Trades Chapter 10
Fortunately for the two, the spell lasted only a good twenty minutes, and they were on their way back to Gregminster as quickly as possible. And much to Apple's relief, they avoided any conversation about the awkward moment while on the road. They had entered the town at about early afternoon; a decent time to begin the search for Viktor and Flik.
"If they went to Tir's house yesterday, then chances are, they're still there," Apple said as they approached a large fountain.
"Most likely," Shu agreed. "I've never been there before, however."
"It's just down to the right," Apple told him, pointing in that direction. "Just go down a couple of blocks and you should see the McDohl mansion."
"You aren't coming along?"
"N...no," she responded nervously, bowing her head shamefully. "I couldn't. It would feel wrong to visit, considering my disrespect of him when he was leading the Liberation Army."
Shu nodded. "If that's how you feel, then I won't stop you. I shall be back soon."
"All right. I'll wait here."
When he was gone, Apple took a seat by the fountain. She leaned back against the bench, tilting her head back as a breeze blew softly through her strands. It was surprising to her how the weather seemed to change within the short length of a day. Still, she wasn't complaining. Things were a lot nicer now than they had been in the past few days...or even in just the past year she had been on her own. Apple loudly uttered a relaxed sigh, feeling much contentment.
"Wow...if I can make you moan from this distance, imagine what I can do when I'm next to you! Heh heh heh!"
That rude voice! Apple quickly sat up straight and started to turn her head, but realized, she already knew who it was. "Oh no," she groaned to herself. "Should've known he'd be here too..." With a strained expression, she stood up, slowly turning to face the young man.
"Hello...Sheena," she greeted him unenthusiastically.
He approached her, that weaselly smirk never leaving his face. "Heh heh. How's it going, Apple? Haven't seen you since...you know..." The implication was so heavy, it was anyone's surprise that he was still standing.
However, she wasn't willing to give it a chance. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Aw, come on," Sheena teased. "Are you going to tell me that you forgot...that night?"
Apple rolled her eyes. "Nothing happened, Sheena. I admit it was a little strange...well, considering..." She sighed, her expression growing somber as she recalled that moment.
Not too long after the end of the Dunan Unification Wars, Apple found herself back in Crystal Valley, resuming her collection of biography materials. In time she would deem the task meaningless; a futile effort at keeping one man's memory alive. But at the moment, this was her only purpose. Or at least, it was something she could do to keep herself occupied so that she wouldn't have to think of other things, such as failures...not just in what she had failed to do as a strategist, but what she had failed to do for herself...
Her relationship with Shu still remained only a friendship, after a good seven or eight years. And still, her feelings about him remained more than just that.
And still, he remained completely in the dark.
Why am I beating myself up over it? Apple questioned herself in defeat. I wanted it to go somewhere. But I wasn't brave enough to let him know. Now it's over and that's that.
It was close to midnight when she finally reached her bedroom at the inn, yet the nagging thoughts had not escaped her. The regret...
Was it right for me to leave? Maybe I should've stayed there...maybe I would've been happier, but I don't know...
So occupied in her musings, she didn't realize that she had left the door ajar after entering the room.
Apple dropped her purse on the ground, walking to the window. What was so inviting about the night sky? Perhaps it was a comfort somehow, in a time and place no friends of hers existed...
It was a big window, and the full moon's light shone brightly through. Placing her hands upon the inner ledge, she stared up at that large, mysterious, glowing sphere, more and more lonesome feelings entering her heart as she did so.
How can...how can something which stands alone...seem so whole at the same time?
She brought her head down with a gloomy look. And why can't I ever be that strong? Why can't I endure in such a manner...the way he can?
I've never needed someone more at this moment...
I don't want to admit, but I...
"I need you so much," she whispered as an overwhelming feeling of despair took hold of her. "But you're not here..." She swallowed hard, the emotions getting the better of her. "And everything is so empty without you. I wish I had stayed there..."
"I wish I was with you right now..."
"Heh heh, what a surprise to find you here," called a voice from the door. It was Sheena, who had let himself into the room. "You took off so quickly earlier today. Anyway, hope you don't mind if I come in. You kind of left the door open, so, um...hey, why's it so dark in here, anyway?"
Normally, Apple would chew out the young man and send him away. Instead, she attempted to compose herself, gradually facing him. "Sheena..." she said quietly, and then a long pause ensued. "Please...this isn't a good time."
"What are you talking about?" he asked, still quite merry. "Nighttime's the best time, if you know what I mean! Hehehe..." His laughter faded as he came closer, finally catching the sadness in her expression. "Hey, uh...you okay? What's wrong?"
"Please, Sheena," she said with more urgency. "I'd...I'd really like to be alone now, and..." She stopped, thinking about what she had just said, and then her look turned anguished. "N-no, actually...I don't want to be alone right now. I'm tired of being alone. And I'm tired of not..." She was almost surprised as the admission fell out of her mouth. "I'm tired of not being with him..."
"Shu..." Apple responded as her pain now reflected verbally as well. "I...I-I just..." Tears began to fall, nothing left of her to restrain them. "I love him so much, I..."
"Err..." Now in a situation he hadn't anticipated, Sheena's face began to grow uncomfortably warm. "Uh...n-not sure I understand, but..."
"When we were both students under Master Mathiu," she continued with a wavering voice, "there was this bond between us. I swear there was, I...at least, I thought there was, but..."
Sheena's expression turned sympathetic. "Apple..."
"I don't know what happened...when he left, I guess that was supposed to be the end of my childish fantasies. I had to move on, forget what I felt. And, in time, I even began to wonder if what we had then was real...that friendship. I-I know I was young, but I thought he respected me. Yet I started wondering if I imagined that too." Turning away from him, she wiped away her tears. "I'm sorry. I must seem like the most pathetic person alive. And if Shu could see me now, he'd think that, too--"
"You're not pathetic," Sheena cut in. "And if Shu thinks you are because he led you to believe you two were friends, then he's the pathetic one..."
"Sheena..." Apple whispered. "Thank you...but no. I know it isn't his fault. I really did think we were friends. Even though we're almost eight years apart, he always treated me like an equal, even though I've never felt like one in his presence...that he was too good to even be my friend."
"Well...I don't get it. If he treated you like a friend, why do you believe you aren't friends now?"
Apple slowly turned back in his direction. "The time we spent apart, I told you," she said. "As the years passed, the memories within me eventually faded, and I was unable to preserve them. And because so much time had passed, I was given the time to doubt what I did remember...to believe that I exaggerated that happiness. Ironically, my love for him only grew stronger...while I disregarded any feelings he had for me. It's no wonder, though..."
"What do you mean?"
"Shu...wasn't the type to let his feelings show. I knew this, but from how he acted towards me, I knew I would never be to him...what I wanted him to be to me. I was so young...of course...I was nothing more than some bratty kid sister to him. How stupid of me to hope otherwise..."
Sheena was left confused once again. "But if he never expressed his feelings, how do you know what he considered you to be?"
"Oh, come on," she said, her tone a mix of sullenness and sorrow. "There wasn't anything special in the way he talked to me, did things for me. I was just...there. And that's why...that's why I must've imagined what I had with him. Here I was thinking we had a bond when-when obviously all I did was get in his way. That sure didn't change with time. In fact, nothing changed with time. My...feelings didn't fade with time...nor did his cluelessness..." Apple finished the sentence with a hint of bitterness, and then gave a frustrated cry. "I mean...why?!" she demanded. "Why couldn't he...why couldn't he just see..." She trailed off, sobbing quietly.
Sheena let out a sigh. "I'll wish I'd never done this, but..." He brought himself closer and placed a kiss on her cheek.
"Sh-Sheena," Apple murmured, surprised by this display. "You..."
"Sorry," he told her, moving away. "You were upset. I didn't know what else to do." He cleared his throat, his awkwardness evident. "Anyway...sorry about your problems. Obviously, I don't know Shu as well as you do, but...I think you may be wrong about him. You probably won't know what he really feels unless you ask him. And if this is really hurting you--and I see that it is--then maybe you should take that step as soon as you can. Or else you'll just drive yourself crazy." He turned around and started to head for the doorway. "Well, hope you work things out."
"W-wait a minute, Sheena. Don't go."
He stopped with his back still to her. "It's all right, Apple," he assured her. "You don't have to. I know anything you would give in return...wouldn't be for me."
Apple remained silent, knowing it was true.
"Anyway, don't worry about it!" he said, forcing a laugh. "Another day, another girl...well, you know how it is. I'll get lucky here, I'm sure. Heh heh." A pause. "Apple, those feelings you have...those are sacred. Even if that's the only thing keeping you going...hold on to your feelings. Don't ever forget them. Don't let your dreams die."
More words that nearly made her forget that he was the womanizing Sheena. "Thank you," she whispered in response.
"No problem. Well, good night."
"You were crazy about him then, and I can still see you're crazy about him now," Sheena said with a smirk. "I guess some things never change."
"Heh." Apple lowered her eyes to the floor with a sort of empty smile. "I suppose some people can read me far better than I realized."
Sheena shrugged. "Only if we're really trying to find out something, I guess."
She looked up at him with a serious expression. "I forgot to thank you."
"Just for being there, even if it was only a coincidence we showed up at the same inn."
"Err...well, it wasn't exactly a coincidence..."
"Sheena, don't ruin the moment," she groaned. "Oh well, the point is, you were there. It was nice knowing that at that moment, I had a good friend." She gave him a stern look. "I also appreciate the fact you didn't try to take advantage of me."
"Heh heh. I don't know. I guess at the time, it didn't seem appropriate..."
"So what are you doing here, anyway?" Sheena asked, changing the subject.
"I'm just waiting for Shu. He'll be back any moment."
"Oh." There was surprise written on his face, though not accompanied by resentment. "So you're here with Shu."
"I-it's not...like that," Apple nervously replied, blushing. "It's a long story. Shu...kind of followed me here."
"Heh heh. See? I was right about him, wasn't I?"
"Yeah." She then shook her head. "I-I mean, I told you, it's not like that. Shu was taking a break from his job and went back to Radat. I happened to be passing through and I ran into Viktor, who told Shu I was there, and then he followed me all the way to Seika."
"And he went...all the way to the Toran Republic...just to see you."
"He just wanted another visitor. I'm sure he didn't go out much the past year."
Sheena laughed again. "Now, see...I don't buy that."
"Apple, a guy doesn't cross borders for a girl because she's one more person to invite." His expression became serious for a moment. "I think he likes you, and not in the way you think he does. Neither one of you may realize it, but from an outsider's point of view, it's...well, kind of obvious."
Apple was quiet for a moment, but she shook her head in disagreement. "I think you're wrong," she told him. "But enough talk about that. You know why I'm here. So what are you doing here?"
"What else?" he responded with a grin.
"Ran out of money again?" Apple said with an amused expression. "Oh, Sheena, what will we ever do with you?"
"Aw, come on, I'm young. I've got to see the world. Besides, I'm sure Dad doesn't mind when--" He stopped mid-sentence, looking horrified. "Crap! I forgot!"
"What is it?" Apple asked, concerned.
"Dad...I was supposed to meet him..." He slapped a hand to his forehead with a groan. "Damn! The palace! I gotta go. Later, Apple!" He ran past her and then around the fountain, in the direction of the Gregminster palace.
Apple looked after him, and then shook her head, chuckling. "You can be a good friend when you aren't being a total pig, Sheena," she said to herself, and then took a seat back down on the bench.
Sheena, still in a panic, rushed past a figure standing close by, without even noticing him.
The figure quietly resumed walking, drawing nearer to the fountain. It was Shu. While he had not heard the conversation between Sheena and Apple, he had been watching the two at the end of it. He turned his head toward Sheena, who had just disappeared, and then looked back at Apple, who was sitting down with a contented smile.
"I wonder what that was about," he said to himself, and then his volume increased as he approached Apple. "We should be on our way. Viktor and Flik said to go on ahead."
"Oh." Apple turned around, looking startled. "I didn't see you there, Shu. So they're not...coming back?"
"They are," Shu responded as Apple stood up. "They just want to stay here for a while longer. Besides, they know their way back."
"Okay. Did they say anything else?"
"Well, no. Which is strange, since I expected them to ask where I had been."
This surprised her. "You didn't tell them where you were going?"
"I didn't have time to. Most likely, you would have been gone by the time I reached Seika."
Pink circles began to form on the girl's cheeks. "Yeah...I guess."
"Well, let us be on our way," Shu said to her, gesturing in the direction of the city gates. "I have no more business here. Do you?"
Apple continued to blush, but now with a hopeful smile, as Shu walked on ahead. Could Sheena be right after all...?