Chapter 3 – ‘This acacia,’

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                The lunch bell rang. With the day crawling along on its pace like it did, the sharp and abrupt alarm seemed to ring sooner than expected, as if it was being forgiving to the students, letting them off easy for the day. Of course it always rang on time. Following suit with the other students, Lilly fell into line as she grabbed her lunch from her navy blue school bag hanging the side of her desk and left the classroom, dodging others’ invitations to join them for lunch. After carefully descending a flight of stairs and heading out to the school’s courtyard, she made her way towards her lunch date and destination. She doesn’t notice a pair of green eyes admiring from afar.

                Off into a little corner of the school there was the school garden. More rather it was a glorified flowerbed, with only a semi-decent collection of various flora and plant life that Lilly herself would occasionally tend to after school. It was artistically well crafted, colors being placed in proper alignment in regards to each other, and no one flower type overpowering the rest. All in all, it looked like stained glass, glowing in the sunlight and under the blue sky. If it didn’t hide away its beauty in such a small corner of the school, more people would surely come to appreciate its simple yet elegant looks. But Lilly was content with it.

                In the fall weather, and temperature being as crisp as it was, Lilly quickly made her way to her floral handiwork to warm herself up with lunch. She scanned the trees above her to find a nice seat with shade before something caught her eye. Even here some pleasant surprises can be found.

                “Oh, hi Megumi, fancy seeing you here.”

                The girl looked up from her lunch as she heard her name being called. With surprise in her hazel eyes, she resembled a scared kitten.

                “Hi, Lilly, I d-didn’t know you’d be here…” A white lie of course, where else would Lilly go to eat anyways? It’s harmless enough, Lilly lets it slide.

                “Well it’s nice to see you after this morning. And a change of pace isn’t that bad after all,” she goes to plant herself at the foot of the flowerbed, gracefully sitting before setting down her meal. “Anyways, ah, I’m glad you decided to join us today.” Her kindness towards the shyer girl was earnest.

                Megumi gave a weak smile, while Lilly’s company was nice, it didn’t appear to be her intention to obtain. She rubbed her arm and stared at her feet at she mentioned a missing third member. “Is Rea coming soon?” she muttered. “Oh, your phone’s beeping.”

                Taking it out of the pocket inside her blazer, Lilly turns to her phone at the same time as Megumi’s statement. And as if on cue, the contents of the email she received were laid out.

                “Sorry Lilly, I couldn’t make it to lunch, I’ll explain later… Hope you’ll be okay,” Lilly read out the mail with a frank monotone, the multiple emojis and exclamation points being lost in translation along the way. (Along with a “Love you!” tacked on at the end.) “Looks like she can’t make it,” Lilly summarized.

                Both girls were outwardly disappointed, but Lilly could especially sense the shift in mood in the brunette. She put her hand on Megumi’s shoulder in an attempt to ease the loss, “Oh well, I guess you’ll just have to put up with me then!” The brunette remained downcast. To stave off any impending silence from Megumi’s social awkwardness, Lilly continued to bark up conversation. Assorted fried vegetables? Maybe I’ll try using that…

                “So… how was your day so far?”

                “O-okay…”

                “Uh, your lunch looks really good, did you make it yourself?”

                “My mom made it for me, I got the ingredients myself.”

                “Oh really? That’s sounds cool! What do you normally like?”

                “I like whatever,” Megumi responded with little vigor.

                The atmosphere was thick, even with the inviting appearance of the garden as a backdrop of this lunch, Megumi’s unsociability was an obstacle to the otherwise enjoyable pastime. And attempts to utilize Lilly’s newfound ability were deemed fruitless. She felt that already familiar buzzing in her head, but like a broken radio, she only heard the equivalent of static noise. “-…-“ Temporarily pushing the growing anxiety of this revelation aside, Lilly tried once more for a subject to discuss.

                “Today’s lessons were tough huh? I bet Rea had a tough time.” Her blue eyes carefully studied her friend’s face. Her circular thick-rimmed glasses partially blocked her eyes, making it hard to gauge her reaction. Lilly did notice a splash of freckles dotting her nose and cheeks. You’d have to be very close to see them.

                “Yeah, she really did, she had to ask me for help.” Her shoulders relaxed, her expression brightened, and a genuine smile began to bloom across her lips. Lilly also smiled to herself, notwithstanding the expense of Rea’s academic shortcomings. Sorry Rea, I’ll make it up to you some time, Lilly thought. She ate a sausage shaped like an octopus, and saved one for Rea.

                The rest of the conversation blossomed naturally between the two wallflowers. And soon enough, one could pinpoint the exact moment their defenses fell for just a little, finally bonding of over common interests. They ebbed and flowed calmly and with certainty (however some of Lilly’s jokes fell flat). After all, they were never unfamiliar with each other: Lilly was always with Rea, and Megumi had her in class. In their time at school it was inevitable for them to make acquaintance, and be on at least decent terms. The fall air nipped across their warm faces as they conversed.

                “To think you’ve been classmates with Rea since kindergarten. I’m sorry for any trouble she must have caused you over the years, by the way.” Lilly made sure not to talk with her mouth full.

                Megumi’s voice maintained its soft nature. “It’s been fun having her in class, so it hasn’t been any trouble at all.” Her expression was one of content, but still had yet to make eye contact with the blonde. “A-although I wish we were a bit closer, like you two. This past week especially.” To be a fly on the wall doesn’t mean one isn’t perceptive.

                “I-is that so? I didn’t notice any d-difference!” Lilly placed her left hand on her face, covering her mole. Megumi missed her look of embarrassment, much to Lilly’s relief. She quickly scarfed down the remainder of her meal to fill in the dead air. And as if on cue once again, the bell resonated throughout the school, before eventually reaching the two girls with its faint message.

                Lilly was the first to rise. “Ah, that must be it for us.” She turned to help Megumi stand and clean up around the small garden. “Hopefully we can do this again. I’ll make sure to put a word in so all three of us can be together next time.”

                She was returned with a warm smile, “I, I’d like that.” Oh, she’s so precious, the thought again racing across Lilly’s mind. For what feels like minutes they stare at each in content silence, each pleased that they had finally had a moment without a certain mediator. The roots were finally setting in place. Leaves from a few trees above them rustled, and the wind gave them a gentle nudge to move along with their day. “Sh-shall we?” Megumi politely suggested, motioning towards the pathway back to the main school building.

                “Yeah, let’s go,” Lilly breathed. After dealing with a firecracker of a girl for so long it became routine, a shift in gears like this was something Lilly was glad she could make. One wrong move, and Megumi could easily shatter into countless pieces. Like an exquisite vase in a far off corner in a museum. Rarely seen or appreciated, but its beauty shines through when properly discovered. A far cry from the red-hot explosion she was so fond of.

                Their walk back across the school courtyard was lax and slow. They ignored the pitter-patter of the other students and their much more hurried and panicked pace, as the late bell would soon scold them of their tardiness. The sun brimmed warmly over the two budding friends as they passed the shrubbery, the fountain, and eventually made their way onto the walkway towards the school entrance. As they passed the doors, Lilly felt the weight of her phone swing around in her blazer. Rea never misses lunch, I wonder it was about.

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Chapter 2 – ‘This phenomenon,’

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                The park takes on a whole new persona at night. The light posts as they illuminate the pathway, the moonlight as it sneaks past the leaves overhead, it all feels surreal somehow. The only other people I’ve seen out at this time are couples, the last one passed ten minutes ago. But I suppose we’re no exception, huh? The atmosphere does lend itself to these types of happenings.

                I listen as our footsteps hit across the pavement path, only ever concentrating to make sure no one is around, and a quick turn onto a lesser known trail shifts to the sound of crushed leaves as we go to a hidden piece sectioned off from the rest of the park, mostly forgotten by the rest of the world. By instinct, I get on my knees to crawl under some bushes at the end of the path, it used to be much easier when we were younger. This enclosure has acted almost as our sanctuary for already ten years, and still stands as a symbol of our friendship. I make my seat on my usual spot on the stone bench, the only thing that occupies this area, excluding our presence. It’s sweet to be here at this time. It’s calming. Even the surreal atmosphere that is married by this hour seems to also reach this place. The lighting here is dim yet everything still glows. I sit in thought as her weight leans on my side, I lean towards her as well. I concentrate whenever I hear voices from occasional park goers as they pass our hideout. At the very least I think I’m ‘hearing’ them. They shouldn’t be able to get this close here without being heard audibly. Honestly it’s still hard to grasp everything that just happened.

                With that being said, I really wish I could just stay here forever. It’s too peaceful to want to worry about anything. The atmosphere so relaxing, maybe the closest thing to ‘romantic’ I have ever experienced. I let out a slow breath as I realize how lame that thought is. A few more minutes of tranquility as I try to wrap my head around everything. This week has been a ride, if anything. I feel her shift besides me while I’m beginning to get lost in the moment again. This buzzing in my head hasn’t left me since I’ve noticed it. Oh, I almost didn’t hear her voice as she tries to say something.

                “So, wanna talk about anything?” Her voice is aberrantly soft, this atmosphere must have gotten to her too.

                I sigh, but I don’t hide my smile, I don’t even bother trying to read her thoughts. She’ll know that I will, at least I think she will. As I thought, I’m still confused about what just happened. And I already know what topic she wants to cover. My stomach flutters as I open up a response.

                “Sure.”

                The sun had already begun to peek into the window, flooding the room slowly as it lessens the need for an artificial light source. In only a few minutes, people will begin to enter in a seemingly similar fashion as the sun light, slow and with lethargy. It’s still fairly early. If one were to assume the perspective of an entering person, they would immediately notice a blonde hair girl sitting in the back of the center row, plain in her beauty but still fetching nonetheless. She would be aimlessly staring past the window of the left wall; she didn’t choose the window seat, she felt that it would attract too much needless attention. Also, she’s notably tall amongst others in her grade, if she sat in a popular spot she’d stand out like a sore thumb on a face. Not worth it.

                Her head rested on her hand, arm propped up on the top of her desk. Her uniform consisting of a white buttoned shirt under a dark blue blazer, a neatly tied yellow ribbon adorning her neck, where a tie would be. Along with a modest skirt, she is the spitting image of a typical, plain student. Normally she wouldn’t appreciate this much attention, because it’s only Monday.

                Lilly continued her viewing of the blank sunrise, no clouds to break away the light as it kept pouring into the classroom. She gaze remained unbroken even as other students fill up the room, the noise predictably rising as they get settled in and start taking their seats. Conversations peter in and out of focus as she let out a light yawn. So early… why couldn’t I sleep last night? Deep within her, she already knew the answer. Only a week previous did her life change, and just this weekend more so than she could have imagined, ways in which the repercussions have yet to unfold. The apprehension was beginning to catch up with her. And yet she finds herself listlessly sitting in the back of the class, all but absent from her surroundings.

                As it turns out, it didn’t take much to wake her from her daze.

                “Lillychi! Rise and shine, you wouldn’t want to slack off so early right?!”

                Lilly reeled back in surprise, but managed not to show too much on her face. The owner of that exclamation appeared into view as quickly as her voice did. She saw right through her.

                “Hee, scared you didn’t I?” Rea’s wide, fanged grin was unnaturally infectious. Sitting titled on her face were her glasses, normal in size but they looked big on her. Only three-fourths of each lens were framed, the top frame missing. Honestly she looked quite goofy. Coupled by this fact, and that other students begin staring at the red haired intruder, Lilly couldn’t help but voice her concern.

                “Geez, Rea, you’re making a scene, people are looking,” her preference to blend into the background control her words. “Plus, isn’t your class starting now?”

                “I just wanted to see you this morning, first thing! Oh, uh, excuse me!”

                Her expression having yet to leave her, Rea goes off to some other classmates who happened to call out for her, talking with all of them. Rea was the polar opposite of Lilly in terms of sociability. Her skirt twirls as she spins, her red ponytail dancing in the crimson tint of the room. Her white buttoned shirt, sans blazer, rebelliously untucked, follows suit in its motions. Others continued to stare, but the upset fanfare of her intrusion seems to have died down, at least it helped in making a Monday less monotonous. Probably being the shortest girl in their grade, she manages to make herself the largest presence in the room. After ten years, Lilly can still find herself entranced by Rea from time to time. This time she caught herself. Oh darn… She attempted to bashfully call for Rea before she felt that sensation in her head again.

                Oh, where is she? I asked her to stay put… Where did she run off too?

                Lilly’s blue eyes dart to the entrance of the classroom, and if she hadn’t heard that voice before, she would have been forgiven to have missed the small frame of another bespectacled girl, peeking into the room. And the door was wide open. She concentrated again to hear her thoughts. There she is! Oh, I, come over here Rea! I wish I could call her over… Lilly sighed to herself, class is about to start after all.

                “Rea, Megumi’s here to get you!”

                The redhead stopped in her tracks, her eyes quickly fix towards the door, the hiding girl almost falling over at the sudden attention. She had yet to enter the room. And for better or worse, Rea treated everyone equally.

                “Hey, Gumi! Sorry I ran off, why don’t you join me here for a bit?”

                “B-But, I, uh, class is about, about to start…”

                “We’ll be fine, now come!”

                Rea grabbed the girl by the hand. Even with such a small presence, Rea still had to look up her newly entered acquaintance. Megumi squeaked at the instantaneous contact, her face splashing in red as she gets pulled in by Rea. Megumi, an average, if not a brokenly shy girl, closely resembled the type of air Lilly wished she had. One that said, ‘please leave me alone.’ Taller than Rea, shorter than Lilly, her demeanor allowed her to almost blend into the wall behind her if she wanted to, and it most cases she did. But not today.

                Lilly watched as Rea pulled Megumi towards her desk, silently giggling at hearing her current thoughts. She really wasn’t one who could handle this much attention. Especially all at once. Only when they get close does Lilly get a better view of the much shyer girl.

                “H-Hi Lilly, sorry to be bothering you… like this,” her words could be blown away under their own weight, the uncertainty in her mannerisms could be charming in its own way.

                “No problem at all, Rea needs to get back to her classroom anyways,” she raised a thick eyebrow at the aforementioned person, they moaned in guilt. “I like your headband, is it new?”

                “Uh, um y-yes, I got it the, the other day…” The girl kept fidgeting with her glasses. It took a while to get a response, Lilly thought.

                If one thing were to stand out about Megumi, it would be her shoulder length hair, dark brown, with rather long bangs past the eyebrows, which were always kept up by a black hairband, exposing her forehead in the process. It was a cute setup. Megumi continued to tumble over her words. “The c-color, I liked it.”

                “Is that so? Well it looks really good on you!” Lilly’s politeness never failed to stay with her.

                Megumi’s mumbling was endearing and all, but Rea could only take so much.

                “Okay okay, I guess we’ll get going!” She forcefully pounced on Megumi, nearly toppling over from the abrupt piggy-backing. “Same time, same place, Lilly?” Lilly nodded. “You should join us for lunch too, Megumi!” Stammering to make a reply, her answer was one of reluctance.

                Waving at the pair as they take their leave, Lilly’s gaze returned to the window, the sun now in full glory. When the teacher finally made his entrance into the room, Lilly barely noticed. What distracted Lilly was the uncomfortable handling of a certain physical display of affection only a few nights before. Not that I care anyways… Another sigh, but the feeling of slight disappointment surrounds her. I know it was awkward that night, but still… Deciding to distract herself from both that incident and the morning routine, her thoughts wander to another point from that night before. So I can really read minds?

                She didn’t want to word it like that, for fear of it sounding ridiculous. But it was. Although this discovery has been made less than forty-eight hours ago, the initial shock seems to have worn off. If only a little. A laundry list of questions and confusion had crossed her mind since the unearthing of this hidden ability. How? When? I mean I suppose I know ‘when,’ but why? Should I tell anyone else? What should I do? What’s going on?! The more she dwelled on the matter the deeper the feeling in her gut sinks. For someone who simply wants to be – and stay – normal, during her middle school life, this wasn’t exactly the most pleasant route to be thrust upon. But like any other ‘normal’ student, the current situation at hand wasn’t the most exciting to be in. Class has just started. Pushing her blonde hair behind her left ear yet again, Lilly braced for the day.

                Off in another classroom, a girl hid behind her books as she continuously peeked at another one of her classmates. Holding in her other palm was the hand that student had previously held only moments before, her face blushing red as her heart that was thumped a mile a minute. She’s a good friend, she had thought to herself. For someone as introverted as her, a little attention every now and then was nice. She stole another peek.

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Chapter 1 – ‘This week,’

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               Before she even reached breakfast, her world had already ended.

                There are clouds. Fields of white that seem to extend forever. A soothing chill and a breezing sound drown out my thoughts as I float over the blue sky. All I can feel is that warm light as I soar above everything, everything too small to observe. This warm ray of light, it envelops me. And she’s here with me. Flying together. I want to stay here. With these mountains of white, with this warmth, with her. I can’t think of anything else. I want to stay here.

                The sounds of metal and ceramic began to stir her out of her daydream. The same daydream she’s been having recently and more often. 9:30, I shouldn’t be up this early, the girl silently protested as she stirred her own breakfast with her spoon, the cereal getting sogged down by the minute.

                “Hey, ‘Eyebrows’, eat up. Your cereal’s getting soggy,” a man sluggishly approached, as if he had woken from a night of sleep without any benefits of actual rest. He entered the kitchen, which was quite pristine, but simple, one that suggested a high income but not high enough to not be living here. He again attempted to adjust his tie and his hastily put-on suit, it loosely fitting over his thin yet rugged frame. Eyes, heavy with bags of weariness, meet the girl. “Lilly, did you hear me?”

                The girl pursed her lips in irritation, she never appreciated any comments relating to her eyebrows, which were thick and brown, and contrasted her long blonde hair. She also was not particularly fond of the mole that adorned her left side of her face, closer to the mouth. They were generally the first things most people noticed when meeting Lilly for the first time, and when Lilly met first met her, she made sure that fact was made apparent.

                “Yeah Dad, I know…” her voice carried her disdain and annoyance, yet still had a faint touch of politeness. She liked to think that being that biting would never be in her character.

                Her father chuckled at the response. Like moving gears in a machine, each step in this unchanging process has been repeated for years at a time. Like clockwork. But only now does he notice something different about this particular iteration.

                “Isn’t today Saturday?” he asked as he now fixed his hair, brown and too long for the type of job he holds, at least one that requires a suit. “Why aren’t you sleeping in?” His turn to prepare his own breakfast was somehow both hurried and sloth-like.

                A sudden rush fills Lilly’s face, and she quickly lowered herself towards the table, making any attempt to obscure herself, her long hair helping in covering her eyes. She muttered in between bites of her now liquid breakfast. “I, uh, I’m meeting someone later, later today…” Her voice trailed off at that last word, hoping her father doesn’t press on any more about her uncharacteristically early wake. Thoughts go to an energetic redheaded girl, and within moments Lilly’s face matched that color, her desire to hide growing exponentially. She could almost feel like she’s becoming invisible. The feeling begins to fleet when she heard a voice sounding off in the back of her head.

                Rea again, huh? Don’t you have any other friends?

                Lilly responded almost immediately, “Dad, of course I have other friends! What do you think of me anyways!?” A moment of confusion sets in. I’m pretty sure Dad said something. She pushed her hair back behind her left ear and whispered an apology.

                Her father turned to face her, wearing a similar look of confusion as if someone had just walked in on him. Carefully he picked up some bread on a plate next to her as he slowly contemplates over his next set of words. “Right. Oh, I’m already late as it is… Um, I’ll be out late today, but call me if something comes up. You’re fourteen now, so you should learn how to take care of yourself already.” He approached Lilly for a fatherly peck on the forehead. She leaned in to return a warm felt hug.

                “Alright I’ll be out now, bye!” The exit he made was quite the opposite from his more lax and listless entrance from before, the urgency of his unpunctuality finally settling upon him, leaving a young blonde girl to ponder on the exchange and his parting words. Oh well. A glance at a calendar on a wall nearby also reminds her. It’s been a week since my birthday already? A week since she… Vivid memories of auburn leaves and sharp autumn air begin to surround her mind. Of light as it danced across the trees above her. And at the center of this bright scenery was a girl. A girl whose energy could let a small flame burst into wildfire. A girl who she had spent the last ten years, and especially this last week, with. She blushed again just at the thought of her. A clock rang. 10:00 already?

                Lilly looked down at her food. It’s utter milk at its current state. Completely undesirable to continue consuming. I guess I’ll get ready. A whole day is still ahead, and as such Lilly rose from the table to prepare for it. Even with no one to observe, her movements are met with grace and fluidity. In the midst of her morning, her exchange with her father begins to fade into the monotony of routine. It’s 10:15. She’ll be here any minute.

                Clicking and tapping of plastic began to stir her out of her daze. Staring at the monitor, surfing across the internet has not proved to be the ideal way to spend this evening, but not much choice was given to her. And yet she stayed online. She was a teenage girl after all.

                Lilly’s room matched her kitchen in thematic characteristics. And as such matched her own as well. Pristine, elegant, yet simple. Her light citrine walls held no decorations, aside from a calendar neatly pinned above her laptop and a scrap of paper with “UGLY” scribbled in bold letters. Aside from a tidily made bed behind her and her desk, accompanied by her laptop computer and a shelfful of books of genres and styles, her room was bare. She continued to peruse through various articles and virtual white noise to stave off the mind numbing ennui. This was definitely what I wanted to get out of this day. Although she may not have admitted it, Lilly was frustrated.

                After another click of a finger and a subtle scroll across the screen, a ringing is heard across her desk. Before Lilly could even shift her gaze to her phone, the door behind her slammed open and what appeared to be a surprise party in the shape of a person burst into the room, destroying any semblance of peace and quiet the room may have held only previously.

                “Yahoo! Hey sorry I couldn’t make it to our date Lillychi! I brought something that might cheer you up~!!”

                She starts conversations as if they had already been ongoing five minutes before. She acts as if she isn’t aware of social norms or other’s feelings. Any gesture to simply ‘stay still’ is lost on this girl. Her short size only makes her appear more animated. Always pulling Lilly with her to tackle on a new made up adventure. As a result, outsiders would see her as ‘rude,’ ‘uncouth,’ or ‘it’s-that-loud-girl-who-won’t-calm-down,’ yet at the same time ‘magnetizing’ and ‘alluring.’ For her sake, that was a miraculous feat. And from ten years of dealing with this short, yet concentrated, typhoon of chaos and energy, Lilly knew how to handle her directly.

                “You could’ve at least called, Rea,” juxtaposing Rea’s more fiery personality, Lilly’s words were much more cold, trying to freeze Rea in guilt. She ignored the light on her phone that indicated a recent message. Passing Rea to shut the door, Lilly sternly muttered, “I ended up thinking we weren’t meeting up today.” The irritation crawled back in.

                “Sorry, sorry, I just got caught up with some… stuff!” Rea’s red ponytail flickered back and forth as she dove towards Lilly’s bed, shattering any evidence it was made at all earlier in the day. If Lilly had just met Rea, she would have cringed. “Hope you like this though!” Rea tossed Lilly a box she had only just noticed she had in one hand, while adjusting her glasses with the other, propping herself up on the bed as she did so.

                Lilly inspected the box, a white cardboard container in which its contents were unideal for the room. “You know we can’t eat in here.” The box is swiftly made residence aside on her desk. “Especially donuts.” Lilly sighed again. “Half of them are already gone too.”

                Rea gave a toothy grin, her trademark fang in full view, a well-timed response to Lilly’s more relaxed, more ‘chill’ nature. A routine unbroken after years of kinship. Like moving gears in a machine. Like clockwork. But something seemed to be different in this current cycle.

                Rea pats the side of the bed next to her, maintaining that smile, rather more accurately a mask to hide her true motives. “C’mere, it was your idea that we meet up every day this week right? I can’t let you break that promise today!” You made me make that promise, Lilly recalled. And it was your idea! The point that they hang out everyday anyways wasn’t lost on Lilly. 

                Shuffling over to Rea’s bedside, Lilly’s movements aren’t at all smooth. She stumbled across the bed as she almost bumped into her friend. “Oh, uh, sorry…” Rea found Lilly’s occasional slip into awkwardness adorable. The redhead giggled to herself.

               “By the way,” Rea mentioned, “I was watching an anime before I came over. It was about a secret organization who protects the world from monsters and stuff.”

               “What does that have to do with anything?”

               “I was thinking, wouldn’t it be cool if we were in a secret organization? We could go on adventures everyday!”

               Lilly hung her head. “If you and I were in one of those, we’d be in a heap of trouble.”

               “Nuh-uh! Maybe you’ll be, since you’re gonna protect me, right?”

               “Sure, whatever you say.”

                “Haha, you can be too much sometimes, you know that?” Rea said, cracking up.

                Before Lilly could begin to make her retort, Rea leaned in to meet Lilly’s face, angled so as if not to disturb her own glasses. The exchange lasted longer than it should, both somewhat awkwardly frozen in place as if they were not yet used to their new gesture of displaying affection. Because they weren’t. Rea’s lips were unmoving as rock and felt dry. They wince as a sharp pain hits both of them when teeth collided. The seconds dragged into forever.

               The image of the two weren’t unlike a girl playing pretend with two dolls, their faces pressed together without folding or moving with consideration for the other. A pitiful display.

                Lilly kept her eyes shut, unsure if Rea was doing the same. Her face heats up as Rea continued to lean on her. The silence that just enveloped the room soon becomes unbearable. A sensation begins to buzz into the back of Lilly’s head. Eyes shut as she mustered up effort, she pushed Rea’s weight off of her body. Sitting back, Rea took Lilly’s uncomfortable state in stride, but the slight disappointment couldn’t escape her eyes. Her ponytail bobbled as she tried to sheepishly laugh it off.

                “Ha haha ha, I guess we’re still new to this huh?” She continued to shift along the bed. Yah, I guess we are. Lilly pushed her hair behind her left ear as she maintained her position. Focusing the buzzing in her head to a fine point, she stares at her feet, intently listening to the sound they make as they rub against each other. Her thick eyebrows furrowed in intense concentration. For a decade of friendship, it has been a long while since they both mutually experienced a ‘first.’

                With her eyes nervously wandering too much to notice her blonde partner’s blushing face, Rea attempted to drag them both out of their uncomfortable haze. “Hey it’s only nine ‘o clock right? We can still go for a night stroll in the park!” She’s already headed towards the door as she makes the proposition. “It’s been a while since we’ve gone on an adventure!” she exclaimed. The change in subject was anything but subtle.

                “Jeez,” Lilly nagged in exasperation, however a smile snuck across her lips. They’re getting back into the routine. The sensation in her head crescendos as she looks up at Rea. “I never really know what you’re thinking,” she whispered.

                Yah yah, try to bet what I’m thinking now?!

                Rea froze in her steps, her hand right over the door knob, uncharacteristically and disturbingly still. Lilly stared at her in confusion, her mouth half-open in an effort to ask if Rea had just said something. Rea turned around to face Lilly, her face in both confusion and mild astonishment. They look into each other’s eyes for what feels like an eternity. After a while, Rea opened her mouth.

                “Did you just hear that?”

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These days, Chapter ‘Ground Zero’ – ‘This day…’

[This is the original un-edited one-shot in it’s entirety, and what ultimately jump-started this project. Please enjoy.]

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                “You what?!”

                Lilly stares at her friend for what begins to stretch into an eternity, at least for the both of them. In a second Lilly is suddenly aware of everything around her, the hair standing straight at the back of her neck, the light as it scatters amid the auburn trees above them, the occasional car in the distance and footsteps of people as they walk past the teenaged pair’s secret spot in the park, the park they always went to since they were just kids (in fact it’s where they first met, both stumbling upon this place simultaneously). It’s autumn, and Lilly notices every leaf that begins its gentle descent from its recently abandoned branch to the ground around them. The burnt red and orange leaves begin to pile up, forming the illusion of mosaics. She especially is aware of her friend in front of her, her face as red as her shoulder-length ponytail, swaying against the breeze that lightly affected the leaves as well. Rea’s eyes can’t seem to maintain on one place to focus, and as such keeps shifting between staring at her feet to the other leaves that slowly fall around the two, as if to find an end to the awkward silence that she just created. Rea lifts her head to scan her silent partner’s face, Rea is a head shorter after all. For a fraction of a second her eyes meet Lilly’s, and her face heats up again with more ferocity and she retreats into herself, her eyes returning to her feet. This quick exchange surprises Lilly, as if she wasn’t surprised enough by what just occurred. She finds herself twirling her long blonde hair in a half-hearted attempt to diffuse the situation. However her heightened awareness just landed focus on both their faces. It’s only autumn, it shouldn’t be this hot right now! It still hasn’t quite sunk in for her, not yet quite understanding the weight of the situation, the weight of Rea’s words that Lilly now has to respond to. She’s still shocked. Never even realizing she’s been blushing almost as hard as Rea this whole time, but this eternity of silence has only been packed into a handful of minutes, the more it stretches out the more difficult it becomes to say anything. Also Rea has never been one to describe herself as patient.

                “…W-well?”

                Lilly blinks. She has always been the “slower” of the two, her head that much higher in the clouds, whereas Rea would be able to make even strangers multiply in energy after a few minutes of learning each other’s names. More than content to sit in the back of the classroom and be absorbed in her books, Lilly was. Not that she didn’t like Rea’s hijinks of daily adventure, or she wouldn’t be standing in front of Rea right now. Oh wait. I’m still standing here! She blinks again. Her fiery friend, pouting yet gaze still fixated on the ground, musters up her remaining strength and opens to speak.

                “Don’t be an asshole, a-aren’t you gonna say something?!”

                A word, a damn word would at least been enough, enough to ease Rea and allow the shaken blonde some time to think. How do you react to this? How do “I” react to this? Her mind starts to race exponentially as it tries to wrap around this situation. She what?! For how long? Since when? Why? Honestly she couldn’t say she ever looked at Rea that way, but on the other hand she wouldn’t have been opposed or surprised at the thought of doing so one day. After all they are both girls, and the world wasn’t quite as accepting as it had claimed to be. Yet everything about her seems different now, she couldn’t help it. Despite her smaller stature and build, Rea’s burning energy always made her seem like the biggest person in the room. A perfect mirror to the more refined, yet shy Lilly. Always running around, always dragging her much more lax and chilled companion to the next big adventure to tackle, always with that infectious and smug grin, like there was more to the adventure than she lets on. All to make it feel bigger.

                But now, with her chin on her chest, as if to hide in her pink scarf, her face blushing red and eyes shut painfully tight, a glimmer of tears begin to formulate on the edges of them. Shoulders down and body limp, yet somehow also tense and shivering, Rea has never looked so small. Yet now Lilly can’t help but feel more drawn to her friend than ever. All those years of Rea pushing Lilly around in their games and happenings, she can’t help but feel almost this longing to protect her best friend as she just exposed herself at her most vulnerable. The light that was scattering from the trees above them begin to dim. It’s almost sunset. Rea glows in this light. Now. W-what is this? This sudden rush of emotion flood Lilly, her previous awareness instantly blinded until all she can see is the small yet burning redhead in front. I want to protect her. I want to be with her. … I want her. This unexpected impulse frightens Lilly into a brash gasp. She puts up her hands to cover her mouth. It’s the most she’s moved in ten minutes. But it’s too late. Rea steps back, speechless as she tries to piece together Lilly’s surprise in her own head, drawing her own conclusions.

                “I knew it! You h-hate me, don’t you?! Of course, how could I have been so fucking stupid?!”

                The tears begin the race across her cheeks.

                “There’s no way you’d get it! I should have just kept my mouth shut! Just forget what I said okay! I – ?!”

                Lilly moves lower to meet Rea’s face. Rea stumbles back, but then steps up on her toes. It shuts them up for a bit. Enough for them to both understand what they’re feeling, and also a lingering uneasiness as to what will happen next, after they share this quiet moment. All those years spent together, cultivating a bond that would have most certainly lasted as they grew up together, but neither of them ever imagining that it would evolve to what they seem to share in this moment of serenity. The wind picks up ever so slightly, the leaves now dancing around them, the sunlight making its last tight embrace of farewell as it submits to the cold night. But they’re still warm. They still feel the ten years of warmth that built the foundation of what’s to potentially come, if they decide to continue to build from here. From this place. Their secret spot. Lilly and Rea. Ten years ago this very day. The day Lilly felt the unexplainable desire to visit a park she never even thought of looking at the day before. The day she met someone whom she’d share the rest of her childhood with. The day she met someone who would take her to adventures and journeys she would’ve never explored on her own. The day Lilly met someone. On this day ten years ago. She was just as unsure then as she was now. She got her that day, and on this day she gets her again.

                “Happy birthday Lilly…”

Ends

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