Chouko joined the applause as the black curtains fell. “That was amazing!” she exclaimed to her father, who smiled.
“I’m glad you liked it. Maybe when you’re older you’ll be on the stage like that.”
“Really?” Her father nodded. “Do I get to wear the pretty costumes?”
“Of course. Which show would you like to see next week? Romeo and Juliet?”
The features of Chouko’s chubby young face buckled in disgust, her hands gripping the seats as if preparing to run away from the concept of romance.
“But that’s about love!”
“Well, some day you may fall in love and you’ll think differently about Romeo and Juliet. Remember that.”
Bzzzz! Bzzz! Chouko shrieked and sat up, batting the bee away from her mouth. As she opened her eyes she noticed that one of her legs was up in the air.
She looked at herself in the mirror while lowering the leg. She still had bags under her eyes despite a sleep that was relaxingly long and as peaceful as the world when Kuan Ti decides to take a holiday. Her cinnamon brown hair was in disarray.
Chouko entered her ensuite and splashed her face with cold water. She looked at herself in the mirror. She repeated the same four words in the hope that they will change her mood.
“I am a goddess.” Her eyes focused on a vase of flowers standing next to the basin. She took out a red chrysanthemum and let its fragrance lightly tap her nostrils. “I am ready. A goddess is always ready.”
Chouko walked back into her bedroom and screamed when she saw the time. She ran to the kitchen, took a piece of bread, spread some jam over it and raced to school with the bread in her mouth, wishing she had time to avoid this cliché.
The sky was ominously dark, but Chouko still had hope for the day. She passed the sign that read, “Lilac Falls Girls’ Academy” and stepped inside the tall building that was enclosed by many towers and gardens. The bricks used to make the school were of considerable quality, and the gardens were lush and filled with a range of flowers from Japan and abroad.
The floors of the hallways were frequently polished and the classrooms were blessed with the latest technology. The windows were large and the walls were covered in expensive wallpaper.
Chouko greeted her friend Ran and sat next to her. “Are you ready for the audition?” she asked her.
Ran nodded. “I still have no idea what role I want to audition for, but I’m good at playing a bunch of different characters, so I’m just going to wing it.”
“Ms Nishimura wouldn’t wing it.”
“Like I care about her. And you should stop calling her that. She has a given name, you know.”
“It would be rude of me to call her Noa and… okay, we’ve changed the subject. As I was saying, it’s important that you at least look like you’re prepared.”
Ran began doodling in her notebook, a habit she had kept since middle school and had no idea why it stuck with her. She continued the conversation as if her mind was not on the drawing.
“What role are you oh so prepared for?” she asked in a sugarless voice.
“Romeo, of course.”
“Good luck with that.”
Chouko rested her head on her arms, which were flat against the desk. “You are so mean. You know that?” Ran nodded and carried on drawing. “I can play a male character. And besides, I know Ms Nishimura is going to get the role of Juliet no problem.”
“This crush of yours is going to lead you into all sorts of trouble one day.”
“It’s not a crush!”
“Whatever you say, Mr Montague. Hey, do you think the teacher’s sick? He’s late again.” Chouko shrugged, clearly paying more attention to the girl sitting at the front of the room.
Noa’s shiny brown hair was tied up in a ponytail with a red ribbon that matched the bow on the school uniform. Her eyes were always half-closed in relaxation but she was never the type to slack off. Her pale skin was the envy of the entire school population, with one exception.
Even though she tried to emulate some of her more admirable traits, Chouko never wanted to be Noa. She had something very different in mind.
The classes were uneventful and Chouko found herself staring at the clock more often than the teachers, internally recalling everything she needed to know about the character of Romeo, from his capacity to love to his immature rashness.
The end of the school day and the beginning of club activities answered Chouko’s prayers. She jumped out of her seat, grabbed her schoolbag and practically flew to the Theatre Club Room with the speed of a peregrine falcon, leaving Ran in the dust.
‘I am a goddess,’ she repeated in her head. Realising the irony of a goddess playing a male role, she changed the words in her head to ‘I am a god’.
She opened the door to the club room with an open-mouthed smile. “Hello, everyone!” she cried before immediately being pushed out of the room.
“You must keep quiet!” a high-pitched voice hushed her. “Others are auditioning! Wait outside until it’s your turn.”
Chouko sighed and slid down the wall to the ground, where she sat. Ran finally reached the room, her breaths heaving and her eyes burning with anger.
The girl with the high-pitched voice opened the door and held a finger to her lips. “Shh! There’s an audition going on.”
“Sorry,” Ran whispered in a voice that sounded like a hiss. She sat down next to Chouko. “She is such a bitch.” She smiled. “Okay, I think I know which part I’m going to play. Since you’re going for Romeo, I’m going to play Mercutio. That makes sense, doesn’t it? I hope the translation is good.”
“I don’t care about the translation. Everything will be fine if I get a male role and Ms Nishimura gets a female role.”
“I don’t think a costume is going to fool her into thinking you’re a guy.”
Ran was frightened by the determination in Chouko’s eyes. “It’s worth a shot. She won’t like me if I’m just another girl. Isn’t she straight?”
“How am I supposed to know? I haven’t looked into her love life!”
“Shh!” The girl with the high-pitched voice struck again. Ran rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. She and Chouko spent the remainder of the waiting time in silence. Chouko was first up.
Her heart tried to break its own walls by slamming fear against them. She took a few deep breaths as she entered the room, her legs unexpectedly wobbly.
The panel in front of her consisted of the director, the costume designer and the assistant director. The director smiled, the costume designer eyed Chouko warily and the assistant director was busy writing things down.
“Who are you auditioning as?” the director, a senior-level student with short black hair, asked in the voice of a counsellor.
“R-Romeo,” Chouko said softly.
The costume designer put a hand behind her ear. “What was that? Your character must be loud and confident in his delivery.”
“Romeo,” Chouko said in a louder voice.
“There we go,” the assistant director said, finally putting her pen down and looking up. She held an open script out and Chouko grabbed it. “I will read for Benvolio. I want you to read from Act 1 scene 1, line 151.”
Chouko nodded. The translation was excellent for a school version of the play and Chouko was easily able to settle into character. She found it difficult to play the role of a young man but she felt she conveyed Romeo’s feelings of rejection well.
Before she knew it, the audition was over, and she was asked to leave the room. As she did a few strands of kobicha hair caught her eye.
Noa collectedly passed Chouko as if the latter was non-existent. Chouko sat next to Ran and gave her some of her confidence, acting as if she had not been treated like a wisp of air.
It was soon Ran’s turn to audition. When Chouko asked her how she went, she shrugged her shoulders and began to leave the school, Chouko following her close behind.
The next few days made Chouko feel constantly on edge, as if one bad moment during the day had the potential to destroy her luck. Ran told her to calm down again and again, but to no avail.
Chouko frequently prayed, much to Ran’s mean-spirited amusement. She brought various lucky charms to school and paid attention to horoscopes in magazines, whether it be from western or eastern zodiac signs.
A week later, the results arrived. Noa received the role of Juliet, of course, Ran was going to play Mercutio and the part of Romeo belonged to… a girl named Shun Fukui.
Chouko’s hands shook like tree branches as her plan became caesium in water. Ran’s gentle pats on the back did little to comfort her.
“Why… why do I have to play the Nurse?” she asked in a weak, coarse voice.
“Just be grateful that you go a part-”
“Of course I got a part! I’m part of the club! I could have done an interpretive dance instead of saying the lines and still gotten a role. I… failed.”
Chouko ran out of the school with all her strength, tears jumping out of her eyes as if even they did not want to be near her. Her legs grew quickly tired but she continued to run.
She found a park bench and sat by it. She considered leaving the club and joining the ‘going home club’. Life would be easier, with the exception of the fact that Ran would certainly lecture her about it for the rest of her school life.
She sighed into the breeze, whose softness and stability made her decide that it was a better idea to stick with the role and woo Noa some other way. She walked back to the school and apologised to Ran.
“Don’t apologise to me,” Ran ordered. “I’m not the one relying on you to play your role. Apologise to the director or something.”
Rehearsals began the next week. One benefit of having a smaller role was that Chouko was better able to memorise her lines in a short period of time.
Seeing Noa pretend to be in love with Shun made Chouko want to tear the innocent Shun away from the beautiful maiden and punch her so hard that she would make a hole in the ground. It took all of Chouko’s strength not to hurt someone or quit the club.
One thing that gave her resilience was Noa’s beautiful acting. Noa was absolutely perfect in delivering her lines and the fact that the two shared some scenes was definitely a benefit in Chouko’s eyes. It almost made the lovestruck girl forget that the she and Noa were both playing females, and therefore could never fall in love on stage.
“Curse my femininity!” Chouko shouted as she stood on the rooftop next to Ran.
“Curse my friendship with you!” Ran jokingly cried back.
The rehearsals ran smoothly but slowly, much to Chouko’s frustration. She began to wonder if praying to speed up this heartbreaking process would be successful.
When she put her misplaced rage aside, she realised that Shun was an excellent actress. She played the male role with a certain grace, but kept his recklessness. She even looked slightly like a teenage boy, with her short blonde hair, towering height and lack of noticeable curves.
She was very serious when not playing Romeo, her dedication and concentration visible even from a distance. ‘No wonder she got the role,’ Chouko thought bitterly.
One chilly day, Noa approached Chouko. “Um, I was wondering if I could practice my lines at your place.”
Noa nodded. “My place is getting pretty chaotic.”
“Don’t you have some friends you can rehearse with?”
“Not really.” These words awakened Chouko’s knowledge about Noa. Noa always spent time alone and rarely talked to others. She had a calm but fragile disposition. Her beauty made Chouko momentarily forget Noa’s shy nature and lack of friends.
“I guess it’s fine. Is today okay?” Noa nodded. “Follow me after the rehearsal finishes.”
Kuraokami must have decided that Chouko did not deserve happiness, as rain pelted down with the strength of rocks the very moment the rehearsal ended. The wind shoved Chouko’s hair in front of her eyes and no amount of hair flips could rid her of this predicament.
She and Noa struggled to keep hold of their umbrellas. Chouko groaned and pouted, causing Noa to giggle. The walk home was long and silent with the exception of a few fearful gasps whenever someone almost lost control of their umbrella.
The two eventually reached Chouko’s large, traditionally styled house. Noa complimented it in her typical soft, polite voice. Chouko smiled and showed the other girl her room.
The first thing Noa smelled was the strong but pleasant fragrance of chrysanthemums. “Your room smells nice,” she said.
Posters of female idols and thespians were plastered on the thin walls. Two futons, usually slept in by Chouko and Ran, lied on the floor.
“You, uh, really seem to like female celebrities,” Noa said diplomatically, as if walking through a minefield. Chouko nodded and sat by the small table, Noa following suit. “Can you play Romeo? I always struggle with the scenes with Shun. She’s just too good an actor.”
“What are you talking about? You’re a good actor too… wait, you want me to play Romeo?”
Noa nodded. Chouko’s heart jumped up and down in joy. “Sure, I guess I can play him.”
The two read through the script. Noa’s voice was like audio glitter to Chouko’s ears, causing Chouko to losing concentration several times.
“Are you okay?” Noa asked, stifling a giggle. “I thought you wanted to help me.”
“Uh, yeah, it’s just… I wanted to play Romeo. That’s the character I auditioned for. I wanted to act alongside you.”
Noa grinned as if she had heard her favourite song. “Well, I think you play Romeo pretty well. Th-thanks for actually wanting to be near me.”
“Hey, um, do you have a boyfriend?”
“I was just wondering.” Noa shook her head. “Do you have a girlfriend?”
Noa stood up. “Why would you say that? Don’t… don’t accuse me of having a girlfriend.”
“I didn’t mean it like that. I…. I like you!”
Noa froze. “Please don’t say that ever again. I have no interest in girls and I honestly thought you were better than that.”
“I…I’m sorry… I just… I can’t help that I like you.”
“Well, just…. Keep it to yourself. You’re nice and all, but, like I said, I don’t like you back. Can we be friends?”
Against her better judgement, Chouko nodded. Noa bowed and left the room, giving her a small, almost cold wave.
Chouko finally allowed herself to cry.
613Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡy9K75m3yXons 220.127.116.11da2
 Kuraokami is a Shinto deity of rain and snow