When we left the midday, sky greeted us. We exited out the gates and conjugated together.
“That was so fun, Mado-chan!”
“Thanks for the day guys.”
Sora-chan announced as she nodded her head.
“Hana-chan, your Onee-san has some awesome friends.”
“Doesn’t she, Sora-chan?!”
With that Hana-san looked at me.
“I promised Sora-chan that I’ll go over her place for a bit afterward.”
“Does mom know, Hana-san?”
“Yep! I discussed it with her over the phone!”
That’s a bit sad. I was hoping to see her more when I got home. But I nodded and let it go as I sent my little sister off with a beam.
“Okay then, I’ll see you when you get back home.”
She smiled and began moving behind Sora. They took each other’s hand as they briskly walked.
“You have a great stepsister, Nakagawa-san.”
Both Mae-chan and I turned to Conway-san.
“Did you have fun, Conway-san?”
Mae-chan interjected with a smile.
“…You both did this for me, huh?”
A smile came on her face.
“You know…you two are good friends.”
With her face turning pinkish she closed her eyes.
This is the first time I’ve seen Conway-san act so pointed and honest. She opened her eyes to us.
“Mae-san…do you mind if we chat later tonight?”
Mae toned her excitement down and nodded enduringly.
“I figured you two had a chat or something in the haunted house. Something just told me that my Mado-chan was…doing what she’s good at.”
“What’s that supposed to mean, Mae?!”
I knocked her over the head, but she kept laughing…so, I knocked her again.
“Well, it’s time for me to get home. C’mon Conway-san, let’s get going!”
Mae grabbed Sophia-san’s hand and tugged her like a ragdoll. They seem to walk the same way home as they left me on a dusky day. What an eventful morning…and I even got to know a new side to the delinquent named, Conway Sophia.
I turned to see Mihara-san holding her bags from the club. She separated from us to get the rest of her things before leaving for the day.
“My shifts over…do you want to go home together?”
As we walked to the station it was quiet between us. Mihara-san shivered back and forth.
“Your fortune-telling booth was pretty fun.”
“Yeah, our club leader liked that kind of thing. I did a lot of the art…work.”
We stepped on the train and made our way home in silence. It wasn’t uncomfortable, no it was the opposite. It was calming that we both enjoyed each other's company like this.
We sat next to each other on the train. Luckily it wasn't as packed yet because the festival is still going in full bloom.
“Koda…Hana-san is your stepsister?”
“Yeah, she is.”
I put my head down for a moment. Mihara-san had been honest with me so far so…
“My mom Nakagawa Ayumi and her mom Koda Mari are seeing each other.”
Mihara-san’s eyes went wide. The curiosity in her pecked most defiantly.
“Koda Mari-san…is seeing your mom?”
“Yeah. As simple as that.”
Mihara-san nodded gently.
“Does that mean…she lives with you, Nakagawa-san?”
“Naturally, yes. They do live with us. Mari-san is a weird person, but I would never say she’s a...bad person.”
“She loves your mom, right?”
I bit my bottom lip. Yes, she does love my mom. I've seen the passion between them in full and there was no one that could say otherwise. Noticing the bitter feelings I had rummaging in my chest...I concluded as best as I could...
“Yes…they do love one another. Do you think that’s strange, Mihara-san? You know...two women loving one another?”
“No…n-not at all Nakagawa-san. D-Do you?”
I turned to the side away from her innocent stare. Do I think it's strange? That was something I will be tackling for a while now as my heart tries to settle these unruly feelings of mine. So, to give her an answer I shook my head from side to side.
“...At first I did but not anymore…”
My stomach tightened...how difficult this conversation was starting to become. But...I pushed forwards. I closed my eyes and imagined her...face. Her lush black hair and forest green eyes. That mysterious smile she holds...
“Mari-san is very mysterious. She’s kind, considerate, energetic…I can never find out what she’s thinking in time. She’s smart…and it’s a bit intimidating sometimes, Mihara-san...”
I opened my eyes and looked at her now crimson gaze as they flickered off the midday light.
“So, when you told me that you think she’s a mean person that day we shared our lunches…that didn’t register with me. I don’t think she’s mean…just…Mari-san...is just...”
“She just doesn’t express herself easily?”
Surprised, she took the words right out of my mouth. Stripped them down to the bare bones of what they were. The same conclusion I came to yesterday...
“…That might be it. Yeah...Mari-san can't express herself easily...despite being how she is.”
Maybe Mari-san has trouble expressing her true feelings. Kind of like me. Maybe she feels certain ways but doesn’t show it. That’s probably why she perfected such a calming smile…To hide the emotions she feels. But why is she like this? Why can't she say what's on her mind? How did she grow up and what has she been through that made me assume it would be best to show that porcelain smile instead?
“I…just want to understand Mari-san…I think…”
Mihara-san looked at me. Her eyes danced across my face. My feelings escaped my mouth...I wanted to express it openly, train my mind not to hold in important feelings as much. But it starts with change...
Mihara-san finished, sinking lower into her seat. We sat in silence for a bit longer. Something was different about Mihara-san though than usual. Her feet rubbed together occasionally. She would start a sentence then stop it abruptly.
“Is everything okay?”
“Oh…ah… November 18th…”
I tilted my head.
“What about my birthday.”
“Ah…is it too soon for me to…bring you a present?”
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about something like that!”
I waved my hand back and forth.
“Ah…but I want to get you something.”
Mihara tugged on my sleeve. I was unsure what this was supposed to mean though. It was starting to become commonplace that she would pull on me in a way to gauge my attention.
“…You seriously don’t have to…”
I sigh. I think Mihara is too self-conscious sometimes.
“I’m thinking about inviting some friend over that day…would you like to come, Mihara-san?”
I have to remember one fundamental thing about us. Mihara-san has known me far longer than I remember her. We've shared moments that I've long forgotten that might be special to her. So, if I can be a little be less distant with her, bring her in as a part of my friend circle...then I think that would be beneficial to both of us.
“A-Are you sure?!”
I nodded with conviction.
“Of course, Mihara-san. Here, I'll give you my email so we can chat.”
As I got off the train I waved back to her. Mihara-san didn’t do the same though. She just stared with that pink face of hers...despite being so tall and seemingly more mature than me...she was certainly cute at times.
From the living room, her black hair filtered into view. Wrapped in warm ocean blue pajamas she typed away on her laptop. Hair in disarray, still sniffling, Mari-san sipped on a warm drink as she worked her fingers on that bright laptop of hers. Reluctantly I walk over to her.
“What are you doing out of bed, Mari-san?”
A little concerned I questioned.
“Your mom went to help your Uncle’s girlfriend. So, I took this chance to get my work done since I missed a day.”
She stretched out her hands and pretended to crack her knuckles. Little mannerisms like these from Mari-san were common and I'm becoming more aware of them as time goes on.
“Can’t get behind else I won’t be able to slack off…You know, Madoka-san?”
“I can’t tell if you’re a hard worker…or just lazy so you work fast...”
“Hehe, that’s a good thing.”
Mari-san lowered her head and looked back at the screen. The typing stopped as I was about to make my way up the steps...escape from her before I said something I didn't mean. The anxiety I have around Mari-san is so thick one would have to use a butcher knife to chip through it.
She called out to me so sharply it felt like mom was scolding me. I straighten my back as I faced her...With a slight smile, her eyes widen as large as Hana-chan's before she expressed something.
"Oh...ah...and you look wonderful, Madoka-san..."
"Your outfit...you look wonderful. I wanted to mention it this morning but you left before I could say anything...."
That's when I remembered Hana-chan mentioning that Mari-san likes fashion too. So, I gathered up my courage as I twisted my brown hair dangling on the side of my cheek. I could feel the heat blaring from them as I twirled those pesky brown locks around and around.
"Do you...know what brand these are, Mari-san?"
She glanced up at me. The heat of her eyes bearing on me was almost more than I could handle. I reactively did something...I didn't look her in the eyes, no...I was fixated on...her lips. The thought of Sophia-san and I mashing our lips together by accident came to mind. But soon after she cut my reminisce away in an instant.
"The chocolate coat is a designer brand called Magenta. It's not only stylish but warm for the winter season. And you paired it with its sister skirt from the company Shiva. That brand is not only fashionable but durable and long-lasting. You can wear it for years and the color won't fade easily."
She warily giggled.
"The bag is too much even for both Ayumi and my salary put together though...but there is a necklace that Shiva sells that is made to match with pretty much all their designer products."
"Ohh that necklace! It was...more than my budget so I couldn't afford it."
"Is that right?"
With a cute giggle, she concluded...
"But even without it you...make it look great. You're...so cute...Madoka-san. "
Her words melted my legs as they began to wobble. I wanted to hear more from her. This feeling of her tender sweet voice complimenting me roared at my emotions. Certainly, Mari-san was...acting differently than the previous day and it threw me for a loop.
"T...Thank you, Mari-san."
I wanted to sit next to her and chat more about Magenta and Shiva products but then it occurred to me...we are alone right now, right? Hana-chan was over at her friend's house...mom was out with Ryuji's girlfriend...Why would I be thinking about this? My mind went to a place...that it shouldn't have. One that might have been less innocent than. I wanted to sit on the couch next to her...explore what was going through my mind...
Mari-san lowered her shoulders and closed her eyes.
I tried to sound normal but I couldn't with that day going back through my head...
"I...want you to know something..."
She bit the bottom of her tender lip and turned away from me.
"I'm...trying my best to be more open with you...about things. So...please bear with me. Today might not be the best day to have a chat about things with me still being sick but...ah...but I want...to spend more time...with you...Madoka-san."
Quietly, she spoke softly as my face began to flare up. She sounded so docile as if she's been struggling to get this out for a while now.
"Oh, ah...me too, Mari-san."
"I'm glad you feel the same...Hehe."
She giggled warily before turning back to her computer.
"...So, I’m going to keep working…if you don’t mind…Madoka-san.”
So, in other words…Mari-san didn’t have time to talk right now. Without another word, I walked up the steps. When I entered the room I met my gaze with my full-sized mirror. As I looked at the designer brand she listed off with precision my heart began to hurt... Mari-san really does like fashion.
...No matter how I looked at it…Mari-san feels awkward around me…and I do too. But...
So happy that she noticed my clothing...but that was all the more reason to cut through this tension. And I also noticed one other thing about Mari-san that didn't strike me until now...Her lips...are cute...they're really small but full and cute. Maybe...just maybe they taste like...Sophia's? But as soon as that thought ravaged my mind I hit my head to pull it out. I...can't do things like that. I need to be careful.
"Mari-san and I will need to talk it out soon. I can't keep avoiding this forever..."
That's when my phone lit up, breaking my idle thoughts of...Mari-san. On the calling end was a name I changed from Conway Sophia to simply...Sophia.
Her rugged voice cut through my stomach.
"Is now not a good time...Madoka-san?"
"No, nows a great time Sophia-san."
I lied in bed and searched the ceiling as I journeyed back to that day where I first woke up...Now was the time to let someone else enter into my life even a little. So, I closed my eyes and conjured up those unique feelings that are still thrashing about my soul.
"Well, Sophia-san...I woke up September 12th...."