Estrogen - Chapter Eleven
I like to think that after Christmas break, Erika and I grew closer emotionally. Perhaps it’s the fact that we have spoken so much in so little amount of time so that we could now understand each other even better. The things that Erika likes, dislikes, fears, admires… I’d like to think that I’ve gotten a better grasp on them. I think I saw Nagataka-kun again during this Christmas break, and I am proud to say that I reacted no differently to him. It was as if I finally could shed the coloured lenses through which I had been looking at him. With this renewed knowledge, I’ve gotten to know Nagataka-kun as a person rather than a character in my own little made-up shoujo manga.
This year, it was as a given that we would help celebrate Ito-sempai’s birthday again. Of course, Hoshimura-sempai called the club’s president and asked her since they were so far away on a road trip. The president agreed with a wide grin on her lips, but Reika was the only one who couldn’t help but roll her eyes. I nudged her and she made a face but said nothing further. I wondered, next year, when one of us may become the president, will she react the same way to Hoshimura-sempai as all the predecessors have been?
Well, I knew that if Erika was nominated the president, she certainly would react with a calm attitude.
“Seriously, what is wrong with our club’s president?” As we were packing up to leave, Reika finally couldn’t contain herself anymore and asked quite boldly. I gasped loudly and quickly looked up to see that everyone else had gone home. Even Erika looked at Reika with some surprise in her eyes. “Can’t she see that my sister is only using her?”
I think both Erika and I were a little taken back by what Reika said, and I wanted to refute that Hoshimura-sempai wasn’t like that. However, before the argument could reach my throat, I realized that I didn’t even have any ground to say that. Reika was Hoshimura-sempai’s younger sister; of course she would know Hoshimura-sempai better than I.
“And Shina-oneechan as well, what is wrong with her?”
“Hoshimura-kun, perhaps you’re reacting a bit too…” Erika started, wanting to interject before this gets any further.
“No, Maki-sempai and Megumi-san, you don’t understand. My sister looks all nice and considerate, but really, she is the most selfish person. Other than the people she cares about, everyone else is just a stepping stone for her. Do you honestly think she cares about the club president or Shina-oneechan?” The younger sister seemed unstoppable; it appeared that she truly was annoyed. “Everyone goes along with whatever she wants, that’s why she’s so spoiled like this!”
Those words shook me more than I should have let them. A part of me did not want to believe in Reika’s words at all, but another part of me thought back to my interactions with Hoshimura-sempai and found that other than superficial information, I didn’t know anything about her. Heck, I didn’t even know that she’s been dating Fujimaru-sempai until a few days ago.
Reika left first, still in some sort of an annoyed mood. Erika and I walked home in a somewhat mild version of silence; I didn’t quite know what to say in regards to all that Reika had ranted about not long ago.
“Do you think it’s true?”
“What Hoshimura-kun said?”
“Who knows.” Erika sighed lightly and squeezed my hand. “Perhaps it is, perhaps it’s not. Truthfully, I think I’m more selfish because I don’t really care too much about it. Right now, I’m surprised by what she’s said, but I know that when I wake up tomorrow, I probably won’t even remember what Hoshimura-kun had said.”
Maybe it was just me who liked sentimentalities more than others? I’d like to think that with those whom I’ve treated with all my heart, they would treat me the same as well. Maybe it hurt my ego a little, broke my confidence a little, shattered my heart a little to know that Hoshimura-sempai may not even regard us as friends.
But then, why would Hoshimura-sempai go to the trouble of asking Reika to look out for Erika and me?
“Fujimaru-sempai, what is Hoshimura-sempai like to you?”
“Just because I’m dating her doesn’t mean you can bombard me with questions about her. If you’re so curious, go ask her yourself.”
“No, it’s just that… Reika said some things… that were a bit disturbing…”
Fujimaru-sempai paused and glanced over at me slowly, I wondered if she was gauging at whether I was serious or not. Or maybe she was wondering if she should be wasting the time to speak with me about such unimportant things.
“What did that girl tell you?”
“She said that Hoshimura-sempai is a selfish person who doesn’t care about anyone at all. She said that other than the people who Hoshimura-sempai cares about, everyone else is just a stepping stone for her.” It was a cathartic release, as if I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to repeat what Reika had said. It felt like a great, big release of energy for me.
Fujimaru-sempai was silent for a while, she continued on with her work as if she’s never even heard me.
“… Did the two of them have a fight?” Finally, I couldn’t stand the silence anymore and offered my own explanation.
“You know, Megumi,” it was rare to hear her call my name “you seem a little too interested in other people’s business and relationships. Don’t you have a relationship of your own that you should be more concerned about?”
I flushed immediately and looked away. “It’s not like that, I was just curious about the validity behind what Reika had said. I mean, I don’t have to know everything, I was just curious.” I kept on mumbling my own excuses and tried to calm down my thrashing heart.
“Will you be coming to Shina’s party tonight?”
“Ah yes. Will sempai be there?”
“I will be. At that party, why don’t you assess what sort of a person she is for yourself?”
We decided to hold the party in the auditorium like last year; it was slowly becoming a habit now. Whenever there was a reason for celebration, the auditorium would be rented out. Unlike last year, Reika was here, and Fujimaru-sempai was here early as well. It looked like she didn’t have an emergency work schedule like last year. I noticed the four of them talking amongst themselves and felt as if there was an invisible barrier that prevented everyone else from intruding.
I looked around the place for someone I knew, my friends could be seen laughing away and I headed towards them immediately. “Where is Erika?”
“Ah, she was sent on an errand since she was a bit early. They said she’ll be back later.” Chiharu replied quickly before prodding Hitomi to continue her story from moments ago. Of course, we all stood around and listened, but I found my eyes ticking back to Hoshimura-sempai as she spoke with a smile, looked at Fujimaru-sempai with a smile, draped an arm around Ito-sempai casually and patted Reika’s cheek with a smile.
How could someone like that be what Reika had just described?
Then Ito-sempai pushed her arm away, and Reika slapped her hand away. Hoshimura-sempai looked at them with such a pitiful face that I couldn’t help but smile. Eventually, that group dissolved as Fujimaru-sempai was surrounded by her own fans. Reika had her own friends to hang around with. The birthday girl had her own gifts to receive.
So she was alone.
And suddenly, she looked up and our eyes connected with that single glance. I gasped and wanted to avert my eyes immediately, but Hoshimura-sempai had already lifted a hand and waved me over. I blinked and looked around as if waiting for someone to give me an answer, but everyone around me was engaged in their own conversation; even my friends didn’t notice my lack of attention. When I looked back to Hoshimura-sempai again, she was jabbing her thumb in the direction of behind the stage, without a choice I followed her.
Behind the many folds of the large stage curtain, she was sitting on the stage and smiled at me as I grew closer. In this dim lighting and secluded area that was just the two of us, I was apprehensive when approaching. She was intimidating, attractive and charismatic, I always feel as if my heart would give out on me.
“Ah, it’s always so loud out there; this place is good for a conversation that I don’t have to yell over three hundred other people.”
I laughed at that and stopped a few feet away from her, very careful of the distance between us. I wasn’t brave enough to move in any closer.
“How are your games coming along, sempai? I don’t even get to see any of them!”
“They’re fine.” She shrugged and lifted a foot to rest against the ledge of the stage. “We lose some, we win some. Of course, we hope to win more than we lose. If you ever want to come out and see us play, just let Reika know and I’ll get you tickets.”
“Thank you, sempai!”
“Nothing for it.” She waved a dismissive hand and looked at me thoughtfully. “I heard from Asura that you’ve received reviews on what you did in that magazine.”
“How are they?”
I sniffed and scrunched up my nose lightly with a slight pout. “It was okay. I’ve received some really nice compliments and some really mean words too. Sempai said that it’s pretty normal for a first timer and that I should focus on those with constructive criticism. It’s so much harder than I thought to please everyone!”
Hoshimura-sempai smiled and shook her head. “It’s unrealistic to please everyone, Megumi-chan. You have to do what you feel is right, and hopefully there will be others in this world who agree with you. There will always be those who don’t like what you do.”
I nodded slowly in understanding, but it was still a bitter pill to swallow. Hoshimura-sempai crooked her finger and beckoned me closer, my mind registered it and waved warning flags, but my feet had already begun moving. Just a few steps closer, I told myself.
“Don’t give me that face.” Hoshimura-sempai said gently and patted my head. “You’ll do just fine. I’m sure one day everyone will be dying to grab the latest release from your mind. Hang in there; it’s always the toughest at the beginning.”
How Reika could call this person selfish, I would never understand. To me, Hoshimura-sempai was perhaps the kindest person I’ve met in my life. No matter the situation, she’s always taken notice of me and took care of me. She’s always cared and encouraged me. Everything just gives a justification to my rushing heart beats every time I see her.
“Natsuki, Shina is going to open your present now, do you want to be there?”
Behind us, Fujimaru-sempai had stepped into this little territory that we have fenced out for ourselves and she had just stepped in easily.
“Ah, is that so?” Hoshimura-sempai jumped down from the stage at that notification, and I quickly stepped back so we wouldn’t be too crowded.
“I think I’m going to go find my friends now!” I bowed to Hoshimura-sempai before I made my exit. At the threshold of the curtains, I paused and glanced behind me at the two of them. Hoshimura-sempai had stepped closer to Fujimaru-sempai and wiped something off of her cheek. Then she leaned down and kissed her lightly. From my angle, I could see the soft gaze that Fujimaru-sempai looked at Hoshimura-sempai with.
I wondered if I have the same expression when I look at Erika.
Speaking of the devil! After a few seconds of looking around the auditorium, I spotted her up in one of the balcony seats and smiled immediately. I knew this auditorium like the back of my hand, thus getting up to where Erika was posed no problem. I opened the door quietly and slipped inside.
She jumped and turned around to face me, I gave her a cheeky grin for startling her before I stepped closer. “Where did you go?”
“I was sent on an errand to buy more drinks. It seemed that we were running out. I didn’t think so many people would show up.”
“I think more people are here to get a glimpse of Fujimaru-sempai than anything else.”
“You’re probably right.” Erika leaned against the balcony railing and looked back at me. “Where have you been?”
“I was speaking with Hoshimura-sempai and…” I blushed lightly and cleared my throat; my eyes couldn’t help but tick towards where I just was. Of course, no one was there now, since both Hoshimura-sempai and Fujimaru-sempai were next to Ito-sempai.
“It’s embarrassing!” I exclaimed and touched my cheek, it was practically burning up. “As I was leaving, I saw the two of them kiss.”
Though I knew it was natural for a couple to do, but when I glanced back and saw that scene, it was as if I saw something I shouldn’t have seen. Apparently, Erika didn’t see it the same way that I did.
“Why is that embarrassing?”
“I don’t know!”
For a long moment, she looked at me; I almost wanted to fidget underneath her bold gaze. Then she smiled and held out a hand towards me. I lifted an eyebrow but put my hand in hers anyways. Her fingers closed around my hand and she tugged me closer to her. I followed as she led, until we were both tucked behind the curtains of the balcony seat, wrapped in deep red velvet.
In that tiny little space, she leaned down and kissed me.
Even hours later, I still flush at that memory. Erika had certainly locked lips with others for her plays, but for her, to have kissed a significant other, that was the first time also. Needless to say, that was my first kiss. I remembered how fast my heart was beating; I thought I was going to die of suffocation. There was no skill in what happened, both of us acted according to sensations and feelings rather than knowledge of what should be done.
It was our precious first step forward.
That did not change the basic foundations of our relationship. We carried on as if it never happened, but both of us knew intrinsically that another level had just been breached. The two of us still went to school together, went to club activities together and would return home together sometimes. Reika was the only one who knew about our relationship, but despite appearances, she was rather efficient at keeping a secret.
Just like this, each day moved forward, every day was yet another ordinary day. However, it was filled with warmth with the knowledge that there was someone waiting for me.
On Valentine’s Day, I could finally shed the negative light that had shrouded last Valentine’s Day. This year, I was determined to make it up to Erika for how I behaved last year. Besides, this year, I knew where my feelings stood and Nagataka-kun was no where near the equation.
“Megumi, are you going to give anyone chocolate this year?” Fuuyu arrived earlier today and sat down on my desk with a plop. Erika was already at morning practice, thus, I was sitting in the classroom alone, reading
“No, what about you?” Of course, that was a lie. There was already a pack of chocolate inside my school bag, but I couldn’t possibly let my friends know. I felt uncomfortable lying to them, but at the same time, a part of me knew that it was necessary.
“Me either.” She sighed and her shoulders fell. “You know, I had envisioned a senior high life where I’d have a boyfriend to hang out with! So on Valentine’s Day, I could give him home-made chocolate.”
I listened to her vision with a smile, for it was the same as my vision as well. Although the details weren’t the same as how I had wanted it to be, but I’m not complaining one bit.
“Aren’t you going to give Hoshimura-sempai chocolate? You two seem quite close, and you’re friends with Hoshimura Reika as well.”
“Eh?!” I exclaimed loudly in shock. “Why would you think that I’d give Hoshimura-sempai any chocolate?”
“I don’t know; it seemed like you had a crush on her.” Fuuyu gave me a look as if I were an idiot for making her state the obvious.
“That’s not true!” I shook my head furiously and just wanted to get that absurd idea out of her head. It would be bad if she went and talked to Erika about this. Even though I knew that Erika wouldn’t behave unreasonably, but I didn’t want to give her any reason to feel miserable on Valentine’s Day. “But…” Another part of me was working already. “If I were to date a girl, how would you react?”
“If you date Hoshimura-sempai, I’m going to rip out your intestines and burn you alive.” That was definitely not a good sign! “I mean, come on! Hoshimura-sempai is practically an idol, whom wouldn’t want to date her?”
“No, no, I meant… what if I was to date a regular girl. You know, to actually settle and have a relationship versus just chasing after idols.”
Fuuyu was silent and she gazed at me with question in her eyes. I wondered if I had gone too far with my questions and have made her suspicious of me. Just when I was about to laugh it off, Fuuyu answered with a shrug. “Truthfully, I don’t think I’d take it well.” The smile that I was just about to lift died away and I looked at her. “I mean… joking about Hoshimura-sempai is one thing, but actually dating a girl is something else. I can’t say that I’ll encourage it, but… if it’s a close friend of mine, I may try to talk her out of it.”
It was the answer that I expected, but still, it hurt. Class started shortly after and I offered Erika the best smile I could manage. Fuuyu was honest and did not apologize for her biases; it would be safe for me to extrapolate her reaction to the rest of my friends as well. Heck, not just my friends, my family would freak out for sure.
This road that I had chosen, I knew that it was just going to get tougher as times goes on.
After school, Erika and I met at the back entrance of school and left separately from the rest of the group. We made up some excuse and made our get away. When far away enough from the places that people from our school usually hang out, we were finally able to step a bit closer to one another and join our hands.
It gave me comfort to know that she wasn’t going to disappear.
“What movie do you want to see?”
“The new 3D release!”
“Let’s hope there are still seats, it’s way too popular.”
We walked and talked casually, two people enjoying a nice conversation with one another without worrying about external issues. It was our first real date and I was determined to not let anything interfere with the atmosphere. I felt that even with the smallest things, there was happiness knowing that there was someone else with me. Be it buying the tickets or buying the drinks, we were together, we decided together. I was probably going a bit too crazy, but then there she was, keeping me in check. The movie was amazing! And watching it in 3D just made it all the more amazing. Erika mentioned that perhaps the future will mean that everyone will enjoy all the T.V. programs in 3D, right in our living rooms. I couldn’t even imagine what that would be like; would anyone be able to get up from their couch then?
Later at night, we walked back to my house with swinging hands. Usually, we’d be just a little bit more cautious, but tonight, we wanted to let go of all inhibition. At my door, I fumbled around in my bag and handed Erika a gift wrapped box of chocolate.
“I made it myself.” I admitted with a sheepish laugh. “Try it carefully, if it tastes funny, just throw it away.” I wasn’t confident in my culinary abilities at all, and I had no wish to poison Erika. She accepted it with a smile and handed a gift wrapped box to me as well.
“I’m sure this is not poisonous, but same rules apply. If you don’t like it, just throw it away.”
So the both of us held our own box of chocolate and I don’t know about her, but I felt giddy inside. It was my first time receiving chocolate from someone, and it was definitely the first time I made chocolates by myself as well. Even for Nagataka last year, I had gone out and bought a box.
“Good night, Megumi-chan, I’ll see you at school tomorrow.”
Then she leaned in and I gathered a breath of strength to meet her half way. The kiss was chaste like the first one we shared, but it was laced sweet with the drinks that we had earlier the night. I watched her departing view until she was out of sight before I entered my house. My parents were already asleep and my sister didn’t even pay me attention. So I slipped back into my room and put a chocolate into my mouth immediately. There were thirty of them, I counted carefully and tucked them away in a drawer. Each day, I will limit myself to one, so I can sustain this taste of happiness for longer.
Just when the box of chocolate was going to be finished, I met my other half. Of course, it will never replace Erika’s position in my heart, but it held a position just as dear. It was after school, Erika stayed behind to practice for the summer play and I went off to work. Exiting Fujimaru-sempai’s place, I was charged with the duty of personally delivering something for Fujimaru-sempai. In this foreign neighbourhood, just as I was returning home, it caught my attention with a small whimper. I turned to look and saw a tiny puppy against a wall. It looked pitiful in its weak and skinny state and I couldn’t help but return to it and pet it gently. It licked at my hand and I remembered I still had some water in my bag. Quickly I found it and poured some out into my cupped hand for it to drink from.
Needless to say, it extended far beyond just giving it water. The puppy followed me with every step I took. Oh I was tempted and I was heart broken. I knew that I could not bring it home, because my mom will just throw it out again and I would hate to see it linger around my house to remind me of my pain every single day. In fact, I was so determined that I had even gotten onto the bus without a glance back. Yet just one stop and I couldn’t help it.
So I got off at the next station and traced my footsteps back. The puppy was where I found it, licking at the ground where a couple droplets of water might have fallen.
I knew I was caught.
I wrapped the puppy in my scarf and held it close to my body. Without a choice, I could only head to the only other place I know. A few seconds after I had pressed the door bell, the door opened and Erika looked at me with a couple of blinks. She was still in her school uniform, not having had the chance to change yet.
“What am I going to do?”
And then she followed my gaze and saw the puppy in my arms. In a flash, she understood.
To be continued...