“Welcome home, Sacchan~!”
I hopped up from the couch where I was reading the latest volume of Comatose Countess and went to greet Saiyuri. She looked worn out, and I wondered if the errand she had to run was difficult for her.
“Thank you for your hard work today! Would you like to have a rest on the couch while I fix you something to eat, or would you prefer to take a bath first?” I asked her enthusiastically.
She looked at me, and I could tell she was forcing a smile.
“And here I was hoping for the third line.”
The… third line?
It was a common trope in some anime, manga, and light novels. The hardworking main character comes home to their beautiful wife. She’s holding a ladle in her hand and greets them at the door in an apron: Welcome home, dear! What would you like to have first? Dinner, a bath, or a~ta~shi♡?
Of course no one ever really did that in real life, and I had said the first two lines of it naturally out of concern for her without even thinking about it in that kind of way. Did I maybe come across that overused line one too many times in my recent reading history and it seared itself into my brain somehow?
I guess it could be fun to play along... Maybe it will lift her spirits if I act a little cute for her? I know it would cheer me up!
“Then, would Sacchan rather have her Ha~na~pi~♡?” I said in the cutest, most lovey-dovey housewifey way I could.
Her face, which had been overloaded with exhaustion moments before, did a complete one-eighty after I said it, and she barreled into me with the force of a certain white truck, known for sending young japanese high schoolers to another world where they gather a harem of various cute girls then proceed to have all sorts of fluffy moment with each of them, and…
Whoops, Almost got carried away there again.
Saiyuri, even though she had come back home, was tired. So she went to the living room to lay down on the couch and I went ahead and began making dinner. It wasn’t anything super special, but having lived in Tono all my life, a place filled with farms and ranches for breeding livestock, I was adept at cooking all kinds of dishes with meat in it. So that’s exactly what I made. Hamburg steak on Rice, and I didn’t forget to recreate mom’s gravy from the leftover meat juices to which she added in just a little bit of flour as a secret ingredient, making it thicker so that it filled dad up easily. He ate a lot!
Mom’s also really crafty in the kitchen to combat his appetite!
“MM~ Smells good!” Saiyuri called out from the living room.
“It’s almost done, just another few minutes. I’ll take care of everything so just keep resting until it’s ready!”
“A~a~h! Yeah~ This is the life!”
I’m glad to see that this will be effective in rejuvenating her spirits. Is being a working adult that rough? Maybe I’d be better off as a housewife? I mean, I’m not averse to going out into the workforce or anything, but it would be nice to stay home and be able to read all day after doing the housework.
I wonder what kind of person I’d end up marrying later on? Would I enjoy someone a bit older with a mature charm? I’d worry if we would have enough in common though, due to such a big gap in our ages…
I suppose that’s a concern one of my favorite characters from Comatose Countess also had to consider. Mazona was in love with her stepmother who was old enough to have a daughter just a few years younger than she was. But Mazo-chan wasn’t one to let something like that be a deterrent to her happiness, not even when she had so many other things to deal with that threatened all the people she cared about weighing down on her heart at the same time...
Dinner was done, and after putting the pan in the sink and letting it soak, I brought the food out to the table and called Saiyuri over to eat. I just sat there and watched, more interested in seeing her reaction to my cooking than actually eating myself. But that’s partly because I had eaten the whole bag of shrimp crackers while waiting for her to come home.
I wanted to tell her right away about meeting the delinquent girl, Mai, at the konbini, but it could wait a little bit longer.
She took a bite of my hamburg steak together with a good amount of rice and her eyes lit up once it passed through her lips, which were still red with the lipstick she put on before leaving this morning. I was proud of my amateur cooking skills, which had been honed thanks to Yumi’s endless love for food, especially potatoes.
She made a cute sound after the flavor hit her tongue and she just squirmed a bit in place as she chewed.
“It’s so delicious, Hanapi! You’re definitely going to make an excellent bride someday.”
Hearing that from her made me a bit giddy.
“I’m glad you liked it, Sayu-pon!”
She lowered her fork and stared at me.
“Hehe! I called mom last night and let her know I was safely settled in. She told me that Sayu-pon was what she used to call you.”
“That’s right. Do you know what I used to call her?” Sayuri prompted me an interesting question about my mom that I didn’t have a clue about.
I could only shake my head in response.
“Kaecchi!” She said while giggling, “Kaede might have been a fine and respectable mother to you growing up, but while she was younger, she was a frisky thing, who couldn’t keep her hands to herself!”
“Really? Mom was like that?”
Saiyuri had another bite of her food and savored it slowly, keeping me on the edge of my seat until she was ready to tell me more.
“Oh yeah, Kaede was very hands on, and that’s why I was grinning yesterday when you asked me if I ever thought a girl’s hand was soft. You see, she asked me a similar question once, but it wasn’t a hand she wondered about.”
“So… it was a butt?”
Saiyuri began to crack up when I said that. Was I right? Did mom like cute butts too?
“You’re killing me, kiddo! Ah hahaha! You aren’t wrong about that though, but the order was just off by a bit.” She took another bite of food again, and then continued. “What she wanted to know… was if a girl’s lips were soft.”
She smiled at my shocked reaction.
“Wait… are you saying mom… my mom… k-kissed a girl on the lips?”
“Hmm, did I say that? I just said she wanted to know, didn’t I?”
Did I jump to a strange conclusion? I must have… yeah. I mean, mom’s happily married to dad. She’s never done anything weird enough to make me think that she still had those kinds of thoughts. No, the one with those kinds of thoughts right now is… me.
“Well, as you can imagine, I was shocked after hearing her say that. Kaede was beautiful and popular when she was in school, we used to call her a madonna, which was what the kids would call a goddess or angel these days in school, and she had plenty of admirers both girls and guys. So if she was ever interested in finding out how soft they were, there wouldn’t have been any shortage of willing participants.”
“I had no idea…”
I finally began eating my own food in front of me, mulling over the fact that mom and I at least had similar thoughts around my age. Maybe that’s why she didn’t question my weird behavior all the time? Was she letting me find out my own answer to a question she had answered for herself long ago?
Until I got the chance to talk with her again, I wouldn’t know. It also makes me happy that Saiyuri told me this now. I think it also explained why she let me massage her for a bit longer yesterday. She probably wanted to help me find my own answer too.
It only made me appreciate both mom and Saiyuri more because of that. They really were both looking out for me as best as they could. I also hope I can repay their kindness by finding the answer to my own questions as well, but I was pretty sure already…
That nothing beats the softness of a woman.
Which led me to the important topic I wanted to bring up to Saiyuri.
“Hang on, Hanapi, I’m gonna slip into something more comfortable, grab a beer from the fridge, then we can sit down and you can tell me all about your little outing.”
I was happy to wait. While she unwound into something more loose, I kept replaying the short conversation I had with Narita Maiko, or Mai as she preferred to be called, without honorifics, at the Lawson’s konbini in my mind over and over on repeat. I didn’t want to leave out a single juicy detail!
There is one thing to be said about the couch in the living room. It’s ridiculously comfy. Like, you just sink into it. It would be incredibly easy to just relax a little too much and fall asleep, much like Saiyuri and I almost did the first night I arrived.
When she came out of her room, she was in some kind of hot pink yoga short shorts and a tank top. She did just as she said and grabbed a tall can of beer from the fridge and brought me the lychee ramune I had bought earlier as well, then sat down on the couch.
She opened up her legs and patted the space between them, inviting me to be close to her again. I happily accepted, and found myself in her lap with one of her arms wrapped around me. Her body was warm and soft, and well, she had a fantastic cushion to rest my head against.
“This is nice every once in a while. It’s been a while since I had a roommate, so I hope you don’t mind if I indulge in a little bit of skinship?”
“U~n. I don’t mind at all! Sacchan’s body is nice and comfy~”
She took a slurp of her beer as I struggled to pop the marble in my ramune bottle down with the plunger cap. She took the cap from me as I held on tightly with two hands and popped it easily. Now we were both enjoying a cold beverage together.
“So, tell me all about your little trip out. Did you get lost at all?” She asked me with interest.
“Not at first. After you left to go on your errand, I had a chat with one of my online friends for a little while, then I went out. I walked just under a kilometer to the nearest konbini, which was a Lawson’s.”
“So, you made a konbini your first destination?”
“Yeah, back in Tono, it was pretty much the hangout for everyone who wasn’t a working adult.”
“Makes sense, go on.”
“So, when I got there, I found that they had tons more stuff than the one back home. I was browsing the selection of cup noodles, chips and stuff. Then when I brought them up to the counter, I saw her again!”
“Ah! Do you remember when I bought that outfit at Blue Blue?”
“The one with the open shoulders? Yeah, I remember it…”
“So, I was looking around and saw this girl, I think she may have been one of those delinquent gyaru types, and she was holding that outfit up to herself in a mirror trying to decide if it looked good on her. I thought for sure it would, and it gave me the I’m a bad girl kind of impression, so when she put it back, I ran right over to it and tried it on. I fell in love with it, because I looked so different to me when I saw myself in the changing room mirror. Then later on, when you put all the bags in your car, I saw her again in the bookstore, and I accidentally bumped into her.”
Saiyuri took another sip of her beer, and I did as well with my ramune.
“So, you bumped into her, then what?”
“Well, I got a much better look at her. She had blonde hair and some ear piercings and she looked really fashionable. She said she wasn’t sure if she could pull off the outfit well, but seeing me in it, she’d probably give it a shot!”
“Wow. That’s high praise coming from a gyaru.”
“I know, right! So anyway, I also found out that she reads one of my favorite novel series, and she was reading the latest volume, then when I asked her who her favorite character was, she picked like, the worst character! But that was cool too. She must have finished reading it because when I told her I hadn’t read it yet, she handed it to me and told me to. Then she took off.”
“I see. So you enjoyed a chance encounter.”
“Yup. But it gets better. When I went to pay for the stuff I picked up at Lawson’s… she was the part-timer behind the counter! I recognized her immediately, but it took her a minute to remember me, not that I expected her to. She asked me if I read the book, and if I was new around here, and she had me call her by her first name too, without honorifics, then she called me Firecracker instead of Fireworks! She looked cool in her blue striped work uniform and she smelled like bubblegum!”
I was unable to control myself, just rapidly pouring it all out there to Saiyuri.
“Firecracker… and Bubblegum?”
“Yeah! When I saw her in the bookstore, she smelled like red roses, but today it was bubblegum!”
“I see… It must be nice having a girl crush.”
“A girl crush?”
“Yup, a girl you think is pretty and cool, and you just wanna be around them and talk with them. A girl crush! It was like that with Kaede all the time.”
“Mom was like that too?”
“I told you earlier, didn’t I? She was a madonna. Everyone thought she was cool and wanted to get to know her or be her friend.”
“Wow… so mom was really that cool?”
“You better believe it. Even I thought that!”
“So is that why you and mom were friends back then?”
“Well, we knew each other for a while, but I mean, she was my girl crush.”
“You liked mom?”
“What’s not to like?”
I agreed. Mom was kickass!
Saiyuri shifted around behind me. She put her beer on the table, pulled in her legs a little and then wrapped her other arm around me too.
“We used to hang out like this too, only I was sitting where you are. Kaede would have some bad habits though, always poking me in strange places and grabbing my boobs.”
“I told you she was frisky! But it was all innocent fun back then. Just like it is now. Only this time, I have an improved version of Kaede, so I don’t need to compare or be nostalgic!”
“Improved version… me?”
“You are her daughter, aren’t you?”
“Think of it like a smartphone. You’ll always remember your first, but even if you love it dearly some models are destined to go obsolete after a while. In the end you have to embrace change and let it go in order to switch to the newer and cooler model that’s come out. Once you do, even though you’ll always remember the old one fondly, you get to find out how much more amazing the newer version is, and how much fun you would have been missing out on if you never had the courage to upgrade in the first place!”
Is she saying she thinks that I am a newer model… mom? How does she see me? I might be many things, but I don’t think I’m anywhere near as amazing as mom is. I mean, mom is the one who lights up the room wherever she’s at, and everybody… I mean everybody in Tono loves her.
“So, am I like a replacement for mom… to you?”
I felt her pull me in tighter to her and her chin rested on my shoulder. I could smell a little bit of alcohol on her breath as she spoke, but her words had a very different kind of intoxication to them.
“Hanabi. You and I might only be meeting now, but I have been looking forward to having you right where you are now since you weren’t even yet a bump in Kaede’s belly. I will never compare you two, because you two are fundamentally different and unique.
Kaede and I will always treasure our friendship and time together, of that you can be certain, but the path she chose to take closed the door to the past we shared together. We’ll always remain friends, sure, but what we talked about before she went to Tono to marry your father and give birth to you, was the future we would share from then on.
When you were still nothing but a cluster of cells, and a single word on a clinic receipt, she made me swear that if there was ever anything I could do to help you, that I absolutely had to do it!
So when I look at you, sure I see similarities to Kaede, but what I really see is way past that, in exactly how wonderful and special a young girl you are, and will become. Even if you aren’t fully an adult yet, I understand how capable you are and will treat you exactly as you deserve to be treated.
I’m only able to be like this because she raised you so well, and what I can offer you is what maybe Kaede couldn’t. A much needed change in perspective and a suitable friendship at the right time in your life. Now, while I’m far from a perfect person, and my own life has been a bit of a mess at times, I do want to share it together with you for as long as you are staying here. And no matter what happens, I will always be on your side and acting in your best interests.”
She paused for a moment then said something very softly in my ear that made me shiver uncontrollably in her arms. The tone of her voice echoed the sealed up contents in my heart that existed for so long with Yumi-chan.
“I just hope our interests always align well with each other.”
Her head leaned back, and two cold, beer-soaked lips planted themselves perfectly on my right cheek and I had an uncontrollable surge of… something I had no way of explaining.
I just wanted to stay in this moment right now, for forever! I wanted her lips to be stuck to my cheek, and never come off. I didn’t even care if I had to attend school with our bodies stuck together!
There was a blanket that was draped over the couch, and she reached out and grabbed it covering us both up as I layed comfortably against her on the couch. Saiyuri turned on the television, but kept the volume low so we could chat about various things, and she asked me all kinds of questions about Yumi.
And it made me realize something.
My friendship with Yumi-chan was probably my own smartphone experience… I would never ever forget her, but she was a phone model that as much as I loved, I needed to upgrade from.
I had a soft hand that not only I could reach out and hold, but that also wanted to reach out to me to be held.
I slowly drifted off to sleep on the couch, and even though my heart was ringing louder in my ears than the volume on the television, I felt a different kind of warmth than when I used to snuggle up with mom. Because I felt for the first time in my whole life… somebody really understood and accepted this unsteady firework deep inside.
And that maybe…
...just like mom wondered once…
...like my own heart wonders now...
...I wanted to know just how soft…
...could Saiyuri’s lips possibly feel…
...not pressed against my cheek...
...but pressed against my own?