Chapter 18:

Episode 18- Light of the Tree

My Friend is a Harem Protagonist [Short]

December 17th, A Freezing Saturday.

Kioko and I walked in the town's strip mall. We had made the plans to do most of our Christmas shopping together. Finals began on Monday so we would be busy with those until Winter break began, so this was our last chance.

I took note of the Christmas tree that was set up in the food court. It was decorated and stood as a monument in the two story mall. Tonight they would be lighting it, an event that was considered romantic by all those around. I heard a rumor that if you watched the lighting with a significant other it meant a year of good times or something like that. I wasn't too sure about it, though it would be fun to do.

“So that takes care of Maeko, Saki, and Aoi.” Kioko said, reading off her list of presents. “I got Toshi, Daichi, and my Parents. I already got Niko, Sara, and Akari’s presents the other day so that should make things easier.”

“I got mine mostly done too.” I said, looking over my similar list.

Kioko nodded, searching for the next store we would check out. Today Kioko wore a heavy jacket, a long red scarf, and warm leggings. My own winter clothes were thick but not as thick as hers. No scarf, just a jacket and pants. We both had gloves that we packed into our jacket pockets since we were indoors.

“What about that store?” Kioko asked.

The store in question was an athletics store, perfect for Toshi.

“Let's do it.” I said as we both headed in.

We were searching the racks when Kioko decided to speak up.

“Thanks for inviting me out.” Kioko stated.

“I wanted to hang out, plus I would be struggling without you.” I laughed.

“Yeah, you really only needed me for their sizes though.” Kioko said.

“I cannot enter a lot of those stores without a female with me.” I said bluntly. “If I had, I would get some weird looks.”

“It's not illegal for you to shop there.” Kioko said.

“Well it still would have felt weird.” I said with a sigh.

Kioko laughed. We both got what we wanted and began to leave the store.

“Yo, Riku!” Ren’s voice yelled out from across the mall.

I turned to see the couple of Ren and Toshi come rushing at us. They skid to a halt, a trail of dust behind them.

“Hey you two.” I said casually. I moved the bag from this store behind my back, as it held the presents for both Ren and Toshi inside it.

Toshi took notice. “Don't worry, we won't peek. But look at you two hanging out together.”

“We hang out all the time.” I said in annoyance.

The couple gave me a smug smile.

“Please stop that.” I said, feeling a strange pressure on me.

“You two shopping too?” Kioko asked. She held both hands behind her back to shield her bags. It was kind of cute how she looked.

“Yep, last day to do so before cramming begins.” Toshi said.

“You have been studying right? You didn't push it off till the last minute right?” I asked.

“Anyways we will get out of your hair!” Ren declared.

“Hold on, you didn't answer me!” I said. They were already running off.

“What did you expect?” Kioko said with a laugh. “Those two are perfect for each other, they both refuse to study until the last minute.”

“Lucky them for those scholarships.” I sighed. “I heard they were going to a school up north together.”

“Yep, they just gotta pass the year and they are in, not even worried about entrance exams.” Kioko explained.

“Meaning after finals they get to take it easy, while we all stress about entrance exams, fantastic.” I sighed.

“Doubt you need to stress too hard.” Kioko explained. “I've seen your prep books, you're beyond prepared.”

“There is a difference between prep and actually taking the test.” I explained.

Kioko gave a smug look. “You are right, the actual test will be stressful. Plus you will have me in the same room as you, that adds even more pressure!”

“Not even!” I said sharply.

“Oh? How do you know? You haven't taken a big test with me in the room with you before.” Kioko stated.

“You think you will distract me that much?” I said.

` “I think you will naturally be distracted by me.” Kioko said, beginning to walk towards the next store.

“I think you're a bit full of yourself.” I joked.

“Probably.” Kioko said, still holding her hands behind her back as she walked.

“We should expect the others to pop up today.” I said. “Most likely they will want to be here tonight for the Christmas tree lighting.”

“Oh yeah I heard that rumor too. I already told the girls.” Kioko said. “So yeah, we can expect them at some point.”

I felt a tad sheepish before I spoke. “You want to stay to watch it?”

“Hm? Nah it'll be way too crowded, I hate suffocating crowds.” Kioko said as we went into the next store.

I felt a moment of disappointment. “Okay.” I brushed it off.

We spent most of the afternoon shopping and then ate in the food court. It was packed quite a bit. We ran into the girls just before they all split off to search for Daichi. The sun was setting, so they were limited on time to find him for their event.

Kioko and I had finished our shopping and were walking. Kioko kept taking weird turns, mentioning a short cut or something. Before I knew it we were on the hill overlooking the town.

“Jeez you're killing me.” I said, my breath in full view. I was a tad cold, but nothing too bad.

“Why do you think I am dragging you out here?” Kioko said as if she was about to murder me.

“If you're going to do it, at least do it quickly. I leave all my manga to Daichi with the hopes that he will get a clue.” I quipped.

“What, I have heard of this great manga collection, I want it!” Kioko stated. “You said you have like thirty finished series!”

“I think it was somewhere around there.” I said, thinking to my bookcases trying to count it mentally.

“Yeah, you change that, leave them to me.” Kioko joked.

“Ah sorry I have a strict ‘Dont give things to my murder’ rule.” I said.

“Not fair!” Kioko said loudly.

“Well don't kill me and I will think about it.” I laughed.

“Fine, then I will go with plan B.” Kioko said, rolling her eyes.

“Oh so you had an actual plan with this detour of yours?” I said.

“Of course, look there.” Kioko pointed at a point along the road. It was an area with benches overlooking the city. “Let's sit for a bit.”

We did. The view was nice. The sun had set over the horizon not long ago, so the lights of the town stood out perfectly.

“Its so pretty.” I said, staring out at the world.

I heard the sound of clothing being removed. I was quite caught off guard when I spotted Kioko unwrapping her scarf. She took her scarf and wrapped it around my neck, and her own. We were forced close together by the scarf.

“You looked like you were shivering for a while.” Kioko said as our heads were so close together. “We still got a few before we will head home, so I don't want you catching a cold.”

“Thanks.” I said, I could smell Kioko. It was either the scarf or her, and I wasn't sure which was better.

“Look, you can see my house from here.” Kioko said, pointing out. “And look there is Toshi’s. Aoi’s, Yours, oh there is Maeko’s. I swear it's bigger than the mall.”

Maeko’s house did stand out like a sore thumb.

I had something on my mind. I wondered why she really didn't want to stay for the tree lighting, was it because.

“And look at that.” Kioko said, nudging me for my attention.

Suddenly, a large light erupted in the middle of town. That was right, there was the tree lighting in the mall, and the lighting in the middle of town.

The tree was decorated with a large blue star, a series of colored lights going all around the tree in a series of spirals. It looks so large even from way out here. I could only stare at its beauty. I hadn't noticed until a minute later that Kioko had her cheek pressed against mine.

“You're warm.” Kioko said happily. “Sorry if I am too close.”

“No, you're not.” I said. My heart was beating out of my chest. I froze in place. The lights, the touch, the moment.

We sat there for a long while. Longer than I realized.

“We should get going.” Kioko said, beginning to unwrap us.

“Yeah.” I said, wishing we didnt.

We both got up from the bench and Kioko began to walk.

“We should do this again next year.” Kioko said. “Oh, starting next year we will be going to the same school, isn't that awesome!”

“Yeah, I can't wait for it.” I said.

Kioko seemed so energetic. Her smile was ear to ear. It was intoxicating to see.

“Hey Kioko.” I began, stopping in my tracks.

Kioko turned back to me. “What's up?”

I didn't know. I just wanted to tell her something, but what? “Nothing sorry.”

Kioko gave me a smile. “By the way, did you open the charm yet?”

“Not yet.” I said. The weight of the charm was in my pocket. “I was going to wait a little bit, probably after entrance exams.”

“Sounds good to me.” Kioko stated. “Just curious, let me know when you do okay?”

“Thanks again for that.” I said, then I remembered. “Hey, I got something for you.” I pulled out a small box from my pocket.

Kioko looked overjoyed and rushed to grab it. “Oh what is it?”

“Open it and find out.” I said.

“Isn't it for christmas?” Kioko asked.

“Well I wont see you till Christmas.” I explained. “Besides, you could open it tonight and I wouldn't know, so if you want to open it now.”

Kioko didn't need to be told twice, she opened it. It revealed a silver necklace with a racoon for the charm.

“It's cute!” Kioko said happily.

“I figured you would like it based on your phone case.” I said.

“I love it.” Kioko said. “Here, can you put it on me?”

I didn't point out the obvious fact of her being able to do it herself. I took the chain in my hand. Kioko lifted her hair and turned around. I looked at her bare neck and wrapped the chain around it, clasping the chain and letting it hang.

Kioko looked thrilled when she turned back. She bounced slightly in place as she looked down at it. It looked like she was about to explode.

“Thank you Riku, it is amazing!” She said, “Oh and it goes well with yours!”

She pulled out a box for me. I unwrapped it, revealing a silver chain. The charm was of an open book. Seriously, what were the odds of that matching gift?

“It's like we match now.” Kioko said as I put the oversized chain around my neck.

“Yeah it does, doesn't it?” I said, holding the book in my palm.

Kioko smiled wider at me. She grabbed my hand and began to pull me along. “Let's go, don't want to get too cold out here right?”

“Nah, plus we got studying to do.” I said.

“Dont remind me, it sucks I wont see anyone till Christmas.” Kioko said with a sigh. “Oh but after Saki’s birthday we probably will be back to studying for entrance exams won't we?”

“Yeah, but once those are over we will be all good.” I said.

“Yeah, just gotta get through till January.” Kioko said with confidence.

January, it was the middle of January that we would have our exams. I just had to get to then right. This school year was coming to a close, it wouldn't be long now would it? I thought this as Kioko and I walked hand in hand.

It wasn't until after I dropped her off that I remembered what I wanted to ask her. Was it her that night, during the hike in the woods? What would have happened had I asked her that? I pondered this as I walked home.

Hello there. It's Himiko again for the next episode preview. Final’s are behind us, and a new year is upon us. However, I need to resolve some things before this next year truly begins. As well, we will have our Entrance exams, I hope everyone does well. Find out next time, Ring in the New Year.