The illumination of a ghoul stared at me with beet black eyes. I peered back intensely. Its green jaw protruded outward in a horrid manner as if it was going to lunge at me at any second. My glasses fogged up slightly as I leaned forward. As if trying to expose all the nicks and crannies of this horrid monster's stage design...
The student who sat perfectly still in the ghoul costume gave me a scare. My heart jumped from my body as she slipped into the backroom with a giggle not mirroring that horrid monster…likely to go tell the other students about her successful scare.
"Ahhhrrr...I hate this."
I wined as my feet tattered together.
“Do we have to do this, you guys?”
“Do we have to go see that obnoxious idol show, Nakagawa-san?”
“Yes, we do, Conchi-san!”
I tugged on her cheeks again. This time it took Mae-chan and Sora-chan to pull me off of her.
That’s when the other ghost approached us. A bit embarrassed that she had to witness my outburst at the shark. So, I patted my skirt and walked up to her.
“Oh, hello Mihara-san.”
Hana-san waved. However, Mihara-san didn’t seem to notice as she turned to me.
“Ah, I heard this attraction is…in pairs?”
I nodded dejectedly.
“That’s right. Groups of 2 so we all can’t go in at once.”
That’s when Hana-chan stepped between Mihara-san and me. With a puffed cheek she lifted her arms to the sky...or in this case the gymnasiums ceiling.
"Onee-san! I'll go with you!"
She shouted so loudly the other guest turned our way likely in annoyance.
"You will Hana-chan?!"
That fiery sprite hopped in after, pushing away my little sister with force.
"Hey, let's make it more fun! Hana-chan is always with Onee-san! Let me go with Onee-san instead!"
Hana-san shot back, pushing Sora-chan to the side.
"What?! No way Sora-chan!"
That's when Mae-chan, out of nowhere, jumped in the fray of middle schoolers too.
"I wanna go with Onee-san!"
"Shut up, Mae!"
I deadpan her tease. This was becoming a staple with Mae and me lately.
"I-I... want to...go with N-Nakagawa-san...though."
Even Mihara-san wanted to come with me. When did I become so popular?
But like a kettle coming to boil, a pot was brewing with irritation. As the commotion got louder she finally exploded.
"Everyone shut the hell up!"
We all faced a furious shark now. Her golden hair sparked out from her jolting her small body.
"If anyone's going with Onee-san, it's me!"
We all squealed, confused for good reason. Conway-san’s face was flushed. No, that was an understatement. She was the color of a pink mochi ball. But the passion behind her couldn’t be mirrored. A wave of heat festered from her causing the other girls tugging around me to scatter to the sides like fleeing roaches.
“You…want to go with me, Conchi-san?”
“I think it’ll be best that way. There’s no way in heck I want to be tagged teaming with the kids and…I don’t think Mihara-san…wants to be paired with a delinquent like me.”
She gazed at Mihara-san. I could see a dagger stab her as she cowered behind me. In a way, Conway-san’s logic was solid. But then she could have chosen to go with Mae-chan…now I was skeptical…
"Good luck, Hana-chan!"
Hana-chan and Sora-chan were the first to go in. Like a soldier ready for war, Hana marched in. She was so brave. I wish I could be as strong spritied as her.
"See you soon, Onee-san!"
The wacky teen shouted as her red hair flickered in the darkroom.
"Stop it, Sora-chan!"
Hana again for the innumerable time today whacked her over the head as they vanished into the ghoul house.
"C’mon, let's go, Mihara-san! Go!"
"Mae-chan, don’t bully Mihara-san!"
Ignoring my scolding she rushed her inside by pushing her from behind. Mae-chan needed to be easy with Mihara-san. She’s going to give her a heart attack.
"N-Nakagawa-san, help me!"
My shoulders slumped.
"Let’s go, Nakagawa-san."
Conway-san demanded as she led the way. I wonder why she...out of everyone wanted to go with me. The mood was a little tense.
"It’s Conway, you buffoon!"
She puffed her cheeks. My god that was adorable. It made me forget that we were going into a house of horrors."
Gaining her composure, she did just that. The gym was designed immaculately that I couldn't tell where we were. There’s a 2nd floor and the entire haunted house uses all of it. There's also a door that leads to the roof, but it may be blocked off for the day. So, we stepped in. My legs were already giving out. Games with ghouls and ghosts are one thing...but I hate the idea of someone intentionally out to scare you...
"Hm... are you seriously shaking?"
"It can’t be helped...here."
She reached out her hand...was Conchi-san...offering to hold my hand? It reminded me of Mari-san in a way...although she was pushier than Conchi-san was being now.
"Hurry now. We're falling behind."
I reached out and touched her tiny fingers. They aggressively wrapped around mine as she pulled me beside her.
"There’s nothing to be afraid of, idiot..."
"I'm not...that scared."
"Yeah, yeah, sure, sure."
That's when a shadowy figure emerged and assaulted my shoulder. The rugged bumps of its claws touching my neck made me howl in fear.
The shorty pulled me towards her, with a fist up she nearly met with the student in the ghoul outfit.
"H-Hold up! Don't hit me!"
A girl’s voice screeched as she dashed away, falling as she escaped. For the ghost, they were more scared of Conway-san than we were of them. It took me out of the experience, I can’t lie.
"...You're a bully, Conchi-san."
I teased, still breathless from the tension.
"Shut the hell up, Nakagawa-san."
The scares continued as we made our way up the side steps. From fake ghost springing from traps, horrified audio playing as we passed hanging chains, to fog rolling on the ground with hands bursting out to grab you. My heart couldn't take it...I felt as though I might die at this rate.
"Ah...can we break?"
"No...just a little further."
"You're...so mean, Conchi-san."
There when we entered the upstairs gym one way was blocked off as it led to the roof. The original path led to a forest of fake spiders hanging down and to be honest, it grossed me out. Suddenly, my arm was pulled into the off-limits pathway. Hand on the wall covering my left side Conway-san met my gaze. My head spun and I didn't know what happened at first but now It was evident. The lion caught me and I couldn’t escape now. I was in her clutches. Her eyes were fiercer than a lion ready to mall a prey.
"Now that I have you alone, Nakagawa-san..."
"What, are you going to steal my lunch money, Conchi?"
Well...if today were the day, she decided to beat me up for the money she'd make a good chunk of change. I reactively touched my wallet knowing there was still over 8,500yen inside at the very least.
"Enough games, Nakagawa-san.”
My mouth opened as a figure slowly crept towards us. I could feel my fingers trembling now as I tried my best to warn her of approaching doom. My words gave out as the ghoul lunged in and took hold of Conchi-san.
She cried as she grabbed onto me and pulled me down. My legs gave out in fear as I took hold of her purple jacket. She collapsed on me as I hit my back to the wall. The shark lunged forwards as she lost her balance in the process.
The ghoul cried...witnessing the two of us...fallen into each other's embrace.
The female student in monster attire screamed while rushing away, leaving us in this...unique position.
For a moment my mind went blank. There was a soft impression pushing on me as our lips connected. She tasted like warm peaches as we melted into each other's eyes. Her ruby iris widen maddeningly...at what we were doing. Like nectar, sweet tenderness passed through my lips and touched my tongue. Although brief, a surge of warmth passed through my shaken body before she finally lifted lips away from mine, severing our brief kiss.
A string of hot steam formed in the small space between our mouths. The heat that engulfed our cheeks dissipated in an instant as we stared at one another in seeming bewilderment. Being this close to her rosy cheeks I couldn't help but glance at her dirty blond hair above me. It shined in places making her seem more radiant than she was. The tenderness of her lips didn't mirror how vile her words were. But as I began thinking about all this...embarrassment and guilt finally crept in as I cried out.
Conchi-san did the same but in a much higher...and slightly cuter pitch.
For a moment we kneeled on the floor trying to process what just happened between us. Well, that's what I was doing. I couldn't imagine what was going through her head at the moment. Would that count as...a first kiss? And...it was with a girl?
Now out of all the times when I'm questioning my...sexuality did this have to happen! I had to halt my thoughts immediately...and ask the questions swirling in me...Did that feel good? No, it was too brief to even consider anything...right? Was my heart racing? I...I don't remember! What am I supposed to do now? D-Do I have to give her money or something to...keep that between us? Maybe...the 8,800yen would be enough? My eyes began to swirl in confusion.
"D-Damn it Nakagawa-san! Damn you..."
The little beast scratched her long locks as she turned to me.
Her tone was somber causing me to stiffen up and face up to her. I couldn't even look her in the eyes right now...but instead, I looked at her tender lips.
“I’m going to ask you one question and I expect the truth! Don’t screw with me else I will punch your lights out! I've hit a girl with glasses before!”
Conchi-san riled causing me to shake and focus.
“What's wrong, Conway-san?”
“You…had a chat with Linda, didn’t you?”
So she did notice our exchange at the fortune-teller shop earlier...
“Yesterday you weren’t in class. But the other students mentioned seeing you at the gate. And then earlier Linda spoke with you fairly casually. It doesn’t take a detective to deduce that you two spoke while I wasn’t around.”
My mouth shut tight…before I knew it, she’d caught on. I didn’t know what to say but then she slammed the wall next to me to give me motivation.
“Answer me right now, Nakagawa-san!”
“Yes…we did…all yesterday, Conway-san.”
“Was it about me? Is that what you talked about?!”
“Wait Conway-san…you have it all wrong.”
I touched her hand now clawing at the wall. Next to us was the exit door to the roof. I could still hear the voices of the guest walking around so to give us privacy I took her hand and led her outside to the roof. There the sunny day was beginning to cloud slightly. The bustle of the festival was blooming away below but up here only echoes could be made out. Nobody would disturb us here.
“You see Conway-san…I was having trouble…coping with my coma yesterday...”
I admitted shamefully. When I glanced over, she had her arms crossed. With a slight nod, she lowered her shoulders.
“I…am…dealing with something a little complicated, Conway-san.”
She then again nodded.
“…Linda has always been an easy person to talk with, Nakagawa-san.”
Her words brought me back to the time when she asked me to confide in her. Out on the track where I couldn’t bring out the subject of Mari-san with her.
“Oh, no it’s not…”
“I don’t care for your sentiments, continue…”
She cut me off. So, I did just that.
“It was only after…did we talk about your…situation.”
“Linda is in love with me. I already know that. You don’t need to beat around the bush with that.”
“Of course, I know. Father and mother told her to stay away from me. They even planned to have a restraining order set…but I’m sure Linda didn’t go into that…”
“Father told her that she has a short time to leave Japan else she’d be disinherited from our family fortune.”
“Your dad said that?”
“She’s been warned about her behavior around me for years, Nakagawa-san. This is the final straw and she snapped it. Because of Linda’s outrageous actions, she’s going to lose everything…”
She crossed her arms and kicked at a pebble on the ground. It meaninglessly tattered across the roof floor.
“Her scholarships, her credentials, all of her work in the medical field thus far is going to be washed away because she…won’t let me go.”
That’s when the dam finally broke and tears began running down her cheeks.
“Linda…is ruining her life…and for what?”
It came to me now…the determination that Taylor-sensei showed me the previous day.
When she asked me…Who are you willing to hurt? Her answer to her own question was…
Is Taylor-sensei truly willing to destroy everything she worked hard for...to love Conway Sophia-san? Is that the depths of her love and devotion to her stepsister? That ruining her life shows her determination? But then...what if it isn't like that at all?
“What if…staying away from you is ruining her life though…Conway-san?”
“Hm? What the heck are you talking about?”
“What if the pain of…losing you is more than…she can bare though?”
Conway scowled as she looked up to the clouds.
“Nakagawa-san…nobody wants Linda here. Nobody wants her in Japan…not even me.”
That was a cold statement even for Conway-san.
“But that means, Nakagawa-san…that my Onee-san…is alone.”
Her fingers began to tremble as she turned back to me.
“Father had already punished the people who helped her get this job. She’s alone…and I’m not allowed to help her else she’ll be penalized.”
That’s when Conway-san put her head down and bowed deeply to me. This was the most submissive I've ever seen from this girl I've known for these past few months.
“So, if she found a friend…in you…please…I beg you…listen to my Onee-san. Hear her out…for me.”
Now the outburst finally came to light. Conway-san wasn’t upset because I knew her situation…no…she’s just honestly worried about her…stepsister.
“And when she finally realizes that I have no feelings for her…and she’s broken-hearted…defeated…”
She cried into her arm now. Face flushed with dreadful tears.
“Could you please…listen to her cry…comfort her because...because my Papa won’t let me?! He won’t let me console my Onee-san…he won't let me console my precious Onee-san without punishing her!”
The whimpers set in as she unleashed those wound-up feelings.
“I know it’s a lot to ask…but…I don’t know who else to ask…Nakagawa-san.”
That’s when it hit me…how hard it is to be emotionally strong. Conway-san, someone I saw as a rigged rough figure was fighting her own battles. For a moment I hesitated but then it occurred to me...what this signified. So, I reached out and took hold of her pain...I wrapped her small shoulders around me and held her close to my chest.
“It’s okay…Conway-…no...It's okay, Sophia-san…”
“It’s okay…I’ll be there for Taylor-sensei.”
I declared while pulling her closer to me. This is what it meant to be emotionally stronger. To become a pillar of support and share the pains of others. This is what I've always wanted to do...my first step towards change. Sophia-san seemed confused at first but then she took a deep breath and continued crying for a few moments. Soon after with a soft voice, she spoke timidly.
“The last person I confided in…was Okabe-san. And…she mocked me for it. She’s a terrible person…but…you’re different…Madoka-san.”
"Okabe-san did that?"
Conway-san scrunched up her body as if trying to become smaller. She cuddled up to me and rubbed her face on my chest.
“Look at me…I must look so foolish…huh Nakagawa-san?”
"Of course not, Sophia-san..."
This was my first step…to becoming stronger. So, I, with purpose pet her silky golden hair to ease her broken heart.
“I promise…I’ll be there for Taylor-sensei, Sophia-san. No matter what happens in the end.”
For a moment all that pent-up rage and frustration subsided. Now that was left was a burnt-out ball of fire. As she whimpered in my arms I felt as though this new side to my friend…was her honest one. One that couldn’t be as brutal and aggressive. The side that she hid with rage. A weaker side that needed protection. Conway-san…no, Sophia-san…was tired.
As I gathered from both of them…A few years back Taylor-sensei fell in love with Sophia-san. When their parents found out about Taylor-sensei’s feelings, they forbade her from seeing Conway. To make sure this happened, they transferred her to Japan. But eventually, Taylor-sensei found her way here and is now facing disinheritance. Even if her love for Sophia-san kept her will to move forward alive…there was one major setback…
Sophia-san doesn’t feel the same for her it seems…
Meaning her journey…is one of self-destruction…
But I couldn’t get raptured in these kinds of emotions. If I wanted to grow more emotionally mature, I’ll have to stay strong and…help my friends. Like Mae-chan with her depression…I need to be there or Sophia-san and Taylor-sensei.
After what seemed to be minutes the shark now finally calmed down. With a deep sigh, she spoke.
“…It’s been a while since anyone other than my family…called me Sophia.”
Now breaking from my embrace, she turned to the side. Her cheeks were rosy…maybe I shouldn’t have handled her like that…I felt a tad guilty.
“…Would it be a bother…for you to call me…S-Sophia-san more often?”
My mouth opened in awe. This…was the side to Conchi-san that could threaten to beat out Hana-chan. Her face a deep scarlet as she poured out her innocence to me. I wonder was this honesty a treasure that needed to be uncovered within the heart of Conway Sophia. She was already adorable like this…but like I said before when one sees something cute and automatically wants to make it cuter…
“How about So-chan?”
“…Shut up, Nakaga….M-Madoka-san. Just shut up...”
Today, at the Cultural Day Festival I declared that I'd stick by my partner Taylor-sensei for the sake of both her and the sister she loves so much, Sophia-san. I might not be able to solve their struggles...I will support them as best as I can. Even in this chaotic time of turmoil, having a person to rely on will make us both stronger in the end. So don't worry Sophia-san...
I will hear Taylor-sensei's pains in your place.