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.
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.
“W-Why are you…up so early?’
“Ah…I just figured I'd make breakfast for everyone.”
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.
Next in, my mom. She gave me a brief hug from the back.
“Thanks for making breakfast, Madoka!”
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.
“Ah! Hey Mom, are you coming to my school today?”
“Oh, yes, that’s right. I’ll be there, Hana!”
Now with their breakfast in hand, I twirl around and set them in front of my diners.
“Hm? You’re going to Hana-san’s school, mom? Why?”
Mom grins at Hana and pets her head like a cat.
“Yep, today is a parent’s day and Hana has been excited to show me her homeroom.
Abruptly, Hana sprang from her chair.
“I-I have not been excited!”
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.
“Oh, Madoka! Did you and Mari have fun watching your drama yesterday?”
“Huh? How did you know we were watching a drama?”
Mom took a bite of her breakfast then flashed me a wide smile.
“Oh, Mari said she was planning to watch it with you before I left. Was I wrong?”
“She did…did she?”
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?
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…
“Were you spacing out?”
I rubbed my neck, slightly embarrassed I was caught in the act.
“Good morning everyone.”
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.
I tried to keep it firm, brief even, but I couldn’t turn to her.
“Oh, you made us breakfast?!”
Koda-san galloped across the kitchen. Her energy spike in the morning is too much for someone like me.
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…
“So…what’s on the news today?”
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.
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.
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?
I glance back to see her gliding her eyes across the paper. Something about her…
“Oh, that’s right. You have a parent’s day at your school today, don’t you Hana?”
Koda-san perked up, gazing at the flower picking at her food.
“Am I the one who’s going?”
“Nope, not this time! I want mom to go!”
“Well, that can’t be helped. But why Ayumi?”
“Because you’ve seen the school before! I want mom to see it!”
Now ready, I set the fox’s food down.
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.
“Is there any more toast?”
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…
“Mari was wondering if you’ve made any more toast?”
“O-oh, yes I did.”
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.
“Did you get enough sleep today, Onee-san?”
“Y-yeah! Sorry, I’ve just been thinking about...school.”
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.
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.
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.
“Hana, your Onee-san made that for you so, please finish it all.”
“Mom, it’s okay. We all know Hana-san has a small appetite.”
Mom glared at me; fire lit in her eyes causing me to back down.
“Quiet Madoka! Now Hana, if you don’t finish your breakfast then I might not show up for your parent’s day…”
“B-But mom! You can’t do that!”
Hana shouted in protest. She then turned to Koda-san, still buried in her paper.
“M-Mom! Tell Mom that isn’t right!”
“Listen to your mother, Hana.”
Like a lazy father, Koda-san effortlessly shifted responsibility back to mom. She plays the part well if anything.
“Madoka, are you ready?”
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.
“Be there, Mom!”
The flower warned, pointing her finger to mom’s nose.
“You finished most of your breakfast so, I guess we have a deal, Hana.”
Koda-san sighed and lifted her briefcase over her shoulder.
“Ah, Ayumi, are you going to take the car to Hana’s school then?”
“I was planning to unless you’d rather I walk?”
Koda-san scratched her nose.
“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.”
Mom adjusted Koda-san’s hair as if better looking her in the eye.
“Oh, that’s just fine then.”
“Are you sure it won’t be an inconvenience for you, Ayumi?”
“Not at all. I know you’ve been busy outside of work too.”
“You spoil me…”
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.
If anything is true, they’ve grown close. They certainly…are a family.
But with Mom walking home with me and Hana-san this afternoon, I likely won’t find the chance to talk with Koda-san.
“Madoka-chan, are you ready to go?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah, let’s go.”
“Are you sure you’ve got enough sleep last night, Onee-san?”
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.
“You’ve been spacing out a lot. Are you sick?”
“Oh, no. It’s nothing like that!”
“Then what is it?”
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.
“Hm…Hana-san can I ask you a question?”
Hana-san slowed down and met my pace.
“Sure, what is it?”
“You said your mom talked about me a lot. Do you know when she and I first met?”
Hana put her finger to her mouth and looked to the ground.
“Nnnn…. Nope, I don’t know when you both met. She introduced me to you a few days after the incident.”
“As I said before, I knew a lot about you, but never spoke to you.”
Hana-san lifted her bag and gave me an over-enthusiastic nod.
“What kind of things did Koda-san talk about?”
“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.”
“What do you mean?”
“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.”
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.
Hana-san then stopped and turned to me.
“Did mom say something to you?”
“It’s obvious that something happened between you two while I was at my friend’s house yesterday…”
Hana-san put her head down then turned to the side.
“And…I don’t want you fighting with my mom…Onee-san.”
It seemed that Hana-san’s been worrying about this also. How I wouldn’t have known unless I brought up this subject.
“No…we didn’t have a fight. I’m just…curious about her I guess.”
“So, is that all Koda-san talked about?”
“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.”
“But now I see you as just a regular girl. No… you’re my Onee-san. A special regular girl.”
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.
“One more thing…”
“Do you know if Koda-san and I were…friends?”
Hana-san stopped and gazed up at the clear autumn sky.
“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?”
“O-Oh no, nothing like that.”
“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.”
So, if I put the timeline together from our conversation…
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.
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?
“Honestly, it sounds like a bunch of these questions you should be asking mom.”
“What, are you embarrassed?”
I couldn’t tell but I think Hana-san was teasing me. Annoyed, I pulled her cheeks.
“Ouch! I’m sorry, Onee-san!”
She rubbed her face then perked up.
“Oh, c’mon, the trains here! We’re going to miss it if we don’t run!”
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…
“You’re stretching my back awfully hard today, Nakagawa-san!”
“Oh, sorry, Conchi-san!”
Our classmate’s voices echo in the October wind. Now outside in our physical education class, Conway-san and I stretch together.
“Damnit, I told you over and over…It’s Conway!”
After my abuse, Conway-san adjusted her back and glared at me.
“Your head has been in the clouds today. Mind telling me what’s going on?”
“If that was the truth then my back wouldn’t be nearly broken!”
“It’s just…some family problems. Nothing you should bother yourself over.”
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.
“Yes, family problems can be…quite troublesome.”
With her arms crossed she looked back at me.
“However, that doesn’t mean I won’t lend you my ear if that is the case.”
“Hm, you’re actually reliable too?”
“How dare you!”
Conway-san’s face flared up.
“I-I should have chosen a more reliable partner myself!”
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.
“You’re annoying, but that doesn’t mean I won’t hear you out, Nakagawa-san.”
“W-What I’m saying is…I am here...if you would like a shoulder to hear you out…”
“Hm…Sorry Conway-san, it’s a little complicated.”
“Your entire existence is a ‘little complicated’.”
I chuckle through my nose.
“Well, that’s to be expected. We barely know each other anyway…”
“Oh, …it’s not like that, Conway-san.”
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.
“No, that’s only natural.”
“I won’t hold it against you if you don’t want to talk about it. Knowing how bizarre your life is…”
I nodded lethargically.
“Why don’t you take the lunch period to talk with Watanabe-san alone about it?”
“She’s your childhood friend and the person whom you should lean on in times like this, right?”
She’s right. I don’t know why I’ve been holding this in and not reaching out to Ma-chan about it.
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…
“I’m sure everything will be okay.”
Her voice was tender…even comforting despite how Conway-san is normally. But just as abrupt her mood changed, and she got up.
“Alright…now for the hard part.”
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.
“Now remember, we both finish at the same time. No going off and finishing without me!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
She cried before pushing me off her. I fell to the side with a thud, still unable to figure out what happened.
There I lied, looking at the dazzling blue sky.
“Oh my god! Are you okay?!”
It took a lot of effort, but I finally stood up and dusted myself off.
“S-sorry for that.”
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.
“I-I wasn’t paying attention and bumped into you! I’m so sorry…”
I shook my head in protest.
“N-No it’s fine. I wasn’t paying attention. I should be apologizing to you.”
Her eyes darted away like a mouse looking for its exit. My mouth moved on its own as I asked…
“Hey…do I know you?”
The girl’s eyes widened to my surprise and a mousy voice escaped from her.
“Y-You don’t know me…?”
“Hey, Nakagawa-san! We had a deal, you traitor!”
I looked over to see Conway-san racing towards me.
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.
“I looked back over my shoulder, and like a ghost, the ash haired girl vanished into the crowd of another class.
“Hey, you said you’d run with me!”
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.
“Save it! Next time I’m teaming up with someone who’ll run with me!”
Conway put her tongue out to me. I deserved this…
“It’s okay, I’ll run another lap with you.”
“N-Now you’re just pitying me!”
“Wow, …she did that?”
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.
“Yeah, …it’s strange for her to treat me like this.”
Ma-chan put her finger on her mouth and turned to me.
“Do you…think she likes you, Madoka-san?”
My head goes blurry as I look away from her.
“I’ve…considered the thought. But then…”
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?
“I truly believe…she loves my mom.”
I couldn’t deny that she may…have an attraction towards me though, but I can’t deny that she does love my mom…
“Love is complicated, you know.”
I turned to Mae-chan who sounded unnatural in my ears. She searched the sky with a sense of wonder.
“…It’s better, to be honest, and express yourself, Mado-chan.”
“I mean, you have to step up and speak with her. Open your heart to her!”
Ma-chan kneeled and grabbed my hand suddenly and lifted us both up.
“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!”
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.
“That’s easier said than done, Ma-chan. I can’t even get her alone right now...”
“Do you have her email?”
“What about your mom or your stepsister?”
“Well, yeah, of course, they do but…”
“Then why don’t you try this...?”
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 to...do something like that?
“See you tomorrow.”
With the school day now over, Conway-san shined me the peace sign. Not sure why that seemed so natural in my eyes.
“Best of luck, Mado-chan!”
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.
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.
“Did everything go well you two?”
“Yeah! My mom’s the best!”
“You’ll have to tell me all about it, Hana-chan.”
She is so much like an elementary school kid. At that age, I’d be embarrassed to have mom show up at school.
“Well, let’s catch the train before we miss it, you two.”
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.
“Mom, can I ask you something?”
I ventured to the front. Hana-san reached out her hand as I took hold.
“Oh! You and Hana walk hand in hand too?”
Out of sheer habit, I took Hana-san’s hand. Great, this is embarrassing.
“I have to keep her from getting lost.”
My little sister, like a stone, replied curt and dry.
“Oh, how cute! Well, as you were saying, Madoka?”
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.
“Ahh…I wanted to ask you about Koda-san.”
Mom slowed down and turned to me.
“Mari? What about her?”
I tugged on my collar unconsciously.
“I…wanted to know how she and I knew one another…before my coma.”
Mom’s expressions widen. But suddenly it turned gentle and a soothing motion engulfed my chest.
“So, you’ve finally taken an interest in her, huh?”
Hana-san snickered. Now I regret not waiting for this little brat to be out of sight before asking.
Mom nodded then turned back to me with a dreamer’s gaze.
“Well you see, when I started at the company as an intern, Mari just got hired on. She was my senpai.”
“Mari was your senpai?”
“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…”
“Hm…I think I remember something like that. You having to stay out later than usual, mom.”
“Mari would drive me home and even sometimes lie me in bed or the sofa, which was much easier for her back.”
I nursed my forehead. So, in other words, mom got plastered. Now that’s embarrassing.
“Anyway, I take it, that’s when you met and got to know…Mari.”
“Huh? That’s it?”
“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. “
“That’s terrible, mom.”
“I know, I was pretty bad back then.”
“Is that really all you can tell me, mom?”
I bit my lip. It seems a bit of my annoyed state seeped out in my last question.
“Well, that might not be all…I do recall something Mari said to me in the hospital…”
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.
“Madoka-san is special to me.”
Mom looked at me, endearingly.
“It seemed that Mari took a liking to you, Madoka. And at the very least she would call you Madoka-san.”
“Mari took a liking to me?”
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.
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.
Once we entered the home, I took right to my room. I shut the door gently and lie on my bed.
“Now what will I say?”
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.
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.
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.
“She pisses me off.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Quite the letter you made there.”
Koda-san smiled. Nothing could break that ghostly grin of hers. It’s like porcelain, pristine, flawless…but ever so fake.
“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.”
“S-Sorry, I didn’t mean to do that.”
“No, I think you did. You put me in a place where I had to follow your whims this time. Interesting.”
She gazed at me, but I couldn’t do the same. My body grew warm just thinking about meeting eyes with her.
“At least I have another treasure from you. ♥ ”
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.
“Koda Mari-san, you…make me…uncomfortable.”
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.
“B-But the reason why you make me feel this way is...because I don’t know how you see me, Koda-san.”
That was all I could say as I gasped for air.
“…And I sincerely believe you wouldn’t do anything to hurt my mom.”
Koda-san mumbled softly then looked up at me. It was a strange sensation because usually, it’s the other way around.
“As you know, I can’t remember when we first met. I can’t understand the level of our relationship with one another.”
My voice began to shake as I pressured on.
“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.”
The fox put her head down and didn’t speak for a moment.
“I see…So, I really have come off as…creepy this entire time to you…”
She bit her lip and bitterly whispered to herself.
Koda-san nodded as she looked back up.
“So, what do you want to know then?”
“How…close were we, Koda-san?”
Koda-san’s smile didn’t return as she took a deep breath.
“You and I weren’t friends or anything. You were my coworker’s daughter and I was your mother’s friend.”
She adjusted her dress and turned back to me.
“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.”
She gazed up into the night sky still without a smile to her face.
“Small talk was enough for you to open up to me and eventually I started calling you Madoka-san. Nothing more, nothing less.”
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.
But…why would Koda-san be lying to me? Why wouldn’t she want to tell me the truth?
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.
“But Koda-san…Mom told me that you said...
“Madoka-san is special to me.”
I paused as if pleading for answers now.
“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?”
“Hehe, …you got me. You…always could see through me, Madoka-san. And I’ve always liked that about you…”
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.
“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.
Her head hung down as she pursed her lips.
“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.”
Koda-san looked at me now.
“The stress eventually got to you though…and you confided in me.”
“What…did I talk to you about?”
“All kinds of things. School…life… even love.”
My heart pinged.
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.
“Then you had your accident, Madoka-san…”
She turned away.
“Your mother was torn apart after you wouldn’t wake up…”
Koda-san bit her lip.
“She lost your father and then her own daughter. She might not show it now, but Ayumi…was a completely different person back then.”
Her fingers covered her mouth.
“Yes. She wouldn’t even smile for weeks.”
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?
“I needed to stay with her…I couldn’t leave her side...”
Her voice trailed off into the cold night.
“Ayumi told me she needed me…and that’s when we became a couple.”
She searched the clear sky, the stars gazed back down to her.
“We…eventually fell in love.”
My body grew warm. Her story felt like a fairytale…That was all the more reason to confront her now…
“Why do you treat me this way then? Don’t you think that you’re…betraying her by acting this way with me?”
Her eyes perked up. She warily chuckled and turned away as she scratched her cheek.
“…I did get a little carried away last night…I shouldn’t have…teased you like that…”
She closed her eyes.
“I’m sorry, Madoka-san…I won’t ever do it again…”
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.
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.
They…belong to each other. It’s…a bit romantic that Koda-san would stay by her.
Now…it was my time to make things right between us.
“I want to apologize…for saying all those horrible things the first night you came home.”
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.
“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.”
My legs started to shake, maybe the cold was getting to me? I ignored it and brought out a wide smile.
“Koda Mari and Nakagawa Ayumi love each other…and I’m so happy for you both.”
Just hearing her words tonight told me that they are…perfect for each other. I don’t care what anyone says…even Uncle Ryuji.
“…Thank you…M-Mari-san…for taking care of my mom in my absence. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
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.
“You and my mom belong together, Mari-san!”
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.
“…This is for the best.”
Koda-san muttered before lifting her eyes back to me.
“…I will continue to make her happy.”
“T-Thank you, Mari-san.”
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.
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?
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.
“Mari-san… don’t treat me like that…”
I turned away from her, rubbing my cheeks of the loose tears.
“R-Right…I shouldn’t be treating you like this…anymore…”
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….
I want to know more about Mari-san.
…how she feels…
…our connection to each other in the past…
…and the emotions that’s truly behind her porcelain smile.
“I’m so happy to be able to call you Madoka-san again.”
Mari-san exhaled with a giggle at the end.
“S-Shut up, Mari-san!”
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.
Mari-san and Hana-san are part of my family now.
“We should get home. I wouldn’t want Hana-san and Mom to wake up and not find us there.”
I began to walk when Mari-san poked my back. I turned to see an empty hand.
“It’s late, I don’t want you to get lost, Madoka-san.”
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.
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?
Maybe one day I’ll gather up the courage to ask her…
Mari-san, who did I fall in love with?
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.
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.
I put my hand in hers and entwined them. Ayumi responded by tightening her grip and pulling her body closer.
“There you are…busy body…”
“Sorry, did I wake you?”
“Hehe…you know I couldn’t relax with the both of you being out so late.”
I brushed her silky hair. She closed her eyes and gently nuzzled closer to me.
“I told you to get some sleep, didn’t I?”
“Oh, I know. But it’s okay, you’re here with me now.”
Ayumi’s hand is soft. It’s warm, contrasting to the October night. Her grip is captivating and gentle.
“I hope everything went well with Madoka.”
“It did…I think…”
“Did you apologize to her like you wanted to?”
“Kind of…I didn’t tell her about that day though…”
Ayumi searched me in the eyes, her delicate voice trickled in my ear.
“You poor thing...I’m sure she’ll forgive you, Mari.”
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.
…Madoka is special to me.
“I love you, Mari.”
She ruffled my hair, something she loves to do, and I still don’t know why. This always calmed me down though.
“I love you too, Ayumi.”
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…
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.
Nobody can break the bond we built… not even me.
The past doesn’t matter anymore.
So, I’ll let you go now, Madoka-san…
No matter how special you were to me.
Volume 1 – End