Chapter 17:

Eyes Wide Open (1)

Grace Dances Upon the Clouds

Saturday morning. It was a time for Haru to normally sleep in. To binge upon the waves of weightlessness as he soared across the skies with Grace, hand-in-hand.

Since his alarm didn’t go off on the weekends, the world around him wouldn’t just suddenly crumble. He could naturally glide away after a proper farewell. Despite this, the night still felt far too brief.

His meetings with Grace had become an enduring habit, one that he could hardly fathom letting go. As such, he began to hesitate more and more when he was allowed time to bid goodbye for the morning.

“Don’t you have to be somewhere?” Grace said suddenly as they watched the fake sunrise.

Haru stayed silent. It wasn’t like he hated the idea of going to the amusement park with Kasumi. It was just…

this is a date, isn’t it?

Of course, he was already going on ‘dates’ with Grace. That wasn’t the issue. He just felt scummy for parting with Grace to be with someone else. His gaze sheepishly turned to her. The sheer glow of her cheerfulness made him feel small.

“Say, Grace…”

“What is it?”

“Someone asked me to go to the amusement park. A girl.”

Haru’s eyes narrowed, trying to spot any hint of jealousy. He couldn’t bear to keep it in. It was like obviously lying to himself.

“That’s great! I hope you make some nice memories to share with me!”


Or was it that ‘Dream Fairies’ didn’t see normal humans in that way? Why was he even pondering the logistics of it?!

Haru sighed, half in relief and half deflated. He put on a fake smile and waved goodbye to Grace. As she waved back, a bright light flooded around them, drowning out the scene.

Haru woke up to the sun in his face. A quick look at the clock showed 8:24 AM, plenty of time to get ready for the meetup. Unfortunately, he couldn’t use the cliché excuse that he had overslept.


“Over here, Haru-kun!”

Kasumi waved as she approached, making him wonder if he heard wrong the day before. Her shoulder length brown hair had a cute bow on each side, and she was decked out in a frilly, blue blouse and matching skirt. It had been the first time Haru had seen her out of uniform. And to his own surprise, Haru noticed how attractive she was. Somehow, a veil had lifted before his eyes.

That suddenly made him self-conscious of his choice of attire – a plaid, button-up shirt and slacks. Sloppily worn designer clothing didn’t make him any less of a slob. And certainly, he would have done a better job if it kicked in how real this situation felt.

The echo of date, date, date, date… now rang in his ears. Ever since his slip-up, calling her a ‘friend’, he felt suspicious because he had never done anything to make Kasumi like him. Quite the opposite. But now, he refused to be that guy. Stubbornly obtuse and unobservant. He’d feel so ashamed as it would be ‘the pot calling the kettle black’.

He smoothed his frazzled hair, patting down his mixed feelings as he trotted along with her to the entrance, their entry point to testing their compatibility. He knew how to play it cool. Knew.

“Shall we get going? I’ll buy the tickets.”

Before Kasumi could object, he was off in a flash, queuing up to the short line at the counter. That bought him a few extra minutes. Enough to look over his shoulder a few times. Enough to iron some doubts about their sudden closeness.

Haru decided that it would be a day spent figuring out what Kasumi saw in him, and vice versa.

The Twirl-a-Whirl called out to them first, the rush of wind and centrifugal force causing Haru to squeeze Kasumi’s hand, who promptly squeezed back. His eyes stung too much for him to see the world spinning in a circle, much less enjoy any bit of it. All he could focus on was the hand keeping him grounded.

As the Graviton 5000 dropped them straight down, Haru wondered whether he would wake up from the experience, his fear of heights rearing its ugly head.

They stopped for a bite to eat, but Haru couldn’t recall what exactly he got. ‘Food’ if someone asked him later. The taste of ‘nothing’ registered on his tongue, too clouded by other thoughts.

The spinning of teacups and the abrupt slam of bumper cars seemed to bring him back into focus of the girl before him. Kasumi’s grin as she purposefully tossed him back and forth ignited his competitive spirit, if only for a moment.

And as they stood together in line before each ride, Haru gazed at the clear sky above, counting shapes and squinting with each bird passing into and out of the fluff.

“I thought I’d never have to say this to a guy but down here!”

Two hands gripped Haru by the face, and his vision spun down to a hint of cleavage. He flailed at the sudden entrapment like his head had been cut off. Finally feel the ground again, Haru took a step back, turning his gaze up to a visibly annoyed Kasumi.

“What is the deal with you today? You’re in wonderful company, but your head is in the clouds.”

Head in the clouds. That was a good way of putting it. The date had gone by in a flash so far, in part because he kept spacing out. He was supposed to check out Kasumi, but he ended up thinking about Grace instead.

Kasumi looked at him sharply, but that suddenly melted into insecurity.

“Are… are you not having any fun? Or is it just… me?”

Haru gulped in the awkward silence that followed. ‘Fun’ was something he kept associating with Grace, believing that his time awake was normal and boring. He longed for the night instead, because he knew that he would find comfort there.

But did that mean reality wasn’t enjoyable at all?

“N-No, that’s not it. I’m having fun. It’s just… I have a lot on my mind. That’s all.”

“Well, it’s rude. Don’t forget all the embarrassing things I have of you,” Kasumi ended with a sly grin.

“Wait! I thought I deleted those!”

“I have copies for posterity.”

“Fine, you win. I’ll get my head in the game.”

Just as he finished saying that, he quickly ducked around and behind Kasumi, scooping her up into his arms before she could protest. The flailing of limbs whacked him all over, but he didn’t care. He knew that he was being forward. Perhaps, purposefully so.

“I didn’t ask for a princess carry!”

“No, but it’s something I wanted to do today. Can’t just follow your itinerary. What fun would that be?”

Haru could see that he was making Kasumi far more flustered than any judging eyes directed at him. For once, he wanted to carry someone. For once, he wanted to be the guide for a trip. He would test out those intentions here and now, to see if the daytime was worth ‘having fun.’

He dashed off with Kasumi in his arms, toward the closest attraction, a haunted house. He set her down gently before they entered the foreboding arch of a cemetery. The decrepit pathway and twisted tree trunks added to the chilling mood that contrasted the jubilant atmosphere before.

A scruffy attendant welcomed the people in line, single file, with a swing of the door into a dark abyss. Haru felt tightness around his arm as they neared it. He merely nodded in acknowledgment. He had played enough horror games to steel his nerves. But fear revealed certain things about another’s character.

When it came their turn, he tugged Kasumi along with gusto, silently chuckling as the mirages of holographic ghosts and swinging ‘close shaves’ circled around them for jump scares. Kasumi wasn’t as fortunate. Haru could hear the occasional yelp from her. Her pulse echoed from where she gripped him. And one look on her face spoke everything.

“I didn’t know you hated ghosts.”

“Y-You d-didn’t give me a ch-chance to object.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll protect you.”

“Pfft, the cheese of that line.”

Yet, cheesiness seemed to calm her, if ever so slightly. They pushed forward, past the Sadako in the TV, past the chainsaw man. Haru cracked a joke to lighten the mood.

“If a dude doesn’t have them shooting out of his face and arms, then what’s the point?”

Kasumi looked up in confusion. It did its job in misdirecting her attention.

When they reached the light at the end, the festive music drowned out the eerie background behind them. Kasumi let out a big sigh.

“That took longer than I expected.”

How Kasumi clung made him certain. He didn’t want to believe it, but the signs were there.

Haru looked up at the orange sky. Evening was soon approaching. Soon enough, the date would end, and he’d have to make his way to the live where Koichi and BUST were playing. Haru casually guided them toward the exit, but a light tug on his wrist caught his attention. He turned to the side, already knowing a Ferris wheel was there.

“Can we go on that last? Or too cliché for you?”

The way Kasumi said it made it seem like everything would be for naught if he didn’t. He had to end the date on a decent note. At least, he had enough experience with dating sims to know not to anger someone with dirt on him.

The two of them hopped into an empty cabin. The click of the door closing formed a personal bubble. Haru had his suspicions, which only grew as they both fell silent. People sought isolation for reasons. The way that Kasumi’s gaze jittered back and forth only added to that. Haru knew that he only had maybe a minute tops to settle his feelings. Sure enough…

“Haru, what do you think of me?”

Taylor J
Lucky Lane
Mario Nakano 64