Ch.1 Two Years Later
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I touched my face. It felt…fake. With the mirror reflecting the truth the memory of who I use to be, skewed. The features told my mind that this was me. But the small distortions and growths told me something else…My short brown hair now longer, down to my back. My cheeks are slimmer than I remember. Only my sapphire eyes reminded me of who I was. 

“Is this...really…me?”

The nurse who held the mirror up gently pressed on my hand. As if to keep me from falling back into the endless abyss. I was visibly confused. There was no other way to interpret it. 

“Nakagawa Ayumi, right this way ma’am.”

I heard a voice from the other side of the door. My neck turned rigidly, like rusted gears grinding together. The room door opened. A figure stood outside the doorway. It was a woman with eyes as bright as the new morning’s sun and a beam from ear to ear. Her movements were clumsy as she approached. Her long brown hair swayed back and forth like waves in the ocean. With tears flooding down her puffy cheeks, she stumbled into the room and fell at my bedside.

With a lift of her body, she held me tight, dragging me towards the floor. Her long brown hair mirrored the girls in the mirror moments ago. It took me a moment to process who she was.

“M-mom, is that you?”

Her wails stabbed my chest. My ears trembled as she had no signs of stopping. It now came to my understanding that I was in a white room. Like when waking from a dream and the mind isn’t fully lucid yet. There I was, lying in the stiff hospital bed unable to move my body from the neck down.

From what the doctors told me, I, Nakagawa Madoka, have been in a coma for around two years. Today by some miracle I have woken up. The woman who held me, Nakagawa Ayumi…my mother.

“Madoka! Madoka!”

Her tears eventually dried up, but the hiccups set in, threatening to rob her voice. 

“I’m so happy you’ve come back.”

“What happened to me, mom?"

I do not remember how I fell into the coma. My memory was rigid as I tried to comprehend that what was happening was in fact reality. My head swirled but I couldn’t lift my hands to stop it. It felt as though I had lapses of spinning in a whirlwind as my vision grew stale. My neck gave in and fell to the side causing me to drift back from dream to reality. Like a jolt of energy had surged in my eyes they popped open minutes later. 

“Are you with us?”

The male nurse asked, blinding my eyes with his light.

“Yes, I’m awake…”

“Thank goodness.”

Again, I couldn’t comprehend everything around me. The medications may have played a part in my mind being hazy. I recalled hearing voices while I was asleep. They started loud, then sobered like whispers. The thought made me woozy. With dried lips, I begged. 

“Mom, what happened to me?” 

She gripped my back as if to never let me go again. I can’t remember if my question was answered right then because I closed my eyes and drifted back to sleep. I had little to no energy and even speaking felt like a grueling task. The next thing I remembered is the doctor speaking to me. He held up a calendar and sure enough, it said September 12th, 20XX.

If two years went by then…life went by too. My mom who sat at the foot of my bed explained to me that everyone was supportive of me when I fell into my coma. She did not go on to tell me, but I could already understand... My friends must have moved on with their lives. The mental image of me in a field formed. There I stood while people in front of me marched forwards with smiles on their faces. I did my best to move but chains bounded me to the ground. 

“I’m so happy that you’ve come back to me, Madoka.” 

Interrupting my vision, the somber voice of my mother. Before I noticed, warm tears trickled from the sides of my eyes.

“Mom…I-I don’t remember much…”

Mom placed her hand on my head. The bliss of her touch soothes my heart. My mind wouldn’t settle down but having a moment of peace with my mom helped my anxiety. It all felt surreal that so much time has gone by without me being a part of it. 

“What all do you remember, Madoka?”

I stared up to the ceiling trying to recall all that I could.

“I remember, you were working at the insurance agency…”

“Anything else?”

“…After that, I don’t remember much. Bits and pieces of you coming home late then everything gets hazy.”

As if to ease my anxiousness, mom started telling me about all the things that have happened while I was asleep. How my friends graduated from middle school and are now in their second years of high school. That my uncle got a new job at a big editorial company and that he brought my mother along. We used to be struggling to get by. But now she has the money to support us since father died a year ago…no three years ago now.

But then her face turned dark as if a cloud had shadowed the sunny day.

 “Madoka…I have something to tell you.” 

She murmured.

“What’s wrong, mom?”

At first, she didn’t say a thing as if some unknown entity was stealing her voice away. Instead, she adjusted the ring on her finger.

 “…You’re with someone else?” 

It didn’t take longer than a second to figure it out. My mother shifted the ring on her finger. All the hurt of losing my father wailed up in me like it happened yesterday. It may have been three years for my mom but for me… 

 “Yes Madoka, I…someone…at my company.” 

Mom captured my arm in hers. Her voice shriveled up; lips pursed together.

 “T-They helped pay for the medical bills. E-Even visited you every day with me when they could.”

Her attempts to resolve the growing problem became glaringly obvious to the point her sentences became muddied in her own desperation. Mom’s eyes darted from one side to another as if looking for an escape. Her fingers trembled, rubbing against my hospital gown.

“Mom…”

I tried to force a smile. One to comfort her but…I couldn’t. 

 “I-I was lonely with you gone, so soon after your father died. I didn’t know if you’d ever wake up either and t-they supported me...Madoka.”  

“I…see.” 

With the shock still capturing me, I could not build up any other response. I fell silent even though I didn’t want to. My lips dried up and my throat shut tight. My mother is a strong woman. After my father died, she took the burden and prepared to pay for my schooling. She took on plenty of part-time jobs along with a full-time job at a small insurance business. Mom pushed herself hard…but even she yearns for companionship. So, it’s okay, right? 

 “I know it’s a lot to take in, Madoka...”

Mom begged, clawing at my shoulder. What kind of daughter would I be if I did not at least tell her that…It’s okay? I nodded, which was all I could do at the time.

 “Yeah…I…understand mom.”

 It came out stale even though I tried my best. I could see the expression on her face darken. I must be a horrible daughter if I put a face like that on such a sweet woman. 

“Y-You know what, we’ll talk about it another time, Madoka.”

She shifted her ring and cast down her eyes. It felt as though a weight had been pushed on my stomach. Unable to move, this weight would eventually crush the lower half of my body, mercilessly. I was more confused than angry if I had to tell the truth. I wanted to speak and tell her that I just didn’t understand but she lifted her eyes. She spoke before I could…

“Madoka.”

“Y-Yes, mom?”  

“There is someone else I’d like to introduce you to soon though...”

“Someone else?”

“I’ll explain later, okay?”

Mom’s face brightened up. I wouldn’t want to make her upset again so I did my best to raise a smile of my own. But the impending pain throbbing down on my chest wouldn’t go away. This anxious feeling of not knowing what happened in the time stole from me. Things mom did while I was away that I couldn’t share with her. Once dad died, she and I were inseparable. We wanted to share as much of our lives with each other. I’m not sure if this goes for all who’ve lost a close loved one. I began thinking about what if today was mom’s last day? Meaning I wanted to make sure I had no regrets or secrets with her. I ignorantly believed she was the same.


"Madoka, why don't you go outside?"

After sessions of physical therapy for a few days, I was finally able to move the lower half of my body again. Mom prompted me to go outside for some fresh air when she saw me walking around my hospital room. So, to appease my mom's worries, I made my way to the botanical garden of the hospital. 

Down the steps near my hospice room. The air filled my lungs with a bliss freshness my body hasn’t experienced in so long. So, I took the offer of the flowers and walked outside. The pressure of the rock pathway shook my bones. The sensation I haven’t experienced in years rose in me all at once. In front of me stood a tall tree centered with flush flowers of all assortments. My legs were still weak as I ventured into the mystical sea of beauty. 

“Wow.” 

My breath escaped me. I’ve always loved flowers and even when I was younger, I wanted to be a florist. Perhaps that’s why seeing this sight of colors scattered about the garden took my breath away. I continued to journey through but not long after my legs began to quake. I guess I have been overexerting myself and needed to rest. 

But instead of choosing the benches laid about I went over to the large tree center to the garden. I had the overwhelming urge to touch it. Its roots raised high above me reminding me that I was tiny compared. As I brushed the wood a sensation jittered within me. "How long has it been since I touched a tree?" The thought made me nauseous and my head began to grow foggy. 

 “A-are you okay?!”

I heard a young females voice, but I was too exhausted to turn around. My body faded into the grass as I leaned up against the tree. A warm touch embraced my shoulder as another felt my forehead.

“I-I can’t tell but you might be running a fever.” 

The anxiousness in her voice made my stomach turn, wailing up a slight sense of concern. With all my might I turned in her direction. 

“Don’t worry, I’m okay.” 

With a forced smile, I looked at her. The girl who could be no older than eleven or twelve gazed back. Her long, lovely, dark hair wrapped around her back. She was like a flower that’s come to life. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say she belonged in this garden.

“Who are you?” 

 I muttered. 

“Me? My name’s Koda Hana.”

My heart pulsed harder than ever. The name rang a bell deep in my chest. Not only was the name fitting for the person who owned it (Hana means flower) but who she was. There’s no way that this beautiful flower is…

“...My stepsister, Koda Hana?”

Fatigued, my mind went hazy. All I could remember was that I was being pushed along in a wheelchair before waking up in my cold bed. When I came too, mom had a blanket around her, sleep in a chair at the foot of my bed.

“Oh, are you awake?” 

My eyes were blurry. I tried my best to recognize the voice, but I couldn’t. As if to answer my needs, I felt the touch of my glasses on my hand. It seems whoever is here noticed I couldn’t see without them. After I put them on, I turn to the side to see the little girl from before. She was holding a bright blue and red game system in her hand with an earbud still in one ear. 

“You fell asleep after I found you, so I asked the nurses to help me bring you back.” 

 Setting the game aside she made her way back to my bed.

“Ah!” 

“Oh?”

I jolted. Not intending to, it seemed I startled Koda-san too. 

 “S-sorry, I didn’t mean to approach you so suddenly.”

Koda-san waved her hands up, backing away from the bed.

 “Oh…no.” 

“Hmm…Oh, Madoka you’re awake!” 

Mom jerked out of her seat like a wrecking ball. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say she was a jack in the box, springing out from the side.

“Geez mom, that started the heck out of me!” 

I squealed, earning the eyes of Koda-san. Not that I mind in the least.

“S-So sorry honey!” 

Koda-san tilted her head and pointed to the waking cub still rubbing her eyes.

 “Ah…mom you have drool on your cheek.” 

 “Ehhh?! Geez, Hana tell me that sooner!” 

Mom feverously rubbed her arm against her face to the point that it looked painful. I felt a bit sorry for her before turning my attention back to the flower that piqued my interest.

          “Mom?” 

Koda-san glanced at me briefly before turning away. It didn’t occur to me but…She was speaking to my mother when she said “mom.” …Right? Why was she calling my mom…mom? No, I already knew the answer to that, but it still pulled at my chest. Our time together alone had ended while I was away. I had to remember that…she isn’t only my mother now, was she?

Mom approached us with a beaming smile.

“Hana, have you finally met your big sister?!” 

 We face one another. Our eyes meet but, I shy away and turn to the side. 

 “Yes, we’ve met.” 

I nodded. My neck moved artificially like a machine mimicking human motions.

  “I want you two to get along.”

 “Yes, mom.” 

Koda-san replied like an officer in the military. There was no sign of hesitation in her voice. That directness sent a shiver down my skin for some reason. This girl I’ve never met before is readily calling my mom…mom. The feeling is surreal if anything. And before I knew it… I'm an older sister? And my mother is with a man I haven’t met yet?

My head swirled as I tried to put two and two together. This is just a strange dream, right?

The nurse came in with a clipboard in hand a few minutes later. She explained to us that my rehabilitation is coming along. That she’d like me to do more tests before releasing me by tomorrow. My mom along with our new plus one watched as I went through a series of exercises. It was kind of embarrassing when doing the sight test though. 

     My eyesight had always been bad and today was no exception. I usually wear contacts but during the examination, I wasn’t allowed any aids like my glasses from earlier. Mom giggled from the side knowing full well how horrendous my eyesight was.

After walking that path of shame, we signed papers and by the next day, I came out in a wheelchair. Mom’s warming smile melted my heart as I approached them. The only thing I could want with my naïve heart was for her to be beside me. But the flower, the little girl that bloomed up while I had away, made me a tad bitter.

“This is the start of a new day.”

I told myself with a sigh. Whatever happened two years ago was in the past. I’ll move forward and try to make the best of this new life. My mom is with a new man and Koda-san is my new little sister…Or whatever they want to call it.


“Soooo, tell me all about it!” 

“There’s nothing to tell you about. I felt like I was in a long dream. That’s about it, Ma-chan.”

The one on the other line of the phone, Watanabe Mae. My best friend who is away on a family outing for now. I rolled over to my side. In my view, a cheery idol poster that I remember all too well. It used to hang up on the left side of me and my mom’s room in our old home. But now I lie in my own room, my own bed.

“Geez, I wish I could just hold you right now! We cried day in and night when you wouldn’t wake up!”

“S…sorry.”

“Well, it wasn’t your fault.” 

I pondered, staring at the florescent singer on the poster. Her bright pink frilly dress made me a little nostalgic. Mom bought this for me after we went to a show together. It was a little embarrassing being a 13-year-old girl at an idol consort with her mom.

“Hey Mae-chan, do you know what happened to me?”

“Hm? Your mom didn’t tell you?” 

She hesitated for a moment as if falling back to that time. I could hear her breathing softly. 

“To be honest, my family got the call from your mom that you were in an accident and that we should come to visit you.” 

Mae took a sigh, likely becoming depressed from the reminisce.

“She said you hit the back of your head and paramedics rescued you. But that’s all she would go into.”

I looked up at the ceiling as if my mind were searching for the answers there. Reactively, I touched the back of my head. There wasn’t any sign of an injury that I could feel. But then again this did happen…years ago now. It likely healed up while I was asleep. With a nod, I continued.

“That’s the same story she told me…”

No matter how I tried to brush it off, it felt like Mom was not telling me everything. Despite how we use to always share everything with each other when dad died. She’s my mom and she wouldn’t intentionally hide things from me, would she? 

"Hm...."

As I was collecting my thoughts, I could hear Mae prop her feet on the wall from the other side of the line. She had a bad habit of doing that. Mae used to do it in junior high and the boys would see her underwear all the time. 

“Hey, are you still propping your feet on the wall after all this time?”

“Eh?! No! I swear, Mado-chan!”

I knew it…Does she still have that old habit? It’s a little refreshing knowing that one of my friends is still the same though.

“Well anyway, I still don’t know what happened around that time.”

“What’s your last memory?” 

“Mmm…” 

I did my best to search back but all I can see was a blank. I could clearly remember my dad dying and me going to school a few weeks later. Mom coming home late at night as she worked long hours and me studying until she made it back okay. But then everything would get shaky going forward.

“Hmm, hey do you remember Nakagawa-san buying that new phone for your birthday?”

“My mom?” 

My head angled towards the door as if she would be standing there. 

“Nnn…no I don’t remember that. Could it be the cellphone I’m using now?”

I searched the phone with extreme prejudice now. I wasn’t sure if this is the one or anything, but this might have been a clue to what happened.

Thinking like this put me in an off mood though. As if there were secrets that won’t be revealed unless I distrust mom’s words.

“Go check the pictures, Mado-chan!”

The devil egged me on, nudging me forward. Despite my reluctance, in the matter, I nod gently.

“Ahh, okay.”

I surfed through the phone trying my best to locate the gallery. There I discovered three photos in the data leftovers. 

“Mmm…There are only 3 photos in here.”

“You never were the one to take a lot of pictures…Well, what are they?”

Photo 1 is of me and Mae. It seems I’m wearing my old school uniform and we’re posing by a pond. Mae’s hair was short and dark. She had it tied up in a ponytail with her sleeves raised up. Being taller than me and into sports, she was always considered the tomboy for sure.

“There’s a photo of you and me by a pond.”

I could hear Mae abuse her room wall with her feet. It seemed like Mae got excited and turned around. That or the blood in her head finally caught up to her making her woozy.

“Ohh! That was a month before graduation!” 

She paused, taking a sigh. I didn’t recall taking the picture or who it might have been that took it in the first place.

“Hey, Mado-chan…”

“Hm?

“You see, a few weeks after that picture…was when your accident happened.”

“Really?”

Looking at the photo a hint of nostalgia captured my chest. I looked so happy despite knowing earlier that year my father died. There was something that kept me going and sure enough, Mae had to be one of them. 

“What’s the other photos?”

I closed my eyes, washing away the guilty feelings. Determined to uncover more gold, I tapped at the phone. The 2nd photo came in to view.

“Ahh…It’s of mom and a woman. She seems younger than her. A friend?” 

Mae grumbled from the other end. The vibration tickled my ear. I pulled away and clicked on her name to send the image to Mae.

“You know…I’m not too sure who that is with Nakagawa-san.”

“Have you seen her before?”

“She was always with your mom at that time from what I could tell.” 

“Was she her friend?”

“That’s my guess. I don’t recall her name, but she was a sweet girl. Maybe a business partner of your mothers?” 

I stared at the photo, but nothing resonated in me like the previous one. It seemed that I was close enough to her to take a picture of her and mom together. So, maybe I would meet her one day? Unlike before, this one doesn’t bring many emotions back to me.

The last photo was of a billboard to an amusement park. No one was in it, but the day was sunny. Confused, I sent the snapshot to Mae. 

“Ohh, that amusement park is a prime spot for couples!” 

“Eh?!”

“Are you saying you were with someone then when you took that photo. A boyfriend or something?”

Annoyed, I rolled in my bed.

“I doubt that. I’ve never been with…anyone.”

“Really?”

“Y-You know that I’ve never had a boyfriend before.

I could feel the blood rise to my face.

“I mean, if I did, you’d be the first to know. We have known each other since elementary, Ma-chan.”

Like a hyena, Mae burst out in laughter. Seemed as though Mae baited me into confessing this.

“I’m just kidding, Mado-chan. Plenty of people go there. You must have been happy to take a picture of the billboard though.”

“You jerk.”

I searched the image trying to get into the mindset from back then. Growing anxious, I clicked out of the gallery.

“N-Nakagawa-san?” 

A timid voice called me from downstairs. It was Koda-san’s. 

“Dinner is ready!”

“Ah, I’ll be right down!”

A squeal resonated in my ear like nails ripping down a chalkboard.

“Oooh, is that your new cute little sister?! Have you bathe together yet?”

“What the heck are you talking about? That’s creepy, Ma-chan!”

“Warm bodies of pseudo sisters merging as one! I read a manga like that last night-”

“Hey, I got to go. Let’s chat later, Ma-chan!”

I hang up before she could attempt to give me another creepy image. With that, I flipped off my bed and made my way to the door. When I opened it, the little flower in question was right outside.

“Ah?!”

“O-Oh, I didn’t hear you call back, so I wanted to make sure you heard me…”

Without waiting for my reply, the petite rabbit scurried back down the steps. I followed her trail. It’s been a few days since we returned home. Well…the home my mom bought while I was away. We used to be in a small apartment. But ever since my mom got a job at her editorial department, she had the funds to get into a nice home. But the dynamic between Koda-san and I have been…strange, to say the least. We would bump into each other in the halls. But all we would do is pass one another and occasionally say, “Hello.” then walk off to do our own things. We mixed as well as oil and water.

“Madoka, have you been studying for your entrance exams?”

Mom greeted me, pointing her spatula to my seat.

“Yes…I have, Mom.”

So much that my heads been hurting. I’m trying to cram two years’ worth of knowledge in my head in a few weeks. I’ll likely be held back one year and go in as a freshman. But because it’s already September I’ll be entering in the 2nd term. It’ll be embarrassing being older than my classmates too.

“Hey…when is mom coming home?”

As she lifted herself to the table, Koda-san questioned.

“Mom’s right here, Koda-san.” 

Seemingly annoyed, she turned to me with a scowl then back to Mom. It made me feel a bit belittled if I had to say.

“Oh… that’s right, mom hasn’t told you yet, had she?” 

“W-well, that’s actually what I wanted to do tonight, Hana.”

Confused, I tilted my head and looked back to mom. 

“Told me yet? Do what?”

“Madoka, I wanted to introduce you to someone…they’re on their way now.”

Her words from the hospital a few days ago fluttered back to mind. I looked back at the ring on her finger. It had to be the man she is with. Was he coming home today? My heart began to race. It was one thing being around Koda-san, but I hadn’t wanted to ask her about her father yet…

“I’m finally home, Ayumi! I heard everything, how is she?!”

The door flung open. I expected the gentle voice of a man but instead a tender woman filtered through. Holding a suitcase and in business wear, she strode in with her head held high. Her short black hair complemented her youthful appearance. Koda-san and mom stood up from the table. I did too, albeit late. Instead of acknowledging them she tossed her briefcase to the sofa, rushed over to me and, held me tight. 

“Eh?!”

She was taller than me but not by much. Her arms were slender with a toned figure. Her scent was citrusy like lemons.

“I wanted to come home immediately, but they wouldn’t allow me to.”

Dramatically she cried out. It felt as though she’d break my shoulders if she held any tighter. Despite her arms like twigs, her grip was monstrous. I struggled a bit until she finally let go of me. I gasp for air as we faced one another. Only then did it occur to me who this was. The woman who was in the photo with my mom. Wasn’t this her business partner? Well, that’s the conclusion I came to with Mae anyway. 

“Who…are you?”

The smile on her face waned. It seemed she was a tad upset by that. 

“O-Oh, you don’t know who I am?”

“Mari, we’ve discussed this over the phone...”

She put a finger to her mouth and leaned to the side. Her mannerisms reminded me of a little kid.

“I-I know, Ayumi…it’s just…”

The one named “Mari” turned to Mom. The look on her face seemed pained if I had to describe it. Mom shook her head without uttering a word. With that, she took a step back and, bowed deeply.

“I am Koda Mari. I am your mother, Nakagawa Ayumi’s, partner.”

“Partner? Like a business partner?”

Mom came in from behind her and held her slender shoulder. 

“No, Madoka. Mari and I…are together.”

“…Huh?”

My head tilted to the side.

“Madoka, Mari, and I are a couple.”

Together, a couple? I couldn’t comprehend what she was saying so I turned back to Koda Mari-san as if for a translation.

“I don’t get it.”

Mari didn’t speak, she instead put out her finger, and the ring filtered into my vision.

“Mom…is with you?”

Didn’t she tell me that the person she was with was a man? No, that’s the conclusion I came up with on my own, wasn’t it? This didn’t make sense. I searched back to mom then Koda Hana. She was glaring at me…like I was her mortal enemy.

“Madoka…”

 Mom touched my hand.

“T-That’s not true...right mom?” 

My words escaped before I could pull them back. Again, I blurted out something without thinking. Is my mom…like that?

“There’s a lot I want to discuss with you, Madoka.”

“Huh?”

My mouth opened like a fish. I’ve never even imagined doing something like that with someone of the same sex. I know my mom better than anyone, she’s not like that. An alarm went off in me. It’s like someone took the world I was in and turned it upside down. They then forced in on me and called it my reality.

“Your mom and my mom have been together for over a year and a half now.”

Koda Hana-san stepped in; arms crossed. It seemed she planned to voice her opinion by the way she glared at me before. 

“That’s how it is. They aren’t technically married but they are together.” 

Mom took hold of Koda Hana-san’s hand, putting the rabid dog back on a leash.

“Madoka, there’s a lot I wanted to tell you, but I thought it might be best that we talk once Mari came back from overseas.”

So, what mom was saying was, “It was better to keep me in the dark.” At one time, mom and I had only each other to rely on. What about all the times we trusted each other, why couldn’t she tell me? The person I looked at wasn’t the mom I knew, was she?

“…Who are you?”

I instinctively stepped back like a sheep caught in a din of wolves.

“I… don’t know you anymore, mom.” 

The truth of my feelings came bubbling out. My mom and I use to be close enough to tell each other anything, especially once dad passed. It’s as if she sees me as a stranger now. This entire situation is bizarre.

My mom is with a random woman I have no recollection of. And I have a fake little sister who is from her? Everything is too weird to put into words. The atmosphere grew suffocating as my chest felt as though it was being compressed of all its oxygen. 

“Madoka...please listen to me...” 

Mom approached, I backed up. But before I could escape, she gripped my hand. Her eyes pierced me like a knife to the chest. 

“Please settle down and hear us out.”

Mom whispered to me. It brought me back to the days when I was young. By condition, she would speak to me like this when “…I was out of line…” Koda Mari-san pulled up a chair and sat across from us. She still had a smile on her face despite the uneasy chat so far. 

“Madoka, this may seem hard to grasp but Koda Mari is the one who helped me pay for your medical bills…”

“I don’t understand…”

I turned to my mom. I wanted our conversation to only be between us, but I could feel the stares of these two strangers bleeding their way into our lives.

“What happened when I fell into a coma, mom?” 

My fist began to shake. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. My blood started to boil as the confusion wrapped around my mind.

“You decided to get with some…some woman? Even one who’s far younger than you?”

My body had to be shaking like a tremor by this point. Nothing was making sense and I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to disappear but instead, I kept speaking. I pointed to Koda Hana-san still glaring at me from her seat.

“You even chose to take in her daughter?”

I chuckle despite not feeling as if this was funny in any way.

“You two can’t even get married…There’s no way this “family” could work.”

“Madoka, listen to me…”

“Mom, this isn’t normal! This isn’t you! These…people don’t belong here! They’re…strangers!”

Everyone got quiet. I did it again…said something that was on the top of my mind without thinking. Koda Mari-san put her head down and nodded.

“It’s not normal at all Mado…Nakagawa-san, you’re right.”

I turned to Koda Mari-san who sits stubbornly in her chair, her legs now crossed. 

“But this is the truth…Ayumi and I have become a couple in the time that you were asleep. You can try to deny that but it’s the truth.”

The flower stood up from the back with her arms crossed.

“So, like it or not, that’s how it is. My mom loves Nakagawa Ayumi-san and that’s final.”

Even she barked from behind me. 

“And even you don’t have a say in it.”

Her words felt like needles burring into my stomach. Koda Hana-san’s expression was threatening. I’ve never seen her have such a scowl on. It…scared me.

The walls enclosed further. Mom looked at me, Koda Mari-san stared me down and, I could feel Koda Hana-san’s eyes bleeding into my back.

“C-Can I please…. go to my room?”

My throat tightened as I tried to squeeze out my escape plan. 

“I’m not hungry. Please, excuse me.”

I pushed out my chair. My fingers slipped out of mom’s grasp and I made my way up the steps before waiting for a reply. There was no other safe place I could think of. I opened the door and closed it behind me gently. No matter how one looked at it…I’m the one who made that situation awkward, wasn’t I? I’m the wolf wedged in the din of sheep…but I couldn’t help feeling like this.

Mom and the others forced this strange situation on me. Anyone from the outside looking in can clearly see that this “family” is fake. Feeling a weight of exhaustion, I make my way to the bed and lay on the pillow. Slamming my head into the sheets, I screamed internally.

“…Dad…Take me home! I want to go back home…” 

I cried for my…dad. The only person I could think of who’d understand me now. His death was too soon and now nothing felt real anymore. Mom isn’t acting like herself. There’s certainly a gap in my memory around the time before the incident and I could acknowledge that but still…

“I just don’t get it…I don’t get it.”

After several minutes there was a knock on my door. After that pitiful display, I didn’t want to see anyone. So, I blatantly ignored it. 

“Hey Nakagawa-san, I’m coming in. Is that alright?”

I expected it to be mom planning to scold me, but it wasn’t. The voice surprised me more than anything... 

“It’s… open.”

I weakly reply. Entering in wasn’t mom like I expected. It was Koda Hana-san. She shut the door behind her and strolled in. Her footsteps were gentle.

“Do you mind if I sit down, Nakagawa-san?”

Trying to hide the tears rolling down my cheek, my head still buried in the pillow, I nod. My nose rubbed against the fabric.  I can hear her lightly sitting down in my computer chair. She didn’t say a word for a few seconds as if trying to study her prey before attacking.

“…I don’t know you, Nakagawa-san.” 

I was confused by her sudden statement. So, I lift my head from the pillow and looked at her.

“I’ve watched you in a bed since mom and…your mom started seeing each other.”

Koda Hana-san patted her skirt.

“You're nothing but a stranger to me even though I’ve visited you in the hospital countless times.”

She took hold of her long locks of hair and bit the bottom of her lip.

“I’ve known you for a year and a half…and never spoke a word to you, Nakagawa-san.”

“Huh?”

“And then you call me…a stranger. It’s a little difficult to take in.”

I felt a tad resentment in her tone. Doing one last sweep of my tears, I sit up in my bed and look away from her, the heat of my face softly dissipating. 

“But…mom…my real mom would tell me all about you.”

“Koda Mari-san would talk about me?”

For a moment she looked away as if finding that memory then turned back and nodded sternly.

“She told me that you were a hard worker at school and even joined the basketball team. She even said you were up for a scholarship…before your accident.”

I looked at my legs. Antipathy wailed up in them as they trembled. I could feel it rapturing my body. Embarrassed by this childish emotion, I looked away towards the window.

“Yeah…I was...”

“I don’t know how things were for you two years ago. And I can only imagine how strange it is for you to see all this now…”

Her voice trailed off as she looks away from me now.

“But mom liked you a lot and I want to know…why Nakagawa-san?”

I searched for her expression. Koda Hana-san glared at the ground as if trying to burn a hole into it. Her faces were always filled with a sense of determination that scared me. 

“Is that…true?”

I muttered.

That would mean that I met Koda Mari-san before my incident. Just then I remembered the phone and the picture of Mom and Koda Mari-san. I wonder if they were dating at that time. 

“Yes, mom would always talk about you…like you were her daughter or something.”

Her fingers gripped her skirt. I couldn’t tell what it was this time. But there was a hint of something in Koda Hana-san’s expression.

“So, I want to get to know you, Nakagawa-san. Because something about you made my mom think about you so much…”

With all confidence, she confessed. I wouldn’t say that she sounded jealous of me. More like…curious if anything. With thoughts soaking up in me I started questioning my actions. “How could I let it get to this situation?” My mouth filled with bitter self-loathing looking at this flower tremble with uncertainty. Clearly the younger of us two she’s acting like the oldest, confronting what she finds mysterious. She didn’t run away as I had moments ago. The sourness doesn’t go away as I continue to compare the two of us.

“It’s hard…I’ll admit.”

Reluctantly, I spoke.

“I went to sleep with just mom and me and woke up with the two of you.” 

I stand on my feet and walk over to Koda-san still prompted in my chair. 

“B-but I do want to get to know you too…Ah, Hana-san?”

I needed a way to differentiate the two and it came out. Hana-san perked up at me. It might have been my imagination, but I could have sworn a light came on, brightening up her face. I sat on the bed and waved her to do the same. Hana-san stands up and sat on the other side of the bed. Now that we’re doing this for the first time it’s a little embarrassing. But I wanted to keep trying. 

“So, mom said you’re in junior high?”

“I’m thirteen, turning fourteen in a few months. I just started junior high.”

“Really? Could have fooled me.”

Hana-san puffed her cheeks like a blowfish.

“I don’t have the luxury of having a developed body, yet!”

Hana-san voice raised. Arms crossed she looked away. It looks like I hit a sore spot.

“Heh, sorry I didn’t mean to make you mad.” 

But Hana-san didn’t seem mad. In all honesty, she seems a bit pleased. I could read the mood enough to play along. But no matter how I looked at it, Hana-san looks like she could pass as a 4th grader. But I stop myself before I got that far.

“And how old are you again…Madoka-san?” 

Hana-san picked up quickly. Now bouncing the question back, she points at me. 

“Fourteen- “

I waited for a moment then put my fingers up. I recalled that I wasn’t fourteen any longer which was a strange sensation.

“Sixteen, turning seventeen this year. It’s a little strange knowing that…” 

My mind was still stuck back two years prior. And the doctors said that it’s going to take a while before I adjust to the thought of two years being gone. 

“I can only imagine…”

Hana-san nodded. She seemed to be truly genuine when it came to my disconnect with reality.

We talked for a little while longer. I told her that I use to play basketball since elementary and was thinking of trying to play again in high school. It seems Hana-san isn’t too physically inclined, but she enjoys fine arts. She showed me her grades and she seems to get high marks across the board. We both seem to be good at studying if we had anything to compare. 

“You know…Madoka-san.”

“Hm?”

“You’re…a normal girl.”

“What do you mean by that?”

Hana-san closed her eyes like an old monk giving a lecture.

“No…it’s nothing.”

She nodded as if confirming something with herself. I could only imagine what though. With two more nods, I half expected her head to fall off at this point.

“Well, it’s getting late and I have school tomorrow.”

“O-Oh, yeah. Thanks for chatting with me, Hana-san...and…”

Hana-san tilted her head. The words I wanted to say wouldn’t come out though so instead, I turned to the side.

“…No, never mind.”

Hana-san stood up from the bed and strolled to the door. Before leaving she turned around.

“Night, Madoka-san.” 

“Night, Hana-san.” 

She waved, shutting the door behind her. There is still a bunch I wanted to learn about her. But tonight, felt like enough of a breakthrough in our relationship. I lied back on the bed and thought back to dinner. Hana-san's face came to mind. The glare that she gave me when speaking to Koda-san and my mom… 

“I wonder if Hana-san expected me to react that way?”

There was no way of knowing what was going through Hana-san’s mind.

But her actions led me to think that this wasn’t the first time she had to step in and defend their relationship. The thought made me feel even more depressed. So, to get away I checked my phone when my stomach growled.

“That’s right…I didn’t have dinner.” 

Hating myself, even more, I opened the door. All the lights were off, so I took my phone’s flashlight and snuck down the steps. I have every intention to raid the refrigerator like a raccoon even though it’s bad manners. A quick sandwich is all I needed.

When I got to the kitchen, long behold I saw a figure shining her phone’s flashlight on the table. Like a deer caught in the headlights, she turned to me. 

“Ooh, Ma-Nakagawa-san? This isn’t what it looks like…”

“Koda-san?”

“I was just having a midnight snack.”

“You’re raiding the refrigerator…”

I scold even though I was planning to do the very same thing. One could call me a hypocrite, but I wasn’t the one caught in the act.

“I-I…geez, why can I never catch you in a good light?” 

Koda-san strolled over to the wall and touched the nob. She turned it dimming the lights enough for us to see one another. My guess is that she didn’t want to alert Mom or Hana-san to us being in here. 

“There, much better.”

Koda-san smiled at me. Now looking at her she’s quite beautiful. Hana-san takes from her with her youthful appearance.

“Would you like a sandwich?” 

She tempted me by sliding the plate over, filled with cut sandwiches.

“I was just going to make me something then go back to my room...” 

“Then go right ahead. I’m not going to stop you.” 

Her eyes gazed at me. It’s as if she were trying to feed a bird, hoping it wouldn’t fly away. I reached out and took one small, fluffy sandwich from the plate. 

“At least give it a bite before you go.”

At her request, I nibbled on the sandwich. To my liking, it’s filled with tuna and mayo. But what surprised me wasn’t just how delicious it was, but the crunch of a fresh pickle tucked in. It brought back the memory of a simpler time. A small meal I always made when I studied late at night. 

“How is it?” 

Her voice caught me by surprise, bringing me back into the kitchen.

“It’s…really good, Koda-san.” 

Koda-san tilted her head.

“I’m glad.”

“It even has a fresh pickle in it like I use to make...”

She giggled and put a finger to her lip.

“That’s because I know what you like, Nakagawa-san.” 

“Huh?”

“Don’t they say: ‘The way to the heart is through the stomach?’”

The fox snickered as she tilted her head. Her fingers filter through her hair, nails glistening through the dim light. 

“I made it for you.”

Koda-san wrapped her pointer through her straight locks and twisted it. She didn’t say anything else as she put the plate into my hands and walked away, returning into moms’ room. There I stood in the kitchen with a plate of tuna and mayo sandwiches made with the fresh pickle in each. For some reason, her words continued to echo in my ear. 

“For me?” 

The eeriness sent chills up my spine. This woman, Hana-san’s mom, is a strange one. I looked at the kitchen, the place still foreign to me. Guilt crawled up my back. No matter how I wanted to deny it, I felt bad for saying all that earlier.

“Maybe…I can do something to…”

It was late at night, but I couldn’t leave things how they were…

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