Disclaimer: Hidamari Sketch is the creative brainchild of Aoki Ume, was published by Houbunsha, and brought to the screen by Shaft, and is owned in some part (I'm sure) by all three, but none of it by me.
There was something there, just outside of perception. It was in the compartment she rode in. It was in the people; those friendly and unfriendly, young and old, tall and short, thick and thin. It was the in green of the grass, the blue of the sky, the blur of the ground rushing by and the more sedate pace of the far-off clouds. It could be heard in the the air coursing over the traub car, and the vibration of the tracks under her feet. It was in all reflected in a pair of large, shining brown eyes. It was sameness. A sameness that many would consider routine, unmentionable, expected. Dull. Yet it filled one heart with warm content. Which is why, when the train finally approached its destination, the owner of this heart was able to hop from her seat, take up her small, two-wheeled luggage carrier, and go down the aisle with a bouncing step and infectious smile that her fellow travelers found themselves sharing, despite the distinct doldrum atmosphere that surrounded just this one day amidst others.
She looked out on the city with the nostalgic air of one returned home after time untold away. Though traditional sense told her that the place she had left a few hours before was "home", the road she walked on now felt more a homecoming than when she had travelled it the other way. Could this be a part of growing up, she asked herself, feeling giddy at the thought of that ever-elusive maturity--but also managing a light pang of nostalgia, almost unnoticeable even to her, which was the only thing that really confirmed that maturity. Not too terribly confirmed, as she began in full view of the other commuters, to laugh at her own oddly serious thinking. She couldn't be too mature yet, how many adults found time to indulge in laughing at themselves?
She continued with a bright smile and shining eyes which now found time to take in sights which were different and new. New didn't trouble her, whatever contentment she found in sameness. That would always be the way life worked. No matter how similar things might seem after time passed, and how ever much she might want them to stay the same, changes would always come. Privately, though, she could hope that change had decided to pass over three particular little parts of her life. She stood at the edge of the street in front of the train station, waiting for the light to change to cross.
Yuno froze and looked behind her, just as the lights did change. She wanted to stand stock-still and hold her breath in disbelieving excitement, but instead she was jarred and forced to yelp a quick apology as several people following closely behind ran full into her, jarring her belongings. She checked over her cart to make sure the collision hadn't knocked anything loose, and raised her eyes just in time to catch the most wonderful thing she'd seen today. A blond mop of hair, haphazardly tied back in a loose ponytail, bobbed up and down around the shoulder level of the majority of the throng exiting the train station. Yuno could hardly stand in one place without receiving some amount of ire from the crowd, given the space she and her things took, so turning the awkward thing around to go meet her friend was strictly out of the question. She was forced to sit impatiently through as her friend approached. Then she was there, burst through the wall of people and skidding on her heels to a teetering halt just before she too, crashed into Yuno. For a long moment the girls just stood and looked at one another. Yuno thought, amused, that Miyako looked as though she could really use that moment's rest. Several strands of sun-bleached golden strands had worked loose and hung lazily across shining pale green, almost amber eyes and a wide grin. Her chest rose and fell with her lightly puffing breath. Miyako looked to all the world like she was on a brisk hike, with her only possessions the clothes on her back and a single pack slung over her shoulders.
"So it was you," Miyako started, "I wasn't sure, I couldn't see you that well because everybody else around is taller and all, but I started running as soon as I thought I had maybe seen you. Isn't that kind of funny? Maybe I have some kind of powers, x-ray vision to see through people. But...I don't think I saw through anybody, so maybe I have psychic powers? I suppose I could have those and not really know about them. But you know what that means, Yuno-chi, we can never play hide-and-seek, I'll always be able to find you!" Yuno giggled at her breathless, babbling declaration, very glad to see that Miyako was as happy and excited to see her as she was to see Miyako again.
"Miya-chan," she laughed, not knowing how else to answer the statement, but then she put on a serious countenance, "Psychic powers? Then why don't you tell me what I'm thinking about right now?"
In response, Miyako looked deeply into her eyes and a look of intense concentration grew on her features. Yuno felt an odd, lightheaded sensation, coupled with a spread of warmth through her chest. Could I be having my mind read? The thought skimmed through her mind in one brief burst of illogic, but Miyako answered the unspoken question herself with her following words.
"Yep, I'm reading... that you're really happy to see me, and... that you want so much to buy me lunch," she accentuated the statement with a certain mystical flair that was altogether ruined by an impudent wink.
"One out of two isn't bad, Miya-chan, but I don't think you can read minds. Sorry." Yuno smiled, then her breath caught in alarm her friend drooped, suddenly appearing crestfallen.
"Oh, Miya-chan, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to ruin your fu--"
"No, it's okay Yuno-chi. I'll be happy enough with a free lunch for now, but I sure wish I knew why you weren't happy to see me..."
"Miya-chan!" She protested, but Miyako's bright smile made everything alright again. A few quiet minutes of just walking passed. They'd had plenty of time for talking and such over the summer, they had kept in contact, and were happy now to just soak up the physical presence which they had really missed most.
They stopped at another light. Looking over, Yuno was forced to admit that while Miyako had been the best bit of familiarity she had seen today, she was also a remarkable specimen of change. Yuno was used to being the shortest of her circle of friends--as Miayko had just casually mentioned, she could be hard to find in a crowd it being hard to see her in a crowd--but it looked like Miyako had shot up another five or six centimeters over the summer. Also, while she still had that same active, toned body, it looked as though it had stopped strongly suggesting feminine curves, and finally got to making them part of the overall scheme. Not too much, but just enough to make Yuno look between Miyako and over her own self, fretting a little about her own womanly progress.
"I think Yuno-chi look plenty cute and shouldn't worry about anything," Miyako commented with a bout of always surprising shrewdness. Yuno blushed, and that only encouraged the blonde "I thought I noticed you noticing, and I didn't even need any powers," Miyako observed her with a careful eye, "I don't think poking at them will change them much, though, and you look a little silly walking around pushing them together like that."
"Oooh-ooh! Especially if she can blush like that whenever she want to, Yuno-chi will get any boy she wants!" Miyako continued to dig into her shy friend with an irrepressible grin. The light signaled to walk.
"You could always try like Sae-san and pray at the Buddha statue. It didn't do her any good, but maybe it needs more to work with. Oh yeah, do you think she and Hiro-san will be getting here soon? I'm sure it wouldn't take too much to convince Hiro to fix up a nice reunion meal."
"I'm not sure, they might already be there," Yuno answered, remembering that she hadn't heard from either of her other friends in the past few days, "I'll call Hiro-san and see," she fished her phone out of her pocket. The line rang a few times, then stopped and went to voice mail. Though feeling it might be impolite, Yuno tried once more, but this time it didn't even bother with the ringing.
"I can't reach her right now."
"Hmm... but they were there before us last year, right?"
"Then there's still a chance for my stomach! Hang in there, old friend," Miyako rubbed her belly with a sympathetic expression.
"Miya-chan, have you eaten today?"
"I had a sandwich on the train."
"I'll get you something if Hiro-san isn't there, you know."
"Oh, of course I know that, Yuno-chi. I'm psychic, remember? Now come on, step up, no time to be dawdling now." Miyako quickened, and Yuno had to work to keep up with Miyako's now even longer-legged pace.
"Wait for me!"
The apartments looked just as they had left them. They hadn't been gone more than two months, so this wasn't really very surprising. Yuno looked with dismay towards the staircase, however, there was no way she was going to be able to carry all her things up there without taking several trips. While she stood there unwilling to start the process, however, Miyako took the situation in at a glance and picked up two suitcases. Yuno watched as she went into an exaggerated military knee-high march in place and ran up the stairs.
"Hup-too three-four! Let's go, Yuno-chi!" It took Yuno a moment to shake off her grateful surprise and pick up another box. She should have known she could count on Miyako. Between them, they only had to take that trip and one more for the last package and the carrier, a lot less than the four or five Yuno had been thinking of by herself.
"Phew. Thanks, Miya-chan."
"You're welcome. Now we can go see everybody, I'm starved." Yuno put a hand to her forehead, you couldn't expect Miyako to let her thoughts stray too much when she was hungry. They stopped so Miyako could unlock her door and unceremoniously sling her backpack inside.
"You sure didn't bring much," Yuno observed.
"Most of my stuff from last year is still in there," she explained brightly, "I only took a sketchbook and some pencils when I left."
Yuno herself had packed up everything for her sojourn back to her parent's house. Bedding and toiletries and knick-knacks had been gathered, as well as all of her school things. It wasn't that she thought she would need all of it, exactly... but she couldn't leave her bath salts or rubber duck behind, and she really liked her shampoo, and that was the most comfortable blanket she had taken when she moved to the Hidamari apartments in the first place, and a lot of her cutest clothes too, and--Yuno shook her head. She occasionally envied her friend's carefree running through life, but didn't think she would ever be able to emulate it.
They went over to room 102, but a few loud raps on the bright yellow door and a few minutes of waiting told them nobody was home. Undeterred, they went across one to Sae's apartment, but just as Miyako was about to knock, the door opened and they were faced with a stranger that looked quite a bit like Hiro. Only, this person was deprived of the steady, warm smile and eyes brimming with kindness that belonged to their friend, and had the edge of one thumbnail clamped firmly between her teeth. It took the pair at the door a few seconds to wrap their minds around the fact that this had to be Hiro, despite what told them it wasn't, and less than a second for Yuno to process this information and reach out for her hand.
"Hiro-san, what's the matter?" Hiro, also taking a few seconds to process that two friends had suddenly appeared in front of her when she was on her way elsewhere, managed to affix a ghost of her usual expression on before answering.
"Nothing, Yuno-san. Don't worry about it."
Yuno looked, in her naïve and trusting way, supremely unconvinced.
"Are you upset because you gained a few kilos?" Miyako grinned, poking at Hiro's perfectly reasonable belly. Hiro's eyes flashed in a way that was certainly unlike her, and she smacked Miyako's hand away.
"No! I said don't worry about it," she looked apologetic right after, but did little more than mutter a quick, "Sorry."
Miyako was surprised, and a little hurt. A little friendly teasing had never really angered anybody among their circle as much as embarrassed, especially Hiro.
"Yuno, Miyako? Is that you? You can come in if you like," Yuno and Miyako looked at one another, thinking that this looked to be a less pleasant time than originally thought. But an irritated Hiro, with a casually inviting turn of her head, beckoned them to follow her back inside. The apartment was dark, and they found Sae sitting in her desk chair, stretched back to look at the ceiling. One toe extended pushed against the floor, tilting her back, and a pencil was clenched in the side of her mouth. They might have thought that she was in the middle of composing a manuscript for her novel project, but her desk was bare. The only thing she looked was preoccupied, but she smiled lightly when she saw the two enter. Her eyes showed more worry when they let them fall on Hiro, who refused to meet her gaze. Yuno and Miyako felt quite uncomfortable being in the same room with these two, and the latter couldn't even bring herself to inquire about snacks.
"I thought I'd see them in," Hiro said, still refusing to look at Sae, "But I'm still going now," she turned and walked back to the door with a measured pace. Whether this was to avoid appearing reluctant or relieved Yuno couldn't tell.
"Hiro, come on, don't go yet," Sae turned her head to plead with the other girl, but though Hiro hesitated for a moment, she didn't stop, and nobody could see what was on her face. The door closed with a soft click. Sae exhaled explosively and let her chair fall back hard on all fours, muttering something under her breath that sounded somewhat like a string of strong curses, though Yuno didn't want to assume. As though only just remembering that the other two were still here, she turned her head sharply to them with a wan smile.
"Sorry about that, me and Hiro are just having a little disagreement, don't you concern yourself with anything. So how have you two been, it must have been a week or more since we spoke?" They could tell by her affected nonchalance that Sae didn't want to talk about what had just happened.
"I'm doing well, Sae-san."
Sae smiled, "Should have guessed, you two probably don't have much to worry about." Her mouth twisted with just an edge of bitterness, but then she shook her head, angry at herself, "Ah, don't pay attention to me."
"It's okay," Yuno said consolingly, and fixed Sae with the sort of sympathetic, concerned, caring, and just a little sad expression that only Yuno could really manage, and only then because she wasn't aware that she could do it. Yuno searched for the most tactful way to ask what was going on, while Sae softened under her gaze.
"Yo, what's up with you and Hiro-san? I was just assaulted a moment ago, what'd you say to her?" Miyako continued for her, though she hadn't quite put as much thought into tactfulness.
"Assaulted?" Sae said sharply, raising her eyebrow.
"Yeah, how can a poor little girl like me stand against a ferocious fighter like Hiro-san?" Miyako made a cowering motion, crouching down a bit, and Sae snorted. Mostly because Hiro wouldn't do such a thing, and also because even with Miyako cowering down a bit, she could still have looked Hiro at eye level.
"She just got made at Miya-chan poking her tummy and slapped her hand away," Yuno explained, "But that's still so unlike Hiro-san. I mean, not the slap, but how angry she looked."
"Look you two, don't worry about it. Hiro is having some problems, and I'll be able to help her with them. As soon as she lets me anyway. Friends don't always get along, you know, things will be fine before you know it."
"Are you sure we can't do anything, Sae-san?" Yuno asked earnestly.
"I'm sure, Yuno. Everything will be back to how it was soon... I hope very soon. I sure do miss... never mind." Sae had started to turn red as she always did when embarrassed, and Yuno wondered why.
"Uh-oh! Are there boys involved?" Miyako butted in. Yuno expected Sae to get angry, whether it was true or not. Instead, after looking startled, she started chuckling, still a little red.
"No, definitely no boys involved, Miyako. I can promise you that. Now really, you two don't need to concern yourselves with this. Now don't you two have some unpacking to do or something? I don't mean to run you off, but..."
"We understand, Sae-san," Yuno said kindly, "We'll go now," she grabbed Miyako's hand and led her out as well to make sure her sometimes insightful, but more often less-than, friend followed. Yuno shut the door, leaving Sae alone in the dark with her thoughts. They looked to Hiro's door and, neither of them saying anything, walked the other way. Miyako, however, was not one to dwell uselessly on matters she could not change at the moment.
"Hey, Yuno-chi, I guess you're buying lunch?" Yuno blinked, and might have thought something along the lines of Miyako not caring about her friends, but one look at her face told otherwise. Miyako could be spontaneous, sometimes dim, and always a little spastic, so it was easy to underestimate her. Yuno was one who knew Miyako well enough to see her own worries echoed in Miyako's face, and also enough to see that her friend was trying to cheer her up. So she put on a brave face and a small smile, nodding and walking back towards town.