Estrogen - Chapter Twelve
“What am I going to do?”
And then she followed my gaze and saw the puppy in my arms. In a flash, she understood. With a sigh, she stepped back and held the door open for me. It was disbelief and helplessness at the same time, but I knew that Erika wouldn’t refuse me. Perhaps I knew that a little too well and may be taking advantage of that right now. Just this once, I promised myself. Just this once and I’ll let her take advantage of me as well. Because when it comes to her, I can’t refuse either.
“Where did you find it?”
“Some district. I was delivering something for Fujimaru-sempai.” I answered and slowly unwrapped my scarf from around the puppy. It shook itself out and started sniffing the space between our feet. Even that looked like the cutest thing in the world. “Erika, please tell me you can take care of it.”
Erika was looking down at it with a passive face and for a second I thought she was going to refuse me. Then she straightened up and went into the kitchen. Upon returning, she had gathered a bowl of water for it and had set it down. I immediately smiled.
“Don’t look at me like that.”
“Like you’re going to break out into glitters and song!”
I giggled at her warning glance before lowering myself to pet the puppy. “I wonder if it’s a girl or boy.”
“Easy.” Erika bent over and reached to pick it up. One glance between its legs, she set it back down again. “Girl.”
“The romanticism of finding out slowly was just killed.”
“There was no romance to begin with!”
I pouted and resumed petting the puppy, now that we know it’s a she, I could at least narrow the range of names. “Can we call her Caramel?” It was the color of her fur that gave me such inspiration. And even Erika seemed impressed by it. So Caramel came into our lives, and I even wanted to joke that she was like our baby. Except, Erika looked less than impressed and I thought I should let her get used to the puppy first before saying that.
That evening, I stayed over at Erika’s place after having called my parents. Together, we played with the puppy, bathed and fed the puppy. She was weak and tired, but still wagged her tail with energy. The next morning, once she’s had enough sleep, we both realized just how hyperactive a puppy could be. She was our alarm clock and the hindrance to getting dressed. We were almost late for school, but both of us wore a smile as we walked to class together.
“I suppose if anything, she will teach me more about responsibility.” Erika concluded thoughtfully. “Now I know I’m returning home to her and will have more care in my bloodstream, I suppose.”
“Sorry, Erika. I didn’t mean to force her upon you like that, but it’s just that… you know… my parents would probably throw her right out. And she’s already been through so much, and…”
“It’s okay.” She cut me off with a smile and patted my cheek with affection. “You can come over whenever you want to see her. And I promise I will not kill her or starve her either. She might just be a bit lonely at home by herself all the time.”
But this was the best that we could do for her. In the future, when we are more able, we’ll make sure to build a happy and lively home for Caramel. It was somewhat sad that we would want to do so much for a puppy when sometimes I could care less about how I appeared or how messy my room was.
March was the month I had put hearts all around on my calendar. No one would understand that except for me. It seemed like I was good enough for Santa, for he did send me such a great gift. Between school, club activities and work, there was now Caramel to take care of as well. With the weeks that passed by, she grew in size as well. No longer was she small, weak and sickly looking, she was now a ball of energy.
It was tiring, but whenever I see her face, all of my worries just fade away.
One weekend in early April, we were finally able to show her to our friends. We had agreed to have a picnic in a nearby park since it was Hanami season. So Erika held our share of food while I made sure to keep Caramel on her leash, before we even approached our friends, they were already squealing at how cute Caramel was. She was not just loved by the two of us, but by everyone around us as well.
The pictures that we took were proof of that. Caramel appeared in more pictures than anyone else.
“You alright?” Erika asked me after I sneezed for the nth time, and I nodded at her with a pitiful smile. “Careful, don’t catch a cold.” Although April was already here, the weather was still a little too chilly for us to be wearing a thin kimono and out viewing sakura. However, the occasion and Caramel’s body heat gave me the false illusion that summer was just around the corner.
“Oh, whose puppy is this?”
From afar, the two Hoshimura sisters were walking up the hill towards us. I didn’t know why I felt a sudden pang in my heart when I saw Hoshimura-sempai’s face. I haven’t seen her ever since I’ve had that sleep over with Reika, and she looked as lively as ever. I watched as Caramel greeted the two of them with eager eyes and incessant tail wagging.
“Megumi here picked her up, and she’s named her Caramel.” Hitomi held nothing back and I almost wanted to smack her for having such a big mouth. On second thought, I didn’t know why that urge even came into my head. After all, I would have told Hoshimura-sempai sooner or later.
“Natsuki, why can’t we have a dog?” Reika looked at the puppy before addressing her sister. I noticed the seemingly lack of familial love between the two of them.
“Because, even if we get one, you would not take care of it. I’m away most of the time and mom has work as well, it will die of loneliness.”
Reika made a face and promptly took a seat next to Erika and me. She rolled her eyes heavily and reached for the food that had already been spread out. I couldn’t help but laugh at her expression before patting her on the back lightly. “I need to get myself a girlfriend and pick up a stray dog as well.” Reika commented to herself and my eyes widened immediately. My gaze ticked to my friends and I found that they were fussing over the puppy, Hoshimura-sempai, and the two of them together. “What? You haven’t told anyone yet?”
“No, we’re going to keep it between the two of us for a while longer.” Erika explained as I was watching my friends.
“Hoshimura-sempai, why didn’t you wear a kimono?” Fuuyu was currently pouting at Hoshimura-sempai with eyes that could rival the puppy’s.
“Are you serious? If I wore a kimono, no one would be able to go home alive today.”
That’s right; out of everyone here Hoshimura-sempai was the only one who showed up in pants, shirt and a blazer jacket. It almost seemed like she didn’t belong. Hoshimura-sempai looked over at me and offered a smile, before she could even open her mouth to say anything, my nose tickled and I quickly covered my nose and mouth as a sneeze ripped through me. For a second, it seemed to have stopped everyone’s movements and they all turned to look at me.
“You alright? I told you to wear a jacket.” Erika handed me a Kleenex but did not forget to scold me lightly.
“It’s a bit chilly out today.” Hoshimura-sempai started with a smile and I watched as she shrugged off her blazer before wrapping it around me. I felt the lingering body heat that transferred from her jacket to me. Immediately, my cheeks flushed and I could only mutter a thank you with embarrassment. “Careful, it’s best not to catch a cold.” She didn’t need to tell me the logic behind that. Besides, I felt Erika shuffle, but by the time I glanced over, she did not look anything but normal.
My fingers touched Hoshimura-sempai’s blazer shyly, it was as if it was a private situation where only I was able to experience Hoshimura-sempai’s kindness. This stirring within was unsettling, so I quickly dropped my hand and shifted closer to Erika.
I reminded myself that I was dating Erika now. Besides, Hoshimura-sempai has Fujimaru-sempai. Even if I were stupid, I would know that I cannot compare with Fujimaru-sempai.
We ate the food that we prepared and drank the drinks that we brought along. In the end, we cleared out all of the boxes and gathered to part with much satisfaction. Hoshimura-sempai had offered us a ride home since we had the puppy to look out for as well. In the car, we waved goodbye to Hitomi and the others before Hoshimura-sempai pulled out of the parking lot.
“Isn’t there a rule that national athletes can’t drive?” Erika spoke up after a while. Perhaps the silence in the car was a little too suffocating. Yet to me, I couldn’t help but feel that Erika was trying and going out of her way to come up with such a question.
“Eh? Why?” But I asked out of pure curiosity.
“Because they’re afraid that we’ll get into an accident and kill ourselves or something.” Hoshimura-sempai glanced at us from the rear view mirror and offered us a nonchalant shrug. “Yeah, there is supposed to be such a rule, but no one’s really enforced it, so we’re taking advantage of that.”
“It just means that Natsuki is bad at following rules.” Reika commented lightly, not hesitating one moment to divulge information about her sister at all.
And it was back to silence again. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was underlying tension I wasn’t aware of. Reika was just starring out the window and Erika was stroking Caramel’s fur casually. Hoshimura-sempai focused on the road and I glanced from one person to the other. The only one who was unaware of the situation was Caramel. Finally, as we grew closer to my house, I hugged Caramel again and again, unwilling to let her go. It was hard to see her often and heaven knows how much I miss her constantly! It was like a drug. Its addictive properties were so great that I’m scared of myself.
“Thank you for the ride back, Hoshimura-sempai.” I bowed and pushed the door open. I exchanged a smile with Erika before exiting. Behind me, I heard Hoshimura-sempai unbuckle her seat belt as well.
“I’ll walk you.”
There was no chance for me to refuse as she had already exited the car. Carefully, I shut the door behind me and followed Hoshimura-sempai up the front steps and onto the porch. There, I turned and bowed to her once again. “Thank you very much, sempai.”
“It’s nothing. Go on in, I’ll leave after you’ve entered safely.”
Under her eyes, everything was that much more excruciating. So I unlocked my door and let myself in. No one was home; my family probably went out to enjoy Hanami on their own accord as well. When I entered my room, in the mirror, I saw my flushed face and could not undermine this tumult of emotions. Upon closer examination, I also noticed how I still had Hoshimura-sempai’s blazer around me.
By the time I rushed to my window, the car was already gone.
Maybe I’ll just give it to Fujimaru-sempai instead, surely she sees Hoshimura-sempai more often than I.
Despite the hot drink and the hot water bath that I immersed myself in, a couple of days later, I began noticing the change of my voice and the stuffiness of my nose. It was coming, I could see it coming. The onset of a cold. My parents took no sympathy on me; my mother even scolded me for my own stupidity for wearing such a thin kimono out for Hanami when the weather was still rather chilly. I wondered if she didn’t understand my want of looking pretty for the occasion. She must have been young once in her life as well!
In school, all of my friends noticed my lethargic reaction to everything that went on around me. Once in a while, Erika would feel my forehead just to ascertain that I wasn’t under the influence of a fever. Everything was inclusive and I trudged on.
On the fourth day, I finally gave up and didn’t bother getting out of my bed. Even with three layers of duvet, I still felt like I was situated in Antarctica. The medicine wasn’t helping as much as they should have been and I just wanted to cry. This was such a crappy feeling. Next year, I’ll make sure to wear winter jackets to Hanami instead!
You weren’t in school today, did the cold get worse?
I replied to her while sniffing and was half influenced by my fever, in my mind; I replied coherently, I just hoped that reality didn’t prove me to be completely wrong.
Fever. Cough. Headache. Everything hurts. I just want to die!
Do you want me to go over?
That’s alright; I think my sister should be back soon.
Were you home alone for the entire day?
Yeah, my parents have work and my sister has school.
I see. Well, rest well. Get better soon.
I smiled at her response and returned to the land of the dead afterwards. I was vaguely aware of my sister coming back and bringing up a glass of water for me. Even though she could be a pest most of the time, when in need, she was still of my blood relative. Beneath the covers, I smiled and peeked at her cuteness while worrying over me. Does that make me a bad sister?
At dinner, I was half crouched over and still shivering, other than a few mouthfuls of porridge, I excused myself from the table and went back to dying. This is ridiculous! I couldn’t even remember the last time I was this sick! And at such an important time as well. Exams were coming up and the school play was near its end as well. Even Fujimaru-sempai was lenient enough to let me off work after having heard my voice.
“Stop. I have no interest in talking or looking at an ugly corpse. Stay home until you are alive again.”
That was what Fujimaru-sempai said before she hung up. I knew that she meant well, but that tongue of hers. Gosh!
Next morning, mother woke me up for my morning pills before she went off to work. She looked worried and even offered to stay with me, which, I of course rejected. I’m a big girl; I can take care of myself! Not long after, my cell phone vibrated and I looked at the message before almost bolting out of bed.
I’m at your door.
I thought I was hallucinating when I saw that, but when I opened the door, Erika really was standing out there with a grocery bag in hand. She was not dressed in her uniform. Quickly she ushered me back into bed with a worried face.
“Are you feeling better?”
“What are you doing here?”
“Is the fever still really bad?”
“Is there no school today?”
“Is the medicine not helping?”
“What about the play?”
For a minute or so, we answered each other with irrelevant questions of our own. In the end, she gave in and sighed heavily. “I’m here to take care of you, obviously. There is school, but I’m skipping. I called Chiharu and told her to take notes for us. The play is still on-going, but I can memorize my lines here, so it’s fine. Your turn.”
I wanted to laugh but a series of coughs prevented me from doing so. “I think I’m a little better, but I’m still no where near healthy. I feel like nothing is helping.”
She leaned over and felt my forehead with the same light frown over her eyebrows. “Go back to sleep, I’ll be around here today. Give me a call if you need anything.” And she tucked the duvets around me closer before exiting the room. Her presence seemed to have brought about warmth with it. For a deceiving moment, I thought my body had warmed up. Then I fell into a dreamless slumber without a single break until I heard voices downstairs and figured out that my parents were back. Besides me on the night stand stood Erika’s cell phone, it gave
me the reassurance of knowing that she was still here. In that moment of weakness, I could only think about how grateful I was for her. In the future, I promised myself, I will be just as good as her and be even better to her!
To be continued...