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If We Had No Winter

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Lilia arrives in Hasetsu on an unseasonably warm spring day, long after the brightest blossoms have passed and when the sea smells hot and alive.

For the first time since Minako opened the snack bar, she wishes tourist season would close quickly. The Kachu is serving a steady stream of guests—some regulars, but many from out of town, looking to get their cigarettes lit or their drinks poured by the pretty mama-san who used to be a grand ballerina. They’re always kind folks, if a bit ignorant, but when Minako sees Lilia framed in the hazy smoke of the doorway, all she wants to do is rip off her apron and run to her, shield her from this dark little place.

“I was told by the Katsuki boy’s older sister that this little villa has excellent castle ruins,” Lilia says, then laughs sharply. “But I think that if you’ve seen one fallen castle, you’ve seen them all. She pulls a pair of cashmere driving gloves off her hands (though Minako knows the woman never drives) and stuffs them in her pocketbook. “You’d think these people were staring at the meaning of life itself out there.”

“Your hair,” is the first thing Minako can say, and the words come out in an awful croaking screech that makes Lilia arch on elegant brow. But what else is there to say when the prima ballerina herself, queen of the stern, scraped-back bun, is sporting a brand new bobbed haircut?

“Indeed, my hair,” Lilia says. She holds her head up high, the shorn ends of her steely hair grazing her fierce jawline, and she looks like a warrior charging through battle as she crosses the room towards the bar. “It was time for a change.”

The last time Minako remembers her saying that was after her and Yakov’s divorce. She can’t lie and say that it doesn’t flood her with an old, foreign warmth.

“I wasn’t expecting you until next week,” Minako says, rubbing her hands dry on a bar rag. A small group of older men nursing their beers are watching them from a table, wondering who this woman is and why she’s here to see their Minako.

Lilia gives an elegant shrug. “Yakov and Yura are staying with Yura’s grandfather for the week. Doing things that families do together, I suppose.” She moves on quickly, though Minako wonders why she is not there with them, too. “If I am here, may I have a glass of wine?”

“I have better wine upstairs,” Minako blurts, and the older men hide their laughter as she goes tomato-red. “I mean, let me show you to my apartment. Get you settled.”

Mari enters the snack bar then, hefting along two more of Lilia’s suitcases, cigarette dangling from her lips. “Oh, Mari,” Minako yells, gesturing to the younger woman. “Can you take over for a bit?”

Mari looks up, eyes wide, and then looks down at her casual onsen uniform. “I don’t know—“

“Thank you!” Minako is shedding her dirty apron and grabbing her keys before she can hear Mari’s response.

“Best of luck,” Lilia says to Mari as she follows Minako. Mari looks terrified of her, as many are.

*

“You’ve downsized, I see,” Lilia says as she enters Minako’s bedroom, letting her battered shell suitcase rest against the sliding door. “I’m used to us rattling around that big apartment in…oh, was it Paris?” The words are breezy, but her face is lined with something like nostalgia.

“Don’t even try to pretend like you don’t remember it was in Moscow,” Minako says with a laugh. She stands near the foot of the low bed and she knows the both of them are avoiding looking down at it.

Lilia sniffs, but a smile plays at her lips. “You kept the heat up too high. Keeps you too comfortable, too soft.” The apartment was the finest the Benois de la Danse could afford her after her win. Lilia lived with her for a year before she met Yakov, and it was a fine, blurry year filled with dance and vodka and bodies writhing against coarse cotton sheets. Lilia filled the cramped space with her family’s marble and porcelain and cashmere and everything else that would make Minako miss her beloved home less and less.

Of course, the only thing that kept Minako from running back home was Lilia herself.

Minako bites her lip, feeling suddenly awkward in her own apartment. “Apologies,” she says hurriedly, dragging Lilia’s suitcase over to the bed so she can unpack. “Why don’t you get settled and I’ll give you a tour? We can take a bath, maybe get a snack—“

“Minako,” Lilia says softly, but her voice always keeps that stern edge that tells you to listen at any cost. “I didn’t come here for a bath.”

“People always come here for baths,” Minako says, words slowing as Lilia turns her around so they face one another. Minako, used to being the tallest woman in the room, feels dwarfed by Lilia. “That’s the best part of Hasetsu.”

“So I’ve heard,” Lilia says, sliding the bobby pin out of Minako’s hair, letting her bangs brush against her cheeks. “But I beg to differ.”

“That is very romantic,” Minako breathes, and Lilia ducks down to kiss her. It’s the first time Minako has kissed anyone here in her own home, her own room, and her body feels light and strong, like it used to when she’d walk onstage. “How long are you here for?” She slides her hands up Lilia’s trim waist, feeling her lean muscles, grazing the curves of her breasts beneath her crisp blouse.

“As long as I am not needed elsewhere,” Lilia replies—a perfectly succinct answer that really answers nothing. “Until then, I need you out of those filthy clothes and onto this bed.” She takes off her earrings, turning towards the bathroom, leaving Minako pink-cheeked and breathing heavily by the bed. “Hurry up, now. I’ve had a long afternoon and would like to be compensated for my travels.” She closes herself in the bathroom and Minako collapses onto the bed, a smile creeping to her lips.

It’s not their old apartment in Moscow, but it’s better. It’s home, and it’s Lilia, and she never thought she’d have them both.