Chapter 5:

Ch.5 For You

Sleeping Princess

The rest of the week flew by, and before I knew it, Sunday came crashing down. The trickles of light settled on my eyes. The morning was here to greet me, but I wasn’t ready for it. I tossed to the side, digging deeper into my fluffy sheets. This was bliss. There are no other words for it. But then my nose stubbornly caught hold of something good. This caused a war to battle in my stomach.Bookmark here

“Mmm…I’m hungry.”Bookmark here

I grumbled that my perfect sleep was bound to be interrupted. But by the request of my general stomach, I wiggled upright like a flower pointing towards the sun. My feet dragged on the carpet like a snail as I slogged my way down the steps.Bookmark here

An assortment of food was spread out over the table when I arrived. It was like a banquet made in my honor as I approached slowly. The corners of my mouth rose from the sight of the woman dancing about the kitchen. In an apron with her hair up, she glided from one side to the other with vigor.Bookmark here

But she didn’t seem in a hurry. No, she was genuinely working hard with a beam on her face. The word that popped into my head was “happiness.”Bookmark here

“Oh, look at that bed hair.”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

I touched my hair, revealing the aftermath of a good night’s rest. I didn’t even bother to look in the mirror. I cursed my stomach before making my way to the table.Bookmark here

“Morning, mom.”Bookmark here

“Good morning, Madoka.”Bookmark here

A yawn escaped my mouth, causing my face to warm up. I tried to hold it in, but it felt like I turned into a sloth overnight.Bookmark here

“You’re up early, mom.”Bookmark here

Mom snickered as she turned back to the kitchen stove. Her ponytail swayed back and forth, holding on for dear life.Bookmark here

“No, you just slept in.”Bookmark here

“Uh? Oh, I didn’t realize it.”Bookmark here

“Good morning everyone…”Bookmark here

Hana-san stumbled in next with her eyes still shut. It seemed the curse of the sloth had reached Hana-san’s room too. Maybe we’re going to have to purify the upstairs bedrooms so we can wake up on time from now on.Bookmark here

“Oh my, you both have bad bed hair.”Bookmark here

In unison we yawned, ignoring my mom’s tease.Bookmark here

“Ah…Where’s Koda-san?”Bookmark here

“She’s still asleep. She had a late night, so I’m letting her sleep in too.”Bookmark here

Surprisingly enough, mom can get ready in the mornings that she doesn’t have work. I suppose there’s less stress when waking up to cook breakfast on a weekend. I never had a job, so I wouldn’t know...Bookmark here

“Onee-san, can you pass the sauce.”Bookmark here

“Ah, here you go, Hana-san.”Bookmark here

Mom beamed at me. Her smile was a bit too bright for the morning. I found myself squinting my eyes, shielding them from her glamour.Bookmark here

“I get goosebumps hearing you two talk with one another.”Bookmark here

Mom literally jumped 10 feet when she found out that Hana-san decided to call me Onee-san from now on. In contrast to mom, Koda-san didn’t seem all that enthusiastic about it. She just slumped her shoulders and said, “My, my.” Then proceeded to laze around the house without care.Bookmark here

“Y-you don’t have to point it out all the time, mom!”Bookmark here

Hana-san, with her eyes still closed, bickered.Bookmark here

I can’t deny that having Hana-san here has made this entire thing a tad easier to adjust to. She seems to be reliable enough to talk to despite still being a bit of a brat every now and then. Maybe this is how it is having a sister?Bookmark here

I took a bite of my rice, and like a ceasefire, the growl in my stomach came to a halt. If only my head could fall back into the pillows. But that was a dream that wasn’t worth it anymore. I know as soon as I try to get as comfortable as before…It’ll never be the same.Bookmark here

“Yaaaawnnn…”Bookmark here

From the room across the way, the bear woke from hibernation. She dragged her feet to the table. I can’t lie, this is the worst condition I’ve ever seen her in.Bookmark here

“I’m so hungry!”Bookmark here

Like a dinosaur, she roared, wailing her head from one side to the other.Bookmark here

“Manners, Mari!”Bookmark here

Koda-san stubbornly laid her arms on the table, exhausted from…whatever…Bookmark here

“Last night was hell. The editor wouldn’t stop correcting the paper I submitted. We ended up being there for hours, and we still didn’t get anything done!”Bookmark here

Tears welled up in her eyes as she laid her cheek on the tabletop.Bookmark here

“My boss was just about to have me come in today to finish. But she opted against it because she had a hot date.”Bookmark here

“Sounds rough.”Bookmark here

Mom interjected.Bookmark here

“It was rough.”Bookmark here

Koda-san’s head slumped deeper on the table. Her cheek pressed against the wood so hard I felt uncomfortable just looking at her.Bookmark here

“I’m done! I’m going to a friend's house today, so I’ll see everyone later!”Bookmark here

“Eh?”Bookmark here

Hana-san took her opportunity and jumped out of her chair. She ran like a prisoner who had just seen their gate to freedom. Mom, being the watchful guard, screamed back to her.Bookmark here

“Hana! You barely touched your breakfast! Get back down here right now.”Bookmark here

“But mom, I’m full!”Bookmark here

“It’s okay, Ayumi…I got enough of an appetite for both of us.”Bookmark here

Now attentive to the food, Koda-san took hold of her daughter’s bowl and started scarfing down the leftover rice. First, I compared her to a dinosaur, then a bear, now she’s a scavenger? None of these were good for a proper woman.Bookmark here

Lazily, Koda-san’s eyes turned to me. One eye visible through her short dark hair she smirked.Bookmark here

“Is something wrong?”Bookmark here

“Hm…Not really.”Bookmark here

Mom finally sat down with the three of us now. She brushed Mari’s hair back like tending to a baby.Bookmark here

“Well, I have to go visit Ryuji’s girlfriend later today.”Bookmark here

The fox’s face curved slightly.Bookmark here

“Great…”Bookmark here

She added, chewing on her meal in between.Bookmark here

“You’re going to uncle’s?”Bookmark here

Curiously, I questioned. I rarely saw my uncle or even heard from him. There’s a good reason, with him being a bigshot at the editorial firm and all.Bookmark here

“Yes, I have to help her pick out a present for him for when he gets back to Japan.”Bookmark here

“I sure as hell ain’t helping.”Bookmark here

She spewed, turning her nose to the ceiling. This is the first time I saw Koda-san physically annoyed with anything. I didn’t know she felt this way about my uncle either.Bookmark here

“Mari, you’re going to have to make up with him one day. He’s my brother.”Bookmark here

“Your brother thinks I’m a leech. He acts nice to Hana and me, but…”Bookmark here

Koda-san turned to me before finishing her sentence. Instead of going on, she continued eating her rice.Bookmark here

“Well of course he’ll feel that way because he…”Bookmark here

Confused in the conversation, I chimed in.Bookmark here

“He…?”Bookmark here

With a sigh, she interjected.Bookmark here

“He doesn’t approve that Ayumi and I are together. Right, Ayumi?”Bookmark here

“Uncle Ryuji doesn’t?!”Bookmark here

“He never said that…Mari.”Bookmark here

She sat back in her chair and took a deep breath. The tears in her eyes didn’t help her look.Bookmark here

“No, but I even suspect he’s trying to…”Bookmark here

Koda-san turned back to me before gazing back at mom.Bookmark here

“Y’know Ayumi, we shouldn’t keep talking about this with our kids around.”Bookmark here

“I’m not a kid.”Bookmark here

The fox giggled as she leaned over to me. She reached out her free hand.Bookmark here

“I know. You’re a woman.”Bookmark here

I scooted away from her as if her fingers were poisonous to the touch.Bookmark here

Her voice smoothed out as she retracted her hand back to her side. It honestly creeped me out a little.Bookmark here

“Well anyway Mari, I’m going to be out too, so if you both need me just give me a call.”Bookmark here

Koda-san rested her elbow on the table. With her cheek resting in her hand she gazed back at me. Her manners were getting worse by the minute.Bookmark here

“Do you have any plans today?”Bookmark here

I was just planning to laze around the house and look up fashion online. But knowing she’ll be there with me put me in an off mood. I couldn’t necessarily lie to her, so instead I lit the fire and told the truth.Bookmark here

“No. I wasn’t in the mood to leave today.”Bookmark here

“Guess it’s just us two today then.”Bookmark here

“Guess so.”Bookmark here

Koda-san grinned and brought the bowl of rice up to her face.Bookmark here

“Hey don’t worry! I’m not going to bother you today. I’m pretty beat, so I just want to laze around and watch dramas all day.”Bookmark here

Mom pinched her cheek, causing Koda-san to whine.Bookmark here

“You both better do something productive at least. Dust the house or something. Mari, you can’t leave all the housework to Madoka just because she’s a neat freak.”Bookmark here

“N-Neat freak?! No, I’m not!”Bookmark here

I couldn’t help but ask myself if that was how they saw me. Did putting a bit of organization into this madhouse make me the neat freak?Bookmark here

“Madoka, you know I didn’t mean that.”Bookmark here

“What did you mean then?!”Bookmark here

I continued eating, albeit pissed off.Bookmark here

Mom and Hana left soon after. So, I escaped to my room and listened to some music while surfing the net, just like I intended to do. Days like this are nice, and I didn’t want to waste my chance to relax in my own head. With my schoolwork already finished last night, the day of the sloth continued without hesitation.Bookmark here

Soon enough a hot breath of air escaped my mouth. It made me realize that I was parched. So, reluctantly I got up from my seat and headed downstairs.Bookmark here

“Oh…Nakagawa-san!”Bookmark here

I noticed Koda-san on the couch and hoped to pass her on my way to the kitchen. But that attempt failed. With a sigh, I turned to her.Bookmark here

“I was just going to see if you wanted to watch a drama with me.”Bookmark here

I waved my hand back and forth.Bookmark here

“Nah, I’m just getting a glass of water then going back to my room.”Bookmark here

“Oh…Okay.”Bookmark here

Koda-san with her feet scrunched up on the couch looked at me, innocently. Then she put her head down slightly, tilting it to the side. She muttered something to herself before popping her head back up as I passed her.Bookmark here

“T-The name of the show is Born Free…”Bookmark here

“O-okay.”Bookmark here

As I kept walking, I couldn’t understand why she’d go out of her way to keep speaking about it. Hasn’t she noticed my disinterest in the matter? …Then the bells in my head hit me as if someone inside was screaming, “Hold up, stupid!Bookmark here

“Born Free?”Bookmark here

I found myself walking back over to the living room.Bookmark here

“Yep. It ended a year ago, and I was just planning to watch the remaining episodes.”Bookmark here

“Born Free ended?!”Bookmark here

Born Free was one of my favorite Korean dramas out there. The main lead was a woman entwined in a relationship with a male student whose father is a billionaire. The father was dealing in shady business and one day planned to give it to his son. I completely forgot about it. It was so good and was around season 6 last time I saw it.Bookmark here

“I heard the ending was a doozy. Too bad I have to watch it alone…”Bookmark here

The eeriness in her voice made me stagger a bit. But in all honesty…I suddenly wanted to watch Born Free too. Maybe I can go back into my room and find it on the internet?Bookmark here

“I even have the DVD with deleted scenes too.”Bookmark here

Holding the DVDs to her cheeks she turned back to me.Bookmark here

“Even the deleted scenes?!”Bookmark here

My heart almost gave out. One of the best parts of Born Free was seeing the bloopers while the show was being created. The takes were always so outlandish that it became an internet sensation online.Bookmark here

“Too bad I’ll have to watch it alone.”Bookmark here

“S-stop…I give.”Bookmark here

Defeated, I got on the couch to the left of her. That was enough to suck the life out of any will to resist.Bookmark here

“We’ll…watch it together.”Bookmark here

“Really?!”Bookmark here

Koda-san smiled at me naively. No, that’s wrong…she’s a devil.Bookmark here

“So, I have season 7 and 8. Wait, I’ll go get us some snacks and juice from the kitchen.”Bookmark here

The hare jumped up and raced to the pantry. She looked in a small compartment and pulled out chips, pocky, and juice. After setting those items aside, she dug back in. I watched in awe as she brought out two large cups, a bowl, and a small blanket.Bookmark here

I began to wonder what else could fit in that tiny compartment. As if it was the portal to a grocery store. As I watched her elegant movements, I couldn’t help to think she had this planned or something. But thinking like that would lead to a conspiracy.Bookmark here

There’s no way Koda-san of all people would know I haven’t seen the last two seasons of this drama and the foods I like too, right? My eyes danced, following her around as she put the food in a bowl. She grabbed the two large cups with ice in them and raced back over.Bookmark here

She raced across the carpet before she jumped to my side. With one leg up, holding the bowl out to me she balanced herself like a flamingo.Bookmark here

“Here you go.”Bookmark here

“Hm…”Bookmark here

“Is it not good?”Bookmark here

She fell back on her second leg still with a smile on her face.Bookmark here

“No…it’s fine.”Bookmark here

With a beam, she sat down and gave me my food.Bookmark here

“Okay, we’re watching the entire season. We’re only stopping for bathroom breaks. Got it, Madoka-san?”Bookmark here

“Sure, sure. Let’s get going Koda-san.”Bookmark here

Now with us, the two pilots in the plane, I signaled her off as she clicked on the DVD player.Bookmark here

“Hehehehe.”Bookmark here

Her giggle made the hairs on my back stand up.Bookmark here

“What are you laughing about?”Bookmark here

“How…honesty makes a difference.”Bookmark here

I couldn’t wrap my head around what she was saying. So, instead of worrying about it, I turned back to the TV. Maybe I can imagine that she’s just not here.Bookmark here

With a click of the remote, the introduction of season 7 was underway. My eyes glued onto the screen. It felt so surreal that I haven’t seen this series in over two years. Despite it feeling as if just yesterday I binged watched the last season.Bookmark here

As the show continued, I could feel my jaw open slightly, and before I knew it, the 2nd episode was already in motion.Bookmark here

“This is fun.”Bookmark here

I turned to Koda-san who scooped a couple of chips into her mouth. For some reason, her eyes were gazing at me though. But I couldn’t be bothered by that, the show was getting good and I wanted to take in every piece of what it had in store.Bookmark here

“Yeah, this is fun.”Bookmark here

I agreed. Before I was aware, time took me from one end to the other. The 7th episode had me curling my toes.Bookmark here

“No way, she can’t do that!”Bookmark here

My co-pilot screamed. The blood in my body felt as if it was boiling as I turned to her.Bookmark here

“She just did! How the heck are they going to end this?!”Bookmark here

Before I knew it, I was shrieking back to her. I couldn’t help myself. The butterflies in my stomach were roaring, ready to burst out in anticipation.Bookmark here

“Koda-san hurry up! Start the next one.”Bookmark here

I could hear a faint giggle from her. I must have looked like a lunatic, as I found my feet bouncing up and down.Bookmark here

“Mhh …. something’s wrong with the remote.”Bookmark here

“What?!”Bookmark here

“Just kidding.”Bookmark here

She teased, pushing out her tongue.Bookmark here

“Don’t do that!”Bookmark here

I pushed her shoulder as she grinned. I couldn’t be bothered with her teasing right now. So, I turned back to the TV waiting for the next roller coaster to ensue.Bookmark here

“Drink please.”Bookmark here

I passed Koda-san my cup and she filled it up. Unconsciously we had a ritual going between us. I would hand her my cup and Koda-san would fill it to the brim with juice. She’d lean over, and I would give her more chips in her bowl. We barely spoke, but it was as if we could read each other’s movements and react accordingly.Bookmark here

Sooner than expected, the season finale was underway. Our protagonists were in a bind and only by a miracle would they get out. My heart pounded fiercely and right before the big reveal of who was behind it all…the screen went black, ending the season at its finest hour.Bookmark here

“This is too crazy!”Bookmark here

Koda-san cried as she leaped from her seat. She rushed over and removed the season 7 disc.Bookmark here

“Hurry up, we have to see how this show ends!”Bookmark here

She giggled again while looking at me. I admit I must have looked stupid, but this had been one of the most exciting times of my life. That may be an exaggeration on my part though.Bookmark here

The DVD played the final disc, revealing the title of season 8. Being entrapped in this fake world, my heart raced. My co-pilot jumped back on the couch. I could feel her sink into the cushions of the couch. Now cozy in her spot, she pointed at the bag of chips on the table. Bookmark here

“Chips, please.”Bookmark here

I grabbed the bag of salty goodness and turned it into her bowl. The introduction was beginning, and I didn’t want to take my eyes off it. I reached for my own dish. As I leaned back on my pillow a sensation brushed up against my side. An unfamiliar force tugged at a strain of my hair.Bookmark here

“Eh?”Bookmark here

I glanced over to see the fox taking hold of my brown locks. But this time it felt a tad different than before. Her nose nuzzled the ends of my strands. She caressed them tenderly between her fingers. Her eyes looked distant as she finally let go.Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

As if she was drifting about in her own little world, she looked at me, coming back into reality.Bookmark here

“You smell…nice.”Bookmark here

How could she say something so outwardly embarrassing? I could feel the red trickle up my face, yet Koda-san continued to stare at me. Her ivy eyes captured mine.Bookmark here

“Ah…”Bookmark here

Being as close as we were, I could clearly see her cheeks tint a rosy red. Wait, when did she get this close? Only then did it occur to me that we weren’t on different ends of the couch anymore. Even the sofa must have gotten smaller without me noticing…or Koda-san was closing in on me like the lion she is. Now trying to process all that’s been going on around me, a faint hint of something citrusy trickled up my nose.Bookmark here

“Lemon…”Bookmark here

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

She asked, gently pushing her fingers against mine. Her index felt my skin, tenderly. They caressed the backside of my hand as if searching for the perfect time to rob my fingers.Bookmark here

I didn’t catch it at first, but the citrus smell winging from her body was none other than that… The cheap perfume from the arcade.Bookmark here

Why is Koda-san wearing something like that? It was clearly a joke if anything. I wondered if I should mention it. But then I realized that I already did say something. It was a bad habit of mine to speak aloud before thinking.Bookmark here

Her lips parted, timidly.Bookmark here

“I…wore it for you.”Bookmark here

She whispered as if trying not to wake someone else in the home. If I remembered right, it was just the two of us here though. Despite that, her voice continued to reverberate in my ear. My mouth opened and closed, unable to make up its mind. The butterflies in my stomach from watching the show weren’t there anymore. Now, a rocky feeling settled there instead.Bookmark here

“…For me?”Bookmark here

Her profile came into view. I could see that her morning bed hair was actually…well adjusted. She even seemed to have touched up her face with a slight tint of blush and make-up…despite her saying earlier that she had no intention of leaving today.Bookmark here

The cup of juice that belonged to Koda-san’s had an impression of pink, revealing the gloss trickling on her lips. It was bright but subtle. In my ears, a bumping noise persisted. I felt…uneasy.Bookmark here

“Are we going to watch the rest, Madoka-san?”Bookmark here

Her eyes blinked twice as if she were flapping them my way. Words moved through my head. She couldn’t be compared to someone young or cute anymore…No, she smeared that innocence with words like beauty and gorgeous.Bookmark here

I couldn’t even understand…why I was even thinking of this…Bookmark here

Now growing anxious, I turned back to the TV without a word. Why was I just now feeling her slim chest brush up against my sides?Bookmark here

It wasn’t like when Hana-san and I embraced each other in the bath either. At that time there wasn’t a firm layer of clothing between us. But here, I felt as if our connection was much more…warm…intimate even.Bookmark here

I thought of my escape plan. Maybe I should move to the side a bit to distance us? No, that wouldn’t work. I’m on the armrest side, so I had nowhere to run. But then, I could stand up and make my way to the other side. But what if Koda-san noticed that I felt uneasy…making things awkward? Would it be right if I do so casually then explain myself while I did it? For all I know, I’m the only one who thinks this is strange.Bookmark here

“It’s finally starting.”Bookmark here

She whispered again as she pointed to the screen. The heat from her voice raced along my earlobe. It made me strain my ears to hear her despite being so close. The drama played out, but I found myself unable to focus on what was going on. The scenes were loud but ever so quiet.Bookmark here

I only heard the rhythmic beat of my heart, slamming against my chest. This lasted a seeming eternity. I was sure I would suffocate in this atmosphere if it didn’t end soon. It felt like that one span of twenty or so minutes was longer than all the other episodes combined.Bookmark here

“I-I’m getting some…water.”Bookmark here

Finally, my mouth pushed out something as I stood up. I rushed away only for my shirt to be tugged. If my feet didn’t stay firm, I would have fallen back into the lion’s clutches.Bookmark here

“Oh, could you get me some too, Madoka-san?”Bookmark here

…When did she start calling me…Madoka-san? And why did hearing it from her lips feel…so natural?Bookmark here

I lifted our glasses then forced myself to the sink. The water began to flow as I rinsed them out. Something in me simmered as I washed the light pink gloss off the edge of her cup. My body grew warm thinking about it touching her lips. But why, I couldn’t understand.Bookmark here

“What’s wrong with you, Madoka?”Bookmark here

A warm breath escaped my mouth.Bookmark here

“This is obviously…her teasing me, isn’t it?”Bookmark here

I scorned as I finished. I looked in the fridge and took out two bottles of ice-cold water. As I approached, I sat on the far-right side, away from Koda-san.Bookmark here

“Here.”Bookmark here

I tried to sound firm, composed even, but all I did was speak mechanically. She reached out and grabbed the bottle. Her fingers coiled around it. She chuckled with a light smile before setting it to the table. My eyes glued back on the TV.Bookmark here

“Hm? Are you okay?”Bookmark here

I turned to Koda-san who scrunched up like a ball against my former side of the couch. She took hold of the pillow I was using and hugged it tightly. Her nose pressed up against it. Bliss seemingly filtered on her face.Bookmark here

“You look a bit tired. You wanna stop for the day?”Bookmark here

Still embracing the cushion, she tilted her head.Bookmark here

“Yes.”Bookmark here

My voice was unnaturally high. I couldn’t control it even though I was conscious of it.Bookmark here

“Please, excuse me.”Bookmark here

“Sure…we can watch it another time, okay?”Bookmark here

“Y-Yeah…”Bookmark here

She closed her eyes and cuddled her cheeks closer to the pillow.Bookmark here

“It’s a date then...”Bookmark here

She beamed at me, but I couldn’t do the same for her. The tone in her voice…gave off an honest vibe. Worlds apart from the fox that I’ve grown accustomed to.Bookmark here

I gripped my water and briskly made my way up to my room. There, I shut the door gently. Only then a mountain of embarrassment came rushing over me.Bookmark here

I couldn’t understand why my feet were trembling. All these new sensations melted over me at once. And I didn’t know what to do.Bookmark here

With a deep breath, I sighed.Bookmark here

“W-What’s wrong with me?”Bookmark here

I scolded again, taking a drink of my water. My body leaned up against my door, and I found myself sitting on the floor. The ice-cold water didn’t cool my head. No, it made me feel even more nauseous, if anything. Maybe all the salt from the chips is getting to me, causing my blood pressure to rise?Bookmark here

I turned to the clock revealing it was past 4 pm. I guess I was out there for a while. Watching that drama gave me all kinds of emotions…but none as strong as this right now.Bookmark here

The bottle nurtured my head as I closed my eyes. Only to be ambushed by Koda-san’s young, vibrant appearance assaulting me. The smell of lemon trickled in my nose despite none being around. They say when you think of a smell it can often trigger a memory. But sometimes it can be the opposite. Just thinking of a memory could trigger an aroma...Bookmark here

Was this what was happening? That cheap perfume from the arcade. Thinking about it sent a shiver down my spine.Bookmark here

“Does that mean she…put the perfume on for me?”Bookmark here

I recalled her dancing about in the kitchen the other day. Her words came to mind…Bookmark here

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

My head flipped back. With nowhere to go, it hit the wood of my door, causing me to hold my head in pain. The loud thump echoed throughout my room. I silently hoped…no, prayed that Koda-san didn’t hear it...Bookmark here

“I’m home!”Bookmark here

The door downstairs suddenly opened, breaking my train of thought. The tender voice of my little sister filtered through the home.Bookmark here

“Welcome home, Hana. Did you have fun at your friend’s place?”Bookmark here

“Yep! Now it’s time to play my game!”Bookmark here

“Wait, did you finish your homework first?”Bookmark here

The conversation between them sounded…normal. Koda-san sounded…normal. Am I the only one who sounded strange between us?Bookmark here

Only then did it occur to me that I was pressing my ear against the wall. I told myself I didn’t understand why I was doing this. But the answer must have been so simple that I couldn’t see it. I just didn’t want to see Koda-san.Bookmark here

But why? It’s not as if I had a fight with her. No, unlike the other day I never raised my voice to her. On the contrary, that was the most fun I’ve had with her since she came back to this home. My shoulders slumped as if to decompress the built-up anxiety.Bookmark here

With these emotions still swirling around in my mind, I stood up and made my way to my desk. I found my body moving on its own as I pulled out my books.Bookmark here

“Guess I’ll do some studying…”Bookmark here

It was the only thing I could think of to get my mind off these feelings. I did my best to get my work done, but I couldn’t alleviate the feeling that I needed to be somewhere else.Bookmark here

Sometimes I would stand up just to find myself sitting back down for no reason. My mind just wouldn’t stay focused. It’s not as if I was thinking of anything either. It would just drift off into obscurity, and before I realized it, my hand would stop moving.Bookmark here

I wanted something…but I didn’t know what. The thought of not knowing made me feel irritated. Was this because of Koda-san? As I searched back through my memory my stomach would grow tense and I would get nervous. Then I would repeat this pattern over and over until nothing got done.Bookmark here

The sounds of buzzing filtered in and before I realized it my phone was ringing.Bookmark here

“H-Hello?”Bookmark here

“Madoka?”Bookmark here

On the other line was a gentle voice. It was calming and put my mind in a state of ease. It was no one other than Uncle Ryuji.Bookmark here

“Uncle, how are you doing?”Bookmark here

“I’m doing fine, Madoka. It’s good to hear your voice.”Bookmark here

I could hear his tone grow soft. I haven’t spoken to Uncle since I woke up. He was noticeably worried about my condition and regularly sent me flowers. Because he works overseas a lot, he only visited me once when I woke up. Then the next day he was back on a plane to who knows where. But Uncle would call me from time to time.Bookmark here

“How is school going? I heard you entered a nice school that your friend is in too.”Bookmark here

“It’s going great…”Bookmark here

I spoke with him about Ma-chan and my new friend Conway-san…to an extent that is. I explained to him how I’ve had to adapt to the idea that two years were stripped away from me. Uncle listened intently and chimed in every now and then.Bookmark here

“I’m sure your mother is proud of you.”Bookmark here

The mental image of my mom came into view. A soft smile cast over my face.Bookmark here

“Well, I called with good news. In a few weeks, you’ll be receiving a present from me. Look out for it.”Bookmark here

“R-Really?”Bookmark here

“Yes, and I expect you to have it the next time we see each other.”Bookmark here

“T-Thank you, uncle!”Bookmark here

Uncle would do this every now and then. I thank him properly before hanging up. Now thinking about the present that might come, a warm feeling entered my stomach. Excitement maybe?Bookmark here

“Hm…”Bookmark here

The morning came to mind. Mom and Koda-san speaking about uncle and how he “doesn’t approve of their relationship.” …Mom and Koda-san sure have things rough. But why should he have the right to decide if their relationship is valuable? Wait…Bookmark here

As if looking into a mirror I saw myself being formed in my last thought.Bookmark here

I never took the time to think about how much…they must go through. To love each other…Bookmark here

“Hm.”Bookmark here

Love…Bookmark here

I touched my chest, and a warm feeling cast over me. Maybe I have been sounding like Uncle Ryuji? Like poison, guilt coiled up in my stomach.Bookmark here

“I…think I need to apologize to someone...”Bookmark here

I nodded with conviction. Without my consent, an imaged of the fox’s face pasted from my memory. My cheeks felt warm, and I cleared it away as fast as it formed.Bookmark here

Mentally worn out by this point, I looked at the clock to see it’s getting late. After putting away my bags I decided to take a bath. So, I collected my shampoos and walked out the door.Bookmark here

When I reached the hallway, a sharp sound stabbed me in the chest. My fingers began to shake before I realized that the odd noise was coming from Hana-san’s room. She must have been playing a game. With a sigh of relief, I continued my way down the steps.Bookmark here

My eyes peeked over to the living room. The couch was empty, and Koda-san was nowhere to be seen. Taking this chance, I rushed down the steps and made my way to the bathroom. There I shut the door like a thief making their way through the house they plan to rob.Bookmark here

“She wasn’t here?”Bookmark here

Why am I even thinking about that? Briskly, I walked to the bath.Bookmark here

In the bubbles, I thought about the day. I didn’t do much at all…not even dust the house as mom begged. Now looking around I caught eyes with the scented bath soap. It’s that overbearing lemon flavor that Koda-san tried to shove on me the other day.Bookmark here

How could someone her age wear something like this? I lifted the deep yellow bottle and turned it to the side. Next thing I knew I found myself sniffing the contents of it. The smell reminded me of elementary school or even junior high for some reason. It’s not as if I wore this kind of shampoo back then.Bookmark here

I could feel a warm sensation melt over me. Something about this scent is a bit…nostalgic. My face got warm as an image seeped into my mind. Me holding someone... Their warmth pulled at my chest and it…hurt. But I didn’t know why.Bookmark here

When I came to, I found myself stargazing out the window. I touched my lip now thinking about that cup from earlier. The two thoughts weren’t consistent at all and I knew it. Whatever was ravaging through my mind certainly had a hold over me.Bookmark here

“What’s wrong with me…?”Bookmark here

A wheel in me churned, but I had nowhere to go. This restless feeling came from this scent as well. Then once again that cheap perfume melted back into my memory. My eyes glanced around the room to make sure it was indeed part of my delusions.Bookmark here

I closed the lid and put it back where I found it. My lungs filled with air and I sunk into the bath. It felt as though I could just melt into the water and wash away. Memories went through my head as I thought about the three images I found a while ago now.Bookmark here

The three photos from my phone. The first one of Ma-chan and I in our middle school uniforms. The second one of Koda-san and mom…then the third one of that amusement park poster.Bookmark here

Then the rocky feeling in my stomach assaulted me while thinking of that amusement park. The same emotion I felt earlier this afternoon with Koda-san. I held my shoulders, but it didn’t help. My chest hurt now thinking about that image. But why?Bookmark here

I suddenly felt as if I couldn’t breathe, and I pulled my body up from the water. My breathing was labored, my hair stuck to my cheeks…My body was hot, and I couldn’t even understand why. Even alone…I couldn’t relax.Bookmark here

“Madoka?”Bookmark here

My head sprang up. Now shaking the water off my face, I called out.Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

“It’s me Madoka.”Bookmark here

Mom stood outside the doorway. I could hear bags in her hands.Bookmark here

“I bought us some dinner so once you’re ready, come to the table.”Bookmark here

Her voice brought a bit of solace to my feelings. I looked around now conscious of my surroundings. Now that I thought about it, how long have I been here? I’m certainly not feeling my best today...Bookmark here

I walked in the dining room, and neatly on our plates was yakisoba with tofu. Hana-san delicately picked at the tofu pieces. Like a gerbil, she nibbled piece by piece. Mom shined at me as I sat down.Bookmark here

“So, how was your day?”Bookmark here

I nod.Bookmark here

“…Good. What about your day, mom?”Bookmark here

“It was pretty fun being out with your uncle’s girlfriend.”Bookmark here

I searched the table like a mouse looking for a cat to pounce at them. Certain she was nowhere around, I looked back at my food.Bookmark here

“Are you looking for mom, Onee-san?”Bookmark here

Hana-san, noticing my restlessness chimed in.Bookmark here

“She took the car. She had an errand to run before the day was up. She’ll be back in about an hour or so.”Bookmark here

“I see.”Bookmark here

That’s good, I thought. For some reason, I rather not see Koda-san right now. I’m okay with eating a meal with Hana-san and mom though. Maybe I’ve already had my daily dose of Koda-san and I’m way past my limit of dealing with her antics.Bookmark here

“She’s such a hard worker.”Bookmark here

Mom gawked from the corner of my eye.Bookmark here

“Who?”Bookmark here

“Mari.”Bookmark here

Hard worker? Well, I can’t vouch for her work ethic, so I nod. Mom while enjoying her meal smiled somberly. I can say that I accepted the fact that they are…seeing each other, but what I can’t get past is that mom is seeing...her. The flirty, over-enthusiastic, Koda-san.Bookmark here

I took a bite into my yakisoba, in contrast to the way Hana-san was eating it.Bookmark here

Hm, I wonder what Koda-san’s favorite food is? My mind wondered before I came to the realization that I’ve only been thinking about Koda-san for the last few hours. Had she really left that big of an impression on me today? Well, not just today but lately…Bookmark here

“Is everything okay, Madoka?”Bookmark here

Mom tilted her head causing her long hair to swing to the side. Now that I’m out of my own mind, I noticed I haven’t taken another bite of the yakisoba. It’s delicious…at least that’s what I believe I tasted.Bookmark here

These feelings wailing up in me aren’t normal...are they?Bookmark here

Maybe this just means that I want to…get to know Koda-san better? Understand why she does the things she does? But no…for some reason it felt as though this isn’t the first time that I felt this way…And that made me feel even more restless.Bookmark here

I turned to see my mom on her phone. She was enjoying the food she brought home, humming to herself. Her eyes peeked up, and I mistakenly caught mine with hers.Bookmark here

“Oh, Madoka?”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

“You look a bit pale. Are you getting sick?”Bookmark here

“O-Oh no…I’m fine.”Bookmark here

“Are you sure? Do you want to take tomorrow off? I can stay home-”Bookmark here

“Mom, you worry too much.”Bookmark here

Mom had always been a worrywart, but it’s been getting a tad out of hand lately. So, not to worry her I bit into my food and made headway on it. Read the mood and enjoy the food, Madoka.Bookmark here

But now it was time…I needed to establish what was going through Koda-san’s mind when she...did that. I can go around in circles all I want, but unless she tells me the reason behind all her actions …I won’t feel at ease. If she was seriously teasing me like she'd been doing the previous days, then I’ll have to put an end to it. She…went too far. And it’s inappropriate for her to treat me like that.Bookmark here

But then…what if she wasn’t teasing me…?Bookmark here

The thought made my head feel light. Something about it was strangely familiar. I found myself dancing my chopsticks around my yakisoba. What if…she wasn’t teasing me, Madoka? Then what? What would that mean-Bookmark here

“I’m full! I’m going to finish my homework!”Bookmark here

Interrupting my thoughts, Hana-san escaped, her half-eaten yakisoba still laying on the table.Bookmark here

“Hana-san! Get back here, and finish your food!”Bookmark here

“But mom, I’m full!”Bookmark here

My jaw hung open, but then I chuckled lightly, clearing up a little tension in my head. Silently, in my heart, I prayed that these uncertain feelings would just disappear. But something in me knew that it wouldn’t.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.