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Written in the Stars
Only on Tanabata, the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, are Orihime and Hikoboshi allowed to meet. Once a year, they cross the river known as the Milky Way on a bridge made of magpies, and finally reunite.
At least, that's what some legend says.
Even if it were a real story, we're talking about literal deities - or even more literally, stars. What does that have anything to do with us?
As much as you want it to, as it turns out.
There's a curious detail to the Tanabata story. If it rains, the river rises too much, the magpies can't come, and Orihime and Hikoboshi can't meet that year.
It's a weird postscript on the legend, and especially in our day and age, it makes zero sense. What does a little rain on Earth mean to the entire Milky Way? Are we supposed to act like just because it's raining where we
are, that's stopping them?
I didn't really get it, but I think I subconsciously took this lesson from it: No matter how badly they want it, there are things even deities can't do.
It rained that Tanabata.
When class ended that day, and everyone poured out of the room, I remained in my seat. I didn't have a club to go to, so I could've just gone home. That is, if I hadn't forgotten to bring an umbrella today.
I sighed. I supposed I should study.
As I took out my books, I noticed something. Earlier in the day, I'd taken a tanzaku to write a Tanabata wish on, but ended up just using it as a bookmark. It was still blank.
Alone with only my thoughts and the sound of raindrops, I figured I may as well think about it. What would my wish be? No, what is
I wrote something, then stared at it. It was a very vague wish. Depending on who was supposedly going to grant it, I might regret being so vague.
Not as if I actually entertained those thoughts. It was nothing more than a silly tradition, and I probably wouldn't even hang this up...
I slammed the book shut and turned back towards the voice. There was someone else in the classroom.
"A-Amakawa?", I asked once I remembered her name. "You're still here?"
"Y... Yeah. You didn't notice me way back here, huh?" She gave a shy smile.
I sat near the front of the room and her nearly in the far back corner, so it wasn't that unreasonable, but I still couldn't believe I didn't notice her all that time. She really was quiet.
"Uh, so... I was wondering if you could help me study, Yamada," Amakawa meekly asked.
My first thought was to reject her, but on second thought, I didn't really have a good reason to. I sighed and carried my things to the back of the room.
"Thanks," she said with a smile. "You're really smart, so..."
"Don't mention it. Besides, I might have to ask you a favor."
"A favor?", she repeated with surprise.
"If it doesn't stop raining soon," I explained, "I may have to borrow your umbrella."
"O... Oh?" She blinked. "Oh! T-That's fine, Yamada! You can just have it!"
"I'm grateful. So what are you having trouble with?"
"Well... this... and this, and this, and this..." She kept pointing to one problem after another.
I shook my head. "I'm not your teacher, Amakawa..."
"I'm sorry..." She bowed her head.
"Well, we'll see what we can get through, anyway."
We worked through the math textbook, tackling all the problems Amakawa had circled, which were plentiful. I did my best to re-teach the concepts so she could figure things out for herself, but she seemed distracted - how much moreso than usual, I couldn't be sure.
Looking out the window at the rain, she muttered: "Too bad Orihime and Hikoboshi couldn't meet."
"...That's not really what's important right now," I reminded, trying to direct her attention back to the textbook.
"Well... sure... but if literal star-crossed lovers not getting to have their yearly reunion isn't important, then what is?"
"Who says they didn't?", I suggested, hoping to appease her. "It'd have to be raining a ton to make a galactic river rise."
"The bar can't be too high, though," she mused. "Or else why would the story even mention it?"
"...Maybe we can just take it to mean above-average rainfall," I sighed.
"Do you think anyone's ever become a meteorologist because of Tanabata?"
"You could be the first. ...Look, can we get back to studying now?"
We managed to do so briefly, but after a few minutes, Amakawa recalled something. "Oh, Yamada, did you make a Tanabata wish?"
"...Nah." That was half-true, at least.
"Nothing, huh?" She looked... disappointed, maybe. "Not even wishing for luck on exams or anything?"
"Wishing to do well on exams is provably less effective than studying
..." I gestured toward the textbook.
"Okay, you're right about that," she conceded. "But there's more to life than just doing well in school, so..."
"I just couldn't think of anything," I insisted. "But I take it you did?"
She averted her eyes. "Well... not really..."
Amakawa tried to get off the topic by returning to the textbook. But when she turned the page...
"...O-Oh?! How did this get here?!"
She quickly grabbed it, but I more quickly realized what it was: the tanzaku I'd written my wish on.
"...Err, I mean, this is my bookmark," she corrected, "which was marking the page I was having the most trouble with... yeah."
"Um... actually, Amakawa, I think that's mine," I reluctantly admitted.
"Huh? Why would your bookmark be in my
textbook?" She tilted her head. "Isn't that yours over there?"
I looked over at my textbooks, and sure enough, a tanzaku was still slightly peeking out of one.
Amakawa seemed to have the same realization at the same time.
She nervously gestured toward the wall where all the other tanzaku were hung up. "...W-Want me to put it up?"
I didn't shake my head. So she slowly slid the tanzaku out of my book, looked at the two side-by-side, and then hung them both up side-by-side.
Amid all the pleasant, optimistic wishes, ours sure seemed to stick out.
"I want to be someone I'm not."
Amakawa slowly sat back down, her cheeks bright red.
"...I don't know about you, but I just wrote that without thinking," I explained. "It's not really my wish. That's why I said I didn't have one."
"...What kind of "someone else" do you want to be?", she asked while faced away from me, as if not hearing what I'd said.
"I told you, I didn't think about it. So I -"
"Then let's think about it!"
She turned to face me with a suddenly intense look, but soon shied away again.
"S... Sorry. But I mean, look... just the fact we had the exact same wish is kind of a miracle. I'm really... amazed right now. Doesn't it seem like a miracle to you, too?"
I shrugged. "...I guess you could call it a miracle. But there are more unlikely coincidences. And it's such a vague, negative wish."
Amakawa sighed. "Yeah, it is... But that's why I want us to think about it together. There's... you know, a connection between us now."
"A connection?", I repeated, a little mockingly.
She looked around the empty classroom.
"I know it might sound silly, or unexpected coming from me... but I believe in this kind of thing. Even bumping into someone can be a fateful encounter. So something like this, all the moreso. Even if it just ends up being a coincidence that goes nowhere... isn't it exciting that it could
mean something? Isn't it worth pursuing?"
As I silently thought it over, Amakawa suddenly looked up in realization.
"Hey... it stopped raining."
"Which means I don't need to share an umbrella with you," I concluded. "Too bad for you."
She looked puzzled. "Wait, did you think I'd make you share
it? I said you could just take it."
I gave her a puzzled look of my own. "That wasn't
where all this talk of "connections" was going?"
Her confusion broke into a smile.
"Look, all I'm saying is that we happen to have something in common. I couldn't tell you where this is going. ...That's what we'll figure out."
I anticipated that Amakawa and I would talk again after school the next day. I hadn't been prepared for the obvious-in-hindsight reality that we went to class and ate lunch together.
During class, of course, she was pretty powerless to even get my attention from the back corner of the room. But when lunchtime came, she was free to get up and bug me.
"Have you thought of anything?", she asked.
"...No," I replied, only then realizing what I'd signed up for. "Can't this wait?"
"Sorry, I'm just so excited," she smiled. "I've always been thinking about it to myself before."
"Well, I told you already how spur-of-the-moment it was for me... How long has this been on your mind?"
She turned away bashfully. "Um... too long..."
"And you think I'll have any better ideas? It's not as if we even want the same thing, is it?"
While Amakawa pondered that one, I noticed that a few people were looking our way.
"Toilet," I proclaimed, then got up and left.
"H-Hey, Yamada, your lunch...! Is it okay if I eat the rest of this?!"
By the time I returned near the end of lunch, there was nothing left.
After the classroom cleared of everyone but us, and we again put on the appearance of studying together, Amakawa asked me:
"Yamada, how would you describe me?"
I thought for a bit. I didn't know Amakawa very well, but I had seen her around, and did know her name before this. But with her unremarkable appearance, straight black hair, and unobtrusive personality, she never stuck out much in my mind.
"...Quiet. Nervous. Keeps to herself. Doesn't stand out. Bad at math."
She nodded solemnly. "Well, that's everything I don't want to be."
"I'm afraid you might never succeed at changing the last one," I sighed.
"T-That one can have lower priority!"
"Then what are you doing about those things? Like, no one's forcing you to be quiet... are they?"
"T-Technically, no..." She looked concerned. "But it's not easy to just start acting different. People would ask why, and I'd be like... "I dunno, I hate the person I am"?"
"...They wouldn't mind enough to ask," I assured.
I wasn't sure if I believed that myself, and Amakawa wouldn't either. "E-Even when I'm changing everything people thought I was...? I don't think so."
I pondered. "Well, how would you describe me,
"Umm..." She turned away from me. "Smart, cool, cute... uhh..."
"...Am I supposed to say I don't want to be those things?"
She waved her hands. "N-Not necessarily, but...! It's not like I know you that well. If you really have the same wish as me, maybe there's other stuff you don't want to be."
I realized something, and nodded to pretend I had the idea all along. "And similarly, maybe there are things I didn't list, that you wouldn't change, that are what your friends like you for."
Amakawa stared down at her desk. "I, um... it's not like I have many friends as it is." After an awkward silence, she looked back up. "B-But if I did, that would be a good point!"
"Uh... well, that's all the more reason not to worry so much, I guess." I rubbed my neck. "...Sorry."
"Hey, I think you're one of the friends, so no need to apologize," she said with a smile. Which really did indicate how low the bar was for friendship, didn't it...
"So, you'll be loud and gaudy, and I'll be dumb and uncool," I summarized. "What's next?"
"I'm afraid that's not enough for... several reasons, Yamada. Not even getting into your side of it, just... how do I go about this? What exactly do I do? See, this is why I need someone to brainstorm with..."
"And again, how am I supposed to be the one to tell you that?", I shrugged. "I can't tell you what would be best for you to do when I hardly even know you."
Amakawa shook her head, and took a moment to find the words. "I need, like... an inspiration. Because, how would I ever be able to "become someone I'm not" all on my own?"
"Well, maybe that's not actually what you're trying to do."
I just said that casually, but she reacted as if struck by lightning. She stood up and bowed repeatedly, thanking me again and again.
"D... Don't mention it?", I nervously replied.
"Yamada, you got it!", Amakawa exclaimed. "You really do get it!"
"Of course I
already knew that," she smiled, "but I wanted to see if you could get there too, to see just how similar we were. And you did!"
"What you just told me!"
Since the words had just casually come out, I had to think back to what she was referring to. "...You aren't actually trying to be someone you're not?"
She nodded. "That's right. I'm trying to be me.
I scratched my head. "Why would you tell me I "get it" when I have no idea what you're talking about?"
"Listen, it's like this," she began, getting visibly excited. "There have been lots of times I've thought "I want to be someone I'm not." And yes, that's still what I wrote as my wish, because it sums it up well enough. But "who you are" is a complex matter. How you feel, how you look, how you act, how others perceive you... all of these are separate threads going many different directions. In my case, at least. And maybe in yours, too."
I stared at Amakawa as she gave this sudden speech. Who... was this girl? Because she certainly wasn't that meek student sitting in the back row.
"I want to weave those threads together into one me," she concluded. "And if I can, I want to do it for others, too."
Whoever this was, she certainly had a flair for drama.
...Was I to believe I was face to face with the "weaver princess" herself?
"...Orihime?", I cautiously asked.
She looked at me and giggled. "See, you're totally following along. ...Sorry to disappoint, but I'm just a human."
Amakawa sat on her desk and looked up at the ceiling.
"Still, it's funny... Orihime has had various names in different tellings of the story. Want to guess what one of them is?"
"...Am I supposed to say "Amakawa"? That doesn't sound right."
She shook her head and pointed to herself.
"Momoko. I'm Momoko Amakawa."
Amakawa - or rather, Momoko - had caught my interest well enough. If she thought I could help her, I didn't mind taking some time after school to indulge her. She was easily someone I could consider a friend.
That said, I wasn't as sure whether she could do anything for me. However, there were moments that certainly made me think about it.
The next day was a Saturday, which meant class was optional. Unsurprisingly, Momoko did not attend. Which is largely what allowed the following to happen at the end of class.
"Hey Yamada," a classmate asked me, "do you know where Amakawa is?"
"I don't think she came today," I replied. "Did you want something with her?"
"Oh, it's nothing important. But I thought you might know, considering..."
"...Considering what?", I inquired, with a bad feeling about the answer I'd get.
"What were you talking about at lunch yesterday?", he asked, slightly shifting the topic. "Amakawa said something about being excited, and how she'd been thinking something for a long time... Oh, and she ate your entire lunch."
"T... That's not what you think it is," I explained. "We were just talking about something from... the other day..."
"So you were
talking by yourselves in the classroom," he grinned. "People saw you and Amakawa leaving together, so we were pretty sure, but..."
"M-Momoko's just my friend, okay?"
His eyes widened, and I realized my mistake.
"Right... "Momoko's" your friend, huh. I'll be sure to let everyone know," he snickered. "Hey, but good luck, Yamada."
He left, and I struggled to decide if it would be better to leave (and make it seem like I'd been staying just for Momoko) or stay (and make it seem like Momoko would come visit later).
Ultimately, I retreated to the bathroom.
Ugh. I hated this.
Why did people have to jump to conclusions after just two after-school meetings and a talk at lunch? And why did I hate that conclusion? Surely because it was wrong, a fundamental misunderstanding of our relationship - and we barely even had a relationship at this point. Even if were
like that between us, I think I would still hate it.
It occurred to me that this is why a person would think "I want to be someone I'm not." Maybe you don't know exactly what you want, but you do know that you hate this.
At any rate, I could break that hate into two parts: hating how I let that classmate get the wrong idea and leave, and hating that the wrong idea was gotten in the first place.
Which reminded me of those "threads" Momoko was talking about. Changing yourself is one thing, but changing how others perceive you... Even a deity, I thought, would have trouble wrangling that one.
But for some reason, I found myself hoping we could do what deities couldn't.
When we stayed behind in the classroom the following Monday - getting some looks from classmates for doing so - I decided to start the conversation for once.
"Before, you were asking how I'd describe you, and vice versa... but I think it makes more sense if I describe myself."
"...I'm a nobody," I sighed. "And a coward. And maybe I'm smart in one sense, but what good does that do me?"
Momoko stared with surprise. "Y-You're, um... opening up quickly, Yamada. Which is... good, I guess."
"Sorry, Amakawa. See, on Saturday..." I shivered just thinking about it again. "Well, basically, it seems people are thinking we're a couple."
"Ugh, gross," she spat. "On what basis? They must be reading too much shoujo manga. I mean, relationships don't move that quickly in real life."
"I know, it's ridiculous. They aren't gonna let us just be friends." My head drooped. "...Which might make continuing to meet like this troublesome."
"Well, there are other places we could meet. But that won't fully solve the problem, will it..." Momoko pondered with a face of concern, then looked up with an idea. "I've got it! Let's have a fake breakup for everyone to overhear!"
"...Um. That actually feels even more shoujo-manga-esque," I remarked, yet Momoko kept smiling at me. "...Not to say it's not a good idea?"
"Okay, it's settled. Is the local park good for you?"
"I-I can't BELIEVE you'd say that, Yamada!!!"
Startled by the fact we were getting right into it, I hurried to think of a response. "I... I didn't mean it like that, Momoko! Of course I still love you, and we'll always be together...!"
"B-Be quiet!", she snapped. "Do you think I don't know about you and that girl who doesn't go to this school...?!"
"Her...? There's nothing between me and Yoko...! Which is a perfectly normal relationship to have!"
"Then how come you knew who I was talking about?!"
"B... Because she's the only one I can think of who you'd get the wrong idea about?"
"I'll never believe that!" She turned her head in disgust dramatically, even though nobody was around to see it. "I'll... I'll never trust you ever again, Yamada!!"
Momoko ran out of the classroom, crying just believably enough to make me actually feel kind of bad.
As I left school, careful not to follow too soon behind her, I noticed a few students watching me with sympathetic looks.
"Sorry for your loss," one told me. "Better luck with Yoko, I guess?"
I sighed. At least the plan had seemed to work.
I made my way to the park, found Momoko sitting on a bench, and casually sat down beside her.
"So how's your day been?"
"Great. I just had a good breakup," she laughed.
I chuckled too. "You never really hear those words together, huh..."
"And what a shame that you don't," she replied, shaking her head.
We sat for a while not really knowing what to talk about, just watching some kids play in the park.
"Well, uh," Momoko interjected after a while, "I actually wanted some more math help, if you don't mind..."
"...I do mind a little," I groaned. "Why come out to a park only to do schoolwork?"
"I dunno, people do it," she shrugged. "Studying in the park is my go-to excuse for leaving the house, so it might be nice to actually make it true for once."
"I'd like to help you and all, Amakawa, but it's like..." I thought about how to put it. "I just kinda hate this."
"What do you hate?"
"We're sitting here alone, in high school uniforms, feeling pressured to study, while watching these kids play in the park carefree. We're not even that old, and it's making me feel like I'm ancient or something."
"Hmm," Momoko hmm-ed. "What would you like to do right now, then?"
"Tear off this stupid uniform and go play." I paused. "...Uh, that is, if I were wearing something else underneath."
She nodded. "R-Right... important disclaimer."
Momoko leaned forward and fiddled with her skirt. "Well... that may not be something we can fully do right now, at least without a trip home. But it's something we can easily prepare for next time. So, that's something."
She was right, but at the same time, I felt like she was - rather, we were - maybe missing the point.
Playing in the park might have been a nice way to blow off some steam, but it wouldn't change nearly any of the realities that made me dislike the situation. We would still be high school seniors, forced to wear uniforms, silently dreading exams.
I didn't say that, of course, because I had no reason to shoot Momoko down. And also, maybe this really was a step on the path to bigger things.
"Um... anyway, I think I'm just gonna study," Momoko said, "and allow you to intervene whenever you can't stand to watch my anguish."
"...You don't have to phrase it like that."
"But it helps!"
The next time we met in the park, we both came in casual clothes.
That said... there was really nothing to be said about them. Mine were totally unremarkable (considering Momoko never remarked upon them), and hers were as modest and bland as could be - it may as well have been another uniform, just from a different school.
With one exception: there was a large pink ribbon sitting on her head, looking extremely out of place.
"I saw it on the way, and I went along with the impulse to buy it," she explained with a smile. "Really completes the look, huh?"
"Seems more like the start of an entirely different look."
Momoko rubbed her neck. "...I mean, you never know."
"So are we going to play in the park or what?"
"Right, yeah!", she replied excitedly.
As soon as we stood up and surveyed the area, though, I think we both started having second thoughts. A lot of this stuff was just... small. The slide wasn't very wide, those wobbly animals were downright hazardous, and I wondered if the seesaw might bend under both our weights.
Eventually we gravitated toward the swings, which weren't exactly comfortable, but they worked for us. Since I was the one who'd wanted to play, Momoko insisted on giving me pushes; once I'd reached a significant height, she'd run over to the other swing and try beating me without any help.
After swinging for a while, two little girls came up to us. Momoko looked toward me, but I pretended to ignore her and kept swinging, so she reluctantly slowed to a stop.
"Hi there!", she said cheerfully. "What's up?"
"Um... Are big kids allowed to use the swing?", one of the girls asked.
Momoko looked to her left and right, then faked a surprised realization. "Oh, I'm not really a big kid, just a kid who got too big. That's why I have to wear this so people know," she explained, pointing to her comically large ribbon.
"Then what about you?", the same girl asked in my direction.
"Same thing," I replied, slowing to a stop. "We only have the one ribbon, though, so we're sharing." I took it off Momoko's head and put it on mine.
"Huh... Do lots of kids get big without growing up?", the other girl wondered.
"All the time,
" Momoko said with a laugh.
"That's kinda sad. Does that mean you're never gonna be grown-ups...?"
"It's not sad," I interjected. "There's all kinds of stuff only kids can do. Even if you do something silly, people more or less get it, because you're a kid. Some grown-ups hate that, so they tell kids they gotta grow up."
"But grown-ups can do stuff kids can't," one girl argued.
"Only a bunch of boring things. Nah, it's kids who can do anything."
"Hmm..." The other girl folded her arms in thought. "You kinda sound like you're actually just grown-ups who wanna be kids."
Momoko tilted her head. "But if we wanna be kids, doesn't that make us kids?"
The girl thought it over. "But kids wanna be grown-ups, and they tell us we're not."
"That's just 'cause they're jerks."
"Hey, you're right!", the girl exclaimed. "Okay, you're kids!"
"Good talk," Momoko laughed, then got off the swing. "Anyway, we're gonna go do more kid stuff."
She reached over and took back her ribbon, then we returned to the bench and watched the little girls swing.
"You really had a point there," Momoko said with a smile. "Kids get away with all kinds of stuff. Makes me regret not taking better advantage of it."
"Too bad we can't convince adults
we're just kids," I chuckled. "That could make things a lot easier."
"Well... it can go the other way, though." She lowered her head and fiddled with her dress. "Dismissing the things kids do because they're kids, expecting them to "grow out of it"... even when it's clearly not about maturity."
"I guess you're right... I just never really ran into that myself." I sighed. "...But I feel like I missed out on a lot, really."
She looked over at me with a grin. "Hey, you heard the kids. Never too late to catch up!"
We continued sitting on the bench in silence for some time. It felt nice.
As it was starting to get darker, Momoko pulled out her phone, which I don't think I'd seen before that moment.
"Hey, we should trade contact info," she prompted. "Just in case we can't meet or anything like that."
"...Do we really have to?"
"It'd make me happy," she smiled.
"Then I suppose I have no choice."
I pulled out my phone and added Momoko as a contact, entering the number and email she told me. After doing so, she grabbed the phone, claiming she wanted to confirm they were right - but that clearly wasn't what it was about.
huh? Not Amakawa?", she asked teasingly.
"What's wrong with that? It's still your name."
"Yeah, my first
name. You don't normally call me that."
I didn't feel any obligation to respond to that.
"Alright then," she said, putting down my phone and pulling up her own, "what's your
first name, Yamada?"
...I also didn't feel any obligation to respond to that.
She folded her arms. "Come on, this is clearly unfair. You can't put me in as Momoko and then refuse to tell me."
"Fine, then I'll change you to Amakawa."
"You know that's not what I meant!", she whined with annoyance.
Finally, I relented - in a sense.
"...Look, I just hate my name."
Momoko looked surprised, and quickly seemed to feel bad about pressuring me.
"It's a bad name. It doesn't suit me at all. For that matter, even "Yamada"... it's so generic. It sure doesn't help me feel like less of a nobody."
She offered consolation. "Hey, don't worry, I get that. People are always like, "Momoko isn't really
your real name, is it?""
I shook my head. "Well, I think Momoko's a wonderful name."
"Well of course it is!", she beamed. "But you know, people."
Momoko pulled her phone back up. "So anyway, that's totally fine. But I mean, it won't let me leave the field blank. So what should I put? If you could change your name to anything, what would it be?"
I paused to think.
"Well, your name's nice, so... Momomomoko." I grinned.
"Come on, be serious..." She gave a pained smile.
"I am serious," I insisted. "I'm also drawing a blank."
"It's just kind of a mouthful, is all. I'll have to shorten it to, let's see..." She counted on her fingers. "Four mo's, so... Yomoko?"
"Oh yeah, now there's a name!" She typed it in, then looked up in thought. "...Huh, I feel like I know a Yoko from somewhere."
"It's just the name on your phone, so I doubt you'll get confused," I smiled. "You'll still be calling me Yamada."
She sighed. "I mean, I feel bad doing that now, knowing you hate it... If you could change your last name, what would it...?"
"Amakawa," I promptly answered.
"Oh, come on," she laughed.
We continued to meet up in the park regularly. Mostly after school, but sometimes on weekends too.
It probably goes without saying that we ignored each other during school. It was just the best way to sell the idea that we'd broken up and weren't talking anymore. You might think we regretted this "lost time," but I had no interest in chatting in that environment, and no reason to think Momoko did either. I mean, that's basically why we "broke up" in the first place.
Beyond our first few meetings, we never really talked explicitly about what the purpose of them was, and why we kept it up. I feel like both of us expected the other to believe we were still "thinking together" about our Tanabata wishes, but we didn't even say that.
I think that makes sense, though. The process of becoming people we weren't - or as Momoko put it, "unifying" who we were - meant not worrying about rationalizing the things we did.
However, just because we didn't stop and think about why we did things, that didn't mean we weren't thinking about our interactions. Even if there were many things left unsaid.
And slowly but surely, we began to figure each other out.
"So I've been getting into sewing," Momoko mentioned to me one day.
"That's cool. What are you sewing?"
"...Mostly boring stuff," she sighed. "Because I have to start simple, of course. Also, I'm doing it at home, and like..."
She trailed off, seeming to hope that sufficed as an explanation. But I urged her to try and explain, even if it was hard to put in words.
"I think my parents assume anything I'd sew is something I might wear," she said at length. "So I can't sew anything too wild, you know."
"...You know about lolita fashion, right?"
I nodded. "You mean those outfits that are like... cute, but tacky, that men really hate?"
"Yeah, it's great!", Momoko confirmed with a laugh. "I've been realizing lately how much I love that stuff. It's a huge culture, you know. I found all these communities online..."
"So I take it your interest in sewing is..."
She blushed. "Well, it sounds so silly when you put it like that... Lolita can be really intricate, so I know it's not going to be easy. But the idea of designing clothes like that for everyone to wear..." She looked lost in fantasizing. "That might be my dream job."
"That does sound like it'd be great for you," I smiled. "Don't worry about getting there right away. Everyone has to start small."
"Heehee... Thanks. I knew you'd get it."
As happy as Momoko looked, and as happy as I was for her, something was still on my mind. I reluctantly decided it was worth bringing back up.
"So, your parents... don't seem like they'd be thrilled about this?"
"I don't know if they've ever been thrilled in their lives,
" she grumbled. "They're so overbearing. Just the other day, they looked through my phone without asking... I had to be like, "Yoko's just a friend." And then answer a million more questions."
Then she caught herself complaining, and looked embarrassed. "O-Oh, sorry... I really shouldn't burden you with that junk."
I shook my head. "Nah, feel free. Who else is going to listen?"
She still looked concerned. "But I know you must have your own troubles to worry about, so..."
"Well, sure. I know all about having annoying parents. That's why I already moved out to an apartment," I chuckled.
Momoko looked at me with surprise. "You've got an apartment?! Ooh, can I..."
Then she froze, and her head drooped.
"Um... cool. An apartment. That's nice."
I looked at her. "Is there something wrong with you visiting my apartment?"
"...Maybe I'm the one who reads too much manga," she chuckled dryly. "But isn't it such a cliché? The girl visiting her love interest's apartment. No... it doesn't feel right. It's not... like that."
I thought of telling Momoko that was silly, and of course we could meet at my place without it meaning anything. I also thought of pointing out how much we'd been meeting up for no particular reason but to hang out and talk, and how maybe it was like that.
But if it didn't feel right to her, it didn't feel right.
So instead, I decided to get to the bottom of why
it didn't feel right.
She looked at me with surprise for using that name.
"Have you ever had a boyfriend?"
She fiddled with her hands. "I mean... I've thought about it with a lot of people, but not really..."
Now for the real question.
"Have you ever had a girlfriend?"
She shut her eyes. "...If I said yes, what would you say?"
"Thanks for telling me the truth," I replied.
She didn't say yes, but she did begin to sob, which said it well enough.
I patted her back, and she tried to quickly dry her tears and explain.
"I... I mean, there was a girl. We were... really close, I thought. Close enough that I hardly even considered it wasn't like that. But when I confessed to her..." Tears started to well up again. "...She was laughing. She really thought I was just joking around, that of course we were "just friends." I tried to act like it was fine, but we... definitely drifted apart after that."
She wiped her tears again. "But, yeah... that's how it is with me. I've always just liked girls." She hung her head. "...I-I'm sorry if you were expecting something I can't bring myself to give."
I shook my head. "I wouldn't force anything from you. ...At any rate, you're welcome to visit my place anytime. There doesn't have to be a reason."
Momoko nodded, sniffling. "Yeah, truth be told... I would really like to visit." She smiled at me. "But it won't be "for no reason," either. I'll be sure to make it something special."
I smiled knowingly.
"I think it will be, too."
That was the date I was staring down on my phone as it poured rain outside.
I kept putting off the plan to visit Yamada's apartment, mostly because of the surprise I was working on. Finally, we'd settled on the 8th... and now I was afraid we'd have to delay it again.
The school term had ended in late July. Meeting Yamada in the park became trickier due to my "studying in the park" excuse getting weaker. So we weren't meeting in person very often, instead talking via texts.
I missed them. I was really looking forward to seeing them again tonight. And yet it was storming outside.
In retrospect, maybe the alternative was entirely reasonable. Just reschedule; there was no reason it had to be today.
But in the moment, I really didn't want to do that. If Yamada was anticipating this nearly as much as I was - though maybe that was a big "if" - they'd be so disappointed. I'd
be so disappointed. And the longer I put this off, I felt, the more my courage to go through with it would diminish.
And after all, I wanted to surprise Yamada. And if I went to visit them right now, that would surprise
And so I stuck to the plan. Quickly yet carefully, I dressed myself in a full-on frilly pink lolita outfit.
I looked myself over in the mirror. The various pieces of the outfit hadn't come cheap, but they were about as cheap as you could get - which also described how tacky they looked.
"I look ridiculous," I thought. "It's perfect.
And then I hopped out the window of my room into the rain, with only my bag and a cute umbrella with a frog on it.
The longer my journey to the apartment lasted, the more I questioned myself. If I really wanted to show off this outfit to Yamada, I wouldn't be running through the rain and getting it messed up. And the faint hopes I had about this meeting... maybe they were impossible.
No, but that's not what this is about. It's not even a major reason why I'm doing this. I'm doing this to prove something to myself - that I can change, and do something outrageous I never would've expected myself to do before.
And maybe more importantly, to prove to Yamada how important they were to me. Because I wanted to make that clear, no matter how they might feel in return.
To no one's surprise but my own, I got too distracted thinking about this to watch where I was going. So while turning a corner, I crashed right into someone.
My umbrella clattered to the sidewalk, and I landed on my butt. I quickly got up to apologize.
"I-I'm so sorry! I wasn't paying attention, there's someone I need to meet -"
"Momoko?! You're... out in the rain? ...In that?"
I was surprised to hear my name, and more surprised to realize it was Yamada's voice. Had they... been coming to meet me, too?
Just as I was going to say something, I actually took a look at who I'd bumped into, and time stopped.
It was a girl.
She wore a frilly red dress that was getting the frill soaked out of it. Her face was familiar to me, and beside her lay an umbrella with the exact same frog design as mine.
I knew I'd heard correctly. But it wasn't Yamada I'd bumped into.
It was Yoko. The girl I'd been, in the back of my mind, hoping to meet tonight.
"...Yoko...?", I asked, wide-eyed.
Equally surprised, she smiled and nodded.
So it was
And under those circumstances, I was perfectly happy to be hugging her, in the rain, lying on the sidewalk.
Momoko and I soon found shelter at a bus stop. Though the rain poured down all around us, we felt like we were basking in the sun.
"So you really couldn't have waited to meet up another day, huh?", Momoko asked with a wry smile.
"Clearly you couldn't either," I retorted. "Sure, if one of us had been sensible and stayed home, the other would have some explaining to do. But since both
of us ran out in the rain in dresses, you must understand on some level, right?"
"Fair. Well, even with a little rain, you look really great in that," Momoko complimented. "I meant to say it earlier, but it was a little chaotic."
"Oh yeah, I meant to compliment your outfit too," I nodded. "I was expecting you'd wear something special, but you blew me away."
Momoko snorted. "With this
cheap thing? I mean, don't get me wrong, I
think it rules, but you don't have to act like this is high fashion just to make me happy."
"You're right," I giggled. "But I guess I just like doing anything that makes you happy."
We looked at each other and smiled for a little bit.
"I want to say I knew... but I mostly just hoped," Momoko explained with a happy sigh. "I'm sure we would've gotten along no matter what, but... it wouldn't feel the same. So I was hoping all those little things meant something - that all along, you wanted to be who I
wanted you to be. You know?"
There was a pause. "Though I mean, just because I "hoped it" doesn't mean I "expected it." Like, this totally unassuming kid turning out to be the girl of my dreams? Even I felt like it might be too
fateful," she laughed.
I smiled, amused by her comments. "I've been wondering if it was "too fateful" from the beginning."
I began to explain. "See, well... I've been keeping a lot from you, Momoko. Let's start with Tanabata. You admitted you'd been thinking about that wish to "be somebody else" for a while, while I acted like it just came out of nowhere for me. Later, only once I came to the conclusion myself, you revealed that your wish to "be someone else" was really a wish to "be myself, in all ways." You hid that until I was ready."
I grinned sheepishly. "...Well, I did the same thing, but for much longer. Long before Tanabata, I knew I didn't want to be a boy, and did
want to be a girl. But I wasn't going to write that and have someone see it. Like you, I struggled with the specifics of what I wanted..." I lowered my head. "But... meeting you, I started to see the person I wanted to be."
Momoko blinked with stunned surprise. "You... you knew then?
I guess that does make more sense... but..." She looked a little upset at first, then her expression changed - it seemed she had figured it out, but asked regardless. "Why didn't you just tell me?"
"You know how it feels to open up to someone you trust and have that rejected," I said, and she nodded. "If I told you before I knew I could absolutely trust you, and you reacted negatively... it would've destroyed me. In fact, almost any other outcome would've upset me. For instance, maybe you'd accept me as a girl, but it'd change our relationship for the worse, not the better."
I shook my head. "And of course, my feelings for you were never really that unclear. But I couldn't make that fact obvious to you.
Because you knowing I felt that way about you, but not that I wanted to be a girl too... didn't feel right. Maybe it was mean of me to keep dancing around it, but..."
"No, I get it," Momoko reassured me. "I did the same thing, 'cause I didn't want you getting the wrong idea. It's fine to keep secrets like that. Like, admitting I liked girls... I'd never said that to anyone else before. ...You know, other than that one girl."
"Then I'm glad you decided to tell me, because those were the words I'd been hoping forever to hear," I giggled.
For a while, we sat there, with Momoko occasionally remembering something I said or did and having me confirm her suspicions about it. Eventually, she just shook her head in admiration.
"Man, Yoko... You're like, the real Orihime."
"What's that even supposed to mean?", I snickered. "I mean, I guess I get it. I weaved together the threads just right - I made a big step toward actualizing my feelings, while also managing your perception of me. But like... that has nothing to do with Tanabata."
"It means what we want it to mean, okay?", Momoko replied in a huff. "That's the point of legends. We're supposed to interpret them, and see ourselves in them."
I tilted my head at her. "There's interpreting a story, and then there's just rewriting it."
She grinned. "Okay, then let's rewrite it."
Momoko cleared her throat. "There were once two weaver girls, separated by the Milky Way."
"...They had no idea they would ever meet," I hesitantly continued. "They hardly knew the other existed."
"But on the seventh day of the seventh month, a great rain fell. The river rose high, and both the weaver girls were swept up in a flood. From a great distance of... about five desks, they saw each other, and swam toward each other."
I laughed. "Hanging on to each other, they weathered the flood, and got a decent math grade. But when the rain subsided... they had both washed back home."
She nodded. "Though they had only been alone together a short time, the weaver girls thought often of each other. In secret, they sailed messages across the river, and miraculously, many arrived safely. Together, yet separately, they planned the weaving of a complex tapestry."
"...On the eighth day of the eighth month, it rained once more. Following an unspoken plan, the weaver girls threw themselves into the flood, swam toward each other... and then swam together, toward one shore."
"When one girl returned home with a girl from the other side, everyone was shocked. They asked the girl who had crossed the river: have you done the impossible, that which not even deities can do?"
I was silent for a while before I finally thought of how to continue.
"...And she said, there is only one thing impossible even for a deity: "wanting to be someone you're not."" I smiled at Momoko. "For ever since the moment I "wanted" it, my place has been
here - so what I have done is only the inevitable, not the impossible."
We looked at each other, then burst out laughing.
"Gosh, we're such nerds," Momoko said with tears in her eyes. "Nobody ever hire us as writers."
We met in the park the next day as usual. In fact, it was too "as usual" - me and Momoko wearing our usual clothes, casually acting as we always did. The rain had completely passed, too.
It was almost like yesterday hadn't been real. But we knew it was, if only from the way we now talked with each other.
"By the way, my parents totally chewed me out yesterday," Momoko sighed. "I managed to make them stop asking questions eventually, but it was rough."
I shook my head. "Not surprising. You jumped out the window at night without a word, then came back hours later wearing soaked-through lolita..."
"Huh?", she replied with surprise. "No way, that would've been impossible to explain away. Obviously I brought a change of regular clothes... I'm not that shortsighted."
"...Apparently I am," I replied with embarrassment.
"Look, you hadn't even planned on leaving your apartment, so it's fine," she laughed. Then she looked at me blankly. "...Wait, I totally forgot about going to see your apartment."
"Don't worry, it's nothing fancy," I chuckled. "You saw the part you needed to see."
"Well, the privacy might be nice..." Momoko blushed. "To, um, see more, and stuff."
"Oh, sure," I nodded, blushing a little myself. "...But I don't really want that to be the only place."
She looked interested. "Sounds like you have an idea?"
"...The summer festival's coming up soon."
Momoko immediately caught on and was thrilled. "Oh my goshhh, of course! Can I sew us matching yukata? Can I, can I?!"
"That'd be great," I smiled. "Also, uh... know any good places for wigs?"
"Mostly just tacky ones, but I'll look!"
"And... whatever else you can think of."
"Consider it thought of!"
Even in public, I couldn't resist hugging her.
"You're the best, Momoko."
"The best is what you deserve," she giggled.
We arrived on the festival grounds in our matching yukata.
Mine was mostly red with a pink obi, and Momoko's was mostly pink with a red obi. She also wore her usual pink ribbon, which I suggested might be better as a red one. But she told me "Who's the fashion designer here?", and I said "Neither of us."
I was definitely nervous, but excited. Sure, it wasn't as if boys didn't wear yukata. But it was significant in that I matched with Momoko, and she had also provided me some... extras. And if I'd attended as a guy under normal circumstances, I would've just worn whatever, so merely dressing up at all would've meant something.
The closer we got, the louder we realized this thing was going to be. The crowds of people talking, drums banging, announcers shouting. This aspect of festivals had always put me off them, and Momoko said she felt the same way.
Our opinion on that wasn't really going to be changed. But... having Momoko there to navigate it together made it feel more like an adventure. I kept worrying I might've lost her in the crowds, but whenever I looked, she was always there - eventually, that feeling of reassurance seemed to outweigh the worry.
We took the customary tour of the stands. Most of the attractions didn't interest us, but what always interested us was the food. Momoko wanted to try more or less everything, and encouraged me to try new things myself. Of course, I can't say this wasn't a ploy from the start to get more for herself, given that's exactly what it ended up becoming.
After gathering our bounty, we made our way up the stone steps to the shrine. The atmosphere up here was much nicer, with less people and only distant noise, so we could finally relax.
Sitting on the steps, I was reminded of our usual days in the park. But this was a beautifully dark night, and we had a comfortable view of the festival below us. This was prime seating, I thought to myself... which is surprising when you consider how it was a cold, hard staircase.
Before long, a light flew up into the sky, then split apart. After a delayed popping sound, there came another, and another.
We watched the fireworks paint beautiful flowers in the stars. I couldn't help feeling inspired by the sight.
I quietly broke the silence. "...Is this what this is supposed to feel like? Like when couples in shoujo manga go to the festival?"
"Don't ask me," Momoko replied. "It's my first time, too. ...But it is pretty amazing."
"Do you want to, like... kiss?"
And so we kissed, illuminated by fireworks.
When we parted, Momoko was blushing and averting her eyes, but seemingly not because of the kiss.
"...Maybe I was wrong," she conceded. "Living out shoujo manga tropes isn't so bad after all."
"They exist for a reason," I figured. "Even if they're not always for "us.""
"I guess that's it. We're just living out our
version of it, on our terms. That's the ideal, right there."
I turned back toward the fireworks, leaned over, and put my arm around Momoko. She did the same.
"Sometimes, it can feel like the world wasn't made for us," she sighed happily. "So there's nothing better than getting to feel like it was made just
To go into every little thing Momoko and I did together over the next 5 months would take an eternity. I say that because, for how little time we actually got to spend together, it felt
like that time spanned years.
Of course, it wasn't as little as it could've been. Momoko got good at not listening to her parents, as well as not bothering to hide what she was up to or how she felt. As Momoko told it, they were disappointed in her, and worried about her future... but she showed such determination, they understood on some level that there was nothing they could do about it. And so, contrary to the increased strictness she'd feared, they reluctantly let her be.
We went on dates to various places, though tended to prefer just spending time alone someplace comfortable, like my place or the park. After a fateful night of karaoke, I told Momoko about a silly dream I'd always had: becoming a pop star. Even moreso than her dream of being a fashion designer, it seemed like a lofty goal, to say the least. But we both supported each other's dreams, however silly, all the way.
We made new friends, largely thanks to some online communities Momoko had come across and showed me. Obviously she'd known she wasn't the only girl in the world who liked girls. And I'd known I wasn't the only person who wanted to be a girl, which is probably the only reason I'd successfully identified that feeling. But "knowing it" wasn't the same as actually meeting those people and feeling it.
It encouraged me much like being with Momoko did. And the more places we could get encouragement like that, the better.
Naturally, we spent Christmas Eve together. Nothing special happened that hadn't happened already, but it was significant nonetheless.
And amid all this... school continued. In fact, it was the thing that actually
took up most of our time.
It wasn't something we explicitly discussed often. Helping Momoko study may have kicked off our relationship, but she soon concluded that she wanted to be responsible for her own success or failure in education, rather than constantly relying on me to save her.
All told, we were still high school seniors, forced to wear uniforms, dreading exams. But at least we could stick through it together.
So what would come next?
It was February, we'd taken our exams, and we were basically free. So now seemed like the time.
I invited Momoko over to my place. She didn't have to run through the rain this time, and she'd been here numerous times by now, so it was nothing special.
"Hi, Yoko," she waved. "Wanted to show me something?"
"Sorry, nothing to show that you haven't seen before," I giggled.
"I wanted to tell you something, Momoko."
She sat down and put her chin in her hands. "And what haven't you told me already?"
I looked her over. As usual, she'd come in full lolita wear. It was less rain-soaked, and a little more expensive this time, but still just as pink.
"I was just thinking about how talkative you are. And adventurous. And caring. And eye-catching. ...And bad at math," I grinned.
"I'm sure you've told me all of that before," Momoko laughed.
"Is there anything you want to say to me?", I asked.
She giggled. "Just obvious stuff, Yoko. Like how impossibly cute and brave and interesting and funny and clever you are."
I smiled. "Then I guess both our wishes came true."
"Granted by Orihime herself, no less," she winked.
"That's right," I nodded, looking at Momoko. "I'll never forget what I owe her."
There was a long pause before I spoke again.
"Which is why we're now free to go our separate ways."
Momoko didn't react with surprise. Or anger, or disappointment, or confusion, or sadness.
If anything, she showed the slightest relief - like if you'd been wondering whether someone was thinking the same thing as you, but really couldn't be sure.
She smiled peacefully. "I was thinking you might say that, Yoko."
"Of course, I don't mean to say anything negative about you or our relationship," I clarified, even if it seemed unnecessary. "It's been incredible. I really love you, and we'll always have an unforgettable connection. Odd as it sounded, you were right: we needed each other to become ourselves."
"Exactly," Momoko nodded. "Without you, I don't think I'd have ever gotten here. And I know you feel the same way about me."
"And we did more than just encourage each other - we let ourselves experiment, and put it into practice. We helped each other learn what the world hadn't taught us."
Momoko laughed. "And you said you weren't a teacher."
"Hey, I was also the student," I giggled. "...So don't worry about hurting my feelings. Even if you did hurt them, I'd be more hurt if I weighed you down. Go where your heart takes you, and show what you've learned to some wonderful people."
Momoko grinned and put up a finger. "On one condition, Yoko."
"What's that, Momoko?"
"Promise me you'll be happy, too. 'Cause I'd hate to be happy at your expense."
I laughed. "I'll try my best. If all else fails, just ask me to do stuff, and I'll be plenty happy to do so."
"Guess I'll just have to trust you," she said with a smile.
We hugged, kissed, and cried a little. And Momoko went home looking perfectly at peace.
It wasn't the last time we would meet, not by a long shot. We knew that. Even between then and graduation, we talked and met up plenty more times.
But it was good to say it out loud. That our relationship was special and irreplaceable and important, and also not the only thing that mattered.
And that... that was okay. Because however distant we might become...
Not even a galaxy could come between us.
I heard my phone buzzing.
I looked at the screen and instantly recognized it as an important call. I promptly took off my headphones and answered.
"Hi, Momoko! Happy Tanabata!"
"Yokooooo! You too!", Momoko said cheerfully. "You usually call me to celebrate, huh? I didn't interrupt any work, did I?"
I glanced at the computer. "Let's pretend you didn't. You know nothing's more urgent than a call with you, you know."
"Yeah, I guess you're right! Especially since..." I heard the sound of her doing a drum roll on a desk. "I've got big news!"
"Big news, huh?" I wondered what it could be, but it could've honestly been anything - nothing obvious came to mind. So I didn't dare guess and risk detracting from her big news.
"Yep! Actually, technically a lot's
happened I haven't had time to tell you... but basically...!" She burst with excitement. "I'm dating Sakikoooooo!!"
I was so overcome with emotion, I put down the phone and clapped into it. "Hey, congratulations! I'm so happy for you! ...So who's Sakiko?"
"See, I told you, it happened quick!" She hastily explained: "Just the other day, I bumped into her at that one intersection in the rain, which I
knew meant something, but she didn't buy it, and Tamiko maybe overstepped some boundaries like usual, but ultimately we went on a date and we're daaaaating!!"
I laughed. "You've got some luck with legends, don't you? Nobody told me they were the ultimate way to pick up girls."
"Nobody except me, you mean?" Momoko snickered.
"So what's Sakiko like?", I asked.
"Well, she's a little grumpy, but it's cute. She's a writer, but she has a hard time coming up with stuff, and hey, I know I would. Oh, and I think I'm getting her curious about lolita!"
I nodded. "Always expanding, aren't you?"
"We'll dominate the world someday!", she laughed.
Here in the city, Momoko had found her place with a group of other lolita enthusiasts. It wasn't really my thing, so I wasn't an official member of the group, but I supported them all the way and assisted in whatever ways I could.
"Anyway, I'm as happy as could be right now," Momoko said, the smile evident in her voice. "What about you, Yoko?"
"I'm just happy to hear you're happy." Sensing her glare over the phone, I continued. "But really, I'm super satisfied with my work. Digital music's fun, and it's rewarding to see people enjoy my songs."
"Hey, how come you
ended up with the job that makes people happy? That was my
dream," Momoko fake-pouted.
"Momoko, you've been making other people happy for years."
"Yeah, but I don't get paid money for it," she cackled.
"...I mean, neither do I until I put out the album."
We continued to talk about Sakiko, and what else was going on with us lately. We chatted fairly often, but on Tanabata especially, I think our unspoken goal was to confirm the other person was living happily. This year, I could believe it more than ever.
Lastly, she asked: "So what's your Tanabata wish?"
"That should be obvious. "May Momoko be happy with Sakiko.""
"What was it gonna be before
the call?", she snickered.
"Doesn't matter, that's what it is now."
"Last-minute wish changer, huh... Mine's the same as last year. "May Yoko be happy with Yoko.""
I shook my head. "No reason to waste your wish on that. I already am."
"Well, yeah. But it's not our style to wish for things that'll never happen, right?"
I smiled. "Bye, Momoko. Love you."
"Love you too, Yoko!"
I put down the phone and leaned back in my chair.
That's right. We weren't wishing on deities for unattainable things. We wished for what we wanted to see, and what we knew was bound to happen.
Wherever the two of us went, we could always look up and see the same sky. And we could know for a fact the other was happy. That was just obvious.
It might as well have been written in the stars.