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Anomaly

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Kokoro Tsurumaki was the absolute worst roommate in the entire universe and nothing was going to convince Misaki otherwise.

It wasn’t as if she hadn’t prepared herself to get matched with someone that wasn’t, well… of similar personality. She knew the risks when she signed herself up for placements and didn’t specify who she wanted to room with. She’d volunteered, even, to be the odd man out amongst her other friends from Tokyo, who were all paired up with one another.

What she wouldn’t give now to swap with Arisa, who’d landed perfect roommate Sayo Hikawa. It was bound to be the quietest, most organized room on the entire campus. Even Moca would have been ideal in comparison, despite her neverending well of sarcasm and internet based jokes. At least Maya would actually understand her references, she supposed.

It’d only been one singular week since Misaki had set foot into her dorm for the first time ever, suitcase dragging behind her and a terrible, ominous feeling in her gut. Kokoro had already moved herself in, long blonde hair whipping around as she spun her desk chair in circles with her arms up as if she were on a rollercoaster or something and not in a place of higher learning.

That was the first time they’d seen each other, and the moment Misaki knew she’d made a terrible, terrible mistake. No words had been spoken, but Misaki felt like god himself had reached down through the universe and patted her on the head, out of sympathy, as her backpack fell off her shoulder and slumped to the floor.

A hand had shot out at the sound of the bag dropping, catching the corner of a desk and halting the furious spinning instantaneously. It was as if time had slowed down in those terrifying seconds, allowing Misaki to reflect on her life leading up until now. Had she done something wrong to deserve this? Did karma exist after all? She hadn’t even know what she was supposed to be afraid of, but she just was . She could feel it.

She would never, ever forget that day. The sun, melting gold across the hardwood floors and up the walls and over long shimmering hair. The glittering, bright yellow irises that flicked her way before she could even think of what to say.

And that smile, wide and brighter than it had any right to be.

Misaki had wanted nothing more than to wipe it right off her face.

---

“Are you sure you want to try and switch? It’s only been like two weeks,” Arisa told her as she flipped through a notebook.

They were sat together outside at a picnic style bench, thankful for the decent weather.

“Like, what if you get a worse roommate?”

Misaki sighed and picked at her bag of chips.

“I don’t think that’s possible. There’s no recovering from this.”

“You’re gonna kill the mood and we only just sat down, you know.”

“What mood?” Misaki glared at her. “Ecology is a mood now?”

Arisa ignored her tone, digging through her bag for a pen instead. Stray leaves fluttered down around them and Misaki swatted them away. Everything felt annoying now, since she’d met her living headache.

“You haven’t even told us about her, besides that you’d rather die than hang out in your room.”

Pen obtained, Arisa had begun underlining notes and adding tiny diagrams Misaki didn’t understand to the margins of her notebook. She was such a go-getter that she sometimes even almost kind of motivated Misaki to do literally anything.

Motivation - the bane of someone with an undecided major.

“We haven’t talked much,” Misaki crossed her arms. “Or at least I haven’t. I don’t think she’s stopped talking to breathe since I showed up.”

“Then how do you know you don’t like her?” Arisa continued her work without looking up.

“Half my room looks like a circus threw up in it.”

“I don’t know how to envision that but it can’t be that bad.”

But it was that bad. Everything Kokoro owned was either bright red or bright yellow, and she owned a lot of shit. Her bed was adorned with an excessive amount of pillows and stuffed animals, and she had so many articles of clothing that they spilled out of the drawers and scattered themselves across the floor.

She’d never once seen a proper writing utensil either - only crayons, dozens of them. A pricey laptop. Designer shoes and handbags. An old CD player covered in neon ninety-nine yen store stickers. She made no sense at all.

“I can’t even describe it to you but I don’t want to bring you over in case she’s there. She’ll never stop talking,” Misaki groaned and dragged a palm down her face. “Do you ever have regrets?”

“I don’t even know why you came with us to Kyoto to be honest.”

Misaki flicked her head around and spotted Sayo walking through the grass.

“To die.”

“Clearly,” Sayo stopped beside the table, but didn’t sit down.

“I think you should give her a chance,” Arisa went on. “We didn’t like Sayo when we met her either and now she moved here to hang out with us.”

Sayo’s eyes darted away for a moment. “I came here for education.”

“It’s nice to know you care about us,” Misaki quipped.

“Likewise,” Sayo nodded. “Is your roommate really that terrible?”

Misaki hunched over further in her seat, if it were possible. “I’m not having the same conversation twice. Just trust me when I say it’s bad, alright?”

“Yeah but you’re also the most pessimistic person we’ve ever met,” Arisa tapped her pen against her notebook, “so I think our doubt is totally valid.”

“I just want to have like ten minutes of peace and quiet where I’m not asleep or something,” Misaki muttered.

“Well good luck I guess.”

“Thanks, I can really feel your concern.”

“I think you’re being petty,” Sayo contributed unhelpfully. “I’ve lived with Hina for my entire life until now. I just had to deal with it.”

There was a moment of silence wherein Misaki considered what she should say next. It was obvious her friends just didn’t understand what Kokoro truly was, and so naturally they would pick on her for being a baby about a college roommate, who was another adult just like herself. She still didn’t feel like an adult though, even though she was technically out on her own for the first time.

Adults had to make decisions and think about the future. And graduate, probably.

Hina was pretty socially unaware, so Sayo did sort of kind of have a point. She and Arisa had heard countless earfuls of stories from Sayo about her struggles in dealing with her remarkably stunted (emotionally) twin.

But also, Misaki had a choice. She could just ask to be placed with someone else, and it wasn’t likely she’d be denied if she explained what was going on. Sayo couldn’t escape Hina without leaving home, but Misaki could absolutely escape Kokoro in the very near future.

The light wind rustled the leaves in the trees and Misaki stood up.

“I’ll request to be moved tomorrow. I’ve just got a bad vibe, you know?”

“Isn’t everything a bad vibe to you?”

Misaki gave Arisa a half-hearted glare before plucking her bag out of the grass and swinging it over her shoulder.

“I’ll see you later.”

Sayo waved her goodbye, while Arisa didn’t even look up from her notes.

The trek back to her building was long and lonely, but at least the sun was shining. On her way she sent a text off to Maya, secretly hoping she might be free so they could hang out and Misaki could play keep away with herself for as long as humanly possible.

Sure she had homework already, but she didn’t have to do that in her room. Although she did need her laptop, which was in her room. And she was kind of still hungry even after finishing off her chips. Her food was in there. Everything not in her backpack at the moment was in there.

Reluctantly and without a reply to her text, Misaki pushed through the front doors of her building and fished around in her pocket for her keys.

The walk to her door was much too short, she decided as she found herself standing outside of it already. Her arm refused to move, as if it knew she would have to mentally prepare herself before unlocking the door and bearing witness to whatever Kokoro was up to inside. She couldn’t hear anything coming from the other side at least. Maybe she could sneak in, grab what she wanted, and slip back out without being noticed.

Eventually, she did open the door.

Nobody was there.

She slipped her shoes off and found herself trying her best to be silent anyway, steps light and cautious as she made her way to her desk.

As expected, Kokoro’s half of the room was littered with… well, everything. Her bed was left unmade, pillows and stuffed animals barely escaping a cruel fate of being tossed to the floor. A mix of clothing and scattered pages with barely legible notes spread across the hardwood and somehow, up onto her desk. Dozens of CD cases had taken over any space that might have otherwise been used to house textbooks.

There was a new addition, Misaki observed. A string of lights was haphazardly pinned half to the ceiling and half to the wall above Kokoro’s bed, something they definitely weren’t allowed to do. Getting faculty to let her change rooms was going to be a piece of cake.

For a moment, she allowed herself to sit down at her own desk and breathe a sigh of relief. It was so… quiet.

The door swung open again and her dreams were shattered in the span of seconds.

“Misaki!” A voice called from the door. “You’re here!”

Misaki could hear Kokoro kicking her shoes off as the door slammed behind her; she could hardly bare to look, and yet she did anyway.

“I live here,” She responded automatically, as if she were talking to Moca instead.

Not for long , she thought to herself, fully intending to carry out her plan.

Kokoro tossed her backpack carelessly onto her mess of a bed and then hopped up onto it herself, swinging her legs back and forth over the edge. Her feet just barely touched the floor.

“What have you been up to today?”

Misaki sighed. She didn’t know how to respond - or rather how to not respond. Flat out ignoring her had accomplished essentially nothing so far. Maybe it was worth answering, with intentions to finish the conversation before it even began. It wasn’t like Kokoro was going to stop pestering her either way.

Kokoro didn’t even wait for an answer though.

“I had class all day, it was kinda boring. I thought it would be more fun here because at my house there’s nobody to talk to, but we aren’t supposed to talk in class.”

At her house? Was she homeschooled or something?

“Hmmm,” Kokoro hummed to herself. “I have homework but maybe I’ll do it later. I just feel like doing something exciting after all those classes in a row, you know?”

Misaki bit her lip.

“Do you have any ideas? I don’t really know what you do when you’re gone anyways. I bet it’s better than sitting around in here, whatever it is. I just don’t know what to do, so I can never make up my mind and then before I know it I’ve just been in here all day!”

Kokoro’s duvet puffed up as she fell backwards into it, legs still kicking back and forth.

“Oh!” Misaki watched Kokoro point up, as if she’s only just noticed her very own lights that she’d literally put up herself. “Did you see these? Do you like them?”

“We aren’t supposed to put pins in the walls.”

God, Arisa was right, wasn’t she? Misaki was just as depressing as everyone made her out to be. This time she had good reason though, right?

Kokoro shrugged awkwardly against her bed. “I’ll just get someone to fix it later.”

“Don’t you think you should fix it now?” Misaki felt like she was scolding some kid and not someone her own age.

“Well,” Kokoro sat up, “I like it the way it is. I think everyone should put up lights like this. Don’t you think they’re wonderful?”

Turning away to face her desk, Misaki rubbed at her temple. She could sense the impending headache. Any time now.

“You still never said what you got up to today. But as long as you enjoyed yourself then I wonder if it matters?”

“It doesn’t,” Misaki snapped, regret following her tone. As annoyed as she was, she had no reason to be genuinely mean. She didn’t consider herself to be an inconsiderate person, after all.

She looked back at Kokoro, who appeared nothing more than passive.

“You’re right. As long as you’re happy, that’s good,” Kokoro nodded to herself.

The silence that followed was uncomfortable to say the least. Misaki found herself eyeing Kokoro as her bright eyes darted around, not looking at anything in particular. The conversation was over. They could stop now. And yet… the little Arisa that lived on Misaki’s shoulder was whispering in her ear.

Give her a chance , she said.

She wasn’t wrong , Misaki supposed. She really hadn’t bothered to learn very much about her eccentric housemate. Whether or not she wanted to, she didn’t know. She would be gone soon anyway.

“I hung out with my friends at lunch.”

There. A real answer. It made her feel a little less bad about how snippy she was being.

Kokoro’s attention flew back to her in an instant.

“Oh, really? That sounds like fun! What’s it like?”

Misaki’s eyebrows rose. “What’s it like?” She repeated. “What do you mean?”

Grin returned to her face, Kokoro’s legs began kicking back and forth once more.

“Hanging out with friends. I’ve only got one, but it sounds nice to have a whole bunch!”

Misaki blinked. Was she following the conversation correctly? Kokoro had to be like, almost twenty if not early twenties. The concept of not having met more than one human she could get along with was baffling.

“You have one friend? Do you mean here?” Misaki felt her voice slow down, as if her brain knew she was meant to tread carefully in this new and confusing territory.

Kokoro nodded. “Yeah, I didn’t meet her that long ago and we don’t talk a lot. But I think she listens to me sometimes at least.”

Alright. So the annoying girl who talked forever only made like, one friend. It seemed kind of fitting, as much as Misaki hated to think of it that way. Tolerance for other humans could only stretch so far. Knowing that though, the words still tugged at her heart. Only a little.

Misaki slumped in her chair. “You should spend more time with her then. I’m sure she’s happy to have you around.”

A ploy, perhaps, for sanity’s sake.

Kokoro gave her a curious look, head tilted. She leaned back a little, resting her palms on her bed sheets.

“I’m trying, but you’re hardly ever here, Misaki!”

Misaki found herself opening her mouth, with no words to put out. What could she even say to that? It was clear there was some kind of miscommunication going on between them. Some rift, vast and bottomless, split right down the middle of the room.

The pause at those puzzling words might have lasted hours, Misaki wasn’t sure. She couldn’t deal with something like this. She wasn’t prepared. She wanted to hang out with Maya instead.

And so, she said nothing.

She turned away, opened her laptop and resigned herself to an evening of homework and an early bedtime.

Behind her, Kokoro hummed to herself.

---

Three days later, Misaki still hadn’t talked to anyone about moving. Or rather, she’d tried at least once, but the wait to actually talk to anyone was too long for her liking, and she’d resolved to do it another day.

Avoiding Kokoro was more difficult than before, because now she actually felt genuine guilt about doing it. None of their classes lined up, at least, so it was the in between time she had to worry about.

Misaki herself had returned to not talking mode, while Kokoro had been continuing on as she had been since day one. Telling Misaki about her day, what she did in class, what she ate for dinner. Anything and everything, Misaki was learning it regardless of whether or not she wanted to.

The new problem, she found, was that she wasn’t actually sure what she should be doing. She was a good person. But she still had her limits.

If she waited long enough, Kokoro was bound to make new friends who actually were her friends. She’d be fine if Misaki left. Surely.

As it so happened, the new friends Kokoro took it herself upon to make… were Misaki’s.

She came around at lunch one day, when they were all sat at the picnic table outside in the waning shade.

Misaki seized up from her spot between Arisa and Moca as Kokoro approached them, broad smile and lunch box in hand.

“I take it that’s her?” Arisa whispered, no doubt feeling the sudden tension that came to rest between all of them.

Misaki could only nod, lips pursed.

She skipped as she closed in, golden yellow hair billowing behind her, reflecting the sun and just about glowing. Her cheeks were rosy, eyes bright as always. Very bright. She was so bright.

So loud, so obnoxious.

“Hi, Misaki!”

Everyone at the table turned to look at her along with Kokoro. The attention was unbearable.

As if sensing that Misaki was debating whether to get up and walk away, Moca broke the thickening ice.

“Oh, did you invite your new friend to eat with us today? You should have said something, Moca-chan would have dressed nicer~”

“I-I...” Misaki stuttered, gaze still fixed on Kokoro. “I… did you need something?”

Well, that didn’t sound so good. What else was she supposed to say though?

Kokoro shook her head in response. “Not need . But I want to meet your friends. They’re all you talk about! Well, when you do talk, anyway.”

“Misaki-chan’s a real downer, ain’t she?” Moca droned.

Kokoro laughed at that. “I don’t think so. Not on the inside anyway.”

“What does that mean?” Misaki gave Moca a deliberate shove with her shoulder.

Little more than a shrug and a smile was her answer.

“Anyone else getting awkward vibes here?” Maya piped up.

“Yes,” Misaki spoke quickly, still eyeing Kokoro warily. “Don’t you have homework to do or something?”

“Yeah, but I have lunch to eat first. Who wants to do homework on an empty stomach?”

Moca slapped the table with her open palm. “Exactly. Moca-chan’s with the weirdo on this one.”

“Is that why you never do your work, Aoba-san?” Sayo glared at her. “Because you’re always hungry?”

“Very perceptive, Sayo. I’m a genius anyways, so it’s okay if one or two assignments are a little late, right?”

“You mean all of them?” Maya raised her eyebrows. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you turn something in.”

Misaki had ignored the exchange for the most part, instead following Kokoro’s eyes as they darted between her friends. Her smile was… unsettling. As if it was just there because she didn’t really understand what was happening.

Wordlessly, Kokoro wormed her way between Sayo and Maya and sat herself down right across from Misaki.

Sayo looked as if she didn’t know what she was supposed to do, while Maya put forth a nervous laugh, moving aside regardless.

“You guys are funny,” Kokoro told them as she set down her lunch. “No wonder Misaki is friends with you all, I could listen for hours!”

“You want to listen to us one-up each other for hours?” Arisa wrinkled her nose, but didn’t sound anything close to hostile. The reaction wasn’t… quite was Misaki was expecting.

“You can’t just sit here?” Misaki offered her own suggestion, trailing off into something that sounded more like a question. She still couldn’t really believe this was happening to begin with.

Kokoro pulled out her chopsticks. “Oh, but I’m already sitting? It wasn’t that hard. I just… sat down,” She glanced at the bench beneath her.

Moca stifled a laugh while Sayo chose to simply look in the opposite direction.

“She isn’t wrong, Misaki-chaaan,” Moca tapped her temple. “It’s not hard to sit down at all.”

Misaki sighed. She felt as though she was being ganged up on, but really it was more like she was fighting a losing battle with someone who she already knew had a poor understanding of reason. Moca wasn’t helping, and neither was anyone else.

It was just so awkward . The atmosphere. Kokoro, who was still happily glancing back and forth between her new company while she stuffed her face. Misaki herself, even.

“So, what’s everyone been up to? Anything fun?”

“Kokoro, you should-” Misaki had been about to say something along the lines of ‘go’ or ‘leave’, but Arisa, of all people, had something else in mind.

“Nothing too exciting, unless you think school is fun.”

“I enjoy class,” Sayo spoke up, carefully returning to the conversation.

“Because you’re a huge nerd,” Moca crossed her arms and rested her head on the table. “A big lame-o, just like Ran.”

“I like class too!” Kokoro’s eye lit up, even brighter if it was possible. “We get to learn a lot of new things. Sometimes it’s boring but mostly I like it.”

Misaki felt herself slowly giving up. She considered leaving, but that would be like… losing, or something. Kokoro’s face was glowing. Like it was all she could see. Did she have to be so cheerful all the time about absolutely everything?

“You remind me of Kasumi,” Arisa pointed a chopstick in Kokoro’s direction. “You don’t know her, do you?”

“I don’t know anyone,” Kokoro replied, happy tone unchanged. “Who’s Kasumi? Another friend?”

Arisa shook her head. “My girlfriend, back home in Tokyo. I have a feeling you both have the same… thought process.”

Of course . Misaki, being friends with Arisa, had encountered Kasumi many a time. She was a ball of energy and a bit of a ditz, the kind of person that tired Misaki out within minutes. How Arisa dealt with her or even liked her was beyond Misaki’s comprehension. They just didn’t make sense together.

Much to Misaki’s horror, the conversation actually continued. Really it was more like Kokoro was having a conversation at her friends, and they were half heartedly responding to her every now and then. So, she resolved to do nothing as per usual. Her half eaten lunch remained half eaten, and the shade inched slowly away from them. The table warmed beneath her hands as the sun came around, vision hazy as she zoned out into what felt like an incoming headache.

In the center was a flash of yellow, sitting across from her and waving her arms back and forth. She’d have to quit being so lazy sometime soon and get herself the hell out of this situation. Kokoro was just so loud. And shiny.

“... right Misaki?

“Hm?” Misaki blinked and shook her head. Was Kokoro talking to her again?

“I was just saying, it’s fun being roommates. Right Misaki?”

In the time Misaki had spent zoned out, sunlight had coated Kokoro’s smiling form, lighting up her long choppy hair and making Sayo lean a bit to the right to get away from it. She wanted to say no, she really did, but seeing how happy she was…

Misaki was not a mean person. She was a good person. Honest. Mostly.

“If you say so.”

As always, she was met with a grin, wider than the last. How confusing.

It was after she smiled that Kokoro packed up the remainder of her lunch and left for a class, giving everyone a wave and a “nice to meet you” on her way out. Relief flooded Misaki’s mind and she let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. A long, tired one.

“So that was bad,” Sayo muttered. “But it could have been worse.”

Maya nodded. “From the way you described her I was expecting someone way more difficult. She just seems happy?”

"You’re the most optimistic person at this table,” Misaki argued, “I don’t think you have a single pessimistic bone in your body.”

“I think she’s great. Real easy to get under Misaki-chan’s skin using our new friend,” Moca wiggled her eyebrows, leaning back in her seat to stretch her arms above her head. “Way too easy.”

“Yes, very funny.”

“You think she’ll come back?” Arisa nudged Misaki with her elbow.

“Highly likely. We should probably sit somewhere else. Anyway, I have class soon and I already feel exhausted,” Misaki lifted her hat up for a moment to scratch her head. “I’m out.”

She gathered her things and walked away, in the direction opposite the one Kokoro had skipped off in.

She was half way to class before she noticed Arisa had fallen into step beside her.

“So what was that about?”

“What? Kokoro? She just does whatever. Hopefully you get what I mean now.”

Arisa hummed. “I get why you haven’t moved yet.”

Misaki stopped and stared at her, repositioning her bag on her shoulder.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I was born with eyes, you know.”

“Congratulations, do you want a prize?” It wasn’t often Arisa could work her up about anything, they got on really well. The short lived encounter with the blonde bomb had already soured her mood though, and she wasn’t up for subtleties.

Arisa rolled her eyes. “I mean, you were staring at her the whole time. Like you just checked out looking directly at her.”

Misaki nearly choked on her own tongue. “Are you kidding me? You’re crazy.”

She turned her back on Arisa and kept walking, but her friend caught up with her slow strides easily.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you do that before. It was freaky.”

“It was nothing. You’re just projecting your own girlfriend onto someone you don’t even know.”

“You’re right,” Misaki was stopped suddenly, by Arisa’s hand grabbing her forearm, “none of us know her. I’m not saying she’s not a totally annoying nutcase or anything, but if Kasumi’s taught me anything it’s that anyone deserves a chance.”

“You sound like my mom.”

“Yeah it’s gross. Just don’t forget when we all gave each other chances, too.”

She was referring to their little friend group of course. Before meeting each other, Arisa had been nothing more than a hermit who rarely attended school until she joined a band. Sayo was a scary member of the discipline committee with a sibling complex and a resting bitch face. Moca a delinquent with perfect grades, Maya found squeezing herself under a couch in the studio Arisa’s band frequented.

And Misaki had been, well… lonely. Lonely, and fresh off the turmoil of her parents divorcing, among other things.

They were all a little strange.

Misaki took her arm back.

“I’ll think about it.”

And she left Arisa behind beneath the trees.

---

Tonight, Misaki was absolutely going to cut Kokoro off, no ifs, ands, or buts. She’d crossed a line by sitting with her and her friends earlier, and Arisa had crossed another even more ridiculous line not soon after.

Things were going to get out of hand if she didn’t do something soon.

Misaki was sat up in her bed, picking at an essay on her laptop on and off. Across from her was the mess that Kokoro called her own bed, full of beady-eyed stuffed animals that had nothing better to do than take up space and stare endlessly at her. The twinkling fairy lights were on, still pinned to the wall.

Kokoro was in the washroom, humming to herself, until she wasn’t. She waltzed out with a toothbrush in her mouth wearing nothing more than her undies and a bright yellow t-shirt, smiling around the bubbles that threatened to spill from her mouth.

Misaki focused intently on her laptop, wondering where Kokoro’s modesty was and when was the soonest she could get it back.

“Mwisakiii!” Kokoro slurred as she shoved her toothbrush around, practically vibrating as she paced back and forth across the room. “I had swo much fwun todway!”

“Great.”

Misaki hadn’t meant to reply, it just kind of came out automatically. She was still typing away, hesitant to give Kokoro any sort of attention at all.

“Isn’t it?” She pulled her toothbrush out of her mouth. “You have so many friends! Arisa seems nice. Sayo was a little grumpy but at least she thinks school is fun.”

“Can you go spit out your toothpaste before you get it on what little floor we have left?”

Misaki paused for a moment and nodded downwards, to where Kokoro’s wardrobe lived.

“Oh, sorry.”

She skipped away for a few seconds, and returned just as quickly. She practically leapt onto her bed and the duvet fluffed up around her, stuffed animals flying every which way as she rolled over and sat up to face Misaki.

Misaki looked up at her, just for a moment. She was smiling like always.

“You could stand to clean up your mess at some point, y’know.”

Kokoro looked from Misaki to the floor, once, twice, and then shrugged.

“I don’t usually have to do that myself. I guess nobody does it for you here?”

Misaki blinked. “Huh?”

“At home there are nice ladies who clean up for me. I never have to worry about a thing!”

“You have… you have maids?”

Kokoro tapped her chin. “Oh, well I kind of imagine them more as almost friends. They’re nice to talk to but they’re all way older than me.”

Right. Kokoro has maids. People who clean up after her. How old is she anyway? She must have come here right out of high school or something, based on how naive she was about literally everything including social awareness.

“I think your friend likes me, the one who called herself Moca-chan.”

There was a pang of something Misaki couldn’t identify somewhere in her chest. Moca had very obviously been making fun of her.

“Moca isn’t easy to get along with.”

“What makes you say that?”

Misaki leaned her head back against the wall and sighed. “She was just poking fun at you to bother me.”

Kokoro crossed her legs and bit her lip, for a single moment slipping out of the sunny disposition she hadn’t yet lost since day one. Her eyes trailed down, as if she were thinking on something for a barely existent second. She looked back up at Misaki, smile at half mast.

“It’s better than nothing, isn’t it?”

Her unexpected response left Misaki gripping at her bed sheets, essay suddenly forgotten. Grey irises followed the outline of choppy golden bangs, as if Kokoro’s somewhat solemn expression would help her find her words.

Kokoro continued without her input.

“I really mean it. I’ve never done anything like that before. Like, hanging out with so many friends.”

She tilted her head to the side as if in thought.

“It’s always been hard for me to make friends. You have some pretty good ones, so you’re really lucky.”

Misaki’s hands closed her laptop on their own.

“You don’t even know them.”

As soon as the words left her mouth, Misaki felt like she’d shot herself in the foot. She could feel Arisa’s fingers pressing into her arm again, urging her to give the girl who wouldn’t shut up a real, genuine chance before brushing her off forever.

Misaki didn’t know Kokoro and Kokoro didn’t know her.

“I don’t know you that well either,” Kokoro stole the words from her brain, “but isn’t getting to know each other the fun part?”

The irritating brightness from earlier returned full force. Maybe if Misaki didn’t sleep facing the wall, she’d see Kokoro glowing in the dark from under her blankets at night.

How was she supposed to bail now? Would Kokoro even understand what happened if she left? The questions grew more plentiful with each passing second.

The thought crossed her mind that perhaps she could find someone to swap with her, instead of leaving Kokoro alone. That would be much less cruel. If only Kasumi had come along with them, but then again she’d probably stay with Arisa.

“You probably don’t want to get to know me that well,” Misaki muttered. “I’m not very exciting.”

“You’re mysterious,” Kokoro replied, grin slowly returning. The uncomfortable moment had passed. “And you look really mad all the time. You should tell me why one day, okay?”

The conversation had ended there, with Misaki folding herself into her blankets and flicking off her reading lamp. Kokoro had sent her a good night, and as usual she wasn’t inclined to respond. Those words had done something to her in that moment, made her stomach drop.

Misaki would keep herself to herself, that was certain.

It was her uncertainty that kept her awake, long into the night. She had no idea where it was coming from, but it existed somewhere deep inside, where she rarely wandered. It was best to ignore it.

---

On a bright afternoon, where the sun was shining in through the balcony doors, Kokoro accosted Misaki by shoving a piece of paper in her face.

She recognized it as the math exam she’d just barely passed by the skin of her teeth, narrowly avoiding failure. She wasn’t stupid, she just lacked motivation. It manifested itself in her schoolwork, which made sense.

What didn’t make sense, in this very moment, was Kokoro’s perfect grade. Not one single mistake? How could it be possible?

“Look, I got them all right! Isn’t that wonderful?”

Kokoro pulled her exam back and gave it a look filled with determination.

“I didn’t even know I was this smart. What did you get, Misaki?”

Misaki’s eye twitched and she slumped in her desk chair.

“I passed.”

Kokoro put her hands on her hips. “Well that’s good too. Sometimes that’s all you need, you know?”

Misaki did know, passing had been her entire high school career. Aimless and fruitless. She lacked interest, and in turn it sapped her of any drive she had to succeed. Everything in moderation sometimes proved to be too little.

She wasn’t really in the mood to talk to Kokoro, but it wasn’t likely she would be given a choice.

The girl in question spun her own chair around and hopped onto it backwards, swinging her legs out the sides.

“You look upset. You didn’t do as well as you wanted?”

Misaki couldn’t rip her eyes away from the paper in her hand. Her grade wasn’t what bothered her.

“I don’t care about that.”

Misaki leaned to one side, resting her elbow on the arm of her chair and propping her chin up with her hand.

“But you’re not happy?” Kokoro prodded, eyebrows furrowed in concentration.

“It’s not about happiness. I mean, the problem is that I don’t care.”

Misaki had no idea why she was even entertaining Kokoro to begin with. Perhaps it just went hand in hand with the lingering thoughts of giving up in the back of her mind.

“Hmm, I don’t really get it.”

Misaki closed her eyes for a moment, to make the world around her go away.

“You and me both.”

She spun a little in her chair, pushing herself back and forth with her foot. Kokoro hummed at her, presumably satisfied with the answer she’d gotten, and flipped herself around in her own chair, which she could no longer spin about in thanks to the mess gradually piling up under her desk.

For the first time, Misaki felt voluntary words at the tip of her tongue as she realized she wasn’t quite done talking yet. To Kokoro? Maybe? Or, perhaps just in general as she finally put into words what she’d been feeling apprehension about for so long. Not caring was manifesting itself into less of an idea and more of a reality. It was distressing.

“Maybe this was a mistake,” Misaki said to herself, in front of Kokoro.

The sunny girl leaned forward in her seat, golden locks falling over her shoulders.

“What’s a mistake? You have this real sad look on your face right now.”

Misaki ignored her second comment and carried on with verbalizing her thought.

“Coming here. Without really knowing why? I don’t know. I’m probably just wasting money I don’t have.”

“How can you use money when you don’t have it? Ah, It’s hard for me to keep up with you today!” Kokoro cradled her cheek in her palm, looking somewhat lost.

“Student loans,” Misaki all but spat. “You don’t have any? My friends all had funds but I was an idiot and made the conscious decision to go to school for nothing entirely on loans.”

Kokoro leaned back. “I never really think about that stuff. I guess my parents are paying for it, they said I could do anything I wanted. They didn’t really mean that though. Why don’t your parents help you too?”

Misaki was beginning to suspect that maybe, perhaps, Kokoro came from money. Lots of money, if she’d never even heard what a student loan was until this very moment.

“My parents don’t have any money either,” Misaki replied, intentionally leaving out the part where they weren’t even together anymore.

“Oh, I see.”

Kokoro paused for a moment, seemingly distracted by nothing as she looked around the room. Her eyes darted about, glancing over Misaki as if she wasn’t even there. What a weirdo. Where did her mind go, in times like these? It happened often enough that maybe something should be said.

“What are you doing?” Misaki raised an eyebrow. “Spacing out?”

Kokoro snapped back into the conversation and gave her a grin. “Oh, I wasn’t feeling too good for a second so I was looking for something to take my mind off it. It’s nicer when you don’t have to feel sad about things.”

“I don’t really follow.”

“That’s okay, I thought about what you said anyway. Do you think maybe you came to school to find something that makes you happy? Is it still a waste if that’s why?”

Misaki looked at her, ready to brush her off with some sarcastic comment about being poor and sad ninety percent of the time, but caught herself as she thought of a question for Kokoro.

“What are you doing here, anyway? You don’t seem like the… college type.”

She absolutely had no interest whatsoever in Kokoro at all, she just wanted to know what her deal was. Maybe she was some secret natural genius, able to ace math exams without breaking a sweat. And if that was true, then how did she have no friends? A rich smart kid? Everyone wants to be friends with a rich smart kid. Then again, maybe not with the best intentions…

Misaki had no idea, since she wasn’t friends with one either.

Kokoro pulled her knees up to her chest, still sat in her chair.

“I’m supposed to be studying business. I think it’s really boring, no fun at all.”

Well. Okay then.

“That doesn’t suit you. At least, not from what I’ve seen.”

“Mhm,” Kokoro nodded, “I don’t want to but my parents said I have to. Cause I’m their only daughter, so I have to know how to run businesses and do taxes and give speeches. I don’t want to disappoint them, so I came out here.”

Misaki spared a quick look out the window, turning away from her companion. It wasn’t what she expected, to say the least. The sun was still bright, pushing shadows across the room from outside.

“You came to Kyoto? Is there some fancy business program or something?”

“No, I just wanted to get away from home. I was homeschooled until now, and I always had these people in suits following me everywhere. They did whatever I asked except let me go out on my own.”

The friendlessness explained, finally. The puzzle was coming together now. Sheltered rich girl syndrome.

“You had people following you around? Like bodyguards?”

The notion sounded stupid in Misaki’s head, but that’s what it seemed like Kokoro was describing.

Kokoro shrugged and rubbed her legs. “I dunno. They said I could make friends with the kids my dad’s friends brought over but they didn’t like me that much. They never wanted to have any real fun. No smiling, just boring all the time!”

Kokoro gave Misaki a look that said ‘they’re crazy, right?!’ and Misaki wasn’t quite sure what to do. She was learning so much (completely by accident, and not because she was at all interested) and yet she still had so many questions she could ask.

All she could say about herself was that she was a talentless normal human from Tokyo with half a family and no accomplishments whatsoever.

“At least you can afford to come here, even if you don’t like what you’re doing.”

It came out sounding a lot more terrible than Misaki had anticipated. She really just meant to point out that, at the very least, Kokoro wouldn’t have to worry about wasting anything if she quit half way through.

The unintended bitterness of the comment flew right over Kokoro’s head anyway.

“You might be right. I never really thought about that. I would still rather help people smile instead of doing paperwork like my dad does though.”

The curiosity in Misaki peaked, as much as it could while Kokoro was talking to her.

“I take it you would prefer to do literally anything else.”

Kokoro’s legs dropped and her arms flew up, wide smile splashing across her face in an instant. “I want to sing! Then I can help everyone smile! Even people like you.”

Misaki frowned as the girl across from her dropped her arms back down to her sides. “People like me need more than music to smile.”

“It’s a good start though, right?” Kokoro pressed eagerly. She was very clearly enthralled with the concept of making others happy, which was nice, Misaki supposed. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to consider what a song written and performed by Kokoro would sound like though.

“If you say so.”

“I do say so! But for now I want my parents to be happy, so I’ll do my best here. I’m already doing better than they expected, I think. So I have that to be happy about.”

Misaki’s eyelids drooped. “If your other grades are anything like that math exam then I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“No no,” Kokoro shook her head, “I mean like talking to people. Making friends! They warned me I would probably have a really hard time out here because of how I am, and that I could keep having private lessons if I wanted.”

“Sounds a little… harsh for them to say that,” Misaki crossed her arms. Maybe it was true and Kokoro’s parents were right, it just seemed odd that they would outright say that to her.

“Not really, it’s true. I know it’s hard for people to understand me. And I’m not good at negotiating or doing serious things a lot of the time. It’s because I have attention issues and my brain works a little different.”

A direct explanation hadn’t been expected, yet there it was. Misaki had to admit, it was reassuring to know that Kokoro was aware of herself, somewhat. Leaving would be much easier, if Kokoro could understand that much about herself and how she came off.

“I did already make a friend though,” Kokoro’s expression softened, clearly directing her observation at Misaki. “I really hope I can make some more. I did meet Sayo in class before I knew she was friends with you and she was super cold. I think if you’re there, even someone like her can be friends with me too.”

Misaki felt like she was shrinking in her seat. She’d almost forgotten she was supposedly friends with Kokoro. Her only friend, to be precise. It was only logical that Kokoro would think that way, since she’d never had anyone before and she was around Misaki all the time now anyway. So, maybe if she had more friends, she might be inclined to hang out with them instead of in their room, that also desperately needed cleaning.

Also, something in the pit of Misaki’s stomach had started growing the moment Kokoro had started talking about her life in general. She’d tried to imagine herself going her whole life until now without anyone to talk to, and found she couldn’t. It just made her miserable disposition even more miserable than usual.

As always, she reminded herself she wasn’t a mean person. She couldn’t truly just abandon her roommate after hearing everything so openly. Instead, it might be better to give her a boost before ducking out. Help her find some like minded friends who thought… differently, like she did.

That was the plan then.

“Misaki?” Kokoro’s voice snapped through her thoughts like lightning.

Misaki’s vision filled with gold, twinkling fairy lights and the sunlit silhouette of Kokoro across from her.

“Moca’s having a party,” Misaki blurted out. The heat coming in from outside warmed her cheeks. “Did you want to come with me?”

Kokoro’s smile only grew wider.

---

Misaki was decidedly not a party person. Not even one little, tiny bit.

In fact, she’d instantaneously denied Moca’s invitation the week prior, knowing what she was like and how many college themed American movies she’d seen. Parties were for social butterflies who actually wanted to talk to other humans, and not for someone such as herself who would much rather be trying her best to get to sleep.

It’s not that she didn’t want to go. She enjoyed spending time with her friends. Just, not the tens of other strangers who would likely be popping in and out for free drinks bought on Moca’s konbini discount that she still snuck herself even though she didn’t work at one anymore.

Drunk people and loud people were most of what Misaki expected they’d see. She wasn’t even positive that Kokoro had any idea what a college level room party was like to begin with. She was overly social though, so with any luck she’d find somewhere to fit in and talk herself into a friend circle that didn’t include Misaki.

On the walk over, Kokoro was practically vibrating beside her, talking nonstop at nobody about how excited she was to even be invited in the first place.

Technically she hadn’t been, but Moca had advertised that plus ones were allowed so it wasn’t like she could say anything anyway. She was more likely to take the opportunity to pick on Kokoro at Misaki’s expense again.

“What do people do at parties like this?” Kokoro asked Misaki as they walked down the hall in the direction of Moca’s room.

“I don’t know. Drink a lot and talk? I’ve never been,” Misaki pulled the brim of her hat a bit lower. She’d resorted to comfort clothes in an attempt to calm her nerves. If she was going to endure being pushed to her absolute social limit, she may as well get comfy in a classic hoodie-sweatpants combo while doing it.

Kokoro was in her normal attire, with shorts that would look cute if they were on anyone else. That’s what Misaki let herself think, anyway. Being annoying didn’t bar Kokoro from also being cute, it was just easier to not think about that one little detail too hard.

The party was divided between Moca’s room and the room beside hers that belonged to some other classmate, students lingering between the two as they jumped back and forth. There was music, kept to a minimal volume so they wouldn’t get told off, but loud enough that it was still difficult to make out much talking.

Moca was waiting at the door for them and Misaki pretended she hadn’t done a double take at the sight of Kokoro.

“Don’t,” Misaki issued her warning. She peered around Moca, wondering how there was even enough room to host a party in their dorms to begin with.

Sure enough, a couple clusters of students Misaki had never met before were crammed into it, wherever they could fit. Moca’s bed was all but gone, hidden beneath whoever was spread across it chatting up a storm. She could kind of see the corner of Maya’s bed, likely suffering the same fate.

Kokoro began hopping back and forth from one foot to the other beside her.

“Are we going in?”

“I don’t know if there’s even room.”

Moca held up a finger at them.

“Moca-chan will make room for her best friends. You just wait here.”

She leaned into her room and shouted for a couple guests to clear out, or at least pop over to the next room. While she did that, Kokoro looked between the three of them with sparkling eyes. No doubt Moca’s remark had convinced her they actually were friends now. Misaki would have to deal with the fallout later, probably.

Two girls shuffled out and Moca gestured for them both to come in.

Misaki swallowed but the lump in her throat remained. Her brain cells often evacuated when it came time to interact with people she didn’t know, so she was anticipating the worst.

Moca reached into the fridge and shoved a can of Asahi into her chest.

“You already look like you’re gonna combust.”

Misaki sniffed, but accepted the offering anyway. “You know me so well. I’ll need more than this though.”

Kokoro snatched the can from her hand.

“What’s this? Beer?”

Misaki snatched it back. “I feel like you shouldn’t be allowed to have this.”

“Can you even drink? How old are you?” Moca slowly raised her eyebrows at Kokoro. “Misaki’s responsible for you, ya know.”

Kokoro’s eyes followed the can. “I turned twenty last August so it’s fine!”

Misaki felt her eye twitch. “You’re older than me?”

Moca just laughed. “You’ll always be the fetus, sorry Misaki.”

“She’s older than you too, idiot!”

“Details, details,” Moca waved her off. Behind her, someone yelled a crude joke and the room erupted into laughter. “Does blondie want anything?”

Kokoro was busy trying to peer around the corner, into the room.

“Everyone’s laughing in there. Is this what you do at parties like these?”

Misaki shot Moca a look before she could say anything less than accurate.

“Moca asked you if you want anything,” She shook the beer can. It was a terrible idea but it wasn’t like they had a reason to deny her.

Kokoro shook her head. “No, I’m okay. It doesn’t taste good.”

Moca stepped aside as Misaki cracked her can open.

“Have fun then. Don’t cause too much trouble or Moca-chan’s gonna have to call the bouncer.”

Kokoro flew in, leaving Misaki behind in the hallway.

Moca wiggled her eyebrows at Misaki. “I’m starting to think Arisa was right about you. Any special reason you brought whats-her-name with you?”

“No. I don’t want to know what Arisa told you either. She’s just going to be lonely when I leave so I figured she could make some friends here or something. I don’t know. It’s stupid.”

She leaned against the wall and swirled her drink around. Moca was too nosey for her own good.

“Whatever you say, Misaki.”

Moca went back to entertaining while Misaki lingered.

---

Barely thirty minutes in, Misaki wanted to leave.

She’d tried her best to merge into the group conversations, but ultimately it proved too draining and she remained standing in the corner while Kokoro blabbed endlessly about whatever the current topic was.

Everyone was loud, the music was loud, people were drinking too much and Misaki couldn’t even get through one can before she poured most of it down the sink. It was as if she had a bubble in her stomach, that made it uncomfortable to drink or eat or do anything.

Thankfully nobody approached her after she’d backed off. Kokoro was sat in a circle on the floor along with everyone else. For a while there had been a ray of hope as Kokoro introduced herself to everyone, but as time passed it became apparent that she was being used as a source of non-Moca entertainment. Jokes and references flew over her head and it was easy to ask her questions to produce embarrassing or clueless responses.

There didn’t really seem to be anyone who was genuinely interested in her. It didn’t phase Kokoro though, so maybe her social obliviousness was actually useful this time.

“Misakiii!”

She looked up to see Kokoro, arms outstretched.

“Come sit with us! Everyone’s having fun!"

The other girls snickered and mumbled between themselves. The least they could do was hide their true intentions rather than be so blunt.

What they did wasn’t affecting Kokoro in the slightest. That didn’t make it right though, and she’d been the one to come up with the idea of coming here in the first place. She watched someone stumble into the tiny washroom out of the corner of her eye, hand over their mouth.

The usual glow around Kokoro was dim.

“I’m going outside for a while,” Misaki replied at last. Guilt pulled at her ankles as she brushed past Moca on her way out.

Down the stairs and through the double doors, Misaki pushed herself out under the moonlight.

She slid down the wall beside the doors until she was sitting on the cold ground. The conversation from earlier about why she was even where she was had been nipping at her heels all day, only adding to her slowly growing list of regrets. One of which was suggesting Kokoro come with her tonight.

She really was stupid, and worse, she’d left Kokoro in there with a bunch of people she didn’t know. Not that Moca wouldn’t keep an eye on her, but still…

The door pushed open beside her and a wave of golden hair flew out of it.

“Misaki?”

“Kokoro?”

Kokoro turned to look at her, smiling as she always did.

Misaki didn’t say a word as Kokoro sat down cross-legged next to her. The silence that followed felt weird, with Kokoro gazing happily upwards at the sky in a surprising moment of quietness while Misaki let her thoughts stew.

She closed her eyes and let her head fall back against the wall.

“Are you okay?”

Misaki pulled her knees up to her chest. The bubble in her gut had slowly receded as the cold air settled around her, far from the bustle of the party rooms. She opened her eyes.

“I’m okay now. Is there a reason you followed me?”

Kokoro turned her attention away from the night sky.

“You’re my friend. Do I need a reason?”

Misaki bit her lip and shrunk further into herself. She’d left Kokoro behind after all, of course she was likely to be followed. The outcome of the party had been predictable from the moment Misaki had suggested they go, and she still felt stupid for even entertaining the idea. She wasn’t like Moca, who could bounce off of everyone whether she knew them or not, and she wasn’t like Kokoro who could have fun in all her obliviousness.

“I’m not very good at talking to people,” Misaki muttered, more as an explanation to herself than anything. Kokoro was with her though, so maybe it was sort of for her too.

“You didn’t seem very happy in there,” Kokoro affirmed.

Misaki rubbed at her neck and nodded slowly. “It’s just, people I don’t know… they’re not used to me. I come off very negatively. At least, that’s what Arisa says.”

“So you’re scared to talk to people you don’t know in case you come off the wrong way?”

“Well, that’s the most basic interpretation I guess. I don’t think scared is the right word.”

Kokoro leaned back on her palms, flat on the ground. Her eyes trailed back upwards to the pitch black.

“I wonder why you wanted to come, if it wasn’t going to make you happy?”

Misaki’s heart jumped into her throat. Admitting that she’d technically done it for Kokoro’s sake would imply she was being considerate, when really she’d done it to make herself feel better about wanting to move. Technically she’d done it for both of them. Technically.

“I thought you might make some new friends if we went, that’s all.”

Misaki pulled her hat down, avoiding Kokoro’s gaze as the girl turned back towards her.

“Really? Ah, that’s amazing! But, I don’t think they liked me very much. It’s still the thought that counts though, I don’t think anyone’s done anything like that for me before.”

Before she knew it, Misaki was looking up into shining eyes, drawn to them regardless of whether or not she wanted to be. Kokoro’s smile was wider than it had ever been, if it were possible. The light from inside cast a soft glow along the edges of her cheeks, rosy red even in the darkness.

“It’s nice to see you smile, too.”

Misaki ripped herself away, looking anywhere that Kokoro wasn’t. How embarrassing.

“I’m just thinking,” Misaki’s shaky voice spit out as if it explained anything about her now lost expression.

“What about?” Kokoro’s voice drifted past. “You did look kinda spaced out.”

Had she? Misaki didn’t really recall spacing out. Lingering thoughts had been plaguing her regardless, as much as she didn’t want to admit it.

“Thinking on an off about earlier,” Misaki replied, voice somewhat normal again. “About why I’m here. That kind of thing is troubling.”

Kokoro hummed, lifting a finger to tap at her chin.

“You know, when you invited me to a party I kinda pictured it being like the ones at home, even though I knew it wasn’t the same.”

Misaki continued to look away, unsure about where Kokoro was taking her.

“A lot of people in fancy clothes come over, and we put out a ton of food in the ballroom and everyone just stands around eating and talking. There’s music, like with a whole orchestra, and some people give speeches.”

So Kokoro really was rich. Like Really rich, from the sound of things. Who even had a ballroom nowadays?

“It sounds like a lot of fun, doesn’t it?” Kokoro went on. “I get all dressed up and there’s a big dinner and everything. But nobody is happy or having any fun at all.”

Business parties, probably. Those weren’t really meant for fun, Misaki supposed.

“Everyone always seems so distant, like they’re just at the party because they have to be. I have to sit at the table and listen to what everyone tells me because they say it’s important. I find it strange that nobody seems to like it, but we keep doing the same things over and over again anyways.”

“I think that’s just how those kinds of situations go,” Misaki responded, lifting her hat to run a hand through her hair.

“That’s just it!” Kokoro’s voice rose. “It always goes the same way, every time. So why keep doing it if it doesn’t make you happy?”

Misaki shrugged. “Well, you don’t really know what those other people are thinking. Maybe they do like it.”

“I can’t decide what makes them happy,” Kokoro nodded, “but I can decide what makes me happy. And you can decide that for yourself, too.”

“Last I checked you were more concerned about how your parents felt than yourself,” Misaki finally looked at her again, recalling their conversation from earlier in the day.

Kokoro’s nose wrinkled a little, as if she was unsure what sort of look she should have on her face.

“It’s complicated. I’m not very good at figuring that out yet. Tonight though, don’t you think we could do something that’s more your kind of fun?”

Misaki felt her gaze soften involuntarily. Kokoro was too nice for her own good.

“The whole point was that this would be fun for you.”

Kind of. Not really. It was a means to an end, more like.

“I have fun just hanging out with you. So, anything you want to do is fine with me!”

This time, Misaki let herself smile. Just a tiny one though, nothing too extravagant. She ignored the tingling feeling at the back of her neck.

The walk back to their room was calm and quiet, Misaki with her hands in her pockets and Kokoro skipping along beside her at a steady pace. Moca would surely understand why they wouldn’t be coming back. She knew Misaki well enough.

Kokoro flicked the light on and kicked her shoes off in the doorway.

“We’ll watch a movie! I have a ton on my laptop.”

It seemed as though an executive decision had already been made. As long as she wasn’t the type to talk endlessly through entire films, Misaki supposed she could tolerate it just this once. It would give her the chance to unwind before delving back into the abyss that was searching for a solution.

Misaki watched as Kokoro practically ripped her laptop from her bag and threw it on her bed. She flung the duvet back and hopped in as best she could before she got to work shoving her pillows and stuffed toys out of the way.

“Could you turn the light back off?” She looked in Misaki’s direction.

Misaki rolled her eyes and complied. When she turned around, she saw Kokoro sitting up in bed, laptop in her lap and fairy lights twinkling above her. The spot next to her was astonishingly clean. She patted the empty space, clearly an invitation.

It was cute (once again, annoyance level didn’t prevent Kokoro from being cute) and not something Misaki was about to go along with. She couldn’t just leave Kokoro hanging though, not with such an obvious gesture having just taken place. Sitting beside Kokoro on her bed was ten steps too far forward, especially when she was still figuring out how to take twenty steps back.

Her awkwardness overcame her as she approached the space and did her best to sort of sit half-on and half-off the edge of the bed. Not too close and not too far. It wasn’t comfortable. It would be fine.

It didn’t seem to bother Kokoro, who was content to start the movie anyway. The two of them sat quietly together, while Misaki’s emotions stewed.

Chapter Text

“Arisa?” Misaki picked up her phone a few days later. The afternoon had already passed into a darkening evening of homework and studying.

“Misaki!” her friend shouted at her from the other end. “I need your help!”

“Is that Arisa?” Kokoro piped up from her desk, behind Misaki.

Misaki sighed. “Could you yell less? Kokoro can hear you through my phone.”

“I don’t care if the whole school can hear me. I need to stay in your room tonight.”

Misaki quickly glanced at the floor beneath her feet, still covered in Kokoro’s things.

“Why’s that?”

“Sayo just had a huge fight about something with Hina over the phone. Something about Aya. Now Hina keeps calling back and Sayo yells at her and she’s pacing and mumbling to herself. Tension is through the roof.”

Misaki sighed again and sunk into her chair. “I get it, we all know how Sayo is. But does it have to be my room? Why not Maya and Moca?”

Arisa snorted from the other end. “Are you kidding? Of course I asked them first. I just went over there and it took me two seconds to realized neither of those dorks could possibly stay focused enough to clean up after that party.”

“What? It’s literally been days.”

“There are still bottles everywhere, Misaki! Nowhere could be worse than that. I can handle Kokoro too.”

“I know I won’t be able to convince you otherwise either way,” Misaki muttered.

“Perfect,” Arisa told her, “I’ll be over in half an hour.”

She hung up and Misaki nearly crushed her phone with her bare hand.

Her chair spun as she stood up much too quickly.

Kokoro ,” She commanded the girl’s name as if she hadn’t been observing Misaki on the phone the entire time.

“Hm?”

“We’re cleaning up. Right now. Fast.”

“Oh,” Kokoro looked around. “Well, you’ve been telling me to for a while I guess.”

Misaki crossed her arms. “If we don’t, Arisa won’t have anywhere to sleep tonight. So get up.”

Kokoro’s eyes widened. “She’s staying over? A sleepover?”

“No. She’s just sleeping here.”

“Sleeping over? A sleepover?”

“No!” Misaki’s hands moved to her hips. “We’re not painting nails and braiding hair, she just needs our help. Now get up and get cleaning, this is all yours anyway.”

Misaki had never seen Kokoro throw herself into something she’d asked her to do so quickly before. The thirty minute mad scramble saw Kokoro shoving her clothes into drawers, tossing her sketchbooks and drawing utensils beneath her bed and cramming all her stuffed toys into a corner.

They probably hadn’t seen the floor in weeks, so it was comforting to know it was still there.

Arisa knocked on the door just as Kokoro finished.

“I brought a futon,” Arisa grumbled as she shoved herself through the door, pushing her way past Misaki and kicking her shoes off. “Tell me where it goes.”

“Uh, I guess between the desks. Nowhere else to fit in here.”

Arisa stomped onward, clearly put off by her situation with Sayo. She paused as she passed Kokoro, who was rocking back and forth on her bed with a smile. She surveyed her environment, likely searching for the things Misaki had described to her at the start of the semester.

She turned back to Misaki.

“It’s not as bad as you made it out to be.”

“I made her clean.”

“Hm?” Kokoro questioned between the two of them. “What do you mean?”

“Misaki said-”

“I didn’t say anything, don’t worry. Make your bed before I kick you out, Arisa.”

Her disgruntled friend grumbled but complied and set about her task.

“You can’t kick her out of the sleepover,” Kokoro pointed at Misaki. “This is my room too so I say she stays.”

“Quit that,” Misaki waved a finger back. “I keep telling you it’s not a sleepover.”

“Technically I am sleeping over,” Arisa didn’t even bother turning around.

“See, she agrees with me!” Kokoro declared proudly.

“No she doesn’t, she’s just being Arisa,” Misaki insisted.

“You’re just being a party pooper. Aren’t you happy your friend is staying over?”

Misaki rubbed at her forehead. “I’m not not happy, it’s just…”

“It doesn’t have to be like a big party. Just a little one. We can talk and eat snacks!”

Kokoro threw her arms in the air.

As much of a party pooper as Misaki was, she couldn’t exactly see anything wrong with that. With the way Kokoro had been reacting so far, she was expecting it to blow up far beyond her comfort zone. It hadn’t crossed her mind that Kokoro might actually be a considerate person. Imagine that.

Always concerning herself in the happiness of others.

“We can talk and eat snacks,” Misaki gave in at last.

“Yesss!” Kokoro pumped her fist.

There was something unique in the way the the simplest of things gave her so much excitement. It occured to Misaki then that she’d probably never experienced anything even close to having anyone sleep over before. Really it was a win-win. Misaki got to help Arisa, and at the same time she could keep Kokoro herself happy and occupied in the meantime. It might even turn into a regular, quiet evening that even Misaki could enjoy.

It’d been a long time since she’d thought of something so simple in that kind of light.

She felt the corners of her mouth tug upwards as she looked at Kokoro. Wait, when did Kokoro’s happiness start mattering again?

“Hey you nerds, I left Sayo to get away from the unbearable tension, not to find a different kind.”

Arisa had finished setting up the futon, and now she was sat on it with her arms crossed and icy gaze hopping between Kokoro and Misaki.

Misaki flew backwards hard enough that she almost fell across her desk, and Kokoro attempted to launch herself out of her bed to intervene, instead tumbling to the floor as her foot caught in her blanket. Misaki’s butt connected firmly with the floor.

“I now pronounce you fucking idiots. Now one of you bring me food to apologize for forcing me to see that.”

Misaki stood so fast that she hit her head on the bottom of her desk, flipping Arisa off as unsubtly as she could on the way to fetch a bag of chips.

Thankfully her gibe had seemingly flown right over Kokoro’s head, as most things seemed to by now.

From there the evening passed by uneventfully, since Arisa still had some homework to do while she ate fistfulls of Misaki’s chips. Misaki, chipless, chose to do some of her own work too, despite how distracting an antsy Kokoro was while she very obviously waited for both of them to be done. She probably had work to do to, that she just wasn’t doing instead.

Misaki called it quits when Arisa did, when the moon was up and Kokoro had flopped back on her bed to read a book. They took turns in the tiny washroom, Arisa doing the same double take Misaki had done all that time ago when Kokoro walked out with no pants.

“She’s like this every night?” Arisa whispered sharply into Misaki’s ear.

“I just got used to it,” Misaki explained, as if it were nothing.

“You still cover your eyes when we walk past Victoria’s Secret at the mall. How are you holding yourself together?!”

“You’re being way too dramatic. What are you expecting?”

“Guys?”

Kokoro spooked them both into silence as she sat down on her bed. “I always feel like I’m missing something. Are you sharing secrets?”

“No,” Arisa and Misaki could agree on an answer there at least.

While Kokoro leaned back against her dozens of pillows and made herself comfortable, Misaki pulled up her blanket around herself to provide escape if she needed it. Arisa ignored her futon for the time being and leaned her back against Misaki’s bed, pulling at her pyjama pants.

“What do we do at a sleepover? I’m new at this,” Kokoro provided them a foot to get started on.

“What? You’ve never had a-” Arisa flinched as Misaki’s foot poked at the back of her neck.

“Ah- well, I guess we just hang out and talk about boys or whatever. At least, that’s what we used to do.”

Boys? Misaki thought to herself. Arisa was really reaching tonight. Maybe even prying.

“You and Misaki and everyone else? You must have done so many fun things together.”

Arisa pulled her knees to her chest. “I don’t know if I’d call it fun with Moca around. She’s the kind of girl that sticks your hand in a bowl of warm water while you’re asleep.”

“That sounds weird. What’s the point?”

Arisa shook her head at Kokoro. “You don’t need to know that if you don’t already.”

“Arisa is just recalling a traumatic time in her life,” Misaki contributed, satisfied with being on the other end of a joke for once.

Arisa reached behind herself to smack Misaki’s foot, but it had snaked away under the blanket already.

“Anyway-”

“Wait!” Kokoro raised her hand, as if she were in class. “Why are we supposed to talk about boys? People do that in movies and books, but I thought you said you have a girlfriend?”

“Alright,” Arisa rolled her eyes but smiled nonetheless. “You caught me. We talked about girls . You never know who’s gonna be okay with hearing about that though, ya know?”

Misaki, wrapped in her blanket just waiting for time to pass, felt her heart beat against the inside of her chest. When they were kids this kind of thing had always made her nervous. She wasn’t the kind of person other people talked about at sleepovers or at the mall or wherever, and her dating career had lasted exactly one single relationship. Of course Arisa would bring this up first, of all things.

“I want to talk about girls too!” Kokoro clapped her hands. “You should tell me about Kasumi!”

“You remembered?”

Kokoro nodded and flopped over on her stomach, resting her chin in her hands. She was fully focused on Arisa and whatever she had to say at that point.

“Mhm! You said we’re alike, so I’m curious.”

Misaki knew enough about Kasumi that she could tune the conversation out, which was preferable at this point and any foreseeable point in the future. Arisa could deal with Kokoro for now, since she was so capable.

Arisa stretched her legs back out and smiled to herself. She always got so mushy even though she’d remained in hard denial for actual years while Kasumi butted against her like a bee flying into a window repeatedly.

“You do remind me of her. I grew up with Kasumi back home in Tokyo. She was always hyperactive and jumping from one idea to the next until she finally decided she wanted to start a band.”

“She’s in a band !?” Kokoro gasped. “Like with singing and everything?”

Misaki’s eyes trailed from the inside of her blanket to the crown of Kokoro’s head, instinctively avoiding eye contact. Of course Kokoro, who wanted to sing, would be enamoured with the idea that Kasumi was living her dream. Arisa too, for a while.

“She was,” Arisa nodded. “With all of our friends. We’re on hiatus while most of us study, but she still plays by herself outside of stations. Sometimes she sets up a stream so I can watch her from here.”

“That’s so incredible!” Kokoro launched up onto her hands and knees, pulling herself closer to the edge of her bed. “You’re in it too? You’re so lucky. What do you play?”

Misaki swore she could see the sun reflected in Kokoro’s eyes, big and glittery, even though it was almost the middle of the night and the curtains were closed. It was as if she were seeing stars for the first time. And maybe to her, Arisa was a star now.

Misaki was still herself, and she would be whenever she went home too.

“Keyboard. I’m probably out of practice though, I didn’t bring mine with me.”

“That’s still amazing. I’ve always wanted to sing, in a band or in anything. It makes me happy to know you got to do that with your friends.”

Kokoro plopped herself back down onto her stomach and began kicking her legs back and forth through the air. Misaki found her eyes following them, back and forth.

“Hehe, yeah I guess it did make me pretty happy. It’s how I ended up with Kasumi too, but it would take ages to tell the whole story. Maybe next time.”

Kokoro smiled at her. “I’m from Tokyo too, so you’ll have to introduce us later.”

“I’ll… think about it,” Arisa trailed off after that, nothing more to say.

“Misaki!”

Kokoro turned to her so their eyes met, and dread filled Misaki’s heart.

“What about you?” Her smile faltered for a hot second and she looked down at her sheets. “I guess I… don’t know if you have anyone at home? I didn’t ask. I guess I don’t know a lot about you, haha.”

Misaki could hear Kokoro’s voice pulling at the end of her sentence, trying to avoid… something. Misaki wasn’t sure she wanted to know what that something was just yet. The topic was getting to her.

Slowly, she pulled the blanket down and away from her mouth.

“Not right now. I had a girlfriend for six months in high school.”

The fact that she still remembered exactly how long it had lasted was certainly something. It wasn’t like it had meant anything to her in the end. Kokoro perked up though, interest visible in her body language as she leaned forward.

Misaki sighed. “I just don’t like to talk about it.”

“Was it bad?” Kokoro prodded much too easily. “We’re all friends, you can tell us!”

“I already know,” Arisa raised a finger, “but she can tell you. It wasn’t anything dramatic so it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Misaki tried to shoot her a glare, but Arisa wouldn’t see it from where she was sitting anyway. She ran a hand through her hair instead and pulled the blanket tighter.

“I dated my best friend right after I found out I liked girls. Her name is Rimi and she’s still in Arisa’s band.”

“Ohhh,” Kokoro tilted her head. “How did that happen?”

Misaki shrugged under the blanket. “It just did. We already spent a lot of time together so it made sense to me. I also, uh, went through some things around then, and I wanted to feel special. That sounds kinda wrong.”

“No, not at all! I think everyone wants to feel special to someone else. You shouldn’t be ashamed.”

Misaki broke a little at Kokoro’s words and smiled against her will. Still just a tiny one, of course.

“That might be true. Rimi was nice, but I rushed into it. Nothing really changed from when we were just normal friends and her time had to be split between me and the band anyways.”

“Those were the days,” Arisa tapped a finger against the floor. “Rimi was running around all over the place. I still remember when she brought you to practice a few times.”

“Yeah, and then I just sat in the corner feeling guilty about being there. It doesn’t matter to me now but that’s how I felt then.”

“I just wonder how you fall out of love with someone?” Kokoro directed her question at Misaki, who turned a soft shade of crimson. “In books it always seems like you just love someone forever and that’s how it is.”

“M-maybe it is,” Stupid Misaki. Entertaining a sheltered kid’s perception of love. “But we weren’t really in love.”

“And how do you know that ?” she went on. “This stuff is really confusing. How are you supposed to know what it feels like?”

Misaki’s gaze fell for a moment. “Well, I don’t know what it feels like. But we kissed once and neither of us felt any different, so I guess it wasn’t really anything. After that we just kinda drifted apart.”

“Hm, well… maybe it’s good, because now you know what it isn’t like. So it should be easier to know when it’s the right kind of love?”

“That’s a really basic understanding. Not like I understand it myself, though.”

Kokoro looked back down at Arisa. “That means you’re the expert. What’s being in love like?”

“Eh-ehh? What’s with all these questions, anyway?”

Misaki snuck her foot out again to nudge Arisa’s shoulder. “You chose the topic. Kokoro is just being Kokoro.”

“Mhm!”

“Agh, alright, alright! Uhh... “ Arisa  looked away as if to compose her thoughts. “Well, it’s kinda like, you don’t really know until you know? Like maybe you find yourself looking at them often or h-hanging out with them all the time. Until they’re all you can think about. That’s it.”

She crossed her arms in defiance, clearly embarrassed judging by the blush across her face.

Kokoro didn’t look very satisfied with that.

“That can’t be it. It’s gotta be more powerful. Like fireworks going off or something. Sometimes that’s what they mean in movies or love songs.”

Arisa grumbled something to herself and sighed for the umpteenth time that night.

“Look, I’m just bad at describing it. It’s like, someone else’s happiness turns into the only thing you can think about. Like you can’t get them off your mind no matter how they might feel about you.”

Misaki had to stop herself from physically flinching as Kokoro’s attention flicked back to her. Why did her timing have to be so terrible? Now was a good time for that focus thing to happen where Kokoro kind of zoned out and lost her place.

“Every time you see them, you can feel something in your stomach. Maybe it’s like butterflies, or bubbles, or even fireworks I guess. The point is that you feel a weird thing inside yourself and your brain zooms in on someone.”

Misaki’s eyes met with Kokoro’s for probably the thousandth time. They lived together after all, so it wasn’t uncommon. It was normal, Misaki knew. The bubble was always there. Kokoro’s irises always glittered that way.

“You see something special in that someone, no matter what they think of themselves. The specialness is what makes you want to be with them the most. Maybe you think they’re super pretty or smart or responsible or talented, I don’t know…”

Misaki lost track of what Arisa was saying when Kokoro began nodding . Very slightly. But she could see it, Kokoro was nodding along to Arisa’s on the spot checklist. Looking at Misaki. Nobody ever really looked at Misaki though, not like that. Rimi hadn’t, and neither had anyone else after that.

“And sometimes you just don’t know why. It’s like you get struck by lightning when you meet? God that’s a terrible cliche, forget I said it. Just imagine something similar. Misaki would probably just wanna throw up or something, I dunno. The point is that sometimes you don’t know why you care so much about someone else until later. Did any of that make sense?”

Somewhere in there, time had slowed down for Misaki the same way it had the first moment she’d walked in on Kokoro spinning around in her chair. She remembered vividly the dread that settled at the bottom of her gut in those precious few seconds. The sun had been stretching itself across the room, casting a shadow over Misaki as Kokoro lit up across from her.

A hand catching the desk, her backpack falling to the floor, the thunk echoing in her mind as if it had happened only seconds ago.

The smile, wide and brilliant across Kokoro’s stupid face.

The same smile she was giving Misaki now as her eyebrows slowly rose and her eyes widened.  Regretfully, Misaki could feel herself halfway to a grin too, contagious as it always seemed to be when Kokoro gave her one. It was a disaster, and no doubt Arisa was intentionally orchestrating it.

A lightning strike? That would be merciful, compared to this.

“Soooo…” Arisa finally put an end to the ten most awkward seconds of Misaki’s entire life. “I’m ready for bed, how about you? Bed sounds good. Good night.”

Misaki ripped herself away from Kokoro and Kokoro followed her lead, but neither of them could do much besides watch Arisa pull her pigtails out and roll herself up in her futon in record time.

“Yep. Bedtime,” Misaki affirmed, careful not to say anything else unless her voice gave out.

Kokoro silently complied, for once in her life choosing to nod and say nothing as she pulled back her covers and shoved herself inside.

Misaki flicked her reading lamp off at the same time Kokoro dimmed her fairy lights. For the first time, Misaki watched Kokoro roll over to face the opposite wall before she herself could. Misaki did it too anyway, for good measure.

She was too scared to consider how fast her heart was beating even though she could hear her own pulse in her very own ears. She was stubborn but she wasn’t stupid. Also, she wanted to punch Arisa as soon as they woke up.

Misaki, blankets pulled over her head and toes curled, spent a full night wrapped in emotional turmoil for the first time in her life.

 

---

 

Arisa was persistent, that was for sure.

Despite Misaki’s best efforts to avoid talking about What Happened (also known as What Arisa Did), her closest friend always seemed to be hot on her heels, no doubt looking for a moment to step in for some girl talk.

Her advances were decidedly unwelcome as much as they were unavoidable. Misaki simply couldn’t run forever, and the air between herself and Kokoro had also become strange, at least on her end. Kokoro probably didn’t notice anything different.

Because, of course, there was nothing different to notice in the first place. Misaki was still the same normal unemotional, unremarkable human she always had been.

The air was cool and calm when Arisa caught her standing beneath a tree trying to avoid other people in general.

“You’re slippery,” Arisa told her, bag slung over her shoulder, “but you can’t escape.”

“Escape from what?”

Misaki figured playing dumb was the right move. Eventually Arisa would get tired of her and give up.

“You know what. Look, I’m trying to be serious and I’m your friend and I care about you. So do you wanna hear me out? For like, ten seconds?”

When Arisa had truly become the mom therapist Misaki didn’t know. They’d been friends for so long that maybe at this point she qualified for the position, and it wasn’t like Misaki had a mother figure in her life anymore anyway.

It wasn’t often she felt that cared about either. Not that she didn’t believe her friends loved or cherished her or whatever, it was very much the opposite. Her brain just didn’t really let her feel that way, because it never had. That was simply how things Were and always Would Be.

Arisa did care in the end. She would get ten seconds.

“Ten seconds,” Misaki huffed and crossed her arms, looking anywhere that wasn’t Arisa.

Arisa pulled on her pigtails. “You’re a mean one, Okusawa. Fine.”

“Nine seconds.”

“God! You asshole,” Arisa yelled at her. A few heads turned to look for some brief moments. “You shot some real dreamy googly eyes in your roommate’s direction the other night.”

“You were seeing things. I wasn’t doing anything, the topic just bothered me. That’s all.”

“I’m just saying, you keep doing all these things I’ve never seen you do before. Like, right in front of my eyes. It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t point them out and follow up.”

Misaki uncrossed her arms and leaned back against the tree, still looking away. Her hat shadowed her already darkening face.

“I wasn’t doing anything. I don’t know what you’re talking about, honestly.”

“That’s the second time I’ve watched you mentally check out while staring at someone.”

For the most part, Misaki was telling the truth. Most of what she remembered (or let herself remember) was getting lost in thoughts, usually negative ones, while Arisa listed off a million things that Misaki could never imagine applying to herself in any capacity. What Kokoro had done didn’t mean anything.

“Why do you do this to yourself? It’s like you want to be… alienated. We all worry about how lonely you are.”

“How lonely I am? What’s that supposed to mean?”

She knew what it meant but she wanted to be mad at Arisa about something. She was a lonely person and it was primarily by choice, secondarily because she was socially awkward and she knew it. Thirdly because she never really got over her family being chopped in two, and the pain still persisted when she thought about it too hard. Life sucked most of the time and Misaki was lonely.

“For someone so mild you can be really difficult sometimes,” Arisa sighed and gave her a sympathetic look.

“I just don’t want to be bothered. It’s nice when things are quiet.”

“You feel safer by doing nothing. That’s what Sayo told me.”

Misaki stepped out from under the tree, fully intending to walk away. “I don’t know where Sayo came up with that. You’re all thinking way too hard about this and it doesn’t matter.”

Arisa didn’t budge as Misaki moved to escape. “You’ve gotta get over thinking you don’t matter. You matter a lot to some people, probably more than you let yourself think.”

Misaki passed her and kept walking. They’d had this conversation before, more than once. It was nothing new. “Gotta go get some food. See you later. Going to konbini now.”

Arisa huffed at her loudly, deliberately.

“Can I come?”

Misaki’s head whipped around at the speed of light. Standing in the grass and looking between her and Arisa was Kokoro, with her hair up in pigtails and a lost expression on her face. How long she’d been there watching them was anyone’s guess.

“Were you eavesdropping?” Arisa quickly spit at her with an accusatory finger.

“What-dropping?”

“Kokoro,” Misaki intervened, commanding her fragile attention span.

She was going to say no. She really was. She was angry. Annoyed with Arisa. Desperate to cleanse her mind of intrusive thoughts. Anything to take her away was good enough for the moment. Even if it had to do with Kokoro.

Kokoro was good at being a distraction, and it wasn’t like she’d point the same kinds of fingers Arisa was anyway. She would probably follow regardless even if Misaki did tell her to go back to the apartment or something.

Her plan quickly reversed.

“You can come if you want. It’s a free country.”

Kokoro bounced after her, barely sparing Arisa a second glance. Misaki didn’t look back either, on purpose.

“Are we going to the grocery store? The fridge is empty.”

Misaki shoved her hands in her pockets as they crossed onto the sidewalk. The fridge was empty but Misaki hadn’t really thought about it when she’d come up with an excuse to get away. The cupboard was bare save for a few cups of instant noodles, as of that morning.

She tilted her hat back up. “I kinda blew my budget this week so I was just gonna go to Lawson.”

Kokoro fell into step next to her. “What’s that? A store?”

What kind of human didn’t know what a convenience store was? Misaki supposed if there was anyone in Japan who wouldn’t know it would have to be Kokoro. She could reveal at this exact moment that she had a personal chef back home and Misaki would not be even a little bit surprised. It wasn’t likely that a girl like her would ever have to cook, never mind shop for food outside at any kind of store.

“It’s like a small store,” Misaki explained, accepting reality, “with a lot of cheap food and stuff.”

Kokoro was satisfied with that and kept to herself for most of the walk, bright eyes darting around and implying she was barely there in consciousness. What ran through her mind, Misaki would never care to know.

The Lawson was just across the street from the campus. Misaki had been shopping there many times before for quick and cheap lunches, but it was apparent from the second they stepped inside that Kokoro really had no idea what to expect.

“It’s so small in here!”

“You don’t get out much, do you,” Misaki swept past her with a basket to pick out some pastries.

“No, not really,” Kokoro split off and went to do her own thing presumably, leaving Misaki to do her own shopping. Luckily a couple thousand yen could stretch a long way if you were fine with eating basically the same things every day. It would be nice to pick out fresh veggies or fish or literally anything from an actual grocer, but that required more money and more effort than Misaki had. Moca lived on konbini food for like two years, so it was probably okay.

She turned around and selected a couple sandwiches from the fridge. Maybe she’d allow herself to pick out something for dessert too. She probably deserved it after being pestered about stupid things that didn’t matter anyway.

She walked around the side of the aisle and witnessed Kokoro hanging half way out of the ice cream freezer.

It was a funny sight, she had to admit. Kokoro was much shorter than her and her feet barely touched the floor as she stood on her tiptoes to reach further inside.

“There’s so much ice cream! They have everything here!” Kokoro half shouted, voice muffled while her head was shoved inside.

She shot up suddenly and made eye contact with Misaki, arms full of various ice cream bars and popsicles. “What kind do you want? Ice cream is good at making me happy so it probably works for you too.”

Misaki held in a snort. “Just vanilla. A small one.”

Kokoro turned around to dump what she had on top of the freezer and the door slammed shut, trapping one of her pigtails inside.

“Woops,” She lifted the lid to free her hair and half of her selection scattered to the floor.

“Ah, the ice cream!” Kokoro practically dove to the floor to gather her fallen treats, oblivious to the other people in the store stepping around her.

Misaki surprised herself by holding in a laugh, of all things. There was something charming about her fumbling around, thrilled by the mere concept of ice cream, and shutting her own hair in the freezer.

Charming in the annoying sort of way, not the cute kind. Absolutely.

Oddly enough, the prospect of being watched by the other normal humans in the store wasn’t even bothering her. It was like they didn’t matter anymore, and Misaki suddenly didn’t possess the ability to be embarrassed. She was probably going a little loopy. Too much stress and too much time spent around Kokoro, who she now had to remind herself she could barely tolerate.

She had to be careful not to lose sight of who she was.

Kokoro stuck a solo sized baby tub of vanilla ice cream in Misaki’s basket.

“Are you sure you just want one? We could get a whole bunch, so you can eat it when you’re sad.”

“As appealing as that idea is, I can’t afford to treat myself,” Misaki looked down at her basket. “This has to get me through like a whole week.”

“Why? I’ll buy you more ice creams,” Kokoro tilted her head, arms still full of her own icey desserts.

“You don’t have to buy me anything. It’s just how being poor works. Everyone shops here.”

She wasn’t exactly lying. Nobody she knew had the time or money to buy real food anyway, so it didn’t feel that bad.

Kokoro gave her some kind of look, but didn’t say anything to oppose her.

They checked out with no further incidents, allowing Misaki the tiniest glimpse of Kokoro’s matte black credit card. Her last name was scrolled across the bottom of it in gold text.

She was someone beyond comprehension.

A popsicle kept Kokoro quiet as they made their way back to the apartments. It was odd to see her so… silent. At some point, she bumped into Misaki’s shoulder and carried on, focused intently on the phone in her hands rather than the person she’d collided with.

Warmth spread through Misaki’s arm where Kokoro’s bare shoulder had brushed it. The bubble in Misaki’s stomach returned and settled, absent since the night Arisa had overstayed her welcome. It was only a matter of time before the looming feeling of dread would overcome her again and she would find it in herself to get her room changed.

For now, her roommate was content to tap away on her phone at light speed with both hands, popsicle sticking out of her mouth and daring to slip off the stick.

She was so… little. Misaki had no idea where that thought had come from. It just popped into her head, while she watched Kokoro. She was short. It was a true fact, about a person that existed in some capacity beside her.

Kokoro shoved her phone in her pocket and smiled as they crossed the street.

“What are you up to?” Misaki couldn’t help but ask her. There was something about that particular smile that screamed trouble. Or maybe something else, but trouble was the most likely.

Kokoro shrugged. It was exceptionally annoying when she did that, even though Misaki knew she did that all the time herself when she didn’t feel like verbalizing. When Kokoro did it, it was extra weird.

She stayed mysteriously quiet all the way back to their building and through the front doors. Misaki opted to take the elevator rather than walk up any number of stairs with her bags. When the elevator doors closed behind them, Misaki found her voice.

“You’ve been quiet. It’s weird.”

She was weird when she wasn’t quiet too. It’s just, now she was weird weird.

“Have I? I was just thinking.”

“Oh. About your ice cream?” Misaki leaned against the wall. The elevators here took an eternity.

“No, about what Arisa was saying to you.”

Misaki shot upright. “What? What did you hear?”

“The part where she said you’re lonely. That’s no good, so I’ve been trying to come up with ways to make you smile. But then you could only get one ice cream, so that wasn’t any good either.”

Misaki carefully let out the breathe she’d been holding.

“Don’t worry about that. It’s no big deal.”

“But it is a big deal! I should know, I was lonely for a long time!”

Misaki swallowed the bitter taste that suddenly flooded her mouth. Loneliness was someone she’d become used to. And she supposed, that for a long time, Kokoro had been used to it too. She wasn’t the kind of person Misaki imagined could stand to be by herself for very long.

“It’s important that you’re happy.”

Kokoro grinned as the elevator door slid open. She jumped out and skipped down the hall, while Misaki tried to remember how legs were supposed to work.

Something about the way she’d said those words struck her where she stood.

Like she’d never once considered the importance behind what she actually wanted. Or needed. What did she need? A purpose, for one. She had no problem admitting that to herself at least.

The hallway seemed to go on forever as she put one foot in front of the other. Kokoro unlocked the door and held it open for her.

When she stepped inside, her mind wandered at the thought of where all of the fresh groceries on the kitchen counter had come from. They obviously weren’t there when she left this morning. The fridge was empty. Kokoro said the fridge was empty too. She wasn’t forgetting.

Where did it come from? Real groceries? She needed to sit down.

She trudged past the fresh food as if it didn’t even exist, threw her own meager purchases on her bed and sat down in her chair. When she spun around, Kokoro was standing in the hall, smiling at her with her hands on her hips and her pigtails swishing around behind her.

“I got delivery! Now you don’t have to worry about buying ice cream whenever you want it.”

She said it so matter-of-factly, like it was an easy solution she’d come up with on the fly. It probably was. It was so simple. Just groceries.

Nothing over the top. Just something they both needed.

She couldn’t accept this. How much had this cost her? How much would it have cost Misaki? It didn’t matter how badly she wanted it, she wasn’t deserving of something like this and she didn’t want Kokoro to give it to her. She had enough conflicting feelings as things were now, without random acts of kindness. But really, who was she kidding? What could she even say?

Misaki felt… defeated? Defeated wasn’t the right word. Maybe just settled, like she’d come to terms with the way Kokoro was, with the way she existed. Whatever Misaki was feeling, it was important.

Important.

Arisa had told her she mattered, just an hour ago, to a lot of people. She could agree with that, the concept of mattering to others and having a hand in how they spoke to her or acted around her. Mattering was different than being important though.

Misaki leaned back in her chair and smiled.

“That’s what I was looking for, perfect!”

Genuine confusion crossed Misaki’s face. “Hm?”

“That smile,” Kokoro stepped forward, hands together behind her back “it’s like the one you had on when Arisa stayed over. I think it’s nice on you.”

Always with the smiles. Misaki could feel herself blushing. Who even cared anymore. Today was dumb and stupid. There was only one thing she could say.

“Thanks.”

She certainly had some thinking to do.

 

---

 

To say today had been an emotional whirlwind would be an understatement.

In the morning, Misaki had woken up to chatter from outside drifting in through the window. Mostly laughing.

Barely awake and suffering from a pounding headache, she’d wandered downstairs and outside in her sleepwear to see what the commotion was and tell everyone to shut up and get lost. The nerve of some people, honestly.

It hardly even registered when she found out the cause of the trouble was Kokoro, who’d climbed a tree outside and was now unable to get down.

“Good morning, Misaki!” she’d called down, waving at her from her perch.

The people milling about were whispering things like “of course it’s her” and “hey, isn’t that Okusawa’s crazy roommate?” while they pointed and giggled.

It had taken everything in Misaki to force herself to stand there beneath the tree instead of abandoning Kokoro and wandering back inside. It was as if she felt responsible, like she was the one who had to wake up and come outside and resolve everything before anyone could rest.

“Why did you do that?” Misaki had asked her, referring to the act of climbing the tree.

“I dunno! It seemed fun. I have so much energy today!”

A very Kokoro answer.

They’d stood there (sat there, in Kokoro’s case) arguing back and forth about how to get her down while half the student body watched, but Misaki couldn’t bring herself to care about them. Maybe her friends would come around to watch the show too.

The encounter ended with Kokoro spontaneously leaping from her perch and into Misaki’s waiting arms, or rather onto Misaki’s arms, laying them both flat in the grass. This had been by far the most outlandish thing Kokoro had done up until now, but it wasn’t a far throw from the norm.

Kokoro had simply stood up, thanked Misaki for helping her down, and wandered away citing her first class of the day. People laughed at them, of course. Misaki considered falling asleep again right there on the ground, accepting the kind of day it was going to be before it even began.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite the kind of day she’d accepted it to be. Shortly after finding her way back inside, her mother had called her. And then her father called too, and suddenly they were all on the same line having the same debate about Misaki’s education that they’d had right after high school ended.

Debate was a much friendlier, kinder term. Fight would probably be more accurate.

Yes, it was definitely a fight, between herself and her parents and her parents themselves. She was wasting her time. Wasting her money. Her grades were poor. She was running out of time.

When she hung up, steaming and red in the face at the unexpected verbal brawl, she decided class was canceled today. Counterproductive, but she didn’t really want to talk or think about school at all anymore. Her mediocrity was getting to her, and it made her lie in bed hugging a pillow for three whole hours as the sunlight moved slowly across her bed. Her mind blank, she focused intently on the ceiling as she let the day pass her by. She hadn’t felt the pull of depression in almost a year.

Kokoro came back around noon.

“Don’t you have class right now?”

Misaki didn’t budge and continued hugging her pillow. “Obviously I didn’t go.”

Her voice was cracked and very much laced with anger that she had no right directing at Kokoro. Normally she could hold it in because she was alone, and now she wasn’t.

Kokoro came out of the hallway and Misaki finally saw her. Today her hair was down, but still messy from her escapade in the tree. She looked about as cheerful as ever, until she caught sight of Misaki and switched to neutral.

Misaki knew she probably looked miserable, with the bags under her eyes and a wrinkly tank top that likely still had grass stains on the back of it. She was just lying there after all, on top of her sheets, hugging her pillow and staring endlessly upwards. Frowning. Exhausted.

Kokoro vanished from her vision and she heard the fridge creak open behind her. Upon her return, she presented Misaki with a big tub of vanilla ice cream and a spoon.

Misaki eyed her, unable to decide what she should feel about the gesture.

“Ice cream won’t solve my problems, you know.”

Kokoro pushed it forward at her anyway. “I know, but it’ll make telling me what happened easier I hope."

“Who says I want to tell you?”

She sat up and took the ice cream anyway, then scooted until her back was against the wall. Kokoro mimicked her, hopping up onto her bed and shuffling until she was leaning on the opposite wall. She smiled.

“I guess it doesn’t matter what happened as long as I can help you feel better. It’s just easier to help if I know what to think about.”

The spoon was cold against Misaki’s tongue. “You can’t fix everything.”

“Isn’t it worth trying though?”

Probably not , was what Misaki wanted to tell her. Kokoro was too optimistic. Any solution she could come up with would be temporary, and it was like she didn’t understand that.

“What do you usually do when you get sad?” Kokoro asked her, not giving her a chance to say no.

“Wallow in my misery. Sleep.”

Kokoro raised her eyebrows. “I don’t think those things really help. It sounds like you want to make yourself feel worse instead.”

Misaki pushed some of the ice cream around with the spoon. “It’s just difficult to stop feeling bad when you know the things making you feel that way will come back again.”

“It’s hard for me to understand that kind of thing. It’s always better to feel happy so I just do that.”

“What, like you flip a switch?” Misaki asked her. “Ignoring your problems doesn’t make them go away.”

Kokoro huffed, which seemed a little out of character. Misaki wasn’t sure she’d ever seen even the tiniest hint of frustration surface in her.

“If they won’t go away then you still have to do your best to be happy.”

“And what do you do to make yourself happy?”

Kokoro blinked her mild discomfort away. “I listen to music. Or I go outside and run around, or blow some bubbles, or draw some pictures. It’s easy to find something fun to do.”

“I’m sure those things are a fun distraction for you. Not so much for me.”

“I know,” Kokoro nodded at her, “I do those things because it’s too hard for me to talk about what makes me upset. If you can talk about it, then I think it helps a lot more than pretending your sadness doesn’t exist.”

Misaki saw something in Kokoro’s eyes then, a glimpse of familiarity. A recollection.

She reached over and put the ice cream down on her desk. Kokoro didn’t know anything about her, but she was trying. More than Misaki was. Perhaps it would be better to try, than do nothing at all.

“I had a fight with my parents.”

“Oh?” Kokoro tapped her chin with a finger. “What about?”

Misaki sighed, more to herself than at Kokoro. “About school. Just, that I’m kind of wasting away with no goals or aim or anything. I’m not really a good student and I’m not good at anything.”

“Your parents said that about you?”

“I say that about me too. I hate talking about it because I agree with them. The big problem is that I don’t know what to do about it.”

Kokoro picked at her bed sheets absently. “How come it’s bad if you just don’t know what to do? Isn’t it good that you can still pick anything you want?”

Misaki shook her head. “That isn’t how I see it, and it’s not how they see it either. I’m just not good at anything. It doesn’t help that I’m still not -”

She froze as she caught herself. This wasn’t something she’d ever discussed, not even with Arisa. Or Rimi, way back when.

This was something private, personal. Her own monster.

“Still not what?” Kokoro pushed quietly, curiosity evident in her voice.

Would it really be so terrible to admit? Kokoro was someone she wouldn’t have to see again once she was gone. So maybe, it was a little different. Less risk… but risk of what? Letting herself have emotions for once?

If anyone in the room right now was an idiot it was probably Misaki.

“I’m still not over my parents splitting up. I think it killed a lot of my motivation to do anything.”

Her voice wavered as she spoke, like the words were choking her.

“I haven’t seen my little brother and sister in a long time. They had to go with my mom, and I went with my dad so he wouldn’t have nothing.”

The divorce had been a messy one. A fight for anything and everything they had between them. Her mother got her siblings and the house, and nearly everything else. The responsibilities she’d had to take on since then had weighed her down for so long.

“You know,” Kokoro’s voice broke through the deafening silence, “even now that you’ve said that I still envy you.”

“Envy me?”

“Mhm. Even though something terrible happened to you, you can still be yourself. You can still find something you love to do and feel better one day.”

Misaki pulled at the leg of her shorts. “I don’t follow. I tell you something awful I’ve never even told my friends before and the first thing you say is that you envy me?”

Kokoro’s fists met her forehead. “I know I know! I’m really bad at talking, I don’t know how to say things. I mean, I just think it’s… I dunno! It’s like you can still have a chance? I think that’s what I mean.”

“A chance to find motivation? Is that what you mean?”

Kokoro nodded. “Kinda. I had my whole life picked out since as long as I can remember. What my job will be and what I have to do when I go home. I don’t know how you really feel but maybe it’s the same kind of thing.”

Misaki looked away, down at her lap. Kokoro really was difficult to understand sometimes. This time, though, her words seeped into Misaki’s bones and the familiarity between them was evident.

She looked back up at Kokoro.

“Is it worse to have the freedom without the motivation, or the motivation without the freedom?”

Kokoro smiled at her. “I don’t know. I’m not sure what to do about it.”

“I might leave at the end of this year. That’s the only thing I can think of. Maybe I can try again later.”

It sounded sadder out loud than it had in her head. Kokoro’s smile faltered, only for a second.

“You could do that. I would be sad to see you leave though.”

Of course she would say that.

A lump gathered in Misaki’s throat, not for the first time that day. She wanted to close her eyes and sleep for days.

“Hey Misaki, stand up for a sec.”

“Huh?”

Kokoro lunged forward, leaping off her bed without giving Misaki a chance to process what was happening. Her arms reached across Misaki’s bed, hands wrapping around her wrists to pull her forward. Misaki shouted something as she stumbled and struggled to keep herself upright as she was dragged over the edge of her bed. Kokoro pulled her up awkwardly, forcing her to stand on her weakening legs.

Misaki realized what was happening just as Kokoro’s arms wrapped around her tightly, pulling her in and pushing them together. A slow warmth began spreading through her, emanating from everywhere she could feel Kokoro against her. Tiny hands bunched up the back of her shirt, while soft cheeks and a dainty nose settled against her neck.

Misaki stood there, staring straight ahead while Kokoro hugged her tighter and tighter, until she couldn’t squeeze anymore. She didn’t say anything, just stood there and held Misaki to herself in the middle of the room.

She felt dumb, like she didn’t know what to do, or like she’d never been hugged before which was absurd. She had been hugged, multiple times. A long time ago. When was the last time?

Maybe it had been a while. It didn’t matter that it was Kokoro, of all people. She’d still missed the comfort that came with it.

And so she hugged Kokoro back, because she probably needed one too. She was so small, Misaki found herself thinking yet again, as she wrapped one arm around her waist and wove another through her long golden hair. She’d never touched it before, but it was as soft and smooth as it looked.

How much time passed, Misaki didn’t know. There was something about the way they were that made her check out and forget what she was even worried about in the first place. Not literally, maybe just emotionally. Minutes ago she’d felt like crying.

Kokoro let go and stepped back eventually, looking cheerful.

“So…” Misaki wasn’t sure if she should be looking at Kokoro or the floor. “What was that for?”

“You just seemed like you needed a hug. And maybe you need someone to tell you that you’re a good person, too. You’ll find something someday.”

There wasn’t much she could say in response to that. Was she a good person? She didn’t feel like one now. The sentiment in Kokoro’s words warmed her already heated skin.

“Thank you for telling me.”

And she really was thankful. Moments like this were ones she liked to imagine she didn’t need, mostly because they never happened to her. She could get by without them. Something deep in the confines of her flustered mind missed the feel of small hands against her back and steady breathing against her neck.

Kokoro took her hand. “Come sit down.”

Misaki followed, and let herself be pushed onto Kokoro’s bed. She perched on the edge while Kokoro rummaged through her desk for a moment, returning with an old fashioned walkman and a stack of CDs. These were the sorts of things her dad had, and not what she expected someone like Kokoro to care for. A phone could hold thousands of songs these days.

“I’ve had these since I was little.” Kokoro sat down beside her- right beside her, their thighs were touching -  and began sorting through her discs. “I listened to the radio and picked out the songs I liked, and the people in the suits put them on CDs for me.”

She picked one out and popped it in, then fiddled with the tangled headphones.

“I might not be able to sing for everyone anymore, but listening to other people always makes me smile.”

She offered Misaki one headphone.

It seemed so personal. Misaki felt like she shouldn’t be allowed to listen or something, like she was intruding on someone else’s dream. Kokoro’s eyes were watching her intently, bright and reflective in the soft glow of the sun. She was so sincere it hurt.

Misaki accepted her offer without saying anything.

Together they sat there as the first song began, something fast and upbeat from probably the nineties. Kokoro closed her eyes and clutched the walkman in her hands as if it would leap out of them at any moment. Misaki watched her, watched her soft grin and her drifting hair, her chest as it rose and fell with even, steady breaths. Even though only their thighs were touching, Misaki could swear she felt Kokoro’s steady heartbeat picking up speed despite how calm she appeared to be.

She had a thought, a brief one, that Kokoro looked quite cute at the moment. Perhaps something else a little more than that. Her emotions were all over the place.

Any thoughts she had evaporated in an instant as she felt Kokoro lean into her, shoulder to shoulder. Her head fit right back in place near Misaki’s neck, where her breath had tickled skin just minutes ago. The song picked up the pace along with the pounding. It was a little odd that she could feel Kokoro’s heartbeat so loudly though.

The room was so warm now, but she didn’t want to get up to turn on the air conditioning. Was it always this hot in the afternoon? Her lips felt dry, and also she felt as though a hiccup was lodged somewhere down her throat.

Kokoro’s hand brushed against hers and it hit her all at once.

It wasn’t Kokoro’s heartbeat she could feel, pounding and rattling against her ribcage.

It was hers.

 

---

 

After that, being around Kokoro became a much easier endeavor. Misaki felt as though she was hovering in some kind of limbo, where she was trying to deconstruct how she felt about everything one piece at a time so she wouldn't be overwhelmed.

First came the parsing of thoughts about what happened when Arisa stayed for the night.

That stupid checklist.

At the time it really had struck her, but a night of rest had pushed any and all thoughts about it away before she could let herself really comprehend the possibilities. The prospect that someone was (potentially) thinking so much of her was frightening. She never imagine she could live up to this illusion - this other version of herself that Kokoro seemed to find and never leave alone.

It was that version of herself who had opened up for a serious conversation with someone she was trying to avoid.

Kokoro had another version of herself as well, and that was the one Misaki convinced herself she was maybe even sort of kind of enjoying the company of. If it were up to Kokoro though, Misaki was sure she would say that she was always like this and there were no hidden facets of herself that she didn't want anyone to know about. She had the same apprehensions Misaki did, when it came to talking about family.

Luckily, that topic didn't have a reason to come up again and instead the rift between them slowly closed, one day at a time.

Kokoro liked to draw often, and she was surprisingly very good at it. It was as if she'd been doing it her whole life, for lack of much else to do in her solitude. Misaki had walked in one day after class, too exhausted to work on anything productive but not exhausted enough to take a peek over Kokoro's shoulder while she was hard at work on something.

The cluttered study corner had been cleaned out, binders shoved aside in favour of a sketchbook the size of Misaki's torso. The page Kokoro was working on now had started out as little more than a sketch, developing rapidly over the next hour as Misaki wordlessly pulled a chair up to observe her process. She was drawing the place she'd met Misaki's friends, a no doubt joyful experience for her and nothing more than a complicated, awkward situation for everyone else. The way Kokoro saw it was much different. Her pencil crayons flew across the page, detailing the bright green grass and the whispy clouds against a bright blue backdrop. Misaki almost wished she could go back and try again, to maybe try feeling like how the drawing looked.

When Kokoro was finished, she sat back and held it out to Misaki for approval.

"What else is in here?"

"I'm glad you asked!" Kokoro told her, eyes lighting up. "This is where my song ideas go."

There was something sad about her still clinging to that particular dream, but she showed Misaki anyway. Pages upon pages of things that either made sense in a literal way, or didn't. Some things, Misaki could tell, were drawn from life, while others looked like they were pulled right out of a children's colouring book, with hard messy lines and the simplest of imagery. If she were asked what a song might look like, then she supposed she wouldn't really be sure how to picture it either. For Kokoro, this was the closest she came to writing music of her own. A book of ideas that would never see fruition.

Another day, she ran into Kokoro back at the Lawson.

She had baskets on both arms, filled to the brim with popsicles and other icy treats. This time her hair was tied up, likely a precaution against the freezer door.

Misaki had stood there, a little spacey, as Kokoro filled two more baskets and handed them both to her. She barely had the space to fit her own shopping in, and she wasn't about to ask for any kind of explanation when she had things to do and needed to get her shopping out of the way. It took the cashier several long minutes to ring everything up, and Kokoro stepped in to tell him that Misaki's purchases were also hers, and to please include them in the total. She paid for everything, and when they left Misaki decided to ask her what on earth she was doing.

"I dunno. Probably give them away to everyone? It feels like the kind of day to do something nice."

Misaki wasn't sure how the rest of the student body would feel about being approached by someone who was essentially a stranger offering them ice cream, but at the same time no college student on Earth would say no to free anything. She found herself following along, unwilling to make Kokoro carry everything she'd purchased on her own, and that was how she ended up handing out frozen treats to people she never knew and never would know. They sat together at the table, hastily trying to hand everything out before it melted in the sun. Kokoro was a little too forceful sometimes, nearly incapable of taking no for an answer.

To her, it didn't make sense for someone not to partake in a thing that made her feel good. She was trying so hard, but Misaki had to step in from time to time and tell her to stop pestering people who didn't want it. She felt a little like she was scolding a child instead of an adult. All the while she thought about her unsteady heartbeat, and reminded herself that Kokoro was someone who didn't know when to quit. Kokoro distracted herself from disappointment by talking Misaki's ear off.

She was learning all kinds of personal things lately.

Kokoro knew multiple languages. She went away to Europe every summer, usually on business with her parents, and so she wasn't able to get out much despite going to so many cool places. She had a piano at home, but never learned how to play and one day she hoped she could. She owned a star. She owned a stable, and a lot of horses. A private beach. More vacation homes than anyone needed. A cruise ship.

A train pass that let her ride an unlimited amount of times was what Misaki found herself most jealous of. Everything else seemed like too much, and it was obvious by the way Kokoro talked about it that she didn't care much for it herself. That, or she was so far removed from understanding value that she didn't even know what having all of those luxuries meant to someone like Misaki.

To her, it didn't mean anything. Well, it didn't mean entirely nothing, but little enough that she could easily forget about it whenever Kokoro did. She could hardly see past the little things, like her nice laptop and expensive phone, to focus too much on the rest of her lavish lifestyle. If anything it made her worried, and she wasn't used to being worried about anything Kokoro was up to. Misaki was grounded in reality, where a naive girl with a lot of money could easily wander off in the wrong direction.

She couldn't deny that she was slowly getting used to Kokoro using what she had to ease Misaki's mental load. It was for things they needed, like toothpaste when Misaki was down to the very last drop, or edible things that were much healthier than what she might find at a corner store. Maybe it was easier now because she knew that Kokoro was doing it out of the goodness of her heart, with truly good intentions in spite of her pushiness. Misaki knew it was her job now to make sure Kokoro didn't give too much, when she didn't have to.

Only so many instances could pass her by before she trailed back to her thoughts about that night spent listening to music with Kokoro. Only so many thoughts could pass through her mind about what she was feeling before she had to really sit down and think. Only so many times could Kokoro smile at her before she could no longer hide her own.

She would have to come to terms sooner or later.

---

If there was anything Misaki couldn’t do, it was lie to herself.

She could talk herself in mental circles all day if she wanted to, but in the end she knew she couldn’t outsmart her own brain. Something inside her was giddy at the thought that she was feeling anything for anyone at all, because of course it hadn’t truly happened before, at least not like this.

What would her friends think of her now?

She supposed she would find out, because she’d invited Kokoro to have lunch with them again.

Arisa would be there of course, and she would definitely pick up what was happening instantly without a doubt. And yet, Misaki found that she just couldn’t care about that, as long as nobody asked her to get down on one knee right then and there. She wanted a clean slate, where she wasn’t being an unfair moody bitch for no reason to someone who considered her a friend.

Kokoro came to them not long after they’d all sat down together in the cool grass.

They’d all turned to look at her very obviously, likely expecting to see the frown Misaki was almost always wearing. Instead, she was smiling . Minds were hopefully blown. She did wonder if she was going crazy, latching onto Kokoro’s frank displays of affection because she was so starved of any at all. At the moment that didn’t matter.

“Misaki! I’m here!”

Kokoro waved at them, skipping through the grass in the shade of the trees.

“I thought we moved so she wouldn’t find us.” Sayo muttered into her food.

“She wouldn’t have found us,” Misaki did her best to keep her voice steady, “but I invited her.”

Moca wiggled her eyebrows. “Oooh, first you invited her to the party, and now out to lunch? When’s the wedding?”

“When’s yours?” Misaki fired back, looking away from Kokoro.

“When Ran stops being a baby.”

Kokoro reached them at last, and came around to sit next to Misaki. Out of the corner of her eye, Misaki caught Arisa giving her the sharpest look in the universe. She could deal with that later. For now, her attention was occupied as she struck up a conversation with the sunny girl next to her about what she’d done in class today.

The words came so easily, as if she’d never even considered hating Kokoro for a millisecond. Everyone was watching them, she could feel it.

She’d never felt her heart race like it was now. It didn’t even matter what they were discussing, or if Kokoro wasn’t giving her two seconds to reply. It didn’t matter that Moca was hiding her sly smile behind her hand or that Maya was pretending not to notice them. It didn’t matter that her perspective had flipped wildly just because the organ in her chest was a little more audible whenever she was around Kokoro.

She was just… giddy. Excited.

It was the prospect of having a crush on someone for the first time she could ever recall that pushed her beyond her comfort zone so swiftly. Perhaps she was desperate.

“I’m really thankful to have met you all,” Kokoro told them, “if it weren’t for Misaki I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet such wonderful people!”

Maya pulled at the collar of her shirt. “Well, we haven’t really met properly, hehe...”

“Hmm, you’re right…” Kokoro tapped her chin. “We should do something fun together. I think that would be a pretty good start.”

“What do you think would be fun?” Misaki asked her, wondering if her friends would even go along with it to begin with.

“What about dinner?” Kokoro lit up at her own idea. “There’s a really nice place nearby. It can be my treat!”

“Free food? Hell yeah.”

Arisa swatted Moca’s arm and Kokoro laughed at them.

“That could be nice,” Sayo offered her opinion, hesitation still evident in her voice. “As long as we aren’t out very late. I have a paper to write.”

“I guess we’re all going then?” Arisa crossed her arms. “I hope it’s worth it.”

Maya nodded. “It does sound like fun. We haven’t had a group dinner since we got here.”

“It’s settled then!” Kokoro pumped her arm upwards. “Dinner on me!”

---

The menu hadn’t even had prices on it. Her friends were confused, utterly baffled by the time they’d realized that Kokoro had offered to take them out for the most expensive meal they would all ever have - and they didn’t have to pay a single yen.

It had slipped Misaki’s mind that nobody else had really been aware of Kokoro’s background. Only Misaki herself had been around to piece together that she had more money than she knew what to do with. To her friends, this was insanity.

Even Moca was quiet, staring blankly at the menu until Kokoro reassured them they could get whatever they wanted. After that the awkward tension had sort of evaporated while everyone tried to forget the concept of paying for food, and they slowly came around to typical group chatter. Catching up on classes, who they were talking to from back home, the latest gossip, all those kinds of things.

Oddly enough, Kokoro occupied herself by listening rather than exploding with questions Misaki figured she’d have. When Misaki had nudged her to ask if she was okay, Kokoro had simply told her that she just enjoyed being there with other people. She really was a simple person in the end, despite her complexities.

After dessert, Misaki held back with Kokoro while everyone else thanked her and headed out, collectively in better spirits then they’d been earlier that day. It was just the effect Kokoro had on others, Misaki figured. When she was done with you, you were changed in some way.

There was still that nagging feeling though. The one about the money, and how uncomfortable it made her to see Kokoro using it to try and make friends. They could have gone to a fast food place and had the same kind of experience, but she supposed this was something normal for Kokoro anyway. It didn’t make her feel any different about the whole thing though.

Misaki hovered behind Kokoro as she presented her credit card before she even had the total. It felt weird watching her, with her fingertips resting on the counter and her toes pushing her up so she could more comfortably watch for the total to pop up on the till. A young girl with a big heart and evidently all the money anyone could ask for. She would have to look after Kokoro very closely.

She had to look away when the final damage was revealed. She didn’t consider herself to be the jealous type, but it clawed at her from time to time regardless.

She snapped her attention back to the present when Kokoro tugged on her arm.

“I’m ready to go, Misaki!”

They stepped outside into the cool and gentle night.

“You didn’t have to pay for everyone,” Misaki told her. She didn’t have to. Misaki didn’t want her to.

Kokoro pulled her sweater a bit tighter around herself. “But I wanted to. It was my treat to everyone, after all.”

Misaki thought carefully about what to say next. It wasn’t likely Kokoro had any concept of what it would mean to be taken advantage of. It was worrisome, that she would so willingly pay for the pricey meals of people who were still essentially strangers to her.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Kokoro said as she matched Misaki’s slow and steady strides.

“I really hope you do. It’s going to worry me if you don’t.”

Kokoro laughed. “I trust them if you trust them. You’re good at looking after me.”

That wasn’t something Misaki had considered before. The idea that she was already looking after anyone, much less Kokoro. A vast majority of the choices she’d made since they’d met had been for Kokoro’s sake, she supposed. Even if the intentions hadn’t been as kind in the beginning.

“I still don’t know when I should just take what I can get. It makes me sad to think about it.”

Misaki nodded. “So I guess that means you don’t think about it much.”

“Nope,” Kokoro shook her head. “Sometimes if I just keep going, everything works out anyway.”

“I suppose that’s one way to look at it.”

Their arms brushed together and Misaki shivered against the cold, carefully putting some distance between them. As much as she could, on the narrow sidewalk.

Kokoro skipped forward then, and turned around to face Misaki while walking backwards.

“It’s how we met. I just kept going and here we are!”

Misaki spared her a small smile. “I don’t think anyone’s ever been that excited about me before.”

“And why not?” Kokoro raised her eyebrows. “You caught me when I fell out of the tree.”

Misaki could still feel that particular incident in her knees. “You mean you jumped out of the tree in my general direction.”

“Sure, if you want to look at it that way. I don’t know why I went up there, but it was fun.”

“I feel like you don’t know why you do a lot of things,” Misaki rolled her eyes.

Kokoro spun around, keeping pace just a little ahead of Misaki.

“And you always want to know why you should do something. Like you always need a reason.”

That was a curious thing for her to say. Not inaccurate.

“Is there something wrong with being intentional in things I do?”

Kokoro’s hair drifted back and forth, indicating she was shaking her head. “No, it’s the way you are. I wonder if you hold yourself back sometimes.”

The streetlights above them flickered on. It was quiet, and the rest of the sidewalk was empty. Like they were the only two people in the city, talking about nothing with only the stars to listen. The only person that would hear Misaki was the girl in front of her.

“It’s hard for me to think of myself as anything more than mediocre. Have you ever been scared of people who are more put together than you?”

Probably a stupid question. Kokoro didn’t seem likely to be afraid of anything at all.

“No. What do you mean?”

Misaki’s feet slowed her to a stop. What did she mean? Sometimes she wasn’t even so sure herself. It was part of being lost and she’d accepted it long ago.

Kokoro halted and spun around again, tilting her head.

Misaki took a deep breath and prepared to do her best.

“I mean everything. A good job, a nice degree, a direction. That sort of thing. Or even just… being pretty, I don’t know. Things I see in others that I don’t have.”

Kokoro gave her a thoughtful look. “Well, you’ve got two of those. I think that’s something to be happy about.”

Misaki blinked and considered what she wanted to hear and what Kokoro actually meant.

“It depends which two things you’re talking about.”

“Well, “ Kokoro held up a finger, “the direction we’re going is home, and also you’re pretty so that’s two.”

Misaki blushed, half with embarrassment at Kokoro’s logic and half with embarrassment at her second comment.

“I-I mean like, pretty pretty. The kind of girl other people want to look at.”

She looked at the ground, so she wouldn’t have to look at Kokoro anymore. The temptation was there to use Kokoro herself as a standard for what Misaki considered beauty to be, but talking about Kokoro in that way didn’t seem fitting.

It had taken her so long to understand that noticing Kokoro’s hair and eyes and literal glowing face every time they interacted wasn’t because she found her completely intolerable. Not being able to look away most of the time probably indicated that she liked what she was looking at. The opposite of looking in a mirror.

The tips of Kokoro’s shoes crossed into Misaki’s field of vision as she drew closer. She definitely couldn’t look up now.

“Well I look at you all the time. I like your eyes and your hair. Especially the thing your hair does right here.”

Misaki felt a finger poke her forehead, right where her cowlick was. The skin beneath it burned, slowly turning red along with the back of her neck. She was just so frank about it.

“It’s boring,” Misaki said, as if she thought she could ever change Kokoro’s mind about anything. She wanted to laugh at herself for even trying.

Kokoro awkwardly leaned down, trying her best to get into Misaki’s line of sight. She looked silly, half crouching and leaning back and forth in the middle of the sidewalk. Misaki held in a laugh.

“Is there something on the ground?”

“No, no,” Misaki felt the shakiness that had been present in her voice only moments ago evaporate. Kokoro’s oddness had chased it away so easily. “I’m just being me.”

Kokoro beamed at her when she looked back up and their eyes finally met. “Good! You should always be you. That’s the you I’m glad I got to meet.”

They started walking again, Kokoro falling back into step alongside Misaki once more. Misaki looked between them with the very corner of her eye. They were so close.

“I still don’t think I’m anything special.”

Kokoro bumped their shoulders together. “You can say that,” she leaned in a little, “but you must be extraordinary.”

“You can say that,” Misaki tossed back at her, “but I have to ask why you think so.”

“My heart races when I’m with you. That’s the kind of thing that makes me happy.”

Misaki wanted to stop again and sit down, but she forced herself to keep going. Kokoro was an impossible person. How did someone like her exist? Someone who understood so simply, and spoke so openly. She did what she wanted to do and said what she wanted to say.

Maybe Kokoro was the one with all the freedom after all.

Then again, who exactly was telling Misaki no? All her life she’d been holding herself back. There were things that happened to her that she couldn’t control, couldn’t change.

Out here, where she strove to speak her mind, and where she felt her shortcomings would get the best of her… it didn’t have to be that way.

One thing especially.

Wordlessly, she reached out and took Kokoro’s hand.

Her fingers were slow and clumsy, but Kokoro didn’t pull away as their palms brushed together. She smiled as Misaki wove their fingers together, warmth spreading between them.

Neither of them said anything as they strolled together through the night, hand in hand. Misaki herself had nothing left to say, and hoped her actions would be all she needed. It was the bravest thing she’d done in a long, long time.

The gentle squeeze Kokoro gave her was all the reassurance she needed.

Chapter Text

After a long and restless night of what could barely be called sleep, Misaki decided it wasn’t enough.

She really hated herself sometimes. Mostly the logical, realistic side. A majority of the time it was beneficial and kept her alive for one more day, but sometimes it weighed her down and made her wish she could just be ignorantly blissful every now and then.

How could she possibly have turned entirely around in the span of a day? She knew strong emotions were fleeting, and it was part of why she liked to so very carefully consider everything she did. What lay in the realm of possibility, and what was well beyond it? She knew she was just like this. A day ago she had accepted the way she felt, and now in this very moment, as she lay in her bed facing the wall, she was questioning if it was even real to begin with.

Logically, it didn’t make any sense. One moment she was still figuring out how to ditch Kokoro, and the next she was skipping around and holding her hand, head over heels in the span of hours. At the start of the year, she had truly hated the girl sleeping soundly across from her. The chances of that changing so quickly were astronomically low. Perhaps she was just playing herself out of desperation.

Or, maybe this was part of that whole thing where she intentionally made herself lonely because she still felt like she didn’t even have a reason to exist. Being self aware didn’t make her own thoughts any easier to grasp.

She turned over.

Kokoro was sound asleep, wrapped around pillows and blankets and smiling even as she slept. Strands of her golden hair stuck out every which way, flowing around her like a glittering cascade. After all this time, she was still glowing.

Of course, it was Misaki who was fighting with herself, and not Kokoro. To her, the world was probably turning day by day just as it always had.

Come to think of it… did Kokoro even understand what was going on? The way she thought, the way she saw the world, it simply didn’t line up with the way Misaki did. If she risked misinterpreting mutual feelings, she could wind up in the same pit she was in when her first relationship slowly fell apart.

Part of her felt as though she hadn’t aged a day since then. Locked into the mindset of not being worth it, of wasting away in a riskless void while life passed her by and she clung to what little she had. Perhaps in another life, she might have found her place sooner.

Kokoro made a noise and rolled over, barely visible in the darkness. A leg flopped over the side of her bed. Misaki couldn’t even let herself enjoy the night they’d spent walking together. Her hand was still tingling even now, as she considered that her feelings might not be real. Maybe she just didn’t want them to be real.

She curled into herself beneath her thin sheets. Where her open mind had gone, she didn’t know.

Later, as the day passed her by, Misaki felt as though she had a timer above her head that was slowly ticking down, and when it hit zero she would have to make up her mind about what she was going to do. There were no rules written anywhere about the way it had to be, but the catalyst of taking Kokoro’s hand had no doubt marked the start of something.

As she walked through the school grounds in no particular direction, she wondered if she’d made a terrible mistake. She just couldn’t shake the feeling.

Her entire first class had been spent in a daze, words flying over her head as she robotically copied the notes for a subject she barely remembered. All she could think about was Kokoro. Kokoro, and what she was going to do if she was just fooling herself into feeling happy around her or wanting to spend more time with her or literally anything remotely similar. But that was stupid too, because why would she fool herself? What would be the point?

She knew she’d never been in love before.

Kokoro’s voice echoed over and over inside her head.

“How are you supposed to know what it feels like?”

And how would Kokoro know either? It was presumptuous to assume there was any reciprocation going on. The tiny Arisa that lived on her shoulder would probably just tell her she was oblivious. Awkward. Stupid.

Kokoro fell into step with her along the pathway through a grassy courtyard. Misaki could hardly stand to look at her, as if she were betraying Kokoro with her very thoughts.

“How was class? Did you learn anything fun? I just finished English, and…”

Kokoro went on happily, while Misaki’s thoughts pounded against the inside of her head and drowned out anything she had to say.

“What if you don’t really like her?”

It was about as likely as it was unlikely. The butterflies in her stomach had been there for weeks, mistaken for a bubble of discomfort and an urge to get away.

“What if you’re just desperate?”

Hopelessness and desperation went hand in hand after all. Misery loves company; it would be cruel to drag her into something that wasn’t even real.

“What if it’s real this time, and you mess it all up again?”

The heart of the problem. She had no idea what to do.

Before she knew it, the time had come to make her choice. She felt the light brush against the edge of her hand, the closeness of Kokoro as she drew nearer until their shoulders were almost touching. Fingers, small and painfully familiar, reached out for hers.

Her worst fear came to fruition as someone she cared about finally reached out to her in a way nobody had before. Kokoro reached in, and Misaki pushed her back out.

She pulled her hand inward, closer to herself, and picked up her pace so she wouldn’t have to see Kokoro’s reaction. It wasn’t fair. Once again, everything in moderation proved to be too little. Her courage was not exempt.

Nobody followed her as she broke away from the path and onto the grass, fighting the urge to run as she pulled her hat lower in an attempt to hide from anything and everything. The soft green crumpled beneath her sneakers as she swept herself away behind a building and threw her back against the wall, clutching a hand to her chest and letting go of the breath she didn’t know she’d been holding.

Just as her heartbeat started to slow, Moca and Arisa rounded the corner to confront her.

Of course they’d seen it. Of course.

“Don’t.” She told them.

“Uh-huh.” Arisa crossed her arms.

“That was real slick,” Moca droned, “very subtle and not obvious at all.”

Misaki chose not to say anything at Moca’s sarcasm.

“Did something happen?” Arisa probed.

“Yes.”

No use covering anything up anymore. She knew she needed help.

Her friends looked at her expectantly, and for once in her life Moca actually looked relatively serious, if not concerned. No doubt there had been gossip and whisperings behind her back since this whole thing began.

Misaki stuck her hands in her hoodie pockets. “After dinner last night. I took her hand.”

“And now you’re suddenly incapable of doing it again?”

“Even Moca-chan is unimpressed,” Moca contributed, “we had high hopes for you. All that mental cheering, gone to waste.”

“I don’t know why you were cheering for anything.” Misaki wanted to shy away when she heard her voice crack in the middle of her sentence.

Arisa mumbled something offensive under her breath. “Imagine understanding that your friends can tell when you’re experiencing positive emotions.”

“Was it really so obvious?” Misaki questioned.

“Obviously not to you.” Arisa replied sharply. The air between them all was tense. “I don’t understand how this isn’t a good thing. You like her, you made a move, and she’s responding. You lost me, honestly.”

Moca nodded. “She’s not as pretty as Moca-chan, but your girlfriend makes your mouth do that thing where it isn’t sad. You know, the upside down frown.”

She pointed to the corners of her own mouth.

“I don’t even know how to explain this to myself.” Misaki muttered. “Yesterday I felt like I knew what I was doing and today I’m back at square one.”

“You wanna hurt her feelings?”

Misaki shot Arisa a glare that could wilt flowers. “Of course I don’t! I know I probably did. If you were me, you’d be second guessing yourself too.”

Moca hummed. “So it’s you that you’re not sure about? Not her? Does she embarrass you?”

“Yes, but I don’t care about that. I’m just… what if I’m wrong?”

Arisa moved her hands to her hips. “I guess it depends what you think you’re wrong about. You probably don’t have a lot of time to explain properly so just get to the point.”

The point…

Somewhere deep inside, Misaki knew that she’d spent the entire morning making excuses for herself, looking for loopholes and pretending she wasn’t afraid of anything. Fear kept her from trying new things in general, while necessity drove her to push her limits. Coming to Kyoto was one of those pushes, and so was letting Kokoro worm her way inside her personal bubble.

This entire thing was so stressful. She wanted to go back inside, skip class, and read books under her blankets. Instead, she had to put into words what she knew was really bothering her and hope her friends wouldn’t judge her for it.

“Ah, well… it does sound like a good thing, doesn’t it? Finally admitting to myself that maybe I don’t hate her.”

“You want her around,” Arisa waved her hand dismissively, “I could tell from the start.”

“It’s something I can’t explain.” Misaki spoke quietly. Above them, the sun slowly snuck away behind towering white clouds. “It’s frightening to imagine wanting something, and fighting with yourself to admit you even want it. I wish I were more outgoing. Nothing ever pushed me.”

“Slow and steady, it’s how Moca-chan lives,” Moca gave Misaki a soft look, “but you’re always trying to be too steady. Wouldn’t it be more fun to jump in?”

Misaki held in a chuckle and the tiniest smile in the world. “That’s something she would say. And then I’d tell her, it isn’t that easy.”

“We always make it harder for ourselves than it needs to be.” Arisa looked away for a moment, lost in her own memories.

There was a silence between them as the clouds passed overhead and the sun came around again. The worn brick felt cold against Misaki’s back. It was now or never.

“What if she doesn’t understand.”

A statement, not a question, really.

Moca scratched the back of her head, while Arisa did nothing but continue looking disappointed.

Misaki went on. “It’s stupid, isn’t it? I’m the first friend she’s ever made. Do either of you honestly think she feels anything beyond that? She doesn’t know what she’s doing.”

The anger she felt for herself earlier was slowly seeping out now, as she considered why she left Kokoro behind.

“It’s almost funny I guess. Some socially awkward sheltered kid who’s never gone outside before meets me, barely gets to know me, and I let myself think it could go somewhere for a day. This kind of thing never happens in real life.”

“It does sound pretty far-fetched.”

Arisa reached over to smack Moca’s arm.

“Alright genius, why don’t you actually talk to her instead of convincing yourself you don’t have a chance?”

Misaki reached up and fiddled with the brim of her hat. “And what if she just agrees with me to make me happy? Or what if she thinks she knows what’s going on and she really doesn’t, and then I do something stupid and -”

“You’re doing something stupid right now!” Arisa’s hands balled into fists at her sides. “I know you have problems and you hate talking about them, but you have to quit being so dramatic. You need to stop doubting yourself and talk to her like an adult!”

“And what if it’s not what I think it is?”

Arisa flicked the brim and Misaki pulled her hand away.

“Then you suck it up like anyone else who’s ever been rejected. I hardly know her and I can tell you right now she wouldn’t stop being friends with you if it didn’t work.”

“I don’t want to hurt her.” Misaki argued, as if they were even having a debate to begin with. It was more like she was fighting a losing battle that she didn’t really want to win in the first place.

“You’re probably gonna,” Moca told her, “if you lead her around n’ all that.”

“Seriously,” Arisa rolled her eyes, “you’re standing here telling us you think she doesn’t understand what love is. You think she’s gonna understand why you’re flip flopping between acting like you care about her and suddenly ditching her?”

“I would be pretty confused.” Moca nodded.

“Do something that makes you happy.” Arisa’s voiced settled all of a sudden. They’d all been close to shouting, and it was all so tiring. “And figure out what you want.”

With that, Arisa gestured for Moca to follow her and they both walked away, clearly not willing to meddle any further. There wasn’t really anything more they could say, or anything Misaki wanted to hear. In the end they were right and Misaki was making it much bigger than it needed to be. Her track record was just so, so awful though.

Eventually, she wandered out from behind the old building and headed for her next class, wary of anyone who passed her by that happened to have blonde hair. When she found her building, she walked past it and kept going, no appetite for learning left in her.

She wanted to think, but the thoughts just wouldn’t come. There was always a roadblock, always a moment where she stopped and told herself she just needed to say something. To Kokoro, that is. She was well past having the option of talking with anyone else. Surely her friends knew enough by now.

She didn’t stop walking until the sun began to set and she found herself back at her apartment building. Half expecting to be too afraid to even get in the elevator, she surprised herself when her feet carried her there, and then out on her floor and down the hall to the room she shared with what had quickly become her biggest fear.

If nothing else, Kokoro deserved an apology.

When she stepped inside, it was as if she’d walked into another world.

Here, she could hide away from anyone who was forward enough to confront her. There were clothes (not hers) all over the floor, stuffed animals spilling into the hallway. Whimsical drawings and barely legible notes scattered beneath her feet. The stupid lights pinned to the wall above Kokoro’s bed.

And Kokoro herself, who was smiling ear to ear the moment she laid her eyes on Misaki.

“You’re back!” She threw her arms in the air and spun her chair around.

“I...yeah, I am.” Misaki carefully removed her shoes and stepped over the toys in the short, narrow walkway. She made her way to her bed and took a seat on the edge, struggling to figure out what she should say about earlier.

“Are you feeling better now?” Kokoro asked her, leaning half way out of her seat.

“Hm? Feeling...oh, um. Well, about that. I’m sorry. If I made you upset or-”

“Upset?” Kokoro raised her eyebrows. “Me? But I thought you were the upset one! I spent all day trying to figure out how to cheer you up.”

“You did?”

She leaned back on her palms and considered what to even say to that. It was so unexpected.

“Mhm, first I thought about what makes me happy. Like a parade! Or fireworks. Something big. A ride on my cruise ship! But then I remembered I don’t know how to do any of that stuff. Not when the suits aren’t here. And the ship can’t really come to Kyoto.”

Misaki blinked. “C-cruise ship?”

Kokoro nodded, like it was the most normal thing in the world. “Wouldn’t that have been fun? We can do it next time. Or maybe skydiving.”

“Eh?!”

“Things like that are so exciting! Even if we can’t do them right now, it’s fun to think about. It took me a while to come up with something I could do right away that I knew you would like.”

“And what did you come up with?”

At this point, Kokoro could reveal she’d done absolutely nothing and Misaki would likely be fine with it. Just talking to her was enough for now, after what she’d walked away from earlier. She couldn’t believe she was welcoming a conversation with Kokoro with open arms. It felt good though.

Kokoro hopped out of her chair and shuffled into the mini kitchen in the hall, reaching into a paper bag sat on the counter. Misaki heard the crackle of plastic shell packaging being popped open, and she truly was curious. What would be Kokoro’s cure-all after that highly suspect list of extravagant things she’d come up with?

Kokoro made her way back between the beds, stopping in front of Misaki with her hands behind her back.

“I got…” she braced for a moment, as if to give Misaki a chance to get excited. She wasn’t quite there yet.

“Cupcakes!”

She whipped her hands out to reveal two little cupcakes, decorated to look like tiny animals. Misaki recalled seeing them amongst the pastries at the Lawson when they’d visited. A bear and a rabbit, all done up in colourful icing and chocolate ears. They were so… cute.

Misaki smiled at her. A cupcake held the same sway as a luxury cruise these days. It was so simple, and so very Kokoro.

“Thank you. It’s good.”

It’s good? Misaki yelled at herself. That’s all you have to say?

Kokoro moved to hand her the bear and promptly dropped it on the floor. Misaki sat there, her hand halfway to where the cupcake had once been, unsure of what she should do.

“Oops. Um.” Kokoro leaned down and tilted her head. “Hey, Misaki? It landed icing down on a sweater. Is this yours or mine?”

Misaki looked down at the messy floor. It was hers.

“It’s mine.”

“I see. Uhh. Hm.”

It was all so ridiculous. Her huge crush on Kokoro, Arisa following her around like a nosey mom, Kokoro’s dumb drawings all over the place, Kokoro’s tiny lights above her bed. The groceries in the fridge that never ran out, thanks to Kokoro. The headache that never left her, thanks to Kokoro. The rapid beating in her heart, thanks to Kokoro.

The bear cupcake smashed into her sweater on the floor. Her life was so yellow now.

She couldn’t hold in her laugh. It was quiet at first, but eventually Kokoro joined in from where she was crouched on the floor, maybe just giggling at Misaki or the cupcake or whatever, it didn’t really matter because it was so cute it only made Misaki laugh louder.

When they both settled down, Kokoro stood up. “The cupcake might be lost, but it did its job. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you laugh before. It feels good, right?”

Misaki pondered. It really did. Nothing like that had happened to her in a long time.

“Yeah, it does. Thank you for the cupcake, even though I didn’t get to eat it.”

“You can have mine?”

Misaki laughed a little again. “We can split it later if you want. I’m actually not that hungry.”

Kokoro smiled at her and leaned back down to pick up the fallen bear. She wandered away back to the kitchen to presumably dispose of it and put the rabbit back.

It gave Misaki a moment to reflect on what had just happened to her. That, and how she would be letting moments like this one pass her by if she backed down now. She didn’t need fireworks or a parade or anything like that. She didn’t want those things. What she wanted now, was to get to know Kokoro for who she was. She was spoiled and a little different than everyone else, but she was kind.

Would it be worth it to risk a comfortable friendship for love?

The only way she could find out would be to act on it.

“Hey, Kokoro?”

Her head peeked out of the hall. “What’s up?”

“Wanna watch another movie together?”

“Yes!” Kokoro pumped her fist. “Let’s do it!”

Misaki stood and picked up her ruined sweater, tossing it in her laundry bin in the corner along with the last remnants of her apprehension.

“Get your laptop ready then.”

“Right now?”

“Right now.”

“Okay okay!”

Misaki shoved some of the mess on the floor away with her foot as Kokoro scrambled to retrieve her laptop from her bag. She propped it open on her knee and got to work finding something for them to watch, absolutely elated. Reaching across Kokoro’s bed, Misaki considered what she was doing one last time.

She wanted this. She wanted to know what would happen. If what she thought was happening was happening.

She flicked the fairy lights on.

Kokoro tossed her laptop on her bed and got to work sorting her pillows and stuffed toys, shoving things left and right to clear a comfortable space. Misaki made her way to the light switch and flicked it off, leaving only the soft glow above Kokoro’s bed.

When she turned around, she witnessed something she didn’t expect.

Kokoro had pulled a desk chair around and sat it beside the bed, right beside where Misaki had awkwardly sat the first time they’d done this. Maybe she wanted to keep the good mood going, and play into Misaki’s comforts. It was considerate. It also wasn’t exactly what Misaki had in mind.

Kokoro climbed into her bed and nestled herself under the blankets, pulling her laptop across her legs. The sound she made when Misaki shoved her chair out of the way was hard to describe. Surprise, and something else.

The duvet fluffed up as Misaki pulled it back and moved to get in after her. When her knee hit the impossibly soft sheets, she froze. What if Kokoro didn’t actually want this? What if she’d misread the chair thing?

Her brain shut up when Kokoro reached out and pulled her in, with stars in her eyes.

“Hey hey, don’t pull so hard! At least let me get all the way in!”

Kokoro let go and held the duvet out of the way while Misaki slid the rest of herself under it. Kokoro’s bed was so unbelievably comfortable that she didn’t know what to do with herself.

“God, you sleep on this?”

“It’s nice, right? I brought it from home.”

As Misaki moved around and propped herself up with a pillow beside Kokoro, she could feel her legs sinking into the fluffy pillow top. Chances of ever getting up for the rest of her life became slimmer and slimmer.

Kokoro snuggled in beside her and Misaki felt her face heat up. The butterflies in her stomach definitely weren’t going to settle all night. Beneath the sheets, their legs brushed together and it made Misaki’s skin tingle.

The grin spread across Kokoro’s face was the widest Misaki had ever seen it, and the lights above them made her eyes sparkle.

“Are you ready?”

Misaki nodded, but…

“Wait.”

“Hm?”

Kokoro squealed in delight as Misaki reached over and wrapped her arms around her waist. The time Misaki had left to hesitate had run out and all caution had been thrown to the four winds the moment that cupcake had hit the floor. Misaki pulled and dragged Kokoro towards her, over her knee as the sheets rustled and tangled around them.

When the movement stopped, Kokoro was nestled snugly between Misaki’s legs. She was bubbly and giggling as Misaki wrapped her arms around her middle, pulling her as close as she could.

Kokoro was so warm. And her hair smelled nice.

“Ready.” Misaki whispered into her ear, thankful her courage had returned to her at long last.

As the evening progressed, it was brought into question whether or not either of them were even paying attention to the movie at all. It was some animated thing Kokoro liked. All Misaki could think about was how it felt to sit with her, and how soft Kokoro’s hands were as they fiddled with her own around her waist. The lights above them cast speckled shadows along the sheets, and a soft glow across the curve of Kokoro’s cheek, which Misaki could just barely see from her seat behind her.

She could just lean forward a little, over Kokoro’s shoulder. It looked like a good place to rest her head.  Mostly, she wanted to know what the reaction might be if she did it, to figure out once and for all if it was happening. It sure felt like it was happening. There was always that sliver of doubt that never left, however.

She leaned forward and rested her chin on Kokoro’s shoulder. Her face could probably be likened to a tomato by now; it was as if she couldn’t stop herself. Hours ago she couldn’t even get started. Kokoro made her feel good, that was all that mattered right now.

Kokoro turned her head a little in Misaki’s direction.

“Are you even watching?”

Misaki smiled at her. “I’m distracted.”

“You’re the one who suggested a movie. Did you want to do something else?”

She could only shrug. Sure, she didn’t really care about the movie anymore, but if they did something else then maybe Kokoro would make her get up or something. That would be counterproductive.

Kokoro laughed. “I’m not really watching either. You’re comfy.”

If it were possible, Misaki was certain she’d reddened even further.

“Did you want to get up?” She asked Kokoro quietly, half hoping she wouldn’t hear.

“You’re a really confusing person, Misaki. If you don’t say what you want, then how am I supposed to know?”

“Hm?”

Kokoro pulled Misaki’s arms away then, and sat up on her knees. Misaki’s chin fell away from her shoulder and she wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do. The girl in her lap turned around to face her and grasped her shoulders with both hands. It was impossible to look anywhere but into her eyes. In the darkness, they shined.

“I’m pretty good at guessing though.”

Confusion crossed Misaki’s face for only a moment as Kokoro pushed her down until her back was flat against the mattress. The laptop tumbled across the blankets into a forgotten corner of the bed.

Misaki thought Kokoro was going to kiss her, she really did. That was where her mind went as she was loomed over. Anyone sane would tell her that couldn’t possibly happen so soon, she didn’t even know what they were. She hoped for it anyway.

What actually happened was almost as good. Kokoro lay down across her and pulled herself closer, stretching her arm lazily overtop of them and resting her head in the crook of Misaki’s neck.  Heat rushed to every inch of skin she brushed against, leaving Misaki more out of breath than she’d been in her entire life.

“Good?” Kokoro whispered, so very close to her ear, close enough that Misaki could feel her lips moving.

Above them, the fairy lights twinkled.  There was just so much to think about all at once. Visions of what she wanted to happen flashed before Misaki’s mind, and she wondered what might have happened if Kokoro really did kiss her. Even just laying together like this made her feel like a different person. Just who exactly did she want to become?

“Good.” She told Kokoro, another whisper in the darkness.

They sunk further into the mattress with every passing moment. Kokoro’s breathing slowed and softened, as if she were drifting away. But Misaki had something important to tell her before tomorrow came. Who knew what might happen, when reality came back.

“Kokoro, can I tell you something?”

The girl atop her let out a slow hum, nodding against Misaki’s shoulder.

“I think I… I just needed something like this. So thanks.”

Kokoro was silent for a short while, and Misaki considered that maybe she’d fallen asleep already. Or perhaps she was thinking.

As Misaki let her eyes drift closed, the response just barely made it to her ears.

“Sometimes you need something even when you think you don’t.”

There was nobody like Kokoro.

 

---

 

When Misaki woke up, she wasn’t entirely sure where she was. Well, she kind of knew. Kokoro was starfished on top of her, drooling a little on the pillow that was dangerously close to touching Misaki’s face.

For the most part she was comfortable, outside of the fact that she was still wearing the clothes she’d spent all of the previous day in. To her left, a sliver of sunlight stretched across the floor where the balcony curtains were parted an inch or so. She wrapped her arms around Kokoro’s middle and pondered what to do while the sleep slowly left her eyes.

What an odd feeling it was to wake up with someone in her arms. While it was a totally new concept to her, it also felt familiar in a weird sort of way, like she was finally sleeping at peak capacity. Like she was fully recharged now. It was just better, that’s all there was to it.

She realized then that neither of them had set any kind of alarm. Craning her neck, she did her best not to jostle Kokoro around as she sought out the digital clock that lived on her desk.

Past noon.

“Kokoro!” She whispered frantically. “Kokoro, wake up!”

She grabbed a shoulder and shook it lightly, but with urgency.

“Five more minuz…” Kokoro slured, very clearly not awake at all.

“No, not five more minutes! We slept for like twelve hours! Jesus, I skipped half my classes yesterday…”

She did her best to push herself up, and Kokoro did her best to weigh her down.

“Misakiii…” Kokoro mumbled, wrinkling her nose and groaning with obvious distaste.

“Come on, get up. Don’t you have perfect attendance or something?”

“Not anymorrre.” She continued to whine, looping her arms around Misaki’s neck as she was pulled upwards.

Misaki struggled for a bit as the typically energetic ray of sunshine on top of her became what was essentially dead weight, utterly refusing to cooperate. She wiggled herself into a sitting position with a great degree of difficulty and Kokoro slumped to the side, falling beside her on her back. She grumbled something about how mean Misaki was, rubbing at her eyes with two fists and frowning.

“You gotta get up. Come on, Kokoro.” Misaki urged her, surprisingly concerned about her education for once. It may or may not have had something to do with her hitting the absolute limit for skippable classes already.

“I don’t gotta. Just stay here.”

She opened her eyes. Misaki felt that fluttering inside herself again, struggling not to give in right then and there. She felt Kokoro grab her her arms, pulling her over until she was hovering above, hands sunk into impossibly fluffy sheets on either side of her.

“They’ll fail me if I keep skipping.”

Kokoro frowned again. “I’ll buy the whole campus and tell them no.”

“You’re crazy.”

“I’ll do it.” Kokoro threatened. “Do you think they want cash or a cheque?”

Misaki considered for a second that she might not be joking.

“I can’t tell if you’re serious or not.”

“I am if you get up.”

Misaki couldn’t muffle the short and sweet laugh that fell from her lips. “Where did this side of you come from?”

Kokoro pulled not so subtly on her arms, trying to bring her down. “Maybe you should spend more time with me and find out.”

She sounded so cool about the whole thing, like being flirty was no big deal. Misaki was still stuck on the idea that she was being flirted at to begin with. She felt like it couldn’t possibly be directed at her, which was completely stupid considering where they were and what they were doing.

“You’ve almost got me convinced. What time does normal-you check in?”

“This is normal me! You’re just always still asleep when I have to wake up.”

“Well,” Misaki picked her words carefully here, unsure if she wanted to win or lose whatever this was, “you’re pretty forward for someone who only has one friend.”

She became keenly aware of a pair of legs slowly rising up and twisting to wrap around her own. It was a struggle on Kokoro’s end, a very cute one. “I’ve read a lot of books and the internet is really interesting.”

“You know what else is interesting? Going to class.”

By now Kokoro must have realized Misaki’s heart just wasn’t in it and she’d already given up going. She’d stopped pulling and messing with their legs, doing nothing more than looking up to watch Misaki’s face.

“Wouldn’t it be more fun to stay here?” She offered.

Misaki wanted to close the distance between them so badly. Specifically between her lips and Kokoro’s, but the time didn’t feel right. Or, she was just embarrassed and making up reasons to not do the thing she wanted to do.

She sighed and lay back down anyway, letting Kokoro tangle them together. It was as if the threat of being failed didn’t matter suddenly, like everything she had ever been worried about was forgotten the second she sunk back into the luxurious sheets.

They faced each other, blanket pulled up to their necks and so close they were breathing the same air. If it were up to Misaki, they might not move for centuries. She snaked an arm behind Kokoro’s back.

“So. What should we do while we’re here?”

Kokoro looked contemplative and sleepy at the same time. Misaki suspected she really did just want to go back to sleep, but her reply proved otherwise.

“Tell me about what school was like.”

“You mean high school?”

Kokoro nodded, fiddling with the material of Misaki’s hoodie. There wasn’t a lot she could say to that.

“It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad. I made some friends but I mostly kept to myself.”

“What was the funnest part?”

“Hmm.” Misaki closed her eyes for a moment. “Probably playing tennis. It was the only thing I felt like I was good at, until Sayo beat me to a pulp the first and only time she ever tried it.”

“Oh.” Kokoro blinked. “Is Sayo good at sports?”

“She’s not particularly sporty. Her twin sister is a prodigy though, so maybe some of it rubbed off on Sayo.”

“I see. It must be fun to have a twin, don’t you think?”

Misaki laughed. “Well, I guess it could be if you didn’t both disagree about most things. For them I don’t think it’s easy.”

“That’s a shame. Well, what else was fun at school?”

She really was fixated on the whole high school thing, wasn’t she?

“Honestly, I don’t remember a lot of it. Nothing remarkable happened. My parents divorced and I messed up a lot. I try not to think about it that much.”

“Hm.” Kokoro closed her eyes this time. Misaki wanted to touch her hair again. Wisps of gold brushed against her hands and her face, flowing around her. It was messy, shiny, and it smelled so nice.

“I almost went to high school, like you.” Kokoro told her, eyes still shut. “My parents decided last minute that it would be better if I had private lessons.”

“Oh? Where were you going to go?”

Kokoro opened her eyes. “Not even a private school. A girl’s one, Hanasakigawa. I remember it really well because we went to look at it when my parents were still thinking.”

Misaki opened her mouth, willing her words to come out and trying to wrap her brain around what could have been. What were the chances?

“That’s where I went.” She pushed out.

What a world it was. What a world it might have been. Would she have hated Kokoro then too? Loved her?

Kokoro was smiling. “Wouldn’t that have been interesting. If we were able to meet sooner.”

Misaki didn’t want to dwell on the ‘“what ifs”, because there were things she didn’t know if she wanted answers to. Life could have re-written itself in a universe where Kokoro sat next to her in class, happy and shining, probably a lot like she was now. Everything had already played out though, and they were here now.

“Do you feel like you’re making up for lost time?” Kokoro asked her.

Before Misaki could figure out what she meant, her phone began vibrating across from them on her desk. They both glanced over at it and did nothing while it buzzed. As if Misaki would get out of bed just for a phone call. What if it was her parents? She let it ring.

As soon as it stopped, it began again.

Misaki groaned and rubbed at her eyes. It might be important. Or it could be Moca, with a perfectly timed interruption. She stood up slowly, dragging Kokoro to the edge of the bed reluctantly. She let go just before she fell out.

Tempted to chuck her phone out the window, Misaki instead read the caller ID flashing on the screen. Sayo?

“Hello?”

“Where are you?” Sayo asked her in her hall monitor voice.

“What do you mean? Where are you?” That was a stupid question, because of course Sayo was in class.

“I’m where you should be. You missed two classes this morning. Is something wrong?”

It was nice that Sayo was concerned, she rarely showed it. Unfortunately, it would be annoying to explain why she was still lying in bed. A simplified version would be good enough for now.

Misaki looked over at Kokoro, who was staring at her intently.

“Nothing’s wrong. I just have something more important to do at the moment.”

“They’ll fail you. I suggest you hurry up and come to class, we can’t all keep looking out for you when you do things like this,” Sayo lectured. Honestly, none of that mattered at the moment. There was something in the air that told Misaki she was finally making the right decision for once in her life.

“No, Kokoro will buy the school,” Misaki replied, as if that explained anything.

“What?”

“I’ll see you later.”

When she hung up Kokoro burst out laughing, likely having guessed what they were talking about over the phone. Misaki couldn’t help but laugh with her a little.

“So you believe me?”

“About the school? Maybe.” Misaki made her way back to the bed and climbed back in, lying down to face Kokoro. There really were more important things to do. She just wasn’t sure what they were yet. What would Kokoro want?

That was still something she was flip flopping over. Not because it wasn’t obvious, but because she didn’t know exactly what she was supposed to do yet. How did these kinds of things work? Do you sit down and talk about your feelings? A dramatic confession? That didn’t exactly feel necessary. They didn’t know enough about each other yet.

There was one thing Kokoro loved that Misaki already knew she could tolerate.

“Did you want to listen to music?”

Kokoro sat up in a flash and nodded vigorously, crawling across the bed to reach for the old walkman on her desk. She paused to look through her CDs, still sat on the shelf where her books were meant to go, and very carefully pulled out a blank CD case with an equally blank CD inside, visible through the clear cover.

Interesting.

“What’s this?” Misaki asked her, watching as she made her way back across the bed. Kokoro didn’t reply, busy tucking herself back under the blankets and rolling onto her stomach. Misaki copied her, rolling over and inching sideways until their shoulders touched.

She watched Kokoro fiddle with the CD, popping it in the player and untangling her headphones. She handed one to Misaki.

The voice she heard was familiar. It was strong, melodious, and not something Misaki wouldn’t listen to if she ever came across it. What a contrast it was from what they’d listened to before. Kokoro was watching her as she liked to, but this time she looked more like she was searching for something. Or studying, or waiting for something.

When the chorus came around, it hit Misaki.

“This is you,” she said to Kokoro.

“Nobody else has listened yet except the suits who helped me rent a studio for a day,” Kokoro grinned at her, “I’m glad you could tell.”

“If I sounded like this I’d say fuck my degree and start a band. What’s it called?”

“Shocking Blue. I’d love to start a band!” Kokoro nudged her shoulder, “except it took me almost a year to write this. I’m really bad at that part, I can’t make my ideas right.”

“If I could write songs, I’d write them for you.”

Misaki meant that. She wished she could. It was a crime to lock Kokoro away behind whatever family business it was that they had. Talent gone to waste.

Kokoro gave her a soft look. Something uncommon between her high and low energies that made Misaki’s heart flutter. She wished she could say something, anything, about the song or the music, but she just didn’t know enough. The only thing that was clear as day to her was that this song was something Kokoro treasured. A part of her that Misaki could have for herself.

In the hours that followed, Misaki pondered intensely over the first instance of motivation she’d had since she started high school.

Maybe it wasn’t too late to start over.

 

---

 

At some point, they mutually decided to get up and go to their last classes of the day. Kokoro skipped off happily while Misaki wondered if she really was on the shitlist for missing so many lectures. Her afternoon classes were the ones she missed the least, if that meant anything. Regardless, it was a problem for later.

When they found each other again afterward, Misaki regained the ability to hold hands with another human. Kokoro talked her ear off as they walked across campus, and when they ran into everyone else they got all manner of questionable expressions.

Arisa’s gaze was narrow and directed at only Misaki, as if she was still expecting her to regress into moron mode. Moca laughed, and Sayo did that thing where she pretended she wasn’t looking or caring but really she was doing both at the same time. Maya still seemed out of the loop. Everything felt right again, except good instead of steadily miserable. Misaki couldn’t explain it to herself or to anyone.

It was cheesy and gross but she felt like maybe, just maybe, she was finally slipping into the place she belonged.

She wanted to ask Arisa if that was what love felt like. Not enough to actually say anything to her of course. That would be embarrassing with Kokoro standing right there, after all.

They split off and walked back to the dorms, the same way they did when they weren’t holding hands. They went about the evening as was typical, with Misaki focused on her homework and Kokoro focused on trying to get Misaki to not do her homework. Just because Misaki liked her didn’t mean she wasn’t still completely annoying, or a bit of a spoiled brat. That was something she would have to learn to work around until she had a chance to ground her lovely… lovely… girlfriend? That sounded like too much. They hadn’t even discussed it. Where they stood wasn’t all that clear.

What was clear as day (as the night approached) was that Misaki had no interest in sleeping in her own bed. Sleeping in Kokoro’s bed had been like sleeping on a cloud stuffed with wads of cash or something ridiculous like that. It was just that good . She couldn’t recall having sleep as sound as what she had last night in her entire life.

Also, Kokoro. She could no longer deny that being close with her was extremely appealing.  Whatever they were didn’t really matter all that much if Kokoro let her in.

Said girl waltzed out of the washroom, in a big neon yellow shirt that covered what Misaki already knew were panties and nothing else. This time, it meant something. It had to. Unless Kokoro didn’t really know what she was doing. Misaki felt her cheeks burn while here eyes got away from her, trailing down Kokoro’s legs.

Kokoro laughed, snapping Misaki out of her thoughts. Maybe she could stand to be a little less obvious. Orrr…

“Did you-”

“Do you -”

They spoke over each other at the same time, Misaki much more flustered than the girl across from her. She stood up.

“You first,” Kokoro told her, holding her hands behind her back.

“Uh,” Misaki began dumbly, “last night was. Nice. So, you know.”

Tonight it seemed Misaki was ready to reveal her more bashful side, with a dash of her typical social awkwardness. There were reasons she didn’t see herself as an appealing person.

“Do I know?” Kokoro laughed again. “You can say anything, it’s just me.”

It was just Kokoro. She was as pure as humans came.

“Your bed?” Misaki asked her, in fewer words than she’d planned. Yesterday she’d found it inside herself to be so assertive, and now she was a nervous mess again but for different reasons. She’d never been so physically close to anyone before. She wanted to be close to Kokoro though. So much so that it even surprised herself how much she wanted it.

She smelled good and felt good, especially when they were so close together. The thought alone warmed Misaki’s entire body in seconds.

Kokoro smiled and nodded, a signal for Misaki to wander away in a stupor and throw on her nightwear. When she came back from her turn in the washroom, flicking off the light on her way, she was greeted by the fairy lights and a mess of golden locks tucked snugly under soft and fluffy sheets.

The duvet felt cool to the touch even though her skin was hot, and she had to stop herself from throwing the covers back too quickly to get in. She tried to settle her heartbeat, unsure about why she was drawn in so suddenly to Kokoro like a magnet. She was excited, she knew. But she was so excited, and that was something different.

Across from them, Misaki’s own bed sat cold and empty.

Kokoro pulled her in, wrapping her arms around Misaki’s back. They sank down together, and Misaki was acutely aware of their bare legs brushing against each other. She felt like she was supposed to move and pull them away, but instead the girl attached to her tangled them together, giggling all the while.

“You’re so warm! I won’t need a heater in the winter anymore.”

Misaki felt a weird lump form in the back of her throat. There were so many implications behind those words, and none of them were unwelcome.

“You should turn off the lights,” Misaki told her, mostly because the darkness would hide her burning face.

Kokoro nodded and reached out for the little switch. Darkness enveloped them, and yet still Misaki swore Kokoro was shining. Not literally glowing or anything. She just stood out, even in the dark. Wrapped together, they settled.

Misaki could feel Kokoro’s gentle, steady breathing against her neck. She was probably legitimately ready to sleep, while Misaki’s eyes were wide open as she let herself indulge in the attention. Kokoro was wrapped around her on purpose . Kokoro was holding her. She wanted to share a bed. She wanted .

How badly, exactly, did she want?

“Kokoro,” Misaki found herself whispering quietly.

The pillow they shared rustled as Kokoro turned her head upwards. “Hm?”

“How do you feel about me?”

Misaki felt a shrug against her chest. “Pretty good? Why?”

She wished she could bring her palm to her forehead, but her hands were busy hugging Kokoro at the moment.

“No no, I mean like…” she trailed off. How was she supposed to explain this? “I mean, is there anything you feel that’s only for me?”

There. Hopefully that was enough.

Kokoro moved her leg up and down, brushing together with Misaki’s. “Well, there are a lot of feelings I have that are only for you. Sometimes I get annoyed because you’re so gloomy.”

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. I think also, that there’s a certain kind of happiness for you, and sadness when you tell me about things that make you upset. There are all kinds of feelings I have that are just yours.”

Misaki frowned, unsure about what to do. “And that’s it?”

She felt Kokoro’s fists pull at the back of her tank top.

“Well…” Kokoro went on, “it’s hard to tell what I feel. Sometimes it doesn’t seem real.”

“I don’t really understand what you mean. More than usual.”

“Sometimes I think we were meant to meet. I want to be closer with you than anyone else. It doesn’t seem fair when I think of it like that, because I want to be close with everyone.”

Misaki could feel her heart beating against her ribcage.

“I feel like I used up all my luck meeting someone who wants to spend time with me, after being alone for so long. You were my first friend. So I think to myself, what are the chances?”

So they were both standing in the same square. Misaki found it hard to imagine that Kokoro would have had any kind of inner turmoil about her, and yet here she was, taking the words right out of Misaki’s mouth before she could even think of them. It was chance. Maybe.

Misaki leaned in, until she could almost feel Kokoro’s words on her lips.

“Do you think it’s love?” she asked, as her eyelids sunk lower and sleep pulled at her drifting mind.

Small hands, gentle and soft, rose up from the sheets and cupped Misaki’s cheeks. Misaki wanted to kiss her.

Not yet.

Kokoro’s fingers danced against her skin.

“I hope it is.”

 

---



When Misaki awoke at a time that might have been the morning, or it might have not, she decided to take in the view and enjoy what she had.

Curled in her arms was Kokoro, fast asleep and making barely a sound at all. Her hair was tangled, sticking out every which way, and wrapped around everything including Misaki’s arm. She stared and stared, across rosy cheeks, a soft rounded nose, and pink, pink lips. She looked so peaceful, and in the silence she only stood out even more.

This was the girl she’d met one day who spun around in her chair, talked in a strange way and thought so differently than anyone else did. She was set apart, an anomaly in Misaki’s life that she would never have expected, not in a million years. She was Kokoro, and there was nobody else like her.

Slowly, Misaki’s hand found its way to the curve of Kokoro’s hip, where her shirt had ridden up. It was so easy to just touch her, to feel the heat that built between them and under skin. She was careful, not wanting to wake her up just yet. It was as if she were holding something delicate, touching something that had become precious to her so quickly in a way she couldn’t comprehend.

She lay there, running her hand leisurely up and down Kokoro’s side, inching her shirt up a little further each time. There wasn’t really a lot of consideration behind her actions, other than that she wanted touch. The kind of touch she wanted didn’t really matter, at this point it was all the same to her. It was something she never really had, and now she did.

In her mind, she wondered if Kokoro would think the same of her. Wondered if she would wake up and feel the pull as well. She wanted Kokoro to let her write songs for her to sing. She didn’t know the first thing about writing music. There would be a lot to learn.

Something from deep inside Misaki overwhelmed her, washing over her like a wave. Urgency, desire, and everything else she had ever repressed came pouring out in her actions as she reached out with both arms and pulled Kokoro in as close as she could, hugging her as if she would float away if she wasn’t tethered down. Misaki buried her head in messy gold hair.

Kokoro stirred. As wakefulness came around, she groaned a little but returned the embrace nonetheless.

“Mhm. Misaki?”

Do you feel like you’re making up for lost time?

Kokoro’s words had never left her. She had to catch up. For the sake of herself, and what she needed. Selfishness be damned, she’d never wanted anything so badly before.

She pulled back as Kokoro’s eyes flickered open.

“Gmornin’,” Kokoro told her with tired words.

Silence was all Misaki could come up with as she raised a hand to run it though Kokoro’s wild hair. Her thumb grazed a heated cheek, and swept up behind a reddening ear. They were somewhere else, far away. Misaki thought her heart was going to burst right out of her chest.

When Kokoro smiled, Misaki kissed her.

An invisible forced pushed her, clumsy yet confident against Kokoro’s lips. Her eyes blinked shut and it wasn’t at all like she expected it to be. It wasn’t like before, not like the first time. This time, with Kokoro, she felt heat everywhere. Kokoro made a surprised noise, kissing her back anyway, warming her just as fast as her relief was cooling her down. Any tension between them was swept away as they pulled each other closer for those first few moments.

Something Misaki had never felt before flooded through her as they separated. It wasn’t enough. They weren’t close enough, and she needed more.

Kokoro barely took a full breath before Misaki pulled her back in for another warm kiss. And another. And then another, and so many she didn’t want to bother keeping count. Kokoro writhed beside her, sighing and cooing and making all kinds of noises as Misaki captured her lips over and over. She felt like she just couldn’t get enough. She wanted everything all at once, she could barely breathe and there was sweat running down her back.

Kokoro forced them apart and pushed her away.

“Misaki, slow down!”

She blinked and sucked in air one pant at a time, realizing at last that the hands she was gripping Kokoro’s shirt with were shaking. Her heartbeat, strong and loud, pounded in her ears.

“I’m sorry,” she rushed out, voice shaky and cracked.

“No,” Kokoro tightened her arms around Misaki’s waist. “I’m glad you want to kiss me a lot, but you gotta let me breathe!”

Misaki kissed her again despite that, like she wasn’t in control of herself. But of course she was, her feelings were just getting away from her as they were bound to do one day.

She leaned away, already pulling Kokoro back in, until hands gripped the sides of her face and held her back.

“Misaki!” she whispered, sharply this time. “I’m not going anywhere! You’re going so fast I can hardly even feel it, you know!”

Shaking her head, Misaki willed herself to stop shaking. It was her responsibility to be considerate of Kokoro, who had probably never even kissed anyone before in her life. She was meant to enjoy it too, even through the inexplicable and sudden pressure Misaki felt to do everything at once.

“Sorry,” Misaki repeated, anything else she might have said escaping her.

Kokoro laughed, keeping hold of Misaki’s face as she took over and pulled her close.

“I… I-I need,” words struggled on the tip of Misaki’s tongue, failing to come out the right way.

Gentle lips silenced hers, and she let herself be taken away. When it was Kokoro doing the kissing, kissing her, it was so overwhelmingly better. This time it was slow, long and drawn out as Kokoro took her turn to explore. It still wasn’t enough to quell the rising heat inside her. She nudged Kokoro’s lips with her tongue until she took the hint and parted them.

From here on out, it was new territory for both of them. Misaki was worried, somewhere in the far corners of her distracted brain, that she would be too inexperienced, or that she’d mess up in some way and Kokoro would run away from her. It wasn’t very common that someone her age had never kissed like this, right? She hesitated once Kokoro opened her mouth, a flash of anxiety overshadowing her desire.

Luckily Kokoro had no such qualms, and happily took the lead with a content sigh. She knew even less than Misaki did about what they were doing, but she clearly wasn’t paying it any mind. She found Misaki’s tongue with her own and they both gasped into each other. Misaki’s eyes squeezed shut even tighter and she shook as she felt Kokoro’s tongue against the roof of her mouth.

They kissed a while longer while Misaki calmed herself down, losing herself in Kokoro’s taste and scent as they came together again and again. Even then, she still wanted more. She just didn’t know how much she would be allowed to take.

One of her hands found its way to the hem of Kokoro’s oversized shirt, now ridden up just past her belly button. She gripped it, fingers brushing against the bare skin beneath. Kokoro stopped what she was doing and looked into Misaki’s eyes, smiling as her arms moved to wrap around her neck.

“You said you needed something?”

Her fist tightened around the material, mind racing and heart pounding.

“Why do you love me?” Misaki asked her, hardly knowing why she did it.

Kokoro giggled, gazing at her fondly. She let go of Misaki and pushed herself up, shoving the sheets away and stretching a leg out over her until she was straddling her waist. It was impossible to ignore how little she was wearing by then, especially when her shirt was still crumpled and bunched up around her middle. Her panties were bright red and Misaki couldn’t tear her eyes away.

She trailed a hand across Misaki’s stomach, over her tank top.

“Why do you love me ?” she turned the question back on Misaki. “I’m not the same as everyone else. Sometimes people say there are things wrong with me.”

“There’s nothing wrong with you,” Misaki fired back as fast as she could. She used to think the same, after all. Now she knew that Kokoro was just Kokoro. “There’s nobody like you.”

Kokoro leaned down and kissed her. “There’s nobody like you either,” she whispered.

Misaki pulled at the hem of Kokoro’s shirt again. The burning sensation below her stomach wasn’t going to leave anytime soon.

“I don’t really know how to do this,” Kokoro told her, grinning all the while.

“This…” Misaki began, “this is… we probably shouldn’t be doing this. We haven’t done anything else.”

She was fighting with herself internally, desire threatening to overtake rationality. In the end, this entire thing was getting a little crazy. Everything became so hot so fast, and anyone else would tell them they were going much too quickly.

“Is there something else we’re supposed to do first?”

“Y-yeah,” Misaki stuttered with a still shaking voice. “A d-date or something. All that stuff.”

Kokoro flashed her a confused look. “How come? Who says we have to do that?”

In spite of what she was arguing, Misaki was very slowly moving her hips as best she could to press against where Kokoro was sat across her. She was just right there, and Misaki was on fire everywhere they were touching. She’d never felt anything like it.

“I-it’s not…” she pressed forward, heart jumping when Kokoro’s hand brushed across hers, the one still gripping the bright yellow shirt. “I mean, I’ve never done this either.”

Her free hand wandered, sliding across Kokoro’s thigh. It didn’t seem to matter what she said, the rest of her was busy doing something else.

“Have you even kissed anyone before?”

Kokoro shook her head. “Just you. It would be nice to catch up on all the other things I’ve missed, though.”

Misaki’s hand tightened around her thigh, fingers pressing into the pink, pink skin. Kokoro sucked in a breath.

“Are… are you sure you want to do this with me ?”

At that, Kokoro rolled her eyes. “I know what sex is, Misaki. Didn’t you just say you needed this?”

She had. Or, she’d started to say it, and then chickened out. Admit what you want, the Kokoro in her head told her. It’s okay to say it.

Luckily, she had her very own real Kokoro now, who could read her like a book and figure out what she needed before she even knew.

Misaki’s grip on the shirt’s hem loosened and fell away as Kokoro reached down and pulled it up, up and up and over her stomach and her chest, and then over her head until she was bare. She tossed it to the floor unceremoniously and stared directly into Misaki’s eyes.

Eyes jumping all over the place, Misaki let her mouth hang open. She didn’t know what to look at first. There was so much naked skin, so much to take in. Kokoro was slim, her stomach flat with the cutest hint of a belly button. She also happened to be blessed where Misaki was modest, and Misaki wanted to scold herself for staring right at them. But Kokoro was her… girlfriend, right? She was her something. So she was allowed.

Kokoro leaned down, hands coming to rest on either side of Misaki’s head. Still, Misaki held herself back, unable to bring herself to touch the girl who hung over her so casually while she was essentially naked. Clothes being removed was not enough permission for her to do what she wanted to do. The heat between her legs intensified as Kokoro moved her hips against Misaki’s.

“If you need it,” Kokoro gazed at her softly, strands of her hair falling across Misaki’s face, “you can take it.”

Love, Misaki thought to herself. How she’d missed it.

She wove a hand through Kokoro’s hair and pulled her down to kiss her again. There were no rules. Only them, and they could do what they wanted.

Her tongue pushed past Kokoro’s lips while her other hand flew up her side, until it came to rest against the gentle rise of a bare breast. She swallowed a noise of delight from Kokoro as her fingers inched their way up, brushing across a hardening nipple and pressing into the smooth skin around it.

Kokoro’s hands were busy holding herself up, and Misaki needed to rectify that. She stopped what she was doing and grabbed Kokoro’s waist, pushing herself away from the mattress until they were both sat upright, Kokoro still resting in her lap and all without breaking the kiss.

She pulled away for only a second before leaning back in, pulling Kokoro’s tongue into her mouth and letting her hands explore again. She wasn’t sure if she was doing it right, but judging by the sounds Kokoro was making, she was enjoying it regardless.

Small hands tugged at the bottom of her tank top. The aching need to feel Kokoro’s skin against hers blocked out any of the embarrassment she might usually feel, and she ripped her shirt off over her head as fast as her hands could manage. She didn’t hesitate before wrapping her arms around Kokoro’s back and pulling them together, skin flush against skin. It felt good. Almost too good.

When she finally brought herself to rip her lips from Kokoro’s, she dove in for her neck right away. She heard Kokoro’s surprised gasp and felt her hands weaving through the back of her hair, pulling her in. Kokoro Kokoro Kokoro, it was all about Kokoro. It didn’t matter than she’d never done this before. She wanted to take, and to her, that meant giving.

She picked a spot and sucked skin into her mouth, knowing full well what she was doing. When she was done with Kokoro, everyone would know.

Or maybe, it was when Kokoro was done with her.

Arms shoved her away, forcing her back down to the sheets. She didn’t have time to protest, Kokoro’s mouth was already hot on her neck, kissing and sucking and everything in between. She was good at everything else as far as Misaki knew, so why wouldn’t she be good at this too?

She cried out when Kokoro’s hands found her breasts, a little hasty but confident nonetheless. It didn’t really seem to matter how Kokoro touched her, anything and everything fanned the flames at this point.

Her knee jerked upwards as Kokoro discovered pinching hard things was good, and she felt the dampness of Kokoro’s panties press against her thigh. Kokoro’s lips separate from her skin as she gasped and buried her head in Misaki’s neck.

“You’re okay?” Misaki found herself asking, barely able to get the words out. It just felt right to ask. Kokoro was hers to look after now.

“Y-yeah. Everything feels so good,” Kokoro breathed into her skin. “We should do this all the time.”

Misaki could barely wrap her mind around the fact that they were having sex right now, never mind that Kokoro was already thinking about all the time.

Kokoro sat up suddenly, scooting back until she was sat in between Misaki’s legs. Wasting no time, she tugged at the waistband of Misaki’s shorts and gave her a questioning look. Misaki wasn’t sure she’d ever seen anything as attractive as this before, not even in her imagination. A beautiful, glowing, mostly naked girl sat between her legs, eager to ditch whatever clothes they had left on between them and give her what she wanted.

She raised her hips off the bed and Kokoro hooked her fingers under both her shorts and her boxers, pulling them down in one smooth motion. She barely got them off before she was left staring, leaving Misaki to turn a bright, hot red. Kokoro was blushing too, though it didn’t seem to affect her much if at all.

“Um, Misaki?”

“Yeah?” Misaki croaked out. She wasn’t all that interested in talking at the moment.

“I know like, what to do. But I don’t know what to do ,” she gestured at Misaki with her hands. “How do I, uh…”

The open air made Misaki shiver. She was struggling to form coherent thoughts, nevermind a coherent answer to the question.

“Touch,” she squeezed past her lips. “Anything is good.”

It wasn’t like anyone had ever touched her but herself, anyway. It probably wouldn’t matter what Kokoro did.

Her theory proved to be true when Kokoro tentatively reached out, running a single digit up her slit from bottom to top, just barely missing the sensitive nub that Misaki desperately wanted her to touch. It took the breath from her lungs anyway, leaving her wanting for more and more.

“It’s pretty wet down here,” Kokoro told her without a hint of shame. Misaki covered her eyes.

“D-don’t say things like that. And don’t stop.”

Kokoro smiled at her and moved herself into a more comfortable position, leaning half away over Misaki and supporting herself with one arm while her other traveled back down between Misaki’s legs. Misaki peeked through her hands, eye’s meeting Kokoro’s as she started touching her again, evidently more sure of herself this time.

Up and down her hand went, spreading the slickness that just wouldn’t stop coming. She wasn’t doing much besides rubbing; still it was enough to bring gasps to Misaki’s lips. Kokoro was touching her, and they’d kissed, and they were naked, and it was just all so much. There was no time for moderation here.

“Kokoro.”

“Hm?” Kokoro looked at her without stopping, eyes dreamy and half-lidded in the darkness.

Misaki thought for a moment, and then decided that rather than explaining what she wanted, it would be more effective to show her.

She reached down between them and grabbed Kokoro’s hand, lining up their fingers and repositioning her. She fumbled a bit as she went, nervous and not getting there fast enough. When she lined them up at last, she pressed her middle finger forward, inching Kokoro’s own finger into her wet opening.

“Oh, I get it,” Kokoro looked down between them, taking over and watching her finger disappear into Misaki.

“Go slowly,” Misaki instructed, resting both hands on Kokoro’s hips. She had no idea if she’d be able to handle this, even though it was something she’d done with herself before. The fact that someone else - that Kokoro was doing it - was enough to drench the sheets below them.

Kokoro heeded her, working her finger in almost too slowly. Misaki breathed out as she pushed forward, holding in her gasps as best she could. It felt amazing, and it was still embarrassing.

When Kokoro finally had her finger in up to the knuckle, she carefully slid it back out, and then slowly back in. Back out, and back in, again and again, slowly like Misaki had asked her to. She looked up, clearly searching Misaki’s face for a reaction.

The feeling was something she couldn’t describe. It was so good to just feel her, and take everything in, one second after another, one pump at a time. Her hips pushed upwards, trying to pull Kokoro’s finger in even deeper if she could.

“A little more,” Misaki gasped.

Thankfully Kokoro was able to work out that she meant ‘go faster’, and she picked up the pace.

“Ahh! Ko-ko- mhm,” she could barely contain herself, overflowing with pleasure and an indescribable fondness for the girl who gave it to her. She gave and gave and gave, her passion for the happiness of others blending so obviously into her feelings for Misaki.

There was something in her eyes, Misaki thought, a glimmer that set her apart from everyone else.

“You’re really beautiful,” Kokoro’s hushed voice pulled her back in. “I wanted to tell you right now.”

A new wave of warmth flowed through Misaki from head to toe at her words. She couldn’t stand to look away from Kokoro’s face, her eyes, her lips, her everything. She was so honest.

“So are you,” Misaki whispered back between her gasps.

“I thought you hated me,” Kokoro didn’t stop pumping her hand all the while.

“So did I.”

Misaki reached her hand down between them, brushing against Kokoro’s arm on her way. She wanted to touch her back so badly that she didn’t even bother with teasing, or anything like that. Kokoro sucked in a sharp gasp as Misaki shoved her hand down the front of her panties, pressing a finger into her folds and caressing, searching through the wetness.

Kokoro’s knees shook and nearly buckled, barely keeping her balanced as she tried her best to focus on what she wanted to do.

Trying to ignore what Kokoro was doing to her was nearly impossible, but she was determined to do this together with her. She felt around blindly until she felt her middle finger sink inwards. The awkward angle didn’t stop her from pushing forward, Kokoro crying out as she entered her and fumbling her own ministrations for a brief moment.

Somehow, Kokoro kept her pace as Misaki started hers, pumping in and out of Kokoro until she could match the rhythm they had.

“I was- ahh - I was going to leave. Switch rooms,” Misaki broke through her cries and gasps.

It was such a relief to tell her. To admit that she’d been wrong the whole time, that she’d been unfair and now she wanted to make it up in every way she could think of.

“Y-you hated me that m-much?” Kokoro’s voice was shaking now, her words slurring together as she struggled to keep up while Misaki’s finger pumped in and out of her. Her hips shook with every word, bucking and grinding uncontrollably into Misaki’s hand.

“No,” Misaki breathed. “I’ve just never b-been in love before.”

Kokoro surged downward and Misaki barely had time to brace herself before she was swept away in a breathtaking kiss that made her forget what they were even talking about. Everything around her disappeared, except for the feeling of Kokoro’s tongue in her mouth and the drive to keep her finger moving.

She felt Kokoro pick up speed, breaking from the steady rhythm and moving erratically against Misaki’s center. Breath gone from her, Misaki struggled to match her while her hips twitched and jerked around, searching for something to push against.

Something inside her was building up rapidly, faster than she could handle. Everything ached in the best way. Her stomach, her breasts, her naked skin, her tongue, everything that Kokoro touched screamed for pressure and release all at the same time.

It all came together when Kokoro sucked her tongue into her mouth and crashed their hips together at the same time, grinding and moaning into Misaki as hard as she could. Kokoro’s thumb pressed into her clit and the world exploded while she did her best to return the favour, sure she found her target when Kokoro pulled her lips away and shouted her name.

They shook together, grabbing and pulling and pushing themselves against each other as the sensation peaked and then passed, leaving them breathing hard and fast in the darkness.

With Kokoro’s face buried into her neck and the taste of her still lingering in her mouth, Misaki wasn’t sure she’d ever been happier.

For a while they lay there, basking in the afterglow and waiting for their breathing to return to normal. Misaki felt the hotness in her skin slowly drift away, leaving her cool and more relaxed than she’d been in what felt like years.

A short time later, Kokoro stirred and moved to prop her chin up with her hand, resting her arm on Misaki’s chest. When they locked eyes again, she burst out laughing.

Misaki couldn’t help but giggle a little with her, contagious as she was. She wrapped her arms around Kokoro’s waist and revelled in the feeling of holding her.

“What’s so funny?”

Kokoro took a second to compose herself. “You,” she poked Misaki’s nose with her free hand.

“Me?”

“You,” Kokoro confirmed. “It’s just funny, don’t you think?”

Misaki sighed, smiling anyway. “You’ll have to be specific.”

“You hated me so much you wanted to leave, but now we had sex.”

Misaki snorted and did her best to look away, feeling her blush coming back to her.

“You don’t have to… say it like that.”

“But it’s true!” Kokoro insisted, poking Misaki’s cheek. “That’s what happened!”

“Yeah yeah, I get it!” Misaki squeezed her hips.

They quieted down for a while, Misaki still looking off into the corner and pretending she wasn’t mortified by the conclusion Kokoro had come to. It wasn’t like she was wrong, it just made Misaki sound stupid. Probably because she was, from time to time.

Below the drapes, light crept in from outside.

The sun stretched across the floor beneath them, a thin line cutting through the dark of the room. As was usual, it wasn’t anywhere near as bright as the girl spread out across her chest.

As her eyes traced the fragment of light, Kokoro’s voice broke through.

“Aren’t you glad it turned out this way?”

Misaki turned her head back to face Kokoro. Honestly, what a dumb question that was.

She kissed her, a better answer than words could ever give.

 

---

 

Misaki sat at her desk, trying and failing to focus on her homework. The faster she got it done, the faster she could do something else. Preferably the girl spinning around in the chair behind her, who was preoccupied with yelling into her phone about how totally amazing her brand new girlfriend was.

The first thing she’d wanted to do once they sat down and sorted out what they were was call her parents to tell them about it.

It wasn’t really all that thrilling of a concept to Misaki, but listening to her now, she understood why Kokoro was so excited to talk her mother in circles about her new favourite thing in the whole world.

Those were Kokoro’s words, not hers, when she was describing her new partner over the phone. Misaki was Kokoro’s favourite thing, and that was something special.

“She’s super grumpy! Like, Kokoro, don’t do that, clean your room, don’t get toothpaste on the floor!”

Misaki wrinkled her nose. Alright, so maybe they still had their differences. Those weren’t about to go away any time soon.

“It’s nice that she tells me no though. I know it’s cause she cares about me.”

That was true. She was responsible, and she would help Kokoro look after herself if she had to. Maybe she even wanted to.

“She’s also really really pretty, like you won’t believe it. I got really lucky! And she’s smart, she always knows how to figure things out, even if it takes a long time.”

Misaki blushed. She probably wouldn’t ever get used to being told she was pretty.

“She’s a hard worker too, I can tell. Like the kind of person who wants to do her best at what she loves. Also she caught me when I jumped out of a tree.”

Again with the tree thing?

“I’ll bring her to visit on break. She lives in Tokyo too, isn’t that great! And we almost went to the same school and…”

Misaki sighed, smiling anyway. She liked to think that not much had changed since she pulled her head out of her ass and made out with a girl, but pretty much everything had. Mostly for the better.

Their (yes, both of them) friends had been happy and the ‘I told you so’s had only persisted for about a week before they moved on to making fun of Misaki about other things, in a good natured way. Mostly it was about the hickies, which were hard to hide when you had a lot of them.

When Kokoro said they should… well, you know… all the time, she’d apparently meant it. She did like to do fun things as often as possible, Misaki supposed. A positive side effect was the absence of stress and anything related to it. She just felt relaxed almost all of the time, when she wasn’t dealing with some of Kokoro’s less appealing traits.

She was still a little slow and didn’t quite have the social etiquette required to interact with people she didn’t know, but Misaki loved her anyway. They still had a lot to learn if they were going to make it work.

Misaki heard Kokoro say her goodbyes and hung up, spinning around in her chair to face her.

Kokoro grinned as Misaki gestured for her to come over to her. Wordlessly she stood and walked the few steps to Misaki’s chair, climbing into her lap and wrapping her arms around her neck. Misaki breathed her in, content to recharge for a while.

After a moment, she felt Kokoro nudge her shoulder.

“Misaki, what’s this?”

She turned to see what Kokoro was pointing at. It was a new book she’d found in the school’s library, something she was determined to make good use of in the very near future. She reached out and grabbed it, handing it to Kokoro with a smile on her face.

Composition for Beginners.

She had a lot of catching up to do.