Chapter 23 – ‘This appointment,’

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                “Yeesh, Rea, you’re so clumsy,” Lilly said. Rolling off to her side, Lilly got herself up, standing squarely on her feet.

                “Woops, sorry sorry,” Rea said lamely in return, setting her glasses straight. She got up by lifting her legs above her, and somersaulting backwards onto her feet and to a stand.

                “…!”

                A far, muffled voice came from the door, Lilly recognizing it as her dad. “Dinner must be ready,” she translated.

                “Kay kay!”

                Leaving the room, the two met Lilly’s dad down by the dining table. Three plates set, with plenty of curry and rice to go around. Lilly licked her lips in anticipation, so did Rea.

                “You should have called me down earlier,” Lilly said, “I would have help.”

                “Nah,” he responded, brushing away the suggestion, “I like doing it myself.”

                He pulled out chairs for all three of them, and they all took their usual spots. Lilly and Rea on one side, and Lilly’s dad at the head of the table.

                They clasped their hands together. “Let’s eat!” they said in unison. They all helped themselves afterwards.

                “So, Rea,” he started, “I haven’t seen you since Saturday, which means you haven’t been around in a while. How’s your mom?”

                “Good! She got a promotion recently, so she’s been even more busy.”

                “Oh, awesome. Tell her to take it easy, don’t want to get her hands tied.” He shook his head. “No wait, she tied up other people’s hands!” He laughed at his own joke.

                The girls cringed instead.

                He glanced down, still smiling. “C’mon, I thought it was funny. She was a cop, after all.”

                Stop it, Dad.

                With another question, he switched to another topic.

                “Then, how was school today, Lilly?”

                Let’s see, in the past few weeks I’ve time traveled, nearly gotten myself killed – on two, no, three different occasions – and saved the very concept of the donut from disappearing from reality. And today a junior wanted me to learn basic self-defense and attacked me to accomplish that goal! Dad, I do wonder how school has been lately, much less today. I know you only asked about today, but still.

                She took a spoonful of curry rice. Staring at it for a second, she blew on it to cool it down. She took the bite. Mild, but still had that kick. Delicious, as expected. After swallowing, she cocked her head a little.

                “Okay.”

                He scratched his scruffy chin, accepting the generic answer.

                No benefit saying anything else.

                The rest of the dinner continued as usual, Lilly’s dad making the occasional bad stab at comedy, and then the girls responding accordingly. Lilly thanked the stars that she didn’t inherit his sense of humor. The curry, as usual, was masterfully cooked, the assorted vegetables and beef smothered in the spicy brown sauce paired with the piping hot rice, made for a dish that was as aesthetically pleasing as it was delicious to eat. Lilly and Rea expected no less.

                Rea was the first to finish, eating more than she probably should. She sat back in her chair, satisfied, her hands placed over her stomach.

                “Ah, you knocked it outta the park again, Pops!” She complimented the chef with a thumbs-up.

                “Of course!” He puffed out his chest, returning the same prideful manner. He fully appreciated the feedback.

                Using considerable effort, Rea got up from the table, carrying her plate. Lilly soon followed.

                “I think I’m gonna go home right after this,” Rea said on her way to the kitchen.

                “Really? What about your homework?” Lilly brought back up.

                “Hm, there’s less than I expected, so I’ll just do it at home.”

                “If you say so.”

                Rea put away her dishes, and rushed back up to stairs to Lilly’s room to retrieve her things. The heavy meal hadn’t slowed her down one bit. Lilly opted to see Rea off, and they went outside. A bright moon cuts through the night sky.

                “Wanna do something after school, on Friday?” Rea asked.

                “Already looking forward to the week ending? But sure.”

                “Cool,” Rea said in a breath, “Then see yah tomorrow.”

                “See you.”

                Lilly watched on as Rea ran down the street, slowly becoming a dot as she got farther away. She always has too much energy.

                Going back inside, she saw her dad was halfway up the stairs, turning back around as Lilly locked the door behind her.

                “It’s really been ten years, huh? Wow,” he said. He actually sounded impressed.

                That day in the park was as clear as ever. “Yeah Dad, I know.”

                “I still remember your first day of school. Rea refused to let go of your hand the whole way there.”

                “That’s because she was dragging me the whole way there.”

                He chuckled, then went back up the stairs, his hand raised. His way of saying goodnight. Lilly thought he whispered something as he turned, but instead the sound came from within her head.

                ‘I wish your mother could see you now.’

                Lilly froze up in an instant. Her heart skipped multiple beats, and her throat went dry. She had to mentally blank out in order to restart, like some kind of computer.

                Inhale, exhale. Sigh.

                Me too. You must’ve had a very busy day today, Dad.

                When she went up the stairs, the smell of curry still wafted out of the kitchen.

                Lilly returned to her room, and sat at her desk. She laid out all her homework in front of her. The books and papers piled on to her desk, the top actually curved.

                This sucks.

                As expected, as always, it was a mundane undertaking. Reviewing facts here, solving math problems there, some reading comprehension over there, the typical workload for a middle school student, which is to say was still a lot.

                Off in the corner of her attention, however, were the manuals and manga that Ayase left her. She remembered a color cover of one of the manga being especially inviting. After completing a problem, or reading a passage, she would take a glance over the materials she set aside. Crap, I’m getting distracted! It was getting harder to focus, or actually absorb the material with each repetition.Lilly rushed through the last math exercise, not even sure if she did it right, but it hardly concerned her by this point.

                She checked the time. Ten o’clock. She looked at her bag again. I’ll read at least a page I guess. Just a page. She reached deep into her bag, grabbing the first book she could and opened a page. What parts did she say to look over again?

                Among the first few pages was a diagram on how to execute a proper mae geri. She read the instructions aloud. “A front kick to the groin, huh? Typical.” Holding the book, she tried to copy the move. “Okay, get my center, keep my balance on the left foot as I-“

                “Whoa!”

                Too much force was put into her kick, and consequently, she fell forward. She landed into an awkward splits, her meeting with the floor ended with an unceremonious crash. “Uff!”

                “You okay?!” she heard her father from down the hall.

                “Uh, yeah!” she replied with a grumble, rubbing her bottom. Turning over to her back, she checked if the book was still okay. It was. Breathing heavily, Lilly rested her head on the floor, concentrating on the citrine ceiling. The light above started to hurt.

                “I really need to put my foot down sometime…”

                She then got ready for bed. When she returned, she switched out the book for one of the manga she was lent. The first volume of a martial arts manga. The cover featured a boy, cast in blue, giving a forlorn expression. She flipped through the pages.

               “Ew, why did Ayase give me this? This guy is so gross.”

                She fell asleep before getting through the second chapter.

                The next day rolled around, and even the morning showed no signs of forgiveness to Lilly. She got up, got ready for school, and met up with Rea on the way to school.

                Lilly was as sore as ever. She doubted if the aching throughout her body would ever stop. Every step to the school felt like a chore, and whatever Rea was babbling about along the way was distant noise. And to cap off the gloom of the day were the clouds that were accumulating overhead. It wasn’t going to rain anytime today, but it would eventually, and when it did, it was definitely going to be heavy.

                Another sign that it was going to rain soon, was the fact that Rea was talking so much. More than usual, anyways. Cloudy days made her restless. She liked it warm and bright.

                Rea definitely hated the rain, but Lilly didn’t mind it. A nice drizzle was rather soothing, she thought.

                The rest of the school tolled on in much the same way, slow and dreary. Some excitement managed to cut through during lunch in the classroom. Since joining the club, Lilly and Rea had been having their lunch in the S.O.L. clubroom, along with Megumi and Ayase. Despite her preferance to eat lunch with the least amount of people as possible, Lilly figured it would be a good change of pace. For now. She made a mental note to go back to the flowerbed some time.

                To kill the time as they ate, Lilly and Rea played a spare board game from the club’s old broom closet, and the others read some books off the shelf. The uneasy static that came with rainy days managed to permeate throughout the clubroom.

                The game consisted of a board crisscrossed with a grid of black lines, and the black and white pieces dotting the surface. The objective was to surround a larger area of the board with one’s stones than the other.

                Lilly studied her pieces intently, cautiously determining her next move. The game surface looked like a monochrome mosaic.

                “There!” she announced, picking up a black stone and snapping it back down to its new location. The pieces around it jumped from her forceful play.

                “Oh yeah!” Rea opposed Lilly by moving a white stone in return.

                “Well, try this then!”

                “Then how about this!”

                The game continued with this energy for another eight minutes.

                Rea crouched over the game board, eyeing every stone and nodding occasionally, like she was telepathically communicating with them. She opened her mouth slightly.

                “Say, Lilly, do you have any idea what you’re doing?”

                “Nope.”

                “Yeah, me neither.”

                They move some more pieces, completely at random. After a few more turns, Lilly ‘let’ Rea win. Satisfied, Rea leaned back, and tried to go back to her meal.

                “Can I finish that?” Rea asked, pointing to Lilly’s lunch. It was halfway done.

                “Oh, yeah, sure.” Rea reached across the table to take it, deciding to use Lilly’s chopsticks to eat it. With their lunches being in such small boxes, they can be eaten pretty quickly. Rea had practically inhaled hers.

                “Good thing you didn’t cheat,” she said.

                “Like I’d ever,” Lilly said back, getting what she was talking about.

                As lunch concluded, the bell singing that fact, Megumi scurried out of the room first, her books hugged close to her body. Rea followed as they both had the same class, but not before a loud ‘see you later’ to Lilly. As Rea’s words finally stopped bouncing off the walls, the incoming calm emphasizing the fact that it was only Lilly and Ayase in the room.

                Lilly found it hard to break that silence, but she tried her best.

                “So, after school. Are… we… going to do it again?” Lilly asked, not catching the potentially suggestive meaning should someone had eavesdropped.

                Ayase straightened her back and looked up, like an answer was taped somewhere on the ceiling. “Uh, we don’t have to do anything today if you don’t want to.”

                “Okay then!” Lilly said, almost too hurriedly. She gathered her belongings and left the club room right away. If I don’t have to, then I don’t have to. I should put that up on a wall somewhere.

                “But-!”

                Lilly halted. She hated how tense that word made her. “But?”

                “But,” Ayase said again, “There may be something I’ll need you to accompany me on.”

                She was returned with an unimpressed look.

                “Are you saying I actually have a chance of not accompanying you?”

                Ayase gave it a second. She shook her head.

                Lilly’s shoulder dipped a smidge.

                “Do you mean ‘accompany’ in the sense that you need help in finding a new skirt, or…”

                Ayase gave it another second. She nodded this time, her lips folding into a simper.

                Funny, that almost looks apologetic.

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