Chapter 14:

友情 Friendship

Head Games with Hyouka

It was a relief when summer break finally came- a mere time for pleasure and leisure.

For a month, uniforms and textbooks could be retired, and there was no longer the threat of having to walk to and from school in the rain. No more lectures, no more late nights of homework, and no more classroom gossip.

Hyouka couldn’t have been happier.

She had spent the first week of vacation lounging around Grandmother’s house, indulging herself in reading novels that had been placed on the backburner with the obligations of her studies. She had allowed herself to get back into playing Stardust Meadows, and her farm had never looked quite so lovely before.

The outside world seemed to disappear, until she received an unexpected text.

[Hey! Wanna hang out on Wednesday? (^▽^)]

Hyouka had reread Natsumi’s text message multiple times. Had she meant to send that to someone else?

[Are the others invited?] She asked. The reply came a moment later.

[Nope. I was thinking it’d be nice for us to have a girl’s day!]

Hyouka’s eyes widened. They had never really hung out one-on-one before. Would it be awkward without any of the others being there?

[Well, where would it be?]

Natsumi’s reply was quick.

[At my house!] Attached to the message was an address.


On that Wednesday, Hyouka found herself in an unfamiliar neighborhood, standing in front of a modern-looking house. She had triple-checked that the address matched the one she had been given- it would be embarrassing to show up at the wrong home.

Fortunately, it seemed she was at the Maizono residence- the family name was inscribed on a nameplate at the front gate.

She paused for a moment, smoothing out her hair as her finger hovered over the doorbell. Doubts clouded her thoughts.

What if she embarrassed herself? What if she made a terrible impression? What if-

Hyouka shook her head- it wasn’t the time to stall. Before she could change her mind, she pressed the button.

The albino girl had just barely lowered her hand when the front door flew open. Natsumi emerged from the house, running over to let her inside.

“Hyouka-chan! Thanks for coming!” She beamed, throwing her arms around her shoulders and catching the older girl off guard.

“Hello, Maizono-san.” Hyouka stood there a bit stiffly, unsure of what to do with her hands. Before she could place them anywhere, the hug had ended.

“C’mon in! It’s really hot out here!” Giggling, the blonde girl tugged her inside the house and shut the door. Hyouka bent to slip off her shoes, placing them down neatly.

When she straightened up again, she was greeted by the sight of a woman waving from the couch. Dressed in a leopard-print lounge set that hugged her figure, she appeared to be in her late thirties or early forties, with sunkissed skin and fluffy, light brown hair pulled up into a loose bun. Her catlike eyes were the same hazel hue as Natsumi’s.

“Hiya!” The woman flashed a white smile at the girl. “You must be Tsumi-chan's friend!”

“Yes, I suppose that’s me. I’m Hyouka Morikawa.” Hyouka bowed her head, trying not to let on how quickly her heart was racing. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Maizono-san.”

Natsumi giggled softly.

“I thought I was Maizono-san!” She teased.

Hyouka faltered, heart skipping a beat.

“I don’t mind if ya call me Rina-chan!” Her mother piped up.


Before she could respond, she felt Natsumi tug her hand, leading her upstairs.

“Anyways Mama, we’re gonna be hanging out in my room!”

“Bye-bye! It was nice meeting ya, Hyouka-chan!” The woman waved.

“L-Likewise...” She murmured, following the blonde girl up to the second story.

“Sorry about her!” Natsumi said, letting go of her hand and heading down the hall. “She just loves it when I bring friends over!”

“It’s alright...” Hyouka released a breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding, blood pumping anxiously through her veins.

Why did she feel so nervous? Were things going badly already?

Natsumi opened a door, cheerfully taking her inside.

“Welcome to my room! Whaddaya think?”

“It’s very cute.” Hyouka remarked, glancing around.

The mixed scent of hair products and perfume lingered in the air, the sun peeking through pink curtains, shining on a few small succulents. The bedroom seemed quite neat, save for the somewhat cluttered dresser, its surface populated by a collection of various containers and an impressive jewelry box. A few cute stuffed animals and throw pillows decorated her bed, giving the room a youthful touch. Next to her desk sat a small wire cage, with a small box of pet supplies stored underneath the table it rested on.

“What’s in that cage?” The petite girl inquired, unable to see what sort of pet inhabited it.

“Oh! That’s my hamster Fuwafuwa!” Natsumi bounced over to it. “Wanna meet her?”

“As long as she’s not already sleeping.”

“Nah, she just ate, so she’s awake now!” Natsumi undid the latch that held the wire door shut, before reaching in and gently scooping up a ball of fluff.

“Here she is!” She exclaimed in a softer voice, beckoning Hyouka closer.

Fuwfuwa was just a bit smaller than Natsumi’s palm and covered in long white fur. Her ears and nose were tinted pink, whiskers slightly wiggling. Her small beady eyes were not black, but red.

“Is she…albino too?” She couldn’t help but stare.

“Yup!” Natsumi said. “And she’s a long-haired Syrian. Wanna hold her?”

“Sure…” Hyouka cautiously held out her cupped hands, allowing the small rodent to be placed in them.

Fuwafuwa stared back, her tiny pink feet feeling strange and foreign on her palms, her fur almost cloudlike. Hyouka cautiously ran a finger along her back.

Natsumi giggled.

“Y’know, when I saw ya for the first time, you kinda reminded me of Fuwa-chi!”


“Yeah! You’re both so small and cute! You’ve got the same long white hair, too!”

Hyouka’s cheeks flushed in embarrassment, taken off guard by being compared to a pet hamster.

The two girls sat down together at a small chabudai table in the center of the bedroom. For a short while, it was quiet, with Natsumi’s TV playing in the background.

Hyouka silently played with Fuwafuwa, uncertain if she should speak up. However, the more time passed, the more reluctant she became to open her mouth.

“Oh!” Natsumi suddenly exclaimed, startling her.

“What is it?”

“Can I do your nails?” She eagerly asked.

“Do you really want to?” Hyouka blinked, glancing down at them.

“Yeah! It’s fun!” Natsumi held out her hands. “I think red would suit ya!”

“Well, alright then.” She handed the hamster to her.

“Yay!” The blonde girl got to her feet and gently placed Fuwafuwa back in her cage, before retrieving nail supplies from her dresser.

A few bottles and tools soon sat in front of Hyouka, who watched as Natsumi seemed to study her hands.

“Looks like ya take good care of them already!” She mused. “Your cuticles are already pushed back, and I don’t really see any knicks or cracks in the nails.”

“It’s important to look presentable in every way.” The albino girl replied, causing the other to giggle.

“I’ll file ‘em into an almond shape. That okay with you?”

"Go ahead.”

As Natsumi began to reshape her nails, Hyouka decided she should attempt to make conversation.

“Your mother is quite friendly. I was surprised that she offered to let me call her by her name.”

Natsumi chuckled.

“Yeah, she works in the nightlife industry, so she’s pretty used to speaking casually to just about anyone.” She dusted off Hyouka’s nails. “Besides, calling us both Maizono-san would probably be confusing! That reminds me, though...”

“What is it?”

“We’re friends, right? How come ya don’t call me by my given name?” She met her eyes.

Hyouka’s heart skipped a beat.

“I...I’m just not used to it...” She murmured, dropping her gaze again. “I always speak to people formally. Does it bother you?”

“Well, I just wanna feel like we’re real friends! Try calling me Natsumin!”

“Natsumin?” She questioned.

“It sounds cuter that way, right?” The blonde girl beamed down at her.

“I suppose so...”

After filing the nails into a more consistent shape, Natsumi began painting them with a clear base coat.

“Aw, so tiny! Your pinky nail is the same size as the brush!” She giggled.

“I suppose it is.”

“Oh, and I took out a few different shades of red, so pick whichever one ya like!”

Five bottles of nail polish stood in a row, each of varying hues and intensities. One was bright firetruck red, while another was more of a soft strawberry shade. A couple were even glittery.

“I like this one.” She selected a subdued burgundy polish.

“Ooh, how mature!” Natsumi fanned her hand over the base coat, as if trying to dry it more quickly.

“So, N-Natsumin...” Hyouka managed.

The blonde girl’s face seemed to light up at the nickname.

“How did you and Tachibana-san get together? I’ve never seen such a close-knit relationship between high-schoolers before.”

“Aha! You wanna hear about my love life?” She giggled. “It’s a bit of a long story, and probably isn’t what ya expect.”

“I have plenty of time to listen.” Hyouka lifted her still-drying hand.

Natsumi cracked a grin.

“Well, okay! It may be hard to believe, but I haven’t always had such a flashy fashion sense. My natural hair color is black, and I used to be skinnier, too.”

Hyouka nodded, wondering where she was going with this. It was difficult to visualize the past version of the girl.

“I was in my first year of middle school when I started incorporating more gyaru elements into my style- bleaching my hair, getting a bit of a tan, and doing my make-up. Man, I wasn’t that good at it at first, but I was happy with my look!”

She shook her head with a smile.

“Anyways, around that time, I also began filling out more. Like ya saw with my mama, we’re pretty curvy. I definitely stood out among my classmates, but in their eyes, not really in a good way.”

Natsumi opened the bottle of burgundy polish, beginning to paint Hyouka’s nails as she elaborated.

“They gossiped about me pretty badly. Maizono’s kinda fat, Maizono looks like a slut. What a bimbo! She’s probably an airhead too!” She mocked their voices, her head down as she busied herself with the manicure. “It sucked even worse because I’ve always been studious! I ended up trying even harder in my classes, just to prove them wrong, but they didn’t let up!”

Hyouka felt an uncharacteristic wave of compassion wash over her- she never would’ve expected someone as upbeat as Natsumi to deal with such scathing insults.

“As ya can imagine, all that took a toll on my confidence. I had a small group of friends, but still felt alone. I was in eighth grade when I met Ryu-chan. He wasn’t very popular either- he has a hard time focusing on things, and he has a habit of blurting things out and fidgeting around, but it was more obvious back then. People targeted him too.”

Ryuhei’s junior high backstory came as a surprise to her as well- his sunny disposition never indicated that he had also been bullied.

“He was a year ahead of me, but we ended up becoming friends. Even back then, he was always so kind! We’d study together, have movie marathons, and hang out over holidays.” An affectionate smile spread across her face. “I couldn’t help but fall for him- it was bound to happen. We got together that year, and the rest is history!”

Natsumi finished painting the nails on Hyouka’s right hand, moving on to her left.

“That definitely wasn’t what I had expected.” Hyouka mused.

“Right?” She laughed at this.

“It explains a lot, though. You both seem to have a very loving relationship.”

“Mhm!” Natsumi hummed. “What about you and Yuji-kun?”

“What about us?”

“What’s your story?”

“We’re not together.” Hyouka was quick to set the record straight. “He’s simply my dog, and I’m his master.”

“Woah, kinky~!” Natsumi burst out laughing. “I mean, I kinda thought it felt like that kinda relationship!”

“It’s not sexual either.” She shook her head, cheeks flushing at the implication. “There’s nothing going on between us.”

“I see, see!” Natsumi decided to change the subject, closing the bottle of nail polish. “Anyways, what was middle school like for you?”

Hyouka momentarily hesitated. Would it be alright to tell her?

Though after confiding such personal information in her, surely Natsumi wouldn’t judge.

Her lips parted to speak.

“My experience was a bit like yours- I was bullied, too.”

“Really?” The blonde girl covered her mouth.

“Is it that shocking? I stick out like a sore thumb.” She murmured scornfully. “You know how children are. Besides just name-calling, they spread rumors that I was a ghost that would curse anyone who got close- so I was isolated.”

“That’s horrible!”

“It is, but it’s in the past.” She looked away. “I prefer not to think about it if I can avoid it.”

Although that posed a challenge with who she spent the most time around.

Careful to not disturb her still-wet nails, Natsumi laid her hand atop Hyouka’s. The girl stared up at her, slightly alarmed.

“Thanks for sharing this with me.” She smiled warmly. “It’s nice to know that we both feel comfortable enough opening up to each another!”

“Mhm. I haven’t confided in many people about this.”

“Who else knows?” The blonde tilted her head.

“Yuji does. We attended the same junior high, after all.” Hyouka vaguely elaborated. She didn’t need to know the extent of his involvement.

“You guys are really close, huh?” She giggled.

“I suppose so...”

“Anyways, let’s finish up your nails! They need a top coat, and then we can do nail art- I think a French slant would look nice!”


As the afternoon went on, Hyouka found herself relaxing in Natsumi’s presence. It almost surprised her how quickly the day went by, with hours spent just chatting and enjoying the simple pleasures of companionship.

It was nice to feel as if their bond had grown closer.

Hyouka was sure it had.