After the extra few minutes on the road, we made our way to the shopping district near our home. Mari-san skillfully spotting a parking space. After successfully parking, she gave slight guts pose as if patting herself on the back for taking another driver's spot. It was a bit adorable...despite the mean glare the man gave us because of it.
Once we got into the mall the crowds were on a ridiculous level. It surprised me as we were literally tuna canned side to side with other customers at times. Our next stop was the game store Hana-chan wanted us to go to and at this rate, it was like wading through a rushing river. We finally came to a break in the chaos now allowing me to relax a little if anything.
"Wow...there's a lot of people here, Mari-san."
"Yeah, don't get lost, Madoka-san."
Trying my best not to drift away from Mari-san, I tailed her the best I could. I still felt as though I was pulling away so...I reached out my hand and grabbed a hold of her dress jacket. It was soft...warm even. It reminded me instantly of her wrapping her arms around me in Yashiro-san's home...and it made me feel guilty as I thought about it.
She turned to me. My eyes were still fixated on her slender back...I was doing something that was openly embarrassing and I knew it. I couldn't look her in the eye unless I wanted to die from sheer embarrassment. Like a spoiled child...I...really wanted to hold her hand. Something in me...wanted to do it...badly.
I needed to get it out. Not just because it'll be safer and easier if I walked that way with her but...No, I couldn't find a reason...could I? Mari-san giggled and took my fingers. It was at this moment we connected. Her hands coiled in mine, sending a completely different sensation down my body. It didn't feel the same as when we held hands at the park a month after my coma. No, this was different. So much that I found my lips raising into an abstract smile.
"Let's not get lost, alright?"
She whispered causing the hair on my body to shoot up. My stomach was in knots now. Why couldn't I just say it...that I wanted to hold her hand? Oh...I know why because it was different than when I held her hand in the park that day. My emotions were closed off from me but now they're in full bloom trying their best to escape. But I had to suppress them as we walked about the mall, heading to our destination.
Once we entered, as expected, it was just as packed in here than it was out in the main mall. The place was called Zip Gaming Center and the logo was pretty worn out despite the technology inside being at its latest. The rural-looking exterior didn't bring justice to all the gadgets and gimmicks lied about around the place. I'm not sure where all the hype lied in all these games and stuff. I only played a few with Mae-chan as a kid. But she and I both became more athletic and all of our free time became studying or practicing for our scholarships.
“…Do you know what game Hana wanted, Mari-san?"
I asked while being pushed around by the crowd.
“Spider Weapon…or something…”
Spider Weapon? That didn't sound right at all. It made me wonder if Mari-san was the kind of parent that would buy the wrong game system and say that the child wanted this for a while now out of sheer ignorance. So, to be safe I took out my phone. It was only then I realized I was only using one hand to do this...my other hand was still captured by Mari-san...
So, I tugged slightly and released out embrace...I...actually didn't want to but I had to. It looked strange for us to still be standing around in each other's hands. It's not as though I'm with Hana-chan who could pass off as a grade-schooler most days.
“Maybe I should call her…”
I decided as I checked on my phone and dialed the shorty in question. The phone rang a few times before her coy voice filtered in my ears. I could hear the sound of a videogame being played in the background.
“Onee-san? What’s up?”
“What game did you want, Hana-chan?”
I heard a large noise, likely the phone hitting the floor. After some intense rustling, she finally came back into clarity.
“Ohhh! Ah…It’s called, Heaven's Weapon! Heaven's Weapon! It's spelled with the Kanji! I told mom that over and over again!”
I slumped my shoulders, curious how Mari-san got one out of the other…But I digressed and confirmed with a nod.
"Onee-san! Make sure she gets the right one! Mom doesn't care!"
I slumped my shoulders now. The dynamic between Mari-san and Hana-chan was certainly an interesting one considering that they are mother and child. I...couldn't quite place my finger on it yet. That's when I gave Hana-chan a brief goodbye and put my phone back in my pocket.
“Alright. Mari-san, it’s called, Heaven's Weapon. It's spelled with the Kanji, Hana-chan said.”
Mari-san scratched her head and began looking around. Something told me she just ultimately didn't care... I went off to the side behind her to look around too. The game section was enormous and It felt a tad intimidating to someone who has been out of the gaming industry for a while now like me.
As I looked about I finally spotted the game on the top shelf in a corner. It was surrounded by ads and other big seller promotions. It must have been a new game and luckily there were quite a few left in stock.
“Oh, there it is.”
I reached for it…and reached…and reached to no avail. It seemed that I wasn’t tall enough which even surprised me. It appeared as though I would have to get an employee to get it with a step ladder...or my mom since her body was taller than me. It's days like this that I wished I grew as tall as Mihara-san.
“I got it.”
Mari-san came out of nowhere and leaned over me. She wasn't much taller than me but she used the ledge of the shelf to boost her up slightly. I could…feel her small chest pressed against the back of my head. For that brief moment…I felt an intense warmth burst through my body.
Her...breast was soft as they pressed on the nape. As if she was shielding me like a mother bird would her chicks... I wanted this sensation to stay a bit longer...so I can soak in this...powerful feeling that was assaulting me right now. But as brief as uncontrolled feelings came they died down in an instant when she released me from her clutches, grabbing hold of Hana-chan's game.
“Okay…do you want anything, Madoka-san?”
The heat danced about my body...even my stomach was burning now...and I began to hate it...I put my hand on my cheeks...trying my best to find these emotions from...her. But even doing something like this, she'd notice that I felt uneasy...wouldn't she?
"O-Oh...sorry for doing that..."
"Oh no...it's not that...ah...."
Our eyes met briefly before I gazed away from her. There we sat in the crowded gaming store...trying our best to distance ourselves from one another. I couldn't deny it...Mari-san became painfully aware of my recent discomfort, didn't she? Would this gradually begin to spiral into the way we've been this last week again? The thought of that...ate away at me.
"L-Let's check out Madoka-san."
After paying for the game we walked out in silence. Here we were with a bustle of people around us still canned together...but she and I know intentionally avoided touching one another. The mood...certainly soured in a blink of the eye. Was this...my fault?
She turned to me now with her cheeks slightly reddened too. Could Mari-san be as embarrassed as I am about...what just happened? But no, Mari-san...doesn't get as flustered about things like that as me...right?
"Let's get some food before going home. I think we deserve a treat with all the work we did today."
I wasn't expecting that. Was Mari-san...offering to sit down and with me? So, she took my hand this time without asking and led me down the mall's pathways. We passed the clothing store's windows, arcades, and more. We even walked by that gaming store, Galactic Potatoes that Mae-chan, Sophia-san, and I made our way into when we played that zombie game together.
There we stopped at a restaurant that was quiet compared to the bustle of the mall. The name of the establishment was Red Roses which didn't actually compliment the interior. It laid out with a wood giving the place a homely feel with air to it that reflected maturity. A hiring ad sat stubbornly at the front. The first thought that went through my head was...the kind of place you'd invite a date on... But as fast as that came to mind I shook my ponytail to the side.
"Ah, can we get a seat for two?"
Mari-san suggested to the woman at the front desk. She was nearly gray on top and hunched slightly. But the way she held the menus in hand felt as though she'd been here for quite a while. As if she was a lingering spirit of this calming establishment.
"Do you have a preference, ma'am?"
"Yeah...the back corner near the street view. It's...not reserved or anything, is it?"
The older woman smiled brightly.
"Of course not, please come with me."
She led us deeper into the restaurant. There were very few people around and most who were here were older individuals. Certainly not the place for high school students to all merge into after a long day of clubs. It soothed my chest a bit at how fresh the environment was in comparison to the cluttered mess that was right outside these doors. Mari-san then turned to the waitress.
"Ma'am...can we have a glass of water...and a bit of time alone before we order?"
"Oh, certainly ma'am."
That was an odd request. When we sat down, to our left were the city streets reflecting off the noon sky. It was peaceful seeing the traffic go about for some reason.
"...The first time I came here was when my boss brought me after work."
Curious to know why she brought this up after such a long gap of silence...I gazed at her willfully watching the traffic go by. Her eyes glimmered off the dazzling blue sky making her all the more radiant.
"It was after I first got hired onto the Ojima Editorial Bureau. To celebrate, she took me out here after work...and we drank, had a good time."
She circled the glass of water offered to us in her tender hands as she reminisced about the past.
"At that time when I first got this job...it was just me and Hana. I didn't know...Nakagawa Ayumi...and I didn't know you, Madoka-san."
That's when it occurred to me why Mari-san brought me here. She...finally wanted to talk, didn't she?
"Madoka-san...you said you wanted to get to know me better, didn't you?"
She took a sip of her glass of water before turning back to me. With that charismatic smile of hers, she seemingly isolated her attention from the world around us and fixated solely on me. In this brightly-lit restaurant like two suitors on a date, we gazed into each other's eyes. There was nobody around but us. This situation was a true testament to the time before my coma.
It was Mari-san and I and nobody else around...we could finally talk, couldn't we? But where do I begin? What do I want to know...should I cut right to the chase and ask her to explain everything about us? No...no...like Taylor-sensei said...I need to take my time on that matter. I'm here to explore my feelings and that's all...
"Can you tell me...about the time before you met me and my mom?"
Her eyes widened seemingly surprised, I take it she wasn't expecting that. If I truly wanted to know more about Mari-san...understand who she is to discover if these feelings I have are in fact true...I'll need to discover how I might have fallen in love with her in the first place. That means...I'll have to uncover the true Mari-san.
"Hm, sure then. Madoka-san..."
Mari-san held the glass of water in her hands and beamed that porcelain smile of hers...
It was then when Mari-san, for the first, time spoke from the bottom of her heart and shattered that facade...