We finally decide it's time to leave The Shanghai. As Misha and I get our money to pay for our parts of the bill, Shizune quickly puts down enough money to cover the whole thing.
["Shizune, no,"] I start to argue.
["Heeey!"] Misha wails, disappointed.
Shizune loudly snaps her fingers, causing both of us to jump. [I'm paying, and that's final!] she signs, looking at each of us sharply. [Today is our last day together, and as Class President, I owe you both so much.]
Both of us open our mouths and raise our hands to protest again, but another ear-splitting snap reduces us to simmering in still silence before her furious dark blue gaze, only able to with glare back at her in silent frustration.
[No arguing!] she signs furiously, looking at us with an imperious stare, daring us to defy her.
Fuming together, Misha and I look at each other. After a moment, I shrug in resignation. Misha's expression falls as my eyes and a shake of my head tell her it's just not worth the fight. Shizune's dug in her heels on this one. There's no uprooting her.
["So now what?"] I ask as we all slide out of the booth and stand. I glance at the windows and am surprised to see the angle of the sun. I hadn't realized how long we'd been in here, it must be approaching mid-afternoon.
Shizune smiles at Misha and I as she slides out of the booth last, stretching slightly as she stands beside me. [There's a couple of shops in town that I'd always wanted to visit, but never had time during the school year, between classes, Student Council, and everything else. How about we go and look around?]
I nod silently as Misha squeals, ["I love shopping!"]
The piercing pitch of her answer causes me to blink a few times as my ears recover. Glancing over at Shizune, I see her giggling silently at me, her hand covering her mouth. She beams at me as I look back at her, and I can't help but return her smile. We turn to go and I'm surprised by her hand finding mine, our fingers entwining as we three start to walk out of The Shanghai, perhaps for the last time.
As sad as I am when we cross the threshold into the warm rays of the sun outside, the touch of Shizune's hand in mine and the sight of her next to me gives me comfort. I glance over at Misha, who's smiling from ear to ear as we depart and I feel a bittersweet happiness. I squeeze Shizune's hand tightly as we walk, causing her to glance over at me,her eyes looking partly over the tops of her glasses. That dark blue gaze meets mine immediately and she lifts an eyebrow, quietly asking if everything is alright.
I beam at her with a joyous smile, my eyes filled with love for her and happiness as I nod, gripping her hand firmly. She smiles widely at me, squeezing my hand back just as tightly. Reaching out, she takes Misha's hand in her free one and smiles at our friend. I likewise look over at her and meet Misha's gaze. The pink haired girl looks back at us with a happy expression, but one that is not untouched by the twinge of sadness at the pending end of our trio.
Wordlessly, Shizune takes the lead, just as she always has. She guides us down the quaint streets of the cozy little hamlet, winding us through the nameless roads until we come upon a small, obscure shop. I reach forward to open the door for the two young ladies that accompany me, smiling at them as they file in, each meeting my gaze with a cute smile.
Stepping in after them, I'm taken by the stillness of the small store as an aura of light washes over me. I look ahead of me to see aisle after aisle of open, glass shelving. Upon every tier of every row are a seemingly endless assortments of glass figurines of all shapes and sizes. The sun pours in from a skylight overhead, causing the whole room to sparkle as the rays of light reflect and cascade through the innumerable sculptures arrayed throughout the room. It's as if the shop owner had captured the sun and set it out for display.
I hear Misha suck in her breath as she sees the sight before us. I glance over at Shizune who simply looks around with a quiet smile, taking it all in. Clearly she's been here before, and now she simply relaxes while the beauty of the shop's wares spills over us like the crystal waves of a glass ocean, lapping upon a gleaming shore in a idyllic and, far, far away from here.
[This is amazing,] I sign in silence, unable to bring myself to disturb the perfect stillness of the store with the coarseness of any words I might force through my throat.
[It really is,] Misha signs in agreement. We look about us in amazement. I'm partly amazed that she also chose to stay silent, though not so surprised. It seems like sacrilege to disturb this room with any noise at all.
[I love coming here,] Shizune signs with a blissful smile. Looking at her, I can't remember ever seeing such a serene expression on her face. It makes me very happy to see her like this. [It's so peaceful.]
She signs nothing more, only stares at the scene before her for a while, her eyes slowly roaming over the rows of luminescent shelving arrayed through the room. I watch her in silence for a while, finding myself unable to look away from the blissful expression on her face. The slight smile that blooms on her face makes me think she knows I'm watching her.
I look away to likewise enjoy the view before us, my eyes wandering from shelf to shelf, studying at the countless variety of statuettes, large and small. Some are colored a variety of different hues, while many are the purest white crystal and glass. The light leaps about the room like a lithe dancer, captivating me.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Shizune sign to Misha [Come here, I want to show you these,] she says with a wide grin. The two girls wander off while signing to each other in constant conversation. I watch them move deeper into the shop, smiling widely at the sight of them, so happy together. It's natural for me to decide not to follow. They should get some time to themselves. After today, I'll have Shizune all to myself, but we won't see Misha for a very long time.
Instead, I wander through the various aisles of glass and crystal, walking slowly, reverently. My eyes leisurely cast over the wares displayed before me as I smile serenely at the sights. Memories of the past year mingle with the fanciful visions invoked by the amazing sculptures arrayed before me on the seemingly endless clear shelving. I wander aimlessly through the shop, a feeling of contentment settling over me as I slowly make my way.
While I wander down one of the innumerable aisles, the sight of one sculpture in particular catches my eye and stops me in my tracks.
Sitting at only about 2 inches tall, I see a bright, purple, glass cat. It reminds me pointedly of the stuffed cat toy that I won for Shizune at the first festival, earlier in the year. I draw in a deep breath as I look at the tiny marvel before me, my lips curling into a wide smile. I pick up the statuette and look at it with wonder, realizing immediately what I have to do.
I glance about me. Neither of the girls are in sight. Quickly I make my way to the back of the shop, where the register sits. Behind it is an old woman, who smiles as she sees me approach.
"Find something you like?" she asks as I set down the cat.
"Yes, please," I whisper, glancing over my shoulder in alarm, fearing that her voice will draw Misha and thus Shizune over.
She nods, looking at the small sculpture. "A fine choice," she comments. "Is that for one of the young ladies you came in with?"
I flinch as she continues to talk, glancing over my shoulder again. "It is," I answer in a whisper, "though I was hoping it could be a surprise..."
The woman's eyes widen at my words and she cackles. "Oh, pardon me, young sir," she answers as she continues laughing. "I'm just a foolish old lady. Let me go ahead and take care of you. That'll be two thousand yen," she continues on, smiling at me from behind the counter.
The price makes me flinch, but it is definitely worth it. Grimacing, I pull out my money and lay it down on the counter. The woman nods as she picks up the cash and rings it up on the register. "Would you like a bag for that?" she asks
With a shake of my head I scoop up the cat, just as Misha rounds the corner from one of the shelves. "No thanks," I quickly mumble as I stuff the statue into my pocket, turning on my heel.
"Thank you," I tell her hurriedly as I glance back over again. Shizune follows out of the aisle, just behind Misha. The two are signing with each other as they slowly make their way, apparently too distracted by their conversation to notice me. I quickly duck into the nearest aisle, breathing a sigh of relief as I put some distance between me and the woman minding the shop.
Walking slowly down the row, I pretend to look at the various statues. Mostly though, I'm keeping an eye over my shoulder, watching to see if one or both of the girls comes down the way behind me. As I slowly meander along, I see no sign of them, nor do I hear them. Holding my breath, I listen intently for any sign of them. After a couple of minutes, I decide I'm in the clear and breathe a sigh of relief.
I turn around and nearly run headlong into Shizune. She's standing in front of me with crossed arms and a scowl. I jump out of my skin and cry out in surprise. My reaction draws out a giggle from Misha, who's standing behind my girlfriend. Shizune lifts an eyebrow at me.
[What are you doing?] she asks as she stares intently at me, her dark blue eyes probing while her hands move abruptly to sign out her sharp question.
I freeze in panic, looking back into her eyes with what I fear is a guilty look. [Nothing,] I manage to sign as she watches me with that penetrating gaze of hers. Forcing a smile, I add, [just looking around at all the lovely sculptures.]
Shizune's brow furrows while Misha giggles again, her gaze unwavering. [You're acting very strangely,] she signs further, her gaze growing all the more intense.
Trying to feign a confused look to cover up the guilty one I fear I've been showing, I ask with an innocent smile, [why do you say that?]
Wordlessly she studies me for the space of several moments, drawing out the silence to uncomfortable proportions while her piercing gaze keeps me pinned to the spot. Behind her, Misha continues to giggle, watching the scene unfold with impish enthusiasm. As she watches us, the knowing look in her eyes and wry smile makes me think that she knows what I'm up to. Our eyes meet for the briefest of moments and she smiles devilishly at me winking.
Yet it seems she hasn't told Shizune, given the glower that my girlfriend is giving me.
I now smile widely at Shizune, which only adds to her irritation with me. She studies me with her unblinking stare, which I return confidently now. My grin grows as I look into her eyes, causing her scowl to deepen.
Finally, she signs in a huff, [You're abnormal.]
[Sure I am,] I sign back to her with a grin, while Misha laughs behind Shizune. [But since you love me, then what does that make you?]
Shizune rolls her eyes and signs without missing a beat, [a saint for putting up with you.]
With that, she grabs my hand and turns around to lead us both out of the store, ending our conversation. I meet Misha's gaze as Shizune drags me along. She smiles from ear to ear at me, still giggling.
"Thanks," I tell her quietly with a grin of my own, causing her to smile all the more. For once I'm quite glad that Shizune has no idea we're even talking, let alone what we're saying, since she's facing away from us.
"What'd you get her?" she asks just as softly. Idly, I wonder why we're both whispering, since Shizune could never hear our voices.
"I'll show you later," I promise, still whispering while winking at her and grinning along with her like the co-conspirator that she is. She nods in agreement, excitement scrawled across her face.
We leave the shop, the two of us hustling behind Shizune's typical hurried steps as she drags us out into the street and onto the next shop.