Chapter 1:

Please Don't Love Me

Please Don't Love Me


“Nobody loves you,” Aiko told herself when her mother dropped her off at the orphanage before disappearing into the distance, a fading shadow, only to ever be seen in the young girl’s dreams. She was only 4 years old.

“Nobody loves you,” Aiko thought to herself when the bullies shoved her head in the school toilet, leaving her gasping for air. She was only 16.

“I’m so glad I have you,” said Aiko’s best friend as the two girls went out for ice cream. They were celebrating the defeat of the bullies that had been tormenting the both of them.

“Nobody loves you,” Aiko said to herself when her adoptive parents dissolved her adoption. They had wasted no time with having her out of their house. She was only 18.

“I love you,” Aiko’s fiancé said as he slipped a diamond ring on her finger. He kissed her forehead and Aiko felt her heart burst with love. Everything would be alright now.

“Nobody loves me,” Aiko sobbed as she ran down the hotel stairs, the image of her best friend and fiancé embracing each other in bed forever engraved in her mind. She was only 23.

And now, five years later, Aiko was back in Japan as a project manager for Haruto’s Hanami Festival. Her company in Sweden had most likely sent her because she was the only Japanese person on the team but little did they know that her motherland bore no fruitful connection to her. She wished to remain invisible in this foreign land. And thankfully, soon it would all be over; this was only a short business trip.

Now all she had to do was wait for Kaito, the manager from the Japanese company they were partnering with.

Aiko stood beneath a blooming Sakura, drawing clouds in the fallen petals with the tip of her shoe. She didn’t know why she had decided to wear heels. But maybe she could use it as an excuse to not have to walk down the path of blooming cherry blossoms. There was no use looking at them. They were the same every year.

“Are you Aiko?”

A man stood before her, strands of wet hair obscuring his vision. He resembled a birch tree, long and slender but still strong, as firm as the invisible pillars that held up the sky.

“Why is your hair wet?” Aiko asked, her interest piqued by the disheveled appearance of this handsome stranger.

She raised her eyes to the cloudless blue sky. It couldn’t have rained.

Kaito laughed. “There was an…uhm…uhh…”

Aiko silently held out a handkerchief. A string of pink sakura were embroidered on the worn edges. Her mother’s favorite flower. Her mother’s handkerchief.

Kaito stared at her for a moment before accepting. For a second, their fingers touched but both pretended not to notice.

“Thank you.”


“Did your hair get wet in the rain?” Aiko asked, her eyes focused on the wet street outside the window of the cafe. A spring shower had graced the city but the gray clouds had left as quickly as they had come. Only the sun shone bright, embraced by its own smoldering glare and the sky was cloudless once again.

A cup of sakura tea warmed Aiko’s hands as she watched people outside enjoying the beauty of the pink-petaled trees. The sweet, light flavor made it a perfect drink to be served at the festival.

“I went to get this,” Kaito said, holding up a thin, gold chain necklace with a tiny flower charm. “It fell in the water.”

“Whose necklace is it?” asked Akio, her eyes drawn to the shimmering jewel.

“My mother’s,” said Kaito. “She dropped it in the ocean when we went to the beach.”

For a second, Aiko could imagine it. Kaito swimming in the deep waters, his strong arms pushing through the surging depths. His mother would stand afar, on the yellow sand, watching, waiting, with a gentle gaze. And Kaito would turn back; he would see his mother there in the same spot he had left her. She wouldn;t disappear like Aiko’s had.

Aiko hadn’t noticed when a soft smile had materialized on her face.

“You look pretty when you smile,” said Kaito. His eyes bore into her small frame and it felt like he was analyzing her.

Aiko nibbled on a spoonful of her crème brûlée. She wasn’t smiling anymore.


“There are invisible pillars in the sky,” said Aiko as their bikes raced down the steaming, asphalt streets.

Their wheels flew over fallen sakura and dying, green leaves. She reveled in the feeling of the cool wind running through her hair.

Kaito angled his head up and pointed at the sky. “Pillars? Do you mean those clouds?”

Aiko laughed. “The pillars are only visible to those with a pure heart and noble intentions.”

Kaito grinned. “You don’t think I have a pure heart?”

Aiko turned and gazed at his clear, brown eyes.

Kaito’s smile grew wider when he noticed her looking at him. “Do you like what you see?”

“No,” said Aiko. She stared down at the white sneakers Kaito had bought her at the market.

Then she rode past him, her cheeks growing warm.

“We should include a biking event,” said Aiko when Kaito had caught up to her. “People can get the opportunity to see the sakura from a different perspective.”

Kaito turned his wheel and rode closer to her so that they were only a few inches apart. “And many will enjoy riding past the cherry blossoms with someone that they love.”

“Many,” said Aiko. “But not everyone.”

“I disagree,” said Kaito. “Everyone has someone that they love.”

Aiko stopped her bike abruptly and Kaito stopped with her, his face suddenly riddled with concern.

“Are you okay?”


“Nobody loves me,” said Aiko. She immediately regretted her confession. Her voice, her words. They sounded pathetic in her ears. But she had spoken in a whisper like she always did. There was no way that Kaito could have heard.

They were sitting together on the steps of a convenience store, listening to music from Kaito’s old record player. Aiko appreciated how the upbeat instruments and lively lyrics drowned out her wandering thoughts. The two had decided that the singer was a suitable performer for the festival.

“But it doesn’t seem like you love anyone,” said Kaito. “You have a gloomy aura. How can anyone love you if you don’t know how to love?”

“How can I love when I’ve never been loved?” Aiko asked, her voice an octave higher than it usually was. She sighed and looked away, brushing her hair out her eyes.

“We should take a picture,” said Kaito. Aiko wasn’t sure whether he was trying to change the subject. He stood up from the steps, dusting off his pants.

“I don’t take pictures,” Aiko replied. Her only photos were the one she had taken with her mother when she was five and her government ID.

“Don’t you want to preserve your memories?” asked Kaito. “Memories are worth more than gold.”

“I just want to forget everything,” Aiko said. “There’s no use remembering.”

“What about the moments you spent with me?” asked Kaito. “You want to forget those too?”

“They could always turn into bad memories,” Aiko said, her voice growing softer. She looked away, unable to face him. “It’s better to just enjoy the moment and let it go.”

Kaito smiled. “So you enjoyed the moments we spent together?”

Aiko didn’t answer.

Kaito bent down so that they were eye-to-eye. He looked into her dark brown eyes, which had been hardened by many years of disappointment and heart-ache. Her expression resembled that of a wounded animal.

“You’re in pain Aiko. But I’m glad that you’re happy when you’re with me.”


“Will you stay for the festival?” Kaito asked as the two walked down the Philosopher’s Path. Pink cherry blossoms fluttered past them, carried by the faint, cool breeze and their steps slowed as they approached the little gray bridge.


Silently, Kaito took a step closer to her, gently placing her hands in his. “Is it okay for me to contact you? Can I call you from time to time.”

Aiko didn’t answer.

“Is it okay if I contact you?”

She avoided his gaze. “If you wish.”

This did not seem like the answer Kaito was expecting. He let go of her hands.

“Then goodbye Aiko.”

He turned around and left, walking back in the direction they had come. And that was when Aiko knew that soon, he would disappear into the distance, a fading shadow, only to ever be seen in her dreams.

“Bye Kaito.”

Aiko took a few steps forward, holding her head down. Fear swirled in her mind carried by the fragments of her broken memories. It felt like she was stuck, like she was sinking into a void of her own creation. She didn’t want to be alone again. At least not now.

Before she knew it, Aiko had turned around and was running back to him. She grabbed his hand, holding on to it tightly for fear that he would let go.

Kaito turned and faced her, standing still, waiting for her to speak.

“Please don’t love me,” she blurted out. “I mean, of course you don’t because we just met…” Her voice trailed off. “But even if we spent more time together, you can’t love me, you won’t love me. I’m…I’m…”

“How do you know that for sure?” Kaito asked. He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.

And that was when a rush of words poured out from Aiko’s mouth. She told him about her mother, the bullies, her parents, her best friend, her fiancé. She told him about her hopes, her dreams, her fears, her delusions. She told him things that she had never told anyone else. Things that she had never even told herself.

But it’s okay,’ she told herself. ‘I’m never going to see him again.’

“Bye Kaito.” The words left her lips again but her eyes were saying something else.

“What are you imagining?” asked Kaito. “You’re having strange thoughts. And I don’t think it’s anything healthy.”

“I’m thinking about the two of us,” said Aiko, looking far off into the distance. “A happy first meeting. A heartbreaking ending. But if we say goodbye now…”

“You don’t need to burden yourself with any big emotions,” said Kaito. “Love? We don’t need to think of such things; just as you’ve said, we’ve just met. Can’t we just stay how we are now?”

“How we are now…” Aiko murmured. She looked up at Kaito and her face softened. Based on his expression, he was being sincere. If only she had the courage to match his sincerity.

“Even when the cherry blossoms fall,” said Kaito. “They bloom again during the next spring.” He held her gaze. “So, there’s no need to be afraid.”

“You won’t promise me an eternal spring?” Aiko joked. She felt something bubbling within her. Was it hope? Excitement?

Kaito shook his head, suddenly serious. “No. But I can promise you a spring that will always return.”

“I don’t want to fall in love with you,” said Aiko. That old feeling was creeping up on her. The feeling of butterflies in her stomach, the searing heat as blood rushed up her cheeks.

“You’ve already fallen for me,” Kaito said with a laugh. He watched as pink crept up on her cheeks and her ears grew bright red. “If I hug you right now, you won’t pull away.”

And Kaito was right. Aiko soaked in his warmth as he wrapped his strong arms around her. She found herself reveling in the soft sound of his breath as they stood there, leaning on each other, solid like two strong pillars, two silent trees, two unyielding hearts that beat together. Love? She wasn’t thinking about that.

All Aiko knew was the sweet scent of cherry blossoms. The soft whispering of the wind. The warmth radiating from Kaito’s chest. The moment like a snapshot that she would cherish forever.

Steward McOy

Please Don't Love Me