A jolt of electricity travels Jurina's body as the sharp noise wakes her up, extracting her effectively from her slumber. Her hand clumsily goes to push the button on the alarm clock, preventing it from releasing any more unpleasant sound. The bedroom immediately plunges into a peaceful silence again and Jurina exhales deeply in frustration. Despite knowing full well what time it is she stubbornly refuses to open her eyes, appreciating the comfort of her bed a few more minutes. When she knows she can't drag the inevitable any longer she gets out of bed and sits on the side, staring annoyingly at the rounded object that disturbed her sleep.
She knows she shouldn't get mad at it. It's not its fault if she's in an unusual bad mood. The alarm clock only did its job and woke her up at 6.30 AM, as usual during a working day. It always takes her a little time to wake up, but her large yawn clearly indicates it's going to be a bit more tough today. She wishes she could go back to sleep for a bit, but knows it's unfortunately not an option. Finally standing up her feet move forward on the blue carpet, first leading her to the bathroom, before directing her to her dresser. Her fingers rummage through the drawer in search of her favorite dark blue tracksuit, pulling it off when they finally find it. A few seconds later Jurina is fully clad in it and she moves to the door, grabbing her Ipod on her way.
The hallway is still dark and quiet when she steps outside and moves to the entrance, putting her matching dark blue sneakers on, before opening the front door. As she closes it behind her a cold wind welcomes her, and she shivers as the unpleasant sensation hits her with full force. Taking a curious look around she observes a few bystanders walking down the streets, heading to work judging by their black suits. When she finally adjusts to the fresh air she descends the steps, opening the gate a few seconds later and stepping on the street. Her left hand moves to her pocket and she retreats her Ipod, switching the device on and placing her earpieces in her ears. The music of River immediately resonates and she puts the music player back in place, her feet immediately moving forward as she starts her morning jog.
It has become a routine for two years now, one that she would miss for nothing in the world. At first, she only did it a few days a week, mostly to stay fit. Then, when she realized it also helped her clear her head, it became a daily habit. Unfortunately today, the activity doesn't seem to have the peaceful effect it should have. As Jurina makes her way around the corner of her street her heart is already beating fast, but not because of the physical exercise.
She had set her music player on that particular song in hope that the lyrics would help her get rid of her current apprehension, but it was failing to do the work. Despite how much she tried to focus on the song, she couldn't get her mind off a certain girl. To be honest, she hasn't been sleeping very well last night, and couldn't stop tossing and turning in her bed at the thought of her reunion with Rena. The last time she saw her it was a week ago, after the Tokyo Dome concert. Despite how busy Jurina was these last few days with SKE's activities, time still seemed excruciatingly long.
The first days, she couldn't wait to be reunited with Rena again, and had cursed more than once her rushed departure. However, as the days went by and the date of their reunion was approaching, she started to dread it more than anything, fear taking hold of her. What if Rena realized during their time apart that she had made a mistake and decided to take back everything she said?
Mae he! Mae he! the lyrics scream at her, but her steps have never been so unsteady. She wants to keep faith, but Rena's words at the hospital have left a deep mark on her heart. As she suddenly recalls Rena's confession she pushes her negativity aside, her eyes lightening up in hope. She wants to believe in those words the older girl uttered. Rena would never say such a thing if she didn't mean it, right?
Twenty minutes later, she's back at the front door of her house again, and she makes her way to her bathroom to get rid of all the sweat. As she turns the water of her shower on she jumps at the cold sensation on her skin, before progressively getting accustomed to it. Maybe that's what she needed right now anyway. A cold shower to get rid of her worries.
When she steps in the kitchen her mother welcomes her with a smile, which she reciprocates, before taking a seat at the table. She thanks her when her breakfast is being placed in front of her, before absently taking grains of rice with her chopsticks. The food somehow tastes a bit differently this morning, and she knows it has something to do with the knot in her stomach and the girl that's still on her mind.
Realizing all the usual tricks didn't work this morning she stops trying to fight this annoying apprehension, knowing it will only go away once she's talked to the older girl. Now, all she has to do is to be patient. As her mother leaves the kitchen to let her eat in peace the room is quiet again, except for the sound of the ticking clock. Jurina takes a curious peek at it, noticing she still has one more hour to wait. It shouldn't be so hard, but unfortunately, patience has never been her strongest point.
A few girls of the SKE group are currently getting changed in the dressing room, getting ready for the recording of the television show. Churi, while getting dressed, watches out of the corner of her eye Jurina who has been very quiet since her arrival ten minutes ago. Her silence contrasts with all the chatting she can hear around her, and she really wonders what's happening to her friend.
Actually, it's not the first time she's been behaving this way. She has been unusually distant with everyone these last days, even staying away from her favorite target, Ryoha. While the sixteen year old girl was probably enjoying the respite, Churi was getting more and more worried. She had questioned Jurina a few times, but she had each time assured she was fine.
Her awkward behavior has today taken a new level, and Churi raises a surprised eyebrow at the view of the girl who's now sitting down in a chair, and checking the time on her phone every two minutes, a small sigh occasionally leaving her lips. Now that she's fully clad in her uniform, Churi turns to fully look at her and she takes a step forward, having had enough of her friend's strange attitude.
"What's happening with you?"
Jurina, lost in her thoughts, jumps at the sharp voice behind her back, before seeing a confused Churi staring at her.
"What do you mean?"
"You haven't stopped looking at your phone for ten minutes."
Just at the mention of her Smartphone Jurina takes a quick peek at it - checking the time again - before pushing it aside. She knows her behavior doesn't make any sense, and she mentally curses her friend for her keen eyes, not knowing what to answer to her question. She half hopes Churi will drop the subject, but as she looks up and notices her intense stare, she knows this is not about to happen. If there's one thing she discovered recently about the older girl, it's that she can be pretty stubborn when she wants to.
"Rena is coming back today. She's doing the performance with us."
Churi's concern immediately fades at the explanation. For a minute, she was really expecting the worse. Her mouth tugs into a smile and she leans her back against the wall behind her, crossing her arms over her chest.
"Oh, right. The girl of your dreams."
Jurina's eyes widen at her emphasis on the last word, before muttering under her breath when she notices her friend's amusement. When they departed the hotel in Tokyo a week ago, Churi had peppered her with questions in the taxi, and she may have mentioned the 'dream' incident to her. Obviously, she should have left that part out.
"I should never have told you that. I have the feeling I'm never going to hear the end of it."
Churi chuckles, noticing how her friend is now averting her eyes in discomfort.
"You have to admit the pattern is really comical."
A small groan leaves Jurina's lips and she buries her head in her hands, Churi's laughing intensifying at her action. Now, she's sure of it. She should never have relented to Churi's prying that day in Tokyo.
The laughing suddenly fades and Jurina takes a curious peek at her friend between her fingers. Churi's attention is not on her anymore and Jurina tilts her head to her right, wondering what suddenly distracted the girl. Her breathing hitches as she watches Rena who just arrived and who's taking her coat off.
The older Matsui hasn't noticed her presence yet and Jurina takes this opportunity to carefully look at her, her heart instantly fluttering as Rena's mouth suddenly tugs into a smile as she responds to what Airi is telling her. Jurina is too far away to hear anything they're saying but right now, it doesn't really matter. That shy expression is something Jurina never gets tired of seeing.
In her eyes, Rena truly is a beautiful girl: from her long black shiny hair to her small piercing brown eyes, she almost looks like a character from one of those fairytales. One thing is for sure: she really deserves her 'Nagoya princess' title. However, despite all her attractive features, it's that special smile of hers that never fails to hypnotize Jurina every time she witnesses it on her lips. Her admiration for Rena had started the first day she joined the group and, according to the sound of her beating heart, it was not about to stop anytime soon.
A light tap on her shoulder distracts the younger girl's attention and she tilts her gaze to Churi who's motioning the older Matsui with her head.
"Why don't you go and talk to her?"
Jurina looks back at Rena, noticing how she's engrossed in a conversation with Airi, before shaking her head.
"Maybe later. She's busy."
Churi raises a surprised eyebrow, not expecting that kind of answer from her. She remembers vividly the times when a young Jurina would cling to Rena at every given opportunity, disregarding each time the girl's protests. She understood why Jurina had stopped her behavior these last few months as she was trying to distance herself from the girl she had strong feelings for, but this reason was not valid anymore. Rena had confessed her feelings for her, so why was she acting like that?
Churi watches Jurina's curious behavior a few more seconds, before lifting her gaze to Rena and locking eyes with her. A small smile grazes the older Matsui's lips and Churi responds to it, not missing how Rena's eyes then fall expectantly on Jurina, whose attention is now on her suddenly very interesting phone. Churi tries to decipher her young friend's behavior - failing to understand it for a while - until it finally hits her.
Jurina's fingers stop on the screen at the girl's declaration, before taking a tentative look at her. The way her features start to contort in embarrassment is the only confirmation Churi needed to know she hit the bull's eye.
"You really can't do anything without me, can you?"
Jurina frowns at Churi's words and curiously follows her movements, until she freezes when she understands she's going to speak to Airi and Rena. Right now, she would give anything to know what she's so cheerfully talking about with them, as her eavesdropping unfortunately doesn't work at such a distance.
Jurina notices that Airi and Churi suddenly leave the room together, Rena's attention immediately back on her as she approaches her.
"Good morning, Jurina."
Both girls share a smile before Rena turns to the coat-hanger and grabs her outfit, her eyes wandering around the room and noticing that all the other girls are already clad in their uniforms. She knows she's awfully late. She didn't hear her alarm-clock ringing the first time - trapped in an unusual deep slumber - and had awoke in a hurry at the sound of the second warning.
Getting her attention back on the task at hand she swiftly undresses - putting her outfit once she's in her underwear - before tilting her head in curiosity to Jurina who hasn't said a word since her arrival. In fact, she's starting to wonder if she's not avoiding her. Indeed, her eyes are set on anything but her, and she can't help but notice the way she's playing nervously with her phone.
A staff member suddenly enters the room and warns them the show will start in ten minutes and the room progressively empties, leaving a silent Jurina alone with Rena. The older Matsui who's busy doing last adjustments to her blue outfit tilts her attention to the younger girl when she's done, wondering where her unusual quietness is coming from.
Rena approaches her fingers to Jurina's cheek in an attempted caress, only to see her flinching at the gesture. She immediately retreats her hand, her eyes widening in surprise.
"Is everything alright?"
Jurina raises her eyes as she hears the worry in the older girl's voice, mentally cursing her own behavior. She hasn't stopped apprehending their reunion all morning, and it was starting to show.
"What is it?"
Jurina follows Rena's movements who's now sitting in the chair in front of her, not missing the hand that tentatively makes its way to rest on hers.
"Do you regret what happened?"
Jurina looks up in surprise, seeing her own apprehension reflected in the older girl's eyes. When she arrived this morning at the television studio she hoped talking to Rena would help ease her mind, but she had only succeeded in worrying her. Well done, Jurina.
"Of course not."
Jurina lightly squeezes Rena's hand, hoping to convey as much as comfort as possible, and mentally sighs in relief when Rena's features start to relax.
"Then why are you acting this way?"
"You have to understand. For months I believed you would never return my feelings. There was nothing I was more sure of. Your confession took me by complete surprise. I still have a hard time accepting it really happened."
Rena nods, relief washing over her as she finally gets an answer to Jurina's awkward behavior.
"You wouldn't be feeling this way if you had told me sooner how you felt."
"Would you have returned my feelings if I had confessed at the hospital?"
Jurina's question takes Rena by surprise and she momentarily averts her eyes, truly thinking about it. Would she have been able to answer positively to her confession at the time? Probably not. It would have been too soon.
Looking back at the young girl she notices the expectancy in her eyes, and she knows she's facing a dilemma. On one hand, she knows she can't lie. There have been too many secrets between them lately, and if there's one thing she hates above all, it's lying. On the other hand, she knows she can't be completely honest. The truth would do nothing good but hurt Jurina, especially when she's currently in such a fragile state of mind.
"I don't know."
Rena watches as a faint smile grazes Jurina's lips. Did she see through her half lie? Maybe, but if that's the case, she decides not to say anything.
"See... That's precisely why I didn't tell you."
Rena immediately hates the melancholy she witnesses in Jurina's eyes. She knows she's thinking about that day again, and she would give anything to erase that painful memory from her mind.
"It's all behind us now. Let's not think about it anymore."
Jurina nods in agreement and Rena raises her hand, her thumb lightly caressing Jurina's cheek in a comforting gesture. This time Jurina doesn't try to move away and Rena smiles, glad to see the light back in her eyes. Retracting her hand she gets up from her chair, and a quick look at the clock on the wall tells her they barely have five minutes until the beginning of the show. Noticing Rena's attention on the time Jurina gets up as well, adjusting her outfit a last time to get ready for the musical performance.
"Do you trust me?"
Jurina frowns at the odd question, wondering why Rena is asking her such a thing. Of course she does. She would put her life in her hands without a second of hesitation. Realizing the older girl is still waiting expectantly for a reply she quickly nods, a genuine smile moving to her lips.
"Then don't be afraid. My feelings for you are real."
Jurina's heart starts hammering in her chest, watching as Rena moves forward to wrap her arms around her neck, her head going to rest on her shoulder. Despite the fact it's not the first time Rena makes such a declaration Jurina's breathing hitches, somehow still not accustomed to hearing those words.
A soft knock distracts their attention and Jurina tilts her gaze to the door, listening to Churi's voice who's warning them the show is about to start. Disentangling herself from Rena she starts to take a step back when the grip around her neck suddenly tightens, preventing her from moving any further.
"Wait. I want to hug you a little longer."
Jurina's eyes widen, not expecting such words from the girl. If there's one thing Rena and Mayu have in common, it's their punctuality. They are never late, and would hate being the reason of any delay. Jurina's heart flutters, knowing full well Rena is trying to definitely put her apprehension aside. Jurina silently nods at her request, wrapping her arms around the older girl's waist anew. As Rena's fingers move to caress the back of her head Jurina shuts her eyes, tightening the embrace and relishing the tender and comforting gesture.
Jurina watches the shop from outside, noticing the five people who are queuing at the checkout. Apparently, this bakery is really as popular as her best friend promised.
"This is the one?" Jurina asks, frowning at the French name on the front window, before turning around to Mayu who's moving forward to open the door.
"Yes. Allegresse is the best bakery in Tokyo."
Jurina nods, following skeptically the girl who's entering the place. It's her last day in Tokyo - having work to do with AKB for a few days - and she wants to use her last hours in the city to go and buy chocolates. She could have bought them in Nagoya, but as soon as she informed her friend of her plans to buy chocolates for Valentine's Day, Mayu had immediately mentioned that great place she knew in Shibuya.
Jurina frowns when she steps in the bakery and takes a look at all the choices. Judging by all the different types of chocolates, Valentine's Day sure is an important event. Too bad she has no idea what to buy.
"What are you going to buy?" Jurina asks, tilting her head curiously to her friend who's eying different types of chocolates.
"These," Mayu answers, pointing at rectangular brown chocolates, "the strawberry flavored ones."
"That's right," Jurina nods, suddenly remembering Yuki's cheerful reaction when the members were offered a while ago chocolates after the shooting of an advert, "Yuki loves them."
"What are you going to buy Rena?" Mayu asks, her attention fully on Jurina now that her choice has been made.
"I have no idea," Jurina shrugs, staring despondent at all the choices.
"Then don't buy her anything," Mayu says casually, taking a step forward towards the checkout when the customer at the front leaves the shop.
"Are you saying I should not buy chocolates on Valentine's Day?" Jurina gasps in disbelief. Why would Mayu suggest such a thing when she's herself buying chocolates for Yuki?
"Sure, go ahead and don't buy her anything," Mayu chuckles, shaking her head in amusement, "It would be the shortest romantic relationship ever."
"Mayu," Jurina growls, understanding she's been played. She really should stop believing every word her best friend says. Diverting her attention from the annoyingly amused girl to the chocolates again her eyes suddenly spot black rounded ones, and her face lightens up as she reads the inscription below.
"Those," she motions to them, her mouth tugging into a broad smile as she finally has found what she was looking for.
Mayu squints her eyes as she deciphers the description, her features contorting in surprise as she finishes reading it, "Wasabi chocolates? Really?"
"Yes," Jurina nods, amused when her friend makes a sudden sound of disgust, "she loves them."
"Well," Mayu says, frowning at this new piece of information, "Rena always had strange tastes."
Jurina chuckles at Mayu's affirmation, admitting that she's not completely wrong. Rena is pretty famous for loving spicy food, after all.
It took Jurina completely by surprise when Rena had, after the shooting of a television show, asked her if she wanted to come to her place on Friday evening. She knows that the older Matsui doesn't invite a lot of people at her apartment - in fact, she's pretty sure Airi is the only one who ever had such an opportunity - and it took her a few seconds to register what she had just suggested, before replying positively to the proposition.
Now, five days later, she can't help but feel a bit privileged standing right in the middle of Rena's living room. Her eyes scan the place with a barely contained excitation, while waiting for the older girl to finish cleaning the kitchen table. As soon as they arrived at Rena's apartment they immediately ate dinner, and Jurina barely had time to have a look around. As expected, the place is really neat and tidy. She would really have to look closely to find any trace of dust. Her feet lead her to the shelf filled with books standing at the right of the television. She raises a curious eyebrow as she spots an unusual section at the far left end of the shelf, contrasting with the vast quantity of cooking books. As she approaches her mouth immediately tugs into an amused smile, witnessing the display of Rena's passion: mangas, DVDs... everything of course carefully lined up.
As she suddenly hears footsteps approaching she turns around to gaze at Rena, who immediately smiles when she discovers what she's looking at.
"I see you've found my secret place."
Jurina returns the smile, before taking a few steps towards her bag that's resting on a chair, and taking out a small rectangular box a second later. Rena raises a curious eyebrow as the young girl approaches her and stretches her hand to give it to her.
"Here, it's for you."
Rena looks back at her in surprise, before taking the offered item and sitting on the sofa. Her fingers carefully unwrap the box, her eyes widening at the view of the chocolates.
"You bought me chocolates? That's really nice of you. What's the occasion?"
Jurina who just took a seat near the girl immediately frowns. She averts her eyes from the box to stare at Rena, wondering if she's really asking such a thing.
"You really don't know?" Jurina asks, only seeing the older girl shaking her head in confusion, "it's Valentine's Day."
Jurina can almost see the gears turning in Rena's head as her features progressively contort in realization.
"I thought that's why you invited me at your apartment," Jurina continues.
"No, I completely forgot about that," Rena answers, "To be honest, I've never really cared about Valentine's Day."
"Oh," Jurina murmurs.
"Is it important to you?" Rena asks gently, not missing the way Jurina is now averting her eyes.
"Not really," Jurina answers truthfully, "but I was afraid you would get mad at me if I didn't do anything."
"Mad at you?" Rena giggles, shaking her head in amusement, "I've never paid attention to it because I don't believe people need a special date to remind them of how they feel. When you have feelings for someone, you should show it on a daily basis, don't you think?"
Jurina nods, still feeling a bit embarrassed, before seeing Rena leaning over to kiss her.
"Thank you, Jurina. It's a nice gesture."
Jurina's mouth tugs into a shy expression as Rena leans back from the kiss - her hand squeezing Jurina's reassuringly in the process - before diverting her attention to the box and taking one chocolate out, a smile moving to her lips as it touches her tongue.
Jurina looks back at Rena in surprise. Since when are wasabi chocolates 'sweet'?
"Yes, have one."
Jurina eyes suspiciously the box Rena is lightly pushing towards her. She does not trust her palate one bit. The last time she ate pasta that was not spicy according to Rena's words, she had to drink a whole glass of water afterwards to get rid of the unpleasant taste on her tongue. Now, her experience has taught her to always stay cautious when it comes to food with Rena.
Diverting her attention from the box to look at the older girl she notices her innocent look mixed with surprise. Jurina doesn't really want to take another risk, but a sudden rush of courage flows her body as she stares again at the golden box full of chocolates. They really look delicious on the outside, but she knows this is just an illusion. It's the stuffing she fears the most. Her left hand hesitantly moves on the table to take one chocolate from the box. She swallows a lump as she observes the brown chocolate between her fingers before diverting her attention to her glass of water, ready to ease her burning throat the second she would fill the spicy sensation.
In half determination she approaches the chocolate to her lips, already fearing what's about to happen. Her features contort in apprehension as it makes contact with her tongue, until her eyes widen in surprise. It's strawberry flavored. Her fingers make their way again to the box as she takes another chocolate, her mouth dropping as she still can't feel the unpleasant wasabi taste. Rena is right. These chocolates are not spicy at all. What's going on? Is she going crazy? Didn't she buy the wasabi chocolates at the shop?
Jurina looks back at Rena, immediately noticing her questioning eyes. She knows her surprise must be written all over her face, but she has to find an explanation for that unexpected turn of events. She kind of wants to take another chocolate from the box to make sure she's not dreaming, but knows it would not change a thing. She doesn't know how it happened but somehow, she ended up with the wrong box. Wait. If she has the strawberry flavored ones, then it means...
Her features start to decompose as she realizes what happened and she abruptly gets up: Mayu got the chocolates that were supposed to be for Rena. She swiftly makes her way to her bag that's resting on the sofa - her fingers frenetically rummaging through it - before quickly pressing Mayu's phone number that's on speed dial. As she suddenly hears the girl responding on the other side, her voice immediately pitches up.
"Hi Mayu! I don't know what happened, but don't give the box to..."
Jurina grimaces as the shouting starts on the other side of the phone. Too late. She helplessly listens to her best friend's wrath - not even trying to justify herself as she knows it would be useless - before pulling away the phone when the screaming intensifies and she's being called all sorts of names. Mayu may be the sweetest person on earth, she's also very short-tempered. Her current anger is a clear reminder of that aspect of her personality, an aspect Jurina would have preferred to avoid witnessing tonight. She doesn't know how long it lasted, but she suddenly hears Yuki's distant voice, and the shouting finally stops. Whatever she said obviously worked as Mayu is now very quiet, and Jurina mentally thanks the older girl who somehow always knows how to instantly calm the AKB's star.
"It's okay, Jurina. Don't worry about it."
The younger Matsui exhales deeply in relief at Yuki's comforting words, not missing the faint muttering sound behind Yuki's voice. She knows Mayu must be grumbling behind her girlfriend's back, but she doesn't hear another word from her when Yuki hangs up.
"What happened?" Rena inquires when Jurina goes to sit back next to her on the sofa.
"Well," Jurina starts, averting the girl's eyes in embarrassment, "I went to a bakery with Mayu to buy chocolates and after that, we stayed a little while at a café. I guess our bags somehow got mixed up, and Mayu left with the wasabi flavored chocolates."
Jurina exhales deeply before staring at the golden box and grimacing as she starts to picture Yuki emptying a whole glass of water to get rid of the taste. Jurina hears a soft giggle next to her and she looks up, noticing the way Rena is trying to stifle her laughter.
Jurina's features contort in surprise at the girl's reaction, before soon joining her as Rena's laughing intensifies. Her thoughts then go to Mayu, imagining how embarrassed she must be feeling right now. She may not have many secrets when it comes to her best friend, that's definitely not a moment she's going to share with her. Definitely not.
Jurina places the pillow Rena just gave her on the sofa, before taking a seat, patiently waiting for the girl to return with a blanket.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm getting ready to go to bed," Jurina answers when an empty-handed Rena faces her anew.
"You want to sleep on the couch?" Rena asks in confusion.
"I didn't want to assume anything," Jurina replies, averting the older girl's intense look. She may be used to sleeping with Churi quite a lot, she knows Rena never shares a bed with anyone.
"I don't understand. We shared a bed after the Tokyo Dome concert, and a few times before that," Rena affirms.
"Yes, but that was different. You joined me when I had a nightmare, then when I was cold during New Year's Eve. And after the Tokyo Dome concert, you were weeping in my arms. I was just trying to comfort you," Jurina explains.
"You're right," Rena nods, now understanding the girl's hesitation. There has indeed always been a very good reason for them to share a bed before, either for warmth or for comfort. Her feet lead her to her room again as she goes to fetch an extra blanket, before moving to the living room again when she finds one.
"Thank you," Jurina says when Rena starts to give it to her, before noticing that the older girl's fingers are tightly gripping it.
"That's ridiculous," Rena murmurs, lifting her gaze from the white blanket to look at Jurina, "we don't need an excuse to sleep together. Not anymore."
Jurina's jaw drops at Rena's sudden affirmation, following her movements as she takes the blanket back and retreats to her bedroom. Despite hearing the girl loud and clear she doesn't move an inch, too stunned to do anything. A few seconds later light footsteps distract her from her musing and she looks up, witnessing a smiling Rena at the doorstep.
"Well, what are you waiting for?"