however, a small part of me likes to think it was

The sun sat lazily at the horizon, casting its faint golden light across buildings. A bitter cold hung in the air, so Nico wanted to get home as quick as possible. She was eager to curl up in bed, scroll around the internet and try to distract herself. The events of the day still left a painful bullet in her chest. She couldn't focus during classes, absentmindedly writing down whatever appeared on the board. She could only think about Maki.

She had really liked her. There was no way in hell she . . . still did. But she couldn't help but feel the ache of discomfort in her stomach. It was chewing a hole within her, the idea that her old dumb crush was engaged.

Is this real life?

She found herself at her home. Nico let out a soft breath, watching a cloud of white come out of her mouth and vanish slowly in front of her. She knocked on the door and drew back her fist instantly, stuffing it in her pocket. It opened within the moment.

"Nico's home!" Cocoa yelled once she saw Nico. "Welcome home, sis." She skipped out of the doorway and into the small house, flopping back on the couch with Nico's other two siblings. Her sisters, Cocoa and Cocoro were second years at Otonokizaka, while Cotarou attended the local junior high. Nico stepped in the house and leaned against the door so it shut, and she observed her siblings.

Everything felt as though it moved in slow motion around her since earlier in the day when she saw Maki. It was as if the world was rushing around her for the past six years and halted to a stop when she opened her eyes and just . . . realized.

She considered sitting with her family and talking to them, but everything in her ached. She couldn't think of words to say, how to smile or just how to be happy anymore. It sounded dramatic, but her day played out like a stormy gray cloud rolling over a rainbow. So, Nico trotted into the house and walked quickly past her siblings, hiding her face with her bangs. She entered her room and shut the door quickly, then immediately sat down at her vanity.

Nico looked at herself. Her face looked sunken and pale, as if she was riddled with a terrible illness, and her hair was frizzy. She took it out of the ponytail it had been in for the day and her hair fell across her shoulders, looking lifeless like her. She wondered if she had time to jump in the bath and wash it, but she didn't have effort to. After trying to and eventually giving up on running a comb through her hair, she flopped into her bed and shut her eyes.

Of course, she didn't sleep. She thought. She thought about Maki, how miserable she felt, Maki, the dull flatness that was her future, and Maki. Her old friend, the one she loved to be around. Though it had been years and Nico wasn't the most keen at recalling anything from high school, she remembered the achingingly strong feelings she felt for Maki. Whenever she caught sight of the beautiful girl, her heartbeat spiked and she felt happier instantly. She remembered feeling guilty at the fact that she seemed to cling to Maki and pay no attention to her other friends. Nonetheless, the two were extremely close and it was happiest she had ever been in her life. Now, Nico craved that relationship.

No. I don't. We're adults. Nico lips quivered. Denial, denial, denial . . . she felt as though she should accept it. She was acting childish, refusing to mentally admit she still liked Maki.

She sat up, gripping her sheets with bitter frustration. What's more immature, refusing to accept feelings for an old friend or having them in the first place?! She gasped through gritted teeth, not realizing she was crying until she looked at herself in the mirror from the other end of her room. Though there was distance between her and the vanity, she could make out the stains of tears on her face. Nico stared at herself - her pathetic, lame self - then slumped into her blankets, weeping woefully into her pillow.

She blindly reached for her bedside table and felt around until her fingers traced across her phone. She grabbed it and looked at it, her breath trembling as she cried softly. Her mind was hazy, but she managed to unlock her phone and scroll through her contacts until she found Nozomi.

They still talked. Scarcely, but they did. Back when Nico was choosing what to do in life, she got a lot of mental help from Nozomi, who had become a counselor only a couple years ago. Asking her for little help now wouldn't hurt, right? Nico felt so alone and empty, and all she could think of was Maki. She hoped Nozomi could listen.

She dialed her friend. It rung, Nico chanted 'pick up, pick up' in her head. She felt her heart sink as it continued to ring, and she wondered how much worse her day could possibly get. She was ready to cancel the call, but as if she was suddenly blessed, Nozomi answered.

"N-Nozomi! I'm so sorry for calling at this hour, but I-I need to -"

"Nicochi? Hey, we haven't talked in awhile." Nico heard the sound of utensils against dishes in the background. "I'm not sure if uh, now is the best time. Eli and I are eating dinner . . ."

Nico heart dropped to her stomach. She came to her senses all of the sudden, and realized how much of a nuisance she must've seemed like, calling Nozomi at that hour. God. What am I doing?

Her thoughts slipped out of her mouth. "I-I'm sorry. Oh my gosh, I don't know what I was . . . thinking." Nico tried her best to hold in the tears, keep her voice steady, but it cracked at the very end of her sentence.

She instinctually cupped a hand over her mouth, her breathing becoming short as she tried her best to hold in tears. However, there was no hiding even a trace of sadness from the likes of Nozomi, who spoke instantly when she had picked up Nico's anguish.

"Nico? Are you okay? You don't sound happy," Nozomi said, her words coming out quick. Nico's could feel a gasp escape her lips. She wanted to hide her sadness, but she could hardly at this point, with Nozomi anxiously asking if she was okay. Caring words were just what Nico didn't realize she needed to fall apart completely.

She started sobbing, trying her best to quietly do it but it was all in her voice when she murmured, "I'm fine. Keep eating with Eli. Bye." She could hear Nozomi trying to stop her when she kept the phone at her ear for a lingering second, before she hung up. Instantly, she collapsed into her bed, crying harder than before. Instead of a quiet weep like before, she couldn't help but bawl hopelessly, the cries muffled by her pillow.

Everyday until then was normal - Nico would go to classes, her part-time job and maybe run some errands afterward then come home to spend the rest of the day with her siblings. Today, however, just had to go out of order. She had to see Maki, who told Nico she was engaged. From there, everything was haywire. Nothing felt the same.

Everything hurt.

Her phone buzzed.

Nico looked at it, wiping tears out of her eyes so she could read the text she received. It was Nozomi. She gulped, wanting to look away from her phone, but she read it anyway.

'I'm coming to your house' - Nozomi.

Nico brow furrowed. She stopped crying, and confusion replaced some of the anguish she was feeling. She quickly texted back 'What? No, don't. Don't waste your time on me' She sent it, turning off and placing her phone face down on her bedside table. Nico had really done it - worried Nozomi to a point where her friend was coming to her house. She glared at her phone like it was a bag of rotting fish, before using her sleeves to wipe her teary eyes. She had enough of the phone that day.

She's going to come over still. Nico laid down and took long, deep breaths, each one getting more and more steady. Stress tugged at her heart, and she wanted to hide forever still, but she didn't feel the need to cry. Maybe it was because Nozomi was coming over. Despite the fact that she didn't quite want Nozomi to need to see her in the state she was in, she felt relieved. Nozomi was spookily good with words and comforting people.

Just like that, time passed quick and there was a knock at the door. She heard the shuffle of one of her siblings opening it.

"Nii-chan! Tojo-san is here!" Cocoa yelled from the front door. Nico sighed deeply. She didn't want to leave her room and alarm her siblings with her puffy eyes and sunken cheeks.

"T-tell Nozomi to come in my room!" she called back.

Nico waited, sitting up on her bed and wiping her eyes one last time before smoothing down her hair with her palm. Her door opened and Nozomi poked her head in. Despite the fact that Nozomi was . . . technically uninvited, she felt a wave of warmth. Something about Nozomi was very calming to Nico. Perhaps it was the memories the two shared, or Nozomi's aura. Whatever it was, it made it so easy to spill all of your feelings, thoughts and dillenmas to Nozomi.

She sat down at Nico's vanity. "Nicochi."

"Hey, Nozomi."

There was a silence. It wasn't awkward, though it was weird - Nozomi was staring at Nico as if she was expecting her to start talking. Nico glanced at her, scowled, and sighed heavily.

"Nozomi, I'm so sorry I made you come out here. I promise everything is okay . . . I guess." Instantly, Nico winced mentally. Dammit Nico, you gave yourself away. Before Nozomi could interject, Nico continued talking.

"I-I just . . . I've kinda felt a lot of emotions today, kinda." Nico paused, then sighed heavily, deciding it would be better to tell Nozomi everything than to hide even some of it. "Today, I ran into Maki at the subway -"

"Maki?!" Nozomi yelped. "Nishikino? For real?" She let out a laugh and leaned forward in the vanity seat. "I can't believe it. The cards said that there would be a connection in between two, and I was wondering if that meant anything important. What happened?"

Nico raised a brow at Nozomi, then continued. "Well, we talked. It was awkward. But at the same time, it was so nostalgic in a way, talking to . . . to the girl . . ."

"That you had a crush on in high school?" Nozomi deadpanned.

"No! I mean, yes, but . . . it's so childish," Nico sighed. "My heart was going crazy when I was standing next to her on the train. She's so tall and pretty now, and I still look like a kid. Then, the train stopped and I fell on her and she . . . she had an arm around me. She was so strong, and it felt like she was embracing me.

"So, I ran. I got off the train in a hurry and somehow Maki caught up to me and we talked. I . . . I thought she was trying to h-hit on me, as self-centered as that sounds." Nico halted, and looked at her hands. She thought about it, the scene replaying in her head. Maki telling her she was engaged. She glanced at Nozomi, who was listening intently.

"She told me she wasn't trying to make any sort of romantic move on me," Nico murmured. "She told me she's engaged."

There was a silence. Crickets could be heard. Then, Nozomi yelled, "What?!"

"That's how I felt!" Nico cried. "She . . . the way she said it, she sounded so amused. At that exact moment, I realized how . . . how little I've matured. How behind I am. I thought my high school crush was hitting on me. It's like I forgot we're adults now. And how alone I actually am."

The silence this time was chilling. Nico bathed in her own sadness, refusing to meet Nozomi's eyes. She slumped forward and said quietly, "The worst part is . . . is that I think I still have feelings for Maki. I have feelings for an engaged woman. Isn't that disgusting? Sure, it might've been cute to like her i-in highschool, but now . . .it's gross."

Nozomi suddenly stood. Nico looked at her oddly, and watched as her friend strutted to Nico's bed and sat down next to her. For the first time since Nozomi arrived their eyes met, and Nico scowled.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" she asked Nozomi.

Then, Nozomi hugged her. Nico didn't return it but she didn't struggle. She just shut her eyes and sunk into the familiar embrace. Slowly, they separated, and Nozomi, rested her hands on Nico's narrow shoulders.

"Nico, you . . . you're worth so much. To me. To Eli. To your family." Her voice was low, but filled with heart. "Knowing that you feel this way about yourself saddens me. I believe that you are one of the most mature people on this planet. But that doesn't define your worth.

"I know your feelings for Maki are strong. Your eyes, they shined when you talked about her. I think you might need closure if you ever want to get over her." She narrowed her eyes at Nico. "You need to tell her how you felt, Nico. Maybe even how you feel now." Nozomi removed her hands from Nico's shoulders. The latter stared at Nozomi, her eyes wide. Then, she smiled and nodded at Nozomi.

"I-I - thank you. You always know what to say," Nico sighed, looking down. "But . . . Maki's engaged, Nozomi. How in the world do I tell her something like that without seeming like a creep?"

Nozomi pursued her lip, a sign she was thinking. Nico waited as Nozomi leaned back and tapped her chin. Then, as if a lightbulb went off right over her head, Nozomi smiled and held up her finger.

"I want to help you. I've known about your feeling for Maki in the past, and I do now. This time around, you need to get those feelings out," Nozomi explained. "You said you saw her at the subway station, right?"

"Y-yeah?" Nico said, somewhat confused and even a little nervous.

"Good. I'll simply run into her there and ask her a few things. Prod. I'll let you know what I find-"

"Wait!" Nico yelped, holding up a hand. "Nozomi, this is a lot. You know, she's smart. Sh-she'll figure out that something odd is going on if you, one of my closest friends, bumps into her at a subway station only a little bit after she bumps into me. Especially if you interrogate her." Nico looked at her phone, still perched on her bedside table.

"You know . . ." Nico murmured. "She gave me her contact info. That means she probably wouldn't mind me calling her myself. I can spend time with her over the next couple weeks." She looked at Nozomi. "If . . . if I'm an adult, I can do this on my own and confront Maki directly. Let me."

Nozomi was quiet, looking at Nico analytically. She took a deep breath and smiled, nodding at Nico. "You're right." Nozomi suddenly pinched Nico's cheek, much to the latter's discomfort. "See Nico? You're so mature about these things."

"E-eh-heh . . . whatever," Nico mumbled shyly. "It's really nothing. I just don't want to weird Maki out."

They talked for a little bit, mostly catching up, then Nozomi told Nico she had to leave. It was past eight after all, and Nico hadn't eaten anything yet.

"Bye, Nico!" Nozomi said. She stood at the front door. Cocoa and Cocoro were waving lively at Nozomi, while Cotarou merely watched the scene. Nico gave Nozomi a small hug and they exchanged smiles before she left.

"What did you two talk about?" Cotarou asked. His voice was monotone and quiet, but Nico could tell he was actually curious.

"Nothing," Nico said, shrugging. "Just catching up."

Cotarou looked unconvinced, as he raised one brow. Before he could say anything, Cocoa poked her head out from behind Nico and said in an obnoxious voice, "Girl stuff!"

Mildly disturbed by Cocoa's suggestion, Cotarou's face twisted into his discomfort and he nodded quickly before trudging to the chabudai to sit alone and play on his handheld. Nico glanced at Cocoa, a brow raised as her energetic little sister bonded towards Cotarou to bother him more. Nico stood alone near the doorway with Cocoro.

"H-hey, niichan?" Cocoro murmured. Unlike Cocoa, she was soft-spoken and sweet. Sometimes Nico wondered how in the world her and Cocoa could be twins. Had it not been their identical appearances, no one would think they were sisters.

"Yes, Cocoro?" Nico said. She turned to Cocoro, who she had to look up at slightly.

"Is everything okay? Tojo-san doesn't usually come over," she hummed, holding Nico's sleeve loosely.

Nico gazed at Cocoro, who looked at fretful as a mother would at a sad child. Sometimes it felt as if she was the oldest sister rather than Nico with her motherly nature. Smiling, Nico decided to at least tell her some of the truth.

"I didn't have the best day today, and I needed to talk to Nozomi." Cocoro's mouth opened, and Nico knew she was going to tell her something along the lines of, 'You could've talked to me!' So, Nico interrupted her before Cocoro could even say anything.

"It's about stuff you probably wouldn't totally understand," Nico assured her. Cocoro scowled, and looked down. Quickly, Nico added, "But you're still very important to me. Had it been a different situation, I would've gone to you." She placed her hands affectionately on her little sister's shoulders and squeezed, earning a giggle from Cocoro.

"Okay. Thanks, Nico," she said. Suddenly, there was a yell from the kitchen area.

"Nicochi, Cotarou and I want dinner!" Cocoa shouted. Nico and Cocoro exchanged a glance.

"Wanna help me prepare a meal?" Nico offered to Cocoro.


Nico laid in bed, lights out, her eyes were wide open. Despite the fact that she spoke to Nozomi in the evening she still felt incredibly nervous. How in the world could she ever talk to Maki? I wonder it her fiance would approve of her talking to me.

She rolled under her covers and sighed quietly. I wish Maki were here right now. I want someone to cuddle.

Her arms wrapped tightly around a pillow, her fingers sinking into the soft material. She thought being in high school with her. The bantering, the laughs they shared, the times they went out together. Nico wouldn't dare call them dates, but the times they ate at a cafe alone or saw the newest movie together sure resembled one.

Hmm . . . that's it. I should take Maki on a pseudo-date. In her delirious daze, she let herself imagine them chatting and laughing together, just like the old times. Maybe they would hug. Gosh, we haven't hugged in so long. I want a hug from Maki.

Eventually, Nico fell asleep. She held the pillow tight for every moment she was.

I was very surprised at the amount of reviews/follows/favorites I got on this! it really made my day to see that people were enjoying, so I thought I'd continue it. Things are going to be a little less angsty from here, but I plan on continuing the exploration of Nico's obsession with proving herself and her insecurities about being lonely, and falling behind in terms of 'maturity.' Just because Nozomi talked to her doesn't mean all of Nico's inner turmoil went away

Just a side note, Cocoa and Cocoro (Nic's little sisters) are second years (16/17ish?) at Otonokizaka and Cotarou (Nic's little brother) is a second year (13/14ish) at the local junior high.