They’re not all that far apart in age, maybe a year, or two, or three, but there seems to be a vast ocean of differences between who they are and how they got there.
Sabrina is a woman of her age, holds herself with the righteous, stiff anger of a twenty-something, someone who’s too sure that she knows who she is, is angry that no one respects who she is, doesn’t quite know who she is yet.
Erika, though, is as she always has been, and, Sabrina thinks, most likely always will be; the same at twenty as she was at ten, will be at thirty, forty, in many years. Erika is not someone of this decade, or perhaps even this century, the kind of quiet enigma Sabrina can’t unravel.
Age, after all, is just a number.
Maybe they’re only a year, or two, or three apart in age, but for someone who can traverse the crevices of anyone’s mind, Sabrina doesn’t understand Erika at all.
It starts something like this:
Sunlight, tea ceremony, Erika’s garden.
“Why did you invite me here?” Sabrina snaps, knowing full well. The Kanto conference had recently assigned its gym leaders the task of getting to know each other better, in hopes of building league solidarity.
Just because Sabrina can read minds doesn’t make her any less suspicious of intentions. There were plenty of more neutral places they could meet.
At least thirty minutes, the agreement had said. Sabrina fully intends to leave as soon as the time is up.
Erika simply smiles and pours matcha into a crème-and-brown ceramic cup.
“I wanted to show you who I am,” she answers instead, handing the cup to Sabrina.
Sabrina blinks, taken aback, but takes the cup. People have surprised her before.
She stays the night.
At night, they sleep curled around each other, even when the cool spring slides into the uncomfortable sticky heat of summer.
Sometimes, often, Sabrina dreams.
They’re dark, like they’ve always been, filled with the ghosts of other people’s nightmares creeping into her mind at night, and she’s crying, dying, drowning in the dark, all over again. When she wakes up, Sabrina wants to tear herself away from the world, from Erika and her warmth and all the life hum of surrounding her in that damn garden.
Erika always clings to her so tightly, even in her sleep.
“I can’t do this anymore,” Sabrina will say, sometimes, in the morning.
Erika will blink up from her morning tea, confused for just a moment, the edge of her patterned sleeve caught on their breakfast table.
“Alright,” she’ll eventually settle on, purposefully obtuse. “We can stay in Saffron next week.”
Saffron, in many ways, is even worse than Celadon, the infuriating buzz of people brimming with the angry anxiety that only city life can bring, theirs thoughts ricocheting inside Sabrina’s head like bullets in a warzone.
Even worse, there’s a dull hatred that Sabrina knows can only be from her own chest, disgust at the concrete, the metal, the brick and glass and tar and wonders how Erika can stand it.
“Let’s go home,” Erika says, hand soothing on her shoulder, steadying her.
“I am home,” Sabrina grits out between the headache ringing at the back of her neck, bile pushing at the back of her throat.
“We are,” Erika agrees, and puts her hand there, cool against the center of Sabrina’s migraine, leading her through the doors of the Saffron Gym.
“I don’t understand you,” Sabrina confesses, once.
Erika hums, watering her flowers. “Why don’t you read my mind, then?” she says.
“I don’t do that anymore,” Sabrina confesses, again, feeling like she’s been scraped raw on the inside.
Erika smiles that strange, mysterious smile she always does, and merely presses a kiss to Sabrina’s cheek.
Sabrina doesn’t tell her that she’s never understood, even when she could.
“Do you understand him?” is the first thing Sabrina asks when she settles into that strange, disgusting diner Green’s brought her to. The red-and-white linoleum floor tiles, moss green wallpaper, and yellow ceiling lights offend her in ways she can only describe in flashes.
It takes him less than five seconds to figure out she’s talking about the Kanto conference’s worst-kept secret. Sabrina rolls her eyes that it takes him even that long.
“Of course not.” Green laughs, and asks for fries when their waitress comes by.
Sabrina, on the other hand, asks for the least offensive thing on the menu – a glass of water – thinking there’s no way they could mess that up.
“Why?” he ask. “Need relationship advice?” He smirks, winking at her knowingly.
“Don’t be an idiot,” Sabrina says, knowing it’s pointless advice to the conference’s cockiest, can’t-get-their-shit-together of a gym leader. Then again, Sabrina’s underestimated him before.
He pushes his plate of fries at her when it comes. She picks one up, begrudgingly, figuring it would be rude to not have at least one.
“Not everyone has the benefit of knowing what’s on other people’s minds,” Green tells her anyway as she glares at him. “If you want someone easy to understand, why not have a relationship with yourself?”
“You’re still the worst person to give love advice, though,” Sabrina snaps pretending to let it go in one ear and out the other.
Green just smiles.
Two plates of onion rings later, and much longer than Sabrina had wanted to stay, she has some thoughts to herself and a new place to take Erika for a date.
They’re not all so bad, these people, she realizes.
“You would make the perfect wife for someone, one day,” Sabrina comments.
“Mmm,” Erika says, her kimono sagging around her shoulders, obi untied. She comes up behind Sabrina, resting her chin on Sabrina’s shoulder, even though she has to push herself on her tiptoes to do it. “But I can’t cook,” she says.
“That is true,” Sabrina laughs.
Erika touches her arm, the one that Sabrina’s holding onto the skillet with, as if she could somehow absorb Sabrina’s cooking skills that way.
Sabrina bats her away. “I’m not going to teach you how to cook,” she says, “so then you can be the perfect wife.”
“And then where will you be,” Erika teases, smiling. But her eyes are honest, looking at Sabrina like she knows, like she’s always knows, and in that moment, Sabrina’s thinks she might’ve won everything.
She’s never been more terrified.
“I don’t understand you,” Sabrina says, sometimes, exasperated but oddly fond at the same time, when Erika fills their vase with fresh flowers each week.
She should, though, has thumbed through dozens of books on the language of flowers, explanations varying from one to book to the next. The flowers change, too, and maybe Erika isn’t trying to tell her anything at all.
Usually, Erika will just laugh and give her the answer she always gives. But once:
“I don’t understand you, either,” Erika says, too earnest. “And it terrifies me.”
Sabrina looks at Erika, really looks at her for the first time, and knows that all the years between them, one, two, three, a decade, a century, a millennium – could never be more than the time ahead of them.
“You terrify me,” Sabrina whispers, crowding her against the table, puffs of breath ghosting against Erika’s hair. “All the time. Every day.”
“I know,” Erika says, closing her eyes and leaning into her. “But, oh, isn’t it a wonderful thing?”