Estrogen - Chapter Eighteen
After the conversation with Fujimaru-senpai, the topic of relationships was not touched upon again. I knew that I touched a sore spot and she retaliated with an equal strength blow on my wound as well. Of course, this did not mean anything for our working relationship as I continued to assist her almost every day after school. Truthfully, I was thankful for the busy schedule to keep me busy as well. I wasn’t quite sure how many times I could continue on asking my friends to hang out only to receive a rejection in reply. Their excuses would always be courteous but so obviously fake that I didn’t know who was more embarrassed. With the end of January, February meant colder weathers and Valentine’s Day.
It was just that much more sensitive this year.
This year, Valentine’s Day fell on a Sunday and Erika had extra drama rehearsal. Before she left, I entered her house and took her key from her. First, I rolled up my sleeves and soaked a cloth to clean up her place. Caramel followed me on my heels; between playing with her and cleaning from top floor to ground floor, hours slipped by unnoticed. In the early afternoon, I wiped my forehead and looked around me with my hands on my hips. Yep, this was more like it! I couldn’t say that it was sparkling clean, but at least every surface was void of dust.
Grabbing Caramel’s leash and locking the door behind me, we strolled down Erika’s neighbourhood at a leisurely pace towards the super market. The neighbours have gotten used to my presence here over the years and could readily greet me on a first name basis. When I wasn’t paying attention, it was not hard for me to pretend that I indeed lived here with Erika; and that our relationship had been accepted and congratulated by everyone.
In the super market, I pulled out a list of ingredients that were needed and went from aisle to aisle looking for each one. Even though our first anniversary did not turn out to be a great memory, I did take the effort to improve my cooking skills at least a little. When I asked my mother for help, she had looked at me as if I’d grown another head. So today, I was confident that at least the food will be edible.
Maybe, deep down, I wanted to apologize for our butchered anniversary as well.
At the same time, I wanted to take this day –at least- to get away from everyone else. This act of changing faces for everyone was tiring me out and Erika was tired watching me be everyone else but myself. Sometimes, even when we sat together, there would be no words exchanged. Maybe she was tired too.
Just a little after six, the door bell rang and Caramel was at the door after the first ring, wagging her tail and barking at the pane of metal. I wiped my hands on my apron while I half jogged to the door to open it up.
We said at the same time and both of us had to laugh at this exchange. I stepped back to let her in and she bent down to greet Caramel before removing her jacket and shoes. “For a second, I really thought I was married.” She said lightly with a smile and held out a wrapped gift for me. “Happy Valentine’s Day! I smell my present! And I must say I’m already salivating.” Her smile was as warm as it could be, but I noticed keenly the fatigue in her eyes. I wondered if she saw the same fatigue in my eyes as well.
For the present and for the subtle compliment.
She took off her jacket and both of us entered the kitchen to the small dining table. Erika surveyed the food quickly before going to wash her hands. I took the time and shook the present, wanting to guess at what it was. It was light and it only rustled when I shook it; needless to say, my interest was piqued.
“You can open it.” Upon returning, Erika laughed at my curious gaze and sat down to help herself to the food.
So we sat next to each other and sampled the food. Both of us agreed that it was clearly much better than the other time that I attempted cooking. And thankfully, none of my fingers were bruised either!
“How are you doing?”
“Mmm?” I tilted my head at the question.
“I know it has been hard on you, with Chiharu and the others.”
“Ah.” I offered her a small smile and poked at the food still on my plate. “I… guess it will just have to be left to time.” I said that, but I wasn’t quite sure if I believed that myself. “I just never thought that I would have to pretend in front of them; I thought we could talk about anything in this world. It’s a little tiring and a little disappointing as well. Sometimes, it makes me wonder…” I started off on a tangent and was almost about to continue before I caught myself.
Unconsciously, I realized that what I had been mulling over had become my biggest fear. With the recent break up of Hoshimura-senpai and Fujimaru-senpai, I wasn’t sure whether I had the courage to approach love bravely.
I turned and looked at Erika directly. Since the last time, we had decided to be completely honest with each other. At this segment, I wavered and wondered if I should indeed speak the truth. “I wonder… if… for us to be together… will we have to denounce the entire world?” When I thought about this question, naturally, I turned towards the relationship that Hoshimura-senpai and Fujimaru-senpai shared, wanting to draw strength from them. However, I realized that for ten years, other than their close friends, no one else knew of their relationship.
So what was that situation?
Were they also afraid of denouncing the entire world?
Therefore, they kept their relationship as quiet as possible?
Erika’s gaze wavered for a moment and wandered around the kitchen before she leaned back into her chair and starred straight ahead of her. I looked at her profile and wondered if both of us needed each other’s reassurance more or whether we needed the outside world’s acceptance more.
“If we had to denounce the world, will you be able to do it?”
Finally, she turned to me and asked.
She asked the question that I had been asking myself over and over.
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know either.”
Love songs always have wonderful lyrics that made one want to swoon and sigh. One said if, I can forfeit the entire world, at least there is still you whom I can treasure; but another said even without you, I can still smile, I will be okay. Could both situations exist simultaneously or will one over write the other? Or were they both beautiful and convenient excuses for people to cite at particular periods to justify their behaviours?
At the end of dinner, Erika and I focused our attentions on the wrapped present that she brought for me. It took me three guesses to completely still have no idea what was in the box. Finally, I unravelled the present piece by piece; leaving me wide eyed was a simple summer dress that nearly had me in tears.
“I hope it’s to your liking.”
She said quietly and sat with me quietly.
I lifted the dress out of the box and looked at it slowly. What was the big deal about a summer dress? This wasn’t just any summer dress! If you would flip through my work book, on the first page stood the blue print for this summer dress. It was the first piece of design that I had sketched down myself and to see it, touch it, feel it, wear it, and live it was a dream that I thought could only come true many, many more years down the road.
In reality, it was one year and three months before it finally materialized.
We slept that evening, warm and content with the memories that were created. I had the crazy thought of hugging the dress to sleep, but Erika had threatened tor rip it to pieces. At night, I lay next to her and looked at the darkness that veiled over the room. My eyes instinctually drew towards where I knew the dress to be. Of course, thoughts of how beautiful it looked circled my brain, but behind each one of them was a deeper thought of our words.I don’t know either.
Erika told me in a quiet voice but with honest eyes. It was then that I realized I wasn’t the only one who struggled with this new situation. Chiharu, Fuyu, and Hitomi were my friends, but they were also Erika’s friends; and for her… perhaps there was also some guilt in knowing that she was the other half of the cause.
The battle of idealists and realists rested on who could endure just that much longer.
We went to school together; hand in hand until we were near the school. At the school gate, we came face to face with the others. There was a startled moment of almost panic for both parties before Erika smiled and lifted a hand in a wave. “Morning, how are you guys doing?”
“Not too bad.” Fuyu answered with a smile of her own. “Did you come to school together?”
“Yeah.” Perhaps the good mood from yesterday extended over and my elated feelings took first place over rational thought. “I slept over at Erika’s house yesterday.” Previously, there wouldn’t have been a heart beat skipped over that sentence; but now, they looked from me to her and I could literally feel the discomfort settle over us.
“I see.” Hitomi gave us that smile; the kind of smile that was meant to be polite but it spoke of tremendous awkwardness. “Well, we should get going now… we’ll… see you in class then, Megumi…?”
“I need to talk to Reika about something, so you girls go on ahead.”
Erika patted my shoulder and nodded to the others before heading off. It was that moment when all four of us stood but none of us knew what to say. I looked at them and my lips moved; nothing came out at first, but then… but then… I didn’t even know what came over me at that moment.
“Is it that hard?”
“Is it that hard to accept the fact that Erika and I are dating?”
This was the first time that I had spoken so openly to them about our relationship. Even though it was an open secret between us, no one had ever mentioned anything about that night in Canada. I faced their silence with a growing cold mass in my stomach. “Just because we are going out with each other doesn’t mean that we can’t still be friends. I don’t know what you are so concerned about! Please don’t think that just because we’ve come to the realization that we like girls, we are going to jump you without a reason. We have standards as well. Just like how you are not going to jump every guy you see, we are not going to jump every girl we see either.”
I didn’t consider whether that speech would have made things worse or offended them, but every word was spoken with feeling and I knew I truly believed in those words. Then again, I never gave them the chance to reply and headed for the school building immediately afterwards. Each step brought about an easier breath and I wondered if this meant I was ready to denounce the world for this relationship.
Yet, when I thought I could finally look at the situation with clarity, life liked to throw curve balls at us with haste.
At the end of March, Fujimaru-senpai announced her engagement with the current CEO of the Matsumoto Cooperation. It was news that shocked the entertainment world and also quaked my life. At that moment, it was like my life had been turned upside down and I starred at the words in disarray. Out of a sheer need to understand, I searched the net for some information on this CEO and I clicked open an image that had me confused for a few seconds.
I’ve seen this man before, where did I…Is Miss Fujimaru home?
… in Canada! I gasped out loud and starred at the man who starred back at me calmly. Matsumoto Anthony, the one who had come to look for Fujimaru-senpai when we were in Canada. Suddenly, I realized that nothing was ever as simple as I thought it to be.
I walked to school at a pace slower than a snail’s as I mulled over the news. Every corner I turned, it seemed like the news was ready to greet me. It was half way to school and I stopped; completely stopped and looked towards the direction of my school before gritting my teeth and turned around instead. With determined steps, I carried myself to the nearest bus station and waited.
Logically, I figured I should call Fujimaru-senpai and demand an explanation from her. However, after the last run in with her, I realized that Fujimaru-senpai had changed. She had turned into someone whom I could no longer relate to. It was like some part of her had died and was left behind in Canada. Like an ice sculpture, she was beautiful but cold to touch, and unable to be approached.
Right now, only one person entered my thought and my body seemed to have echoed my mind.
It was almost half an hour later when I stood outside of Hoshimura-senpai’s home and looked up at the house. Now that I was standing in front of her house, my confidence slipped away from me bit by bit, leaving me cold and frigid. Should I just turn around and go back to school? I could at least still make it for the second period. Did I come all the way here just to give up?
“Megumi-chan.” Hoshimura-senpai was clearly taken back when she opened the door and saw me standing on her porch. “What are you doing here? Don’t you have school today?”
“Can I talk to you?”
“… yeah, sure…” As if finally having shaken loose from her dreams, Hoshimura-senpai held the door open and stepped back to let me in. I bowed to her my thanks before stepping in. The house was quiet, and after a quick survey around, I wondered if anyone else was home. “Reika went to school and my mom went to work, it’s just you and me.” As if she could read my thoughts, Hoshimura-senpai answered with a smile; the usual smile that spoke of a quiet contentment just like before. “Let me get you something to drink.”
“Yes?” Three steps out and Hoshimura-senpai stopped to turn back quickly, as if something in my voice had shocked her.
“The news… I saw the news this morning…”
She looked at me and the smile faded. She did not need to play the fool, for she knew exactly why I was here. “Asura and I broke up over the holidays.”
“I know. I heard…” I had wanted to say that I heard from Ito-senpai, but I did not want to get someone else involved in this. “… from Fujimaru-senpai.”
“Is that so.” She smiled but it held no sway. Casually, she sat down on the wooden staircase behind her. “Asura’s fiancé, Anthony, is a good person.” I watched her speak of this man. Her forearms rested on her legs and her laced fingers moved against each other slowly. “I met him when we were in Canada, and even I was impressed.” So then, why do you sound so bitter? “I’m sure he will treat Asura kindly.”
“And you?” She glanced up at me through her fringes. “And you? Who will treat you kindly?”
Hoshimura-senpai looked at me for a long moment shook her head. “No, Megumi-chan, don’t do this.”
“Don’t hate Asura because of me.”
Hate Fujimaru-senpai? My eyebrows furrowed and I wanted to refute immediately, but then… then I realized that perhaps Hoshimura-senpai was approaching my inner heart with accuracy. Due to my own bias, perhaps I had indeed come to dislike Fujimaru-senpai.
“You have to understand that whatever choices that Asura made and makes in the future, she has her reasons; and they are legitimate reasons. Don’t think that Asura ever makes any decisions because she felt like it at that moment.”
“What are her reasons then? Tell me, senpai; what are her legitimate reasons to end a ten years relationship and get engaged three months afterwards?”
“Those are her private matters. If she does not want to reveal them, then we must respect her privacy.”
Maybe my tears had started as early as when I stepped through the door, I would never know. It was only when I tasted salt on my tongue did I realize that I had been crying. And because of my blurred vision, I could not see Hoshimura-senpai’s expressions clearly either. Was she smiling? Or was she also crying?
I wanted to ask.
Even ‘till the end, why must you protect her?
In your world, in your heart, is there no one else whom you could love?
To be continued...