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Soft as Petals

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Arisa felt cheated.

 

She'd read stories about worlds where soulmates simply shared pain or their names were magically shown on each other's wrists. Where someone saw in black and white until they met their soulmate. Hell, she’d even read about people who had timers on their skin, leading up to when they met their other half!

 

If only the world she lived in could be that easy.

 

No; soulmates were a cruel, difficult thing to have. They weren't super common as it were, but they existed. Not everyone had a soulmate. In fact, the vast majority of the population didn't.

 

Clinics existed for those who did and wanted to be rid of the problem. And many people did - many preferred to not find or love their soulmate as opposed to the sensation of vomiting flower petals every other hour on the daily. To rid themselves of the feeling of thorns in their throat.

 

It sounded much more romanticized and painless than it was. Who knew coughing up something as soft and pretty as flower petals tore up a person's esophagus and made them bleed? Movies made it out to be some beautiful thing and non soul-bonded folk hyped it up and fawned over the concept.

 

She stared into the toilet she had just hacked up into, glaring at the petals that hadn't quite made their way inside. As though they were mocking her.

 

Slightly curled white petals scattered about her, almost shaped like rose petals but not quite. Some of them - the most recent - were speckled with scarlet. Arisa smudged the blood dripping down her chin with the back of her hand as she glared at them with contempt.

 

Of course she had a soulmate.

 

Of course life couldn’t be easy for her. Arisa had learned early that life wasn’t an easy thing. Especially for her… Couldn’t catch a damn break, it seemed.

 

Arisa, of all people, wanted nothing to do with this whole soulmate thing. She’d never thought it was romantic or sweet, the way soulmates dealt with their issues. It was the worst! Most of the time soulmates didn’t even meet, since vomiting flowers wasn’t exactly a way to automatically know who your soulmate was! And most of the time people got them removed because they were disruptive and painful.

 

She rubbed at her throat, suddenly feeling tired and torn up.

 

She picked up a relatively clean petal and felt the velvety softness of it between the tips of her fingers. How odd, she thought, that something so soft and fragile could rip up my throat like that.

 

Kasumi and the others didn’t even know this had been going on. She wanted to keep it that way. She would rather not worry them. Especially if she was just going to get the damn buds removed in the end. Knowing them, they might even try to convince her to keep them.

 

They were all in a different class, anyway. It’s not like they knew how much she ran off during class to go puke flora. She greatly considered not going to school anymore, like she did before… the damn flowers only started showing up after she’d started attending again.

 

She was terrified that her soulmate was nearby.

 

The flowers didn’t start until a person met their soulmate face to face, after all.

 

What if it’s someone in Poppin’ Party?

 

She rarely allowed herself to follow that thought. Didn’t want to indulge herself in the ideas of one of her friends being her soulmate. It couldn’t be that easy. Yet… she couldn’t stop from imagining Saya’s bright, warm smile when she thought of who her soulmate could possibly be.

 

It didn’t make any sense though, as Saya didn’t seem to be having the same problems Arisa was having. In fact it seemed like Arisa was the only one in either class that even showed signs of having the disease.

 

So, instead, she opted to suffer in silence as more and more white petals fluttered from her lungs. She endured flurries of ivory as petals cascaded from her tired, ragged throat in a whirlwind; a storm. Alone and in relative silence.

 

Tae seemed to know something was up; she was much more observant than people gave her credit for. She seemed to just… know things, somehow. It was both odd yet endearing. But she’d been giving Arisa the side eye more and more frequently as her condition worsened.

 

The amount of times she’d been forced to excuse herself from their band practice sessions was increasing, she was loathe to admit. She was just glad she wasn’t the vocalist of the group! And while the others just worried she was overworking herself or getting sick, Tae seemed to be reserved with her concern.

 

“Arisa?” Tae voiced her thoughts one afternoon. The two of them were alone - a rare occurrence - as they waited on the others to arrive. “Are you hiding something from us?”

 

The girl in question grunted, trying not to let her surprise show through. She rubbed at her throat, not really thinking about it before waving off her bandmate.

“Nothing’s wrong, O-Tae. Don’t worry about it.”

 

“But I am worried.” Tae’s face was stern, serious. More so than Arisa could remember it being. “And so are the others.”

 

“Geh…” Of course they’d been talking about it. There was no way they weren’t all concerned with her, after running off all the time. Probably didn’t help when she refused to comment on it, either. “It’s… not that big of a deal.”

 

Tae gave her a piercing look before allowing the conversation to deviate away from dangerous territory. Arisa just didn’t want the others to be weirded out with her… like she was some sort of diseased, condition-ridded freak.

 

She’d been looking into clinics that offered removal services… But she found herself hesitating every time she went to call to make an appointment. As much as she wanted to permanently rid herself of these accursed petals… she still found herself wanting that connection with someone. And thus she found herself exploring the idea of being in love. As if someone would want to be in love with a person like her.

 

Saya had been showing signs of weariness in the times following Arisa’s confrontation with Tae. She had unusual bags under her eyes and her smiles didn’t quite reach her eyes, the way they always did. The way they were supposed to.

 

The girl immediately confided in the band, taking comfort in the support and presence of her friends. The exact opposite of Arisa…

 

“I think I have a soulmate,” Saya admitted one late afternoon as everyone packed up instruments and wrapped up the evening.

 

Arisa felt her heart lurch towards her throat, feeling the itch that pricked her lungs every time she so much as glanced in Saya’s direction. She looked up at her, dismayed.

 

The others gathered around, chittering excitedly.

 

“Oooh!” Kasumi’s voice was bubbly and thrilled. “Do you know who they are? What flowers are you growing?”

 

Saya laughed lightly, a lovely sound, as she entertained Kasumi’s prodding questions. “I don’t know who they are… But I’ve been coughing up daisy petals for a few weeks now. Sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, but I needed to let you guys know.”

 

“How do you know they’re daisies?” Arisa found herself piping up, almost against her will. She ignored the itching at the back of her throat as Saya’s sky blue eyes met her gaze.

 

“Oh, that’s the easy part.” Saya offered a smile, though it seemed confused as she rubbed at her own neck. “There’s lots of sites with flower languages and soulmate flower identifiers and stuff like that.”

 

“Oh…” Arisa hadn’t ever thought of that… She wondered what her own white petals were and what they meant.

 

“Yeah,” Saya continued, “I guess daisies mean purity, innocence, and true love. It’s so cute! I really want to meet them…”

 

Arisa ignored Rimi and Kasumi squealing and cooing as she stared right at Saya. She felt the burbling of petals building in her chest, dying to be let free. Before she could think - before she could even consider rushing out - she found herself in a coughing fit.

 

The others were around her immediately as she curled in on herself, her face in the crook of her elbow as she fought against the flurry of pain that battered against her gullet. She couldn’t see the bewildered expressions the others had as she hacked up petal after alabaster petal.

 

Saya stared at her with open awe. She moved, resting to a stop in front of her. Arisa’s skin burned as Saya’s gentle yet calloused hand grasped her wrist.

 

“Arisa?”

 

She couldn’t answer - she couldn’t breathe - as her coughing fit only worsened with the searing touch of Saya’s skin against her own.

 

Hands cupped her cheeks as she was forced to look into Saya’s eyes. The other girl had begun coughing herself, a single white petal resting on the bottom of her lip. It was thinner, more narrow than Arisa’s own thick petals… Not curled, but just as white.

 

The other members of Poppin’ Party seemed glued to their spots, unsure of how to proceed.

 

“Arisa?” she heard Saya’s voice, low and gentle, murmur by her ear. She felt her heart jolt and clench at their proximity. “Do… I guess this is a silly question, but do you have a soulmate?”

 

Arisa tried her best to glare, not quite succeeding as her eyes were watery.

 

“Is it me?” Saya asked in a tone that was too hopeful for Arisa’s comfort. As though she’d love nothing more for that to be true. As though being Arisa’s soulmate was something so desirable. “Are these gardenias for me?”

 

“You even know these ones too?” Arisa managed to get out, her voice shaky and cracked. “How much time did you spend researching this shit?”

 

“Gardenias… ‘They symbolize purity and sweetness. They indicate secret love. They convey joy. They tell the receiver they are lovely’.”

 

Arisa felt her cheeks brighten considerably as she grumbled, “Didn’t even answer my question…”

 

Saya grinned at her, something smug and teasing. “Do you think I’m lovely, Arisa?”

 

And, in a moment of sudden boldness, Arisa said, “Who wouldn’t?”

 

It was rare to see Saya’s cheeks bloom with the colors of spring, but Arisa found herself being treated to it. What a lovely sight it was… Arisa felt the aching of her lungs fade with the warmth of love as she went to swipe at the tears that had sprung from the seas of Saya’s eyes.

 

“Don’t cry, dummy…” Arisa chided halfheartedly. “I’m sorry for not saying anything sooner…”

 

She squeaked in surprise as Saya wrapped her into her arms, slender yet strong. Saya was openly crying as she said, “You’re always trying to take everything on by yourself…” her voice warbling.

 

“I know… I’m sorry.”

 

“I love you,” Saya said, as though they were the only ones in the room.

 

Arisa felt the thorns in her throat, in her lungs, wither in her chest as she was brought into a kiss as soft as petals.