Flowers in Her Hair
There's a little skip to her step and Yukiatsu had to admit that it was quite contagious. He thinks it funny that whenever he was happier or giddier for some reason or another, it never seemed to rub off on her, but now when she is happy, he couldn't help but smile at her. Maybe it's because he's so used to her being all serious and stone-faced. Maybe he's just glad to see more of the old shy but gentle and cheerful girl he knew from childhood. Most probably both.
He also has to admit that he misses her long hair, but that he also finds himself quite fond of her short hair now. She looks more carefree - and, as he had already mentioned, more like how they were when they were children.
Yukiatsu has always imagined the little light pink flower clipped against Menma's long white hair, hence, he never thought that it would look pretty on Tsuruko's dark locks. It stands out more. It somehow compliments her better than he ever thought it could possibly compliment Menma.
He takes himself by surprise when he realizes that.
He has had it for so long that he had really forgotten why he still kept it.
The flower is a pink forget-me-not, he knows. It means 'love', which he believed that he felt back then. He has fastened it sometimes to the long white-haired wig he used to keep, but after the night they sent Menma off, when she left them saying that she loves them and they finally had some closure with their deceased friend... after all that, he found the hairclip in his room and wondered: was it really possible to have more than one true love in his life? He wondered then if anyone would want to accept something originally meant for someone else.
For Yukiatsu, it seems unfair.
Nevetheless, he gives the hairclip to Tsuruko - partly as an apology and partly to prove a point.
The forget-me-not also means 'memories', and he wants her to know that he remembers her and the time they had spent together for all those years. He may not completely know which things she did out of her feelings for him and which things she did because she really wanted to, but he remembers anyway.
'Do not underestimate how much you really mean to me.' - is his point, and he will gladly say that out loud, but he thinks that it is unnecessary now. And in the end, his point is the same as his apology anyway. He wants to apologize for making her cry that night, because he made her think that she wasn't important.
He accepts the blame - after all, it's his fault that he didn't let her know that he keeps her at a distance because he knows that she was too important to dare mess it all up with.
Tsuruko is a girl worth choosing, not simply being settled for.
As she accepts something originally meant for someone else, he wonders if she will understand.
She acts more distant on the first few days after he gives her the hairclip, but as he talks about Menma less and less, she begins stepping forward alongside him again.
He only prays that she finally begins to forgive him and that she finally understands what he really means by the gesture.
As the months pass by, Yukiatsu slowly notices that Tsuruko has started to reconcile with Anaru. They got out for coffee and cake regularly. Tsuruko helps their friend out with some homework and Anaru sometimes drags the other girl out to shop. Anaru doesn't take her other friends with her, nor does Tsuruko take Yukiatsu. It's always just the two of them, having a little time alone. Yukiatsu wonders at their peculiar bond but thought better than to question it.
One day, he chances upon Anaru on her way to meet Tsuruko for coffee and cake. She invites him over, and he had nothing better to do, so he comes with her. He sees the little twitch on Tsuruko's expression as she watches them enter the cafe together, but she smiles back when Anaru explains and as Yukiatsu settles on his comfort zone: beside the raven-head.
Maybe it was Tsuruko's first time donning the hairclip when meeting with Anaru, because the brunette comments an awed "Hey, that's a cute clip!"
Tsuruko blinks and risks a glance at the young man beside her before nodding and replying, "Thanks. This guy gave it to me."
"Really?" Anaru said, looking at Yukiatsu, and he shrugs innocently at her. "That's sweet."
They let it drop there because they see Jintan pass by outside. Anaru stands up to come and get the raven-head to join them. Yukiatsu and Tsuruko watches as their two friends talked in the sidewalk. They wave when Jintan turns to look at them after Anaru pointed a finger toward their direction, and then they watch again as the young woman tried to convince their friend to join them for a bit.
Yukiatsu looks at the young woman beside him as she sipped her coffee. It was the first time that he heard someone say something about the hairclip.
It is cute, yes, he admits that. He originally intended to give it to a little girl, after all.
He has never thought that Tsuruko was 'cute'. He always thought that she was pretty, or beautiful - perhaps it was because she has always been too quiet, composed and graceful to be called cute.
The hair clip fits her, yes. The color compliments her hair, but he has to admit that it looks childish at times. It doesn't fit her personality all that well.
The following week, he gives her another accessory - a pin this time, not a clip.
A shiny green four-leaf clover, with two little crystal dots on one of the leaves. It doesn't stand out against her hair as much as the light pink forget-me-not, but it matches her eyes well. He had bought it as a last minute decision just the day before.
"What's this for?" she asks as she looks at the item. It is the third time he gives her an accessory - first was an ocean blue teardrop necklace he bought her for her birthday a few years prior, and second was the first hairclip.
He feigns innocence and nonchalance as he avoids her gaze and makes an excuse. "For luck. With the finals and the university entrance exams."
She looks at him critically and he hopes that his eyes don't betray him.
But she knows him - too well for his own good - "No, really. What's this for?"
Yukiatsu admits defeat early, because he knows her too. "I thought it'd suit you better than the other one."
He knows she wants to ask why he cares about it too much, but she holds herself back and accepts his offer.
"Thanks, then." she says. "For wishing me luck. I'll need it."
It is summer break and Poppo calls everyone, asks them to come with him for a bit. "Ice cream?" he says over the phone. "My treat."
They all go to the secret base.
It turns out that he just came home from one of his travels and he wants to give them some souvenirs. The souvenirs were small - mere keychains with the foreign country's name and a picture of its famous landmark. They all accept it anyway and they welcome their friend with smiles. Anaru convinces them all to eat something else besides the ice cream, and they all chip in for some money to buy snacks.
Yukiatsu and Jintan volunteer to go buy the snacks while the girls and Poppo clean up the base and clear the center table.
Poppo makes small talk about his travels as he washes the mugs with Tsuruko. The young woman listens with a small smile and even asks some questions. Poppo thinks he's more comfortable with her now than when he first came back and she was acting too cold. He likes her better now.
They set the mugs back in the table and as Tsuruko tucks a stray strand of hair behind her ear, Poppo notices the flowers in her hair.
"Hey," he starts. "When I was travelling, I found a whole field of sunflowers, you know. They really do turn towards the sun. That view is beautiful. I'll show you some pics later."
"Sure." she replies.
"Are they your favorite?" he asks, indicating towards the two little sunflower hair pins on her hair.
Before Tsuruko could answer, however, Anaru elbowed the traveler and said, with an impish grin, "They're presents from Yukiatsu, you know!"
"Eh? Really?!" Poppo gapes and looks at the pins again. The little flowers were detailed, from their yellow petals and brown center, to the pure black pin itself, which blends really well with the dark hair. True, they didn't look like something Tsuruko would buy for herself. "Are you together now?"
"No, of course not." the dark-haired young woman says, shaking her head in amusement at her friend's automatic conclusion. "They're presents. He gave it to me for my birthday last month."
Anaru continues to be unfazed. "Sunflowers mean 'adoration', you know. I know these stuff, my friends and I talk about flowers all the time. They have different meanings, see."
"He said that he thought it would be perfect since summer is coming up."
"He says a lot of things." Anaru insists, and Poppo looks at her with a lopsided grin on his face. "Maybe he's trying to tell you something. Really. You don't think they mean anything?"
"You think too much."
Jintan and Yukiatsu arrives with the snacks and the subject is dropped. As they all sit down and eat the snacks, Poppo recalls his travels again, and Tsuruko still listens even though it's her second time hearing most of the stories.
The others share some of theirs as well.
They listen as Anaru and Jintan finish each other's sentences as they talk about their marathon of the Nokemon games a few days prior. They all laugh at something that Jintan said, and from the corner of his eye, Poppo sees Yukiatsu steal a glance at the dark-haired young woman laughing beside him.
Poppo sees that little glint in his friend's eye. It passes by very briefly before hiding again - but it was very visible, and Poppo likes to think that he knows what it really is. He also thinks that maybe Anaru was right.
Maybe Yukiatsu indeed meant something by the sunflowers.
He buys another flower hairclip a few weeks before their high school graduation.
They aren't going to the same university. Granted, their respective universities were in the same city, but he still thinks that things would be a lot different. It will be tough to not see her almost everyday. They have been together - in the exact same classes - since primary school. After years, he thinks, they will finally part ways, and that will take some getting used to.
He thinks about what the pink tulip will mean for both of them. He knows that the flower means affection and caring. But maybe he should give her something that means gratitude?
But then he also thinks that he can safely say 'thank you' out loud. He can say it easy. What he wouldn't be able to say, he knows, is the 'affection' part. Has he fallen for her? Does he want to go past the thin line screaming 'FRIENDS' now? He isn't sure of his feelings, but he knew that he cares about her now more than ever, since he himself has begun to notice how most of his thoughts nowadays revolve around her.
Maybe it's neither 'like' nor 'love', maybe it's still platonic and he just can't stop thinking about her because they're about to go separate ways. She is his best friend, he admits that now. It's normal to worry.
It's just that he also knows that these feelings carry more weight, best friend or not. He knows himself well enough to be sure about that.
So maybe he's not so unsure about this at all.
He gives her the tulip hairclip on graduation day as they were walking home from school. It is their last walk together from that school - after this, they will be college students.
"Another one?" she asks with a chuckle as she holds the hairclip in her hands. Today she wears the four-leaf clover in her hair. He knows it has been her favorite, though on summers she prefers the sunflower.
"Yes, I thought it'll be nice to give you something," he pauses for a while, then continues on a more tentative tone. "...since we're parting ways and all."
"It's pretty. Thanks." she says, smiling lightly down at the little present.
"I have to thank you too, you know." he replies. "For sticking with me and everything."
"It means a lot."
She looks at him shortly before saying, "I'm glad to hear that."
"Uh, the... hairclip." he says with less composure than what he thought he mustered. They stop walking and she looks at him curiously. "It's... it means that I care about you."
"I know that." she answers. She sees him blink and smiles. "That you care about me, that is. Not about the flower."
"Do you pick them by their meaning? These... little presents you give me?"
He avoids her gaze.
"Yukiatsu, may I say something?"
It takes effort to look at her straight and nod, then look away again.
"See, these... past few months - alright, for the past two years, ever since you knew how I feel about you, I can't help but notice you changed. For me."
She closes her eyes, furrows her eyebrows and runs a hand through her hair and he knows that she wants him to shut up. "You're specially careful on what you say to me, on how you treat me, on how you act around me. Ever since that day, you act kinder, you ask for my opinions, you let me lead the way, you actually... listen to me. And that's so not you, because since we were kids, you already believed that you're a better leader and to be honest, most of the time we were together I always think that you only keep me around because I'm the only one who follows you instead Jintan."
"I know it's not true. What I'm saying is that you didn't have to change, because even if you were a jerk, I knew that you care about me. I've always known. Maybe you don't know about this, but you've always let me know that I'm important to you, although not in the way that I would have wanted, but that was enough. I'm still here, right? And now..."
"I just wanted to treat you better."
"Because you didn't know that you've been constantly breaking my heart for years now?"
"It's fine. I appreciate that. So much. But you're overdoing it, and sometimes I feel like you think that I'm this fragile person who can break anytime. And I'm not." she shakes her head then, giving him a hopeless smile. "Believe me, I like this - I like that you treat me like an actual human now, but you have to remember that you don't have to close up around me. You can tell me what you want to say. Honestly, you've been more honest with me back when you still thought of me as your cold, emotionless childhood friend."
He looks at her and she sees his struggle. He knows that she is right. He has began to 'open up' to her and treat her better, notice her more, but it was mostly in an effort to make her feel loved. To make up to her. To apologize. However, she misses the times when he tells her what's in his mind because he thinks she doesn't really care. Nowadays, he stammers around her more often. He puts more thought into his words, and sometimes he doesn't share his thoughts at all when back then he usually shares them to her first.
"You can say what you want to say. If you hurt me, I'll tell you. If you say sorry and mean it, I'll forgive you. That's the kind of friend I am, and you know that, right?" she says. In her hands, she holds the tulip hairclip tightly.
And he knows what he wants to say, really.
"So, would you tell me?" she asks now, in an attempt to get him to 'open up', just like how he used to do years ago.
"I..." he starts, but sighs first. He pouts first, and the young woman smiles, because this was the friend she knew. Brutally honest and stubborn, but trusting. "I bought you the clover because I thought that the first one looks too childish, and I... well, we're not kids anymore. I gave you the sunflower because I like that you smile and laugh more often now. I thought that you were really pretty. And now... I'm giving this to you as a goodbye and thank you, and because I care about you. I'm not sure just how much, but for now I just know that I will miss you."
She looks at him with wide eyes.
He grins, more confident now, like the boy she used to know, just with less insecurity and more sincerity. "Will that do?"
She only looks down and tucks the clip safely in her bag. She says "Thanks for the present, it's lovely."
She starts walking again. He follows.
And that is pretty indicative of how the story goes next.
"Tsurumi-chan, you like flowers?" her roommate asks one night, looking at her dresser. Draped on one side of the mirror resting by the wall was a thick white ribbon, where a column of Tsuruko's hairclips were showcased. The flower ones stood out the most.
"Not really," comes Tsuruko's answer. "There's just a friend who thinks that they look good on me."
They go out with the rest of the Super Peace Busters during weekends. They try hard to meet up as often as possible. After all, Tsuruko is in art school, Yukiatsu in a prestigious university, Anaru in a minor university, Jintan in a local college and Poppo is only starting to pick up his studies when he wasn't traveling.
These are the only times when Yukiatsu gets to walk with Tsuruko home, just like the good old days.
One time he insists to accompany her to her dorms and she insists that he go straight to his apartment. It was getting late and he goes home on the other side of the city. It would be too much of a hassle for him.
He says that it wasn't a bother - he just wants her to go home safely. It is the big city, after all.
A week later, he receives a beautiful illustration of a daffodil.
The note at the back says, on Tsuruko's neat handwriting: 'You're such a gentleman. Look out for yourself sometimes.'
He sticks the drawing beside his desk calendar.
They get busier as the months pass by and their schedules get more restrictive, making it harder for them to see each other, much less their friends.
She receives a pink camellia scrunchie in her mailbox with a note that says she could use it to tie her hair up while she studies for finals.
She knows that he has a flair for drama, so she looks up the meaning of the flower, just in case. Tsuruko thinks it's silly and it is a thing that Anaru, not herself, would do. But what she finds makes some sort of sense, and she sends him a text.
She thinks it is brave of her to do this, but she does it anyway.
'Thanks. I miss you as well.'
He knows then that even distance doesn't make her know him and his antics any less.
They start spending time together after their regular meetings with Jintan, Anaru and Poppo. At first it was only a quick stroll in the park with just the two of them after lunch with their friends. For the following week, however, after they part ways with the others, he sees her eyeing some movie posters and asks her if she wants to watch something with him. After that, they just end up on their little semi-dates after meeting the other three. It somehow just happens, and they go with it.
Yukiatsu asks her one afternoon - after a movie with the others followed by dinner together - if she would like to make it official. He tells her that he is certain that he sees her as more than a friend now, and that it would be a privilege to have her say 'yes'.
Tsuruko asks him to give her time to think about it. She also asks him if he was sure, and he reaffirms.
However, when a few days later, she receives a barrette studded with three white anemones, she gives in.
Three times is enough for her to know that he is as sure as he will ever be.
Eight months later, she wears his latest gift and he couldn't help but think that the deep red stood out so gorgeously against her dark hair.
She has never been prettier as she gives him a demure smile and joking about how, for a romantic like him, he has never given her real flowers.
"I prefer these." he says, looking again at the little red rose in her hair. He has finally gained the courage to give her that one. "I like that these ones last longer. If I'd given you real flowers, they would've wilted by the time I get my point across."
"I needed the time." she replies, then sees him raise an eyebrow in question. "I needed more time to actually believe you."
He takes the blame for that, as well. He had ignored her feelings for years, after all. "Sorry. Was it enough, though?" He gives her hand a small squeeze, then feels her fingers shift for a bit. "The time I let you have?"
"Hm," she muses, absentmindedly swinging their linked hands back and forth. "Yes. I think it was."
"You were ready when I am - what more could I ask for?"
Yes, she thinks - it was like when he finally asked her 'What are you waiting for? Let's go.', she hasn't been waiting at all. It came as a surprise gift, she realizes. Just like the forget-me-not he gave her years before.
When Yukiatsu says that he thinks that the red rose fits her the best, she knows that he is waiting for an answer. He pretty much screamed his question the moment he gave her this new present, after all.
Her answer scares her, as it comes in the form of her lips touching his, and for one second she is suddenly so afraid that he will suddenly realize that he doesn't mean it, he doesn't love her, no - not at all. Yet that only lasts for that one second because he holds her flush against him and she feels - and knows - that yes, he means it. He means it and she does as well - and she isn't scared anymore.
This is how Yukiatsu finds his answer back when he first asked himself why he wants to give her that first hair clip.
Would anyone want to accept something originally meant for someone else?
It doesn't matter, he thinks now. Because there eventually comes a time when you become ready to offer something completely new to that someone - something that may not necessarily be better or grander, but for the two people sharing it, could just be the very best.
He might not have known it yet, but maybe that something has always been meant for her.