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06 August 2009 @ 03:32 pm
Akai Ito - Four  
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Title: Akai Ito
Characters: Sho Sakurai, Ninomiya Kazunari, Aiba Masaki, OCs
Pairings: Sho/OC, Nino/OC
Status: Ongoing
A/N: This is another chapter that I had to cut short after realizing that it's already long. Hehe. In case it would cause confusion, every chapter of this fic starts with a flashback. Comments are much ♥ (Originally posted: March 7, 2009)

Previous Chapters: One // Two // Three

“What made you stay for the past year?”

Sho was taken aback by his mother’s sudden question when he visited her in the hospital that Saturday morning. He was actually expecting her to ask something about his graduation or his part-time job.

The question was left unanswered when he was told by his father to leave so his mother could take a rest. Normally, he would answer back, but this time he didn’t. It was quite a relief since he himself didn’t know how to answer the question she asked.

It would have been easy to say that it was because of his mother. But that would be an obvious lie since they both knew that wasn’t the case before she got ill. Every time he and his father had a major fight, he would tell them that he’s leaving for Tokyo. Yet, all this time he stayed. He was the only one who knew the answer, but didn’t know how to say it.

He passed by the park and felt the need to smoke. He walked to his favorite spot by an old tree, which he chose since no one bothered him there.

There were several people strolling in the park that morning because of the nice weather. He sat on the grass and watched them from afar. There was a bored expression on his face until he saw a familiar face.

Yoshida was walking with one of her male classmates. She looked really happy as they talked. He knew that the guy, Yamamoto, was one of the smartest in her year. Anyone would say that they’re a good couple, and she deserves to be with him. Yamamoto was his complete opposite. He was smart and would probably have a good future, someone whom her strict father would surely accept.

He realized that he was holding his breath as he watched Yamamoto hold her hand and lead her away. He heard her laugh and saw her snatch her hand back. They both walked to the other side of the park, away from where he was.


“What made you stay for the past year?”

He took a drag of the cigarette and thought of the answer. It all started with the morning greetings. No matter how rude he was, she continued to greet him every day with a smile. After he shared his umbrella to her, she had done several things for him. He saw how she genuinely cared. In truth, she was the only friend he has in this town. In the two years that he had been there, she was the only friend that he’s got.

Yet he could only watch her from afar.

He usually said what was on his mind, but this time, he couldn’t. It was frustrating, but he couldn’t. Things were complicated, he always thought. He also feared to lose her. For now, he was content with the short encounters, her morning greetings, and her smile. It was enough for him.

Sho stood up from the ground and threw away the cigarette. Sometimes he wished he had met her long ago. Maybe she had been able to make a change in his life. Things might not have turned out the way they went.

He took one last glance at her before he left the park. She was smiling as she watched some children playing. He thought if she could continue smiling that way, he’d be very happy.


***

"An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet,
regardless of time, place, or circumstance.
The thread may stretch or tangle,
but it will never break."
*

Hanako read the lines out loud from a book and looked at Natsumi who was sitting on the other couch.

“It’s interesting, isn’t it?” she asked with a giggle.

“What?” her friend asked back flatly.

“Akai ito.”

She was still in a good mood despite the busy day at work. After being able to make a bento for Sho and Shoichi and being able to start the morning right, she was able to accomplish her goals at work. She even had time to have dinner with Sasaki-san and Ito-san.

“So what happened with Ninomiya-san?” Hanako asked again after a long silence.

Natsumi shrugged and looked towards the door.

“I don’t know if it’s a good idea to try to change things with him,” she said. “For four years he never changed. He’s even getting worse!”

As if on cue, there was a sharp knock on the door. They both knew who it was. Natsumi stood up to open it.

“Konbanwa,” Nino greeted with a smirk. He handed a wrapped bento box to Natsumi. “It’s pretty good, but I know it’s not your best.”

“What did you just say?”

Natsumi’s back was turned towards Hanako, but she could sense her anger from where she was standing.

“Don’t get me wrong. There were no leftovers,” Nino said defensively. “I just don’t think it’s the best, as you have promised.”

Natsumi sighed and leaned on the door weakly. She just had a bad day at work and didn't have much energy to argue with him.

“Okay. I’ll try again tomorrow.”

Hanako was quite surprised when she saw Nino smile.

“Great. If it’s good enough, I’ll treat you to dinner.”

Natsumi almost slipped from where she was standing.

“Eh?”

“I’m not as stingy as you think, you know.” The smirk was back on his face and then he glanced over her shoulder and looked at Hanako. “Oi, Yoshida. You’re the witness, okay?”

Hanako could only nod as he looked back to Natsumi.

“Good night then, Na-chan. I expect the best for tomorrow.” With that, he waved goodbye and left.

“Na-chan?” Hanako said loudly.

Natsumi just stood unmoving by the door. Her friend walked over to her and saw that she was staring into space.

“Natsumi?”

“Pinch me, Hana-chan,” she said with a dazed look. Her friend lightly pinched her arm, but she just stayed as she was. After a moment of silence, she moved away from the door and closed it. “I couldn’t understand him. At all.”

Hanako chuckled and walked back to the living room.

“Neither do I.” She sat back on the sofa and opened the book she was reading. “So are you doing it?”

Natsumi looked at the lunchbox and sighed.

“I swear. This would be the last time.”

***

“This is really beautiful,” Hanako said cheerfully as she held the drawing that Shoichi gave her. It was a drawing of a woman and a child standing on a beautiful meadow full of flowers and looking at the rainbow in the sky. “Is this you and me?” She pointed at the woman and the boy in the picture.

“Hai,” he answered. “Thank you very much for the obento.”

She smiled and wrapped an arm around his shoulder.

“You’re welcome,” she replied. “I could make one for you again next time.”

“And Papa too, right?”

“Shoichi.” Sho had a stern look on his face as he came into the living room. “Hanako-san is a busy person.”

Hanako smiled and shook her head.

“It’s alright, Sen—Sho-san. I guess I also need to practice cooking every once in a while.”

She dropped by their apartment after she got off from work. Shoichi called her and asked her to come for the drawing he made.

“Tsk. You’re all spoiling him.” Despite what he said, there was a small smile on his lips. “First it was Otousan and then you guys.”

“Ah, your father.” They have seen each other a couple of times, but she hasn’t asked about his father. “How is he doing?”

Sho sat on the couch adjacent to where Shoichi and Hanako were sitting.

“He’s doing well,” he simply answered. “He visits us from time to time. But he still insisted on living alone in our old house though I’ve asked him many times to move in with us.”

“He probably treasures the memories he’s had there with your mother,” Hanako said. “And I guess my parents were helping him out.”

“I guess you’re right.”

She was not sure if Sho knew that she hasn’t talked to her parents for almost a year. She thought that maybe he had heard some things from his father because he didn’t ask her anything about it anymore. Shoichi started to tell her about the things he did in daycare, so the topic of the conversation changed.

“We’re going to sing next week,” he told her. “I want you to come and watch with Natsumi-neechan and your neighbors.”

Hanako chuckled when he just referred to Daichi and Nino as their neighbors.

“If we’re free that day then we will,” she replied then she glanced at her watch. “Oh, I think I have to go home now.”

She glanced at Shoichi and saw that he was frowning.

“Can you stay a little longer?” he begged.

He looked like he was about to cry, so she thought saying “no” was not a good idea. She looked at Sho, and he nodded.

“Would you like to stay for dinner?” he asked. He glanced towards the kitchen and looked a bit uneasy. “I made some curry.... I’m not sure if it’s good, but—”

“Well, I’d love to try it out then,” Hanako said excitedly. “Does that make you happy, Shoichi-kun?”

The boy nodded excitedly and grinned.

“Hai!”

***

“Shimizu!”

Natsumi was about to enter the apartment building when she heard Nino’s voice from behind her. She stayed where she was and only turned around to look at him when he was close enough for her to hear his footsteps.

“What?” she asked with a straight face.

He handed her the empty bento box as he tried to catch his breath. Natsumi looked at it and then looked at him expectantly.

“Don’t give me that look,” he said with a frown. “I liked it, so I’ll treat you out for dinner as promised.”

“Huh?”

Natsumi thought he’d tell her how awful the food was. She was actually ready with a retort if he would force her to make one again for the following day.

“I’m quite surprised,” he said as a gentle smile brightened his features. “It’s very different from the one yesterday.”

“I’m... I’m glad you liked it then.” She was still shocked by his reaction. She thought there wasn’t anything too special about the lunch she made that day.

“So where would you like to eat?” he asked after a long silence. “If you want, we could still go to that Italian restaurant we went to the last time.”

She also felt like eating pasta that evening, so she agreed with his suggestion. Normally, the restaurant would be full during that time, but they were lucky enough to get a table as soon as they got there. Unlike the last time they’ve been there, they were in more formal clothing since they both just came from work. Natsumi felt a shiver down her spine when the word “date” crossed her mind.

“You think this is like a date, don’t you?” Nino suddenly said with a mischievous smile.

“How dare you—”

“Ah... that’s better,” he said. “I hate it when you’re all quiet.”

Natsumi’s hand inched closer to the knife on the table. She thought he had mastered the art of ruining someone’s day. Before their argument could escalate, the food they ordered came, and the atmosphere was changed again.

“This is really good!” Natsumi said excitedly after tasting the seafood pasta. “This was the one you ate before, right Ninomiya-san?”

“Yes,” he answered with a nod. “I think this one’s better though.” He motioned toward the pasta dish on his plate.

“Eh... I guess I’ll ask Hanako to come with me next time so I could try it,” she said with a small smile.

For a while, Nino just stared at his plate. He glanced at Natsumi and looked down on the plate again.

“Or we could just come here again.”

“Huh?”

“That bento,” he said as he gazed into her eyes. “I really, really liked it.”

Natsumi thought his stare was making her feel uncomfortable. She looked away and tried not to meet his eyes.

“There was nothing special about it,” she said as she twirled the pasta around her fork. “It was just like the one I made yesterday.”

He took a sip of wine and looked at her again.

“It’s probably just a coincidence but... that bento was like the one that someone made for me long ago,” he said with an unreadable expression.

A long and uncomfortable silence followed. Natsumi suddenly lost her appetite. She thought he had just ruined the dinner for her.

“What are you talking about suddenly?” she asked glaring at him.

He looked at her again and smiled.

“It tasted like the last bento my grandmother made for me,” he answered. “It was supposed to be special, but I had forgotten about it until today. I think I have to thank you for that.”

She was taken aback by his answer that she could just stare at him. She was still amazed at how he suddenly changes these past few days.

“You’re not lying, are you?” she asked.

“Of course not,” he answered with a frown. “Do you think I’m that evil?”

Natsumi couldn’t suppress a giggle after he said that.

“What’s so funny?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

She shook her head and smiled at him.

“If I’ll make you another bento just like that, are you going to treat me out to dinner again?”

He thought for a while and then smirked.

“Just don’t do it every day,” he answered. “It’s expensive here, you know?”

***

“So how is it?” Sho asked apprehensively.

Hanako continued chewing and looked at her two companions who were intently staring at her and waiting for her reaction. She had been thinking of making a bad face to fool them, but she felt like laughing at their faces instead.

“You should see your faces,” she said with an amused smile. “It’s good, don’t worry. Not as spicy as I would like it to be, but then again, Shoichi-kun is here so that’s fine.”

After she said that, their expressions instantly changed.

“Papa, you finally did it!” Shoichi said happily to his father.

“Ah... yokatta!” Sho sighed in relief. “It usually ends up badly so I was worried.”

Hanako couldn’t help laughing at his reaction. She thought he had changed so much during the time that they have not seen each other.

“I never would have imagined that after six years I would be eating some curry you made,” she said. She glanced at Shoichi who had already started to eat. “It’s good, right?”

The boy nodded and looked at his father.

“Papa, you can start eating too.”

Sho chuckled and nodded. It was the first time that someone else joined him and his son for dinner. The atmosphere was different, he thought.

“Ne, Hanako-neechan, do you have a boyfriend?” Shoichi suddenly asked out of nowhere.

“Shoichi—”

“It’s alright, Sho-san,” she said chuckling. She was surprised that the boy suddenly asked about it. “Well, I don’t have one right now, but there’s someone whom I think I like.”

“Eh... who’s that?” the boy asked curiously.

Hanako patted his head and grinned.

“Hi-mi-tsu.” She then glanced at Sho. “Ah, by the way, did you see Ninomiya-san at lunchtime earlier?”

Sho was not sure why she would be asking about it, but he still nodded and answered the question.

“I noticed that someone’s been making a bento for him,” he said. “He usually goes out to eat lunch in a restaurant so everyone noticed that.”

“Natsumi-neechan made it for him, right?” Shoichi suddenly said to butt in.

“Hai,” Hanako replied. She turned to Sho again and asked, “Do you think he enjoys them?”

Sho furrowed his brow.

“Why are you asking about it, anyway?” he asked back with a suspicious look.

“It’s not like what you think!” Hanako immediately said in defense. “Well... I’m just concerned because I’m not sure why he’s making Natsumi do these things for him.”

“Maybe he likes her,” Sho said with a shrug.

“No way,” she said chuckling. “Those two had always hated each other. For four years they did nothing, but fight.”

There was a pause before Sho spoke again.

“Are you sure?” he asked. “Because when I was there, they weren’t.”

Hanako took a sip of water and thought for a while.

“Well, now that you’ve mentioned it, they were civil at times... especially recently.” She glanced at Shoichi and saw that he’s been listening. “W-well, enough about that. I’m sure Natsumi’s fine.”

“Ah! You’re done, Shoichi?” Sho suddenly said after he noticed his son’s empty plate.

“Hai,” he answered with a sheepish smile. “I want curry again tomorrow.”

“Eh... but I don’t know if I could do it this way again.” Sho winced and looked at Hanako with an uncomfortable smile.

“You mean you’re not even sure how you got it right?” Hanako giggled and set her spoon back on the plate. “I’ll help you then.”

“Are you sure?” he asked. “You might be busy.”

Hanako shook her head.

“I’m free, don’t worry.”

***

“I can cook!” Nino insisted as they crossed the street. “I’ve been living on my own all these years. How do you think I managed to survive?”

Natsumi laughed as they both stepped back onto the sidewalk. She noticed how he switched places with her so he’ll be the one on the side nearest to the road.

“I think it’s your turn to prove yourself,” she said. “How about cooking the best dish you can make?”

“Sounds like a challenge, eh?” he said with a smirk as he glance at her. “Sure. Bring it on!”

They walked in silence for a while. When they were a block from the apartment building, she turned to him and spoke again.

“Can you cook on Wednesday?” she asked.

“Eh? But I think I’ll be busy then.... I’ll probably have time next weekend.”

He saw her pout like a child who didn’t get her wish. He placed his hands inside his pockets and chuckled.

“Give me a good reason to do it for you and I will,” he said.

She stopped when they were in front of the apartment building and fully turned to him.

“It’s my birthday,” she replied. “Is that a good enough reason?”

Nino thought for a while and then gave his answer.

“On one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“Don’t call me Ninomiya-san anymore,” he said. “All of you are referring to each other casually that I feel left out.”

Natsumi couldn’t help laughing at what he said. She thought he has a point though.

“How should I call you then?” she asked with a smile.

“My family calls me Kazu.... Some friends call me Nino—”

“I’ll call you Nino then,” she said as she started to step into the entrance of the building. “Just don’t call me Na-chan in front of the others.”

“Hai. Wakarimashita.” He started to walk and follow her.

There was silence again between them. She walked a few steps ahead and he followed. When they got to their floor, he noticed that there was a man sitting in front of her apartment’s door. There was a large black bag beside him. The man who seemed to be around Nino’s age turned to them as they approached him.

“Masa-kun?”

Natsumi stopped in her tracks when she got a good look at the man sitting in front of her apartment door. The tall man stood up and smiled widely at her.

“Na-chan!”

Aiba Masaki happily ran to her and gave her a hug. Natsumi was frozen in surprise while Nino could only stare at the two people in front of him.

“What are you doing here?” Natsumi got her composure back and pushed Masaki away from her.

“Eh... well, it’s a long story,” Masaki answered with a sheepish smile. “Should we get inside first so I can finally eat dinner and tell you?”

Natsumi sighed and pushed him toward the door.

“Go and tell me everything,” she said. She then remembered that Nino was there with them. She turned to him with an apologetic smile. “Ah... I’m sorry about that... Nino. Thank you for the dinner. I will see you.” She hurriedly opened the door of her apartment and pushed the man inside. She gave one last look at Nino and waved goodbye to him before closing the door.

The sound of the door closing seemed to have snapped Nino out of his reverie. After feeling shocked, he suddenly felt quite pissed.

Who the hell is that guy?

***

"Is he asleep already?" Sho asked in a whisper when he noticed that Shoichi had gone silent.

Hanako looked at the child whose head was leaning on his father's shoulder.

"Yes, he is," she whispered with a smile. "I told you, I'm fine to walk home alone."

Sho shifted his son so the child will be more comfortable. Hanako, on the other hand, pulled up the hood of the boy's jacket over his head.

"Well, Shoichi won't stop crying if we won't," he said. "I guess he really likes you."

"Eh... I'm glad he does," she replied with an amused smile.

"But Otousan had spoiled him a lot. He throws a fit and won't stop until he gets what he wants."

There were only a few people walking in the streets that night. Hanako slowed her walking pace since Sho was carrying his sleeping son.

"He's still a good kid," Hanako said quietly. "I mean, I've never seen a kid his age who is so well-behaved."

"All of you seem to like him." There was a tone of jealousy in Sho's voice. After a pause, he spoke again in a more serious tone. "I guess he's lucky that way though. I don't think I'd like to see him hated as I was before."

Hanako glanced at Sho, but she couldn't see his face well.

"Not everyone hated you," she said.

"I know that."

Sho turned to her and smiled. He never had the chance to thank her before for how well she had treated him. He didn't have the chance to see her again before he left for Tokyo.

"So I wanted to thank you... for not being like the rest."

Hanako stopped walking and turned to Sho when they finally reached her apartment.

"I wanted to thank you too for the things you've done for me, no matter how small."

She looked at Shoichi's calm face and gently ran her hand over the boy's head.

"I'll see you then tomorrow, Sho-san."

He nodded and smiled to her.

"Yeah, I'd be under your care tomorrow, Sensei," he replied jokingly. "See you."

She watched as he walked back to the direction of his apartment. Hanako closed her eyes and committed to memory the image of Sho carrying his son and walking under a clear evening sky. For her, it was a beautiful image that she wished Shoichi could see. She opened her eyes again and saw him turn back to her before he walked into another street. She waved goodbye to him, and watched him wave back with his free hand. She continued to wave goodbye until he was gone.

***

"Tadaima."

Hanako was expecting Natsumi's reply when she entered the apartment. She was surprised though when instead of Natsumi, she heard another voice.

"That's why I'm here," she heard Masaki say.

Her face brightened up, and she hurriedly ran to the kitchen where he was talking with Natsumi. Masaki was sitting on a chair by the dining table while Natsumi was standing beside him.

"Masa-kun!" Hanako exclaimed happily. "Wh-what are you doing here?"

"Hana-chan," Masaki greeted with a smile. "Well, just ask Natsumi. I don't want to repeat myself."

That earned him a smack at the back of his head from his cousin. Natsumi looked disapprovingly at him and then faced Hanako.

"This baka said he's here to explore other restaurants," she said and turned back to him. "Just admit that you had a disagreement with your father again, and you're running away."

"I said I'm not," Masaki said in frustration. "Really. I'm just here for research. Is that wrong?"

Hanako walked towards the fridge and took out a bottle of iced tea.

"Maybe he's telling the truth this time, Na-chan," she said then she turned to Masaki. "How long are you going to stay here?"

He brushed his bangs away from his eyes and thought of his answer.

"Maybe around three weeks?" he answered with uncertainty. "Probably until Otousan's no longer angry." After a pause, he suddenly covered his mouth with his hand when he realized what he had just said.

"I knew it!" Natsumi said in disappointment as she collapsed onto a chair. She glanced at her cousin and raised an eyebrow at him. "What have you done this time?"

Masaki frowned and looked away. He didn't expect his secret to be out this early. He thought that they might not let him stay with them now.

"I didn't do anything!" he replied in defense. "He's the one who got angry without reason. I just had an idea that I thought could help the restaurant."

"And what was your genius idea?" Natsumi asked sarcastically.

Masaki looked at Hanako for support, but it seemed like she was enjoying their spat.

"Well, I thought we could add things to the menu for a change," he answered slowly, afraid that his cousin would suddenly explode in anger, like his father when he gave the suggestion.

"So your father got angry because of that?" Hanako asked.

He nodded and looked at his cousin. She didn't seem angry, so he was relieved.

"Well, Ojisan is quite traditional," Natsumi said with an unreadable expression. "I remember him advising Otousan not to change our restaurant's menu before."

"See? It's not my fault!" Masaki said defensively. "He got so angry though so Okaasan told me to leave for a while. I thought it'll also be a good opportunity for research, in case he changes his mind."

He looked at the two women and saw that they were giving him strange looks.

"I can't believe I'm listening to you, Masa-kun," Hanako said with an incredulous stare. "Say, Na-chan, why don't we let him stay?"

Natsumi thought for a while.

"Okay," she finally said. "But it won't be for free."

"Eh...." Masaki made a face. "What do I have to do this time?"

Natsumi and Hanako looked at each other and grinned widely. They were still wearing those grins when they looked back to Masaki. He thought they looked scary at that moment.

"Household chores!" they answered in chorus.

***

"Where's Masa-kun?" Hanako asked when she got out of her room the following morning and found Natsumi eating breakfast alone.

"I asked him to take the trash out," Natsumi answered. She glanced towards the door and furrowed her brow. "I wonder what's taking him so long."

As soon, as she said that, they heard the sound of the door opening and closing. Masaki walked slowly toward the kitchen with a thoughtful expression on his face. He looked at the two women and then leaned his head inquiringly to one side.

"The guy last night.... He's your neighbor, right?" he asked curiously.

Natsumi nodded in reply as Hanako took a seat by the dining table.

"Why what's bothering you?" Hanako asked. She lifted her fork and stabbed one of the sausages on a plate.

Masaki seemed to be thinking of how to say what was on his mind. He went to the sink first to wash his hands and then he joined the two women on the table.

"Well, I saw him smoking outside when I took out the trash," he started a little uneasily. "He looked at me as if I'm a criminal or something. I haven't met him before this, right?"

Hanako chuckled.

"Well, Ninomiya-san can be quite suspicious of new people, I guess," she said in amusement. She then turned to Natsumi and asked, "He wasn't here during Masa-kun's last visit, right?"

Natsumi thought for a while and then nodded. The last time that Masaki visited them was two years ago, and Nino was abroad then.

"Nino was on a vacation that time, if I'm not mistaken."

She continued eating and then only stopped when she realized that her friend was staring at her strangely.

"Ni... no?" Hanako smirked and then narrowed her eyes at her. "And... you were together last night?"

Natsumi frowned and looked back at her plate. She thought that didn’t have to deal with those things early in the morning.

"Well, he did promise to treat me to dinner," she simply said. "Anyway, where did you go last night?"

"Sho-san's," Hanako answered after a sip of coffee. She smiled as she remembered the image of Sho carrying Shoichi the previous night. "Shoichi-kun gave me his drawing."

Natsumi was about to say something when Masaki suddenly sat up in surprise and looked at his cousin and friend in disbelief.

"Did you just say Sho?" he asked excitedly. "Do you mean Sakurai?"

Hanako remembered that Masaki and Sho had met before when he spent the summer vacation with Natsumi’s family years ago. He was one of the few people that Sho got along with.

“Yes, I met him by accident days ago,” Hanako answered. “I’m going to see him later. Maybe you could tag along. He’ll surely be happy to see you again.”

It was Natsumi’s turn to look suspiciously at her friend.

“You’re seeing each other too much these days,” she observed. “Don’t tell me—”

“No way,” Hanako said laughing. “It’s not like that at all. Besides, there’s someone else that I like.” She smiled to herself and changed the topic. “Masa-kun’s cooking got better, ne?”

Masaki smiled proudly and dramatically brushed his bangs from his eyes.

“Why of course. I’ll be the one to inherit the restaurant so I have to—”

“Ohayou gozaimasu!” Daichi barged into the apartment again as he always did. He was about to take his usual place in the table when he saw that there was someone sitting there. “Eh... A-aiba-san?”

“Yo, Daichi!” Masaki greeted cheerfully with a salute. “Why am I not surprised to see you here?”

Daichi sat on the unoccupied chair beside Masaki and smiled sheepishly.

“Eh... I guess I’ve told everyone how much I wanted to study here,” he answered. He then paused when he suddenly remembered what he was there for. “Ah! Na-chan, did you have a fight with Ninomiya-san again? He’s in such a rotten mood since last night.”

Natsumi was surprised when he said that. She thought Nino was in a good mood when she said goodbye to him.

“No, of course not,” she answered. “Maybe it was work-related. Did he do something to you?”

Daichi shook his head vigorously.

“He’s just sulking and smoking more than usual,” he answered with a concerned look. “I wonder what happened.”

“It’s probably nothing serious,” Hanako said with an assuring smile as she stood up. She knew how much Daichi adores his roommate. “Well, I’ll go ahead. I have to get ready for work.”

Daichi and Masaki started to talk animatedly about their activities during the times that they have not seen each other. Natsumi, on the other hand, still looked troubled as she quietly sipped some orange juice. She took out her cellphone from her pocket and quickly typed a message for Nino.

Hey. Daichi told me you’re in a bad mood. What’s wrong? You can tell me.

She had already sent it before she fully realized what she had done. Truthfully, she really wished he would reply and tell her about his problem. Though she hated to admit it, she really was concerned.


*from this Wikipedia entry