That god-awful letter had been sent to Shoko's mail instead of being eco-friendly and sending it via email.
She held the letter in her hands, the name and address of her school as the sender, and she already had her assumptions on, her palms started to sweat, staining the letter.
Maybe they did it as a slap on the face, a physical one that didn't carry the same effect when you read it via the computer. There was no need for her to pussy out now and just get over this. Then as she read it, it wasn't the warning she hoped for, but that awful words, translated in Shoko's vocabulary as:
You're a cheater! And we're sure as hell gonna make the rest of your school year miserable!
To make it more simple, she was fucked.
Looking through her group chat, they have officially gone haywire with it too. How did they even get here, and to, again, make it into biteable, consumable pieces,one of the first years in their group had turned in someone's work, despite them already being in a cheating ring. They got caught, and, of course, one thing leads to another and before they knew it they have opened a can of worms
It all happened right before winter break where Utahime had to take the break early because of her grandma's case.
This mistake wasn't left without any punishment as in Shoko's hand, the letter had stated that she officially got taken out of her scholarship since she had presented a failing grade to her subject due to the fact of her cheating ring being exposed.
She indeed was so fucked because on top of all these, her family, generations of proud doctors, were eventually gonna find it out.
"You're kidding, right?" asked Utahime once again, her phone pressed on her ear.
"It almost got into the newspaper, I heard, but obviously the school tried to contain it," Mei Mei replied, her voice being way too calm when she was also involved in this cheating scandal. "Broke myself out of the situation before I got buried in it."
"Haven't heard from her ever since she got a week of suspension before winter break."
Utahime received this call when she was in the hospital. It gutted her knowing that she wasn't even aware of this despite promising herself she'll keep in touch.
She got out of the hospital in one piece with much stealth and jumped in the Nozomi train headed to Tokyo. Some passengers stared at her like she got blood all over her clothes when it was actually just the soaking red bandages on her cheek's right side. It stung everytime she pulled a muscle in her face.
Shoko had been ignoring her phone calls and messages which could really mean her burying herself in med school work right now or probably tipping every can of beer to her lips while staring at the amount of schoolwork creating mountains on her desk that was heavily concerning for Utahime,
The dorm hallway clicked echoes from Utahime's heels, her sweaty finger digging too much on her palms. Her heels clicks stopped, right on the black mat of the door she hasn't brushed her feet for months.
She rapped a knock on the door, hoisting her breath to her throat. "Shoko! It's me, Utahime."
An air whips passed by Utahime's back, avalanching close to her ears, but not a single twitch of the door knob happened.
Utahime knocked again as if she could just blast her way through the door by yelling concerns to her. Her ears went on the wooden door, praying for signs of scraping sounds on the other sides.
She heard a kick of can beer on the soft tatami mat and a slow crack was made between the door and its frame. A dim space as a certain brown head emerged from it. Her hair teased and greasy. Smoke clinging into her that diffused into her concerned friend's nose.
Utahime deepened her frown on the sight of her sagging dark bags. "Shoko…" Her arms automatically outstretched, but Shoko only stood frozen from seeing the bandaged cheek of Utahime.
"What?" Shoko paused, her voice still croaky, "what's with your…" she motioned on her check. The bandage had a splotch of red on its span of white.
"I'll tell you later," Utahime said. "Please tell me what happened. You know, I'm here."
Shoko's eyes were puffy and glistening to spill tears. Her arms shakened and proceeded to sag its hold to the door. Utahime's clicking heels entered. Warm arms encapsulated her into a hug like she was the lightest thing in the world. Shoko sighed into her arms.
"My parents found out," she confessed.
Utahime continued to enter her room, scrunching her nose in seeing the beer cans and its spillage violating the tatami mats. The smoke was also overwhelming for her. Still, she picked them and threw them to the recycle bin webbing in the corner of Shoko's kitchen, under her sink.
"C'mon, let's get you cleaned up first," said Utahime, patting her head.
Utahime opened the window to let out the smoky pungent, lighting a scented candle to help out.
"Tell me everything in the bathroom." She looked at Shoko who squinted her eyes as the sunlight reached her eyes.
Utahime easily grabbed the small chair under the bathroom sink and placed it on the bathtub that Shoko sat on, still with her clothes, and just rested her face on her knees, letting out a small moan.
"Shit, where do I even begin?" murmured Shoko. "There's been some things I haven't been telling you, and now that it's out, I feel like it's…..harder to say it out loud."
"And that's why you haven't texted for weeks?" Utahime placed herself on the edges of the bathtub, resting her back on the wall. "I heard it from Mei."
"Look, you were busy with your grandma, okay? And I didn't wanna add trouble to that."
"Shoko." Utahime brought a hand to her cheek. That worried look on her face, brows delicately knitted and her mouth curved in such a reassuring way, like in any moment now she would say, it's okay, I got your back.
Shoko took a deep breath. "My parents...they weren't really happy about it. They thought maybe they'll just stop paying for my tuition, and I absolutely have no idea what to do anymore."
She was too scared to even enter her home estate, and show her face in front of her family, only distracting herself with beer that she bought from some frat boy at her campus, spending her remaining bills on it. Eventually, the meticulous phone call would come, and their faces barged into her apartment, catching sight of the cigarette between her lips, then rubbing the blown out mistakes on her face.
"Then the school said, if it wasn't for the scholarship I had, they could have made me repeat a year, but they took off my scholarship in exchange for that." Her voice trembled and she finally did. "Let it all out' as Utahime said. All the warm tears spilled from her eyes, and she swore she might have tasted beer in them. She wasn't able to talk much about this when even at times of this, her other two anchors, Suguru and Satoru, were, at the same time, clashing hooks to each other, bouncing off as they swung away.
Meanwhile, Shoko was left there floating into the abyss, but Utahime made it back to her. She blazed the way of the 2 hour ride from Tokyo-Kyoto just to outstretch her arms, to latch it around Shoko's wrist, and to pull her out of these cigarette ashes making its own museum on her ashtray.
She squeezed her eyes, focusing on Utahime's rise and fall of her chest, trying to match her own breath to Utahime's, her current life support right now. For hours, she soaked into her chest.
Utahime insisted on letting her take a shower and dragged her whole weight. Shoko felt embarrassed by the whole process, especially when she had to strip her clothes down. Utahime, at some point helped her, though her touch was sending too much weird feeling in her. Shoko chose to do it by herself.
"Utahime, you still haven't told me about your cheek," said Shoko while her senior's steady fingers worked to shampoo Shoko's greasy hair.
"I haven't told you this either." She took in a deep sigh. "It turned out my grandma has Alzheimer's."
Alzheimers, she learned that in her class, and shit, it might be saddening for others but also truly fascinating for Shoko, a med student..
"She got too violent and started throwing things around, so this happened." On that day, the tangy iron of blood ran down to her mouth, the rolling bed rattled its wheels as lights blurred passed her, white uniforms surrounding her.
"I...I'm sorry." The bath soap slipped off from Shoko's fingers.
Utahime caressed its bumpy bandaged, feeling those bumps she probably memorized from just the not-so-few-times she touched it.
"You know, Scars aren't that bad," said Shoko. "One thing I've learned about them is that they're unique to every person. The stretch, the thickness, the type just like the story it has with it. And they can get pretty rad too." Such a huge gash wouldn't strip you down to the lesser beauty of her passion and kindness.
She looked at Utahime, who was still staring at her face in the mirror, and all of a sudden, the idea of leaning into her shook over Shoko's body. She slowly placed a hand in the corner of the sink, smelling the lavender from Utahime. Then her lips brushed on her cheek, leaving a quick peak.
The awkward silence ensued in them.
"Uh," Shoko looked away, rubbing her hands together and felt the sudden warmth on her skin, despite butt-naked on the bathtub, "I just think that will make you feel better." She wouldn't expect that she would get retaliated by being splashed in soap water. Shoko squinted her eyes and proceeded to grab the shower head off Utahime, soaking the front of her shirt.
Utahime laughed, settling with a sigh. "You're cute," she said as she placed a bubble beard on Shoko's chin that was scooped from the lathered shampoo on her hair. "C'mon, let's get you rinsed up." She beamed.
Shoko was at ease, just for a little bit where she could fill a space of her mind to think clearly. After getting done with the shower, where she had lots of thinking, she dried herself off, jumped into fresh clothes, and rushed back to the living room. Utahime was there brewing some coffee.
"Thanks a lot, Utahime. My head cleared up a bit, but I still have no idea what to do next."
"With the whole college tuition thing, maybe a job could help."
A job? Shoko thought. They were times she half-assed and skipped responsibilities, but she could possibly learn?
"I wouldn't be helping you with that right now though, since I gotta get back to Kyoto."
"You're leaving already?" Shoko abruptly paused. For selfish reasons, she doesn't want her to go. An idea popped in her head. "What if….I go with you to Kyoto?"
"It would be exhausting if you go there, Shoko. I don't wanna be bothering when there's this whole thing going on."
How was it when it came to her? All these desires of Shoko just go out of the open.
"I promised, I wouldn't be bothersome, I'll try to be as useful as possible. Plus, it's a nice break from Tokyo, helps me clear my mind when I've been cooped up here."
Utahime looked at her.
"I guess you've done a lot for me, and I just want to give something back."
"Alright, just tell me what you need."
"Could I just be a normal friend who wants to catch up with you?"
"Huh?" Shoko raised a brow. "You were never the normal friend to begin with."
Satoru merely pushed his sunglasses up his nose. Tints of red around the sockets of his eyes peaked from the black round frames. "Gee, okay, I'll tell you the truth, I just need emotional support right now, you know, like what normal friends do."
"That's a first coming from you. Suguru must have been really sick of your ass."
What Shoko didn't expect was for Satoru to suddenly pull off the glasses from his eyes and slam it on their booth table. His puffy red eyes bore raw towards Shoko, and she gulped. "So, you're dead serious," she only said, "..sorry." Their usual banter wasn't right this time. "I know our group is totally in shambles right now, and we're dealing with our personal stuff. And I.." Words lodged in her throat. "I was in...absolute shit."
That awkward silence fell between them, and only the chattering noises of other people filled their ears. Then at the same time, Shoko and Suguru breathed out: "Tell me what happened."
They had their eyes widened as they looked up to each other. After that, they continued on to really the "catching up" part of friends, diverging from the usual sarcastic back-and-forths they had to each other.
"Shit, it's just been too damn long for us to be like this," said Satoru after he unveiled that he got into a stupid fight with Suguru and started ignoring each other. "Just help me out, please."
"Then let's just ask him to meet up right now. I'm calling him." Shoko pushes forward a slip of paper with an address written on it.
"Wait, wait, wait! Isn't that too soon? Can it be tomorrow?"
"Face it, Satoru." Shoko went through the contacts on her phone. It was funny how he let himself be all red, jittery, and flustered when it came to 'him.' "He would never let himself be "too busy" when it comes to you. Same goes for you."
Satoru shrank back in his seat, tugging and running his fingers through his hair repeatedly. Without any more complaints, Shoko called Suguru, and minutes later, the bell rang at the entrance. There was the man himself, his hair untied, reaching past his shoulders.
"Yo," Shoko said. Suguru only stared at her, and she noticed how hard he stopped his eyeball from rolling towards Satoru's direction. "You obviously know why I'm here, and I want this to get it over with, quickly."
The two boys didn't speak a word.
"God, you two are still acting like in high school. C'mon, just freaking talk to each other already. Can I just do this without breaking my back from all this hassle you gave me?"
"If it's too much a hassle for you," finally Satoru's mouth opened up, "then why would you come here?"
Well, Shoko did want them to talk, but not this kind of bullshit coming out of their mouth and not to 'her.' She rolled her eyes. "Because I'm trying to be a "normal friend" here, Gojo. Now please make it count. I'm not some Mercury god around here, you know."
That somehow made Suguru chuckle at Shoko's lame joke. Satoru smirked as he watched Suguru try to wipe off the traces of smile from his lips using the back of his hands, and Shoko watched all of it happen, the spark of Satoru's blue eyes being too prominent from her sight.
"Fine, I'm leaving." She got up from her seat and grabbed her bag. "Sort both of your shit out this time. Not with me."
When she reached the exit door and rang out its little bell, a black-purple haired almost bumped on her chest.
"Oh woah, you came earlier than me!" teased Utahime as she looked up to Shoko who did her usual greeting to Utahime.
"Can we go to another restaurant please?" Shoko asked. "Looked through the menu, I know a better place than this."
Utahime was totally okay with it as she also said she became skeptical of some reviews on Yelp about the restaurant. "And you know what's the weird thing?" she said. "I saw the guy I told you about who had this way too damn complicated custom Sundae order where I worked at."
It all made sense to Shoko. Utahime had ranted about some customers requesting these orders that were not totally in their secret menu. Just some random stuff they actually found on the internet. From what she remembered, Satoru had done that many times, annoying the fuck out of those poor customer service people.
"Saw him through the window before going inside the restaurant-"
"Uh, is it the one with white hair?" Shoko interrupted.
Utahime nodded then suddenly continued to rant about the nightmare of customer service jobs.
"He's actually a friend of mine."
Utahime stopped, closing and opening her mouth. "Are you sure?"
"White haired dude, a little shit, likes sweets so much, makes you wonder why he doesn't have diabetes yet. Yup, that's totally him."
"Oh, like you mean, the one since high school."
"Yeah….so I completely understand where you're coming from."
"That's why you don't want me to meet them." Utahime tucked a lock of her hair and then fiddled it. "But...still though, you seem really close to them, I think I'd try to be considerate."
"They are a bunch of headaches, so enough about them. It's just us two today, remember?"
"Of course." Utahime smiled as she grabbed onto Shoko's hand. "I'm still open to meeting them though."
"They gotta sort out their issues first, so...I don't really wanna see them right now."
Shoko had packed her stuff for her trip to Kyoto. It wouldn't be her first time visiting there. It was just the first time she would be having a sleepover there for days, and it was especially for Utahime. Shoko wouldn't badly wanna mess this up when there's gonna be Utahime twenty-four-seven just within a few feet radius away from her. She had her luggage ready to be pushed out of the door. But when she did open it, the two familiar towering figures stood on her way.
"Not even a goodbye?" greeted Suguru. His hair was hanging so loosely, almost covering her neck.
"Just as I predicted," Shoko crossed her arms, an amused smile on her lips, "you made up fast. Did you two make out after being that far away for too long?"
"You sure are the psychic of the group."
"Yeah, yeah, but quit changing the subject," chimed Satoru. "Where are you going?"
"Kyoto, for the rest of the break. And sorry, I assume you want an invite, but it's a no."
The atmosphere grew heavy around them. Their eyes look away from her, and their feet began to lightly tap. Suguru nudged Satoru as if to save them from drowning in this tension. "We just want to…" He gulped, taking too much time.
"What?" Shoko arched her brow.
"We want to apologize too." Suguru dropped his voice to a lower octave. "For being shit friends sometimes, like for real, for real."
Shoko bit her lip. This couldn't be happening right now. Her eyeballs were starting to itch.
"We heard about the whole ordeal from 'people.' About your little cheating ring." Satoru said. "I honestly think you'll take that thing we did in high school to the next level ever since then."
Apologizing, unbelievable when their two combined inflated ego's could rival all the world's collected ego in one person. She tried to pinch herself and asked, "Is this really happening?"
Only then, like a boulder was lifted off their shoulders, Satoru and Suguru blew out a breath and pinched her cheeks on each side, stretching it so that her teeth and gums showed up. She nodded, squirming, and grabbed on their wrists to stop them from pulling more of her cheeks.
"You're giving me a ride to the station for this." Shoko rubbed her red cheeks while Satoru and Suguru only displayed mischievous smiles. "Makes you guys less shittier friends." They knew from their hearts that it was totally a yes.
All the way to the station, Shoko was teased by the boys on how she even managed to hold up a bigger cheating ring that was more than three people.
"From what I remember, you hated everyone, except when you dissected them," Suguru had said.
It eventually came to the point where they mentioned how her parents reacted to it, and she spilled it all to them, something that the few feet of space inside a car "could" probably handle. They were silent at first, almost like saying a word is firing a gun at an empty room. Frightening. Shoko knew they were bad at this, absolutely terrible with feelings. How exactly they got together at this point was an accumulation of attempts, failed or not.
"You know your stuff, Shoko," said Satoru. "We know you'd have some tricks up your sleeves to make it work. You even got us to make that trouble tripled."
Shoko giggled. "Who would have thought you'd be this corny?"
"You should have seen the texts he'd sent me, you'd be scarred for life." Suguru added gagging noises, and both of them bursted into fits of laughter.
Shoko had forced them to stop a nice walking distance away from the station for "obvious" reasons. "I'll let you meet her if you pick us up when we go back!" she reasoned. Not yet. Not in this time when they could be overwhelming and could hold Shoko and Utahime from their trip. But sometimes saying "no" to them didn't really go through their heads, so they jumped out the car, hooked their arms around Shoko's elbows, and proceeded to skip their way to the station's entrance.
Utahime had looked up, her eyes lighting up on seeing Shoko and scrunching when she noticed the two boys with her.
Satoru and Suguru were easy to catch on who she was.
"I remember you, the crazy waitress from that day," Satoru teased. Just from their short meetings, both Utahime and Satoru already held an intense staring contest with each other.
"So, Shoko, is she your girlfriend?" Suguru said. Utahime had been exchanging bickering at Satoru.
"Don't take them seriously, Utahime," Shoko tried to wiggle away from their grip, an excuse not to think about the fact that her cheeks began to feel warm.
"And first name basis too?" Satoru continued to nag. "Hilarious!"
It took a while for Utahime to sink in, but she kinda gets it now, especially seeing Shoko yelp 'HELP ME!" in her eyes. But after Shoko nudged them hard on their ribs, they let her go.
"Alright, these brats are called Geto Suguru and Gojo Satoru," said Shoko. "Now, go back to your playground and leave us alone."
They did have an introduction, but not a proper one. Utahime understood why, so she let this slide for now.
"That was interesting," said Utahime after the boys had finally disappeared.
"They'd get more "interesting" if you get to know them more," replied Shoko.
In Kyoto, Utahime was truly in her element. The bulk of her family was there, and she got to show Shoko the different colors of what molded her to be like this. They got out of the crowd and went to walk for a bit to transfer to another station.
On their way, they passed a display of TV stacks, being displayed behind the clear glass walls of a store's entrance. All of them played the same thing: Amy Winehouse's 'Rehab' music video. Simultaneously, Utahime and Shoko halted in their tracks.
"I've heard she's really pushing for therapy right now," said Shoko.
"Hopefully, she does get better and get back to creating the music she loves, maybe even work on third album."
"It depends on her, but I honestly think if there's anything or anyone that takes a grip on you, then you'll always see the light at the end of the tunnel."
Utahime smiled, tucking her hair behind her hair, a different kind of smile with her eyes closed and teeth peaked from her pink lips. She was glad Shoko had revealed this brand new perspective in life, something far from when they first met each other. Shoko held a small smile on her face even talking about it.
She suddenly looked away and clutched her neck. Maybe heat was building up between them. "But, you know, it makes me think how most depressed artists think getting their mind 'better' makes them lose their creativity."
"I'd guess it's the sense of reassurance for them, those turbulent feelings in them came from having lots of sympathy that made them channel so much emotions in their craft."
Their small trip to Utahime's home had ended. Upon entering their estate, they were bombarded by small, fast paddling footsteps at the front door. Utahime was worried the hyperactiveness of her two small siblings could be overwhelming for Shoko.
"Who is she! Who is she, big sister!" And they've started. Their curious minds were already inspecting Shoko and pulling onto her wrists.
"Remember," Utahime crouched down their height and patted their heads,"she's our guest. Be nice to her." Their hair color was a darker shade than hers, almost leaning to the black color.
"They're little balls of energy," chuckled Shoko after Utahime had finally tamed her siblings and finally sent Shoko to the guest room. "I wasn't surprised you were that big, big sister." Her smaller siblings were all more than a decade age gap with Utahime.
"Sorry, they're quite a handful sometimes, especially when we had to visit Grandma at the hospital."
"It's okay. I'm an only child so just quite weirded out."
"Well," Utahime spreaded her arms out, "welcome to my world!"
Utahime had told Shoko that her parents were out right now either working or probably looking after grandma. The two small siblings always assured the family that they can handle themselves home alone, a radically unacceptable situation to most countries abroad.
"Big sister!" Her siblings came waddling back with a quick knock on the door, flinging it open. A plastic case with a red cross on it on their small hand. "We got you some new bandages."
"Told you," winked Utahime as she thanked and kissed her siblings goodnight.
"They sure are something else," said Shoko, her eyes landing on the plastic case. "I….could change it for you, um, y-your bandages."
Minutes later, Shoko's hands trembled as it tried to unwound her bandage around her cheek.
"You okay there?" said Utahime, the smell of Shoko's cinnamon getting close to her nose. "You're shaking so much." She giggled and that made it even worse for Shoko.
"I'll help you out." Then Utahime unhesistantly grabbed her wrist, so lighty, and guided Shoko's hands around her head. Her wound met the light air of the room, and instead Shoko goes to grab some alcohol cotton balls to clean up some dried up blood. Utahime held on to Shoko's wrist and let them freeze in a moment.
"You really have nice eyes, Shoko." Her pause for breath blew right up on Shoko's lips, that sent every tingling all over her body. "That mole makes it more beautiful."
Utahime squinted her eyes to look into her more. Either of them didn't blink for a few solid seconds, only admiring each other. They were cut off by a loud thump on the wall.
"Oh sorry!" exclaimed Utahime and unlatched her hands off Shoko.
They didn't know that the beating of their hearts resonated in their souls, a rock ballad on their chest.
When tomorrow came, it was Utahime's turn to look after her grandmother at the hospital. And Shoko unhesistantly went with her.
"To tell you the truth," Utahime suddenly blurted out as they exited the bus, "my move to Tokyo wasn't only to "explore." It's….actually in a far selfish way. I wanted to escape, maybe to even lessen the responsibility on my shoulders. Like the case with my siblings and my parent's pressure."
Shoko remained still as they stood silently at the bus stop. Utahime saw it. That she had her ears open.
"But that was almost 3 years ago. So, here it is, and it came slapping it on my face. Safe to say, I'm at peace with it."
"I…uh-" stuttered Shoko.
Utahime released a loud sigh. "Oh goodness, it feels so nice to finally let that out!"
For a moment there, Shoko thought she had the first fuck up of her trip by having no idea what to reply.
"Feels at home," said Shoko as they strode their way to the hospital hallways. She continued to tell the story of how she at once rode a wheelchair down the ramped long hallways of the hospital her parents used to work at when she was little.
"Are you sure you don't wanna stay outside?" asked Utahime once again. "You know how bad it can get."
"I'm totally fine with it," replied Shoko. Upon opening the door, there was Utahime's grandma, grey haired and had the same shade of brown hair.
Utahime greeted her, and Shoko swore she let out a breath when she saw that her grandma still remembered her granddaughter. But when she laid eyes on Shoko, quick intakes of breath came to her.
"Love," the grandma said, walking past Utahime, and her widened eyes shot straight to Shoko. "It's you!" Then she proceeded to place a hand on Shoko's cheeks. "I'm sorry I never said this enough to you but I love you so much."
"Um, Utahime." Shoko wasn't sure what to do.
"Grandma, what are you talking a-"
"I was such a coward," her grandma continued, interrupting Utahime, "until it was too late. I got married, and I...just love you so much, I should've said over and over again-"
Utahime continued to call her grandma, trying her best to take off her hands from Shoko before the situation could get muddy. With the help of some nurses, Utahime's grandma finally got settled. Utahime quickly rolled up a series of apologies to Shoko.
They were at the hospital balcony, having some vending machine drinks and processing what just happened back there.
"It could have been her past lover," said Utahime. "And she used 'love.' I've never heard her used that to grandpa before."
Shoko leaned her chest on the balcony railings. "Do you think she was..you know, into women?"
Utahime leaned back on the railings, close to Shoko. "I thought so, too. She might have looked like you but...that doesn't really matter to me. I'm just glad I kinda saw how it is." There were bread crumbs. Utahime remembered those pictures her grandmother kept, a polaroid picture of her with a certain brunette girl.
"So you're okay with her being like that?" Her response could either destroy or build up Shoko on the spot.
"Well," Utahime sighed, "I'm having the same feelings on doing it too so…"
"Liking girls?" Her heartbeat pumped louder.
Utahime nodded, sipping on her drink.
"I guess that's good to know. 'Cause I-" Shoko stood straight up, completely facing her, and her nervous wreck abruptly took over, her supposed next words came differently from her mouth. "Remember when your grandma said she was too late and she didn't said 'I love you' enough."
Utahime blinked, pursing her lips.
"I...don't want that to be my case when I grow old." Her palms were sweating. "And all I'm saying is…" - the look of regret and relief on grandma's face flash on Shoko's mind. No more, she would do it. - "...do you wanna go out with me?"
A smile, a simple smile assured Shoko within seconds like UTahime always does. "If you stop smoking, I would. I don't want any tar getting in the way when I'm kissing you."
"Do you mean like-" Shoko gathered up her head, she felt like a bag of soup dropped on the ground, bamboozled,"is that a-?"
"So, would you quit for me, Shoko?" Utahime said, leaning in with a toothy grin.
Shoko also leaned in, holding both of her hands and their noses touching each other. "It's the choice where I'd live a life with no regrets."