I stood next to a tree in Ōmiya Park, a man made park situated next to a zoo, a soccer stadium, a baseball stadium, and a track field. Large trees swayed. Their leaves rustled in the light breeze. There were numerous types of trees, though I didn’t know what kinds they were—except for the Sakura trees, which were currently not in bloom.
I was still in my school uniform. My book bag was slung over my shoulder. I waited, trying to ignore the people who stared at me as they walked by.
It was a good thing this place was so crowded. Since the Japanese people lauded being polite above anything else, no one would say anything to me, for fear that they would be seen as rude by their fellow citizens. This didn’t keep people from glaring at me, but it at least kept them from being outright belligerent.
“Jacob!” a voice called out to me. It was Gabriel, the ends of her long white dress swishing as she ran up to me. “Sorry I’m late. I had a bit of trouble finding this place.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “I just got here a few minutes ago myself.”
“Are you ready to go?” asked Gabriel.
I smiled. “Yes.”
Gabriel linked her arm with mine. “Then let’s go.”
We set off, the two of us, traveling through the park. Gabriel had said last night that she wanted to visit some of the more scenic parks in Japan. Ōmiya park was the closest to where she was staying.
There were many paths for us to walk through. Each path branched off into more paths, cement paved walkways situated between lush greenery. Several parks for children to play at could be seen through the foliage. A couple of stands also dotted the clearings between the trees, as though they were checkpoints placed there to mark people’s progress.
“Ah! That person is selling crepes,” Gabriel said, pointing to a man standing behind a blue and white kiosk. “Would you like a crepe? I’ll get one for you! What flavor would you like?”
“Huh? Oh, no. I don’t—”
“What flavor would you like?” she asked again.
“… S-strawberry please,” I mumbled.
“Okay! Wait right here,” Gabriel said before running off.
I watched her go with a slight sense of helplessness, or maybe that was the feeling of my masculinity leaving me. This was sort of like a date. Well, it had the feel of a date. I doubt even someone as kind as Gabriel would ever date me, but I wanted to at least pretend. Even if I’ve never been on a date before, I had always assumed that the man was supposed to pay for it. Having Gabriel pay for me made me feel incapable.
Of course, even if I had offered to pay, I doubt the crepe stand owner would have let me buy from him, but still…
Gabriel returned a few minutes later with two crepes in hand. They were both rolled up and inside of a wrapper. Filling them was a mixture of whip cream and fruits. Mine was strawberry and hers looked like an assortment.
“Here.” She handed the strawberry one to me.
We ate our crepes as we continued walking, taking one of the less used paths where few people were treading. Gabriel made strangely happy sounds as she nibbled on her crepe. I glanced at her. Gabriel’s smile was so wide that it had forced her eyes closed.
“Gabriel, are you okay?” I asked.
“Of course,” Gabriel replied before taking another bite. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
I scratched my cheek with my free hand. “I don’t know. You seem to be acting more lively than usual, but it feels… forced? I guess it’s just my imagination.”
At my words, Gabriel’s smile left, shifting into a look that was neither a smile nor a frown. Compassionate yet sad at the same time, her expression was one that I couldn’t describe with a single word.
“You’re very perceptive.” Looking at the nature surrounding them, Gabriel’s eyes seemed to see but not see everything, as though she was looking into the distant future. “I’m… leaving Japan soon. I came here for a specific reason, which I am close to completing. Once I finish, I’ll head back home. That’s why I wanted to create some happy memories before I leave.”
The words were disheartening, but I also knew beforehand that Gabriel wouldn’t remain here forever. She was a foreigner visiting Japan. It was only natural that she would leave eventually. In which case…
“Come on,” I said, grabbing her hand. Gabriel looked at me in surprise. “You want to make some happy memories right? Let’s go make those memories right now.”
Tears welled up in Gabriel’s eyes. I had no idea why she was crying, but before I could ask, she sniffled once, and then beamed at me.
“Right! Let’s go!”
We didn’t stay in the park long after that, maybe a few minutes at most, but I didn’t think the park was the best place to make memories. I might have been new to spending time with people. Even so, it wasn’t like I hadn’t imagined what I would do if I ever got the chance to hang out with friends or go on dates with a beautiful girl. There were several fun activities that I thought we could do.
The place that I took her to first was a large building shaped like a rectangle. A glowing neon sign hung above it. Windows granted a view of the inside. It was several kilometers from our previous location. We had walked there, but I thought it was well worth the walk.
“What is this place?” Gabriel asked as she and I stood in front of large sliding glass doors. Beyond the doors were dozens of people sitting in front of arcade games.
“This is the arcade,” I said. “It’s a place where people go to play games.”
“Games? These don’t look like any games I’ve ever seen.”
They must not have any arcades where she was from. I had heard that Japan was one of the few places left that actually had real arcades, which reminded me that I had no idea where Gabriel was actually from. I’d ask her about it after this date.
“That’s all the more reason for us to go inside,” I said.
As we walked inside, the two of us were assailed by the sights and sounds of the arcade. Light flashed. Innumerable noises blasted from speakers built into the arcades. Shouts and screams and boops and pings. Having never been in an arcade myself, I’m pretty sure my expression matched Gabriel’s, whose wide eyed stare and open mouth made her look rather fetching.
“Let’s go,” I said.
There were a lot of games at the arcade. I wanted to try my hand at a fighting game, but I didn’t think that would be the best choice. Gabriel looked like the gentle type. She probably wouldn’t appreciate a game where you beat the snot out of others.
Those were my thoughts until she spotted an empty spot for Tekken 5 and dragged me over to it. That was when Gabriel and I both discovered that she was rather partial to fighting games, and also that she was pretty vocal.
“What is this?! This is so fun! Why is smashing these buttons to beat up fictional characters so fun?! Hey! Don’t do that! Why you!! Take this! Take this and this and this! Hya!!!”
Standing behind the girl as she moved the joystick and mashed buttons like a psycho, I could only feel gobsmacked.
After Gabriel had her fill of beating on people, we moved on to other games.
“Jacob, what are these?” Gabriel asked, pressing her face against a glass container that held numerous stuffed toys.
“That’s a crane game,” I said. “You push these buttons here to control that crane, which you use to grab the toys down below. Wanna give it a try?”
Inserting several coins into the slot, she and I tried our hand at the crane game. Gabriel tried first. She failed to get anything. I tried second. I also failed to get anything. We tried several more times, switching off after each consecutive failure, but in the end, neither of us were able to grab even one prize.
“Why is this so hard?” whined Gabriel. “Shouldn’t they make it easier to get the toys?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “This is my first time playing. Do you want to try again?”
Gabriel dithered for a moment before shaking her head. “I’d rather not waste money trying to get something that we probably won’t get. Let’s do something else.”
There were dozens of other games to play, and we spent a lot of time playing as many of them as we could. Racing games. Shooting games. Rhythm games. Dancing games. You name it, we probably played it. They even had a Gundam game that Gabriel and I played.
Something else caught my attention while we were playing air hockey. It was a photo booth situated against the wall to my left, the black curtain drawn back to reveal the inside. When we finished playing our game—Gabriel won—I grabbed her attention.
“Let’s take a photo together.”
“Yes. To commemorate our first time going to an arcade.”
The two of us walked into the photobooth and took a total of three pictures. The first was just of us smiling, but the second had us making silly faces, which I had heard was a tradition… according to the manga that Alicia lent to me. Our third photo surprised me. Gabriel hugged me really tightly, enough that my spine groaned. Two sets of photos came from the slot, and I handed one set to Gabriel while keeping the other for myself.
“Thank you for this,” Gabriel said as she looked at her photos. Once more, she looked to be on the verge of tears.
I pretended not to notice. “You’re welcome. Is there anywhere else you’d like to go?”
“Um, perhaps we could go somewhere quiet,” Gabriel suggested. “Like, I’d prefer if we could find someplace where it’s just the two of us.”
Her words probably had no implications to them, but they made me blush all the same. This kind of scenario was popular in romance anime and manga according to Alicia. So, even though I knew, logically, that nothing would happen between us, hearing that she wanted to be alone with me still made my heart race.
It also made my heart ache.
Despite being with Gabriel, my thoughts went out to Alicia, and I couldn’t help but wonder what she was doing. Had she gotten home safe? Was she thinking about me? Was she still angry? I had left her because I didn’t want to argue about Gabriel, but I wondered if perhaps my lack of communication was only making things worse.
I also felt bad because a part of me wished I was at this arcade with Alicia. Spending time with Gabriel was amazing, and I loved it. However, Alicia was my first friend.
Gabriel and I left the arcade. We traveled for some time, just walking through Saitama and talking about whatever caught our attention. I would sometimes point out certain parts of the city, the more traditional parts, and give Gabriel a detailed rundown of their history. At some point, she and I ended up in another park.
“It’s pretty late,” I said in shocked realization.
The sun had gone down, bathing the park in pink, red, and purple hues. Several lamp posts had flickered on. They illuminated the cobblestone walkway, shaped like a circle, with several benches arrayed along the outside and a fountain sitting in the center.
“Jacob?” Gabriel suddenly called out to me. I turned. She stood with her hands behind her back, her smile somehow melancholic. “I wanted to thank you for spending so much time with me. I had a lot of fun.”
“I should be the one saying that,” I said. “It was nice being able to spend time with you. This is one of the few times in my life that I’ve ever felt like a regular person.”
“I suppose…” Gabriel looked away.
Taking a deep breath, Gabriel’s face became determined, as though she had suddenly found her resolve. She walked up to me. Before I could say anything, she had grabbed my shoulders and pulled me into another hug.
I was so shocked that I couldn’t do anything. Gabriel’s arms, despite being so slender, were quite strong. They were also warm. The longer she held me, the further I felt myself sinking into them. Before I knew it, I had closed my eyes, relishing in this odd sense of peace that pervaded my whole body.
“I’m sorry,” Gabriel whispered softly.
I frowned. Sorry? Why was she apologizing?
It happened before I could comprehend it. Pain suddenly exploded in my back, a white hot fire that pierced me. The agony made me jerk backwards. I stumbled out of Gabriel’s arms. The world around me spun before, the strength ebbed from my legs, and I fell onto my backside.
Gabriel stood before me, different than before, changed. My eyesight was blurry, so it took me a moment to realize what was different. Her outfit. She no longer wore the white dress but a toga of the same color. There were also wings on her back. Spreading out from behind her were twelve wings of pure white. Angel wings. Those were angel wings.
“I really am sorry, Jacob,” Gabriel apologized again. Light materialized in her hand. It took form, forming a long spear with a triangle-shaped blade.
I tried to say something, to ask what was going on, but I couldn’t. My mind had frozen. My heart had stopped beating. My tongue refused to move. The only thing I could do was stare at Gabriel as she lifted the spear of light.
“I wish we could have met under different circumstance,” she said to me—and then she threw the spear.
Maybe it was because I was already going into shock, but I couldn’t feel the spear as it penetrated my chest. I saw the spear pierce my body, saw blood spurt from the wound, but that was all. I felt nothing. My body had already gone completely numb.
Gabriel cast me one last look before flapping her wings and taking off. I watched her as the last of my strength fled me and, with a sound almost like a sigh escaping my parted lips, I fell onto my back.
The light spear was gone. It must have dispersed. I couldn’t feel anything, but the ground underneath my body must have become soaked with my blood by now.
I thought about a lot of things as I laid there. I thought about Gabriel, about what had just happened, about school, and a lot of other things. Mostly, I thought about Alicia. I imagined her hair, redder than my blood, and her crimson eyes.
I wondered if she would be sad after discovering that I died. Part of me hoped so. The rest hoped she wouldn’t. I would hate it if I hurt her anymore than I already have.
As darkness enclosed around me, I found myself regretting two things. The first was that I wouldn’t be able to take part in the three-legged race. The second was that I hadn’t trusted Alicia when she told me not to spend anymore time with Gabriel.
The last thing I remember before welcoming the darkness was an anguished scream echoing all around me.