Chapter 3:

Ch.3 Girls with Guns

Sleeping Princess

The sun was beating down on the warm Saturday afternoon. There I was, standing in front of the house. Awkwardly, I searched the streets. There seemed to be nobody around, but the fact that I’m just sitting like a stone out here won’t go away. I felt as though I needed to be doing something. So, I took out my phone to look as though I was busy. I promised I’d wait patiently and not take the train to Jinda High School.Bookmark here

The wind blew, flapping my clothing. The temperature has been getting a bit colder lately, and eventually, I’ll have to stop wearing short sleeves. As the idle thoughts wrapped around my mind a familiar car turned the corner.Bookmark here

“Madoka!”Bookmark here

Pulling up on the side of me, my mom.Bookmark here

“Mom, I told you that I could just take the train.”Bookmark here

“Nonsense. I needed to cut some hours at work. And I wanted to take you to your exams.Bookmark here

“Madoka, did you eat a good breakfast?”Bookmark here

Sitting in the car now, mom turned back onto the road. I told her that I’d be fine taking the train to school, but she insisted that she’d take me.Bookmark here

“Yes, ma’am.”Bookmark here

“And are you prepared for your test?”Bookmark here

“As much as I could be, mom.”Bookmark here

I searched the road trying to escape my mom's questions. It wouldn't matter much by this point if I was ill-prepared anyway. But that certainly wasn't the case since I had been studying since the first day I got home. I had confidence in myself to pass anything they had ready for me.Bookmark here

The drive should only take about ten or fifteen minutes, so I took this time to relax and clear my head. Now that I thought about it…this is the first time in the few weeks after I came home that Mom and I are together alone. I couldn’t help but think about the past when mom was in the passenger seat and I was in the back. Dad would be the one driving most of the time.Bookmark here

“Mom…”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

“Ahm…”Bookmark here

“What’s the matter, Madoka?”Bookmark here

My mouth opened, but I didn’t know what I wanted to say. I’m not sure why I called her out. So, instead of worrying about it, I closed my eyes and let the words that have been flowing in my chest come out.Bookmark here

“Thanks for taking me to school…and…”Bookmark here

I nodded, nudging myself forward.Bookmark here

“I want to apologize… about the other night.”Bookmark here

The memory of my dad might have been what made it surface. Not wanting to leave stones unturned because tomorrow isn’t granted to us. Mom was here. I was here. That made for the situation where I needed to tell her anything that’s been on my mind. Even though I questioned the choices she made while I was away…I, Nakagawa Madoka, am still the same girl I was before my coma. A girl who wants to trust her mom.Bookmark here

“Madoka…”Bookmark here

Mom put one hand on my palm. She gently squeezed it causing my chest to warm up.Bookmark here

“There’s a lot that’s happened that you still don’t know about. But we’ll find time to talk all of this out.”Bookmark here

“Just the two of us, mom?”Bookmark here

Mom nodded as she pulled her hand away, placing it back on the steering wheel.Bookmark here

“Sure, if that’s what you want Madoka.”Bookmark here

I felt like a spoiled child begging for attention. But that’s how I wanted it in the end. Between mom and me, there should be no secrets… And right now, there are things I don’t understand unless she tells me. Until then, I’ll never be able to see why she made such dramatic changes in her life. I want to be more open to understanding my mom.Bookmark here

“Oh, here we are, Jinda Highschool.”Bookmark here

The school came into view. Mom pulled up to the side and I got out.Bookmark here

“Call me as soon as you’re done.”Bookmark here

“Okay, mom.”Bookmark here

The car roared into the distance. Now I had to put my personal circumstances aside and take my exams. The directions earlier told me to check in with the office, so I made my way to the front doors. The walkway was made of cobblestone. It led the way to a short flight of stairs where the entrance was. When I opened the glass doors, a sensation came over me. I turned around only to see a figure standing behind me.Bookmark here

The middle school me stood there. She smiled endearingly then drifted away, marking the end of those years. From here on, I was a high school student, and the past was behind me…Bookmark here

Once I stepped in there were students still loitering about. We shared glances as they passed. I was the only person their age without a school uniform on, so I stuck out like a sore thumb.Bookmark here

“Oh?”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

I met eyes with an ash haired girl. With hair down to her back, soft crimson eyes, she wore gym attire. With a tall but timid figure, it made me feel as though she might break if she moved the wrong way.Bookmark here

“Yuko-chan, hurry up! We’re going to be late for our club!”Bookmark here

“…C-Coming!”Bookmark here

She continued to stare at me as she made her way down the hall. My chest felt tight for some reason as I kept gazing back at her. After a few steps, she finally looked away, severing our connection. She seemed so familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on where I’ve seen her before. The first person that came to mind was a girl on my basketball team. But she was much shorter and barely made the team.Bookmark here

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Instead of worrying about it any longer, I made my way to the desk.Bookmark here

I’m a special case, so they led me to an isolated room where I had to take a writing exam, Japanese history exam, and mathematics exam. They allowed me to wait in the same empty room until the grading was completed. The staff was nice enough to offer me refreshments after the grueling task.Bookmark here

My head was hurting a bit after the fact. But I put my all into the test, and that's what mattered. In about an hour or so the results came back, and I scored high in all areas. I’ve always been good at studying, so I didn’t think I’d fail. I was even tested on high school level, but because I missed some fundamentals, they assured me it’d be best if I started as a 1st year. I’ve already expected as much.Bookmark here

So, I accepted the offer and was greeted with open arms. My start date would be the following Monday. Now leaving the school, my pounding heart finally subsided. I was officially a high school 1st year…age 16.Bookmark here

The night went by with nothing of note, and before I knew it, Sunday came around. It was the day when Mae and I planned to meet. I took a bit more time on my looks because this would be the first time seeing her in person since…well, a bit of time before my accident.Bookmark here

I sat outside the pastry shop, our meeting spot. Waiting there, I could smell the deliciousness of baked pleasure. Since I’ve been sitting around often, my figure had to have changed. Growing conscious of that fact, I decided I might go easy on the food in this little outing of ours.Bookmark here

Growing a tad bored I started people watching as I waited. Everything looked pretty much the same from two years ago…aside the fact that my phone is way smoother than before. It’s still hard to believe that I missed two Christmases, two birthdays, graduation, and other things of equal value. But the more I thought about it the more depressed I got. So, I shook off those feelings and continued looking around.Bookmark here

“Oh?”Bookmark here

I caught eyes with a distinctive looking girl. Deep crimson eyes and dirty blonde hair trickling down her back. In her hand, one of those bubble teas that are so popular with the teens today. Her head angled to the side then abruptly, she tossed her bubble tea on the ground.Bookmark here

“What?! You got a problem, punk?!”Bookmark here

“Eh?!”Bookmark here

“Oh, she’s violent!” I murmured, looking away. But the damage was already done as she approached, putting her nose in my face.Bookmark here

“Violent?! Where do you get off, staring like that at me like that?”Bookmark here

Her shark teeth snapped at my nose.Bookmark here

“Quite cheeky, aren’t we?!”Bookmark here

“Ahh…”Bookmark here

"What, you got cotton in your ears?"Bookmark here

She whipped her long hair back like a weapon. It spun around the back of her neck. How did this escalate so fast? I stepped back without a word.Bookmark here

“H-Hey!”Bookmark here

Hopping off the train, her blueberry hair bristled in the wind. There she was, in a school jersey and a smile from ear to ear. My childhood friend, Watanabe Mae. With her arms held high, she raced towards me. Her timing was impeccable.Bookmark here

“Ma-chan!”Bookmark here

I escaped, rushing over to her.Bookmark here

“Watanabe-san…”Bookmark here

“Eh?”Bookmark here

We looked at one another, now dumbfounded.Bookmark here

“Oh, it looks like I’m the last one here...”Bookmark here

Mae tilted her head. Confused, I look back at the ferocious girl.Bookmark here

“Y-you know her?”Bookmark here

“Who is this, Watanabe-san?!”Bookmark here

We both point at one another now. Mae, apparently trying to mediate the situation, sprung up, flipping her hand back and forth.Bookmark here

“Nakagawa Madoka-chan, please meet Conway Sophia-san.”Bookmark here

She presented her like a treasure. I could see shines radiating from behind the blondie's back.Bookmark here

“Conway-san is an exchange student from England. London to be precise! She's a 1st year at our school, Jinda Highschool. "Bookmark here

“Tsk.”Bookmark here

She spat to the side as if slandering Ma-chan's introduction. I haven’t met many people from other countries. So, this Conway-san person wasn’t making a great impression of them for me. She’s short but violent. It’s a bit scary how much she’s a contrast.Bookmark here

“Ah… Well...welcome to Hiroshima, Japan?”Bookmark here

“Hmph.”Bookmark here

The tiny beast puffed her cheeks and turned away. If she was more on the cute side like her outlook entailed…Conchi might have been a cute nickname for her. But I’m going off the subject now.Bookmark here

“S-so, how do you know her?”Bookmark here

Slightly annoyed, I turn to Ma-chan. She pushed her fingers together as her eyes peeked to the side.Bookmark here

“Well…I kinda spilled soda on her uniform the first week of school and she threatened to beat me up.”Bookmark here

Horrified, I turned back to her.Bookmark here

The Conchi…I mean Conway girl’s face lit up like a red streetlight.Bookmark here

“Wah? Listen, you! It didn’t happen that way. It’s only natural that the one who makes the mess cleans it up. Naturally, I told you to wash it and bring it back.”Bookmark here

She sounds like a handful. I’m not sure why in the world Mae-chan decided to bring her along, but it’s slightly irritating that she had to be here. I kind of wanted some alone time with a friend of mine, but…what could I do now?Bookmark here

“I-It’s…nice to meet you Conchi-san.”Bookmark here

I blurted it out, carelessly.Bookmark here

“Conchi-san?”Bookmark here

Her face shot red once again.Bookmark here

“Is…that like a nickname?!”Bookmark here

Her short, cute stature made me just want to give her that name…kind of like when you see a puppy and automatically want to make it cuter somehow.Bookmark here

“S-Sorry…I just kind of came up with it by looking at you.”Bookmark here

“It’s dumb! It’s stupid! I hate it, N-Naka-giwa-san!”Bookmark here

Her face spun feverishly to the point I thought her head was going to pop. And she called me Naka...giwa-san? Japanese certainly isn’t her first language.Bookmark here

“Still have that bad habit of saying what comes to mind, eh Mado-chan?”Bookmark here

I rubbed my head. I couldn't hide it from Ma-chan in the end.Bookmark here

“S-sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it, C-Conway-san.”Bookmark here

However, she didn’t stop puckering her lips. Even with her winey, violent personality, she's cute. I…might keep picking on this one, I decided silently. Could this be how Koda-san feels when she messes with me? That thought made me nauseous and I forced it out of my mind sooner than it came.Bookmark here

“Well, where to?”Bookmark here

Ma-chan pondered.Bookmark here

“Well…”Bookmark here

Conway-san stepped in between us with her hands on her side.Bookmark here

I want to go to the Japanese game stores. You know…the arcades.”Bookmark here

Conway-san seemed to be more direct unlike Mae and me. With us two we would have mindlessly wandered into places for enjoyment. This might be a different take on our hang out if anything.Bookmark here

“Shall we get going already? We’re losing daylight.”Bookmark here

“Arcade it is then.”Bookmark here

I stepped forward halfheartedly before halting.Bookmark here

“Eh…I don’t know where one is...”Bookmark here

I scratched my cheek.Bookmark here

Conway-san sighed as she brought out her phone. The screen lit up, revealing a GPS app of some kind. It seems it was already in her database as she just pushed the start button.Bookmark here

“I-It can’t be helped! I guess I’ll have to lead the way.”Bookmark here

Conway-san put her nose up to the sky as a voice in English pointed us off. My English isn't great, so I could barely make out what it was saying. So, blindly, I followed the shark's lead.Bookmark here

As we walked, I found myself comparing heights. Conway-san was the shortest, I was in the middle, as Mae was the tallest. My shorter stature is another reason why playing basketball took my full commitment. Because being outdone by people taller than me was a given.Bookmark here

As the GPS barked orders Conway-san would wave us to follow her. The only thing I could clearly understand was when it spoke out the street names in Japanese. The smirk on Conway-san’s face was vibrant. She searched the morning streets like it was a jungle full of mystery. Well, she is a foreigner from London. I wonder if she doesn’t go out much. Suddenly, my shoulders were grabbed, breaking my mindless thoughts.Bookmark here

“Mado-chan!”Bookmark here

“Huh?!”Bookmark here

Ma-chan held onto my side making it hard for me to walk straight. She shuffled to the side making our pair look questionable at best.Bookmark here

“I’m so glad to see you…again.”Bookmark here

Conway-san glared at us with a strange expression. With a sigh, she turned back.Bookmark here

“I-I’m glad to see you too, Ma-chan.”Bookmark here

“Mado-chan, you look so slim!”Bookmark here

Mae let go of my body and started feeling my arms.Bookmark here

“And like I said over the phone, you sure are prettier still Mado-chan.”Bookmark here

“What are you going on about?”Bookmark here

Seemingly annoyed, Conway-san looked back at us. However, the GPS spoke again in English causing her to avert her attention back to the sidewalk.Bookmark here

“Anyway…”Bookmark here

I interjected.Bookmark here

“I’ve been sitting on my butt since I got home. If anything, I’ve gained weight. And like I said over the phone…You Ma-chan are the prettier one.”Bookmark here

As strange as this may sound to an outsider, Mae-chan and I always did this kind of pointless bickering when we were younger. Maybe it gave us a bit of a confidence boost if anything.Bookmark here

Oh please.”Bookmark here

Conway-san muttered loud enough for me to hear at least.Bookmark here

“Well, now that we have a third person to finally break this endless struggle…”Bookmark here

Was she seriously thinking of putting Conway-san in this meaningless back and forth? Mae cupped her hand over the side of her mouth and sang to the shark leading the pack.Bookmark here

“Oh, Conway-san!”Bookmark here

Conway-san turned around, seemingly unamused.Bookmark here

“Who is the prettiest here?”Bookmark here

“Frankly, that’ll be me!”Bookmark here

With that, Conway-san spun around and kept walking, stepping on our pride all the way.Bookmark here

“There’s your answer, Conway-san wins.”Bookmark here

I gave it a light chuckle. She had a backbone for sure. Or maybe that’s just the way she is.Bookmark here

We followed her as she led us to a busier street. To the right, we could see a large shopping center. It being a Sunday, the crowd was thick as we entered. As we walked into the mouth of the mall, my nose caught a whiff of sweet teriyaki coming from a store nearby. Suppressing the urge to wonder over, I leaned closer to Ma-chan. After a few more minutes, we came to a sign with the neon lights. Digital noise blared from inside the establishment. It was easy enough to see that it was an arcade gaming center. The sign read, “Galactic Potatoes.”Bookmark here

“There it is!”Bookmark here

Conway-san screamed, racing over to the door.Bookmark here

“I-I’ve never been in one before. I heard there are all kinds of games in Japan’s gaming centers! Much more than Europe and the States!”Bookmark here

She noticeably shook in excitement. If she had a tail, it would be wagging uncontrolled. With a beam, she turned back to see Mae-chan and I watching her alien movements.Bookmark here

“Eh?!”Bookmark here

Her face turned beet red as she crossed her arms.Bookmark here

“W-Well h-hurry along. We’ll play a few games here then we’ll be leaving! We have much to do today.”Bookmark here

Conway-san clapped twice like a proper young lady.Bookmark here

“We do?”Bookmark here

Ma-chan tilted her head.Bookmark here

“O-Of course we do!”Bookmark here

Her voice squealed as she squared up to Ma-chan. The difference in height made Mae-chan seem like the dominant in their relationship. But that was certainly an outsider's perspective.Bookmark here

“I just wanted to look at it and maybe play a few games…I-it’s not like I wanted to bring a friend to play here with me or anything...”Bookmark here

“Do you have to explain yourself, Conchi-san?”Bookmark here

“S-shut up you!”Bookmark here

Well, it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out that Conway-san’s been eager to play the arcade games. But for some reason, she didn’t want to go alone. Maybe she didn’t want to look like a bull in a china shop? Well, whatever the reason is in the end…we are here, and Conway-san is here.Bookmark here

As if answering my conclusion on the matter, Mae lifted her hands in the air.Bookmark here

“Let’s have some fun, girls!”Bookmark here

Before triumphantly marching inside.Bookmark here

Conway-san and I went in after, looking around both ways. The starlight of the games shined in the darkroom. Plenty of teens our ages were here too. It being Sunday, that was to be expected. Thinking about the last time I came into an arcade was certainly sometime in middle school. I was with Ma-chan and we played a few games before running out of money and wandering elsewhere.Bookmark here

The outer space atmosphere drew me in, but what truly caught my eye was Conway-san’s expression. As if trying to take in everything at once, her eyes were extremely big, and her mouth was open wide. If she could see herself from my perspective, I wondered if she’d become self-conscious? Well, not that I wanted her to be flustered or anything.Bookmark here

“Let’s go over there…”Bookmark here

The shark gasped. Her body moved as if being controlled by the devil of the arcade. We rushed behind her and stopped in front of a wide-open game machine. It was a large machine that was open from both sides. There was enough for at least five or six people to step inside.Bookmark here

Once the three of us made our way in, we had free movement. The floor lit up with our steps. There were five guns laid out in holders. In front of us, the surrounding walls had the screen concave as if pulling us in the game’s world. The name of the game filtered onto the screen. “Zombie’s Bane!” fazed in and out in English letters.Bookmark here

Conway-san picked up a gun and pointed it at the screen.Bookmark here

“Let’s play! C’mon, put in money Watanabe-san!”Bookmark here

Mae-chan chuckled warily. The price was 200 yen per player. But before I could pull out my wallet, Mae-chan had already chucked in enough for all of us.Bookmark here

“Okay girls, let’s kick some ass!”Bookmark here

Mae-chan cried.Bookmark here

“Let justice be done!!”Bookmark here

To my surprise, Conway-san even got hyped and cried a victorious shout as she pointed her rifle to the screen. Now that I looked closer at it, we all had different kinds of weapons. I had a pistol, Mae-chan had a shotgun, and Conway-san had a rifle. Looking at her from the side, with her foreign outlook, she reminded me of a cowgirl from a western movie. Maybe that was a bias on my part though.Bookmark here

As I imagined this, Conway-san turned my direction and our eyes met.Bookmark here

“Hey, look at the screen, Nakagawa-san!”Bookmark here

“R-right!”Bookmark here

Now attentive, the zombies started approaching us. Conway-san took the ones on my left. I covered the front as Mae-chan covered Conway-san’s right. Probably not the best strategy but we had a rhythm going. But despite our efforts, eventually the mansion we were in started to get overrun with hordes of undead.Bookmark here

“Nakagawa-san, keep up!”Bookmark here

The commander cried as she took out two more zombies approaching my side of the screen. My attention was starting to wane due to how disorienting the game was becoming. So many things were happening at once that my head began to spin. It was like World War 3 and I couldn’t keep my focus on one area.Bookmark here

Mae would let out grunts every now and then, but she’s dead focused. Conway-san was making expert shots like a pro. Not a drop of sweat could be seen on her. It’s as if she’s done this a few times.Bookmark here

Reluctantly, my fingers stumbled, and the zombie demolished my side of the screen. The glass had the appearance of breaking. I slumped my back, defeated.Bookmark here

“I screwed up...”Bookmark here

I failed in the zombie war.Bookmark here

“I’ll avenge you!”Bookmark here

Mae cried as the number of her shots from her shotgun increased. Conway-san didn’t break her pose as she continued to meticulously slaughter the zombies. I glanced to the side to see Conway-san moving closer to the panel. A faint light reflected in my right eye and before I knew it Conway-san had inserted another 200 yen into the machine on my side.Bookmark here

“It can’t be helped, Nakagawa-san. Stick to protecting me and I’ll protect you!”Bookmark here

I wasn’t expecting Conway-san to pull me a lifeline. And I was honestly content with just watching them play, but I took the gun again and did as she told. The war continued as things became tense.Bookmark here

“Watanabe-san protect the door! Nakagawa-san you stay on my back! Got it?!”Bookmark here

“Right!”Bookmark here

Mae screamed in my ear. I turned to her, puffing my cheeks. I could have sworn that she did that on purpose.Bookmark here

“Nakagawa-san do I have confirmation?!”Bookmark here

Was Conway-san super into this game? That thought aside, I put air in my lungs.Bookmark here

“Yes.”Bookmark here

But that’s all I could muster for my war cry.Bookmark here

The end was near now. Or at least it felt that way. The mansion was flooded with the flesh-eating dead and somehow the place caught fire. I don’t know what that was about, but that wasn’t the important part. The climax was here, and our characters were planning a daring escape via a helicopter. They’ve just destroyed the lab where the zombies were created, and the hoard was coming close.Bookmark here

“Watch out!”Bookmark here

Mae heroically used her last grenade, shielding Conway-san and me from the newly formed hoard, leaving her wide open. We tried our best to save her, but her side of the screen cracked and filled with blood. Unlike before where mine broke but was still visible to see through, it seemed we were at a point in the game where putting in money was out of the question. Making the climax that much harder.Bookmark here

The screen looked irregular with a deep red blotch taking up the camera's room.Bookmark here

“Good luck guys.”Bookmark here

Ma-chan slumped over as Conway-san and I zoned in. The mansion exploded as our characters were on the roof now. They climbed in the helicopter, escaping certain death.Bookmark here

The music of victory played out as we all relaxed. "This game isn’t good for my health," I said, in my head. I turned to Conway-san who had a satisfied look on her face too.Bookmark here

“Yes, we won!”Bookmark here

She cried out, tossing the gun to the floor. I felt that if a staff member saw her do that she'd be scolded.Bookmark here

Just then, a zombie opened its mouth, ready to bite the unsuspecting heroine's head off. After twenty or so minutes of reflexes at work, I lifted my gun and pointed it behind her, blowing the brains out of the zombie who seemingly snuck into the helicopter before takeoff. Kind of corny, but with all that happened in the game so far, it wasn’t going to win any awards for originality.Bookmark here

“Ahhh?!”Bookmark here

The victory screen at last played. Mae clapped with pleasure as Conway-san looked at me in a seeming daze. Her face turned a reddish pink. She must have been flushed from the drama of the game. I’m sure I looked the same. My cheeks curved as I flashed a grin. It took me a bit to get into the game, but I felt accomplished.Bookmark here

“Hehe, I got your back, Conchi-san!”Bookmark here

I rubbed the warm gun next to my face. My trusty pistol saved the day this time.Bookmark here

“I-I didn’t ask you to save me, Nakagawa-san!”Bookmark here

But for some reason, Conway-san blurted out a rebuttal.Bookmark here

“But that’s…part of the game. Isn't it?”Bookmark here

I couldn’t bother to find a less direct response. Feeling the abnormal tension in the air I take it, Ma-chan stepped in. Her blueberry hair created a wall between us.Bookmark here

“Anybody hungry?!”Bookmark here

She suggested, breaking the strange friction.Bookmark here

“I am! And Nakagawa-san is paying since I spent money on her!”Bookmark here

“I-It was only 200 yen!”Bookmark here

“Hmph!”Bookmark here

The blonde shark kicked her heels and marched away from the game. Her rifle laid wasted where she was. I wasn't sure what that was all about, to be honest. Did I do something wrong? Mae shrugged at me shyly as we followed her hot trail. I could literally see the steam seizing from her ears at this point. So, I decided to let her trail off, maybe that would cool down her temper?Bookmark here

“Oooooh!”Bookmark here

I stopped to see Mae looking at a stuffed cat in the bright blue game machine.Bookmark here

“Wait, guys, I wanna get this!”Bookmark here

Conway-san turned around with her arms crossed. It seems her ruddy tone died down and now what was left on her face was a light scowl.Bookmark here

“Hm, hurry it up then. I’m hungry, Watanabe-san.”Bookmark here

We all approach the machine with various merchandise. There were even foods like pocky and plenty of things you’d find in a DAISO store. But there were also high-end figurines of popular anime too. I don’t watch anime, but Hana-san does, and seeing the shows she watches every now and then, I could remember some faces.Bookmark here

“Here I go!”Bookmark here

Mae put in 100 yen, and the UFO crane began to move. With all her might, she aimed for the stuffed cat in the corner. The crane dropped down but missed.Bookmark here

“C’mon…”Bookmark here

Mae tried again…and again…and again until I could see the spirit in her seeping out of her mouth. Conway-san shook her head in contempt.Bookmark here

“There’s a trick to these games and you seem to not understand it, Watanabe-san.”Bookmark here

I stepped in; a tad excited I’ll admit.Bookmark here

“Let me give it a try.”Bookmark here

After watching her attempts I wanted to give it my own. I think I understood by Conway-san’s demeanor that she knew of the trick. So, before she could take over and win, I wanted the chance to get it. With that, I put in my 100 yen and the crane was in my control. Instead of going directly for the stuffed feline, I tilted the UFO to the right a bit then let it drop. The crane missed the target completely and picked up a black box with a bottle inside instead. Out came the shoot, the foreign object.Bookmark here

“What is it?”Bookmark here

Conway-san tilted her head.Bookmark here

The dark label made it hard to read but after turning it around I found its name.Bookmark here

“Lemon Essence?”Bookmark here

“A cheap 100-yen perfume?”Bookmark here

All of us stared at the bottle as if saying “Do not want.”Bookmark here

“Well Nakagawa-san, it’s yours now. Now, if you please. I want to get food, so I’ll get this toy for Watanabe-san.”Bookmark here

Without another word, Conway-san put in the money and angled the crane in an odd position. The crane lagged and reached in, grabbing the stuffed cats head. It lifted and tilted the beast to the side before being tossed in the prize box.Bookmark here

“Wow! On the first go?!"Bookmark here

Mae squealed as she held her new stuffed animal.Bookmark here

"Thanks, Conway-san!”Bookmark here

Mae smiled, bringing a hint of joy to me as well.Bookmark here

“I needed you to play enough games so I could understand the way the crane worked.”Bookmark here

Conway-san’s nose held high as she pushed out her chest.Bookmark here

“The crane will behave the way I needed it after a few rounds. I’m glad it’s value wasn’t thrown off because of Nakagawa-san’s successfully failed attempt.”Bookmark here

She laughed out loud like a villainess from a romcom. It was kind of cute.Bookmark here

“You seriously studied the arcades, haven’t you Conchi-san?”Bookmark here

Conway-san glared at me, but before saying anything, her eyes veered away. Instead of commenting, she crossed her arms.Bookmark here

“Now, let’s go eat. I’m famished!”Bookmark here

Without waiting for a reply, she walked off. I chuckled before checking the time on my phone.Bookmark here

“Uh no…”Bookmark here

It seemed I had 12 missedcalls all from…mom. In a panic, I called her back.Bookmark here

“Honey! Madoka, are you alright?!”Bookmark here

“Eh, y-yeah. I’m okay, Mom.”Bookmark here

“You weren’t answering the phone, and I got worried.”Bookmark here

I scratched the back of my head. The sounds of the retro games filtered back into my ears as I strained to hear her.Bookmark here

“S-sorry…I got caught up in playing with friends.”Bookmark here

I could hear something in her voice. She hiccupped. Was mom…crying? My chest tugged.Bookmark here

“Mom, are you okay? Is everything alright?”Bookmark here

“I-I just got so worried that you didn’t pick up and started to panic. I was on my way out the door to look for you.”Bookmark here

“Mom, everything’s okay. I’m just out with Ma-chan like I said I’d be. Remember?”Bookmark here

“Are you sure everything is fine? Want me to come and pick you up? Where are you now, Madoka?”Bookmark here

Mom was sounding strange. I’ve never heard her like this before. Something was certainly wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on what. So, I decided for the time being it was best to just soothe her worries.Bookmark here

“Mom, I’m okay. I’ll be home by dinner. Right now, Ma-chan and a new girl I met are going out to get lunch. We just had fun at the arcades.”Bookmark here

My lungs filled with air, calming my own heart.Bookmark here

“Everything is just fine.”Bookmark here

I never had to explicitly tell mom everything I was doing before. But to make sure that her mind was at ease too, I did so.Bookmark here

“O-Okay, Madoka.”Bookmark here

I could hear mom adjust her body. It seems she’s sat down. That calmed my nerves. Was mom really about to leave the house to look for me?Bookmark here

“Make sure to answer your phone when I call. Okay? Do you hear me, Madoka?”Bookmark here

My head hanged back briefly before I gave her a nod. Even though she wasn’t there to see it.Bookmark here

“Yes, mom. I got to go.”Bookmark here

“…Okay. Be safe. Bye Madoka.”Bookmark here

She said this, but I could hear her faint breathing still on the other side. So, instead of waiting, I decided to hang up as she seemed to have no intention of doing so. I checked my phone once more to look at the calls. They weren’t even minutes apart from the next. My heart sank as though it was digging into my stomach.Bookmark here

“Nakagawa-san, hurry up!”Bookmark here

Conway-san’s growl woke me up and instantly the arcade sounds bled back into my ears.Bookmark here

“O-oh right. I’m on my way.”Bookmark here

I jogged up to Mae and Conway-san as we made our way back to the mall.Bookmark here

“Three teriyaki sticks please.”Bookmark here

“Oh, and three taiyaki cakes, please!”Bookmark here

Conway-san pushed her way in, adding to the order. She’s lucky I got a good allowance from mom earlier this week else she’d be paying for that. After our food was done, we sat on the wall of the mall.Bookmark here

“Can you eat all that, Conchi-san?”Bookmark here

“Stop calling me Conchi-san!”Bookmark here

Every bit of my teasing counted after she forced me to buy that taiyaki.Bookmark here

“Thanks for the food, Mado-chan.”Bookmark here

Mae tilted her head with an adorable smile. No matter what, Ma-chan sure knew how to be cute when she wanted to be. To think…it’s been two years since we’ve hung out like this. It felt as though we’ve done this just last week.Bookmark here

“Hm, …how do you two know each other again, Watanabe-san?”Bookmark here

Mae bit into her teriyaki. Delicious bliss filled her mouth. With her cheeks full of goodness, I spoke in her place.Bookmark here

“Ma-chan and I met in elementary school. We just happened to go to the same junior high too.”Bookmark here

“Oh, you don’t go to the same high school?”Bookmark here

I shrugged.Bookmark here

“Well, sort of. I enrolled in Jinda Highschool and was accepted. I start tomorrow.”Bookmark here

“Hm, so you’re transferring in?”Bookmark here

Conway-san nodded.Bookmark here

“Are you a 2nd year like Watanabe-san?”Bookmark here

My face felt warm. It was easy for me to understand that I was a tad embarrassed by this subject, but I pressed on.Bookmark here

“No…I’m a 1st year.”Bookmark here

Conway-san looked at me, quizzically.Bookmark here

“So, you’re the same age as me?”Bookmark here

“There were complications and I am joining high school late. I’m 16 right now.”Bookmark here

The shark took a bite of her taiyaki then turned back to me.Bookmark here

“Hmm? So, you’re going to be a year older than the rest of your class? What, did you get held back because you’re stupid?”Bookmark here

I’m not sure if it were Conway-san’s foreign way of speaking or not but she could be quite blunt at times.Bookmark here

“It’s a long story, Conway-san, give Madoka time, and she’ll probably tell you all about it.”Bookmark here

Mae hopped in as my lifeline. Probably feeling my unease on the subject. Telling others that I was in a coma for two years might spring on a lot of questions that even I haven’t answered yet. I’m sure my class will ask the same questions as Conway-san, so I’ll have to be prepared with answers.Bookmark here

The blueberry hummed as she pulled out her phone. I could see her expression light up.Bookmark here

“Oh?!”Bookmark here

“What’s wrong Watanabe-san?”Bookmark here

Mae smiled and tilted her head at us.Bookmark here

“Well, I need to go home earlier than I expected. Mom’s waiting for me to come home. Guess I left the oven on and she wants to scold me, hehe!”Bookmark here

Not sure if that’s anything to be proud about, but Mae pulled herself off the wall.Bookmark here

“Hm? So, now you’re leaving Ma-chan?”Bookmark here

Mae nodded.Bookmark here

“It’s a big detour for you to walk me back to the train, Mado-chan.”Bookmark here

Without waiting for my reply, she waved and wistfully took off without another word. Like a whirlwind, she came, and like one she left.Bookmark here

“Hm, well I have a bit of shopping to do before I go home, so we can call it here, Nakagawa-san.”Bookmark here

“Sure.”Bookmark here

This might have been a blessing in disguise. I was still worried about mom. So, I stood up and finished my teriyaki. I couldn’t finish the taiyaki as expected though.Bookmark here

“Oh, wait…”Bookmark here

I turned to the shark, still nibbling away at her free meal. But despite her calling me out she's the one who jolts. I’m not sure why she stopped me, but now that she has my attention, I looked at her. Her face seemed reddish.Bookmark here

“Ah…I’ve been thinking…”Bookmark here

Conway-san muttered with her head down. I could see her slender body gain air as she put her free hand on her hip. She pushed out her chest. With the taiyaki to her side, she soldiered up and faced me.Bookmark here

“Back in the…arcade. Ah…”Bookmark here

I found my head tilting to the side as if trying to find a better angle to hear her words better.Bookmark here

“B-because y-you s-s-saved me…”Bookmark here

Conway-san lifted her body off the wall abruptly, causing me to stagger backward.Bookmark here

“I deem you, Nakagawa-san as the p-prettier of…. the two of you.”Bookmark here

Her face was beet red now. I thought about holding an actual beet vegetable to her face to see if she'd camouflage it. I couldn’t understand where this sudden proclamation was coming from. My jaw opened slightly.Bookmark here

Conway-san's eyes popped open, and I could feel the irritation blurring from her.Bookmark here

“Won’t you thank me, Nakagawa-san?!”Bookmark here

“Prettier of the two?”Bookmark here

It took me a moment before it all came crashing down into my head.Bookmark here

“Ohh, you mean that nonsensical game Ma-chan and I always play?”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

“That’s just a running gag from when we were in like elementary school or whatnot. We always mess with each other about “who is the prettiest, the coolest or, whatever.”Bookmark here

I chuckled, holding my stomach.Bookmark here

“Ma-chan once said I was worth 300 yen. Then I said she was worth 400 yen. That went on for like…ever.”Bookmark here

But does that mean that Conway-san thinks I’m the prettier of us two? Now that I thought about it, it was a tad embarrassing. But the shark didn’t take my gag lightly, and her face contorted.Bookmark here

“You are so…stupid Nakagawa-san! You and that blue-haired fool!”Bookmark here

The violent girl screamed, turning the heads of the people around us. Without another word, she marched away, leaving me alone. She still had the taiyaki in hand all the while. She’s quite the violent girl and a blast to mess with for sure. I thought to myself with a smile on my face. I took that as my cue to leave and walked back home.Bookmark here

I entered the home and to my surprise, I was called out.Bookmark here

“Welcome back, Madoka-san.”Bookmark here

Hana-san sat in front of the tv. On the screen was one of those popular anime that was in the crane machine earlier in the day.Bookmark here

“I’m home.”Bookmark here

Sitting at the kitchen table with a newspaper in hand was Koda-san. She looked up at me when I entered.Bookmark here

“Sup?”Bookmark here

Casually, she grinned, waving her free hand at me.Bookmark here

“Where’s mom?”Bookmark here

Still eager from the earlier conversation I had with her, she was at the forefront of my mind.Bookmark here

“She’s taking a rest.”Bookmark here

Koda-san sipped the tea near her before continuing.Bookmark here

“She’s had a tiring day, so please give her a kiss on the head, and let her sleep...”Bookmark here

She smiled at me before turning back to the papers. I don’t understand why, but something about the way she said that made my skin crawl. Like everything she said wasn’t as sincere as she made it out to be. But before thinking too far into it, I chose to ignore my feelings and looked in my pocket for something…Bookmark here

“Here.”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

I pulled out the cheap lemon scent perfume and tossed it to her. She caught it with her free hand. It’s most likely for a child, but knowing that she likes lemon, she’s the only one I could think of with this taste.Bookmark here

Koda-san tilted her head questionably, for good reason. Looking at the dark box and bottle one couldn’t tell what it was unless they read the label.Bookmark here

“Lemon Essence?”Bookmark here

A light smile captured her face.Bookmark here

“Did you buy this for Lil’ Ol’ Me? That’s cute.”Bookmark here

“I-I didn’t buy it. I won it by mistake, and you’re the only one I could think of who’d like this sort of thing.”Bookmark here

Now saying that aloud made me a bit queasy. I’m basically saying…I thought about you when I saw this.Bookmark here

Koda-san put her paper down and stood up. She opened the box revealing a deep blue bottle. With a grin, she put it up in the air. With two light sprays, she walked through the mist and twirled around. Her short hair waved back and forth, elegantly. Despite being in a tank top, sweats on, with hardly any make-up she kept her vibrant young appearance. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say she was like a model dancing about a studio.Bookmark here

“So, how do I look?”Bookmark here

“Don’t you mean: ‘How do I smell?’”Bookmark here

“Yeah, that.”Bookmark here

“Like cheap perfume.”Bookmark here

Koda-san stopped and leaned over to me. Her face was so close to mine that moving anymore our cheeks would hit one another. She whispered in my ear…Bookmark here

“I’ll only wear it for you. ♥”Bookmark here

Her breath trickled against my earlobe causing me to shiver.Bookmark here

“Shut up.”Bookmark here

Visibly creeped out, I huffed and made my way to mom’s room. Gently, I opened the door and found her lying in bed. Her breathing was soft. I walked over and leaned my head down, petting her smooth hair.Bookmark here

“I’m home, mom.”Bookmark here

I said in whispers. After brushing her hair, I gave her a peck on the forehead.Bookmark here

As I watched her, I reminisced about the time before my coma. At that time, it wouldn’t be strange for me to cuddle up next to her and sleep. When dad died, we fell into a situation where we had a one-bedroom apartment, barely making ends meet. Mom and I shared a room, and I wouldn’t go to bed unless she was with me. We were…inseparable.Bookmark here

She would put her arms around my stomach, and I would squeeze her silky hair. Some nights she would cry herself to sleep, still thinking about dad or if she had a rough day at the insurance company. All I could do was comfort her and imagine the day when I could make a bunch of money…to save her from that life. How I worked hard to get that scholarship…Like that alone would save us.Bookmark here

My mind filtered back into reality. Alone, she lied in the bed as I petted her soft hair.Bookmark here

“How…naïve was I?”Bookmark here

Now Koda-san is the one who comforts her, right? I couldn’t shake the feeling that mom might have been stolen from me while I was away. Shaking my head of those ridiculous thoughts, I checked my phone.Bookmark here

I wonder if mom was being a bit more overprotective of me? It was my first time going back out in a while. Unlike the time I left the house with Koda-san…I was alone. Thinking like that…Am I the reason she had such a stressful day? No, I can’t think like that, else I’ll become depressed.Bookmark here

I tucked her in and made my way out. The rest of the night was uneventful. We didn’t eat dinner together, we all just kind of went our own ways. Mom stayed in bed, and I didn’t want to wake her. I couldn’t find the will to make a meal for the others without mom being at the table either. But nights like this aren’t too bad. I had more time to think to myself as I listened to cheery idol music in bed.Bookmark here

My mind drifted off as the sun disappeared gently, bringing about the warm September night. Careless thoughts of how October was just around the corner filtered into my mind. Tomorrow was going to be my first day of school. So, I shut off my iPod and turned in early. Still thinking about holding my mom tight, I squeezed my pillow. My body eventually relaxed as I faded off to sleep.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.