When Claudine jolted herself awake this morning, she was heaving hard, sweating bullets, her usual smooth and beautifully curled platinum blonde locks were in complete disarray. Her hand clutched over her chest as it balled into a tight fist on the fabric of her nightgown. She continued breathing so hard, her voice clipped with every inhale. Her other hand was over her eyes as she felt her vision begin to blur, before she realised it, tears covered her palm. She rolled over to the edge of her bed and pulled open the drawer of the bedside table. She rustled her hands around the drawer and took out a small white bottle, and with what little energy she had left, her hands shakily guided themselves through the usual routine of twisting open the bottle, rattling out two pills before it entered her mouth. She lay back down on her back, attempting to steady her breathing. Her forearm over her eyes as she reeled in from yet another painful episode. It was happening way too often recently, the others were going to catch on soon enough, she thought.
Not to mention, it hurts, a lot, and Claudine doesn’t know if she has the mental or emotional capacity to allow it to keep happening if her episodes were going to be of this calibre each time. With her forearm still over her eyes, her other hand reached for her cellphone that rested on the bedside table. She brought it over her eyes and squinted at the sudden bright light.
She still has thirty minutes before she has to start getting ready for school. Thirty minutes before she needs to put on her school uniform, pack her bag and greet the rest a bright good morning in the common area of their dorm. Thirty minutes before she needs to bring colour back to her face and not look like she had seen a ghost.
Thirty minutes before she had to regain her bearings so that Tendo Maya wouldn’t even catch on the slightest hint of what had happened to her thirty minutes before. She knew if it was any of the other eight of them, Maya would be the sure first to realise something was off with her. Claudine will not allow that, she can’t, not when one of the biggest shows of the year in Seishou is about to happen. Their last show together before they all go on their separate ways come next spring.
She can do it, she thought. She’ll be able to continue smiling with them all the way until graduation, it was the plan all along. She’d be able to spend the rest of the limited time together with her closest friends, create and perform one of, if not the best show of their careers to date of the eighteen years they’ve lived thus far. It was for the best, they do not need to know about this. She will not allow her condition to ruin this. Everyone’s working so hard for this show, they are all looking forward to it. She more than anyone else auditioned the hardest for the lead like her life depended on it and her efforts had come into fruition when Nana along with Amemiya announced last week that both she and Maya will be starring as the leads for their graduation show. That big and warm smile and silent ‘hooray’ glance that Maya cast at her from across their practice room, she wanted to protect this, this little ball of excitement that grew within Maya. Maya was looking forward to this more than anyone else. The reason why she pulled all stops for the audition was that she was determined to stand beside Maya one last time, one very last time in the Seishou theatre before…
… before saying goodbye.
The theatre that burned the spark of rivalry between the two bigger and brighter the first time they stood at the front of the stage, hand in hand bowing for their very first curtain call three years ago at the 99th Starlight Festival. Claudine won’t allow it. No, she can’t let everyone down. She can’t and won’t let Maya down.
Claudine gets up. She’s done mulling over the emotional future goodbyes that were going to happen whether she liked it or not. She’s going to seize the present and be there every step of the way until it was time to close this chapter. But, Claudine isn’t ready for this, and truth be told she doesn’t know if she ever will be.
First things first, she is going to gather herself and get ready for school.
“Good morning Saijou-san.”
Claudine whips her head towards the familiar voice as she closed her room door.
“ Bonjour Tendo Maya.”
She greets her with the usual amount of spunk and energy as with every day for the past three years. Maya catches up to her side, as they both continue walking down the hallway to convene with the rest of the group; a usual routine for the past three years.
“You’re early today.”
Maya comments. Claudine slightly swallows, trying to ease the odd nerves that for some reason is building up in her bones. No, she isn’t feeling guilty or anything, but she’s going to play it cool.
“Am I? I usually come out at this time.”
“That may be true, but I’m usually out five minutes before you are. I’m used to greeting you while I’m already seated on the couch.”
Claudine slightly freezes up at the explanation, Maya’s right. She tries to come up with something to rebut her as she always does.
“Is- that so… Well, I know you want to be first in everything Tendo Maya, but I can wake up at any time I want to can I?”
Claudine playfully huffs and folds her arms in fake annoyance. Fake . She never had to fake her feelings in front of her friends, and definitely not in front of Maya. The unpleasant feeling continues to boil in the depths of her veins.
“But of course Saijou-san, I was merely just stating my observations. In other news, I look forward to rehearsals with you Saijou-san, I hope you’re ready. I heard the scenes we’re going through today are going to be quite the challenge.”
Maya says as a matter of fact but flashes her usual trademark smirk, but the lines on her lips soften ever so slightly. Claudine looks away, feeling her face warm up. She feels Maya looking over at her longer than she would like.
“Saijou-san, do you happen to feel alright? Your face is a little pale.”
Maya’s tone softens as concerned eyes flood all over her partner. Claudine’s heart stops for a bit. She tightens her fists, giving herself a mental push to play it cool, to not let herself as slip to give Maya an opening into finding out the truth.
“I’m— fine. And oh please, don’t patronize me, you know exactly what I’m made of. If anything I’ll have you kept on your toes, just watch me, Tendo Maya.”
“I shall see that this energy is kept until the end of practice today?”
Claudine continues to playfully huff and puff while Maya giggles softly at the reaction. A daily exchange between them that always made both their mornings just a little more pumped. Their usual bickering ends when they smell the fragrant aroma coming from the dorm’s kitchen. Hearing their voices, Nana pops her head out of the kitchen and is the first to greet them, as per usual.
“Good morning you two! Just in time, the muffins are ready! They’re blueberry flavoured today.”
Maya of course beams like a child.
“I’m looking forward to having them, Daiba-san. They’re without a question probably delicious as always.”
Nana smiles brightly at the compliment first thing in the morning. Junna comes out of the kitchen while wearing mittens, carrying the hot tray of muffins before placing it on the countertop.
“Oh good morning Junna, didn’t know you were helping Nana this morning.”
"Morning Saijou-san, right on time for breakfast." Junna greets Claudine.
Claudine takes one of the hot piping muffins from the tray. She carefully peels back the paper wrapper, blowing on it before taking the first bite. Delicious as always she thought. Her heart swells with happiness noticing the eight other muffins laid on the baking tray. Nine muffins for the nine of them, she sports a faint smile at the sight. Maya grabs one and begins playing hot potatoes with the muffins that are obviously still very hot.
“Careful Tendo-san! They were literally fresh out of the oven!”
Junna warns her as she scrambles to help Maya put the muffin back down on the tray. Nana comes out of the kitchen, untying the apron that was over her school uniform. She laughs at the sight of Junna and Maya handling the hot muffin like it’s a ticking time bomb.
“Maya-chan must be really excited to have them. Don’t worry, there’s more than enough seconds for everyone!”
“Thank you so much Daiba-san.”
Maya expresses her gratitude after much help from Junna in putting the hot muffin back on the tray.
“I smell the muffins!”
Karen’s voice can be heard enveloping the entire hallway, her footsteps running towards the common area as her two other roommates follow behind her.
“Karen-chan! Don’t run in the hallways!”
Mahiru chides her as Hikari sticks to her side, her arm hooked onto Mahiru’s while still dazed in sleepiness. Futaba and Kaoruko soon follow with Kaoruko practically plastered to Futaba’s back. Futaba sighs as she drags the both of them to the common area before throwing Kaoruko on the couch, who is still somehow asleep from all that heavy manoeuvring. Futaba heads to the counter to greet the rest of their friends who are towering over the tray of freshly baked muffins.
Futaba greets Claudine with two muffins in her hands.
“Bonjour Futaba .Tough morning for you as usual.”
Claudine warmly greets and teases her friend as she watches Kaoruko sprawled on the couch beside her like a starfish. Futaba can only heave a deep sigh.
“Well as per usual amirite’?”
Futaba lightly chuckles as she places the muffin under Kaoruko’s nose. The fragrance of the muffin has Kaoruko’s eyes wide opened within seconds.
Kaoruko mumbles in her sleepy daze, grabbing the muffin from Futaba’s hand.
“Alright, alright sit up properly and eat. I’m not going to deal with you later on if you get a stomachache from eating lying down.”
Futaba turns to Nana and expresses her surprise. “Nana you were right, she really did wake up from the scent. I don’t know how she couldn’t smell it from literally ten meters away.”
A burst of collective laughter ensues in the common room on this fine Tuesday morning. All seemed right today. Seemed . Claudine watches on from the end of the couch, silently wondering how much longer can she enjoy such mornings like these. Her eyes soften at the sight of her friends’ smiles, at her smile. Maya…
Then it was as though the Gods had heard her thoughts, a sharp searing pain strikes her chest again.
“No… not now!”
She does her best to tough it out. She really tries and as quickly as it came, the pain dissipates into nothingness once again. She inhales a deep silent breath and hopes that no one caught on her little lapse, and it indeed seems like no one did. Everyone is still laughing and enjoying their muffins. However, Claudine again underestimates the observational skills she wishes her partner didn’t have, at least when it comes to her.
Maya saw the whole little lapse happen right before her eyes.