Chapter 7 – ‘This connect,’

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                Usually, with the weather being hot as it was, and as relaxing as it may seem with its sights, the two would walk along the trail of the riverbank as they go home. But even Rea wanted to go home early, so they elected to take a shortcut through their neighborhood instead. They crisscrossed the narrow streets and carefully maneuvered sidewalks with the familiarity that comes with living in the area for over ten years. So as these two walked, they casually made conversation and continued to head home. Rather, Rea was doing all the talking, Lilly was mostly quiet during their stroll.

                “What’re you reading this time?” Rea chirpped along get Lilly to pep up.

                Lilly patted the side of her bag. “Flower and Beardrum, it’s in its third volume already. It’s been pretty good so far, and I’m really liking where the story is going. There’s a lot of energy in the writing, and this particular castle scene I’m on is really good. I’ve been on forums online to talk about the novels, and it’s really fun! So overall I’m loving it a lot!” Lilly bloommed with life as she rambled about her book.

                “Eh? I’ll just wait for the manga then.” Arms casually behind her head, Rea unintentionally killed any enthusiasm she just brought out of Lilly. Being used to it, she took it in stride, putting her hand Rea’s shoulder.

                “Yah, I suppose you should.”

                Lilly was a type of person who wouldn’t talk if she didn’t have to. A fair, blonde girl who always sat quietly by herself may appear a little gloomy to others, when in actuality she would be fine with her own personal silence. It becomes a hurdle to cross for a person like Rea though, especially when one’s mouth runs on an engine. She continued to pry more chatting out of Lilly.

                “So, I’ve been thinking of inviting Megumi to come hang out with us this weekend. Since we haven’t really done that yet.” She brought it up as though she was proud of mentioning the idea. But from Megumi telling Lilly to telling Rea, she had no right to claim it as her own.

                “Well, whose fault is that? She has yet to be invited anywhere at all by you.” Lilly saw right through Rea’s game, and struck accordingly.

                “Ack!” Rea coughed, as Lilly expected. “What about you then? Why haven’t you asked her before?” She pointed an accusing finger back at Lilly, nervously trembling to shift any blame. Lilly doesn’t skip a beat.

                “It would mean a lot more coming from you than me, trust me. Are you too dense to know even that?”

                Her shouldered slump. Rea dismally sighed, her breath admitting defeat. “Fine… I’ll get too it soon…”

                “Get to it now!” Lilly scolded unsympathetically. Rea leaped in alarm from her tone, and instinctively reached for her phone.

                Glad to have gotten the upper hand on Rea, Lilly felt her stomach sink suddenly after thinking about Megumi. I haven’t seen or talked to her since gym class. If we do all end up hanging out… I hope it doesn’t get terribly awkward. Of course I won’t bring it up, but I’ll just pretend it never happened. That’s a good idea…

                Poke, poke. Lilly felt her arm. “Lilly, I just texted her. Why are you blushing?”

                Her free hand flies to cover her face, almost hitting herself in the process. Why does it feel like I’ve been doing that way too much? Her voice is muffled as her hand hides her appearance.

                “A-anyways, I’d say I’m proud that you finally got around to it, but you only just now got around to it.” Lilly pushed Rea’s buttons to change subjects. It works.

                Her posture slouched in shame for a second time. “I know, I know… I’m such a bad friend!” Her eyes water. Her body begins to shiver. Oops, maybe I pushed that one too hard, Lilly thought.

                “Eh, Rea, I was only teasing you, don’t take it so hard!” Her words don’t seem to take effect, the sniffling Rea still appeared troubled. Hiccupping and a shaky voice as symptoms of her woes. Lilly puts her hand on Rea’s shoulder to try and calm her, freezing them both in their tracks. “Rea, Rea!” Her small body rocked back and forth as Lilly tightly gripped the quivering girl’s shoulders.

               “Rea, I’m telling you, you’re overreacting! That was a joke!”

                “I know.”

                “Huh?”

                Rea rubbed her eyes. Looking back up and facing Lilly, she removed her figurative mask. She flashed a smile and peace sign. “I was just joking too.”

                Lilly stepped back, impressed at Rea’s acting.  Ah, she got me. She lightly tapped Rea on her back. “Fine then, let’s keep moving.” Rea agreed wholeheartedly.

                The return trip was lulling with their quaint neighborhood as a peaceful backdrop. After what was more than an eventful day for both girls, to retreat into their respective homes was something they were looking forward to. But neither of them sought to quicken their pace. Walking slowly, Rea moves closer to Lilly, speaking softly under her breath.

                “Lillychi.”

                “Hmm?”

                “Lilly.”

                “What?”

                Rea made her move. She hugged Lilly’s right arm snugly, with no intention of letting go. “I wanna hold hands,” Rea says innocently.

                Lilly bit her lip. It’s hard to say no to a girl when she’s like that. Even Lilly, whose resolve should be have been hardened over the course of ten years, turns to dust when Rea acts in this way. A solid offence, one that Lilly wasn’t prepared to defend against. On the other hand, she wondered if it even is something one should be defending against in the first place. There was nothing bad about two girls holding hands as they walked. In fact, it was close to stereotypical. Also, to deny Rea this once again on the same day would be torture to her heart. There was no one else around, anyways.

                So in response, Lilly stayed silent. Rea took her non-answer as a reluctant “sure”. It was good enough for now.

                They turned a corner as their fingers intertwined, Rea taking the lead, and her right hand. Lilly felt Rea’s long and calloused digits, her hold firm yet gentle. As they do so, Lilly thoughts were on Rea during the relay earlier that day. That expression she had while she ran burned into Lilly’s mind. I’ve wanted to talk about it… Hmm… The corner of Lilly’s lips twitch trying to find the right words to bring up. She looked down to see Rea, so content with holding Lilly’s hand, and hugging her arm. But she looks so relaxed now. To bring it up got harder than ever. But as it turns out, Rea had something she wanted to discuss as well.

                “Wasn’t there something you still needed to tell me?” In contrast to Lilly, Rea wasted no time to say what was on her mind. Lilly internally groaned. She knew what it was about.

                “There isn’t anything to say anymore,” Lilly averted her eyes away from Rea. “I already said it’s not that big of a deal.” Her tone didn’t conceal her crossness. She pushed a long lock of hair behind her left ear.

                “That’s not true!” Rea said childishly. Be that as it may, she wasn’t going to let Lilly stay silent any longer. She squeezes Lilly’s hand with intensity. She flinched in pain.

                An unfortunate but accustomed buzz began knocking at the door of Lilly mind, like an unwanted neighbor. Low and monotonous. She could hear the worries of the housewife whose home they just passed by. She could sense the little boy who’s excited for his father to return a few houses down. She could sense even the thoughts of Rea, who was patiently waiting for Lilly to say something. Anything. But she knew what she wanted to say. She just didn’t want to.

                Walking a few paces more, and then Lilly stopped in place. Pushing that noise out of her head, Lilly opened up.

                “What else is there to say? I hate it! I don’t want anything to have to do with it! I hate whenever I feel it in my head and I feel like I’m forcefully intruding on someone else’s thoughts! I feel like I’m more than intruding into someone’s privacy. And it doesn’t make any sense, why this… thing!? Why me?! I just want to be normal, like I was before all of this. When I didn’t bother anyone and nobody bothered me.”

                She faces Rea, growing more serious.  “I’ve been trying ignore it, and not think about it… But you just…” Her voice trailed off unevenly. There, I said it. Happy, Rea?

                Her tongue was sharp, and her words like daggers into the hot air around them. Even Lilly stood startled at her choice words. Rea was no exception. A few blinks before answering.

                “I… didn’t know you felt that way about it.” Her hands were cold in Lilly’s grasp, despite the light coat of sweat. Rea faced the blonde. She held her hands up softly. “If it makes you feel any better, I think it’s pretty cool.” Rea spoke softly. “You’re like a superhero.”

                Lilly stared at Rea’s wide-eye look of innocence. It can work wonders in calming her down. Letting out a breath of ease, her voice returned to its normally composed nature. “I’m sorry, it’s just that it’s a lot to take in, in a short amount of time.” She poked Rea’s cheek. “I’ll be fine.”

                Not a second longer for Rea to flip the switch back to energetic again. With newfound vigor in her step, Rea pulled Lilly along.

                “Come on then! Let’s go get a donut somewhere!” Rea cheered.

                “I thought you wanted to go home…”

                “… oh yeah.”

                The heat on this odd day was still substantial, but the sun was finally setting into a twilight, sparking a brilliant burnt orange across the sky. A turn of another corner, a crossing of a street –this particular one was well known for its black cat population- and the girls find themselves in front of Rea’s house. An ordinary house in scale, nothing special. They stood at the gate to her home for a minute. Given the emotionally draining walk they had, Lilly found it hard to leave Rea and head off. Except she was the one who helped me today. Trying to buy time, she slowly made her goodbyes for the day.

                “Is your mom home yet?” Lilly asked.

                “Um, not yet.”

                “Will you be okay?”

                “Yeah, it’s nothing new.”

                “I see, okay.” Lilly reluctantly back away a few steps. Why am I acting so weird? She was the one worried about me.

                Rea picked up on it immediately. “I should be asking if you’ll be okay.” She crossed her arms, her face smug and teasing.

                Lilly lighted up. “I should. Thanks.” She stood there a second more to see if Rea would lean in towards her. But she remained leaning on the metal gate instead. Now nervously scratching her arm. “Then, I’ll be here to walk to school with you tomorrow.” Rea noded. Pleased and wanting to conclude this exhausting day, she turned to head back home.

                “A-actually!”

                Lilly spun to face a flushed Rea. This was a face she hadn’t seen on her in a while. What could this be? Maybe she’s preparing for something sneaky again. Rea twirled her long red ponytail, inhaling and exhaling cautiously.

                Low mumbles emanate from the girl as she searched for actual words to say. Her hand dove into her schoolbag to sift through and look for… something. Lilly watched as Rea uneasily dug deeper into her bag. Heart thumping with every passing second. Huh? What is she trying to find?

                As suddenly as she reached into her bag, she stopped. And as suddenly as she did so, she bolted past the gate into her house, waving without looking back. “Never mind! It’s nothing! I’ll see you tomorrow Lilly!” A loud thud followed Rea as she slamemed her front door behind her. Lilly was left alone and confused.

                What… was that?

                She debated between going after Rea or heading home, but the sting of her sore legs beckoned her to a lazy nap on a couch. That gym class was doing wonders to her body.

                “Hah, whatever it is, I’m sure it’s nothing. I’ll talk to her tomorrow anyways.” Without a soul in sight, Lilly still covered her mouth as she yawns. “Ahh, I’ll do it tomorrow.” She shooed herself along to finally conclude a long and restless day. Lilly hoped in all of her heart that another day like this won’t come around for a long time.

                Her day spent at home breezed her by. Her father cooked for them both her favorite hamburger steak, although she could have done without his trademark teasing. With homework done and out of the way, she finished her book, placing it back on her shelf. An empty space left by for the next installment that won’t come for another while, Lilly being very disappointed by that fact. In another blink, she was all washed up and ready to sleep. She collapsed onto her bed, letting out a moan of fatigue before instantly snoozing. She had that dream again, but she won’t remember.

                 She woke up in a frenzy. Like having a dream that you were falling and then feeling that sensation in real life. Lilly jolted up. Upon placing her feet on the floor, she felt something was off. The room was dark, sure, but it wasn’t her room. She looked down. “I didn’t sleep on the couch, did I?” The black leather of the furniture and other trademarks of the room should feel all familiar, because it was. “This… isn’t this Rea’s living room? I don’t remember sleeping over.”

                Standing up, Lilly almost lost her balance. Her body felt lighter than she was used to. Whoa, what’s going on? Her body and mind were not yet fully awake. Slowly she thought of her next move. Um, Rea’s room. I’ll go ask what I’m doing here.

                Years of sleepovers and just hanging around helped Lilly know the layout of Rea’s house like the back of her hand. She went to Rea’s room with ease, even without light. A flight of stairs later she’s at the door to her room. But she can’t shake that nagging feeling in her head. Of course something isn’t right here. I’ll have to wake up Rea to ask her though. Inhale, exhale.

                She twisted the doorknob to enter the room. Adjusted to the dark, she avoided flipping the light switch to hurt her eyes. Lilly stepped into an empty room. Rea’s desk computer, guitar, and textbooks were all present, but their owner wasn’t. Hands on her hips, Lilly’s tired mind tried to run. Where could she be? Wandering eyes catch the messy bed, blankets thrown in disarray, Lilly couldn’t bring herself to not fix it. She was careful not to step on any loose pencils or guitar picks on floor. I need to remind her to clean this up herself! She walked past Rea’s mirror hanging on her closet door. Something caught her eye.

                Running to the mirror, every step made her more baffled. The closer she got the less she recognized her image. Her frame was smaller, her proportions like that of a typical middle school girl, with the small bust and hips. The flower-themed pajamas were familiar, but she has never wore them herself. And either it was the still dark room or her drowsy state, but her eyesight was worse than ever. As if she needed glasses.

                “Oh my god!”

                Her final step put it all into perspective. What she saw kicked her sleep-drowsed mind into high alert. She grabbed the wooden edges of the mirror, pulling it off the door. Examining every corner of her face and features. Brown eyes, a fanged smile, long red hair. Lilly didn’t need light. She could see the reflection perfectly. Even if she couldn’t believe it.

                “What the heck is happening to me?”

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Chapter 6 – ‘This synthesis,’

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                “Rise.”

                Everyone rose.

                “Bow.”

                Everyone bowed.

                “Alright everyone, good work, make sure I have all your assignments by tomorrow. Dismissed.”

                The bell rang just in time, its melody sung over the ears of the class, its song marking the end of the day. Shinozaki and Kaede left quickly for some after-school shopping. Ran made her way to the gym for track practice. Needless to say, some people’s days were far from over. And in Rea’s case, it was just the same. The teacher casually turned to her before asking a favor.

                “I don’t have time to make it to the office, would you mind bringing these papers down for me?” He darted out the door before even hearing her answer.

                “Uh, sure!”

                Rea took the job eagerly. There was no reason for her not to. Shuffling the stack of paper forms in her hands, she says her ‘see-you-laters’ to Megumi before leaving the classroom, making her descent into the school office. Light on her feet, she arrived faster than she expected.

                “Hello! I’m here again!”

                “Ah, hello Rea, indeed you are. Are those more forms for us?”

                “Yup yup!

                She skipped around the office, handing papers to the appropriate recipient, stopping to make light conversation which each of them. What should have been a ten minute job became a thirty minute ordeal.

                “Wow, she’s really pregnant? When did you find out?”

                “How’s your book coming along, Mr. Satou?”

                “You’re already planning your vacation? Hawaii or Paris? How could I choose?!”

                “Hmm, I’m not sure where I’m going high school next year, actually.”

                “Okay, I’ll remind her when I get a chance!”

                After having their fill of gossip -or perhaps even the office staff had their fill of her- Rea takes off. She left with as much energy as when she entered. Sore legs hardly hindered her as she floated up the stairs. She blinked, and she finds herself at the door already.

                By now the classroom was empty, with only Rea’s belongings sitting on her desk. Having always preferred a high view, she strolled over to her window seat in the back corner. “La la la, I’m glad I got this seat, so lucky, so lucky,” she hummed to herself. Her tune rings in the empty room, echoing what little sound it could. She picked up and stuffed her coat into her bag latched on her desk’s side, and soon after removed her blazer, tying the arms around her waist. “Ah, it shouldn’t be that cold today.” In a second she was all ready to leave. She never noticed the girl standing at the door.

                “Oh! Umm…” the mystery miss managed to mumble.

                “Huh?”

                Rea made her way to the door at the head of the room, where the stranger stood in front of. She looked to be fair but standard, like some side character in a story, Rea thought. Like any other girl in the background. Well, she is kinda cute. However, she did stand out with her dazzling green eyes. Like marbles of jade. The green color simmered in the light as the sun still peeked into the windows, not ready to descend into twilight just yet. It was soothing simply to gaze into those emerald eyes, glowering with intensity as they continued their focused watch and-

                “Um… is everything okay?”

                “Wah! Oh, yah, of course. Hehe…” Rea guiltily scratched her chin.

                Both girls grumble nervously. Rea looked back up hesitantly to get another look at her. She noted her beige brown hair, styled into a bob. That particular shade seemed a tad familiar to her. Rea took a moment to regain her composure before finally questioning the girl.

                “So, I don’t recognize you from my grade, what’s up?”

                “Oh, I’m actually a first year,” the girl said, “my sister is in this class though.” First year? Rea thought, dammit, even she’s taller than me!

                “Hmm, is she?” Rea quizzically rests her hand on her chin. “Who could that be?”

                “Ayane.”

                “Huh, that sounds familiar… Then you must be…?”

                “I’m Midori Ayase. Pleased to meet you.” She bowed politely. Rea clumsily returned the favor.

                “Ayase? I don’t think your sister is in my class.” To emphasize that point, Rea waved her hand, shooing the very thought of the two sharing a classroom.

                “Eh?! Well, that… that can’t be right! I mean, I-” Ayase shuffled fretfully in place, her hand digging into her bag for something. Rea, being the ever observant detective she is, only now noticed that Ayase was running her hand up and down the strap of her schoolbag their entire conversation. Not wanting to leave her underclassman in distress, she tried her best to calm her down.

                “I’m sure it’s just a simple mistake. I make them all the time! Are you trying to meet up with your sister?” Her animated movements make Ayase more tense instead.

                “No, no, she went home already. Oh, I can’t believe I messed this up so soon!” Rea too began to share in her worry, what the hell is she so concerned over then?

                Ayase now started juggling between searching through her bag and looking around the still-empty room. “Oh no, I thought those were Miss Akiyama’s,” she continued her fussing. “I hoped she would still be here!”

                Akiyama? I wonder… The surname is one that Rea is awfully familiar with, though she hasn’t called them by that name in years. She tapped at her chin before questioning Ayase again.

                “Do you mean Lilly?” She jumped at the mention of the name, confirming Rea’s suspicions. “Right on the money, huh?” Rea chugs along at her train of thought. “… Oh! That Ayane.” Her finger now pointing straight at the little sister, startling her.

                “She’s in Class 3-A with Lilly, this is Class 3-C. You actually look a lot like your sister,” Rea said. A simple mistake, but Ayase appears more humiliated than she should be. Whatever this was about, it had to do with Lilly, naturally it peaked Rea’s interest.

                “Well, I’m like her best friend, you can tell me what you wanted from her!” she said casually. This doesn’t ease Ayase in the slightest.

                “I mean, it… It was something I needed to tell her myself. My sister told me what happened during her gym class today, the relay…” Rea winced a little remembering that race. “I wanted to congratulate her, that’s all.” The brown bobbed girl shifted her posture, still standing at the door. Her eyes stay fixed on the wooden floor, not giving any eye contact.

                “Ah, word spreads around doesn’t it?” Rea said. She stretched her arms to relax. “She did great, didn’t she? Even surprised me. Of course I bet she doesn’t like all that attention-”

                “I know! I… know. I’m kind of a fan of hers. I’ve admired her for a while.” Rea stood shocked at this reveal. “She gives off this really cold vibe, I bet she must be hard to approach.” She’s just shy, Rea silently answered. “But that’s what makes her so cool to me. I’ve wanted to talk to her for the longest time, but I’ve never worked up the courage to do so.” Ayase shivered some more, now finding what she was searching for in her bag.

                A small envelope. A red circle sticker sealing it shut. She held it delicately against her chest. It didn’t even take a second for Rea to guess what the girl was getting at.

                “Oh…” was all Rea could manage.

                Ayase raised her head, just at that moment meeting Rea’s eyes. Brown eyes stared back intensely. “Oh my god! I’m so sorry! I can’t believe I just said that!” Embarrassment written across her face, her hands moved in a blur to try and cover up that fact. “You must be so angry, I’m sorry!”

                What look was I giving her? “Hey, wait a minute, I’m not mad!” Acting as a one-man diffuse squad on a bomb of emotions, Rea was. “Ah, girls really are too much sometimes!” Rea whispered. Inexperienced as she was, she lets her mouth run off to find some words that would help. “It’s not a big deal, I swear! Eh, don’t worry about it… Um, if it’s not a lot of trouble, I can deliver your letter for you!” Eh?

                Ayase quiets a bit. “You’ll what?” I’ll what!? Rea cursed her ramblings. She stepped forward to hold Ayase’s hand in hers. Making sure to act quickly to not scare her off, Rea looked her in the eyes.

                “Okay, I’m no mind reader,” she paused to chuckle to herself, Ayase tilts her head in confusion. “Anyways, it’s clear you like my friend a lot. I do too. How about I give her your letter for you?” She attempted to tug at the envelope, but the other girl gripped it more firmly. It’s clear she isn’t ready to let go of something so close to her heart.

                Rea prods on. “You’ll be in good hands, I promise. It’ll be like, what do you call it? Taking care of a maiden’s heart? I think.” She squeezed her hand for emphasis. “I’ll let you know when she’s read it so you can talk to her.” Tiptoeing carefully to prevent them from both exploding. Heart pounding, Rea hoped that was enough for the girl.

                Ayase heart was pounding all the same, if not even more. But she relented. Releasing herself from Rea’s grip, she left the envelope in Rea’s possession. She observed it carefully. Bodies slacken. Exhaling, Ayase fixed her shoulder bag before turning away from Rea, hiding the smile that reflected the feeling in her heart. She heads to the door.

                “Thank you very much, it really means a lot to me, um…”

                “Rea, it’s Rea.”

                “I appreciate your support, Rea. I’m happy I ran into you here.” Briefly she revealed her beaming face before waving and exiting the room, leaving Rea by herself. With eyes like those, she was no longer a faceless girl in the background. Rea looked again at the envelope, one that held a letter inside, one filled with the hopes and fragile emotions of a young girl. It suddenly felt a lot heavier in her hand. She sighed with worry.

                What am I doing?

                Zzzt. Zzzt. Rea reached into her pocket for her phone. Three unread messages. One from Lilly. The others… Rea read solely the name on the header. The phone returned to her pocket.

                Rea walked back to her desk to examine her window seat view. Sky still blue, sun light still sitting on the tips of the trees, not wanting to leave yet. It still had so much to do. So much to give light to, and so much to illuminate in its radiance. It won’t submit into the night so easily. Rea lets out another breath.

                “Mom…”

                With the school day about to end, many were keen to relax and head home. When the bell sings its last merciful note, many students do just that. Waiting patiently at the school gates, Lilly was among them. Though cooler than this morning, the heat was still enough to break into a light sweat. Standing there, the desire to go home grew with each passing second, but she persisted. Soon a small crowd of people began their exit out the school, passing her at the gate. Part of her wants to be in said crowd. But no, she should stay at the very least for her sake. To pass the time, Lilly opened her bag and pulled out a book. Volume 3 of some series. She quickly got into the rhythm of the novel. A girl, by herself, intensely reading a book while waiting for someone, ought to give off the air of ‘Please leave me alone’, but respectfully. Which she hoped. She was wrong.

                “If it isn’t Lilly? What’s up, girl?” A girl approached, backed by her posse of another girl and a guy. Lilly lifted her eyes from the page. Huh?

                “Saori,” Lilly said. A girl from Class 3-B. Popular, spilling with outgoing energy. Fashion sense so flashy it was a miracle she hadn’t been reprimanded for standing on the edge of the uniform dress code. Not afraid to speak her mind or talk to anyone. Her fluffy twin-tails smelled and looked of lavender, and stood out along with the bright accessories she never seems to abandon. Give her a few more years and she’d be a fully-fledged gyaru. For Lilly, she considered her sociability a weak point. “Did you need anything?” she bluntly asked.

                Saori flicked her wrist. Colorful bracelets clang against each other. “Nah, I feel like we don’t talk a lot anymore!” She wrapped her left arm around Lilly, who became stiff at the gesture. That’s because we’re like water and oil… “Watcha been up too?” Sharp hazel eyes focus in on Lilly. The way her eyes are shaped, and that playful grin she always carried, gives her the impression that she’s planning something devious. Lilly cannot escape Saori’s grasp.

                “N-nothing, I’m just waiting for a friend,” Lilly hoped that was enough for her. Really, you’re too close, Lilly thought.

                “I see, that ‘Rea’ girl, right? You’re always hanging out with her, aren’t you?” Saori loudly stated the obvious. Her boisterous voice rattles the both of them as she talked. She flashed that sly grin once more. “Hey, great job at the relay, you surprised even me, you know? I’m glad all three of our classes had a joint gym class today, we all got to see you rip into that track!” Repeatedly she poked her elbow into Lilly’s side, taking no notice of her wincing.

                “Ow, ow, it’s not a big deal…”

                “Oh yeah it is! Who knew a loner like you was hiding such a talent? That’s really selfish of you, y’ know?” she laughed louder. “You should’ve joined the track team, I’ll bet they’ll still take you even now!”

                “Stop, I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” It seemed Lilly couldn’t get away from all the attention since her winning the relay earlier that day. Between Lilly and Rea and Saori’s classes, it was all they talked about. That was three hundred percent more people fixated on Lilly than she wanted. Dodging attention becomes progressively harder, and more tiring, when one becomes the center of it.

                Saori continued regardless. “I know, we’re about to head to an arcade right now, you should totally join us!” Using her free hand, she pointed her thumb to the boy standing among them. “Haru especially wants you to come.”

                “Wait, what? No way!” Suddenly self-conscious, the boy shook his hands wildly in denial, his face red. He looked like he wants to run away as soon as possible. “I didn’t say anything like that, that’s-”

                “-not what you meant, right?” Lilly cursed the buzzing surfacing in her head. The other girl in Saori’s group giggled in response.

                Haru made no effort to hide a dejected expression. Though he tried to brush it off. Luckily, or unluckily from Lilly’s perspective, Saori kept up the momentum. “Aww, he’s just being a softie, c’mon Lilly, join us for a bit!” She ignored the boy’s groaning directed towards her. This girl’s brand of teasing knows no bounds, no gender, friend nor foe.

                Thick eyebrows began to twitch. Shoulders tense as rock. Saori too dense to recognize Lilly when she’s irritated. “No… Really, I should be waiting here.” She held on to her courteous tendencies even still. “Now if you could please…” Lilly returned to her book, her definition of being rude, but it would have to do for now.

                That smirk never left Saori. “Wah~ Lilly, you are too cold, you know? You were never this bad in elementary school!” She pulled in Lilly even closer, not seeing Lilly’s fuse at its end by a few millimeters. It was close enough to sense the aroma of perfume and makeup radiating off of Saori. “You know what? If you don’t wanna come with to the arcade, how ‘bout meet-”

                “-I am not going to a café either.” Lilly silently cursed that buzzing again.

                Puzzled, though Saori doesn’t hold on to the feeling for long. Chuckling aloud, she concluded their conversation by releasing Lilly from her grasp. Thankfully… in Lilly’s case. “This isn’t over Akiyama Lilly, you’re hanging out with us one of these days!” She left Lilly at the gates, Haru and the other girl accompanying them. Going to said arcade that would apparently benefit from Lilly’s presence. She stiffly waved goodbye as they walk out of sight. Well, at least she’s genuine, Lilly thought.

                A chapter. Another. Two more. For sure Lilly has a penchant to speed read, but her nose was in her book longer than she expected. I’m sure waiting… Maybe another chapter before she considered worrying. Maybe she’ll send a message to her just in case. By this time the school entrance was already sparse with students, only the noise from the athletic clubs practicing reach her ears. That, and the sound of her foot tapping on the concrete. Lilly’s patience was beginning to dwindle, but her will must be iron. Paying no attention to her sore legs, she waited a minute more.

                Crap, I’m late, she’s waiting! Faster-faster!

                Lilly’s head perked up from her book, looking towards the school. She’s recently wanted to avoid using her ability at all, but this voice couldn’t be ignored. Of all voices, why was hers always the most clear?

                Rea dashed to her waiting friend, comically frowning as she gets closer. “Lilly! I’m sorry I made you wait so long!” Lilly braced herself for the inevitable tackle-into-hug. “Oof!” Lilly managed to prevent them from falling over from the momentum. After regaining balance, gently pushes Rea out of their embrace.

                “Hah, that was pretty good, but you’re no sumo, Rea,” Lilly hurried her words, so not to admit any wind was knocked out of her. She checked if her book got bent. Doesn’t look like it. Satisfied, she carefully placed it back into her bag. Right after she starts fixing her uniform to rid of unwanted creases. Rea follows suit.

                Rea laughed aloud. “Next time I’ll get you for sure then!” Lightly she hits Lilly on her arm. “C’mon, let’s get going.”

                Relieved that she no longer has to wait, and that her friend is finally here, Lilly nods. “Sure.” With the school behind them, waiting for their return the next day, they head off.

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