The sight was breathtaking; thousands of tiny flower petals falling through the air, a pink whirlwind that signified the beginning of spring. Nanami knew that coming here with her friends was absolutely worth it. The sight was mesmerizing, so much so that she could almost forget the enormous crowd of people she was expected to socialize with...
One was already exhausting; by the time Nanami had shared her love of horror with Rimi, she was at her limit, but she ended up embarrassing herself in front of a ton of other people. She kept thinking about what she could have done differently, and she definitely knew that no one came off thinking of her as normal. Embarrassed, she scanned the crowd and eventually found the Morfonica blanket, where Rui was already holding down the fort.
Nanami took a seat.
“Hey, Rui-rui, tired of socializing too?”
Rui glanced up at her. “In a sense...I was not expecting such a large number of people to come to this event.”
Nanami stretched her legs out on the blanket.
“Mm...it sure is hard to make friends, huh...no one even saw me as a normal girl...” She stopped. “Oops! Forget you heard that last part, ahaha...”
Rui’s expression remained unchanged. “I still do not understand why you insist on trying so hard to hide your exceptional qualities in order to fit in. As I’ve already reminded you, you could be considered the most special one here.”
“Huh...? But I’m not special, I’m just weird...Normal girls don’t watch from the shadows when people are talking and scare them away...Normal girls don’t make everyone look at them funny when they try something for the first time...” She swallowed. “Normal girls don’t wonder if they’re even a girl in the first place. You can’t be special if you aren’t normal first...”
Rui pursed her lips. “Being special literally means to be extraordinary, to exist outside the norm, does it not?”
Nanami sighed. “I must be the bad kind of special, then, since everything I do only pushes people away from me...I even made this conversation all about myself, didn’t I. Super sorry, Rui-rui! This should be my own problem, ahaha...”
“There’s nothing wrong with worrying, Nanami. While I still don’t understand the cause of it, seeing you in distress causes me worry as well. Additionally, you were able to bond with another with no negative side effects, so shouldn’t that be proof of your success?”
Nanami’s eyes widened. “Rui-rui...wow, you’re so nice to me, I just might cry! Ahaha... thank you for believing in me; maybe I should believe in you too, believe that I’m not a total freak. Thank you very much!” She snapped upright and bowed deeply, lip trembling.
“While unnecessary, I appreciate your courtesy.”
Rui remained seated. Nanami didn’t really know how to respond to that. She plopped back down to sit cross-legged, tilting her head back to watch the trees. The wind blew, and more petals rained down. The two girls watched them together, saying nothing for a while.
“Pardon my intrusion, but was it true what you said earlier?” Rui asked, breaking the lull between them. “You said you didn’t really know if you were a girl. Is that what you truly feel?”
Nanami froze, a jolt going through her chest, not even daring to look over at her.
“I, uhh...well, I don’t really know exactly, since that’s what I said, ahaha...I don’t know if I’m really a girl, or if I’m something else. I don’t feel like a girl, or a boy, and I don’t know if there’s anything else I could be...I don’t really know anything yet, but...I know you don’t care if I’m a normal girl, but please don’t tell anyone, okay? I don’t want them to think I’m even worse than I already am.”
Her heart was hammering in her chest. She snuck a glance over at Rui, who looked deep in thought.
Incredibly, Rui extended a hand to hold one of hers; only now did Nanami realize she was sweating.
“My apologies...I didn’t expect to cause you this much panic. I hope that this will assist you in calming down.”
Nanami was too frazzled to think.
Rui sighed, pushing her hair back with her free hand.
“I asked you that question because what you said resonated with me, as well. I do not believe that I fit into the traditional ideals of a girl, nor those of a boy...at least completely. I feel as if I could be neither, or both, and yet I never realized I could even think that way before you allowed me to entertain the possibility. Thank you, Nanami, and my apologies for causing you distress from my inquiry.” She exhaled, staring straight ahead, while Nanami’s eyes were glued to her.
Nanami involuntarily broke into a smile. “Rui-rui, you truly understand me, huh...I’m so happy. Thank you!” She squeezed their conjoined hands.
“No need to repeat yourself from earlier; regardless, you are welcome. I only expressed my own thoughts, and in reality, I would like to thank you instead. Your way of thinking is quite different from my own, which allows different perspectives to be shared between us.”
Nanami gasped; Rui was actually smiling ! A small turn of her lips, but a smile nonetheless.
“Rui-rui...Come to think of it, you aren’t the normal girl I thought you were either. Oh — please don’t take that as an insult,” she stammered, “but, I guess we have a lot in common. Even if I think differently, like you said, ahaha...”
A long minute passed. The flower petals fell.
Rui’s smile slowly disappeared. “...May I be direct for a moment?” She glanced over at Nanami, as if asking for permission. Eyes widening, she nodded. “Well...”
“I believe you should have noticed this by now, but I do not have the easiest time dealing with unexpected things. When something goes off-schedule, I lose my ability to handle it well...I am grateful that we were able to converse after I had my sudden meeting with Hello! Happy World, as well as the number of attendees to this event being far larger than I had planned. I truly appreciated your company.”
“Haha, thank you! I had fun talking to you too, Rui-rui...I hope we can hang out like this lots more in the future.” Looking over at Rui, she smiled. Silence, save for the buzz of conversation around them. The flower petals fell.
“Whaaaaaaat?! Nanami and Rui, got something to tell us?”
She barely had time to process the flash of blond hair in the corner of her eye before Touko skidded to a halt in front of their blanket. Face hot, Nanami snatched her hand back into her lap.
“Please do not misunderstand; I was simply attempting to calm her down after saying something that upset her.” Rui’s voice was as monotone as always, betraying no hint of anything deeper.
“That’s our Rui-rui! Thanks for explaining it, ahaha...” Nanami continued to blush, making a halfhearted attempt to swipe at her face to get it to stop.
“Wow, your face is super red! Seriously, what’s going on here? Well, whatever...” Touko laughed. “What’s with this, though? What happened to socializing? Was it just toooo much for you guys to handle?”
Nanami frowned. “No, we—“
“That’s not true!” a trembly voice shouted from behind them. Nanami turned to look.
“Nanami actually made friends with Rimi! And, Rui talked to the members of Hello! Happy World!” Mashiro exclaimed, panting from exhaustion. Almost completely keeping her from toppling over, Tsukushi stood with her.
“Shiro! And Fusuke! What’d you guys do, run a marathon?” Touko was grinning—she sure looked happy to see them.
“Hey, Touko...well, there was an incident involving Kokoro...Mashiro was in trouble, and it was my duty as class president to help her! Shiro doesn’t have a lot of stamina, though, so I had to drag her all the way back here...” Tsukushi trailed off. laughing awkwardly.
“Hey, Tsu and Shiro are here! Morfonica’s back together now, huh...” Nanami said, wondering if this meant they could all leave together. There was only so much sakura partying she could take...
“Excluding Touko, the group seems to be tired from the day’s activity. I believe it would be best if we took our leave, extending our thanks to the members of Poppin’ Party first, of course,” Rui said. Relieved, Nanami was grateful for her seeing through her for once. Rui truly knew how to indirectly support people if she chose, but it only worked if she didn’t follow it up with brutal honesty. Which happened a large majority of the time. At least Nanami could trust her with her secrets; Rui wouldn’t be one to disclose the contents of their conversation, especially since it contained uncomfortable truths of her own that she almost certainly wouldn’t be eager to share with the rest of Morfonica—well-meaning as they may be.
And so they packed up their things, said their goodbyes (to the chagrin of an enthusiastic Kasumi), and started off on their ways home.
“Man, that was fun! Those girls were soooooo cool...” Touko sighed, stretching her arms back.
“Right? I’ll treasure that advice from Aya and Chisato forever!”
“Tsukushi, I’m not sure Aya gave you any valuable advice...”
“Shiro! What she said had such a deep meaning! You just need to think about it longer!”
“Ah, sorry...maybe you should just think about it yourself...”
Tsukushi sniffed. “Well, I definitely will!”
Nanami smirked from her place in the back. She didn’t have the energy to join in, but Mashiro was totally right. She was even more proud of her for standing up for herself.
Rui seemed to be lagging behind, too; Nanami wondered if she was paying any attention to the conversation. Almost certainly, since she was always incredibly perceptive, and an unmatched good listener.
Nanami nudged her to get her attention.
“Hey, Rui-rui. Did you have fun today?”
“Yes, I enjoyed myself quite a bit. I assume that you would answer the same?”
“Amazing! Leave it to you to guess that yourself!” Nanami exclaimed, hands raised in front of her.
“I will assume that is not sarcasm, since you usually intend others to take you at face value. Regardless, I am glad that we were able to spend time with the band doing something we enjoyed.”
Nanami recalled what she learned last night when she was reading online with embarrassing fervor; make a move while the two of you were alone, and wait for it to be reciprocated. Since Rui had initiated this last time, she was fairly confident it would work. She told the others it was simply to calm down Nanami, but that didn’t seem like a complete explanation. After all, Toko had pointed out once that Rui wasn’t always completely honest—she often hid her true motives behind a rock-solid expression and a well-crafted excuse.
With all of her thoughts giving her a boost of confidence, Nanami inhaled and then sought out Rui’s hand with her own, intertwining their fingers. She glanced up, searching for anything in Rui’s expression that told her this was acceptable, not even daring to let out a breath.
And she should have known that it was good, better than good, since Rui gave her hand a squeeze back.
Nanami couldn’t keep the grin from her face. She wondered if Rui asked the internet what to do the same way she did, since the gesture didn’t really seem like something she would do herself. Holding her hand earlier, too. Or maybe, just maybe, she wasn’t giving Rui enough credit?
Maybe, Rui felt the same way toward Nanami that Nanami felt toward Rui. Only time would tell.
And for now, they kept walking home under the setting sun. And if Mashiro, or Tsukushi ignored Touko’s chatter for a moment and looked back at their conjoined hands, they didn’t say a word.
When it was time to separate, she took Rui’s other hand and met her gaze, before immediately having to look away and go off in her own direction, hiding her face.
And even later that night, Nanami was happy.