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The Sunlit Garden - Reprise

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“If the amount of people gets to be too much for you, remember to do thought-stopping and breathe deeply. And let me know so I can help you,” Utena said, throwing on her black dinner jacket. “Are you going to be okay seeing them again, Anthy?”

“I think so,” she replied with a smile. Anthy gathered up Utena’s hair in her hands and pulled it out from between her jacket and shirt for her. “But really I’m looking forward to tonight. I’ve often thought about them and hoped they found the same kind of fulfilment we have. Everyone deserves a chance for happiness.“

After thanking her partner, Utena tugged the frilly shirt cuffs from her sleeves so that they could properly drape around her wrists. She similarly adjusted the ruffled collar and breast of her shirt over the jacket’s lapels. “You have an incredible capacity for forgiveness, you know,” she said, caressing Anthy’s shoulder. “Anyway, I wonder who all from school will be there? That invitation from Miki was a tad vague, though I guess he is quite busy with his performing. It was sweet of him to take the time to track us down. I assumed most everyone forgot about us years ago.”

“My guess is that it was Kozue who did the actual searching on his behalf.” Anthy lifted up her own long hair, revealing her nape and the back of her gown. “Dear, can you zip me, please?” she asked.

“You really think it was Kozue?” Utena zipped up the dress before primping Anthy’s hair a little for her. “That would be nice of her. I mean, they didn’t always get along back then. I’d like to think they’re doing better these days.”

Anthy checked her make-up in the mirror one last time. “With the right motivation and enough time, people can change. I’m sure everyone will be very different from the way we remember them, Utena. Let’s just hope they changed for the positive.”

“Now you’re sounding like the therapist,” she chuckled. Still behind her, Utena put her arms around Anthy’s shoulders. “I hope they’re not too different. There were good things about them I recall liking. If it does turn out unpleasant, we can always come home.” She kissed Anthy on the cheek so as not to smudge her lipstick. “Let me get my nice boots on and we’ll be on our way.”

 

They arrived at the concert hall in plenty of time. Utena suggested they find their seats right away, rather than deal with the crowd in the lobby. Anthy had already been grasping her hand tightly as they entered.

“I’m with the prettiest woman here,” she whispered to Anthy as they got settled. Hopefully, the compliment, along with being able to sit, would soothe her nerves some.

Anthy loosened her grip, but didn’t let go of Utena’s hand. “Thank you, dear. I think you’re handsomer than all the men here.” She leaned closer, her hair tumbling over Utena’s jacket, and exhaled a deep breath.

The house lights soon went down and the curtains opened on the stage. A hush came over the auditorium. Miki emerged from the wings to cheers, dressed head to toe in gleaming white. He bowed to the audience, then sat at the piano bench. Once the fanfare died down, he proceed to play.

 

The after party was held in a reception hall on the other side of the building. They walked in to see some fifty people in attendance. A few servers were toting canapé trays and there was a bar in one corner. Everything appeared very fancy.

Anthy looked around in awe. “Do you still think I’m the prettiest here?” she asked, nervously huddling up to Utena.

Pulling back, Utena gave her a look. “Do you even have to ask that? Of course I do!” she said. “And I mean it. I could just eat you up!” She touched her fingertip to Anthy’s nose and winked at her.

Anthy’s dress may not have been quite as flashy as some of the others there, but Utena thought it looked perfect on her. It was an off the shoulders number in red lace, belted with a satin bow. The colour complimented the loveliness of her dark skin. Utena nearly kissed her, but just then the feeling of being watched made her turn around.

A platinum-haired woman had approached them, accompanied by a man with hair a few shades darker. She wore a strapless, empire-waist evening gown of pale gold sequins. Black opera gloves that looked to be patent leather or vinyl went up to her biceps. The ensemble outshone her companion’s finely-tailored grey suit. “Utena Tenjou, will wonders never cease? And you have Anthy Himemiya with you, too,” the lady said.

Smiling, Anthy addressed them. “Hello, Nanami. You’re looking wonderful. What a pretty outfit!”

“Why thank you!” Nanami suddenly struck a pose, as if a camera was snapping pictures of her. “I’ve been dying to wear it out since I bought it. We’ve been so busy lately, but we dropped everything when we learned Miki was back in town for a concert. He is one of our dearest friends.”

Anthy then turned to the man with her. “And this is Mitsuru, right? Wow, you’re all grown up.”

“Yes, it’s me,” he said, his cheeks getting flushed. “I hope you didn’t think I was going to be some little kid forever!” He laughed nervously and fidgeted with his waistcoat. “I was such a runt back then.”

“We haven’t seen you girls in ages. What have you been up to?” Nanami asked. Her voice retained a tinge of haughtiness that Utena recalled from their youth.

“I’m a psychologist,” Utena replied. “I specialize in psychotherapy for young adults and grief counselling. It’s my calling, really. Since my parents died when I was young, I felt drawn to help people who have gone through similar things.”

Nanami put her finger to her chin. “Is that so? I’m in a somewhat related field, as a matter of fact. You see, I’m a Family Court attorney, mostly for juvenile delinquents.”

Her eyebrows rose up on her forehead. “Wow, female lawyers are pretty rare in Japan, and especially at your age. I’m really impressed!” Utena suppressed the urge make a quip about Nanami’s somewhat delinquent tendencies as a juvenile. It would have been uncalled for while she was being courteous to both her and Anthy. “Though if anyone could do it, it’d be you. You’re the most stubborn, determined person I’ve ever met. And I mean that in a good way.” She smiled in hopes Nanami wouldn’t take offence.

“Naturally. Though I couldn’t have done it without Mitsuru helping me cram and taking care of all the cooking and cleaning. Not to mention moral support. This country has one of the toughest bar exams, you know. He was my rock through all of it.” Nanami put her hand on Mitsuru’s shoulder. “And now he’s the perfect personal assistant, in addition to being a great house-husband.”

“Nanami’s out of the office a lot, so we don’t spend all our time together,” Mitsuru said. He wrapped his arm around her waist and pecked her on the temple. “Any extra time we get with each other during work hours is a blessing.”

Utena was about to remark on how Nanami never used to call Mitsuru by his given name, when the weight of the conversation finally hit her. She looked back and forth between them several times, her mouth falling open. “You and Mitsuru are married?”

Sticking her nose in the air, Nanami scoffed. “What? You think there’s something weird about a woman marrying a younger man?”

“No. You don’t think it’s weird that Anthy and I are in a lesbian relationship?” Utena cocked an eyebrow at Nanami, while drawing Anthy closer to her side.

“Not as weird as Juri and that couple she lives with,” Nanami said, appearing to squint at something behind them. Her eyes suddenly went wide and she groaned. “Damn, they heard me!”

“So we’re weird, huh?” Juri asked mockingly as she strode up to them. Tall and elegant as ever, layers of lavender tulle draped her. A deep purple shawl partially concealed the rhinestone-covered bodice of the gown she wore. As Nanami had indicated, she had a man on one arm and a woman on the other.

Clearly getting tense, Nanami attempted to laugh it off. “I didn’t mean it as an insult, Juri. It’s only that it’s not especially common for a woman to have a boyfriend and a girlfriend, and live with them like they were all married to each other.”

The lanky man on Juri’s left spoke up. “Go easy on her, my dear. Not everyone can appreciate our love.” His light peekaboo bangs set off his lapis hair. It went quite well with his blue achkan, resplendent with gold buttons and white trousers.

Utena found herself tempted to rub her eyes at the sight. “Ruka, I thought you died!” She held Anthy a bit tighter, finding herself somewhat shaken by this turn of events.

“We thought you died,” Juri’s female companion said. Decked out in an eggplant ball gown with no straps, she looked equally glamourous to Juri. Her burgundy hair was pulled back and set with flower kanzashi. Taking a closer look, Utena realised it was Shiori.

“What are you three up to these days?” Anthy asked. She seemed to be taking it in her stride that Ruka was alive and well.

Shiori smiled. “We have a fencing school. No surprise, right? My sweeties were practically born with foils in their hands,” she giggled.

Juri nodded, looking proud as a peacock. “Many of our students have competed successfully at international competitions, just like Ruka and I did for a few years.”

“I’m not as talented as them, but I’m a whiz with recordkeeping and such. Not a glamourous job by any stretch of the imagination, though it is important.” Shiori gave a self-conscious shrug.

Ruka shook his head. “She’s just being modest. Shiori is the backbone of the operation. Without her filing system and number crunching, we wouldn’t have lasted a year.“ He reached over to stroke Shiori’s chin, causing her to blush. “Plus, she tends to our cuts and sore muscles.”

“So you guys are… I suppose ‘couple’ isn’t the right word?” Utena asked, scratching the back of her neck with her free hand.

Juri squeezed each of her partners around the waist. “The preferred term is ‘triad.’ And yes, we are.”

“I, myself, prefer to be called the luckiest man alive,” Ruka said with a grin. He looked at Juri and Shiori and they grinned back at him. The trio began to giggle and Utena wondered if they were sharing some private joke.

Remaining unfazed by everything, Anthy leaned in and stared at Shiori’s necklace. “You wear a locket now, Shiori? That’s a different style from the one Juri used to have,” she said.

Shiori opened it up to show them the contents. There was a picture of Juri on one half and one of Ruka on the other. “We all wear matching ones, but with photos of the other two inside,” she said. Ruka pulled a chain out of his achkan, a locket dangling from it, and Juri moved aside her wrap to reveal one as well. “Our version of wedding rings.”

“I guess as long as you make each other happy, that’s all that counts,” Utena said with an awkward laugh. She couldn’t imagine having a third person with her and Anthy, but it was sweet to see them looking so content and affectionate with each other. They used to seem pretty sad or even angry most of the time.

“Very happy,” Juri replied. “I certainly hope you two are happy, as well. We should catch up more, but for now, I’d like to find that server with the canapés and maybe get a drink.” She excused herself. Shiori and Ruka went with her, insisting they were peckish also.

Nanami took it as her cue to resume career talk. “Anyway, a lot of my clients are troubled kids who get mixed up with bad crowds. Or they act out because of their emotional problems. They always need experienced mental health professionals to advocate for them. Would you be interested in working with me? Or I could at least I could give you some referrals. Do you have a business card on you?”

“Yeah, I think there are a few in my wallet,” Utena said. She dug it out of her pocket and began flipping through it, till she came across what she was looking for. “Ay, here you go!”

Nanami took the card and handed it to Mitsuru, who stowed it in his own wallet. “What about you, Anthy? What do you do for a living?” she asked.

“I work at an animal cafe. It’s mostly cats and rabbits, but other species, too. I do a lot of the cleaning and grooming. They are easier to deal with than people. I especially like caring for ones that otherwise wouldn’t have a home. It also lets people who can’t keep pets have the opportunity to spend time with animals,” Anthy said. Her eyes lit up as she explained her job.

“That’s right, you were always an animal lover. I remember now,” Nanami replied. She then looked off in the distance. “Look, Wakaba’s on her way over. She became a successful author, you know. I’ve read part of her first book. She’s quite talented at writing, but the subject matter was far too filthy for my palate. I couldn’t get through it. How could a woman enjoy that sort of thing?” She screwed up her face as if she had just eaten sour candy.

“Utena!” Wakaba shouted, waving at them as she approached. She was wearing a trumpet gown with a leaf design in green sequins, on nude tulle. Around her neck was a studded choker of black velvet, with a chain of rhinestone leaves dangling from it like a garland. “It’s so good to see you again! I’ve missed you terribly over the years.” She gave them all hugs in turn.

Utena embraced her old best friend tightly, getting a little choked up. “I’ve missed you, too. You know, I’m really sorry we lost touch. I tried to look you up several times, but I could never find any contact information for you.”

Anthy hugged Wakaba and patted her shoulder. “That’s a beautiful necklace you have on,” she said.

“Thank you! Another gift from my darling husband. He loves seeing me in chokers with this motif. He picked out this dress for me, too.” Wakaba looked around, furrowing her brow. “Hey, where did he wander off to now?”

“Oh, did you finally get it together with your ‘Onion Prince?’” Utena asked, arching an eyebrow.

Wakaba tossed her head back and laughed. “Tatsuya? Nah, we’re just really good friends. He ended up with my other best friend. Beat us to the altar by three months. Saionji’s still a little miffed about it. You know how competitive he gets. But he already had this perfect wedding for us planned at in Okinawa, and we just couldn’t change our schedule.”

A man came up behind Wakaba and kissed her shoulder, causing her to gasp and blush. “I sneezed a moment ago. Were you talking about me?” His hunter green hair was set in an almost spherical bun, while wavy bangs hung partly in front of his eyes. “Oh, Tenjou.... And Anthy. What a nice surprise.” Saionji gave them an inscrutable glance. He was in a traditional kimono and haori. With the exception of his tabi and zori, his garb was completely violet, matching his eyes.

With a kiss to his lips, Wakaba began to explain. “Yes, darling. Anthy was admiring the collar you got for me and I was telling them about how we’re married now.”

Utena’s right eye twitched. For Wakaba to end up with him of all people, after the things he did, left a bitter taste in her mouth. A moment later, she spoke up. “That look is kind of feminine, Saionji.” It was a bit of a childish thing to say, yet she felt the urge to let off some steam.

“This from the woman in a suit?” he groaned. “I happen to be very secure in my masculinity.” Saionji gestured toward himself and smirked.

Clasping his hand in both of hers, Wakaba leaned her head on his upper arm. “I think you look gorgeous, darling!”

“Well, all that purple with your green hair makes you look like a bunch of grapes.” It didn’t help matters that Wakaba looked to be covered in leaves, though Utena kept quiet about that. She didn’t want to hurt her friend’s feelings. Still, she couldn’t understand why Wakaba would marry him.

Saionji grimaced and fired back. “Is that so, bubblegum head?”

Utena quickly ran her hands over her hair, but felt no pieces of chewed gum stuck in it. “Oh, you meant the colour,” she groaned. “At least I don’t”-

Wakaba interrupted her. “Please, you two! Do you have to fight? This isn’t a schoolyard.” Saionji was about to argue more, but she stopped him. “If you let it go, then later I’ll...” She whispered the rest in his ear. Whatever it was, it made him smile wickedly.

“My apologies, Tenjou.” Saionji inclined his head, then turned back to Wakaba. “Anyway, my pet, Touga was trying to show me more pictures. I don’t know why he didn’t just bring his kids here.”

“Touga has children?” Anthy asked, tilting her head to the side.

Wakaba nodded, tittering a little. “Oh yes. You’ll see the photos soon enough!”

“He never shuts up about them.” Saionji gave a weary sigh. “He rubs them in my face most of all, even though Wakaba and I have no desire to become parents.”

Nanami cleared her throat, reminding them all the she was still there and listening to everything that was being said. “My brother is the greatest father in the world! He’s just trying to share his joy with his best friend. I would think you’d be more supportive.”

Mitsuru nodded in agreement. “Truly, he is. I hope I’m that devoted a dad when we have kids. Once Nanami’s more established in her law practice, and all.”

“Yes, though we’re going to adopt. It’s something very dear to my heart, seeing as how Touga and I were both adopted. Plus I won’t have to worry about maternity leave that way. The only downside is Mitsuru wouldn’t be able to come into the office as much.” Nanami looked to Mitsuru. “Maybe we should go look for him. Then Utena and Anthy can see for themselves how adorable our niece and nephew are.”

Once Mitsuru and Nanami went off on their search, Utena turned back to her old friend. “So you don’t want kids, Wakaba? I always kind of pictured you becoming a mom.”

She shook her head. “Nah, kids wouldn’t fit into our lifestyle. We’re happy the way things are.”

“We heard you’re a author. I had no idea you liked writing. How’d you get into it?” Utena asked.

“Oh, you know how I used to read silly romance novels? Well, one day I said to myself, ‘I could write something a million times better than this nonsense!’ And that’s how I got started.”

Utena squinted at her and smirked. “Nanami made it sound like you write naughty books.”

Wakaba turned a bright shade of pink. “I would be terribly embarrassed to talk about the details. If you want to read my stories, that’s fine, but let’s keep the words on the page.”

Saionji brushed his fingers across Wakaba’s cheek. “My wife is modest when it comes to public discourse. She saves such conversation for me, alone.”

”And what’s your profession, Saionji?” Anthy asked. To Utena’s relief and amazement, Anthy didn’t appear to be uncomfortable around him.

“I’m a dealer of samurai armour and weaponry. At auction houses, mainly.”

“Auctions? That must be pretty exciting. I enjoy online auctions, personally. There are so many cute things I find, that I tend spend a little too much money that way.” Anthy scrunched up her nose and chortled at her own expense.

He nodded. “It is intense, but I work behind the scenes more. I’m not an actual auctioneer. Less stressful on my vocal cords that way.”

“I’m glad you’re doing well,” Anthy said. Her words were light and warm.

“Thank you, Anthy. I hope you’re well, too.” Saionji smiled before turning back to Wakaba and kissing her cheek. “If you’ll excuse me, my pet, I’ll get us some drinks.” He bowed to them and headed off to the bar.

With a raised eyebrow, Utena poked Wakaba on the upper arm. “Why do you still call him by his surname?”

“I got used to it. And I like the connotations. He commands respect and I want to give it.” She let out a dreamy sigh and gazed up at the ceiling.

“I’m not sure get your meaning. It sounds like you want him to push you around.” Utena put her hands on her hips and gave Wakaba a hard look. “He isn’t mistreating you, is he?”

Pursing her lips and hunching up her shoulders, Wakaba shook her head. “No, no! Connotations, get it?”

Anthy wrapped her arms around Utena’s elbow and looked up at her. “It’s a special kind of affection, dear. She loves him, so she wants to exalt him. He needs her for his self confidence, and it makes her feel exalted.”

Wakaba looked off to the side and chewed on her bottom lip. “There’s a little more to it than that, but I’d rather not get into it during casual conversation. Maybe you’ll understand after you read my books.”

“Are you sure it’s a healthy relationship? I’m just worried about you. As a friend and as a psychotherapist. I don’t normally do marriage counselling, but”-

“Utena, it’s not like that. Things changed a great deal after you left Ohtori. He and I grew to need each other for emotional support. We both had such rotten self esteem back then. As we started dating, we discovered different types of intimacy that heightened our closeness and trust. Our love has made us stronger, even if it’s not the sort of love most people consider ideal.”

A little lump rose in Utena’s throat and she gulped. “I’m sorry, Wakaba. I think I understand it a little better now. Maybe I got sort of stuck in that old mindset of trying to protect you from him. I should’ve given him more credit. After all, Anthy and I have matured a lot since then, too.”

“Thank you, Utena. I’m hoping the four of us can all be friends.” Wakaba put a hand on each of their shoulders. “And Anthy, no hard feelings? Saionji used to be pretty hung up on you, but that’s all in the past. When we’ve discussed you, he always says he hopes you’re doing better and that he’d like the chance to properly apologise.”

“It’s all right. I’ve already forgiven him. The past is gone. I prefer to live in the present,” Anthy said. Her voice was even softer and gentler than usual. “You make a lovely couple and I’m happy for you.”

“Hey, are you two teaching me lessons now?” Utena laughed. “Perhaps we should have a dinner party sometime. Get to know each again. That would be fun.”

“I think your husband is dodging me again,” A man in a white dinner jacket and black trousers said as he strolled up to Wakaba. He had his hands casually tucked in his pockets. There was a woman clinging to his left arm.

“Sorry, Touga. I guess he just had his fill of your photos for one evening,” she said with a mild frown. “But there are some special people here I think you might like to see.” Wakaba nudged him over to Utena and Anthy.

“Hi there,” Utena replied. She gave a quick wave. “Remember me?” A smug grin crept up on her face and she chuckled. “Now that you’re a family man and I’m out, I guess we can be friends.”

“Utena Tenjou? And Anthy? I never thought I’d hear from you again!” He turned to the woman beside him. “Surely you remember Utena and Anthy, right, baby?”

The woman’s dress was a peach hue. The top was fully beaded, with a high collar. “It’s a pleasure to see you again. Though I’m not certain you’ll feel the same. I wasn’t the nicest person back when we were young,” she said with a placid smile. Her brunette hair was in pigtails, and spit curls graced her forehead.

“Oh, that’s okay. I think I can let sleeping dogs lie. We’ve all grown a lot, um...” Utena was blanking on the girl’s name. She was one of Nanami’s old friends and they had once dueled, but Utena hadn’t really known her beyond that. She was just glad the woman had kept her hairstyle, or else she might not have recognised her at all.

Anthy bowed and smiled. “It’s nice to meet you once more, Touga and Keiko.” Luckily, she had a much sharper memory. “Are you two married?”

He nodded in earnest, causing his voluminous hair to bounce. It was still long and red, the same colour as the waistcoat and bow tie he had on. “Yes, ten years now. And we have two beautiful children! Keiko works in an office. I stay home with the kids. Would you like to see the pictures I have of them?”

“Why not? I’ve already heard you’re quite the proud parent,” Utena said. She playfully nudged his shoulder and chortled.

“It’s hard not to be when your children are so amazing!” He had a broader smile than Utena ever recalled seeing on him in the past. “How about you? Did you settle down and start a family?”

“Anthy and I have been together since we left school. No kids, just Anthy’s animals. Our house is practically a menagerie!” Utena put her palm on the back of her head and simpered.

Touga scratched his chin. “I always wondered about you two... Anyway!” He grabbed his phone from his breast pocket and proceeded to go through dozens of snaps on it. They all featured a girl and a boy, both with strawberry blonde hair. “My daughter is named Kasa. She’s eight. And Inari is five.”

Keiko stepped closer to Anthy. “That’s a really nice dress you have on. I like that colour a lot,” she said. “I had to be careful with mine, till the babysitter arrived and got things under control. The kids tend to get their art projects everywhere and this guy lets them get away with it.” She gesticulated towards Touga.

Utena was oohing and awing at the little slideshow. “They are rather cute! She looks like Keiko, but with your eyes. Your son takes after his aunt, though. Especially the forehead and cheekbones.”

“He’s got her stubborn streak, too. You should see him at bedtime, demanding we read more and more from his storybook,” he laughed. “Inari loves his bedtime stories!”

“There you are! We’ve been looking all over for you,” Nanami called out. She walked up to her brother, sighing in exasperation.

Mitsuru was right on her heels. “Kyouichi is hiding from you in the men’s room, by the way. You’d better go scare him out so he’ll join the party again,” he informed Touga.

Touga rolled his eyes. “Very well, I’ll go drag him back here. I had a hunch that’s what he was up to.” He put his phone away and shrugged apologetically. Nanami shook her head at him as he walked to the restroom.

“I better follow him. Saionji will probably need some incentive to deal with his social burnout,” Wakaba said. She hurried after Touga.

Utena looked back to Nanami. “It’s a little funny. You used to be so overprotective when it came to girls dating your brother.” Her eyebrows went up high on her forehead.

“It took me some getting used to, but their kids turned out so adorable. I wouldn’t trade being an aunt for anything,” Nanami said. “Besides, Keiko knows that if she doesn’t take good care of Touga, she’ll have to answer to me.” She narrowed her eyes at her sister-in-law and folded her arms across her chest.

Keiko waved it off. “She’s just teasing. We get along swimmingly nowadays,” she said, giving Nanami an amicable wink. They both laughed about it and hugged.

Though she was glad to know that the two had buried the hatchet, Utena’s mind drifted back to Anthy. “How is your anxiety doing?” she asked.

“I think it’s helping me a lot that we’re talking to people. It distracts me from the crowd,” she said. Anthy straightened Utena’s jacket. “I am glad we came, dear. Please don’t worry too much.”

A sudden rush of applause filled the room. Miki had made an entrance. He waved at everyone, then honed in on Utena and Anthy.

“There’s the man of the hour!” Utena said as he came up to greet her. “You were fantastic! Thanks so much for inviting us here. It’s a thrill to see you and everyone else again.”

Anthy nodded and beamed at him. "Yes, it was terrific concert. You’re superb at the piano, Miki. I really had a good time.”

He hugged them both at once. “I can hardly believe we’re face to face again after so long.” Miki let go and pouted a bit. “Oh, you’re very kind to say that. Personally, I thought I was a little off tonight.”

“Nonsense, Miki!” Nanami said, going in for a hug of her own. “You’re too much of a perfectionist!” She stepped aside to permit Mitsuru and Keiko a chance to embrace him, as well.

“Do you still fence, like Juri does?” Utena asked once they’d all had an opportunity to hug him.

“No, I gave up fencing competitively after college,” he replied, shaking his head. “Combined with playing, it was getting to be a great strain on my wrists. My doctor advised me to choose between the two, and the piano has always meant much more to me than fencing.”

His twin sister soon came along. She was on her phone, scolding whoever was on the other end. Regardless of her mood, Kozue looked impeccable. She was sumptuously attired in a layered gown of high-cut, indigo lace with beadwork, on top of a lighter coloured satin.

“There’s my sister, on the phone again! Uh-oh, it looks like a business call. Shh!” Miki said upon seeing her. He held his finger in front of his lips to encourage them to hush.

Kozue was groaning and rolling her eyes. “My brother isn’t just another virtuoso; he’s a true artist! He needs a hotel room with a veranda for morning meditation. How else is he supposed to find his center? Look, just make it happen! I have to go now. I don’t have time to deal with this tonight.” She ended the call and shoved the phone in her clutch purse. “Sorry about that. Some idiot hotel clerk was trying to weasel out of giving Miki the room I already reserved for him. Anyway, hi! I’m delighted you’re here. It means so much to both of us to see you two again.”

Miki chuckled and patted her on the back. “Kozue is my manager,” he explained to them. “She’s tough as nails and she makes sure I’m not taken advantage of. Plus, she carefully crafted my image. I write the compositions and play the music; everything else is her creation. Like my style, for instance.“ He did a turn to show off his embroidered tailcoat.

“I thought my brother should have a personal trademark. Like Beethoven with his wild, bushy hair. Or how Liberace always had a candelabra,” she said. “My idea was for Miki to dress in only white, because he’s so angelic and pure, like the driven snow. And that he should always wear ascots, instead of bow ties.”

Anthy stepped closer to admire Miki’s costume. “It is quite exquisite. The fabric has a lovely sheen.” She looked up again and asked, “So are either of you married or dating anyone?”

“I’m seeing a few different people on and off. Nothing too serious, though. I don’t like to be tied down to one person, you know,” Kozue said. She took a compact out of her clutch and powdered her face.

Miki pulled at his collar. Looking rather sheepish, he made some sounds of hesitation. “Uh, actually, I’m not involved with anyone at the moment. Nor am I really looking to change that. For the time being, I’m enjoying my solitude. It lets me focus on my own peace of mind, as well as my music. Maybe I’ll date again one of these days, but I’m not too worried about it right now.”

“Even if our parents constantly complain that they’ll never have any grandchildren,” Kozue grumbled. “They’re nuts! I’m not ruining my life just because they have empty nest syndrome.”

Utena wrung her hands. “That sounds kind of sad, Miki. It’s not because you never got over Anthy, is it?” Her voice cracked slightly.

“Oh, it’s not that.” Miki waved his hand dismissively and laughed. “I’m simply happy with things the way they are. Just because I’m alone, it doesn’t mean I’m lonely. My friends and family mean a lot to me. That’s why I wanted to reconnect with you two. You were the only ones from our school days to lose touch with the rest of us. Now that we’re all together again, it feels complete.” A serene smile played on his lips.

“I’m very grateful to you and Kozue for seeking us out. I hope we stay friends from this day forward. We’ve all grown into better people. We can appreciate each other much more, now,” Anthy said. She looked to Utena and smiled. “And I’m also grateful to you for the role you played in all our lives, dear.”

Returning her smile, Utena laced her fingers with Anthy’s. “It was worth it,” she said.