by Tari Gwaemir
"Three years were not enough."
It took her three years to forget him. Three years to stop startling at the mention of his name, to pause at his photograph in her album without holding her breath, to imagine other faces before she fell asleep at night, to murmur other names when she looked into the mirror every morning. Three years before the taste of tea no longer reminded her of him.
She went to college, got her degree, began a career. She wore crisp suits and pinned up her hair; she wore makeup that made her soft face seem sleek and polished. She dated other men--all casual, cordial affairs, with outings to the cinema and dinners at fancy restaurants--and drifted apart from them with time. Her heart remained intact and beating. She told herself that she had grown into her own skin.
She did not think of him again until the morning of Tsukushi's wedding, when she came out of the dressing room, trying to feel as poised and graceful as a maid-of-honor should. As she struggled with her corsage, she felt him approach her from behind, the tickle of his breath as he leaned down and whispered in her ear, "Mademoiselle."
She held still. "Nishikado-san."
"It's been a while," he said as he spun her around by the waist. "Why, Yuki! You've grown up!"
She crushed the flowers in her hand as she looked up into his smiling face, feeling the mask of three years' sophistication fall away until she was once again a girl dizzy with the memories of him.
"How are you?" she asked when she could bring herself to speak.
"As well as ever." He did not let go of her waist. "And you?"
"Fine." She tried to pull free, but he held her firmly and gently took the ruined corsage from her hand.
"I'll get you a new one."
He touched her cheek and leaned forward. She closed her eyes and counted each one of his breaths in their erratic rhythm. He said quietly, "Strange. Even now, you're still one of those girls that I can't seduce," and kissed her on the forehead before he let her go.
She opened her eyes and watched him leave. Three years were not enough.