Chapter 4:

Ch.4 Little Flower

Sleeping Princess

I looked in the mirror, and a high school girl stared back. She twirled around once I did, causing her skirt to wave like a gymnastic ribbon. Elegantly, it flowed back down as she stopped, facing me once again. My chest pounded like thunder on a warm night making me wonder if the girl in front of me felt the same.Bookmark here

“You look adorable.”Bookmark here

My neck cranked, mechanically, as I turned to see the fox posted on the other side of the door.Bookmark here

“W-why are you here, Koda-san?”Bookmark here

She grinned as she pushed herself off the wall.Bookmark here

“The door was open, and I just happened to be walking by...”Bookmark here

She pushed up her slim shoulders making herself seem smaller.Bookmark here

“Y-Your room is downstairs! Why are you up here in the first place?”Bookmark here

Koda-san shrugged.Bookmark here

“I was checking in on Hana.”Bookmark here

My teeth nibbled at my bottom lip in distaste.Bookmark here

“Hana-san’s room is before mine though…”Bookmark here

Like a thief caught red-handed, she put her hands up with that daring smile still painted on her face.Bookmark here

“Fine, you got me…I just wanted to be the first to see you in your uniform!”Bookmark here

Her face a slight tint of red, she skipped her way down the steps. Watching her do this in heels made me slightly impressed.Bookmark here

Still annoyed that my secret viewing had been interrupted, I made my way out the door and ventured down the steps. Everyone seemed to be ready to go as they all conjugated at the front door.Bookmark here

Hana-san lifted her backpack from the couch. The soldier now ready for war, she nodded sharply.Bookmark here

“Ready!”Bookmark here

She cried, giving my mom a grin.”Bookmark here

I hit the last step when mom looked at me. Her face lit up like stars in the night sky.Bookmark here

“Honey, you look like a proper young lady…Your father would be proud, Madoka.”Bookmark here

“T-Thanks mom.”Bookmark here

Mom approached; her lips puckered now.Bookmark here

“Are you sure you don’t want us to take you two to the station? It’s no trouble for us, Madoka, Hana.”Bookmark here

“Ayumi, it’s time for the girls to have a bit more independence.”Bookmark here

Mom turned to Koda-san. Her fingers entwined as they shielded her lips.Bookmark here

“I-I know…but still.”Bookmark here

“They’ll be okay. They have each other now, Ayumi.”Bookmark here

She took a deep breath. I didn’t think she’d get this nervous over the fact that Hana-san and I wanted to make our way to school alone from now on. Hana-san proposed it a few nights back, and mom has been reluctant about it ever since. Koda-san however has supported the idea. It’s one of the few things she and I agreed on.Bookmark here

“Madoka, you make sure you come home with Hana!”Bookmark here

“Aren’t I the oldest here? Shouldn’t you be telling Hana-san this, mom?”Bookmark here

Mom wasn’t amused. She gave me a scowl without saying a word. Knowing full well what that meant, I caved.Bookmark here

“Y-yes ma’am.”Bookmark here

“Okay Ayumi, let the big girls run along to school before they’re late.”Bookmark here

Mom’s puffed cheeks didn’t waver as she looked at her partner. Like a balloon they expanded.Bookmark here

“Are you sure Mari? Aren’t you worried about our babies?”Bookmark here

With a snicker, the fox poked my mom’s cheeks, deflating them. It was so adorable I couldn’t turn away. I kind of wanted to be the one to do that instead though.Bookmark here

“Mom, it’ll be alright, okay?”Bookmark here

Hana-san jumped in, giving my mom an overly affectionate hug.Bookmark here

“Hana! You’re so reliable.”Bookmark here

Eyes shining like gold, she took her momentum and turned to the other adult.Bookmark here

“Mom, make sure mom gets home safely, okay?”Bookmark here

With vigor, Hana-san pointed at her nose.Bookmark here

“Hana don’t point at me.Bookmark here

The mother bear gripped her cubs’ finger. Her smile never faded all the while.Bookmark here

“And don’t you worry about that. I gave you an assignment, and I better hear that you did it.”Bookmark here

Her cub staggered back. It seemed that Hana-san had no authority over her mother, despite her assertive stance at the beginning.Bookmark here

“Y-yes, mom.”Bookmark here

“Oh, Madoka, Hana, I forgot to mention…Mari and I will be working late tonight, so don’t wait up for dinner.”Bookmark here

“That’s right. A new, hot book is coming out next week, and we have to be there in case of issues.”Bookmark here

The younger of the two slumped her shoulders. I don’t know much about the job they work at. I can only imagine how tough the work is. Mom didn't seem fazed while Koda-san looked like the world had just been thrown on her.Bookmark here

“Okay, Mom.”Bookmark here

Hana-san chimed in with a nod.Bookmark here

With everything settled, we marched outside. The day was a bit chillier than yesterday. I clung to my school bag for dear life, embracing the icy winds.Bookmark here

“See you later, girls!”Bookmark here

Mom and Koda-san waved as they drove off, leaving Hana-san and me to make our way to the station.Bookmark here

“Off we go.”Bookmark here

I turned down, meeting my eyes with my new partner.Bookmark here

“Mhm!”Bookmark here

She flapped her head making her dark hair swing about.Bookmark here

Hana-san’s junior high is the sister school of Jinda High School and is in the same vicinity. They are both all-girl schools also. Mae and I went to a coed school for junior high so this is a different experience. That means we’re going to be taking the same train and even get off at the same stop.Bookmark here

One of the reasons why I picked it was because Mom asked me to stay close to home and Ma-chan just so happens to go there too.Bookmark here

I found myself touching the new sensation accompanied by my school uniform. My body felt stiff as I moved. Like my bones have been replaced with rocks, grinding together.Bookmark here

“Are you alright, Madoka-san?”Bookmark here

I looked down to see the flower veering up to me. I must have been wearing a scary face as she looked a tad terrified.Bookmark here

“Are you nervous?”Bookmark here

Hopping up on her toes, barely reaching eye level with me, Hana-san searched for the answer. I didn’t even realize it until she mentioned it.Bookmark here

“A little, I guess…”Bookmark here

With her finger to her mouth, Hana-san nodded her head. She then pointed at me suddenly.Bookmark here

“Even if we’re in the latter part of the year, I’m sure you’ll make friends.Bookmark here

I haven’t even thought about the idea of making friends or not. It seemed to me that Hana-san was more in-tune to the school life than I was. But I doubt that was the reason for my expression.Bookmark here

When I woke up, I found myself anguishing over how to explain my situation. The conclusion I came up with…to just tell anyone who asks the truth. That I was in a coma for the last couple of years. Any other question that comes after that, I’ll take in stride. With a deep breath, I exhaled.Bookmark here

“Thanks, Hana-san.”Bookmark here

Even though my worries were different than what she imagined, she still took the time to worry about me. This flower is sweet, and I appreciate her for being that way.Bookmark here

The walk to the station is around ten minutes or so. Hana-san and I didn’t speak much, and it’s becoming more apparent as I’m alone with her. Despite us having that chat when Koda-san first came home, our relationship felt as though it hasn’t gone anywhere since.Bookmark here

Hana-san has different interests than I do. She plays video games and watches anime. I listen to idol music and look up cute clothing and fashion. Her taste is more boyish for sure. But one wouldn’t know that looking at this blossom. She looks like a gentle kitty, and sometimes it makes me want to pet her.Bookmark here

“Oh! Madoka-san?”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

Hana-san leaped up, nearly giving me a heart attack.Bookmark here

“I think I left my Japanese History book on the TV stand.”Bookmark here

I sighed in relief.Bookmark here

“Nope, I put it in your bag for you.”Bookmark here

“Hm? Oh, that’s good…”Bookmark here

I kind of wonder how these three made it without me sometimes. Even though that does sound a bit conceited, it’s the truth.Bookmark here

Speaking of the three of them…I had a few questions about a certain weirdo…and I think Hana-san might be the person to ask.Bookmark here

“Hey…Hana-san I have a question.”Bookmark here

“Hm? What about?”Bookmark here

Innocently she stared up. Looking at her now I can’t imagine that she came from…her. I repressed the urge to ask Koda-san the other day, but maybe Hana-san would answer me clearly.Bookmark here

“Hana-san, how old is your mom?”Bookmark here

“Mh? Where’s this coming from?”Bookmark here

“I’m just curious…”Bookmark here

Koda-san acts less mature than her daughter. But I’m more interested in knowing how far apart in age her and mom are…Bookmark here

She put her finger to her mouth.Bookmark here

“…She just turned 29 in April.”Bookmark here

I closed my eyes and envisioned my mom. She’s…38. So, that would make Mom and Koda-san around 9 years apart. Hana-san is 13 right now…So, does that mean Koda-san had Hana around 16 years old? That’s young.Bookmark here

I stared back at her, but what came to mind is Koda-san's chilling behavior in the morning.Bookmark here

“…Do you think your mom is…I don’t know, strange?”Bookmark here

“My mom?”Bookmark here

Hana-san put her head down to contemplate the question. She crossed her arms and puffed out her chest. I wasn’t expecting such an extreme reaction, so I watched her with awe.Bookmark here

“…Nope.”Bookmark here

Hot air blew from her mouth. An anti-climactic end.Bookmark here

“What, really?”Bookmark here

“She’s…like any other mom, right?”Bookmark here

Maybe she’s just blind to it because she’s been with Koda-san her entire life. If I had to make a list of things that I find strange about her: One, her over-touchy-feely behaviors are inappropriate. She constantly acts like she’s shady like a con trying to pull their latest trick on you. As if the person I’m looking at isn’t the one who is truly there.Bookmark here

“What did my mom do that made you think she’s strange, Madoka-san?”Bookmark here

I thought about it more thoroughly, but before I opened my mouth, the little voice in my head told me to stop.Bookmark here

“Ehh…”Bookmark here

Some of the things are kind of embarrassing to even talk to Hana-san about. Like her feeling my hair. Saying weird things to me that made me uncomfortable also. I mean…who the heck buys an apron just to see their supposed stepdaughter cook in it? If she was my stepfather, it’ll be a red flag for a grade-A pervert.Bookmark here

“Ahhh…”Bookmark here

Maybe that’s it. She might be a grade-A pervert!Bookmark here

I stopped my theatrics before I hurt someone though. Now I’m just bashing the person my mom fell in love with. Coming to that conclusion is probably worse than just calling her a weirdo and leaving it at that.Bookmark here

I turned to Hana-san, now realizing I began leaving her out of the question I gave her in the first place.Bookmark here

“Hmm, let’s get back to that another time, Hana-san.”Bookmark here

She sighed a tad dejectedly.Bookmark here

“If anything, mom sure likes you.”Bookmark here

“What do you mean by that?”Bookmark here

She lifted her nose in the air, brushing off my question.Bookmark here

“Well anyway, the train is crowded, so stay near me, and if you can’t find a seat, keep to the walls.”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

“Mom told me to watch over you while we’re going to and from school.”Bookmark here

“Wait, my mom did?”Bookmark here

“No, my mom.”Bookmark here

No matter how much I hear it…it’s strange knowing we're talking about two different moms. It’s tiring, to say the least…Bookmark here

It doesn’t help either that Hana-san readily calls both Koda Mari and Nakagawa Ayumi, Mom. She should at least find a better way to differentiate from the two of them.Bookmark here

But then again, they have been seeing each other for nearly 2 years now. I wonder if it was always like that? Or did Hana-san have to adjust to this strange situation too?Bookmark here

Now conscious of this, I looked down at her. My mind wrapped around the circumstances that must have made Hana-san accept it the way she does now. But before I could delve deeper into my idle thoughts, a rod of thunder struck my body.Bookmark here

“Wait, why is Koda-san telling you to watch over me?”Bookmark here

“Because you never had to take the train to school before. You don’t know that there are lions out to get you, Madoka-san.”Bookmark here

I scratched my head.Bookmark here

“How would she even know that? For all she knows I took the train alone in middle school all the time.”Bookmark here

“Nope!”Bookmark here

Hana-san cut into my words with a karate chop of her hand.Bookmark here

“Mom told me that you would always get dropped off on the way to school at least.”Bookmark here

Frustrated, I weighed my head. She was right…Dad would take me to school in elementary and when he passed mom would do it instead. I was a pampered little princess for most of my life. The only time I took the train was when I went out with my friends. And that became a rarity when I worked for my scholarship.Bookmark here

“Wait, I have to back up…You said “Mom” again. Which mom told you that I would always get dropped off?”Bookmark here

Hana smiled and put her nose up again.Bookmark here

“My mom! Koda Mari!”Bookmark here

Why does she know all of this? My only guess is that my mom, Nakagawa Ayumi, told her…But what would be the point in her telling Hana-san? There are more questions to ask about Koda-san than meets the eyes.Bookmark here

I could feel my mouth twist up. I was outwardly annoyed that even this kid is treating me like a pampered doll.Bookmark here

“And what is a kitten, like you, going to do if a lion attacks me on a train?”Bookmark here

“Eh, are you calling me weak and defenseless! I carry one of these!”Bookmark here

“Hana-san pulled out a predator alarm. The kind the kids in elementary school have around their backpacks to keep the perverts away if they feel threatened. It wasn’t a bad idea, but Hana-san being the one to hold it made my heart flutter.Bookmark here

“You’re so adorable…”Bookmark here

“Eh? What do you mean by that?!”Bookmark here

I treasure cute things and Hana-san is no exception. Conway-san could rival her if she’d act less violent.Bookmark here

Eventually, we made our way on the train and to our expectations, there were no open seats.Bookmark here

“Can’t be helped…”Bookmark here

Hana-san muttered.Bookmark here

“Well, what do we do now?”Bookmark here

A sudden feeling caressed my hips. I was in shock. Was someone bold enough to assault me like this? As I turned around to catch a glimpse of the person in question, I met eyes with no one. After panning my head downwards, I caught eyes with the culprit.Bookmark here

“What the heck are you doing, Hana-san?”Bookmark here

I whispered, still trying to keep my composure.Bookmark here

“I’m lining you up in a good spot.”Bookmark here

After lining me up she snaked around to the front of me. With all her weight, Hana-san laid her body up against my chest, pushing me to the walls of the train.Bookmark here

“This is uncomfortable.”Bookmark here

“But this way nobody can touch you...but me that is.”Bookmark here

Hana-san shifted back more. I could feel her back brushing up against my rib cage. My back wedged into the bars of the doors. Pain crept up in me.Bookmark here

“Hana-san, this looks weird. People are looking at us strangely.”Bookmark here

“I don’t care…”Bookmark here

“Well, I do!”Bookmark here

“This is for your own good, Madoka-san.”Bookmark here

It’s like a battle between a buck and a mule. Neither of us will back down with this ridiculous exchange. So, I held my head up high and leaned away, looking out the train’s window. This was going to be a long ride…Bookmark here

I bet if Koda-san told Hana-san to climb Mount Fuji with a boulder strapped to her back, she would. No questions asked. Despite the discomfort, there was one thing that stood out to me. A fragrance of morning dew after a rainy day. Flowers dancing about a field. It took me a moment to realize that it was coming from Hana-san’s hair. The same scent from her bedroom. That smell calmed my nerves if nothing else.Bookmark here

After a few minutes or so we got off a few stops later and walked down a street. Hana-san signaled to me that she was taking the turn to her junior high. From there I had to walk the rest of the way alone.Bookmark here

As I entered the gates the school was bustling compared to when I came on a Saturday afternoon for the exam. I go right to the faculty office as I was previously instructed. My new teacher was there. A man with a rough goatee and a gentle face. His name was Takanaki-sensei.Bookmark here

He smiled at me and explained that he was going to introduce me in first period and all I had to do was tell them my name and hobbies. I didn’t have to go into my previous medical conditions if I didn’t want to,Bookmark here

“Students, please settle down, we got a new student today.”Bookmark here

Takanaki-sensei called me in. Before I knew it, my head was holding itself down. With all my might I lifted it and faced forwards. I made my way to the chalkboard and wrote my name out.Bookmark here

“Hello, I’m Nakagawa Madoka. It’s a pleasure to meet you all.”Bookmark here

I could hear the chatter of the class. A few girls in the back turned to one another, pointing their fingers at me. That alone set a stuffy feeling in my stomach. I searched around and met eyes with a certain someone. Her eyes darted away as if trying to escape, but I spoke up, causing her to jolt. With a tilt of my head, I questioned... Bookmark here

“Conchi-san?”Bookmark here

The class squealed in unison.Bookmark here

“Conchi-san?!”Bookmark here

Oh, I accidentally blurted it out. The class chimed in after me. Conway-san’s face contorted as she crossed her arms in disgust. She sank into her chair like a turtle hiding in its shell. I silently cursed my impulse to throw out words without thinking.Bookmark here

Takanaki-sensei luckily pointed me to the seat behind Conway-san, to my delight. Now I could properly apologize to her. I sat down and whispered to her.Bookmark here

“S-sorry, that just came out.”Bookmark here

“Hmph!”Bookmark here

I guess she didn’t hear me, so I decided to give her a light tap on the back.Bookmark here

“Eehp!”Bookmark here

“Do you have something you’d like to add, Conway-san?”Bookmark here

Takanaki-sensei scowled in her direction.Bookmark here

“Ehh…No, Takanaki-sensei.”Bookmark here

I slumped my shoulders. Perhaps I made the situation worse? Dejected, I focused on the class. During the next break, I’ll properly apologize.Bookmark here

Once the bell rang, I stood up and made my way to the other side of Conway-san’s desk.Bookmark here

“Sorry about that, Conway-san…”Bookmark here

“I heard you the first time…”Bookmark here

Conway-san puffed her cheeks and glared at me.Bookmark here

“Why did you have to be in my class…”Bookmark here

It was reasonable that she'd be mad at me this time. With that I made my way back to my seat, defeated.Bookmark here

“Nakagawa-san?”Bookmark here

A girl approached me with short ivy hair that stubbornly made its way down to her neck. Both her ears were pierced with rugged iron rings hovering in them. But what stuck out most was her almond-shaped eyes.Bookmark here

“It’s nice to meet you.”Bookmark here

“Ah, it’s nice to meet you too…Ah…”Bookmark here

“Okabe Kasumi.”Bookmark here

She lifted her bag over her right shoulder and tilted her head at me. Reaching out her hand we shook, forming the new bond between us.Bookmark here

“So, where did you come from?”Bookmark here

“I’m from Hiroshima. I lived here my entire life.”Bookmark here

“Oh cool, me too. Do you have any brothers or sisters?”Bookmark here

Now interested, I take it; Okabe-san pulled up a chair from a nearby desk towards me.Bookmark here

“I’m an only…”Bookmark here

I stopped mid-sentence. No, that wasn’t true anymore. I'm not technically an only child per-say.Bookmark here

“Actually, I have a step-sister I guess, but I am an only child.”Bookmark here

“Is she older, younger?”Bookmark here

“She’s younger than me and super cute!”Bookmark here

I found myself hopping from my seat. I need to control these impulses when dealing with cute things. Okabe-san chuckled. I did get a bit excited there and had that coming. But I can’t deny that Hana-san is nothing short of adorable.Bookmark here

As I turn to Conway-san in response, our eyes meet as she darts away looking back into her manga on her desk.Bookmark here

“So, why did you transfer to our school, Nakagawa-san?”Bookmark here

My lip puckered a bit.Bookmark here

“Well, you see…Because of some medical problems I started school late.”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

“I’m actually 16 right now…”Bookmark here

“Wow, you started high school one year late?”Bookmark here

“Medical problems?”Bookmark here

A voice from outside the conversation filtered through. Conway-san turned to me, now interested, I noticed. I nodded. It seemed the class had gotten a bit quieter too. Not as though they were listening to me, just by chance if anything.Bookmark here

“Well, I was actually in a coma for the past couple of years…”Bookmark here

I scratched my cheek. Okabe-san’s almond eyes grew wider. Conway-san however seemed genuinely concerned as she tilted her head.Bookmark here

“Wow, that’s crazy. What happened, did you like, hit your head or something?”Bookmark here

I shrugged, haphazardly.Bookmark here

“Yeah, that’s what the doctors told me. So…”Bookmark here

She closed her eyes.Bookmark here

“That’s so wild. How did it feel? You know…being in a coma and all?”Bookmark here

“I don’t recall much. Like…a really, really, long dream, I guess?”Bookmark here

Her mouth opened slightly.Bookmark here

“How did it feel…knowing all that time passed afterward?”Bookmark here

Hm…I guess that would be a natural question, wouldn’t it? My thoughts about mom resurfaced. I don’t think she had any malintent. Just curiosity, yet my heart ached. I found myself looking away from her for no reason.Bookmark here

“Ahh…”Bookmark here

My chest started to boil…How did it feel that I’ve lost so much time? There were words I’ve been holding back circling in my mind. Like, “It isn’t fair.” or “Why did it have to be me?’… I looked at my legs and the thoughts of that spoiled child…the princess in me started to wail back up and I hated it.Bookmark here

“Are you seriously going to ask that ignorant of a question, Kasumi-san?”Bookmark here

I turn to Conway-san who’s now posted on the side of her desk.Bookmark here

“Can’t you see that Nakagawa-san is having a hard time speaking about this? Learn some tact, idiot.”Bookmark here

To my surprise, the shark once again threw me a lifeline. Maybe on the aggressive side though. Calling your classmate an idiot isn’t subtle in any way.Bookmark here

“I’m talking to Nakagawa-san, not you, blondie. And don’t call me Kasumi-san.”Bookmark here

Conway-san puffed her chest out.Bookmark here

“Stop using Nakagawa-san’s problems for your entertainment, Okabe-san.”Bookmark here

Conway-san leaned on her desk and shook her head.Bookmark here

“You girls are all the same…”Bookmark here

The ivy head turned back to me with a slight smile still on her face.Bookmark here

“You know… Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable, Nakagawa-san. That wasn’t my intention, like she made it out to be.”Bookmark here

“Oh no, I know that.”Bookmark here

I waved my hand, trying to brush past the mood.Bookmark here

She then turned to the person in question.Bookmark here

“But, here’s a tip for you, Nakagawa-san, choose better friends. Conway-san isn’t good people to hang around.”Bookmark here

Like fire, she torched her enemy. With a lift of her bag, she strolled out, leaving a heatwave where she stood. The class was about to begin, so I couldn’t understand why she was leaving.Bookmark here

“Don’t let the door hit you on the ass.”Bookmark here

She screamed in a fit. Conway-san’s demeanor brought me back to when I first laid eyes on her.Bookmark here

“Don’t mind her, Nakagawa-san.”Bookmark here

Conchi-san glared behind me to see the class staring in our direction. Most of the class shifted their eyes in a panic. Detached from their gossip, she continued.Bookmark here

“She’s such a disgraceful person. She’s always been like that.”Bookmark here

“…Thank you, Conchi-san…”Bookmark here

I found myself whispering this as if wanting to hide from the world.Bookmark here

As I looked around the class everyone seemed to have already established themselves in their respective groups. Girls who seemed to be into make-up and fashion all relaxed in the corner of the room. They shared kits and glosses, cheerfully.Bookmark here

A group of three who seemed to be average by their standards played card games, enjoying each other’s company. It was easy enough to conclude that most of them had found their comfort zones.Bookmark here

Even listening to the lecture today I found myself apart from the flow. Takanaki-sensei just started up class. The river was already in motion, and I found myself waiting for the right time to jump in. I gazed down at my notebook. Even the notes I took started mid-way in another lesson, so they felt incomplete.Bookmark here

It was as if I was detached from reality. Like I didn’t belong in the world they’ve already created. Or like I’m just a spectator playing the part of a student. But…thanks to Conway-san being here, it made a transition like this bearable. I didn’t want to imagine how it would have been if she wasn’t here.Bookmark here

“You shouldn’t thank me. I’m probably the reason why nobody wants to approach you, to be honest...”Bookmark here

She scratched her cheek, timidly.Bookmark here

“I don’t mind that…as long as I can chat with you, Conchi-san...”Bookmark here

Conway-san’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. Or more like a red ornament.Bookmark here

“Tsk. Most of our classmates are fine people, Nakagawa-san. Okabe-san just rubs me the wrong way.”Bookmark here

She turned back to the groups behind us.Bookmark here

“You should get to know them.”Bookmark here

Before I could reply, the bell chimed. Conway-san crossed her arms and sat back in her seat. It seemed to me that the class actively avoids Conway-san. Knowing how she can be, I don’t blame them though. She certainly could be the staple delinquent, I guess. Despite that, it’s thanks to her that I feel as if a load had been lifted off me. I’m not sure if that was her intention though. If anything, I felt that Conway-san was a reliable person. A partner I could depend on…Bookmark here

Lunch arrived and Ma-chan was nowhere to be found. At Conchi-san’s suggestion, I gave her a call revealing a sick Ma-chan.Bookmark here

“I just woke up…and I couldn’t get out of bed.”Bookmark here

“Would you like me to come over after school?”Bookmark here

“…Not necessary, Mado-chan! Mom’s taking care of me since she works from home most times.”Bookmark here

Ma-chan’s breathing seemed normal. The tone of her voice is what made me worry though.Bookmark here

“Sorry. Your senpai let you down, didn’t she?”Bookmark here

“Don’t be stupid. I’ll see you tomorrow.”Bookmark here

With that, Ma-chan hung up the phone. Conchi-san and I sat in the café. The bustle of students waved around us.Bookmark here

“Hm. She sure misses a lot of days.”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

I turned to Conchi-san who seemed to have a dish from home. It looked to be spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread. Her meal even stood out from the rest.Bookmark here

“Your friend, Watanabe-san. She gets sick easily.”Bookmark here

“Really?”Bookmark here

“Well, since I met her. But who am I to judge when I skip class on the regular?”Bookmark here

Wow, even Conchi-san skips class? Maybe I am between two delinquents and shouldn’t associate with them. That being a joke anyway.Bookmark here

“Has she always been that fragile? She looked fine to me yesterday.”Bookmark here

“No…Ma-chan would never miss school in junior high.”Bookmark here

I thought back to the days in middle school. Ma-chan would be the one who pushed me to do things. She was always the first to jump into the room and introduce herself to others. Even now she still held that personable charm.Bookmark here

“Ma-chan was working towards a volleyball scholarship. She even signed the papers for it…last I remember anyway.”Bookmark here

“Ah yes, that memory of yours. Who to think your life was so complicated?”Bookmark here

Now that I thought about it…Bookmark here

“Hey Conchi-san, does Ma-chan still play volleyball?”Bookmark here

“Hm? No, she’s not in any clubs to my knowledge.”Bookmark here

“Really?”Bookmark here

“I have no reason to lie about that.”Bookmark here

When did…Ma-chan give up playing sports? She was so talented. I was under the impression that she didn’t change much from when I went into my coma until when I woke up. But now hearing what Conchi-san said, Ma-chan skips school every now and then and even gave up on her sports? That should have been one of the first things I asked her about, but…when I thought about sports…Bookmark here

I searched my legs again. They feel simply fine now until I begin exercising…The idea of being who I once was…might be out of the question now.Bookmark here

“Eh, Nakagawa-san.”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

“Are you going to eat the rest of your rice?”Bookmark here

“Y-You’re stealing my lunch from me now? Conchi-san, you’re a bully.”Bookmark here

“Oh, shut up.”Bookmark here

Conchi-san takes the bowl from me without another word and begins eating my rice. For someone so small, she has an appetite.Bookmark here

“Well, it can’t be helped, so you shouldn’t worry over Watanabe-san.”Bookmark here

“Hm…right.”Bookmark here

Conway-san put my bowl of rice down and turned back to me.Bookmark here

“I have a question for you now, Nakagawa-san.”Bookmark here

“Hm, what?”Bookmark here

“You said you have a little step-sister…”Bookmark here

Her eyes shifted to the side.Bookmark here

“Yes, I do.”Bookmark here

“Tell me more about her.”Bookmark here

Conway-san wanted to know about Hana-san? I closed my eyes trying to gather up as much detail as I could about her.Bookmark here

“Her name is Koda Hana-san and she lives up to her name. She’s cute, but likes boyish things. Like games and manga….”Bookmark here

I found myself stopping even though I wanted to continue. I couldn’t find much else to say about her. I didn’t even know her blood type. Conway-san stared at me waiting for more.Bookmark here

“T-that’s pretty much it.”Bookmark here

She looked away with a huff. It seemed she wasn’t satisfied with what I gave her, and I wasn’t either.Bookmark here

“How close should sisters be, do you think?”Bookmark here

“How close should they be?”Bookmark here

What a strange question. I found myself parroting her without realizing it. Conway-san looked me in the eye as if searching for the answer to the meaning of life.Bookmark here

“Is it okay if sisters…”Bookmark here

Conway-san closed her eyes and turned away.Bookmark here

“No, never mind. It’s a stupid question, Nakagawa-san.”Bookmark here

“Hm, are you sure?”Bookmark here

She nodded, flipping her blonde hair.Bookmark here

“Do you have any sisters, Conway-san?”Bookmark here

“Nope.”Bookmark here

With no hesitation, she concluded and continued eating away at her meal. Maybe she was curious to know how it is to have a sister? Either way, I felt as though I couldn’t do Hana-san any justice.Bookmark here

The rest of the day was uneventful. Afterward, Conway-san and I traveled to the gates together.Bookmark here

“Peace.”Bookmark here

“Yeah…see you tomorrow.”Bookmark here

With that Conway-san made her way down the eastern street alone. I looked back to my phone and couldn’t get the idea of Ma-chan out of my head. But before I could stare too long, I came to the realization that I had to meet back up with a certain flower. So, I rushed down the street. From the side, my bodyguard jumped out nearly giving me a heart attack.Bookmark here

“There you are. We’re going to miss the train!”Bookmark here

Hana-san abruptly took my hand and started walking with me.Bookmark here

“Eh? You don’t need to hold my hand.”Bookmark here

“We’re doing the same thing as this morning.”Bookmark here

“Oh, come on Hana-san! We don’t need to do that!”Bookmark here

“Mom told me to protect you, and I will!”Bookmark here

I’m going to hurt Koda-san if this keeps up!Bookmark here

Luckily, we found two open seats on the train. Hana-san sat down, right next to me.Bookmark here

“Thank god.”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

I looked around to see a few students from both of our schools riding home. Now that I remember, Ma-chan and I use to walk to and from school together because we lived in the same direction. We are certainly childhood friends…Bookmark here

“Did you make friends?”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

Hana-san stared at me closely, causing me to back up.Bookmark here

“Did you make friends?”Bookmark here

“Oh…yeah I did I guess.”Bookmark here

Satisfied, she nodded then turned back to her manga.Bookmark here

“It might seem a bit awkward at first…but that’ll pass.”Bookmark here

Hana-san spoke like she’s been through the same situation. I understood that Ma-chan isn’t here right now, but Hana-san is. When I mentioned Hana-san at lunch I wanted to tell her more about her, but I couldn’t think of much.Bookmark here

“Hana-san.”Bookmark here

“Yep.”Bookmark here

She flipped to the next page without moving her eyes.Bookmark here

“How about we get off early and buy some ingredients for dinner? You know since Mom and Koda-san won’t be home until late tonight?”Bookmark here

Hana looked up and nodded.Bookmark here

“Sure, I’m fine with that.”Bookmark here

“What’s your favorite food?”Bookmark here

“I’m fine with anything. Don’t worry about me.”Bookmark here

With that she engrossed herself back into the manga. It appears I was asking the wrong questions. With that in mind, I caught eyes with her book.Bookmark here

“What are you reading?”Bookmark here

“Oh?”Bookmark here

She opened the book wide and leaned over to me.Bookmark here

“It’s an Otome romance story about a wolf girl who finds herself in a din of people known as hunters. She’s one of the last ones to…”Bookmark here

Her face glows with excitement, but then she stops herself and leans down.Bookmark here

“Nnn…. It’s stupid.”Bookmark here

“Could I read it too?”Bookmark here

“Hm? Are you sure…?”Bookmark here

“Sure, I’ll read it.”Bookmark here

The flower nodded, crossing her arms like a stern old man.Bookmark here

“Okay. It’s 5 volumes and I have all of them. I’ll let you borrow 1 volume a week.”Bookmark here

“Deal.”Bookmark here

I haven’t taken an interest in what Hana-san does, but now that we’re going to be together more often, I want to explore her life. It’s strange to know that this girl knew me years before I knew her. Not only that, but I also want to understand why she is so accepting of my mom and Koda-san’s relationship. Not that them being together is the part I’m curious about. I’m more interested in…how she sees it.Bookmark here

Once we got home, the gentle flower barbarically tossed her bags on the floor and raced upstairs.Bookmark here

“Hana-san! Take your stuff upstairs!”Bookmark here

But she didn't reply. So, instead, I put the food on the table and brought both of our bags up the steps.Bookmark here

“Here!”Bookmark here

I looked at the title of the manga. “A Lonely Howl in the Dark Night.” I wondered why these manga titles have been getting unnecessarily long lately. It’s like the writers are thinking, “The longer the title, the more interesting it has to be.” Or something like that. But before I could go on a tangent, I took hold of the book.Bookmark here

“Cool, I’ll read it before bed.”Bookmark here

“It has cool action in it too. And gore also!”Bookmark here

“Eh?”Bookmark here

“Yep! There’s plenty of bloody parts and the romance is adorable.”Bookmark here

Oh no…I might have gone into this prematurely. I get queasy looking at blood. It’s so nasty and smarmy and…But then I look at the cute flower. How could this adorable thing…read something like that?Bookmark here

“Here, take your books and stuff.”Bookmark here

Hana puffed her cheeks and ripped it from my hand.Bookmark here

“I’m going to make dinner, so don’t snack on the chips you bought at the store.”Bookmark here

“Eh? How did you know I bought those?!”Bookmark here

After putting my own stuff away, I made dinner. At the table, we sat eating away at our food. Just as I was about to ask her a question, Hana-san leaped out of her seat.Bookmark here

“I’m done!”Bookmark here

Without even bothering to clean her plate from the table, she rushed up the steps. There I sat alone now not even close to finishing my own meal. I couldn’t understand what made Hana-san decide that she had enough either. Maybe she got bored of the taste? Or was her stomach so small that only an inch of food would fill her up? Maybe all she needed was water as her main source of nutrients just like an actual flower? I imagined a field of Hana-sans on a sunny day.Bookmark here

“Cute…”Bookmark here

My mind swirled as I continued to finish my dinner.Bookmark here

The night went on, and before I knew it, it was time for a bath. With my bath soap in hand, I made my way out the door. My body moved on it’s own as I knocked on Hana-san’s door. With each thump on the door my heart beat, harshly. Bookmark here

“It’s open!”Bookmark here

Her childish voice called out, beckoning me to come in.Bookmark here

There she laid on her bed, kicking her feet as she played her handheld game.Bookmark here

“Hana-san, are you taking a bath tonight?”Bookmark here

“Oh, yeah. You can go in first, Madoka-san.”Bookmark here

As if glued to the light shining from the system, her eyes didn’t turn away. Her tiny feet kicked back and forth as she swung her head.Bookmark here

“Okay.”Bookmark here

With all my stuff already in hand, it would have been natural that I just take the initiative to go in first. But here I was standing outside of her door. It seemed she became immersed in her fictional world. I recalled what happened when Koda-san first came home. Hana-san marched into my room and expressed her true feelings. It was then that I noticed that we were fundamentally different.Bookmark here

At her age, I wouldn’t have been able to convey my feelings so clearly. Now it felt as though I was on the other side of that discussion we had back then. I certainly couldn’t be as decisive as her, but I found myself wanting to close the distance between us. So, I had an idea…Bookmark here

“I was actually wondering if…”Bookmark here

My voice peeked out.Bookmark here

“…We both could go in?”Bookmark here

I heard a sharp noise illuminate from her game. Hana-san likely paused it because she poked her head back to the doorway.Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

The spotlight being on me I felt the blood begin to rise to my head.Bookmark here

“Ah…never mind.”Bookmark here

I tried to take back my words, but it was too late. It was already in the air and had filtered into Hana-san’s tiny ears. Again, I didn’t think it through enough before saying it. Only now did it occur to me how strange the idea was.Bookmark here

“Together?”Bookmark here

Her purple eyes gawked at me. I couldn’t tell what she was thinking by her stoic expression. She set her game system aside and sat on the corner of her bed.Bookmark here

I’m doing my best to get closer to Hana-san and even after today it feels as though we’re so far apart. So, I want to at least spend a bit more time together before bed.Bookmark here

“Like…”Bookmark here

Hana-san mumbled something inaudible before nodding to herself.Bookmark here

“A-Are you sure, Madoka-san?”Bookmark here

It didn’t register to me at first. After a brief silence between us, I found my eyes turning away from her gaze.Bookmark here

“If you want…that is, Hana-san. It’s okay if you’re not comfortable with it.”Bookmark here

“No…”Bookmark here

Sternly, she replied, standing to her feet.Bookmark here

“I'm okay with it.”Bookmark here

Hana-san sat properly on the stool. Now showing me her bareback, I noticed how translucent her skin was. I wondered how she kept her skin so pure. I gently filtered my fingers through her hair like a comb. In the nearby cabinet, I selected the shampoo to use. The scent was named “Fresh Winds” which reminded me of the botanical garden that I met her in. Why does she hold up to the name, Hana so well?Bookmark here

“Hm, this one’s yours, right?”Bookmark here

I brought my arms around her, showing her the purple bottle.Bookmark here

“Y-Yep.”Bookmark here

“Hm… I like the smell."Bookmark here

I sniffed the bottle, trying to open a door into a conversation. But Hana-san continued to stare forward without another word. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea after all. She’s been stiff since we entered. We rarely talked, but now was a whole new low.Bookmark here

To give myself a motivational push, I slapped my face.Bookmark here

“Huh? Are you okay, Madoka-san?”Bookmark here

“Eh? Yeah, I’m fine.”Bookmark here

It appeared that I hit myself too hard. However, the slap to my face gave me an idea to try out. I took my two fingers and poked her back.Bookmark here

“Ehp!”Bookmark here

Hana-san turned around; her face flushed.Bookmark here

"You should probably eat more, Hana-san."Bookmark here

I teased. Her face puffed up like a blowfish. It reminded me of mom from earlier this morning.Bookmark here

"It-It wouldn't matter...I won't grow any bigger… Look at my mom."Bookmark here

She looked down at her stomach…It took me a moment to realize that Hana-san wasn't talking about her height. Reactively, I checked my own. I'm content with what God gave me, thankfully.Bookmark here

“You’re embarrassed, aren’t you Hana-san?”Bookmark here

I taunted, poking her cheeks. I can't help but bully cute things I guess...Bookmark here

“I…I…I am not!”Bookmark here

She crossed her arms. I might have gone too far this time.Bookmark here

“How… aren’t you embarrassed though…Madoka-san?”Bookmark here

I looked up to the ceiling as if trying to catch hold of a few memories. They bounced around my head before one landed in my mind.Bookmark here

“Well, you see, Hana-san…”Bookmark here

Yeah, that’s right. There is a reason why I’m used to this sort of thing.Bookmark here

“When I was young, Ma-chan and I would bathe together at times and that was a fond memory of mine. Even when I was in junior high, we would occasionally.”Bookmark here

“Hmm…Ma-chan?”Bookmark here

Hana-san leaned her head to the floor. The water trickled past her feet, flowing down the nearby drain.Bookmark here

“I heard of her…she’s your childhood friend, right?”Bookmark here

I poured some shampoo in my hand and began rubbing her hair. Her tiny head moved along with me.Bookmark here

“Yeah, she is.”Bookmark here

“I never had someone that close to me before…”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

Her body slumped to the side like a marionette doll that the strings had been cut from.Bookmark here

“Mom and I would move around a lot. Especially when I was in elementary school. After my dad died…”Bookmark here

Before I knew it, a topic that I wasn’t prepared for seeped in. I could hear the somber tone of her voice hit against the bathroom walls. I've known that Hana-san's father was out of the picture, but I didn't know it was because he died too.Bookmark here

“So, your dad passed away too?”Bookmark here

Hana-san nodded tenderly. I wouldn't have been able to tell if my hands weren't still caressing her scalp though. That’s how subtle her movements were.Bookmark here

“But unlike you, Madoka-san, I was only 4 years old when it happened. So, I don’t remember him much. I don’t remember crying when it happened either…For all I know…I never had a father.”Bookmark here

My fingers slowed down and eventually; they came to a stop... I had a fair amount of time with my dad before his passing. Hana-san on the other hand had her dad taken from her far sooner.Bookmark here

“But I don’t mind. Mom is all I needed, and she took good care of me.”Bookmark here

Earlier, on the way to school, I asked her if her mom was strange…Hana-san told me that she was just a normal mom to her. I can only imagine how Koda-san had to take care of a 4-year-old child alone.Bookmark here

Koda-san is 29 years old now…That would mean she was taking care of Hana-san alone at the age of 20. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her now.Bookmark here

Just how strong of a person would she have to have been to be widowed at such a young age? And not only that but take care of a child at that age too? It reminded me that there is a great deal that I don’t know about these two.Bookmark here

The lives they led before meeting my mother was still a mystery to me.Bookmark here

It felt like a fire burned in my stomach. Before I knew it, I held her, wrapping my arms against her petite body. They folded over her shoulders and crossed around her chest.Bookmark here

“So, you can say that having both our moms filled that gap. Huh, Hana-san?”Bookmark here

When I straightened up Hana-san’s room I saw the picture of her and Koda-san. They seemed happy, that was certain. But like any staple family in society, there are usually two parents. That left a hole in my chest that I didn’t realize was there until now. Could that be why she calls my mom…mom too? If I look at it like that...Bookmark here

“Eh, what are you doing?!”Bookmark here

I don’t know what came over me, but I just wanted to hold her tight. As if she’d vanish if I didn’t.Bookmark here

“S-sorry, you just made me want to hold you...Hana-san”Bookmark here

“S-Stop it!”Bookmark here

I couldn’t see her expression from behind, but her movements gave me an idea. To try and brighten the mood I decided to pull a prank. Ma-chan would do it to me when I felt down. So, I started tickling her small body. Hana-san sprang up in laughter.Bookmark here

“I-I said stop it!Bookmark here

“I can’t hear you, Hana-san!”Bookmark here

She kept giggling, unable to stop. I felt bad but couldn’t help myself now.Bookmark here

“S-Stop it! I-I said stop! "Bookmark here

She tugged, but I pulled her back, closer to me. I held her tight and before I knew it, she cried out…Bookmark here

"Onee-san!”Bookmark here

I let go of her, unconsciously. The blood sprinted to my face as Hana-san turned to me. We gazed at one another. I could see the heat dissipating around her body.Bookmark here

“Ah…”Bookmark here

Maybe I went a bit too far? That’s what I thought, but it was too late now.Bookmark here

Hana-san pushed her fingers together. I could see her bright cheeks as she veered to the side. I didn’t know what it could be, but something told me that this word…"Onee-san" has been in her mind for a while now. Maybe I’m not the only one who wanted to get closer to the other?Bookmark here

“S-Sorry, H-Hana-san?”Bookmark here

I started to feel a tad lightheaded. We might have been in here a bit too long. Hana-san however spun around and faced up to me.Bookmark here

“I-Is it too soon for me to call you, Onee-san?”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

The corner of her eyes was wet. I couldn’t tell if it was from her laughing earlier or not though. She then got quiet and whispered.Bookmark here

“…I-If it is, I won't ever say it again…”Bookmark here

She pushed her fingers together like Koda-san did the other day. I've never seen her this flustered. How can I say no to this? So, I put my hand on her head and caressed her silky hair.Bookmark here

“Of course, not... Hana-san. You can call me whatever you want.”Bookmark here

Her face lit up. When I thought about it, Hana-san never had a sister, one older than her either. But…she has known me since I went into my coma. So, maybe she was wondering when the day would come that she could say…those words to me? But then, that’s just my own interpretation of the matter.Bookmark here

“If it’s not too soon then…”Bookmark here

Her face flushed as she pushed her body close to mine.Bookmark here

“Onee-san…Onee-san…”Bookmark here

Hana-san silently chanted the words to herself. I could see her face grow ruddier by the syllable. She turned back to me with a smile, causing me to clench my chest. I didn’t end up learning much more about her aside from that. But even so, I felt that I’d be able to tell people more about Hana-san now, with confidence.Bookmark here

After we exited the bath, Hana-san and I went our separate ways. I entered my room and rested on the bed. Suddenly, my door opened and Hana-san peeked in.Bookmark here

“G-Good night, Onee-san.”Bookmark here

Without waiting for my reply, she shut the door.Bookmark here

“Cute…”Bookmark here

If I could see the smirk on my face, I would surely think I was an idiot.Bookmark here

Even though we had school, it felt like the first time we spent the entire day together. I turned over to see the manga Hana-san lent to me, lying stubbornly on my nightstand. The picture of a silver wolf howling at a glistening moon stared back at me. Curiously, I opened the first few pages revealing a bloodied mess of an image. My stomach churned as I closed the book, harshly.Bookmark here

“I’ll start reading tomorrow instead…for my cute little sister.”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.