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darling, (don't) let go of her hand

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Kumiko finds herself quite sluggish on Thursdays, spending most of the day wishing for it to turn into Friday, where upon getting home, she can collapse in her bed without worrying about homework due the next day. Of course, Kitauji's band doesn't cease its relentless practice on Thursdays nor Fridays. So when Kumiko and Reina are on the train home one Thursday evening, Kumiko is just barely able to muster up the ability to speak.

 

"So...what are you doing this weekend?" Kumiko sighs, sinking into her seat defeatedly. She and Reina have managed to sit in a separate compartment than Midori and Hazuki. It's become an unspoken habit over the past few weeks. Kumiko loves her other two friends with all her heart, but they can become tiring to be around after hours of school and practice. She suspects Midori wants to give her and Reina their space anyway. After all, Kumiko is still in the process of building up their friendship after what happened in middle school. To some extent, anyways.

 

"Oh, nothing. Why do you ask?" Reina's gaze is now more than her usual, inexpressive stare. Kumiko is always happy to see this side of her, the side where Reina actually shows emotion and isn't overly polite like she would be talking to her upperclassmen.

 

"Oh, I don't know. Small talk," Kumiko says quickly. She doesn't want to seem intrusive. "It seems like we never do much on the weekends besides homework, practicing, and mentally preparing for the next week of school."

 

"Do you want to spend the night tomorrow?" Reina asks.

 

What.

 

Kumiko gulps reflexively. Sure, she may have accidentally invited Reina to the Agata festival, and Reina may have prompted them to climb up Mount Daikichi together, but she was not expecting her to invite her to her house.

 

Kumiko realizes Reina is still waiting for her response. "Oh! Yeah, I would. Thank you for inviting me. I'll ask my mom if I can stay, although I'm sure she'll say yes." Kumiko is switching between more formal and more casual conversation, and Reina smiles.

 

"Good. I've never had someone sleep over at my house before, which I assume is pretty pathetic."

 

Kumiko attempts to cover up her surprise (and probably fails). "Of course it's not! I've only had Hazuki and Midori sleep over at my house once so far," she stutters. "I'm sure your house is nice," she says without thinking, managing not to cover her mouth. To be honest, that's an understatement. Kumiko would expect Reina to be the kind of girl to have a lavish house bigger than all the others in the neighborhood and a master bedroom of her own with a king-sized bed. She doesn't say that part aloud, though.

 

"Ah, I'm honored that you think so." Reina grins, and it's the best thing Kumiko has seen so far that day. "On Saturday, we can go to the park and maybe the mall to get lunch. Do some shopping."

 

"Okay," Kumiko says, smiling back. She hasn't felt this excited for something in a while. "Can I just bring my stuff to school and get off at your train stop?"

 

"Yes. Well, see you tomorrow, Kumiko," Reina says, glancing up at the screen displaying which stop they're at. Kumiko shoots up out of her seat, scooping up her school bag and waving her goodbye. She shouldn't be so surprised or...embarrassed that Reina has memorized where her stop is. Of course she has. Of course.

 

•••••••••••••••••

 

It's 10:27 p.m. when Kumiko is hastily shoving clothes and toiletries into a small backpack. Her mother, unaware of her plans, is surprised when she walks into her room. "Kumiko! Please don't tell me you're running away!" she exclaims, but there is a joking tone in her voice.

 

"A-ah! Sorry mom, I completely forgot to ask you," Kumiko explains, shaking her hands in denial. "Kousaka Reina invited me to sleep over at her house tomorrow, and I figured I would just take the train to her house. If that's all right with you, of course."

 

"Oh? That's all right with me. I've heard her name pop up a few times before. She's in your band, right?" her mother asks.

 

"Yes. She's a very nice girl," Kumiko says, realizing how strange that sounds coming from a sixteen year old. "Thank you very much."

 

Kumiko's mom gives her a quick hug before stepping outside of her room. "Don't stay up too late, okay? I know you will tomorrow," she says.

 

"I won't. Tonight, at least." Kumiko smiles. "Good night."

 

"Good night!"

 

The next day, Kumiko walks out the door of her apartment with a smile on her face. She has an extra bag on her shoulder, which she'll eventually drop off in the band room. Her usual drowsiness at this hour is drowned out by enthusiasm. And maybe a bit of nervousness. What if she makes a fool of herself in front of Reina's family? No, no, now is not the time.

 

Their conversation on the train is no different from how it normally is, but Kumiko can sense that something is different. Reina is smiling more. She seems more open with her words, as if she trusts Kumiko more than she did the day before, as if inviting her to sleep over suddenly deepened their bond.

 

Then comes the part Kumiko dreads most.

 

She doesn't know why her stomach churns when she and Reina get the keys from Taki-sensei every morning; it's not an uncommon task whatsoever. But when Taki-sensei reaches for his keys, Kumiko quickly steps in front of Reina and reaches out her hand. Her heart is pounding and it's not because of Taki-sensei's good looks. His face is slightly confused, but he doesn't say anything as he drops the keys in her hand.

 

"Thank you very much," Kumiko says quickly, not waiting for him to reply before spinning around heading towards the door.

 

"You're quite welcome," is Taki-sensei's response. Reina slips out the door just before it shuts, rushing to catch up with Kumiko. Oh my god, I can't believe I did that, Kumiko thinks. She's certain her face is red and walks faster to prevent Reina from catching up. It's only a few seconds before Reina does catch up, though, and she grabs Kumiko's wrist to stop her from moving any further.

 

"Are you mad?" Reina asks worriedly. Kumiko shakes her head frantically, dismissing Reina's concern. Kumiko clearly isn't mad, embarrassment plastered on her face like a band-aid. "Oh, okay."

 

Once in the storage room, Kumiko manages to sneak her backpack behind her euphonium case. Asuka-senpai will probably find it and interrogate her, but that doesn't matter right now. Right now, she's going to listen to Reina practice until it's time for her to go to homeroom.

 

The day passes incredibly slowly; Kumiko is sure that the seconds are going by twice as slow as they otherwise would. At lunch, Kumiko accidentally mentions her plans with Reina to Hazuki and Midori.

 

"What!! You're sleeping over at Reina's house? I didn't see her as the kind to have a sleepover, especially at her own house," Hazuki gushes.

 

"Neither did I!" Kumiko says in agreement.

 

"Wah, that's kind of scary!" Midori chimes in. "What are you guys even going to do?"

 

"I don't know," Kumiko says. "I think we'll go out on Saturday, but I don't know what we'll do tonight."

 

"Ooh, Shuichi will be jealous," Midori says like it's nothing, continuing to eat her lunch happily.

 

"What...is that supposed to mean?" Kumiko asks flatly. "Why would be jealous of Reina? It's not like we're going on a..." She trails off.

 

Hazuki raises her eyebrows suggestively.

 

"What are you implying?" Kumiko practically screeches. Hazuki cackles, and Kumiko is all the more confused. "I really don't know what you, what both of you are getting at!"

 

"Nothing, really," Hazuki says, stifling her laughter. "It's just...the way you said it, it sounds like you two are going on a date. You know! Two old friends finally getting to connect after a rough start."

 

Kumiko's stomach sinks.

 

How could they know? It's literally impossible, I haven't told a single person-

 

"Of course, you probably wish you were having a sleepover with Shuichi instead," Hazuki smirks, and Kumiko smacks her shoulder. She feels relieved, and then foolish. There's no need for her to be worried in the slightest. Unless Hazuki or Midori have some kind of telepathic powers...

 

Kumiko's veins are coursing with adrenaline as she walks to the band room later that day. She wonders what Reina will do after practice ends, how Reina will grin at her from across the room when they all take their seats, how quickly her attention will turn back to Taki-sensei once he starts talking.

 

Everyone acts normal during sectionals except for Kumiko. She's distracted, of course, all she can think about is Reina. Her sleepover with Reina, that is. Asuka notices right away, to no one's surprise. "Come on, Kumiko-chan, nothing could possibly be more important than playing the euphonium right now! What else is on your mind?" she asks.

 

"She's having a sleepover with Reina tonight!" Midori says before Kumiko has the chance to utter a word. The entire section turns to look at Kumiko, and she instantly reddens. Why did she have to say that? Gotou and Riko give each other skeptical glances, Asuka's eyes widen in curiosity. Even Natsuki looks confused.

 

"Aww," Asuka coos, looking at Kumiko like a proud mother. "My baby is growing up!"

 

"I don't even want to know what that means," Kumiko sighs embarrassedly, putting her face in her palms. "She invited me over to her house, so I said yes. It's that simple."

 

"Ah, just trying to be polite, I see," Asuka says, but there is something in her tone that indicates she isn't buying it. Kumiko realizes there is no point in arguing with Asuka anymore. "Well! Young love is no excuse for poor practicing, so let's get to it!" Asuka smacks Kumiko on the back and goes back to her seat.

 

After that, practice finishes rather quickly. Kumiko is the first person out of the classroom, rushing towards the storage room to grab her bag. She isn't expecting Reina to be there waiting for her, but it's a pleasant surprise. She smiles widely as she scoops up her backpack. "Ready?" Reina asks.

 

"Ready as I'll ever be," is Kumiko's reply.  "I promise I'm not-I was never mad at you. Earlier, this morning. I was just...I don't know..."

 

Reina holds Kumiko's free hand with one of her own, causing both of them to stop moving in the hallway. "Kumiko," she says, looking her directly in the eyes. "It's fine. Don't worry."

 

Kumiko shudders for some reason, feeling relieved for the second time that day. "Come on, let's get to the train." Reina laces their fingers and starts walking, swinging their arms as they make their way out of the school. Kumiko doesn't even care if her friends, if anyone sees her at this point. All she wants is to walk like this forever.

 

Midori and Hazuki wave from the next compartment over when they get off their stops, Kumiko waving sheepishly back. She takes a deep breath when the doors open for her stop. When the train starts moving again, she breathes again, sinking back into the seat. "It's like you deflate every day, huh," Reina observes. "Is school really that exhausting?"

 

"Yes!" Kumiko exclaims. "For me, at least. You're perfect, so you probably have lots of energy after you practice."

 

"Oh, I'm definitely not perfect," Reina laughs, folding her arms across her chest. "But practice does energize me. It's like the trumpet is my form of caffeine." Reina looks across the compartment at a middle-aged man sipping coffee from a plastic cup.

 

"Hmm," Kumiko says. The train slows to a stop.

 

"Well, this is us," Reina says, stretching slightly and standing up. Kumiko scrambles to get all of her things and follows after Reina. This part of town is vaguely familiar, as if she had visited here years ago. Then she realizes she looked for houses around here when she moved to Uji from Tokyo. This is where...

 

"All the rich people live," Kumiko whispers. She gasps loudly, smacking her mouth with her free hand. Reina gives her a quizzical look.

 

"The rich part of town, you mean? Well, true, a lot of people who live here are rich, but some of the houses here are significantly less expensive. Like mine, for instance. Here, let me carry your backpack, you look like you're struggling." Reina says all of this somewhat quickly, grabbing it off of Kumiko's shoulder. Damn it. I really screwed up. Why can't I shut up for two seconds? she thinks, cursing herself out internally.

 

They're silent all the way to Reina's house, which like she said, isn't nearly as huge as some of the other houses, but is still of decent size. "We're home!" Reina calls, both girls kicking their shoes off in the genkan. Reina walks towards the kitchen where a man with black hair is leaning against the counter, scrolling through his phone. He smiles at the sight of her, embracing her in a hug. Kumiko's hearts aches.

 

"Hi, honey. How was school?"

 

"Good. Do you remember me telling you about Kumiko?" Reina says, gesturing towards Kumiko.

 

"Ah, yes. I'm Reina's dad. It's a pleasure to meet you," Kousaka-san says, smiling politely at Kumiko.

 

"It's a pleasure to meet you too," Kumiko says, bowing deeply. Good. You haven't messed up so far.  It's a little painful to see Reina so close with her dad, considering Kumiko's relationship with hers, but she tells herself to stop being an ungrateful bitch before any true feelings of jealousy peek through.

 

"We're going to go practice, okay?" Reina says, even though she doesn't need to ask. Her father nods, waiting for the two girls to walk away before turning back to his phone. Kumiko is expecting them to head upstairs to where Reina's rooms probably is, but rather, they turn down the hall to a different room. Kumiko nearly gasps when she sees the inside.

 

Reina has her own practice room, she realizes. A grand piano is in against the back wall. Stacks of trumpet music and books are stored in a bookshelf. A stand with music far beyond the level of music they play at school on it is next to a few comfy-looking chairs. The room, while big, still feels cozy and welcoming and home. Reina sets her trumpet down on one of the chairs and starts to unpack it. Kumiko does the same, dropping her school things on the floor and opening her euphonium case.

 

"This is nice," Kumiko says, trying to choose her words carefully. "I wish I had a practice room. That way, I would actually be able to practice at home."

 

"Yes, I'm very lucky my mother plays the piano. Otherwise, I wouldn't have the luxury of this room," Reina says, grabbing a mute and fitting it in the bell of her trumpet. "What do you want to play first? I don't think we need to do warm-ups."

 

"Crescent Moon Dance," Kumiko says instantly. "It's probably my favorite song I've ever played in band." Reina nods in agreement, lifting up her trumpet.

 

"Ready?"

 

"Yep," Kumiko says, putting her mouthpiece on her lips. "I'll count you off."

 

"Okay."

 

"Two, three, four..."

 

The notes ring from Reina's trumpet loud and clear, a great entrance into the song. Kumiko is sure both of them can imagine the drum roll during the rest. She repeats the first few measures, and then Kumiko joins in. Her countermelody is easily heard under Reina without any other instruments drowning it out. Kumiko can't decide whether that is refreshing or horrifying.

 

When they get to Reina's solo, Kumiko gulps for air, letting her body go slack for a little while. She quickly understands why she got the solo-she's never heard a trumpet have such a captivating sound as Reina's, a sound that demands your attention and forces you to listen. Kumiko almost forgets to play loudly again after the solo is over. The song ends with the fortissimo octave, loud and abrupt. Both girls relax, Reina falling back into a chair from her standing position and Kumiko setting her euphonium on the floor.

 

"That was good," Reina says, slightly out of breath. Kumiko nods in agreement. "Shall we move on to the next piece?" She grins, and Kumiko knows she's back to normal again.

 

"We shall."

 

•••••••••••••••••

 

They practice for another twenty minutes before Kumiko swears her lips are going to start bleeding. Just as she starts to pack her euphonium up, Reina's father peers gingerly from around the corner of the room. "Hey, girls. Is Chinese okay? It's getting kind of late, and I don't want you to be hungry," he says

 

"Sure. You like Chinese food, right, Oumae-san?" Reina glances at Kumiko. She's too flustered to say anything, so she just nods.

 

"Okay. I'll be back in twenty minutes," Kousaka-san says, disappearing from sight. Kumiko turns to Reina, a combination of confused and slightly embarrassed. Reina smiles just enough to be distinctive from a neutral expression, and when the front door shuts, she bursts into laughter.

 

“You looked so funny!" she gasps through giggles, falling to the floor upon seeing Kumiko's face. "I can't believe you were so shocked!"

 

"Well, you haven't used my surname in forever!" Kumiko defends herself weakly, unable to think of a proper excuse. Her face feels warm for what seems like the tenth time that day. “I wasn’t expecting it, that’s all.”

 

“Ah, okay,” Reina says, clear disbelief in her voice.

 

There isn't much to do besides wait for Reina's father to come home, so Kumiko makes herself comfortable in the chair next to Reina's. "So...I see your mom isn't home. Is she still at work?"

 

"Nope. She's visiting my grandparents this weekend. That's why I thought it would be a good time to invite you over."

 

"Oh, okay."

 

The girls are practically starving by the time food arrives; Reina ends up stealing some of her dad's noodles. Kumiko quickly comes to the realization that Reina loves pasta. It's not long before Reina is staring at Kumiko's lo mein. Kumiko laughs lightly. "If you want some, you can just ask."

 

"Yes please," Reina says immediately.

 

It doesn't take long until dinner is finished. Kousaka-san is very polite, perhaps a bit more relaxed and casual than Reina. She must get that from her mom. Kumiko doesn't feel uncomfortable in the slightest, which is very relieving. It's almost better than eating dinner at her own house, without a dad who barely talks to anyone or a sister, who when she's there, pries at Kumiko's personal life. She and Reina head upstairs to Reina's room after eating.

 

Reina's room isn't too different from what Kumiko expects, but she still is a little awestruck. It's slightly bigger than her own room, fit with a queen-sized bed and bookshelves full of novels and old textbooks.  I wonder where there'll be room for a futon, Kumiko thinks, her brow furrowing. "Is something wrong?" Reina asks innocently. Kumiko shakes her head.

 

"No, just thinking that your room is cute."

 

"Ah, thank you. Well, if you don't mind, I'd like to shower first. Unless you want to?"

 

"Oh, uh-that's fine," Kumiko says. People usually don't shower at sleepovers, but I don't have the heart to tell her no. "I guess the summer weather leaves us all pretty sweaty, huh." I would feel pretty gross next to Reina if she was showered and I wasn't, anyway.

 

"Okay, I won't take long. Feel free to make yourself at home." With that, Reina grabs clothes from inside her drawer and heads to wherever the bathroom is. Kumiko's heart skips a beat when she opens her underwear drawer and pulls a pair out. As soon as Reina leaves, she collapses back onto the bed, out of breath and flushed.

 

Kumiko tries. She really does try to think about anything other than Reina showering, but with the sound of water hitting tile faintly distant in the background, it proves to be very difficult. She looks around the room for some sort of distraction and fails. Just as she's about to lose hope, her phone buzzes from inside her school bag.

 

midori: how's the sleepover with reina so far?? does she live in a spooky house?? is she giving you creepy vibes??

 

hazuki: Yeah! What have you guys even done so far?

 

Kumiko sighs. She doesn't quite remember when Hazuki made the group chat involving the three of them, but sometimes, their conversations can get quite...interesting. She tries to do her best to make the conversation not become interesting.

 

kumiko: it's going fine guys don't worry, we practiced and ate dinner and now reina's in the shower

 

hazuki: Who showers at a sleepover?

 

midori: yeah, i've never done that before!!

 

hazuki: You never answered Midori's question.

 

midori: yeah!!! is her house creepy or what??

 

kumiko: calm down! her house is completely normal and we were sweaty from walking in 35 degree weather so we both agreed to rinse off

 

hazuki: Okay...

 

hazuki: Well have fun I guess.

 

midori: i'm glad her house isn't creepy!! have a fun time!!

 

kumiko: yeah thanks please don't bother me anymore tonight

 

midori: roger that (`∇´ゞ

 

hazuki: Good night!

 

Kumiko shakes her head and puts her phone down just as Reina walks into her room. She gasps.

 

"Reina, I didn't know you needed..."

 

"Glasses? I don't wear them to school since they become annoying when I play the trumpet. I opt for contacts instead. But my eyesight, unfortunately, isn't very good," Reina explains, adjusting the round, silver glasses on her nose. They complement her indigo eyes perfectly. Kumiko is certain that she has never seen anything prettier than Reina in this moment.

 

"They look nice. I mean, you look nice," Kumiko stumbles over her words.

 

"Thank you!" Reina smiles. "I left a few towels outside of the bathroom door for you to use."

 

"Got it," Kumiko says, reaching in her school bag for pajamas and toiletries and heading down the hall, eventually finding the bathroom.

 

Yep. I am very, very screwed.

 

•••••••••••••••••

 

Kumiko tentatively peers into Reina's room after washing up thoroughly.  Even when her hair is practically soaked, there is still the slight outline of her usual wave.  Reina giggles when she catches sight of the other girl.

 

"Stop..." Kumiko sighs, exhasperated.

 

"No, no, I'm not making fun of you.  It's just strange to see you with straight hair.  It's so...flat.  You're supposed to look curly and fluffy."

 

"Um...thanks?"

 

"I think you look better with curly hair, anyways," Reina says, twirling a shorter piece of her hair around her finger.

 

"Me too.  I used to straighten it all the time.  But then I realized my hair was fine how it is and stopped."

 

"Ah.  Well, I'm glad you learned to accept your true self."

 

"It's just hair!"

 

By 9 p.m., both girls are settled comfortably on Reina's bed, with plenty of room to spread out and not invade each other's space. It doesn't take long before they are engaged in deep conversation with no intention of stopping.

 

"How are things going with Taki-sensei?" Kumiko says out of nowhere, a sour taste left in her mouth.

 

"Oh, well, as far as they can go. What do you mean, exactly?" Reina inquires, looking slightly confused.

 

"Um, like, have you...gone anywhere with him outside of school? You know...like, on a date or something." Kumiko winces. She could not know less about dating or making moves on someone.

 

"Wait a minute. You think I actually like him? Like, as in I want to marry him one day?

 

"Isn't that what you said?"

 

Reina bursts out laughing for the second time that day.

 

"Oh my God! No, no, that's quite frankly, a little gross. His wife is dead. I have no business being with a man who is twice my age. Yeah, I might have a crush on him, but so do a lot of other girls in concert band." Kumiko is dumbstruck. Of course, how could she be so stupid! She vaguely remembers her mother speaking of a physics teacher many of the girls in her class had a crush on.

 

"I love him in a very platonic way. He's been my trumpet instructor for years now," Reina further explains.

 

"Ah," Kumiko whispers, looking down. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

 

"So, how long have you been playing the euphonium? Do you take private lessons?"

 

"I, uh, starting playing when I was in fourth grade. To be honest, it wasn't my first choice. I wanted to play trombone, like my sister. And I don't take private lessons."

 

"Oh, really? Do you even like the euphonium?" Reina inquires.

 

"I do! It just wasn't my first choice, that's all," Kumiko waves her hands in dismissal. "What made you choose the trumpet?"

 

"It has the melody a lot of the time, it's very distinguishable within a band, it has a beautiful sound when played properly..." Reina trails off, lost in thought about all the things she loves about the trumpet. "More reasons, probably, but mostly, I think it's the best instrument for me to become special with."

 

"That must be nice. Knowing what you want you want to do with your life so young," Kumiko says wistfully.

 

Reina tilts her head slightly. "I guess. Say, Kumiko, you've never told me what you want to do in college or where you want to go."

 

Kumiko laughs. "I haven't told you because I don't know myself," she admits.

 

"Why not music?"

 

"For someone who's been playing euphonium for six and a half years, I'm somewhat above average in high school band terms. I don't even think music is an option at this point."

 

"So? You can always improve."

 

Kumiko vividly remembers her running past civilians along the water, grabbing the railing for support before yelling, "I want to improve!" It's not her proudest moment, maybe, but one she'll remember for a long time. She wishes Shuichi hadn't been there to see her in such an emotional state. It's not like he had any business being there, anyways. Or with her, ever.

 

"I don't even have to ask you what you want to do with your career," Kumiko smiles.

 

"Promise me."

 

"What?"

 

"Promise me you'll be there for me, and that you'll be there for me as I try to become special."

 

"Of course I will!" Kumiko is, quite frankly a little shocked. She expected Reina to be more of an independent person when it comes to her goals, but evidently, this is not the case. "But...don't you want to go to a private music college somewhere far away?"

 

"Hmm. I don't know, to be honest. I just want to become special," Reina says flatly. Special. The word seems to ring and fill up the whole room, suffocating and impossible to escape. I don't know how I can help you, Kumiko thinks hopelessly. But I'll surely try.

 

Their conversation ends up drifting away from the scary world of adulthood and college into family and home life. It's not a usual topic of conversation for Kumiko, and there is almost an air of intimacy flooding from their words.

 

"My mom works and watches over her parents a lot, so I spend a lot more time with my dad. Plus she still plays piano in her free time, so she's a very busy woman. My dad works from home half the time," Reina explains, without any hint of sadness or pity in her voice.

 

"Oh, really? My mom is always the one home. I practically never see my dad, except for at dinner, and even then, he's distracted with work. And my sister is in college, so I haven't seen her much lately." Kumiko tries her hardest to not sound like she's fishing for sympathy.

 

"Do you like your sister? After all, she's who inspired you to do band."

 

"Yeah, I do. She can be annoying at times, but that's just how siblings are."

 

"Sometimes I wish I had a sibling."

 

"That's what all only-children say.  And yet everyone I know wishes they didn't have siblings."

 

"Funny how that works, isn't it?"

"Yeah."

 

The two girls end up talking until nearly 1 a.m., and at that point, Reina can barely keep her eyes open. "I'm probably going to pass out soon, so we should go to sleep now," she mumbles, yawning. Kumiko nods, unsure of what to do next. Reina falls backward onto the pillow, her gaze fixed on the ceiling. Suddenly, she springs back up. "Oh, you don't mind if we sleep in the same bed, do you? I don't have a futon, and my bed is pretty big."

 

Gulp.

 

"Not at all!" Kumiko laughs nervously, aware that Reina is too tired to distinguish sincerity from uncertainty.  It's not that big of a deal, right? She can just sleep at the end of the bed if things get too overwhelming, or if Reina gets all close like she did not too long ago, because quite honestly, Kumiko doesn't know how much more she can take before she snaps and kisses the goddamn girl.

 

"Okay, well, goodnight," Reina murmurs, burrowing under the sheets and laying her head down on the pillows.  She's facing inwards, towards Kumiko, so Kumiko faces the other way.  A part of her feels a little guilty, but she isn't sure why.

 

Forty minutes pass.  Reina's breathing has long become steady by now, Kumiko still forgetting to do so every once in a while.  She's certain Reina won't wake up, so she looks at her face in small slivers of moonlight shining through the blinds.  Well, it's more like she stares.  God, how can someone look so perfect at any given point in time?  Whether it's on the train ride to school in the earlier hours of the day, or sweaty after hours of practicing for marching band in the summer heat, or fresh out of the shower with wet hair and a bare face, or right now, fast asleep, she is unbelievably beautiful.  Kumiko feels the sudden urge to snuggle up against Reina, to wrap her arms around her waist and bury her head into Reina's soft hair.  Come on, you pussy.  She's asleep.  You can say you accidentally must have gotten close to her in your sleep.  But Kumiko falls asleep touching nothing but the mattress below her and the blanket on top.

 

•••••••••••••••••

 

The sun shines through Reina's windows at 7:34 a.m., which in Kumiko's opinion, is far too early to be alive.  She isn't sure if Reina is awake, but before she's able to check, she realizes something is pressing up against her shoulder and part of her thigh.  Ever so slowly, she turns her head downwards to see Reina curled up against her, Reina's forehead on her shoulder and her knees pressed against her legs.  Kumiko squeaks loudly, fumbling away from the other girl and...

 

Bam.  Her butt hits the wooden floor of Reina's room after Kumiko rolls off the bed.  She covers her mouth to stifle the sound of surprise she makes (along with the pain shooting up her tailbone) and stays completely still, praying to whatever deity out there that Reina is still asleep.  When she hears the covers rustle, she sighs in defeat.  Then Kumiko realizes she needs to get back up on the bed, stat.  She shoots up from off the floor with great difficulty, a combination of exhaustion and pain slowing her down.  Just as her face pops back over the covers, Reina sits up.  Kumiko's eyes widen, a sheepish smile plastering itself across her face.

 

"Oh goodness," Reina mumbles, rubbing her eye tiredly, "did I take up the whole bed?  Sorry about that.  I guess I'm not using to sharing it with someone."

 

"Oh, uh, it's fine!  It's my fault I fell off.  I'm clumsy," Kumiko waves her hands around foolishly, not daring to tell Reina what actually happened.  Kumiko is still not fully awake, but Reina seems to be more alert by the second.  Even though it's early for an off day, Reina apparently has no intention of going back to sleep.  Kumiko complains the whole way downstairs, Reina dragging her by the arm to the kitchen.  "It's too early...we don't have school today..."

 

"But the park is always busy around noon ," Reina explains, filling up a teapot with water and placing it on the stove.  "It's the perfect temperature outside  around 8:00 anyways, so I though we should go earlier."

 

"Whatever you say," Kumiko sighs, placing her hands in her head and slumping into a chair next to the kitchen counter.

 

The strong smell of tea soon instills some sense of life into Kumiko.  She graciously accepts a cup from Reina and chugs it down, ignoring way it sears her tongue and throat.  Reina watches in fascination as Kumiko finishes the tea at lightning speed.  It'll be a little longer until the caffeine kicks in, and by then Kumiko won't be a walking zombie anymore.  "You really need caffeine to get your engine going, huh?" Reina says jokingly.

 

"Do you have any more?" Kumiko asks sheepishly.  Reina laughs, fixing another cup.

 

They manage to get ready fairly quickly, even while sharing one sink.  Reina offers (or insists, rather) to do Kumiko's makeup, who promptly refuses.  "I just don't like the idea of covering my face with something else," she argues weakly.  Reina pouts, and Kumiko struggles to think of another excuse before she gives in.  "Besides, isn't in unsanitary to use someone else's makeup?  We're not going to a dance or anything..."

 

Reina sighs in defeat, pulling her sleek hair back into a ponytail.  "Oh well.  At least I can say I tried.  Your skin is perfect, anyways," she says nonchalantly, causing Kumiko to reflexively bring a hand to her cheek.  That's very debatable, Kumiko thinks to herself, staring at the bags forming under her eyes.  Her eyebrows furrow in confusion.  What's this feeling called?  Embarrassment?  Bewilderment?  Her stomach twists, but not necessarily in a bad way.

 

She doesn't know what the hell is going on.

 

"Kumiko, what's wrong?  You look red," Reina says, grabbing Kumiko's hand and gently pulling it from her face.  That doesn't help at all, and Kumiko lets out a small squeak.  Why am I like this? Kumiko asks herself.  She feels her whole body heat up.

 

"Nothing!  I just, ah, I'm not used to compliments like that," Kumiko stutters, and it's partially true.  She thinks about the awkward compliments Shuichi occasionally shoots her way, and inwardly winces.

 

"Aw, you get flustered really easily, Kumiko?  I've noticed that," Reina says, laughing a little.  Kumiko gasps quielty, shocked that Reina would point that out.  To add to her shock, Reina squeezes her hand gently, interlacing their fingers as they did the day before.  But this time it's different.  This time it's more intimate and more thoughtful and alone, not just a careless act of glee.  Reina stares at Kumiko's fingertips as if it's the most natural thing in the world.  Kumiko is utterly dumbfounded.

 

"Should we, um...get going soon?" Kumiko whispers, about to explode.

 

"Oh, yes," Reina sighs, slipping her hand away gracefully and heading out of the bathroom as if that whole ordeal hadn't just happened.

 

Kumiko stares at herself in the mirror, dumbfounded.  "What the fuck," she whispers.

 

They head out shortly after.  It does feel nice outside, and there are only a few other people at the park.  Kumiko and Reina are messing around on the swings when Reina suddenly points at the family several yards away from them.  "I want a kid when I'm older," she says out of nowhere.  "Or two."

 

The word adoption instantly pops up in Kumiko's head, and she blushes.  "Huh," she says, not sure how to respond.  Having kids had never really crossed her mind until age thirteen, when adults suddenly seemed to know how and when and how many kids she was supposedly going to have (which made her not want kids even more).  "I've never really though about it," she says, which is partially true.

 

"Really?  Sometimes I think it's all my family talks to me about," Reina says.

 

"Me too!  God, sometimes I wish they would just leave me alone.  I'm sixteen, for Christ's sake," Kumiko huffs.  Reina laughs at her short outburst.  Kumiko looks at her, shocked at her reaction, and grins back sheepishly.

 

"Although, I guess I'm not entirely opposed to the idea of having a kid or two," Kumiko says quietly.  Reina smiles and looks at the ground.

 

 

•••••••••••••••••

 

The two girls are walking down the mall, aimlessly strolling and chatting when Reina suddenly grabs Kumiko's arm and pulls her over to a nearby shop.  "Let's look in Takashimaya!" she says, both of them stepping into the large store.

 

"This is...a makeup store," Kumiko remarks flatly.

 

"Yes, it is," Reina confirms.  Still holding onto Kumiko's arm, they wander around the store, Reina occasionally picking up certain items and observing them.  There are so many brands, so many different types of cosmetics packaged in the most appealing manners as a way of getting people to buy them.

 

"I don't understand any of this.  What's the difference between these two things, besides the fact that one has more of it?" Kumiko asks, overwhelmed by the large selection of brands and items.

 

Reina attempts to explain the difference between the difference between foundation and concealer.  Kumiko is not any more enlightened on the subject, and Reina sighs.  "Have you never worn makeup before?"

 

"No.  It's not like anyone has ever shown me how."  Kumiko's sister, despite being a makeup fanatic, was never too keen on sharing.  “Do you wear it?”

 

“How else would my skin be this flawless?” Reina jokes, but there is some truth in her words.  Of course, Reina has natural beauty.  There’s no denying that.  But her skin does look particularly more even and flushed than Kumiko’s bare face.  “You could probably use some concealer,” Reina remarks.  Kumiko snaps out of her trance and nods mindlessly, then realizes what she’s agreeing to and shakes her head.

 

“Wait, I didn’t really bring money for something expensive.  And I told you, I don't care about makeup."

 

"Oh, okay.  If you insist."  Reina continues to search around the store, trying some things on Kumiko, much to her dismay.  Kumiko is certain there isn't any difference from her natural skin, although she wishes it would make one.  Practicing after school forces the band students to do their homework into the later hours of the night, and Kumiko’s undereyes have suffered the consequences.

 

Reina leaves the store with lipgloss and mascara, but before they can get very far, they run into no other than Natsuki Nakagawa and Yuuko Yoshikawa.

 

"Natsuki-senpai!" Kumiko gasps, bowing.  There is no hiding the shock on Natsuki's face, but she quickly turns it into a smile.  Yuuko looks easily surprised, almost embarrassed to be seen by her juniors in public.  Kumiko looks at Yuuko uncertainly, then decides she should be courteous and address her presence.  Reina nods curtly from behind her.

 

"What are you two doing here?" Kumiko asks politely, attempting to form some kind of conversation.  Yuuko and Natsuki are not a pair she would expect to see together outside of school.  Then again, she doesn't know much about either of them, so who is she to assume?

 

"Well, um," Natsuki starts, clearly not sure how much she's allowed to say.

 

"We heard Kaori-senpai was here so I made her drive me!  I don't have my license, but she does.  That's the only reason why we're...you know..." Yuuko trails off, flustered.

 

"Together.  As in, at the mall together," Natsuki sighs.  Kumiko doesn't really need an explanation, and she decides not to pry any further.  "Have either of you seen Kaori-senpai?  Apparently she's here with Haruka-senpai."  Unsurprisingly, Natsuki doesn't care enough to properly address her seniors when they aren't around.

 

"No," Kumiko says, glancing around the area.  They're still standing in front of the makeup store.  "Well, I think we'd better be going now, I hope you two find Kaori!"  Kumiko pokes Reina's shoulder, who nods and starts walking away with her.  As they leave, Kumiko can still hear Yuuko's agitated voice.  Kumiko grins, thinking about how Natsuki is helping Yuuko look for Kaori, despite Yuuko claiming that she was only with her for a ride.

 

"Maybe she's in Takashimaya!"

 

"Dummy, Kumiko and Reina were just in there and they said they didn't see her."

 

"Well, I want to pick up a new blusher anyways..."

 

••••••••••••••••

 

"Those two are so...funny," Reina says when they're back on the train.  Kumiko is spacing out, and jumps a little at Reina's voice.

 

"Huh?" Kumiko asks, confused.

 

"Yoshikawa-senpai and Nakagawa-senpai.  They act like they don't like each other, but they're always around each other.  I don't know about Nakagawa-senpai, but Yoshikawa-senpai never stops talking about her," Reina explains.

 

Kumiko snorts a little.  She tries her best not to make assumptions, but she's seen firsthand the way Natsuki acts after talking to Yuuko.  Natsuki doesn't get worked up easily, but she always looks red and seems distracted whenever they interact.  Kumiko is no stranger to that feeling.

 

"That can only mean one thing, Reina," Kumiko blurts out.

 

"What's that?" Reina asks.

 

"Um, never mind," she says quickly, looking at her shoes.

 

"What?  You can't not tell me now!" Reina cries.

 

"I sure can," Kumiko objects, feeling herself heat up.

 

"Ugh, whatever.  I"ll just figure it out for myself," Reina says, smiling.  Kumiko wonders if she actually knows what she was going to say, and that makes her feel even hotter.  They chat aimlessly until they arrive at the stop closest to Kumiko's house.

 

"Oh, this is my stop," Kumiko says, standing up.  She looks at Reina for a response.

 

"Ok, I'll come with you," Reina says.

 

The walk to Kumiko's house is quiet.  It's gotten rather hot, and they've been out and about for nearly five hours now.  Kumiko has the overwhelming urge to hold Reina's hand, but she worries that her hand will be sweaty.  Or that Reina won't want to hold it back.  Would she?  Kumiko finds herself walking closer and closer next to Reina, and their shoulders are almost touching when they arrive in front of Kumiko's apartment building.

 

"I think I'll stop here."

 

"Are you sure? You could have some tea at my place or something..."

 

"I need to practice, I have lessons in about an hour."

 

"Oh, okay. Well, good luck." Kumiko realizes that's probably not the right phrase for this situation, and frantically tries to cover her mistake.  'I mean, I'm sure you'll do great in your lesson!"

 

Reina smiles, looking at the ground and tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. "Well, it was lovely having you over, Oumae Kumiko-san.  Let's do it again sometime?"

 

"Of course, Kousaka Reina-san."

 

Kumiko feels the kiss on her cheek for several hours after Reina leaves.