. I wish I can drink it right away to act preoccupied. I also try my utmost not to look ahead. After all, Azuma right ahead of me, and his presence is almost as blistering as this tea. If I take a sip of it, then I know I will burn my tongue. So . . . why even bother?

By the time the tea has cooled, I muster the courage to compliment, “Th-th-that’s a nice name.”

“Really?” 

“Y-y-yes,” I mumble.

“Most people relate it to Akuma,” he adds.

I feel like he is purposely noting this fact, so that someone will comment on that. That person doesn’t have to be me, I know for a fact. I notice his impatient and bored eyes, seemingly waiting for me to grasp this opportunity to soothe him. He doesn’t like his name at all. I can almost hear that piercing accent on that word: akuma.

The funny part is that he doesn’t want to be a devil, yet he dresses like one. Today, he is clad in all black, except for a white button-up shirt. Perhaps, he just wants to conform to what everyone wants to believe him to be. Maybe it is all a test to determine who will see through this façade. 

“You know . . .” My mouth opens by itself. I really don’t know what I am saying or why I am telling him this little story, but I do anyways. “I thought Lucifer was a really beautiful name, but after I realized what it meant, I wasn’t sure if I should still continue believing that.”

As expected of him, he harks, “And?”

I guess what I said was not enough. I guess that name has always troubled him. I’m not sure if this is out of pity or if this is because of something else, but I confess, “I still think it’s beautiful.”

I know deep down that I am telling the truth. Till this day, I believe that Lucifer is a lovely name. The first Lucifer may as well have been the devil, but that does not mean the subsequent ones are born to be devils. Azuma did not have a say in his name. His parents probably thought he was an angel when he came to earth. I know this man is gentle for he is smiling at me too nicely.

We sort of sit there until our tea has gone all cold. That is when Azuma excuses himself and tells me that the landlord should be back now. I just nod and show him the way out. He thanks me again before he leaves, and there the door closes.

I let out a sigh of relief. My stomach is growling now. I must have expended too much energy trying to figure out how to behave in front of him. I really feel like my soul is finally returning to my body. Opening the fridge door now, I look to see if I have anything that I can eat before I start cooking. Oh right. There is that slice of cake that Sen suggested I try out even though I’m not particularly fond of a domineering taste of sweetness. Regardless, I decide that this is worth a shot. I still bought it anyways. When I cut a slice into the cake with a fork, I see the layers upon layers of chocolate. Oh dear. This is going to be rather sweet.

Pop.

I slip the dessert into my mouth, and there the chocolate melts. Indeed, this is far too sweet on a normal day. However, today, it seems to be just right. Now, I think Sen is right as I remember what he told me before selling this delicacy to me, “You know, Sumi, sometimes you just need a pocketful of sugar.”

“And why is that?” I remember asking him.

“Because it’ll feel like sunshine. You’ll get that warmth sliding down your throat as the chocolate melts in your mouth. It’s really quite the sensation,” he explained.

“But what’s too sweet is too sweet,” I recall arguing.

“Well, then you have your tea. Take a gulp and you have a perfect match,” he countered. “That’s why when I have my own bakery, I’d love to sell tea on the side. I think in life, you need a mix of two. Some sweetness to give you happiness and a bit of bitterness to keep you grounded.”

I take a gulp of the remaining cold, green tea. Yup, I am back to reality, and here I go with another taste of cake.

Sweet.

Far too sweet . . . but I quite . . . like it. It’s rather addicting in fact. I just hope I don’t make a habit out of this. I don’t have much change to indulge in luxury, but once in a while, it’ll be pleasant to experience this again.

And I feel a smile forming from the corner of my lips as I suddenly remember what happened a moment ago. He was sitting just there in one of my seats, drinking tea. Somehow, I wonder . . . if he’d like cakes. Are those too sweet for him? But, I have a feeling. I have a feeling that he’ll complain about the syrupy flavour. He probably suits eating a dessert with a subtle savour; something green tea related would do him good. Then, he’ll smile again just like that.

Amazingly, I feel the sun seeping into my room. It’s a bit warm now, but it’s nice. It sort of reminds me of . . . him.

It’s beautiful and serene. This feeling. And suddenly, I feel like writing. I think I know who my male lead will be: him. 
 
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