Moca Aoba found her eyes lighting up with more than just fireworks tonight.
“Ooh, check out Ran-chan looking fancy! Moca, Moca, look!”
Moca found the glare of a familiar cellphone waving in her face, and – after allowing the picture to burn into her eyes a little – gently placed her hand on Himari’s wrist to move it away.
“…Himari-chan, that’s my line…don’t steal other people’s stuff.”
Tonight, Moca would finally get to spend some romantic time with the one she loved above all else.
Tonight was a night where a festival just happened to be in town, and there was no way on earth any of the Afterglow girls wanted to miss it. Moca was especially excited to go, too, given that she now had the title that still held the weight of feeling so right and yet, so unusual. Girlfriend. Moca Aoba was actually someone's girlfriend; and she had thought how, ever since it happened, that she never knew she’d actually have the courage to ask Ran to date her.
Here, at a festival full of food stalls, familiar autumnal scents and an assortment of candy apples, this was one of the first times she’d ever get to say was a date between her and Ran.
Ran Mitake and Aoba Moca; the two that had been together in some capacity or other since childhood, they were like cookies and cream with how well they went together. Everyone said it. Two peas in a pod, two birds that always flew together. Moca knew that every angle of themselves complimented the other, and given Ran’s reciprocation, she knew it, too. And in the picture Himari was excitedly waving in Moca’s face, Ran looked even more beautiful than usual.
Moca found herself stunned into a blushing silence.
“Right?!” Himari exclaimed in delight. “She looks so pretty!”
This really is my girlfriend…? She thought with a smile. How did I get so lucky?
The bright, artificial pixels of Ran’s photograph seemed as though they were burned into her eyelids from Himari’s excited waving; and for a few seconds, every time she blinked, the light silhouette of Ran was there. Moca felt herself gnawing at her lip gently as she grinned, thinking on how the colours of Ran’s kimono really did compliment her perfectly. The material that hung ever so slightly on the curves of her body, whilst the reds and darker colours brought out the beauty of her hair with ease.
Moca felt her heart skip a beat as she noticed the unimpressed, blushing expression of Ran in the photo.
“Aww, Ran-chan’s blushing…”
“So are you, Moca!”
She was a woman who knew that her picture was being taken specifically to show to her loved ones, and it felt like an understatement to say she felt love bubble in her heart.
Himari chuckled. “I’m happy for you both, Moca-chan. Ran sure does look pretty…”
“Yeah,” Moca said in a falsely casual reply, and tried to regain her composure. “Ran sure does look fancy.”
Himari stretched, and clapped her hands in an excited delight.
“Aah, I love festivals!” Himari continued, absorbed in her own excitement. “I can’t believe Tsugu managed to actually get a picture of her like that.”
Moca slipped her hands in her pockets idly.
“It’s all about the technique. Ran’s like a butterfly that you want to take a picture of, but you know it’ll fly off if you try. You have to be quick.”
Himari paused pensively, before smiling warmly at Moca.
“That’s…surprisingly sweet of you, Moca.”
“Surprisingly? What are you talking about? I’m always sweet.”
“You know, dating Ran has definitely been good for you.”
Moca looked at Himari again with a serene smile, before shaking her head and shrugging.
“Hey, now. I’m a good girlfriend. What can I say?”
Himari and Moca both giggled, before Himari looked back down at the picture on her phone.
“This kimono…Ran’s always secretly loved pretty things, hasn’t she?”
Moca leant against Himari’s shoulder with her chin as she looked; and the two women smiled to themselves for very different reasons.
“Himari-chan, flattery won’t get you anywhere with a married woman like me.”
Himari flustered, and prodded Moca’s shoulder playfully; much to the joint chuckle from both of them.
“Oh shut up, Moca!”
Tonight was always going to be a special night, Moca thought, but especially because of what capacity she and Ran were able to now spend it in. The frosty, autumnal snap of air that always seemed to be present in any September night was definitely there; but was quickly evened out by the warmth of contained bonfires and human smiles, all spread around the festival square. Wafts of the street vendor fried foods came in gentle breezes, as did the sound of children laughing, running around with candy apples and takoyaki boxes.
All Moca really wanted to do was see Ran in her arms, wrapped up away from the cold.
“I love the atmosphere of festivals,” Himari confessed, pulling Moca out of her uncharacteristically romantic thought. She nodded in a smiling agreement.
“Me, too...everyone’s always so happy at them.”
“Yeah…” Himari replied, looking up at the dark, navy blue blanket of stars that lay in the sky above. Moca couldn’t help but fold her arms in a jittery excitement.
“I wonder when they’re going to get here…we should have all just come together, but Ran was being all silly about it again…”
“Silly?” Himari asked. Moca nodded.
“You know Ran. Embarrassed.”
Moca found that her mind was going haywire as she and Himari stood, waiting at the side of a shrine temple’s set of stairs. All I really want to do is kiss Ran.
As the two of them stood all wrapped up in their own, very different outfits, Moca felt a little amused at the fact she hadn’t really taken the clothing side of the festival quite as seriously as Himari and Ran had, and had opted to just throw on a button-up shirt, jean shorts and knee-socks; trying to brace the cold of her choices with a woolen hat.
Himari, on the other hand, did also look just as stunning as Ran. She had made a great effort with her kimono. Moca looked at the delicate, soft pinks and whites melting together into the silk of Himari's material, and nodded approvingly with her arms folded.
“Your outfit is really pretty, Hii-chan. You did good.”
Himari paused, and blinked; looking at herself with her arms slightly raised in the air.
“Oh, you think so?” She replied coyly, before giggling; and soon after, a confused look of suspicion crept onto her face. “Thanks…wait, what’s the catch?”
Moca laughed to herself with a protest from Himari's voice, and leant back against the pillar they were stood next to.
The sound of street vendors yelling was almost a relaxing back-drop to the festival scenario; and especially, thought Moca, when this will be mine and Ran’s first public date with other people.
“…Are you excited to see Tomoe? You’re wearing this for her, right?”
Moca looked at Himari with a knowing smile on her face, and Himari found herself blushing very quickly.
Himari blushed furiously, and fiddled with the edges of her kimono’s sleeves.
“I…I don’t know what you mean!”
“Poor Tsugu-chan…she’s going to be left out in the cold with Afterglow’s romantic entanglements…”
“Me and Tomoe are NOT dating!”
Himari huffed, before she began to look very excitedly across the path; and waved her arms frantically.
“Oh! Moca, Moca, here they come!”
Moca found herself standing up straight very suddenly, as her eyes began to meet with a sight that she was falling in love with all over again.
The exact expression Moca knew would be on her face was present, as was the beauty of the black and red silk wrapped around her body. Her face held a slightly pink flush to it, and Moca couldn’t help but smirk at the sight.
“Moca! Himari-chan!” Tomoe shouted cheerfully, waving with a bright smile on her face; before she stopped short of her greetings to gasp. “Oh wow, Himari! Check you out. You look gorgeous!”
“A-Ah! Really…?” Himari blushed. “Ehe, you think so?”
Tomoe nodded brightly.
“Of course! You look super beautiful.”
“You look so pretty, Himari!” Tsugumi chimed in, waving along with Tomoe. “Oh, hey Moca!”
As Moca waved back in return, she noticed that Himari’s blush from earlier had now turned into a fully-fledged red block across her face; and couldn’t help but chuckle as Himari turned away.
“Th…thanks, everyone!” Himari stammered. Tomoe and Tsugumi beamed.
Moca walked over towards the women coming towards her; and as they approached, she began to notice that Ran was still shyly looking away. Moca smiled.
“…Check out Ran-chan looking all fancy.”
“…You didn’t dress up,” Ran finally mumbled. Moca gasped falsely.
“I’m surprised you noticed, what with how you haven’t looked at me once! What am I supposed to do with this, Ran-chan…?”
Ran smiled to herself warmly, and resigned herself to Moca's early teases.
“…You’re so silly.”
Even after all this time, Ran was still the same. She was so passionate on stage, so devoted to the music and the sounds that she shared with all of her childhood friends, and now, she knew she would be just as passionate and dedicated to her lover. But when it came to matters of the heart in the immediate, Ran was always so shy that it was hard to get anything from of her lips – but inside, she knew her thoughts were racing.
I already know you look beautiful, Moca. I know just how handsome you look in that outfit.
“Well, you wouldn’t love me if I wasn’t silly like I am now.”
“Love you, hm?”
Ran brought her gaze up to Moca’s own almost defiantly; before both of them realized that was a mistake.
Beautiful. That was the thought running through Moca’s head endlessly, within just a few seconds of that look from the woman she loved. So beautiful I can hardly stand it.
With the look of the expression on Ran's face, she was clearly thinking something along the same lines for Moca.
Enveloped by their thoughts, the two of them were suddenly no longer at the festival, and were instead somewhere entirely more wonderful.
It had been this way for so long now. How long had it even been? How many years had escaped them in their youth, with Moca thinking on ways to tease Ran, and Ran thinking on ways to surprise or support Moca through all of her days? The ways Moca remembered daydreaming about kissing Ran in the studio, or how Ran was thinking the same thing, and pushing it out of her mind for the sake of the band? Reaching a breaking point was inevitable…
And that point had arrived just last week, with Moca’s confession on the rooftop of their school. Moca smiled to herself as she remembered.
Back in the present moment, the words fell from her lips in an uncharacteristic stammer.
“Ran…you look…um, you look really beautiful in that.”
Ran’s breath hitched a little in her throat, and suddenly, her gaze was closed off by the flicker of her eyelashes; before a hand whacked Moca’s shoulder defiantly.
Ran had turned as red as her kimono.
“M-Moca! You idiot!”
Moca rubbed the back of her neck, and felt the scorch of blushing cheeks resting beneath her eyes.
“Eh...? Did I say something wrong…?”
“We’re – we’re in front of people!”
Himari had a hand on her chest, and the other was clasped against her cheek.
“Oh…” Moca said with a bashful laugh. “Whoops.”
“That was so sweet, Moca-chan…!” Himari exclaimed with a tear in her eye. “Romance at its finest!”
“Aw, who knew you had such a side to you, Moca?” Tomoe laughed. “You guys should really get a room.”
Moca giggled bashfully, and rubbed the back of her head for a second time as Ran flustered.
“Tomoe, shut up!”
Ran huffed and folded her arms next to the woman that had just made her blush so thoroughly, before Tsugumi clapped her hands amidst the giggles from her friends.
“Alright, everyone! Shall we take a look around?”
“Yeah!” Himari said with a chipper tone of voice, as her and Tomoe ran ahead of Moca and Ran. “Let’s go! Hey, hey, hoh!”
A silence befell the group at large, and Himari let out a loud groan.
“Aww, why do you guys always leave me hanging?!”
The group of girls laughed to themselves, before Tomoe and Himari rushed off towards the festival; with Tsugumi flapped her hands.
“Ah! W-Wait for me!”
And with that, almost as quickly as they had arrived, the rest of Afterglow were hastily heading for the festival ahead.
Ran and Moca exchanged an affectionate look above their burning cheeks, before Ran flickered her eyelids in regained composure; smiling at the woman she loved.
“…Shall we get going?” Ran asked.
Moca smiled, before she pouted her lips slightly.
“Sure, but...can I hold your hand?”
Ran’s face got a little redder.
“Moca…” Ran said as the two women paused, before extending her hand and looking away. “…You don’t need to ask. It’s embarrassing, hearing you say it…”
Moca grinned, successful in her teasing; and slipped her fingers gently in between the gaps of Ran’s own.
“…Alright. Then in the future, I won’t. Could you handle me just doing that though? A handsome devil like Moca-chan…?”
“Be quiet, Moca.”
As soon as Moca felt Ran’s hand warmly clasped inside her own, the ambiance of the festival took on an entirely different light.
The orange hue of the lanterns, the smell of the food around them, the sounds of chatter melding in with the laughter of children…all of this ambiance only served to fuel the mutual, loved-up feeling of holding each other’s hand in their own. Moca found her thumb stroking over Ran’s knuckles idly, and Ran felt her heartbeat soaring through the skies with how flustered she was getting.
This is how a festival was meant to be experienced, thought Moca. I’ll definitely have to dress up in a kimono too next time.
Ran and Moca looked out ahead of them, and in the distance, the red hair of Tomoe could be seen towering over the two smaller girls at her side. The shrill, excited sound of their happy bubble of conversation carried over the air, and Ran couldn’t help herself from smiling.
Moca noticed immediately as they walked, and stroked Ran’s knuckles again with a squeeze.
“Are you having a good time?” she asked with a smile; and in turn, Ran smiled.
She looked slightly down at the ground.
“…Of course I am,” Ran replied. “I was excited about this all day. All week, even…”
“So you DO have a cute side to you.”
“You certainly seem to think so.”
Moca laughed, as Ran smirked whilst looking away. The two of them heard the faint chirps of the birds settling down for the night, and looked up to the navy blue sky above.
“…I really was excited about today, though.”
Moca smiled warmly at the sound of Ran’s candid tone.
“It’s nice to be at a festival again, isn’t it? When even was the last time we came to one?”
Ran shook her head, and this time, chuckled to herself with a blush on her cheeks.
“You dummy,” she replied, before looking to her left towards the dark woodlands. “I wasn’t talking about being excited for the festival.”
Moca blinked in surprise.
Ran looked down at the floor furiously, and held Moca’s hand with a quiet voice.
“…You heard me, Moca.”
Moca blushed, and squeezed Ran’s hand with an affectionate smile.
“Oh, you charmer. Who knew you had it in you, Ran-chan?”
“Stop teasing me or I’ll kick your ass.”
Moca laughed loudly, before Tomoe turned around to shout back from the distance ahead.
“We’re gonna go and look at the drums!” Tomoe called. “You lovebirds coming?”
“Tomoe!” Ran scolded as Tomoe chuckled, before Moca turned to the furiously blushing girl at her side. Any more blushing cheeks and we’ll burst into flames.
“…Wanna go to the drum performance?” Moca asked. Ran puffed out her cheek, and remained quiet for a moment. Moca prodded Ran’s cheek. “Eh?”
Ran shuffled in her place; and Moca found her eyes scanning Ran’s expression.
“…I want to look around the festival,” Ran finally confessed, “I’d rather just…look around more.”
With you, Ran thought.
Moca found her heart fluttering, and nodded. She always could understand Ran’s thoughts without even a single word.
“I want to look around some more too, Ran-chan…” Moca said with a smile. “Just with you.”
Ran didn’t reply, but Moca could see the makings of a smitten smile written all across her face.
“We’ll catch up,” Moca called back. “Say hi to the drums for me, Tomo-chin.”
“Will do!” Tomoe called back; and within a few seconds, the remaining members of Afterglow had shuffled off to their first point of interest.
For Ran and Moca, they walked around with big grins on their faces; slowly and thoroughly, they both soaked up every single moment. The delicate, feminine press of Ran’s hand in Moca’s own felt like heaven; a luxury that she never knew existed. The warmness encased the skin of Moca’s hand, and eventually, after the two of them had shuffled around slowly to the food stalls, the conversation began to pop up between them.
“So…” Ran began with a coy smile. “Did you have a good day today?”
“Me? Oh, yeah. I’ve been excited for this all day, so there was no way it couldn’t be good.”
“What did you do?”
Moca grinned with a smug air about her, recognizing the opportunity for teasing to strike; and leaned in slightly to Ran’s face.
“I thought about kissing you ALL day.”
Ran closed her eyes, and Moca chuckled.
“You and your teasing, Moca…”
“You knew what you signed up for, Ran-chan.”
Ran paused, before she laughed quietly.
“…I guess I did.”
Moca smiled to herself; before she felt a blush coming across her own face.
I wasn’t joking, she thought. I…really did think about kissing you all day.
“Well, besides that…” Moca continued, holding Ran’s hand carefully in her own. “I practiced. I ate some buns. I slept.”
Ran smiled warmly, and Moca rubbed the back of her neck.
“Ah, you’re looking at me too earnestly…”
Ran felt her smile growing wider.
“Am I teasing you now?”
“Ehehe…” Moca laughed bashfully. “Maybe just a little.”
Ran smiled, and as they began to come to a halt; she rest her head against Moca’s shoulder.
Moca gasped, and opened her mouth to say something; but before she could, Ran quickly brought her free index finger up to Moca’s lips; pressing it there firmly.
“Nope. Stop. No teasing. Don’t say a word.”
Moca paused for a moment; before she felt a sly grin come across her lips – and kissed Ran’s finger.
“Ah!” Ran gasped. Moca chuckled.
Ran felt her face blushing furiously before she brought her hand down very quickly back to her side; and Moca rest her head against Ran’s.
Moca looked around with haste to see if there was anywhere to sit nearby; and to her delight, there was. A bench sat before the trees that led back into the town was vacant, holding the remnants of half-chewed candy apples and takoyaki cases. She grimaced.
“…Wanna sit?” she asked. “Looks like it could do with a bit of a clean, though…”
Ran quietly agreed.
The two of them made their way to the bench next to the trees, and Moca – quickly swiping up the remaining trash on the seat, and throwing it into the garbage can nearby – resumed her position with the woman at her side quietly. Both women found huge smiles plastered onto both of their faces as the looked forwards.
“...Happy?” Ran asked. Moca nodded brightly as they sat; looking out over the bright city lights that twinkled like stars through the dark forest ahead.
Ran rest her head against Moca’s shoulder again; and, with a slight blush on her face, Moca moved the hand that held Ran’s own; wrapping it around her girlfriend’s waist with a warm embrace.
Ran gasped slightly, and Moca felt her heart judder.
“…Is this okay?”
“I told you…” she said with a quiet, affectionate mumble. “You…you don’t have to ask.”
Moca pulled Ran a little closer to her, and Ran shuffled willingly up to the woman she loved.
“Alright,” Moca replied with a gentleness Ran had never heard before, and the two women smiled to themselves.
The city below looked like it was a thousand miles away. The oranges and the yellows of the lights twinkled into the night; fading up into the silvery stars powdered onto the sky above. Moca’s hand felt the warmth and the curve of Ran’s hip against it, and as Ran felt Moca’s shoulder warmly pressed against her cheek, she could smell the perfume coming from the one she adored.
Moca always smelled like home to Ran. She smelled like delicious coffee and a chocolate sweetness intermingled into one warm, perfect, cheeky person. Ran always loved sleeping extra close to her when Afterglow had their all-nighters in the studio, feeling Moca’s arms sleepily drape over her, even before they started dating; and for the two of them, this moment alone was always going to be burned into their memories forever.
This festival, one of their first dates…and already, one of their most romantic.
For a few moments, neither woman said anything to the other. Moca sat with Ran cozied up to her closely, and Ran allowed herself to relax. The moment was beautiful, here in the autumn night of the festival…and Moca wanted to make it the most perfect it could possibly be.
“Ran…” she said quietly, mustering up every ounce of courage for what she was about to say.
“I know you told me I don’t have to ask you about this kind of thing, but…”
Ran felt her eyes opening a little more solidly than they had been over the last little while.
Moca Aoba, for the first time, was losing her nerve; and felt a blush on her cheeks scorching them like never before.
“Well…” Moca began softly. “Can I kiss you?”
Ran felt a jolt surge through her body; and the blush returned to her face as quickly as it had left.
Moca bit her lip, and shuffled herself around to face Ran a little more.
“…I want to kiss you,” Moca said bluntly, before shaking her head. “No…I really want to kiss you, Ran.”
Ran and Moca paused for a moment, and it was as though the whole world had fallen away.
It was just the two of them; no sounds, no interruptions. Ran and Moca found themselves locked in a gaze that neither one of them could bear to break, accompanied by half-lit eyelids and tingling lips…and despite the usual blushes between them of a budding, deep love, both knew the answer.
Moca’s gaze softened as she heard her name spoken softly; and this time, she was the one who let out a small gasp from her lips as she felt Ran’s hands cupping her cheeks.
“…I already told you…” Ran said with a furious blush, and closed her eyes as she leant in. “You don’t have to ask.”
Moca felt her eyes close instinctively as Ran shuffled closer to her face; and, as the two women felt the split second of mutual warmth coming off of their faces, their lips finally pressed together.
Moca wrapped her arms around Ran’s waist as they sat, and Ran’s hands that had been cupping Moca’s face rest gently against her shoulders. Moca found kissing much easier than she had dreamed of, and Ran felt her head spinning.
Their lips moved slowly together; savoring the taste, the allure, the pull of the one they loved warmly against them. They kissed gently, and then a little harder, and then gently again. They kissed for what felt like forever, there on the bench; secluded and hidden away from the festival, and overlooking the forest. And as Ran shuffled her hands into Moca’s hair to kiss her for longer, she felt Moca’s hat gently slip off of her head; prompting the two of them to stop for a moment with lips still pouted.
“Oh…” Moca mumbled. “Oh, well.”
Moca laughed, and rest her forehead against Ran’s.
“Just…kiss me again, Ran-chan.”
Ran blushed, and this time, Moca brought her lips back to her girlfriend’s own.
Moca pulled Ran a little closer to her this time, and Ran happily obliged. Their kisses became more familiar; more intimate as the time went on, more experienced, more hungry. Ran found herself getting lost in the moment of it all – the heady, heavy sensation of having her lips kissed, stimulated by the love that Moca had for her, and the scents of the woman she loved being so present. She was kissing Moca, falling in love with every inch of her in her own way. In this kiss, Ran knew that every part of Moca loved her. Every touch, every taste…every single part of Moca Aoba was hers.
And for Moca, Ran in herself was an experience. She had lost count of how many times she’d daydreamed about doing this; about having Ran’s body close to her, about having her lips against hers. And the spicy, cinnamon scent that always seemed to follow Ran around everywhere she went was present for her, too – enrapturing every bit of her senses in between the kisses from the one she loved.
This was definitely going to be a festival to remember, Moca thought; before the two of them broke their kiss apart very slowly to catch their breaths.
“…Wow…” Ran mumbled under her breath. “I…”
Moca grinned almost triumphantly, and Ran couldn’t help but smile a little too.
“Ehehe…I guess we finally did it, huh?”
“…I guess we did.”
Ran allowed her smirk to spread into a warm smile at the woman before her, wrapping her arms around her neck; and Moca melted a little as she felt the silk of her girlfriend’s kimono brush against her skin.
“Hey, you two!”
Moca slowly looked over the arm resting around her neck behind her, and turned to see Himari rushing over as fast as she could in her sandals. Ran blinked in dismay at the girl approaching them whilst Moca chuckled, and Himari squealed in an uncomfortable excitement as she staggered to keep herself upright.
“Hii-chan…what are you doing?”
“Moca, stop laughing at me! It’s hard to run in these!”
Ran couldn’t help but let out a small giggle at Himari’s blithering, who returned the favour by also puffing out her cheek.
“Oooh, Ran! Not you too!”
“What’s up, Himari?” Ran asked, removing her arms reluctantly from Moca’s neck. Himari huffed as she arrived, and pointed back behind her.
“They’re going to start lighting the big bonfire, and then it’s the fireworks!” she exclaimed excitedly. “We didn’t want you guys to miss it…even if you are busy over here!”
Both Moca and Ran felt their faces flush red, and Himari laughed triumphantly.
“Ohoho. I win this round!”
“Hii-chan,” Moca began, “I’m gonna put an ice cream on your head.”
“Come on,” Ran said to Moca with a warm smile, and stood up slowly. “Let’s go see our friends.”
Moca looked at the woman stood before her in her red silk kimono, this time proudly offering her hand to her girlfriend; and smiled warmly up at her.
“Alright, Ran-chan. You win.”
Moca took the hand of the woman she loved once more, and stood up from the bench for the first time in what felt like an age; feeling a little dizzy as she did so. Himari leant down to pass Moca her hat before they began to walk, and Moca and Ran felt their feet dragging slowly to enjoy more of the moment together.
“Fireworks, huh…” Ran said quietly. “I haven’t seen a display of those in ages.”
“Huh? You haven’t?” Moca replied. “I thought we just saw a display of our own?”
Ran blinked, before much to her girlfriend’s amusement, she shook her head in an amused exasperation.
“Honestly…things never change, do they?”
Moca knew, though; that whether they were going to see the bonfire or the fireworks right now, she already knew – she’d already gotten the luxury to have had the best fireworks tonight already. And with a bright, warm smile, she said,
“Actually, Ran-chan…I think you’ve changed everything for the better.”