"Geez, I didn't know things were that bad," said Nicole.
She sat across from Primrose on a raised slab of concrete that separated the sidewalk from the skatepark. The sounds of rolling wheels and clattering boards were quiet from their high position.
"I really wish you had told me what was happening," Nicole said, "Even if I couldn't convince you to leave the club, I would have at least been in your corner to hear you out."
"I appreciate it, but I wouldn't wanna scare off a new friend with all my baggage," Primrose grumbled, "And I definitely wouldn't want your first impression of me to be a whiner."
"But you weren't wrong about the club members," affirmed Nicole, "Where's Kylie, by the way? I'm surprised she didn't come out with you."
Primrose remembered Kylie's defense and subsequent fear when threatened by Alex.
"I think she's scared of disobeying them," she speculated, "I mean, it's hard to say no to adults, especially when you've idolized them. I just hope she doesn't wind up being pushed around or anything."
"She'll come around," said Nicole with fair confidence, "Kylie's tough and doesn't take anything from anyone."
Primrose's brow furrowed, as though snapped out of a haze, then she grinned.
"Yeah, what am I worried about? This is the same girl in preschool who would try to fight every boy during recess for fun."
"She told me she won every one of them," Nicole said, taking off her backpack, "Is that true?"
"She probably would have if the teachers didn't put her in timeout before a winner was declared."
Nicole pulled out a mint green camera from her backpack and began taking pictures of the setting sun behind the skatepark.
"What are you taking pictures for?" asked Primrose.
"I do this whenever I see something pretty," answered Nicole, "I might use it in a painting later on."
"You paint?" Primrose asked, leaning forward in interest.
"Yeah, I started after I lost my hearing," said Nicole, "You know how some people's other senses get stronger sometimes when one sense is gone? That kinda happened with my eyesight after I had to learn sign language and started reading people's lips. Now I notice a lot of details that most people don't."
"Ohh," was all that Primrose thought to say.
Just then, Nicole placed her hand on her chest and briefly looked down.
"Sorry Prim, but I have to head home," she said, slipping off of the concrete they sat on, "We can chat later on tonight though if I'm online!"
"Oh okay, yeah," replied Primrose, a little surprised by the sudden departure, "I'll see you around."
The two exchanged a farewell wave as Nicole took off on her skateboard.
Primrose watched the other skaters bathed in the withering sunlight.
"Wait, if the sun's setting…"
She pulled out her phone and gasped at the time displayed.
"I'm home! I'm home!" Primrose sputtered as she burst in through the door.
She clumsily took off her shoes as she rambled, "Sorry! I got caught up talking with a friend at a skatepark. I mean, I know I said I was going to a Digital Pirate meeting, but I got kicked out early and it sucked so I-"
"Prim! For God's sake, use your inside voice," Taiki chided, clutching his head as if awaiting a migraine, "I swear the neighbors across the street can hear you."
"Oh, my bad," said Primrose, "Where's dad?"
Taiki grinned dryly.
"I think you'll be glad to hear he's doing the laundry," he said.
Primrose stood in silence for a moment, grasping the words spoken to her. Then she began to smile, but her lips quivered as tears brimmed her eyes.
Taiki's grin dropped into a frown of surprise and worry.
"Wait, what's the matter? I thought you wanted this!" he asked.
"I-I did, too…" Primrose whimpered, "To be honest, I don't really know why I'm crying..."
"You're probably still sore from yelling at him."
Primrose winced at Taiki's blunt words.
He sighed, crossing his arms over his chest and rolling his eyes.
"I mean, you weren't completely wrong," Taiki groaned, "It wouldn't kill me and Tsuna to sweep the kitchen every once in a while."
As soon as Primrose looked up in surprise, Taiki blurted out, "But this whole blowout isn't just about chores. You and Dad need to talk."
"About what?" Primrose sniffed.
"How should I know, Prim?" Taiki asked with a tired shake of his head, "I'm not a mindreader."
Taiki walked back up the stairs, putting an end to the conversation. Even if Primrose followed him she could already imagine what he would say: "Didn't you hear what I said? Go talk to Dad."
She proceeded to walk downstairs, already resigning to Taiki's would-be scolding. The closer she got to the laundry room, the stronger the scent of detergent became. Already, she could tell that too much was used, but that observation took a backseat in her mind.
Primrose unsurely approached the laundry room, her gait wobbling between her thoughts of "This is going to be so awkward," and "Just get it over with so it doesn't have to be awkward!"
"Hey Dad…" she greeted after standing in the doorway unnoticed.
Mr. Aoi, who had been hunched over the washing machine, immediately turned around at the sound of his daughter's voice.
"Prim, hi! You're home! I, uh, don't mind the mess here. I'll clean it up when the clothes finish drying."
It was then that Primrose noticed the moisture seeping into her socks. She looked down and saw an almost transparent river of soap suds creeping across the floor. Though, before any feelings of discomfort could spring forth, Mr. Aoi's concerned tone grabbed her attention.
"Have you been crying?"
Instinctively, Primrose rubbed her eye and checked her hand for tears, and remembered the events prior.
"It's been a long day," she said with a sigh.
"Then tell me all about it," Mr. Aoi said, leaning against the dryer in an attempt to make a seat out of it, "I think it's time to get to know you."
Primrose gave a breathless laugh.
"Honestly, I'm not even sure who I am," she said, "I've been called generic, so I guess that means there's not much to figure out."
Mr. Aoi frowned.
"Who told you that? Did they make you cry?" he pressed.
Again, Primrose was taken aback by his tone.
"Uh, sorta, but not for that reason. It's a way longer story than that."
Mr. Aoi huffed, shaking his head.
"Well I can tell you they're wrong, Primrose. I've watched you grow up, and I can tell you you're far from "generic"."
Before Primrose could even utter the word "Really?", Mr. Aoi continued, letting his thoughts flow freely without restraint.
"You're fiery, headstrong, and one tough kid. I used to think you were just like that with Tsuna when he'd get on your nerves, but when I saw you take on those robbers...wow!"
He then looked at her face to gauge a reaction, and retreated.
"Oh, but young girls don't really like hearing that they're fiery or tough, do they?" he apologized.
"No, I mean yes, that's good! That's great!" Primrose fumbled, "You think I have a personality!"
"Of course, because you do have a personality," Mr. Aoi all but gasped, "And no, I'm not just saying that because you're my kid. You can ask Tsuna and Taiki, and they'll describe you the same way."
Mr. Aoi's expression gave way to guilt, again.
"We probably haven't been acting very much like family. I haven't been very affectionate with any of you kids. I just closed myself off as the provider while I kept you three in neat little boxes, yours being the hardest to fit in. But you're still my daughter. I'm sorry I made you feel like you weren't."
Primrose blinked back tears.
"It's okay, Dad. We get to start over," she said, "We'll all be open with each other from now on."
Mr. Aoi smiled.
"That's another part of your personality: maturity."
"Thank you," countered Mr. Aoi, "Now you know to ask me about yourself, not whoever made you cry today. Go ahead. Ask me anything."
Primrose tiptoed around the soap suds and seated herself on the washing machine beside her father.
"What's my favorite food?" she asked.
"Cold soba," answered Mr. Aoi, "Especially the way Tsuna makes it."
"Now that's just too easy."
Brianna watched from afar as mint green and purple lights flickered in streaks and sparkles. They were just barely separated from her by a dormant building. Had it been daytime or had the building been open, she was sure she'd have to crane her neck over waves of curious pedestrians and news anchors.
She leaned her back against the cold brick wall of an alley, one hand in her pocket while the other brought a can of soda to her lips.
"There you are!"
Brianna sputtered on the beverage at the sound of Lyric's shout.
"I came home to tell you about another Note, but looks like somebody beat ya to it," he said, his raspy voice contrasting the muted evening.
"Yeah, I've been watching the other Vocaloids take care of the Notes, lately," groaned Brianna, who irately shook the beads of soda off of her shirt, "Looks like there's about five of them and they just go out in shifts."
"Less work for you, am I right?"
Brianna fiddled with the can.
"But what?" asked Lyric.
"Nothing, just…" Brianna sighed, "I thought about maybe helping them once in a while."
"Why? They've been doing just fine without ya."
Brianna winced, but her expression was lost in the dark.
"Just in case things get out of hand, I mean," she added, "I don't want Hot Topic to get destroyed because I just sat here and watched."
Lyric tilted his head in thought for a moment.
"Well, can't argue with that," he said, "Just keep in mind what I said about teammates slowing you down."
Brianna gave a snarky laugh.
"For a magical girl pet, you're not very friendly," she snorted, "I've heard enough about Sailor Moon from the airheads at school to know you guys are supposed to be all cute and bubbly."
"First of all, I'm very cute depending on who you ask," said Lyric, "Secondly, I ain't a pet, and this ain't Sailor Moon. This is real life, and you're a Vocaloid. Pick up a fairytale book if you're looking for the power of friendship."
"Alright, alright, geez," Brianna replied with a roll of her eyes and a raised hand.
She stared back up at the bright lights and grumbled, "Those girls are probably just like the airheads at school, anyway."