Volume 5 - Slime Time, Chapter 25 - Blossoming Love
Spring was in full bloom, but the pine trees covering the mountains around the house didn’t do it justice. Down in the town below, however, hundreds of cherry trees had been planted in parks and along roadways and they were showering the city with pink petals.
“C’mon, c’mon, hurry up!” Mara pulled Tsuen toward the door.
Tsuen giggled at Mara’s excitement. “Calm down, silly. The sakura blossoms aren’t going anywhere, at least not that fast. And we need to wait for Yuisu anyway, since she’s driving.”
Mara wore a buttery yellow sundress with pink sakura-themed socks peeking out under it. Tsuen wore a loose pink t-shirt over a grey sports bra, and an orange pair of her typical centaur-sized running shorts.
Mara turned and called back into the house toward the kitchen, “Hurry up, Yuisu!”
“I’m right here. No need to yell,” said a voice behind her. Yuisu and Haru stood in the hallway that lead to Haru’s room and the living room. “Sorry for the delay. For once I was the one that needed help with clothes.”
Yuisu spun around, letting her light purple yukata flow around her. “How does it look?”
It looked beautiful, but Mara wouldn’t admit it, at least not without a side of snark. “It looks good, but now the rest of us look crappy in comparison. You just had to show us up, eh, Yui?”
“Hey, I don’t get many chances to wear this stuff,” Yuisu said as she swished her arms from side to side, enjoying the way her long sleeves waved. “You could get a yukata of your own, you know. They might even have some for sale at the festival today.”
Haru was just wearing a white t-shirt and a denim skirt, but she was smiling and appreciating how cute Yuisu looked. Eventually, she stepped forward and pushed Yuisu with a wing at the small of her back. “Shall we go? I’m starving for some of that festival food.”
Yuisu’s truck pulled into one of the few remaining parking spots at the festival grounds. Yuisu and Haru got out of the front while Mara scrambled out of the back where she had been riding with Tsuen. Mara lowered the tailgate and slid out a ramp as well, so Tsuen could get down easily. She carefully climbed down, then helped Mara put the ramp away before the four girls started into the festival.
Vendor stands were set up everywhere, peddling snacks, souvenirs, and, as Yuisu had guessed, traditional Japanese clothes. It was nearly lunch time, so the girls were paying far more attention to the food stands than anything else.
A wonderful smell wafted from a stand selling skewers of grilled chicken and it caught the attention of everyone except Tsuen. She kept walking for a moment until she realized the group had stopped.
“Ooh, yakitori! I love this stuff,” Haru said, clapping her wings together.
Mara raised an eyebrow at her. “Even though it’s a bird? Isn’t that like cannibalism?”
“Psh! Raptors eat other birds all the time. Tasty things that can’t defend themselves”—she raised a leg and flashed her talons—“deserve to get eaten,” she said with pretend malice.
Tsuen took a couple steps back and looked away. Seeing her roommates eat meat all the time was bad enough, but them actually talking about killing and eating animals was a bit much for Tsuen to stomach. She spotted a booth selling roasted corn on the cob and nearly galloped off to it.
The meat-eating trio bought a handful of the small kebabs each, though Yuisu ended up with two handfuls, since she was carrying Haru’s share.
When they eventually caught up to Tsuen, she had already devoured her first corn on the cob and was working her way through a second. She loved corn normally, and it being slathered in butter somehow made it even more delicious. Butter was new to Tsuen, but she’d certainly be trying it on more things in the future.
Yuisu smiled at Tsuen. “Sorry about that. Though it looks like you found something to eat, so that’s good.”
“Mmmhmm,” she said with her mouth closed, not wanting to reveal the bits of corn that were surely stuck in her teeth.
The group resumed wandering the park for a while, getting constant stares and occasional questions from other festival goers. The Interspecies Exchange Act had been in effect for well over a year, but there were still people who had never seen a liminal up close and they were understandably curious. The spectacle was exaggerated by the fact that Mara was riding on Tsuen’s back and occasionally getting affectionate with her. When Mara climbed up and kissed Tsuen’s cheek right in front of a family with young kids, the mother seemed to short circuit.
The woman froze in the middle of the footpath and stared blankly for a moment, then grabbed her son and daughter by the hands and hurriedly pulled them away. “Come on, kids. Let’s, uh, go over here!” Her husband didn’t seem bothered at all. He smiled and shrugged, then followed after his retreating wife.
Mara laughed as they fled, but Tsuen frowned and asked Yuisu, “And you’re sure we’re allowed to be… romantic like this?”
Yuisu sighed. “Yes, I’m sure. There’s nothing in the Interspecies Protection Act about liminal-liminal relationships, so you two get to be as public as you want.” She lowered her voice and muttered, “Lucky jerks…”
Haru grinned, “On the plus side, I’m sure Agent Will is going to be hammered with reports about the two of you from wannabe do-gooders that don’t understand the law. Maybe that’ll motivate him to speed along the amendment for me and Yuisu.”
During their wandering, they spotted an open grassy area with a great view of the park. Yuisu set out a large blanket there and they all sat down on it to watch the flower petals fall from the trees.
After a couple minutes, a shout came from the trail nearby, “Hey, fancy seeing you all here!” They turned in unison to see Yamato and Misaki walking hand in wing. Misaki was wearing one of her usual brightly colored yukatas, cinched around the chest instead of over her arms, leaving the sleeves awkwardly dangling. Even Yamato was wearing a yukata, and the deep blue looked good on him.
The new arrivals sat down at the edge of the crowded blanket and joined the blossom viewing. All the other girls noticed how the two new arrivals were sitting very close together, and Yuisu was the first to mention it. “So, Misaki… you seem closer to Yamato today. What’s up with that?”
Haru raised an eyebrow at Yuisu’s clumsy opener, but Misaki didn’t seem to mind. She jumped to her feet and spun around, her sleeves flying parallel to her wings. “Yep! Yamato asked me out! We’re a couple!”
Yamato turned as red as a tomato and pulled Misaki back down to the blanket. “Shush, Misaki! We’re not supposed to say that…”
Misaki laid back onto the grass and gazed lovingly up at Yamato. “But I want to tell the world!”
Yuisu nodded knowingly. “I know that feeling, Misaki,” she said, then put her hand on Haru’s leg and gave a loving squeeze.
Yuisu’s eyes went wide. “Oh, that reminds me: construction on the hot spring bath at the house is just about done.” She turned toward Misaki and Yamato. “You two should come check it out some time!”
Mara crawled closer to Yuisu and gave her a suspicious look. “Why would that remind you of the hot spring, Yui?” Her voice took on the tone of a vintage radio show. “Who knows what perversion lurks in the heart of Yui?” She paused dramatically, then suddenly pointed a finger and several legs at Haru and proclaimed, “The Haru knows!”
Misaki and Mara both fell over laughing. Though it was unlikely that Misaki got the reference to a 1940s American radio drama, The Shadow, Mara’s theatrics were indeed entertaining.
Haru prodded the giggling arachne with her talons, rolling her away. “Laugh it up, pinky. You and Tsuen are probably up to some shenanigans yourself, with all that time you two spend ‘exercising’.”
Tsuen blushed at the insinuation, but she smiled. It was fun hanging out with everyone, and it was nice now that everyone was in a relationship, and no one had to be a third wheel. Now that Agent Will had eased the restrictions, and least informally, on interspecies dating, there didn’t seem to be any problems left in their lives these days.
After a few hours of hanging out and enjoying the scenery and each other’s company, the group packed up to leave. Misaki and Yamato went off to buy some shiny souvenirs that Misaki had nearly stolen earlier, and the others started back towards Yuisu’s truck.
As they turned to leave their picnic spot, Haru thought she saw movement in a nearby pile of flower petals. She watched it for a moment, but it didn’t move again. Must’ve been the wind, she thought.
“Last chance to buy a yukata, girls,” Yuisu announced as they passed a clothes stand at the fringes of the festival area.
Mara shrugged. “Meh. I’ll pass. As you said, there aren’t many occasions to wear them.”
Tsuen actually paused to try some on. She wasn’t entirely happy with the way they couldn’t cover her tail end, but the stand didn’t have any centaur-tailored ones. She held up a yukata that faded from a warm yellow at the top to orange. “Aww, and I really liked this one.”
Mara smiled up at Tsuen. “Just get it then. I’m sure I can whip up a matching cover for your booty.”
Tsuen was getting used to Mara’s occasional crudeness, but she still blushed a little. “You can do that?”
“Yep! I picked up some sewing skills to fix all my plushies, and I guess I have some natural advantages too.” She grinned and held up several legs, each of which could securely hold thread, cloth, or a needle.
Tsuen beamed and bounced back and forth between her right and left-side legs. She was surprisingly agile for her size. “That’d be so great. Thank you, Mara!”
Tsuen finished her purchase, the group climbed into the truck, and it rumbled off toward home. No one noticed the big clump of sakura petals that was stuck to the bottom of the truck, and the extra weight was just a drop in the bucket compared to the weight of all the girls.