The dating ban in Pastel*Palettes’ contract was the worst invention in the world. Chisato and the rest of the band could all agree on that much. Among the five of them, and a few of their close friends, it was pretty much an open secret that all of them were fully willing to violate that clause—but although all of the other girls had crushes of their own, Chisato and Kaoru were the only people who managed to actually get together, with the mutual understanding that they would both need to keep an excessive degree of secrecy.
Normally, it was all right. Kaoru’s life meant that she had restrictions of her own when it came to love as well, and for the four months that they had been together, they had both been able to find workarounds for the secrecy.
Still... Chisato missed the outdoors. She never talked to Kaoru about it—the last thing she wanted to do was breed resentment or make her feel guilty—but every day, she found herself once again having to make peace with the fact that she and Kaoru would never be able to have dates like she wanted. She knew it was selfish, that the enjoyment of her fans was more important than any sense of happiness she could get, but once—just once—she wanted to feel like a teenager in love, before her youth was swept away completely.
It was almost funny. For every one of the almost nineteen years she had been alive, she had felt too much like an adult and too much like a child at the same time.
It had been far too long since Chisato had a day with actual leisure time, and when she finally got one that Monday, she decided to spend her time relaxing with Kanon at Hazawa Coffee.
“Good morning, Kanon.” Chisato laid her sweater on the chair, sitting down in the seat across from her.
“Oh, morning, Chisato-chan!” Kanon grinned at her. “How was your weekend?”
“It was fine. Busy, but that’s nothing new.” Chisato paused for a moment. “Ah, but you didn’t post much online this weekend. Were you busy with something?”
Kanon practically lit up at that question. “I was! Kind of. You know how I’m moving into a dorm, so Misaki-chan and I won’t be able to see each other as often outside of rehearsal? Well, we set up a camping trip so we could have another weekend together.” She giggled softly. “It was really nice, getting to have alone time like that.”
Chisato felt a hint of jealousy. She could never get away with that. Still, she wasn’t going to bring that up now, not when Kanon was in such a good mood.
“That sounds fun. And I’m sure you two found ways to occupy yourself.”
“We definitely did.” Kanon took a moment to daydream before awkwardly fake coughing into her hand. “Anyway, we, um, set up a tent together, and she helped me cook for us... oh, and there was a waterfall, and I was too scared to jump down, but she helped me get in the water and we had a splash fight! And then we climbed up the waterfall anyway to stargaze together.”
Stargazing. Now that was a concept.
“That sounds... lovely.” Chisato smiled, hoping that it hid how envious she was. She didn’t want to be jealous of Kanon, but... going outside, loving her girlfriend as she pleased, not worrying about other campers who may pass by... it all sounded like a dream. “I wish Kaoru and I could do that sort of thing.”
“O-Oh.” Kanon suddenly looked very, very guilty. “Well, um... times are changing, aren’t they? I’m sure you two will be able to do things like that someday!”
Chisato nodded. “Of course. Someday.” Whenever ‘someday’ was, it couldn’t come soon enough. “When it gets here, I’ll make sure to take her out so we can look at the stars together.”
She tried to seem a bit more hopeful of that possibility coming true than she actually was, and Kanon seemed to believe it.
“Mhm! Kaoru-san would love that. It really is romantic, being up there like that... so Misaki-chan and I are rooting for you two.”
Chisato laughed. “I would hope so. We’ll always be there to support you two, too.”
The two of them managed to carry the conversation to a less awkward point from there—a new tea house had just opened a few stations away that Misaki has told Kanon about, and they were talking about trying it out for Chisato’s birthday—but Chisato couldn’t help but think.
She was contract-bound not to be in a relationship. She couldn’t appear in public with Kaoru at all outside of them being in groups of other friends, and she certainly wasn’t used to being loved properly. If she couldn’t even hold her girlfriend under the stars... what was stopping her from leaving for a more interesting girl, especially when she could probably get together with any girl she wanted?
Her week was busy enough that she couldn’t afford to move too many meetings around for her birthday without completely losing out on her free time. Of course, a good amount of the offers she received now were merely looking to take advantage of the fact that she was 18—but more often than not, she forced herself to talk to those people anyway just to see if she could negotiate something reasonable. Usually, she couldn’t, but... professional obligations.
Thankfully, as she looked over her schedule, her evening and some of her morning were free. She could briefly meet up with Pastel*Palettes in the morning, which would open up her evening to gather with other friends.
She just wasn’t sure who. Of course, she planned to see everyone over the course of the week—due to her schedule, that’s usually how it panned out anyway—but the day itself held some significance. Maybe she could set something up with Kaoru, Kanon, and Misaki...
As she was thinking, she received a text. She pulled out her phone to check who it was from.
[Kaoru] Your birthday is coming up soon, is it not?
Full points for observation, Chisato supposed. She texted her back.
[Chisato] This Monday, yes.
[Kaoru] How grand. ✨
[Kaoru] I have a surprise that I’d like to show you the night of, if you happen to be free then.
And there went Chisato’s plans of inviting a group out. Still, she had the afternoon free on Tuesday, and most of her day free on Wednesday... she could invite other people out then.
[Chisato] Well, I don’t have any plans yet. I’d love to.
[Kaoru] Wonderful. Shall we meet at... 8:00, then?
[Chisato] That sounds perfect. My last meeting ends at 6:00, so I should be there on time.
[Kaoru] Then I await the day excitedly, my darling.
Chisato sent her back a heart emoji, and then she started thinking. What sort of surprise would Kaoru happen to have, especially when she specified the evening...?
Some part of her expected something like a home-cooked dinner. Another part expected lit candles and rose petals. A third thought that it could be practically anything, and Kaoru had simply expected her evening to be open rather than her morning or afternoon.
And a fourth part, no matter how unlikely it was, hoped that this was their chance to do things like normal couples did. To go out together, to hold hands and look at the stars, for all of the fear of professional repercussions to be erased... Chisato craved an experience like that.
The week passed by quickly, and Chisato showed up at Kaoru’s door on the evening of April 6th at eight o’clock, just as they had planned. She knocked a few times, and it only took a moment for Kaoru to rush to the door and open it.
“My dearest Chisato, it’s wonderful to see you. I hope you’re having a good birthday thus far.” Kaoru moved to the side, allowing her to come in—and as soon as she did and the door was closed, she quickly corrected her phrasing. “My dearest, Chisato.”
Chisato couldn’t help but feel a bit endeared that she placed so much worth in that single comma. “I’m just glad to have time to relax now. And to see you, of course.”
Kaoru reached out and took her hand, and Chisato happily interlocked her fingers in hers. “Come with me. I have something to show you, if you’re all right with that.”
“Of course.” Chisato had to admit that she was excited. Kaoru had alluded to some sort of surprise, but she had no idea what it was.
Kaoru started walking towards her room, and Chisato followed, her mind racing with the possibilities.
Then they arrived, and Kaoru tossed the door open with her free hand, revealing... her room, with the curtains closed for their privacy. Both of her lamps had been turned off, leaving the room only illuminated by the stage lights she had set up in the center of her room. It didn’t look like anything special, but as Chisato looked at the corners of the room, they almost looked like they were... glowing?
“If you would, sit on the bed and close your eyes. You can pull the covers over you if you’d like.”
Chisato sat on the bed, resting her back against the headboard. “And you’ll be coming to join me?” she asked.
Chisato nodded, closing her eyes. She heard a small click, and a moment later, felt Kaoru slip into bed beside her.
“You can open your eyes now, my love.”
Chisato did, and... the room had been lit up like a galaxy.
The lights were off, but in their place were what must have been hundreds of tiny stars. They illuminated the room, varying in size and shape and occasionally color, sparkling just like the real stars just outside of the curtain.
Since Chisato was a bit too busy staring at the stars, dumbfounded by the newfound addition to the room, Kaoru decided that it was her turn to talk.
“Kanon told me that you might like to be with me in public, so... er, I wasn’t sure what to do, admittedly. I know it’s one of the few things we cannot achieve right now, but I knew I could hardly leave you with nothing. Thankfully, it came to me to redecorate my ceiling in glow-in-the-dark paint when Kokoro suggested using the same on our instruments for our Halloween live later this year, and it made for quite a project.” Kaoru seemed proud as she spoke, but in her next few words, she seemed to open up a bit—a sort of gentleness came through in them. “I wanted to show you that we can still do the things that other couples do, even with your contract. And I wanted to prove to you that I’ll always love you, no matter how long that remains a part of our lives. And I also, er... know it would have looked better if my ceiling was a darker shade, and without the lights in the way.”
“No, no, it’s... I really love it,” Chisato said, glancing over at Kaoru. It was strange, really—they held hands all the time in private, but this was the type of gesture that would make holding hands feel inadequate in comparison. Her hand hovered over her girlfriend’s for a moment, trying to find the right way to ask, before she gave up on the simple option and climbed into her lap instead. “And I’m glad you care about me so much.”
Kaoru smiled warmly, pulling her in closer. “I love you. I always have and I always will.”
Chisato rested her head on Kaoru’s chest, gazing up at the stars as she allowed herself to relax. “I love you, too.”
They were quiet for a moment. Kaoru’s breathing slowed, and she absentmindedly stroked the back of Chisato’s hand in little circles. She was... warm, and comfortable, and even though Chisato knew that it would be disastrous if they were found out, she felt safe here.
Chisato thought of something else.
“You... aren’t going to leave.” It didn’t sound like a question when she said it out loud, but it was one. Kaoru seemed to understand that.
“I’m not. I wouldn’t.”
Chisato smiled, feeling relaxed again. That little bit of reassurance meant the world to her. “I won’t, either. I love you.”
“I love you, too, with all of my heart and soul.” Kaoru leaned down, leaving a gentle kiss on top of her head. “Happy birthday, my darling. I’ll stay here with you as long as you wish.”
Chisato tilted her head up to look at her. “Would that happen to include... me, er, staying the night?”
Kaoru’s eyes widened. “You want to...?”
“I do. I know it’s selfish to want to be like other couples, but I... I really want to fall asleep with you, Kaoru.”
“If you’re all right with that, then of course I want to.”
Kaoru slid down so that she could lay directly next to Chisato, moving to wrap her arms more fully around her. Chisato turned to face her, not in the mood to just be the little spoon.
“I just have to let my parents know not to expect me, and then we can do anything you’d like.”
Kaoru shook her head. “Anything you would like, you mean. Today is your night.”
Chisato slipped her phone from her pocket. “Well, I need to call my parents first, and... do you have something I could use as pajamas, or should I ask them to bring something?”
“I‘ll lend you some of mine. Don’t worry about it.”
Once the two of them were changed and Chisato’s phone was on a spare charger that Kaoru had, they were able to slip back into bed. The intimacy of Kaoru’s original spontaneity had been somewhat lost, but as Chisato leaned into her chest and felt the rhythm of her heartbeat, she quickly found herself feeling comfortable again.
“Ah, Chisato, don’t let me forget. I made you some lemon squares; you can take them home when you leave tomorrow morning.”
“You baked for me?” Chisato blushed. “I... really appreciate that. I really appreciate you.”
She left a quick kiss on Kaoru’s chin and nuzzled into the crook of her neck, trying to get comfortable.
“Kaoru... how do you plan to fall asleep with the stars shining down on you every night?”
Kaoru pondered for a moment. “Well, I do admit it’s much easier with a beautiful woman in my arms.”
Chisato laughed. “I wouldn’t call myself that.”
“Ah, you’re wholly right. You are not just any beautiful woman, but my beautiful girlfriend—who I love more than any other, admire more than any precious jewel...”
Chisato suddenly felt warm as Kaoru continued talking. “It’s... I’m glad you feel that way. And...” She tilted her head up to gaze at her. “Someday, we should fall asleep like this under the real stars.”
Kaoru ran a hand through her hair, resting it on her back and feeling her relax under her touch.
“Someday, we will. I promise.”