It was infectious.
Hikaru felt himself smiling in return and feeling the bubble of happiness rising up in his chest.
Chiyo stood by and sighed. “Full houses.”
“Every single one?” Hikaru asked.
“How many does your family own?” It might’ve been rude to ask, but he couldn’t stop the curiosity. ‘Must be Ruby rubbing off on me.’
“This side of the whole street.” She said without a care. “And some buildings around the rest of the country.”
Hikaru blinked. ‘Didn’t expect that.’
“And don’t think I’ve forgotten.” She lowered her voice as she continued. “My honour will be avenged.”
‘What the? Oh, the naked thing.’ He snorted. That was the start of him losing it and laughing out loud and attracting the attention of everyone in the lounge room.
Takashi tilted his head to the side.
His wife’s lips were squeezed tight.
Ruby threw a questioning look at Chiyo, who shrugged and shook her head.
Hikaru sighed, a last little hiccup of a laugh ending the disturbance. He flushed in embarrassment. “Sorry.”
Once everyone had settled in, Takashi pulled Hikaru to the side.
“We’ll catch up.” Takashi wore his board shorts and outlandish shirt half done up.
The women waved and headed through the back gate and directly onto the sand. Ruby and Chiyo were on either side of Yuki, ready to help if needed. Hikaru had to look away from the sight of the two women in bathers.
‘That’s an image I’m not going to forget anytime soon.’ Tiny strips of fabric barely covering rounded curves. Things bounced. A lot.
He snapped to attention and tried to turn his thoughts pure again. “Yes?”
“How are you?” He took the seat at the outdoor dining table and leaned back.
It echoed the interviews Hikaru had to endure when tendering for the professor position. Slowly he sank into the opposite seat. “Good. And you?”
“No, I want to talk about you. What’s going on?”
“You seem different?”
Hikaru slumped in the chair. “I feel different.”
“Yuki seems to think that you’ve moved your eye from Ruby to Chiyo.”
Takashi cocked an eyebrow. “Is she wrong? I thought you and Ruby were getting along well.”
‘Oh shit. This isn’t happening. What do I say to all of this? Especially to the man who sees himself as a father figure?’
“Hikaru, have you found time for romance?”
His tongue flicked out over his parched lips. “I don’t know.”
“You just seem more relaxed and you’re looking at the girls differently.”
Hikaru frowned. “How have you noticed all of this?”
“It’s easy to see that you’re not as uptight. And Hokuto has been reporting in. You saw Chiyo sunbathing?”
Hikaru groaned and buried his head into his hands.
“I don’t think she’s forgiven me for that.”
“She will,” he sighed. “But you’re going to have to decide soon what you’re going to do.”
Hikaru nodded his head. His stomach was in knots and he was sweating hard. Turning his head, he watched as the women joined Hokuto on the beach, laying down towels and putting up an umbrella for Yuki to sit under.
‘Both are so different.’ Ruby giggled, bending at her waist to whisper something to Yuki. She moved a lot. Chiyo remained stiff, arms folded. Only when Ruby latched onto her arm did she follow, but her movements were different.
“Where’s your sketch pad?”
Hikaru snapped back around. “Huh?”
Takashi repeated the question.
Like an obedient child, he went and fetched the item in question.
“There is another question.”
Hikaru anticipated it and asked before Takashi could. “Am I in the wrong career?”
“Yeah, that question. You have the skill and the subject matter to fill volumes of manga. Do you have the passion?”
Hikaru shrugged. “Are you planning on fixing all of my life?”
“I’m going to try.”
Hikaru grumbled. “I like literature.”
Takashi said nothing.
“I want to finish the paper so I can be taken serious as a professor.” Hikaru again looked at the others. Hokuto was splashing Ruby and Chiyo in the shallows. “Working for the university is steady. It’s safe. And a respectable life.” Ruby’s bottom rose in the air as she bent, diving her hands into the water.
It was distracting.
Hikaru wanted to be in that water, feeling the cool slide of it over his skin, and to be close to her. ‘But, she isn’t… oh, who am I kidding? Chiyo is attractive, but she isn’t Ruby.’
“Why won’t Ruby just move here? To Japan?”
There was no response.
Turning his head, he found himself alone, Takashi, he found was heading across the sand to his wife.
Hikaru sighed heavily, feeling like a fool to be sitting there talking to himself. “There. I know it’s there and I have nothing to stop it. If I let it, I could fall in love with Ruby.”
‘But, if I stay like this, will I have the time to be in love with her and give her what she needs?’
He couldn’t answer that without first knowing if Ruby could even consider settling down and being with him. ‘It could be a stable life for the most of it. If she likes.’
His skin crawled as he thought like that. “Stable? Ha.” He twisted his mouth in a demented smile. “Whatever she’s done to me, I don’t think I can settle for stable anymore. Damn woman.”
The restlessness in his body made him leap to his feet and begin to run, the searing heat from the sand burning the soles of his feet as he rushed. Quickly he collected Ruby in his arms as he hit the water. She squealed with laughter.
His heart squeezed.