"Why are you always following me around? Why can’t you leave me alone?" I watched with interest as the shade of red on my best friend’s face rose to a brilliant, frustrated crimson. "You’re always there; we can’t even go a week without seeing you!"
"In other words," his smirking counterpart replied, not seeming phased by the exasperrated screaming, "You just can’t stand to be in the presense of a real trainer." He kept that enthralling, stormy-eyed gaze fixed on the soft brown one before him, arms crossed over his chest in satisfaction.
My eyes slid back and forth between the two, ignoring the almost tangible tension in the air between them. First, Satoshi, my friend and companion, brown-eyed and raven-haired, always with the same grubby cap and faded jeans. He could look me straight in the eye now, and he was trim and fit at sixteen years of age. No longer baby-faced and cute – now he was something close to beautiful. And Shigeru, the enigmatic and charming rival, with burnished red hair and deep blue-grey eyes. Sharply dressed, tall and strong, cutting a striking figure in dark purple hues. The potential for being completely and utterly gorgeous had always been there, and at eighteen, he’d far exceeded it. The two of them glared at each other, neither backing down for even a second.
"Kasumi." Takeshi tugged on my arm. "We’d better take off. They’re going to start arguing again; you know how they get when they’re together. Let’s go."
I shook my head. "No, I want to see this. You go ahead, Takeshi." I smiled. "We’ll catch up with you later."
"All right, if that’s what you want." He shrugged and turned to leave, and my attention returned to our two oblivious contestants.
They stood maybe a foot apart, facing each other, gazes locked, eyes burning into each other with a fierce quality of emotion I still couldn’t fully understand. They were getting ready to declare out and out war, I figured, to battle to the end for the beautiful prize.
Which was me, of course.
Well, that was perhaps a bit conceited of me. Always before I’d been Kasumi, the scrawny little sister of the Hanada City gym leaders. I felt I had grown some, though; I was eighteen and fairly pretty. Why shouldn’t I have two guys fighting over me? Lately, we’d been seeing Shigeru at least once a week, which was pretty often. And why else would he take the time to bother us, I reasoned, if not because he was madly in love with me?
"You wouldn’t know a real trainer if one of them bit you!" Satoshi shot back, in response to Shigeru’s comment. His hands were clenched into fists and his cheeks flushed. His rival, on the other hand, seemed perfectly calm and composed, just dripping with superiority.
There was something about Shigeru… Most obvious, of course, was the fact that he was painfully good-looking. Just watching him walk through a town or a city, I could find at least six or seven girls who would stare appreciatively as he walked by. Plus, he was a skilled trainer, he was confident and charismatic, and he could be unbelievably charming when he put his mind to it. I just knew that he was trying to impress me by ‘accidentally’ running into us so often; he wanted to be sure that I had been given a full view of his skill and charm before he actually took the leap and approached me. Shigeru was someone who always seemed to know just what he was doing, all of the time. And it was incredibly attractive. Besides, I felt certain that I could keep his ego under control. I was good at that.
I also knew just how Shigeru would approach me. He’d be smooth, but not too practiced, just acting as though he knew exactly what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it. He’d sweep me off my feet with his compliments, though I’d act like it wasn’t working. We’d form a mutual bond, almost, of romance built on casual flirting that was more like a lighthearted banter. Shigeru’s natural charm would make it easy for us.
"But I know a loser when I’m looking him right in the eye," Shigeru said nastily in response to Satoshi. He was smirking, and he looked incredibly handsome, but there was the strangest look in the deepest part of those swirling stormy eyes, one I couldn’t read.
Probably because he was so close to me and couldn’t do anything about it. Right? I let my mind wander…
Shigeru took my hand and gave me one of those irresistable smirks, staring deeply into my eyes. "What’s a girl like you doing with a loser like him?" he asked, kissing my fingers gently. "You deserve better."
"He’s my best friend," I replied, pulling back my hand.
"But not your boyfriend," he insisted, not releasing me from that enchanting gaze.
"So?" I raised an eyebrow.
He smiled. "So maybe you’ve been reserving that position for me…"
"Don’t you have anything better to do than follow us around?" Satoshi’s angry voice broke me out of my daydream. He was still flushed with passionate indignition, and the look in his eyes when he glared at Shigeru was a mix of anger, hurt, and wounded pride.
Satoshi was so different from his rival… I mean, he wasn’t gorgeous in the way that made heads turn when he walked down a city street. He was shorter than Shigeru, and not as well built. He didn’t have eye-catching firy hair or mysterious stormy eyes. But there was a beauty in him that was apparent in nearly everything he did: an inner goodness that shone from his honest face when he smiled at a stranger or helped a pokemon in need. A look into those soft brown eyes could send you reeling back mentally if you knew him well; it was easy to like him. Satoshi never did anything by half; he was passionate about everything in his life. He would throw himself into whatever was presented with all the force he possessed. What he needed, I felt with certainty, was a voice of reason; someone who could bring him back down to earth when it was necessary. I could do that easily.
Obviously, Satoshi would never approach me with his feelings. Maybe he didn’t even know they were there. It would just never occur to him to act on them. If I found out, it would be by accident – he’d blurt it out and not realize until afterward. And then he’d turn red and stutter about it, trying to cover up his mistake. Of course, I would be understanding and accept his feelings gracefully, accept his trust and his love…
"You’re always there!" Satoshi was getting really upset; he was repeating himself. "Why? Why do you have to follow us around? Don’t you have things to do?" he glared up at Shigeru, soft brown eyes full of beautiful confusion and something I couldn’t place.
Because he knew that Shigeru wanted me, and he couldn’t bear the thought of losing me. I almost smiled, thinking about it.
Shigeru leaned forward to kiss me, and I smiled, ready to let it happen. But we were interrupted before it could.
"No!" Satoshi leapt forward, voice and face distressed. "Kasumi, don’t do it! He’s no good, I know it! You have to listen to me!"
"Satoshi, what do you care about my love life?" I put my hands on my hips. "Can’t I date whoever I want? Why do you care who I do or don’t go out with?"
"You can’t!" He impulsively grabbed my arms. "Kasumi, he won’t love you, not the way I…I…" His voice choked off and he blushed, looking away.
"Satoshi…?" My breath caught in my throat.
He blushed even more, and didn’t look at me. "Kasumi, I…"
"I’ve got plenty to do." Shigeru smirked down at the furious Satoshi. "You’re just an amusing way to spend my spare time. Like my own personal circus clown."
"Why you…!" Satoshi looked on the verge of exploding. "I hate you!" he burst out instead. "I hate you! Just stay away from me, you jerk! I hate you so much I can’t stand to look at you!" He was breathing heavily, gaze defiantly fixed on the stormy one above him. Was that… sadness… in his eyes?
I glanced back at Shigeru, who had the strangest look on his face. "We need to have a private chat," he announced abruptly, grabbing one of Satoshi’s arms and dragging him off to one side. I blinked, taken aback.
"What do you think you’re doing!?" Satoshi dug his heels into the ground and leaned back against Shigeru’s hold. "Let go of me!"
Shigeru looked back, straight into Satoshi’s eyes, and the angry look on my friend’s face abruptly faded. "We need to talk," his rival said clearly, as if speaking to a child. "Without an audience."
"Oh." Satoshi blinked, once… twice… Then he glanced back at me and bit his lip.
"She can wait here for us," Shigeru said, deep eyes gazing directly at me. "You will, won’t you? Wait here." Without waiting for my response, he continued to drag Satoshi off to one side. This time, the younger boy didn’t resist.
What was going on? "What’s going on?" I whispered, to myself. Then it hit me. of course! How could I not have seen it before? The answer was so obvious…
They were going to fight over me, of course. How could any romantic argument be complete without a duel of some kind? A smile spread on my face as I felt my heart start to pound faster. Two guys were going to battle for my affections. This was so exciting! I could hardly believe it. There was no way I was going to sit there and wait, either. I had to go and watch!
As discreetly as I could, I turned to follow Shigeru and Satoshi.
They had apparently decided to head into the woods – what an… interesting… place for a duel. Well, I guess they wanted some privacy – and they probably didn’t want me to know about it. This was so incredibly thrilling…
Shigeru stopped in a small clearing, and spun to face Satoshi. I ducked into the bushes and watched. Fortunately, I was close enough to be able to hear them; I wouldn’t want to miss what they were saying.
"First off," Shigeru began, crossing his arms over his chest, "You didn’t really mean it when you said you hated me, did you?" His tone was completely confident, but I thought I detected a hint of… fear? Nervousness? Strange…
"I…" Satoshi’s voice trailed off and his head dropped so he was staring at the ground. "No, I don’t hate you," he muttered. "I hate what you say to me; I hate how you treat me – but I don’t hate you."
Shigeru shifted slightly, and the mask of arrogance he always seemed to be wearing suddenly seemed more obviously a mask and not a part of his face. I was entranced by what I was watching. For once, Shigeru almost seemed human… not some infallible being. "I don’t hate you either," he muttered, and his face went completely red – just like that.
Satoshi’s head shot back up. "Then why…?" His words stuck in his throat, as if halted by what he saw in Shigeru’s eyes. He breathed in heavily, then let out one long stream of air, slowly. "You… mean you…?"
"You do too!" A touch of the old arrogance was back in Shigeru’s voice. "And I saw it before you did, Satoshi." He smiled – not a smirk, but looking just faintly superior. "Always ahead, that’s me."
"But I do better." Now Satoshi was smiling too, staring at Shigeru with a look I’d never seen, that I couldn’t place. "And I care more…" He blushed at that.
"I care just as much as you; I just don’t show it." Shigeru stared back at Satoshi. "So we know we both feel the same way – now what do we do about it?"
This was it; I knew it. I sat forward a little, eagerly. Now they were going to fight. I tossed aside the strange parts of their conversation, labeling them as irrelevent. It’s nothing, I told myself. You already know what’s going on. They were probably talking about the fact that they both have feelings for you. Of course. I watched anxiously.
"I don’t know about you," Satoshi said suddenly, a look of determination on his face. "But I’m going to do… this." Impulsively, he grabbed the front of Shigeru’s shirt with both hands, pulled him close, and…
For a moment, I sat there. No shock; no reaction. I blinked, much like Satoshi had done earlier. There was darkness behind my eyelids, but when I lifted them, the picture in front of my eyes didn’t change. Satoshi… kissing Shigeru. And, what’s more, Shigeru putting his arms around the younger boy, pulling him closer, returning the kiss…
This couldn’t be happening. It didn’t fit…
But it was.
I felt detatched as I watched Satoshi pull back from the kiss, eyes shining as he gazed up at Shigeru. "So what did you think? Good?"
Shigeru nodded slowly, a half smirk on his face. "What do you know?" he teased, with less nastiness than I was used to hearing from him. "You managed to beat me to it that time."
Satoshi started to chuckle at that, and then before I knew it, they were both laughing out loud, holding each other as if there was nothing else in the world. The idea of either of them ever having feelings for me – or anyone else, for that matter – suddenly seemed utterly ridiculous. I almost felt ashamed of myself.
I realized something then, watching them gaze at each other in silent self-discovery, each with arms wrapped tightly around the other. It didn’t hurt to see them like that. They seemed so beautiful together, so right… I couldn’t feel the slightest twinge of hurt or jealousy. What I felt was irritation – because that romantic dream I’d created didn’t have room for a twist like this. They were supposed to love me.
Except I’d neatly skipped over the fact that they obviously loved each other.
I gave a little sigh, and slumped back, feeling like I’d gained something rather than lost. And I had – knowledge. I realized then that what I had seen as my ‘exciting situation’ and the love I’d thought that I had felt for both Shigeru and Satoshi had been nothing more than a complete falsehood – something I fabricated in my head, like a fantasy world all my own. I’d sewn my own blindfold against reality, and proceeded to live in the life I’d made for myself behind it. Of course, I had to be in love with them – the story wouldn’t be complete without that magical touch. But when it came right down to it, I felt nothing for the actual people behind my labels of ‘handsome charmer’ and ‘daring protecter’. I’d fallen for fake people behind my blindfold of ignorance, and now reality was telling me to grow up. Real relationships were based on more than how well we fit into selected roles. And in that subject matter, Satoshi and Shigeru far outstripped me.
"What are we going to tell the others?" I heard Satoshi say softly, cutting into my silent epiphany.
"We’ll think of something." The confidence in Shigeru’s voice made me smile though I didn’t much feel like it. "Let’s just stay here together for a while longer, OK?"
"Yeah." Nothing more was said, and when I looked back into their little clearing, they remained perfectly still, statuesque, holding each other tightly in perfect, wordless love. I tried to burn that beautiful picture into my mind, to hold as a reminder.
With a sigh, I moved quietly away from my watching place and back to where my life sat, waiting for me to try and do something with it. If I waited patiently enough, then perhaps some day I would be gifted with that same happiness.
Without needing a blindfold to hide behind.