Umi had asked Maki to stop by the clubroom at lunch. They were working on the new song, the one Honoka wanted to showcase everyone as the center of μ's. This had led to more discussions between Umi and Maki than usual but now Maki was ready to just sit at the piano, block out every other sound around her and try to put six other personalities into a song.
And the first one she thought of was Nico. Maki frowned. Nico’s personality was the most difficult to match to a mood. There were always at least three lurking: Nico’s cheerful public face, Nico’s half joking, jauntily trying to push her own agenda across wink and the shrewd, serious profile Maki would only see when Nico was unaware she was being observed. The older girl was a puzzle, equal parts frustrating and fascinating. Nico did need a song all to herself, Maki thought, but she’d saw off a hand before she’d ever tell Nico that.
There was a quick knock before Umi opened the door. Maki shook her head at Umi’s excessive politeness. Maki had been expecting her and was alone. What did Umi think she’d be interrupting, even if someone else had been there? Maki had no interest in dipping into any potentially embarrassing activities -- possibly ever.
“Good afternoon, Maki. Thank you for meeting me.”
Maki nodded her head.
Umi continued, as she handed Maki a piece of paper, “I wrote down some lyric ideas. I think we’ll pair people off and then alternate solo parts inside those duets, with Honoka as the single.”
Maki looked down, “You and Kotori, Rin and Hanayo, me and...Nico-senpai?”
Umi nodded seriously, “Kotori and I think the choreography will also work nicely with these pairs.”
Maki hummed, debating a comment. Then she shrugged, “I can work with this.”
“Good.” Umi got up, then frowned, “I’d hoped to see Nico-senpai on my way here. Kotori and I wrote down some ideas for the choreography and I wanted to ask Nico-senpai if she had any suggestions on how we could improve it.” Umi frowned, “It is perhaps our greatest weakness as a group.”
“I see her on my way home some days, I could give it to her.” Maki said abruptly, then bit the inside of her lip. More accurately, she knew which door Nico left school by and which way she turned to go home. Maki had left early one day and been curious when she’d seen Nico practically sprint off campus.
Umi smiled, “That would be a great help.”
Maki found herself holding another piece of paper, scribbled with descriptions of dance moves, letters and arrows. At one point, N + M moved together, then apart, an H between them.
“Every discipline has its own language,” Umi observed, “Please thank Nico-senpai for me.”Maki nodded, “And I’ll let you know when I’ve decided on a tune and a tempo.”
Umi nodded, “We’d best get back to class. Actually, I probably have to search for where Honoka decided to take her nap today. See you at rehearsal tomorrow.”
“Of course.” Maki smiled at the thought of rehearsal. Dancing wasn’t her favorite thing, nor was singing in public, but rehearsing she enjoyed. It was a rare chance to forget expectations and obligations and just be one of a group, sweating, striving, singing, all activities not laser focused on Nishikino Maki and her future.
Nico was hurrying away from school. No rehearsal today, no immediate after school responsibilities so this was a chance to stop and get a snack and work on strategies to maximize her impact on the world of school idols, now that she had the platform of μ's to help launch herself from. She wondered again about how Honoka had managed to win and keep everyone’s loyalty, even that redhead’s. So much talent but she rolled her eyes every time Honoka made a misstep and yet still, she followed the ginger haired second year, loyally. Nico was trying desperately to crack the key to Honoka’s charisma.
That voice. Nico stopped. That voice, it caught her every time. Any word, any note, any syllable and Nico’s entire attention would become focused on Nishikino Maki, that redhead, who towered over her in so many ways. Maki could say anything in that breathy, enticing voice and Nico would be a captive audience. And she had no idea why or what to do about it. And she was pretty sure that Maki had no idea of her effect. So Nico turned with a quick spin and replied brightly, as if it were just any voice, “Maki-chan! Did you miss the great Nico-Ni already? We have rehearsal tomorrow.”
Maki looked seriously at Nico for a moment, her mouth open, but then she frowned and pushed a paper toward Nico, “Umi asked me to give you this. She wants to know if you have any ideas about the choreography.”
Nico bowed slightly, “Thank you, Maki-chan. I’ll look this over.”
Maki looked down at her shoes, a finger curling her hair near her cheek, “You’re welcome, Nico-senpai.”
Maki kept looking at the ground and Nico sensed that they both were locked somewhere between continuing the conversation and breaking it off. So she dove.
“Are you busy, Maki-chan?”
Maki flushed, “N...No….”
“Come have a juice with me.”
Maki’s eyes widened, “Why?”
Nico was a fast thinker so her impulse led to an actual solid reason, “It’ll really help me out if you could tell me a little about what you’re going to compose.”
“Oh.” Maki nodded, “S...sure.”
“Great,” Nico swung an arm through Maki’s, pulling her junior along and trying to act as if she did this every afternoon. Which meant no talking or her voice would give away her sudden nervousness. Touch replacing eye contact seemed to relax Maki so Nico started to worry less about the younger girl breaking away in a panic.
They both ordered juices and decided to share fries. Nico looked over the sheet of paper.
“This should be fun. Have you seen the costumes? You and Honoka get cute hats.”
Maki shook her head. Nico smiled, “You must have been too busy composing the music. μ's was a pretty tight unit even before they begged the great Nico Ni to join.”
Maki rolled her eyes, but Nico only laughed and pushed the fries at her.
“Nico should ask Umi which groups and which choreographers she likes the moves of. Some of them are too hot for the kind of mood Nico thinks we’d be best at.”
“Like A-Rise?” Maki took a fry.
Nico raised an eyebrow, “Maki thinks A-Rise is hot? Tsubasa, Erena or…”
“N...No...I don’t, I just don’t…”
Nico took a long sip while Maki struggled, “Not that familiar with the world of idols, are you? You should talk to Hanayo. She knows her stuff.”
Maki looked right at Nico, “Maybe you missed this, but I am talking to you.”
Nico kept sipping, “Yes, Nico knows things too. Good choice, Maki-chan. I’ll make you a video playlist tonight.” Nico looked at the paper again, her fingers tracing patterns, “Can you hum this for me?”
Maki had been chewing on a french fry so it took a moment before she responded, “Sure.”
Nico started to tap along to the tune, fingers moving with surety. Maki found herself staring. Nothing like her hands when she was playing the piano, more like a drummer’s quick hit. Quick but perfectly on the beat. Nico picked things up fast.
“Nice one, Maki-chan. Maybe we should put in a spin and bounce back like the one in BoA’s ‘Only One’, changing it enough to make it ours.” Nico stood, leaning over Maki. “Finish your fries. Let’s try something.”
Maki tilted back, surprised by Nico’s sudden closeness, “Try something?”
“A dance move. The great Nico Ni will demonstrate.” And humming the tune Maki had only just created, Nico twirled, arms out and bounced so quickly Maki almost missed it. Umi and Kotori always started off slowly when demonstrating a move. Nico was almost as fast as Rin, who was usually a blur.
Maki crossed her arms over her chest, “Not in here.”
Nico grinned, “Outside then.”
“Too scared?” Nico teased.
“Fine,” Maki grabbed Nico’s hand and pulled her outside. Nico managed to rescue her drink, but the fries were beyond her reach. Maki led them both to the nearest alley, “Show me again. Slowly.”
Nico put her drink down and repeated the move twice as Maki watched intently, lips pursed, eyebrows lowered in concentration.
“Now you try it.”
Maki sighed, trying to breath evenly. Nico stepped closer and Maki felt herself tense so she stepped out, throwing her arms wide but she was too stiff going into the bounce and fell toward Nico, who was trying not to laugh and suddenly found herself trying to catch the taller girl out of a reflex that left her at the bottom of a Nico Maki pile.
“Maki, you’re squashing me.”
“It’s not my fault you’re practically doll-sized.” Maki scrambled to her feet, awkward and red-faced, “And a poor teacher.”
Nico had been starting to chuckle but Maki’s words stabbed, “Hey, Nishikino, Nico Ni was just trying to be a good senpai and help out her junior.”
“Yeah, yeah, Nico-senpai has so much more experience,” Maki drawled as she reached to help Nico up.
Nico knocked her hand away and stood, vibrating with anger and embarrassment, but her voice was cold, “Well, thanks for this experience, Maki-chan. I learned a lot.”
Nico pivoted and almost immediately disappeared into the crowd walking past the alley. Maki just stood, staring at the people, not sure why she wasn’t shouting after the older girl or angrier about being left. Instead, there was a...sour taste to the air and an empty space where Nico had been poised so vividly just a minute before.
Nico poked her head into the clubroom. Still strange not to be the only person using it. She rarely had to unlock the door, the second years passed the other key between them. Today, Umi was taking her lunch break there, with a notebook at her side. Working on lyrics, Nico thought. Umi looked up, frowning, when Nico opened the door.
“Please knock before entering.” Umi stated.
“Were you going to eat lunch here?” Umi wondered.
“No,” Nico shook her head, “Nico Ni already ate. I need a favor.”
Umi nodded, “How may I be of assistance?”
Nico walked into the room and placed a hot pink flash drive on Umi’s other side, “I made a playlist for Maki. Could you give it to her?”
Umi’s right eyebrow went up, “Are you missing rehearsal today?”
Nico hesitated, shuffling her feet, “Nico Ni might be late and doesn’t want to interrupt rehearsal for personal stuff.” She stared at the floor.
Umi’s voice was quiet, “What happened, Nico-senpai?”
“Maki-chan and Nico are just not compatible.” Nico crossed her arms over her chest, “The mighty Nishikino doesn’t appreciate Nico’s teaching skills.”
“So Maki was rude.” Umi said.
“She insulted Nico. Nico has feelings.”
“So does Maki.” Umi sighed, “Please sit down, Nico-senpai.”
Nico looked as if she suspected Umi of potential wrongdoing but sat in the chair she thought of as hers, at the head of the table. Then she recrossed her arms in front of her chest.
“Did you embarrass Maki?”
Nico glared, “There was no need for Maki to feel embarrassed. Or get angry. Nico only laughed a little when Maki fell, which was kind, considering she was crushing Nico .”
Umi shook her head, “μ's has to work together, Nico-senpai.”
“Are you afraid of Maki?”
Nico growled, “No.”
Umi pushed the flash drive at Nico, “Then please continue to help your junior, Nico-senpai. μ's needs you both.” Nico snatched up the drive. Umi continued, “I liked the addition of the spin and bounce move toward the end. Thanks for sending me that video demonstation. We’ll work that in this afternoon.”
“Nico Ni always helps those who need her expertise.”
“And we are grateful,” Umi pointed to the notebook in front of her, “but I do need a few moments to improve these, now that I’ve heard Maki’s composition.”
Nico hopped out of her chair. But once at the door, Nico turned back to Umi, “She is pretty amazing, isn’t she?”
“She certainly challenges me to do my best.”
Nico stood for another moment, thinking. Then she nodded in Umi’s direction and left.
ANOTHER LUNCH MEETING
Maki would have preferred to eat lunch in peace, but she refused to take food into the music room and that was the only place Rin would leave her alone. She was grateful to Hanayo for wresting that concession out of their impulsive friend.
Today, she had no interest in conversation and wasn’t even pretending to listen to Rin and Hanayo chatter. Maki kept reviewing the end of her time with Nico yesterday, each time less sure what would happen at rehearsal today when she and Nico saw each other.
Rin bumped her with a shoulder, “Maki-chan looks worried.”
Hanayo took a good look at Maki, “Rin-chan is right, you do look worried. Is something wrong?”
Maki sighed and finished her sandwich. Rin moved closer, crowding her, “Tell us, Maki-chan. We can help. Let us be your friends.”
They were her friends. It surprised her a little. Rin’s impulsive affection and Hanayo’s careful calm were perfectly balanced. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to tell them. Maki had no real insight into how Nico’s mind worked. It seemed to be the opposite of hers. Perhaps the other two could recognize something.
“Nico-senpai is mad at me.”
“Nico-senpai can be scary,” Rin vibrated. “What did Maki-chan do?”
“N...Nothing.” Maki wondered if she was actually scared of Nico’s reaction, the older girl had been angry enough to storm off yesterday.
Hanayo stared very seriously at Maki, “We didn’t have rehearsal yesterday.”
Maki didn’t snarl, but her lip curled. Too many details required, “Umi needed a favor done.” Then Maki sighed again, “I think I insulted Nico-senpai.”
“Apologize.” Rin’s solution was, of course, the simplest.
“Yes, if you’re worried, apologize to Nico-senpai.” Hanayo agreed, “I’m sure she won’t hold a grudge.”
Maki considered. She imagined herself walking up to Nico, reaching out to touch the other girl on the shoulder, Nico turning, those jewel eyes glaring, cold, lips sneering….Maki stood, “I’m going to take a walk.”
Hanayo kept a hand on Rin’s arm as the redhead walked away.
Maki felt her pace increase the farther she got from her friends. How was she going to walk up to Nico, what if Nico turned away again, why did she have to apologize, why couldn’t they both just forget it? Why did Nico have to pull her along yesterday anyway?
And then someone rushed into her and they both fell. Nico. Of course it was Nico, as if Maki’s constant rumble of thinking about Nico had summoned her. Nico had landed on Maki’s midriff, but was practically no weight at all.
Ruby eyes started to narrow, but then Nico pushed up and just chuckled, “You’re on the bottom of the pile today, Maki-chan. Enjoy it. Not everyone gets this close to the Number 1 Super Idol.”
Maki tried to recover enough to speak. Light as she was, Nico’s momentum had knocked the breath out of her. She felt Nico’s hand under her chin, raising her head so Nico could look into her eyes, “Are you all right, Maki? Do you need to go to the nurse?”
Maki shook her head. Nico then patted the top of it, “Take your time, Maki-chan. I don’t like my next class anyway.” She leaned back in the grass, looking relaxed.
“So I’m just an excuse to ditch class.”
“Ah, your voice is back.” Nico grinned as she rose, offering Maki a hand up. Then Nico reached into her own bag, pulling out a pink stick, “Here’s the playlist. You can keep the drive. Nico might have been mad yesterday but an Idol always keeps her promises.”
“Thank you.” Maki took the drive and swallowed, “And I’m sorry.”
Nico nodded, “I am too. Next time, we’ll leave before we get to insults.”
“N...next time?”“Maybe we should avoid collisions too. We might hurt more than our feelings,” Nico winked, brushing off her skirt. “See you later, Maki-chan.”
Maki was once again left wordless as she watched Nico leave, but this time the taste left in the air was different and somehow there was no empty space, just a pause before Nico was there next to her again.
VIDEO KILLED THE MAKI-CHAN-STAR
Nearly everyone was either flustered or manic. Rin and Honoka could barely be kept from knocking over the camera as they continually adjusted its location. Nozomi was having no luck shooing them away. Kotori and Umi fussed with their costumes, Hanayo stood very small in front of where the performance of the final sequence was supposed to happen and Maki paced like a caged panther. Nico sat quietly, in a borrowed chair, off to the side, making certain her hair and make-up stayed undisturbed. Maki’s movements were starting to make her feel fidgety, those forever legs kept flashing back and forth in front of Nico, distracting her, and then when Nico carefully took a sip of water, Maki stopped in front of her.
“Can I have a sip, please Nico-senpai. It’s too hot.”
“You’re moving around too much, Maki-chan. You’ll mess up your hair and makeup.” Nico handed her the water bottle.
Maki raised an eyebrow, “Is that why you’re unnaturally still?”
Nico smiled, “Super Idol Nico Ni is a professional. Professionals wait a lot. Be careful drinking, you’ll smear your lipstick.”
Maki drank then reached up, wiping excess water off her lips with the back of her hand.
“Yep. Messed up lipstick. Sit down and I’ll fix it.”
Maki sat carefully down in the chair Nico vacated.
“Is Maki-chan nervous?”
Maki looked away, hand started to reach for her hair, but Nico intercepted it, “You’ll knock your hat off and then we’ll really have to start over.” Nico didn’t let Maki’s hand drop, “You will be fine, Maki-chan. You look amazing, you’ve got the dance down cold and you get to do a showcase bit by the side of Super Idol Nico Ni. No need to worry.”
Maki looked down, nodding. Nico offered her the lipstick and a compact. Maki took them and turned to the side. Nico watched as she raised the compact, but the younger girl’s hands were shaking.
“Turn toward me, Maki-chan.”
“Just do it,” Nico grabbed the lipstick from her hand, adjusted the length and started to lean in. Maki looked down, cheeks reddening.
“Look at me.” Sparkling amethyst eyes suddenly caught Nico’s, confusion in their alluring depths. Nico nearly dropped the lipstick as her breath caught.
Having glanced down at Maki’s lips while she said Nico’s name hadn’t help with either breathing or concentration. Nico straightened up, forcing a smile, as she made precise sweeps across Maki’s pursed, perfect lips, “Sorry, Maki-chan, just wondering if the color was right.”
Maki tilted her head, worried.
“Don’t worry, it’s a perfect match for the purple in your costume,” Nico put the lipstick away as Nozomi swept past.
“Nico-chi, don’t let Honoka or Rin touch the camera anymore. I have to go help Eli-chi”
“Just a minute,” Nico inspected Maki, her professional mode triggered, and tucked a strand of Maki’s hair back behind her ear, “Now don’t touch anything.”
Maki frowned, reaching tentatively to where Nico had brushed her ear, “I’m not a child.”
“And yet, here you are, having spoiled both your hair and makeup.” Nico winked, “But you do clean up cute.”
Maki turned her head away, mumbling.
Nico leaned in, “What did Maki-chan say? Nico Ni must be going deaf in her advanced years.”
“Cute. EVERYONE is cute.” Maki said a little louder, not looking Nico in the eye.
“We certainly are.” Nico laughed and scampered off to follow Nozomi’s instructions as Rin and Honoka circled closer to the unguarded camera
“Why didn’t you let go of my hand?” Maki screamed.
“Me, why didn’t you let go of my hand?” Nico shouted.
“Honoka!” a third voice cried out. Honoka looked woozily up from the ground as Umi knelt next to her, Kotori directly behind. The last thing she remembered was turning to go underneath Maki and Nico’s arms, but then she’d hit something solid.
Maki had stormed off, her back turned to everyone. Nico glared at her for a moment, then knelt next to Umi, “Honoka. Are you all right?” She turned to Umi, “Has she said anything?”
Umi shook her head.
“Honoka,” Nico checked for signs of blood, Honoka grinned at her, “Do you know where you are?”
Maki glanced over her shoulder. Nico and Umi stared at each other, Hanayo had gone to comfort Kotori and Rin fidgeted nervously.
“We’d better get her to the nurse’s office.” Nico said to Umi, “We’re going to pick you up Honoka, ok?”
As Nico shifted position to get under Honoka’s shoulders, Maki pushed her out of the way, “I’ll do it, Nico-senpai. I’m stronger.”
Nico fell backwards at Maki’s completely unexpected sweep past her, “Jeez, Maki-chan, you’re going to kill us all at this rate.”
Fortunately, Maki wasn’t the only one supporting Honoka at that point or µ's ginger haired leader would have hit the ground again.
Maki whirled to face Nico, furious. “This is YOUR fault.”
Nico stayed on the ground, raised both hands, pressed them together, then released them, “No Super Idol Glue on them, Maki-chan. Nico must just be a Maki-magnet.”
Anyone else would have stepped back away from Maki if they were as close as Nico, but Nico sat there, angry, but seemingly unbothered as a livid Maki towered over her, unable to do anything but sputter. Nico stood, directly under Maki’s nose, looked straight at the younger girl, and spoke very quietly, “Cool down, Maki. Yell at me as much as you need to later. We have a bigger problem.”
Maki recoiled as Nico swept around her, to Honoka’s side. Umi had been standing, supporting most of Honoka’s weight while everyone watched Maki explode, but when Nico put Honoka’s arm around her shoulders, all three of them moved forward. Kotori followed behind, teary. Rin and Hanayo glanced at each other as Maki sat on the single chair, hands clenched.
“Go.” Maki hissed, not looking up.
Nico knew Maki would still be outside, sitting on the front of the stage, when they’d all gotten Honoka settled. Maki had changed back into her school uniform, but left the tie open. Rin and Hanayo had stopped to check on her on their way home, to see if she wanted to walk with them but Maki had just shook her head and not moved from her spot.
Nico hadn’t changed. She’d waited until the school nurse had made sure Honoka didn’t need a doctor, then she went straight back to where she knew Maki would still be.
Nico crouched next to the younger girl, her arm on the back of the chair, “Honoka is fine. No concussion. She just needs some rest. Her dad’s coming to pick her up and Kotori’s going to stay with her tonight. Everything is all right.”
Maki nodded, slowly unclenching the fist closest to Nico.
Nico continued, “Nozomi thinks the first take of the number is fine. She left the camera on during our practice runthrough. That’s why Honoka and Rin couldn’t touch it. She says no one is nervous when they’re practicing.” Nico started to chuckle but stopped herself when Maki didn’t respond at all.
Nico didn’t take Maki’s hand but she did carefully prod it with a single finger, “Are you all right, Maki-chan? We didn’t destroy the world after all.”
Maki started bawling, “I don’t know what happened.” Nico moved closer. “I’m still so mad at you, Nico-chan.” Maki sniffled.
“Fine.” Nico sighed, “Want to yell at me? Or convince me it was my fault?”
“No.” Nico thought Maki looked like a damp and miserable puppy.
“I don’t know what happened either. But Honoka’s fine and you can stay mad at me for as long as you want.”
“Good, that’s settled then.” Nico looked down at her outfit, “If you wait while I change, I’ll walk you home.”
“Sure.” Maki sniffled, “But I’m not speaking to you.”
Nico couldn’t resist, “We probably shouldn’t hold hands either.”
Maki shoved her to the ground.
BALLET IS BONDING
Maki had just hung up from the group call where μ's had let Honoka talk them into taking dance help from the Student Council President, Ayase Eli. She was part Russian, an experienced ballerina and Maki was dubious about Honoka’s idea. Ayase had been giving them such a hard time, Maki couldn’t imagine she would be willing to help. Nozomi might, but the President...no.
She was about to go find her mother so they could head home after this stop at the Nishikino Hospital when her phone buzzed. Text from Nico.
N: Ballet is BORING, Maki-chan.
M: Ballet is not boring. Ballet dancers are incredibly athletic. You’d be impressed.
N: Ballet is BORING, Maki-chan. And for old people.
M: Like Nico-senpai?
N: Super Idol Nico Ni is trend forward, young, vibrant and on the edge…
M: Except modesty.
N: Ballet is BORING. And Icy Ayase is a dour sourpuss.
While Maki agreed about Nico’s second statement, she couldn’t agree with the first. She’d seen Sylvia recently and as impressive as the music was, the way the ballerina playing Sylvia had swooped through the forest so confidently, changing in and out of disguises, had been memorable enough that Maki found herself recalling scenes for days after.
M: Some of the ballerinas are even your size.
N: (／‵Д′)／~ ╧╧
M: Classical music is a good foundation for any musical endeavor so it makes sense that ballet is a good foundation for any kind of dance. I can understand Umi and Honoka’s idea.
Maki’s ringtone went off. Nico’s number, “Ballet is BORING, Maaaaaaki-chan.”
Nico continued, “We need help from someone familiar with modern choreography...like the kind that K-Pop and J-Pop bands and idols use. Mikiki has been choreographing for Perfume and BoA always does fun things.”
“Korean pop star. Didn’t you watch the videos, Maki-chan?”
Maki remembered the pink flash drive on her desk at home, “I...I’ve been busy studying.”
Maki heard Nico puff up, “Maki has no respect for Nico’s opinions. Because Maki is BORING.”
Maki cut the call and slammed the phone down just as her mother walked in the room.
“What’s the matter?”
Maki flushed, “My friends think ballet is boring. I’m trying to explain but…”
Maki’s mother nodded, “It’s hard for some people if they don’t experience it themselves.”
Maki followed her mother, nodding, “I’d like to show them. I think they’d like it.”
Maki’s mother checked something on her phone, “There’s a performance at the Tokyo Ballet this weekend. How about I get tickets when I get home?”
Maki considered...Take Nico to the ballet and let her see for herself...wait, then her mom would know she’d only been worried about one friend...there would be questions...Maki had had to answer so many about ‘that cute, shy girl” ever since Hanayo had stopped by...Hanayo, Rin! She could drag them along.
Maki started to pull her phone out of her pocket, then remembered how her conversation had ended with Nico.
“Ask your friends,” her mother prodded, eager for a chance to interact with the people Maki told her so little about.
“Maybe…” Maki frowned, “I don’t know if they’d want to come.”
“Three.” Maki said quickly.
“I’ll see if I can get tickets as soon as we get home.”
When they arrived at the Nishikino house, Maki headed to her room. She’d have to face her phone and Nico sometime. No voice message or text yet. Nico was probably still fuming. First, Rin and Hanayo.
M: Want to go to the ballet this weekend? And if my mom asks, you think it’s boring.
H: I’d love to go. Ballet is beautiful.
M: I know that but Nico-senpai doesn’t.
R: If Kayo-chin goes, Rin goes. And Rin will say ballet is boring if Maki-chan wants.
Maki paused and then watched herself type.
M: And don’t tell Nico about I told you to do that either.
Maki knew Rin and Hanayo well enough to know that if all three of them had been in the same room, the other two would have been exchanging a look.
R: Top secret ｛・ω-*}
M: My mom will probably call your Moms.
Now to deal with Nico. Maki’s glance switched between her phone and the pink flash drive. She put the drive in her computer. Maybe if she showed Nico she had listened to her, Nico would do the same.
Maki watched a BoA video...so this is what Nico liked. One girl, so many guys, so many precise, confident, seductive movements. Maki found herself visualizing Nico in BoA’s place. And watching the video again, breathing a little faster. Then she skipped quickly through the rest, noting names.
Picking up her phone, Maki considered: text or call? Texting would be less personal if Nico ignored her, but Maki couldn’t remember Nico not listening when she spoke. Call it is. Nico picked up after a couple of rings.
Maki just started talking, “I could see you doing really well in a video like BoA’s “Only One.”
Nico hesitated but her voice sounded cheerful when she did speak, “Yeah. Good choice, Maki-chan. I like that one. Nico would look cute in those outfits too.”
“They were cute outfits. But there are so many other dancers.”
“An idol’s charisma draws the audience, no matter who else is there.”
“Do you like the videos with all the guys dancing? BoA’s videos always have a crowd of them. And some of the videos are that guy group, Infinite.” Maki wasn’t sure why she asked that.
Nico’s answer was quick, “Nico only watches those for dance tips. Cute girls are always better.”
Maki found herself not arguing that point. So she jumped right to the reason for her call, “I think you’d really like the ballet if you went, Nico-senpai. My mom wants to take us all.”
“Us all?” Nico sounded hesitant.
Maki tried to make herself sound persuasive, “Rin, Hanayo, you, me...it might be fun to get together away from practice.”
Nico hmmmmed, “When?”
“Nico is busy Friday, but Saturday would be fine.”
“Right. I’ll be right back.” Maki left her phone on her desk and ran to find her mother.
Maki’s mother was on her phone and looked surprised when Maki nearly bumped into her.
“Saturday not Friday.”
Maki’s mother smiled in response as Maki ran back to her phone.
“I’m back,” Maki nearly shouted.
Nico sounded amused. “Calm down, Maki. Take a breath. Nico will always wait.”
Maki grinned at Nico’s promise, “I’ll remember that. So do you actually practice the moves from the videos?”
“Well, not that one that Maki liked yet, but I can do “Eat You Up”.
Maki had watched that one as well, and blushed as she remembered the lyrics and the ending with the soaked dancers, thankful Nico was on the other end of a phone connection and not in the room, “I...I’d like to see it.”
Nico sighed dramatically, “If Nico survives ballet and the Ice Queen Student Council President, Nico will demonstrate for Maki-chan.”
“Good. Does my mom need to call your Mom?”
“No. Just text me the details.”
Rin and Hanayo had shown up promptly and were waiting in the sitting room while Maki changed one more time. Nico was meeting them there, she had refused the offer of a ride. Maki’s mother left the two girls downstairs and went to check on her daughter. She walked in Maki’s room to see her daughter with a dress caught on her head. Maki’s entire wardrobe seemed to be in disarray and on her bed.
“Dear, we have to leave. Koizumi-san really seems to be coming out of her shell. And Hoshizora-san is adorable.”
“Yes, sure, shell, adorable.”
Maki popped her head through her dress and stared at her mother.
“You look fine.” Her mother pulled the purple dress down and smoothed its sides, “Brush your hair.”
Maki looked into the mirror, panicky. Her hair tended to find its way into knots when she was nervous. Her mother handed her a brush, “We’re leaving in three minutes.”
The crowd was bustling. Tickets had been sold out for months. Maki had no idea what her mother had done to get them a box but she seemed quite happy to have managed her contacts that successfully. Maki scanned the crowd, anxious to spot Nico and was surprised to find that Nico was practically next to her. Nico’s black hair was down and shining as it fell over a simple, nearly sheer silver blouse, tucked into a lacy black skirt. Nico’s shoulders were covered by a dusky pink floral scarf. Maki just stared, almost not recognizing the older girl. But Nico’s eyes had that unmistakable spark of Nico mischief burning.
“Maki-chan didn’t recognize Nico out of uniform and not sweaty.”
Maki’s brain valiantly tried to process that image into a thought but it kept looping somewhere away from her mouth and no response was forthcoming.
Nico tugged on Maki’s sleeve, “Introduce me to your mother, if you remember my name, Nishikino.”
Maki nodded automatically and turned, “Mother this is Yazawa Nico; Nico, this is my mother.”
Maki’s mother smiled, “I am very happy to meet you, Yazawa-san. Maki doesn’t tell me much about μ's, but I appreciate your taking care of her ”
Nico chuckled and Maki found her arms crossing, “No, Maki isn’t much of a talker, unless she has a piano. Please call me Nico and thank you so much for inviting me.”
“You look lovely, Nico,” Maki’s mother continued, glancing in her daughter’s direction. Maki reddened.
“We should find our seats, waiting for Nico made us late.” Maki blurted, her arm reaching around Nico in an attempt to hurry her.
Suddenly Nico’s small hand was under Maki’s nose, her forearm twisted to show Maki that what she thought was a delicate bracelet was actually a watch turned to the inside of Nico’s wrist, “Nico is exactly on time.” Nico held her wrist there long enough for Maki to catch the smell of honey and fruit. Maki found herself leaning forward but stumbled as she made herself step back. Nico dropped her wrist, shaking her head.
Maki’s mother intervened, before her daughter could respond, “I hope you had no trouble getting here, Nico. Perhaps we should find our seats.”
Rin and Hanayo had wandered somewhere.
“Let’s find the rest of our group, then we’ll make our way inside,” Maki’s mother decided. Nico smiled at Maki and followed while Maki remained in place, staring after them. Then Rin charged into her, “Nico-senpai looks so cute.”
Maki ignored the comment, “Let’s find our seats. Where’s Hanayo?”
“Between Nico and your mother. Are you going blind, Maki-chan? Maybe Kayo-chin can loan you her glasses.”
“Just be quiet, Rin.”
Rin zoomed past Maki and saluted with a smirk before she ran to join the group ahead.
AT THE INTERVAL
Maki’s mother was telling Nico stories of the ballets she’d been to while Hanayo was watching Rin try to duplicate the moves she’d just seen the ballerinas perform. Maki scuffed her shoes against each other a bit, trying to think of something to do. There was a bar, with drinks and pastries. She could buy something and offer it to Nico or her mother. She wondered what Nico would like? She’d only ever seen her drinking strawberry flavored things so maybe something sweet? Maki grabbed the first plate that looked like it had a piece of cake with fruit on it as well as a bottle of flavored seltzer water. She took some money out of her purse and handed it to the person behind the bar, not waiting for any change.
Then she walked quickly back to her mother and Nico and shoved the plate of cake in Nico’s direction. Nico looked down, raising an eyebrow, but took the plate.
Maki grunted, removing the top of the water and taking a swig. Then she immediately spit the water in her mouth out, all over Nico’s plate and the front of her blouse.
“MAKI!” Nico and her mother shouted.
“S...sorry....” Maki stammered.
Maki’s mother took the bottle out of her hands, reading the label, “This is from a sulfur spring. Why did you pick this one, Maki?”
Maki didn’t want to say she wasn’t paying attention, not in front of Nico, who was staring at her.
“That’s a mean prank, Maki-chan, bringing Nico cake, then spoiling it…”
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t…” Maki felt like dropping to her knees and declaring that she was an idiot, but she could hear Nico’s voice in her head, saying “Maki-chan’s an idiot who can’t even swallow water, she said so”. She tried to take the plate from Nico’s hand, “Let me get you another one.”
“No. I have to go clean up.” Nico left for the bathroom, dumping the plate on the way. Maki ran her hands through her hair, resisting the urge to pull it out.
“Yes?” Maki’s mother handed her the shawl she’d had wrapped around her shoulders, “Take this to Nico. She doesn’t have anything to change into.”
Not on the list of the things Maki could say to her mother was ‘do it yourself’ so after a very brief pause she chased after Nico. Nico was at the mirror, frowning at her wet blouse, now even sheerer. Maki caught a glimpse of the lace at the top of Nico’s camisole through the blouse, then looked away, pushing the shawl at Nico.
Nico shook her head but took it, “You could take a few hints from your mother and be nicer to people you go to the ballet with.”
“I bought you cake.” Maki leaned against the counter.
“And it was tasty too, right?” Nico snapped. “Nico will be a good senpai and teach you manners.”
“No.” Maki didn’t know exactly why she answered that. Instinct. Cave and Maki imagined Nico would never let her forget exactly how much her junior Nico saw her as.
“No?” Nico leaned against the counter, arms crossed, watching Maki.
“No.” Amethyst eyes refused to back down and finally the ruby ones turned away.
Nico took out her purse, pulling out her lip gloss and leaning toward the mirror as if Maki weren’t there, “Fine. Nico will let you fall and try not to laugh.”
“Good.” Maki found herself watching as Nico very carefully reapplied her lip gloss. Nico’s lips glistened. It was taking her impossibly long.
Nico turned back as she finished, pursing her lips in Maki’s direction, “Strawberry peach. Want to try?”
Nico shook her head, “You’re easy to get along with tonight. All right, let’s go back for the rest of this boring ballet.”
“You’re not bored.” Maki stated.
“You’re supposed to be watching the ballet, Maki-chan, not the cute Nico Ni.”
“I am watching the ballet. So are you. And you’re still awake.”
Nico looked at her watch, “And probably missing the start of the second act. Come on, Maki. Let’s go back.”
“I knew you’d like it.”
Nico shoved Maki out of the bathroom, nearly running over Rin, who grabbed Nico, “It’s about to start, they blinked the lights, HURRY.”
After the final bow and the audience’s applause, Rin bounced up and headed for the lobby, but Nico and Maki stayed in their seats, going over the program together, discussing the dancers, Nico mostly listening and Maki very animated and serious as she pointed out sections of the various artist biographies.
Maki’s mother smiled as she watched her daughter, Hanayo doing the same next to her.
“You don’t think ballet is boring, do you, Koizumi-san?”
“No, I think ballet is a wonderful art form. Thank you so much for tonight,” Then Hanayo realized what she’d admitted and gasped.
“I won’t tell her you said that.”
Hanayo gulped and nodded. Maki’s mother pointed to where Rin went off to, “We’d better find Hoshizora-san before she tackles a dancer in her enthusiasm. I had thought Maki was exaggerating about how much energy she had.”
Hanayo stood, panicking, “Rin-chan.”
Nico was actually a good listener. Maki was a little surprised. She looked up from their conversation to find most of the theatre empty. Nico glanced around as well, then down at her watch.
“My ride’s been waiting.”
“We can take you home.”
Nico looked seriously at Maki, “My ride is waiting, Maki-chan. I have to run. Please tell your mother good night for me.” Nico stood, blew a kiss in Maki’s direction and raced off. Maki started to follow, then turned back automatically to grab the program they’d been poring over and Nico was already out of sight. Not even a shoe left behind. Is this what the Prince in Cinderella felt like? You just start to feel comfortable, then she looks at the clock and suddenly, empty seat.
THE MORNING AFTER
Maki was eating breakfast when her mom started the interrogation, “Did Yazawa-san enjoy the ballet?”
Maki nodded, “I think so.”
“She’s a third year, right? Very pretty girl. She must be dating someone.”
Maki frowned, “Nico’s very focused on being on Super Idol.” Maki could hear Nico in her head as she quoted her, “And Idols have to be for everyone.” Maki tapped her fork on the side of her plate, “So no dating.” But then Maki started remembering Nico’s mystery Friday night plans. And the ride she was so worried about being late for. She looked up at her mother, “I’m not actually sure.”
“Oh. I liked her. You should ask her over for dinner sometime.”
“Sure.” Maki shrugged, finished her juice and stood up, “I”m going to play for awhile.”
Maki’s mother wondered which composer would be thundering in the music room this morning.
Nico looked at the shawl neatly folded on her bed. She’d gotten it cleaned. Her blouse had also recovered, which was good. Nico couldn’t afford to replace it. Maki hadn’t done anything on purpose so Nico couldn’t be mad at her, but she was puzzled by how awkward the redhead had seemed. Maybe because her mother was there? Nico shrugged, feeling the delicate weave of the shawl. It had been so light and warm. Nico knew enough about the craft of clothing to appreciate the materials and workmanship put into its making. Not showy, but very classy. Designed to last for decades. Designed to be inherited. Nico giggled at the thought of Maki in her sweatpants, t-shirt, hat and combat boots with the shawl thrown over her shoulders. Talent, and strength, but needed outfits that coordinated themselves. Maki had negative style. Her mom had probably dressed her for the ballet.
But it had been nice to actually see why Umi, Honoka and Kotori were so excited by the thought of what Eli could teach μ's. Getting to Love Live would be hard; exacting teachers would only help. Nico leaned back on the bed, hand still on the softness of the shawl, remembering Maki’s voice as she pointed out her favorite dancers in the program. When Maki got too involved in something to be self conscious, her voice lost its polish. Nico enjoyed hearing the honest enthusiasm, the words that tumbled over themselves, the lack of self awareness. It was rare. Self consciousness was a Maki habit, as were blushing and rudeness. But Maki’s mom had seemed nice, Maki even behaved pleasantly sometimes, but when she stood aloof, apart and silent, defensive, she could be so unapproachable. Beautiful, cold profile, but then there would be a moment and her eyes would be so inviting -- or teasing with a daredevil wink.
Nico sighed. Yes, Maki was attractive. It didn’t matter. The shawl would be returned, Maki would go back to standing aloof and occasionally red faced, the Nishikinos would retreat to their built to be inherited mansion and hospital and there would be no more nights at the ballet. Nico would just add to her YouTube playlist. Ballet beginners exercises and a few videos of the dancers Maki admired, if she could track them down. Nico had typed their names into her phone before she forgot so she could bring them up in conversation with Maki.
There was a crash outside her door. Her siblings were getting restless. Her mom had another late night so Nico was in charge.
Since she was thinking about her, she sent Maki a quick text before she got her siblings their snack.
N: I got your mom’s shawl cleaned. I’ll return it tomorrow. Thanks again for the night of ballet, Maki-chan. You were right. I loved it.
Nico paused, then continued. Perhaps she should at least encourage Maki a little, if the redhead wanted to share anything else. A text hint shouldn’t trigger a retreat into shyness.
N: Nico especially liked the part when Maki-chan said what she thought about the performances. It made Nico think.
And in the Nishikino home, Maki picked up her phone, read the message and smiled.