My heart pulled terribly. I didn’t want to speak about her…But...after inhaling and clearing my mind...I came to a strange but fitting response...
“…Koda Mari is an overly affectionate...prankster. She's immature and...lazy...but..."
My shoulders slanted as I understood one fundamental thing about her...
"She...makes me feel safe too.”
“Hm? What do you mean, Nakagawa-san?”
My fingers curled the ends of my locks without reason. As I searched back to the time when she put my head on her lap and how calming that felt. That part of Mari-san was certainly special.
“When I first met Mari-san…she scared me, Taylor-sensei.”
My hands tighten around my knee as I lifted one. Hugging my leg I recounted the past few months between Mari-san and me.
“She would be over-friendly with me and even approach me in ways that worried me. I would find her closeness...creepy. I…feared her.”
Rays of light flickered in from the nearby window. The cloudy sky mirrored the storm brewing in my chest. As the light faded by the clouds casting its glare over the world, I coward deeper into this hole I found myself in. Clenching my leg tighter as if I was about to spiral down a rollercoaster of emotion once again, I persisted.
“Mari-san brought out a side to my mom that I never knew existed. For 15 years mom and I were together...then out of nowhere, this black-haired joker invaded our lives. It’s like when I went to sleep I woke up in a new reality. One where Mari-san controlled everything…I felt like my life wasn’t in control anymore.”
I bit my teeth down on my bottom lip.
“I lost my chances at my scholarship…My mom moved on...despite me staying where I was…I wasn’t her support anymore and that…scared me.”
With a nod, I tilted to the side. My bangs coyly dangled in front of my eyes.
“Then I confronted her and told her how I felt. That I didn’t like her teases…and that I wanted her to respect me! That she shouldn't be treating me like this...”
My head grew foggy, fingers rubbed against each other as my heart descended into utter darkness.
“But that’s when she…that's when Mari-san...respected my wishes. She must have decided to respect my distance...and treat me as a daughter. Only then did I realize how much that hurt.”
Heat gathered in my stomach.
“Something in me…wanted Mari-san to look at her. When she touched me…I felt unease but…now looking back...I might have liked it. She…made me feel anxious but safe…kind of…like my dad.”
With vigor, I lifted my head and met her grape eyes.
"There was a time when I woke up in the middle of the night. I couldn't settle down and I felt nervous...scared. So I walked downstairs to get a cup of water and Mari-san was there working.
Recounting that memory...I never imagined how fond it was to me until now.
A-And Mari-san saw me. She took hold of me and calmed me down...by placing my head on her lap...Now that I look back on that night...she reminded me so much of...my dad. How she'd nurture me unconditionally...I never even asked her to do it."
With one hand I tenderly pet my own head in a sorry attempt to mimic that feeling from Mari-san. But it was unreplicable. That moment between us couldn't be repeated.
“And last night...we fought and Mari-san held me in her arms...It was then that It came to me..."
The heat of tears persisted again...
"That's when I came to the only conclusion that I could see in this. That I must have…liked Mari-san or at least had feelings for her in the past. Maybe I told her or maybe I hid it from Mari-san...but I'm sure that I did have feelings for her.”
I clenched my fist as I beat my forehead. What a screwed-up conclusion to arrive at. How…messed up am I?
“You’re so stupid Madoka….so stupid.”
“Nakagawa-san, stop that.”
I lifted my head as she gripped my hands, but Taylor-sensei's figure was blurry. My tears kept coming and there was nothing I could do.
“What do I do, Taylor-sensei? I don’t want to go back home today…I don’t want these strange feelings to assault me anymore. I…I hate seeing mom and Mari-san together.”
The truth came out…despite how bitter and ugly it was. Even with my feelings in disarray I still understood something so primal. That I hate seeing Mari-san…with my mom. That was the only reason for all those outbursts. But even I can’t fully come to the resolution that I love Mari-san. There are too many variables that could say otherwise.
I turned back to Taylor-sensei. Her expression seemed surprisingly stern to the point that it nearly worried me.
I opened my mouth only to be brought back to reality with a finger in the air. My eyes searched it as if it would be the ultimate of my life. She stood up and went to the other couch across from us. After a brief moment of silence, Sensei spoke...
“This isn’t a matter to take lightly as I’m sure you know…”
Her voice threw me off guard. It wasn’t as playful as I’m used to hearing either. It was firm, direct, like an adult.
“How old is your stepmother?”
“That would make her 12 years your senior. And the fact that you’re a minor could be associated with other things...”
“…Yes. B-but it’s not that I have feelings for her. And Mari-san has never touched me or anything of the sort. She…”
My mind went back to that day on the couch. Where she teased me with her scented lemon, I gave it to her as a joke. When we watched Born Free together while Mom and Hana-chan were out. Even then we sat in that room alone. At any moment she could have tried something…No, not only then but…other times too.
But then…what if these feelings were always one-sided and I was just imagining all that? No, there’s the chance that she…
“Mari-san…would never do anything like that to me, Taylor-san. She’s too nice. She's overly touchy and doesn't respect personal space but...but she’s so, so sweet and…”
“Oh, I think you misunderstood the reason I brought this up, Nakagawa-san…”
She smiled slightly and lowered her gaze. The cup of fresh tea cooled down as it idled in her cup.
“What I’m saying is…you have time, Nakagawa-san. Even if you don’t feel you do.”
“From how I see it…You don’t know if you like her truly. You don’t know how she sees you. You’re not even sure if you genuinely like women and the like. You’re young. You turn 17 soon and you have the time to develop yourself and understand your feelings. I suggest you take the time you have now and explore all your feelings. To grow emotionally.”
Taylor-sensei placed her hands on mine and looked me in the eye. That fierce passion pierced through me like she had latched onto my soul and was now tethering our feelings, merging them into one form.
“Then when the time comes, and you’ve better understood yourself, you’ll be able to see if what you feel for your stepmother is something of a brief fling or a moment that you wish to blossom into something beautiful.”
She then bit her lips and expressed to me in firm detail…
“But then you have to ask yourself, Nakagawa-san. Who are you willing to hurt for your own selfishness?”
“Who am I willing to hurt?”
“Remember, right now you have more at stake than just your feelings. You have a mother, a stepsister…a family. You have a past self that appears to be fighting to come out in which you should explore. Once you’re emotionally stable then you should take the next step.”
Those words felt like a dagger lodging deep into my chest. Taylor-sensei was right…the way my thoughts were falling there’s a high chance that I…might…hurt others. I could destroy Hana-chan's...family. Or sever Mari-san's relationship with mom and me...or worse...even hurt mom.
“…I have time…to consider all of this…don’t I Taylor-sensei?”
No matter how I looked at it, it was simply that Taylor-sensei was saying what I’ve already acknowledged this morning. But hearing it aloud made my shoulders drop. She was right. Taylor-sensei was telling me that I am too emotionally weak to make good judgments right now. And that it would be best for me to…
“…I need to mature, don’t I Sensei? Take my time…and understand my feelings better.”
“…Yes, you do Nakagawa-san. Only then you’ll be able to see the situation you’re in more clearly.”
That’s when she squeezed my hand.
“But don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling you to give up on your feelings. I’m pleading with you to understand them. And that won’t take a day…or a week…maybe not even a month…But you will one day know what to do.”
Our bonds connected. She was right…it was time now more than any for me to lift my head. That’s when the tears began to roll but I held them back with a shake of my head. I wanted to be stronger. That way I can answer all these questions in my head that are tormenting me. I want to be able to face up to the mom I love and tell her…that she doesn’t have to coddle me anymore. But to do that…I need to…mature emotionally. Know how to guide my heart in the right direction.
“…Thank you so much…Taylor-sensei for hearing me out…”
I held my shoulders, warming up my shaking body. Finally, I began to settle down as I leaned back with a slight smile. This situation was still knawing at me and will be for a while now...but Sensei, like the angel she was touched me and settled my restlessness for the time being.
She didn’t reply. She just smiled back and leaned into her seat.
“…Hard to believe your Conway-san’s stepsister, Taylor-sensei.”
“Oh, is that so?”
I giggled. That felt great after the long stretch of convoluted emotions. Slowly, I was collecting myself and it felt rejuvenating.
“Conway-san acts nothing like you. I can see who really is the more mature out of the two of you.”
Her thin fingers rubbed the edge of her cup.
“…I don’t know if that’s a compliment or insult, Nakagawa-san hehe.”
“Well, obviously it’s you, Sensei.”
“…Hm...you know...I don’t know about that, Nakagawa-san…”
Her calming exterior faded as she turned away slightly. She helped me understand more about my situation. I believe it’ll only be right if I did the same for her.
“…You and Conway-san aren’t normal stepsisters…are you?”
I didn’t want to be blunt, but it came out that way. Something between them was surreally different than Hana-chan and me. These two had a bond that is more than just familiarity.
“…I guess you could say that.”
She sipped her cup and looked out the gloomy window. As her blond hair glistened in the fading sunlight she reminded me of a sculpture crafted with absolute skill. The way about her was breathtaking as she confessed to me.
“…I’m in love with Sophia, Nagakawa-san.”