Pink Sunset, Part 2 - Old Friends

A surprise encounter brings Momo in contact with both an old friend and a new enemy.

Date: 2016-03-30
Pose Count: 21
Griselda 2016-03-30 03:07:59 36378
    It has been over a week since Momo, Sachiko, and Reiko met their mysterious new friend under the lilac tree at Seishou Public school. That first encounter with Gina started with a lot of promise. She seemed eager to know them, to be their friend, to do the kinds of things they liked to do. She asked to see them again that night, a bit of shared mischief among four young friends. But their late night meeting at the botanical gardens never quite materialized. Sachiko couldn't make it; her life was changing fast, in ways she couldn't control. Reiko had to cancel. Her excuse was vague, but in reality, business as Orange kept her busy that night. Ultimately, Momo came alone, hoping to meet Gina.

    But she never showed. She wasn't at school the next day, either, or any day after that. Nor had anyone in the class she claimed to be a part of ever heard of a "Gina." She was a cypher, seemingly eager to know Momo, only to disappear after their very first meeting.

    Life went on, though. The final days of the school year came and went. Momo officially finished the first grade, and she came home with the usual stack of vacation homework. And however much she might have been concerned about her friends, she had other things to do. She had her duties as a soon-to-be second grader. And she also had her responsibilities of a member of the Akatsuki household.

    Home. That was becoming a different kind of heartache. Things had finally, after so long, settled back into a rhythm of normalcy, but when Gigi disappeared, all of that again ended. Suddenly Roy and Biv were out almost all of the time, looking for her. Wasn't that a bit much, just for the sake of a pet bird? Momo was left spending a lot of time with babysitters. Occasionally, she was alone. Something about that apartment seemed to push people away.

    It's an empty day for Momo. Roy and Biv agreed to let her go out, to go get school supplies. That was the story, anyway. Maybe she had other plans. Whatever the case, she found herself heading in the same direction as the botanical gardens. There's a shopping center nearby with quite a bit to do. It's noon when she arrives. The day is sunny, and the crowd looks vibrant and happy. There are quite a few children her age, also on break, milling about having fun, or themselves attending to the shopping they'll need to do to prepare themselves for the new year. The main difference, perhaps, is that most of them are with their families.
Momo Akatsuki 2016-03-30 03:16:16 36380
School supplies weren't as pressing in Momo's mind as ice cream. The soothing balm of woes for children and adults called to her from the ice-y cold freezer section of the little shopping center, where she placed her face against the ice to stare at all the flavours. She knew better than to buy it, because she'd only been given enough for what she needed, but it couldn't stop her from wanting some.

After a few more minutes of staring at a particularly interesting shelf of flavours, particularly strawberry chocolate swirl, she groaned and turned to look around. She hadn't bothered to see where the aisle for what she actually needed was placed in the shopping center, having headed straight for the ice cream.
Griselda 2016-03-30 03:31:08 36382
    It's hard to miss her. She has always been a tall girl, for her age; people tend to think she's two or three years older than she really is. The demeanor Hiroko usually wears these days doesn't help. Poised, rigid, and severe tends to be her norm. And even outside of school, her long, raven black hair and large gray eyes make her easy to spot. Some of her peers count these things as blessings. They make it easier to avoid her.

    Today, though, she's on the move, and she's distracted. It's not clear what she's looking for. Maybe she's searching for a particular section of the store, like Momo, or maybe she's looking for someone. Whatever her goals might be, she's walking a bit too fast as she checks the store aisle by aisle, and she very nearly collides with Momo, just barely stopping short of slamming into the younger girl.

    How long has it been? Sure, Momo has seen Hiroko during lunch or in the halls, but it has been two years, at least, since they last spoke, since they played together. All she has heard since then are the school rumors of the mean girl supreme and the horror stories told by her sister. Has Hiroko changed that much? She used to be very, very different. Once upon a time, Hiroko liked her. She was kind then.

    But today, maybe Momo can find out. Hiroko's voice is calm, subdued, though it betrays a hint of surprise. She does something she doesn't do for most, even her "friends." She addresses the younger girl informally. "Momo-chan."
Momo Akatsuki 2016-03-30 03:43:34 36385
Having just figured she'd step out of the aisle and look around to see if she can find the supplies aisle, Momo collided with Hiroko and started to utter an apology before Hiroko's voice uttered her name. She stared blankly at her, trying to place the face before her.

It finally clicks, and Momo starts to back up a step or two. She bows slightly, uttering apology after apology to "Koumoto-san.". Momo didn't remember much of the games at all, but she remembered Hiroko through frequent remarks of her sister (before she'd left) and by the utterings in the corners of the school where everyone was sure it wouldn't get back to Hiroko.
Griselda 2016-04-09 04:21:32 37711
    "You don't need to apologize, Momo-chan," Hiroko says. Her tone is flat, but the wide-eyed look on her face betrays that she's surprised by the reaction Momo is having to her. That look starts to fade quickly, though, leaving behind her usual, more business-like expression. "It was my fault. I was moving too fast and not watching where I was going. I apologize. That was childish of me."

    There's a few moments of silence afterward, awkward, as Hiroko's eyes drift over Momo's shoulder. Her tone softens slightly, almost imperceptibly, as she asks, "Are you alone here?" She sounds concerned.
Momo Akatsuki 2016-04-09 04:27:25 37712
    Momo nods, gulping a little as she looks around with a little worry. "Yes.". Her voice was a only slightly percetible utterance and she shivered a little to be standing here in front of this person. She looked down at her feet, her chin tilted in that direction.

    Then she slowly looked up, only her eyes moving. "C-can I help you, Koumoto-san?". She certainy hoped the older girl didn't need anything from her.
Griselda 2016-04-09 04:36:43 37716
    "No. Of course not." Hiroko is again taken aback, though it only shows in the wounded look that briefly flashes across her eyes. The disconnect is obvious, at least to an outsider's eyes, between her perception of this situation and that of the young girl in front of her. Is she really so ignorant of her own reputation? "It's just . . . it's nice to see you again. I worried about you, after your sister transferred."

    There's another pause. She's looking for the right words. However easy it might be for her to be the meangirl who knows the exact wrong thing to say at any given moment, she's struggling here. "Have you been OK?" That's perhaps the wrong question to ask--a raw subject at best--and she visibly realizes that only a split-second after it leaves her tongue. "I suppose it has been really hard for you. I'm sorry."
Momo Akatsuki 2016-04-09 04:47:22 37719
    Momo seems suspicious of the remarks, and the concern for her but she's an honest little girl. "Uncle Roy and Aunt Biv have been looking after me. They're relatives from out of town and they came when Mei-neesan had to leave. They're weird.".

    She fidgetted a little, rubbing her hands together. "You worried about me?". It was a bit late coming to her comprehension, but it did throw Momo off a little. "Why?", she asked in a quiet, barely audible voice.
Griselda 2016-04-09 04:59:30 37721
    "Why?" Hiroko pauses there; she sounds less surprised this time. Maybe she's just starting to get used to it. Or maybe the reality of her situation is finally sinking in. "I heard about some of the things that happened to you." Say what you will about her; she's a master of the gossip machine. "And your sister leaving must have been hard. You two didn't always get along well, back when . . . " Back when she and Mei were friends? No, she seems to be looking for different words. " . . . back when we were more closely acquainted, but she seems to have grown out of that. She seemed very worried about you when you were hurt, a few months ago." She keeps talking, but she doesn't really seem sure of what to say. This is a blast from her past that she doesn't really have an easy reaction to.

    "Are you here for groceries?" Not a likely scenario; she realizes that. She turns briefly to glance down an aisle to her left, as a more reasonable answer finally seems to occur to her. "Oh! You're here to buy something for school?"
Momo Akatsuki 2016-04-09 05:06:19 37725
     Momo gulps and nods. "Mei-neesan was there when I woke up. She hoped for me to wake up lots and lots.". She scuffed a pink Chuck'd foot along the floor of the store. "So I'm going to be very hopeful that Mei-neesan comes back safe. She looked really tired a lot before she went away, and she wouldn't tell me why ever.". She seems on the verge of tears, and some of them do streak down her face.

     "I just need to get some pencils and paper for class. Biv says that being prepared is very important. Bix says if I'm ready for school, Mei-neesan will be really happy is she comes back to see me to the second grade". The thought of Mei being back in time to see her move to the next grade clears the cloud of sadness behind her eyes and she sniffs a few times to clear up the tears. "So I hope Mei-neesan comes back in time.".
Griselda 2016-04-09 05:19:49 37730
    "Hey!" Hiroko holds her hands out, as if to comfort Momo, only to awkwardly pull them back before even making contact. She glances around herself in a misplaced search for help, before her eyes inevitably return to the person in front of her. What to do? She doesn't really know how to respond to crying little girls, even if she's not much older herself. She's an only child: no experience with little siblings for her. And asking her to harken back to her own childhood relies upon an assumption which might be unfortunately untrue for her. Does she even have memories like this? She must, right, somewhere before her story took a grayer turn? Maybe?

    She takes a step closer, kneeling in front of Momo, narrowing some of the height gap between them. "Hey. You don't need to cry. I just said the wrong thing, alright?" Are those her words? They seem a little out of character, at least for the person she is now. "Your . . . your sister is a very determined person." No love lost between them, even now, if that's the best she can manage. But it sounds like she's telling the truth. She seems to genuinely admire that one trait in Mei, even if it's questionable as to whether she appreciates anything else. "I'm sure she'll be back soon. You just need to be brave. It . . . it seems like you're working hard on keeping up at school." She musters a smile. She doesn't do that often. "I think you deserve a reward, actually. Why don't we get your school supplies, and then we can look at the ice cream aisle? My treat?"
Momo Akatsuki 2016-04-09 05:30:27 37733
     Rubbing at her eyes as the last of the tears abate with the light of her hope, and the helping along by Hiroko's words, Momo stares at Hiroko for a moment. "Ice cr-cream? Um... Okay. The notebooks are down there." She points down the aisle to an area where notebooks, paper, folders, pencils, and pens are all arranged neatly for the ease of customers.

It briefly crossed Momo's mind why she was accepting ice cream from someone her sister seemed to dislike, and who was known for the way she was a bully, but she was a seven year old girl. Ice cream transcended the concepts of right or wrong. It simply existing to a little girl like Momo as the ultimate ice-y and cream-y treat. There was no reason to question why it was being offered. "We can have neapolitan, right? I like neapolitan. It has strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla. I like to get strawberry mostly in my bowl with a little bit of the other flavours. Ooo, and pink sprinkles.".
Griselda 2016-04-09 05:50:34 37739
    Hiroko's brow furrows a bit as she hears Momo describe her ideal bowl of ice cream. She's not a fan of Neopolitan herself? Maybe she just doesn't like the taste, though more likely, it's something else. But this is one particular battle over color that Hiroko doesn't seem very interested in fighting. She smiles again; this time, that smile seems a little more confident. "Sure. You can get whatever you want. I'll probably be getting vanilla; it has always been my favorite."

    The aisle for stationary is right next to them. Hiroko walks with Momo, letting her pick out a few pencils and notebooks. She seems to have forgotten whatever she's looking for herself. She doesn't even have a basket or a cart; it's anyone's guess as to why she's here. That finished, they exit the aisle and head further toward the center of the store. The temperature drops perceptibly as they enter the frozen food section. It takes Hiroko a few moments to even find where the ice cream is. She's apparently not familiar with this store.

    The gray-eyed girl looks through one of the glass doors lining this aisle. "What do you think?" It's individual-sized cups of ice cream in myriad flavors. She opens the door, the glass immediately fogging up as a blast of cold air washes over the two of them, letting Momo pick first.
Momo Akatsuki 2016-04-09 05:57:35 37741
    Momo's eyes go wide as she peers inside and she pulls out one of the cups. She holds it up triumphantly, almost seeming like she's about to drop into a rocker's kneeling pose. "Strawberry shortcake! Favouritest ever!". She danced in a little circle before realising where she's at and blushing at Hiroko.

"Um... Sorry, Koumoto-san. I just got a little excited.". She ducks a few apologetic bows to the older girl, clutching the little cup of ice cream to her chest and shivering as it's cold seeps into her arms.
Griselda 2016-04-09 06:20:08 37748
    Hiroko grins slightly. "Don't worry. One should enjoy their childhood while it lasts, Momo-chan." There's an uncomfortable question buried in that statement, though Momo may or may not spot it. Exactly when does childhood end, according to her? If one were to use her life as a template, it wouldn't be very much older than Momo is. Being "grown up" is certainly a standard she holds herself to, even at the age of ten. That same standard is applied to others too, often with less than pleasant effects. That's a big reason why she's so mean to so many of her peers. Somewhere, buried in each of her bullying snipes, is a single criticism: childish.

    "Shall we?" Hiroko leads Momo to the check-out area, letting Momo buy her school supplies first before paying for both of their ice cream cups. A moment later, the two of them are back out under the afternoon sun. Was today so pleasant when Momo arrived? Still the crowds are gathered: people wandering as they attend to their business, many having fun and enjoying the company of whoever is besides them. And even if her company perhaps isn't the best, at least Momo isn't alone this time, on her way out of the shopping plaza.

    There's a brief exchange between the two as Hiroko asks Momo where she's headed. It ends with Hiroko looking up at the sky, lifting an arm to shield wincing eyes from the sun. A little photosensitive? "It's a little hot out. I should probably keep you company until your bus arrives, OK?" It's the responsible thing to do, though it's hard to tell if responsibility is Hiroko's reason for doing it, or if she's actually starting to enjoy this conversation. Whatever the case, it's not a long walk. After only a few minutes of slow travel, they're sitting on the bench, watching the cars in front of them roll by. It's not very noisy. Even the traffic seems leisurely and relaxed today.

    Hiroko hands over Momo's ice cream before opening her own, peeling the plastic "spoon" that's waiting on the underside of the lid. It'll be a few minutes before the bus gets here.
Momo Akatsuki 2016-04-09 06:33:03 37750
    Momo pulls up her own lid with just a little difficulty, dipping her spoon in quickly and popping a bit of ice cream in her mouth. She kicks her feet happily, enjoying the ice cream. She swallowed, giving a contented little sigh and looking over at Hiroko. "Thank you, Koumoto-san.". She offered her a warm, if hesitant smile to the older girl.
Griselda 2016-04-09 06:40:59 37753
    "You're welcome, Momo-chan." Hiroko sits quietly for a few moments. She takes small bites, eating slowly but without any noteworthy show of enjoyment. Even with ice cream, her style of eating is measured and dignified. Calling it a little unnatural for a girl her age might not be an exaggeration. With her background, it was very likely she was trained to have formal etiquette like that.

    She looks over, her own gaze briefly meeting Momo's pink eyes. Her demeanor still isn't quite warm, but her usually severe affect is a lot less chilly than normal. "Have you been making friends, Momo-chan?"
Momo Akatsuki 2016-04-09 06:43:11 37754
    Momo swallowed another spoonful of ice cream, nodding softly. "I have a bestest friend ever, her name is Sachiko. Oh and I think I'm friends with Reiko-sempai? Oh and I met Hoshi-sempai and Kaeru-sempai. I guess they're friends too!". It seemed all of Mei's friends were by default Momo's friends in the girl's head.
Griselda 2016-04-09 07:02:39 37760
    "Well, I'm glad you've been . . . "

    Hiroko abruptly goes silent. Her demeanor, a little softer and a little more personable than usual only a moment ago, changes just as quickly. She lifts a hand and clutches the gray gem that's hanging on the silver pendant around her neck. Her expression returns to its usual dour default, and her face creases almost imperceptibly with discomfort. Is she in pain? Maybe. Maybe not. Whatever she's experiencing, she does her best not to show it, forcing down that feeling. But her affect doesn't go back to its softer state once her hand returns to her side, and she regains control. She sets down her ice cream, staring at the crowd gathered in the green space across the street. The botanical gardens? What's over there?

    But Momo feels something too: a presence that seems oddly familiar to her. And it's close. But it's too vague to really make sense of it, to feel like more than the kind of vague intuition that normal people easily dismiss as they go about their business.

    Down the street, one can see a bus making its way toward the stop; judging by the route marker, it's Momo's bus. Hiroko turns toward the pink-haired girl, forcing a smile as she points toward the approaching vehicle. "Momo-chan. Your bus is almost here. Can you get on without me?" Whatever happened to waiting with her?
Momo Akatsuki 2016-04-09 07:11:30 37762
    Momo looked across the street, lifting a hand to shield her eyes, the spoon just over her brow while her other hand grasped at her ice cream. Something over there... She just shakes her head and turns back to Hiroko, having not really noticed the gem clutching and things.

    She did blink at Hiroko, as the girl changed what she had said, but she nodded. "Okay. Thanks again, Koumoto-san. Have a nice day, okay?".
Griselda 2016-04-09 07:19:33 37764
    Hiroko's already gone, though, dashing down the street to get to the crosswalk, long black hair fluttering behind her. The bus pulls up, blocking view of the botanical gardens across the street, the hissing release of pneumatics heard as it lowers to admit those who need a shorter step, young girls among them. Hiroko's ice cream, only half-eaten, is left on the bench.