When Eri went to apologize, she wasn’t expecting an easy sell. She had come armed with two movie tickets and a bag of Shiki’s favorite snacks, but all it took was a “Hey Shiki—” and Eri found herself hugged and forgiven.
It was too easy. It almost made her feel more guilty.
If she didn’t know Shiki as well as she did, she would have suspected this was the greatest passive aggressive ploy anyone had ever pulled. But no. Shiki’s smiles were genuine, and her refusal to the movie was equally genuine.
“I’m meeting up with some friends that day, maybe another time?”
‘What friends?’ Eri wanted to say, but she managed to catch herself in time. One insensitive comment was already one too many for the week.
“Of course, of course, when are you free this week? Or maybe next week?”
They pulled out their phones to compare schedules, leaning in shoulder-to-shoulder to see each other’s screen. It was a familiar situation, and yet completely foreign. When had Eri ever needed to check Shiki’s schedule before?
It had always been the other way around. Eri had always been the one accommodated. Eri had always been the one with other friends to schedule around. Shiki’s life had always revolved around Eri.
But now, Shiki had friends other than Eri, and Eri wasn’t sure how to feel about that.
In the name of science, self understanding, and looking out for Shiki, Eri decided some stalking was in order.
After some thinking, Eri had concluded she was definitely happy Shiki had more friends. Shiki was a wonderful person who deserved all the friends, but Shiki was also unfailingly kind and it would be all too easy for “friends” to take advantage of her. Maybe, Eri had also accidentally done the same at times.
Always pushing her designs on Shiki, not paying enough attention to Shiki’s own struggles…
Eri had a lot of regrets, and far too much time to think about them.
But she was a girl of action more than anything. She had plenty of time to make it up to Shiki in the future, and in the present, she had a hangout to stalk.
Shiki appeared to be the last of the group to arrive. The three she approached were as different as could be, but the way their faces all lit up at Shiki’s arrival confirmed everything.
They were friends.
Good friends too. They never talked over Shiki, knew her favorite order without her saying a word, always kept her smiling…the group seemed so close it surprised Eri that Shiki had never mentioned them before.
Just how many details of Shiki’s life had Eri missed over the years?
Another week passed and Eri took Shiki to the movies like nothing had ever changed. They continued their usual follow-up routine of take-out and a sewing session at Shiki’s house—but through it all, not once did Shiki mention a thing about her new friends.
Eri’s curiosity was driving her crazy.
The usual comfortable silence shared between them became stiffening. Eri put down her pencil, stepped away from her design notebook, and looked over at Shiki who was working on wrangling some fabric down with pins. The break in the silence caught Shiki’s attention and she also looked up questioningly.
Eri bit the bullet and asked.
“So, who were you hanging out with last time? A boyfriend?”
She was being so unsubtle, not even the light teasing in the end could save her.
Shiki laughed and played along anyways. “No way. It’s like I said before, just some friends. We met in a game but we’ve never met in the real…in person before. It was nice.”
Eri nodded along, not even sure where she was going in her line of questioning anymore. Did it really matter who Shiki's new friends were or how she got them? Was she acting too jealous?
“I’m glad,” she said finally. “You look happier.”
“I am!” Shiki said easily, and then, unexpectedly, she pulled Eri into another hug. “How can I not be, with such great friends?”
Shiki had a new streak of boldness these days, an underlying confidence in her every action that had never been there before. Something had changed Shiki, but it wasn’t a bad thing. She didn’t need to know everything about the why, what was important was the now. What was important was that they were still friends, the best of friends, and at least that hadn’t changed. What she missed, she could always make up for in the future.
Eri squeezed into the hug and spun Shiki around once in retaliation.
“You’re right,“ Eri agreed wholeheartedly. “I know I’m happier for having met you.”
Shiki blushed bright and her stammer returned fiercely, much to Eri’s amusement. It seemed Shiki's weakness to compliments also hadn’t changed.