Estrogen - Chapter Eight
“Ne, ne, Megumi, did you hear!?” Chiharu bounced over to me when I just stepped into the classroom for the first day of class in September. The summer vacation ended with one last photo shoot on Fujimaru-sempai’s part. Although I was never given the chance to manage her wardrobe again, I knew that one time was more than enough to ask for. Not only was it for a world famous designer, it was in a world renowned magazine as well. I couldn’t ask for more from Fujimaru-sempai.
“Hoshimura-sempai’s younger sister is in our school! She’s a first year!”
I put down my bag and looked at her with wide eyes. “Seriously?”
“Yeah, yeah. Apparently, she resembles her sister in that out-going nature they all seem to have! And I’ve also heard that she is going to be joining the drama club as well! Isn’t it exciting? To think that we’ll get to know Hoshimura-sempai’s younger sibling as well!”
Yeah, exciting was one way to put it. I didn’t even know that Hoshimura-sempai had a younger sister. Now I was curious as to what this younger sister is like.
“Do you know what her name is?” I asked as I took my seat, the classroom was beginning to fill. I recognized some familiar faces, but other faces were new.
“No, not yet. It’s actually just a rumour as of right now, but once it’s been confirmed, you bet I’ll be the first one to get some details!” Chiharu pumped her fist in mid-air to end that sentence with determination. I wondered why she didn’t choose to join the journalism club instead; she seemed fit for that rather than the drama club.
Just as I was about to inquire more, the first bell of the day rang and Erika had walked in briskly just in the nick of time, with our homeroom teacher following close behind. The two of us shared a look and she sat down next to me over the aisle. While the teacher took attendance, I quickly torn off a slither of paper from my notebook and scribbled down what Chiharu told me just moments ago.
Chiharu said that there is a rumour going around about Hoshimura-sempai’s younger sister attending this school.
Erika’s eyes were casted downwards as she read the note, when she lifted her head towards me again, I could see the question in her eyes.
I quickly nodded to confirm the answer and returned my attention back to the teacher. I needed to pay extra attention to classes this year; I can’t keep on troubling Erika for her notes all the time!
[Afternoon – Work]
There was, of course, more talk about this rumoured sister after school had finished. While no one seemed to know more than just a passing rumour, I could only pray that my inside source was feeling kind enough to talk with me. Since Hoshimura-sempai was still away on her road trip games, I could only turn to Fujimaru-sempai instead.
“Does Hoshimura-sempai have a younger sister?” I asked as I held a stack of cards for Fujimaru-sempai to sign. They were for those zealous fans who would be purchasing the first edition of her new line of purses.
“’What’s her name?”
“Are you planning on stalking her?”
“No!” I discredited that claim immediately. “There has been this rumour going around school that Hoshimura-sempai’s younger sister is going to attend our school, so I was just curious. Do you know anything about it, sempai?”
Fujimaru-sempai was quiet for a moment before she picked up another card and signed her name on it. “Her name is Hoshimura Reika, and yes, she will be attending your school.”
“Do you know what class she is in?”
“Do you think I have no life like you?”
For the sake of information, I was willing to stand this degradation; maybe I should be the one to join the journalism club instead!
“Wow, I never knew Hoshimura-sempai had siblings!”
“She has an older sister as well.”
“Seriously?” I almost forgot about the pile of cards in my hands if it weren’t for Fujimaru-sempai’s glance towards them. “What does she do?”
“She’s a professor at the National Institute of Art.”
Yet another accomplished sister, I selfishly formed the thought that all of the Hoshimura sisters were great people! This younger sister must not be anything less than them.
“Does sempai have any siblings?”
“I’m the only child.”
Figured. Of course, I wouldn’t say that to her face though. Her personality resembled that of the stereotypical only child. Though, I would imagine that she should be rather close to her parents since she is the only child. However, throughout all of my time working with her and out of all the interviews that I’ve seen her give, she’s never mentioned her parents. Not even once. So another bubble of curiosity rose within me. However, before I had my chance to ask the questions that I had wanted to, Fujimaru-sempai had finished the last card and was reaching for a large envelope of what looked like letters.
“Here, these are for you.”
“What are they?” I flipped through a couple but not really taking notice of the words that were written.
“They are critiques of the wardrobe arrangement you did for that photo shoot.” Just like that, my heart skipped a beat and I was suddenly too afraid to look at any of them. “For a first time, the reviews were about normal. There were some who liked your work; there were some who wanted to kill you for what you’ve done. Throw those extremes away and focus on the comments that are actually of constructive criticism rather than verbal vomit.”
A part of me was disappointed, I knew that. Perhaps I had envisioned a perfect scenario where all critics would be positive and they would all absolutely love me. Of course, that is unrealistic and I knew it too. This was a good wake-up call and another step for me to be closer to where I want to be.
For the entirety of my life, what I owe Fujimaru-sempai cannot be expressed in words alone.
The next day, of course I confirmed the rumour to be true with my friends. Yes, my inside source was much faster than anyone digging around and doing stalking work. However, even after the first month of school has passed, I still haven’t seen hide or hair of this younger sister. Given what Hoshimura-sempai’s personality is like, I would have expected Hoshimura Reika to have seized the limelight and have shown her face around school at least a few hundred times.
Or maybe I just wasn’t looking hard enough.
At the beginning of October, club activities resumed from where they left off the previous year. For the entirety of October, it was about promoting different clubs and sorting through applicants. Although we want to take in as many members as possible, there were just some who needed to be weeded out by their application forms alone.
I heard the drama club is the fastest way of becoming popular.
Some first year wrote.
Without remorse that application was tossed away. I was not part of the deciding bunch as I was only second year. However, if I think about it a little bit, next year, I will be part of the committee who will have power over such things. It was exciting and dreadful at the same time. As a silent agreement, the club all leaned towards Erika for being the leading actress for the upcoming years. Her performances at the winter and summer plays impressed the crowd and the club.
Then, it was an afternoon in mid-October as I was getting ready to head for club activities, I finally saw this elusive younger sister of Hoshimura-sempai’s. The large windows in the hallway were open and I could hear ardent cheering coming from the outside. Out of curiosity, I stopped and leaned my torso outside of the window to see what was going on. Apparently, the tennis club was having their first try-outs for their applicants. On the court, there was a sempai I recognized as being the student council vice president and another whom I presumed to be a new comer.
Now, I have to admit, I don’t know much about tennis if anything at all, but the speed at which the two players exchanged blows at astounded me. From the side lines, there scattered tennis club members and others who were just watching for fun.
“Reika-chan! Come on! Do your best!”
I wanted to take a closer look but realized that if I leaned any further, I would probably drop five stories onto the ground and be flattened on the court in between them. Yet, the name resonated within my head. Reika. Could this be the infamous sister?
Unfortunately, the match did not last for long, and before I could be certain of anything, she was already walking off the court and greeting her friends. I suppose I’ll just have to wait for another time seeing as I was late for club activities.
A week later, the recruited members were all invited to an open house and a casual meet-and-greet before real activities began.
Then, we all saw her.
She stood in front of the club with her head up high and face proud as she surveyed our faces before she spoke. “Good afternoon! My name is Hoshimura Reika, before you ask, yes, Hoshimura Natsuki is my older sister. However, that does not mean I will accept letters or presents on her behalf. If you want to suck up to her, please do so to her and not through me.” I noted that several members’ eyes were already enlarged and couldn’t help but return my gaze back onto Hoshimura Reika with some incredibility in my stare. “I am currently a first year student and am enrolled in the tennis club. I am very glad that I was accepted into the drama club because I’ve been looking forward to working with Maki Erika-sempai.” Here, I couldn’t help but look towards Erika, whom seemed more than a little surprised. “Please trust in my abilities and give me lots of roles for the upcoming plays! Thank you!” She bowed and I noted that perhaps the claps were a little shocked. Everyone seemed to be still digesting all the information that she just gave out and most of all, her personality. Although she and Hoshimura-sempai both carried that air of confidence, hers was crossing onto cockiness for sure.
In the future, when I look back on her appearance in my life, I probably will have an easier time pinpointing whether she was a friend or a foe.
After that outrageous declaration during her introduction, I couldn’t help but take more notice of her. She’s never approached me for a long duration of talk, but she had to know who I was considering Erika and I could be seen together most of the time. Yet, she didn’t really make the extra effort to allow us conversation time.
“I’m looking for Maki-sempai!”
It was lunch time and the voice at the door had all of us looking over, even if we didn’t look, we’d have known that it was Hoshimura Reika.
“Here comes your stalker again, Erika.” Fuuyu muttered underneath her breath. “It’s like she’s in love with you or something.”
That careless comment was like an earthquake in my own mind. Sure I’ve noticed that Reika seems rather clingy of Erika, but the idea of her developing any other feelings never crossed my mind. Until now, that is.
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Erika negated Fuuyu almost immediately and glanced at me. Embarrassed because of my own turbulent feelings and having been caught starring, I quickly averted my eyes and pretended that I had been poking at my food aimlessly.
“Maki-sempai!” She was already by our table.
“Hoshimura-kun, how can I help you?”
“I was wondering if you would like to practice lines with me after you’ve finished your lunch.”
Erika looked hesitant and she glanced towards me another time, I knew that I should have done something, but instead, I just smiled and went back to eating as if the conversation did not concern me at all. When in reality, every cell in my body was devoted to listening in on this conversation.
“Sure, let’s meet in the auditorium in fifteen minutes?”
“Great! Thank you, sempai!”
There, done. Throughout the entire thing, there was no mention of the rest of us what-so-ever. I didn’t know whether the other three minded it, but I seemed to have taken it very personally. For even when Erika touched my leg underneath the table discreetly, I pretended to have not noticed anything. She must have been frustrated with the situation as well, for she packed up and left earlier than the arranged time to meet.
Truthfully, this was more awkward than when she first confessed to me.
That afternoon, for the first time in a long while, I walked home alone. The roads looked unfamiliar, my legs felt unfamiliar and the music I was listening to all became a bland pool of music notes that had no connection with one another.
Could it be that I was jealous? My own realization startled me and the reasonable follow-up to that thought was does that mean I like Erika as well?
It was a realization that I wasn’t sure if I could quite receive just yet. Perhaps there was still that bit of internalized homophobia that I was still clinging onto. If I agree with that realization, then that would mean making some sort of a move for the affirmative towards the road of a relationship. It would mean that I would have to sincerely answer Erika’s proposal from earlier this year and be ready to deal with all the consequences of being in a homosexual relationship.
I knew I wasn’t ready.
Each day was like a renewal of my own struggles. Every time I see Erika and Reika together practicing lines, I would have this sharp pinch of pain that reminded me I wasn’t part of their world. And that if this continued, I will never be part of their world again. Actually, I don’t care if I were in Reika’s world or not, but Erika’s world was one that I belonged in.
Or so I thought I did.
The days without Erika’s presence around me taught me many things. One, I was a weakling who couldn’t do anything for herself. Two, I really sucked at taking notes! Three, I needed the company of someone around me most of the time to not feel lonely. Four, I’ve been so spoiled by her that I wonder if could live without her support for too long.
Yet the demons within me whispered to me all the troubles and hardships that we will have to endure if anything further was to happen.
Meanwhile, it seemed Reika always could find some excuse to keep Erika all to herself. It was mostly related to the plays, and because Erika was so devoted to perfecting herself as an actress she would never decline the opportunity to improve herself. It was a drive that I didn’t have. Even ‘till this day, that bag of reviews Fujimaru-sempai gave me was still sitting in one of my drawers. I had used the excuse that I was too busy with school to really sit down and look at them, but even when I was dazing off in the middle of the night, I would not have the courage to look at them.
I was already feeling depressed about this gap that’s widened in between Erika and I, those reviews won’t do my self-esteem any better.
These weeks continued throughout October and the first half of November. It was the day of Erika’s birthday, yet after school, we still had to attend a run-down for the play. We watched as the key actresses took their roles and did a simple sample of what we should be expecting for the play. This way, those who are in charge of recruitment could decide whether the current actresses were fitful for their roles or not.
I hadn’t read the script, but from what I could gather, half of the girls will have to portray men on stage. Erika was going to play the male lead while Reika was going to be playing the major supporting female role in the play. There was one particular spicy scene in the play that involved the passionate entanglement between the male lead and the supporting female role. I had not expected to see the two of them pour their hearts out for a run-down like this one. In front of me, it was as if I saw Erika and Reika in their struggles of loving each other rather than their characters.
They left me breathless.
At the very end of the scene, as part of the script, Reika had grabbed Erika’s collar and pulled her down into a deep kiss. Finally, I had to tear my eyes away and look out the window. Dutifully, I noted that my vision was blurring and I wondered just why I was crying over a stupid play!
I really could be jealous, couldn’t I?
I really was jealous.
Something within me must have snapped at that instant, for after I sniffed back my tears, I was determined.
From that moment on, I was the one who avoided all communication with Erika. I needed my moments alone to rehearse what I wanted to say to her later. On my way home, I practiced my own lines in my head. And hours later, when I headed back out for Erika’s birthday party, I once again reviewed my lines.
I will not be the coward who will sit in the future and cry about her own indecision when she was younger!
When I entered the party, even before I entered the party, I knew I was on a mission. People greeted me as I walked around looking for Erika; I didn’t know what sort of reply I gave to them. In the corner, I saw my friends and Reika as well. For a second, my feet stopped but I took in a deep breath and charged onwards.
“Ah, Megumi, there you are!” Hitomi was the first one to notice me, she waved at me immediately. “We’ve been looking everywhere for you!”
“Erika.” I stopped in front of the group and interrupted whatever conversation they were having with smiles on their faces. The tone of my voice silenced them all and Erika turned to me with a concerned gaze. “Can I talk to you for a moment?”
I turned and walked towards the bright red exit sign that I saw above people’s heads. Without having to look back, I knew that she was following me. Outside, the cool autumn air bit into my skin and I shivered.
“Megumi, are you alright?”
“No.” I started softly, and then I cleared my throat and tried again. “No.” Better. This time, I turned around to face her directly. “No, I am not alright.” Erika looked alarmed and opened her mouth to say something but I held up a hand to stop her immediately. I couldn’t have her interrupt my speech; I was riding on whatever adrenaline I had. Inside my head, I pictured Erika and Reika kissing once again and it braced me against the chilly wind and my own shaking nerves.
“No, I am not alright. Ever since Hoshimura Reika joined the drama club, I have not been alright. I realized that she’s taken you away from me, and I don’t even get to talk to you anymore. I realized that it’s lonely walking home alone and it’s agonizing waiting for your text at night just to remind myself that you have not forgotten about me.” Once I got started, it seemed like there was no stop. That was true of my words and true of my tears as well. “I realized how stupid I am that I can’t even take my own notes properly. I realized that I really hate carrots and you’re not even around to eat them for me. I realized that I need you around me to know who I am and what I’m doing. I realized that aside from being a complete coward, I’m also incredibly jealous that I can’t even function properly.”
Here, I had to take a break, as my breaths were not keeping up with the rate at which I wanted to verbally vomit at. It gave a chance for me to look at Erika’s expression and reaction. Her face showed a mixture of confusion, guilt, pain and perhaps some hope as well.
“So I guess what I’m trying to say is…” I choked on my own words and I couldn’t help but feel pathetic. “What I’m trying to say is… I think… I think I like you, Erika. Would you… still consider having me as your girlfriend?”
Erika’s confession had been to the point and determined, she looked at me with clear eyes and asked with such dignity that I couldn’t even find words to speak. My confession, on the other hand, was filled with sobs and tears as I tried to look at Erika in the eyes but failed when I could only repeatedly wipe at my eyes and brush away the tears that have blinded me.
In the end though, at least I got to wipe some of my mucus off on her shoulder when she embraced me in that chilly November evening.
She had said that it was the best birthday present ever.
I promised her that it will only get better with time.
To be continued...