When Kikuko asked to see Maria, it didn’t take long before the girl came rushing out of her mansion, a worried look on her face. She was probably wondering whether Kikuko was here to fix their friendship, or the opposite.
Still, she walked fiercely, trying to look strong.
When she reached Kikuko, both of them had their eyes welled up.
“Maria, I…” Kikuko trailed off, gathering her strength. “I’m sorry about the fight we had. I want us to be friends again.”
“It’s okay, I know you didn’t mean anything bad,” Maria answered, trying to sound understanding. All she wanted was her friends back. She didn’t care about basketball anymore.
Kikuko stared down. “No! It’s not okay! I said mean things about you, about how you acted and how you dressed, I’m…”
Once again, her voice broke into silent sobs. Maria grabbed her hand, intertwining her fingers with Kikuko’s without thinking. It didn’t stop her sobs, but it made her feel better.
“If you forgave me, I forgive you,” Maria stated, trying not to start crying too.
“Thanks,” Kikuko answered after a long pause.
Slowly, they both calmed down, never abandoning the other’s hand in the process. Maria was relieved their argument was finally over, and Kikuko finally free from this weight that had been in her belly ever since she’d seen her at the summer festival.
“Want to come inside for a while?” Maria asked, more shy than usual.
Kikuko nodded, afraid that her voice would break once again. She felt Maria pull her towards the front door where she had come out of a few minutes earlier.
Once inside, both of them removed their shoes, and Kikuko stared at Maria’s frilly socks, wondering how she had even thought that it was ugly. It was anything but ugly.
“You’re coming?” Maria asked her, a puzzled look on her face.
Kikuko blushed instantly, realizing the awkwardness of the situation. She hurried after Maria, trying to forget the staring and praying the other girl hadn’t noticed.
“Do you want something to drink?”
“We’ve got cola, orange juice, lemonade, uhhh… grape juice I think?”
“I’ll just drink water, thanks,” Kikuko answered, speaking clearly for the first time since her breakdown.
Maria filled two glasses while she stood awkwardly in front of the doorstep, not sure what to do. They both drank in silence, and Kikuko heard some noise coming from the room next to them.
“I’m with a friend mom, we’re going to my room!” Maria half-shouted towards the noise, failing to get an answer. It didn’t seem to bother her however, and after telling Kikuko to put her glass on the table, she grabbed her hand once again and led her to her bedroom.
Kikuko slowed down once she entered the room, taking her time to inspect the room. Unsurprisingly, the young girl had a double canopy bed (with curtains!) and a dresser that was only matched in size by the enormous wardrobe. Somehow, even though Kikuko was impressed, she realized that she would probably not trade her life for Maria’s. Thinking about spending so much time on her appearance made her shiver.
They both sat on the bed, Kikuko embracing her legs while Maria simply laid down, looking at the ceiling.
“I can’t believe I had never invited you before!” She said bitterly. “What a terrible friend I am.”
Kikuko didn’t really want to hear the girl complain all afternoon, but she had to answer anyway: “We said we were over this. Don’t worry about it.”
Maria stood up on her elbow, a hand holding her head, watching her friend next to her. “You’re right, sorry.”
The almost-awkward silence that followed felt long and quick at the same time. At some point, Kikuko noticed that Maria was staring at her feet, but she said nothing. She often stared into space too, and she had no reason to believe Maria was purposefully looking at her socks. Until she actually explained it.
“You know, when we removed our shoes I uh…”
Kikuko silently cursed at herself, realizing Maria was probably talking about her staring at her socks. “I just thought they looked cool!” she explained as quickly as possible, as if she wanted to throw away the topic far from them.
Maria glanced at her with incomprehension. “What?” She burst out laughing. “Not that! I just wanted to tell you that your feet look great, even though I can’t really see them with your socks on.”
Kikuko felt her jaw threaten to fall down. “Wh-why?”
“I don’t know, I guess I’m kinda jealous,” Maria giggled once again, and shrugged. “I really focus on meaningless appearance stuff.”
With the hand that wasn’t holding her head, Maria brought her index to Kikuko’s feet and started circling gently against the fabric.
“Do you uh… do you want to see them?”
“Really?” Maria exclaimed with a smile that was suspiciously wide.
A part of Kikuko thought it was weird, but she didn’t want to put their friendship at risk again. Besides, what exactly could go wrong?
“Hmm,” she hummed while nodding.
In less than a second, Maria had moved in front of her, sitting on her heels. She froze.
“Is it okay if I remove your socks myself?”
Another hum, another nod.
Slowly, Maria grabbed Kikuko’s left foot, momentarily putting it on her lap. Then, she reached the edge of the sock with both of her hands and slowly pulled the fabric.
Kikuko stared at her face during almost the entire process. She already knew what her foot looked like, but she was still trying to understand why Maria thought it was this interesting. She only noticed how her face lit up progressively while she felt the sock slide against her.
Once finished, Maria put the foot back on her lap, the sock beside her, and grabbed the other one to do the same thing again.
“They’re beautiful” Maria whispered, as if she was talking to herself, after she finished removing the second sock. Slowly, she slipped her fingers between the soles and her lap, her thumbs still laying on top of Kikuko’s feet.
She winced. It felt incredibly weird to be touched so gently, and her feet were way more sensible than she had expected. She could feel all of Maria’s fingers around them, and the tickling sensation was as weird as it was pleasant.
Maria slightly clenched her fingers around Kikuko’s feet, causing her to wince once again. She noticed how both of them were breathing abnormally quickly. And she realized Maria was so focused on her feet that she probably didn’t even know.
Slowly, Maria slipped her hands under the soles until the tip of her fingers touched Kikuko’s toes. Maria pressed her thighs against each-other.
“A-are you done?” Kikuko asked, starting to feel the awkwardness break through what she deemed acceptable.
It was as if the three words snapped Maria out of trance. “Sorry,” she simply exclaimed, letting go of the feet.
“I think I’ll go back home now,” Kikuko explained. “Thanks for showing me around.”
“Wait!” Maria said, a worried look on her face. “Please tell me I didn’t go too far. We’re still friends right?”
There was a spark of despair in Maria’s eyes, and even though Kikuko felt weird, she didn’t want to break her heart. She felt like with her, she could even tell the truth.
“Maria, yes we’re still friends, don’t worry. I just think it was… weird.” Maria’s face tarnished, so she quickly continued. “I mean it made me feel weird, but it’s not your fault! And I didn’t hate it I just uh… I need time to think about this.”
Maria stared in her eyes, hopeful. “So you’re not mad?”
“No no, don’t worry. I think I just need some time alone.”
The worried look hadn’t left Maria’s face, but Kikuko felt like she couldn’t do anything else. She bent forward to get back her socks next to Maria, but the girl gently grabbed her forearm to stop her.
“Can I… Oh god you’re gonna hate me. Can I keep them?”
Kikuko’s heart skipped a beat. What kind of inquiry was that? And at the same time, she realized she didn’t really care. Part of her thought Maria was acting cute.
“If you want?”
“Thank you!” Maria exclaimed, pulling her into a hug.
On her way back home, Kikuko couldn’t think about anything else than Maria. Firstly because her bare feet inside of her shoes felt uncomfortable, but also because with each step she took, she realized Maria was cute. She had no idea how she hadn’t noticed before. She looked cute, acted cute, and even her weird focus on her feet felt cute in hindsight.
Kikuko smiled. She was actually curious where that thing would take them. And she was just glad she had her friend back.