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The fading sunlight filtered through the blinds, illuminating the floating dust particles whirling through the vacuum created by your breath. The dust was an inevitable aspect of your sanctuary, your hideout; if it were clean, more people would use it, and this place is only for you and your most precious person.

So much time had passed from when she had first showed you this place, all those months ago; now, it was March, and you were graduating tomorrow. You had already picked a college to attend that you could commute to from home, and you were excited at the prospect of your new classes. Being a part of the beautification committee had taught you many things, and you liked to consider yourself as a jack-of-all-trades, of sorts; it was through the ability of being able to accomplish so much that people’s opinions of you rose so high. Although you were no longer so rigorously bound by other’s expectations and opinions, the urge to please was still an integral part of you. But you had learned to control it, how to appreciate it, and it was all thanks to your junior sitting serenely next to you.

Seina. When you first received her love letter, for that was precisely what it was, you didn’t know how to feel. So many confusing feelings had swirled within your breast and clouded your mind. Confusion, certainly, was a prominent one; all you had done was what you thought was right, was normal, and yet she wanted to thank you again. Then there was hesitation, cynicism; why would a girl that you only met once profess to like you so much? Not only that, but another girl; you didn’t know quite how you felt about that. And yet, eddying through the whirlpool of emotion came another, though it did little to elucidate your thoughts: hope.

For years you had kept your innermost feelings hidden, not wanting to burden another with their weight. Ironically, it was your utmost desire to have another understand you, to take time to tease apart the barriers you didn’t know how to lower, to envelop you in the acceptance that came from intimately knowing your thoughts, your passions, your idiosyncrasies. Maybe, you had thought, maybe this girl, this Maki Seina, could be that person.

Almost immediately you had dismissed the thought. How could a first year who knew next to nothing about you fulfill that role? Nevertheless, you went to the roof on that fateful Thursday, and heard her profession of love. While you knew that you couldn’t return her love at that time, you decided to be friends. You really couldn’t deny her, after all; she had a natural light, a charisma about her, and it was all directed at you. How could you say no to a person like that? What would she have thought of you? You weren’t at all used to denying requests, and there was something deep inside you telling you to accept this one.

For a while you two simply got used to each other’s presence. She helped you work through the mass amounts of favors you got asked daily, although that simply seemed to increase the amount. You learned more about her: her family was in construction, and that was where she got her unnatural strength from; she loved appreciating the architecture of the places she visited; she liked this, and hated that; she had no problem opening up to you. Your afternoons were spent with her regaling you of her day, and you would notice the way her eyes sparkled with a special light as she talked about the school she loved.

You also noticed that she made special effort to always return your questions about her day, and at first, your replies weren’t very detailed. You were used to completing your tasks in solitude, with the very occasional help of another student or teacher; even then, you acted more as a sounding board for their own issues and problems. But as the days progressed and she found your hideout, you found yourself digging through your memories and deeper thoughts to be able to properly answer Seina. At first, you thought you simply didn’t want to be seen as rude by not responding in kind. As you looked more closely, though, that explanation didn’t seem to fit right; rather, you just wanted her to actually know you.

Perhaps that was why her unexpected kiss was such a betrayal. You thought that there was someone who was finally beginning to discern the heavy emotion under the thin veneer of your pretense. But she was like all the others; willing to push herself on you without thought of how it might make you feel, of how much of a burden you already carried.

The following weeks were hard. Although she profusely apologized, your trust was broken. The walks through the halls were no longer filled with casual banter or the probing tones of deepening friendship. The tasks you completed were done so at a lackluster pace, although not slow enough for anyone to complain. And yet through it all, despite looking completely miserable, Seina kept at it. But her sentences were short, as if she was waiting for something at the end; her words were cautious, as if she was afraid of their effect.

It took some time (too much time, in your opinion) for you to realize that she was waiting for you to dump her. Not even in the romantic sense, as she had lost all hope at that; she thought you couldn’t even bear her friendship.

Once you realized this your initial reaction was to go reassure her that this wasn’t the case. But, why wasn’t it? Hadn’t she violated your trust? Accepting that was a little too far, even for you. Perhaps, though, you were in the wrong as well. Although what Seina had done was certainly not acceptable, it came about through her intense feelings towards you, feelings that you hadn’t really considered. You were comfortable in friendship, but maybe Seina was not.

Seina had had the courage to tell you outright how she felt, and you hadn’t given her a definitive answer as to whether or not you could return her love. While she had been content to wait and to build a friendship, you hadn’t thought further than that, which led to the overflow of emotion from her. You would have preferred she use words instead, but her actions had the same effect.

After your dual apologies it was as if light returned to the day. Your conversations were much more cheerful, and Seina’s smile threatened to break her face; and yet, things were still not the same. This time, there were more feelings involved. It was odd, at first, evaluating how you felt about someone else. Usually, that didn’t matter; what mattered more was how others felt about you. But you knew it wouldn’t be fair to Seina for you to act on nonexistent feelings, and as you were growing to realize, it wouldn’t be fair to yourself either.

And it wasn’t as if Seina made it hard for you to recognize your burgeoning affections. You recognized the butterflies in your stomach when she smiled at you; you recognized the quickening of your pulse when she took your hand to lead you down the hall; you recognized the burning in your chest and in your face as you imagined her strong arms wrapped around you. Seina was pretty, and strong, and cared a lot about you, but it was more than that. No one had ever put this much effort into you, and you had never wanted someone to understand you this much. For those feelings to progress into something more amorous felt natural. Not only did you want her to want you, you…wanted her.

That much was made abundantly clear the day Seina defended you from the photography club. As you had run down the hallway, disregarding the rules you usually followed so religiously, hearing her voice echo down the corridors awakened something within you. It was a potent mixture that sent adrenaline pumping through your legs, pushing you to go faster, reach her sooner; the small shame of having to have your underclassman defend you was there, but it was overshadowed by the overwhelming desire you felt for Seina.

It was in that moment you knew that Seina would be that person you had long waited for. It wouldn’t be easy, it wouldn’t be perfect; there was still so much to learn, and life would always have challenges. But with Seina, you could meet them together; her pulling you along, helping you grow, slipping past the walls of your façade to reach the most intimate parts of you. And, as you had skidded to a halt in front of the classroom her voice was coming from, you pulling her back when she went too far.

It was almost gratifying, the way that it was only your voice that got through to her. You hadn’t been able to bear being apart from her; you stood close, embracing her, providing comfort and reassurance. Seeing Seina’s pained expression had solidified your emotions. Seina was what was important to you, and despite whatever consequences may come, you didn’t want anything to interfere with your relationship. Your rebuke of the photography club had probably shocked everyone in the room, but you had eyes only for Seina, and the relief and pride glittering in her eyes underneath the guilt assured you that you had made the right decision.

The memory of what had occurred after, in the very room you were currently sitting in, made you squirm in your seat, drawing Seina’s attention. “Miki-san?”

“Oh, nothing, Seina. Just reminiscing about the past,” you reply. A certain past that you hoped would also be a part of your future.

“That makes sense, seeing as you’re graduating tomorrow! It’s amazing how time flies!” comes her bright response. You smile to yourself; Seina’s bright attitude was something that you adored about her.

“Mhm, yes. Are you excited for another year’s work on the beautification committee?” you ask. Although you were quite content to be done with that part of your life, completing favor after favor, you knew it had only just begun for her.

Seina nods energetically. “Definitely! I can’t wait to help make this school even more beautiful than it already is!” Unbidden, an image of Seina carrying heavy loads around the school with her powerful frame flashed across your mind, and you flushed heavily.

A sly look crosses Seina’s features, and you squint at her in suspicion. Seina had a very honest and forthright nature, so whenever she was being sneaky you knew immediately something was up. “Ne, Miki-san, although you’re no longer part of the beautification committee, can I ask you one last favor?” You cautiously give your consent, wondering what she was up to.

“Kiss me, Miki-san…”

That was one favor you wouldn’t mind fulfilling at all.