Estrogen - Chapter Seven
Summer holidays started at the end of June after a couple of weeks filled with mind numbing exams. I knew I didn’t do as well as I would have liked, but my results wouldn’t make it a problem for me to move onto second year. It’s unbelievable to think that I’m already done a year of senior high. If this pace continues, the next time I blink, perhaps I’ll already be an old woman. And then, who will be by my side? I remember Erika asking me that question long ago, and now, when I do picture the future, I have this selfish desire to be close to everyone who I have contact with right now.
It was unrealistic, but it’s my little dream.
Now that I don’t have school every day I had more time to fully commit myself as Fujimaru-sempai’s assistant. Instead of the school, I would show up at her place every day. Her house was like any other, it was the technique of hiding a leaf in a forest that Fujimaru-sempai told me she had utilized. Still, there were many who knew where she resided. Judging by the amount of fan mail she gets regularly I was surprised that no crazed fan has shown up yet.
It wasn’t a stressful job and at the same time, I got to see how Fujimaru-sempai completes her most recent designs, her most recent accomplishments and of course, her most recent temper tantrums as well.
“What are you doing for your birthday?” One day, she suddenly asked, catching me off guard.
“What eh? Isn’t your birthday next month?”
“Ah… yes, that’s right! How did you know?”
Fujimaru-sempai looked up from her drawing and looked at me as if I was the biggest moron in the world. “I hired you; don’t you think I would have at least looked over the application you filled out?” Oh that’s right! A nervous grin broke out on my face and I looked at her with embarrassment, no wonder she gave me such a look.
Ah, but wait a minute!
“Fujimaru-sempai, does that you mean you actually remembered it in your heart?” It would certainly mean that she’s taken notice of me more than I thought possible.
“Of course.” I started beaming. “I needed to commit that date to memory so I’ll know when to run away and hide in another country if you open your lion’s mouth and ask me for a present.” And my smile dropped off immediately, her words were always filled with such venom!
There was a moment of silence before Fujimaru-sempai tapped the desk with her pencil impatiently. “So the answer to my question is?”
What question? I looked at her blankly for another moment and thankfully my brain cells fired enough action potentials for me to remember what the hell she was asking. And even more fortunate was that I remembered before she would throw another temper tantrum.
“Ah, nothing special. Probably just go out to a restaurant with my family.”
Then silence. Did she really ask just because she wanted to hide in another country?! I was about to give up when she spoke again.
“Hoshimura’s birthday is on the eighteenth of next month, if you don’t mind, do you want to have a joint birthday party with her?”
I didn’t know that Hoshimura-sempai’s birthday was in August as well! It seemed like we have more in common than I thought. Although on second thought, having the same birth month would hardly seem important enough for anything.
“Sure, that would be great! I know Hoshimura-sempai is probably quite busy with her schedule right now.” After the opening game with our school, the national team thus went on their road trip and played games with any and all teams that have accepted the offer.
“Okay, I’ll let you know when we decide on a date.”
All of my past birthdays were spent with my family as a family outing. I’ve never had a party before and have always wondered what it felt like to be surrounded by friends and partied the night away. Although my family wasn’t too conservative, they were still traditional with their view point. Having convinced them to let me go into fashion design took me the entire junior high school experience.
“Next week, we’re going away to do a few photo shoots, have you told your family yet?” Fujimaru-sempai returned the topic to work once again. It was hard to keep a conversation with her; my mind has to work all the time just to figure out which new topic she was talking about.
“I have! Although it took a while, they finally agreed to it!” Her parents were dubious of the nature of my work and were suspicious of Fujimaru-sempai selling me off for money. I had wanted to tell them that compared to what Fujimaru-sempai already owns, I would probably be worth a penny in her eyes.
Fujimaru-sempai seemed pleased with the outcome.
“Sempai… what should I get Hoshimura-sempai for her birthday? I don’t know what she likes.”
Fujimaru-sempai took her time thinking of a reply. “Something that comes from your heart.”
“… what? Like blood?”
“No.” Again, she looked at me as if I were the biggest moron in the world. Okay, so perhaps that joke was a little lame. “She would be happy to accept anything and everything that would show that you put in the effort and the thought; even if it’s something lame and cliché. She’s not too picky.”
That… was more like an answerless answer. I sighed mentally and looked down at my work with a disappointed expression. I was still at square one.
For a few nights, I sat at home and thought long and hard about what she would like. Of course, my first thoughts were all about basketball, but when I came to my senses I realized that Hoshimura-sempai probably has everything she could possibly have when it comes to basketball. However, when I ventured away from the obvious I realized that I knew nothing about her at all. She seems to be a fashionista, but I can’t possibly afford any of the lines that she adorns herself with regularly.
“Megumi! That sempai from your school is on T.V.!” My dad hollered from downstairs and I dragged my sorry self to the living room to see Hoshimura-sempai in the middle of a game. The score was already 38 to 20 in favour of the national team. Usually, I would be captivated by the way she would handle herself and the opponents, but tonight, I could only sigh at her face. How I wish she could just pop out of the T.V. and give me a concrete answer of what would be more suitable for her.
When the camera swept through the crowd, I looked at all the signs and banners that fans were holding up for the players. A particular one caught my eyes and finally that light bulb went off in my head.
The next day, early in the morning, Erika stood outside my door with a sleep deprived look on her face. Contrary to what she usually looks like. Instead, I was the one practically bouncing on my feet and tugging at her every other second.
“Why are you so tired?” I demanded with almost a whining tone.
“My princess, you called me at midnight to tell me that I needed to get to your house by six in the morning. How many hours of sleep do you think I got?” Erika spoke with a sarcastic tone but she’s never complained one bit.
I flushed lightly at how she addressed me. It was a sarcastic title but there seemed to have held such endearment that my heart was erratically thrashing around in my chest.
“Sorry, you can sleep on the train.” I replied meekly and tried to tone down my excitement.
“That’s fine.” Erika smile and looked over at me. “Why are we going to a shrine all of a sudden?”
“I think Hoshimura-sempai and I are going to have a joint birthday party, so I need to get Hoshimura-sempai something for her birthday.” I dutifully relayed to her what Fujimaru-sempai had suggested.
“… are you going to get her a Buddha from the shrine?”
“No!” I swatted her arm lightly and both of us shared a laugh at that. I’ve come to notice that even Erika was capable of making lame jokes. Slowly, she was lowered from the pedestal that I had placed her upon, now she was human like me.
We sat in a corner of the train, tucked behind the control room and enjoyed our own very little privacy. Our relationship was still not breaking that veil of vague feelings. I was still unsure about how I felt about her, and she’s made not further pushes. It was a comfortable stage and at the same time, it was a confusing stage. Like how we would hold hands but neither would say that we were girlfriends. Like how she would pamper and spoil me, but I would not say that we belonged to one another.
I wondered how long this relationship could stay vague like this for.
By the time we got to the shrine, it was already noon. We have filled our stomachs with food before we climbed up the stairs to the shrine at top. There, beneath the threshold, I prayed earnestly for Hoshimura-semapi and received my charm afterwards.
It wasn’t my blood, but it was from heart.
At three in the morning my alarm clock went off and I all but slammed it shut. This is inhumane! With barely opened eyes I climbed out of bed and dressed myself. Fujimaru-sempai and I departed Tokyo for more coastal areas at the beginning of this week. This time, the theme for her photo shoots was nature. So, the photographers thought, what better than to actually be one with nature? I had been so excited for this trip, but right now, I was mentally cursing whoever thought of this stupid theme.
I brushed my teeth and washed my face, in the mirror, I saw a girl who would rather be in bed at this moment. I quickly tied back my hair and exited the room. It was still dark outside and the hallway was silent with sleep. By the time I got to the lobby, everyone has already been assembled. Fujimaru-sempai hid her eyes behind large sunglasses, and I wondered how she looked as of this moment.
There was a mutual complaint, but no one moved any slower than they usually did.
I got into the van with Fujimaru-sempai and nodded off on the trip to the ocean side.
This day was supposed to be our last day here and they wanted to capture the colors of a sun rise. So we slept at ten and woke up at three just so we could capture nature.
“Megumi.” I felt someone shaking me. “Megumi.” I slowly opened my eyes and saw Fujimaru-sempai leaning over me. “Come on, we’re here already.” From her tone, I could not decipher any emotion. I nodded and followed her out of the van to the ocean side. The first breath of salty ocean air woke me up and I was captivated by the sight. With the moon still in the sky I could not tell where the ocean ended and where the sky began.
I helped with whatever I could as Fujimaru-sempai changed into her attire for the shoot and sat down for her make-up. She was dressed in a Vera Wang wedding gown that could be every girl’s dream. I remember looking at it with sparkles in my eyes and my fingers itched to touch it and feel it and perhaps even wear it myself. There was limited time for me to admire the dress as we were short on staff and I was hauled around doing whatever I could help with. In total, there was the photographer, make-up artist, a lighting staff, myself and Fujimaru-sempai.
We worked quickly to make sure that everything was set up before sun rise, and then we’ll just cue in Fujimaru-sempai for those quick few moments of nature. Hours of preparation work and torture only just for a few minutes of beauty that needed to be captured.
Fujimaru-sempai stood up after she was done with the make-up and walked back to the wardrobe tent bare feet. With the darkness of the night, I could not see her expression clearly. I would not be surprised if she was just as reluctant as me to have gotten up so early for this.
However, she is a professional. She was the first to arrive in the lobby and has never uttered a word of negativity.
“Megumi.” She called to me and I rushed towards her immediately. “You know how important this shoot is, right?” I nodded immediately. One little mistake and the entire thing is ruined. We’ll then either have to cancel this shoot or do it again tomorrow. “Good, then work well under that pressure. As you can see, I did not ask for a wardrobe manager to come with us today.” That’s right! I looked at her with a somewhat panicked expression. “I leave myself in your hands; make sure to accentuate both myself and Vera Wang’s dress.”
If it was a somewhat panicked expression at first, it is now a fully anxious expression.
“Fujimaru-sempai, I can’t possibly…”
“Don’t be ridiculous, of course you can.”
Starring at her with tormented eyes, I wanted to cry, I wanted to laugh, and I wanted to throw a temper tantrum. “This is too sudden! I’ve not had any preparations for it! And…” My lips moved as I looked for the right words to express my feelings. “… sometimes I really hate you!”
But I love her much more than my nonexistent hatred.
“Then why haven’t you killed me yet?”
“What do you mean?”
“You said you really hate me, no?”
“Well, no… that’s just a figure of speech.”
“Then don’t use that figure of speech.” Fujimaru-sempai spoke with such a serious tone that I wasn’t sure if I’ve ever heard before. “Hate is a strong word to use, Megumi. Hate was what fuelled many heinous crimes that took place in the human race’s history; it’s a deadly word that’s triggered so much deaths and pain. Unless you can truly dislike someone or something to that extent, hate is too strong of a word to use.”
For a moment I could not speak, her words settled into my very being and I nodded my head slowly. It was true, now that I think about it; Fujimaru-sempai’s never used the word “hate” before. Not even when she was so angry at someone. It was always I really dislike so-and-so. I used to think that it was a strange thing to say.
She lifted a hand and patted my head lightly. “Do your best, I have faith in you.”
I wanted to protest some more for the anxiety within me was so great that I didn’t know if I could continue to breathe. At the same time, I was overwhelmed with the trust that she has placed in me and I nodded with determination and watched her turn away to enter the tent with me following after her.
Now, I was in my zone. Inside this tent, there were all sorts of accessories for me to pick and choose from. With Fujimaru-sempai in front of me, I had my very own living Barbie doll to dress up. Vera Wang’s dress itself was already dazzling; I knew that we needed the right combinations of accessories to represent the theme.
Today, with Vera Wang’s gown, we wanted to turn Fujimaru-sempai into a cast away bride. A bride who’s never even reached the altar.
Fujimaru-sempai did not utter a single word to me as I made my selections. I knew that she wanted this entire thing to be my own success and my own thought, an artwork that was completely mine.
Minutes before the anticipated sun rise the two of us exited the tent and I helped her towards the site. She was already taller than me, and with the crazy heels she has on, she seemed like an earth away. In front of the camera with the ocean and sky behind her, we waited for the opportune moment.
When it came, she lifted her head and opened her eyes to create the exact image we had been looking for. Standing behind the photographer, I felt my breath catch in my throat. This was an artwork I had helped accomplish! So another stroke can be added to my resume. Virgin work, Vera Wang’s Abandoned Bride.
On a rare day off for the national team, we’ve all gathered at a hot spring resort that Fujimaru-sempai had booked for our party. We arrived one after another with our bags in hand. My parents have drove Erika and I over, they seem to enjoy Erika’s presence as well. It was something that I was thankful for. After we thanked my parents, the two of us quickly made our way into the wooden resort.
“You two are early.” Fujimaru-sempai greeted us at the door with a floral print summer dress. Although it looked very much ordinary, I knew that it was a foreign brand name. After the opportunity Fujimaru-sempai gave me at her photo shoot, I’ve also stepped up my game and immersed myself in all sorts of international fashion. “You guys can go in and claim a room, since you’re so early, you get first dibs. Come to the living room afterwards, we’ll have tea.” It was very much like giving out orders, but her quiet voice made it seem much nicer than how otherwise it would have sounded.
We chose our rooms next to one another. They weren’t outrageously big but it was more than enough for one person. The futon was rolled up over at one corner of the room, I settled my bag down next to it and exited my room to see Erika right there as well. By the time we found our way to the living room again, tea was already done with small plates of snacks for us to indulge in as well.
“Ah, the birthday girl!” Behind us, Hoshimura-sempai entered and patted me on the back. Despite how focused and determined she looked during a game, when there was no game, she looked as casual as one could ever be.
“Don’t crowd the door, there are seats around here.”
Fujimaru-sempai and Ito-sempai were already sitting with their own cups of tea. The two women were in their own conversation before we entered. Their personalities were so different, but the calm and quiet that they both carry seemed more than compatible. When Hoshimura-sempai joined them, everything was so much livelier. She was a mood maker for certain.
“Megumi, have you seen this yet?” When Erika and I sat down, Fujimaru-sempai had picked up a magazine from her bag to show me. I looked over and shook my head, wondering what it could possibly be. Fujimaru-sempai smiled and thumbed her way through the magazine and opened it up to the page that she had in mind.
I gasped loudly the moment I saw it and nearly pounced on Fujimaru-sempai to grab at it. The photo shoot that took place at three A.M. was finally out! There is no need to discuss how gorgeous Fujimaru-sempai looked, I was touched by the fact she had allowed an amateur like me to make decisions about her wardrobe when the photos were going to be printed for such a magazine.
“Abandoned Bride?” Hoshimura-sempai attempted to read the label upside down and then gave Fujimaru-sempai an amused look. “What part of you looks like an abandoned bride? The other party must be insane.” Fujimaru-sempai chuckled but said nothing in response to that. “Let me see that.” Before Hoshimura-sempai could even touch the edge of the magazine, Fujimaru-sempai had slapped her hand away without remorse.
“You’ll ruin the pages, wash your hands first.”
Under our shocked eyes, Hoshimura-sempai pouted and turned to pretend she was weeping upon Ito-sempai’s shoulder. Fujimaru-sempai looked at her but said nothing of it; instead, Ito-sempai was the one who looked slightly uncomfortable.
“Here Megumi, you should have this.” Fujimaru-sempai handed it over to me and I received it with large eyes. My eyes roamed the pages that Fujimaru-sempai was on, I could not help but pick out the imperfections that those accessories seem to have when presented with the wedding gown. I was still an amateur after all. At the bottom of the last page, the name of the model, photographer and designer were all printed in fine print. Upon closer inspection, I found my name next to wardrobe arrangement.
My name. It really was my name.
Perhaps the world went on around me, but I took no notice. For the first time in my life, my name was printed on such a prestigious magazine. I knew that I would be forever indebted to Fujimaru-sempai.
What luck must have befallen me for this job to be mine.
Besides me, Erika’s hand touched my knee and her fingers squeeze tightly to show me her support. She was beaming besides me and I almost had an embarrassing moment of shedding tears. Thankfully, the door bell rang and I took that as an excuse to close up the magazine and set it aside carefully. This was like a bible to me now.
Hoshimura-sempai had gotten up to get the door, and before we saw anyone, we heard my friends’ wishing Hoshimura-sempai a happy birthday. The three of them all but ran in and tackled Erika and I into the sofa. Suddenly, with the addition of those three, the previously serene ambience was broken.
“Asura, what is this?” Hoshimura-sempai appeared at the door way and looked at Fujimaru-sempai with question. I’ve never heard anyone use Fujimaru-sempai’s first name in this circle. Behind Hoshimura-sempai, a large box was wheeled in and the movers carefully set it down before bowing and leaving. The box was almost a meter high and I had a feeling whatever inside is no smaller than the box.
Fujimaru-sempai set down her tea cup and leaned back; she looked at Hoshimura-sempai with a smile but said nothing further. “Open it up; it’s your birthday present.”
“Open it, open it!” Hitomi cheered immediately, she was as excited as if the present was for her.
Hoshimura-sempai laughed at her enthusiasm before circling the box to find a place to start. Layer by layer, the cover was peeled away and the head of a Japanese doll appeared. The room was silent until it was presented in its whole to the entire room.
Simply put, it was a life-sized Japanese doll. Personally, I saw nothing unique about it other than its size. However, Hoshimura-sempai reacted differently, for a long moment, she could only stare it before she turned –almost mechanically- towards Fujimaru-sempai with disbelief in her eyes.
“How did you…”
“You owe me one for Christmas. It took me almost three months to track her down.”
Hoshimura-sempai’s lips moved but no sound came out, she was speechless.
“Sempai, what is…” I questioned mildly, looking from one sempai to the next. Ito-sempai was sitting with an air of disbelief as well, therefore, only Fujimaru-sempai was capable of answering the question.
“This is the last remaining doll of a 12th century doll maker. This doll was rumoured to have been modelled after an empress in the 12th century. It was held at a museum long ago until a private collector bought it for his own pleasure. A couple of years ago, I heard that the private collector had gone bankrupt and I tried to get in touch with him ever since then to see if he was willing to let go of this doll.”
Gasps collectively rang out and we turned our eyes back onto the innocently smiling doll once again. Now, we were able to view it through filtered lenses, guessing at just what an astronomical price must have been placed on it.
“Believe it or not,” Fujimaru-sempai carried on “she collects antiques. From katana to dolls, her place is filled with them. Let me tell you, if you go to her place at night, it’s like you’ve wandered into a haunted mansion. I have no idea how her mother and sister deal with them.”
Believe it or not indeed. I wasn’t sure that piece of information has officially settled in or not.
“That’s because my mom loves them more than I do sometimes.” Hoshimura-sempai retorted with a wide grin on her lips. “Thank you, really.” And I could hear the sincerity in her voice as she looked directly at Fujimaru-sempai.
“Like I said, you owe me one for Christmas.”
“Wow, Fujimaru-sempai is so kind.” Chiharu exclaimed, still in a dazed state.
“Of course, have you heard otherwise?” The question was directed at Chiharu, but Fujimaru-sempai’s gaze was on my face.
I could only reply with a toothy grin of my own.
To be continued...