Chapter 9:

Volume II: Ch.7 Motherly

Sleeping Princess

“What about this, Hana?”Bookmark here

“Nope!”Bookmark here

The bustle of people brushed past us as we find ourselves in the mall downtown. It being Sunday the late October afternoon and Hana’s trip being this next week, mom asked me to go with her and pick out all her camping gear. Probably a little last minute on their account but seeing how they wake up every morning it’s no surprise.Bookmark here

“Hana, all these sleeping bags are pretty much the same.”Bookmark here

“No! I want a certain one! It’s the one with the fluffy inside.”Bookmark here

Hana has been fighting tooth and nail for a certain “fluffy inside” camping bag and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. Suddenly my phone rings and I answer.Bookmark here

“Hello?”Bookmark here

“Madoka-san! How’s Hana doing at picking out her gear?”Bookmark here

“Eh, …she’s being picky, Mari-san.”Bookmark here

“I am not being picky!”Bookmark here

Hana’s cheeks flared up as she attempted to pull the phone away from me. I pulled away and give her a sharp flick on the forehead.Bookmark here

“Tell Hana that she needs to settle for what they have.”Bookmark here

I hold my hand over the phone.Bookmark here

“Hey, Hana-san, your mom said you’ll have to settle for what they have!”Bookmark here

“But I want the one with the fluffy inside!”Bookmark here

I put my head back to the phone.Bookmark here

“Fluffy inside? What the heck is that?”Bookmark here

I can hear Mari-san groan from the other side of the phone.Bookmark here

“Beats me…”Bookmark here

“Listen, Madoka-san. Your mother and I seriously appreciate you for taking Hana to get her stuff. We didn’t expect to end up working this weekend.”Bookmark here

“No, it’s just fine.”Bookmark here

I eye Hana walking around the corner. Before I could react, she opened the sleeping bag and looked inside. She’s being a little terror and I’ve had it up to here with her. So, I walk over and pulled her ear.Bookmark here

“Ouch!”Bookmark here

I hate being the “mean older sister” but Hana-san can be a handful at times.Bookmark here

“Madoka-san, let me speak to her.”Bookmark here

Mari-san’s tone gave me a chill. I was reluctant to hand it to Hana, but I did as I was told.Bookmark here

“Hana…your mom wants to speak with you.”Bookmark here

Unlike beforehand where Hana wanted to steal the phone from me, she timidly held out her hand and took it.Bookmark here

“…Yes, mom…yeah, mom…I know mom…but mom…okay, mom.”Bookmark here

Dejected, Hana-san handed me the phone.Bookmark here

“Okay, she shouldn’t give you any more problems, Madoka-san. Now make sure you don’t buy too much. You both have to get home somehow.”Bookmark here

“Alright, Mari-san.”Bookmark here

“Huh…?”Bookmark here

I could hear some rustling over the phone. I leaned my head back as the tension started to hurt my ear.Bookmark here

“Madoka! You two be safe! Don’t talk with strangers and…”Bookmark here

Mom busted on the line out of nowhere.Bookmark here

“Mom, I’m not five…”Bookmark here

“But you’re still my baby! Watch over Hana. Mari and I will be back home late tonight so...”Bookmark here

“Ayumi, give me my phone back!”Bookmark here

“Wait, Mari!”Bookmark here

The tension grew louder as they tussled. Finally, it relieved and Mari-san’s soothing voice trickled back in.Bookmark here

“Madoka-san have fun and don’t spend too much. Ba’ bye!”Bookmark here

The call was finally over. I took a sigh, that honestly felt like an ordeal…Bookmark here

“I found the one with the fluffy inside!”Bookmark here

Hana lifted the open camping back with pride, turning the heads of the customers nearby. Despite the hassle, it’s going to be explaining her motives, the smile on her face was one that could not be mirrored.Bookmark here

The mall continued to grow thicker by the minute. Together we waved the storm with our bags in our hands. Hana insisted that we buy a bunch of different camping accessories. I just had to buy what my cute little sister wanted. I’m weak Hana-san asking me for things, I guess.Bookmark here

“Hana-san, do you want to get dinner?”Bookmark here

I pointed over to a fast food cart. Us being home alone this might be a good chance to get some food and relax.Bookmark here

“Sure, let’s go Onee-san.”Bookmark here

We got in line. I scanned the menu and seen that this place serves burgers and other fried goods. I’ll probably end up taking a lighter meal though and Hana will most likely pick at everything and call it good. With that in mind, I’ll most likely end up getting her the kids’ meal.Bookmark here

“Oh, is that you, Nakagawa-san?”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

I turned around to see her deep almond eyes gazing at me. With her ivy hair flowing harshly behind her back, Okabe Kusumi towered over me with a smirk.Bookmark here

“Oh, Okabe Kusumi-san? What a coincidence.”Bookmark here

Only then did I catch eyes with a smaller version of her. She hopped up and hid behind her taller version. Her straight hair down to her back trembled. While sharing the same color hair and eyes as the taller version her demeanor came off as pure, innocent even.Bookmark here

“Oh, is this your little sister, Okabe-san?”Bookmark here

“Yep, this little twerp is mine for the weekend. We just went to play some games in the arcade and now we’re getting some food.”Bookmark here

Okabe-san patted her on the back, pushing her forwards as she did.Bookmark here

“Nagumi, introduce yourself to Nakagawa-san.”Bookmark here

The mini replica approached. She stood just a tad shorter than Hana-san which made me conclude that she had to be in her early years of elementary.Bookmark here

“H-Hello, my name is…Okabe…Nagumi.”Bookmark here

“It’s nice to meet you, Nagumi-san.”Bookmark here

I turned to Hana-san who seemed to give me an unsure look. She approached next and nodded gently.Bookmark here

“I’m Koda Hana. I’m…Nakagawa Madoka’s stepsister.”Bookmark here

Okabe’s shined a bright grin and nodded.Bookmark here

“Oh, so you’re the girl that’s “So cute!”Bookmark here

“S-Stop it, Okabe-san!”Bookmark here

Flustered, I raced over trying my best to cover her mouth. The last thing I want Hana-san to figure out is that I gloat about how cute she is to everyone I meet! I…should probably do my best to not do that from now on...Bookmark here

“O-Onee-san said that?”Bookmark here

“Hana-san, don’t listen to her!”Bookmark here

After a brief denial session, we ordered our food. There we sat at a table eating our respective meals. The food was mediocre so instead, I found myself interested in something else. I watched Okabe-san’s little sister nibble at her food. She’s so cute that I couldn’t look away. Only then a felt a chill on my spine. When I looked over to shake it off, I caught eyes with Hana-san.Bookmark here

“Is everything okay, Hana-san?”Bookmark here

Without a word, she puffed her cheeks and began eating again. Not sure what that was about…Bookmark here

“So, Nakagawa-san, I heard you use to play basketball.”Bookmark here

“Oh, yeah. I started playing in elementary school and played all through middle school.”Bookmark here

“So, you still played up to your coma?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, I don’t remember quitting at least.”Bookmark here

Hana-san tilted her head.Bookmark here

“Onee-san, are you going to join basketball again?”Bookmark here

I shook my head.Bookmark here

“Probably not. I don’t feel it anymore.”Bookmark here

“That brings me to my next question. Sorry if I sound insensitive but…do you have memory loss associated with it?”Bookmark here

I found myself nodding unconsciously.Bookmark here

“Yes, I do. There’s a large gap in my memory due to it…”Bookmark here

“Hm, I see.”Bookmark here

Obake-san takes a fry from her plate and pushed it out to me. Confused I angled my head when suddenly she forced it in my mouth.Bookmark here

“Let’s not dwell on the past any more then. Only the best of times are ahead of us, Nakagawa-san!”Bookmark here

What an oddball… but she doesn’t seem like a bad person. I found myself chewing away at the fry. It was slightly cold by now but that couldn’t be helped.Bookmark here

“Onee-san!”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

I glanced at Hana who seemed to be holding out two fries of her own.Bookmark here

“What is it-mooph!”Bookmark here

Hana shoved her fries in my mouth. I almost gagged by the sheer force. What am I supposed to be, a pet that needs to be fed?Bookmark here

“H-Hana-san! What the heck?!”Bookmark here

I cried to no avail. Hana just kept pushing more in my mouth. I have to be careful around this one now.Bookmark here

“Aw, you see them Nagumi? We used to be like that!”Bookmark here

Okabe-san pulled on her little sisters’ cheeks, not to her liking. She moaned but continued eating her food quietly. Nagumi-san seemed to be more docile than her older sister.Bookmark here

“So, I met that Watanabe Mae-san a few weeks back…”Bookmark here

Abruptly, Okabe-san changed the topic as she tilted her head. I had to stop Hana-san from pushing more food in my mouth as I turned back to her.Bookmark here

“Oh, Mae-chan?”Bookmark here

“So, you both are childhood friends, right?”Bookmark here

“Yeah. We’ve known each other since middle school.”Bookmark here

“She’s something else with that wild hairstyle of hers.”Bookmark here

I chuckled thinking back to her blueberry colored hair. Wasn’t expecting to see that when I first saw her again.Bookmark here

“And I heard she has quite the temper too.”Bookmark here

My giggling stopped harshly as I looked her in the eye. The smirk cast on her face felt troubling to me.Bookmark here

“What?”Bookmark here

“I’m talking about Watanabe. You know about the person she hit…right?”Bookmark here

My mouth opens slightly.Bookmark here

“She knocked them out and sent them to the hospital.”Bookmark here

“No, I didn’t know about that, Okabe-san...”Bookmark here

“Really? I thought she’d tell her childhood friend about it. Guess I let that slip then. Wow, she told me that in confidence too…”Bookmark here

Okabe giggled then continued eating her meal. Even if she said that…I felt that she mentioned this only because I didn’t know it. But thinking that would make her…a mean person, wouldn’t it?Bookmark here

“W-Who did she get in a fight with?”Bookmark here

Okabe-san still with her mouth full began waving her free hand. After finishing she answered.Bookmark here

“Nah, I shouldn’t keep going with that. She’s not here to speak for herself anyway.”Bookmark here

I leaned back now slightly irritated. Even Mae-chan is hiding things from me?Bookmark here

Suddenly I felt a brush on my lap. I turned to the side and see Hana-san caressing my thigh. Without saying anything I could understand she was telling me that “It’ll be okay.” I haven’t noticed it but…lately, Hana-san has been quite the support for me.Bookmark here

“So, Nakagawa-san, you’re still hanging around that Conway-san too, huh?”Bookmark here

Now prepared for her I crossed my leg.Bookmark here

“Yeah. I know you don’t agree with one another but she’s my friend.”Bookmark here

“Hm, that’s fair. But you seem like the kind of girl that will get involved in her problems. And I wouldn’t want that to happen to you.”Bookmark here

Taken aback, I tilted my head.Bookmark here

“What do you mean by that?”Bookmark here

“Well, Conway-san skips class on the regular for starters.”Bookmark here

She snickered. Her almond eyes peeked up from her meal.Bookmark here

“So? You skip class too, Okabe-san.”Bookmark here

I might have sounded more irritated than I was still with Mae-chan in the forefront of my mind. Thinking back now, Okabe has only shown up to class a few times since I got there. She is a delinquent too for sure. It’s like the pot calling the kettle black…Bookmark here

“Oh, you got me!”Bookmark here

She pointed to herself with a sly smile.Bookmark here

“But seriously, Conway-san isn’t the best of people to be around. I should know, I’m a former friend of hers anyway.”Bookmark here

She sneered brightly. It made me oddly uncomfortable with how openly…mean she was being. But I don’t think that was her I think I’m just starting to see the kind of person Okabe-san is.Bookmark here

“Well, Conway-san isn’t here either, so I rather not talk behind her back.”Bookmark here

Okabe-san’s eyes widen. I’m sure she realized my retort was in response to Ma-chan rather than Conway-san. With a sly titter, she answered back.Bookmark here

“Oh, you’re right. That’s rude of me. Sorry, guess I’m bad at making conversation. Seems all I do is hit on sore spots.”Bookmark here

She waved her hand left and right now finished with her meal.Bookmark here

“But I do have one more thing to ask before I get off topic...”Bookmark here

“And what’s that, Okabe-san?”Bookmark here

She pointed at Hana-san to my surprise.Bookmark here

“Has she asked you about your little sister?”Bookmark here

Hana’s eyes perked up as she turned to me.Bookmark here

“Ah…how did you know?”Bookmark here

Okabe leered at me for a moment then spat air to the side.Bookmark here

“…She seriously has issues. Even after all this time…”Bookmark here

With that, she stood up while holding the shoulder of her little mini version.Bookmark here

“Nnngg…”Bookmark here

Her sister complained but reluctantly she raised, holding onto her half-eaten burger still.Bookmark here

“Watch out for that dirty blonde, okay Nakagawa-san?”Bookmark here

Without answering my question, she waved goodbye, leaving Hana-san at the table. Her little sister ruggedly pulled along with her as if she became a ragdoll.Bookmark here

“She’s rude, Onee-san.”Bookmark here

I turned back to Hana-san who sat staring in their direction.Bookmark here

“Yeah…I think I’m starting to realize that too Hana-san.”Bookmark here

With a sigh, I give her a brief hug on her shoulder.Bookmark here

“Thanks for having my back, sis.”Bookmark here

Watch out for Conway-san? My mind raced over it for a moment before I decided that it wouldn’t be best for me to continue this train of thought. Conway-san hasn’t done anything wrong to me so, I shouldn’t look at her in a negative light. But Mae-chan on the other hand…I need to ask her about that as soon as I can.Bookmark here

“Well, are you ready to head home, Hana-san?”Bookmark here

“Yep!”Bookmark here

“We can stay up and make sure all your stuff is ready for Monday if you want.”Bookmark here

“O-Okay! That sounds fun. Can I put on an anime as we sort things out?”Bookmark here

“Sure.”Bookmark here

Bags in hand we made our way back home. The night air was refreshing. It helped get that aftertaste of a conversation out of my mouth. When we stepped in the home Hana-san tossed her bags to the floor and raced over to the TV. I expected this so I decided to hold my scolding until later.Bookmark here

I made my way to the living room and sat on the couch when suddenly gore splashed on the screen. I do my best to keep my eyes off it but the cries of agony filter through the home. Yep, this was the anime she wanted to watch…Bookmark here

“Hana-san, could you please turn it down a little bit?”Bookmark here

“Oh, sorry Onee-san.”Bookmark here

With her compliance, we sat in the living room sorting out Hana-san’s bags.Bookmark here

“Hmm…”Bookmark here

Hana held in her hand a shampoo conditioner.Bookmark here

“Oh, sorry Hana, Mari-san said you can’t have any during this trip.”Bookmark here

Dejected, she puts it to the side. But then she lifted it back up to me.Bookmark here

“Can you hide this from mom? She likes to use my shampoos.”Bookmark here

“Which mom?”Bookmark here

“My mom.”Bookmark here

With a shrug, I caved yet again. Hana-san smiled at me causing my heart to warm up.Bookmark here

“You’ve been getting along a lot better with mom, Onee-san.”Bookmark here

I thought back to the night at the park a little over two weeks ago now. How Mari-san expressed to me how she truly feels for mom. How we finally came to an understanding that we…are family. But as I think back to that night my stomach begins to get warm.Bookmark here

“Yeah…Mari-san’s a weirdo but…she isn’t a bad person.”Bookmark here

“Will you call her mom one day, Onee-san?”Bookmark here

I chuckled by mistake.Bookmark here

“Not on my life, Hana-san.”Bookmark here

The thought of me cuddling up to Mari-san and crying mommy came to mind. Nope, she’s too young for me to even consider the idea of it. Likely, I’ll always call Mari-san, Mari-san and I think that’s simply fine. As I think about this, I lifted the sleeping bag.Bookmark here

“Oh, this is the one you wanted so badly, right Hana-san?”Bookmark here

“Yep! It has the fluffy inside and Sora likes the fluffy!”Bookmark here

“Sora?”Bookmark here

“Eh?!”Bookmark here

Hana turned to the side away from my gaze.Bookmark here

“Is…she a friend of yours?”Bookmark here

“Ahh, yeah. She’s a …a good friend of mine.”Bookmark here

So, Hana-san brought the sleeping bag at her friend’s request? That’s the only thing I can think of. But why would that matter if it’s her bag and not this Sora’s? Before I could ask Hana jumped up and raced up the steps into her room. She then came back out with her game system in hand.Bookmark here

“Onee-san, can I bring my game?”Bookmark here

“Ah…that’s against school regulations, Hana-san.”Bookmark here

“Please! I won’t get caught! Mom and mom don’t have to know.”Bookmark here

A secret between sisters, huh? No matter how I looked at it, I can’t deny that I don’t like these interactions between Hana-san and me.Bookmark here

“…Sure, but if you get caught…I didn’t know a thing.”Bookmark here

“Thanks, Onee-san!”Bookmark here

Hana-san hopped up with joy then put it to the side.Bookmark here

“Mmm…I can’t seem to find the flashlights.”Bookmark here

“Oh, Mari-san bought a few earlier this week. I’ll get them and the batteries out of their room.”Bookmark here

I stood up and made my way into their room. There lied their bed in decent order. I checked the side for the bag full of flashlights and batteries. With a lift, I brought them up when an aroma caught my nose. It’s that citrus lemon soap Mari-san uses all the time. I closed my eyes as I wafted in the scent. When I first met her this scent had a different feeling behind it…but now for some reason, it’s a tad comforting. Maybe because my feelings of Mari-san changed I’m now able to slowly adapt to her or something?Bookmark here

“Onee-san, did you find them?”Bookmark here

My thoughts crumbled as I cried back to Hana-san.Bookmark here

“Oh, right! Yeah, I did. I’ll be right there.”Bookmark here

After a few more items we packed her bags good and confirmed that Hana-san was ready for war. She’ll be gone for 3 days and it’ll just be me, mom and, Mari-san at home. I won’t lie, it’s going to be a bit sad to not see Hana-san bouncing around the halls for a bit.Bookmark here

With a deep yawn coming from Hana-san it was time to get ready for bed.Bookmark here

“Think you’re ready for tomorrow, Hana-san?”Bookmark here

“Yep.”Bookmark here

“Alright, let’s set your stuff by the door and head in for the night.”Bookmark here

Hana gripped all her bags and pulled them together. After she stood up, she huffed and lifted them off the floor. She then waddled like a toy, bounced over, and plopped the bags down on the floor next to the door. It was a bit surreal watching her do it. Like a wind-up toy spinning its gears and running out of steam at the finish line.Bookmark here

“I can’t wait!”Bookmark here

She cried. Her eyes flared with passion.Bookmark here

“I bet.”Bookmark here

With our last words hanging in the air we both made our way up the steps. Hana-san broke off from me first as my room is the last one at the end of the hall.Bookmark here

“Oh, did Hana-san pack her game?”Bookmark here

I walked back in to see Hana-san on her phone. Her tiny feet kicked from side to side.Bookmark here

“Hey, did you pack your games?”Bookmark here

“Oh! I’m so glad you reminded me! I wanna play with Sora-“Bookmark here

It seems she let that slip too. This “Sora” person must be a really good friend of Hana’s. Maybe someday I’ll meet her.Bookmark here

“Goodnight, Hana-san.”Bookmark here

“Goodnight, Onee-san.”Bookmark here

With that, I gently shut her door. The cool breeze from her room reminded me that the winter was nearly in full bloom now. Before going back to my room, I stepped back down the steps to make sure everything was in proper order. I don’t know, doing things this late into the night had a hint of nostalgia in my chest. The feeling is both comforting yet melancholy all at the same time.Bookmark here

“They won’t be home until late tonight, huh?”Bookmark here

Lately…I’ve had a restless feeling and I can’t understand why. I took a deep breath and shook off these feelings before heading back upstairs.Bookmark here

“Goodnight.”Bookmark here

I whisper to nobody as I made my way back into my room. There I lied in bed searching the ceiling. By the time we finished up, it was too late into the night for me to call Mae-chan and talk with her. I haven’t been a good friend to her…if I didn’t know something like that happened. I closed my eyes now thinking harshly.Bookmark here

I still have a bunch of questions regarding the events surrounding my comatose…and it’s not as if I don’t want them answered. But I find it hard for me to breach the subject now. The mood lately had been one of a simpler time. Ma-chan’s always smiling, Mom has been happier knowing I accepted Mari-san at face value now. Hana has been treating me more sisterly than ever…and Mari-san…Bookmark here

I closed my eyes and thought back to how she sounded on the phone. Her aura made me feel…safe. I can’t deny that she truly sounds more motherly now than how she did when I first met her…no…first seen her again. The events before that night still play in my head now and then. I can’t for the life of me understand what was going through that idiot’s head…saying all those things to me.Bookmark here

But I’m glad…that we reached a mutual understanding.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

Yeah, a mutual understanding. Two ideas colliding and crashing into one solid truth. That we both want my mom, Nakagawa Ayumi, to smile.Bookmark here

“I wonder…when mom realized she loved Mari-san?”Bookmark here

My face went warm for some reason. I touched my cheek and a burning sensation went about my face.Bookmark here

“Mh…I need to get to bed.”Bookmark here

Noticing the clock on my wall leading me too late into the night, I do my best to settle my mind down. I closed my eyes and faded off to sleep...Bookmark here

Bookmark here

The world went black as the somber noise of the November night faded away. Suddenly I found myself in a dark world. As I stood there, voices echoed in…Bookmark here

“Please…wait for me…”Bookmark here

When I opened my eyes, a hollow screech echoed into the distance as if it came from outside. But that was the illusion that my mind played as the dream promptly faded from my memory.Bookmark here

Now awake, I felt sick as I clenched my pillow, unable to remember what occurred only moments ago. The ominous night gazed back at me. I turned to the clock revealing the early morning of 1 AM. My hands stretched out towards the ceiling as I lied there in the tranquil room.Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

I lifted myself to the side of my bed. With a shake of my head, the perils that haunted me remained as I put on my glasses. My hands were still shaking from the imagination. I felt chills rattling my bones. When I touched my face, tears laced my cheeks.Bookmark here

Pushing through I stepped off the bed. I felt my legs wiggle like jelly. No matter how much I tried I couldn’t shake it off.Bookmark here

“Ahh…”Bookmark here

I found myself walking to the door and peering out into the dark hallway. My hand was groggy, and my mouth was dry. I needed something to drink, to wash away this strange sensation from my body. As I callously made my way down the steps a glowing light illuminated from the living room. Tiny tapping rang out from the room as I approached. Her deep black hair waved back and forth as her thin fingers hit the keys on her laptop in sequence.Bookmark here

“M-Mari-san?”Bookmark here

She lifted her head and turned towards me.Bookmark here

“M-Madoka-san…what are you doing up at this hour?”Bookmark here

I opened my mouth, but the words didn’t come out right away. My head felt dizzy so, I clenched the sofa she was sitting on.Bookmark here

“Are you okay?”Bookmark here

“I…had a strange dream…”Bookmark here

I could feel Mari-sans warm hands take mine as she pulled me down into the sofa. I rested on the arm side now. My cheeks pressed against the headrest.Bookmark here

“I’ll get you some water, stay right here.”Bookmark here

As I lied there with my arms as a cushion, my vertigo finally subsided. Now if only that shacky feeling would stop assaulting me.Bookmark here

“Here.”Bookmark here

“…Thanks.”Bookmark here

I grabbed the bottled water handed to me. As I took a sip it wasn’t as refreshing as I hoped. It was chilled but my body wasn’t cooling down. Yet it wanted to keep shaking and there was nothing I could do to stop it…Bookmark here

“Are you not feeling well? Should I call your mom?”Bookmark here

“Oh…no…I’m fine.”Bookmark here

I lied there for a bit before continuing.Bookmark here

“Yeah, I’m okay Mari-san.”Bookmark here

After a bit, I lifted my body, but my hands were still shaking, relentlessly.Bookmark here

“Did you have a nightmare?’Bookmark here

“…I don’t know.”Bookmark here

I couldn’t remember what I dreamt about. I couldn’t tell if it was scary, strange, or anything. Just that I woke up and felt…nervous.Bookmark here

“Madoka-san, your hands are shaking.”Bookmark here

Mari-san cupped my hands in hers.Bookmark here

“How do you feel?”Bookmark here

“…Anxious, I guess?”Bookmark here

I glanced over to see a large document full of words on the laptop screen. It seemed Mari-san’s been up late doing work for her job. I felt bad interrupting her now.Bookmark here

“Here Madoka. Come over here.”Bookmark here

She took my shoulders. I wasn’t sure what Mari-san was doing at first, so I just let my body float down in the motion of her arms. She then lied my head down…on her soft thighs.Bookmark here

With one hand she pets my head, gently. I wasn’t expecting anything like this, but I couldn’t move. My face became noticeably warm. It made me worry that Mari-san might notice.Bookmark here

“Mari-san…you don’t have to do this.”Bookmark here

“Hush now…this used to calm you down before. It might work now.”Bookmark here

She stopped working now. Not as if she would be able to reach her laptop now that she was handling me like this. I could feel the warmth of her legs heat my already burning face. A familiar scent captured me again. The fruity lemon that she wears all the time. This calmed me.Bookmark here

“Mari-san…”Bookmark here

“Yes, Madoka?”Bookmark here

I wanted to sit up and face her, but I found my body didn’t want to comply. My mind was urging me to move even though I felt at peace on her lap. The jitters of my hands calmed down despite my heart beating at a faster rate than before. It was a strange sensation that nothing in my body was acting in sync. So, to not make more of a fuss I closed my eyes, letting my feelings drift away.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry…for bothering you, Mari-san.”Bookmark here

“No, don’t worry about it.”Bookmark here

I’m not sure how much time passed but I motionlessly stared at the illumination of her computer. Mari-san just kept petting away like soothing a puppy. That would make me the puppy though, right? Being Mari-san’s puppy? That’s a joke. I don’t have the energy to even keep up with her at the best of times.Bookmark here

“Hehe…”Bookmark here

“Hm, what’s so funny?”Bookmark here

A bit of my ill-humor seeped out. I groggily replied.Bookmark here

“N-Nothing.”Bookmark here

Her pets were calmer now. I’m not sure when it changed but it still felt good. Like nothing would hurt me as long as I lied here being pet like this.Bookmark here

“How are you feeling, Madoka-san?”Bookmark here

Mari-san whispered, causing me to come back to reality. I exhaled, releasing all the built-up tension.Bookmark here

“I don’t know what came over me. I just…felt scared suddenly. I never felt that way before.”Bookmark here

“Don’t worry…I’m here for you, Madoka-san.”Bookmark here

Mari-san sounded like she’s done this often...How close was I with her if that’s the case? Is it normal to lie on other's lap like this?Bookmark here

I lied there drifting in and out now thinking about it. Finally, I became lucid enough to lift my head.Bookmark here

“Ah, are you feeling better?”Bookmark here

I nodded. The heat from my face dissipated in the cool room. It was more refreshing than the water I drank moments ago.Bookmark here

“Yeah, much better.”Bookmark here

My body felt awake now. Which wasn’t a good thing, it being around 1 AM and all.Bookmark here

“That’s good.”Bookmark here

Mari-san reached out and touched the back of my hair. It was soothing but then almost immediately she retracted her reach.Bookmark here

“S-Sorry…”Bookmark here

She swallowed then turned back to her work. Now with a new resolve, she put the laptop back on her lap and began typing away.Bookmark here

“If you’re feeling better then you should get back to sleep, Madoka-san. You don’t want to be tired when you go to school.”Bookmark here

Her eyes didn’t leave the screen anymore. They focused intensely as she typed away.Bookmark here

“Ahm…”Bookmark here

“Yes, Madoka-san?”Bookmark here

Her fingers continued to move as she answered. I found myself wanting to ask her a few things about…us. How close we were to one another. The moment felt right if anything. My body was calm, and I was a bit curious now. So, I steeled my resolve and spoke…Bookmark here

“Can we talk?”Bookmark here

Mari-san’s fingers floated above her keys for a bit. She then bit her lip then turned to me. Her eyes weren’t as soft as before. No, they were stern, and it took me by surprise.Bookmark here

“You have school in the morning. You need to go back to bed right now, Madoka-san. I don’t want you feeling tired and not being able to focus on your studies.”Bookmark here

I was…taken aback by her words. They sounded less like the Mari-san I knew and more like…my mom.Bookmark here

“…But.”Bookmark here

“No buts. It’s not healthy for you to be up this late.”Bookmark here

Her tone was authoritative now. Only then did I realize that I misread the situation entirely. It made me feel a tad embarrassed. My face warmed up in shame.Bookmark here

“Oh…yeah, you’re right, Mari-san.”Bookmark here

“…Now get some rest. Try to stay in bed this time, okay?”Bookmark here

Was I scolded? I sat there for a moment before I stood up.Bookmark here

“Goodnight, Mari-san.”Bookmark here

“Night.”Bookmark here

The meticulous typing persisted through her words. When I looked back it felt as if an invisible wall was put up between us now. No matter what I would say she wasn’t going to hear it. Mari-san wasn’t being cold…no, she was being a proper adult.Bookmark here

As I lied in bed now, I thought about what she did to calm my nerves…as if she’s been doing this for a long time. One minute she’s gentle…the next, she’s pointed and direct like a parental figure. I looked at the wall clock. It raced past the 2 AM mark and wasn’t stopping for me to figure my feelings out.Bookmark here

“Mari-san’s right…I need to get more sleep.”Bookmark here

My chest wasn’t pounding fast anymore. No, it felt as though it slumped down and turned cold. The corners of my eyes slightly welled up. I was like a child being put to bed in her eyes, wasn’t I?Bookmark here

And for some reason…Bookmark here

…that irritated me.Bookmark here

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