"Okay, hold that pose!" Someone called out, and cameras began flashing around them. After what seemed like an eternity, the cameramen flashed a thumbs up at them. "Perfect! That's the last one — great job, you two!"
As the two models walked off from the set, Kimiko elbowed Kise lightly on the side.
"Why did I do this again?" she muttered with a sigh.
"Because Izumi-san is not here and we need a replacement but no one is available and you were here and since Akumicchi is very pretty, they chose you instead!" Kise chirped happily.
The girl can only sigh in resignation.
As she changed out of her outfit in one of the changing rooms, she recalled the day's events.
Kise had shown up on her doorstep at exactly seven in the morning, and together, they rode a cab to Kise's workplace — Iris Studios — in central Tokyo. It was a huge building, and Kise toured her all over the place, showing her the various rooms and introducing to his co-workers and seniors. When it was time for Kise's photoshoot, she accompanied him to the studio, waiting to see the other side of Kise. Kise was supposed to be doing a pictorial for Valentines next month (his manager had to do the shoot early as Kise would be very busy with the upcoming Nationals) and there was supposed to be a female model to do it with him. Problem is, she was not there. Something about having an emergency or something. There was a commotion when none of their other female models suited for the role was available, and the manager was already planning to have the shoot postponed, until the photographer noticed Kimiko, who was talking to Kise that time.
"She'll do," he had said to Kise's manager, surprising everyone in the room when he pointed at the shocked chartreusette.
"E-eh? Naoto-san, sh-she's not a model..." Kise said.
The photographer, Naoto, shook his head. "With a face and body like that, no one will be able to tell the difference." Then to Kimiko, he said, "What do you say, young lady?"
In the end, it was her fault for agreeing to be the replacement model. She could have just said no and walked away, but her curiousity on how it feels like to be a model got the better of her. She did not care about the fact that she will get paid for it and that she will be able to take home one of any dress or accessories that she'll be using in the shoot as a form of a souvenir; nope, those things don't matter to her.
It's the experience that counts.
Kise's manager approached her when she went back to the studio, looking for Kise. He observed her for a moment, and nodded to himself.
"Kimiko, isn't it?"
"Hai," she answered.
"I can see that you have a great potential in modeling. You have the face, the figure, and the charm, and you are a fast learner. I know that you're being dragged into this all of a sudden but even so, you're doing incredibly well for an amateur."
Kimiko was not sure what to say. "Uhm, thanks?"
Kise's manager laughed lightly before handing her a card. She turned it over in her fingers. "I'm not forcing you but it would be a waste to let a rare one like you to get away. However, the decision is up to you, and I will respect whatever it might be, but in case you want to be a model part-time or full-time, just give me a call."
"I'm worn out..."
Their photoshoot lasted for almost six hours, and Kimiko was starving. After getting out of the building, she dragged Kise immediately to the nearest food source. It was a fast food joint, and though Kimiko tends to be picky with her food, she decided to go with it due to her grumbling stomach.
"But it was fun, ne, Akumicchi?" Kise asked her, twirling his spaghetti round his fork.
"Yeah... And look!" Akumi showed her wrist to him, where she wore a bracelet with rainbow-colored charms hanging on the lenght of the silver chain. "I get to keep this!"
"A bracelet?" Kise was surprised. "You could have chosen one of the dresses — the red one looks really good on you."
Something close to disappointment flashed on Kimiko's face, but it disappeared so fast that Kise thought it was only his imagination.
"Well, I took a great fancy to this one," she replied, looking at the piece of accessory on her wrist.
Everyone's color was there — red, yellow, blue, green, violet, pink, sky blue, and yellow green.
Kise, though, failed to notice it.
They finished with their late lunch and parted ways as they have other errands to attend to. Kise has something to do with Kasamatsu, while Kimiko has grocery shopping.
"See you around, Akumicchi!" Kise waved at her when she had crossed the street.
"Aa. Thanks for today!" Kise nodded before heading to the other direction. Kimiko, too, proceeded on her way, planning to stop by the grocery to restock on her food supply.
When she arrived home, it was already past four in the afternoon. Since it was Sunday, the housekeeper that her parents had hired for her (despite her protests) had been there earlier, cleaning the house and doing the laundry for her. Not that the house really needs serious cleaning, though.
A package on the living room table caught her attention. It's a plastic bag full of she doesn't know what. After putting away her groceries, she decided to check it out. A note written by her housekeeper lay atop the bag.
One of your friends arrived this morning. He looks like he needs to see you for an important matter. However, I told him that you had gone out with another friend of yours, and that you'll be back late. He waited until half past two o'clock, and decided to come back some other day. He told me to give you this. He said his name was Murasakibara Atsushi.
Inside the bag were several boxes of chocolate almonds that Kimiko was very fond of back in Teiko. It's the kind of chocolate that everyone in the basketball team would give her during Valentines.
And one that a certain purplehaired boy would always give to her everyday before practice.
Kimiko picked up one of the chocolates. Recalling how her relationship with him after that incident, she wasn't sure how to react to this sign of a peace offering from him. She returned the box to the plastic bag and sat on the couch.
Himuro and Murasakibara finished changing to fresh clothes after practice that Tuesday afternoon. The two were exhausted — training was hard what with the Nationals only a week away. January was about to end, February only a couple days away, which leaves them a few more days to polish up their skills and strategies. Only the basketball team had stayed in the campus that late. Murasakibara went out of the gym first, opting to wait for Himuro outside once he finished talking with the coach.
Alone, Murasakibara was reminded of his latest trip to Tokyo — the only time he went there not to buy snacks or because Akashi told him to. It's because after a day of thinking it all over in his room the whole Saturday, he had somewhat found the resolve to go and talk to the chartreusette after almost two years — after their second Nationals, nothing seemed right with Teikou's basketball club. Yes, they were strong, but it took their away the bonds that the team shared on and off the court.
Kumi-chin had probably eaten all the chocolates by now, he mused, stuffing a Pocky stick in his mouth. Kimiko have an obsession with that kind of sweets and it was what connected them in the first place. Looking at things in retrospect, Murasakibara felt annoyed at himself for not treating the golden-eyed girl better.
Hearing footsteps behind him, he adjusted the strap of his gym bag on his shoulder. "Let's go, Muro-chin," he said without turning.
"Tatsuya won't be walking you home, Atsushi." A voice that's not Himuro's spoke behind him. Murasakibara almost dropped his box of Pocky. Slowly, almost fearfully, he looked behind him and there stood the very person he had been thinking about moments earlier.
The girl gave him a small smile. "Ikou."
"Himuro, why are you still here? Where's Murasakibara?" Yosen's coach asked the ravenhead who was standing by the gym door at something or someone in the distance.
"Atsushi has some personal matters to attend to," Himuro replied. He read again the message he received earlier.
[From: Kimiko Akumi]
[I'll be taking Atsushi from you for the meantime.]
As he walked home alone, Himuro hoped that everything will be alright again for the two of them.
"Atsushi." Kimiko put her elbows on the table, and folded her hands over each other. She placed her chin on them, and gazed at Shion. "I'm guessing you have something to tell me."
Murasakibara squirmed at the petite girl's gaze. "Kumi-chin..."
"You went to my apartment last Sunday right?"
Hevbroke off a piece of the blandly sweet apple pie with his hands. The filling oozed out onto the plate. "Hai~ But Kumi-chin was not there..."
"I was... out. With someone. So why were you looking for me?"
Murasakibara finished licking the pie crust from his fingers, and closed his mouth firmly. He doesn't know how to start with his apology. Well, Kimiko doesn't look angry with him now, as he watched her across the table. She took a piece of uiro in her mouth as she waited for him to continue.
Murasakibara remembered how he dismissed Kimiko that day.
"I won't listen to you, too, Kumi-chin. I don't need to do your training menus — I can still win without your help~"
Maybe if he didn't involve her then, maybe Akashi wouldn't be as revengeful, and would have backed off when Kimiko told him to. By an unspoken rule, the team listens and takes seriously every word that Kimiko says, no matter how trivial it may seem at the moment. Little pieces of advice about their form and performance, harsh comments about their attitude and behavior, and most especially, those rare words of praise that they valued mainly for its rarity. Everyone holds her in high respect not because she demands it, but because she deserves it.
But he had broken that rule. And everything began to spiral downward into destruction.
"Look at you, so serious." Kimiko laughed. "Why are you —"
"I'm sorry, Kumi-chin~!" Murasakibara suddenly stood up and bowed his head in apology. He can't think of any better way to say it. He's not like Akashi after all, who was very eloquent in explaining things. He knows that a simple sorry cannot undo everything, but Kimiko will know, right?
"...Atsushi..." Kimiko looked at the tall boy bowing before her, the sight attracting more than a few stares from the other customers in the cafe that they were in. "Oi, Atsushi, what are you apologizing for?"
Murasakibara raised his head slightly as he answered her question. "For saying mean words to you back then, for not giving you chocolates before every practice, for everything~" He then resumed his bowing position.
Murasakibara didn't have the confidence nor the words that he could explain it to Kimiko well enough. He had no other option but to remain silent and wait for the girl's reply.
After what seemed like an eternity, he heard her stood up from her seat. He panicked. Kumi-chin is leaving?!
"Hai, Kumi-chin~?" he said in a small voice.
Kimiko sighed, then sat back down. "Sit down." He complied, head still bowed. Another sigh. "Look at me."
When Murasakibara did look at her, her eyes widened. "O-oi, Atsushi! Don't cry, you idiot!" Murasakibara's eyes were slightly wet at the edges. She can't help thinking just how childish he could be at times.
"But Kumi-chin —," he sobbed, but stopped when Kimiko smiled at him like a fond mother at her child.
It was that smile she used to give him whenever she hears Akashi lecturing him about his excessive snacking.
"Listen to Seijuurou, Atsushi," she would say, and that would end the two boys' bickering.
"If Kumi-chin says so~" and she would give him that smile.
It had been a long time since he saw that smile. And Murasakibara knows that he was forgiven.
"Shall we go then, Atsushi?" Kimiko stood up. After some bit of talking and catching up with each other's lives, they decided to go as it was already getting late and Kimiko still has to return to Tokyo.
"I'll walk you to the station, Kumi-chin~," Murasakibara offered.
"You don't have to, Atsushi."
"But I want to~" he whined. Kimiko chuckled.
They walked side-by-side down the road to the station. The act brought a nostalgic feeling to the both of them.
"Kumi-chin, you're not going to leave again, right~?"
Kimiko raised her face, and grinned. "Of course not."
"Hmmm... Because I want to be friends with Kumi-chin again~" he said, nodding thoughtfully. He munched on his potato chips.
"But we're already friends."
Murasakibara looked at her in childish innocence, eyes sparkling. "Even if I was mean to you back then?"
"Yeah. That's in the past anymore. So just let it go, okay? I told you earlier, haven't I?"
"If Kumi-chin says so... Still, I'm sorry~"
"I know. And I've already forgiven you. You should forgive yourself too."
Kimiko stopped. Murasakibara was only a few meters away from her, in the process of throwing the empty wrappers of his snacks in a nearby garbage can. Just as she was about to call his name, she was suddenly grabbed by the shoulder from behind.
"Excuse me." Kimiko turned around. A man was standing there, smiling. He was about a head taller than her, and was wearing a high school uniform. She calmly brushed the man's hand off her shoulder and spoke.
"Can I help you?"
"Ah, well... I just want to ask —"
"Kumi-chin, who is he?" Murasakibara had suddenly appeared beside her and was now looking down at the stranger that had approached the chartreusette. After several similar incidents back in Teiko, he and the rest of the Kiseki no Sedai had grown protective around her and would treat any male stranger who approaches their coach with a degree of suspicion.
The man's face showed fear. "Y-you're with him?" he asked Kimiko.
"Yes, she is? Do you have a problem with that?" Murasakibara answered instead, pulling Kimiko closer to him. "Who are you and what do you need from Kumi-chin?"
"Then go away~" Murasakibara said in a childish tone, but the threat was clearly there.
"Atsushi," Kimiko whispered sharply. The man paled, then nodded, trembling, and Kimiko tugged on Murasakibara's arm to lead him away.
"That's unnecessary, Atsushi," she chided as they continued walking.
The purplehaired boy paused, and let out a long breath. "I'm sorry, Kumi-chin~ It's just —"
Kimiko sighed as well. "I see. Still overprotective, aren't you?"
They entered the station.
"I'm fine from here." Kimiko stopped.
Murasakibara seemed hesitant, but he nodded after a while. "Take care, Kumi-chin.. Will I see you again?"
"Hmm... Of course. Be careful on the way home, Atsushi! And thanks for the chocolates! Be sure to have some when we meet again, okay?"
"Hai, Kumi-chin~ Bye-bye~"
With a casual wave of her hand in farewell, Kimiko turned around to go. Turning their backs to one another, they parted ways once more, but this time, there is a promise of meeting each other again as good friends once more.
"Atsushi!" Murasakibara's mother greeted him at the door. "You're late. How was practice?"
"It was okay~"
"You must be tired. Go on, rest for a while in your room. Dinner will be served soon."
"Hai~" Murasakibara nodded, and began to leave the living room. He began to ascend the stairs up to his room on the second floor of their house.
"Atsuhi," his mother called. He turned around. "Did something happen?"
"Did something happen?" His mother continued without waiting for Murasakibara's answer. "When you came home, you were smiling too much. Did something good happen?"
"I met Kumi-chin again~" His mother smiled, knowing who that 'Kumi-chin' is, and let her son to go to his room. By the way he was acting, it seems that 'Kumi-chin' had already forgiven him. All is well.
Later that night, Murasakibara collapsed into bed. He still can't stop thinking about Kimiko. For all they knew, they thought that they won't see her again. But today, he —
A chime interrupted his thoughts. His mobile phone was ringing. He sat up and picked it up from where it lay on his bedside table.
"So how did it go?" Himuro asked from the other end of the line.
"I apologized to Kumi-chin and she accepted it~ She says we're friends again~" Murasakibara said happily. He could hear his partner laughing.
"I'm happy to hear that. I told you she'll forgive you, right?"
"Hmmm... Kumi-chin is a really nice person, ne, Muro-chin?"
"Aa. Indeed. Anyway, I only called to check up on you two. Good night, Atsushi. You better sleep as well, practice will be harder tomorrow and you'll need your rest."
"Hai, Muro-chin~ Night night~"
They ended the call, and Murasakibara laid back down on his bed, snuggling in his pillows with a smile on his face.