Chapter 5:

Balloons aren't allowed to droop.

Anything but Boring!

The morning light pushed past the green translucent curtains in the kitchen beside the living room, but that was not what caused Makoto to finally awaken. That honor belonged to the smell of food and the crackle of meat cooking on the stove. He rubbed his eyes and sat up. Kimiko hummed happily to herself as she cooked, swaying her hips in a little dance all her own. Bookmark here

It dawned on him then, that he'd never woken up to the smell of food being made for him. Granted, that was a pretty big assumption, considering what he'd told her last night. Still, his instincts told him she wouldn't withhold food just because of what happened. They were still friends, after all.Bookmark here

Sure enough, Makoto was right. He peeked over when he saw her plating and saw that she'd set up the table for two. Feeling curious, he decided to pretend to still be sleeping, not for any reason except for him being a glutton for attention.Bookmark here

Kimiko let out a pleased sigh from her finished work, then tip-toed over to check on Makoto. "Um…" She mumbled quietly as he appeared to sleep. "Makoto." She whispered to try to rouse him but still, his eyes were shut.Bookmark here

"I made some food for you if you want." She said, then gently tapped his nose. "Makoto?"Bookmark here

He opened his eyes and let out a fake yawn before looking at her in her strawberry jammies. "Well, aren't you looking like a smoothie? Oranges and strawberries again?"Bookmark here

Kimiko's cheeks tinted like pink roses. "I don't have my buns in my hair today though."Bookmark here

"But that's how I first saw you, so that's how I'm gonna remember you." Makoto said as he sat up on the couch.Bookmark here

Nervously, she pet her long ponytail. "Mm… do you have to?"Bookmark here

"Sorry, them's the rules." Makoto said, then stretched his arms up before putting his hands on his legs. "You made food?"Bookmark here

"Mmhm. For both of us." She said, then walked him over to the table. It was adorned with a flower in a vase and a lace tablecloth. She stopped for a second when she realized how this looked. "Em. It's not a date though. I want you to know that."Bookmark here

Something about her turning the tables on him and almost making it seem like it was her idea tickled Makoto a certain way. "Don't worry, I got it." He assured, then ruffled her hair, making her face squish up before he sat across from her.Bookmark here

"The food looks delicious, thanks." Makoto said, then had a funny smile once he saw the cat-shaped foam on his coffee. He shook the handle to make the ears wobble.Bookmark here

"Any time." Kimiko said, as cheerful as the birds chirping outside their window.Bookmark here

It only took Makoto two bites before he was convinced she must have added something amazing to the food even though the dish was fairly common for breakfast. Her food was delicious before, yes, but now it tasted heavenly. If she were someone else, he might have suspected that she was trying to show him what he was missing out on. However, Makoto had dated enough girls to recognize the signs, and while this girl had her own share of oddities, maliciousness wasn't one of them. In fact, now that he thought of it, he's never actually met a girl like Kimiko before.Bookmark here

Oh no. He was so busy thinking about his food and its chief that he didn't catch what she was talking about. This was usually the part where the girl got mad at him for being distracted. Kimiko was chatting, looking nervous, then hopeful but it had all been on mute for him until now when he finally interrupted her to say, "Sorry, I um… I didn't hear what you said."Bookmark here

Kimiko stopped and tilted her head. "Eh? Oh, I was just saying that I'm going to go on a date with Daichi today."Bookmark here

Makoto's eyelashes fluttered in shock, at first it was because he'd not met a girl so patient before, but then… "He's an old friend of yours right?"Bookmark here

Kimiko nodded. "Mmhm. He didn't have many friends back when we were kids, so I would spend a lot of time with him. Then in high school, he had lots of friends, and I guess we stopped hanging out."Bookmark here

More like he ditched her. Makoto thought with annoyance. "Seems… fun." He couldn't hide his sarcasm entirely.Bookmark here

"Thanks." She said with a nervous smile as she rubbed the back of her head. "The only weird thing is, he's never been interested in me like that." She admitted. "So… I'm a little nervous to see him again."Bookmark here

"Then why go on a date?"Bookmark here

"Well…" Kimiko began with a soft sigh. "He messaged me this morning, and after our talk last night, I was thinking about it and… I don't know. Maybe it's fate or something. My instincts were clearly wrong about you- I mean!" She frantically corrected herself. "Not that you did anything wrong. It's just that I'm not going to keep pursuing someone hoping they'll change. I know at least that much, and you don't want to ever get married so… that's that, you know?"Bookmark here

Makoto simply hummed in response.Bookmark here

"Anyway, I'd better go get dressed. It's a super fancy brunch date so it's going to take a while for me to be proper. His family is… very particular." Kimiko explained.Bookmark here

"Like how?"Bookmark here

"Emm… like themes. This brunch's theme is English Victorian." She said, collecting the dishes and putting them in the sink.Bookmark here

"How do they expect you to dress for that?" Makoto asked. "It's not exactly something people have laying around." He sat up, then went over to the sink and leaned against the counter so she wouldn't try to wash the dishes.Bookmark here

"Daichi said that I ought to just dress in the best that I have and that he'll give me something to wear when I get there."Bookmark here

"Seems like a lot for a… brunch."Bookmark here

"It is, but I mean it's also pretty cool, right? I get to get all dressed up in a fluffy dress." Kimiko giggled.Bookmark here

Makoto nodded to encourage her happiness. "That's true."Bookmark here

With eager energy, she hurried off to her room, leaving Makoto to notice how the bottom of her thin shorts flipped about when she ran. He put his hands in his pockets and looked down at his shoes, which were crossed over one another. Bookmark here

Living with a girl while she dates another guy. Great work, eighteen-year-old Makoto. He thought with great malice.Bookmark here

Makoto swore he could hear his own past self quip back, "Ha ha ha! That's hilarious. You're welcome!"Bookmark here

~~ Later that Day ~~Bookmark here

The front of the large estate that Kimiko had arrived at was breathtaking. A marvelous combination of traditional and modern Japanese architecture. On either side of the stone walkway, was a quiet stream of water. The path led to a curved bridge, allowing guests passage over the elegant pond filled with chunky koi fish of an array of colors. Past the bridge, several zen gardens and matching greenery were meticulously kept in pristine order. Bookmark here

The moment Kimiko stepped out of the cab, she ran over to the bridge in awe and bent over the railing with a coo to admire the fish closer. Bookmark here

"Hello!" She giggled as she watched them swim around happily. One of the fish popped up to look at her, expecting treats with its ‘o’ shaped mouth. "Oh no! I don't have food for them."Bookmark here

"They eat plenty." A low voice intervened, and when she looked to her right she saw the tall and stiff posture of her childhood friend. Bookmark here

Daichi Asato.Bookmark here

His jet black hair was silky thin and fallen around him in a way that felt both orderly and slightly messy all at once. He wore traditional Victorian wear for men, a white waistcoat, a black tail-coat, and trousers for the occasion. His expression was as pressed flat as his pants.Bookmark here

"Daichi! It's so good to see you again!" Kimiko smiled, then hopped down off the railing and took a step forward with her arms open to hug him, at first. However, seeing his perturbed expression reminded her how her affectionate tendencies used to annoy him. Her arms now to her side, she bowed instead, and he bowed back.Bookmark here

"And you as well." His dark eyes looked over her body and dress. It was flattering on her, fitted to her curves and flaring at her hips to allow her an image of sweetness over being provocative. The cool tone of dark emerald suited her eyes and skin, he found. Although, he could tell the dress was cheap, which wouldn't do.Bookmark here

"Follow me."Bookmark here

The color of Kimiko's face threatened to go full-on tomato from his staring, worried that she'd somehow already done something wrong. All at once, she felt like her younger self again. The girl with the strawberry-blonde hair who was always kicking herself for not being able to please him.Bookmark here

Impervious to the feelings clearly written on her face, Daichi led her into the estate. Once they’d taken off their shoes, he showed her to the back of the house. Then, sliding the shoji open, he revealed a small, minimalist room. So minimalist in fact, that Kimiko wondered what its typical use would be. Daichi instructed her to go inside and change. The shoji slid shut in a snap, making Kimiko flinch.Bookmark here

Draped over a room divider was her assigned dress. Dark blue with pearls and iridescent ruffles along the bust and hem. It was certainly a stunning tribute to the fashion of the era. Kimiko didn't even want to think about how much it cost. Bookmark here

Shedding her clothes, she stepped into the complicated garment with one timid foot at a time. With a shimmy, she was able to get the dress up to her hips but the laces were too tight so she loosened them before pulling it all the way up.Bookmark here

"Make sure you put it on over your head." Daichi said from behind the door.Bookmark here

Oh no I did it wrong… Kimiko thought with a nervous stomach churning so much she was sure she could turn cream to butter.Bookmark here

She managed to tie the corset herself but not without some struggle, and the last thing she wanted was to admit to Daichi that she couldn't do it herself. What if there was some obvious trick to it that she wasn't doing? Bookmark here

In either case, if the corset were any tighter she was sure her waist would bruise faster than a banana, so she left it a little loose on purpose.Bookmark here

When Kimiko stepped out, Daichi immediately scanned her form as if his very programming was coded to find any defects. The idea of him being a robot was funny to her, but his glare was so intense that it made it hard for her to want to laugh.Bookmark here

"Um… can we go now?" She asked, wondering if this was how poor mannequins felt like all day.Bookmark here

"No. Turn around."Bookmark here

She did as he asked. "Is… everything okay?" Her big eyes peered over her shoulder at him. Bookmark here

Daichi ignored her question. "Hm. That's the problem." He said to himself, before unlacing her corset so abruptly that Kimiko's hands shot up to her dress to make sure it wouldn't fall. The man soon tightened it back up with a forceful yank, squeezing her out of her breath so tightly that if she'd been underwater, a big bubble would have left her mouth. With one last yank, he tied it shut. Then, he took her shoulders and turned her around.Bookmark here

Kimiko's green eyes couldn't look directly at him. His eyes might as well have been two magnifying glasses to her. She thought about how he would look like he had huge bug eyes if he did, and managed to make herself smile a little, although it was fleeting.Bookmark here

Daichi's eyebrows were furrowed as he stared at her. Her petite waist was squeezed into an unnatural hourglass and her bust was pushed to high heaven. High enough, where she was sure that if there was a god out there, then it must be staring at her too. The thought made her want to hide away in a blanket and never peek out.Bookmark here

As if still sensing the perverted god from above, she covered her cleavage with her hands. "Daichi, I don't feel good about-"Bookmark here

His eyes narrowed into lines. "Don't do this again."Bookmark here

"W-What?" Kimiko stuttered, her stomach backflipped and her heart followed suit.Bookmark here

I miss Makoto… I want to go home.Bookmark here

"Don't ruin things." He said.Bookmark here

"I-I'm not trying to, I just-"Bookmark here

"And don't cry. Now come on." He walked off without her.Bookmark here

She stood there in silence for a few seconds.Bookmark here

Was Daichi always like this? Did I just… never notice before?Bookmark here

Kimiko eyed the front door, but now it slowly stretched further and further away from her. She wanted to leave, but Daichi said that people were expecting her. It would be so rude of her to just abandon her old friend and also all these guests who were nice enough to come to meet her. Kimiko decided that it didn't matter if she couldn't breathe well, she didn't need much air to smile and behave decently. It was only temporary, so she shouldn't complain. Many girls would love to be in her position, and she was being ungrateful.Bookmark here

Don't be sad. It'll be okay. He's probably just grumpy is all and there’s probably a really good reason for all of this. Plus! I got to see some cute fish earlier, and I've never worn a dress like this before. So, that's still fun.Bookmark here

With a tight breath to attempt to anchor her lightheaded anxiety from floating off into the wind, she put on her new shoes, then carried all of that well-earned optimism with her as she followed Daichi out to the patio outside.Bookmark here

As if choreographed, a rustle of dresses and uncomfortable pants turned to face her. A sea of glossy eyes blinked out of unison like a dopey cartoon.Bookmark here

Kimiko gave a small wave to the guests while Daichi walked over to her. She hoped he'd speak for her and save her from this awkwardness.Bookmark here

"Thank you all for coming." Daichi said to the small crowd of people. "As you may already know, this is Nakano, Kimiko. My long-time friend and now… my fiancée."Bookmark here

Before Kimiko's face could even properly register her shock, her hand was yanked over to his side.Bookmark here

"Thank heavens! My darling son is finally getting married!"Bookmark here

His mother was so happy…Bookmark here

Kimiko's eyes crinkled and her posture shrunk. It was this exact moment that made her realize how it feels to be spinach shriveling pathetically in a pan.Bookmark here

Daichi spoke to his family further, but Kimiko heard nothing but a mess of words as if having forgotten her own language. His announcement might as well have been a flash grenade because she swore her ears were ringing and the world was going white.Bookmark here

Kimiko knew what she should do. She knew she should call out his lie. Knew that he deserved it. He'd been terribly rude to her and she'd be justified in dishing it back to him in a grand fashion. She wanted to slam down her "reverse-card" just like in that colorful card game she'd played with him as a kid.Bookmark here

So then… Why couldn't she?Bookmark here

When she was just a young girl, she had an excuse for his every transgression. Naivety shined a kaleidoscope of colors over his name when it was only through her eyes that they could exist.Bookmark here

His presence made her backbone turn to jelly, and she'd spent years trying to cultivate a steel-grade spine. Her nerve turned into a vanishing act as swift as a cheap magician without a rabbit to pull from their hat.Bookmark here

Still, the stupidness of the brain has no stake in doing what's best for its host, not in the slightest. Rather, it does what it is used to doing. It does what it has always done until it's trained to stop.Bookmark here

Having been away from him for so long, she wasn't prepared to say no to him. Kimiko was so far from putting her foot down that she might as well have been levitating.Bookmark here

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