Hidden in Four Seasons
"Have you ever gazed at a cherry blossom tree without flowers and thought about the day when it was in full bloom?"
Alouette du Neveu would ask very strange questions at times. Masaru Motoori stared at her, wondering what she was referring to since it was the middle of spring, being specific during hanami. People ebbed and flowed like the passing of time, moving each hand of the clock and they were eternally detained in the image of the dancing petals listening to laughs in the background, foreign to their ears.
"Well, no," replied the wine coloured haired boy, crossing both arms behind his neck after scratching his nose. “Honestly not even when it's winter.”
The fine-haired blonde just laughed and he wondered how he ended up in this situation.
If we rewind to a few days ago, his big sister, Masako, had announced that a friend she had made through an online language learning programme was coming to visit. She asked her parents if she could host her which they flatly denied. It made sense; she was a complete stranger that they didn't know if they could even communicate with her. Masaru, being nosy as ever, searched through his sister's cell phone to see her friend’s profile picture. Imagining a romance in his head that would form into a love triangle while still being haunted by Ouka Kouzaki’s rejection, he could only sigh.
He knew the girl, of course he did, but only through the mouth of another blonde of the same age who had acquired somewhat strange tendencies and rejected all his invitations just to go to the nearest coffee shop and pretend to write because, to be honest, the first novel that Shinobu Sonozaki had been working on, had been on a two years hiatus with only the prologue written. It's Writer's Block he always proclaimed, but everyone knew that was just because he had been spending all his free time with Hinari Hiwatari.
Masaru told her parents that the girl, coincidentally, had been part of their childhood friendship circle and that she was of big help during a certain incident from the past. And just like that, their opinion on her changed completely and they began to look for the best of the best in order to make her feel at home. In a fit of excitement, Masako, planned a whole schedule to show her the great sights Odaiba had to offer. She didn't know how long she would stay, so she made infinite plans. Except she didn't expect to get sick from allergies and end up forcing Masaru to be her escort.
On today’s itinerary, they had to visit a place called Odaiba Marine Park. It was a place where you could enjoy the cherry blossoms with Rainbow Bridge in the background, while at the same time relax in the nearby park. You could also enjoy the food while watching the petals fall, even from inside from restaurants.
They hadn't brought anything and Masaru thought he could have organized a picnic. After all, it wasn't every day that an old childhood friend visited by chance of fate. Now that he thought about it, she hadn't told anyone and he was wondering why. Alouette had not asked about the others either because she could have otherwise stayed over at Shinobu’s or Riku’s since she actually knew them. However, she chose to come as a guest, via Masako, whom she did not know. Really, she is a somewhat strange and peculiar girl.
"You can see cherry blossom trees in France, but not where I live. They bloom in specific areas, so I always imagined seeing them bloom like they are now.” She pirouetted, stretching both arms, her short red dress floating like scraps of a Renaissance painting. “So, what’s next?”
“I dunno. Masako is very disorganized, so between her sneezes and snot she just told me the place and I brought you here,” he replied with brutal honesty that would leave anyone astonished. Still, Alouette smiled at him, which caught him off guard. “I-I-I-Is there a particular place you want to go? Would you like me to invite any of the other guys?”
"Hm…" she mused, placing an index finger on her chin, tilting her face. “Non, being with you is enough. I wouldn't want to spoil everyone's schedules by being an unexpected visitor.”
"Now that I think about it, your Japanese is fluent," Masaru said, ignoring that last sentence, not having listened to her due to being hooked on the tiny transition from one language to the other. “I doubt those online classes are any good.”
"Shinobu's grandfather taught me, too. After the incident I realized that it was very difficult to communicate with him and Riku, so I decided to learn it. Do I speak and look like a native?”
"Considering I know two blue-eyed blondes, yes."
She laughed gracefully.
"I'd like to see the replica of the Statue of Liberty, if it's not a bother."
"Sure, it's not that far. In fact, you can see it from here. At most, it will take us less than a minute.” The boy pointed towards the horizon and, indeed, you could admire what she mentioned.
Alouette began her walk, swaying from side to side. Masaru didn't know where to look and felt somewhat uncomfortable. After all, he had never dated a girl, nor even been completely alone with one, not even with Ouka. Rather, his greatest dream was to do that himself, but here he was with a stranger/acquaintance in one of the busiest seasons of the year.
Suddenly, she stopped, causing him to crash into her back.
“What happened?” Masaru demanded, rubbing his head. The bones in that area of the girl were extremely hard.
"I stepped on a weed." Her voice came out like a thread.
"And what about it? Did it get inside your sandal or what?”
"That’s not it," she denied with her face. Then she turned to face him. “These weeds also want to bloom in spring and I just blew that opportunity for them. Each one has a name, like a person. However, if you step on them inadvertently, they don't cry out like we or animals do.”
Masaru glanced at her and he didn't understand her at all.
It was just a weed that she stepped on, it’s not a big deal. Perhaps the stereotype of French people and romanticism is true after all.
He wanted to keep on walking, but she didn't move, rather, a small tear formed in her right eye.
"I'm sorry," she apologized, pulling a handkerchief from her pearled wallet’s pocket.
“You have nothing to apologize for…”
"I'm sorry, Mister Weed."
Masaru felt like an idiot believing that the apologies were for him. For this reason, he chose to move forward and take her by the hand, so that they could reach their destination and not arrive fifty years late if Alouette was going to behave like that for every false step she took. Although, after advancing a considerable amount of time, he became aware of the action that he had done. His dream of walking hand to hand with Ouka had been ruined! There were already two things that Alouette had stolen from him without knowing it and worst of all, Masaru was fully aware of them.
The girl moved a little faster, releasing the grip of which she had not taken notice of, sitting in the garden watching the statue. For a replica, it was definitely impressive. From the same purse, she took out a pair of earphones and closed her eyes.
Masaru just stood there, not knowing what was going on. Aside from being strange, Alouette seemed to be a girl that took everything at her own pace and style, unable to keep up with her. He sat a little distance away from her and listened to the seagulls soaring over the bay. Occasionally a child would cry and irritate him, but other than that, he could illustrate Alouette's relaxed profile on a watercolor painted canvas if he felt like it.
In his eyes, Alouette was not beautiful in the classic way—Ouka was number one after all. But, though she had golden curls and ivory skin along with piercing blue eyes like Shinobu and Junya, compared to them, her appearance became ordinary. She was shorter than average and certainly bigger than a runway model, but nonetheless she was stunning. Something radiated in her simplicity. Anyone would see her as a tourist, but at the same time, as a native. It was strange to explain.
"It's like her aura itself is special or something," the boy muttered to himself. “Or maybe it’s because I am used to having two French-Japanese in my friend circle.”
She had a kind of understated beauty, perhaps because she was so disarmingly unaware of it. Alouette had to do with simplicity. Perhaps that was why her skin shone so brightly. It was her inner beauty that lit up her eyes and softened her features. When she smiled and laughed, one couldn't help but smile too, even if it was only on the inside. To be in her company was to feel that you were someone too, that the rays of summer had warmed you regardless of the season.
Masaru didn't notice when a smile crept to the corner of his mouth just by looking at her. She was relaxing. It was definitely as if summer had robbed spring of its stardom.
So he felt that perhaps he could talk to her about things that were tormenting him lately. You see, Masaru Motoori can be an explosive boy, causing problems with Mano Okunoda and many times being seen as a self-centered boy doesn’t care for the feelings of his friends, when in fact, it is the opposite. He cares a lot about his bond with Mano and the rest of his friends. That's why his heart ached when he looked at photos of Ouka with Junya on social media lately.
Shinobu hadn't wanted to say anything to him. Just by sustaining that ignorance, he knew he had already lost. Even Shinobu had the audacity to hide his relationship with Hinari when it was already obvious to everyone. Still, there were unspoken rules and silences between them. The only ones who were in stable and known relationships, so to speak, were Riku with Hakua, and Minato with Mano. Kotoha had gotten into a relationship with a girl she met in one of her grandfather's kendo classes. Shiro still hadn't introduced his mystery girlfriend to them, and Izumi was too busy to be thinking about love.
Which left him being the dreamer, which is not normal for him. Those unspoken rules of not saying anything until confirmed by the person itself was driving him crazy. Still, he had known for a long time now that he had stopped seeing Ouka in that way as the years passed. But still, he was clinging to the last pieces of his childhood. He was afraid of growing up. He was afraid of the responsibilities that it entailed. How does childhood work to begin with? How do you become an adult who adheres to the strict rules of Japanese society?
He looked up and Alouette was still in the same pose.
A girl who did things at her own pace. Maybe he could learn from her. She seemed unconcerned about what they thought of her with all her questions and weird reactions. Or maybe it's just culture shock. Similarly, Masaru got up and sat next to her. Her blonde hair swayed with her eyes closed, feeling the breeze just like a mother would with her baby singing as she sang a lullaby.
Masaru had heard himself taking off his earphones, so to speak. He now did the same to her, which left her stunned for an instant.
"Sorry, I don't know why I did that.” And he also didn't know why he blushed.
"Did you want to tell me something?" she asked casually, as if anger wasn't natural to her.
"I just realized that it was troublesome to talk to others, so I always looked down and pretended not to listen. Until suddenly you took my earphones off.”
"But you took them from me," Alouette laughed.
"I mean… I don't know. This may sound strange to you, but I've been looking at you from afar and…” Alouette was surprised, only for Masaru to wave his hands frantically, apologizing. “Not like that! What I want to say is that… you give me the impression that you are a person who gives that air of… being a good listener.”
"Hmm…" she murmured. “I don’t think so. When I went to school, no one ever said that to me. I think I had very superficial friendships. When they found out that I had… well, what we the Chosen Ones have, they turned their backs on me.”
"Would you like to stay another month?"
“What did you say…?”
Masaru didn't know what to reply, because even he didn't understand his sudden and impertinent question.
Cicadas’ singing could be heard from the window of the apartment Masaru had rented for Alouette. It was kind of run down, that was true, although it had a certain charm. He knew she wasn't going to be able to extend the invitation proposal he made her forever, so he opted to work part time to get her a place to live. Obviously, Alouette helped as well since she loved the idea. She found a job at the coffee shop Masaru worked at, and coincidentally Shinobu frequented and it was obvious, more than obvious that he and Hinari had something going on between them. So much so, that Masaru one day served Shinobu an extra hot espresso for flirting in public without showing decency.
Anyway, now that the apartment had been furnished, Masaru was ready to go home only to be stopped by the blonde beauty. It was late and the place where he had found her a home was not in Odaiba, so she offered him to spend the night in her new home. The boy didn't know where he would sleep, but with Alouette taking the couch since there was no bed, Masaru would have to manage sleeping on the floor. Even though it was summer the apartment didn’t come equipped with air conditioning. And not being able to open the windows because of the insects made the summer heat unbearable.
Unable to sleep, and apparently neither could Alouette, they began to chat.
"Do you have a special someone, Masaru?" she suddenly asked, remembering Shinobu and Hinari.
“There was once. But just a few weeks ago, she announced that she was dating someone after keeping it secret for many months. Well, to be frank, she wasn’t trying to hide it. Apparently he did not like to show their relationships in a public way and she swore that she hadn’t told anyone. Apparently everyone knew except me.”
"You’re talking about Ouka and Junya, right?" She placed both hands under her chin, looking at him lying face down on the couch.
"H-How did you know ...?"
"I knew about it before coming to Japan."
“...Why am I always the last one to know about these things!?”
Alouette began to laugh, her mellifluous voice being enough to lull the song of the cicadas.
"I'm sure by the time the sun returns, you'll find someone special," she said with certainty, staring out the window.
"That’s not something that can happen overnight."
"It's a metaphor, Masaru. Or maybe you’ll find someone the following summer.”
"I don't want to wait a year. I want love!"
"Then don't waste your summer by overlooking it. Don't reject love.”
As uncomfortable as he was on the ground, Masaru didn't know if he didn't understand because of the pain his back felt or because Alouette was just talking strangely, as usual did.
"I'm not rejecting it."
"Do you remember last spring? You told me many things. Your fears and concerns. It was then that I knew that you were rejecting it, although it seems that you have not realized it yet.”
“You’re a weirdo”
"You always say the same thing."
She kept looking out the window as she spoke. Curious, Masaru turned to the window in order to perhaps better understand Alouette's world.
The black sky was tranquility married to a poetry of stars. The softness of it’s rhythm made the body and brain feel relaxed as the heart followed along with the beat. The night came as a kind of reward, a break to calm the soul. She was riding on a horse of pure midnight velvet, drawn by the stars under the luster of the full moon. As the colors of the day rested, perhaps dreaming of tomorrow, the hillside became a monochromatic beauty of shapes that made an ever-changing and ever-present puzzle, questions and answers united.
Definitely, that sky was like Alouette herself.
Appearing right in front of him due to the whims of an absurd fate, each day became longer. Every day was a different landscape than yesterday. That life changed, just like the transition from one season to another.
Unknowingly, Masaru had matured a bit that night. But only a 0.99%.
With the wind blowing through the city streets, apparently smelling something familiar with it, Masaru didn’t bother looking back. In fact, he recognized that perfume very well even though he wore a scarf due to the cold breeze.
It had been a month since he had last seen Alouette even though they had grown closer. He had made her stay even longer than planned, and she now hung around with Masako and the other girls from time to time. After the incident with Shinobu and Hinari in the summer, now everyone knew that the French woman was in Japan. That pushed them away a bit and when they ran into each other on a casual walk, for some reason, the burgundy haired boy didn't know how to behave. He considered himself close to her, but still couldn’t help but feel distant.
It was as if he had formed an invisible barrier of a radius of one meter around him, and thus he pushed the world away. He refused to grow up. To move on. He knew he was scared. That 0.99% reverted to zero once Alouette got a job and she decided to stay in Japan. For now she was staying and working illegally. But with a little help from Shinobu’s mother—since Alouette has always been good to her father—she found a job.
And yet, she stopped her daily commute for someone like Masaru by going up to him and hugging him like the friends they are, taking him by the hands and pulling him out of his barrier. In the middle of a crowded road causing several people to stumble, she did so without caring what others thought. Masaru wondered since when did he start caring so much about what others thought of him. The boy who used to act without thinking had become self-aware. Did it have something to do with maturity and adulthood?
"What made you do that?" He asked her.
"How can I not do so if I haven't seen you for a long time?" she replied, burying her face into Masaru's scarf. “Were you going to ignore me?”
The boy did not know how to answer. Alouette sighed and turned away from him.
"Have you ever gazed at a cherry blossom tree without flowers and thought about the day when it was in full bloom?"
Now it was Masaru's turn to sigh.
"The trees are bare around us, silly."
"So, you can't imagine them blooming?" She smiled.
"Like day, you still don't make any sense."
"I know, and you love it," she laughed just to stand next to him. “Where were you going?”
"Don't lie, I know you're taking cooking classes. A little birdie told me.”
"Then I escaped from those cooking classes."
"Because everything I do is thrown away. They really treat you like you have no feelings."
"It's like growing up. You hit yourself, you fall. At that time no one has feelings other than pain. Just like love. Why don't you take it from this perspective? Cooking is like growing up.”
Masaru slapped his forehead: This girl really doesn't make any sense!
"Illuminate me," he asked, exhausted.
Alouette linked her arm with his.
"When you make a dish for the first time, it can come out horrible. After all, it is your first time. Like the first time you fall in love or start walking. If you keep practicing it, you’ll improve. Just like riding a bike, now that I think about it. No matter how perfect you think your dish is, there are cruel adults who blow you back to reality. Not everything is obtained with practise. Skill is required as well. They are preparing you for the real world.”
And for the first time, Alouette du Neveu made sense to Masaru Motoori.
"You have to imagine or you won't be able to dream of a window to the soul."
And that illusion was shattered in less than a minute.
"Do I have to imagine all that?" And what the hell is a window to the soul?”
"When you look at me, what do you see?"
She pulled away from him and spread her arms out wide.
He could imagine her lounging by a stream, the sun shining on her face. With an ease the world longs to understand, of which she never seems to capture. Because she keeps turning and turning, chaos escapes from her aura. Others roam the earth looking for that something, no ... yearning and starving for the peace this girl has already achieved. However, she felt alone, with her eyes closed to the world and her problems. A brief smile spread across her face as a gust of wind surrounded her. A shadow of a cloud passed over her and she left as fast as she arrived. Just leaving behind a little flower.
That is what he can see.
It has no burdens. She is not afraid of the world. She is not afraid of what they think about her.
Alouette smiled shyly, but again, he had only seen her smile for real once even though one was always stuck on her face. She was never caught looking at someone. He often had the feeling that she was looking directly at him. Her eyes, piercing his soul, getting passed all the lies, all his secrets and memories. With an observant stare, she studied each person she saw until she obtained a picture of them.
She was short in height and generally had a dreamy look on her face as if her mind were somewhere far away. Somewhere happy. Her pale blonde hair swayed in the wind, drawing the eyes of everyone around her. When she walked, she knew everyone looked at her as if she were a celebrity. Like a penguin living within a pride of lions. Her ways were strange, she staggered when she walked, stuttered while she talked, and ate in little bites. Masaru didn’t know if it was better to describe her as being very weird or quirky, to be honest. Because seriously, he would be lying if he said that he had never seen or met someone like that.
That he could see through the window of Alouette's soul.
Instead, he had misty eyes and thick, silky burgundy hair. But he was fragile, delicate even. He had learned his lesson from being a lion in his youth, but now that didn't work for him.
"I like you, Masaru.I want you to be happy. For that reason alone, I will not let you fall.”
And she left.
The boy was left alone in the crowd, remembering how he was just another number in a population census.
Masaru knew that ever since Alouette appeared in his life, each day had been different. That every day lit up. He managed to finish his stupid cooking class and graduate with a degree that would at least allow him to operate his own restaurant. He didn't see the need for him to go to college for it. In addition, his parents were already deeply in debt due to Masako's career. She had decided in the heat of the moment to be a doctor like her boyfriend who was studying that as well. She could have decided to be a nurse, but no.
The boy knew that he would never entrust his life to his sister. Also, the career change was so sudden that she had to start from scratch.
Many things had happened those four seasons.
Junya and Ouka were on a tour in Europe. Junya played in his band and Ouka accompanied him, photographing the surroundings to post on their blog that was gaining a lot of attention.
Riku and Hakua had decided to get engaged, looking to prepare for an eventual wedding soon.
Mano had discovered that she was pregnant with Minato’s soon to be daughter three months ago, without even being engaged like the previous two. But they were still together and stable as always. They felt that no matter how many steps they had skipped, little by little they would start a family in their own way.
Shinobu and Hinari finally announced their relationship only to be made fun of by everyone for being so obvious and them believing that they were living the thrill of it being a secret.
Izumi was not with someone yet, but lately they saw him exchange emails through the computer with a girl who they don't know from which country she’s from. Many times, the messages were completely unrelated to work.
Shiro's mysterious girlfriend remained anonymous since they broke up, and now he was focused on studying, as always, only that now he used it as a pretext to forget his first love.
Even the youngest one, Kotoha, had started to live with her cute girlfriend who they had recently met. Apparently, she was very shy and kept on turning away every opportunity Kotoha gave her to meet her friends. After the first meeting, they learned she was actually quite sweet and adorable.
Masaru felt that he was the only one left out.
It has been a month since Alouette's confession had been left unanswered. She didn't seem to mind that she didn't get an answer. So one day they went out to the first place he took her when she came to Japan in the spring. There, he asked the following:
"Why did you fall in love with something like me?"
“Something? You’re a person, Masaru. Give yourself more credit.” She sighed into her gloveless hands, trying to warm them up.
"Well, with someone like me."
"When you looked at me, it was like every ounce of breath was taken from my lungs. Every time I felt you close, the world seemed to stop, leaving only the two of us wandering the earth together. Every time I held your hand or arms, I felt like it was untying all my knots. Holding me for eternity in the arms that I have become so used to. This is how I fell in love. As much as they were small actions, I also fell in love with watching you grow.”
Masaru was silent. Snow began to fall from the skies.
“Spring, summer, autumn and winter. Everything is reborn every season. At the moment we were parting, I found myself thinking of you and I found you right at that moment.”
She watched him and Masaru knew that something painful would come from her lips.
"A farewell during autumn for an unanswered confession and now a farewell in winter. For the first time, I felt my heart beat. My memories are like a calendar now. I must go back to France. They found out that Shinobu’s mum was keeping an illegal woman at work and I have been deported for the time being.”
Masaru didn't realize when he ran towards Alouette to hug her.
"We are like the seasons of the year, Masaru. We live each one to the fullest. You managed to move on all on your own. Please do not forget that I will always love you, no matter how much distance sets us apart.”
"I won't allow it!" He sounded defiant. “I will put… no, I will make the best restaurant in Japan that will force me to put a branch in France. That way… I will be able to see you, forever!”
"My love for you started that same spring, then summer, autumn, and winter. I was unable to notice it, holding onto something I didn't want to let go of. Now, knowing that you are being taken from my life by forces I cannot control… it has caused Masaru Motoori to finally understand what growing up is. It is letting go of the bad and thinking of a good future. A happy future. And I know that my happy future will be with you.”
His kiss was not the same as in the movies, but instead was one filled with a passion that ignites. It was the promise of a reality, of the desire that lives in all of us. And with that, Masaru knew that he was awake, connected inside with Alouette, who embraces himself instead of hiding like a carbon copy of the average population.
They look at each other in a strange way, as if it was a silent discussion. Their gazes fought each other, until tears came, and they found themselves crying.
“Why did you…?” She sobbed, tears rolling just as calmly. She sighed, wiping them away.
He kissed her again and the world vanished. It was slow and smooth, comforting in ways words never would be. His hand rested under her ear, his thumb caressing her cheek as their breaths mingled. She ran her fingers up his spine, pulling him closer until there was no space between them and she could feel his heartbeat against her chest.
"Because I love you, too."
For the first time, Masaru's mind was trapped in the present with aspirations for the future. The worries of the day evaporated like a summer rain. His usual way of rushing from one thing to another was suspended, he didn't want the kiss to end. A kiss like this was a start, a promise of much more to come.
Both were definitely hidden in these four seasons, now blossoming into the future.