Estrogen - Chapter Fifteen
Sometimes I wonder if there was a fatigue period in a relationship. This was not to say that Erika and I no longer enjoyed each other’s company, but even I could feel that the need to see each other was no longer as intense as it used to be. I counted silently the other day and realized that our anniversary and her birthday would be coming up soon. It’s already been a year! I must have drawn in a breath of pure shock in the middle of silent study at that realization. What should we do for our one year anniversary? As pathetic as it might sound, I had no idea! I’ve never had experience in dating, so how would I know what would be considered appropriate activities for a one year anniversary?
“What did you and Hoshimura-senpai do for your first anniversary?”
I asked Fujimaru-senpai at work a few days later. We were both sitting at her breakfast table, sorting through a bin of mail. No, I was not joking; it was literally a bin of mail. The latest edition of Fujimaru-senpai’s monthly letter for her fan club was posted a week ago; this was just the usual amount of reply.
“Because, mine and Erika’s anniversary is coming up, and I have no idea what to do! It’s her birthday as well!” Now that I think about it, why the heck did I ever choose to confess to her on her birthday?! I should have thought ahead!
Think before you speak.
And think before you do.
Those shall be my mottos in life!
“Rather than giving her anything grand, it would better if it came from your heart. Even if it’s something small, if you put your heart and thought into it, I’m sure she will appreciate it.”
“Mmmm.” I nodded and glanced over a fan letter written to Fujimaru-senpai. It was without a doubt that she would not be able to finish reading all of these in a day, so the most we could do was to take out all the letters and put them in a folder for her to read when she was travelling from one place to another. It was a make shift book. “I see. So what did you and Hoshimura-senpai do?” I realized that she never did answer my question.
There was a moment of silence, and I thought about asking whether Fujimaru-senpai had forgotten all about her one year anniversary.
“We went to see a game, then went to see a movie and went back to her place to cook and eat dinner.”
“One of Natsuki’s basketball games at school.”
“How was that?”
“… she invited me to watch a losing game.”
Eh? My eyes lifted sharply to see if Fujimaru-senpai was joking, but I found no traces of jest on her face. Well then… even I knew that a losing game was no fun to watch, especially if your significant other was on the losing side. “How interesting.” I commented meekly, not knowing what else to say.
Another motto: silence is worth more than gold!
I was sure that Erika was preparing a present for me in her own way, I had no doubt. So in the days remaining before November twenty-first, I secured us seats at an inter-high basketball game. As we sat on the bleachers and watched the game with wide eyes and wide mouths, we forgot all about cheering. Then again, we weren’t fans of either team, so it was a winning game for us no matter who won. Amidst the sea of fans around us, we looked at each other and shared an amused smile. Her fingers brushed against mine, hidden from view between our legs and covered by our jackets.
Looking at the running legs from east to west, I wondered how Fujimaru-senpai felt when she sat watching Hoshimura-senpai play. It must have been a much more engaging game than the one we are watching right now. Truthfully, I had almost wanted to get a pair of tickets to one of Hoshimura-senpai’s games. However, she turned out to be all the way up north and even I could feel the rift between her and Hoshimura-senpai.
“I wonder if Hoshimura-senpai can dunk like that!”
We walked to the cinema with a casual pace and chatted idly about the game we just saw. The skills we saw awed me, so I immediately drew the only link I knew to basketball.
“You should ask her to show you some time.”
“That’s right!” I clapped my hands together in realization and happiness but missed how Erika had averted her gaze away from me.
Thirty minutes later, we sat down in front of a horror film that had both of us curled up against one another. It was the first time that I realized Erika could show such an expression as well. I wanted to smile, but unfortunately I was too preoccupied with hiding behind her whenever an unpleasant scene would pop up onto the screen.
“I never knew you’d be scared of something too!”
Charged by the adrenaline that flowed after the horror film our joint hands swung up and down between us as we walked back to her place. She carried a plastic bag of ingredients that we had gotten at the nearest grocery store. I told her not to ask, so she didn’t and followed after me carefully as I selected everything in the bag. From Fujimaru-senpai, a home made meal sounded warm and wonderful, so I was determined to recreate such a feeling.
“What did you think I was? Of course I get scared too! I’m human after all!”
“Your expression in the theatre was hilarious!”
“Speak for yourself, missy. Who had her head buried against my shoulder the entire movie?”
“I have no idea what you are talking about, hmph!”
“Ah, I don’t know why you chose a horror film. Didn’t you say that you hate those movies?”
“I do! But…” I paused and glanced up at her carefully, a little sheepish at my admission. “… they say that after a horror film, you would find your date more attractive.” My voice started barely above a whisper and trailed off to no more than what a mosquito could make. Ahhhh! This was so embarrassing!
“What, you don’t find me attractive?”
“I never said that!”
“So you do find me attractive.”
“…….. you are not allowed to speak to me ‘till we get to your house.” The pout on my lips was large enough to serve as a hook.
Erika chuckled besides me but did not continue on. Attractive? Truthfully, I had not thought of that term before. It was comfortable to be with Erika; she was my friend, my school mate, my girlfriend and my family all rolled into one. Perhaps I never tried to differentiate between them.
“Where did you hear that from?”
“The horror film and attraction thing.”
“Oh, Fujimaru-senpai said it.”
“Is that so.”
She said nothing else for the rest of the journey, and I was too embarrassed still to notice the difference. Besides, she’d always been a quiet individual to begin with. I took no notice.
At her foyer, Caramel greeted us with a wagging tail and a hyperactive amount of jumping. I knelt down immediately, forgetting even my shoes and clothes, to hug her to me. How I’ve missed her. Since the last time I saw her, she had grown again. It was now the season for her coat to grow longer and thicker, making her appear fluffier than I last saw her.
My last little task was to cook pasta for the both of us. I rolled up my sleeves and tied back my hair before looking at the ingredients with a determined face. Truthfully, I was not a cook, at all. Never in my life have I attempted something like this. Usually, I would just boil water, cook the rice in the rice maker, and make instant noodles. Erika sat at the small dinner table and looked over at me with worry in her eyes.
How the food turned out?
Let’s just say, after a couple of bandages on my fingers later, Erika quickly stepped in and relieved my poor fingers from any more abuse. I sat, twirling the long strand of pasta around my fork, a permanent pout on my lips.
“Eat while it’s hot, it won’t taste good when cold.”
Erika looked at me for a moment before offering a small laugh. “Why did you want to cook in the first place? If I had known that your life would be on the line, I never would have let you touch the knife.”
“Fujimaru-senpai said that a home made dinner would be warm and intimate! So I had wanted to try it out myself!”
Erika paused and peered at me quietly. After a long moment, she dropped her gaze to her plate but did not continue eating. “Megumi, don’t you think you should pay more attention to our relationship instead of other people?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean…” She stopped and I stopped as well. For the first time, I sensed hesitation in her tone and that alarmed me. “… I appreciate tonight, I really do. I had lots of fun, but… it’s our anniversary, I wanted to celebrate it in our own way.”
“.... but we are celebrating it our way…”
“The basketball game, you said it’s because Fujimaru-senpai said it’s entertaining. The movie was because of Fujimaru-senpai as well and now this…” She nodded her chin towards our plates of food.
“What are you saying?” My cheeks flushed and I knew I was growing defensive.
“I’m just saying… maybe we don’t have to do everything that they’ve done before, I mean, it’s not like everything they do should and have to be done. It might have suited them, but it might not suit us.”
Although I did not wish to, the utensils in my hand dropped on the table with a clang and I swallowed the lump in my throat. Even though Erika had spoken truthfully, I had a feeling that she was not quite done. “What is it?” Finally, I spoke; surprising myself with how controlled my voice sounded. “I know that’s not the only thing that’s bothering you, so what are you not saying?”
I thought Erika would deny having held back anything, but when she lifted her eyes to look at me, I knew I blindly hit the spot.
“What do you really think about me?”
“What do you mean?”
“To you, am I just a really close friend or your girlfriend?”
Even ‘till this day, when she spoke of being a girlfriend, I would still flush. Somehow, that one word seemed so intimate. Today was no different, but there was also perhaps the heat of frustration. “What do you think?” For me to say ‘girlfriend’ out loud seemed so embarrassing and I couldn’t even bring my lips to form that word.
“I don’t know.” Erika did not sound sarcastic; it was a genuine lack of knowledge on her end. “I tell myself that you are just new at being in a relationship and that slowly you will begin to understand the difference between a female friend and a girlfriend.” She spoke candidly, extinguishing my anger spark by spark. “To me, it seems like you are always interested in other people’s relationship and doings more than you are of your own relationship and me.” As if someone had exposed a secret, my heart jumped and my face flushed some more. “I appreciate you asking Fujimaru-senpai for help and following her advice, but… it was supposed to be a day for the two of us. Even if we stayed at home and did nothing, I would still have been happy. But…”
She didn’t need to continue, I was beginning to understand.
But I had chosen to follow someone else’s recipe, thinking that their happiness would translate into our happiness as well.
Reduced to silence, I could only look at my plate with no words to offer. Erika did not push either. Dinner was cold when we finished it. For our anniversary, she had gotten us a pair of couple rings. They were not glamorous; they were just simple bands that fitted around our fingers snugly. Even so, even when we both tried to smile and wave away the previous conversation, we both knew something had been torn open. And until we could mend it, the gap was just going to widen and swallow us both.
For a long time, I thought to myself. I re-evaluated from the beginning to the end and even wrote notes. Then I realized that feelings just cannot be accurately put down as words. There was no adjective for the anger or the love I felt. Thankfully, the exam period distracted us both sufficiently from this topic that no one noticed the difference.
Except for the two of us, that is.
For a long time, I thought I’d never be able to come up with the answer; then, that letter came and I watched as Fujimaru-senpai’s face contorted into shock and pain in a mask. It was unadulterated and raw; I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Five minutes passed and Fujimaru-senpai folded the letter before addressing me.
“Megumi, book me the earliest flight to Canada.”
Numbly, I followed her orders and picked up the land line. Fujimaru-senpai had already risen from her seat and was heading up the stairs. The automated voice from the other end of the phone attracted my attention and my mind was finally able to focus. She was booked for the next flight out, tomorrow morning at five.
It wasn’t until later did I find out that her father had been hospitalized.
Maybe it was the sudden realization that a person’s life was long and short at the same time, or maybe it was the shock that cleared my head enough to have me realize what was truly important, my fingers hovered over my cell phone’s keyboard for a brief second and sent an invitation to meet.
I chose the half way point between our houses, underneath a bridge that allowed privacy but also provided us a steadily running stream that could be distraction if necessary. It was five days before Christmas and I was there first. Facing the stream, I collected my thoughts while waiting for her.
“Did you have to wait for long?”
She stood next to me, looking at the stream as well. I glanced over at her profile and noted that nothing has changed about her.
“I cannot say clearly that I completely understand what it means to be in a relationship; what sort of commitments one has to put into a relationship; and what are the do’s and don’ts of a relationship. I realized that for our anniversary, I did not consider your point of view and blindly believed in what I thought was happiness.”
When Fujimaru-senpai left for Vancouver six days ago, I had the opportunity to sit in her empty house and looked at the depictions of her life around me. I knew that I admired the relationship between Fujimaru-senpai and Hoshimaru-senpai; so much so that I had wanted to recreate what they had between Erika and me.
“Then I realized that happiness is relative and personal. One person’s happiness may be considered another person’s nightmare. For them,” I knew I did not need to specify just whom I was referring to “it was happiness; for us, it was a burden. I am sorry that I could not realize it sooner.”
See, this was why I chose a scenic setting. After the somewhat embarrassing speech, I could just let my eyes rest on the flowing water, focus intently and pretend as if I had said nothing.
“I am sorry as well.” A length, Erika spoke as well. “I know you tried your best and that you were trying to prepare an anniversary that would be memorable. I did not mean to degrade your efforts, I hope you know that. So I guess I am quite inadequate when it comes to being in a relationship as well.”
Finally, I couldn’t help but let a small chuckle escape my lips and gathered the courage to turn and look at her.
“Then we will work together?”
It started as a smile on both of our faces and escalated into laughter, full of relief and belated happiness. Erika held out her hand for me and I took it; our fingers interlocked and we both knew that was one chapter behind us. The words and feelings exchanged would be the building blocks for our relationship as we walk another mile or two ahead.
“I think every relationship needs a turning point.” Erika started again, this time, standing with me shoulder against shoulder, looking at the stream still. “Although in the future I’m sure we will just look at this as another petty argument, for now, I somehow feel that it was some sort of an important turning point.” I liked the way she said “in the future” with such certainty; a smile could not be tempted from my face. “From here on, whatever that needs to be changed, we can do it together. We’ll change together so we can grow together as well.”
Really, if I had her eloquence, perhaps our relationship would never need bickering or arguments.
True to Erika’s hypothesis, that Christmas season indeed was a turning point. Although at first, it did not seem like it was a turning point for us, the reverberations it maintained changed everyone a little.
Four days later, we boarded a plane.
To be continued...