[4th of December, 2740 AD; Recreational Center, outside of Mikahana, Kikuisha]
“And we’re here, madame,” Ayame said. “God, I cannot wait to get inside…”
Eva gazed upon the outside of the recreational center as the car pulled up to the front of the building. The surprising size of the establishment caught Eva off guard, but what she also found out from Kiku was that there was much more to do than just relax. What was in store for her, Eva wondered to herself.
“Oh, Aya, I know that you must be so tense from working all the time,” Kiku said. “Evie, I’m surprised you didn’t bring anything with you.”
“Well, it was unexpected,” Eva replied. “I had no idea what I was in for, but it seems like we’ll have plenty to do once we’re inside?”
“That’s what we’re here for,” Ayame said.
“Yes, I can see that you’ve been quite stressed,” Kiku added. “Maybe we could do some exercises inside? Or maybe we could take a swim in the pool. If there’s anything you want to do, Evie, then please let me know!”
“I think I’ll leave it up to you,” Eva answered. “I’m surprised that Igor and Noa didn’t want to come along with us.”
“Oh, I wish that they could’ve, too,” Kiku said, “But Iggy tends to get nervous when he comes here, and I can’t help but imagine that Nona would act much of the same way. Well…”
“Well what?” Eva asked.
“Nothing!” Kiku replied. “Let’s just go inside, shall we?”
Ayame parked the car as the three got out and headed for the inside. Indeed, as Kiku told her, Eva found the interior of the recreational center to be serene. It was almost enough for her to forget about what had been troubling her, yet still, Eva found herself unable to do so. She was curious about what Kiku wanted to do, as she wondered the same with Ayame.
“So, do you want to go for a swim?” Kiku asked. “I’ve brought my swimsuit and I’m sure Aya’s packed something really eye opening.”
Eva shook her head. “You can go for a swim if you want,” she said. “I think I may just go for a jog.”
“Oh, okay,” Kiku said. “Well, if you want to change your mind, then you can just follow the signs and find us in the water!”
“I’ll remember that,” Eva said.
With that, Kiku and Ayame waved to Eva and headed for the pool. Alone once again, Eva thought, but it was mostly due to her own hesitations. That and the fact that she did not bring anything with her, which meant that she did not have a swimsuit to wear in the first place. Sighing, Eva decided to take a stroll around the recreational center to see if she could get her mind set.
Eva arrived back in the main hall of the recreational center and looked up at the clock. Thirty minutes had passed since she had taken her job around the facility, though Eva felt like it must have been longer than that. She had checked out all of the exercise rooms, game rooms, and even the cafeteria, but nothing had caught her eye.
“I guess… I’ll just wait here,” she said.
Eva adjusted her hair as she walked over to one of the benches, but then noticed the sign nearby. Perhaps she could go check up on Ayame and Kiku to see if they were still at the pool, or at least just continue walking. With all of the thoughts in her head, it was difficult for Eva to remain seated anyway. She took Kiku’s advice from earlier and followed the signs leading her all the way to the pool. Once she got close, Eva saw the door opening as Ayame walked out. Eva found it hard not to notice the revealing swimsuit that Ayame wore as the taller woman spotted her.
“Eva, hi,” Ayame said.
“Hello,” Eva said. “Is that… the swimsuit Kiku was talking about?”
“Oh, this?” Ayame asked. “Well, madame bought it for me as a birthday present. It would be rude of me not to wear it, right?”
“I suppose,” Eva replied. “Where is Kiku, by the way?”
“Oh, she’s supposed to be here soon,” Ayame said. “We’re actually going to head for the sauna; perhaps you’d like to come along with us, Miss Bellamy?”
“You know, I think I will,” Eva said.
“You will?” Kiku asked, entering between the two women. “That’s so good to hear, Evie! You were so sorely missed at the pool, Aya was beginning to wonder if you had gone and left us!”
Ayame coughed. “It’s… It’s not like that,” she said. “No, all I was doing was wondering to myself… Hold on, I’ll lead the way to the sauna, you two.”
Ayame walked ahead. Eva had to wonder what got Ayame off guard as Kiku giggled.
“She really does admire you,” Kiku said. “It’s hard not to see why. I can only hope that I retain some of my charm once I reach your age!”
Eva cracked a small smile. “I appreciate that.”
After walking down the hallway and following after Ayame, Eva and Kiku entered through the door. Eva had never been to such a place before, but found herself in a locker room rather than what she thought was going to be the sauna. As the other two women reached for their towels, Eva could only stand in place and watch as they got undressed.
“Oh, Evie, it is rather flattering you’re taking the time to watch, but don’t you have a towel of your own?” Kiku asked.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t bring anything,” Eva answered.
Eva sighed. There was no other choice for her. Of course, there was nothing to fear around both Ayame and Kiku, so there was no reason for Eva to hold back. She went over to the locker next to her and took her shirt off, stuffing it inside the confines of the metal cavity. Then, Eva took off her shoes and socks, also placing them inside the locker. She then undid her belt and let her pants fall, finally taking them off and putting them in the locker with the rest of her clothes. With that, Eva left herself bare with nothing to cover her slender body except her hair and her eyepatch.
“I had no idea you’d be so bold,” Ayame said. “Then again, there’s no real problem with going to the sauna like that. It’s not a mixed sauna.”
“That’s the general impression that I got,” Eva replied. “I was a bit nervous at first, but it seems as if I’ve gotten over that quickly.”
“And we’re all the better for it,” Kiku said. “It’s a bit of a quiet day, it seems. No one else is around, so I’ll follow your example, Evie, and enter the sauna with nothing except for my beautiful self.”
And as she said that, Kiku took off the towel wrapped around her and revealed her petite form. Ayame turned away with a noticeable blush as Kiku hurried to embrace her.
“It’s not as if we’ve never seen each other naked, Aya,” Kiku said. “Don’t you remember the past?”
“Yes, but it is a bit overwhelming with her around,” Ayame replied.
“So you’re scared of showing off to Evie, are you?” Kiku asked. “I don’t think she’d mind too much if she got to see all of you right here…”
“Believe me, I pretty much have seen it all,” Eva said. “You can keep your towel on if you want.”
Ayame breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you.”
“You can be a bit of a pain in the butt sometimes, Aya,” Kiku said. “Oh well, at least I’ll be able to let my skin breathe.”
Inside the sauna, Eva took a seat to the right of Kiku while Ayame took the time to set the temperature. As the air got warmer, Eva leaned forward as Kiku wrapped her arm around her.
“Tell me a story, Evie,” Kiku said.
“A story?” Eva asked. “About what?”
“Oh, anything, really,” Kiku replied. “We are spending a bit of time in here, aren’t we? May as well.”
“I guess so,” Eva said, “But I really don’t have anything to offer.”
Kiku removed her arm from Eva’s back and placed a finger upon her own lips. “You are at a loss? Perhaps I can provide you a little inspiration… Oh, I know! Tell me about your first love!”
“My first love,” Eva said. She had no idea what to say.
“Yeah, I’d really like to hear how you and Quirky first met,” Kiku replied, clapping her hands together.
“Well, if you must know, he’s not the first man I fell in love with,” Eva said. “No, it wasn’t until a few years ago when Kirk and I realized our feelings for each other.”
“Is that so?” Kiku asked. “To be honest with you, I had a feeling that you’d be one of those heartbreaker types…”
“No, I’ve never broke anyone’s heart,” Eva replied. “At least, not voluntarily.”
“Okay, now that sounds like a story,” Kiku said. “What do you mean when you say that, Evie?”
Eva looked down at her feet. “Nothing,” she said. “You don’t need to know about it.”
Kiku leaned forward and met Eva face-to-face. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” Eva said. “It’s a painful memory… Not one I really want to bring up, either.”
“Then I’ll not pressure you,” Kiku replied. “There are memories that I wish not to bring up ever again, as well.”
“Thank you,” Eva said.
“Let’s change the subject, shall we?” Ayame asked, taking a seat next to Eva. “Oh, I’m sorry… You don’t mind if I sit next to you, do you?”
“Go ahead,” Eva answered.
“I’m glad you said that,” Ayame said. “Anyway! Anyway, what are you planning to do after this?”
“I don’t know,” Eva said. “I guess I’m going to have to figure that out tonight.”
“If you’d like, you can stay overnight with us again,” Kiku said. “Mother said that you were so nice!”
“Well, she is observant,” Eva replied.
“I suppose you could say that,” Kiku said. “Oh, I just remembered that I left my towel in the locker room! Hold on a second!”
Kiku jumped up from her seat and left the sauna. Eva felt relief, but also stress as the memories of her past had come up once again. It was better not to delve deep into conversation, but Eva was left with the inability to shake the feelings of loss in her mind.
“I know it’s not my place to ask, but are you okay?” Ayame asked.
“I’m okay… I’m fine,” Eva replied. “It was just a single question, that’s all. Kiku just has too much of an idealistic view of me, that’s all.”
“She tends to think highly of most of the people she meets, yes,” Ayame said, “But Madame Izumi does seem to be concerned about you. It’s only natural to express concern when we see someone struggle, am I wrong?”
“You’re not wrong,” Eva said. “I just fear that I’m past the point of help… That, and the inevitable end.”
“Is that what it is?” Ayame asked. “Is there not someone you can seek help from?”
“I’ve tried,” Eva said, “But at the end of the day, I end up pushing those closest to me farther and farther. I’m afraid that they’ll get hurt… because that’s what’s happened before.”
“I can understand,” Ayame replied.
“Maybe you do, but losing people close to me hurt,” Eva said. “Friends, lovers, even those who were under my care… All of them met their end and I don’t want to go through any of it anymore.”
“I don’t think any of them died because of you, Miss Bellamy,” Ayame said. “As much as that pain resides in you, it shouldn’t drive you away from others and I know that Madame Izumi would say the same thing.”
“She would?” Eva asked.
“Perhaps you can ask her yourself,” Ayame replied. “She’s taken quite a liking to you and I have to admit that I myself have an attraction towards you as well.”
Eva looked away as she tried to hide her face. “I’m… flattered that you would say that,” she said, “But I don’t swing that way. Sorry…”
Ayame smiled. “I meant that I was attracted to you in a platonic sense,” she replied. “I’ve heard plenty of tales about you and getting the chance to be with you has been an honor.”
“I guess I should’ve picked that up,” Eva said. “Thank you.”
“You are quite a humble person,” Ayame said. “Oh, here comes Madame Izumi. May I ask you one thing?”
“Go ahead,” Eva replied. “I feel as if I’ve spilled my guts to you the past few minutes already.”
“When you said that ‘you’ve seen it all,’ did you mean you saw something pop out?” Ayame asked, wrapping her arms tightly over her chest. “Please tell me that you didn’t, Miss Bellamy!”
“I didn’t see a thing,” Eva answered. “You have nothing to worry about with me, Ayame. Also, you don’t need to be so formal all the time.”
“I got it,” Ayame replied.
Kiku hurried into the sauna with the towel in her hands. “I’m sorry I took so long,” she said. “I had to go…”
“Oh, madame, it’s fine,” Ayame said.
“You had to go?” Eva asked.
“Hehe, you’re thinking I did something else, aren’t you?” Kiku asked. “Well, I had a lot to think about, but there was nothing like that going on! Promise!”
“That wasn’t what I meant,” Eva said. “Never mind. I guess we’re almost done, aren’t we?”
“We are? Oh my god, it can’t be over already,” Kiku said. “I’ve barely had time to let myself breathe!”
“Just kidding,” Eva replied.
“I had no idea you were such a jokester,” Kiku said. “You have a lot of surprises, Evie!”
Kiku went back to sit next to Eva, but not before placing the towel on the seat. It was a time for relaxation, but Eva felt the burdens of the past come up again thanks to her. She could not blame Ayame. After all, she was only asking a question and Eva had happened to answer. But it did make Eva remember the moment she considered one of the greatest failures of her life. It was many years ago, but the memory was vivid in Eva’s mind as she tried her best to forget it. No, Eva had to forget about that memory if she wanted to have a peaceful sleep later in the night. For now, she had to enjoy the present and not let herself worry about what happened in the past.
To be continued…