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Meeting on a Train

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It was a nice Saturday, cloudy but warm, when Sumire and her friends decided to treat themselves to an afternoon at the theater as a reward for all passing their exams. They argued which movie to see the whole way to the train station, finally settled on one just as their train pulled up and then moved on to rumors and speculation about their choice– or to ranking the attractiveness of the actors, in Mika-chan's case.

Sumire took a breath to put in a thought of her own on the subject and was caught off guard by the smell of roses.

She blinked and looked around for the source. Somehow, it was the brooch that caught her eye first, a stone she didn't recognize embraced by an elegant setting. Another blink pulled her focus back onto the girl the brooch was pinned to and she didn't know how she could have missed someone so pretty.

"Oh," she said, so quietly that she wouldn't have been certain herself if she'd spoken except that it was enough to catch Mika-chan's attention.

"What's up, Sumire?" she asked, already following her gaze. Shizu-chan and Kyoko-chan, alerted now to Sumire's wandering attention, turned to look themselves.

Sumire knew when they'd spotted the girl too because there was a chorus of delighted gasps and appreciative murmurs. She hardly heard the chatter– "– beautiful dress–" "– must be a high school student–" "– so pretty–" – over the pounding of her heart in her ears. Even though she was surrounded by their warmth, her friends suddenly seemed far away. Somehow, it was worse that the mystery girl was all the way across the car.

"– you think, Sumire?"

The sound of her name brought her back to reality and she found her friends' attention turned on her, questioning.

"A-ah, sorry, what was that?"

"Hmph, what's this?" Mika-chan said, throwing an arm around Sumire's neck and leaning what seemed like at least half her weight on her shoulders. "Ignoring the great Mika-sama in favor of a beautiful stranger?"

"N-no–"

Mika-chan heaved a mighty sigh and pressed the back of her other hand to her forehead. "I always thought that when you ran off on me, it would be into a man's arms."

"That's not it at all," Sumire insisted while Shizu-chan and Kyoko-chan giggled at the spectacle; she clutched at the arm hooked around her, torn between tugging it away and burying her blush in it. "I was just daydreaming, that's all!"

Mika-chan's smile went positively vulpine; she pulled Sumire close and leaned so that all four of them formed a knot of conspiracy.

"I've got some idea," she said, "of the kind of daydreams you were having~"

Sumire pulled free and squealed with embarrassment, hiding her face in her hands. The others burst into another round of laughter and it wasn't long before she joined them. It seemed to clear the air, a new conversation following smoothly in its wake. Mika-chan's question and the mystery beauty both were forgotten as their chatter turned to other things.

Well, mostly. Sumire found her attention drawn to the stranger like a moth to flame, eyes flitting from her friends to the girl whenever she thought she could get away with it. She ran her gaze over her– despite her mature appearance and elegant clothes, Sumire thought the more she looked at her that she wasn't actually so much older than them. If Sumire only had a little more courage, she might have considered trying to talk to her. She'd ask where'd she'd gotten her brooch, maybe, or even compliment her dress.

Despite how much she looked at her, it was three more stops before Sumire noticed that the girl's eyes were two different colors. She didn't have much time to think on that, because she'd only noticed because the girl had turned and caught her staring.

Squeaking at having been caught, Sumire turned away fast enough to strain her neck and ducked to hide herself behind her gaggle of friends, who looked at her oddly.

"Her eyes," Sumire squeaked. She cleared her throat and tried again, "She looked right at me!"

The others were quick to catch on, glancing at the girl still looking their way before quickly glancing away again. They clustered close, breaking into giggles and teasing whispers but still conspicuously hiding Sumire from sight. Beneath the hot rush of embarrassment, Sumire felt affection for them lapping at her.

Even for Mika-chan, who swooned, hands clapped to her cheeks in delight, "Gazes meeting across a train car! How romantic! Oh–"

She looked around the car like a hound on a scent, breathed a triumphant, "ah ha!" and set to staring intently at a handsome college-aged guy across from them who was absorbed in a book. Even when the teasing and laughter turned on her, she held her ground, hardly seeming to blink.

"Well, Sumire-chan," said Shizu-chan, offering a consoling pat to her shoulder, "if nothing else, you can be secure knowing you'll never be as bad as Mika-chan."

"Just you wait," Mika-chan hissed through her grin, still not looking away.

The rest of them laughed and shook their heads at her antics, Kyoko-chan muttering under her breath about Mika-chan getting herself into trouble. The guy across from them never looked up from his book, but he did go distinctly red around the edges and his lips twitched like he wasn't sure if he wanted to laugh himself. The train came to another stop and he fairly vaulted from his seat and out the door, forgetting to even mark his place before his book slammed shut. Mika-chan cried, "Oh, drat!" and the rest of them burst into renewed laughter, falling over each other as they tried to keep out of the flow of traffic.

Trying to pull herself together, Sumire backed right into someone behind her. She was already turning to apologize by the time she registered the scent of roses.

"I noticed you staring at me," the mystery girl said.

Sumire heard her friends fall quiet behind her. Humiliation at being confronted rippling over her, she fell into a deep bow and said, "I-I'm so sorry! I just–"

A piece of folded paper was thrust under her nose, held between two of the girl's fingers. Sumire snapped her head up to look at her, face going somehow more red. She reached and took the paper with a shaking hand, her fingers brushing the girl's in passing. The mystery girl was ice cold despite the mild day and the stuffiness of the train car, but it wasn't a chill that made Sumire shiver at the touch.

The mystery girl smiled at her, cool but with something shy lurking at the corners. She said, "I hope to see you again soon," and turned and walked off onto the platform without a backwards glance.

"Omigosh!" Mika-chan gushed, wrapping both of her arms around Sumire's neck this time and squealing directly into her ear. "Look at our sweet little Sumire-chan, picking up older women on the train!"

"I-I–"

"What's that paper, Sumire-chan?" Shizu-chan asked, crowding in at Sumire's side. "What did she give you?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Kyoko-chan huffed. "It must be her phone number, right?"

"I don't know about that," Sumire protested even though she was sure of it too. "It could be anything, really."

"Well, open it up and let's see for sure then!"

Shizu-chan and Kyoko-chan crowded even closer as Sumire unfolded the paper, Mika-chan pressing against her back to look over her shoulder. When it was finally open there in front of them, they all stared at it, silent. They shared a look between the four of them and looked again and– yes, it was still a flyer.

It was a stark and simple thing, mostly deep purple with a large white cross in the center. The letters boasted, Venus Vanguard: Clothes & Jewelry. Written in an elegant hand, hardly visible against the page, were the words, "If I'm not there when you come in, tell them Lucia sent you."

"Th-this is…" Sumire trailed off, disappointment chewing at her insides.

"An advertisement…"

"That girl must be an employee of this store."

"She thought you were staring at her dress, it seems," Mika-chan sighed into Sumire's hair. "Ah, poor Sumire-chan."

"I really thought it was her number," Kyoko-chan said with a hand over her face, looking embarrassed herself. "Now I feel bad for getting your hopes up."

"It's fine, really," Sumire said, but without any heart in it.

"Try not to be too disappointed," Mika-chan said, taking Sumire's shoulders in a reassuring grip. "Instead, look forward to out fun afternoon…" Her grip went tight and she gushed the rest, "and all the attractive men that'll be there! Maybe even someone to tempt us out past curfew? Oh, my maidenly heart…"

She let go of Sumire to hug herself and sigh dreamily, Shizu-chan and Kyoko-chan giggling and playing along with the fantasies she spouted. Sumire smiled with the rest, but couldn't quite pick her mood back up. Maybe it was silly when she didn't even know the girl's name, but for a moment there she'd really thought…

Oh, well, no use dwelling, she decided. She folded the paper again to tuck into her pocket– and that was when she noticed that there was more writing on the back, missed the first time in her haste to see the front. In the same hand as the message on the front was a phone number. Lucia-san's phone number, she realized.

Her heart pounded and she shoved the paper into her pocket before her friends could see. She wanted to keep it to herself, just for a little while, just in case she was wrong and their excitement would only feed her false hopes.

"Here's our stop," Kyoko-chan said cheerfully, shaking Sumire out of the pleasant fog she'd fallen into and drawing her back into the conversation.

The four of them disembarked, chatting and laughing, the city atmosphere surrounding them, heavy in the air. Sumire imagined that she could still smell roses.