“Are you alright, Sou-chan?” I immediately ran to his side, helping him get up. As soon as I got him back on his feet, I flashed him my most brilliant smile.
I guess, I didn’t need to ask them if they liked it.
“What’s with the kimono, Misao?” Omasu asked me, a knowing smile present on her face.
“Nothing. I just decided that this is going to be a brand new day for me. Now if you people would get over this…” she emphasized by rolling her eyes “… I’m off to serve Aoshi-sama some tea.”
“Let’s tighten up that obi, okay?” Omasu slowly approached me with a smile full of pride. She truly is the sister I never had. As she ran her palm to straighten up my kimono, she whispered to my ear. “You’re so beautiful, Misao. Go get him, tiger!”
Walking with a two-inch geta is not as comfortable as it looked. It is so stiff and so…
I would have rather worn my onmitsu slippers but I have to don the full do. I had finally convinced myself to wear this kimono Kaoru gave me, the least I could do was to wear the footware that came with it.
Good thing Sou-chan accompanied me.
As I glanced on his foot, I grinned at him apologetically. I think I had done more damage to it than all his training combined.
But of course, I was exaggerating.
“I’m really sorry. I think I’ll get used to this by the end of the day. But you know what, you don’t have to hold on to my arm, it’s not as if I will fa—”
He grabbed both my shoulders to steady me as he smiled. “No problem, Misao-chan. It’s an honor to accompany you in this journey.”
I rolled my eyes, “And what a journey it really is! Truly an educating experience. Maybe I should have gotten a geta with shorter heals.” I whined aloud.
He looked really good when he laughed. So innocent. So boyish.
Who would have thought he was an assassin?
I glanced at him, smiling fondly, “You know, Sou-chan, I am so happy for you.”
“Why?” he smiled back.
“Because you seem so happy.”
“Just now. You laugh so sincerely.” If only I could tell him how much he warmed my heart that instant. He was so different from Aoshi-sama. Both had their hands stained with blood but both had decided to live their present differently.
“I guess, I am happy.” He suddenly spoke as if he had suddenly come to a revelation.
Why did he seemed surprised at that?
Should I be surprised as well? Should he brood like Aoshi-sama? How should a former mercenary live after all the killings?
Before I was able to ask him the questions filling my head, he spoke in a soft voice, “Thank you.”
“Huh?” Did I hear him correctly? Why?
Just when I was about to ask him everything I wanted to learn, he stated, releasing my arm, “We’re here.”
“Don’t worry,” I grinned. “I can walk by myself now.”
He nodded, taking his seat under the cherry tree.
Taking a deep breath, I stepped inside the temple. Here goes nothing.
I entered the temple with extra caution. I was having a hard time on my shoes as it was. I didn’t need my raging nerves to make things worse.
Relax, Misao. Smile.
Remember, from this day forward, you are a woman.
Act like one.
Slowly, I kneeled in front of Aoshi-sama, silently waiting for his reaction. “Good morning,” I greeted.
Aoshi-sama faced me and…
Not a single reaction.
I know I shouldn’t have expected anything from him. After all, he always hid his feelings well but I thought he would at least give credit to my efforts. I thought that…
…he’d at least comment on the change.
Here I was again with my wishful thinking.
Where had I gone wrong? Even Omasu checked my kimono before I came here. I couldn’t really understand. What else did I need to do?
Of course! Mere physical change was not enough! I had to prove to him that I was a woman inside and out. I didn’t need to be hasty.
Just one step at a time. Now, first things first.
I gave him a reverent bow, keeping my head on the floor as I said, “Aoshi-sama, I would like to say that I have given much thought to the incidents as of late. You are right. I need to grow-up. I’m sorry for the shame I caused. Rest assured that it will never happen again.”
Nothing was better than him scolding me, right?
I sighed. It was going to be another long morning. Why did it come to this? This used to be the best time of the day for me. A time when I could just be with my Aoshi-sama, content on just looking at him, keeping him company.
Although I was aware, painfully aware that during those times it was just me— just me, enjoying his company; just me, looking at him; just me, loving him— he was still able to give me peace.
Even if it was just me who valued our time together, I cherished it.
But now, even if I love him so much, I couldn’t help but think if this was all still worth it.
I didn’t even know if my actions are taking me a step forward or a step back. I didn’t even know how he saw me.
If he saw me at all.
If I stumbled in front of him right now, would he even notice?
What was I thinking? I already told myself that I was going to keep on loving this man no matter what. That he was going to love me just as I loved him. That everything was just a matter of time.
That’s right. In time, I would be his ideal woman— matured, soft-spoken and unexpressive.
Everything passed by so routinely. The session ended without even a single word from him.
As I stood up, I looked down at my tight kimono and high geta. I ran my fingers through my well-combed hair and I really couldn’t help but ask myself again.
Was this all really worth it?
I picked up the tray, walking as slowly as possible. I wouldn’t really want to trip and fall in front of him no matter how “tempting” it could be.
Did he just?
“Don’t walk using high platform heels if you are not used to them.”
I looked back at him, studying his face. Did he just showed that he cared for me or did he just imply that this doesn’t suit me?
I really loved Aoshi and I just wanted to take his comment as that spark of hope I needed. That it is a sign that he cared for me. Wasn’t this what I had been waiting for the whole morning? For him to finally notice me?
I wanted to be optimistic in everything that involves him but somehow… after everything that has happened… after all the put-downs I had endured… I couldn’t help but doubt.
I honestly did know how to take his comment so I just nodded my head, giving him a small smile. I never really understood how his mind worked.
And so the question remains…
Would this ever be worth it?
“What happened Misao?” I asked as I handed her a shori. [flat slippers] I had rushed back to the Aoiya to get it and now, I was rewarded with a hug.
“Thanks! My feet are killing me,” she grinned.
But I know that grin.
I sighed. “Misao, tell me what’s wrong.”
I looked at her disapprovingly when she gave me a cute pout. “Why do you always know what’s on my mind?”
“Because you are not that hard to read?” I chuckled. How could she miss such an obvious statement?
She even seemed surprised. Why? Didn’t everybody notice it when it is clearly written in her face? Pain was so hard to mask but why…
“You know what? You are the only one I can’t fool with my practiced smile.”
That’s impossible. A small frown from someone as lively as her would be… “What about Omasu?” I asked.
“I get away with it every now and then.” She shrugged carelessly as if it didn’t matter. But it does.
Just then, I realized, “It’s not in the smile, Misao.”
I never really looked at her lips. “Whenever I look into your eyes, I search for that sparkle. That same sparkle I see whenever I know you are truly alright. Without it… well…”
How should I say it? That she’s less beautiful without it? That was not what I meant. How should I say that the sparkle made her beautiful but without it she was… not ugly because she was still beautiful but…
So, I settled with, “…you can’t really practice that, can you?”
“Oh well, as long as it works on everybody else. I just don’t want to worry them, that’s all. I mean, I know I can sort everything out eventually. Even if I am hurt, it’s just me, it’ll pass. No need to involve others.”
“You are so fond of that phrase, Misao-chan.” I smiled knowingly.
“What? No need to involve others?”
“No, ‘it’s just me’.” I held her right arm with my left hand, searching her eyes. I held on to her gaze as I continued, “You know that isn’t true, right?”
She looked down in a futile attempt to hide her blush. She looked so cute with her cheeks all flushed up. Then, she stammered, “Where do you want to go today?”
“Let’s just walk around while you tell me what’s wrong.” At that, I slid my hand from her arm to her hand. I didn’t know why but I just wanted to hold her, to keep her near, to remind her that I was just there.
“Persistent fool,” she muttered under her breath but I knew she wasn’t mad.
If she was, then, she wouldn’t have laced her fingers with mine.
We stopped by the town plaza, sitting down on the stairs facing the fountain. We watched the flowing water, listening to its lulling sound as I massaged the back of her hand with my thumb.
Yes, we still hadn’t let go of our hands since we left the temple.
Just then, Misao broke the silence. I knew she would open up when she had already thought things through. “Sou,” she began. “I am having doubts.”
I gave her hand a soft squeeze to coax her to continue.
“I told myself that I would never change myself for Aoshi. That he would just have to wake up and love me as I am. But because I love him so much, I am willing to compromise. I said that I am going to do this,” she paused for a moment, straightening out the creases of her skirt with her palm. “If he would acknowledge my monumental effort even in the smallest yet unambiguous way, I am going to go through with this.”
“But…” Why was it that in this world, there is always a but?
“He did acknowledge it but I don’t know how to take it.”
“That’s good, Misao. Just don’t take it the wrong way.” I smiled at her sincerely, tucking her stray her on her ears.
“He didn’t even say that he liked it. I know. I feel so childish but Sou, for the past years of my life, I run to him. I even jumped off a cliff for him. I don’t ask much in return but for all the efforts I have given, he wouldn’t even look at me.”
I sighed deeply, feeling her pain.
“To make it worse, he does not even accept what I have to offer, which is everything. He still wants me to change. Sou, will this ever be worth it?”
“Come here.” I removed my left hand from hers, placing it on her left shoulder as I pulled her to a side embrace.
She rested her head on my right shoulder and sighed heavily.
“You are just stressed out, Misao. The past few days had been rough for you.”
“Now that’s an understatement.”
I slid my left hand from her shoulder to her waist as I placed my right hand on top of hers, playing with her fingers. “The reason why you are confused now is because of the emotional battering you had been going through. You are pulled in two different directions. Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Don’t dread it like a plague. Just think of it as an improvement.”
“What I fear about changing is when it isn’t me anymore.”
“Then, don’t change into something you don’t want to be. As long as you keep your true self at heart, it’ll always be you. Look at me. I, too, went through a drastic change in my life but that does me that this isn’t me anymore?”
She laughed at that. “Being a rurouni from a hitokiri is a drastic change, ne? Why are you such a know-it-all suddenly!?”
“At least my journey got me something other than a near death experience.”
We both laughed at that.
I glanced at her direction, smiling at the way that sparkle returned to her eyes.
When the laughter had died down, I continued, “Besides, I don’t think he wants to change all of you because if that is the case then it wouldn’t be you anymore. It defeats the purpose.”
“That’s exactly what I mean. It defeats the purpose of me wanting him to love me when it isn’t me anymore. Do I make sense?”
I nodded. “So what do you think you should do?”
“Well, I am going to try out this ‘womanly’ change for a short while. If doesn’t work, then, I’ll move on like I should. If it does work, we’ll see.”
I raised my eyebrows at that. “Why ‘we’ll see’? Isn’t that what you have been wanting all along?”
I was getting confused.
“I just have to make sure that he loves me. As in me. What do you think, Sou? Am I being too selfish on this?”
“There’s nothing selfish about wanting to be sure when you are going to give your everything.” I replied as understanding came to me.
Misao was such a complicated girl. But there was nothing wrong with it. I knew that she was just confused. Nevertheless, she was on the right path. Her pure heart had led her there. I just wanted her so much to be happy. To finally get what she wanted so that she wouldn’t frown anymore.
So that I wouldn’t see that sparkle gone from her eyes.
Suddenly, she spoke in a low voice, “You still haven’t answered my question.”
“Will this ever be worth it?” Misao repeated her previous query.
Smiling at her, I gave her the most obvious answer I could come up with. “Only you will able to answer it. You’ll know it when you feel it.”
Just then, she did something that disconcerted the foundation of my very being.
She kissed the back of my hand and smiled at me. “Thanks, Sou-chan. You always put things in perspective for me.”
For the first time, I felt my heart ache.
Not because of her pain.
It ached for her.
From this day, I would protect her happiness.
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