The streak of Utahime's on schedule train ride was over, and it pushed her to the centermost place of the train, losing her head over the mixed scent of people ravaging her nose. Cologne. Perfume. Onion(also known as body order). Even stinky breaths. These bodies squeezed all the breath out of her lungs that she felt her lifespan was getting cut shorter right before her eyes.
Drops of sweat soaked her neck and forehead from all the stairs running. The train's air conditioner refused to cool her body. With people finally pacing in and out to the platform, the loud sigh she did startled passengers when she was eventually able to reach for a proper train handle to make herself a proper place.
There is where she found her.
Three seats away from Utahime, a brunette cornered herself in a seat next to the train doors. Her hair was trimmed right on her shoulder, a strand tucked in her ear, revealing white earphones. Her matching brown eyes scrunched and burned through the paper clutched on her slender fingers while the other hand held a pen on her wrist...jotting down notes on her skin and not paper.
She was a captivating sight in the middle of tucked people, hands to themselves trying not to bug their seatmates in this sardines-like situation. But she's there, flipping paper and books with her flailing arms.
The ink being unusually penned on her wrist didn't worry her. What worried Utahime was how the female slowly blinked her eyes, sometimes staying closed for too long, and progressively tipped her head forward, leaning in. Then like a thunder struck her, she jolted her posture straight, head shook left to right, her palm slapping her cheeks to wake herself up.
Utahime smiled. She had those times, too.
Starting from the first time Utahime laid eyes on that beautiful stranger to the second time where a frightful bump of the train caused the stranger's neon pink highlighter to roll onto Utahime's boot, she always failed to sprung out from the pushing bodies, eager for the train's exits. Her small yelps for the stranger's attention, already nodding herself to sleep, abruptly shutted out by hungry train doors.
At this third attempt, hopefully the last of the last, Utahime got her plan in the tips of her fingers.
She already settled in at the cramped middle of the train floors, the brunette was there in her usual corner seat, always with papers in her hands, scribbles on her wrist, and hints of bagging eyes. A picture perfectly displayed so many chances of vulnerability like missing her stop or some pervert taking advantage of her, and Utahime isn't gonna let that happen.
The train intercom's rung out the incoming stop. It screeched to a halt, and bodies held onto their toes, struggling not to lean on each other. Again and again, the same crowd had always pushed out Utahime, like she was a bottle in the ocean riding out their waves. A bottle too unfortunate to not be washed up to the shores of the brunette.
When the train opened its mouth, Utahime readily clutched the brim of her baseball hat, a snowy lion as its logo.
May the gods of Saitama Seibu Lions be on her side.
She made sure to get her arms trained for this very moment as there isn't so much moving space to make a proper stance. In her mind, she's a baseball pitcher right now, aiming for a successful throw.
Off the hat from her head, strands of hair flowing out from the kept bunch, she swung her arms to the air and her hat leaped right across the other side of the train. The people around her were left unstricken, too caught up with time. They started pouring out from the train doors and pulled her currents. Keeping her toes up, Utahime's eyes just kept on reaching and reaching for the brunette or any sign of her blue hat with her.
The train inside cleared up a small space as Utahime now stood outside the platforms.
She saw the wide-eyed brunette, Utahime's hat in her hands, before the painful screeching train doors drew together, ultimately ending Utahime's show. A relieved sigh gusted out from her lungs. A successful throw!
Fiddling her phone in her jean pocket, Utahime wondered if that stranger saw the small slip of the paper inserted in the insides of her hat where her-
A hand waved in front of her, and the present time fell back to pieces. The lecture hall of her last class of the day was being emptied, creaking the doors open as students scrambled out, and a friend of hers was asking if Utahime wanted to go hotpot with their circle.
She had a laxed schedule of school even with a part time job on the side, but Utahime said: "I'm sorry, not today. I've got something in mind."
Later that evening, Utahime attended her phone like it was a shrine. Her legs are folded under her thighs and fingers clasped together, praying and praying that the stranger could have seen her message. She ran her hands on her phone every now and then until it began vibrating and ringing.
Utahime's brain panicked like ranging monkeys. She just passed her squealing teen years, she can't be acting like this! So she fanned her sweating palms, took a deep breath, and placed the phone onto her ear.
"Hey." A smoky voice said, Utahime's heart madly thumped in her chest. "This is..um.. Iori Utahime, right?"
She gulped down the overwhelming excitement in her."Y-yes."
"Yeahhhh, so I have your hat, and I saw your contact info in it. I don't know if you meant to throw it to me, but you actually really helped me out there. I almost missed my stop so…thanks."
"Oh," Calculations were churning out in her brain. Missed her stop? Wait, does that mean they could be in the same stop? "No problem! Sorry if I kinda went rough with my hat on you. You seem a little troubled on the train with your books and stuff so I.." Utahime clutched her neck.
"No worries. Glad you really saved me there." Seconds of silence came in, and Utahime hurried to spill something from her mouth, not wanting this to be another failure but…."I'm Ieri Shoko, by the way." A save.
That's what Utahime's been meaning to ask, and she received this gratefully. Before "Ieri-san" could take shape in her tongue, her newly found "friend" insisted on "just Ieri."
"So do you wanna meet up-"
"Sure!" Utahime bursted in glee. "I mean, of course, so you can return my hat." She lightly chuckled, mentally facepalming herself for rudely interrupting.
"Right, can we text more about the details? I kinda have to go now."
Utahime let her be, and in the back of her mind, she was convinced that she probably did the wrong move of interrupting her, mentally slapping herself even more. There's always next time, Utahime assured herself.
A part of her rewinded back to their conversation on how Shoko mentioned the train stops. She was sure she heard that right, and there's only one way to find out if her assumptions were right..
Shoko glared at the notifications, constantly popping up on her tiny screen. A who-gets-to-annoy-Shoko-the-most spamming competition took place between the messages, one included two certain idiots and the other one was an actual cheating ring for her med class. (Thank you very much for that kid in her class, poking her shoulder and whispering their conspiracy.)
They reeled off about the test they had earlier today, getting their asses saved by Shoko's genius ways who almost ran late to school. She came in seeing them pulling out their hair. That's the first year med students for you, the constant panic.
It's blowing up her beat up phone, literally heating up, that she had to put down her lovely phone call with Iori Utahime, or else it would self-destruct.
Thinking about it, that lovely girl had such a cute kansai accent. Not a strong one, often stereotyped as the yakuza's tongue, but that subtle kind like it could be a soothing stream running on her back that she could float forever on any good summer days. Her voice truly stayed in Shoko's head and she admitted that she'd love to hear it again, curious to see its physical manifestation.
After finally clearing up the notifications and blocking the two idiots(not bothering to read their texts), she sat close to her window with a lit cigarette pressed between her lips, and her fingers hovered over the keypad of her phone, ready to text Utahime.
But an unknown number flashed on the screen. Knowing them too well, she answered it.
"Blocking us, huh?"
"Sorry for having an ancient brick as my phone."
"You still have that?" A chuckle was heard from the other line.
"So I could chuck it to your faces when you two are around."
"If you still want us there for that, get it upgraded then. You know those things don't handle group messages very well."
"Sure, sure. Why'd you call anyway? Need something from me?"
"Satoru's been crying about some sunglasses you stole from him."
"Boohoo, tell him it's mine now."
"Said it's his favorite."
Just when she thought the spamming was over, another one vibrated on her cheek. Shoko harshly pulled the phone away from her ear, furrowing her brows that quickly dissipated when she looked at "Iori Utahime."Um, I have a question…
The text was followed by another buzz.
"Heyyyy? You still there?"
"Suguru, can I just-" Shoko paused to read the text, her eyes widening. "I'll call you later."
Before Suguru could even answer, Shoko already ended the call, took the cigarette off her lips, and proceeded to read the text once more, just to be sure her eyes weren't tricking her.Do you, by any chance, go to Tokyo University?
Ashes dropped on her windowsill.
Finding out both of them go to the same university made it easier to arrange their meeting at the campus' front grounds.
Shoko found Utahime wearing a white shirt and overalls. The sun brightened her shirt like she just came down from heaven. She just honestly looked ethereal even just by her back profile.
She tapped her shoulder, immediately saying: "Here's your hat." Shoko passed the hat to Utahime who took it close to her heart with a pearly smile.
Her black-purple hair was pulled up in a lazy bun. Bangs grazed her brows. Her eyes are cinnamon rolls, warm brown and gentle.
Utahimer's eyes skimmed over Shoko. The same brown hair and tired eyes that enchanted her more up close, perfectly paired with her care-free sweatshirt. It's the first time she saw the mole under her eye, truly a beauty mark that stood her out.
Shoko blinked, and it fluttered her lashes.
"Ah, thank you!" Utahime bowed her head. She almost got carried over there. "I'm planning to get drinks after this. If you want, you can come with me."
"Uh, I-" Shoko hesitated. "About the drinks..." she tugged the ends of her sweater, hoping that this wouldn't be much of a turn off to Utahime. "I just want to give you a heads up that I'm more on the...sugar free side."
"Wait, really?" lit up Utahime, her lips stretching a big smile that somehow eased a weight on Shoko. "I like sugar free things, too! And I think they're truly underrated."
Shoko raised her brows in delight. "That's a relief. I have this friend who always orders with hundred percent sugar in them, doesn't ever get off my back everytime I order food," chuckled Shoko.
"And because of that, I'm treating you today. Also as it's your welcoming gift for being in university." Utahime held a thumbs up.
With the ecstatic Utahime dragging Shoko to the tea and coffee shop (hailed as "The Spot" for all the college students), they arrived within minutes. Their drinks are already on their hands as they both sit in the corner of the cozy shop, waiting for their snacks and talking about Shoko's medicine major.
"Wait, you're really 17 and in college?"
"Oh yeah, I skipped a grade. I'm brilliant," winked Shoko, holding a finger on her lips.
"No way, so you took that accelerating exam." Eyes sparkled in Utahime.
"Passed it with flying colors." Shoko remembered how much more of a pain in the ass prepping for that exam than the actual exam itself. She had to deal with two idiots who came crashing on her door, asking to study(cheat) with her. They were probably the ones who watered the baby plants of her cheating tendencies.
"And here I thought you can't even get cooler with passing the entrance exams and being a med student." Utahime giggled. "As for me, I don't really have any "mind blowing" stuff. Maybe...the fact that I was a shrine maiden when I was in elementary school." It still stuck to Utahime because without learning those chants and melodies for rituals, she probably wouldn't be so drawn to music like today.
"Aw, I can see you being one." How fitting for such a soft being like her.
"We used to have this cat that always snuck into the shrine when I cleaned. We kept him, thinking he's a sign of good luck since he's white and had only one eye open like a Daruma doll."
For Shoko, pets were pretty much a no-go. The committed attachment to it was overwhelming.
"Was he still around when you left?"
"Gege hated the visitors and sometimes scratched them. The shrine said to let him go, and he just deliberately went missing one day." As being the one who put up his missing posters despite the scratches she had on her arm, Utahime thought about that cat 'till today.
The longer they talked, Shoko found out that Utahime was from Kyoto, which explains her kansai accent, and went to Tokyo for college to earn a Bachelor's in Education. Tokyo was a major shift of her values. She confessed she willingly got out of traditional Kyoto because of the thrill of testing the new waters nearby.
After the two finished their snacks and drinks, they decided to just tread around the street shops for a bit and then maybe leave for the station to end the day.
"Hey, are you good with phones?" suddenly asked Shoko when they passed by the big blue sign of an electronic store. It immediately urged her to finally replace the ancient brick in her pocket.
"Phones?" Utahime stopped right in front of the store's entrance. "Sure, I guess.."
Shoko took a glance at Utahime's phone on her hand that looked like a decent updated flip phone topped with stickers of musical notes and a baseball scattered on its case. That was enough for Shoko to trust Utahime's judgement.
"Come with me." She proceeded to grasp Utahime's wrist into the store while Utahime trailed behind her, her mouth forming an 'o.'
Entering the electronic store was a pure sting to the two females' eyes. It's all too white, and each corner almost shimmered their own bulb lights.
Both of them walked around for a bit on each display shelf. Model phones are attached to the shelves, so glossy and brand new. If Shoko were to compare her phone to these phones from the shelf, it would no doubt look like a potato.
When Shoko saw a black phone model, she wrapped it around her hand, pulling out its connected cord to shelves, and got a feel for it. Her thumb explored every click and thud of the black keypads as she angled to read the description on the side.
Utahime, supposedly behind her, had strayed away from Shoko to a grey machine that's been pulling her eyes for undeniable attention. It stood after her like a towering silver bar. Utahime's mouth slackened, and she brought her hand to her chest.
Shoko strode to her side, wanting to ask Utahime's opinion on the phone. She froze when she saw the awed Utahime. Her dazzled honey eyes grew big, reflecting on the silver surface.
"I never knew this thing could be in here," Utahime said, staring into the machine's buttons. Its labels of "Disc 1," "Disc 2," and "Disc 3" sent nostalgic impulses to awaken the memories of the past.
In her childhood of going to the striking yellow-red building of Tower Records, she'd raised her toes just to reach for those huge headphones and tune in for that specific song she heard from the radio. Experience its bass, vocals, and instrumentals right into her ears. Then she'd repeat it over and over again until she decided she'd just buy the album.
"Sure is," agreed store must have used the listening machine to advertise those headphones.
Below the machine are the physical copies of the album featured in the discs labels. A certain one caught Shoko's eyes.
Utahime delicately took the headphones hanging on the machine like it's the memories she treasured with it. "You wanna listen?" she offered the other headphones to Shoko..
Shoko nodded, and they both placed the headphones to their ears.
"Have you heard of her before?" Utahime pointed to that album cover. A woman famous for her beehive hair and thick winged eyeliner with a jazzy voice that could erupt from her throat. Such rawness, it could break past ears and stir up their souls.
"Amy Winehouse?" Shoko read. "A bit. Her song's all over the radio, and there's the news."
Utahime continued to select a random song from the disc, and an all too familiar jazz beat played into their ears.
"She got an interesting life going on. People are making fun of her with the messed up appearance she has. Always looking drugged, stoned, or drunk." So radical and so pathetic. Shoko got a peak of those tabloid magazines featuring her dentrimenting body that cling too much on her bones, and how amusing it is that when within those tabloids, she's later lauded for her music like a way to fix an open wound smacked with a tiny band aid.
"I think people are just focusing too much on her public appearances than her music. The media is just really stupid like that. I mean, I admit she really does stand out as a musician with that soulful voice of hers. "
"I can't really blame them though. She's acting much more like a circus for the whole world."
"There's more to it than that, she has real problems. It's all over her album, screaming about it, like almost cutting herself open—a way to vent them all out. Maybe she just needs more push towards help."
"Saying "no" to rehabs and throwing a fit over it through a song? She's being stubborn and childish for that."
"Yet most of us turn a blind eye to it and just simply mock her about it instead of trying to help her out."
Blinking her eyes and pursing her lips, Shoko remained silent. Utahime..she truly is a good person, a person worth lending your ear to, a person to be a luxury with, and Shoko–who strolled through the valleys of the clashing good and bad but always tries to be yardsticks a distance away–respected that, almost taking comfort in it.
Their stillness let the song peacefully die down in its last beats, and another one quickly rushed in to replace the sad remnants of it. A sharp swift in the atmosphere.
Utahime's eyes blew wide open when the first notes of the next song hit her. "Hey, I love this song!" She babbled. Her mouth automatically sang along, her body swaying.
Her singing voice was a delight. If her talking voice was a stream, then her singing could be a nice hot spring, a perfect place where you could relax on any day. She just watched her as Utahime was really into the music and rocked her heels along with her, being in such precious moments were rare ones in life.
They were in their own world. Some stared at them and made sure to have a few feet away like they do have their own invisible bubble. The two became the brightest customers in a store of uniformity and white bland walls.
"I really had a great time today." Utahime spun around, her strays of her black-purple locks swaying over her shoulders, to meet Shoko's eyes.
"Thanks for helping me out with my phone." Shoko brought the phone up to her chest, a simple white flip phone with navy blue stripes on its sides. "Also, the charms." She twirled the phone. A cursive metal of "S" and a plated enamel of syringe dangled.
"You should have them! They're cute," insisted by the one and only Utahime when they were browsing for accessories.
"We should go together to school sometime. You know, so you won't pass out on the train."
"Before we leave, you wanna try out your phone's camera?"
Shoko let Utahime work her way over her phone as she positioned her cheek, almost hovering over each other and inches away from brushing. The emitting heat was being passed back and forth from their cheeks when just seconds ago they were both cold.
Utahime outstretched her arm for a higher angle of the flip phone but let out a huff when the lighting wasn't working right for them, making them appear as dark patches in the camera, so they moved themselves under the streetlight.
"Okay, you ready?" confirmed Utahime as their shoulders touched to fit their faces on the small monitor of her flip phone.
Shoko let out a hum, her palms suddenly sweating. With no idea how to pose, she automatically raised a peace sign with her hands while Utahime placed her palm on her own cheek,like she's having a toothache, with a close lipped smile.
The camera shuttered and one moment in time was forever kept in Shoko's pocket. Our closest thing to a time machine. Her cheeks deserted each other, and she felt the cold night shuddered her cheeks.
Both of them giggled at the picture they had taken. "There's the first picture of your phone," said Utahime.
"I'll see you around then." It's been just a few hours of meeting her, and Shoko was disappointed they had to part soon.
Before bidding their goodbyes and separating ways, they planned out their train meeting for school next week.
Back home, it was weird staring at her phone. Her screen had broadened, fonts attacked her with greater black lines, and the worst of all, that bell symbol of notification was bigger but at least, more organized with receiving group messages.
She can't help but click back to her gallery, and the only picture was with her and Utahime. A smile creeped into her lips.
Her drowsy eyes contrasted the full brightened ones of Utahime. Her well trimmed bangs are unlike some of Shoko's hair sticking out. Both beamed at the camera in the same twinkling ways, proving how they certainly went home with a wonderful memory in their hearts. She liked it this way, a tug in the heart, and she'll take any chance of the day to feel them running through her system.