Story: Estrogen (chapter 14)

Authors: Juxtaposition

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Chapter 14

Title: Chapter Fourteen

[Author's notes: Disclaimer: The following is a work of fiction, any events that mirror real life are of pure coincidence.  The plot and characters are properties of mine, please do not reproduce unless permission has been given.]

Estrogen - Chapter Fourteen

In reality, I don’t want to disclose much of my life from this point on.  If the world had ended with me in that cave on that stormy night, I would have died as the happiest person on earth.  All along, I realized that I had been living in a bubble fantasy.  Slowly, that bubble was losing its strength and the fantasy blurred with the reality outside.  I realized that no one could live forever in a world of happiness.  Even if it’s just mundane happiness.  When I look back on the last few months of this year, there weren’t many things that stood out.  Then again, compared to what Christmas brought along, not many things could seem very important. 

One, I finally had the chance to meet Erika’s mother.  Although I’ve yet to be formally introduced to her father because he is always away on work related trips, at least we’ve said our greetings.  It’s always felt strange that I’ve never seen her mother around, but no inquiries were made in case it was too impolite to ask.  Perhaps a part of me had always been reserved no matter how long we’ve been dating.  Maybe there was always a part of me holding back. 

The first weekend of our last school year together, Erika invited me out and underneath the bright sun, she took me to meet her mother.  On the bus, sitting right beneath the open window, we watched how the strands of our hair were flying and mixing.  Her hair was long to her waist; mine was just past my shoulders.  Between us, beneath the folds of our skirts, our hands were joined together.   

Always though, it will be away from public’s eyes. 

When the bus stopped, we were left standing on the outskirts of town.  Although it was not deserted, it certainly was not populated like the city center that I was used to.  The road stretched out in front of us and Erika tugged on my hand to indicate that we should begin walking.  At least this empty road extending ahead provided us with the solitude that was required in order to hold hands. 

Underneath the blazing sun, we walked on. 

“Why is your mother all the way out here?” 

“Because she has no where to be.” 

“Was it… I mean… between you parents… was it….?” 

“No.”  She shook her head and offered me a small smile.  “They loved each other very much.” 

“Then why?” 

“Some things in life are just not meant to be.” 

Erika said it so calmly and with such acceptance that I was taken back.  In the future, I wonder if I will be able to utter that same phrase with the same unwavering voice and tone.  It silenced me and we walked on slowly.  In front of us, at the end of the road –ironically- the field opened up and I saw small stone plates one after another erected on the ground.  For a moment, it seemed like I had swallowed a stone, my stomach dropped and my feet slowed to a stop.  Besides me, Erika came to a stop as well and the two of us stood in front of the gate and just looked on. 

“… Erika…” 

She heard my murmur and turned to look at me.  On her face, I saw a smile.  On my face, I wonder what she saw.  Clearly, I was not ready.  I was taken back; I was not prepared to be exposed to such a truth.  Maybe the possibility’s always ran through my head, but I never thought it would be possible. 

Never. 

“Would you like to go back?” 

I looked at her for a moment before shaking my head.  At first, it was more of a reflex of the body, but after a second, I realized that I meant it as well.  No.  Erika was brave enough to bring me here; so then, I will also be brave and respectful to her respect for me.  So I offered her a smile and squeezed her hand.  “No, please; let’s continue on.  I want to meet you mother as well.” 

Like always, she looked at me carefully for a moment to assess my sincerity, and then she nodded and led me onwards.  In front of each slab of stone, I saw flowers and offerings.  It made me smile, to think that there are still those who care.  Yet, it made me nervous.  I wondered what Erika’s mother’s grave is going to look like.  If it’s bare, I don’t think I can deal with the implications.  But thankfully, when we stood in front of it, there were small flowers planted to frame around the stone monument. 

“Mom, when I visited the last time, I said I’d bring Megumi to meet you.”  Erika started quietly, her voice reached my ears and scattered with the wind.  “Please watch over her kindly.” 

There was no denying the fact that it was awkward to speak to a stone.  However, I was too respectful of the situation to stop and think of how strange it might look.  So I took a step forward and bowed deeply.  “It’s nice to meet you.  My name is Ookina Megumi.  I hope you will approve of me.” 

On the stone, it recorded her age as being forty-one, but the picture embedded showed a woman of eternal beauty.  She smiled at us with the corners of her lips upturned and her eyes kind.  I couldn’t help but think that if she were still alive, she would be a gentle woman who could treat me with kindness as well.  Maybe I’ll even look at her as a second mother and complain to her of my worries too. 

“How did it happen?”  I asked quietly. 

“She died a year after I was born.”  Erika began slowly; her gaze did not waver from her mother’s photo.  “My dad told me that it was some sort of a disease, but I am not stupid, I know that it must have been some complication suffered while giving birth to me.”  From the photo, I could discern the similarities between Erika and her mother.  They both have long, straight hair and the beautiful eyes that looked at you with such sincerity.  “You don’t have to feel sorry for me, and I don’t have some hidden guilt that eats me inside out.  I love my mom, but I know that she would rather I continue on living instead of wasting my life away.  If she worked so hard to bring me into this world, then I will not let her down.” 

Each one of her words was spoken with strength and determination.  It was a different side of Erika that I’ve never seen before.  It was a side that I admired.  Looking at her, I felt breathless and so small.  Thinking back, I wondered how she felt each time she saw my mom.  Did she feel sad or perhaps envious?  From what I’ve gathered, ever since Erika’s small, her father’s taken her with him everywhere for his work.  So Erika moved from one school to another, never having really settled down long enough to establish friendships or relationships.  When senior high rolled around, she finally convinced her father that she was adequate at taking care of herself and living on her own. 

I wanted to thank her for her independence.  If not, I don’t think we’d ever have the chance or courage to stand at this point in time right now. 

“Mom,” Erika started, speaking softly to her mom “maybe you’ll laugh at me for such words when I am still so young.  However, I feel that I know this is exactly what I want and am willing to work hard towards it.”  I looked at her profile and wondered where this was leading.  “In front of you, I vow that I will never betray Megumi.  I will always treat her with kindness, be understanding and respectful.  I vow to never hide anything from her and always discuss with her anything that I am uncomfortable about.”  Turning to me, she gave me a half sheepish smile and glanced down at our joint hands.  “It’s not a proposal or anything, so don’t freak out.  I just wanted to let you know that I am serious about our relationship and did not just ask you out on the spur of the moment.”  

She was right; I wasn’t quite sure if I was comfortable with the implications behind her words.  But I guess she knew me well.  In the end, I could only smile back at her and nod.  I don’t know why I didn’t vow anything that day or at least repeat her words.  Erika did not push for one either.  She seemed content that she was able to get what she wanted to say out there. 

Maybe she has matured too early and I was just slowly catching up.
Physically, we were both seventeen.
Mentally, perhaps she’s always been ten years older than me. 

We took the same route on our way out.  Even though it was only a short while, I felt as if we’ve connected on many more layers with just that brief stay.  The smooth sailing course that this relationship is enjoying right now seemed almost too perfect, too surreal. 

To me at least. 

But to everyone else, almost too perfect and too surreal meant the one hundredth year celebration of our school.  For this unique date, the principal even convinced both Fujimaru-semapi and Hoshimura-sempai to return for a photo shoot to help promote our school.  The October sun seemed to have burnt that much brighter for these two super stars of our school.  Hoshimura-sempai changed out of her usual practice wear and was being dressed in the latest fashion apparel.  Underneath the gawking gaze of the majority of the student body, she was asked to pose in our gym.  It was only appropriate since she’s probably spent most of her time in there.  

I never knew our school had so many students ‘till this photo shoot.  It was impossible to even find breathing room.  In a moment like this, I was ever more grateful for my job. 

When Fujimaru-sempai arrived in her car –presumably after another photo shoot-, she immediately waved me out of the student body.  My friends were clawing at my arms to get them out as well, but for once I could give them a cheeky grin before almost skipping forward to greet Fujimaru-sempai. 

“What’s wrong with you?  High?” 

“No!”  I objected immediately, having forgotten how sharp her tongue was.  “You’re in front of school students, please remember not to show your true personality, Fujimaru-sempai.”  Her eyes widened and she gave me an incredulous look.  I returned her a cheeky grin, but when her eyes narrowed, I wondered if I did the right thing.  After all, I still have to work with her.  Ooops, maybe I shouldn’t have been that out of line. 

I could feel the hundreds of heated stares from all around me.  I knew they were jealous and envious of my position, but hey, I worked hard!  Not everyone can stand someone like Fujimaru-sempai.  She was asked to change into a long summer dress that fluttered elegantly with the wind.  We relocated to the auditorium where drama productions usually took place. 

If Hoshimura-sempai was comfortable with the attention and camera, then Fujimaru-sempai was doing nothing but breathe for the crowd.  

“She’s a natural, huh?”  Beside me, Hoshimura-sempai stepped up and commented lightly.  Her voice jolted me and I peeked up at her carefully.  After that incident on the beach over summer I’ve not spoken with her.  That morning after, for that brief moment, I was scared of what popped up in my own head.  Due to the needs of the photo shoot, she was in a button down shirt with a pair of ripped jeans.  A loose tie dangled around her neck and the three piercings on her right ear were more obvious with the way her hair was pulled up. 

“Well, I suppose it is only appropriate, since this is her job after all.” 

Hoshimura-sempai smiled and nodded.  “Very true.  I’ve always felt that Asura was born to be underneath the spot lights.”  She spoke with me, but her eyes never once left Fujimaru-sempai’s figure.  “So much so that she would do anything to get her stage.”  Was that a wistful tone that I heard in Hoshimura-sempai’s voice?  “Asura’s always been determined, once her decision has been made, no one in this world can change it.” 

Not even you? 

I wanted to ask but held my tongue.  It seemed too intimate of a question to be asking. 

In front of us, Fujimaru-sempai was already bowing and saying words of gratitude.  It was an indication that the photo shoot has come to an end, and I quickly moved forward to help Fujimaru-sempai like any good assistant would.  Around us rose all sorts of protest, it was obvious that the student body was not satisfied just yet.  Even the principal has noticed this and was awkward in shaking Fujimaru-sempai’s and Hoshimura-sempai’s hands.  No matter how final the principal may make this look, the out cry of the crowd drowned out even their conversation. 

And finally, Hoshimura-sempai hopped onto the stage of the auditorium and headed for the microphone.  “Alright, what is it?  What do you girls want?” 

Then there seemed to have been an instantaneous and continuous out cry of requests that almost imploded within this room.  Fujimaru-sempai looked around before turning to glance up at Hoshimura-sempai, who looked half amused and half surprised at the result.  ‘Alright, alright, let’s calm ourselves first.”  She lifted a hand to signal that the crowd should quiet themselves as it was obvious that she wasn’t going to raise her voice. 

I looked at Hoshimura-sempai and could not help but admire the natural grace that she handled this situation with.  It was her out going attitude, that confidence and friendly smile that made her a crowd favourite.  If there had to be a vote between her and Fujimaru-sempai, even I am inclined to vote for her.  Fujimaru-sempai was someone to be respected and revered from afar; someone whose accomplishments cannot be over looked, yet someone who was unapproachable even if she was smiling. 

“Looks like these girls won’t let us go if we don’t appease them.”  Hoshimura-sempai directed that statement over at Fujimaru-sempai, who offered a small shrug and smiled at the other.  “How about this then; since we’ve both been made to change into these clothes, why not utilize them a little bit further?  Let’s do a photo set together, and the prints of this set are only available for the students of this school.  How does that sound to you, princess?” 

Before Fujimaru-sempai could even reply, the students have already made their decisions with the incessant screams.  One glance around and Fujimaru-sempai needn’t give her answer.  The principal was hesitant but could not fight the ardent insistence of the crowd. 

So in the garden of the school, Fujimaru-sempai sat on a boulder with her back against a tree trunk.  Hoshimura-sempai situated herself on the lowest branch, both of them looked towards opposite directions but just the scene alone was enough.  It was truly a piece of art work for the students.  I could not help but over hear the excited words exchanged all around me. 

“Oh my God, they look so amazing!”
“Do you think they’d sign something for us?”
“Do you know if Hoshimura-sempai is seeing anyone?”
“Do you think they’re dating?” 

Oh they would never know how valid those questions were. 

As the last pose, Fujimaru-semapi sat down on the grass with an arm extended behind her to support herself.  Hoshimura-sempai lay on the same patch of grass with her head resting on Fujimaru-sempai’s legs.  When Fujimaru-sempai lifted her hand to brush back a strand of loose hair, the photographer caught that moment precisely. 

To them, it might have been a minute when their eyes were connected and they saw nothing but each other. 

To me, it seemed like an eternity.  I wondered if they’ve ever saw anyone else other than each other.  In the not so far distance, they appeared to be in a world of their own.  I wondered what made their relationship work for the past ten years.  And what will make their relationship work for the next ten years? 

Yet, I could not place this mild throb of pain that pulsated through my heart. 

In the early evening, the photo shoots were finally finished and the crowds slowly dissolved themselves.  As soon as there was a little room to breathe, my friends joined me quickly and gushed over Hoshimura-sempai accordingly.  Fujimaru-sempai was already folding up the summer dress and handing it back to the wardrobe staff.  Even in her own dress, she was still gorgeous like she was moments ago. 

“You girls are free in the evening, right?  Let’s go out for dinner to celebrate.  It’s rare to have such a chance these days.”  Hoshimura-sempai suggested to everyone, when in reality, she knew that everyone was going to accept.   

Everyone except for Erika that is. 

“Sorry Hoshimura-sempai, I have to go back home.” 

“Eh?  Why?”  I was the one who asked instead of Hoshimura-sempai. 

“I have to go back to feed and walk Caramel, she’s been left by herself longer than usual today.”  Erika looked at her watch and frowned.  “It’s past the time I usually walk her, she might be trying to hold in too much.” 

At the mention of Caramel, any previous excitement over the dinner was wiped away.  Immediately, I felt a stab of guilt and quickly stepped towards Erika as well.  “I’ll go with you then.”  Caramel was the burden that I picked up, and yet, it is now Erika who had to take care of the puppy all by herself.  I really am selfish like that. 

“No, that’s alright, I can go back by myself.  You go out and have fun.” 

“But I…” 

“It’s fine, Megumi-san.”  Reika interrupted and stepped towards us and patted my arm.  “I’ll accompany Mika-sempai home.  Unlike you girls, I see Natsuki’s face every single day.  You go and have fun.” 

What is this?  Why do I feel so unwanted in their presence? 

“In that case,” Fujimaru-sempai spoke up “Reika-chan and Erika can take my car; my driver will send them home safely.  We can take a taxi.”  

So in the end, that was how I ended up in a full restaurant with my friends and three elders.  My friends obviously did not notice my discomfort throughout the evening.  If Hoshimura-sempai and Fujimaru-sempai noticed, they didn’t voice anything either.  Ito-sempai was the only one who was as quiet as I.  Because no one made the notion to leave, we were eventually separated to explore different parts of the restaurant by ourselves.  It was on the back porch that I found Ito-sempai with a glass of drink by herself.  From the looks of it, that was no fruit juice. 

“Ah, Megumi, it’s you.” 

I smiled and stepped up besides her and leaned my arms against the wooden railing, copying her position.  The two of us remained silent for a moment before she spoke up again.  “Don’t you find it strange that both of them have time for dinner tonight?” 

Both of them?  Both of whom?
That would be a stupid question to ask, because I knew whom she was referring to after all. 

“It’s their anniversary.” 

“Eh?!”  This time, I could not contain my surprise. 

Ito-sempai glanced over and gave me a crooked smile before she took a sip of whatever drink she was holding in her hand.  “It’s their tenth anniversary together.  It’s the ninth year that I’ve known them.”  She spoke coherently, but to me, she sounded more and more discouraged by the second.  “Nine years…” 

“Ito-sempai…?” 

“You must wonder what I’m doing with them for nine years, right?” 

“Ito-sempai is the national team’s manager, no?” 

She gave me that same crooked smile again and tilted her head.  “Did you know that I’ve always wanted to become a doctor?  In my last year of senior high, I applied for both pre-med and management for university.  I was accepted into both, but I chose to give up my childhood dream when it was just a signature away.  Why?"

I remained silent; I knew it was a rhetorical question. 

“All because I thought if I stayed around her long enough, she would at least look at me a little.”  I heard the heart break in her voice and my heart shook with hers.  “All because I thought that she will eventually notice how much I want to be with her.”  She shrugged and took another sip.  I wondered if she was swallowing her tears along with her alcohol.  “When she loves you, whatever you think, you are.  When she doesn’t love you, what do you think you are?” 

Love. 

I realized at that moment. 

Love 

It has nothing to do with the beloved one.  From the beginning to the end, it’s always been the business of the one loving.

 

To be continued...

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