I never paid attention to the small things

"Wow, really? She's engaged?"

Nico looked away and took a bite of the sweet on a platter in front of her. She nodded slovenly, not wanting to look Honoka in the eye. "Yup. Maki is soon to be a married woman . . ."

"Gosh!" Honoka sighed, her voice a mixture of happiness and exasperation. "I can't believe time passes so fast. It feels like yesterday when we were still performing, y'know?" She was washing a dish, her hair tied into a bun hidden by protective cloth in her hair. Honoka glanced at Nico - her blue eyes had dulled with the passing years, but they were still shining with energy.

"Yeah," Nico said after swallowing the sweet. "I didn't really like, realize how fast time passed before I talked to Maki. I can't help but feel like I have to slow down and appreciate the small things now."

"I totally know what you mean. Sometimes, I felt as though things moved so slow throughout school," Honoka observed. "I wonder what the others are up to. Maybe they're all married too."

Nico perked up, raising a brow at Honoka. "Huh? You don't know what they're doing? You know, you were always so passionate about staying in touch with everyone back in the day."

Honoka looked at her, then smiled and shrugged. "I hate to say that yes, I've lost contact with a couple of our old friends. Like Maki." She paused. "I still have Kotori's number, but I haven't talked to her in . . . months." Her smile seemed to fade, and she stopped washing the plate. "I hope France is treating her nicely."

"Me too," Nico sighed. "You should try calling her. I talked to Nozomi for the first time in a while yesterday."

"Really?" Honoka hummed. "Nico, you've been awfully social the past couple of days. Running into Maki, talking to Nozomi . . . you inspire me a little bit." She grinned at Nico, who was blushing lightly.

"Aww, thanks Honoka. I bet Kotori wouldn't mind a call from you," she said, shrugging shyly.

Suddenly, the door to the shop opened. Nico turned around in her seat and saw the familiar, angular face of Umi. She perked up instantly and waved to her.

Umi looked at Nico and gasped quietly. "Nico. Wow, I almost didn't recognize you without your pigtails." She smiled warmly. "It's nice to see you. I take it you're not busy today?" Umi's amber eyes were warm as ever, and her hair was cut into a short bob - something Umi decided to do after graduating from Otonokizaka. The hairstyle had seemed to stick, as she never let her hair reach below her shoulders.

"Nope!" Nico said. "Someone else could fill in my shift today, and I have no classes. So I thought I'd come here."

"How was the dojo today?" Honoka asked Umi from behind the counter.

Umi walked past Nico behind the counter and kissed Honoka on the cheek. "The traditional dance class turnout was great. Lots of young, new faces. I have no more classes to teach today, so I got to come home early." She turned to Nico. "How have you been, Nico?"

"Huh? Oh, pretty good," she said. She considered telling Umi about Maki, but Honoka had apparently decided to take on that role.

"She saw Maki the other day!" she yelped to Umi.

There was a short silence as everyone stared at Honoka, including some people sitting at tables in the small shop. A short moment passed before people lost interest and continued their chatter while eating. Umi cleared her throat and raised a brow at Honoka.

"Sorry about yelling," she giggled sheepishly. "Anyway, Nico saw Maki at the subway station." Umi's eyes widened and she turned to Nico.

"You saw Maki-san? Goodness, I didn't realize she even lived around here anymore. I guess she does need to work at her parent's hospital, but I haven't seen her since . . . since . . ." Umi's voice trailed off and she gazed sadly at the counter. "How's she doing? I bet she was happy to see you, since you two were quite close."

Nico's lips tightened together at Umi's words. If only we could still be that close, she almost said. Luckily, it didn't actually slip out and she met Umi's eyes.

"She's engaged," she said flatly.

"Wow, really?" Umi responded, her tone calm. Nico tilted her head and Honoka only smiled, winking at her. A second passed and Umi eyes widened to the size of saucers and she jumped backwards, hitting the nearest wall.

"What?! Sh-she is?" Umi cupped a hand over her mouth. "But . . . I . . . she's so young . . . that must mean she has a partner! That she . . . sh-shameless . . !"

Nico was terribly confused at Umi's reaction, while Honoka was practically belly-laughing at her mortified girlfriend. Nico wanted to ask poor Umi if she was fine, but she cleared her throat and looked at Nico, looking collected even though she was trembling lightly.

"Good for her," Umi murmured, before retreating into a door behind the counter. Honoka wiped her eyes and ceased laughing, a big smile on her face.

"What just happened?" Nico deadpanned, looking at Honoka.

"Oh, poor Umi," she giggled. "Even as an adult, she's so modest about anything related to romance. I sometimes wonder how she didn't explode when I asked her on a date for the first time." Nico couldn't help but let out a tiny laugh. She felt a little nostalgic; hanging out with Umi and Honoka reminded her of being in high school.

Except Maki wasn't engaged. Ugh, sometimes I wish we could be in high school forever.

Nico laid on the couch at home. It was still the middle of day, so all of her siblings were at school and her mother was at work. She appreciated getting days like this to herself. She was lucking out with shifts lately. Her solemn mood had really improved since the day she talked to Maki - yesterday was especially fun, as she ended up going to the movies with Umi and Honoka.

She was scrolling through a social media, clicking around accounts and looking at photos. She was wondering if Maki had an account at all. Huh, how have I not considered that she might?

Nico searched for her, and a large number of Maki Nishikino fanclubs appeared. She found herself giggling a little - she really appreciated how many people cared for u's like that even now that they're disbanded, but she couldn't help but wonder if they knew as much about Maki as Nico did - like how clumsy and cute she could be.

Hmm. I wonder if she's still like that any more. She scrolled around, looking at the various Maki-centered accounts, until she came across one . . . centered around nicomaki. Nico blushed - she knew exactly what it meant. The fanpages dedicated to her and Maki's relationship. Like how fans saw how elegant and beautiful Maki was, and not how flawed she could be, fans saw Nico and Maki's relationship as cute, filled with teasing and love. Back when Nico and Maki sang Magnetic Today, fans went insane, using the song as evidence they were dating or beyond. Every CD cover or picture with them even remotely close together would make every nicomaki fan swoon over the relationship more. Nico couldn't help but enjoy it back in high school, the idea that her and Maki seemed close enough to be considered a couple.

Of course, Maki seemed indifferent about it then. During u's interviews, whenever Nico and Maki were asked if they were a couple, Maki would go quiet. She'd look away, even. Nico would usually answer with a joke, or just try to avoid the question overall.

She sighed. How in the world am I ever supposed to tell Maki how I feel when she probably didn't even like me in high school.

Suddenly, she got a text. Usually, it would be from her mother or maybe even one of her sisters, but it was from Nozomi. Raising her eyebrows, Nico clicked on the notification.

'Good afternoon, Nicochi! Have you called Maki yet?'

'Wow, way to get to the point,' Nico answered, smirking. Then, her smile disappeared and she dropped her phone on her chest. Of course she didn't call Maki, even though she told Nozomi she would. Stress had lurked ever since she proposed that she'd do it, but with each passing day she told herself she'd do it later . . . and later meant the next day. Nico had everything she needed to call Maki.

Besides the courage to, of course.

Her phone chimed with a text.

'That's my style. Now answer my question!'

Nico sighed. She texted back, 'No, I haven't. But I'm going to.' She put her phone on her chest again and waited, staring at the ceiling. She wasn't going to.

It would be so much easier if I just moved on. If I don't call Maki, then I can lose contact with her again and . . . end it all. She lazily lifted her phone to her face. But I don't want to.

"Damn you, Maki," she muttered. Her phone chimed again, except Nozomi was calling her this time. Nico groaned loudly, cleared her throat and answered.

"Hello?" she said sweetly.

"Nicochi! You have to call Maki!" Nozomi yelled through the phone. Nico narrowed her eyes.

"Must you yell?" she asked. "And I will. I want to. I just . . . don't know how. Or when."

"Nico, you can't wait. Eventually, enough time will have passed for it to seem weird if you called her. You have to. I will come to your house and force you to if I have to," Nozomi threatened. Nico shuddered.

"No, thanks." She sighed, and her voice softened. "Trust me Nozomi, I know exactly what I'm doing."

"You just told me you don't know how, or when, you should call her," Nozomi deadpanned. Nico opened her mouth to protest, but she found herself without a comeback. Shaking her head in frustration, she replied.

"Okay, I know exactly what I'm doing for the most part. I have to go," Nico muttered into the phone. She would've pulled it away from her ear and hung up, but she found herself wondering how Nozomi would respond. Her friend was goofy and even pushy at times, but very wise.

"Call her tonight Nico. Before you go to bed. She's a busy girl, so nighttime is probably the only time she's available," Nozomi advised.

A silence followed. Nico stared at the ceiling, letting Nozomi's info sink in. She scowled. "How do you know she's busy all the time?"

"I just do," Nozomi said simply. "Now, go. Bye bye, Nicochi." Before Nico could say anything, Nozomi had hung up, and she sighed heavily. I guess I should trust her. She sat up and headed for the kitchen. She opened a cabinet and climbed on the counter to swipe a bag of sweets from the highest shelf.

She tugged it open and popped one into her mouth. It tasted amazing, but Nico was too distracted to savour it. She hurried to her room and shut the door, stuffing a couple more candies into her mouth as she leaped onto her bed.

Her phone was in the pocket of her jeans. She pulled it out and checked the time - it was a couple hours after noon. Her siblings would be home soon, so she should probably prepare a snack for them to ease their hunger before dinner. She remembered that her mother would be coming home that night, so she also wanted to wash herself and look her best.

I have too much to do. I can't call Maki tonight. Nico shoved a couple more sweets down her throat and hurried to the kitchen to put the bag back where she found it, and headed to the bath to wash up. She stopped in her tracks through, standing alone in silence a couple steps from the bath. She looked behind her, to the door of her room where her phone was.

Quickly, she hurried back and dialed Maki. Her heart pounded, and she chewed on her nails. What the hell am I doing? Hang up, Nico, you're going to make a fool out of yourself. Her breathing was starting to get short and she desperately wanted to hang up, but she waited. It rang a few times.

Maki didn't pick up.

Nico's tense shoulders slumped and her heartbeat slowed as Maki's message played, telling Nico to leave a voicemail. She listened to it intensely, drawn in by the sound of Maki's voice.

"Hello, this is Maki Nishikino. Currently, I am busy. Please leave a voicemail, and I'll call you back. Thank you."

In high school, Maki had a medium-pitched, nasally voice that Nico never paid much mind to then - she just wanted to see Maki all the time. Now, Maki's voice had dropped to a pitch that rivalled Umi's, and still held the same nasally tinge it always did. However, it sounded so soothing and serene now.

There was a beep from Nico's phone, notifying her that she had to leave a voicemail. She pulled the phone away from her ear and stared at the device like it was some foreign object, before realizing she had to leave some message if she wanted Maki to call her pack.

"U-uhm, hello Maki. It's Nico. Yazawa. Ahem." She gulped, wondering what to say. "I-I was wondering if maybe, uh, you would like to hang out soon? Or talk. Whatever's easiest for you. Bye." She pressed the 'Send' button at lightning speed the second she finished talking, then slammed her phone onto her bed and whirled around. Her face was bright red, and she was sweating so much that she would for sure need a bath now.

That was an absolute mess.

Nico's phone rang during dinner.

Her entire family turned their heads to glare at her. Out of everyone she could choose to glance at, she chose her mother, who she briefly looked at apologetically before pulling her phone from her pocket to check the caller.

"Eheheh, probably just Nozomi," she giggled nervously. "Sorry about this, guys-" Her sentence came to a screeching halt when she read the one name she had subconsciously hoped it wouldn't be, not in a million years, yet the one she was desperately hoping to speak to.

"I-I . . . I need to take this," Nico stuttered, dropping her utensils onto her dish and standing. "I promise I'll be fast. Sorry." She scuttled away from the chabudai, feeling the stares of her family on her back as she vanished into her bedroom.

She had unfortunately taken too long excusing herself from dinner and scurrying to the room, so her phone showed a missed call notification. She let out an annoyed and slightly anxious groan before pressing the 'Call back' option. She pressed the phone to her ear, worried she'd forget every rule of speaking, sentence structures -

"Nico?" Maki's voice was like honey laced with poison - soft yet sharp. "I'm sorry I'm calling you back so late."

"Maki," Nico breathed into the phone. She was talking to her, the elusive Maki Nishikino, who she has had a crush on for too long now. Her heartbeat was so powerful that she could hear the blood rushing through her ears. For a brief second, she wondered if Maki could hear it. "You're fine. It's all fine."

"Are you okay? You sound feverish," Maki detected. Nico's face flushed and she wanted to squeal. And puke.

"Wow, looks like someone's got nurse instincts," Nico giggled nervously. She hoped to lighten the mood with some joking. There was a pause from across the line, then a suave chuckle. Nico almost melted.

"I guess those expensive classes have indeed been paying off," she replied. "Nico, I got your voicemail. I'm pleased you called me. I was a bit nervous about making the first move."

Nico's eyes widened. "Th-that's an interesting choice of words," she said quietly, her face warm.

"Why?" Maki asked innocently. Nico wanted to laugh it off, and tease Maki at how cute and childish she could be . . . but that phrase - 'first move.' It sounded as though Maki was nervous to call her.

"Since you have a fiance and all," Nico squeaked, her hand shaking.

There was silence from the other side. Then, Maki whispered, "Right." She spoke louder. "You don't understand, I didn't meant anything weird."

"I don't understand? I think you're the one who doesn't understand the romantic undertones of that phrase, Maki," Nico scolded her teasingly. She felt her heartbeat slow. The conversation was starting to feel very natural, how they felt when they were younger.

"Ueeh . . ? O-of course I understand it, idiot!" Then, Nico could hear the actual sound of Maki cupping her hand over her mouth. Nico cackled a little.

"Maki-chan is losing her cool, it seems!" Nico laughed. She flopped onto her bed. "Anyway, we should hang out. When are you not busy?"

"Umm, I'm not busy on . . . hold on, I'm checking my calendar," she muttered. Nico waited, and sighed softly. It felt so nice to talk to Maki. She seemed a lot more human at the moment than she did at the subway, when Maki seemed untouchable.

"I'm not busy the day after tomorrow. Would that work for you?" Maki asked.

Sorry everyone, I'm clearing my schedule two days from now.

"Absolutely! Um, I guess I'll see you then, Maki Nishikino," Nico responded. "Could you arrive at my house and maybe we'll see what we could do from there?"

"Sure. Bye . . . Nico Yazawa," Maki said. Her voice was tinged with amusement. It was a nice kind though, not like the amusement her tone held when told Nico she was engaged the other day. It sounded natural.

"Later, Maki," Nico murmured. She waited for Maki to hang up. She shoved her face into a pillow and screamed gleefully, her legs kicking.

She rolled over onto her back and sighed happily. She felt like she couldn't stop smiling. Everything was fitting into place, the stars were aligned - but nonetheless, Maki was still engaged. Nico's smile faded when she reminded herself that.

But it didn't matter. She would be spending time with someone she loved in high school and still does now, and that's all that mattered to her in the moment.

One of her family members shouted, asking Nico if she could join them for dinner again. She rolled out of bed, a skip in her step as she left her room.

Everything suddenly felt like it was going to be okay.

heyo, Aiko here! It's labor day weekend so I was able to whip out a chapter in my free time! as you can tell, this chapter is a lot more light-hearted than the others. I was trying to take a little break from the angst and shine some happiness on poor Nico, and also turn the spotlight to some other u's girls like Honoka and Umi. I'm going to try and cover what every girl is up to now. So far, I've covered Maki (medical student), Honoka (helps with her mom's sweet shop), Umi (works at family dojo), Kotori (is studying fashion abroad), Nozomi (counselor), Eli (principle Otonokizaka) and Nico (part-timer + business student). Rin and Pana are the only two left, which is ironic considering Hanayo is my best girl. Sorry kayochin!

With the pace of the story rnow, it might extend beyond five chapters like I planned. Or it may not. We'll see!

Thank you for reading!