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Spring Rain

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He's sitting on a plastic chair outside one of the burger chains when she sees him, holding a convenience store umbrella, with water dripping down his collar and a contented expression on his face.

"Nao-kun, why are you wet?"

"There's this weird stuff that's been falling from the sky. I just can't figure it out, can you?"

"I've figured out that you're an idiot!" Yukari tosses her hair.

He grins at her enigmatically. "No, I just like the rain. And people watching."

"Oh, does that include me?"

"Hmmm... maybe, maybe. You're interesting when you don't know you're being watched."

She pauses. "I don't know whether that's a compliment or not."

Naoya gets up from his seat, still grinning. "We can walk while you think about it."

Not even bad weather stops Harajuku from feeling like carnival, like everyone's just waiting to go on stage. Along the crowded pedestrian areas, advertising boards shoot their messages into the air, Sanrio bags and hair ornaments and phone charms cram in under the street vendors' awnings, and the utilitarian cheap umbrellas only serve to set off the clothes of their carriers; goth loli, sweet loli, age-jo. It's somewhere to be rather than to do, and everyone is pouring vast amounts of time, money and effort into being, as exquisitely and visibly as possible.

Yukari's father named her after a singer he'd liked. She remembers seeing old recordings of TV appearances by Ito Yukari-san when she was little and wanting to have an audience adore her like that, to sparkle and shine. She dedicated herself to dance lessons in school and placed in rhythmic gymnastics, and a lot of people took notice of her. Later, boys took notice of her as well. Yukari wore the shortest skirts and the hottest, cutest new styles, fresh from the pages of the weekly magazines where hair and fashion spreads of Hitomi and Koda Kumi were sandwiched between the boy bands, lip gloss practically dripping from the paper. She was going to be, have just as many people falling in love with her, staring open-mouthed and losing their hearts to a skyscraper billboard image, and if she wasn't a star, well, you weren't going to know it by looking.

They walk in the wet, Yukari slowing at shop windows that throw her rain-blurred reflection back, here a truncated image angled against a bright display, there a twin in soft focus beneath a pink nylon shade. She's thought about bleaching her hair lately.

She wonders if he'd like it.

It's funny, how she's always known exactly what men like, and now she cares more about whether he notices her than anybody she's ever met before, and he flirts and teases and she still doesn't know what he's thinking at all.

"How common would you say coincidences are?" Naoya asks, out of nowhere.

Their umbrellas bump. "Coincidences? I don't know... why?"

He gazes along the street, to where a group of girls are having their pictures taken by a foreigner who looks like some kind of journalist, squealing and giggling as they try to strike poses while simultaneously keeping their outfits dry. "Did they just happen to be here on the same day as him? Or have they been hanging out for a year, and they had to be seen today by the rules of probability? What was the probability of us - you, and me, and Uno-chan, and Shinjiro, and everybody - all being chosen for Triple A?"

Yukari lifts her chin, defiantly. "One in one."

"Absolute certainty?"

"Of course. We were the best, weren't we?"

Naoya tilts his head to one side. "You know, there are times when I think you're amazing."

Yukari suddenly has the feeling of tears pricking the backs of her eyelids that comes when he says things like that, the kinds of things she wants to hear. She doesn't really know why. Maybe it's because a lot of the time she's not sure what he means by it, or if he means anything at all, so the victory seems questionable, like a happy ending on the fourth page from the end of a manga.

She sets her jaw. She doesn't care. She's going to have a good try with him, and she hasn't given up yet. She's got what she wanted and where she wanted to be before because she decided she could, because she didn't listen to anyone who said dreams had to stay dreams.

"It's Nao-kun who's amazing," she says.

They're quiet for a little while. Then, in an amiable way, Naoya says, "I was here this afternoon trying to meet this cute girl I've wanted to get together with for a while. By coincidence."

The page of the manga turns and Yukari smiles, smiles too much, like the billboard actresses. All she has to do is keep smiling, and then the tears won't come. "How do you try to meet someone by coincidence?"

"She shops around here on Sundays, I wait, and if we see each other, I call it a coincidence."

"I think it sounds more like being really sneaky." She means the words to come out in that same playful sugar tone, and they do, but she can hear a sharp note in them that makes her bite them off before he can notice it as well. Those dreams, after all - they're in her mind, aren't they, not his, and she's not his responsibility yet.

He's still looking off ahead of them, but the grin is starting to tug at the corners of his mouth again. "Mm-mm. Worked, though, didn't it?"

When the crack in the sidewalk appears, Yukari's staring so intently at him that it catches her unaware, the heel of her boot snags, and she stumbles, too abruptly even for the cat-fast grab he makes at her elbow. One second she's walking, and the next the ground is jumping up to slap her into surprise and she's half-sitting, half-sprawling in a gritty puddle in the middle of a streetful of onlookers with her skirt clinging to her legs. And she doesn't care. She doesn't care at all, because Naoya's squatting in front of her, knees poking through the rips in his jeans.

He reaches for her hands and turns them over, examining the grazes in her palms. "Are you okay?" he asks, curiously, but not without gentleness.

"I'm fine." Yukari sniffs a little. Laughs, because even worries can be laughed over when they come right after all. "Clumsy girl -" He helps her to her feet, and, as he supports her weight, she's aware that she's leaning into him, shamelessly grateful for the excuse to breathe the damp scent of him in for a moment.

"How did you really find me today?" she asks.

He shrugs. "Easy."

"How?"

"Because I knew I could watch the whole of Takeshita Street walk past, and you'd still be so fresh and funny and bright that I wouldn't be able to see anyone else."

She looks up into his eyes and he smiles. Smooth, warmer than she's ever realized before, his fingers link with hers, and he guides her away, to somewhere where they can buy a cup of tea or a lemon soda, and talk, and wait for the rain to stop.