~~~~((~~~((@ THE ROSE GARDEN @))~~~))~~~~
A fanfic by Chiba Mamoru, as re-told to Pandora Diane Waldron
glows in the rose bed, the secret is hidden in the rose."
--Farid ud-din Attar, 12th Century Persian poet.
CHAPTER 9: My Odango Atama
Part 5: True Love Dreams
There she goes AGAIN. Usagi has hopped out of her seat and has run over to get a close look at Yumeni's sketch pad. Doesn't she know any better than to move while she's being sketched? Just as well, though. My tortured imagination is working overtime, and I can no more shut out the thoughts, than I can stop my roses from shedding petals when I'm upset. If she sat this close for much longer, for sure she would see the sweat breaking out on my brow, and wonder.
Fortunately for me, Odango has never been too observant.
"That's me?" exclaims Usagi. "I can't believe it! It's SO pretty," she gushes. "How can you draw such wonderful pictures?"
"Well," replies Yumeni, dreamily, "Whenever I draw a picture, I pray that whoever sees it will be happy, that they will find their true love. That's why I call these pictures my "True Love" series."
These remarks only serve to make me feel still more bitter. Love and me are strangers. And it looks like it's gonna stay that way. For the first time, my loneliness hits me with the force of a blow. And if the girl with the long blonde ponytails is thinking of love, it sure isn't with me. I think of the Princess I've been searching so long for. Then I think of Usagi, who I think, despite her lack of grace and impulsive behaviour, looks more and more to me like that Princess in the painting. I feel unhappy, confused, and hopeless. And I just wish I could go home.
"Aren't you sweet, Yumeni-san, to wish true love for everyone else? But you, you're all alone. No one knows the real you, Yumeni-san. That's so sad," Usagi remarks.
"No, I want everyone's dream of love to be perfect, " Yumeni insists. "If they saw the real me, well, I'm not glamorous and romantic enough. I would spoil that dream."
[God, I can't stand this stuff she's telling Usagi anymore. It's such a bitter, bitter joke, this magic "True Love" paintings stuff. It's such a lie. And it's time to face the bitter truth.] I blurt out, "If you aren't happy yourself, how can you possibly make anyone else happy?"
The moment the words are out of my mouth, I regret them. I'm letting my own bitterness and loneliness speak for me. But I didn't have to drag the two girls down with my mood, did I? Let them believe in their "True Love" dreams, if they can.
Usagi is glaring at me now. "How can you be so cold? Yumeni's paintings are beautiful. Why, look at this one! Now, Mamoru-san, look at this picture, and tell me it doesn't move you at all--I won't believe it!" It is Tsukino Usagi with all the guns blazing out of those sky-blue eyes of hers, furious in defence of a friend, of someone she cares about.
I am more and more ashamed of my bitter outburst. But my pride will not let me take the words back. And even Usagi noticing me because she is angry at me is better than being ignored. Some irrational part of me, deep inside, is gratefully enjoying that she is looking at me, even though the little round face is furious, and her cheeks very pink with outrage.
Finally I am able to tear my eyes away from hers to look at the painting. And then I gasp! It is of that same girl again, this time giving a locket to a guy who, again, looks like me.
The scariest part is, I recognize the locket. It's a musical locket, which has been with me forever, and I can't remember where I got it from. My eyes are rivetted to the painting, and I'm unable to speak. Usagi was right...it moved me. More than she can ever understand.
"The girl is giving the locket to her young man, as a token of her love," Yumeni is explaining. "That couple, they are very special to me. Whenever I feel an urge to paint them, I can feel the love between them. Yet somehow I also feel very sad. I am so glad you like them too!" Yumeni's eyes are shining.
"I know how you feel," I hear myself saying quietly. Am I saying that to Yumeni, or Usagi? I don't know. "That scene is somehow so familiar to me."
There's a little catch in my voice as I say that. It's almost an admission of the wistful yearning inside me, the yearning that threatens to break out at any second, underneath the layers of bitter loneliness. But Usagi, I see, hasn't noticed. All she sees is that for once, I've said the right thing, and I'm admitted back to the human race...for the time being anyway.
I sigh, and Usagi doesn't notice that either. If I leave now, I can just make that appointment at the school. Part of me starts to say the obvious thing, "Sorry, but I have to go now. But listen, if you are staying late, Usagi, I can come back later on, and see you home?"
For a moment, Usagi looks as if she might going to be accepting my offer. But then those thoughts that I should have known were perturbing her, begin to intrude. That, of course, if Rei should hear, would infuriate her. And, [how this makes me smile now!], she was also afraid that spending time with me would be like cheating on Tuxedo Kamen. [I really had no idea how much I was inadvertently complicating my love life with that mask, when I first put it on.]
And then the third thought hits Usagi. "Does Chiba Mamoru think I'm too much of a baby to walk home alone at night? Hmmpphh!!"
[If I could have answered her honestly, I would have said, "No such thing. It was just the best pathetic excuse I could think of at the time, for coming back to see you." Of course, I would have never made such a damaging admission, and had her laugh at me.]
"Arigatou, Mamoru-san. But I don't need you to take me home," and the ice is back in Usagi's voice, and in those icy blue eyes.
I blew it again. I don't know how, but I did. Everything I say to Usagi blows up in my face. There's nothing I can do right with her. I sigh, and go off to my appointment at the school, feeling depressed.
[Usako told me later that Yumeni was surprised that she didn't want me to take her home. "At the time, I didn't see us as a couple," Usako told me. "But when Yumeni looked so surprised I didn't want to be with you, and said what a nice guy you really were, that started me re-thinking my feelings towards you. I could tell Yumeni thought you were attracted to me, something that never even dawned on me. I didn't believe it at the time, but after Yumeni implanted the idea on me, I couldn't dismiss it. As an artist, she has that depth of perception, to see the truth. And so she knew the truth about us, before either of us did."
"And something else happened later that night that changed me," Usako told me. "Luna brought over my moon rod, saying I'd dropped it. She was very dismissive of me, even when I explained I had been feeling some stress from worrying about Tuxedo Kamen, and what he felt for me. When Luna said she wished all problems were so simple as mine, that got me furious."
"I realized that Luna didn't take any of my feelings seriously, or see them as valid. So that's when I began to keep my thoughts, especially about Tuxedo Kamen, to myself. I think it was the first time I realized that there were some things that Luna didn't understand, and that I would have to sort out for myself."
"It's the strangest thing," Usako smiled at me, years later, "but I think I really started to grow up, the day I carelessly dropped the moon rod. I might be imperfect, immature, sometimes irresponsible, but I knew I could trust my feelings about Tuxedo Kamen, whatever Luna said, and that I was right that you would be important in my life."
[I confess, she makes me very happy when she says things like that to me, even now.]
The next day, I came to see Yumeno Yumeni on her own, and had a long talk with her. I was honest with her about why I had bought the tuxedo from her friend, and told her how much those two paintings had meant to me. Now if Usagi had dropped in then, and seen us together, I bet she would have been sure I was cheating on Rei. I felt that Yumeni already knew what was going on inside me already, and I might as well tell her the rest. I even told Yumeni about my mixed up feelings towards Usagi. And Yumeni told me not to give up on her.
"She isn't half as against you as she pretends to be," Yumeni smiled. "She gets way too defensive and indignant at the very idea she's interested in you, so I know I've hit a nerve," Yumeni grinned.
"I don't know about that..." I said doubtfully.
"Well, I do!" Yumeni cried. "Hey, listen," she continued, her eyes dancing, "Would you come back one day in the Tuxedo Kamen outfit and model for me? I could do much better paintings with the real thing as inspiration, you know!"
"You're not really the shy Yumeno Yumeni you pretend to be, are you?" I grinned. "You're quite the little arm-twister when you want to be!"
"Where my paintings are concerned, I am a Tiger!" she agreed, happily.
"Well, O.K...deal. But this time *I* get to pick the times I come for my modelling sessions. I do have a pretty heavy school schedule, you know. And if Tuxedo Kamen gets a last minute call, I may not be able to show, nor will I be able to warn you I can't be there. But I will call you afterwards, and schedule another time for a sitting."
"That's a deal!" Yumeni agreed, pleased.
"One more thing, " I said, looking at her seriously. "I meant it that you're denying yourself happiness, by not letting people know the real you. You should let people know what you really look like. I think that people are more caring than you give them credit for. And if I can see the beauty of the spirit within you, I'm sure others will, too."
Yumeni really blushed then. But that day she secretly started working on a self-portrait. And this time, that self-portrait looked like the real Yumeni. When she finished it, she scheduled a surprise visit to her studio to show it off to Usagi and me. [Poor Yumeni, vainly pairing us again, trying to play matchmaker. Usagi STILL wouldn't look at me.] Yumeni had finished the picture that we both had posed for as well.
When Usagi and I saw the two pictures, I don't know which of them was the more remarkable. She had certainly captured Usagi's essence, right down to the odangos, which I teased her about. But when I saw the self-portrait of Yumeni, I knew she must have started it after our discussion, and I was moved that I was able to give her that much confidence, to be herself. I didn't say very much, but I looked over at Yumeni, and a look passed between us that Usagi didn't see.
I left the studio with a lighter heart and more hope than yet I had ever felt before.
PLEASE GO TO: Part
6: Rei, and Usagi
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