Airi came into work early that morning. She had spent all of the prior evening worried about Mai not answering her phone. The latter had disappeared from practise after lunch and Airi had looked for her everywhere but with no luck. Kawaei had made her tea and breakfast in the morning after a long night at work on their late-night show.
“I sometimes feel better if I don’t get any sleep at all than when I try to get 1-3 hours” she had said, which Airi hadn’t been able to relate to at all, but appreciated the gesture. They had eaten together and Kawaei said that she had confirmed with her manager that it might be better to stay at Airi’s- which had both thrilled the latter and made her feel sorry for the situation the poor idol was in. They had rejoiced that it was the weekend at that their show didn’t start again until Tuesday and then they had both gone to work respectively. And there she was, as one of the first. The only other one there was Sayashi Riho who she smiled too politely before going to the bathroom to throw some cold water in her face. She was very, very tired, and if she revealed that too much, Nakky would probably flip out on her again and/or tell the other groupmates about her show, and she wasn’t ready for that. She entered the bathroom and the automatic light turned on. As she turned on the water she heard a little groan from a booth.
“Hello?” she muttered out carefully “Who’s there?”
“Airi?” sounded a very familiar voice.
“Mai? Good morning, you’re here early!” she said happily as her younger friend appeared from the booth.
“It’s…. morning?” sounded Mai’s rough voice. She sounded like someone who had just woken up.
“Yes, yes it is… Did you… sleep here?” asked Airi and raised an eyebrow.
“Well.. if it’s morning I definitely did.” Said a confused Mai and scratched her head. She looked very pale and something about the tone in her voice was off to Airi.
“Why… were you sleeping in the bathroom?” she asked worriedly.
“I don’t know.” Was the answer.
“You… don’t…know… Mai are you ok?”
“I don’t know” Airi stopped, there was something uncharacteristically unemotional about her friends tone that was really off-putting.
“Well… what were you doing in the bathroom?” she asked, realising that that question could sound very gross “I mean, is there a reason you went in here” Mai’s look on her face made Airi realise she hadn’t saved it “I mean… besides… the usual reasons to go to a bathroom.”
She laughed a little at her own ridiculousness, but stopped quickly when she realised Mai didn’t react at all.
“You know what I mean, right?” she quickly added. Mai nodded, but didn’t answer.
“Soooo… why?” Airi asked and resisted the urge to poke her friend until she smiled.
“I… don’t know.” Mai answered.
“Is that all you are capable of saying right now?”
“I don’t know.” Said Mai. Airi pushed her. “Alright that one was intentional, but I really don’t know how to answer your questions.” Airi couldn’t help but feel relieved that there was a little more emotion in what Mai was saying, but she was still working towards getting a smile on her friends face.
“Alright. Well can you just tell me what happened prior to you falling asleep in the bathroom?”
“Well… I talked to Abe-san… and Chisato kind of blew up at me… and I guess I just ended up here.”
“Wait.. Abe.. Abe Natsumi or Abe Daisuke?” asked Airi hoping it would come off as a goofy joke, but Mai didn’t seem to react to it.
“Daisuke-san. What would Natsumi-san be doing here?” she said, with no change in her facial expression. Disappointed, Airi just nodded.
“Why did Chisato blow up at you?” she asked. Mai shrugged and started explaining everything that had happened since their shooting of the DVD magazine. Airi listened to her night with Chissa, her lie about wanting to quit, her talk with Abe-san and how Chisato had misunderstood it and yelled at her. At the end of all Airi felt as if there was an important puzzle piece missing.
“I don’t get it” she said “So she told you she loved you, said it was a joke and then completely ignores you?”
“Seems that way.”
“And… now she said she can’t be near you for a while?”
“Mai I’m sorry but that doesn’t make sense at all, is there something you’re keeping from me? An important detail of some kind?” she asked. Mai looked away and shrugged.
“There is.” The younger said, with an unimportant tone.
“Can I know what it is?” asked Airi. Mai hesitated.
“I … I don’t think I’m ready just yet.” She answered quietly. Airi nodded and smiled.
“Alright, I respect that.” She said “All I need to know is that you are sad so that I can help you become happier, why you are sad is unimportant.”
“Thank you.” Said Mai as if she had been holding her breath.
“Of course dear, always here for you!” said Airi. Mai nodded a little. The older was getting desperate to see her friend smile. “Is there anything else you need to talk about?”
“My body hurts” said the younger shyly.
“Well of course your body bloody hurts, you slept in a toilet booth.” Said Airi and giggled. Mai nodded. It wasn’t enough.
“I guess that makes sense.” Was all she said with a light shrug.
“You’re awfully quiet Mai, it’s not like you to be this way.” Said Airi, trying not to sound too much like a worried mother “It’s a little scary to be honest.”
“I’m sorry.” Said Mai. It was the most genuine she had sounded all morning, which only made Airi more worried.
“Nononono, Mai my dear, never be sorry about feeling sad. Just… talk to me. Tell me what I can do for you. Tell me what would make you feel better.” Mai was quiet for a while as if she was trying her hardest to think. Then she looked Airi in the eyes with an expression that gave Airi the urge to wrap her in a blanket and tell her everything was going to be ok.
“I… I really don’t know…” she burst into tears “I’m just so confused.. all the time.” Airi pulled her friend into a hug and gently stroked her back as she let her sob quietly.
“What is it that is confusing you so much, dear?” she asked, rocking her friend back and forth as mildly as possible. Mai didn’t answer, instead she squeezed a little tighter into the hug. Airi reciprocated.
“Is it the thing you’re not ready to talk about?” she asked. She felt Mai nod “Are you sure it wouldn’t make you feel better if you tried to talk to me about it?” Airi tried. No reaction. “It’s completely up to you, love, I just want to help.” Mai nodded again, pulled away and sniffed.
“I wouldn’t even know how to start.” She admitted “Everything in my head is just a mess. I can’t make sense of anything. I have no idea how to feel, no control over my emotions. It’s like I’m a cartoon who has stepped off a cliff and am doing my best not to look down, but I know I will. I know I’m going to fall and there’s nothing I can to to stop it.” Airi had no idea how to respond.
“That…” she tried “That sounds really scary.”
“It is. I’m sorry. It’s a mess, and I shouldn’t try to put it all on you.”
“Hush now, Mai, don’t be ridiculous – I just told you I wanted to help. Go on.” Said Airi sharply. Mai shrugged.
“I can’t.” she whispered “I… just I don’t know.” Airi nodded.
“Ok” she said “Don’t force yourself. Just know that if you ever need me, I’m here to listen.”
“Thank you.” Said Mai.
“For now, I just really want to see you smile, Mai” Airi exclaimed “Please tell me how I can see your beautiful, adorable, amazing, cute-ass smile!” she realised how stupid she sounded, but she was sleep deprived and desperate and Mai’s emotionlessness was scaring her. The younger idol looked at herself in the mirror and tried smiling. She immediately stopped, and Airi was glad that she did. It wasn’t real. They were quiet for a while.
“I’m trying.” Said the young idol.
“I know, I’m proud of you.” Said Airi. Mai nodded and looked down. It was quiet again.
“Cute-ass?” Mai asked finally “What a word.”
“I know,” said Airi, feeling a little relieved “I had to use it because there is no proper word to describe how cute your freaking smile is.”
“I see” said Mai, Airi could feel it working a little bit “Cute-ass. It’s a good word. I might use it.”
“You should, as long as you credit me whenever you do. I have a trademark on it, and if you don’t, I will sue.”
“I don’t want that” said Mai “Will make sure to credit you every time then.”
“Good. Be like ‘Yo, Nakky, that’s a cute-ass bag tm, all rights to the word cute-ass go to the Amazing Suzuki Airi of C-ute.’ Everytime you use it.”
“That’s quite a mouthful.” Said Mai and, to Airi’s delight, chuckled a little “The Amazing Suzuki Airi of C-ute. Greatest. Title. Ever.” she smiled.
“YOU SMILED!” Airi shouted happily “MY GOD YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!” Mai blushed and smiled a little more, which only excited Airi more.
“LOOK AT YOU, GOD I’M GLAD TO WITNESS THIS!”
“You’re an idiot Airi!” laughed Mai and pushed her older friend playfully. But there was no bringing Airi down. She was proud of herself for succeeding, and even more proud of her friend for smiling.
And without thinking, an overly emotional Suzuki Airi kissed her fellow idol. It was an impulse decision as she was simply too explosively happy to not do so. As she pulled away, she was ready to gleefully tell her friend how much she loved her, but was stopped by the horrified look on Mai’s face.
“What the hell was that for?” the younger exclaimed. Airi pondered for a second, but before she could answer Mai continued “Is it just ‘Confuse the hell out of Mai’ week?”
“No wait, no-“
“Did you and Chisato plan this as some kind of sick prank?”
“Mai what are you talking about?” Airi said apologetically “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“Of course you didn’t. That’s your freaking motto, isn’t it? Next you’re going to tell me it didn’t mean anything and it was just a ###### joke?”
“No, I’m definitely not going to say that sweety, I’m so sorry.” Said Airi “I don’t know why I did it, I just.. I don’t know” Mai scowled at her.
“You guys are awful” she muttered.
“I’m so sorry Mai…” Airi tried helplessly. But it was useless, Mai was already halfway out the door. She turned back for one last look back at Airi. Exasperated, she whispered:
“Please just.. leave me alone.. please…” She took a deep breath and half-heartedly uttered “Please…” Airi saw her disappear out the door and looked at herself in the mirror. What had she just done? What had she triggered? What? She couldn’t make sense of it. All she knew is that she had messed up somehow, and had hurt her friend more than she had helped her. It was an awful feeling. She needed to make up for it immediately, and followed Mai out the door.