“Are you done yet?” Chie said, balancing a pencil on her nose. She was sitting next to Yukiko’s desk, her jacket and socks flung over by the door, and fanning herself with one of Yukiko’s magazines. Yukiko was doing some kind of summer project for the inn.. She barely looked up from the laptop, and instead said, “Can you pass that green form over here?” which did about as good of a job answering Chie’s questions as anything else, really. The pencil rolled down from her nose and onto the space between her lip and nose.
“Could you please stop trying to distract me?” Yukiko said. “This is important.”
“I know it is,” Chie muttered. The pencil fell into her lap. She set it on the desk, and stretched her legs out. Sweat stuck to the back of her knees. It was a muggy summer afternoon. At the very least, temperatures were under thirty five, which was better than it had been in the last two weeks. It had been so hot that the engine of her father’s car went up in smoke the week before Chie was due to come back for summer vacation. “I’m a little bored, that’s all.”
“You could always talk with Naito-kun.”
“Ew, no. Do you know how skeevy he is?”
“He’s a family friend.”
As though that explained anything. Chie rolled over onto the floor, rolling until her feet hit the blankets stuffed to the side of the futon. It wasn’t really like she could go and outright say it, either: what, you think I like talking with your potential fiances? Which was an opinion she was perfectly justified in having, because there wasn’t anything that said that she had to like the fiances, either, even though she knew she really ought to be trying. Just a quirk of personality. Chie was the kind of person who didn’t like to share. She didn’t like to share people, at least. Objects were okay, just as long as she wasn’t giving anything to Yosuke. But people?
It was definitely selfish of her. She rubbed her knee absentmindedly, and then yawned. It didn’t look as though Yukiko’s endless parade of forms would be ending any time soon, so she rolled out the futon and said, “I’m going to take a nap for a while.”
“Go ahead,” Yukiko said, as she continued to clack away at the keyboard.
A muggy, summer’s day, with her best friend working on the computer, and her with nothing to do except sleep. Life sucked. She grabbed the nearest book, and frowned when it turned out to be some German novel. There was a dictionary not too far from the book, but Chie knew it was hopeless: the only word she knew in German was ‘die,’ and that appeared all the time. Crazy Germans. “Die Mutter!” What did they have against their mothers, anyway?
She was becoming too aware of her breathing. Suddenly, she was thinking about the rising and falling of her chest, instead of letting it come automatically. Chie shifted, trying to find some relief, but each position brought out another annoyance: too much effort to breathe on her stomach, it felt like someone was sitting on her chest when she was on her back, her spine was getting kicked out of alignment when she was on her side… Her hair stuck to her neck, her shirt and bra stuck to her back, and even her shorts were determined to cling at her legs. The blanket she had thrown over her shoulders was light and breathable, but too warm for the summer heat.
A burst of cool air kicked in a second later, coming up from the floors. Yukiko was closing the veranda door.
“I thought you might be more comfortable if I turned the A/C on,” she said, blushing a little. “Sorry if I scared you.”
The air conditioning barely dented the heat, but then, in a wash, it became too cold. Who was she, Goldilocks? No wonder Yukiko never kept the A/C on in this room. Chie grabbed the blanket, and dragged it back over her head. After a little while longer, Yukiko closed the blinds.
“You don’t have to,” Chie said.
“I don’t mind it,” Yukiko said. “If you’re still awake to complain about this, then I must not be doing a good enough job as a host.”
Was that all she was to Yukiko? A guest? Chie bit down on the thought before it could even come to her tongue. Well, it wasn’t like they were kids anymore. They were going to different colleges in different cities. Spending time with each other was a rarity, especially since Chie was doing an internship with Dojima, which meant her schedule was at the whim of Dojima and, apparently, the rest of Inaba’s police department. And Yukiko was busy most of the time, so it was getting harder and harder for them to meet for an entire afternoon. And Yukiko had promised she’d keep the afternoon free for the two of them…
She didn’t know why, but she could feel little tears welling up in her eyes. She quickly turned over on her side, and wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. No point in crying. People drifted apart all the time, even best friends. It was a perfectly natural part of growing up, and… and she didn’t want to grow up, if it meant losing Yukiko. Because… because she was a jealous person. Yeah, that was it.
When she woke up, there was something warm and heavy on her back. Someone’s arm was resting along the length of her body, and a leg was thrown, casually, over Chie’s knees and thighs. Oh. Right. Yukiko. Well, of course she’d be sleeping on the futon, this was her room, and it wasn’t like there was a huge variety of places to pass out in the room. Besides, they did this all the time when they were kids, and Yukiko always was something of a sprawler. Then again, Chie thought, trying to rescue her arm from being crushed under the weight of Yukiko’s ribs, so was she.
It’d be nice to go back to sleep like this, but that meant that she had just wasted an entire afternoon with her best friend napping, of all things. No movies, no random gossip, no anything except sleeping. Yeah. That was really, really cool. A great use of her time.
Still. She rolled over so she was facing Yukiko. Their noses were almost aligned like this. Kind of nice. Yukiko gained those five centimeters back in middle school, and ever since Chie had to tilt her head up, ever so slightly, whenever they walked together. Yeah, it was nice like this, too.
She must have drifted off again, because when she woke up a little while later to Yukiko trying to get her leg free.
“Sorry if I woke you,” Yukiko said, her voice in a near whisper.
“Going back to work?” Chie said. “Already?”
“Well, it’s a little late…”
“What time is it?”
“You’re kidding me!” Chie bolted up, or would have, if she weren’t tangled up in Yukiko’s limbs. They pitched to the side, a mess of arms and legs and hair going this way and that. In the momentary chaos, Yukiko wound up pressed against Chie, their bodies separated by a few layers of cloth and skin; and for a moment, all of the world seemed to stutter to a slow crawl.
“Your elbow is in my hair,” Yukiko said, in a low, quiet voice, because they were so close that even a whisper would’ve seemed like a shout.
She didn’t move her elbow, though. And Yukiko didn’t look like she minded it, either.
Yukiko reached over, and pressed her lips to Chie’s. Maybe it was the heat. Maybe it was because it was summer, and it was kind of inevitable, anyway, that her best friend would go and get married and take over the Inn, and Chie would find some nice guy and have two kids and a nice house in town—except right now all she could think about was how she was kissing Yukiko’s mouth, and reaching up to touch the back of her best friend’s neck. Everything smelled sweet, which had to be some kind of weird illusion, because they must have been sweating horribly underneath the blankets. But if the A/C was on, then maybe that made everything all right.
Yukiko was the first to pull back. “We should have dinner soon.”
“Uh-huh,” Chie said, still a little dazed. “Don’t you need to have dinner with Naito-kun?”
“Maybe,” she said vaguely. Oh, good. That seemed to indicate that she thought Naito was a creep, too. “The only thing I’ll be busy with tonight is you.”
“That sounds like a bad pick-up line.”
“Pff—haha, you’re right, it does, it does!”
Chie groaned, and raised herself up. She pressed her lips against Yukiko’s forehead, and kept them there until the laughter subsided.
“Are you working tomorrow?” Yukiko asked.
“Not until the afternoon.”
“Stay for the night.”
“Won’t Naito-kun take notice?”
“Sometimes I think you want me to marry him.”
A little pause. “Maybe.”
“It’s not…” She grunted, frustrated by her own inability to speak, or articulate. “It’ll be… a change.”
“I want things to change,” Yukiko said frankly. She took Chie’s hand in hers, which was what the Yukiko would have always done. And then she took Chie’s hand and turned it so the palm was facing the ceiling, and kissed the palm, dryly. Gently.
In the heat, everything could have stopped dead, right then and there. For all Chie knew, there might be nothing else in the world except this room and Yukiko and the summer sun falling through the west between the blinds.
Yukiko let go of Chie’s hand. She stood, and said, “The cooks shouldn’t mind if we get something from the kitchens at this hour. They’ll have a little bit of excess. I think.”
“Let’s go out tomorrow,” Chie said. “You know. On a date.”
“I’d like that.” She smiled a little, and then said, “Kiss me.”
“Pushy,” Chie said, but leaned in, anyway. Yukiko met her halfway, and then went to the door.
“Do you have any requests for the cook?” she asked. “Or are you fine with the dinner menu?”
Yukiko smiled, and, from the door, pressed her index and middle fingers to her lips, and touched those fingers to the doorframe. “I’ll make sure he adds extra curry to the steak,” she said. Her black hair moved like a wing as she closed the door on Chie, and left her there, standing in the middle of a room both too full and too empty of the same thing at the same time.