Estrogen - Chapter Three
In a flurry of actions, all the students put down their pens and sat back with a collective heave of sigh. The class room remained silent 'till the teacher had collected all the test papers and announced the start of our winter break. Between the cheering of the students and the teacher frantically trying to contain our excitement, I shared my own smiles and thumb-ups with my friends, even Erika looked more excited than usual.
For good or for worse, the exams are finished. Regardless of how we did, we can't do anything about it now!
"Ne, Megumi-chan, you are coming to the party tonight, right?"
I paused at the front gate of our school and my brain took a couple of extra seconds to remember. That's right! Hoshimura-sempai had announced that she'd prepare a party for the entire drama club after exams were done to thank us for the wonderful logos and to celebrate the good job that we did with the winter play. I'm not sure how many noticed, but Ito-sempai's face was darker than usual on that particular day.
"Mm, I will be!" I nodded my head in the affirmative before separating from the group. For a short while anyways. I figured that Fujimaru-sempai had been more than lenient with granting me so many days of leave without a word of complaint during this exam season, I should at least repay her with something!
Even if what I could get her is limited.
"Oh, you're in today."
This was Fujimaru-sempai greeting me after about half an hour since my arrival. I have my own set of keys to her place, so when I had arrived, the first floor was empty but the T.V. was on, an indication that she was home. And now, the model strolled down the stairs with ease, still in her silk bathrobe, her long strands of hair clinging to her back.
Indicative of a shower.
"How did your exams go?"
"As good as they can go, I suppose." I answered with a nervous grin, when on the inside I had already put those horrible things completely out of my mind. "I had wanted to give this to you since I won't be seeing you during Christmas." From my bag, I retrieved a carefully wrapped box and extended it towards her.
Fujimaru-sempai looked at me before looking at the box and then stepped forward to take it from my fingers. I watched as she weighed it in her hands with a mildly curious glaze in her eyes, but in the end, she did not unwrap the gift.
"So you used the money I paid you with to get me something. If I knew this was going to happen, I would have just deducted the pay from your cheque as I saw fit." And yet, she was still impossible regardless of time and space. If she deducted my pay as she saw fit, I would not have a cheque to speak with! What doesn't cost at least a few hundreds of thousands yen in her eyes? "But, thank you." She said at last.
Well, no matter what, she can at least utter the correct words.
I left work earlier than usual, half because of the party, half because Fujimaru-sempai said that she needed to get ready because she had an appointment to keep tonight as well. The mid-December weather was a bit chilly to take a stroll in; my footsteps were hastened when I headed home. During this silent interlude, I suddenly realized that Fujimaru-sempai had not uttered a single word about anything for me!
All of a sudden, I felt dejected.
Not even a greeting of "merry Christmas"!
With a heavy sigh, I wondered if she even liked me as an assistant. Scratch that, I wonder if she even recognized me as an assistant!
Rounding the corner, my house was already within sight. Yet, there seemed to be extra activity at the house next to ours. Unconsciously, my feet picked up pace and I hurried over to see if I could be of any help. Nagataka-san saw me first and gave me a large grin, waving me over. To me, Nagataka-san was like an uncle, he's known me ever since I was in diapers and saw me grow up.
When I was still young, we used to live near city center. It was a great spot for shopping and commuting with all the busses in the city passing through. I never had to wait for a bus. However, in my second year of junior high, we suffered a break-in. The worst was that I was home when the thief came in. Of course, he didn’t see me as I hid well, but after that, my parents had not another ounce of desire to live there any more.
The neighbours were shaken up as well.
So when we decided to move, Nagataka’s family followed suit. The two families actively looked for houses together and in the end we bought the houses that we live in now. It’s further away from school, but it was a quiet neighbourhood. The people were all family orientated here and my parents felt safe. I felt safer as well.
"Ah, Megumi-chan, look who's back."
It was then that I noticed the car parked on the driveway, from it emerged someone whom I haven't thought of in a while. My face flushed and I quickly bowed. "Jun-kun, welcome back."
"So formal, Megumi-chan." He spoke and I recognized his voice as ever the same. Slowly, I lifted my head and gave him a smile. "How have you been?"
"I've been good!" Quickly, I confirmed for the affirmative. "And you?"
"Not bad either. University is a great thing!"
"Yeah, you get to be away from our watchful eyes. Now spill, what unspeakable things have you done in university?!" Nagataka-san grabbed his son by the neck and feigned a tone of utmost anger. Both Jun and I had to laugh at it, knowing that Nagataka-san was merely playing around. After a few more moments of casual conversation, we entered our own respective houses. At the door, I paused to glance over at the other's door close.
It's been a few months, and although at the beginning of his time away, I've always thought about him, slowly those thoughts died away a little. However, I was still keenly aware that somewhere deep in my heart, I probably still have a little crush on him. If anything, it's the remaining regret of not having said anything to him.
At this moment, my cell phone chimed and I quickly flipped it open.
I fell asleep when I should have been thinking about what to wear for the party. This sucks. Are you ready? Let's head over together.
I giggled at her tone before replying with a brief message. Jun-kun can wait for now, I will have to think about what to wear for the party as well!
"And so, to the success of the drama club. Cheers!" Ito-san took the role of giving a short little speech tonight with Hoshimura-sempai next to her. We all echoed the celebratory remark and lifted our glasses to clink with one another. Although the two of them were old enough to drink, for the sake of conforming to us, we've decided to replace alcohol with healthy juices. Even though it's no where as exciting, but the ambience did not let that influence our mood.
We stood in a circle chatting casually about this and that, the entire time, my head was filled with the image of Nagataka, wondering about what I should do or should not do. Knowing me, thoughts could not be concealed in my head only.
"Megumi-chan, what's wrong?" Erika's voice brought me back to reality and I blinked at the circle of concerned looks. From one to another, I looked over and wanted to say that it was nothing, but decided against it.
"Today... Nagataka Jun-kun came back for the holidays..." My voice was soft and my sentence was hesitant, the ending trailed off into silence.
"Ah! The guy you said you had a crush on?" Fuuyu exclaimed first, the drink in her hand nearly spilt in her excitement. I flushed heavily and sent her an accusing look; she returned a sheepish smile and backed down.
"Whom?" Erika questioned without reserve, looking at me with unwavering gaze. I was the one who wanted to dig a hole and bury myself.
"Nagataka Jun-kun." Chiharu was faster than me, quickly divulging the story to Erika. Chiharu, Hitomi and Fuuyu and I have known each other longer, so I have already confessed my feelings to them. Erika and I have only begun interacting this school year, so there hasn't been the time to speak of such things with her. "He's her neighbour, also someone whom she grew up with. She's always had a crush on him."
"Ah, I see." Erika then returned her attention to me. "And?"
And? I looked at her, somewhat taken back by the blunt way she had asked. "And... and... I don't know... what I should do... I mean..."
Should I confess? Though I still feel my heart beat faster when around him, still blush; still look at him shyly, but...
"How is my favourite little messenger doing?" At this moment, Hoshimura-sempai's voice interjected and her arm swung down to land around my shoulders.
... But in front of Hoshimura-sempai, my heart also beats faster, I also blush and I also look at her shyly. So how can these reactions be conclusive of anything?
"Hoshimura-sempai!" It was the unanimous exclamation throughout the circle, except for Erika. In reality, as I looked closer at Erika, she appeared to be deep in thought, holding that glass of whatever juice that she had poured herself. It was a pretty orange.
"I just came by to greet you guys before I head out for the night."
"So soon?" Hitomi looked at her with those typical puppy eyes, not even bothering to conceal her disappointment. I looked at her and wondered if I'll ever be as frank as she.
"Yeah, sorry. I have to meet someone. She'd skin me alive if I didn't show up."
I looked over at Hoshimura-sempai's feigned distressed face and laughed lightly causing her to glance down at me with a smile of her own. See, there goes the heart beating and face blushing and shy avoiding gaze. "Anyways, you girls have lots of fun. I'll see you all around in school. Have a great holiday." She ruffled my hair lightly before saluting to the rest of the group and headed off.
Near the door, she and Ito-sempai exchanged a few words and then, she was gone.
I wondered, between Hoshimura-sempai and Jun-kun, who do I react stronger to?
At the end of the night, we all bid each other goodbye's and happy holiday's, like any other year. However, it was the first time that I've been surrounded by this many people, laughing, talking and truly enjoying my life. It seemed that senior high truly was a time for a change of life. As opposed to previously, my parents have taken the time to drive out and pick me up. Since Erika had always taken her time to walk me home, it was only natural for us to invite her over for the night. Especially after my parents found out that her father was not home often.
It wouldn’t be right for a girl to spend Christmas alone.
In the end, Erika only bowed and followed us home. My sister was still up watching T.V. and couldn’t even give us the time of her life for a single greeting. Erika only laughed but didn’t make any further remarks. That night, we slept in silence. She took the futon while I was in my bed. Although we talked lightly, there wasn’t too much conversation exchanged. Part of me felt weird, after all, Erika and I have always been able to find something to talk about. She seemed to have been deep in her own thoughts and I didn’t want to disturb her either.
The darkness of the room gave me time to roam my eyes over familiar shapes, and then as if out of habit, they ticked up to look at the windows. Just barely, I could see the faint indication of a light. I laid there and wondered, then it came to me, that light was coming from Jun-kun’s room. It’s been months since I last saw a light in that room.
All of a sudden, it was as if time rewound itself and I was back in elementary school again. That night, I wasted my dreams on imaginations and fantasies.
The first rays of the sun woke me up and my instinctual movement was to curl underneath the blanket. It’s the holiday season; the sun should be resting as well! I looked down on the floor and the futon was already made, Erika must have been up already. That thought cleared my head faster than anything else and I practically jumped out of bed in search for her. Turns out, she was downstairs making breakfast.
“Ah, morning, how did you sleep?”
“Good.” I answered with a hazy grin, somehow I felt shy around her.
“Your parents left a note saying that they went out with your sister.” She explained while pointing to the note left on the kitchen table, which I glanced over. Not that I didn’t trust what she was saying. “I hope you don’t mind that I took over the kitchen.”
“No, no, not at all.” I quickly waved my hands to signal that I was fine with that. Erika only offered a smile before turning back to the task at hand. I watched her from my place besides the table and wondered just how she’s always managed to look so fresh. I didn’t know when she got up, but from her progress with the food, it shouldn’t have been too long ago. Yet, watching her like this made me feel comfortable and calm. As if it was normal to be by ourselves and enjoying a quiet morning together.
It was a strange feeling yet it put me at ease.
After breakfast, we decided to take a walk over at a nearby park before she has to go home. I tried persistently for her to stay, but she would only give me no as an answer. She said
“I need to think about something.”
“What is it? What’s wrong?” I looked to her with concern as she put on her gloves at the doorway.
“It’s nothing, just something someone said last night.”
“Oh? At the party?” And my mind suddenly flashed to the part when Hoshimura-sempai dropped her arm around me so casually.
“Yeah. It’s nothing, don’t worry about it. I’ll sort through these things in no time.” Her hand met the door knob and pulled it open, holding it for me. “Come on, let’s go! The air is the most fresh at this time!”
“Oh you health freak.” I couldn’t help but mutter as she gasped in feigned shock. Both of us giggled our way out of the house, only to be stopped by another’s voice.
To our left, Jun had just gotten out of the car and was ready to go inside. Immediately, I felt my face flush and my entire body seemed not to know how to present itself. This is ridiculous!
“Merry Christmas Megumi-chan, and…” He looked towards my side and I quickly realized that Erika was still there.
I looked carefully from Jun-kun to Erika, not so much as from Jun-kun, but Erika’s mood seemed to have dropped detrimentally. Does she know him? I didn’t understand why she would react in this manner to a simple greeting. For the entire day, I didn’t dare bring it up. Perhaps I was more worried that Erika had noticed my embarrassing reaction to Jun-kun this morning. Yet as I treaded on careful grounds, I couldn’t help but notice her frown throughout most of the day.
To be continued...