Chapter 4: Past Step Third Memory

Spurred forward by my revelation that her best friend was once and destined to become Fancy Lala, I could swear that there was a new flame of fiery passion burning deep within Akiru. After that living room declaration in the empty Yuuki household, it was as though a pistol had sounded, and she was set to win the competition that had ensued. However, uncertain where to gain footing first, Akiru seemed to decide that what was first needed wasn't her place, but my own, and that we'd work from there.

How exactly that was a reasonable plan I hadn't the faintest knowledge of, but as it was something dictated by Akiru, it had to be of vital importance. So the very next possible moment, I once again found myself at the very doors I thought I had left behind me.

******

"Akiru!"

"Akiru!!" Miho protested loudly as her friend pushed her closer to the building containing Lyrical Production. Though it was a building she had frequented innumerous times in the past, it was difficult to casually approach it as she was now, especially after having severed her ties as best she could. Coming back now made all the trauma of before seem as a lie. That she could actually carry through with this plan was another matter entirely!

"Akiru, I can't! It's too soon for this!"

"Too soon, Miho? But too much time has already gone by already to waste more."

"But!"

"It's too late for doubts! You've already gotten me into this as well, so I won't be satisfied with backing out." Akiru said firmly as she gave her friend one last push towards the door.

"But even if you say that, it was only to tell you about it, not to drag you into it!"

"And what's the difference in that? Anyhow, good luck Miho!"

Akiru flashed Miho the "Victory" V with her fingers, and then walked away as though there was nothing of interest there. Seemingly on her own, Miho gave a small sigh as she surveyed the surroundings. From the brief glance from before it appeared as though the car they used to travel about was out. If it wasn't here it would mean there would be less people she knew and had a chance to encounter. This was supposed to be an in and out mission after all… resolving herself to an eventual continued state she took a few short breaths before she gathered the courage to step inside.

Once in the building it was like she had never left. It was pretty natural to be here after all the time she had spent here, though her perspective was a tad lower than before. But that was hardly the issue right now! She waited for the descending elevator with a hint of anxiety… if she were to meet someone before the office she just might lose her nerve.

Miho glanced nervously at the exit doors as she thought about Akiru and their immediate discussion before. She had wanted her friend to come to support, but Akiru said that it would be easier for just one person alone. It was all the more so because of Miho's level of familiarity with the very people she was hoping to meet.

While that much was so, she had to wonder if it was really alright. The thought of the very tie to both parts of her was now clenched tightly in her hands in the confines of the document envelope. It was the proof of Lala that everybody was looking to find. It was a bit overwhelming that so many people could look and still not see her though she was in plain sight. It was this fact more than anything that she was hopeful to remedy, but even the belief based on similarities was a large stretch already.

With the arrival of the elevator cutting through her thoughts, Miho took a moment of hesitation to re-think the situation. Yet when the doors opened and the elevator compartment was empty, she had little choice but to go inside. And once inside, she pressed the button for her targeted floor and the door closed with her eyes. She didn't want to look if she didn't have to.

It was hardly a minute later that she found herself in front of doors that she had walked to practically on autopilot. Memories from her last time here were still lingering in her mind and making her hesitate. Last time she opened it she was greeted immediately by both people she loved and respected very much, Aikawa Hiroya and Haneishi Yumi. If confronted again…

If confronted again…

She took a moment to shake her head violently to rid excess thoughts. Shaking too much in the entirety of her body wouldn't help anything! It shouldn't be that bad, but to stand here was to suffer more than to just go in, and so with a firm stance, she reached out and opened the door slowly. To barrel in was just not within her nerve, but a peek wouldn't hurt. And as her eyes took in everything she had once cast aside, she was rewarded with a tinge of disappointment and relief – everyone was gone for the day, no, that wasn't right either.

In the back, at one of the desks in the corner she could she a large barrier of magazines, reference books, schedule charts, and song drafts in danger of cascading off the front. Just behind the book pile was a tuff of brown hair that seemed to bob and weave along the wall of resources before ducking out of the way for a moment before resurfacing. Though confusing to most people, Miho recognized its identity in an instant.

"Ririka-san." She said happily at a whisper. A small smile found her lips as she imagined the exchange when Haneishi-san placed her there to various duties while the rest ventured elsewhere for business.

Miho was just about to break the silence when it occurred to her that there was already noise that was hidden by the noise of her beating heart.

"Ah, Linda-san… no. No, that fool Yoshio is actually on his way now. Yeah, they were just out for lunch but they should be there soon." It was evident from the way the conversation flowed that it was one taking place over the phone. Miho wasn't sure if she had any recollection of meeting the other Model for Lyrical Production as their schedules were so different.

"Me?" Ririka continued the conversation as it flowed into a less-than-business related topic. "Ah, yeah, I think I've finally started dating the right one this week. If you asked me about the three last week then I wouldn't have known what to say, but this one might offer me a ring anytime—oh? Ah yes, I guess I'll be going as well. Make sure you chastise that idiot Yoshio for me too, yup, bye."

It was amazing, such a confident smirk and everything… it was like nothing changed in her absence. Not being able to handle the humor and her nerves, Miho couldn't suppress her reaction and laughed out loud louder than she would have liked. It was an act that had in turn summoned Ririka's attention as she popped her head over the pile to see who had announced themselves in the abstract manner. Her face was confused to see the girl before her laughing in a familiar tone.

"Eh, you are…" Ririka began confused as Miho quickly regained some of her composure and issued a quick bow.

"I'm sorry," Miho began in her normal speaking tones which barely sounded anything Lala-ish but similar all the same. "It's just that you're still the same, Ririka-san!"

"Hn?" Ririka questioned as a sense of remembrance crept over her. "Ah… from that time?" she asked before continuing. "You are that sad girl who was in front of the elevator that time-!"

"Ah-Yes!" Miho said quickly as she switched to a formal sense. "I am Shinohara Miho." She said quickly, though she wasn't sure how to turn the conversation to a favorable direction. "I, that is, Ririka-san…"

"Eh?" Ririka said as she stood up from her desk. "Shinohara… Miho?" She seemed to recall that name several times in the past when she was—where was she? Ah! "You are the one Lala—! The one Lala mentioned those times!" She declared in an excited voice. "Why are you—?"

"I—that is—Lala, I'm here on Lala's, no, my behalf!" Miho finally choked out as her voice carried familiar tones so similar to Ririka that she paused as the words washed over her.

"Your behalf... Lala's behalf?" She seemed shaken, "You know Lala?!" Ririka seemed to recover at the sound of the name as the first sliver of evidence on her friend came forward on hauntingly familiar tones. "Where is she!? What has she been doing—can I see her!?"

The question bombarded Miho took a hesitant step in retreat before she pushed the envelope she bore in her hands forward like a shield and temporarily halted them both as she struggled for something to say that would not only calm the frantic person before her, but steel her resolve enough to deliver what she came to deliver. Unable to assemble thought she shouted the first words that she could think of as a show of her frantic desperation and rampaging painful emotions that were instigated by the young woman before here.

"Lala! Lala wanted you to know… she wanted you to have this!" Tears were streaming down her face as she pressed the envelope into Ririka's trembling hands and quickly stepped back and put distance between them. "I want you to have it…" Miho said softly as she bolted out the room and fled down the hallway, leaving her former manager shaken with word and evidence of a person she had all but thought lost to her.

Miho was well on her way towards the outside when Ririka finally retrieved enough of her nerves to return to her seat and set the envelope before her.

With an unsteady hand she opened it and reached her hand into its confines. When her hand finally returned with the container's contents, there were several pieces of paper and a cassette with a note.

It would be two more hours before Ririka had the composure to insert the tape into the tape deck and press 'play'.

******

AN: For clarity purposes: Because Akiru and Miho are so close as friends I have dropped the -chan aspect because they tend to say each other's names so frequently, but I will try to continuing attaching to all other deserving cast characters. It carries too much weight in the story flow to drop them entirely.