Will The Stars Remember My Name?
Shiomi pressed a button on her alarm clock and the loud ringing stopped. She lay back in bed and blinked her eyes twice. Slowly, she got out of bed and went to the toilet. She looked at herself in the mirror. She had rumpled hair and drowsy eyes. She pulled her cheeks to wake herself up and said to her reflection in the mirror, "Happy birthday Shiomi!"
Shiomi stepped out of her house to see Haruto waiting for her.
"Hey Shio, happy birthday!"
Shiomi smiled and said, "Thanks a lot Haruto..."
She went and hugged him. Then, they set out for school.
Haruto said, "Is it fine if I give you your present when we celebrate at Nagasaki's?"
Shiomi nodded and replied, "Yes, it's alright!"
They walked together to school reliving their fond memories of celebrating birthdays over the years. They talked about how Haruto cried on his birthday when Shiomi jumpscared him in the morning to wish him when he turned seven and when Shiomi locked Haruto in the bathroom for putting cake on her face on her 10th birthday. Shiomi looked at Haruto who was laughing and remembered what she had talked with Futaba a few weeks before, in last Friday's chapter.
Maybe... Just maybe she still harboured some feelings for him. It was just too hard for her to give up on Haruto. She couldn't just move on... While he was still around her. If she wanted to move on, she would probably have to move to another city.
She pushed aside her thoughts and came back to the present. Soon, they reached the school gates where they parted ways. As soon as Shiomi entered her class, she was squeezed to death by Hanabi, her friend.
"Happpyyyyyy Birthday Shiooooo" exclaimed Hanabi.
Shiomi somehow croaked, "Hana, Hana, Breath, I need my breath."
Finally, Hanabi let go and Shiomi gasped, out of breath.
"Phew, hah... Hah... Thanks a lot Hana but go easy on the ribs next time."
"Guess we'll meet on your birthday then."
Soon, all her classmates came to wish her before the bell rang. During recess, Futaba, Ryouta and Ryuuji came to wish her. She thanked them, a bit overwhelmed. She had had good birthdays before but, for some reason, this birthday felt a bit more intimate and personal. This was probably because there were more people than Haruto in her life, who she cared for, around her. The new friends she had made, the friends who had helped lift a huge burden off her shoulders... The secret she had kept for so many years. Shiomi was happy, for once she was really really happy without a worry. She knew she would remember this birthday for the longest time.
School got over much quicker for Shiomi and soon it was time to meet up at Nagasaki's. Shiomi went back home and quickly changed into her prettiest dress. She kissed her mom and left for Nagasaki's Cafe.
As Shiomi opened the door of the cafe, Ryuuji and Haruto burst party poppers and welcomed her. The cafe was temporarily reserved so there were no other customers. It was just the staff and Shiomi's friends. But, Haruto had gone all out and called all of Shiomi's friends from her school too.
Suddenly a surge of people came forward to wish her, and hand her gifts. Haruto jumped in to help an overwhelmed Shiomi. He held all the gifts and bouquets in his hands while Shiomi met all her friends. Hanabi also came out to help Haruto carry the gifts and the bouquets. Shiomi was extremely happy. She had never had such a grand birthday before. There were so many people whom she knew and recognised. But, after some while, she noticed a few people missing. She leaned towards Haruto and whispered, "Hey, where's Ryouta and Futaba?"
Haruto simply smiled at her and said, "They'll be here any moment."
Just at that moment, Miyuki and Ryouta came from the kitchen of the cafe and brought a huge brown chocolate cake. Behind them, Futaba and Natsu followed carrying candles, lighter and a knife. Everyone made way for them as they brought the cake and kept it on a table. Futaba arranged the candles while Natsu wrote something on top of the cake with cream.
While Futaba and Natsu were busy, Ryouta and Miyuki went to wish Shiomi. They handed their gifts to her and beckoned Shiomi to cut the cake. After fussing over the cake for a few more minutes, the two girls finally made their way to Shiomi and hugged her.
"Happy birthday Shio!" said Futaba with a warm smile.
"Happy birthday Shiomi!" said Natsu in a playful yet sweet voice.
Shiomi smiled back sweetly and was already on the verge of tears. There was nothing more she could ask for. For the first time after many years, she felt as if all her secrets and burdens had disappeared. She was... Finally free, free to live her life, free to make friends, free to fall in love... Free to be who she was.
Shiomi walked up to the cake. She found her friends gathered around her. Haruto, Hanabi, Futaba, Ryouta and Ryuuji. She saw them around her and felt so happy. She saw the big cake and on top of it Natsu had written
'Happy 17th birthday Shiomi'
There were quite a few candles on the cake. She bent a bit and then blew the candles. Everyone cheered for her as she picked up the knife and slowly cut the cake. The staff quickly took over the work of settling everyone down, serving snacks and food, and cutting the cake for everyone in the cafe, the cake was huge after all.
Ryouta and Ryuuji were working on the counter, bringing snacks to Miyuki and Natsu, who were busy serving and taking orders. The manager was sadly out of town so they had to do all the work. The manager thought this would serve as a good promotion of their cafe and that's why she agreed to hold the party without charging anything. After all, the food was being ordered and paid for individually, and the cake was made by Haruto too, of course along with the help of the staff at Nagasaki's Cafe. There were a few free snacks, but nothing too filling. So, Shiomi's birthday turned out to be a good marketing option for them and the manager had reserved the entire cafe for them.
Ryouta asked Ryuuji, "Hey, thanks for offering to help."
"No problemo bro, it's a special occasion after all."
"Yeah... Though I'm still surprised how Miyuki-senpai's cafe dress fits you so... Well."
Ryuuji chuckled nervously, "Eheh... Th-This must be one of his... Um... Old dresses maybe?"
"Yeah... Who knows."
Meanwhile, Haruto, Hanabi, Futaba and Shiomi were at the same table, eating and talking.
Hanabi was busy flirting with a clueless yet happy Haruto while Futaba and Shiomi were talking about how the preparations for her birthday had gone.
Futaba said, "You know the cake was made by Haruto."
Shiomi looked at Futaba with shock and surprise, she looked at Haruto who was busy with Hanabi and then whispered, "Are you joking?"
"No, I'm not."
"Wha- But how?"
"Apparently, it was Ryouta who taught him."
"Ohhhhhh. Wow. That's... Wow."
"Hehe. I know right? I'm so happy we've had a good chance to connect with each other. Especially Ryouta and Haruto."
"You do seem worried about Ryouta at times..."
"Yeah, I can't help it... I feel he has to go through so much... He doesn't think well of himself, you know... The only way I can help him is by being a good friend to him and that's why I try my best."
Shiomi smiled and held Futaba's hand. "You're one of the most wonderful people I have ever met, Futaba."
Futaba turned red and stammered back, "Gi- Girl, I have Ryu and I- I- think I'm pretty str- straight-"
Shiomi laughed loudly and proceeded to respond but she was interrupted by a shout, "NATSU" followed by a loud crash.
Natsu, clumsy as she was, had tripped on herself and was about to fall and hit her head on a table, if Miyuki hadn't been fast enough. He manoeuvred her away from the table and in doing so had lost his own balance. They both fell, but Miyuki wrapped his arms around Natsu so she didn't hurt herself badly. When they fell, Miyuki was a bit dazed and began in his usual irritated tone, "Natsu you little-"
When he opened his eyes he saw himself staring into her eyes. He had fallen on top of her and was just an inch away from her face. He could see Natsu's beautiful features up close. Her beautiful eyes wide open, her small nose and her beautiful soft lips slightly parted. He could see her cheeks turn red just like his own. He saw himself holding her down, his hands on her wrists. He could feel her heavy breath from her mouth on his lips. For a few moments, they remained still staring into each other's eyes, while the entire room had stopped breathing.
Miyuki was about to lean in closer but he realised the time and place were wrong. He slowly got up but then he noticed something. Natsu, who had been looking at him with surprise, had stone cold eyes now. Her eyes radiated fear and anger. He had never seen her before like this.
Suddenly, she raised her leg and hit him in the groin. Miyuki rolled over in pain, as Natsu got up. He looked at her and mumbled, "Nat-"
Turning back for a second, she stared at him with those cold lifeless eyes and said in a low voice,
She turned away and ran out of the cafe.