Now it was lunchtime now, Wednesday, the day we promised to help a certain blueberry find a new club that she’d want to look into. Sophia waited with her arms crossed at the track and field with me.
“Where is she?!”
The shark bit, kicking the dirt on the ground.
“She said that she was helping a teacher with something…”
With her spirits high, the blueberry made her way over.
Conway chuckled under her breath. With a sigh, she continued.
“Where should we start?”
“Well, I don’t want to go into another sports team. And I’m not allowed in volleyball anymore.”
She said this with a hint of melancholy.
“Well, Mae-san…How about we start with all the cultural clubs then. We have, Fine Arts, Tea ceremony, English speaking, Chemistry, Cooking….”
She began to die down as she attempted to remember more.
“Calligraphy, drama, beautician…”
I added in. Then like a light, it clicked to me.
“Ma-chan! Join the beautician club! You can teach me more about cosmetics!”
“Don’t listen to that girly girl, Watanabe-san.”
“Girly girl?! Is that what you think I am?!”
Another nickname for the book of Conway Sophia. Cosmetics make people cute! That doesn’t mean I need a strange nickname!
I tried to pull at Conchi-san’s cheeks, but Mae stepped in front of me. Next time, she won’t be so lucky.
“Hm…I’m not sure any of these will fit me but, I’ll give them a try.”
At her command, we all walked about the rooms. The clubs weren’t active but the ability to walk into most of the clubrooms while they weren’t in a session created a different kind of ambiance.
“Oh, the tea ceremony club’s room is nice.”
Mae gawked at the traditional Japanese layout. It struck a chord in me making me want to seize in place and offer tea. As if walking around in the wrong place was massively disrespectful.
"Wow, so sophisticated!"
Mae-chan chimed before she then frowned her eyebrows.
“Hm, not liking it, Mae-chan?”
“It doesn’t suit me…”
“And even if it did I doubt I’d have the discipline to do all of that. So much for a little reward you know. I need to do something!”
She chuckled. If only that smile would stay forever. So, we went about to the next one. Home cooking was a club Sophia thought out…not as if she was hungry in any way.
“Oh, I could make lots of dishes in here every day!”
Sophia nodded with her nose in the air.
“Oh yes you can, Mae-san.”
“You just want Ma-chan to cook for you.”
“Is that so bad though, Nakagawa-san? Think about not having to bring leftovers to school every day.”
She smiled brightly. She wasn’t wrong but unlike her, my leftovers were made sometimes by the person who…is still spiraling in my heart right now.
“Hehe, I’m no good at cooking though. Ma-chan can vouch for that.”
“Well, you can learn here, Mae-chan.”
She shrugged haphazardly.
“Hm…still doesn’t suit me for sure. I could but then I’d feel like I’d be weighing down the club members.”
She slumped. To be honest I think I knew just what it was that Mae-chan wanted most. So I crossed my arms and looked her in the eyes.
“You still want to do sports, don’t you Mae-chan?”
Sophia nodded and smiled slightly.
“We can see the pain in your eyes, Mae…”
There stood in the empty home cooking room. Mae’s smile briefly faded before ultimately tears cracked down the side of her cheeks. Without saying a word she nodded.
“…But I’m banned from them.”
She confessed the answer we all knew. The one thing she genuinely wanted to do wasn’t allowed by the school. After that incident, despite it happening in middle school, they didn’t want to take a risk of giving her a scholarship. Her record was tarnished the moment that happened. By that, she was seen as nothing more than a delinquent now. Mae wanted to continue doing sports not just for the scholarship but because she’s a competitive person who likes working in a team. These clubs were more or less opposite to how she feels.
“Well…if you want something that you can’t have…”
Sophia crossed her arms and turned back to my childhood friend.
“You even accept that what you did ruin your life or you make amends and see what you can do in order to fix it.”
“I’ve already tried that, Sophia. They were pretty upset at how my career ended and didn’t want me to be affiliated with the athletic departments anymore.”
That was the embodiment of Mae-chan’s choices right now. The “ifs” of what could have happened if she didn’t make the choices she did constantly came about in her. But then that made me think of things a little differently.
“Ma-chan…yes you love sports. I know that better than anyone…”
She turned to me in bewilderment.
“But…was sports as great as you remember it?”
“…What do you mean Ma-chan?”
“Are you sure you’re not…romanticizing it just a little?”
The way Mae explained it to me was that she was put under so much pressure that even her own teammates became her enemy. For the staff here not to even help her, guide her as they should a student who was clearly struggling…
“Would you want to go back to a life that you were in constant stress like that?”
“…But all the days weren’t like that Mado-chan. Things are never so day and night. And that was in middle school...”
I nodded softly.
“Yes I get that but…you haven’t tried any of these clubs yet and you’re already wanted to go back to what you had before…”
I had to ask these questions to help my broken friend piece together her own feelings now.
“Are you sure you just don’t want to run back to what you know instead of move forward? I'm not saying you can't try sports outside of school...but there's so many opportunities here that you're not taking into account.”
“Madoka-san, that was uncalled for.”
I shook my head and put out my finger towards the sky.
“No, I think this is necessary, Sophia-san. Mae-chan, you’re my friend and as my friend, I have to step in and help you see things that you’d otherwise miss.”
Just like my chat with Sophia-san yesterday. I needed to do the same with Mae-chan. I know I can’t push her too hard as she is struggling with depression and that could be associated with her lack of drive…but she in the end has to pull herself out.
“Do you want to change Mae-chan…or would you rather everything go back to the way it was? Where you stressed about not being able to keep up…and eventually secluded yourself away from your friends?”
Her eyes went wide. Here was a question that was swirling within me for a while now but it needed to be expressed to Mae-chan. What was the word "change" in her dictionary? Was it to change outwardly like she had…or internally like she wanted to.
Without a word, she nodded softly.
“…I’ll keep looking.”
Without a hint of playfulness in her tone, Ma-chan agreed to my liking.
“There we go, Mae-chan.”
It was going to be a struggle and I knew it. We all did…but that’s why we were here, to struggle with our friend who wants to piece together her broken life. She wants to move forward but occasionally she’s going to stumble. Sophia-san and I are those holders that she can rely on when she feels weak.
So, we began our journey again, searching all the clubrooms. The music club was intriguing with instruments that even I didn’t know the school had. There was the movie club that had a bunch of dramas. Sophia was more into action and of course, Watanabe Mae had comedy on her top priorities. But this day became less of a grueling task…and more as a light-hearted walkabout with friends. We laughed at enjoyed our time as we went about.
Sophia-san questioned. This was the club that Mihara-san was a part of. Once we opened the door a certain strange-eyed con met our gaze.
“Oh, why hello!”
In the corner of the room was Mihara-san going about sketching as she had a bowl of rice next to her. She turned and like a firecracker, she shot up from her seat.
“N-Nakagawa-san?! What are you doing here?”
“We’re just checking out the clubrooms.”
“Ah! You want to join you three?”
I waved my hand back and forth.
“Oh no…not us…but she might be interested.”
Mae looked about seeing the art along the wall. With a sincere gaze, she made an effort to look at them all. That’s when she stopped at one in particular…the one on Mihara-san’s desk.
“Oh, what is this?”
“Is that who I think it is, Mihara-san?!”
Mihara-san jumped up and held a hand to her face. Mae lunged back. I had no idea what the heck they were doing but Mae-chan started chuckling. She held her gut to the point that I couldn’t deny that she was…enjoying herself.
“Ah, so you saw her newest project blue-haired?”
“Hm? She’s not drawing red carnations?”
To my surprise…now I wanted to see it.
“Ehhhhhh?! How do you know what I’ve been drawing, Saya-san?!”
“I just have to close my eyes and envision it, Yuko-san”
It’s more likely that she just walked past while Mihara-san was busy and took a peek. But to pass it off as someone with an omnipotent eye, I’ll let her have this one even though it’s a lie.
“Well, you get so into drawing anyone can sneak up on you, mouse.”
Sophia-san, likely coming to the same conclusion exposed her for me, however. Saitou-san just chuckled in amusement as if admitting defeat.
“What kind of arts do you guys teach here?”
Saitou-san sat back on her desk and nodded.
“All kinds. We have the club members find one that they like and try and excel in it. Yuko-san here has been doing traditional art for the past few months now.”
Mae looked about…
“How many club members do you have?”
“We have 5 at the moment. So, we have room for 3 more.”
“I told you, we’re not doing it…”
Mae put her finger to her mouth…
“Could you let me come in and watch this afternoon?”
“Oh, certainly! I think you’d enjoy it. The work is mostly on your own but we bring in snacks, talk about gossip, and even have readings and seances occasionally too.”
My head wanted to explode. I wonder if the teachers know what this con had been doing with her club while they are away?
“Hehe, if you don’t mind me coming then I’ll be happy. I even have a secret from Mihara-san that I can’t share.”
Now I really wanted to know what she was drawing over there. She kept eyeing me as she looked back at her work. I…felt a tad uncomfortable if I had to admit it.
“Well, Mae-chan. Lunch is nearly over.”
She nodded sharply.
“Thanks for coming with me guys. If all works out, I’m sure I’ll have a good time meeting new people and even trying something new.”
Conway-san crossed her arms and gave a tender smile.
“There’s no way they wouldn’t love having you Mae-san. You’re a bumbling fool but one who brings about the atmosphere wherever she goes.”
With that Sophia-san then looked at me with a slightly wary gaze.
“Ah, would you like me to check in with Taylor-sensei, Sophia-san?”
“If you wouldn’t mind…”
Bashfully she admitted. So, I took my leave and waved goodbye. Mae-chan and Mihara-san still fought over that secret sketch as I left. I wondered what she could have been sketching still...
Once I got to the nurse's office I peeked in to see a few students with the voluptuous Taylor-sensei. She seemed to be treating a leg injury from a student in the track and field. From this angle her kindness truly shined.
“Thank you, Sensei!”
The girls cried as they rushed out of the room. With a lift of her shoulders, she took a deep breath and continued writing at her desk.
Surprised she shot up to me. It was obvious she was invested in her work.
“Nakagawa-san! It’s so good to see you.”
I looked at her desk and it was full of papers with numbers and all kinds of advanced studies. It made my homework look like child’s play in comparison.
“Are you busy with work, Sensei?”
I questioned clearly knowing the answer. She gazed away slightly.
“Sorry…with school starting their finals and work being hectic I…haven’t had too much time, have I Nakagawa-san?”
“Oh…so you’re just busy with normal things?”
“It’s not easy getting into the medical field, Nakagawa-san.”
She giggled to my own calm mind. It seemed as though Sophia-san and my previous worries were unfounded.
“Oh…I know. How about we do this?!”
She then took out her phone. That’s when it occurred to me that we…haven’t exchanged emails despite us being partners, have we?”
“Let’s chat tonight. When is a good time, Nakagawa-san?”
“Oh…maybe around 8 pm?”
“Sure, I would love that.”
Sensei's beautiful blonde hair washed over her face. She smiled brightly causing me to warm up. Now looking at her more as…a woman I started to see how attractive she really is. With the foreigner ambiance around her, there’s no way others won’t be attracted to her. I wonder if it is hard for Sophia-san to resist her sometimes? She is in no way unappealing to the eyes. She radiates from the morning to the afternoon with her calming expressions...
What am I doing? Is this me exploring my…sexuality now?
Well anyway, I’ll definitely talk to her about it tonight.
I…have so much to discuss with her, my partner.
Especially about Mari-san…and the chances that she…may still share my feelings.