After graduating from Kaibara High, our paths didn't cross until fifteen years later, at our high school reunion. Sipping at lukewarm black coffee and leaning against the refreshment table, I idly listened to a third-year classmate of mine babble on and on about his daughter on the other side of the room.
That was when I noticed her.
Taller and noticeably more commandeering in heels and a gray pantsuit, her hair done in a chignon at the nape of her neck, it took me a moment to recognize Sukochi Fujikawa. But the glint in her eye was unmistakable, undeterred by time.
The girl I had been, and was still, hopelessly in love with. More mature, even more beautiful, and strangely regal in the manner she carried herself- but undoubtedly her.
Time seemed to freeze as she noticed me, a smile easing its way onto her lips. Strides confident and long, she reached me in a matter of moments. "Well, well, well, if it isn't Hatori Sohma!"
I forced a smile, my throat going dry. "Long time no see, Fujikawa."
Tearing open a packet of no-calorie sweetener and dumping liberal amounts of it into her coffee, she grinned at me. "So, what's going on with you?"
"Oh, nothing much," I said curtly. "I have a clinic of my own now, but other than that, nothing's changed. And what of you?"
Lapping at her searing-hot coffee, she waved her free hand airily. "Um, well, I'm a lawyer myself. Five years outta grad school. Becoming a writer just didn't work, so...I thought it was for the best." Perking up, she asked, "Oh, speaking of writing, I heard that weirdo cousin of yours- Shigure, was it?- just got engaged. Give him my regards, will you?"
They weren't the only ones. Tohru and Kyo had married quietly three months ago. Yuki and Machi finally had the sense to move in with one another. Kureno and Arisa. Kazuma and Saki. Haru and Rin. Ayame and Mine. Even little Hiro and Kisa.
Everyone around me awash in a blaze of happiness.
She waggled her eyebrows at me. "And how about you, Ice Queen? Tell Fujikawa here about how love's been treating you."
Despite how much time had passed, the words fell easily from my mouth. Sukochi always had a way of getting me to tell the truth, even now. "I was married," I said quietly, "for a couple of years, actually."
"Oh," was all she said. She hesitated, but her curiosity won out. "What happened?"
"Commitment issues," I replied, feigning nonchalance. "The usual."
It wasn't exactly a lie. Because whenever I looked Mayuki, there was someone else I saw.
And I don't think I'm making any unfair assumptions when I say that no one wants to be second to an enigma.
Sukochi nodded, sympathetic. "Yeah, I know what you mean," she said pensively, stirring her coffee with a spindly red straw. "There was this guy. I met him at a work party, and after that...well, I was pretty much head-over-heels for him." I felt vaguely queasy at the thought. "Um, so yeah. I really thought he was the one. But then, one day he had this crazy epiphany about wanting to go to grad school in Canada, and did I want to go with him, and...I guess I just decided he wasn't worth throwing everything away for? I love my job, love Japan, hell, I even love my stepfamily, if you can believe that. I mean, I felt pretty worthless, too- he didn't even seem to care when we ended it. So in a way, I'm glad it happened.
"Anyways!" she said cheerily. "That reminds me. I heard from Nakashima that we were a pretty good couple back in the day. Something about us being all lovey-dovey?"
"You could say that," I said evenly, after a moment of hesitation.
She laughed. "I've never taken you for the super-romantic type, but yeah. I bet you were a great boyfriend."
"Were", not "are. Has-beens and will-never-bes.
We lapsed into content silence.
Her eyes widened as she glanced idly at her watch. "Shit," she cursed. "I promised Nakashima I'd go out with her once I got back." Looking up, she grinned apologetically. "Sorry to cut our lovely chat so short, but I really do have to go. It was nice seeing you again, Sohma-san."
She was walking away from me again. I thought about the little quirk of her lips, the slight bounce in her step- things that, even sixteen years later, were so very Sukochi. Even though the ways we had changed her had vanished with her memories, somehow we had wound up in the same place once more. Both lonely, both cheated by love. But what if things were different?
If I took her hand, would she follow?
I lunged forward, grabbing her wrist. Unusually brazen, I reached into my pocket and pulled out one of my office's business cards. "Don't be a stranger," I said, stiff in spite of it all. In spite of the crazy words Sukochi always managed to pry from my mouth, and how this time was no different. "Next time you come home, please give me a call. Whenever you want, in fact. I'll always be here."
Waiting for her to remember, no matter how hopeless it was.
She raised a penciled eyebrow, but smiled and accepted it nevertheless, slipping it into her pocket. "I'll have to take you up on that offer. But for now, I gotta skidaddle!" Giving a sharp salute, she laughed, heading towards the door. "See you later, Sohma-san!"
I gave a reluctant smile as I waved good-bye, watching her retreating back. A gesture she'd never see, a lifetime of feelings she'd never truly understand.
But then again, I had always been the fool.