Momoko disliked Christmas, birthdays, and any other festivity that involved gift giving. Inevitably, it involved her father and her grandmother giving her things she didn't choose, didn't want and had no use for, and being expected to be happy and grateful in return. They seemed to become upset if she put her gifts up for sale on the Internet to earn money towards her clothes, too. Christmas was the worst, because her family also seemed to expect gifts in return, which involved far too much effort, expense and thought, and nullified any advantage she had from the gifts. Really, the whole thing would be simple if they just gave her enough money to support herself in her fashion habit, and didn't expect anything in return. She didn't see the advantage of birthdays or Christmas anyway; it was not even as if they gave her a day off school to pursue her own interests.
She had come to terms with the fact that she seemed to have acquired a best friend, but it hadn't occurred to her that this involved gift exchanges at Christmas, too. She hadn't much experience at the whole best friendship thing.
She doubtfully examined at the parcel Ichigo had just handed her. It was very large, long, and heavy. She hoped it didn't hold anything connected with scooters.
"Did you wrap this yourself?" She poked at the crumpled red paper, held loosely together with tape. "It looks like a child wrapped it."
"Of course I fucking did! Go on, open it!"
Momoko sighed. It didn't take much effort to detach the paper; it was practically falling off on its own. She put the large white box inside down on a table on the porch, and opened it.
Two soulless, empty oval eye sockets stared up at her above a creepy little half-smile. A pale, naked jointed body stretched below.
"Oh. It's a dollfie."
"Isn't she wonderful? She's called Momoko, like you!" Ichigo was practically dancing with excitement. "She's so perfect for you!"
Momoko took the doll from the satin pillows protecting it. It was much heavier than it looked, and its bald head was almost as off putting as the nakedness of its breasts and nether regions. It seemed slightly inappropriate to be touching it.
She held it awkwardly, not sure what to do with it. She knew what dollfies were, of course; several Lolita used them as accessories. Momoko herself have never seen the attraction. She was more interested in Rococo decadent elegance than in pretending to be a little girl, and even as an actual little girl, she had not been interested in dolls. For her sixth birthday her mother had given her a baby doll, and seemed all disappointed that she didn't cuddle it or carry it around with her. When she had asked what she would get out of doing so, her mother had given her a funny look. She had never been given any other dolls.
"She looks like you, too!" Ichigo said happily.
"Really? You think so?" Momoko examined the face more closely. "My face isn't that wide and short, is it?" she asked with faint alarm alarm. "And is my forehead really that big?"
Ichigo was starting to frown. "Don't you like her?" she demanded, her voice rising and hardening ominously.
Momoko sighed. She had stayed up all night finishing the embroidery on her skirt, and she wasn't going to risk it getting damaged through any random violence. "I love it."
Ichigo calmed down immediately. "That's so fucking great! You can make clothes for her!" She beamed.
When Ichigo was gone, Momoko set the doll back in its box and put it in her room. She could make clothes for it, she supposed. She would have to get it a wig and eyes, too, because that blank empty stare was somewhat disconcerting. And probably she was supposed to get Ichigo something for Christmas, too, although actually she still had quite a lot of stock from her father's business and Ichgigo would be happy with any of it. She sat down at the desk and switched on her computer.
The next time she saw Ichigo, the doll had long light brown hair and blue eyes. The wig balanced out the short wide forehead better. She had a dress, too, in pink, with layers of petticoats and dainty little bows down the front, and a sweet little headband. Momoko had enjoyed making the tiny clothes more than she had expected. And really, the doll looked very pretty, sitting on a chair like that. Momoko was quite proud of herself for remembering to take the doll out of the box before Ichigo arrived; it was very thoughtful of her.
Ichigo repaid her thought by going straight for the doll. "Hi-hi, Momo-chan!" she picked it up and cuddled it. "You look so pretty! Just like your Momoko-mama."
"Hmm." Momoko sat down, arranging her skirts neatly around her. She ignored the compliment; it was obviously just a statement of fact, although there was a secret unexpected small warmth somewhere in her heart that Ichigo thought so. "I looked up that doll online. She was originally 88,000 yen, without tax, and she costs even more now. There is no way you could afford to spend that much on me. Did you steal her?" she asked, with mild interest.
"No! I got her on Taobao. She was a bargain!"
"So she's not actually the Momoko dollfie?"
"Yes, of course she fucking is! She was just made in China." Ichigo was starting to become restless and giving signs of anger building. She balled her fists. "Do you have a problem with that?"
Momoko gave up. It wasn't that Ichigo seemed not to care if items were brand or knocked-off, it was that she literally did not seem to see the existence of any difference. It didn't matter, anyway.
"I have a present for you, too," she said, gesturing to a large bundle, perfectly wrapped in pastel blue, with a ribbon tied in a beautiful bow that was a masterpiece of artistry.
Ichigo was immediately distracted. She was like a child that way, Momoko reflected.
"Where? Oh – that's so awesome of you!"
Ichigo seemed shocked and almost overwhelmed by the gift. Momoko was surprised and oddly disconcerted to notice that there were tears in the other girl's eyes. Surely she was not that all that astonished that Momoko had given her a present, too? Momoko understood that the only polite course of action was to return presents.
Still, somehow, she felt touched, and that little flicker of warmth was back. It felt… nice. Ichigo was so cute sometimes, in her crude way.
Ichigo disembowelled the parcel of American brand bootlegs, with shouts of delight at each new discovery. Momoko, feeling an odd, and unusal for her, twinge of compunction at just giving Ichigo her father's junk, had carefully stitched a rearing unicorn onto the back of one tshirt, in her tiniest, most elegant embroidery. Ichigo was so delighted that she divested herself of the t-shirt she was wearing and pulled it straight on. Momoko pointedly looked away whie Ichigo was half-dressed, but Ichigo was entirely unconcerned.
She dropped onto Momoko's bed, scooping up the doll on her way to admire again. "Hey, pretty Momo-chan." She gave the doll's face a smacking kiss.
Momoko watched her thoughtfully. "Why did you think to give me a doll?"
Ichigo blushed. "Isn't it something lolita girls like? She even wears Baby clothes."
"That's all?" Ichigo's offhandness and blushing were making Momoko suspicious.
"Dolls are important." Ichigo rolled over, cuddling the doll to herself. Momoko noticed that the doll's wig and clothes were getting disrupted, and tried to decide whether it was worth objecting. She decided not to. It wasn't as if Ichigo was crumpling her clothes. "They teach you to be, you know, more loving. I thought it would help make you be a better lolita."
This was such a remarkable statement that Momoko considered it from all angles. "What makes you think that being lolita means being loving?"
"Well, you said yourself, in the Rococo era people did nothing but wear pretty clothes, eat, go for walks, and fall in love."
"Make love," Momoko corrected automatically. She was slightly bewildered. It hadn't really occurred to her that Ichigo would be paying attention when she told her about her fascination with the Rococo era. After all, she rarely listened when Ichigo talked about her obsessions. Other people's interest were boring.
"It's the same thing."
"No, not really."
"Well, it fucking should be." Momoko was so taken aback at this unexpectedly conservative and naïve view that she didn't respond and Ichigo pressed her attack. "Anyway, you don't make love, either. I bet you never have."
"Neither have you. Besides, who am I supposed to make love with?" Momoko asked, interested, but Ichigo didn't answer for a while. Momoko felt that the other girl had an answer in mind, but she wouldn't say so, which was odd with someone as blunt as Ichigo.
"You've never even been in love," Ichigo said eventually, aggressively, as if it was some huge failure on Momoko's part. "At least I have. I've known true, unrequited love. With Ryuji and with Akimi."
"You don't have to say it as if it's strange," Ichigo said crossly. "It's not. She was really cool. And if you say she wasn't cool, I'll –"
Momoko hastened to avoid another head-butt. "It's not that. I just never thought you could be in love with a girl."
"Plenty of girls are." Ichigo was bright red. She stared at the doll as if it was the only important thing in the room. The Momoko doll that Ichigo had said was pretty, because it looked like Momoko. The doll that Ichigo had really shown an incredible amount of sensitivity and thought getting, trying to find something that would match Momoko's interests, and Momoko knew enough to know that even bootlegged dollfies were very expensive for someone on Ichigo's income.
She thought about this for quite a while, while Ichigo fussed with the doll, leaning off the bed to make it stand unsupported on the floor and posing it carefully.
She thought about other things, too - about how the only times she ever laughed were with Ichigo. How Ichigo had just decided that they were friends, and had managed it, despite Momoko's own vaguely hostile apathy, so successfully that Momoko had been willing to about give up her own dreams because Ichigo's friendship was somehow more important. How ludicrous and crass and remarkably pretty and adorable Ichigo looked, a stupid yankī ex-bōsōzoku girl playing with a lolita doll. How when she rode with Ichigo, she would snuggle into her back and lean her head on her, like a lover. How Ichigo had cried a little because Momoko gave her a Christmas present.
She had never liked men much, anyway. They were dirty and crude and loud and generally unpleasant. Androphobia, she supposed. Or male aversion. Or perhaps something else entirely, because Ichigo was, in all fairness, dirty and crude and loud, but somehow she was entirely different.
"I could learn," Momoko said, eventually.
She thought it over. "You taught me how to be friends. Even though I didn't even know I wanted a friend, you taught me. And now you're my best friend, and I love you. So maybe you can teach me about being in love and making love, too," she finished, primly.
Ichigo dropped the doll, and Momoko winced. It had fallen face forwards, and she found that, when it came to it, she really didn't want her nose damaged. Its nose. It suddenly came to her that the doll was named Suika, and she wanted to tell Ichigo so, but Ichigo, who had seemed obsessed with the doll since she came in the room, had apparently forgotten all about it.
"You say such a thing? Just like that?" she demanded.
"Why not?" Momoko rose and crossed to the bed. She knelt beside it, carefully arranging the layers of her skirts and petticoats so that they couldn't get crumpled, and her face was on a level with Ichigo's shocked face. "It's probably something I should know. And I don't like the thought of doing it with anyone but you." She picked Suika up, sat her carefully down, and turned back to Ichigo, who was lying back on the pillows, her face suffused with colour.
"I think," Momoko said, "we should start by kissing." She leaned down.
Ichigo's lips were very still and a little stiff at first, as if she wasn't quite sure what to do. Momoko was more unsure than she was willing to admit, too, but she let her own lips press and released, until suddenly Ichigo was returning the kisses, and they became firmer and more clinging and the little spark of warmth in Momoko's heart became stronger and hotter and spread all through her. Ichigo's hands were on the side of her face, and she wasn't sure what to do with her own, so she pulled away for long enough to climb onto the bed next to Ichigo, who automatically moved to let her fit.
The two girls lay on their sides, facing each other and not quite touching. Momoko's skirts were crushed under her and gathered up over Ichigo's hips like a second blanket, and she was sure Ichigo's hands had disturbed her perfectly curled hair, and she discovered that she did not care, at all. She couldn't quite catch her breath, and her heart was pounding so hard it hurt, and Ichigo was looking at her with such a stunned, stupid expression that it made Momoko laugh.
"What are you laughing at?" snapped Ichigo.
"I'm just happy," Momoko said, which was at least part of the truth. Some tiny part of her was proud at her tactfulness. "And we are so silly not to have done this before. It would have been the proper time after we defeated your bōsōzoku. That would have been more proper, like a movie."
"I guess so. But you needed to have a bath and change."
"That's true." Momoko kissed the tip of her nose, for no particular reason.
Ichigo moved suddenly, and for a second Momoko thought she was going to push her off the bead, but after a rather painful bump on the head she realised the other girl was just trying to get her arm under her neck. They rearranged themselves somehow, so that Momoko's arm slipped around Ichigo's waist and they were cuddling face to face.
Cuddling. There had not been a lot of cuddling in Momoko's life. It felt extremely nice, especially feeling the softness of Ichigo's breasts and the pounding of her heart. She leaned in for another kiss, and this time, somehow, their tongues slipped past their lips to caress each other's, and she couldn't tell which mouth they were in, and the warmth inside Momoko was burning like it could consume her, and suddenly her layers of clothes seemed too warm. Perhaps her father and grandmother had turned the heating up too much.
"I love you," Ichigo said suddenly, when their mouths finally parted again. Her expression was tense and desperate and scared.
Momoko spent a moment in reflection. It was best not to rush an answer to something like that, and make sure she got it right first time. This was a moment that she supposed she would remember all her life, after all.
"I already told you I love you," she said. "You don't pay enough attention. Now can we go back to my lessons?" She kissed Ichigo again.
Momoko had always disliked Christmas, and presents, and dolls. Just this once, however, she was willing to have her mind changed.