Estrogen - Chapter Twenty Two
They say the end of one thing usually meant the beginning of something else; I wasn’t quite sure whether I believed in that saying or understood its meaning either. I couldn’t remember much of the day after I left Hoshimura-senpai’s place… well, no; that was a lie; I don’t want to remember anything of that day. Even now, I still feel the vomit at the back of my throat every time I try to recall. There was an abundance amount of self condemnation on my part, chiding myself for being so stupid. And then there was an endless amount of guilt. I could not fathom how I would even begin to try and explain this situation to Erika.
So I didn’t.
I think we should take a break for a little while. Sorry. I will give you a proper explanation as soon as I am able, I swear.
I was being selfish again.
It was no surprise that she would call, then text, then e-mail and finally cease after a couple of weeks when it was obvious that I was not going to be replying to any of her attempts at communication. I didn’t know what to say to her or how to say it. I could already see the disappointment and hurt in her eyes; especially when I knew that she’s never liked Hoshimura-senpai to begin with.
Sometimes, when I would sit in my room, in utter silence, I would wonder just what went wrong. I desperately missed those days when Hoshimura-senpai and Fujimaru-senpai was the ideal couple that I looked up to; when I could giggle and laugh with my friends; when I could still blush and smile with Erika. Now, Fujimaru-senpai was married and pregnant. Hoshimura-senpai was turning out to be someone different than I thought. My friends were nonexistent and Erika was no longer with me either.
For the first time in a few years, I spent Christmas with my family.
Erika did not attempt to seek me out during Christmas. I didn’t know whether she came back or whether she stayed at her university instead.
I didn’t want to see anyone.
January, the second semester started and I wanted to put everything that happened in the last year behind me. Let them stay in the year that’s passed. So I decided to focus on school and take my mind off of all these complicated relationships around me. Erika did not attempt to contact me. Hoshimura-senpai did not attempt to contact me either. I was thankful. I didn’t think I was ready to face either of them quite yet.
It was when I saw the roses that floated around campus did I realize that it was once again Valentine’s Day. This year, there was no one to celebrate it with and I couldn’t help but wonder what Erika was doing. Were there suitors on her end? Did other men and women notice her change in status and invited her to spend Valentine’s Day with them?
At this point, I think I was more scared than confused. I was scared to contact her, to explain to her what happened. I think I was more scared to know that she was doing just fine, even without me in her life.
The last week of February, I received a surprise guest at home.
My mom had shouted for me to come and greet my friend when I was in the middle of a sketch. A little frustrated, I huffed and threw down my pencil to jog downstairs. I had no idea whom it might be, and part of me feared that it might be Erika.
I paused at the bottom step and looked at her in surprise. She bowed at me when I could only stare.
“Homework?” She asked me when I took her back to my room and closed the door behind us. “Seems like you have a whole pile still left to go.” She pointed at the pile that was next to the one I was currently doing.
I offered her a forced smile and sat down on my bed carefully. This was my room, yet I felt so uncomfortable with her. Even though there was barely any resemblance between her and Hoshimura-senpai, looking at her could not help but remind me of her sister. The disgust was no longer as strong as it used to be, but it still lingered. “What are you doing here?” Finally I asked.
Reika put down my sketch pad and then turned to look at me. Without invitation, she sat down on my chair and faced me directly.
Even though she was younger than me, but I’ve always found her presence to be intimidating.
“I heard about what happened.”
My heart skipped a beat and I looked up at her sharply. “What are you talking about?”
“You and Maki-senpai.”
My throat tightened.
“Well, truthfully, I don’t know for sure. My sister came back over the weekend and mentioned to me about how Maki-senpai seemed to be having a hard time in her class. Apparently, Maki-senpai’s marks have dropped steadily since the Christmas break and her performances have been filled with mistakes as well. She asked me whether I knew anything about it.”
Should I feel relieved to know that Erika was not doing well without me? It was such a selfish thought, but knowing that she was having a hard time threatened tears to my eyes. Ah, I thought, so I still mean something to her.
I looked at Reika and wet my lips, but found nothing to say. This time, she did not rush into words of her own either. Instead, she sat and waited for me patiently; as if she was determined to hear it from my own mouth.
“We… I asked Erika to take a break…”
“Because.” It was a reflexive and defensive word that told the other party that indeed something had happened. My heart started racing once again and I wondered if Reika heard the undertone in that one word alone.
“Something happened between you and Natsuki, didn’t it?” Again, I was shocked speechless by her perception. “What happened?” Her eyes narrowed for a second then she chuckled –it was ugly and bitter- and glanced away. “Never mind, why did I even bother to ask? What could possibly have happened but that?”
I wasn’t sure how I should feel. I was a little angry that Reika would assume that she knew everything when I’ve barely spoken to her. Just because I went to her asking about Hoshimura-senpai didn’t necessarily mean that something happened. Even if in this case… something did happen.
“What would you know? You’re just a child.”
Yet, I forgot that she was only a year younger than me.
“I may be a child, but I am Natsuki’s younger sister. I know much more than you could ever imagine.”
“Then what do you think happened?”
“You two had sex.”
My mouth dropped open and I gaped at her in silence. Part of me was glad that I didn’t have to be the one to say it out loud; but to know that she knew was so humiliating that I had to bite my lip to prevent myself from crying.
“Because I am Natsuki’s sister.” She said softly; and I thought I saw sympathy in her eyes. With a sigh, Reika turned her gaze away and looked out of my window. An hour later, after she left, I sat at the same place and starred out of the window to see her disappear down the road. Her words seemed to be stored in the walls of my room, always on repeat mode.
You don’t need to think that you are a horrible person just because you’ve slept with my sister.
She started, sounding older than her age.
My sister is just like that. She is a promiscuous person, and because she’s always gotten her way and been spoiled, she does not understand that other people have things and people precious to them as well. When she started dating Asura-oneechan, it was the first time in her life that I’ve ever seen her so serious about someone. For ten years, I thought she could at least change a little, but when Asura-oneechan left, it was like Natsuki needed to do even more than before to cover up that wound.
If she, or anyone else, had told me that before it happened, I would never have believed them. Now, I could listen with a calm heart and digest the information given. Reika said it was Hoshimura-senpai’s way to deal with things. And I couldn’t help but wonder if it was healthy to be dealing with things in this particular manner. Hoshimura-senpai aside, there were bound to be other people hurt as well.
Now that Asura-oneechan is no longer here, you need to stop spoiling Natsuki. I keep on telling Shina-oneechan to stop spoiling her, but she never listens to me.
Ito-senpai perhaps thought that she might have finally reached the end of her long years of waiting, but maybe she also finally understood that if it isn’t Fujimaru Asura, then Hoshimura-senpai won’t take anyone seriously.
Don’t think too poorly of yourself. If it weren’t you that evening, it would have been someone else. But, at the same time, I’m not laying all the blame on Natsuki. Obviously something is wrong with you as well. Anyways, that’s not in my place to say, but I hope you will at least talk to Maki-senpai. She deserves the truth, if nothing else.
Truthfully, it felt degrading to be chided by someone younger than me. I understood her words and I have told myself those same words as well. However, the fear inside was keeping me back from everything that I knew I should be doing. For many hours, I sat and starred out of my window. Perhaps I was thinking, perhaps I wasn’t. I felt that I needed those hours to sort out my head, to figure out myself and to figure out the situation that I was currently in.
Next morning, I packed a backpack of clothes and necessities before leaving.
It took me an hour and twenty-seven minutes to get to the intercity bus terminal. I sat on a bench and waited for the familiar bus to pass by. I did not tell anyone where I was going; I didn’t want anyone to know where I was going either. To my parents, I told them I will be staying at a friend’s place for a few days to work on a project and they left it at that. Maybe they thought that their daughter would never lie to them.
Would they be disappointed? If they were to find out what I have done?
The bus ride was close to three hours and I was finally in the same city as Erika. It was my first time here, and I could only rely on the map that I had gotten at the bus terminal. With it spread it open in my hands; I walked and located Erika’s university campus first before going away.
I did not want to see her just yet.
For three days, I stayed in a cheap motel room and wandered the city. I looked at all the unfamiliar sights and people around me, but nothing was out of the ordinary. I walked from one place to another and took note of every little description I could. I think I was saying goodbye to some things and welcoming other things at the same time. It was the first time that I’ve wanted to know what Erika would see on a daily basis. I wanted to share the same views as her.
On the fourth evening, I finally sat down on my bed after a shower and picked up my phone.
It’s me. Would you be able to meet me tomorrow?
And I watched as the cell phone screen told me it was sent. I sighed and closed my eyes, clutching the phone to my chest. Every second felt like an eternity and I sat on the edge of the motel bed, waiting; almost praying.
Tomorrow would be a little rushed. How about this weekend? I’ll go back to town. Where do you want to meet?
My heart skipped a beat and I quickly replied.
I’m actually here… in your city.
I imagined that Erika would have a startle once she sees these words.
Where and when do you want to meet?
I imagine my choice of location would give her more of a scare than me randomly showing up. Still, she agreed and I did not elaborate any further either. That evening, I sat in my motel room and did everything I could to take my mind off the impending meeting. I read and I watched T.V.; I took a long bath and even drank a cup of tea with a slice of cake on the veranda of the motel. Don’t think that it over looked anything extraordinary, I just wanted the change in scenery.
The next day, I stood outside of the cemetery and waited for Erika.
Cars and busses passed me by, but no one stopped to offer me a glance. In such a busy city, everyone had something they needed to be doing; no one had the time to worry about another person. From across the street, I saw Erika approaching. Pushing away from the wall, I straightened my back and waited for her. I didn’t know whether I could smile, so I just left my lips the way they were.
She approached one step at a time, her gaze locked on me, and mine on her.
“Long time no see.”
My lips twitched and I nodded.
We looked at each other for a long time, neither knowing what to say. I did not rehearse anything for today because I told myself that words were the most real when I could just speak without hindrance or a pre-constructed outline.
“Why did you want to meet here?”
I glanced behind me at the cemetery and then offered her a small smile. “Do you mind walking with me?”
She lifted an eyebrow, looked at the cemetery and then back at me before nodding. Like always, Erika had always followed along with my words. Whatever I wanted to do, she would consent without a fuss. In the last few days, I had enough time and space to look through our relationship from the beginning to the end; and I realized that I might never be able to find someone who treated me so well.
“Today, I really hope we can talk candidly.” I started when we entered the cemetery. It was empty and I could not see any visitors. “I will say everything I need to say without holding back, and I hope you will do the same as well.”
“I’m sorry for not contacting you for so long.”
“I want to say it’s okay, but…” She trailed off and shrugged; her expression told me that she was not quite okay with it. I smiled and she smiled back. Hers was one of mild embarrassment while mine was one of guilt. However, I did say that I wanted this talk to be sincere, so I was glad she was consenting.
“The reason I didn’t contact you is because I did something wrong.” I started, keeping my eyes on the ground in front of me and the tombstones all around us. “In December, I slept with Hoshimura-senpai.”
She visibly paled and I turned to face her as she starred at me in pure shock. Perhaps she thought about many things, but obviously this wasn’t one of them. I waited for her to digest the news and wondered if I’d see her temper for the first time. The shock slipped away from her face and her eyes were unreadable for a long time.
“I can’t answer that because I don’t even know the answer myself.” It was the most truthful answer that I could give. “I think a part of me had always liked Hoshimura-senpai, but because she was dating Fujimaru-senpai, I never paid that part of me any thought.” Have you ever had to dissect yourself without bias? I tried and it was unsuccessful. This was the closest that I’ve come to a conclusion. “Fujimaru-senpai was reported to be pregnant, and I just…”
Didn’t know what happened.
“Do you still like her?”
“I do.” It was a quiet admission, but I forced myself to look into Erika’s eyes no matter what. I forced myself not to cry. “I think somewhere in my heart, I will always like her; she was my first crush and… that first is hard to erase.” Always in my heart, no matter how much I might despise Hoshimura-senpai, I will still remember her as my first crush. Except, it was a first crush with many tainted spots.
She said nothing and kept on walking.
“I am shocked that you would sleep with her, but I can’t say that it’s a surprise to hear of your crush on her. I think I’ve always known, but never really tried to acknowledge it.”
Thinking back on it, perhaps everyone knew and I was the only one who was blind.
“Can you forgive me?” She turned her head and looked at me, perhaps a little agitated and a little in disbelief. “I’m not asking you to forgive me right now. I meant, do you think you can forgive me in time?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m sorry, Erika. I really am.”
She walked on ahead of me, two paces in front me, and I dutifully kept our distance. Around us, engravings on tombstones read loving phrases of a gentle soul who had passed on. I wondered what mine would say when the time came. I did not know for how long we walked until she finally stopped and turned around.
“If I cried and begged on my knees, can we start anew?”
“If I cried and begged on my knees to the gods, can I erase the past?” I was speechless at her candour and that almost mocking tone, but I didn’t have anyone to blame except for myself. She sighed and turned her face away. “Because Hoshimura-senpai might have been your first crush, but you are my first love.” The sun shone in my eyes and I could not see the expression on Erika’s face very well. “I want to take you back and say that I can forgive you, but truthfully, I can’t. At least right now, I can’t.”
Such was the response that I’ve prepared myself for, but when I’ve actually heard it with my own ears, the pain still throbbed and my eyes stung with tears. Erika bowed her head and turned it away, I wondered if she was crying as well.
“Let’s start from the beginning.” At length, she finally said. “Let’s start from the very beginning; start from when we first saw each other, start from when we did not even develop feelings for one another.”
When everything was still simple.
“Hello, it’s nice to meet you. My name is Maki Erika. I am eighteen years old and am studying performance arts currently.”
She took a step forward and held out a hand towards me. I looked at the hand and then up at her.
“Hello, it’s nice to meet you too. My name is Ookina Megumi. I am eighteen years old and am studying fashion design.”
“In three weeks, I have a break and will be back in my home town. Let us meet again then. For now…”
For now, we will part as a pair of strangers who have met for the first time.
If we rewound the tape to when we first met, could we hope that our feelings will be turned to that time as well?
To be continued...