ZAUBER: the thread that binds us
All stories have to begin somewhere. Kenji Sakamoto's story was supposed to start on the most romantic day of his life.
While he usually kept his romantic tendencies to himself, today was the day where he could go all out. And the pounding in his chest that had been with him all day told him that this was the right move. Even now it was louder than his fingers tapping on the keyboard as the office emptied around him.
"Staying late on Christmas, Sakamoto?"
His colleague Tanaka put a hand on his shoulder. Kenji turned his head around to see his grin.
"Come on, that can't be right," Tanaka urged him on. "Even someone as withdrawn as you must have someone to celebrate with, right?"
Kenji quickly avoided his gaze, and subtly pushed the large paper bag further under his desk. Unfortunately for him, Tanaka followed the movement with hawk-like eyes.
"No way, Sakamoto!" He leaned forward to take a closer look. "Is that a ring case I see?"
Kenji tried to quiet him down, but it was too late. Some of the other team members were already looking in his direction, and he felt the embarrassment creep up his neck.
"I never thought you had a lady in your life! Why didn't you say anything?"
It was clear that he didn't expect an answer from Kenji as he patted him on the back.
"She's going to cry, for sure," he beamed at him.
"Tears of happiness, I hope," Kenji mumbled in reply.
He really hoped that Satsuki would love this surprise. They hadn't seen each other for weeks—the season was very busy, and they barely managed to meet today. Satsuki had suggested that they meet after the holidays, but for once, Kenji had insisted that they should spend the holidays together. He had made the reservation at their favorite cafe. Everything would be perfect. He couldn't help but lean down and touch the fabric-wrapped present that was hidden in the bag, cushioning the ring case. How many nights had he spent designing and making this dress? Even though Satsuki didn't enjoy Lolita fashion nearly as much as he did, he knew that she would look absolutely adorable in it. He had the fabric custom printed, and hand-sewn so many ruffles that his fingers still ached at the memory.
Everything was perfect. Satsuki was the one, Kenji was sure of it. Especiallycompared to his previous relationships—some of which had ended better than others. She made his heart flutter, and he knew the smile that appeared whenever he thought of her. How he could imagine her wrapping her arms around him, how he remembered her laughter, her tears. They shared so many memories, and would make even more in their future. Together.
His phone alarm rang, pulling him out of his daydream. He had almost forgotten the time—the cafe was surely packed, and Kenji wasn't sure if they would keep his reservation if he was late. He grabbed the bag, making sure that both the dress and the ring case were safe inside.
"Please excuse me for the night," he said into the nearly empty office before rushing out the door.
Outside, a cold gust of wind hit him as he ran toward the bus stop. It was cold—too cold. He realized that he had left his coat in the office, but it was too late to turn back. He entered the bus and took out his phone to dial Satsuki's number. She answered within a few seconds.
Her voice sounded off, but he couldn't quite place why.
"I might be a little late," he whispered, casting apologetic glances at the people around him as the bus started moving. "It’s been a busy day at the office, so..."
"I understand." Maybe she was disappointed? "Just... come here. We need to talk."
"Yes! I know." He smiled, even though she couldn't see him. "I won't be long. I love you, Satsuki."
"Great. See you soon, Kenji."
With that, she ended the call and he put the phone down to grab the bag with both of his hands. She must have understood that he was on the bus and couldn’t talk. Inside the bag, the fabric rustled, and he couldn't help but imagine her in the dress. The dark red fabric would suit her brown hair perfectly. And if she said yes... He could die without regrets. No, that wasn't quite true—he still longed to marry her, have children, and grow old with her. Then, he could surely die happily.
Kenji got off the bus and almost ran the last few meters to the cafe. It was even colder now, and somewhere in the back of his mind, he wished that it would snow. It would make this special day even more perfect. He blinked, and saw Satsuki's familiar figure standing right in front of the cafe. She was wearing one of her perfectly tailored suits, white as snow. She looked heavenly, but as he got closer, he noticed an odd look on her face. Kenji stopped in front of her, and for a moment, the smile on his face faltered.
"Merry Christmas," she sighed. "Let's go inside."
"Merry Christmas, my love," he replied. "What's wrong?"
Everything in him longed to take another step forward and hold her, to stroke her hair and tell her that everything was going to be all right. Something was wrong, that was clear. His gift, and even the proposal could wait.
"Really, we should… go inside," she urged him, and he could see tears glittering in her eyes.
"Stop it," she snapped at him.
He stumbled back as if she had slapped him. It hurt almost as much.
"What's wrong?" he stammered.
"Stop with that sad puppy look!" Tears streamed down her face. "Don't make this any harder than it already is!"
She shook her head and added: "On Christmas, of all days... I told you we should postpone this."
Kenji took a deep breath. He felt sick, as if he was both hot and cold at the same time. Yet his body was frozen.
This was not how this evening was supposed to go.
"Kenji... I... We..." She struggled for words.
Satsuki sniffed, and took out a silk handkerchief to dab at her face.
Finally, he reached out to her tenderly. He was the one who should wipe away her tears. Especially if he had caused them.
"Satsuki, we can talk about this," he said, as the first snowflakes fell from the sky, "just tell me, what did I do wrong?"
His eyes darted to the bag in his hand. The snow was starting to wet the bag, but the dress itself should not be affected. He heard Satsuki sigh, and immediately focused on her again.
"There’s nothing to talk about. It's me, it's you, it's..." Once again, she sighed, deeply. "I... made a mistake. These past few weeks... I've been doing a lot of thinking. And I think it's better we end this now, before..."
The falling snowflakes obscured his vision, but he heard her words crystal clear. She couldn't possibly mean...
"I'm just sick of it all. Our dates, your stupid dresses, the future we're heading into... this isn't me," she said, her voice as cold as the air, "I think we should break up."
She shivered, and brushed the snow from her suit.
"That's why I said we should go inside. It's warm, and we can keep things civil."
A wet laugh escaped him.
"We can keep this civil, don't worry." He whispered his words, and it didn't matter if she heard them. "Merry Christmas, Satsuki."
With that, he walked past her. His hands were still clutching the bag.
She despised him. She hated his dresses. How had he never seen that?
But he wouldn't ask any questions now. Not with the snow and his tears blurring his vision. Kenji stumbled past the people celebrating, chatting and laughing around him. It felt wrong.
"Are you okay, buddy?"
Someone grabbed his shoulder, and with a forced smile, he shook them off.
"All good, thanks," he croaked, and disappeared back into the crowd.
Maybe it would be better if he was alone. He shivered, and went into a darker alley, where no one would notice him. Only then did he allow himself to slump down into the white slush. Just like his shirt, the bag was soaked with snow,. He didn't check if the dress was safe or not. There was no reason to keep it.
With a sigh, he fished out the ring case and looked at it for a moment, before closing his eyes. With every breath he took, he could feel the warmth leaving his body. He was so tired. Maybe he could hide from the world a little longer...
The cold stopped. Instead, Kenji blinked, and there was nothing but soft darkness around him. It enveloped him like velvet and made it difficult to move. No sound escaped him, and he didn't struggle. But his gaze was caught by a white thread, dancing in the air in front of him. It was beautiful, glittering like pure starlight. He reached out and tugged at the thread.
Bright light filled his vision and his ears rang with his own cries mixed with the screams of a woman. Blurry shapes moved around him, talking in soft voices. He didn't understand at first. But it felt as if a weight had been lifted from his chest.
This was his second chance.