When I opened the door, I found Mari-san and mom on the couch. A movie was on but nobody was watching it anymore. Seems they both fell asleep…holding one another. With a cover wrapped around both of them, as if merging into one majestic being, they fit together wonderfully.
I shook my head as I turned off the television. So, I decided to help them to bed. Starting with the harder of the two, mom grumbled as I guided her. Something told me she was drunk. Not that the wine on the nightstand gave me any clues.
“Come on, mom.”
“Nnn..thank you, Madoka...”
Once I lied her on the bed, I draped the blankets around her so she wouldn’t get cold.
“When she comes to, she’ll adjust her clothing.”
Now was the sly fox’s turn. Mari-san was a little harder despite her weighing less. She struggled and even wrapped her arms around my neck. Most of her weight was on my back. As she brushed up against me, I smelled a mixture of lemon with flowers….in other words, her, and mom.
After I finally got her into the bed, I did the same, draped the blankets over her so she wouldn’t get cold. Her deep charcoal hair brushed over her eyes. My hand moved on its own and brushed them away, revealing her soft skin. Now that I thought about it…I don’t think I’ve ever touched Mari-san’s hair. It’s unbelievably soft despite it being so straight. I…kind of wanted to ruffle it a little but I stopped myself.
As I watched them lie there, quietly, mom rolled to the side and held Mari from behind. It…was natural for her, wasn’t it?
“They really are…perfect for each other.”
A sense of something I could only describe as…melancholy came over me. As if I wasn’t allowed to explore this perfect world that they made with each other. My body tensed slightly. So, I left the room, shutting the door behind me.
The living room was…quite the mess if I was being humble. Sprawled around were DVDs of all kinds. Like Mari-san and mom couldn’t decide what they wanted in this…romantic evening. So, like the neat freak I am, I began picking up the clutter. It only took a few moments before the room was clear enough for my head not to hurt.
“That’s enough for now.”
But no one replied. It was only me. Hana being away was starting to burn a hole into this home. That must have been the reason why I felt…a tad lonely.
On the counter next to the couch sat a phone. It was a deep crème color and not much larger than my own. When I lifted it, my finger swiped the front. The main screen opened up without me entering in a code. This wasn’t mom’s phone…it was Mari-san’s.
Before I knew it, I clicked on an application…bringing up the picture list.
Why was I doing this? As if being possessed by a ghost, my fingers moved on their own. Images of all kinds filtered through. Pictures of Mari-san, mom and, Hana in various places…places that I’ve never seen them in.
Like lakes, bridges, restaurants, and more. It reminded me that there was a life…during my coma. That the world didn’t stop while I was asleep. No matter how much I wish it did…that wasn’t true.
As I scrolled through, I ran into a certain picture that caught my attention. I wasn’t expecting anything like this…but here it was.
There was a picture of Mari-san sitting in a chair. Her face was flushed as she was looking at a certain someone…me.
This must have been in the hospital. The look on her face was one I’ve never seen before. Her lips were parted, as she gazed down at me. I could see her hand…wrapped in mine. My heart was drumming as I squeezed my free hand.
…She must have not noticed when it was taken. Making me believe mom took it while she wasn’t aware.
Her name pushed out of my mouth suddenly. My chest felt tight…something about it felt nostalgic but painful now. But then regret began to take over and I turned off the phone. When the screen went dark, I put the device to my chest. I wanted to give it back to her, but my body was holding it close to my heart. Something was…strange about how I felt…
I shook my head, blowing away these strange sensations. Then walked back into their room and set her phone down. The sight mom holding Mari-san melted back into view. But now…Mari-san slept…with a childish smile. She was cute and something in me wanted to ruffle her hair again.
Feeling an itch on my cheek I rubbed it…revealing…tears.
As I stood there in the darkroom my eyes began to water. Hiccups assaulted my chest and…I didn’t know why. This spectacle should be heartwarming but…my stomach ached.
My body moved on its own now as it made its way out of the room. I must have still been riled up from my outing with Mae-chan. My emotions were everywhere because of what we talked about.
That’s what I concluded…
The rest of the night I idled in my room until bed. As I lied there, I couldn’t stop thinking about that look on Mari’s face. Not the cute one tonight but the daydreamers gaze in the picture. My chest flared up and I tossed and turned. I couldn’t settle down…
The tears kept persisting…
I was confused…
…Why am I always so confused…
…When it comes to Mari-san?
There I was, standing on the train to school…It was just another meaningless morning as the world pulled me by. I finally fell asleep last night…but with all the emotions so high yesterday with Mae-chan, I was more drained than usual. This morning wasn’t eventful.
We ate our breakfast earlier with little chats here and there. Feeling as tired as I am now, I didn’t bring up my coma with them…I had to collect my thoughts more before I do.
I caught eyes with her again…the ash haired girl. But I wasn’t planning to pursue her, no, all I did was give her a wry smile before turning back to the window.
What was at the forefront of my mind was…Mari-san now. How I tried to speak with her the night before Hana-san’s trip to the mountains. How she turned me down because it was late at night…like a mother would.
“I feel…like she’s pulling away from me.”
Hurtful words pushed away from me. But what did that even mean? That…she’s pulling away from me? Mari-san certainly has been…respecting my space lately…but…
I wasn’t expecting her to approach me. I turned now looking at her. She stood taller than me, enough that I had to crank my head to look at her. Her body seemed slim, fragile as her eyes bounced around. I could cut her anxiety with a knife. This was the first time she’d came and contact me instead. So, I pushed the name Koda Mari out of my head and focused on her.
“Sorry…I don’t remember you...”
I stated calmly, putting my hand up as if surrendering to her.
“Ah, it’s not like I forgot you overtime or anything though…”
Her mouth bobbed up and down as she turned to the side. Her cheeks puffed slightly as her eyes welled up, causing me to panic.
“Ah, a-are you okay?”
Tears began to roll down her translucent skin. Taken aback I sat there in confusion.
The train arrived at a stop. As if being prompted, her body slowly backed away from me. She then sprinted out the doors.
But wasn’t she the one who approached me? Nothing made sense about her. The way she acted around me. As if being in the same place as me…hurt her more than anything.
I knew her…and certainly, something happened between us. Like in the case of Mae-chan, me being complacent brought on that I didn’t know she was hurting for so long.
“What the heck…?”
I scorned. I have to find out what I don’t know. Before the doors shut, I found myself racing out after her. In the morning bustle of people, I spotted her long, ghostly hair. She was holding her body up on a support beam. By the way her shoulders were raised, I thought she might be hyperventilating.
With her back against the support beam, tears rolled down her cheeks. Unable to come up with a coherent sentence I take it, she just mumbled.
She didn’t respond though. Her head hanged low as if sandbags were pressing on her back. This stop had the shopping district. So, I gently pulled her by her blue school sweater.
There was a small coffee shop outside the station so, I sat her down in a chair. Her lips pursed as she glared at the table. The intensity of her gaze made me feel uneasy.
“Ah…two mocha’s please?”
After I was served, I made my way back. Wordlessly, we sat for a moment before I opened my mouth.
“I… don’t understand how I made you cry…but…I’m sorry?”
That sounded less sincere than I wanted it to.
“Y-You don’t have to apologize …N-Nakagawa-san…”
She rubbed her cheeks as her hesitant voice finally escaped.
“You’re always…looking out for me and this…is how I repay it, Nakagawa-san...”
“Ah…like I said before…”
Now steeling my resolve, I spoke.
“I was in an accident and suffered some memory loss. I don’t remember a lot of things from a few years ago. So, you’re going to have to help me understand…what I did to you…”
I stated firmly, clear, cut. If she were someone I knew, it would only be right for me to try and mend something like this.
“My name is…Mihara Yuko.”
Her name made me feel a tad warm. That was the first spark that led me to want to know more.
“And…ah…W-we…use to be on the same basketball team, Nakagawa-san.”
So, my recollection was correct? Does that mean at some point Mihara-san had a growth spurt?
I recalled a shorter version of her. One with a bun in her hair. But when I opened my eyes, I saw her fidgeting like a leaf. I was beginning to think her scarf wasn’t keeping her warm in the slightest.
The tension grew awkward now. Silence cleaved in as we both listened to the iron of the train hitting the grain of the rock below. I glanced back her way only to reveal a blush on her cheeks.
“N-Nakagawa-san…do you really not remember?”
The tone in her voice reminded me of a disappointed mother looking down on her child. As if she was punishing me. Guilt raised in me as I turned to the side. My head hung down as silence once again persisted between us.
“…A few…years ago my grandmother passed away.”
Mihara-san’s voice shriveled as she continued.
“Y-You…Nakagawa-san…you looked after me during that time…and…you helped me out a lot. You were so…kind”
Her cerise eyes met mine. But her head still angled down to the table.
“I was so happy that you were there for me, Nakagawa-san.”
“I’m sorry for your loss, Mihara-san.”
She lifted her head, but her eyes wouldn’t do the same.
“I…I…I wanted us to…be…”
Mihara-san tried to meet my gaze. Her reaction was extreme though. Silently, I stared at her alien movements.
“Ah…I wanted us to be…F-Friends, Nakagawa-san.”
Mihara-san seemed to be extremely shy. So much that this chat seemed to be causing her anxieties. I had to change the mood, make her feel more at ease or this will be painful for both of us. That’s when I realized that she hasn’t tasted her coffee.
“Do you not like coffee?”
“Oh…I… don’t…drink it much.”
At my suggestion, she tasted it. I made sure it wasn’t bitter, a bit of candy to brighten up her mood. Not sure how I brought her to tears still though.
“S-Sorry, do you not like sweet things, Mihara-san?”
“N-No! I…I like it a lot.”
A smile melted her face. It felt as though that was what I was searching for this entire time.
“So, we weren’t friends, Mihara-san? Then how about we become friends now?”
Her ruby eyes danced across my face, unable to pick a spot to land on.
With an exaggerated nod, I continued.
“Sure, I’ll ask you a lot about our time in the basketball club together though. If you don’t mind?”
“Okay, …we can start over then, Nakagawa-san.”
“Huh? ...No, it’s nothing.”
Silently, she sipped on her mocha as her head turned away. But then she jolted, looking at the station’s clock.
“Oh no, we’re going to be late because of me…”
Yeah…mom was going to kill me if she found out and I knew it. I can’t become a delinquent like Conway-san. So, I stood up.
“There’s nothing we can do about it now Mihara-san. So, I just decided that if we’re going to be late, we might as well enjoy our time.”
Believe me, I’m more serious about school than I probably led on saying that. Right now, wasn’t the time for me to be worried about that though. A person was crying in front of me for reasons I still can’t understand. I think…she took priority.
So, we began walking. We could wait for the next train but the time that’ll take opposed to us just walking would be significant. We marched in silence on the cold, cloudy day. Fog danced about the streets. Like I was in a spirit realm haunted by the tall ghost beside me. That being said her steps were much greater than mine.
“Ah…a-are you still in basketball, Nakagawa-san?”
“Oh, no. I’m not in any clubs at the moment...I started school only around a month ago so…I haven’t had the chance to look around.”
“Oh, so does that mean you’re a first-year?”
I rubbed the back of my head, bashfully.
“Looks like you’re my senpai, Mihara-san.”
Her cheeks hid in her scarf. Despite being so tall she still pulled off the cute vibe.
“That’s my line, Mihara-san.”
“N-no! Ah…I use to call you…Nakagawa-senpai sometimes.”
“But weren’t we in the same year, Mihara-san?”
“Yes…but you were so much better than me at basketball. You even exceeded the captain.”
“I don’t know about that.”
I scratch my cheek. Now she was being kind.
“No! It’s true…”
Her voice peaked like a mouse’s squeak. It was super cute.
“Nakagawa-san…you was the only one in the team who was offered a scholarship.”
“I was offered the scholarship?”
I remember working towards one. One that would follow me all through high school and save up the funds until I entered college. I didn’t know I was offered it though.
“Y-Yes. But then you…stopped showing up to practice.”
“I stopped showing up?”
“Yes, that’s what our coach said. She said you…had family matters and wouldn’t be around for a bit.”
The cool wind blew my hair to the side, causing me to shield my face. Despite my thighs being assaulted by the breeze, my body felt warm.
Her words correlate to what Ma-chan was telling me the other day. That I suddenly stopped coming to school because of a family matter. But in her words, mom said the matter was being settled and that Mae shouldn’t pry into it.
Feeling the back of my head a strange sensation brushed up against my stomach. I’ve become complacent with how things are now. I need to ask mom and Mari-san about my coma soon.
I turned to Mihara-san as we walk up a flight of steps. It led to an overpass. I couldn’t see the expression she’s making under her scarf, but I can see her eyes shining like gems.
“I’m glad that you’re okay, Nakagawa-san...”
For some reason, I could feel the sincerity in her voice. As if it took a hold of my heart and held it close with her words. It made me slightly embarrassed. As we walked over the pedestrian bridge. Cars cried below us, but the mood was peaceful.
“So, what club are you in, Mihara-san?”
“Fine arts. I’m learning how to draw traditional art now.”
“So, you don’t play basketball either anymore?”
She chuckled, warily.
“No…I don’t like basketball all that much, Nakagawa-san.”
“Really? So, why did you join the team?”
Mihara-san’s eyes darted around before landing on her school bag. Her feet were clumsy too as they kicked one another.
Her body stiffened up.
“I wanted to get away from home. I just…kind of joined it.”
What a strange response. I didn’t know how to reply so I just nodded.
We reached the other side of the impasse now as we made our way down the steps. Her glistening white hair bobbed.
“You…used to be so much taller than me, Nakagawa-san...”
Her neck shrunk into her scarf again. Now she lagged behind me as we reached the bottom of the platform.
“Yeah…I remember that. That’s one reason why I wasn’t sure if that was you, Mihara-san.”
She then stood beside me once we reached the bottom of the steps. It prompted me to look at her. I cranked my neck, doing my best to meet her eyes. The Mihara-san that I barely remember used to be way shorter than me. She would still be as timid as she is now though. Seems that hasn’t changed about her.
“It’s strange…seeing you from up here.”
“Are you calling me short? Did you forget the woes of being a shorty already?”
“Oh, no! Nothing like that.”
Waving my hands, I stop her.
“I’m only kidding, Mihara-san.”
Her neck pushed in her scarf further now. But I could hear a slight chuckle coming from her as her face cast a rosy tone.
“You…always teased me like that.”
Her eyes closed.
“I liked that…a lot.”
My chest pinged. Mihara-san is timid yet honest. If I had to compare her to someone so far, oddly enough, it would be Hana. It seems Mihara-san can express her feelings when she pushes herself too. But she’s certainly not as confident as Hana. It made her a completely different flower than my little sister.
Soon enough the school gates came into view. We’re only about twenty or so minutes late. The outside isn’t bustling with students adding to the sense that we’re doing something taboo.
Mihara-san suddenly shrieked, causing me to jump a bit.
“Ahh…I don’t have any…clubs in the afternoon today.”
I nodded unsure why she told me this, I tilted my head, expecting a reply but all I got was...
She cried before rushing off towards the second-year's classrooms. No doubt, she’s unique. Coming to terms with the morning, I shrugged and continued making my way to class.
“Now isn’t the time for this!”
Voices echoed out as I passed the garden of the school.
“Hm? Was that…”
That voice sounded too familiar to pass up. So, I journeyed deeper in the garden to a secluded spot hidden behind a small tool shed.
“Is that any way to speak to me, Sophia?”
“You’re not even supposed to be here, Linda! What would my dad say if he found out?”
I silently approached only to see Conchi-san wrapped in the arms of another foreigner I’ve never seen before.
With her voluptuous figure, tall but with curves all in the right places, she pressed against the shark. Her hair swayed back and forth. Frizzy and long. The color of gold. Her eyes were grape purple, it added to her presence. She wore a white coat with long sleeves and a business dress shirt underneath. One that a nurse would wear. But she appeared too young to be a nurse. If anything, she might be a college student.
But going back to their position, Conway was engulfed in her arms. There was nothing friendly about it either. I could see her teeth chattering together as she glared at the one holding her hostage.
“Don’t worry about it…”
Suddenly, she began speaking in English. I couldn’t make out what they were saying. But the unknown girl's voice was soft, charming even, as she lifted Conway’s chin. Their lips nearly met until…
She caught me, the voyeur who had been awing this strange situation.
Conchi-san screamed before pushing the white coat to the ground. Unamused, the seeming doc petted her skirt as she sat up.
“Ouch! Damn, now I’m going to have to change before work…”
“You brought it on yourself, Linda!”
Conway-san cried before rushing in my direction.
“W-What the hell are you doing here, Nakagawa-san?! Shouldn’t you be in class, like a good girl?!”
A good girl? Is that what she calls me behind my back? Slightly annoyed, I answered.
“Ah…I was running late to school. Who is she, Conchi-san?”
“Conchi?! That’s so adorable!”
Her face spun red as she gazed back over to the white coat now standing to her feet. With a small mirror, the golden-haired woman adjusted her frizzy hair.
“She’s…a problem is what she is. Nakagawa-san!”
Conway spewed as she approached from behind, tucking her arms around the shark once more.
“W-what are you doing.”
“I’m holding you, silly!”
“You have issues, Linda! Nakagawa-san is right here! You can’t do this in front of her!”
“Oh, does that mean I can do it when she’s not around?”
The woman named Linda nuzzled her nose against Conway’s hair, giving it a sniff. I was too bewildered at the point to comment.
“I missed this smell, Sophia.”
But then Conway swung her head back with all her might. I could hear the smack of her face crashing on the shark's skull. The woman fell to the ground once again. This time, I swear she was out for the count.
“What a bothersome idiot!”
Conway exploded with rage as she rubbed her head. I felt sorry for the Linda girl. I doubt she’d recover from a blow like that.
“Sorry, you caught us in…such a passionate embrace.”
To my surprise, the white coat rose from the dead. She took out a small mirror and adjusted her hair slightly.
“Oh, hush you.”
“Is this a friend of yours, Sophia? Aren’t you going to introduce us?”
“Shut up, Linda!”
“Feisty as always, aren’t you? Fine, I’ll introduce myself.”
She rubbed the back of her neck like saying, “This is a pain.”
“My name is Taylor Linda. I’m the new assistant nurse. Well, I’m still in college so this is more of an internship. And I just happen to be Conway Sophia’s older stepsister.”
But I remember Conway-san telling me that she had no siblings. Now confused, I turned back to her who’s arms are crossed with seething rage.
“You shouldn’t have come to Japan! Nobody told you to show up out of nowhere like this! Why are you always so selfish, Linda!”
“Oh c’mon, you know you wanted to see me for as long as I wanted to see you. Why don’t you just be honest?”
Conway cried in an unholy wail before digging her claws into the golden girl’s shoulders. She shook back and forth, violently. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d fallen apart from all this abuse. But instead of growing upset, this odd woman…seemed to be enjoying it.
“Aren’t you worried about the consequences of your actions?!”
“Of course not! I did this for you, Sophia.”
My mouth opened slightly as I spoke softly.
Those words caught my chest. They sound strangely familiar. Like…the tone of voice Mari-san used on me when…she played with me and that stupid lemon-scent perfume I gave to her.
Conway’s face flared; I was afraid it might pop with irritation.
“Screw you, Linda!”
She erupted then trumped away in a fit of rage. I’m sure if anyone stood in her way now, they’d get a fist to the face. With that in mind, all I could do is watch as she disappeared in the distance.
Now alone with the oddball, I met her gaze. From up close she does appear to be more mature than I originally took her to be. With light skin touched up with a hint of blush she didn’t look like a run-of-the-mill nurse at all.
“Sophia is something else, isn’t she?”
She giggled, prompting me to answer her. I felt a tad awkward but reluctantly I agreed. As if I wasn’t there, she squatted back down and began hitting her forehead.
“Hopefully, I didn’t come on too strong. It’s just been so long…and my feelings have changed so much…”
Her body shook like a 7.0 earthquake. I could feel the pulses resonating from her.
“Oh Linda, you came all the way to Japan just for this moment. You have to see this entire thing through else you’ll never live it down.”
Something in me told me to run far away from this weirdo. I almost made good on the bells in my head when she shot back up and turned back to me.
“Right! Push forward, Linda!”
The alarms were blaring by this point in my head. Yep, it’s time to run! But before I could make good on my escape, the white coat hopped to me.
“I didn’t catch your name, glasses.”
Glasses? Are we seriously going that way? She pushed her redden cheeks into my view. There was nothing close to personal space in her mannerisms.
Silently, she chanted my name like summoning it back into her memory.
“Oh wait, I heard about you. Are you the first year who suffered from the coma a few years back?”
“Oh, you know about me?”
Well, it was apparent that I would have been talked with amongst the staff. Not only as gossip but as a professional since especially for their medical experts. I would have to be known just in case I have another medical emergency like that.
“I’m sure you had counseling in the hospital before your departure?”
“Oh…yeah they spoke with me for a few hours each day.”
Taylor nodded then tilted her head. She reminded me of a puppy for some reason.
“Well, if you ever need to speak to someone about your condition my door is always open. It might be a bit hard to talk with students your age or even your family. Sometimes they just don’t know how difficult it is to adjust to life after such a trauma. And not just your trauma…anything you want.”
Her words resonated with me…as if they were constructed for me. Despite my initial thoughts about her she seems to be more mature than I imagined.
I closed my eyes and tried to remember something from that time. But all I could come up with was mom coming home late…and me working hard to earn that scholarship…that apparently, I was accepted for.
Why can’t I remember?
My body felt like it was being pulled away from me. Everything continued to move forwards. It was Wednesday, almost November, and my birthday would be right around the corner. But I still feel fourteen but I’m sixteen turning seventeen this year. I still feel like I should be in middle school but here I am in high school. Why does time continue to manipulate me when I want it to slow down…to stop and give me time to think?
“You seem to be running late. How about I write you a note saying you were with me instead?”
My mouth parted.
“Ah…Taylor-sensei, why would you do that for me?”
With a calming smile, she put her finger to her lips.
“Well…let’s just say you witnessed something, and I like to buy your silence.”
Now it was apparent that this strange woman wasn’t just being nice. No, she’s quite the devil under that smirk. That interaction between her and Conway-san wasn’t normal in any way. Nor were all the things she blurted out loud…
“…It’s a deal, Taylor-sensei.”
Mortified by how easily I was bought, I took her offer.
Her people skills were on a whole different level. Contrasting to how Conway-san is, she seemed to be completely different. But then…they’re stepsisters? So, why would she lie about not having any siblings?
Taylor-sensei handed me a note. Bowing slightly, I turned and ran inside.
“Hope to see you around, Nakagawa-san!”
She cried. But I didn’t turn back. The memory of her holding Conway-san came back into view. I couldn’t imagine taking Hana in my arms like that. Certainly, something was different about their relationship. It reminded me a little of me and…
Again…her name came to mind…