"You're going to America?! Asuka, I'm so jealous!"
Madoka was beaming at her, a wide smile gracing her face as she worked rapidly in the backroom. Asuka brought her another watermelon and waited, her hands folded on top of the fruit.
"Madoka," she chided.
"It was so romantic of him to invite you in his magazine, where everyone could see it," Madoka mused dreamily. The handle cranked under the pressure of her strong hands. "How long will you be staying?"
"About a week." Misato and Asuka had considered the length and decided seven days to be appropriate. "I don't want to become an inconvenience to him, especially in America...I hope my English is good enough."
"I'm sure you'll be fine. Don't worry about it."
Asuka smiled. "It's time to open," she said, more to herself than her companion, and ran to hurry the door. Already the line was forming.
I couldn't leave Madoka alone to run this place for much more than a week, anyway, Asuka thought. She pushed the door open and the crowd outside began slowly to dissipate.
= = = = = = =
Misato held up the skirt, waiting eagerly for Asuka's approval. It was pale blue and pleated, covered with a pattern of mosaic-like pieces. The redhead took it from her hands and considered.
"Try it on," Misato urged. "And here..." she plucked a blouse off of a nearby rack-- "let's see how this will go with it."
Asuka dumped both pieces of clothing into the increasing pile in their shopping cart.
"I'll try everything on after we're done looking around," she insisted.
She had not been shopping in what seemed like--and really was--an eternity. Apart from her job, and an occasional visit to the city now and then with Misato, Asuka had not left the protective place she called home. Misato had bought clothes for her or she had worn Misato's, it didn't really matter. There was no one to dress up for; after all, Kimie and Makoto couldn't care less what she wore.
Asuka had been sincerely surprised at the amount of clothing in the department store. There were so many styles and fashions, each made in many different patterns and types of cloth. She had wanted to run around and examine everything, but eventually submitted to Misato's better judgment.
"We need to get you a nice evening dress," Misato was saying. "Maybe something black and strapless... come on, I see something of the sort over there."
Asuka tagged alongside the purple-haired woman, who looked like a girl shopping for her first prom as she dug through the dresses.
Misato, too, had given up the excitement of shopping years ago. With Asuka and Shinji gone, there was no one to shop for. Who would she dress up for, now that Kaji was dead? The last time she could remember being happy about a purchase was when she had bought that purple dress for a wedding--that of a bride and groom whose names she could no longer remember.
She held up the gown for Asuka's approval.
"Misato..." Asuka whispered, holding it up limply, "I don't know where all these straps go..."
Misato's fervor was not dampened in the least. "I'll show you later," she said cheerfully, and pushed the cart along.
"Shouldn't we go try them on now?" Asuka questioned. The pyramidal pile was overflowing and several garments were in danger of falling over the side. Misato glanced at it, considered, and finally agreed.
Unfortunately for them, there was a limit of eight garments per room--which meant Asuka had to make many more trips than she would have preferred. Misato waited outside beside the mounting pile of fabric as bypassers gave her odd looks. After each she had tried on each outfit, Asuka would step out, and together they would decide whether or not to buy it. Slowly a much smaller stack of feasible clothes began to appear.
"All right, you can't put it off any longer," Misato grinned, holding up the black dress. "Go try it on."
Asuka, who had been attempting futilely to shove it to the bottom of the pile, groaned. "I don't understand how..."
Misato abruptly shushed her, whirled her around by the shoulders, and pushed her into the dressing room. Five minutes later Asuka emerged, appearing very elegant and classy.
"You look nice," Misato told her honestly.
Asuka shifted uncomfortably. "There's way too much skin showing," she mumbled, coloring as she attempted to hide some of it. "There isn't even a back!"
While Misato attempted to fix that problem, a second dress caught Asuka's glance.
"Oh, Misato, look at this..."
It was strapless, although slightly more covering than the backless style--and was made out of a silky, dark aqua fabric with matching sequins strewn across the upper half. Misato opened her mouth, ready to tell the redhead that it would clash horribly with her hair, but bit back her words when she saw the excitement on Asuka's face.
She had to admit she was surprised at the results. If anything, Asuka looked gorgeous--a girl any man would be proud of. The redhead stepped out barefoot, smiling broadly, and twirled in the mirror.
I never knew shopping was so much fun, she thought excitedly.
Misato, on the other hand, was busy imagining Shinji's face when he saw her. This was it, she thought, everything about the dress screamed Asuka's name--
"How much is it?"
Asuka picked up the tag hanging off of the left sleeve--and blanched. Misato leaned over and felt her face turn a similar color.
Asuka shrugged. "It doesn't matter. Even if I got it, I'd only wear it a few times in my life." She disappeared back into the fitting room, leaving Misato alone to her thoughts. Ten minutes later they emerged carrying four shopping bags, among which were the black dress, the pleated skirt, and the matching top.
The green dress remained on the rack.
= = = = = = =
She couldn't have hoped for a better reaction from Akamatsu-san. The old man seemed quite overly pleased, wishing her well and promising her own ice cream machine if she and her man "decided to get hitched". After much blushing on Asuka's part, Akamatsu-san wished her good luck yet again and promised her that her place in the ice cream parlor would always remain there for her.
She shared a last special moment with Madoka as they mixed the day's final batch of starfruit ice cream, which Madoka insisted she take home to share with Misato.
"Take lots of pictures," Madoka urged. "Not only of... Shinji..." the name was still slightly unfamiliar on her tongue--"...but of the scenery too."
"I will," Asuka promised. A car honked outside. Asuka picked up the bucket of ice cream and gave Madoka a quick hug. "Bye."
= = = = = = =
Misato was up and on the phone with Shinji an hour before her usual waking time, wanting to catch him during an appropriate hour. Unfortunately, due to the different time zones, she could never be sure exactly where he was. He happened to be in a meeting, and she could tell he was none too pleased at being interrupted.
However, his tone immediately changed upon hearing about Asuka.
"You'll be there to meet her?"
"Yes." Shinji paced around outside, thinking of the huge airport. "LAX is a pretty big place. I'll be meeting her right outside the gates."
Misato ran over her mental checklist and decided all was fine. Asuka was packed and ready to go, so Misato cut off the call and opened up the backseat. Together they heaved her heavy suitcase into the back before climbing into the front.
"Are you nervous?" Misato glanced sideways at her companion before swerving to avoid hitting a stray cat. The animal meowed angrily and scurried away.
Asuka's hands were clenching tightly in her lap, fiddling with the strap of her carry-on. She forced them apart and replied honestly, "A little... I haven't traveled alone by myself at all."
Misato nodded. Even she had never been to the United States; she had only visited Germany. On each of those trips she had traveled in a special Nerv jet. Nobody at Nerv had ever traveled in a commercial plane before.
She noticed the blank expression on Asuka's face as the car pulled into the airport, and attempted to reassure her. The redhead nodded, the expression on her face not changing.
"I'll be with you every step of the way that I can, and Shinji's waiting at the other end," she promised.
Asuka smiled slightly at his name, something that Misato did not miss.
Misato checked in her luggage and completed everything else for Asuka with little difficulty, while the redhead sat on a hard wooden bench and looked around. There were announcements going off constantly, each sending a flurry of people hurrying towards the security lines. Asuka watched curiously as each person placed his or her bags on a conveyor belt and walked through a doorframe. Occasionally it would beep and a light would flash red; then all would stop as the person was required to undergo a security check.
"All right, we're all ready." Misato's voice broke harshly into her thoughts. "Let's get in line."
When her turn came, Asuka dutifully placed her bag on the conveyor belt and walked through the door anxiously. Nothing happened.
Misato, on the other hand, managed to set off both the alarm and light. The security officer drew her aside and ordered her to stand with her arms and legs apart as he swept over her body with some sort of detector. Asuka caught Misato giving him a disdainful glance and laughed.
The mechanism began to beep around her hips. Misato reached into the seemingly-flat pockets of her jeans and pulled out a set of metal keys. When the other pocket set off the beeping as well, she produced a handful of coins. Several more metallic objects made their appearance before the officer declared himself satisfied and set the purple-haired woman free.
= = = = = = =
"Flight 284, from Tokyo-3, Japan, to Los Angeles, California, is now boarding."
"Do you want to get on now, or wait a little while?"
"It won't leave without me, will it?"
"Then I'll wait."
No need to stand in that long line, Asuka thought. She glanced at Misato and noted that she appeared calm and serene--was that a trace of sadness in her eyes?
It seemed like no time had passed at all before Misato stood up and shook back her thinning sheet of purple hair. "Let's go, Asuka."
Reluctantly the redhead followed. Behind her a young child pushed his brothers around and a small fight erupted--resulting in that one was thrown against the back of Asuka's legs, knocking her down.
"Just hope they don't have a seat near you," Misato muttered out of the corner of her mouth, as the mother burst into apologies.
All too soon it was time for Asuka to face the future alone.
Misato gave Asuka a hug and made her promise to email every night. "And call me as soon as you get there," she added.
Asuka smiled bravely. "Bye."
= = = = = = =
Misato looked like she was about to say something to the flight attendant taking tickets, Asuka mused. I wonder what it was.
Thankfully, the noisy children (and their unfortunate mother) were situated in the back of the plane, but even there Asuka could hear their wails. She was seated by the window and kept her gaze focused outside. So far she had watched three airplanes take off from Narita International Airport.
The seat beside her was still empty. She wondered if anyone would come to occupy it.
The answer appeared to be negative, for the people in the aisles eventually thinned out and the flight attendants came around to check that everyone had their seat belts on properly--yet no one took the seat beside her. A few more announcements followed in Japanese and English--Asuka repeated the English words quietly, trying to get used to the feel of the language.
And then the plane moved. Asuka glanced out the window and instinctively brought one hand to her locket.
Here I come, Shinji.
Author's notes: Or rather, apologies this time. I can't think of anything to describe this chapter other than a filler--the product of my writer's block. It's a bit late too--sorry!
If I'm not mistaken, LAX stands for Los Angeles International Airport.
Also, a few other notes I forgot to mention this time... both Madoka and Akamatsu-san's names are derived from Wakamatsu Madoka, also from Full Moon wo Sagashite. She's supposed to be an evil character, but I like her anyway.
And lastly, I remember reading somewhere that ice cream makers are supposed to be good wedding presents. Not quite sure where, or if it's actually true...
Anyways, drop me a review and tell me how I'm doing.