Favorite Halu+Aki Moments: 16 Vignettes from Pride
We Were Born to Love You…
(Favorite Halu+Aki Moments: 16 Vignettes from Pride)
by Ender’s Girl
[Related Post: Pride review]
I thought I’d go light on the commentary this time, and just allow these lovely scenes to do the talking. (Besides, it’s so much easier to describe things than analyze them. Higher-order thinking skills make me brain hurty!) To be honest, I don’t even know why I had to do a blow-by-blow when we can all easily look them up on file or on the streaming sites. Catharsis, I guess. (But I thought my review had already taken care of that… Damn you Halu damn you!) MOAR! catharsis, then! Heh.
There were supposed to be just ten scenes (a nice round number, yes?), but I didn’t have the heart to pare down my original list of sixteen. So, sixteen it is! Arranged in chronological order.
In celebration of the Season of Hearts. Enjoy!
Episode 1 – First Date, aka Some Enchanted Evening
Iconography: lollipop, skating rink, peas
Magical Moment: when he carries her on the ice!
She’s waiting at the bus stop. He pulls up in his gray pickup and sticks his head out, invites her to hop in. She hesitates at the passenger door — this whole thing is a misunderstanding, she begins awkwardly — but the impatient honks behind them give her no choice. And they’re off. On the road, she tries to make him see — that it was a friend who sent the reply, that she expected nothing of this sort when she gave him her number, that this is all a mistake. He blithely ignores her stammered explanations and very wisely switches tack. Proper introductions are in order, he says, something they never got to do at their first meeting. Sucking on a lollipop (oh, that lollipop), he notes the funny connection of their names, Spring and Autumn. The change of subject throws her off, and before she can return to the (pressing) matter at hand, he has shifted gears anew: He asks about a boyfriend, and she warily replies that she could either say that she has one or she doesn’t. If her prevarication is meant for him to take a hint, she is dead wrong. He is charmingly relentless, asking if this so-called boyfriend (who may or may not exist) would object if they dated. She thinks she parries his question well, but he is just too good at this, turning her own words against her.
He suggests that they see each other more often, and from his conversational tone they may as well be discussing the weather. “You’re beginning to like me,” he tells her, then as an afterthought: “Maybe… you’ll like me.” She stares at him for a moment, not used to such presumptuousness. She coolly points out his (unwarranted) self-confidence, but the honesty in his reply disconcerts her even more: “My supreme self-confidence probably shows you my lack of confidence, too.” So she backpedals — and this time, it is she who changes the subject, asking where he is taking her. “To a love hotel,” he deadpans. The stark look of terror on her face makes him smile. This should prove to be an interesting evening.
He takes her to a skating rink — of course. She can’t skate if her life depended on it — of course. Hanging on to the metal links on the perimeter of the rink, she calls him out: an ice rink is hardly neutral ground for a first date with a hockey player. He watches her protestations from the entry platform, amused by her discomfort. (Halu you bastard!) He needs to make up for missed practice time, he explains, which is why they’re here. This answer nettles her for some vague reason, making her retort that if practice was all he was after, then he could’ve come here by himself. He hops down into the rink and skates in little circles near her, watching her hug the green chains, her arms and legs at awkward angles. “I could’ve, but there are only couples here,” he says — a tacit reminder that in spite of his claims, this evening on the ice is, above all, a date. Slightly mollified, she asks if there might be someone else he could take to the rink — someone besides her. “They might or might not exist,” he answers nonchalantly before skating off. (LOL Halu you bastard!)
She slips and flails, landing squarely on her butt. He wheels around, sees her sprawled on the ice, chuckles in amusement. He skates back and effortlessly picks her up, ignoring her mortified sounds of protest. “Anyway, I can carry 60 kg when I’m training,” he “assures” her. (LOL Halu you bastard!) “I don’t weigh that much,” she shoots back. And suddenly they’re off, gliding on the ice, past the trees adorned with lights and the shadowy forms of skaters, the carnival rides glowing neon in the background. Safe in his arms, her embarrassment melts away into sheer delight. She can feel the winter air on her face mingling with his warm pants of exertion. His body radiates heat and she presses against him. His hands tighten under the small of her back, under her limbs. Their eyes meet. He can’t get enough of the loveliness of her smile and the wonder shining in her eyes. The truth is that she’s neither light nor heavy in his arms; her body is a good, reassuring weight, real and substantial. He could carry her all night. She wonders aloud if he does this kind of thing to everyone, and without batting an eyelash he answers, only to those under 60 kg. He was asking for it, and this time they both end up sprawled on the ice. They sit up gingerly, awkwardly, the romantic interlude’s afterglow quickly dissolving into the nippy air. He looks at her thoughtfully for a moment. Let’s dispense with the formal language, he says, and asks permission to call her by her given name. Permission (shyly) granted. The evening has been progressing rather well, he thinks.
Later, they have dinner at a charming Italian place. And my gawwwd he can’t stop staring at her. Uncharacteristically silent, he eats his pasta and takes sips from his drink — but his eyes remain locked on her face, watching her take unhurried bites of her food, watching her banish those infernal peas to the side of her plate. She attributes his staring to some kind of eye problem, not getting it at all, not reading him correctly. (LMAO!!! oh Akiiiii.) She asks him about it and he retreats behind the hockeyspeak, claiming his eyes are trained to be observant, to “forecast the moving defense.” He infers something about her eating habits that triggers The Minor Incident of the Peas. The looks on their faces are priceless as they stare each other down, seated across the table: she’s so cute trying to eat those peas, he’s so cute watching her discomfort. The Incident ends with her conceding defeat and spitting out those loathsome legumes. And all this time, his eyes are on her. Priceless.
He takes her home afterwards, the mood inside his pickup still pleasant but somewhat subdued. They say their polite goodnights, and he draws out the “A” in her name, relishing the way the sound plays around on his tongue. He makes her do the same, and she murmurs his name, discomfited by this new and startling intimacy between them. He drives off into the night with a small, self-satisfied smile, and she wonders whether she’ll ever see him again. The mad fluttering in her heart tells her that she will.
Episode 1 – House Call
Iconography: grated apples, her red blanket
Magical Moment: when he recharges his batteries on her couch!
The doorbell rings. It’s him, here to return the ID card she left at the rink. She lets him in reluctantly but he collapses on her doorstep, damp from the rain, weak with grief and burning up with fever. She doesn’t know that he just came from his coach’s funeral, but she can somehow sense his lowness of spirits. She doesn’t have the heart to make him leave, and lets him rest on her couch while she grates him apples in her tiny kitchen. Sipping his tea and wrapped in her thick red blanket, he feels better now, already liking this small but cozy place. Her place. He notices her boyfriend’s framed photograph on the display cabinet and casually brings it up. It mortifies her (naturally), but he reminds her that it isn’t something she has to hide. She retreats into her kitchen, resumes grating the apples. He apologizes for his curt dismissal of her earlier at the rink, but she quickly assures him that he was right, that it was she who had overstepped her bounds. For some reason he finds this amusing: “Just as I thought, you’re definitely a woman from the last century.”
The conversation switches fluidly from light banter to a more serious subject: why he is here, why he sought her out on this particular day. “When I get sick, and my body and spirit are weak… I don’t know why, but I can’t seem to think of any woman who has self-confidence, not even one that is pretty or has a nice body.” Even in his grief, he can still crack a joke. Their playful cut and thrust is comical, and his cheekiness only intensifies her pique. But the absentee boyfriend rears his spectral head once more, and the tone slides back into the serious: Your boyfriend will be back, he tells her, when he’s running on empty. There’s a wistful tinge to his words, as if he wished he had the exclusive right to recharge his batteries at her place — and not the boyfriend. And in the midst of her guardedness and skepticism, what he says touches her deeply. It gives her something to chew on, but she dares not read too much into it.
Then before she knows it, he’s burrowed deeper into her red blanket, drowsy from fatigue and the medication, and she cannot turn him away — not now, not like this. She isn’t used to having a man in her apartment, and his presence makes her nervous. She grabs another blanket from her bed but knocks over a few things, prompting a hilarious reaction from him: “Excuse me, it’s noisy.” (LMAO! oh Halu) She brings the extra blanket over and tucks him in, watching his still, breathing form, wondering if what he just told her was but a product of his delirium… or the simple truth spoken in an unguarded moment.
Episode 1 – Hello, Bridge
Iconography: the bridge
Magical Moment: when he kisses her eyelid!
The morning after his little sleepover, they take a stroll on a nearby footbridge. Her bridge. They engage in desultory talk: she mentions that her boyfriend is an architect who designed this structure they’re standing on; he thanks her for putting him up for the night. Their words peter out to silence as they lean against the guardrail, awkward, not knowing how to continue, but reluctant to say goodbye. Then — a strange proposal, from him. He prefaces this with a disclaimer: he’s too focused on hockey to seriously fall in love, and to him, dating and relationships are just a game. This casualness appalls her: “You’re the worst,” she tells him bluntly, still thinking herself above it all. He goes for the crux of the matter and suggests an open relationship, citing the many perks: “We don’t have to be serious about each other, or feel a sense of sin. It’s a temporary relationship, with no jealousy or strings attached.” His rationalization is… extremely persuasive. The game he’s proposing seems a little dicey, but as she mulls it over, there seems to be no harm in giving it a try, for are they both not coming into this as mature, consenting adults? But whether his idea was on the spur of the moment, or something he had been deliberating on for some time — she cannot say.
Negotiations heat up as they face each other across the bridge, the big red circular installation between them. What if he eventually falls for her? she presses him, adding that he can’t expect her to reciprocate or care for him should he ever get lonely. His quiet assertion unsettles her: “I have never felt loneliness before… not once.” He leans back against the guardrail in his somber dark suit and trench coat, his hair rumpled from sleep, but his eyes clear and his expression serious. And as she watches him, something pierces her heart. This moment is the clincher for her, and she hears herself agreeing to his proposition. He quickly closes the gap between them, eager to settle their contract, New York-style (whatever that means, lol). But he’s back to his usual cavalier, carefree self, back to the bons mots and “under 60 kg” running jokes. He tries to seal the deal with a kiss — but she instinctively fends him off. Highly amused, he grabs her obstructing hand, takes a deep breath, and zeroes in for the kill… but stops mid-flight when she flinches — again. (LOL!) A detour takes his (marauding, hihihi) lips to one closed eyelid, where they brush the translucent skin with the barest whisper of a touch, his mouth fitting perfectly in the hollow beneath her brow. Then the kiss is over and he straightens up, watching her reaction, but she can’t even look at him. He says the magic word, what is to become the single defining expression of their strange relationship: “Maybe.” The word makes her look up, just in time to see his quick smile — and he is gone, leaving her on the bridge with cheeks flushed, her right eyelid burning.
Episode 1 – The Iceman Finds a Muse
Iconography: hockey stick, C-patch on jersey
Magical Moment: when he shoots her that flying kiss!
A crucial game is underway; he comes in late but dressed in full gear, ready to make his peace with the new coach. Knowing his presence is vital to their victory, Coach Hyodo takes him back — to the visible relief of the other icemen, and the spectators as well. He adjusts his equipment and takes a swig from his water bottle, quickly scanning the crowds, his handsome face expectant, tense, uncertain. Then he spots her coming down the aisle, and their eyes meet. He gives a cocky little smile as if to say, I knew you’d come, then touches his hockey stick to his lips and shoots a kiss straight at her, over the crowds who have faded into oblivion, their cheers a vague buzzing in the background. Inside their gaze, the world stops — for a heartbeat, for an eternity. No words are needed; he knows why she is here. Waiting for her to arrive was the difficult part, and now his heart can rest easy.
He turns away and takes a moment to gather himself, to unlock that deadly mojo raring to break free. Head bowed and eyes closed, he takes slow, measured breaths, already visualizing the outcome of the game. Watching him from the stands, she can’t hold back anymore. Breathless, she calls out his name — and his eyes flash open. It was all he needed. For in his heart, in his mind, the game is already won, and he damn well knows it. (And in a way, so does she.) Their theme song comes to life, the lyrics — “I was born to love you” — belonging to them and only them. He skates out into the rink, his blades slicing the ice with the same calibrated precision with which he will later pass the puck, break through the enemy defense, score those winning goals. Out on the ice, he is invincible. He squares off with his opponent, his face flush with confidence, his whole body in battle mode. The song’s baseline thrums to life like a heart beating wildly, echoing the excitement of the game, of the crowds, of his Muse. The shot segues seamlessly into the end credits, bluish hues suffusing the entire screen. The theme song plays on, the perfect symphony of hockey and romance: robust, electrifying, indomitable as an Iceman’s heart.
Episode 2 – Aki, the Tooth Fairy
Iconography: his knocked-out molar
Magical Moment: when he says, “keep your eyes on me.”
He takes her home in his gray Toyota, parking in front of her apartment building. She’s still miffed about the “Mama” incident back at the Face Off bar, but he makes light of the situation, saying he didn’t wish to put her on the spot by introducing her as his girlfriend, given the casual setup of their relationship. He makes a few more quips about sexual abstinence, and she alights from the pickup in a huff. But he soon learns the underlying reason for her edginess that evening: The violent nature of hockey, as evinced in the game earlier in the day, has shocked her gentle sensibilities and triggered all these fears about his health and well-being. He offers her no relief, reacting with the quiet stoicism of a pro athlete: the body-slamming and bloodied noses are occupational hazards, and there’s nothing anyone can do about that. But he does have one request, he says, his tone turning serious. “I want you to watch me, if you can. Not turning your eyes away. Then I’ll become stronger.” She can sense his disappointment from the recent game, when she averted her gaze from a crucial (but particularly brutal) moment of play. And she realizes that what he truly wants is a girlfriend who’s there with him 100% — in the rink, on the ice, every second of the game.
He leaves her with a present (but not before alluding to the night he spent at her place, and suggesting he do so again, heh heh heh, and she coolly rebuffs him, heh heh heh). He drops a knocked-out molar into her palm: an object lesson about the inherent risks of his profession — as well as a reminder of his one request. But the single white tooth freaks her out, her soundless grimace of disgust so cute to look at. She tries to return it, her hand refusing to close over the offending denticle, this memento of its owner’s most recent battle. But he insists it’s hers now, casually adding that his soul is in it. He utters a few more cryptic comments before he gets back in his truck, smiles his cocky smile, and drives away. She’s left on the sidewalk clutching the molar, and only then does she realize that he’s just given her a piece of his heart.
Episode 3 – Sleigh Ride
Iconography: lollipop, Zamboni ice resurfacer
Magical Moment: when they soul-gaze!
She seeks him out in the now-empty arena, following a decisive (but emotionally exhausting) win for the team. She finds him sprawled atop the Zamboni parked in the darkened hallway leading to rink, and for now it’s just the two of them — and his lollipop. With Makoto back on the team, the Blue Scorpions are celebrating at their usual hangout, and she wonders why he isn’t joining the revelry. He attributes his self-imposed isolation to the ill feelings his teammates may still have against him. His tone is light and playful, but her heart melts for this man-child before her. She hoists herself up into the driver’s seat, almost at eye level with him. She uses the lost-boy announcement as a lead-in to her question: “Does Halu-san want to be alone tonight, too?” The honest answer–“No”–escapes his lips before he even realizes its significance.
They sit in awkward silence for a few beats. He suggests they head over to the Face Off bar — to safer, less vulnerable ground. And yet it is she who does not budge, but asks him to read her thoughts with those defense-forecasting eyes. The invitation is too irresistible: he inches closer and beckons her forward. She rests her chin on the steering wheel and looks straight into his eyes, willing him to see, to understand what she is still unable to say. And he cannot look away for the world. Finally he breaks the silence: “For just a little longer, you want it to be only the two of us?” He is right on the mark, but now it is her turn to feel unsure of how to respond, and she hedges a little. But it IS what she wants, it IS what he wants, and they both know it. This is the closest they’ve ever gotten to each other, physically and emotionally. Two self-conscious “maybes” uttered simultaneously break the spell of the soul-gaze, and they pull away with embarrassed half-laughs, the magic of the moment evanescing — for now.
But he knows this night holds far too much promise to be wasted on modesty. So he invites her for a drive, and she accepts — just like that. Like two giddy teenagers taking a borrowed car for a spin, they steer the clunky ice machine into the rink, under the soaring dome of the empty arena, and into their own private world of ice and infinite possibilities.
Episode 5 – On the Bridge: Halfway to Love
Iconography: the bridge, snow, chocolates in a box
Magical Moment: when he blows into her hands to keep them warm!
It is evening. They stand on the bridge in the chilly air, looking out on the bright lights of the ever-changing city. Like this bridge, their relationship is not a real, concrete place; it is not a destination, but rather a halfway point of sorts. The awareness of all these subtle — but incremental — changes their relationship has undergone seems to weigh on his mind more than on hers, and he broaches it first, this option to become more… seriously involved. But the future still seems bleak by his reckoning, and he matter-of-factly predicts what their biggest obstacle will be: “No matter how good we are together, your boyfriend will probably always be in your heart.” She remains noncommittal, and seems inclined to take the easy way out, which is to stay where they are in this open, non-exclusive, “halfway” relationship. She teases him about developing serious feelings for her, perhaps expecting him to laugh the absurd notion off. But his reaction comes as a mild shock to her. You may be right, he quietly admits. They stare at each other interminably, and his eyes tell her that this little disclosure is no joke, that it’s the closest he’s ever come to a full confession of love. Maybe he just needs a little more encouragement. The ball (or puck?) is in her court now, and she, who has played it safe all her life, is unable to respond, unable to match his honesty with her own.
And perhaps the heavens did take pity on her racing heart and jumbled-up emotions, for it suddenly starts to snow. They both look up, the ambivalence of their strange heart-to-heart temporarily forgotten. The camera pans out and captures the moment from above, showing the snowflakes swirling around the couple in beautiful slow motion. She brings out a small box of chocolates — a present, she says. His face lights up in a boyish smile of delight that makes her insides leap. They taste like our relationship, she tells him. A little bitter, a little sweet. They share the chocolates on the bridge, feeling the night grow deeper, the air chillier. He takes both her wrists and gently blows into her cupped hands, and the warmth from his breath blazes a path to her heart. The snow continues to drift and descend on their huddled forms, leaving tiny white crystals on their uncertain, overwhelmed faces.
Episode 6 – First Night
Iconography: the poor coffee pot
Magical Moment: when they kiss!!!
Romance-o-meter: OFF THE FREAKING CHARTS BABY
He brings her home to his pad. His place is sparely furnished but fairly neat. After his heartbreak earlier that day, he is back to his relaxed, teasing self. “I should have bought firecrackers; you’re the first girl to enter this apartment.” But she knows what his words imply, and this touches her deeply. He makes them coffee, hoping to draw her in from the foyer where she is still standing, clutching her handbag. “I’m scared all of a sudden,” she tells him. “I won’t do anything to you,” he answers wryly. He misunderstands, and she is quick to correct him. It’s about being a woman, is what she meant, knowing she will someday marry and have children… He looks up from spooning the grounds into the coffeemaker, wondering where this is going. What she’s worried about, she goes on, is that she won’t make a good mother. “I don’t think you have to worry about that,” he replies, fiddling with the coffee machine. He sits at the counter listening to her, his expression unreadable. She continues, “Especially being a mother to a boy. They’ll hold on to something this long.” She knows he’s still hurting from losing his mother for the second time, she knows about the fresh wounds over the old, forgotten scars. It’s not as bad as you think, he tells her evenly, there’s nothing wrong with me. He looks at her across the room, taking in her watchful eyes, misty with compassion, and knows she is not fooled.
“Have you ever complained to anyone? Have you ever talked to anyone about it?” He looks away from her question, fighting off the emotions that threaten to surge past his defenses. She knows it is now or never, her one chance to break through the wall. “I think that the Halu, who’s always working so hard and strong, is nice and cool. But you…” her voice breaks and she cannot go on, and yet she cannot stop, she has come this far. She walks over to him and tenderly covers his hand with hers, imagining what it must have been like for him as a six-year-old, and the picture breaks her heart. While other boys had their mothers to run to, he had no one. Her hand remains on his clenched fist, kneading away the pain. She draws him close with her other arm and he leans against her, feeling the soft touch of her fingers caressing his hair – soothing, maddening, hypnotic. Her words rip past the final barrier, laying his whole self bare for her to see. “If I was your mother, I would’ve always listened to you. And then I could’ve saved you from painful things. I’d never leave you.” The tears are falling freely from his burning eyes and he turns fully into the warm comfort of her bosom, his hand interlocked with hers.
Finally he speaks, his voice husky with emotion. “You’re really an amazing girl, it’s incredible.” He uses the word “akikeru,” meaning “amazed,” and she smiles at his pun. Seated on the barstool, he puts both arms around her waist and pulls her tight against him, breathing in the scent of her shampoo, of her perfume, of her body. He can feel her heart beating wildly through her sweater, and he wonders if she can feel his as well. He looks up and she sees the aching vulnerability in his eyes mingled with longing — and pure, unslakable need. Their faces are so near, and inch ever closer. It’s now or never. He kisses her — softly at first, taking his time, then with greater urgency and insistency, opening her lips, molding them against his. The blood rushes through his veins. He’s never wanted anyone this way before. Not like this. He crushes her against him, wanting more of her, wanting all that she can give, and as the kiss deepens his body makes a little involuntary shudder (ZOMG that shudder!!!). The coffeepot falls over and the grounds spill unheeded to the floor, forgotten for the rest of the night.
Everything about this scene is perfect. Everything: the beautiful, understated BGM, the matching neutral colors of their clothes, the scene composition and leveling (him seated on a stool, with her standing beside him), the emotional complementarity (one needs comfort, the other only too willing to give it), the words that are said, the spareness in direction and intimacy of the close-ups, the love and the loss infusing the heated space around them, the unabashed soul-gazing and passionate lip-locking, the bonding of two hearts beating as one.
Episode 6 – The Morning After
Iconography: his bed, her eyelid, the spilled coffee grounds
Magical Moment: when he says the magic word!!!
Romance-o-meter: OFF THE FREAKING CHARTS BABY
Daybreak. She wakes from a strange dream, in which they were game characters being jerked around the screen, mute and helpless to change the events around them. The camera slowly pans across his bedroom, lingering on the trappings of his arrested childhood: the lollipops in a jar, the hockey action figures, the quaint refrigerator magnets. There are other items as well, relics of the previous night: keys tossed carelessly on the counter, clothes strewn on the floor, the grapefruit in a crystal bowl, a pair of unused mugs, the metal canister still on its side, the spilled coffee grains in a little mound on the floor. Sunlight bathes the room through the open window slats, warming the morning air, warming their skin.
She speaks his name, her voice still heavy with sleep. He’s already awake, lying on his elbow, watching her languidly. She gropes for words, recounting the disjointed pieces of her dream. We were holding hands in the game, she says slowly — and feels him place his hand on hers. Skin on skin. His touch warms her and she continues: There was something you wanted to tell me, but the game was reset and the screen went blank. If the dream’s bizarre images portend darker things ahead, they both do not know it — yet. She hears him speak — There’s a simple answer, he says. What he wished to tell her in the dream could only have been one thing. She turns her head on the pillow, her eyes holding the question. They lie in bed facing each other, their bare bodies snug under the white sheets, their foreheads touching. He breathes her name, threading his fingers through her hair. “Aishiteru,” he whispers, gazing deeply into her eyes. I love you. He isn’t sure if it’s the sunlight that’s making her glow all of a sudden, or the effect of his words. Enveloped in the memories of their shared night, he smiles at her, and she smiles back. He moves closer, touches his lips to his favorite spot. Skin on skin. The camera pans out, framing the shot in light. Wrapped in his arms, she snuggles deeper with a contented sigh. Waking up has never felt this good. And the day is still early.
Episode 7 – Birthday Kiss
Iconography: the Polaroid snapshot
Magical Moment: the whole thing!
They bring a sloshed Yamato home. She stays behind to make sure their friend is all right, but urges him to rejoin his guests at his birthday bash. He leaves — albeit reluctantly, wishing she could be there with him to celebrate. He pauses by the door to put on his shoes. She follows him to Yamato’s foyer, saying his name. He turns and she’s leaning against the door, her eyes shining. “Happy Birthday,” she greets him shyly. He nods and gives a quick smile, pleased by this show of initiative. He remembers that she left something in his car, and asks if he can have it. He takes out his hanky and carefully unfolds it — it’s a photograph of her in a wedding dress, the one she tried on earlier that day, on a whim. Seeing it in his hand mortifies her, makes her regret that moment of frivolity she shared with her girlfriends. She makes a grab for the snapshot — My face there is funny, she gasps, her cheeks flaming. He answers by pulling her close and planting a kiss squarely on her lips. He draws back, satisfied. “It’s because my birthday is today,” he informs her with a grin. He opens the door and he is gone, leaving her giggling like a schoolgirl in love.
Episode 7 – Last Supper
Iconography: his kitchen counter, the orange lamp
Magical Moment: when she asks him to hold her tight.
Her boyfriend is back in town, and they both know it. But they try to go on with their relationship, as if doing couple-ish things like shopping for groceries and spending a quiet evening at his place could allay the growing, unspoken tension between them. She’s cooking him dinner and he watches from his perch at the counter. And although she’s never verbalized it, he can sense her distraction, her mounting disquiet. He knows her boyfriend’s return is affecting her more than he had hoped, and for some strange reason this terrifies him.
He breaks the silence, apologizing for having put her on the spot earlier at the grocery store, when he just had to ask her the one burning question on his mind: “You really loved your boyfriend, didn’t you?” The question itself scares him, for he knows he cannot win against someone who has been such a huge part of her life, of her past, someone whose memory has kept her waiting so patiently on that bridge. But the fact that she could not give him a straight answer at the store — this scares him even more.
Watching her in the kitchen, he tries to explain himself: “I just wanted to know what kind of person you liked, is all.” He goes around the counter, wanting to be nearer. “I was wondering how charismatic this person must be for you to wait for him. If I were in his shoes, I could never have the confidence to ask you to wait.” She looks up from chopping the vegetables. “You’re unusually honest today,” she says lightly. “That’s right,” he answers, his eyes serious. She stops what she’s doing with a heavy sigh. He moves closer to stand beside her, can sense the cracks in her composure, says — “I’m sorry, I upset you with some bad memories, didn’t I?” “It isn’t that,” she answers faintly. He watches her closely, taking in her tense shoulders, her trembling hands, the faraway look in her eyes.
He reaches for her and holds her close, murmuring apologies, stroking her hair. “Can you hold me tight… tighter,” she whispers. “Tell me you won’t give me up to anyone else.” She starts weeping quietly into his shoulder. The lamp glows orange in the background, illuminating the worry and foreboding clouding his eyes. He says nothing but hugs her tighter than ever, rubbing her back as if to reassure her of his presence, hoping to give whatever comfort he can. But as he listens to her muffled sobs, he can feel her slipping away, he can feel himself losing out to that accursed specter from her past.
Episode 7 – Goodbye, Bridge (Hello, BoyFiend)
Iconography: the bridge, the keys (in his pocket)
Magical Moment: WHAT MAGICAL MOMENT, IT’S A BREAKUP FOR PETE’S SAKE
Pain-o-meter: A VERY LARGE NUMBER
She reaches the bridge at ten minutes to noon, but the truth is she’d rather be anywhere else. But Natsukawa will be expecting her, despite her repeated attempts to tell the man that the relationship is long over, that she has no more reason to see him. She trudges up the footbridge; her booted feet feel like lead, but her heart feels even heavier. She pauses by the big geometric donut, gathering herself, rehearsing in her mind what to say to Natsukawa, and wondering how to make him understand what he refuses to hear: that it’s over between them, and that they ought to move on with their lives.
A rap on the red sculpture startles her. It’s him. Hello, he greets her cheerily, sticking his head from the other side of the installation. She wasn’t expecting him, and it shows on her expression. She turns away — she cannot face him now, not like this, not with Natsukawa arriving. He strolls over to where she is standing, trying to engage her in conversation. He leans against the red donut. I admire your tenacity, he says. “You really are a girl from the last century.” He hopes she can see where he is going with this, as he circles closer to what he really wants to say. She listens in silence, breathing erratically, her slim back to him. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter whether you wait for someone, or someone gets you to wait for him, right? If you had really wanted to see each other, he’d come to see you, or you’d go to see him, right?”
She turns to face him, tries to speak, but he cuts her off. Let’s put an end to this, he tells her bluntly. — Here, on the bridge, where we first signed our contract. There, it’s out, he’s said the words. He pats the pockets of his green flannel shirt. Right or left, he says, choose one. She stares at him uncomprehendingly, trying to read his face and wishing he were more straightforward, more unequivocal about his true intentions. “If you choose the correct side and get the pink ribbon, it’s the end of our game.” Game over. “It means that by losing to you, I may be serious.” She cannot speak, cannot make sense of it all. She expected this, she did not expect this. Her tongue feels thick and heavy, her hands clammy, her mind a mad, muddled mess of thoughts and emotions. If only he would just take her into his arms and hold her tight, never letting go. For her biggest fear is not that her boyfriend might try to win her back, but that the man she loves will refuse to fight for her. How can he not see that her heart has been his since Day One?
He’s watching her carefully, his eyes drinking in every shift in her expression, every flicker of her gaze, every tear clouding her vision. He speaks her name — a question. Things are not going as he planned. I’m sorry, he murmurs, wishing desperately he can make things right again, but not knowing how. He prays for a breakthrough, for her to come closer, to just reach into his pocket — either pocket — and fish out the key, the symbol of his love, so he can finally tell her how much she means to him. But she doesn’t come closer, she doesn’t reach in. Instead she covers her face with her hands, crying softly. But her eyes keep returning to a fixed point in the distance. He glances behind him and sees the boyfriend on the far end of the bridge. Everything clicks. He turns back to her, holding her gaze for a moment. He nods briefly and gives her a small, sad smile. Everything is understood, nothing is understood.
She walks past him, her shoulder brushing his arm. Her leaden feet keep moving, one in front of the other. He cannot bear to watch her go, and yet he cannot look away. She reaches the end of the bridge and stands before Natsukawa, leaving him alone on the bridge, his hands in his pockets, gripping the keys that he had tied with pink ribbons. He brings his hands out, staring at the open palms — empty, just like his heart. He can feel the wind on his hair and the sun in his eyes, and his lips twist in irony. The funny thing, he realizes, is that this is exactly how he had intended things to be. He got his wish after all. He walks away in the opposite direction, not once looking back. The screen fades to purple, then dissolves to black.
Episode 8 – Faded Pictures
Iconography: her Polaroid snapshot (on his refrigerator door)
Magical Moment: n/a
Pain-o-meter: A VERY LARGE NUMBER
He drives her home following the mini-concert that Tomo organized at the Face Off bar. This is the first time they’re together since she left him on the bridge. The air is thick with unanswered questions and other unspoken things. But he is mildly apologetic that she had to be dragged to that “crazy party.” The gimmick was more for the benefit of their friends — Yamato and Yuri, Tomo and Chika, even Makoto — than for anyone else, he says. Besides, he doesn’t believe in amicable exes, he flatly adds. Which is why this is the last time he’s taking her home. When he burns his bridges, he never looks back. She glances at him, her mind racing. She tries to get a word in, tries to make him see: “You’ve done nothing wrong. I’m the one who is at fault.” This does not seem to sit well with him, and he cuts her off, an edge to his voice. “Don’t apologize to me. Whatever you do, do not apologize to me.” They ride the rest of the way in silence.
They pull into the driveway of her apartment complex. He stops the car, looks at her. “Our relationship has ended as we promised, so it’s wrong if we get emotional.” The barriers are up again, and she finds herself on the outside looking in. But there are things that must be said, and she tries to tell him — that she waited outside his place that night, unaware he was doing the same. She has to get him to open up and talk to her, to lay all their cards on the table. “It’s good that we’ve broken up,” he says, brushing off her words. “It was worth it for you to wait for him for such a long time, Aki. Right? I really think it’s wonderful.” She cannot face him, cannot look upon this mask of pleasantness that he is wearing. Then the deathblow comes, couched in the most cordial of tones. “You were right in not picking me, then. Really.”
She bows her head, the weight of his words crushing her, but he keeps talking. All the relationship games he played in the past, he tells her, they’re all the same. “Like pictures in an album, all the same size. Passing through time, they’ve either faded or lost color. I know it’s horrible to hear this from me, but today I feel the same way because that’s the way I am.” But he says this more for his benefit than for hers, willing himself to believe the words that stream out of his mouth. “I’m not good at serious love at all,” he concludes. She tries one last time, refusing to back down so easily, but he doesn’t give her a chance. “Sayonara.” He looks straight into her eyes as he says the word: clipped, wounding, final. Sayonara. It is a dismissal, a rejection as much as a farewell. She stares at him in shock, but he takes no notice. “Then, just like we promised, we’ll smile and say, ‘bye-bye.’” He says this with a little wave of his hand and a brief, impersonal smile, and with these last words he wraps their aborted relationship in a neat little box, closes the lid and ties the ribbon in place, sealing their fate. One more love game, ready for disposal.
So this is goodbye, she tells herself. The air closes in and she feels drained of all words, all feeling, leaving her with nothing. He gets out of the car, goes to her side, holds the door wide open: it’s her cue to leave. But she cannot step out of the pickup, she is numb all over, numb and cold all of a sudden. One question lingers, one she knows she must ask although she dreads the answer: “Am I really the same size as the other girls you’ve played games with?” He leans against the side of his truck, his face impassive. “Yes,” he answers. “So, I’ll fade too?” she asks one last time, her voice low. He swallows, nods. “That’s right.”
It was all she needed to hear. Her fingers fumble at her seatbelt, undoing the buckle. She gets off the vehicle and walks away from him, almost looking back but catching herself in time. He’s leaning against his pickup, hands in his pockets, watching her walk up the steps to her apartment. He gets back in his car just as her door closes shut. He sits in silence, his eyes straying to the seat beside him. He thinks about what he just said to her, and his stomach clenches at the memory of her tear-filled eyes, of the heartbreak on her face and the betrayal in her voice. He thinks of the faded photographs, his trophies from all those disposable relationship games — games he has never lost. But his mind keeps going back to the one picture that will turn slightly red each year, during autumn, the season of leaves.
She’s sitting on the floor of her apartment, her head resting on the couch. A sigh escapes her lips. Maybe, she whispers, lost in thought. Maybe the tears will come tonight, when she starts to feel again. Maybe…
He’s back in his kitchen, staring at the bridal snapshot that has been given pride of place on his refrigerator door, held up by his #9 magnet. He walks over and takes the picture down, but he cannot throw it away, and so he slips it into the clutter on his counter, knowing he will miss it in the morning.
Episode 8 – The Secret of the Lamp
(Okay I cheated, so this isn’t technically a Halu-Aki moment. But she’s with him in spirit, ne? Hehe.)
Iconography: the orange lamp
Magical Moment: n/a
Pain-o-meter: A VERY LARGE NUMBER
The guy-bonding session at his place over, he gets ready for bed. Yamato has crashed his couch, soused to his eyeballs and dreaming fitfully of Yuri. He makes sure his friend is comfortable before he turns off the lights. Not bothering to change, he plops face-down on the bed, clutching his pillow. It’s been a long day, and his bones are aching. But sleep somehow eludes him, and as he turns his head restlessly on the pillow, his eyes are drawn to the orange lamp on the counter — though he still thinks of it as her lamp, the first and last birthday present she ever gave him. It is a funny-looking thing, the lamp, a bit on the kitschy side, the lampshade resembling a cross between a pumpkin and a peeled orange. It’s the only light still on in his apartment, and the orange glow seems to beckon to him strangely. He doesn’t know what prompts him to slide out of bed and pad over to the counter. His fingers detach the lampshade from its stand, exposing the incandescent bulb within. He bends down, peering closely at the bulb, and his eyes widen in recognition. “Maybe,” he breathes, turning the lamp around. There it is, written in large English letters, her pronoun-challenged birthday message — “Maybe, (I) love you.” Her own declaration of love, said in the only way she knew.
Regret and self-loathing hit him like a sledgehammer and he reels away from the lamp, coming to lean against the divider in his room, his eyes clenched, his hands gripping the metal frame. She loved him, and not Natsukawa. She loved him. The thought sears his heart. She tried to tell him many times, but he was too blind, too deaf, too proud to see. Regrets only, only regret. And there is nothing left to do. He switches off the lamp and gets back into bed, his body a dead weight on the mattress. He fluffs a pillow over his head, willing himself to leave the past behind, willing himself to sleep. But rest will not come easy tonight.
Episode 11 – Last Goodbye
Iconography: the vending machine
Magical Moment: when he yanks her!!!
He walks through the deserted hospital lobby, wrapped in his thoughts. Hockey season is over, and they are the champions. The exhilaration of the day’s victory has not yet lost its luster despite the mild concussion he sustained in the rink. He has every reason to celebrate, he tells himself. And his victory is made even sweeter by his impending endorsement to the NHL draft — just as Coach Hyodo promised. It will be another long and grueling climb to the top, but he has always lived for the next challenge. There is some sadness mixed in with the jubilation, but he knows his teammates are in good hands. He leans against the chairs in the waiting area, fingering his plane ticket. It will just take him a week or two to pack and leave his affairs in order. Then — Canada and the NHL, half a world away. “I did it,” he says aloud, breathing in deeply. But despite this being what he wants, he feels strangely reluctant to leave. The hospital doors slide open, and now he knows why.
She slows down as she sees him, stopping in the middle of the empty lobby. He stares at her, not expecting this. The Air Canada ticket goes back into his pocket unseen. He walks out to meet her, smiling his usual friendly smile. “Could you lend me some money?” he asks, indicating the vending machine nearby. “My throat is really dry.” Starting conversations this obliquely has always been his style. She digs into her purse and fishes out some spare change, watching him closely as he selects the drinks from the machine. He seems unhurt despite his nasty spill on the ice earlier that day. That is all she came here for, to make sure that he is okay. He walks back with their canned drinks, opens them, offers her one. “Cheers,” he says. “Congratulations on our victory.” Our victory — the tacit admission that he could never have done it without her. The knowledge warms her. At least she’ll have this, when he’s gone.
He takes a sip of his beverage, his eyes flickering to her face. He goes to one of the plastic seats and she follows him after a few moments, unsure of herself. There is no reason for her to stay. “Take care,” she says, mustering a brave smile. She will never see him again, she thinks dully. He looks up at her and gives a little nod. It is all over, then. It’s better this way, he thinks, with him leaving the country and her marrying Natsukawa. Quick, clean, and relatively painless. It’s the perfect ending, he tells himself, both of them getting what they wanted the most. He stands up and walks over to her, holds his hand out wordlessly. She takes it, feels his palm against hers, skin on skin. They stand that way for a few heartbeats, not speaking, not moving. Then suddenly — with a flick of the wrist he yanks her closer — but not close enough — his fingers imprisoning hers. He’s breathing deeply, his face flush with emotion, and it makes her heart stop. There’s so much he wants to tell her — but he isn’t sure if she’ll listen, not after all that’s happened.
His face changes almost imperceptibly and he looks down, releasing her. He raises his can in salute, gives one last smile and walks away from the darkened lobby, the drink bitter in his mouth. So this is what goodbye tastes like.
Episode 11 – Face-Off… and Fireworks
Iconography: skates, hockey stick, giant Ferris wheel, fireworks
Magical Moment: when they kiss!
Office hours are over. She takes her blue tote bag to the ice rink, as she has done for the last three winter seasons. She’s a creature of habit, and this new routine has replaced the old. She knows that he’s back in the country, a celebrity in the hockey world and a household name in Japan. She knows all about his exploits with the Vancouver Canucks from the local media, which has obsessively followed his meteoric rise in the NHL. He has not tried to contact her since his return — nor does she expect him to. Today is just another day, and as she crosses the bridge en route to the rink, she does not stop at her usual spot. These days, a bridge is just a bridge.
She reaches the rink. There are other skaters out tonight — mostly couples, though she is perfectly comfortable by herself. She glides on the ice with practiced ease, her arms swaying effortlessly, her yellow trench coat keeping her warm. The place brings back memories, makes her smile a little wistfully. No matter, she tells herself. She has moved on, as all people learn to do. Fireworks explode over the nearby amusement park and she stops to stare, enthralled by the display. A minute passes before she realizes that all the other skaters are gone, leaving her in an empty rink. Very strange, indeed.
Then from nowhere a hockey puck skids towards her, deflecting off the blade of her skate. She looks around for the person who must have accidentally sent the disc in her direction. A lone skater emerges from the shadows on the far side of the rink, making straight for her. As he gets closer, she can see his face. It’s him. He’s wearing jeans and a sweater, and carrying his hockey stick. He brakes right in front of her, his blades shaving the ice. It’s him, it’s really him. He seems… different, and yet he is the same. “You’ve improved a lot,” he tells her, his voice warm. He watches her closely, resting his chin on his stick — an achingly familiar gesture to her. At first she cannot answer back, she does not have the words. Then she blurts out, unthinking, “Because NHL is my target.” He smiles, and the easy banter is back, as if they were never apart. They stand on the ice, facing each other. But her smile is tinged with sadness, for she knows it will be over soon. It was good bumping into you by chance, she tells him. The fact that he is here at all — that she can see him and chat for a few precious minutes — that should be enough for her.
“By chance?” he says, grinning. He taps the ice with his stick and the Blue Scorpions come out skating in perfect formation, the team in full force — plus Chika and Yuri and the lady manager. From their eager, knowing faces, she realizes that this is no chance meeting. She glances at him wonderingly. The exclusive use of the rink and the pyrotechnics are care of Tomo, he explains — and more fireworks burst in the sky above them, illuminating all their faces. But his agenda is far from over. He pulls out her old Polaroid snapshot from inside his jacket. “I carry this with me everywhere I go,” he tells her. “It has a funny face; that interviewer liked it.” She listens mutely, but her heart is full. He goes on: “You know the song ‘Four Seasons’? The person whom Autumn [Aki] loves is a mature person.” The wordplay is second nature to him, yet he hopes he got the message across. I am now worthy of your love, is what he’s telling her.
He takes a deep breath. It’s now or never. “I’ll be returning next week,” he says. To Canada. To the NHL. “Would you come with me?” Her breath catches and she stares at him, disbelieving the words just spoken. But his face is dead serious. “It’s troublesome for me to return here for… re-charging.” Then, the clincher — “I found out something. Even if I looked through the entire world, there couldn’t be another girl who is suitable for me…” He pauses, bends down, looks her in the eye. “… Except you.” He straightens up, watching her intently. But she has one misgiving left, one unspoken fear, the final bolt that needs undoing. “What you just said… do you say it to anyone?” Her eyes search his face but find no guile, no irony — only the simple truth. He swears on his pride: “You are the only one for me.” It is enough for her. And now she cannot stop smiling. “All right then,” she says lightly, thus sealing her fate, her future. — And as an afterthought, “Maybe?” But he shakes his head, smiling back at her, his eyes bright. “Must be,” he says firmly, settling the matter, gliding forward to take her in his arms. He kisses her deeply, and the Ferris wheel in the background lights up in vivid hues of green and blue. She puts her arms around his waist and kisses him back, and the night sky explodes with light and sound and color, echoing the fireworks in their own beating hearts.
Later — They face off in a mock game, crouched on the ice, game faces on. He gives her a rakish wink, his eyes locked on her face as hers are riveted to his. This is how it will be for the rest of their lives, fully engaged, equal before each other, and playing this game of love again and again, one that they both can only win.
Photo credits: anime.nickestre.com, asianfanatics.com, bbs.btpig.com, cdn3.ioffer.com, dramastyle.com, gakuranman.com, ginger001.livejournal.com, instantz.net, jdramazone.com, j-fan.com, redgeofsanity.wordpress.com, spikiegirl.livejournal.com, wisemouseboy.com, yoake.wordpress.com, yuukie085.livejournal.com (for the gif of The Kiss), and special thanks to Tu_triky of jdorama.com for the wrap-up party gif.