Hana nodded vigorously. She seemed to be really excited about her...mommy training course as she called it.
“Yep. I’ll tell you more about her so you both can get along better. It’s up to you to make it happen though.”
Now facing Hana like this I certainly see the resemblance between her and her mom. They both share the same round-shaped eyes and young appearance. But then I found my eyes gazing down to her lips. They were small...even smaller than Mari-san's. But a tad full as well. They lipped upwards on the bottom just enough to make them cute...That's when my body tensed up, rebuking what I was doing...what's with me and lips lately?!
“It is imperative to know that Mom is always looking five to six steps ahead, Onee-san!”
“Yep! She doesn’t do anything without planning her course of action. For example…do you remember when she told me to protect you on the train?”
The memory struck back to Hana doing those weird things to me when we first started going to school together. She used to forced me into corners and make sure that my back was against the walls of the train. Every morning was so embarrassing that I'm surprised I didn't kill over eventually. She’s toned that down a bit now that we’ve become closer though…thank goodness.
“Yeah…I remember alright.”
“Well, a week beforehand she gave me that order.”
“But that would have been before she knew we’d ride the train…”
That’s when it hit me like a mountain of rocks. Mari-san didn’t really care that we were going alone. No, she encouraged it. But knowing she was behind that…Did she do all that so Hana would eventually force me in weird places for her amusement? Now I really wanted to hit that black-haired troublemaker over the head.
“Yep…I fell right into her hands. After a while, I realized that mom was getting a kick out of it…She’s so shady.”
Seems we both were tricked by her antics.
“Do you remember a time when she fooled you, Onee-san?”
“Yeah, like with that apron and the lemon scent perfume…”
“Apron…lemon scent perfume?”
I guess the cat was out of the bag now. If I’m being more open about Mari-san might as well tell Hana about them.
“Well, you see…Mari-san came on early when I first got back home, and…next thing I knew she bought be an apron to cook with.”
My cheeks warmed up as Hana giggled.
“That sounds…. pretty cute Onee-san.”
I punched her shoulder. Hana didn't take that lying down and pushed me back. For a moment we tussled back and forth before settling back down. With a slight giggle, the two of us called a truce and continued our discussion.
“What about the lemon scent?”
Now that one…was a bit more different than the apron prank. I wondered if I should tell her about it? My mind raced back to that time...
Where she coursed me into watching Born Free with her just so she could tease me with my lemon scent perfume I gave her as a joke. The feelings of unease back then were nothing like now. They only amplified over time to the point that I'm sure that memory was far more romanticized than it truly was back then. I gazed back to Hana who gave me a haphazard shrug of her shoulders.
“Hm, well it’s not important. All In all, mom tricked us. It’s about time we start putting our foot down and think as far ahead as her.”
Hana, passing up her own question, sat on her knees towards me.
“My goal is for Onee-san and mom to love each other!”
I don’t think Hana-chan meant it in that way but my heart took it there sadly.
“Ah…well how about we just start with being friends?”
“Hm? But family love one another.”
Now I saw the train of thought she went with. Yeah, that’s right we're family. Well, that’s how we appeared to be. So, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
“Family. Yeah, family.”
Whatever feelings are swirling in me, that’s for another time. My goal is to get closer with Mari-san so she feels she doesn’t need to lie to me about anything. And that starts with her recognizing me as family. A member she can trust and confide in...someone she can be close with without bias.
“So, I suggest we put mom in a position where she can't escape!”
I scold her causing the little flower to twitch in confusion.
“We can’t just corner your mom like a rat in a cage…”
“But she does it all the time with you and me. Why can’t we?”
Hana made a valid point. But even so, it is a challenge to get the upper hand on Mari-san. She’s a fox. Trying to outsmart the fox is a challenge.
“Hm...I have an idea. I'll have our mom... yeah, that might work...”
That’s when Hana-chan without finishing her thought jumped into my arms. With that, she gave a sharp smile and raced out of my room.
"Where are you going, Hana-chan?"
My heartbeat ever so slightly having her face up close to me like that. But I wondered what she's going to do... Still with my thoughts swirling about what Hana said earlier…If I want to get to know Mari-san better, I’ll have to be on the offensive. But I don't...know what to do to get on the offensive in the first place.
So, instead of worrying too much about it, I got back on my computer and restlessly began looking for music. I couldn't settle down though. I would click on a song and listen to it for a minute before my stomach would tense up and I'd click to another. As I searched the endless sea of fashion despite how amazing some designs looked...I couldn't get my mind off that dream from this morning.
"Agg...get with it Madoka."
I rebuked my feelings over and over. That's when my phone lit up on my computer desk. When I checked the name...
"M-Mari-san is calling...me?!"
So…I took out my phone and held it to my chest.
“Come on Madoka. You can do this. Just...answer the phone.”
I rehearsed before I finally did what I feared. I clicked her name and answered the phone. For a brief moment, I waited before...
I called out first, timidly.
She called me but she was stumbling over her words. I wondered if this had something to do with Hana-san.
"That little brat said something behind my back, didn't she?!"
We sat on the line for a moment causing my body to tense up as I paced about the room.
"Is there...a reason you called, Mari-san?"
"Ah...ahem...a certain somebody said something about...you might want to go along with me and do errands?"
I was confused for a moment but then like a firework lighting up the night sky, in my head everything lit up and it all became clear.
"Huh?! S-She said that?!"
I knew it had to be her...Hana-chan went behind my back and pushed this on me. I vowed to pull her cheeks extra hard later as punishment for putting me in this compromising position.
"Was...that not true, Madoka-san?"
“Oh, ah...nnn...no that's...right.”
I lied in a panic. My body was shaking but I needed to push myself. If I want to learn more about my feelings from the past…I would have to tackle the present.
“Ah…can I join you on your…errands today?”
She blurted out in seeming confusion. This phone call between the two of us wasn't natural in the slightest. There were too many Ehhh's and Ahhh's for it to be even considered as a healthy conversation.
“Ah…are you sure you want that, Madoka-san?”
My heart pounded even faster now. I wanted to express myself more clearly though. And this was going to be my first test for growth.
“Ah…it’s all boring stuff like dropping off manuscripts and hounding writers for things. Why would you want to come?”
“I…want to see what Mari-san does.”
My face heated up…as I concluded what I wanted to say.
“I…want to get to know you, Mari-san. I...I really...want to get to know you.”
My heart dropped. It was certainly tired from all the constant beating it's been enduring these recent days. As if an ice cube slid down my back I tensed up...waiting for her reply.
She took a deep breath, but I could hear a slight giggle after a drawn-out sigh.
“Sure. I will be home in a little bit. Get dressed and we’ll hang out together. Hehe.”
That’s when the phone clicked. It would seem she read into what I wanted to do. I’ve been thinking about it for a bit now but…I wanted some alone time with Mari-san. That way I can explore if these feelings that I have are real or something I’ve manufactured in the time we spent. I’m not sure if Mari-san read into all of that but as Hana said…she thinks too far ahead.
Speaking of that person in question...I'm going to hurt her so bad. Was this her "mommy training course?" Throwing me into the water and hoping I swim to the top before I drown? But now wasn't the time to plan my assault on Hana-chan. I lazily stood off my bed and checked my mirror revealing...a mess called Nakagawa Madoka.
“Oh my god, my hair?!”
That’s when it struck me. I was in complete shambles. With the late wake-up and easygoing morning, I haven’t attended to my looks in the slightest. Now I’m going to hang out with Mari-san too?! I don’t even have the time to pick out anything cute! Wait…why do I need something cute?!
These emotions were swirling in me like wildfire, ravaging out of control.
“Onee-san! Did you read the chapter of…Onee-san what are you doing?”
Caught in the act, my body was halfway through my closet. From her point of view, it must have looked like half of me was sticking out of a portal to the depths.
"Ah! Hana-chan I'm going to hurt you!"
"Eh?! Why Onee-san?!"
I puffed my cheeks like how she would do. Although I might not be as cute when she does it.
“I'll deal with you later...But perfect timing! I need you to choose an outfit for me.”
“Huh? Oh…I’m no good at that kind of stuff.”
“Please Hana-chan! Should I wear this or that…or that…”
Hana crossed her arms and soldiered up. She wasn't budging on her stance as she replied with force.
“Onee-san…I’m not a fashion buff like you! You should ask my mom about that stuff.”
“Fashion buff? Is that what you think I am?"
“Ah…so, why are you looking for an outfit?”
Hana-san fled ignorance. So instead of interrogating her further, I confessed.
“Oh, I’m joining your mom on her errands today.”
“Because I…want to get to know your mom better.”
Now calmed down I pet her on the head then pulled her cheeks...extra hard. Her cheeks tensed up and before I knew it, she ruffled her head back and forth and even took a bite at my finger. Could it be that Hana-chan is a Venus flytrap in disguise?!
“Don’t bully me! You, mom, and mom are always bullying me!”
Hana rushed out before I could get another word in edgewise. Maybe I did take it a little too far and should apologize to her later. But for now, I’m needed to dress right. Since Mari-san is doing business I doubt she would like me to go around in something too informal. I’ll start with a more mature look so I can blend in with her. So, I reached into my closet and found a gray dress. To match I could put this hat on, and maybe I should wear this bag. Today might be the day I put on my contacts instead of wearing my glasses. Or…maybe I should wear my glasses to look more mature?
From the door there she was, mom. She had her shoulder to the wall and gave me a quizzical look. For good reason since I had all these pieces of clothing on my bed.
“What are you up to dear? I would have thought you’d be listening to your idol music and dancing around in shorts right now.”
“Mom! I don’t do that all the time.”
“But you do it quite a lot, Madoka.”
I wanted to fight back…but she’s right. First I'm a fashion buff and now I dance around in shorts to cherry idol music. Why is everyone's perception of me so crazy?!
“Ah…I’m going with Mari-san on her errands.”
Mom giggled suspiciously. It made the hair on my neck stand up as I searched her calming smile. What was going through that head of hers?
“Ah, I see. Well, I hope you enjoy your time with Mari-san.”
Mom snickered and walked inside my closet. She hovered her tall body over my bed after pulling out a few things.
“Hm…Maybe you should…”
She lifted a few things.
“Try this…and this…and this…Madoka.”
That’s when everything clicked. The world of what Nakagawa Madoka would wear came into view. That’s right…the one person who taught me all these amazing styles got me into the world of fashion in the first place... was no other than…mom.
Despite what we have between us right now…the secrets she's hiding from me with her charming smile...here I am, relying on her. Mom gave me a warming smile and with a brief hug, she whispered in my ear.
“Mari would love having you help her, Madoka.”
I didn’t know what she meant by that but she gave me a soft kiss on my forehead. It was soothing, tender, full of sincerity and love.
“Hurry now, Madoka! Mari will be here any minute.”
Then with a slight chuckle, she exited the room.
After finishing the final touches of my outfit I checked my hair one last time. My hair still up in a ponytail because of the lack of time I had to change it I felt as though it was fine...however there was an annoying strain that didn't want to fall just right. Now of all days, it had to split and be a problem. After a few more minutes of messing around with it, I gave up and stepped out of my room. Timidly, I made my way down the steps. There she was that dark-haired troublemaker standing at the front door idly chatting with Hana-chan...
“Mom! But I really want it.”
“Hana, we just bought you a game two days ago. Go play that.”
“But I finished it. This game is finally on sale and I wanted that way more than the last.”
With a scratch on her cheek, Mari-san peaked up at me. Her forest eyes met with my black dress jacket hand-picked by mom. With my cross-laced shirt exposed by the buttons of the jacket lying open, ocean blue skirt to reflect the gentle nature of a mature businesswoman, I was satisfied at how it all came together. I'm sure if any of my classmates saw me wearing this they'd be hard-pressed to say that I was nothing less than the mature, young lady.
Mari-san's expression was neutral with her casual smile. I wondered what she was thinking seeing me approach the door in this style. She didn’t say anything for a bit before closing her eyes and petting Hana’s head.
“Okay, if I stop by the mall or something I’ll pick it up. But you have to remember something important...”
Hana jumped about the room for a moment before turning back to her mom. Mari-san stood with her hand to her hip. This seemed to have made Hana-chan calm down as she approached her more timidly now.
"Ah...what is it, mom?"
“It’s Madoka’s birthday soon, not yours Hana.”
That's when our eyes met sending a spark of lightning to jolt through me. They tenderly hid under her lashes as she gazed back at her child with a grin.
At a loss for words I take it, Hana turned back to me. Her face blushed a slight tint of red before becoming riled up, shaking about.
“Ah! I know that Mom!”
She cried before rushing off to the kitchen. I have no idea what that was all about, to be honest, but I finally continued making my way down the steps.
"Well, aren't you all dolled up, Madoka-san."
Mari teased. She wasn't wrong...I might have gone overboard with what I had on. But before I could tout my own horn more I noticed that black-haired troublemaker's style...far exceeded my own. With a lush grape jacket and the dark red business tie, she wore her shapely office attire with pride. Only to end it all with her dress skirt showing off her figure flawlessly. Mari-san...looked a little cool if I had to admit.
“Ready to go, Madoka-san?”
Breaking my seeming ogling...I rushed down the steps and gave her a haphazard reply.
With that, we walked out the door. I followed her as she led me to the car. That's when Mari-san did something I wasn’t expecting…she opened the passenger door for me. What was I...a sheltered princess or something?
“Ah, you don’t need to do that, Mari-san.”
She's always been a weirdo and nothing had changed. But she still insisted. For some reason I guess she felt a tad chivalrous today. Now sitting in the car...this would be the first time that Mari-san and I took a ride alone like this...well I guess in the past we might have done this. She got in on her side, started the engine, and made her way onto the road.
Now I was alone with Mari-san...
As we both drove off to our first destination together.