A/N: Edited 16/2/13. Fixed some errors. Thank for your reviews, every one of you. And thank you for reading.
She should be eighteen by now...
"Who?" Kazuko asks.
Junko glances up at her friend, startled, and then realises that she had given voice to her thoughts. She opens her mouth to answer—and comes up blank. Who do I know who'd be eighteen?She wracks her brain and finds only one option. "Uh, Homura-chan?" she blurts out.
"Homura? Who's—" Kazuko's confused expression abruptly clears. "Akemi Homura, you mean?"
Junko frowns, trying to recall the girl's family name. "That...sounds about right."
Kazuko nods. "I remember her. One of the less troublesome ones. Really nice hair—" Junko's amused to note the envy in Kazuko's voice "—but she always had that really bright red ribbon on. All the time. Wonder if she still does that."
That was her, all right. "She did, last time I saw her. It looked cute on her," Junko adds, a little defensive. She'd always liked that ribbon.
"If you say so." Kazuko shrugs slightly. "Anyway, she's the one who was always playing with Tatsuya, right?"
Junko nods. "Yeah. It's been a while since I've seen her. She stopped meeting us at the park about a couple of years back." She feels a slight pang of disquiet; she remembers having trouble explaining to Tatsuya why they didn't see Homu-neechan anymore. "Do you know what she's been up to?"
Kazuko shrugs. "I thought you'd know better than I would. I only know she enrolled into Mitakihara High. I've seen her around town once or twice since she left middle school, but that's about it."
"Ah. Well, never mind then." Perhaps the young woman was simply busy, being in high school. Too many other things to occupy her to spare time for her to humour a little kid (and his mom)—not that Junko holds it against her. Or would the girl be done with high school by now? It's three days into October already. She's losing track; high school academic calendars won't be relevant to her again for years to come. Kazuko would know, though. She's considering asking about it when her friend speaks again.
"Why are you thinking about her all of her sudden?"
It's a few moments before Junko remembers what sparked the conversation. "I just..." She stares into her cocktail wonderingly. Something about alcohol...Ah. "I remembered that there was someone I'd been waiting to share a drink with. We couldn't do it at the point in the time..." The idea fills her with melancholy; she vaguely recalls looking forward to that drink. "I think it was Homura-chan. I mean, she would have been a little too young back then." Junko taps her chin thoughtfully. "I should start tracking her down," she adds, half-jokingly.
Kazuko raises an eyebrow. "You wanted to have a drink with a schoolgirl?" Her expression clearly reveals that she thinks it's strange, and Junko can't help but agree with the assessment.
Junko shrugs anyway, grinning. "Hey, we hung out a lot. Well, mostly she hung out with Tatsuya. But she's a pretty interesting kid, once she gets talking."
"I wouldn't know. She was always pretty quiet in school, from what I remember." Kazuko sips at her drink, frowns, and then throws her friend a sideways glance. "You do realise that right now she's still a couple of years shy of the legal drinking age, right?"
"Pshh. Lighten up, sensei. Eighteen's pretty grown up already."
"What? I'd gladly let my kid drink at that age. We were even younger when we—"
"All right, all right. I'll be responsible. It'll only happen when I'm supervising."
Junko is only tipsy when she kicks off her high heels and steps through the door; she's resolved to cut back on her drinking. The drinks at the bar earlier were the first she's had all week.
The house is dark but for the light in the living room. They usually leave one light on until she comes home. She trudges upstairs, into the bedroom, and finds Tomohisa asleep. Good; she'd told him she'd be late, and it'll make her feel guilty if she finds him still awake.
She sinks down onto her side of her bed. A shower, and then sleep...
Ten minutes later, Junko finds herself downstairs again in her bathrobe, hair wrapped in a towel, eyes blearily staring at a bottle of scotch in her hand. She debates with herself for a moment, and finally gives in. It's a Friday night, anyway, and she has been good. Mostly.
She grabs the bottle, and heads into the kitchen, humming to herself. Ice cubes, and where were those glasses again...Once she has everything, she takes a seat at the table next to kitchen counter.
As she lifts the bottle to pour, she realises—there are two glasses on the table.
Junko blinks, and then stares, bemused. It's still there, a second glass filled with ice, laid out on the table for the nonexistent occupant of the chair opposite hers.
On a whim, she pours scotch into both glasses. The sight amuses her. Maybe I'm drunker than I thought...
Or maybe she had this crazy hope some eighteen-year-old kid would be there.
She studies the empty chair in front of her, and then tries to imagine Akemi Homura sitting in it. Taller than when they'd first met, but still petite. Her pretty features subtly sharper, more adult, but her eyes are still bright. Red ribbons, pajamas. She'd examine her glass with wide eyes, smile sheepishly, gamely raise her glass for a toast—
But her mind's still running through possibilities; it's all pleasant and vague, like a memory with details blurred out. Heck, it is kind of a memory; she's imagined this before, in anticipation. They would have fun. They'd end up talking heart-to-heart, delight in telling each other things no one else would know, find stuff to giggle about, and then roar with laughter when they couldn't hold it in, all the while revelling in how they only got closer as she grew into an adult—but Junko dimly recalls she's never really heard Homura laugh. Or giggle. Politely chuckle, at most. And why would Homura be in pajamas?
That's not quite right.
A strangely powerful disappointment wells up inside of her. If not Homura-chan...She can't think of anyone else who'll fit—
Could she have imagined the whole thing? She can see herself jokingly making Homura promise to go drinking with her one day, and the subtly nonplussed look she'd receive in response. But to have had such an attachment to the idea—had they been that close?
Ah. She'll think about it later. But the thought that the she might have been putting elaborate false hopes into her own head leaves her with an inexplicably piercing sense of loss. She feels a little cheated. Not to mention incredibly silly.
Well, it's not that big a deal. Look at me, getting senile already.
Yet her mind won't stop searching, won't stop scrambling for confirmation. Was it Tatsuya? But she knows that it's ridiculous. Even she thinks he's still too young for them to be discussing alcohol consumption.
She shakes her head, and stares down at the glasses on the table. Maybe she really does need more than one drink.
But not two glasses. Yeah, drunker than I thought. A yawn escapes her. Tired, too. She'll just down these two and then sleep...
It seems like it'll be funny, so Junko lifts the drink in front of her, and sluggishly reaches across the table, letting her glass clink against the other one. The sound reverberates, surprisingly loud—
— so big now, so much to think about, she'll get older and wearier, but let her keep the gentle eyes and the adorable smile — will she still look cute with red ribbons —"hurry up and grow" — and she'll grow too fast, they always do, but at least they'll be able to share this, so Junko will wait, anticipate, someday — for —
— who? she's looking but she can't find anyone there, where is she, she's not there —
— who's not there? —
— of course no one's there.
At home, Junko always drinks alone.
—and then dissipates into the quiet night.
"Kanpai," Junko mutters.
And then bursts into tears.