***“I want - I want - I want - was all that she could think about - but just what this real want was she did not know.”
Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.
“Hey, can I ask you something?”
I groggily open my eyes. Shiina hasn’t moved since I drifted off, but the film we were watching has already finished. The credits roll up the screen to the sounds of an acoustic guitar. I’m not even sure what we were watching, but it clearly wasn’t very stimulating. I sit up and stretch out.
“Sure, what’s up?” I reply. I don’t think she fell asleep during the movie, but she’s looking out of my window, so I doubt it got her attention either. Then again, who watches the credits?
“Do you ever wish you were a boy?” Shiina asks after a few moments of thinking. She’s not looking at me, but I shrug anyway. I’ve thought about it before, sure, but it’s not exactly a recurring thought.
With her head propped up on her hand like this, Shiina’s hair is splayed out all the way behind her. It’s always been so long, and if I didn’t find long hair super annoying, I’d be jealous of her. It’s such a pretty brown colour, and it always looks so soft! She looks a bit like a princess trapped in a tower, staring out into the woods for her prince charming. Maybe if I were a boy I would…
Ah, yeah. Shiina’s question!
“Sometimes. I wonder if it would be easier,” I finally answer, and she turns to face me now. She doesn’t look sad or anything, but she doesn’t look as cheery as usual. When she showed up outside my door, I thought we’d be watching a funny film and talking about our day, but I guess the film was pretty rubbish, and there’s more on her mind then the weather.
After a few moments of consideration, she nods giddily at my answer. “Yeah, I think the same. There’s so much pressure on girls, when guys just have it so much easier!”
She giggles quietly into her palm, before budging up to sit beside me. She crawls forward and ejects the DVD from my player before putting it away.
“We asking deep questions then?” I ask jokingly, and Shiina’s giggle becomes a slightly nervous one. I lean over and smirk at her.
“Okay…” she agrees, but I’ve obviously put her on edge a bit.
“So, how come I haven’t met any of your friends?” I ask, but my tone has become a bit serious.
Shiina squirms and pulls her blouse from her neck a little, like it’s choking her.
“I uh,” she begins. She twirls her fingers together and rocks back and forth. “Shizune doesn’t… I mean I…”
I giggle, and she relaxes. She’s too easy to wind up really.
“Besides, Shizune isn’t really my friend… we’re more like work colleagues,’ Shiina continues, her voice sounding a bit dejected.
Considering that she doesn’t really talk about Shizune much, I feel a bit guilty for bringing it up. She doesn’t have as many friends as me, but from the little interaction we’ve had outside of my bedroom, I know that Shiina’s wrong about Shizune. That Blonde girl didn’t seem too bad either, but I haven’t interacted with her very much.
“I don’t think that’s true at all!” I reply, catching Shiina off-guard. “You’re definitely friends, why else would you spend so much time doing Student Council stuff instead of hanging out with me!”
She laughs, but still seems pretty down. I’m such an idiot for bringing this up but I have been wondering why Shiina never invites Shizune to hang out with us.
“It’s complicated,” she answers, before lying back onto my carpet. “Besides, Shizune needs me for translating stuff and heavy lifting, I can’t let her down just to goof off with you.”
I cross my arms across my chest and pout, causing Shiina to laugh a bit more genuinely this time. I can’t keep it up for long though, she has a point. Hanging out with friends doesn’t get to take priority over important stuff like that. I’ve blown her off for stuff I find important too.
“Fine,” I stick out my tongue at her, “how is the council stuff anyway?”
Shiina sits back up and adjusts her blouse again; I think it’s too tight for her honestly.
“It’s going well! The Christmas market is in two weeks but Shizune and Lilly say we’re right on schedule!” It’s nice to see Shiina get so passionate about something, especially considering how down she just was.
“That reminds me!” She continues, before clasping my hands with her own. “I haven’t been to a festival here yet, and was wondering if maybe you’d like to join me?”
Her hands feel really warm, and though I used to think I was the master of the puppy-dog eyes , Shiina seems to have me beat. I smile back at her.
“Sure, I’d love too.”
Shiina practically explodes with excitement and pulls me into a tight hug. Considering the size of her chest, I practically get smothered, but it’s a nice feeling so I squeeze back. The hug probably goes on too long, but neither of us pull away for a few seconds, and when we do, she’s still smiling like a child.
Despite the excitement, I can’t help but let out a loud yawn, and Shiina sighs as she begins to get up.
“I guess it’s bed time then, huh?” She asks, and I solemnly nod in response.
Shiina leans down and gives me one more quick hug before opening my bedroom door; standing in the frame like that, with her long hair behind her, she really looks like a defiant princess.
“I’m so happy I have a friend like you, Emi,” she whispers, a big and cheesy grin on her face.
“Me too, I’m very lucky,” I reply, and with that she disappears into the hallway.
Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten to ask her to pass me my prosthetics that now taunt me from across the room.
I’m truly the luckiest girl in the world, right?
Even though I’m inside now, I can’t stop shivering. The cold has kind of snuck up on me, but it does that every year. I think it’s the early morning training that keeps me from noticing the changing seasons, but then WHAM! There’s ice on the pathways! It happens gradually, and then all at once.
I lift my elbow up and examine the scrape from this morning. You’d think that a School like Yamaku would invest in someone to salt the ground or something like that. Wait, is it actually salt they use to get rid of ice? Would it kill all the plants?
Shaking my head clear, I knock on Rin’s door. There’s no response from inside, which would have worried me when I first started helping her get ready in the morning last year.
“Wakey wakey Rin,” I announce as I enter her dorm room. It’s surprisingly clean, well, for her standards, and Rin is very clearly awake and lying on her bedroom floor. Somehow, she’s already got her trousers on.
“The sunlight was in my eyes,” she states blankly. Sure enough, her curtains are wide open, and the light has fallen almost perfectly on her bed.
“Why not shut the curtains then?” I ask, and I can already feel myself smiling.
“I didn’t want to get up.”
“But you rolled onto the floor.” I rebuttal, and Rin cranes her head forward to look at me. She isn’t wearing anything except her trousers, so she looks a bit weird from that angle.
“Which would be getting down.”
I laugh. I don’t really know how someone can be as funny as Rin without realising it.
“Okay,” I manage between laughs, “Let’s get you dressed for School today.”
I make my way behind her and stick my hands under her arms to hoist her up. She’s not very heavy, and I’m pretty much an iron-woman, so she stands up easily. We get her bra on, and I throw her shirt over her shoulders.
“Thanks,” she says.
“I’m not done yet,” I giggle, before pulling her shirt together. Halfway through, she gets distracted by a butterfly or something, and stares out of the window, so I shuffle around her to get the last buttons.
“You had a friend over again last night,” Rin states as I let go of her shirt. She looks at me like I’m not understanding her, “the cute one with the pretty hair.”
Rin can be oddly perceptive.
“Yes, well we’re friends Rin, friends sometimes hang out with each other in their rooms,” I pat her head, which is a bit of reach.
“Don’t do that,” she says, but doesn’t move an inch. “That’s not the same. You’re different with her than with me.”
I shrug, and withdraw my hand. It’s a bit early for this kind of conversation, not that I know where it’s going.
“Anyway, I should – “
“You should ask her out,” Rin states blankly. Like it’s a normal thing to say. Like it’s not totally mental.
For the first time since I’ve met Rin, I’m left speechless.
I need to get out of here, why are my cheeks so goddamn hot.
“I’m not a…” I quieten my voice, but I don’t really know why, “I’m not a lesbian Rin.”
She raises an eyebrow.
“Not th-that there’s anything wrong with being, uh, you know…”
“What?” Rin looks at me like I’m the one who brought this conversation up.
“Nothing Rin,” I reach to pat her head again, but she gives me a disapproving stare so I withdraw my hand. “I’m going to shower now, so see you at lunch okay?”
“Okay,” she mutters to herself before moving over to her window again.
I exit and lean against the wall. I just need a few seconds to catch my breath.
At least I’m not cold anymore.
I cross the hallway and enter my own room, before grabbing my towel and shower caddy and heading towards the showers. There are two showers on our floor, and four rooms, but besides Rin, I rarely see the other girls, so as usual, it’s empty when I arrive. I lower myself into the shower chair and remove my prosthetics before turning on the water. It takes a few moments to heat up, but the jet of cold water is refreshing after that conversation. My elbow quickly begins to sting as I soap up.
Why did Rin have to go put that thought in my head. I’m not gay, I haven’t been thinking about Shiina like… like…
It doesn’t matter! I don’t want to sleep with her, so that means I’m not gay! So that’s that!
I drop my head into my hands and let the water run over me.
I’m not so stupid as to think that sex is the only indication that you’re attracted to someone. Besides, it’s not like I’m…
What am I thinking?
Besides, I like the captain… He’s uh…
Oh God Rin. Why.
“Hi,” Shiina asks, stood in my doorway and looking a little nervous.
“Hey, what’s on the menu today then?” I ask, before moving out of her way and letting her into the room fully.
She holds up two DVDs, but I don’t recognise either of them. The age rating is drastically different between them, and she looks pretty proud of herself as she passes me.
“This is all I could find; did you know the Student Council has a bunch of old DVDs’ just sitting in the cupboard?” Shiina’s wonder at that fact is pretty cute, but it doesn’t really surprise me. I’m pretty sure that the Student Council was a glorified movie club last year, rather than an actual council.
We get comfortable, propping some pillows against my wall and sitting back onto the bed. After a bit of persuading, Shiina agrees to watch the older rated film, which looks like a low-budget horror flick, and after it’s put on, we settle into the usual chattering. I barely even notice the film start as she recalls her day, and the apparent labours that the Christmas Market preparation requires.
“You know, I’m sure Rin and I could help out a little, if you wanted?” I ask, just as a grotesque monster appears on the screen. Shiina hasn’t noticed it though, and she rubs her chin in thought.
“I’ll think about it, Shizune can be a bit… controlling,” she answers, but from her tone, I think there’s more to it than that. “Besides, you – WAH!”
She practically jumps onto me when she turns to face the screen, and I burst out laughing. I can smell her shampoo at this distance, but she doesn’t seem to realise how close she actually is. She certainly makes no effort to move.
“I didn’t know it was a horror film!” She exclaims, quite loudly, and again I’m sent laughing. She shifts upright, but doesn’t adjust the distance between us, so we’re practically touching shoulders.
“You don’t pay much attention, do you?” I joke, and prod her in the side. She pouts, and crosses her arms across her chest.
“I do too!” She rebuts, but her defiant look immediately crumbles into a frown. “Okay, maybe I’m a little bit spacy, but I try!” Once again, she’s looking at me instead of the film, which is probably a good thing, since the monster is back.
I poke her again, and jostles closer to me. She’s really comfortable to lean on, actually. I could get more comfortable though.
“Hey, do you mind if I take my legs off?” I ask, and Misha just gives me a smile. The first time I asked her that, she got all awkward and didn’t know where to look. It was cute.
I sit up and begin undoing the various mechanisms that keep my legs attached. Shiina’s watching the film again, but now she’s got a pillow held over her face so only her eyes are peaking out above it.
When I’m done, I shuffle back up to where I was and Shiina doesn’t make any effort to move back to her original position, which means we’re still kind of leaning on each other.
“Did you go running today?” she asks, but she’s still watching the film with nervous anticipation.
“Have I ever missed a day?” I reply and stick my tongue out, not that she sees it.
“I find it so impressive you know,” she says a little quietly, or maybe that’s just the pillow muffling her voice, I’m not sure.
“How dedicated you are to running,” she explains, this time facing me but still holding the pillow over her mouth.
I can feel the crimson in my cheeks, and now I’m the one looking away.
“Well…” I begin, but nothing else really comes out. I swallow hard, and breathe in deep. “I just love running is all, and you should dedicate yourself to the things you love!” I explain, but Shiina seems to notice how forced it is.
She looks at me for a few moments, as though I’ll cave and explain the real reason I run, or at least, the reason I take it so seriously.
“I wish I could be that dedicated to, well, anything,” she whispers.
“Hey, I’ve seen you sign, you’re dedicated to that!”
“No that’s not really… me…” she explains, but her sudden frown tells me to drop it.
“Why don’t you join me on the track?” I ask, but she immediately giggles now.
“I’m not exactly built for running, Emi.”
That kind of attitude frustrates me a bit, so I point down to my knees. A guilty look comes over Shiina. She starts to play with her long brown hair, twirling it round and round her finger like a child being told off.
“It’s okay if you don’t enjoy it, but don’t give me excuses,” I say, perhaps a bit too firmly. “I’m sorry,” I say.
“No, I’m sorry,” she mutters back, and I faintly feel her arm brush with mine.
The monster appears on screen again, and Shiina visibly tenses up.
I swallow hard again. I take a deep breath.
I slide my hand down Shiina’s arm until our fingers brush against one another. After a few playful brushes, our fingers entwine. Shiina relaxes from before, just as the monster savagely hurls one of the main characters across the room. She’s breathing quite loudly. Shit, I think I am too.
Occasionally, her fingers dance against mine, but she keeps her attention firmly on the film. The explosions and gunfire seem to keep her attention and ohmygod I’m staring at her.
I don’t think my cheeks have ever been this warm before. I’ve held hands with people before, like Mom, like… like Dad. I’ve even had a boyfriend before, even if we never kissed, we did at least hold hands. It didn’t feel like this though, it didn’t feel so… weird. Not bad weird, more like, like a rollercoaster kind of weird.
I need to calm down. We’re just friends. Sometimes, friends hold hands. It’s not that weird. It certainly doesn’t mean anything.
The film continues to play, though tonally it’s changed quite dramatically. There’s a lot of action, and even a romance element between the main characters. The dainty little girl is rescued by the jock type character, because of course she is, and the monster is driven into icy water where it freezes and sinks to the bottom of the ocean. The main characters kiss whilst explosions go off behind them and the army fly over with big helicopters.
What a crappy film.
Shiina seems to have enjoyed it however, as her eyes are still wide and she’s biting the nails on her free hand as the credits begin to roll. I didn’t think she was that invested, but I guess I was wrong.
“That romance plot came out of nowhere!” I say, and she turns to face me finally, an awkward grin on her face, but her hand still holding mine.
“I liked it,” she answers, “have you ever had a boyfriend?”
I swallow again. I wonder if she’s been thinking about the same stuff I have been. Her face doesn’t really betray anything.
“Yeah, once, but it didn’t really go anywhere.”
There’s a couple of moments of silence. Her thumb brushes over my nail.
“Have you?” I ask.
There another moment of silence, and this time my fingers squeeze her hand.
“No, I haven’t.”
Shiina stares out the window again, out into the dark, where the lights of the little town below Yamaku glisten and flicker in and out like lightening bugs.
“Do you want one?” I ask, but she doesn’t look back.
“I don’t know,” she exhales, “I just don’t really get why we have to make such a big deal about it. Like, I guess I just see… people. Not guys, not girls, just… people.”
I can’t say I’ve thought about this kind of thing too deeply. Well, I have, but only over the last few days. I guess I’ve never really had to; I’ve never met anyone I really considered, uh, attractive, I guess. I mean, there were some guys at my old school who, I think I was attracted too, but they weren’t anything special either. They were just… handsome, I guess, but that was it. Shouldn’t there be something more? Some feeling from inside?
“I think I understand,” I eventually say, but she isn’t looking at me. “I think I just want to find the one, whoever that is.”
Shiina exhales and leans back into me a bit. It’s gotten quite dark, and the light from the DVD player is pretty much the only thing keeping me vertical. Shiina seems to feel the same way, since she yawns loudly.
“Have you ever been in love?” She asks, and I immediately shake my head.
Shiina drops her head onto my shoulder, but keeps her eyes fixed on the window.
“I think I might be, yeah.”
My cheeks heat up.
Does she mean…
I swallow hard, twice, and try to calm myself down.
“I’m just so lucky to have a friend like you, Emi,” she says quietly, her hand still locked with mine.
Friends… yeah. Friends.
The credits fade to black, and the light from the DVD player fades too.
Shiina is really comfortable.
Friends, I think to myself.
I think about my ex. I think about Rin. I think about tomorrow.
Then I stop thinking altogether.