Petal 04 - The Dawn Breeze
Sunflower Academy down by two points against Chrysanthemum High with less than ten seconds to go. Six seconds had passed with Sunflower now at the ball. Kazuko received the basketball from her teammate, but she was at the other half of the court away from her teams designated net. From behind the center line she launched the ball with only two seconds left on the clock on the final quarter.
It went in! Sunflower had now secured a top spot in the prefectural tournament. The roar of cheers came from the fans on Sunflower's sides, and the cheerleaders ran to lovingly congratulate their team with hugs no less.
Sumiko was the first to hug their rookie star player, Kazuko. Kazuko, however, waded through her mostly female admirers to meet up with her dearest friend, Ichiko Nikkô.
"Good game," smiled Ichiko.
It was simple, but it was enough. Kazuko just wanted to hear her voice, even if they were just a few words.
She met up with Ichiko again after she changed into her jumpsuit. They walked together towards the school's buses trying to discuss the nuances of basketball, but even if Ichiko flubbed her lines and mixed up sports terms, it was still pleasant for them to be together like they always used to.
"Don't doubt the all-girl schools," said Kazuko. "I am surprised that Chrysanthemum have such powerful and tall players."
"You guys are just lucky!" said Ichiko.
Kazuko stopped, and right in front and very close to Ichiko.
"Is something wrong?"
"Why don't you consider trying out?" Kazuko asked.
"I can't. I'm not that tall."
"By the time next season arrives, you will be. Haven't you noticed Ichiko? You're still growing up."
"Considering that your mother is tall."
"Speaking of which," said Sumiko, when she stepped into their personal space, "your mother is hitting on the other team."
"What the hell?" grumbled Ichiko.
Sumiko grinned as she watched Ichiko marched up to entrance to the locker rooms, where outside the girls of the other team were blushing in embarrassment, and a few looking up and pining with starry eyes to Rei.
"That's right!" Rei continued on. "You can be as dyke as you want in the WNBA. I know of a female agent and a female player who share a very special bond."
Ichiko tugged Rei by the ear and dragged her off, during which she bowed in apology to the Chrysanthemum High's players. Then she said goodbye to Kazuko, and went off with her mother to the bus stop.
"You promised me that you'd be on your best behavior," growled Ichiko. "This is the fifth time you have done this!"
"Then don't allow me to go," said Rei.
"I don't have a choice. Father and grandfather say that I need an escort, and everyone is busy."
"Oh, I think it's something else. You're lonely without me."
Ichiko sighed. "Let's drop it and plan on what we're going to have for dinner."
Then the phone in her handbag rang.
"Oh, Ichiko," said Kazuko's voice. "I forgot to tell that the team and I are going to go out partying tonight since it's the end of the week. Are you up for it?"
Before Ichiko could formulate her response in her head, let alone open her mouth to answer, Rei snatched the phone and held it to her ears.
"We'd love to come!" Rei cried. "Ichiko has her full approval!"
"Is that you Rei? You can come as well."
"Thanks a lot girl! You're the best!"
Rei hung up the phone and tossed it over her head and into Ichiko's bag as if it was a basketball move.
"Damn it Rei!" Ichiko cried.
"Why are you so bummed? It just means you won't have to cook tonight."
"I have a project to do!"
"If it takes you three days to complete a project, then there is something wrong with your personal timekeeping. At least that's my opinion. Besides, we can't pass up this opportunity! They'll be food, karaoke, cute gals, and maybe cute guys if we run into them."
"You just don't want to pay for your fun."
"Oh, and you'll foot my part of my bill. Won't you my darling Ichiko?"
Ichiko made a grumbling "yes", but since she looked so cute when angry Rei embraced her with her bosom.
They took the bus to the busy Circle Street, a place of pedestrian-friendly shops and access to many bars and a few malls. Thirty minutes later, Ichiko and Rei met with Kazuko and most of the members of the Sunflower Academy basketball team dressed in their mid-priced street clothes. To their surprise, Sumiko and half of the cheerleading squad was with them as well, also in street clothes.
"I didn't realize you were coming," said Sumiko.
"Me too," observed Ichiko.
"Isn't this a large group," grinned Rei. "A large and sexy group if you ask me. Well then, since you girls are inexperienced, then I Rei Cero shall show around this wonderful city of ours."
"But we go here a lot of times," said a girl from the cheerleading squad.
"Oh. Didn't realize that. Then let me show you how to command the storeowners to give you sharp discounts. Come my pretty ladies!"
It was always fun when Rei was around, and like hens the group followed behind her smiling and giggling. Ichiko pulled up from behind, blushing in sheer embarrassment. She could have opted out, but she had to come and prevent her mother from causing further trouble.
"Hey, Ichiko," said Kazuko, who walked alongside her.
Kazuko was silent so she could make sure the rest of the girls, including Sumiko, were too engrossed in listening to Rei's stories.
"I hope your mother doesn't do anything illegal."
"I hope not," said Ichiko.
It had been months since the incident where libelous flyers accused Ichiko of being a granddaughter of a mob boss. Though true, the ostracism disappeared eventually when it gave way to another scandal concerning a high-profile divorce of a student's father and mother, which revealed that the father was secretly keeping a boy slave for his personal needs. Ichiko felt really bad for the student in question, but there was not much she can do since he was a third-year high school student she hardly knew about.
That worry gave rise to another worry concerning Sumiko. Almost her entire family had ties to the police, with her father the chief of police and her granduncle the district attorney. Beneath her trendy city-gal appearance, she had the capability of accessing highly secretive police files to finger criminal offenders of the perverted kind. It was said that she had a groundskeeper arrested for such a charge, but that was just a bobbing rumor.
Thus Ichiko had to bank on the fact that Sumiko Kanno would not be taken seriously due to her spoiled personality. Surely her parents would not give in to finding a way to arrest Ichiko and her family due to an unjust grudge. Ichiko had no personal hatred against Sumiko, but she often wondered why she had earned her ire.
Their evening of partying went on like other groups of young teens, and to their fortune they had an adult and cool chaperoned accompanying them. They shopped, they ate, and they played games at the arcade. They had a quick dance at a rave, and had an exciting karaoke moment.
In the middle of these moments, the group was almost always approached by a group of young men also out in the prowl for fun. Rei humored and teased them appropriately, and tired to ask one out until Ichiko told them that she was her mother. There were times that a rowdy group tried to force their hands on the girls' bodies on the street, but were swiftly slapped away by Rei herself.
"Who the hell are you?" one of them asked.
"For your information," said Rei. "I am... their pimp!"
The girls' mouths dropped, and Ichiko could be frothing angrily.
"That's right!" Rei exclaimed as she pulled two girls to her side. "You tryin' to cop a feel on my merchandise? That's gonna cost you. Oh, and don't forget the viewing fee. That'll also cost you. And there's also a boner fee. Some of you have one, so that's gonna cost you. I have to take care of my gals, because they'll get a jump on me if I don't. And with all those sex diseases floatin' around, it has gotten prohibitively expensive.
"By the looks of things, I think these guys are cheap bastards. What do you say?"
"Oh, they're cheap," grinned one of the cheerleaders.
"If they weren't," said a female basketball player, "they wouldn't be single, would they?"
"Now, despite you all being semi-burly handsome men," Rei grinned sinisterly, "we outnumber you all, and are at our physical peak. Plus, I used to be a daughter of a well-known mob boss and know enough martial arts to pull your balls through your anus and out of your mouth."
"Ah, forget it," said the leader of the young men. "This isn't worth it."
"What do you mean?" said his friend.
"We're out of her league."
When the men left, the girls cheered and embraced Rei as if she was one. As it turned out though, they also played along on having Rei as their pimp, and begged her to act as one again.
Ichiko wasn't too pleased. She just slapped her forehead in shame.
"She's quite unorthodox," said Sumiko. "And something as well. The Alpha Lesbian Effect is starting to work on me."
"Alpha Lesbian Effect?" asked Ichiko.
"You don't remember your own mother's lectures to us?"
"I'd rather not remember."
"It is something like this: given a woman of high position and power, even by appearance, she'll inevitably sexually attract other women, many of whom were normally straight."
"My mother is just a clown."
"She is one heck of a clown."
Sumiko then forced her way through the group and grabbed Rei's arm. Ichiko saw the eyes Sumiko had for Rei, and suddenly she felt her heart pounding sharply.
"Mother," said Ichiko. "We should get home. It's late."
"I have to escort these girls home," said Rei. "You can go ahead."
"I want you to take me home."
"I'll do that when I'm finished with them."
"I WANT TO GO HOME NOW!"
The smiling and laughter stopped, and now all eyes were on Ichiko.
"I hope I don't smell a mother complex going on," said Sumiko.
"No, it's nothing like that," said Ichiko. "I mean, I have this project to do and..."
"I'll take you home," said Kazuko. "It's on the way, right?"
"Statistically speaking," said Sumiko, "Miss Nikkô won't run into serious trouble."
"After that encounter with those perverts, we shouldn't take any chances."
"Oh, fine. I'll have Rei here take me home."
"Wait," said Ichiko.
"What now? You still need mommy to hold your hand?"
"I'll come along. I'll see everyone off."
Now, Ichiko initially thought that they were just going by bus route and seeing off each individual girl or at least a few at a time. Instead, however, Rei personally escorted them right in front of their house and gave them a kiss on the cheek after she retrieved their cell phone numbers. They all wanted the same after the first one, and so the process took many hours.
It formally ended with Sumiko, and standing by her large house made Ichiko and Kazuko nervous. It was made worse when Sumiko pretended to trip and fall into Rei, forcing the mother to wrap her arms around the girl.
"Thank you," said Sumiko. "You know, I could invite you in."
"No thanks," said Rei. "I have to take these two home."
"That's too bad."
Unlike the other girls, Sumiko was bold enough to kiss Rei on the cheek. Again, that made Ichiko's heart pound uncomfortably.
Kazuko was technically Rei's last stop, but no kisses were exchanged.
"I'm okay," said Kazuko. She stared at Ichiko, smiled, and waved a silent goodnight.
Ichiko had been yawning throughout the night, and with her movements so slow she acted as if she was a drunkard on the way home.
"You want me to carry you?" Rei asked.
"You'll do something inappropriate," said Ichiko.
"When I carry you on my back, I have no choice but to touch your butt."
At the corner, Ichiko let a big yawn. It was then Rei hoisted her daughter on her back, and carried her down the street.
They didn't go to Ichiko's house. Instead they were at the apartment, and Rei gently laid her on her bed.
"I'll be in the other room so you could change," said Rei.
Rei headed off, but a hand pulled her back.
"You need something?" Rei asked.
"I didn't know you were strong," said Ichiko.
Rei blushed. "I didn't know you were cute."
They let go, yet they remained smiling. Ichiko was too tired to change, so instead she just fell asleep in the bed too small to fit her mother.
Ichiko spent half the time in her house and Rei's apartment working on her homework, and focused primarily on her science project, which involved constructing a building-like structure from household materials that could withstand her teacher's "Air Gun of Ragnarök". Rei assisted Ichiko in her own orthodox fashion, and when Ichiko unveiled it on Monday, it was the only one left standing. That was, until the science teacher collapsed it with one chop of his hand.
Otherwise, her time at school couldn't have gone better. Sunflower was leading ahead in various sports tournaments, which meant that Kazuko was not able to spend more time with her best friend. Kazuko's Russian-Japanese coach compelled her and the rest of the team to leave time to watch "battle videos" of the opposing team. At the very least, she made up with the Environmental Club president and vice president Motoko and Haruko, and resumed her normal duties. In fact, she was offered a position of secretary since the last one had to quit due to conflicting scheduling.
After school, Ichiko could not wait to go over to Rei's to cook and merely occupy space, despite her becoming constantly annoyed by Rei's laziness and perverted antics.
Tuesday suddenly became different. Lunchtime was when Ichiko would eat alone with Rei on the roof of the school, but when fifteen minutes had passed Ichiko declared her mother to be late.
She stared eating alone, and during which she wandered about the fenced perimeter of the roof looking down at the school grounds. There were so many couples eating together in a love-like bliss, and it was still a ways until Valentine's Day. But underneath a cherry blossom tree she saw Sumiko eating and conversing with someone who appeared to be Rei. Ichiko shook her head. It must be someone else, someone who looked remarkably like her mother.
Alas, she lost her appetite already. Ichiko discarded the rest of her lunch, including Rei's uneaten share.
She plodded through the rest of the school day oscillating from concentration and into internal distraction. It was rare for her to do so, and she was partially aware of the laughs she received when the teachers called her back to attention--after they threw random objects to her head.
Ichiko then told Motoko and Haruko that she would not be attending the club meeting. She was not feeling well.
She then merged with the crowd as they herded their way past the school gate. Ichiko chose not to react to Rei's surprised emergence from her hiding, even when she outright groped her breasts.
"Usually you slap me," said Rei.
Ichiko turned around and stared up into her mother's eyes. "Where were you?"
"I was eating with that Sumiko chick."
"I made you lunch."
"I know. Sorry, but that Sumiko was pretty insistent. It's almost as if she'd blackmail me if I didn't eat with her."
"She is like that. Don't let her get to you, even if she is the chief's daughter."
"I assure you that will never happen."
"I am glad that you are honest. Now, shall we shop for ingredients for our next meal?"
It was always an embarrassing moment to shop with her mother at the local supermarket, for she kept on hitting on the male cashiers. But Ichiko had gotten used to it, and grudgingly she admitted that Rei's wiles with the married manager earned discounts on the food. It did seem that everyone liked her despite her suspected unsavory reputation, and it would not be a stretch that they all knew her. Ichiko had lost count on how many times people recognized her as Lady Lucifer.
The next day, Ichiko decided that she would be buying a small lunch at the school cafeteria, and expected Rei to be crawling in to dine in and entertain the students. That never happened. It was reported to her that she was eating lunch again with Sumiko again. Her performance in school suffered once more.
After classes, Rei surprised Ichiko again, but Ichiko pressed the issue regarding Sumiko.
"I don't see what's wrong with me seeing a younger girl," said Rei.
"You could get arrested," said Ichiko.
"I didn't commit any crimes... yet. Unless there were those I did when I was sleepwalking."
"I just want you to be careful."
"That should be something I should say to you my cutie."
Thursday came. For the third time, Ichiko ate alone, and even if she wasn't told so, she knew that Rei was eating with Sumiko. Sumiko, on the other hand, had been carrying herself quite proudly, and in her unusual three-day streak she did not belittle anyone, not even Ichiko. Even Ichiko began to admit that she was on her best behavior.
She had the muster to attend Thursday's Environmental Club meeting. Rei was honest, if not brutally so, and if Ichiko were to meet up with her she could get every information regarding what happened during the meeting. Today, Rei didn't attend, and universally the club members missed her.
"I say it is good for us," said Ichiko. "She won't interrupt us with her outrageous comments."
"I admit that does distract us," said Motoko, "but you do realize that your mother has some very keen insight. If not for her, we wouldn't had made the progress compared to the years before."
"What is she doing Ichiko?" asked Haruko.
"If I know her," said Ichiko, "she's probably fooling around the town or at home drunk."
"I sure hope she is feeling well for the park renovation," said Motoko. "We'd love to have her around."
Everyone loves Rei, Ichiko thought. She isn't that perfect of a person.
Upon the club meeting's end she immediately hurried to the apartment. The lights were on. Rei was home. Good.
"Ah, Rei!" cried a girl from the inside.
"It can't be," muttered Ichiko.
"Aren't you being a playful minx, eh Sumi-chan?" spoke Rei.
"Aw, stop that!" said the girl.
Ichiko turned the door handle. Locked. In her frustration she kicked open the door, and stepped into see both of them on all fours, with Rei on top of Sumiko.
"No worries," grinned Sumiko. "I still have my panties on."
"What were you doing?" Ichiko growled.
"I can explain," Rei said as she stood up. She couldn't explain, for Ichiko promptly punched her own mother in the face, upon which Rei flew into the next room. Shrieking, Sumiko ran to aid Rei and stop the bleeding on her nose.
"What are you doing?" Sumiko cried. "What's wrong with you?"
Sumiko was clearly crying over Rei, and the genuine tears made Ichiko even more furious. Then she started to cry, and to control her whimpering she paced out of the apartment.
She never wailed or hiccupped as she walked down the streets in the evening. A vacant phone booth provided a temporary solitary confinement for Ichiko when she slid inside. She struck her back against the side, noisily rattling hard enough for the lights inside to flicker. Then she slowly slid herself down to the ground and stared off into her projected nothingness.
Ichiko wiped her tears, and none followed. Minutes later she procured her cell phone and speed-dialed a specific number.
"Kazuko," said Ichiko. "Are you home?"
"I am about to leave practice."
"I'm heading over."
"My place or the school?"
"I'll call dad to tell him to expect company. See you soon."
"Yeah. See you."
When she hung up, her hand fell limp and the phone crashed onto the ground. Ichiko took one deep breath, and closed her eyes.
There, she saw the girl's lone sunflower with additional petals missing from before.