The Cruelty and Fairness of Fate
~ Chapter 7: Moments ~
The door to the waiting room opened, causing Chisa to look up from her computer. “Afternoon, Kaya,” she said cheerfully as the other woman came into the office. “He’s with a patient. He should only be a few more minutes.”
“Thanks, Chisa,” answered Kaya. She took a seat and picked up one of the magazines from the coffee table. As she flipped through the pages, Kaya laughed to herself. Some of these magazines made taking care of a baby seem unbelievably complicated. As far as Kaya was concerned, after nine months of pregnancy hell and two days of labor, taking the baby home had been the easy part.
Fifteen minutes had passed when Ken walked out behind his patient. The poor woman looked like she had swallowed a beach ball.
“She looks like she’s about to pop,” commented Kaya after the woman had left.
“She is,” answered Ken. “I give it a week, tops.” He motioned for Kaya to follow him back to his office. “Do you have time for lunch? My next appointment isn’t until two.”
Kaya shook her head. “Sorry, can’t. But I was hoping you would do me a favor.” She perched on the edge of the desk as she reached into her bag. Kaya pulled out a box of lollipops and handed it to Ken. “I swiped these from oncology. When Makoto comes in this afternoon, give them to her. Tell her they’re a free sample or something. The number to order more is on the side of the box.”
Ken chuckled. “Stealing candy from cancer patients. There has got to be something unethical about that, Doctor.”
“Oh, please,” said Kaya with a wave of her hand. “They’ve got cartons of them. They won’t miss one little box. Besides, this girl is just as needy.” She frowned in remembered sympathy. “Ami had her over to the house a few weeks ago, and I thought the poor thing was going to have to move into my bathroom.”
Ken made a mental note to ask Makoto about the morning sickness and double check her dietary habits. Then he asked, “Why not have Ami give them to her?”
“Because I already sent some over with Ami,” explained Kaya. “She mentioned that Makoto liked them, but if I give her any more it will seem like I’m being too familiar with the girl.”
Ken knew he would love this woman for the rest of his life, but he doubted he would ever understand her. “You don’t want to seem too familiar with her, yet you found her a doctor, had your daughter force her into an appointment, and now you’re keeping tabs on her checkups. I think I’ve missed something here.”
“Don’t get smart,” replied Kaya. “Anyway, it isn’t Makoto I’m keeping tabs on, it’s Ami. She has school, a doctor’s appointment with Makoto, a study session, then cram school,” finished Kaya, having used her fingers to tick off the points of Ami’s activities. She smiled. “My daughter has a full and busy life that will keep her out until at least ten tonight. Since I get off at seven, it leaves me with several hours free.”
“You wouldn’t by chance have any plans for those few hours, would you?” asked Ken.
Kaya moved forward and took hold of the lapels of Ken’s white jacket. Letting the edges run through her fingers, she answered, “I do. I’m going to have dinner with a very handsome doctor. Someplace nice, but not too fancy, where we can have a peaceful meal without any interruptions.”
Ken doubted such a place existed. Rather than saying this, he replied, “How about the Italian place out on the strip? It’s still early enough for us to get a reservation.”
“Perfect,” said Kaya, standing on tiptoe to reward him with a kiss.
* * *
“Everything looks good,” said Ken. “You say the morning sickness is starting to ease up?”
Makoto nodded. “Either that or I’m getting used to it.”
Ken chuckled. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a patient say they were getting used to it. And while we’re on the subject, I’ve got something for you to try. It’ll make things more tolerable when it is bothering you.”
Makoto took the small, cardboard box that was handed to her. She smiled. “Ami’s mom gave me some of these a few weeks back. Thank you. They do help.”
“You’re welcome,” Ken smiled back at the girl. “Now for the fun part. Would you like to hear the baby’s heartbeat?”
Makoto hesitated just long enough to make Ken wonder if she was going to say no. Then she asked, “Can Ami come in for this part?”
“Of course.” Ken turned to his desk and pushed a button on his phone. “Chisa,” he said into the intercom, “could you ask Mizuno-san to come in here, please?”
A moment later there was a slight knock on the door before it opened. “Is everything all right?” asked Ami as she came into the room.
Makoto grinned at her. “Wanna hear the heartbeat?”
Ami’s face lit up. “Can we?”
Ken nodded. To Makoto he said, “Lie back and get comfortable. We’ll see how cooperative he’s being today.”
“She,” corrected Makoto. “It’s a girl.”
“Right,” replied Ken. “How cooperative she’s being, then.”
Ami was standing next to her, and Makoto’s hand reached out for hers. Ami smiled down at her friend. “Excited?” she asked.
“A little nervous,” admitted Makoto. “You know, if this was a soap opera this would be the big Oh-God-there’s-something-wrong moment.”
“This isn’t a soap opera, Mako-chan,” said Ami reassuringly. She reached out and brushed her fingers through Makoto’s bangs. “There isn’t going to be anything wrong.”
“Ready?” asked Ken.
“Yeah,” answered Makoto even as her grip on Ami’s hand tightened.
Ken held what looked like an oddly shaped microphone attached to a mini amplifier. It made Makoto think momentarily of Minako and how she would be jealous of this because she wanted to take the baby to her first karaoke session.
After a bit of prodding and guess work, Ken positioned the microphone on Makoto’s stomach. He moved it a bit to the right, and after several seconds sound emerged from the amplifier. The baby’s heartbeat was steady and rapid and a bit muffled, as if it was coming from under water. Which, Ami supposed, in a way it was.
Makoto’s expression changed from one of worry to that of quiet awe. The sound was soothing in its own way. She could listen to this forever, she thought.
After several moments, a thought came to Makoto. “It sounds kind of like a starship engine at warp 10,” she said. “Is it supposed to be that fast?”
Ken held back a laugh at both the comparison and the look on Ami’s face. He’d heard the example before, but not being a ‘Star Trek’ fan, he couldn’t validate it one way or the other. “It sounds exactly the way it’s supposed to,” Ken answered Makoto’s question. He turned off the amplifier. “You’re doing a good job taking care of the two of you. Be proud of that.”
Makoto smiled. “I’ve had a lot of help.” She winked at Ami, which made the smaller girl blush slightly.
Ken noticed this and thought back on some of the things Kaya had said to him. So it wasn’t just her imagination, he thought.
Makoto finished dressing in private. On her way out, she scheduled her next appointment. She wanted to hug everyone goodbye she felt so good, but managed to restrain herself long enough to get out of the office.
If there was to be any quiet reflection on this afternoon’s event, it was being put off until later. As the two girls headed to Rei’s, Makoto was nursing a hyperactivity that would have tired out Usagi. Ami hurried to keep up with her friend and the conversation Makoto was having mostly with herself.
* * *
When Kaya got home that night there was a note waiting for her in place of her daughter.
If it’s okay, I’m going to spend the night at Mako-chan’s tonight. She’s restless and needs some help staying occupied.
We got to hear the baby’s heartbeat this afternoon. It was incredible. I’ve heard the sound before, but never up close like that. Mako-chan thinks it sounds like a warp engine. I think she’s been watching too much television. I promise to tell you all about it tomorrow night.
Kaya sighed. If she’d known Ami wasn’t coming home tonight, she wouldn’t have either. Rereading the note in her hand, Kaya thought back to her earlier actions. A few pieces of candy didn’t mean she was getting too involved. She had to believe that this note didn’t mean Ami was either.
* * *
When Ami walked into Usagi’s living room, the others were all seated on the floor surrounded by wrapping paper and bows. It was early Sunday afternoon, and with Makoto’s birthday only four days away, the girls were getting everything done and wrapped in one last minute group session.
Minako leaned forward and picked through a pile of bows. “So she sees the stuff before I can put it away,” she continued her story. “Mom asks who all the baby stuff is for. I tell her, and she gives me this blank look as she tries to remember which one of you Makoto is.” Minako giggled. “Apparently it’s a good thing she isn’t Ami, because ‘she doesn’t have the hips for it.’”
“I’m not sure how I should take that,” said Ami. She sat next to Rei as the other girl struggled with the object she was trying to assemble.
“It gets better,” said Minako. She pressed the bow on top of the package, leaving both her hands free to better dramatize her story. “Just as I think she’s done with it, Mom suddenly realizes I’ve never mentioned anything about any of my friends getting married. When I told her that was because none of them had, I thought she was going to have a stroke.” Minako put the back of one hand to her forehead, the other against her chest, and said dramatically, “The things you young girls think you can get away with these days. And just think of this girl’s poor parents. What they must be going through.”
The others giggled as Minako reverted back to her normal self. With a frown she said, “I swear that woman remembers none of what I tell her and all of what I don’t.”
“I think I’ve got it this time,” said Rei triumphantly. She held up her project for the others to see.
The mobile turned slowly as Brahms Lullaby played softly. The canopy of the mobile was yellow with a blue ruffle. Pastel stars and swirls were dotted across the fabric. From each of the four corners hung a plush star – two yellow and two blue. Hanging stationary in the middle was a cow jumping over a crescent moon.
As Ami watched the mobile turn, something Minako said replayed through her mind. “How much baby stuff did all of you get?”
The girls laughed a bit nervously as Chibi-usa scooted back so she was half hidden behind Minako.
“I know we agreed no baby stuff,” began Rei, “but when you disappeared with Makoto and left us to our own devices, well…”
“We couldn’t help it,” picked up Usagi. “We went by this store, and it had a really cute crib all set up. There were white rabbits carved into the posts of the crib and the bedding was all pink bunnies.”
“So we went in,” continued Minako. “It was just to look, honest. But then we saw all the clothes and toys and stuff.”
Back to Rei now. “And we saw the mobile and thought one little thing couldn’t hurt. Then we saw the picture frame that matched it.”
Minako held up the box she’d just finished wrapping. “The moon’s wearing a backwards baseball cap,” she said with a grin.
Usagi reached around and opened the box that was sitting next to her. “The picture frames were next to all those tiny, cute clothes, though,” said Usagi as she laid out the contents of the box for Ami to see. “We are girls, after all. It was inevitable.”
Ami had to admit the outfit Usagi was laying out was cute. The light blue t-shirt had an embroidered teddy bear holding a balloon on it. The words ‘Baby’s First Smile’ were stitched below it. The matching shorts had a bear face sewn onto the seat. The cap and booties were striped white and blue.
“Then I saw this,” chimed in Minako. “And look, matching socks.” She held up a pair of impossibly small yellow socks and a red onesie with ‘Party. My crib. ’ written in a childish scrawl across the front.
Ami smiled at that. The baby might think his feedings were a party, but she doubted Makoto would. Then it hit her. “Did Chibi-usa help you pick these out?” asked Ami, fairly certain she already knew the answer.
The girls hesitated. It was Usagi who finally spoke up to answer Ami’s question. “It’s not like she told us anything. She just helped us pick out which would be better to get: Pink bunnies or blue teddies.”
“We got regular stuff, too,” said Rei. “We didn’t forget why we agreed not to buy a bunch of stuff for the baby for Makoto’s birthday.”
Usagi’s face lit up. “That’s right,” she said happily. She scrambled to her feet and went over to Ami, pulling her up as well. “You have to see what I got for her. I was almost gonna give up, but then I saw this. I think it’s going to be a really good present, especially for Mako-chan.”
Usagi drug Ami into the kitchen. She let go of the other girl to open the refrigerator and pulled out a box with the logo for Usagi’s favorite candy store on the lid. Usagi pulled back the lid and her smile got even wider.
“Well?” asked the blonde. “What do you think?”
Inside the box was a giant, cake-sized peanut butter cup. ‘Happy B-day Mako-chan’ was written across it in a combination of white chocolate and peanut butter chips.
“Usagi,” said Ami with a grin, “I think that when Mako-chan opens this you are going to be her most favorite person ever.”
Usagi beamed, obviously very pleased and happy with herself.
Ami’s smile lessened just a bit. “I have a favor to ask you, Usagi. But I don’t want you to misunderstand why I’m asking and become unhappy.”
Usagi regarded her friend closely. She could sense the unease Ami was feeling at what she was about to ask. “You can ask me anything, Ami.”
Ami took a breath, then said, “The things you bought for the baby are all very nice. I’m sure Mako-chan will like them. But could we hold off on giving them to her?”
“Why?” asked Usagi.
“Because of a very noticeable lack of the color pink,” answered Ami.
Usagi nodded her head. Her eyes got slightly wider as what Ami was saying really clicked into place. “Oh, I get it. We hadn’t thought of that.”
“It’s all right, Usagi,” reassured Ami. “It’s just that I think it would be better for her to find out it’s a boy when she gets her ultrasound in a few weeks rather than through the birthday presents we give her.”
“You’re right,” said Usagi. “The others will think so, too.”
Ami relaxed a bit. She understood the urge to baby shop for their friend. She’d indulged in it a bit herself. The yellow onesie with ‘Laptop Model’ printed on it that she had hidden on her closet shelf was a partial testament to that.
Usagi returned the box to the refrigerator. After closing the door, she leaned back against it. “How did you know?” she asked Ami.
“That it was going to be a boy?” answered Usagi. “Everybody else thought it was going to be a girl. Even Mako-chan.”
Because it’s what I see when I think of her that way. Rather than giving that reply, Ami answered, “It was just a guess.”
The slight color that rose in Ami’s cheeks gave Usagi the impression there was more to it than what Ami was telling her. “Do you wanna know how I knew?” questioned Usagi, her grin mischievous.
“How?” asked Ami.
“Because you’re never wrong.” Usagi laughed as Ami’s cheeks grew even redder. “I told the others they should have let you bet first.”
Ami realized then why Usagi was so happy about this. Between the two of them, they had just pocketed 4000 yen. No doubt the blonde was having visions of video games and ice cream at the Crown.
And just because it felt good to be on the winning end of things this time, Ami allowed herself to laugh, too.
* * *
Ami relaxed back into her favorite reading chair at the public library. She let out a deep breath as her body settled into the cushions. This was a quiet corner away from the eyes of others. Sunlight filtered in through the window behind her, warming the area without giving any hint to just how cold it was outside.
Ami almost felt bad about being glad to be away from Makoto this afternoon. Almost, but not quite. The other girl had been in a foul mood since she’d woken up this morning. It had all started because she refused to upsize her uniform to accommodate her expanding waistline, saying she didn’t want to deal with the administration yet even if half her teachers had already figured things out. Thus, she’d been stabbed by the safety pins she was using to hold the skirt together more than once as she tried to get the clasps closed. Then at breakfast, just to make Makoto’s disposition even more unpleasant, she hadn’t been able to scrape more than half a spoonful of peanut butter out of the jar. Makoto had gone on to curse every god she could think of for not reminding her to buy more the last time she was at the store. The girls had given their friend a wide berth on the way to school and again on the way home, as her mood seemed to be getting increasingly worse.
She needs to sit and brood to herself for awhile, Ami told herself. She then made the excuse that she needed to go do some research at the library. Alone.
Taking her reading book from her bag, Ami opened it to her favorite of the stories inside. This was how Saturday afternoons were supposed to be, she thought, quiet and peaceful.
Some time later, the quiet was abruptly shattered by the sound of liquid being slurped through a straw right behind Ami’s head.
Startled, Ami jumped and slammed her book shut. She turned around to see Usagi standing behind her with a can of soda in her hand.
“Awww,” said the blonde, disappointed, “it was just getting to the good part.”
Usagi had obviously been reading over her shoulder. Ami, not wanting to discuss the ‘good part’ Usagi was referring to, diverted with, “I’m surprised to see you in the library, Usagi. I thought you were going to the arcade with Rei and Minako.”
Usagi flopped down in the chair beside Ami’s. “Yeah, that was what I wanted to do. But Chibi-usa has a report due on Monday, and Mom made me bring her here so she could work on it.”
“Oh,” replied Ami, not really sure what else she could say.
“So,” said Usagi, her demeanor brightening as she leaned forward, “are you going to read the rest of that book?”
“I… I’ve read it already,” stuttered out Ami.
“It’s a reread, huh,” replied Usagi. “I didn’t think you could do that with regular books.” The blonde’s smile widened as she asked, “Can I read it, then?”
Ami held the book protectively to her chest. “I really don’t think you’d like it, Usagi. Maybe a more traditional romance…”
“Oh, come on. Please,” wheedled Usagi. “I’ve read stuff like that before. You should see some of the doujins Rei sneaks from her grandfather.”
“She let you read them?” asked a surprised Ami.
“I read all of Rei’s manga,” said Usagi as if it was silly for Ami to even ask
such a thing.
Ami’s grip on the book loosened as she considered her friend’s request. “All right,” she said finally. “If you really want to.”
Usagi took the book eagerly. “’Raindrops in the Garden.’ It’s not a library book?” she asked after quickly flipping through the pages.
“No,” answered Ami. “It belongs to me.”
Usagi nodded and opened the book to the table of contents. “Hey, it’s Mako-chan’s butterfly!” she exclaimed. She held the book around so Ami could see the pencil sketch at the corner of the page. “Is this the book that was a gift?”
Usagi giggled. “Now I know why it made you so happy,” she teased.
Ami’s cheeks turned bright red. “I didn’t know what it was about when I picked it up,” said Ami in a quiet rush. “I didn’t even know it would get that… graphic… until I got to that one story. The rest of them are just regular stories about the women of the house, all of them connected through that butterfly. And Mako-chan never read it at all. She just took it out of my hands and bought it for me…”
“Ami,” cut in Usagi.
Ami took a breath and blinked at the blonde.
Usagi laughed softly. “You are way too easy to fluster.” Usagi leaned back in her chair and reopened the book. “Now, which story were we reading?”
“Are you certain you wouldn’t rather start with another story?” tried Ami. The idea of Usagi reading this book, not to mention this particular story, had her more nervous than she could explain. “There are some good ones in there. My favorite is ‘The Stone Pathway.’”
Usagi pulled the book back as Ami tried to reach for it. “I’ll read that one later,” said Usagi. “Tell me which one, please, Ami.”
Ami sighed and sunk back into her chair. “’After the Storm.’”
Hiding behind another book, Ami tried not to watch Usagi as she read. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she was somehow corrupting this girl. So Ami watched as Usagi’s facial expression and posture changed as she got further into the story. One minute the blonde would be sitting upright, her eyes wide. The next, she would be laying across the chair, her feet dangling over the arm as she chewed on her finger.
Ami peeked over her book once again to peer at Usagi. She was once again upright. Her eyes were round as saucers and her head was tilted slightly to the side as if she were trying to make out a particularly jumbled picture.
“I wonder if Rei and Minako ever do anything like this,” Usagi wondered out loud. She looked over at Ami and promptly burst into hysterical giggles.
Ami could feel the heat in her cheeks. She fidgeted, hoping she could disappear into the cushions of the chair.
Usagi sobered a bit. “Don’t worry, Ami. I promise I won’t tell anyone you read naughty stories. Or that Mako-chan bought them for you.”
Somehow that assurance did nothing to make Ami feel any better.
* * *
Makoto was sitting in front of the computer, a spoon dangling from her mouth. She carefully read over the last few paragraphs she’d typed. Deciding they looked fine, she saved the document and reached for her jar of peanut butter. It was amazing how such a simple thing could make one feel so much better when the world was so obviously out to get you.
The front door opened and Ami walked in.
“Hey. I was wondering when you’d get home,” called Makoto, considerably happier than when Ami had last seen her. “Did you do what you needed to?”
“Yes,” answered Ami.
“Great,” replied Makoto. “I went shopping while you were out.” She held up her peanut butter as proof. “Hope you’re hungry. I’m going to start dinner as soon as I finish this paper. A few more paragraphs and it should be done.”
“What are you working on?” asked Ami as she moved over to stand beside Makoto and look at the monitor.
“My history report,” answered Makoto. “There isn’t a thing in this paper that man can complain about.”
Watashi-sensei again. Ami wondered if he was part of the problem earlier.
“I could proof read it for you,” offered Ami.
“Would you? I’d appreciate it,” replied Makoto. “But not until later. I feel like cooking. Heh, I haven’t said that in a while.”
“What are we having?”
“Stew sound good?”
“All right. I’ll get to it, then.” Makoto closed her program, having had enough of homework for tonight, and left the computer for Ami to play with.
Ami had checked her e-mail and was browsing through one of the websites she frequented when Makoto called to her from the kitchen.
A pot was boiling lazily on the stove, and Makoto was leaning against the breakfast counter. She was staring down at nothing, as if she were concentrating to hear a faint sound. Without looking up, she motioned to Ami. “Come here. Quick.”
Ami was trying not to panic. “What’s wrong?” she asked as she hurried to Makoto’s side.
Makoto shook her head and grabbed for Ami’s wrist. She held it for several seconds, making a few indecisive sounds. Then she placed Ami’s hand against her stomach, shook her head no, and moved the hand to the same position under her shirt.
Ami’s heart rate doubled at the physical contact. Soft skin was beneath her palm, which was being held in place by a strong and gentle hand. Ami could hear her blood rushing in her ears, and she was certain she was blushing clear to the tops of her ears.
“There,” said Makoto excitedly. “Can you feel it?”
“Wh… what?” asked Ami.
“The baby,” answered Makoto. “Can you feel it? I thought I felt her move earlier, but I wasn’t sure.”
Ami snapped out of her daze as she realized what was happening. Makoto’s smile lit up her whole face. Ami returned some of it shyly. “He’s still too small for anyone but you to feel him,” said Ami quietly. Without meaning to, she began to stroke her thumb against Makoto’s skin. “This is something special for just you right now. A secret only the two of you get to know.”
Makoto’s eyes met and held Ami’s. “I wanted to share,” she replied just as quietly as Ami had.
“You’ll get to soon enough. Then you’ll wish we’d all go away and stop touching you,” said Ami with a small laugh.
“No,” said Makoto seriously. “I’d never want you to go away.”
Ami felt like she was drowning. She was trapped in the green depths of Makoto’s eyes. Everything she saw there stole her breath away and left her mind spinning. It wasn’t until Makoto’s hand over hers tightened that she had any sense of what she and her wayward thumb were doing.
Quickly averting her eyes, Ami carefully extricated her hand from Makoto’s. “Do… do you still want to have dinner?” It was a stupid question, but it was the only thing that came to her.
Makoto stood straighter, away from the counter. “Yeah,” she said haltingly. “Yeah, of course. I just have to…” She made a vague gesture at the stove.
Ami started backing away towards the door. “I’ll shut down the computer and then set the table.”
Ami disappeared through the kitchen door as quickly as she could. She never heard Makoto curse herself for being stupid and careless. Though she did hear the cupboard door slam shut as the taller girl’s foot made contact with it.
Once outside the kitchen, Ami sagged against the wall. She took a few calming breaths and prayed to whatever higher powers were listening to help her make it through the rest of the night.