“Oh no, I’m going to be late!”
My ragdoll body sprung out of bed. I nearly tumbled to the floor as I bounced to my feet. My neck clicked back and forth so far; it would put an owl to shame. After breathing deeply to settle my nerves I opened the door and listened down the steps. It seems even though it’s been two years Mom still can’t get up in time to save her life.
“Where is my book?! I can’t remember where I put it!”
My neck angled further now. There’s a different voice in there than I previously remembered. Is that…Hana-san?
“Now hold on everyone…has anyone seen my left stocking?! I swear I just had it.”
“That couldn’t be…Koda-san too”
Before my accident, I would always get my mom up and ready for work. She used to work plenty of jobs. So, I was there to support her by getting her well prepared beforehand. But it seems this entire group can’t get their act together in the morning.
I held my head, not doing any favors to my morning bed hair. Not that I could criticize, still being asleep at this time. I stayed up too late, and this was my punishment. With no other obligations to attend to until my entry exam date, that’s to be expected of a junior high…no, high school girl.
I stepped out of the door and ventured down the steps only to come face to face with my new reality. The hallway is in shambles as the three in question race back and forth like gerbils in a cage, likely looking for various things. Hana-san has her butt sticking out from under the sofa. Mom, with her tall body, is searching through the cabinets in the kitchen. Koda-san seemed to have given up all hope and rested on the side of the kitchen table.
“What’s going on here?”
Like deer in headlights, they all turn to me.
“Oh…honey, did we wake you?”
Mom feigned ignorance. With a clap of my hands, I tried to gather the three around the living room. Koda-san, however, stayed put still leaning on the side of the table.
“First off, what’s going on?”
Hana-san was the first to approach, like a dog with her tail between her legs.
“I can’t find my math book. I was studying last night and thought I left it on the table in the kitchen, but it wasn’t there when I woke up...”
“Is it the one with the deep green cover? The hardback?”
Hana-san explodes, hopping six feet in the air.
“It’s on top of the TV stand. You must have left it there by mistake. Now, Mom?!”
Like Hana-san before, Mom bobbed over to me.
“I had a report typed and printed out. I don’t have the time to reprint it before today’s meeting, Madoka!”
“And you think you left it in the kitchen cabinet?!”
“I-I got desperate!”
“Wait, weren’t you doing laundry yesterday? This might be a shot in the dark, but…have you checked the washroom, on top of the washing machine?”
Her eyes lit up as she raced in there without another word. Soon enough a shriek came bursting out after.
“I found it, Madoka! It’s right here!”
My palm whacked my forehead. There’s no way she could be that ditzy, right? I turned to the final trial. Koda-san smiled at me, daringly.
“Wherever might my stocking be?”
She snickered as if challenging my powers.
“You’re sitting on it, aren't you?”
Koda jumped up from the side of the table and long behold she found what she’d been looking for. Why it was on the kitchen table in the first place is a whole other problem.
Mom took hold of Hana-san's hand.
“C’mon Hana, it’s too late for breakfast! Mari, start the car!”
I shouted, earning their attention. The mood of the morning was in ruins. My offer was torn to pieces… I checked the refrigerator and held out three boxes of lunch bentos.
“Here you three…”
I had planned to give this to them all as an apology, but now I had to shove them out the door. It's the reason why I was so tired. Because I stayed up late into the night making these for them.
“I can’t stop you all from starvation in the morning, but for lunch…I know you won’t go hungry…”
The look in Mom's eyes was soft. My fingers trembled as I set them on the table. I found it hard to look at Hana-san and Koda-san too, so I wouldn't know the expression on their faces.
Hana-san spoke up first.
Mom held it close to her chest like a treasure. This reminded me of back then.
“Mari, Hana, we have to go.”
Mom took their hands and like a whirlwind, they all flew out of the home. From level 10 to 0 in an instant. It was silent now, but the home was still left in shambles. There I stood in a sea of the disaster known as my living room.
“Since I have nothing else to do…”
I bent down and lifted a shoe. With a sigh, I aimlessly picked up the clutter. Before I knew it, I was making my way to each room, straightening up the chaos from the recent hurricane. With a towel, I found myself wiping down the windows to dusting the hall. It took me a minute to realize that these normal things have not been done in a while. Being cooped up in my room with my books may have played a part in not noticing it sooner. These three were something else.
“So…this is normal life now?”
Feeling the loathing like a brick to the head, I continued without another word. I eased my way to Hana-san’s room. A tad guilty at first, I opened the door.
“I’m coming in.”
I didn't expect a response, but I said it anyway. Likely to soothe my conscience a bit, if anything. The room is in a stable condition, unlike how the living room was earlier. So, all I did was straighten up her pillows and fix her sheets. As I hovered my body over her twin mattress, I caught the scent of fresh flowers. The aroma wafted into my nose causing me to think about the dew after a rainy day. The smell fit Hana-san's coy yet firm image. Not just because of her name, but Hana-san had always reminded me of a flower. One in a clearing, away from the others.
I lifted my head up from the sheets and searched the room now. Video games and manga flooded her bookcases. Was Hana-san a bit of an otaku?
That question would be left for another time, I concluded. The detective in me now searched her nightstand as if looking for clues. A picture of her and Koda-san faced her bedside. With the tip of my finger, I nudged it.
“Hm…I wonder what happened to Hana-san's dad?”
I never asked the question. Well, it’s not as if I had any interest in her before last night. She and I might be far more similar than I first imagined. Finishing up in her room, I shut the door leaving everything else the way it was.
I lumped myself down the steps and walked over to Mom’s room…Well, hers and Koda-san’s. I entered to see the room in a similar condition to Hana-san’s. Now immune to the guilt, I enter in and head right to the bed. As I was fixing the covers, a picture caught my eye. It sat on the nightstand next to the bed. The picture had mom and Koda-san in an establishment of some kind. Most likely their job. I know that they work for the same editorial company so that’s the conclusion I came to. Behind them, a banner read, “Congratulations.” I wondered what the occasion was for briefly before putting the picture back down. Right now it wasn’t my goal to snoop around about their personal life.
My goal was to fix the sheets and that’s it. I turned back when a tender lemon floated into my nose. The citrus bath soap seems a bit childish, so I intuitively know it isn’t my mother’s…It must be Koda-san's.
“So, they do sleep in the same bed…”
I didn’t think much of it until now. It’s so strange to think my mom is…with another woman in that way… I wonder what she saw in Koda-san that had that kind of attraction. I couldn’t even imagine being enticed by a person of the same sex. It just doesn’t resonate with me. But who am I to judge my mom? I’ve always put my mom on a bit of a higher plane than others. That is something I was aware of. So, seeing her make this change in her life is…
Putting my mean-spirited thoughts at rest, I fix the bed and leave the room.
“I'll have to apologize properly, won’t I?”
A sigh escapes my mouth.
“A bento box won’t fix everything…”
I’ve always been hard on myself, so what I did last night was no exception. I shouldn’t have made my mom, Hana-san, or even that weirdo Koda-san feel that way. My mind raced back to last night. She handed me those sandwiches and made strange comments all the while. That unnerving smile was plastered on her face as if she were a lion buttering up her prey.
Koda-san... just rubbed me the wrong way or something. Maybe it was because she’s seeing my mom? I guess I’d feel this way even if she was a man. Anyone who is there in place of my dad I’d probably have some animosity against. But no, Koda-san is just…strange. She’s pretty…enough to get the attention of a bunch of other people. I’m sure Nakagawa Ayumi wasn’t her only suitor. Why did she choose my mom then?
I’m not downing my mom's looks at all either. Mom is an exceptionally beautiful person, and I’m not saying that because she’s my mother. There were plenty of people who tried to get in contact with her when dad died. Vultures came and went, and I had to protect her from them.
“Lose this number, punk!” was a phrase I would say to get them off her back. Then I look at Koda-san and can’t even recall when the two of them met. When did Koda-san enter my mom's life? And when or why did it bloom into something like this? Could you call this…love? I don’t even want to imagine those two…
I stop myself before I go down that thought. Imagining my own mother in that kind of scenario is beyond obscene. But there had to be something to make her…want that with Koda-san.
“…I just don’t know!”
I screamed, falling back onto the sofa. My arm shielded my eyes from the morning rays as I sank into the cushions. A part of me wished I would just fade deeper, away from this bizarre world. There are so many questions that I have, but I’m not sure how to ask. I don’t think Mom and the others are hiding things from me out of malice, but I think they’re not telling me because I haven’t asked the right questions yet.
It’s like being the only sports fan in a group that plays games. While one could still socialize with them…everything they speak about is fundamentally different. As they speak about their games the rest of the group understands already…there is no need for explanations because everyone is on the same page. All the while, the lone wolf of the group doesn’t understand their world and why it’s so different than their own...
Mom, Hana-san, and Koda-san…They’ve been together for a while now. They must have been through things that I don’t know about… and I can’t be a part of their conversations because I don’t understand their world...That made me the lone wolf.
I said it. Like a spoiled child, I admitted it to myself. I certainly am the odd one out. With a sigh, I closed my eyes. My body relaxed as my eyes drifted off into an ocean of my thoughts. I removed my glasses and set them on the table. Before I knew it, I fell into a light sleep.
The sound of the front door opening slowly nudges me from my brief slumber. I lifted my head up then my body sprung up after. I reached for my glasses to reveal who was coming through the door unannounced.
“Oh, I didn’t see you there, N-Nakagawa-san.”
Koda-san wobbled over, pulling off her heels as she approached. After nursing her ankles, she set down her briefcase on the counter.
“Why aren’t you at work?”
Alarmed, I questioned. I wasn’t aware, but my body scrunched itself up to the arm of the sofa. Koda-san put her hands up in the air like I had pointed a gun at her.
“Oh, all I had to do today was enter in a report and do a small speech. Since I came from overseas and haven’t had a day off, I took two of them.”
My guard didn’t waver as I clinched the pillow, peeking my head out from behind it.
“I…was looking forward to having some alone time with you, Nakagawa-san.”
“Why is that?”
I held the shield closer. But all Koda-san did was giggle softly and sat at the other end of the Sofa.
“That bento box you made was delicious.”
“O-Oh, …it was nothing. Just a few things I used to whip up for mom.”
“I’ve always wanted to taste one of your bento boxes. Your mom would talk about them all the time.”
I felt my face become warm and before I knew it, I turned to the side.
“Stop saying such embarrassing things.”
The snake leaned her body towards me, causing me to clinch the pillow even tighter. I scrunched up, furthering my distance from her.
“Would you make my bento box every day?”
The devil snickered, holding her stomach.
“Sorry…You looked so cute; I couldn't help it!”
She smiles sinisterly. I could have sworn I saw horns appear on her head.
Annoyed now, I tossed the pillow. Only by chance, it hit her square in the face.
With my chance to escape in front of me I stood up and attempted to make my way to my room when she called back to me…
“W-Wait! Nakagawa-san, I’m sorry!”
I raced up the steps and slammed my room door.
“Gosh, she’s a freak!”
I couldn't believe my mom was with that kind of woman.
“Nakagawa-san! I wanted to tease you a little, that’s all!”
I shouted at the top of my lungs. I wasn’t sure, but I swear the roof shook by the vibration of my rage.
“Please forgive me! I-I was wondering if maybe we could go out and get to know each other better.”
“Forget it! You lost your chance!”
Now I was pissed. I locked the door and took out my iPod. It’s time to drown out the annoyance on the other side of the door. I lied on my bed attempting to zone out. Cheery idol tunes filled my mind. Cute girls dancing about in frilly clothing. This was the world I wanted to be a part of. I’m super into these kinds of things, and I was proud of it too.
But after the third song or so I grew self-conscious. Thinking about it more, if I make Koda-san upset…mom might get mad too. With butterflies of that scolding coming forth, I grumbled.
I stood up, escaping from that perfect world of idol bliss. Reluctantly, I made my way to the door. I peeked in downstairs to witness the person in question with her head against the wall.
“Smooth move, dumbass.”
Koda pushed her forehead to the wall. It irritated me knowing I just cleaned that earlier too. But could it be that she’s…self-loathing? With a sigh, I ventured down the steps. Even being so close, it seemed she hadn't noticed me yet.
Like a kangaroo, Koda hopped five feet in the air as she turned around. Even when she is acting so wildly, she seems to have a cute side to her, too. Is it strange to say that this weirdo is a bit entertaining to watch? But I digressed, letting that thought pass me.
“What…did you have in mind.”
I muster up the courage to ask.
“O-Oh?! Ah…I was just thinking about us making a meal for the family!”
“For the family?”
Oh…that’s right. They are considering themselves as a family: mom, Hana, and this weirdo that is, in a sense, my stepmother. No…without them being properly married, there’s no way I’d ever consider either of them as a family in any way.
I look at her again. Koda-san pushed her fingers together, acting like an elementary school kid who got caught with her hands in the cookie jar.
“F-fine, let’s get going!”
How was I supposed to say no to someone with that look on their face? Geez, this Koda-san is a handful!
She pumped her arm.
“I need to get dressed…and put my contacts on so give me a minute.”
I’ve noticed this before, but now it was more apparent. Koda-san would occasionally make the mistake of saying my first name then switching to my family name. I don’t know her well enough to even consider calling her…Mari-san, so I would like for her to respect my boundaries and stop acting so informal with me. However, I don’t voice my opinion on the matter. Instead, I sighed for the thousandth time today and made my way up the steps. I’m never like this, getting irritated over little things like that. But Koda-san is like a different breed of human. I can’t put my finger on it, but she just seems…like something is off with her.
As we stepped outside the door, Koda-san nearly met her face with the cement but caught herself. It would seem as though she’s been looking for a pair of shoes and finally found them. Which led to her doing her best to put them on while walking. I acted as if I didn’t see anything and continued my march.
The rays of sunlight darted into my retina. I haven’t been out of the house since we came home from the hospital, so it was a new sensation seeing the morning streets. I’ve been too buried in my studies, trying to make a good impression of the new school that I plan to enter. As I walked, I felt an unease go across my neck like ice running down my spine. I turned to catch Mari gazing in my direction. Our eyes met briefly before I broke contact and turned back to the streets.
“So, where’s your car?”
“Oh, I don’t have it. Ayumi is the one who takes the car for the day.”
“Well, you lead the way then. I’m actually not sure where anything is…”
Shamefully, I admit.
“There’s a shopping district a few miles that way. We’re going to hop on the train and make our way there. It drops us off right where we need to be.”
With a nod, we began our journey to the station. Now that my mind had calmed down, I found myself thinking about all the questions I wanted to ask Koda-san. One being…
We stop on the sidewalk as I turn around to her.
“Ahh…H-How did you meet my mom?”
Koda put a finger to her mouth and tilted her head.
The edge of her mouth curled, and her eyes relaxed as if being possessed by an unknown force.
“Heh, are you interested in me?”
“Nakagawa-san’s interested in me?”
Koda rubbed her cheek as if nursing a toothache. My blood boiled as I flipped around 180° then began marching again.
“Never mind! I could care less!”
It was thoughtless of me to try and have a serious chat with this kind of person. It’s like for everything I say, Koda-san has a list of outrageous retorts in her back pocket. It honestly makes talking with her…tiresome. There’s still a lot I want to ask Koda-san, but unless I want to be the bud of her jokes, I’ll have to put them off for now. I’ve always been quick on the uptake and right now the mood reads that she wants to use this time to tease me.
“Hehe, aren’t you going to ask my favorite color too?”
We continued to walk wordlessly for a bit after that. Koda-san lagged a tad, making me feel as though I was walking too fast. I slowed down to meet her pace, but she just lagged more.
“Am I walking too fast?”
“Oh no, I’m just admiring you”
She rubbed her cheek again. Not sure why this irritated me so much.
“Ouch, that one hurt.”
We kept walking. The station was around ten or so minutes from our home. But with her acting this way, this quick walk was going to feel like a years’ time. When I leaned my head back a bit, a brisk feeling captured my hair.
Koda-san’s slim fingers wrapped skillfully around my hair like a ninja. I stood there silently. I felt like a needle could fall a mile away, and we both would be able to hear it clearly. That's how tense the moment was between us. It didn't take too long before I spoke up.
“What…the heck are you doing?”
I don’t know where she’s learned manners, but this is beyond inappropriate. I forced myself away from her, but all she did was giggle like a schoolgirl. Why does she insist on being so creepy?
“You’re supposed to be showing me around, anyway, get to the front! Go! Get!”
I point forward as she rushes past me like a dog off her leash. She continued to lead for a moment, then abruptly turned around.
“Oh, I have an idea! Here!”
Here we go...I spoke internally.
She held out her hand. There was nothing in it, so I just stared blankly.
Still unsure about what she wanted me to do, I angled my head slightly.
“Take my hand so you won’t get lost!”
“What am I, five?!”
“Don’t you want to hold my hand?”
“No…No, I don’t. I didn’t even consider it.”
“But I want to hold yours, though.”
I put my hands on my waist. This is going to be an extremely long outing. I silently punished myself for making this decision in the first place. It’s apparent now, if anything is, me and Koda-san's personalities thus far do not go hand in hand. How did my mom ever get involved with such a troublesome person?
We got on the train and took our seats. It was in the morning and most of the business commuters were already at work finding a seat easy enough. As I searched my phone, an aroma trickled into my nose.
“Oh, you smell my shampoo, Nakagawa-san?”
It would seem I said something aloud without thinking again. Koda-san perked up like a puppy.
“Do you like it?”
“I could let you borrow it sometime.”
I honestly didn’t know how to reply to that, so instead, I took my phone out and acted like I didn’t hear her. It seemed that Koda-san likes fruity scents like these. A bit immature for her age, I think. Now that I think about it…how old is she exactly? I repress the urge to ask her. She’d just come back with a witty tease anyway.
The train ride doesn’t take as long as I thought at first. We make our way to the shopping district of town. I followed her as we entered the shopping mall.
“So, what are you in the mood for Nakagawa-san?”
Koda-san looked at me, tilting her head.
“Hm…I don’t know. What does Hana-san like to eat?”
I veered the conversation towards her child instead.
“Hana is actually a pretty picky eater. She’ll take a couple of bites of everything then refuse to eat anymore.”
Koda-san ponders with her hand on her chin.
“I swear that’s the reason why she hasn’t developed much yet…”
Now that she mentioned it, Hana-san came right to my room after I left. With that in mind, I can see why she made it up there so quickly. She must have taken a bite of food then rushed up the steps before Koda-san and Mom could say anything about it. Now thinking like that, did she use me as an escape to get away from the table without eating much? Hm, thinking of things that way makes me a tad depressed. That’s only my conclusion.
“So, what do you think we should have?”
The question swung back and hit me in the back of the head. Great…I didn’t want to be the decider of this occasion but…
“How about we do something simple. White rice, miso soup, and fish?”
Simple yet effective. Nothing can go wrong unless Hana-san is secretly a fish hater.
“That’s perfect, Nakagawa-san.”
Koda-san clapped her hands together. Seeing a grown woman act this way puts me way out of my comfort zone. Now that I think about it and that we’re here…
“What’s the matter?”
Koda-san looked at me as she picked up the bag of rice for tonight.
“Do you mind if we pick up more pickles?”
“I don’t mind. Not sure how you and your mother can eat those though.”
“Hm? What do you mean?”
“I don’t like pickles.”
Koda-san giggled as she strolled on without me. But what about last night? Didn’t she make a sandwich with pickles in it? Is she telling me that she made food that she didn’t like? This woman is bizarre.
“Hey, we need more aprons around the house. I’ll pick this up for Hana.”
Koda-san wrapped a polka-dotted apron around her waist. With a nod, she put it in her basket. I could care less about what else she wanted to waste her money on. She was the person buying everything in the end.
After we bought all our ingredients, we made our way out of the grocery store, bags in hand. The wind blew softly on the warm September day. Now closer to the afternoon, we approached the station. My shoulders slumped, and I could feel my legs begin to grow stiff.
“Nakagawa-san, are you by chance tired?”
I tried to hide it from Koda-san, but my feet were sore and my arms were starting to hurt. It’s one of the few reasons why I stayed inside for the week after coming from the hospital. Physically my body wasn’t too built to do much labor because of the bedridden state I was in. Shamefully, I had to admit by giving her a slight nod.
“Hey, let’s go rest over there.”
Koda-san pointed to a small park, one that kids played at. The place was empty, being a weekday, and most of them must have been at school. The swings brought back a hint of nostalgia. We found our way to a bench as I sat on the far right and Koda-san on the left. The wind pulled the swing back and forth. I watched as if there were a parent and child enjoying the fall breeze. For some reason, that back and forth made my heart ping for a moment.
“I remember taking Hana here when she was young.”
Koda-san interrupted my idle thoughts. Not as if she’d done it on purpose. I looked back at her. She was watching the swing set as well. Ah, that’s what the swing set reminded me of. When dad was still around, he would take me here when I was young. Even though he worked long hours, he’d find time to do mundane things like this with a whiny little girl like me. I still remember pointing at the slide and demanding him to take me on it as if it were the wildest thing in the world. Then I’d climb up to the top and start crying my eyes out. At that age, looking down the slide was like veering down the building of a skyscraper. Back in those simpler times, all I thought about was how I was going to have fun. How…I wish for a remnant of those days to return.
“What’s going on in that head of yours, Nakagawa-san?”
But then I looked back at her…and the annoyance flooded back into my mind.
I turned back away from Koda-san. Now might be the best time to question her but for some reason, I can’t bring myself to ask her. I don’t want my simple thoughts to be ruined by her unreasonable teasing.
“Are you sure it’s nothing?”
She pressed on.
Koda-san, still with that ridiculous smile plastered on her face, closed her eyes and nodded.
“You seemed as if you wanted to ask me something earlier but stopped yourself.”
Koda-san looks away from me; the wind takes hold of her short locks.
“We’re…family you know.”
“No, we’re not.”
I spewed. I could taste the bitterness in my voice. My thoughts about dad lingering in my mind must have been a part of me sounding so angry. Even I scared myself.
“You’re nothing but a stranger to me.”
Koda-san’s smile didn’t seem damaged one bit as she nodded, turning back to me.
“My bad. You’re 100% correct. We are strangers.”
Koda-san lifted her head in the clouds. Her short hair flowed into the wind. Looking at her I felt as though the wind would take her away…a blessing in disguise if that happened.
“But even strangers fall in love you know...”
There she goes again saying weird things. Hana-san is nothing like her. She doesn’t blurt out weird things and make me feel outwardly uncomfortable. How could Hana-san turn into such a good child by this strange misfit?
“Hehe, that’s not really what I meant though, Nakagawa-san.”
“Is that right?”
She cleared her throat as if to make an announcement to a group of people.
“I wholly expect you to see me as a stranger, and that’s simply fine. But what I want you to know is…”
Koda-san turns to me.
“I do love your mother.”
“I’m not sure if that’s the question you wanted to ask me, but I’ll give you an answer to this…”
Koda-san set her bags on the bench and lifted herself onto the ground.
“I, Koda Mari, do in fact love Nakagawa Ayumi.”
Koda-san shifted the ring on her finger. It wasn’t anything formal because it’s illegal for them to get married. But this was enough of a signal that they do in fact see each other in this light.
“And I’ll do anything in my power to make sure she’s never hurt again…”
Her last words strained off into the distance. If I were paying closer attention to her then they wouldn’t have easily faded into the warm windy day. Out of everything Koda-san confessed I could feel as if this statement was truly genuine. I turn back to her but now her head hangs low like a toy now out of power.
Unable to get any words out of my mouth, I turn to the side when I feel something touch the back of my head.
Koda-san seemingly reached out her hand again, touching the back of my hair. Is she fixated on my hair or something?!”
“S-Stop doing that!”
Koda-san turned away looking into the distance.
“You’re a weirdo.”
I turned back to her, and she looked at me, seemingly flabbergasted at what I said. With that, I stood up.
“Let’s go home.”
Koda-san grabbed her bags off the bench and lifted them up with a guts pose.
I turn around only to find Koda-san closer to my face than I would have wanted her to be.
“Thanks...for waking up.”
Invading my personal space, once again, my brow curves on its own. Noticing my outward irritation, Koda-san pulls back. With her hands to her side, she mused forward, onto the road without a care in the world. Was it my imagination or was her face a bit pinkish? All I could do is make a sigh and mutter “what a bothersome person.” As I continued to follow her lead to the station. From there we took the ride and went back home.
I’m confident in my ability to cook a good meal. When it was only mom and me, I would make her dinner when she came home and breakfast before work. I watched plenty of videos online to help me strengthen my cooking skills. So, making this meal wasn’t going to be anything troubling but because of a certain someone, it was quite the opposite.
“You don’t have an apron?! Well, look at what I have for you!”
“You had this planned from the beginning, Koda-san!”
In my face, the cutesy polka-dotted apron stared at me stubbornly. If the situation was any different this would be my taste. It’s cute and even has frills on the bottom, but because it’s being held by this devil, I’m reluctant to take it.
“Hurry up now, put it on.”
I grumble and do as I’m told. I turn around to see the recipient lit up like a firework.
“Wow, you look wonderful in an apron, Nakagawa-san.”
Koda-san is making this situation more stressful than it needs to be. She sits at the kitchen table, watching me dance about the room.
“If I recall correctly, you said we both were making this meal.”
“Oh yes, let me just take off my dress jacket.”
Yet, she doesn’t move a muscle. She keeps veering at me from the side. Even as I cut up a small vegetable, I get oohs and aahs from the side. It’s seriously disturbing.
“If you’re not going to help cook at least get the bath ready.”
I scold out of irritation if anything.
“Aw, okay, I can do that much.”
Accepting defeat of her own laziness, Koda-san tramped down and made her way to the bathroom. Finally, I got a little peace and quiet. Perhaps that was Koda’s big aim for me to do the cooking in an apron? Nah, she was just being a strange person like always. Just as I blew away the eccentric thought, the front door opened.
Her timid voice calls out as she makes her way through the home.
I call back to no one other than Hana-san. It would seem Mom drives her to the station, and Hana-san takes the train from there to school. But coming from school she takes a little longer because of walking the extra mile or so from our home to the station.
“Oh, it smells good.”
Hana-san commented as she set her bag on the couch. I turned to see her in a black school uniform. Now looking at it, I love the design. I wish the high school I was going to have that kind of fashion sense. There are two things I’m super into and that’s good music and cute clothing. Maybe my taste hasn’t matured from middle school yet…
“Hana-san, put all your stuff in your room.”
Hana-san, taken aback by my motherly aura, leaned back slightly.
“That’s how you lost your math book this morning. Now, run upstairs and put your stuff away before you lay about.”
With a sigh and a slump of her shoulders, Hana seemingly admits defeat. But before she left, she stuck out her tongue while closing her eyes.
Then raced upstairs.
“I-I don’t think I deserved that…”
Downcast, I turned back to the food.
“Okay, the bathwater is ready.”
Great, she’s back…Secretly I was hoping she slipped and fell in buying me a few more minutes if anything. But lo and behold, Koda-san came back to the kitchen with her nose to the ceiling. If she was any taller, she’d break the roof with her pride.
“I even put my trusty bath shampoo in there if you want to try using it, Nakagawa-san.”
That lemon citrus soap? I can’t deny that the smell is sweet, but even I have a more mature palate than I would believe.
“Wah?! Shut down so quickly?! But you said you liked it!”
“Yeah I do, but…”
I taste the soup and it’s coming along…
“I just don’t think it’ll suit me, Koda-san.”
“It will suit you! You and I can smell the same, isn’t that wonderful?!”
“You stay away from me.”
I glared at her with the kitchen knife pointing her direction. Koda-san shivered as I approached slowly.
“Mom, I need you to sign something.”
Hana-san raced down the steps, catching the two of us in yet another conflict today. If she was any later, she might have only been calling one person mom from then on.
“Ah…am I interrupting something?”
“Nope, Koda-san was just about to take a bath.”
Koda-san slumps her shoulders and then reaches out her hand, taking hold of Hana’s paper.
“Hm, an outing to the mountains next month?”
“Are you sure you’ll be okay up there? It sounds like a long hike.”
“I’ll be fine.”
Hana-san insisted, pumping her legs up and down. Gosh, she can be seriously cute at times.
“It seems you’ll be up there for a few days too. A bunch of activities along with cleaning up the public parks.”
I gaze at Koda-san as she dissects the page in front of her. Any other parent I know would have just signed the page and sent their son or daughter away.
“We’ll have to make sure you have plenty of water and sunscreen, so you won’t get burned. And conditioners for your hair are out over this weekend as well, Hana.”
“Stay away from cliffs and strange places. And promise me you’ll stay in a group-“
“Could you just sign it?!”
Hana-san gloomed at me. We mistakenly caught eyes and cast away at the same time. It seems Koda-san is a tad overprotective of Hana-san. A sharp contrast to her childlike personality that she showed all day long. I guess there is a mature side to this woman.
“Go put it back in your bag now.”
I chimed in from the stove. Hana-san looked at me again. Her tongue slipped from her mouth and her eyes slanted.
She cried then rushed out, back up the steps.
“That’s just a bad habit of hers. Don’t think too much into it.”
Koda-san nodded her head.
“Nah, I won’t.”
I still feel as if it’s undeserved, but I’ll take it.
My body flinched. There’s a voice I was honestly happy to hear. She stepped into the kitchen.
I smiled gleefully. It was truly natural. Something nostalgic caught my chest seeing my mom in a business suit coming home from a long day. That’s right…This is the image that stayed with me that year after my father died.
“Welcome back, Ayumi.”
From the sidelines, Koda-san jumped in, giving my mom an overly affectionate hug. Just the notion of her interrupting my moment with mom gave me a slight irritation. I had to let it go…they are together or whatever they want to call it. I didn’t mention it until now, but isn’t my mom a bit too old for her too? I mean she’s like 10 years her junior. For all I know, she could be trying to find a sugar mom or whatever they say in those western dramas. No matter how you look at this it’s…not right.
“Oh, look how cute your daughter is, Ayumi!”
I could feel the blood rushing to my head. It took me a moment, but she’s pointing out the polka-dotted apron that this moron bought for me. If I’d known that was her end goal, to make my mother swoon over me, then I would have shoved it down her throat.
“Madoka, you’re so adorable!”
“S-Shut up, mom!!!”
I screamed at the top of my lungs.
“Today was exhausting…”
On the other line, Ma-chan comforted me. I could hear her spinning on the chair in amusement though...
“So, let me get this straight…When you went into a coma your mom and that girl from her job got together? Who to think your mom swung that way?”
“Yeah, …it’s pretty weird. But…she sounded as if she actually cares for my mom.”
My eyes closed, imagining the face Koda-san made in the park. Even though I can’t envision them as having that kind of relationship…it seems that they do.
“Well…Koda-san’s a special case. She’s nothing but trouble, unlike Hana-san who is so much sweeter than her mother.”
Air escaped Ma-chan’s gut followed by a shuffle of noise. I take it she’s moving to a more comfortable position.
“Hey, I’ll be home by Sunday, you want to hang out this weekend?!”
Surprised by the sudden proclamation, I lift my head, off the warm pillow.
“Cool. I need a break after I take the exams.”
“When are you taking them?”
“This Saturday. I’ll get the results immediately and will likely have to be a 1st year while you’re a 2nd year.”
“Don’t worry, big sister will show you the ropes. You’re going to my school, right?!”
“For the fiftieth time, yes.”
I could hear Ma-chan kick the wall relentlessly. Yep, she’s putting her feet up again. I’ll scold her if she does it at school.
“Oh, I probably should warn you.”
“I dyed my hair a few weeks back. My teachers are calling me a delinquent. But I need to express myself!”
“You did what?!”
“Yeah, It’s all bright now. I think it’s cute! I’ll send you a picture.”
As if she’d pre-planned this, an image showed up in my email. I checked it, and lo and behold, Ma-chan with a twist. Her bright blue hair looks out of place with the environment. She reminded me of a blueberry, and I didn’t even understand why. She looks like a troublemaker for sure. Now I wonder if I should associate with her…
“Don’t I look like a gaudy girl who’d punch your lights out?”
I sighed, shaking my head back and forth.
“You used to be such a sweet girl, Ma-chan.”
“I’m still Ma-chan, Mado-chan! Just needed a change of pace.”
Mae sighed. Not sure what made her want to make such an abrupt change. She used to have black hair in a single ponytail. Even if it was average, I thought her dark hair was cute. I click on the photo again to see Ma-chan’s new look. It seemed a bit over the top even for her. It’s like night and day came crashing together creating an abstract Ma-chan.
“So, how’s that flower of yours doing?”
“Huh? Why are you so interested in Hana-san?”
“Well, both of us are only children so I’m vicariously living through you now.”
I found myself scratching my own head.
“Do you seriously want my life?”
My head ached…I wouldn’t wish this life on anyone. Not even my worst enemy.
“Well, you’ve always been the cuter of us two Mado-chan. So, there’s a plus.”
“Really? I always thought you were the good looking one Ma-chan.”
“Nah, I’m too much of a tomboy.”
“But that’s your best quality.”
I thought back to middle school. Ma-chan would always hang around the boys. I found myself too shy around the opposite sex, so I never had any close guy friends. Then Mae started focusing on her clubs, leaving me in the go-home club alone. It was around that time when I noticed how much I’d relied on Mae’s company.
“You know…I only played basketball because you spent all your time in clubs, and I needed something to do too, Ma-chan.”
An awkward laugh seeped out from the other side of the line. It took me by surprise a bit before Mae continued.
“Speaking of which, are you going to try out for the basketball team again?”
My neck craned to the ceiling.
“Not feeling it anymore…I guess.”
Like a log, I rolled to the side.
“You were into it though, Mado-chan.“
“Let’s just drop it, alright Ma-chan?”
“…Sure. Well anyway, it’s getting late, and I have school tomorrow. I’ll see you on Sunday?”
“Sunday! Where should we meet?”
We discussed various spots and ended up deciding on the station store that sells pastries. We figured we could get something to snack on while we head to the mall or something. I don’t really know what we will end up doing. We would usually figure it out while we're there. That’s how it always is when I hang out with Mae. We just go and our feet take us places.
“Oh, one more thing…do you mind if I invite a…friend?”
“Hm, sure…I don’t have a problem.”
I wonder why she waited until the last minute to mention a friend. The way she sounded though was like she had a gun to her head. Hm, guess I’ll find out when I cross that bridge.