The halls were empty as I made my way to class. Once I stepped in, the class turned my way. Quickly, I handed Takanaki-sensei the note from Taylor-sensei and made my way to my seat. My classmates whispered to each other before Sensei clapped his hands, bringing the class back into order.
“Alright class, turn to pages….”
Conchi-san’s desk was empty. As I looked around, even Okabe wasn’t here. Were they both skipping again? A sigh escaped my mouth.
“I hope Conchi-san comes to afternoon classes at least…”
When Conway-san skipped it was either in the morning or the afternoon. It was rare if she was gone the entire day. I’m not sure why she skips class either. It went to show me how much I didn’t know about her…
As Takanaki-sensei was going on with the lecture my phone buzzed. After a brief moment of hesitation, I pulled it out and looked to see who it was. It was a message from Mae-chan.
[“How about the festival?!”]
Ma-chan messaged me. I replied, a tad unsure what she was talking about.
It took a minute, but she responded.
[“You know, the one on Saturday?! Cultural day!”]
It seems she took what I was asking out of context. I had no idea why she was bringing up the Cultural Festival out of nowhere for. So, I replied being more direct.
[“What does the school festival have to do with anything?”]
Oddly, she didn’t reply for around ten minutes. Then as I began to focus back on the lecture, my phone buzzed, causing me to jolt. Growing self-conscious, I silently prayed Takanaki-sensei didn’t look over at me.
[“We talked about getting to know Conway-san a little better. So, I figured we invite her to hang out with us during it.”]
The idea seemed very Mae like. I wasn’t against it so, I replied.
[“Do you think she’d be willing to come?”]
Conway-san wasn’t easy to predict. She may toss it back in our faces and get all flustered over the idea that we were inviting her to do something…
My lips curled.
“…That might be a little fun.”
I whispered before replying.
[“I think it’s a great idea. I’m not doing anything with my class, so...”]
Mae replied instantly this time. Something told me she was getting scolded by her teacher ten minutes ago…
[“Yeah, our class isn’t doing much either.”]
I thought back to that day a few weeks back. The day where Conway-san consoled me despite me not feeling comfortable about telling her my problems. How she was supportive of me even though I rejected her. If anything, I’d like to move forward with Conway in a way that we can trust each other better…
In a way that she wouldn’t lie to me about not having siblings…I want to learn to trust Conway-san and I hope she wants to do the same with me. With these feelings prompting me to go, I responded to her message.
[“Yeah, I think it’ll be fun!”]
Despite what Okabe-san told me at the mall, Conway-san is certainly someone who I want to become better friends with. After a few minutes, Mae replied.
[“Okay! We’ll talk to Conway-san about it at lunch. No mentions of it until then, Mado-chan!”]
“Nakagawa-san, please put your phone away!”
Takanaki-sensei hit the chalkboard with his ruler, causing me to jump. Dang it, I was caught. Feeling the stares of my classmates, I dejectedly complied by pushing my phone in my bag…
The remaining classes were uneventful and before I knew it lunchtime came. Mae-chan and I planned to me up at the cafeteria, but she seemed to be running late. There I stood outside, waiting with my lunch box in hand. Girls passed me and few gave me glances as I stood there. This always made me feel self-conscious when I waited alone. So, I pulled out my phone and started looking through it.
My idle thoughts swam away as I turned to see Mihara-san holding her lunch too.
“Oh, hey Mihara-san.”
Her feet burrowed into the floor with the rubber on the bottom of her shoes. Nothing else was said for a bit as the other girls continued passing us. Some had to move around Mihara-san as she was standing pretty much at the right-side exit door.
“Are you having lunch, Mihara-san?”
“Oh…yes, I was about to…ah…”
“Mado-chan! Sorry for being late!”
The blueberry I’ve been waiting for rushed from outside. She entered through the school doors, panting like a dog.
“Sorry…I had to…talk to my teacher after class.”
“Ma-chan, we shouldn’t message in class if it gets you in trouble.”
I scolded gently. Her smile faded a bit as she nodded.
“Sorry, Mado-chan…I’m trying to do better…”
That made my heart flutter a bit. Mae-chan is being true to her word. She wants to make a change for the better. Her going to class in the first place showed her determination.
“So, are you ready to go in?”
Mae hopped up, earning a smile from me.
“Yeah, Conway-san’s already there. I didn’t want to breach the subject without you, Mae-chan.”
“Alright, let’s go!”
She exclaimed. I felt as though I was forgetting something but then I remembered that Mihara-san was with me. But when I looked around, she wasn’t there. She’s like a ghost, she appears when she wants and vanishes soon after. So, we both made our way into the cafeteria.
The blond gasped in terror.
“W-What the heck’s your problem Watanabe-san?!”
We both took a seat.
“I’ve already had quite the morning, Watanabe-san. The last thing I want is to give up the ghost because of an obnoxious blueberry!”
I leaned over to Mae-chan.
“She seems to be in a bad mood, Mae…”
“Nakagawa-san! If you have something to say, then just say it!”
I shrieked as Conchi hit the corner of the table. She pounded it like a judge giving a death sentence. This side of her isn’t the normal rage with a hint of cute. No, she seemed seriously pissed off.
“Is…everything okay, Conway-san?”
Mae gathered up the courage to ask as we sat down. As if coming self-aware, the shark took a deep breath and pulled herself back to her chair.
“…Sorry, I just had a rough morning. I didn’t mean to…lash out at the both of you.”
But then she glared at me as if I knew her secret…Well, to my knowledge, I did know that she was busy with…Taylor-sensei.
“Well, no biggie!”
Ma-chan beamed and took charge of the situation. We both looked at her now.
“So, Madoka and I wanted to ask you if you’d be willing to have a date with us?!”
Conchi-san gasped again. At this rate, she really will give up the ghost. So, I punched Mae as hard as I could on her shoulder.
“What are you talking about, Mae-chan?!”
“Hehe, I’m just kidding! We wanted to know if you would like to go to the school festival with us?”
Conway leaned back and crossed her arms. Seems Mae-chan’s attempt at a joke didn’t faze her mood in the slightest.
“And why would I want that? It’s the only day I don’t have to show up for school without skipping…”
“We think it’ll be fun. You can experience Japanese school festivals. This is your first year being in Japan, right?”
“You both don’t need me around…I don’t care for that sort of thing…”
Conway-san finally continued eating.
“Hm, are you sure?”
Ma-chan dropped her shoulders, dejectedly.
For some reason, the thought of what Okabe-san said at the mall the other day flew into my memory. With this ill-intended idea pasted in my head, I spoke out.
“Hm, I wanted to introduce you to Hana-san though, Conway-san...”
Her fork stopped as she tilted her head to me.
“Your stepsister, right Nakagawa-san?”
“Yeah. I was going to ask her to come over from her middle school to join us.”
The shark crossed her arms and stared daggers into her food. Something was swirling around in her little head and I was unsure what it was. Her small lips parted before she took a sigh.
“When is it again?”
Mae’s eyes lit up.
“This Saturday! We can meet in the morning and go around all day.”
With a nod, Conway closed her eyes.
“…Well, I have nothing planned this weekend anyway. This is probably the best time for me to do something like this...”
Conway-san gave us a slight nod, convicting her stance.
“Fine… I guess I’ll come along since you both are practically begging me now. But I expect there to be fun things to do. And since you’re forcing me to come, I don’t want to be the one buying anything!”
The princess demanded, now putting her feet down. But then a cheery song blared out of Conway’s bag. It sounded like the lyrics were in English but I didn’t catch it. Reluctantly, she answered her phone.
Conway-san answered in English. She continued to go on using more complex words and sentences that I couldn’t make out. My English is terrible and that was apparent. The tone of her voice changed slightly. Biting her lip, she nodded with a [“Yes sir.”] ending the call.
“Sorry, that was my father.”
“Don’t worry about it, Conchi-san!”
“Have I ever told you how much I hate you, Nakagawa-san?”
Our lunch became a bit less lively after that. Conway-san seemed distracted, most likely because of the conversation she had with her father. After the lunch break, she didn’t even show up to class. As the day ended, I walked alongside Mae-chan. The ruthless shark seemed to have skipped the remainder of the day. Maybe it had something to do with Taylor-sensei?
Waking me from my reflections, Mae cried out.
“Oh, See ya Ma-chan!”
We chimed before going our separate ways. It looked like Mae went the entire day without skipping. Good for her.
Once I began my journey to the station, slow footsteps began echoing behind me. I turned around and nobody was there though. I chalked it up to being my imagination and continued onward. But then the steps grew quicker and suddenly slowed back down. So, I swung my body around revealing a certain ghost haunting me again.
She bounced like a kangaroo before landing back on the sidewalk.
“Were you following me?”
“Oh no! I… don’t have clubs in the afternoon…so...I was going home and just so happened to be walking the same way as you...”
She buried her cheeks in her scarf for the infinite time today. We both began walking but she still lagged.
“But I won’t be on the train in the mornings for the next few days. My…club is getting ready for the festival. I’ll also be stay late at school too.”
I waved her to come forward. It was a tad awkward talking to her from the back like that. She danced along towards me to my surprise. Interesting, she’s like a puppy. I didn’t expect her to abide by that.
“Where did you go at lunch today by the way?”
I asked as we began walking side by side now.
She muffled her lips against her scarf. Her face was a tad red. I take it was from the cool weather.
“I…met with some clubmates instead…”
“Instead? Did you have plans with someone else?”
“Oh! It’s not like that at all, Nakagawa-san. You were with your friends and-“
Mihara-san stopped talking abruptly. Me with my friends? What did that have to do with what we were just talking about…
Then like a light sparking in my head, it all became clear.
“Did you want to join me for lunch, Mihara-san?”
I spoke without reading the mood again. That came off as a bit insensitive, didn’t it? I rebuke my habit once more.
Her face flushed in shame. The poor thing…It makes me wonder how she made it this far. Even though it was cold, I could feel the temperature rise slightly between us.
“…Maybe we can…share…”
Her voice trailed off. I waited for a moment then chimed in instead.
“How about we share lunch tomorrow, Mihara-san?”
Mihara-san went quiet, leaving my question dangling in the wind. Suddenly, she replied.
Her neck shoved further in her scarf. If anything, she was like a turtle hiding in her shell.
Her face lit up. She reminded me of Hana-san when she gets excited at a new manga or games. Casually, we boarded the train together. It felt natural doing so with Mihara-san like we’ve been doing this from the very beginning.
“Is your class doing anything for the Cultural Festival?”
“No, most students chose to aid other classes, so we aren’t doing too much.”
Mihara nodded softly. Her lips perked in and out of its covers. Not sure why I was fixated on that. Maybe because her lips were so pink?
“I’m going to be staying late and sleeping at the school until preparations are complete. So…I won’t be on the train for a few days…”
“Okay then, Mihara-san.”
I nodded, but that’s not what I was answering to. No, I was thinking that Mihara-san had truly become a high schooler. She moved forward during my comatose. Both in body and mind.
Soon my stop arrived. So, I waved goodbye to Mihara-san.
“See you tomorrow at lunch.”
I cried out before exiting. It seems Mihara-san stays on longer than I do. As the train pulled out of the station my bag started to cry out. My favorite STARS tune protruded from it as I reached for my phone. It took me a moment to answer only because I wanted to hear a certain hook of the song.
My heart leaped. I didn’t check to see who was calling before I answered. It was no one other than, Hana-san.
“How’s your trip, Hana?”
I asked while taking the road home now.
“It started rough…but it’s going a lot better now. I even met some old friends here since it’s just not our school out here.”
Hm, what a coincidence. This morning I met Mihara-san again. And Hana-san even met with old schoolmates?
“Yeah…well something like that.”
Hana-san’s voice sounded a bit dejected.
“Oh…since I’m not there to give it to you, you can go in my room and get the next volume of “Lonely Howl in the Dark Night.”
“A-Are you sure you don’t mind me going into your room?”
“Of course not! You’re my Onee-san!”
Hana giggled. It seems her spirits were higher. I take it because we haven’t seen each other in a few days. I bet I sounded the same. I…really wanted to see Hana-san again. I had to admit, her being gone with Mari-san and mom being all clingy all the time…
I hold my lip, stopping that thought. If anything, when Hana-san does get back I won’t feel so much like a third wheel anymore.
“Hana, what day are you coming home?”
I asked as I made my way down my neighborhood now.
“The day after tomorrow. So, Friday.”
It was Wednesday. So, I still had two more days of riding the train alone before Hana-san came back. Her school chooses this trip at an inconvenient time of the year I’ll be honest. I’m not even sure what they’ve been doing up this for all this time either.
“Well, your Onee-san misses you. And I can’t wait to ride the train with you when you get back home.”
“Yeah! I can’t wait too!”
Hana grew distant. It sounded as if someone was calling out to her from a ways away.
“Oh. Onee-san, I have to go. Thanks for chatting with me.”
“Okay, make sure to eat dinner!”
“Ngg, not you too, Onee-san! Mom already told me that earlier today.”
She wined but I could hear in her voice that she sounded playful. With another brief “bye-bye” she hung up the phone. I stood there for a moment, looking at the phone.
So, even Hana met with old friends today? Life is strange. How it would pull out from one end to the other, breaking off strains of connections here and there only to sometimes bring you back in contact with loss branches. Like me and Mihara-san…Once I reached my house, I opened it revealing an excited fox at the door.
“There you are!”
Mari leaped and pushed me from behind. I wasn’t expecting this, so I shuddered a bit.
“Here’s the girl of the hour, Ayumi!”
“I’m still upset with you Mari! You should have picked her up as I asked!”
“Picked me up?”
Mom trumped in with her hands on her hips.
“Mari and I got off early and I wanted to swing by and pick up my baby!”
Mari-san’s breath whispers in my ear.
“Hey, help me out, will you?! She scares me when she’s angry!”
Fearing my mom’s glare, I shied back to Mari-san.
“What am I supposed to do, Mari?! I’m scared too!”
The storm named Nakagawa Ayumi ripped passed us and caught Mari-san by the ear.
“What are you talking about with her, Mari?!”
“Mercy! Mercy, Ayumi!”
With a huff and a slight giggle at the end, mom took a deep breath and made her way back into the kitchen. With the chaos over, Mari holds her chest.
“Sorry I couldn’t calm her down before you came home.”
“Yeah…I don’t remember mom being that overprotective.”
Mari nodded softly then turned back to me. Her tone was gentle, so much that I had to strain my ears to hear her words.
“She’s just worried that she’ll lose you again.”
Suddenly her hand lied on my head. She didn’t rub the back of my hair though and for some reason, I felt a tad sad about that. But she gazed in my eyes. Her deep forest gems made my heartbeat move a tad faster.
“So, I know it’s hard right now…but when she realizes that you’re here to stay then I’m sure she’ll back down a little.”
Her smile shined as she tilted her head at me.
“So, endure her love just a little while longer.”
I thought back to the time I went out with Mae-chan and Conchi-san. She called my phone plenty of times…almost obsessively. Being in her mindset, “What if something happened to Madoka?” That thought made a rock lodge in my chest.
I couldn’t imagine how she must have felt when I went into my coma. So, if I have to endure her wanting to see me safe, is that much of an inconvenience to give her more attention for now?
She brushed my hair a bit longer. I found myself moving to her motions. But suddenly Mari-san’s eyes grew wide. She then nibbled on her bottom lip as she stopped petting me. But for some reason…I felt as though I wanted it to last longer.
“Dinner’s almost ready.”
Mom called out from the other room.
“Oh, I can’t wait!”
Mari raced in the kitchen like a puppy racing to her food bowl.
“M-Mari don’t taste the food yet! I’ll make you a plate. And didn't I tell you to get changed before dinner, Mari?! Madoka, go get changed!”
Mari wined while mom ruffled her soft hair...
Now alone in the living room, I sighed.
“And there they go again…”
I stopped, holding a hand to my mouth. Why would I say something like that? I should be happy that they act this way together…
So, I went to my room. On my way, I entered Hana-san’s room and borrowed the next volume of her manga. When I stepped inside her lingering scent of flowers still captured the room. How I can’t wait for her to come back home now…
I stepped in my room, got redressed into something more comfortable, and made my way back downstairs.
With our meals perfectly laid out, I sat there enjoying the food. The meal wasn’t anything special. Just rice and fish with vegetables. But mom made her special homemade sauce that always reminded me of the past. It made me feel a tad melancholy now though.
Mom and Mari-san sat on the opposite side of me. That’s how it usually was. My mind swirled around a topic I wanted to bring up. My coma. So, I opened my mouth…
“So, how is school going lately, Madoka?”
Mom questioned as she dipped her fish in her homemade sauce.
Rice in my hand I nodded to her.
“Oh, fine. I’ve finally adjusted to my class and made a good bit of friends from it. I even met an old friend of mine today…”
Mom smiled, tilting her head at me.
“Oh, how neat. Who was it?”
“Oh…Well, she was an old basketball teammate.”
Mari-san’s head perked up to my surprise. She set her food to the side now.
“Oh, who was it, Madoka-san?”
“Well, her name is Mihara Yuko-san.”
Mari-san’s eyes went wide. She didn’t speak for a moment, as if something stole her voice. But she then gained her composure and brought on a smile.
“Mihara Yuko…I see.”
“Do you know her, Mari-san?”
With a nod, she kept that perfect smile. It reminded me so much of Mae-chan now.
“Yeah, you spoke to me about her before. You said she was a nice person and only wanted the best for her.”
“Yep. She was going through a hard time and you wanted to help her through…She even came to visit you in the hospital quite a few times.”
“You certainly remember a lot about her though, don’t you Mari?”
Mari’s smile faded a bit before looking back at me.
She closed her eyes and nodded softly.
“Promise me that you’ll make good friends with her…”
“Oh, sure. She’s nice so, I don’t think that’ll be hard.”
Mari-san’s head bobbed a bit. It felt as though she wasn’t even listening to me. No, she seemed as if her mind was elsewhere.
“…Yeah, make sure you take good care of that one. She was like a lost puppy.”
Mari-san giggled then turned back to me. Her gaze reminded me of the night she laid my head on her lap. It was gentle…calming.
“Get along with her. She’s a good girl.”
My mouth parted. As if she’s not asking me but…telling me to be friends with Mihara-san now. It was a bit awkward…
The chatter of our utensils hitting our plates went about the quiet room for a moment. The longer I waited the more awkward it was going to be. So, I gathered up my courage and spoke.
“Hm, yes Madoka?”
“…Mae-chan mentioned something about my coma the other day.”
I didn’t lift my head, but I could feel their stares piercing me. Like needles being punctured into my chest. I’m not sure why it felt this painful, but I pushed through. When I raised my head mom’s lips were parted. Her eyes widen as if trying to take hold of everything I was doing.
“Mom, Ma-chan told me that I wouldn’t leave my room for a while before my coma…”
For a moment mom stayed silent that’s when Mari nodded her head.
“Yeah, that’s right, Madoka-san.”
I wasn’t expecting Mari-san to answer instead of mom. But then mom followed suit and nodded gently. She then did something else. She reached from under the table and took hold of…Mari-san’s hand. As if they were joining together in this sudden endeavor.
“…What happened to me?”
Before my coma, mom and I would tell each other everything. Now was the time to tell me the truth…and yet. Mom let go of her lover's hand then leaned out of her chair.
“It’s okay Madoka. You were just stressed at that time...but now you don’t have to worry about that.”
My mind boggled. Did she seriously think I was going to take…such a half-ass response about my past?
“Mom, what does that even mean. Not leaving my room is a little extreme for being stressed out!”
I didn’t mean to yell, just my irritation flew out before I knew it. However, mom stayed firm. She smiled slightly and leaned to the side a little. I wasn’t expecting this.
“Madoka, I know it’s…difficult for you to take in what I’m about to say but please know that I’m only saying this for your benefit...”
Mom took a deep breath then continued...
“What happened doesn’t matter right now. So please, don’t worry about it, Madoka.”
Mari turned to the side and sighed. Oddly, she wasn’t entering into the conversation. She just held her hands as her eyes looked crestfallen.
“…But this is my life. How can you decide that mom?”
Mom squeezed my hand. It wasn’t gentle either. No, it was the kind of tug that you only get when being warned by a parent.
“Because I’m your mother and I know what’s best for you. One day we’ll talk about it but now isn’t the time, Madoka.”
“Right now, you need to focus on being a high school girl. You shouldn’t be worrying about things like that. Mari agrees too, right?”
"...Yeah. Ayumi's right, Madoka-san."
My mouth hung open in surprise. The times that we would tell each other everything were…over now... I was on the other side of the table watching both of them motionlessly. The lines were drawn between us. They were on one side of the battle and I was on the other.
I wanted to lash out. I wanted to scream and say that This is my life. That they have no right to keep things a secret from me! …But instead…I coward like I always do with my feelings and pouted.
Our conversation died down afterward. Nobody said another word. The food lost its flavor. My mouth moved on its own and the minute I finished, I thanked them for the food and rushed to my room. I lied in bed after taking a bath. Mari-san and mom retreated to their room together earlier than usual. Something told me they were…discussion things about me behind closed doors. I never…felt so detached from my mom before.
I couldn’t help but question…Is that even healthy for them to pick and choose what they want to tell me? I recalled what Mari-san said…that mom just wants to make sure I’m okay. But to want end will she go to…protect me? I rolled over to the side. There was nobody I could talk to about this. Mae-chan didn’t know what happened…and Mari-san doesn’t seem to be on my side about this either.
Then the idea came to mind…
“I’ll…ask Mihara-san about her hospital visits at lunch tomorrow. She might know something I don’t…”
As in the case with Mae-chan…I won’t learn anything from not pursuing what I want to know. Something happened before the coma that made me shut myself away from the world. Something…likely traumatic. Something that mom isn’t worried about hiding from me openly…because she says she knows best...
I sighed, sharply.
How could she decide that I don't need to know about something that directly affected me?
“Mom shouldn’t decide that…”
I bit back at her words during dinner. I never felt so…rebellious before.
Things are changing between us…No, it had changed since before I woke up from my coma, hasn’t it? I’m just aware of it now…
I was scared to admit this but tonight became apparent...
Mom has changed.
She wasn't the same as before my coma. All the time we spend alone, talking about things we would only tell one another was in the past. Mom has moved forward from that. Now she isn't shy about hiding things from me. I love her but...I never thought the day would come when I couldn't trust my...mom.
“I’m not a kid anymore, mom.”
I declared before closing my eyes and drifting off to sleep...