Emu's always been a little different than her peers.
Despite her friendly nature and outgoing personality she never had many friends growing up. She was often called loud, weird and too childish for her age.
While all the girls in her class talked about the boys they're crushing on, Emu's been too occupied thinking about theme parks, shows and cartoons that lingered in the back of her mind as of late. Oftentimes she could be found doodling on her desk or reading a picture book she found in the school library, isolating herself from the world that didn't understand her.
But that doesn't mean she didn't try. Quite the opposite—Emu tried hard, time and time again, to appear likable to her peers. She tried drawing each one of her classmates as cats, in an hopeful attempt to draw them closer. It didn't work. She tried bringing her classmates cupcakes decorated with rainbow sprinkles made by her home chef. It didn't work. She tried telling them about the fun story her gramps told her the day before, hoping it would make them feel bubbly inside, just like it made her when she first heard it.
It didn't work.
She tried lowering her voice or talking about popular topics (like boys) in order to fit in but it was just so boring. Emu couldn't care less about the rumors or the celebrity drama her classmates have been discussing lately. But she also understood her classmates couldn't care less about the show she watched the day prior, or all the fun rides at her park. To them theme parks were just another activity to do every once in a while—but to Emu, they were sacred.
There is a high probability that Emu's love for theme parks comes from her family owning one. After all, it's hard not to fall in love with all these fun rides when they are right here in front of you, at full display.
Out of all the rides, Emu's always been especially fond of the Ferris wheel. She liked how calming it was to rise into the heights and leave her worries on the ground below, watching the sun shine brightly in the sky above as the world moved on.
She liked to analyze people from the comfort of the cabin, as she soared into the sky, coming up with her own scenarios of "what does this person do for living?" It cured her of her boredom, but loneliness often had a habit of resurfacing, no matter the power of her imagination.
It brought her closeness that she desperately craved but struggled to receive.
Emu understood her family was busy. She understood her parents were business people with little time on their hands and that her siblings had their studies to focus on. She understood that family dinners were only times they got to spend together and even then they were mostly spent discussing finances. She understood her interests didn't align with those of her classmates.
She understood it all but the pain didn't sting any less. It made the pain worse.
Despite not having many friends it was calming to know that there was always one person waiting for her at home though. Her grandfather.
Sometimes it truly felt like her grandfather was the only person who understood her. He didn't look at her weird when she tried to talk about her interests like her classmates did. He didn't brush her off, saying they'll talk later like her parents did. He didn't use the "I don't have time" or "Not now." excuse her brothers did.
It hurt knowing her family was so business occupied that they barely had time for her.
Hinata tried. She tried pushing her studies aside for the sake of Emu but she was merely a high school student, at the time, and Emu made peace with it. So she promised her big sister that it was okay and that they'll hang out next time. With guilt in her eyes, Hinata nodded and went back to her room.
And Emu stood there motionless until her grandfather picked her back up.
Even when he had no idea what Emu was going on about he'd simply grin at her and pull her into a hug, asking her to tell him more to which she would happily comply. When he didn't have time, he'd make sure to make up for it next time the two of them hung out.
Her grandfather loved shows as well and it made Emu less guilty when she'd start rambling about them in front of him. The way the two of them conversed about topics dear to them made Emu content. After all, bearing the knowledge that she was different from her peers was easier to deal with knowing there was still someone willing to listen, even if it was merely one person.
Not only was her grandfather calm, kind and understanding—he was also creative and adventurous, always showing Emu different rides or telling her stories from his youth, and Emu was just so happy listening.
She listened as her grandfather told her stories of how Phoenix Wonderland came to be as he added extra hand gestures and vocal sound effects. Just for her.
And then he showed her Wonder Stage. A place that would later become her safe space filled with some of her fondest memories.
And Emu felt fine living in this world her grandfather made for her. If this was a dream then she didn't want to wake up.
When she came to him, merely five years old, tugging on his sleeve with tears in her eyes, saying she didn't feel like a boy, her grandfather didn't judge. Instead, he put her on his lap and sang her a song until she calmed down. Later that day, he took her clothes shopping where he let her try on all kinds of sparkly and colorful dresses.
She loved them all. She loved the pink skirt that spun when she danced and she loved the yellow dress that felt soft against her skin.
While she tried on new clothes to find what suits her the best, her little eye caught a glimpse of a sparkly white dress, shining bright with glitter. Naturally, it took her breath away in an instant and she begged her grandfather to get it down from the hanger so she could try it on.
But as soon as her skin met the rough texture of fabric, she shivered. The unknown feeling of discomfort took little Emu by surprise but she decided to ignore it because the dress was just so wonderful—it would be a shame if she didn't try it on while she had a chance.
However the burning feeling only got worse from there as the sparkly white fabric roughly pressed against her skin. It made Emu want to cry in despair. The dress was so sparkly and nice that the young girl struggled to comprehend why she suddenly wanted to tear it off piece by piece. To her it just didn't make sense. Overwhelmed, she remained standing there, like a doll on a shelf, trying to move as little as possible in order to not brush her skin against the rough texture.
Later, she found out she can't stand tulle. As pretty as it is, Emu would much rather wear something soft than feel like ripping her skin apart at the single touch of weird material.
It took a little extra time for the rest of her family members to understand her identity and adjust to the sudden transition from son to daughter or brother to sister, but they managed. The day Shosuke called her little sister for the first time she grinned so widely as the happy tears spilled down her face and she ran to embrace him into the warmest hug she could. Or the day Hinata welcomed Emu into her room just to show her a pink sweater she designed and made for her.
It was moments like these that made up for the lack of warmth she shared with her family. All the little acts of kindness or understanding made Emu feel like maybe it was okay. It was okay to spend hours, locked in her room, playing dress up games with her dolls as the heavy silence made her chest hurt. It was okay because she knew one of her parents would compliment her on her math exam during dinner. It was okay because at the end of the day she was still their little girl.
It felt good being praised because it made all this loneliness more bearable.
She’s always loved her grandfather's praise the most. For some reason, it felt the most genuine. Instead of ruffling her hair when they accidentally met in the hallway, like her father did, her grandfather would sit down next to her, wrap his arm around her and congratulate her on her success, promising to reward her by getting her some taiyaki later while they watch a fun show.
Living only two minutes away from the park entrance Emu could go and sit in front of any of the Phoenix Wonderlands stages and watch a show by herself, any time of the day. But sharing this experience of watching the show with her grandfather was much more fun than doing it alone, she decided. She liked how sometimes he'd snort a little too loudly or let himself get emotional despite his old age.
The first time he brought her to see a show they watched a funny play about a brave knight who rescues the princess and everyone lives happily ever after.
It was nothing special, there were no special effects or a huge crowd—and yet Emu couldn't help but grin widely the entire time the actors performed. That day will forever be carved in Emu's memories as the day she fell in love with shows and acting.
Ever since childhood she wanted to form her own troupe—but nobody she asked was particularly impressed with the idea except, of course, her grandfather. Every chance they got, when he was feeling well and Emu didn't have too much homework, the two of them would gather in the living room and let themselves get carried away by their roles.
Sometimes he would buy her costumes of her favorite anime characters, which she would accept with open arms and a bright smile. Then they'd role play, and pretend they're superheroes or fairies or knights—that was, in Emu's opinion, the true beauty of shows. Every play was different, every character had different motives and personality, making every show unique in its own way.
Sometimes when she didn't want to be Emu Otori, a girl with a wild imagination in a big but cold house, she would pull her grandfather out of his room and pretend she was a princess and he was a king while Phoenix Wonderland was their kingdom.
Then, as she aged, school started being more and more time consuming, especially with all the clubs she's been joining as of late—Emu started having less and less time for playing with her grandfather.
He was supportive and didn't mind, encouraging her to pursue all the interests she wanted. So Emu listened.
She tried out various sports such as volleyball, tennis and gymnastics. It went a little bit better than elementary school. While some people still gave her side eyes and considered her "too loud", most people in her clubs were nice. Not nice enough to hang out after school or consider each other friends, but nice enough.
Honestly, all these clubs were more to fill the time of her day than because she enjoyed them much. Sure, it was fun, and she had the chance to socialize with her peers—but she'd be lying if she said she wouldn't rather spend her time running around Phoenix Wonderland with her grandfather or shopping with Hinata.
And so Emu carried on with her club activities. Not to mention her grandfather wasn't in the best condition, so giving him the space to heal sounded like a good enough choice.
He never did.
The news reached her one day when she was out shopping with Hinata.
She remembers the way Hinata's phone rang loud, buzzing noise filling Emu's ears. She remembers her sister's troubled expression, the way she excused herself to do the phone call. She remembers seeing Hinata come back with tears streaming down her eyes, apologizing and trembling.
Worried for her sister's well-being, Emu tugged on her sleeve, begging her to tell her what was wrong. It made her wonder—what kind of information was strong and heartbreaking enough to leave her sister in shambles like this?
Hinata, overwhelmed, only managed to mutter a few sentences filled with apologies-
-and the word 'grandpa' in it.
It took Emu a little until realization finally hit her. When it did, everything became a blur, and her ears rang terribly loud.
It's on that day that Emu met the ugly thing called death.
That day she learned that death is cruel. It doesn't wait. It comes, and it takes and it goes, all in one fell swoop.
Death is unannounced. It doesn't make plans. It can’t be predicted…It strikes at random.
Emu's grandfather grew to see old age; and the fact he made it this far was admirable on its own.
But he was no deity like Emu's brain made him to be. He was a mere mortal who was destined to leave sooner or later.
He left peacefully in his sleep during an afternoon nap.
Looking back at it now, maybe Emu was too impatient. Maybe she wouldn't have minded living in suspense for a while longer if it meant not having to face the heartbreaking truth that welcomed her in the middle of a crowded mall.
Maybe she didn't have to rush her sister so much because at least then she could believe her grandfather was going to welcome her at the doorstep with his arms wide open when she came back.
He never got the chance to.
For a few days Emu couldn't do anything. She skipped school and her meals. She barely got out of bed unless she had to use the toilet or get up for family dinner, which she started attending less and less for a certain period of time.
Her usual, enthusiastic smile was wiped off her face. She laid in her bed motionless for a few days—before eventually the funeral came and she slowly had to pick herself up alone, piece by piece.
After that she didn't cry. She tried not to let her feelings show and carry on with her life as she used to. But navigating life without the only person who ever truly understood her was worse than anything she has ever experienced. It was like losing a part of herself that she could never get back.
Her grandfather not only left her, but Phoenix Wonderland behind, and it all fell on Emu's shoulders—who had grown weak in the ugly face of grief.
Having the only person who believed in her dreams leave, so suddenly, like a sudden gust of wind to a candle, left a big wound in her heart that was probably never going to fully heal.
Despite the hardships, she pulled through.
With lots of emotional scars, but she did. Somehow.
In the process she managed to not only keep her chin up, just like her grandpa would have wanted—but she also managed to save Wonder stage from being demolished after her father decided it was unprofitable.
Luckily, Emu proved him wrong and somehow managed to gather a group of people that were soon enough going to become the most important people in her life. It was unexpected—but not unwelcome.
Wonderlands x Showtime came to be during one of the hardest times of Emu's life.
She was simultaneously battling grief and trying to save her late grandfather's favorite stage from being demolished. She decided early on that she wouldn’t give up—and that she would do whatever it takes in order to protect her grandfather's legacy, even if it means standing up against her own family. Demolishing this stage her grandfather worked so hard on simply to gain a bit more profit seemed selfish, and like a mockery for every drop of sweat her grandfather shed when he built this very park from a scrap.
But Emu at the time was merely one person, definitely not skilled enough to do all this hard work alone.
If it weren't for Rui's brains, Nene's kindness and Tsukasa's determination she probably never would have gotten this far.
These three helped her achieve her dream—and for that help she will always be grateful.
Playfully swinging her legs, Emu sits on a bench in front of a taiyaki place, as the evening breeze carries her short pink hair along.
It's no secret that taiyaki is Emu's favorite food in the whole wide world, so Tsukasa took it upon himself to take his troupe's princess out and reward her extra hard efforts. She's supposed to be playing a main role in their upcoming show, to which she responded by staying on the Wonder Stage later than the rest of the group to practice—so treating her to some of her favorite food was the least Tsukasa could do to show her his gratitude. Both as a leader of their troupe, and as her dear friend.
When Tsukasa leaves the store holding a taiyaki in each one of his hands, Emu feels like the happiest girl in the world. Quickly, she jumps down and tackles him in a big, warm, hug. He can pretend to be angry and scold her all he wants but the light red tint on his cheek can't fool Emu—so she gives him a tight hug, but not tight enough to make him drop their taiyaki.
"Welcome back Tsukasa-kun!" Emu greets him with a bright smile on her face as she takes one taiyaki from his hands and bites straight into the middle.
With a sigh, Tsukasa takes out a packet of paper tissues out of a brown bag that's sitting on his shoulder. "Sorry for the wait."
"Not at all!" She beams.
She feels incredibly lucky to have a friend like Tsukasa, who always comes prepared for everything. Be it tissues, wet wipes, painkillers, water or bandages, he has it in his bag at all occasions.
It's seemingly a small brown tote bag, with a star patched onto it along with Tsukasa's name. It makes Emu wonder if he sewed it himself. It neatly coordinates with the rest of his outfit. A black turtleneck, brown and orange sweater and high waist plaid skirt in similar color combination.
She can't pinpoint when the slow shift in Tsukasa's style started exactly but to her it seems Tsukasa is way happier with his outfits as of late. He's not limiting himself as much as he used to and is willing to try out new things—and it makes Emu just so happy because it reminds her of the first time she started wearing skirts and dresses herself.
Just thinking about this makes her heart warm up, so much so that she lets out a happy squeak and nuzzles her head in Tsukasa's chest. It startles the troupe leader who almost drops his food on the pavement.
"H-hey!!!" He clicks his tongue but leans his head on top of Emu's regardless, accepting her gesture. "Watch out…"
"Tsukasa-kun, we should go shopping together one day!" Emu announces with her mouth full. Smiling fondly at the sight in front of him, he uses this as an opportunity to wipe the bean paste from the corner of her mouth.
Emu might be reckless, impulsive and energetic—but that's what makes her Emu and he wouldn't trade that for anything in the world.
"Of course! I'd love to go shopping with you, Emu." He says, taking a bite of his own taiyaki as the two walk through the busy streets of Shibuya.
Emu smiles and starts telling Tsukasa about the shopping mall she went to with Hinata a few days ago. Apparently, there were many different clothing stores along with restaurants and even a cinema.
She keeps going on and on, telling him about how she tried on a pink blouse, similar to the one she's wearing right now and how she would really love to buy it. Along with that she can go search for a new skirt because her favorite one, while still in one piece, is getting old and she could use a new batch of outfits.
She tells him about the chicken wings she tried and just how spicy they were. She thinks they might have used too many spices but the meal was good nonetheless and she promises to take Tsukasa and the others to try it out one day when everybody's schedule aligns.
Then she gets to the topic of drinks and how she's really craving something sweet like a milkshake. Or maybe soda? She can't decide. She lets Tsukasa know every single one of her thoughts.
She mentions the cinema and the poster for a new movie she saw a trailer for. She's unsure of the plot and whether it would be up to Tsukasa's liking—but the graphics caught her eye the moment she saw them.
Eventually, they enter a park where after a short stroll two of them sit down, their food long gone as Emu keeps on talking.
She talks and talks and talks until a blow of cold wind brushes against her neck, sending a shiver down her spine which eventually snaps her back into reality. At that moment a cold and uneasy feeling washes over her—and she realizes she didn't hear Tsukasa say a word since they left the taiyaki place.
She panics a little. She didn't mean to get sidetracked—It was a silly habit of her that once she got too interested in a conversation she would simply keep on talking without meaning to.
Of course, she meant no harm, but intentions didn't matter to most people in the past. She would get left with not many people to talk to, except for the lifeless plushies in her room, and Wonder stage who had no sparks in its eyes and no legs to walk away.
Cold sweat drips down her forehead and she bites her lip. She went overboard and forgot to let Tsukasa speak and now he'll get upset and—
Tsukasa's voice snaps Emu back to her senses and she looks him in the eyes for the first time that evening.
"Are you okay? You zoned out." He points out with a worried expression painting his face.
Putting on a fake smile, Emu laughs, "Of course! Sorry! I remembered something."
"You were telling me about the movie you wanted to watch."
"OH!" Emu blinks and then laughs it off, "Sorry! I got too excited."
Her voice is silent and calm. "I didn't mean to talk your ear off like that."
"I don't mind." Tsukasa pulls himself closer to her, their shoulders brushing against each other. "I like hearing your thoughts." He smiles at her and it feels so genuine that it makes her want to cry.
He's smiling at her so sincerely and he's not running away from her. On the contrary, he's closer and encourages her to keep on talking. He is willing to listen and it makes Emu feel so fuzzy inside because she rarely had people actually listen to her ramble about stuff and when they did it was out of nothing more than pity. Emu is not dumb.
She has always known when she went overboard but it seems that no matter how many times she goes through the same scenario she just can't help but get carried away when talking. She loves to talk and she loves to listen.
Alas, not everyone expresses their love for things the same way and it's just natural that some people would get overwhelmed when being met with so much overflowing information coming out of Emu's mouth in the form of a vocal waterfall.
She chews on her lip, hesitantly. Is it really okay?
As on cue, Tsukasa shoots her a reassuring look, a small smile finding its place on his lips—he reaches his hand out, wrapping it around Emu and she immediately notices that Tsukasa, just like any star in the galaxy, is warm.
All of a sudden Emu feels at ease.
Slowly but surely, she opens her mouth again and continues where she left off, nudging Tsukasa every once in a while in order to get him to talk too. Getting the hint Tsukasa laughs and joins the conversation, not always knowing what to say, but being willing to try. He listens to her and gives his own input, letting her know she's free to open up to him—and Emu's happy being able to show this part of herself to Tsukasa.
This part of her is one that she's hidden for so long—because every time she would open her mouth she would be greeted with a wave of sighs and groans. People used to poke fun at how fast she could talk and the amount of, arguably insignificant, information her brain could store about most niche topics.
Tsukasa doesn't groan nor sigh—he laughs. He laughs at her poor attempt at puns that would usually leave people looking at her like she's lost it. And his laugh is so addicting that Emu can't help but copy him. The two quickly go from rambling about whatever Emu picks as their topic to laughing out loud, not caring about the questioning stares of those around them.
They might look eccentric but they're having fun and if having fun is deemed weird in the eyes of a passerby then so be it! All her life, Emu has never enjoyed herself more than when she found herself in Tsukasa's presence. (Nene and Rui's too but that’s a given.)
So she releases the tension in her shoulders as her soft giggles accompany Tsukasa's loud cackle.
At one point she meets his gaze and notices a tear run down his cheek. She's unsure if she ever saw Tsukasa laugh so hard that it brings him to the point of tears. She decides to take mental note of this moment and carve it into her memory because the sight in front of her is so precious it would be a shame if she were to forget how loved his simple gesture made her feel.
They sit there until they eventually calm down, continuing the conversation at their own pace, exchanging silly facts between one another and Emu is content.
Golden rays of sunshine make him sparkle in the sunlight of this warm spring day and there is nowhere in the world where Emu would rather be right now other than by Tsukasa's side.
She looks back at their first meeting, how startled he looked when she jumped down from Wonder stage or how angry he was that he didn't pass the initial audition, and the memory makes the butterflies in her stomach do a little dance.
She's glad she didn't give up on him—and oh how she's glad that she went to the audition building that day. Because if she didn't, she would never experience the joy that Tsukasa and his presence make her feel.
Wonderlands x Showtime would most likely never exist and she would probably not be able to save Phoenix Wonderland by herself. But with Tsukasa, Rui and Nene all allowing her to rely on them, giving her a little push and offering their moral support, Emu was able to continue keeping her promise to her grandfather.
If her grandfather was a king of Phoenix Wonderland and if Emu was the princess then Tsukasa was her knight. Just like a knight, he’s reliable—and with him by her side, Emu feels safer than with any mascot hired by her father.
With Tsukasa by her side, maybe she doesn't have to hold back as much. With Tsukasa maybe it's okay to just be Emu.
((Tsukasa doesn't get mad at Emu when she rambles. He doesn't mind listening about a topic he knows nothing about if it means seeing that big smile of hers drawn across her face.
That irreplaceable smile.))
Aside from Emu's occasional cheers and whines, the drumming sound of the rain against Nene's roof is the only sound filling the tiny room. Bodies pressed against one another, the two girls keep themselves warm as the bright colors flash across the screen of Nene's video game console.
It is no rare occurrence for Emu to come hang out at Nene's place after a long day of practice. More often than not she'd just wrap herself in one of Nene's soft blankets, drowning in the fluffy texture, pleasant for her skin. Sometimes she'd join Nene too and play together; but she prefers cheering from the side as Nene shows everyone who's the real boss.
At some point Emu's gaze drifts and she takes a look outside of Nene's window.
The army of gray clouds hide the sunlight from spilling into the room, setting up the dim and calm but by no means uncomfortable atmosphere.
Ever since she was little, weather had a great impact on Emu's mood—and any other day, such dreariness would drain Emu of all the energy she had left in her body. But with Nene by her side she doesn't feel drained at all. On the contrary—she’s never felt more energetic.
When Nene fails the level for the fifth time, words that are maybe better left off unsaid, leave Nene's mouth one after the other and she squeezes her grip, almost snapping her console in half.
Emu's eyes widened for a second. She had no idea Nene had such a wide vocabulary!
Seeing her friend upset, the pink-haired girl pulls herself closer to Nene and wraps her arms around her waist, hugging her from behind. She whispers soft words of reassurance in Nene's ear who relaxes against Emu's touch, allowing herself to be comforted.
"You got this Nene-chan!" Emu sings softly, not losing faith in Nene's gamer abilities.
Nene hums and relaxes in Emu's touch, slowly putting her console aside.
"How about we eat something and then you can try again!?" Emu suggests, "If we eat something your stomach will be super duper full and you'll have so much energy and you'll beat the level very easy peasy!"
"You're right." Nene slowly brings her hand to her face, rubbing her temple in order to calm down.
"Wonderhoy!" Emu shouts and the fact her head is only centimeters apart from Nene's ear slips her mind because she only realizes the consequences of her actions after Nene jolts up, almost falling off the bed.
Apologies come spilling out of Emu's mouth as she bows her head down, begging Nene for forgiveness as if she’s killed her entire family.
A gentle chuckle escapes Nene's lips, her eyes gleaming with amusement. She tugs on Emu's sleeve, pulling her pink friend along as the two of them make their way downstairs into Nene's kitchen.
"Are you craving something specific?" Nene asks, opening the doors of her fridge and sticking her head inside, inspecting the inside carefully.
"Hmmm…." Emu hums, caressing her chin. "Something sweet."
"Sweet…" Nene repeats under her breath as she digs through the ingredients. "I don't think I have anything sweet."
"Oh! That's okay." She tries not to let the disappointment show but Emu's never been good at hiding her feelings, especially if she's craving something really badly.
"But we can make something…" Nene suggests, pulling out some milk and eggs out of the fridge and setting them on the counter, "Does cake sound good?"
Unable to contain her excitement Emu throws her hands in the air followed by a loud "Wonderhoy!!!", this time nowhere near Nene's ears.
Dedicated to the task at hand, the two girls single out the ingredients needed for chocolate cake as instructed by an internet article. Staring at everything, laid out like this—it hits Emu that she has no idea how to make chocolate cake.
Growing up rich, she got used to her family chefs preparing every single meal she ate so when met with a simple task of making her own food, she found herself frozen in place. If you told her five minutes ago that you needed oil for chocolate cake, she would not have believed you.
Nene, while maybe not being the best cook in the world, still seems to have more experience than her when it comes to this kind of stuff because she moves with no pauses, reading the recipe then doing as instructed while Emu just stands there motionless.
Overflowing guilt starts eating Emu from the inside as she reaches for the flour, just to do something with her hands but when she grabs it she realizes she has no idea what to do with it.
Countless thoughts are overflowing in Emu's head as she brainstorms if she should risk it and put the flour in the bowl while Nene's cracking eggs just to help in any way she can. Making something sweet was her idea in the first place so leaving Nene, her host, to do all the dirty work seems unfair.
"Emu?" Nene's voice snaps Emu into reality too suddenly.
Before either of them know it, the flour flies into the air, scattering white grains everywhere. Nene's kitchen no longer looks like one but more like a field, covered in snow during Christmas time.
"Emu!" Nene shouts in surprise, placing the eggshells aside. Her violet eyes are staring at Emu, wide open, trying to process what just happened.
Frozen in place, Emu falls to her knees, holding her head low. "I'm so sorry." She mumbles, her breath shaky. "I'm—so very sorry Nene-chan."
Before she gets a chance to break down into a crying mess Nene sits down next to her, pulling her tiny friend closer. "No, I'm sorry." She carefully rubs circles against Emu's back, "I probably surprised you when I called out for you."
Emu shakes her head, quietly. Suddenly, she feels a poking headache strike and on instinct she lets herself rest on Nene's chest.
"I'm not mad at you."
"You aren't?" Emu asks, her voice barely louder than a whisper.
"Of course not. It was just a mistake," Nene murmurs quietly. “We all make them.” Her voice is so calming that Emu can't believe she was ever embarrassed to ask Nene for guidance. After all, if it's Nene then she has no doubt that she'll understand.
It takes two of them around ten minutes of evenly divided work to clean up the kitchen of all the flour, and when they finally do Emu feels a strange feeling of accomplishment tingle in her stomach.
After they're done Nene carefully guides Emu, showing her how to prepare the cake according to the recipe and instead of experiencing overflowing anxiety—Emu's basking in the feeling of ease.
Nene stands behind Emu, carefully guiding her friends' hands to the bowl, teaching her how to properly crack eggs without spilling anything on the counter.
Emu's trying her best to focus on the task at hand and follow Nene's detailed instructions but it's hard to do that when all she can think about is how soft Nene's hands are pressed against her own.
Each time Nene runs her fingers against Emu's skin, she feels the electric spark snap her back to her senses. But for Nene she tries.
A warm feeling washes over Emu when the two finally finish the preparation process. Thanks to Nene she learned something new today. Something useful. Something impressive.
The time in between making the cake and baking is spent cleaning and chatting. The words slip from Emu's mouth naturally as the two move through the kitchen, cleaning the table off the spilled cocoa powder and drops of milk.
Before long the timer goes off, indicating that the cake is finished.
Already standing in front of the oven with her gloves on, Nene smiles softly. "Good work."
She pulls it out quickly and sets it on the table in front of Emu who is waiting impatiently. The cake is…not the best cake ever baked. It's messy, and a little burnt on the side—but when she takes a bite, Emu feels like this is the best meal she's ever had in her entire life. There’s something about it; despite not tasting nearly as good as her chef's one, she still loves it more than any cake she's ever had.
Nene frowns when she takes a bite and points out how she should have added more sugar or some more cocoa powder, making Emu giggle with her comments. Nene gives in at last "I guess it’s fine," she says, unable to resist Emu’s smile and the two girls eat in peace, laughing together and simply enjoying each other's presence.
Emu devours her piece in a matter of seconds, enjoying how tasty the burnt chocolate cake feels in her mouth. Perhaps the reason she likes it so much is because this is no ordinary cake—but it’s the cake that she and Nene made together, as well as her first time preparing a meal that's not a sandwich or instant noodles.
Watching Nene finish her cake from across the table, Emu's stomach starts doing flips and turns by the warmth Nene radiates. Despite being blunt and grumpy at times, Nene is kind and rational, always helping out Emu whenever she runs into an issue. Even now when Emu made a mess out of her kitchen—she didn't get angry, but instead wrapped Emu in her small arms, whispering words of reassurance Emu so desperately needed to hear.
She's not used to this kind of affection. What she's used to are cold stares of disbelief, rolls of eyes and complaints, mostly by her father, about her childlike nature that often gets her in some sort of trouble.
She's used to others picking up her pieces because they are hired for it. The cooks, the maids, the butlers, even park mascots. They are all hired to pick up her pieces and it's tiring but with time Emu realized she has no idea how to pick up her own pieces and what to do with them, where to put them?
Nene doesn't pick up Emu's pieces for her—she picks them up with her. She guides her and helps her with no sense of judgment, as if she’s just an old friend.
When Emu gets lost and asks for extra help, Nene doesn't start complaining about how she should know better and use her head. Instead, Nene takes extra time to show her how to get something done.
Be it cooking, acting, singing, video games or some other niche activity—Nene's always willing to take extra time for Emu and help her out when she gets stuck. And for that, Emu is immensely grateful.
Soon after they finish eating the two of them find themselves back in Nene's room—that now after the sun has set, blanketed in darkness, the only light source being the light illuminated by Nene's console. After getting on the bed, Emu cradles closer to Nene—wrapping both of them in a soft blanket, this kind of intimacy being no stranger in their relationship.
Emu nuzzles her face in Nene's messy green hair as her friend selects the level she previously struggled with, once again determined to show the game who's the boss.
Emu cheers for Nene every time she gets closer and closer to victory, her eyes glowing with excitement as she watches Nene fight for her dear life.
Suddenly Nene shrieks and her console falls out of her hands. VICTORY is written across the screen with big bold letters and Nene lets out a big sigh of relief.
Unable to contain her happiness, Emu giggles and flaps her hands around as her whole body vibrates in excitement.
Nene joins in as she rocks back and forth, flapping her hands around but nowhere near Emu's intensity.
The action seems to catch Emu's little eye because she lets out a loud gasp and smiles with the warmth of a thousand suns, "Nene-chan!" She exclaims, opening and closing her wrists in a fast motion, "You do that thing too?"
"Thing?" Nene shots her a confused glance, seemingly unaware of her actions.
"The!" Emu grins and flaps her hands in motion, "When you're so excited and GRAAHHHH so you just have to WHOOSH WHOOSH a little to let out the good energy!"
"Oh!" Nene's eyes fall to her hands that are still in action, "You mean stimming?"
"Stimming is so Wonderhoy!!!" Emu throws her hands in the air, despite having no clue what stimming is—but hey, it feels good!
Emu's always shown her excitement in a unique way. Not only was her speech pattern severely different than one of her peers, but she was always more playful than others too—casually flapping her hands and opening then closing her fists when she was excited, bouncing her leg when she was nervous or bored and tapping the nearest object or squeezing it tightly when nervous.
"Stop doing that." People would tell her. “It’s annoying, loud, bothersome…”
But Emu just couldn't control it. It's like something inside her just had to act on her feelings or else her body would feel really weird and uncomfortable.
When purposely trying to stop her leg from bouncing, it would feel so wrong and as childish as it may sound—it would stress her out and leave her unable to focus on her surroundings.
That's why she's glad at least Nene isn't judgemental. In fact she didn't know this strange but fun action had a name either! And if it has a name then that must mean that she's not alone in this either!
For some reason all of this makes her erupt in laughter and she falls down on a blanket that was previously wrapped around her and Nene.
((Nene can't help but burst into giggles when she sees that thrilled smile on Emu's face.
That irreplaceable smile.))
In the furthest corner of the Wonder Stage, with papers sprawled all around them, Emu and Rui are trying to go over Emu's Japanese literature assignment—but as it turns out, studying in a theme park is not the best idea.
While it may not be in the center of the park, the surrounding area is still pretty loud and most certainly loud enough to make Emu unable to focus on anything her friend is trying to explain.
But it's also partially on them for not discussing the meeting spot.
Yesterday, during play rehearsal, Emu mentioned having trouble with her literature assignment—so Rui, who reads in his free time, offered to help her. But neither of them really planned on hows and whens, and so they decided to stay on Wonder stage today after practice.
Not their brightest moment.
Now, Emu loves smiles. To her there is no sound more pleasant for her ears than genuine laughter. But when she hears a kid scream in excitement somewhere in the park. All she wants to do is throw all the assignments aside and go have fun herself. Somehow even the rides and park music that never usually bothered her, seems especially loud today.
In fact, everything other than Rui's words seems to be noisier than usual.
She hides her face in her hands, embarrassed to meet Rui's gaze who was kind enough to take time out of his day just to teach her, only for her to be unable to pay attention.
She feels ashamed and guilty for bothering Rui when the two of them are obviously getting nothing done.
But how could they? Everything is just so loud…
Suddenly, the laughter of park visitors and music blasting out of the speakers becomes mushed in her ears, turning into just sound. She hears everything but nothing at the same time.
That is until a soft, "Emu-kun?" snaps her out of her thoughts and she's met with golden eyes staring right back at her. Rui's expression is a worried one, and she immediately regrets looking up because she can feel tears prick her eyes.
"Aah!" She exclaims, using her jacket sleeve to wipe her face before Rui notices anything, "I'm sorry Rui-kun! Could you repeat what you just said?"
"I asked," Rui narrows his eyebrows in concern, "If you're okay?"
"I'm—" Emu opens her mouth, but the words get stuck in her throat and she's unable to say anything else. Pulling her legs close to her chest, she curls up in a tiny ball, hiding her presence away from Rui in shame.
Rui immediately notices his friend's odd behavior because he closes the book in front of them and pulls himself closer to Emu, not touching her in any way, just simply keeping her in his sight.
"Emu-kun?" His gentle voice of an angel calls out to her again, "Can you talk?"
Emu tightly grips her arms and shakes her head, words in her mouth simply unable to come out.
"That's okay…" Rui whispers, "Can I touch you?"
When she nods, Rui pulls himself closer, seemingly a little confused on what to do—but determined to help his friend feel better. Carefully, he wraps Emu in his arms, holding her gently and rocking her back and forth until he can feel her calm down.
It makes her feel guilty to show this side of herself to Rui. This weak and vulnerable side of her. She's embarrassed because she—who is loud and arguably has no volume control— gets overwhelmed by sounds. She feels pathetic until she hears Rui speak up.
"Is it the noise?" Rui asks softly. "I know that feeling…when everything around you gets so loud you can't hear your own thoughts."
For the first time after calming down a little, Emu lifts her head up and meets Rui's sincere gaze.
Without even having to ask, he reassures her, "Yeah, I do."
It's like he can read her mind.
When met with his gentle and warm smile, his warm gaze and soft touch—Emu can't help but smile a little herself. "Thank you…." She whispers, her voice fragile and shaky. She can't quite collect her thoughts—but she's glad Rui understands.
He always did.
Somehow even when she herself didn't quite get her feelings, he did. He understood her and reached out, helping her overcome her inner battles. Sometimes instead of fighting alongside her he'd just be there, his presence alone being enough to push Emu to success.
"Of course," Rui reassures her, squeezing her hand tightly in his own. His hands are way bigger and more rough than her small and soft ones, but that's why she loves them. Despite the rough surface and scars on his palms and fingers from various experiments, she likes holding Rui's hand. It makes her feel safe.
"Could we…" she speaks up, carefully choosing her words in order to keep her composure, "Go to my place?"
"Is that alright with you?" She catches hesitance in his tone.
"It's okay." It's Emu's turn to reassure Rui now, "You're always welcome."
At that, Rui hesitantly bites his lip and merely nods.
When the two of them get up to leave he stops Emu right there before she gets a chance to walk any further. She gives him a confused look that reads, 'Why did you stop?' But instead of explaining his actions Rui just crouches down and gestures for Emu to climb on his back.
Enthusiastically, she claps her hands in excitement and climbs up on Rui, who tightens his grip and carries her gently to their destination that is, luckily for both of them, not that far away.
Rui's been to Emu's house only once and that was for a sleepover Wonderlands x Showtime had a while ago—but the look on his face still suggests that he's a little uncertain about being here. Emu notices the hesitant look in his eyes and hugs him tighter and opens her mouth, words of reassurance spilling out one after the other. Her cheerful voice is enough to bring back a smile on Rui's face.
He drops her off in front of the entrance and, just like new, she grabs his hand in her own, intertwining their fingers, and pulls him along into her big house.
It's a modern house with a lot of space and a chilly atmosphere, completely different from Emu's warm and bright aesthetic.
Back when grandpa was still alive there used to be more painting, plushies scattered across the sofa from playing pretend, crayons and papers on the kitchen table—little signs of humanity.
But ever since he passed, Emu's father had been keeping everything in check, ordering maids to keep everything clean and neat in case someone important had to visit.
Emu's father, unlike her, is a man who follows standards and norms. He thinks he's rational and only sets for professionalism, even in a place that's supposed to be their home. But Emu decides that if being professional means having to hide a part of herself, if it means taking off colorful paintings off her walls and dressing up in dull clothes and itchy suits—then she hates being professional.
Despite being unsatisfied and cold in a place she calls home, when she opens the door of her room she's still met with a piece of herself; and that makes her glad she still has at least this for herself.
Unlike the rest of her house, Emu's room is painted with colorful walls, plushies scattered around, in every corner. She has a big window welcoming rays of sunshine inside, setting up a cheerful atmosphere.
Squeezing his hand, she pulls Rui inside and sits him down on her bed as she searches through her bag for the assignment they were supposed to be doing. When she finally finds it, she lets out an accomplished laugh and jumps up on her bed, next to where Rui is sitting.
Opening the page they left off, Rui opens his mouth and starts explaining his thoughts about the subject at hand. But seeing him in her room, surrounded by all her fun things she could show him—it makes Emu so excited that she gets the urge to throw away all the homework and start rambling about her pony figurine collection.
Getting lost in her fantasies, Emu smiles, not realizing Rui stopped talking until her eyes meet his fond expression, which Emu recognizes as him being unable to hold in a laugh.
"AH!" she hides her face in her hands, heat from her cheeks warming up her palms, "I got distracted~" she whines.
A soft chuckle slips Rui's mouth and he lifts his hand up to hide that dazzling smile of his from her view. "We really are not getting anything done are we?" Words fall down his mouth but Emu doesn't sense judgment in his voice. He's not rude and he doesn't snap but instead he laughs and moves his hand away, gesturing at the open page in front of him, "Do you remember what I just said?"
"Uweehhh~" Emu hides her face in his shoulder, trying to keep a straight face but failing miserably, "Sorry, Rui-kun!"
"It's okay," words of reassurance fill in the blanks of their conversation, "Let's work hard to find a way to make you interested in studying, 'kay?"
Emu lifts her face to look at his gaze and she can't help but melt when their eyes lock, "Okay~"
"How do you usually study?" Rui prompts, determined to help Emu if his capabilities allow him to.
"Well I just memorized it all in class!" Emu chirps proudly, "But I'm not really good with literature."
"I see…" Rui scrunches his nose, a habit he's prone to doing when he gets lost in thought, "Does the highlighter technique work for you? Or note sheets?"
"Oh, I love decorating my notes with different colors!" Emu's eyes lit up, "I have markers in our colors to help me mark what's important when I'm studying!"
"Yeah!" Emu gets up and rushes to get her pencil case. It's small and pink in the shape of a unicorn, fitting for her character. She digs in through it until she pulls out four neon highlights, "I have yellow one for Tsukasa-kun, green one for Nene-chan, pink for me and purple one for Rui-kun!"
"Ah!" Pink tint sprawls across Rui's cheeks as she pulls out a purple highlighter out of her pencil case to show him. "That's wonderful, Emu-kun. How about we use these to help you take notes?"
"Okay!" Emu claps her hands and drops the four markers off on her bed. "Let me get my studying notebook."
"What about this one?" Rui asks, his hands lifting up a purple notebook they've been using so far.
"Well that's my Japanese literature notebook! I will write the final assignment inside of it," she explains and pulls out a worn out yellow notebook that's filled with stickers, "But this is my studying notebook! This is where I take all my notes."
"Oh," Rui strokes his chin, taking in the information, "So you have a different notebook for every subject and one for studying?"
"Yeah!" Emu exclaims, sitting back down, "I also have a journal and a notebook with ideas for our shows and then a separate notebook for when I'm sad—oh but I also have a sketchbook!"
Giving Emu a genuine smile, Rui takes the yellow notebook in his hands and opens the first empty page he finds, "That's wonderful Emu-kun." His words are slow but caring, "I'm glad you found a method that makes stuff easier for you."
Something about Rui's compliment makes butterflies in Emu's stomach flap their wings, making her feel fuzzy inside. To understand and to be understood, Emu thinks, is the best feeling in the whole world.
"It does!" Emu takes a pen in her hands, getting motivated to start working now that she's fully prepared, "Shall we get started? For the third time, ehehe…"
"I don't see why not." Rui leans closer and carefully moves a strand of bright pink hair out of Emu's eyes, only to be met with two round pink eyes staring at him, lit up in anticipation.
((She's smiling at him oh-so-brightly that Rui feels his heart skip a beat when she gives him that adorable look of hers. He doesn't care if it takes them hours to get this wicked assignment done, as long as he can be of help to Emu, just like she has always been of help to him. For her, he is willing to take all of his free time as long as it means being able to see that smile of hers when they finally finish.
That irreplaceable smile.))
Night creeps up from outside of Emu's window. It comes slowly, with chirps of birds that are slowly preparing themselves for slumber and hooting owls, just now waking up for their day. It approaches with the sun slowly falling and falling, hiding itself from view, welcoming a dark star-lit tapestry to take its place in the sky.
When her vision becomes strained from the darkness that swallows her room, Emu turns on a lamp near her bed, enjoying the delightful atmosphere.
Somewhere in the distance, lights illuminated by various rides and stages of her Phoenix Wonderland, fill the darkness of outside. She opens her window to be welcomed with a light breeze sending a shiver down her spine.
The sound of visitors has calmed down after the sun began to set—indicating that it's time to go home. While the sound of people having fun can still be heard, only people that are now left were mostly adults. And yet their distant laughter is still music to Emu's ears nonetheless.
Relaxing in the warmth of her bed and adjusting to the light of her lamp, Emu opens a small notebook. It's a pink journal with hard covers, decorated with pink, green, yellow and purple stars, each one in a separate corner, as well as a picture of Emu and her troupe pasted in the middle.
Taking out her pink glittery pen, she begins to write about her day, about her friends and the absolute best show they put on. She writes about the smiles of the visitors she saw, about her attempt to make Asahina smile (without much luck) and about her lunch with Honami where she got to try a bite of her dear classmates' apple pie. She writes about all these small but exciting things that happened throughout the day.
She smiles as she remembers all these tiny details from today and gets hit with a realization that she's happy. It sounds silly, because of course she's happy—she has everything in order to achieve that fuzzy feeling of joy. But she is happy.
She realizes that she's happy waking up at dawn and rushing to say hi to the Wonder stage before leaving for school. She's happy because she gets along with her classmates—arguably some better so than the others. She's happy running from Miya girls academy to Kamiyama High every day just to spend lunch with her favorite people. Even if she gets scolded by Tsukasa along the way, she's still happy to see him and she knows he is just as happy to see her. He just can't help but be a worrywart. But it's okay—she forgives him because she loves him.
She's happy when she gets up from her seat, with the speed of a thousand suns, and sets off—her first destination being Wonder Stage. She's happy getting to spend practice with Rui, Nene and Tsukasa. Being able to perform and put on shows that can make everybody smile holds a special place in Emu's heart, with a value bigger than gold. They make her happier than she's ever felt before—and she doesn't understand what kind of miracle this is, all she knows is that she wants to enjoy it to the fullest for as long as time will allow her.
She knows that time is fragile, that it runs without stopping and that fate is inevitable - but she's happy when she forgets about the scary things that her—their future holds. She'd lost her grandpa in the cruelest way imaginable, so now that she's found somebody else who understands her and loves her…she's not sure she can let them go.
It's selfish and she knows it. But she's holding onto them like her life depends on it because they painted her life with bright colors after her world became dull with grief. She's still grieving, and a part of her forever will—but these three made that horrible process so much easier just by being here for her.
They helped her through the unimaginable and they made her dream come true—now she's basking in happiness.
When she's done writing, she forcefully closes her journal, wrapping her small arms around it and pulling it close to her chest as if it’s the most precious thing in the world.
This journal holds her true feelings, her confessions, dreams and desires. All between her and these pages. Words she's never said before, words that she has no idea if she'll ever find the guts to actually mutter out loud. So she hugs her journal tightly once more before saying bye-bye to it and drops it into one of her drawers, hidden from everybody else's sight. It's not like anybody goes through her stuff but just in case, what's safe is safe.
Carefully she turns off the light and rolls on her bed as her gaze drifts into the sky above her. A bed of twinkling stars adorns the sky above her window as the moonlight dances in the sky.
To say Emu loves her friends would be an understatement. The bond the four of them formed, while definitely built on love, holds value much stronger and significant. She loves them in a way that she wakes up early just to see or hear from them as soon as she can. In everything she does, she sees pieces of them. Every small thing reminds her of them and as embarrassing as it is to confess she just can't help it.
Seeing a sign for a new play in front of a theater makes her think of Tsukasa and just how badly she wants to take him to see it. When she sees a pretty dress in the store she thinks about how pretty it would look on Nene. When she sees a vegetable advertisement at the store she chuckles under her breath just thinking about the expression on Rui's face if he were to see this.
When she goes to sleep and looks outside her window for the last time before slipping into unconsciousness, twinkling stars make her think of Tsukasa—the star of her life. The moon, elegant and bright, reminds her of Nene—her cute friend that somehow always knows what to say. The planets remind her of Rui—her genius friend who, with his splendid storytelling and directing, has shown her worlds she could only ever dream about.
Thinking about her friends, she dives into her dreams, content, as she waits for a new day to arrive, wondering which colorful and sparkling words they will fill the new pages of the book of her life.