Chapter 23:

Volume 2.9: Fever Dream (2/2)

Sleeping Princess

“I’m so sorry…Madoka.”Bookmark here

A few weeks later I chanted that very line as I held her hand. Like those were the magic words to wake up my…my…Madoka. There she lied in her eternal slumber. Ayumi-san…won’t even stay for long because she’s so distraught over it. Most days she’d stay for a moment then would rush out…crying. She couldn’t bear seeing her daughter in this…broken state.Bookmark here

“…I’m worried about Ayumi…”Bookmark here

There I draped my fingers around hers…They didn’t tug back or caress mine like before. They were motionless but now and then I’d feel a slight pulse. If only one day she’d spring up again when I squeezed them.Bookmark here

“This is my fault…”Bookmark here

For the innumerable time, I confessed.Bookmark here

“But please…wake up for her sake, Madoka…”Bookmark here

I begged, clutching her hand tighter.Bookmark here

“Excuse me…”Bookmark here

Her delicate voice etched my ear…that snow-haired girl from Madoka’s basketball club appeared. In a casual white long sleeve shirt and a wine-colored skirt, she made her entrance. Like a mouse she scurried in, scaling the walls as she entered. The first thing she did was gawk at the now porcelain beauty as she lied inertly, dreaming of a world far from reality. Her rosy cheeks slightly...irritated me.Bookmark here

“Oh…hello Mihara Yuko-san.”Bookmark here

For the fourth time this week, she came to visit Madoka after school. Unlike the rest of her friends who eventually stopped coming…she was relentless. But today was different…She brought in her stubby small hands a bundle of….Bookmark here

“Carnations?”Bookmark here

I accused.Bookmark here

“Huh?!”Bookmark here

She leaned back as if I shot a dart to her chest. Like the mouse she was, she scurried over and lied them on the counter. That’s when she took up a seat and sat across from me. Reflexively, I pressed Madoka’s hand… It felt as though if I let her go…she’d be taken from me.Bookmark here

“Oh…yeah. They’re…pretty flowers.”Bookmark here

The mood soured quickly as she looked about. It was evident that she didn’t like me being here, beside Madoka. Why…was this girl so willing to keep visiting Madoka? No…I already knew the reason…Bookmark here

After twenty minutes or so of silence…I had to ask.Bookmark here

“…Mihara Yuko-san…”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

As if I just took a hammer and shattered her daydream, she lurched up and gawked at me. How her innocent look soured my stomach. So, I gripped onto Madoka’s fingers all the tighter.Bookmark here

“Do you know what carnations mean in the world of flowers?”Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

“If they were lighter, they’d symbolize admiration…innocence and I might be able to call them…cute.”Bookmark here

But right now, I could only smile softly… as father and mother taught me as I was growing up. Not to wear a nasty face.Bookmark here

“But these…aren’t admiration flowers…are they Mihara-san?”Bookmark here

“H-Huh?”Bookmark here

Eyes like a deer in headlights her fingers began to tremble. I had no intention of making her anxious…I just wanted to make sure she…knew I knew her feelings.Bookmark here

“…They’re…lovely, Mihara-san. Your…carnations are.”Bookmark here

“…Oh…I…just hope Madoka-senpai likes them.”Bookmark here

That look on her face was soft. No one could deny that…Mihara Yuko-san is a sweet…honest girl…unlike me. She may have a hard time expressing herself…but unlike me…she can eventually express herself. I’m always worried that someone would see past this…facade I grew so accustomed to having.Bookmark here

“Oh…it’s getting late.”Bookmark here

Without prompt, Mihara-san rose. The jacket of Madoka’s old school ruffled around her bringing back to memory the days where she was…alive. Now she lies in this meaningless state as it sucks her time and life away from her.Bookmark here

“B-Bye bye…ah…”Bookmark here

“Koda Mari…It’s Koda Mari, Mihara-san.”Bookmark here

With a slight nod, she left the room moments later. But something inside me…couldn’t be as innocent as her. That festering bitterness engulfed my body. I wanted…no, needed to spoil those carnations…The deep red they represented. Those feelings that swirled from them made me as pent up as a bull, boiling with fury. I knew just want this feeling was too. Before I became aware of my actions…I took them in my hands and walked into the room’s bathroom…Bookmark here

With each petal, I plucked them one by one as they slowly swirled in the toilet.Bookmark here

“What are you doing, dumbass…?”Bookmark here

I scorned my childish behavior…Bookmark here

“She’ll be back tomorrow…just like yesterday and the day before. Mihara-san's going to notice…her flowers are missing…”Bookmark here

The heat of passion burned my cheeks. As my heart tensed…I continued ripping the ends off them. With each peck, it felt like pieces of skin were being peeled off a juicy fruit. I was exposing the core of her gift piece by piece. Calmly I did this but within me, an ocean of feelings was raging.Bookmark here

“Why can’t I control myself…when it comes to Madoka?”Bookmark here

The whirlwind of my actions only prompted my fingers to continue mercilessly slaughtering the wonderful gift.Bookmark here

“I…hate myself so much.”Bookmark here

But even if I said this…I persisted at what I hated most right now. I turned such an honest display of worry, affection and, love…into a mess. The bathroom floor was littered with red petals like blood splashed across the surface. With each pluck, I could hear the flowers screaming hateful words in my ears.Bookmark here

“…You’re such a dumbass…Mari …such a dumbass.”Bookmark here

These burning red petals are given to those who…dare to love another. Her feelings might have been innocent…but they endangered my feelings…for her.Bookmark here

“Madoka is special to me…”Bookmark here

I hissed…That was my justification…for doing something so cruel to Mihara-san’s gift. Before I knew it, those beautiful carnations were in shambles. Nothing remained of how they once were. I did it…out of jealousy…pure unsaturated jealousy…Bookmark here

“What would Madoka say…if she saw me like this?”Bookmark here

What would she think of me monopolizing her like this? To the point that even a gift from someone else made my heart rate rise with rage. Filtering into my hardened ears, a soft voice I all but missed for these last few weeks touched me.Bookmark here

“Mari, what do you think you're doing?”Bookmark here

“Huh?!”Bookmark here

As I turned around the landscape shattered into a million pieces. Remnants of the bathroom escaped into this onyx world I found myself in. There my legs gave out and I trembled to the floor. Obscurity caught my fall as I landed on my backside. Evidence of the horrible, selfish, crime I committed laid about my feet. The carnations I brutally mangled were convicting me as she stood over me…Bookmark here

My sleeping princessBookmark here

…was witnessing my true self…holding those ruined carnations, smeared like blood on my hands…The petals that threatened to steal…her away from me one day. There was nothing I could say…I was caught. Fear took over me, wrapping its cold grip around my neck, strangling me, and revealing my…true self. She stood over me…judging my selfish act. My voice escaped in my stomach and no matter how badly I wanted to tell her how I felt…I couldn’t justify it. So instead, I begged…Bookmark here

“P-Please…don’t look at me like that!Bookmark here

Please…don’t hate me, Madoka…”Bookmark here

That’s when I closed my eyes to escape her judgment...and met face to face with…another aqua-eyed beauty, Ayumi. I wasn’t sitting in that vivid black room anymore. It all must have been a fever dream of sorts…So, I had to come to terms with where I was now. I wasn’t in the hospital. Nor was I in that bathroom destroying Mihara-san’s gift. No, I was at home in bed covered in salty sweat. Now Ayumi, my lover, nurtured my foggy head…Bookmark here

That’s right…Madoka treated me because I came down with a fever…Bookmark here

“Oh…welcome back, Ayumi.”Bookmark here

I lifted my chin as she petted my head. This simple act was taxing on my body as it lackadaisically moved with her motions. It soothes my heart after that racy dream I suffered from.Bookmark here

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

Leave it to Ayumi to know I’ve been stressing. But it’s not the first time that I’ve come down with a fever from stress. This was something that happened all through my life…Bookmark here

“It’s nothing, Ayumi.”Bookmark here

“Was it about Madoka?”Bookmark here

She guessed it. I couldn’t help but think about…what I did to Madoka…before and after her coma. Her name…still twisted my chest. It brought me back to that scattered dream of her accident…and Mihara-san…and her carnations…So…I admitted it…Bookmark here

“…Yeah.”Bookmark here

I sighed. She wasn’t wrong…I was thinking about…Madoka. I searched her sapphire eyes as they glimmered in the moonlight. Still, she reminded me so much of Madoka that it stung. And here I was…thinking about Madoka when Ayumi was worried about me.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 admitted, shamefully.Bookmark here

Ayumi rubbed my hair…I nuzzled closer to her. The flowery scent of her perfume melted my chest like spring after the winter season. This calmed me down a little.Bookmark here

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

My throat felt dry as I continued…Bookmark here

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

It was all too blurry. My head was feeling woozy all morning. When I get stressed…I tend to get sick. That side of me hasn’t changed at all since I was little. I can’t lie to myself…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

The fever was battling my body and winning. Only rest would turn the tides of battle. So, I sank back into that world of dreams…Bookmark here

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

Those carnations that didn’t represent admiration…no…they symbolized something deeper…to want…and I knew that…Because of what Madoka told me regarding Mihara-san before her trauma…Bookmark here

And now Mihara-san was back into Madoka's life...two years later. How I should be glad because…she can make Madoka…that sweet, sweet girl…happy over me. But…I still felt as bitter as I did back then when she brought those flowers to Madoka's hospital room two years ago.Bookmark here

Because Madoka is still special to me…despite what I want to believe.Bookmark here

But now those days were fragments of the past that had no merit on today. I need to be a good stepmother to her now… and I need to let her go. Just like I told myself I would…just like I promised her I would two years ago…when I held Ayumi's cold hands and told her that…Bookmark here

“I’ll make you happy from now on.”Bookmark here

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