“I’m not really looking for someone to date,” Akiara admitted sheepishly to her friend.
“No one is saying you have to date him,” chuckled Shiori. “But girl, I sure hope that gave you a confidence boost.”
Akiara blushed at her remark. She had to admit she was flattered. The rest of their lunch, she couldn’t help glancing around at the people milling about, wondering who could’ve written her such a letter. Having never received romantic attention before, it preoccupied her even through their study session later. Within an hour of finding the letter, she was feeling queasy and decided it was best if she went home to rest, to get away from people, from boys with wandering eyes, all the while wondering where the letter had come from and what she should do about it.
The next morning, Akiara was startled awake by her phone’s alarm. She turned onto her side to silence it. A sliver of orange sunlight was peeking in through her closed blinds, illuminating her bedroom in the soft glow of sunrise. Suki was curled up at her feet, purring. Looking around her room and seeing her desk looking like a bomb of stress had detonated there with papers and stationary strewn about in a dull mess left her with a vague sense of regret for not tidying up after herself the night before.
She remembered with a sharp pain in her chest that she wasn’t quite herself at the time. The love letter sat on her nightstand where she had read herself to sleep with it.
She had never in a million years thought she could become such a lovestruck blubbering mess–and she didn’t even know who the guy was!
With a sigh, Akiara slid out of bed. After getting dressed and making her bed, she began to tidy up her workspace and to put things away in her backpack. She bit her lip when she saw the letter in the corner of her eye and wondered if she should take it with her, and with a quiet whimper of shame, she picked it up and slid it into her backpack as well between her notebooks.
“Oh! Suki, I think I know when the letter was put in my bag,” she thought aloud.
Suki gave her an inquisitive sounding meow.
“The only time I didn’t have my bag with me was during the fire alarm. Whoever it is must be in the same class as me and must have snuck it into my bag after I left the classroom.”
Another quiet meow from Suki, but this time Akiara paid no mind to it as she went downstairs to make breakfast for herself and Mitsu before heading to school.
So after their bellies were full and their bags packed, they parted ways. Along the way, Akiara was still debating whether or not she should try to find the guy that wrote the letter. She chewed her lower lip, her curiosity driving her to do so, even if she knew she should leave it alone and let nature take its course.
The moment she entered her school grounds, the same nausea that overwhelmed her the day before came back. She began to rush to get to class, to get away from curious gazes so she could sit with her friends again. Relief washed over her when she saw Hinako already sitting at her desk, rolling blank lined paper into little pea-sized balls. For once, Akiara didn’t try to reprimand her and sat in her desk beside her.
“Hinako, I have so much I need to talk to you about,” she said with a strained voice.
Hearing Akiara’s distress snapped Hinako back to attention. “Hey, Aki. What’s up?”
Akiara began retelling her all that happened after they had parted ways when Hinako went to her club activities. Her jaw dropped when she heard about the letter.
“Oh god, no way! Where is it? I want to read it!”
“Shhh, lower your voice,” squeaked Akiara, looking around nervously as a few of their classmates turned to look at them hearing Hinako’s voice.
Hinako’s excitement shifted from squealing to a quiet squirming in her seat. “Pretty please?” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper now.
Akiara let out a sigh and dug into her bag for the letter, which she was keeping tucked between the pages of her history textbook. She let Hinako read over the letter (discreetly), watching as her friend’s eyes seemed to bulge out of her skull in surprise.
“The handwriting looks familiar,” said Hinako. “Do you know who it is?”
Akiara shook her head in reply, a sinking feeling to her stomach. “I want to find out who, though,” she replied. “Will you help me?”
“As much as I can!” she promised. “There’s a few boys in our class, for instance, that have super nice handwriting, so I guarantee it’s not one of them.”
“But I don’t want to just go up to someone and ask them if they wrote me a love letter,” Akiara said in harsh whispers. “That would be really weird and awkward.”
“We’re going to have to be discreet, obviously,” said Hinako. “Like volunteering to help with their homework and see if they’re a match, or something.”
Akiara looked up at her friend with a fresh glint of hope in her eyes. “That’s brilliant, Hinako!”
A blush dusted Hinako’s cheeks at the praise. “Of course it is,” she cooed. “So who shall we start with?”
With a renewed purpose, Akiara began to approach her classmates one by one, asking them if they needed help with homework, or asking if they could help her with hers. Some were very clearly not a match for her secret admirer, but others were harder to tell. On the back of the envelope containing the letter, Akiara would scribble the names of the boys whose handwritings were close enough to a match, and by the end of the day, there were six names scrawled on the pink paper.
Although Hinako had to go away after lunch, Akiara met up with Shiori in the schoolyard to continue her search.
“There’s like, twenty boys in our class, and this is all that’s left?” Shiori said in surprise. “Damn, our boys have nicer handwriting than I thought.”
“It wasn’t just handwriting,” said Akiara. “Some just didn’t look like they were interested, or already had girlfriends. Hinako helped me with that.”
“Kind of sounds like you’ll have to start over if he’s not on this list.”
Akiara sighed at that possibility. “If it comes to that, then I’ll let it go and wait and see if he tries anything again,” she decided, absently twirling a lock of her hair between her fingers as she became engorged with her thoughts. What if he didn’t try to reach out to her again? Would it all be over? No more romantic love story for Akiara?
She shook those lonely thoughts out of her head. There was more to life than silly boys and love letters.
“I have to admit, Aki. I never expected you to get so invested in this,” giggled Shiori. “I always thought you were so straight-laced; I never took you for a lovestruck romantic.”
Akiara’s cheeks began to burn with embarrassment. “Well you’d be right! I’m not that invested. And I’m certainly not lovestruck!”
Shiori hummed, but the tone of it said that she didn’t completely believe her. “Let’s find your Romeo and get this over with so we can go back to our group project,” she then teased, leading the way back inside the school. Akiara held her backpack to her chest as she followed Shiori inside. She slipped the letter into her bag and was fumbling with the clasp when she collided into something bigger than her, surprising her and causing her to fall back against the ground, gasping as she landed with her palms against the pavement with pain shooting up her arms. All around her, papers began to float down to the ground when her bag fell open in the collision.
“I’m so sorry!” exclaimed a boy, leaning over her and holding a hand out to her to help her get back up. “I didn’t see you there. Are you hurt?”
Akiara rubbed the loose dirt from her palms, feeling rattled from the impact. Her gaze focused on the boy in front of her, a tussle of wavy brown hair framing a darker-than-average face, as though he’d been in the sun for too long. She recognized the boy to be Hachiro, someone that attended club activities with Hinako and that Akiara had sat with many times before. She never noticed before how handsome he was…
“Oh, no, it’s my fault,” she said meekly, taking his hand and finding herself almost swept off her feet as he lifted her off the ground with all the ease in the world. She gasped as she was suddenly standing upright, so close she could smell the lily-scented detergent off his school uniform. She stumbled back, eyes downcast to let her bangs sweep over and hide the blush she felt creeping across her cheeks. “I-I should have paid attention to where I was going.”
“As long as you’re okay,” Hachiro said with a soft chuckle, beginning to help gather her things.
Realizing what he was doing, her eyes quickly swept over her belongings to find the letter and snatch it up before he could, hiding it between some of the other papers that had fallen to the ground. In record timing, all her things were piled into her arms and he was about to help her carry them inside until she blurted out, “Thank you for your help, but I can take it from here.” She gripped her books tightly to hide the shaking in her hands.
Hachiro gave her a polite nod, giving her things back before flashing her a bright smile. She thought she was going to melt on the spot until he turned to continue on his way, wherever he was heading.
“Aki!” called Shiori from down the hall, seeing her friend looking distressed, she rushed over to her side. “Aki, are you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Not a ghost,” she breathed, heading to the library with Shiori. “Just… a boy.”
Shiori looked at her with confusion at such a cryptic response. “I know he looked cute from where I was standing, but you’re acting like you’ve just met Prince Charming or something. He’s not in our class, Aki. He couldn’t be the secret admirer.”
Akiara blushed, biting her lip in thought before eventually sighing. “Yeah, you’re right.”