“ .. Kaoruko?”
“.. I love you.”
Her chest rises slowly and falls with a deep sigh. Not one of exasperation- no, something far more complicated than that. An inhale of acceptance and and an exhale of resignation. It was a warm sigh. One that brought all of Kaoruko’s nerves to the forefront of her mind, then slowly trickled them out on her breath.
That wasn’t to say the all-enveloping feeling of loneliness was gone for good. No, it would continue to scrape at her core and hollow her inside out, ever so slowly. It wasn’t as if she was suddenly completely convinced that she hadn’t been totally abandoned, or would eventually be so. But .. those few words, that single sentence that she had heard uttered so many times before, spoken in a soft voice that had murmured comforts and sweet nothings into her ear on her worst nights that felt like a warm blanket being wrapped tightly around her..
It was almost pathetic how a couple words- words she’d heard a million times over- appeased her enough to where she felt like Futaba had come over and deadlifted the worries straight off of Kaoruko’s tired shoulders.
She exhaled a chuckle out of her nose at the thought. It was a very Futaba-esque way to handle a problem.
It was simply .. unfair, the power Futaba had over her. How sweet and caring she was. How she always knew exactly what to do and say to make Kaoruko feel better and never hesitated to do it. Looking into Futaba’s eyes- two deep pools of violet that carried so much warmth and fondness, Kaoruko felt that if she were standing right now her knees would simply give out from under her.
She wanted to do nothing more in that moment than to reach out and tousle Futaba’s hair- fluffy and loose coils in the front and prickly bristles at the back on the nape of her neck. She wanted to pull Futaba in close up against her heart and hold her tight, she wanted to envelop her in the warmth she deserved and wanted to feel that warmth in turn.
She wanted to reach out her own soft, unmarred hand and lace her fingers with Futaba’s calloused ones and she wanted to hold on and never let go.
And yet, as she slid her slender hand up to place it where Futaba’s usually would be, she only felt the bright white sheets underneath her palm, chilled by the cold air that came from the AC above, giving off a droning and accordant hum.
Kaoruko gripped the bedsheets tightly and twisted them like she felt the cold hand of isolation grab at and twist her heart. She curled up and her muscles tensed so hard she started to shake. Or, perhaps that was the quivering of sobs beginning to choke their way out alongside a singular tear that streaked down her cheek as she shut her eyes tight.
It wasn’t fair that her sweet, gentle, doting Futaba-han wasn’t there with her, in her arms.
And yet, as the previous words spoken echoed in her mind, she felt the soothing aura of her love coax the pain out of her rigid muscles. She let out a softer, quieter sigh, and opened her eyes just as quickly as she had shut them. Again, she was met by the ever concerned gaze of Futaba, staring at her through the screen of her phone. She could see her jaw was slightly open, as if she was about to comment on Kaoruko’s slight breakdown, but was cut off by a soft and quiet chuckle from the latter herself.
Was it going to be easy for either of them to live apart, after creating their own lives to be so closely intertwined since they were children? No. Obviously not. Kaoruko knew, (or at least she selfishly hoped so) that it wasn’t going to be any easier for Futaba than it would be for her. Kaoruko could hardly imagine a time she was ever alone, much less without Futaba. But even Kaoruko, stubborn as a mule as she could be (Futaba’s words, not hers!) could recognize that perhaps this was the best for the both of them.
After all, the caged bird that longs for the blue sky needed time to see what it was like in the real world before it could truly return to the nest.
(She had told Futaba this herself, yet somehow she foolishly did not see the wisdom in her metaphor and called it, quote, “corny as hell”. How crass.)
Besides, looking back into Futaba’s strong and unwavering gaze, she knew it would all be alright in the end. How could it not be? She trusted her Futaba-han. She trusted her with everything she had, trusted her more than she trusted herself. She knew that it would all be okay in the end because Futaba would never settle for nor allow less.
So, with a soft chuckle and a readjustment of the blankets underneath her chin, Kaoruko chuckled and looked at Futaba through her phone with a tired smirk. “I know you do.”
Almost instantly, she was met with an exaggerated eyeroll and an affectionate scoff. “Aw jeez. Had to ruin the moment there, didn’t ya?” the corners of Futaba’s mouth curling up into an amused smirk betrayed her seemingly chiding tone. “Whatever. You loser.”
Normally, a remark like that would’ve sent Kaoruko into a seething rant about Futaba’s disrespectful tone, but the fatigue of the day was already weighing down heavily on the Hanayagi heiress, and like Futaba had said earlier, she hadn’t wanted to “ruin the moment” so to speak. So, instead, she fidgeted a bit to get comfy again, muttering under her breath about “the nerve of her” or some such thing.
She watched as the bright fluorescent glow of blue and white emitting from her phone turned dark as Futaba disappeared from on screen- she hadn’t hung up, but Kaoruko could hear the shuffling of blankets as she readjusted her own position to get ready for bed. Kaoruko pulled up the comforter over chin, peering up at her phone as Futaba once again reappeared on the other end.
A sleepy haze started to cloud Kaoruko’s mind, and she let herself fully relax her tired body into the mattress. She let out a quiet sigh and looked up at Futaba through her eyelashes, who was watching her fondly with her cheek propped up by her hand. “I love you too,” she whispered softly, letting her eyelids fall shut and her hand rest on the pillow. She heard a tender chuckle come from the phone, and the soft rumble of Futaba’s voice telling her to “sleep well, Kaoruko.”
There was a sort of firmness to her tone that felt as if it was an urge for Kaoruko to rest peacefully each and every night she spent in her new arrangement, rather than just a simple nightly farewell. And as she felt the corner of her comforter brush up against the bridge of her nose and almost imagined it was Futaba’s soft lips giving her her usual goodnight kiss, she wasn’t sure she could meet that expectation of an adequate rest without her every single night. But she knew that she was going to be okay. That they were going to be okay. Because Futaba was always going to be there. No matter where in the world she physically was, she was always there, in a sense.
And with that reassuring thought, the soft tone of Futaba hanging up the call was the last thing Kaoruko heard before she fell into a gentle and peaceful sleep.