Estrogen - Chapter Twenty Three
Erika and I did not contact each other for a month.
I returned from her city after we parted at the cemetery. There was nothing there for me to stay for. I wasn’t sure how I felt about her idea of going back to the beginning, but I was certainly thankful. I had anticipated much worse, and of course, I secretly hoped for much better. So when reality chose the middle ground, I could not help but feel that life was indeed fair after all.
This time around, I was determined that I would be the one who treated Erika as well as she had treated me. This time around, I was determined to understand myself first before attempting to understand Erika or expect her to understand me.
So this one month allowed me to put my focus back on school and return my heart to normal. I wanted to do well so that I would not be an embarrassment to Erika in the future. I wanted to be able to stand at the same level as she and achieve the same goals together. No longer did I want to be a little girl being protected underneath Erika’s arms. This time, we will protect each other.
In a relationship, it was about two people coming together and adjusting to one another. So in the future, if there is any changing, any adjusting, any growing, we will do them together so we can fit together better. Only in such a way can it truly be called a relationship.
Of course, I have not had any contact with Hoshimura-senpai ever since that December.
In the middle of March, Erika returned. I did not pick her up, for she did not tell me of her return date. Just like two strangers, we greeted each other on the phone politely.
“I hope for you to understand me a little better as well, Maki-san.”
“You mentioned that you were working for Fujimaru Asura-san; would it be too much to ask you to show me your work place, Ookina-san?”
Thinking back on it, I didn’t think I ever showed Erika where I worked. In a startled realization, I couldn’t believe how many little things we never took note of. We started off as friends, so there were so many things that we took for granted. This time, all will be different. It will start from the basics like favourite colors, favourite food, favourite movies; and then to the places that were of importance.
We agreed to meet on Wednesday.
On Tuesday evening, I stood in front of my closet and flipped through the hangers looking for a suitable outfit to wear. Previously, I never even cared about how I looked in front of Erika; thinking that she’s already seen me in my worst and best as a friend, there was no need for dressing up. This time, I wanted to experience what it was like to dress for a date.
After a few rounds of selection, I finally chose to wear a spring dress with a jacket over it. It was the first time that I coordinated my wardrobe all the way to what hair clip I should wear. All the while, I wasn’t even sure if I was truly concerned about Erika’s opinion or I was just nervous.
I went to bed early that evening.
We met in the early afternoon at a major intersection near Fujimaru-senpai’s work place. She approached me from across the street once again and we both bowed when close enough.
“It’s nice to meet you again, Maki-san.”
“You too, Ookina-san.”
We smiled at each other and I gestured for her to follow me. Together, we turned off the main streets towards the suburban roads that eventually branched into rows and rows of single houses. It was a week day afternoon, so we were greeted with empty roads with regenerating plants that greeted spring readily.
“Your employer works from home?”
“It’s not really her home. She actually has an apartment elsewhere; this is just where she works. Because she usually has a very hectic schedule, so it’s more convenient for her to have a house where she can work and take a nap whenever time would allow her.” I explained to her in detail, realizing once again that I’ve never told Erika this before either.
“Ah, I see.”
How many more things were there that we did not know of each other?
“Is she still working now?”
“She is. Except, she is located in Canada right now. So unless it’s something major, she would just call back and let me take care of them for her.” I wanted to brag and say that I was like the manager here in Japan, but I held my tongue and chose to remain silent instead.
I unlocked the front door and let us in.
The curtains were parted and the sun fell through the windows and onto the hard wood floor, illuminating every corner of the room. There were framed photos of Fujimaru-senpai surrounding both levels of the house and Erika looked from one to the other.
“Would you like anything to drink?”
“No, that’s alright. Thank you.”
There was that pile of work I was working on last week. And there was that bin of fan letters that I needed to forward to Fujimaru-senpai. There was the familiar scent of Fujimaru-senpai’s perfume that was everywhere in the house. The samples of her new scent were being packaged –by me, personally-, so they were scattered all over the desk.
“It seems you are quite busy.” Erika smiled and pointed to the desk.
“Sometimes, it can be. Thankfully, not many things are rush work, so I can take my time.”
“Is your boss a strict person?”
“She is; but her work ethic is the thing that I admire the most about her.”
Even now, there was not a thing she would miss. I did not know how she dealt with her family business in Canada, but she’s never missed a beat when it came to her career here in Japan. I couldn’t help but wonder whether she would be able to continue after the birth of her child.
There was still undigested shock at her becoming a mother.
Sounds of the telephone reverberated throughout the house and I looked at the nearest one, half startled.
“Go ahead.” Erika gestured for me to answer the phone.
“Megumi, I need you to do this right now.”
My eyebrows burrowed together into a frown and I looked at Erika with an apologetic expression.
“Yes, now.” However, there was no room to argue. “Go to my apartment, there is a box of previous articles that I’ve written. I need all of them sent to me immediately. Hurry up with it.”
Just when I was telling Erika that there were no rush jobs.
“But, I don’t have the keys to your apartment.”
“Go ask Natsuki, she has a copy.”
Just like that, Fujimaru-senpai hung up before I could even get a word in. As much as I told myself that I should be used to her attitude by now, I still could not help but cringe. Hoshimura-senpai was such a sore spot that I wanted to wince visibly. Especially now that Erika was with me, I just wanted to bang my head against the wall a few times. My hesitation did not go unnoticed.
“Is something wrong?”
“… Fujimaru-senpai just called and told me to pick something up for her right now…”
“I’ll go with you.”
“I… need to ask a senpai for the keys…”
Her expression changed and I knew this was such a bad time. Almost, I just wanted to throw in the towel and call it quits one way or another; except, Erika straightened her posture and nodded. “Okay, so let’s go find this senpai.”
“I’ll call her.”
So under her gaze I pulled out my phone and dialled Hoshimura-senpai’s number. Even though it was probably nothing, I had wanted this to be a difference in our relationship this time. Any communication with Hoshimura-senpai, or anyone else for that matter, will be documented and told to Erika. Part of me had hoped that she would turn me down and tell me she did not have time today. Except, she was very free.
We arranged to meet up at Fujimaru-senpai’s apartment.
Erika and I arrived early and stood on the steps of Fujimaru-senpai’s apartment building. The trip over had been filled with more silence than previously, and I didn’t know quite what to say either. I just wanted to get this done and over with so I can at least talk to Erika about something else.
Hoshimura-senpai’s car pulled up just as it was getting almost stifling.
“Megumi-chan, Maki-kun.” She greeted us with a smile and I had to stifle my own bitterness and frown. She appeared the same as always; there was not a single trace of anything that might have happened between the two of us. I understood then that Hoshimura-senpai really meant what she said about keeping quiet. At the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder how many times she’s done this to be so casual and indifferent. To know that I was just a fleeting body that she’s touched was a harsh truth to swallow.
“Sorry to make you come all the way out here today.” So I picked up my head and smiled back at her; as if declaring to the rest of the world that I was fine. However, I did not dare to look in Erika’s direction.
“Not a problem; come.”
She gestured for us to follow and we did. If Erika was unhappy, her expression did not show her feelings. Then again, her expression did not show much at all. Instead of the elevators in the lobby, Hoshimura-senpai headed for a small corridor beside the elevators and took out a card.
“This is what you would call her front door.” She explained as she stood in front of a pair of elevator doors and slid the card down a slot before punching a series of numbers. The machine took three seconds before beeping in recognition and the elevator doors slowly opened. For that moment, Erika and I exchanged dumbfounded expressions before stepping into the elevator.
What kind of place…
Hoshimura-senpai led us into an interior that was empty and cold. Each surface reflected the afternoon sun but no warmth was absorbed. I looked from one wall to another, trying to take in everything that I was looking at.
“What are you looking for?”
“Ah.” I was brought back to reality and told Hoshimura-senpai what Fujimaru-senpai wanted.
“It’s probably in her office.”
Erika and I followed without a word. Now that the initial awe had worn off, we were back to awkward step number one. At this moment, we just wanted to find that box and get out as quickly as possible.
Fujimaru-senpai’s office was piled with cardboard boxes that we all had to drop our bags and start digging through one by one. It was ridiculous how many things there were in here, but at least each one was labelled with a word or two of semi-useful descriptions. I pulled open one box after another that seemed hopeful only to be disappointed. And then I came across an unlabelled box and opened it up. Inside seemed to be a sea of confusion, leaving me equally as puzzled. There were books, but there were also random receipts and other assorted strangeness.
“What is this?”
Erika turned from her box to look over, and Hoshimura-senpai took a couple of steps closer as well.
“Ah, I should probably take that.”
Just like that, Hoshimura-senpai smiled and closed up the box before picking it up from its resting place and placed it outside of the office.
“What was it?”
“Nothing important.” She glazed over with a smile. “Let’s keep on looking.”
Of course, we managed to find the box in question after a while. Erika and I took that box and Hoshimura-senpai took the one with the mysterious contents. My eyes could not be pulled away from the cardboard box, but Hoshimura-senpai did not look like she wanted to say anything more about it either. At the door, we parted ways with a bow and a polite smile. Erika and I then took the bus to the nearest postal office and mailed it off.
“So much for a day together.” I huffed and sighed as we walked back to the bus stop. “I’m sorry, Erika.” Then, remembering our current predicament, quickly corrected myself. “I meant, Maki-san.”
Then there was a slight pause again.
“Do you want to know what was in that box?”
“Eh? You know?” My eyes widened immediately and I turned to look at her quickly.
She looked over and smiled. “Come with me then.”
What was with people and not telling me anything? I pouted out of habit but followed her anyways. We hopped onto familiar bus routes and forty something minutes later got off at an equally familiar, if not more, neighbourhood. I looked at the road and looked at Erika. She returned me a smile before walking on. Step by step, we approached her house and each step was filled with so many memories that I had the strongest urge to weep when we opened the door. Caramel no longer greeted us at the door. It was a mutual decision to give her to Erika’s neighbour, an elderly couple, at the beginning of the school year. We both knew that there wouldn’t be any time to look after Caramel and rather than let her be lonesome, we decided to give her to a warm household.
One evening and everything had been changed. I sometimes wondered where we’d be today if I had not been so… I couldn’t find the correct adjective to describe myself.
She took me upstairs and into her bedroom, another familiar territory. She opened her closet and pulled out a box. “Take a look.”
I gave her a look before moving over to open up the lid. Inside, I found a scene that was almost the same as the one I saw in Fujimaru-senpai’s office. I reached inside when she gave me an encouraging nod. The first thing I picked up was a receipt for what looked like dinner, dated… a year and several months ago. There was an array of tickets, receipts, photos, even a stick.
“Do you know what they are?” Erika started quietly. “They are tangible pieces of memory.” I had already understood what they were. Ever since our first date, Erika had dutifully kept something from each one of our dates and meetings. After three years, what remained were the saved versions of those happenings in our mind and these reminders. “Perhaps it’s a little childish, but each one holds a special meaning for me.”
Each one documented our growing relationship, and at the same time, our now misplaced distance.
I fingered each one of them carefully, recalling the dates one by one, recollecting every word and glance that we had shared on those outings. Three years and Erika already had a sizable collection; then… what about ten years? I only saw the surface of Fujimaru-senpai’s collection and wondered what the building blocks were.
So then, where were those memories now?
We sat until the sun disappeared and the room darkened, each enjoying our own version of each receipt and each ticket.
“Next month,” Erika started “is the last month of school. For one of my courses, we are required to do a play. Would you like to come and watch?”
To be continued...