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Of Red Lipstick, Photographs and Red Roses

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"Okay, folks! That's a wrap!"

Satoshi wiped sweat from his brow, before releasing the button of his camera for a final shot of the tall, gangly female model wearing a structured dress. She gave him a final wink and a pout before strutting off to the dressing room to change into her street clothes.

"Yo! Shimonuki!" A heavy hand clapped him on the shoulder. He looked to his side and saw the set's main assistant, Minase Aido grinning; his black and gold earring gleamed from his right ear. He ran a hand through his unkempt brown hair, before scratching on his stubble. He reeked of cigarettes.

He grunted in response and returned in dismantling his heavy Nikon DLSR camera. What does he want now? Aido-san had constantly bugged him all throughout the 4-day magazine shoot, asking him out for a drink together with his other buddies, who are, without a doubt, heavy drinkers and smokers like him.

"Hot piece of flesh don't you think?" He whispered conspiratorially, nodding his head in the direction of the trailer, which serves as the dressing room for the models." Aya, is one of the models in demand today." He sat at the edge of the table, apparently too preoccupied with his thoughts of the young woman, not bothering that his companion was not paying attention to him

Satoshi continued to ignore him, intent on finishing his task immediately and grabbing a bite to eat before he calls it a day. He meticulously wipes the camera lens and the body, brushing off nondescript dust, before carefully placing each part inside their individual velvet bags and lining them up on his heavily-padded backpack specifically designed to carry these type of camera equipment. He folded his tripod, and slipped it into its own bag, before piling it on top of the other equipment that was rented for the photo shoot.

"Hey! I heard Aya gave you her contact details" Aido-san snapped out of his reverie, and turned his head when he heard the trailer door of the dressing room open and out came the model in question, wearing a hot pink, tight tank top, heavily-tinted large eyeglasses and skinny jeans. He whistled appreciatedly, his gaze lingering on her ample bosom.

He turned his head to where Aido-san is looking and caught the model's eye, who gave a nod that says, Well? Wanna come with me?

He jerked his head sideways, holding up his camera and pointing at his watch, seeming to tell her that, Sorry, I have another appointment.

She gave a nonchalant shrug before turning on her high-heeled, strappy sandals and went ahead to the parking lot, where her girlfriends were probably waiting for her. Satoshi finished packing his gear, hoisted his backpack on his right shoulder and turned the opposite direction.

"Oi! Shimonuki! Don't you want to come with us? The crew is having a celebration." Aido-san attempted to dissuade him from leaving. All his plans of bringing the silent photographer as bait for the models are going down the drain.

He shook his head, "Thanks, but no thanks. I have to meet a friend" he lied smoothly. Aido-san and his friends only want him to be there so they can persuade the other models to come with them. He and the other guys seemed to think, they could easily lure the young women to join them if he tags along. But he was too tired to go barhopping. He wanted to enjoy a lazy day or two before he decides where to go for the summer. His appointments for the month are empty, which is a very rare thing to happen. He is usually swamped with photography sessions for other magazines and newspapers, and barely gets a full-day break. He was half-thrilled and half-disappointed to find out that he would be free for an entire-month. He was used to living his life rushing to and fro photo sessions, constantly on a deadline.

Aido-san frowned. " Oh. Okay. See you around then." he shook his head, letting him off the hook. Then he jogged towards the other members of the crew who were gathered outside the dressing room trailer, making plans for the evening.

Satoshi continued walking, clearing a few blocks in a matter of minutes. He fiddled with the point and shoot camera he always keeps at his pocket, fighting the urge to take random photos in the street, anything to distract his mind from wandering. He was getting restless, and it is still daytime, a couple of hours more before the sun sets. Maybe I should start booking my flight to Paris and stay there for a week.

He stopped at a nearby intersection, waiting for the traffic light to turn green. A couple of female teenagers wearing school uniforms, sidled right beside him, letting their soft uniforms brush against his arm, before giggling. He knew all too well what they saw on him: tall, good-looking man in his early twenties, alone. No girlfriend in sight, or anyone on that level holding on to his arm.

He sighed, turned to the teenagers, gave them an obligatory half smile, before crossing the street, leaving behind the giggly laughter. Passing by a boutique with large, plate glass windows, he saw his reflection: sandy-colored hair swept back sideways, creating a boy-next-door illusion with his face. His tired, green eyes looking unusually bright; despite the lack of sleep. His full, Cupid's bow mouth, puckered up in a thoughtful way. He looks a bit more like a college kid than twenty-six year old guy.

Arriving at the bus stop, he immediately boarded inside the waiting blue and gold bus, heading straight to the narrow stairs leading to the upper deck, found an empty seat and sat down unceremoniously. He saw a few more girls wearing their school uniforms from various schools within the district glance back at him and began whispering. He ignored them; pulling his Ipod touch from his other pocket and clicked play. Instantly, the soothing sounds of Bjork singing about stranded whales and tree branches drowned out the whispers.

He continued to stare at the window, shops blurred by the speed of the bus passing by. He seemed strangely disengaged from his surroundings. He was reminded of the time when he was back in highschool; after his first real love was snatched underneath his nose by his somewhat friend/enemy: an upperclassman who also stayed in the same dorm as him. He hated these kinds of days that seemed to bring back those unwanted memories of his younger self.

Eimi. The eccentric-looking girl who goes to the same school as him. Eimi with the unusual grey eyes which always light up at the mere mention of things that she loves: street food, a visit to the popular ramen house, freebies from the market, Mexico, and her beloved Wanichin. A lot of guys living in his dorm had discouraged him from getting close to her. At first, he thought it was because she acts weird, often saying things out of the ordinary. She is extremely funny and brutally frank about things. But he can't deny the infectious enthusiasm she always displays when something caught her eye. Later on, when he saw her face light up after seeing Takami Wanibuchi from across the lawn. At that precise moment, he knew: the girl's fate is tied to his sempai.

Dorm guys call Wanibuchi, the Beast, because of his menacing looks. He was half-Japanese, half-Mexican, all toned muscle and dark, good looks. Most people stay away from him because of the dangerous aura he always exudes. And because of this, a lot of rumors began to circulate, about how he used to spend his years beating up guys for breakfast, or how he used to threaten a teacher. No one wants to be friends with him because of his so-called bad reputation. But Eimi, at the start of her first year living in the girl's dorm gravitated towards Wanibuchi like a magnet. She was always at his side whenever possible.

She was the first girl he had courted seriously despite knowing he is already fighting a losing battle. His friends even sympathized about his strange plight. It is somewhat funny, now that he is thinking about it, because, out of all the dozens of girls he had dated, he would get stuck with someone like Eimi. He liked his girlfriends who are real lookers, pretty or cute. He almost made a lot of enemies by dating the most popular girls back in junior high.

In Eimi's case, she was neither a beauty queen nor belle of her class. But she is cute enough to command more than second glances when she dresses up. However, she is laid-back in her appearance, preferring to wear loose shirts, sometimes with age-old food stains that brings back a lot of memories of foods she has eaten and could not forget the taste. With Eimi, it was all about the food and having fun, enjoying life to the fullest.

Four months ago, she had sent him a simple white envelope. Holding the thick, smooth paper, his hands trembled while opening the flap, his head suddenly filled with pictures of white lace, flowers and church bells. Simone, she wrote in elegant cursive writing, I hope you would find the time to attend my wedding with Taka.

Who would've have thought Eimi can write so beautifully like that? It makes him wonder how she turned out after loosing contact for more than a decade. He knew it was Inui-sempai who gave his current address to Eimi. He would sometimes call him up whenever he needs a freelance photographer to help promote his current projects.

Pulling the next piece of glossy paper, he stared at the young woman who unknowingly stole his heart and never returned it. She was smiling blindingly at the camera, her eyes large and luminous with unspoken happiness. Wearing a plain crocheted dress that suited her, her smallish hands held tightly by the man who stared at the same camera with a confident smile. The menacing look, forever gone from his face.

Aahh.. See what a bit of time does to one person. She learned how to do beautiful cursive writing, and bloomed into a full-fledged woman of breathtaking beauty. What else changed about her? The sight of her beautiful face sent a dull ache into the depths of his heart. Long ago, he thought he had put it behind him. The episode that forced him to finally concede defeat and give up the girl he had lost before he had even started the fight for her affections. It was still there, the remnants of a scar that has yet to heal.

Dingdong!

The sudden buzz interrupted his deep thoughts. Satoshi blinked, trying to establish his whereabouts. A few hundred meters ahead, he saw his building where he owns a unit. The familiar flower shop, which was located at the ground floor, its blue and white canopy stripes, was like a flag calling out to him. He gathered his things and went down the steps. Tapping his wallet to the small box at the exit doors, he stepped onto the pavement.

He started walking towards the direction of the flower shop which was always mobbed by late afternoon employees making their way home. He glanced at the buckets of brightly colored flowers, filling the air with their heavy perfume. He could smell freesias, lilies and orange blossoms. Taking out his small camera, turned it on and he began shooting close up pictures of the blooms. Maybe he could make a coffee table book about random street life.

That's when he saw her.

She was wearing a pristine white shirt underneath a knitted, red cardigan. The dark, short pleated skirt contrasted against her creamy skin. She tucked a lock of platinum hair behind her dainty ears, where something sparkly winked against the fading afternoon sunlight. Stooping a bit, she scooped a bundle of red roses, brought them under her nose, closing her eyes before taking a deep breath. Satoshi lowered his camera, mesmerized by the simple gesture. She had the most amazing face imaginable: long, dark sooty lashes, a small button nose. Her full lips are painted the same red as the roses, the center glistening with dew from the blooms.

She opened her eyes and stared at him directly, before breaking into a smile where a small dimple appeared on her left cheek. She looked vaguely familiar. Like he had seen before, but could not place where. But he would surely remember her if he had met her somewhere. She has the most unforgettable face he had ever seen.

Feeling the pull of her gaze, he walked towards her. Up close, her eyes are like deep purple amethysts.

"Lovely roses, don't you think?" she said, looking up at him. She looked young, 19, maybe 18, judging from her fresh look. She has the kind of face that would look young even if she turns 30 tomorrow.

He did not answer. He held up his camera, as if to ask permission to take her picture. She gave a tinkling laugh, shook her head, and turned to the florist to pay for the flowers. She handed the middle-aged man some crisp bank notes from her leather wallet.

Feeling like an idiot, he continued to stare at her, even after she paid for the flowers and gathered her belongings: a black paper bag, a couple of books she placed on one of the counter tops, and hoisted a large book bag.

A student.

"I'm sorry" Satoshi said. He held up his camera again, "I'm sorry for staring and being rude. I was caught in the moment you see" He fumbled for his wallet and took out a name card. " I'm a freelance photographer. Are you interested in modeling for me?" Crap! Real smooth Shimonuki.

She took the stiff card and held it between her long slender fingers, reading his name, a quirky smile hovering at the corners of her mouth. "Pleased to meet you Satoshi Shimonuki, freelance photographer." She returned the card back to him.

He took the card, still staring at her. She probably thinks he is insane, asking young school girls to pose for him. He felt like a pedophile, suddenly overcome with a desire to take this young girl's picture. He should back out now while he can still save face. The florist, who obviously knows him, is looking at him with a suspicious glare, as if telling him don't ever harass the young girl, you bastard!

He was about to come up with a lame goodbye, taking a step back to let her pass, when, to his surprise, she suddenly linked her right hand to his elbow. "No need to be embarrassed. I know all about you. I've seen your works at the SoHo gallery downtown. " She gave him a soft smile that tugged at his heart.

She steered him to the street and together, they went inside the lobby of his building. He could feel the soft swell of her breast at the back of his arm where she was clinging to him. Hang on, man. Act normal. You only want her picture right? It's not like you are doing something illegal. The overwhelming urge to capture the girl's youthful beauty caught him by surprise.

He took a deep breath, trying to calm his racing heart. It surprised him. His heart beating so fast like this. For what seemed like the first time, for the longest time, his heart is still capable of beating this way. He had thought it was already dead to the world. After his episode with Eimi, he locked away all feelings he consider frivolous. For him, it is a waste of time to squander such feelings with other girls. When he started earning his Bachelor's degree, he still had his share of dating. But nobody can compare with Eimi. She was such a vivacious girl, honest and sincere.

The lift car opened, its gilded mirrors at all three sides gleaming, reflecting the soft glow of lights overhead. He stood staring at her before he entered, half expecting her to turn back and leave. He could feel his heart thumping madly. "You never told me your name"

She smiled that faint smile of hers, bringing a new kind of depth to her jewel-colored eyes. She seemed to glow from within. She took a step inside the lift car, and then another, slowly walking towards him, until they were mere inches away.

"My name is Nadeshiko" she answered, slightly breathless.

The lift doors closed behind her.