Ambiguously Happily Gay Forever
Dedicated to: Nagumo
Merry Late Christmas to you. This is SO for you, Miss Chie fan. Otherwise, I'd never have written a Aoi/Chie fic
Takes place before the start of the series
Takarazuka Revue (taken from wikipedia). All female dancing troupe. Part of the novelty of Takarazuka is that all the parts are played by women, like a mirror-image of kabuki. The women who play male parts are referred to as otokoyaku (literally "male role") and those who play female parts are called musumeyaku (literally "daughter role"). The costume and set designs are incredibly lavish, and the performances are melodramatically emotional. Most fans of Takarazuka are female. (For more information, wiki it. I didn't put the link here directly because it showed up funny.)
Aoi was plain. There was nothing exquisite or obviously grotesque like brilliant baby blue eyes with shades of green or a belly the size of Utah from years of beer, delivered greasy foods and hours in front of the television. Her eyes were where eyes should be: They were a common deep brown. A nose was where a nose usually was and a mouth that was neither Julia Roberts nor the tiny drawn lips of geishas. She had all four limbs, all functioning, with some degree of chest, neither lacking nor overwhelming, neither chubby nor skinny and like all girls, had, at some point, complained about her thighs and calves being too big. On the subject of hair, she had long hair until midway down her back, and like most people, had good hair days and bad hair days, better days when conditioned, but never a focus in conversation.
Even her personality had mastered invisibility, mostly due to a high unintentional degree of conformity. She worshipped seasonal idols, gushed over cute things, watched the latest soap operas religiously and had a wish list that could span the equator. She was also in the cooking club (basic non-fatal taste and appearance could be achieved no problem) and had minimal coordination and athletic ability as was acceptable for girls. Her intellectual level was average as measured by her mediocre grades. Like most people, Aoi enjoyed a certain amount of gossip, especially the excitement of announcing fresh hot news. Her reliable source usually guaranteed her this privilege. Even though her family was neither powerful nor rich, food on the table, good high school and university education was not a problem for all three children of the Senous (Aoi was the middle child). Common looks also played a large part of this invisibility; She didn't have "character" or "attitude" as society seems to have a difficult time separating beauty and personality.
All in all, everything together made her comfortable to look at, the senses effortlessly gliding by her like floor numbers on an elevator. If one had to compare her to a living object, it would be the cheery neighborhood girl who everybody liked but never noticed until a scandal erupts. For an adjective, she would be "nice" and "friendly", descriptive words commonly separated and misinterpreted. Perhaps a more appropriate definition would be "When one is neither a threat nor a target for jealousy or envy, and is therefore easily approachable. Being not a head-turning beauty, one would rely on smiles and a certain amount of interpersonal skills when talking to others as not to be "leftovers" in group/pair class activities. Contextual usefulness determines the degree of 'nice' and 'friendly'. Outward displays of confrontational competitiveness are a definite no-no."
One thing special about Aoi though was her beautiful smile. This facial expression combined with language's subjectivity allows viewers to comment on this trait without violating a social ideal. (Note: to be used in conjunction with "nice" and "friendly".)
If only they knew that this girl was not only special but better than they were. If only they knew her as Harada Chie did.
To Chie, Aoi was the way she was because she chose it. She liked gossip but never attempted to deny it behind modesty. She openly envied and admired beautiful things and people without secret jealousy. She liked and disliked people with tact and the precious characteristic of consistency. It was never behind someone's back. She abided to social rules but not when it conflicted with what she believed in.
Aoi was not common. She was brave, bold and honest. And Chie loved her for it.
Yes, as the stereotype went, the tomboy is the gay girl so Chie wasn't surprised when she realized that she was in love with her best friend. In fact, from her large vault of experience and observation, every lesbian had to go through a "best-friend phase", better known as "Bitch-of-a-Phase": a long term crush (lasting between six months to two decades) that shall never be verbalized and always end in disappointment with said-love interest ending up with some loser 93.4 percent of the time (plus or minus 5 percent margin of error).
Not-so-rational and selfless acts of kindness that could get expensive over the years, sneaking peaks when lesbian thinks straight best friend isn't looking and sexual fantasies which begin with best friend confessing that she couldn't get lesbian out of her head are common syndromes. Best friend also tend to have poor choice in men leaving lesbian with one or all of these following thoughts in retrospect: a) "What the fuck did I ever see in her?!" b) "I was such an idiot!" c) "Why the hell is she still with that ass and never batted an eye at me!"(insert things that lesbian had done for former best friend over the course of their broken friendship compared to the things that "ass" had done).
However, should one find herself in this situation, Chie advocates the questioning lesbian to cut loses early for very good emotional, psychological and economical reasons. There are other ways to be initiated into lesbian-hood without the side effects of the BFP. E.g. Shoujo ai and yuri anime, manga and fanfics. Going to drag-king clubs and cafes. Have crushes on hot female teachers/professors. Flirting with random girls who you'd never see again and therefore not have to worry about embarrassing oneself or being rejected. In the event that lesbian meets girl again, alcohol and weed are your alibi. Cocaine, E, "that time of the month" and birth control pills are not recommended excuses.
Alas, we digress. This is a Chie/Aoi fic after all.
Looking back, her first clue was in kindergarten when she always played the male leads in role play games. None of the other girls wanted to be the "prince", "dad" or "cowboy". So, Chie stepped up to the unwanted parts and enjoyed every moment of it. Saving princesses from evil stepmothers was her specialty.
The only part that she hated to play was the "evil prince (never a witch by the way) who kidnaps the princess and gets defeated by the good prince". She always felt she played the part of the brave handsome prince better than any boy in her class but in the rare occasion when her friends were able to get one of them to join, boy ABC would be chosen to play the good prince instead of her, the seasoned professional.
Disaster would ensue and it always ended with intense hostility between girls and boys. After all, Prince Charming could hardly be considered charming when he was constantly yelling at the princess or giving her the cold shoulder and was more interested in gutting evil's minions than saving his destined beloved. However, even with all these past mistakes, boy ABC, who couldn't make her lady swoon half as good as she, got to be the "good prince".
Once, fed up with the boys ruining the game, Chie advocated herself to play the good prince the next time the girls were somehow able to get a few boys to join. Kisaragi Junko, the cutest girl in first grade, laughed and explained to her, nay, lectured her, as if it was the most natural thing in this world, that only boys could be good princes. It felt silly that she even had to explain the logic behind her solution. The boys get to fight and leave whenever the action was done and the girls get their charming handsome prince (her). It was win-win. But all she got was the same sentence being repeated back to her. For the next three days, Chie refused to play with her friends during recess. She was so certain that she was right.
The class play of "Snow White" proved her wrong though. Chie was positive that she would be chosen to play the male lead. After all, all the girls who played with her always complimented at how convincing she was and how they felt their hearts beat faster whenever she smiled or proposed to them on one knee. In the end, though, nobody mentioned her name, much less vote for her. Instead, boy ABC, one of the worst destructors of their role-play games, was chosen. It was then that Chie learned: Boys were princes who always get the princess. Even when they do a crappy job.
She was nothing but a substitute. A girl could never take the place of a real boy. It was the only way for one to love a woman. Movies, Kitakawa-sensei, after school and Saturday cartoons and late night soap operas that she snuck out of bed to watch until she was caught, said so too.
At seven years old, Chie hated being a girl. She wanted to be a boy. Besides, she made a more handsome boy than beautiful girl anyways. Her face wasn't soft like most girls' were nor did she have the popular "big innocent eyes". Instead, she had a more contoured face, a sharp chin, and a straight narrow nose. Her lips were in no way luscious or soft. Instead, they were thin and a little on the wide side. But it was through these very lips that she was able to perfect her evil half smile that she always practiced right after a shower in front of the mirror with her wet hair slicked back. The smile was composed of 30 percent confidence, 30 percent danger and 40 percent "You know you can't resist me" with the eyes narrowed just the right amount. So, convinced by her new revelation, she started to talk like a boy, act like a boy and dress like a boy. This earned her the label "tomboy" and she was fine with that. Chie got to play a game of soccer with the boys whenever she wanted to. The girls welcomed her as their champion whenever they couldn't get boys to join.
This all went well until junior high when the games became so much more complex. Respectively, the socially defined categories of "boys" and "girls" became more demanding as well. This control that everyone seemed to accept so effortlessly manifested into almost all aspects of her life and Chie found herself unable to keep up. Boys cannot be friends with girls. The two sexes could only interact through the activity of "dating". Boys were supposed to be obsessed with cars and sports. Girls should be obsessed about their weight and boys. Boys were supposed to be strong, sturdy and unemotional. Girls should be verbal, gentle and graceful. Boys were-- boys were—boys were—Girls should—Girls should—Girls should--- all these phrases that she was forced to sort out and obey and shun exhausted her. It was no longer fun.
She wanted to be friends with other girls too. Not just because the girl could be a princess for a prince. While she was fairly coordinated and athletic, Chie could never sit and watch "the game" or follow a baseball team religiously. She didn't want to work out just to be buff with the constant need to prove how "macho" she was on a daily basis.
To be a real boy, she would have to give up her love of poetry, cooking, and Takarazuka. (Later on, investigative work) She would have to hate her own body (which was endowed with impressive "assets" much to her own surprise) which she didn't. It was a bloody war between masculinity and femininity where neither side was winning except a third secret enemy.
By the end of her first year in middle school, Chie didn't want to be a boy anymore. In fact, she never did. She only did it so she could be the prince who gets the princess. Her short hair and choice of clothing were simply a preference. Even when she flirted with girls, she enjoyed it as a girl (just not one of those girly girls) and not as a masculine "manly" man.
Worst of all, she found herself unable to leave this vicious cycle for it was also in middle school that Chie realized how sacrilegious her identity was. She was neither a boy nor a girl and everywhere she went, the world, angry at its inability to place her in one of its dichotomic categories, punished her. Her mother and relatives constantly badgered her to be more like a girl. Boys accepted her yet never treated her as a girl. Girls were friendly on the whole but she knew that they shunned her in their inner circles. And somehow, nonconformity to one thing always associated one with other forms of deviation. In this case, her sexuality, the latest curious question faced by middle-school students. It was here that she finally learned of her proper label and all the shame that came with it.
The talks behind her back and the blatant questioning from her friends pained and embarrassed her until her "do-I-give-a-damn" meter no longer registered these annoying buzzes.
Instead, Chie found a way to survive and exist by floating from clique to clique. Her new discovered talent at uncovering secrets and rumours made her a welcomed stranger to these unstable groups. With this new lifestyle, she gained a new understanding of people and the forces that were even bigger than themselves. It was like reading a map or watching earth from space. The view was encompassing, enlightening and disenchanting. All the while, her secret, her "unnatural" attraction to women, was safe. The methods of society taught her how to use words and moments of flirtation to slide by interrogation. She was a free spirit while everybody else slaved in their designated roles.
To indulge her secret, Chie would make use of the love letters (all from girls) found in her locker every now and then. Even though she wasn't near the bishounen level characterized by men like Kanzaki Reito, she was handsome and charming enough to garner a few admirers of her own. Sometimes, she'd accept their confessions. These relationships never went far and served as a device for passing time and a moment's thrill for both parties.
Senou Aoi didn't come into the picture until half way through her third year of middle school. Chie had just recently joined this clique, a group of girls characterized by similar economical backgrounds and a few common interests. At first, Senou Aoi was just a name along with three others. All five of them "hung out", went out on weekends, did typical "girly" things. It didn't matter who was who. … until the day that Senou Aoi showed her true colours.
They were supposed to meet outside on a patch of grass at the science building for lunch. She was running late because of a rumoured brawl between two FiH! (Fujino-sama is hawt!) devotees. Chie had accidentally-on-purpose eavesdropped on their conversation after verifying the incident and its causes (a verbal disagreement over the ownership of a memo note that said "Ten copies, please" penned by Fujino Shizuru herself). After all, it was important to keep track of public opinion in order to judge her departure time and search for new friendship "motels". A couple of girls talked about her boyish looks which immediately had them whispering with curious repulse. "Harada Chie looks and acts like a boy… does she… --gasp!!-- like girls too?!" was their conclusion.
Some immediately confessed that she had "came onto them" or "stared a little too long in the locker room" (Which was entirely untrue. Chie prided herself on having good taste). It was a powerful statement about one's beauty when another of the same sex expressed interest. Of course, to accept that attraction would be unacceptable, therefore denouncing it was the only way to fulfill their thirst for rebellion and vanity all at once. And to do so, they created the lecherous indiscriminate predator despite the fact that they had lunched with said deviant yesterday afternoon.
To her surprise, Senou Aoi, the girl who she had only casually talked to about meaningless things (the weather, classes, assignments, latest rumours) said, on the spot, "I don't think Chie-san would do such a thing. Even if she did like girls, she's a nice person." This plain girl went on to compliment on her "cool" looks and how, just yesterday, they all thought the same thing. There was an awkward moment before Oota Yayoi tried to laugh off the moment by insinuating that Senou Aoi had a crush on the person who she was defending to which Aoi responded—and Chie remembered every word of it--, "I just think that we shouldn't talk behind a friend's back like that. I mean, how would you feel if I did the same thing to any of you." Then, Aoi stood up and left. Chie had to scurry and hide.
Needless to say, rumours of a logical order (e.g. "Senou Aoi may not look like it but she's gay", "Senou Aoi is going out with that tomboy", "Senou Aoi likes to cop a feel in the locker room") followed the very next hour. She played dumb of course while Aoi made no mention of it.
They hung out as usual even though their group was reduced to a duo. The time that they spent together only intensified the gossips, to which she could no longer claim ignorance to being the self-proclaimed "rumour mill". Chie was certain that her friend was aware of the consequences before she did what she did. It was like the embedded logic of "breathing to survive". And yet, she still stood up. For her.
From there, Senou Aoi became a mystery. Chie couldn't understand what it was that gave this seemingly plain girl such magnificent strength, willing to trade her friends and reputation, everything that was important to a teenager, for that little bit of justice.
It was an abnormal phenomenon that contradicted everything that she believed in. She knew she had to unlock this secret before it drove her mad. Her eyes began to chase Aoi at whatever she did, wherever she went, but all Chie managed to uncover were the things that made her heart beat a little faster. Aoi's smile especially had that effect. It wasn't one given out of habit or politeness. The way she complained about homework and whatnot always brought a jitter of warmth inside her. The way Aoi would lightly slap her arm whenever she teased her or made inappropriate comments or jokes always invoked a feeling of inertia at the pit of her stomach. Even though Aoi was not popular in the traditional sense, it wasn't hard to notice that everybody liked her and recently, a shot of pain would run through her whenever Aoi chatted animatedly with other people, especially boys. Even with the rumours, people found it hard to distant themselves from Aoi. Rather, they were all well-wishers who were there to warn her.
Perhaps it was a reaction to this newly discovered jealousy, Chie came out to Aoi. She had told herself at the time that it was all part of her quest to discover the truth. In retrospect, Chie wondered if it was spite, a sadistic part of her that wanted to ruin this possibly false friendship that prompted her to do it.
In no way was it planned or thought out. It just happened over lunch one day. Almost randomly, she casually told Aoi that it was all true, that she did like girls, and that Aoi was defending the wrong side. Her friend just shrugged (and blushed a little) and said that she had always suspected and that it wasn't her being gay that bothered her. Rather, it was all the false embellishment that her friends and others had added that made her upset.
Chie couldn't say a single word for the rest of the day. Her big secret, one that she always publicly played as a joke, was out and the world wasn't ending. In fact, it felt like it was just beginning. It was then and there that Chie knew. She was in love with Senou Aoi, a girl who was so very special. However, this liberation came at a price for Chie now had a new secret, one that she could never tell Aoi. There were times when her feelings flowed so hotly in her veins that it tempted her to just release it and be free. But to own that chance, she'd have to risk their friendship, something that she absolutely could not lose. The BFP truly lived up to its name.
In a way though, this might be a good thing. Too many times had she seen relationships fall apart in her investigations. Couples lose interest in each other ever so quickly true to the fickle nature of teenagers. Most of the time, it was the imperfect love which reality paints for them that destroyed everything. At least, this way, Aoi and their potential relationship shall remain perfect. It was a romance of sort, like the unconsummated medieval affairs that knights and married women had.
Eventually, the rumours died down and her monopoly of Aoi ended. Much to her own surprise, Aoi's "friends" were the ones who initiated contact and apologized. Even though Chie had verbally called 'bygones be bygones', she hadn't understood Aoi's forgiveness. In fact, the way Aoi had made excuses for their immature behavior baffled her.
"They were just caught up in the moment."
"They didn't really mean it."
"They're nice people at heart."
"They just don't know you very well."
Chie just nodded to disguise her disagreement although impressed by Aoi's big heart. Obviously, her friend wanted her to get along with these girls so she played the "forgiving friend" for her.
It was disappointing to say the least to see the duo restored to an awkward five-some. And day after day, she went through her boring routine, plagued by the same questions, feelings and dead-ends. Reminiscing about the past and how she rolled, wrapped and marinated herself in the BFP became a habit. She was still able to function normally of course except now she had a new secret hovering like a ghost around everything that she did. The only thing remotely able to distract her was her little hobby of information gathering.
And today, the moment she got to school, Chie learned of a rumour that ruined her last refuge.
Senou Aoi had a crush on someone.
When Chie heard those words, a flash of cold swept through her like gallons of ice water forced down her throat. She didn't even have time to read the love letter in her shoe chubby (always a source of entertainment) before rushing off to find her connections. Some said it was Kanzaki Reito (which didn't count on so many levels). Other sources pointed to the tennis captain and the librarian. It was hard to ascertain. Her brain, the squishy thing inside her head that simply refused to logically analyze this like all the other cases, only worsened the situation. Talking to Aoi directly was definitely out of the question. She was too afraid of her answering "yes".
It was simply impossible to concentrate in any of her classes. All she had to comfort her were the natural laws of rumours which worked for the most part. After all, this could potentially be nothing but floating words born out of boredom or ungrounded observation by some amateur. Even if it were true, high school crushes were known to have extremely short life spans like the recent three-month trend of dark nail polish. And should said-crush reciprocate those feelings, high school relationships had an even shorter life span. So, theoretically, she had absolutely nothing to worry about. Besides, she had no right to stop Aoi. None at all.
Comforted by her own reasoning, Chie made it through the day. After school, she went to one of her stake-out spots on campus to keep herself busy. It was an area behind the library with a few trees and large unkempt patches of wild bushes and weeds. There were many other areas around the academy that were more suited for scenic walks so most people simply assumed it to be secluded. Under this supposition, Chie discovered it to be quite a magnet for clandestine activities. Love confessions were one of them.
Like always, she planted a few bugs in the grass while she herself hid in a bush that was further away to avoid detection. The only downfall of this spot was the lack of trees which forced her to hide in full camouflage gear with a long cape of fake grass attached to her back. From there, all she had to do was lie on her stomach and be still, camera, binoculars, ready-to-sip-water and silent foods ready at hand. (note on silent foods: e.g. plain bread, peeled bananas, anything that doesn't smell and one could quietly chew although in the near future, Chie had to make do with water alone and bribe a certain eating machine to keep her secrets for even the most silent of foods had exposed her to said "machine's" incredible sense of smell)
This line of work required immense patience for more often than not, one would return empty handed with only silence as one's companion. It was a process that most probably wouldn't even attempt while she had a talent for.
The first hour went by quickly and uneventfully. There were a few false alarms that turned out only to be birds and small squirrels. Following the after-school rush, Chie took a small break and resumed her position for the after-club-activity rush. She was more than ready to call today a failure until she heard footsteps approaching from her ear-piece. Taking out her binoculars, Chie carefully stole a peek.
Just less than ten meters away, in her uniform with a bag of cookies in her hands (most probably from today's cooking club session), was her best friend, Senou Aoi. She looked nervous, occasionally twirling her hair and staring up into the sky.
Chie immediately set her head down and consciously refused to take another look. The earthy smell of the ground attacked her nostrils. For some odd reason, her breathing was loud and heavy while her heart pounded in her chest like frantic knocks on a door.
She had no idea how much time had passed but when she looked up again, Aoi was still there. Her only comfort and source of anger was that she was there alone. Whoever that Aoi was waiting for deserved to be tortured for tardiness. Should he show up though, said inhuman boy should be tortured then burned at the stake. Chie placed her head down, submitting herself into her cocoon of artificial darkness. It was too hard to watch or even think.
All she could do was shut down her radio and mind and pray that when she opened them again, Aoi would be gone. With her fingers silently fumbling with the switch, she turned on the mp3 function of the device. Some song that Aoi was obsessing about yesterday droned out her thoughts and everything around her. However, that turned out to be a terrible mistake for halfway through the song, a stab of weight and pain pierced her back and she couldn't stop herself from crying out. One after another, a scream echoed her own and Chie knew it was over.
She got up from the ground as quickly as possible to explain herself. She just couldn't understand how among the immense space behind the freakin library, Aoi had to choose her patch. She must have looked liked some zombie coming alive for another scream attacked her ears.
"Calm down! It's me!"
Aoi looked at her curiously, squinting her eyes to confirm her through the camouflage make-up.
All Chie could manage was a sheepish grin while brushing away a stray piece of fake grass that got caught on her glasses. Neither of them said anything. After all, typical corny lines for being caught cosplaying (spying) as grass had yet to be invented. Thankfully, she didn't have to be the one to break the silence.
"Think I've just literally stumbled upon one of your industry secrets," joked Aoi.
"Didn't mean to step on you… you alright?"
Conversation immediately died after that feeble one word answer. Inwardly, both girls panicked for words. Aoi was the first one to come up with something once again.
"You look good today."
"Green's always been my colour," shrugged Chie with a forced smirk.
"I thought your favourite colour was light gray."
"In this context, think green works better."
Aoi chuckled at her little joke. The laugh was a little shaky but it still worked. Chie liked the lightness and the blatant denial. Perhaps, somehow, they'd be able to walk away soon and pretend that none of it happened. Unfortunately, Aoi didn't agree with her.
"Now that you know… I should probably do this properly…" stuttered Aoi. She took a deep breath before continuing, "Would you like to go out with me?"
A dumb silence bombed the space between them before spinning around and hitting Chie squarely in her head. It rendered her speechless with surprise, slacking her jaw and eyes wide open with utter disbelief.
"Me?" blurted Chie, dumbly.
Aoi nodded. "Didn't you read the letter?"
And it suddenly hit her. The letter she got this morning, the one that she ignored! SHE was the one Aoi had a crush on!?
Her limbs suddenly couldn't feel the weight of her gear. It was like a dream, a dream she never dared to have. Chie knew it was her turn to speak, after all, it was a question that Aoi had asked, and it wasn't rhetorical. Every deciding second was ticking by much too quickly under her friend's shy but expectant gaze. She should be screaming "Yes!" at the top of her lungs. Aoi felt the same way. Without even gambling anything, she could be with Aoi as something more than her friend! But something kept the words in her mouth, something nostalgic, old and powerful. They were memories: all three girls that she had informally dated in the past. All of it taunted her, showing her indisputable evidence when the future was only her imagination in a world that expertly crushed ideals on a daily basis.
"Aoi…" said Chie, licking her dry lips repeatedly to stall for that fraction of a second, "This is just a crush."
"Isn't that where most relationships start?"
Chie could feel her heart panicking within her chest, a distracting rhythm that seemed to prevent any logical thought. It was a weak start and Aoi's quick rebuttal proved it. She needed something a little stronger.
"I'm not a male."
"That's the same thing said in a different way," responded Aoi, skeptically.
"Yes," agreed Chie, drawing out the affirmative answer. (Was it her or was Aoi extra sharp--and witty-- today?) "But you don't see me as one."
"What in the world do you mean? You're either female or male. And if you're something in between, you need to tell me now."
"I look like a boy," breathed out Chie. Strange how something she was actually proud of was making her feel so ashamed that she couldn't even look Aoi in the eye.
"No, you don't. Well, more androgynous than male I'd say. But that doesn't change the fact that you're female. I know that, Chie. And I am also very aware that this would be classified as 'lesbianism'. Now you just tell me if you like me the same way or not."
Aoi finished with definite conviction and strength. Chie knew she was losing but not because she was weak. Rather, it was because there were too many things that she could never throw in as part of her ammunition. Those very words of truth could not only end this conversation but their friendship as well. So Chie held back.
"It's not that simple," she said feebly.
"What do you mean?"
"My being female won't come into play with where this is going therefore you are not really going out with a girl."
"You've lost me."
"Aoi," said Chie firmly, thoroughly frustrated, especially for having to explain something so humiliating. Worse, her friend was entirely unaware of her own cruelty. It was as if she was taunting her. And so, the animal in her fought back in the foulest way possible. "I'm not going to be your test pilot where all we're going to do is go out for dinners and movies, hug, hold hands, small kisses at most and call it a romantic relationship! You may not be aware of it but you will feel like that you're going out with a boy and I'm not one! I'm not going to play this game with you! We don't want the same things!"
"So you do like like me," tested Aoi. Strange how she seemed entirely unfazed by her anger.
Instinctively, Chie was going to shout out "no". She managed to stop herself just in time and surrendered to what was now painfully obvious.
"Yes. But it's not going to work."
"I didn't know you thought of it that way," whispered Aoi, "But you haven't even given me a chance yet! Sure, no one knows if we'll get so far as the—you know—part but it's not fair for you to condemn me for something that I haven't even done yet!"
"But you will," ended Chie. That was it. She knew it. All the effort that she had placed into protecting their friendship was useless in the end.
It became eerily quiet. Anytime now, Aoi would to turn around and they'd go their separate ways. It came sooner than she thought and in a manner entirely different than she had expected but it was time to say goodbye. Once again though, Aoi proved to be special. Different.
"Let's do it right now," said Aoi. Her words were quiet but clear, as if suddenly coming to a firm decision with no alternatives.
"What?" blurted Chie.
"You want proof. I'm giving it to you," said Aoi. She took a sure step forward, closing the distance between them. Instinctively, Chie backed away. The ways in which that sentence could be interpreted made her hands sweat and tremble.
"This is not a joke."
"I know! And I'd appreciate it if you'd stop treating it as one! Chie, I am attracted to you because of who you are. You're very observative and funny. You always know how to make me feel better, especially about myself. Most of all, you're the most considerate and compassionate person that I know. You may do the gossip thing but it never hurts anyone. You are also beautiful. Maybe not in the stereotypically feminine way but that doesn't mean I see you as male. And it makes me so angry for you to trivialize my feelings all because you're afraid!
DON'T give me that look, Harada Chie! You know exactly what I'm talking about! You put people into these fixed little boxes and go on to predict disaster about them. Even though you do the whole social thing, you never give people a real chance. And for what? So you could have the excuse to bow out gracefully and safely! You'd rather be right about your presumptions than be proven wrong because you're so afraid of getting hurt. I know you hate how people stereotype you. It's not right of them to do so but it's also because you don't ever let them know you beyond what they see on the surface! You just hop from group to group, person to person, backing away as soon as it gets hard –AND don't you DARE interrupt me and deny it! Not when you're doing the exact same thing to me, to yourself and 'us'! Has it never occurred to you that maybe, some people are truly sincere? Maybe, some people do want to get to know you and will like you for who you are? And maybe, some people are worth taking the risk? Call me egotistical but I think I deserve a chance in the very least. I thought we were friends! I couldn't help feeling the way I do about you and I know you feel the same way. So, today, right now, this instant, I'm going to prove you wrong!"
As soon as her ultimatum was delivered, Aoi reached out and grabbed her wrist. It was tight and unyielding, as if any effort to break free would have been futile. Turning around briskly, Aoi began a journey to a destination that only she knew. All Chie could do was keep up.
They ended up in Aoi's dorm room. Her roommate was out as usual. Even if Yuuki Nao did decide to return tonight, it would have been impossible with the windows locked, curtains drawn and the door blocked by a small but heavy closet and suitcase.
Chie was asked if she wanted to take a shower first. It was an option that she gladly took.
In all honesty, this was her moment of escape. She was alone, the water deliciously warm and calming, her body and mind her own once again. Instead, Chie took her time to wash away every bit of the face paint and sweat and took the extra effort to shave her legs and underarm with the extra razor she found in the cabinets behind the mirrors. When she came out from the bathroom clad only in a towel, Aoi was already waiting for her on the bed, naked except for a pair of pink panties. It was hard to imagine that this was the same girl who demanded this with such force and determination just moments ago. Aoi sat with her arms wrapped around her chest protectively, cheeks a shy modest pink, whispering for her to turn off the lights.
There was nothing left to do but to obey and kiss this girl once darkness veiled their inhibitions.
They hadn't had sex that night though. After a few light and heavy kisses, lying Aoi down onto the bed and climbing on top of her, they just stopped. Their own loud and erratic breathing, thick with hot lust, and the slight rustling of the sheets whenever one of them moved were the only sounds. Both of them got the answer that they wanted but it just wasn't what they needed, not in this impulsive form of incompletion where neither of them was ready. Chie's arms were getting tired from supporting her own weight until Aoi gently laced her arms around her neck and pulled her down to the junction between her neck and shoulder. Chie relished the warmth of Aoi's skin that seemed to surround and encase her. Naked and quiet, they fell asleep in each other's arms.
When morning arrived, Chie was the first to rise. She watched Aoi sleep with her back leaning against the window. Her mind was devoid of thought as she etched that image before her into her mind, like a wanderer turning around for a last look at a town that he was leaving behind. He knew not of his destination, only his journey.
There were times when she wavered and Chie would reach out from her place at the window to brush a strand of hair that had fallen upon Aoi's face. She only dared to touch the air though, the motion of her hand superimposed upon her love like a wave goodbye.
It wasn't long before Aoi stirred and woke up as well. She smiled lazily, her eyes barely open. She was about to say "Good morning" until Chie said her version of "Good morning" first.
"Forget about last night."
Taking her dirty gear that she arrived in yesterday, a large t-shirt and a pair of sweat pants, Chie left. Aoi stopped her wordlessly and motionlessly.
It's amazing how quickly time could go by. Even more astounding was people's preference of inertia over change. It just seemed easier to do nothing and bath in familiarity, even if the numbness of routine was now replaced by agony.
At first, Chie told herself that she just wanted time to think. Perhaps it would have been wise to inform Aoi of that decision first but that would require talking to Aoi. It was just too easy to delay and procrastinate what needed to be done. There were several methods to achieve this. One, reorder and change one's list of priorities. Two, postpone item with promise of doing it another time "for sure". Three, random justifications.
Between "important assignments", "I'll talk to her tomorrow when there's less people" and "now is not a good time", two weeks had elapsed since she last saw and spoke to Aoi.
It wasn't hard considering that they weren't in the same class anyways. As easily as Aoi had entered her life, she was now gone and Chie found herself resuming her nomadic social pattern. The hard part was noticing the difference, the things that she wasn't aware that she was giving up until it happened.
Unlike the people that she criticized, Chie had always known that she wore a mask. It was one that made her calculatedly sociable, entertaining and flippant. It was a tool to find and sustain connections, a weapon that became a lifestyle and a fused part of her personality. What she hadn't realized was that that mask could be taken off. It had happened so slowly, so gradually that she hadn't even noticed until she had to put it back on again. And the Chie that had separated from the mask-- a part of her that was entirely the opposite of what the mask was; anti-social, quiet and fragile-- shuddered from the sudden darkness. A special girl named Aoi was the one that made those voices free and loud.
Before, they were only inkling nags. Now they were shouting out just how sick they were of this game and doubting all of her grand theories about the world for Aoi had proven it all wrong.
In her little hobby of rumours, she had sought the truth beyond what people believed. It was a sort of justice that she herself had always been denied. Chie had thought that'd she find something better, more beautiful, than what was seen but all she discovered was ugliness: the weakness of people, their surrender to the slightest pressures, their incapability of loyalty, their constant sacrifice of self and others for society's approval.
In an attempt to understand this sad conclusion, she logically tore apart every relationship that she came upon in search of any redeeming qualities. Her efforts backfired for this meticulous dissection of people merely turned everything into predictable exchanges and categories. People only help others if there are potential returns. Relationships only exist when there is a balance in the process of give-and-take. Even the parent-child relationship is one of partnership where the child only received a parent's "selfless" love if s/he fulfilled certain expectations. Should the child fail, s/he would be a disappointment. On a global scale, the nature of human beings is especially apparent. It is never about the "greater good" but rather what is profitable to the powerful. Personal relationships are no different.
Chie felt enlightened and justified in her revenge. An eye for an eye. The world took one look at her then shoved her into this little box labeled "lecherous gay tomboy". It then accorded a certain treatment based on that assessment. Why shouldn't she do the same thing?
Why should she associate intelligence with the girl that obsesses about nothing but boys and her looks? Why should she think better of the jock who just wants to get laid? People only included her in their groups in exchange for gossip and would betray her should the opportunity presents itself. Her retaliation was childish to say the least but unlike the mass of ignorant people, she was well aware of this process and was just working with the existing system that had taken a life of its own.
But what did she get from all this theory and talk? Nothing. All she had managed to do was isolate herself. She blamed Aoi for making her look around her sturdy fortress to find herself alone in it. Most of all, she forced her to look at her own biases, the many exceptions to her rules: the few but deep friendships that belonged not to her but existed around her. Though it was impossible to know if it would last a lifetime, it was real now at least. The students who truly love and admire their mothers and fathers. The good intentions behind her mother's constant badgering for her to look more like a girl. Aoi standing up for her when nobody else did. Or the simple discovery that Aoi's friends were not the ones who started the rumours even when she had assumed so. In fact, they did seem sincere in their apology. She was just too stubborn to admit it.
People had flaws. Aoi had flaws. She had flaws. And she hypocritically condemned them all for having them.
A stab of pain entered her chest and branched out like relentless vines growing on old castles, wild weeds of a stubborn breed. But what could she do except swallow and accept it. It was too late. She had said and done everything possible to hurt Aoi in an attempt to deny and protect herself. And the more she delayed talking to her, the less chance she had. And the less chance she had, the more she delayed. It was a simple vicious cycle. Painfully obvious. Emotionally hard to break.
Lunch rolled around like every other day. This week, she joined a group of two that was her lab partners during science class. They were what most would consider the "unpopular kids", the leftovers who ended up with each other because there was no one else. Chie was fine with that. Just meant they have a lot to say and were sick of saying it to the each other. All she had to do was pretend to listen.
That was until she overheard a random conversation at the cafeteria. The three of them were just about to return to class. As they exited, her hearing picked up a certain word, a name that her entire body couldn't help but respond to. The rest of the information just automatically attached itself to the name.
Aoi got shin splits during P.E..
And before she knew it, her destination back to class immediately changed: She needed to see her. The infirmary was on the third floor on the east wing. Never had she been so frustrated by crowds as they all seemed to be going the exact opposite direction. It got to the point where she had to nudge and subtly shove her way through. Recalling her painful encounter with shin splits last year, Chie could care less about the dirty looks that were obviously directed at her. By the time she got to the stairs, traffic was less dense and she had the space to take each flight in threes. There was no doubt that her skirt revealed a little more than it should but modesty hadn't even crossed her mind.
By the time she arrived at those white sliding doors, Chie was panting to catch her breath. She could feel beads of sweat beginning to form on her forehead. And there she stood, the adrenaline gradually leaving her limbs, time and people passing her by.
The next class was already in session although a fair few were probably in and away from campus, skipping. The once populated hallway was now empty and fragilely quiet with the threat of echoes hovering dangerously. Chie simply stared at a piece of chipped paint on the door.
She was here. So what? What was the point? If anything, she should be the last person here. Sure, shin splits were painful but they weren't fatal. Even if they were, she wasn't a doctor. Even if she was one, she was definitely last on Aoi's list.
'I shouldn't be here…'
Chie bit her lip and willed herself to turn around while the simplest of answers, the singular thought that brought her here, begged her to turn around.
Suddenly, a loud "boom" broke into the stillness and her made-up mind. The door was practically slammed to the other side like a swift karate chop. Chie found herself staring dumbly at the school nurse who looked like she wanted to just kick her out of the way.
"Is this an emergency?" said Youko-sensei, her voice unusually tight and crisp.
"Ah—N..No… I jus--"
Thankfully, Chie was saved from having to create an explanation.
"Good. I need to step out for a second to-to----It'll just be a minute!"
"Sure, take your time," replied Chie to the disappearing form of the school nurse. Guess they were even since neither of them was able to come up with a complete excuse. She briefly wondered what could possibly cause the usually kind and calm woman to act that way. Only briefly though for the doors were now open. It beckoned her forward by the fact that there was no one visible.
Cautiously, Chie stepped into the room. It was of modest size, rectangular in shape extending to the windows. She had always wondered why hospitals were usually white. Perhaps it was to give the impression that it was clean and sterile?
To her left were medicine cabinets. At the end in front of the windows was a small desk with a few books and files scattered on top. On her right were the beds partitioned by white screens, giving her the illusion that she was stepping into a narrow one-way path. Whether it had only one direction or not also depended if she was going to pull open one of those screens.
There were three in total. Chie paced each step stealthily, making sure that her shoes made not a sound. She passed the first and second one, noting that they were not occupied. That left the last one at the end. Chie licked her lips which felt so dry like they were about to split and bleed. That did little good as it only made her realize that even her tongue and mouth were deprived of moisture.
Maybe it was because they were less than a meter apart?
Impulsively, Chie slipped into the middle partition, standing behind the white artificial material that separated her and the girl behind it. This was as close as she could get. She allowed herself exactly two more minutes, timed to perfection on her wristwatch, before turning to leave.
At that moment though, something happened. Perhaps it was fate, perhaps there was a God or simply luck but like the day that Aoi had stumbled upon her amongst acres of grass and weed, she felt her leg hit something—her own foot perhaps, a bedpost?—and she found her balance gone. To save herself, she instinctively reached out to grab for whatever that was close by. Her hands managed to catch something cool and slippery before being caught by something that broke her fall. The moment her weight settled though, a quick yelp of pain immediately made her scramble to remove herself from the bed and the white plastic screen that covered her.
"Aoi! Did I hurt you?!"
Chie anxiously examined the girl on the bed, not daring to touch her though. She couldn't tell if Aoi was in pain or not, not with her head bowed and back slouched although Chie couldn't help but notice that Aoi had gotten thinner. She seemed smaller from when she last saw her.
"Aoi?" tested Chie. Once again, she got no answer. It hurt, like electric shocks running through her again and again. As expected, she was not welcomed. Inwardly, Chie laughed at herself for even hoping otherwise.
"I heard about what happened during gym. Hope you feel better soon," she said, the sentence clearly indicating her intentions of leaving but Aoi's sudden voice stopped her.
"Why are you avoiding me?"
Chie looked away guiltily, suddenly finding it hard to breath and like the time when she debated with Aoi behind the library, she couldn't find a good reason. Was she afraid of what people would think if they found out that they were dating? Was she afraid that Aoi, sweet Aoi, would eventually betray her? Even though this was far off in the future, was it the bleak prospects of a long-term relationship in a society that economically prevented the survival of a woman without a man much less two of them together? To be honest, none of those occurred to her. It was something much more simple and all she could do was apologize for it.
"You should be!" snapped Aoi. Never had Chie heard her voice filled with so much anger, pain seeping through every word. Chie's eyes were already stinging, the bridge of her nose sour and burning.
"You have no idea how much courage it took for me to confess," continued Aoi, "And now, you won't even talk to me."
"Don't just say you're sorry, tell me why! Why are you punishing me for liking you?! Even if we couldn't be a couple, couldn't we at least be friends? Or do you hate me?"
"No!" interrupted Chie immediately. The mere suggestion of it was horrifying. She couldn't imagine hating Aoi much less actually doing the deed.
"I just thought you wouldn't want to see me anymore," explained Chie, the words stumbling out of her to stop this madness, "I'm sorry I hurt you, I really am!"
"No, you're not! If you are, you wouldn't be doing this to me! How could you ask me to forget what happened! Or was I so disappointing that--"
"No!" protested Chie, her head reeling from shock. Her insides turned cold and frantic just hearing these thoughts that Aoi had, notions that she knew nothing of but were torturing the girl for these past two weeks.
"…I just didn't know how to face you."
"That's not an excuse!" protested Aoi, hotly before becoming quiet again with a single word. "Why?"
From her slouched position, the girl that the world failed to notice finally raised her head, looking for answer. It had been so long since Chie had seen those deep brown eyes that always made her feel so safe. They were always filled with a love for life and a pure honesty unmatched by any other. Now they were red and overflowing with tears. It was a sight that broke something inside of her. Chie never cried, she hated to, but right now, her own tears were clouding her vision of the beautiful girl that had captured her heart and dared to ask why.
Chie may be the one to kill the cockroaches and beetles that scared the other girls but she most certainly did not have the supposed courage that boys were supposed to have. Aoi had it though. She had the courage to ask this question while she shrunk away in fear.
This girl gambled for something that she wanted while she cowered in a corner. Was that it? Fear? Because it would be ridiculous. What she wanted was right here, offered to her on a silver platter. She wasn't even the one who had to put herself out there. Aoi did. And in turn, because of her insecurities, the one she claimed to love was hurt, injured by something so preventable. All this time, Chie thought she had done Aoi a favour by bowing out for someone much better to take her place. Of all people, this honest and brilliant girl deserved happiness. But what she had decided to be the better choice was hurting Aoi, and herself. This wasn't some self-sacrificing act. It was her being selfish.
In the end, Aoi was a girl. All the honesty and courage of the world doesn't change the fact that she was made of flesh and was vulnerable.
Chie sat down on the bed. Reaching out, she took the sobbing girl into her arms and held her, hoping that it wasn't too late, praying that somehow, she would be enough to stop her tears.
"I'm such an idiot."
"Yes you are!" concurred Aoi without a second thought, her voice muffled in Chie's shirt.
Through her tears, Chie couldn't help but smile.
"I've missed you."
"Me too," said Aoi, her words barely distinguishable between sobs, "And I'm mad at you."
"I know. I promise I'll make it up to you."
She felt Aoi nod against her chest, reaching out to pull her closer. It brought back the night that she had fallen asleep in Aoi's arms. Never had she slept so soundly.
"You said some really awful things…"
"Yes I did," agreed Chie. Tears were flowing freely from her eyes as she smoothed her palm up and down Aoi's back.
"Then again, so did I," mumbled Aoi.
"But you were right. All this time, I was the one who was afraid of what people would say. I was the one who caved into the pressure. Everything you said about me was true… I didn't even have the courage to read your letter after what happened that night… But… I want to change."
Taking Aoi's shoulders into her hands, Chie pulled away. Enough was enough. It was time she took steps forward past this standstill. Instead of passing responsibility onto someone else and the world, it was time that she grew up and shouldered her own weight. She took Aoi's hands into her own, looking her in the eyes to say what she truly felt in her heart.
"Did you know that whenever you're beside me, I feel like I could be myself and do anything without fear?"
Fresh tears welled up in Aoi's eyes. Chie brushed them away before coming even closer to steal a kiss. It was a short chaste one but it was enough to stop the hurt that was ripping them apart, replacing it with a joy that felt painful because it was so real.
"Aoi…you're so special, you know that?" whispered the prince, who was also a girl.
Life was full of hurt and pain but she was lucky enough to find someone who accepted her for who she was and was willing to stand by her. Instead of running away, she should become someone worthy of Aoi and earn that right.
"Please give me another chance… "
Ambiguously Happily Gay Forever END
one more chapter of Epilogue: Ten Years Later. Hopefully, I could make it for