“Oh no!” Tohru blurted out, stopping in her tracks. Momiji peered at her with his inquisitive eyes as the other students in the hallway flooded around her, like she was a rock in a river.
“What’s wrong, Tohru?” he asked, “Have you forgotten something?”
Her shoulders slumped. “Yes, I forgot that I have lunch for Yuki-kun. He has to stay late for a student council meeting today, and I said I’d make him something to eat, so he wouldn’t go hungry. But I have to leave for work, and I’m going to be late if I don’t leave now…”
“Don’t worry, Tohru!” Momiji said, smiling ear to ear like he always did around Tohru. “I’ll take it to him! Go to work, I’ll take this to Yuki.” Smiling gratefully, Tohru fished a lunch box out from her bag, and handed it to him. It was neatly wrapped in a handkerchief, like a kindergarten bento lunch a doting mother would make for her son. Although, it might as well be that, Momiji thought, watching her bow and run off, waving.
If her relationship with Yuki was like a bento lunch, her relationship with Kyo was like a home cooked dinner, something you eat together at a small table for two, when all you have is each other, and the company is what makes the food tastes good. With himself…
With himself, he supposed it was like giving a child a snack. Even after he grew tall, and his face matured, he knew that Tohru still saw him as the same little kid he was when they met. He knew that even if he acted like Yuki and Kyo, it wouldn’t suddenly make him be taken as seriously. If he came to school the next day with his hair done neatly and his lunch as plain rice and meat, all the masculine stereotypes he could think of, it wouldn’t have the same effect, because it’s not what he really liked. If he wanted to have sweets and a bunny backpack, he deserved to follow his heart, and be himself! Besides, no matter how he acted on the outside, his inner self was just not a serious person, like Yuki or Kyo.
And he knew now that Tohru was not a person who would love him seriously, at least, not in a romantic way. She cared about him, and in that way she loved him, but the way she looked at him and the way she looked at Kyo were completely different. He shook his head a little as he walked. That was fine, he didn’t need Tohru to love him. For him to love Tohru meant to let her follow her heart too, and her heart was obviously with Kyo. He was happy for her, so happy he couldn’t put it into words! To find someone who really understood her, her worries, fears, and anxieties, the feelings she felt too nervous to say without being prompted, things like that. Everyone deserves to have someone like that, Tohru more than anyone. When he really thought about it, Kyo deserved it too. It was harder to say that Kyo deserved such a loving girlfriend as Tohru because he was so prickly on the outside, but Momiji knew that hard exterior came from years and years of pain he could never understand. Even Akito…
Momiji stopped at the student council door. Maybe saying to himself that Akito deserved unconditional love would take a few more years without the curse to admit. At seventeen, Momiji was thinking a lot about good and bad, the kind of person he wanted to be, and the kind of people he knew The conclusion he came to was that people were complicated. Feelings and love were complicated. Trying to find out who you were was complicated too.
He gave the door a quick knock before sliding it open. He called out a hello to Yuki, but it was quickly drowned out by the noise inside the club room.
“Kimi, why did you move those documents!! I had a system!!!” A young blond boy was yelling, and pinching the part between his eyebrows.
“Well, I hate to say it Nao-chan, but your system wasn’t cute! Haven’t you seen the saying, ‘you can’t fight crime if you aren’t cute’?” A high pitched voice replied.
“We’re not fighting crime though.” Momiji turned and saw an exhausted looking Yuki standing at the other end of the room, holding a notebook. “And I’m still not sure how rearranging the papers made them cuter. Or why being cute is a quality we’re striving for when filing..”
“I beg to differ!” A boy burst out from behind Yuki, his fluffy brown hair sticking out in every direction. His pointer finger extended, like he was supposed to be making an important point. “Yun-yun, how can you say that being on the student council isn’t like fighting crime? We’re fighting the crimes that could be occurring if we left this school to fester on its own! The kind of culture that would manifest if we weren’t regulating it would certainly be considered a crime!”
“Yun..yun?” Momiji asked, a teasing smile curling up. Yuki caught sight of Momiji and blushed fiercely.
“Pay no attention to that!” He said loudly, then coughed to pretend he wasn’t embarrassed. “What are you doing in the student council room?”
“Tohru made you a lunch!” Momiji smiled brightly, holding it out. Yuki blushed further at taking it in front of everyone, but didn’t say anything. Momiji wondered why he was so shy about Tohru.
“Thank you,” Yuki said stiffly. “She had work today, didn’t she? Did you come to deliver it for her?”
“ Ya ! I think she forgot that she couldn’t do both. Isn’t that just like Tohru?”
Yuki sighed. “Yes, it is like her. I’m glad you took this off her hands, Momiji. I told her not to worry about it, but you know she took it upon herself anyway.” He smiled gently at the box in his hands. “It’s about time for a break anyway. Why don’t I introduce you while we eat?”
Momiji was impressed at how comfortable Yuki seemed here, despite the cutesy yun-yun nickname. This was the most he had seen him speak around non-Sohmas, except for Tohru. The student council members all began to set down their work and gather at a single table for their lunch.
“I’m Kakeru Manabe!” said the loud boy with the fluffy hair, scooching next to Yuki. “Second here to Commander Red!” He ruffled Yuki’s hair. A girl who also had brown hair sat on Yuki’s other side, and wordlessly took out a red lunchbox.
“Red..?” Momiji wondered. “Oh, like Power Rangers?”
“Exactly!” Kakeru exclaimed. “Yun-yun, I like this cousin the best so far.”
“Yuki sure has a lot of cousins” muttered the boy called Nao-chan, sitting down quietly at the other end of the table, and pulling out a plain lunchbox. He seemed to be consistently frowning.
“It is quite a large family,” Yuki said. Momiji stared intensely at Kakeru, who was eating a bag of chips instead of a lunch, practically lounging into Yuki’s part of the table. They seemed really close, closer than he had ever seen Yuki with someone, even Haru. If he told Haru, maybe he’d even be jealous.
“So if Yuki is red,” Momiji thought aloud, “Kakeru-san, you’re black?”
“Correct!” Kakeru cheered. “Momiji, you’re really good at reading people, aren’t you?”
Yuki nodded, and opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by the same voice Momiji had heard from earlier, coming from behind him.
“Oh!! Guess Kimi!!” A pair of arms threw themselves around his shoulders, and for a moment, he was enveloped by a soft warmth that smelled like vanilla. He closed his eyes. No one had hugged him for a long time. The comfort that came from being hugged was replaced by panic for a brief moment before he remembered he didn’t have to worry about it anymore, and when he remembered, he wanted to hug this person back even more. Momiji opened his eyes and looked across the table at Yuki, whose wide eyes reflected the panic Momiji had felt. Momiji smiled at him, gently reminding him that they weren’t in danger anymore.
“Toudou-san, you really shouldn’t hug people you don’t know.” Yuki chided. The arms lifted from Momiji’s shoulders, and he turned around to finally see her.
“I’m so sorry, you’re right!” A beautiful girl stood before him, with long hair that fell around her face. She was so pretty, she kind of reminded him of his mother, had she been German. Momiji was stunned for a moment.
“It’s okay!” He smiled brightly. “I like being hugged, so don’t worry about it! I wouldn’t say the same for Yuki though. I’m Momiji Sohma, his cousin. And if I were going to guess your color...Maybe pink?” He extended his hand in a handshake, but the girl clasped it with both of her hands and smiled like he’d given her an amazing present.
“You’re right!!! I’m pink!!! I’m Kimi Toudou! I’m so glad to meet you! And if you like being hugged, then you and I are going to get along just fine!” She pouted at the other student council members. “No one else here does. Not even Machi!”
“Machi?” Momiji asked. Kimi pointed definitively at the girl next to Yuki, who raised her head slightly at him.
“It’s nice to meet you, Momiji-san.” The way she said it made Momiji feel as if she had heard of him before, but never seen him in person. But he was sure he’d never seen her, or heard of her. Unless…
Momiji looked at Yuki, who was looking at Machi, who was looking back down at her lunch again. He looked at the distance, or rather, lack thereof, between the two of them. He looked at Yuki’s arm, held casually down at Machi’s side, like she could hold it, but only if she wanted to. A soft chime echoed in his head as the pieces clicked together. Ah, Yuki too…
“Are you alright, Momiji-kun?” Kimi asked. He smiled reflexively. He was happy for Yuki.
“Yes, of course! I’m glad to meet you all!” In his head, he cringed a little with how forcefully he said it. He was glad! Of course he was glad. The student council had become such a big part of Yuki’s life, it seemed in more ways than one, and he was lucky enough to have gotten to see it before Yuki graduated and left it behind. He just felt a little lonely is all, that even Yuki found someone before he did. It made sense, Yuki was older, and more serious.
There was a brief moment of quiet that felt heavy on Momiji’s heart, before it was broken by Kimi taking his hand again.
“Would you come to get a juice with me, Momiji-kun?” Her smile was warm and inviting. Of course he stood to go with her, smiling at Yuki as they walked out the door, Kimi calling that they’d be back in just a minute.
As they approached the vending machine, Kimi stopped walking, like Tohru had done earlier that day.
“They’re a lot, huh?” she smiled ruefully. Even though it sounded like a question, it was more like a statement, Momiji thought.
“What’s a lot?” He asked.
If Kimi were Tohru, she would look at her feet before responding, wondering if her feelings were enough to be contributed, but Kimi didn’t hesitate, or look away. She seemed to have a habit of looking people directly in the eyes when she talked, which was captivating, like you were the absolute only person she was talking to, even if there were other people around.
“You know, how Yuki and Machi like each other so much. I’m happy for them, but sometimes it’s so intense, it’s all I can think about!” Kimi knelt down to the machine. “Especially because they don’t act couple-y or anything, but you can just tell when they’re together that they like each other! It’s hard to be around that and be single, you know?
Momiji watched her think. “ Ya , I know what you mean, Kimi.”
“I mean, I don’t want to imply that you don’t have a girlfriend! You’re so handsome, you could totally have a girlfriend!” she said hurriedly, “but it got a little quiet, and I was wondering if you were feeling the same as me.” She turned back to the vending machine and tapped on the surface, picking a juice. “You know, I had a crush on Yun-yun for a while. Fun fact!” She laughed as she selected. She pulled the juice from the machine and stood up. “I don’t think he ever took it seriously that I liked him, you know? Since I was younger than him. Besides, I come off pretty young and naive, don’t I?”
She did kind of look young, Momiji thought. Her nails were painted pink, her eyes were big and inviting, like a baby deer, and she was small framed. Then again, he was the last person to be making stupid judgements like that. He hadn’t even noticed until she’d mentioned it. He’d just thought she was pretty.
“Anyway! I’m sorry for blabbing about all that! Here’s a juice to make up for my silly rambling!” Kimi smiled brightly again, like nothing had happened, and handed him a duplicate juice.
I don’t think he ever took it seriously that I liked him, you know?
Momiji knew exactly how that felt. Because of the way he was inside, when he followed his interests and acted the way he felt, people looked down on him in a caring way, always thinking he was younger, always thinking he was too pure to be doing anything bad, things like that. People liked him the way he was, but he didn’t feel taken seriously. Especially not with Tohru. He admitted that he took a little bit of an advantage of that, getting to snuggle with her at the hot spring and hang all over her, but in the end, it worked out to a disadvantage. In Tohru’s eyes, Kyo was a man, and Momiji was a cute little friend. Which was fine, of course. Anything was fine if he got to be with Tohru, even if she went home to someone else. Kyo loved her, so it was okay!
He looked down at the juice in his hands. He couldn’t help but wonder if Tohru would still think Kyo was manly and strong if he had a bunny backpack too. Or more importantly, if Momiji could ever be the strong one if he kept his bunny backpack. Could the two things exist at the same time?
“Kimi,” he said, “I don’t think you’re naive. You like what you like, and you live as your own self, don’t you? It’s sad to think that we’ll probably never understand that person’s world the way the person they really like does, but aren’t they missing out on understanding you too?”
“Missing out on understanding me?” Kimi repeated. The juice in her hands was beginning to form condensation, beading up on the edges of her fingers.
“There’s probably a lot of people who don’t take me seriously either. I like what I like, and I act like myself.” Momiji said, “If we had to pretend to be serious or more reserved to really have our affection not taken for granted, that wouldn’t be real love either, would it? Aren’t you just as interesting as Yuki, or as Machi, in your own, pink way?” Momiji paused to think. “I think we all deserve to be known and understood by somebody. And if Yuki and Machi are busy understanding each other, that’s okay! Someone else is going to take the time to understand us too.”
Momiji closed his eyes for a moment, and was suddenly hit by warmth. Kimi had wrapped her arms around him fully, and he could feel her hair tickling his ears. He exhaled, and let himself hug her too. He didn’t know anything about her yet, but he could tell that she was feeling the same way about Yuki that he was feeling about Tohru. Kimi pulled back, and looked at him again, in the direct way she had earlier, and smiled at him in a way that made his stomach feel fizzy.
“I think you’re a wonderful, smart person, Momiji. You just met me, and you already know such nice things to say to me!” They held onto that moment together, they way they held onto each other’s hands, stretching them across the hallway, juice bottles meeting halfway.
“Let’s go back,! I bet they’ll be jealous, because we have juice, and they don’t!” Kimi smiled like the sun, and caught his free hand with hers, and pulled him down the hallway with her, going back to the student council room together.
Momiji liked to pop into the student council room sometimes, after that. It was always bustling with sound and life, so much so that he often wondered how they got anything done. It was nice to spend more time with Yuki. In a way, he was almost more like himself when he was away from the other Sohmas, at least, that was the impression that Momiji got. With Machi and Kakeru he was almost like Ayame, although he would have never told him that. Teasing them, making jokes, being on equal footing without the added burden of the curse or the family to worry about. Momiji was a little envious of how Yuki had grown.
And of course, whenever his thoughts got more quiet and introspective, there was Kimi,
holding out another juice she said the machine spit out by accident. As the days past and they began talking, they realized they were in the same grade.
“I’m in class with another Sohma!” She said as they drank their respective juices. “He’s really tall, and a little scary. Oh! And he has white hair, like an old man!”
“That’s Haru! Sorry, Hatsuharu.” Momiji replied. “He seems really scary, but he’s really a soft hearted person! His girlfriend, Rin, is the same, that she seems scary, but really she’s a gentle person. Although Haru is gentle to everybody, and it seems sometimes like Rin is only gentle for Haru.”
“Oh, that’s so romantic!” Kimi cooed. “The strong one who’s only soft for the gentle one! Like on TV!”
Little does she know that’s almost all of the Sohma relationships , Momiji thought to himself, and Tohru swam to his mind again. It was approaching graduation, and she’d be leaving soon. He heard her two friends talking about spending as much time with her as possible before she went with Kyo to a different city. He hadn’t heard anything from Kyo or Tohru, but those two were so secretive, without even trying, that they probably hadn’t realized how obvious it was to everyone that they were going to leave together.
There was a smattering of whispers, and Momiji looked up to see a cluster of girls staring at him. It made him feel gross inside, and he wondered what he was doing wrong to make them stare like that. He turned to Kimi to ask if she knew them, but the look on her face shocked him.
If you didn’t know Kimi, you probably wouldn’t think anything was wrong. But Kimi without a smile wasn’t like her at all, whether it was sarcastic, wry, cheerful, or teasing.
“Kimi? Are you okay?”
She snapped her head up and grabbed his arm, pulling him to her. “Mo miji- kun! People are going to get the wrong idea about us!” She brought her face close to his, and his heart pounded. She had his arm pinned on to her chest, and she was so close he could smell the scent of her lip balm. He knew what it was, because they’d been talking about it. It was in a super cute package, she had told him, with little bunny ears. But now the bunny ear lip balm was right by his face and he was hoping he wasn’t blushing. Kimi turned her face away from Momiji and towards the girls watching. “Unless, you want them to get the wrong idea. I hope I’m not stealing you from anyone.”
The girls watching them scattered, and as they did, Kimi dropped his arm, and her head down.
“I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “That was weird of me. I didn’t mean to do that to you.” She sighed heavily. “Those girls don’t like me.”
The sudden release of pressure made Momiji’s head spin. He’d never been close to a girl like that. Being hugged and being close to someone were very different, he thought. “Do you know them? Are you sure they don’t like you?”
She laughed. “Momiji, why do you think they do like me? They obviously don’t.”
“Well…” She was right. They didn’t seem friendly towards her, but he never liked to assume the worst case scenario. “Did something happen?”
“...They say I’m a devil woman.” Her eyes dropped down to her shoes, tapping each other, toe to toe, as they sat splayed out on the ground. She wasn’t looking him in the eyes.
“ Oh mein gott! That’s terrible!” Momiji’s brows furrowed in concern.
“Is it though? Are things still terrible if they’re true?” Kimi asked quietly. There was a moment where the only sound was her shoes tapping against each other. Sometimes, when people weren’t talking, Momiji had learned to just let them process, and that even sitting in silence together could be good.
“I’m...I’m kind of bad. For men.”
“What do you mean, Kimi?” When she didn’t answer, he tentatively reached out, and touched her hand. The gentle gesture that meant, I’m here for you .
“I…” Kimi murmured, “I have a problem, that I’m not proud of.”
Momiji put his hand on her chin, tilting her face up to look at him. “We all have things about ourselves we’re ashamed of, Kimi. It’s not just you. Maybe, if we can share them, we’ll get stronger. Since we can’t forget them, we need to embrace them.”
She looked up, and curled her hand around his. “When I was younger, girls in elementary school told me that I could get anything I wanted as long as I was pretty, so, I flirt with guys and manipulate them, even if they have girlfriends. Sometimes I feel like the only way I’m worth anything is if guys still like me. I have to make sure that I could still get one, if I wanted one! And if those girls are going to think I’ll steal their boyfriends, no matter what I do, I guess...I might as well do it, right? If that’s the only option I’m being given. I mean, haven’t you noticed that boys are the only ones who talk to me? Even you.”
“You’re not manipulating me,” Momiji said softly.
“But how do you know that? What if I’ve manipulated you so well that you think you’re not being manipulated?” She began to flail her arms in panic. “I’m such a terrible person that I’ve made you think I’m not terrible!”
Momiji caught her face between his hands. “Kimi-chan, you can’t try and read my mind, or anybody’s. Take me at my word! That I like being around you, and I choose to come to the student council room to have juice with you, not because you’re forcing me. You’ve never asked me to.”
She fell silent again, her cheeks squished between Momiji’s hands. “I...guess not.” They rested in silence again together, face to face.
“You look like a fish when I hold your face like this.”
“A fish !? Fish aren’t cute!”
Momiji dropped his hands from her face, and began playing with the end bit of his school tie.“Of course you’re cute, Kimi. But you could hear that from anybody, couldn’t you? Even people that didn’t know you. I think you’re cute, but I can tell you other things that I like about you too. You’re...a fun fish.”
“If I’m a fun fish,” she said, looking up in thought, “then you’re a kind fish.”
He smiled at her. “Can fish be kind?”
“Of course fish can be kind!” She retorted. “Everyone can and should be kind!
Momiji thought about Tohru. “There’s some people that are really nice, even when other people think they shouldn’t be.”
“Like that story,” Kimi said, “The foolish traveler?”
Momiji’s heart stopped. “You mean, the book?”
“Yeah, I remember reading it a few years ago. The traveler who was so nice she got stolen from, by everybody! I remember thinking, are you still being stolen from if you want to be giving them something? Some people want to make being nice, or being naive, or...liking cute things, they want to make it a bad thing. Like saying, the world isn’t like that! Or, be more realistic! But what if being nice and liking pink and believing the world is a good place is my realistic? Why does everything have to be so serious all the time, you know?”
“Momiji? Are you okay?” She asked, peering at him from underneath his bent head. Momiji stood, and caught Kimi around the waist, hugging her, and then swinging her around in the air. Kimi squealed with surprise and delight, and they giggled together in the hallway for a brief, precious moment.
“You’re right ! You’re right about everything!” Momiji exclaimed as he twirled her around. “There’s nothing wrong with being naive!”
“What’s naive anyway, right?” She called back at him.
“Let’s be naive together!” He blurted, and stopped short, placing her back on the ground. Wait. Is that what I meant?
“I’d be naive with you, if you wanted.” Kimi said sweetly.
The hallway was beginning to be lit by the sun, as it got lower in the sky. The student council meeting had finished what was starting to be a long time ago. Most of the students had gone home, and his heartbeat seemed to be echoing in the empty space. Empty, except for the two of them, standing there.
“I, um, just,” Momiji suddenly felt shy, as if someone had turned his volume button way down. It felt like a delicate moment, and if he raised his voice, he might break it. He wondered if this was how Kyo felt. “I just want you to know that you don’t have to worry about manipulating me. You’re not. Know that, as long as I come to see you, it’s because I want to spend time with you. And...maybe, if we keep growing as people, someday those girls will realize you’re just you, and you’re not being mean, or jealous, or any of those things. I don’t think you’re any of those things. But even if you were, if you don’t want to be, you don’t have to be. Everyone can grow, and get better, right?”
“Like a flower,” she said happily. “Flowers can all be different, and still be beautiful, right? And they can come back, year after year! They’re beautiful, and they’re strong and resilient! Let’s be flowers, okay, Momiji?”