It was September, and although summer had only just officially ended there was an unusually distinct chill to the evening air that reminded Utena that winter was now just around the corner. She pulled her jacket even tighter around herself as she looked around for any sign of Anthy. Utena had been looking forward to this night for several days now, ever since Anthy had agreed to accompany her to dinner and a movie, although in the ensuing few days since asking her Utena had come to the unfortunate realisation that she had no idea whether Anthy had realised that it was supposed to be a date or not. Utena had thought that she’d been perfectly clear about her intentions at the time, but had begun to doubt herself upon repeatedly playing the scene over and over again in her head, and it certainly didn’t help Utena’s uncertainty that Anthy had asked her to meet her on this random street near the edge of town for some unknown reason rather allowing her to accompany her directly.
A sudden flash of movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention, and Utena had just enough time to register that the girl barrelling towards her at top speed and yelling her name was not in fact the person she was waiting for before the two of them collided. It took all of her strength and balance to stop herself from being completely flattened by the impact, but thankfully she had more than enough experience of her best friend’s customary way of greeting her to not be completely caught off guard by it.
“UTENA!” said the girl who has just collided with her, as Utena felt a pair of arms being tightly flung around her, “Utena, my love! What are you doing here?”
“Hey, Wakaba,” said Utena, vainly trying and failing to wriggle free of her best friend’s grip, albeit without much real effort, “I was just waiting for Anthy. We’re seeing a movie tonight!”
“Oh, really?” said Wakaba, “What are you seeing?”
“I forget,” said Utena, “Something Anthy picked out. I think it’s about a girl who runs a tea shop in a small town?”
Wakaba gasped at this.
“You’re seeing Love and Tea Leaves!?”
“Yeah, that’s the one,” said Utena, nodding at the familiar title.
“You HAVE to let me come with you!” said Wakaba, somehow managing to squeeze Utena even tighter as she did so, “I’ve been wanting to see that movie FOREVER!”
“Woah, hold on a moment,” said Utena, “It’s not that I wouldn’t want to see a movie with you, Wakaba, it’s just that I was really planning for this evening to just be Anthy and I. We were going to get dinner afterwards too.”
She tried to say this in a meaningful tone, so that Wakaba would get the picture, but any intended meaning flew merrily over her head.
“That’s perfect!” said Wakaba, “I didn’t have anything in for dinner anyway. This way I won’t have to go shopping tonight.”
“That isn’t really what I meant,” said Utena, although she didn’t have chance to explain any further, for at that moment they were interrupted by the approach of another girl.
“Hello, Miss Utena. Are you ready to go?”
This time it was Anthy, smiling sweetly up at her in her usual slightly placid manner, and Utena quickly made a point of extracting herself from Wakaba’s grasp, which was made considerably more difficult by the fact that the brunette was clinging to her with an almost vice-like grip.
“Anthy! This isn’t what it looks like!” said Utena, as she finally managed to free herself from Wakaba’s arms and straighten up again, hastily straightening out her now ruffled jacket.
“What isn’t?” said Anthy, in a tone of seemingly genuine curiosity as she tilted her head slightly to one side.
“Utena was just about to take me to the cinema and then out for dinner!” said Wakaba brightly, latching onto Utena’s arm again as cheerfully as if nothing had happened.
"No, no I really wasn’t,” said Utena, once again trying to detach her best friend only to this time completely fail in her attempt, Wakaba’s arms having apparently transmuted themselves into pure titanium at some point in the last few seconds, “I was trying to tell her that those were our plans for tonight.”
"Oh, I see,” said Anthy, in a quiet tone that didn’t exactly fill Utena with confidence that she really did see at all, “Well I don’t see any reason why Miss Wakaba couldn’t come along as well, if she wants to.” She smiled sweetly again, her expression utterly inscrutable as to whether or not it was actually genuine.
A horrible sinking feeling descended upon Utena’s stomach as she saw her carefully planned evening completely disintegrating before her eyes, and she couldn’t help but let out a long sigh. Even if she had been able to somehow persuade Wakaba to leave them along at this point it almost certainly wouldn’t have mattered, for it was becoming increasingly clear to her that Anthy had most likely never actually thought of their plans for this evening as a date at all. Why else would she be so completely unperturbed at the idea of another person coming along with them? In Utena’s (admittedly incredibly limited) experience with such matters people didn’t tend to be so happy about the idea of their romantic evening being gate-crashed by another person, not unless they never actually thought of it as romantic in the first place.
Still, Utena wasn’t willing to give up on the possibility of salvaging something date-like from this evening just yet, and as the three of them headed towards the cinema she attempted to subtly slide over to Anthy so that she could take her hand. It seemed that Wakaba had some kind of subconscious six sense for walking in the worst possible spot though, for every time Utena attempted to get any closer to the girl she was supposed to be on a date with Wakaba would turn around suddenly, or stop moving in the middle of the street to look at something, or do whatever action was perfect in that moment to place herself directly between the two of them.
Utena still hadn’t succeeded in taking Anthy’s hand by the time they reached the cinema, and it was with a slightly resigned sigh that she left her two companions chatting by one of the posters and went to purchase tickets and popcorn. The latter item was at Wakaba’s insistence, as Utena wanted to save her appetite for the restaurant, but Anthy had at least shown some interest in having some popcorn as well. As soon as this was taken care of the three of them headed straight on into the movie, however much to Utena’s horror as soon as they reached their assigned seats Wakaba slid into the seat beside Anthy before she had chance to, leaving her stuck with the lone seat on Wakaba’s other side at the end of the row.
"Wakaba, I was kind of hoping that I could sit next to Anthy," said Utena, in what she dearly hoped was a meaningful enough tone for her best friend to finally take the hint. The point soared cleanly over Wakaba's head and embedded itself in the far wall.
"But you said you didn't want any popcorn and she did," said Wakaba in confusion, "This way it'll be much easier for us to share!"
"She does have a point Miss Utena," said Anthy, before popping a single piece of popcorn into her mouth with such perfect grace and timing that there was no doubt in Utena's kind that she was doing it purely to illustrate the point.
"Even so," said Utena, still unwilling to let the matter drop, "How about we all shuffle around then so that I can sit on Anthy's right instead?"
"You can't do that!" said Wakaba, practically springing up out of her seat so that she could latch tightly onto Utena's arm once more, "I've heard that this movie is sad and I absolutely need my boyfriend here if I start bawling!"
"Pleeeeaaaaaseeeee," said Wakaba, looking up at her with enormous, imploring eyes.
Utena looked helplessly over at Anthy, who simply laughed quietly behind her hand.
"Oh, alright," said Utena, finally deflating in defeat as she slid down into the seat beside Wakaba, "If it's really that important to you!"
"Thank you!" said Wakaba, finally releasing Utena's arm only to immediately sweep her up into a bone-crushing hug instead, "This is why you'll always be my one true love!" She laughed brightly, and Utena gave her a weak smile in return.
True to Wakaba's prediction she did indeed begin to cry about two thirds of the way into the movie, and each time a fresh wave of tears began to surface she would bury her head into Utena's shoulder until she had managed to compose herself again, at least until the next sad event occurred just a few minutes later. Despite these numerous sad moments though it seemed like a perfectly acceptable movie, although Utena found herself entirely too distracted to really be able to enjoy it. Her eyes kept drifting over to the girl two seats away from her, and although she did get some small satisfaction from the fact that Anthy also seemed to be enjoying it (or at the very least she wasn't letting her lack of enjoyment show on her face) it still wasn't the same as if they were actually watching it together without an additional person between them.
Then again, Utena couldn't honestly claim that having Wakaba clinging to her for the majority of the movie was entirely unwelcome, as her warm presence was surprisingly comforting, and by the time the credits finally rolled around she couldn't deny having had a much better time with the additional presence than expected. Not that she wasn't still determined to turn the evening into a date with Anthy by whatever means were necessary.
"That was even sadder than I'd heard," said Wakaba, as the three of them made their way back out into the evening air, "It was soooo good though!"
"Yeah, it was pretty good," said Utena, stretching slightly as they walked past a poster for the same movie they'd just watched, "What did you think, Anthy?"
"I also enjoyed it," said Anthy, with her usual smile, "Thank you, Miss Utena!"
"Yeah, thanks Utena!" said Wakaba, clinging to her arm once more, "You're the best!"
“It was nothing,” said Utena, raising her hands dismissively, “Really!”
She glanced over at Anthy, who beamed back at her, and she felt her resolve strengthen again. It still wasn’t too late to turn this into a real date!
“Well, Wakaba, it was really nice seeing you tonight,” said Utena, trying as hard as possible to impart as much additional meaning into her voice as possible, “But Anthy and I were really planning to get dinner alone.”
“Oh I don’t have to go yet,” said Wakaba brightly, “Besides, I need dinner too. I told you I didn’t have any food at home, didn’t I?”
“Right, you did,” said Utena, unable to keep herself from letting out another soft sigh, “Well I guess we should all get going to the restaurant then.”
She walked the rest of the way there in near-silence, letting her two companions bear the brunt of the conversation and only speaking up when one of them directly asked her a question about something that had happened in the movie, or about which restaurant they were going to. Upon arriving they were shown to their table by a waiter, who handed each of them a menu before leaving to give them time to decide on what to eat.
“What are you in the mood for, Miss Utena?” said Anthy, smiling at Utena from across the top of her menu.
Utena quickly scanned the menu.
“How about one of the sharing dishes?” she said, gesturing towards the relevant section on the menu, “You and I could share something, Anthy. That’d be really nice!”
It was a last-ditch attempt to inject something even vaguely romantic into the evening, and Utena felt a swell of excitement within her as Anthy nodded in agreement.
“Oh, good idea!” said Wakaba, “We could all just get few little dishes and share all of them!”
The last straw broke the camel’s back.
"Wakaba will you please just take a hint already!?" said Utena, slamming her hands down onto the table with considerably more force than she had intended to and sending their eating utensils flying, "This evening was supposed to be a date but you've been making that impossible!"
She knew at once that she had made a mistake, but it was far too late to take her action back now, and she could only feel a clawing knot of guilt form in her stomach as she watched several emotions flash across her best friend's face in rapid succession, from confusion to shock to sadness. Wakaba slow rose to her feet, visibly shaking with emotion, and opened her mouth as if she was about to say something. No words actually came out though, and after several seconds of awkward silence Wakaba simply let out a loud sob and ran from the restaurant without another word. Utena wanted to call out after her, to somehow stop her from leaving, but she found that her own words similarly failed her, and instead she simply sank back into her seat, painfully aware of the fact that majority of the restaurant's other patrons were now staring in their direction, including several other faces that she recognised from school.
"I'm sorry, Anthy," said Utena quietly, once her voice had finally returned to her, "This isn't how I wanted this evening to turn out."
Anthy didn't respond immediately, and for one horrible moment Utena was convinced that she was furious with her, bit when she finally did speak up it was in a tone of confusion.
"But Miss Utena, I'm confused," said Anthy, tilting her head slightly as she regarded her companion, "I thought the three of us were on a date."
If she had peeled off a rubber mask to reveal that she had been Nanami the entire time Utena would have been less shocked.
“You... you did?" said Utena, her brain struggling somewhat to process this, "But why?"
"Why not?" said Anthy, in the same tone of seemingly genuine confusion, “You like her, don’t you?”
“Well yeah, she’s my best friend,” said Utena, “But I don’t like her in that way.”
“Don’t you?” said Anthy, “That doesn’t seem right to me.”
Utena opened her mouth to respond, but no sound actually came out. How did she feel about Wakaba? She’d never really thought about it before. Wakaba had always just been there, being her usual fun and cheerful self who almost always made her feel happier just by being around her and… and…
"I... I have to find Wakaba," said Utena, rising rapidly to her feet. Anthy smiled and nodded encouragingly, and Utena took off out of the restaurant without another word, neck craning wildly as she tried desperately to work out where her best friend might have gone. There was a man smoking a cigarette outside the restaurant who was able to point her in the right direction, and after a few minutes of running down the street hoping beyond hope that Wakaba hadn’t simply veered off in another direction she eventually spotted the familiar sight of her best friend sitting beneath a tree. She was half-hidden by shadows, to the extent that Utena almost ran right past her without seeing her, but as she finally came to a stop beside her it became immediately obvious that Wakaba was crying her eyes out.
“Wakaba?” said Utena, speaking in a low, quiet voice as she carefully approached the crying girl. Her best friend’s head immediately snapped upright, and she hastily wiped her eyes as she looked in her direction.
“What do you want!?” she said, not making any move to get up from where she was sitting, “I’d have thought you’d have been on your date right now. Or did you decide Anthy wasn’t good enough for you either!?”
Her tone was cutting, and Utena might have taken offence if she hadn’t known Wakaba well enough to know that she didn’t really mean it, not when she had an expression of such utter dejection in her eyes.
“I never said you weren’t good enough for me,” said Utena, slowly clambering down to sit on the ground beside Wakaba.
“You didn’t have to!” said Wakaba, turning away again so that her back was to her, “Everyone knows it! Stupid Wakaba isn’t good enough for anything or anyone.”
“You’re not stupid!” said Utena sharply, “And you’re definitely more than good enough for anyone!” She exhaled. “You got that?”
“But not you,” said Wakaba, finally half-turning her head back towards her, “I still wasn’t good enough for you.”
The half of her face that Utena could see was streaked with tears, and she felt an immediate stabbing pain in her chest at the very sight of it. She’d never really realised how viscerally unpleasant it was to her to see Wakaba in any kind of emotional distress like this.
“Wakaba… you’re plenty good enough for me,” said Utena, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder, “I’m the one who was too focused on my own issues to pay attention to that. I’d be lucky to go out with you!”
Wakaba smiled weakly, and Utena felt a sudden, wild urge welling up within her.
“Wakaba… would you like to go on a date? Like, right now?”
There was a brief pause, in which Wakaba’s face immediately lit up brightly, and she hastily wiped her eyes.
“I’d like that.”
Anthy Himemiya smiled enigmatically as she listened to Utena and Wakaba chat happily over the enormous milkshake that the three of them were sharing, any trace of the evening’s earlier tension having long since been forgotten. It had been simple enough for her to arrange for all of the events of this evening to go exactly as she intended. Casually bringing up the movie in conversation when she’d bumped into Wakaba earlier that day in order to ensure that she would also want to see it, specifically asking Utena to wait for her in a place that Wakaba always passed by on her way home, and then finally turning up just late enough to give the two of them chance to talk about their plans for that evening. After that it had simply been inevitable that their personalities would ultimately lead them down this path, and she had barely had to nudge them at all.
She highly doubted that either of them would ever realise how deliberate her hand in these proceedings had been, and honestly that was just the way she liked it. She neither needed credit for bringing them together nor even remotely wanted it. All that mattered was that Utena was happy, by whatever means necessary. It was just an added bonus that it was also so much fun for her.
She closed her eyes and leaned contentedly against Utena’s shoulder, a gesture that was mirrored by Wakaba on Utena’s other side.
It really had all turned out very well in the end.