Chapter Two: I Wish

ASAHARA MARCHED ONWARD to the first class of her day like a wounded soldier. Her conversation with Azami was depressing and left her with lingering despair—and it was only a quarter till eight still! Much too early to be so upset, but Asahara felt as though she had no say in the matter.

What was said could not be unspoken and Azami had an inborn propensity to sharpen her words with acidic brusqueness. She excelled at brevity and wit, but she prided herself mostly on the accuracy of her words.

Azami's vocabulary surpassed Asahara's by light years. That was partly why Asahara felt like she would never win an argument with Azami. The Iemochi was just too damned good.

Many years ago, Asahara would conjure up silly notions of actually bursting into elegant and compelling prose that would defeat Azami's. But she had relinquished those hopes for reality. Why? —She wasn't sure of yet.

Asahara checked the boring round clock plastered to the equally colorless walls of Hall C. If she didn't pick up her pace, she would be late and to her teacher, who was terribly enthusiastic about algebra, to be tardy was to be condemned to after school detentions.

Her eyes were concentrated on the black and white checkered floor, which was by far the most visually-appealing piece of the hallways. She had just polished her black dress shoes the other day so that it would shine as a reflection from the artificial lights suspended in rectangles above her.

Matching shoes clamored and surrounded her own, a sea of uniformed students sprinting to their first period classes. Asahara stared down at her active feet, ensuring that she would not trip and make a fool of herself.

Azami's words still touched the deep inner pools of Asahara's memory. "He'll never notice you if you don't make the first move. Being meek never did anyone any good."

What made the thought worse was how right Azami was. He hadn't noticed her, hadn't really intentionally initiated a conversation with her because she never had the "backbone"—as Azami would say and had said—to talk to him.

She was too intimidated by the popular school basketball players who flocked to worship his feet and even more so, she was frightened away by the scores of vapid yet cute girls who complimented his hair (even if it hadn't changed at all), his expensive taste in clothing (nothing short of designer labels), his favorite type of music (he was a longtime fan of the band Mr. Children) and his guitar abilities (he could pluck maybe three or four bass chords).

Asahara knew these things because she had "studied" up on him. Azami, who had spoken to him on numerous occasions, wrangled information effortlessly from him and regurgitated it to her in her articulate manner. If it wasn't for Azami, Asahara would have known only his physical features and none of his preferences or interests.

But at the rate her relationship with him was traveling at, she would never know anything more than just that. A heavy sigh escaped her lips.

I wish—

The impact was instant.

By the time Asahara collided with the broad shoulders, she looked up only to see a flash of yellow sparks infused with green. She had slammed her face into the hard chest of some stranger; hard enough that the cartilage in her nose seemed to soften into pillows.

The force of the collision shoved Asahara onto the ground; she was positive she chipped the lower segment of her tailbone when she rammed into the tiled floor. Her natural instincts were to rub the sore spot, but she couldn't do that in the middle of a hallway with a stream of scuttling students.

The contents of her book bag spilled onto the floor, reluctant to stay hidden in the compartments they were designed for.

It took Asahara more than five seconds to register all that had occurred.

Ouch, that hurts! She winced and her eyes closed into narrow slits.

She wanted to apologize, but the moment that she parted her lips, the throbbing in her buttocks arose.

She couldn't help but to massage her bottom.

"Need some help?"

"No!" Asahara shrieked, but when her eyes rolled upwards to the hovering figure, she nearly collapsed again.

"I didn't mean with rubbing your body," he returned, but with no hint of anger from Asahara's thoughtless conclusion.

It was too much like a dream; was this actually happening? Had Asahara Takashi just stumbled into the chest of Haruko Yori, her secret crush of one whole year? When she finally submitted to the facts of her unfortunate predicament, her heart raced faster than an Olympic swimmer's in a rush of hot-blooded embarrassment.

Moving on his own, Haruko went ahead and picked up Asahara's materials, her textbooks, binders, and the small portion of immaculate pencils that managed to escape the confines of her book bag.

Asahara found herself frozen to the floor. She couldn't move. She had learned by now that she was prone to making the most fatal—as well as ill-fated—movements that a human being as clumsy as she was could make. That was saying a lot for her.

"Here's your stuff," he announced.

He's even better looking up close! Ohmygod, his eyes! He must be wearing contacts! There's no other way he'd have such gorgeous . . . hazel . . . eyes

Without even thinking about it, Asahara's hand examined her chin. Good. No drool.

"It must've been a hard fall," he went on, as if he didn't notice that Asahara had yet to say a word. "Sorry about that." He lent out his hand.

To Asahara, his long and lean arm seemed like a bridge to heaven. She wanted to touch his hand—she imagined how firm it would be from practicing with his band—but she had learned that temptation usually ended up being the quickest exit out of paradise.

Haruko leaned in closer. Maybe he was too far out of reach for Asahara. Asian girls did tend to be petite, after all.

It's your chance, you dummy! For some reason, Asahara imagined Azami's dignified and commanding voice encouraging her. Take his hand! Just do it!

Yeah! I will

Suddenly, it seemed as if a vastness of checkered tile floor separated him from her. She nonetheless began to move forward, towards his hand.

I can't believe this. I, Asahara Takashi, am about to touch Haruko Yori's hand! My life is complete; I could die now, for all that I care.

Their fingers were so close that to a distant observer, it would appear that they had already touched, but the moment lingered on in space.

I could stay this way forever . . .

The bell shrilled.

The students had vanished.

The hallways were empty, the classrooms full.

Asahara panicked and withdrew her hand. I'm late! Oh no! I'm lateShe somehow found the strength to move now. She snatched her materials back from Haruko, without even registering how physically close they had just been, and she stuffed them into her book bag in the most disorganized fashion she could have wrecked together.

"I'm—I'm . . . Sorry."

Asahara darted past the beautiful body of Haruko Yori. Her long, untainted jet black hair whipped her milky-white cheeks. Hot tears singed her fathomless and colorless eyes. She rubbed them with the sleeve of her uniform blazer.

Azami is right. I'm . . . I'm pathetic.