"I bet I can do better decorating the Christmas tree!"
"No, I can!" Asahi and I nearly bump our foreheads against each other in stubbornness while Kisumi laughs at us in the background. Haru and Makoto peek from around the corner of the kitchen, the blue-haired boy's hands enveloped in oven mitts and the gentle giant's face having been scribbled all over with concern.
"Oh come on guys, there's no need to argue over this! Why don't you decorate the tree together?" Our caring friend steps into the living room and offers us a small smile in hopes that we'd quit our bickering.
As Makoto had wished, I back away from the childish messy red-haired boy's and my "argument" and grin. "You're right, Makoto," I state, "we should just decorate one together!"
Asahi throws his fist in the air and cheers, "Yeah, let's do it [name]!"
"Just please don't break the ornaments like you did last year," came the deeper voice of one of all our friends, Ikuya. He holds his backpack in his hand, the other resting on his hip. "If you haven't noticed by now, they're all glass."
"Isn't that kinda du..." Asahi starts, but I reach over and place my hand over his mouth. Every one of those glass ornaments placed neatly in the box by the Christmas tree were handed down to each of Ikuya's family members throughout the generations, and it was only right to place them on the tree standing in his home with a few of our own.
I smile again and speak over Asahi's muffled whines and complaints, "Of course we'll be careful Ikuya, there's no need to worry!" At the mention of worry, Ikuya's orange orbs glaze over with much more concern than Makoto's, but he quickly turns away and heads toward his room to put away his things.
"Alright, looks like we're done!" I step back from the tree with glistening [eye color] orbs, marveling at the absolute beauty of a Christmas tree Asahi and I worked hard to decorate. A large star with an image depicting a small family stands high and proud at the very top of the tree, which Makoto may have helped a bit with. Everybody—Haru, Makoto, Asahi, Kisumi, and Ikuya—piles into the room and, more or less, gawks at the tree in awe.
"You sure did a great job, you two," Makoto states with a large smile.
"Thank you," Asahi and I chirp in unison. Even though I'm glad that my friends are enjoying the hard work Asahi and I put in to decorate the tree, something feels off, like something's missing.
What could it be? I wonder as I scan the Christmas tree one more time and spot some group photos I hadn't noticed before.
"Asahi, did you put these here?" I reach out and grab the corner of a photo showing all of us in a recent picture—last Christmas's picture to be exact.
He nods and answers, "Yup, sure did. You like it?"
I nod as well. "Yeah, I do..." My mind wanders off as I look at the other photos; one in particular catches my attention. In it stands Ikuya's older brother Natsuya, my old crush, with his unruly brown hair and amber eyes that always sparkled with determination, confidence, and pride. My heartbeat falters the slightest bit, and my grip on the fragile image tightens. I haven't seen him in years... Memories of all the time we spent together before he started travelling worldwide flood my mind, and my heart tightens. We were always the closest, even closer than I was to Makoto and Haru. Then, one day, he had told me he was leaving; I tried to keep him around just a little longer, but he left the next day.
"[name], are you alright?" Makoto inquires. He brushes past the others and reaches his hand out to my shoulder. Ikuya also notices my sudden silence and steps forward to see what's wrong.
I miss that confident brat, I think, a chuckle oozing with sadness escaping from between my lips. A depressing sense of loneliness takes a firm hold on my heart. Although a part of me feels bad for feeling this way since I'm with almost all of my closest friends, the thought of not being able to see someone as special as Natsuya pains me. Does he even remember me?
What I don't notice is the spark in Ikuya's eyes as he takes the picture from me with gentle hands and rests a hand on my other shoulder. "Hey, don't worry about it," he says with a small smile. "We've got other things to think about right now." With that, he reaches backward with his other hand and snaps his fingers like he's trying to get one of the other guys to fetch something for him. I try peeking over his shoulder but he keeps his eyes trained on me, intimidating me and keeping me in my place.
Kisumi grins playfully and speaks up. "You know, all of us were thinking that we should get one of our presents early. What do you think?"
A small smile almost instantly breaks the frown I previously had. They know how much I love opening presents early, even if it's just a small one. "Really?" Ikuya nods, and Makoto's previous gentle smile turns into a more excited one, like he knows what's happening. I couldn't help but feel suspicious, and I only feel more so when we all hear the sound of a car door shutting.
"That must be your present getting delivered now, [name]!" Asahi rambles excitedly, "You gotta turn around and keep your eyes shut and then cover them with your hands and don't look backward no matter what until we say..."
The doorbell rings.
"So." The last word drops out of Asahi's mouth like a rock, his mouth still hanging open slightly. All of our necks crane to stare at the door in curiosity, until all of the rest of my friends have a look of panic and whip themselves around to face me. The redhead shouts, "Quick, [name], cover your eyes!" I quickly do as they say, but never bother to turn around; Makoto stays near me and notices, so he plants his hands on my shoulders and spins me around toward the Christmas tree. Haru also lingers nearby as he sets a plate of cookies down on the table.
I hear the door open, and instantly Kisumi, Asahi, and even Ikuya begin to hush whoever's outside. Just in case, Haru steps in front of me and places his hands over my ears, staring at me sternly. He leans forward and shifts one hand just enough so I can hear him whisper, "I think you'll like this present."
"You think so?" I whisper, body practically shaking in excitement. Haru covers my ear again and nods, a ghost of a smile dancing on his lips. It isn't long till Haru pulls his hands away and Makoto slowly turns me around to face my present.
My heart drops in an instant; my mind races at a million miles per hour. The same man from the picture I was holding earlier stands before me with a large smile, with the same messy brown hair and amber eyes that glitter and sparkle in such a captivating way, probably without him even noticing it.
Everything's dead silent; even everyone's breathing had halted in anticipation. Finally, Natsuya speaks up and inquires, "Did you miss me?" In an instant I break free from Makoto's gentle hold on my shoulders and rush to him, and he does the same.
We hug each other tight in a breathtaking embrace, and a few tears slide down my cheeks. "Yeah, I did miss you." I pull away after a few moments and reach up to wipe away the stray tears, but Natsuya beats me to it. I sheepishly avoid his gaze as I ask, "Did you miss me too?"
A finger places itself under my chin and tilts my face upward so I could see Natsuya, with that stupid wide grin and those soft, joyous and vibrant eyes. He leans close and places his forehead against mine gently, our breaths mingling in the minuscule space between our lips. His hand snakes behind my neck, and his fingers brush through my hair. My heart flutters as his lips approach mine and caress them gently for only a moment before he pulls away again, the tiniest blush having dusted his cheeks.
We smile and hug each other tight again as Kisumi, Asahi, and Makoto cheer, and Haru and Ikuya smile. Ikuya pulls out his phone and strides over to us as we finally pull away from our embrace and look over to him. He unlocks his phone and shows me the last few texts shared between him and Natsuya at around the same time Asahi and I were building the tree, and I gasp. Ikuya shrugs and says, "We've known that he'd be here early for the holidays, and that you'd be more than happy to see him."
"And that he'd be way more than happy to see you~," Asahi states in a singsong voice, leaning over just enough so we can see him wiggling his eyebrows playfully.
We laugh and return our attention back to Ikuya, who nods and continues, "Right, so we thought that we'd just surprise you with what we thought would be the best Christmas present for you—him."
"Aw, you guys are amazing!" I hug each of my friends one by one until I reach Natsuya's side again. "Thank you so much. He truly is the best present I've gotten this year."
In an instant Asahi breaks into the conversation again and says, "Hey, what about our presents? Don't we get to open one too?"
While the rest of them bicker about who's going to give who a present, Natsuya and I share gazes. I inquire, "Do you have any presents for me?"
Natsuya nods and replies, "Of course I do, you actually get the most." Before I could reply he continues, "One of them just can't be seen by the others. It's pretty, uh...secret. And it's for the two of us only." A blush erupts on my cheeks, causing him to chuckle and mess with my hair lightly. Then, he leans close to me and gives me a kiss on the cheek. "Merry early Christmas, [name]."
I smile and giggle, hugging his side and soaking in his warmth. "Merry early Christmas to you too, Natsuya."