One Foot Out the Door
She bounced up and down, squealing with delight, her little miniskirt showing a lot of leg, straight brown hair curling up, then slapping her face as she hit the ground. Her expression, that stuck out in his mind the most. He recognized that emotion. He smiled to himself, glad to know that there were other people in the world like him.
He tore his eyes away. He was supposed to be watching Mouri Ran, a rising star in the women’s division, known for her devastating power and lightening reflexes, and as he noted then, a lot of agility. Her opponent was bigger than her, but she was able to adjust easily, a little of Aikido tactics slipping through. This woman could easily do well in the men’s division as well. She might even give him a run for his money, if he took her lightly. Miss Mouri was declared the victor, and the opponents bowed politely to each other.
The brown-haired girl ran to her, offering a towel. The karate champ was smiling and laughing, but something was off. A flash of a grimace crossed the cheerleader’s lips when Mouri’s head was turned. Oh.
He’d misjudged the situation. He knew exactly what she was going through. A few too many times, he thought ruefully. His coach called, and he tore his eyes away from the scene. By the time he looked back, they were nowhere to be seen.
It was like a performance, one that she couldn’t stop. Being flirty, squealing over random guys, dressing like the girls in dramas on TV, these were things that she was supposed to do. These were things that would protect her, so she didn’t end up like the Sumire, a third year who had been outed, then committed suicide. Her ghost could be seen in the library, classmates whispered. Girls talked about smelling the soft scent of lilies among the racks of books, and knowing that she was still there, leering at them. But Sonoko, no one would ever doubt her. The disguise, her tatemae, the face she showed the outside world, was flawless.
Except for now. It was as though it was no better at hiding her than a thin sheet of plastic wrap. She wanted to deny it. She wanted to run away and imagine that it never happened. But, that’d never change the fact that someone had seen through her tatemae so easily, on their second meeting even. She had to face reality, and she’d never been one to back down from a challenge.
Makoto was blushing, his eyes widening as he realized his mistake. He leaned forward, and said in a whisper, “You haven’t told anyone before, have you?”
“Is,” Sonoko choked out, then started again, “Is it really obvious?”
Makoto massaged his aching arm, where the murder hand plunged the knife into his flesh. They were alone in the hospital waiting for Sonoko’s over-excited parents, who were flying in to comfort their little wounded blossom.
“I saw you cheering for Miss Mouri, and it was pretty obvious. But, when I watched you the past few days, I wondered if I was wrong, until she rescued you for the car going over the cliff,” he laughed nervously. “Your expression was enough to make me blush.”
Sonoko felt her face heating up. Ran had a tendency to be accidentally dashing at times, and that was just maddeningly hot. “It’s one-sided. She’s been with this guy since they were little kids, it’s like, written in the stars that they’re going to get together and have twenty fat little kids.”
Nodding in agreement, he muttered, “Unrequited love sucks.”
“You’re not going to tell anyone?” she asked in a small voice.
He shook his head. “It’s make me a pretty horrible person if I did, seeing as I’m in the same situation. Well, almost.” He pulled out his cellphone and fiddled with it for a few minutes before holding it up for her to see. A grinning dark face, with long, straight black hair braided stiffly into two braids that appeared from behind his ears. “He saw right through me, even with the language barrier. He’s an exchange student,” he added, mournfully turning the face back to him. “It was only a six-month program, but that was enough for a relationship to start. I’m following him to the US next month.”
Sonoko was certain that her jaw must have dropped, but she didn’t care. She wasn’t alone. He was older, and had found someone, and seemed all confident and savée. She wanted to be like this. More than anything, she didn’t want to be afraid anymore.
“So your parents know?” Sonoko asked, leaning forward. She’d never considered telling them, or even hinting at it. The thought alone was enough to give her nightmares.
“Fuck no,” his strong shoulders suddenly seemed smaller as he hunched forwards. His eyes fell to the ground. “The things I’ve heard my parents say…” he shook his head. “I don’t know if they’ll ever know.” His voice had a touch bitterness and longing, which made his voice crack and falter.
Maybe there were barriers that she’d have to give up on crossing, if even Makoto couldn’t cross them.
“What about yours? Have you ever talked with them about it?” He was looking back at her with an expression that she knew must be on her own face. Looking for answers, hoping that the other would be wiser, more experienced… so they weren’t that different after all.
“I’ve…” she paused, shaking her head. “For me, it’s kinda the opposite. I’ve never heard them say anything on the topic. I just don’t know how they’d react.”
As though being discussed had ushered them in, Sonoko’s parents charged in, breathless and red-eyed. They bemoaned and fussed and checked her three times for injuries, her mother dramatically declaring that all men were dogs, at which point both of the men in the room groaned.
“Mom, Dad!” Sonoko said, pulling herself from their reach. “This is Kyougoku Makoto. He saved my life.”
“Oh really?” Sonoko’s mother asked, turning to him with the precision of a shark. She looked Makoto over, making him shift uncomfortably in his chair. “Not a bad catch, darling!”
Sonoko hesitated a moment, feeling the sting of her tatemae striking her face, bringing a touch of color to her cheeks. Meeting Makoto’s eyes, she saw the subtle shift in his own face as well.
“Yeah, isn’t he?”