Estrogen - Chapter 16
It was on Christmas day that we arrived at snowy Canada. A limo awaited us at the airport and we were ushered inside, where there were leather seats and warm air. Hoshimura-senpai sat closest to the driver, conversing in English quietly. The rest of us were awed by the sights we saw outside. Hoshimura-senpai had taken time off from her national games to join Fujimaru-senpai, and she had invited all of us to come with her. It was hard to resist her invitation on my end; so naturally, I extended the invitation to Erika as well. Chiharu, Fuyu and Hitomi were confused as to the reason but only saw this as an opportunity to get away on vacation. Ito-senpai stayed behind as the national team was still every little bit immersed in their winter schedule.
The entire time, I could not help but direct my gaze at Hoshimura-senpai with worry. She still talked and smiled as usual, but in those long moments of silence on the plane when everyone was asleep, I saw her opened eyes starring out of the window at nothingness.
Like right now, she was chatting with the driver with a smile on her face, but I wondered just how much worry was going through her head right now.
Fujimaru-senpai’s house was like a mansion. There was a front gate that opened for us and a centre piece that we circled around before stopping in front of the steps that reached the enormous double doors.
“Oh my God, there are four garages!” Chiharu could not help but gasp when we stepped out of the car. A middle aged man was already pulling our luggage out of the trunk of the car. Inside the mansion, we were greeted by Fujimaru-senpai as she made her way down the stairs.
“Oto-san will show you to your rooms.” Fujimaru-senpai told us as she put on the last of her earrings and gestured to the middle aged man who was carrying our bags. “He is Japanese.” Ah, so language would not be a problem; we all bowed towards him. “I’m going to the hospital, make yourselves at home, and don’t wait for me.”
Fujimaru-senpai and Hoshimura-senpai left together.
I wondered what they would talk about on the way to the hospital.
A high pitched squeal from upstairs startled me out of my reverie and I looked up just in time to see Hitomi running back to the stairs with a strange glow about her face. Before I could ask, she had clasped her hands together and was looking at me as if love sick. “The rooms are absolutely gorgeous, you have to come up and see!” Just like that, she disappeared once again behind a wall, leaving only Erika and I confused and somewhat bewildered.
Was it the correct decision, taking them with us?
Their elated spirits and bright smiles seemed inappropriate for a house that was grieving.
It was already dinner time when we finished unpacking. After recovering from my initial surprise, I must say I could understand why Hitomi was so excited. The rooms were spacious and each decorated with a different theme. There were three stories to this mansion, and all the guest rooms were located on the second floor. I could not help but wonder what Fujimaru-senpai’s room looked like, but it hardly seemed proper to ask for a visit.
We ate little of dinner, still congested from airplane food. The rest of the evening we spent by walking around the neighbourhood. It was Christmas day; all the driveways were filled with cars and rainbow coloured lights were reflected on a thick layer of white snow.
The silence emphasized the mood of a holiday and how out of our comfort zones we were.
It was almost midnight, and I was still tossing and turning, unable to grasp sleep when my body was still under the impression that it was still around early afternoon. Finally, I huffed and threw aside the cover to slip out of bed. My feet curled when they landed on the hard wood floor, cold to the touch, and I quickly slipped them inside indoor slippers. I pulled on a cardigan and opened my door to look left and right. Erika’s room was to the right of mine, and the door was tightly closed. Maybe everyone else was having better luck sleeping than I.
Just as I was pondering whether I should go back into my room and read, a light click from downstairs caught my attention and I turned to it quickly. Someone was still up? Maybe it was one of my friends!
With that thought in mind, my feet gained new confidence and I strolled quickly –but still quietly- to descend the stairs. It wasn’t Hitomi, or Fuyu, or Chiharu, or even Erika. Under the dim lights of the bar, Hoshimura-senpai sat on a stool with a glass of golden liquid in her hands. I stopped at the threshold of the living room, watching her from the distance of said living room.
It was the first time that I’ve seen her unsuspecting of others; the first time that I’ve seen her with a frown on her face; the first time that I’ve seen her slouched over. It was like I was a voyeur, there was something unsanctified about looking at her right now. My legs moved, unknowing of direction, and Hoshimura-senpai turned her head towards me. Caught, I didn’t quite know what to do.
“You are still awake?” It was her who broke the silence first; with a smile on her face and a wave of her hand for me to approach.
I offered a smile and walked towards her when beckoned. It was ridiculous how my heart was pounding in my chest. “I didn’t know you were back.”
“I just got back.”
“How about Fujimaru-senpai?”
“She’s still at the hospital.” Instinctually, I heard the difference in her tone; but I could not quite place it.
“How is her father?”
“Stable, but still weak.”
Hoshimura-senpai tilted her head and looked at me for a moment before she smiled and patted my head. “Don’t worry; Asura is stronger than you think.”
I nodded, not knowing what else to say. Hoshimura-senpai didn’t say anything either. It was this silence that told me something was indeed amiss, but I couldn’t even find the words to start. Besides me, Hoshimura-senpai sat with her glass in hands, her eyes looking at everything yet nothing at the same time.
“… are you alright?” Finally, I couldn’t help but ask. There was this pull, inexplicable, that existed between her and me; a pull that I could not resist.
“Yeah.” She said shortly with a smile; rather than affirmative, it was somewhat helpless. “Yeah.” She said again, quietly; not knowing whether she was trying to assure me or assure herself.
“Hoshimura-senpai,” it was on a whim that I turned to her with haste “I know I am so much younger than you, and I know that in your eyes I am just a child, but… I can at least lend an ear to you when you need to talk. So…” My words grew slower when she turned to look at me, and my voice grew softer. “… so if you… ever need to talk…” I’m always available, I wanted to say.
She searched my face and I could feel her eyes looking at me. Actually looking at me. “Megumi-chan, do you like me?”
My breath was caught in my throat and I looked at her with wide eyes. I heard nothing except for the pounding of my heart, resonating in my ears, along with her question. My lips parted but nothing came out, I did not know what to say. Slowly, she leaned closer, and I could see every little patch of skin and each eyelash. Unconsciously, I swallowed and that one movement alone was enough to stop Hoshimura-senpai.
“What am I saying?” She laughed and shook her head before backing off to her previous position. “Don’t mind me; I have a horrible habit that you nearly saw.”
“You should try and get some sleep. I’ll take you girls out tomorrow for some sight seeing and Boxing Day shopping. You’ll need your energy for that one, trust me.” She kicked back her head and emptied the glass of drink down her throat before she rose. “Good night, Megumi-chan.” I expected her to pat me on the shoulder as she walked by, but not even her shirt touched me.
For a long time, I sat on the stool and looked at the empty space where she was. Why did it feel as if I had just been caught cheating?
My heart could not calm, my mind could not stop racing and I could not grasp one single coherent thought. Back up in my room, I paced the floor and took in deep breaths to still myself. Then I realized that beneath all the excitement, there was vivid guilt and sadness. My feet stopped and I looked at the wall that was between Erika and me. What was she doing now?
Without thinking, I exited my room and knocked on her door with haste. It was the silence that hung after knocking that chilled me. What was I doing? If she opened the door, what the heck was I supposed to say? If anything at all! I was about to turn around and leave when the handle turned and she stepped out.
“Megumi, what’s wrong?”
For the second time that evening, I found the words stuck in my throat, not knowing what to say.
“I couldn’t sleep.”
She chuckled lightly and stepped closer to me, our bodies almost touching in this darkened hallway that was only illuminated by the light from my room and the light from her room. Momentarily, we were thrown into the confines of shadows that danced on the walls around us.
“I know. I heard you.”
I flushed lightly and cleared my throat; I thought I was quiet. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Not at all, I couldn’t sleep either.”
I wondered if it were the truth, but at this point in time, I found that I didn’t really want to exert the extra energy to think about that. So I took her words at face value and offered her a small smile. “Erika…” I started, not knowing what I wanted to say or how to continue; in the hesitation, I took a step closer to her in a physical need of contact and comfort. What transpired downstairs startled me and I needed to know that Erika was here to curb my thoughts. “Do you think it’s possible for someone to like two people at once?”
In the dim lighting, I thought I saw Erika frown before her words cut out, meant to be on a joking manner, so I thought. “Why? Are you cheating on me?”
Did what happen minutes ago count as cheating?
No, definitely not!
“No, I’m not talking about myself!” Quickly, I shook my hands in hopes to chase away that thought altogether. “I’m talking about… Hoshimura-senpai… I feel as if she might… like someone else… other than Fujimaru-senpai and…” I was stuttering because these words were blurred between lies and wishful thinking. Hoshimura-senpai’s words and actions from moments ago confused me and I was at a loss for what to do.
“Truthfully, I don’t really care.” It was the first time that I had heard Erika voice her nonchalance towards the two seniors who have captured so many people’s attention. She must have mistaken my stuttering as a sign of embarrassment or hesitation, for she moved forward and closed the gap between us. “I’m more interested in knowing that my girlfriend is not cheating on me.”
Her words reminded me of what she told me on our anniversary, and sheepishly I pushed all thoughts of Hoshimura-senpai to the back of my head. On a whim, and maybe I was still feeling a little guilty, I rose on my tiptoes and daringly placed a kiss on Erika’s lips. It was one of the first times that I was the one who initiated the physical contact and felt her stiffen at first in surprise before responding. I was not good at saying sorry verbally, maybe physically would be a lot easier.
I felt her arm wrap around my waist when I thought I heard a door open somewhere across from us. I paid it no thought until words reached my ears that then died with a gasp.
“What are you guys still doing…”
That was what Hitomi had started to say when she poked her head out of her bedroom door; as I found out later on.
It was almost instinctual when Erika and I parted and turned our heads to see Hitomi’s bewildered face. The three of us looked at each other; no one knew what to say. Then Hitomi quickly shook her head and offered a hasty smile with parting words that were mumbled before the door was shut firmly. That little click resonated in my ears and I glanced over at Erika. She wore a frown on her eyebrows but offered a smile when she saw me looking at her.
“It’s okay, everything will be okay.” She patted my cheek with affection before taking a modest step back. “Go in and try to get some sleep.”
Sleep? That was the last thing on my mind right now.
We never deliberately tried to hide our relationship from our friends, but on an unconscious level, we figured that they wouldn’t understand and might distance themselves from us if they found out. Now that Hitomi knew, I had no doubt that by tomorrow morning, Fuyu and Chiharu would know as well. Since it was out there, we might as well behave overtly, right? It’s not like we were doing anything illegal!
So then, why did it feel so painful to breathe?
And why did my heart still beat when I recalled Hoshimura-senpai’s expression?
Just when I thought I would have to deal with my friends’ confrontation the next day, this over seas visit produced more surprises than one. A little before noon, a handsome young gentleman came to call. Oh don’t you dare look down on me because of my adjectives, they could not be more accurate.
Matsumoto Anthony was his name, if we were to say it the Japanese way. He was young, well… around Hoshimura-senpai’s age. He was definitely handsome. And he behaved every bit a gentleman. So how else did you expect me to describe him? Anyways, he was looking for Fujimaru-senpai and was promptly sent to the hospital with an address and a room number. I thought Hoshimura-senpai would have accompanied him, but she only smiled and closed the front door before turning to us.
“You girls should dress for the weather; I’ll take you out for some sight seeing.”
Amidst the clapping and cheers of happiness, I looked at Hoshimura-senpai quietly. It was the usual trade mark smile on her face as she talked to Fuyu about the tourist spots, but maybe… maybe I was still a little sensitive from last night, I thought I saw a taste of bitterness on the corner of her lips. She and a family driver of Fujimaru-senpai’s took us to the local hot spots to enrich us in the local culture. The excitement had diluted the shock that my friends must have felt after discovering about the relationship between Erika and me.
If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that they didn’t mind at all.
Yet, it was those subtle glances towards us; the careful words chosen and the way they distanced themselves from us that made me realize what was on the surface truly could not reach skin deep.
There were so many things that we were not prepared for.
We stayed in Canada for a total of six days before we were preparing to fly back to Japan. It was the beginning of a new year and there were many changes coming. One, Fujimaru-senpai did not even see us off at the airport; she had been spending every waking moment at the hospital and in her family company’s conference rooms. Two, my friends sat behind Erika and me, talking in hushed whispers and did not once ask for our opinions. I gripped the divider harshly before Erika rescued my fingers and the arm; instead, she squeezed our laced fingers and offered me a smile. Third, Hoshimura-senpai did not stay with Fujimaru-senpai; instead, she was on the same flight back to Japan with us.
Of course, that was not the final word in that chapter.
The actual news reached us a little later, with its full force still in bearing.
To be continued...