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In Cloud Country

Chapter Text

Three weeks after they met, right before the rain season started, they made plans to go to America. Anthy made plans, more like. She had offered to make the arrangements and would let Utena know when things were all set. Two days later, a letter from the travel agency arrived. They were to go to Vermont four days from now.

"It’s because I told them I had some cows near there, and do not like flat places,” Anthy said over the phone. “It’s important to tell them these things, or they will hear ‘I want to go to a farm’ and send you to the Midwest.”

"What's so bad about the, uh, there?"

"There is nothing to see, so there are many railway accidents, and the people are too tall," Anthy said, and Utena could hear the smile in her voice. One of the ones that, were she there to see it, would remind her of how many concussions she had gotten as a kid. Four of them total, nearly all of them in her third year of middle school. From this she had gotten a wariness of narrow closets and an indifference to strengthening her powers of recall. Forgot a classmate? Missed a lunch date? Couldn't decide which couch to buy? Oh, she'd say. It's the brain trauma.

It was not their first trip together. Before this had been a congratulatory coffee one city over, after Utena saved that one girl, and a week later Anthy had asked her to spend a weekend with her in Hokkaido so they could sit together in the hot springs and watch baboons admire their butts in the steaming water. Just last weekend they went to the countryside, where they witnessed a rockslide crush three rabbits.

"You can't go," Wakaba said over their weekly lunch. "She's trying to steal you from me. We've known each other all our lives-"

"Since middle school, you mean."

"-and you never travel. Except for that time when you went to Europe."

"For medical reasons!"

"And they didn't do a good job with it, either," Wakaba said, sighing. Her phone beeped. Wakaba took a look at it, then rolled her eyes. Utena was, fleetingly, offended. She knew Wakaba's derision was directed at her small army of suitors, but she felt included in this group of sad sacks, though she wasn't sure why.

"I don't know if my passport is still good," Utena said. She hadn't thought about that at all when they were at the travel agency.

"It's not fair. My engagement party is in two weeks. You were supposed to help me pick the courses."

"We'll be back in a week. How much time do you need to pick out pizzas, anyway?”

"But the bachelorette party!"

"The wedding's not 'til next spring."

Wakaba reached across the table and clasped Utena's hands against her chest. "But soon we won't be able to spend any more time together. I'll be a woman committed to another forever. Oh, Utena!"

"That's also not 'til the wedding!"

Wakaba let go, but remained bent over their plates and food. The straw of her iced tea swirled around the rim, first madly, then slowing until it stopped, the bent head facing Utena like an angry giraffe. "Don't you realize what's going to happen if you go to America with her?"

"She'll make me milk a cow?" Anthy, it turned out, owned some three hundred cows in various places. Thinking of all that lactose made Utena's stomach hurt.

Wakaba sat back down and sighed over the rim of her cup. She raised the cup in the air. A waiter came and refilled both of their glasses. The ice bobbed in the cup, buoyed up with cold tea. "Ah," she said. "We're both getting old and married. Is it true? Are we truly drifting apart forever?"

"You're the one who's engaged. I haven’t seen anyone in ages," Utena pointed out, but Wakaba made an elephant out of the finger sandwiches and ate it up—ears first, then the face, then the nose.

***

Since Utena had missed their last lunch, Wakaba had blocked off the rest of the afternoon. She put Utena on a bus, blindfolded her, and let the bus head out.

"It's an aquarium," Utena said eventually, after Wakaba took off the blindfold.

"Right."

"Anthy has a monkey. He's pretty cute! I wonder if she took him from the zoo."

Wakaba stuck her arm in the air and shouted to the woman at the counter, "Two tickets! Adults, please."

The aquarium from the outside was two stories, and on the inside, more than twice that: the basement went down another three stories, a distance that felt inadequate yet suicidal at the same time. Upstairs, the fish swerved around glass corners and floated in balding green clumps of kelp. There were signs everywhere, the white background flashing cyan and green from the water: Please think of the animals. Please do not tap the glass. Please do not use flash. We imported these seagulls from Australia. Addendum: we don't know why.

"What's in America, anyway?" Wakaba said, peering at some giant shrimp with a pair of binoculars. "It has to be more than cows."

"I don't know. She said she wanted to take me somewhere for fun." She didn't like to dig too deeply at Anthy's motives. They probably weren't bad ones, or at least, Utena didn't think they could be bad ones. Her aunt had called her a lousy judge of character when she got back from Europe. It wasn't like there was a surefire way of telling if your estimation of someone's trustworthiness was accurate or not, though. For example: a dashing young man who helped grandmothers cross the street by day, and murdered grandfathers all night. But if you just saw him during the day, you'd think, What a nice young man.

"She's already had you for fun! Every weekend of the last month." Now Wakaba's binoculars were trained on the coral reef section.

"We're still getting to know each other! Ah, but she'll never replace you as my best friend." She put a hand on Wakaba's shoulder, but Wakaba didn't respond to her immediately. Her head turned, level as one of those security cameras, to the exhibits: clown fish, sea cucumber, sea slug. She put her binoculars back into her bag, hooked Utena by the elbow, and said, "Let's go to the jellyfish section."

The jellyfish section was down in the basement, all the way at the bottom floor. They bobbed in their tanks, bag-like and seductive, glowing pink and yellow against the water. The afternoon sunlight came down from the windows on the main floor, but down here it had darkened to a pale, dreamy night.

Wakaba rested her elbows on the railing, stretching her fingers so they almost touched the glass. "I really did love you back then."

"Thanks. You're my best friend, too."

"You're doing it wrong! Look at me." Utena did. "Close your eyes, onion prince."

"Onion?" Utena said, squinting at Wakaba's determined face before squeezing her eyes shut. A second later, Wakaba kissed her on the mouth. She held onto the railing to steady herself, then leaned into the kiss--she had been expecting it, she realized, even though she was surprised. When Wakaba pulled back, Utena said, with a crooked smile, "That's really not fair."

"You're leaving me," she said. "And you don't even know it."

"I'm not going very far," she said, before remembering in a few days she'd be off to America. “It's not like that, anyway. She's on vacation and she's bored, that's all. She appreciates the company." She leaned against the railing, away from the aquarium glass. But the basement was constructed in a wide ring, so when she turned away from one wall she found herself facing another section of jellyfish. Their thin legs fluttered in the wake of their own currents, their bodies sagged and puffed, their lipless mouths at the center of their bodies blew watery kisses at the concrete floor. “Wakaba, why do you think she's doing this?”

Wakaba looked up at the ceiling, as though considering the arrangement of heaven, and her place within it. She sighed, and rested her head against Utena’s shoulder. "She wants to be with you so much that she's taking you to America. Even you're not dense enough to think it's just friendly companionship."

They watched the jellyfish float in their massive tanks for a while.

"She kissed me on the day we met," she said. "I forgot about that. How did that happen?"

Wakaba slammed her forehead against the glass.

"Don't disturb the animals, please!" a staff member said.

***

The day they met: bright, sunny, the height of pollen season. It was one of those spring days where winter stuck to the winds, drying out the back of your throat and washing everything out in an indifferent white haze. She had just finished a delivery job, ten cakes to a small café, and for that she had been awarded a receipt and free iced coffee. She was standing outside the café, sucking the coffee through a straw, when a woman in a yellow dress and a white cardigan rounded the corner—she had caught Utena’s eye straight away. Utena could tell right off that she was a real nice lady.

That would have been the end of it, if the girl hadn't stepped onto the street. What for? Well, who knew. Utena saw the car, saw the girl, and moved so fast that her cup of coffee was flung into the air; she dove into the streets; she caught the girl; she did a roll and ended up at the feet of the woman in the dress.

The woman was covering her mouth with her hands. Then she helped Utena up and kissed her right there.

"Thanks," Utena said when it was over. "Are you the mother?"

"Anthy."

"Who?"

"That's my name," she said, breathless. "Anthy Himemiya. Do you often meet people like this, diving into the street?"

"If I did that all the time, I'd break my neck.”

Anthy took her by the arm and launched, immediately, into where she had just come from, how glad she was to see Utena, and a deep inquiry into what Utena was doing, where she had been recently, if she was happy, if she was alive. An awful much for a first time meeting. But it was barely noticeable at the time. Utena had been a real brute and spent the whole conversation exclaiming things like, "Johannesburg, really!" before Anthy could even finish her sentences. It was only later that Utena realized how animated Anthy had been in those first few minutes and hours of their acquaintanceship. Animated in a way she never was again. She couldn’t help but feel as though she had done something wrong.

On their next meeting, Anthy was calmer, probably, from spending some more time in Japan surrounded by her native people. Beginnings had a strange energy, Anthy had mused. An energy to meeting someone for the first time after being away from home for so long.

Uh-huh, Utena said. This was their Hokkaido trip. She had her eyes closed and was on the verge of falling asleep. They were sitting in a hot spring and holding hands beneath the water. The creaky notes of bad karaoke from one of the main rooms were audible from here, a song from one of those direct-to-video Disney sequels. The notes were sweetly familiar, but when she tried to remember the words, she couldn't think of them at all.

***

Before they left for America, Utena saw her doctors. As usual, they met her in their office and stayed behind the paper screen door, leaving their shadows behind.

"Hmm!" said one shadow.

"Hmm," said another, and put on a tricone hat. "Well, what do you say? Go or don't go?"

"Vermont," said the first doctor. "The Yankee dreams of the green mountain and makes way to the promised land of Canada."

The second picked up a rifle and slung it over his shoulder, then pointed it straight ahead. "A dragon!"

"Grr," said the dragon, snapping its cardboard jaws. "Grr!"

"Blood and bones!" said the hatted doctor, and clutched her shoulder. "I've lost my arm! But I remember something. The promised land--it's not Canada, it's Israel. What am I doing over here? I need a boat!"

"Should have paid more attention to Sunday school," Utena said, and took her blood pressure herself.

***

She left for America with a list of "do nots." Do not go to the beach. Do not wear oxygen masks. Do not stand under stalactites.

"Great," Utena said, skimming over the list as she left the office: Do not hug bears, do not fall in love with bears, do not seduce bears. No! No, Juliet! "Thanks. No one's ever going to hug a bear."

The next morning she was at Narita International Airport, and a smear of hours and clouds and roads later, she was in Vermont. Vermont, with its mountains and tilting white houses. The bed and breakfast they were staying at was two miles from the small town halfway up a mountain, a tiny quaint place that Utena barely saw before making her way to the bed, announcing, “What an adventure!” and passing out.

She woke to the phone ringing. "Hello?" she said groggily.

"Are you having pleasant dreams? I went out to pick blackberries, but I'm back empty-handed. I left my basket unattended and the ants carried them all away."

"Chuchu ate them, didn't he."

"Yes, and now he is sick," Anthy said happily, and laughed. "Come downstairs. I want to see you again.”

Utena rolled over in the bed, then vaulted out of it with a yelp. Had there always been this single bed in the room? She could have sworn she had fallen asleep in one of two twin beds, but here she was in this queen bed with Anthy's nightgown in an impolite pile on top of the sheets. Utena took a step back to better get an eye on the room, and tripped backwards into her suitcase, a bra tangled around her foot.

In the kitchen was an American sandwich cut in two with impressive layers of meat and cheese. Chuchu was moaning in the sink. The bed and bath owner was off somewhere—gardening? Farming? Whatever it was people did out here. Anthy was at the table eating cheese off a platter.

"Anthy!" Utena said, and waved her arm inarticulately at the stairs.

Anthy turned her head to the side. "A family of twelve became lost on their way to a wedding and found their way here and had to take our room. The only room left was the honeymoon suite. You were half-asleep at the time." She ate a grape and added generously, "But you were very helpful with the suitcase."

“Anthy, you make it sound like they were overrun by mice!"

"We have such bad luck with mice infestations," Anthy said with a sigh. On the table, Chuchu sat up to make an indignant squeak, then sank back down to moan.

***

After lunch, they went down to the farm where Anthy had some of her cows. For this, Anthy wore a broad hat and a dress with a daring back.

"I don't burn," Anthy said, lowering her eyes.

"You must get—whoops!—ah!" What Anthy said in response she'd never know: she had been in the middle of putting on sunscreen and squeezed the bottle too hard, sending it rocketing out the open window.

The farm was a small, hilly forever away, too far to reach by foot. Utena offered to drive. She had an actual driver's license back in Japan, after all! One she never used, because cars were expensive and she didn't know how to fill the gas, but she could do it in theory, and now she used this theoretical knowledge to commandeer a golf cart up and down the wild green mountain.

This proved to be more difficult than she could have reasonably expected: the golf cart had lumpy wheels and the ground was rocky and there were no road signs. She lost the road, and then the footpath, and after what felt like hours under the sun, she found a distant fence far from the farm's entrance.

"It's the journey that matters," Anthy said sympathetically, while Utena guzzled down water. "And we have made it to the destination, so we deserve congratulations, I should think. I see Nanami."

"Who?"

She pointed to a black and white cow standing in the middle of the field. "And there is Nanami and Nanami and Nanami, and Nanami... and that one over there..."

It was a bull. From here it looked to be the size of her thumb. He had plain brown fur and horns growing like transposed tusks out of his heavy brow.

"Gregory?" Utena guessed.

"Nanami." She scanned the area and said, "Hmm. We'll have to leave our trusty steed here.”

By the farm was a handsome couple leading a calf into a truck. The couple were talking animatedly in English while Utena and Anthy did their best to not look like trespassers. They were doing pretty well at it, too, until the woman said, "Himemiya? Really?”

“Pardon?” Utena said, stepping in front of Anthy by instinct.

“Oh,” said the woman, and twirled a strand of pudding blonde hair around her finger—bleached, Utena saw now, and curled to perfection. “You, too?” She had a parasol hooked around her arm, and now flipped it up and around, and sprang it open. “I certainly never expected to see you two again. And out here! And together!” She put a hand to her mouth and laughed, a real rich girl from a fancy family kind of laugh.

Utena had been ready to pop parasol lady, but on hearing that, she sighed. She put her hand on her hip. “You’re strange, aren’t you.”

I’m strange? Ohohoho!” She walked over to Utena and Anthy, her eyes narrowed and shoes pointing at them as though with an accusation. “I thought you were dead. So you two ran away to America? … Well, Kyouichi won that bet.”

“We’re here on vacation,” Utena said. “I live in Japan. Anthy… lives in hotels. In Japan.”

“Nanami Kiryuu,” Anthy said, her smile vacant. “How do you do, Nanami-san. It’s been a while.”

Nanami looked left, then right. She pointed straight behind her. “This,” she said, “is my fiancé, Chauncey Mather. He cares about me very much.” She turned to him, and said in English, “I need to talk with my friends, honey. Can you make sure that thing makes it home?” And with that, she marched ahead of all of them. Utena followed, feeling confused, and Anthy was not long behind her.

Nanami stopped in the shade of a tall crabapple tree and regarded her and Anthy with a glare that on anyone else might have seemed mean instead of being an unfortunate default state. Utena scratched the back of her head and said, “We wouldn’t happen to know each other, would we?”

“After that night I spent in your bed staring at your face, I know too much about you,” Nanami said, shutting her parasol. “… Not like that! And I’m engaged now, anyway.”

“We weren’t thinking anything,” Anthy said. “Isn’t that right, Utena-sama?”

“Don’t –sama me.”

“You have some nerve pretending to forget about me after everything you put me through and after everything I saw you and the chairman doing,” Nanami said. “Well, I haven’t. I remember everything. If you two are alive, that means you won your duel with the World’s End. But where’s the revolution? Your twenty-twenty vision? No more miraculous eaves to hide your hair in?”

“World’s what? Evolution?”

“Don’t be dense with me!”

Anthy stepped forward now. She removed her straw hat and held it against her stomach. The sun dappled her hair and skin so for a moment she looked like some exceptional fawn with her large, sorrowful eyes and her graceful legs. “Utena… had an accident,” she said. “Ten years ago. She remembers nothing from that time of her life.”

“Yeah,” Utena said. She had an itch in her head. Even mentioning that she couldn’t remember that year of her life was enough to make her stomach attach itself somewhere high in her chest, making her nauseous. “Well, it seems like you two are good friends from back then! What was it that you were doing, theater?”

“You’re crazy,” Nanami said.

“I’ll go stretch my legs,” she said. “Let you two old theater troopers relive the good old days, yeah?”

***

Once Utena was gone, Anthy fit the hat back onto her head. Chuchu clung to the brim with his tiny fingers.

“Of course you’re not telling her anything,” Nanami said. “It’d be too much to expect for you to tell the truth.”

Utena was sitting on the fence, her mouth close to the ear of one of the cows. Was she asking it questions? No doubt she could bend that cow’s ear to her later and get an answer. Ah, she wouldn’t do that. Anthy had changed. Not harassing farm animals for the secrets Japanese girls deposited into their heads was one way she was no longer like her former self, or so she liked to say.

“We only recently met again,” Anthy said. “I spent such a long time searching. Things are good now. She will remember, eventually.”

“And I’m the queen of France.”

“Marie Antoinette? It’s you again? It’s been too long. I heard headlessness is fashionable again.”

“Oh, shut up,” Nanami said. “What are you doing here? If you’re here for me, then no way. My fiancé might not be very rich yet, but he was a wrestler in university. And he’s an American, so he must have a gun somewhere.”

A gust knocked Chuchu from her hat. He caught himself on the hem of Anthy’s dress, his tiny claws scratching up the side of her knee. She scooped him up and set him on her shoulder and said, “I left my brother long ago. The school you went to no longer exists, though I’m sure you knew that already. I came here to see my animals and thought it’d be nice to have a friend with me.”

“Well,” Nanami said, puffing then deflating, so she was saying, Weeeeeelllllllll, like a sigh. “Good for you. You’ve moved from being a… a whatever to being…” She glanced behind her, still expecting one of her posse to jump in with a statement. But she was still getting used to the vacuum of adulthood, the aloneness where there once had been companionship. As a child she had been adored, sometimes by force, and as an adult people found her sometimes endearing but more often grating. She had not changed much over the years except for becoming more canny and more keen and more independent, all by being lonely. She sighed genuinely this time and looked over to Utena Tenjou, now stretching her hip flexors using a fence post and the inert side of a cow. “So, you’re just… traveling? Together? That’s it?”

“It’s a comfortable arrangement.”

“Good for you. I don’t believe you, but if that’s what you think, then good for you! It sounds like an arrangement only an idiot like her could appreciate, so at least you know your audience.”

“I offer my gratitude to you. I have sought your approval for many centuries. Now I can be reincarnated in peace.”

“Oh, brother,” Nanami muttered.

***

“You two are invited,” Nanami said stiffly when she returned. “To the wedding party. You can’t come to the wedding wedding, that’s already been arranged for in Tokyo, but we are having a ceremony in New York City. It’s very exclusive. Miki and Juri won’t be there, but my brother has been invited, and he’ll be happy to see you two alive and together.”

“Um," Utena said. She was trying to think of an appropriate response, but all she could think of was, 'My best friend's already made me the maid-of-honor for hers,' but that was no excuse. She reached for a while for the right words, and came up with, “We’re not dating. I know it kind of seems like it, but we’re still just friends.”

“Oh, yes,” Nanami said, and rolled her eyes up to study the cavernous heights of her eye sockets. “I’m sure.”

"I think it sounds fun," Anthy said. "We'll be happy to go."

“Good! I’m off, then.” She said it in a direct kind of way that implied they ought to kiss her on the cheek before she disappeared for whatever land beyond. She took two steps, then turned back around. “… That cow we bought for the special steak… It was wearing this bell… Its name wouldn’t happen to be…”

“Hmm?” Anthy said, smiling.

“Goodbye,” Nanami said with a curt jerk of her head. She summoned her fiancé by holding her hand up in the air. They got in the truck, and were gone, going down the road, down the hill, down to the green.

Utena watched her go. She felt stunned and almost dazed, and had to check her pulse to make sure that had all actually happened instead of being a weird hallucination from her occasional episodes of low blood pressure. “I thought you didn’t like people.”

“It would have been rude to decline," she said, a touch coolly, as though quoting a once-hated teacher. Utena squeezed her shoulder. She took Utena’s hand in hers, lacing their fingers together. “I owe it to her to make her happy. This one time, at least.”

“She’s a bully,” Utena said firmly. “You don’t owe her anything. Besides, I can think of better things we can do while we’re here than go to some fancy party all the way in New York.”

Anthy regarded her with a considering eye. Utena felt a chill go over her. Not the icy clench of fear, but the coldness of exposure.

“There was a girl I lived with who was always telling me to make friends, despite only having one herself. I used to wonder why she did that. But now that she's gone, I realize how lonely she must have been, and how much lonelier I must have made her."

Anthy pressed her hand onto Utena's arm. Her skin was hot from the sun, her gaze intensely green in the shadow of her hat.

"You shouldn't say that about yourself," Utena said. "You're great company. That girl sounds like a real boor."

Anthy’s smile curved with a slow knowingness. She brushed a strand of hair out of Utena's mouth. Utena stared off at a mountain, suddenly shy. "Have I embarrassed you? I've forgotten how sweet you can be."

"Not really," she said, leaning onto Anthy. Her heart was pounding hard, and the heat was making her dizzy.

***

The day after, they took an old, empty train up the slope of a mountain to admire the effort of old American technology, the sixth longest train track of its sort in the New England area and the one hundred eighty-seventh longest in North America and Europe, and the four hundredth worldwide. And the day after that, they walked along a barren path in a forest of maples and spruces, the trunks of the maples studded with taps, and the air fresh with the smell of leaves and hidden sugar. A falcon stole Chuchu away, and Utena had to run after it throwing rocks until it released him.

"Some guys need to learn to mind their own business," Utena said, while Chuchu shook his fist at the sky.

"You were very brave," said Anthy.

She was never sure whether Anthy approved of her moments of dumb, concussed heroism. There was always a been there, seen that quality to those compliments, a dry irony cupped away inside her hands when she applauded. "It was a bird," Utena said, and handed Chuchu back.

Afterwards, Anthy had Utena drive the golf cart to a place past the cow farm. West, she said, go west. Against the sun, until they hit a patch of wide-open nothingness, a wide, sloping space pinched in the middle into a mountain.

“There,” Anthy said. “The house.”

“House?” Utena said. Internally she was sweating. How much gas did these things have? And she was right, too: at the very bottom of the mountain the little thing gave up.

“An adventure,” Anthy said. “I wonder if we can hitchhike back.”

“No one’s ever going to come out here!” Utena exclaimed, and Anthy laughed.

“You’re right! We’ll be lost.” That only served to make her pace more brisk, higher and higher up the footpath.

It was not much of a house. For one thing, there were only two rooms and no electricity. Half-melted candles stood everywhere, presumably for light and some meager measure of heat. A rusting faucet stuck out of the wall. In the second room was a large bed in the middle, and an old dresser smushed into the corner.

“Hello?” Utena said. “Excuse me? Hello!”

“Oh, we’re breaking in,” Anthy said, taking her shoes off. “Please pardon us. We won’t burn anything.”

“Anthy!” Anthy put a hand on one of the knobs on the drawers, and gave it a tug. “Anthy,” she said, advancing and trying to sound stern. Anthy stopped her with her fingertips. She spread her fingers along Utena’s shoulder, ran them across the length of her collarbone, then hooked to the open collar of her tank top. It barely took a tug of Anthy's fingers to send Utena face-first into the sheets.

“Ah,” she said. “How will I explain this to the owners? We were lost, and my friend threw herself onto the bed—”

Enough of that! Utena hooked her heel around Anthy's back, and pulled her in. She had some more things to say, but found herself silenced by the heat of Anthy's legs and back, a new reality that defined itself as the smell of Anthy's newly laundered dress, her falling hair that banded around them like the wrought bars of a bird cage. She stared up at Anthy's chin and neck and hair, unable to escape.

Anthy, too, was still. Her mouth shifted from shape to subtle shape. The light passing through her hair threw itself on her neck and face in agony.

"Do you ever wonder," Anthy said, "what you've forgotten?"

The whole world seemed to hang on her answer, but her throat was closing up. Her hands twisted the bed sheets above her head. She couldn’t think. She couldn’t think. Everything was escaping from her. She found herself trembling and unable to stop until she said, "I feel like I've known you my whole life. Like I've always known you, ever since I was little."

She wanted, more than anything, to be kissed. She stretched up and met nothing—Anthy had pulled away, smiling tightly.

"We should go," she said. "Before it becomes too dark."

***

There was a truck, Anthy said, that ran from one town to another every six hours for deliveries and errands. They waited down on the side of the road for it.

Utena kicked at pebbles on the road into the tall grass, unable to keep still. She put a hand on her hip and made a show of scanning the landscape. The mountains, in truth, weren't so great. She had seen better ones in Japan, more majestic and pointier, too. These green crests popping up one after another looked like the stage prop version of ocean waves. You half-expected to see a paper boat bobbing through the pale sky.

“I wonder who owns that cabin,” Utena said.

“Oh. I’m sure it’s a rental property,” Anthy said. She stretched her arm out and a blackbird landed on her finger. It cocked its head at Utena. It was not a raven or a crow, though it resembled one: black feet and eyes and feathers, with a beak that seemed a size too large for it. Its feathers shone silver in the light and its claws curled with a haughty imperiousness. And its size! It was... variable. Constantly changing. She couldn't stop looking at it, this familiar thing.

“It was nice. We could try staying there next time to be closer to the cows.”

"Caw, caw," Anthy said, stroking the bird's chest.

"Motherfucker," it crowed, and turned its head nearly a hundred eighty. Utena looked away.

“You know—I do think about it sometimes,” she said. “About all the… and stuff like that. But it was just middle school, so…”

Anthy shook her hand, and the bird took flight—but it circled their heads, casting a crown of shadows on them. “Surely you must have guessed by now.”

“Guessed what?” Utena said. Her breath was coming short and her back and shoulders were tensing up. “Guessed that you’ve been trying to—lure me into bed with you? Even I know no one takes some stranger they've only known for a month all the way to America unless they want something. And it’s not going to be friendship, that’s for sure.”

“Utena,” Anthy said—ah, what was that in her voice? Utena would know what it was for sure if she were calmer. But she could still see the bird’s feathers flashing overhead, could still see the point of its knife-like beak shining in the sun. A haze set deep in her eyes, a grinding noise filled her ears, the sound of metal gnashing on metal—knife after knife cutting into her, piercing her down to the marrow. Her stomach turned to pure acid.

“If you had told me you knew me from back then when we met,” she said, “I never would’ve come here with you.”