Estrogen - Chapter Six
Since White Day, I found myself smiling more despite whatever obstacles presented themselves. My sister teased that I was in love, which I refuted whole-heartedly. I wasn’t in love, I knew that. Although I may bask myself in this bubble that Erika had built for me, I could not lie to myself and fool myself into thinking that it was love.
Near the end of April, Fujimaru-sempai handed me five envelopes before I left for the day.
“Eh? These are?”
Fujimaru-sempai leaned against the wall next to her front door and watched me get ready to leave. Ever since that time long ago, I’ve always tried to ascertain whether that mysterious necklace-like object was around her neck. Today was one of those days when she decided to wear a turtle neck and ruin my sight of her neck.
“It’s my birthday next week, feel free to come if you’d like.”
I walked home while looking at the invitations that she had given me. Apparently, it will be held at a certain hotel, but the number of guests is limited so to keep out unwanted people. The envelopes and invitations were done in an elegant fashion that resembled her. Each one was sprayed with the fragrance that she endorsed – Tomorrow’s Fragrance, courtesy of her name Asura.
When I presented these invitations to my friends, they snatched them up like greedy money hoarders and flipped it back and forth as if to make sure of the authenticity. I rolled my eyes at them and turned to look at Erika who had just finished reading it.
“Will you be going?” She asked with a smile and I nodded.
“It’s only polite to do so, especially since I work for her and she was nice enough to have offered for my friends to come as well.”
“Then I’ll go too.”
To keep me company, I knew that well. See, this is what I mean! How could I not be grateful towards someone like this? How could my heart not flutter against my chest? I smiled at her and between the two of us there were secrets that I knew the other three would not be able to penetrate. Perhaps they’ve already noticed that as well.
I helped Fujimaru-sempai prepare for the party and looked through the guest list; and on it, I recognized the names of many influential people in the entertainment circle of today. Inwardly, I gasped at the names one after another and wondered just how much this is going to cost for Fujimaru-sempai. There were two names I recognized especially, Hoshimura Natsuki and Ito Shina. It was the first time I was exposed to Hoshimura-sempai’s given name and silently uttered it in my head. Natsuki, it fitted her. The day of the actual party, the girls got ready at my house, much to the annoyance of my sister. Each one was more excited than the next, especially when I told them of the many celebrities who will be attending. At exactly seven pm, a knock came at my door to signal that the driver had arrived. Fujimaru-sempai had told me that it was proper to arrive in a limousine like everyone else would, so to accommodate my short-comings –as she had called it-, she will provide the limousine as well.
We squealed and bounced down the stairs with stars in our eyes, it was like a dream! The driver held open the door for us and this night we could pretend that we were of social elites as well. Of course, the true social elites arrived in their own limousine that pulled up one after another in front of the hotel’s door.
“This cannot be real! Someone, pinch me.”
And there was loud wince and complaint when Fuuyu did indeed pinch Chikaru on her cheek. We couldn’t help but laugh at the scene as we waited in this line of limousines. One after another, we filed out of the car and up the stairs. There was excitement, but there was also apprehension amongst the group as well. In the end, all of them hid behind me and nudged me forward. I may work for Fujimaru-sempai, but this was certainly the first time that I’ve been in such a setting as well.
Besides me, Erika stepped forward to be on the same level as me.
“Hello girls, we were looking for you.”
A familiar voice and two familiar faces! We were all too glad for the distraction and flocked around Hoshimura-sempai and Ito-sempai. The two of them seemed right at home with such an event, I would imagine that they’ve attended this more than once. Ito-sempai was in a deep purple dress that showed off modest amount of skin. Hoshimura-sempai chose to come in formal dress shirt and pants combination.
“There are so many people here!” Fuuyu couldn’t help but comment.
“There used to be more.” Hoshimura-sempai explained. “It used to be open invitation and anybody could show up. Then it was just crazy, and eventually she had to cut the list down to personal invites only.” Even so, the hotel lobby was filled with people. Waiters and waitresses already have a hard enough time squeezing past people.
“Oh my God, is that…?!” Hitomi’s exclamation drew our gazes towards the young man who had just stepped through the door. I recognized him from some drama on T.V., apparently he was a new idol rising. From Hitomi’s expression, it was obvious that she was a fan.
“Do you want an autograph?” Hoshimura-sempai asked with a grin. Hitomi immediately turned to her with wide eyes, as if her entire life depended upon it. “Tell the princess later and I’m sure she’ll get you one with no problem.”
Not only him, the more I looked around the more celebrities I saw. In a corner, an elderly man caught my attention and I turned to look at Erika immediately. I tugged at her hand and drew her attention away from the crowd and pointed him out to her. Then I felt her body tense and she averted her gaze quickly, I was even amused to see that she was capable of embarrassment as well.
The crowd hushed slowly and we looked towards the grand staircase. Hoshimura-sempai set down her glass of champagne and muttered an excuse me before heading towards her. Fujimaru-sempai stepped down those stairs in a red evening gown, the dress was one of her own designs and there was no one else more suitable to wear it than she. Her long hair was pulled up in a messy fashion that gave her an allure not many could resist. She was a star, no; a princess like Hoshimura-sempai had called her all along. At the bottom of the staircase, they caught up with each other and she accepted the hand Hoshimura-sempai held out for her.
“Everyone, I thank you sincerely for attending my birthday party tonight.” Fujimaru-sempai started. Her gaze swept the entire crowd but stopped for no one, her expression was one of absolute control. “I do hope that you will all enjoy yourselves tonight and please feel free to indulge in all that we have prepared for you.” Then she turned to look at Hoshimura-sempai and the two shared a smile. “May I introduce to you Hoshimura Natsuki, captain of the national basketball team.” She paused to let the title sink in. “I hope we will all support our country in their quest for championship within the country and the world alike.”
The crowd clapped and Hoshimura-sempai bowed deeply before rising, chatter broke out once again and those two disappeared amongst people.
“It’s great that Fujimaru-sempai is so supportive of her schoolmates’ career.” Chikaru commented after witnessing such a scene.
“Despite appearances, Fujimaru-sempai is actually a good person.” Ito-sempai explained, drawing her gaze back and gave us a smile. “Even when we were in senior high, Fujimaru-sempai had always been the one to rally for school support and attended our games regularly.”
“That’s because there was nothing else to do in school anyways.”
“Fujimaru-sempai, happy birthday!”
The star of tonight’s program had appeared before us; and up close, she looked just as radiant as far away. It was a natural beauty that needed no make-up to cover up any flaws. Hoshimaru-sempai stood beside her like a prince, and I couldn’t help but think of how they address each other.
“Hitomi, right?” She had directed her attention to Hitomi while Hitomi could only nod mutely. Fujimaru-sempai offered her a smile before extended her hand for Hitomi to take, the younger could only follow. “We’ll be back.”
Then under our watchful gazes, Fujimaru-sempai led her away into the crowd.
“Where is she taking her?” Erika asked after a few seconds.
“I hope Hitomi-chan is not prone to fainting.”
We all looked towards Hoshimura-sempai who only smiled mischievously but gave no answer. “How about you, Megumi-chan? Got anyone whom you’d like to speak with here?”
“Well…” I spoke up slowly and glanced at Erika, wondering if I even have the right to do this. “… no, it’s nothing…”
“What is it?”
I gave her a nervous smile and quickly glanced at the elderly man once again, Erika immediately tugged on my hand and I withdrew my gaze. Our strange behaviour did not escape Hoshimura-sempai’s eyes and she followed my gaze before smiling. When she didn’t say anything else, I sighed in relief along with Erika.
“Give me a second.”
Again, Hoshimura-sempai excused herself and this time approached Fujimaru-sempai as she was leading Hitomi back to us. Oh my dear friend really did look like she could need another heart.
“Hitomi, what happened?!”
“I… could… die… happy…”
In her hands, there clutched a handkerchief signed with someone’s signature. Then I understood, and everyone else did as well. Chikaru and Fuuyu surrounded her immediately, almost pulling on the handkerchief to take a look.
Fujimaru-sempai held out a hand for her this time and Erika looked more than a bit taken back. I don’t know whether Fujimaru-sempai knew that I had been referring to Erika when I spoke of my problems a while back.
Erika looked at me and I gave her an encouraging smile, I didn’t know what Fujimaru-sempai wanted, but she wouldn’t kill her for sure. Erika looked at me for a moment longer before stepping forward and taking Fujimaru-sempai’s hand. The two of them stepped away and I was just about to follow when Hoshimura-sempai touched my shoulder and held me back.
“Don’t worry, it’ll be fine.”
And in a moment, I understood what she meant. Immediately, I snapped my head up to look at Hoshimura-sempai in astonishment, this sempai only chuckled but didn’t say anything. Both of us looked on as Erika bowed to that elderly man before carrying on a conversation. Forgive me, for I am not a good friend –or girlfriend?-. Erika had mentioned to me many times that he was a director whom she looked up to all her life. One day, her dream was to work with him and star as a lead actress in his films.
The bad part? Even ‘till this day, I could not recall his name.
“I presume everything is fine now?” Hoshimura-sempai spoke softly besides me, it was nearly drowned out by the noise around us, but I still heard her. Slowly, I nodded but did not take my eyes off of Erika. She looked astonished and so happy at the same time. Fujimaru-sempai had stepped back to give her room. “I can see that she’s a good girl.”
“She really is.” I agreed with Hoshimura-sempai and looked up at her. “Although I am still uncertain and unsure, but I feel that we’re at a good place. She is considerate and kind; there’s never been a word of question or an inclination to move faster than I am prepared to.”
“Then it’s all good.” She reached out and patted the top of my head.
I knew that a part of me will always look for Hoshimura-sempai; she was just someone who needed and demanded constant attention.
That night, after the other three had gone to sleep, Erika and I stood on the small balcony next to the family room upstairs.
“He was so kind! When he heard that I’m aspiring to be an actress, he even offered for me to send him some of my tapes so he could give me some pointers.” Erika spoke on and from looking at her profile; I knew that she was excited. “It’s a dream come true, really.”
“Erika has always been a great actress, I’m sure he will be impressed!”
She turned to look at me and leaned over to gently rest her head against my shoulder, although she was a bit taller than me, it didn’t seem uncomfortable. “Thank you, Megumi. I’m glad you gave Hoshimura-sempai that hint.” I laughed nervously and patted her back. “Fujimaru-sempai told me that Hoshimura-sempai had told her about the situation and asked her to introduce me to him.”
In the end, it was still because of those two that I could put such a smile on her face. But I was glad, because it meant that I was able to do something for her as well. Despite how little it was compared to all that she’s done for me, I felt that we were slowly beginning to approach the same line.
Mid-May, it was the first game for the national team this year. We regarded this game as the last chance for us to let loose before we’ll have to plunge right back into exams. It was a warm May afternoon when almost the entire school turned out to watch the game. It was supposed to be an exhibition match but from the players’ faces, it was evident that they will not be treating this as such. The national team agreed to play a friendly game with the school team since they’ve been training together for so long now, and the captain of the national team was once a student of this school as well. The idea caught everyone’s attention and the principal was more than happy to enlist this date for us.
So happy that he even cancelled all afternoon classes for the day.
The court was filled with people, most were here for the school’s team, but even more people were here solely for Hoshimura-sempai. Thanks to the fact that we helped design the national team’s logo, we were given front row seats right behind the players’ bench. It was half an hour before the start of the game and the place was buzzing with excitement.
“Wow, it’s like we’re attending an MBA game.” Fuuyu whispered and Chikaru smacked her on the arm.
“NBA, you idiot!”
But the turn out was surprising, I couldn’t believe how many people were here! I didn’t even know that there were this many people in our school! “This is receiving better acceptance than our play.” I leaned over to Erika and whispered.
She laughed and pinched my cheek with affection. “Silly, how can our plays compare to this?” I rubbed the spot where she pinched me and gave her a playful pout. I didn’t know whether I was getting used to the idea that perhaps we could be dating, or because I had just forgotten about it, I was slowly beginning to act more and more like myself with her. Things that I’ve not even shared with my family could be spoken with her.
It was scary. Sometimes I wonder if this was even healthy.
In front of us, Ito-sempai was giving the team a last minute run-down of the game plan. Hoshimura-sempai stood with her head bowed and listening, for once, I saw that face of determination. Was this the same drive that had her achieve her place on the national team? Ito-sempai clapped her hands and the team cheered before separating. The starting players spread out and warmed up their own way, Hoshimura-sempai instead reached for her water bottle and sat down with it.
Was she nervous? I could not tell from her back.
Then slowly, the court hushed one person to the next. At first, we did not feel it sitting so up front, but by the time it reached us, the place was almost silent. We looked around in confusion before following the mass’s gaze and turned around in our seats to look up. Way up.
At the top entrance, Fujimaru-sempai had just entered the court and her presence was enough to slowly silence the crowd. She let the door shut behind her and took her time stepping down the steps as if nothing was wrong. At the top of the staircase, she looked around before moving a couple of stairs down to stop by the edge of a bench.
“Excuse me, is anyone sitting here?”
The two girls at the end looked at her with wide eyes and could only shake their heads before scooting over almost mechanically.
What is she doing here?
I shared a surprised look with Erika, whom looked just as confused as me. Ever since Fujimaru-sempai’s birthday, I was able to share more stories with Erika about her. And to me, I think Erika may have admired Fujimaru-sempai a little bit more. In front of us, Hoshimura-sempai moved and rounded the bench. As if in sync, the entire student body’s eyes ticked to her.
She had located the set of stairs that would lead her right up to Fujimaru-sempai. She took her time climbing those stairs and Fujimaru-sempai stood at the top waiting for her with a calm gaze. Two steps separated them and Hoshimura-sempai stopped, I think our breathing must have stopped at that moment as well. We waited for some sort of activation.
Hoshimura-sempai turned on the spot and surveyed the packed gymnasium before speaking loudly. “I want to thank everyone for coming out to the game this afternoon, especially when you all could be skipping legitimately.” The crowd laughed and Hoshimura-sempai smiled as well. “I also would like to thank you all for the patience and kindness we have received during our usage of your school ground these months.”
Oh no one minded, not even a bit.
“This is the first game for us, and after all these months of hard work, it would be the first time that we’ll be able to put our game plans and hard work to a real game.” Her smile was present, but her voice carried confidence and pride as she spoke. “Every game is a special game, but being the first, there is something about it that no other game could compete against. Moreover, adding to that, this is the school I graduated from, so did the team’s manager and so did this model behind me.”
Fujimaru-sempai bowed when she was addressed.
“So if I may!” She stopped and surveyed the crowd once again before turning around to face Fujimaru-sempai. “If I may.” Hoshimura-sempai repeated and held out a hand towards her. “Would I have the honour of playing this game for your sake, princess?”
Yep, just like that, the crowd reached a white fire high. Oh and I think Chikaru’s scream might have killed my hearing just there.
“God, she’s such a drama queen.” From below me, Ito-sempai uttered with a certain degree of annoyance.
Fujimaru-sempai looked at Hoshimura-sempai for a moment before she smiled and reached for her hair band. “You may.” That was her consent before she pulled the white strand of silk hair band free and tied it around Hoshimura-sempai’s wrist. Her long hair spilt over her shoulders but she just brushed it back with a casual flip of her wrist. “Since you are playing for my sake, then you cannot lose.”
“Roger that, princess.” Hoshimura-sempai saluted her with the hand that had Fujimaru-sempai’s hair band around it. Then she turned and jogged down the steps just as the referee signalled for the start of the game. I had hoped to catch Fujimaru-sempai’s gaze but the crowd was too dense for that. She did, however, sit down at the edge of the bench and watched the game like the rest of us did.
When the whistle blew, my head snapped back to the court and both centres jumped for the ball. Throughout the entire game, I watched Hoshimura-sempai’s wrist that was adorned with Fujimaru-sempai’s hair band. It lifted and lowered, it spread and withdrew. On the court, Hoshimura-sempai was a true leader. As a small point guard, she controlled her own court and then made the passes that were unseen.
Needless to say, the national team won the game convincingly and no one seemed to have expected otherwise. At the dying seconds of the game, people began rising to their feet and clapping for the victors. Looking all around us, we could only put down our bags and conform to the majority. Then as a sudden startle, I remembered Fujimaru-sempai. Quickly, I turned my head to look for her. She was no longer sitting at the bench; instead, she had already retrieved to the door that she came through.
In my eyes, I swear I saw a smile on her lips as she watched this scene.
To be continued...