“…A white Christmas, huh?”
“Ahhh. I’ll never forget this scene, I guess.”
“Because I’m next to you?”
“I’ll be angry if not.”
“Then yes, because of you.”
—After fooling around like that, the actor and actress on the TV kissed.
I never turned it on, but we did have a TV at home. It was usually switched on at dinner time, mostly for BGM.
In our family of four, Yume and I were complete bookworms, so it usually fell to dad or Yuni-san to turn on the TV.
“Aaah~ Looking at this scene somehow makes me feel lonely,” Yuni-san lamented as she watched the actors exchange a kiss more passionate than normal people could do. “Christmas is always such a rush ‘cause we’re preparing to welcome in the new year. Just thinking of the 25th of December makes me melancholic. And my heart always used to squeal in delight around this time~”
“Hahaha! Although we’re still young at heart, when it comes to such moments…aaah, but Mizuto and Yume-chan are around that age, right?”
Once dad said that, Yume and I stopped moving our chopsticks.
“Don’t worry about us when you get a lover~! Well, Mizuto’s a lost cause, but Yume-chan looks like she stands a chance!”
“Fufufu. She really changed a lot, you know~? She used to be a really plain girl back then—”
Yume reproached her mother, and shot me a sideward glance.
Just in case, huh? I won’t mention it even if you don’t remind me.
Yuni-san smiled as she put her elbows on the table, hands on chin.
“But well, I’m looking forward to it. I wonder when Yume and Mizuto-kun’ll let us have the house to ourselves for Christmas?”
“Shall we act like youngsters again when that time comes, Yuni-san?”
“Fufu, of course. I’m looking forward to it~ Let’s hope they’ll work hard for it then.”
…Neither Dad nor Yuni-san knew.
Yume and I did once let them have the house for Christmas.
Our parents knew nothing; only she and I knew what happened on that chilly day.
It was eighth grade, the first Christmas after Yume Ayai and I had started dating.
“—I’m back! Mizuto! I bought cake!”
I am Mizuto Irido, an eight-grader with a girlfriend. I was the protagonist of that Christmas day; every other man was nothing more than a background character compared to me.
So then, why!? The only thing I did was to go out and buy a small cake at a nearby convenience store, together with my dad… just like last Christmas.
If the idea of spending Christmas with a loved one were to undergo a Galápagos-like evolution, then surely, this was the correct way to spend your Christmas.
It was just too difficult to believe. Now that I had a girlfriend, a girlfriend, shouldn’t my Christmas be more special!?
“How is it? Is the chocolate cake good?”
“Let me have a bite. I’ll give you a bite of my shortcake.”
Shouldn’t I be having this conversation with my girlfriend, Yume Ayai? So why…?!
No, I knew. I knew exactly why.
We were in middle school, still hiding the fact we were dating from everyone around us. It was impossible to go out on a midnight date to those beautiful, romantic places.
At least I got to meet her in the afternoon. We’d gone to the same old spot, where the same old Jingle Bell tune had been playing over and over for the past month or so, just like all the other couples.
Just like that, we went our separate ways, as usual.
It was really mundane.
As mundane as going home after school… And I knew exactly why.
Ahh, just laugh. Laugh all you want.
This coward without equal chickened out, just as he was gonna hand her the gift he picked out for her with such care!
I’d muster my courage, asked the shop attendant to wrap the gift, and then put it on my bedroom desk where it acted as decoration.
Just kill me already.
“Hm? What’s wrong, Mizuto? You’re looking a little glum… Ahh, I get it, a present! See, I prepared one for you~! ─It’s a library card!”
I wanna die.
“…I wanna die…”
Yume Ayai (that’s me) was sprawled on her desk, feeling utterly depressed.
Actually, forget depressed. I was already dead. I died. Thanks for caring, everyone. Please look forward to the next work.
“Why’d it end up like this…every single time… No matter how I prepare, I clam up when it matters most… I’ve had enough…”
There was a gift-wrapped box on my desk. It was a present for Irido-kun, prepared specially for today.
I was supposed to look for an opportunity to hand it to him during our afternoon Christmas date. Instead, it was right there on my desk; in other words, quest failed.
I was satisfied with the date itself. We went to some places frequented by lovers, which we normally didn’t do, and it really caught up with me that “Whoah, we’re really dating.”
Well, I guess that was also the problem.
I’d been worrying the entire time. Would I ruin the good mood if I did something indecent? Would the happy mood dissipate…? I never got to hand over the present, even when our date came to an end.
I felt like crying.
I’d always been that way. I hardly ever did the things I wanted to do. The only thing that ever went right for me was confessing to Irido-kun…
…If I stayed this way, I was sure he’d grow sick and tired of me…
“Yume~? I’ll take a bath first, okay~?”
I heard mom’s voice right when I was about to cry.
I always gave Irido-kun a call after my bath.
I’ll just tell him ‘Oh actually, I prepared a present for you. I’ll give it to you next time!’
Since I made up my mind, I was gonna hurry.
I was about to answer mom and head to the bath first, but an old western tune came from the phone on my table.
It was the theme song for the movie Irido-kun forced on me before we went dating. It was a tune that only played when he called, and I hastily picked up the phone.
To avoid accidentally hanging up, I carefully slid the button to “Accept.”
That was the voice I most wanted to hear at that point. Just hearing it made me happy, but what Irido-kun had to say was beyond my expectation.
“Mind coming to the veranda?”
I saw the white breath blend into the air, and Ayai’s window opened.
She leaned from the veranda, spotted me, and I heard a groan from the receiver.
“No, erm…well, it’s Christmas after all.”
It was so embarrassing. I wanted to change the topic then and there.
But I had to endure. It was a special day, so it should be fine for me not to act cool, to not give excuses…it was Christmas after all.
I took a deep breath, and resisted the urge to let out my inner chuuni.
“…I wanted to… see your face again.”
Ayai let out a voice on the other side of the call.
Wh-what? What’s going on? She’s sounding like she just sensed a Great Old One.
Amidst the confusion, beep, she hung up.
And then, Ayai, who’d been leaning from the veranda, retreated back indoors.
She found me disgusting after all…
I’d expected it… After all, I’d dropped by without notice. If the roles were reversed, I would’ve felt the same way.
Ahhh, just kill me already. Sorry for being alive.
Just as my despair spiraled into the form of Osamu Dazai, a small silhouette came running toward the entrance to the apartments…
Ayai got onto the cold walkway, exhaling white breath as she tried to regain her breath.
Panting heavily, she put her hands on her knees, looked up at me,, and gave an apprehensive smile.
“A-Ahaha. Y-you came out here?”
“No…erm, that’s my line,” Irido-kun replied coolly. Despite that, he’d stiffened all over… Maybe he was really shocked after all.
I was a little happy.
Happy I managed to get back at him by surprising him.
I came running down the stairs as I was too impatient to wait for the elevator, and took quite a long time to catch my breath. Once I moved my hands away from my knees, I smiled bashfully once again.
“E-ehehe. Mom went to bathe…so I used this chance to come here.”
“Ahh…I-I see. That’s why…”
“So, erm…well, I guess, we only have…about 30 minutes.”
“30 minutes…? I see.”
We normally didn’t talk much, and that day, we stammered quite a bit. However, I was beyond myself that I held a conversation without bursting into laughter, or feeling anxious. A conversation without ruining the mood.
Ahhh… It was a special day for Irido-kun, too. I wasn’t the only one who treasured our time together…
He wasn’t the type to wear his heart on his sleeve, and my heart fluttered whenever I got a rare glimpse at his true feelings.
He didn’t look like he was particularly interested in other people, but he was in fact, very kind and caring. He normally looked extremely poised, but really, there were moments when he would panic in secret.
Before I knew it, I assembled an image of the real Irido-kun, piece by piece. I cautiously gathered each bit in a photo album inside my heart, and would look at it over and over…
I really enjoyed my time with him, so much so that he dominated my world that had previously been dominated by reading.
That was why, I—
I shivered, and sneezed.
Huh? …Oh, I see.
“…I forgot my coat…”
It was then that I felt cold.
I’ve been too hasty in running out of the house…! Uuuuu, it was such a rare time to be together… Why now of all times…?
“Oy oy, you’re rather careless,” Irido noted dumbfoundedly, and he undid the buttons of his coat. “Here.”
He removed his coat, and draped it over my shoulders.
It’s so warm…
My head felt a little fuzzy when the warm coat was placed over me. It’s like I was embraced by Irido-kun, and I was a little embarrassed… You can hug me directly if you want, you know—I had such a thought, and that left me more embarrassed. Who was I to think that way?
For various reasons, I started heating up. I tried to take a short breather, but…
“…But won’t you be cold too, Irido-kun?”
“No, I’m fine,” Irido-kun answered, though his shoulders were shivering a little.
He’s just acting tough. So friggin cute…! But he’ll catch a cold if this goes on. What should I do…?
Those were my thoughts, and I came up with a highly difficult plan. In fact, it’d be too difficult to execute properly on the first go, and it might be easier to just slip it underneath the tree. No, well, but… It was Christmas after all.
…It’s Christmas after all!
I was overwhelmed by the power of those words, which urged me on from behind.. Thank you, Jesus Christ. For me, that was the one miracle that could convert me to Christianity.
I could sense my face turning beet red, but having been compelled by the power of Christmas, I sputtered out the rest.
“Shall…we wear it together?”
Unexpectedly, we could fit into the coat together.
Ayai and I were together, shoulder to shoulder underneath the coat. Ayai shivered anxiously, carefully leaning in against me.
…She’s so light.
Yet so warm.
And she smells nice.
I fell into a relieved state, though my heartbeat was racing as a result. It’d be bad if I started thinking with my johnny, though. I stared vacantly into the night sky, trying to avoid clueing her in to my less-than-pure thoughts.
And Ayai giggled.
“Nothing…I just thought my boyfriend’s cute.”
Ugh… She saw right through me.
She’d been on edge the entire time, but she said that sort of stuff so easily…
While I bit down my embarrassment in silence, Ayai hastily waved her hands.
“Ah… Y-you’re angry!? S-sorry…?”
“No, I’m not angry. Just embarrassed… You don’t have to worry so much.”
Ah heck, who cares if it’s cringe? It’s Christmas…
“—I won’t get angry, since it’s you…”
I guessed my words trailed off a little weakly because I was completely relaxed. This left me all the more embarrassed, and I turned my head aside.
“…Ehe. Ehehe. Ehehehehehehe…”
Ayai sounded a little happy and nervous, and leaned more onto my shoulder.
Looks like she liked it. Thank goodness. Was worried I said something wrong.
In this short moment, I quietly felt the weight lifted off my shoulders. Two white breaths appeared intermittently under this night sky.
I turned my eyes to the voice, and saw Ayai peeking up at me.
“I have something…to give you.”
My heart jolted. Ayai had prepared something, too.
“You said…you won’t be angry as long as it’s from me, right? Then…you will…accept my gift…right?”
Her voice sounded increasingly feeble as she kept talking, confidence flagging.
Whenever Ayai acted that way, I wound up thinking there was no need for her to be so nervous. Ayai wasn’t stupid at all, and it’s not like I felt bad being with her, and…well, her face was cute, too.
If only she could talk to people normally, without all the anxiousness spilling out, she should’ve been able to make a lot of friends. She knew that, too, but for some reason she simply lacked confidence, and people shunned her because of it.
I wordlessly inserted my hand into the pocket, and took out a gift-wrapped box.
Ayai saw that, and kept blinking away.
“A Christmas gift…I was a little nervous this afternoon, and didn’t give it to you.”
Ayai looked up at me with a dumbfounded face—and then…
“—Pfft! Aha! Ahahaha! Ahahahaha…!!”
She giggled, and then let out a cute laugh.
And I ended up a little miffed.
“You don’t have to laugh like that…”
“S-sorry…! But, well…I never thought we’d be so similar, Irido-kun.”
“In other words, you too, Ayai…?””
Ayai took out a wrapped gift, and showed it to me.
Even I started to chuckle when I saw that. Side by side, we laughed for a long time.
The frigid winds stinging our ears and cheeks soon felt like nothing.
Once we stopped laughing, Ayai wiped the tears from her eyes, and covered her mouth with her gift.
“Let’s…exchange presents then.”
“Ahh, let’s do it.”
We exchanged our nice-looking boxes. It wasn’t anything real important, but to us, it was a solemn ritual.
I handed my box over to Ayai, and in turn, I received her box.
I looked at the front, the back, and the front again. I couldn’t wait anymore.
“Can I open it?”
“You can open mine.”
We undid the red ribbons in unison.
It wasn’t like we’d never given each other presents before, but till that point, we’d only given each other practical gifts. There wasn’t any danger of them being rejected.
Those Christmas presents were different.
They weren’t practical in any way. It was risky and difficult to deal with…the sort of presents you only exchanged if you had the courage to be lovers.
“…Ah…” Ayai muttered once she opened the box. “Is this…a pendant?”
Contained in the little box was a glass pendant with a pink flower encased in it.
It wasn’t anything real expensive. After all, it was bought with a middle schooler’s pocket money. I’d spent a lot of effort thinking about it, despite lacking any fashion knowhow; after all, I didn’t normally bother with such accessories. I wound up surfing the internet a lot, and still wasn’t sure if it could be considered pretty, but─
Ayai dangled the pendant before her.
“Amazing…there’s a flower inside the glass…what kind of flower is this?”
“Showy Baby’s-Breath. I like its floral language.”
Hearing that, Ayai took out her phone to search immediately. I started to panic.
“No…! Wait! It’s a little embarrassing…!”
“Eh? But it’s fine, right?”
Ayai smiled mischievously as she turned to shield her phone. “Erm.” She started reading the search results out. ” ‘Romance’, ‘purity’, ‘sincerity’, ‘innocence’…”
“…Actually, erm.” I could only give up and confess to her. “…It’s commonly used in wedding bouquets.”
Ayai looked down at her pendant once again, her face so clearly red even in the night.
…What’s this? A marriage proposal…!?
My face started to sear at this point. I should have chosen a normal one after all!
I was overwhelmed with regret, and Ayai opened the packaging, lifted her hair, and put on the pendant.
“Alright…done…… How is it?”
The pendant I’d gifted Ayai was now around her neck.
…Ahhh. Ahh—ahh—how do I describe this?
Should I call this happiness, or giddiness…? Either way, my heart was swelling with a sense of achievement.
“I’ve never worn something like this before, so I don’t know if it suits me…”
“No, it suits you very well,” I inadvertently blurted. “It really does… You’re cute.”
“Eh? …Nn, nn… Th-thank…”
Ayai looked away bashfully, her cold, red face starting to relax.
That expression of hers showed me that the time and effort I put in was more than richly rewarded.
“…I shall open your present then.”
I unwrapped the box while Ayai looked at me tensely.
“Heh… We really are in sync.”
…It was a necklace.
I lifted the necklace, and there was a feather-like decoration hanging on it.
“There’s not a real nice backstory for your present, Irido-kun… It’s more of a quill pen than a feather.”
“A quill pen?”
“Erm, well…” Ayai’s eyes fluttered for quite some time, and then she finally seemed to have made up her mind as she said, “……I like to see you scribbling away on your notebook when you’re studying for the tests.”
I was silent for several seconds, trying to comprehend her words.
“…..So that’s your fetish?”
“Ahhhhhhhhhh…!! R-rather than a fetish, it’s just an interest of mine…!!”
Well, that’s a fetish if ever I’ve seen one.
Ayai lowered her head dejectedly. “Uuu…sorry for saying something off-putting.”
“You’re always apologizing for this and that,” I said, as I tried putting on the pendant. “Look.”
Once she saw me put on her present, Ayai’s gloomy face started to change.
I saw her rein in her excitement, and I chuckled.
“Christmas presents sure are something.”
“N-nn…! Th-they really are!”
We shared these shallow thoughts of ours, looked at each other again, and chuckled.
After that, we spent another ten or so minutes with our aimless conversations.
There weren’t any pretty lights.
There weren’t any romantic snowflakes.
We were just by a tree next to the apartments. It was just a lonely tree, in the dim light of street lamps and home lights.
Despite that, the fleeting moment on this day was firmly etched in our hearts.
“…See you, then.”
“…Ahh, next time.”
We gently waved, bidding each other farewell at the apartment’s entrance.
It was a little quiet, as we said nothing, both reluctant to leave the other.
—And because I knew that, I grabbed Ayai’s wrist.
I pulled Ayai closer, and bent forward.
We were forced to remain silent.
I stood upright again, and Ayai’s face had turned red because of something other than the cold. She blinked in surprise.
“…Well, it’s Christmas,” I said by way of excuse.
Ayai smiled. “Yes… It’s Christmas after all.”
This time, Ayai tiptoed a little.
Once she stood properly again, we smiled at each other, and finally broke away.
At that point, we still hadn’t told anybody about our relationship.
One day, I was going to mention her to dad. Six months before, I never would’ve thought I’d have a girlfriend to introduce to him.
I walked home alone, and saw the pendant dangling on my chest.
Could we meet openly on the next Christmas?
Would we meet at either house, and gather together at the same table?
What kind of present would we gift next time?
“…I should start thinking about it now.”
365 days from today.
Starting from that moment, I was looking forward to that day.
365 days later, we’d stopped talking to each other.
“Nothing lasts forever…”
Now in my first year of highschool, I took out that necklace after so long, and grasped the truth of this world.
For a time since that Christmas, we’d try to find our gifts around the other’s necks, and then laugh about it. Because of that, we’d deliberately hide them in our collars or mufflers, or even in places you’d not think to look. What was so fun about that, though?
But now, I didn’t think she’d notice, or even look for it. After all, I fully expected she’d have tossed out that pendant the moment she moved.
“…It’s been a while, shall I wear it?”
If she didn’t notice, my hypothesis would be confirmed. If she did, then perhaps she’d have an interesting reaction.
Feeling enthusiastic, I put on the necklace, hid the feather design beneath my clothes, and left my room.
I probably would meet her on the way to the bathroom—so I thought.
I opened the door, and met her on the second-floor hallway.
It was Yume, now a first year in highschool, taller and with longer hair than before.
And then, I noticed something on her.
There was a familiar pendant glittering among her black hair.
That was the only interaction we had. We said nothing else and went down the stairs.
The dinnertime TV drama ended when I entered the living room. Dad was at the dining table, while Yuni-san was in the kitchen, putting the dishes into the dryer.
“Ohh, Mizuto. Going to take a bath?”
“I think the water’s warm by now. Yume, play rock paper scissors if you want to go first!”
They never noticed the small change between us.
We answered our parents, sat on the sofa before the TV, leaving a space between us, and wordlessly opened the books we brought from our rooms.
Yume suddenly giggled.
I kept my eyes on my book.
“We really aren’t in sync,” Yume said, without looking up from her book..
“Yeah,” I answered, and I went back to reading.
My book was ‘A Christmas Carol’, and Yume’s book was ‘Hercule Poirot’s Christmas’.