The nearby alarm clock ticks away the seconds of the morning as Ana Coppola lay in her bed, sound asleep. Thanks to circumstances from the previous evening, Ana is not sleeping alone. One of her closest friends, Matsuri Sakuragi, slept quietly in her arms. Although the girls would have no complaints about sleeping late into the afternoon, or even the entire day for that matter, fate has other plans in store for them on that particular morning.
A soft CLICK reverberates around the room, followed shortly by a kind of grinding winding sound, which inadvertently awoke Ana. The blond-haired girl raises her head up just enough to lift it off the pillow and survey the room. A strand of Matsuri's hair dangles from Ana's lips as she squints sleepily at the area around her bed. Deciding that the sound is nothing of concern, Ana lies her head back down.
Once again, the room echoes with a soft CLICK followed, again, by a grinding-winding noise. Ana dismisses these sounds as the wind blowing against her window, yet in spite of this she finds herself feeling less and less tired. She loosens her grip on Matsuri, which causes her friend to roll over. The petite Brit watches the sleeping Matsuri, who now faces away from her. Placing her hand on Matsuri's back, Ana smiles and opts to let Matsuri sleep a little longer while she takes care of her morning ablutions.
As Ana turns to climb out of bed, however, she comes across an abnormality that effectively brings any plans she may have had to a grinding halt.
Twin tails and a blank stare…
There was no doubt about it; Miu Matsuoka was in Ana's room.
The older girl raises her right arm to chest level and stretches her palm out. Those who know Miu understand that this is her way of saying 'Yo' without actually saying anything. The girls stare at each other for several seconds before Ana breaks the silence.
"What are you doing in my house, Miu?" She asks, without even attempting to hide the irritation in her voice.
"I went through the door." Miu answers while pointing towards the door, as if this were something incredibly obvious.
Ana lowers her head and sighs, "I didn't ask HOW you got inside."
"True," Miu states, "but you were curious. Weren't you?"
"Do you need something, Miu?" The tone of Ana's voice is much harsher than she probably intends, but it was too early in the morning and her patience wore thin.
"I was bored so I came here." Miu responds matter-of-factly. "Your mom said you were sleeping and I should wake you."
"Well, I'm awake, so you can leave now." Ana replies flatly.
"What's she doing here?"
Miu, of course, refers to Matsuri, whom Ana nearly forgot about in all the commotion. The blond girl stammers as she scrambles for an answer. In the back of her mind, it occurs to Ana that she has no reason to feel anxious just from the very mentioning of Matsuri. After all, they did nothing wrong. Upon this realization, Ana takes a deep breath and retorts,
"What business is it of yours?"
That, without a doubt, is the worst answer Ana could have given. A mischievous grin slowly spreads across Miu's lips as she narrows her eyes at her foreign friend. The wheels are turning in her mind as she processes her own question along with Ana's answer. Now that Ana made it apparent that Matsuri was something of a 'soft spot' there is no way Miu can simply ignore this.
Ana shudders in surprise as something pats her back. At some point during Ana and Miu's stare down Matsuri woke up. The timid girl feels around in front of her, trying to find the bedside table where she last set her glasses.
Unbeknownst to her, Matsuri chose the perfect time to wake up. In trying to locate her glasses, she provided a distraction that turned Miu's attention from Ana to herself. When, at last, Matsuri finds the table she pats the edge a few times, to be sure that this is indeed the table she is looking for. Then she uses her right index finger to rub across the tabletop before eventually prodding her glasses.
After putting on her glasses, Matsuri warmly chirps, "Good morning!"
Ana stares at her lap sheepishly. She fidgets with her hands a bit before replying with a "Good morning" of her own.
Matsuri's smile immediately changes into a concerned frown. Before she can ask what is wrong Ana glances towards Miu.
"Oh! Hello, Miu. What are you doing here?"
"I already asked and didn't get a decent answer." Ana mumbles under her breath.
"Nothing much, just chitchatting with Coppola-chan here." Miu answers as she turns her head and smiles impertinently at Ana.
Ana bites her lower lip and scowls at Miu, which made the twin-tailed twelve-year-old smirk even more.
Ignorant to the current situation, Matsuri stares at Miu with a blank expression for several seconds before responding, "That's nice."
"Say!" Miu crosses in front of Matsuri and tugs at her clothes. "Did you get new pajamas? I don't think I've seen these before. This is nice! Real fancy like. I'd almost expect Ana to wear something like this. Wait a minute, she is! You two are like twins! Does Coppola buy your clothes for you now? Your parents were too poor to buy clothes, so you had to accept handouts from a foreigner. What a cruel world this is for a young girl to grow up in! Are THESE the results of our struggling economy?"
Miu's dialogue pours from her mouth as if it were part of a long run-on-sentence. Nevertheless, she set out to get under Ana's skin and by acknowledging that her friends wore matching white nightgowns, she did just that.
"No, these are Ana's pajamas. I wasn't planning on staying over, so I had to borrow some of her clothes."
Inadvertently, Matsuri foils Miu's primary objective (IE Annoy Ana) by rationally explaining the situation.
"This overnight rendezvous was unplanned? What an impertinent child you are! Forcing your way into the Coppola household and making them cater to your every whim! Have you no shame?"
By this point, even Miu herself had no idea where this production was going.
"It's nothing like that. After I came over yesterday we lost track of time and it got so late that Ana's parents offered to let me stay over."
"Is that it?"
Miu swaps her feelings of great interest with those of utter disappointment. She lets out a deep sigh as she rubs the back of the head and leaves the room.
Ana and Matsuri sit in awkward silence for nearly a whole minute before accepting that Miu is indeed gone.
After getting dressed and eating breakfast, the girls head for Matsuri's house. Upon arrival, Matsuri greets her ferret, John, with an absolute 'glomp' of a hug. Then, Matsuri and Ana set off into the city, with no real plans or even an idea of what they would do for the rest of the day.
The girls meander around for at least an hour, making small talk all the while, before Matsuri requests that they rest for a bit. Ana examines their surroundings and suggests that they go to a small ice cream shop nearby. She takes Matsuri's hand and leads her forward.
They find a bench outside the store where they might partake in their frozen treats. Ana set a small plastic dish of a bluish-pinkish ice cream in her lap, while Matsuri grasps a cone of vanilla soft serve with both hands.
"What kind did you get?" Matsuri asks curiously.
"It's cotton candy."
"Really, what does it taste like?"
"It tastes like… cotton candy." Ana giggles.
She scoops up a small portion of ice cream and holds it to Matsuri. "Here, try some."
As Matsuri reaches for the spoon, an unfamiliar hand suddenly slaps the plastic utensil out of Ana's hand, knocking it to the ground. Matsuri looks up, only to ascertain that Miu returned. Though neither of them had the faintest idea of where she came from.
Pointing dramatically at her young friends, Miu barks, "No indirect kisses!"
Matsuri stares dolefully at the fallen spoon beneath her feet.
"What did you do, follow us here?" Ana snaps.
"Matsuri, give me your ice cream." Miu orders, completely disregarding Ana's question.
Matsuri squeaks in confusion. She glances sadly at her ice cream cone, then at Miu, then back at her ice cream, then back at Miu again before reluctantly handing it over.
Miu snatches it from Matsuri and proceeds to lick the frozen treat. Ana sighs angrily. Not only does Miu's hypocritical action disgust her, but also Matsuri's non-confrontational attitude is not helping matters either. Taking a deep breath, Ana grabs Matsuri's hand and drags her away in a huff.
Miu, finding her recently acquired treat to be of more interest, does not even realize her friends left until she finally finishes eating the cone. Looking to her left, then to her right she determines that they are indeed gone. She grabs up Ana's dish of melting ice cream and proceeds to pick at the remains.
"Two for one!" Miu sings merrily.
The girls walk (or rather Ana walks while Matsuri desperately tries to match her hurried pace) across two city blocks before finally stopping.
"Ana!" Matsuri said breathlessly as she leans against a brick wall, "What's the matter? We left so fast, I almost didn't have a chance to grab my bag. Why did we leave in such a hurry?"
Ana slams her hands into the wall, trapping her nervous friend between her arms.
"Stop acting so weak! Just because somebody tells you to do something, that doesn't mean you have to do it! Honestly, if someone came up and told you to walk into oncoming traffic, would you?!"
Ana let out a loud gasp and drew her arms back. Seeing tears form in the corners of her friend's eyes, she realized she was not angry with Matsuri in the first place. As much as Ana wanted to give her friend an apologetic hug, she held back.
In a voice that barely registers above a whisper she said, "I'm sorry."
"Are you okay, Ana?" Matsuri's hoarse voice made it clear that she was still shook up by Ana's sudden outburst.
"I'm sorry! I didn't mean to snap at you. I guess I'm just tired… I don't know."
Ana stares at her feet throughout the entire apology, figuring that if she avoids eye contact, then she may not feel worse about the situation when seeing Matsuri's sad face.
"I think there's a park nearby. We can rest there if you want." Matsuri said.
At the park, the girls find shade underneath a large tree. Matsuri leans her back against the trunk, while Ana lay on the grass. Neither of them says anything. Instead, they watch the clouds float overhead.
As she gazes at the marshmallow-y, white patches drifting along the great blue ocean above, Ana feels her eyes drooping. She very nearly drifted off into a mid-morning nap when Matsuri's voice awoke her from the daze.
Ana rolls onto her stomach and faces Matsuri. The bespectacled girl remains focused on the sky. Wearing a serious expression on her face, she does not look at Ana. Even after Ana replies, Matsuri still maintains her upward gaze. There is a long pause, as Matsuri gathers her thoughts.
When Matsuri does at last break the silence, Ana interrupts before she has a chance to utter a single word.
"I really am sorry about before! I didn't mean any of what I said. Honestly, I wasn't even mad at you. I just..."
Now Matsuri cut in.
"Actually, I wanted to ask you about last night."
"Oh! Well, that's nothing to worry about. I mean, despite what Miu says you weren't imposing at all. Besides, WE invited YOU. So, don't let ..."
"No, no, it's not about that. Last night, after I woke you up... you said something. You said... 'Please don't leave.' What did you mean by that?"
Ana cross her arms in front of her and hides her face in them.
In that brief moment the night before, Ana allowed her emotions get the better of her and she said something so unbelievably sappy and embarrassing without even realizing it.
"Well," Ana said apprehensively. "Last night I..."
When Ana did not finish her statement, Matsuri felt it her obligation to ask,
"You didn't have a bad dream too, did you?"
"Yes! No... Something like that."
Ana thought carefully about how she would word her next sentence.
"You know how sometimes your mind wanders and brings up random memories?"
"I think so."
"Well, I thought about how much I… depended on you."
Ana stops to gage Matsuri's reaction. Seeing no change in her friend's expression, she presses on.
"I realized that if you were to move away, then my school life would probably fall apart. I mean, at school, you really are the only friend I have."
"That isn't true! You have Chika and Miu."
"It's not the same. They are in a different grade from us. "
"I guess so."
"That's all it was. I'm sorry if I worried you over something so stupid."
"As far I know my parents don't plan on moving anytime soon." Matsuri said with a comforting smile. "And even if I did leave... I would be the one who falls apart. You don't have anything to worry about. I mean, you're a much stronger person than I am."
"That isn't true! You are a lot stronger than you say you are. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong."
"I don't know about that, even my parents tell me that I act too weak..." Matsuri stutters.
"Then they're wrong too! Matsuri, you have strength of heart! You care about people. You worry about others. That kind of strength is far more important than how tough or outgoing you are."
Ana's voice cracks as she attempts to bolster Matsuri's confidence.
"You really think so?" Despite her friend's encouragement, Matsuri remains doubtful.
"Of course I do! Look, just right now you were worried about me. You went out of your way to see if something was bothering me, then you tried to make me feel better. Most people wouldn't do something like that. They'd just a soon worry about themselves. But you're different."
Despite her normally modest attitude, Matsuri could not help but grin happily at Ana's kindness. She felt her cheeks redden as her confidence rose more and more.
"Matsuri, as long as we're on the subject, what was the dream you had last night about?"
Ana asks mostly out of curiosity. Yet, at the same time, she figures that since they are opening up, if something is bothering Matsuri, then her duty as a friend should be to ask.
However, Matsuri's happy face almost immediately turns sour. Ana decides not to press for further information. As much as Ana wants her friend to open up, she understands that this is a difficult subject for Matsuri. Moreover, Matsuri knew that if or when she wanted to talk that Ana would be more than willing to listen.
With that, they went back to watching the clouds.
After several minutes of peaceful silence, the sound of Matsuri's humming caught Ana's attention
"What song is that, Matsuri?" Ana asks after rolling back onto her stomach.
"Hmm?" Matsuri replies unaware that she is even humming. "Oh, it's nothing, just a song."
"My mother used to sing it when I was little. It helped me fall asleep. Sometimes I like to sing it to myself when I'm reading or working on something. Most the time, I don't even realize that I'm singing... until someone tells me to cut it out." Matsuri laughs sheepishly.
"How does it go?"
"Oh, I'm a really bad singer. You wouldn't like it"
"Well… Promise you won't laugh?"
Ana holds up her pinkie finger, indicating that she would keep her promise.
Matsuri let out a sigh, took a deep breath and began her song.
"I still remember that forgotten dream
I saw your smile and those dazzling eyes
No thinking or schedules
We would play together all day
Even if there was a steep downhill
We'd run without fear, without any guilt
Hurry! Hurry! A naughty shadow
Whispered in your ear as the wind blew by
Our skirts fluttered
Under that cool breeze
Where are you?
Where are you at?
Where are you at right now?"
Ana felt her eyes getting heavier as Matsuri sang. Unlike earlier, now there is no one to keep Ana from closing her eyes and drifting off to sleep.
A soft chiming ring brings Ana out of her sleep. She grudgingly opens her eyes and adjusts to the overhead sunlight filtering through the leaves of the tree.
"What time is it?" Ana yawns.
Matsuri looks at her cell phone. "Almost one o'clock."
"One?" Ana gasps. "I've been asleep for two hours?"
"More like an hour and a half, actually." Matsuri corrects her.
"Why didn't you wake me?" Ana asks awkwardly.
"You were sleeping."
"I know that! So, why didn't you wake me?"
"You looked so peaceful. It didn't seem right to wake you. Plus, it was my fault that you were so tired to begin with."
"Matsuri, how many times do I have to tell you? That wasn't..."
At this moment, Ana realizes her head is on Matsuri's lap and it has been there throughout the entire conversation.
"Matsuri..." Ana asks hesitantly, "Did you move me while I was sleeping?"
"Yes. After I realized that you fell asleep I pulled you over here." Matsuri said matter-of-factly.
"Is that right?"
The thought of using Matsuri as a pillow for almost two hours made Ana blush furiously. If that weren't enough to make her cheeks flush, just thinking about Matsuri sitting with her all the while only added to Ana's embarrassment.
"When I tried moving you, there were a few times when I thought for sure you were going to wake up. I guess you really were tired. Still, after what you did for me last night, it was the least I could do."
Matsuri tenderly runs her fingers through her friend's hair as she speaks. This action causes Ana's blushing face to turn an even deeper shade of red than before. The normally timid Matsuri flashes her friend with an uncharacteristically radiant smile and her eyes even have a more mature gaze to them. At that moment, Ana thought Matsuri resembled a protective mother guarding her sleeping child.
"What was that ringing I heard earlier?" Ana asks, desperate to change the subject towards something less likely to embarrass her further.
With that question, the affectionate glow initially radiating from Matsuri changes into hurt disappointment.
"Chika sent me a message and invited us over." Matsuri explains dejectedly.
"Oh, that sounds wonderful! Let's go!" Ana exclaims as she climbs to her feet.
Intent on removing herself from her current situation, Ana shows far more enthusiasm than necessary, an action that, if nothing else, only further confuses the crestfallen Matsuri.
Matsuri picks up her cell phone, slips it into her bag and stands as well. In the corner of her eye, Matsuri notices Ana grimacing as she rubs her back. However, Ana waves her hand at the situation to signal that everything is all right.
Upon arrival at the Ito house, Chika leads them upstairs to her room. Chika opens her door and shows her younger friends inside where Nobue is sitting at her little sister's desk reading a magazine.
"About time you got here." Nobue waves without really looking up from her reading.
"Hello, what have you been up to today?" Matsuri asks.
"Same old, same old…"
"Is there something wrong with your back, Ana?" Chika inquires.
Rubbing her back, Ana sits on the edge of Chika's bed.
"It just hurts a little."
"What's wrong? Is it stiff or is it...?"
"You know," Nobue interrupts, "When my back is stiff, I just crack it. Afterward I feel just fine."
Deciding to give it a try Ana stands, places her hands on her lower back and arches backwards. A short yelp escapes from her mouth as she drops to her knees in pain. Chika runs over and helps her onto the bed. Ana places her head on Chika's pillow, turning so that she can see what everyone else is doing.
Nobue rushes to the edge of the bed, while Chika and Matsuri talk by the desk. Ana tries to listen to their conversation, but cannot hear anything over Nobue's stream of concerned questions.
"You okay, Ana? That looked like it hurt! You know, maybe a massage would make you feel better. If you want, I could pull up your shirt and rub my hands over your soft... pale skin. BACK! I mean, I could rub your back! Because it hurts..."
Ana could not read lips, but from what she could determine, Matsuri was asking Chika about something. Nodding repeatedly, Chika leads Matsuri out of the room, closing the door behind them.
Almost immediately after the door closed, the window slid open, leaving ample room for Miu to enter. She flails about, striking dramatic poses and taking in the entirety of the room, like a hit man stalking their next target.
"What are YOU doing here?!"
"I live here." Nobue answers dully.
"This is Chika's room! You're not Chika! You aren't even fit to be her sister!" Miu shouts melodramatically.
"I am her sister."
"What happened to her?" Miu asks, noticing the bedridden Ana.
"Huh... Oh, Ana hurt her back."
"Tsk, tsk, tsk. That's what you get when you buy a cheap foreign model."
"Don't talk about her like she's a car!"
"You know, they say a massage is good for the back."
"I offered. She didn't take."
"Of course she didn't. You're too weak to handle a situation like this." Miu cracks her knuckles as she approaches the bed, "What Coppola needs is a REAL MASSAGE!"
After hearing a loud commotion, Chika and Matsuri run back into the room
"What's going on up here?" Chika asks anxiously, "We heard yelling."
While observing the room Chika notices Miu laying facedown on the floor with an irritated Nobue standing over her. Meanwhile, Ana remains on the bed, only now she is twitching in intense pain.
"What did Miu do now?" Chika sighs.
"The idiot came in and jumped on Ana! Jabbed her elbow right into her back!" Nobue explains angrily.
"What were you thinking, Miu? You could have really hurt her!" Chika said, scolding her incapacitated friend.
As the Ito sisters continue lecturing Miu, Matsuri crouches beside the bed, with a small white box in hand.
"Can you tell me where it hurts?"
Matsuri traces her hand down Ana's back, applying small amounts of pressure until finally hitting her mark. Ana groans sharply when Matsuri reaches the part of her back that hurts. She lifts up Ana's shirt, opens the box and carefully places a white pad on Ana's back.
"What is that?" Ana moans.
"It's a heat patch. Trust me; they're good on backaches. My parents buy them for me all the time." Matsuri explains.
Eventually peace overcame the room again resulting in everyone resuming their usual activities. Chika sits at her desk reading a magazine, Nobue leans against a wall looking through the pictures on her cell phone and Miu wakes up with enough energy to resume active duty.
"Chi~ ka! I'm hungry."
"Then eat something." Chika replies without looking up from her magazine.
"You should bake some cookies."
"What, right now?"
"Yes, right now! One of our dear friends is injured...."
"Because of you!"
"And only Chika's warm and chewy cookies can mend Ana's broken back."
"It's not broken, Miu."
"Just make the damn cookies."
"Actually, cookies don't sound that bad right now." Nobue interjects.
Realizing that attempting to ignore the others would end in failure, she decides to humor her spastic friend's request
"Well, there was a new recipe I've been meaning to try out." Chika announces to no one in particular as she makes her exit
With Chika gone, Miu quickly turns to Nobue and orders,
"Go help Chika."
Nobue scoffs, "I don't take orders from you, A-cup."
Miu growls, but quickly brushes off Nobue's 'A-cup' comment. Instead, she contorts her face into the most innocent, baby-faced smile she can and asks in a sugary sweet voice,
"Would you PWEASE go help Chika bake her cookies, Big Sister Nobue?"
"Chika can cook by herself."
"But you're sisters! You need to spend more time bonding."
"Uh huh... do you think I'm stupid, Miu?"
Nobue coughs sharply, "Regardless... after the stunt you pulled before, you really think I'm going to leave you alone in here with Ana?"
"Why should it matter? You were here before and it didn't stop me."
Nobue quickly reacquaints Miu with the floor.
"I need a smoke!"
She pats her pockets only to realize that she is out of cigarettes. Letting out a deep sigh, Nobue stares at the fallen Miu. She then goes over to Chika's desk, picks up a rubber band and hands it to Matsuri.
"Here you go, Matsuri." Nobue says sweetly, "I'm going to go out for a little while. Can you hold down the fort and make sure Miu doesn't do anything weird while I'm away?"
Taking the rubber band Matsuri nods. After Nobue leaves, Miu jumps back onto her feet. She crosses over to the window and steps outside. Ana and Matsuri sit quietly for several minutes before Miu returns, now with a small envelope in hand.
"What do you have, Miu?" Matsuri asks with hesitant boldness. She stretches the rubber band back and is prepared to strike if necessary.
"Put that away." Miu commands, "I just thought I'd share some pictures, what with Ana being bedridden and whatnot."
"What kind of pictures?" Ana asks skeptically.
"Take a look for yourself!" Miu beams proudly.
Matsuri takes the envelope and examines its contents. She holds the photos so that Ana can look as well. Yet, these were not normal photographs. Ana squeaks in surprise as Matsuri sifts through the photos.
These pictures are of Ana and Matsuri.
The first picture, apparently taken earlier in the day, presents the two of them sleeping in one another's arms.
The second shows Ana and Matsuri sitting on a bench eating ice cream, whilst sharing in friendly conversation.
The third picture features the girls resting under a tree. The next couple of shots are different angles and variations of that same scene. One close up shows Ana's sleeping face as she rests her head on Matsuri's lap. Another focuses on Matsuri watching Ana affectionately. There is even one of Matsuri tenderly stroking her sleeping friend's hair.
Ana cannot speak.
Did she seriously follow us around the entire day and put together some kind of twisted photo diary of everything we did?! Good heavens, what is wrong with this girl? Matsuri, please tell me you're upset about this as well!
"Wow, Miu!" Matsuri chirps, "These are really good."
"Matsuri, don't compliment her!"
"But they are." Matsuri replies dejectedly, "I was even going to ask if she could make extra copies for me."
"Actually, I got double prints, so you can have 'em." Miu answers bluntly.
"Really? Thanks, Miu!"
"If you want, you can have the other set." Miu offers to Ana.
"What?" Ana remains cautious.
"Like I said, I got double prints." Miu turns toward the window, "Take 'em. I mean, what am I going to do with a bunch of pictures of you, anyway?"
"Um... thank you?"
Miu does not respond. She climbs out the window, waltzes across the Ito rooftop and hops onto her own. Before climbing back into her house, Miu looks over her shoulder and grins at her younger friends.
Later that evening, after everyone else in the Coppola household went to sleep, a small night light dimly illuminates Ana's bedroom. Ana walks over to one of her dressers and picks up a small music box. When she lifts the lid, Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata' plays softy. She reaches inside and picks up a small envelope.
Inside are a number of photographs. She places them on her bedside table. With each picture arranged in the exact order Ana desires, she sits on the edge of her bed and takes in each individual photograph. As 'Moonlight Sonata' continues playing behind her, Ana finds herself humming a simple lullaby in its place as she traces her hands over the many photographs of her dearest friend and companion.
This story is a work of fiction. Strawberry Marshmallow is the property of Barasui, Geneon Entertainment, TBS and the Doumu animation studio. Nor do I own the song "Classmate" by Fumiko Orikasa. I did however alter the lyrics a little so that it could be sung to the tune of "Hare Hare Yukai" (That is not a joke either, I really am that bored).