Chapter 6:

Ch.6 Special to Me (Volume 1 END)

Sleeping Princess

The delectable aroma of grilled fish bounced around in the kitchen. The morning light somberly danced its way through the windows. It’s early in the morning and I couldn’t sleep much last night. I could feel the bags in my eyes pull me down, but I’m not sleepy. No, this sensation is something more…taxing.Bookmark here

“Morning, Onee-san.”Bookmark here

The first to awake from her slumber is Hana-san. As she entered the kitchen, she greeted me, eyes still closed, with an over-exaggerated yawn. The poor thing.Bookmark here

“Morning, Hana-san.”Bookmark here

“W-Why are you…up so early?’Bookmark here

“Ah…I just figured I'd make breakfast for everyone.”Bookmark here

I’m in the mood for what I want, and I’ll make sure everyone else has it too! ...was what I wanted to say. But…well, to be honest that wasn’t the entire reason why I’m up so early…The thoughts of yesterday flowed violently through my head. My mind won’t be at ease unless I face a certain problem.Bookmark here

“Morning!”Bookmark here

“Eh?!”Bookmark here

Next in, my mom. She gave me a brief hug from the back.Bookmark here

“Thanks for making breakfast, Madoka!”Bookmark here

“Eh…it’s nothing.”Bookmark here

That was a scare…but thankfully it wasn’t…the problem in question. Mom sat down at the table and began humming to herself. It’s a bit calming seeing her in such a good mood.Bookmark here

“Ah! Hey Mom, are you coming to my school today?”Bookmark here

“Oh, yes, that’s right. I’ll be there, Hana!”Bookmark here

Now with their breakfast in hand, I twirl around and set them in front of my diners.Bookmark here

“Hm? You’re going to Hana-san’s school, mom? Why?”Bookmark here

Mom grins at Hana and pets her head like a cat.Bookmark here

“Yep, today is a parent’s day and Hana has been excited to show me her homeroom.Bookmark here

Abruptly, Hana sprang from her chair.Bookmark here

“I-I have not been excited!”Bookmark here

No matter how you look at it, my mom seems to have been a good mom for Hana-san. If she learned anything from anyone, I hope it’s all good things from Mom. She’s always been a hard worker and one of the most knowledgeable women I know. She taught me how to do my hair, make-up, everything a girl my age would want...I do look up to her.Bookmark here

“Oh, Madoka! Did you and Mari have fun watching your drama yesterday?”Bookmark here

“Huh? How did you know we were watching a drama?”Bookmark here

Mom took a bite of her breakfast then flashed me a wide smile.Bookmark here

“Oh, Mari said she was planning to watch it with you before I left. Was I wrong?”Bookmark here

“She did…did she?”Bookmark here

I looked away without answering her. Did that mean that Mari had this weekend…planned out? So, her baiting me to watching that show wasn’t out of nowhere?Bookmark here

Now growing anxious, I turned back to the food and continued cooking. It’s one thing if it just happened but chance…it’s a whole other when it was planned…meticulously. Why would Koda-san go through all that trouble…Bookmark here

“Onee-san.”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

“Were you spacing out?”Bookmark here

I rubbed my neck, slightly embarrassed I was caught in the act.Bookmark here

“S-Sorry.”Bookmark here

“Good morning everyone.”Bookmark here

A dagger stabbed into my stomach. That voice caused my face to feel warm. Hana-san was here…mom was here…that only left her.Bookmark here

“M-Morning.”Bookmark here

I tried to keep it firm, brief even, but I couldn’t turn to her.Bookmark here

“Oh, you made us breakfast?!”Bookmark here

Koda-san galloped across the kitchen. Her energy spike in the morning is too much for someone like me.Bookmark here

“Thanks, Madoka-san.”Bookmark here

“S-Sure…Koda-san.”Bookmark here

My voice lowered as my eyes tried their best to steal a glance at her. They stopped, revealing a solemn expression…Our eyes met briefly until she turned away and sat at the table without another word. For some reason…I felt like I did something wrong…Bookmark here

“So…what’s on the news today?”Bookmark here

She announced to her newspaper. I half-heartedly expected it to respond, but all I got in return was a rustle of papers. I noticed that Koda-san would always grab the paper from the same spot every morning. It was her routine. Even in the evening she would take any mail she received and open them and set them there. She has a way about her that I’m more in tune with now.Bookmark here

I sighed unconsciously. Lately, she’s been aggressively closing her distance on me. And it hasn’t made me feel any less uncomfortable. But then again…it might be rude of me by this point to call her Koda-san. But…I never gave her the okay to even call me by my given name.Bookmark here

Out of everyone here right now…Koda-san is the most like a stranger. She’s not like Hana-san who I’m near in age with. She’s not my mom who I’ve known my entire life. No…she’s a woman who stepped into my life and actively pursued me from the moment I woke up. She is a stranger in every sense of the word…So, why do I feel at ease when she does call me…Madoka-san?Bookmark here

I glance back to see her gliding her eyes across the paper. Something about her…Bookmark here

“Oh, that’s right. You have a parent’s day at your school today, don’t you Hana?”Bookmark here

Koda-san perked up, gazing at the flower picking at her food.Bookmark here

“Yep!”Bookmark here

“Am I the one who’s going?”Bookmark here

“Nope, not this time! I want mom to go!”Bookmark here

Koda-san shrugged.Bookmark here

“Well, that can’t be helped. But why Ayumi?”Bookmark here

“Because you’ve seen the school before! I want mom to see it!”Bookmark here

Now ready, I set the fox’s food down.Bookmark here

“Thanks, Madoka-san.”Bookmark here

I don’t know how close we were before my accident, but I plan to figure that out. If I don’t find out how we were before my coma then I won’t ever understand the enigma known as Koda Mari-san. Her “teasing” went a bit too far yesterday and I’m finding it hard to even look her in the eyes.Bookmark here

“Is there any more toast?”Bookmark here

I turn the heat down on the stove as I contemplate what’s swirling around in my chest. The smell of the food doesn’t even reach my nose anymore…Bookmark here

“Madoka…”Bookmark here

“Huh?!”Bookmark here

“Mari was wondering if you’ve made any more toast?”Bookmark here

“O-oh, yes I did.”Bookmark here

I meet them at the table and sit down, passing over the plate of golden-brown toast. Koda-san smiles and takes a few pieces before returning to her paper.Bookmark here

“Did you get enough sleep today, Onee-san?”Bookmark here

“Y-yeah! Sorry, I’ve just been thinking”Bookmark here

I’ll have to find the perfect time to talk with Koda-san. She’ll be going to work, and I’ll be heading to school. Once Hana-san and I get home both her and mom won’t be back for a few hours…No, wait…Mom is going to Hana’s parent’s day today. That means Hana and mom will be going home at the same time most likely.Bookmark here

But even so…Koda-san doesn’t get home until much later. Finding the time to have a one on one conversation without earning the attention of Hana-san and mom is quite difficult. It makes me…irritated that I wasted all yesterday avoiding her. No, hindsight is twenty-twenty.Bookmark here

I rubbed my forehead as a slight headache emerged. I look around to find everyone enjoying their meals…while Hana-san continues to poke at it.Bookmark here

“Hana, your Onee-san made that for you so, please finish it all.”Bookmark here

“Argg…”Bookmark here

“Mom, it’s okay. We all know Hana-san has a small appetite.”Bookmark here

Mom glared at me; fire lit in her eyes causing me to back down.Bookmark here

“Quiet Madoka! Now Hana, if you don’t finish your breakfast then I might not show up for your parent’s day…”Bookmark here

“B-But mom! You can’t do that!”Bookmark here

Hana shouted in protest. She then turned to Koda-san, still buried in her paper.Bookmark here

“M-Mom! Tell Mom that isn’t right!”Bookmark here

“Listen to your mother, Hana.”Bookmark here

Like a lazy father, Koda-san effortlessly shifted responsibility back to mom. She plays the part well if anything.Bookmark here

“Madoka, are you ready?”Bookmark here

“Yes, mom.”Bookmark here

With breakfast over now, I exited my room and made my way down the steps, now geared with my school attire. All three of them wait at the front door. This has been a regular scene now that I thought about it. It’s become…more like everyday life. As we left home, Hana spun around, back towards my mom.Bookmark here

“Be there, Mom!”Bookmark here

The flower warned, pointing her finger to mom’s nose.Bookmark here

“You finished most of your breakfast so, I guess we have a deal, Hana.”Bookmark here

Koda-san sighed and lifted her briefcase over her shoulder.Bookmark here

“Ah, Ayumi, are you going to take the car to Hana’s school then?”Bookmark here

“I was planning to unless you’d rather I walk?”Bookmark here

Koda-san scratched her nose.Bookmark here

“Well, the station can pretty much drop you off at her school. I was thinking of running some errands after work today before going home.”Bookmark here

Mom adjusted Koda-san’s hair as if better looking her in the eye.Bookmark here

“Oh, that’s just fine then.”Bookmark here

“Are you sure it won’t be an inconvenience for you, Ayumi?”Bookmark here

“Not at all. I know you’ve been busy outside of work too.”Bookmark here

“You spoil me…”Bookmark here

“I know.”Bookmark here

Mom and Koda-san speak as if they’re reading each other’s minds. It reminded me that a lot can happen within a year, let alone two.Bookmark here

If anything is true, they’ve grown close. They certainly…are a family.Bookmark here

But with Mom walking home with me and Hana-san this afternoon, I likely won’t find the chance to talk with Koda-san.Bookmark here

“Madoka-chan, are you ready to go?”Bookmark here

“Huh? Oh, yeah, let’s go.”Bookmark here

“Are you sure you’ve got enough sleep last night, Onee-san?”Bookmark here

As we passed the park, Hana-san rushed to my side like a puppy. If she had ears, they’d be drooping right about now.Bookmark here

“You’ve been spacing out a lot. Are you sick?”Bookmark here

“Oh, no. It’s nothing like that!”Bookmark here

“Then what is it?”Bookmark here

Her small hand entwined with mine. Ever since we had our bath together Hana-san would walk to school while holding my hand. She could pass as a grade-schooler so I don’t mind it one bit.Bookmark here

“Hm…Hana-san can I ask you a question?”Bookmark here

Hana-san slowed down and met my pace.Bookmark here

“Sure, what is it?”Bookmark here

“You said your mom talked about me a lot. Do you know when she and I first met?”Bookmark here

“First met?”Bookmark here

Hana put her finger to her mouth and looked to the ground.Bookmark here

“Nnnn…. Nope, I don’t know when you both met. She introduced me to you a few days after the incident.”Bookmark here

“That’s right…?”Bookmark here

“As I said before, I knew a lot about you, but never spoke to you.”Bookmark here

Hana-san lifted her bag and gave me an over-enthusiastic nod.Bookmark here

“What kind of things did Koda-san talk about?”Bookmark here

“A bunch of stuff. Like how you were working towards a sports scholarship to make your mom’s life easier. Well, that was the biggest one I recalled.”Bookmark here

“What do you mean?”Bookmark here

“Everything else was pretty much that you were a hard worker and nice. Oh, and that you blurted out things from the top of your head every now and then. That’s so true.”Bookmark here

I brushed my head. I’ve always had this bad habit and it wasn’t going away any time soon. That’s a tad disheartening.Bookmark here

Hana-san then stopped and turned to me.Bookmark here

“Did mom say something to you?”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

“It’s obvious that something happened between you two while I was at my friend’s house yesterday…”Bookmark here

Hana-san put her head down then turned to the side.Bookmark here

“And…I don’t want you fighting with my mom…Onee-san.”Bookmark here

It seemed that Hana-san’s been worrying about this also. How I wouldn’t have known unless I brought up this subject.Bookmark here

“No…we didn’t have a fight. I’m just…curious about her I guess.”Bookmark here

“Hmm…”Bookmark here

“So, is that all Koda-san talked about?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, mom would go round and round about that for the most part. Almost like a broken record. It bewildered me why she spoke about you so often. Which is why I was so curious about you.”Bookmark here

“I see…”Bookmark here

“But now I see you as just a regular girl. No… you’re my Onee-san. A special regular girl.”Bookmark here

I could feel the blood rise to my face. Hana-san can clearly convey her feelings, something I yearn to be able to do one day. Now thinking about it…Her mom speaking about me must have put me on a pedestal. But when she met me Hana-chan must have concluded that I was no one special.Bookmark here

“One more thing…”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

“Do you know if Koda-san and I were…friends?”Bookmark here

Hana-san stopped and gazed up at the clear autumn sky.Bookmark here

“Friends? I’m not sure, Madoka-san. It sounded to me like you were just a daughter of a friend if that makes sense. Did mom say something about you being friends?”Bookmark here

“O-Oh no, nothing like that.”Bookmark here

“Hm…My mom and your mom started dating a few weeks later…after your coma. That’s when Mom started bringing me to the hospital occasionally.”Bookmark here

“I see.”Bookmark here

So, if I put the timeline together from our conversation…Bookmark here

Mom and Koda-san knew each other when she started working at the editorial company. There must have been a time during her working there that I met Koda-san. A bit down the line I fell into a coma and Koda-san frequently visited me, most likely with my mom.Bookmark here

Then they became a couple and Koda-san eventually filtered Hana-san into seeing me. If that’s the truth, then it seems my coma might have been the thing that brought Mom and Koda-san together? But one thing doesn’t add up…who talks about someone else’s child like that? Maybe I had a kind of relationship with Koda-san that she would tease me like this?Bookmark here

“Honestly, it sounds like a bunch of these questions you should be asking mom.”Bookmark here

“Eh?”Bookmark here

“What, are you embarrassed?”Bookmark here

I couldn’t tell but I think Hana-san was teasing me. Annoyed, I pulled her cheeks.Bookmark here

“Ouch! I’m sorry, Onee-san!”Bookmark here

She rubbed her face then perked up.Bookmark here

“Oh, c’mon, the trains here! We’re going to miss it if we don’t run!”Bookmark here

Hana-chan took my hand as we raced on. I must have looked like a fish out of the water, my thoughts still spinning in my head. Well, at least I have more information. Maybe I could take the time when mom comes to ask her about Koda-san then? Since Hana-chan already knows I’m a bit curious I don’t think it’ll be too embarrassing…Bookmark here

“You’re stretching my back awfully hard today, Nakagawa-san!”Bookmark here

“Oh, sorry, Conchi-san!”Bookmark here

Our classmate’s voices echo in the October wind. Now outside in our physical education class, Conway-san and I stretch together.Bookmark here

“Damnit, I told you over and over…It’s Conway!”Bookmark here

After my abuse, Conway-san adjusted her back and glared at me.Bookmark here

“Your head has been in the clouds today. Mind telling me what’s going on?”Bookmark here

“Err…it’s nothing.”Bookmark here

“If that was the truth then my back wouldn’t be nearly broken!”Bookmark here

“It’s just…some family problems. Nothing you should bother yourself over.”Bookmark here

I found myself digging my toes into the dirt. Even this conversation with Conchi-san was pulling along half-heartedly. Conway’s glare toned down for a moment. She looked to the side and I could see her nod slightly.Bookmark here

“Yes, family problems can be…quite troublesome.”Bookmark here

With her arms crossed she looked back at me.Bookmark here

“However, that doesn’t mean I won’t lend you my ear if that is the case.”Bookmark here

“Hm, you’re actually reliable too?”Bookmark here

“How dare you!”Bookmark here

Conway-san’s face flared up.Bookmark here

“I-I should have chosen a more reliable partner myself!”Bookmark here

Conway-san began stretching my back now. As I sat there like a log, she pushed forward gently, in contrast to the way I abused her moments ago.Bookmark here

“You’re annoying, but that doesn’t mean I won’t hear you out, Nakagawa-san.”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

“W-What I’m saying is…I am here...if you would like a shoulder to hear you out…”Bookmark here

“Hm…Sorry Conway-san, it’s a little complicated.”Bookmark here

“Your entire existence is a ‘little complicated’.”Bookmark here

I chuckle through my nose.Bookmark here

“Well, that’s to be expected. We barely know each other anyway…”Bookmark here

“Oh, …it’s not like that, Conway-san.”Bookmark here

I do my best to look back at her…I can tell Conway-san is doing her best to show her support, despite me not feeling comfortable telling her about my circumstances.Bookmark here

“No, that’s only natural.”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

“I won’t hold it against you if you don’t want to talk about it. Knowing how bizarre your life is…”Bookmark here

I nodded lethargically.Bookmark here

“Why don’t you take the lunch period to talk with Watanabe-san alone about it?”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

“She’s your childhood friend and the person whom you should lean on in times like this, right?”Bookmark here

“Hmm…”Bookmark here

She’s right. I don’t know why I’ve been holding this in and not reaching out to Ma-chan about it.Bookmark here

“Thanks, Conchi-san.”Bookmark here

Suddenly she pushed my back hard and leaned on me. I could feel her slender chest press up against my back. It was a tad embarrassing…Bookmark here

“I’m sure everything will be okay.”Bookmark here

Her voice was tender…even comforting despite how Conway-san is normally. But just as abrupt her mood changed, and she got up.Bookmark here

“Alright…now for the hard part.”Bookmark here

She patted her shorts as she took to her feet and started jogging, prompting me to stand up and race after her. Now side by side, she turned to me.Bookmark here

“Now remember, we both finish at the same time. No going off and finishing without me!”Bookmark here

Conway-san seems to be the slowest in the entire class. She has little to no stamina, so to feel like she’s not alone, I would slog in the back with her. However, recently it hasn’t been on purpose. My legs would start to give out. I certainly don’t have as much stamina as I did two years ago.Bookmark here

I closed my eyes and let the wind take me back…everything comes back to that. When I think about sports I think about my coma. When I think about my coma, I think about her…Koda-san.Bookmark here

I sighed as the wind brushed past me. I need to get this off my chest. If I find out how we were in the past, then that will help me understand how I want to proceed in this relationship. I know I can’t keep being rude and leaving her at arm’s length. Soon it’ll become awkward and Mom or Hana-san would have to try and intervene, making the situation more complicated.Bookmark here

“Ohh!”Bookmark here

“Ah?!”Bookmark here

I hit the ground, but a firm object softened my blow. There I sat eye to eye with an unfamiliar face. After the dust cleared, her rosy cheeks came into view. My mind still in a haze, I stared blankly at the face now too close for comfort.Bookmark here

“Eh?!”Bookmark here

She cried before pushing me off her. I fell to the side with a thud, still unable to figure out what happened.Bookmark here

“Ouch.”Bookmark here

There I lied, looking at the dazzling blue sky.Bookmark here

“Oh my god! Are you okay?!”Bookmark here

It took a lot of effort, but I finally stood up and dusted myself off.Bookmark here

“S-sorry for that.”Bookmark here

Now looking back at her, I caught wind of her ash hair flowing down her back. The crimson trickling in her eyes captured me. She stood taller than me, yet her figure was slim. That’s right, she was the girl from the previous day.Bookmark here

“I-I wasn’t paying attention and bumped into you! I’m so sorry…”Bookmark here

I shook my head in protest.Bookmark here

“N-No it’s fine. I wasn’t paying attention. I should be apologizing to you.”Bookmark here

Her eyes darted away like a mouse looking for its exit. My mouth moved on its own as I asked…Bookmark here

“Hey…do I know you?”Bookmark here

The girl’s eyes widened to my surprise and a mousy voice escaped from her.Bookmark here

“Y-You don’t know me…?”Bookmark here

“Hey, Nakagawa-san! We had a deal, you traitor!”Bookmark here

I looked over to see Conway-san racing towards me.Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

Her speed was like a jackrabbit. I have never seen her sprint this fast. Goes to show you that Conway-san can even move when she wants too.Bookmark here

“I looked back over my shoulder, and like a ghost, the ash haired girl vanished into the crowd of another class.Bookmark here

“Hey, you said you’d run with me!”Bookmark here

The little shark tugged my jacket in a fit. Only then did I come to understand what happened. It appears I fell into a trans and completely left her in the dust. I looked down at her and gave her an apologetic smile.Bookmark here

“S-sorry.”Bookmark here

“Save it! Next time I’m teaming up with someone who’ll run with me!”Bookmark here

Conway put her tongue out to me. I deserved this…Bookmark here

“It’s okay, I’ll run another lap with you.”Bookmark here

“N-Now you’re just pitying me!”Bookmark here

“Wow, …she did that?”Bookmark here

My eyes danced about the blue sky. My lunch sat promptly on my lap, but I wasn’t hungry. At my side, Mae leaned against the wall of the gymnasium. Conway-san vanished. My guess is she wanted to give me alone time with Ma-chan. It’s not that I didn’t want her here with me though. But even if I say that, I’m sure she knew that I would have said that just to be courteous.Bookmark here

“Yeah, …it’s strange for her to treat me like this.”Bookmark here

Ma-chan put her finger on her mouth and turned to me.Bookmark here

“Do you…think she likes you, Madoka-san?”Bookmark here

My head goes blurry as I look away from her.Bookmark here

“I’ve…considered the thought. But then…”Bookmark here

My mind raced back to the park. There we sat as Koda-san promised me that she does love my mom. I truly felt that she was telling the truth. But if she is going behind her back and…doing things like this with me… Wouldn’t that mean that she was lying about that?Bookmark here

“I truly believe…she loves my mom.”Bookmark here

I couldn’t deny that she may…have an attraction towards me though, but I can’t deny that she does love my mom…Bookmark here

“Love is complicated, you know.”Bookmark here

I turned to Mae-chan who sounded unnatural in my ears. She searched the sky with a sense of wonder.Bookmark here

“…It’s better, to be honest, and express yourself, Mado-chan.”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

“I mean, you have to step up and speak with her. Open your heart to her!”Bookmark here

Ma-chan kneeled and grabbed my hand suddenly and lifted us both up.Bookmark here

“You’ve always been the kind of girl to not act unless you’re pushed! So, I’m pushing you to find out how Koda-san truly feels!”Bookmark here

Our eyes meet. It’s as if Ma-chan could stare deep into my soul and pull out the little girl hiding within. She’s the sole reason why I started basketball back in elementary…she pulled me out of that hole called loneliness. But unlike her and Hana-san…I can’t express my true feelings as readily as them.Bookmark here

“That’s easier said than done, Ma-chan. I can’t even get her alone right now...”Bookmark here

“Do you have her email?”Bookmark here

“…No.”Bookmark here

“What about your mom or your stepsister?”Bookmark here

“Well, yeah, of course, they do but…”Bookmark here

“Then why don’t you try this...?”Bookmark here

She dug in her backpack and pulled out a pen and paper. It took me a moment to understand what she was implying. She wanted me something like that?Bookmark here

“See you tomorrow.”Bookmark here

With the school day now over, Conway-san shined me the peace sign. Not sure why that seemed so natural in my eyes.Bookmark here

“Best of luck, Mado-chan!”Bookmark here

Ma-chan with a grin on her face snickered. She’s lucky I don’t punch her lights out. I waved to Conway-san and Ma-chan as we broke off. Mom and Hana-chan should be around the corner, so I put pep in my step and make my way to them.Bookmark here

“Madoka!”Bookmark here

Mom waved to me. It appeared as though a bunch of parents came today, as there are plenty of older men and women walking with their children. Hana looks pleased as I approach.Bookmark here

“Did everything go well you two?”Bookmark here

“Yeah! My mom’s the best!”Bookmark here

“You’ll have to tell me all about it, Hana-chan.”Bookmark here

She is so much like an elementary school kid. At that age, I’d be embarrassed to have mom show up at school.Bookmark here

“Well, let’s catch the train before we miss it, you two.”Bookmark here

Mom led the way. The walk to the station is a little over ten minutes, so this might be the perfect time for me to ask a few questions to mom.Bookmark here

“Mom, can I ask you something?”Bookmark here

I ventured to the front. Hana-san reached out her hand as I took hold.Bookmark here

“Oh! You and Hana walk hand in hand too?”Bookmark here

“Eh?”Bookmark here

Out of sheer habit, I took Hana-san’s hand. Great, this is embarrassing.Bookmark here

“I have to keep her from getting lost.”Bookmark here

My little sister, like a stone, replied curt and dry.Bookmark here

“Oh, how cute! Well, as you were saying, Madoka?”Bookmark here

My face was red, and I haven’t even got to the embarrassing part yet. I coughed to clear any tension still in the air.Bookmark here

“Ahh…I wanted to ask you about Koda-san.”Bookmark here

Mom slowed down and turned to me.Bookmark here

“Mari? What about her?”Bookmark here

I tugged on my collar unconsciously.Bookmark here

“I…wanted to know how she and I knew one another…before my coma.”Bookmark here

Mom’s expressions widen. But suddenly it turned gentle and a soothing motion engulfed my chest.Bookmark here

“So, you’ve finally taken an interest in her, huh?”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

Hana-san snickered. Now I regret not waiting for this little brat to be out of sight before asking.Bookmark here

Mom nodded then turned back to me with a dreamer’s gaze.Bookmark here

“Well you see, when I started at the company as an intern, Mari just got hired on. She was my senpai.”Bookmark here

“Mari was your senpai?”Bookmark here

“Yep, and she taught me quite a lot too. But soon, we started working late nights, and I would go out after work to have a drink or two…”Bookmark here

“Hm…I think I remember something like that. You having to stay out later than usual, mom.”Bookmark here

“Mari would drive me home and even sometimes lie me in bed or the sofa, which was much easier for her back.”Bookmark here

I nursed my forehead. So, in other words, mom got plastered. Now that’s embarrassing.Bookmark here

“Anyway, I take it, that’s when you met and got to know…Mari.”Bookmark here

“Huh? That’s it?”Bookmark here

“Well, most of the time I was out like a rock. It got to the point that I gave her my key to let herself in. “Bookmark here

“That’s terrible, mom.”Bookmark here

“I know, I was pretty bad back then.”Bookmark here

“Is that really all you can tell me, mom?”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

I bit my lip. It seems a bit of my annoyed state seeped out in my last question.Bookmark here

“Well, that might not be all…I do recall something Mari said to me in the hospital…”Bookmark here

Mom put her finger in the air, the wind blew in response, lifting her bangs up to the sky. It was as if the world was taking a picture-perfect image.Bookmark here

“Madoka-san is special to me.”Bookmark here

Mom looked at me, endearingly.Bookmark here

“It seemed that Mari took a liking to you, Madoka. And at the very least she would call you Madoka-san.”Bookmark here

“Mari took a liking to me?”Bookmark here

Koda-san would call me Madoka-san too? Is that why she’s had a hard time calling me Nakagawa-san? To her, it must have been like forcing herself to distance from me. I guess I didn’t take it into consideration that I may have been insensitive to her feelings. I wonder if she felt something hearing me call her daughter…Hana-san in front of her as we still are as far apart as two people on different sides of an ocean.Bookmark here

If I learned anything from this is that Koda-san and I have two different levels of relationship in our heads. It might be why I’ve seen everything she’s done as strange or creepy. Because to me, she’s a stranger but to her…I’m something more. But…what more am I to her? Now there is only one person left to ask. And that’s Koda-san herself.Bookmark here

Once we entered the home, I took right to my room. I shut the door gently and lie on my bed.Bookmark here

“Now what will I say?”Bookmark here

The question escapes my mouth. As I thought about before, Koda-san and mom are on the same schedule. By the time Koda-san and I actually get a chance to converse it’s at the table with everyone or too late into the night for us. I could wait for the weekend, but I’ll be stressing over this until then. I have five more days since it’s only Monday afternoon.Bookmark here

Koda won’t be back until late because of the errands she has to run after work. Maybe I’m making this too difficult. I could probably just approach her when she gets home tonight and ask her if she’d like to chat? No, knowing Koda-san she’ll likely tease me, and nothing will get accomplished.Bookmark here

Reluctantly, I thought back to all the times that she’s bothered me. Like the time when we both went out to get dinner for the family. She skillfully got me in that polka dotted apron just to tease me. Her tempting me to watch that drama just so she can tease me with that stupid lemon scent and get me flustered.Bookmark here

“She pisses me off.”Bookmark here

My irritation echoed off the walls of my room…that’s going to get me in trouble one day. I just seriously hate being toyed with. So, I’ll have to retaliate and do something she wouldn’t expect.Bookmark here

Well, to be honest, Ma-chan and I already came up with a suitable strategy. It’ll bring me late into the night…and on a school night too, but I think it would be the best time for me to have a long one-on-one chat with the enigma named Koda-san.Bookmark here

Now I just had to think of the words I wanted to say. I pulled out the piece of paper. This is in a way my rebuttal prank to Koda-san. I imagined the face she’ll make once I get her there…Then it brings back the fact that it’s hard for me to see her.Bookmark here

Now thinking about it, at night in the dark with only the streetlights on might be the best time. I won’t have to look at her and get nervous. With all the confidence I could muster I sat at my desk and turned on my light.Bookmark here

“To Koda-san,Bookmark here

…”Bookmark here

I sat on the swing, pulling myself back and forth. The park lights illuminated gently in the cool night around me. I had this brilliant idea to sneak up on her and say “Boo!” to see her fall on the ground and tremble, but once I got here my nerves gave in, and I couldn’t follow through with it.Bookmark here

Making that letter took way more courage than I could have imagined. When I placed it on her favorite table my hands were trembling. I don’t envy the girls in school who ask boys to meet them in secluded areas to pour out their hearts to them. They have the courage and just doing this I pray that all their love is reciprocated.Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

The crunch of grass echoed in the distance. As I lifted my head, I saw the slender figure of…her. With her hands in her pockets, she stepped closer and passed me, sitting on the swing next to me.Bookmark here

“Quite the letter you made there.”Bookmark here

Koda-san smiled. Nothing could break that ghostly grin of hers. It’s like porcelain, pristine, flawless…but ever so fake.Bookmark here

“How could I just leave you out here in the night alone. Ayumi would kill me if she found out that I didn’t show up. You…twisted my arm there, Madoka-san.”Bookmark here

“S-Sorry, I didn’t mean to do that.”Bookmark here

Koda-san giggled.Bookmark here

“No, I think you did. You put me in a place where I had to follow your whims this time. Interesting.”Bookmark here

She gazed at me, but I couldn’t do the same. My body grew warm just thinking about meeting eyes with her.Bookmark here

“At least I have another treasure from you. ♥ ”Bookmark here

That was it, the last straw that had to be broken for my courage to pour out. I stood up and turned to her. The swing pushed away violently as I shouted.Bookmark here

“Stop it!”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

“Koda Mari-san, you…make me…uncomfortable.”Bookmark here

Koda-san’s face didn’t’ beam that perfect smile of hers. No, the opposite. She frowned, more than I’ve ever seen on her face. A ping of guilt wailed up in my stomach. I almost caved but I mustered up my courage and continued.Bookmark here

“B-But the reason why you make me feel this way is...because I don’t know how you see me, Koda-san.”Bookmark here

That was all I could say as I gasped for air.Bookmark here

“…And I sincerely believe you wouldn’t do anything to hurt my mom.”Bookmark here

Koda-san mumbled softly then looked up at me. It was a strange sensation because usually, it’s the other way around.Bookmark here

“Madoka-san…”Bookmark here

“As you know, I can’t remember when we first met. I can’t understand the level of our relationship with one another.”Bookmark here

My voice began to shake as I pressured on.Bookmark here

“All I know so far is that you used to call me Madoka-san and that you talked about me a lot to Hana-san.”Bookmark here

The fox put her head down and didn’t speak for a moment.Bookmark here

“I see…So, I really have come off as…creepy this entire time to you…”Bookmark here

She bit her lip and bitterly whispered to herself.Bookmark here

“Smooth move…dumbass…”Bookmark here

Koda-san nodded as she looked back up.Bookmark here

“So, what do you want to know then?”Bookmark here

“How…close were we, Koda-san?”Bookmark here

Koda-san’s smile didn’t return as she took a deep breath.Bookmark here

“You and I weren’t friends or anything. You were my coworker’s daughter and I was your mother’s friend.”Bookmark here

She adjusted her dress and turned back to me.Bookmark here

“I would take your mom home and chat with you until I was sure she was okay. Then you’d let me out. Sometimes you made me snacks with how often I’d come home stringing your mom on my back.”Bookmark here

She gazed up into the night sky still without a smile to her face.Bookmark here

“Small talk was enough for you to open up to me and eventually I started calling you Madoka-san. Nothing more, nothing less.”Bookmark here

Was that really all there was to it? There was something…off about what she was saying. Only then did I remember what my mom said earlier in the afternoon.Bookmark here

But…why would Koda-san be lying to me? Why wouldn’t she want to tell me the truth?Bookmark here

I felt that if I explored this question, I might arrive at an answer I don’t want to come to. But my lips started moving on their own. It seemed that even though my mind didn’t want to bring it up…my heart did instead.Bookmark here

“But Koda-san…Mom told me that you said...Bookmark here

Madoka-san is special to me.”Bookmark here

I paused as if pleading for answers now.Bookmark here

“Could you really say that in passing? Would someone who only saw a person between minute chats talk with her daughter about someone like that?”Bookmark here

“Hehe, …you got me. You…always could see through me, Madoka-san. And I’ve always liked that about you…”Bookmark here

Koda-san’s smile came back but this one wasn’t the same. It wasn’t perfect. It had a hint of bitterness in it.Bookmark here

“Yeah, we did hang out sometimes when your mom was too busy, and you needed someone to chat with. Your friend, Watanabe-san, was busy with her sports too.Bookmark here

Her head hung down as she pursed her lips.Bookmark here

“Having to encourage your mother after your father died…while keeping near excellent grades. All with a smile on your face. You were…something else.”Bookmark here

Koda-san looked at me now.Bookmark here

“The stress eventually got to you though…and you confided in me.”Bookmark here

“What…did I talk to you about?”Bookmark here

“All kinds of things. School…life… even love.”Bookmark here

“Love?”Bookmark here

My heart pinged.Bookmark here

But before I could delve deeper, Koda-san stood up and faced me. I felt a brush on my hair, interrupting my thoughts. It was her hand embracing the back of my hair. My face felt warm, but I didn’t pull away this time.Bookmark here

“Then you had your accident, Madoka-san…”Bookmark here

She turned away.Bookmark here

“Your mother was torn apart after you wouldn’t wake up…”Bookmark here

Koda-san bit her lip.Bookmark here

“She lost your father and then her own daughter. She might not show it now, but Ayumi…was a completely different person back then.”Bookmark here

“Mom was?”Bookmark here

Her fingers covered her mouth.Bookmark here

“Yes. She wouldn’t even smile for weeks.”Bookmark here

Her expression darked as she looked back at me. I must have looked…terrified as I thought about the idea of my mom unable…to smile. Thinking back to the happiness she sprouted day in and out…was that also because of Koda-san?Bookmark here

“I needed to stay with her…I couldn’t leave her side...”Bookmark here

Her voice trailed off into the cold night.Bookmark here

“Ayumi told me she needed me…and that’s when we became a couple.”Bookmark here

She searched the clear sky, the stars gazed back down to her.Bookmark here

“We…eventually fell in love.”Bookmark here

My body grew warm. Her story felt like a fairytale…That was all the more reason to confront her now…Bookmark here

“Why do you treat me this way then? Don’t you think that you’re…betraying her by acting this way with me?”Bookmark here

Her eyes perked up. She warily chuckled and turned away as she scratched her cheek.Bookmark here

“…I did get a little carried away last night…I shouldn’t have…teased you like that…”Bookmark here

She closed her eyes.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry, Madoka-san…I won’t ever do it again…”Bookmark here

Her words…settled my heart a little. Koda-san’s true feelings finally came flooding out. There was no hint of playfulness in her tone. I was even able to find out how she and my mom met.Bookmark here

Koda-san met mom at the editorial company and started taking her home after they went out. There, she met me, and we grew closer. Over time I asked her about various things like school, life…even love. After my accident, mom held onto Koda-san for support, and eventually, that blossomed into their love.Bookmark here

They…belong to each other. It’s…a bit romantic that Koda-san would stay by her.Bookmark here

“Koda-san…”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

Now…it was my time to make things right between us.Bookmark here

“I want to apologize…for saying all those horrible things the first night you came home.”Bookmark here

I pushed my way closer to her. I needed her to hear my true feelings. Like how Hana-san and Ma-chan could express themselves, I wanted to be more open like them.Bookmark here

“I was so insensitive…so closed-minded. You two…love each other so much. I can just tell by the way you speak to each other…as if reading each other’s mind.”Bookmark here

My legs started to shake, maybe the cold was getting to me? I ignored it and brought out a wide smile.Bookmark here

“Koda Mari and Nakagawa Ayumi love each other…and I’m so happy for you both.”Bookmark here

Just hearing her words tonight told me that they are…perfect for each other. I don’t care what anyone says…even Uncle Ryuji.Bookmark here

“…Thank you…M-Mari-san…for taking care of my mom in my absence. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”Bookmark here

I don’t know why but tears began rolling down my cheeks. As if I let a piece of me go. Something in my chest hurt, but I’m so happy that my mom found Koda-san.Bookmark here

“You and my mom belong together, Mari-san!”Bookmark here

I nodded, happily. The tears wouldn’t stop though. As if my soul was crying out for something. Mari-san’s eyes went wide as she took hold of my hand and wrapped it in hers. My eyes opened wide, looking at the tenderness of her fingers coil around mine.Bookmark here

“…This is for the best.”Bookmark here

Koda-san muttered before lifting her eyes back to me.Bookmark here

“…I will continue to make her happy.”Bookmark here

“T-Thank you, Mari-san.”Bookmark here

I think I’ve grown to understand Koda-san a little better now. I still don’t understand why she acted that way but…hearing what she’s done for my mom…warmed my chest.Bookmark here

I once questioned if mom was stolen from me when I went to sleep. The answer is…yes, she was. But that’s because Mari-san rescued her from loneliness. And I’m so happy she was there for her. But why does my chest hurt so much?Bookmark here

“M-Madoka-san?”Bookmark here

Koda-san…no, Mari-san...I had always planned to call her Mari-san at the end of our chat. I wanted to move forward in our relationship on my terms instead of hers. But even her name came out naturally to me. So much so that it worried me. Koda-san hovered over me. Only then did it occur to me that we were still holding hands. The heat became noticeable as I pulled them away.Bookmark here

“Mari-san… don’t treat me like that…”Bookmark here

I turned away from her, rubbing my cheeks of the loose tears.Bookmark here

“R-Right…I shouldn’t be treating you like this…anymore…”Bookmark here

Koda-san turned away as she whispered something to herself. I couldn’t hear her. Instead of prying further, I concluded that Mari-san is seriously a strange person. But….Bookmark here

I want to know more about Mari-san.Bookmark here

…how she feels…Bookmark here

…our connection to each other in the past…Bookmark here

…and the emotions that’s truly behind her porcelain smile.Bookmark here

“I’m so happy to be able to call you Madoka-san again.”Bookmark here

Mari-san exhaled with a giggle at the end.Bookmark here

“S-Shut up, Mari-san!”Bookmark here

I say that but for some reason…it felt right. Like I have been holding back what should have been right all along. I wanted to ask her more, but tonight is enough. I’m too mentally worn out to try and pry for more information. And I think Mari-san…feels the same. We live together and it’s about time I started treating her like family. Because that’s what she is.Bookmark here

Mari-san and Hana-san are part of my family now.Bookmark here

“We should get home. I wouldn’t want Hana-san and Mom to wake up and not find us there.”Bookmark here

I began to walk when Mari-san poked my back. I turned to see an empty hand.Bookmark here

“Seriously, Mari-san?”Bookmark here

“It’s late, I don’t want you to get lost, Madoka-san.”Bookmark here

She sounds like Hana-san…or is it Hana-san sounds like her? I couldn’t tell anymore. So, I take her warm hand, reluctantly, as we walk briskly back to our home.Bookmark here

As we walked, I thought about the past I couldn’t remember. At one point in my life, I was able to speak with Mari-san about my problems, struggles at school, even my love life. Does that mean…Mari-san knows who I loved at one point in time?Bookmark here

Maybe one day I’ll gather up the courage to ask her…Bookmark here

Mari-san, who did I fall in love with?Bookmark here

Mari’s PerspectiveBookmark here

Once we got home, Madoka-san let go of my hand and rushed up the steps. She turned around to say a brief “Goodnight.” before shutting the door behind her. There I found myself in the empty hallway. Her lingering sweet scent dissipated as I idled there. My choice was decided now…no…it was already decided two years ago.Bookmark here

So, I walked into my room. Lying on the bed was Ayumi. I undressed then got into the bed next to her. Feeling my hand as I drifted in the night, I turned to the side and looked at Ayumi’s sleeping face.Bookmark here

“I wonder…”Bookmark here

I put my hand in hers and entwined them. Ayumi responded by tightening her grip and pulling her body closer.Bookmark here

“There you are…busy body…”Bookmark here

“Sorry, did I wake you?”Bookmark here

“Hehe…you know I couldn’t relax with the both of you being out so late.”Bookmark here

I brushed her silky hair. She closed her eyes and gently nuzzled closer to me.Bookmark here

“I told you to get some sleep, didn’t I?”Bookmark here

“Oh, I know. But it’s okay, you’re here with me now.”Bookmark here

Ayumi’s hand is soft. It’s warm, contrasting to the October night. Her grip is captivating and gentle.Bookmark here

“I hope everything went well with Madoka.”Bookmark here

“It did…I think…”Bookmark here

“Did you apologize to her like you wanted to?”Bookmark here

“Kind of…I didn’t tell her about that day though…”Bookmark here

Ayumi searched me in the eyes, her delicate voice trickled in my ear.Bookmark here

“You poor thing...I’m sure she’ll forgive you, Mari.”Bookmark here

“…Maybe.”Bookmark here

Madoka-san…her hands aren’t as soft as her mother’s, surprisingly. But they are smaller and feel nice to the touch. They were cold when I held them, but my body couldn’t stop feeling warm. My chest felt tight, but I didn’t want the sensation to stop even if that meant the world would end if I didn’t let them go.Bookmark here

Madoka is special to me.Bookmark here

“I love you, Mari.”Bookmark here

She ruffled my hair, something she loves to do, and I still don’t know why. This always calmed me down though.Bookmark here

“I love you too, Ayumi.”Bookmark here

Ayumi needs me…and I want to be there for her. So, don’t worry Madoka-san. I’ll continue to take good care of Ayumi…Bookmark here

Her sweet breath escaped near my mouth. That was the sign between us that she wanted affection. So, I pulled in close and pressed my body against hers. Our lips connected gently, melting away between us.Bookmark here

Nobody can break the bond we built… not even me.Bookmark here

The past doesn’t matter anymore.Bookmark here

So, I’ll let you go now, Madoka-san…Bookmark here

No matter how special you were to me.Bookmark here

Volume 1 – EndBookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.