There it was. My heart thrummed somewhere between my chest and my ears as I stared down at the card Yumeko had played. There, across from the paper I had played, was another rock.
Somehow, I had beaten the odds. Fate, destiny, what have you… for whatever reason, chose me, and the only way I knew to react was to laugh. All the stress and build up rushed forth as uncontrollable laughter. I reflexively clutched at my stomach as a side stitch stabbed up from my abdomen.
As expected, Yumeko wasn’t upset in the least. Her hand lingered at the bottom of the card, her fingernails gently pressing against the end of it. She was smiling, staring down at the card. Her cheeks were flushed, her breathing steadied. With her other hand, she cupped her left cheek.
“Oh, Ryota. Congratulations.”
Her voice was soft. I barely heard it over my own laughter. Despite the faint smile that had rooted itself on her face, for whatever reason, she seemed sad. Perhaps disappointed was a better way to describe it. Regardless, it was unusual and out of character. No matter how many times Yumeko ever won or lost, she was never upset. The gamble was enough for her. As a result, my laughter was evaporating, leaving behind a painfully awkward silence.
My eyes were locked on her face, specifically her eyes. Her brown eyes were just as turbulent as the sea, whose crashing waves against the shore filled our silence. Red tides were brimming in the darkness of her eyes, but neither side was able to overtake the other. Something was causing Yumeko to fracture, and even I couldn’t fathom what it would be.
Her eyes shifted up to meet my gaze. Again, the glowing red of her eyes was clashing against the brown shore. It was unsettling. I had never seen Yumeko in such a state. Deep down, I honestly wasn’t sure who I was even talking to, which made it that much harder to determine how I needed to respond. Yumeko must have seen my own war within myself, as she didn’t force me to come up with a response.
“It was a wonderful gamble, Ryota. I am so happy I was able to enjoy this with you, but…” her voice trailed off. She swallowed, letting her eyes drift closed as she settled herself. Then, she continued, “I am a bit sad.”
I bobbed my head, still unable to formulate any questions or responses.
“I’ve never cared about the prize at the end of a gamble. That never mattered because I gamble for the fun of the gamble. I’ve never felt the need to achieve anything from gambling, as I have everything I need. The only thing I ever want to accomplish from gambling is the ecstasy and suspense… the thrill of the chance and risk. It’s tantalizing.”
For a brief moment, the glowing ruby lingering in her eyes took prominence as she described the feeling gambling gave her. Her chest heaved as the word ‘tantalizing’ slipped between her lips, which, of course, drew my eyes to her ample cleavage. Then, her breathing slowed, and when my eyes drifted back to meet her gaze, the darkness in her eyes had overtaken that ruby glow, and tears were beginning to peak from edges of her eyes.
“But this time, Ryota, you presented something I never thought I could ever get. I wanted your life desperately.”
My heart was thrumming in my chest. Blood was rushing everywhere at once, and my muscles were quivering as a result. Her words were resting heavily on my chest, and my heart was doing everything it could to keep pumping.
“I know you will take care of my life. Really you already do, but I wanted to take care of yours, too. As we gambled, I couldn’t help imagining all the things I wanted to do with your life. I wanted to inject myself in every aspect of it, as selfish as that sounds.” She was gasping now, the tears had broken through and were racing down her face. “It was the one way I could guarantee you wouldn’t run from me.”
I couldn’t stop myself. I jumped up and slammed my hands onto the table. Yumeko even jumped, her eyes bulging as she stared up at me. I hovered over the table as our cards flew about. Rage had exploded forward.
“I would never run from you. Yumeko, you are my best friend. I wake up every day, wanting to take care of you. I bet my life against yours because I wanted your life, too. I want us to be together for the rest of our lives, no matter what capacity that might be. If I had to be your maid to be with you forever, then that is good enough for me.” Tears were rushing down my face now. My voice warbled as I spoke, but I couldn’t stop the words. “I made a bet to ensure you wouldn’t get tired of me. My life isn’t worth much, but it feels like a million yen when I’m with you.”
Once again, silence took over. The silence was a welcome reprieve as emotion swelled up in me, a turbulent storm of fear, guilt, and relief were all fighting against one another for dominance. My vision was blurred as tears rushed forward. My arms were shaking, but there was nothing I could do to stop them. Not even I realized how much I had been holding in, nor did I realize how powerful the emotions would be once they broke through.
The only thing that managed to halt the flood of tears was Yumeko. Her arms laced around my shoulders, pulling my face into her awaiting bosom. Her flesh was supple, giving easily to my face as I melted into her embrace. I wasn’t sure what to say or do, but reflexively I reached up and grasped her shoulders, shivering in her grasp.
“Oh, Ryota. You’re worth much more than you realize.”
As she spoke, her fingers made their way to my scalp, gently massaging and stroking my hair. I opened my mouth to respond, but a pitiful sob was all that I could muster, only encouraging her to grip me that much tighter to her.
“I swear, my life is yours. Forever and always.”
She tugged gently on my hair, prompting me to lift my face to peer up into hers. The moment our eyes met, Yumeko leveraged her hold on my hair, forcing my face up so she could press her lips against mine. As her eyes fell shut, I couldn’t close mine. My eyes roved around her face, taking in the soft planes of her face, the light creasing of her eyelids, and the natural thickness of her eyelashes. I wanted to absorb this moment. It didn’t feel real, even as I felt her lips and tongue move in tandem with my own.
As our lips broke contact, her eyes fluttered open. They revealed her pure, brown eyes. This was the real Yumeko, I decided. Her lips turned up into a smile before she whispered:
“Please take good care of me. Okay?”
I didn’t waste time with a response. Instead, I slid my hands up to the base of Yumeko’s scalp before yanking her back down so I could claim her lips once more. As we continued to kiss, the waves continued to crash against the shore. Life with Yumeko wasn’t going to be ‘normal,’ at least not as normal as any other relationship. It would be perfect, though. Just as perfect as when the sea meets the shore.