Chapter 2 - No Such Thing
There are some women uniquely suited to pregnancy, and some women who are uniquely not
Takahashi Ai belonged to the latter.
For starters she did not develop that ethereal glow that some expecting mothers would inevitably take on as their pregnancy progresses. Unlike Iida-sensei, their school nurse, who looked perfectly at ease and at peace with the world during her
pregnancy, Ai's temper grew along with her girth. She was waspish. She was tempermental. She was short (in all meanings of the word, but she would have murdered you with a toothpick if you said it to her).
Thankfully though, she never developed depression like some of her more unfortunate counterparts. There might have been times where she burst into tears for no apparent reason, but then again she had always been one to cry at the drop of a hat. It had absolutely nothing to do with how the whole course of her life had changed. But that's another story.
She grew. She swelled. She started waddling in her sixth month, but that handicap didn't quite stop her from breaking furniture (not by sitting on it, mind). It might not have been the incident with the door her daughter remembered in later years , but the poor cupboard would never be quite the same again. To Riho's credit, she never asked why the bottom drawers could not open (there were no drawers there, just splinters covered by a nice front). She understood that it was just one of Those Things.
To put quite simply, Takahashi Ai couldn't have waited for her pregnancy to be over. In fact, her impatience must have communicated to her then-unborn daughter, who decided to make an early appearance a whole two months before schedule, and quite nearly killed her in the process
Not that Ai ever told her daughter. It was just something that you didn't tell your children, especially not while they were still young and impressionable. Ai didn't think laying on the guilt trip was a good idea. There were other ways to compel obedience (that did not involve
All things considered, it was a fairly normal pregnancy, if one discounted the absence of the other biological parent. Ai had no regrets though (really. ok, maybe. fine
, oodles and oodles of it). Given the chance, she would
do it again.
Which was why she was eyeing the tea that Konno Asami just passed to her with a suspicious look. The bespectacled genius rolled her eyes.
"For heaven's sake, Ai-chan, I didn't even make
Ai gave her a narrow look, before shrugging and taking a sip anyway. Paranoid people lived longer. At least, if they didn't die on the way to becoming paranoid.
"Some day, you guys will tell us just exactly why
Ai-chan does that around you."
The two girls in question exchanged glances, and Konno shrugged.
"Her story to tell, not mine." She paused. "But I maintain that it was not my fault. Not intentionally, anyway."
"You really need to stop bringing your work home." Ai muttered. Next to her, Makoto grinned at the youngest member of their group.
"Tell that to our Gaki. She always has to bring hers home...or to someone else's home." Everyone grinned at that.
Said Gaki, otherwise known as Niigaki Risa, scowled at her friends, but the look held little real malice. Even now she was tapping subconsciously on her smartphone, as if loathe to part from her work.
"I'm an interior designer," she said a little defensively. "Everything starts from home."
"Yeah, but at least Gaki-san's work doesn't blow things up. Or change
things." Ai gave another pointed, possibly half-joking look at Asami, who was feigning innocence over her coffee and discreetly flipping through a small black book.
"Like that time in high school." Makoto remarked humorously. "How long did it take for your hair to stop glowing in the dark?"
Risa groaned. "Don't remind me. My sister still brings it up whenever she runs out of things to talk about."
The four women chatted inanely about various things, taking the time and opportunity to catch up. It was rare for them to meet up these days, what with all of them busy with their own lives.Growing up does that to people
, Ai thought wistfully. Her own life had veered sharply off its original course with the addition of her daughter to her life, 12 years ago. Had it not been for that, surely she would be similar to her friends, able to chat freely about work and its various complications? Even if they were all in different lines.
Makoto was talking animatedly about a snooty model she met in Paris while she was assisting at the set up for a fashion show, which led Risa to follow up with her own experience with the unreasonable demands of "that diva of a celebrity
" while on the job. Asami was happily eating the snacks on the table with her usual pace (slow), before commenting about her difficulties in getting a research grant for her ongoing project.
Their topics, while running on parallel lines with each other, were still on the same level. Ai thought about her own life, and shrank a little inside. All she had to talk about was her daughter, whom she loved dearly, but it somehow felt off topic. Like it would disrupt the easy flow of conversation by introducing something out of place.
"Oi Ai-chan! What are you doing being so quiet?" Makoto said with her usual exuberance, but there was a hint of concern. Risa was looking over with the same vague concern. The two of them were always more sensitive to her moods than she liked. Asami, for her part, kept on eating.
"It's not the Ai-chan we know!" Risa agreed. She contorted her face into an approximation of Ai and said "Whatcha talking 'bout, Gaki-san~" in a terribly exaggerated version of Ai's accent.THWACK!
The resounding smack on Risa's arm from Ai's palm was louder than it actually hurt. The other two burst into laughter as Risa dramatically keeled over and acted like someone just amputated her limb. Ai's scowl faded almost as quickly, caught along with the mood.
"And that, is the Ai-chan we know." Makoto wiped away the tears from her face, still heaving a little from laughing too hard. Asami grinned.
"Right fierce little tiger in lambskin. You're not fooling us with those doe eyes~"
"Oh shuddap..." Ai mumbled, the dialect of her youth returning unconsciously as her cheeks reddened. Risa was looking over her arm and rubbing it ruefully.
"Did you really have to hit that hard? I think it's gonna leave a bruise..." She whined, massaging her abused arm. Ai lowered her head.
Risa shrugged. "No sweat. It's cold these days, so I'll be wearing long sleeves anyway. It'll fade in a few days." Her phone buzzed again, insistently. Upon checking it, Risa rolled her eyes skyward with a long-suffering sigh.
calls once again. Probably to change her plans for only the 113th time." She massaged her temples. "I really don't want to deal with this right now..."
She picks up the phone and is instantly all business, pushing herself away from the table and stepping outside to continue the call. Makoto turned to Asami, who was admiring the pudding on her plate, as if deliberating where to start first.
"Do you think she actually counts?"
scientist spooned some pudding into her mouth and swallowed. The other two waited patiently for her response, used to the genius's pace.
"I would think so, yes." Came the answer, and Ai glanced outside to see Risa with an obvious tic on her face, but still managing to sound vaguely polite to her client.
"Must be tough dealing with people like that..."
Makoto leaned back, stretching lazily. "Maa, it's part of her job." Leaning forward, she mock whispered. "I think she secretly enjoys the stress."
"Speaking of stress, raising a kid on your own can't be easy." Asami commented idly, stirring yet another cube of sugar into her tea. Ai bit back the instinctive reprimand that was hovering on her lips. Trying to be a good mother does things to a person's psyche (emphasis on trying
"I don't actually do it alone, I mean, my mom takes care of a lot for me..." Ai muttered, fingering the hem of her jacket nervously. To be completely honest with herself, there were times when she still felt like a kid in front of her mother, even though she now had her own daughter. It made her feel incredibly inadequate...both as a child and as a mother.
"Yeah, but Riho-chan is still your
daughter." Makoto sipped at her juice. "Can't argue with the blood...not to mention that huge
responsibility that comes with it." She shuddered. "I don't know if I could handle the stress of being responsible for a tiny human being."
Ai's lips quirked slightly. "Riho is a good girl." She reflected quietly. "Sometimes I think she's
the one looking out for me. I have absolutely no idea if I'm doing anything right, but I feel like I learn more from being with her every day, and that there's always more to learn."
"Children are sometimes the best teachers." Asami opined, looking over at Ai. "You've really matured, Ai-chan."
"Yeah that was unexpectedly adult of her, wasn't it?" Risa chipped in from behind, reaching down to ruffle Ai's hair while pretending to wipe away a (obviously fake) tear.
"Look at her, all grown up." Ai made an exasperated noise, folding her arms huffily as she puffed out her cheeks.
"Mou, you guys..."
Risa smirked, idly untangling her fingers from Ai's hair before running them down its length. Her fingers came up empty only too soon.
"You've always kept your hair short after you had Riho..."
Ai shook her head impatiently. "It's too much work to maintain long hair and be a mother at the same time. It's easier this way. Besides," she fingered the ends of her own hair speculatively, "it's been getting a little bit longer lately."
"Really? I can't tell." Asami admitted, squinting this way and that.
the one who sees Ai-chan most often." Makoto scoffed, using her hands to make a mock picture frame of Ai's face.
look a little longer than the last time I saw her..."
"Mako-chan, you haven't seen her, or any of us, for the last 6 months!"
"Really, where does
the time go?"
Before the impending argument could start, Risa broke it up by interrupting with a cough.
"Sorry girls, but I gotta hightail it outta here." She sighed. "Apparently I absolutely have to be at my client's place immediately or the world might end
." She finished with a definite edge of sarcasm, her eyes already naturally migrating as far north as possible.
"Aww, but it's been so long since our last reunion!"
"If you stayed in town more often, it wouldn't be this hard to organize one!"
"I can't help that if my job takes me places!"
Risa shot the squabbling pair another one of her long-suffering expressions, which was matched by one of infinite patience from Ai. Simultaneously, they shrugged.
"Tell Riho-chan I'm sorry not to be able to make it to dinner." Risa said quietly. Ai nodded in understanding.
"Riho's a sensible girl. She'll understand. You better get going before you're late." Ai couldn't help slipping into "mother mode". Another side effect of raising a child, no doubt.
Risa took on a worried expression. "Are you sure she'll be ok though, I mean, auditions notwithstanding, what if she gets herself into more than she can handle? She's still just a kid..."
"I trust my daughter." Ai said calmly, with more conviction than she actually felt, but wanting to believe anyway. "Riho wanted to do this, so I'll support her with all I can, and make sure that she can work towards her dream with no regrets." A smile tinged with the edges of regret graced Ai's face, but she did not continue with the words unsaid. There was no need to say them.
"Ai-chan has always been the dreamer of the four of us." Makoto interrupted suddenly, her and Konno obviously listening in to what the oldest of their group had to say.
"And Riho obviously
inherited that from you..." Asami was scribbling in her journal again.
Risa looked around at her best friends, her worries still present on her face, but finding herself unable to continue in such an atmosphere. With a barely noticeable shrug, she embraced each of the other girls in turn before bidding farewell.
"Ne, do you think sometimes Gaki gets too worked up over this?" Makoto commented after a moment.
"Isn't that how she usually reacts to things?" Ai replied, confused.
"She's always been a little extreme, but more so with you after you just announced to us one day that you were pregnant." Asami stated with an eerie precision.
"Well she's probably just worried..." Ai mumbled.
"With good reason, I think." Makoto leaned closer to Ai. "Don't you think it's about time you told us who the father was? You never did, no matter how we pestered you, and even after all these years..."
Ai mumbled something incomprehensible, and Asami stepped in to defend her friend.
"Mako-chan, just leave her alone. She'll talk when she wants to."
know something, don't you?" Makoto accused. "I just can't believe...ah, what does it matter? You two weirdos can just keep your secrets" She folded her arms, pouting ever so slightly. "Ai-chan has always been more stubborn than a bull anyway." Her tone softened then, becoming almost playful. "I'll be more likely to convince Pon-chan here to give up sweets than to change that stubborn pride of Ai-chan's."
As they descended into the usual banter, Ai smiled lightly once again.
It was good to have friends.
So it got a wee bit serious in between. Well, an adult has adult problems, no? Riho can have a more stress-free view of things (hence upping the level of crack).
I did say this had some warm family drama involved...and more.
Hope you guys like it!
Note: I have no idea what the title means either, so don't ask me.