To my surprise after coming home from school, Mari-san was once again in the kitchen cooking away. As if she found a new spirit that was guiding her through life, she diligently enjoyed the work now it seemed. It made me wonder if she had been possessed and the beauty that danced about the kitchen barefoot was actually a whole new lifeform.
Everyone filtered in from different rooms. Hana came from the living room, I guess she was watching another anime of hers. Mom tumbled in from her room as it appeared that she was on the bed surfing the internet on her phone. As for me, right after I got home I rushed right up to my room to finish any remaining homework. Now after dinner, I could surf the net in peace without worrying about any projects I have forgotten.
“How was everyone’s day?”
Mari-san asked as she placed a bowl of white rice on the table. It would seem that we are having yakisoba with fried pork with soup and vegetables. To be honest, the meal looked like restaurant quality. One of the main reasons why I rushed to my room if I was being honest…
Was because…of her.
The chat I had earlier today with Mihara-san that implied that Mari-san…believed I belonged to her…That would also imply that…she had those kinds of feelings for me…To the point that she'd destroy a present from a seeming rival in her eyes. Someone who could have courted me and took me away from her...
But then why…?
As I looked up from my plate, my heart snagged on my loving mother giving her lover a kiss on the cheek. Those fluffy round with a hint of reddish cheeks that lately I’ve been yearning to pull on as of recently…
“What happened then?”
“What did you say, Onee-san?”
I gasped as I turned to a little spy that seemed to have been watching me for a while now.
She took a deep breath and pulled closer to me.
“Onee-san…are you uncomfortable when Mom and Mom flirt at the table?”
In a whisper, she approached even closer. Her cheeks were nearly colliding with mine making the both of us look suspicious at the least.
“If it really bothers you…maybe you should speak up, Onee-san.”
“O-Oh no, it doesn’t bother me…ah…it’s ah…”
Hana closed her eyes and pet my head. It felt as though she was seriously belittling me right now. I can’t tell if this is Hana-chan’s way of bullying me but it was super effective and it pissed me off a little…
“I dealt with this for two years Onee-san. Do you know how awkward it feels sometimes seeing them act this way when you’re alone?!”
“You were gone for a week you little brat!”
“Exactly! I get that they love each other but…these two are so embarrassing!”
Hana nearly screamed as she whispered to me. However, something else hiccupped through my heart. Her deep words of…two years.
Two years is a long time.
730 days give or take how from when I slept to when I woke up.
That’s 730 days to see one another…
That’s 730 days to hear one another’s voice…
That’s 730 days…to forget about me…isn’t it?
Now I wanted to cry again…but now wasn’t the appropriate time for that. No matter how I looked at everything, these feelings…swirling in my chest didn’t…matter did they?
I gazed back at Mari-san who tilted her head questionably at me.
“Are you not hungry?”
That’s when my eyes gandered back at the meal. Its deliciousness roasted over my nose making my stomach twist in a fluffy knot. It was going to be good…but even If it was garbage on this plate…Mari-san gave it to me. So, I had to push away those strange thoughts as I took a deep breath and…lied.
“Oh…ah…no I just had something on my mind.”
Mom hooked on that like a fish and tilted her head at me too.
“Oh? What is it, dear?”
“Yeah, Onee-san! Tell them!”
Hana hit my back a tad rudely. It was like something Sora-san would do…maybe they were starting to rub off on each other? I should have a word with her about Hana-chan’s over-energetic actions lately. Even Hana-chan was supporting this…even though she doesn’t have any idea what was truly swirling in my chest. I couldn’t think of a way to get out of this. My mind was starting to freeze up…until I looked at the food on the table.
“Huh? What was that, Madoka-san?”
Mari-san questioned for good reason.
“Oh…I have an announcement to make everyone!”
That will be my out for this uncomfortable situation. Of course, I couldn’t tell them that I felt uncomfortable watching them flirt…because it wasn’t as simple as that. So, for the time being, I lifted my head and faced them…with another declaration.
Mom glee with excitement as she held on to Mari-san’s arm. As if being prepared on a rollercoaster mom latched on to her for dear life. Her eyes glimmered to the point that I was unsure if she had already come to an exciting idea of what I have to announce.
“Ah...I applied for a job…and I’m being interviewed for it tomorrow.
The sound of a fork hitting the table could be heard on the other side of the highway. Mom’s mouth opened in pure shock.
Mom perked up. Her mouth widens as her eyebrows scrunched up. Mari-san on the other hand lit up like a Christmas tree.
“That’s fantastic, Madoka-san! Where will you be working?!”
“Why do you want a job?! Madoka, if you need money you can just ask me!”
I lowered my shoulders. I figured mom might be against this but the two of them couldn’t have been on more opposite sides of the spectrum.
“Ayumi, don’t you get it?! Madoka-san wants to be more independent. She’s not in basketball anymore and it’s too late in the year to actively join a club…this might be best for her.”
That’s when Mari-san gave me a smile that nearly melted my heart. Here she was, supporting my decision. Just like when Hana and I wanted to go to school alone together. Mari-san likes me doing my best to become independent. For the first time…I think Mari-san is sticking up for me.
“Madoka, do you need money, honey?!”
Mom hopped out of her seat and ran to her room.
“Ayumi! You put that wallet down!”
Mari-san shouted as she stood up from the table. I…didn’t expect to make such a rowdy announcement. That’s when mom came back holding her credit card in her hand.
“You buy whatever you want sweetheart! Just know that I can’t exceed 40,000 yen this month but-“
I held my hand up as if the card was poison to me.
“Geez, mom! Seriously that’s not funny!”
“Who said I’m joking! My Madoka is obviously struggling to buy something. Mommy will pay for everything!”
That’s when a clear smack across the head finally calmed down the rapid beast known as Nakagawa Ayumi. She slumped as she fell right into her seat. Mari-san rubbed the back of her hand…I bet that hurt quite a lot. Mom pouted as she crossed her arms.
“I don’t get it! Why…why are you doing this, Madoka-san?”
That’s when Mari-san sat back down and held her hand.
“I think it’s best to listen to your daughter before coming to crazy conclusions, Ayumi.”
“But Mari…where did we fail? Are we not providing enough for Hana and Madoka?!”
Sternly I cleared the high tension. It was time I stepped in…in order to show my mom that I can’t allow her to keep this up…
“Mom…I want to work for my own things sometimes. I’m happy for everything you do for me…but I want to be…”
The words escaped me for a moment before I settled on what was in my heart.
“…I want to grow up, mom.”
As those words left my mouth…no by mistake as they used to in the past but by thought…and feelings I took what I wanted to say and constructed it only for her. This had nothing to do with wanting money…or a job…but for my own growth.
“When I was working for my scholarship…I put my all into it because…I wanted to show you how grown up I was…but…”
My heart dropped slightly but it had to be said…
“I…want to do this for myself, mom. I can’t keep being your baby.”
The room went quiet for a moment. Hana’s eyes widen and even Mari-san showed an expression I’ve never seen before. It was calm with a hint of acceptance. With a brief nod, she looked at my mom.
Mom crossed her arms still furious by this I could tell.
“But you’ll always be my baby…”
“Madoka-san will always be your baby…but you have to learn that she’ll be okay.”
Her eyes angled to the table.
“Mom, I want Onee-san to get this job too. I think it’ll be really cool to tell my friends that my older sister is working.”
Ah, the truth came out. Hana wanted to use me for bragging rights. But I didn’t believe that at all. She and her mother were supporting me. I…didn’t expect to get this kind of support from Mari-san when I applied for this job.
“…What time will it be if you get it?”
Mom questioned in a pout.
“It’ll start right after school 2 days a week for 3-4 hour shifts depending on traffic.”
With a deep sigh, she probed further.
“And…ah…how are you planning to get home?”
“I’ll take the train. It’s right outside the shopping district. I ride the train for less than 5 minutes, get off at our house and walk for a few minutes home.”
“When it’s late out? Alone in the dark?”
“…Ayumi or me will pick you up at the station. I don’t want my baby walking home alone in the dark.”
Mari-san looked at me and gave me a shrug. I didn’t want to rely on either of them during this mainly because I wanted this to be a completely independent endeavor, but I’ve already was given an inch…if I tried to take a mile she’d refuse altogether, wouldn’t she?
“…Okay mom…we’ll do that for now.”
I smiled at her. She still looked a tad upset as she nodded.
“So, what’s the name of the establishment Madoka-san?”
Marr-san who seemed to be the most interested happily asked.
“Ah…It’s that restaurant we went to the other day. The Red Roses.”
She giggled as she leaned her arm on the table.
“Oh, have you seen the uniforms they have for the staff? Not the one that old woman had on when we went there…for the new staff members?”
“…No, I didn’t Mari-san.”
“It’s cute. I’m sure it’ll fit perfectly on you.”
My face warmed up. Between us right…our relationship was…in simple terms, golden. Mari-san could easily chat with me about how she felt. I…even though my stomach was tense the entire time could do the same. If in the past…we had something between us…or Mari-san felt a certain way about me as I did to her…
Why is she my stepmother and I…her stepdaughter?
“Madoka-san eat up before the food gets cold. Then we can practice some mock questions before you head to bed tonight!”
Mari-san giggled; she was seriously enjoying herself now.
“There’s a bunch of personality questions they're going to give you because you’re working in the hospitality business. I’ll give you pointers, so you know just what they're looking for.”
Mari-san…was offering to tutor me? We could spend the night together, learning the ropes as she helps me become more independent. My heart raced…even though it shouldn’t. It was so strong that I started to feel sick. But…I had to hide my feelings. So, I took a bite of the food…and another…and another…but then I stopped myself and reminded myself of something important.
“She’s watching me…”
I mumbled. I can’t eat like a pig while she’s around. Hana-chan started up a conversation with my mom about school. How Sora-chan needed help on a test she failed or something. I began to zone out at the thought that Mari-san might be my tutor tonight. It made me giggle…
These feelings I have right now…aren’t right.
I need to calm my mind and remember that I still have time. There are so many questions I have about my coma and trauma and this will be the first step…
To make sure that mom knows one thing….
And that is that I’m growing up and that I refuse to be her baby girl any longer.