If there’s one thing Seina really, really hates about herself, it’s that she’s irredeemably short.
It’s a common source of amusement for her brothers, especially whenever they have to help out with their father’s contracting business—and as much as she hates being the laughing stock of the family, she sort of understands. A small girl like her, hauling stacks of wood taller and wider than her entire body frame, needing to tilt her head back and forth so she can even see. One time, she’d been carrying a crate full of cordless electric drills, cheeks planted firmly against the plastic frame, and had tripped down a flight of stairs because she hadn’t spotted the loose brick on the steps. Had her hands not been full and her line of vision not hindered, she might’ve found a way regain her footing, but the damage had already been done and there was nothing she could’ve done to stop herself from tumbling downward, step after step.
Thanks to her strong, sturdy constitution, she’d made it out miraculously okay—no broken bones, no deep cuts—but the equipment hadn’t. Half of the drills had shattered upon impact at the bottom with the concrete floor, and her family had needed to pay around ten thousand yen in reimbursements for it. Other than a bit of scolding, she hadn’t gotten into too much trouble, and since then she’s been careful not to lift anything that would cover her face. But sometimes that requires picking things up a little bit at a time, scurrying to and fro like a frantic squirrel. It’s just painfully inefficient.
So yeah, she can sort of understand.
It’s not fair, though. While her family doesn’t have the tallest set of genes, her brothers are still a good head or two taller just because they’re older and they’re boys. The doctors say she’s still has time to grow since she’s young, but her mother’s told her before that she’d stopped growing around her age, so she doesn’t have many hopes in that regard.
She sighs. At least her strength makes up for it.
Not that it helps in every situation, Seina realizes, neck craning back like she’s looking up at a twenty-storey building as she eyes the dusty reference book sitting painfully, unreachably atop the library bookshelf. A familiar ache fills her chest—the sort of gloomy feeling that burgeons like a whorl of despair whenever her height is thrown into question. Sonou-sensei had caught her in the middle of the hallway earlier, asking her to retrieve some obscure textbook that she couldn’t reach herself, but apparently she hadn’t considered that Seina—hardly even a few centimeters taller—wouldn’t exactly be the best fit for the task either.
Though maybe she had been out of it too, since she’d accepted the request without really thinking about it, but it’s really just an impulse at this point—an instinct to help as much as she can, whenever possible. Becoming the Saint of Shirojo’s successor sort of does that to you, doesn’t it. Wanting to exceed peoples’ expectations, wanting to prove that you can do anything and everything. That’s exactly what got Miki-san in a rut.
Seina frowns, contemplating the frame of the bookshelf. Well… she could climb it… Glancing from side to side to make sure no one’s watching, she raps her knuckles on a ledge, testing the material. Twang. Metal—could support her weight, potentially. She lifts her foot and pushes down on the edge, but the screws jiggle loose at the extra pressure, books dipping forward. With a squawk, she scrambles to lift the ledge and secure it back in place before anything can fall, shoulders sagging in relief when nothing topples over. She sighs. No good, she realizes, deflating. It’s way too unstable. Though maybe that could be a project for next time for the beautification committee, to fix up the bookshelves.
She pouts. Ah, geez, if only she’d been born a boy, life would be so much easier! She’d be taller, stronger. People wouldn’t make fun of her for being small and angry. She blinks—oh, but wait, but then she wouldn’t even be at Shirojo in the first place, and that means she wouldn’t have met Miki-san at all, though maybe—
“I can grab that for you, Seina,” a voice calls out behind her, cutting clean into her thoughts.
Seina whirls her head. She’d recognize that voice anywhere—that soft, gentle timbre that could only belong to someone so kindhearted.
“M-Miki-san!” she squeaks, and surely enough Miki’s there, sending her a small wave. A list of questions piles in her throat—when did she get here? How did she find her?—but Seina pales when Miki steps past her and toward the bookshelf, wearing that same amiable expression on her face she always does whenever she’s about to help someone. Seina’s arm reaches forward automatically, and she pulls Miki back, hand gripped on her shoulder like an anchor. It’s a honed reflex at this point, trying to keep Miki from unnecessarily offering assistance. “Please, allow me! You’ve already been retired for months now, so there’s no need for you to go out of your way like this!”
“Seina,” Miki begins, turning to give her a warm smile—but there’s something different about it, in the way the corners of her lip twitch like she’s amused, somehow. Seina’s heart leaps to her throat. Even with nearly ten months of knowing Miki and five months of dating her, she still gets all wobbly-kneed at the sight of her happy face.
But maybe that’s just how love works.
Her hand wavers on Miki’s shoulder, and the slackened grip is all Miki needs to shrug loose and lean in, unbearably close, strands of her brushing against Seina’s cheek, the scent of her shampoo filling her head. Seina swallows, mouth going dry when Miki cups her hand around her ear, the warmth of her fingertips tickling her skin. Wh-wh-why is—?!
Heat rises rapidly to Seina’s cheeks. Miki giggles as though she notices, and then, with the lightest of whispers caressing the shell of her ear: “It won’t do to climb the bookshelves, Seina. And I’d like to think I can spare a moment to help my girlfriend with something this small. Leave it to me, okay?”
That does it. Seina’s face burns so fast that her brain short-circuits by the time Miki withdraws herself and returns to the task at hand, tippy-toeing and extending her arm to reach the book. In the surface of her mind, she’s telling herself to stop Miki, but she’s so embarrassed that she can hardly even move. Miki-san saw me try to—!
Miki’s stumped voice shakes her out of her stupor, and it’s then that she realizes Miki is grounded again, wearing at troubled expression—eyebrows furrowed, lips curved into a slight frown.
Then they stare at each other, unblinkingly.
“I can pick you up, Miki-san,” Seina blurts out without thinking. It’s not until she sees Miki go slack-jawed and wide-eyed that her brain catches up with her words, and her face fries up yet again. What was that!!! Why did I say that! Why am I so—!
“Okay,” Miki says before Seina can even retract her idea, her previous amused smile returning full force. “We’ll have to be quick about it though, Seina. How would you like to go about this?”
Seina’s mouth opens and closes. Back when she’d first met Miki, she never would’ve expected her to agree to something so risky or adventurous. After all, anyone being labeled as the ‘Saint of Shirojo’ had to be super prim and proper, right? But Miki really has been changing: where there used to be hesitance and demureness, there are now hints of playfulness and mischief bubbling through her humble, strait-laced exterior. The thought makes Seina a little happy.
“Ah, er—I could give you a piggy back ride,” Seina suggests, already lowering herself to the floor.
“Seina!” Miki exclaims, concern laced in her voice. Her brows crease together. “Are you sure?”
“No, it’ll be alright!” Seina insists. “I’ve always had good arm strength”—she flexes her bicep for emphasis—“but my brothers told me I should work on developing my leg muscles since lower body strength is important for lifting. So I’ve been working out a bit. Supposedly it’ll prevent me from hurting my back, or something. My dad’s been worried about that, too, even though I’m still young! …Or did he say he was worried because I’m still young.” She purses her lips in contemplation before waving the thought away. “Ah, well, that isn’t important! You can climb on my back, Miki-san. I’m confident in my strength!”
“Ah, that’s right—you did mention exercising a bit more, didn’t you?” Miki chuckles, her fingers clutching the fabric of her breast pocket, and she nods. “Okay, I trust you, Seina,” she says, and the fond smile on her face is prettier than a set of multicolored stained-glass window panels. “Let me know if anything feels amiss, okay?”
“Leave it to me!” Seina responds, crouching into position.
Miki follows suit, kneeling down behind her and wrapping her arms around her neck. “How is this, Seina?” she asks, but all Seina can really focus on is how familiar it all feels, in a different context—the weight of Miki’s body pressed against her back, her warm breath tickling the fine hairs on the nape of her neck.
“Seina?” Miki repeats.
Seina mentally slaps herself. Not the time, not the time! “R-Right! Yes! You’re perfect! I mean—this is perfect! I just need to—” She clamps her mouth shut, not trusting herself to speak any more without sounding like an idiot, and decides to take action instead. Hooking her hands behind Miki’s legs, she tries her best not to get distracted by the soft skin of her calves, or the spot on the back of her knees that’s really sensitive, or the part of her inner thigh that’s—honestly, Seina, stop thinking about her legs!
“Miki-san, are you ready?”
“Mm, whenever you are.”
She nods, straightening her legs and exhaling on the way up, somehow managing not to lose her composure when Miki gasps against her neck and tightens her thighs around her hips. While lifting her isn’t too difficult, the way Miki’s chest rubs against her back has got her palms so sweaty that her grip threatens to break loose. Don’t drop your girlfriend because you’re too gay, don’t drop your girlfriend because you’re too—
“I’ve got it, Seina!” Miki announces, and Seina lets out a shaky breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding in.
“Okay, I’ll let you down now!” she says, lowering her knees again. Miki slides off her back with ease, landing on her feet with the sort of poise that would make a queen jealous, and suddenly Seina feels like she can breathe again.
“I’m impressed by how easy that was,” Miki says, placing the reference book proudly in Seina’s hands, lips curved into a triumphant smile. “I always knew you were strong, but that was… really well done.” A small blush adorns Miki’s cheeks, and Seina can’t help but grin at the sight.
Pride swells in her chest. Missioned accomplished, didn’t drop my girlfriend—score! “Well, now that you’re graduating in a month, I figured that I should work harder and train my body so that I don’t need to rely on you or other people as much.” Her mood does a one-eighty as she comes to a realization, and she hangs her head, looking down and rubbing her shoulder. “Err, but I guess you still had to help me out again this time, huh?”
“Oh, Seina,” Miki says, frowning, placing her hand on the other girl’s, her head tilted down in concern, and Seina starts feeling hyperconscious of how close they are. “You’re—”
“Ah, Maki-san!” a random second-year student calls out, and they both jolt apart from each other faster than a bullet train. “There you are! Sorry to interrupt, but could you help me with something? The art club room window is having some issues.”
“Y-Yes!” Seina yelps, body swiveling to greet the other person, heart hammering. “Er! I’ll come by in just a bit! I just need to drop something off to Sonou-sensei!”
“Excellent—thank goodness! You’re a life saver! I’ll see you there!” The second-year student salutes her and darts off the opposite direction.
Seina heaves a sigh, pouting. “Aw, work calls. I’m really sorry, Miki-san.” It’s nothing new—getting interrupted by people, by wave after wave of requests—but the disappointment always stings like a fresh cut each time.
“That’s alright, Seina,” she says, laughing. “Work hard, okay? But not too hard.”
“Say,” Miki says, lacing her fingers over her chest, “will you have time later today? To meet up at our hideout?”
Seina perks up again, the frown on her face flipping instantly. “Always!”
“Mm, I’ll see you then!”
“Yeah!” Seina returns, and she spins to exit the library, pumped to continue her day, book in tow.
Love really is reinvigorating.
By the time Seina gets to the hideout, she’s so exhausted that she can hardly process when she’s being pulled through the door and onto the couch. The next thing she knows is that she’s straddling Miki against the back cushions, her center pressed against her girlfriend’s stomach, and that Miki’s wrapping her arms behind her neck to drag her down for a kiss. Aaaah, I was so tired that I collapsed on her and ended up on top again…
Seina lets out a gasp when their lips meet, and Miki presses in harder, holds her tighter, one hand hooked behind her head to push her closer and the other sliding down her back, tracing the outline of her spine through her cardigan vest before curving around to her bare thigh, giving it a gentle squeeze.
“Ah, M-Miki-san,” Seina whimpers, breaking their kiss. “Not that I’m complaining or anything, but today you seem especially—um.” Forward? Turned on?
“Your legs really have gotten strong,” Miki rasps out, eyes half-lidded and cheeks flushed. “I, um, thought about it a lot earlier after we left the library and got kind of curious. Sorry, I must’ve surprised you.”
Seina shakes her head. “No, no! It’s fine!” she insists, crawling off of Miki to plop down next to her, placing her head on her girlfriend’s shoulder. They hold hands. “Were you waiting long?”
Miki laces their fingers together. “Mm, no I just got here around ten minutes ago,” she says. “How are you feeling?”
Closing her eyes and curling into Miki’s body, Seina answers, “Aah, tired. Turns out the art club people tried to open their window but ended up busting the window pane somehow before I got there, so we had to work on cleaning up the glass and replacing it entirely. But then that took a lot of extra time because I had to get permission to borrow a ladder, since I’m really short and all.” Her shoulders slump. “Honestly, it’s such a pain. I didn’t want to rely on the art club members too much either, because they messed it up in the first place.”
“Listen, Seina,” Miki says, sliding her arm behind Seina’s back and pulling her closer, propping her chin on top of her head like she always does when she’s about to impart some comforting words of wisdom. On one hand, the embrace feels nice, but on the other hand, the gesture makes Seina feel incredibly young sometimes, like she has a lot of growing up to do before she can catch up to Miki.
“It’s not a bad thing to rely on people sometimes,” Miki tells her, brushing back Seina’s bangs and hooking her hair behind her ear. “If there’s anything I’ve learned from working in the beautification committee the last few years, it’s that people are more capable than you think. It’s just that when they come to rely on you so much, they stop working and learning on their own. Everyone makes mistakes, but if you give them a chance to fix it, they can better themselves, too.”
Seina shifts, sitting upright. “You’re right… though that still doesn’t fix the problem of me being short. You won’t be here forever, Miki-san, and I’d hate having to do things like ask people to grab things for me.” She folds her hands over her legs. “Even earlier today, I was thinking that I should’ve been born a boy, or something. That I could be more self-reliant if I were.”
“Oh?” Miki turns to her quizzically. “I’d be sad, then, if that were the case.”
“Why?” Seina picks at the hem of her sleeves. “We wouldn’t have to worry about hiding our relationship if I were, would we?”
Miki covers Seina’s hands with her own, pulling them onto her lap. “That may be true, but we also met at Shirojo because you’re a girl, right?”
“Yeah, I guess…” She bites the inside of her cheek. “But also, my confession wouldn’t have given you so much hardship in the beginning, probably. I just feel like everything would be easier.”
“Maybe,” Miki says. “But I like how we are now—including the fact that we’re both girls.”
Seina blinks at her with a bit of skepticism. “Really?”
“Really.” A familiar sort of strength enters Miki’s arms—the sort of momentum that Seina’s come to recognize as a sign that she’s going to accidentally end up on top again—but rather than falling forward like she’s used to, she finds herself on her back, head propped against the arm of the couch.
Seina flushes, looking up at her girlfriend’s face, transfixed by the gentle gaze in her eyes and the way her hair frames her forehead. This is… new. She fidgets, looking to the side. “U-Um, Miki-san—”
Miki combs her fingers through Seina’s hair, brushing away all the stray locks from her face. “I know what said a long time ago, about how I don’t know too much about homosexuality. And I’m still not sure, really, but I do know that I love you, and everything about you, and I’d like to think that’s in part because you’re a girl.”
The tips of Seina’s ears even start burning. “R-Really?”
“Mm, I love that you’re so energetic even though you’re small,” Miki says, leaning down until their foreheads touch. “I love that you have to tippy-toe to kiss me sometimes.” A leg slides in between Seina’s thighs, not quite reaching her center, but still bunching up her skirt. “I love the cute expression that you’re making now.”
There’s a limit to how much Seina can take, and she’s certain that if her skull weren’t holding her head together, it would have combusted by now. “Miki-saaaaaan,” she protests, covering her face with her hands. Too embarrassing! Way too embarrassing!
The laughter that spills out of Miki’s throat is so infectious that Seina can’t help but join her, peeking through the cracks of her fingers, heart swelling at sight of unbridled mirth etched into every part of her girlfriend’s face—her wide, toothy smile, the crinkles around her eyes. That alone is worth any sort of mortification. Probably.
After they both settle down, laughter subsiding, Miki plants a kiss on her forehead, and Seina has to fight the urge to curl into herself, overwhelmed by the sudden onslaught of affection, heart threatening to burst out of her chest. “I love you, Seina,” Miki continues, “and I fell in love with you because of how you are—the fact that you’re kind, that you’re hardworking, that you’re short, that you’re a girl. So you don’t need to change. But if you wanted to, I’ll always support that, too, as long as you’re happy.”
“Miki-saaaan,” Seina cries, withdrawing her hands from her face to pull Miki down, hugging her tightly. Seriously, how did she end up with such a perfect girlfriend? “I love youuuu.” Even though Seina can’t see her face, she can still feel Miki smile against her neck.
“Mmh, I love you, too. Hey, Seina,” Miki says, pulling apart before joining their foreheads together again. Her hand trails from Seina’s side to the center of her stomach, fingers toying with a button, and the coy look in her eyes tells Seina all she needs to know. “We still have a bit of time before we have to go—”
Seina cuts her off with a kiss, and Miki wastes no more time speaking.
Maybe being short isn’t so bad after all.