Estrogen - Chapter Ten
Even though it was only after a weekend, when we went back to school again, it seemed like we had enjoyed a month-long vacation. Perhaps it took everyone by surprise how friendly Reika and I have become with one another. Previously, we spoke no word to one another; now, we spoke as if we were the best of friends. Sometimes, I would catch Erika looking over with a sort of mild confusion at the situation. She had expressed that she found it rather peculiar that Reika and I could become friends so fast when just a couple of weeks ago, I had regarded Reika as the worst human being in this world.
“Are you jealous?” I couldn’t help but tease her playfully.
“Jealous? Who was the one who confessed to me with tears in her eyes and snot running out of her nose?”
The first time she rebutted my question with that, I had gasped and pouted. I vowed to never speak to her again, but of course, that vow only lasted five minutes. I knew that I was more embarrassed than angry. Looking back, I really wish I could have better composed myself in front of Erika. I had wanted to appear cool, or maybe cute, or maybe strong, or maybe… well, maybe many other things, but not a disgrace.
“I think you were cute. I’ll always remember that moment.”
Well, at least one of us saw the positive light in that situation.
Before I knew it, December was already upon us, and another year threatened to give away with a few more weeks of sleep. It also meant that the craziest time of the year was upon us once again. Much like last year, we managed to survive through the last stages of the play and finally were able to present it to the rest of the school population. Then, immediately we plunged ourselves into studying for the exams that were coming up. Every day was filled, although I felt tired, it was a good kind of tired. I felt content and happy that I was able to utilize all the time I had to put my efforts into things that I really like.
The night before our math exam, Erika and I agreed to meet up and review one last time,
Instead of meeting at my place, this time, we decided to use her place. Now that I think about it, I’ve never been to Erika’s place before. Of course, it wasn’t like she’s objected to us going over, but… there just never seemed to be an opportunity where we could go over and visit. That day after school, we walked to her place. I found out that her place was a good distance away from my house, and I couldn’t help but feel guilty for all those times when she’s walked me home first.
“Sorry to intrude!” I spoke up at the foyer, seeing as this was the first time that I’d be meeting her family.
“Ah, sorry, it’s my fault. You don’t have to do that, no one is home.”
Erika had gone around and turned on all the lights before coming back to me. “I live with my dad, and he’s usually always away on business, so you can say I pretty much live here alone.” She explained and took over my bag as I was fighting with my shoes.
“Oh.” I looked around the empty house and almost wanted to cry.
“I’ve bought food for us; we can eat upstairs while we review, what do you think?” Erika carried on as usual, I can tell that she was used to this… this empty house and the echoing of her voice as she spoke to me. If she’s always stayed by herself, was there any opportunity for her to even have a conversation with anyone?
“Erika…” At the kitchen door way, I watched as she prepared the items to take up with her. I remembered how she had cooked for me last Christmas, now I know why she was such a good cook.
“Yeah?” She turned around and paused when she saw my expression. Then she smiled and walked over to me. “What’s with that face? I’m fine.” She patted my head gently when I still looked unconvinced. “Besides, you’re here now, aren’t you?”
I nodded slowly, but this feeling still did not lift away. “Erika… in the future, will it be okay if I come over often? When your dad is away?”
“Silly. You’re welcome over any time. Regardless of whether my dad is here or not.”
The family that I have, I think I’ve always taken it for granted. Ninety percent of the time, there was always someone home with it. I would always have warm food when I want it, and I could always find someone to have a conversation with. Sometimes, I used to complain that my household was too loud and the house was too small because everything could be heard. However, now as I climb up the stairs behind Erika, I realized that such an empty house scared me. This hollow feeling and the silent furniture overwhelmed me. If I were to live like this, I fear I may have gone insane long ago.
We had a quick dinner in her room on her floor table; I think I may have talked a little too much just because I was uncomfortable with the quietness of her house. It was almost natural to eat with her, and like usual, she ate all the carrots and mushrooms that I put aside. It was as if we’ve been at this for the entirety of our lives.
At eight o’clock we sat around that same floor table with our math textbooks spread open in front of us. Erika was better at most subjects than I, so even though we said it was review, she helped me with many problems and helped me grasp my foundations better for tomorrow. We’ve already put in the efforts of studying by ourselves, but somehow it seemed faster now that I have someone else to do these problems with.
“I can’t wait ‘till we get this over with, then we can finally be on break!” I said wistfully while writing out the calculations for the question that I was doing.
“We’ll have to get past this first, so let’s concentrate.”
That concentration lasted for a few more minutes before I broke it again.
“Erika, what do you want for Christmas?”
She paused for a couple of seconds and looked at me before resuming her own task. “And you? What do you want for Christmas?”
“I don’t know, surprise me.”
“Then, you surprise me too.”
I looked up at her and saw the slight curve of the corner of her lips; I pouted but couldn’t help my own smile either.
“Let’s spend Christmas together.”
“About that…” She seemed hesitant, and I stopped my writing to look at her. “I had been meaning to tell you… my dad is going to be back this Christmas and he wants to take a trip, so I won’t be here for a few days around Christmas. Sorry, Megumi.”
I couldn’t deny the fact that I was disappointed; it would have been the first Christmas we would spend together as a couple. It seemed like we were always doing things way behind schedule. But, I realized how selfish that thought was. Erika probably doesn’t get to see her dad often, so what’s wrong with spending Christmas with her dad? Besides, it’s not like there is an obligation to spend it together.
“Sorry, Megumi…” My silence had made Erika’s guilty expression deepen and I quickly shook my head.
“No, no, it’s nothing you should be sorry about, silly! He’s your dad, and you don’t get to see him often, so it’s only right that you spend it with him!”
Erika looked at me silently, and I could practically see the wheels turning in her head. She was trying to rationalize whether I was truly alright or whether I was just saying that. Giving her a displeased look, I turned and grabbed a pillow from her bed and tossed it at her face.
Gently, of course.
“Erika, snap out of it! I’ve already said that it’s alright, I mean it!” And I realized that I did mean it. “In fact, if you ditched your dad to stay with me, I will be really mad!” Not to mention I’d feel really guilty as well.
The pillow slid down from her face and she caught it before it fell further, her face showed me a grateful smile and I sighed in relief knowing that she’s finally understood. “Thank you, Megumi.” I shook my head at that. “But,” then she narrowed her eyes and her smile wasn’t out of kindness anymore, “did you just toss this at me?!”
I knew it was coming, but I still couldn’t move fast enough.
At the end of her sentence, Erika had thrown the pillow back at me. I squeaked and fell backwards trying to catch it. In the background, I heard Erika laugh and with a wild swing I threw the pillow back at her. Then quickly, I jumped up and reached for the other pillows on her bed as both projectiles and shields. Before I knew it, we were engaged in a serious war of pillows! In her room, pillows were tossed left and right, we moved all over the small space avoiding, dodging and aiming. That evening, her usually silent house exploded with our screams and squeals.
Our textbooks and work books remained silent on the floor table even after we’ve managed to calm down from our high. Both of us were sprawled out on the floor with pillows surrounding us left and right. We starred up at the ceiling and breathed with chests heaving. As if on cue, we glanced at each other and burst out laughing immediately afterwards. That night, we slept a little after midnight, squished on the same bed, with those pillows surrounding us.
In the darkness, we lay side by side and looked at each other. I wondered if anything was going to happen, but for the remaining minutes before we fell asleep, all we heard was each other’s breathing. She had smiled and placed her hand over my eyes, a sign that she meant for me to close my eyes and sleep. I reached up and pulled down her hand but I did not let go.
That night, we slept holding hands underneath the same duvet.
I must say, I think I aced that math exam the next day. From the beginning to the end, there wasn’t a question that I did not know how to do. Of course, there were those that I wasn’t quite sure, but… for me, such an achievement was great enough!
The three weeks allotted for our exams flew past without regret; soon, we were left with nothing but the thin layer of snow on the ground and the freezing weather to remind us that it is indeed the Christmas season. Erika and I saw each other again the day before she would leave, I sat on the floor of her room and watched as she packed for the trip.
“Where are you going?”
“Down south, I think. My dad mentioned something about hot springs and tropical flowers. Apparently, they were the themes of his photographs this time around.”
“Wah, I’m so jealous!” I puffed my cheeks and she laughed at my expression. “I’m going to be here freezing my butt off while you get to be in a hot spring!”
She walked over to me and pinched my cheek with affection. I’ve noticed that she liked to do that quite a lot. Every time she did that, I felt younger and younger; it was truly as if she had been spoiling me all along. “I’ll think of you when I’m in a hot spring. Of course, I’ll bring back lots of pictures so you can imagine that you were there too.”
“You’re making fun of me, aren’t you?!”
“I am not!”
For a moment, I looked at her, as if gauging her seriousness in that objection. In the end, we both wore a strained face from forcing ourselves to appear serious.
“When are you coming back?”
“On the thirtieth.”
“Do you know the exact time?”
Erika sighed and looked over at me; she had resumed her packing again. I gave her an innocent look, hoping to pass off as being a sweetheart rather than being overly intrusive. I was only curious!
“Why? Are you going to wait up for me?”
“Pfft, what are you talking about?!”
Lightly, we bickered with one another while I reminded her of the things that she should bring. We made a check list and at the end of the day, we managed to fit everything into her bag. It didn’t seem like she was going away for ten days, the bag could have been someone’s entire life, ready to immigrate to another country.
Early next morning, I groggily awoke up to the chime of my cell phone. Patting around for the device, I finally found it and flipped it open.
I’m leaving now, have a great Christmas!
Six o’clock, my digital clock blinked back at me and I groaned into my pillow. And thus, began my first Christmas with a girlfriend, but away from said girlfriend. Of course, I told my family that Erika was going away, but I couldn’t even find the guts to think about telling them about our relationship. I wondered if Erika could be open with her father, or would he react the same as my parents?
Yes, once in a while, I would realize these little problems and wonder just what the future would look like. Ten years from now, Erika had asked if we’d still be together. Right now, I just want to know whether we’ll still be together after ten months.
On Christmas day, we all snuggled in bed ‘till noon before my family rose and started walking about the hallways. The radio softly played Christmas carols and we opened our presents one after one, excitement laughed with our voices when we received something that we were particularly fond of.
“Oh Santa, it seems that I haven’t been good enough for you this year.” I spoke wistfully while we sat around the tree, enjoying a morning cup of tea and coffee. “What do I need to do for you to grant me a puppy?”
My dad sounded as if he was choking on the coffee he was drinking, my mom merely rolled her eyes and lightly swatted the back of my head. “Don’t ask for too much! You know we can’t have a dog running around here.” I pouted and rubbed where she hit me with great sadness. “But you can start with making yourself useful and go grab the morning paper. Maybe you’ll accumulate enough grace points that before you die, you’ll at least get to pet a puppy.”
See how vicious my mom’s tongue is!
“Yes, yes, I’m going.” Putting down my cup of tea, I struggled to get to my feet and shuffled to the front door. Unlike us, the newspaper delivery team was ever punctual and energized. Even on Christmas morn, they would still throw that rolled up stack of newspaper by seven o’clock sharp.
Taking in a deep breath, I readied myself and pulled open the door swiftly. I intended for the next string of action to be quick and painless so I wouldn’t have to suffer the cold of the winter air. So I would throw the door open, look down, bend down, grab that roll and…
My eyes wandered
… saw something colder than this winter air. In the driveway next to ours, Nagataka Jun and a girl were wrapped in each other’s arms, engaged in a passionate kiss. Usually, I would quickly turn away from such a provocative scene, but today, I couldn’t find the mechanical energy to move. It wasn’t until they had pulled away and Nagataka had noticed me did I realize that I had been starring for the past minute.
“Merry Christmas, Megumi-chan.” Nagataka greeted me with a little flush of embarrassment. “This is Aiko, my girlfriend.”
“Merry Christmas, Megumi-chan.” The girlfriend greeted with a bright smile on her face.
I’m sure I made some sort of a polite reply before I finally retreated back inside and closed the door behind me. Suddenly, it was as if my world felt bleak and bland, my limbs lost all its energy, that scene replayed in my head again and again. It accompanied me back to the living room where I dropped off the newspaper before numbly turning to go back to my room. I could hear my parents’ conversation, but it seemed so far away.
“What’s wrong with her? Do you think not getting a puppy has really traumatized her?”
“Oh please, she’s probably just cold.”
My mom was right, I was cold. Freezing, to be exact. When I returned to my room, I sat down on the edge of my bed and just starred in front of me at nothing in particular. I should be feeling a tumult of emotions, but instead, I felt nothing. However, I knew that it was the calm before the storm.
All of a sudden, this Christmas seemed to have been ruined.
On the twenty-ninth of December, I dragged myself to work after having moped around at home for the past four days. My parents were beginning to worry and even my sister was growing suspicious. I figured that I needed a reality check so I could go back and face my family as my old self. It was near noon when I stepped inside Fujimaru-sempai’s house, she was sitting in front of her table, apparently looking through a pile of photos.
“You didn’t have to come in today.” She looked surprised to see me.
“What’s wrong with you?”
I offered her no answer just yet. Instead, I took a seat across the table from her; my upper body was all but sprawled upon the table. The stack of photos I recognized, they were from the latest fashion show that she had attended. However, I made no effort to speak, and she didn’t pressure me into saying anything either.
“Sempai, I’m confused.” At length, I finally decided that I could start. It’s partly because I could finally place my feelings into words instead of them being a jumbled ball of chaos inside myself.
“A few days ago, I saw Nagataka-kun kissing his girlfriend.” To me, I still didn’t know which part I was more disturbed by. The fact that he had a girlfriend or the fact that he was intimate with his girlfriend? Perhaps it was a reflection on my part, since Erika and I have not done anything that would be deemed inappropriate… or appropriate?
“So what? You want to kiss his girlfriend too?”
I looked up at Fujimaru-sempai hopelessly and sighed before burying my head beneath an arm. “Why am I feeling this way? I’m dating Erika right now; I shouldn’t feel hurt even if Nagataka-kun was to get married tomorrow! This isn’t right! I feel like I’m cheating on Erika when I’m not even doing anything.”
“Cheating doesn’t just mean a physical betrayal.”
“No, cheating isn’t the right word to use! I just… I don’t know… she’s coming back tomorrow and I don’t want to face her like this!”
That was my biggest fear. I didn’t know how I could face Erika with the me right now. I waited for Fujimaru-sempai to retort in a sarcastic manner, but it never came. In fact, we were bathed in silence for a long duration before Fujimaru-sempai sighed and put down her pen to sit back. She looked at me calmly and spoke with a matching tone.
“Maybe you should feel guilty and shameful that you are behaving this way. Right now, the most important thing to work out is whom you are more inclined towards. It is unfair to Erika if you’re going to lead her on while you’re so unsure. Decide. Do you want to continue on with Erika or do you want to abandon her and chase after some next door neighbour like some pitiful little girl in a shoujo manga even though he was making out with his girlfriend?”
I don’t know what it is, maybe it was the way that she said it, but within those words, I saw a Nagataka-kun that I’ve never seen before. He’s always been some sort of a generic being to me, a person whom I’ve imposed my own ideals upon. I think it must have been all those shoujo manga that I’ve read, so I imagined myself as some sort of a female lead and fantasized for such a relationship. In reality, perhaps I’ve never truly known him.
“You have to understand that a relationship is not all flowers, stars, sweets, and everything nice. It’s ugly and it’s horrific and it’s life threatening. You can’t only look at the side of a relationship that you want to look at.” This was a Fujimaru-sempai whom I seldom saw, but I knew that she existed somewhere inside the fastidious model whom everyone knew. “Also, put more energy, effort and heart into your own relationship. It’s good to keep up-to-date with everything and everyone around you, but you need to concentrate to make it work as well. A relationship is a pact between two people, whether it works or falls apart depend on both people, not just on one. Of course, the bottom line in any relationship is respect and trust. You must be able to do that for one another.”
She made the relationship sound like a life or death situation, a contract that cannot be broken, a marriage that was holy, a vow that was binding. I was scared of the possibility that my relationship with Erika could be as serious as aforementioned metaphors or perhaps even more so. However, at the same time, I was inspired by this candid attitude that Fujimaru-sempai talked about a relationship. From her tone, I extracted the calm and clarity that I needed. Slowly, I lifted up my head and looked at Fujimaru-sempai evenly. I watched her and she watched me watch her.
“Sempai, you know what I’m confused about? How come I’ve never even heard a gossip about you being involved in a relationship with someone?”
“Because I don’t do ambiguous actions that would make anyone misunderstand.”
“Is sempai seeing anyone?”
“Yes, I am.”
I didn’t expect her to answer so frankly. A part of me was surprised, but another part of me sort of expected this answer to come. In fact, that part of me also foresaw and worked out the plot line of her love life. Carefully, I extended my hand out towards her. Today, she was wearing a shirt with plunging neckline, perhaps because she wasn’t expecting anyone today, so she could dress freely. My fingers touched the see-through chain around her neck and I paused. I almost expected Fujimaru-sempai to harshly slap my hand away, but she never did.
I wanted to confirm my suspicions.
So I tugged at the chain and pulled the pendant out from underneath her shirt. She kept her gaze on me while I looked at the pendant. “I’ve seen the other half.”
Later, I walked out of Fujimaru-sempai’s house with a renewed look on life and understanding of myself. On my way back, I couldn’t help but recall what Fujimaru-sempai had confessed to me while I fingered her pendant carefully.
She said she and Hoshimura-sempai have been dating for almost ten years now. It was a given that Hoshimura-sempai’s family have already accepted her. Which, I really should have already guessed when Reika called her Asura-oneechan. She said that they started dating in senior high and have been ever since then. She said that they didn’t need to see each other every single day to reassure each other of their feelings. She said that the biggest part of their relationship is the trust between the two of them. She said that she knew Hoshimura-sempai better than anyone else and vice versa. She said that it was a fight to keep this relationship, and it was an honour to be dating Hoshimura-sempai. She said…
She said many things.
But she didn’t say anything about her family. She didn’t say anything about the reactions of those who know. She didn’t say anything about the happy times they’ve spent together, nor did she say anything about the hardships the two of them went through.
But despite all that she’s said and all that she’s omitted, I heard the most important message. Every word she said meant love and the connection that the two of them shared, they held them together.
“Loving someone doesn’t mean that you need to be with them at all time. It means giving them support when they need it, and giving them space when they want it. It means possessing and to be possessed, it means having and to be had, it means giving and taking. And most importantly, it means giving them up if you know you cannot give them the happiness they want.”
She had said that with calculated precision, not one blink was out of place. Somehow, I think I was jealous; of this trust and connection between two people.
That night, I finally took out the envelope with the reviews that I’ve received for the first time. I had wanted to keep myself busy so time will pass by faster. I had wanted to clear my head, so the first thought that would enter afterwards would be the most desired one. I dumped pieces of papers onto my desk and looked through every single one of them. I was afraid that by the end of it, I would become bipolar. I experienced the highest of highs when I read reviews that absolutely worshipped what I had done. And on the flip side, I thought I was going to slash my wrist when I read the nastiest comments.
Such was the fashion world, or so I’ve been told.
When I looked up next, it was already near midnight. It also meant that I was in the first hour of the day that Erika will be back on. Every couple of hours, I woke up slowly. The sky outside would be dark and I would remind myself that it’s an unholy hour to wake up to do anything. My family would think that I’ve officially lost it. I was in a constant state of delirium, I wasn’t sure whether I was dreaming or whether I was awake and imagining things. Finally, just a bit after six in the morning, I couldn’t do this any further.
Erika said that she’d call the moment her dad dropped her off, so I didn’t even know the return time.
However, I still dressed myself and crept out of the house. Late December weather was bone chilling as I huddled closer to myself and walked on, facing the cruel wind. I was the first at the bus stop and even the bus was empty when I got on. On the way, I saw scenes of typical family life. And I wondered if in the future, I’ll be part of this general scene as well. Whom would I be with at that time? What sort of life will I be living at that time?
I pressed the door bell of Erika’s place and no one answered. I wasn’t surprised; I knew that Erika kept to her words. Stepping back, I sat down on the stone steps and leaned back against the brick wall. Fortunately, her front door was tucked back into the structure of the house and I was able to stay out of the freezing wind.
So I waited.
Every time a car would approach, my head would snap up and ears perk up in hopes that it would be Erika. After an hour, I’ve lost the energy for that. I would look at my cell phone from time to time just to make sure that she hasn’t called me, and slowly I stopped that as well. In the end, I leaned my head against my knees and stayed still. I didn’t want to exert any more energy than necessary.
It was the first time I’ve ever experienced such excruciating pain while waiting.
And I stirred to look up. Erika was standing in front of me with wide eyes and mouth; she had a backpack on her back and another bag in her hand. Her free hand was holding her keys and she looked ready to unlock the door if she hadn’t seen my pitiful form on the floor.
Her expression grew ever more confounded with each passing second, and I knew that she was truly shocked for she hasn’t even pulled me up yet. I moved my frozen facial muscles and gave her what I thought was a smile.
“I wanted to see you.”
Later, she scolded me harshly while I sat with a blanket around me and a cup of hot tea in my hands. I could only offer her an embarrassed smile as she talked on and on. She kept on repeating that she could not believe I would sit there and wait for her. Truthfully, I couldn’t believe it either. She asked me what I was thinking, and I could only repeat the fact that I wanted to see her.
I think that broke through her defence finally.
Throughout that day, I watched her unpack, followed her around like a puppy ‘till she ordered me to sit down. Over dinner, I confessed to her everything that I’ve told Fujimaru-sempai. She sat and listened to me patiently. She said that she was happy that I decided to tell her about my worries. She said that she was happy that I could be truthful with her. She said that I didn’t need to feel bad about such feelings and that we could just talk it out rather than do anything dramatic.
I think, somewhere in the conversation, I forgot to tell her that ten years in the future, I want to be with her when we’re going to be a part of that generic scene for the every day life that I saw.
To be continued...