Friday, April 15, 2022

A Little Bit of Fluff ~Part 1: My Princess~


My name’s Sara.

I’m a sweet lolita and I work part time at the Ang☆lic Pr☆tty store in ☆☆☆☆ City.

I’ve been a member of the ☆☆☆☆ branch staff for about two years and usually work four days a week, but recently I’ve been thinking about quitting. For the past two months or so, I’ve been feeling the sparkle of the fashion being worn away from my soul, like someone rubbing the glitter off of M☆lky Pl☆net with a scouring pad. The colours of our releases seem duller each week, and the giggle of joy I used to feel at trying on a new dress has turned into a sigh of obligation.

It’s hard to put into words why I’ve been feeling this way these last few months. Most people would think I’m the luckiest lolita in the world, getting to work at my favourite brand. Plus, our customers are really nice, and even the tourists we sometimes see are polite. The problem is deeper than that. There’s a lot of pressure recently from above to push sales numbers higher and higher. No matter how busy we are, we never seem to meet the ever-increasing sales goals.

We’re doing our best, though. Our customer service is on point. Polite. Professional. Perfect, even. When I see our latest customers to the door and thank them for their visit, they always wave. My co-worker and I bow. They depart. It’s an interaction that happens dozens of times a day, and one I can perform blindfolded. But one day, as I hung the dresses our customers decided not to buy back on the rack, I found myself thinking about that morning’s staff meeting: We can’t let B☆by win.

Our shop manager thinks that the nearby B☆by, the St☆rs Sh☆ne Br☆ght is stealing our fans away.

Is that where the sparkle I used to feel for lolita has gone, too? Is B☆by stealing my shine?

“Sara? Sara!” I spun around to find my co-worker glaring at me in annoyance. Her real name is something like Akari, but when she’s at work she goes by the name Audrey and greets customers with a fluttery “bonjour!” I have to say, there’s nothing fluttery about her glower when she’s annoyed. “I asked you if you’d had lunch yet. Twice. You’re looking pale and the manager will be furious if you pass out in front of customers.”

“Oh, yeah,” I replied and laughed self-consciously. Audrey didn’t laugh with me. “I guess I just forgot.”

I checked the hanger one last time to make sure the dress was hanging neatly with the rest, and turned towards the counter.

“I’ll go take a quick break and have some tea or something. Don’t worry about me, Audrey.”

“I wouldn’t have to if you weren’t daydreaming all day,” she replied and rolled her eyes dramatically. Audrey has been a member of staff about six months longer than I have, and her dream is to be transferred to the ☆☆☆☆ store in France. She takes her job, and her position as my senior, very seriously indeed. Most days, I could laugh off her attitude—I know it’s just an act she puts on because she’s secretly very shy—but that day, her tone made me want to shrivel up in a corner and disappear. I think she noticed, because her voice softened. “I suppose you don’t have to be too quick about it, I think we’ll be slow for a while. Go take a break.”

With her blessing, I grabbed my wallet and headed out the door. The vending machines were just around the corner, past some of the other stores, which meant I would absolutely see the infamous B☆by, the St☆rs Sh☆ne Br☆ght along the way. The idea filled me with an odd mix of apprehension and excitement, but I tried not to walk too quickly.

One of their staff was changing out the window display for their newest preorders as I passed. She didn’t notice me, and it felt voyeuristic, but I paused to watch her work. She was tying the waist ties on the dress she’d finished putting on the dress form, and I couldn’t help but admire her deft skills. The bow’s tails came out perfectly even on the first pass. For that one moment watching her, I felt a reminder of the glow that lolita had given me in the past, followed immediately by a surge of guilt.

B☆by, the St☆rs Sh☆ne Br☆ght are our rivals. Our unspoken enemies in the world of lolita fashion. I turned quickly and continued on my way before she noticed me staring. A lolita dressed head to toe in Ang☆lic Pr☆tty staring at a B☆by display might be taken as some kind of weird threat. So I hurried on, lost again in my own thoughts.  

As I retrieved my drink from the vending machine slot, I wondered how long I could keep this up. I’d fallen in love with lolita more than ten years ago. Was I reaching the age of graduation so frequently discussed in hushed tones by lolitas in their twenties and thirties? Surely not. Maybe I just needed a change of pace. The pressure from management was probably contributing to my discomfort. I could understand their concerns, though. I felt uneasy about the rivalry between our two stores, myself.

Lately, B☆by in ☆☆☆☆ City has been doing a lot of cute videos on T♡kT♡k and Inst♡gr♡m, garnering new fans with their clever skits. Notably, they’d been using hand puppets of their ultimate mascot, Us☆kumya, to highlight sales and new releases. Some of the videos were just silly short clips with ridiculous sound-effects and sparkling filters, but someone on the staff had started a series of short dramas that were particularly compelling. They only posted once a week, and ended each one on a cliff-hanger. Their videos had even gained popularity with foreign fans, and were receiving a lot more views than our own promotions.

I couldn’t help but wonder if the manager wasn’t right to be worried that they would soon outpace us. Our numbers as a brand were doing better overall, but B☆by’s in ☆☆☆☆ were phenomenal. 

I sat on a bench near the vending machines, overlooking the fountain that was our shopping mall’s centrepiece, and turned my thoughts away from B☆by, back to my feelings for lolita. Where had all the lustre and glow gone? Was I really just getting too old? Or was the reality of working at Ang☆lic Pr☆tty the real culprit? They say you shouldn’t get too close to your idols, after all. The truth behind the curtain can be an ugly sight.

I sighed and took a sip of my drink. The bottled tea stirred up an old memory, and I found myself trying to remember how I’d felt the first time I saw a lolita. It had been a while.
You see, I fell in love with lolita when I was nine years old.

The first time that I saw The Princess awakened a love for all things frilly in me. We were playing soccer in the park.

It wasn’t really soccer, I suppose. It was the sort of soccer nine-year-olds play where you mostly kick the ball back and forth without much purpose, but with a lot of shouting and trash talk. We had split up with girls on one team and boys on the other, because Saki suggested it might be fun. Saki was the boldest of the girls, a year older than me, and a total sports nut. She wanted to convince the boys that girls were just as good at soccer as they were, and while that may very well be true of athletes, it was certainly not true of the rest of us in the group.

I’d never really liked soccer, but I didn’t want to be left out, so I volunteered to be goalie, which brought Erika and Mari tentatively on board with the game. We marked out goals between posts that made up the park’s borders, drawing a line in the dirt to shape each one, and got to playing.

Now, I wouldn’t say I was completely spacing out, but I definitely wasn’t into the drama of the game as much as Saki, who was calling out plays that the rest of us didn’t understand. She regularly went charging headlong towards the boys’ goal with single-minded purpose, and they shouted and hooted after her the whole way. Nobody seemed to care that I wasn’t paying attention, because the boys were too busy taunting Saki to try scoring against me, anyway. All of the action was on the other end of the lot we were using, leaving my mind to wander. I’ve always been prone to daydreaming, Audrey wasn’t wrong about that, so even back then, I had been wondering whether there were any kites trapped in a nearby tree when I saw her pass beneath its branches.

There had been rumours at school about The Princess in my neighbourhood for a few months. Nobody knew who she really was. Some kids claimed she was a magical girl and that she could transform into a cat with a wave of her wand. Others said she was a horribly disfigured ghost and would drag you down to hell if you didn’t call her pretty. One boy said she was actually the school nurse in disguise, checking up on us after hours. Nobody ever agreed on anything about The Princess except that she was exceptionally pink and exceptionally fluffy. But there she was, interrupting our impromptu soccer game on a Sunday morning, walking down the road like she had somewhere very important to go.

Just like that, I fell in love. The world suddenly seemed brighter, and the air filled with a cotton-candy sweetness. Everything felt soft and out of focus except for The Princess, with her sure stride and raised chin.

She was dressed like a dreamy parfait, with tiers of ruffles and lace in pastel pink and white. Her hair was the colour of caramel and piled on her head in huge, soft curls. Instead of a crown, she wore a frilled headdress, and a gold star dangled from a pearl chain near her cheek. She even had a parasol shading her from the sun, and as she walked, she idly spun it above her head. Everything else in the world went quiet but for the gentle clack of her shoes on the concrete, and the swish of her petticoat with each step. She was walking with a purpose and her eyes were gazing straight ahead at some future I couldn’t see. Somehow, she seemed familiar, though. I knew in my heart that I hadn’t ever seen someone with that much hair. Surely I’d remember someone with that much hair! But still, I felt I needed to meet her and be sure. I opened my mouth to call out to her, but no words came out. I suddenly felt like I’d been punched right in the face, and the soft, bright world turned black.

When I came to, The Princess was gone, and a tearful Saki was shouting in my ear and clutching my hand. The other girls were off to one side crying in earnest, and the boys had disappeared entirely. Apparently, the other team had decided to stop goofing around, and had taken a serious shot at our goal: a shot which had instead hit me square in the nose, and knocked me flat. After a few minutes that seemed like hours, my mother’s face loomed above me, tongue clucking about the blood I’d gotten on my new dress.

“Sara, really,” she chided. I could tell she was relieved despite her tone. I suspect that whichever of the boys had brought her had probably told her I was dead and bloody in the park. “You know better than to make me worry like that! Let’s get you cleaned up.” She and Saki helped me up. Out of guilt, Saki half-carried me home, though my legs worked perfectly fine. I felt like I was waking from a long nap, my eyes darting about for evidence that I hadn’t just dreamed The Princess into being as we walked.

For the next two days, all I could think about was The Princess. I spent every minute I was awake trying to remember exactly what she had looked like, and every minute free trying to recapture her appearance on paper. I drew at least three dozen different pictures trying to remember what she looked like down to the last curl in her candy-coloured hair, and the exact angle of the ribbon on her chest.

“What’re you working on?” my dad asked when he noticed me scratching away on drawing number 37 after dinner. The previous iterations were scattered around me on the floor in varying stages of completion.

“I’m trying to draw The Princess,” I responded in exasperation, attempting for the thirty-seventh time to get the colour of her hair right. It was always too yellow, and I was beginning to wonder if I needed new coloured pencils to accurately represent the pink of her dress, too. Was my pink too salmon? Too dark? It just didn’t look right!

“The Princess?” he chuckled, picking up one of my failures. “I didn’t know you liked Hina that much.”
I paused in my frantic scribbling. Hina? I slowly turned my head in his direction. He was still examining my drawings with a thoughtful air. He flipped to another page, turned it the right way up.

“You know, I’d bet she’d love to see these. They’re really good,” he said, tapping one finger on the small stack of pages he was holding. “Why don’t you take one over for her tomorrow?”

“Hina? Hina-next-door-Hina?” I asked. His declaration cleared the fog from my mind and I realised why The Princess had looked so familiar, and yet so unlike anyone I had ever met.

Our next door neighbours, the Hanazawa family, had three children and were very reserved. Their eldest son was attending an excellent university. Their daughter and younger son were polite and courteous high school students. Their regular letter for the new year was always elegantly penned by Mrs. Hanazawa and contained all the proper niceties and necessary wishes for happiness and cooperation in the future. They were absolutely normal and absolutely serious people. If anything, their daughter was somewhat on the shy side compared to her outgoing, athletic brothers.

Her name was Hina.

Every day she came home from her club or cram school (I never knew which one it was, she carried no equipment for sports or the like) and went into the house. I guess she was studying hard to go to a prestigious university like her older brother. I didn’t often see her except when our families got together for various things, and she was always in a corner with a book in hand. I never paid much mind to the titles, but they were usually too difficult for me to work out at the time, anyway.

But that didn’t matter. None of that mattered. Only two, interlocking facts mattered: The Princess, confident and noble, was Hina. Hina, quiet and studious, was The Princess.

I couldn’t believe it. I cleaned up my drawings in a daze, still marvelling at what my dad had just told me. He had identified The Princess from my drawings with absolute certainty in his voice. Maybe she really was Hina. As I tucked my drawings into my sketchbook, I decided that I’d find out.

The next day after school, I loitered around the front gates of our houses, waiting for Hina to come home. I couldn’t be sure if she had club or cram school to attend that afternoon or not, so I found excuses to linger near the street until she at last returned. Fortunately, she’d come home early that day. I’d run out of chores to do, and even the name plate for our mail slot was now sparkling clean.

“Oh. Good afternoon, Sara,” she said when she saw me, shuffling awkwardly in front of her. Hina sounded so normal, so perfectly normal and mudane. I stared into her face, trying to imagine it framed by caramel curls. Was she really The Princess?

“Good afternoon, Hina,” I replied. I didn’t know what else to say, so I thrust forward the envelope in my hands. I had written her name on it and sealed it with one favourite sticker sets.

“What’s this?” she asked, suppressing a giggle. “Are you confessing to me or something?”

I didn’t say a word, but stood watching her with the most solemn expression I could muster. She flipped the envelope over and popped the My Mel♡dy seal open with one neat fingernail. Still smiling, she pulled the paper I’d folded into the envelope out, and careful spread it open. Her smile faded slightly. The longer she looked at the sheet in her hands, the more her expression shifted between laughter to confusion.

“Sara,” she said, sounding a bit like I’d handed her a wet tissue. “Would you like to come inside for some tea?”

The inside of Hina’s room was exactly what you’d expect from high schooler preparing seriously for university. It was larger than my room by far, but much more sterile. There were no photos or posters on the wall, only a calendar with test dates marked out in her small, neat handwriting. Her desk was tidy, and her bed crisply made. There was a low table in the middle of the room, with a stack of work books full of sticky place markers from cram school on the corner, and one wall of her room was nothing but a bookshelf, full of those complex titles I’d never been able to understand before.

But one corner of one shelf near the very bottom stood out to me. I sat waiting politely for Hina to return, staring at the neat row of colourful magazine spines stashed away at the bottom of a mountain of complex literature.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” she said when she arrived, carrying two bottles of cold tea and a plate of shortbread cookies. She handed me one bottle and set the plate between us on the low table. “I didn’t know if you’d like hot tea. So. Let’s have a little chat.” She pushed the letter I’d given her, and the drawing I’d included, to where I could see it in front of her.

I hadn’t said a word since I handed her my letter. I was too scared to say anything, I think. I’m not sure exactly what was scary to me, but I felt like I’d been holding my breath since we met outside her gate.

“You called me ‘The Princess’ in your letter,” she prodded a little, opening her tea and gesturing that I should do the same. “That’s not really quite accurate, though. I’m not the Princess, you know. Just a Princess.”

Following her example, opened the tea she had handed me. I took a tiny sip and waited for her to continue. I barely tasted it at the time, but I somehow never forgot that it was Royal Milk Tea.

“It’s called ‘lolita’, you know? It’s a fashion. I like to wear it on weekends to see my friends.” Hina set down her drink and scooted directly to the shelf of magazines that had caught my attention. She pulled the last one out, and passed it across the table to me. The title stood out in bold, flashy letters on the cover: The G☆thic & L☆lita Bible.

A pair of models gazed directly at me from the cover, and the text on the page advertised brand offerings, interviews, and even crafting tutorials. As I flipped through its pages, Hina told me all about her hobby. How she’d found it. When she’d started wearing it. She commented on pages where I paused, and pointed out items she owned. And then I came to a full spread that struck me right through the heart. The models were pastel confections much like what I’d seen Hina wear, surrounded by surreal and whimsical illustrations. They looked like they were falling into a 2D world of sweets and rabbits, like a pastel dream of Alice’s.

“That’s my favourite brand, that’s Ang☆lic Pr☆tty.” Hina stood up and slid the panel door back on her closet. Where the rest of her room was positively Spartan, the door concealed something wondrous and brilliant. Shades of pink burst forth. Blouses, dresses, fluffy skirts I would later learn were petticoats: all of them pink and white, perfectly harmonious. “It’s a modest amount, but I’ve been saving up from my part time job for a while, and finally feel like I’m really a lolita.”

The rest of the afternoon, Hina told me all about lolita. She even let me try on one of her dresses, though it was far too large on me. I went home with stars in my eyes and dreamt of fluffy clouds that turned into pink dresses I could wear.

From that day forward, Hina always had time to talk to me when our families got together, and she frequently invited me over to see her new purchases. One day, when she had graduated from university and gotten her first “real” job, she invited me over one last time. Her room was even more barren than before. The books were gone, and her bed stripped bare. I knew she was moving to an apartment of her own, so that was to be expected. Just like the first day she invited me in, she greeted me with bottled tea and cookies. It had become our personal ritual together.

During her time at university, Hina had grown into a different person. She was still a bookworm and studied hard, but she had become more confident with time. Her smiles came more frequently, and she’d even introduced me to her boyfriend. She’d dyed her hair to the caramel colour of her favourite wig, and started wearing pumps with no bows or frills for her interviews. I hadn’t noticed the changes because they were gradual, and it was my turn to be busy studying for high school, so the next words out of her mouth felt like a slap.

“I’ve decided to graduate from lolita,” she told me. Even though she was smiling, I felt like my own heart was breaking. She was graduating? From lolita?!

You could do such a horrible thing?! Hina had grown up in the last five years, it was true. I certainly hadn’t stayed the same, either, but I had thought that she was just growing up, not graduating!

Hina slid a box across the floor towards me, then retrieved a large, pink shopping bag from her closet. The logo for Ang☆lic Pr☆tty was emblazoned on the side, a parasol stuck out at a haphazard angle, and the bag’s sides bulged it was so full.

“I won’t have as much time for lolita with my new job, and I think you’re probably tall enough to wear these now, so I thought you might like to have them,” she said, pushing the bag across the low table in my direction. “The shoes were no good, so I’m afraid you’ll have to buy new ones. Sorry. Oh! And the box is all my GLBs. I know you loved to draw the models in them!”

Inside the bag was the dress I’d first seen Hina wear that fateful morning, another dress, a petticoat, and several blouses, socks and accessories. The usual happy haze lolita brought to my vision melted under a haze of tears instead. She really was quitting!

“Oh, don’t cry, Sara!” Hina laughed and patted my head. “I’m not dying or something, you know.”
I went home that evening and tried on the coordinate Hina had given me. There were a few hanging threads here and there from use, but she had always taken good care of her clothes. There were no stains or tears, and she had clearly been careful to choose pieces she knew I’d always admired most. As I looked at myself in the mirror, I decided: if The Princess was graduating, then I would take up her mantle.

I shook off my reminiscences with a sigh, looking down at the bottle of Royal Milk Tea in my hand. I must really have been out of sorts if a simple drink could bury me so deeply in memories. I threw the empty bottle into the PET bin and I returned to work. I spent the rest of the day on auto-pilot. I didn’t slip back into reminiscing, but Audrey repeatedly told me to stop day-dreaming and kept correcting small mistakes I’d made. Despite her harsh tone, she looked concerned as we locked up to go home, and asked me if I’d like to join her for dinner at a nearby restaurant.

“No, thanks. Mom said she’d be leaving a plate for me when I got home, and she hates it if I let it go to waste.” I tried to laugh, but it sounded brittle and fake even to me. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow,” Audrey huffed. She reached out and poked me in the shoulder with her perfectly deco’d nails. “You need to get better sleep and a hot bath. OK?”

We parted ways at the station entrance, each going to our respective platforms. Without Audrey to pester me, my attention wandered. I caught my usual train and took my usual seat without paying any mind to my surroundings. Much like the routine at the store, I could commute by rote. People knew me, but nobody had ever bothered me other than to offer a polite nod. I was scrolling through Tw☆tter when movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. Something sparkled ever so slightly, like a rhinestone catching in the light.

When I looked up, I saw a tall lolita sitting across from me looking at her phone. Her legs were the longest I’d ever seen on a lolita before, and she didn’t seem to care that they took up so much space. I always tried to tuck myself into a corner neatly on the train, but she sat on the bench she’d chosen like it was her own throne. Her skirts spread around her with abandon, and she tapped one toe along with the music playing through her earbuds. And yet she seemed utterly bored. 

The movement that had caught my attention had been her, though. She was making the feet of the Us☆kumya in her lap kick up and down with one long-fingered hand. She didn’t have the same highly decorated nails I expected from Ang☆lic Pr☆tty fans, but they were brightly painted and perfectly shaped. She had dyed hair a shade of brilliant pink, and was dressed head-to-toe in B☆by, the St☆rs Sh☆ne Br☆ght. I felt my heart squeeze in my chest before it dropped to my toes. I could hear it pounding in my ears.

Her hands! I realised I had seen those same hands before. It was the girl who had been arranging the coordinate in the window display earlier. How had I not noticed how tall she was? How bright her hair was? How long her legs were?

She raised her gaze from her phone and met mine. Boredom shifted to surprise, surprise shifted to excitement, and recognition bloomed in her eyes. The glow from her smile spread across the train carriage to envelope me, and I felt that warmth seep into my bones like heat from a smouldering coal despite the January chill. The air in the train carriage was suddenly hazy and warm, and the sounds of other passengers faded away.

I fell in love with lolita when I was nine because I’d met The Princess.

I fell in love with a lolita that day because I’d met My Princess.

And she was a staff member at B☆by, the St☆rs Sh☆ne Br☆ght.

~Hope you enjoyed the first chapter of this story by Hydrangea (with insert art by Vodka)


  1. This is so cute!! I can't wait to read more <3

  2. I love it! Can't wait for more!

  3. This is mind-blowingly awesome! When you wrote about Sara falling in love with lolita I felt like I was 9 years old, falling in love with it too! Sensational!