Now Taylor-sensei drew back. Her lips parted as she leaned back.
“What do you mean, Nakagawa-san?”
“…When I went into a coma two years ago my mom began dating a coworker of hers. They are a same-sex couple.”
I gripped my thighs to the point that I was sure they’d bleed.
“B…But…I have a suspicion that…I might have had feelings for Koda Mari-san before my coma.”
That’s when I believe it hit Taylor-sensei. Her mouth opened slightly. What could she be thinking? Not only that this girl likes other girls but her own stepmother? I should have been clearer that I‘m not sure about it but…but…
“Oh, Nagakawa Madoka-san...”
I was taken aback as she pulled in closer to me.
“So, you believe you have feelings for a woman who is now with your mother?”
Her words were like shards of glass colliding with my heart. I didn’t even factor mom into this all that much. But her words encapsulated this taboo world around me more. So, frantically I detested my feelings.
“Y-You don’t understand. I don’t think I like her I mean. I…I’m not even sure if I like girls. I don’t know…I can’t remember a lot before my coma. I…I don’t know who I was before I woke back up. And….and….and…”
Suddenly, she moved close to me and placed her long finger on my lips causing me to halt my panic. A hint of citrus mixed with cinnamon captured my mouth. It must have been from that cookie earlier.
“Nakagawa-san…it’s okay. You can explain everything slowly…”
“You don’t need all the answers right now. It’s okay to take your time.”
“…I don’t need all the answers?”
How obvious it was…but all it took was for someone to tell me that I don’t need to figure it all out right now. That’s when it happened again. I started crying, gripping my thighs tight to the point I was afraid I might dig my nails through the skin. Her soft body brushed up again mine.
“Let’s start with something else.”
Taylor-sensei suggested as she caressed my hair. It wasn’t like how Mari-san did. It didn’t feel as soothing. But it did calm me down a little. So, I lifted my head slightly, I could still feel the pitiful tears welling up in me.
"It seems the subject is causing you too much heartache right now."
She explained as she fluttered my bangs.
"How about we start with something else...Hm, why don't you tell me about your father.”
“I heard he passed away a year before your coma. Let’s have a chat about that man...who left far too soon.”
Why did she want to know about dad? But then I leaned back and closed my eyes. There I imagined him. His short brown hair and leafy green eyes. His energetic and playful demeanor. Just the thought of him brought solace to my mind. So...I confessed...
“My dad was a great man.”
“He was extremely smart and met my mom in college. But…he couldn’t land a good job and we struggled a lot with money. But he was super kind and helpful…”
My dad was smart and use to tell me about all kinds of things. But his only problem was that he couldn’t find a job that would suit him for too long. He was in and out of work often mainly because he found it hard to transition into the work life. He worked hard…but all the jobs he could get didn’t pay enough or the company would go under or lay him off before he could make a good wage. He certainly had his problems, but he was an amazing father.
“When did he pass away?”
I looked to the window. The gloomy winter day closed in, but a hint of soft light flickered in the wind.
“He passed away 3 years ago now…in the summer. He’s always had a bad heart, but nobody knew his condition was worsening until it was too late.”
I leaned back in my seat and searched the ceiling. A little piece of me wished that he was looking down on me from above, comforting me from on high.
“I was at school in the middle of physical education when I got the call…”
My chest tightened as I closed my eyes and searched back…
“Nakagawa-san, please report to the principal’s office immediately.”
That’s what Yukawa-sensei told me after I made the game-winning point. My smile was still beaming as I raced off…not knowing how meaningless something like that was in comparison.
There I sat across his desk. With the door shut he lowered his head and opened his mouth slowly…
“Nakagawa-san…I was informed that your father is in the hospital.”
“From what they told me he collapsed at work. The medics are aiding him right now and your mother will be here to pick you up momentarily.”
“…Is he okay?”
“I ask that you stay strong. Your mother will tell you the rest when she comes. As of now please relax and make yourself comfortable.”
Pins stabbed in my body. When you watch the news and hear about people passing away daily, it becomes a part of life and you go on with your day not even remembering the names of the ones you heard about. But then when it comes too close to home…you become painfully aware of how fragile life is.
“Come on honey, we need to go.”
I raced out the door with her. Her movements were clumsy as we ventured across the school's parking lot. Students were about like normal. Nothing was indicating that my world was about to spiral out of control...
“What happened to daddy?!”
“A coworker found him collapsed in the back office at work. They called the medics and they have him at the hospital right now.”
“Is he okay?!”
We got in the car now.
“Mom is daddy okay?!”
“…I don’t know honey.”
Mom confessed as she lied her head on the stirring wheel. Her shoulders slumped like a mountain of weight was placed on her back. I was visibly devastated. Of course, she would be...The love of her life was in danger of leaving her forever.
“…I can’t lose him. I…don’t want to lose him, Madoka.”
For the first time in my life that’s when I realized that mom…needed support from me too. All my life before I was a selfish child who always was spoiled by her parents. Now there was a chance that I wouldn’t be able to act that way any longer. So, I lifted my hand and placed it on her back. Mom turned to me, eyes red and flushed from tears. She must have been crying all the way to my school. But when I touched her, I could feel…the weight slowly crept into me. I had to be strong…Because mom needs me too.
“He’ll be okay, mom.”
I truly believed my empty words...He died before we made it to the hospital. He went into cardiac arrest and never came out of it. His weak heart stopped, and he was never able to recover from it.
A few weeks later...there I was, looking at his picture mounted on his casket. It was showing the ever-bright grin that wouldn't fade so easily into the grave. The one that of a complete joker. The man who would always give me all his attention when I was little. How fast it happened never registered to me. It was like the world took off a band-aid. One minute it’s there…the next minute it’s gone.
Mae, my best friend held me that day…longer than she’d ever had. I was captivated by her arms. But they didn’t feel like daddy’s hands. Nothing could replace that feeling and that’s when it dawned on me.
I whispered in Mae-chan’s ear.
“…He’s never coming back, huh Mae-chan?”
I cried…and cried….and cried….and cried. But nothing changed the fact that our family was broken. It took mom a while to stop setting the table with three plates instead of two. It took me a while to stop trying to call dad to pick me up from practice. I would never remove his phone number from my cell…because it was a sign that maybe one day he’ll pick up and it’ll all be a horrible dream…
But life…isn’t that generous.
There I sat on the couch. My feelings that’s been lodged deep within me finally surfaced and now all that lied there was this sorry excuse for a teenager. Someone who still as spoiled and unruly as before.
“He sounded like he was a very loving man.”
“…Daddy was. I loved him so much. He…did so much for me. He'd always...make me feel safe.”
Taylor-sensei pulled back in her seat and smiled at me dearly.
“It must be hard to accept that it was so long ago now.”
“Yes, it’s tough some days, Taylor-sensei…”
"Have you calmed down now, Madoka-san?"
Despite the hard conversation...there was a little bit of joy in my heart now. I couldn't help but lift the sides of my mouth thinking about him.
But she then asked something I wasn’t expecting.
“Do you think you could tell me about your stepmother now…Koda Mari-san?”