Prompt & Pairing, Please: Dream Destination

For #RCReadathon2020, some #romanceclass authors have signed up for a little mini-event called Prompt & Pairing, Please where we write some ficlets with our characters. Because I am a person who is in need of writing challenges to get me out of this writer’s block/funk, I signed up! With two pairs because we’re overachievers like that.

For Rain and Mark, the prompt was: Roadtrip or Rain and Mark on their first intl travel together as a couple ❤️

Yes, the heart was really included in this prompt, haha, so thank you to whoever submitted it! I meant to post this last week, but work got in the way as well as a spectacular bout of impostor syndrome had me hating the first draft and changing everything yet again. So this is Rain and Mark in Japan, their first international trip as a couple. The original draft had the two of them getting lost looking for a bus terminal that would take them to Osaka from Tokyo, but I realized I didn’t want them fighting, so I moved it up a day earlier in their trip before they actually get lost to find that bus terminal (which actually happened to me in real life, haha).

The Japan details here were from my 2014 trip so my memory of the place and all the good things you can eat in a Japanese 7-Eleven is a bit hazy. I’m also pretty sure I botched the descriptions of some things here–my bad. But it was fun hanging out with these two again. 🙂

Also, this is waaaay more than 500 words, so sit back and have some takoyaki or strawberry yogurt drink while you’re reading, maybe? 🙂

Dream Destination

Where is your dream destination?

It seemed silly to think that having the same answer to this question with his best friend Rain during their required Career Planning class in college was a sign of good things to come. But what did college-junior Mark know? When you find out that you have another thing in common with someone you like, you just latch on to it and hope it meant something special—never mind if five other people had answered the same thing.

So when they finally, finally got together, Mark had “Trip to Japan” in his list of things to do with Rain. It took them three years to finally get to it: seven days and six nights, Manila to Osaka flight (because it was cheaper and Mark had relatives there who’d give them free lodging), then take the bullet train to spend three days in Tokyo before going back to roam around Osaka and Kyoto. Overall, it took almost a decade since they both answered the question during that class to make the trip, but it took them eight years to get together for real anyway. For Mark, everything with Rain was worth the wait.

“Alright, show me your stash.”

Rain set the tray she was carrying on the table between them. “I have instant ramen, pork bun, this cute little pancake, and I think this is their version of leche flan?” She waved the cup that looked like it was filled with custard and sugar syrup. “Oh, and three kinds of onigiri: tuna, salmon and kelp.”

“Kelp?”

“That’s what the translation app said.” Rain shrugged. “Okay, what did you get?”

“Karaage, egg salad sandwich, soba, and…” Mark paused, then drummed his fingers on the table before waving his hand with a flourish on the last plate on his tray. “Takoyaki.”

 “I thought you’ll wait until we get back to Osaka so you can have ‘authentic’ ones by the streets?”

“It was calling my name, okay?” Mark replied. “It’s the frozen kind, and anyway, at least I can make comparisons when we get there tomorrow.”

“Makes sense.” Rain picked up her chopsticks to start eating, scanned her tray, then made a face as she moved to stand. “I forgot to get an egg for my ramen—”

“Gotcha,” Mark interrupted, picking up the small box in one corner of his tray. “I also got us yogurt drinks—strawberry or blueberry?”

Rain plopped back down on her seat, her face betraying the brief disbelief before giving way to a bashful smile.

“You always think of everything,” she said, accepting the food he offered to her, choosing the strawberry drink. Then she leaned across the table and giving him a quick peck on the lips. “Thank you.”

Now he was surprised at this sudden show of affection. A jolt of kilig sent a warm blush up his cheeks. “You’re welcome,” he said. “Let’s eat, I’m famished.”

“Wait!” Rain exclaimed. She quickly rose from her seat and slid into the space beside him, phone in hand. “Let’s take a photo first. With the food.”

It took her a while to find a good angle to show a bit of their food in the frame, then a few more seconds for multiple shots on her camera. This was a side of Rain that people don’t often see—her affectionate, sometimes goofy side, one that her shy and introverted nature hid behind tall walls that only a few people were allowed through.

“For someone who doesn’t post, or even go on social media a lot, you take a lot of photos,” Mark commented when she went back to her seat. “Do you send that to Meah and Faith or what?”

“I just want to remember everything about this trip. It’s our first time to be out of the country together. You know I love our road trips, but you know this is different. Special.” Then she shrugged. “But yeah, I do send it to them, too.”

“Ah, so that’s why Meah hasn’t bugged me in the past days.” He picked up his chopsticks and picked up the first Takoyaki from his plate. “Did you have fun today?”

“I did!” They had spent the entire day at Tokyo DisneySea, one of the parts of the trip that they had been looking forward to the most. They had a long debate whether they’d go to Disneyland or DisneySea and eventually decided on the latter because there was only one Disney Sea in the world.

“I’m still disappointed there were no dolphins, to be honest,” she added, after swallowing a mouthful of ramen. “And I also still can’t believe you made me ride that rollercoaster.”

“Rain, come on. It was hardly a rollercoaster. The loop wasn’t even that high. Besides,” he shook a finger at her. “You had that in your super organized, color-coded itinerary in Excel.”

“Oh, you liked that Excel chart, admit it.” She unwrapped her first onigiri. “You wouldn’t have woken up on time today if you didn’t know the total travel time to from our hotel to Disney today. And besides, the template came from Meah, I just improved it a little.”

She took a defiant bite of the rice ball in her hand, then she made a face. “Ugh, okay, kelp is not a good idea,” she said, taking a big gulp of her drink. “You want to try?”

“Your reaction is very encouraging, but okay. The Takoyaki is good, by the way, try it.” They exchanged the food and fell silent for a while to continue eating, pushing the different items to each other so they can try everything. Mark found that he liked the kelp onigiri, much to Rain’s chagrin.

“Okay, speaking of schedule,” Rain said, halfway through her ramen. “You still okay with Ueno Park tomorrow?”

“Sounds good to me. Where do you want to go there?”

“Just roam around. There’s a temple there. And there’s the zoo and an aquarium.”

“And we’ll take pictures, of course.”

“Of course.” Rain nodded with a grin. “I kept half the day free, anyway, and we have until dinner time before we need to head for Osaka.”

Mark poked at the last Takoyaki ball on his plate thoughtfully. “But why are we riding the bus back to Osaka again?”

“Because it’s an adventure!” she waved her chopsticks in the air, eyes gleaming with excitement. “For one, we’ve already experienced the Shinkansen on our way here, and the sleeper bus fare is like, eighty percent cheaper than the bullet train. Two, it’s not like we’ll miss any activity because we’ll be asleep on the bus, and at least we won’t have to disturb your relatives by returning there late at night. When you think about it, riding the bus is a far more efficient and cost-effective use of our time and resources!”

Yep, she really said that. Mark loved it when she would switch to corporate-speak unconsciously, even more so when she didn’t realize that she had done it. Like now, she just went back to eating, satisfied at her explanation, giving him a chance to just watch her while his heart fluttered.

Eleven years of knowing each other, three of which officially in a relationship, and still Mark can’t help but feel lucky that Rain had let him tag along with her. From that first day at summer church camp where he had tried to get her attention to the rest of their college years and early working years, every time she’d invite him back to her life when their other relationships ended, when they finally got together—all of these were Rain accepting what he can give her, letting him walk with her. Rain had all the reasons and right to walk away from him in the past decade, but she still seemed to want him around. He was grateful for all of it. What a gift it was to receive her friendship and love, and he’d gladly keep doing that and give back to her for the rest of their lives.

Whoa. Mark blinked, surprised at the sudden burst of emotion that choked him, and the tears that pricked his eyes. Blinking furiously, he reached for his drink, clearing his throat several times. It’s not that he wasn’t in touch with his emotions, but maybe he should reserve the show at another time, not in the middle of another convenience store.

“Mark? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine—” he coughed, feeling his throat catch. He took another sip from his drink and cleared his throat, hoping for relief, but somehow, it just made his lips itch.

“You don’t look fine.” Suddenly, Rain was beside him, her hands reaching to cradle his face as she took a good look at his face. The tears he thought he had pushed away went back, filling his eyes again, blurring his vision. He reached up to wipe—no, scratch his eye, because, on top of feeling like crying, his eyes also felt itchy—only for her to slap it away.

“I swear, I’m just a little—” But something tickled the back of his throat again, making him sneeze. As his eyes watered more, he realized with a start that the fluttering feeling inside his chest earlier weren’t butterflies, nor were his tears a sudden rush of emotion. He had felt this before, back when he accidentally drank ibuprofen for a headache.

“Allergic.” Rain finished for him, frowning. “But you don’t have food allergies.”

“I don’t.” He glanced down at his arm and saw red splotches spread across his skin. “Unless…I suddenly have? Late-onset allergies? Maybe it’s the octopus?”

“I thought you’ve had Takoyaki before!”

“I did! But maybe the ones we have back home aren’t real? I don’t know!” He sneezed again, just as Rain reached across the table to get her bag. “Or maybe it’s the kelp?”

“Damn kelp.” She rummaged inside her bag to get her phone. Once she had it, she dug around some more, cursed again, then pulled out two brown sachets and pressed them in Mark’s palm. “I forgot my antihistamine, but I found sugar. Eat this first while I call the emergency number. They should have English speakers—can you still breathe? Tell me you can still breathe, Mark.”

He inhaled deeply to answer her question, and also to make sure that he can still do it. After a few more breaths, Mark tore open the sachets of sugar and tossed the contents in his mouth. “Does this even work?”

But Rain was too busy to answer him as she spoke rapidly on the phone, the notes of panic rising in her voice every now and then as she gave their location to whoever was on the other line. Mark reached for her hand instead, ignoring the itchy feeling that crawled up his arm upon skin contact, trying to keep his breathing normal to not make her—or himself—panic even more.

The next hour went by like a blur: the ambulance arriving, Rain joining him at the back, murmuring nervous prayers while her hand gripped his tightly, getting to the hospital and speaking to the kindest nurses and doctors, and finally getting an epinephrine shot. The culprit was the octopus, much to his dismay, because this meant goodbye to his Takoyaki dreams. By the time Rain had returned after working out the payment and other travel insurance things, one of Mark’s eyes that had swollen a bit had returned to normal, his arms had stopped itching, and the desire to sneeze had left him.

“How are you feeling now, Mark?” she asked, sinking down on the seat next to him.

“Better.”  He took a deep breath for a good measure. “Rain, I’m sorry.”

She frowned. “Why are you apologizing? It’s not your fault.”

“Because this wasn’t in our plans.” Mark sighed. “And you know, no one wants to spend their vacation in an emergency room.”

“Don’t worry about those plans, okay?” She cupped his face; her fingers cool against his skin as she kissed his forehead gently. “What matters is you’re okay. And anyway, the only real plan on this trip is to be with you. I know you booked this because we both said we wanted to go to Japan years ago. My only dream destination is to be with you, wherever that may be.”

Mark smiled as the same feeling of love and gratitude he felt earlier washed over him again—this time utterly certain that it wasn’t allergies. He reached for her hand as they settled back on the hard, plastic seats and leaned his head on her shoulder. “How are we getting back to the hotel?”

“I called a cab for us.”

“Won’t that be expensive?”

“Don’t worry, it’s still cheaper than the Shinkansen.” Rain waved a hand. “See, it’s good that we’re riding a bus tomorrow.”

“See, it’s you who think of everything, and I love you for it.” Mark laughed softly. “Thank you.”

“I love you, too.” He heard faint clicks coming from her phone. “Wait, we need to take a picture of this. Look up. One, two—”

With tired eyes and washed out faces under the harsh hospital light, they smiled.

Mark is so cheesy, I can’t even. Thank you for reading! If things go according to plan, there will be a Cams and Gabriel fic next week. Meanwhile, go and read this week’s fics from other authors here.

1 thought on “Prompt & Pairing, Please: Dream Destination”

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