Chapter 17:

Chapter 2 - Part 4: Warm Winter

I’ll Wait For You At The Train Station

Late morning, I went to the kitchen where Mom cooks. I looked for Ayase-san’s number and she gave it to me right away. Bookmark here

By the entrance, Dad said, “I’m leaving.” Bookmark here

Thus, Mom responds with, “Have a safe trip.”Bookmark here

Dad went to the garage and entered his car. The car’s engine sounded as I ran to open the gate wider. Dad gave me a thumbs up for my initiative. He drove the car out along with my half-raised hand.Bookmark here

I opened my mouth but closed it afterward. I wanted to address him farewell, but my bravado failed to push me to speak. Bookmark here

I dropped my gaze and picked up my phone instead. I went to the dining area. Towards Ayase-san, I mustn’t hold back. After registering her number and e-mail to my contact, I made a call. I waited for her to respond while clenching my phone tight. A few seconds passed and I assumed that she was busy, but at the moment I was about to cancel the call, she answered.Bookmark here

[Hello? Who is this?]Bookmark here

Hearing her voice from the other line, I wavered.Bookmark here

“Th-this is Y-Yasuhiro…” I stammered already, would this end well?Bookmark here

[Ah… Akamatsu-san. How are you doing now? I was planning to go to your house today.]Bookmark here

Did I hear it right? She would come here? If I knew that in the first place, then I shouldn’t have bothered myself from making a call. I sighed. Very well...Bookmark here

[Hello? Akamatsu-san, are you still there?]Bookmark here

“Y-yeah, I’m still here. Sorry… I just thought that, since you’re coming here, I think that’s a better way for us to talk.”Bookmark here

Damn, I was just trying to end the conversation for I have nothing else to talk about. She would come here, so I was planning to ask her to go out by then. Bookmark here

[I see. You have a point. Well, how are you doing today?] Bookmark here

“I feel fine now, I still couldn’t remember anything about the incident, though.”Bookmark here

[Ah, glad to hear that.]Bookmark here

“Ayase-san is going here?” Mom crossed, her voice came from the kitchen.Bookmark here

“Yes.” I answered while drawing the phone away from my mouth. Bookmark here

“Well, if she’s not busy this morning, you can invite her to come early. Let's have her lunch here instead.”Bookmark here

I nodded. “Ayase-san, Mom here wants you to have lunch at our house. Are you okay with it?”Bookmark here

At first I thought she’d have second thoughts for the sudden invitation, however, she replied as fast as she could.Bookmark here

[Of course yes! I’ll come.]Bookmark here

I smiled, never expecting her to shout for joy and excitement.Bookmark here

“We’ll wait for you here.”Bookmark here

[Okay. Thanks for calling, Akamatsu-san.]Bookmark here

“Thanks too. Goodbye.”Bookmark here

[Bye.]Bookmark here

Then I ended the call.Bookmark here

From her room, Matsuri went to the kitchen while still feeling drowsy. She also woke up late.Bookmark here

“What do we have for breakfast?”Bookmark here

She questioned Mom after a quick yawn.Bookmark here

“We have yakiimo [1] right there, it’s perfect for the cold.” Mom answered.Bookmark here

She glanced at the dining area and queried back, “Where and when did you roast it?”Bookmark here

“Don’t sweat the small stuff okay?”Bookmark here

“Okay… okay. I’m sure you just bought it from a street vendor.” She affirmed while walking towards the dining table like a slug. She ate the yakiimo accompanied by constant yawning. Bookmark here

I tried my best not to bother her, so I went to the living room and waited for Ayase-san to come. When our doorbell rang, I opened the front door to see her by the gate. I headed to the entrance and opened the gate and let her enter.Bookmark here

“You look a lot better now.”Bookmark here

I glanced at her relieved, smiling face. We entered the house as she hanged her black coat behind the door. Bookmark here

“It sure is still cold.”Bookmark here

She rubbed her hands together. Bookmark here

In the living room, she took a seat on the sofa. I sat beside her, “What do you like? Coffee or tea?”Bookmark here

“Hmm, I’ll go with coffee, but not black. Just a mild white coffee is okay.”Bookmark here

“Sure thing.” Bookmark here

I headed to the kitchen to prepare the coffee. Just then I realized that it was Sunday, no doubt she has no work. Matsuri don’t have school either. How about Dad? Where did he go?Bookmark here

“Where did Dad go? It’s Sunday, right?”Bookmark here

I couldn’t help but ask Mom beside me.Bookmark here

“He has few things to take care of. You know him, he’s a busy man.”Bookmark here

“I guess you know what he’s doing.”Bookmark here

“Of course.”Bookmark here

Mom smiled at her heart’s content.Bookmark here

After preparing the coffee for both of us, I returned to the living room. There, Ayase-san was watching the news.Bookmark here

“Here.”Bookmark here

I handed her the coffee.Bookmark here

“Thanks.” She took a sip of it and commended, “It tastes good. Are you the one who prepared it?”Bookmark here

“Yeah. Anyhow, are you free for the entire day?” I decided to be straightforward, or else I might hesitate again. Bookmark here

She inclined her head and answered, “Yes I am, why?”Bookmark here

“I just want to invite you to go out.”Bookmark here

“Go out?”Bookmark here

As she repeated my words like a parrot, she averted her stare.Bookmark here

“Yeah. As thanks… for all that you did to me.”Bookmark here

“Wh-what are you talking about, you’re the one who saved me. I should be the one grateful.”Bookmark here

“I heard everything from my Doctor.”Bookmark here

Her eyes snapped for a split second.Bookmark here

“He told me that, you came to visit almost every day.”Bookmark here

Staring at her cup of coffee as though her face was reflected into it, she smiled and replied, “I see. That’s just a part of me being thankful. I was thankful that day that I-”Bookmark here

“Then,” I chimed in, “-consider this to be a token of gratitude. Likewise, I’m also thankful for your daily visit.”Bookmark here

“It seemed like you’re really into this. Okay, let’s go out.”Bookmark here

“But do that after lunch, it’s still so cold outside.” Mom came to remind us of her role. Yup, she was the one who invited Ayase-san for lunch.Bookmark here

After exchanging conversations for a while, Mom prepared lunch. She took us to the dining area as we stared at the nikujaga [2] that she made. It was perfect for winter, and that brought us delight. Bookmark here

“So you’re here again.”Bookmark here

Matsuri addressed Ayase-san. I suppose after my two months of coma, they already know each other. All that Ayase-san did was a nod; they weren’t close, I guess? Bookmark here

Matsuri smiled at her while saying, “Be our guest.”Bookmark here

Ayase-san returned a broad smile and replied, “Thanks.”Bookmark here

Smiles that looks fake to me.Bookmark here

We ate together and Matsuri was the first to finish. Bookmark here

“Thanks for the food.” She stood up, “I’ll go to my room now. Nothing good to do outside with this cold.”Bookmark here

All of us stared at her while she was heading upstairs. Mom decided to keep quiet at that time, she did her best to change the topic by starting a sudden conversation towards Ayase-san. Bookmark here

After a while, we were all done with the good lunch and all together give thanks for the meal.Bookmark here

“Have fun. Enjoy your youth.”Bookmark here

Youth huh, we’ve graduated from that stage long ago. I never thought that Mom has weird taste in terms of word choices. She said that to us when we were about to leave the house. Bookmark here

“Thanks again for the lunch, Akamatsu Oba-san.”Bookmark here

Ayase-san replied, it just arrived at the point that that was how she calls Mom to avoid miscommunication.Bookmark here

We went out of the house ready for the impending cold. The month was January, and this happened to be one of the very few days of snowfall in Tokyo. Although balmy, that wouldn’t mean anyone could handle the low temperature. Me for example, I had been used to the moderate heat from the ICU for about two months, so now I find it hard to adapt to the sudden transition of weather. Just walking straight was a struggle, to be honest. Each time wind breeze passes by, I felt the frozenly chills.Bookmark here

“It’s freezing.” I noted, with my hands starting to shake.Bookmark here

Ayase-san glanced closer to my face, worried. “Are you all right? Should we turn back now?”Bookmark here

“I’m fine.” I smiled faintly, “Let’s go.”Bookmark here

From that point, we stopped.Bookmark here

“Where are we going again?”Bookmark here

She tilted her head upon querying.Bookmark here

I heaved a sigh, the white cold vapor breath out of my mouth.Bookmark here

“What are we doing, honestly.”Bookmark here

“Fu fu fu…” Ayase-san broke into laughter. Bookmark here

I looked back to see our tracks of footsteps in the light pile of snow. Going home would take a while now. This just highlighted my stupidity.Bookmark here

Placing a hand to my chin while thinking, Ayase-san nudged my shoulder and suggested, “How about we go there and start our plans?” She pointed her index finger to the convenience store on the other side of the road.Bookmark here

I nodded. “Sorry about this…”Bookmark here

“No problem. Let’s go.”Bookmark here

We entered the store for a short respite from the cold. We planned and organized things together, and for the meantime, our chosen destination was Tokyo Skytree. She told me that it was a good place to do various random activities.Bookmark here

We took a ride to the fastest route towards Tokyo Skytree town. Arriving at our destination, we bought our admission tickets and entered. Ayase-san dragged me all the way to what was called Sumida Aquarium [3]. Bookmark here

“Aside of the great view from the top of the tower, watching the cute penguins from the indoor open tanks is also a one of a kind experience.”Bookmark here

“Is that so?”Bookmark here

She looked back and answered, “Yes!”Bookmark here

I followed her. When I was in high school, I went here plenty of times to kill boredom, so the sightings weren’t new to me. When we went inside the first section, large aquariums awaited us. It was filled with various plants that grow underwater, along with nano fishes that swim in the vast tank. Ayase-san took a closer look at the tanks one by one. I could see her amazement each time she takes a closer inspection into it.Bookmark here

On the upper level, there was the jellyfish section.Bookmark here

“This is great.” Ayase-san remarked.Bookmark here

There were different kinds of jellyfishes from small to medium sizes. There were also tanks where the jellyfishes’ changes color from time to time. From the colors, red, to blue, purple, each transition impressed us to define it as extraordinary. I mean, they don’t have eyes or even brain. How could they do that? Bookmark here

Surrounded by smaller tanks, there was a scientist wearing a lab coat. He was doing tests maybe? I don’t really know but I guessed that was also a part of the attraction.Bookmark here

Moving on, we headed towards the third section. It was called the aqua gallery that features animals with magnificent colors. I’ve seen some glowing fishes, spider crabs, and different types of cephalopods. We didn’t stay there for long because Ayase-san insisted to go straight to the next section -the coral reef exhibit. As what the name says, you’d expect to see corals there. I thought that Ayase-san was getting excited over it, but I realized that the corals weren’t the thing that she wanted to see.Bookmark here

“They are so cute.” She said, looking at the strange water creatures that you’d first assume as plants.Bookmark here

“Weird.”Bookmark here

Those were the garden eels. I find it unusual that they don’t move out of their grounds. Like a plant, they stayed there bound in the sand. Bookmark here

“Are they just lazy?" I questioned.Bookmark here

Ayase-san looked at me, “I wonder.”Bookmark here

I know nothing about marine animals. Perhaps they just want an easy life? Good for them because they were spoiled and taken care here. Their bottom part was embedded to the sand and their entire length sways about pointed up. That was why they were called garden eels.Bookmark here

“Splendid indeed.” Ayase-san commended.Bookmark here

We stayed in that section for a while. It seemed that Ayase-san wanted to look at those eels forever. Bookmark here

Section 5, it was the section where you could find the sea life around Tokyo Bay. Again, they have various kinds of fishes. Nothing expected from an aquarium. The section next to it was the opposite. It was featuring sea life “out” of Tokyo. It was pretty interesting to see those large tanks along with large corals and a huge school of fishes roaming around it. I honestly wanted to stay there longer than any other sections, but after Ayase-san noticed the section next to this, she took my hand.Bookmark here

“Let’s go, the cute penguins are waiting for us.”Bookmark here

I couldn’t do anything else but sigh at her excitement. I tried to be considerate; I never thought that she was so vigorous. Bookmark here

The seventh section was where the indoor open-air penguin tanks were located. Ayase-san dashed nearby the tank to see how they eat. We were just in time for their feast. There were two people wearing a diving suit inside the tank and they feed the penguins one by one. I was not sure, but I guess it was a part of their proper diet. Bookmark here

I went closer towards Ayase-san. She was taking pictures of the penguins with her smartphone.Bookmark here

“I wonder if they are also trained to dance.”Bookmark here

She looked at me with a curious face. “What are you talking about? Where did you get that information?”Bookmark here

“I thought they are tap dancing in Antarctica. Same with the movie Happy Feet [4].”Bookmark here

“Ah, so that’s what you’re talking about. Are you serious?”Bookmark here

Of course, I’m joking. Isn’t that obvious?Bookmark here

Even so, I went along, “I’m a bit disappointed. I thought the penguins will have a great tap dancing performance.”Bookmark here

She laughed for a moment, “Fu fu fu… if they do I’m sure Sumida Aquarium will be the best.”Bookmark here

“Isn’t it the best right now?”Bookmark here

“Well, it is.”Bookmark here

After they were done feeding the featherbedded penguins, Ayase-san pointed towards the small restaurant called Penguin Café’. As the name says, the café’ was devoted to penguins. Almost all the food there was inspired or derived from penguins. Cookies shaped like penguins, buns shaped like penguins, and even the pastries, they were molded from penguins. Bookmark here

“There’s penguin everywhere.”Bookmark here

That was all that I could say.Bookmark here

“Yeah right. It’s marvelous. Beware, you might become a penguin fanatic.”Bookmark here

After ordering our penguin buns, we found our seat. It was located good enough to see the penguins in perspective top view. They even have this guidebook where the statistics of the penguins were detailed on each line. It was supposed to give you more insights into the species of penguins there. I found out that they were around twenty kinds of it. I couldn’t believe it to be honest; I couldn’t distinguish them from one another.Bookmark here

Done eating, Ayase-san dragged me all the way to the gift shop. I know that there was still the final section where we could observe the South American fur seals, but she dismissed it off. Was she not interested in it? Bookmark here

I think so.Bookmark here

Anyhow, here we are in the gift shop planning to buy a souvenir. Bookmark here

At the moment Ayase-san’s eyes locked towards the sets of penguin plushies, she was lured by it. Talk about penguin freak, she was the legit penguin fanatic here. She grabbed two fluffy penguin plushies. Me, on the other hand, was satisfied by the paper-folded fish art. I thought that it was a good display in my empty room. I was thinking of also buying the same penguin plushy that Ayase-san has so that I have something for Matsuri, but I changed my mind after I imagined her glaring at me. I could ascertain that she’d curse me if I give it as a gift. She wasn’t a kid anymore, and for those fluffy things to come from her brother would sure look creepy.Bookmark here

Once we were done buying our goods, we went out of the aquarium and headed up to the floor 350 observation deck. The time was already 3:31 PM. It was just the right time to wait for the sunset. There were plenty of people up to the tower, so we decided to get to the top. Although there was an additional fee, I didn’t think too much about it. The spent money would be worth it.Bookmark here

That’s for sure.Bookmark here

We entered the elevator and it went up. While it was moving, we could see the view of the city. It was an amazing sight. The elevator opened, marking that we reached floor 450.Bookmark here

Ayase-san and I headed towards the ramp to see the view of Tokyo from above. The once tall and gigantic buildings turned into small blocks and squares. The cars below us were like ants falling in line. The entire view was conquered by the vast skies and clouds.Bookmark here

“It’s always great here.” Ayase-san said while staring at the apparent horizon.Bookmark here

“I agree.”Bookmark here

Seconding her remark, I gazed towards the position of the sun. The light snowfall ceased, and the sun sets with the colors of the sky changing to bright red. Right here, the feeling was extraordinary. I have observed the same sunset before, but today when I was with her? It was different.Bookmark here

I looked at her as she kept quiet; never losing sight nor blinking to see the full transition of light to the darkness. It was true that watching the sunset with someone important to you makes it more special. I smiled to myself. It has been a while since I had this true smile.Bookmark here

Ayase-san, I had been longing to meet someone like you. Bookmark here

Our eyes met. I never thought that I had been staring at her for long. She averted her gaze and so do I. Bookmark here

Seconds after the awkward moment, Ayase-san stammered, “Wh-why don’t we head down now?”Bookmark here

“Y-yeah.” I nodded.Bookmark here

“There’s still a good place that I want to visit.”Bookmark here

I assumed that it was time to go home. While we were taking the elevator that goes down towards floor 345, I observed the city illuminating its nightlife. Speaking of nightlife, I could guess where we were heading next. There were plenty of choices, I wonder what place she’d prefer.Bookmark here

And so, we went to Shibuya Winter illuminations[5]. She wanted me to take various pictures of her on that site. We were surrounded by Christmas lights that shone brightly. It was January, but the decorated trees were still there to entertain people, especially the couples. Often times, we get embarrassed about what we were doing. The place just wouldn’t fit us, I suppose.Bookmark here

Ayase-san ran forward and looked back at me. Smiling, she said, “Akamatsu-san, I want to know you more. From now on, can we stay like this?”Bookmark here

I returned a smile to her message, “Of course.”Bookmark here

I couldn’t argue with that. I too wanted to know more about her. I saved her from the dashing train; perhaps because I wanted to see a new perspective in life. I longed to see its bright side despite the risk that I may also die in the process. Maybe I was desperate? I don’t know.Bookmark here

Looking at the present, I could tell that my implausible caprice was a success.Bookmark here

“Thank you for today, Akamatsu-san.”Bookmark here

We went to the station and had our separate ways. When I arrived home, Mom welcomed me.Bookmark here

“How did it go?”Bookmark here

I inclined my head at her query.Bookmark here

“Everything went well. We went to Skytree and Shibuya illuminations.”Bookmark here

“Oh, I almost forgot that the Christmas illuminations are still on.”Bookmark here

“Hey, Big brother…” Matsuri called, she was lying there on the sofa with her eyes still pointed at the TV. “Your face looks creepy.”Bookmark here

That was her scornful remark. I was glad that I didn’t buy a penguin plushy for her. She would’ve freaked out in disgust.Bookmark here

I sighed at her sarcasm proving that I was used to it.Bookmark here

“I’ll head upstairs. I’m tired.”Bookmark here

I addressed Mom.Bookmark here

“But we’ll just have our dinner.”Bookmark here

“I’m good. Thanks.”Bookmark here

I went up. At the same time, Matsuri stood up and followed me. I looked at her.Bookmark here

“What…” She glared at me. “I’m just getting something in my room.”Bookmark here

And so, I ignored her. When I get a hold of my room’s doorknob, she suddenly cut in, “Big brother, that girl…” She dropped her gaze, “Don’t trust her.”Bookmark here

She walked ahead, leaving me clueless of what she just said.Bookmark here

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[1] Yakiimo - In China, yellow-fleshed sweet potatoes are roasted in a large iron drum and sold as street food during winter. In Japan, similar street food is called ishi yaki-imo (石焼き芋; "roasted sweet potato in heat stones") and sold from trucks during the winter.Bookmark here

[2] Nikujaga - is a Japanese dish of meat, potatoes and onion stewed in sweetened soy sauce, sometimes with ito konnyaku and vegetables.
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[3] Sumida Aquarium - is one of the main attractions of the Tokyo Skytree Town complex that was opened in May 2012 in Tokyo. The moderately sized and beautifully designed modern aquarium houses over 10,000 sea creatures on the 5th and 6th floors of Tokyo Solamachi, a shopping and entertainment complex at the base of the Tokyo Skytree.Bookmark here

[4] Happy Feet -  is a 2006 computer-animated musical comedy film directed, produced, and co-written by George Miller. It stars the voices of Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Brittany Murphy, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Hugo Weaving, and E.G. Daily. 
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[5] Shibuya Winter Illumination - Winter illuminations are a top seasonal tourist attraction in Tokyo, and numbers of special light-up events are held in the city during winter. Shibuya is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Tokyo, known for the trendy young culture, and also the vibrant nightlife. In Shibuya, several illumination events can be enjoyed during 2018–2019 winter including the famous SHIBUYA BLUE CAVE. In this article, I’d like to introduce must-see winter illuminations held in Shibuya, Tokyo as well as nearby events.Bookmark here

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