Maria-sama ga Miteru : Sweet the Rose

To celebrate the almost-grand opening of our new site, here's the first new story I've managed to complete in what must be the best part of two years.

After watching the Marimite anime, I knew I'd have to try and write something about Noriko and Shimako - their relationship is just too much fun to leave alone. (For what it's worth, I think Shimako is secretly an evil genius. She needs to be to get Noriko wrapped so carefully around her finger.)


Maria-sama ga Miteru : Sweet The Rose



Grey skies.

Steel-blue eyes, half closed.

White china and green tea.

A wisp of brown hair falling towards delicate lips.

The sharp clatter of porcelain and metal.

"Noriko-chan?"

A warm and comforting voice.

"Noriko-chan?"

The dark-haired girl started guiltily, suddenly realising that she'd
been staring again.

"Are you alright? You've hardly touched your cake."

"Cake?" Noriko looked down at the fork in her hand and the plate on
the table in front of her as though they had suddenly and unaccountably
sprung into existence. Concentrating fiercely, she sliced off a piece
of millefeuille and lifted it to her mouth. The pastry was soft and
deliciously sweet, but somehow she could barely taste it.

From the other side of the table, Shimako giggled quietly, hiding her
mouth behind her hand. Noriko froze, feeling a blush creeping to her
face.

"What is it? Did I--?"

Before she could finish, the older girl reached across the table and
wiped a spot of cream from the corner of her lips with her finger.

Despite her embarrassment, Noriko couldn't help but laugh. Shimako
carefully licked the tip of her finger clean, casting a slightly
puzzled look in her direction.

"I'm sorry," she smiled. "It's just that I keep expecting to hear
Rosa Chinensis complaining about my table manners..."

Shimako gave her a stern look. "Noriko-chan," she said sharply, her
voice a passable impersonation of the older girl, "a young lady should
comport herself properly at all times."

At the expression on her face, Noriko almost choked on her cake, trying
desperately to stifle a burst of laughter. "How long have you been
practicing that?" she asked, teasingly.

The other girl gave no response, other than an enigmatic quirk of her
lips, and the two lapsed into silence as Noriko forced herself to
concentrate on her food, glancing up only occasionally.

Shimako watched her wistfully, entranced by the shifting of the light
in her eyes and across her skin as, outside, the clouds began to darken
the sky. Her black hair brushed softly against the collar of her
sweater, highlighting the slow, delicate curve of her neck. Shimako
sipped at her tea distractedly, brushing a finger across the
lingering warmth on her lips and sighing quietly.

She was sure that only the briefest of moments could have passed before
she was startled out of her daydream by the sound of Noriko setting her
fork down against her plate, the tiny sound jarringly loud in her ears.

"That was delicious. Thank you so much, Shimako-san."

It seemed to her that the younger girl was watching her face intently,
almost as though she was fearful of some sign of disapproval. "I'm
glad," she replied, smiling warmly.

Another silence.

Noriko stared intently at the tablecloth, trying her hardest to avoid
the warm, uncertain tension that hung between them. In her mind
she searched frantically for something, anything to say. With uncanny
timing, just as she opened her mouth, the other girl began to speak.

"Nor--"

"Shi--"

They both laughed nervously.

"Please," Shimako began, "you go first."

"I..." Noriko swallowed and tried again. "I think we'd better leave,
Shimako-san. We don't want to get caught out here in the rain."

The older girl nodded sadly in agreement. Gathering their things,
the pair stood up and made their way towards the exit, Shimako pausing
at the counter to fish some wayward coins from her purse.

As Noriko pushed open the cafe door, a few spots of rain began to
spatter onto the pavement. Up ahead, the sky was menacingly dark. She
rummaged in her bag for a second, eventually pulling out a small
compact umbrella and wrestling it into shape. Raindrops began to smack
hollowly into the red fabric.

"Noriko..."

The younger girl turned to see Shimako staring at the clouds, a look of
obvious concern on her face. "What's the matter?"

"I forgot to bring an umbrella with me," she admitted. "Would you--?"

Before she could finish, Noriko walked over and dragged the taller girl
underneath the umbrella with her, pulling her close to try and make
sure that they could both stay dry.

As they began to walk, Shimako slipped her arm around the smaller
girl's shoulders. Sighing contentedly to herself, Noriko let her head
rest gently against the brunette's arm, the warmth of it suffusing her
skin.

In the distance, jagged forks of lightning flickered across the sky,
leaving lingering purple shadows in the air. The rain grew harder.
At the end of the street, Shimako made to turn left, only to find
herself tugged back by the smaller girl, who glared at her defiantly.

"Shimako-san, I am not going to leave you waiting outside for a bus
in this weather," she admonished. As if to punctuate her words,
a peal of thunder rolled over them like a wave. "It's not far to my
Aunt's house. You can stay with us until this storm passes."

Shimako drew a short breath, making ready to argue, but the fiery look
in the other girl's eyes made her think better of it. With a quiet
smile, she nodded her acquiescence, and together they began to make
their way against the growing wind.

As they walked, she looked down at the younger girl, her eyes
half-closed, resting once more against her shoulder. Strands of dark
hair blew lightly across her fingertips, and almost instinctively she
found herself twining a tiny lock around her fingers. Catching
herself, she let go, smiling wryly at her own foolishness.


All too soon, they found themselves at the front of a small two-storey
house. Noriko opened the gate, wiping her wet fingers absently on her
jeans as they made their way up the path.

She pushed the front door open to let Shimako step inside, slamming
it shut behind her to keep out the rain. "I'm home," she called out,
kicking her shoes off into a corner.

A tall, grey-haired lady stepped out of the kitchen at the end of the
entrance hall, humming softly to herself. "Welcome home, Riko," she
said happily. Catching sight of the other girl, she paused, her eyes
widening sharply. "Oh... Who's this, Noriko?"

"Shimako-san, this is my Aunt, Nishimuro Sumireko," the dark-haired girl
began excitedly. "Auntie, this is my friend, Todou Shimako."

Shimako gave a small, graceful bow. "I'm very sorry to intrude
unannounced like this, Nishimuro-san--" she began.

The old lady favoured her with a bright smile. "Please, don't worry
about it," she interrupted. "I've been looking forward to meeting you,
Shimako-san. Come inside and sit down - you must be cold."

Relaxing slightly, Shimako kicked off her sodden shoes and took a pair
of guest slippers from the mat, following Noriko and her aunt into the
lounge.

"Would you like some tea, Shimako?" Sumireko asked, settling herself
slowly into an armchair.

"If it's not too much trouble..."

"Of course. Noriko-chan, would you mind making us some tea, please?"

Noriko nodded obediently and hurried away to the kitchen.

"She's told me so much about you, Shimako-san. I was glad to see her
happy - I had worried that she wouldn't fit in at Lillian. She can be
so stubborn when she wants to."

Shimako laughed quietly.

"I was so shocked when she returned home that evening wearing a
rosary around her neck. I hadn't imagined she would ever accept
someone as her soeur... Tell me, Shimako, how did you and Noriko
first meet?"

"It was at the beginning of the Spring term," Shimako began. "My
Onee-sama had just recently graduated... I was watching the cherry
blossom, underneath the tree where I first met her."

At this, Sumireko's smile cracked slightly. She rubbed at her eye with
one of her fingers. Shimako paused, uncertainly.

"I'm sorry. Did I--?"

"No, no. It's not your fault, child. I... I was just remembering a
little."

"Do you know that place, Nishimuro-san?"

"Oh yes. I used to go there myself, whenever I wanted to be alone for
a while. Back then we all used to believe that it was haunted."

"Haunted?" Shimako looked genuinely shocked. "But who--?" She broke
off as Noriko stepped back into the room bearing three steaming cups of
tea on a tray. She handed one to her aunt, and another to Shimako, the
tips of their fingers brushing together for the briefest of moments.

Noriko seated herself next to Shimako, a short distance away, letting
her hand fall between them. Smiling warmly at her, Shimako turned back
to face the older woman. "I'm sorry. If you don't mind, I think I'd
like to hear that story," she continued, apologetically.

"There isn't much to tell. The rumour was that two lovers had been
caught there one day by the school authorities. They were due to be
expelled... They were so scared of bringing such shame upon their
families that they crept back into the grounds that very night and
took their own lives beneath its branches. Supposedly their spirits
haunted the grounds and that any two people who first met there would
be cursed."

Shimako covered her mouth with her hand. "That's terrible,
Nishimuro-san! Were there really...?" Her voice trailed off awkwardly.

The old lady smiled once more. "Who knows? We used to believe all
kinds of awful things. I think mostly it was just a way to make the
school feel a little more exciting." She laughed gently. "As far as I
was concerned it was just a quiet place to eat my lunch. At least it
was, until one day I found another girl sitting there in my place."

Out of sight, Shimako felt Noriko's fingers entwine with her own.
"What did you do?" she asked. Beside her, the younger girl leaned
forwards, excitedly.

"I was so angry at her! I knew it was silly of me, but it felt as
though she'd stolen something from me just by being there. So I walked
away, thinking that at least she'd be gone the next day and I could
have my haunted tree to myself again. But when I came back, she was
there again. And the next day. And the day after that. I tried going
there as early as I could, but it seemed like she was always ahead of
me."

Sumireko paused to take a long sip from her teacup before continuing her
story. "In the end I decided that there was no way I could win, so I
gave in and sat down next to her. 'Aren't you afraid of the curse?' I
asked her. She turned to me and laughed a little. 'If we get cursed,'
she told me, 'I'm blaming you.'"

Noriko laughed delightedly, and Shimako couldn't help but join in.
"Did you find out who she was?"

"Oh yes. After that we ended up meeting there every day to eat our
lunch together. Her name was Suzuhara Keiko, and she was two years
older than I was. We used to talk to each other about all kinds of
things - about school, about the future... Whenever I felt lonely or
sad, she was always there waiting for me. Towards the beginning of
summer that year, she offered me her rosary while we were sitting there
in the shade."

Shimako sat up slowly, clutching the warmth of Noriko's fingers more
tightly in her own to hide the nervousness from her voice. "I hope you
don't mind my asking, Nishimuro-san," she began quietly, "but what did
you do after she had graduated?"

The older lady looked at her gently. "That's quite alright,
Shimako-san. I was sad for a time, of course. But after she left we
began to write letters to one another. She married a very handsome
young man and moved away to live with him in Yokohama. I still speak
to her quite often, even now."

At that, Shimako smiled sadly. "I'm very glad to hear that,
Nishimuro-san," she replied. "Thank you for telling me." She relaxed
slowly back against the cushions, allowing a comfortable silence to
fill the room, disturbed only by the steady hiss of the evening rain.

After a minute, Noriko put down her teacup and turned to face her
soeur. "Shimako-san, could you tell me about how you met your
Onee-sama? You've mentioned her before, but we never..." she asked,
her voice trailing off uncertainly.

The older girl set her cup down on the table, a gentle look in her
eyes. "Of course. I'm sorry for not telling you sooner, Noriko. I...
I hope you can meet her one day. I'm sure she'd like that."

"It was in the middle of the spring," Shimako began, leaning forwards,
her soft voice drawing the others in. "At first she seemed almost
frightening..."



By the time Shimako had finished, the last of the evening light had
long since faded. The rain was still drumming fiercely against the
window panes.

Sumireko looked outside and shook her head. "I don't think you should
try and find your way back home in this weather, Shimako-san..."

Shimako turned to see, a worried frown creeping across her face.

"You're welcome to spend the night here if you'd like. We have plenty
of room."

"Are you sure?" Shimako asked, uncertainly. "I don't want to impose
on you."

Sumireko nodded warmly at her. "It's no trouble at all. Noriko-chan,
could you pop upstairs and make up an extra bed, please?" Noriko
assented enthusiastically, bounding her way up the stairs two at a
time. "And Shimako-san, you'd better call your parents and make sure
they know you're here."


Up in her bedroom, Noriko busied herself laying out a mattress and
bedding on the floor next to her bed, trying to conceal the trembling
nervousness that thrilled through her. From a picture on the wall
above her head, the stone face of the Buddha stared down from a green
mountainside with a look of aggravating serenity. Noriko found herself
intensely jealous.

After a moment, she heard Shimako's voice calling querulously after her
from the bottom of the stairs. She walked over to the open door and
beckoned the older girl to come and join her.

Shimako climbed the steps with a slow, measured tread, looking around
the inside of Noriko's room with a mischievous light in her eyes.
"Noriko-chan, do you have something I could wear?" she asked. "I
didn't bring anything with me."

The dark-haired girl stared at her wardrobe for a moment, thinking.
"Just a second..." she stated, suddenly, dashing out of the door. She
returned a moment later, carrying a large cotton shirt on a hanger.
"This belonged to my Uncle," she explained, holding it up against the
taller girl to check the size. "It'll be a bit big on you, but--"

Shimako took it, smiling gratefully and rubbing the soft material
between her fingers. "Don't worry, Noriko-chan. It's fine. Thank
you." She paused for a moment. "Is it okay for me to get changed
in here?"

Noriko nodded, then looked away quickly as Shimako began to undo the
buttons of her blouse, feeling as though she might blush all the way
to her toes. "I'll just go and clean my teeth," she began, hoping that
her voice would not betray her discomfort. "The bathroom is at the
end of the hallway. You can... you can use my bed. I'll sleep on the
floor." Before the other girl could try and argue, Noriko had grabbed
her night-clothes and stepped out onto the landing, closing the door
behind her.


When she returned, she found Shimako standing next to the bed,
examining a small statue of the Buddha that she kept there. The
shirt's sleeves were rolled halfway up her arms, and the tails hung
alluringly around the middle of her thighs.

Catching Noriko's expression, she spun playfully on the spot, her hair
bouncing around her shoulders. "How do I look?" she teased. The
younger girl laughed in delight, shaking her head as Shimako walked out
towards the bathroom, before finally dropping to her knees on the
mattress.

Through the thin fabric of her pajama top, Noriko absently counted off
the beads of the rosary that hung, hidden, around her neck. The warm
weight of it against her skin so similar, and yet so different from the
juzu she had sometimes carried in the past.

She hadn't meant to wear it like this - certainly not outside the
Lillian school grounds. She'd meant what she'd said when she had told
Shimako that she would merely keep it safe for her. After all, it
didn't mean anything much to her. Not really.

But somehow she'd kept forgetting to take it off. And with Shimako
here... This was her secret. A private prayer.

Another Decade passed beneath her fingertips. Her skin tingled gently.

Each bead of the juzu brought calm, a tranquility to be found nowhere
else. The rosary seemed almost its polar opposite, bringing confusion,
uncontrolled. Her heart beat faster.

"Noriko?"

She jumped in surprise, her fingers flying from her throat as though
scalded. Turning, she found Shimako standing a few steps behind her,
eyes bright with amusement.

"I'm sorry. Did I startle you?" she asked.

Noriko shook her head, standing slowly. "No, not at all. I...
Shall I turn the light off?"

Shimako sat down on the bed, shuffling herself under the blanket.
"Thank you," she nodded.

Sighing quietly with relief, Noriko turned out the light and settled
herself onto her mattress. The cross around her neck felt as though it
was blazing with light. Even in the dim glow of the street lamp
outside, she felt sure that Shimako could see it shining from where she
lay.

Shivering, she tugged the blanket up under her chin. "Goodnight,
Onee-sama," she whispered.

A moment later, she realised what she had just said, her fingers
leaping instinctively to cover her mouth. Her skin burned, blushing
furiously.

In the darkness, she could barely make out the outline of Shimako's
face. Only her reply, softly breathed, hung in the air.

"Goodnight, Noriko-chan."



FIN


3 comments:

Noria said...

I'm here via gardenofmaidens at Livejournal.
This story's really sweet and very much in character. I enjoyed reading it very much. Well done.

celine said...

agreed. the characters were very well developed and kept close to their real personalities. My favorite couple so far. go go shimako~

Adam said...

Thanks very much - they're definitely my favourite couple as well. I'm glad you enjoyed it.