Somewhere along the line, I had come under the idea that sitting in the student lounge playing Tetris was an excellent alternative to attending class.
After all, it was a slow Friday afternoon; a nice and cool one, at that. So naturally, the idea of hitting golf balls absolutely paled in comparison to sitting and neatly arranging colored blocks on my cell phone. I really couldn't say for sure, as my mileage would vary depending on the day, but to state that I hated the game is something I wouldn't be regretting any time soon.
As half-baked of an idea as the sport was to begin with (it calls to mind a comedy routine I once saw about golf being invented by a bunch of angry Scotsmen) the idea of standing around for an hour or so screwing up royally and being graded for doing so didn't sound so great - at least, for today.
Still, though. The game had its fun and fulfilling moments, few as they were. And I felt really peculiar about not going (I don't think I'd realized yet that the previous night's rain made the field too wet for class to be held.) Cutting golf class, how about that. I put down my phone and idly stared around the lounge for what must've been the tenth time that day. Boredom was sneaking up on me and, odd as it may have been, golf was beginning to sound like a…not-so-bad idea.
Now, "lounge" wasn't the best of words to describe my location – that wasn't its actual name. In fact, I don't even think it had an actual name. It was probably just "Student Union Basement Area", being situated a good twenty-or-so feet underground…ironic, because it probably would've been at ground level outside of the hilly campus. But at any given time, the lounge - Student Union Basement Area, if you will – was generally a pretty interesting place. Lots of empty chairs, but no open tables. A painted black ceiling right next to an open sky-dome-light…thing. A wall full of computers with broken keyboards or monitors. Lots of hustle, yet no bustle at any given time. It was a place of contradictions. Oh, and the only place where you could find a food court, computer store and bowling alley within 50 yards of each other.
Then, I realized I was still pretty bored. And restless. And staring something pretty fierce at the ceiling, all the while twiddling my thumbs on my phone. Golf was sounding better by the minute. And it wasn't too late to show up. Un-cutting class because of boredom, how about that…or, better yet, just up and leaving, the best plan yet. But it was right at that moment of decision, twisting rightwards and heading for my backpack, that I saw her.
It was Yui…or, I guess I should say, she was Yui.
Her name didn't even come out at first; just a disjointed "Hey!" escaped my lips after she said the same, and for an instant, I felt this strange warmth. Just for that one happy instant. It wasn't an unwelcome feeling, mind you; it was pleasant enough to where I could count the number of times on one hand I'd felt it before in my whole life.
To be honest, it was an odd feeling. Odd like unfamiliar; weird, maybe, but not the bad kind of weird. It sort of felt like for a second or two, my heart was beating funny by my seeing her. Right, beating funny, or maybe it stopped altogether. Not to sound redundant, but it was a pretty warm and pleasant emotion-slash-feeling. One that could cause me to smile and probably not much else. Which is exactly what I did.
Actually, I take that back. It may have been some combination of excitement, nervousness, or the fact I was slouched, thumbs still wrapped around my phone as she cutely made her way toward me, but I also remember getting to my feet pretty quickly with a few clumsy-looking steps following.
In the meantime, I gathered my senses back up, tucked my phone back into my jeans pocket and forced my mouth into something more than a vacant, mindless grin. Having failed miserably at greeting the first time around (assuming she even heard me), I cleared my throat and followed through with a much more confident "Hey!"
She, on the other hand, kept walking – almost into me, I'd thought. She smiled back and came with a cheerily snide tone of voice, "Ohhh, so you want a hug?" she joked, but not really.
I felt my lips press harder to my teeth as my smile strengthened. "Hmmm…maybe a half-hug." I wrapped my right arm around hers, and she did the same, and we squeezed together at an angle into what more resembled a pose in front of a camera than an hug.
She stood about half a foot away, eyes nearly level with mine as we quickly glanced each other over. She smelled like lilacs. Or lavender. Or some kind of flower; I really have no clue. I don't know, I'm not a botanist or herbologist or whatever…It was nice, though.
My arms eased out of the half-embrace and my smile shifted to the left half of my face. I visibly examined her feet, only partially as a joke, then gave my attention back to her face. "Man," I laughed slightly, "I forgot how tall you are."
Oh, right; Yui was tall. And I don't mean for a Japanese girl. Or any girl, for that matter. She was just about my height, maybe an inch or so taller, and I was what one would consider "average" in that regard. I'm sure some people were a little intimidated or turned away by it, while others might have been turned on by it in some odd way, but I didn't think much of it. If I actually had to, I'd say the extra inches rendered her more innocent in a gentle, oafish sort of way, which added to the whole cute-factor.
But she just laughed at the comment and nodded with a firm quickness. As she began walking around to the other side of my table, I vaguely gestured toward the opposite chair, as if she needed a cue to sit down. As she pulled the chair out, the sound of the heavy metal legs dragging across tiles came out so loudly and roughly the entire room seemed to quiet down.
Momentum fully killed from the violent chair noises, I sat down with her and gathered myself as I took in a breath full of enthusiasm. Palms open and facing, I extended my arms toward her quizzically. "So, Yuuuui…what's up? Long time, no see!"
Her palms wrapped around the edge of the table. "Pffff, a whole lot of nothing."
"Oh, really?" I asked, visibly reading her shirt, or, as someone on the outside might assume so hastily, just staring at her chest. She caught on and covered the shirt's front with her forearm.
The article was plastered with the really sort of bad English that so stereotypically yet so accurately stuck to Japanese fashion-culture, dubbed Engrish after the interchangeability and confusion of the letters L and R over there. In her case, it was an ash gray-colored shirt peppered with emboldened, crooked black letters bearing the message "If you wanna be so FREE!" No, there was nothing else on the back and, yes, that's exactly how it read.
I gave her an over-the-top mock cockeyed expression, immediately and silently demanding an explanation. Which she answered, through a short laugh, "This shirt…My aunt sent it to me for Christmas."
I chuckled. "Interesting choice of gift." I stuck my elbow on the table with a sneer, the first two fingers running up my cheek.
And it truly was an interesting choice, even beyond the random bad English…Especially given the fact it ran a bit large, or baggy, on her. I had no real idea why she opted to wear such a thing, but it did work on her, probably because of her height. Plus, it gave extra 'personality'. And between that, her much huggier blue jeans and plain white tennis shoes, she had the whole tomboy thing going on… Which, I'll admit, I'd always been a sucker for.
But it was right then as she covered up her Engrish, joking, that I saw her right bicep, or more namely, the seriously large yellow discoloration stretched over her relatively dark skin. "Hey Yui, 'sup with your arm?"
She froze up for a second right as I asked, and her head sunk forward a bit, bright eyes veering blankly off to her right. It was like she was a computer trying to tabulate an answer or as if I'd stumbled into the room and discovered some kind of dark, bloody secret or something.
No answer. Slightly confused, I followed, "What's up?" My head lowered and I leaned a bit to the left to line up with her round face, fully expecting her to blush, laugh, and then tell a humorous anecdote more than anything else.
But she just stretched the sleeve back over her arm and breathed a muted "It's nothing." I let a breath out as my brow lowered, trying my best with an open-mouthed frown to show concern. The air around us only seemed to get louder with the assorted chatter, foot traffic and doors opening and shutting noisily. Her dulled eyes drifted upward to meet mine, and a peculiar smile crept up on her face, looking forced more than anything, yet still reassuring.
"So!" She slapped her thighs and straightened herself out, almost immediately reverting to her previous self. Smile warming up into something a bit more "real," with that I almost instantly dismissed what I'd seen of her in the last minute.
Her visible happiness was contagious and I felt a bit lifted, so to speak. "So..."
"How was Japan?" I guess it's worth mentioning that I'd just spent the last five months as an exchange student. A bit late, but that's a story for another day.
"It was pretty cool." I smiled. "Probably the best time of my life – so far, I mean, anyway – there was a lot of cool stuff over there." She nodded in agreement. "Eh, but, it was…pretty frustrating too." Given the fact I was living in a rural area, that last part went double.
"Aw, that's cool though. I wanna go!" An exaggerated frown filled her face, mocking a sad or pouty expression.
"Oh, come on, you lived there!"
"Yeah, but that was, like, ten years ago! I can barely even speak the language anymore…" That was news to me. We'd been in the same Japanese classes for two years, but it wasn't until JP-201, the third semester, that we really met, on a chance encounter no less.
I wished I could tell her everything about my trip, about me. But I wasn't much of a stickler for talking about myself.
"Well, what about Yui?" Talking to someone in third-person was a weird habit of mine, no secret there. "I haven't talked to you in," about nine and a half months, "Forever! What've you been up to?"
"I've just been busy with school. Work, work, work, y'know?" She threw a melodramatic shrug out and I laughed, mostly in agreement but also that same warmth, how sweet and cute, or more appropriately, how genki everything about her was, as we'd joked ("genki" is Japanese for healthy – but it can also can mean happy or energetic.) At least, on the outside anyway.
I continued in my hitting-order-slash-setup of questions, and a twinge of nervousness came down thinking about the end - my pulse rate'd picked up. "Well, how was Valentine's Day?" (It was the 15th of February; this I only remember because, of course, the 14th was the day before.) But before she could answer, I cut in, "Did'ya do anything?"
In a way, I loved Valentine's Day. Recently, I'd thought of it like one of those social networking websites like MySpace, in that it made it super-easy to tell if a person had a boyfriend or girlfriend or partner or significant other or what-have-you. For all I knew – by my weird luck, even – she could've been married.
She paused. "Pfff, noooo, didn't do a thing. How was yours?"
I had a brief laugh accompanied by my right shoulder raising up for half a shrug, head cocking toward it, "Uneventful." She began to laugh, and not from idleness or being happy or cute or genki, but really laugh laugh. My cheeks flushed as I started smiling, part something of seeing her face and another part being genuinely embarrassed by the sudden fit.
Grinning, I sort of scratched my head. "What?" I asked in a long, semi-jokey manner, but at the same time earnestly curious. I liked to consider myself a humorous type of individual, but at times the way I'd get a laugh out of people seriously confused the hell out of me.
Her laughter died down. Slowly, but it did, "Oh, no, it's…just, the way you said it. Oh, uneventful." Did I say "oh?" Hmmm. "Nothing, it's just…cute, that's all." And I'm thinking 'Ha! Speak for yourself.' But it would seem she passed the whole Does Yui have a boyfriend? test with flying colors. Either that or she just had a crappy boyfriend – a thought I'd normally pose as a full-fledged joke. It was at this point that I knew what I wanted to do…Which was 'maybe ask her out,' in case that wasn't obvious enough.
Her eyes lit up again and she hadn't noticed I was lost in thought (fortunately. Maybe.) "What time's your next class?"
My thoughts from earlier flooded back; I was tempted to tell her how I cut my golf class, how much I loathed the sport, how the field's conditions sucked, or maybe even how a bunch of drunken Scotsmen got their revenge on the world for inventing it. But no, "Actually, I'm done for the day. How about you?" With that recall, my heart jumped again too.
Her lips pressed forward into a slight pucker. "Well then...What're you doing down here?"
"Just hanging around, you…wait, hey, what're you doing around here?" She laughed so innocently, and I grinned for what felt like the millionth time in the past five minutes.
"Well, I thought I'd just sort of take a walk down here before my next class, like, to see if I knew anyone."
I swatted my arm playfully at her. "Yeah, well, good luck with that." We had another laugh as she bent her arms on the edge of the table, pushing off at a pace slow enough to where her chair didn't grind so loudly on the floor.
"Well, hey, I should probably start going to my next class." She smiled and that same funny feeling came back to me inside my chest. Not sure why. But it wasn't so fun this time around.
I could feel my heartbeat. Faster, and odd like before. I opened up to her, maybe a bit too loudly, "Hey!" I controlled my voice, "…Wait."
She stopped and turned around. Quickly, but oh, so slowly. "'Sup?"
I folded my hands and placed them neatly under my chin, before promptly putting them back on the table. I felt them shaking a bit from nervousness but not seriously enough to where she'd notice; that is, assuming she even cared.
Slowly, but smoothly, I packed the heaviest words I'd asked in a while. "Hey…well, Yui?" Her smile faded into a straight and attentive – I guess, serious – expression. I continued, surprised I hadn't stuttered at all like usual, until I realized I hadn't actually said anything yet either. So I continued, "If you could find some time in your busy schedule," she smiled a little bit, which made for a bit of relief, "we should get together sometime." It wasn't until later I'd realized that last part came out completely wrong, but I was pleased at my confidence and she…well, didn't seem un-pleased; that's a start, right?
"Wha-? Me?" Her cheeks turned a very deep red, and I most likely did the same after the reaction I elicited from her and dispensed a cheesy grin so wide it forced me to squint a bit. "I don't have your number anymore," a doomed-from-the-start idea last spring vacation, "Do you want mine?"
My heart was pounding even faster now. So heavy, but too odd and too light for myself to even feel it. "Well…If you're willing to give it to me."
"Yeah, sure!" She all-but shouted out that last part – she seemed flustered, near panic as she danced around in her bag looking for a pencil or pen; neither of which I could be a hero by having today. Funny, considering we were at school, and funnier yet considering I could've just directly added the number to my phone.
Her eyes shifted from side to side and as they did, her look snapped back to the same shade of serious from moments ago. "Actually, I really need to get to class!"
"Ohhh…okay then." The gravity of her answer didn't register until much later – I was too pleased at the fact she agreed to give me her number…or, more specifically, the principle of it.
She beamed up, with a twinge of nervousness, cheeks still flared up red. "I guess I'll see you around, okay?" She arched forward as she scooped up and shouldered her bag's strap.
"Alright Yui, I'll…" Swallow a lump in my throat, then continue, "…Be around. Nice talking to you."
Her expression and...well, her demeanor in general quieted down. "You too...See you."
I looked at her with the same seriousness, and for a few seconds we silently looked into each others' eyes. I swallowed again. "Yui..." Her lips bent into a weak, yet hopeful smile. "...Take care of yourself, okay?"
After a brief pause, she simply nodded her head in return.
With that, turned around, walking off and bouncing up the stairs with no evident hurry. She left the Student Union Basement Area with a bubbly conflicting mysteriousness...and myself very confused.
I buried my face in my hands. Between her right arm, mixed signals, and the exchange (or lack thereof) that just went down, I was thoroughly at a loss; the more I thought about her, the less it appeared I knew. I wanted to wait for her again, to ask, to find everything out about her; not just out of affection...but out of concern. I wanted to wait...but at the same time, I didn't. I wanted to find her...To do everything I could to help. But, as for where to begin...I didn't have the slightest clue.
It was then that I had come under the idea of hanging around in the lounge more often.