Chapter Seven

Sometimes she wished she wasn’t the good friend.

On Wednesday, Tamao had gone to the mailroom after class. The woman at the desk smiled pleasantly, and handed the packet of letters intended for the occupants of her room. At Astraea, letters were addressed by room number in addition to name, so that one could fetch their roommate’s letters, too. The only way to avoid this was to request specifically that one’s roommate could not pick up one’s own mail; it was a hassle that few could be bothered with.

It was a slim pile of envelopes that was passed to her, and as she walked she sorted through them quickly. Three for herself, two for Nagisa. On her own envelopes were the telltale spidery writing of various elder relatives, and she smiled slightly, thinking of them warmly. Both her grandmothers had attended Astraea in their day. Nagisa’s first envelope also prompted a smile, the address written haphazardly in the crayon of a six year old.

Yet… and now she paused, frowning. The second letter was neatly addressed at a severe angle, and the return address was one she could not quite bring herself to like. Hanazono Shizuma. Lillian College. Musashino, Tokyo. Her lip curled somewhat, a curdling sensation hinting at the back of her throat.

But she set the letter down on Nagisa’s desk, next to the colorful letter she’d already set down. She turned, her lips pursed, and sat determinedly down in her own chair, hands going mechanically to her letter opener. The blade flashed in the afternoon sun, temporarily dazzling her eyes. But her hands continued to move, slicing open her own envelopes.

She read the contents of her own letters in perfunctory fashion – she already knew what was in them, they wrote nearly the same thing every year. Oh, how old she was getting! Oh, how graceful she was becoming! And had she found any nice young men? And, then, perhaps a teasing reference to St. Miator’s reputation as the “school of brides” – but it was impossible to take humor from it when she knew they were wishing for it to be so.

She sighed, and shut her eyes, pressing her hands firmly down on the unfolded letters. They did not expect college, even if her parents did. And even her parents expected rapid marriage to directly follow. Even at such a distance, she could already detect the inevitable disappointment; entering a female into the family registry did not seem like something that would appeal to her traditional family.

Boys and men were something she had never developed an interest in. As a child, she had happily played house sans males, her voice chirping that the lack of a boy to play a husband was not a problem at all. She had always begged for the manga with the pretty girls, eyes stretching down their length, taking in the artful clothing and pleasant curves. She disliked the male form for this – it was all sharp points and angles, no softly sloping joints.

It wasn’t that she disliked boys, per say, just… well, she didn’t find them particularly attractive or emotionally satisfying. Girls whispered secrets and giggled and shared close moments; boys were mostly distant or teasing. They could share their own moments, but generally these were marred by violence. Girls were just so much more… wonderful.

She absentmindedly traced the female form with her hands. She had found it odd when female classmates began giggling about boys instead of candy. Before then, she had noticed no difference between herself and so many of her female classmates. At the end of elementary school she had asked her best friend if they would be the closest of friends forever – and the girl had replied that, no, some day her husband would be closer. She remembered herself flinching back slightly, although the other girl didn’t notice; instead, she blushed and laughed suddenly, and wondered aloud what her husband would be like. Tamao hadn’t seen the girl since.

Even at Astraea, Tamao felt herself as slightly apart – romance between girls was somewhat common, but with so many of them it seemed only temporary. Many of these girls even smirked, winking while stating that they were “lesbian until graduation”. They still thought of wedding dresses – to them, their “girlfriends”, if they could be called that, were simply substitutes for the boyfriends they’d have if school policies weren’t so strict.

Tamao occasionally dreamt of wedding dresses – but two of them, and lots of lace, and no cologne. And when she thought of wedding nights, there was never any risk of pregnancy involved.

The door banged open, and Tamao was drawn abruptly out of her thoughts, her head snapping to the noise. Nagisa burst in, cheerful demeanor instantly flooding the room. Tamao smiled – she couldn’t help it.

“Ta-maooo!”

“Hello, Nagisa.”

“Oo, you picked up the mail!” The girl had crossed the room, flinging her bag down on her bed as she went, and now she grasped the two letters. She read the crayon address first, “Aw, Touya sent me a letter! He must’ve finished learning his hiragana.”

She flipped to the next letter, and there was a silence. Her face settled into a more serious smile, a content look only achieved when one is certain of their relationships. She settled into her own chair, carefully pulling the flap open, and drew out the letter. A faint hint of lavender floated on the air.

Tamao’s back stiffened slightly, and she turned back to her own desk, staring at the picture frame before her. A year younger version of herself stood there, arm looped through the arm of a red-haired girl, the one who was still only a few feet and a million miles away. Her own face was pressed against Nagisa’s shoulder, right hand grasping Nagisa’s own left. Nagisa looked somewhat bewildered, and she could almost see the confused blinking the camera had been unable to capture. Their black uniforms were outlined against the blue sky, crisp in their early semester form.

Behind her, a letter was set down on Nagisa’s desk, crinkling softly against the wooden surface. “Shizuma is coming to visit me soon – she’s been very busy because it’s her first year at college, but she says she has time the second Sunday from now.”

Nagisa was more mature now. She was not mature by any means, but there was less of a childish edge to her personality now than there had been even just a year prior. Tamao tipped her head, bangs obscuring her eyes, “Oh – well, that should be fun.”

Nagisa bounded upwards, her chair rocking back violently, and spun impulsively on the spot, “I can’t wait!” She stopped and looked suddenly at the closet and the bureau, “Oh, I wonder what I’ll wear? And do you think I have to get permission from the sister? Or is it okay because she only just graduated?”

Tamao turned around, forcing a smile, “Well, I suppose you should ask Tsubomi – I’m sure she knows the rules even for Miator, after all!”

Nagisa grinned back, “I bet she does!” She left her desk, happily pushing in the chair, “I’m gonna go tell Hikari and Yaya!” She started to leave the room, quickly pulling the door open before skidding to a halt, “Oh!” She turned back, “Will we have dinner together tonight?”

“Of course, Nagisa – always.”

“Thanks, Tamao! You’re such a good friend!” The door shut, and the girl was gone from view. Tamao looked at the shut pine.

“Yes, always…”

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