New Trials New Year¡¯s Eve Special
Chapter 49.9: The Turning of the Wheels
It was tradition for the Daidouji household to host an annual Christmas party and somehow, year after year, the guest list seemed to expand. As daughter of the president of the Daidouji Corporation, Daidouji Tomoyo was kept busy greeting each guest as they walked through the front door—she hadn¡¯t had much time to return home and change into her party dress after the hectic day at the amusement park. The previous night, she and Eriol had been crowned Snow King and Queen at the Winter Wonderland ball. Nobody had been more surprised than herself—and their prize had been ten tickets to the amusement park for Christmas day. Though the groups of ten arrived together, they soon dispersed and somehow, the day had passed by in a flurry with the twins going off on their own, then Kai, Meilin, Miho and Aki squabbling and heading off in another direction. Then, Sakura and Syaoran disappeared also—somehow Tomoyo suspected that the two were up to some sort of an ill-concealed conspiracy. Thus, Tomoyo ended up spending most of the day with Eriol—she didn¡¯t even get a chance to videotape Sakura. She thought Eriol didn¡¯t mind spending the day with her. But you never knew what Eriol was truly thinking.
Once she could escape from the conversation of the wife of one of Daidouji Co.¡¯s business partners, Tomoyo looked around at the people milling around the dining room and made her way out to the front parlor. Sakura was nowhere to be seen—through the front window, Tomoyo glimpsed Sakura waiting outside in the cold. Waiting for Syaoran to return. Sakura had lost the pretty watch that Syaoran had given her for Christmas, and Syaoran had gone to look for it. If there was anyone who cared for and treasured Sakura as much as Tomoyo did, it was Syaoran.
¡°Don¡¯t worry, he¡¯ll come back, with the watch,¡± Eriol remarked.
Tomoyo turned around. Whilst all the other guests were mingling, Eriol stood distant, watching the crowds. Like herself. ¡°Is that a premonition or just reassurance for me?¡± she asked tentatively. She had felt guilty for dragging Sakura back when clearly Sakura had wanted to stay and look with Syaoran. But if Sakura¡¯s brother found out that Sakura had been left behind in the amusement park with Syaoran, he would have thrown a fit that even Yukito wouldn¡¯t be able to qualm.
¡°Neither—it¡¯s a logical conclusion drawn from knowing Syaoran¡¯s character, his tenacity.¡± Eriol smiled.
¡°He is very determined. And he will never want to disappoint Sakura-chan,¡± said Tomoyo wistfully. ¡°That¡¯s why he¡¯s the best person for her.¡±
¡°Do I hear a hint of envy?¡±
¡°Not of him¡¦ No¡¦ Of their relationship,¡± Tomoyo corrected, trying to redeem herself in Eriol¡¯s penetrating eyes.
He nodded knowingly, and walked over to the piano, pressing a key. ¡°Should I play you something?¡± he asked.
¡°Yes please,¡± Tomoyo said, surprised at the offer. They had already sung carols with Eriol accompanying them earlier that evening. Eriol¡¯s wide knowledge of Christmas songs had surprised her—one couldn¡¯t exactly picture Eriol playing Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer, but he strummed out the tune jolly and merry as if he actually enjoyed Christmas.
¡°What should I play, Tomoyo-san?¡± asked Eriol.
¡°Anything you want,¡± she replied.
Miho, who had sauntered over from the buffet table remarked, in the midst of gobbling up a chicken leg, ¡°Eriol never, ever asks anyone their request tune!¡±
¡°That¡¯s because you take him for granted, like he¡¯s some sort of jukebox,¡± Nakuru stated, sipping on the eggnog cocktail.
¡°I don¡¯t take him for granted—¡° Miho stopped because Eriol had begun to play the piano before a full-fledged Miho versus Nakuru cat fight could ensue.
¡°Ah, such a pretty tune,¡± Tomoyo murmured, closing her eyes. The piano notes tinkled so pure and clear, reminiscent of bells in the snow. ¡°What¡¯s this tune again? It¡¯s very familiar.¡±
¡°It¡¯s Ryuichi Sakamoto¡¯s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence,¡± Eriol replied.
¡°That¡¯s right. I remember now,¡± Tomoyo said, smiling wistfully. ¡°I used to like this song a lot. But Eriol-kun only picks to play sad tunes.¡±
¡°Is this a sad tune?¡± Eriol asked.
¡°Or maybe the tunes sound sad when you play them,¡± replied Tomoyo.
¡°I was happy I learned a whole new song—¡°Eriol stated. ¡°A Christmas tune on top of that—Miho requested me to play it on Christmas Day for her, and I¡¯ve been practicing.¡±
¡°That¡¯s right!¡± Miho exclaimed. She grinned slowly. ¡°I did request this song¡¦ Four years ago, that is.¡±
Tomoyo chuckled. ¡°Do you ever need to practice for anything, Eriol-kun?¡±
¡°Yes, practice makes perfection,¡± said Eriol. ¡°I just don¡¯t show to other people that I do practice, in order for people to think that I am naturally talented.¡±
¡°Well, you did have a century longer than other people in order to practice,¡± grumbled Miho.
¡°And look, our dear Syaoran-kun is back with Sakura-san,¡± Eriol said, looking at the door, seeing the two come in, red-faced and wet from the snow. ¡°I for one, envy the two. Because of the purity in the heart that can never be reclaimed to one whose heart has already been tainted by darkness.¡±
Tomoyo said slowly, ¡°Anyone who has a memory of childhood forever keeps an indestructible fragment of purity buried deep in his heart.¡±
Eriol¡¯s turned his head so that the light reflected from his glasses shielded his eyes. ¡°But what about those who have long since forgotten their childhood and turned their face to the uglier side of human nature?¡±
¡°You may turn your face from the sun, but you will see the sun¡¯s reflection in the moon. Don¡¯t listen to the logical reasoning in the mind but recall the memory of the heart,¡± was Tomoyo¡¯s reply. ¡°It will answer that question for you.¡±
Miho blinked back and forth between Tomoyo and Eriol. She then glanced at Nakuru, who shrugged. They had never met anyone who could match Eriol¡¯s figurative conversational skills.
Eriol never got a chance to reply because at that moment, if he had any words left, for Akagi Arima made her grand entrance, flying into Asuma¡¯s arms.
¡°Ooh, this time I want to get an autograph,¡± Miho said, inching her way closer to Arima. ¡°I¡¯m such a fan of her movies¡¦ I still can¡¯t believe she¡¯s Aki-senpai¡¯s sister.¡±
¡°I can¡¯t believe she¡¯s my sister either,¡± muttered Aki. ¡°She pretends to be all feminine and sweet in interviews—nobody knows she¡¯s a tomboy slob.¡±
Sonomi looked around tapped her wine glass with a knife and stated, ¡°Well, now that everyone¡¯s gathered, let¡¯s cut the Christmas cake!¡± Every year, the cake was made by Tomoyo, and this year, it was chocolate banana pudding flavored and shaped as a grand, yellow teddy-bear head that resembled the stuffed doll that Sakura often carried around with her. Though Sonomi was not sure if she approved of the shape of the cake, it was still cute, and since Sakura and Tomoyo seemed to be proud of the cake that they had baked early this morning before they left for the amusement park, she let them be. Christmas greetings were exchanged and they all drank wine and grape champagne.
¡°Kinomoto-sensei needs to tell us a story again,¡± called out one of the guests, a young entrepreneur who had formerly been one of Fujitaka¡¯s students at the University.
¡°Yes, do tell us one of your Christmas stories,¡± said Yukito, turning to Touya¡¯s father, who had always been like the father that he had never had.
¡°Humph, always trying to be the center of attention,¡± muttered Sonomi, folding her arms in front of her chest. But she waited expectantly—she always enjoyed Fujitaka¡¯s stories, not that she would ever admit it.
¡°Well, I¡¯ve run out of original stories to tell by now,¡± Kinomoto Fujitaka said bashfully, now that all attention was turned to him. ¡°I think I already told the angel one last year¡¦¡±
¡°Tell us the story of the violinist, otou-san,¡± Touya said, taking a seat beside Yukito.
¡°Ah, I haven¡¯t told that one in a while,¡± said Fujitaka. His voice took on a low, melodic quality as he related, ¡°This is the story of a young violinist and his cursed violin. Once, in a kingdom far, far away, there was a talented violinist who was rumored to play the tune of an angel—or a devil—depending on who you asked. The sound was so beautiful that the listeners could be charmed into doing anything the violinist wanted. It was said that the violin he played was an enchanted violin. Some said it was cursed by the soul of a violinist of years yonder, who had taken his life in desparation that he could not produce music beautiful enough to do justice to the exquisite violin. Others said that the beautiful red hue of the wood was actually from the blood of the violinmaker¡¯s dead lover, who had taken her life because the violinmaker loved his violin more than her. Much mystery remained in the origins of the one-of-a-kind violin, with its mystical rose engraving carved on the birch wood and strings that were rumored to be hair from a unicorn¡¯s tail. Our protagonist had inherited this remarkable violin from his grandfather, who had also been an exceptional violinist, and he developed a reputation as a musician that went far and wide. He was called upon by kings and dukes to perform at banquets, and his music could heal those who were near their deathbeds back to life. But he too had hit a point in life when he lamented that the sound he produced from his violin could not be replicated on any other violin. Only on that violin could he seem to create a sound so beautiful that he could move an audience from laughter to tears.
¡°Thus, the young man came to doubt his own skills as a musician and roamed from city to city until one day, he came to stumble upon the court of a beautiful princess who had an ear for music and had heard before of this phenomenal violinist. She bade the violinist stay as the court musician. And the violinist gladly accepted the invitation and played the violin for the princess day and night. With her, playing music felt joyous again. Many a tune he played her, and it was quite a pretty picture the two made, the princess listening with her eyes closed and the violinist playing her his tune. The court grew accustomed to seeing the princess with her violinist, and it was no surprise that the two began to love each other as they were inseparable. As a peaceful country that enjoyed art and music, there was no reason for the princess to engage in a political marriage, and thus, it was a rare kingdom where the princess was at free will to choose the one she wished to wed.
¡°It was a cold winter¡¯s evening, when the ground was blanketed with the whitest, powder snow that the song of the violin came to a sorrowful end and the violinist set down his cursed violin and announced to the princess that he had played the very last tune he knew. He told her that he must be on his way now, so that he could learn more songs. The princess was distraught and begged him to stay. But he told her that he had to leave before he was consumed by the curse of the violin. ¡®What curse?¡¯ she asked. He answered, ¡®My Princess, can you not see that you love me not for who I am but because of the accursed beauty of the music of the violin?¡¯ She shook her head and told him that she loved him and only him, just as he was. But he was adamant—he had to leave before the demon violin took control of his soul. ¡®When I learn a thousand more tunes, when I can stand as a true violinist not dependent on the magic of the violin but on my very own skills, then I will return to you a man worthy enough to ask your hand in marriage,¡¯ he told the princess before heading his way down the snow-covered road leading away from the kingdom. The princess could not stop him, and she watched him leave with tears in her eyes, waiting for the day of his return.¡± Fujitaka paused.
Perhaps it was because Fujitaka was a college lecturer, but when he spoke, everybody listened to his voice, enraptured. Sakura sat on a sofa next to Tomoyo, teary eyed at the story, which Fujitaka might have told her as a child but made so much more sense to her now. Syaoran leaned against the armrest next to her, and he turned to glance at her.
But it was Sonomi who demanded, ¡°So, did the violinist come back?¡±
¡°What do you think, Sonomi-san?¡± Fujitaka asked, smiling. ¡°Do you think the skill of the violinist was truly his own, and the princess loved him for himself, or do you think the curse of the violin charmed the princess into loving the sound of the music that the violinist?¡±
¡°I don¡¯t know!¡± snapped Sonomi. ¡°You¡¯re the storyteller. Hurry up and finish the story.¡±
¡°That is no fun—this is a story meant for people to think and come up with their own answer,¡± was Fujitaka¡¯s calm reply. ¡°They can decide if the violinist came back to the princess or not.¡±
¡°So, that¡¯s it?¡± demanded Sonomi.
¡°That¡¯s it.¡± Fujitaka smiled. ¡°Thank your for listening everyone. Merry Christmas.¡±
Most people¡¯s mouths dropped in disbelief, while the younger crowd wrinkled their brows in deep thought, concocting a just conclusion to the story.
Only Eriol chuckled to himself.
¡°What is it?¡± Miho demanded. ¡°Ugh¡¦ So, did the violinist come back or not?¡±
¡°I always thought I solely inherited all of Clow¡¯s sadism. But Kinomoto-san¡¦ is enjoying annoying your mother, Tomoyo-san,¡± Eriol remarked in bemusement. ¡°He is always so well-mannered and kind. One would never realize...how well he conceals his sense of humor.¡±
Tomoyo smiled. ¡°On the surface, my mother is always the one berating Sakura¡¯s father. Nobody ever will guess that it is Sakura¡¯s father who always has the upper hand of the situation. It¡¯s always been like that—hence my mother has held a twenty year grudge towards him.¡±
¡°Humph, where else do you think Touya inherits his mean streak from?¡± Nakuru remarked knowingly. ¡°Though that just makes Touya more delicious in my eyes.¡±
Sliding on the couch next to Sakura, now that everybody was distracted, Syaoran asked, ¡°Do you know the rest of the story?¡±
Frowning, Sakura said, ¡°I might have heard it before when I was too young to remember¡¦ but I don¡¯t know. I¡¯m going to ask otou-san to tell me the rest once I get back home.¡± She yawned. ¡°Today¡¯s been quite a tiring day, hasn¡¯t it?¡±
¡°Yeah. The amusement park thing didn¡¯t quite turn out as we planned to,¡± Syaoran sighed. After all, the two had planned to go to the amusement park together on Christmas Day. Unfortunately, Tomoyo and Eriol had been crowned Snow King and Queen, being awarded ten tickets to the amusement park, and thus, an entire crowd ended up going to the amusement park. The two were always unlucky when it came down to making plans.
¡°It was awful—everything went wrong, from the rollercoaster getting stuck to me losing this watch.¡± Sakura stared at the pretty flower petal shaped watch on her wrist. Somehow, Syaoran had recovered it—she hadn¡¯t had a chance to ask him where he had found it.
¡°So¡¦Are you¡¦ doing anything special for New Year¡¯s Eve?¡± Syaoran asked slowly.
¡°Well, I¡¯ll probably spend it with otou-san and onii-chan,¡± Sakura replied. ¡°We always spend New Year¡¯s together and go to the Tsukimine Shrine in the evening to see the fireworks.¡±
Syaoran looked so downhearted that Sakura exclaimed, ¡°I have a good idea! Why don¡¯t you join us? You simply can¡¯t spend New Year¡¯s Eve alone; you can come with my family to the festival!¡±
¡°No thank you—I couldn¡¯t intrude¡¦¡± Syaoran said quickly. But Sakura looked so disappointed that he added, ¡°All right, I¡¯ll come—I won¡¯t promise to get along with your brother though.¡±
¡°Don¡¯t worry! I¡¯ll make sure he¡¯s on good behavior,¡± replied Sakura energetically. She couldn¡¯t help recalling the last time she had gone to a festival at the Tsukimine Shrine with both her brother and Syaoran, five years ago. It could have gone worse.
¡°Sure, sure.¡± Syaoran gloomily recalled going to the festival with Sakura, her brother, Yukito and Tomoyo—that was shortly after Yukito-san had rejected Sakura. He had been so worried about her then. But she rebounded and was back to her normal, energetic self. Back then, he had been so relieved. He hadn¡¯t even minded Touya¡¯s death glares prickling the back of his neck—but that might have been because Sakura had spent a week making him a yukata. His first yukata, with her very own hands. He didn¡¯t fit in it anymore, but he kept it neatly folded in his drawers.
¡°Well?¡± Sakura blinked at him expectantly.
¡°Sorry, what was the question again?¡± He had been spacing out. Her face was too close to his face—didn¡¯t she know any better?
¡°Do you want to come by my house or do you want to meet at the Tsukimine Shrine?¡± she asked again.
¡°I¡¯ll come by your house,¡± Syaoran muttered. Even if it meant being burnt crisp with her brother¡¯s death glare. On the other hand, he liked Sakura¡¯s father very much. He wondered if his father would have been so gentle and warm as Kinomoto Fujitaka was; somehow, he doubted it. To him, Li Ryuuren seemed to be an epitome of a man and a warrior. But as a father and lover, Syaoran was not sure he looked up to his father like he had as a child¡¦All this while, he never could tell if there had ever been love between his mother and his father. Fujitaka was unafraid of speaking about his deceased wife and recalled Nadeshiko lovingly, keeping her present in the Kinomoto family through pictures and stories. When Syaoran was a child, Li Ryuuren, the Chosen One, was someone who he strove to follow the footsteps of. He had been proud of his father and desired to become as strong and brave as stories claimed him to be. But lately, Syaoran came to suspect that his father, as a young man, was not the indestructible, fierce warrior that the Clan had described him to be but as clueless and indecisive as any teenage boy was.
Yet, though it still angered Syaoran that his father had ultimately abandoned Nadeshiko and scarred her, he could not help also being relieved. He did not like to think how the future would have been changed if perchance, everything had worked out between Li Ryuuren and Amamiya Nadeshiko. This may be a selfish thing to think, but perhaps some things work out for the better. Their tale may be a tragedy and a series of misfortunate circumstances, but through their misfortunes, Sakura and I are standing here today.
Christmas Eve, twenty-three years ago¡¦
¡°Do you know why Miara called us here?¡± Ryuuren asked, leaning back on the metal foldable chair in the music room in Seijou Junior High. ¡°It¡¯s Christmas Eve, and we¡¯re stuck at school.¡±
¡°Nope,¡± Nadeshiko replied, strumming a few chords on the piano, a pretty tune that Ryuuren had never heard before. ¡°She sounded awfully excited though.¡±
¡°Say, do you remember last Christmas, you came and barged into my apartment with your Christmas tree?¡± Ryuuren said, leaning his chin against his hand. ¡°I was really surprised then.¡±
¡°Don¡¯t talk about it,¡± Nadeshiko muttered, ears turning red. ¡°I know I used to be quite a nuisance to you.¡±
¡°No, I was really happy then. It was the best Christmas present ever.¡± His unusual frankness left Nadeshiko taken aback. But then she grinned to herself.
¡°You¡¯re such a big softie. I can¡¯t imagine why I used to be so scared of you,¡± Nadeshiko commented, looking up from the sheet music that she had been editing with Ryuuren for Miara¡¯s new musical.
¡°And you were such a nag—I don¡¯t know how I put up with you.¡±
Nadeshiko pouted, taking a seat across from Ryuuren. ¡°I¡¯m sorry I was such a bother to you.¡±
¡°I¡¯m bored. Entertain me,¡± Ryuuren announced, leaning back in his chair. ¡°Continue playing the rest of that tune you were just playing.¡±
¡°I don¡¯t remember the rest—I heard it in a movie I saw recently. It was an awfully sad movie, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence,¡± replied Nadeshiko.
¡°That¡¯s a Christmas song? How depressing. Play a happy Christmas song,¡± said Ryuuren.
¡°Why don¡¯t you play me something instead,¡± Nadeshiko replied. ¡°You¡¯re the one who would have become a musician if you weren¡¯t the Li Clan¡¯s Chosen One. Though I¡¯m glad you¡¯re the Chosen One. Because if you were a musician, you might have gone off to Austria or some other country and not ended up here.¡±
¡°Oh? You would have been sad if we never got to meet?¡±
¡°No—how would I be sad that I never met you if I never knew you?¡± retorted Nadeshiko.
¡°But don¡¯t you think even under different circumstances, our paths would somehow have crossed?¡± Ryuuren gazed at Nadeshiko fondly. ¡°Say we weren¡¯t involved in this battle against the Dark Ones. Say we didn¡¯t have our powers. Say we met under difference circumstances. Imagine what we could have been.¡±
¡°Don¡¯t go into that path of imagining,¡± Nadeshiko sighed.
¡°But imagine.¡± Ryuuren closed his azure eyes. ¡°A few years from now—I¡¯d have graduated high school. I would be a world-renowned violinist. You would be an international model.¡±
¡°Why can¡¯t I be a violinist too?¡±
¡°I don¡¯t want to be rivals with you—we would be rivals if we both were violinists. But just think¡¦ we could meet in some foreign city¡¦ London¡¦ Paris¡¦ no New York. That¡¯s right. Nothing beats Christmastime in New York City, with all the bright tinsel and lights, and the Rockefeller Christmas tree with the Swarovski crystal star on top. Imagine.¡±
Falling into rhythm with his lulling, smooth voice, Nadeshiko closed her eyes and began to imagine.
* * *
¡°Nadeshiko! Amamiya Nadeshiko Amamiya! Earth to it! You have a shooting in an hour—we must do your hair and make up immediately!¡± Nadeshiko blinked and stared at her reflection in a large mirror. Her manager and best friend, Sonomi, had been calling her. There was a blur of voice speaking in English in the background.
¡°Sonomi-chan—I don¡¯t think I can do this,¡± Nadeshiko said, breathing in deeply. ¡°I—I can¡¯t handle this.¡±
¡°Now is not the time to be hyperventilating—this is a big breakthrough for your career, being able to model for Kenzo in the city of fashion,¡± Sonomi said briskly. ¡°Makeup artist—Nadeshiko needs more blush. Hairstylist—more hairspray, more volume! Let¡¯s wrap it up—she needs to be dressed and on the set!¡±
¡°Hoe-e!¡± Nadeshiko shut her eyes as the stylists attacked her with powder and hairspray.
Somehow she was fitted into her elaborate Victorian style shoulder cape over an elaborate ankle-length haute couture dress and pushed onto the set. She blinked, the lights blinding her.
¡°That¡¯s right, Nade-chan! Look over here and smile!¡± the photographer called out. ¡°Great, just like that. Now, hold the bag out. There! Do that turn of the head again! Wonderful! That¡¯s it for today!¡± He turned to his assistant. ¡°There¡¯s a reason why they call that girl a genius—her expressions are remarkable, so refreshing.¡±
His assistant nodded. ¡°That¡¯s right—she¡¯s not particularly tall and doesn¡¯t stand out much until she steps out in front of the camera. But on film, she suddenly transforms into this angelic, brilliant creature. She has a long career ahead of her.¡±
¡°Good job Nade-chan!¡± Sonomi exclaimed as the two girls walked out into the bustling streets after the photo shoot ended. ¡°The shoot went wonderfully. Next on your agenda is a client meeting and an appearance at the Mercedes-Benz Christmas Ball¡¦ I also have a TV commercial booked and—¡°
¡°But we have the rest of today off, right?¡± Nadeshiko asked excitedly, looking around her at the foreign signs and the grand skyscrapers.
¡°That¡¯s right—what do you want to do?¡± Sonomi said, smiling.
¡°This is New York City! Shopping of course!¡± was Nadeshiko¡¯s reply. A poster on the wall caught her eye. It was a photograph of a young brunette man holding up a violin. ¡°Ah—who is that?¡±
Sonomi turned and glanced at the poster. ¡°Oh, isn¡¯t that the Chinese violin prodigy that has taken up the classical music scene by storm? He¡¯s playing with the New York Philharmonic currently at the Lincoln Center.¡±
¡°Li Ryuuren.¡± Nadeshiko read that English letters on the poster. ¡°Playing with the New York Philharmonic, Vivaldi¡¯s Violin Concerto Four Seasons.¡±
¡°I forgot Nade-chan likes classical music a lot,¡± Sonomi commented. ¡°You used to play the violin too, didn¡¯t you?¡±
¡°It¡¯s a pity you can¡¯t play more with our busy schedule—you used to be awfully good. Well, I guess you can¡¯t have everything.¡±
¡°Ryuuren, are you feeling nervous?¡± asked Tanaka Keisuke, patting his friend on the back in the waiting room in the Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center, home concert all of the New York Philharmonic.
Ryuuren, looking impeccable in a black tuxedo, smiled lazily. ¡°I never get nervous.¡±
¡°Humph, wonder where you get all that arrogance from. Must be because you are a prodigy.¡± Keisuke scowled.
¡°It¡¯s like asking you if you¡¯re afraid of the critics¡¯ response to your new gallery exhibit at the Guggenheim,¡± replied Ryuuren, matter-of-fact. ¡°I know the exhibit¡¯s opening soon, isn¡¯t it?¡±
¡°Of course I¡¯m scared silly about the critics¡¯ reviews coming out next week,¡± was Keisuke¡¯s curt reply. He watched Ryuuren tune the pegs to his red-wood violin. He could not hide the awe in his voice as he asked, ¡°Don¡¯t tell me that¡¯s a Stradivarius?¡±
Holding up the violin to show his friend, Ryuuren stated, ¡°Isn¡¯t she a beauty? She came up at the Christie¡¯s auction last year.¡±
¡°So you¡¯re the mystery person who paid the highest bid record for the Strad for 3.5 million dollars? Must be good to be young, rich and famous,¡± muttered Keisuke.
¡°It¡¯s a one of a kind instrument—worth every cent. Say, did you take a peek at the audience?¡± Ryuuren asked. ¡°Any pretty women tonight?¡±
¡°It¡¯s a full house. Very pretty girls in the front row. Quite impressive.¡± Keisuke grinned. ¡°Well, get on out there maestro and show them your stuff.¡±
Taking his violin, Ryuuren headed towards the stage.
Nadeshiko took off her coat and settled in her seat in the concert hall, grand venue with 2,738 seats, large than any concert hall she had been to before. ¡°I can¡¯t believe you got us front row center seats, Sonomi-chan.¡±
¡°Well, the client gave them to us and it would be rude not to accept,¡± replied Sonomi. ¡°And you were interested in seeing the New York Philharmonic anyway.¡±
The lights dimmed and Nadeshiko held her breath as the applause ceased and a tall, lean man in a black tuxedo walked onto the stage. He bowed and as he looked up, his azure blue eyes became fixated on the radian girl in a pale green chiffon dress sitting in the front row center seat. Slowly, he brought the violin up to his chin and held his bow in place as the conductor waved his baton and the strings built up the first movement of Vivaldi¡¯s Concerto No. 4, Winter. Then on cue, Ryuuren brought down his bow and rang out his solo, his fingers flying over the neck of the violin. As the harmony built up, and Ryuuren became completely enwrapped in the tune, strands of his chestnut brown hair that had been carefully gelled back falling into his eyes—a brilliant ocean blue.
Through the entire movement, Nadeshiko sat at the edge of her seats her eyes not moving from the handsome violinist for a second. His stage presence commanded all eyes to be on him despite the extensive orchestra, the prominent conductor becoming all background shadows. As the high-intensity of Winter¡¯s First Movement melted away into the more soothing Second Movement, Nadeshiko relaxed slightly and stared at the violinist¡¯s expression suddenly becoming more peaceful and mellow. And the third movement brought a bit more of an urgency to the tune as his bow moved more rapidly towards the climax. As the movement ended, the entire hall broke down into a thunderous standing ovation. But Nadeshiko still sat in her chair, mesmerized. Slowly, she stood up, compelled to reach out to him, touch him, this creator of the most beautiful sound, painful and yearning, joyous and triumphant, a sound that reached out to her with its sticky, liquid notes, a tone that only the violin could produce. It was a sound that made her feel exhilarant and sorrowful that she could not reproduce it and only this young violinist could claim as his signature sound. And she wished he could play for her and only her.
And as Li Ryuuren bowed one more time, he looked up and caught Nadeshiko¡¯s eye and winked that bright blue eye of his. Nadeshiko gasped then blushed. Nudging Sonomi, she asked, ¡°Did you see that?¡±
¡°Yes,¡± replied Sonomi, irritated. ¡°He probably does that to any pretty girl sitting in the front row—a notorious playboy.¡±
But when there was a call for an encore, Li Ryuuren stated, ¡°And this final encore is dedicated to the lovely lady in the green dress in the front row! It¡¯s a popular pop tune that all of you are familiar with called Moon River.¡±
Nadeshiko looked around looking for a girl in a green dress.
¡°It¡¯s you,¡± hissed Sonomi, nudging Nadeshiko.
After his final bow, Ryuuren rushed backstage, pushing away all the bouquets and found Keisuke holding yet another bouquet for him. ¡°Keisuke—you have to tell me. Who¡¯s that girl with the long violet hair sitting in the front row center?¡±
¡°You mean the gorgeous girl in the green dress?¡± Keisuke asked.
¡°Yes—do you know who she is?¡± Ryuuren asked impatiently.
¡°Of course—everyone knows her. She¡¯s the famous Japanese model, Ama—¡°
¡°Li Ryuuren-san!¡± shouted reporters who had found their way to Ryuuren by now. ¡°Please answer our questions!¡±
An auburn-haired female reporter burst through the crowds and shoved a microphone into Ryuuren¡¯s face. ¡°Li Ryuuren-san, you¡¯re performance was amazing.¡±
¡°Thank you, Miara,¡± was Ryuuren¡¯s polite reply. ¡°What are you doing in New York?¡±
Scowling, Mizuki Miara said, ¡°Let¡¯s keep this professional and just answer my questions—now that you have conquered the metropolitan and cultural center of the world, New York City, what are your plans for the future? I heard that there has been an offer made by the Tokyo Philharmonic for you to perform in Japan—¡°
¡°Miara-chan! You look like a real reporter dressed like that!¡± Keisuke said, waving happily at Miara.
¡°Kei-san, I am a real reporter,¡± Miara replied, scowling. Her hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail and she was wearing a navy blue pinstripe suit and high heels, but was still at a disadvantage because she was shorter than everyone else.
¡°Sure sure, intern-san from Mainichi Shimbun,¡± Keisuke said, naming one of the largest newspapers published in Japan.
¡°By the way, you promised me the first interview for your Guggenheim exhibit—ugh, stop pushing, people!¡± Miara shoved hard at the reporters behind her vying for the prime spot.
¡°If you promise me a date!¡± Keisuke replied, grinning.
Sighing, Ryuuren slipped away quietly before anyone could notice, out towards the front doors to see the audience streaming out of the concert hall..
¡°Look! It¡¯s Li Ryuuren! Let¡¯s get an autograph!¡± he heard people shouting. He nodded his head apologetically as he pushed through the crowds. Where did that girl in the green dress go? Would he ever see her again?
Exhausted after a never-ending after party and too many glasses of champagne, Ryuuren stumbled back into the hotel lobby way past midnight. He had changed into sensible black trousers and a button-down shirt, and his hair had come loose from the gel and hung into his eyes. And there, right in the lobbies of Plaza Hotel, the same hotel he was staying in, he glimpsed the girl in the green dress again. Wait—was she staying here too? She disappeared around the corner towards the elevator banks. Pushing through the people lingering in the lobby, he swerved around the corner to the elevator bank, just as the elevators doors were closing. Desperately, he stuck both his hands into the doors and pried the door open again—something a violinist must never do, put his hands into potential physical damage.
But he had made it in time. There stood the angelic creature dressed in a pale green chiffon dress that seemed to float around her. Her hair was unbound and hung down her back in long violet curls. And her eyes—he hadn¡¯t noticed before—were several shades deeper than the color of her dress, a brilliant emerald. Now that he had reached her, he was tongue-tied and simply stared at her, oblivious to the elevator doors trying to close.
¡°Ano nee—¡° Nadeshiko blushed and stammered.
¡°Ah, gomennassai,¡± Ryuuren said, stepping into the elevator. He saw that the fifteenth floor was pressed. Now he knew what floor she was on.
¡°You¡¯re Japanese? How rare to meet a fellow countryman here,¡± Nadeshiko exclaimed, clapping her hands together. ¡°I¡¯m sorry—I would have held the door open if I knew someone was coming.¡± She realized she was gaping at the tall stranger, and her eyes dropped to the floor. ¡°Ah, I didn¡¯t mean to stare—you look a lot like someone.¡±
¡°Who?¡± Ryuuren asked, bemused as the elevator went up to the fifteenth floor.
¡°The violinist Li Ryuuren,¡± replied Nadeshiko, smiling. ¡°I went to his concert today at the Lincoln Center—it was amazing. He played Vivaldi¡¯s Violin Concerto, Winter. I thought Spring was my favorite movement, but I changed my mind. His performance convinced me that Winter is truly the most beautiful of the Four Seasons¡¦ Antonio Vivaldi was a genius for composing the piece but Li Ryuuren¡¯s interpretation adds whole new meaning to the familiar tunes¡¦ Hoe—I¡¯m sorry I¡¯m blabbering.¡±
Ryuuren chuckled—the girl didn¡¯t suspect him to be the real thing, and he didn¡¯t have the heart to correct her. Well, she must have been thrown off track when he spoke to her in Japanese, and without his hair gelled back and all the stage lights, he must look different. The elevator door swung open on the fifteenth floor, and she stepped out. She turned around with a bright smile. ¡°Good night!¡±
¡°Wait—your name!¡± Ryuuren called out as the door shut.
¡°Nadeshiko! Amamiya Nadeshiko!¡± she replied, waving.
¡°Ah—¡° Ryuuren sighed, leaning back on the elevator wall. He realized he hadn¡¯t even pressed the floor yet. Slowly, he pressed PH—now he wished that his manager hadn¡¯t booked him the penthouse suite—why couldn¡¯t he have been on the same floor as her at least?
Nadeshiko skipped towards her room. It had been her dream to meet a handsome stranger in a foreign city. Too bad she didn¡¯t get to speak to him longer—why couldn¡¯t she have been on a higher floor? Did she find this man so attractive because he resembled the violinist Li Ryuuren? Would she see him again—it was a large hotel, and she didn¡¯t even know when he was checking out. ¡°Hoe-e! I forgot where I put the room key!¡±
Luckily, Sonomi stood in the hallway, arms on hips. ¡°Nadeshiko, you simply can¡¯t go wondering around the hotel by yourself in the middle of the night.¡±
¡°Sorry Sonomi-chan—I wanted to buy potato chips,¡± Nadeshiko replied meekly.
¡°Well, get to bed—you have an important commercial shooting tomorrow.¡±
The next morning, Nadeshiko sat in the lobby lounge, eating her breakfast at the table by herself—Sonomi was making phone calls upstairs regarding the itinerary for the day and had promised to join her soon. Nadeshiko sighed—it was lonely eating by herself. Sipping her freshly orange juice, Nadeshiko watched a pompous lady in a fur coat and pearls on her throat scream at her round-bellied husband. Their children went around yanking at the leaves on the potted plants and leaving a trail of greenery after them. How funny how some people could produce so much beauty for the world, while others so much destruction. Though there was constant garble of languages from all over the world buzzing in the lobby, Nadeshiko¡¯s ears tuned to the lovely melody that the pretty lady plucked on the grand harpsichord from a corner in the lounge and found herself humming along.
¡°Greensleeves,¡± said a male voice behind her.
Nadeshiko turned around to look into a pair of azure blue eyes set under dark eyebrows, and exclaimed in recognition, ¡°Elevator-man!¡±
¡°Good morning, Nadeshiko-san.¡± He turned to the empty seat in front of her. ¡°Would you mind if I join you for breakfast, seeing as you are sitting alone?¡± Before she could reply, he took out the chair and seated himself. His eyes flitted to the lady on the harpsichord. ¡°Pretty little tune, isn¡¯t it? It¡¯s called Greensleeves. They say that King Henry VI wrote it for his beloved mistress, Anne Boleyn.¡±
¡°How romantic,¡± Nadeshiko sighed, wondering if anyone would write such a beautiful song for her one day.
¡°Not quite—of course, King Henry divorced his first wife to marry Anne Boleyn, causing a civil uproar¡¦ But a fickle man he was, since he then beheaded Anne and moved on to have four more wives.¡± Ryuuren had been surprised to see Nadeshiko sitting in the lounge by herself, with enough food ordered to feed four people. Today, she was wearing a deep forest green velvet dress the exact shade of her eyes and a matching ribbon tying half of her lustrous hair up. Like a Christmas angel.
¡°How awful! Why would he do that?¡± His attention turned back to her animated face, the expression of horror.
¡°Maybe King Henry grew sick of Anne. Or maybe he loved her so much, he felt compelled to get rid of her before she destroyed him.¡± Ryuuren smiled. ¡°I remember you like music very much, Nadeshiko-san—if you don¡¯t mind me calling you that.¡±
¡°That¡¯s right, what is your name again?¡± Nadeshiko asked. ¡°I¡¯ve been thinking you as the elevator-man—that isn¡¯t right.¡±
¡°You were thinking of me?¡± Ryuuren¡¯s lips curled up and his eyes glimmered.
¡°Hoe-e—I mean¡¦¡± Nadeshiko turned red to the roots of her hair.
¡°So, what else did you think of the New York Philharmonic¡¯s performance?¡± Ryuuren prodded on, taking a sip of the hot espresso that the waitress had brought for him.
¡°I wasn¡¯t listening to the Philharmonic—I was only listening to Li Ryuuren¡¯s solos,¡± replied Nadeshiko frankly. ¡°I¡¯ve never heard such a sound from an instrument before—I don¡¯t know if it¡¯s because he was playing a Stradivarius or if it¡¯s because of his talent.¡±
Ryuuren scowled. ¡°It¡¯s his obviously his talent, not the violin.¡±
¡°But the richness to the notes and the emotions—I don¡¯t know how someone that young can put so much soul into his music. Maybe it¡¯s the magic of the Stradivarius—do you know it¡¯s my first time seeing one of those violins. I would love to try playing it someday.¡±
¡°Ah, you play the violin too?¡± Ryuuren asked.
¡°I used too—I started with the piano, then the organ and violin. My grandfather made me take all sorts of music lessons, because he loved music. And I used to play for him all the time,¡± she said. ¡°Poor grandfather, all by himself in Japan. But I bought him a Li Ryuuren LD and mailed it to him—he¡¯ll enjoy listening to Vivaldi. Ah, I¡¯m rambling on again! Oh, there¡¯s my best friend Sonomi-chan—I¡¯ll introduce you to her—¡° She waved towards Sonomi who ran towards her.
¡°Nadeshiko-chan! Sorry—I just finished talking to Mr. Kant about the finalization of the CM contract.¡± Sonomi panted.
Nadeshiko stated, ¡°Ah, let me introduce you to Mr¡¦ Mr¡¦¡± Nadeshiko turned to the empty seat. The cup of espresso was the only sign that he had been there. ¡°That¡¯s strange¡¦He was just here a second ago.¡±
¡°Nade-chan, you can¡¯t simply talk to random strangers here. This is a very, very dangerous city,¡± Sonomi scolded. ¡°Honestly, I can¡¯t take my eyes off of you for a second!¡±
¡°So, Nadeshiko, do you understand the concept of the perfume commercial?¡± Sonomi asked in the dressing room.
¡°Sorry¡¦ I didn¡¯t quite catch it.¡± Nadeshiko sighed. Ever since her distracting breakfast encounter with the blue-eyed stranger, she was not able to focus on anything.
¡°Okay, I¡¯ll explain it one more time,¡± Sonomi said patiently, holding up the storyboard. ¡°It begins with a girl in a white wedding dress about to be married in a church in New York City—you can see the Empire State Building in the backdrop. She is ready to walk down the aisle to her groom-to-be when suddenly she hears a violin melody in the distance.¡± Sonomi pointed to the second frame of the storyboard. ¡°She stops midway down the aisle and turns around, as if the tune is calling out to her. She runs down the streets in the wedding dress, towards the sound of the music; she realizes where the music is coming from and runs towards the Empire State Building. Finally, she comes up on the roof deck to find the man playing the familiar tune on the violin— her old, forgotten lover.¡°
¡°Can I speak with Nadeshiko-san for a second?¡± called out the director.
¡°Coming!¡± called out Sonomi. ¡°Hurry and go out. Don¡¯t freeze up!¡±
¡°There you are, Nadeshiko-san,¡± the director said. ¡°You heard of the basic scenario for the commercial right? So, I guess I should introduce you to the person who will be playing the violinist lover—it¡¯s none other than world-renowned violinist Li Ryuuren. The background music is of course going to be a tune he composed for his newest album. Li Ryuuren, meet our lovely model from Japan, Amamiya Nadeshiko.¡±
¡°Pleasure to meet you again, Nadeshiko,¡± Ryuuren said in perfect Japanese as usual, bowing, then looking up at her with twinkling blue eyes.
¡°Ryu-Ryuu—¡° Nadeshiko gaped in disbelief. ¡°The elevator-man was the real Li Ryuuren? But you speak Japanese! You lied to me!¡±
¡°My apologies, but I never lied to you,¡± Ryuuren said. ¡°I never denied I was Li Ryuuren. You merely assumed I wasn¡¯t, so I had no chance to correct you.¡±
¡°Ah—¡° Nadeshiko¡¯s ears turned red as she remembered raving on about Li Ryuuren, like some obsessed fangirl. Instead of facing his laughing face, she ran back to the dressing room, mortified. ¡°Sonomi-chan! You never told me that I will be in a commercial with Li Ryuuren!¡±
¡°I figured you would start panicking if I told you,¡± Sonomi replied placidly. ¡°Why else do you think we got such good tickets to the Philharmonic?¡±
¡°B-but I can¡¯t be in a commercial with him!¡± Nadeshiko exclaimed. ¡°He¡¯s the guy who was I was telling you about earlier—I was going on and on about how I loved Li Ryuuren¡¯s performance. But I thought he was Japanese, the guy I met earlier, because he was completely fluent. He must think I¡¯m so silly!¡±
¡°Get a grip, Nadeshiko. He should be honored to be in a commercial with you—the greatest beauty of Japan,¡± said Sonomi proudly. ¡°Well, gather yourself—the Empire State shooting is tomorrow—it¡¯s an expensive location site to reserve, so there can¡¯t be any NGs. Today, we¡¯re doing the church and street scenes.¡±
Somehow, Nadeshiko managed to shoot the church scenes without much mishap. They had to shoot her running down the street, gathering up her long wedding dress train, over and over again till blistered formed on her toes in her tight high-heels. A crowd gathered in the streets to watch her filming. She even managed to not trip over the train and veil until the very last take. She thought she could take a nice long shower and ease her blistered feet that evening when Sonomi informed her that she had a dinner appointment with Li Ryuuren.
¡°Sonomi-chan—I¡¯m not going on a dinner with him!¡± Nadeshiko exclaimed as Sonomi made her change into a deep purple evening gown with lavender embroidery at the hems, over which she put on a matching furred cloak.
¡°Client-liaison building is important,¡± replied Sonomi. She was not only Nadeshiko¡¯s personal manager but the president of the modeling agency. ¡°You simply can¡¯t be nervous with him tomorrow for the shooting. Get to know him—not too well. But learn to become comfortable enough with him so that you can act normally around him tomorrow.¡±
¡°Hoe-e! You can¡¯t do this to me,¡± Nadeshiko wailed as Sonomi pushed her towards the black limousine. Li Ryuuren, looking handsome in a black suit, stepped forward and opened the door for her, then climbed in after her.
¡°Bye-bye, Nade-chan! Li Ryuuren-san, you better bring her back before midnight or else I¡¯m calling the NYPD!¡± cried out Sonomi.
Nadeshiko sat stiffly in the corner of the limousine, despite all the legroom, the entire ride. Finally, they pulled up by the harbor and the chauffeur opened the door.
¡°Where are we eating dinner?¡± Nadeshiko ventured to ask, gazing up at a grand yacht.
¡°Follow me,¡± Ryuuren said, holding out his arm. Realizing that she was supposed to place a hand on his arms and let him guide her, Nadeshiko followed him tentatively up the steps, stepping onto the boat. Once on deck, they were lead by a waiter into a cabinet with a round table lit by candles on a fancy silver-wrought caldera set amidst bunches of red roses. The waiter took Nadeshiko¡¯s cloak and pushed her chair in for her. Music was provided by a strings quartet that played in one corner of the room.
¡°We¡¯re eating here, alone?¡± squeaked Nadeshiko, gazing around her at the empty yacht. Through the windows, she glimpsed that the dazzling city nightscape was growing more distant as the yacht made its way down the Hudson River.
¡°If the weather were warmer, we could have eaten outside on the deck. But it¡¯s nice and cozy in here, isn¡¯t it?¡± Ryuuren said, smiling.
The soup arrived, and Nadeshiko sipped the butternut squash soup tentatively. ¡°Mmm¡¦ It¡¯s delicious!¡±
¡°I¡¯m glad.¡± Ryuuren¡¯s eyes were so warm and kind—or was it a trick of the candlelight?
Nadeshiko stared at her empty soup dish, turning red because she realized that Ryuuren¡¯s gaze had not left her a moment since they entered the boat. ¡°I¡¦ really like your music, Li-san,¡± was her feeble attempt to make conversation.
¡°When in Rome, do as Romans do. We¡¯re in the U.S. now. Call me Ryuuren,¡± he said.
¡°I can¡¯t—we just met!¡± Nadeshiko exclaimed. The waiter set down filet mignon steaks for each of them.
¡°Look at me, Nadeshiko,¡± he said gently. Somewhere during the day, he had dropped all honorifics. She looked up at him, cheeks flushed still. ¡°Front row center, seat 1H. That¡¯s where you sat, isn¡¯t it? At my performance.¡±
¡°I saw you then and recognized you again in the hotel elevator. I probably wouldn¡¯t have accepted this commercial offer if you weren¡¯t in it,¡± Ryuuren remarked.
¡°I wanted a chance to meet you again.¡± He twisted his wine glass around. ¡°There must be a reason why our paths crossed like this, don¡¯t you think?¡±
¡°Do you say this to every girl you take out for dinner?¡± Nadeshiko asked bluntly.
¡°No!¡± Ryuuren exclaimed. ¡°What makes you so wary with me?¡±
¡°Everyone says that Li Ryuuren is a p-playboy!¡± Nadeshiko said.
¡°And you believe them?¡± An eyebrow was arched.
Great, she had offended him now. ¡°No,¡± Nadeshiko replied after some thought. ¡°No¡¦ I don¡¯t know if it sounds crazy. But you feel strangely¡¦¡±
¡°Familiar?¡± Ryuuren¡¯s frown melted into a warm smile that lighted up his stern features.
¡°That¡¯s right. Familiar¡¯s the word I¡¯m looking for,¡± Nadeshiko said, mesmerized by those sapphire eyes in the candlelight. ¡°How did you know¡¦¡±
¡°Because I felt the same way.¡± He leaned forward. ¡°Do you think we were together in another lifetime?¡±
¡°No¡¦ More like, in an alternate lifetime,¡± Nadeshiko said with a faraway voice. ¡°Ah, now I sound really crazy.¡± This aching deep within her heart¡¦As if she missed someone, as if she yearned from someone. I know Li Ryuuren from somewhere. I¡¯ve just met him a couple days ago, but he doesn¡¯t seem like a stranger to me. Why?
¡°Since we¡¯re both finished with our meals, do you want to take a stroll on the deck—it¡¯s pretty mild tonight considering it¡¯s winter. We can always come back in if it gets too cold for you,¡± Ryuuren said.
¡°No, I¡¯ll be fine. This is warm—Sonomi-chan tailored it for me,¡± Nadeshiko said, putting on her violet cloak.
The pair walked onto the deck marveling the dazzling light from the harbor amidst the blackness of the sky and ocean.
¡°Look, that¡¯s the Statue of Liberty!¡± Nadeshiko exclaimed, pointing at the Lady Liberty. ¡°I¡¯ve only seen it in pictures before! The wind whipped back her long curls pulled loose from her rhinestone pins. ¡°What is Hong Kong like, Ryuuren-san? That¡¯s your home city, right?¡±
¡°Similar,¡± was his short reply. ¡°Say, do you want me to play you the tune for the commercial? Have you heard it yet?¡±
¡°No, I haven¡¯t! Do play it for me, please,¡± Nadeshiko said.
The server brought the violin case for Ryuuren, and he took out the polished mahogany-colored violin, and he brought it to his chin.
When the tune finished, Nadeshiko¡¯s eyes were still closed. Tears lingered on her lashes. ¡°Ah, is the song over?¡±
¡°Does it seem incomplete?¡± Ryuuren sighed. ¡°You noticed. It¡¯s been bothering me for some time too. Something about it is missing, lacking.¡±
¡°What¡¯s the song called?¡± Nadeshiko asked.
¡°Star-Crossed. Like in Romeo and Juliet—they are called ¡®a pair of star-cross¡¯d lovers.¡¯ Meaning they are ill-fated, not meant to be,¡± Ryuuren replied.
¡°I thought the theme of the commercial was to be romantic?¡± Nadeshiko said. ¡°It¡¯s a lovely tune, but so heart-breaking.¡±
Ryuuren shrugged. ¡°They were glad to have me sign on—they weren¡¯t particular about what song I visualized for the scene. Well, you said you played the violin too, right? Play a tune for me now.¡±
¡°No, I can¡¯t! Not in front of such a talented professional violist!¡± Nadeshiko exclaimed.
¡°Here.¡± He placed the violin in her hands. ¡°You said you wanted to try out the sound of a Strad.¡±
¡°Is this really a Stradivarius violin? They¡¯re only a couple hundred or so left in the world, right?¡± Nadeshiko said. ¡°And they say the sound of Stradivarius violins are unrivaled.¡±
¡°That¡¯s right. The sound produced from the violins made by Antonio Stradivari in his golden period, back in the 1700s, are said to be irreproducible. Some say that these violins are alive, have their own souls. Others say that they hold the devil¡¯s music and eat out the souls of the violinists.¡±
¡°And what do you think?¡±
¡°I think that these violins are our companions, and through the music we share our soul. I guess, like a magician and his wand. There is some magic in these instruments, if magic in the world existed,¡± Ryuuren said.
¡°I know what you mean,¡± Nadeshiko said. ¡°It¡¯s nice that you can use your magic to bring peace and joy to your listeners all around the world, Ryuuren-san.¡±
¡°Ryuuren. Call me Ryuuren. And you have the same sort of magic—except you bring it with that smile of yours.¡± Ryuuren didn¡¯t give her a chance to blush as he positioned the bow in her right hand and insisted, ¡°Now, let me hear your tune.¡±
¡°Don¡¯t laugh, okay?¡± Nadeshiko said, bring the violin to her chin with trembling hands. ¡°I haven¡¯t played in months.¡±
Slowly, she rang out the low melody which resonated throughout the ship as it grew faster and more jubilant. Ryuuren listened, dumbstruck. Then, he tapped one of the violinists from the quartet playing for them earlier and borrowed his violin. Synching in with Nadeshiko¡¯s tune, Ryuuren joined in, bringing his bow down over the strings with his original melody, his tune harmonizing with hers. They both ended together and stared at each other.
¡°Ah!¡± Nadeshiko exclaimed. ¡°I didn¡¯t realize this tune would harmonize with yours like this—¡°
¡°This sound¡¦ this is what I was trying to figure out!¡± Ryuuren said. He set the violin down and stared at Nadeshiko. Where did this creature drop out of, upsetting all balance and order in his life—no making all the tunes that seemed lacking in his life from a mere melody into a full composition? His fingers itched to transcribe the notes into his score. ¡°It¡¯s strange¡¦ Déja-vu maybe? Has this tune been played together before? Why does it sound so familiar?¡±
And suddenly, he recalled a far off voice tell him, ¡°Alone, these two melodies echo yearning and forlorn sadness. It sings the loneliness of a wistful lark. Yet played together, the larks have found each other. They are alone no longer. They are together and happy. That is all I wanted to show. That being alone is not always the best choice. That is the double beauty of this harmony.¡±
¡°Familiar¡¦ Like you and me having met somewhere else before,¡± Nadeshiko said, grinning impishly.
¡°Maybe in a dream, maybe in a different life time, in a different universe, or a different era¡¦¡± He drifted off.
¡°We were meant to be together,¡± Nadeshiko whispered to herself.
¡°We were star-crossed,¡± said Ryuuren at the same time.
Nadeshiko gazed up at Ryuuren. ¡°Why star-crossed? That means we were never meant to be.¡±
¡°Don¡¯t you think we are here together because all odds were against us in a different lifetime? Like we were given a second chance. Two souls that were meant to be together would rest together, eternally, undisturbed. They would not be forced to be reborn, reincarnated, reawakened,¡± was Ryuuren¡¯s convoluted answer. ¡°We would not be here together, right now, if the wheels of fortune permitted us to be together in a different lifetime.¡±
¡°But we are here, right now, together,¡± said Nadeshiko. ¡°Isn¡¯t that all that matters?¡±
¡°If that were true.¡± Ryuuren reached out with trembling hands cupping Nadeshiko¡¯s soft, rosy cheeks. ¡°If only that were true.¡±
The second day of the commercial shooting commenced. Nadeshiko fidgeted as the stylist adjusted the yards of laces of her wedding dress.
¡°So, how was your date with Li-san?¡± asked the makeup artist, as she brushed on powder to set Nadeshiko¡¯s makeup.
¡°D-date?¡± Nadeshiko squeaked.
¡°Blot.¡± The makeup artist held a folded Kleenex for Nadeshiko. ¡°It¡¯s in all the tabloids—international sensation, casanova violinist Li Ryuuren seen on a yacht with Japanese model Amamiya Nadeshiko.¡± She held up a Japanese tabloid for Nadeshiko to see—the front page had a picture of her and Ryuuren getting out of the limousine together.
¡°EH?¡± Nadeshiko stared at the tabloid dumbfounded as her stylist fiddled with the sheer lace veil over her long curls.
The director grinned at Nadeshiko. ¡°You look even more beautiful than ever, Nadeshiko. Now, we¡¯ll start with the scene where you arrive at the Empire State Building. Look around, as if you¡¯re figuring out which direction the music is coming from. All right. Crew, position. Lights. Action!¡±
Nadeshiko squinted as the glaring lights flashed on. The camera started rolling, and her expression immediately changed. She craned her neck, as if she heard a song. Ah, she heard it. Gathering up the layers of white fabric of her wedding gown in her hands, she ran towards the Empire State Building. The camera panned up the length of the building, and Nadeshiko stared up. The sound was coming from the top. Her veil and train whipping out behind her, she dashed into the building.
¡°Cut! Perfect!¡± The director called out.
The next seen was the elevator scene. She waited impatiently as the elevator zoomed up to the roof deck, her heart pounding. Soon, she would be able to see him. Next, the scene cut to her emerging on the roof deck. Her violet curls flew about her in disarray as the camera swerved around her 360 degrees, as she searched for the direction the sound of the violin was coming from. She saw him, the young man dressed in black, standing at the edge of the roof, the whole city behind him, playing his lonely tune on the violin. The camera now focused on his face. Slowly, he looked up with his deep blue eyes, an expression of shock washing over his face when he recognized the girl in the wedding dress.
Ryuuren disliked being filmed and it was freezing up there on the roof deck. He had been irritated having to pretend to play the same tune over and over again as the cameramen took enough shots of him playing the violin. But now, only the final segment remained. This was the first time he would be in the same scene with Nadeshiko. He hadn¡¯t seen her since last night, when he escorted her back to her hotel room to a livid Sonomi. What expression would she be wearing when he saw her again? Would she think him strange after all their peculiar conversations of last night? With the director¡¯s call for action, Nadeshiko burst out onto the roof, a vision in a white wedding dress, a spectacular couture dress made of yards of white satin and Victorian lace, tiny seed pearls adorning the bodice and hems. All else was forgotten, and every pair of eyes on the deck were on her. At that moment, Ryuuren thought he had seen the most beautiful thing on earth, and if he were to die right that moment, he would die a happy man. It must have been cold for her, for her arms and shoulders were bare. But she let on no sign that she was filming in summer attire in the middle of winter. Her emerald eyes were so brilliant as she gazed at him, as if she had been searching the entire city, no the entire world to find him here, standing before her. Of course, she was acting, and this was merely a commercial shoot. But what was that desire he saw in her eyes?
Now, tears glistened in her eyes as she paused for a second, staring straight at him as if she had found the rainbows end after a lifetime of searching. She dashed forwards, her train billowing out behind her, and she flung her arms around him. And he wrapped her in a tight embrace, as if he would never let her go again. For if he let her ago, he might never see her again. This is not mere familiarity¡¦ This is a sense of right, that we are meant for each other.
¡°Cut! Great! Superb!¡± The director called out.
Ah, he had forgotten it was just a commercial. She was so slight, so frail in his arms. Her hair brushed his lips like strands of purple silk, fragrant like flowers in the spring, another nostalgic scent. Why did I think just now, I won¡¯t let go of her again? Again. I have let go of her before? When? Where?
¡°Ryuuren-san—I think you¡¯re wrinkling the dress,¡± Nadeshiko murmured, blushing.
¡°I¡¯m sorry.¡± Ryuuren realized he was still embracing her even after the camera had stopped rolling. He released her ruefully.
¡°That was splendid—I could not have asked for more emotion, more passion,¡± the director exclaimed. Truthfully, he had been worried that Li Ryuuren would not cooperate—but luckily Nadeshiko had the effect of drawing out the best in her partners. ¡°Now, if we can just take some close-ups and some pan-ups, we will be set!¡±
¡°Good work everyone!¡± called out the director after the final take. ¡°Especially you two—this commercial will cause a global sensation, I guarantee.¡±
¡°Good work, Ryuuren-san!¡± Nadeshiko said, bowing to Ryuuren, almost tripping on the long skirt of the wedding dress. ¡°Hoe—I feel so awkward in this dress.¡±
¡°You look very beautiful,¡± said Ryuuren without thinking. Then, he blushed.
¡°T-thank you,¡± Nadeshiko stammered, also turning red. Why was Ryuuren blushing? Sonomi put a coat around her shoulders. ¡°Achoo! It¡¯s so cold!¡±
¡°Poor Nadeshiko-chan—you can take a nice hot bath when we get back to the hotel,¡± Sonomi said.
¡°Wait!¡± Ryuuren said. ¡°Umm¡¦ Now that the commercial is over, are you going to be¡¦ staying in New York any longer?¡±
¡°Well, the plan was to get back home to Japan after Christmas,¡± Nadeshiko said. ¡°I guess we¡¯ll be staying here for a couple days longer and go back.¡±
¡°I see.¡± He looked so crestfallen that Nadeshiko surmised that she would suddenly develop a desire to visit every museum in the city if that would convince Sonomi to extend their stay.
The next morning, Nadeshiko sat in the lobby lounge, alone as usual, since Sonomi had taken off to meet with potential clients. She sipped on her freshly squeezed orange juice, listening to the harpsichord.
¡°Mind if I join you?¡± Ryuuren asked, taking the seat in front of her without waiting for a reply.
¡°Ryuuren-san!¡± Nadeshiko exclaimed. She saw people nudging each other, staring at Ryuuren, murmuring, ¡°Isn¡¯t that the famous violinist? He¡¯s so handsome in real-life. Can we ask for an autograph?¡±
¡°Why do you look so forlorn?¡± said Ryuuren, leaning forwards with his elbows on the table.
¡°Sonomi-chan promised to go touring today with me—but important clients called, and she will be busy meeting them all day,¡± replied Nadeshiko. ¡°Now I have to tour by myself.¡±
¡°Well, seeing as my recording session got canceled today, what should I do?¡± Ryuuren grinned. ¡°I seem to have lots of spare time at hand.¡±
Somehow, the two found themselves walking down the busy Fifth Avenue, side by side, chattering and laughing as if they were long-time friends or even lovers. The two made an eye-catching pair as they walked down the street together, Nadeshiko wearing an ivory wool coat which buttoned to her throat, with a matching ivory beret, while Ryuuren wore a long black trench coat, belt tied around his waist. It took two of her steps to catch up with his long stride, but eventually their paces matched each others—she suspected he slowed down once he realized that she had a hard time catching up with him in her heels.
They saw the pretty Christmas decorations, the bright-colored lights and wreaths decorating the store windows.
¡°Ah—it¡¯s Tiffany¡¯s!¡± Nadeshiko exclaimed, running up to the marble entrance to the largest jewelry store. The 10-carat diamond necklace on display blinded her with a brilliance given off only by such a grade-A gem. ¡°Just like Breakfast at Tiffany¡¯s! It¡¯s one of my favorite movies. That song in it is so beautiful—you played it at your concert for the encore.¡± Ryuuren had dedicated the tune to her when they first met. She began to hum, ¡°Two drifters, off to see the world. There's such a lot of world to see. We're after the same rainbow's end—waiting 'round the bend, my huckleberry friend, Moon River and me.¡±
¡°Henry Mancini¡¯s Moon River,¡± Ryuuren said, smiling tenderly. ¡°I¡¯m playing that tune on my next recording. I¡¯ve always wondered what the English lyrics meant. Now I seem to understand.¡±
Afterwards, the two went to the Guggenheim Museum, since Nadeshiko had already visited the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts with Sonomi. Instead of a cab, they rode a horse buggy, passing by Central Park, listening to the rhythmic clip-clop of the horse¡¯s hooves. The Guggenheim was a magnificent white structure, liquid in structure compared to all the high skyscrapers in the City.
¡°Would you mind stopping by a friend¡¯s exhibit—it opened recently and is getting quite some critical appraisal,¡± said Ryuuren as they spiraled around the unique circular structure of the museum.
¡°Of course!¡± Nadeshiko looked around bug eyed. She stared at a painting with geometric shapes and vibrant colors. ¡°Ah, I¡¯m afraid I don¡¯t quite understand modern art.¡±
¡°It¡¯s a Kadinsky,¡± Ryuuren said, bemused.
¡°Kadin-who?¡± Nadeshiko blinked. They reached a more conventional exhibit of portraits and figure drawings in oil and pastels. ¡°This is more my style—it makes sense and the colors are simply beautiful.¡±
¡°I¡¯m flattered you have praise for this modest exhibit,¡± said a man with light brown hair and twinkling nut-brown eyes, bowing lowly. ¡°Glad you can make it, Ryuuren.¡±
¡°Ah, this is your artist friend?¡± Nadeshiko asked. ¡°Pleased to meet you. My name is—¡°
¡°Of course I know you—the latest sensation in Japan—model Amamiya Nadeshiko!¡± Tanaka Keisuke said exuberantly. ¡°In fact, it would be an honor if you can pose for me sometime and maybe we can grab a cup of coffee afterwards—¡°
¡°Don¡¯t even think of it, Keisuke-san,¡± Ryuuren said lowly.
¡°Unfair. You always get the ladies,¡± Keisuke sighed. ¡°Have you seen Miara? She made me promise her an interview.¡±
¡°Nade-chan!¡± A girl with long auburn hair tied back into a high ponytail exclaimed.
¡±Miara-chan!¡± Nadeshiko clapped her hands together. ¡°What are you doing here?¡±
¡°I have an internship with the Mainichi Shimbun,¡± replied Miara. ¡°And when I told them that I was friends with the Tanaka exhibit, I got to tag along with cultural section journalists and this story will be my cover story.¡±
¡°That¡¯s amazing. Mainichi Shimbun—that¡¯s always been your dream to become a journalist,¡± Nadeshiko said.
¡°Wait, you two know each other,¡± Keisuke asked, pointing at the two girls.
¡°We went to the same junior high,¡± replied Miara, grinning.
¡°Wait, and Mi-chan and I used to be neighbors—and Ryuuren and I are family friends—ah, it¡¯s like six degrees of connection!¡± Keisuke grinned. ¡°We were destined to meet, Amamiya-san. You don¡¯t know how much of a fan I am—I watched your Meiji Chocolate commercial over and over again—¡°
¡°Pervert,¡± muttered Miara and Ryuuren.
The group of four walked around the rest of the museum, all three eager to impress Nadeshiko about their knowledge of artists.
¡°The structure of this building is amazing,¡± Nadeshiko remarked as they spiraled upwards. She leaned her head back to look at the skylights.
¡°Isn¡¯t it?¡± came a fresh voice from behind her. Nadeshiko found the owner of the voice to be a man pretty enough to be female, with deep golden eyes and longish blue-violet hair. ¡°The building was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the greatest American architects ever; the fluid design of this building always fascinated me—a breakthrough in modern architecture.¡± He paused blinking. ¡°Sorry to interrupt! I was just passing by. Oh, by the way, marvelous exhibit, Tanaka-san!¡±
¡°T-thank you!¡± Keisuke stammered.
¡°And superb performance of Vivaldi the other night, Li-san—it was the best rendition I¡¯ve ever heard of Winter, though I admit I¡¯m not much of a fan of Baroque music.¡± Ryuuren blinked, not able to properly thank the golden-eyed man, unsure if his remark was a compliment or not. ¡°Well, then, let¡¯s go check out the fourth level, Eri,¡± the golden-eyed man said, turning to a young woman with wavy hair and bright hazel eyes, who smiled up at him and took his arm. Together they walked off.
¡°Who was that?¡± Nadeshiko asked.
¡°You didn¡¯t recognize him—that¡¯s the budding young architect Chang Reiji,¡± Miara stated, sighing happily. ¡°Isn¡¯t he handsome? He¡¯s young, but as a high schooler he won a design contest for the newly opened Kinhoshi Metropolitan Museum in Tokyo and got a scholarship to study in London. Now, he¡¯s in New York because he has been commissioned to design skyscrapers. I guess he¡¯s here with his fiancée—they were high school sweethearts, I heard.¡±
¡°I¡¯ve heard of Chang Reiji—he¡¯s famous in Hong Kong, too. What is he—Chinese, Japanese, mixed?¡± Ryuuren said. ¡°Seems like a nice guy though.¡±
¡°Maybe we can ask him out for dinner some time,¡± Keisuke remarked. ¡°With his fiancée.¡±
It was nightfall by the time they left the museum, and they made their way back to Fiftieth and Fifth Avenue. ¡°The Rockefeller Christmas tree is the biggest I¡¯ve ever seen,¡± Nadeshiko exclaimed, staring up at the magnificent tree decorated on top with a blazing Swarovski crystal star. ¡°Nee, Ryuuren-san, was it all right leaving Tanaka-san and Miara-chan like that?¡±
¡°Don¡¯t worry—they get along fine,¡± chuckled Ryuuren. ¡°They¡¯ve always been like that. One day, they¡¯ll probably show up and announce they¡¯re married.¡±
Nadeshiko giggled. ¡°Miara-chan always says she¡¯ll never get married—she said she has too much to do to bind herself down.¡±
¡°Don¡¯t worry—Keisuke says that he¡¯ll swallow his brushes whole if he ever marries a sarcastic, unfeminine girl like Miara,¡± replied Ryuuren. ¡°Well, should we go ice-skating in the Rockefeller rink?¡±
¡°I—I¡¯m awfully bad at skating,¡± Nadeshiko said as Ryuuren took her gloved hands and dragged her to rent skates.
Soon, she wobbled on the ice-skating rink, Ryuuren pulling her forward with both hands.
¡°Come on, it¡¯s not that bad,¡± Ryuuren said, laughing as Nadeshiko¡¯s knees trembled together. ¡°Here, I¡¯m letting go.¡±
¡°No, don¡¯t let go!¡± Nadeshiko protested. He released her and instantly, she fell flat on her face. ¡°Hoe-e.¡±
¡°Are you hurt?¡± Ryuuren swerved around her and pulled her up. ¡°I¡¯m sorry—I didn¡¯t know you¡¯d really fall. I thought you were graceful because you¡¯re a model—but I guess I was wrong.¡± She almost slipped again, and he braced her up. He started laughing—he couldn¡¯t help it.
¡°That¡¯s not nice,¡± she said.
¡°I didn¡¯t know you had no coordination whatsoever!¡± Ryuuren said in gasps. ¡°How in the world do you model?¡±
¡°It¡¯s everything that doesn¡¯t get capture on film,¡± she muttered.
And so, Christmas passed by, and somehow, another week passed by and it was the end of another year. Every waking moment of the day, Ryuuren and Nadeshiko spent with each other. When they exhausted visiting every corner of the city, they sat snowy nights in the hotel lounge talking, telling each other everything about their lives up till that point. Sometimes, Ryuuren would take her to the studio for recordings, and he would play her songs that he composed and sometimes classics or pop songs. On milder days, they would walk through Central Park together, hand in hand, feeding the ducks and gathering the snow into snow families. Once, they went to watch baseball at the Mets stadium, though neither knew much about sports, and other times they went sightseeing, eating pretzels and roasted chestnuts in the street. Each day was a joy, spent together from dawn to midnight, and some how, it became New Year¡¯s Eve. Ryuuren reserved a roof deck of a building overlooking Times Square for just the two of them, and they watched the tens of thousands of people gather below.
¡°So, another year¡¯s coming to an end,¡± murmured Ryuuren, slipping his hands into his coat pocket. ¡°I guess neither of us planned on staying in New York City through New Year¡¯s.¡±
¡°Right¡¦ I was supposed to leave last week,¡± murmured Nadeshiko.
¡°But I¡¯m glad I can spend this day with you, Nadeshiko. When I¡¯m with you, I seem to loose track of time, of everything else going on in the world.¡±
¡°I¡¯m leaving in two days back for Japan,¡± Nadeshiko said. ¡°We¡¯ll have to say good-bye then.¡±
¡°No—I will be playing for the Tokyo Philharmonic in the spring, after I finish the Europe tour. I¡¯ll make sure that I stay in Japan for a long time, and¡¦¡±
¡°But what about afterwards? Then what?¡±
¡°We¡¯ll figure something out.¡±
¡°No, Ryuuren. We can¡¯t do this to each other,¡± Nadeshiko said. ¡°I don¡¯t want you to sacrifice your career for me. I want you to play the violin. You need to make beautiful music and share it with the world.¡±
¡°I can play the violin and still be by you,¡± Ryuuren said. ¡°There must be a way.¡±
¡°How?¡± Nadeshiko asked.
¡°There could have been worse obstacles in our way. The Fates could have been against us, there could have been stringent family opposition, there could have been a hundred reasons that we could not be together. But this, physical distance, I can deal with. We can call each other, write each other. If I miss you, I can hop on the next flight to Japan and see you. Our hearts belong to each other. There¡¯s nothing stopping us from loving each other.¡±
¡°Nothing stopping us from loving each other,¡± Nadeshiko repeated. ¡°Ryuuren—I used to have strange dreams. Dreams about the future. Sometimes, I felt that each day for me is limited, that I will never grow old to see the gray in my hair, never see my children¡¯s children, never live long enough to have accomplished what others can in a lifetime. I know it¡¯s strange but that has always been my fear. But love¡¦ Can love overcome everything?¡±
¡°I don¡¯t know. You are healthy and young, and we are here, together. We will always be together from now on,¡± Ryuuren said. He slipped off the chain from his neck and slid off a ring that he always wore. Taking Nadeshiko¡¯s left hand, he gently slipped on the sapphire ring. It fit perfectly. Nadeshiko stared at her finger surprised. She could see a star reflected in the oval sapphire stone.
¡°What is this?¡± she asked.
¡°A star-sapphire. It¡¯s passed down generation after generation in my family—legend has it that some British nobleman gave it to one of my ancestors to propose to her,¡± Ryuuren replied.
¡°I can¡¯t take something like that!¡± Nadeshiko exclaimed.
¡°No, I want you to have it.¡±
¡°What does it mean?¡± she asked.
¡°Look—the fireworks are going off,¡± Ryuuren stated, taking Nadeshiko by the arm and pointing up.
The crowd from Times Square counted down to the New Year. ¡°TEN! NINE! EIGHT¡¦ SEVEN¡¦ SIX FIVE FOUR THREE TWO ONE! HAPPY NEW YEAR!¡±
¡°Happy New Year, Ryuuren-san,¡± Nadeshiko said smiling up at the man standing beside her. He clinked his champagne glass with hers.
¡°Happy New Year, Amamiya Nadeshiko¡¦¡± Ryuuren stared at Nadeshiko¡¯s enraptured face as she watched the fireworks.
¡°So pretty,¡± Nadeshiko exclaimed. ¡°I¡¯ve never seen such grand fireworks. Actually, my grandfather never let me even stay up until midnight on New Year¡¯s.¡±
¡°Will he be appalled to find you up at this time, watching fireworks on the rooftop in New York City with an almost stranger?¡±
¡°Perhaps.¡± Nadeshiko looked up at him. ¡°But you¡¯re the person I love. I would like to think that he would approve of the person I chose, whomever I chose.¡±
As the last firework faded into sparkles of dust and smoke in the black sky, Ryuuren turned to Nadeshiko, taking her hand. ¡°So, another new year has begun.¡±
¡°A new year for a new beginning,¡± said Nadeshiko softly, letting Ryuuren pull her up closer. His mouths closed in upon hers first softly, then more forcefully and desperately, as they seemed to realized that the spell of midnight, the momentary suspension of time, had broken and the clock was ticking again. ¡°Ryuuren—stop,¡± Nadeshiko said, pulling away.
¡°No, I don¡¯t want to let you go—there must be a way we can be together.¡± Ryuuren pulled her to him tightly, just like he had during the commercial shooting; but this time, the director¡¯s yelling cut would not pull her away from him. ¡°Nadeshiko, someday—it doesn¡¯t have to be now—will you marry me?¡±
Nadeshiko stared at the sapphire ring weighing down her fourth finger. Tears came to her eyes as she buried her head into Ryuuren¡¯s chest, muffling her answer. ¡°Yes, Ryuuren. Yes, I will marry you.¡±
¡°I didn¡¯t mean to make you cry,¡± Ryuuren said, awkwardly stroking her long hair.
¡°I¡¯m crying because I¡¯m happy,¡± Nadeshiko replied, reaching up and touching that beautiful face which she wanted to imprint in her memory forever, the way his dark brown hair fell into his deep blue eyes. ¡°I¡¯m so happy that I wish time can stop here right this moment.¡±
¡°Why, when we have a bright future waiting ahead of us? We will grow old together, have four, five children—¡°
¡°Yes, like the Von Trappe family—we¡¯ll teach all of them a different instrument and make our own orchestra,¡± said Ryuuren grinning.
¡°We¡¯ll always have each other. And love and cherish each other, forever and ever¡¦¡± Ryuuren trailed off for he felt his eyes blurring also. Were her tears contagious—despite all the emotion he put into his performances, somehow, he never thought his heart was capable of feeling them. ¡°And—¡°
¡°What¡¯s wrong, Ryuuren-san?¡± Nadeshiko looked up, burying her hand in his thick, chestnut brown hair, something she had wanted to do every since she had first met him.
¡°And¡¦¡± His voice was choked up. ¡°Don¡¯t let go of me, Nadeshiko. Just hold on to me, and we¡¯ll be all right. This moment, just for this moment, let me be with you like this—¡°
¡°But this dream must end now,¡± whispered Nadeshiko her eyes widening as she saw a vision of a tall man with glasses and a warm, kind smile. Beside him was a boy with black hair and a toddler with short, fluffy light brown hair and her eyes. And a woman with long violet hair and green eyes reached her hands out to her. That¡¯s me, she realized. Her attention turned back to the blue-eyed man standing in front of her. ¡°Because this is nothing but our wishful thinking, a fantasy within a fantasy. We can¡¯t be together.¡±
Ryuuren stared into her emerald eyes sorrowfully. Those forbidden words had been spoken. The dream really was over now. It was sweet and blissful while it lasted. ¡°I love you, Nadeshiko.¡± He bent over to kiss her one last time.
* * *
The brilliance of the fireworks in the sky, the sound of cheering voices and firecrackers and the deep thumping of hearts was still vivid in their minds when Li Ryuuren and Amamiya Nadeshiko found themselves facing each other on a table in the music room of Seijou Junior High again. They glanced at each other, blushed, then looked away.
¡°What is wrong with you two?¡± Mizuki Miara asked, walking into the room and slamming down a stack of papers. ¡°Your faces are red and you¡¯re just sitting there, doing nothing.¡±
¡°Miara-chan~ Do you need any help carrying the—¡° Tanaka Keisuke was cut off as Miara shoved her book bag into his outstretched hands.
¡°Finish my chemistry homework for me, senpai,¡± she said curtly.
¡°Yes, ma¡¯am.¡± Keisuke sighed.
¡°Aren¡¯t you ashamed, Keisuke-san?¡± Ryuuren asked, having recovered his voice. ¡°Getting pushed around by a fifteen year old?¡±
¡°I¡¯m used to it.¡± Keisuke sulked, taking his seat.
¡°So, why did you call us here, Mi-chan?¡± Nadeshiko asked.
¡°Well, I¡¯ve finished the manuscript for Star-Crossed,¡± Miara asserted, flipping back her long auburn braid. ¡°I declare, it¡¯s quite a masterpiece!¡±
Picking up the packet of typewritten papers on the table, Nadeshiko asked, ¡°Is this it?¡±
¡°Yup!¡± Miara grinned. ¡°Just wait—I¡¯ll be the greatest playwright since Shakespeare!¡±
¡°I thought your dream was to become a top reporter,¡± Nadeshiko remarked.
¡°I thought you wanted to become a novelist,¡± said Keisuke, simultaneously.
¡°Dream big, they say, and it will take you to great places,¡± replied Miara. ¡°I want to do so many things—I just need to tackle things step by step and go forward as long as fortune will take me.¡±
¡°Well, it¡¯s Christmas Eve, and we¡¯re here, still stuck in school,¡± Keisuke commented.
¡°Yes, why are you always here—don¡¯t you ever have classes at Seijou University?¡± Miara demanded.
¡°You told me to meet you here!¡± Keisuke replied indignantly.
¡±Why don¡¯t we go on a trip somewhere?¡± Nadeshiko exclaimed. ¡°Forget about the Dark Ones—let¡¯s just have fun for the winter holidays!¡±
¡°That¡¯s a good idea,¡± Miara exclaimed.
¡°After all, someone once told me, ¡®Christmas is a time for joy and celebration,¡¯¡± Ryuuren said.
¡°How about a ski trip—I can get us free passes to the lodge,¡± Keisuke said.
¡°Eww—I don¡¯t want to go on a trip with Kei-senpai!¡± Miara stated.
¡°Ah, so cold. Don¡¯t you know that Christmastime is a time for giving and generosity, Miara-chan?¡± Keisuke lamented.
¡°Ryuuren?¡± Nadeshiko turned to Ryuuren, who seemed strangely pensive.
¡°Hmm¡¦¡± Ryuuren looked at Nadeshiko.
Nadeshiko paused, pondering whether to ask or not. Ryuuren never raised his voice at her anymore. They didn¡¯t argue like they used to either—at least not with them losing their tempers at each other. Now, it was more like petty squabbles. Like an old couple. ¡°There is no way to seal the Fantasy, is there?¡±
¡°No¡¦ For someone like you who always has hope in her heart, you will never be able to seal the Fantasy,¡± replied Ryuuren, shutting his eyes, as if recalling something blissful. ¡°And where¡¯s the harm in a little bit of fantasizing?¡±
¡°True—so long as you¡¯re not caught up in it,¡± said Nadeshiko. The sweet, tender words echoed in her ears, Nadeshiko, someday—it doesn¡¯t have to be now—will you marry me? She stared at Ryuuren¡¯s bright blue eyes, blushing as she recalled the ardency behind those eyes as he had asked her that miraculous question. The star sapphire ring, Ryuuren¡¯s Christmas gift from last year, gleamed from her ring finger. Could it mean anything other than just a last-minute Christmas gift? Can I not dream that someday, not now, but somewhere in the near future¡¦ Can I not wish that my little fantasy can become reality?
Can I not hope?
Present time, New Year¡¯s Eve¡¦
Syaoran was in good spirits that day because he had just received a fat paycheck for this month working at La Seine, thanks to a generous holiday bonus. This was the first time he was earning a living for himself, and it was not a bad feeling to see that all the additional zeroes in the sum in his bank account was due to his own hard labor, not his mother¡¯s allowance. At this rate, maybe by next spring, he would have paid back his credit card bills to his mother and saved enough money to buy Sakura a nice birthday present. Whistling a little Christmas jingle, though it was past Christmas, he untied his apron and threw it into his locker. He had managed to pull on his brown slacks and shirt before the manager burst into the locker room.
¡°Li Syaoran-kun, where do you think you¡¯re going?¡± the manager barked.
¡°My shift ended,¡± Syaoran said, throwing his waiter uniform into his locker.
¡°Well, today¡¯s the busiest night of the year—the chef requested you as a sous-chef tonight,¡± the manager stated, scowling heavily.
¡°Find someone else. Besides, what kind of business stays open on New Year¡¯s Eve?¡± Syaoran demanded.
¡°La Seine¡¯s booked out for the Hoshi Corporation¡¯s season¡¯s end party—you knew this. Now get back in the kitchen!¡±
¡°I¡¯m sorry but I have a date,¡± replied Syaoran, throwing on his beige suede coat.
¡°A what?¡± The manager started blushing happily—he liked this sort of gossip. ¡°Li-kun, you never told me you have a girlfriend. Who is she? Oh wait—is she that cute girl with green eyes that came last time? You know, the one you baked that scrumptious cake for. Right, Kinomoto-kun¡¯s little sister!¡±
¡°Ah, well¡¦¡± Syaoran¡¯s ears turned red. ¡°She¡¯s not exactly my girlfriend. In fact, we¡¯re not really going on a date—her entire family¡¯s tagging along.¡±
¡°Oooh, Kinomoto-kun will break your neck if you ever hurt his precious little sister,¡± the manager said, nudging Syaoran knowingly.
¡°Exactly—the one thing he would like even less than me taking Sakura to the festival is standing her up,¡± Syaoran stated.
¡°Then you better go!¡± the manager exclaimed. ¡°Ah, Li-kun is more of a man than I thought he was—I always thought girls would be scared of you. How should I put it¡¦ Back in my school days, they would call you the unapproachable type.¡±
And here in my days, we will call you the ¡°Aki-type,¡± the guy who gossips more than girls, Syaoran thought. But he showed only utmost politeness when he stated, ¡°By the way, let the head chef know I have prepped all the vegetables—they¡¯re stacked in the refrigerator in labeled containers. All the meat has been chopped and seasoned, and I¡¯ve prepared the fish stock for the soup—it¡¯s boiling right now. The cake batter is also in the fridge, and the biscuits are cooling on the rack right now.¡±
¡±Why didn¡¯t you tell me this—that you¡¯ve finished all that already! Well, go along now. You can¡¯t keep Sakura-chan waiting.¡± The manager shoved his favorite waiter along. ¡°That¡¯s right, my boy—it¡¯s New Year¡¯s Eve so score big!¡±
¡°Score what big?¡± mumbled Syaoran, winding his green scarf around his neck several times before dashing out.
Hopping off at the bus stop, Syaoran glanced at his leaf-shaped watch. ¡°Shoot.¡± He ran all the way down the block, to the blue-gabled house. He pressed the door bell with trembling hands. Sakura¡¯s father opened the door, much to Syaoran¡¯s dismay.
¡°Good evening, Li-san. We heard you will be coming over. Why don¡¯t you come on in? Sakura-san is almost ready,¡± Kinomoto Fujitaka said, stretching out his arm to invite Syaoran in.
¡°G-good evening, Kinomoto-san,¡± Syaoran said, bowing down so low that he almost banged his head on the ground.
¡°Otou-san, who is it?¡± called out a familiar cranky male voice from indoors.
¡°Li-san is here!¡± Fujitaka answered.
¡°Li Syaoran,¡± replied Fujitaka.
¡°Who the heck is that?¡± Touya muttered, walking out towards the front door. ¡°You, Brat, what are you doing at my house? Don¡¯t you have shift at La Seine? I made sure with the chef that he would be needing you all night long.¡±
¡°I finished all the prep work—so I was let out early,¡± Syaoran said with forced pleasantness.
Yukito yawned, walking towards the front door. ¡°Li-kun, why don¡¯t you come on in? It¡¯s cold outside. Now, where was the vanilla pudding I was saving¡¦¡±
¡°No, the Brat can wait outside,¡± Touya said, arms folded, sulking because Yukito always took Syaoran¡¯s side. ¡°In fact, the Brat can return to where he came from.¡±
¡°Touya-san, be civil,¡± Fujitaka said warningly.
¡°Otou-san, this is a family event—why does he have to join us?¡± Touya protested.
¡°Tomoyo-chan¡¯s here too, and so am I,¡± Yukito mumbled as he wiped pudding off his lips. Now, where was the mochi he had been saving up for post-dessert? Winter always made him hungrier.
¡°You¡¯re both family,¡± Touya replied tartly. ¡°Well, Tomoyo is our cousin by blood, now that I think of it.¡±
¡°Did I hear my name?¡± Tomoyo walked down the stairs, decked in a brilliant violet kimono with pale pink sakura prints decorating the hems and skirt. A fur shawl was wrapped over her shoulders. ¡°Sakura-chan and I are ready!¡±
¡°You look beautiful, Tomoyo-san,¡± Fujitaka said, smiling at his niece. And now, his daughter walked down. His eyes crinkled to see Sakura looking more like her mother than ever today, suddenly so womanly and graceful in a deep pink kimono with a dark blue obi—he had seen that kimono before. ¡°And you too, Sakura-san.¡±
The two girls were followed by Tomoyo¡¯s mother. ¡°Look at these two—can you believe they fit into Nadeshiko¡¯s old kimonos?¡± Sonomi sighed happily. ¡°They look so grown up.¡±
¡°Humph, Tomoyo¡¯s fine, but don¡¯t trip on your geta, Kaijou,¡± Touya muttered, staring at his feet. When had his sister turned this pretty? He quickly turned to see the Brat¡¯s expression, then scowled.
¡°Syaoran! Were you waiting? I¡¯m sorry!¡± Sakura said, suddenly trying to run down the stairs, forgetting the restrained movement from the tight skirt of the kimono. She retained her balance as Sonomi caught her from behind.
¡°Humph¡¦ A little ogre trying to wear a kimono. Good luck with that,¡± Touya muttered.
¡°Stop it Touya—you know both Sakura and Tomoyo both lovely,¡± Yukito stated.
Sakura blushed at the compliment, while Syaoran scowled at his lost opportunity. ¡°It takes longer to wear a kimono that it looks—Tomoyo¡¯s mother tied the obi for us—I would never be able to do it on my own. ¡°Well?¡± Having walked all the way up to the front door, Sakura blinked at Syaoran, waiting for some reaction. Any reaction. She shifted uncomfortably, tugging at her sleeves.
¡°I like the pattern on your kimono,¡± Syaoran said woodenly. It was a brilliant pink silk with an assortment of paler pink and violet sakura blossoms and petals adorning the collar, sleeves and skirt.
¡°Oh? Thank you.¡± She looked crestfallen. ¡°Well, did you just come from work?¡±
¡°What work?¡± Syaoran blinked innocently.
¡°Oh, don¡¯t be silly. Onii-chan told me all about how you always hang out with Yukito-san now, since you have similar shifts at La Seine and at the hospital also, like you¡¯re Yukito-san¡¯s new best friend. That¡¯s why it¡¯s been so hard to see neither you nor him lately. Onii-chan said that Yukito-san specially recommended you to the manager. And I asked ¡®nii-chan if I could do it too, and he said the restaurant has no use for clumsy ogres like me.¡± Sakura pouted and walked on ahead out the door with her father. Syaoran glared at Touya, who stuck out his tongue back.
¡°Nice job,¡± muttered Kero-chan from Tomoyo¡¯s sleeve. He mimicked Syaoran. ¡°I like the pattern on your kimono.¡±
¡°What?¡± hissed Syaoran. ¡°Do you except me to walk out the door in one piece if I compliment her in front of her brother?¡±
¡°Excuses,¡± sputtered Kero-chan.
¡°Stupid stuffed animal,¡± returned Syaoran scowling. Great, Tomoyo was bringing Kero-chan along too. This had turned into another enormous expedition.
The entire town seemed to have gathered at the Tsukimine Shrine that evening and numerous faces in the crowds were familiar. Many women had donned kimonos and since it was a milder evening, children were found running about with candies and takayoki at hand.
Sakura and Tomoyo walked arm in arm into the lantern-lit festival grounds, followed by Syaoran and Fujitaka engaged in a deep conversation about pottery in the Qing dynasty, and Touya and Yukito, discussing whether cookies or cakes were tastier. When Sakura saw the different stands, one selling takayoki, another with sizzling hot yakisoba and yet more with games and contests, her eyes turned rounder and rounder in delight. Everybody chuckled as Sakura started to jump up and down in delight, not being able to decide if she wanted to get takayoki first or fish for goldfish with the net.
The first group they tumbled into was Eriol, Miho and Nakuru (and Suppi-chan in Miho¡¯s coat pocket). They had already gone through a round of all the different games, and Eriol was juggling all the stuffed dolls he had won for Miho. Shuffling behind them was Mizuki Kai, looking gloomy until he saw Sakura and Syaoran.
¡°Sakura-chan! You look adorable in a kimono!¡± Kai exclaimed, sweat-dropping to find Tomoyo videotaping them in rapture. In fact, Tomoyo¡¯s eyes had not left the camera lens since they had entered the shrine—to make up for the lack of taping during Christmas.
¡°What are you doing with Eriol-kun¡¯s crowd?¡± Sakura asked curiously. Kai seemed rather out of place in the festival with his sunglasses, fang earrings and long black coat.
¡°It happened like this,¡± Kai sighed. ¡°I was at the video arcade on Level 7 of Street Fighter, when I heard this annoying voice go, ¡®Eriol—get that rabbit doll for me from the machine.¡¯ And then that same annoying voice went, ¡®Mizuki-senpai, what are you doing here by yourself in the arcade on New Year¡¯s Eve? Come with us to the festival at Tsukimine Shrine.¡¯ And of course I refused. Then that annoying she-male (he pointed an accusing finger to Nakuru) took me by the arm and dragged me down the street until somehow I found myself here.¡±
¡°I see.¡± Sakura chuckled.
¡°Mizuki-senpai, I want you to get a goldfish for me—I don¡¯t want any goldfish—I want the one with the black and orange spots,¡± Miho stated. ¡°Today¡¯s been such a lucky day—We¡¯ve won something at every single stand!¡± The armful of stuffed animal Eriol was holding was evidence.
¡°Unlucky for me,¡± muttered Kai. He turned to Sakura and Tomoyo. ¡°Look at this coat—isn¡¯t it nice? Meilin-chan got it for me for Christmas!¡± Kai spun around in his black coat. ¡°It¡¯s soooo warm, the warmest thing I¡¯ve ever worn in my life.¡±
¡°Yes, we¡¯ve all seen it a million times over the past week,¡± muttered Syaoran, rolling his eyes.
Out of the corner of her eyes, Sakura saw Rika—she almost didn¡¯t recognize her friend, who as dressed in a deep maroon kimono with a simple geometric print, and her hair was pulled back from her face in a bun. She had never seen Rika look so mature and beautiful. Next to Rika was a tall man with a baseball cap pulled down low over his head and a navy blue jacket and jeans. It took Sakura a second to realize it was Terada-sensei—but nobody would even notice the two amidst all the couples at the Shrine.
¡°Terada-sensei, isn¡¯t it lucky that my parents are away on a business trip today, and I can spend today with you?¡± Rika asked. ¡°We¡¯ve never spent New Year¡¯s Eve together before.¡±
Tugging his cap up slightly, Terada Yoshiyuki grinned. ¡°We will truly be lucky if no on recognizes me like this.¡±
¡°You look like a student dressed like that,¡± Rika giggled. ¡°Nobody would recognize you as Terada-sensei, dressed in a blazer and tie all the time.¡± And indeed, Akagi Aki walked right past them without any sign of recognition. He was scowling deeply, following his older sister, who was wearing a black wig, and her boyfriend, Tamemura Asuma.
¡°Aki, go buy Asuma and me some juice,¡± Akagi Arima stated, waving a wad of yen at her younger brother.
¡°Humph, I¡¯m not your servant. I could be on a date with any girl in my class, not following around standing guard for you,¡± grumbled Aki, taking the money.
Turning to Asuma, Arima stated, ¡°What a stroke of good luck shooting got canceled for a week because of the snowstorm. Now I can spend the holidays with you, Asuma.¡±
¡°Are you sure it¡¯s all right going around like this—you might get recognized,¡± Asuma said.
¡°Nobody recognizes without all the makeup and hair,¡± Arima replied, patting her short black-haired wig. ¡°By the way, I can¡¯t believe you thought I was having an affair with my co-actor.¡±
¡±But all the tabloids—¡°
¡°You believe what the tabloids say?¡± Arima demanded.
¡°You¡¯re always with him and last time I called you at night, he picked up the phone—¡° Asuma shook his head. ¡°I¡¯m sorry. I should have trusted you. I do trust you, Arima. Forgive me for even doubting.¡±
¡°Good boy.¡± Arima patted her boyfriend on the head.
¡°Nee-chan, Asuma-aniki, here¡¯s the juice!¡± Aki said, bringing back three cups of juice. ¡°Guess what—I have a date for tomorrow! The cute juice stand girl goes to Eitoukou High—she said she saw me in the basketball game at their school and had a crush on me ever since. Good thing I bought juice from that stand!¡±
¡°Aww, my cute little brother actually has a date,¡± Arima said, slinging an arm around Aki¡¯s neck and ruffling Aki¡¯s carefully styled bleached hair.
¡°Arima, you need to stop treating your brother like he¡¯s five,¡± Asuma sighed.
¡°That¡¯s right, I deserve some dignity too,¡± Aki said, straightening his jacket collar.
Sakura, who was near by, giggled. Despite all of Aki¡¯s airs at school, he was utterly submissive under his sister¡¯s rule. She nodded her head to Asuma and Arima, careful not to draw any attention to them, knowing they probably wanted some privacy. Arima waved back, and Asuma winked at Syaoran, who turned red.
Next, Chiharu and Takashi walked down together, arm in arm. Chiharu was wearing a dark orange kimono with a yellow obi, and a pretty matching bag slung around her wrist. Clusters of orange flowers dangled from her pigtails.
¡°Chiharu-chan, did you try the takayoki—it¡¯s delicious,¡± Naoko said, holding up the stick with the three round octopus balls.
There was a whimper from Tomoyo¡¯s sleeves.
¡°Did you just say something?¡± asked Naoko to Tomoyo.
¡°Nope!¡± Tomoyo smiled, sliding a takayoki into her sleeve, which was instantly gobbled up by Kero-chan, who threw the empty stick on the ground.
¡°Guess what, I bought an omamori earlier, and I think it¡¯s really been effective. I recommend you buy one too—they sell it at the stand over there.¡± Naoko pointed to a stand selling all sorts of good luck talismans that warded one against illness and accidents. ¡°Afterwards, I won a lottery a while ago for an onsen trip in Hokkaido,¡± Naoko stated to Sakura. ¡°And it¡¯s the onsen that¡¯s said to be haunted—I always wanted to investigate it.¡±
¡°Seems like everybody¡¯s been lucky today,¡± remarked Chiharu. ¡°Takashi-kun and I went to the movies today, and the movie we wanted to see was sold out—but there a man who said that his date got canceled and just gave us the movie tickets. Then, when we entered the theater, they told us we were the one millionth guest, and gave us coupons for a lifetime of free popcorn and soda at the theater.¡±
¡°Befitting—you two were voted Best Teen Couple of Japan,¡± stated Naoko, giggling when Chiharu blushed.
¡°Speaking of luck, say, did you know that a kiss at the turn of the New Year guarantees eternal good fortune upon the couple?¡± Yamazaki Takashi said, once he gathered enough of an audience. ¡°The problem is you have the kiss exactly when the clock strikes 12 A.M., not a second sooner, or else the couple will be cursed for the next seven years.¡±
¡°Hoe-e¡¦ That sounds scary—I¡¯d rather not risk it,¡± said Sakura.
¡°Since we are on the topic of kisses, in Japan, it is normally a social taboo to kiss in public,¡± Eriol continued. ¡°Thus, in western-style weddings held in Japan, it is often customary for the groom to kiss the bride on the left cheek instead of the lips at the end of the ceremony. However, in the West, a kiss on the cheek is in the contrary merely a sign of greeting and can signify, ¡®let¡¯s just stay friends.¡¯ Hence, there is a lot of confusion when the average Japanese meets a European, because for Europeans, kissing on the cheeks is very natural and a friendly gesture, whereas in Japan, it is considered rude. Once, on New Year¡¯s Eve, an Italian man took his Japanese girlfriend to the festival, and on the stroke of midnight, tried to kiss her lips. But at the last moment, she turned her head it landed on her cheek.¡±
¡°So, what happened to the couple?¡± Miho asked. ¡°Did they receive good fortune?¡±
¡°Oh, yes, the man¡¯s business did extremely well, and the girlfriend also got into the university of her dreams and graduated with many honors. But they were doomed to remain friends forever,¡± Eriol concluded.
¡°That¡¯s too bad,¡± Miho said.
¡°Well, it depends on how you look at it. Wealth, fame, education, they received everything, and they remained in close touch all their lives. Whereas, if they were to marry, they might have not achieved everything they had desired to. It¡¯s a tradeoff.¡± Eriol smiled at Takashi, who nodded in approval at the nonsensical grand finale. Chiharu shook her head in disbelief at the gullible crowd.
A little distance off, the Chang twins walked into the Tsukimine Shrine.
¡°Ouch, I broke another nail—the second today. Why do we have to come to such a crowded place, noisy with little kids running about everywhere,¡± grumbled Erika, who was wearing an elegant black kimono with red and white flower designs. Her pile was twisted up and fastened by golden pins. There was a meowing and a black cat gazed at her with yellow eyes and crossed her path. She shuddered; she was not suspicious, but still, it left her feeling uneasy. ¡°What rotten luck I have today.¡±
¡°I thought you wanted to see the fireworks,¡± said Eron. ¡°It won¡¯t be anywhere near as grand as Times Square. But we so rarely get to go to festivals together. And it¡¯s your first chance to wear a kimono, too.¡±
¡°Now, tell me, where did you learn how to tie an obi?¡± Erika asked suspiciously.
¡°Don¡¯t you remember at the orphanage, one time, several of the trustee¡¯s wives came to teach the girls various Japanese etiquette lessons like tea ceremony, flower arrangement and how to wear a kimono,¡± replied Eron.
¡°It must have been when I was at the hospital.¡± Erika chuckled. ¡°Now, why did you end up learning how to wear a female kimono again?¡±
Eron blushed slightly. ¡°You know they always mistook me for a girl.¡± In the midst of the crowd of festival-goers, Sakura caught his eyes. He stumbled over a broken shoelace—it was the first time he had seen Sakura in a kimono, a brilliant print of pink and violet flowers. Beside her stood Li Syaoran, looking piqued as Touya kept peering over his shoulder. Eron scowled—if he were in Syaoran¡¯s position, he would not be dragging his feet around like that like some grumpy bulldog. But just my luck¡¦ I am not the one by her side right now, and never will be. But can I not hope also?
¡°I can¡¯t get over how cute Sakura-chan looks in a kimono,¡± Tomoyo squealed, delighted that her new videocamera in night mode still captured color and light perfectly. The rose-colored kimono truly suited Sakura so well, her waist accented by a dark blue obi. Her hair was pulled back into two buns on each side of her head, reminiscent of her elementary days hairstyle, and was fastened by flower ornaments with dangling tassels.
¡°She does look beautiful, doesn¡¯t she?¡± Syaoran said tenderly.
Tomoyo glanced at Syaoran and blushed happily—someone who appreciated Sakura¡¯s cuteness as much as her! But she couldn¡¯t help wondering why Syaoran¡¯s couldn¡¯t just tell Sakura she looked beautiful to her face. Oh well, she had captured that comment on videotape and would replay it later to Sakura. The group had dispersed as people found different stands that interested them. Touya had been dragged off by Yukito¡¯s enormous appetite. Sonomi had been ranting at Fujitaka until they bumped into a group of Sonomi¡¯s old classmates and Fujitaka¡¯s former high school students, all married with kids now.
¡°No way, Kinomoto-sensei. You¡¯re still single. Do you want to marry me?¡± asked one of his old female students.
¡°Hey!¡± cried out her former classmate and current husband, cradling a toddler in one arm and absentmindedly feeding his other child, a four-year-old, dango.
¡°Tomoyo-chan. Syaoran! Do you want to go to the stands on the other end of the shrine that we haven¡¯t seen yet?¡± Sakura exclaimed, running up to her friends after having run a full circle around the near vicinity.
¡°I actually wanted to talk to my mother for a second—I¡¯ll join you two in a while,¡± said Tomoyo, turning around and melting away into the crowds.
Sakura and Syaoran blinked at each other.
¡°Well, should we look around for a bit?¡± Syaoran asked. Alone at last. What stroke of belated luck. He frowned. Luck. It couldn¡¯t be¡¦ He recalled Takashi¡¯s words, a kiss at the turn of the New Year guarantees eternal good fortune upon the couple.
¡°You know, I¡¯ve been thinking about outo-san¡¯s story of the violinist and the cursed violin. What distinguishes good fortune from misfortune, I wonder,¡± Sakura commented. ¡°Is it the positive end result that is important, despite all the difficulties along the way to get to the point? Or does a truly lucky person get exempt from all such adversities?¡±
¡°Meaning, was the violinist truly cursed if in the end, he did return to the princess? Or was the ¡®curse¡¯ actually a blessing in disguise because it had led him to his love?¡± Syaoran said.
¡°That¡¯s right. That¡¯s exactly what I was trying to say.¡± Sakura marveled at Syaoran¡¯s ability to put in words what she was grappling to express. ¡°So, I had a funny dream the other night. It was about my mother and Ryuuren-san. But it wasn¡¯t like the timeslips that we sometimes have—it was just a dream, because it didn¡¯t make any sense. It was strange because I think the dream got mixed up with memories from our trip to New York City last year. Remember how we did the photo shoot at the Empire State Building? In my dream, my mother and Ryuuren-san were in New York; but Ryuuren-san was a professional violinist, and my mother was an international model. What a silly dream it was, completely unrealistic,¡± Sakura said, giggling. But it had been a sweet dream.
¡°Well, where¡¯s the harm in a little fantasizing?¡± murmured Syaoran softly, to himself.
¡°Did you say something?¡±
¡°Do you want to get some crepe?¡±
Thus, Sakura and Syaoran found themselves walked side by side, peeking at all the different stands, not realizing how time had passed until they realized people were gathering away from the stands and pushing to find a good location to see the fireworks.
¡°The fireworks will be going off!¡± Sakura exclaimed, shoved by the taller adults. ¡°Hoe-e! I¡¯m too short. I can¡¯t see.¡±
Syaoran took her by the hand and dragged her away from the worst of the crowd. Then, he lifted her up and put her on a ledge. ¡°Better?¡±
Sakura nodded, blushing.
The crowd was chanting now, ¡°Three. Two¡¦ One¡¦¡±
Simultaneously, the fireworks went off, but Sakura was oblivious, because at that split second, without warning, Syaoran bent over and kissed her lightly on the cheek, so lightly that he could have merely been whispering something in her ear.
He did whisper in her ear, ¡°Happy New Year,¡± though his voice was drowned by the roar of all the people in the streets shouting the same words with jubilance and exhilaration.
She stood on the little stone ledge in a daze, until Kero-chan suddenly flew out of nowhere, into her face.
¡°Sakura-chan!¡± Kero-chan exclaimed, tugging her by the bangs on each side of her head. ¡°Earth to it, Sakura-chan.¡±
¡°K-Kero-chan?¡± Sakura stammered. ¡°Hide—people might see you.¡±
¡°They¡¯re all watching the fireworks; they won¡¯t notice me,¡± Kero-chan stated. ¡°Hurry, it¡¯s a dark force.¡± He did manage to give Syaoran a nasty glare.
¡°So, that¡¯s what this strange aura was. Why didn¡¯t I notice before?¡± Sakura was alert again as she reached under her kimono and drew out the star key. ¡°Key that hides the power of the stars. Show your true self to me. I, Sakura, command you under contract. Release!¡±
A stately goddess-figure with four-leaf clovers woven into her long hair materialized in front of them. With narrowed eyes, she turned to Syaoran. ¡°To be sealed with a kiss of all clichés. You¡¯re an interesting boy. If you wanted good fortune for yourself, you wouldn¡¯t have been able to call upon me. But all your feelings were directed towards wishing good will for the little Card Mistress. Once in a century do I meet the likes of you.¡±
¡°The Fortune,¡± Syaoran murmured in awe. ¡°Didn¡¯t think that really would work.¡±
Now, the Fortune turning to Sakura. ¡°Card Mistress, I figure you think that if you seal me, I will be able to grant you eternal good luck?¡± Her voice was beautiful but low and terrible also, resembling the thundering of a waterfall. Like the Light and Dark, the Fates and the Riddle, it was one of the few forces with a voice.
¡°No, you may do as you please. And I will continue on with what I¡¯ve been doing up till now—fighting against dark forces with the help of my true friends, not relying on luck or fate or some divine construct,¡± said Sakura. ¡°The Fates also made it clear to me that they will be sealed for the time being, but I understand each of my Cards is under contract with me by its own free will.¡±
If the dark force could have smiled, it would have smiled. ¡°Likewise, it was my decision to leave the Dark Ones and find you. My sisters, the Fates, were right. You are an interesting pair, Star-Bearer and the Moon-Wielder. I will watch over you for the time being. Do not expect me to aid you in any way, for I follow the life-thread spun by the Fates, though sometimes I act upon my own whim too. I can be benevolent, and I can be equally cruel. But in the end, all my blessing cannot thwart one¡¯s destiny. So seal me now, before I change my mind.¡±
Sakura nodded, raising her staff. ¡°Spirit of the dark forces. I, Sakura, command you. Return to a new shape of contract! Sakura Card!¡± When she finished, she held up a pretty new card of Lady Luck holding the Wheel of Fortune. She turned and held it to Syaoran. ¡°It¡¯s yours.¡±
Shaking his head, Syaoran said, ¡°I don¡¯t want it.¡±
¡°How did you sense the Fortune?¡± asked Sakura. ¡°It definitely doesn¡¯t feel like the other dark forces.¡±
Shrugging, Syaoran replied, ¡°I guess I just had a lucky premonition.¡± He smiled crookedly. ¡°And we missed the fireworks.¡±
Sakura sighed, recalling the gentle touch on her cheeks at the stroke of midnight. It was only to seal a dark force, after all—to think she had momentarily felt all fluttery and weak-kneed.
¡°Very interesting,¡± remarked Eriol, who also had sensed a dark force and had been watching from behind the shrubs. ¡°They¡¯ve sealed the Nature¡¯s Trio. Father Time, Lady Fortune and the Fates. Something Clow Reed never even attempted to do.¡±
¡°Perfect!¡± exclaimed Tomoyo, who had captured the grand finale on camera. ¡°What luck it was to follow Eriol-kun—he always knows when all the excitement¡¯s happening.¡±
¡°W-where did you start filming from?¡± asked Sakura, turning red again upon recalling how the Fortune was sealed.
¡°From the beginning?¡± Tomoyo shrugged. ¡°Poor Kero-chan...¡±
¡°Why didn¡¯t Clow Reed seal the Fortune? It seems like a useful card,¡± Kero-chan asked Eriol. ¡°I mean, as far at difficulty of sealing, the Time is pretty difficult too, isn¡¯t it?
¡°Because Fate and Fortune are fickle and not dependable. You can¡¯t completely rely on either of them, and they can always change. Only Time is constant,¡± replied Eriol.
¡°True,¡± nodded Kero-chan gravely.
¡°Besides, Clow Reed was a notoriously unlucky man. Fortune would not stick with him even if he wanted it to,¡± Eriol said, the corners of his eyes crinkling.
¡°Ah, outo-san and onii-chan must be looking for me!¡± Sakura exclaimed. Sure enough, Touya and Yukito came running up to them, followed by Sonomi and Fujitaka, who had finally escaped from all the formalities of greeting Fujitaka¡¯s former students.
¡°Well, we should head home,¡± yawned Touya. ¡°Where in the world were you, kaijou? Yukito and I were saving you and Tomoyo a nice spot to see the fireworks.¡± He narrowed his eyes at Syaoran. ¡°Only you and Tomoyo.¡±
Sonomi scowled at Fujitaka. ¡°Well, Kinomoto-sensei, you¡¯ve had enough former students fawning over you to bloat your ego well enough for the entire year ahead. So, do you plan on telling us the end to your story of the violinist or not? You¡¯ve kept us in long enough suspense, and you have a ready audience here. You seem to enjoy the sound of your own voice, anyway.¡±
¡°That¡¯s right, outo-san, do tell everyone the rest of the story—it¡¯s no fun without the ending,¡± said Touya, who did know the rest of the story but wanted his father to tell it in its right form; no matter how much Yukito had badgered him to tell the ending, he had kept mum.
¡°Well, I guess I gave you all plenty to time to ruminate over the fate of our young violinist and the cursed violin,¡± Fujitaka stated. He seemed to have gathered an even larger audience than anticipated, since the fireworks watchers, on their way out, had gathered around out of curiosity. So Fujitaka was compelled to briefly recapitulate the story and then continued, ¡°Some say the violinist, after leaving the princess, was soon after driven to madness by the demon of the violin, taking his own life when he realized he could never match the sound of the violin with his own skills, following the fate of many before him. Meanwhile, the princess wasted away until all that was left was the echo of a sad song in the wind on a winter¡¯s night.¡± Fujitaka paused, staring at the grim faces of the audience. ¡°But this is the version I believe to be true. After he left, the violinist spent a thousand days reflecting upon his decision to leave the one person he loved even more than music. The songs he played were now all melancholy and sorrowful but more beautiful than they had ever been before. When he believed the Fates and Lady Fortune to have forsaken him, and agonized in desperate solitude, only with the passage of time did a glimmering knowledge sink into him. At first, he thought his soul was finally being consumed by the demon violin. But then, he realized that he was not losing his soul to the violin. It was something else—love. He had already left half his soul behind with the princess. Each of the thousand days, he learned a new song. And with each new song he learned, he learned it with the desire to return to the princess and play it to her. He realized that the violin was neither cursed nor magical at all. The beauty in his heart and mind produced the stellar sound. The kindness in his heart and the happiness he wished to spread to people was what had charmed people and made them so receptive to him. And of course, the princess had recognized the true beauty within a person who could produce such a lovely sound all along. The curse had not been that on the violin, but the shadow of doubt in his mind, the doubt in himself. And after a thousand days and nights had passed and a thousand songs wiser the violinist was, he returned to the princess who awaited him with a brilliant smile, for the man who returned was not the man who had left in fear and uncertainty, but a man with love and courage. Meanwhile, the mystical violin has long since gone missing, and though it lost any magical powers it may have held, it is said to bring great happiness to the violinist and its listeners.¡±
The spectators clapped as the story concluded and Sakura and Tomoyo sighed contentedly. Kai nodded knowingly. He turned to look at Miho¡¯s rapt face—she had always had a soft spot for fairytales.
¡°New Year¡¯s Eve at Times Square was grand,¡± remarked Miho. ¡°But this isn¡¯t bad either, back home, with family and friends, listening to good stories and eating delicious food. Ah, you weren¡¯t there, Mizuki-senpai, but that¡¯s when I first met Sakura and everyone.¡±
A new year had begun, and Kai found himself awake past midnight as usual, but this time standing next to his younger sister. She didn¡¯t know it, but the same time last year, he too had been in New York because he was stealing the sapphire ring from the artist Shing. And back then on New Year¡¯s Eve, in the midst of the bustling the million people gathered in Time Square to watch the fireworks, he too had been standing there. He had been standing there in the shadows with a black cap pulled over his head, under the same sky, watching the same fireworks, just an arms¡¯ reach away from his little sister. If he had been the violinist, would he have had the courage to return to the princess?
Tomoyo watched Sonomi¡¯s smirk in satisfaction at the happy conclusion to Sakura¡¯s father¡¯s story. She was glad that her mother had released most of her former grudges against Kinomoto Fujitaka, because it was nice to have family gatherings like this—for Sakura had always been like the sister she had never had. She held up her video camera again to capture one last footage of Sakura in a kimono.
¡°There is no sight as lovely as a girl in a kimono,¡± Eriol murmured in a low voice.
At first, Tomoyo thought Eriol was speaking of Sakura and was about to agree, but she realized he was looking at her. Tomoyo blushed, staring down at her feet. Was he talking in general or directing a compliment towards her? She still could not tell.
¡°Don¡¯t you ever film yourself?¡± asked Eriol.
¡°Noo¡¦¡± she said slowly. ¡°I don¡¯t feel comfortable being videotaped. I prefer to be the videotaper.¡±
¡°It¡¯s a pity to hide such a lovely face behind a camera all the time.¡± Eriol remarked. ¡°But I guess if you take away your hobbies, you wouldn¡¯t be Tomoyo-san. Just like, if you took away all the magical powers from Clow Reed, he wouldn¡¯t be Clow Reed.¡±
¡°I disagree. If you took away all the magical powers from Clow Reed, he may no longer be a magician, but he would still be an abnormally intelligent and insightful man, albeit a little cynical and sadistic. Just like if you took away the violin from the violinist, he would still be a musician who might express the music in his heart in a different form. If you took away my videocamera, my sewing machines and even Sakura-chan from me, I will still be Daidouji Tomoyo, waiting readily with a listening ear for a friend to come find me.¡±
¡°And blessed will the one who does come find you,¡± said Eriol, smilingly warmly at the youthful face which concealed a wisdom beyond years. Turning around to Syaoran, he added with a sinister chuckle, ¡°By the way, I think in order to seal the Fortune, you have just doomed yourself to eternal friendship with Sakura-san.¡±
¡°Eh?¡± Syaoran scowled.
¡°Did you forget already? A kiss on the cheek means ¡®let¡¯s stay friends forever.¡¯ ¡° Eriol laughed at Syaoran¡¯s appalled expression. My cute Little Wolf and dear Cherry Blossom, what will the new year hold for you?
Happy New Year 2008!!!
Wish-chan: Reflection at the end of 2007¡¦
Please enjoy the Sakura and Syaoran new colored Fanarts¡¦ The New Year¡¯s picture is actually one of my more favorite pieces—I had a lot of fun doing Sakura¡¯s kimono patterns. And enjoy the omake of Syaoran and Sakura at the Tsukimine festival—I¡¯m rather into drawing chibis these days, and I think it¡¯s rather cute, but won¡¯t make much sense without the story background. The hero of the omake is Kero-chan though¡¦ a backstory that is only known through the pictures. ^_^; As Tomoyo said, ¡°Poor Kero-chan.¡±
I mentioned some time ago that I¡¯ve written the winter chapters to have some time gaps in between so that I can later go back and fill them in if I want to. Those who have kept up with recent events shall also know that this is because Chapter 50 is sort of a pivotal chapter where things head towards the point of no return. Chapter 49 is the last of the good ol¡¯ days, so to speak, hence all the specials in between. I know, I¡¯m silly with the numbering. What the heck is 49.9? Lol¡¦ So, this is a ten page fluff special that somehow expanded to this massive chapter. It probably helps to have reread the Christmas special right before this, as the story begins with an alternate retelling of the Christmas party at Tomoyo¡¯s place and continues on a little later into the night than I included in Chapter 49.75. The structure of this chapter is sort of funny—like a story within a story—you know those Russian dolls where you open the big one up and find a smaller and smaller one till you get the baby doll in the center? Random analogy. ^^; Usually, I write a Ryuuren and Nadeshiko flashback to support the main story, but this time, the main story was actually the Ryuuren and Nadeshiko plot. I think the Fantasy is probably my favorite dark force (the Mirror is my favorite original.) It was nonsense, but it was fun writing Ryuuren and Nadeshiko¡¯s encounter within the Fantasy. The Fortune is an interesting dark force that sort of fits in with the New Year¡¯s theme. I did some research after I wrote this chapter on ¡°luck,¡± and have come to a whole new level of respect for Ohkawa Ageha-sama, script-writer of CLAMP. All that ¡°everything happens for a reason¡± emphasis seems to come from philosopher Carl Jung¡¯s theories of synchronicity. Yes, that¡¯s the title of the new Tsubasa Chronicle Tokyo Revelations Opening, so suddenly everything in my mind clicked. I¡¯m still trying to understand it all but you can find out in Wikipedia which says, ¡°Jung believed that many experiences perceived as coincidence were not merely due to chance but, instead, suggested the manifestation of parallel events or circumstances reflecting this governing dynamic.¡± Very, very interesting. I always knew CLAMP¡¯s ladies were smart, hence I¡¯m learning from their manga every day. (Lesson to those who think anime/manga are for kids: you can learn philosophy, history, psychology, etc. etc. from anime and manga!)
Anyhow, I sort of feel like I¡¯m taking my favorite songs and force-feeding down everyone¡¯s throat. I guess everyone¡¯s figured out by now how important music is to me and it is also an integral part of New Trials. I don¡¯t feel bad about incorporating so much music reference in NT because I like to think of this fanfiction as being a multimedia experience. Besides, the importance of music in CCS is canon for CLAMP—sometimes, I am like, ¡°why did I make Ryuuren and Syaoran play violin again?¡± And I remembered my explanation way in the earlier chapters— there is the illustration of Touya playing violin (my favorite picture of him), and that¡¯s how the whole back story of Nadeshiko playing the violin spun off from. Ah, it came full cycle to Sakura. When I read manga or read books, it always interests me what music the mangaka or author listened to when writing. Because music plays such an important role in setting the mood. I wonder how many thousands of hours of music I listened to while writing New Trials. I think one of the most interesting CLAMP interviews I read was when Ohkawa-sama was talking about what music she listened to while writing the script for Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles—supposedly she listens to Maaya Sakamoto and Chihiro Onitsuka—coincidentally two of my favorite Japanese female singers—their albums are always on cycle when I write New Trials. You know, there are those voices that are soothing to listening to while writing. I go through so many different phases in music¡¦ Broadway, Classical, anime OST, J-Rock, alternative (hurray to Greenday, Bonjovi, Lifehouse—omg I saw them live, up-close, and they played one of my favorite songs, Hanging By A Moment, acoustic version). Confession¡¦ I went to the Borders Harry Potter Grand Hallows Ball back in October (yes, I got a copy of Harry Potter Deathly Hallows at midnight with my best friend) and Lifehouse was performing—got pictures of Jason Wade, the vocalist. ^^; hotness. Coincidentally, I was first introduced to Lifehouse by a CCS AMV to Hanging By A Moment. There is something undeniably sexy about guys sing and playing the guitar. My one qualm is I get sick of songs so much—so please, I love song recommendations. Well, classics are classics because when all else fails, they are still relistenable over and over again. Through New Trials, I just want to spread some love for songs that are probably clichéd but that I believe are classics for me. ^^ For example, Pachelbel¡¯s Canon seems to have become annoyingly mainstream, played everywhere in recent days. But I think it holds sentimental value for me because a ballet piece we performed at summer camp when I was about around 8, was to the Canon. But I forgot what the song was called, and for years and years afterwards, I searched for it. You know that triumphant feeling when you hear a song and you can¡¯t rest till you find out the name and artist of the song? That was Canon for me.
So, I tried to include as many pretty Christmas songs as I could in this chapter. If you never heard Trans-Siberian Orchestra¡¯s Christmas Canon, you must here it right away on YouTube. I have a soft spot for boy¡¯s choirs, ie. Libera¡¯s Sanctus is another version of Pachelbel¡¯s Canon that is very pretty. Yes, I am obsessed with the song enough to have collected almost every version of it. Another song that was not originally a Christmas song is Greensleeves—I¡¯m pretty sure you all are familiar to the song ¡°What Child is This,¡± a pretty popular Christmas song. Yup, they¡¯re the same tune. And Ryuichi Sakamoto¡¯s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is one of the most hauntingly beautiful piano pieces ever. In this particular version on YouTube, I can almost imagine Nadeshiko playing the piano accompanied by Ryuuren on the violin. When it comes down to it, this is all just a desperate plea from someone who¡¯s run out of music to listen to when writing NT. I¡¯m open to recommendations at firstname.lastname@example.org. Enough rambling.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!
Best wishes to all New Trials readers for 2008.