"Hello, Hiro-san, Sae-san!"
"Hi honey, I'm home!â
"Hey guys, you better come have some of Hiro's miso and steamed meat buns before we finish them all,"at the sound of the latter, Miyako's eyes flew wide open and she ran into the room.
"But I thought they didn't sell those at this time of year!"
"I made them, silly,"Hiro smiled at her, "Just because I knew you liked them so much.â
"Thanks! I love you, Hiro-san!" Miyako took two great exaggerated steps towards her with her arms open wide, then stopped stock-still and looked at Sae.
"I'm not going to die, am I?â
Sae gritted her teeth, "Not unless you keep that up, Miyako!â
"Then you won't mind if I give her a--â
Miyako flopped to the floor, "Okay, so does this mean I can join in? I noticed you two seemed to like sitting.â
"Miyako, I think that's plenty enough!" Sae looked as though she may have been approaching a crimson color yet undiscovered by humanity. Yuno hid a small grin and sat down at the table, listening to their back-and-forth. Miyako always seemed to have a knack for taking things so un-seriously that nobody could have felt awkward even if they had wanted to. Yuno thought that she was perhaps laying it on a little thick today, but it seemed to be working.
"How long are you going to bug us about that? Can't people forget themselves once in a while without being reminded of it every day!?â
"It hasn't been a day yet, Sae-san, that was only an hour or two ago. Say, how long did it take you to cook, Hiro-san?â
"That's a quick subject change, Miya-chan. Not too long, we took a trip down to the store and I was able to prepare everything in about forty-five minutes.â
"Oh, I see. So then the time it took you to--â
"Subject change my foot, Hiro! She's still got her mind--â
"What? I thought it would be useful to know how long it takes for those kinds of things, knowledge is power and everything.â
"What kind of power could you get from that!?â
"The ways of the force are mysterious indeed, Sae.â
"Now what nonsense are you spouting?â
"Is there any seasoning you like for your soup, Yuno-san?" Hiro offered cordially, looking fondly over at the bickering friends, "Isn't it nice of Miya-chan to set Sae's mind at ease like that?â
"No, thank you. But you thought so too, Hiro-san?â
"Of course. Things wouldn't be the same without Miya-chan talking like she does, and Sae talking back like she does. Miya-chan is letting her know that there's no secrets, and no reasons for them, between friends.â
"It's true," Yuno said simply, "And this soup is delicious.â
"Isn't it a little heavy for you this time of year, though?" Hiro looked at her, wincing.
"No, no, Hiro-san! You look great, no diet necessary, but I'm just not used to you making food like this.â
"Well... I didn't really eat the past couple of days, I was getting hungry. I thought it would be okay if it was like that..." Hiro explained self-consciously.
"Oh. Hiro-san, what happened? You still look bothered about something, even though you and Sae-san made up. And why didn't you have rent or tuition this year?" Hiro twirled a loose lock of hair around her finger, and hung her head.
"Like we said, no secrets among friends," Hiro took a deep breath, and looked back up. "It's my parents, Yuno. No no, they're okay!" Hiro quickly filled in, seeing the look of shock on Yuno's face, "It's just that..." Hiro looked as though she were having trouble continuing.
"They're on the conservative side," Sae spoke up. Unnoticed to Yuno and Hiro, she and Miyako had stopped their banter and turned to listen to the more serious conversation, "And they have pretty traditional views on gender roles and marriage,"she let that sink in for Yuno and Miyako.
"Even so, I knew I needed to tell them that I... wasn't going to be bringing home a husband. They knew Sae, and liked her even though she didn't quite fit in to their mold of a proper young lady. Probably because you were always so courteous and polite, Sae," Hiro smiled at her, "So I thought that maybe if it was her, my parents would be able to accept it. But they didn't," Yuno and Miyako had twin looks of dawning realization on their faces, the pieces clicking into place. Sae continued again for Hiro, seeing that she didn't want to relive the experience more than she had to.
"So they said she wasn't going back to 'that school', and definitely wouldn't be coming back to the apartments where I was." Hiro nodded at her in thanks, but picked up her face, putting on a brave expression.
"I was just able to convince them to let me come pick up my things without their escort--I told them I was going to be saying goodbye, which wasn't really a lie when I said it--and I think you two know everything after that," Hiro faced Sae again, a hopeful expression on her face, "Really, I think if they just have some time to think about it, my parents will calm down, Sae. Really.â
"I'm sure they will, I think so too." Sae replied comfortingly, and laid a hand atop Hiro's. Yuno thought she looked hesitant, and not so convinced. The small girl struggled to think of a new subject to bring up away from this uncomfortable area.
"Hiro-san, now that you're going to be going to school after all, don't you need to go register for what classes you're going to take?â
"No, I already took care of that months ago. I though I was going to have to go let the school know I wasn't attending today, but now that my tuition is paid it's just like any other year.â
"Oh, I see," Yuno nodded.
"What classes do you take anyway?" Miyako popped in.
"Me?" Hiro placed a hand demurely to her breast, "Nothing fancy, just the regular classes and a third year general arts class. Why do you ask, Miya-chan?â
"I thought you might be taking a sculpting class.â
"Sculpting? Why on earth would you think I'm a sculptor?"
"Oh, Miya-chan, hahaha," Yuno interrupted quickly, shooting her a pleading look to not say any more, then she faced Hiro, "We were just... um, talking about what kind of art you might do here, Hiro-san, and she somehow became convinced that you must be a sculptor.â
"No such luck, Miya-chan." Hiro answered, "I'm not specially talented at any kind of art like you three are.â
"Oh no, Hiro-san, I'm not that good at all."
"Hey, Hiro, I don't have any special talent.â
"I'm specially talented? Neat!"
-The three girls, sans Miyako, protested, but Hiro just smiled.
"No, you're paintings are lovely, Yuno. Sae, you're getting much better with your drawing, I bet you'll be good enough to start illustrating your own works soon, and Miya-chan... I'm not sure what you do, exactly, but I bet your mind looks like an abstract piece of art."
Miyako nodded her head sagely, "Curses, Hiro-san, you stumbled onto my secret. On the outside known to the world: Miyako," she gestured grandiosely, posing with her chest thrust out and hands on her hips. Then she tilted her head to the side and twisted her mouth grotesquely, crossed her eyes, and pulled her nose and one eyelid to the sides with her hands, "And on the inside: Miya:picasso, eccentric genius!" She turned to Yuno and puckered at her with sucked-in fishy lips until the other girl covered her eyes.
"Yaaah! Stop with that face, Miya-chan, please," Sae and Hiro started laughing, and Miyako resorted her features and joined them. After a moment, Yuno did as well.
"So why are you here, Hiro-san, if you aren't focusing on being some kind of artist?â
"Right now the only other thing I could think of is interior design or culinary school, but those cost a lot more money to go to than just an art-focused private secondary school. I can still work on a sense of artsy-ness that will go well if I decide I still want to do something like that, and I don't have to make any expensive choices yet.â
"From what she told me," Said said, addressing Yuno and Miyako, "She had to talk pretty fast so her parents would let her come here."
"That too," Hiro agreed, "When I was looking at schools, I was, um, already pretty sure that I didn't quite share all their views, and didn't really look forward to going to one of the schools they wanted me to go too. I ended up talking a lot about how since this school was in a smaller town, it wouldn't have any 'urban youth corruption', and other such things, along with bringing up that it was cheaper than their schools, too.â
"Wow," Yuno said, eyes dreamy, "It's sort of funny, now that I think of it, but Hiro-san is a rebel in her family," They all thought about that, the demure and proper ladylike Hiro: a rebellious teen. This sent everybody, even Hiro, into another fit of giggles.
"Can I ride your motorcycle later, Hiro-san?" Miyako asked grinning.
"Sorry, but I have a cause, so I don't need a motorcycle," Hiro answered with a straight face. Sae and Yuno looked blank, but Miyakoâ”who, like Hiro, had happened to see that movieâ”laughed.
"What's that got to do with anything?" Sae asked.
"Nothing really." Hiro answered, "There's just an old American movie called 'Rebel Without A Cause' that's something of a classic, and it featured a violent young man with a motorcycle." They might not have seen the movie, but Sae and Yuno had heard enough similar things about biker gangs to grin at trying to plug Hiro into those positions. Yuno recalled something Hiro had said earlier, and spoke to Sae.
"Hiro-san said you were getting good with your illustrations, Sae-san, but I just wondered something. If you have to write the story and do the art, won't that make it impossible to meet your deadlines?
"Nah. One of the reasons I'm so stressed out by deadlines right now is because my co-creator can't even start drawing until they get my manuscript, so whenever I'm late I'm taking time from somebody else. I think it's only for this series that I really have to worry about my deadlines. I could probably work out a better schedule with somebody, and get some more respect from an editor, after I get established in the business.â
"Wouldn't that be nice for you, Sae?" Hiro smiled warmly at her, and Sae nodded.
"It sure would," Yuno agreed, "So when do you think you'll feel confident enough in your work to start illustrating yourself?â
"Soon, Yuno, soon. Did you hear about the new third-year art teacher?" Yuno and Miyako shook their heads.
"According to what I've heard, he used to want to be a mangaka, but ended up favoring teaching instead. There are rumors that he still draws doujinshi under a pen name. I made sure to transfer to his class when I heard he was hired, and I bet he can help me loads.â
"Lucky!" Miyako congratulated her good fortune.
"Say, Yuno, Miya-chan, what about you two? Sae already has a future in her novels, and I've said what I still have thoughts for. What kinds of things do you want to do when you get out of school?"
"Not a clue," Miyako said simply, and all three others felt bad when they weren't at all surprised with that answer.
"And you, Yuno?â
"Um... I don't really know. I really like painting, but I don't know if I'm very good, and I've heard it's hard to make a career as just a painter.â
"I don't think that's true," Hiro spoke up, "Maybe not selling pieces that you paint on your own, but you could maybe do okay with commissions.â
"Yeah," Sae added, "You know, book covers or portraits or murals, things like that. You could still find time to try and sell your own pieces as well. You should probably have some kind of backup plan just in case, though, or a little career to get you through hard times," Sae sounded just like a guiding older sister, as she often managed to, "Do you have any idea what else you might like to do?â
"Ah... I'm not sure. Could I just be a secretary or something like that? Oh, but I'm not too terribly organized, and I can be forgetful...â
"How about a teacher?" Miyako suggested, "Like Miss Yoshinoya."
Everybody fell silent, and they all found themselves imagining Yuno dancing about at the front of a classroom in some form of either adorably cute or embarrassingly revealing outfit.
"Or at least a teacher, you don't have to be too much like her," Hiro amended the suggestion, "In fact, I really could see you as an elementary school teacher, Yuno, you seem like you would be good with children.â
"Of course she does, she's best friends with Miyako over there," Sae jerked her thumb over at the beaming girl.
"Eternally youthful," Miyako replied with absolutely no hint of having been offended, "So I never end up a grouchy grandpa like Sae-san."
"Hey, I act plenty young, and... wait, what do you mean by 'grandpa?'â
"Oh, is Hiro-san the grandpa then?â
"We can both be grandmas!â
"I can tell, grouchy grouchy.â
"H-e-e-e-y now, young whipper-snappers, quit yappin' and carrin' on now." Three startled sets of eyes came to rest on Hiro-san, who had just done a remarkably passable impersonation of a crotchety old man.
"I'll be the grandfather, Sae, you can knit the socks and bake everybody cookies, I'll just take it easy in my chair and yell at the television," Hiro smiled.
"Hmm, maybe we could both be grandpa's then," Sae muttered loudly.
"You think that might confuse the grandchildren?" Yuno mused.
"Nah, you know how kids are these days," Sae said, then caught herself, "Jeez, I do make a good grandpa.â
"Miyako Picasso is right again!â
Yuno's long exhale echoed audibly in her bathroom. She started her bathwater running, and when it was full selected a deep, leafy green bath salt, feeling that it was a nice, spring-like color that made her think of growth and life. Immersing herself to the ears, she lay back and allowed her head to gently float on the surface of the bathwater. Like always, she valued this time for relaxation and thought. Today had been hectic, but here she was at the end of it, and everything was almost like it used to be. If anything, her friends seemed even closer now; she now knew exactly how close Sae and Hiro were, and they weren't keeping it a secret any long, which made Yuno feel as though they'd all taken a small step to a closer friendship. She let her mind drift through the day... seeing Miyako so early from getting off the train, running into Sae and Hiro like a car into a train wreck, piecing together everything... the morning wasn't fun, at least not most of it. Miyako had certainly done as much as she could to keep Yuno's spirits up. She felt warmer and safer with that thought, knowing that Miyako was right next door, somebody who cared about her that much. That brought to mind their conversation from before dinner with Sae and Hiro. Had Miyako held that thought? Yuno would have to ask about that.
Boys... that's what Miyako had asked her about. Yuno remembered Sae's long objections to speculation about her romantic history. According to her she had been gunning to single-handedly break every heart in the school, and had just about succeeded. It wasn't a big surprise that they hadn't believed her, a slightly bigger surprise was learning why Sae had always objected so strenuously. Sae must have known what Hiro's parents were like, so did she just express her profound interest in boys out of an act she had to put on for Hiro's parents? Yuno giggled. Their cool, collected friend could be awfully excitable sometimes, and those times usually coincided with Hiro being involved. Yuno sighed, wondering if she might ever make somebody lose their composure, if somebody might feel that way about her some day.
Romance. Surely it would come to her eventually. Her friends all told her she was cute, and she wasn't even out of high school yet, so she didn't need to think about it too much. But still, sometimes that fairytale love-at-first-sight, whirlwind romance seemed to be less and less of a possibility. She would stay confident and hopeful, though! It would happen, she would come face to face with somebody, and something would pass between them, and she would get butterflies in her tummy and feel all funny and warm inside. She would always smile when she saw them, and they would always smile back, and no matter what was going on, they would be happy together.
Hmm. But was she sure she would know it when it came? In the stories, the characters never really seemed to know at first, they would feel all funny, and maybe even sometimes they would ask themselves, "Is this love?â, but a lot of times too they would end up not knowing about it or trying to convince themselves that it wasn't love, and while that could make for a good story, Yuno didn't want that to happen to her. Was there any time she could think of that she might have felt something like that, even a little bit, so she would recognize the feeling when it was for real? She thought deeply, trying to think of any time, with anybody, she might have felt anything like the passing or the tummy or the warmth...
"Yuno-chi!"A voice echoed in her mind. What was that? Yuno frowned... she supposed, yes, with Miyako. Today when she had met Miyako and been with her in person for the first time in a few months, hadn't she felt something peculiar? When her friend had looked so deeply into her eyes, or when she had held her after they'd seen their friends so upset and angry and Yuno had broken down, or later when in a friendly little scuffle Miyako had grabbed her arms; hadn't she felt oddly lightheaded, and her tummy had done flips and felt weird, and she felt so warm and content inside... wasn't that odd? What a coincidence. Maybe love felt something like that. Probably a good deal bigger, though, she thought. Yes, well now she thought she had an idea of the feelings, all she had to do was wait for somebody to come along and make her feel like that, and that would be the person for her.
"Yuno-chi? Yoo-hoo, helloooo, Yuno-chi?" Yuno's eyes fluttered open, the resonant voice floating through her memory. Or, was it? She lifter her head clear of the surface, and listened for what she thought might be Miyako calling her. Instead of another call, the bathroom door slid open and she was there.
"M-Miya-chan!" Yuno yelped, covering up with her hands out of reflex, pulse jumping though this wasn't the first time Miyako had just popped in during her bath, "What's the matter?â
"I think I lost my number three pencil, do you have an extra?â
"Sure, it's, um... it's in my bedside table, in a little box in the drawer."
"Thanks, Yuno-chi,"she left, and Yuno heard her rummaging and then leaving.
"I'll return it tomorrow. I just felt like sketching tonight, can't sleep," Miyako called over her shoulder before she left. Yuno breathed deeply, sinking back in the water and trying to slow her heartrate, going back to her previous thoughts. Yeah, it sure would be nice when somebody came along who would make her pulse race, and her insides do flips, and warm her heart. She couldn't wait.
She finished her bath and dressed in pajamas. Setting her alarm, she climbed into bed and slid under the covers. Unlike Miyako, the day had exhausted her, and she fell right asleep. She had vague, ethereal dreams. She was laying somewhere, but couldn't quite see. It felt like there was somebody next to her, and it felt like the most important thing in the world to look at them, but she wouldn't turn around. She started fidgeting, wanting to look but not looking, but then the world started to come into view. The soft, subdued light of a golden-amber sun shone down on her as she lay on a carpet of fine, fine yellow grass, smelling of flowers. A stream gurgled along above her head, out of sight. She swore that there was something worth hearing in that sound, but once again found it hard to focus on it anyway. Above her a light, gusting breeze blew over, cleaner than any air she had ever breathed, and as it caressed her cheeks she felt the odd compulsion to touch it back, but it was only wind. Despite her odd, uneasy and unfulfillable desires, the sun was warm, and the breeze gentle, and the brook lulled her senses with its music, and she was content.