The Cruelty and Fairness of Fate
~ Chapter 14: Out in the Open, part 2 ~
Makoto held the small teddy bear on her lap and nervously straightened its purple bow one more time. Seated next to her on the bus seat was Ami. The blue haired girl watched the other’s actions with some amusement.
“Hotaru will like it, Mako-chan,” said Ami. “She’ll like her birthday present as well. You shouldn’t be so concerned about it.”
“I hope so,” answered Makoto. She tugged on the bear’s ear. “I just hope this is enough of an apology for messing up her birthday dinner.”
Makoto thought back to Thursday night, when she had realized what she’d done. She and Ami had been sitting together trying to puzzle out the symbolism in the reading assignment Hideo-sensei had given her classes. At one end of the couch, Ami was going on about the hero and his shield. At the other end, Makoto sat with her legs tangled comfortably around Ami’s and listened as the girl spoke. Makoto’s eyes had drifted shut as she concentrated on the sound of Ami’s voice, the actual words just flowing over her head.
Feeling more playful than studious, Makoto tickled the inside of Ami’s thigh with her toe. A light slap and an admonishment to pay attention because this was going to be on the test were her answers. Makoto had nodded and promised to pay attention as Ami went back to her analysis. Her eyes closed again, however, and her thoughts had begun to wander.
Makoto had been feeling pretty good the last few days. She and Ami had talked a bit about things, but most of the time was spent just enjoying each other and being happy-in-love, which left a lot about their situation unsaid. But all of this was new, and they couldn’t be blamed for wanting to just enjoy it for a while before having to deal with bigger realities. Things like telling Ami’s mom. But that was Ami’s thing, just like telling Mamoru was going to be Usagi’s, and it was going to be Ami’s decision how to handle it.
Then there was Haruka’s gang to tell. Makoto wanted to do that herself, if for no other reason than to see the look on the Haruka’s face when she told her she’d finally gotten the girl. Makoto thought Saturday would be a good time to do that, after Hotaru’s birthday party.
Remembering the party was what had triggered it. Her eyes had popped open, and she sat up as quickly as her tangled legs and expanding stomach would allow her. “Hotaru’s birthday,” she’d said to a questioning Ami as she moved. “It was Monday. I completely forgot.”
“The party isn’t until Saturday,” Ami had answered, still confused about what a child’s birthday had to do with ancient Celtic literature. “We’ve already got her presents.”
“No, no,” said Makoto, “this isn’t about the party. It’s about Monday. Her birthday, when her parents no doubt had plans for her, and two of them wound up having to spend all of their free time with me at the hospital. Haruka didn’t even make it to the school to pick her up.” Makoto shook her head in annoyance at herself. “I have to apologize. Little kids don’t forget when you mess up their birthdays.”
It had been too late that night to call Hotaru, though that hadn’t stopped Makoto from calling the girl’s parents. Haruka had told her not to worry about it, that they all understood. But Makoto still wanted to do something to make up for it. So she’d spent Friday evening dragging everyone around looking for something to help her say ‘I’m sorry.’ The furry, tan bear she now held on her lap was the result of that.
Makoto tucked the bear back inside his gift bag and rearranged the tissue paper over and around his ears just before the bus pulled to their stop.
When they got to the house, Hotaru greeted them enthusiastically at the door.
“Happy birthday, Hotaru,” said Ami as the little girl pulled them inside.
“Thank you,” answered Hotaru. “You’re the first ones here, and I’ve got something really good to show you, too.”
Makoto smiled at the girl. “Can’t wait to see it,” she said. “But before you show us, I have something for you. I know Monday was really your birthday, and that your parents wanted to spend it just with you. I’m sorry I took them away from you for so long that night.” Makoto held out the brightly colored gift bag. “I hope this helps to make up for it a bit.”
Hotaru took the package that was being offered to her. “Thank you, Mako-chan, but you didn’t have to.” She shook the bag slightly, peering down into the tissue paper, then asked eagerly, “Can I open it?”
Makoto nodded, and Hotaru knelt down and set the bag on the floor. Her hands reached in and moved aside the tissue paper until she felt something soft and furry. Her smile widened as she pulled the bear from his wrappings.
“You’re so cute,” Hotaru cooed to the stuffed animal as she held him up in front of her. “I hope you didn’t have to stay in there for too long.” Hotaru hugged the bear to her and stood, one arm reaching up to Makoto.
The taller girl bent down to hug the child. “Do you like him?” she asked.
“Very much,” said Hotaru with a nod. As they pulled back from the hug, she added, “You don’t have to worry about my birthday. I know it was an accident. And Michiru-mama still made my favorite dinner. We just waited until everyone came home to eat. We had cake and ice cream afterwards, too. And I got my special present,” she said excitedly.
Hotaru hurried into the next room in search of a parent with Makoto and Ami following more sedately behind her. “Setsuna-mama,” she said when she found her, “look what Mako-chan got for me. He’s a special present,” she explained as she held out the bear for Setsuna to see. “I want to show them my other special present. Can I, please?”
Setsuna smiled and nodded at her little girl. “You may if you’d like,” she answered. “Have Haruka-papa get it for you so I can finish setting things up in here.”
“Okay,” answered Hotaru. She turned to Makoto and Ami. “Wait here. I’ll be right back,” she said as she ran off to get Haruka.
Setsuna turned and offered the girls a polite smile. “Good afternoon,” she said to them. “How are you both?”
Their bit of pleasant small talk was interrupted a few minutes later as Hotaru came back into the room. “Smile,” she called happily to them.
Makoto smiled for her and almost laughed at what she saw. The teddy bear had been tucked into the large pocket on the front of Hotaru’s overalls. Hanging from one of the belt loops on the side was her 35mm camera, just the way it had been when they’d arrived. And held up to her eye was a shiny, new camcorder.
Haruka appeared in the doorway behind Hotaru. She leaned against the doorframe, a proud, ‘I made my daughter happy’ grin on her face.
Makoto waved at the camera even as she felt Ami going shy beside her. “What an incredible present,” she said.
Hotaru lowered the camera and hurried over to show it to them. With a little help from Haruka, she pointed out all the bells and whistles. “I got the good kind of batteries with it,” she went on. “The ones that last for seven hours at a time, so I can record lots of stuff. And it takes still pictures, too. They get saved on a special computer card so I can print them out. I’ll show you.”
The camera was lifted back to her eye and pointed at Ami. Hotaru pushed a few buttons on top, then held the camera so they could see the still frame on the swing out mini screen.
“Cute picture,” smiled Makoto, to which a slight blush appeared on Ami’s cheeks.
Hotaru giggled. Then she remembered the secret Chibi-usa had told her, and that it had been long enough so it wasn’t a secret anymore. “I almost forgot,” said Hotaru around her smile. She moved the camera back around and set it to record. Then she asked, “Did you and Ami have a good first anniversary?”
Makoto stared at the little girl slack-jawed. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a similar surprised expression on Ami’s face. Looking around she also noticed the small, knowing smile Setsuna wore as she pretended to ignore them and set up the table, as well as the surprise turned amused smirk on Haruka’s face.
Accepting what she now considered to be the inevitability of it all, Makoto laughed and draped an arm around Ami’s shoulders, pulling the surprised girl closer to her. “Yeah, Hotaru,” she answered. “We had a very good anniversary.”
* * *
It didn’t take long for the others to arrive at the party. And, once Chibi-usa was there, it didn’t take long for Makoto to realize how Hotaru had found out about her and Ami. Makoto watched the two girls together and wondered how much information Hotaru was privy to. It felt just a bit disconcerting to her to realize at that moment just how much Chibi-usa knew about all their lives when they themselves had yet to experience it.
Those thoughts were put behind her, however, as the party was moved into full swing. Over the next few hours, food was served, cake and ice cream were handed out, and presents were opened and joyfully exclaimed over.
Somewhere early in, the new video camera had been passed off to Hotaru’s parents. Hotaru had kept her 35mm with her, periodically stopping to take pictures of the people around her. It seemed she was determined to take enough shots to fill up the photo album that had been a gift from Minako. The rolls of film that had come with it provided her nicely with enough ammunition to achieve that goal.
Makoto stood by the snack table and poured herself another cup of soda. Rei and Minako had pulled Ami away from her and, in helium induced squeakiness, were trying to convince the girl that sucking the air out of balloons was high entertainment. On the floor not far from them, Hotaru, Chibi-usa, Haruka, and Usagi huddled around the game that was a present from Usagi as Michiru and Setsuna sat nearby and watched.
Chibi-usa finished pulling another of the plastic sticks from the center of the marble filled Kerplunk cylinder. The marbles stayed firmly in place, and the girl sighed in relief.
It was Usagi’s turn now. The blonde’s tongue poked out between her lips as she concentrated on the yellow stick between her fingertips. Very slowly, she pulled it out. There was a slight shift inside the cylinder, but the marbles didn’t fall. A triumphant grin spread across her face at her success, and she laid the newest stick with the few others she had already removed.
Makoto smiled for Usagi and chuckled quietly at the show Haruka put on before taking her turn.
Cracking her knuckles, then rubbing her palms together quickly, Haruka set to her task. After a moment’s thought, she chose a green stick and carefully began to pull it from its place. The stick was halfway to its goal when one of the marbles slid out of place and fell to the tray below. Haruka froze mid pull. It was a futile effort, however. Another marble fell, quickly followed by another and another, until all the remaining marbles came cascading down in a loud clatter.
Haruka hung her head in defeat and sighed while pointedly ignoring Usagi and her happy gloating.
“Aw, it’s okay, Haruka-papa,” said Hotaru. She scooted over and wrapped her arms around Haruka’s back.
“Maybe I should lose more often,” said Haruka quietly. “Come ‘ere you,” she said as she pulled Hotaru into her lap and began to tickle the girl’s ribs.
Over Hotaru’s laughter, Makoto heard another voice, slightly altered from what she usually heard. She looked over and saw Ami, balloon in hand and cheeks reddening after her mouse like squeak. Minako clapped her hands and begged Ami to do it again as Rei laughed lightly.
Makoto watched her friends’ antics and thought to herself that sometimes it was hard to tell who were the children and who were the adults. With that thought came another that had been nagging at her off and on all afternoon.
Not wanting to disturb the happy atmosphere and feeling the need to take a few moments and collect her thoughts, Makoto allowed herself to wander a bit. Without intending it, she wound up in a dark room and stood looking out the pair of French doors that led to the backyard.
The early evening sky was clear and littered with stars. What little there was of the moon shone brightly. Makoto searched for several minutes until she found the right star.
“Hi, Mom,” she said softly. “I miss you. I wish you could be here for all of this.” Then she smiled a bit sadly. “And I’d love for you to tell me how I’m supposed to handle this one.”
“How about with a little help from your friends?” asked Haruka as she flipped on the light. When Makoto turned to her, Haruka added, “Sorry if I’m interrupting, but for some reason, people start to get nervous when you disappear.”
Makoto chuckled at that, then said, “I didn’t think anyone would notice so quickly. I just wanted a few minutes to myself and wound up feeling like I should say hi to her.”
Haruka walked up beside Makoto and looked out into the sky with her.
Makoto smiled to herself after a moment’s silence. Once upon a time, if her mother had been here when she and Haruka first met, Makoto was certain she wouldn’t have done what she was about to do. “Mom, this is my friend, Haruka. Haruka, my mother.”
Bowing politely, Haruka responded, “I’m pleased to meet you, Kino-san. Makoto is a very good friend, and it’s my honor to know her.”
Makoto’s smile widened. “I think she likes you, though she thinks you should let your hair grow out a bit more.” She laughed lightly at the look on Haruka’s face and added, “Mom always liked it when I brought my friends home. It made her happy, I think, to know that I wanted to show her off rather than hide her.”
“I’m glad you introduced us,” answered Haruka. “And I meant what I said about being your friend. So if you think you need to talk about something?”
Makoto shifted a bit uneasily. As much as she considered Haruka to be a friend, this wasn’t something she felt the blonde would take well. “Thank you,” said Makoto, carefully weighing her words, “but this is something I need to talk about with someone else.”
“Someone else, huh,” said Haruka with a smirk.
Slight color rose in Makoto’s cheeks. “Yeah,” she answered. “I was going to tell you about it later tonight. Hotaru just beat me to it.”
Haruka laughed. “I knew something strange was going on with her when I picked her up from school on Tuesday. When I dropped her off she was worried about you and wanted to call to make sure you were really okay,” explained Haruka at the questioning look Makoto gave her. “Then, when I picked her up, suddenly everything was fine because you ‘had Ami to take care of you’ and we shouldn’t disturb you because you needed some ‘alone time.’ Michiru is the only person who has ever used that phrase with her, and it was in regards to something very specific. Congratulations, by the way,” grinned Haruka. “On your ‘anniversary.’”
“Thanks,” answered Makoto. “At least now I know for certain when I’m supposed to get her a gift.”
“So,” nudged Haruka gently, “is this what you’re out here skulking around in the dark about?”
Makoto smiled at the older girl, seeing through her ploy. “No,” she answered. “It’s not. Things with Ami are good. This is the first time something like this has ever felt completely right to me. More than that, it’s fun. It’s never been fun before,” she said as she turned her eyes back to the stars.
The difference between being used and being loved, thought Haruka. She placed an arm casually around Makoto’s shoulders. Her grin turned teasing as she said, “Fun, hmm. You know, Mako-chan, if you ever need any tips on different ways for the two of you to have fun…” She waggled an eyebrow at the younger girl, then laughed as Makoto blushed a bright rose that not even Ami could rival.
* * *
Makoto lifted the butterfly figurine from the bookcase and smiled at it briefly before wrapping it in several layers of newspaper and placing it in the box at her feet. Straightening back up, she placed her hands against her back and tried to stretch out the kinks she felt forming. She’d forgotten what a pain moving could be. In this case, very literally.
A second pair of hands joined Makoto’s against her back. The heels of Ami’s hands kneaded gently against Makoto’s sore muscles. “How about a rest?” she said.
“I want to finish these shelves first,” answered Makoto. “If I stop now, I’m not going to start again.” She sighed, then complained, “This is an awful lot of trouble to go through just to move between floors.”
“It will make it all easier on the other end,” assured Ami. She nodded to the books that stood alone on one of the shelves. “I suppose I should take those home.”
Makoto frowned. “You know, I think we should take a break from this after all. Come and sit with me for a minute, would you?” she asked. She then led a curious Ami over to the couch.
When they were both seated, Makoto stated very bluntly, “I want to tell your mom.” At Ami’s near panicked look, Makoto took the smaller girl’s hands in hers and held them tightly. “I don’t want to force you to do something you don’t think you’re ready to do, and I know I said I would give you time. I just didn’t realize it would be this long. It’s been nearly a month already, and… well…”
“I’m sorry,” said Ami weakly.
Makoto shook her head. “No, Ami, there’s no reason for you to be.” One hand reached up to gently touch Ami’s cheek. “But I’ve been thinking about some things, and I have reasons for wanting to do this now. Hear me out, okay?”
Ami nodded. “Okay.”
Letting her hand drop back down, Makoto played their fingers together nervously as she spoke. “First off, your mom’s been good to me. She’s one of a very few who hasn’t looked down on me or treated me like a stupid kid for getting pregnant. And, by letting you stay here all the time, she’s also given me a certain amount of trust and responsibility. It feels too much like we’re running around behind her back, and I don’t like feeling as if I’m betraying the trust she’s put in me where you’re concerned.”
Ami looked at her in surprise. “Mako-chan…”
A finger pressed to her lips stopped Ami from saying anything else. “There’s more, and I want you to hear all of it before you say anything.”
Ami nodded, and Makoto let her finger fall from the other girl’s lips.
“I started thinking about this when we were at Hotaru’s party,” continued Makoto. “It kept nagging at me then, but I wanted some time to think before I said anything to you. Thing is, I didn’t realize just how little time I have to deal with this, and with the move in only two weeks, it’s all creeping up on me fast. So, I guess now is as good a time as any to bring it up. You see, what kept bugging me was that, other than Chibi-usa, there were no children at that party.”
Ami’s eyebrows knitted together in confusion. “I hadn’t realized that, honestly,” she said slowly, thinking back to that afternoon. “Everything seemed to be the way it normally is when we’re all together, so I didn’t really think about it.”
Makoto nodded. “You wouldn’t, because for us, that was normal. But for anyone looking in from the outside, it wasn’t. Very little about that situation is. And she doesn’t have any friends, Ami,” said Makoto sadly. “For all that Hotaru goes to school, and swim class, and art class, and gymnastics, she didn’t have a single normal friend at that party to sing to her or play games and make a ruckus the way they did at my ninth birthday party. And I can’t stop wondering why.”
“Mako-chan,” said Ami as she gently stilled Makoto’s nervous fingers in her own, “Hotaru can be a very shy child at times. That’s part of the reason they have her in so many activities. And keep in mind,” added Ami with a small, self-conscious grin, “not all of us had people outside our families at our birthday parties.”
“I suppose so,” answered Makoto, giving Ami’s hands a squeeze. “But I couldn’t help feeling like there was something wrong with it, regardless of how happy she seemed. Like maybe Hotaru had figured out that her parents don’t fit into the standard definition of normal, and she was too embarrassed by them to bring her friends around. But the more I thought about that,” said Makoto, a low chuckle issuing from her throat, “the more I realized how not true it is. I’ve never met a little girl more adoring of her parents. That led me to something else.
“What if it wasn’t her?” asked Makoto. “What if the other kids know her family is different and avoid her for it? Or maybe it’s their parents who are saying things or just not letting their children play with her or go to her house. Hotaru shouldn’t be treated any differently from anyone else just because of who and what her parents are. That isn’t fair to her. And it isn’t going to be fair to Bug,” concluded Makoto quietly.
Ami’s insides were doing flip flops. It must have shown on her face, Ami thought, because Makoto reached up and lightly began running her fingers through her hair. Some stray pieces were tucked carefully behind Ami’s ear in a gesture she felt was supposed to be reassuring.
“Bug’s never going to be a normal little kid, Ami,” said Makoto softly. “How can he be when his mom’s a 17-year-old, lesbian Sailor Senshi who has to leave him with a babysitter in the middle of the night to go blast youma with the Moon Princess? Especially when his other mom is the exact same thing.”
Ami startled at that, and Makoto laughed.
“He’s got a kabillion aunts. He doesn’t need another one,” said Makoto. “Besides, I can tell that’s what you want by the way you talk about him. Admit it, Ami, you like the idea of a little person running around calling you ‘Mama.’”
Through a shy smile, Ami said, “Ami-mama. It will make things less confusing.”
“Ami-mama,” Makoto repeated with a grin. “I like it. It’s cute.”
A slight blush added to the shy smile Ami already wore.
“I need to do things right for him, Ami,” said Makoto. “If I can’t give him normal, then I have to at least try for stable.” She took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. Looking Ami in the eyes, she continued, “I don’t want you to take your books home unless home is the new apartment. I want you to move in with me. For real this time. No more playing house and pretending until it’s time for you to go back to your mom’s. I love you, and I think we can do this.”
For a moment, Ami sat, feeling slightly overwhelmed by it all. Then she shifted so she was on her knees on the couch. Her arms wrapped around Makoto’s neck, her forehead resting against Makoto’s as her eyes closed. She stayed like that for several minutes, finding peace and comfort in Makoto’s arms, which had gone around her waist to hold her.
“I’m afraid to tell her,” admitted Ami. “I don’t know why. I just am.”
Makoto’s hold tightened a fraction. “I’ll be there with you if you want,” she said softly. “You don’t have to face her alone.”
“This weekend,” replied Ami. “She has off, and I was planning on spending some time there.”
Makoto tugged on Ami until the girl slid onto her lap. Ami’s head rested against Makoto’s chest. She listened to Makoto’s heartbeat as the taller girl cradled Ami against her and whispered soft reassurances. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Ami began to feel the pressure of time Makoto had been talking about. Suddenly, the four days she had until the weekend seemed incredibly small and insignificant.