Misaki was used to hearing a pulse in her ears. She was a DJ; it was her profession to figure out the exact kind of vibe that palpitated deep in people’s veins. But when it was her own heart skyrocketing… and for a reason like this… well, she wasn’t sure whether it was elation or anxiety. Maybe both.
“Sit still, Misaki! We’re almost done!”
It had been one offhand comment. One measly little slip.
“Ah, the flutter of thy lashes… like a butterfly partaking in roses’ dew…”
All she’d said was five words. Five words! She hadn’t even meant to say them out loud.
“Oooh, and the fabric’s soft…” A sniff. “Your shampoo smells good today, Mii-kun!”
But the dummies always seemed primed to prove her wrong, no matter the situation.
“Um… w-we can stop if you want to, Misaki-chan. Are you uncomfortable?”
Kanon’s voice broke through her thoughts as an arsenal of cosmetics continued to slather against her face. “I’m… i-it’s not like that…” She was nervous as hell, of course, but deep down at the bottom of the soul she couldn’t deny that she was curious to see what would come of… all this.
Suddenly the prodding and poking around her face finished, the last hands had run across her sleeves in adjustment, and the swarm of body heat that had surrounded her on all sides for the past twenty minutes now dissipated. She could hear a couple hems and haws from around her as the rest of the band judged their work.
“It’s… incredible!” shouted Hagumi finally.
“Beauty of a most fleeting nature,” said Kaoru breathily.
“I’d rate it a hundred out of ten!” yelled Kokoro.
Kanon was last to speak. “Um… you can open your eyes anytime you’d like, Misaki.”
Misaki felt her heart rattling around her chest. Every hair on her skin--especially the kind she wishes wasn’t there--bristling with fear and anticipation. Her breath, stilted and weary and quivering inside her lungs. But she’d sat it out for this long; there was no choice but to take the plunge. Biting the back of her bottom lip, she slowly unfurled her eyelids to look into the floor length mirror before her…
And see someone unrecognizable.
A dress of the softest pink imaginable waterfalled down from her waist and across the plush chaise lounge she was situated on, the surface of the fabric accented with floral lace of gentle whites. The clothing hung loosely from her shoulders as it slunk down her arms, wrapped up at the ends with delicate ribbons that hugged her wrist. Her dark hair had been braided into a bun and crowned with a garland of pink peonies just a hue brighter than the dress. Her face was smooth and blemishless, with a delicate blush applied to her cheeks and peach-colored lipstick grazing her mouth. Her eyes were shadowed by a similar palette, their gray-blue orbs flickering with disbelief at the sight before her.
Kaoru chuckled. “My, is the princess bedazzled by her own reflection? She should be careful that she does not fall for Narcissistic wiles.”
“I wouldn’t blame her!” said Hagumi, applauding with glee. “You’re so pretty right now, Mii-kun!”
“See, Misaki?” asked Kokoro, whose adulatory grin poked in from the side of the mirror. “I told you!”
Memories from half an hour prior trickled in through Misaki’s thoughts.
The image of Kokoro bursting into the manor in the very same dress, an outfit she had been planning to wear to a high-society ball. The stream of compliments coming from her bandmates as she twirled about. And the indistinct muttering that had fallen from Misaki’s lips, intended to be a private remark left for only the deepest layers of her thoughts:
I couldn’t pull that off.
But Kokoro’s ears picked up everything. And she was nothing if not stubborn. So now…
Misaki was staring at herself.
Her heartbeat was a thunderbolt ready to explode, sending shockwaves all across her body, her skin rippling with gooseflesh. Every last blood cell inside of her tingled as they shot through her arteries.
She could feel the lump in her throat. The hitch in her windpipe. The shiver in her sternum, begging her to crumble.
“Mii-kun?” asked Hagumi. “What’s wrong?”
No. No, she couldn’t… not here… sh-she had to keep it together in front of e-everyone… she didn’t want to upset them… sh… she...
“U-Um!” Kanon suddenly yelped. “K-Kokoro-chan, wh-why don’t you get Michelle?”
“Michelle?” Kokoro replied. “Great idea! She should see how nice Misaki looks too!”
“K-Kaoru-san, Hagumi-chan,” Kanon continued, whipping her head back and forth between them, “y-you should help out too!”
“Roger that!” said Hagumi, saluting.
“Let us make off posthaste,” said Kaoru, making for the door. “Hark, yonder Michelle! Where art thee?”
“Micheeeelle!” Kokoro called as she burst out the parlor door. “Where arrre yoooou?”
Misaki was able to hold it in right until the moment where the three of them left, at which point she could contain her emotions no longer. Her chest clutched tight as she collapsed inwardly, burying her face in her hands. Kanon rushed over to embrace her, squeezing Misaki’s body tightly as she began to weep, cradling her body with intimate gentility.
“I-I-I’m so sorry, Misaki, I didn’t mean to pressure you, you should-- I-I mean…”
Misaki hiccuped, her entire body overwhelmed by whatever sentiment was coursing through her veins. Was it doubt? Relief? Disbelief? Elation? She didn’t know right now. It was sending a shudder through her spine, making her feel small and warm and tight and full. Her thoughts lacked any coherency. All she could do was sob.
“Pl-Please, it’s okay, it’s okay.” Kanon stroked Misaki tenderly all over the back of her shoulders, feeling the silky smooth fabric run underneath her fingers. “I’m here for you, it’s okay…”
Gratitude for Kanon’s presence and quick thinking mixed in with all of Misaki’s other feelings. Her heaves began to stutter and stall as she rested her head in Kanon’s collarbone, her tears staining Kanon’s blouse. Guilt soon set in--she was probably making Kanon so anxious, and she’d do the same once everybody else got back and saw Misaki bawling into her shoulder, and she really shouldn’t be getting so emotional over something like this… but… but…
Her hiccups died down just enough to recognize that there was another set of muffled sobs. “K-Kanon? Wh-Why are you crying…?”
“I… I just feel so terrible,” said Kanon. “I-I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable, a-and…”
“N-No, no…” Misaki croaked out, pulling her head back and wiping her eyes dry. “I should apologize, I’m… I’m not sad, I-I think it’s… I think I’m…”
The word euphoric couldn’t leave her lips. The only thing that left her mouth was more tearful snivels as she wiped her face, feeling the makeup begin to run down in streaks… which only made her feel more awful. Everybody had been so eager and generous in helping her out, and here she was turning into a blubbering mess… couldn’t she have kept on a brave face for their sake? She felt so weak in her joy. If it was joy.
Kanon pulled her in closer again, gently laying Misaki’s head on her lap as she began to tenderly stroke her face. Kanon’s fingers brushed against her scalp, combing through silken hair as her other hand rested on Misaki’s shoulder. Kanon’s lap was soft and pillowy as Misaki felt her head sink down, the weight of her emotions making everything feel leaden and burdensome.
They sat there, letting their snot and tears run their course, Misaki unsure whether to feel glad or not that she couldn’t see her face in the mirror from this angle.
“Are you… happy?” asked Kanon.
Beat. “I… I don’t know.” Another tingle ran down Misaki’s spine. “I… I just don’t know if I can process it.”
She expected Kanon to ask more questions. Instead she cradled Misaki’s head even more gently than before, listening in quiet.
“I… I always thought there was a limit, you know?” Misaki continued, feeling her throat begin to clog again. “I always thought that the best I could do was look apathetic about it. Jeans, hoodies, hats… maybe if I was lucky someone would think I was a futch or something. But… but… seeing that…” Her voice faded into a whisper. “Was that really me?”
Kanon thought for a moment. “Wh… What you saw in the reflection… was that what you wanted to look like?”
Misaki didn’t know.
She’d thought about it for so long. Too long, it’d felt like. Going back and forth between names and titles, identities and senses of self, and even after all she’d gone through… she still hadn’t found a clear sense of what she wanted to be. At some point, she wasn’t sure if she ever would. And even if she was a girl--a hardline, no-frills, capital-G Girl--what did that mean for her? For the person named Misaki Okusawa? She knew she had friends who would accept her no matter who she was… but what did that mean when she didn’t know what that was in the first place?
“...I’m sorry,” Kanon repeated. “I don’t mean--”
“Kanon,” Misaki whispered, cutting her off. “It’s… it’s not you. I’m so glad you all did this for me, honestly. I’m… I just need to sort out my own feelings. That’s all.”
“I understand, b-but…” Kanon swallowed. “I hate seeing you hurt. I hate it so much.”
“I don’t even know if that was hurt,” said Misaki, the aftershock still vibrating through her bones. “I’m… I’m going to have to take some time to figure out what that was.”
She felt warm lips meet her temple for a moment. “Take as long as you need.”
Misaki exhaled without a sound. “I’m… I’m sorry I can’t be more clear.”
“It’s not me who needs to hear that answer,” said Kanon. “That answer… th-there’s only one person who needs to hear it, and it’s not me.”
Misaki caught the intention behind her words. “Thank you.”
For a moment, Kanon’s hand stopped. “Can… I say something, though?”
Misaki twisted her neck to look up at her, meeting the gentle gaze of Kanon’s violet eyes. “What is it?”
“I… I just want to say, um…” Red crept onto Kanon’s face as her lips cracked into a smile. “You really are beautiful.”
“Wh-Whether like this, or like you usually dress… you’re g-gorgeous.”
“And no matter what you look like… I’d love you all the same. I j-just want you to know that.” Kanon’s face scrunched up as her eyelids lowered. “You’re such a wonderful girl, Misaki.”
Misaki felt her insides about to split. “I… I should be saying that to you.”
Kanon giggled weakly. “Th-That’s flattering. Really…”
“I mean it,” Misaki insisted. “You’re… you’re…”
She trailed off, her mind getting lost in thoughts. She was suddenly much more cognizant of the frills that hugged her torso, the pink that encased all of her body… the warmth beneath her head. The smell of fresh flowers and aloe enveloped her, and the sound of robinsong and wind drifted in from outside. Misaki reached up and took the garland from the crown of her head, feeling its soft, sticky stems in-between her fingers. Kanon looked at her somberly. “What is it?”
Misaki’s eyes drifted off towards the window, where the golden light of the afternoon was pouring in. “Can I… tell you something kind of embarrassing?”
Kanon smiled. “Anything.”
Misaki continued looking out the window, watching the vivid green tree branches just outside wave in the breeze, their quiet rustle clamoring above the low hum of the wind. Misaki closed her eyes and listened, picturing something she had imagined a thousand times before. “Do you have like… a happy place, or anything like that?”
“A happy place?” asked Kanon. “Y-Yeah, of course. I always imagine… a beach at sunset, where the waves are lapping against my feet as they sink into the wet sand… o-oh, sorry, I don’t mean to ramble.”
“You’re good,” Misaki replied, feeling air enter in and out of her lungs. “But… I was thinking about my own.”
“Your happy place?” asked Kanon.
A pause, as she breathed in and out. “Mmhmm.”
“Oh. Well…” Kanon’s fingers twiddled with a sprig of Misaki’s hair. “What’s it like?”
A zephyr passed through the room as Misaki closed her eyes, visualizing it to the best of her ability.
“It’s… a sunflower field.
“Up on a cliffside. On a day in May, where the weather is warm and the sky is a deep blue… the wind rustles all the stalks, and you can just make out the chirps of cicadas in the distance.”
Kanon’s breathing slowed. The world seemed very large and still.
“On the cliffside… there’s a girl. She’s wearing a bright white sundress and a matching hat, and the ends of her outfit ripple in the wind. She’s got this long, flowing hair that catches the sun, and she moves in-between the flowers so effortlessly. And then…”
Misaki could see her, clear as day.
“When she turns around… she has this smile. It’s so bright and pure and sincere… it’s brighter than the sun. And every time I think about it…” A sigh escapes her. “I… I feel like, ‘I want to see this person someday.’ A literal girl of my dreams. She was... like a sunflower.”
Kanon remained silent.
“And I… lately, I guess I’ve been wondering…” Misaki reached up and cupped Kanon’s cheek. “If that girl was you.”
Kanon leaned into Misaki’s hand, nuzzling her palm tenderly. “...That’s sweet of you to say.”
“I mean it,” Misaki insisted. “I mean… it’s something I’ve had in my mind for such a long time. And now, when I look at you, I just can’t help but feel like… like you were who I was looking for.”
“...Maybe,” said Kanon, her hand moving to stroke Misaki’s hair again. “But I think there might be another possibility.”
Kanon gingerly pulled Misaki’s hand away from her cheek. And then, with the smallest of motions, she bent down and murmured right above Misaki’s ear.
“That girl was you.”