Ringo stares at her face in the mirror. She hasn't bothered to put makeup on for this meeting, besides a smear of tinted lip gloss. She waves her hand under the tap until some water comes out, then splashes the water on her face, just so she can get rid of the lightheaded, nervous feeling. The water wakes her up a little, makes her feel like she's in reality instead of a strange dream.
Ringo scrutinises her reflection again, and draws the back of her hand across her lips, wiping the rest of the lip gloss off.
She has to go. She shouldn't keep Shoma waiting.
Over the past week, Ringo's reached a tentative truce with Shoma. They've circled around sensitive topics, before agreeing to meet in public. Their quasi-friendship-or-relationship has been strained ever since Shoma's revelation about his family, but she's going to fix that today. By force, if necessary.
Shoma's standing outside the train station, trying to look casual, his hands shoved into the pockets of his oversized hoodie. Ringo could have met him somewhere else, like his house or her apartment, but that would complicate things. The station near her place is neutral ground - disregarding the association with trains, which is almost unavoidable.
"Hi, Shoma," Ringo says, approaching him. She holds out the plastic bag containing the food she made. It's not curry, or cabbage rolls, or anything related - it took her ages to decide what was a properly neutral gift for the Takakuras.
"Ah, thank you," Shoma murmurs, taking the bag from her. He peeks inside the bag, lifting the lid of the container, and his nose twitches as he sniffs the biscuits. "Chestnut biscuits?"
The biscuits should be fine even if this meeting ends up lasting for hours, and are healthy enough for Himari to eat in hospital. Hospital visiting hours aren't until evening, and she knows Shoma doesn't have much homework because his class had a series of tests this week. Shoma doesn't have a good reason to leave now, besides his own guilt.
"My friend gave me the recipe - I'll email it to you, if you like the taste." She's lying about the friend, but she knows he won't dig deeper. "Anyway, want to walk to the park? It's nice at this time of day. We can talk."
Shoma looks at her, eyes wide with horror, and nods in assent. She tries to control her irritation, taking a deep breath. Even if she isn't the nicest girl, she isn't going to punish Shoma for something that she doesn't even blame him for, and he should know that after all the messages she sent.
She grits her teeth, and forces herself to say the next line. It's necessary to play on his guilt to get him to stay, she knows, even if it hurts her too. "Maybe we could even give Himari the biscuits together. Tonight."
He looks like he's going to his own execution, but gulps and nods again. That idiot.
"Let's go," she says.
It's quite frustrating to walk beside Shoma today, as he seems to be expecting Ringo to murder him at the next given opportunity. Ringo is trying her very best to be patient with him, but she can't take it anymore, she has to do something before she explodes at him and confirms his worst suspicions.
She whips out her handphone, and presses down on the screen aggressively, forgetting her previous attempts at subtlety. She can't bring herself to dance around the issue any longer.
[Do you hate me? Yes or no.]
Shoma's phone chirps cheerfully, and he instinctively fishes it out of his pocket. He looks at Ringo's name, and then glances at Ringo. Ringo gives him her best challenging look, which is honed from weeks of justifying her Tabuki-stalking. There is no way he can defeat her on this front.
They continue walking, and they've circled the park at least three times by now. No one has actually said anything about it, as they haven't said a word to each other since leaving the station.
Ringo's phone beeps with a reply, and she glances down at its screen.
[I don't hate you. But you should hate me.]
This is exasperating. She almost misses the simplicity of stalking Tabuki and scaling buildings to get pictures of birds. Why can't she be sending loving messages instead of these awkward attempts at negotiation? Why did she have to fall in love with such a stupid, unreasonable, impossible person?
[I don't hate you, or your family, and I won't! What does it take to get that through to you?!]
She presses the "Send" button angrily, pauses to think, then sends another message.
[And can we sit down and have an actual conversation? I'm tired of walking in circles!]
She chucks her phone back into her handbag, stalks into the park, and flops down on the most secluded bench that she sees. She hopes that Shoma had the sense to follow her, rather than render her dramatic gesture moot.
After a few minutes, Shoma walks into the park, and sits down next to her. His eyes are downcast, and he refuses to make eye contact, staring off into space at one of the frog statues.
It's not an ideal situation, but he hasn't left, so there must still be some hope.
Over the past week, Shoma has had a lot of time to think about all the wrongs that he has indirectly caused Ringo and her family, simply by being born and continuing to exist on this planet. He doesn't hesitate to expound on them in great detail, even when Ringo doesn't accept a single word of it.
Ringo's disregard just makes him try harder to justify himself to her, no matter how much she explains that she doesn't want to see his family ruined, and that she won't abandon him. Every denial, every negation, makes him spout another reason why Ringo should hate him. She isn't sure if she wants to slap him in exasperation, choke him in frustration, or hug him until he shuts up.
The diary, for all it said about new toothbrushes and first nights, never said anything about scenarios like this. Shoma's voice is cracking as he recites a litany of his personal sins. His eyes are brimming with tears, and he looks like he's about to bolt. Despite his panicked expression, he stays rooted in place, as if it's only a matter of time before Ringo agrees with him and begins his punishment.
Ringo moves her hand up to Shoma's cheek, and Shoma flinches before forcing himself to stay still. Instead of the slap he's expecting, Ringo gently guides his head to her shoulder, turning her body towards him, and Shoma buries his face in her shoulder.
People glance at them, then look away in disgust, mistaking Shoma for an amorous boyfriend nuzzling against his girlfriend's chest. Honestly, the situation that they're imagining seems better than what's actually going on. But Shoma is here, pressed against her, and she needs to deal with this situation before he slips away from her.
"I know you'll never be able to forgive me," Shoma says, trailing off halfway. He does a very good job of pretending he isn't crying - his shoulders aren't shaking as much as they should be, and he's holding his body still. It would almost be convincing if he wasn't getting her third-best blouse soggy.
"You absolute moron," Ringo says, cupping her hand behind his head, brushing his hair down with her palm. She's tempted to flick his neck with her index finger instead, except that would give him more of an excuse to run away. "I don't need to forgive you, because I don't blame you, so shut up and stop this."
Shoma's tears are trickling down Ringo's blouse, under her bra, across her skin. She draws him closer, waiting for him to come back to his senses so they both can pull away from each other and pretend that everything's fine again.
Ringo wonders if this is what love feels like.
She didn't expect it to hurt so much.
Shoma forces his lips into a neutral expression, exhales shakily, and raises his head from Ringo's shoulder. The puffy sleeve of her blouse is almost completely soaked through, but it's black so it isn't that obvious.
They both don't know what to say, so Ringo shoos him to the nearby washroom and digs out a packet of facial tissues from her handbag. She expects Shoma to go in immediately, but he opens the pack of tissues and tries to wipe her sleeve off. It's a chivalrous gesture and a futile effort, as the tissue fibers form into little balls and stick to her sleeve.
Before she loses patience and tries to brush her own sleeve off, Shoma realises the futility of the task. He takes his hoodie off, and hands it to her before dashing into the washroom.
While waiting for him, she slips the hoodie over her clothes. It completely covers her frilly skirt, and makes her look like she isn't wearing anything else, but wearing Shoma's clothes is the most familiar thing that's happened today. Even if it makes her look downright obscene, she's not going to take this off unless she's forced to do so.
Shoma emerges from the washroom. His eyes are red-rimmed, and so are his nostrils, and he's making snuffling noises every time he tries to breathe through his nose. He's actually making eye contact with Ringo instead of looking guilty, so it's an improvement, even if he looks and sounds like he needs treatment for a severe case of the flu.
"Hospital visiting hours start soon," Shoma says. "If we take the train now, we can make it to the cafeteria before the crowd comes."
"We should hurry up, then," Ringo says, as she reaches out to him. The hoodie's sleeve covers most of her hand, providing a built-in excuse for him to decline the physical contact.
Shoma hesitantly curls his hand around her exposed fingertips, and they start walking to the train station.