Ran stood up and patted her friend on the head as the latter leaned on the desk. The sun was blindingly bright but the air inside the classroom was cold as King Snær because someone decided that the air required conditioning.
“It’s going to be alright. Don’t pay attention to Noa. She was being a total bitch.”
“Don’t say that,” Chouko replied between sobs. “She was… trying to be nice.”
Shun plodded towards Chouko. “Are you okay?” Her voice was uncharacteristically quiet.
Chouko explained the rejection to the girl, who nervously tapped her fingers on Chouko’s desk. When she heard about Chouko’s love for Noa, Shun smiled and the hollow pitter-patter of her fingers stopped.
“I didn’t know you were a lesbian,” she said in a surprisingly giddy voice.
Chouko almost chocked. “That’s one way of putting it.”
Ran laughed, staring at Shun closely. “How do you feel about girls, Shun?” Shun’s cheeks became the colour of strawberries and Chouko realised how sweet her smile was.
Ran waved her hand dismissively. “No need to answer.” Shun relaxed her shoulders. “Speaking of love, guess who got a boyfriend?”
“How?” Chouko wondered aloud.
“What do you mean, “How?” No need to be rude.”
“I meant that I don’t get how you met a guy. There’re no guys at school and we’ve been pretty busy lately. Wait… don’t tell me you’re dating one of the teachers!”
Ran gasped in shock and lightly slapped her friend’s arm. The two friends burst out into laughter. Shun released a small chuckle in an attempt to fit in with the others.
“So tell us about him,” Chouko demanded.
“He’s tall and a little shy but very dedicated. He confessed to me in the most romantic way possible. He said I was like some goddess of beauty. I’m not sure which, but who cares?”
Chouko clamped her hands together once and looked out the window. “If he was a girl, I’d fall in love with her in a heartbeat!”
“Hey, you stay away from Ken-pyon!” Ran’s usually careless appearance was sullied by red cheeks and eyes that looked down at Chouko’s desk. “Don’t laugh.” Ran came up with an idea for how to change the subject to one in which she had a modicum of power.
“Ken’s a little bit like you, Shun.”
Shun moved her gaze from Chouko to Ran, and then back to Chouko. “But didn’t Chouko just say that she would-”
“Have fun, kids!” Ran raced out of the classroom. Chouko chortled awkwardly. Shun bit her lip and turned around, sitting in her seat and praying for the bell to sound so that class could resume.
Five minutes later, Ran returned with two korokke, handed one to Chouko and moaned in disappointment. “I thought I told you two to have fun.”
Chouko shrugged and ate the food given to her. “Are thoo… reathy thor rehearthals?” she asked Shun, spitting out remnants of her lunch. Shun nodded, her cheeks still red.
A familiar face appeared. Noa sauntered to her seat in front of Chouko and next to Shun. Ran scratched her bottom teeth with her top teeth.
“Incoming bitch,” she muttered into Chouko’s ear, her disgustingly slimy breath, a concoction of many different foods, hitting her with full force.
Ran began doodling in her book again, drawing love hearts around pictures of her and her new boyfriend because even she had to express her romantic side occasionally.
Chouko wrote some ideas for stories from her mind to her notebook. Curious as to what started the silence, Shun leaned back in her chair to see what the cinnamon-haired girl was doing.
“What’s that?” she inquired as if preparing to run away at the first sign of danger.
Chouko covered her writing. “Just some ideas for plays I want to write.” Shun stood up and snatched the notebook out of the girl’s hands.
“Hmm… interesting…. How do you get all these ideas?”
“Uh, I actually base them on real life,” Chouko admitted, rubbing her hand against the back of her neck. “If something weird happens in my life, write about it.”
“Is Noa the villain in your plays?” Ran asked with a laugh drenched in spite.
Noa got out of her chair and wordlessly left the classroom. Her brows were furrowed in repressed pain as she wandered through the hallways.
Guilt consumed her every movement despite her justifications for her actions. Surely she let Chouko down easily, right?
Ran’s barely hidden words began to pierce through her like pointed knives. ‘People are just awful,’ Noa concluded after wiping her tears away.
Chouko was astonished that Noa had left school early and was thus not available for that afternoon’s rehearsal. Noa stopped attending rehearsals, and then stopped going to school.
The director’s face looked like a ghoul had pushed her skin down it with her hands. “Has anyone contacted Ms Nishimura?” When all the answers were in the negative, the director slammed her hands against one of the desks that were moved to the edge of the room. “Why on earth did I not cast understudies? I need someone else to play Juliet.”
“Um…. I know some of her lines already since I practiced with Ms Nishimura,” Chouko told her. The director circled her eyes around Chouko’s body and nodded.
“You’ll have to do. Can you learn the rest of the lines in three weeks?” Chouko nodded.
“Maybe you should practice with Shun,” Ran suggested with a wink and a nudge. Chouko stared at her friend with a puzzled expression. Ran’s eyes closed halfway with annoyance. “You’re officially an idiot.”
Chouko alternated between Ran and Shun when it came to rehearsing lines. On some days Shun was happy to help, but on others she was far too embarrassed. Chouko did not realise that those were the days in which she wanted to rehearse the more romantic scenes.
On the walk home following one line-rehearsal she agreed to participate in, Shun saw a familiar girl with deep brown hair in a ponytail. She froze and simply looked at the girl.
She noticed that Noa had developed a new bad habit during the time since they last met. Noa nervously twirled her ponytail with her slender fingers that appeared as though they could break with the gentlest of breezes or the breath of a passer-by.
Noa finally spoke in a worryingly calm voice, so calm that it discarded almost every trace of happiness and humanity left in Noa. The girl’s one saving grace was her evergreen awareness of her guilt in the situation.
“Hi. How are you doing?”
Shun put on a smile, clenching her fists. “I’m… fine. We’re all worried about you.”
“Huh. They’re worried about a bitch like me?” Noa asked, overemphasising the word ‘bitch’. Shun nodded with a tight jaw.
“I get the feeling that Chouko’s blaming herself for your disappearance.”
“Oh. I was going to see her right now, actually. How’s the play going?”
“Good. Chouko’s playing your role, funnily enough.”
“Are you okay?” Shun’s breath stopped for a moment. Noa began fiddling with her hair again. “I guess it makes sense for you to be angry with me, but… actually, it doesn’t. You barely know Chouko. Why the sudden change in behaviour?”
“I just want to make you think twice about hurting Chouko again.”
Noa stepped closer, her cool disposition deteriorating like ice in an oven. “You don’t know the whole story! I’m not going to go out with someone I don’t have feelings for!” She lowered her voice as the guilt seeped back into her conscience. “I thought I was being nice.”
Shun sighed in surrender as she walked past Noa as fast as she could move without running. There was no way she was going to show embarrassment or fear. She bit her lip, trying to fight the potentially paralysing worry that Noa now knew her secret.
Noa stood in front of her admirer’s house, failing to combat her own fear as pathetically as the Titans failed to defeat the Olympian gods. She struggled to make herself believe that she was strong enough to throw her anxieties to the ground.
She finally decided to pass the house as if she was simply on an aimless stroll. She closed her eyes for a moment to regain her composure as she coiled her ponytail around her fingers.
Chouko was next on the long list of failures as she finally gave up on reading a book after the extremely long time of three minutes. Whenever she tried to absorb a sentence, one question burst into her mind.
‘Should I really be okay with being so friendly with the girl who stole my role?’
This thought did not achieve an easy victory when it tried to persuade Chouko, but it did reach a victory nonetheless. Chouko frowned after twenty minutes of internal debate, deciding that it would be better for her pride to only rehearse her lines alone or with Ran.
Shun attempted to approach her at school but Chouko simply smiled, her words dying in the stagnantly hot air of the classroom. Ran jabbed Chouko’s belly with her elbow.
“What’s going on between you two?”
“I… I can’t rehearse with her anymore. Don’t ask why.”
Ran glared at her friend. “Either’s Shun’s magically turned into a bitch or you have.”
Chouko acted well as per usual in her role, but something was noticeably wrong with Shun’s performance. She spoke her ‘loving’ lines in a rush, as if they were a train she had to catch or a confession she wanted to get over and done with.
Dark hope plagued Chouko’s mind. ‘Maybe if she stuffs up again I’ll get her role.’ She shook her head, disgusted by the presence of this idea in her mind.
Ran decided that enough was enough. As Shun was packing up her things, alone in the room, Ran entered the room again and held the other girl up against the wall by the collar of her shirt.
“What’s going on? Chouko’s not telling me anything.”
Shun gulped, unsure how to reply. Ran let her go. “Sorry,” she said in a voice that was half-convincing. “Did you confess?” Shun shook her head. “Why haven’t you confessed to her yet?”
Shun straightened her shirt before answering. “There’s no way I’m going to do that. She doesn’t like me back.” She felt no need to add the horrifying possibility of being seen as a replacement for Noa.
“It’s not my responsibility to bring you two together,” Ran stated harshly. “Hurry up before you completely lose her.”
Shun reluctantly nodded. She sprinted out of the school. Ran chuckled at the literal interpretation Shun had of her words.
Shun put a tremulous hand on Chouko’s shoulder, causing the latter to shriek and turn around. Shun allowed herself a few seconds to finish panting.
“Um… can we talk?”
Chouko smiled again. “I have to be somewhere.”
“Oh. I’ll make this quick, then. I… I… damn it. Words, words…. I… like you. I’m sorry.”
Chouko froze. She eventually looked down at the cracked pavement, her eyes cold. “I’m the one who’s sorry.” She tilted her head back, fire burning in her eyes to shield her fear. “I… I can never love you. You’re my enemy.”
“You stole my spot. I was supposed to be Romeo. I would have been fine with acting as Ms Nishimura’s love interest but since I couldn’t do that I had no choice but to confess. And look how that turned out!”
“You’re not making any sense. Is this like how Ms Nishimura reacted to your confession? Have you decided to mimic her by being so rude?”
Tears bubbled in Chouko’s eyes. Shun blinked to keep her own tears at bay. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Can I take that back?”
Chouko shrugged. “Go ahead. It doesn’t really matter what you do. I’m not going to hang out with you anymore. Imagine being friends with a role thief!”
Shun ran with the speed of Kali saving blood from falling to the ground, but unlike her, she possessed no godly abilities that could save anyone, let alone the world. A sense of powerlessness bashed itself over Shun’s head until she began to feel dizzy.
She stumbled home, her backpack suddenly feeling heavier than usual.
Chouko spent the final week before the show rehearsing with determination that failed to hide the fact that she was constantly fidgeting.
Shun chose to put her shame aside and practice the play as if nothing tense was occurring behind the scenes. The director allowed her and Chouko to skip the kisses but warned them that they were not able to do so during the final performance.
Noa, meanwhile, spent her time at home thinking. Her mother continuously wondered why her normally studious daughter was skipping school but decided not to press her about it in fear of making the situation worse.
Noa decided to clarify things for herself. She typed the words ‘what’s the difference between boy-girl relationships and girl-girl relationships’ into a search engine. She was surprised by the few results that were about the topic rather than the differences between boys and girls in general.
She decided to be brave and search the word ‘lesbians’. She found the Wikipedia page somewhat helpful as an overview, but thought it too clinical to give her full insight. She eventually uncovered a website dedicated to sharing stories about lesbians in Japan.
One story involved a girl who struggled with her feelings for a girl in her class but ended up liking an entirely different girl in the end. Noa cleared her history and turned off her computer. She picked up the phone, a new idea in her head.
On the final rehearsal, Shun looked outside her window and saw a detestable face below. She was granted permission to leave the building to get some “fresh air”.
“What do you want now?” she asked.
Noa lightly scratched her own arm. “I’m going to go back to school tomorrow. And, uh, I want to watch the performance. Where can I get tickets?”
“Ask the assistant director for one.”
“Can I have your number?” Shun stared at her, perplexed. Noa waved her arms about. “I don’t mean it in that way. I just… I want to help you get together… with Chouko. I thought we could come up with a plan and communicate over the phone.”
Shun took a step back. She began to turn the foot around but stopped. She closed her eyes and crossed her arms.
The performance day arrived quicker than the Concorde as a sea of jet-black hair, interspersed with traces of blonde, brunette and the occasional unique colour, flooded the auditorium.
The director tried to contain her delight so that her squeals would not pounce on the audience like a pack of wolves. She hugged her assistant, lifting her off the ground. The assistant patted the other girl’s back, her face flushed with embarrassment.
Chouko was still in her dressing room, warming up her voice. She then looked herself in the mirror and repeated her favourite words.
“I am a goddess.”
Shun called Noa. “Are you here yet?”
“I’m still trying to choose which flowers to bring! Jeez, you don’t need to call me every thirty seconds, you know.”
“Sorry. Hey Ran!” Ran’s head popped into view. “What’s Chouko’s favourite flower?”
“Chrysanthemums, I think.” Shun parroted the girl’s words into the phone. The smell of such flowers echoed in Noa’s mind as if it was a sound.
Ten minutes passed. The assistant director called, “Beginners on stage!” and, an extra five minutes later, the performance began.
When scene 3 arrived, Chouko basked in a familiar, warm and almost blinding light. She could barely see her beloved audience but she could feel their presence. She knew that standing on the hard surface of the stage would eventually cause her feet to ache, but she also knew that the applause would be worth it.
She played the role with a mixture of grace and gusto, like a piece of silk covering steel. Whenever she felt hesitant, she repeated her favourite mantra in her mind.
Noa entered the auditorium during interval. “How much did I miss?” she asked a friend, who informed her that she missed the first Act of the performance, which was actually the first two acts. The final three acts had yet to be performed.
She hurried to the backstage door, bouquet in hand, where a woman asked for her name. “I’m not supposed to be backstage, but I-”
“She’s with me,” Shun said, looking at her watch. She was leaning against the door and appeared to have done so for the past ten minutes. “Thanks. Now watch the performance. I’ll tell you how it goes after the show.”
Noa nodded and found her seat in the auditorium. Meanwhile, Shun cautiously knocked on Chouko’s dressing room door. “Is Chouko here?”
Ran opened the door and shook her head. She beamed when she saw the flowers. “Who are these for? You really are Romeo. I’ll give them to her if you want.”
“No, I… I have to be the one who gives them.”
“She getting her mic fixed. Good job on stage, by the way.”
Shun blushed but smiled, comfort loosening anxiety’s grip on her limbs. She looked in the green room and found Chouko doing just as Ran claimed.
“Hello,” was all she could manage to say. Her arms tightened again.
“Hey,” Chouko said curtly. “Good job.”
“Thanks. Um… these are for you.” She gave Chouko the flowers. Chouko inhaled their fragrance, her cheeks regaining their colour and a smile forcing itself onto her face.
“Uh, thanks. What exactly are these for?”
Shun froze. She coughed into her shaking fist. “I… kind of… like you.” She bowed her head and covered her face with her hands. “I’m sorry. I know you hate me right now and don’t want to be near me.”
Chouko grabbed one of Shun’s hands and lightly tugged it away from her face. “I don’t… hate you. It just… feels wrong to be near you since I wanted your role.” Chouko’s eyes grew until they were the size of vinyl records. “I just realised how stupid that sounds.” She covered her own face. “I’m so, so sorry!”
Shun looked to her side, unsure how to react. “So, uh, do you still dislike me?”
Chouko stroked her chin. “I’ll have to think about it. I… don’t dislike you, but I don’t know if I feel the same way about you. Can you wait until after the play? I should have an answer by then.”
Shun nodded and awkwardly shifted her body towards the wings of the stage. Her heart beat her ribcage with the strength of Kratos. Her hands were still shaking, but she had a smile of hope on her face.
Chouko stepped onto the stage, trying to balance her thoughts with her line delivery, and for the most part it worked, though there were a few times in which she fumbled through her lines.
In the most tragic scene in the play, Chouko planted a kiss on ‘Romeo’s’ lips and commented on how warm ‘his’ lips were. She pretended to stab herself and fell beside the other girl. When she noticed how comfortable she felt lying beside Shun, her answer became clear.
When the curtain finally closed, Ran congratulated her on a job well done and Chouko returned the compliment, though her mind was clearly elsewhere. She grabbed Shun’s hand and dragged her to her changeroom, telling Ran to wait a few seconds.
“Sorry about all that,” she said. “I just wanted to talk in private. Um….”
“I-it’s okay. It must be hard enough having to reject someone.”
“My answer is yes.”
Shun stared at the other girl as if she had just transformed into a hydra. Chouko continued. “I… I think we should try going out, see how it turns out.” She pointed at Shun and giggled. “What’s with that face?”
Tears fell down Shun’s red cheeks. “Thank you.” She pulled Chouko towards her and held her close. Chouko pushed Shun away so that she could bring her lips to hers.
Shun smiled as she kissed her back. ‘I really am a goddess,’ Chouko thought to herself.
592Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡrn7m667BWJns 220.127.116.11da2
 Snær is the mythological Norse personification of snow
 An old term of endearment, its meaning related to the sound of bunnies.
 The Hindu Goddess Kali saved the world by killing demons and drinking their blood before it had the chance to reach earth, which would create more demons.
 Kratos is the Ancient Greek personification of strength and power.