Akai Ito (Romance)

It isn’t love at first sight, not even close.

All he knows is that when he bumps into her on his way to his seat inside the Heathrow Express towards Central London, his heart ceases to beat and something in his subconscious takes over and swallows him like a blackhole craving for a plethora of unexplainable desires. 

He recognizes her even though he doesn’t know who she is. It is a strange thing. A first. At least for him.

He sits beside her, thinking of a way to instigate a conversation between strangers. She seems… different. The quiet, cold type. The kind of person who ignores everyone around her. 

She’s different. He is different. Charisma has been the key to his numerous successful dealings, and here he is clueless on how he will go about approaching a stranger. 

It irritates him. He flies thousands of miles away from where he lives just to feel a semblance of normalcy. To be ordinary. To be no one. And here he is trying to ask for a stranger’s attention and he cannot even understand why.

Maybe she fascinates him.

He shakes his head and sighs loudly, trying to distract himself from his thoughts. It is better to stop the flow of his thoughts before they spiral into something resembling an exaggeration.

He will stay away. He should stay away. She isn’t any of his business.

“Excuse me. Are you… okay?”

He lifts his head up, not realizing that he has actually brought his head down to his table. 

He meets her eyes. She is looking straight at him, the unmistakable worry in her eyes softening the impact of her expressionless face. 

“Eh?”

There is a short pause punctuated by his loud exhale.

Then she smiles, more like grins, at what probably is a very stupid expression on his face.

Her smile turns into soft giggles, and then finally, into a full-blown laughter with embarrassing snorts. 

He is used to a life of being someone to everyone.

Suddenly, he wants to be someone to a stranger.

***

Stranger. 

She doesn’t feel like one anymore.

As they talk, there is that dawning realization that she is indeed familiar to him in a way that is unfathomable by logic. Her silent wit, her sarcastic humor, the silly little expressions she makes whenever he says something childish – he easily gets used to them and finds them charming.

Within fifteen minutes aboard the Heathrow Express, he feels like he is in love.

***

Love.

He often hears the word uttered superfluously by those who believe in the supposed magic brought by destiny.

He has never felt it. He is almost sure he will never feel it. He is not even aware of the process that causes so many hearts to break as much as it causes happiness.

Until that moment she hits him with her notebook because of a silly joke he makes. She laughs with abandon and curses him like a sailor. 

His heart swells, threatening to burst at the seams. His eyes meet hers and the fist-sized organ inside his chest explodes into tiny million butterflies. 

If this tender feeling inside his chest is what they call love, then maybe, just maybe, he is finally experiencing how it is to fall in love.

He suddenly wants to fly.

***

Fly.

To fly together. A silent agreement between two souls that are too proud to admit they are lonely.

They become travel companions. No words spoken. No persuasion uttered. There is just a simple incline of the head. A casual gesture of invitation to where the other says yes without a hint of hesitation. An unbridled trust built through an accidental soul connection and physical interaction. 

He reaches for her hand. She reaches back. Her hand is not soft, an indication that she knows hardwork, and that everything she has right now is achieved because of patience and persistence. 

Yet, it feels warm. He holds onto it tighter, never wanting to let go, his hand a total contrast against hers. She tightens her hold back, an amused smile playing on her face. 

And it feels just right.

With their fluffy pairs of intricate feathers intertwined, and their flighty feet soaring through the wind like a double pair of Mercury’s winged shoes, they explore London as strangers. Sudden acquaintances who do not even know each other’s names. Temporary friends who do not have a long history. 

Strangers who feel as if they have known each other for a long time.

It might sound absurd if he says it out loud, but being with her feels like he’s Ron Weasley to her Harry Potter.

***

Harry Potter.

She is a huge Harry Potter fan, probably even worse than him fanboying over his seniors in the industry… and he is already very bad. She knows absolutely everything about the series, maybe even the number of girls Draco Malfoy had slept with. 

Though he is quite sure she is making that up. 

He wakes up to loud knocks on his door, and even before he opens it, he knows who is on the other side – a very excited her. She could barely contain it last night, what more this morning when they are about to leave – he glances at the grandfather clock – in two hours. They plan on going to Leavesden studios today by taking the train at Brompton Square to Chinese Town, which is a 2-minute walk from their hotel – The Egerton House Hotel at Knightsbridge. It’s funny how they both chose the Victorian-inspired hotel for almost similar yet different reasons – he, for the lavishness and silence; she, for the silence and the aesthetic loudness.  

He pulls the door open and casually leans on the frame, his t-shirt-clad form staring intently at her from head to toe. 

She is unbelievable. And unbelievably cute, his traitorous mind adds. She is wearing those Slytherin robes complete with a hat. And she looks so darn cute he wants to put her inside his LV luggage and bring him back to his country.

And keep her forever, the annoying mind sneakily whispers.  

“Slytherin, huh? Really?” he asks, masking the adoration he feels at the sight of the 30+-year old lady with the youthful face and somewhat innocent heart. 

Said lady smirks at him before pushing her way inside his suite. If it’s another person, he would have frowned at the slight disrespect. But it is her, and he is nothing but amused. 

He watches her steal a bacon off his breakfast plate which has been delivered a while ago while pouring herself a cup of black coffee. He marvels at the bliss on her face as she takes the first sip, and he swears it’s a sight he will keep in his mind, and probably heart, forever.

She finally meets his eyes, a guilty smile on her face as she looks from the coffee pot to him and back to the coffee pot. He shakes his head, indicating it’s fine that she’s stealing his coffee again. 

A coffee thief, he can forgive. But what’s dreading him is far worse than that.

“Hey, come here before I really finish your coffee pot!” she calls. 

And then she laughs, the raw sound tingling against the walls is beginning to feel like a different kind of melody that speaks to the innermost part of his soul.

He inwardly groans. This is what he’s dreading. 

The girl with the weirdest antics and the most beautiful laugh seems to have just committed the biggest crime of her life.

She might have just stolen his heart.

***

A heart thief.

Leavesden Studios is not the happiest place on earth, but the twinkle in her eyes and the everlasting smile on her mouth tell him that it is indeed, for her. 

“Come on, take a photo of me,” she insists, bringing the foamy butterbeer to her lips and taking a sip. She laughs at the faux moustache on her face and he obligingly snaps a photo of her using his phone to make sure he has a copy. He witnessed the woman delete a lot of her photos, murderously muttering how ugly she was. He has never seen one ugly photo – just snaps of a woman who appreciates the simplest things life can offer. 

And she is beautiful in his eyes. Even in her dorkiest attires and quirky facial expressions.

“Hey, it’s your turn!” she says, pulling him out of his thoughts and towards her, forcefully handing him the butterbeer. 

You should learn how to say NO to her, he tells himself as he poses for the camera. He hands her his phone, but she tells him she’ll use her own.

His heart feels as if it’s suddenly running a marathon. 

Maybe, just maybe, she wants a copy of his photo too, which she can keep inside her soul. Just like him.

How can he say goodbye?

God, he doesn’t want to say goodbye.

***

Goodbye.

An inevitable farewell between two strangers who are only meant to meet, but are never destined to stay together.

He hates the thought. His mind conjures up images of him going back to his life and her going back to hers, sending tiny prickles to his usually stone-hard heart.

He watches her devour ice cream in the cold, crisp air, and realizes that she is so damn weird. 

But he loves it. Is he also weird?

He will stay until Christmas. 

***

Christmas

He promises her they will watch the Christmas Stars together at the Royal Observatory on Christmas eve. 

“It’s beautiful,” she silently gushes, her eyes on the million of stars projected in the ceiling. 

You’re beautiful, he finds himself thinking. But he doesn’t dare to utter the words that might turn this temporary companionship into something awkward. 

He doesn’t do this. He has never done this. And he’s scared that he almost did it. 

“I never wished on the stars, you know,” she suddenly says.

“Why?”

She finally looks at him. But even in the dark, her eyes shine brighter than the stars.

“I wish on the moon. Because there are so many stars. And I’m afraid, that if they all hear my wish at the same time, they will just think that one of the other stars will grant my wish. And if they all think like that, my wish will end up not granted.”

God, this woman has the most ridiculous thoughts that make sense. 

God, now I don’t make sense. 

“You’re amazing,” is all he allows himself to say. 

She smiles, leans in, and kisses him on the nose, before she turns her attention back to the distant galaxy where millions of wishes are hidden.

“I’m weird,” he hears her say. And it melts his heart again, causing him to wonder who will end up being a useless speck of dust in the universe after all of this. 

That night, he whispers his wish on all the stars.

Make her happy. All of you. I want her happy. Always.

***

Always. 

It isn’t as permanent as he thinks it is. 

He doesn’t want to leave. He hates to leave. He wants to stay with her. But he has his own life without her and she has her own without him. 

This is their reality.

He gets the call at midnight. He needs to come home immediately for work, his assistant accidentally messing up his schedule and causing an uproar. 

So he leaves her at the hotel suite he had decided to share with her a few days ago with just a casual goodbye, which sounds so wrong to his ears. 

She doesn’t flinch at the cold farewell. Instead she sends him off with a small smile that reveals nothing about what she truly feels.

He tries to shrug the heavy feeling that smile left him as he walks away from the hotel and gets into the van that will bring him to the airport. It stabs his soul with a harsh blade, but he refuses to deal with the wound.

Not yet.

He distracts himself, trying to think about work and nothing but work until the hotel van driver places his luggage on an airport cart and bids him farewell.

It doesn’t end there. The old driver pats him on the back and tells him that he should come back soon because there are more places to see. And that an old man like him is sad to see that the young man will not be able to spend the rest of the holidays with his girl.

His girl. 

“She is not my girl, Sir.” She is not his girl. 

The driver smiles at him. “Then why are you still here?” he asks before getting into the van and starting the engine.

Why is he here? 

“Son? I’m going now. I hope to see you soon.”.

He doesn’t think.

Much to the surprise of the old man, he easily hauls his luggage back inside the van and climbs into the passenger seat. 

“Young man?”

He shakes his head. “She’s weird.”

The driver nods and grins, but doesn’t say anything.

“Sir?” 

“Hmm?”

And he tells the old man. That she is weird. That she is still very much a child at heart. And that she is a coffee thief who loves stealing his cup in the mornings. 

“Sounds like a keeper,” the old man responds.

“Well, yes, but–” And he tells the driver. That they need to be fast. Because he had extended the dates of the suite for her, but he knew she’d leave after he’d left.

The old man has never driven that fast his entire life.

They couldn’t be late.

***

Late.

He almost doesn’t make it.

True enough, when he arrives, she is already at the lobby, her backpack slung over her shoulders, handing the keycard back to the receptionist. 

In fast strides, he snatches the keycard from her hand and pulls her to the elevator.

The surprise on her face is obvious, but she remains silent on the way up to their floor and does not even protest when he tightens his hold on her.

Upon entering the suite, he doesn’t let her go. Instead, he lets go of his luggage, pulls her closer, and stares at her.

“I’m selfish,” he says.

She doesn’t reply, but he never misses the quivering of her lips. She is trying hard not to cry. She is trying to appear unperturbed.

But she isn’t. She is as affected as him. This is driving both of them crazy.

So he makes a decision that he hopes will make it easier for her and him. 

He kisses her.

She kisses him back.

***

Kisses.

A physical, intimate manifestation of undefined intense feelings that keep growing with every touch. 

He kisses her. Madly. She kisses him back. Just as madly.

They never leave the hotel that day.

He calls his company and ends up extending for another week. He wants to bring her home. To see her home. So he can come back after he fixes things and fulfills his responsibilities.

But their story ends when he hands her her luggage. 

She ends it.

“Call me sentimental. Call this a pathetic version of Serendipity. But if we are fated to meet again, we will. Even without me giving you my contact details, we will be able to reach out to each other.”

Why? He wants to ask. But he cannot even open his mouth to speak what his heart wants to say. 

She smiles, as if she knows what is going on inside his mind.

“I am tired.”

Tired of what?

“I am tired of pushing fate to do my bidding,” she says, her tone growing distant by the second. “It’s fate’s turn to prove things to me. I hope to see you again soon.”

And she leaves him. Just like that.

She is so selfish.

***

Selfish.

He tries, but his heart doesn’t want to accept it. 

His friends start to notice the problem. 

And he tells them.

They ask her if he knows her name. No, he doesn’t know her name. They ask her if he has a photo of her. No, he doesn’t have a photo of her. He took her photos using her phone. He never even thought of taking one on his because he was just enjoying being with her.

“Then how can you find her?” One of them finally asks.

He doesn’t know. He doesn’t have too much trust in fate. Fate has destroyed a lot of hopes, some of them his. 

“I don’t know,” he finally voices it out. 

“Are you going back to London soon?” This time, it’s his best friend who asks. There is a certain look on his face that he cannot decipher.

“Autumn,” he answers nevertheless.

His best friend stares at him for a long time before he smiles and nods. “You do that, he says, before handing him his phone. He doesn’t even notice his best friend stealing it from him.

He needs to go back when the leaves fall. She sees life in death. Beginning after every ending. 

It’s the reason why she loves Fall. 

She loves to feel hope whenever it’s hopeless.

So he will go back on Fall.

***

Fall 

He impulsively books a flight with just the hope that maybe, just maybe, luck will be on his side.

“So you’re taking a chance, huh?” asks his best friend. He is the only one who knows he is leaving. He calls his best friend in the middle of the night, asking if he can drive him to the airport. His best friend hangs up, but is in front of his apartment building an hour later.

He nods. “Yes. I feel like for once in my life,I have to do the wrong thing.”

His best friend laughs. “Escaping work once in a while is not a bad thing – it’s for your sanity.”

“Thank you,” he sincerely says. “Will be back in two weeks. Don’t worry, I filed a leave. I seduced the secretary.”

His best friend laughs. “You bastard. Just go. Say hi to her for me, yeah?”

“If she will be there.”

“She probably will. It’s serendipity.” His best friend winks.

It’s serendipity.

***

Serendipity.

Things usually don’t happen by chance, but if fate picks subjects for its experiment, it means business.

It’s her, is the first thing his mind comes up with. 

Aboard the same train he took last year, fate starts to play.

And he and she, are once again, the stars.

It feels like love at first sight.

***

Love at first sight.

It isn’t. Not even close.

All he knows is that when he bumps into her on his way to his seat inside the Heathrow Express towards Central London, his heart ceases to beat and something in his subconscious takes over and swallows him like a blackhole craving for a plethora of unexplainable desires. 

The feeling is familiar.

He recognizes her because he now knows who she is. It is still a strange thing. At least for him. To feel this for someone whom he doesn’t really know well, at least not yet.

He quietly sits beside her, thinking of a way to instigate a conversation between not-so-strangers. 

She seems… different. Though still the quiet, cold type. The kind of person who still ignores everyone around her. 

He is also different now. But somehow still the same.  Because here he is, still clueless on how he will go about approaching a once stranger. 

It irritates him. He flies thousands of miles away from where he lives just to… see if he could find her. And now that she is here sitting in front of him again, he still doesn’t know what to do.

This is what she’s talking about. A fateful circumstance. Accidental fate. 

He wonders if she has ever forgiven herself for walking away just so she can prove something.

He shakes his head and sighs loudly, trying to distract himself from his thoughts. That was the past. She is here. That is not her fault. You should let her explain. It is better to stop the flow of his thoughts before they spiral into something resembling an exaggeration.

“Excuse me. Are you… okay?”

He lifts his head up, not realizing that he has actually brought his head down to his table. 

He meets her eyes. God, he misses those eyes. She is looking straight at him, the unmistakable worry in her eyes softening the impact of her expressionless face. 

“Eh?”

There is a short pause punctuated by his loud exhale.

Then she smiles, more like grins, at what probably is a very stupid expression on his face.

Her smile turns into soft giggles, and then finally, into a full-blown laughter with embarrassing snorts. 

“Hi,” she says after her laugh subsides.

“Hey, stranger,” he replies cheekily, returning her smile because that’s all he can do at the moment.

He will ask for an explanation later. He can even argue with her later.

But for now, he just wants to savor the feeling of meeting her again after a long time.

He is used to a life of being someone to everyone.

And now, with the way her eyes speak to him, he is pretty sure that he is finally someone to a stranger.

***

Akai Ito.

It turns out that serendipity does happen to those who are meant to be.

Due to the emotional trauma of hotels, they both booked apartments this time – and ended up booking rooms beside each other.

This time, they stay at hers.

“Why?” It’s all he asks.

“You’re different,” she responds. “Fate has done this to me several times before and I have always accepted them. But you are different. I didn’t want to take a chance. I… was afraid of accepting it and then losing you. I’d rather not have you at all than have you then lose you after some time. So I had to… make sure.”

“You were testing fate. You wanted it to prove something to you this time.”

“Yes.”

God, she’s stupid. “God, that’s stupid.”

She chuckles and buries herself further in his embrace. Her room has a window seat, and they’re snuggling while watching the stars. 

“Isn’t that what love is about?” she quietly asks.

He stills. Love? “Love? So… this is love to you?”

She doesn’t respond with words. She just bites his hand and closes her eyes. A few minutes later, she is asleep in his arms.

He listens to her even breathing. If she drools in his designer sweater, he will ask her to pay for it. 

With a yes to what he’s going to ask when she wakes up.

“God, I’m stupid,” he mumbles. And falls asleep.

He dreams of distant stars.

***

Stars.

Their story is written in the cosmos. He has no other explanations for it.

He doesn’t want to let go of this woman. Not anymore. 

He doesn’t go down on one knee – she will hate that. Instead, he puts the ring in her coffee cup and lets her deduce what’s happening after she drains it. 

He sees her freeze through his own cup of coffee, which he is too afraid to drink.

She scoops the silver ring and stares at it. 

“You’re stupid. This is sticky now,” she says, her voice soft but shaky.

Now he’s afraid. It’s too fast and she might say no, but he needs to try. He has to try.

“I love you,” he has to say the words before she questions his intentions. “I have loved you for months. And I don’t regret it. My only regret is that I didn’t have a chance to show it because you ran away from what could have been back then.”

She says his name. Because now, they’re not strangers.

“Yes?”

“I’ve… known you all my life. Or at least my soul has. I can’t, won’t say NO to something my soul has recognized even before my heart has even looked. I won’t be stupid twice.

This time, he freezes. 

And then he laughs. Because that shit is funny and she looks embarrassed. 

And then she cries. Because this woman is just weird. And he feels helpless because he can’t help but think how endearing it is.

He watches her spill her tears quietly as she continues to stare at the ring. He is afraid to move, or even disturb her flow of thoughts.

Finally, she stands up and goes to the bathroom. A few minutes later, she sits back down. He notices that the ring now shines brighter. She probably washed it and dried it.

She puts the ring on and finally smiles. “It looks nice on me. I’ll keep it.” 

Is that a–

“Is that a yes?” He needs to clarify.

She looks up at him. “Guess I have to keep you if I want to keep it?” 

Oh God, it is a yes.

He exhales. He refuses to jump up and down and twirl her in a circle because that’s not them. 

“You know it.”

She winks and pours herself another cup of coffee. She stares outside the window, a wistful smile on her face.

And he sees tears. His heart starts to melt.

He’s doomed. 

God, he’s so doomed.

End

Published by katrinasaba

Author, writer, dreamer

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