The rest of the school day passed much more pleasantly for Yuno and Miyako, their teacher's words fresh in their mind throughout. Yuno stopped worrying about her world becoming a little more mixed up, and Miyako stopped worrying about Yuno worrying, and without either of them worrying about things that didn't need to be worried about, they had a distinctly less worrisome first day back at school, at least right up until they walked out.
Yuno loosed along, low moan of discontent, "That's something you're not supposed see in the summer," she said, looking at the gray, overcast sky. It had been clear the last time she'd seen outside, but at some point afterward a low cloud bank had come to blanket the sky clear to the horizon.
"Don't worry, Yuno-chi, it's probably just a silly summer shower that will be gone in an hour."
"Hey you two, wait up!" Their two older friends followed them out of the building and joined them.
"Sae-san, Hiro-san, how did your first day go?" Yuno asked the beaming pair.
"Fantastic!" Sae started, "All of my classes are great. I'm only taking the academic classes that I need to graduate, so it doesn't look like those are going to be really hard, but my writing and art courses are perfect. They're serious and challenging, and the teachers actually manage to treat you like you know what you're doing."
"I'm doing well too, Yuno-san," Hiro added afterwards, "I've finally stopped thinking about it, and decided to take a culinary arts class this year. I'm looking forward to trying some new things in my kitchen, I hope you'll help me decide if I'm doing it right."
"For the sake of Hiro-san, I would go miles out of my way," Miyako pledged her future assistance.
"How about you two?" Sae asked.
"It feels a lot like last year, actually," Yuno grinned, "Especially with Yoshinoya teaching us again. Math is still math and history is still history, but I still have hopes for this year being even better than last."
"So, did Miss Yoshinoya take you out somewhere for a sketching assignment like usual?"
"Not today, she said she didn't want the Principal to see her."
"Right, right, not with that military get-up. I wonder if she'll ever mellow out on those things, it would make the Principal go easier on her," Sae shook her head.
"What did you do today, then?" Hiro spoke up.
"We still did sketches," Miyako said, "Just in the classroom. I got to draw Yuno-chi."
Yuno nodded, "And I did Miya-chan."
"Can I see, or did she keep them?"
Yuno and Miyako pulled out their sketch pads and handed them to Sae. She handed one to Hiro and they flipped them open.
"Hey, this is really good," Sae said, loosing a low whistle as she looked over Yuno's pad, "That's Miyako for sure, I swear she's gonna jump right out at me, and probably fall over," Miyako stuck her tongue out at the grinning Sae, then turned to Hiro.
"Well? How about mine?" She asked eagerly. Hiro chewed a lip.
"Why do you have two of them, Miya-chan? And full-body sketches?" Miyako looked blank for a moment, then brightened.
"Oh, no! Turn a couple of pages over," she instructed. Yuno looked over at Miyako sharply. So the sketches from the other night had been sketches of her? But would Miyako really be that embarrassed about having sketched Yuno? Unless... imagination running away with her, Yuno started thinking of ample reasons why Miyako wouldn't want to show her the sketches. She firmly clamped down on them, though, thinking that Hiro probably would have exhibited more of a reaction in that case. A light intake of breath from Hiro told them that she'd come to the real sketch.
"These are really, really good." Hiro echoed, looking between them both, "Setting a new standard for yourselves this early in the year?"
"No, no, it's nothing like that." Yuno said, waving a hand at Hiro abashed. Unseen by Yuno and Miyako, their friends shared a concerned glance. Yuno kept an apprehensive eye fixed on the sky. She didn't like rain much, too often it seemed as though the quality of her day would go downhill with the quality of the weather. That, certainly, was the last thing she needed to happen now.
Then the downpour came.
First a few lonesome drops, that Yuno only noticed from the spots that appeared on the pavement, then sheets and sheets of wet coursed down from the clouds, instantly blanketing them and their clothes in moisture. Yuno was suddenly very thankful for her school bag's glossy waterproof finish as she hoisted it above her head to keep off the rain. She and the others broke into a light jog across the street. Miyako was in front of her, and Yuno noticed with chagrin that her backpack was cloth; moreover, it didn't look at all in good repair. Yuno kept pace with her friend and used her own pack to shield Miyako's instead of herself until they'd reached the safety of the apartment overhangs. Yuno had her eyes closed to ward off the rainwater, so she didn't notice when Miyako stopped, accidentally hitting her in the back of the head with her pack. Miyako turned back to her, took in the situation at a glance and flashed a quirky grin in thanks. Then Miyako shook her head, scattering rainwater everywhere, to the dismay of Hiro and Sae and amusement of Yuno.
"Thanks, Yuno-chi, I'd have hated for my pad and things to get wet. Didn't do much for you, though." Miyako ruffled Yuno's wet hair. They looked at one another for a moment, then laughed freely at the sight of one another's bedraggled appearance.
"Um, Hiro, I think they're okay after all," Sae whispered as she observed them.
"Goodness knows I thought they were being silly earlier, they must have gotten over it," Hiro agreed.
The pairs separated at the stairs, Sae and Hiro going to their respective rooms while Yuno and Miyako headed up.
"See you later, Miya-chan," Yuno waved as she left Miyako by her door. Yuno walked in and closed her door, then leaned back against it, counting to thirty.
Outside, Miyako opened her door and slung her pack in, then closed it and went downstairs. She was already soaked, and it wasn't a cold rain, so she reasoned there wasn't anything keeping her from going to the supermarket right now. Coming off the last step down, she saw Sae leaving her room as well, though she had found the time to fetch an umbrella.
"Miyako?" Sae asked, "What are you up too?"
"I was going to the Berry Mart, I have a need for ice-cream."
"Since when do you have money for something like that?" Sae asked, a little bluntly, but truthfully. Also on her mind were the times that she'd covered one of Miyako's cravings, which could have played a part in her bluntness. Miyako wasn't the type to take offense, so answered without rancor.
"I saw fit to deem this an serious matter and dip into my emergency funds. Although, if you're really worried, you could always treat me?"
"Well then, I'll be on my way."
"No, Sae-san, I'm Miyako."
"No, you..." Sae took a patient breath, "Yuno, behind you."
"Oh!" Miyako turned around.
"Miya-chan?" Yuno started out of her thoughts, she hadn't been paying attention and only now noticed the two girls at the bottom of the stairs.
"So where are you headed, Yuno?" Sae asked her.
"Um... um... the supermarket!" Yuno covered lamely. Sae shook her head.
"You've been hanging out with Miyako too much, don't tell me you were planning on going without an umbrella too?"
"Oh!" Yuno yelped, "I'll go get it... but, I just remembered, I have homework to do, bye!" She vanished back to the above path and presumably to her room.
"We had homework...?" Miyako mumbled to herself, "It can wait," she decided. She started to march off into the rain which still came down in moderate amounts, though lessened significantly since that initial deluge. She was stopped by an irritated grab at her shoulder.
"Oh no you don't, I don't want to have to deal with you getting a cold or something. Under the umbrella." Sae commanded, "I'm heading over to the market too, we'll go together."
Yuno peeked out of her water-streaked window, and saw them leaving. She walked thankfully outside again, this time making it to Hiro's door without incident.
"Hello? Please, do come in!" Yuno heard from the other side of the sunny yellow door after she'd knocked, and she opened it gratefully.
"Yes, Yuno, is there something I can do for you?" Hiro asked politely from her table, where she sat reading a book. She picked up a thin bookmark with a light periwinkle tassel and set it to the pages before closing it and motioning for Yuno to come sit and join her. Yuno nodded mutely and took the invitation, sitting down across from her friend. She couldn't quite form what words she needed to start, but Hiro, watching her sit wordlessly, took that need away from her.
"I was expecting you to come some time today, just not quite so early."
"Eh? You were expecting me?"
"Yes, Yuno, you can be that easy to read. Especially when you're nice enough to put yourself down on paper like that," Hiro explained with a kind smile, "Something is troubling you, so of course I would be expecting you, as your upperclassman and your friend. What can I do for you?"
Yuno still squirmed, not knowing how to bring up what she really wanted to talk about, so instead focused on the first thing that caught her eye, "What's that you're reading, Hiro-san?" Hiro looked surprised, then slightly embarrassed.
"This? It's, er, it's the first story Sae got published, it's always been one of my favorites."
"Oh?" Yuno replied inquiringly, her curiosity sparked.
"Mm-hmm. I didn't even know about her work back then, you know how secretive she tries to be about her writing. Even though we'd been friends for so long." Hiro looked thoughtful. "We had both just moved into the Hidamari apartments for our first year of school," Hiro smiled and flushed, "I was afraid that she had become upset with me, because suddenly I hardly ever saw her or talked with her, even during school."
"I can't believe Sae-san didn't tell you why, you must have been worried."
"A little bit, yes. But I learned about her writing later, and you already know about all that. It's not a very interesting sto--"
"No, Hiro-san! There's more to tell, I can feel it," Yuno always liked a good story. It rather sounded like Hiro had a reason for this book being her favorite.
"Well, if you really want to hear it, okay. One day soon I noticed she wasn't in the classes that we shared, and I got more worried about her. All the times I had tried to go to her apartment before, it had been dark, and she hadn't answered. I had just assumed she wasn't there, even when I was sure she was. But this day I went over and found her... well, you've seen how she gets if she runs into a deadline before she's ready." Yuno nodded, Sae could forget to sleep, eat, go to school... which only worked for so long.
"She was so exhausted, she'd been working for twenty-four hours straight by then. It wasn't hard to convince her that she needed to get some rest, and while she slept I could help but take a little peek at what she was doing. That's how I learned about her writing and pen name. I felt bad for her, all alone with a task like that, so I took the liberty of straightening up her room and having a meal ready for when she woke up. At first she wasn't too happy, because she felt that she had 'wasted' time by sleeping, and was horribly embarrassed that I'd found out about her novel, but I hushed her and fed her, and that seemed to make her feel better; especially when I said I liked her writing. I think that's about when we started getting especially close. Every day after school she would go back to work, while I would keep her company and make her meals so that she could spend time on her book and still be able to eat. Honestly, she's so hopeless."
"How sweet!" Yuno interrupted, then clamped a hand over her mouth, "Sorry, but that's a really nice story."
"I do like to remember it."
"So you like this book because it reminds you of that time?"
"Mm-hmm. She was still new at her job, then, and she didn't get quite so serious about it. There was the eating and sleeping thing, but back then she never got as stressed and irritable as she can now. I think she's told me before that it's a lot easier to start a story than end one, maybe that's why she gets so grumpy nowadays."
"That could be it," Yuno agreed.
"I sure am glad she wasn't always like that, though, or who knows how things might have worked out."
"What do you mean?"
"You know how you have to tiptoe around her during deadline time?" Yuno nodded.
"I didn't have to do that before. I would stay in her apartment the whole time, doing laundry and dishes and cooking, whatever I could to help her out, and she wouldn't mind."
"That sure doesn't sound like Sae-san from now."
"No, but she'll be finishing this serialization soon, perhaps we'll get to see her like that again before long."
"That would probably make things nicer for you, Hiro-san."
"It would. Now, wait, didn't you have a problem you needed help with?"
"It can wait, I have to hear this, you said something about 'how things might have worked out'?"
"Fine, fine," Hiro relented, it was sort of nice to talk about anyway, "It was a few of months into that first year by then. Even though I knew about her work and wanted to help, she wouldn't let me read through her manuscripts, she was too shy. I kept up with her writing when it was released, though. She would always blush whenever I talked about anything in her novels, which I found--and still find, she still does it after all--absolutely adorable, the way she'd fiddle with her glasses and be so modest. But anyway, we'd continued the system we had from before when it would get close to deadline, me almost moving in with her for those few days, and a certain fortunate misunderstanding happened while I was over there on one of them."
"You probably don't know, but sometimes Sae likes to read her lines out loud, to see how they sound in real life, to make sure she likes them. Used to be that she didn't have anybody around to overhear, so she got into the habit of doing that. The first few times confused me, because I didn't know that she wasn't talking to me, but later I learned to take it in stride. I tried not to point out when she did it, either, because she would always get so self-conscious and all out of her stride," Hiro started giggling now, uncontrollably, and it took her a minute to regain her composure while Yuno sat fidgeting.
"Ah, but moving on. Unknown to me, she'd hit a writer's block, and decided to do what you might call the writer's equivalent of 'doodling'. You remember that story she was working on near the end of last year? The Nanami and Kensuke one?"
"According to her, this was when the idea for that particular story first started taking shape. It took her a long time to actually write it. So she had switched from her regular story to this one, and the first scene she had in her mind was the confession part. You know that Sae prefers to write from personal experience, so even though she wrote it out, she thought it didn't sound correct. To try and figure out what was wrong with it, she read it out loud."
"Oh no, Sae-san. She must have been so embarrassed!"
"Something like that," Hiro replied, a dreamy smile on her face. "I was in the kitchen, preparing something for her dinner, when I overheard her talking. I had learned not to pay attention to everything that she said aloud, but she didn't have a confession in the story she was working on then. I thought she was confessing to me." Yuno gasped, and Hiro laughed, "So when she was done, I was blushing to my toes, just staring at the pot of water I was trying to boil. I didn't know what to say, and I said so, 'Sae-san, I don't know what to say, this is all so sudden. But if it's you Sae, I could...,' I got that far before she just turned around and started blurting out apologies and explanations, and I had no idea what she was so distressed about. It didn't matter, though, by the time we sat down and everything was sorted out, it was like she had confessed anyway, because she knew what my answer would have been. She actually told me that she really did like me, and wanted to confess, but couldn't bring herself to it. She was trying to express herself in writing then."
"That's so romantic, Hiro-san," Yuno said, all caught up in the story.
"You think so? I always thought it was a little awkward and silly, but it's nice of you to say so. Oh, and she didn't think the confession in the story sounded wrong after that. Now it was a personal experience."
"Yes, about that," Yuno started in earnest, sensing a path to her original concern, "When she said it, how did you know how to answer? How did you know you were in love?"
"I hadn't really known it until then. I don't know how I didn't know, I had all the usual symptoms, but hadn't admitted it to myself until she came out and asked me like that. I guess being in love with your best friend isn't something you tend to consider that often. I think I was lucky to find out as soon as I did."
"So you didn't know for sure before," Yuno said dejectedly. Hiro raised an eyebrow at her sudden change of mood.
"Yuno-san, you don't mean to say--do you think you might be in love?"
"Maybe," Yuno replied evasively. Hiro turned very serious.
"Have you been, ah, 'seeing' this person at all?"
"About a year now."
"That long! Yuno, you've been hiding someone from us, I didn't even suspect," Hiro grinned at her, "Okay, could it be love, then? Hmm... how does this person make you feel?"
"Er... you mean like," Yuno paused for thought, "Well, I'm always happier when they're around, and all those other usual things, you know. All warm and tingly and light-headed, like I just want float away."
"You've been seeing each other for a year," Hiro repeated thoughtfully, and a scary thought struck her, "Yuno, don't tell me that you, that is, have you, you know....?"
"What? No! I mean... just that first kiss."
"You're first kiss! So, how was it?" Hiro asked, somewhat relieved that it had only gone that far, it was hard not to feel like a protective older sister for Yuno.
"Ah, different than I thought it would be."
"Well, I wasn't expecting it, you saw, and she was asleep," Hiro looked blank for the span of a few heartbeats.
"You, you mean. Yuno, are you talking about Miya-chan?"
Yuno nodded wordlessly.
"Oh! Oh, ooooooohhhh." Hiro said a few times, drawing the last out wonderingly, "So, what you wanted to know whether you really felt about her that way! But, Yuno, isn't this a little fast? You know you probably shouldn't really consider that a first kiss--"
"I know, Hiro-san. But, just like that wasn't really meant to be a confession from Sae-san but it made you think about it anyway," Yuno trailed off, letting Hiro make the implied connection.
"I see. Not a real kiss, but it made you think about it? There is one big difference though, Yuno."
"With Sae and I, we both talked about our feelings after the not-real confession. You and Miya-chan didn't do that. So, if you think you might feel this way, you're going to have to tell her."
"But I couldn't do that!"
"Why not, Yuno? You'll never know if you don't try."
"But what if she says no--that's besides the point. I mean, of course she would say no! I don't even know why I'm thinking like this, she's my best friend!"
"Exactly, so what? Sae's my best friend now. Why can't you be in love with Miya-chan and be her best friend? I think it would be pretty silly for the person you love not to be your best friend too."
"Well, but, this is different..."
"Yuno-san, honestly," Hiro looked sternly at her, deciding that a heavier hand was needed in this case, "Haven't you read any romance stories with best friends? Don't they always go through this, 'oh no they're my best friend! That can't be it'?"
"Yeah, but usually it's with a boy and a girl, not two girls, I thought it might work different..." Hiro sighed, tapping a finger to her temple.
"No, Yuno, it's not really that different. Love is love, after all, boy or girl or girl or boy. I mean, there are the really obvious differences, but trust me, those don't really matter that much," Yuno blushed, and Hiro continued, "So yes, this is the same. Don't let yourself go through that silly little phase. I think I'm nearly as surprised as you apparently are--Miya-chan, really?--but this part I do know: you're not going to feel right until you talk to her about it."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, Yuno, I'm sure," she said firmly, "Like you said, you're best friends anyway. If she says no, you two can still be best friends. If she says yes... well, I'll let you find out those things for yourself. But if you don't say anything, you'll always wonder what might have happened if you had. That's not fun to do."
"No," Yuno agreed fervently, and bowed her head.
"But how do I just come out and talk to her about it?" Yuno pleaded for more advice.
"That's something else you'll have to figure out for yourself. You know how this works, the plan you get from a friend wouldn't work out anyway."
"Now now, cheer up. Doesn't it feel nice being in love?"
Yuno groaned again, and she laid her head on the table.
Miyako ran and jumped through the puddles in the road while Sae looked on, chuckling at her exuberance. She folded up her umbrella, which hadn't come in very handy. Just a few minutes into their walk the rain had slackened to next to nothing, quickly as it had started. She walked with the closed umbrella swinging at her side, hanging back a little bit from Miyako. Her clothes had just started to dry out, she didn't want to get sprayed. Like she probably would have if she had been closer, when Miyako took a flying leap feet-first into a large, filled pothole. Miyako stood, leaning over, in the miniature cascade she had created, staring at the ground for a few seconds.
"You're a lot better at keeping up with me."
"Better than who?"
"Yuno-chi. It's probably because you have longer legs."
The walked, or walked and jumped, a little further. On one landing, Miyako spun to face Sae.
"Hey, Sae-san. About this morning, that didn't really count, did it?"
"Count as what?"
"A first kiss. I mean, I was asleep. You can't have a first kiss when somebody is asleep, can you?"
"Depends on how literal you want to be about that. You were most certainly locking lips together, and I must say that it looked remarkably like a kiss. But what's with this now? I thought you'd forgotten about that already."
"I dunno. It's important to me, for some reason. I thought I should find out if that counted as a kiss," she looked sidelong at Sae, "And I thought you would be an authority on the subject."
Sae flushed scarlet, but didn't argue back, "Maybe I am. So what, you don't want to think that your first kiss went to Yuno? Fine. I'm going to say... that it depends on who you were dreaming about--must have been a fun dream, from the looks of it. The kiss counted if you were dreaming about Yuno, it didn't if you weren't. Therefore, it doesn't count."
"That sounds very well thought out, Sae-san, very logical," Miyako praised, and Sae grinned.
"However, I have found the key flaw in your line of reasoning!"
"Oh? I have to hear this."
"You had quite an important assumption in there. The thing is, who I was dreaming about maaaaaaaaay have been--"
"Miyako, I'm not in the mood for your gags right now."
"What? Wait, no, I'm being serious!"
"As serious as your romance scenes."
"Now wait, what's that supposed to mean?"
"I mean really serious this time! Are you saying you don't take your own writing seriously?"
"Of course I do! But this--so you want me to believe that you've suddenly stumbled upon secret feelings of love for Yuno, sometime this morning?"
"That makes it sound a little silly, Sae-san," Miyako pouted.
"That's the idea."
"But you're making assumptions again."
"I wouldn't say that I stumbled upon them sometime this morning. They were more like... that really fancy painting that you buy to put in your living room, because you think it looks kind of nice, but then you forget about it for a long time because now it's just part of the room you see every day, but then one day you're bored and you take a closer look at it and think, 'wow, I'm glad I got this when I saw it! I thought it just looked nice, but this is really very deep and pleasant' and you start to notice all the little details for the first time."
There was a long pause.
"Yeah, it's something like that," Miyako stated again unecessarily.
"So... Yuno's friendship is the 'nice-looking painting', and then you just accepted that for what it was, but now you've taken a closer look, and suddenly you've realized that you feel a little more than friendship?" Sae hoped she was getting Miyako's analogy right.
"Right. I just hadn't been paying attention. I do that a lot. I can be a little forgetful, and I had other things to do, you know."
"Like jumping in puddles?"
"Exactly, like jumping in puddles," Miyako nodded sagely, "And I thought that would be hard for somebody else to understand. I underestimated you, Sae-san."
"Miyako," Sae sighed in frustration, "Well now. So you really believe all this? You're sure you're remembering right?" Sae couldn't think of much else to say right now.
"Well, I think so. It was dark in my dream--there'd been an earthquake you know--so I didn't get a good look at her, but she was short, and I certainly think she could have been Yuno-chi."
"Are you even sure she was a she?"
"Well, you're not sure who it was, though. What do you think when you try to match her up with Yuno?"
"Actually, I think," Sae stared, astonished. Was Miyako blushing? Seriously? She couldn't believe it, but there it was, "I usually think that I would like to try that again some time, when I'm not asleep."
"Really now? How interesting. Any more details?" Sae asked, a little viciously, though in mostly good humour. It wasn't often that she ever thought she would be able to tease Miyako, but that blush had suggested she might get away with it.
"Sae-san, you're a pervert!"
"What?! No, I'm not, I just," Miyako grinned at her. Teasing attempt failed. Sae shook her head.
"Never mind. Well now, I guess there's only one thing left for you to do."
"What's that? Oh, wait, I get behind her and you push?"
Sae blinked at her, then stared hard at her unblinkingly cheery face. She thought it must have been at least a full minute later before Miyako finally cracked.
"Okay, fine. I guess she should be awake, too. So what do I need to do now, Miss Sae? Or should I call you Mrs. Hiro? You should probably clear that up at some point."
"Shut up for a moment."
"Right. What you're going to need to do, of course, is confess."
"Oh, is that all? I was expecting something complicated." Miyako wiped her brow with exaggerated relief.
"W-what?" Sae spluttered, "What do you mean, 'is that all?'"
"Well, I was just exp--"
"Never mind! Have you even thought about what happens if she says no, or how to go about it, or anything?"
"Should I?" Miyako looked innocently at her.
"Um... I guess you don't technically have to," Sae admitted. Fretting usually didn't do anybody any good, and it's not like planning had helped Sae out at all in that crucial step.
"Then what's the problem?"
"You're hopeless, Miyako. Don't you have a romantic bone in your body?"
"My bones are at least fifty percent romantic. Then there's fifty percent Doberman, fifty percent Cocker Spaniel, fifty percent Dalmatian, and fifty percent GUTS!" Miyako grinned broadly and ran off again, jumping through puddles once more in the direction of the super market.
"What the heck does that even mean?!" Sae called after her, but she received no answer.