The day was slightly warmer than usual in the winter and this put my spirits up a bit. We drove in silence for a moment as I found myself twisting the ends of my hair. But with my hair up in a ponytail now it gave me fewer strains to mess with.
"You look professional, Madoka-san. I like it."
"You didn't have to dress up to come out with me...but I appreciate that you did so. You look mature...it suits you."
Why was she doing this? Complimenting me like we're on some kind of date or something? I found my left finger tapping away at my thigh. It was so loud in my head that...I hoped Mari-san wouldn't pick up on it. So, instead of replying, I went to the next best option...
“S-So, where to first, Mari-san?”
She just giggled likely noticing my reddened cheeks. Well, that's what I had to assume anyway.
“First I need to stop by a writer’s apartment. She hasn’t responded to the publication notice of her novel…something tells me she’s late and trying to hide until it’s ready.”
With a sharp sigh, she shrugged her shoulders as she turned the corner.
“Sorry that it’s nothing more exciting…like a criminal on the run.”
“Criminal on the run. Mari-san catching criminals…”
I giggled as I mumbled softly. That's when it happened, I began picturing Mari-san in an officer outfit...
But it would have to be the kind with a tighter skirt...Not that I'd want to see her figure or anything. That's when I came to the realization of what I was just doing...So, I rebuked my thoughts once again.
“What, you don’t think I’d make a good detective like in those dramas?”
I looked out the side window now. That officer outfit stayed in my mind until I shook it loose. But a fragment of it idolized in my chest causing my stomach to hurt slightly.
“…Well, you are really smart so…I could see it..."
“Hm? What did you say?”
At a failed attempt to cool down my chest, I looked down at my thighs.
“No! I wanna know. What did you say, Madoka-san?”
Air spat from my mouth. Mari-san was certainly relentless and it was...kind of cute.
“I said…you’re pretty smart, Mari-san.”
With a shrug of her shoulders and a slight giggle, she turned the next corner.
“I don’t get why everyone says that. I’m just your normal, boring woman.”
I could hear a hint of something in her voice. As if she honestly thought that was true. For a while, the conversation between us died down which ended up being good for my heart. With all my fidgeting and nervousness, knowing that we're basically stuck in an enclosed box together I couldn't settle down. This was nothing like how when my mom took me places...I was stuck in a space, trapped with the woman that my body seemed to...be attracted to. How else was I supposed to handle this situation?
After around five minutes or so in silence, we pulled up to a set of apartments. The place was pretty run down, to be honest. I wondered if the life of a writer is this harsh? If I had to live in a place like this to get by writing the stories I love...would I be willing to do that?
We stepped out and made our way up the steps to the second floor. The view of the cityscape was breathtaking from up here as I looked out into the distance. It contrasted the rundown estate as if this view shouldn't exist here in the first place. As I followed Mari-san she made her way to a door marked with room number, 203. The name of the resident was a singular, Yashiro. No family name...just a given one. This was already suspicious to me.
After a knock or two, Mari-san cried out again.
“Yashiro-san! It’s Koda Mari from the Ojima Editorial Bureau…”
That’s when the door aggressively opened, causing us to back up slightly.
“Mari-san! I’m glad to see you…"
Suddenly, she glared at me with an intense passion. I could feel overwhelming darkness pouring from her veins, causing me to back up slightly.
"Eehh, who is this, Mari-san?”
The woman with dirty brown hair and wildlife dark eyes dissected me with her deathlike glare. She stood around my height with horrid dark rings circling under her eyes making her seem far older and tired than I'm sure she was. Still wrapped in the morning gown at nearly noon she struck me as...quite the lazy individual. If I had to guess an age range...maybe she would be a little older than Taylor-sensei...around 24 or 25? But I couldn't tell with how poorly kept she appeared.
“Where are my manners, please, come in!”
At her invitation, we stepped inside. The place was…let’s just put it bluntly, a complete pigsty. I wanted to clean the entire place up. But I held off on to my urges as I slump my shoulders. There are cups of ramen as far as the eye can see and piles and piles of novels lied about all the rooms. It would seem the dishes are even piling up... Everywhere felt cluttered and unkept.
“Madoka-san this here is Yashiro-san, the writer I spoke about…And Yashiro-san this is Nakagawa Madoka-san. She’s my stepdaughter but today she’s an intern and likely my replacement soon.”
“Intern, replacement? What are you talking ab-”
I questioned but all I get in response was a tug on my finger and a wink from Mari-san. It sounded as if Mari-san was having fun so, I shrugged and played along with her antics.
"Eeeehhh, but you said you're not going anywhere, Koda Mari-san!"
In a fury, the writer kicked back and fell to the floor. With all her might she tossed about on her wood tile, making all kinds of a ruckus. I was slightly afraid the neighbors might complain about it.
Mari-san just held her stomach while giggling in amusement but to me, it looked like a temper tantrum from a child. With all the wailing she did along with her hands and feet smashing into the floor, I was afraid she might break a limb on her body.
"It's not fair! I don't wanna work with that mean redhead! I only want to work with Mari-san!"
The troublemaker sighed deeply, she was seriously enjoying all this. After letting her sprawl about for a minute Mari-san finally spoke up...
"Oh gosh, you're so gullible Yashiro-san. I didn't even have to go far with that lie. But seriously, she's going to be observing me today, Yashiro-san. Don't worry...I'm not going anywhere right now."
The now all-tuckered-out writer beamed up in an instant.
“Please take a seat then!”
The host offered but...there was nowhere to actually sit. Mari-san however found a cardboard box and casually made herself a home...like this was normal to her.
Without a word, she took my hand gently. With a calming expression, she pulled me down next to her. Out shoulders touched briefly as I found my hips caressing hers. We were like Siamese twins now as we watched Yashiro-san pace around the room relentlessly. Her darkened eyes strain so far that my own began to hurt just watching her.
“Ah…Yashiro-san. The manuscript?”
Mari-san cut right to the point. However, her charismatic smile stayed on her face. She was really good at saving face. But to me...she seemed a tad frustrated.
“Oh…well you see. I…don’t have it.”
“Well, this is the fourth time this month that you…ah, don’t have it. My boss has already threatened to drop your story, you know?”
“But you don’t understand! I…want to bring back the dog, Yashiro-san.”
With a sharp sigh, Mari-san sat straight up in a seeming fury.
“You can’t bring back the dog! Your readers would hate you for the inconsistencies and it’ll ruin the entire story. Do you know how much turmoil you caused the last time we had to retract the prints because you didn't want to kill off a character?”
That's when my mind flew back to that morning with Mari-san screaming "She should have just died!" Maybe this is what she was talking about? But then I remembered her saying "He." Not "Her."
Yashiro-san leisurely danced about the room. Something told me she wasn’t all there in the head. As she talked she wouldn’t even look at us. It was as if we were a figment of her imagination.
“When can we expect your manuscript then, Yashiro-san?”
“You said that three weeks ago, Yashiro-san!”
Without realizing that she was referring to me, Yashiro-san rushed over and stood over me.
"Answer me, Yashiro-san!"
Mari cried from the side. Her facade was casually breaking now.
“Have you read my books? The Ashe of the Fallen?”
“Ah….no, I haven’t.”
That’s when it dawned on me who she was.
“Wait, you write the Ashe of the Fallen series?!”
That was a super big story, especially to preteens. But I thought the writer of that series is a male. A bunch of my old schoolmates used to read it. If I recall, it's a fantasy romance about extraterrestrials meeting everyday girls and falling in love. I don't know the fine details but it's certainly the kind of book a teenager is meant to connect with. I was certain they told me countless times that the writer...was a male. Maybe...Yashiro-san is the male pen name that she goes by...but then what's her real name?
“Don’t patronize my stepdaughter, Yashiro-san.”
Mari-san aggressively cut in while hugging my side. I could feel her soft breast push up against my shoulder. Normally, I wouldn't mind something like that...but nowadays with my feelings being assaulted so regularly...I've become quite sensitive to this sort of embrace.
I squealed as I felt her nails brush against my tender handles. I don't think Mari-san realized it but...I wanted to rush out the door now. My...body was getting warmer by the minute. Could it be that Mari-san does these things...without thinking?!
It didn't help that Yashiro had her rugged face close to mine. Too many odd sensations were assaulting me at once and I wanted to explode!
But as abruptly as this all happened, she stood up and walked away. Rubbing her ears Yashiro-san continued.
“Well, intern. Believe it or not, that book wouldn’t have reached the 6th volume without the help of your stepmom here.”
That's when Mari-san took her arm from around me causing my body to cool down slightly. As I exhaled deeply I questioned Yashiro-san further.
“What do you mean?”
Mari-san visibly looked disturbed when she brought this up, however, rubbing the back of her neck.
“Do you really have to go into his, Yashiro-san?”
The writer approached a messy table and lifted a fair amount of papers.
“Here’s the manuscript. You knew I had it finished a while back, didn’t you Marita-san?”
“Don't call me Marita-san...and yep…you just love to give our boss a heart attack.”
“You see intern. Mari-san stood up for me and even fought to give me a month grace period in my time of need. Without her, they would have canceled my story.”
With a huff as she read Mari-san stuck her pinky in her left ear.
“All I did was lie… Said you had an emergency and needed time off, Yashiro-san.”
With a sharp exhale she continued...
"But in actuality...you bought a new bird and got too carried away with not working..."
"But you put your neck out for me Mari-san. You could have been punished if your boss found out..."
"It was nothing...now enough."
Mari-san chuckled. Even if she made it sound like it was nothing…this black-haired annoyance saved this writer's career. Now that I thought more about it…I bet Mari-san does a bunch of things for others…and probably doesn't believe it's too much.
Mari-san turned to me in bewilderment.
It would seem that she was too engrossed in the story and didn’t catch my mumbling words.
When I met eyes with her…that fire burned slightly in my stomach. So, Mari-san is the modest kind, isn't she? If the past me did find something about her that I don’t know…maybe I’ll be able to piece together me from the past. Slowly...I was beginning to understand my feelings, wasn't I?
She went back to the manuscript for a moment and then after what felt like a few more minutes she nodded.
“It’s great. The quality is outstanding but…I have a few changes I suggest you make. Firstly, starting off with the transition from here to there. If you flip the context the other way it flows better. It changes the emotional appeal for the reader. The last thing you want is for them to set the book down in the first place..."
As Mari-san list off her critiques, it was a new side to the ever joker, Mari-san. Her professionalism attitude verged on that of a mature scholarly woman. This was a side to Mari-san I haven’t seen before. She took her job seriously, despite how she would joke around at home. So, I sat silently as she continued her explanations.
After what felt like five or so minutes of suggestions, she concluded her findings and we made our way to the door.
“Don’t call me, Marita-san…”
Yashiro-san chuckled slightly.
“Huh? My name is Nakagawa Madoka.”
Slightly annoyed by the sudden nickname I was given.
“Stick by this chick. She’ll get you places.”
Stick by her? Those words glued to my mind. Then suddenly, the morning dream filtered back into my mind. The one with Mari-san holding me in her embrace...but calling me by mom's name...
The door shut, waking me from my delusion. I couldn't help but judge my daydreams as I turned to Mari-san still with the manuscript in hand.
“What a mess of a person…”
Mari-san chuckled turning back to me.
“Never become like her, Madoka-san.”
My eyebrow raised slightly.
“Did you see her place?”
“Oh, yeah that’s right. You’re a neat freak. Hehe!”
She cried while her soft finger bonked my nose. That’s when it came to me, she was teasing me. Did she expect that reply? I jolted back.
“D-Don’t bully me, Mari-san.”
“Sorry, I couldn’t help it!”
She laughed as she walked away from me. She was treating me how I treated Hana-chan earlier today...maybe I had that coming. My face felt like fire was walking on top of it...was the entire day going to feel like this or will I get used to it soon enough? I was beginning to get dizzy now.
“Come on Madoka-san, next we have to drop off the manuscript to my boss. She's been waiting for weeks to see this.”
I raced after her, sticking to her just like Yashiro-san told me to.