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A soft gust of wind greeted the girls as they left the school. Lilly’s first few steps out of the building were cautious. The worry of any more odd ordeals occurring weighed heavy. Her slow pace caused Rea to already be farther ahead, tapping her foot impatiently as she waited on Lilly to catch up.
“C’mon, we don’t have all day, Lilly!”
“Geh, I know, I know!”
Eventually Lilly does catch up. She carefully eyed Rea up and down in the meantime. Rea squirmed uncomfortably at her look.
“W-what are you doing?”
“My shoes,” Lilly said.
“I didn’t have to go switch to my outdoor shoes at the lockers,” Lilly mentioned. “You did of course, since I switched them out earlier.” You’re welcome, by the way, Lilly thought. “That means you never did when you came to school in my body.”
Rea’s hands went on her hips. “What are you, a detective? So what?”
“Why didn’t you?”
Rea sputtered. “Well, you usually meet me at my locker, so I don’t know where yours is!” Rea’s face held a look of embarrassment, having been put on the spot so suddenly.
“Huh?” Lilly did not foresee that explanation. She spat out a reply, clearly taken aback. “Well, I mean, you should know these things… and…”
A small foot stomped the ground, kicking up dust. “Whatever then, let’s just go home!” Rea proclaimed.
They both head out to leave the school. Lilly continued to glare at Rea as they walk. I have this feeling that there was something else I wanted to say… Rea caught her again.
“You’re something else, aren’t you?”
Their walk is interrupted right at the school fountain. They didn’t even get to leave the premise.
“Hey you two! You ain’t gettin’ away from me!”
Lilly and Rea both look back instantly. She didn’t know about Rea, but Lilly internally groaned.
Saori came up to the two, jogging and waving. Followed soon by her posse of people.“Hi! What’s up?”
Lavender twin-tails swing with momentum. She smiled with that playful snarky hiding-a-devious-plan grin. “Whatcha doing?” she said.
Lilly’s nose filled with the scent of perfume. She scratched at her arm while thinking of anything to say that could make Saori leave sooner. “Nothing, we’re leaving,” Lilly said straightforwardly. Aside from the occasional garden maintenance, she always went home right after school. She especially wanted to do so today.
A hand raised itself right in front of Lilly’s face. “Nope!” Saori keeps it there. Her hand blocking Lilly’s increasingly irritated expression. Rea curiously observed these two opposing forces interact. “I don’t think so!”
“And what does that mean?” In the middle of her sentence, she backed away from Saori. Whether or not Lilly noticed she grabbed Rea’s wrist for her to follow was irrelevant.
Saori stood firm, now pointing at the blonde. “Because you’re coming with us to play! Oh, your friends too.” Saori pointed over Lilly’s shoulder, presumably to someone else. Lilly doesn’t bother to look. For every sly smirk Saori makes, an annoyed frowned is returned by Lilly.
“And why should we?”
“Because I’ve let you get away from me for far too long! Don’t think this wasn’t in-every-table!”
Inevitable? Guh, what a pain. Lilly glanced down at Rea, hoping she felt the same way. A twinkle sparked in Rea’s eyes. Lilly didn’t need to read her mind. Dang it.
“Really! I wanna go, Lilly, come on!” Rea now tugged at Lilly’s arm, her insisting persistent. That look that Rea held in her eyes was magnetizing. It was hard to say no to. It’d be easier saying no to a puppy.
By now some passing students began to notice Lilly and Saori’s squabbling. Saori never noticed them. But from the corner of her eye, Lilly could tell some of the boys were staring at her legs. She hadn’t had a chance to remove the thigh-high socks Rea put on for her earlier. Although they were just passing stares, they felt like hot lasers piercing her skin. Go away… Go away… Go… Lilly wanted out. Now. She’s forced to let Saori have her way.
Saori put her hands on her waist, pleased that this was going her way. “See? Your friend wants to come! I told you, Akiyama Lilly, you’re hanging out with us one of these days!” The more she smiled, the more distressed Lilly became.
No… I really don’t want to! Why did this have to happen?!
The plaza bustled with both busybodies and those not so. Tall swaying trees line up a web of pathways that led to a central fountain, tying it all together. Buildings and shops and small boutiques outline the borders, never stepping over bounds. A relaxing deep-city refuge for those wanting a moment away from the urban sprawl. Second only the local park. A nice place to sit or take a walk. Also a good meeting place.
Splattering of the fountain’s water rose up a light mist, but the sound fails to reach a pair of ears. Heavy music blasted from a pair of headphones. For once, Rea was the one waiting. She looked around as parents, children, friends, and lovers stroll through the plaza. Yearning filled her eyes. Her gazing is cut short as the reason why she was waiting came running towards her.
“Rea! Sorry to make you wait!” Lilly panted as she got to Rea’s position. She tapped on Rea’s headphones before taking them off herself. “Did you wait long?”
“Nah,” Rea shook her head, “sorry I had you meet me out here.” She placed her headphones on her neck. The green color popped with the rest of her outfit.
Relieved, Lilly led the way. “Let’s get going then, might as well make the most of it.” A few days have passed without incident, and that lightened Lilly’s mood. So she resigned to her fate, one of being with other people and enjoying spending time with them. Oh the horror.
Given that it was Sunday, the plan was simple. Meet up with Saori and her group at an arcade and see where it goes from there. But first, they had to get together with another group of girls who got themselves into the same predicament.
“They must be waiting for us already,” Lilly mentioned, “it’s not too far from here, at least.”
Lilly goes back to Rea. “Yeah?”
“We still have some time though,” Rea said, “Why don’t we go shopping around here?”
Lilly cocked her head. “Shopping? For what?”
“We could get some posters for your room or something. You know, spruce it up!” Rea made a fireworks hand expression to accentuate her point.
“Ah, no thanks, I don’t need to,” Lilly brushed away her suggestion. “Come on, I’d hate to be late.” Lilly failed to realize Rea’s disappointment, and they both head to the arcade. The sun rises to noon to oversee this day.
The walk to the arcade, thankfully enough of Lilly, wasn’t too far, so the pair get deeper into the heart of the city and in front of the entrance in good time. Their company waiting right outside the door.
“Megumi! Wassup!” Rea cheerfully exclaimed, rushing to hug her bespectacled friend. The startled Megumi loses her words of greeting in the arms of this tiny ball of energy.
“R-Rea! Woah, h-how, how are-!”
“How are you, Megumi?” Lilly kindly beamed at her. She didn’t want to break the vase so soon. “Sorry for getting you dragged into all of this.”
Tight in Rea’s squeeze, Lilly doesn’t see Megumi shake her head. “No, it’s okay. Y-you guys invited me earlier, so it works out. Wuh…” Rea hasn’t let go, a feeling of motion sickness befalling her unfortunate victim. Hah, I’m sorry again, Megumi, Lilly thought again. Beside the bespectacled middle-schooler was another member of their party. One Lilly was not too acquainted with.
“And you, you probably didn’t have to come… um…,” Lilly recognized the face, but never learned the name.
“Ah, Ayase. Midori Ayase. My sister, Ayane, is in your class. Thank you for befriending her.” She cordially bowed, probably to hide her blushing face and to avoid making eye contact. “And there’s no need for apologies. I’m glad to have been invited out with my upperclassmen, be it by circumstance. I just happened to be walking with Megumi when Saori called out to us. Also, my sister said it was okay to come.” Rea glared at the junior like a lion would its prey.
Well, okay then. At least you’re polite. Lilly remembered when she first encountered her in Rea’s body. I never did find out what she was after… She shrugged, and suggested they all go inside. The rest agreed, Rea finally letting Megumi go, and they entered the arcade.
The layout of the arcade was standard fair for people who go out often, arcade machines lined up neatly with the more popular games taking main stage in the center of the spacious room. Light bulbs adorn the walls and glow at random times. Bleeps and bloops of the different games fight against one another to produce a cacophony of digital noise. Even at this hour about every other machine was occupied by a player, with either a friend or their date standing over to watch them play. A staircase was in a corner, suggesting more floors of games and people. All summing up to create a lively and vibrant scene. Sensory overload. Ugh, I don’t like crowds… Lilly slumped her shoulders, already drained when she gets inside. Megumi adopted a similar gesture. Rea only gets more excited to play.
“Aww, this is so cool! C’mon Lilly, let’s play something!” She dragged the reluctant Lilly towards one of the center games. One was a fighting game of some mecha series. Already in use. The players at this particular machine were also half of their party.
“Hah! Hola, Lilly, you actually came!” It was Saori, in the player two seat, who immediately got up to greet the newcomers, deserting her robot to doom by a volley of laser blasts, courtesy of Haru. He disapproved of Saori leaving her post.
You would have more than pestered us if we didn’t. But Lilly kept that to herself, showing a half-hearted smile as Saori wrapped her arm around her. Rea did not appear delighted at this. “You look good, it’s cool to see people outside the school uniforms, huh?”
Even if it was Saori, a compliment can make lift anyone’s spirits. Lilly rolled her eyes to mask her true feelings. Although, it actually was nice to see the others in regular street clothes. Megumi wore a simple yet elegant white sundress. Ayase had on an olive cardigan and a dark blue skirt. Rea sported a bright orange hoodie and dark denim shorts, her green headphones resting on her neck. She came off quite boyish. Lilly herself had a on blue top and a white skirt with light frills. Saori was as flashy as ever, accessories and all decorate both her wrists and a purse she brought along. In all honesty, she looked no different outside her school uniform than in street wear.
They all stand around for a minute before it starts to get weird. “We’re here… now what?” Lilly says as she tried to lean away from Saori.
“What do you think? Let’s have some fun! Here, play this one with me,” Saori moved back to her second player seat, pushing Haru out of his seat without care, and patted the now empty space. “Here here!” Lilly watched the small sequence of events with confusion before joining Saori. Ayase watched Lilly watching the small sequence of events.
“Don’t you think that was a little rude?” Lilly asked, half out of concern for someone she didn’t know but also a small part of her wanted to dig into Saori a little. She awkwardly handled the joystick to select a character, the fighting stats of strength, defense, speed, and control began to dizzy her.
Saori reached over to select a robot for Lilly. “Don’t tell me you’ve never a played this before! Oh and Haru, he doesn’t care.” Lilly looked to see for herself. As a matter of fact, he’s laughing and conversing with the other girl of Saori’s group before going to another game. He seemed the least bit ticked off. If you say so. Lilly dropped the subject, and remembers she has to play a video game with Saori.
The gap in skill between the two players was like a pebble to a mountain. Green eyes can attest to that.
Lilly released the joystick she was poorly handling, and ceased her sad excuse of pushing buttons. She liked video games, she’s played plenty, but by god was she awful at them. How many times has she accidentally ran off the edge of a map? Her mech was better off in a fetal position at the bottom of a lake.
“How long has it been since we’ve done something like this, huh?” Saori asked, Lilly ignoring her. She allowed herself to slump in her seat for two seconds precisely before getting up. “I’m going to find Rea,” Lilly droned apathetically. Saori playfully protested as Lilly walks farther from the machine. This place is pretty big, where could she be? And in a nanosecond, her question was answered.
In an instant a jolt hits, and Lilly was sitting in front of another game, her hands gripped tight on a wheel. Eh? What? To her right was a focused Megumi, fully absorbed into their game. Once again, Lilly witnessed a new side of Megumi. She was unfazed as Megumi made quick work of the match.
She didn’t say anything, just a small congratulatory dance in her seat. Lilly could tell that was Megumi’s form of boasting.
“Good job” Rea’s high voice came out when Lilly spoke, a sensation she had hoped to never experience again. Why, why now?
“W-would you like to try another game?” Megumi asked softly. Looking into her eager eyes, Lilly couldn’t find it in her to disappoint her now, even in her current state. Sure, Lilly mouthed.
They got up to try more games. Megumi held on to Lilly’s shoulder to help maneuver through the crowd. It’s endearing. And a daily reminder that Rea was short. I’m starting to sympathize with you, Rea. My condolences… They go to a crane game. Then a shooting game. Then another fighting game. If a pig somehow manages to accomplish flight, Lilly may be able to win for once.
“Hah, what’s the point?” Lilly exhaled when losing another game. Megumi claps when winning another. “Oh my, I didn’t mean to beat you like that,” she would say every time. “Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Lilly would respond back. Megumi the gamer, it wasn’t something Lilly was aware of before. It must be coincidence, Lilly presumed, although she does think I’m Rea right now. She had almost forgotten she switched bodies with Rea. About half an hour has passed since the switch.
This time, Megumi guided the both of them to another part of the arcade, Lilly searching through the crowd of faces to try and find her own. Where, where, where… ah! From across the other side of the arcade she found Rea… standing exactly where Lilly was before they switched. Still close to the machine where she met her match with Saori. Rea hasn’t budged an inch, why? And then another thing staggered Lilly. Is, is that what I look like when I’m scared?
That out-of-body feeling swelled in Lilly’s stomach when she saw Haru talk to Rea, blissfully dense to the vibe she’s giving off. Haru was only a little taller than Lilly, yet he towered over Rea, who’s shrinks into herself. Her eyes dart to look at anything that isn’t his face. Her crossed arms form a barrier that keeps him from getting any closer. One, two, and another second for Lilly to fully grasp what she was witnessing. Instinct kicks in as Lilly cuts into the crowd to get to Rea. I have to go get her, come on, out of my way!
Lilly has gotten accustomed to responding accordingly to that name. Megumi, mouth half-open, spoke with a hint of apprehension. “Are you going already?”
“Eh? No, I’m just going to get Re- Lilly! I’m coming back!” Lilly said, reassuring her timid companion. When she goes back again, Rea and Haru were both gone. The space they had just occupied now filled with a stream of people moving to another game to play. Dang it, where’d they go? Putting her hands into her pockets, she shuffled back to Megumi. “Uh, never mind… We can go.”
Megumi tilted her head, “Are you okay, Rea?” Lilly nodded in response.
Don’t make me feel worse for making you think I’m someone I’m not.
The pair move on to play something else. Some nondescript game Lilly doesn’t bother trying to learn about. She loses of course, but not due to her lack of gaming prowess. Not focusing on playing, her thoughts were elsewhere. Her own face, which reflected a fear in Rea’s heart, etched itself into Lilly’s mind. She juggled between wanting to find Rea and not wanting to disappoint Megumi by leaving her behind. Think… think… what should I do? Oh, duh!
“I’m sorry Megumi, but I think we should catch up with the others, we haven’t really been with the rest of the group at all. I’ll call Lilly and we’ll go to her, okay?” She worked up her best Rea impression to ease Megumi.
Megumi lifted a shoulder. “Um… maybe… c-can we finish this game first, at least?” She didn’t attempt to hide her reluctance to go and join a group of people.
“I know it’s not your thing, but, it’d defeat the purpose of coming all the way out here if we aren’t a group, right?”
“You’ll be fine, Megumi. Here, I’ll help you up.” Lilly held out a small hand to support the withdrawn Megumi, who reached for it like an anchor, hoping not to be swept away by the coming waves of the typical social pressures. For most it would shallow enough to wade in, but for Megumi, it could very well sink her. That was the last thing Lilly needed on her plate at the moment, but she had to risk it if she wanted to find Rea. When she felt that Megumi was secure, she combed through her pockets to find Rea’s phone. Right? No, left. That’d make sense… The phone was half-pulled out of her pocket when –
Oh, I’m back.
Lilly patted herself down, making sure every little bit she inspected on her person was indeed her. Confident that she was in fact, back in her own body, Lilly’s next step was to know exactly where she was at. Still in the arcade. Though in some vacant corner. All that occupied this almost abandoned area of the arcade were a few rundown games. Probably more expensive to repair them than they were worth. Just a few steps back to return to the hubbub of the arcade, yet the cluttered noise was muffled here. Odd. The stillness troubled Lilly. No Rea, no Megumi, not even Saori or Haru were anywhere to be found. There was not a soul here.
“None except for me, actually.”
Lilly directed her attention to that voice. They’ve been standing there since Lilly got switched back. Bewilderment began to rise to new heights. A whisper left her lips.
The girl in question smirked. The type that one makes when they know about something others don’t. She ruffled her brown bob cut hair. She snapped her fingers.
The environment around the two shattered away, breaking off into pieces to reveal a blinding bright blue sky, clouds floating above, below, and sometimes through them. Vertigo hits Lilly and a roller-coaster-nausea in her stomach buckled her legs. Wha- I’m falling! But she wasn’t. Despite what it looked like – her floating among clouds and a blue sky that stretches past the horizon – she remained standing like normal. But this is most definitely not normal. Her eyes could only focus on the sole thing that wasn’t not blue or white; a smiling Ayase.
“I’m sure you have a lot of questions, don’t you?”
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