Tsugumi had a moment to breathe, after the night of the movie. She and Sayo went to different schools, and Tsugumi could enjoy her days with Hina in peace, pretending that everything had been fixed.
Then Sayo showed up at the café, just like she had many times before. Just like she had that first night. She wasn’t trying particularly hard to hide her reason for being there, shooting small glances at Tsugumi ever since she first arrived.
Tsugumi shoved a slightly confused Eve in the direction of her table, content to go on acting like this wasn’t happening. Though, it was earlier in her shift than last time, so Tsugumi admitted this wasn’t a great long term plan. Mostly just hoping Sayo would go away on her own, if Tsugumi ignored her long enough.
“Tsugumi-san,” Eve whispered to her as she passed by, Tsugumi nearly dropping a plate in surprise, “I can cover for you, just for a few minutes. I know we’re busy right now, but Sayo-san really wants to talk with you.”
Yes, Tsugumi was aware. That was the problem. Tsugumi didn’t know what Sayo was here for, but so far, nothing good had come from trying to speak to her alone. Though, as Eve said, they were quite busy at the moment. Maybe it would be safest to get this over with now, when Sayo couldn’t try to pull anything—not in front of so many people.
Tsugumi really hoped that would stop her, at least. She sighed and headed over to the table, Eve cheering her on from behind.
“Um, Sayo-san, this is… an unexpected surprise.”
“Ah, Tsugumi,” Sayo brightened as she noticed the other girl approach at last, “I’m glad I could catch you for a moment. I’m sorry it’s not a more convenient time for you, but I can’t stop by for very long right now. It’s nice to see you, though.”
“It’s no problem, Sayo-san,” Tsugumi said, more out of politeness than any actual truth, “Eve-chan said you needed to tell me something?”
“Oh, yes,” Sayo said, realizing she had gotten distracted, “it’s more passing along a message. Hina said she wanted to go stargazing tomorrow night. Something about a romantic night out, alone under the stars… except she said it with more words like boppin’, or zappin’, or what have you.”
Tsugumi nodded along, knowing well the difficulty of relating something Hina said verbatim.
It sounded nice, stargazing. She had gone with Hina before, as had Sayo that night, what felt like so long ago now. But it was one thing to go out as a large group, quite another with only Hina alone. Only her girlfriend. Alone, together.
“Tell Hina-senpai that I’d love to,” Tsugumi smiled, glad that she had not simply avoided disaster with Sayo’s visit, but also had something to look forward to tomorrow now. Maybe things could finally start getting back to normal between her and Sayo. One step at a time, perhaps.
“She’ll be thrilled, I’m sure,” Sayo laughed, seeming genuinely happy for her sister, as always—in a way Tsugumi still struggled to untangle, “but I do need to get going now, Tsugumi.”
“Oh, sure,” Tsugumi said, blinking once before remembering where she was, “I’ll go get Eve-chan!”
Tsugumi left the table as quickly as she could, without giving the appearance of retreat. Leaving no opening to let things take a last minute turn for the worse.
“Hey, Eve-chan,” Tsugumi said, as she reached the girl, off by some other table, “Sayo-san is ready to leave, when you can get to her…”
“Ah, Tsugumi-san,” Eve perked up, “I heard. I might have been listening in, a little bit. Stargazing sounds like it will be amazing. Just the three of you, I take it?”
“Oh, no Eve-chan,” Tsugumi corrected her, “Sayo-san won’t be there, she was just here to tell me, that’s all. It’ll be Hina-senpai and I, all by ourselves. It has me a bit nervous, to be honest, going there only the two of us.”
“Ah, that’s a shame,” Eve said, with a disappointment Tsugumi couldn’t quite place, “But I’m sure it’ll be fun for Hina-san to have you all to herself. She’s been so excitable at practice lately. More than the usual Hina-san amount, that is.”
Tsugumi laughed at the thought, but then waved the girl off, heading for another table herself. She had a date with Hina tomorrow, and nothing was going to ruin this feeling.
Sayo was here.
She had been standing right next to Hina when Tsugumi met them at the train station. She had sat next to Tsugumi on the train ride here. Even now, she held Tsugumi’s hand as Hina in turn pulled both of them through the darkness, towards a specific hill she claimed to remember from some past visit.
Why was Sayo here?
“This way! Come on, come on!” Hina yelled over her shoulder, hurrying the other girls along, seemingly unburdened by the massive travel case that held her telescope, hanging over one shoulder.
No matter how close she got to Hina, she never made any more sense. And if Sayo was any indication, it wasn’t something that would come with time, either. But Hina had to understand that her sister didn’t belong on a romantic night out under the stars with her girlfriend, right? Unless Sayo had purposely misrepresented what Hina said, just to tease Tsugumi for it later.
Tsugumi shot a glare back at Sayo. It didn’t seem out of the question. But Hina’s pace was too frantic for Tsugumi to afford to look away for more than a few seconds, and the sun had set too long ago to discern Sayo’s expression now, in any case.
Tsugumi resigned herself to keep following Hina. She was afraid of where the girl might run off to on her own, if she let go of Hina’s hand. And while, to Tsugumi, none of these dark, grassy fields looked any different from one another, Hina was the one who knew things about astronomy. If she thought this one spot really was so much better than everywhere else, Tsugumi had no reason to doubt her.
At last, Hina stopped on a particular hill, the details of which Tsugumi could barely even make out. But Hina seemed quite pleased with it.
“Onee-chan! Tsugu-chan!” Hina shouted, swinging her small, red-filtered lantern about, “This looks like a good spot to lay out the blankets. I’ll set up the telescope for us.”
Tsugumi nodded, though she wasn’t sure if Hina could actually see her well enough to tell. Behind her, Tsugumi could hear Sayo’s bag rustling.
“Tsugumi,” Sayo said, handing her a corner of fabric, “take this side, will you?”
Wordlessly, Tsugumi helped Sayo cover the patch of ground Hina picked out. It was at a slight incline, but otherwise relatively even-surfaced—free of any random spots of weeds or thicker grasses. Sayo threw the rest of the blankets on top of them with far less ceremony, sliding closer to Tsugumi than felt entirely proper.
“Are you warm enough, Tsugumi?” Sayo asked, placing a hand so casually on her arm that Tsugumi didn’t immediately notice—not until after she found herself leaning back into Sayo’s chest. It was certainly warmer this way.
Tsugumi wasn’t sure what to think. Had Sayo’s earlier advances left her jumping at shadows? Tsugumi couldn’t quite imagine Sayo doing something like this with just any random acquaintance, but… it wasn’t objectionable on its face. Besides, Hina wouldn’t have told them to lay out just a single set of blankets like this, if she expected Sayo and Tsugumi to keep at arm’s length the entire night. Though that might be giving Hina too much credit, to assume she had thought that far ahead.
“It really is beautiful out here, isn’t it?” Sayo asked, sounding far more at peace than Tsugumi could hope to right now, “Nothing to see but countless brilliant stars.”
Tsugumi looked up at the glittering night sky, trying not to focus too hard on how her head fit under Sayo’s chin. And it truly was amazing, how much more vivid everything was here, away from the lights of the city, of all the people. How much light and color could be found within the empty blackness, without so much as the light of the moon.
“Yup!” Hina agreed, as she—without warning—slipped in under the blankets with them, climbing on top of Tsugumi, “It’s almost as great as Tsugu-chan!”
Sandwiched between the Hikawa twins, wrapped up together in several blankets, Tsugumi was well insulated from the chill night air, at least. The way Hina pressed her body against Tsugumi’s was starting to heat her up for several reasons. And if this also pushed her further back into Sayo’s embrace, Tsugumi was doing her best not to think about it. Hina seemed happy, and that was what mattered most.
“Really Hina?” Sayo laughed, “You couldn’t even pretend to simply enjoy the evening for a few minutes, before draping yourself over Tsugumi? You can’t even see the sky like that.”
Hina pouted, “I saw plenty of it when I was checking the telescope. Besides, I’ve spent way more time investigating the stars than I have Tsugu-chan.”
Tsugumi blushed at the implication, especially to say such things in front of Sayo like that. And then to—
“Wait, Hina-senpai!” Tsugumi cried, as Hina climbed further up on top of her, until they were face to face. Just inches apart.
“What are you—”
Tsugumi’s confused shout was silenced by Hina’s lips, but it did nothing to quell those feelings. What the hell was Hina thinking, kissing her like this? Sayo was right there! Maybe she hadn’t given the kiss at the mall enough thought, at the time. Tsugumi hadn’t realized she would need to explain to Hina such fundamental concepts about reasonable boundaries and public displays of affection.
Though, thinking on it—as difficult as thinking might be at present—assuming Hina would both be aware of such things, and furthermore pay them any mind, had definitely been a mistake. But on the list of stupid things Tsugumi really should have stopped Hina from doing beforehand, this was definitely on the more enjoyable side. If perhaps just a tad unfair to Sayo, forcing her to watch something like this. Or at least, listen to Tsugumi moan into Hina’s lips, given how poorly their one small lantern lit up the area. And maybe also feel the way her back was arching under the sensations, Tsugumi’s head digging further into Sayo’s collarbone.
With some reluctance, Tsugumi wriggled out of Hina’s grasp, gasping for air while also trying to at least partially conceal from Sayo how turned on she was right now.
“Eh, Tsugu-chan?” Hina asked, sitting up on her knees, blankets falling down around her as she tried to give her girlfriend a bit of space, “Is something wrong? Was that too fast for you?”
Tsugumi, still reeling from the kiss, tried to come up with an explanation of why Hina shouldn’t make out with her on top of her sister. Especially when that sister might definitely still be harboring feelings for Tsugumi.
It was hard to know where to start, when Hina refused to show any sense of shame or awareness of the situation.
“Um… Hina-senpai,” Tsugumi began, “it’s just, well… with Sayo-san here too. I guess—I guess it feels like you don’t really know when to stop, sometimes. Most of the time, really.”
Tsugumi looked to Sayo, hoping the other girl could maybe explain things better, in a way that Hina could understand.
“Don’t worry Tsugumi, I expected something like this,” Sayo admitted, failing to reassure Tsugumi in the slightest, “I did my best to talk to Hina about respecting boundaries before we went out tonight. But she really isn’t the type to think before she acts. So, we just have to keep reminding her when she forgets.”
Tsugumi nodded to herself. That did make some amount of sense, and was something she probably should have realized she was signing up for—when she first agreed to start dating Hina.
“It’s okay, Tsugu-chan, it really is,” Hina said, wrapping both her hands around Tsugumi’s, letting their fingers intertwine, “I just want to understand. Were you scared, did you not like it?”
“That’s… not quite it, Hina-senpai,” Tsugumi laughed, still in disbelief of how off the mark Hina could be, “I was mostly thinking about how Sayo-san was feeling.”
“Onee-chan!?” Hina asked, looking up towards where she knew Sayo was sitting, “Really? Did you think she was feeling left out?”
Left out? That wasn’t quite how Tsugumi would have worded it, though it was accurate enough, in a Hina sort of way. It seemed like Hina was at least starting to figure it out. Even Tsugumi herself struggled to pin down exactly how all of this made Sayo feel, so it was alright if Hina needed some time to think it through. The important thing was that Hina tried to consider Sayo’s feelings now, before doing anything like that again.
“I’ve told you before, Tsugumi,” Sayo spoke up, gently adjusting Tsugumi’s shoulders to turn towards her, “It’s okay, it really is. Hina can kiss you all she likes. I’m happy for her. Happy for you.”
Distantly, alarm bells started ringing in the back of Tsugumi’s head. That sort of sentiment sounded familiar. Very familiar. She’d heard it from Sayo twice before now, after all.
Once for each time that Sayo had kissed her.
“Sayo-san,” Tsugumi said, silently cursing herself for staying fixed in place as she spoke, despite knowing what was coming, “Hina-senpai is sitting right there…”
Unfortunately, this did little to dissuade Sayo, as she drew Tsugumi closer.
“I know,” Sayo said, though Tsugumi was only just able to see the movement of her lips in the dim light, “but now she’ll just have to wait her turn.”
Their lips met once more.
Tsugumi desperately wished to hate it, but mostly hated herself. She had let Sayo kiss her, again. Wanted it to happen, maybe. And there was no hiding it from Hina this time.
Because that was what she had been doing all this time. Not dealing with things on her own, not sparing Hina’s feelings, but hiding mistake after mistake, hoping that Hina never found out.
Before she could entertain any thoughts of Hina not being able to see what Sayo was doing through the darkness, Tsugumi’s treacherous body let out a low moan. She hadn’t pushed Sayo away, hadn’t broken the kiss, had instead let Sayo taste what wasn’t hers yet again. And it would have been all too easy, fighting it. Sayo was far gentler this time, as if knowing that Tsugumi would do nothing. Just like she had let Sayo get away with it the last two times.
Tsugumi tried to listen for Hina’s reaction, the girl sitting somewhere behind her in the shadows. But she heard nothing, the darkness making the silence so much more pronounced. She could barely even see Sayo’s face right in front of her. Pressed up against her own, more accurately.
Tsugumi felt so useless. It had been bad enough that she needed to break Sayo’s heart, refusing her feelings. But now she was breaking Hina’s heart too. She had let Sayo trick her again and again—it was inevitable that Hina would eventually find out. Tsugumi couldn’t even honestly call it being tricked at this point, not for a third time.
With a burst of willpower, Tsugumi tore herself away.
“No… no,” Tsugumi whispered, shaking her head, wishing this was all a bad dream. She shut her eyes, ridding herself of the faint, dark world around her.
“Tsugumi?” Sayo’s voice called out with concern, but Tsugumi ignored her.
“Tsugu-chan?” Hina’s voice wavered, sounding almost on the verge of tears, “…what’s going on?”
Tsugumi couldn’t explain. She had no excuses. No defense. Tsugumi had hurt Hina, who had done nothing but care for her. Love her.
Unable to answer Hina’s question, Tsugumi responded the only way she had left—and ran.
For the first few steps, Tsugumi hadn’t noticed the darkness. And by the time she realized the faint light of the lantern had grown more and more distant—finally disappearing behind a hill—it was too late to turn back. Tsugumi couldn’t face Sayo and Hina now, anyhow.
So instead, Tsugumi continued to run. Back across the grassy hills Hina had led them through, but without any such direction. Only seeking to get away. To never be found again.
It was only when Tsugumi at last stumbled in the darkness—tumbling into the dirt—that the adrenaline began to fade, and she could fully appreciate how lost she really was.
There were dark shapes all around her, but Tsugumi couldn’t tell if they were real or imagined. Only the stars above—dipping in and out from behind the faint outlines of tree branches—gave any hint of her surroundings. She wasn’t sure which way would lead back to Sayo and Hina, even if she wanted to go back.
She didn’t. It was terrifying, out here alone in the darkness, but Tsugumi knew that the night wouldn’t last forever. The damage to her relationship with Hina could not so easily be wiped away by the light of dawn. Hina deserved someone better than Tsugumi, someone who wouldn’t cause her so much pain. Someone who wouldn’t make her cry.
All the same, spending the night alone out here was far from an appealing prospect for Tsugumi. It couldn’t be that hard to find her way back to the train station from here, could it?
Once Tsugumi had collected her thoughts, she took out her phone. She didn’t have much charge left, but all she needed to do was find the path Hina had taken them along. The walk there couldn’t have been more than fifteen minutes.
It didn’t take long for Tsugumi to find it. Or find a path, at least. Recognizing landmarks she had paid no attention to at the time was beyond impossible, but Tsugumi could only hope it led back to the same place. One way or another.
The uncertainty was nice, in a way. Tsugumi was too focused on getting through the forest, on the rustling sounds in the darkness around her, to dwell too long on how Hina must be feeling right now. In a stray thought, Tsugumi wondered if that meant she cared more about herself than Hina. Tsugumi really didn’t want to think about Hina anymore. Not right now.
It took the better part of twenty minutes before Tsugumi began to worry. She had used almost half her remaining battery. If she continued much further, she wouldn’t even have the option of turning around, heading back the way she came. And this path didn’t seem like the way back to the train station at all.
That was when Tsugumi spotted it. A flickering light—not in the night sky above, but out in front of her. She drew nearer.
“Look, Kaoru, look!” Tsugumi heard a voice call out, “You can cook so much faster if you stick the marshmallow in the fire!”
“Alas, dear Kokoro,” another familiar voice responded, “I cannot stomach such a charred treat. You must eat it without me.”
Nervously, Tsugumi pressed forward. She didn’t want to interrupt such a peaceful night out, but she had to admit she had gone hopelessly off course, if she had somehow stumbled into the camping grounds.
“Um, hello? Kokoro-chan? Seta-senpai?”
Kaoru was the first to turn towards her, sitting next to Kokoro by a roaring campfire. Behind them was a small tent, the door flap hanging open, partially unzipped. Various indistinct shapes were spread across a wooden picnic table, presumably including a bag of marshmallows somewhere in there.
“Do my ears mistake me, Kokoro?” she asked, with a grating amount of flourish, “Is that Tsugumi-chan I hear?”
Kokoro tossed her marshmallow roasting stick aside, tip landing at the edge of the firepit, and followed Kaoru’s gaze.
“Ah, Tsugumi,” Kokoro clapped her hands together, “what a wonderful surprise! Kaoru and I are camping alone in the woods tonight, so we weren’t expecting any guests!”
Tsugumi felt a growing sense that she was intruding. It was hard to tell what people like Kokoro and Kaoru were thinking at times, even if at other times it was all too easy. But this scene struck her as unusual. Not a get-together, along with the rest of their band, but something personal. Something that Tsugumi shouldn’t be a part of.
Kokoro would never dream of turning someone away, of course, and Kaoru only knew how to “yes, and…” a sudden interruption. But Tsugumi was still a distraction from the time they’d likely rather spend alone. For Kaoru, at least—Tsugumi didn’t think Kokoro had ever found a distraction she didn’t like.
Those were thoughts for later, though. When she wasn’t lost in the woods with a nearly dead phone battery—and a crying girlfriend somewhere off far away. Tsugumi would do her best to make it up to Kokoro and Kaoru at some point, but for now, she couldn’t exactly turn away their help.
“I’m sorry…” Tsugumi said, “I hate to intrude, but I’m afraid I’m in need of a bit of help. A lot of help, really.”
“Don’t look so sad, Tsugumi,” Kokoro reassured her, “there’s nothing in the world that can’t be made better by letting more friends join in!”
Kokoro jumped from her seat on the conveniently placed log and half-urged, half-pushed Tsugumi to join them by the fire. It was comforting, watching the flames, knowing that she was safe around friends. Trusting that the light wasn’t threatening to go out at any second, leaving her all alone in the dark.
“I fear, Kokoro, that our dear kitten’s problems run far deeper than regret for her… untimely appearance,” Kaoru lamented, grabbing Tsugumi by the shoulder, touching a hand to her cheek, “You’ve been crying, Tsugumi-chan.”
“What? Tsugumi?” Kokoro shouted, running around to stand beside Kaoru, staring far too intensely at Tsugumi’s face, “That’s no good! You’re our friend, and if you’re sad—if you’re sad, then I’ll be sad too.”
Tsugumi hadn’t quite known what to expect when she sat down by the campfire, but Kokoro breaking into tears and hugging her definitely hadn’t been involved. It was surreal, for a girl that—in all honesty—she knew mostly by reputation, to show such genuine sorrow for Tsugumi’s troubles. Before she could even start to explain why she had been crying.
It felt nice, the way Kokoro held onto her, expecting nothing of Tsugumi. It made her not want to explain. Not want to see the look on Kokoro’s face when she learned what Tsugumi had put Hina through. If Kokoro got this worked up over the struggles of a girl she had met only a handful of times, Tsugumi couldn’t imagine how she might react for an actual friend like Hina.
“I’m sorry, Kokoro-chan,” Tsugumi said, realizing—as her voice wavered—that her own tears had returned in full force, “I don’t want to make you sad. I don’t want to make anyone sad. I just can’t help it.”
Accepting Kokoro’s unstated offer, Tsugumi cried back, burying her face into the girl’s shoulder. She stopped thinking about all the reasons she didn’t deserve help, and let out all the tumultuous feelings she had kept inside all this time.
It was warm. In the light of the fire. In the arms of a friend. Kaoru gently patted both girls on the head, until the tears died down and all that could be heard were the occasional crackle of flame.
“It’s alright, kitten,” Kaoru said, gently pulling Tsugumi away from Kokoro, leaning her up against her chest, “whatever ails you, we are here for you. And if it would help to talk about it, we are more than happy to listen.”
“Yeah!” Kokoro agreed, pumping her fist in the air. But when Kaoru shot her a glance she settled back down, focusing on the listening part of active listening.
“I don’t really want to talk about it,” Tsugumi admitted, “but I think it will help.”
So, she told them. About Hina’s confession. About Sayo’s reaction. About the kiss. All the kisses. About how she had stomped all over the heart of her friend. It hurt to talk about, but Tsugumi didn’t want to ignore the pain anymore. She was done pretending there would be some easy way through all this. Hina deserved that much, at least.
Tsugumi stopped talking—stopped rambling—and for a moment, there was silence once more. The girls needed time to collect themselves, each in their own way.
“Tragic!” Kaoru cried, the first to speak once more, “For two sisters to be torn apart by a shared love. Jealousy! Anguish! Romance! Truly, the bard himself could only hope to capture such raw emotion!”
“I know!” Kokoro nodded along, “It’s so sad, I can’t imagine such rotten luck. Sayo and Hina both love Tsugumi. Why can’t they all be happy?”
“Alas, Kokoro-chan,” Kaoru sighed, “love triangles are far messier than such clean geometry would suggest. Untangling them is a problem of the heart, after all—impossible to quantify.”
Tsugumi could only mournfully agree. The entire situation was a mess, had been a mess well before she had been made aware of any of it.
Tsugumi could have done better by Hina. She could have, perhaps, done more to help Sayo too. But things were never going to end how Kokoro wanted. Someone had to lose out, and that was never going to be pleasant.
It was nice to hear the other girls say it, though. To tell her this wasn’t all her fault, that making mistakes didn’t make her a bad person. That—after all they heard—Kaoru and Kokoro were still just as committed to helping out their friend. That Tsugumi was still worth helping, in their eyes.
…Even if, by Kaoru’s own admission, they could do nothing more than help Tsugumi come to terms with her situation. There was no insight or wisdom to share, which would clean everything up nicely. She had to sort this out once and for all, as best she could manage.
Tell Sayo off, so she wouldn’t come back again. Come clean to Hina, and ask for her forgiveness. Let all of this come to an end, one way or another.
Tsugumi could only hope for so much. But she had hope.
The calls drew closer.
Kokoro and Kaoru led out in front of Tsugumi, holding their flashlights to guide the way back through the woods. As they reached the end of the path, Sayo and Hina’s voices greeted them. Despite Tsugumi having been gone the better part of an hour, they were still out there looking for her.
On one hand, this meant that the sisters were indeed willing to look past their differences when needed. On the other hand, it made Tsugumi feel even worse about running away like that. Though, Kokoro and Kaoru had helped her out a lot, so it wasn’t all for nothing.
“Hina-senpai! Sayo-san!” Tsugumi called back, “I’m okay!”
Kokoro stopped at the edge of the woods, drawing lazy circles with her flashlight in the direction of Sayo and Hina’s own distant lights. Tsugumi stood next to her and Kaoru, feeling oddly secure in between them. She had never quite bought into the rumors and hype at school surrounding Kaoru, but it turned out the girl was dependable when it counted. As for Kokoro… she definitely tried her best, which sometimes was all that was needed.
“Tsugu-chan!” Hina cried, running the last dozen meters to close the gap between them, throwing her arms around Tsugumi, “I’m so glad you’re alright. We were so worried.”
Sayo trailed behind, though there was a notable haste to her steps. Tsugumi couldn’t quite meet her eyes. But there were things she needed to tell Sayo, and she couldn’t let herself back out this time.
“But Tsugu-chan,” Hina continued, in a more serious tone, “you can’t run away like that. It’s dangerous to be out here alone at night. What if—”
Hina quickly glanced towards Tsugumi’s companions—
“—What if Kokoro-chan and Kaoru-kun hadn’t found you?” she asked, “…Thanks for that, by the way, you two.”
“It’s no problem, Hina!” Kokoro chirped, “We always have time to help our friends!”
“Um, yes,” Kaoru coughed, “certainly. Though, perhaps it is time we retire once more. We shan’t leave our campsite unattended for so long.”
Kokoro tilted her head in confusion, “But Kaoru, this is when Tsugumi needs our help most, we can’t abandon her now! I’m sure the Suit People will keep everything in order for when we get back.”
Tsugumi blinked. It hadn’t occurred to her earlier, but the Tsurumaki family was extremely protective of their heiress. She had only seen it for herself a handful of times, but the—handlers?—that followed Kokoro everywhere were truly something else. And had been uncharacteristically absent all night.
Her eyes shot back towards the trees, but couldn’t distinguish one dark blob for another. If Kokoro thought they were here, Tsugumi could only believe her. But had they really been watching this entire time? Were they some sort of modern day ninja?
Best not to think too hard about such things. They might take exception to that.
Sayo, perhaps reaching a similar conclusion, brought the conversation back on track, “Really, Tsugumi. Please don’t run off like that again. If something is wrong, you can tell us. There’s no need to be afraid.”
Tsugumi could only stare blankly at her. Did she really need to explain what was wrong? Sayo had kissed her, right in front of Hina! If anyone needed to explain anything, it was Sayo.
“Yeah, Tsugu-chan!” Hina nodded, as if Sayo’s words made perfect sense, “I was really worried, when you took off without warning… I didn’t even know what was wrong. Is Onee-chan a bad kisser or something? I can teach her!”
No Hina, unfortunately Sayo’s kisses were amazing—though Tsugumi would never dare admit that to her girlfriend.
…Wait, wasn’t what Hina just said a bit off?
“Er, excuse me, Hina,” Kaoru interrupted, “Is it not plain to see why Tsugumi would react so poorly to Sayo kissing her?”
Tsugumi silently thanked the girl for cutting in, her mind nowhere near sharp enough right now to try to decipher whatever Hina was talking about.
“Huh?” Hina paused a second, as if she misheard, “Why wouldn’t Tsugumi want her girlfriend to kiss her?”
Just what was Hina on about now? Tsugumi had thought she had mentally prepared herself for a serious conversation with Sayo and Hina. She had unfortunately forgotten the difficulty of having a serious conversation with Hina, even in the best of circumstances. Tsugumi closed her eyes, counting back from ten, before she made a proper attempt to understand what the girl was trying to say.
Kokoro, having no such mental filters, immediately shouted out, “Wait! I thought Hina was Tsugumi’s girlfriend? You told me that, Hina! And Tsugumi said so too, there’s no reason both of you would lie about something like that…”
“Of course Hina is Tsugumi’s girlfriend,” Sayo said, “we both are!”
“Oh. Oh my…” Kaoru’s face betrayed nothing, features schooled from countless performances, “Kokoro, dear, I feel it’s quite past time we returned to camp.”
“But what about Tsugumi?” Kokoro asked with worry, “She still needs our help, right?”
Kaoru laughed, a practiced but not quite genuine laugh, and began to drag Kokoro back along the path through the woods.
“It was a pleasure to see you, Sayo-san, Hina,” Kaoru shouted behind her, “Goodnight, Tsugumi… and good luck.”
“Bye-bye!” Kokoro said, letting Kaoru lead her away by one hand, while she gave a confused wave with the other, “Have fun!”
And with that, Tsugumi found herself alone with the Hikawa twins once more.
With her girlfriends?
Tsugumi’s mind was replaying a dozen conversations all at once, trying to make sense of it all. And slowly, things started to become clear.
As in, she was clearly an idiot.
“Tsugumi,” Sayo asked, “Are you okay? Would you like to head home?”
Tsugumi took a moment to collect herself.
“Sayo…” Tsugumi said to the girl, “you’re my girlfriend, right? And Hina-senpai, you are too?”
Both girls nodded, unsure where Tsugumi was trying to go with all of this.
“And, you love me?” Tsugumi asked, perhaps pleaded, “Both of you?”
“Well—” Sayo started nervously.
“—Of course we do!” Hina cut in, “Onee-chan would have never agreed to something as ‘ridiculous’ as sharing a girlfriend otherwise!”
Tsugumi was torn between laughing at the way Hina presumably mimicked her sister’s tone on the word “ridiculous”, and screaming at her for considering that her idea—and it had clearly been Hina’s idea—had been anything less than ridiculous.
More than anything else though, there was relief. The past week had been an emotionally exhausting series of disasters, never had she dared imagine things could end well for all three of them. Sayo loved her. Hina loved her. No matter what she did, it had seemed, she would have to break someone’s heart along the way.
That wasn’t the whole story, Tsugumi realized now. Hina loved Sayo. And—though it had been a long road getting there—Sayo also loved Hina. They would never want to hurt each other, and so refused to let things end like that.
It was so like Hina to find such a simple answer, requiring nothing more than casting aside all that useless common sense weighing the rest of them down.
Tsugumi smiled, a tired smile. One she held onto with all her might, so that she wouldn’t start crying again. But the tears wouldn’t be the same as before, even if she did.
She offered out a hand to each of her girlfriends.
“I love you too. Both of you. Let’s go home.”