The rematch didn't end up as shopping for outfits like last time. Instead, suggested by Maki, an arcade would be a fun place for competition like she, Panda, Toge, and Yuta would do in their first-year days. Nobara had accepted the suggestion, and Mai also luckily agreed to it.
"Don't take this too seriously, little sister," teased Maki. "It's nothing near the goodwill event. But I wouldn't be surprised if you also lose this too."
"Get ahead of yourself, and see how we'll trip you down," said Mai, narrowing her eyes while Momo crossed her arms next to her. The missing blue haired Miwa wasn't with them as she had her "part-time job" to do.
"Sore losers will always be sore losers," exclaimed Nobara, standing beside Maki.
Mai stuck out a tongue to Nobara, and she shot her back by giving her a middle finger. Maki sighed, watching them already exchanging their insults.
All four girls simultaneously entered the dim arcade. The rumbling sounds of pins and bowling ball from the arcade's furthest corner reached their ears. Lights of game machines flashed as colorful small circles colors spotted on the dark ceiling.
"So where should we start?" asked Maki.
"Car racing," answered Mai, "you and me."
Maki thought of it for a moment and said, "fine. Nobara and Nishimiya could take their pick. Whoever has the most winning points from the chosen games will be the obvious winner."
They separated ways, Momo and Mai exchanging their "good lucks" and "secret" handshakes." Nobara went to already rile up Momo before they could even properly pick a game to play.
Meanwhile, when the twins took a seat on the car racing machine of the arcade, the scene of drifting car on its monitor tinkered a memory within Maki.
"Is this because the racing games we used to play back when we were younger?" she asked. Being so locked up in a degrading household, she and Mai could only lean into a limited means of entertainment which were always board and video games.
"Woah, I'd never thought you would remember things," Mai almost said with an eye roll.
"Don't pretend you weren't the one who got us all in trouble back then." Maki continued to press through the settings of the game, also pushing its own pedals and testing the steering wheel.
"But look at us now, you're more into that family trouble than me."
"Quit with the family stuff," Maki huffed. "We're just here to focus on the game."
They started to set up the game and got it done quickly like how they've played these many times before, but with the video controllers in their hands.
"You know why I'd put myself out there to get video games?" Mai had suddenly spoken just when the game started loading and counting down to start.
Maki only replied with a hum as she was too busy in hyping herself to focus, squinting her eyes to the screen.
"You always win at those board games, and I thought the only way to beat you is maybe something different like video games."
"And you did," Maki admitted, "but I'm not losing this time, Mai."
Their cars accelerated forwards as they shoved their foot on the gas pedal at the same beat.
"And if I win this," Mai yelled over the vrooming sound effects, quaking out the machine's speaker, "would you also do me a favor?"
That was always their deal when playing their board and video games where the losers had to accept whatever favors or dares the winner wanted. From what Maki remembered, it consisted of doing the parts of the other's cleaning chores duties, and the more extreme one where they would steal some stuff in Naoya's room.
"Yeah," Maki replied, "just like the old times."
The game proceeded with ease, and at one point, when they were reaching a right turn, Maki had overtaken Mai's car, but she managed to catch up, even doing a nice little drift to show off to Maki.
"You know, I wonder if Naoya ever noticed we stole some of his stuff," Maki nagged, trying to get her sister to be distracted.
"That prick is too much of a spoiled brat to even notice missing stuff in his life!" Mai veered her car to harshly bump towards Maki as if she was saying she accepted the challenge of taunting each other.
Maki didn't back down and tried to do the same. Screeching and sparking metal jolted from their cars . "You always got away when sneaking into his room and run his PlayStation."
Oh, those days when Naoya had left the Zenin estate for few days to go out in missions. The twins had always celebrated those day, no more the big bad bully of their household barging in to them, trying to land a punch and pull their hair just because he was a "being a normal angsty teenager" as their mother tried to excuse him when a bruise formed on her own daughters' arms.
"Shut up, Maki!" Their cars finally detached from another, Mai stomping hard on her gas pedal.
The chattering people around them suddenly turned and laid stares at them, an obvious commotion brewing up between the two sisters.
"You always got me on board for your midnight trouble," Maki continued to tease her.
She wanted to clamp her mouth, not keep this nostalgia floating around like a forgotten corpse on her waters, but she didn't, and words came out through gritted teeth: "Hell, I'm pretty good at it."
One thing Mai liked about herself, something that Maki wasn't very suited to, was that she's a natural troublemaker, and she could even get others to join her antics, like that one time she convinced Momo and Kasumi to shoplift some lingerie from the mall.
Maki grinned, slamming on her steering wheel and pedals as she saw in the wavering distance, the checkered finish line.
"I hate that you left me, so please," Mai gripped hard on her steering wheel, bracing herself for that finish line, "my favor would be can you just go back home." Then with everything she got, their cars' engine howled from the speakers, trembling their seats, as it continuously speed up to the finished line.
It caught more people's eyes, a semi-circle gathering around the sisters with a reasonable distance, watching how they had almost matched speed on their cars on the screen, not entirely discernable which one crossed the finish line first.
"We've talked about this Mai, in the goodwill event," replied Maki while the game still loaded up who won. "Seriously, if I win this, would you stop throwing a fit over it every time we meet?"
"I know you couldn't do it." Mai's knuckles turned white as she hung her head above the wheel, strands of hair falling to cover the sides of her face. "You always have to do things alone, and you…lied to me! Sisters who are Always there to help each other out." Her last sentence trailed off from her tongue.
"You lose" displayed on Maki's side of the screen. The game had revealed that Mai did win this time, showing off the statistics and their difference of time finishing the racing course, which was merely split seconds apart.
"Well I-" Maki paused. All those words she just spat out - reminiscing their childhood - since minutes ago felt like a slap on the face. How most of the times when they do these favors, they end up actually helping each other do it like the true partners in crime: sneaking into Naoya's room, sharing household chores, feeding the carp at the river. It stayed true in her mind but got so pushed back from all her overpowering hunger in pursuing strength. Those delicate memories of being with her sister, living their little pools of innocence, made her think how she coped to stay alive in such a raging shitstorm that is their family.
"Never mind," interjected Mai, getting up from the chair.
"Wait, hang on, Mai," Maki hurriedly clutched on her arm, "let's make it three rounds."
Mai softened the frown on her, somewhat relieved.
Maki wasn't sure, but maybe she did that because of her lack of win or maybe just because she wanted to talk more to Mai, a chance that she couldn't take at the goodwill event due to time restraints and having to win.
"As usual, you're tough," said Mai, "not letting in any losses."
Maki curved a small smile on her lips. Just for a while, they could live out their pools of innocence once more.
When Nobara had run out of arcade tokens, she had to dreadfully walk for minutes to look for token machines but stopping on her way as she caught the sight of the green haired sisters, their heads poking out from the seats of the car racing game. She first hid, leaning her back and unintentionally eavesdrop to the conversation of the sisters.
"I've always thought of it," started Maki, "being alone."
"You and your stupid head always think of that when I'm literally here," Mai said
"Yeah, but even if I'm like that, you.…had friends."
Nobara's ears perked, she noticed back in the goodwill event on how the Kyoto girls were really close each other, evident from her fight with Momo.
"I guess what makes it lonelier is that I can't even properly do that with my own sister."
A hush falls between them.
"Just, Mai, after this, let's do more games, not competitive, but more of those co-op ones."
"Right," she said, loading more coins to the machine and facing her older twin, "just like the old times."
It froze Nobara as the usual ridiculing remarks Mai had spoken to her sister didn't expectedly come out of her mouth. She released a breath, hearing that at least Maki had been gladly speaking with her sisters in such a normal way, and left them for their own time.
Nobara, being such a trash talking playmate seemed to be working well in annoying Momo, and with just one last stretch, Nobara could win their tie breaker.
They used this last chance, to undoubtedly, play the "hardest" game at the arcade: the claw machine, and their target: the green round plush in the very corner.
"I bet you put buckets of gel on your hair than any boy does," taunted Nobara as Momo worked her way to win her round, maneuvering the machine and eyes squinted through the class. "And I bet it stinks a whole lot."
With all of Nobara's efforts, it also seemed like Momo had figured out a way to tune out her insults and be unbothered. She pressed the red button that caused the claw to go down. Momo had so many practices on maneuvering claw machines after seeing poor Kasumi's many failed attempts that her wallet almost ran out of coins, and Momo couldn't bear to see her distraught junior.
Nobara could only drop her jaw as she saw the claw successfully grab the plush, not slipping away from its smooth clutch.
"Looks like I win," grinned Momo, collecting the plush from the box and hugging it on her chest.
So, by the time they got back to look for the sisters, people were surrounding them, watching them as they had played at one of those Dance Dance revolution games.
Nobara and Momo squeezed past the crowd and were blessed by such a rare sight after them. Maki and Mai, trying to dance awkwardly in sync, have genuine smiles on their faces. A giggle both came out from them when the other almost slipped their shoe on a step who ended up holding each other's shoulder to not completely fall.
Truly such a warming picture that Momo couldn't help to smile as well, and as much as Nobara wanted to fight it, her lips twitched, doing the same gesture as Momo.
For the next following rounds, Momo and Nobara switched playmates to finally earn the last set of scores.
Nodding her head towards Maki, Nobara nudged Mai. "What did you do to her?" She met her with suspicion.
"Oh, Maki?" Mai glanced at her sister, playing a whack a mole game with Momo, while she and Nobara paired together in doing twin shooting games. "What you mean?"
"I'm still not that convinced. You talk shit to her at the goodwill event but then next thing you know, you actually can get along."
Mai only let out a chuckle, and Nobara wasn't so sure if she should take it as mocking or not. "You won't get it, it's a sisters thing." She poked the blue play gun she was holding on Nobara's side who took a defensive stance on bracing her red play gun to hit her but stopping herself.
Nobara rewinded her mind back to the past hours, and she admitted that Maki did look happy really when hanging out with her sister like that. Without anymore remarks, she focused on outscoring Mai on the game, but her opponent turned out right, Nobara only shoot herself in the foot for choosing a shooter game which is essentially Mai's element, the caliber of her cursed technique.
They've reached the end of their arcade gaming, and the winner was Mai and Momo.
Nobara felt she should be shouting right now due to being defeated, but today, she just felt like wrapping it up with some great food that Mai and Momo urged them to pay for since Nobara and Maki lost.
They went for the nearest food court nearby with a variety of food stalls in a row. To Nobara's surprise, she watched how Mai and Maki devoured a burger within mere seconds.
"I needed this!" Mai said after gulping her soda and letting out a satisfying "ah!"
Maki's hand shot out into snatching some fries from her sister's tray.
"Hey!" exclaimed Mai, "you got your own fries!" Then poked a finger all over Maki's stomach, making her slightly squirm, but she still continued to stuff more fries into her mouth.
Momo and Nobara were, once again, put in a place with synchronized smiles on their faces, Nobara bringing her drink on her mouth to cover it.
"You can have some of my fries, Mai," Momo offered, but Mai only continued to complain that Maki would be getting her chicken nuggets for robbing her fries.
The rest of the day, Mai and Maki went crazy over other fast-food menus they saw in the food stalls that they even tried out outrageous food combos to spice things up. Being too hilarious, their friends let them be as they watched them judge those pieces of probably microwavable cuisine like Mai and Maki were some fine dining critics.
"Maki-san, are things with you and Mai…doing alright?" The first thing Nobara said as soon as they got back to their campus.
Maki held a surprised expression but quickly relaxed as she said, "I guess, we're trying."
Nobara respected Maki a lot. That was an undeniable fact, so to whatever she said, Nobara would meet it with pure trust and seriousness. Maybe with that, she would begin to understand Mai and Maki just a little bit better.