“Do you think they dated once?”
“She has never said anything about him before, right?”
“He's an old mutual friend, but I have never seen any indication of them dating.”
Masami sighed as she eavesdropped on her three friends’ frantic whispering. She knew that there was no point in doubting her relationship with Satomi now, man or woman, but Masami couldn't help but wonder about their guest.
According to Jun, Machida was one of Satomi’s oldest friends. He had come to visit her at the sanctuary after being in Okinawa for the past several years as a dance instructor for the new arts academy. He was making his way to Kyoto for a conference and had decided to drop by. Masami watched as the two friends laughed at something Machida said.
Even though Masami knew that she had Satomi’s heart, she couldn't help but feel a pang of jealousy when she looked at them.
Machida was just a little taller than Satomi, handsome, and had a swagger to him that she could definitely see many women find ‘attractive.’ Come to think of it, Masami didn't know much about her girlfriend’s exes. It was a topic they hadn't gotten a chance to discuss yet.
She tried to keep a straight face when she saw them head towards the house. An elbow poked her on the side and Masami turned to see Kazue looking at her in concern.
“I'm fine,” Masami said automatically. Really she was.
“Right…” Kazue said, but patted her friend on the shoulder. “I’m sure he’s just a friend. I actually think that Oh-chan—and I say, think, so don’t get too excited— might like you.”
The irony of the situation was too funny for Masami and she bursted out laughing, capturing the attention of her friends and Satomi.
“What’s so funny?” Satomi asked with a grin as she walked over to them, Machida trailing right behind her with a curious expression on his face.
“Nothing!” Masami squeaked. She did not want Satomi to know what they were talking about. “Kazue just told me a funny joke!” Kazue sighed beside her.
“Who’s your friend, Satomi-chan?” Yuki asked curiously as she glanced at the stranger.
Masami watched as Satomi’s entire demeanour brightened and she grabbed her friend by the arm and pulled him right next to her.
“This is Shingo-kun, Machida Shingo! He’s one of my oldest friends. We knew each other since elementary school.”
“Nice to meet you,” Machida greeted, giving the ladies a bow. Everyone returned it, and Jun greeted him with a hug. Masami couldn’t help but notice how Satomi beamed when Machida met her own eyes. Did she want them to meet?
“Shingo-kun is just visiting for the day before he has to go to Kyoto,” Satomi explained.
“And I wanted to see the dragons,” he said with a nod. He turned to Masami. “Satomi-chan has told me a lot about you!”
“She has?” Masami wanted to slap Kazue behind her, who was trying to stifle her giggles.
Satomi grabbed Machida by the arm and tugged him away. “Shingo-kun, you can't stay too long right? Let me show you Sammi.”
Masami watched them go and she felt blood rush to her cheeks. Satomi talked about her to someone? Especially a really close friend? The possibilities of the things they talked about made her dizzy. Were they bad things? Good things?
“What was all that about?” Jun asked loudly as she looked at Masami. Masami shrugged.
“I have no idea.”
“Well, I guess I should go see our stocks. I think we’re running low on hay,” Yuki announced before turning around to head back to the house. Jun sighed and mumbled about having to go see if lunch was ready yet.
“You should go,” Kazue whispered as she elbowed her friend in the stomach.
“Go and accompany the two best friends,” Kazue pointed towards the grounds.
“Kazue, I'm not going to spy on them.” She sent her friend a look of disappointment. Kazue rolled her eyes.
“Who said you have to spy on them? Just go and be with them. Answer some questions. Didn't Oh-chan say that Machida-san was interested in dragons, and didn’t she talk about you? That's a sign, Maa-chan!”
“I don't know…” she said hesitantly.
“Just go!” Kazue barked and began pushing her friend towards the grounds. “Go now!”
“I don't want to interrupt their—”
“Aiba Masami, you better go now or I'll tell Oh-chan you have a big fat crush on her!” She hissed.
“Okay! Okay! Geez! You're so pushy!”Masami exclaimed, pushing her friends hands away.
“Just looking out for my best friend,” Kazue said cheekily. Masami rolled her eyes but gave her friend a smile.
“You'll be lost without me.” Kazue gave her an air kiss before walking back to the house.
Masami shook her head at her friend’s back in amusement before turning the other way towards the grounds.
Technically, the dragons had free roam of the sanctuary during the day, but Masami and Kazue had specifically put a gate around a large piece of land so the dragons could have some privacy. They slept and played in that area, and guests were able to visit them them behind the gates if they wished. The gates were expensive, but they were able to afford it due to the money they made from dragon properties.
Most of their income came from the dragon tears and the fertilizer they sold on the market. They sold the manure everyday while the dragon tears were collected once or twice a week. Dragon tears were rare to come by, and Fumio was the one who usually supplied it for them. Only Masami was able to collect the dragon tears from their dragons—something Kazue had always been jealous about.
As Masami made her way over to the grounds, Marvelous (or Marvel, as everyone else but Jun called the dragon) flew over her. Masami watched the purple creature go with admiration. Marvel was a purple dragon with the strongest magical power among the dragons they had at the sanctuary. Masami had never seen the dragon display large amounts of magical power, but she could feel it in the air when the purple dragon used it. Jun had an affinity with their magical dragon, and eventually coined the name, Marvelous, to the magnificent creature.
When she reached the pair, Satomi was showing Machida the riding saddle she used for Sammi. Machida stared at them in fascination and began asking her questions about the riding experience.
Just as Masami was about to join them, she felt a poke in her side. Looking to her right, Sammi was nudging her with her snout, demanding to be petted. Masami laughed and placed her hand on top of the dragon’s snout and gave a little scratch. “How are you, Sammi?” Masami asked quietly as the the dragon let out small whines of pleasure.
When she turned back to the two friends, they were both watching her. Satomi was beaming at her while Machida stared at them in rapt fascination.
“You can touch them that easily?” He asked in awe as Masami and Satomi made their way over to them. Sammi refused to leave her side and stuck closely next to her. “That’s amazing!”
“Masami-chan is really good with them. They all love her,” Satomi said, a hint of pride in her tone. Masami blushed and shook her head.
“No, I don’t think so. They all have their favourites,” she denied.
“Maybe,” Satomi agreed, “but they all like you. It’s hard for me to care for Marvel sometimes. That dragon is really moody.”
“Marvel?” Machida asked in confusion. “I thought you said that was Sammi.”
“Marvel is a purple dragon. She flew by me just now,” Masami explained. “There’s five dragons currently residing in this sanctuary. The green one is Fumio, the gold one is Nino, this is Sammi,” she patted the dragon lightly on the head, “the purple one is Marvel, and our newest addition, Sho-chan.”
“Sho-chan? That’s a cute name!” Machida exclaimed.
“Sho-chan is a baby dragon,” Satomi told him, “he’s Yuki’s because he seems to like her the most.”
“How did you guys name them?” Machida stared as Sammi yawned and wrapped her tail around Masami’s legs. “Doesn’t that hurt?”
Masami patted the dragon lightly. “Sammi? Oh, no! They’re actually quite gentle. Sammi is a big teddy bear.”
“She likes cuddling with you,” Satomi agreed happily. She turned to her friend. “All the dragons are always like this with her. Jun-chan gets so jealous sometimes.”
Machida returned her grin. “I can imagine.”
The rest of the afternoon, Masami showed Machida the sanctuary. She explained to him the schedules they had for the dragons, the team’s work schedule, and the daily runnings of the sanctuary.
“So why did you open it, Aiba-san?” Machida asked when she had just finished giving him a long explanation of Sho’s arrival. “Why open a sanctuary?”
“I guess it’s because dragons are such nomadic creatures that I just wanted to give them a place they can call their own,” Masami replied with a shrug.
Dragons never lived in a single place for too long due to rival dragons and hunters. She had just wanted to open up a safe space for the dragons who didn’t want to deal with all that. Fumio had realized that all Masami wanted to do was provide for him a safe place to rest, and stuck with her after he was healed; he had become her friend. All the other dragons had their own reasons for staying, but Masami knew Fumio had stayed because he trusted her.
“I don’t know how you ended up here,” Machida teased Satomi. The woman grinned and punched him in the arm.
“I guess I found a place I could call my own too,” she said, directing her gaze at Masami and winked at her.
They spent the rest of the afternoon showing Machida how to feed the dragons, play with the dragons, grooming, and caring for the grounds. Masami had a lot of fun showing him around, with Satomi throwing in comments every now and then.
Eventually, the two friends had to part. Masami went with Satomi to say goodbye to her friend while the other girls had already said their farewells at the house. The three of them walked down to the entrance gates of the sanctuary.
Machida and Satomi exchanged their last words quietly and she hugged him, asking him to give her another call when he was in town. He nodded and then turned to Masami.
“Hey, Aiba-san, may I speak to you privately before I go?” Machida asked with a twinkle in his eyes, not unlike the one she had seen in Satomi’s before. Satomi looked at her friend in surprise and he waved her away. “Shoo! I have to talk to your girlfriend in private.”
“What?” She asked, stunned.
Machida rolled his eyes and gave her a light shove on the shoulder. “I'm not blind, Satomi-chan. I can see you two are dating.”
“Wow!” Masami exclaimed in surprise as she looked at Satomi with a laugh. “Even our friends didn't know that.”
“That's because they're not looking,” he said smugly and laughed at Satomi’s bewildered expression.
“Hmph. I should have known you would know,” Satomi said crossing her arms, but her tone suggested that she was happy he had guessed correctly. “Even Jun-chan didn't know.”
“Like I said, they're not looking properly!” Machida continued waving her off with a flick of his hand. “Now go, I need to speak to Aiba-san in private.”
“Why?” Satomi asked in confusion, furrowing her brow.
“Satomi-chan, I need to speak to Aiba-san.”
Satomi pouted but sighed in defeat. “Fine. But don't say anything mean. Masami-chan is too nice,” she said sternly at him before giving him one last hug and walking back to the house.
Machida shook his head at Masami, his grin still on his face as they watched Satomi’s retreating back.
“Is there something you needed, Machida-san?” Masami asked nervously when a brief silence fell over them. What would he want to talk to her about?
Machida smiled at her and raised his hands up in a truce gesture. “Please, don't be nervous!” He chuckled. He scratched his nose and said sheepishly, “Actually, I just wanted to say… thank you.”
“Eh? Why?” She asked in surprise.
“For being there for Satomi-chan. She goes through life by her own rules and pace, and I know that it's not that easy to keep up with sometimes. I know it can be frustrating at times,” Machida replied calmly, “I just want to thank you for accepting all that and loving her. I'm glad she has someone like you in her life.”
Masami was stunned. She had no idea that he had felt this way about her. And they had only met for a few hours!
As if he knew what she was thinking, he patted her on the arm. “Trust me, Aiba-san, I know that being with you makes her very happy.”
“How can you be so sure?” She asked meekly. It was one thing to hear it from Satomi herself, but it was a totally different beast hearing it from someone who was close to her, someone who probably got the whole truth about their relationship.
“I see it when she talks to you, and she talks about you a lot. She's very fond of you, and I just want you to know that your love has done a lot for her.”
Masami blushed and shook her head. “Ah, no…” There was no way she had that much of an impact in Satomi’s life…
“Did you know Satomi-chan hardly ever talked when we were younger?” Machida asked, crossing his arms across his chest and sent her an amused look.
“Isn't she just quiet?” Satomi was pretty quiet when she was around them. She did talk when she was with the four of them, but she didn't say much.
He nodded. “Yes, but she used to hardly talk. At all. When she made friends with Matsumoto-san, it got better, but she was still very quiet. I only started noticing how talkative she was when she started working here two years ago. She's still quiet when she's in a group, but when you speak to her one on one… she talks a lot more. ”
“Eh… I guess? I have noticed that she has gotten more talkative these days, compared to when we first met. But I just assumed she was just shy,” she remarked as she tried to remember her first few months with Satomi.
The older woman was definitely quiet. Masami had found the Satomi absolutely intriguing because she was so… different from the people she normally interacted with.
Satomi didn't talk much, but over the next several months they worked together, Masami found herself holding conversations with her more often. Sometimes Satomi even started them, often asking Masami how her day had been, and if she was hungry. Jun had been surprised with the change, but hadn't said much about it except that she was happy Satomi felt comfortable around Masami, Kazue, and Yuki. When she had heard about Satomi’s interest in the job at the sanctuary, she had been nervous about Satomi being able to make new friends.
Masami had always assumed Satomi talked a lot to her friends one on one. “So she talks more now when she speaks to people individually?”
Machida nodded. “Yes, definitely! She opens up easily to Matsumoto-san and I because we’ve known her longer, but I notice that she seems completely at ease when she talks to you, and you've known her for even less time than us.”
“Eh? Since when? I think she seems perfectly at ease when she talks to the others too!” Masami shook her head. That was ridiculous. Satomi looked completely relaxed around Kazue and Yuki. “And we’re dating. Wouldn't it make sense?
“Maybe,” he said, “but I have seen Satomi in her past relationships before, and she definitely didn't talk as much with her ex-lovers as she does with you.” Masami felt her cheeks warm at that. Machida sent her a big smile and patted the woman on the shoulder. “So, really, thank you.” He gave her a bow, which she immediately returned. “Well, I have to get going. Don’t be a stranger, Aiba-san! You’re a friend now!” He called out before walking out of the gates. Masami waved after him. She definitely made a new friend indeed.
“What did he say to you?” Satomi cornered her when she got back to the house. Masami shook her head.
“It’s a secret!” She replied, making a zipping motion across her lips.
Satomi pouted. “You’ve only known him for a day and you’re already sharing secrets with my friend.”
Masami patted her girlfriend on the head. “There, there. He didn’t say anything bad, if that’s what you were worried about.”
Satomi shook her head and gave Masami a lazy smile. “No, I didn’t think so.”
“Where are the others?” She removed her shoes and slipped on a pair of slippers Satomi set down for her. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. The girls are in the living room. Apparently a new idol group’s concert DVD just came out, and Yuki managed to get her hands on a copy in town.” They slowly made their way down the hall and the cries of of their friends’ rang through the air. “Jun is crazy about them.”
As if on cue, Jun had let out a loud noise of appreciation and declared that the member that shared her name was the best member. Masami almost bursted out laughing when she heard Kazue protest that statement loudly and the two women ended up arguing with each other over who the best member of the group was.
“You wouldn’t think that these women are all in their late twenties, eh?” Masami asked as she turned to Satomi who was grinning at their friends’ antics. In the background, they could hear Yuki trying to placate the both of them while Kazue and Jun’s voices grew even louder.
Satomi giggled and reached down and grabbed Masami’s hand, curling her own fingers around hers. “Not at all.”
“Hurry up you guys, or we’ll miss the fireworks!” Jun hollered towards the house. The five friends were heading down to town for the late summer festival, and they were going to be late.
Yuki stood beside her, rapidly fanning herself with her uchiwa. “It’s so hot,” Yuki grumbled.
Jun frowned at the older girl. “Is it? I think it’s okay right now.” She stuck her hand out and waved it a little in the air.
“I don’t like the heat,” Yuki complained as she wiped the sweat away from her neck with the sleeve of her yukata. “Why does it have to be so hot today?!”
“Guys!” Jun hollered again.
“We’re coming! Sheesh!” Kazue called out as she appeared from the doorway. She was wearing a light yellow yukata with musical notes decorating the main body. She had her hair tied in a high ponytail. Beside her, Satomi was wearing a dark blue yukata with waves of the sea woven on the sleeves and the bottom of it. She had pulled back her hair in a low ponytail.
“Where’s Masami-chan?” Jun asked when the two friends made their way to them.
“She’s locking up the gate,” Satomi mumbled and turned around to look for her.
“Sorry! Sorry! Sho-chan was being really clingy today!” Masami apologized as she ran up to her friends. Like the other four, she was wearing a dark green yukata that had leaves and flowers embroidered on it. She shoved the key to the gates of the sanctuary in her clutch before smiling at them, a little out of breath from running down the hill too fast. “Shall we go?”
Jun sighed and turned to walk down the winding path to town. Kazue snorted at the woman’s retreating back and hooked her arms around Yuki, who was still grumbling about the heat. Satomi turned to look up at Masami and grinned.
“Shall we go?” Satomi asked, offering her arm to the taller girl. Masami beamed back at her and slipped her arm around her girlfriend’s.
Masami sighed happily as they made their way to town. It was not as hot (despite Yuki’s loud complaints) as yesterday night, and Masami was excited for the festival. Satomi sang a soft tune beside her and Masami listened as her girlfriend sang the high and low notes of the latest pop song with ease.
Ahead, Kazue had left a whining Yuki behind (“It's too hot for cuddles, Kazue-chan!”) to scamper over to Jun and hook her arm around hers. She shook her head in amusement. The smaller woman’s crush on their youngest was so obvious and she was entertained by their frequent bickering because it was so obvious that Jun liked Kazue back, even if Kazue had no idea.
“When do you think MatsuJun will tell Kazue she likes her back?” Masami asked Satomi as she watched their friends squabble about what they were going to do first when they reached town.
“Hm? What if Kazue-chan confesses first?” Satomi replied.
Masami snorted. “That will never happen.”
“Why?” Satomi asked in puzzlement.
“Because Kazue is too much of a chicken to actually make the first move. She can talk, but she would never take the first step,” she explained. Satomi nodded.
“Hmm… so I guess Jun has to be the one to do it then,” she remarked and looked back up at her. Masami grinned.
“Yep! So if MatsuJun talks to you about it, just tell her that Kazue will never make the first move.”
“But will Kazue accept Jun’s feelings?” Satomi asked worriedly.
“Oh definitely! Once Kazue realizes that Jun returns her feelings, she's definitely going to do something about it!” Masami said cheerfully. “Don't worry, she's not the type to lead someone on.”
Satomi nodded and gave her a small smile. “I didn't think so.”
Once they arrived in town, the five women debated on what they wanted to do first. Yuki wanted to go explore the food stalls, Satomi wanted to do goldfish scooping, Jun wanted to see some of the goods being sold that evening, Kazue wanted to hit the game shop to see if there were any discounts, and Masami didn't care.
Realizing that they all wanted to do different things, they decided to split and meet up for fireworks later. Masami tagged along with Satomi while Jun managed to drag Kazue with her. Yuki said she was just going to be at the food stalls, so if they wanted to find her she would be easy to locate.
Waving bye to their friends, Masami and Satomi headed in the opposite direction towards the game stalls.
“I want to catch you a goldfish,” Satomi said as she reached down between them for Masami’s hand. Masami squeezed it gently before allowing herself to be pulled toward the games booth.
They spent almost thirty minutes at the goldfish stand before Satomi was finally successful and caught her two. Satomi had proudly announced that these two fish were lovers and was adamant that Masami kept them together.
“What should we name them?” Masami asked as they began walking over the food stalls where Yuki was probably still eating her way through.
“Hmmm… what about Taka and Yuuji?” Satomi suggested as she poked at the fish in the plastic bag.
“Taka and Yuuji?” Masami asked as she watched the two fish swim around in the small plastic bag. She made a mental note to herself to buy a large fish bowl for them tomorrow. “Sounds cute!”
It didn’t take long for them to find Yuki. The woman was busy stuffing her face with takoyaki. “Yuki-chan!” Masami called as they walked over to her. Yuki waved at them, still chewing.
“Hi guys,” she greeted after she swallowed a mouthful of it. “Did you have fun?”
“Yep!” Masami said and held up her bag of fish. “Oh-chan caught two of them at once!”
“That’s great, Satomi-chan!” Yuki said to the older girl. She offered them her plate of takoyaki. “Want one?”
“Sure,” Satomi replied quietly and picked up a ball with her fingers, her eyes brightening with delight as she chewed.
“What time are fireworks?” Masami asked as Yuki finished the rest of the food. She waited in amusement for Yuki to finish chewing.
“I think it starts in twenty minutes,” Yuki said as she checked her phone. “We should find the other two.”
“That’ll take too long,” Masami remarked. “Why dont you just send them a quick text and meet up with them somewhere?”
Yuki nodded and began typing on her phone. “Good idea, Masami-chan.”
Ten minutes later, the five friends gathered in front of the town gates. Kazue and Jun were beaming when they arrived, and Masami noticed they were holding hands. She pointed this out quietly to Satomi, and Satomi had given her a grin in response.
Yuki noticed too, and she wiggled her eyebrows at them. Jun blushed but didn't let go of Kazue’s hand.
“Well, this is interesting,” Yuki said as she grinned at them. “Is it cold today?”
“Shut up, Yuki-chan,” Kazue retorted, not unkindly, and she was grinning herself. “Our hands just found their way to each other, and who am I to deny their will?”
Satomi bursted out laughing while Jun groaned at Kazue’s cheesy comeback. Masami noticed that despite that, Jun had pulled her best friend even closer. She shared a quick look with Satomi before Yuki declared loudly that they need to go find a spot to view the fireworks.
“We need a good spot,” Kazue said as the five friends weaved their way through the crowd. They were making their way towards the area where the fireworks were, and there was a lot of people. To avoid getting separated, Jun suggested they all held hands. Satomi poked Masami in the arm and pointed at Kazue and Jun’s still joined hands. Even if they were expecting it, it was still really cute to see the two women show affection in public. Masami giggled and grabbed Satomi’s hand and tugged her after them.
“How close do we want to be?” Masami asked as she tried to balance her fish and hold onto Satomi’s hand at the same time.
“I want to sit somewhere less crowded,” Satomi mumbled.
Jun nodded. “Yeah, that would be a good idea. I don't want to be near families.”
Kazue smirked. “J would make all the babies cry!” Jun sent her a glare and Kazue smirked as Jun threatened to not make her breakfast tomorrow.
Ignoring the new couple (were they together now?), Yuki went ahead of them to look for a spot. Masami kept an eye on her lest they get separated and after a few minutes, Yuki was waving and calling out to them. “I think here is good,” Yuki announced as she found a spot for the five of them in the middle of the hill. It was less crowded in this part of the area and more secluded.
“Good job, Yuki-chan!” Masami cheered as the five of them sat down on the grass. Masami placed the bag of fish carefully beside her, checking to make sure it wouldn’t fall over. Satomi sat on the other side of her and was already staring off into space.
Behind them, Yuki sat with Kazue and Jun and had a look of resignation on her face when Kazue remarked that she didn't want Yuki to feel lonely sitting by herself.
“Looks like they're having fun,” Masami remarked as she turned back to Satomi. Satomi smiled and leaned against her.
“Yuki-chan knows she's loved,” Satomi replied quietly. Masami nodded.
“You're on the morning shift tomorrow, right?” Satomi asked sleepily as she shut her eyes.
“Yeah. I have to get the tears from Fumio too.”
“I'll see if I can switch with Kazue-chan.”
“I want to take you somewhere nice for dinner tomorrow,” she explained as she snuggled against her. Masami grinned and wrapped her arm around Satomi’s waist.
“I would like that.”
“Hey lovebirds!” Kazue called out behind them, “The fireworks are going to start!”
As if on cue, the first few fireworks shot up and exploded into a burst of red. Masami gasped in delight as more fireworks flew up in the air, and soon the sky was decorated with sparks of colours. She felt Satomi reach for her hand and she gently squeezed it in return.
Masami continued to watch the show in awe until she felt a tug on her hand. Looking down, she noticed Satomi was staring at her with a serious expression on her face.
“Is everything okay?” Masami asked worriedly.
“Can I kiss you?” Satomi murmured as she stared at Masami’s lips.
“Huh?” She asked dumbly.
“Um… if that's what you want…” Masami felt her cheeks heating up as Satomi seemed to inch closer and closer.
Satomi shook her head. “But is that what you want?” She asked solemnly. “I want to know what you want.”
Masami beamed and squeezed the other woman’s hand. “I'm happy with whatever you will give me, Satomi-chan,” she replied honestly. And it was true, she would be happy with anything Satomi wanted to offer her. She could never get enough of Satomi’s hugs and kisses.
Satomi smiled and slowly let go of their joined hands to reach up and cradle Masami’s cheek in her hand. Masami felt her own hand wrap around the other woman’s waist before Satomi pulled her in for a tender kiss.
Masami felt like she was floating. She was kissing Satomi in front of all their friends, under the beautiful night sky and fireworks. It's like a scene from a romance movie she thought as she felt Satomi deepened the kiss. Above them, the fireworks exploded in the air brighter than ever and she could hear their friends’ various shouts of surprise, confusion, and glee.
“You never told me!” Masami heard Kazue complain as Masami giggled into the kiss and allowed Satomi to swipe her tongue across her lips. She felt her girlfriend smile against her lips and Masami knew that whatever happened in the future, she and Satomi would make it because they had each other, their friends, and their dragons. Masami felt like she was on top of the world.
When they finally pulled apart, they were still holding onto each other. Masami wanted to kiss her again; she never wanted to stop kissing her.
Satomi smirked and said in a small whisper that was only meant for Masami’s ears, “I guess the secret’s out.”