Koru's MemoryBy Emily Gonsalves
Sometimes, I look back; on the way we met, and how our relationship progressed from a casual encounter, to acquaintances, to romance.
My family had moved to Midori Forest shortly before I was to start my final year of high school. I had accelerated to this point, taking an extra two classes per year, either in summer school sessions or night school. So instead of the usual five years, I was finishing in four. I could take two credits at the attached university during the next summer, and get a head start on my bachelor's degree. But I wouldn't be attending Yousei University full time, although it was certainly an excellent school.
I was already working on my application for Cerni University, the school I really wanted to attend. At the edge of the human and faerie realms; the students or Cerni University were a mix of various humanoid species. I had every intention of following my dream, to get my degree in university and begin a career in mechanical engineering.
Near the end of summer, we'd finally settled into our new house. This was the second move in two years. My parents both have jobs that require a great deal of traveling. My father is a general in the military, my mother is in politics. I don't recall how this worked when I was younger. I think my mother only took positions that didn't require much travel when I was small; but once I entered high school, things changed.
It was a sunny afternoon, in late August, when I finally went to purchase my books for the new school year. I had two fourth year courses, the rest were fifth year level. I had heard of a bookshop that carried the textbooks, so I went there to buy them in person. I thought it would be a good idea to explore the town.
Kinzaki Books was an easy place to find, on a corner and with a prominent sign. I stepped inside, and it was unmistakably a bookshop. There were a great deal of shelves, everywhere I looked; each of them full, predominantly with books of various shapes and sizes. At the front of the store, there were tables and chairs set up for playing chess. I walked down the middle aisle and noticed some shorter shelving units holding magazines and music on CDs.
I looked up and noticed a girl at the counter. She had purple hair past her shoulders, held back with a hair band. She was looking down at something on the counter.
I approached, placing my hand on the edge of the counter. "Excuse me, miss?"
She looked up and jumped back a little, her hand over her heart. "Sorry, I didn't see you. Do you need help with anything?"
I couldn't help but smile. "Yes, I'm looking for textbooks for Yousei Academy."
She walked out from behind the counter and motioned for me to follow her. "They're over here. Which year are you looking for?"
"Year five mostly, but a couple of year four books as well. I have a list."
We were already at the shelf. It was clearly labeled by year of study.
"Can I see it?" She asked.
"Sure," I said, pulling it out of my pocket and handing it to her.
She was very efficient. As she read each book on the list, she pulled them off the shelves and handed them to me, one by one. "The last two are this one here," she said, pointing to a book just out of her reach, "and this one." Another book out of her reach.
"I can get those, if you'll hold these for me," I said.
"Sure," she said with a smile, accepting the stack of books.
I pulled down the last two books, and took the remaining from her hands. "Did you want to rent these for the year or buy them?" She asked.
"I'll buy them."
"Okay. Was there anything else you were looking for?"
"Not right now, thanks," I said with a smile.
"Okay. Come with me and I'll ring these up for you."
I followed her back to the counter and put down the books on the surface. She scanned them in, one after the other. "Do you have an account with us?" She asked.
"No, I'm new in town."
"Would you like to set one up? That way you can buy or rent books online and we can call you for pickup or deliver them."
"Sure, why not?"
She handed me a piece of paper and a pen. "Just write down your name and contact information and I can set you up in the system. Did you want your books wrapped, or in a bag?"
"Just a bag is fine, thanks."
I began to write, as she put my books into a bag. When I'd finished, I handed the paper back to her and she went about setting me up in the computer. She had a very serious look on her face as she entered my information. I grabbed a business card off the counter, for future reference.
After she processed the sale, she smiled and said: "Have a great day!"
"Thanks, you too," I said.
And with that, I left, purchases in hand. On my way home, I pulled out the business card I'd picked up and read the information. I'd remembered seeing her wearing a name tag, but I couldn't recall her name. Something that started with "A." I put the card back in my pocket and shrugged it off. If I wanted to see her again, it wouldn't be a problem trying to find her.
I did see her again. On the first day of school. As luck would have it, she had a locker very close to mine. I didn't realise who she was at first. Though the purple hair triggered my memory.
I unlocked my locker and put my things inside. There were two lockers between ours. She seemed to be getting a bit frustrated. Her lock wouldn't open. "Do you need some help?" I asked.
She looked up at me. Her expression seemed to say that she was unsure that I was talking to her. But there was nobody else there. I repeated myself, looking directly at her: "Do you need some help?"
"I can't open it. I don't know why," She admitted.
I walked over to her. "What's your combination?"
She told me. I spun the dial around and I was able to open it. "There you go," I said, with a smile.
"How'd you do that?" She asked.
I locked it again, to show her. "You need to go all the way around, clockwise, and then to your first number. Then you go all the way counter-clockwise, and to your second number. Then you just go clockwise until you get to the third number, and..." I pulled on the lock and it clicked open, "there you go."
"Thanks," she said, seeming relieved.
"You're new here?" I asked.
She nodded, "First year."
"I'm Koru," I said, introducing myself. "You're the girl from the bookshop, right?"
"Yeah. I'm Alshina. It's my mother's shop."
I smiled at her. "Well, if you have trouble with your locker again, I'm not far."
I went back to my locker, closed the door, and locked it. "See you," I said, walking away.
I turned at the corner and walked down the hall towards the stairwell. I couldn't help thinking how nice it was to be able to see such a cute girl every day. This was definitely going to be a good year.
Alshina was very shy. I was usually the one who initiated conversation. I saw her eating lunch or studying outside her locker a few times over the next few days, sometimes with an outgoing, pink-haired friend.
One time, when she waved to me as I was leaving my locker, I could hear her friend ask: "Who's that?" as I turned the corner. I stopped, where they couldn't see me, to hear what she said.
"That's Koru. He helped me open my locker on the first day of school."
"Oh," said her friend. "He seems pretty friendly."
Her friend's voice became quieter, "Are you blushing?"
I could hear shuffling. Was she nervous?
"Is he the cute guy you were talking about before, that has a locker near yours?"
I couldn't help but smile. If she thought I was cute, it might not be long before she was interested in being more than casual acquaintances.
"Aena, please. Someone could hear you."
She was embarrassed. I took that as my cue to leave, as quietly as possible. I could always find the pink-haired girl named Aena later and ask her to see if Alshina liked me.
I waited a full week before I approached Aena. It was hard to find her alone.
"You're Alshina's friend, right?"
She nodded. "We're best friends. Why?"
"I'm Koru, I have a locker near hers."
"Your name is Aena, right?"
For an outgoing girl, she certainly didn't seem to have much to say. "I was wondering, does Alshina have a boyfriend?"
Aena raised an eyebrow. "Why?"
"Just curious," I lied.
"I think that if she wanted you to know, she'd tell you. Alshina's quiet, but she's honest. If you asked, she'd tell the truth."
"Okay, I get it. You don't trust me."
"I don't know you well enough to trust you."
She could be rather blunt, this pink-haired girl. "Fair enough. Sorry, I didn't mean to bother you."
I left it at that and I didn't approach her again. She seemed very protective of Alshina. While that's a good thing in and of itself, it made it difficult for me to even suggest to Aena that I was developing a crush on Alshina. But since the first time I'd approached Aena, she began to suspect that I was up to something. She didn't seem to like me very much.
One day, I saw Aena sitting outside Alshina's locker; presumably waiting for her. I tried to be friendly and make idle conversation.
"You're waiting for Alshina?"
"We're having lunch together."
"Have you two been friends long?"
"Since sixth grade," Aena said, beaming.
"Aena!" A voice said from a distance. It didn't sound like Alshina.
It wasn't. It was a buxom blonde, a little older than Alshina and Aena. "Hi," Aena said cheerfully, when the blonde approached.
"Can you tell Mom and Dad that I've got archery practice today? I forgot to tell them last night."
"No problem. Can you teach me a little more at home later, too?" Aena asked.
"Of course, munchkin. You're eating with Alshina today, right?"
"Yeah, she should be here soon."
"I'll see you later then."
Presumably, the blonde was related to Aena. Sisters? Strange. They didn't look that similar. I finished sorting out my books and sat down with my lunch. I might as well get some homework done.
"You don't have anyone to eat with, Koru?" Aena asked me.
I swallowed. "Not today. But I've got homework to catch up on anyway."
"Oh. Okay then."
Alshina appeared shortly, greeting Aena with a smile. "Sorry I'm late, I was talking to my teacher."
"That's okay," Aena replied, moving over a bit so that Alshina could get into her locker.
Alshina noticed that I was sitting at my locker, sandwich in hand. She turned her face toward Aena. "Aena, this is Koru. He helped me open my locker on the first day of school."
"I know. We've met."
"Oh," Alshina replied. She seemed unsure of what to do next.
Aena spoke for her. "You can have lunch with us, if you want, Koru."
"Thanks," I said, "But maybe another day. I want to get a head start on my physics homework."
"Is that a hard class?" Aena asked. At first I thought she was joking, but she was completely serious.
"It's pretty challenging, yes. But I like knowing how things work," I said.
Aena smiled at me. "That sounds interesting."
What was she doing? I thought I'd made it clear that I was interested in Alshina. I glanced up at Alshina, she was organizing herself, putting books in her locker, putting other books in her bag. She seemed a bit ... nervous. Finally she grabbed her lunch bag and sat down beside Aena. I quickly turned my attention towards my physics text book and worked on the exercises assigned in that morning's class.
Things seemed to progress slowly from there. But, after a few weeks, Aena seemed to be encouraging more conversation between the three of us than I had ever managed to do between Alshina and myself alone. I started to think of Aena as something close to that of a friend. But the kind of friend you would have in a little sister. I teased her a little, here and there. But it was all in fun.
One day, the two of us were talking outside Alshina's locker. I don't remember exactly what it was that started the argument, but suddenly we were bickering with each other, and it only seemed to escalate.
That's right, I was arguing with her about having lunch with Alshina. Aena seemed to think I was getting a bit too close and was suspicious of my motives. I don't know if she's suspicious of all men, or if it was just because I was interested in her closest friend, but this was — and is — often a point of friction between us.
Alshina was approaching, from down the hall. Neither Aena nor myself wanted her to know exactly what it was we were arguing about. It was, at this point, that things became ridiculous.
"Alshina, tell Koru he should get his own friends."
Alshina blinked and looked surprised. "What?"
"Of course I have my own friends," I said, objecting to Aena's comment.
"Oh really? Go eat lunch with them, then."
"My locker happens to be here. And sometimes, I'd rather work on my homework than socializing."
"Or you're just dull."
She was deliberately antagonizing me. "Why you..."
"Will you both calm down? Please?" Alshina asked. She managed to get past us to get into her locker. But that didn't put an end to the argument.
"You should really hear yourself, Koru. You sound pretty silly," Aena said. Again she was trying to push me.
I snapped my fingers and created a doll that looked like Aena. She was visibly surprised. "Maybe if you didn't look so silly, I'd be more inclined to listen to you," I said.
I made the doll talk. "I'm Aena, I'm nosy and I talk too much! Tee hee!"
The voice wasn't bad, if I say so myself.
Aena was getting angry. She made her own little doll, of me. Though not as detailed as the one I'd created. "My name is Koru, I can't get a date with a girl my own age!"
Alshina grabbed Aena's arm. "Stop it."
"I'll stop when he stops," Aena said with a smirk.
I made the Aena doll talk again: "I don't even know what physics is!"
"I am not that stupid!" Aena protested.
"Oh, really?!" I retorted.
"Stop it! Both of you!"
I don't think I'd ever heard Alshina yell before. Aena and I both fell silent.
Alshina looked towards Aena. "I'm not your babysitter. If you want to argue, go somewhere else." Her hands were shaking. It appeared that confrontation made her very uncomfortable.
She looked towards me. Her expression suddenly changed from irritation to embarrassment. She quickly turned to face her locker. Was she embarrassed because I was there?
Aena's expression softened. "I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry, too," I said.
Aena held out a hand to me. "Truce?"
I shook her hand. "Truce."
I made an excuse and left to eat outside. I would just have to study later. Right now, I couldn't get Alshina's blushing face out of my mind. Shortly after I turned the corner, I heard Aena ask Alshina if she was all right. Alshina said that she was. I didn't bother listening to any more of their conversation.
The next day Aena asked me to speak with her privately. We went to the stairwell down the hall from my locker. It was rarely used.
"Tell me the truth, do you like Alshina?"
She certainly didn't waste any time getting to the point. "What, are you jealous?"
"No. I want to know if you're seriously interested in her. Alshina is my best friend and she's important to me. I don't want to see some random guy break her heart."
"I am interested in her. And I want to ask her out. I just don't want to scare her off, you know?"
Aena smiled. "The only thing that would scare her is the thought that you'd be playing a trick on her."
"I wouldn't do that. I like her."
"And you're not seeing anyone else, right?"
"Nobody. Not even casually dating."
"Good. Alshina needs someone who's serious."
I was serious. I was falling for Alshina. I couldn't think of anyone else. No other girl could get my attention. "I am serious," I insisted, "I want to go out with her. I know she's quiet and shy; and I'll be patient. But I can't put off asking her out indefinitely."
"I wasn't going to ask you to do that. I just wanted to make sure that if you're going to ask her out, that you don't think of her as a random girl."
I chuckled. "I couldn't possibly think of her as a random girl. I look forward to just seeing her every day."
Aena smiled. "That's good. You should ask her out. When do you want to ask her, tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow is Saturday."
"...I guess I could."
"You're nervous about it?"
"Of course I am. I don't know much about her, but I really like her."
"I'm pretty sure that she likes you too. When she talks about you, she blushes and avoids looking directly at me. Or she tries to change the subject."
"I hope you're right."
"Well, she is single. You should probably confirm that with her, but it does mean that you can ask her." Aena smiled at me. For once, it really seemed like she wanted me to get closer to Alshina. I, of course, really wanted that too.
"Let me know if you need any help, okay?" She offered.
"Thanks," I said.
That was the end of our conversation, but I stayed behind in the stairwell for a while, just thinking about asking Alshina on a date. I also wondered what it would be like to go out with her. To hold her hand, to put my arm around her, to just get to know each other outside of school.
I would definitely have to ask her out Monday.
On Monday, I searched for Aena during the morning break. I didn't know where her locker was, though. And if I asked Alshina, she'd probably wonder what I wanted to see Aena so urgently about. I knew I should have planned things better.
And then I saw that blonde. The one I'd seen speaking with Aena before. She must be her sister or something, right? I think that's what they'd basically said. I approached her. "Excuse me."
"I'm looking for Aena, a first year with pink hair."
"My little sister?" The blonde replied, confused, "What for?"
"I need to talk to her about something. Do you know where her locker is?"
The blonde was suspicious of me. "Who are you?"
"My name is Koru. I'm in fifth year. I have a locker close to a friend of hers. But I need to talk to Aena before lunch."
"Her locker's in the block in front of the caf. Number 146. You might catch her now, if you hurry."
"Thanks," I said and quickly ran off towards the caf.
I didn't find Aena, but I did find her locker. I scribbled a note for her and left it inside. I hoped she would get the message before she went to see Alshina at lunch.
After period two was over, I rushed to Aena's locker, hoping to catch her. I didn't see her at first, so I looked towards the caf, hoping to spot her. A voice prompted me to turn around.
"What're you doing here?" Aena asked.
"I wanted to make sure you got my message."
"Don't worry. I already told Alshina that I'd be late. Go ahead. I'll wait fifteen minutes."
"Thanks," I said, relieved, and ran off.
I didn't know if Alshina would be there before me, but it looked like she'd beat me there already. From a distance I could see her purple hair. I slowed down to a walk, but my heart was beating rapidly. I was beginning to get nervous. Her hair was different today. She had it in a braid now, but usually it was loose. I tried to calm myself down and approached my locker.
"Hey," I said.
"Hi," she said with a smile. That smile of hers alone could make me melt.
"Do you have a minute?" I asked, "Or do you need to go somewhere?"
"Aena's meeting me here for lunch. But she has some club thing to sort out so she won't be here for a bit."
"That's good, there was something I wanted to ask you anyway."
She appeared slightly confused. "Okay..."
I stared into my locker for a couple seconds, and took a deep breath to calm myself. "Alshina..." she had such a pretty name. "Are you... seeing anyone?" I asked, looking over at her.
I swear, she nearly dropped her bag.
"What?" She asked, looking into my eyes.
"Are you seeing anyone?"
She turned her face back towards her locker, resuming her exchange of books. "Um. No."
I let out a breath that I hadn't realised I'd been holding. This girl, Alshina, just looking at her could take my breath away. I smiled. "Good, then I can ask you my next question."
She appeared to be getting a bit nervous.
I stepped closer to her. "Would you like to go out with me?"
Her cheeks turned red. If there were ever a time that I was to blush, this was one of those times. I felt a tingling in my cheeks, and I tried to control my breathing, despite my nervousness. "Alshina?" I asked, "Are you okay?"
She nodded. But she looked extremely nervous.
"Alshina, I like you."
Her grip tightened on her bag.
"Will you go out with me?" I asked a second time.
She bit her bottom lip. I felt like I was making her uncomfortable. Maybe Aena was wrong, Alshina wasn't interested in me. And now I'd gone and told her that I liked her and asked her to go out with me; but she didn't know what to say. "You don't have to say yes. If you don't want to, it's okay. Or if you want some time to think it over, that's fine too."
She looked up, towards my face. I smiled, gently. She looked down at her hands. "I want to go out with you, Koru." She bit her lip again and looked up, into my eyes.
She was obviously trying to read the expression on my face. How could she be so nervous? I was the one asking her out; not the other way around. I smiled and let out a sigh of relief. "How about Friday night?" I suggested.
"Yes, for our date."
She looked down again, but this time she was smiling. "Okay."
"What time do you usually eat dinner?"
"Then I'll pick you up at quarter to six. We can have dinner and then see a movie." I was already feeling more confident and relaxed.
She looked up at me and smiled. She was still blushing. "Okay."
I ran a hand through my hair. "I just realised, I never asked what kind of movie you like."
She smiled, her teeth sparkling. She was feeling more comfortable too. "That's okay."
"Can I call you or something, and we can check out the movie listings online?"
"Sure." She began fumbling in the front compartment of her bag. "I have business cards. Is it okay if I give you one of those?"
"Yeah, that's fine."
She wrote her phone number on the back, and handed it to me. "Thanks," I said, accepting it. "Do you use the school's IM system too?"
"Yeah, I can give you my number for that too if you want."
I handed the card back to her. "Sure, that'd be great."
She wrote down the number and gave me back the card. "My home number's on the back, but if no one answers, you can try the store."
"Great," I said with a smile. I felt quite pleased to have her phone number. And I planned to add her to my contact list for the school's IM system as soon as possible. I put the card in my back pocket. "I should give you my numbers too."
"Okay." She fished out her agenda and handed it to me with a pen. "I won't lose it this way."
I wrote my information neatly in her agenda and gave it back to her. "Can I call you tonight, or will you be busy?"
"I'm not sure. Sometimes my mom asks me to help out at the store at the last minute."
"Okay. I'll IM you first, then. Just reply when you have time."
We probably looked rather silly, smiling at each other the way that we were. But it felt really invigorating to know that we'd be going on our first date in just a few days. October was now officially my favourite month.
I should have had more forethought then. I had been planning to study at a human school for some time. Starting a relationship now, when I would have to leave in less than a year, was probably a mistake. But, at that time, I couldn't help falling for Alshina. The quiet, pretty girl from the bookshop with the purple hair.