In their last year of junior high Isabella finds herself slumped against the couch in someone's dormitory with George on top of her, kissing the side of her face. She suspects it would have been more than her cheek and the tip of her eyebrow, if they had been in a less uncomfortable position; thankfully she still has enough sense to grasp George's forearms and push him gently away. Her friend's protestations melt like syrup through the air, but the smell of alcohol in his breath does not, and Isabella knows it is wrong and she isn't going to allow it.
"Move, George," she whispers, wincing a little as George's teeth graze her chin. The sensation makes her stomach tingle, but it's more of uneasiness than anything – really – anything else.
"I don't want to," is George's slurred reply. He reaches up one hand to stroke Isabella's hair, pushing it back from her face with unbearably tender fingers. Isabella catches his hand, moves it resolutely down, holding it tightly at the wrist. George, thankfully, allows it to go slack. "What's wrong?"
"You're smashed," Isabella says, and blushes when George laughs, because she isn't sober herself – if she had time to contemplate the situation beyond what is happening, she would have noticed that the room was spinning. But she isn't going to let this happen. Not with George, who made out with three different girls in the corner at the party that night; who had taken four glasses of shochu and an innumerable number of shots; who had aced every subject except Physical Education, again, and was celebrating by blowing all of his father's money on a rave party, a new stereo, and an alarming amount of lacy fabric. Not with George, who Isabella had spent the better part of the last seven years with, and who was now kissing her not quite in the way Isabella had dreamed about. George smelled like flowers and men's cologne and salt from chasers, and his lips were soft and uncompromising, against Isabella's neck, her chin -
"I love you," George says, not even listening. "I know you love me too, I know it, my little satin glove, turtledove, my love – I know we're not going to make it without each other," now her lips -
"You are an ass," Isabella declares, but she allows him to kiss her, one more time, before dealing him a decisive blow across the cheek. He is unconscious even before his head thumps ungracefully onto Isabella's lap. She sits up slowly. Then she fixes them both into a more acceptable position, arranging what she can of George's body without waking him. In sleep his face looks ridiculously like a boy's; she holds it, running a hand through the hair he dyed maroon the previous week, wondering what is to become of them. This is George, the idiot genius, richboy playboy with a golden heart and contacts in all shades of blue, Isabella's eternal friend and never lover, no matter what they both know. She presses her lips together and spends the rest of the night thinking about want.
George apologizes the next day. Isabella says, "What for?" and that's all it ever amounts to.
Isabella stops calling herself himself because George says it's okay to do that. George tells him – her – that she doesn't need to stick to Daisuke, either. Nobody made such a law. It is too great a risk to use 'Isabella' at school, but when they're alone together – George has his own apartment even then, such a huge space for such a little boy, though one turning too rapidly into an adult – they use it freely, while working through some accessories or creating some new design that involves chiffon and ribbons.
George is the one who gives Isabella a makeup kit as a birthday present, when she is fourteen. He tells her to sit still, that he's going to try and see if he's as great with makeup as he is with clothes. He pats the powder onto her face, fingers careful on Isabella's chin, brushing it loosely across her cheeks, over her eyelids, so tenderly that Isabella thinks her heart might burst right out of her. "It's missing something," George mutters to himself. He traces liquid liner over one of Isabella's eyes, filling it in with eyeshadow. He cleans off the edges with a thumb. "I'll need to bring fake lashes, next time. The kind with little rhinestones." He smiles, drawing back to admire his handiwork. He holds up a mirror for Isabella to see.
The transformation makes Isabella feel more self-conscious than anything, at first, but when George tells her what she doesn't dare think – "You look lovely," – she realizes that she is looking at the face she longs to wear, the one the world ought to know. The flower George painted over her right eye is softly pink and blooming.
Isabella's parents don't speak to her unless they absolutely have to. Not that they ever spoke much to her before, between their frequent trips abroad, the stony silence she always faced when they had dinner or family reunions. Her mother would sigh with exhaustion whenever she saw Isabella with a trace of rogue on her lips; and once she saw her father talking to Sebastian in a low, strained voice, saying something about the honorable name of Yamamoto.
This might explain, largely, why Isabella considers Yazagaku paradise. No one cares about how she dresses, or how she looks. Next to the girl with rainbow-colored hair and a unicorn tattoo across her collarbone, and the boy with a bull ring through his nose and no eyebrows, Isabella is no aberration. George, with his royal blue hair and feather-laden cloak, probably calls even more attention.
It matters, Isabella thinks, that the first dress George ever made was for her. There are several pieces in her closet that are also of George's design – including ones she borrowed but never returned, and his birthday gifts – but that little violet dress, for a little girl who was so afraid of being herself, still has its place of pride in Isabella's wardrobe, wrapped in tissue, laid out in a velvet box. The dress was cute, but even more important than that was the respect George had for her, in creating it: the careful attention to detail, the understanding of something that, in third-grade, was utterly taboo.
Carrie, Isabella is sure, has felt that same love from George by wearing the clothes he makes. George is happy when they're together, and sad when they're not. Isabella can understand this, and doesn't like it when George is sad, which is more often than people would probably believe. This is fair, Isabella thinks; this might work. She has to be certain, though, which is why she can't help herself sitting down next to George one day when they're alone in the studio, patting George's knee gently and asking him, "You want this, yes?"
"Yes," George answers, threading his fingers over Isabella's. "Does mother approve?"
"You have my blessing," is the devout reply. "Provided no hearts be broken."
Isabella loves Caroline because she knows what loving George is like. The worst kind of hurricane. The least conducive thing to eating well, sleeping well. George plays with people, screws around with them, screws them over – but when he's tender he's so goddamn tender, it's enough to drive anyone mad. Getting one's heart ripped out on a daily basis is highly unhealthy; that Carrie has managed thus far is already an admirable feat, despite the fact that she comes from a world where so little is accepted, where so little is spoken in the open.
Isabella might have wanted to save Carrie, really, if not for George's sake. When she sees them laughing together, its enough to dispel all the worries that have quietly built up inside her, the certainty that it won't last. Not if it's romance. Sometimes she thinks it might be the only reason they're still friends; the only reason why he and Ms. Aso are still friends. But George has always been that way, and he always will be. The first and last and everything in between.
Their first night in Paris, George says her name in his sleep. His brow is wrinkled and his mouth is bent in a sad curve. Isabella pats his head and tells him to shush.
New York is freezing cold in the winter. Isabella has to wear two sets of gloves, and even then it's a relief to step into the warm studio and be able to take them off. She sets the two pairs – one silk, the other wool – on the table where George has spread out all his beads and is already hard at work. Opening night is two weeks away, and adjustments need to be made for the leads. It seems like they never learned to stop cramming, after all. Somewhere in Tokyo, Miss Hamada must be flinching.
It's been ten years since that salty day pulling away from the harbour, Isabella bundling away Miwako's tickertape and George looking out at the sea, trying not to think about love. Ten years and lots of bleeding in between (figuratively, except when they run out of thimbles); ten years, and still more to come, Isabella knows. But what an adventure. They have their complimentary tickets for the play already, and Isabella is certain who two of them belong to. I'm not attending their wedding, George had said, his face carefully impassive. There's too much work. But this at least I can do.
"You look happy," George says, threading some green glass beads onto wire, reclining lazily in his chair. Isabella unwinds her scarf, and plops it on top of his head.
"My happiness is simple," Isabella replies. The truth behind it makes George laugh, and his laughter makes it true.