Relief of Heart

[Sequel to Pain of Heart]

They had of course noticed. Something was up with Kasumi and Arisa this week. There was this awkward tension between them. Something had happened. The rest of the band: Rimi, Saaya, and Tae had all noticed.

Kasumi seemed nervous, and distracted. She kept glancing towards Arisa with a look Rimi would describe as desperate and helpless. Arisa seemed subdued, and distant. Her regular fire was gone. She didn’t even protest the same way as usual, if she protested at all. They both seemed to have trouble meeting each other’s eyes. They both looked miserable.

Practice was still going, but it was obvious something was missing. Arisa sometimes just spaced out, and seemed to be playing on auto. Not always noticing when the others stopped. Kasumi kept apologising whenever she messed up something. She was still her regular cheerful self at school, or at least pretended to be.

The first couple of days they were just waiting it out. Not wanting to interfere needlessly, and hoping the two of them would find a way to sort it out on their own. When nothing seemed to have improved by Wednesday, Rimi’s worry was getting too strong, and she started talking with Saaya and Tae after practice. And the next day at school.

The question was whether they should do something. Rimi wanted to help, preferably right away. Saaya and Tae didn’t like seeing Kasumi and Arisa like this either, but Saaya worried whether trying to interfere might just make things worse. Tae was inclined to agree. This might be an internal matter, too personal to share.

But after things clearly hadn’t improved by Thursday either, Tae was swayed onto Rimi’s side. Saaya was still a little hesitant to meddle, but she relented. If things were still obviously bad during Friday’s practice, they would reach out to their friends afterwards. They didn’t know if they had broken up, or were just having a rough patch, or what, but maybe talking to someone other than each other would be easier.

But who would talk to whom? Rimi volunteered to talk to Arisa. Arisa had originally reached out to her for advice, so maybe she would still open up to Rimi about what was troubling her. Which left Saaya and Tae for Kasumi. Should they both go to her, or would a one-on-one be easier for Kasumi? And if so, who should go to her?

Tae had the advantage of being pretty similarly minded to Kasumi, but depending on what was troubling her, that could also be a disadvantage. Tae also thought Saaya was better at the emotional stuff, since Tae typically thought of herself as more of a practical type. Saaya could argue that she was also more practical than Tae, but she wasn’t sure if she wanted to bring that up. She still felt more than the other two that maybe it wasn’t their place to meddle, so she didn’t know if she wanted to volunteer for this.

In the end Saaya ended up being persuaded to be the one to talk to Kasumi. She probably could have pushed it onto Tae if she had really insisted, but maybe this could be a way of repaying the debt she sort of felt she owed Kasumi. She knew Kasumi didn’t see it that way, but Saaya was still very grateful.

Arisa’s guilt was eating her up, and she didn’t know how to deal with it. Not only had she been unable to control her negative emotions, not only had she almost ruined everything, but she had taken advantage of Kasumi’s vulnerability and desperation.

She had wanted Kasumi so badly. Gotten her to kiss her. Begged for… no, demanded more. Guilted Kasumi into it on the not-quite-promise that it would make things better. She tried to tell herself that she had warned Kasumi it wouldn’t automatically fix things. But she knew she had led Kasumi to believe it would.

She had wanted it so badly. But after she had gotten it, she had realised: not like this. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. How it was supposed to have happened. And now… whatever time she and Kasumi had spent together since had been unbearably awkward. They hadn’t broken up, but the way they were behaving it was almost like they might as well.

Kasumi was so desperate to fix things, but Arisa felt like it was her responsibility, since it was her fault to begin with. She just didn’t know what she should do. She hadn’t been able to come up with anything all week, and it was the most frustrating thing she had ever experienced. It made her miss the days when Kasumi’s stubborn and reckless ways was her main source of frustration.

Friday’s practice was over before she knew it. She had been in her own world most of the time again, and didn’t really know how well it had gone. Probably not well. She just felt angry and guilty. How could she atone for this?

While everyone was packing up their instruments, Rimi was taking her time. The deal was that Saaya and Tae would lead Kasumi out, then Tae would leave the other two alone to talk. Rimi would approach Arisa down here. Thankfully Arisa didn’t seem in a hurry to leave. She was barely paying attention to the rest of them. If anything, Arisa had gotten worse during the week. Rimi wasn’t sure what to expect, but she hoped she could help somehow.

Kasumi was reluctant to leave, but Saaya and Tae got her to come along. Once they were all up the stairs, and she heard the door close, Rimi looked over at Arisa. Who already seemed to be somewhere else again.

“Arisa-chan,” Rimi said, but Arisa didn’t seem to notice. So she said it a little louder: “Arisa-chan.” Arisa visibly jumped.

“R-Rimi? You’re still here?” Arisa asked. She had genuinely thought she was alone.

“Yes. I wanted to talk to you,” Rimi replied, and Arisa swallowed nervously.

“W-what about? I mean, what is there to talk about?” she said hurriedly, and stared down at her keyboard.

“I’ve noticed you’ve been… not good all week,” Rimi said. “We’ve all noticed.” Arisa’s heart sank. Of course she had known they’d notice. She just hadn’t wanted to hear it. “What’s wrong, Arisa-chan?”

“Nothing! No-nothing’s wrong!” Arisa quickly denied. But she wasn’t sure she could keep it together for very long.

“Did something happen between you and Kasumi-chan?” Rimi asked in a gentle tone as she slowly walked closer. Arisa flinched.

“N-no… I… I…” she plonked at the keys.

“Arisa-chan, please,” Rimi said.

“Is… is there any chance you can just… go away, Rimi?” Arisa asked in a small voice.

“And abandon a friend in need?” Rimi replied, and carefully placed a hand on Arisa’s shoulder. “Not likely.”

“Will you help me?” Arisa’s voice was trembling now, and a few drops landed on the keys.

“Of course,” Rimi said as kindly as she could. She hoped she’d be able to, at least.

“I fucked up,” Arisa said, and choked back a sob. She looked up at Rimi with teary eyes. “I-I fucked up, Rimi.” She tried to wipe her tears away, but they wouldn’t stop coming. Rimi led her over to the couch so they could sit down, and she offered Arisa a tissue.

“What happened?” Rimi asked. She had never seen Arisa this distraught before.

“I ne-ne… nearly b-b-broke up with K-Kasumi,” Arisa said painfully, crying uncontrollably.

“What? W-why?” Rimi asked. It was shocking to hear, though at least it sounded like they hadn’t actually broken up.

“I don’t know!” Arisa wailed. “I don’t… I… be-because I’m bad.”

“Arisa-chan, you’re not bad,” Rimi said reassuringly. She wasn’t as natural at this as Kasumi, but it seemed like Arisa could use a hug. Rimi cautiously put an arm around her, and Arisa didn’t resist.

“B-but I am! I should… should b-be the hap… happiest I’ve ever been, but…” Arisa stuttered forth, and blew her nose. “But inst… instead I c-can’t get rid of… I g-g-get all these… ugly… ugly feelings.” That was painful to get out. “I hate it.”

“Ugly feelings?” Rimi asked, trying to think of what else to say or ask.

“Y-yeah…” Arisa said with a short nod. “I get so… so jealous, and… a-and possess… -sessive.” It was awful to even think about it. “Then I-I get angry, and… and… scared.” The last word was little more than a whisper.

“Why do you get like that?” Rimi asked carefully. Any relationship advice she could give would be stuff she had heard from Yuri, or read in stories, but she had to try to think of something.

“I don’t… I wish I knew.” Arisa sounded frustrated. “I don’t want to… I don’t want to lose her, Rimi.” She was running out of tears, and it was getting easier to breathe again. “I’m so scared of losing her, and… and then I just want to keep her all to myself to stop that from happening.” She sniffed. “I’m so selfish.”

“Have you told Kasumi this?” Rimi asked.

“Er… yes… no… kinda…” Arisa mumbled in reply.

“This sounds like something you should tell her,” Rimi said. “Everything you just told me.” Arisa gave Rimi a worried look.

“B-but what if I say it badly… what if it makes her hate me?” Arisa was still convinced that baring the ugliness inside her would drive Kasumi away, even though she had already let her see a glimpse of it.

“Arisa-chan, listen to me,” Rimi said firmly. “You love Kasumi-chan, right?” Arisa nodded. “And I can tell she loves you. But you can’t stay like this. If you don’t sort it out, you really will lose her.” Arisa shivered.

“But I’m scared, Rimi,” she said in a trembling voice.

“Look, I’m not an expert,” Rimi said. “But I know relationships take work. Not everything will be easy. And I think Kasumi-chan is just as scared as you.”

“Really?” Arisa asked. She had been so focused on her own misery that she hadn’t even thought about that. And she had to wonder again whether she had genuinely been too naive about how relationships work.

“I’ve been watching her all week, so yeah, I’m pretty certain,” Rimi said. She had reached a decision. “Here’s what I think. You should do your best to get a good night’s sleep, and then go see Kasumi-chan tomorrow. Talk it out properly. Okay?”

“I… what if I fuck up again?” Arisa asked. Rimi smiled at her.

“I don’t think you will. I have faith in you, Arisa-chan,” she said. “You should have some faith in yourself. And in Kasumi-chan.” Arisa blushed, and blew her nose again. She felt gross.

“But I also did another bad thing,” she said. She might as well confess her crime too, and see if Rimi still had faith then.

“What do you mean?” Rimi asked.

“I… I made her… k-kiss me,” Arisa said, her shame bubbling forth. Rimi was confused.

“Er… what… what do you mean you made her?” she asked, not understanding how that would work.

“I mean, I…” Arisa started. “I made her believe that… that if she kissed me, it would… it would make things better.” The shame was burning her. “And she did it, but… but it didn’t… make things better.”

“Why did you…?” Rimi wasn’t sure how to process this. It was certainly overwhelming any shock Rimi felt at the two of them kissing in the first place. “Did you think it would make things better?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe,” Arisa admitted. She had certainly thought it was what she wanted at the time.

“Arisa-chan, I’m not going to claim it wasn’t wrong, but it doesn’t sound like it’s something you would do again,” Rimi told her, and squeezed her gently. “It’s natural to make mistakes, I think. You want to make up for it, don’t you?” she asked.

“Y-yeah,” Arisa replied.

“Then go talk to her tomorrow. Apologise. Sort things out,” Rimi said as convincingly as possible.

“Okay,” Arisa said after a short pause. She agreed she at least needed to apologise.

“Do you want me to set it up?” Rimi kindly offered. Arisa thought she should maybe do so herself, but…

“Yes… please,” she replied. She was feeling rather weak, and didn’t trust herself to even get a text right.

“I’ll let her know, then,” Rimi said. She figured she should give it a little time to make sure Saaya and Kasumi were done talking, though. “Do you want her to come here?” Arisa thought it over. That was probably better than going to Kasumi’s place, so she nodded. “And when do you want her to come?”

“Um… around noon, I guess…” Arisa replied.

“Okay,” Rimi said, and patted Arisa on the back. “Good luck, Arisa-chan. Feel free to call or text if you need anything.” She got up, then remembered to add: “Just not in the middle of the night, okay?” Arisa looked up at Rimi, and smiled weakly.

“Okay,” she said. “And… um… thank you, Rimi.”

“Anything to get you back to your regular happy, grumpy, obstinate self,” Rimi joked, but Arisa didn’t even have the energy to try to get upset about it. “Now come on,” Rimi said as she picked up her bass. “I want to see you actually go into the house before I leave.” Arisa sighed, and got up.

“Okay, mother,” she said, at least managing a weak joke of her own. They headed upstairs.

“Make sure you get some rest,” Rimi said before she left. “I’ll see you on Monday. Good luck,” she said again.

Arisa waved goodbye, then headed into the house. Her grandmother could probably tell she had been crying, but she was kind enough to not bring it up. Arisa was tempted to crawl straight into bed, even though it wasn’t that late yet. But she needed to eat, and have a bath, or a shower. Tomorrow might be rough, but she was feeling a little better after getting all of that off her chest.

It wasn’t hard to convince Kasumi to come with Saaya, on the promise of getting some of the leftover baked goods from the day. Saaya hoped they had some leftovers at least. They usually did. The promise of food typically cheered Kasumi up, so if there turned out to be no food… no, that probably wouldn’t happen.

Tae excused herself to go home, and Kasumi and Saaya headed towards the bakery. Though Saaya could tell Kasumi kept looking back, as if she wanted to go back to Arisa in spite of whatever problems they were having. This could be tough.

In truth, Saaya had a second reason for not wanting to do this beyond the one she had told Rimi and Tae. It wasn’t just that she thought it might not be their place to meddle. Though she certainly thought that, on a general basis. It’s just that seeing Kasumi like this was really bad. She kept up the act at school, but otherwise there was little present of the girl she had come to know. So she agreed that they should help.

Saaya’s other reason was that she had an interest in Kasumi herself. She wouldn’t go so far as to say she was in love, that was over-exaggerating. But it was certainly an interest. Hearing the news of Kasumi and Arisa getting together had been disappointing. Seeing how happy it made Kasumi might have stung just a little bit.

And now here they were. With a miserable Kasumi having problems with her girlfriend. It was a chance for Saaya, in a way. Perhaps it was possible for her to convince Kasumi to forget Arisa, and try dating Saaya instead. It could happen. But it shouldn’t.

While Saaya had learned that it was okay to be selfish sometimes, that it was okay to want things for herself every now and again, there was no way she could justify that here. It would ruin her friendship with Arisa, and certainly her friendship with Rimi and Tae too. It would be the end of the band. It might even make Kasumi hate her once she came to her senses again. It wouldn’t be truly falling in love, it would just be Saaya taking advantage of Kasumi being vulnerable. Assuming it worked at all.

But why did it have to be Saaya who had to listen to Kasumi’s relationship woes, and help her out? Why had she agreed to this? Why hadn’t she insisted Tae do it? Tae would have given in if Saaya had just pushed a little harder. Except she hadn’t done that. She had given in to Tae instead. Perhaps a little too easily. She felt she owed Kasumi.

She looked over at Kasumi walking beside her. Truly a sad sight. Couldn’t even make herself pretend when not in school. Saaya pondered what she had acted like at home all week.

Should she say something already? Or wait until they got inside, so there was less chance of Kasumi potentially backing out and running away? Saaya knew how to deal with fighting siblings. Not so much fighting lov… girlfriends. Did it even count as a fight when neither of them seemed angry, though? They just seemed miserable.

Saaya sighed. She knew she was just stalling now. Well, they were nearly there.

“Is something the matter, Saaya?” Kasumi suddenly asked. She had heard the sigh. Guess she wasn’t as oblivious as Saaya expected.

“That’s what I’m supposed to ask you,” Saaya replied. Kasumi looked down again. “You realise why you’re coming with me, right?” There was a pause, then Kasumi nodded.

“I… yes,” she said meekly. They reached the door of the bakery, and Saaya took out her keys.

“You’ve been looking miserable all week, Kasumi,” Saaya said, and opened the door. “And so has Arisa.”

“I’m sorry,” Kasumi said as she walked inside. She sounded like she was ready to get scolded.

“You don’t have to be sorry,” Saaya said reassuringly. “But I would like you to talk to me.” Her mother came out before she could say anything more. “Ah, hi mum! I’m home.”

“Welcome back,” her mother said. “Toyama-san is with you tonight? Welcome.” She offered them both a warm smile.

“Thank you,” Kasumi said, and Saaya’s mother could also tell right away that the girl wasn’t doing well.

“You two just head upstairs,” she said. “I’ll bring you some food and drinks shortly.”

“Thanks, mum,” Saaya said, and led Kasumi upstairs. Her mother gave her a good luck sign as they passed, even though she didn’t know what this was about. Saaya appreciated it.

“You know, I was slightly worried you’d run away when you realised what was happening,” Saaya joked as she opened the door to her room. Or maybe I had actually hoped you would, she added to herself.

Kasumi walked inside, and propped her guitar up in the corner before plopping down on the floor.

“No, I…” she sighed. “I realise I need help…” She managed to smile. “Last time I tried to run away, you guys just hunted me down anyway.”

“I wasn’t feeling like running tonight, so thanks for not forcing me to,” Saaya said, and sat down opposite Kasumi.

“Besides, I caused so much trouble for the rest of you,” Kasumi said. “I don’t want that to happen again.” The memory was still a little shameful.

“Well, haven’t you matured a bunch?” Saaya teased. She was stalling again. This is to help Kasumi, she reminded herself. “So what’s happened?” she finally asked. Kasumi hunched together and hugged her legs.

“I think I’ve done something wrong,” she said, looking at the floor.

“Wrong? Like what?” Saaya asked. She knew Kasumi could mess things up sometimes, but she wasn’t sure what could be so bad.

“We… we had a fight… o-on our date… last weekend…” Kasumi said, and sniffed. “I d-don’t even know why, but it… it was probably my fault…”

“What… what did you fight about?” Saaya asked cautiously.

“I don’t… we didn’t…” Kasumi sighed deeply. “I could just tell. She suddenly got upset, when she had looked so happy right before. I must… must have said some… something wrong, but I don’t know what. She refused to tell me, just said it was nothing.” A single tear rolled down Kasumi’s cheek. “When we got back to her place, she said she wanted to… t-to… b-b-break up.”

Saaya cursed herself for the small flutter that had caused in her heart.

“And… did you?” Saaya asked. She didn’t know if any answer to that would make her happy.

“No. At least I… I don’t think so,” Kasumi said. She wasn’t sure what their relationship status was right now. They could barely look at each other. “I refused to let it end like that, and chased after her. I wanted… I wanted to know why…” She squeezed herself tightly. “But she wasn’t making any sense… said we had to break up because she loved me… does that make any sense, Saaya?” she asked, and looked up at her friend with shimmering eyes.

“I don’t think so,” Saaya said, and shook her head. She was starting to feel as confused as Kasumi sounded. Is that what love does to you? she wondered. “Then what?” she asked.

“I managed to… to get her to talk to me. B-but it still wasn’t making much sense,” Kasumi said. It was difficult to think about that night. “She wouldn’t tell me what I had done wrong, she just… she just said it was all… all her.” Kasumi sniffles were getting worse, and Saaya got her a tissue.

“Did she say why?” Saaya asked. She knew Arisa could be difficult, but she was a sweet girl underneath. So what could be so bad?

“She talked about get… getting jealous,” Kasumi said, and blew her nose. “I mu-must have done something to… to make her feel that way.” Saaya could imagine one thing that might have made her feel jealous if she was dating Kasumi.

“Your hugging?” she guessed.

“I-I thought so too,” she said with a small nod. “I told her I c-could stop, but… b-but she said she did-didn’t want that. Th-that it’s p-part of who… who I am.” She blew her nose again. “I don’t know. I do-don’t know what t-to do, Saaya.” Saaya didn’t know either. She felt like she could kinda understand where Arisa was coming from on this issue, but wasn’t sure if there was any sort of easy solution. Not without being unfair to Kasumi.

“It is part of who you are,” Saaya said, and scooted over to put an arm around Kasumi, who tensed for just a moment before relaxing again. “So I think I get what Arisa means. Maybe you two just need to talk it out more. Have you tried?”

“I haven’t been… been able to think of what to say,” Kasumi replied. “And… and I end-ended up doing a-a bad thing.” She hiccuped, and trembled.

“A bad thing?” Saaya asked.

“A-Arisa briefly men… mentioned k-kissing,” Kasumi stuttered. “A-and I thought it… it might he-help things, so I… I-I pushed myself on… onto her.” Kasumi started sobbing openly. “She s-sa-said she wan… wanted mo-more, but since then she… she has b-barely look… looked at me!” Kasumi buried her face in Saaya’s shoulder, and Saaya embraced her firmly. She supposed she shouldn’t be shocked they had kissed, even if the circumstances didn’t sound great.

“Kasumi…” she said softly. This was awkward, but it was probably best to let Kasumi get it out. Saaya saw her mother very quietly open the door and set down a food tray for them before quietly exiting again. Saaya could probably learn a thing or two from her mother’s tact and understanding.

After a while Kasumi was calming down again.

“Kasumi, you should have something to eat,” Saaya said, and pulled the tray closer. She picked up a bread-roll to offer Kasumi. Kasumi accepted it, and started nibbling. She didn’t have a great appetite, but it was very good bread.

Saaya felt her phone vibrate, and she pulled it out of her pocket. It was a brief update from Rimi. She had gotten Arisa into the house, and was heading home. She wanted to arrange a meeting between Kasumi and Arisa tomorrow. Saaya took a sip of her tea. Yeah, that was probably for the best. She looked at Kasumi, who was still nibbling silently on the bread.

“Hey…” she said to get Kasumi’s attention. “You should probably go talk to Arisa tomorrow. Like, properly talk to her.” Kasumi’s eyes went wide, and she quickly swallowed the bread in her mouth.

“B-but I… I don’t know what to say,” Kasumi said helplessly. She knew that putting it off any longer would not make it any better though.

“I’m not sure what you should say, either,” Saaya admitted. “But maybe start by apologising for the way you kissed her?” Kasumi flinched a little, the nodded. “I think the main thing, though, is just being honest. You’ve both had a week to think things over. You can probably articulate yourselves better now.” At least she hoped that was how it worked.

“I’m… I’m scared, Saaya… I don’t want to make things worse again,” Kasumi said.

“Do you really think things could be worse than they are now?” Saaya asked. “I’d say you probably have nothing to lose.”

“You… you’re probably right,” Kasumi conceded.

“Go to Arisa’s place around noon tomorrow. I’m sure she’ll be waiting,” Saaya said. Kasumi looked a little confused, so Saaya smiled at her. “Rimi, Tae, and I may have conspired a little.”

“Oh…” Kasumi fell silent for a moment. “Thank you,” she finally said, and offered up a genuine smile.

“Don’t worry about it,” Saaya said. “Now eat up before you leave. You’re going to need the energy.”

“You sure you’ll get home okay on your own?” Saaya asked as she was seeing Kasumi off.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” Kasumi replied. “Thanks again, Saaya, for… for all of that.” Kasumi sniffed. “You’re a good friend.”

“It’s what friends are for, right?” Saaya said. “You’ve helped me out a lot, too. Even if I wasn’t always grateful for it, ahaha…” she laughed a little awkwardly.

“Heh, I suppose,” Kasumi said with a smile.

“Good luck tomorrow,” Saaya said while waving goodbye.

“Thanks,” Kasumi said, and waved back.

I hope I never have to do that again, Saaya thought. For several reasons. If there’s any more trouble in Kasumi’s love-life, then Tae is going to handle it. She had to text Rimi about how it had gone.

Kasumi felt both worried, and hopeful. She hadn’t asked, but she assumed it was Rimi who had talked to Arisa. Their friends believed in them, so maybe this could all work out.

She had been feeling guilty all week. Maybe if she had tried to talk to Arisa the first time she had noticed her looking worried, this could have all been avoided. Maybe if she had been more thoughtful and considerate. Maybe if she hadn’t kissed Arisa, they would have been able to keep talking. So many maybes…

Saaya was right though. What had happened, had happened. It couldn’t be undone. They could only do better going forward. Kasumi desperately hoped they would be able to. She really loved Arisa, and wished for nothing more than being able to fix things between them. Even if it took a while. Kasumi wasn’t great at patience, but she would need to learn.

Lastly she hoped she’d be able to sleep tonight. She might need to hug Asuka lots when she came home. Yeah, that sounded like a good plan. Surely she wouldn’t deny her big sister that.

Kasumi woke up early the next morning. She wanted to rush right over to Arisa’s, but they had an agreement. Might as well start a little patience training right here.

Since it was Saturday, Kasumi was actually the first one awake, even before her parents. In order to pass the time, she figured she might as well get some breakfast started. She couldn’t bear just sitting around on her own doing nothing.

Asuka came down a little later.

“Good morning, Kasumi,” she said while rubbing her eyes. The smell of breakfast filled the room. Her big sister wasn’t the best cook, but at least she tried, and it was fine. Perfectly edible. She made sure to stay wary of any more cuddle attacks though. It had taken her so long to get away last night.

“Good morning, A-chan,” Kasumi said with a smile. She really adored her little sister, and always felt a little better just seeing her. Asuka took a seat and helped herself to some toast and eggs.

“Hey, Kasumi… are you doing okay?” she asked. She had wanted to ask all week, but hadn’t been able to. Kasumi seemed a little different today though… more approachable.

“Ah…” Kasumi paused. “Ahah… you noticed, huh?” she said as she went over and took a seat herself.

“Of course. I’m your sister, after all,” Asuka said. Plus it would be blindingly obvious to anyone, but she didn’t say that out loud.

“I didn’t want to worry you… but I know I haven’t been good at hiding it…” Kasumi admitted a little sheepishly. “You know I’m dating Arisa, right?” She hadn’t actually officially told her family, but she had no illusions about them not realising on their own.

“Yeah,” Asuka said, and nodded. She didn’t quite get the dating and love stuff, but it had been impossible to miss how happy Kasumi had been. Until this week.

“Well…” Kasumi poked at her natto with her chopsticks. “We had some things happen, and… and we’re trying to sort them out.”

“Oh,” Asuka said. She wasn’t sure, but that sounded like Kasumi maybe wasn’t okay right now. “Will you be okay?” she asked, and Kasumi smiled at her.

“I hope so,” Kasumi answered simply. “I’m going to see Arisa in a few hours, and… and maybe…” She was getting anxious thinking about it.

“Oh. Um… good luck, big sister,” Asuka said, not really knowing what else she could say.

“Thank you, A-chan,” Kasumi said, then she had an idea. “How about cuddling with me until I have to go? Let me absorb some sisterly courage?” she asked sweetly.

“Uh, no,” Asuka replied immediately. For hours was way out of the question. Kasumi’s shoulders slumped. “I’ll give you a good luck hug before you go. If you behave.” At least that was something.

Their mother came down, so Kasumi figured it was okay to take a shower now. She finished eating, then got to it. To avoid brooding, she thought to make the best of the time she had. Prepare herself as much as possible. Find something to bring along. Today had to go okay. It just had to.

Kasumi showed up at Arisa’s place a quarter to twelve. That counted as ‘around’ noon, right? She nervously approached the house, and it didn’t take her long to find Arisa’s grandmother.

“Hello,” Kasumi said as steadily as possible. “Is Arisa here?”

“Ah, Kasumi-chan! Welcome,” Mami said, and offered Kasumi a wide smile. “She’s over in your club-house. Waiting for you, no doubt. Here, take these drinks with you.” There was a tray sitting ready. “Arisa forgot to take anything with her when she headed in there.”

“Ah, thank you,” Kasumi said, and blushed. She supposed that meant she wasn’t the only one who was nervous. Maybe. This sort of felt like a weird mirror to the night Arisa had confessed her love, so Kasumi had gone and bought some red bean manju to bring with her. Maybe it would help bring some good luck.

This meant she had her hands full, but she managed fine. Just had to put the tray down when opening and closing the door. She had been slightly worried Arisa would have locked.

“Arisa?” she called out once she was inside, wanting to make sure.

“I’m downstairs,” she heard a moment later. Kasumi’s heart was in her throat, but she carefully walked down the stairs so she wouldn’t spill anything.

“What are you…? Here, let me help with that,” Arisa said, and came over to take the tray. Kasumi gratefully handed it over. They both wanted to find things to do to put off talking about the main topic.

“I brought… um…” Kasumi fished the box of manju out of the bag, and put it on the table.

“Oh… red bean manju?” Arisa asked. She remembered that. This was sort of like a weird twisted parallel to that night, she thought. Kasumi nodded, and awkwardly took a seat. They sat on different couches again, but not as far apart as possible this time.

It was silent for a minute as neither of them knew how to start.

“So…” Kasumi said.

“So…” Arisa repeated. They looked at each other awkwardly.

“There… there’s something I wanted to say first,” Kasumi said, thinking it might be best to apologise right away.

“I… I also have something I’d like to say,” Arisa said, thinking the same.

“Can I go first?” Kasumi asked.

“No, I think I should,” Arisa replied.

“But I-”

“It’s just-”

“You see-”

“No, I-”

“I’m sorry!” They both ended up shouting together, bowing their heads.

“Whu?” Kasumi was confused.

“Huh?” So was Arisa. They looked up at each other.

“W-why are you sorry?” Kasumi asked.

“Um… ah…” Arisa mumbled, and squirmed. “Why are you…” She stopped herself. Rimi had said she needed to tell Kasumi everything. “Because… I’m… I’m sorry for… for making you kiss me…” Kasumi blinked.

“Huh, but…” she said, totally thrown off track.

“I… I took advantage of you, a-and that was… it was wrong. I’m sorry,” Arisa said, her bottom lip quivering.

“B-but… I’m sorry for pushing myself onto you…” Kasumi said, more than a little confused. “I… I shouldn’t have kissed you… like that…”

They blinked at each other.

“But I’m the one who… right?” Arisa asked.

“No, I’m the one who… right?” Kasumi asked back.

They slowly came to realise they’d been feeling guilty about the same thing. The absurdity of it made them laugh a little.

“Ahah, what a mess,” Arisa said tiredly. It was sort of like a balloon of tension had been popped.

“We’re both messes,” Kasumi said. She wanted to lay down. “How did we end up here, Arisa?” she asked. “We were doing well, weren’t we?”

“I don’t know,” Arisa said in reply to the first question. It possibly also applied to the second.

“Were you happy?” Kasumi asked nervously. Arisa thought it over. She had been.

“Yeah… yes,” she replied. “I was happy, except those times my insecurities got to me, and…” She didn’t like thinking about that, but it had to come out. “You know. I got so… so hopelessly jealous.” She stared at the table, then grabbed a glass. Her throat was feeling dry.

“Why… how do I make you so jealous, Arisa?” Kasumi asked. “It is the hugging, isn’t it?”

“No, I… Kasumi, it’s… it’s not…” Arisa stumbled over her words. “I’m just selfish. And insecure. I know it’s just how you are…”

“But if it hurts you, it’s not how I should be,” Kasumi said firmly. It was frustrating to deal with Arisa this way, but maybe that was true for Arisa too.

“Kasumi…” Arisa looked up at her, trying to hold back tears. “I fell in love with you as you are. The thought of you changing because of me, it… it’s…”

“Not all change is bad,” Kasumi said. She was also feeling the dryness in her throat now, and reached for the other glass.

“Yes, but…” Arisa started, but she didn’t really have a good counter for it. It just seemed like such an essentially Kasumi thing. If that went away, would she still be the same Kasumi?

“Well… what if… what if we reached some compromise?” Kasumi tried to think. “I could… I could do less, until… until you felt more secure about it?”

“How would that even work? What if I never feel more secure?” Arisa said bitterly.

“Arisa… don’t… don’t you trust me?” Kasumi had to ask. Arisa felt like she had been gut-punched. But that was the central issue, wasn’t it? Did she trust Kasumi? She wanted to.

“I’m just… I’m scared, Kasumi,” she confessed, tears starting to drip. “I’m so scared of losing you… it just fills up my whole mind sometimes. I don’t know what to do.”

“Come here,” Kasumi said gently, trying to not succumb to her own tears. Arisa accepted the offer, and moved over into Kasumi’s arms. “You’re not going to lose me,” Kasumi told her. “I love you, with all my heart.”

“Why?” Arisa asked. “I’m so much trouble, why do you still love me?” Kasumi wasn’t sure she could adequately put that into words, but she would try.

“Because… because you’re you. Because you’re so cute when you’re grumpy, or flustered. Because you’re so sweet under your prickliness. Because you were with me from the start. Because your hair looks nice in the sun. Because you’re soft. I dunno, lots of reasons. Because I do.” Kasumi felt she probably wasn’t saying this very eloquently.

“That all sounds kinda weird, and a bit vague,” Arisa commented.

“Yeah,” Kasumi said. “But it’s all true.”

“You’re an idiot,” Arisa said. Kasumi smiled a little. That sounded more like the regular Arisa. “And… thank you.” Kasumi squeezed her gently.

“So…” Kasumi had run out of ideas for what to say. Maybe she should just ask. “What do you think? Do we have a chance? Do you want to work on this?” She was really feeling tired, and Arisa wasn’t doing much better herself.

“It could be a lot of work,” Arisa said, clinging tighter to Kasumi. She was realising that now. ‘Happily ever after’ came with a lot of caveats. “Like, sometimes I’ll probably get possessive, and want to monopolise you.”

“I’m fine with that,” Kasumi said. She had been more aware of having to work on this from the start, she had just tried to push the problems aside. She couldn’t do that anymore. “I want to stay with you, Arisa.”

“Yeah… me too, Kasumi,” Arisa said with a smile. Maybe she just needed to keep being reminded of that. Had to keep reminding herself. Just yesterday she had felt at the edge of the abyss, but Rimi and the others had helped pull her back. They believed in her, and Kasumi. There was hope. Her issues weren’t gone, but after a week of misery she felt ready to also believe in Kasumi, and maybe even a little in herself. Believe that they could improve.

“Arisa,” Kasumi said, and suppressed a yawn. “I’m sorry, but I’m feeling worn out… is it okay if I sleep here?”

“Huh? What? What do you mean sleep here? W-w-with…” Arisa noticed as she was rambling that Kasumi had already fallen quiet. “…me?” Her breathing was calm, and even. Kasumi was asleep already. “Idiot,” Arisa whispered. Well, she was also feeling like she had spent most of her energy. So this was probably okay, right?

She very carefully wormed herself into a position where she could rest her head on Kasumi’s chest. Kasumi’s heartbeat was very relaxed. It very quickly lulled Arisa to sleep. Where she dreamed peacefully, and drooled on Kasumi’s shirt.

~Wulf

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Posted on June 23, 2017, in Fiction, Storytime and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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