When Chisato had finally found a properly secluded cafe that would be open during one of her preciously rare days off in a location that didn’t require her getting on one of those accursedly byzantine trains, she knew that something would go wrong, because whenever it came to her and Kaoru Seta nothing ever went according to plan.
Chisato had the good sense to know that wasn’t always Kaoru’s fault, of course. She couldn’t fault her for the agency calling Chisato in all of a sudden for re-shoots, or for paparazzi tailing her half the time she ventured out on the weekends, or for her own inability to navigate those blasted, blasted trains (she swore on Kanon’s good heart that she’d learn someday). So often those misfortunes were due to fate, or circumstance, or simply her own shortcomings, and her clueless yet goodhearted girlfriend was there to console her in the process.
This one was entirely Kaoru’s fault.
“Wow… Kaoru-senpai, which one are you getting? I really want to try the key lime pie, personally!”
“I was thinking about the cheesecake set… u-unless you’re getting one too, Kaoru-san! I wouldn’t want to step on your toes!”
“Ahaha… my dear kittens, concern yourselves not with me. Your own appetites are what you should seek to satiate, not mine…”
“AAAAAHHH! KAORU-SENPAI! THAT WAS SUCH A DREAMY WINK!”
Chisato watched the spectacle play out with an involuntary twitch, keeping her smile firm as she beheld her underclassmen fawn over Kaoru’s mere existence for what felt like the twelfth time that hour. She couldn’t bear the full force of a grudge in her heart, considering her and Kaoru’s relationship was, at the moment, known only to the two of them—but that didn’t make the sight of two jelly-bellied femmes gushing over her girlfriend any more palatable. All she’d wanted was one date—just one date —where she could have some sweet, quiet alone time with her girlfriend without having to worry about other people, and Kaoru of course had to invite some mutual friends along “to enrich the social atmosphere.” Why couldn’t things just go as she wanted for once?
Oh well. The eyes of the world were always on Chisato Shirasagi. Why should this be any different?
That said, she didn’t seem like the most anguished person at the table right now, considering Kaoru’s smirk was trembling like her legs every time she rose more than a meter off the ground. Chisato knew better than to mistake it for irritation or impatience—judging by the green hue spread across her face, it was pure queasiness. “Is something the matter, Kaoru?”
“Th-The matter?” Kaoru parroted, attempting to nonchalantly lean back against her seat rest and in the process revealing the full shiver of her body. “Why, matter is all around us, my dear… in multifaceted forms, solid, liquid, gas, and even plasma. Did you know that plasma was a state of matter, Chisato? I daresay you did not.”
Chisato did, actually. But before she could state as such, the waiter stopped by their table to take orders. “What’ll it be, everybody?”
“Um, I’ll have the strawberry shortcake and milk tea!” said Himari. “And give me two spoons!” she added with a wink.
“I… I’ll have the cheesecake set with matcha,” said Rimi. “I-I’d like two spoons as well!”
Kaoru chuckled weakly, turning to Chisato. “Y-You ask for drink? I hardly require such a thing when this fair princess quenches all of my thirst with her mere presence…”
“She’ll have water, thank you,” said Chisato, her smile not budging an inch.
“No tea or desert?” asked the waiter.
“Perhaps some antacid,” said Chisato lightly. “I’ll take some black tea myself.”
The waiter chuckled nervously before disappearing back behind the counter. Kaoru, against all odds, still maintained her cocksure expression. “Ah… as composed as ever, Chisato… tr-truly you are a princess fit for a prince…”
Chisato almost wanted to appreciate Kaoru’s efforts through such pronounced pain, but she didn’t want to encourage it even one iota. “Well then, ‘prince,’ do you know where your throne lies?”
“In… my castle…?” Kaoru guessed.
“Why yes, if the restroom is your kingdom, and a stall your fortress.” Chisato sighed. “Please relieve yourself before you make anything worse.”
Having received permission from her liege, Kaoru stood up and wobbled towards the bathroom. “Do not weep for my absence… I’ll be back before the fortnight passes…”
“I would certainly hope you don’t spend two weeks in there,” said Chisato with a wry giggle.
Kaoru said nothing more, her refined posture breaking two seconds before she ducked into the bathroom.
“Wh-What happened?” asked Rimi, who’d been watching the spectacle with a fretful gaze. “Is she going to be alright?”
“I think she’ll be just fine,” said Chisato, spotting an almost empty bag of sugar-free gummy bears sticking out of Kaoru’s bag. “I apologize for her theatrics, honestly…”
“Not at all!” said Himari. “We’re always happy to see Kaoru-senpai, you know!”
Chisato did know, in fact. At all the monthly bassist meetings these two had very clearly established themselves as the dual #1 Kaoru fans in the whole world. She’d seen the fancams, the photosets, the merchandise… it was all… a lot. Only fitting, considering Himari and Rimi were perhaps the two most loving people she knew. Well, besides Kaoru, at any rate...
“I-I hope she’s okay,” said Rimi. “How are you, Chisato-senpai?”
“I’m doing well enough,” said Chisato, still churning through her feelings. “A tad disappointed, but I’ll make do.”
“Disappointed that we’re here, you mean?” asked Himari.
Chisato blinked—she didn’t know Himari to be that perceptive. Well, she was still in the realm of plausible deniability… “I wasn’t talking about that.”
“Please, it’s okay, we understand,” said Himari, nodding reassuringly. “To be honest, I wasn’t sure whether or not to come when Kaoru-senpai invited us… but we can’t pass up an opportunity to see her, can we? Besides, I love hanging out with Rimi, too!”
“Y-Yeah,” Rimi agreed, flushed. “We haven’t been to a cafe in a long time, so…”
Chisato felt the modicum of irritation evaporate from her bones. Himari and Rimi were sweethearts at their core; there wouldn’t be any value in having hard feelings about this. “I suppose we can catch up, can’t we?”
“For sure!” said Himari. “Besides, I’ve always wanted to see Dairyshipping in per—” She clamped a hand over her mouth right after she said it.
“H-Himari-chan!” cried Rimi, shushing a finger over her lips. “You weren’t supposed to mention that!”
“…Mention what?” asked Chisato, already fearing the answer. “Is it something to do with milk?”
“N-Nothing!” said Himari, her fingers anxiously drumming against the table. “Nothing at all!”
Chisato gave them both her best stare.
“Okay I’ll spill it!” Himari yelped after not even two seconds. “Dairyshipping is like… y’know… y-you and Kaoru.”
“Me and…?” Chisato trailed off. “Wait, are you referring to—”
“W-We didn’t come up with it, we swear!” Rimi stammered. “Th-The content vortex just kind of swallowed us whole and, and…”
“Y-You two just look cute together!” Himari professed, unable to hide the sweat from her brow. “Th-That’s all! We support your relationship!”
Chisato retracted, taken aback by the accusation. Had they been so obvious as to the true nature of their love? Well, okay, Kaoru had. Even so… “I don’t know what you two think, but we’re not dating.”
“O-Of course not!” Himari said defensively. “We’re just saying that if you were you’d be super adorbs! Y’know? Y’know.”
Rimi nodded vigorously, unable to speak.
“…Right,” said Chisato, exhaling some of the tension in her blood. “I would appreciate it if you kept such sentiments to yourself from now on, if that’s alright.” She had enough complicated feelings about her love for Kaoru as it was—she certainly didn’t need any more.
“Y… Yeah. Sorry.” Himari rubbed her head sheepishly. “I know that kind of thing’s a bit invasive.”
“W-We didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable,” said Rimi, head buried in her hands.
“It’s fine,” said Chisato, putting her smile back on. “It’s not as if you’ve made some sort of fan content for it or anything, after all.”
Silence gripped the air. The waiter stopped by with the orders, but even after the cake and tea had been laid out (alongside a bottle of pepto-bismol) the two across the table remained deathly quiet.
“You… haven’t, yes?”
Himari and Rimi seemed very interested in the shape of the floor.
“…I see.” Chisato gripped her saucer in one hand and her mug in the other, crossing her legs as she sipped. “This... certainly is something, isn’t it?”
“I-It was just one or two doujins,” Rimi murmured.
“Rimi, I think we should come clean,” Himari said with a gulp. “Nothing good’s gonna come of playing coy now.”
The resolute fire in Himari’s eyes turned straight ahead. “Chisato-san.”
Part of Chisato knew that she wasn’t going to like whatever Himari was planning to offer her, but at the same time she knew the curiosity gnawing at her brain wouldn’t let her turn away. “Very well. Explain yourself.”
Himari and Rimi gave each other a look before Himari pulled out her phone. After swiping and sliding her way through unseen screens, she put it face up on the table and slid it towards Chisato, masking her eyes the whole way. “Go on. Look.”
Placing her tea down, Chisato grabbed the phone in front of her to see… a single page of manga.
A meek, feminine Kaoru walked surrounded by flowers and shoujo sparkles, her long eyelashes fluttering in the breeze. “Ah… it’s such a fleeting afternoon…” she said, her intricately drawn irises gleaming. “I so dearly wish that…”
A hand slammed into the wall as Kaoru winced. “Ohoho… hello, my dear Kao-chan.”
“Ch-Chii-chan!” heaved Kaoru, staring down an extremely sharp-eyed, cleft-chinned, and wide-shouldered Chisato while blushing furiously. “I-I didn’t expect you to be here so soon…!”
“You’ve been a naughty girl, Kao-chan,” said Chisato, stroking Kaoru’s chin before picking her up in a perfect princess-carry. “I’ve got to teach you a lesson.”
“Ch-Chii-chan…” Kaoru breathed, eyes sparkling. “I love you.”
Smiling, Chisato piledrived Kaoru into the dirt.
Chisato stared at the phone screen for at least five minutes.
By the time she was finally able to tear her eyes away from the spectacle, she witnessed Himari and Rimi kowtowing to the point where their heads were practically buried in the cafe floor.
“I am so, so sorry,” said Himari, nearly silent.
“W-W-We’ll never do it again,” Rimi whispered.
Chisato wanted to open her mouth and… do something with it. Scream? Probably scream. Or maybe just cry a little. Either way, she didn’t have the words for forgiveness right now. Part of her wished Kaoru would just come back from the bathroom just to make the air less awkward for once. In the end, all she had was a question. “Do I… truly come across as this abrasive towards her?”
Excuses flew out. “N-No way!” “It just heightens the romantic tension, you know?” “You’re so kind and gentle in real life!” “It just… you doing that to Kaoru-senpai is kinda hot, not gonna lie.” “Y-Yeah, it’s really good content.” “REALLY good.”
Chisato was at a loss. “Do you… like the idea of me being mean to her…?”
“Aw no way!” “Not at all!” “…Maybe a little.” “J-Just a tiny bit.” “I like to imagine it only in this context.” “N-Nowhere else.” “...But I have imagined you dunking her into a trash can before.” “S-S-Several times.”
Chisato just fell back in her seat. Was this how she came across to people…?
“L, Look,” said Himari, trembling as she lifted her head up. “I, I wrote the comic, okay? Rimi just drew it! Really well, I might add! She’s not to blame!”
“Th-That’s not true!” Rimi interjected, just as spirited. “I-I came up with the concept! And the last panel!”
“But I storyboarded it!”
“I could’ve stopped you at any time!”
“Listen, you two,” said Chisato very quietly. “I don’t care who—”
“Please, Chisato-san!” said Himari, rising dramatically to her feet. “Rimi’s so hardworking and kind and talented! Not to mention pretty! If you have to murder one of us, murder me!”
“D-Don’t do that, Chisato-senpai!” said Rimi, standing to match her. “Himari’s full of passion and care and determination! A-Also she’s much prettier than me! Don’t hurt her!”
“Yeah, right!” Himari replied before Chisato could get a word in. “Look at you with that dark bob and that button nose and those deep-set red eyes I keep getting lost in! You’re gorgeous!”
“B-But you’re so adorable!” Rimi mewled. “Your cheeks are so cute I keep wanting to pinch them, and your arms are good for hugging, and every time you say ‘Hey Hey Hoh’ I feel way so much happier about my day…”
“Yeah, well, you actually say ‘Hey Hey Hoh’ with me!” said Himari. “I don’t know anybody as loyal and generous! Not even Tsuguis as angelic as you!”
Rimi gasped. “Do… do you mean that?”
Himari only now seemed to realize the words out of her mouth, her cheeks turning as flushed as her hair. “M-Mayb—no. I mean, yes. Y-Y-Yes I do.”
A soft squeal like a dying squirrel’s escaped Rimi’s throat.
Chisato recognized the way they were looking at each other—it was the same energy found in flannel, sleeve tattoos, and Subaru SUVs. Recognizing the direction this was heading in, she heaved a knowing sigh. “Are you two finished?”
Himari and Rimi both gargled unintelligibly.
“Right. Well…” Chisato cleared her throat. “If you wish to… ‘apologize’ for what you’ve done, then you can go to the outside tables and have a private chat with yourselves about... your feelings. Is that fair recompense?”
The two muttered a barely audible “Yes, ma’am.”
“Good.” Chisato smiled, waving them off. “Have fun with each other, now.”
Himari and Rimi shuffled outside with their food, awkwardly avoiding eye contact until they took seats on the patio. Through the window, Chisato watched as their unease gradually turned to eating and conversation, their apprehensive frowns giving way to gregarious smiles.
Applause rang out from behind her head.
“Brava, brava… a cupid if there ever was one.”
Chisato rolled her eyes as she turned to face her beloved. “Don’t tell me this was what you intended to happen.”
“Who can say…?” said Kaoru, striking a most gallant pose as she sat besides Chisato and began downing the pepto-bismol like it was mythological nectar. “Such idle notions are so fleeting…”
Chisato wasn’t sure whether she wanted to slap or kiss her for that—although the notion of the former gave her pause. “Hey… Kao-chan?”
The sound of her nickname sharpened Kaoru’s attention. “What is it?”
“Well, er…” Chisato struggled to look her way. “I haven’t been too brusque or cruel to you, have I?”
Kaoru dramatically clasped her hands to her chest. “Why…! Perish the thought! I’ve never known a gentler creature on Michelle’s green earth than thee.”
Chisato giggled. “That’s a bald-faced lie, even by your standards.”
“Oh? Where’s your proof?”
Chisato reached over and prodded Kaoru in the cheek. “You know Kanon.”
“Ah.” Kaoru smirked. “I suppose her gentleness might even exceed your own. Misaki is a lucky one.”
“Perhaps.” Memories of all the times Kanon teased Chisato over her crush on Kaoru filtered through her mind. “I must say even she has a darker side.”
“Lo, we are all Janus, filled with personae and shadow alike…”
“Quiet down and kiss me already, you dork.”
Kaoru’s eyes went wide. “I-In public?”
Chisato grinned. “Good point. Perhaps we should go to your kingdom.”
Kaoru nodded. “A capital idea—I have reason yet to return to my porcelain throne.”
“I certainly hope you’re not implying what I think you are…”
Kaoru laughed and said nothing.
Finishing the last of her tea, Chisato rose to go to the bathroom, turning to look one last time at Himari and Rimi chatting outside. In the midst of a particularly bubbly sentence, Rimi reached out and grabbed Himari’s hand, sending her white-faced and reeling. Each of their four spoons was dirty, a telltale sign of shared sweets. Chisato felt her soul lighten at the sight. “I suppose young love is a beautiful thing to witness after all.”
“But of course,” said Kaoru, standing up to join her. “I knew that were they to accompany us together, their feelings would naturally blossom forth. Just as planned.”
“Mmhmm.” Chisato didn’t believe that for a second. With Kaoru Seta, nothing ever went according to plan.
But maybe that’s just what she loved about her.