Disclaimer: The following is a work of fiction, any events that mirror real life are of pure coincidence. The plot and characters are properties of mine, please do not reproduce unless permission has been given.
Estrogen - Finale
I couldn't remember how long I sat there stunned and silent, but the line had long been cut and I was starring at nothing in particular. It was like my brain was taking extra long to understand those words and trying to translate them to me. I moved as if I were in a dream and went into the bathroom to look at my reflection in the mirror. Perhaps I thought that if I saw my reflection, then I'd know whether the news was real or not. Maybe I was dreaming!
I must be dreaming still!
So I went back to bed and crawled underneath my cover. I closed my eyes and told myself that the next time I opened them I would realize that everything that had just happened would all just be a dream. So I did. I didn't know whether I fell asleep or not, there was nothingness.
When I opened my eyes again, it was thanks to my vibrating phone. Hesitantly, I reached out and picked up the phone, half expecting it to be that strange number. Instead, I saw Ito-senpai's name flashing. Oh, she must have wanted to update me on Hoshimura-senpai's health!
She must have!
"Ookina-kun," except she did not mention anything about Hoshimura-senpai at all "did you hear the news about Fujimaru-senpai?"
Therefore, it was real after all?
I threw my cover aside after Ito-senpai hung up and turned on my laptop. The usual one minute it needed to boot up seemed like an eternity this morning and I tapped my fingers against keyboard impatiently. When I opened my browser and typed in Fujimaru-senpai's name, news headlines of "death", "suicide", "shocking" entered my eyes and I clicked a random link with shaking fingers.
In the middle of the article they used one of Fujimaru-senpai's recent works. It was taken last year, just a bit after her wedding. In the picture, she was smiling brightly with her gaze to the camera. She was still the same Goddess as so many saw her.
"Erika." My voice croaked over the phone as soon as she picked up. For this moment, I did not care whether we were starting anew. I wanted to rewind the tape and go back to the days when Erika was my strongest pillar. Thankfully, she had no objections either. The two of us sat, in neighbouring cities, connected by the phone, and I did not attempt to stop the tears that rolled down my face.
It was many years later that Erika told me she was crying as well.
Through my tear-filled eyes, the picture of Fujimaru-senpai grew blurry until I could see it no longer. From the beginning to the end, I never understood Fujimaru-senpai's reasons for committing suicide. It wasn't until many years later did I find out some of Fujimaru-senpai's thoughts. By then, I already had different outlooks on life and I wasn't quite sure what I thought of Fujimaru-senpai's ideals.
For now, it was the shock of my life and even my parents were stunned at the news.
I was scared to go to work, because I just knew that the phone would be ringing nonstop and I didn't know how to properly answer any of the questions that would be directed at me. Before, Fujimaru-senpai was always readily available whenever I needed advice. Now, I was going to talk about her death, reminding me again and again that she was no longer a phone call away.
Her family in Canada wanted a burial as fast as possible. So within a week, we boarded a plane to Canada again. Hoshimura-senpai sat in front of everyone, and I was careful not to look at her. I wasn't sure what I'd find in her eyes and I didn't want to know either. Ito-senpai sat with her and I sat with Erika a couple of rows behind them. She gave me the window seat and I starred out at the endless clouds as the plane took us closer to the final destination.
I must have started crying once again because I felt Erika's hand around mine and she gripped my fingers tightly. She didn't say anything because she didn't know what to say, and I knew that too.
The trip took us about twelve hours and we finally landed in Vancouver.
Outside of baggage claim –which we barely had any- Matsumoto Anthony stood waiting for us. In my memory, he must have been a handsome man; tall with deeply lined features. Except when we walked towards him, he looked gaunt and tired; someone who was suffering much more than his age should allow. He bent down and shook Hoshimura-senpai's hand and then Ito-senpai's. To us, he bowed and we returned the gesture. If he was surprised to see Hoshimura-senpai in a wheel chair, he certainly did not show it. Then again, perhaps he had already found out from Fujimaru-senpai?
Again, I could not help but wonder just what their marriage was like.
We moved silently through the doors of the airport and into the limo that Matsumoto Anthony had prepared for us. In the car, I took occasional glances at Fujimaru-senpai's husband and noted that he was still wearing his wedding ring.
"Is it…" Matsumoto started and cleared his throat before continuing "do you want to see her before the cremation?"
Shivers ran through me and Erika's hand squeezed my arm tightly. She was close to me and must have felt me shiver, but even her presence could not comfort me. I had numbed myself for the past few days, but now we were here and discussing in detail about this cremation that was inevitable… I felt sick to my stomach. My teeth closed around the flesh of my lip tightly to prevent more tears from rolling down.
"How did she pass away?" Ito-senpai asked quietly; she was facing Matsumoto and I could see nothing from her profile. "I know in the news reports it was just stated as a sui…" She couldn't finish the sentence, but we've understood already.
Matsumoto looked visibly troubled and torn. After a moment of him glancing around the interior of the limo, he finally sighed and looked towards us as a whole.
"It was with a gun." He said, and I heard the trembling of his voice. "She, she…" he paused and looked down at his hands "she put the nostril of the gun in her mouth and…"
I knew I visibly shrunk back and my mouth dropped open in pure horror. I did not even have the energy or the thought to cover my mouth or look away. I starred at him as if I could get him to change his answer. It was unthinkable. For Fujimaru-senpai, the one who had put such efforts into her appearance, the most beautiful woman in Japan, and the one who wouldn't even leave her house unless she looked absolutely flawless… for that Fujimaru-senpai to choose such a way…
I wanted to scream and ask, but I could not find my voice.
For a long while, no one spoke in the car. I snuck a glance at Hoshimura-senpai; she was looking out of the window silently. I could not see the expression on her face. And for the first time in my life, I dreaded the possibility of seeing her pained expressions or her tears. This was a senpai who smiled through everything no matter how horrible they were; would she drop that mask for her love?
"I don't want to see her." Finally, Hoshimura-senpai spoke. "And I hope no one else will go see her either."
No one argued with her, because I knew none of us could stomach the thought of seeing Fujimaru-senpai's… It was years later when I thought back on it that I realized perhaps Hoshimura-senpai was trying to protect Fujimaru-senpai's last piece of dignity. She knew how much Fujimaru-senpai valued her appearance, and even in death, she wouldn't have wanted everyone to witness her in that state.
The limo stopped in front of a mansion and we stepped out one by one. Matsumoto's butler showed us to our rooms and I fell asleep on the bed without a second thought. Maybe I just didn't want to think of anything else. I didn't remember whether I dreamt of anything, and part of me was scared to see Fujimaru-senpai even in my dreams. I even had the silly thought of never opening my eyes again; then all this would just stop. If we could live in dreams forever, what would that world be like?
A little before nine, I woke to silence, and no matter how much I tried, there was no chance for me to return to sleep. I starred up at the ceiling and wondered what kind of face I will have to put on. I wondered what kind of face Hoshimura-senpai will have. With a sigh, I rolled out of bed and made myself presentable. I felt as if I was preparing myself for war, covering my body with protective layers of armour. Will they be enough to shield against wounds of the inside?
Everyone was already downstairs in the living room when I walked down the stairs. In any other situation, I would have been embarrassed about perhaps being late for a meeting that was never scheduled. This morning, I thought I saw Ito-senpai's eyes wishing for me to go back up. If I never came down, maybe today's events would never have to take place?
It was a nice little trick we all played to delay the grief for a second longer.
"Good morning." Matsumoto Anthony greeted me by rising from the sofa first. "What would you like for breakfast?"
I offered him a timid smile before shaking my head. "I'm not hungry." I wasn't sure whether I could stomach anything.
He looked at me for a moment before nodding and turned to the rest of the group. "Then, shall we get going?" So they were indeed waiting for me? Maybe I never should have come down after all.
Ito-senpai stood and pushed Hoshimura-senpai towards the front door first in line. The butler had both doors open and assisted them on the way out. Erika stepped up next to me and touched my hand lightly. In her eyes, I saw concern and compassion; so much that I wanted to weep again. Instead I offered her a smile and squeezed her fingers lightly before letting go.
Needless to say, the trip to the morgue was silent.
Fujimaru-senpai's body was to be cremated before taken to the cemetery to be buried. This would be the last time we would see her in the flesh. Details of her suicide flashed again in my head and I wondered if they will bare her to us. I glanced at Hoshimura-senpai, who was looking out of the window, and wondered if her decision of not wanting to see Fujimaru-senpai for one last time still stood.
We arrived at the morgue in a little more than half an hour and no one wanted to approach the gate. Matsumoto Anthony was the first one to make a move forward and we followed with heavy legs. I realized at the back of my head that ever since we've arrived, we've not seen Fujimaru-senpai's daughter. How strange. Then again, this was hardly a place for a baby to be.
The inside of the morgue was brightly lit and sparkling clean, contradicting my ideas of what a morgue should look and feel like. I wasn't sure if I was more interested in looking around or following the main group, but my decision was taken away from me. The sound of our footsteps echoed in the long corridor that led us to a private room. It was of medium size and we all stood, waiting. My fingers were growing cold and Erika's hand closed around mine for support. In that moment, it was as if we were the only ones alive and desperately clung onto each other for support and life.
After what felt like an eternity, the door opened again and two staff members wheeled in Fujimaru-senpai's body. I was closest to the door and could not help but move backwards to avoid being next to the body. Every wishful thinking was shattered at that moment. This was too real, and I wasn't sure if I was ready for this. Erika's arm wrapped around my waist and I leaned against her for support.
Fujimaru-senpai's body was covered by a sheet of white from head to toe. I saw nothing but the little tag that was hanging off her right toe. From this angle, she looked like she was sleeping, but I could not forget the condition under which she left this world.
"We'll give you a moment." One of the staff members said in a quiet voice. "Just knock on the door when you are ready." They left the body in the middle of the room and we were all silent.
"Would you like to see her for a last time?" Matsumoto Anthony suggested.
Our eyes ticked towards Hoshimura-senpai, whom was silent in her wheel chair. The metal table reached her chin and she looked at the immobile body silently. I looked at her and wondered what she must be going through right now.
"No." Finally, she said with a twitch of her lips. "No, that's alright."
I think part of me breathed a sigh of relief, but another part of me was saddened by the knowledge that now I could only see her in issues of magazines of the past. Never again will I be able to hear her speak to me or smell her perfume as she stands by me or feel her hand on my shoulder when comforting me. Never again will I be in the presence of Fujimaru-senpai again. I felt my eyes sting and tears circled my eyes.
"Asura left something for you." Matsumoto Anthony was speaking again. "I thought it was only appropriate to give it to you in her presence." From the breast pocket of his suit jacket he produced a white envelope and handed it to Hoshimura-senpai.
I stood as tall as I could and tried to catch a glimpse of the content, but saw nothing. As curious as I was, I did not have the heart to take those steps forward and read over Hoshimura-senpai's head. She pulled out a folded piece of paper and the heart necklace fell onto Hoshimura-senpai's lap. Our eyes all followed it and perhaps everyone except for Matsumoto Anthony had an idea of what the necklace meant.
Hoshimura-senpai read the letter in silence and by herself without a word.
Then she took one last look at the letter and folded up the piece of paper. It was the cue. Matsumoto Anthony walked to the door and knocked twice to let the staff members in. When they were close enough to Fujimaru-senpai, Hoshimura-senpai wheeled closer and placed the necklace on top of Fujimaru-senpai's body. The two staff members looked at her and she offered them a smile but said nothing else.
We were then escorted to another private chamber that showed us what will be melting Fujimaru-senpai away.
"I thought she left the necklace for you." Matsumoto Anthony spoke to Hoshimura-senpai as we stood in a line and watched –across a large pane of window- Fujimaru-senpai slowly dissolving. We could only imagine what it was like inside; but we'd rather not.
"She did." Hoshimura-senpai answered. "But she was mistaken. From the beginning to the end, it's always belonged to her."
And here, I wondered whether Hoshimura-senpai was speaking of the necklace or of her own heart.
Later, when the other three went to retrieve Fujimaru-senpai's ashes, I touched Erika's arm and the two of us stayed behind. The two of us returned to the lobby of the morgue and sat on a bench off in the corner.
"Yeah." My voice was small and I felt small. My tears have dried and there was only a sense of urgency being replaced by dread and repeating again and again. The pool of emotions only urged me towards something greater; moving forward.
"Erika." My mind was set and for the first time in my life, I was ready and determined to fight for something I believed in. I turned to her and even though the words and consequences were of a whole new level, I was not nervous, I was sure. "I know we are starting over, and I respect that. However, if you would let me, when we return to Japan, I want to introduce you to my family." They were the two most important aspects of my life, and I wanted them to meet in the middle. "As my girlfriend, not just a friend."
She searched my face and I wondered what she was thinking about. Maybe she will reject me, but that was fine. Even though I was serious about what I said, even if it did not come true in the near future, I hoped that it at least showed Erika of my commitment. And this time, there will be no stupid screw-ups in the middle.
It was a long while, but when I saw the other three approaching us from that long corridor, I also saw Erika's smile and her nod.
That summer, I was 18 turning 19.
No episode in life is isolated and even though that was a grey day I still thought back on it. Often. With each year that passed by, those years took on a whole new meaning. They morphed from one color to another but in the end I realized that to keep it monotonous was a mistake. It was not just a break-up of two people I looked up to; it wasn't just a death of my mentor; it wasn't just heartbreak because there were things too far changed; it was my youth and part of me.
I thought her death changed me but I realized that every single day was changing me. Sometimes small, sometimes big; that day was gigantic.
Erika said that I was a dreamer; an optimist. Even when Fujimaru-senpai was married, the tiniest part of me still thought that love will win and they would be back together many years later. When I heard of Fujimaru-senpai's death, I wept for my loss and I mourned my innocent beliefs.
Their story was my real life fairytale and until then it was a nice dream for me to ensconce myself in. Now, I realized that fairytales in life weren't the perfectly matched couple who were glamorous and beautiful to see. They weren't the life changing, earth shattering, and world turning declarations of love. They weren't the magnificent gifts or romantic events that were planned. They weren't anything that was truly tangible. They were the comfortable silences; the wordless looks that could communicate pages; and most importantly, the irreversible changes that you have left on me.
Fairytales existed, not in the glamour that was sensationalized. Fairytales were the stories of your grandparents, of your parents, and of the one you tried your best in. In my life, I no longer needed to look for fairytales for me to believe in love. Each breath taken will remind me of love, loving and being loved.
And now, close your eyes and close this chapter; but fear not, because tomorrow will be a new day.
I can't even remember when or where this idea came to my head, but I certainly do remember the tantalizing effort of actually writing this story. There were many small pauses and even a long hiatus, but in the end, I still pushed through and finished it. This is the first story of this genre that I have completed and I cannot deny that there is a sense of accomplishment. Or at least happiness. Yes, there is also a tinge of sadness to know that I will close the book on these characters and their lives from here on.
I want to thank you for reading, reviewing, subscribing and clicking. Even if you did not like it, I still want to thank you for the time you took to at least skim through this story. Writing is a boring activity to watch, but the joys can only be shared once the work is out there. I am thankful that many of you chose to leave me great comments and advices regarding the plot and my writing, I have learnt much.