Notes and Disclaimers: The characters of Sakaki-san and Kaori are sole property of Azuma Kiyohiko, Dengeki Daioh, Media Works, J.C Staff and who knows how many other corporate entities.
If you aren't familiar with Azumanga Daioh, this story won't make any sense, but feel free to read it anyway. It's a bittersweet coda to one of the many funny situation setups in AD.
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It was one of those days, Kaori thought, that your thoughts just naturally turn to the past. She lifted her face to catch the chill, wet breeze of the oncoming rain, watching as fallen leaves scraped across the sidewalk. She watched in fascination as two leaves were caught in an eddy of wind, circling each other, until a gust separated them and they continued on their way. A pleasant melancholy washed over her for a moment. More leaves swirled and skittered by her.
"Like little dogs," she said out loud. "Little, dry, dead, dogs." And she laughed, because neither melancholy nor nostalgia, not even death, was going to be enough to snap her cheery mood today. She hefted the backpack that lay heavily on her shoulder, resettled her leather jacket and continued on her way down the street.
While she walked, Kaori ran over the list of chores she had set herself: Food store - done; wine - done; new blouse - done. One last stop and she'd head home and start dinner.
The card store wasn't very busy this time of day - most people were still at work or school. Kaori thanked her lucky stars once again that the life of a writer left her free to wander the streets at will. She smiled at the thought of her "Lucky Stars." That had not been chosen as the title of her first paid story for nothing. Her own sense of humor never failed to amuse her, and she turned her smiling face upon the rows of insipid cards, looking for just the right touch of vulgarity for the occasion.
A solid half hour later she was no closer to finding a card that expressed her true emotions but she had had enough. She hefted her backpack, turning to leave, and stopped mid-motion. From where she stood she could clearly see the shoppers that lined the aisle across from hers. standing there, enrapt in a small book, was a figure that Kaori knew - she was sure of it. She carried her bag around the rack and stopped just behind the woman. Looking her over, Kaori could see that the other woman hadn't changed much in the many years since she had seen her last. Given today's nostalgia, this meeting was just too appropriate. A wide smile crossed Kaori's face and she reached out gently as she spoke.
"Sakaki-san?" she asked politely. "It *is* Sakaki-san, isn't it?"
The other woman turned, looking down at her from a height. Kaori's smile widened as she took in the same dark eyes, the same deferential attitude, the same awkward manner that had characterized her in high school - Sakaki hadn't changed at all.
"I can't believe it's you! I haven't seen you since we graduated." Kaori grinned pleasantly. "I'm glad though, because if it weren't for you, you know, I wouldn't be half as happy as I am now.
"I mean, you probably noticed that I had that huge crush on you in high school, right? Well, maybe not - I never had the courage to tell you that I did and you never seemed to notice." Kaori looked up at her old classmate slyly. "Gods, I wonder if you knew half the agony you caused the underclassmen. You were the coolest girl in the school. And that time, you remember? When we danced together at the festival - I thought that I'd die of happiness then, but you probably didn't notice anything other than my sweaty palms." Kaori's laugh was loud enough to cause a few heads to turn. Sakaki's face colored and Kaori apologized quickly.
"Come on, come on," she urged, pulling at Sakaki's arm. "Let's go get something to drink and I'll tell you all about my crush on you."
The taller woman looked at her, then down at the book she held. Kaori could see that it contained adorable pictures of animal babies, and she was delighted.
"Oh my goodness! Are you still into animals? That's so cuute! Oh - that's right! You were going to be a veternarian...look, let's get the book, and go for that drink okay?" She plucked the book from Sakaki's unresisting fingers and, enjoying the dark flush that crossed the other womans face, laughed evilly to herself as she strode to the cash register.
"Here." Kaori bowed and handed the other woman the package formally, "For all the times I never told you how important you were to me." As soon as Sakaki had taken the book into her hands, Kaori reached out and dragged her out of the store, down the street and over to a corner café. When at last they were seated, Kaori began her tale breathlessly.
"Okay, I know you probably didn't even notice me in high school, or that everyone had a crush on you, but you were so cool, Sakaki-san. But that's not the point. When we graduated, I went on to college, but I was so depressed because I wouldn't see you again - I never had the courage to get your phone number, or email or anything - that I dropped out. It wasn't your fault, or anything. It was just me feeling sorry for myself. So I traveled the world a little, went to America and Europe, did the student rail thing and eventually, I started to write a little. Mostly about what I was seeing, but a lot about what I was feeling too. Because I knew that, really, the only one I could blame for my unhappiness was me.
"Right, so, there I was, sitting on a train, coming home at last and I was rereading my "manuscript" which was pretty much scraps of paper in a notebook and I fell asleep. When I woke up, there was this girl sitting next to me and you'll never guess what she was doing! She was reading through my papers! I was mortified - mostly because it was some pretty personal stuff, you know, but also because she hadn't asked, or anything.
"But there she was, as pretty as you please, reading about my heart-wrenching non-affair with you and after a while, she looked up at me and smiled, a nice smile - not nasty - and said, 'This is pretty good.'
"And of course, I was so well-trained I responded, 'Thank you' before I thought to get angry at her." Kaori took a long drink from her glass and laughed hysterically at her own outrage.
"I won't bother you with more of the story, because I'm sure you don't care, but anyway, her name was Noriko, and we're celebrating our third anniversary today." Kaori pointed to her backpack, which lay on the ground by her feet. "I was out buying some stuff to make her dinner tonight in fact, when I met you." Her eyes sparkled at the thought of the impending date.
"But the other amazing this about all this, is, Noriko's father runs a magazine and she hadn't been kidding when she said she thought I was pretty good. So," Kaori gestured to herself, "he used a few of my pieces of writing from that trip, and now I'm a professional writer." She took a deep breath.
"So, the bottom line, is, Sakaki-san, I have you to thank for all my happiness now."
She looked the other woman in the eyes for a moment, then sat back, her mouth slightly open in comprehension. "And I just realized that you have absolutely *no* idea at all who I am, do you?" Kaori could not stop laughing at the idea the perfect ending to this non-relationship, she thought.
"Well, then, Sakaki-san, let me introduce myself before I take leave of you. My name is Kaori, but in high school everyone called me 'Kaorin.' I'd be pleased, though, if you'd just call me 'Kaori.'"
She stuck a hand out solemnly and waited. Sakaki looked at the hand for a moment, then took it. Her cheeks once again flushed, she said in her quiet voice, "Kaori-san."
Kaori gripped the hand, then pulled away with a small bow. Her cheeks felt warm. "It was a pleasure Sakaki-san, it really was. I have to be going, but I'm glad to have seen you once again." Picking up her bag, she slung it over her shoulder and walked away without looking back.
At the table, the tall woman sat for a moment, then pulled the bag with the little book closer to herself, until she held it against her chest. She watched as the other woman diminished and disappeared. Sakai took one last look in the direction the other woman had gone and said, "Good luck, Kaori."
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