Chapter 9:

Blooming Wisteria

Hanging by a Thread

I couldn't concentrate at all today, just like it's been for the past two days. My mind kept going back to the dinner I had with the girls. I never knew they were such good cooks. The table was filled with all sorts of delicacies, and none of them were below excellent quality. They said their secret ingredient was something called ambrosia. Apparently, humans can never get their hands on it because it belongs to the gods.

The entire night, the girls were noticeably doing a lot for me. An example was when Chloe put a little bit of everything onto my plate, and when I emptied it, Lana did it again. All the while, Alice was watching it all happen with an irritated look.

It became too much after the second time, so I told them to stay in their seats and let me grab my own servings. Surprisingly, they did as I requested. I half-expected... no, I fully expected them to ignore me and continue their crazy antics.

"Asahi-kun," a voice said as my face was buried on the table.

"Hm...?" I lifted my eyes and saw Chloe and Lana trying to peek through my arms.

"What are you doing?" Lana huffed. "Get up! We have to get ready for the Autumn Festival!"

Oh, right. I had completely forgotten about that. I don't even know how that's possible when everyone was talking about it for the past week.

"Go without me," I muffled under the sleeves of my hoodie.

"That won't do," Chloe rejected. "You have to come with us."

"Why is that?"

"So you can pick our kimonos for us," Lana said with any concerns. "Don't you want to see us change?"

My body jolted, not because of what she said, but because of the jealous glares that were definitely staring me down. I don't even want to lift my head anymore.

"I refuse," I said.

"You don't have a choice," Chloe smiled.

"Says who?"

"Says us," Lana growled as she grabbed my arm.

With that godlike strength of hers, she squeezed my forearm until I was forced to get up from the sudden burst of pain.

"What's wrong with you?!" I grunted.

"You wouldn't get up, so I only did what was necessary," Lana grinned. "Now that you're up, we can get going, right?"

"Come on, Asahi-kun," Chloe smiled.

I was right. Almost every head was turned towards us. This is the last class of the day, so students normally loiter a bit before heading out. The fact that these girls left their class just to come and see me all the way over here is baffling, even for me.

"Fine," I sighed.

"Yay!" Lana cheered.

When I stood up and hung my schoolbag onto my shoulder, Lana latched onto my arm for all to see. As if that wasn't bad enough, Chloe did the same thing, making it look infinitely worse. Murmurs and whispers began filling the classroom. I couldn't shut them out no matter how hard I tried. The girls, however, didn't seem to have a problem with it because they kept those sparkling smiles the entire way out of the classroom.

"Can you guys let go of me?" I mumbled as we walked through the hallway.

"Nope. What if you end up running away?" Lana snickered.

"I'm sure you of all people can easily catch me if I do."

"We shouldn't risk it, though," Chloe said. "Otherwise, Alice might get mad at us for being late."

Finally, we made it to an empty storage room after what felt like a journey on par with the Odyssey.

"Looks safe enough," Lana said when she finished looking around.

"Alright. Hold on tight, Asahi-kun," Chloe said with a bright smile.

She yanked my arm and pulled me closer to her. A bright light rapidly grew behind her before completely engulfing us.

Like always, it took a second for me to adjust, but when I did, I noticed the weird position we found ourselves in. Chloe was lying down on a mattress with her arms bent to the side. As for me, I was... holding myself above her. Her chest was expanding and contracting with every breath she took. Even beneath my shadow, the bright blush on her cheeks was very visible.

"Asahi-kun..." she whispered.

"I'm... sorry," I gulped.

When I attempted to lift myself off of her, a chilling presence froze me to my core.

"What are you two doing...?" a dangerous voice growled.

I immediately pushed myself back and fell on the floor. Standing right above me was Alice with her arms crossed and her eyes glowing a visible red.

"Asahi-kun," she said. "Just what was it that you were trying to do to Chloe?"

"N-nothing! She pulled my arm before we teleported, and we somehow ended up in that spot! I... swear on the fates."

She stared at me a bit more to deduce whether or not I was lying. There's no way I'm lying. What I described is pretty much what happened... right?

"I see," she sighed before turning her gaze to Chloe, who jolted as soon as their eyes connected.

"I didn't mean for it... to happen... like that," Chloe mumbled with guilt written all over her face. "Honest..."

"Really? So you had no ulterior motives whatsoever?"

"Uh... W-well..."

Suddenly, Lana appeared in a flash of light. The smile on her face was replaced with a slightly open mouth when she sensed the tension in the room.

"Eh? What happened?" Lana asked. "I was gone for just a minute."

"It's nothing," Alice sighed as she turned back to the washroom. "Come here, Lana. You too, Chloe."

The girls went over at her command. Alice definitely seems like the eldest sister here. Even Chloe was a little frightened when Alice found out about the whole ordeal.

"Alright, Asahi-kun," Alice smirked, prompting the other two to turn their heads. "Are you ready?"

"Ready? For what?" I asked.

"Don't you remember why Chloe and I brought you here?" Lana scoffed.

"You have to pick our kimonos for the festival," Chloe giggled.

To be honest, I'd completely forgotten about that. Just a bit ago, I was questioning why the girls were dragging me off to their hotel room.

"Just pick whichever one you guys like," I said.

"That won't do," Chloe said. "You have to be the one who picks it."

"And why is that?"

"Because, as of right now, you're the only human whose opinion matters to us," Alice smiled.

A single heartbeat sent a warm wave throughout my entire body. My eyes wouldn't leave the girls. The smiles on their faces grew softer when they realized what was on my mind. They've always known, and for some reason, it made me want to cry. My opinion... matters?

"Wait there, Asahi-kun," Lana grinned. "We'll be right back."

Just like that, the doors shut, and I was left alone in the bedroom. The girls were bickering with each other about which ones they wanted to try. Their voices were muffled by the enclosure, so I couldn't make out exactly what they were saying. Lana was screaming, Alice was taunting, and Chloe was trying to calm them both down with that soft voice of hers.

I picked myself up before dropping on the bed. My body gave in, and I dropped my back where Chloe was lying just a few minutes ago. I concentrated my eyes on the glittering chandelier that hung from the ceiling. My mind was completely empty before it began filling up with images of the girls.

How lucky was it that I stumbled upon them in the library that day? Perhaps lucky isn't the right word since I could've died. Sometimes... I can't help but think about where I'd be right now had I not met them at that exact moment. If I hadn't hit the table with my foot, they probably wouldn't have heard me. I would've gotten away, and we never would've met. There could've been an off-chance that they found out I was without a thread in some other way, but there's also a chance that they never would've known. If I hadn't met them that day, that time, and that moment, then I... would still be all alone right now.

So many what-if scenarios... I suppose that's what they call, 'fate.'

Finally, the washroom door clicked and popped right open. The moment I lifted my head, my breath was already lost.

One by one, the girls lined up in front of me with their kimonos, all unique in designs and colors.

Chloe had her short salmon hair rolled into a bun with two red needles piercing through it. Her sky-blue kimono had pink and white cherry blossoms stemming across every corner, with most of them converging on the waist area.

Lana's usual curly ponytail was gone, replaced by a head of hair with subtle waves flowing down like an ocean current. Her kimono was a shade of lavender filled to the brim with tree branches of white leaves.

Alice's silver hair bunched up like cat ears with the excess falling off on each side. Her kimono was black, an uninteresting color on its own, but it made up for it with yellow torii gates lined up on a hillside beneath a full moon.

"What do you think?" asked Chloe. "Aren't these kimonos so beautiful?"

"Yeah... you are," I said, which prompted an unexpected reaction.

Their faces lit up with shock. Do they not think the kimonos are nice? Chloe was saying that just a second ago.

"What?" I said. "You guys don't think they're beautiful?"

"Y-you didn't say the kimonos..." Lana mumbled.

"You said, 'You are,' implying... something that's not the kimonos," Alice said with her head titled away.

It felt as though my heart was sinking the moment I realized what I said.

"I-I meant, 'They are!' N-not..." I caught myself right as I was about to finish that sentence.

"So that's what you meant..." Chloe said as if disappointed.

The room suddenly became a lot warmer. What am I supposed to do? I already messed up the first time, and I somehow messed up the second time. 'I don't know what to say!' is what I was thinking before my mouth began to move on its own.

"D-don't get me wrong!" I shouted, gaining their attention once more. "The kimonos are beautiful, but... that's only because you guys are wearing them."

I lifted a hand to cover the bottom half of my face because I knew for a fact that it was shining like a lighthouse. I can't even look at them after saying something so embarrassing. It seemed like it worked anyway. Even though they look flustered, at least there's a smile on their faces. That's good enough.

"I see..." Alice scoffed.

"Then... I guess we'll stick with these," Chloe said.

"Ehhh? But we have so much more to show him!" Lana exclaimed.

"What do you think, Asahi-kun?" Alice asked. "Do you like these? Or do you want to see the rest?"

"Let's stick with those," I answered. "The festival is gonna start soon, and I haven't gotten ready yet."

"Not to worry. We've prepared yours as well."

With a wave of her hand, a white kimono appeared on my lap. I picked it up and rolled it out to get a better look. A lake covered the bottom area with branches of wisteria filling up the entire top area.

"This is amazing," I gasped.

"Isn't it?" Chloe asked with a smile. "We spent an hour the other day trying to find one that would suit you. This was the only one that didn't look too girly."

"Thanks, guys. I really appreciate it."

Right after I said, the girls turned their bodies toward different angles, leaving me in confusion when I couldn't see their faces.

"D-did I do something wrong again?" I stuttered nervously.

"Not at all," Alice mumbled quietly. "We're... glad you like it."

"H-hurry up and go change!" Lana shouted.

"Uh... O-okay," I said.

I went into the washroom and reveled at how big it was. It's almost as big as my bedroom. There was a shower stall to the left and a hot tub right next to it. A long sink sat against the back wall. To the right were two doors, one leading to a toilet while the other one led to a huge closet. A neat clock rested right in between the doors, emitting an audible tick with each passing second.

A bunch of other kimonos were hung on a mobile rack in the closet. They really did have a lot more to try on. Why does it make me sad that they weren't able to try on the rest?

I quickly changed into my kimono with the girls' muffled voices coming from behind the door. After I finished changing, I took a moment to look at myself in the mirror. Not bad, if I do say so myself. It fits perfectly, and it doesn't even look bad. Not too over-the-top, but not too bland.

After a momentary pause, I walked up to the mirror and planted my hand on it. This... will be the first festival I attend with people I can call my friends. I haven't been to that many, but the few times that I did, I was alone. That's how I came to despise these kinds of events. But now, I have them with me. This time will be different... right?

Suddenly, a pair of arms wrapped around my body from behind. Through the mirror, I saw a strand of Chloe's salmon hair peeking over my shoulder. Was I so lost in my mind that I couldn't hear her coming in?

"Chloe-chan?" I called out.

"Are you alright?" she asked with a much softer tone than usual.

"Of course. Why wouldn't I be?"

"Well... when I walked in, you had a sad look on your face, and you didn't even notice me when I called out your name two times. Is it... related to your past?"

"Hah... Was it really that obvious?

It doesn't come as a surprise at all. Ever since I've been getting closer to them, they've become increasingly aware of my lonely past and how it has affected the way I am now. No matter what words of affirmation they give me, the pain of solitude never truly goes away.

"Walking through the busy street filled with many people laughing and having fun with each other... it was always so disheartening that I couldn't join them," I said. "I've always hated these festivals because I never had anyone to go with. If it were up to me, I would've skipped this one as well."

I didn't mean to throw all of this onto Chloe, but it just came out. Now that I think about it, why would a goddess even bother herself with the trivial problems of one single human? She probably has a lot on her plate. There's no need for me to add to that.

"I'm sorry, Chloe-chan," I replaced my gloomy expression with a smile. "There's no need for you to worry about me. Let's go meet the others."

Shameful about the way I conducted myself just then, I attempted to rush past her. Just as I was about to reach the door, Chloe grabbed my arm and pulled me back. I would've fallen had she not grabbed me by the face. When I finally gathered myself, my eyes widened at the sight I saw so clearly through the reflection of the mirror. Chloe's eyes were shut as her lips rested on my cheek.

It felt as though time had stopped, but how ironic was it that the clock was still ticking? That sound kept echoing in my hollow head as my eyes refused to stop looking at Chloe. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, she pulled herself away, dragging my face over with those soft hands. Just like that, our eyes met.

"I'm not too experienced when it comes to how people interact, even among the gods," Chloe smiled with a thick blush streaking across her face, "but... I think this is what people do to show affection... right?"

"Af...fection?" I asked, still very taken aback.

"Yeah. You know... to show that I care about you. Me, Lana, and Alice... all three of us see you, and we want you to know that."

"But... I'm just-"

"A human? Yes, you are, but you're a human who means a lot to us. Please, don't think otherwise."

They always say that, and I'm sure they're not lying, but... I just can't shake off the feeling that they'll leave one day. Goddesses must have a lot to do in the heavens, especially for these girls since Lana once told me that they'll eventually have to go back up to start weaving more threads. For all I know, that day could be tomorrow.

"Thanks, Chloe," I said as I pulled her hands away from my face. "I'm okay now. Truly."

"Are you sure?" she asked, her eyes still full of worry.

"Yeah. Honest."

"If you say so."

"Chloe! Asahi-kun! Are you guys ready?!" Lana shouted from downstairs.

"Coming! Shall we, Asahi-kun?" Chloe smiled very sweetly.

"Yeah," I agreed.

She took my hand and led me downstairs. I couldn't stop looking at our interlocked hands.

I'm scared. I'm so scared that things will go back to the way they used to be. However, I have no right to tell them that. I can't be selfish. They have their own lives—a long one at that. I once resolved to enjoy their company as much as I can before that day inevitably comes, so I'll do just that.