“Ainya-me,” Mimi growled as Aina walked towards them. Aina was quite taken aback. Mimi had never been this aggressive towards anyone before. Still, she wasn’t baring her teeth, so perhaps the situation could still be diffused. Because Mimi was so timid, when she got into arguments, she would strike hard and fast then run away, fearing reprisal.
“Konbanwa, Mimi, Momo,” Aina greeted them. “Is something the matter?”
Aina almost blocked the slap in time. Almost. The slap was followed by a sharp hiss. There were the teeth. It was time to decide, Aina knew, whether to fight or flee. She could call for help, but it wasn’t likely that anyone would come. Momo might take her side, but she also might take Mimi’s. She could run, but Mimi would probably overtake her. Her best option was to stand her ground and hope that, at the very least, Momo stayed out of it.
If only I had thought to keep some catnip on me, Aina thought to herself. Iie, Momo’s right: I can’t solve all my problems with drugs. She’d just come back when they wore off.
“I heard what you did to Momo and Diaho-sama,” Mimi told her. Her hand was now at her side, clenched into a fist. Surprisingly, she was restraining herself. There was still hope yet.
“What I did to them? I don’t know what you heard, but they—”
“You drugged them,” Mimi cut her off, “with catnip.”
“Hai, I did do that,” Aina admitted hesitantly. “Demo—“
“No demos! I would have expected that from any nyan else, but not from Ainya.” Mimi choked up a little, and Aina finally understood what she was getting at. It was just like when Erin had used the silent whistle on Lilan. Aina had taken advantage of a weakness only the nekomimi had. No, worse than that, she had treated them as objects that she could disable when needed. If it had just been Diaho, she would have an excuse, but she had drugged Momo because it had been convenient. She instantly regretted wishing she still had catnip on her.
“Gomen,” Aina hung her head in shame. “I wasn’t thinking.”
“That’s nyat good enough,” insisted Mimi. “I want you to yakusoku never to do that again.”
“Iie,” Aina replied after thinking about it, “that would be a dangerous yakusoku to make. Demo, I won’t do it unless absolutely necessary.” In the end, it was the same answer that Erin had arrived at. It was not, however, the answer Mimi wanted to hear.
“Omae!” Mimi roared, grabbing Aina by the shoulders and slamming her against the wall. “Don’t look down on us just because we’re nekomimi. Aren’t we your tomodachi? You wouldn’t press that gynoid’s power button.” Aina couldn’t imagine needing to do the same thing to Sena, and Sena didn’t have an external power switch anyway.
“I might,” Aina retorted, “If the situation called for it.”
“So that’s the kind of hito you are,” Mimi huffed, releasing Aina. “You’re disgusting.” Aina didn’t even try to block the slap this time. “Demo, Momo doesn’t feel the same way. She thinks you’re anything but. You should be grateful to her. If you did that to me, I’d never forgive you.”
“Arigatou, Momo,” Aina said blankly, still focused entirely on Mimi.
“And so,” declared Mimi, “to make up for what you did to her, you’re going to listen to her confession. She’s all yours, Momo.”
“Right here?” Aina asked. “Can’t we take this somewhere private?”
“Iie, this is your punishment,” Mimi smiled.
“Ainya,” Momo finally looked up. Her eyes were splotchy and red, and it was obvious that she had been crying a lot. Seeing her in such a state, Aina swallowed her protests. “Gomen, Ainya.”
“Iie,” Aina tried to reassure her, “What I did was wrong. Go ahead.”
“What I did was wrong too,” Momo said, holding back tears.
“It’s daijoubu. It’s in the past. Say what you have to say,” Aina said soothingly, while at the same time mentally preparing herself for the confession.
“I know some people might think it’s hen, but I just can’t imagine myself with a guy,” Momo began. Aina didn’t think it was weird: she couldn’t imagine herself with a guy either. Then again, she also couldn’t imagine herself with a girl. “Soshite, I think you feel the same way. Or perhaps you’re just attracted to nekomimi? You’re always staring at our tails.”
“That’s just…” Aina tried to explain, but found she didn’t know exactly what it was. She thought the tails were cute, and that they felt fluffy and nice, but those innocent feelings could be mistaken for attraction, and Aina began to question whether they were actually so innocent. “Never mind. It’s not important right now.”
“I know that, last night, I told you that you were just the only person I wasn’t grossed out by, but that’s not really how I feel,” Momo said. “I was just hazukashii. Ainya, I l—like you! It’s not just that you’re cute. You’re so open and understanding, and I always have a lot of fun when I’m with you. I admire the way you can make friends with anyone. Demo, the more time I spend with you, I more I want to be a better tomodachi to you than anyone else. Please go out with me!” Momo bowed low, not daring to look up at Aina.
“Arigatou, Momo,” Aina said. “Demo, I can’t respond to your feelings right now.”
“Nyani?!” Yelled Mimi, but Aina held up a hand to silence her.
“I’m only jyuu-sai. For a ningen, that’s not old enough to develop those kinds of feelings. You might be right about me, or you might not. I don’t think I’ll know for sure for another few years. In the the meantime, you’re a very taisetsu na tomodachi to me, and I don’t want to lose your friendship. Dakara, please continue to be my tomodachi, and if you still feel the same in a few years, I’ll give you my answer then. I know it’s asking a lot, but tanomu yo!” Aina ended her speech, bowing even lower than Momo.
“Hai,” Momo choked as they both stood back up. “Hai, I will wait, and I will always be your tomodachi.”
“Yokatta,” Aina responded, a smile on her face. Momo was also smiling, an obviously forced smile, and Aina wondered if her own smile was as transparent to Mimi and Momo.
“De,” Momo ventured, her tail twitching nervously, “since we’re still tomodachi and all, is it OK if I still sleep in your room sometimes?”
Aina had to struggle to keep the smile on her face.
“I think, for now, that might not be good for either of us,” answered Aina. “Maybe after things have returned to normal…”
“I see,” said Momo, her voice cracking. “You’re probably right. “I—” But she couldn’t finish, and, sobbing, sunk to her knees. Mimi knelt down to comfort her.
“I don’t approve of this,” Mimi declared over her sister’s sobs, “any of it. I don’t approve of defying the Nekomimi Preservation Council, I don’t approve of a ningen and a nekomimi, and I don’t approve of ni onna. Demo, most of all, I don’t approve of you rejecting my onee-chan and making her cry! I’ll remember this, Ainya Dufort! Come on, Momo, let’s go.”
Aina wanted to go after them, to help comfort Momo, but she was too exhausted, and she would probably just make things worse. Instead, she opened the door to her room and flopped down on her bed. Despite all that had happened, it didn’t take long for her to fall asleep, and she was blissfully dead to the world for the next twelve hours.
November 24rd, U.C. 0046, 7:05 AM
For the second day in a row, Aina could feel the entire dining hall staring at her during breakfast. Wanting to avoid attention, she once again took a seat at an empty table in the corner of the room. Seeing this, Chikako excused herself from her table and made her way over to Aina’s.”
“I’m very disappointed in you, Aina-san,” Chikako said coldly.
“Nani? You think I should have accepted Momo’s confession?” Aina asked defensively. “I’m only jyuu-sai. Why doesn’t anyone seem to understand that?”
“Iie, not that. You handled that well, though it probably would have been kinder to reject her now and get it over with. I—”
“Way to go, Aina-chan!” Karin shouted as she passed their table, interrupting Chikako.
“Nani’s this about?” Aina asked Chikako, a confused look on her face.
“You really don’t know?”
“Was my performance last night disappointing? We got the kill.”
“Iie, not that either,” Chikako said.
“Then I can’t think of anything else. I went to bed early last night, right after hearing Momo’s confession. Unless, does it have something to do with Hideaki-sama?”
“Good morning, Mme Chikako, Mme Aina,” Naomi introduced her presence as she sat down at the table with them.
“Ohayou gozaimasu, Naomi-sama,” they answered in unison.
“Mme Aina, I have something for you,” Naomi informed her, sliding a piece of paper across the table. Aina examined it. Written on the paper was an email address. It took Aina a few moments to place its significance.
“Masaka!” Aina blurted out. “Naomi-sama, surely you didn’t give her mine as well?”
“Of course I did. What else would you expect me to do?” Naomi answered, her trademark cruel smile spreading across her face. “A young girl came to me on the verge of tears and begged on her hands and knees, Mme Aina. It would be very heartless of me to turn her away.”
“Naomi-sama, I was counting on you to turn her down!” Aina said. “How could you?”
“Oh my, well in that case, maybe you should have asked me ahead of time. Or better yet, maybe you shouldn’t have tried to use me as a tool to solve your personal problems.” “Naomi-sama, don’t you think that’s going a little too far just to prove a point?” Chikako asked. “I mean, she’s a meido from another household. It’s just not done.”
“I’m just helping my student walk the path she has chosen,” Naomi said.
“And what path would that be?” Chikako retorted.
“Oh come now,” said Naomi. “You know much more about these Japanese things than I. Surely you’ve realized it by now.” She turned away from them in her seat. “Mme Karin,” Naomi called out across the room.
“Hai, boss?” Karin called back. Aina and Chikako didn’t know what was coming, but if it involved Karin, it couldn’t be good. The two hid their faces in their hands with identical timing.
“What route is Mme Aina on right now?” asked Naomi.
“The harem route!” Karin yelled.
“Chigau!” Aina yelled, twisting to face Karin. “It’s not like that. They were the ones…” But her protests were drowned out by the raucous laughter now filling the dining hall. “Does Momo know about this?” Aina asked, turning back to Naomi.
“Oh dear,” Naomi replied. “You slept in so late, I guess you were the last person to learn about it. It must be so embarrassing for everyone to learn about your personal goings-on before you do.”
“Great,” Aina sunk back into her chair.
“That’s hidoi, even for you, Naomi-sama,” Chikako huffed, getting up from the table.
“Naze?” Aina asked nobody in particular, unable to form a more coherent thought.
“Because I was intrigued by your reaction yesterday,” Naomi answered. “I rarely ever get to see the stoic Mme Aina frightened, and when I do, it is only for a brief moment, but when you saw your little friend at the gate—and when I mentioned her this morning—you were absolutely terrified. I can still see it on your face even now. The brave and mighty Mme Aina is scared of a little girl. That’s a ridiculous weakness to have, Mme Aina, but it’s also a great opportunity for you to learn how to overcome fear. As you would say, ‘ganbatte.’” Naomi stood up and clasped Aina on the shoulder before leaving her to the ridicule of her peers.
An Email Conversation Between Mari and Aina
November 23rd, U.C. 0046, 7:03 PM
Mari: Wai! Naomi-sama gave me your address! Minna says she’s kowai, but she’s really nice!
Mari: On my way! Duentbskgh nrieh
Mari: ( ´,_ゝ｀)つ━╂──( ﾟ∀ﾟ)─
November 24th, U.C. 0046, 7:17 AM
Mari: Gomen! I was still a bit shaken up last night so they gave me some wine. I’ve never had it before, and I guess I drank too much. Actually, the wine bottle was supposed to be a reward for getting my first kill, so half of it is yours. There’s a little less than half left though. Gomen.
Aina: Keep it. Just don’t contact me again.
Aina blocked Mari
The block was removed by the system administrator
Mari: Mou, Aina-san! I said I was sorry for bullying you. Can’t we be tomodachi?
Aina: I don’t want to be tomodachi with a drunkard.
Mari: Drunkard ja nai yo! It was my first time, and I don’t think I’ll do it again. It was fun, but I have the worst headache. (Ｔ▽Ｔ)
Mari: Speaking of things that are yours, I still have your hon. If it’s alright with you, I thought I might bring it by on my next day off.
Aina: My hon?
Mari: The light novel you left behind on the day you disappeared. It’s the only thing I kept from home. I always hoped I’d meet you again some day so that I could return it to you.
Aina: It sounds like it means more to you than it does to me. Keep it.
Mari: Dame! I kept it all these years so I could give it back to you. All that effort would be meaningless if I didn’t return it.
Aina: Fine. You can send it over. I’ll even pay for the shipping. Demo, I’ll probably just throw it in the recycling.
Mari: Sonna! (っ˘̩╭╮˘̩)っ
Aina: If you’re so attached to it, you might as well keep it.
Mari: I was hoping it would be a good excuse to see you again.
Aina: I thought you understood that I don’t want to see you again.
Mari: I wakaru. Demo, I feel really bad about all the bullying, and I want to do something to make it up to you. Soshite, I’m still a bit shaken up by what happened yesterday, and seeing you would help me feel better.
Aina: If you really want to make it up to me, learn how to deal with your mondai by yourself and leave me alone. I have my own issues to deal with, so I don’t have any time to waste on yours.
Mari: Uwa, even Aina-san has mondai? Is there anything I can do to help?
Aina: Iie. It’s not your fault, but you’ll just make things worse.
Mari: Nani kind of answer is that?
Aina: It’s a personal problem, and I’m not going to discuss it with you.
Mari: Wai! Naomi-sama invited me for ocha next Sunday! o(^▽^)o Would you like to join us?
Aina: I’m on duty that day.
Mari: Not anymore you’re not.
Mari sent many messages after this, but Aina sent no reply, for upon reading the last message, Aina hurled her phone across the room with such force that it shattered upon impact with the wall. Naomi provided her with a replacement, but did not reprimand her, and kept the incident secret from the rest of the household.
December 1st, U.C. 0046
The following letter was addressed to:
Dear Mama and Papa,
Genki? It’s been a difficult month for me, and I can’t even tell you about most of it. I’m daijoubu, but as a result of what happened, most of my tomodachi are now ignoring watashi, and others are spreading rumors about watashi. It’s not even my fault, so I’m sure they’ll come around, but I’m a little sabishii right now.
The only thing that I can talk about is this: A few days ago one of my tomodachi confessed to watashi, and I turned her down. I just wakarimasen koi, but my tomodachi, who is only a few years older, seems to wakaru it perfectly. To be honest, she’s not stupid, but she’s not the smartest person either. I know much more than she does about most things, so why can’t I wakaru her feelings? Is there something wrong with me?
Gomen for writing such a depressing tegami, but there’s nobody else I can ask about this. The only tomodachi who has stuck by me doesn’t wakaru koi either, and I really am worried that something might be wrong with me.
I hope you had a better month than I did, and that your work is going well. I love you both, and I still miss you every day.
December 2nd, U.C. 0046
The reply was simply addressed to:
We’re sorry that you’re having such a rough time. We talked to Yasuko-san about this, and she assured us that you have more tomodachi than you realize, and this will probably blow over soon. In the meantime, ganbatte. We know you can do it. After all, you stuck it out in elementary school, remember?
Also, there is nothing wrong with you, sweetie. You’re just too young for koi. It’s not something that you can wakaru without feeling it, and you’re just too young for that. The tomodachi who confessed to you probably doesn’t fully wakaru it either. It’s not uncommon for young girls to confess their love to each other, and even to go on dates, but it’s not the same thing as koi. Demo, you’re still too young, even for that, so please don’t worry about it. You did the right thing.
Everything is daijoubu here. We miss you too, and we hope that December will be a much better month for you.
Mama and Papa