:Strawberry Scented Girl:
“I love the scent of you, it suits you so well.
When you walk by, your sweet smell lingers in my nostrils.”
Even under the artificial light of the bookstore her angelic glow radiated. I had to force myself not to stare at her as she repeatedly pulled books down from the shelf, carefully ruffled through them with her long, delicate fingers and then returned them to their initial location. I pretended to be interested in a book so I could remain close to her without seeming suspicious. A part of me hoped she would notice me and perhaps we could start up a conversation, but another part of me hoped she would leave the bookstore soon, so I could regain my bearings and leave as well.
Unfortunately, she noticed me.
“Rena, is that you?” She asked.
I removed my nose from the book I was holding and altered my countenance. I wanted to say, ‘I haven’t been stealing glances of you for the last five minutes.’
“Hey Manatsu, how are you doing?”
She walked up to me and for the first time I noticed that we were of the same height.
“I’m fine.” She answered. Brushing her hair away from her face like she always did every time I spotted her at the university. And the heavenly scent of strawberries filled my nostrils.
I love strawberries. They’re so soft, delicious and juicy. It was hard to keep from salivating at the smell.
“And how are you?” She inquired.
I told her that I was doing okay, but I actually felt uncomfortable. Standing so close to the love of my life was pleasurable but also overwhelming. If she had any idea of how I felt about her, she would perhaps never speak to me again. I didn’t want that to happen, so I tried to act as nonchalant as possible when around her.
It seldom worked. Being near her wasn’t the easiest thing, especially with the scent of strawberry clouding my judgment.
“I’m like a moth to the flame when it comes to books.” She stated as if defending her reason for being in the bookstore. “But I have to admit, this is my first time here. Usually I buy books near our school.” The curve of her mouth extended into a sly yet playful smile.“I should’ve been coming here all along I guess.”
Is she flirting with me? At least, I assumed she was. Her thoughts are hard to read, but the idea was enough to shift my gaze upward and contemplate the “EXIT” sign conveniently positioned above her head. No matter how inviting it looked though, I couldn’t move my feet. I was glued in place and knew the proper thing to do was to keep the conversation in motion.
“Moths are sad creatures. If I could, I’d carefully pull out their wings in order to save them from the flame. Sure it would hurt to have their wings removed but it couldn’t be as bad as burning to death.” I said.
She was used to my bizarre comments. Many people couldn’t comprehend my thought process, but she and I shared some kind of connection.
“Maybe that’s why people aren’t born with wings.” She replied. “We’d be dumb enough to fly into the sun.” She laughed.
Her carefree nature was admirable. However, for a brief second I thought I saw sorrow soiling her dark brown eyes. If it was there, then she immediately masked it by changing the subject.
“I think you and I should eat lunch together again sometimes,” Manatsu commented. “You’re a fun person to talk with.”
That’s when I first met her. Out of all the seats in the cafeteria inside the university, Manatsu kindly offered me a seat in her occupied table. That seat happened to be the only one available. I have that day etched in my heart as both a blessing and a curse.
“Sure, I’d like that.” I responded.
It sounded harmless enough, but inside me roared the heart of a lion. I’m going to have a chance to talk and spend time with her again. Then the realization of that statement hit me. Again, I felt torn between my want to be near her and my want to run screaming in the other direction. I stood my ground though, without displaying my true emotions. I felt it best to let the dance of destiny play out to its own tune.
To my dismay, our discussion only lasted maybe a minute or so, but it felt as if time stopped as we stood together in the bookstore. I knew time continued to pass however, by the movement of our mouths and the flow of our words. The moment was beautiful, but at the word “Good-bye” that echoed from her luscious lips, it faded and I was left alone.
Although the bookstore was only two blocks from her apartment, it is not a place she visits often. Unlike Manatsu, she doesn’t read that much. On that particular day though, it was as if someone had whispered “go to the bookstore” in her ear all night as she slept. Matsui Rena woke up with the urge to go there and look what happened when she did. Being with the strawberry scented girl, there was completely different than seeing her at school; it was more intimate.
In the university, Rena thought all the other students surrounded and suffocated them, but that wasn’t an issue when it was only Manatsu, her and the books. At first, she thought the incident in the cafeteria was merely a coincidence, but the encounter at the bookstore had her believing that fate wanted her and Mukaida Manatsu to be together. Rena thought life couldn’t get any better, but then they had another encounter.
About a week later, she was sitting in a restaurant– her favorite restaurant actually– waiting for a friend. Rena had been waiting for twenty minutes already. By this point in time, she knew that her friend was not going to show up. It happened quite often so it didn’t upset her. Instead, after finishing the appetizer of spicy horseradish shrimp, she ordered an entrée. As Rena was waiting for it, the most beautiful woman in the world walked in. The sun that pierced through the window of the entrance doors made her long, black hair shimmer. She wore a yellow-colored sleeveless knit top, white shorts accented by high-heeled shoes and a golden necklace and earring combination. Every last detail of her appearance had been thought out. The image of her entering the restaurant was flawless except for the girl that escorted her in. It had two arms and two legs and went by the name of Matsui Jurina. Yeah, Rena was aware of the fact that she and Jurina shared the same last name, and yes it upsets her most of the time. She had seen her on a few occasions surrounded by squealing fangirls and also when Rena would come and secretly watch Manatsu inside her class; Jurina was also there waiting for her beloved “girlfriend”.
Rena flashed a quick grin at the girl as she gracefully walked by. In response, Manatsu waves and smile at her behind Jurina’s back. It pleased Rena to know that she was important enough to sneak expressions to.
Once the two of them sat down, Rena made sure to keep her eyes fixed on her own table. It was easy enough to do since her back was to them, but every now and then she really wanted to switch seats so she could see what they were up to. Luckily, the food she ordered was brought out shortly, so her urges were calmed as she occupied her time by stuffing her face. However, she could still hear their voices. At first, the words were quiet. Since she wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, she didn’t make out the beginning of their conversation. Then their voices grew louder and eventually Rena could hear everything that was said.
“Look, I just don’t feel the same way anymore.” From what Rena could hear, it was Jurina’s voice.
Rena took a sip of water and sharpens her hearing senses.
“But we’ve been dating for two years.” Manatsu replied.
Rena picked up the food on her plate using the chopsticks provided and shoved it into her awaiting mouth.
Matsui Jurina lowered her voice, but Rena could still hear what she says.
“Well, I’ve been seeing Riho for about five months now and I think –” She paused and Rena eventually swallowed her food.
Manatsu didn’t say anything. Rena assumed—like her, she was waiting to hear the rest of Jurina’s statement.
“I think she’s, you know—” Jurina nervously chuckled. “—‘The one’ I guess…”
A rush of anger flooded inside of her, but Rena knew it wasn’t her place to interrupt the two of them. Gulped down some more water and began picking at her entrée, trying to turn her focus away from the private conversation. She couldn’t ignore it though.
In a sobbing voice, Manatsu responded. “You cheated on me?!”
“I-I’m sorry, but yes.” Jurina affirmed. “You’re too trusting, Manatsu. You need to grow up a little.”
Rena wanted to turn around and slapped her right in her face, but she knew that Manatsu’s personal life had nothing to do with her. So she just sat there and let Jurina ruined the girl’s innocence.
“I can do that.” Manatsu cried.
By now the argument had reached a volume where Rena was sure it could be heard by all surrounding tables.
“I can grow up if that’s what you want. Please don’t leave me,” She begged.
Rena couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Jurina had hurt her, cheated on her, and made a fool of her. Why would she want the girl to stay?
As Rena was finishing her food, she again overheard Jurina.
“You don’t get it, do you? I don’t want to repair my relationship with you. I’ve got Riho now.” She said.
Between the tears and snuffles, Manatsu managed to blubber, “Fine. Just go then. Just leave me alone.”
Jurina must have tried to comfort her because suddenly Rena heard Manatsu yelled, “Don’t touch me! Just go away.”
No matter how bad Rena wanted to, she didn’t turn around. She was sure the last thing the girl wanted was an audience.
Without watching the scene, Matsui Rena could still gather an image of what was happening. She heard Jurina throw down a utensil and slide her chair out.
“Alright, I’m leaving.” Remarked Jurina, and even though she never noticed her, Rena scowled at her as she left the restaurant leaving the poor, innocent Manatsu alone with her untouched meal.
Rena couldn’t think straight. Should she go over there or should she stay here? Should she try to comfort the girl or should she leave her alone?
Rena thought, to Manatsu she was only an acquaintance in school. It’s not like she was a close and personal friend that Manatsu could rely on. After weighing the options, Rena made the decision to remain seated. Yet she was startled when she heard footsteps behind her and said, “Can I sit with you?” she softly asked. Her eyes wiped clean of the tears.
Rena could see the puffy redness of her eyes and the trails of saltwater on her cheeks. She was doing her best to fight the tears, and it seemed that sitting with Rena would help her do that.
“O-Of course.” Rena immediately responded. How could she ever deny the love of her life?
Even though it was a man’s gesture, Rena quickly jumped out of her seat to help Manatsu into hers. Once she tucked her chair under the table, Rena returned to her own seat and looked down to the empty plate in front of her. She didn’t know what to say or if she should say anything, so she waited.
“I hate her.” Manatsu commented.
Rena had plenty she could say on that subject, but stayed quiet anyway. After all, the girl needed an ear not a mouth right now.
“Apparently, she’s been cheating on me for quite some time now and I was too stupid to realize it.” She paused.
Rena spied Manatsu’s left index finger tapping the table. Rena knew the girl did that when she was looking for an answer.
“She kind of abandoned me here with no lift home, and I have no money on me. I-I was wondering,” She hesitated. “if you could perhaps pay for my meal and then maybe help me to get home?”
Rena was caught by absolute surprise by her candor. She was usually more timid and never asked any help. Rena found it odd that she would ask her when they weren’t that close, but she blamed it on the breakup.
Manatsu was merely out of character at the moment. A few tears trickled down her cheek, but a wondrous smile brightened her face. The smile was forced, but it was still amazing and Rena, being the weak person that she was, succumbed.
“Of course, I’ll help you out.” Without hesitation Rena replied.
This time the smile Manatsu gave her was genuine. “Thank you, and I’ll pay you back as soon as possible. I promise.” She stated.
All of her happiness relied upon Rena, and she’s proud of herself that she was her savior in this bleak moment; her shining light in a blanket of unfathomable darkness. Or at least Rena hoped that’s what Manatsu probably thought.
They picked a cab outside the restaurant and the ride to Manatsu’s apartment was splendid. She joked and laughed, pretending that her esteem was still whole and intact, and Rena carried on with a playful smile on her face. For some reason, Manatsu seemed more attainable. Perhaps it was due to the fact that she no longer had a girlfriend, but something within Rena changed. The nervousness she usually felt around her didn’t surface. She felt like she actually had a chance. Thinking that maybe she and the girl she loves secretly for so long would start a new relationship and make good couple after all.
Then they reached what Rena thought would be their final destination. At first, Rena did not see the scene because her eyes were fully glued to Manatsu, but after noticing the disheartened look upon her face, she followed her gaze and spotted Jurina. The sweetness in the air turned sour. The girl wasted no time in obtaining her things from the apartment that she and Manatsu apparently shared. The tears started up again. Rena reached in her coat pocket and pulled out a white hanky and hand it to her. Manatsu smiled at the gesture and then let her thoughts surface.
“I swear, I’m just like my mother,” She said. “The woman’s been in a relationship three times. She keeps falling for these losers who end up either cheating on her or beating her.” She sniffled and turned her head to Rena. “I mean, Jurina isn’t the worst person in the world. She didn’t abuse me. But every time I think I’ve found something true it blows up in my face.”
Rena bit her tongue and did not say any comment because again, she felt that the girl doesn’t want a conversation. She merely wanted someone to listen to her, but Rena contemplated the possible future that existed for the girl. People have a tendency to follow their parents’ footsteps.
“Maybe Jurina was right.” She continued. “I should grow up. Love doesn’t really exist and the sooner I realize that, the better.”
Rena felt like her heart stopped beating. How could a Matsui Jurina ruin a woman’s hope for adoration? Rena wanted to express her feelings to Manatsu, to let her know that she meant more than life itself to her, but the words wouldn’t come. Instead, Rena just stared at her and asked what she could do to help.
“That’s nice of you, Rena-chan, but I don’t think there’s anything you can do for me.” Manatsu answered. She turned her sight back to the person that scuttled into and out of her apartment . As Manatsu gazed at her “ex-girlfriend”, a wave of heat flooded her delicate cheeks. Her eyes slanted, and a horizontal crease formed on her forehead. “Actually, there is something you can do.” She said.
The facial tension disappeared. She turned her head, gazed straight into Rena’s eyes and whispered, “I’d like to see your place. Take me there.”
Again, Rena was taken aback by her bluntness, but she tried to remain rational. Clearly, Manatsu was not aware of her words. The shock of the breakup must have finally caught up to her, and since Rena was the one nearest to her at the moment, it was her responsibility to think up a safer alternative.
“How about we head to the campus?” Rena nervously offered.
She thought that they could find something there to pass away the time. Then, after a while, she could bring Manatsu back to her apartment. Hopefully by then it would be cleared of the filth.
“No.” Manatsu firmly stated. “I know what I’m doing. I want to go home with you.”
The tears were gone. A second ago Mukaida Manatsu seemed so frail, but now she had been replaced by a temptress. No room for compromise remained. She would get what she wanted no matter how irresponsible and dangerous the decision was. Her anger towards Jurina had put her in self-destruct mode; she was in the process of losing her sanity. Every thought in her mind told Rena to drop her off at the college instead of following her request, but apparently Rena’s desire for her outweighed all reason because soon they were outside of her apartment complex and she was exiting the vehicle.
Rena had been thinking so hard about how to handle the mess that she didn’t even recall the ride from the girl’s apartment to hers. But somehow, even with her brain malfunctioning, her hands and feet performed the necessary actions. Unlocking the door to her apartment and opened it, then gestured Manatsu to enter. After the entrance the girl glided into the living room as if the place belonged to her and then made herself comfortable by plopping down on one of the couch. The room was spinning. Rena couldn’t tell if she was walking, standing, sitting or lying down. All she could recall in the blur of that moment was Manatsu’s warm and quivering lips, smashing with her. It was a kiss that her beloved angel would have never planted, but with it her life came into focus and the world had meaning. Rena knew what she had to do to restore the girl’s innocence and save her from future pain. The tune of her giggles filled Rena’s ears as she led the girl into her bedroom and laid her gently her on bed. For Rena, the girl before her was the only thing that mattered. She understood Manatsu better than anyone else did.
She and Manatsu were soul mates. Seeing her often, encountering each other at the bookstore, dining at the same restaurant, those weren’t coincidences. Chance meetings didn’t exist; destiny wanted them to be together, and it had led them to this moment. Rena hesitated at first. After all, she would never get a second chance and she wanted the action to be perfect. Rena began to lose faith in herself until she watched as Manatsu removed her golden necklace and placed it on the nightstand. She invitingly grazed her hand across her elegant, exposed neck. Rena stood there waiting to see what she would do next, but nothing new came to pass. The necklace was the only thing she made any attempt to take off, and the gesture suggested that she was well aware of what’s going to happen tonight. In fact, according to the brilliance of her sparkling eyes, it appeared to Rena that she welcomed it. She must have been aware that her fall from grace had begun.
‘Why else would she have requested my company? Why else would she have invited herself into my arms?’ Matsui Rena questioned herself, as she climbed onto the bed making sure to take in every aspect of Manatsu’s form before performing the deed.
Manatsu would not be the same afterwards. The delay must have irritated her because she grabbed Rena’s frozen hand and rubbed it along her cheek. Letting her hand traces the girl’s mouth and then lowered it to her shoulder. Rena shivered slightly as a chill crept up her spine. Within that small, dimly lit room she mustered up all her courage and wrapped her hands around Manatsu’s throat. If she did not use every ounce of her strength, the strangulation could take hours, Yet Rena wanted it to be as painless as possible for her sweet Manatsu . She tightly closed her eyes as Rena intensified her grip. Feeling disgusted with herself for what she was doing to the innocent, angelic Manatsu. She couldn’t believe that the life of the woman she loved was extinguishing under her hands, but the knowledge that this was the only way she would remain pure gave Rena the strenght to continue. However, as Rena was immersing in the guilt of her own action, at that moment euphoria overtook her whole being. The fact that Manatsu had chosen her to bring her death was a true bliss. She had offered to bring her somewhere besides this apartment but she had refused. And now there was no turning back. Strawberry scented girl Manatsu was now hers only. Not a single person in the universe would ever have her like she had her. The girl’s body instinctively fought to survive, but Rena held on even tighter. She would be her carrier to a better life where worry and hardship would never find her. Once free of the fragile shell of a human, her title of Angel would be replaced by Goddess, and she would be blessed with eternity. There would be no journey into the flames.
Sensing her release, Rena removed her hands from Manatsu’s tender neck and adoringly stared at the bruises.
‘Even in death, her body was beautiful.’ Rena leaned down and kissed her forehead.
“Sleep sound my goddess. No one can damage you now.” She whispered, and the scent of strawberries engulfed her senses as she sat on the bed grinning and stroking Manatsu’s hair.