Chapter 14:

Ch.12 Carnations (Part 2) (Volume 2 END)

Sleeping Princess

My chopsticks poked at the food in front of me. I wasn’t in the mood to eat breakfast so instead, I morphed into a taller version of Hana-san.Bookmark here

“Eat up, Madoka.”Bookmark here

The friction between me and mom lingered at the table. I would occasionally gaze at her and she’d look at me with that relaxed smile. As if I’m the only one who found this situation suffocating.Bookmark here

Mari-san didn’t have her normal morning high either. Her body slumped a bit…as if she’s been up all night. I never seen her so drained. Needless to say, this morning wasn’t as lively as the others.Bookmark here

“Be safe on the way to school!”Bookmark here

Mom cried out from the car like she always did…but I didn’t reply. My body just kept going without acknowledging her.Bookmark here

“Madoka…”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

I spun around. Mom’s voice didn’t stop me though…Mari-san’s did. She pushed her head out of the window. Her eyes looked fatigued and it worried me a little.Bookmark here

“Be safe, okay?”Bookmark here

Mari-san’s tone was gentle, but she wasn’t as enthusiastic as usual.Bookmark here

“…Okay.”Bookmark here

The engine started as the fumes trickled passed my nose. Mom waved goodbye as they rode off, leaving me alone on the sidewalk.Bookmark here

“That wasn’t fair, Mari-san…”Bookmark here

Mari-san siding with mom made my frustration seep out. A lot of things have been coming out from my mouth without rhyme or reason lately.Bookmark here

As if a second person was inside of me, crying out to be heard. I’ve always had a habit of saying things without thinking it through…But this was different. Like when mom and Mari-san are…enjoying their time together. I can’t settle down and it’s tiring…these strange feelings flowing through me.Bookmark here

“…Get with it, Madoka.”Bookmark here

I scolded my odd behavior. Only then did I realized that I haven’t moved since Mom and Mari-san drove off. So, I began my journey alone.Bookmark here

My hand was empty as it swung in the wind. How I missed having Hana-san by me now. I wanted someone I could talk to. Someone who knew the family situation I was in. That little flower who’d listen to me and give me the attention I…craved.Bookmark here

“…I need to stop acting like a kid.”Bookmark here

There was a lingering piece of me from the past. The spoiled brat that would make problems for mom, dad, and Mae-chan. The part of me that wanted everything while giving nothing. And I…hated that part of me.Bookmark here

I told myself last night that I wasn’t a kid. And I’m technically not anymore. But I’m not an adult either. I’m supposed to be in that fine line where I make my own choices while still being guided by my parents.Bookmark here

Annoyed, a groan escaped again.Bookmark here

“I’m…a high school girl.”Bookmark here

But then these feelings always come back. These strange, selfish feelings. They’re so childlike…and I want to grow out of them. But it’s hard. Even if I’m mad at mom, I’m still craving for her to tell me everything.Bookmark here

“I…want to change.”Bookmark here

I needed to make up my mind. Show my mom that I’m not a kid who couldn’t take what happened to her in the past, whatever that might be. I want to move forward from my coma. I hate always looking back and being reminded that I lost those years of my life. But I also don’t want to hide from that either…Bookmark here

“I need to change…”Bookmark here

Finally, my feet began moving again. Like Mae-chan who is slowly trying to put her life together, I need to follow her example and…grow up. I need to show mom how much I’ve grown. That I’m not the same kid I was…before my coma.Bookmark here

The train screeched into the station breaking my thoughts.Bookmark here

“Ah! Oh no!”Bookmark here

If I didn’t run, I’d miss it so, I rushed off and luckily hit the gate before it pulled away. When I stepped on the train, I looked around, but Mihara-san was nowhere to be seen.Bookmark here

“Is she out sick today?”Bookmark here

I thought briefly, but then I recalled what she said the other afternoon.Bookmark here

“That’s right, she said she had to be at school for the upcoming festival. So, I’ll have to wait until lunch to ask her about her visits.”Bookmark here

My mind swirled now that I was certainly alone. I can’t say it was unpleasant, but I can’t say it was pleasant either. The train pulled me along in its inertia and there was nothing I could do about it. I found myself dragging along like a zombie to school.Bookmark here

“Nakagawa-san?”Bookmark here

From behind, a certain, busty, intern approached me. Walking alongside her now, I bowed slightly.Bookmark here

“Oh, hello Taylor-sensei.”Bookmark here

“Are you alright? You look a bit down.”Bookmark here

Was it showing on my face? This…conflict that was swirling in my chest?Bookmark here

“Oh, no. I’m fine, Taylor-sensei.”Bookmark here

I lied.Bookmark here

“Hm…remember, you can always talk with me if you have troubles.”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

That’s right. Taylor-sensei said the same thing the other day. I almost wanted to say something, but I held my tongue. We strolled through the halls in silence now, contrasting the bustling of the students around us. Decorations of the festival sprawled out around the school flooding the walls with unique colors. Greens, blues, yellows, and all kinds of unmatching displays.Bookmark here

“It’s something, Cultural Day.”Bookmark here

Taylor-sensei observed. My guess was to break the strange mood between us now.Bookmark here

“This will be my first time seeing Japanese Festivals.”Bookmark here

“Really?”Bookmark here

“Yep! I was hoping I’d enjoy it with Sophia.Bookmark here

The whitecoat’s shoulders drooped as she clenched her clipboard.Bookmark here

“But…Sophia’s not too pleased with me coming here…”Bookmark here

I adjusted my scarf as I veered to her.Bookmark here

“Why is that?”Bookmark here

Sensei snickered and gave me a wink.Bookmark here

“If we chat someday, maybe I’ll tell you my secrets too? I mean, you already caught me yesterday. We can be partners in some way, Nakagawa-san!”Bookmark here

She skillfully swung back to that. Taylor-sensei wasn’t as airheaded as I might have thought. No, she’s observant to a level that’s beyond me. She…was telling me that she’s worried about me even though we only met briefly yesterday. I couldn’t help but smile.Bookmark here

“…Maybe.”Bookmark here

I coughed, clearing the look on my face. There was a shell I built up at some point in time. Likely around the time, I lost my father. One that wouldn’t let others in so easily. Like when Conway-san asked me about my family problems.Bookmark here

“Well, I have to take this turn. I’ll see you around, Nakagawa-san.”Bookmark here

“Oh, sure Taylor-sensei.”Bookmark here

Her perfect figure faded into the nurse's office. She could turn the heads of any guy with how she kept herself. She was…quite mature. Something I in a way hoped to become someday. Not this…spoiled kid from the past anymore.Bookmark here

The day went on. Conway, not to my surprise, wasn’t in class. She never skipped this regularly so I could only connect that it had something to do with Taylor-sensei. As I took my notes, the classes went by sluggishly. It felt like a lifetime passed before the bell rang, bringing about the lunch period. So, I grabbed my premade lunch and rushed to the spot Mihara-san suggested.Bookmark here

Near the top of the school were a couple of steps that led to the roof. It is closed off to students, so nobody comes up here. A perfect landing to relax in solitude. As I went up the hard steps, I heard a cute noise. A deep sigh coming from a small mouth.Bookmark here

“Hey.”Bookmark here

“Eh?!”Bookmark here

Startled, the ghost dropped her food on her lap. Luckily, it didn’t spill.Bookmark here

“Sorry to scare you, Mihara-san.”Bookmark here

“Good afternoon…Nakagawa-san.”Bookmark here

Her soft voice etched in my ear. This afternoon greeting was starting to become natural and didn’t feel as forced as it had the other previous day.Bookmark here

“Afternoon, Mihara-san.”Bookmark here

I took a seat on the wall next to her. We didn’t say a word as we both revealed our box lunches. As we rustled with our meals, I closed my eyes, wondering how I’ll approach the subject. Then I thought back on how Mae-chan just blurted out what she wanted to say to Conway-san. Maybe that method would work?Bookmark here

“Hm…”Bookmark here

No, it’s a bit strange if I just say, “Hey, I heard you visited me plenty of times while I was in my coma.” It just isn’t natural…but then again…what’s natural about a coma?Bookmark here

“Are you tired, Nakagawa-san?”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

“You’re closing your eyes. Did… you get enough sleep last night?”Bookmark here

“Oh…that’s not it! I’m fine.”Bookmark here

I waved off her concern. Well, fine wasn’t the truth at all though...Bookmark here

“If…there’s something wrong…you…”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

I turned to see a shaky Mihara-san. Her fingers trembled to the point that she had to set her chopsticks down.Bookmark here

“Y-You…can talk to…me about it.”Bookmark here

Her concern turned into action. Mihara-san was shy, but she has a way to push herself through and get her mind out in the open. I’m even envying her too. Why can everyone around me convey their feelings so clearly? Why is everyone around me so…mature?Bookmark here

“Mihara-san…”Bookmark here

My neck craned to the floor. I wanted to grow and be able to speak my mind like her and Hana. So, I turned to her.Bookmark here

“Did you visit me while I was in the hospital?”Bookmark here

Her mouth opened and closed before opening again. She lowered her sticks and her eyes escaped to the side, veering away from me. With a huff, she admitted it with a nod.Bookmark here

“Y-Yes...”Bookmark here

Her face went a tad pink.Bookmark here

“I see…thanks for coming to see me then, Mihara-san.”Bookmark here

“Y-You don’t have to thank me. Plenty of people visited you. I was…just one of them.”Bookmark here

Plenty of people? I take it she was talking about previous friends and such.Bookmark here

“Mihara-san…do you know why I stopped coming to school?”Bookmark here

Mihara shook her head, still looking at the floor.Bookmark here

“No. Ah…you were just fine one day then the next you…just stopped coming...”Bookmark here

“I see.”Bookmark here

I guess that would make sense. Mom did say it was a “family matter” to Mae-chan. If she wouldn’t even tell my best friend…I doubt she’d mention it to a basketball teammate who visited me occasionally. Dejected, I angled my head down to my bento.Bookmark here

“…Nakagawa-san…”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

“But I do remember…that you started leaving practice earlier than usual. Normally you would stay late…well after the rest of us left.”Bookmark here

“Is that right, Mihara-san?”Bookmark here

Mihara nodded, her long white hair tattered across her face.Bookmark here

“I would see you working hard at the gymnasium. That’s why you were so talented. You…pushed yourself hard. I…admired that about…you.”Bookmark here

Her lips hid under her scarf again.Bookmark here

“Before you stopped showing up you started leaving the same time as everyone else…I just figured you had…other obligations, Nakagawa-san.”Bookmark here

“Other obligations outside of my scholarship?”Bookmark here

So, I had been doing other things besides working for my scholarship? That reminded me of what I would talk about with Mari-san. This sparked an idea in my head.Bookmark here

I might not be able to figure out what made me stop coming to school, but I could figure out more about a certain…someone. So, I took out my phone. The screen lit up as I held it out to the apparition beside me.Bookmark here

“Have you met this person? The one with the black hair?”Bookmark here

On the screen was the photo of Mom and Mari-san. The picture I showed Mae-chan when I first woke up. One of the three that I had still uploaded on my phone. I pointed to the black-haired troublemaker.Bookmark here

“Oh…her...”Bookmark here

“So, you do know Mari-san?”Bookmark here

She pushed her neck in her scarf deeper and nodded softly.Bookmark here

“I don’t know her personally but she…was always at the hospital when I showed up.”Bookmark here

“Is that right?”Bookmark here

“Yeah…”Bookmark here

“Did you two talk about anything?”Bookmark here

Mihara-san looked out the window next to us then turned back to me.Bookmark here

“…Not really.”Bookmark here

She then took a deep breath and spoke.Bookmark here

“When she was there…it was like she was your guardian or something. It made it a little hard to speak with you, Nakagawa-san.”Bookmark here

“What do you mean?”Bookmark here

“Well…”Bookmark here

The ghost looked at me and touched my hand suddenly. She then nibbled at my fingers with hers. I wasn’t expecting this, so I pulled away slightly. Only then did I notice that I probably did something wrong.Bookmark here

“S-Sorry.”Bookmark here

I apologized.Bookmark here

“N-No, I didn’t mean to…touch you like that…”Bookmark here

Mihara-san rubbed her hands together.Bookmark here

“What I wanted to say was…She would…always hold your hand…like keeping you to herself.”Bookmark here

My chest fluttered. I could feel my body tense up. The picture on Mari-san’s phone came to mind.Bookmark here

“That person didn’t seem to like me, Nakagawa-san…As I sat there, she wouldn’t leave the room or…give me a moment alone with you…”Bookmark here

“Mari-san wouldn’t?”Bookmark here

Mihara-san eyes glared at the floor as she recalled the past.Bookmark here

“She would just sit in the seat next to you while doing other things like looking on her phone or reading the paper, watching tv, and other stuff. “Bookmark here

She sighed.Bookmark here

“But she wouldn’t…let go of your hand, Nakagawa-san…”Bookmark here

She went silent for a moment then finally spoke up.Bookmark here

“Eventually I…stopped coming because of her. I don’t think she’s a…very nice person…hogging you like that…”Bookmark here

“Mari-san did this?”Bookmark here

She nodded softly then looked back at me.Bookmark here

“…I remember this time when I brought in a bunch of flowers one day she was there. There were already plenty of other flowers from friends and family around you “Bookmark here

Mihara-san’s fingers danced around the side of her lunch as she continued.Bookmark here

“But then the next day I came…they were gone…My flowers were the only ones…missing. I… couldn’t gather up the courage to ask her about it though.”Bookmark here

She then angled her head down.Bookmark here

“She just smiled at me when I came. She didn’t say a word to me, but something told me…”Bookmark here

Mihara-san pushed her neck down deeper into her scarf.Bookmark here

“I could…only imagine that it was her that took them away when I left. She…didn’t like me…giving you flowers…”Bookmark here

I looked at the wall across the small room as if trying to gather the pieces to her tale.Bookmark here

“S-Sorry Mihara-san, I don’t understand…Why do you think Mari-san would do something like that?”Bookmark here

That seemed out of character from the Mari-san I knew. To be honest, would she even care if someone brought flowers in the first place? She seems like the type to just say, “My, my how lovely.” Then go about watching TV and lazing around the hospital room. Occasionally ordering herself some food or whatnot.Bookmark here

But as my delusions went on, I realized that was mean-spirited and cut myself off. Mihara-san shook her head in protest. Her hair waved back and forth.Bookmark here

“No…I understood what she meant by it.”Bookmark here

Her eyes shot to the window again as if being beckoned by the winter light.Bookmark here

“She wanted me to know who you…belonged to…Nakagawa-san”Bookmark here

Mihara-san’s lips hid underneath her scarf.Bookmark here

“Only her…”Bookmark here

My mouth opened faintly. I wanted to grasp her words, but they filtered away before I could make sense of them.Bookmark here

“What…do you mean by that, Mihara-san?”Bookmark here

She shook her head gently this time. Her mouth opened but no words escaped.Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

Is she saying that Mari-san was being…protective of me while I was in my coma or something? No…Mari-san held my hand with that look on her face. It was something more than being…protective of me, wasn’t it?Bookmark here

This is so confusing. Why is she so difficult to understand? I found myself rubbing my temple now.Bookmark here

From Mihara-san’s experience, Mari-san would constantly watch over me. I know from Hana-san that she would talk with her daughter about me to the point that Hana-san held me in high regard. She then acted all flirty with me when I finally woke up. But after we had our chat…now she’s…paying me little attention like it never happened?Bookmark here

“Mari-san…”Bookmark here

I kicked my feet in frustration. Why can’t I figure her out?! Why is she such a mystery?!Bookmark here

Mihara-san spoke gently causing me to relax. I could hear a slight tremble in her voice.Bookmark here

“So, I decided to… leave you alone. Even though…that hurt…”Bookmark here

Her voice turned to a sincere whisper. I could barely make out her last sentence.Bookmark here

“I’m…sorry for not coming more often Nakagawa-san. Could you please forgive me?”Bookmark here

The corner of her eyes started welling up. Maybe I breached something I shouldn’t have? I’ve concluded that there are topics about my coma that will make others feel uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to make my new friend cry.Bookmark here

“Oh, don’t worry. Here, Mihara-san. Take a bite of this!”Bookmark here

“Eh?”Bookmark here

“Aren’t we sharing lunch? That’s what you said you wanted to do, right?”Bookmark here

A quick way to change the topic.Bookmark here

“We’re friends, aren’t we?”Bookmark here

Her eyes lit up as she pulled back. I couldn’t see her lips, but I could see her cheeks grow red.Bookmark here

“Friends?”Bookmark here

“Oh, was it too early for me to think that?”Bookmark here

She shook her head, vigorously.Bookmark here

“N-No not at all! I…I’m happy to be called your friend.”Bookmark here

“Good. That makes me feel better.”Bookmark here

I couldn’t find out much about the incident before my coma. But I found out more about…Mari-san.Bookmark here

It seems that Mari-san would stay beside me for a long time. Even hold my hand as I slept. Nothing is normal about how she treated me when I was in my coma. Nothing is normal about the way she treated me after I woke up. I needed to confront her and find out what’s going through her mind.Bookmark here

With a groan, I leaned my head back.Bookmark here

Out of everyone I knew…Mihara-san had been truly honest with me so far. Even Mae-chan was hiding things from me. But Mihara-san doesn’t seem to be hiding anything. No, she’s like an open book…and it’s refreshing.Bookmark here

“Thank you, Mihara-san.”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

I had to express what I was thinking, be honest to honest people.Bookmark here

“Thank you for being honest with me.”Bookmark here

Her eyes gazed down at her meal. With a slight chuckle, she turned back to me.Bookmark here

“Honest, huh?”Bookmark here

I wasn’t expecting that response, so I turned back to her only to see that her face was crimson now. Her teeth nibbled at the bottom of her lips as she peered at me from the side.Bookmark here

“N-Nakagawa-san…”Bookmark here

“Yes?”Bookmark here

“Have you…ever loved someone?”Bookmark here

My mouth opened as I thought about her question. This came out of nowhere and I was unsure where her mind went from one place to the other. But then I closed my eyes and thought about it hard. It seemed at some point in my gap of memory I had a sort of attraction to someone…Bookmark here

“I don’t know…”Bookmark here

I was honest.Bookmark here

“I can’t remember being attracted to anyone in that way in middle school.”Bookmark here

I danced around my box lunch with my chopsticks. I wasn’t hungry anymore. Too much was speeding around my head to focus on the mediocre meal.Bookmark here

“Boys’ kind of scared me when I was growing up. The only boy I could get along with was my dad.”Bookmark here

I chuckled, remembering his childish antics.Bookmark here

“He was an immature man but always played with me. Even when I got a bit older, he would treat me like I was five.Bookmark here

I giggled now.Bookmark here

“There were such good qualities to him. He was playful and would tease me at times…He reminded me of…”Bookmark here

I stopped myself before her name could assault my mind again.Bookmark here

“I guess that doesn’t answer your question though, does it Mihara-san?”Bookmark here

“Hm…no…not really.”Bookmark here

She nodded and turned back to her food. So, I swung the question back on her.Bookmark here

“What about you? I can’t be the only one to be questioned.”Bookmark here

“Huh...”Bookmark here

She stared at me like I grew six heads.Bookmark here

“I… wasn’t too fond of anyone in middle school. All the boys were too energetic for me. They were nice…but I couldn’t keep up.”Bookmark here

She giggled softly.Bookmark here

“And…I was so close to my grandma that I…closed myself off when she passed away.”Bookmark here

Mihara-san then did something I wasn’t expecting. She touched my fingers again. This caused my face to warm up.Bookmark here

“Maybe…that’s why…”Bookmark here

Her eyes glanced at me then sped away as she balled her fist. My body grew warm for a moment and I could tell she felt uncomfortable, so I spoke up.Bookmark here

“You don’t have to say anything. I’m just teasing you, Mihara-san.”Bookmark here

“Oh?”Bookmark here

Her mouth opened, harshly.Bookmark here

“That’s…mean Nakagawa-san.”Bookmark here

“S-Sorry! I didn’t mean it.”Bookmark here

Mihara-san silently pouted so, I stuck out a bit of my food towards her.Bookmark here

“Are we friends again?”Bookmark here

Not as though we suddenly became mortal enemies to my knowledge. Mihara-san’s face perked up as her lips parted and bit into my food.Bookmark here

“…Yeah, we are.”Bookmark here

It was like feeding a puppy just like Mari-san said. She was adamant about me being friends with Mihara-san. I still can’t for the life of me figure out why she had to make that a point.Bookmark here

I giggled now.Bookmark here

“Nakagawa-san?”Bookmark here

“Oh…it’s nothing Mihara-san.”Bookmark here

I can’t lie, this time with her was relaxing. If anything, I do want to know more about Mihara-san though. After our lunch, the remainder of the day wasn’t anything to note.Bookmark here

Before I knew it, the twilight sky peered in as I rode back home on the train.Bookmark here

With Mihara-san staying late I would be alone until Hana came back. My phone chimed my favorite STARS song, causing me to shake. It was Hana-san. I looked at it and seen a picture attached to it.Bookmark here

[“Title: Meet my best friend.”]Bookmark here

A picture of a fiery-haired girl came into view. She was holding Hana-san from behind. Seemed they both were muddy but were having a great time. The attached name on the bottom was “Sora-chan.”Bookmark here

My lips curled. So, this is the “Sora” that likes the fluffy? That’s cute. Maybe one day I’ll meet her. She seems like a good friend.Bookmark here

I reply: [“I hope to meet her one day!”]Bookmark here

Suddenly I get another text. I expect it’s from Hana, so I open it.Bookmark here

On the contrary, it’s Mihara-san. I open the attachment and what I found was a beautiful painting. It was a flower with cream pink petals. It was simple but detailed. It wasn’t a Picasso, but it wasn’t an amateur’s work either. I didn’t know the name of the flower, but it was pretty. On the bottom of the attachment it wrote:Bookmark here

[“For you.”]Bookmark here

My chest felt warm. Did she draw this for me? That’s what this message implied, right? But then I thought about the story she told me from the hospital when I was in my coma. Was this her way of…giving me those flowers again? I curled my lips and replied:Bookmark here

[“Thanks, it’s very pretty Mihara-san.”]Bookmark here

An emote came soon after. One with a cat that smiled with cute flowers around it. It was a bit of a western toon kind and complimented Mihara-san. Her honesty is one that can’t be mirrored.Bookmark here

I clicked on the flower and set it as my new phone’s background so, when I turn it on, the flower will bloom. I’ll have to give Mihara-san a return gift someday. Even though the winter was in full motion, my cheeks grew warmer as I entered my home.Bookmark here

“Welcome back.”Bookmark here

“Oh?”Bookmark here

I wasn’t expecting anyone to be home because the car wasn’t here, but Mari-san’s voice streamed into the room.Bookmark here

There she was lying on the couch in her lazy red sweater. Her body was slumped on the armrest and a strange karate movie was on. The African American actor reminded me of a famous man from the west. I wasn’t sure of his name, however.Bookmark here

“Where’s mom?”Bookmark here

As I set my bag down, I questioned.Bookmark here

“Ryuji’s girlfriend asked her to stop by after work. She wanted to try on some dresses or something. So, she dropped me off and here I am…”Bookmark here

With a yawn, she continued watching the movie. She seemed exhausted and I couldn’t put my finger on what was making her so tired. But one thing I did realize…Mari-san watches a lot of TV…Bookmark here

“So, it’s just us, huh?”Bookmark here

“Looks like it...”Bookmark here

I’m not sure why I said that. Growing conscious of the last time we were home together Mari-san…teased me with that stupid lemon scent I gave her from the arcade. But since that chat we had, she’s certainly been acting like an adult.Bookmark here

“Ah…”Bookmark here

“Hm, do you want something Madoka-san?”Bookmark here

She didn’t move or even turn to me. Why did it feel as though I was bothering her? My chest clenched a bit at her response. I’m happy she’s been acting proper but…I don’t know. It feels as though…We’re still on two different sides of an ocean…Bookmark here

“Madoka-san?”Bookmark here

“Oh…it’s nothing. Just a little tired from school.”Bookmark here

“Head to your room and I’ll fix you something to snack on. Are you okay with not having a big dinner tonight?”Bookmark here

“Oh, that’s just fine.”Bookmark here

With that, I began walking to my room. I don’t know why but…I felt as though I wanted her to offer me to at least watch that strange movie with her…or something.Bookmark here

“Mari-san…”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

I blurted out her name from the steps. That habit is getting me into trouble…Bookmark here

“What’s up, Madoka-san?”Bookmark here

I’m not sure why I called her out and didn’t know what to even say. It’s like I just wanted her to…turn to me at least...or something…Bookmark here

“No…it’s nothing.”Bookmark here

“I’ll make us some curry. So, go settle down, Madoka-san. Make sure you call your mom and tell her you made it home safe.”Bookmark here

“Okay.”Bookmark here

As my body moved up the steps, I found my eyes veering down to her. She didn’t move from the couch, no she just sat there like a stone. I would have at least liked for her to ask how my day was…Even though at that time she was acting like a weirdo I can’t deny that I, in some way, relished that attention in hindsight…Bookmark here

A groan pushed out. It’s even I wanted Mari-san to bother me all the time or respect my distance…like I asked. I scratched my head as I opened my door.Bookmark here

“What am I going on about…?”Bookmark here

There I lied on my bed, tired from the day. So, I lifted my phone to see the name Mom on my call list. I wasn’t particularly fond of having to call her right now. I didn’t learn much of anything about the incident before my coma either…Bookmark here

“I’m sure Mari-san talked with mom a lot last night…about my incident…”Bookmark here

I shook off my irritation. I don’t know why but the way Mari-san just brushed me off earlier was getting under my skin. But she’s was behaving just how I asked her to. I can’t have it both ways. Not like I would want it another way, right?Bookmark here

Reluctantly, I clicked the name and stood up as the phone started buzzing.Bookmark here

“Madoka? Did you get home safe?”Bookmark here

“Yeah… I’m in my room now.”Bookmark here

“Oh, I’m so glad to hear. Are you and Mari going to make dinner?”Bookmark here

“Mari-san said she’ll cook us up something. So, I’m going to finish my homework and relax since she has it tonight.”Bookmark here

“That’s good to hear.”Bookmark here

“…Yep.”Bookmark here

“Is everything alright? You sound upset…”Bookmark here

Leave it to my mom to catch me off guard.Bookmark here

“N-No, I’m just tired.”Bookmark here

For a moment she paused. I could hear her breathe in sharply before her voice came back in.Bookmark here

“Madoka…I know you’re upset with me but I’m only doing this to protect you…”Bookmark here

“Right…”Bookmark here

“One day we’ll talk about it. I promise Madoka, so please don’t give Mari-san a hard time.”Bookmark here

I was slightly annoyed by her last sentence. Like I was causing Mari-san problems….Bookmark here

But then like a whirlpool the idea came flooding into my mind. That’s right, Mari-san said in the past that we use to talk with each other about various things. Wouldn’t this time be comparable to when mom was out, and Mari-san would talk with me? If I make her open up to me like in the past…Bookmark here

“I’ll be home late tonight so once you’re done eating clean up and get to bed early.”Bookmark here

Mom’s voice didn’t register to me at first. So, I gave her a haphazard reply.Bookmark here

“…Alright, mom.”Bookmark here

“Oh, and Hana called me earlier. She’s enjoying her time in the mountains. Make sure to at least text her.”Bookmark here

“Okay, mom…”Bookmark here

Hana and I have been exchanging messages all day. She didn’t have to remind me…Bookmark here

“Okay, see you later Madoka...”Bookmark here

With that, mom hung up the phone leaving me on the empty end of it. I got undressed and decided to wear my light blue casual gown. Now with my comfortable attire, I breezed through the work for the night. After finishing up my homework, I heard the humble voice of the chef call out to me.Bookmark here

“Madoka-san, foods ready!”Bookmark here

I made my way downstairs and met her at the table. There lied chicken curry with veggies and rice. She grinned as we both sat across from each other. Mari-san didn’t say a word, she just enjoyed the food while looking at the newspaper from the side. But then the fox yawned again making it apparent that she hadn’t had enough sleep.Bookmark here

“Are you sleepy, Mari-san?”Bookmark here

“Oh…sorry…I just had…a lot on my mind recently.”Bookmark here

She sipped away at her tea. This was a new side to Mari-san that I wasn’t sure how to approach.Bookmark here

“How was your day, Mari-san?”Bookmark here

“Pretty good. I got all my work turned in, so the boss gave me a far easier assignment. I just slacked off most of the day afterwards.”Bookmark here

“That doesn’t sound good for an office worker to say.”Bookmark here

I teased.Bookmark here

“Hey, you’ll learn that you take small victories when you get them, Madoka-san!”Bookmark here

Mari-san pointed her chopsticks my way with a beam before turning back to the paper. It seemed that there was something more interesting than our conversation in there…Bookmark here

With a sigh, I stopped myself. Lately, I’ve been sounding a bit spoiled. I need to keep that side of me in check. Mari-san hasn’t done anything to me so there’s no reason why I should be thinking this way about her.Bookmark here

Mari-san’s food was remarkable, but the silence was deafening between us. I wanted to bring up my incident…so I circumvented and started with something lighter…Bookmark here

“I…made friends with Mihara-san, Mari-san.”Bookmark here

Mari-san looked up at me, surprised but then her smile returned…but it didn’t feel genuine.Bookmark here

“Oh…that’s good.”Bookmark here

She shined.Bookmark here

“I’m glad…”Bookmark here

“She even made me this.”Bookmark here

I showed her the picture on my phone.Bookmark here

“Oh, she drew you...carnations?”Bookmark here

Mari-san’s smile didn’t react well with her voice. That’s when I could tell that she was forcing herself. But I couldn’t for the life of me tell why…Bookmark here

“…How do you know Mihara-san again?”Bookmark here

“It’s like I said yesterday, you told me about her. About her losing her grandmother and how you were supporting her.”Bookmark here

Mari-san then continued reading the paper.Bookmark here

“Yeah, she told me about it. It was around the time I lost my dad so I’m sure we could have connected because of that...”Bookmark here

With a groan, Mari-san replied.Bookmark here

“Yeah, that’s what I figured. It’s sad to think that though, Madoka-san...”Bookmark here

This conversation about Mihara-san wasn’t going anywhere. It seemed Mari-san wasn’t interested in her. As if the very mention of Mihara-san was causing her…discomfort. So, I gathered up the courage after taking a bite of my food. We were alone, I wanted to…open up to her.Bookmark here

“Hey, Mari-san…about my trauma...”Bookmark here

For the first time in the chat, she put her paper to the side, giving me all the attention.Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

“It’s just us…so, can we talk?”Bookmark here

The fox closed her eyes.Bookmark here

“Sure, Madoka-san.”Bookmark here

“Why are you and mom withholding things from me?”Bookmark here

Mari-san rubbed her fingers together.Bookmark here

“It’s because you suffered a trauma and it made you afraid to leave the house. Ayumi decided it’ll be best for you not to remember it…and I agreed.”Bookmark here

“So, you’ll agree with mom over me…?”Bookmark here

That outburst even surprised me. I was sick of hearing her always put mom first, so I lashed out as if something inside me was protesting. This left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth.Bookmark here

“Madoka-san…”Bookmark here

“I’m not a kid Mari-san…”Bookmark here

Mari-san shook her head causing her soft hair to wash over her face.Bookmark here

“…No, you are a kid, Madoka-san…”Bookmark here

I was taken aback by her candor.Bookmark here

“You have the rest of your life to sort that out but right now you are just a kid who should be enjoying her youth.”Bookmark here

The room felt unusually heavy. This atmosphere was different than when we watched that drama together. But the outcome was still the same… I wanted to escape from the table. Mari-san’s tone was gentle but very systematic like she was answering to an irate customer. We gazed at one another now however, her presence was dominating. I found my eyes backing down from her.Bookmark here

“But…”Bookmark here

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you again Madoka-san.”Bookmark here

She beamed at me, but the tone of her voice didn’t mirror her look. There were so many contradictions to Mari-san…that I couldn’t understand.Bookmark here

“…Ayumi and I just want you to be happy, Madoka-san. So please, don’t be upset with us.”Bookmark here

With that, she stood up and put her plate in the sink. She then walked around the table attempting to exit, leaving me with my lingering questions. My body moved on its own as I reached out to her and took her soft hands. I didn’t know what I wanted to say. When I saw the surprised look on her face…it came out.Bookmark here

“Why did you hold my hand in the hospital?!”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

I couldn’t stop thinking about that picture on her phone. The one with the daydreamer’s gaze. Then back to Mihara-san’s story about her holding my hand while I slept. How she…wouldn’t let me go.Bookmark here

“Why did you hold my hand while I was in my coma? Mihara-san told me all about it… That isn’t normal, Mari-san!”Bookmark here

“…Madoka.”Bookmark here

“You said we were so close. So, why can’t we go back to the way we were?Bookmark here

“Madoka…”Bookmark here

I lashed out like the child they kept calling me. Before I knew it, tears laid around my cheeks. I hated the way she treated me now. I couldn’t stand how distant she was being to me. So, I pouted like the kid I was. If that’s how she saw me then I’ll beg like the spoiled child I am.Bookmark here

“Why do you keep pushing me away?”Bookmark here

As I understood my past more…she was so much closer to me. I couldn’t understand anything anymore and I wanted answers. I could feel her tugging away, but I stayed firm and took to my feet, pushing my body closer to hers.Bookmark here

“What changed between us, Mari-san?”Bookmark here

“…Madoka…”Bookmark here

“It’s like you…hate me now, Mari-san.”Bookmark here

Our eyes met, only then, in the dining room’s light, did I realize that Mari-san…was crying. All my anger subsided as it washed away to guilt.Bookmark here

“Mari-san?”Bookmark here

Her calm manners shattered, face flushed and, her expression didn’t seem toned anymore. Our noses nearly touched as our eyes held each other. I could see her long lashes flicker as she blinked her moist eyes. Her lips were pinker than… Mihara-san’s. That lemon scent raised in my nose causing my heart to slam against my chest.Bookmark here

Nothing is normal about me…when I’m around Mari-san. I let go of her hands but to my surprise, she pulled me in, wrapping her arms around me. Her soft cheeks rested on my shoulder.Bookmark here

“I could never hate you, Madoka-san!”Bookmark here

Her thin fingers caressed my back.Bookmark here

“You’re special to me... so special to me.”Bookmark here

“Mari-san…”Bookmark here

She rested her head on my shoulder, I couldn’t see her face. I didn’t understand what this situation was. This warmth fluttered in my chest to the point I couldn’t breathe. She held me tight, but I still wanted to be closer to her for some reason. This wasn’t the first time I felt this way either. No, that was apparent. This feeling between us was too familiar.Bookmark here

“…Then why can’t you be honest with me, Mari-san?”Bookmark here

She stayed there, holding me in her arms.Bookmark here

“You’re right…I should be honest with you.”Bookmark here

She relaxed her grip.Bookmark here

“Madoka-san, I have something to tell you...”Bookmark here

Without another word, she touched my fingers and led me to the couch. How this felt so natural to be guided by her now. She sat down and coursed me to do the same. For a minute we sat there without a word to each other. Then suddenly, her head rested on my shoulder. As if all her energy died in an instant. It didn’t feel the same as when Mae-chan did this the other day. No, this was different. But then she did something else I wasn’t expecting…Bookmark here

Mari-san…Bookmark here

…Held my hand.Bookmark here

Entwined her fingers with mine…Bookmark here

“After our chat at the park, I’ve been trying my best to respect you. To be a mother…but it’s hard, Madoka-san.”Bookmark here

Mari sighed. Her hands were warm…almost hot and it worried me a little.Bookmark here

“It’s true…I held your hand just like this while you slept those years away…”Bookmark here

I could feel the blood rise to my cheeks. This was a new side to Mari-san. An honest side.Bookmark here

“Why?”Bookmark here

Her voice was soft now, like the time we watched that drama together. She whispered like there was someone else in the home.Bookmark here

“…Because it was my fault.”Bookmark here

Her lips pursed as she continued.Bookmark here

“I… shouldn’t have taken you to that amusement park that day…”Bookmark here

Her voice trembled. I wasn’t sure I heard her right but then she continued before I could open my mouth.Bookmark here

“…Then you wouldn’t have gotten hurt, Madoka-san.”Bookmark here

“…Mari-san…”Bookmark here

Only then did it register to me that Mari-san was…confessing to having a part in my coma.Bookmark here

“After the paramedics rushed you to the hospital…you wouldn’t wake up…”Bookmark here

Her body slumped deeper into my shoulder…Bookmark here

“I felt terrible as I watched you sleep your life away...and when you finally woke up…you forgot all about…me...”Bookmark here

Her tears continued to fall to no end.Bookmark here

“I… was too scared to tell you…because I didn’t want you to hate me…Madoka-san. So, I begged Ayumi to keep it from you…”Bookmark here

She took a deep breath…Bookmark here

“…But Ayumi...”Bookmark here

Her words began to blur together now.Bookmark here

“…I’m sorry, Madoka-san...I’m…sorry. So, please…don’t hate me...”Bookmark here

She cried before she grew silent.Bookmark here

“Mari-san?”Bookmark here

I turned to see her slumping over. Mari-san had been low on energy all day and with all this, it must have finally got to her and she fell asleep. So, I lied her on my lap…and brushed her soft dark hair. Her body felt hot but… couldn’t help but want to stay here.Bookmark here

From what it sounded like…The day I took the photo of the amusement park I was with Mari-san. Something happened and I got hurt while we were together. That would make sense…why she would stay by my side at the hospital. And why she would talk to Hana so much about…me.Bookmark here

I caressed her hair as tears kept falling from my eyes.Bookmark here

“So, did you feel guilty for being there, Mari-san? Is that why you stayed beside me?”Bookmark here

Feelings bled through me now. I felt warm and restless but shallow and cold. As I pet her hair it felt nostalgic but also distressing. Like there will always be a gap between us. I wanted to shake Mari-san awake and tell her to explain these feelings I have…when I’m around her.Bookmark here

“…You should get to bed, Mari-san”Bookmark here

I concluded before holding onto her and guiding her to her room. As I lied her down, mom’s scent captured my nose. Little thorns assaulted my body now. Mom’s scent…shouldn’t mingle with that fresh lemon’s…Bookmark here

Before I knew it, I was shaking my head, trying my best to brush that new side of me away. This ill-spirited child that’s been clashing when it came to Mom and Mari-san.Bookmark here

“Hm…I’m going to check your temperature, Mari-san.”Bookmark here

I made my way into the bathroom and found the first-aid kit in search of a thermometer. Once I found it, I raced back and met the sight of Mari-san huddling to the side. I’ve never seen her in such a vulnerable state. She was…cute this way. So, I kneeled by her and placed it in her mouth, revealing a temperature of 38C.Bookmark here

“Great, you have a fever.”Bookmark here

I sighed.Bookmark here

“I better not get sick because of you…”Bookmark here

Teasing her even though she’s unconscious. How low could I go? So, I got her a cold towel and lifted her.Bookmark here

“…Madoka-san?”Bookmark here

“You’re running a fever. So, I’m going to have to put you in something lighter, okay?”Bookmark here

“Hm…I figured I was getting sick...”Bookmark here

She chuckled.Bookmark here

“Hey…I cooked dinner.”Bookmark here

“I’m trying not to think about that, Mari-san...”Bookmark here

I unzipped her sweater revealing her lush back. It’s pure white skin mirroring that of a porcelain doll. Nothing like the fake smile she portrays. No, this was beautiful. I lifted her sweater from behind. Now I could see her exposed back as her sweat gracefully trickled down her. Glistening from the faint light in the room she could only be compared to a work of art.Bookmark here

Heat resonated from my cheeks as I stole glances of her figure.Bookmark here

“…Thanks, Madoka-san.”Bookmark here

“...W-What are step-daughter’s for?”Bookmark here

I tried to pass off my nerves but she didn’t reply, her head just angled to the bed. So, I handed her a shirt that should give her better airflow. But she spun it around in her hands and looked at it like it was a foreign object. Only then did It come to me that she might still be a little disoriented.Bookmark here

“Here, I’ll help, Mari-san...”Bookmark here

Doing my best not to look at her breast, I put the shirt over her head. Gently, I folded it over her slim shoulders. This wasn’t like when I was in the bath with Hana-san. No…this certainly was more intimate than that.Bookmark here

“Thank you…Madoka-san.”Bookmark here

Now she lied back in bed and turned to me. So, I put a cold towel over her forehead and brushed her soft black bangs back. She lied there, staring into my eyes. I wanted to look away but her lush gems drew me in. When I pulled it away she spoke...Bookmark here

“Hey…”Bookmark here

“Yeah, Mari-san?”Bookmark here

“…This reminds me of when we first met.”Bookmark here

“Oh, what happened?”Bookmark here

Mari-san gave me a dreary smile.Bookmark here

“I brought your mother in after a night of drinking. I was sober but…stressed out because of work.”Bookmark here

Mari-san touched my fingers. But it wasn’t like when Mihara-san did it. I didn’t pull away…no, I drew closer.Bookmark here

“I could barely move so you…took my temperature and found out I was running a fever. You…helped me into different clothing and…even called Hana-san’s babysitter and told her I’ll be late.”Bookmark here

Mari-san’s smile faded as she gazed into my eyes.Bookmark here

“You’re so mature…so reliable…so thoughtful.”Bookmark here

She then took my hand and brushed it against her warm cheeks.Bookmark here

“…You’re so special to me, Madoka.”Bookmark here

My body was so warm…no it was blazing hot now. If I took my temperature, I felt that I would be running a higher Celsius then Mari-san. I pet her hair as feelings of pain surged in my chest. A slight giggle escaped from my mouth despite how painful my body felt.Bookmark here

“We were closer back then and I think it took me until now to understand why…Mari-san.”Bookmark here

I bit my lip at what I was exploring in my head. I dove deeper in my soul and connected with that girl who’d been fighting to get out recently. The one I wanted to push away but now…needed to come out of her cage. Countless times I told myself that I never thought of another woman like that…but here I am, coming to the only logical conclusion to all my feelings. All the bitterness blooming from that mysterious girl within me.Bookmark here

Mari-san… used to be special to me too… didn’t she?Bookmark here

As I held her hand, she closed her eyes. That was the moment it all came to me. So, I reached for my phone and called a certain someone…Bookmark here

“Hello, Mom?”Bookmark here

“Madoka, is everything alright? I’m on my way home soon…”Bookmark here

“Everything’s fine. But Mari-san…came down with a fever so I’m watching over her…until you get home.”Bookmark here

“Oh my… She did sound a bit out of it today. She barely slept last night too.”Bookmark here

“Is that right?”Bookmark here

“Yes. She was tossing and turning. Mari-san does seem to get sick…when she’s stressing about things.Bookmark here

“…Maybe.”Bookmark here

“Well, I’ll be home soon to take your place. So, please take good care of her until then, Madoka.”Bookmark here

“…I will.”Bookmark here

Mom hung up the phone…leaving me on the blank in…alone.Bookmark here

That’s when those awful tears started flowing down my cheeks again. It was obvious why I was crying the previous night now. Why I’ve wanted attention from her. Why she was always at the top of my mind and how I hated not understanding her. Now everything made sense…and I hated it.Bookmark here

“I think…I forgot something very important Mari-san…”Bookmark here

I hovered my lips over her ear.Bookmark here

“I forgot that I loved you, didn’t I?”Bookmark here

I leaned back and watched her idle away in that dreamy state. That girl within me wanted to lie next to her…hold her from behind but she couldn’t. I wouldn’t let her.Bookmark here

Soon mom will come and take my place, and everything will be right…Bookmark here

Because they’re perfect together…Bookmark here

And nothing I do will change that fact…Bookmark here

Ayumi’s PerspectiveBookmark here

When I walked into the home, I passed the kitchen. Seems Madoka and Mari left the food out. I wasn’t planning to scold either of them, knowing the situation now. Once I pushed my room door open, a sight that reminded me of a certain day. Madoka sat there, holding Mari’s hand. It brought me back to that day in the hospital where Mari did the same to her. This…brightened up my day a little.Bookmark here

“Madoka…”Bookmark here

I called out to her who seemed to have fallen asleep, at her side.Bookmark here

“Hm…?”Bookmark here

When she came to, her eyes were cloudy. The poor thing must have overworked herself taking care of her stepmom. So, I rushed over and tapped her shoulder.Bookmark here

“You can go to bed now. I’ll watch over her, Madoka.”Bookmark here

She just stared at me blankly for a moment before nodding softly. When she raised to her feet, she tattered across the room without looking back.Bookmark here

“Goodnight…”Bookmark here

I called out but she didn’t reply. Of course, she must still be upset with me for not telling her about…her trauma. With a sigh of my own, I bent down and pet Mari’s soft hair. This always made me feel safe like nothing could hurt me when I was with her.Bookmark here

“M-Madoka?”Bookmark here

Mari whispered before opening her eyes.Bookmark here

“Oh…welcome back, Ayumi.”Bookmark here

“What are you stressing about this time, Mari?”Bookmark here

She avoided my gaze. It was obvious to me that Mari is worrying about something. I’ve been with her long enough to know.Bookmark here

“It’s nothing, Ayumi...”Bookmark here

“Was it about Madoka?”Bookmark here

Her eyes perked up then gently fell.Bookmark here

“…Yeah.”Bookmark here

“What was it about?”Bookmark here

Mari met my eyes this time.Bookmark here

“I just couldn’t stop thinking about how I was there…when she fell off that overpass and hit her head.”Bookmark here

I rubbed her head as she nuzzled closer to me.Bookmark here

“How it’s my fault…she went into her coma.”Bookmark here

A dry laugh escaped her mouth.Bookmark here

“But…I don’t remember what I told her…”Bookmark here

She groaned.Bookmark here

“I…just don’t want her to hate me...I don’t know what I’d do if Madoka-san…hated me for it.”Bookmark here

Her body was raised as she took a deep breath.Bookmark here

“Then Mihara-san…and her carnations…”Bookmark here

“Mihara-san?”Bookmark here

Shallow breathing met the cool room as Mari faded back into her dreams. I wasn’t sure why she brought up Madoka’s old basketball teammate though.Bookmark here

So, I shook it out of my mind and caressed her more.Bookmark here

“Didn’t I tell you that Madoka would forgive you, Mari…?”Bookmark here

I caressed her hair once again.Bookmark here

“Just like she’ll forgive me one day too.”Bookmark here

One day I’ll tell Madoka about her trauma. But right now, I want my daughter to enjoy her life…Bookmark here

…Not shackled by her mother's mistakes…Bookmark here

Volume 2 EndBookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.