Nico was having a good day. A great day, even. She found out she’d won a beauty giveaway from the mall this morning, had two new ribbons in her hair, and felt particularly generous today, enough to offer to buy icecream for her kouhai. Because she was a doting upperclassmen, despite her appearance.
Nico struts into the clubroom at eight a.m. sharp and presents herself with gusto, hands poised on her hips and chin cocked up like she’s about to announce the news of a lifetime.
To her utter surprise the attention doesn’t veer to her. Nico clears her throat and adjusts her pose. Rin has the decency to look over from her crouch next to the table. Instead of congratulating Nico on her particularly dazzling smile or incredible complexion, she bounces to her feet and nearly trips over in her haste to grasp Nico by the shoulders, “Guess what? Guess what!?”
Motivation drains from Nico like a balloon deflating, “Don’t care,” Nico says, slinging her bag from her shoulder to drop it at the foot of the table. Only after her terrific fall from grace does she register the scene in front of her: a very flustered Kotori clutching the hem of her skirt as Honoka and Umi at either side monopolise her phone. Maki sits opposite, calmly reading a book, looking every bit of the goddess she is. Nico decidedly takes the seat next to her and casts a suspicious look over the table to Kotori opposite, “What’s all this commotion about?”
“Kotori got asked on a date!”
“Honoka, please, lower your voice,” Kotori’s voice cracks on its hinges in her haste to quiet Honoka down. She fumbles over nothing and offers a sheepish smile to Nico, who’s doing her best not to act surprised because it would be the rude thing to do, “A customer at the cafe asked me out.”
From her left Umi interjects, sounding very harassed, “Surely this is against your company’s policy,” She peers at the phone in both her and Honoka’s hand and wrinkles her nose at the text Kotori had received from an unknown number, “You can’t deny a customer anything. Therefore this wasn’t exactly a two-way agreement, and they were taking advantage of your kindness.”
“Lighten up, Umi! Our Kotori is going on her first date!”
“This is highly unethical.”
“You guys,” Kotori interjects, “I haven’t accepted it yet.”
“You mustn’t,” Umi says. Her tone radiates finality. She raises the phone to Kotori’s eye level and shakes it with purpose, “This poses great danger to not only your safety but your job down at the cafe.”
“Hate to be that person, but Umi’s right,” Nico says. She reaches out for the phone and reads the message sent by the unknown number, “Oh, God, Kotori. Please do not tell me you’re even considering this for a second. This person doesn’t even use emojis.”
With a shriek Kotori snatches it back and clutches it to her chest, “This is private!”
Lunging in from the sidelines Rin leans her upper body on the table, rattling the surface. Maki steadies her cup of tea before it tips over and keeps quietly to her book, “Rin agrees, too! What if they’re a psycho killer? µ’s won’t be the same without you, Kotori. What would we wear? Who would encourage us when the times are tough?”
“Come on, it’s just a date. And, besides! I am looking forward to it. The likelihood of them being a stalker is most likely low. ”
“Most likely,” Nico corrects, “but not zero.”
Rin stifles a dramatic gasp behind her palm. Umi looks increasingly disturbed. Honoka pats her back reassuringly with a little too much eagerness. At last Maki joins in the conversation with an exasperated sigh, sliding her bookmark between the pages of her novel and closing it by the hardcover, “What were they like?”
The room draws to silence. Everyone looks to Maki in mild confusion, who flushes under their watching eyes and quickly amends, “What, am I also not allowed to take interest in your personal affairs? It’s not like I care or anything, just...curious.”
All eyes turn to Kotori for an answer. She shrugs and casts a nervous glance to the window, “Well...tall, long hair, and nice eyes,” She shifts on the plastic of her seat and adjusts the bow over her chest because it gives her something to do with her hands and she’s sure she’s already creased her skirt enough from worrying it, “Also, she smelt really good. Is that weird?”
“Not at all,” Maki assures, “Most animals attract their mate through pheromones. It’s a completely natural reaction.”
“That’s so you , Maki,” Nico says, leaning her jaw on her palm, amusement twinkling in her eyes.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“So...sciency. So to the point. Humans don’t work like that.”
“We’re animals; of course we do. And I’ll have you know I myself am quite attracted to the way a person of interest smells.”
“Wait,” Honoka stands up so fast the backs of her knees knock her chair over. It clatters onto the floor. Umi and Nico visibly wince at the sound. Kotori jumps a mile into the air at the volume of it, “Oh my God, do you have someone you like?”
“What?” The crackling embers of Maki’s blush burst into a wildfire. Red heat shoots up her neck, “Of course not. Stop harassing me.”
Rin tosses herself over the table onto her stomach and glides like a penguin across the surface, narrowly missing the mug of tea. Her face lights up like a Christmas tree and when she reaches the edge, just in front of Maki, she clutches her hands and insists, “You do! You do! Come on, you can’t leave us hanging like that!”
“Let go of me!”
“Maki! Maki!” Rin wiggles closer on her stomach, bringing their joint hands between their faces and clutches, “Please! Please , give us a hint!”
“I’m sorry, Maki,” Umi says, not having the decency to at least not look curious, “but you’ve dug yourself in this hole.”
Nico’s silent. Maki works over her options in her head and mulls over the three possible replies: denial, the truth, or swift escape through the open window. Rin brings their joint hands to Maki’s chest and pouts through sparkling eyes, encouraging without using any words, and Maki relents, powerless under the scrutinising gaze of her peers, “Yes, alright, I suppose I do.”
“What else? What else?”
“Erm,” Maki swallows over the sudden dryness in her throat and itches to reach out for her tea. Nico doesn’t do her the favour of reaching it for her and instead watches with bated curiosity, hiding behind the guise of disinterest, “Well, what would you like to know?”
“What’s your type?” Honoka presses. She’s joined Rin on the table, legs kicked up in the air behind her. Umi tugs down Honoka’s skirt from where it had risen in her haste to settle on the table and politely covers her upper thighs, “I mean, we’ve all got one.”
“Mine’s Kayo-chin,” Rin supplies helpfully.
“I like Sailor Uranus,” Honoka adds.
Maki mulls over this with a pensive look in her eye and in complete silence. All five other girls wait with bated breath for her reply because Maki is pretty constipated when it comes to opening up about her feelings, and they’d heard little to nothing regarding any crushes of hers. All except Nico, of course, who shifts uncomfortably in her chair and tilts her head further against her palm. After ten seconds of silence her knee begins to bounce on the floor and she can feel sweat gather on the small of her back as her anxiety piques in wait of Maki’s reply.
Finally, Maki says, “I suppose I like someone who’s funny and keeps me entertained. I think...having someone with the same interests as you are good enough, but having someone with a relatively different personality keeps you on your toes and makes sure things don’t get boring.”
Rin nods and cups her chin like a wise sensei, “Understandable.”
“And dressing well is nice, too. I suppose having a classy taste in fashion has never hurt anyone.”
Despite her best efforts not to compare Maki’s words to her own image the statement hits her like a bulldozer, and suddenly, all air leaves Nico’s lungs in one fell swoop. The ribbons in her hair feel childish. She wants to rip them out to hide them away, to wipe off the pink eyeshadow she’s wearing and burn her cardigan. Conversation continues on but Nico remains out of it, distracting herself with a TV gossip magazine, and tries to convince herself that what Maki said shouldn’t matter because types don’t always mean everything. She should know from personal experience.
When the bell rings Nico is the first to leave. She can feel purple eyes on the back of her neck, burning, as she heads through the door but doesn’t turn around to check if the feeling’s merely a figment of her imagination.
“You’re missing a pigtail.”
Nico shrieks. Her can of Sprite goes flying, clattering against the wall and gushing lemonade onto the floor in her panic. She swivels around to pin Nozomi in a very annoyed, very unimpressed stare, who looks totally unapologetic, “Haven’t you ever heard of knocking?”
“I didn’t realise I had to give you warning before I entered a classroom. We were wondering where you were,” Nozomi states, crossing the distance from door frame to the desk next to the window where Nico sits, mulling over a test she failed. She dumps her satchel and reaches out to tighten Nico’s ponytail, and when she realises that she’s wearing just a simple hair tie Nozomi’s brows shoot up into her hairline, “Something bad must’ve happened for you to ditch the bows.”
“Nothing happened,” Nico corrects, swatting Nozomi’s hands away and standing up to her full height, which proves nothing considering their two inch difference. Despite her obvious disadvantage in height she squares her shoulders off and demands: “Get your mitts off of my hair. I washed this last night.”
“Nothing happened? Yeah, right,” Nico steps out of her seat and nearly slips in her puddle of Sprite but rights herself before embarrassing herself even more than she already has. For all that she likes to think she’s pretty good at lying Nozomi has an awful habit of being able to see right through people despite their best efforts, especially when it comes to Nico. She stands back with her arms crossed over her chest and does a once over of Nico’s outfit: tights instead of socks and no pink cardigan, “Did you get mistaken for a middle schooler again?”
“Again? One; that’s never happened, and two; no, I didn’t.”
She watches Nico underneath the fan of her lashes with that skeptical look in her eye that means she knows too much for Nico to press her lie any further and succeed with it, but that won’t stop her. Nozomi tugs her bag up from the floor and rummages through it, flicking past her files and lunchbox “Something must’ve happened for you to not wear that cardigan of yours. I know your circulation is bad and you’re always freezing cold.”
“I’m a changed woman, now; a growing girl. Can’t you see how classy I look?”
Nico’s face heats like an oven. She spits, “Don’t say it like you’re questioning it!” and quickly follows up with a more hesitant, “Do I really look that bad?”
The laughter on Nozomi’s lips softens to a knowing and sympathetic smile, “I wasn’t questioning it. Just curious. I didn’t realise you’d had such a dramatic change in heart, is all,” Nozomi pulls out a small toiletries bag and unzips, laying out the contents on the table, “Pick a flavour.”
“I don’t need makeup. Nico’s a natural beauty.”
“It’s just lipgloss.”
Nico hardly hesitates before pointing towards a pale peach tube. Nozomi uncaps it and presses a small amount onto the pad of her ring finger, “Be quiet and don’t move.”
For all that she hates being bossed around Nico does as she’s told and leans back on the weight of her desk as Nozomi pats on watermelon gloss to her lips. When she’s done she purses her lips to distribute it properly, watching Nozomi apply it to her own and then returning it to her bag. “A little birdie told me yesterday you overheard a certain someone say they liked...and I’m paraphrasing here, a ' classy taste’.”
“Sorry, don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Is that so?”
“It is so,” Nico glances up to the clock above the chalkboard and packs her pencils back into her pencil case when she realises the bell’s about to ring and she’d spent the entirety of dinner time hiding away in an empty classroom, pouting over a failed test and going through an identity crisis. In a mad fit she’d stripped her cardigan off and tossed it into her locker, washed her face, and redid her hair. Overthinking had always been a bad quality Nico has possessed, and she knows that, but it doesn’t stop her from drawing a spider diagram of all the reasons Maki can’t possibly like her, because she said she likes ‘opposites’ to her but likes a classy style and Nico only ticks one of those boxes.
She hoists her bag onto her shoulder and meets Nozomi’s gaze with her best efforts to appear totally unimpressed with her doting attitude but figures she must look ridiculous because Nozomi’s barely holding back a smirk.
“You know,” Nozomi says, watching Nico reach down for the empty can of Sprite, “you shouldn’t have to change yourself just because someone likes a certain type of person.”
“Who said I liked anyone?” Nico defends, tossing the can into the trash.
They both head to the doorway together, pausing at the windows in the hallway to watch the rain outside fall against the glass and courtyard. Nico reaches over her shoulder for her single ponytail and twirls the tips around her index finger, self conscious as she garners a few stares from the dramatic change in her outward appearance, “You don’t have to lie to me. But, the truth still stands. For all that you’re insufferable you’re you , Nico. People love you for you.”
“Gross,” Nico says, but manages a smile. Above them the bell rings for final period. Nozomi lingers for a few moment before giving Nico a bump with her hip and heading off down the corridor to her lesson. Nico broods by the window until she’s yelled at to come inside for roll call.
The end of the day can’t come soon enough. Nico swears that time and space must be warped because she feels like she’s been sitting in biology for the past three hours despite it hardly being half past two on the clock. Her resolve to knuckle down in school crumbles. Nico stands, blurting, “Bathroom,” to her literature teacher, and excuses herself to the hallway with a few quick strides.
She’s beginning to think her good luck from this morning had soured like bad milk and that this is karma for drawing on Rin’s face when she’d fallen asleep in the clubroom a few days ago. From a few doors down, leaving the principal's office, Maki catches Nico by the eye and doesn’t waste time in marching over with determination. Nico’s stuck with the same dilemma as Maki had earlier: denial, the truth, or swift escape through an open window, but the windows are bolted shut and she can’t face Maki right now.
Nico makes a beeline to the third year bathrooms at the end of the corridor and dashes into the stall at the furthest wall. Silence follows for a few blissful seconds until the door to the bathroom opens and Maki’s voice is impossible to ignore, “Nico.”
“Nico’s not here right now.”
“Well, you certainly sound a lot like her.”
“Crazy, right? I could do a stand-up act and make millions.”
Maki doesn’t laugh. The stifling frustrations that had been building this morning burst like a dam and suddenly, without warning, Nico finds herself crying, because she can tell Maki’s angry for some bizarre reason despite not being able to see nor hear her and doesn’t want to have to face Maki when she looks like such a mess.
“Nico,” Maki repeats, voice soft around the edges, “open the door.”
“No,” Nico snivels pathetically and scrubs at her under eyes with the sleeve of her blazer. Maki, not used to dealing with situations like this, stands stiff as a board and fumbles over what to say and do, “I look like a mess.”
“I don’t care how you look.”
“Yes you do. I’m not ‘classy’ like you want.”
“You--” Maki’s voice catches in her throat. She swallows her words and when she speaks again she’s doing her best not to let her disbelief slip through, even though, really, she should have expected a reaction like this given the dramatic person Nico is, “You got upset over me saying that?”
Nico slides the bolt to the stall open and faces Maki with blotchy red cheeks and a scowl on her face. Maki does a very poor job at masking her surprise in Nico’s altered appearance; the ponytail and the lack of colour, and only now does Nico realise for all the trouble she’s gone through to look different she hadn’t even seen Maki since this morning, “Is this good enough for you?”
Maki’s mouth twists at Nico’s words and she genuinely looks hurt, if for a moment. Nico reaches up to wipe away what tears lingered after she’d stopped crying and stands limp, shoulders shrugged and face dour, as Maki considers her options of what to do. She settles on reaching over and gently unwinding Nico’s thick hair from the hair tie and letting it fall in a loose cascade over her shoulders. With great determination Maki reaches over to brush Nico’s fringe from her face and tuck a long strand of hair behind her ear.
“We’ve been dating for the past three months, silly,” Maki says. She’d sound exasperated if it wasn’t for the affectionate look in her eye. Instead she looks merely amused, consoling her snivelling girlfriend for the umpteenth time this year, “You don’t seem to realise you’re my type.”
“But you said--”
“I said a classy taste in fashion, as in classy like good taste. I wasn’t expecting you to roll up in a three piece suit and a cane, you idiot. I like you for the way you are.”
“Maki…” Nico trails off, hiccuping over her tears, “that’s...disgustingly cheesy.”
“It’s the truth,” She says, and has the decency to at least look a little embarrassed over it, “Now, stop crying, you big baby.”
Nico gathers her dark hair and pulls it over one shoulder, looking down to the tips of it because she’s struggling to make eye contact and it feels like their first time confessing to one another in on the roof over ice cream; unsure and terrifyingly nervous. Nico rocks back on her heels before steeling herself and looking up with determination to meet Maki’s gaze, taken aback with the ferocity shining behind Nico’s eyes, and says: “You’re my type, too.”
“You don’t have to say it so angrily.”
“I’m not angry! Just passionate. Passionate about you. ”
“Eugh,” Maki hides her smile behind the back of her hand and cleverly avoids eye contact in order to ward Nico’s doting behaviour off, “and you called me cheesy.”
“I’m just an honest woman,” Nico insists, flashing a smile. Maki catches it in the reflection of the bathroom’s mirrors. Her eyes soften and she meets Nico’s gaze despite still being new to dating and intimate closeness. Nico hooks her arms around Maki’s neck and stretches up on her toes for a kiss. She leans down to press a chaste peck to the space between Nico’s brows. Thoroughly mollified, Nico says, “Now, come on, let’s go before you get a row for being in the third years’ bathroom and I get a row for skipping a lesson.”
“You said you wouldn’t miss any more lessons, Nico!”
“Oopsy daisy,” Nico flashes a grin she hopes will ease the tension in Maki’s shoulders. It doesn’t seem to work, “I wasn’t even skipping. Just needed to pee.”
She unhooks her arms from Maki’s neck and exits into the hallway alongside her. Across from her Nico notices the rain’s stopped and instead of blustering storms the clouds have parted to let the sun shine on the courtyard. Maki presses a fleeting kiss to her cheek, gives a small wave, and speedwalks down the corridor in order to make it to the final half of her lesson, too.
Nico cups over the spot where Maki had kissed and reminds herself to invite her out for ice cream, later. She was a brilliant upperclassman, after all, and thought that for all Maki puts up with, with having to deal with her, Nico’ll have to treat her to ice cream for the rest of her life. Though, that doesn’t seem like a bad compromise.