My name is Nishikino Maki, a second year at Otonokizaka Academy, and former member of the school idol group, μ's. Although, I'm not sure why I'm introducing myself. This story is about my friends, also former members of μ's, Koizumi Hanayo and Hoshizora Rin. After the third years left and μ's disbanded, we never gave up on being idols. The sensation of letting your feelings, soul, and inner self out through music, and bringing joy to so many others because of it is something that never grows old, something you can't give up. We were no longer μ's without the third years and split off into our own groups, but that didn't stop us from continuing to practice on the roof together like we used to, along with the new additions of Honoka's younger sister, Yukiho, and Eli's younger sister, Alisa.
The days were growing longer and hotter as spring moved into Summer. Although the absence of the third years, well, I guess I can't call them that anymore, still persisted in the back of our minds, these practices were finally starting to feel more routine and normal. It all started after a practice like this. After giving our farewells to Honoka and the others, Hanayo, Rin, and I began our walk home together. It was the hottest day of the summer yet, and although I hate to say it, a good amount of perspiration clung to my body. Even though we cleaned ourselves up after practice and switched back into our uniforms, I felt as though I already needed to bath myself. Rin and Hanayo were affected by the heat as well, especially Hanayo, the heat making her forgetful. "Wah!" she gasped just as we were about to step out onto the crosswalk.
"Nya!" Rin gasped, startled by her sudden outburst.
"What is it?" I asked calmly, not wanting to show that it had startled me slightly as well.
"I f-forgot my bag. I'm sorry," she stuttered out weakly, her eyes wide and her body shuddering slightly.
"It's fine. Go get it, and we'll wait here," I said, twisting my finger through a lock of my hair.
"Kayo-chin!" Rin yelled as she started to run off.
"Hm?" she asked, spinning around lightly on her heel.
"I'll get it for. I'll be fast about it, nya!" she said excitedly as she hurried off.
"Thank you!" Hanayo called to her, her cheeks a soft pink like sakura blossoms, which by this time were long gone, giving way to new foliage.
"Maki-chan?" she asked softly, her purple eyes shimmering.
"Rin-chan always does so much for me, doesn't she?"
"Well, yes, of course she does. She's your friend." I may have come off as a little harsh with a statement like that, but it was a dumb question, that is until I discovered where she was headed with it. Then it all began to make sense.
"Sometimes it seems like they're more than just friendly gestures though, doesn't it?"
"What do you mean?" I asked, even though I knew exactly where she was headed. It was something I noticed as well, something I had been noticing for a while. The way Hanayo and Rin acted around one another seemed completely normal for two girls that have been friends since their childhood and were as close as sisters, but on occasion, I had noticed that their relationship seemed stronger than friendship or even family for that matter. "Hm, now that you mention it, maybe you're right," I said after a moment of pretending to look back on the times I'd seen them together. "But why are you asking me this?"
"Um, w-well," Hanayo mumbled nervously before taking a gulp.
"What is it?" Knowing it would take some time, I waited patiently as she developed enough courage to speak her mind, her hands clasping into tight fists and unclasping limply.
"…I… I'm in love with Rin!" she gasped out, her cheeks filled in entirely with red and her eyes clasped tightly shut.
"Oh," I said. Although I was trying to come off as oblivious to the sudden admittance, I responded a bit more rudely than I had meant to. Hanayo may not have ever told this to anyone else, but to me at least, it was fairly obvious. "Why are you telling me this, exactly?"
"I was hoping for your advice," she said quickly and sheepishly.
"Mine? I don't understand why you'd want my advice on this."
"B-because I look up to you, and I'm sure you'd handle a situation like this so eloquently."
"I'm glad you feel that way, Hanayo, and of course I could handle a situation like this." That was all a lie, but I didn't want to ruin her view of me. In reality, I would be as nervous as Hanayo in a situation like that. I would know what to do, and what I'd want to do, but executing it wouldn't be anything close to eloquent. "The thing is, I don't really know Rin as well as you do, and I don't have a relationship with her as close as yours. You've known Rin much longer than I have. I feel like you'd know what's best." Well, maybe I didn't know exactly what to do.
"I just want to be with Rin-chan more than anything in the world, but I don't know how to bring something like that up, and I'm just afraid to." Of course I wanted to help, but I wasn't exactly sure how to. I'll admit that I'd thought about them as a couple before and how, well, cute they would be together. I'm glad I was able to compose myself so well, because just the thought of it made my heart pound. Luckily, Rin returned, saving me from having to discuss the situation any further, and giving me time to think about how I could help Hanayo.
Hanayo smiled as Rin handed over her bag. "Thank you, Rin."
"Anything for Kayo-chin, nya!" Rin announced excitedly before grasping her hands tightly onto Hanayo's shoulders and nuzzling her cheek.
"You're so sweet, thank you," Hanayo said, her cheeks once again filling with pink, that is, if it had ever left to begin with. With the way the two talked to each other, it sometimes seemed as though they were already flirting like a couple or very close to. It made me wonder how they weren't already together. Of course, it could have just come from their closeness and many years spent together. I'm not one for voicing my affections so openly, so it could just be that only I found it extreme.
The walk back to our homes was uneventful, simply filled with small talk and pointless but enjoyable conversations. Once we reached my house, I asked Hanayo if she was coming in as if we had already planned it. I managed to think of some advice along the way, and wanted to give it to her in private. Hanayo didn't understand why I wanted her to come in at first and was somewhat confused. Rin seemed slightly concerned but it wore off once Hanayo finally realized my reasoning.
"Rin-chan, I hope you don't mind," she said, turning to face her.
"No problem, nya! Are you okay with walking home alone yourself afterwards?"
"Yes, I'll be fine."
"Sorry for stealing Hanayo-chan away from you," I said as the two hugged.
"There's enough Kayo-chin to go around, Maki-chan," she said before leaping towards me with her arms wide. "See you both tomorrow. Have a good evening, nya!" she announced after attempting to nuzzle me. It wasn't that I didn't appreciate Rin's affection, just that it made me nervous, especially when I was expected to return them. I watched for a moment as Rin energetically hopped her way down the sidewalk before turning back to Hanayo. "Come on, let's go," I said to her. The face she gave me in return already seemed to be filled with hesitation.
"Sorry for the intrusion," Hanayo said with a bow, midway through taking off her shoe as my mother entered.
"You're welcome here anytime," she said. "Let me make you girls some tea."
"Thank you. We'll be in the living room," I said before we started down the hallway. I sat down in one of the chairs and Hanayo sat down on the couch directly across from me. Rubbing one of my hands against the cream colored fabric and staring at the bookshelf behind her, I gathered my thoughts. The only thing I could think of was the first time I ever really talked to her, the day she returned my student identification to me. It was an odd coincidence that the two of us sat in the same positions that we did that day, or perhaps it was fate. It felt as though it had been some time since then, but in reality it was only about a year. So much had happened to us in that year, and I was glad that Hanayo and I were able to grow so close, even with the issues I have expressing my real thoughts and feelings. It was on that day that I decided to help her in joining μ's, and she helped me even if I had such a hard time admitting to her that I wanted to be a part of them just as much as she did. It was worth it, and helping her with Rin would be worth it too, even if it was just seeing the two together. My mind had wandered, and Hanayo being Hanayo, decided it was politer to let me be than bring me back into reality by calling my name. It wasn't until my mother came with the tea that I realized I had been silent for a short time. I apologized and poured both of us a cup.
"So what are your thoughts?" she asked softly before taking a sip.
"It's simple, really. Just tell Rin how you feel about her, and ask to date her."
"W-what?" she gasped, her eyes shimmering as her body trembled ever so slightly.
"I can't do that! I just can't. I'm so worried I'll end up ruining our friendship. What will it be like if she says no? I'm sure it will make things completely awkward between us. How do I even know if she feels the same about me? I'm not even sure if she has an interest in other girls."
"Hanayo-chan," I said sternly in hopes of calming her. "She feels the same way about you. Trust me."
"What? H-how do you know?"
"I just do," I said with a sigh, knowing how hard it was going to be to convince her. Remembering how the two had acted after Rin had retrieved Hanayo's bag, I began to think back on the many times I had seen them together, and how often that same kind of interaction and language appeared. It happened often, and there were always those special moments when their relationship seemed closer than friendship. I couldn't help but believe that they already had something. The only issue with this conclusion was when considering Rin's personality, she surely would have already told Hanayo her feelings. I wondered if she was as afraid as Hanayo or her affectionate personality had confused us both, and Rin was oblivious to Hanayo's true feelings. It was hard to say whether or not she did have feelings for Hanayo, but somehow, I knew she did. I may not be confident about love, but I was confident about this. "Hanayo, she'll say yes. Even if she doesn't right away, she will eventually. It may take some time or it may not, but she wants to be with you."
"Maki-chan…" Hanayo mumbled weakly, turning her eyes away from my own. "I… I just can't, not without knowing that everything will be fine afterwards." She was silent a moment before returning her gaze, hope returning to her eyes. "Maybe you could explain things to Rin-chan for me. You could let her know my feelings, and then she'll take charge of the situation." I knew I couldn't say yes to this. It wasn't only because of the fact that Hanayo needed to learn to act on her decisions rather than having someone else do so for her, but also because I had a feeling that if Rin had any kind of hesitation towards a relationship with Hanayo, which I knew she did if she hadn't asked yet, she would back away if someone other than Hanayo herself was instigating it.
"No, you have to do this yourself," I said plainly in hopes of letting her know that I could not be persuaded otherwise.
"Maybe you could just ask Rin-chan if she has feelings for me."
"No, that'll only make her suspicious. Rin's not an idiot. It has to come from you and only you. Why would I ask something like that in the first place?"
"I'm sorry," she whispered, and I regretted having such a harsh tone.
"Hanayo-chan," I said softly, trying to calm my voice as much as possible, "I know it's going to be hard for you, but Rin will only accept this if she knows you're being serious. She will if you're the one who asks her."
"I don't want to. I don't think I can. It'll too awkward and uncomfortable for me."
"It won't be awkward at all once you get it out. You have to do it. Rin will think it's cute, and she'll be amazed that you built up the courage tell her your feelings. It will be a very meaningful moment to her." Hanayo sat still for a moment. I could see by her pursed lips, whitened because of how tightly she held them, that she was thinking hard about all I'd said.
The words suddenly burst from her mouth, "I'll think about it," she said quickly before standing up and grabbing her bag. "I should be getting home. Thank you for the tea… a-and the advice." I was taken aback, unable to react to her sudden exit. I should have expected it to affect her as greatly as it did. A while after I heard the door softly shut and the room grow as quite as a serene winter's night, a sigh escaped me. It was going to take plenty of courage from Hanayo to do what I'd urged her to, and I'd have to give her plenty of patience and encouragement, but it was going to be worth it for the two to be together. I was determined to help and support her throughout it, just as I had with her becoming an idol. It was just that I knew this wasn't going to happen nearly as quickly.
Throughout the next day, I decided to hold off on Hanayo. She had yet to tell me of her decision, and considering how much it seemed to worry her, I figured it would be best to give her some time during our day at school to think it over. Well, that was part of my plan. I also wanted to see if the suggestions I had instilled within her the previous day were already affecting how she acted around Rin. I hate admitting it, but every time the two of them started talking or even grew near each other, my heart began to pound as if expecting something to happen. I knew it wouldn't, considering Hanayo had only given the idea thought for a night, but I guess I was still hopeful. Yes, I know, it's hard to see someone like me getting involved in something like high school romances, but they're my friends, and I was invested in seeing both of them happy. The thing is that Hanayo seemed even worse off than normal. She was quiet and awkward around Rin, and I'm sure Rin noticed. I needed to speak with her again, but school would not provide the time. Like the day before, I'd have to wait until after practice.
The day seemed to drag on and on. I could only think of them, and pondered over and over again how to actually convince Hanayo to tell Rin her feelings. Practice did eventually come, and its end as well. Just as I was about to ask to speak with Hanayo, I was stunned when I saw her walking over to Rin. It was rare to see determination in Hanayo's face, but in the vibrant glow of the sun, I saw it.
"R-rin-chan," she announced.
"Hm, what is it, Kyo-chin?" she asked happily, her deep orange hair and golden eyes enhanced by the rays of light beating down on them.
"I… um… thanks for being my friend," Hanayo muttered out as all the confidence she had built up left her. My heart sunk, and I could hardly bare to watch what awkwardness would unfold next. I took in a deep breath and let my eyes fall shut for a moment.
Rin began to giggle. "What brought this up? You're so cute and sweet, and nyaaa!" she annouced in a loving tone, her cheeks growing red. It was still a failure considering she hadn't even gotten close to saying what she wanted to, but at least Hanayo had somehow managed to save herself from embarrassment. Well, she was still embarrassed, her cheeks flushed with pink, lips quivered, and eyes focused on the tile of the roof. After cooling off and changing back into our uniforms, it was time to tell Hanayo that I needed to speak with her.
"Hanayo-chan, can I talk with you before we go?"
"Oh, of course," she said with a nod.
"Maki-chan, we're all walking home the same way. Why can't you just discuss whatever you need to while we walk?" Rin questioned.
"I wanted to speak with her in private, actually." Rin seemed slightly taken aback by the statement. I couldn't tell if she was hurt, confused, or if it was a combination of both. "I'm not sure how long we'll be, and I don't want to keep you waiting. Go ahead and head home without us if you'd like."
"Oh, okay. See you later, Maki-chan, Kayo-chin," she said with excitement, but not nearly as much as usual. She knew something was going on. As I lead Hanayo to find a place to sit, I looked back to make sure Rin was making her way home. She had already crossed the street, and it seemed we were able to speak freely. I sat down with her on one of the benches underneath the shade of a large tree to escape the intense rays of sun beating down on our backs. Once again, I was immediately reminded of when I once pushed her to be an idol, to follow her dreams. It wasn't any different now besides us not warming up our voices together.
"Hanayo, you were so close. What went wrong?" I asked sternly, accidently expelling a huff as well.
"I…I… I don't know."
"Why couldn't you do it? You slipped up. You gave into your fears."
"Of course I did. Maki-chan… I was afraid, too nervous to do anything." She began to sob, her hands quickly rushing to cover her face as the tears poured out from her eyes. I knew I couldn't comfort her with words, so I quickly wrapped my arms around her, and allowed her to put the weight of her body on my own as she hugged back. Yes, I know. It's not something I'd usually do, but I'd rather feel awkward than allow Hanayo to suffer further. It was my fault for acting harshly after all.
"It's okay," I said softly, stroking my hand gently across her back as her tears dampened the shoulder pad of my uniform. "I'll admit it. I may have made the wrong decision by forcing you to tell Rin your feelings so quickly. I should've taken your shyness into more consideration. Let's try a different tactic," I said, her sobs already beginning to soften. "How about rather than focusing on admitting your feelings to her, you build your way towards it."
"What do you mean?" she asked weakly, lifting her head away from my shoulder and gazing at me with a frown.
"I mean don't be direct, drop hints every now and again. It'll help you gain the confidence you need when you finally do tell her your feelings, and also help Rin begin to notice these feelings. Who knows, maybe she'll even consider asking you first."
"But you said I should be the one to tell her."
"You still will be telling her, just over time."
"But will it still have the same effect?" I sighed at the question.
"Not exactly, but at least Rin will know you're trying. Besides, you may end up having to tell her anyways."
"I… I guess that might work. I'll give it a try," she said hesitantly, but at least with less weakness in her voice. She smiled and looked into my eyes deeply. Realizing I still had my arms around her, I quickly pulled them away and huffed, looking off into the distance. I hoped my hair did a good job of blocking my cheeks considering how hot they'd grown. What an embarrassing moment.
"Ready to go home?" I asked, rising to my feet after giving myself a minute or so to calm down.
"Of course. Thank you so much for doing this, Maki-chan," she said sweetly as she followed.
"You've already thanked me enough. You don't need to do it anymore," I muttered, immediately reminded of why I was so embarrassed just moments before. I sighed, knowing I needed to show appreciation as well. "You're welcome… I do appreciate you saying that."