Estrogen - Chapter Nine
What’s the difference between waking up before Erika’s birthday and after Erika’s birthday? It was the knowledge that I was someone’s girlfriend. My original goal was to have a lovely, romantic relationship with a nice sempai in senior high school. Now, I am in a lovely and romantic relationship, but she was neither a sempai nor a male. However, that fact seems to be bothering me less and less with each passing day. I faced the mirror with a smile on my face, it was already tinged pink. Within days, I realized that even I had begun to take more care of my appearance. In front of Erika, I would be conscience of how I presented myself. However, the fundamentals of our relationship have not changed.
Then again, it’s only been a week, so perhaps it’s a bit too early to say anything definitively.
“I couldn’t help but think that Hoshimura-kun was the one who had induced this relationship.” After school, when we were walking home, our pinkies were linked with one another’s. We were still a little hesitant with holding hands, just in case anyone saw.
I huffed at that remark and sighed heavily. “I don’t know whether I should thank her or not. When I saw you two kiss…”
“It’s just for the play.” Erika had promptly offered that explanation.
I couldn’t help but laugh and nodded my head at it. “I understand.” But back then, it was so triggering that I couldn’t even stand it. “You know what, since it looks like you and Hoshimura Erika will be spending a lot of time together because of this play, I should at least get to know her as well.”
“As a sempai, I should introduce myself first and at least be on friendly terms with her. Then…” I paused and gnawed at my lips lightly. “… I should probably apologize to her for the resentment that I have been holding towards her for so long.”
Besides me, Erika laughed and pinched my cheek lightly with affection. “Then go for it. You seem to have everything worked out already.”
I rubbed the spot where she pinched me and nodded my head with determination. “I will! I just hope that Hoshimura Reika will not take this the wrong way.”
“You know…” Erika started thoughtfully, looking ahead of us. “You’re so different when it comes to the sisters. You say Hoshimura Reika with such… enunciation as if there is some intrinsic barrier that cannot be crossed. And yet, you say Hoshimura-sempai with such affection that I sometimes have to wonder.”
I blushed immediately and gasped loudly, my free hand lifted and touched my flushed cheek. “Erika! It’s not like that! I didn’t mean anything when I say Hoshimura Reika, I’m just uncomfortable with calling her anything else at this moment, so…”
“Relax.” She interrupted me with a smile on her face and amusement in her eyes. “I was only joking.”
I puffed out my cheeks as if I were angry, but she knew better than that. Inside, I questioned what she had said and wondered if there really was such a distinction. I had not noticed if there were any differences in my speaking their names. However, I could not lie that I prefer Hoshimura-sempai over her younger sister, that’s for sure.
So one day after school, I finally gathered up the courage and approached Hoshimura Reika. It was after general club activity, but I know that some were staying behind to do some extra work for the future. When everyone was filing out of the room, I noticed that Hoshimura Reika had packed up and was ready to leave as well. Silently I followed her out ‘till she separated from her friends and finally took in a deep breath and called out to her.
“Anou… Hoshimura Reika-kun…”
Up ahead, she paused and turned around to look at me. With a few steps of distance between us, I gave her a smile and continued on. “Do you mind if we speak for a bit?”
“Come with me.”
I watched as she turned and headed for the back of the school instead of the front gates. How did the situation turn out like this? I had wanted to take the initiative, but in the end, it seemed like she had taken hold of the reins. However, I still followed dutifully ‘till we were at an empty storage room.
There, we stood for a silent moment and looked at each other.
“I know what you want to talk to me about.” She started once again, and my eyes widened. Were Erika and I so obvious that even someone like her had already picked up? Then I watched as she broke out into a cheeky grin. “So I’m guessing that you and Maki-sempai have progressed along quite nicely? Have you two kissed yet? Or… have you two already gone above and beyond?”
Her questions left me speechless and I could only stare at her with wide eyes and open mouth. I didn’t even know if my brain could function properly for a coherent response.
“What… what are you…? I mean...”
She waved a casual hand and leaned onto the wall beside her with a somewhat bored look. “Look, the truth is, I knew about you already before I came to this school.”
“Ah, I remember what you said about wanting to work with Erika!”
“Well… there’s that…” She started slowly, but I felt as if she was looking at me like I was an idiot. “Don’t you think there’s some suspicious about that?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, she isn’t exactly a popular actress or well-known. How do you think I even heard of her name previously?”
That’s right! I started in realization and I guess my look of surprise triggered her impatient rolling of eyes. This time, I knew that she was looking at me as if I were an idiot. I couldn’t help but smile nervously and wait for her to go on.
“In actuality, I was here last year when you guys had those two plays. It’s true that I think she is a great actress and do want to work with her. However, there is something else.” She paused and waited a second as if giving me time to digest the information. “Simply put, before I came to this school this year, my older sister told me that I should help you and Maki-sempai with your journey. That I was to help you two if there are falling-outs.”
Her older sister?
“You mean… Hoshimura-sempai?”
“Yeah, yeah, her.”
I was truly surprised then. One, I didn’t know that Hoshimura-sempai was so concerned for the two of us. Second, I didn’t even think that Hoshimura-sempai would talk about us when she was with her family. A part of me was touched, yet another part of me felt dazed at the information.
“I didn’t think… that Hoshimura-sempai would speak about me at home…”
“Of course she would!” There it was again, her look that reminded me I was an idiot. “You work for Asura-oneechan, of course that sister of mine would take notice of you.”
That’s right. Hoshimura-sempai and Fujimaru-sempai have known each other for a long time now, so I supposed it was normal. In my momentary slow processing of the mind, I didn’t pick out the familiarity with which Reika had called Fujimaru-sempai. Asura-oneechan, it indicated clearly that they were long familiar with one another.
“Anyways,” she had continued on once again, “I hope you know that other than working with Maki-sempai professionally, I am not your rival. Yeah, I acted a little overboard at the beginning because I noticed that you two weren’t going anywhere. Sorry I made you cry after I kissed her, that’s only for the play, you know.” Here, she paused and made a face, as if suddenly remembering something. “Mmm, Natsuki said to help you two, she didn’t say make you jealous. Maybe I carried that a little too far.”
“… you think?!” I couldn’t help but retort back after she had confessed all those things. Now I knew I was an idiot, having fallen for all those traps! Then again, it just meant that Hoshimura Reika was that great of an actress. And I was that blinded by jealousy.
She grinned and then stepped forward and clasped my hands with hers. “Sorry, Ookina-sempai!” Ah, she even knew my name too! I felt like weeping tears of joy. “Let us get to be friends now that everything has cleared up. I’ve wanted to get to know you better, but I suppose I was too immersed in my role! You know what, come over to my house for a sleep-over this weekend!”
“Eh? Ah, I’m not sure…”
“Oh come on! I know all your assignments are due before the weekend is over! Maki-sempai told me! So you don’t have any reason to reject!”
Come to think of it, that’s true! I didn’t even process that information fast enough. Perhaps Hoshimura Reika had been waiting for such a chance? In the end, I could only smile and nod at the request. “Thank you, Hoshimura Reika-kun.”
She scrunched up her nose and shook her head. “Reika-chan! Don’t call me by my full name with such formality!”
“Then… Reika-chan, thank you.”
We both laughed and it was as if a great load had been lifted from my chest. She waved goodbye after a couple more minutes of talk, mostly to solidify where we’ll meet over the weekend since I didn’t know where her house was. I watched her departing figure with a smile and couldn’t even believe my own luck.
I was too immersed in my own happiness that I didn’t bother digging deeper into all the things that she’s said. In between the lines of text, there were many things implied. Later, as I sat down at home and thought back on the conversation, I realized that everything had gone so smoothly, it was as if something was wrong. And then, there was Hoshimura-sempai.
For now, I shook my head and made my way back into the school. In the auditorium, I saw Erika. She was dressed in the preliminary costumes that were made and was practicing her lines. I approached carefully with a smile on my face. It was great to see her perform with such fervour. I realized that I enjoyed looking at Erika the most when she was so serious. It was like a different person, but so attractive that I couldn’t take my eyes away.
At the end of her performance, I clapped and the sound resonated within the auditorium. She turned and saw me, and then she gave me a deep bow as mock salute. I craned my neck to look up as she drew near to me and sat down on the steps leading up to the stage. “You’re done talking with Hoshimura-kun?”
“Mm!” I nodded my head. “You would not believe what Reika-chan told me!”
She lifted an eyebrow at that. “It seems like everything had gone well.”
“It did!” I couldn’t help but lift a wide grin. “I’ll tell you all about it later, I’ll call you! For now, I have to run for work, Fujimaru-sempai would skin me alive if I were late!”
She laughed but didn’t ask anything either. She nodded and pushed herself up from the sitting position. “Then, if I may.” Still immersed in her role, she bowed and picked up my hand. “Allow me to say farewell and safe trip to my fair maiden who will be leaving me.” Then, she kissed the back of my hand softly, and I couldn’t help but turn red at the gesture.
I didn’t remember what I replied with and how I got out of there and on my way to Fujimaru-sempai’s place. The kiss and her face were engrained into my head and I couldn’t help but have flashbacks of it every other minute. At that moment, she had made me feel a shyness that I’ve only felt around Hoshimura-sempai previously. Even now, as I think back on it, my heart was still beating furiously in its cage.
Slowly, I knew that I was helplessly falling for Erika more and more.
That night, I dutifully retold everything of my conversation with Reika to Erika. Afterwards, she was silent for a long while; perhaps she didn’t quite understand the proceedings either. In the end, she was just glad that I was now relieved of my burdens and worries.
Tentatively, I couldn’t help but feel that Erika didn’t look up to Hoshimura-sempai as I did. When I think about it, even when we were first introduced to Hoshimura-sempai, she had been calm and collected; even reserved and distant. I couldn’t quite say that Erika disliked Hoshimura-sempai, but I have some confidence in saying she certainly didn’t like Hoshimura-sempai either.
At the end of the week, I packed my bags and looked forward to this sleep-over.
On Saturday, I met with Reika at the designated place in the afternoon. The trip to her house was filled with chatter; we certainly got to know each other better. Rather than staying at her place, I dropped off my baggage and we immediately set out to look around the area. It was a quiet neighbourhood, but not too far away, there were enough shops for us to entertain ourselves with. It was night time when we returned to her house. Her mother greeted us and after some short conversation, she led me back to her room. It was a spacious room with her bed, desk, closet and a floor table in the room. It was bigger than mine surely. Then again, the general size of her house was bigger than mine as well, it was to be expected.
“I’m going to take a shower first, make yourself comfortable!”
Reika left the room and the door open. I felt comfortable even though this was the first time for me in her room. Her mannerism and her mother’s welcoming notion had set me at ease. After she left the room, I stood up from my place on the floor and circled the room slowly. I looked at the certificates and medals that she’s won, the championships that she’s attended, and the family pictures that were on display.
“You two are back.”
I jumped lightly at the voice and turned around to see Hoshimura-sempai at the doorway. As if a reflex, I couldn’t help but flush lightly at her presence. “Good evening, sempai. You don’t have a game tonight?”
“Nah, we get the weekend off and then we’re on the road again.” She said with a sigh and entered the room. At home, she was dressed casually in sweats, but it still did not hinder the attractiveness that she innately possessed. I sat down on the edge of Reika’s bed, feeling somewhat timid as she drew nearer.
“Ah, I see. Good luck on your games, sempai!”
“Thank you!” She smiled and gave me a little wink.
There was a moment of silence before she spoke up again. “I hear that your relationship problems are all over now.”
Her comment reminded me and I whipped my head around to face her with accusation in my eyes. “Sempai! I cannot believe that you would tell your sister such things! She made me cry!” I really couldn’t help but complain to the older girl, even though I knew that she meant well.
Of course, she laughed lightly in response and ruffled my hair. “Sorry, kiddo. I told that girl to give you a hand if you needed help, I never told her to go to such extremes.”
I pouted and turned my head away, not sure if I was willing to let this go easily. From the corner of my eyes, I noticed that she had bent her back and leaned closer to place her face close to mine. Her close-up face had my heart beating irregularly and I didn’t know where I should place my eyes. “Sorry, are you really angry at me?”
For once, her face was void of that usual care-free expression and showed sincerity. I couldn’t help but shake my head as a response. Truthfully, I was never mad at her to begin with, but it only seemed appropriate to show some sorts of displeasure at what she had told Reika.
My answer brought a smile on her face. “Good girl.”
When I lowered my gaze shyly, I caught the necklace that had slipped free from beneath her T-shirt as she was leaning over me. Boldly, I reached out and grasped the swinging pendant. The simple metal chain was old and it felt old, but the pendant looked even older. It was in the shape of half a heart, but the red coloring had already faded somewhat. “What is this, sempai?” I looked up at her, and for once, I didn’t seem to be affected by the distance between us.
“This?” She looked down at it and her trademark smile was back on her face. “It’s my heart, of course!”
“No, I’m serious.” She looked back at me in all seriousness. “I cannot very well wear my heart on a chain, so this is going to have to represent my heart.”
“Then, where is the other half?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“It’s with the one who holds my heart.”
That confession took me a few seconds to grasp; I then understood that she meant it was with a significant other. Therefore, I could safely conclude that this necklace –and its twin- was used as some sort of a couple-item to signify the relationship and emotional attachment between Hoshimura-sempai and her partner.
Before I could open my mouth to ask whom that was; Reika woke both of us up.
“You! What are you doing in my room?!” Both Hoshimura-sempai and I were startled by that voice and I quickly let go of her necklace so she could straighten up and turn around to look at Reika at the door. “Why are you so close to her?! Stop trying to molest younger girls, you old pervert!”
I looked at Hoshimura-sempai with a face caught between amusement and incredibility. She sighed heavily and ran a hand through her hair, but was already walking towards the door. “I’m not that old! Sachiko is older than me!”
But she didn’t deny the pervert part! I realized with a somewhat awkward expression on my face, adding to the fact that I was caught between two sisters’ bickering.
“Yeah, but she’s not going around molesting under aged girls!”
“I wasn’t molesting her!”
“It looked like it!” The two sisters went at it as if I weren’t even in the room. “Why were you in my room in the first place?!”
“I heard that you two were back so I came to at least greet Megumi-chan!”
“And now that you’ve done that, get out!” I watched as Reika grabbed Hoshimura-sempai’s arm and shoved her out of the door before closing it shut with a bang. For a second, the entire world was silent and I looked at the door with concern. “Oh relax.” Reika waved a dismissive hand. “She’s used to that.” Reika threw the towel around her shoulders onto the floor table. “You can go take a shower. Everything has been prepared already.”
Again, I couldn’t help but notice the manner with which this family treated their guest. Everything was thought out beforehand, and I didn’t have to do anything. Yet, there was not the sense of them disliking me touching any of their things, but it was more of a considerate gesture. While in the shower, I thought back to Hoshimura-sempai. Her necklace was almost pitiful to be still around her neck. It was old and quite cheap looking. I supposed that if it didn’t have such importance to her, she wouldn’t have kept it.
It made me wonder if Erika and I needed such an item between the two of us to confirm or consolidate our relationship. However, even I knew that materialistic goods cannot represent the true definition of what a relationship is supposed to be like.
Outside of the bathroom, I dried my hair once again just so I wouldn’t leave a trail of water going back to Reika’s room. In the other direction, it was Hoshimura-sempai’s room. Although I’ve been given a general tour, I’ve never truly been invited into her room. I was tentative with my decisions, but in the end, I turned and headed down that way.
Hoshimura-sempai’s room door was left ajar; I could hear the light sound of music. That’s right; she was no longer a student and could listen to music, watch T.V. or read leisurely as she wished. For us, home meant homework and nothing fun. Cautiously, I knocked on the door and took a step back. Almost immediately, I heard footsteps approaching and my heart was racing once again.
“Sempai.” I looked up at her when she pulled the door open, and wondered if it was rude of me to appear in my sleep wear in front of her door. “Anou… I just wanted to say good night… I think Reika and I are going to turn in for the night.”
Hoshimura-sempai smiled and leaned against the door casually. “I hope you two get some sleep. Do you want me to walk you back to her room?”
I shook my head quickly and took another step back. “No, that’s alright. I can find it just fine. Thank you, sempai.” Somehow, she’s always made me feel so giddy and nervous.
“Alright then. Good night, Megumi-chan.”
I bowed quickly and turned to leave. My face was flushed the entire way back to Reika’s room and I wondered if Hoshimura-sempai had watched me depart down the hallway at all. In front Of Reika’s door, I knocked and entered slowly. Inside, Reika had already pushed the floor table to a corner of the room and had spread out a futon. What did I say? This family and their considerate gestures.
“That took long enough. What’s wrong? Why are you all flushed?”
“Eh?” My hand quickly flew to my cheek and I realized that it was still warm in the after effect of speaking with Hoshimura-sempai. “Ah, it was the shower.” I gave her a lame excuse and draped my towel around the back of her chair.
“You know, I heard it’s not so good to take showers that are too hot.” Reika seemed to have bought my excuse and even offered her own two cents on it. Although I wanted to object, I knew that I couldn’t well tell her that it was her older sister who had elevated my facial temperature quite so.
Then, for the next few minutes, we grappled over where to sleep. Of course, my first instinct was to crawl towards the futon on the floor, but Reika had all but grabbed my leg and dragged me back. I witnessed first hand how strong she was.
“I play tennis, duh!” That was the answer she gave me.
She argued that I was the guest, so I should take the bed. I argued that I was already imposing upon her family, so it’s only right that I take the futon. Besides, she was younger than me as well; I couldn’t very well let her sleep on the floor.
“That’s it exactly! You’re older, so you’re weak and frail; the floor is bad for you.”
Weak and frail?! I was only a year older than her and she was already calling me weak and frail? We’ve reached a stalemate and starred at one another from across the futon. In the end, we both took a step back and gave in. Since the bed wasn’t big enough to fit the both of us, we improvised and took the beddings down onto the floor to form a make-shift futon. Thus, she turned off the lights and both of us slept on the floor. It felt silly, and we giggled about it, but both of us were content.
In the darkness, I closed my eyes and wondered what kind of a dream I would have. Then, my cell phone rang and I quickly reached for it. Of course, it was a text message from Erika.
I hope you’re having fun at the sleep-over with Hoshimura-kun. Try to get some sleep at least!
Her text message brought a smile to my face –as always- and I closed my phone slowly and quietly, foregoing a reply as Reika may be asleep already. However, as soon as I put down my phone, she disproved my thought.
“Who was that?”
“It was Erika.” I spoke quietly. “You’re not asleep?”
“No where close, I thought you were asleep!” It seemed neither of us was able to fall asleep. “How is dating Maki-sempai?”
“Eh? Is that an appropriate question to be asking a sempai?” I tried to divert the topic onto something else, for even in the darkness, I could feel myself growing shy at the topic.
“Oh stop it. I helped you two get together; at least I have the right to know.”
“You shouldn’t talk about that! You made me cry!”
“That’s because you’re a cry-baby by nature. So tell me, how is it?!”
I didn’t know whether I should be offended or horrified at how easily my true nature had been seen through. Besides me, Reika shifted closer and I just knew that this was only the beginning. “It’s not that different from when we weren’t dating.”
“When did Maki-sempai confess to you?”
“Ehhhhhhh? How romantic! What did you say?”
“Nothing, seriously. I didn’t know what to respond with, so I just kinda… avoided her for a while.” “… That’s kinda…” “I know, it was horrible!” I tugged up my duvet and covered half of my face as if she could see the embarrassment. “Thankfully, Hoshimura-sempai and Fujimaru-sempai were able to talk some sense into me! Although it seemed more like they were arguing with each other.”
“Ah, how nice.” She said with a sigh. “I want to have a lovely relationship as well.”
I turned my head towards her direction and smiled, even if I knew that she couldn’t see it. As I got to know Reika more and more, I realized that she was just another regular girl. Sure, on the front, she seemed to be over-confident, but the little wishes that she holds were the same as anyone else. I wanted to tell her that I’m sure she will have her own lovely relationship, but her breathing had already evened out and I judged that she was asleep.
That night, we did manage to get some sleep. Perhaps the afternoon out had tired both of us, or perhaps there were more things that we could learn about each other before it would warrant a night without sleep devoted to talking.
Subconsciously, I wondered what Hoshimura-sempai was doing…
To be continued...