It was a hot day, the temperatures crawling higher on the scale than she or the weather report the previous day had anticipated. There was hardly a cloud to be seen in the sky, and Nana wondered what had become of the sixty percent probability of rain.
The sun shone with all its strength directly onto her red-haired head, but she didn’t yield. Nana didn’t mind high temperatures that much, though Wanta, who had been lying in the arguably cool shadows of the house for the last few hours since noon, seemed to have gotten into a state of paralysis under the oppressive heat.
Nana liked the sun. It was warm and bright and friendly, and even though she knew it would return every day anew, she still thought that she had missed it for too long. She felt the need to make up for it, which was why she usually spent her time outside.
She had just started to hang the laundry onto the clothesline in the backyard of the house. This usually wasn’t her task, but since Yuka had something important to do and Nana was the only one at home besides Wanta, it had been assigned to her. After putting up three blankets however, Nana realized why Yuka used to do this sort of thing most of the time. Nana was just too small, her hands being only able to reach the line with her fingertips while standing on tiptoes.
Walking back into the house, she shot a sideways glance to Wanta. He hardly moved, the fur on his stomach barely rising and falling with each quick and shallow breath. He seemed tired.
Nana walked past him into the house and towards the small storeroom, from where she took a yellow plastic bucket with colorful flowers on it. She inspected it for a moment and a proud smile crept upon her lips. This would do. She took it with her, but on her way out stopped at the kitchen to get a bowl filled with water.
Wanta looked at her gratefully as she placed the bowl in front of him, patting his head lightly to animate him to drink. After taking a few seconds to gather up the will to actually stand up, he did. Nana listened to the sound of his tongue quickly flicking through the water.
There, she was doing good things all the time.
With an almost eager smile she went back to the arduous task of hanging up laundry. She stepped onto the yellow bucket, and to her relief it actually made things easier.
She was well aware that she could use her vectors, but every time she was tempted to, she remembered Mayu’s lecturing face, telling her not to. Nobody should know about this. And aside from that, she had enough trouble to keep her prostheses in place as it was. So far, she was just fine without using her vectors for anything other than that. Mayu always knew what was best.
As she continued for the next few minutes in silence, she began to wonder where everyone was. It wasn’t unusual for her to be the only one left at home, after all Kouta and Yuka went to university and Mayu to school.
‘Still…’, she thought with a sigh, ‘it would be more fun with Mayu around.’
Nana didn’t know why Mayu liked school so much. Every day she came home with a pleased look on her face, and even though she often had enough homework to do to fill hours, she always completed them with care. Nana had long given up on watching her. She would never understand just what exactly was so great about putting so much work into something without even getting a reward.
Nana understood that she had to help in the house to be able to stay. She didn’t like it, but at least she knew what she was doing it for. Mayu’s work seemed so pointless, a waste of time. And she was so diligent still. It was unreal. She wished the other girl would just spend more time at home. With her.
Deciding not to worry about it too much, Nana worked her way further along the clothesline. Yuka had told her only to hang up half of the laundry in the basket, and to wait until it was dry to exchange it with the rest. However, as she reached the end she regarded the generous spaces between each piece of clothing and decided to hang up the rest as well. Yuka would be glad to see it all finished by the time she returned home, Nana was sure.
Only mildly aware of the fact that the laundry wouldn’t dry as well when the pieces lay one upon the other, Nana continued. Just as she was hanging up the last piece, the sliding door to the living room opened and Nana saw Kouta looking at her.
“I’m home.”, he called to her, balancing a big shopping bag on his arms. ‘More tasks from Yuka.’, Nana thought with a hint of spitefulness and couldn’t help but grin at the sight.
“Hi, Kouta!”, Nana nevertheless exclaimed happily, waving eagerly at him. As she did though, her right hand grazed the clothesline, the unconscious force causing the already overburdened line to snap off its hook. Nana quickly reached out for it, but got dragged down in her attempt to prevent the damp laundry from touching the ground.
Concentrating hard on keeping her limbs together, she ungracefully hit the relatively soft ground surrounded by a heap of white fabric.
“What are you doing?”, Kouta asked, stepping out into the backyard and towards the cloth-covered and slightly bewildered Nana.
Feeling the warm and dry ground under her and the cool touch of the damp clothes above her, she didn’t move for a few moments. It was an almost pleasant and refreshing feeling in contrast to the heat. She had messed it up, but she couldn’t help but giggle about herself.
“Don’t worry, Kouta.”, Nana said laughingly, her voice muffled by the layers of clothing piled over her. “I’ll hang it right up again.” Her right arm emerged from the pile, waving reassuringly.
“That’s not the point.”, Kouta said with a sigh, and as Nana freed herself of the cool fabric, she saw a frown on his face. “Now Yuka needs to wash all this again.”
Nana eyed him curiously before averting her eyes toward the clothes around her. “I don’t think they are that dirty.”, she noted, brushing a thin layer of grunge off the sheet in front of her.
“Why did you do so much at once, anyway? Didn’t Yuka tell you not to?”, Kouta continued, ignoring Nana’s comment. Hanging them up again without cleaning them was out of the question.
“I just-”, Nana started, but was interrupted by Kouta.
“Whatever. Just get up and help me pick all this up. We have to carry those inside.”, Kouta said, and upon seeing his tired and annoyed expression, Nana bit back another remark.
She swiftly stood up and began to gather the clothes in her arms hastily. With half of the share piled up in her arms, she made her way to the house, following Kouta, who carried the other half. On the way she saw Wanta watching her with unusual interest. He hardly looked tired anymore, and Nana wondered if water was all he had needed all along. She wished a little water could lift her spirits like this, as well.
She made faces, trying to get a reaction out of the dog other than open stares, but he didn’t move. So dogs couldn’t laugh, after all.
While still looking at an unyielding Wanta, Nana suddenly felt an unexpected resistance in front of her feet, and didn’t notice the steps that lead up the sliding door in time to avoid losing her balance.
Kouta didn’t even turn around as he heard the sounds behind him. He just sighed, continuing along the corridor.
“What are you doing? Pick them up again and follow me.”, he said as he didn’t hear any movements behind him, now turning around to face Nana. She was rubbing her head while at the same time trying to gather the clothes around her.
She quickly hurried after Kouta, telling herself to concentrate more on what she was doing. After all, just a few minutes earlier, everything had worked so well.
“Just leave them here and ask Yuka to wash them later.”, Kouta said as he dumped the clothes in front of their slightly old-fashioned washing machine before going off to follow the action he had had originally in mind after coming home.
“I…”, Nana started, unsure of what to do. She looked at the washing machine, thinking back to the time when she had observed Yuka handling it, while she had been sitting upon its rumbling top. She might be able to wash the clothes herself, but the prospect of more possible mishaps made her cringe. So instead, she kept standing in front of the washing machine, wondering how to spend her time without difficult work but also with enough to do to keep her from being bored. She wanted to do something fun.
She went to join Kouta in the living room, who sat hunched over a few sheets and a book, obviously not taking note of her.
“Kouta…”, Nana started, receiving not so much as a grunt in return, “when will Mayu come back?”
Kouta didn’t respond for a while, and Nana was about to repeat the question when he finally answered. “I don’t know. She has afternoon classes today, doesn’t she?”
Nana shrugged. She wasn’t exactly up to date with Mayu’s daily schedules, and it was times like these that it began to bother her. She had been home late a lot recently, but Nana hadn’t wanted to ask for the reason. Mayu loved school, and Nana would hate to make her feel obligated to come home early just because she didn’t like to be alone.
“Why don’t you take Wanta for a walk?”, Kouta suggested, not averting his eyes from the textbook in front of him.
“Okay…”, Nana answered with an obvious lack of enthusiasm, but tried to smile nonetheless. At least it would get her out into the sun, and maybe Yuka wouldn’t be angry over the laundry if she knew that Nana had helped out otherwise.
She had already done so much that day. She had checked the letter box for new letters or leaflets, had collected Wanta’s toys off the lawn and upon recalling Yuka’s precious advise to “always clean those spots the most which were used the most”, had even meticulously cleaned every single door handle in the house.
As she stepped outside, she noticed that the wind had picked up slightly, and with one look at Wanta she knew that the weather was more agreeable with him now. He was standing to her right with an eager look in his eyes, watching her while wagging his tail. He obviously enjoyed the breeze which ruffled his short fur.
“Let’s go!”, Nana said cheerily and Wanta barked enthusiastically in response. She clipped the leash onto his collar and led him out the entrance door. Going right would soon lead her to stone stairs which led downwards and from where she could already see the ocean, whereas going left would eventually lead her to equal stairs leading in direction of the cemetery. She chose right.
As both of them reached the stairs and descended the long way down, Nana felt Wanta tugging at the leash more than usual, so much that Nana almost stumbled. Even though a few months had passed, she still wasn’t fully used to her artificial arms and legs.
“Hold on, Wanta!”, she said but laughed. Maybe he had really just needed a little water to get into gear. She would tell Mayu later, suggesting a bigger water bowl for him. She wanted to take good care of him, just like Mayu did. She wanted to do everything Mayu did.
“Geez, Wanta!”, Nana called as she ran down the stairs, following the small dog who seemed to have no difficulty with jumping from step to step at a pace that left Nana panting, and worrying that her concentration might slip.
Which it did, five steps later, due to an unexpected stop from Wanta right in front of her feet.
The fall proceeded as usual, her first action being an attempt to regain her balance, which only succeeded ever so often. It didn’t now.
So the action that followed was shielding her head while concentrating on her vectors. She really tried, but it was always the pain of the impact that made everything go to waste as her artificial limbs were scattered all over the place. It was always the same, and Nana always wondered what use her vectors were in the face of physical pain. They were no good at all.
Lying sprawled out on the stone steps in a most uncomfortable fashion, Nana looked up to find Wanta at a safe distance of a few meters in front of her, wagging his tail in anticipation and showing no signs of worry or concern for his ‘daycare owner’ whatsoever.
“Just you wait.”, Nana hissed under her breath as she clumsily robbed across the steps to collect her four missing parts. She was grateful that no one else was around, people tended to freak out when they saw her like this. Nana unwillingly remembered an occasion where both of her arms had dispatched due to a collision with an elderly woman, who in turn fainted on the spot, leaving the passersby to argue with whom to concern themselves first until Nana made that choice for them in running away.
Having successfully reattached her arms and legs, Nana cautiously walked toward Wanta, who had already occupied himself with the trees and bushes further ahead instead of waiting for her.
“No more tugging now, ok?”, she scolded him as she picked up the leather leash and continued down the stairs.
However, it took no more than five steps that Wanta was already ahead of her again, viciously trying to overcome the two meter distance the leash allowed. Why he was in such a hurry to get away from her, Nana didn’t know. All she knew was that it was getting on her nerves much faster than she liked.
“What’s wrong with you today?”, Nana asked, only to be completely ignored by the dog, whose claws scratched on the stone ground.
Now prepared for the constant tugging, Nana proceeded all the way down the stairs, trying to ignore Wanta’s behavior, simply taking the same way as usual.
It wasn’t until Wanta started bellowing like mad that Nana removed the leash and watched him disappear with satisfaction.
‘It’s been a long day.’, Mayu mused as she exited the deserted school building with the setting sun already in view. She had volunteered to do the daily cleaning chore for the third time this week, not missing out on a single day so far.
It wasn’t that she liked cleaning. She liked doing it for someone. She liked to give a little part of her happiness back to the people around her, while reserving a little pleasure for herself in feeling useful.
So, even though the days passed with less free time for her, Mayu was glad. She didn’t think she had ever enjoyed life this much.
Never before had she woken up each morning, hurrying to get dressed in anticipation of what the upcoming day held in store for her.
If anyone were ever to ask her what a perfect life was like, she would tell them that this was it.
Except that there was still something missing.
She had a home to return to day after day, filled with people who cared for her and appreciated her, never telling her to leave. Her life was perfectly normal, with nothing out of the ordinary. All the strange things which had occurred in the past were over now, leaving nothing more than a slightly bitter aftertaste upon remembering after all these months. It was the most ordinary life there was.
And it was just this that prevented her life from being special. But she couldn’t ask for that. She was happy with what she had now. She truly was.
Small pearls of sweat formed on Mayu’s forehead as she ascended the long stairway that led up to the former Kaede Inn, which was now little more than a simple house with a few rooms to spare.
Even though it was almost evening it was still exceptionally hot, Mayu found as she climbed the stairs with no shadowy refuge in sight. It was no wonder that her friends, or rather, classmates had wanted to leave school as quickly as possible to go to the outdoor pool even at this hour.
She couldn’t call them friends, hardly knowing them. She only had one friend, and even this bond was running thin on her part. ‘Friends’ wasn’t enough, but she lacked the word to describe what she wanted it to be, if she even knew herself.
Reaching the top, Mayu found the entrance door ajar. She opened it and stepped through it, thinking little of it. She walked past the front yard and it wasn’t until she saw Yuka’s face that she realized something was wrong.
Even though Yuka was smiling, Mayu could tell that the smile was forced. She could clearly see the worry in Yuka’s eyes.
“What’s wrong?”, Mayu asked, forgoing a greeting.
“Mayu…well, you see…”, Yuka started, unsure of how to explain. She took Mayu’s schoolbag and occupied herself for a short moment in putting it aside. She didn’t think there was any way to say this gently.
“Wanta’s gone.”, Kouta, who had come to join Yuka, answered for her. “And so is Nana.” His look was stern and Mayu couldn’t tell what he really meant.
“But…she’ll be back soon, right? I mean, it’s still bright outside…”, Mayu said hopefully, her eyes uncertainly switching back and forth between Kouta and Yuka.
“If not, we could look for her…”, she continued upon not receiving an answer.
“No.”, Kouta interrupted her, receiving a worried glance from Yuka. “She’ll come back sooner or later, with Wanta.”
“But Kouta…”, Yuka said pleadingly, sensing that he was still angry about what had happened, “What if something happens to her?”
Kouta ignored Yuka’s comment and left her and Mayu standing in the entrance.
“What…what happened?”, Mayu asked quietly once Kouta was out of sight. She was wary of him when he was angry, even though he had never given her any reason to.
“Well, it’s a little difficult to explain…”, Yuka answered with a sigh. When she opened her mouth to continue a loud bark interrupted her.
The beach was completely deserted, though it was never particularly crowded either. People didn’t like to come here. And if they did, they didn’t stay for long.
It was one of the dirtier parts of the long coast which limited Kamakura to the east. Nana absent-mindedly kicked an empty can out of the sand, sending it flying several meters ahead of her. It hadn’t always been this dirty, but the empty cans, wrappings and bottles had increased recently. There was no one to ever clean this place.
The ocean shimmered in various shades of orange and red, reflecting the descending sun. Within the next hour, it would be completely dark.
She had been here for the last two hours or more, walking back and forth along the beach, thinking about what to do.
There was no way she could go back home anytime soon. Kouta had clearly stated that she shouldn’t dare to return without Wanta. And there was nothing that could make her search for that vicious beast.
‘Let them search for themselves. Wanta wanted to run away, so he would have done so sooner or later anyway, wouldn’t he?’
Nana didn’t know why everything had happened the way it had. It wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her fault at all!
If anything, it was Wanta’s fault for ignoring her calls and running away in the first place. Nana honestly didn’t know why helping someone always ended up like this. She really did try her best.
She wished Mayu was there with her. But as things were, Mayu was the last one to offer her comfort now. Nana was actually glad she didn’t have to see the sad and angry face of her friend. It would only make her feel guilty.
‘Papa was never angry with me.’, was her lone thought as she sat down, watching the sun set. She would decide what to do later. For now, she would simply watch. If anything, she had enough time.
Mayu didn’t like the feeling of being the only one on the streets, even though at this time of day, she should be glad she was. It was already dark, and aside from the sparsely placed lampposts and the occasional flicker of light from passing cars, there wasn’t any source of light. The moon was shrouded in clouds so much that Mayu could hardly tell where it was.
The temperatures however had cooled down by now, which Mayu was immensely grateful for.
She wasn’t sure where to look first, and it was times like these that made Mayu feel as though she didn’t know Nana at all. She could have gone anywhere.
Now that she thought about it, she hadn’t gone to many places with Nana. Nana stayed at the house most of the time, and Mayu was often busy with school, leaving little time in between the usual house chores and the time spent with Kouta and Yuka to do much by themselves. Nana had never complained, bringing it to her attention.
She had seemed perfectly content with the way things were. She always had a smile on her face when Mayu returned home, eagerly telling her how she had spent her day. She hadn’t seemed like someone who needed her, like someone who would run away all of a sudden.
Thinking about it now, Mayu should have noticed herself. But being all but engrossed with school, her mind had been preoccupied most of the time. Willingly so, and Mayu now realized that she should have spent more time thinking about things she had used to avoid.
‘I’ll make it up to her once I find her.’, was the single thought that diverted her attention from the uneasy darkness and led her along the streets without the urge to turn around every few meters. Because Mayu knew, that once she started, she couldn’t stop.
It had used to drive her crazy, back then. She had always had that uncomfortable feeling that someone was following her, with the intent of bringing her back to the place she had escaped from. It had gotten better after finding Wanta, for even though he was small, Mayu knew that he would notice dangerous people far sooner than her. This used to calm her, to have a dependable companion wherever she went.
Wanta wasn’t there now, however. She had left him at home to make sure he didn’t run away again, but back then, she hadn’t anticipated the task of finding Nana to be so difficult.
As she raised her head from where she had been listlessly scanning the ground, she noticed that she was at the same street corner she had passed about half an hour before. Reprimanding herself for not paying attention, she took the way she had dismissed as unlikely the first time: the beach.
She might have considered going there earlier, but now that it was dark and getting cold, she couldn’t imagine anyone being there. She had used to spend a lot of time at the beach before she came to live at the Kaede Inn, and even back then there hadn’t been many people coming there. Maybe it was the huge swimming pool nearby that drew them away from it, or the people simply took on the extra mile to get to a cleaner part.
Upon arriving at the short stone stairs that led down to the beach, she could only make out the glittering tops of the small waves coming in. The beach in itself was dark and, for fear of treading into shards of glass, Mayu kept her shoes on as she walked closer to the water.
The ocean was calming to look at when so dimly lit, and Mayu wished she had more time to observe the recurring waves. But it was getting late, and every passing minute without a trace of Nana made her worry even more.
She was about to turn around and leave the beach when she heard a faint sniffling sound near her, causing her to spin around.
“Who…who is there?”, she asked hesitantly, slowly walking into the direction where she believed the sounds to have come from.
She received no answer and stopped in her tracks. The sniffling had stopped also.
”I-I’m sorry…I just…”, Mayu said, embarrassed to have disturbed someone so suddenly. She walked backwards with an apologetic gesture, even though she was almost sure that the other person could see her just as badly as she could.
She was already on her way back through the sand when a familiar quivering voice stopped her. “Ma…Mayu?”
The sudden voice caused Mayu’s heart to beat faster than before, and Mayu spun back around to look at the dim outline of a person whose voice she had instantly recognized.
“Nana!”, she said louder than intended, running almost blindly through the darkness until she found the red-haired girl right in front of her. Nana was looking up to her, the tears still visible in her eyes.
“What…are you doing here?”, Mayu asked, opting for the first sensible thing that came to mind.
But instead of answering, Nana stood up and drew her friend into a fierce hug.
“Mayu!”, she cried, pressing herself against her surprised friend.
Mayu returned the hug, relieved that things didn’t seem as bad as Kouta’s story had made it sound.
Nana buried her head in Mayu’s collar, trying to stop the tears that were now streaming from her eyes. When they finally subsided, she dared to look up at Mayu’s face. It looked gentle.
“Are you…are you mad at me?”, she asked nevertheless to make sure, but the smile she received was all the answer she needed.
“Silly, I’m not mad at you. I should be, though. Everyone is worried.”, Mayu said, but her broad smile destroyed her attempt to seem serious.
“E-Everyone?”, Nana asked incredulously. Kouta’s harsh words still echoed in her mind, and she couldn’t imagine him being worried after having sent her away himself.
“Yes, everyone.”, Mayu answered with a reassuring smile, patting Nana’s head. The other girl still clung to her. “So let’s go back, okay?”
Nana flinched at these last words, finally letting go of Mayu. “Can…Can’t you stay here?”
Mayu noticed the sheer hopefulness in Nana’s voice and wondered yet again just what had happened when she hadn’t been at home.
“Kouta said not to come back…”, Nana explained upon seeing Mayu’s questioning look. “He said I couldn’t come back without Wanta…” With a sigh, Nana sat down on the still warm sand, drawing her knees up to her chest. “So that’s why...can’t you stay here with me?”
Nana stared out onto the ocean, dreading Mayu’s answer. Of course it would be a ‘no’, there was no way Mayu would stay the night at the beach when she could have a warm bed at home.
However, when she heard a giggle coming from Mayu, she turned her head to look up to her with a puzzled look.
“It’s alright, Wanta came back on his own.”, Mayu said, “So let’s go home.” She extended her hand to help Nana up, but the red-haired girl just looked at it suspiciously.
“So they really aren’t angry with me?”, she asked unbelievingly. She knew what she had done, and didn’t think to be let off the hook this easily. It wasn’t that she recognized her doings as wrong, but rather as conflicting with theirs. Even she was still angry at Kouta and Yuka, so how could they not be?
Another sigh from Mayu. She sat down beside Nana, having just given up on her plan to convince Nana to come home the easy way. She hadn’t exactly lied, but she had to admit that she had left one little obstacle unspoken.
Which was that, of course, Kouta was highly upset, which had made Mayu sneaking out of the house necessary in the first place. If she was perfectly honest with herself, even she dreaded to go back home, for fear of being yelled at. But there had been simply no question as to what was more important to her.
“Well…of course they are a…little angry with you. Who wouldn’t be after all those things you shouted at them?”, Mayu explained, not failing to let Nana know what she thought about her actions. “Yuka told me, and I think you really went too far.” Of course, she had just heard one side of the story, and she felt bad for judging Nana so quickly.
To Mayu’s surprise, it was Nana’s turn to laugh now. It was a dark and sarcastic laugh which only lasted a few seconds until Nana stood up and looked down at Mayu.
“So you don’t understand me, either.”, she said, trying hard to sound more amused than saddened by this revelation. “Nobody does.”
“That’s because you don’t tell me what you think.”, Mayu said, not knowing what else to say. She wanted to sympathize with Nana, but at the same time the very same girl made this quite difficult. She honestly didn’t know what was going on, but it hurt her to know how little Nana thought of her. She wanted to understand, she really did.
After hearing this, Nana took a few steps away from Mayu, accusingly pointing her finger at her. “That’s just the thing! You want me to talk about every little thing when it’s just you never recognizing anything I do!” Her accusation was met by speechlessness from Mayu.
“I’m the only one who is always left at home. Everyone just goes away and leaves me there, doing work around the house all day. And just when one or two things go wrong Kouta yells at me and calls me useless! I try so hard to be useful but nobody ever sees it! It’s not fair.” The last sentence came out choked, and when Mayu looked at Nana more closely she saw that she was crying.
A wave of guilt overcame her and she stood up and walked towards Nana, reaching out her hand to wipe away the tears.
“But even so, telling Kouta you hate him, wasn’t it a little…”, Mayu whispered, but even before she could finish she felt a sharp slap as her hand was violently pushed aside.
“How would you know? You’re in school all day, just as though you didn’t want to be home. You always leave me alone, Mayu!”, Nana shouted, clumsily wiping away her tears with the back of her hand. This wasn’t good. She didn’t want to be angry with Mayu. She didn’t want Mayu to be angry with her.
Once again Mayu didn’t know what to say. It was true, and she knew it. She had been telling herself that Nana didn’t need her, that she shouldn’t be intruding on their ‘friendship’…or maybe she had just been afraid to hear Nana say that she didn’t need her, that she was actually fine on her own. Wouldn’t that have been worse than telling herself that?
“You know…”, Mayu started with a sigh, smiling apologetically at Nana, “you should really tell us those kinds of things. Just because we don’t notice everything you do, doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate you helping around the house. But you can’t expect us to praise you for every little thing, those go without saying. You don’t thank Yuka every time you put on a set of clean clothes, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t care, right? Everyone does their part, and I’m sure you and Kouta just had a bad day.”, she explained, shrugging upon seeing Nana’s questioning look. She knew she was avoiding the subject, but what could she do? She had no idea.
“Let’s go home and apologize. I sneaked out without telling them, so I’ll need to apologize too.” Mayu gave Nana an uncharacteristically sheepish smile as she said this, if just to cheer up herself.
“So how come you aren’t mad at me?”, Nana asked after a while, looking at Mayu expressionlessly. “You came to search for me even though you knew you were going to be scolded, even though you knew how mean I have been to Kouta and Yuka.” A small and hopeful smile appeared on Nana’s lips, inviting Mayu’s to do the same.
“We’re…friends, right? Wouldn’t you have come to search for me as well?”, Mayu asked as she took Nana’s hands in hers. They were strangely warm.
“Of course I would!”, Nana said eagerly, not missing a beat. She leaned forward, causing Mayu to blush slightly as the distance between their faces lessened.
“W-Well…everything’s alright then.”, Mayu stuttered and looked to the side. She turned around to leave, but just before she got out of reach, Nana grabbed her hand, halting her.
“Let’s go into the water, Mayu.”, Nana said with a smile that Mayu was more used to see than the sad look she had already seen too often that day.
Mayu turned her head to look at the black water to her left, but when she wanted to respond, she spotted Nana already standing in knee-deep water, waving at her.
“Come in! I wanted to go in all day, but it’s no fun alone. But now you’re here.”, Nana called, still waving with a broad smile on her face.
Mayu considered the unexpected invitation for a few moments, but came up with too many reasons to protest.
“Nana, it’s dark and we don’t have swimsuits!”, she called after the other girl, who was quickly adding to the distance between them as she went even deeper into the water.
“Is it important?”, Nana asked. The moonlight shone directly into her face and Mayu could make out her puzzled expression.
“Can you even swim?”, Mayu asked, growing worried. She stepped into the water cautiously, but found it surprisingly warm despite the quickly decreasing air temperature.
The self-confident laugh she received in response made her even more worried. Her hands moved to take at least her shirt of the school uniform she was still wearing off, but she hesitated and decided against it. She knew it wasn’t good to get her uniform all wet, but at the moment she just didn’t care and simply took off her shoes before walking quickly into Nana’s direction until they were both soaked up to their waists.
“No. Can you?”, Nana asked by the time they stood face to face.
Mayu took a deep breath before answering, trying to resist the growing urge to give Nana a smack over the head in spite of her pacifistic nature.
“I do. I taught myself how to.”, Mayu explained with a weak smile, remembering the time when she had had enough of seeing other people swim, obviously enjoying doing so. So one day she had just gone into the ocean and tried for herself. It hadn’t even been all that difficult.
“All alone? That’s awesome!”, Nana suddenly shouted happily as she jumped at Mayu to hug her, resulting in both of them splashing into the water.
With Nana on top of her, Mayu found it hard to get to the surface again, but eventually succeeded in doing so by rolling to the side and temporarily freeing herself from Nana’s grip. Nana seemed to make a habit of clinging to her…not that she minded that much.
She took a much needed deep breath before grabbing Nana’s arm to help her out of the water as well.
“It wasn’t that hard.”, she said as she wiped the strands of wet hair out of her face. She didn’t have much choice than learning it herself. It wasn’t as though there had been anyone present who would show her how. So even though Mayu was a little proud of figuring it out by herself, she still saw it as a sad event. She hadn’t had anyone to show it to, anyone who would praise her or be impressed. It was such a selfish thought.
Nana, whose hair-covered face looked very much like Mayu’s, grinned.
“Really? Then-“, Nana began, but was interrupted by a fit of sneezes.
Mayu watched her silently, but after the fifth continuous sneeze couldn’t help but giggle, causing a pair of dangerous looking eyes to stare at her.
“Hey, that’s not-“, Nana said, once again stopped by a forceful sneeze, “that’s not funny! It won’t stop.” Her eyes were already teary.
Nana’s comment caused Mayu to laugh out loud. “The salt water got into your nose, that’s all. You shouldn’t try to breathe underwater.”
Upon hearing Mayu’s explanation, Nana eyed the water around her warily.
“So how do you swim without it getting in your nose?”, she asked, looking intently at Mayu. “Please show me!”
“Alright, come here.”, Mayu gave in, motioning for Nana to come closer.
She spent the next hour partly showing Nana how to swim, and partly rescuing Nana from drowning due to her less than successful attempts. It wasn’t that Nana didn’t try, though. It was only natural that such a thing would be hard for someone with prostheses, which were not only heavier than real limbs, but also more difficult to coordinate in the unnatural fashion that was required when swimming.
Nana proved to learn quickly though, and Mayu found it hard to look away from her radiating eyes, which were beaming with joy and hope equally. Yes, this was definitely the side of Nana Mayu wanted to see the most. And if it was her doing, all the better.
“Let’s stop for today. We can continue tomorrow, but it’s really getting late.”, Mayu suggested as she floated leisurely on the water surface. For a while she had actually forgotten about Yuka and Kouta, and could only imagine how upset they had to be. But she still wanted to go. She was tired, and a soft, warm bed was one of the best things she could think of at the moment.
“You’ll really practice with me tomorrow too?”, Nana asked, again with that innocent hopefulness in her voice, causing Mayu to stop in her tracks just as she was about to step onto the dry sand of the beach.
“Stop making me feel bad, will you?”, Mayu said as she turned around to meet Nana’s eyes, feigning annoyance. “If you want to spend time with me, just…tell me.”
Shortly after the last two words left her mouth, she felt a pressure against her back, and realized that Nana was embracing her from behind. Was this it? Was this what she should have said all along?
“Really? So if I said I wanted you to spend a whole week with me, would you?”, Nana asked almost shyly, her voice getting quieter towards the end.
“Now you’re being greedy.”, Mayu said but giggled. “But I guess if you want it that much…I could come home earlier than usual from now on.” It wasn’t as though she couldn’t say ‘no’ for a change, when asked to do the cleaning chores. She might receive strange looks for her sudden change of mind, and didn’t get to hear a ‘thank you’ from her classmates every day. But as she looked to the side and found Nana’s beaming face on her shoulder, she found that this was much more rewarding than any expression of gratitude from people she hardly knew.
After picking up their shoes, they headed home. The way wasn’t particularly long, and walking barefooted was much more pleasant than the prospect of forcing their wet and sand-covered feet into their tight shoes. They were soaked anyway, so those kinds of details didn’t matter.
Mayu was still worried about treading into shards of glass, so Nana volunteered to walk right in front of her, checking for any.
“Do you think they will be angry over this?”, Nana asked after a while, regarding her wet shirt which clung tightly to her body. Their clothes were still dripping wet and left trails along the streets.
“Not any more than they already are. I’ll rinse them right away when I get home, so there won’t be any salt marks.”, Mayu answered offhandedly, soothing Nana’s worries. The way Nana always fretted over the opinions other people had of her, always trying to be please them was naïve, but also endearing in Mayu’s eyes. She certainly wasn’t the rebellious or insolent girl other people might mistake her to be, though she was trying hard to keep that act up in order not to expose her weaknesses. Mayu understood this, even though she saw herself as the type to always take the line of least resistance. She would try to change this, eventually.
She regarded Nana fondly, who walked one or two steps in front of her, happily humming a tune she had no doubt heard on the radio.
Sometimes Mayu wondered what would have become of them had they met earlier, when they had still been small kids, growing up without experiencing the various things they hadn’t asked for. Would they even be friends? Would they be much better friends? Or was this already the best thing that could have happened to them?
“By the way, Nana. Did you really tell Yuka you hated her cooking?”, Mayu asked the other girl, voicing the question the instant it entered her mind. The idea of Nana saying that seemed quite grotesque, for it was always Nana who praised her cooking the most.
Nana spun around with a start, laughing self-conciously. “Did she tell you that?”
Mayu sighed in frustration. This was going to be a long night.
When they reached the front door of the Kaede Inn, they stood in silent preparation. Mayu’s hands clutched her shirt nervously, wringing the remaining water out of it. The last thing she wanted now was the task of mopping the floor. Nana stood behind her, imitating her friend’s moves for lack of a better idea.
With a tentatively outstretched hand, Mayu slid the door open until she faced the empty corridor she had half expected to see.
“Maybe they aren’t home?”, Nana whispered from behind her, but soon after flinched as she heard heavy, quick footsteps coming from the living room.
Within seconds Yuka came running towards them, her expression one of great worry but also relief. She stopped right in front of Mayu, and the girl could clearly see the redness under her eyes.
“Where have you been?”, Yuka asked them with a gentleness Mayu hadn’t quite expected, kneeling down in front of them. “And look at your clothes! What have you…”, she said in shock upon noticing Mayu’s and Nana’s drenched clothes.
“We’re sorry!”, Mayu and Nana said in almost perfect unison, bowing deeply in apology. They flinched when they felt Yuka’s hands on their heads, but relaxed when they realized she was only patting them.
“I’m just glad you’re back.”, Yuka said and smiled at them, drawing both girls into a hug. However, when she heard a pair of footsteps behind her, her look grew somber.
It was Kouta, looking down at the three of them with a stern expression. However, his gaze shifted to Nana, and he eyed her intently as he came closer to her. Just before reaching her, though, Mayu effectively blocked his path by standing in front of him.
“Nana is…we’re really sorry.”, she said with a slight quiver in her voice, looking directly into Kouta’s eyes. She would have liked to say that they wouldn’t do such a thing ever again, but she had already lost count of what they were actually apologizing for. Which didn’t make the apology less genuine though, for Mayu felt truly sorry, and guilty, when thinking of Yuka.
“So I see you were at the beach. Was it fun?”, Kouta asked, his expression and voice impossible to interpret. Mayu saw Yuka looking over to him worriedly, indecisive whether to speak up to calm him or not.
Nana opened her mouth to respond, but quickly decided against it. She had a feeling Mayu would not like it if she said just how much fun it had been. So she kept silent, as did Mayu, even though both of them felt highly uncomfortable.
“I remember hearing you say how much you hated it here. Why did you come back?”, Kouta asked, looking past Mayu at Nana. Mayu looked down in defeat. It was impossible to answer this for Nana. As her gaze wandered downwards however, she saw that the legs of Kouta’s trousers were dirty near the feet. She smiled.
“I’m sorry.”, Nana mumbled, looking down as well. “I didn’t mean it. I was just angry. I’m sorry.”
“Good!”, Kouta said louder than necessary, startling Nana and causing her to look at him. “Because I’m sorry too, for saying what I did. Now we’re even, aren’t we?”, he added gently. He quickly looked over to Yuka with a reassuring smile, earning a beaming smile from his girlfriend in return.
Yuka stood up from where she had been kneeling and embraced Kouta gently, suddenly feeling foolish for having even worried. She kissed his cheek tenderly, before turning back to the girls.
”Now that everything’s settled, I think you two should take a bath and then go to bed.”, Yuka said, her suggestion being met by two eager nods.
The girls were just about to leave for the bath, when Kouta halted them.
“You go ahead Mayu, Nana will follow a little later.”, he said with a slightly vicious smile.
By the time Mayu entered her bedroom, she could hardly keep her eyes open anymore. Being out all day had been tiring enough and the hot bath had about finished her off.
After putting on her favorite pajama she plopped down on her futon, hugging her fluffy pillow. It was warm. Cozy. Perfect.
It was the perfect end for a less than ordinary, if not quite chaotic, day. She still wasn’t sure if everything between her and Nana was alright now, but she had a feeling that they were on a good way.
She was about to drift off to sleep when she heard her sliding door being opened and closed. Opening her eyes she found a familiar pair of feet in front of her, and looked up to see Nana’s face. She held a pillow of her own in her arms, looking slightly nervous. She opened her mouth to speak but knowing what she was going to say, Mayu interrupted her.
“The whole week I said, right?” With an inviting smile she lifted the cover and moved to the side. Nana turned the lights off and lay down beside Mayu with a broad and altogether adorable smile on her face. The futon wasn’t exactly wide, leaving only enough space for them when they cuddled together, but neither of them seemed to mind and Mayu didn’t raise the obvious question why Nana didn’t just bring her own futon.
“What took you so long?”, Mayu asked after they had positioned themselves comfortably. They lay with their faces to each other, and Mayu felt Nana’s warm breath on her face, battling against the cool air in the room.
“Kouta made me rinse our clothes out at the well.”, Nana replied and grimaced, but soon smiled as she saw Mayu do the same.
“He was really worried, you know.”, Mayu said, thinking of the dirt on his trousers. They had been clean as always by the time she had returned from school. “He must’ve searched all over the place for you.”
“And you.”, Nana added and giggled. “But it’s alright now, he isn’t angry anymore. Yuka said she’d make sure he slept more from now on too, so he won’t be so moody.” Mayu couldn’t help but snicker at that, leaving Nana to look at her strangely. She let it go, however.
“As for Yuka…she said I’m on cooking duty for a whole week.”, Nana said with a frown. She wasn’t sure if Yuka was actually aware that, in fact, Nana could hardly cook.
Yuka and Kouta. They weren't the perfect parents in many ways, but they were more than she could ever ask for.
“So this week’s menu is rice and omelet?”, Mayu joked and giggled.
“Not if you can help it…”, Nana said hesitantly. She knew Mayu could cook about everything Yuka could as well, if not more. Nana wished she could show as much interest in all those everyday things as her. She felt childish to rely on Mayu all the time, even though the other girl didn’t seem to mind.
Watching Mayu’s gentle face in front of her, Nana decided to voice her doubts. “I’m sorry for bothering you all the time. You must think I can do nothing on my own.”
“That’s not it.”, Mayu said and drew Nana closer to her, her mouth above ear.
“I like you. That’s why I help you.”, she whispered, but also knew that gladly helping Nana whenever she needed her was her sole excuse of spending time with the other girl. She loved how much Nana relied on her.
She decided to ask Yuka and Kouta again whether there really wasn’t any way to have Nana go to school as well, a request they hadn’t been able to fulfill due to a lack of any sort of papers about Nana. Of course, this was another selfish excuse from her, but maybe, Nana would enjoy it as well.
She would find out this week. She was looking forward to it.
“What if I said I wanted you to spend your whole life with me?”
Mayu didn’t answer, lightly kissing Nana on the lips instead.