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Edited by RedPandaChick
Kozue and I got off the drop tower. We walked through the exit path and combed our hair after realizing they were both a mess, but not before getting a good laugh out of it first.
She didn't take long to tease me for calling her beautiful, I already expected it. What I hadn't realized was that, what had crossed my mind, I had actually said those words out loud. I was too invested in admiring the landscape; it was the first time I had seen something like that in real life and I shared the moment with Kozue.
I changed the topic as soon as possible. We needed to choose our next ride. I inspected the buildings around us and one sign caught my attention because of how many hearts it had. Love Tunnel.
Then I noticed the rest of the details. Two heart characters rode a boat above a stream with many other, smaller hearts surrounding them.
A boat. I doubt Kozue will like it. I should look around for another one.
"Forget it. Let me search more."
"Why? You were looking at the Love Tunnel, right?"
I nodded. "But the sign is a boat, you probably won't enjoy it."
"It's fine, it'll probably be a narrow stream. Also, the duck boats were fun. As long as you… we are together."
She snapped her head away and blushed. My heart raced a little.
"I see. Let's go, then," I smirked.
We walked together towards the sign, not too far ahead. Since we had gotten further into the park, it wasn't as crowded as the common area. I kept looking around at the buildings and stalls in search of a gift for Yu-tan but hadn't found anything suitable yet.
Compared to the previous rides, the queue for the tunnel was very short. It made sense since it was meant for couples. We stepped into the dark tunnel, still illuminated enough to see. Though there weren't many people, the boats were quite slow, which made the queue move just as slow.
The boats that left the station soon disappeared into an even darker tunnel. No one returned once they got on the ride. I wonder what's inside.
Not long after, we got on the small boat for two people with the help of an employee. There weren't many securing straps and we were careful not to touch each other while sitting down.
I stared forward as the boat in front of us sailed into the darkness. It was a little scary, but there was still some light—which helped to reveal that the tunnel was bright pink.
"Are you nervous?" Kozue asked me.
"No, but I'm curious about what's inside."
I bounced my leg a few times before the boat started moving forward. We slowly entered the tunnel and the light soon disappeared behind us. Only strips of pink lights on the ground and the ceiling illuminated the path ahead.
The boat made some turns and kept going forward for a while with nothing much happening apart from cute decorations and murals. We approached a dead end, there was nowhere else for the boat to go, and I started to worry a little. At first, I thought it was a door, but nothing moved. We were in front of the wall when some folds appeared in it; they were curtains that the boat smoothly pushed aside. We entered a new room, completely dark. I couldn't even see Kozue sitting on my right.
"Can you see anything?" she asked me.
Out of nowhere, a bolt of lightning thundered and I instinctively covered my ears and shut my eyes. My heart hammered in my chest and started to ache. My breathing became heavy and hasty. My head started pounding. I was unable to control my body.
"Are you okay?" Kozue said.
Suddenly, my breathing stopped, but also did the hammering. Then the pounding vanished and my breathing slowly returned to normal.
Did Kozue's voice soothe me?
"Y-Yes. They should warn you about it."
"I agree. Though it seems like they won't do it anymore."
"I hope so."
Just as I finished the sentence, another thunder exploded. It was softer than the previous one, but it was enough for me to close my eyes and cover my ears again. However, the pounding wasn't there and my breathing remained calm.
"Don't worry, it's not even a real storm. And I'm here with you."
I lowered my arms and opened my eyes. "Yes, you're right."
I noticed Kozue's hand opening and moving towards mine, but she stopped. Sadly, it was only logical.
A couple more bolts of lightning thundered. My shoulders tensed up every time, but I didn't cover my ears anymore. Instead, I focused on the story of the murals. It told about a couple that separated after a quarrel. Even though they were neighbors, they distanced themselves as if they lived on opposite sides of the world. They soon realized their dumb mistake and how miserable they were without each other. However, they also discovered they were too dependent on each other.
Suddenly, there were no more murals and I couldn't see the stream ahead. Soon enough, the boat accelerated and we slid down a ramp. It wasn't steep at all, but Kozue still closed her eyes and grasped onto the boat. Her fear of the water was obvious. Then I understood why she wanted to hold my hand, but I couldn't do anything to comfort her except to chat a little.
Fortunately, that was the only ramp. The remaining tunnel showed how the couple slowly got back together, taking their time to solve their problems, including personal ones.
The story ended. The sunlight brightened the exit of the tunnel where an employee waited to help us out. We walked off of the ride and, right in front of us at the end of the exit, there was a restaurant with many hearts and cute drawings.
"Are you hungry?" I asked.
She smiled and nodded. "But I feel bad for Hisa and Rem taking care of Yu-tan. It hasn't been three hours yet, but…"
"I'm sure they are having fun."
"And they were the ones that suggested it. Do you think they'd be happy if you ended your date because you felt bad for them?"
"They would kill me!"
"Exactly. So, why don't you be selfish for once?"
Even though she still seemed troubled, she accepted.
We headed to the restaurant and stepped inside. We sat at a tiny table suitable for two people. Though the majority were like that, there were bigger tables with families around them.
"They placed this restaurant at the end of the ride on purpose," I said.
"Probably," she replied. Then her stomach growled. "Well, it works. I'll order something for us."
"Wait. I'll pay for it."
"No, no. I invited you, I'll—"
"I know you invited me, but I want us to be equal."
I stared at her with determination until she gave up.
"Okay. You'll pay, then," she smiled. "Do you want to order?"
I lifted the menu from the table in front of me and started skimming through it. Kozue did the same. Though there were quite a few options, most of them were desserts with a love theme.
As usual, I didn't even take a minute. "I'm done choosing. What do you want?"
"What? So fast?"
"Well, these heart-shaped pancakes with jam look tasty. And this smoothie too," she said, drooling as she looked at them.
"I also wanted that smoothie, but I don't know what flavor."
"Do you like pineapple?"
"Let's both order it, then!"
"Sure. Where is the bell?" I asked, inspecting the table.
"Or is it a button?"
"Oh, it seems that this restaurant doesn't have them," she giggled. "Unless you want to call a waiter, we need to wait."
We sat in silence, glancing at each other from time to time. Nothing to talk about came to my mind, apart from being curious if she had also wanted to hold my hand on the rides.
After gathering a bit of courage, I decided to ask her.
We spoke over each other.
"You first," she said.
I hesitated a little. "Did you want to hold my hand at some point?"
"What a coincidence, I was going to ask the same. Yes, I felt the need to a couple of times. And you?"
"I did too," I answered, scratching the back of my head. "But the swapping stopped me."
"Yes, it's a shame… But we had fun, right?"
"Except for the thunder."
"And the ramp downward."
We stared at each other before giggling.
Once again, we stayed silent.
"By the way, were you looking for something? You kept looking around while we walked," she asked me.
"I want to buy something for Yu-tan. Do you have any suggestions?"
Her expression turned thoughtful for a moment. Then she replied, "She loves foxes, but Hisa and Rem took her to see them. They probably bought something for her already."
"I'll help you find something after we eat."
A waiter arrived not long after. He asked for our order and then walked away. Five minutes later, another waiter brought our food, but there was something weird. The tray she was holding had our desserts, but there was only one smoothie. She placed the food down on the table before the smoothie. Then, she grabbed two straws from the tray and inserted them in the smoothie.
We stared at it, nervous and confused.
"Did we make a mistake? We can change it right away," the waiter said, worried.
I opened my mouth to answer, but Kozue replied first. "N-No, it's fine. Thanks."
The waiter sighed. "Please enjoy," she smiled and left.
"Why did you do that?" I wondered. Her face wouldn't stop turning redder.
"I-I didn't want to wait longer. And what's wrong with it? We are just drinking from the same glass. We only need to avoid drinking at the same time."
"Sure," I said, my cheeks warming a little.
We started eating. Neither one of us wanted to drink at first until Kozue finally took the initiative to do so. The smoothie slowly vanished from the glass. At some point, the idea of drinking at the same time as her crossed my mind, but I instantly erased it.
We chatted the whole time about many different topics until we finished. I paid with my recently-returned credit card and we walked outside.
Though there still was time left of the three hours, we decided to message Hashimoto-san and Rem-san to meet at the common area. To my surprise, Sae-san was still with them, not looking so happy but also not displeased.
"Did you have fun?" Kozue asked.
"Yes!" Yu-tan instantly replied.
She jumped around with a lot of fox stuff; a hat, a shirt, and a plushie. It was a good thing that I decided not to buy anything yet. Instead, I would wait for another day and give it to her when possible.
"I'm glad," Kozue smiled. "Did you thank them?"
"Forgot!" Yu-tan shouted, mortified. "Thanks, Hisa, Rem, and Sae!"
"We were as surprised as you," Hashimoto-san smirked.
We all stared at Sae-san in silence. She stood still with her arms crossed and her eyes closed. Confused, she opened them and looked at us.
"What? That Suzuka and I are rivals doesn't mean I hate kids."
That's one way to overstate it.
"In that case, thanks…," Kozue said, clearly uncomfortable.
"Don't get me wrong, I did it because of the peer pressure these two gave me," Sae-san replied, looking at Hashimoto-san and Rem-san.
I get that.
"You forced her?" Kozue questioned.
"We were joking around. We didn't think she would actually do it," Rem giggled.
"Anyway. I'm leaving. See ya later," Sae-san said. She turned around, then looked back at me and blew a kiss. "Bye-bye, Koji-kun."
That took me by surprise. However, Kozue was the one that clenched her fists and frowned. Hashimoto-san and Rem-san didn't stay behind, glaring at Sae-san. If there was going to be a fight, that was the moment.
Nothing happened. Sae-san snickered before walking away. But I had an idea—probably not a good one.
"Sae-san," I called.
She immediately stopped and turned around. "Yes?"
"Is someone going to pick you up?"
"No, I'm going back by taxi."
"Can you wait a little while? My chauffeur can drive all of us home."
Everyone stared at me with a poker face. Just by seeing Hashimoto-san's and Rem-san's expressions, I knew I had stepped on a landmine. They formed a cross with their arms in front of them, signaling me to stop. But I wouldn't be at peace if I didn't at least ask her.
"Of course!" she grinned and approached back.
Hashimoto-san and Rem-san sighed. Kozue looked down at the ground, not happy at all, but I knew she would understand. At least, I hoped she would.
We left the park and Yoshimura-san arrived after a while. Kozue and I sat at the very back of the car with Yu-tan since we were getting off last. Hashimoto-san, Rem-san, and Sae-san sat in the middle.
Needless to say, the atmosphere was awkward the entire time. No one wanted to start a conversation except for Yu-tan, still joyful for seeing the foxes—though she asked quite a few awkward questions that didn't help alleviate the mood.
Sae-san got off first. Her house surprised me a little; it was quite big for a small family. Unless her situation was like mine, she probably lived with quite a few more people.
As soon as she left, I moved to the middle seat with Hashimoto-san and Rem-san. The window was open and I looked outside at Sae-san. A man with glasses received her at the door. She stepped inside but, before the man closed the door and disappeared, he glared at me. I felt the same pressure when I met Kozue's parents.
Out of nowhere, someone slapped my head.
"Apologize," Hashimoto-san demanded.
"Apologize!" both she and Rem-san yelled.
I understood why, but they didn't need to be that aggressive.
"I'm sorry, Kozue. I did it because I didn't want her to leave alone. I've heard many awful stories. I hope you understand."
"I do. I would've done the same," she replied.
I knew it.
"Then why are you so gloomy?"
"I don't know. As illogical as it sounds, a part of me didn't want you to do it, so we could be alone. I guess this is what happens when you ask me to be selfish."
I chuckled. "That's a bad excuse, Suzuka. You just need to find the balance. Let's help each other. I'll teach you how to be more selfish, I'm an expert at it. And you'll help me be more kind."
She stared at me from the back seat, surprised. Then she smiled.
"Silly, you're not that selfish. But I accept your offer, Koji."
Only then I realized that we had called each other by our first names. Our faces flushed and I looked toward the front of the car. Hashimoto-san and Rem-san signaled me with a thumbs up and smirked.
We drove for a while more until everyone had been dropped off at their houses. Yoshimura-san and I were alone on our way home, as usual.
"Let's help each other," he jested.
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