Chapter 5:

Sweet Matcha

Somehow, I fell in Love With My School's Biggest Gal!

          “Come on! It’s just a little bit further!” Aki promised as she lead Sora down the street. It was Friday,  four days since his first encounter with Aki. Bookmark here

          The city was bathed in golden light and the sun slowly began its descent as his friend dragged him along. They had just been released from school and Aki had wanted to go get coffee. She had invited Sora to come with. Well, not so much invited as told him that he would be coming with her and then dragged him off, but...Bookmark here

          Aki had said that she was taking him to her favorite coffee shop. From her description, he gathered that it was a Japanese branch of an over-rated American coffee chain. In other words, one of the last possible places that he would ever want to set foot in! Although, to be fair, he had never gone to a modern coffee shop before. Not even a café, really. Bookmark here

              When it was nice out, his parents and him would walk to church and, sometimes, they’d stop at an outdoor café on the way home. They’d all get tea and pastries, or something like that, and just sit outside for a while. His parents would read while he played games on his phone. When his older sister came home from college, she’d usually have her face buried in her classwork or a scholarly journal. It was nice, but this was highly likely to be the opposite of that. He could already imagine how crowded this store was going to be!Bookmark here

          “Here we are!” Aki announced in a sing-song voice. The recognizable green and white logo didn’t surprise him. However, the old, brick building covered in ivy was different than what he had expected. From the outside, it didn’t look too modern or foreign. It seemed better suited to a different era of time than 21st century Japan.Bookmark here

         “Hey, can we please get our drinks to go and take a walk in the ocean park before it get’s dark?” Aki pleaded with her giant, turquoise eyes. “Uh, yeah. Sure. I’d rather do that than stay here, to be honest.” Sora admitted as he stared up at the sign in apprehension. “Oh, come on, don’t be boring!” Aki teased, guessing what he was thinking. “ You won’t know how great this place is until you get the full experience!" Bookmark here

         “Uh, Aki?” Sora raised his eyebrows. “I’m not a coffee drinker.” “Really?” “Well, I do drink some. But it’s actual coffee, not sugar with a side of coffee like this place probably serves. I drink strait black coffee when I need to stay up to study or do homework. I drink it in the morning sometimes, too. But that's it.”Bookmark here

         “Oh, quit whining and stalling! Let’s goooo!” Aki complained as she opened the door and shoved him towards it. “Gaaaah” Sora panicked as he nearly fell forward. “Calm down! I’m going, alright? You don’t need to try and kill me!”Bookmark here

            The atmosphere inside the shop was surprisingly warm and relaxed. The lights were fixed with soft, warm bulbs that gave off a warm, golden-orange light. The windows let light come in, but they were tinted so that the light was softened. The ivy on the outside of the building also trailed down the windows, casting mystical-looking shadows. The furniture was comprised of classical hardwood tables, chairs, bars, and stools. There wasn’t any plastic or fake wood in sight. There was even a large sitting area with tasteful plush furniture in different earthy colors. The sitting area had a giant fireplace, two huge floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on either side of said fireplace, and a massive oriental rug spread across it’s floor. It looked like an old-timey bookstore! It reminded Sora of his father's office.Bookmark here

            “Whoa!” Sora said in a subdued tone, as not to disturb the quiet atmosphere. “It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?” Smiled Aki. “I found it accidentally and fell in love. It’s a great place to curl up with some manga. It’s hard to believe that this is actually one of those coffee franchise’s branches! It looks so different! And the drinks are really good, too!” Bookmark here

            “Uh…” Sora stared blankly at the glowing monitors displaying beverage and snack options. None of this stuff looked familiar! There was no regular coffee here! Only sweet syrup and odd flavors that didn’t seem to have any coffee in them! Bookmark here

          “I’d recommend the matcha latte!’ Aki held her hands behind her back and smiled. “It’s just sweet enough for someone who isn’t used to fancy coffee drinks.” She turned to the person behind the counter.Bookmark here

           “Hello! I’ll take a large sakura blossom cream Frappuccino, please!” She smiled at very flustered young man taking her order. She tucked a strand of hair behind her eat. “And I’ll also take a medium matcha latte for my friend, please!” She gave the guy behind the counter a cute little smile and head tilt that further flustered him. Bookmark here

         “Uh…Um…Y-yes, ma’am!” He squeaked, looking redder than was humanly possible. “I-i-i—is…for here or to go?” “To go, please!” "Uh, yeah! c-c-c-coming right up!" The guy scurried like a rat to the kitchen to place Aki's order.Bookmark here

         After paying for the drinks, Aki rejoined her friend. “Hey, you didn’t have to do that, you know! “ Sora complained sullenly. “I may not have much money, but I have enough to buy my own drink!” “Oh, come on!” Aki waved away his annoyance. “This is something that friends do, right? If it bothers you so much, then you can buy next time!”Bookmark here

           In no time at all, their order was served. After thanking the worker, the two headed outside and continued walking down the street.Bookmark here

         “mmmm!” Aki smiled in delight as she sipped her drink. “It’s a really nice night, isn’t it?” “uh, yeah. I guess.” Sora blew at the hole in the lid of his latte. Steam billowed out from it. He stared at it apprehensively. Not that he didn’t trust Aki, but was this going to be good? He didn’t want to look like a spaz if he had to spit it back out or something. Bookmark here

             “Come on!, Why don’t you try it already? Don’t tell me that you are one of those picky sissys who hates trying things he’s never eaten before!” Aki taunted jokingly. “Like Hell I am! I’ll show you!” Bracing himself for the worst, he lifted the paper cup his lips and took a large gulp of the beverage. Bookmark here

              “w-w-wow!” He stared at the cup in shock. “This is really good!” “Well, did you really doubt me? I’m not a liar!” Aki giggled. “Y-yeah. Thanks again for the drink, Aki-Chan.” “Don’t mention it!” They’d entered the ocean park and now reached the start of the main path that wound around the Oceanside. The two walked in silence for a bit, enjoying the lovely ocean sunset and the light breeze.Bookmark here

         'This is different and really out of my comfort zone,’ Sora reflected. “'s nice. I don’t know why, but it’s relaxing and fun to be around Aki-Chan. I never felt that around anyone before, not even Ryo-Kun.’Bookmark here

           “Hey, Sora-Kun, tell me something about yourself, something that I don’t already know.” Aki ordered him suddenly. “Wha- where did that come from?” He asked. “Well, we been hanging out for a couple of days, but I still feel like I barely know anything about you.” Aki explained. “Well, what do you want to know?” “What’s your family like?”Bookmark here

          “Well…My mother is a journalist and she writes for some woman’s fashion magazine.” Sora started, aware of how boring his family would sound. “My dad-I already told you that he’s an art history professor, right? He’s a big nerd for history and books. He likes to cook. He’s really just a quiet and gentle guy. Mom and big sis can walk all over him.”Bookmark here

             “You have a sister?” “Yeah. Uwammi. She’s older than me by eight years. Actually, she’s adopted, but everyone says that we look alike. Also, people have a hard time believing that we are related to dad, even though Uwa isn’t biologically connected to us at all. We apparently look a lot like mom and nothing at all like dad.” He shruggedBookmark here

            “Really? Isn’t adoption pretty rare in Japan?” “Well, yeah, I guess.” Huh, Sora had never really thought about it! In all honesty, having an adopted sister seemed normal, because that was all he had ever known. He was only a year old when his sister was adopted. Uwammi had been eight when their parents brought her home, so she at least  vaguely remembered being adopted.Bookmark here

          “Your parents must be really good people, if they were able to take in and love a child that wasn’t technically theirs.” Aki Mussed. “Well…they are. Good, that is.” Sora said awkwardly. “They are the best parents I could ever ask for. I guess part of the reason they decided to adopt was the whole religion thing.” “Religion thing?” Aki perked up in curiosity. “What religion thing?Bookmark here

      “Ah! I shouldn’t have said anything! Just forget it, okay?” Sora dismissed his words with a wave of his hand. “Come on! Tell me, Sora-Kun!” Aki pouted, puffing up her cheeks. Bookmark here

        “Aww, but it’s embarrassing and stupid! You’ll probably just laugh at me!” Sora blushed and stared at his coffee cup so intensely that he stumbled over a crack in the sidewalk. Bookmark here

        “I won’t laugh! I won’t, I promise! Tell me!” Aki begged, hopping in excitement as they walked. “Huh…Fine.” Sora sulked. “Dad, umm…when he studied abroad in Spain…he got converted by some old pastor guy and uhh…we’re Christians, Okay?”Bookmark here

          Sora figured that it was just better to get it over with. Aki didn’t seem like the judgmental type at all, but he remembered his primary school years vividly.Bookmark here

           He had causally talked about Jesus and children’s church frequently. He was also laughed at frequently for it. He was too young to realize that he was a part of an incredibly small Japanese minority. He only realized why everyone teased him when they began learning about the Tokugawa Shogunate in 3rd grade history. He was surprised to learn about the fact that stepping foot in Japan if you were Christian had once carried a strict death penalty. While his father taught art history, he also had a degree in Japanese history. Sora had gone to his father, who had explained everything to him, including the fact that less than one percent of Japanese people were Christians. Bookmark here

             Ugh, maybe he really was boring and dumb! He usually assumed that his experiences and thoughts were the norm until confronted with contrary examples. He really didn’t know much about life or other people. ‘Wow, am I selfish!’ Sora thought to himself. ‘I never realized how awful it is to not try and understand the thoughts and feelings of other people. Maybe that’s how I was able to misjudge Aki-Chan so horribly!’Bookmark here

           “Pfffft!” Aki clapped her free hand over her mouth. “You jerk! You promised that you wouldn’t laugh!” Sora snapped at her. “N-no! I’m not laughing at you!” Aki laughed. “It’s just, well… I’m a Christian, too! I go to church with Grandma all the time!” Sora froze in shock. “You’re kidding me!” “No, really!” Aki laughed. “I’ve never met anyone my age who was one, outside of our church, that is!” She smiled at the ground as they resumed their walking tempo. Bookmark here

         “Before Grandma had me to care for, she met our pastor. He’s still really young, but he was fresh out of an English seminary then. Grandma will have to tell you the story herself sometime because it’s utterly hilarious, but she basically took charge of him and bossed him around when she saw how incompetent he was at planting a church. She didn’t even know anything about Christianity then. She used to be a Buddhist, but he converted her, eventually, after months of being pushed around! She taught him about Japanese culture and how to speak decent Japanese.”Bookmark here

             “Wow, that is a crazy coincidence!” Sora felt ecstatic. “By the way, we need to turn left here. Sorry that we won’t see the sea for much longer, but my place is this way.” “That’s fine!” Aki assured him. Bookmark here

              “So, you live with your grandmother, Aki-Chan?” “Yep! Baba’s raised me since…oh, I was six, maybe?” Aki tossed her empty frappe cup in a trashcan as they passed by. Bookmark here

            “she’s raised you this whole time?” “Uh-huh.” Aki nodded. “She’s a sweet old lady. We live in a pretty nice house, too! It’s a traditional Japanese-style house. She wears nothing but kimonos. Grandma is pretty old-fashioned.” Aki admitted bashfully. “But…she’s really kind and open-minded, even with her sharp tongue.”Bookmark here

             ‘That’s…weird.’ Sora thought to himself as they turned onto his street. ‘She hasn’t mentioned her parents at all yet, not even before this. I wonder why? Did something happen to them?’ “Hey, Aki-Chan, what about your parents? Don’t they live with you?” Sora blurted out before he could even think.Bookmark here

              Aki’s smile froze. “W-w-wh-why are you asking that?” “Well, you don’t have to answer if it’s too uncomfortable for you but…I was just wondering.” Sora played with his spiky hair. “You haven’t mentioned your parents at all since we met so…”Bookmark here

            A strange look crossed Aki’s face. “N-no. It’s...It’s fine. “ She said hesitantly. “Umm…they died. When I was five. Ever since then…it’s just been me and Baba.” She went silent.Bookmark here

         “I’m so sorry, Aki-Chan! I won’t bring it up again, okay?” “No! You’re good! You don’t need to apologize, you didn’t upset me or do anything wrong!” “Oh, okay. Good, then.” The two went awkwardly silent for a moment.Bookmark here

          Sora felt terrible. Aki told him that she was okay but he suspected otherwise. ‘Just the look on her face when I mentioned her parents…!’ Sora thought. ‘ The terror in her eyes was so intense. Maybe I just imagined it but…I’ve never seen anything like it. She looked so sad and haunted that it was scary! What happened to her parents for her to react like that?’ Sora felt incredibly humiliated by his social flub. Fortunately for Sora, his apartment building came into view.Bookmark here

            “Here we are! This is where I live!” They paused on the sidewalk. “Wow!” Aki exclaimed, looking up in amazement as Sora threw his empty coffee cup in the trash. “How many floors are there?” “Fifteen. I live on the fifth floor. There.” Sora pointed at the kitchen window above them. “Nice! That must be some view!” “Yeah, it’s a nice place to drink black coffee and watch the sunrise in the morning.” Sora agreed, unable to resist the urge to add a good jab in there. Bookmark here

           “Umm..” He fidgeted awkwardly as he searched for the right words to say good-bye. While he had had a relaxing time with Aki and had learned a lot about her, he still felt terrible for upsetting her and wanted to run to the safety of his home. And, being completely honest, hanging out with a girl in public made him feel awkward. Bookmark here

              “T-t-thanks for coming with me today, Sora-Kun.” Aki blushed, looked down at her feet, and played around with the straps of her schoolbag. “It-it was really nice. I like spending time with you. You’re…you’re really sweet, Sora-Kun.” Her red face darkened further. “And I feel…really safe and happy when I’m around you.”Bookmark here

             “D-dang.” Sora muttered, rubbing the back of his head and looking away. “It’s not like I had anything better to do…but I had… fun, too. You…” He struggled, searching for the right words. He wanted to say something kind and meaningful, like what she had just said to him.Bookmark here

              “You are the best friend I ever had, honestly. You…are actually interested in me and who I am. And…Okay, I guess I’ll just be honest. I think you’re really cute. You’re always so happy that it’s hard not to have fun when I’m with you.” Bookmark here

                “Y-you’re just trying to flatter me…” Aki deflected. “No, honest! I…I’m happy that you’re my friend, Aki-Chan.” He held his hand out to her to shake. “M-m-me too.” She shyly took his hand, bashfully looking away as they shook hands. They stood in silence for a moment, still holding each other’s hands. Bookmark here

            'This is…nice. Her hand’s so warm.’ Sora smiled. ‘Ack! Wait, what the Hell am I thinking!’ He jumped as he realized what they were doing. He yanked his hand away abruptly.Bookmark here

              “Ah! Uh, well…I’llseeyouatschoolonMondayIgottogonowbye!” He spouted quickly, turning and running inside. He zipped up the stairs in record time, entered his apartment and slammed the door behind him.Bookmark here

                Sora leaned against the door, breathing heavily with his heart banging wildly in his chest. “I-I-I did it! I really told her that!” He laughed aloud. Bookmark here

              He had been able to tell Aki what he really thought of her! Well, partially, anyway. He never thought that he would be able to be brave like that! He had no clue why, but he felt as though he had achieved some sort of major victory. He couldn’t wait to see Aki-Chan again on Monday!Bookmark here

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